Author: John Nest
News of Verbrannt’s destruction spread like wildfire. Everyone in the forums sensationalized the annihilation of Smoke and Sierra’s promising village. They were ridiculed, mocked, and scorned. Accused of bringing their own downfall. Smoke and Sierra were blamed for being so arrogant to go against an entire kingdom.
Yet, Verbrannt’s fall was not the only hot topic that buzzed among the top threads of Zectas.
Amahan’s recent videos revealed that he and his Decane guild were nearing the completion of an SS level Quest, affecting the entirety of the Nordland Continent if not the entire virtual world itself. But, as always, Amahan kept a tight lid on the actual events. As usual, his guild’s fame and accolades topped over the rest. Nonetheless, there were rumors of Amahan supposedly allying with Smoke. But as there was no strong evidence towards this, it was instantly put to rest after the fall of Verbrannt. After all, why in the world would the mighty Decane ally with a ruined guild.
Subsequently, there was a talk of Tristan’s return to power, according to the former members of the DracoRico guild. They said that it was only a matter of time before Tristan will call for them again, this time in the lands of Sawtorn. Supposedly, Tristan was the reason why Vitzytl’s bastion city did not fall to the Orks. But the defense came at a hefty price. the Duke and Prime Wizard of Vlahui City were killed during the battle. Even the Avendre Mercenaries, imported reinforcements from Wysteria, were lost during the intense skirmish.
However, the latest and highest viewed topic was that of the Chilanes Seer named Sky. Her detailed videos on how she conquered the Oracles of Aphend garnered her many followers. But what drew the people was how her Job up to this point was also uncertain. In the past, it was Smoke who had this allure, but now it was transferred to her, for she could use abilities supposedly exclusive only to Elementalist but at the same time used powers belonging only to that of a high-level Bishop. She also boasted of the Quest Item Reward: Smoking Mirror of Tezcatlipoca which allowed her to teleport to any of the Oracles of Aphend.
Nevertheless, everybody in Nanahuatl ignored those topics and were focused on more urgent matters. It had been awhile since the village forgotten by time had seen so many people. Not since its golden years, when the Beggar Imperator held festivals here.
Sadly, the visitors this time were not here to celebrate. Rather, they were here to lick their wounds. As there were only a few houses in the village, all of them were filled to the brim with the critically injured. Even Smoke’s house overflowed with King Adrizol’s victims. Those who were not as seriously wounded were placed outside in makeshift tents, bedded with simple blankets laid on the ground. Moreover, there were those who were not physically injured but scarred nonetheless. Some of the children were distracted by the games that the Nanahuatlanos provided for them. But not everyone was as fortunate. In their tender years, the children uncontrollably trembled with a terrible fright, signs of trauma embedded in their eyes as if remembering the deaths of their loved ones right before them.
While still waiting for Mamelon’s arrival from Nordland, Smoke and Sierra tended to everyone. But the pain of seeing the injured and the grieving was getting to him. He needed a change of scenery. “Sierra, let’s stretch out our legs a bit.” He asked her to join him for a casual stroll outside the village. “Let me just put Vape in its kiln first,” he added, and a dragon sculpture sprouted out from the ground. Carefully, he removed the baby wyvern off his neck and placed it in the ornate kiln.
“Still can’t believe why it doesn’t like me,” said Sierra, recalling how the gray wyvern kept trying to strike her.
“Don’t worry about it. Vape’s just not used to this world. It’ll be fine once he gets accustomed. Anyway, let’s get out of here,” he said, taking Sierra’s hand.
Minutes passed as they silently walked hand in hand, both of their palms sweaty and jittery.
After they walked past the houses of Nanahuatl, they came upon the three-meter tall effigy, Rauch Castle, a symbol of the ones they lost during King Adrizol’s invasion. Hundreds of candles lit the surrounding the small-scale castle.
Smoke and Sierra stared at the earth-sculpture that Smoke built, both not saying a word as they watched the flickering flames of the wicker. His head flooded with a thousand words to give meaning to their deaths, but not one would escape Smoke’s lips.
“So, heard about Tristan’s success in Sawtorn,” blurted out Sierra, breaking the awkward silence.
“Well, was just wondering what you thought about it?”
“Didn’t really pass my mind.”
“So, you’re not planning on going back to Sawtorn? After all, you were the one who had allied the two kingdoms. I think it just sucks that Tristan gonna get all the credit.”
At once, Smoke stopped her and gently turned her to him. “It took a while, but I’ve grown past that. What’s important is the life we’ve built here. We promised them a better life and this isn’t it.”
Sierra nodded and hugged him.
Breathing in the scent of her red hair, Smoke loved how he could hug Sierra like this. Everything felt the same as if he was in the real world. He remembered the time when she was still cursed as a Werebear. It was true that they had gone a long way and have accomplished some pretty amazing things, but the fact remained that they still had plenty to do.
“Don’t get me wrong. I still hate the guy, but he’s no longer a priority. Besides, I’ve got a new number one on my list.”
“Why did I get myself tricked like that. I really thought I could trust him,” whimpered Sierra into his chest.
“Hey! No one’s blaming you,” he quickly added and hugged her even tighter. “Remember, I agreed to Adrizol’s ploy too.”
The two of them hugged in silence before Smoke finally broke free. “For now, let’s just walk off these regrets.”
Meandering aimlessly led them to the armadillo-carapace weir, the simple fishing dam that Smoke built in his early days in the game.
Near the riverbank, some of the Avendre Mercenaries were splashing around in murky waters. It looked like they were enjoying themselves, cheering loudly surrounding some obstructed spectacle. Walking in closer for a better look, Smoke spotted Jeter. The only one he managed to save from the land of the dead—Mictlan. Unfortunately, the former Avendre Commander came back as a sycophant.
“Come, Brothers! Watch as I feed myself to this monster!” declared Jeter.
Levitating over the waters, Jeter flew towards the blackened part of the river. There, people knew that a giant snapping turtle would pop out. Less than a second later, they onlookers were not disappointed.
Humongous jaws leaped out of the river and swallowed Jeter whole. Most if not all of the Avendre who watched gasped in horror as their transmogrified Commander was devoured by the giant snapping turtle. But before the river monster could submerge itself, Jeter’s sharp limbs poked out of the turtle’s shell.
Jeter levitated out of the aquatic behemoth and was greeted by a rain of applause from his peers. All of them chanted and cheered: “Jeter! Jeter! Jeter! Jeter!”
Except for one young Mercenary, who walked up to Smoke and said. “I know you two are busy with everything that’s going on. But please talk to him. Tell him, we still accept him no matter what he looks like.”
Smoke recognized him to be Hazard, Jeter’s younger cousin who trained hard with them over the past year and became an Avendre Commander himself. “Of course, I already told him that. Why, did he say something to you?”
Shaking his head, Hazard let out a deep sigh. “No. But I’ve known him since I was a kid, and not once did he act like this. It’s like he’s trying so hard to be someone he’s not.”
