Author: John Nest
Two OrkElves hauled a paralyzed Smoke by the armpits. Both his hands and feet were bounded by chains, dragging his boots against the roots on the forest floor.
Since the wyvern encounter, the Zectas sun had already set. The stars had begun their twinkling dance in between the gaps of the pomegranate treeline.
With little control over his own body, Smoke tried looking around Cynar’s men. With a glance, he found them to be more ragged than before and fewer in numbers.
“Boss, I think I can free you from these chains,” squeaked Daga from inside his chest pocket.
“No…” forcibly answered Smoke, groggy.
“Hey, I think the paralysis is wearing off,” said one of the OrkElves dragging him.
“We better hurry, then,” replied the other.
Thirty seconds passed, Smoke was dropped in front of the OrkElves’ warmonger leader—Cynar.
The young OrkElf Assassin held both his hands in front of the crackling orange bonfire for warmth. Behind Cynar were dozens of his battle-worn men including the burly OrkElf named Beistand, who was now the second-in-command.
“Perhaps justice does exist,” said Cynar, staring at the flames. “Tell me, Faux, does the dirt taste good?” he taunted.
The OrkElves behind Cynar erupted into mocking laughter.
Smoke tried to answer but the paralysis ailment made it difficult for him to do so.
“Give him some white flower,” ordered Cynar to one of the OrkElves.
At once, one of Cynar’s men brought a clear liquid vial in front of Smoke and ran it across his nose.
“Whoa! What is that?” exclaimed Smoke after taking a whiff of the potion.
“Shut up!” interjected Cynar. “Everyone, leave us!” he commanded.
At once, Cynar’s soldiers dispersed. Only Smoke and the OrkElf leader were left in front of the warm campfire.
“Tell me, do you still have Blaise’s Salamander Tongue?” asked Cynar, his eyes glaring at the flames.
“Of course,” answered Smoke, trying to sit up. Yet, being bounded by chains proved quite to be a challenge. “Been taking great care of it,” he added as he continued with his struggle to be upright. ‘Although its durability is almost near the danger zone,’ he thought but kept that fact for himself.
“Good, good,” said Cynar, turning away from the bonfire to face Smoke. “So, here’s my proposal. If you’ll give me back the flamberge, I’ll give you a quick death instead of torture.”
“What! Why so violent?” asked Smoke as he finally managed to sit up. “Besides, you shouldn’t take it. He left the sword to me.”
Cynar clicked his tongue. “No, no, no. Blaise and I took on a dangerous quest to get that sword,” he explained. “I almost lost a leg, but Blaise got a large scar on his back from the Salamander King instead.” He let out a regretful sigh. “That sword would be a waste on you.”
“But what good is it to you?” asked Smoke. “It’s not like you can use it.”
“Shut up!” screamed Cynar. “You don’t know anything!”
“Wait. Why are you angry with me anyway?” asked Smoke. “You still can’t be mad at me for saving your life? You know you were going for a suicide charge that day.”
Cynar’s hands began to tremble. He stared at his fingers as if forcing them to stop but failed. Even when he clenched his fists they were still shaking.
“Blaise sacrificed his life to save you,” added Smoke. “And you were just about to throw it all away.”
“See! That’s where your wrong,” replied Cynar, suddenly running to where Smoke was and punching him straight in the face.
The bounded Smoke was easily knocked back down.
“You were the one who squandered Blaise’s life,” said Cynar. “I could have killed Wertlosvati then if you didn’t stand in my way.”
Cynar threw a flurry of punches at Smoke’s face, each one dealing 1,000 damage points on Smoke’s life bar.
“You were the one who did it! Not me!” went on Cynar, as he punched Smoke some more. “It was never me! I didn’t kill him. You did!”
Cynar only stopped when Smoke’s life bar reached 50%. This was the first time Smoke’s face got this mangled.
With his swollen lips, Smoke tried to speak. “He gave me that sword to protect you—” but was cut short as Cynar’s fists met his face once more.
“I supposed you’re going to lecture me about how I recklessly killed not only half my entire army but my best friend as well?” yelled Cynar in between his punches. “You’re the one who killed him. Faux! You’re the one who did it. If only you were faster, you could have blocked Wertlosvati’s second ax… and Blaise wouldn’t have jumped to save—”
Cynar’s voice vanished. He stopped punching Smoke and knelt on the ground. He screamed at the stars above. “Are you judging me too?” He stopped yelling as tears flowed out. “I’m sorry,” he said in a whisper. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, dropping his forehead to the scattered roots of the pomegranate forest.
“Faux, take care of Cynar for me,” spewed out Smoke, along with some of his blood. “That’s what Blaise said when he gave me the Salamander’s Tongue.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Cynar. “Blaise never said that.”
“He did,” said Smoke. “And he told you not to follow him in Mictlan just yet.”
“He really said that?” asked Cynar, unbelieving. “He wasn’t shouting about how I killed him? How I wasted everything we worked for?”
Smoke shook his beaten-up face. “No. He even told you to lead your men—”
“To glory,” interjected Cynar. “So that our names will become legends as the ones who changed the fate of the OrkElves.”
“Blaise never blamed you,” repeated Smoke.
Despite his injuries, Smoke propped himself back up. “A wise woman told me; there is no standing still because time is always moving forward. Let go of this guilt, it will only consume you.”
“When did you become so philosophical?” asked Cynar, wiping the tears from his face.
Then, a gratifying notification window popped up.
|+ Intimacy with Cynar has risen to 55|
“What you said might be true,” went on Cynar. “But I still want the Salamander’s Tongue back.”
“Seriously? You can’t even use it,” said Smoke, grinning with his puffy face, which made Cynar winced.
“Same thing goes for you,” countered Cynar. “You’re an Elementalist, right? Last I checked you can’t use a flamberge as well.”
“Right, right, right…” replied Smoke.
“Hey, sorry about—” began Cynar but Smoke beat him to it.
“What? This face? Don’t worry about it,” said Smoke. “I’ll be back to normal in no time.”
Cynar gave him a forced smile. “I sure hope so.”
“But about the sword,” said Smoke. “I’m going to give it to a close friend of mine. He goes by the name of Ilad. He’s a—”
“Ilad? You mean the one who rescued Nadaya Village from the Aswang?” said Cynar, intrigued.
“Yeah? But how do you know about that?” asked Smoke.
“Don’t know why I should tell you this,” began Cynar but conveyed his encounter anyway. “I met a young lady on the road. She was alone, heading for Tacitl City. She was sent by her eldest sister to find help. Supposedly, they thought some Orks have decided to taunt their village, picking off a child at a time—”
“So, you helped her get back to her village,” interjected the sprawled Smoke. “That was really kind of you, Cynar,” he added, remembering how the OrkElf took great care of Jack and Daniel.
“Kind? Um… Wasn’t trying to be,” retorted Cynar. “I was there for the Orks! I’ve lost track of them when they passed through Herrenlos Forest.”
“Oh,” replied Smoke. His earlier attempts at talking proved to be futile. So, he kept his answers short as to minimize the risk of lowering his Intimacy with Cynar any further.
“But when we got there, I was surprised to find the village intact, unharmed,” went on Cynar. “And it was all thanks to this Ilad person.”
“I see,” replied Smoke, wondering whether he should tell Cynar that he was, in fact, Ilad and that he was in truth a Beggar. However, he cleared the thought from his mind as Ouragan reminded him to keep their secret society, well a secret.
“So, you really know Ilad, huh?” asked Cynar.
“Sure do,” answered Smoke as he nodded.
“Alright. New deal,” said Cynar. “I’ll leave you unharmed if you and Ilad join me in my hunt for Wertlosvati.”
“I have a counter-proposal,” said Smoke.
“Leave it to you, Faux. Having the gall to do something like that,” said Cynar, shaking his head. “Fine, let’s hear it.”
“Instead of me joining you, how about you join up with me against the united Ork Tribes?” said Smoke.
“No, no, no,” said Cynar. “I don’t want you calling the shots.”
“Alright, but then you won’t be able to take part in the joint assault of the two kingdoms,” said Smoke, hoping it would spark the OrkElf’s curiosity.
“What are you talking about?” asked Cynar.
Smoke began to explain the situation to him. About how they plan to annihilate the Orks in Etonner Valley.
“…Of course, I promise that I won’t get in the way with you killing Wertlosvati,” added Smoke. “So, what do you say? Shake on it?” he raised his chain-bound hands at Cynar.
