Author: John Nest
Alone in the living room, Nash stared blankly at the television. He was watching a beautiful brunette in her early thirties, crying. Apparently, her mother had just passed away, while undergoing an experimental treatment.
Then, a redhead appeared at the center of the screen and said. “She could have prevented this from happening.”
At once, the scene in the television screen changed to that of a white clinic-like facility. It was filled with large silver capsules. The camera zoomed in on them, focusing on the hibernating people housed inside it.
“Happy, peaceful, serene,” said the pretty redhead. “Dream Life! Your assurance for your loved one’s peaceful slumber while waiting for a guaranteed second chance at life.”
TING-DONG DONG TING-DONG
Nash immediately turned off the T.V. after he heard the sound of their doorbell ring. “Coming!” he yelled. Opening the door, he saw an even lovelier young redhead.
“You know, you should try being a model for Dream Life,” Nash said to Sherry.
Her eyebrows met and her nose slightly wrinkled. “And let you leave me even farther behind?” she said, punching him lightly on the shoulders.
Nash quickly pulled her in for a hug, preventing her from getting another punch in. “Come on, I’m only ahead by five levels.”
“Really?” asked a dubious Sherry. “So, you expect me to believe that you’re still at 124?”
He stood straight and raised his right hand, as if about to take an oath, Nash answered. “Honest, I’m still Level 124.”
“Fine, I believe you,” said Sherry. “So, what do you want to do?”
“Actually, I was hoping you could help Seth out,” said Nash. “He’s been working on this mobile app that enables Zectas’ players to check on stuff inside the game.”
Sherry’s eyes lit up. “Really? What kinds of stuff?”
“Stats, money, equipped items, and other stuff,” replied Nash. “Seth says there could be other things we could do with the Zectas open APIs, but I was hoping you could help us come up with other practical uses.”
Just as Nash was explaining their mini-project, he heard Donny’s voice from upstairs.
“Nash! Nash! Nash!” screamed a frantic Donny. “Mima fell out of bed and isn’t waking up.”
At once, Nash dialed 911. “Help! My Grandma fell, we’re at—”
Everything after the call whizzed like a blur. One moment Nash, Seth, and Donny were with their Mima in the ambulance. The next thing Nash remembered, they were already sitting next to her in a hospital bed.
“Nash, I’m hungry,” blurted out Donny. “I haven’t had any breakfast yet.”
“Can you really eat right now?” asked Seth, peeved.
“Seth, Donny, this isn’t the time for that,” said Nash sternly.
The younger Smoak fell silent. Both of them aware of their Grandmother’s uncertainty.
“I’ll go see what I can find in the cafeteria,” said Nash. “In the meantime, just keep Mima company,” he paused and stared at his brothers. “In silence.”
“Gotcha!” replied Donny, giving Nash a salute.
“Pfft,” exhaled Seth, looking at Donny. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” he said to Nash.
After a quick tour at the hospital cafeteria, Nash bought six pieces of granola bars and three cans of soda.
On his way back, Nash overheard a group of three doctors talking to each other in the hallway. They were updating their charts on their individual tablets.
“Poor Mrs. Smoak,” said one of the Doctors. “Her Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome has progressed beyond recovery.”
“I know,” said another Doctor. “Not even an organ donation could save her now. Not with such a severe case like this.”
“Wait, wasn’t there an experimental procedure that’s cured MODS at this level?” asked the third Doctor.
“But the success rate for that one is less than 10%,” said the first Doctor. “I don’t think the children would want to risk those odds.”
“Shh! Quiet, her grandson is heading this way,” said the second Doctor.
Nash stared at the floor, avoiding any eye contact. He walked fast until he got inside his Mima’s hospital room.
“Hey? Something wrong?” asked Donny.
“No, no,” hurriedly replied Nash. “Was just worried you two might have been fighting again.”
“Nah, I already apologized to Seth and to Mima too,” said a smiling Donny, pointing to their awoken Grandmother.
“Mima! You’re awake,” said an energized Nash. He dropped the bag of food on the table and rushed to her bedside.
“Of course! I just fell off my bed is all,” said Daphne.
Looking at his Mima, Nash could see she was in pain. Yet, she put up a tough facade which fooled Donny, or was Donny just playing along as well?
‘Who am I kidding? She had me fooled too,’ he bitterly thought to himself, recalling the times he went past her room without worrying.
“Why didn’t you tell me about your MODS?” blurted out Nash.
“How?” asked Daphne, confused. “So, you already know about that, huh?” She shook her head and patted his hand. “I’ve already lived long enough,” she said. “And Seth and Donny don’t need to hear about that.”
“Mima? I didn’t know you know how to use MODS?” asked Donny. “What kind of game did you use MODS on?”
Their Grandmother only took a few seconds to answer the youngest Smoak. “Divine Light!” she replied with a straight face. “It was a new game Nash had me play. It was sort of fun, but I didn’t like the MODS I was given.”
“Is that an offline game?” asked Seth. “I’ve never heard of it before.”
“Well, it’s an indie game,” added Nash, covering for his Mima as well. “I doubt you’ll even find any information about it.”
“Indie game?” said Seth. “That sounds interesting. Can I play?”
“Count me in!” yelled Donny. “Is it a multiplayer?”
“No! Don’t bother with it. The game’s lousy!” said Daphne with a disgusted face and shaking her head.
“That bad, huh?” said Donny. “What about you, Nash? Did you like it?”
“No,” replied a sincere Nash, looking straight at Daphne. “I hated it as soon as I learned more about it.”
“Forget about that stupid game,” she grumbled and shifted the topic. “Would you look at that,” she said, pointing to the swaying leaves outside her window. “It’s really windy today.”
“Yeah, it’s almost that time of the year,” replied Donny.
“You, Two, might not remember this,” she said to Seth and Donny. “But your Papap used to make you, Three, dragon kites.”
“Really?” asked Seth. “What kind?”
“Long ones,” she replied. “About eight kites in total.”
“Nash, weren’t those dragon kites lovely?” she said.
“Of course, they were,” said Nash. He stepped closer to the window and looked at the blowing leaves. “Bet it would really soar high with winds like these.”
“Right?” agreed Daphne and laughed. “I was just thinking how wonderful it would be to fly those kites again.”
She then patted Seth’s and Donny’s hands and said. “Hey, how about you ask Nash to teach you how to make those kites? And then you three can come back tomorrow and fly them outside.”
“You’re kidding, right?” said Nash, chuckling. “I’ve already forgotten how to make—” he could not finish refusing their Grandmother as Donny had interrupted him.
“Come on!” protested Donny. “Mima wants to see those kites, and I think it would be a great idea.”
“Yeah, I’d like to see one too,” chimed in Seth. “Besides, don’t you want to cheer up Mima?”
“Fine! We’ll make a dragon kite when we get home,” said Nash in surrender.
“Great!” said an enlivened Daphne, urging Nash to come to her. “Thank you,” she said to him. She patted his head and stroked his black hair. They shared a conversation without words. Both agreed that Seth and Donny should not know about her Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome.
After Daphne released him, she called Seth and Donny to join in and hugged all of them at once.
“My three boys all grown up!” she said, tightening her hold on them.
“Mima, I can’t breathe!” said Donny, pulling his head out of Daphne’s embrace.
“Well, I think I’m going to get some rest,” she said and released them. “And you all go home as well.”
“Do we really have to?” asked Donny.
“Yeah, I don’t mind staying the night,” added Seth.
“No. Mima needs her rest, and she can’t do it with you two here,” said Nash.
“Alright!” complained Donny. He hugged her and Seth soon followed.
When it was Nash’s turn, he whispered in her ear. “That’s why you’ve been sleeping most of the time,” concluded Nash. “Does it hurt less when you’re asleep?”
Daphne smiled and sighed. “Yes! Now, go already!”
Nash ushered his brothers out. He waved goodbye to his Mima and blew her a kiss.
* * * * * *
To Smoke, the emergency in the real world had only been over a day. However, almost five days had already passed in the virtual realm of Zectas.
While he was settling his Mima into the hospital, he was reminded of one of her sayings: “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do more and dare more.”
‘Guess it’s about time I do something even more drastic,’ he thought, determined. ‘But what?’
He could not think of anything at the moment. So, he decided to see his Flame Master instead.
A small gray mouse crossed over from his right shoulder to the left. “Whoa, Daga, stop moving around,” he said to his newly named Shade. He named it after an estranged Uncle, who always nibbled at his cheese sticks, which strangely enough he always carried around in his pockets.
