Author: John Nest
Six hovering sycophants enclosed the former Maneator King. These gray faceless monsters kept shouting “Merde! Merde! Merde!” while threateningly aiming their long cleaver-like hands at him.
Yet, the unarmed König Mitleid was calm and composed. He turned his head to the left but suddenly jumped to the sycophant on his right. He grabbed both its arms which prevented the monster from stabbing him.
In a swift motion, Mitleid pierced his horns into the sycophant’s chest. He then lifted the monster and threw it to the sycophant next to it. Then, he punched another sycophant right in its jaw, sending it three meters into the air.
Mitleid might have pushed back three of the sycophants but there were still three more ready to attack him.
Mitleid and five of the sycophants turned to the source of the loud noise. One of the faceless monsters was knocked down, revealing Smoke equipped with his hook swords.
Smoke used his Moon Blade’s Lunar Force ability, which consumed half of his MP but increased the weight of his blade by 10% of the MP he used.
The unlucky sycophant was sprawled on the forest ground.
“Smoke?” asked Mitleid, surprised. Less than a split-second later, he ran towards Smoke and screamed. “Run!”
Smoke was slightly confused. He had already taken out one of the sycophants but trusted to heed Mitleid’s advice.
Yet, as soon as he lifted the Moon Blade, the sycophant attacked Smoke with its cleaver-like hands and nicked his left leg. That scratch alone damaged 20% of his life bar.
Surprised, he looked down at the sycophant whom he assumed to be dead. The faceless monster’s life bar displayed (4,500,000/5,000,000 SP).
‘SP? What’s that mean?’ he wondered as he reflexively ignored the injury on his leg and parried the monster away with the hook end of his sword.
“What are you doing?” asked Mitleid who was now right next to Smoke. “I said run!” he added, grabbing Smoke by the waist and carrying him away.
Being lifted up by Mitleid as they escaped, Smoke could see all six sycophants getting ready to give chase. The gray faceless monsters levitated half a meter above the forest floor and hovered towards them.
Left with a little over half of his MP, Smoke created an earth-wall at least two meters thick.
However, the sycophants’ bladed hands easily broke through it as if it were paper thin.
“Put me down,” said Smoke. “Run a head and I’ll catch up,” he added, wriggling out of Mitleid’s hold.
“You don’t understand!” said Mitleid. “It’s impossible when they’re this many.”
Smoke stood his ground and pointed his Berserker’s Ring of Flames at the charging sycophants. Instantly, a circular firewall engulfed all six faceless monsters. A casting circle appeared within it. All of the sycophants convulsed uncontrollably. Their bladed hands and legs contorted in a painful manner. Suddenly, they stopped. Each sycophant went after the nearest faceless monster. They were all inflicted with the Berserk status and began stabbing each other.
“Go! I’ll catch up,” Smoke said to Mitleid, still pointing the ring from Crucibelle at the sycophants. “You probably got ten seconds.”
A hesitant König Mitleid nodded and ran ahead of Smoke.
Smoke observed the sycophants fight. Each stab attack damaged its fellow sycophants for 40,000 points. Considering the damage of his Lunar Force, he surmised that these faceless monsters had a much higher defense that himself. But he still wondered what SP meant.
Not wanting to deplete his mana, he only used Crucibelle’s ring for eight seconds. He ended the Berserker’s Ring of Flame ability and used Hyper Jump to follow Mitleid.
While running away, Smoke observed that the sycophants were slightly slower.
“What are those things?” asked Smoke, as he kept pace with Mitleid.
“Not sure,” replied Mitleid. “Heard they used to be souls that lost their essence,” he added in between strides.
“They’re catching up,” said Smoke, worried.
“Run faster,” replied Mitleid. “We’re almost out of Hellroute—” But before the Maneator King could finish, four more sycophants appeared up ahead.
Smoke knew that an earth-wall or a trench would not help. He only had 130,000 MP left. So, he gambled on one attack that would sacrifice some of his precious magnetic rocks and electro stone.
He threw them on the ground and used Electromagnetic Golem Offering. This golem was inferior to his Automaton Knight but it required five times less the mana.
Smoke pointed his silver ring on them and activated its ability. The electro stone flew up in the air, pulling in the black and silver metallic rocks towards it.
One metallic golem stood up and faced the incoming sycophants.
“Good distraction,” said Mitleid, picking up his pace.
While running away, Smoke looked at the sole metallic golem with a pained expression. Now, he only had six electro stones left.
He watched as the golem was shattered into pieces. All ten sycophants swarmed the golem and kept smashing its black metallic rocks.
“We’re here!” said Mitleid, and led Smoke out of Hellroute Forest.
Smoke’s eyes grew wide when he saw that the forest was actually on a floating island.
Further ahead were thousands of floating islands suspended in eternal darkness. Curiously enough, each levitating island gave off a unique radiance. Some of the islands were floating above the one they were on, while others were below. A few of them were purely made out of grassy knolls, while some were barren deserts. Most of the larger islands had forests with rivers turned waterfalls as they kept flowing off into the dark abyss below. All of these islands were connected through bridges which looked to be made out of vines. Moreover, these unstable vine-bridges sometimes swayed violently.
“Hurry,” said Mitleid, running to one of the bridges.
* * * * * *
“So you know where Sharur and Laernea are?” asked Smoke, grinning widely.
“Sure do,” replied Mitleid. “The two of them found wandered around for a while but luckily they found my town and have been living there since.”
“Awesome!” exclaimed Smoke, looking back to face Mitleid, only to almost fall to the side of the vine-bridge.
“Careful,” said Mitleid, quickly pulling him back upright. “They say that if you fall into the void, you’ll come back as a sycophant.”
Walking on the meter wide vine-bridge, Smoke looked down on the side and saw nothing but the complete vastness the void.
“Noted,” replied Smoke, grinning. “But I gotta say, it’s great to see you again.”
“You saw me die, right?” asked Mitleid. “Where else would I be?”
“Right,” said Smoke, still smiling. “But what were you doing in Hellroute?”
“Was refilling this,” replied Mitleid, carefully pulling out a glowing white orb. “Hellroute’s one of the principal islands that connects you to most places.” The massive Maneator stows the orb, etched with mysterious runes, away inside a sling bag then points to the vine-bridge they were on. “This here connects us to an Insel. A smaller floating island, which connects to ten more other Insels.”
“What was that orb for?” asked Smoke, curious.
“I’ll show you when we get there,” answered Mitleid and gave him a wink. “But right now, we’ve got to focus on getting there.” He pointed to the grassy floating island up ahead.
As soon as Smoke’s feet touched the green Insel, a notification window popped up.
|– Entered Insel-478322
– One of the millions of grassy islands sheltering the chaneque, the ones born into Mictlan.
When he finished reading the notification window, goosebumps covered his arms as he heard little voices calling out to him.