“You sure? Looks like he’s just trying to make everyone laugh.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll both keep an eye on him,” interjected Sierra, after Smoke’s dismissive statement.
“Really? I’d greatly appreciate it,” said Hazard, looking back at Jeter entertaining the crowd of Avendre Mercenaries. “I’m just worried is all.”
Suddenly, Daga(in the form of a young girl) runs up to Smoke, shouting hysterically. “That Witch is at it again! You’ve got to tell her to stop.”
“Calm down. What are you talking about?” asked Smoke.
“Mamelon! She and Gandiva just arrived, and she’s already throwing herself at Ilad. I’ve got half a mind to tell her that it’s really…”
“Daga! Never do that!” warned Smoke, grabbing her by the arm. “Besides, what’s the harm in them being friendly with one another.”
Smoke’s Beggar Shade vigorously broke free from his grasp. “Fine! Let’s just get to them. Who knows what she’s doing to him as we speak. By the way, Ilad’s already taken them to your house.”
“Hazard, we’ll talk more later,” said Smoke. “Don’t worry about Jeter. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
With Daga rushing off back to the village, Smoke and Sierra had to run off after her.
As soon as they reached his house, Smoke spotted them on his porch, a sobbing Mamelon on the ground hugging Igniz tightly in his Flame Knight armor.
“I’m so sorry! So sorry! Sorry! Please don’t hate me!” cried out Mamelon.
“Oi, what did you do to her?” Daga threateningly asked Igniz.
The incarnated symbiote shrugged. “Nothing… I just said hello and she… she tackled me.”
With all her restraint, Mamelon held back her tears and recomposed herself. “Smoke, Sierra, listen… Didn’t know that was gonna happen. I swear! You have to believe me… Only had improvements of the guild in mind, you know?”
“It’s alright, no one’s blaming you,” said Sierra, embracing Mamelon.
Daga quickly helped Mamelon up, strongly prying her off from Igniz.
“How many died?” she asked in a calmer voice but still lightly sobbing.
“We don’t have to talk about that now,” added Smoke, standing behind Sierra. “Heard you and Gandiva traveled straight from Nordland. Don’t you want to rest up first?”
Mamelon shook her head. “I’m fine. Also had Gandiva sleep inside your house already. How can I possibly rest now? Not after seeing all this,” she said, pointing at the white pitched up tents. “I have to know what we’re going to do next, and what I can do to help.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to take a quick break first?” asked Sierra.
“Yeah, we don’t mind,” said Smoke.
As they spoke, a gold armored Electro Knight and a crimson armored Flame Knight arrived.
“Courant, Virer, you guys made out okay?” asked Mamelon, running towards her closest friends in real life. She gave them both a warm hug, like an elder sister who left behind her siblings to fend for themselves.
“We died or haven’t you heard?” replied Courant. “We stayed behind with Sierra. But I’m glad we did. Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened to Aime.”
“Oh, that’s right. What happened to Aime and Cheri? Are they alright?” asked Mamelon, worried for their Zectian wives.
“Aime’s fine,” answered Courant. “But he wasn’t as lucky,” he added pointing towards the somber Flame Knight.
Mamelon then quickly turned to Virer. “Cheri’s not… Tell me she’s not.”
“She’s alive, but she doesn’t act it,” said Virer. “Not after she lost both her legs when she was escaping.”
Mamelon gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. Sierra bit her lower lip and dug her face into Smoke’s chest.
“I’m so sorr—” began Mamelon but was immediately cut off by Virer.
“Stop that! Don’t need it. Not unless that can make her legs grow back,” angrily said Virer. “You, Three, really did it this time,” he added, pointing at Smoke, Sierra, and Mamelon. “I wanted to take Cheri away, but where can we go now?” He started walking away but looked back. “Ptui!” he spat at Smoke’s feet before walking away.
|– Beggar Mockery: Virer gained 3 Fame points for spitting on you.|
Surprised, Smoke closed the window and watched Virer storm away.
“Don’t mind him,” said Courant, patting Mamelon’s shoulder. “He didn’t really mean it. He’s just hurting right now. After all, we lost everything. Even the aardwolves we gathered. Ugh!” He paused as he tried to calm himself with some deep breathing. But he’s right about you guys making a plan though,” he said and motioned for them to head inside Smoke’s house.
Smoke, Sierra, and Mamelon stood there in silence. They stared at each other, speaking only with their thoughts. Unable to utter the truth that they held inside them. But in the end, it was their unanimous decision that led to this outcome.
“Why the long faces? Don’t tell me you all got cursed and turned into Tikbalangs?” boomed Darius’ voice from inside the house, bringing their attention to him. His wrinkled face beaming at them. “You know, Gin and Tonic are inside, I’m sure they’ll have a few good bar jokes for you three.”
“What? You’re serving us drinks?” asked Sierra, confused.
“No,” answered Smoke, grinning. “He’s talking about Caid’s men, Gin and Tonic. They run a bar in Coatl City. Wait, Caid’s already here?” he added, surprised at the Beggar Evocatti’s expedient arrival.
“Yup. Arrived a few minutes before Mamelon,” explained Darius. “But Gin and Tonic no longer work in the Noir Emporium. They were raided. Don’t know how their cover was blown, but they can’t go back to Coatl anymore. Oh, and Gin and Tonic are actually Caid’s Beggar Shades.”
“What!” exclaimed Smoke. “I… I thought they were just private army members or something? Thought the first time I saw a Beggar Shade was when I saw Ouragan’s. Wait a minute, what about your Beggar Shade?” he asked Darius. “Don’t tell me I’ve already seen your Shade and you just haven’t told me.”
Darius simply shrugged. “What’s the fun in that. Anyway, we should head for the cellar. Prosjak’s really giddy to get back to Centzo. Haven’t seen this many Beggars in one place in a long time.”
“Wait! Ilad’s not coming?” asked Mamelon, seeing that only Smoke and Sierra were walking after Darius.
“No! Ilad and I have to do some errands for Smoke,” hurriedly said Daga, pulling the incarnated Igniz away from Mamelon.
With Darius leading the way, they headed inside. At once, Smoke spotted a bald muscular man who was serving drinks to the injured. Smoke recognized him to be Gin.
“Boss Smoke! Long time, long time. How you doin? Here have some liquid crystal,” said Gin, handing him a clear drink on the rocks. “You ladies want some?”
Sierra nodded while Mamelon politely declined.
“It’s not really a good time,” said Smoke.
“Come on. Just one shot? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have any of my special ingredients.”
“What’s his special ingredient?” asked Sierra, apprehensively staring at the drink in her hand.
“It’s his hair,” replied Smoke. “He likes to put it in the drinks he makes.”
“But his bald.”
“It’s a long story,” said Smoke, taking away Sierra’s drink from her and handing it back to Gin. “So, where’s Tonic?”