According to Ouragan, Shades gained experience and level, as long as they are active. Whenever a Shade is killed or deactivated, its experience and powers revert to its first summoning.
As Smoke stroked the head of the little mouse on his shoulder, his dark ember sprite whizzed above him, fast.
Igniz somersaulted, twirled, danced, just about anything he could think of to grab Smoke’s attention.
“Come on, Bud, it’s not like I’ve forgotten about you,” Smoke said to Igniz. “Now, let’s get going already!”
With that, Smoke leaped into the air, gliding swiftly towards the secluded school in the mountains.
‘Yes, this is exactly what I need,’ he thought, pushing out the image of his sick Mima in the hospital. ‘I’m sure she’ll recover soon.’ He convinced himself of an optimistic outcome.
Even at top speed, it still took him two hours to reach the Florissant Seminary. Looking from above, he found the institute to look smaller, although he knew that the place was over five hectares. He also noticed two Automaton Knights standing outside the seminary doors.
He landed softly, discreetly placing Daga on a rock. “Why don’t you explore here a bit,” he said to his Shade.
Together with an orbiting Igniz, Smoke then walked up to the Automaton Knights and greeted them. “Hey! How’s it going?”
The Knights did not reply. Instead, they stood at attention and raised their swords before Smoke.
The sounds of rusted joints echoed, as the two large wooden doors behind them opened.
A red flame floating in the middle of the entrance hall greeted them.
“Took you long enough,” said Eleve’s voice from within the flames.
“Sorry, I had to do something important back in my world,” said Smoke, his discomfort audible in his voice.
“I see,” replied Eleve.
Suddenly, Smoke’s vision blurred, as he was teleported into a different part of the seminary.
When his eyesight recovered, he found Eleve standing directly below the massive phoenix sculpture lined with gold and rubies, which hung down from the ceiling.
“Physically you look okay,” said Eleve, who stood in front of pure white flames. “But I can tell that you are shattered inside.”
“Really?” asked Smoke, surprised that a Zectian would be concerned with events outside the realm of this virtual reality.
“Life’s challenges are paralyzing,” went on Eleve. “But don’t let it,” she said, shaking her head. “Instead, use it to help you discover who you truly are.”
“To be honest, I feel like a selfish bastard who neglected his mother,” replied Smoke. “I should have spent more time with Mima.”
Smoke paused, removed his paradox mask and wiped the tears which flowed out without warning. “I used the excuse that being here was our only way to live,” he added. “It’s my only way of supporting her and my Brothers.”
“I see,” said Eleve and paused. “Wait, I was lying,” she suddenly added. “I don’t see. I can’t claim that I understand what your other world might be like, but all I know is that if you worked hard for her, then I’m sure she has no ill feelings towards you, Faux.”
Smoke stared at her, surprised. “You know, my Brothers told me something similar.”
Eleve smiled and patted him on the shoulders.
“Anyway, let’s forget about my life in the other world,” said Smoke. “Let’s focus on the now.”
As he thought about drastic steps to make up for lost time and the fact that he had been wanting to tell Eleve about himself, he found that it was time.
“Actually, there is something else,” said Smoke. “My name isn’t technically Faux. It’s Smoke and I’m a Beggar.”
“Really?” replied the old HighElf, and she let out a more genuine smile. “I did feel that something was off about you, but I’m glad that you decided to tell me about it, Smoke.”
Eleve chuckled. “Kind of feels strange calling you something else other than Faux now,” she said.
“I’ll still answer if you call me by that name,” said Smoke. “I’ve gotten used to it.”
“So, why did you decide to change your name anyway?” asked Eleve.
“You see, it all started after two of my friends were killed by Burmistrz back in the Chayotl Kingdom,” said Smoke. He began telling Eleve about everything. From his quest of reviving Sharur and Laernea to his quest of liberating the enslaved Avendre Mercenaries, and finally his goal of defeating Burmistrz himself…
“So, that’s why you were looking for a Thaumaturge,” said Eleve, reminded from the time when she first revealed that she was the 16th Magietrois Florissant. “I’m glad that you shared those things with me,” she added.
Then, a notification window popped up.
+ Intimacy with Eleve has risen to ‘Blood Confidant’
“There’s so much I would like to tell you,” blurted out Eleve. “But my lips are currently sealed to a certain extent.”
“It’s no problem. I understand,” said Smoke. “I didn’t tell you those things so that you would open up to me. I just felt that it was the right thing to do and tell you the truth about me.”
“Hm,” said Eleve, nodding her head. “About your list of demanding tasks. I can’t do anything about the Thaumaturge, but maybe this will help with the Avendre Mercenaries.”
Fifty treasure chests appeared out of thin air, all filled with golden zec coins.
“That’s the fifty million zecs reward I got from the King,” explained Eleve. “Take it. It’s all yours.”
+ Received 50,000,000 zecs
“Oh, and there’s also this,” added Eleve, conjuring flames out of her hands. The flames died out, which revealed an ancient leather book. “Here, take it,” she said throwing the old book to Smoke.
+ Received Ability Tome: ‘Conjure Automaton Knight’
As he had fulfilled the ability tome’s requirements, the tome vanished as soon as Smoke touched it.
|+ Learned Ability: Conjure Automaton Knight
Level: Beginner Level 1
* Knight’s combat abilities depends on:
> The user’s knowledge of Knight Movements
> The level of this ability
*Current Maximum number of Knight(s)
Effect: Give life to Automaton Knights
MP Consumption: 500,000 MP
“As you can see, the reason the Automaton Knights are decent fighters is because—” began Eleve, but was cut off by Smoke.
“Because you have an extensive knowledge on Knights,” interjected Smoke, all psyched.
Eleve strongly shook her head back and forth. “No! It’s because I raised the level of that ability to 900. Why would I have knowledge about Knights?”
“Oh, right,” said Smoke. “Sorry, I was just hoping that you did. In that way, maybe I could have a decent army of Automaton Knights as well.”
“Well, I guess you could,” replied Eleve. “You’re supposed to be a Beggar, right? I guess if you had Knight abilities and raised them, then they would be imparted on your own Automaton Knights.”
“Really?” asked Smoke. “Well, that’s good to know.”
Then, Smoke paused and looked troubled.
“What’s wrong now?” asked Eleve. “You just received enough money to raise a village and a rare ability. Can’t you be happy longer than that?”
Smoke laughed, halfheartedly. “I am happy! Of course, I am,” he repeated himself. “But the thing is, I can’t use this ability yet.”
“Why?” asked Eleve, her eyebrows raised.
“I’m kind of a couple of mana points short from using it,” said Smoke.
“Oh,” replied Eleve. “That’s easy. Just train harder and increase your levels.”
Smoke nodded. He knew that it had been some time since he grinded for his levels. “Yup, I’ll do that,” he said, electrified.
“Maybe you can send me somewhere with high-level monsters,” said Smoke. “Something similar to the paradox monster?” he suggested.
“Sure, I can do that,” replied Eleve. “But before you go, I need to know something.”
“Anything,” said Smoke. “Ask away.”
“What do you plan to do when you find a Thaumaturge?” she asked.
“Huh? I already told you,” said Smoke. “I’m going to revive my two friends Sharur and Laernea.”
“What about the other Zectians who died during your war against Burmistrz?” questioned Eleve. “Aren’t you going to save them as well?”
Smoke could not respond. It took him a few more seconds before answering. “I would like to save them, but to be candid, my only priority is reviving those two.”
“Hm. That sounds noble and selfish at the same time,” said Eleve with a distorted face. “But honest,” she added.
Smoke could not respond. He knew that she was right, but he did not care if he was being selfish.
“I’m not judging you,” said Eleve. “I would probably do the same thing as well.”
“Really?” asked Smoke, surprised. “Glad to know that you feel the same.”
“Anyway, let’s not dwell on it,” quickly added Eleve. “Circling back to your mana problem. What about helping out a troubled village?” she said, trying to change the topic. “Perhaps helping them out could give you the needed experience to use the Automaton Knight?”
“Huh? Is it a Farming Village?” said a hesitant Smoke. “They don’t want me to go looking for crops, do they?” he asked, remembering the time he was sent by Franz Briar to fight against a tree ent. He was certain that even a hundred tree ents would not increase his level now.
“Why? Do you have a problem with a farming village? You’re too good for a gathering quest now?” asked Eleve, with a hint of ribbing sarcasm.
“No, no, I didn’t mean it like that,” defensively said Smoke. “It’s just that… Oh, nevermind!”
Smoke shoulders dropped in surrender. “Where’s the village?”
Eleve snorted, trying hard to suppress her laughter. “Here,” she said and handed him a piece of paper.