“I have two conditions,” began Cynar. “Whenever you’re in this world, I need you to stay near me. If you run away, I’ll consider that as a sign of betrayal,” he paused and studied Smoke’s eyes. “Most importantly, you assure me that I will personally kill Wertlosvati. As long as you won’t get in my way then you have yourself a deal.”
“Deal!” replied Smoke with a grin.
Without another word, Cynar removed Smoke’s chains. Then, a notification window popped up.
|+ Intimacy with Cynar has risen to 60|
“Thanks,” replied Smoke, smiling.
“Stop doing that,” said Cynar, turning away from Smoke’s bloated face.
“Remember our deal, Faux,” warned Cynar with all seriousness. “If you stop me from killing an Ork again, I’ll end you.”
“I would never,” replied Smoke.
“Right, let’s head for Etonner Valley,” said Cynar, helping Smoke up.
“Um… Do you mind if we take a quick detour first,” said Smoke.
“If it’s along the way, then sure,” answered Cynar.
“It is,” replied Smoke, dusting off his armor.
“So, where are we headed?” asked Cynar
“To the MaduHai Ork Village,” replied Smoke.
* * * * * *
Disguised in his Faux persona, Smoke traveled together with Cynar and the rest of his OrkElf army. Despite Cynar’s explanation as to why they were now working with Smoke, he still kept receiving angry stares and rude comments from Cynar’s men.
After riding their dirus wolves for a day, they arrived at the MaduHai Ork Outpost. During the trip, Smoke did his best to raise his Intimacy with Cynar and the rest of the OrkElves. For the most part of the journey it had a positive effect, but then he would sometimes bring up a sensitive topic and lower it again. Smoke was having difficulty raising it over 70, not to mention the heavy downpour of rain that accompanied them along the way, dampening everyone’s mood.
|+ Entered MaduHai Outpost
Remnants of a wyvern’s nest are left in this former Ork Outpost. The MaduHai Tribe have not made any attempts at reclaiming this place for the moment.
Smoke led his dirus wolf into one of the abandoned huts. He motioned for Cynar to join him and step out of the rain.
Cynar laughed as soon as he entered the hut. “You sure got me,” he said, shaking off the water from his armor. “For a second there, I really thought you were going to take me to an Ork Village. But it’s just an abandoned outpost instead,” he added with more laughter.
“We are,” replied Smoke with all seriousness. “But you’re welcome to wait for me here.” He peered outside and the rain was showing no signs of letting up. “In these conditions, the swamp is most likely flooded.”
“Have you forgotten our deal? I’m going with you!” declared Cynar. “I’ll have Beistand and the men make camp here. These huts are still livable.”
“Alright, if you insist,” said Smoke. “I’ll start preparing, you better do the same and tell your men about it.”
Smoke grinned. Although Cynar was still grumbling, he was pleased that his life was no longer in danger.
While waiting for Cynar to return, Smoke took out Daga from his chest pocket. “Listen, you stay here and keep an eye on them. I trust Cynar but I want to know what his men think of me.”
Daga nodded her tiny furry head. “You got it, Boss. But I can tell you right now if you want… they hate you!”
“What the—” said Smoke, surprised by Daga’s reply. He exhaled and turned his back on the mouse, expecting her to run out the door.
“Um. Boss, I think you might have forgotten something,” said Daga.
“What? I think I’ve got everything,” said Smoke, double-checking his equipment.
“Ahem, ahem! I meant my nibbles,” squeaked Daga.
“Oh, right!” replied Smoke, putting down a small bag of chopped up jerky. “But that’s all you’re getting for now.”
“Fine, fine,” replied Daga, merrily nibbling on her snacks.
After the rain let up. Smoke and Cynar traveled into the swamp. Due to the heavy downpour, the swamp was now flooded. Fortunately for Smoke, the shoddy raft he built was still in the same spot he left it. The downside, however, was that it was not made to accommodate two people.
“Look at this crappy craftsmanship,” said Cynar as he squeezed onto the raft. “Bet you got this from those Orks, didn’t you?”
“Um. Something like that,” replied Smoke in a lowered tone.
A slighted Smoke rowed his raft towards the reclaimed island of the MaduHai Orks. With the aid of his Cunning of the Dire Fox ability, he avoided most of the monsters lurking from within the murky waters. After defeating four alligators along the way, the two men on board the undependable raft spotted the Ork village.
“Hey!” exclaimed Cynar when he caught glimpse of it. “They maybe bad boat builders but that dam is something else.”
Smoke grinned. “Really? You think so?” he said, proud. He marveled at his own water system while nodding his head, still grinning. The water-wheel and inclined dam gave a great aesthetic boost to the otherwise dreary village.
After docking the raft on the muddy shore, Smoke told Cynar to stay behind and goes to talk to the Ork Guards.
“Can’t believe that there are supposed to be good Orks,” said Cynar with his paralysis darts in hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll jump right in if I sense anything wrong.”
“Relax, they really are peaceful Orks,” said Smoke. “Trust me. I’m sure you’ll change your mind once you talk to their leader.”
“Don’t bet on it,” retorted Cynar.
After leaving Cynar near the raft, Smoke casually approached the wooden village gates. He did not mind the rushing Ork Guards towards him as he examined the canal that he built.
Suddenly, four Ork Guards pointed their sharp wooden spears at Smoke.
“Kinsamir kanir? Nagunirasir kari dirir?” asked the Guard, whom Smoke knew to be called Debile. This roughly translated to who are you and what are you doing here.
“Debile, what’s going?” asked Smoke with his improved Orkish, raising his hands in surrender. “Is something wrong?”
“Great! Another outsider who speaks our tongue,” grumbled the Guard named Raleur. “Is someone out there giving out Orkish lessons for free—” he added but stopped mid sentence. “Wait! Why do you know Debile’s name?”
“Raleur, what are you talking about?” asked Smoke. “It’s me!” he said, pointing to himself.
“Do you know this weirdo?” Debile asked Raleur, to which, Raleur shrugged.
With the Ork Guards not lowering their spears, Cynar stepped into action. He blitzed behind Smoke and pointed his paralysis darts at the Orks.
“Faux, what’s going on here?” Cynar asked Smoke. “Are they really Orks? They’re no bigger than your usual OrkElf.”
When Smoke heard Cynar call him Faux, it hit him! ‘The MaduHai Orks know me as Ilad!’ he realized and smacked his palm across his Paradox Mask. He completely forgot that he was disguised as his Elementalist persona.
Before Smoke could think up of a solution, Debile blew his whistle. In a matter of seconds, Smoke and Cynar were surrounded by more than thirty Orks.
“Relaksir!” exclaimed Smoke in Orkish. “Everyone, just keep calm!”
“Keep Calm? Tell that to the guy with the darts pointed at us,” said Raleur.
“Debile, can you please call Meneur,” begged Smoke.
“He even knows the High Priestess,” chimed Raleur. “Why does he know so many of us?”
“Please, just call her and tell her Ilad sent me,” quickly added Smoke.
“Wait, you know Ilad?” asked Debile, lowering his spear.
“Stop,” called out Raleur. “It could be a trick.”
Smoke quickly rummaged for the Ork Emissary Emblem and raised it high for everyone to see. “Ilad sent me to update Meneur on the special mission she gave him!”
“Really?” said Debile, doubtful. “Alright, somebody call for the High Priestess,” he ordered. “But no one lower their weapons,” he added, still pointing his spear at Smoke and Cynar.
“Just give me a reason!” hissed Cynar in perfect Orkish. “Kayatavar Orks!”
“Just who the hell is teaching these people our sacred tongue!” screamed Raleur. “They’re even teaching them to curse in our words too.”
“What kind of Orks are they?” Cynar asked Smoke. “They’re only as tall as me. I’m sure you and I can take on all of them.”
All of a sudden, a thick fog surrounded them. Goosebumps erupted on Smoke’s arms as the icy mist covered them.
“Evutangir invong magir armasir,” ordered Meneur. She popped up in the middle of the mist, dispersing it.
SNAP SNAP SNAP
The sound of spears being held at bay echoed throughout the muddy shores of the reclaimed island. Even Cynar, who was ready to attack with his paralysis darts, involuntarily lowered his weapons.
“Ah! You must be the OrkElf that I’ve heard some much about,” Meneur said to Cynar in Lacerta—the common tongue.
“Wait a minute,” blurted out Smoke. “You can see him?”