Gin scoffed. “Lazy bum’s over there,” he said, pointing at a thin man lying next to one of the injured villagers. He walked over to Tonic and kicked him in the leg. “Oi! Pay your respects to Boss Smoke. He just became a Beggar Evocatti.”
“Huh? What? Oh! Boss Smoke! Congratulations on your promotion.”
“How’s it going, Tonic?”
“Been really bad. Emerald Knights just came busting in through the doors all of a sudden. Didn’t even get a chance to bring most of my stuff.”
“Well, you could’ve brought more if you just did your job and kept watch!” exclaimed Gin.
Darius, Sierra, and Mamelon went on ahead, walking past the two Beggar Shades and into Smoke’s cellar.
“Sounds really bad, but don’t worry. We’ll get back up. Anyway, we just have a quick meeting we need to get to.”
“No problem, Boss. Gin and I’ll be right here taking care of the sick, while you head honchos get to bottom of this.”
“Great. I’d really appreciate that,” said Smoke and went after them.
* * * * * *
Walking down the steps, he felt a colder breeze. The walls gave out a dim blue light which brightened his pentagon-cellar. Smoke smiled as he stared at the people in the circular table before him. A man in his early sixties, wearing a colorful Bard robe of red, yellow, and blue, smiled back. Whereas, an imposing, muscular man dressed in all black simply gave him a nod.
“Prosjak!” greeted Smoke. He extended his hand parting his middle finger and his ring finger and interlocking it with Prosjak’s, performing the secret Beggar handshake. Immediately after, a yellow light enveloped both of them, but this light was only visible to those who belonged to the Verum de Mendicantibus—the Brotherhood of Beggars.
“It’s so good to see you,” said Prosjak, giving Smoke a hug which ruffled his Bard robes. “Can’t believe you’ve actually been to Mictlan, and even became a Beggar Evocatti in Sawtorn. It’s just too bad we’re not seeing each other in better conditions.”
“That’s right!” interjected Caid. “So, we better get to it. My tavern was raided and I think I know why… You’ve let your guard down and allowed a Spy in your midst,” he menacingly pointed at Smoke. “Darius, I respect you. But this simpleton is just to…inexperienced.”
“What are you saying! Smoke has done the impossible several times over,” argued Prosjak. “Have you ever met anyone who’s been to Mictlan?”
“He certainly did that. I never thought that there would ever be a day to regret a Beggar’s recommendation,” went on Caid.
Lowering his head, Smoke rubbed the second Beggar stone on his belt.
“Now, now. There’s no need for that,” calmly said Darius. “Remember, Smoke and Sierra also lost Verbrannt. You shouldn’t rub salt in their wounds.”
“And I’m sure Smoke took precautions,” added Prosjak, helping Smoke and his companions to sit down round the table. “And I must say, he did very well defending Centzo.”
“It’s my fault Verbrannt fell,” blurted out Sierra as she settled down on her chair. “Shouldn’t have rebuilt a village that was already burned down. I should have known better.”
“Hey, I told you, it’s not your fault,” quickly said Smoke, grabbing her hand.
“It’s mine,” Mamelon said to Sierra. “I was the one who convinced you to take Adrizol’s proposal. I was the one who gave you the push.”
“Could you Sonstwelters stop with the bickering!” interrupted Caid. “I’ll tell you what went wrong.” Stern with beady eyes, his nostrils flared. “You were all careless! Thinking that you had a full year before Burmistrz would make a move.” He shook his head in disgust. “You, you went and played around in Sawtorn and even decided to take a vacation in Mictlan!” he said to Smoke. Standing up, he then accusingly pointed at Sierra. “And you allowed Ledur and Adder to leave the village and their own men with them too. What’s more, you lost a third of your Avendre Mercenaries when they were sent to Sawtorn. Even worse, you had the Maneators and the Therianthropes escape with the rest of the Villagers. It’s not a guaranteed win, but you could have taken out those Emerald Knights if you really wanted to.”
This time, Caid had said things that Smoke could not allow to pass.
“Shut up! Beggar Evocatti or not, you’ve gone far enough! Sierra’s call was right!” yelled Smoke. “I know they could have won. But at what cost? They were severely outnumbered! Adrizol wasn’t even there, even if they did kill all of the Knights, all of them would have died for nothing.”
An acute stillness enveloped the cellar. Not even Darius dared to speak.
Surprisingly, the one who broke the silence was the same person who brought about such a tumultuous conflict. “What’s done is done. What we need to do now is form a plan,” said Caid. “You need to recognize that there is a Spy among you, and you need to get rid of it,” he said directly at Smoke.
“I can easily do that,” offered Darius. “If there’s a saboteur I will find them… erm. Him or her.”
“So, what do you plan to do now?” Smoke asked Caid.
“I’ll stick with you lot, what else? It’s not like I can go back to Coatl now, can I?”
“Yeah, what do you want to do with the villagers?” asked Sierra. “I don’t want them near the battlefield again.”
“Me too,” added Mamelon.
“First, we need to find a new place. We can’t have all the residents of Verbrannt stay in such a tiny village,” said Smoke. “But it has to be somewhere outside of Chayotl Kingdom.”
“Wait! All of you can stay here. I’m sure we’ll manage somehow,” objected Darius.
“But where are we gonna go?” asked Sierra.
“Well, Wysteria’s a big place,” said Caid. “We could go to the land beyond the red mountains.”
“What? You’re not seriously suggesting to go to the Primalands?” questioned Prosjak. “There’s a reason that place is left alone. Heck, even the Maneators would have a hard time living there.”
“What’s the Primalands?” asked Smoke.
“You’ve read the ancient History of Zectas, right?” said Darius.
“Well, that’s where the other races fled when they were trying to run from the Lizardites. But not much is truly known what happened to them. Some say they were killed by the ancient beings living in the Primalands. Other say that they’ve built their own kingdom there. No one really knows for sure because no one has returned from that uncertain place.
“Exactly my point!” exclaimed Prosjak. “Why take such a risk. We could easily provide a safe haven for your people in Centzo. I’m sure Duke Jeune wouldn’t mind.”
“Why don’t you just paint a bright red target mark on our backs while you’re at it,” retorted Caid. “We all know that Adrizol’s going after Centzo next.”
“What about Centza?” blurted out Mamelon.
“Yeah? What about it?” asked Caid. “That city’s been doing nothing against the corruption that’s grown in the kingdom.”
“Chayotl may have changed, but Centza’s always been a righteous city,” said Prosjak.
“I’ve never personally met Centza’s Duke, but I heard that he had planned on sending some support to Centzo,” added Mamelon. “Something like defending their twin city?”
Smoke and Sierra stared at each other, conversing only with their eyes. But the windows of their soul had nothing to say other than the confused helplessness of their situation.
“Like I said, Adrizol has his grip over all of Chayotl! After he’s done with Centzo, he’s going to go after Centza next,” yelled Caid.