MAP LOCATION: Nadaya Village
Coordinates: Latitude: 28°16′ N, Longitude: 60°48′ W
Note: Sixty-five kilometers away from current location.
“It’s kind of far,” said Smoke, staring at his updated map with the location of the village.
“Complaining, are we?” said Eleve. “Fine, don’t do the quest,” she said, taking back the piece of paper in Smoke’s hand.
“You know what?” said Eleve. “You were more obedient when you were still Faux!”
“No, no, I’m heading out now!” he said, raising his hands in surrender. “Thank you so much for the Automaton Knight ability and for this quest.”
“Don’t mention it, Smoke,” said Eleve. “Still, feels strange calling you something else other than Faux, you know?”
“Is it?” asked an apologetic Smoke. “Sorry about lying to you,” he said, lowering his head before her.
“Quit repeating yourself,” said Eleve.
“Well, I better get going,” said Smoke. “It’s a long flight to Nadaya Village.”
“Flight?” said Eleve. “I’m going to send you there myself,” she said.
“Really?” asked Smoke, shocked. “That’s awesome!”
“But before you go, let me remind you to finish what you started against the Orks,” said Eleve. “I am confident that something good will come out of it. Maybe even something related to finding a Thau—” she was forcibly stopped by a circular flame tightening around her neck.
“Eleve? Eleve! What’s going on?” asked a worried Smoke.
The flaming noose disappeared and Eleve gasped for air. “Sorry about that, I was trying out a new ability.”
Smoke patted the elder HighElf’s back. “Are you sure you’re okay? Can I get you a glass of water or something?”
“No, no, I’m fine. Honest!” she said. “Anyway, I’m sending you to Nadaya, now.”
“Wait, why the rush? Are—” Smoke was interrupted, as he was already being teleported by Eleve towards Nadaya Village.
After Smoke was sent away, a fiery image of a young girl materialized before Eleve.
“Mistress, I’m really sorry,” blurted out Eleve, as she knelt before the real Magietrois Florissant. “I wasn’t going to tell him about—”
“Stop patronizing me!” screamed Florissant. Her youthful expression turned dark and the lines on her face showed her true age for a moment. “Do you want me to strip him of his Journeyman Emblem?”
“No, no. Of course not!” pleaded Eleve. “It’s just that Smoke finally revealed himself to us. I just thought that you would have wanted to—”
Once again the elderly HighElf was silenced by a flaming noose around her neck.
“Do not presume to know what I am thinking,” said Florissant, she shook her head in great disappointment and disapproval. “Because of what you did, you’ve risked his chance at meeting my elder sister.”
* * * * * *
Goosebumps covered Smoke’s body, as the tingling sensation of being teleported over a long distance lingered within him.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself on the grassy plains outside the dangerous area of a pomegranate forest.
After looking around, he spotted a small village some distance away from him.
‘That must be Nadaya,’ surmised Smoke. He ducked down and hid behind a bush.
However, as he did so, his Cunning of the Dire Fox alerted him of eight monsters coming fast behind him.
Without looking back, Smoke used his melded abilities of Earth and Fire Manipulation. Four magma-spikes sprang out from the forest floor and pierced a charging lemurcat. The lemurcat managed to dodge one of the magma-spikes attacks, but two of the molten points penetrated the armpits of the tiger-like beast. Meanwhile, the last attack perforated its jugular.
The lunging beast cried out in pain, as it was caught in Smoke’s magma-spikes.
After witnessing the sudden counter-attack, the charging lemurcats ran back. They bolted deeper into the forest, with their tails between their legs.
With the other threats gone, Smoke turned around to face his captive. The lemurcat still had 10% left on its life bar. “Don’t worry, I won’t let you suffer,” he said to the beast.
He took out Blaise’s gift, the salamander’s tongue and used its Incinerator ability. The flamberge shattered into a hundred fiery shafts and plunged in and out of the captured lemurcat. It took him less than three seconds to finish off the monster.
“Nice!” yelled Smoke, pleased at the imposing damage of his newly acquired flamberge.
After collecting the pelt, Smoke turned back to face the quaint village.
The late morning sun gave Nadaya Village a certain glow of orange, further adding to its rustic appearance.
Its shabby rock walls were less than two meters high, and its wooden gate looked unreliable.
‘They wouldn’t stand a chance,’ he thought, imagining the worst scenario of an Ork invasion.
“Well, why don’t you scout the place, Daga?” said Smoke to his little gray mouse, He expected to see it on his shoulder but found no mouse in sight. Only then did he realize that his Shade was left in the Florissant Seminary.
“Oh, man!” cried out Smoke, hitting his forehead with his right palm.
He then canceled out his synergized state and released Igniz out in the open air. His symbiote was briskly whizzing through the skies.
“Could you scout the village for me?” he said to the dark ember sprite.
At once Igniz nodded and headed away. But as Smoke watched his symbiote fly further away, he realized that Igniz’s flames had grown far too strong to go unnoticed.
‘Looks like I can’t use Igniz to spy on places unless it’s really bright out,’ he surmised.
“Igniz, come back!” yelled Smoke.
Fortunately, Igniz had not flown that far and was able to return posthaste.
“Well, Bud, looks like I have to re-summon Daga,” lamented Smoke, knowing that his Shade will return to level 1.
Although his Shade had only reached up to level 3, Smoke still felt annoyed that he had to start over.
Looking at the open space next to him, Smoke activated his ability and called out. “Beggar Shade!”
At once, a small circular shadow appeared before him. His gray mouse meekly stepped out of it and lowered its tiny head before Smoke.
“Nice seeing you again, Daga,” greeted Smoke. “Well, why don’t we start earning your experience points again,” he said and pointed his minuscule Shade towards the village.
While waiting for Daga to return, Smoke thought to compare his recently acquired equipment with the ones he was currently using.
|Claws of Chiropterra (Gloves)
A rare glove that closely resembles the claws of the monstrous winged Foxbat Chiropterra.
* Foxbat Grip (Passive)
+ You can grip solid surfaces with ease,
climbing mountains becomes a breeze.
* Earth affinity + 15%
He then opened the window for the gloves he acquired from the Ork Colonel Vergewaltiger.
|Gauntlets of Orcinol (Gloves)
A unique glove fashioned for the warriors of the Lioumerean God, Xipetotec. It is said that the god disliked ranged fighting and preferred his hands to be covered by the blood of his opponents.
+ 20 Strength
+ 30 Agility
* Panthera Claws (Active)
+ 50 Attack Speed
+ 1,000 Damage
– Requires: 50 MP/second
– To activate: User must have no other equipped weapons beside the Gauntlets of Orcinol.
‘That Ork bastard must have raided this from a Lioumerean Village,’ surmised Smoke, after examining Orcinol’s gloves. He stared at both gloves in each hand. “Well, I don’t really need the bonus from the Earth Affinity anymore,” he said out loud and equipped the Gauntlets of Orcinol.
Next, Smoke inspected his ability called ‘Sword Mastery’ which was still at Beginner Level 5. Although he got a hold of this ability fairly recently, he still did not increase this ability’s level as he had no proper weapon to use it with.
‘But not anymore,’ he thought, equipping the flamberge given to him by Blaise.
|Salamander’s Tongue (Flamberge)
Smelted from the special metal of firanium, molded in the casts of god hand Dwarvius by his student Dwarven.
* Blazing Flames (Active)
> Covers the flamberge in flames
+ 2 Meters Weapon Range
+ 300 Magical Fire Damage
– Requires: 100 MP/second
* Incinerator (Active)
> Scatters the flaming flamberge into several shards and attacks anything
– Requires: 1,000 MP/second
– Range: 200 Meters
– Cool Down: 2 Minutes
‘It’s amazing that Blaise could hold the Incinerator ability for that long,’ he thought, considering the high mana cost.
Since the Automaton Knight Ability depended on the caster’s knowledge of Knight abilities and the ability’s level itself, Smoke decided to increase his Sword Mastery with the aid of the salamander’s tongue.
With the massive flamberge in hand, Smoke removed his paradox mask and began donning a most haphazard set. Taking out a black helm with two bent horns pointing upward, he equipped the Gora helm. He then removed the leather pants and replaced it with the black Gora leggings. He contemplated about removing the sable wizard surcoat but decided not to as he liked its increased experience bonus. The same thing happened with his Gora boots. He kept on the serval shoes, despite its orange color and leather finish.
After finishing his wardrobe change, Smoke turned to Igniz and asked. “Well? How do I look? Do I look like Ilad, now?”