“Of course not, you dummy!” replied Meneur, facing him with her white glossy eyes.
“Then, how can you—” began Smoke but dropped the whole thing altogether as there were more pressing matters at hand. “It’s great to see you again. But do you think you can do something with this crowd?”
Meneur turned her head and spoke to her fellow MaduHai Orks. “Everyone, it’s alright,” she said in Orkish. “He is Ilad’s friend. Sorry for the confusion, it seems I’ve forgotten to inform Debile of their arrival.”
“Ilad’s friends, huh?” questioned Raleur. “That’s fine, but none of them can enter the village. Only Ilad gained the right to do so,” He strongly reminded them. “If they have business with the High Priestess, they should do it here—outside.”
“Hey! You can’t talk to High Priestess Meneur like that,” argued Debile.
“It’s fine,” interjected Meneur, pacifying Debile with a wave of her hand. “He has a point.” She then turned to face Raleur. “Don’t worry, they’ll only be staying on the shore.” She then patted the grumbling guard’s shoulder, calming him as well. “Now, why don’t everyone else get back inside the village while I talk with our guests?”
Groggy, the Ork Guards dragged their spears on the muddy shores and returned as Meneur commanded.
“Well, now that that’s settled, what can I do for you Smok— I mean Faux? Was it?” said Meneur to Smoke.
Before Smoke could answer, Cynar rushed Meneur and pointed his paralysis dart at her. “What did you do to me? You bewitched me! I was just about to attack them but suddenly lost my will to fight.”
A composed Meneur waved her hand in front of Cynar. “Calm down.”
“Tell me what you did to me!” screamed Cynar.
“Strange?” said Meneur. “That usually works.”
“Huh?” asked Smoke as he stepped in between the two of them, grabbing hold of Cynar’s hand and lowering it. “What are you talking about?”
“I sent a mist of tranquility to your friend,” explained Meneur. “It should have removed all his blood lust but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
“So that’s what you did!” said Cynar, pushing Smoke to the side and pointing his dart at her once more. “What did I tell you, Faux? You can never trust these Orks. Bet she used some sort of hypnosis spell on you too!”
“No, she didn’t,” said Smoke, lowering Cynar’s weapon again. ‘Otherwise, I would have seen a notification window,’ he reassured himself.
“Well, whatever it is, she’s still doing something nasty,” said Cynar, pointing his dart at her as he spoke.
“Faux is right,” chimed in Meneur, extending her hand to Cynar. “I mean you no harm.”
The tall and slender OrkElf quickly backed away from the old and blind High Priestess.
Cynar never dropped his darts from his throwing position. “Stay away! You’re gonna do something weird again!”
“Relax, Kid,” said Meneur. “I only want to talk.”
“Pfft! Talk with an Ork, that’s rich!” said Cynar. “All you people know is how to pillage and rape.”
“You think all Orks are like that?” asked Meneur. “What about your kind? I heard some of you steal and even kidnap children?”
“Hey! It’s not like we’re hurting anyone,” countered Cynar. “Besides, we only take those entitled snot-nosed brats.”
“And that justifies your actions?” asked Meneur. “How is that any different from what the UrukHai and OlegHai tribes are doing?”
“Hey! For your information, I treated those kids nicely,” argued Cynar. “Besides, it’s still a far cry from raping and killing.”
“What a hypocrite!” said Meneur. “It’s wrong if the Orks do it, but it’s fine when you’re the one doing the oppression?”
“Stop it, both of you,” interjected Smoke. “I didn’t come here for this.”
“Me neither,” blurted out Cynar. “You can forget our deal, Faux. Sorry, but I don’t have the stomach to trust her. After seeing them, I’m doubtful your plan would have succeeded anyway.”
“What plan?” Meneur asked Smoke.
“Could you just wait,” Smoke said to Cynar. “Just let me talk to her, then we can leave.”
“Fine!” replied Cynar and headed over to the shoddy stitched-up raft.
With Cynar and Meneur broken apart, Smoke summarized the strategy of the joint kingdoms. He told her about their general idea on how to eliminate the United Ork Tribes in Etonner Valley.
As she listened, Meneur kept on shaking her head. “Hm… hm… Nope, that won’t work at all,” she concluded after hearing Smoke’s update. “Snide and Dastard will spot your trap from a mile away.”
“You mean the two OlegHai Generals?” asked Smoke. “You think they’ll really discover this?”
“You don’t know them, do you?” asked Meneur. “General Snide is said to be a calculating genius. They say that he mastered all the war strategies of the Meridianus.”
“I heard that he grew his army himself,” added Cynar. “He personally led his Orks from the front lines and made sure that his men gained experience from each encounter.”
“Sounds like a typical Ork Commander to me,” said Smoke.
“But what’s intriguing is how Snide never took any risks with his men,” explained Cynar. “He always went for the most minimal losses.”
“You’re quite a knowledgeable young OrkElf, aren’t you,” said Meneur, grinning. “Not only did Snide’s men increase their levels, but he also gained the trust of the other scattered OlegHai Orks to join his ranks.”
Smoke faced the young OrkElf leader, afraid that he would overreact for being interrupted by the old Ork High Priestess. However, Cynar remained stoic and listened to Meneur.
“With their swelling numbers, Snide and his men began attacking larger towns,” added Meneur. “Even the mighty town guards of the Thanotl Kingdom could do nothing against Snide’s formations!”
“Bet they were taken by surprise,” said Cynar. “Was their own fault for underestimating them.”
Meneur slowly walked closer towards Cynar. She took tiny steps and did it in the most discreet manner. “That’s partially true,” she added. “But it was also because of Snide’s mastery of the strategies of the Meridianus. That was what paved the way to his bloody road.” She let out a deep sigh. “Countless of towns and villages were laid to waste. His army got more powerful after each invasion. Due to his continuous victories, the Orks have given him the moniker—Valay Fildir.”
“The Undefeated,” said Smoke, translating Meneur’s Orkish.
“But not for long,” said Cynar out loud. He threw one of his paralysis darts on a medium-sized white oak branch and broke it off from the tree.
‘Whoa! When did he get that strong?’ wondered Smoke. “And what about General Dastard?” he asked Meneur.
“Yeah? Who is that?” asked Cynar as well. “Never heard that name before,” he said to Meneur, who was now standing practically next to him.
“A cruel, sadistic man, and he’s probably the sneakiest bastard you’ll ever meet,” she answered while shaking her head. “He’s a lot older than Snide, but only really gained his momentum after he abused the innocent heart of a naive female.”
“Eh? Say, what now?” asked Cynar, taken aback. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I know! Who would have guessed that anyone would fall in love with a wrinkled old Ork?” explained Meneur. “Anyway, the short version is that Dastard gained new insight on battle tactics while the girl’s perception of the world turned forever dark…”
“That’s it?” asked Smoke, disappointed. “That’s what made Dastard into one of the OlegHais’ Generals?”
“Um… Well, there’s more to the story, but just take my word for it, okay?” Meneur said to Smoke.
“Yeah, he doesn’t seem all that threatening to me,” said Cynar.
Meneur let out a sarcastic chuckle, followed by a deep sigh. “Oh, the two of you will know once you’ve faced him.”
“But getting back on the plan, do you seriously think it won’t work?” Smoke asked Meneur.
“As it is now, it won’t,” replied Meneur.
“Bet you’ll know how to fix it, huh?” Cynar said to Meneur but lost his footing, surprised to see her so close to him. “Get back, Witch!” he screamed, threatening her with his paralysis darts.
However, Meneur did not. Instead, she grabbed his hand and helped him up. As she did so, clean water sprang out from the mud and washed the dirt off the OrkElf’s clothes.
“Hey, hey! Don’t want none of that mambo-jumbo,” said Cynar.
“What is better, to be born good? Or to renounce your evil nature on a daily struggle?” she asked him while still holding his hand.
“What?” replied Cynar. “Fight evil, of course!”
Meneur smiled. “Then, why do you hate us?” she asked him softly. “Because our skin is green, does that give you the right to judge us?”
Smoke saw Cynar’s mouth twitch as the OrkElf stared on the muddy shore.
“You of all people should know how it feels to be discriminated because of what you look like,” said Meneur.
“Hate has been the only thing in my heart whenever I see an Ork,” replied Cynar. “In my head, I know that I can trust you. Sadly, it’s my heart that tells me otherwise.”