Due to this, Prosjak began shouting out the points of having Smoke and his people move to Centzo.
With the two Beggars screaming, Darius slammed his hand on the round table, effectively closing everyone’s lips. “I see that this is going nowhere. For now, we’ve established some facts. The refugees have to be moved to a safer place. And I’m sorry, Prosjak, but I agree with Caid. Centzo isn’t a viable option.” Suddenly, a mug of foamy ale appeared in front of everyone. “I gave Gin and Tonic a special recipe and had them prepare this for us ahead of time,” he said, motioning for everyone to take a sip of his special concoction.
In reluctant unison, everybody took their mug and drank the brew magically placed before them.
A bitter foamy taste reminded Smoke of their utter defeat but then a calm inspiring feeling of hope filled his throat.
“Yes. That drink is exactly what we’re going to do,” explained Darius. “Swallow the bitterness and breathe in the future. I’m sure that there are better things for us in this life. We just have to keep pushing forward to see it.”
Caid finished his drink in one gulp and slammed the mug down on the table. “Fine! Just gonna get some fresh air for now,” he said, climbing up stairs, out of the cellar.
“I’ll have to leave for Centzo as well,” said Prosjak. “Smoke, come see me in Centzo soon. I’d like to give you that much-deserved recommendation.” He then turned to Sierra and Mamelon. “I’ll inform Duke Jeune of what we’ve discussed. Maybe we’ll hear some good news from Duke Facilement.” The Beggar Quaestor dressed as a Bard stood up and then turned to Darius, “Legati Darius, if you would be so kind.”
“It was good seeing you, Old Friend,” said Darius. He waved his hand and a casting circle appeared below Prosjak. In an instant, he vanished without a trace, teleported back to Centzo City.
“Who’s Duke Facilement?” asked Smoke.
“He’s the Duke of Centza City,” replied Mamelon. “Guess I’ll be leaving to. I’d like to see how Cheri and Virer are doing. Just give me a call if you’ve come up with something,” she said to Smoke and Sierra.
With only Smoke, Sierra, and Darius left in the cellar, their mugs filled up to the brim, floating in foam.
Taking a deep breath, Smoke turned to Darius. “You think were doing the right thing? Us retreating?”
“Retreat? Hell no!” exclaimed Darius. “This is just you taking your time, and preparing for a counter attack!” He smiled and raised his mug at Smoke and Sierra.
* * * * * *
After drowning their guilt and sorrow in Darius’ specially concocted brew, Smoke and Sierra gathered their core-members in a secluded portion of Nanahuatl.
Whereas, Darius personally did a scan on the individuals within the premises of the village. However, the Beggar Legati found no one who piqued his suspicion. This was not a well-received result, as this only meant that the traitor was well versed even beyond Darius’ detection abilities.
Of course, there were still missing members from their army; Ledur and his mixed army of Tikbalangs, Centaurs, and a single Volataur, then there was Adder and his Condortlian Warriors, and lastly the scattered members of Mamelon’s Iron Knights.
Under the cool breeze of an acacia tree, Smoke and Sierra were having a competition on who could cook a tastier meal. Smoke’s core-members were the privileged audience and judge.
Given that his Agility was much faster than that of Sierra’s, Smoke was able to produce more grilled steaks. But the taste of Sierra’s barbecued blood pheasants still surpassed his ancient bison meat.
His Zectian family members all came to a unanimous decision, Sierra was the winner by a landslide.
After eating, Smoke was urged to talk about Mictlan.
“Floating islands, living in colonies, and creepy monster children that chant ‘want to play?’, Mictlan doesn’t sound fun at all,” said Ichaival, looking around his closest friends.
Smoke smiled at Ichaival, the comical entertainer of his private army members. He remembered how young they all looked when they signed up inside Darius’ house. His family in Zectas had grown, looking at Thyrsus, who sat next to Vijaya. Then, there were the Maneators; Weise, Stark, Rasant and Adelige. The latter were awfully friendly with each other. He made a mental note to ask Rasant about the two of them. Ichaival and Sharanga were sitting on the sides of the Maneators, clearly trying their best to stay apart. Whereas, the incarnated Igniz sat next to him and Sierra, together with his Beggar Shade—Daga. Jeter remained levitating behind them, some distance away. Adder, Ledur, and Espion were still on their way to them. Then, there was news of Guro’s disappearance, but Smoke was not concerned. He knew that old lioness Lioumerean could handle herself.
“Doesn’t anyone else think that Mictlan kind of sucks?” asked Ichaival.
“Sorry, I made it sound like that. It isn’t that bad,” said Smoke, stroking the baby wyvern around his neck. “I mean it’s a place where you could be with someone you love for all eternity,” he added, smiling at Sierra.
“Or find your soulmate,” added the transformed Jeter. “After all, that’s where Sharur and Laernea found each other.”
Smoke noticed how Jeter stood behind everyone as if he was afraid his sharp limbs would accidentally injure someone. ‘Maybe Hazard was right after all.’
“You think Sharur and Laernea are alright?” blurted out Ichaival. “Didn’t you leave them there with two gods about to attack?”
“Hey! Sharur and Laernea are fine. Besides, they were just clones of the gods or something like that,” said Jinggu, adamant of his twin’s safety. “Believe me. My brother’s not gonna be turned into one of those sycophants,” he paused and cautiously looked at Jeter. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Jeter raised both his sharp limbs and carefully pulled them back down. “It’s okay. No harm done.”
“Mictlan is a place that we’ll all eventually go to,” blurted out the gray Maneator. “But what concerns me, is what we’re going to do now. I’m sure you’ve already discussed this with Darius and the other Beggars,” said Weise to Smoke. “Perhaps, you could also include us as well.”
“Honestly, I don’t know,” said Smoke. “Prosjak suggested we all move to Centzo and make our stand there.”
“But I don’t want to get the non-fighters involved,” vigorously said Sierra.
“I second that,” added Vijaya. “Thyrsus and I were thinking… what if we just have them stay here in Nanahuatl? I mean the place could probably sustain them and Master Darius is fine with it.”
“Place is nice, but too small for Stark,” said the red Maneator. “Stark needs bigger, wider, better… safer place to leave our people.”
“Adelige and I agree,” said Rasant. “A place like Centzo is a no go. Definitely a no go. Nanahuatl, that’s out of the question as well. Centza should be out of the equation altogether. What we need is somewhere outside the influence of Adrizol. A place outside the Chayotl Kingdom.”
The golden Maneator silenced Rasant with her slender hoof. “What he’s trying to say is that we should head for Veneficatl Valley.”
“Exactly!” added Ichaival.
“Sounds fine with me,” chimed in Sharanga.
“But isn’t that where Horrabelle’s Therianthropes, and Goblins are all staying?” asked Thyrsus.
“Actually, the Goblins are now all over the place,” said Ichaival. “My girlfriend’s outside right now. She and the rest of the Banalite Snipers are taking care of it as we speak. Heard one of the groups they encountered turned into a Gargantuan Goblin, but they still managed it.”