The dark ember sprite whizzed around him and let out a low crackling sound with his flames.
“What? Are you laughing at me?” asked Smoke, pretending to be hurt. “Come on, let’s synergize and cover my clothes with flames.”
As soon as he and Igniz melded into one, Smoke let out a low amethyst flame all around his body.
“There! That’s better,” said Smoke, pleased at his Flame Knight persona.
With his disguise finished, Smoke spotted something small scampering across the green plains towards him.
“Daga! You’re back,” Smoke greeted his tiny Shade. “Now, let’s see what you found out,” he said, lowering his palm on the ground for the mouse to nibble on a piece of ancient bison jerky.
They gray mouse bowed down before its master and a notification window popped up.
|Daga’s Reconnaissance Report:
>> Nadaya Village <<
– 50 Farmers
– 30 Guards
– 2 Bakers
– 1 Tailor
– 15 Boys
– 18 Girls
Village Elder: A man named Buktot
“So, I’ll have to look for this Buktot person, huh?” said Smoke to Daga.
The little gray mouse gave him a quick nod and resumed nibbling on its bison jerky.
Smoke canceled his purple flames, reverting to his mismatched attire. He turned to the gray mouse and motioned for it to move to its hiding place. An obedient Daga ran up to his shoulders and hid inside the flaps of his hooded cloak.
“Right, let’s see what we can do here,” said Smoke, as he walked towards Nadaya Village.
It took him less than ten minutes to reach the village entrance. But before he could enter, he heard people screaming and arguing. He proceeded with caution and peeked in from the wooden gate of the village. There, he saw a mob of people surrounding a hunchback man.
As he wanted to know more of the situation, Smoke hid behind one of the log houses. He was not fully concealed as he wanted to see what was going on as well.
“I told all of you! We should have removed him from being our village chief,” yelled a black-haired woman in her late twenties. She held a swaddled baby tightly in her arms.
In the crowd of red-heads, Smoke easily spotted the two black-haired woman next to each other.
“Buktot, we told you we needed better walls!” added the woman carrying a baby. “How many more children do you want the Orks to take, before you take action?”
“Kick him out! Kick him out!” started the second black-haired woman. “Kick him out! Kick him out!”
The angry mob was roused by the second woman’s chant and joined in.
The hunchback raised both his hands, as he tried to pacify the villagers. “Everyone, please calm down. When have you ever heard of Orks attacking a village without wrecking it?” he asked.
Whispers and murmurs resonated within the villagers, as what Buktot was saying made sense.
“I’ve consulted with some of you earlier,” quickly added Buktot, grabbing the division between the masses. “And many agree with me, that this isn’t the work of Orks.”
“Then, who is taking our children?” asked the same woman.
“Yeah! Who is taking them?” yelled somebody else from the mob.
“Well, old man Alam said that these abductions are done by Aswangs,” said the hunchback. “And, Duda, you’ve heard of Aswangs before, right?” he said to the woman carrying a baby.
“Aswangs? You don’t honestly expect us to believe in some old horror story from Thanotl?” replied Duda.
“Don’t try to deceive us!” screamed the other black-haired woman next to Duda. “We know that you’ve been keeping all the zecs for yourself. We know that you’re saving up money to go to Thanotl. You plan to have that lump of yours removed by their Healers!”
“What? I would never—” argued the hunchback but was silenced by the jeers of the crowd. “Hinala, please. You and your sister know me.”
“Buktot, if you weren’t hiding the money, then we should have better walls by now,” added Hinala. “We should have more security. Each night a child goes missing!”
With a mob mentality, the rioters agreed in unison.
“People, you should know that most of our funds are going to our agricultural research,” explained Buktot. “We’ve been developing it to the point where—”
“Lies!” interjected Hinala. “Perhaps you’re the one who is abducting the children? Maybe, you’re selling them as slaves and saving up the zecs?”
“Hinala, please don’t yell out accusations like that!” declared Buktot. “You and your sister are just making matters worse,” he added with a forced smile. “Anyway, I’ve already sent word to Magietrois Florissant and asked for her help.”
“Now, isn’t that convenient?” said Duda. “You’ve asked for assistance from the Magietrois Florissant when I’ve already sent our youngest sister Alay to go look for help in Thanotl.”
“Even though we are nearer to Thanotl, we are technically under the jurisdiction of the Vitzytl Kingdom,” rebutted Buktot. “And we’re not even sure if she will get help. But in the meantime, why don’t we try Alam’s suggestion? Let’s barricade one family at a time, and then we’ll know who the Aswang is—”
“Oh, shut up, Buktot! Who in their right mind would agree to that?” yelled Hinala. “Didn’t you hear my sister? Didn’t you hear any of us?”
“That’s enough,” Duda said to Hinala. “We’ll just gather the needed votes to kick him off as our village chief! Come on, everyone!” she added leading the mob to disband.
As the crowd parted, Smoke was spotted by Hinala. He instantly covered himself in low purple flames. He did this not to intimidate anyone, but to hide his mismatched armor.
“Greetings, I was sent here by Magietrois Florissant to help you,” said Smoke in a forced accent, as he took on one of his alternate personas, Ilad.
“Don’t tell me that hunchback was telling the truth,” said Hinala. She shook her head and paid him no mind, rejoining her elder sister and the angry mob.
Ignored, Smoke decided to walk over to Buktot. The startled hunchback fell on his side, as Smoke came out of nowhere.
He immediately canceled his flames, as a guilty Smoke ran to help Buktot up. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you there. I’m the one Magietrois Florissant sent to help you.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” said Buktot as he was being helped up. “But are you sure?”
“Yes, yes I am,” replied a proud Smoke.
“But aren’t you a Flame Knight?” asked Buktot.
“Huh? Is there a problem?” asked Smoke.
“Not really,” said Buktot. “It’s just that I received a letter saying that she’ll probably send one of her Florissant Journeymen. I thought you’d be an Elementalist or at least some kind of Magician?”
“Oh, right! Of course,” blurted out Smoke, thinking on his feet he said. “Actually, I just got a Job Change. From a Flame Knight into a Magic Knight.”
“Magic Knight? Really?” asked a surprised Buktot. “How is that different from an Elemental Knight?”
He hurriedly took out his brown-colored manatl staff and equipped it on his left hand, and took out the massive salamander’s tongue with his right.
With his two weapons equipped, Smoke turned to Buktot and said. “For one, I have mastery over more than one element.”
Raising his manatl staff, Smoke created an earth-pillar next to the hunchback with his Earth Manipulation. Next, he waved his flamberge with exaggerated movements and activated its Blazing Flames ability, engulfing the sword in fire.
“Whoa!” replied Buktot, cowering before the flames. The hunchback moved several meters backward. “That’s enough! I’m impressed!”
“Thank you,” replied Smoke. He gave him a small bow and canceled the flames and earth-pillars simultaneously.
With the flames died out, Buktot moved closer back to him.
“I’m called Buktot,” said the hunchback. “As of the moment, I’m the acting village chief. The previous one suddenly just moved out…”
“Nice to meet you, my name is Ilad,” said Smoke and shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure. Now, what can I do to help?”
“Um… I don’t know if you heard the villagers earlier,” began Buktot. “But there have been multiple cases of kidnappings in the last few days.”
Smoke nodded as he studied the hunchback explain the situation. “And how many children have gone missing so far?”
“Eight,” answered Buktot. He fidgeted and forcibly stuffed his hands into his pockets to stop them from shaking. “Anyway, my theory is that the Aswangs have returned to the Sawtorn Continent.”
“Um…What are Aswangs?” asked Smoke, curious.
“Oh, you don’t know about them?” asked Buktot. With a raised eyebrow, he eyed Smoke up and down.
In response, Smoke covered himself in amethyst flames, embarrassed at his mismatched equipment.
After Smoke resumed his fiery avatar, Buktot proceeded to talk. “Well let me tell you what my grandfather told me when I was a kid…”
Smoke waited for Buktot to continue talking, but the hunchback stopped. He looked around all paranoid as if someone was eavesdropping on them.
“Let’s go back to my house,” said Buktot, pulling Smoke with him. “Aah!” he screamed, as he was scorched by the purple flames surrounding Smoke.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Smoke, canceling his flames and stepping away from Buktot. “I didn’t know you were going to touch me.”
As Buktot clutched his injured hand, Smoke offered him a roll of gauze and some burn ointment. “Here, this should help with the pain,” said Smoke.
“Thanks,” replied Buktot, allowing Smoke to wrap his hand around it. “Anyway, let’s head on over to my house.”