“Perhaps this will help?” said Meneur. She placed her hand on Cynar’s chest and mist covered the both of them. Sparks of light erupted every now and then.
“Hey! You’re not killing each other in there, are you?” asked a concerned Smoke.
Seconds passed and the mist vanished.
“There, how’s that?” asked Meneur, patting his chest.
Cynar looked at Meneur then at Smoke. “Sorry, but nothing’s changed. I still hate my father.”
“Really?” she asked, surprised. “But that was my strongest cleansing spell.”
“Don’t worry, though,” blurted out Cynar. “Me and my men will stick around and fight alongside Faux.” He returned her smile. “So, what’s this new plan?”
“Just a simple revision really,” began Meneur. “I’ll have twenty MaduHai Orks join you in Etonner Valley.”
“That’s it?” asked Smoke.
“Yes,” replied Meneur. “Now, give me about an hour while I go prepare some stuff.”
“Oh, you don’t have to bother giving me anything,” said Smoke. “The armies from the two kingdoms will have plenty of provisions.”
“Silly, silly, Smo—Faux! I’m packing my things,” explained Meneur, chuckling. “I’m going to be one of the Orks who’ll be joining you.”
“Wait, before you go do that I’d like to talk about the Quest you sent me on earlier,” Smoke said to Meneur.
“Oh, right!” replied Meneur.
Then, a notification window popped up.
|+ Completed Quest: MaduHai P.R.O.
You have successfully allied the MaduHai Orks with the Kingdoms of Vitzytl and Thanotl
* Sacred Clay Staff
* 1,500,000 XP
Smoke stared at the earthy looking staff which suddenly appeared in his hand. It was as long as his current manatl staff but had an empty receptacle on its head.
“That should prove more useful than the one you’re using now,” said Meneur and proceeded to prepare for their journey towards Etonner Valley.
Left alone, Smoke inspected his staff at once.
|Sacred Clay (Staff)
A simple earthen staff emitting a peculiar aura. The empty receptacle on top of the staff only adds to the mystery.
+ 10 Intelligence
– Can only be used by Mage variations
– Level 120
– Strength: 100
– Agility: 100
– Intelligence: 400
*Earth Rod (Passive)
> Increases Lightning Resistance by 20%
> Increases Earth Affinity by 20%
‘Plus ten to Intelligence!’ exclaimed Smoke in his mind. This would give him his much-needed boost to finally use his Conjure Automaton Knight ability.
“Um. Cynar, I need to—” began Smoke, as he was thinking up of an excuse to get away from his renewed OrkElf friend. He couldn’t go into the village because he was not disguised as Ilad. However, his excitement would not be contained. He wanted to see the shape of his own Automaton Knight. “Check on the village dam. Um… Ilad asked me to check it out for him.”
Cynar shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. I’ll just wait right here.”
Without waiting for Cynar’s response, Smoke leaped up and glided towards the dam.
* * * * * *
On top of the dam, Smoke peeked over his shoulder and made sure that he was out of Cynar’s view. First, he equipped the sacred clay staff. With his maximum mana now reaching beyond 500,000 MP, he then activated his long coveted ability.
“Come out, Automaton Knight!” yelled out Smoke with his hands stretched out.
A multi-colored conjuring circle appeared in front of him, followed by a flash of white light. When the light vanished, a faceless gray training dummy materialized before him, bare. A circular cavity etched into its chest. It stood as the same height as him and followed his gaze as Smoke circled the Automaton Knight, inspecting it.
“You don’t look like an Automaton Knight at all,” said a frowning Smoke.
Then, the Automaton Knight’s Character window popped up.
|Name: Automaton Knight | Level: 001 | Job: Knight
Life: 20,000 HP Mana: 0 MP
Morale: (50/100) EXP: (0/1000)
L-Hand: <NONE> R-Hand: <NONE>
L-Arm: <NONE> R-Arm: <NONE>
L-Leg: <NONE> R-Leg: <NONE>
L-Foot: <NONE> R-Foot: <NONE>
‘Now this looks promising!’ thought Smoke, all enthusiastic. He hurriedly equipped his Automaton Knight with some of the leftover items he had. He gave it a long sword, a skullcap, a chain-mail, and a round shield, dropped items from the skeleton warriors guarding the Labyrinth’s exit.
Sadly, he was greeted by an error notification.
|– Level Requirement not met|
His old modified pants given to him by James Jackal had no level requirement but needed 330 Dexterity.
“Looks like you’ll have to do with a starter pack,” said Smoke to the faceless Automaton.
He gave it his old novice armor, a beginner’s knife, and the specialized gas mask Howard Hide made for him long ago. When he was done, it looked far from decent but was still a definite improvement from a bare Automaton Knight.
“Good. Now, why don’t we see what you’re capable of,” he said to the Automaton Knight. “Attack me!”
In a mechanical fashion, the Automaton Knight sluggishly moved towards Smoke. It raised its Beginner’s knife and swung it over Smoke’s head.
As a reflex, Smoke put up a manatl shield. However, the barrier he created was far stronger than he had planned. It stretched out in front, knocking his Automaton Knight backward into the canal.
He heard a loud splash as the Automaton Knight fell into the moving canal waters. A worried Smoke was about to go jump in after his items. They may have been spares but they were still valuable to him. Thankfully, he spotted a minimized blinking window on the corner.
|– Automaton Knight has been greatly damaged:
Do you wish to recall? [YES/NO]
Clicking the option, the Automaton Knight was teleported from the canal and appeared in front of him. It was still fully equipped with the items Smoke gave it. Yet, before Smoke could do anything else, it vanished into thin air, along with his items.
|+ Automaton Knight gained 10 XP|
With his Knight and items gone, Smoke immediately tried summoning it back again. He stretched out his arms and activated his ability.
|– Not enough MP to use Conjure Automaton Knight|
‘Right! Forgot about the 500,000 MP,’ realized Smoke. He checked his status window and saw that he needed twenty more minutes before his mana reached its maximum capacity.
Smoke huffed but smiled soon after. It might not be what he had envisioned, but grinding for a more powerful Knight was something to look forward to as well.
* * * * * *
A grinning Nash stepped out of his game pod. Despite the air conditioning inside the virtual gateway, his palms were still covered in sweat.
‘Today’s the day,’ he thought, excited. It was the cut-off day for the tally of views.
Receiving the quest ‘Ways of the Chilanes’, Nash was inspired to make a video of his time inside the Oracle of Aphend. Of course, he did not reveal the secret of opening it. He did, however, convey the oracle’s message.
“Now, remember these words well. Today, the world has become complacent about its situation. It has forgotten the tribulations of the past. Soon, it will experience the terrors that are written in the forgotten books. When the Sonstwelters reign will begin, so shall be the precursor of the end.”
Scrolling down, Nash saw that it had reached 7,500,000 views, enough for him to receive a $10,000 check. Yet, he was expecting it to be more.
A disappointed Nash scrolled down to read some of the comments on his latest video post.
|Earat: Anyone here knows what this means?
DetectiveRonan: Probably some kind of Event-Quest requirement. Particularly about the part where the Sonstwelters reign will begin.
Missgaming: IMO, and I know not many will share this, it could have been a better video. Smoke’s cryptic puzzle isn’t for everyone. Sometimes people want a detailed walk-through!
Buffet101: What city did Smoke do this?
DetectiveRonan: He’s supposed to be in the Chayotl Kingdom, so he probably did it in Centeo City.
CaptNemo: No way that’s right. My guild has never lost sight of the oracle in Centeo City, and not once did we see Smoke go near it.
SmoKing: That’s just how good Smoke is!
TriTank: Everyone, just drop this. This just means that Smoke got lucky! On the other hand, you people should check out Faux and Chrysopelea. They’re also rising stars along with me! Stay tuned for the war against the Ork Horde.
BZZT BZZT BZZT
Nash looked down and found a message from Sherry on his phone. As he was typing in his reply he stopped and decided to call her instead.
“Hey! Have you seen the video?” asked Nash.
“It was nice—” replied Sherry, nonchalant. “But I’ll have to watch the unedited version. Didn’t really get anything from the one you posted.”
“Was it that bad?” said Nash. “No wonder the views were that low.”
“Maybe, you should have shown them how to get into the oracle?” suggested Sherry.
“No!” exclaimed Nash. “And what next? Let everyone into the oracles?”
“Not step by step, of course. But maybe you could have added a few more hints,” said Sherry.
“You think so?” said Nash in a calmer voice. “Maybe. But I’ve already posted it and the deadline is up anyway.”