“Can you hear that?” Smoke asked Mitleid.
The Maneator shook his head. “There’s nothing.”
“There it is again,” said Smoke. The creepy voices became clearer as he walked farther into the lushly matted island.
“Come and play,” said the voice of a child.
“Stay, we’ll have fun,” added another child’s voice.
“You seriously don’t hear that?” asked Smoke.
“No,” replied Mitleid. “But stay close. There are—”
Before Mitleid could warn Smoke, a dozen short imp-like monsters popped out of the tall grass. These red monsters were a little over than a meter tall. Their horns towered over the grass, stepping out they revealed their pointed ears, webbed hands, and webbed feet.
“Come and play,” said the small imp-like creatures as they showed Smoke their sharp teeth.
“That’s the one talking?” said Smoke out loud, peeved.
“Wait, you can understand them?” asked a surprised Mitleid. “What are the chaneque saying?”
“They said they want to play,” answered Smoke.
“Stay and play,” added another chaneque, laughing like a child. All twelve creatures were frolicsome and leered at Smoke.
Smoke turned to Mitleid. “What do you hear when they talk?”
A worried Mitleid looked at Smoke and said. “Nothing. Just the gnashing of their teeth.”
Suddenly, all of the red imp-like creatures came rushing at Smoke.
“Run!” said Mitleid, dashing for the next vine-bridge off the Insel.
As Smoke watched the rushing chaneque with their claws protruded out of their webbed hands, a feeling of wanting to impress Mitleid overcame him. He wanted the former Maneator King to know how much he had grown.
Smoke stood his ground. “You run up ahead,” he said. “I’ll deal with them.”
Mitleid stopped running and called out to him. “No! These creatures are Mictlanders… Wait—” he began but was ignored as Smoke was already charging towards the chaneque, equipped with his twin hook swords.
Smoke aimed for the nearest chaneque with the hook of his sword. But the body of the chaneque blurred as if its body was ghost-like. He squinted his eyes, confused. He was then flooded with notification windows that he had not seen in a long time.
|+ Attack miss chaneque. Damage 0.
+ Attack miss chaneque. Damage 0.
+ Attack miss chaneque. Damage 0.
+ Attack miss chaneque. Damage 0.
The chaneque appeared to stand perfectly still but none of Smoke’s attack could hit it. He tried catching it with the hook of his sword but even that passed through.
“Oh, he’s playing with us,” replied the chaneque Smoke attacked, sinisterly laughing. Its eyes grew thrice in size as it exposed its razor-sharp teeth. “Our turn!”
Without warning, three more chaneques swarmed Smoke.
A flood of damage notifications blinded him. Sharp claws scratched his head, arms, body, and legs. All he could do was hide behind his arms, as he couldn’t concentrate to put up a Manatl barrier. His life bar quickly went below 50%.
“I told you to run!” screamed Mitleid, grabbing Smoke from behind and carried him towards the next vine-bridge.
Thanks to Mitleid’s thick defense, the Maneator managed to bring himself and Smoke safely across the Insel.
Mitleid dropped Smoke on the bridge as he gasped for air. “Run!” he sternly yelled at Smoke. “It’s the one thing we should be doing until we reach Corpos Quentes.” He said in between breaths, as his breathing steadily became normal. “Creatures born in Mictlan are exceptionally agile,” he added with all seriousness.
Mitleid led the way to the next Insel. This floating island was nothing but a barren desert.
“So, even you can’t hit them?” asked Smoke, following closely behind.
Mitleid sighed. “I can, but their more pesky than the sycophants. Just run when you meet the chaneques and their kin. Besides, those red little imps like to stay near their grassy patches and never give chase when you’ve reached the next bridge.”
This barren Insel was connected to three others. One was a grassy knoll, the other had a large pond, and the last one to another desert Insel.
“They just stay in the same area, huh?” confirmed Smoke. He switched out his twin hook swords for his sacred clay staff.
“Yeah? But what are you planning?” asked Mitleid, heading for the barren Insel floating in the darkness.
“Well, if physical attacks don’t work, what about something like this?” he said, creating a cannon-sized fireball on top of his right palm. He thought that this was the perfect opportunity for him to test his newly upgraded Red Seal Emblem.
“Hm… I don’t know,” replied Mitleid. “I’ve seen that Magic here only works against souls.”
“But we’ll never know unless we give it a try, right?” said Smoke, walking towards the next green Insel.
“Come on, what do you say?” begged Smoke. “Let’s try it, just once.”
“Fine!” said Mitleid, dragging his hooves after Smoke. “But be ready to run just in case.”
Smiling after hearing Mitleid’s reply, Smoke propelled his hovering fireball and created a myriad of them in the sky.
Then, the eerie voices of small children became clearer as the chaneques came out of hiding from the tall grass.
“Have you come to play?”
“Stay and play.”
Before the chaneques could come at him, He forcefully shoved his hands downward and a rain of fireballs fell onto the red imp-like creatures.
Standing outside their grassy patches, the chaneques looked up and a uniform smirk formed across their demon faces. They opened their arms wide and a red casting circle appeared between their webbed hands. The fireball that rained down was sucked into the casting circle and vanished. After Smoke’s attack disappeared, the chaneque turned to face him and Mitleid. “Our turn! Our turn!” they chanted. With their red casting circle still out in the open, the chaneques fired out the same fireballs they absorbed.
Smoke quickly put up a spherical Manatl barrier which covered both himself and Mitleid.
SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD
While waiting for the fireballs to stop, Mitleid gave Smoke a knowing look.
“Well, at least we’ve confirmed not to use magic against them,” sheepishly replied Smoke, shrugging.
“Now, that that’s settled, let’s just run for the next bridge,” said Mitleid, shaking his head.
Smoke tried to reason his way out, but found himself lost for words and dejectedly lowered his head. He made the spherical manatl open up below their feet which allowed them to walk to the next vine bridge.
SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD
As the chaneque continued to attack his Manatl barrier with their claws, his sacred clay staff glowed, gathering more of their energy.
“This is nice,” said Mitleid, admiring Smoke’s Manatl. “The chaneques’ claws barely damage me, but something like this is really useful for your type.”
Smoke smiled. He knew the weakness of being a glass cannon was having a poor defense. Fortunately for him he gained this ability during his earlier travels.
“Oh, that’s right. You haven’t seen this yet,” said Smoke proudly. “Yeah, I learned this when I was in Saruras. You know, the Simiavulg village in Wysteria.”
SCHILD SCHILD SCHILD
The sounds of claws against Smoke’s Manatl continued on.
“Really? You found their village, huh?” said Mitleid, sounding impressed. “Listen, I know you’ve grown powerful, but don’t be too cocky.”
Smoke nodded and didn’t reply. He knew he was showboating but he just wanted Mitleid to be proud of him.