“Don’t you think Sympa’s just exaggerating?” said Sharanga. “I mean, really? A Gargantuan Goblin? Just how strong do you think your group has become?”
“Some people just can’t move on,” countered Ichaival.
“Who cares about moving on? I just want cold hard facts!”
“In any case, the fact that the goblins have now reached the outskirts of Nanahuatl is a pressing concern,” said Ichaival, ignoring Sharanga.
“Heard the same thing from Prosjak as well,” said Smoke. “Goblins have already reached the outer villagers of Centzo.”
“Wait, this could be a good thing. What if the Goblins will attack Coatl and Centeo as well?” said Weise. “That could give us a great opportunity to move and relocate. The only question now, is where are we moving?” the gray Maneator turned and asked Smoke.
“Haven’t really decided, and I’m still waiting for Adder, Ledur, and Espion to return.”
“That means you’ll come to a decision when they do?” pressed on Weise.
Hesitant, Smoke nodded.
“Good, because they’re arriving this afternoon,” said Weise.
“Well, enough heavy talk,” said Smoke. “I want to hear more of what you were all up to this past year,” he added, trying to lift the mood and reconnect with them as well.
Smoke and Sierra spent the next few hours reminiscing the good times, and exchanged stories of what they experienced in the time Smoke was away.
Although he still had a problem with expressing himself verbally, Stark’s Avendre Mercenaries were now well versed with his grunts and one-word commands. He had his group train on two-handed weapons like iron mallets and double-headed ax, as he himself mastered the war hammer called “Gorilla Fist”, gifted to him by Smoke when they faced against the Krampus guardians. The red Maneator’s group monopolized hunting the undead skeletons in the hidden tunnels of the Zuchthaus Labyrinth.
Trained with the spear and shield, Weise’s Mercenaries were clad in green. All their equipment camouflaged with the color of the forest. As he focused on training his verdant spear called “Narwhal Horn”, he also prioritized raising his army’s resistance to Poison. Thanks to Espion’s advice, Weise and his army spent most of their time roaming the Otaczac Forest, gathering intel on Burmistrz’s Knights. Specifically, the villages of Nisko, Poludnie, and Silap. After which they head back to the Mandragora Forest where they bathe in the poison pellets gathered from the slimes.
Meanwhile, the armies of Rasant and Adelige, who had the most Avendre Mercenaries, were tasked to clear the quests brought about by being an Avendre Mercenary Outpost, which was first cleared through Espion’s Intel. They’ve guarded lower nobles against Brandals. In that quest, the credit was given to Rasant as he killed the Brandal Leader with his segmented sword named “Serpent Fang”. Next, they hunted down monsters plaguing villages. This time it was Adelige who shone brightly. As her double-headed ax called “Oxen Edge” quickly dealt with the Boss Monster called Drude, a malevolent kobold who gave nightmares to hapless peasants. Their armies even built a bridge that connected the village of Schwein Haben to the city of Centza.
Given only a few Avendre Mercenaries, Ichaival was assigned to build an army which focused on ranged attacks. He had the Mercenaries under him master the deadly crossbows. After their training, Espion gave them a hit list of Brandal Outposts. Ichaival positioned his men into prime sniping spots. Confident of their position, Ichaival and his long ranged strikers scratched out the Brandal Outposts one at a time, always with their fire arrows. As they struck from a distance, the bandits could hardly counter-attack. Often, the Brandals would only come out of their buildings on fire, only to be turned into flaming pincushions.
Even with fewer Mercenaries than Ichaival’s, Sharanga’s army had a different kind of schooling. She preferred this, as she instilled in them the art and mastery of traps. Given an abundant supply of elemental stones, she now developed, poisoned, electric, flame, ice, and even petrification traps. But all of these items were only tested on smaller monsters like stone deer. Not until the day the King Adrizol’s Emerald Knights invaded. They were the first true victims of Sharanga’s improved elemental traps. Thanks to her vigilance, more than a tenth of the Emerald Knights were killed by her defensive traps alone.
After his twin brother’s death, Jinggu was off the grid for a while. Eventually, he reappeared in Nanahuatl and stayed there. He used to carry two massive ballistae but realized that it was counter-intuitive. So, Darius offered to do some tinkering for him. The end result, he merged the two ballistae and created a repeating cross-ballista. When he returned, he had his Mercenaries drilled in the basics, and spent most of his time in Sharanga’s workshop.
Feeling more like Sierra’s private army members, Thyrsus and Vijaya developed laws to help keep the peace and order between the mix races and cultures in Verbrannt. They even held trials and erected a court to expedite grievances between members of the village. Due to this, the happiness rating of the village was improved, as the residents felt that each one of them mattered. Of course, Thyrsus and Vijaya themselves were regarded with the same respect as the Lady of Verbrannt(a title now stripped from Sierra’s status).
Hearing them, Smoke realized that the reason they were able to escape with such a low casualty was because of their hard work and dedication this past year. He always felt that he should do everything by himself. But with such good friends(they’re like family), he knew that it was a wise decision for them to delegate. He was also undoubtedly impressed with Espion’s part in the formation of the different armies. Although most of their belongings were taken, they still had grown from their experiences, and not even King Adrizol could take that away from them.
After catching up with his core-members, Smoke and Sierra went upstairs to greet Adder, Ledur, and Espion as their arrival was drawing near. But Smoke was pulled away by Ichaival, telling him that he must meet with Sympa.
“Babe, over here,” called out Ichaival to a sporty-looking girl. Her short black hair was still as short as Smoke remembered.
“High General Smoke, it’s good to see you again,” said Sympa, deeply lowering her head.
“Babe, I told you. He doesn’t like honorifics. Just call him Smoke,” said Ichaival, putting his arms around Sympa’s tan shoulders.
“Congratulations on being a Commander,” said Smoke, offering his hand to Sympa.
“Thank you,” she answered, lowering her head once more. “But people say I only got the promotion because I’m with Ichaival.”
“I’m sure that’s not the only reason.”
“I hope to prove them wrong as well,” went on Sympa. “Well, I won’t keep you long. I’m sure an important person such as yourself is very busy,” she added, tugging on Ichaival’s waist.
“No, it’s fine,” said Ichaival, grinning widely.
“Actually, I’m waiting for Ledur and Adder to arrive,” said Smoke. “Besides, I think she wants some alone time with you, Ichaival,” he added and gave Ichaival a wink.
“Really? Oh, alright then,” said Ichaival, smiling at her.
And so, Smoke went back to Nanahuatl’s white marble fountain. There, Sierra sat alone. He breathed in the moment as a golden beam glistened in the afternoon sun, reflecting its rays in the clear flowing waters against her face.
Suddenly, two flying figures appeared from above. Fearsome black wings spread out, the cursed flying Tikbalang, Ledur descended first. A split second later, a young Volataur with brown wings landed next to him.