“Perhaps on the next video, then?” said Sherry. “Listen, I know that you’ve had trouble with your views lately. So, why don’t you post about how you’re actually Ilad and Faux. That would make a lot of views and the battles that you did while you were them could—”
“This again?” interrupted Nash. “I thought I already explained why I don’t want to reveal that?”
“Not really,” replied Sherry.
“I’ve only ever interacted with the other Sonstwelters when I was disguised as Ilad or Faux, never as Smoke,” replied Nash. “Because that’s something I only want to keep for myself, and for those few people I’m close to.”
“But you’ve already told plenty of Zectians about your true identity,” pointed out Sherry.
“That’s completely different,” retorted Nash. “They’re Zectians, for crying out loud!”
“Fine, fine, don’t make a video on that,” said Sherry. “Was just trying to help you get more views.”
For a few seconds, no one bothered to speak.
Then, Nash blurted out. “Sorry. I know you were only trying to help.” He paused and took in a deep breath. “It’s just that when I’m Smoke, I feel like I’m being judged as Nash. As my real self, you know?”
“Really? Why?” asked Sherry. “You’re a DarkElf, no one could recognize you in the street if they’ll see you,” she said and lightly laughed.
“See. You think that it’s funny,” said Nash. “But to me, it’s not. Can’t really explain it, but I just want Smoke to have the least contacts with Sonstwelters.”
“The whole time, I thought it was so you could keep a trump card about other Sonstwelters who’ll face us… But this can’t still be about what Tristan did to you, is it?” asked Sherry. “I mean, not revealing that you’re Ilad or is Faux fine. I won’t bring that topic up again. And Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll have better views on your next post.”
“You think?” asked Nash.
“But it would be a lot easier if you could post a video of you leading the army against the Ork Horde,” subconsciously blabbed out Sherry.
“Maybe,” replied Nash, chuckling. “But don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll have better views on my next post,” he said, repeating what she told him.
* * * * * *
Argument after argument, these were the only things that came out of the conversations between Cynar and Meneur. This made an annoyed Smoke steer away from the two of them whenever they began to talk. It had already been two days since all of them traveled together. By now, Smoke assumed that Cynar and Meneur would have acclimated with each other. Sadly, this was not the case. Sure, Cynar had opened up to working with the MaduHai Orks, but he never fails to mention how he hates all Orks in general.
Smoke, Cynar, and Meneur were leading the group of OrkElves and MaduHai Orks from on top of their respective dirus wolves.
“Whoa! What is that!” suddenly exclaimed Smoke when he saw the entrance of Etonner Valley.
In front of them stood two colossal statues opposite each other. Each one was as tall as the mountain they were attached to, but they were covered with grass and moss, clearly neglected. In the middle of the two monuments was the pathway that led to the valley. When Smoke used his Telefax Vision to examine the statues, he found that each one of them wore a crown and each had a royal staff.
“Halt!” called out Cynar to his men after Smoke stopped.
“What’s happening?” asked Meneur, her voice clearly worried. “I don’t sense anything,” turning her glazed eyes in all directions. “Speak up, you two! Are we being attacked?”
“It’s nothing,” said Smoke. “Was just surprised to see two giant statues. King Kajou said that there was nothing here.”
“Oh! You mean the effigies of the past Kings of Thanotl and Vitzytl,” answered Meneur. “This was supposed to be the place where the to Kings would meet and discuss their plans for the peaceful future of their kingdoms. But it seems it was never used for that.”
“Bet it was Snide who thought to use this neglected place,” said Cynar. “It would have been really ironic if the Ork Horde’s invasion started from this point.”
“Really? You think so?” Smoke asked Cynar. “Well, whoever it was is sure to be one sadistic bastard.”
“Sadistic? I wouldn’t say that,” said Meneur. “Anyway, you did say that Ilad was going to be joining us here, right?” she added, clearly trying to change the subject.
“Why would you bring that up?” asked Smoke, bothered to be put in a bind. But he noticed Cynar’s piqued ears. “Of course! Bet Ilad’s already there somewhere in the valley.”
“Good. We better get a move on. Can’t wait to see you and Ilad together in one place,” said Meneur and led the way, striking her heel against the dirus wolf’s belly.
|– Entered Etonner Valley
The relatively peaceful land between the kingdoms of Thanotl and Vitzytl.
– Monsters inside this valley are non-aggressive.
– Suggested level for entering this forest is 60.
Passing through the two effigies of the past kings, Smoke and his companions traveled deeper into the valley. There, they found themselves awestruck at the sight of thousands of tents pitched up in the valley’s center. Yet, the number of tents paled in comparison to the number of people gathered outside. There were Magicians, Wizards, Knights, Paladins, Priests, Bishops, and more. All of them were busy preparing for the upcoming battle. Some were having friendly bouts against one another, while others were stocking up on their equipment. Yet, none of them were doing it discretely.
“And you were seriously going to do a surprise attack on the Ork Horde with this setup?” Cynar asked Smoke. “No wonder Meneur thought it best to come along.”
“What? Believe me, this wasn’t what I had in mind,” retorted Smoke. He then whispered into his pocket. “Daga, find out what’s going on,” he said to his Beggar Shade and casually dropped the little gray mouse on the ground.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for all of this,” said Smoke.
Shortly after, an elderly HighElf flew overhead and landed softly in front of them. “Smo—Faux, you’re finally here,” greeted Ouragan as the dust cleared. “That was cutting it a bit short there. We only have two days left before the Ork Horde arrives.”
“Yeah, about that,” said Smoke. “What’s up with the tents? Why are they out in the open?”
“Oh, those. They belong to the Thanotl army,” replied Ouragan. “But let’s talk about that later. Introduce me to the friends you’ve brought along.”
“Right. This is Meneur—High Priestess of the MaduHai Orks,” began Smoke. “And Next to her is the leader of this OrkElf Army—Cynar.”
“A pleasure to meet you both,” said Ouragan, walking up to them and shaking their hands.
“Where can my men and I rest?” suddenly blurted out Cynar.
“Not sure,” replied Ouragan, smiling. “But don’t worry. I’ll find a spot for you.”
Then, two guards walked up to Ouragan and whispered something to him. They were pointing to a grandiose tent.
“Faux, it seems Prince Matalim got wind of your arrival. He wants to see you,” said Ouragan.
“Great. I’ll take Meneur and Cynar with me,” replied Smoke. “We need to have a meeting about the coming battle.”
“Wait. What about my men? And Meneur’s comrades as well?” asked Cynar.
“I’ll get your friends settled,” said Ouragan. “In the meantime, why don’t the three of you head on over to the Prince. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up as soon as I’m done.”
The two guards escorted Smoke, Meneur, and Cynar towards Prince Matalim’s flamboyant tent.
“Faux! Finally!” exclaimed Trottel the moment Smoke and his companions stepped inside. “Still with the dramatic entrance?” he asked, stroking his long orange mane.
“Sorry, it took longer than anticipated,” replied Smoke. “But I’ve brought an OrkElf army and the leader of the MaduHai Orks with me,” he added, pointing to Cynar and Meneur.
As Smoke looked around the tent, he found Prince Matalim, Chrysopelea, and Eleve next to the pompous Trottel. ‘Where’s Tritank?’ wondered Smoke.
“How many men have you brought?” asked Prince Matalim. “By the way, King Kajou regrets to inform you that he cannot attend the battle here personally, and has sent me here instead to act as the Supreme Leader of this coalition.”
“A little over three thousand OrkElves and twenty MaduHai Orks,” replied Smoke.
Prince Matalim smiled. He turned to face Meneur with a grateful face. “I suppose you’re the leader of the MaduHai Orks?”
“The Prince of the Thanotl Kingdom is talking to you,” Smoke whispered to Meneur.
“I am,” answered Meneur.
Prince Matalim then walked over to her and took her hand to shake it. “In behalf of the coalition, I thank you for offering your services to us. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you to fight against your own kind.”
“Not really,” replied Meneur, smiling at the Prince. “There’s some bad blood that needs to be spilled.”
Prince Matalim then turned to Cynar. “And you must be the leader of the OrkElves.”
Cynar only nodded and backed away from Prince Matalim when he offered his hand. “You don’t have to talk to me. Faux can answer on my behalf.”
“Very well,” respectfully said Prince Matalim.
“Ahem! Prince, before we discuss anything else. We need to come up with a better plan than what you have going on right now,” blurted out Meneur.