Mitleid then lightly punched him in the shoulder. “Just take it down a notch and you’ll be just fine,” the Maneator added, grinning at him.
The two of them laughed and continued telling each other stories during their time apart, completely ignoring the chaneques which were relentlessly clawing the barrier without success.
After safely escaping the chaneque infested Insel, Smoke and Mitleid got on a barren floating island, giving them a chance to catch up.
“… So, you created a female Maneator out of my remains?” asked Mitleid, astonished. “Bet she looks beautiful!”
“Rassant sure thinks so,” replied Smoke. “But let’s go back to the different sections in Mictlan.”
“Well, from what Baba told me. There’s Corpos Quentes, the Reialma, and Incerto,” answered Mitleid. He then looked beyond the Insels running towards the darkness. “Another name for Incerto… is the Unknown.”
“And we’re heading for Corpos Quentes?” asked Smoke.
“Yup. It’s a group of Insels free from sycophants, chaneques, or any other Mictlan creatures,” said Mitleid. “There, souls like myself have taken refuge.”
Suddenly, Smoke’s stomach began grumbling. “Oops! My satiety bar had been pretty low for awhile now. Mind if we rest up?”
“Go ahead,” replied Mitleid. “This Insel’s safe.”
Smoke speedily began preparing an extravagant broth for himself and Mitleid. When he finished cooking, he used his Earth Manipulation and two bowls emerged out of the barren floating island. He filled a bowl with his specially made broth. “Here, have a taste,” he said and offered it to Mitleid.
“Thanks, but I don’t need that anymore,” answered Mitleid. “Souls need a different kind of sustenance.”
“What kind of food are we talking here?” asked Smoke, intrigued.
Mitleid chuckled. “Like I said, I’ll show you when we get there.”
“Oh, right! I saw SPs instead of HPs?” asked Smoke, remembering the different value that displayed on the sycophants’ life bars.
“It stands for Soul Points,” answered Mitleid. “Yup, everything’s different when you’re dead. Even if you tried to slice my head off, it’ll just grow back instantly, as long as my Soul Points don’t go down to zero.”
“Beg your pardon?” asked Smoke, thinking he misheard him.
“It’s like having an immortal body,” went on Mitleid.
“But what happens when you lose all your Soul Points?” asked Smoke.
Mitleid shrugged. “Not really sure. Their bodies just disappear and I’ve never seen one come back.”
“Even sycophants?” wondered Smoke.
“Weirdly enough, no,” answered Mitleid. “They just lay dormant until their SPs fully recover.”
“What?” asked Smoke, taken aback. “So, there’s really no way to defeat them?”
“That’s why I said just run,” said Mitleid, nodding his head. “By the way, you’ve been here for some time now, don’t Sonstwelters need to go back to your world or something?”
Smoke finished the rest of his broth in one gulp. “Actually, I was just about to say that. Mind if you wait here for a while?”
“Sure. No problem,” said Mitleid. “But be quick about it. The time difference here is different from Zectas.”
After dispersing the bowls and the rest of his cooking utensils, he turned to Mitleid and said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it.”
Smoke’s body vanished out of Mictlan as he logged out to reality.
* * * * * *
Opening the hatch of his game pod, Nash stepped outside, exhausted. He felt like his head was being cracked opened. It had been a long time since he experienced such a severe migraine. The bright morning sun slightly blinded him. Surprised, he quickly closed his curtains. He remembered that he had gone into the game at six in the morning. Thinking that it would be night time, he scanned for the wall clock and saw it displayed eight a.m. ‘No way,’ he thought. He surmised that it been close to twenty-six hours since he logged in.
Then, he felt something run down his nose. He wiped it away and was anxious to see blood. Nash was startled as he had never experienced a nose bleed before. He reached for his box of tissues and stuffed it up his nose. Sitting on his computer chair, he turned on his monitor and searched for a home remedy.
“Sit up straight, tipping your head a little bit forward…”
“Using your thumb and forefinger; firmly pinch the soft part of your nose tight…”
He read out loud and followed each instruction.
“Keep pinching for ten minutes?” he said, surprised. Thinking that it was a lengthy time to wait, he dialed Sherry’s number.
But she did not pick up.
‘Today’s Monday. So, Seth and Donny must be in school,’ he thought as he exited his room, still pinching his nose.
“Hey, what’s up with your nose?” greeted a smiling Seth as Nash walked across his room.
“There’s some blood,” answered Nash with a raised voice. “But what are you doing here? Don’t you have a class to get to?”
“What are you talking about?” said Seth, upset. “It’s still Sunday!” he added, slamming his door.
“Sunday! Are you kidding me? I’d expect something like this from Donny, but not you,” he shouted at Seth’s door.
“What’s your problem?” groggily asked Donny, stepping out of his room.
“School closed or something?” asked Nash, still angry. “Why aren’t you ready?”
“It’s finally happened!” called out Donny. “You’ve lost track of time. I told you Pro-Gamers lose track of what day it is.”
“Stop with the jokes and just get ready,” said Nash, now pissed. He forcibly pushed Donny back into his room.
“Ready for what?” asked Donny, struggling not to enter.
“School, what else!” angrily said Nash.
“Check your phone!” protested Donny, still holding on to his doorway. “It really is Sunday!”
Nash reluctantly released his younger brother and reached inside his pocket. His eyes grew wide, his cheek turned red when he read the date.
“Sorry, I really thought it was Monday,” said Nash. “Sorry, Seth!” He added, shouting at Seth’s now locked door.
“That’s fine,” said Donny. “Told you, you’ll eventually mix up the days,” he said, walking past Nash and headed downstairs towards the kitchen.
A confused Nash walked after Donny. “It’s still Sunday? That means I was only in there for two hours?”
Nash knew that the time difference in Zectas and the real world was only four times. So, he estimated that the difference in Mictlan must have been twelve times. He grinned as he instantly recognized its potential. This meant he could train and explore Mictlan and not worry about their impending battle with Burmistrz. But then he checked his thumb for blood.
“Wonder if my body could handle it?” he asked out loud as he reached the kitchen door.
As he was scrolling his phone with his right hand, three oranges suddenly came flying towards him. Donny playfully threw them at him.
Seeing the oranges almost hit his face, Nash’s pupils dilated. The oranges seemed to move in slow motion. So, he grabbed each one, using only his nondominant hand.
“Didn’t Mima tell you not to play with food!” scolded Nash, catching all three oranges.
“Whoa!” hollered Donny. “How’d you do that?”
“Do what?” asked Nash, carefully putting down the oranges on the table.
“How’d you catch all three with your left hand?” asked Donny, amazed.
“Come on. You were throwing it slow,” replied Nash.
“No! I wasn’t,” said Donny, shaking his head. “That was my hardest throw. Was hoping the would’ve stung your eyes a bit,” he added sheepishly.