“Neffe, you’ve gotten really big,” greeted Sierra, beaming at Ledur’s thirteen-year-old nephew.
“Yeah, I can’t believe how small you used to look back in Pferde,” said Smoke, smiling at the young Volataur.
“Sir, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” said Neffe, formally cantering his hooves towards Smoke and extended his hand. “Uncle Rudel has been trying to keep to his vow of silence, but his praises of you never fails to escape his lips.”
Ledur’s face looked perplexed at this sudden revelation. He tapped on Neffe’s shoulder and pointed towards the horizon.
“Guess Ledur really can’t keep that vow, huh?” Smoke whispered to Sierra.
“Oh! Uncle Rudel says that our brethren are on their way,” explained Neffe.
Looking towards the horned rabbit filled plains outside Nanahuatl, Smoke saw a team of Centaurs and Tikbalangs galloping towards them.
Ledur lightly stomped on Neffe’s hoof.
“I meant Ledur,” quickly added Neffe, stepping away from the winged Tikbalang. “By the way, my Uncle and I would like to apologize for not being there… If we had, we could’ve fought—”
“Hey, let’s not dwell on the past,” said Smoke. “Anyway, Adder and his men should be arriving soon as well.” He then called out to some of the Centaurs. “Any of you guys saw Adder along the way?”
All of them shook their heads.
“Where could they be?” said Smoke out loud. “He told me he’d be here round this time. You don’t think they ran into trouble, do you?” he asked Sierra.
“Want to try calling him?” she suggested.
Without another word, Smoke opened his Friends List Window.
|—- Contacts —- Status
+ Sierra Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
+ Mamelon Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
+ Virer Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
+ Darius Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
+ Adder Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
+ Ichaival Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
+ Thyrsus Active [Nanahuatl] >> Call <<
“Hey, you alright?” blurted out Smoke as soon as he got connected. “Everything fine?”
“Yeah. Sorry, we got held up. Don’t worry we’re almost there, we just had to take a break and feed our mounts some bronze jackals.”
“That’s fine, as long as you guys are alright,” said Smoke, relieved. “Guess I’ll see you soon then.”
“So? Everything good?” asked Sierra after Smoke ended the call.
Ledur nudged Neffe and the young Volatuar nodded at his Uncle.
“Is Sir Adder on his way?” asked Neffe on behalf of the winged Tikbalang.
“Yeah, they should be here any minute now,” said Smoke. “Said they got delayed because they had to feed their mounts bronze jackals.”
Sierra looked confused. “Did they say they fed their mounts which are bronze jackals or they fed their mounts the meat of the bronze jackals?”
“Know what? I’m not sure,” answered Smoke. “But what kind of mount would eat bronze jackals?”
A few minutes later, Smoke’s question was answered. Oversized shadows cast upon him and his companions, forcing him to look up. There, he saw sixteen majestic monsters flying overhead. These eagle-headed, lion-bodied griffons were much larger than the ones he remembered. These griffons were twice the size of those who fed on the lizard people who enslaved the Condortlians.
CROWK CROWK CROWK CROWK
Sounds of sharp claws digging into the earth erupted as these griffons landed. Their wingspans as wide as a wagon momentarily covered the vast green plains outside Nanahuatl village. All of the able-bodied people who could walk flooded the gates, pushing their way through the crowd to get a glimpse of these feathered calamities of beauty.
“Griffons!” exclaimed Daga, the first one to break free from the masses.
“Indeed. We went a long way beyond the Red Mountains to find them,” answered Adder, hopping off his griffon.
Smoke and Sierra were the next one to arrive. Smoke noticed that Adder’s body looked to have grown bigger, but could not tell whether it was because of his new golden sleeveless breastplate. He also wondered how Adder’s regrown arm was doing as well.
“Red Mountains?” asked Smoke, offering his hand while smiling at the Adder. “And what’s with the new get up?”
“Oh, this? It’s a Condortlian heirloom. Decided we should wear it, like our ancestors did when they became Griffon Commanders.”
“Are those the same ones from Condortl?” asked Sierra, pointing at the massive griffons. “Smoke told me a lot about them before I joined the game… Err, I meant arrived here at Zectas.”
Adder shook his head. “No, these are golden griffons. Only heard about them from Eldmar, way back when I was still a kid.” He paused, and his face became sullen. “But what about Verbrannt? How many did we lose?”
Hearing this, Smoke was reminded of how a realist Adder was. “Two hundred forty-five. We’ve already built an effigy in their honor. It’s in the back of the village if you want to…”
“Thank you, I would like to pay my respects,” said Adder. “If only we’d have been—”
“No more guilt-tripping!” exclaimed Smoke, raising his voice. “We’ve had enough of that. Let’s just move on.”
“You can’t say that,” interjected Sierra. “He has the right to…”
“No, Smoke’s right,” said Adder. “What’s done is done, sulking about the past won’t bring dead people back to life. The onus is on us, who lived, to show that we’ve suffered the loss and will honor their memory.”
Ledur stomped his hoof, and pushed his nephew forward. “Uncle couldn’t agree more,” said Neffe.
“So? What’s our next move? You want to go after that bastard Adrizol?” Adder asked Smoke.
Before Smoke could reply, an alarm went off on his peripheral vision. His Cunning of the Dire Fox alerted him of incoming intruders. Hundreds of these red small dots appeared on his map-radar. These unknown monsters were heading straight for them from the plains.
“Everyone, we’ve got incoming!” yelled Smoke.
A split-second later, silhouettes of Smoke’s core-members alongside Sierra’s primary Druids appeared in front of the village gates. They were teleported by Darius, as he himself stood next to them.
little green goblins, numbering in the hundreds, appeared on the horizon. They were chasing after a familiar black-haired Zectian, Espion riding on an acinonyx cheetah.
“Good! Knew you’d be ready in time!” shouted Espion as he was being chased, grinning widely.
Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox did not pick up all of the incoming goblins. Now, their numbers grow to the thousands.
“Adelige, you and your brothers take the ones on the right,” began Sierra. “Phen and Rear, go with them. Vrai and Ardu, you stay with Ichaival and Vijaya.” She then turned to Smoke, who was about to give out similar orders. “Sorry. Force of habit. Did you have something else in mind?”
“No problem, was gonna say the same thing,” replied Smoke, smiling proudly at Sierra.
With the fiery Salamander’s Tongue all lit-up into a blaze, the incarnated Igniz dashed forward, summoning thirty-two flame swords above him, Mamelon and Daga closely chasing behind.
Adder and his fellow Griffon Commanders all took to the skies. Their griffons swooping down, grabbing a talonful of goblins, only to throw them down to their deaths.
Meanwhile, Ledur and Neffe stayed on the ground. They guided both Centaurs and Tikbalangs through intricate formations which led to ripping apart the goblins into smaller groups.