An obedient Smoke followed Buktot and left a wide distance between them, careful not to hurt him again.
On the way to the house, Smoke spotted a few children near the windows. But all of them had adult companions standing next to them. They held onto them tight. It was as if they would be plucked away from them at any given moment.
The rest of the village was a succession of the first few houses Smoke saw. None of them gave him a welcoming smile. Instead, they gave him the eyes of distrust.
“We’re almost there,” said Buktot, taking a sharp right corner on their supposed market area.
With one quick glance, Smoke could tell that there was nothing there to sell or trade. The place was empty. There were five stalls, but only one of them had wares to sell. The only vendor there sold bread, rabbit meat, and other items accessible to a Novice.
“Here, this is my house,” said Buktot, leading Smoke into a medium-sized home.
It was a modest log cabin. If not for the stacks of barrels outside the house, it could easily pass off as any of the other houses.
“What’s in the barrels?” asked Smoke.
“Oh, those?” replied Buktot, nervous. “That’s just something I’m playing around with. You don’t have to concern yourself with them.”
Smoke stared at Buktot and back at the barrels, but decided not to pursue it any further.
“Well, why don’t we go in?” offered Buktot.
Once inside, Smoke was forcibly ushered to a wooden stool next to the door. Whereas, Buktot himself rushed over to a shelf, where he covered a wooden box with a towel.
“Sorry about the mess,” said Buktot, pointing over to the pile of clothes on the floor. He pulled another wooden chair and placed it next to Smoke as he sat on it.
“No, it’s fine,” said Smoke who gave him a smile, only to realize that his face was covered by his gora helmet.
“You don’t mind if I remove this, do you?” asked Smoke. He wanted to gain the hunchback’s trust, and hiding behind such an intimidating helm would not be the way to go.
“Sure, go right ahead,” replied Buktot, still clutching on to his injured hand.
After removing his helmet, Smoke smiled and gave him a small nod. “Does it still hurt?” he asked pointing to Buktot’s hand.
“Hm… not really,” replied Buktot. “It was my fault anyway. Who in their right mind would touch a flaming man?” he added and gave out a forced chuckle.
“If you’re feeling up to it? Why don’t you continue your talk about the Aswangs?” asked Smoke.
“Of course, of course,” said Buktot. “They’re horrific fiends from ancient times. Some say they are as old as the Magietrois itself, if not older.”
“Fiends? Are they beast type monsters?” asked Smoke. “What do they look like?”
Buktot gave him a nervous laugh. “To be honest, I don’t know. But my grandfather said that they could look like anything.”
“Wait a minute,” said Buktot, who suddenly stood up and walked over to his shelf. There, he picked up a book. “He gave this to me when I was younger, but there are no pictures in it,” he said and handed the book to Smoke.
With his increased Wisdom stat, Smoke acquired the knowledge of the book in a matter of seconds.
Are shapeshifting monsters commonly possessing a combination of traits from vampires, ghouls, witches, or a different species of werebeast.
Yet, their Queen is said to possess the trait of all of them together.
It is the subject of a wide variety of myths and stories, but the most common one of them is how they take the forms of grotesque people and like to abduct children for eating.
Rumor has it that these Aswangs travel from continent to continent. This is one of their ways to avoid themselves from being found.
> Flames, Salt, Garlic, or Holy Water
While Smoke was reading the acquired knowledge window, there was a knock on Buktot’s door.
“Excuse me,” said Buktot and went to answer the door. “Yes?”
“Buktot, you need to come with me,” said the villager at the door. “Hinala and Duda are gathering up the other villagers to remove you from your post.”
“What? I thought they were just making empty threats,” said Buktot. He then turned to Smoke and said. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. Can you wait outside my house for me?”
“Oh, sure! No problem,” replied Smoke. He obediently stood up and walked out Buktot’s home.
“I’ll see you in a bit,” said Buktot, running after the villager who called him.
Smoke waited a few more minutes for Buktot to leave. When he sensed that no one was around, he reached his hand for the flaps of his hooded cloak and pulled out Daga.
“Take a look at that box covered by a towel,” he said to the little gray mouse.
Daga nodded and got off his shoulders. It scampered towards the door and squeezed its little body in between the gaps. As soon as it got in, it went for the covered box and opened it, investigating its contents.
In less than ten seconds, Smoke’s Shade returned to him with its findings. He offered Daga another nibble of ancient bison jerky, as he read the report window.
Box contained the following items:
> 200,000 zecs
> A scroll of the price range for miraculous healing at the Thanotl Kingdom
> A picture of a young Buktot and a beautiful black-haired girl
‘Hm. This looks interesting,’ thought Smoke, motioning for his Shade to return to its hiding place.
After a few more minutes, Smoke heard a scream coming from the direction of where Buktot and the village ran to earlier.
Posthaste, Smoke sprinted towards the source. It took him less than a few seconds to find the Nadaya villagers cowering in one corner. On the opposite side was an Ork, who had a child locked in his arms.
“Your pathetic excuse of a village is perfect for us to kidnap your children!” screamed the Ork.
Smoke reflexively created an earth-pillar to capture the Ork, but he was careful not to make it to tight, so he could avoid hitting the child.
However, this move proved to be advantageous to the Ork.
Before Smoke could react, the Ork released the child and squirmed out of the earth-pillars. The green giant then swiftly ran out of the village. He moved with the same speed as the Ork Colonel Vergewaltiger and disappeared from sight.
Smoke wanted to fly in the air to get an aerial view, but as he was now disguised as a Magic Knight, he decided not to.
With his movements restricted, Smoke focused in on his Cunning of the Dire Fox. Yet, even with his Master Level ability, he could no longer sense the presence of any Ork.
“Is Everyone alright?” Smoke asked the crowd.
He found Buktot in front of the crowd. He was shielding them from the attacking Ork.
Meanwhile, Duda was far in the back. She was huddled together with the other children, her baby held tightly in her arms.
“Who are you supposed to be?” angrily asked Duda.
At once, Smoke turned on his dark flames. However, he quickly retreated some distance away from them. He feared that another villager would get accidentally hurt by his fiery facade.
“The name’s Ilad, the Magic Knight. I was sent here by Magietrois Florissant to help your village,” he boldly replied.
“So, Buktot wasn’t making up stories about sending for help after all,” said Duda. She then turned to the crowd. “Anyone got hurt?”
On the other hand, Buktot ran towards the boy who was held captive by the Ork.
“Biik, are you okay?” Buktot asked the plump boy.
“I’m fine,” replied Biik. “Now, let me go! Before you infect me with your disease.” The little boy then ran towards his mother in the clustered crowd behind Buktot.
“See? I told you it was the Orks who were taking our children!” exclaimed Duda. “Now, what are you going to do about it, Buktot?”
“I’m not so sure,” interjected Smoke. “That Ork didn’t act like any of the Orks I’ve ever met before and—”
Smoke was stopped mid sentence, as Duda shushed him by raising her hand. “Sir Ilad, excuse me,” she began. “But can we ask you for a favor?”
“Right now?” said Smoke confused, as he had just met the woman.
An eager Duda nodded and said. “Buktot was clearly mistaken. As everyone witnessed, we need to defend ourselves against the Orks.” She paused and tilted her head. “Perhaps, you can reinforce the village walls with the earth magic you used earlier?” she asked in a forced sweet tone.
“Sure, I can do that,” replied Smoke with a troubled face. “But I don’t think that the Ork was your usual—”
This time, Smoke was cut off by the interim village chief.
“No use arguing about it, Sir Ilad,” said Buktot. “Come, I’ll take you to the parts of the walls with the least defenses.”
Buktot then leads Smoke to a different part of the village, away from the rest of the assaulted mob.
* * * * * *
Using his Earth Manipulation, an obliging Smoke created sturdy walls worthy enough to defend a small city. Despite having worked for the past hour, he only covered up to 10% of the village.
“You know? I could surround the entire village with a shorter wall,” Smoke said to Buktot. “And it will be quicker too.”
“No, no, this is fine,” said the hunchback, who was sitting in the shade doing nothing but observing Smoke all this time. “This is just to pacify their clamor of upgrading our walls.”
Buktot then stood up and dusted himself off. “Besides, I have a feeling that tonight will be the last.”
“The last what?” asked a passive Smoke, not looking at Buktot. He pretended to be immersed in the creation of the solid fortifications.
“Nothing… was just talking out loud,” replied Buktot. The hunchback paced back and forth before finally speaking again. “Um… I was just wondering,” he said. “But is it true that once you Sonstwelters leave for your world it will take some time before you get back?”