Donny proudly slapped Nash’s back. “This must be what that reporter said on the news? You know, about how Zectas players improve their reflexes?”
Nash smiled at Donny. But deep down he wondered if this was also an effect of his visit in Mictlan.
* * * * * *
Smoke opened his eyes and saw Mitleid kicking sand off the floating barren island. It unceremoniously dropped into the blackness of the void.
“Finally!” exclaimed Mitleid. “Thought you said you’d be quick?”
“How long was I gone?” asked Smoke.
“About six hours!” answered Mitleid. “You know, if you do this again, I’ll just tell you what Insels to take in order for you to reach Rauchburg.”
“Rauchburg? Like Rauch Castle in Verbrannt?” said Smoke. “Is that where you’re staying?”
“Let’s just go. You’re ruining my surprise,” said Mitleid, leading the way to the next floating island.
After traveling through more than a thirty Insels, Smoke finally saw Corpos Quentes. An archipelago of Insels all floating in the same lower level.
On one of the Insels, Smoke saw a large ruby dragon, which he thought he had seen somewhere before.
“That’s Valdurath,” said Mitleid, standing beside him. “He’s one of the twelve dragons of legend.”
Mitleid got on a vine-bridge that descended to the lower floating islands.
“That’s the one Trist—” began Smoke.
“Funny thing,” interjected Mitleid, already chuckling which made the bridge slightly sway. “Apparently, some Sonstwelter boasted of killing him when the truth was that Valdurath was already dying after going against Bakunawa—the monstrous dragon of the sea. Honestly, it was stupid of Valdurath, a fire based dragon, to go against Bakunawa.”
“Really? That’s what happened?” asked Smoke, intrigued. “Didn’t seem like that in his video,” he added under his breath.
“Anyway, most of the Insels here have been formed into towns,” explained Mitleid. “Valdurath named its Insel, Wrathland.”
“And you named your town after Verbrannt’s castle,” said Smoke, getting onto a grassy Insel. “Wait, are there any chaneques here?” he asked, alarmed by the tall grass lands.
“Nope. Only souls can enter Corpos Quentes,” reassured Mitleid. “Relax, this Insel is already under our jurisdic—”
Mitleid’s words were cut short as a group of ten green Krampus appeared out of the grass. Their green fur hid them well in the grass.
“Green Krampus?” asked Smoke.
“One of the abilities they picked up when they got here,” answered Mitleid.
Even with their long goatlike horns, all of the Krampus were slightly shorter than Mitleid. Then, their green fur returned to their natural black. Their cloven hooves lit up with flames. The same as one from their eyes burning with rage.
“Another ability they picked up?” said Smoke, equipping his twin hook swords.
“No need for that,” said Mitleid. “Our brothers have arrived.”
THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD
As the Insel took the abuse of the behemoth Maneators’ landings, the floating island shook violently. A dozen Maneators came leaping from the next Insel. All of the oxen-headed giants towered over the Krampus as they surrounded them.
“Brothers, give Smoke a warm welcome!” said Mitleid.
Grunting, only six of the strength based Maneators moved. Each one grabbed a Krampus by the neck and threw them off the Insel. The Krampus bleated and screamed as they fell into the blackness of the abyss.
Then, all of them Maneators went down on one knee and greeted both Smoke and Mitleid.
“Salutations to the Maneator King!”
A bewildered Smoke turned to Mitleid, as the Maneators were bowing down to him.
“Seems you have forgotten my friend. You’re now the Maneator King,” said Mitleid.
Surrounded by so many Maneators, Smoke’s Asterian Aura took a massive boost. A casting circle appeared beneath his feet and let out a red light. His physical attacks were increased by 100%, and then both the casting circle and light dispersed.
“Arise, my brothers, Smoke is not one for such formalities,” said Mitleid. “Saying hi would have sufficed.”
Suddenly, two green Krampus leaped out from the grass. They tried to escape and jump towards the vine bridge but two arrows pierced the back of their necks, sending them plummeting to the darkness.
Smoke turned towards the source of the arrows. He smiled widely when he saw them. A tall muscular OrkElf and a slender lioness Lioumerean held crude looking bows.
“Laernea, Sharur!” greeted Smoke, running towards them. He came in for a hug, but Laernea hid behind Sharur.
“Smoke, it’s good to see you,” greeted Sharur, extending his hand.
Taken aback, all Smoke could do was shake Sharur’s offered hand. Despite their awkward reunion, he smiled at them. “I’m really glad. Now, I’ve got Mitleid and you two back.”
“We never expected to see anyone again,” said Laernea shyly from behind Sharur. “Is Sierra with you?”
“No,” replied Smoke. “It’s just me.”
“And why are you here exactly?” asked Sharur.
“To bring you guys back of course!” declared Smoke. “That is if we do find a way back.”
“We should ask Baba,” suggested Laernea. “He’d probably know something like that.”
Sharur’s nostrils flared. He turned around and faced Laernea. “What are you doing? I thought that we—”
“No! I was just helping Smoke to get home,” replied Laernea, grabbing Sharur’s arm.
“Fine! If that’s what you want!” shouted Sharur. “Come on, I’ll take you to see Baba.”
“Who’s Baba?” asked Smoke, confused as he followed Sharur.
“Baba’s here?” asked Mitleid, excited. “You’ll love him,” he said to Smoke. “He sings the most interesting tales!”
After traveling through five more Insels, Smoke finally saw the floating town of Rauchburg.
The floating island had a wall of frozen logs put up. There were also two rivers floating off the Insel. The lone vine bridge connected to the island was guarded by twenty Maneators. To which all bowed down when they saw Smoke.
Sharur let out a loud sigh and got on the bridge first.
“Can’t wait to see Baba,” said an excited Mitleid, walking after Sharur.
“Did I do something?” Smoke asked Laernea.
“Don’t mind him,” replied Laernea. “He’s just surprised you’re here,” she added walking fast after Sharur.
|– Entered Insel-192432
– Part of the Corpos Quentes Archipelago, this Insel has been named Rauchburg by its Light Bringer—König Mitleid.
Smoke took special notice of Mitleid’s new title. Before he could ask Mitleid, his eyes fixated on the fog at the center of the town. ‘No wonder it’s so cold,’ he thought. Then two kids bumped his legs and continued on chasing after another. Instantly, he realized that the residents of Rauchburg were predominantly children. Generally, the people of the floating island looked happy and content.
“They’re mostly from Wysteria,” explained Laernea. “Victims of Burmistrz’s Brandals.”
“I see…” said Smoke, not really knowing what to say. “What about their parents?”
“Don’t know,” answered Sharur. “Maybe they’ve joined up with other places like this? Mitleid’s the one who found them.”
“Something wrong with him?” Mitleid asked Laernea. “I’ve never seen him like this.”