“You think so too, huh?” said Prince Matalim. “Don’t worry we’ll get this settled soon.”
“Well, you better!” interjected Trottel. “Whose fault is this anyway?” he asked Prince Matalim, his eyes glaring. The pompous tiger Lioumerean acted all haughty.
“Once again, I apologize for Duke Tritank’s behavior,” said Prince Matalim. “I honestly don’t know what happened to him.”
“If we’re being honest right now, then let me tell you how wrong it was to give him the authority of your entire army,” harshly added Trottel. “In fact, I demand that we have this all sorted first before we go on any further.”
“Right. Let me just go find Duke Tritank,” said Prince Matalim in a humbled voice. “Sir Faux, why don’t you and your companions take a rest before we continue our meeting.”
* * * * * *
As soon as Smoke led Cynar and Meneur into their assigned area, he called for his Beggar Shade to give her report.
[[Arguments in the ranks]]
[[Ramblings of Tritank]]
[[Unease of the Sonstwelters]]
His eyes zoomed in on the one entitled ‘Ramblings of Tritank’.
|Ramblings of Tritank
– Tritank went on a rampage and attacked anyone closed to him as soon as the Thanotl Army arrived in the valley. He killed off ten Sonstwelters before finally calming down. He then ordered everyone to put up their tents wherever they were standing. Currently, he is on a drinking binge in one of the tents.
“Is Tritank still drinking right now?” Smoke asked the little gray mouse.
“Yup, and from the look of it, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be done anytime soon,” replied Daga.
“Good. Take me to him,” he said to Daga.
Together, Smoke and Daga discreetly headed towards the Tritank’s tent. It took them less than five minutes to reach it.
“Come on, drink up! Drink up!” slurred someone from inside the tent.
‘Need to have some visual,’ thought Smoke. It had been awhile since he canceled his Synergized State with Igniz, but his Symbiote Vision ability required them to be separated.
A burst of purple light escaped Smoke’s skin as he and Igniz detached from one another.
“Hey, Buddy!” said Smoke, all smiling. “Listen, I need you to turn out your lights and take a peek inside this tent.”
His dark ember sprite bobbed his head and did as he was ordered.
Activating his Symbiote Vision, Smoke saw Tritank surrounded by four passed out Sonstwelters. Amid the drinking session, there was only one other person left awake. It was a middle-aged man who looked familiar to him.
‘They’re really passed-out drunk, huh?’ surmised Smoke, remembering how adjusting the intoxication setting could do exactly just that.
Upon further inspection, Smoke realized that Tritank was talking to Clint—Chrysopelea’s uncle who died when they were fighting against the wyvern. The two of them were holding their copper mugs filled with ale.
“Come on, you can’t be that upset over your brother,” Clint said to Tritank, finishing off his mug after several gulps. “You’re in a game, you should relax.”
“I’m like this because of him!” screamed Tritank. “Did you know that it’s my birthday today?”
“Um, yeah! That’s the reason why you invited us to go out drinking, remember?” replied Clint. “Hey, if you’re drunk, we could stop. I mean, it’s just the two of us left anyway.”
“What? Really?” said a surprised Tritank, looking around all groggy. “Well, whose the better man now?” he asked the passed out Sonstwelters.
“Alright, you’ve had enough,” said Clint. “I’m leaving, and you better stop drinking too. Everybody’s probably looking for you.”
“No. No! Stay, come on!” pleaded Tritank. “Just one more round?” he said, pouring him another drink.
“Fine. I’d be crazy to refuse such an expensive drink that increases your maximum mana by ten!” said Clint.
“Right?” said a grinning Tritank. “Anyway, since it’s just the two of us now. I think I’d share something with you,” he mumbled. “Did you know, that my name isn’t really Tritank?”
“I guessed,” politely replied Clint.
“It’s actually Tristan Maximillion III,” said Tritank.
“Maximillion? Like the one who owns those hotel chains and shipping lines?” asked Clint.
“You must be really old,” said Tritank.
“Huh? Why?” asked Clint.
“You’re more focused on my family name,” replied Tritank, taking a sip out of his mug. “A person in his twenties wouldn’t know about that. Besides, they’d be more focus on the fact that my name is Tristan!”
“Oh, right, Tristan,” said Clint. “Wait! You’re Tristan’s younger brother?”
Upon hearing this, Smoke’s eyes grew wide. ‘No wonder he always defended him in the forums!’
“Yeah! I am,” bitterly said Tritank. “But he was the only one our father ever paid attention to.”
“Come on, now. I’m sure you’re over exaggerating,” said Clint.
“Really? He calls Tristan—Tristan. And what do you think he calls me?” asked Tritank. “He calls me Third!”
“Well, it would be confusing if your dad calls you Tristan too, wouldn’t it?” said Clint.
“That’s not the point!” screamed Tritank. “Tristan always gets the best things in life, and all I get are what’s left over.”
“So, Tristan was mean to you?” asked Clint.
“No. He was worse,” answered Tritank. “For him to do that, he would have to acknowledge my existence first! I’ve been doing everything I could think of to get his approval, but that bastard always ignored me!”
Tritank shook his head and took several gulps of his ale. “You know what he gave me this birthday? He had one of his secretaries give me an e-card.”
“Well, at least he got you some—” began Clint but shut his mouth when he saw Tritank’s piercing gaze.
“And I thought all of that would change when Zectas came out,” went on Tritank. “I thought this was my chance to get close to him.”
“So, you asked to play with him?” asked Clint.
Tritank nodded his head. “Yup. I’m the one who introduced the game to him. Not only that. I’ve been defending him in the forums and video posts.”
“Video Posts?” asked Clint.
“How can you call yourself a Zectas player when you don’t even know about video posts?” asked Tritank in disbelief. “People have been saying crap about how Smoke or Amahan was better than him,” he added, shaking his head. “Can’t allow that. Do you know how much of a bastard Smoke really is?”
“What do you mean?” said Clint.
“Now, this happened about two years ago, before Smoke was even famous,” began Tritank. “Apparently, Tristan and his original guild members were out to get some key from this legendary Maneator. And then suddenly Smoke comes out before they reached the Maneator’s entrance, all dressed in his Novice attire.”
“How did Smoke get out of a city while still being a Novice?” asked Clint.
“Exactly! That’s why Tristan knew that Smoke was up to something,” said Tritank. “I’m not sure what really happened when they faced the Maneator, but Tristan said that they fell for Smoke’s trap and were almost killed. Something about the Maneator being in his private army from the get-go.”
“Smoke has a Maneator in his private army?” asked Clint in disbelief. “And this was almost two years ago? That’s amazing! No wonder his famous.”
“What! That’s what you got from all that?” said Tritank, his speech extremely slurred. “Don’t you get it? Smoke appears to be this mysterious guy who gives out hints on increasing Poison resistance and the rest of his crappy stuff in his videos. But the truth is, he’s a ruthless bastard that picked a fight with my brother because he knows that Tristan is better than him.”
‘What a load of bull!’ The eavesdropping Smoke almost went on a rampage. Thankfully, he managed to pacify his anger by squeezing both his arms tight.
Clint did not reply. He only offered his empty copper mug to Tritank and asked for a refill.
“Hahahahaha!” Tritank suddenly burst out into laughter after pouring Clint another drink. “Smoke was right, though. Tristan is better. But this time, I’ll be able to one-up him. Especially now! My brother lost his guild and his city. There’s practically no news of him anywhere.”
“Well, if we do win this war against the Ork Horde that would be a pretty big deal,” said Clint.
“Yeah. If only I found the mount I’ve been looking for,” said Tritank. “What good is changing Jobs if you can’t ride on a w—” he suddenly stopped himself as he went off topic. “You know that I have a city in the Thanotl Kingdom, right?”.
“And?” asked Clint, confused.
“Well, I was thinking that you and Chrysopelea can join my guild and you could move there with me,” explained Tritank. “I’d give you a big house and—”
“Wait. Let me stop you right there,” said Clint. “You do know that Chrys has his own city, right?”
Tritank’s mouth fell open. “Oh, yeah! Hm. Didn’t think of that. Well, you can give it to some other Sonstwelter then.”
This time, it was Clint’s turn to laugh. “Sorry, but there’s no way that’s happening.”
“Really?” asked Tritank, discouraged. “Um… What about Faux, then?
“What? I thought you hated the guy?” said Clint, surprised.