As the living members began thwarting the goblins’ advance, the returned Jeter dove first into the throng of goblins. Without a care for his well being, the transfigured sycophant began rampaging kills. He inflicted those around him with the Fear ailment, instilling terror into the hearts of the little green monsters. Thus, forcing the goblins to use their trump card.
Fearful for their lives, the surviving goblins began eating the remains of their fallen kin, turning them into Gobble Goblins. But they were not satisfied as this was not their final form. In under a minute, the cries of the evolving Gobble Goblins rang throughout the battlefield. Twenty Gargantuan Goblins, standing at three meters in height, emerged among the chaos. Their skins turned black and hardened. Their muscles grew thrice in size. But worst of all, their sense of reason and pain were thrown out of their bodies.
A burning sensation ran down Smoke’s spine, as he remembered facing them the last time. Crucibelle still had them under her command. They already had a difficult time, when they only faced three of those giant cannibals.
Yet, before he could give out commands; Phen, Rear, Ardu, and Vrai all transmogrified into their Werewolf and Werebear forms, facing a single Gargantuan Goblin by themselves.
Then, his Maneators; Adelige, Rasant, Stark, and Weise also did the same. They brandished the weapons gifted by Smoke.
Adder and his Griffon Commanders took in two of the transformed goblins.
Whereas, Ledur led his Centaurs and Tikbalangs to simultaneously face two Gargantuan Goblins.
Before moving from his Spot, Smoke continued to assess the entire battlefield.
Sierra was heading for a Gargantuan Goblin by herself. A small part of Smoke worried for her, but was confident. After all, she is the strongest Werebear in Wysteria.
Igniz, together with Mamelon and Daga were rushing off to face another one of the giant black goblins.
Thyrsus, Vijaya, Ichaival, Sharanga, and Jinggu led their own armies to vanquish the behemoth invaders.
Smoke would have wanted to use the Ponderous Mist on these pesky monsters, but Vape was still sleeping in its dragon kiln when Espion kited the goblins.
Spotting an unclaimed Gargantuan Goblin, which was still wildly slamming its knuckles on the ground, Smoke rushed over to challenge one by himself.
Extending out his twin hook swords behind him as he ran, Smoke felt like a running Ninja about to assassinate a boss. Glancing over to where Igniz was fighting, he envied the flaming swords swirling above his incarnated symbiote. Having the same ability, Smoke used it as well and summoned six flame swords for himself.
Two of the fiery flying swords distracted his target from the front, while the rest of them plunged deep into the Gargantuan Goblin’s back.
“AWWG!” screamed the black behemoth in pain, as it stared at Smoke with its murderous red eyes.
Unfazed, Smoke used his Hyper Jump ability and launched himself upward. Being near his Maneators, his Asterian Aura gave him a bonus of 50% increased attack damage.
Looking up, the black behemoth saw Smoke about to attack it from above. It blocked both its arms in front of itself, ready to receive the brunt of Smoke’s swords.
Activating his Mictlander’s Eye, the movements of the Gargantuan Goblin became sluggish to him. He could spot the weak areas of the monster with ease. Coupled with the force of gravity, Smoke prepared to sever one of the Gargantuan Goblin’s hands with a downward strike.
However, his hook swords only left a small gash on the giant goblin’s knuckles. It laughed after it saw Smoke’s damage. It’s life bar displayed (429,400/450,000 HP).
It was not a weak attack, but it also was not strong enough to cause the Gargantuan Goblin to panic.
Preparing its counterattack, the Gargantuan Goblin slapped his palms down hard at Smoke. But he easily parried it with his moon sword’s hook and pulled the monster forward, throwing it off its balance. As it lunged farther down, the flame swords attacking its back were pulled out and hurriedly stabbed back in again.
Seeing how his flame swords were effective, Smoke covered his twin hook swords with the strongest flames he could muster. He climbed on the giant goblin’s rough arms and struck the area above the elbows. With continuous attacks, his flaming twin hook swords piled on damage.
Thanks to his increased Agility of the Horned Rabbit, it only took him two seconds to unleash ten strikes, lopping off one of the Gargantuan Goblin’s arms. The monster’s life bar now reflected only 68%.
With its remaining arm, the Gargantuan Goblin tried to grab Smoke, who now stood on his shoulder. But a magma-spike suddenly protruded out from the ground, piercing the giant goblin’s throat. Black-greenish blood hissed against the molten spike as it steadily gushed out from the monster.
Desperately, the Gargantuan Goblin tried pulling out from the magma-spike, but its hand got burned and was swallowed inside the melted rocks instead.
Standing on top of the goblin’s shoulder, Smoke pulled out his flame swords and created sixteen of them altogether. He had them swirl above the goblin’s head, giving them a drilling motion. In a pinpoint attack, all sixteen flame swords plunged into the back of the Gargantuan Goblin’s neck and depleted the last of its hit points.
As he landed on the ground and the black giant goblin’s body vanished into Mictlan, Smoke scanned the battlegrounds once more. He saw that all of his companions were doing well on their own.
Sierra and Mamelon had already dealt with their respective Gargantuan Goblins as well. Both of them grinning as they were looking for their upcoming victims.
Whereas, everyone else was still about to wrap things up. As Smoke was looking for his next target, his eyes fell upon Espion. His black haired Spy was boldly facing a Gargantuan Goblin by himself as well. He was ready to jump in and help out Espion, but he noticed that the life bar of the Gargantuan Goblin was less than 20%.
Espion knelt on the ground and touched it. A black casting circle appeared, which surrounded the Gargantuan Goblin. Eight smoky lynxes materialized, encircling their prey. Suddenly, they grew in size and morphed into shadowy images of Espion. At once, Espion’s duplicates began attacking the black giant monster.
Desperate, the Gargantuan Goblin’s arms were flailing all over the place, trying to block the ebony knives of the shadowy figures. But Espion’s Shadow Dance ability greatly overpowered the goblin. Delivering the final blow, Espion struck his poisoned knives into the monster’s left eye socket, forcing the goblin on the ground, its life bar drained. With the Gargantuan Goblin defeated, his shadow figures dispersed.
“Smoke! Good to see you again,” said Espion, nonchalantly offering a handshake.
“Impressive! Where did you learn that?”
“Got it after hunting down ten thousand shadow lynxes,” said Espion, all smug. He created a smaller casting circle in front of him and summoned another shadowy lynx which morphed into a full-sized clone of himself.
Smoke nodded, impressed. “That’s great, but we still have to finish off these mon—” he paused as he examined the plains. All of the goblins were wiped out, even the Gargantuan Goblins were no more.
“Sorry about bringing them here,” blurted out Espion. “There were just too many of them near Nanahuatl. Thought their numbers had to be thinned out somehow. Considering, we’ve got to move all the people from Verbrannt. By the way, have you decided on a place?”
Lost for words, Smoke was surprised to see an imposing middle-aged man all dressed in black appear next to them. Caid teleported after the battle was over.