“He’s fine,” said Laernea, defensive.
Smoke also noticed that the few adults there were busy making arrows out of branches. Among the residents of Rauchburg, a young man with a familiar face walked over to him.
“Sir Smoke!” called out the young man. “It’s me, Jeter Pion!”
Smoke recalled the young Avendre Commander who lost his life when they defended Centzo City against the Brandals.
“Jeter! Can’t believe you’re here as well,” said Smoke, giving Jeter a hug.
“Well, what did you expect? Most people here are people whom you and your men have saved before,” interjected Sharur. “We’re all followers of the great Smoke!” he sarcastically added.
Before Smoke could react, a calming song played on a lute filled the air, and then there was singing.
“Swords and arrows wound the flesh, but hurtful words pierce the heart,” sang a middle-aged DarkElf playing the lute. “Before you say things you may regret, think twice and be clever and smart.”
“Who is this guy?” asked Smoke out loud.
“That’s Baba—Mictlan’s traveling Bard,” answered Mitleid, grinning, thoroughly engrossed in the song.
“So, my friends play nice and do think twice. Burn no bridges, make right choices. And let’s all take part in a communal fart!” sang Baba, finishing his song with a fart.
As soon as Baba had done his deed, the children and Mitleid broke into laughter.
“He actually farted!” chuckled Mitleid, shaking his head, and almost struck Smoke with one of his horns. “Baba’s so funny!” he added, wiping a tear from his eye.
Baba bowed as most of the residents of Rauchburg clapped loudly.
“Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week,” said Baba. He then walked over to Smoke and offered his hand. “Always a pleasure to meet a fellow DarkElf.”
“Right,” said Smoke, shaking Baba’s hand. “I’m Smo—”
“Smoke! I know, I know,” interjected an energetic Baba. “Everyone’s been talking about your heroics back in the day.”
“Yes, but before that, I’d like to talk to my friend,” Smoke stopped and searched for Sharur, but both Sharur and Laernea were nowhere to be seen.
“First, tell me how you got here,” said Baba, leading Smoke towards Mitleid and the laughing children. “It’s not every day you see a living Sonstwelter here you know.”
“That does sound interesting, but Smoke wants to know if there’s a way to get back to Zectas,” interrupted Mitleid. “Never thought that such a thing would be possible, but maybe you’d have some information about it?”
Plucking his lute, Baba shook his head. “Nope, sorry. But maybe Lord Xolotl would know?”
“Who’s that?” asked Smoke.
Baba plucked the strings on his lute. “The God of Sunset and Gatekeeper of Mictlan,” he sang dramatically.
Suddenly, the cold temperature dropped even further. Smoke turned to the center of Rauchburg as he noticed a parting in the mist. The log walls turned into blocks of ice as a spherical icy fog began to shape around the floating island. The Maneators outside the vine-bridge rushed inside as the sole entrance to the town was frozen solid.
“Smoke? How in the world did you get here?” cried out a young female voice, which came from an Ork who stepped outside of the cold mist.
“Do I know you?” asked Smoke, confused. But something about her felt familiar.
Without warning, the female Ork dispersed like the mist. She reformed her shape in front of Smoke and smacked him hard on the head. “I knew you were disrespectful but this is too much!”
“Wait, wait!” said Smoke, quickly backing away. “Meneur?”
“Physical contact. It always works,” said Meneur, grinning at Smoke.
Astonished, Smoke stammered. “But how? Why are you—”
“Young? Beautiful? Oozing with charm?” asked Meneur.
Smoke shook his head. “Why aren’t you blind?”
Before Smoke could react, he received four blitzing smacks to the head before he flopped on the floor.
Again, Baba’s soothing lute playing was heard. He quickly stepped in between Smoke and Meneur.
“Mictlan makes an image of you when you were at the prime of your life,” explained Baba. “Doesn’t matter if you got blind or even decapitated.” He then turned to Mitleid. “You sure you’re all gathered in Rauchburg because of him?”
Mitleid chuckled and helped Smoke up. “He’s special. It’s his unique way of saying hello.”
“Meneur, sorry,” rushed Smoke, lowering his head before the young Ork Priestess. “I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
“Yeah, yeah! Forget about it,” replied Meneur, crossing her arms. “It’s bad enough I lectured you about my religion. Tezcazinism was dead wrong. Look at us. We’re all here in the afterlife!”
Baba comically danced in front of Meneur and said. “Now, now, Tezcazinism wasn’t always like that,” he corrected. He plucked his lute and began playing a slow and solemn tune. “The very first Priests never really said that there was no afterlife. In fact, the basic belief is that you should treat your life as if you’re already living in Mictlan. Indulge in all that life has to offer, as you will be a different being when you’ve transitioned.”
“Fine fine. You can stop your annoying singing,” said Meneur. “Let’s just get on with Mitleid’s thing. I need to get back and form the barrier.”
“Right!” said Mitleid and got out the intriguing white orb he was carrying. “Everyone, gather round. It’s time to feast!”
At once, the residents of Rauchburg assembled into a circle. It did not take long, for there were less than fifty of them. Mitleid placed the glowing orb at the center. It began to spin at incredible speeds until a blinding flash of light came out of it. Flowing white gas entered the bodies of Rauchburg’s residents. It was only then that Smoke noticed that everybody’s Soul Points increased in value. When the orb was depleted of its power, it fell down with a clink.
“Deliverance finished!” called out Mitleid.
“Thank you, Light Bringer, we are forever grateful,” said one of the residents. Similar words of gratitude resonated as other citizens of Rauchburg thanked Mitleid one by one. It took a while before they went about their own thing.
“What was that?” asked Smoke.
Before Baba could answer, Jeter stepped in and spoke out. “Soul Deliverance. Refilling and increasing our maximum Soul Points.”
“What about Sharur and Laernea?” asked Smoke, worried. “Did they get their share?”
“They did,” replied Jeter. “They got their share and left.”
Meneur let out a deep sigh. “Was good seeing you Smoke, but I’d rather do my own thing now,” she said and walked back towards the center of Rauchburg, into the icy mist. After she disappeared in the fog, the frozen sphere that covered the floating island slowly dissipated into mist.
“What’s Meneur doing?” asked Smoke.
“She’s defending Rauchburg,” replied Jeter. “She’s been casting this frozen barrier ever since Sharur found Lady Meneur.”
“Wait, I thought magic doesn’t work in Mictlan?” clarified Smoke.
“Huh? Who said that?” asked Jeter. “Of course magic works! Why else would Lady Meneur be putting up this barrier?”
“Not completely true,” interrupted Baba. “Magic doesn’t work against chaneques and other beings born into Mictlan.”
“Really? Had no idea,” said Jeter. “Maybe, if some people would let me get out more, I’d have known something like that.”
“But more importantly, weren’t you asking me about Lord Xolotl?” Baba asked Smoke.