Smoke stopped working on the wall and turned to face him. “You know, you’re the first Zectian to ask me that.”
“Really? I didn’t mean anything by it,” quickly said Buktot. “And you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I was just curious, that’s all.”
“It depends on the Sonstwelter,” said Smoke. “But in my case, it does take some time before I return.”
“I see,” replied Buktot. “Thanks for telling me. Well, I better leave you to it then. I don’t want to cause you any delay,” he said and walked towards one of the log houses.
Smoke watched him leave before he resumed working on the walls. “Follow him, Daga,” he said under his breath, without facing his Shade.
The little gray mouse jumped out from its hiding place and dashed with its tiny feet after Buktot.
“Right, better get this thing built then,” said Smoke to himself.
Sensing no one near him, Smoke raised a full section of the wall straight up from the ground. However, its height was only three-fourths of the one next to it.
‘That’s all I can make at one go, huh?’ he thought disappointed. He wondered how far he was now from Ledur’s level of Earth Manipulation.
He stopped working and stared at the two walls next to each other. ‘Maybe I can cover the entire village if I alternate the height?’ he debated with himself, but stopped as soon as he felt the presence of somebody watching him.
“Come out, I know you’re there,” he said to the log house where he sensed someone.
“Wow! You can even tell, huh?” said Duda, stepping out into clear view. “You are Sir Ilad, right?”
“Yes. I’m just reinforcing the walls as Buktot instructed,” replied Smoke. “Where’s your baby?” he asked, as he noticed that she wasn’t carrying one anymore.
“He’s sleeping,” replied Duda. “My sister Hinala is watching him as we speak,” she quickly added, all defensive.
“That’s good,” said Smoke. “You can’t be too careful. What with all the missing children the past few days.”
“Exactly!” replied Duda. “You know what? You seem sort of reliable,” she blurted out. “And I should know because I’m a great judge of character.”
“Really?” asked Smoke. “Then, you think Buktot is really up to something?”
“I’m not a hundred percent, but something is definitely off about him ever since he became the village chief.”
“So, you think he’s the one kidnapping the children and selling them for zecs?” asked Smoke.
“Oh no! Buktot would never do that… I think,” she said, hesitant. “That was just my sister drawing her own conclusions.”
“I don’t get it,” said Smoke. “I thought you hated the guy? But it looks like you’re defending him.”
“Well, he may not be the prettiest boy on the planet, but he does have quite a few good traits about him,” replied Duda. “In fact, he’s the only one who volunteered to take the on the mantle of the village chief. At first, I thought it would be great. He could do so much for the village, but then he neglected… Anyway, he ran unopposed as most of the villagers already migrated to the Thanotl Kingdom.”
“Is that so?” asked Smoke, investigating further. “Why do you know so much about Buktot, anyway?”
“Um… Growing up, we were different from the other children. Back then, we used to be really close,” began Duda. “We played all day, and even pretended to farm the barren lands outside the village.” She let out a merry sigh, as she reminisced. “But all of that changed when he heard I got pregnant. He even went and became the village chief. It’s just silly really, considering that he’s—” she suddenly stopped herself from talking. “Hahaha,” she forcibly laughed. “Look at me blabbing my guts out to a complete stranger.”
“I don’t mind hearing more,” said Smoke, smiling as he tried to gain some rapport with her. “What if Buktot had some money with him? Would that something to be alarmed about?” he quickly added, as he hoped to acquire additional information.
“If it’s anything over ten thousand zecs, then something is definitely up,” replied Duda. “But don’t mind me, that was just some useless blabber,” she said, apprehensive. “Anyway, what about these walls, huh? I’ve never seen anything like it before. I just hope that they really keep out the Orks.”
“Yes, about that. I don’t think that the attacker was an Ork,” said Smoke. “For one, I’ve never seen one all alone and—”
“Then, he’s a rogue Ork,” interjected Duda. “You can’t deny what your eyes see, and I saw an Ork. Didn’t that monster look like an Ork to you?”
“Of course, he did but—” began Smoke but was interrupted again.
“Then it’s settled, build the wall as Buktot ordered,” she said. “That’s the one thing he’s doing right, or he could just quit being the village chief and return to being more compassionate.”
“Compassionate?” asked Smoke, confused.
She paused and recomposed herself. “Anyway, I was wondering about something.”
“Yes? What’s that?” replied Smoke.
“I heard that you Sonstwelters often leave Zectas to return to your world,” said Duda. “Do you know what time you’re planning to leave today?”
“I usually leave at about six or seven,” replied Smoke, observant on her reactions. “But I make it a point to return before five in the morning, if I can,” he quickly added.
“I see,” said Duda. “Well, thanks for telling me that. My sister was asking about it,” she added. “It was a pleasant chat, but I have to return to my son.”
Smoke waved goodbye. As he watched her leave, he could not help but wonder what was the history between Duda and Buktot.
* * * * * *
After three more hours, Smoke had fortified 50% of the village. Many of the villagers also came to watch him, which slowed down his pace, as he wanted to talk to them about their opinions on the current happenings in Nadaya.
As it had grown late into the afternoon, Smoke was given an empty log cabin to rest in. It belonged to one of the many families who migrated to the neighboring kingdom.
Smoke was resting in the dining area, devouring a bowl of sand cheetah broth. He resorted to using the gamey meat of the fast desert monsters, as his supply of ancient bison was already running low. Despite his Master level Cooking ability, the sand cheetah meat still gave a pungent odor which now filled the entire cabin.
Then, a little gray mouse snuck up behind him and stood next to his bowl.
‘Looks like Daga already gained the Perfect Sneak ability,’ thought a smiling Smoke, as he was now unable to sense his Shade with his Cunning of the Dire Fox.
“Well? Let’s have it,” he said to his Shade, and an information window popped up in front of him.
|Daga’s Reconnaissance Report:
>> Target: Buktot <<
-> Met with a villager named Saka. Discussed the current conditions of the Agricultural Research.
-> Went home to check on his treasured box, containing previously investigated items.
-> Met with the family of Biik. Checked on the situation with the boy. On a side note, the boy is still as hefty as ever and is eating even more now.
-> Went home to check on his treasured box (again!), containing previously investigated items.
-> Visited Duda’s house, but was denied entry by her sister Hinala.
-> Went out of the village, bringing his barrels inside a cart. He met with a man near the edge of the forest. Was not able to go any closer as the man had sand cats with him.
-> Arrived back in the village and is currently resting in his house.
-> Decided to return to master Smoke, as my stomach was growling and have deemed the target to be inactive for the rest of the day.
‘There sure is a lot of useless information here,’ he thought, peeved. After reading through his Shade’s report, he felt the presence of someone heading towards his cabin.
“Daga, hurry! Come here,” said Smoke, grabbing the little gray mouse and leaping into the small tunnel he had dug earlier.
“Sir Ilad? Sir Ilad, are you still there?” asked a female’s voice. “My sister Duda and I were wondering if you’ve already eaten?”
‘That must be Hinala,’ surmised Smoke.
“Sir Ilad? Are you there?” Hinala repeated. “I’ve bought you a bowl of rabbit stew.”
However, Smoke remained hidden and quiet.
“Hmm… I guess he must have already left for his world,” said Hinala and left.
Five minutes passed before Hinala left his short-term house. His Cunning of the Dire Fox indicated that she was heading towards Duda’s home.
“Igniz, I should have let you out earlier,” whispered Smoke, scratching his head in frustration.
‘Now, I have no idea what’s going on outside,’ he came to realize. He pointed his hand upward and used his Earth Manipulation to conceal the entrance of his tunnel.
“Alright, let’s head for the surface,” said Smoke. He equipped his Digger’s Wand and pointed towards the direction of the nearest wall.
Despite moving at his fastest, it still took him twenty minutes to reach past the premises of Nadaya Village. His delay was caused from a traumatic experience. When he was digging tunnels before, he had almost fainted from lack of oxygen, which was why he always made sure to create breathing holes every twenty meters.
“Right, this should be far enough,” he said to Igniz. “Remember, Bud, you have to dim your flames.”
Despite his reminder, he knew that Igniz would be easily spotted. Yet, he still created an earth-cannon which protruded out of the ground. Without concern for his ember sprite to be discovered, he launched Igniz out of it.
Using his Symbiote Vision, Smoke observed the village from an aerial perspective.
However, he only realized that he could not see anything clearly. The Zectas sun had long set and the quarter moon had not fully risen.
Fortunately for him, Igniz spotted some movement on the opposite side of the village.
Flying at his fastest, the dark ember sprite dove down and followed the source of the movement.