“I do. But I think it’s just cause of envy,” replied Tritank. “I was about to offer him a spot in my guild, but then the forums started popping up threads about him. When they should be talking about me!”
All of a sudden, the same guards who escorted Smoke to Prince Matalim entered the tent. “Excuse me, Duke Tritank, Prince Matalim has summoned you.”
When Smoke heard this, he immediately signaled Igniz to return to him and left Tritank’s tent.
* * * * * *
Summoned into Prince Matalim’s tent, Meneur performed a sobering spell on Tritank. She froze Tritank’s legs and expelled the alcohol from his system.
Only then did they begin to formulate a new strategy for the Ork’s attack. It took them a total of six hours. The delay was mostly caused by Tritank debating Meneur’s proposal. Thankfully, Tritank’s arguments were shut down by Prince Matalim. The Supreme Leader of the joint armies sided with Meneur, as she was the most knowledgeable person against the Horde.
On the other hand, Smoke kept silent the whole time. The knowledge of Tritank being Tristan’s brother percolated in his mind, but he had no idea what to do with this information. So, when they had finally formulated the plan, Smoke begrudgingly obeyed Prince Matalim’s orders. Along with everyone, they began to disperse to their designated positions.
Yet, as they did so, Tritank called out to Smoke. “Hey, Faux! I don’t know what’s going on, but you seem really pissed at me?”
“He just knows something’s wrong with you,” answered Trottel.
“Butt out of this fur-face,” replied Tritank.
Smoke let out a ball of fire in his right hand. The spacious tent immediately felt hot and stuffy.
“Duke Tritank, please do not instigate any unnecessary altercations with our allies,” reprimanded Prince Matalim.
“Smo—Faux,” interjected Eleve, pulling Smoke away and canceling his fireball by crushing it with her hands. “Come, let’s step outside.”
Smoke was rushed away from Tritank and was followed by Ouragan, Meneur, and Cynar.
“What was that about?” asked Cynar. “Is he giving you trouble? Want me to beat him up?”
“Cynar, don’t fan the flames,” said Meneur.
“Looks like found some reliable allies,” said Ouragan to Smoke. “Leaving you here to face the Orks by yourselves doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now.”
“You were worried?” Eleve asked Ouragan. “Faux is after all my student. I stake my title as Magietrois on him.”
Surrounded by four Zectians who were truly concern for him, Smoke’s anger slowly faded.
“Thank you,” said Smoke. “Sorry about that. That guy just rubs me the wrong way.”
“Don’t sweat it,” said Cynar. “You shouldn’t let someone get under your skin like that.”
‘Like with you and Wertlosvati,’ Smoke thought to himself.
“But don’t worry about us,” said Smoke to Eleve and Ouragan. “You guys think about yourselves—”
Before Smoke could say anything else, Eleve slapped him hard on the back. “Don’t get conceited! We’re still far stronger than you!”
Eleve clicked her tongue. “Come on, Ouragan. Let’s leave this smart-ass alone.”
With that, they left Smoke in the encampment. Even with the joint armies gone; he still had Cynar, Meneur, the OrkElves, and the MaduHai Orks with him for company.
Before the Thanotl Kingdom and Vitzytl Kingdom armies left, they were tasked to put up several lodgings that resembled the huts of the MaduHai Orks, as it was part of Meneur’s plan. But mostly it was because she detested sleeping in anything other than an Ork hut.
With only a little more than twenty-four hours left, Smoke asked to be left alone for a while. He pushed the irritating Tritank out of his mind and focused on the upcoming battle.
Inside the privacy of his own tent, Smoke removed his paradox mask. He thought it was time for him to call his dearest Zectian friend. “Hey, sorry it’s been so long.”
“Hmmp! That’s always how our conversations start these days,” replied Darius.
Smoke forced out a guilty laugh. “Anyway, how’s everyone in Nanahuatl?”
“Well the village is getting better and better,” replied Darius.
“But?” asked Smoke. “I know there’s a but coming, so just spit it out already.”
“But my power is steadily coming back to me too,” said Darius.
“Which means the barrier you’ve put up in Giro’s cave is about to give,” concluded Smoke.
“Well, it won’t be anytime soon,” answered Darius. “But yes! This miasma will definitely breakout.”
An awkward silence passed between the two good friends, which was broken by the Beggar Legati. “Anyway, what can I do for you?” asked Darius. “You usually just call when you want something to ask.”
“I’m hurt!” exclaimed Smoke, exaggerating the pain in his voice. “Can’t I just call to ask how you are?”
“Then, maybe it’s better to end this coversation,” said Darius. “I’ve already told you everything’s fine here, relatively speaking that is.”
“But you haven’t even asked how I was doing!” retorted Smoke.
“Fine. How’s the war against the Ork going?” asked Darius.
“Oh. You know about that huh?” said Smoke.
“Of course! I even know you’re a Beggar Evocati now,” said Darius. “Thank you for telling me by the way!” he added sarcastically.
“Hey, I was planning to tell you!” began Smoke. “But things just got busy. In this world and from where I came from.”
“I see.” was Darius’ only reply.
After a few seconds, Darius finally spoke again. “So, how are you doing?”
“Hm, the kingdoms of Thanotl and Vitzytl have joined forces. I’ve also managed to wrangle up an OrkElf arm—” began Smoke but was cut off by his friend.
“I’m talking about the thing that’s going on in your world!” said Darius. “I’m sure you’ve got the fight against the Ork covered.”
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” said Smoke.
“Well, whatever it is. I’m sure that it’s going to be fine,” said Darius.
“How can you be sure?” asked Smoke, his voice slightly rising.
“You know me. Believe me when I tell you that all your fears are unwarranted,” said Darius. “Everything will be fine.”
Smoke could not reply. Yet, somewhere deep inside him, he believed his Beggar friend.
“For now, I suggest you focus on your life here in Zectas,” said Darius. “Don’t you have to train that Automaton Knight of yours?”
“How did you know—” began Smoke but stopped questioning how Darius knew things. “It’s nice. I’ve been training it daily but its level is still really low at the moment.”
“Are you sure you can’t use it against the Orks?” asked Darius. “Remember, imagination is a weapon, those who don’t use it are the first ones to lose.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” asked Smoke, intrigued. He had forgotten how cryptic Darius would sometimes get.
“Anyway, think about it. I’m sure you’ll find your answer from within,” said Darius and dropped the call.
A smiling Smoke conjured his Automaton Knight. The now familiar multi-colored conjuring circle appeared on the floor, followed by a flash of white light. The gray training dummy covered by a gas mask and a skull cap appeared in front of him. He had grown its level to 30 and could now equip better items. The faceless Automaton Knight remained frozen, waiting for its master’s command.
‘Its Level is still too low. What did he mean look from within?’ he wondered.
He had experimented with the Automaton Knight with all the possible equippable items in his backpack. The only promising results were the different elemental stones he placed into the circular cavity at the center of its chest. The Automaton Knight turned red when he placed an ember stone and brown when it was a clay stone, but that was it. It did not increase any of its attributes and reverted back to its gray form when he removed the elemental stone.
“Look from within, huh?” said Smoke out loud. “What do you think, Daga?”
“Don’t look at me? What do I know about Automaton Knights?” replied Daga.
“Good advice,” said Smoke, shaking his head.
“But you know what? We should ask Igniz,” said Daga. “I haven’t seen him for quite some time. You’re usually in your synergized state.”
“Igniz! Of course!” exclaimed Smoke, his eyes wide with excitement. He canceled his synergized state and smiled at his emerging dark ember sprite.
“Hey, Buddy!” greeted Smoke. “Listen, how do you feel merging with the Automaton Knight?”
Igniz looked at Smoke then back to the Automaton and back to Smoke again. The dark ember sprite shook his body as if shrugging. He then flew towards the cavity in the Automaton Knight’s chest and entered it.
Then, an unexpected notification window popped up.
|+ Unlocked Symbiote Advancement: Incarnation!|
The Automaton Knight’s gray body began to turn a darker shade of purple. Its bald head started growing long white hair, and a face started to form. It was that of Smoke’s own image. As soon as the purple skin covered its entire body, it started emitting Igniz’s dark flames.
“What the—” yelled an ecstatic Smoke. Right in front of him, was a fiery naked image of himself.
The Automaton Knight looked puzzled. It stared at both its hands, examining them with curiosity. Then, it spoke. “Master Smoke? What’s going on here?”