“I was, but right now I’m more concerned with Sharur and Laernea,” said Smoke.
* * * * * *
Hiding behind children playing, Laernea was tightly hugging Sharur. “You know I’d never leave you. You know I’ve changed.”
“Sure you have,” said Sharur. “But the lovesick kitten returns the moment you saw Smoke.”
“That’s not fair!” declared Laernea. “You know I didn’t act like that.”
“Well, from what I saw, you sure did,” flatly said Sharur.
“How can you say that?” gasped Laernea, hurt. “I thought you knew me.”
“Pfft! You and me both,” said Sharur. “We’ve been here for years now. But you…You’re still pining over him. Don’t you get it? Smoke only has eyes for Sierra!”
“What are you yammering about? That’s already in the past,” reasoned Laernea. “You told me to be with you always! Isn’t that why we trained our ass off to be Light Bringers?”
“Exactly!” screamed Sharur. “But why are you…Merde! Now, look what you’ve done. You got me talking like a sycophant!”
“I’m not doing anything,” said Laernea. “You’re the one acting all crazy,” she mumbled.
Sharur got up and headed for the vine-bridge, running outside Rauchburg.
Laernea huffed but quickly followed after him.
After racing through a few Insels, Sharur stopped at a grassy floating island.
“It’s like you’re just with me because you can’t have him,” blurted out Sharur.
“No! You know it’s not like that,” said Laernea.
Suddenly, Sharur stood on the edge and peered down into the abyss. “Would you jump if I jump?”
“Of course not!” said Laernea. She quickly ran to him and hugged him from behind. “I know you’d never leave me in the first place,” she added coyly, sliding down her tail on Sharur’s cheek.
Slowly, Sharur slumped on the grass and laid still. Laernea did the same and rested her head in his arms. They stayed that way in silence.
Yet, their peace was short-lived.
A few minutes later, a sweet tune filled the air. It was Baba with his lute. The DarkElf Bard serenaded them in the stillness of eternity.
When his song stopped, Laernea sat up and threw clumped up grass at him. “Way to ruin the mood.”
Baba cleaned the grass from his face. “Tut tut tut, I haven’t even told you my story yet,” he began and sat down alongside them. “Now, have you heard about the fox and the sour grape?”
“Of course!” replied Sharur, grinning. “Don’t tell me you’ve used up all your material?”
“No. Heck, no!” replied Baba, forcibly shaking his head. “But can you tell me how that story ends?”
“You’re kidding, right?” asked Laernea.
Baba smiled but shook his head again.
“The fox makes some lame excuse about the grapes being sour and leaves,” said Laernea.
“Smoke better not be the fox in this story,” added Sharur under his breath.
“Ah! But that’s not how the story ends,” recounted Baba. “First of all, the fox repeatedly tried its best to jump, but it just couldn’t reach the grape, right? So, it does make an excuse about how the grape must be sour.” He bobbed his head, acknowledging this as fact. “But, it doesn’t give up. Instead, the fox went to another vineyard, where it could reach the sweet juicy grapes in a single leap.”
“Say what now?” said Sharur.
“Guess what I’m saying is, it’s good to know when to stop jumping,” said Baba. “Only then will you find the right vineyard.”
The three of them sat there in silence. Baba looked away, as Sharur reached out for Laernea’s hand.
“By the way, Smoke was planning on going to Lord Xolotl’s domain,” said Baba, breaking the silence. “Thought it’d be a perfect opportunity for you two to test what you’ve learned so far. What do you say?”
Laernea turned to Sharur. “I’ll do whatever you want to do.”
“Let’s do it,” said Sharur, smiling at her. “I got the grapes I wanted.”
* * * * * *
On a barren floating island, Smoke and his friends were marching to a merry tune. Baba led the way towards Xolotl’s domain while playing his lute. Smoke and Jeter closely followed behind, with Sharur and Laernea guarding the rear.
“This is nice!” said Jeter, excited. “It has been a long time since I got out of Corpos Quentes. Fighting against Krampus and Brandals tend to be tiresome.”
“That’s well and good, but remember you haven’t done any training to be a Light Bringer yet,” said Baba. “So, don’t attack anything! The same thing applies to you,” he added, talking directly to Smoke.
Upon hearing this, Smoke wondered why Mitleid allowed him to attack the chaneques, sycophants, and various other creatures they met along the way. ‘Did he think I was a Light Bringer?’ he wondered.
“Too bad Mitleid can’t come,” said Jeter.
“What did you expect?” said Sharur. “You know he needs to refill the soul orb.”
“Shh! Quiet,” ordered Baba. “We’re nearing a few chaneques,” he said, stepping onto a grassy floating island. At once, Baba plucked a more serene song.
Smoke expected to see the red horned imps to jump out, but not one of them did.
“Sleepy… so sleepy,” said a child’s voice.
“Nighty night,” added another.
He heard snoring instead of hearing them asking to play.
“They’re sleeping,” whispered Baba, as if reading Smoke’s mental inquiry.
After several hours, they traversed only through barren Insels and grassy floating islands. Baba especially made sure to avoid the ones with the large ponds in them, and strongly told Smoke and the others to steer clear of them.
Having crossed a grassy floating island, they found themselves in front of an Insel with a massive lake in it.
Suddenly, Baba stopped in the middle of the vine-bridge. “Alright, we’ll rest here. Smoke probably needs to go back to his world anyway.”
“Thanks, Baba. I was going to ask,” replied Smoke. “But I’m good to stay for at least three more Insels.”
“No, this spot is fine,” said Baba. “I also have to get Sharur and Laernea ready.”
“But I want to—” protested Smoke but was stopped by Sharur.
“Please go,” said Sharur. “Don’t worry, we’ll be right here when you get back.”
“Oh, alright,” said Smoke, logging out.
Ignoring his headache and nosebleed, Smoke only spent a total of five minutes in the real world. He only took a piss and drank a glass of milk and immediately logged back in, but when he returned it had already been an hour.
“Welcome back,” greeted Laernea.
“That was quicker than expected,” said Sharur.
“So, we ready to go now, Baba?” asked Jeter.
“Not quite,” said Baba. “Mitleid told me that you could put up a Manatl barrier. Think you could cover yourself and Jeter while we’re on that Insel?”
“Definitely,” answered Smoke, putting up a spherical Manatl around himself and Jeter.
“Good. Let’s go,” said Baba, slinging his lute to his back. Then, he took out two thin strings and carried each of them with one hand.
“What’s that for?” asked Smoke, recognizing them as strings for his lute.
“Defense,” answered Baba. “Coyotls tend to dislike my music.”
Before Smoke could ask what a Coyotl was, he heard the croaking of frogs.