It was then that Smoke saw Buktot running away from the village. He held a sickle and was heading into the forest filled with lemurcats. Not far behind him, Igniz spotted Duda chasing after the hunchback.
Although the Symbiote Vision had a clear resolution, it was only limited to sight. As such, Smoke could only guess what Duda was mad about, as she was flailing her arms at him.
With a wave of his hands, Smoke increased the circumference of his earth-canon.
Taking a running start, he launched himself out of it and glided towards Nadaya’s interim chief.
“Igniz, to me!” he called out.
At once, his symbiote flew towards him and the two of them melded into their Synergized state.
Smoke estimated that it would take him two minutes more before reaching the hunchback.
Then, without any warning, Buktot began to run faster.
Before Smoke could catch up to him, the hunchback disappeared into the lemurcat filled forest.
Landing at the entrance of the forest, Smoke relied on his Cunning of the Dire Fox to pick out Buktot’s general location.
Thankfully, Buktot was still within the range of his sensory ability.
Using his Hyper Jump, Smoke chased after the speedy hunchback. As he pursued him, Smoke felt the presence of ten lemurcats.
‘Better use the serval shoes,’ he thought, hoping that the resulting flames would frighten the lemurcats away. But before he could do so, he noticed something else. Strangely enough, the powerful beasts were already fleeing the opposite direction from where Buktot was headed to.
‘Did the lemurcats pick up my scent?’ wondered Smoke, remembering how these beasts ran away from him earlier.
‘At least I can concentrate on Buktot now,’ he thought, pleased.
After three more Hyper Jumps, Smoke finally saw Buktot’s back. The hunchback stopped in the middle of a small clearing in the pomegranate forest.
“What are you doing here, Buk—” began Smoke, but stopped himself when he saw Hinala in front of Buktot. The hunchback was pointing his sickle at her.
Hinala yelled, as soon as she spotted Smoke. “Stay away from me, Buktot! Sir Ilad, please help us!” she said and indicated that she was carrying Duda’s baby with her.
At once, Buktot turned around and faced Smoke. “Sir Ilad? No, it’s not what you think. She’s the one trying to take the baby away!” he exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at her.
Just then, Duda arrived from behind Smoke. She was panting hard, as she tried to catch her breath.
“No! No! It was Buktot that was trying to take my baby!” she said in between breaths.
“Wait!” shouted Smoke. “What exactly is going on?”
“I was walking home when I found Buktot carrying a sickle. He was chasing after my sister and my baby outside the village,” began Duda. “I’m just glad you were able to run away from him,” she said to Hinala.
“Yeah! Exactly!” said Hinala. “I told you he was trying to sell off the children,” she stammered.
“No!” argued Buktot. “That’s not what happened! I was trying to—”
The hunchback was not able to finish his explanation, as Duda appeared in front of him and smacked him hard across the face.
“How dare you!” she yelled. “What is wrong with you?”
“Duda—” began Buktot, but was cut off.
“So, it is true? You really do have a ton of money set aside, huh?” accused Duda.
“I do,” replied Buktot. “But it’s not for me, I’m saving it for—”
“How could you do this?” she screamed again.
“No, Duda, you’ve got it all wrong,” said Buktot, shaking his head in denial. “Hinala is the one who’s lying! She’s the one who—”
“Shut up!” shouted Duda. “Sir Ilad, can you please take him away from here?”
“Um…” replied Smoke, uncertain.
Amidst Duda and Buktot’s fight, Hinala ran off with the baby.
However, Smoke caught sight of this and chased after her. Utilizing his Hyper Jump ability, he managed to snatch away the baby boy from Hinala.
“Aaaaagh!” screamed Hinala in retaliation. Her face contorted to that of an ugly monster. Her teeth turned into sharp fangs, her fingernails protracted into sharp points, and her skin turned to pale-gray.
After securing the baby, Smoke instantly felt a lump on the baby’s back. ‘Did she curse him?’ he wondered.
“Stupid Ilad! Why did you have to come here?” said the monster.
“Aswang! Aswang!” screamed Buktot, pointing at the transmogrified Hinala.
With disregard for her safety, Duda rushed over to where Smoke and her baby was. “Is he alright? Give him to me!” she yelled, her hands longingly extended.
As Smoke was about to hand over the baby to his mother. The Aswang charged towards them.
Bare-handed, Smoke pointed his palms at the ground and launched two magma-spikes. The sudden melded elemental attack only grazed the Aswang’s shoulder as it was able to pull back at the last second.
“Hinala! What are you doing?” asked Duda, clutching her baby tightly. She trembled as she hid behind Smoke.
“Fool!” screamed the Aswang. “Your sister Hinala was the first one I ate. She screamed in agony as I devoured her.”
“You monster!” yelled Duda, lost for words.
“Monster? Of course, I am!” replied the Aswang. “But before your sister died, she said something really stupid.”
The Aswang paused, as its long slimy tongue licked the sharp points of its fingernails. “She prayed to Tlaltezin to spare your life, your sister’s Alay, and your son. I bet Alay is already dead. Who in their right mind would send someone so young to another kingdom?”
“Nyak nyak nyak!” chuckled the Aswang. “Isn’t that stupid? Tlatezin is the great god of power and might. He wouldn’t care if I killed you since you’re all weak—”
The voice of the Aswang became muffled as Smoke enclosed it in an earth-dome.
“It’s fine, I got it—” began Smoke, but the Aswang destroyed the earth-dome with one claw strike. It leaped up and stood on top Smoke’s failed trap.
“Was that supposed to keep me in?” taunted the Aswang. “Do you know how many squishy children I’ve already eaten?” it paused as if waiting for Smoke to answer. “Only one more and I would have been powerful enough to become a Manananggal!”
However, Smoke was not listening to the Aswang. Instead, he equipped his manatl staff and flamberge sword.
With his back turned to Buktot he said. “Get Duda and her baby to safety.”
“But what about you?” asked Buktot.
“Don’t mind me,” replied Smoke. “I can handle this monster.”
“My, confident, are we?” said the Aswang. “You know? If you’re so sure of yourself, why don’t you let me the baby? You can fight me after I transform into a Manananggal. So? What do you—”
The Aswang was cut short, as Smoke’s flaming flamberge scorched across its chest. It dealt 30% damage on the monster’s life bar.
“Argh!” screamed the monster, as it leaped backward. “Fine! Looks like I’ll have to kill you first then,” said the Aswang and vanished.
It leaped up and disappeared from Smoke’s sight, but not from his Cunning of the Dire Fox.
As he needed to block the Aswang’s escape, Smoke channeled his mana through the brown metallic staff. He was taken aback at large manatl wall that displayed before him, as he did not intend to create such a massive covering.
‘This must be from my being a Beggar Evocati,’ he grimaced, pleased at himself.
The Aswang’s head smacked hard into the purple force field and sent the grotesque monster falling down, straight towards Smoke.
In preparation for the Aswang’s drop, Smoke created four magma-pillars to capture it. The monster only had 70% left on its life bar.
‘Looks like it really is weak against Fire,’ he surmised.
However, the Aswang’s body stretched into thin sections as it fell down. It escaped Smoke’s trap.
Then, in one fluid motion, it latched its sharp fangs into Smoke’s neck.
– Infliction: Life Drain
Smoke tried to smack the Aswang off of him, but a second warning notification popped up.
– Infliction: Paralysis
Smoke’s arms went limp, lifeless. Both his manatl staff and flamberge dropped to the ground. With his face up close against the slimey Aswang, he could smell the rotten scent of decayed flowers.
Minutes passed and Smoke’s life bar was sapped down to 70%. Meanwhile, the Aswang’s life bar was almost filled to 90%.
‘Maybe I can cancel my Synergized State,’ he thought.
Yet, before he could execute his plan, his little gray mouse leaped out of its hiding place and bit off the ear of the Aswang.
“Aaaahhh!” yelped the Aswang in pain, releasing its fangs on Smoke’s neck.
Freed from his status ailments, Smoke swiftly created magma shackles and strapped them on the Aswang’s limbs.
Even though the monster could stretch its limbs, the molten shackles melted into its flesh and prevented it from escaping.
“No! I’m not done yet!” screamed the monster.
With its arms and legs shackled to the ground, It stretched its head and upper body to its maximum extent.
“Stop it,” said Smoke, quickly picking up his staff and sword. “This is it for you. Now, why don’t you tell me more about the Aswangs?” he threatened, pushing his flaming flamberge against the monster’s neck.
“Pweee!” the Aswang spat on Smoke. “You think you got me? I’m not dying here!”
Small black wings sprouted out on its back and attempted to unfurl.