“Igniz?” asked Smoke, the whites of his eyes fully showing.
“Yes?” replied his incarnated symbiote.
* * * * * *
The day of the Ork Horde’s arrival was finally upon them. Smoke disguised as Faux, wearing his paradox mask and sacred clay staff, led the incarnated Igniz. His symbiote let out purple flames as Igniz equipped all of the Flame Knight’s items. Together, they went over to meet Meneur and Cynar.
“A dark Flame Knight. Let me guess, you must be Ilad,” said Cynar, extending his hand to Igniz. “Good of you to finally show yourself. I expect big things from you.”
Igniz shook Cynar’s hand but did not say a word.
“The strong silent type, huh?” said Cynar. “I like that.”
Cynar and Igniz got a long well. However, Meneur was not as welcoming as the OrkElf leader.
“Who are you?” she asked Igniz.
“This is Ilad,” replied Smoke. “He’s one of my best friends.”
“But how can that be?” Meneur asked Smoke. “Ilad is there—and you are there.”
“It just is,” answered Smoke.
“Strange, the two of you share a certain aura,” added Meneur. “But the Flame Knight registers as a Sonstwelter. Why?”
“Never mind that,” said Smoke. “Let’s focus on our positions. Igni—Ilad and I will stay on your right, correct? Cause I was thinking that with Ilad here, he can stay next to me too.”
“Fine,” replied Meneur. “You two stay over there,” she pointed to a place in the center of the huts. “Cynar, you’re already disguised as one of our Ork Priests, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” replied Cynar, his disgust clearly conveyed in his voice. “But Faux and Ilad aren’t yet!”
“Answer me in Orkish!” ordered Meneur.
“Lagir, lagir!” said Cynar in fluent Orkish.
“Smo—Faux, you and your friend should wear the priest’s robes now,” said Meneur.
“Karonir dayn,” replied Smoke in crude Orkish. He got out long brown robes which concealed them from head to foot.
“Good, now everyone get into position,” said Meneur. “They should arrive soon.”
Smoke, Igniz and all of the OrkElves and MaduHai Orks lined up in front of Meneur.
“Pamagir sair sagahum nair Tezcazin gaer magir,” chanted Meneur in Orkish.
Even though the sky was clear, a light drizzle fell upon Smoke and everyone else.
|+ Received Tezcazin’s Blessings
+ 50% MP Regeneration
+ 50% HP Regeneration
+ Protection against Bleeding attacks
Note: All blessings will last for the next three hours
“Karoni lakatir na kamo,” said Meneur.
Everyone moved with urgency and purpose. In a matter of seconds, all the units were in place. With Meneur, Cynar, Igniz, and Smoke left out in the open.
A few minutes later, a group of ten UrukHai Orks arrived on their dirus wolves, which were almost twice the size of a regular mount. They rode fast, uprooting the grass in the valley. Behind them, were thousands of Orks belonging to the tribes of the MoriHai, OlegHai, and UrukHai.
These ten Ork riders broke away from the horde and rushed towards Meneur.
A gigantic Ork with sleek black hair dismounted and walked over to Meneur. Smoke did not recognize the Ork, but his eyes were drawn to the long executioner blade which was well over two-meters. Yet, it looked small as it was placed on the Ork’s back.
“Nindotar makitag valik, High Priestess Meneur,” he began in Orkish. “I’m Colonel Wertlosmorder, in case you might have forgotten me.” His right lower fang broken, which made his mouth twitch as he talked. “Where’s the rest of you?”
“The four of us are already more than enough to greet you, Wertlosmorder,” replied Meneur, turning her ears toward him. “But if you must know, the rest are in their huts preparing your lodgings,” she said, pointing to a few MaduHai Guards stationed outside some huts. “What about Snide and Dastard? I don’t sense their presence with you?”
“Oh, they decided to stay with the main body of the Horde and give the glorious honor of charging in advance to us. And to Supreme General Wertlosvati, of course,” explained Colonel Wertlosmorder. He then pointed to the statues of the former Kings. “I love the irony. The place where they made statues of themselves. A symbol of peace and prosperity between their kingdoms’ will be the birthplace of their demise.”
“Hyuk hyuk hyuk!” chuckled another UrukHai Ork, dismounting as well.
The large war hammer on the Ork’s back made Smoke identify him as Wertlosrauber, the Ork who saved Wertlosvati the last time they faced him.
“Looks like my friend is putting on his charms for you, Meneur,” he said to the blind Ork High Priestess. “But he’s right. You’re one evil genius for thinking about using this place.”
“Ahem!” unexpectedly coughed Smoke, surprised that Meneur was the one who picked Etonner Valley.
“Say, you MaduHai Orks have really grown shorter,” said one of the Ork’s in Wertlosvati’s entourage.
Without warning, a rush of water came up from beneath the UrukHai and covered him and his dirus wolf. The water quickly solidified and turned into a block of ice, freezing the discorteous Ork.
“So what if we’re small? Does anyone else have a problem with that?” hissed Meneur.
The life bar of the frozen Ork was rapidly decreasing until it finally fell to zero which made the block of ice shatter.
“No, no. Of course not!” replied Wertlosmorder, smiling at Meneur. “That idiot deserved it.”
“Good, now why don’t you and Wertlosvati join me in my tent,” offered Meneur. “I’ve got something important to tell you all.”
“General, why don’t we rest while waiting for the horde to arrive,” said Wertlosmorder.
“Don’t order me around!” yelled Wertlosvati, pointing his double-headed ax at Wertlosmorder. “I’ll dismount when I please.”
“General, please. It will take a few more minutes for them to get here,” said Meneur.
Wertlosvati turned to face Meneur. “Why are you suddenly being nice to me?”
“Why?” said Meneur. “Because you’re the Supreme General of the Ork Horde.”
“No! That’s not it,” screamed Wertlosvati. “Check the grounds. I smell something fishy.”
Wertlosrauber and Wertlosmorder, along with the remaining Ork entourage began tearing up the huts.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Meneur. “My men worked hard to put those up!”
The first three huts that they broke revealed a few MaduHai Guards and several long-robed individuals with them.
“Why are they cloaked?” Wertlosmorder asked Meneur. “I thought you only had a few Priestesses?”
“Oh, they’re not,” replied Meneur.
Then, a loud horn resonated in Etonner Valley. One of the mounted Ork entourage called out Wertlosvati. “General, the last of the Ork tribes have entered the valley—”
“Shut up, Captain Deutlich! I know what the horns mean,” replied Wertlosvati. “But, Meneur, tell me. Why do you have so many cloaked members? Are they still Acolytes? Is this the surprise that you wanted to tell me?”
“No,” replied Meneur, grinning and shaking her head. “They’re the OrkElves who will bring you down!”
A torrent of water erupted from underground and swallowed the remaining mounted entourage. In a blink of an eye, all of them were frozen solid.
However, Wertlosvati was able to leap off of his mount.
“Time to die!” yelled Cynar as he pulled off his cloak and charged for his bastard of a father.
“It’s a trap!” screamed Wertlosvati “Sound the retreat—” but was cut off as over sixteen paralysis darts were flying straight towards him.
CLINK CLINK CLINK CLINK
Wertlosrauber and Wertlosmorder jumped in between them and blocked all of the darts.
“Get out of here,” Wertlosmorder said Wertlosvati. “We’ll handle them. Just get to the horde.”
The sound of the two mountains rumbling came from the valley’s entrance. The colossal effigies of the past kings crumbled to the ground. The Earth Elementalist stationed on top of the mountains loosened their hold, blocking the valley’s only passageway.
A storm of elemental spells fell from the sky, as the Magi units of the two kingdoms were stationed on the mountaintops. A loud thunderous sound came from the mountainside as the Knights from the Thanotl Kingdom charged down upon the unknowing Ork Horde.
“This is the end of the horde!” screamed Smoke. He tried capturing the two Ork Colonels with his earth-pillars but both of them dodged it with ease.
A massive war hammer came crashing down on Smoke’s head, as Wertlosrauber went after him.
However, it was blocked by Igniz’s flamberge. The incarnated symbiote held the fiery sword with both hands as he stood in front of Smoke.
Meanwhile, Wertlosmorder went after the Ork High Priestess.
Meneur released a torrent of water from underground, but Wertlosmorder’s executioner blade went through it before it solidified. The two-meter blade plunged deep into Meneur’s stomach. The water fell back to the ground as blood gushed out of her mouth.