KOKAK KOKAK RIBBIT RIBBIT QUAKEN QUAKEN CROAC CROAC
Then, dozens of coyotls leaped out of the great lake. Their bodies were like medium-sized dogs but had the upper body of a coyote and the lower body of a frog. Yet, the throats of these coyote-headed monsters still ballooned like that of a frog’s as they made their croaking noises.
Carefully walking around the lake, Baba had his spare strings ready while Sharur and Laernea were equipped with their bows.
As they got closer, the coyotls instantly moved with blinding speed. But these coyote-frog monsters stopped when they were less than a meter away from Smoke and his friends.
Instead of attacking with their claws, the coyotls whipped out their long elastic tongues and went after Laernea and Sharur’s legs.
WHIPISH WHIPISH WHIPISH WHIPISH
Baba parried each of the monsters’ tongues with a whip of his strings. The coyotls that were hit immediately retreated backward.
Smoke’s Manatl barrier held firm against the coyotls sharp tongues. Protected from the coyotls’ attacks, Smoke and Jeter cautiously followed after Baba, Laernea and Sharur.
After retreating, the injured coyotls came back for another round. But before these monsters could even attack, Sharur and Laernea targeted them with their simple bow and arrows. The two of them waited for the moment when the coyotls opened their mouths wide and launched out their tongues. Their arrows pierced into the coyotls mouths, forcing them back into the lake.
“Wow!” exclaimed Jeter. “The two of them could really hit Mictlanders.”
Upon hearing this, Smoke realized how amazing Sharur and Laernea’s feat was. Despite his numerous attempts, Smoke had never hit any of the Mictlan born monsters thus far.
“Remember, don’t kill them,” said Baba to Sharur and Laernea. “We’re only passing through.”
Yet, even after hearing Baba’s words, Sharur still targeted the coyotls that were retreating. The simple branch-made arrows could not pierce the slimy skins of the coyotls. It only bounced off.
With that, they successfully crossed the Insel with a great lake.
“Damn it!” cussed Sharur, upon reaching the vine-bridge. “Only got half of my arrows left.”
“Here, you can have some of mine,” offered Laernea.
“It’s okay,” said Sharur, shaking his head. “I’ll just be more careful next time.”
“That’s fine,” said Baba. “We’re almost there,” he added, pointing to a floating island with a dark castle on it.
Dried up trees and blackened earth welcomed them when they stepped foot on the floating island of Xolotl. His gloomy castle had a prominent gate with a skull of some unknown monster.
“I’ve never actually entered here before,” confessed Baba. “But we should be fine, right?”
Baba pushed opened the gate and it moved slowly with a creaking sound. Inside the inner grounds, they found large glass windows which surrounded the castle.
“I’ll go alone,” said Baba.
“No, let me do it,” countered Smoke. “I’m a Sonstwelter I’ll be fine,” he reasoned out, as he always did in these situations.
“Fine, but we’ll go together,” said Baba with finality. “Sharur, Laernea, you two be on the guard. We don’t know if Lord Xolotl has some sort of security.”
Sharur and Laernea nodded, their bows at the ready.
“What about me?” asked Jeter.
“You’re on lookout duty,” hastily answered Baba.
So, Baba and Smoke entered Xolotl’s castle. Smoke tried sensing the place with his Cunning of the Dire Fox, but his sensory ability proved to be ineffective here in Mictlan.
Inside, they found a grandiose great hall that was devoid of anything except for a mirror that comprised an entire wall.
“Found the stairs,” said Smoke, cautiously heading up. But he was forcibly stopped in placed.
– [PROHIBITED] Xolotl’s Upper Level is inaccessible at the moment
Baba joined him and felt around for the invisible wall blocking the stairway. “That’s one strong barrier.”
Smoke turned around and searched for anything else, but found nothing. He took in a deep breath and his eyes turned golden, becoming that of a dire fox’s. Yet, even with his Extra Sensory ability, he found nothing inside Xolotl’s Castle.
TAP TAP TAP
They heard the sound of tapping on glass. Smoke found Jeter waving at them from outside the window, signing if they saw anything.
“Might as well let them in,” Smoke said to Baba. “Maybe, they could see something we don’t?”
“Well, I don’t sense any danger,” replied Baba. “Sure.”
Yet, even with the help of Laernea, Sharur, and Jeter, their search still turned up empty.
“Think he went on vacation?” joked Laernea.
“Would be nice if he left a note,” added Sharur.
TAP TAP TAP TAP
“What’s that?” asked Smoke, searching for the source of the sound.
“Probably Jeter,” said Sharur. “He must be outside again. Jeter, quit doing that!”
“Doing what?” asked Jeter coming down from the blocked stairs.
TAP TAP TAP TAP
Again they heard the sound of knocking on glass. At first, they thought it came from one of the windows, only to realize that it was coming from within the full-wall mirror behind them.
All of them scrambled backward. Frightened at the sight of the dog face skeleton before them. A skeleton giant which stood at twice the height of Mitleid. It continued to tap on the mirror.
TAP TAP TAP
“Is someone there?” asked the skeleton. “Speak up! Is there someone in my house?” it added, facing Smoke and revealed its empty eye sockets.
“Lord Xolotl?” asked Smoke. “Sorry to intrude. We’re not here to make trouble.”
“Excuses of a thief,” boomed Xolotl, it tried to grab Smoke but instead the mirror reverberated as its hands could not pass through it.
“Excuse me, my Lord Xolotl,” interjected Baba. “But why are trapped inside that mirror?”
“There are more of you?” asked the blind Xolotl. “Who are you people?”
“Just a humble Bard traveling through Mictlan,” answered Baba. “And with me are Laernea, Sharur, and Jeter. They’re souls living in Corpos Quentes.”
“No! There is one other,” said Xolotl. “Mere souls cannot awaken me from my slumber. Speak up Sonstwelter, and tell me your name!”
Smoke straightened up and looked Xolotl straight in its empty eye sockets. “Oh wise and powerful, Lord Xolotl, I am your humble servant Smoke,” he answered respectfully and lowered his head despite Xolotl being blind. He thought about using Beggary on the god of sunset but decided otherwise. The chances of it working on a god would be quixotic. “Tales of your compassion and understanding are often the talk of those in Corpos Quentes. If I may be so bold as to ask you a question?”
Xolotl’s jaw bone rattled as it laughed. “My, such a respectful Sonstwelter. Smoke was it?”
Smoke smiled, relieved that his flattery worked on a god.
“Normally, I detest such blatant blandishments. But you have piqued my interest,” said Xolotl. From within the mirror, the dog-faced giant sat down in front of Smoke. Its bones creaked and cracked as it did so. “Ask your question, and hope that I know the answer.”
“Thank you, my Lord Xolotl,” said Smoke. “I would like to know if there is a way to get back to the realm of the living.”
“Oh, that!” said Xolotl, exasperated. “Here I thought you would inquire something more intriguing.” It let out a sigh and shook the bones in its shoulders. “Nevertheless, I shall oblige. The answer is yes.”