“More! More!” exclaimed the Aswang. “I’m almost turning into a Manananggal!”
Yet, before its wings could grow any bigger, Smoke’s Incinerator lit up the dimly lit forest.
A sphere of fragmented flamberge shards minced, sliced, and diced the elastic flesh of the Aswang.
“You stupid, Ilad!” screamed the Aswang.
“Nanang Aswang will avenge me!” it screamed, as its life bar steadily dropped to zero.
After a few more seconds, a notification window popped up.
|+ You have dealt a fatal blow to the Aswang: Sawi
+ You have killed the Aswang: Sawi
+ You have gained 1,000,000 XP
It was only after reading this that Smoke canceled his Incinerator ability.
After vanquishing the horrific monster, Smoke spotted something within its remains.
+ Acquired forging component: Aswang Tongue
After defeating the monster, Smoke hurried towards the village. He needed to know if Buktot, Duda, and her baby reached Nadaya safely.
* * * * * *
The quarter moon had fallen past its apex, as a worried Smoke circled over the village.
With the aid of his Telefax Vision, he searched for Buktot, Duda, and her baby. Looking for familiar landmarks, he spotted the dozens of stacked barrels outside Buktot’s house. Next to them stood Buktot and Duda. He glided down fast but landed softly in front of them.
“Are you guys alright?” asked Smoke, but was surprised at what he found.
Duda was rocking her baby to sleep as she told him a bedtime a story.
“…So, the scared and witless boy realized that this was going nowhere,” Duda said in a calming voice to her baby. “Until, he meets a beautiful and smart girl… with a passion for music.”
Buktot’s face cringed at Duda’s words. So, he stood next to her and hijacked her story.
“But the boy took an instant disliking to Du— the beautiful girl. Her brash and callous ways that she learned during her years in the Thanotl Kingdom left to be undesirable.”
This time, Duda took charge of her story.
“But an evil Aswang tried to kidnap the handsome prince. Out of all the people in the village, it was only Bukto— the witless boy who came running to rescue the prince,” said Duda. She paused and blushed as her eyes met with Buktot’s. “It was then that Queen remembered how kind hearted the village boy was.”
As the two of them shared a moment, Smoke found it awkward to interrupt them. He tried to walk away but stumbled onto the stacked barrels next to the house.
Pomegranate juice spilled out of the barrels. The purple goo made Smoke slip and fall on his back.
“Sir Ilad, are you alright?” asked Buktot, who hurried to help him up.
“I’m fine,” replied Smoke, propping himself up before Buktot could reach him.
“I knew it! I knew Sir Ilad would kill that Aswang in no time,” said a cheerful Duda.
After he wiped off the sticky purple juice, Smoke turned to Buktot. “So, the barrels were filled with pomegranate juice.”
“Hehehe,” chuckled a nervous Buktot. “Yeah. Our agricultural research indicated that the land around the village was hopeless.” He paused and let out a forced laugh. “Since I didn’t want our agricultural research to fail, I had Saka investigate on the potential uses on the fruits that were still thriving. Fortunately, he learned about the process of making pomegranate juice and I’ve been selling it to a Sonstwelter from the Thanotl Kingdom.”
“So, that’s where you got your money from?” said Duda. “I knew there was a reasonable explanation for it.”
“So, are you heading to the Thanotl Kingdom to heal your hunchback?” Duda asked Buktot.
“No, I’m saving up money for another reason,” replied Buktot.
“I see…” said Duda. “You were saving that money for someone else.”
Without a word, Buktot shyly nodded.
Smoke looked at Duda with a raised eyebrow, something had been bothering him ever since his return to the village.
“Duda, I’m glad that your baby is safe,” said Smoke. “But aren’t you sad about your sister Hinala?”
He found it suspicious and wanted to clear the air. He thought about enclosing her in a manatl sphere but decided not to, not until he found a more substantial evidence.
“Of course, I’d be happy,” said Duda. “Hinala is alive!”
‘Oh, looks like she lost it,’ thought Smoke.
“Listen, the Aswang said—” began Smoke but was interrupted.
“That my sister told him something about Tlatezin’s teachings,” said Duda. “But the funny thing is… my sister isn’t a follower of Tlatezin! In fact, she hates him.”
“Huh?” said Smoke.
“That means that the Aswang was just making up stories,” said Duda. “Which is why I’m hoping that you could find her for me? And maybe you could help me bring back my sister Alay too?”
|+ Quest: The Search for Duda’s Siblings
Duda of Nadaya Village has asked you to help her find her two sisters Hinala and Alay. There are no known clues about Hinala, but Alay’s last known whereabouts was on the road to the Thanotl Kingdom.
Accept the Quest? [YES/NO]
“Sure, I’d be happy to,” replied Smoke.
“Great! Then, it’s settled,” said Duda. “You will take all three of us to the Thanotl Kingdom,” she said, pointing to herself, her baby, and Buktot.
“All three of us?” asked Buktot.
“Didn’t you save that money to cure my baby of his hunchback?” Duda asked Buktot.
“Yes! Yes, I did,” said Buktot. “But how did you know?”
“I have my ways,” answered Duda.
“If all of us are going to Thanotl, then we better not bother Sir Ilad with his search for your sisters,” said Buktot. “I’ll contact that Merchant and secure a safe trip.”
“That’s a great idea,” said Smoke. “Why don’t you take this?” he said and gave him a brown bag filled with 500,000 zecs.
Buktot’s eyes grew wide after he saw what was inside the bag. “Sir Ilad, I can’t possibly take this.”
“Yes you can!” said an encouraging Smoke.
“But I must give you something in return,” said Buktot.
“Hm…” said Smoke, thinking. “Maybe you can help me with this,” he said and showed the Aswang tongue he acquired earlier.
“Ooooh!” exclaimed Buktot. “Agimats really do exist!”
“Agimats?” asked Smoke.
“They’re enchanting materials that can strengthen your current items,” explained Buktot. “They say that only a special type of Blacksmith can fuse these agimats.”
“Really? Do you know where I can find one?” asked Smoke, excited.
Buktot shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t. That’s just some of the stories passed down by my grandfather, but maybe you’ll know more about them in his book,” he said and headed inside his home.
After a few seconds, Buktot came out and gave Smoke a worn out book.
MAP LOCATION: Vectas City
Coordinates: Latitude: -15°23′ S, Longitude: -11°35′ W
Note: One hundred kilometers away from current location.
+ Acquired book: A Compendium of Aswangs and Agimats
“Thanks!” said Smoke. “I’m sure I’ll find some interesting stuff here.”
“Sure, no problem,” replied Buktot.
“Well, I’ll leave you three to plan your trip for Thanotl,” said Smoke. “I have to some other stuff to do as well.”
“Thanks again, Sir Ilad,” said Buktot and shook his hand.
“I’m sure we’ll see each other again,” added Duda. “And next time with my sisters.”
“I’ll try my best,” replied Smoke and gave her a sincere smile.
In no time at all, Smoke arrived at his temporary house in the village and closed the doors.
“Daga,” called out Smoke.
At once, the little gray mouse jumped out of its hiding place from within his hooded cloak and stood before its master.
“Keep an eye out on Buktot and Duda,” said Smoke. “Make sure that the Sonstwelter taking them to Thanotl isn’t going to swindle them.”
Daga gave him a small bow and scampered out of the log cabin.
With a smile on his face, Smoke was about to begin his Manatl training for the day.
‘Can’t let my guard down, even if I’ve gotten stronger,’ he thought.
Even with his powers increased from becoming a Beggar Evocati, Smoke knew that a daily focus on training his abilities was the fastest way to becoming even stronger.
But as he was settling in to do his training session, an emergency notification popped up.
It was the first time for him to see such a notification.
|EMERGENCY! PLEASE LOG OUT NOW!
-Request prompted by <Seth Smoak> outside your game pod
Less than a second later, Smoke was logged out of Zectas.
* * * * * *
Nash stepped out of his game pod and immediately saw his two brothers standing in front of it.
Donny’s eyes were red and was shaking.
“What’s wrong?” asked Nash, a lump in his throat began to form. “Did something happen to Mima?”
Before he could clear out of his game pod, Donny ran to him and cried out. “Mima’s gone, Nash! She’s gone!” he said while hugging him tightly.
“No, no! Mima can’t be dead,” said Nash in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right? She said she was going to recover. I haven’t even made her a dragon kite.”
Seth shook his head and handed him their cordless phone. “No! She’s not dead. Someone took her from the hospital. The Doctors are on the phone now, and they want to talk to you…”