Smoke’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Then, can you tell me how to—”
“Wait!” called out Xolotl. “Before you blab on about inquiries of going back to the living. I would like to tell you a tale.”
“Thought Baba was the only storyteller we had to endure,” whispered Sharur to Laernea.
“Silence you fool,” mumbled Baba. “We don’t want to anger Lord Xolotl.”
“It would be an honor to hear one of your stories, Lord Xolotl,” said Smoke with a smile.
“As you may know, Mictlan is ruled by the great god Mictlantec and his wife Micteca,” began Xolotl. “Now, I say this with much respect, but the two of them could care less what would happen here in Mictlan. They are simply enamored with each other and nothing else.”
A grinning Baba was happily taking down notes, and mumbling how great this story would be when he told it.
“The two of them reside in Reialma—the only place in Mictlan that is overflowing with soul energy,” went on Xolotl. It suddenly laughed for no clear reason before it continued. “Now, some souls from Corpos Quentes train themselves to withstand the creatures born in Mictlan. And they manage to reach Reialma to get some soul energy.”
“Light Bringers,” said Smoke.
“Oh, so you’ve heard of them. Perhaps you’ve met one?” said Xolotl. “Or maybe there is a Light Bringer amongst you?”
“No! No, Light Bringers here,” quickly answered Baba.
“I see,” replied Xolotl. “Anyway, the Light Bringers had become so many that they threatened to deplete the soul energy in Reialma before it could replenish itself.”
“Really? That’s weird because now there are barely any Light Bringers left,” blurted out Jeter.
“Of course,” said Xolotl. “Mictlantec and Micteca knew what was going on. They saw the threat of the Light Bringers.” Xolotl discontinued its tale and hugged its bones tightly. “I tried to tell them to leave the poor Light Bringers alone, but they would not listen to a lesser god like myself.”
“What? Mictlantec and Micteca did this to you?” asked Smoke.
Xolotl nodded. “They said that the Light Bringers had to end. So, they turned the ones they caught into sycophants. Beings that would drain out the essence from souls.”
“Wait, I thought you only become a sycophant when your soul points become zero?” asked Jeter. “Your body disappears and you get teleported to one of their forests?”
“No, that is a lie. No doubt spread by Mictlantec and Micteca,” said Xolotl. “What really happens is that the soul gets teleported to one of the primary forests. There, the soul respawns and fully recovers their soul points.” Xolotl ceased talking as its bony hands rubbed its cranium. “But the sadistic Mictlantec and Micteca cleverly placed their sycophants into the very same forests. And as you may know, sycophants can turn souls into parasitic beings like themselves. They only need to drain their target’s soul points completely.”
“Is there a way to save them?” asked Smoke out loud, sympathetic to the cursed Light Bringers.
“Coincidentally, the vindictive being that created them did allow for such a reversal,” answered Xolotl. “It is the driving force why the sycophants hunger for souls. Once they’ve consumed four souls, the sycophant returns to being a normal soul.”
“Well, at least there’s hope,” said Smoke, worrying about Mitleid’s situation.
Xolotl sneered. “But Mictlantec and Micteca are such sadistic beings. Sycophants always travel in packs.”
Sharur slapped his forehead. “So, there’s no way for them to recover, because the moment one sycophant does complete its quota, the other sycophants will attack it.”
“What a bummer,” said Laernea.
“What was that?” asked Xolotl.
“I mean… your story is so sad, my Lord Xolotl,” replied Laernea, laughing nervously. “It has such a sad ending.”
“But I am not done!” declared Xolotl. “You see, as the god of sunset and gatekeeper of Mictlan, I could not stand what was happening. So, I fought against Mictlantec and Micteca. Unfortunately, my actions led me to such tribulation.” It sighed deeply. “Mictlantec took my flesh and stored it in my crown. Micteca took my eyes and placed them in my amulet. But the two of them did not stop there. After they trapped me inside this mirror, they took away my power and sealed it in my staff.”
“So, this isn’t what you usually look like?” asked Jeter.
“Obviously,” snidely replied Xolotl. It hesitated, before calming itself. “One cannot imagine the suffering that I am in. If only the things that were stolen from me would be returned, I could surely make the gates—” the gigantic dog-headed skeleton paused again. “But how can anyone possibly help a powerless god like me?”
“You have my sympathy, Lord Xolotl,” began Smoke. “I’d gladly help you recover those things.”
“Really?” exclaimed Xolotl. “I dare say it is such a demanding task, nearly impossible to complete.”
“I would still like to try,” said Smoke, lowering his head. “It’s an honor to be of service.”
“My, you really are an interesting Sonstwelter,” said Xolotl. “Very well, if you insist.”
Xolotl stopped talking and a blank map window appeared in front of Smoke.
“My crown is protected by the Cipactli,” said Xolotl. “A caiman-headed gorilla. Very powerful and extremely sharp.”
Then, the window was filled with the series of Insels Smoke needed to take to get to Cipactli.
|MAP LOCATION: Monstro Afiado
Insel Directions: Insel-516 -> Insel-525 -> Insel-532…
Note: Four Hundred Insels away from current location
“Next, is Yahui—the beast of Mixtec,” went on Xolotl. “It is the one that holds my amulet. A carnivorous turtle with powerful magic.”
|MAP LOCATION: Monstro Blindado
Insel Series: Insel-516 -> Insel-525 -> Insel-532…
Note: Six Hundred Insels away from current location
“Lastly, the ones holding my staff are the Naguals,” said Xolotl. “They’re mysterious beings capable of changing their bodies into several monsters.”
|MAP LOCATION: Monstro Gêmeos
Insel Series: Insel-516 -> Insel-525 -> Insel-532…
Note: Eight Hundred Insels away from current location
“After hearing about the guardians do you still wish to go and face them?” Xolotl asked Smoke.
“Of course!” confidently said Smoke. “Anything to help you, Lord Xolotl.”
“Good!” pronounced the god of sunset. “I barely have any power left, but I could still send you to a place near Cipactli.”
Without any warning, a black portal appeared in the center of the great hall. The other side showed a grassy floating island.
“Now, go!” commanded Xolotl. “That will take all of you to an Insel near Monstro Afiado. Hurry, the portal will not last long.”
Before anyone could protest, Smoke ushered everyone into the portal. It instantly disappeared when all of them exited it.
“Are you sure about this?” Baba asked Smoke.
“What do you mean?” answered Smoke.
“I mean you can’t possibly do Lord Xolotl’s quest,” said Baba. “Not unless you can hit a Mictlander.”
As they spoke on the grassy Insel, its residents had stood up and revealed themselves. Little red horned imps—the chaneques.
Smoke grinned. “My thoughts exactly!” he said, equipping his twin hook swords.