“That’s my boy!” exclaimed Caid. “Won’t be long now before I hand this over to you,” he added, pushing his black cloak to the side revealing his two Beggar Stones. “But about your question earlier, let’s leave that to Smoke. Apparently, he still needs to sort his mind out.”
* * * * * *
It had grown dark, and the stars were twinkling brightly in the sky. With the arrival of Ledur, Espion, and Adder; Smoke’s accounted army was now complete. The three of them, along with the other core-members, lighted candles in front of the effigy Smoke built.
Meanwhile, Smoke sat alone in front of the white marble fountain. Sierra and Mamelon had logged out. He was about to do the same as well, but wanted some time to think.
Deep in thought, he was taken by surprise when Darius loudly coughed next to him.
“Oh, didn’t see you there,” said Smoke, faintly smiling.
“Listen, don’t really know what you’re thinking right now, but I really need some bread. You don’t happen to have some on you?”
Smoke stared at Darius in disbelief. Suddenly, he shook his head and laughed, remembering the first time he met the old Beggar Legati in this very same fountain.
When the two of them fell silent, Darius patted Smoke’s shoulder and said. “I had the good fortune of knowing Imperator Kumbaba. He always knew how to make people laugh. Even had a song about two siblings competing, that always cracked me up.”
“Pfft. Too bad I ruined your good fortune when you met me, right?”
At once, Darius slapped him across the face. “Don’t you ever talk bad about my dearest friend. Even if it’s about yourself.”
Smoke rubbed his cheek, looking all confused.
Darius ruffled Smoke’s head. “I’ve always believed, and still do, that whatever fortune… good or bad that comes our way, we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
“That’s my dilemma right there,” said Smoke. “How am I suppose to give out a value to all who died? And what am I suppose to do with the survivors? Never want the children to suffer like that again. I need them safe… out from the horrors of war.”
“You know, the world’s a big place. Heck, Adrizol doesn’t even own all of Wysteria. And from what I heard from our brethren, I’m pretty sure that Centzo and Centza will rebel against Chayotl.”
Covering his mouth with his fingers, Smoke blurted out. “You think there’s such a thing as a dumb question?”
Darius laughed. “Absolutely not! That’s a stupid thing to ask.”
Smoke slightly grinned. “Well, what do you think about the Primalands? Think I should take the people there? I mean, don’t want them being caught up in war, but what if there’s an even greater danger there than what we’re already facing. Doesn’t it seem counter intuitive?”
“Really? You’re already a Beggar Evocatti. You’ve even met with a real Magietrois, and traveled to Mictlan! But your brain doesn’t even come up with a scouting party?”
“Of course, I’ve thought about it. But that would take too long, and I don’t want them cooped up in Nanahuatl all the time. They deserve to have their own homes. I want to give them a fighting chance at normalcy.”
“Then do it in the fastest way possible.”
“Even with Gandiva’s war-carriage, it would still take a long time to travel across the red mountains. Then, there’s Veneficatl Valley all over again, we don’t even know what’s going on in that place. Heard that its flooded with goblins now. What’s more is I don’t know if the Primalands are habitable at all!”
“Oh, right! We could use Adder’s golden griffon. Thanks, Darius!”
Darius shook his head, all smug. “What do I always tell you?”
“Spare me some bread?” flatly answered Smoke, protecting his head with his arms. “Aren’t you always asking for food?”
“No! It’s use your head!” answered Darius, still smacking him hard. After five more hits, he stopped and sat back down next to him. “Besides, your army has grown to be quite formidable.”
“Yeah, I’m really impressed with all of them. But especially with Espion. Feels like he could do anything!”
“Really? You sure about that?” asked Darius, unconvinced. “I’m getting a vibe that you just want to know where the shadow lynxes are located. I know you. I know what’s the meaning behind that smile.” He added, plastering the same mischievous grin as well.
“No, no, no,” repeatedly said Smoke, feigning innocence. “He’s really improved a lot. He really focused on gathering info against Burmistrz.”
“I know. Most of the other Beggar Quaestors and Beggar Legatis were all impressed as well. I think Caid will be passing on his spot soon. Unfortunately, all of us were blindsided by Adrizol. Who knew that King would turn out to be a snake?”
“But now that we know, we can send Espion to check on him,” interjected Smoke.
“Was thinking the same thing as well. As did Caid when we broached the subject of future plans.”
“Future, huh?” sighed Smoke. “Chayotl does only occupy a third of Wysteria. There’s still so much land this continent has to offer.”
“So? Decided on trying out the Primalands?”
Darius smiled and rested his arms on Smoke’s shoulder. “I’ve always believed, and I still do, that however good or bad things turn out… we can always give it importance and use it into something of value to better ourselves.”
* * * * * *
Early the next day, Smoke discussed his plans with Sierra and then with Mamelon. He told them that he wanted them to scout the Primalands first. If everything went well, he planned to move their people there, away from Adrizol’s grasp.
Sierra was not up for the idea of them scattering their guild again. But after some discussion, she agreed. She then went on to propose that she and Mamelon do some scouting of their own, and have Smoke investigate the Primalands with Adder.
According to the Intelligence gathered by Espion, the cities of Centzo and Centza abhorred the changes under the rule of King Adrizol. Due to this, Sierra was convinced that she and Mamelon could coerce them to join their cause and rebel against the Chayotl Kingdom.
And so, it was decided that Smoke would take Adder, Ledur, and Jinggu with him to investigate the Primalands.
Sierra would proceed to Centzo. Phen, Rear, Ardu, Vrai, and Sharanga would accompany her towards the Duke Jeune Souverain.
Whereas, Mamelon would bring Ichaival and his Banalite Snipers, her Elemental Knights, Iron Knights, and Igniz(disguised as Ilad) along with Daga; Destination: Centza. Their objective was to gain an audience with Duke Facilement Oublié.
The rest of the core-members were to stay in Nanahuatl. They were to protect and reaffirm their people that everything was going to be fine. Although, most of them were not convinced.
On the other hand, Espion was given the special task of gathering more information about King Adrizol.
After their respective assignments were disseminated, Daga strongly protested that she and Ilad(Igniz) be enlisted in Mamelon’s army. Under protest, Daga agreed after Smoke and Sierra’s strongly worded persuasion.
With their preparations completed; Smoke, Sierra, and Mamelon were about to head out their separate ways.
“You sure about this?” Smoke asked Sierra again. “You know we could easily fit in one of the griffons.”
“Come on! We already talked about this,” said Sierra. “I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me. We can spend some time in my house later, okay? You don’t have to feel guilty that we’re not together here in Zectas.”
“Don’t know about that,” said Mamelon, faintly blushing. “I’m pretty psyched about my company,” she added, stealing a glance at Ilad.
Both Smoke and Sierra forced a smile at Mamelon. They could not find it in their heart to tell her that it was actually Igniz.
“Ilad, we better go. Gandiva’s already got the carriage ready,” called out Mamelon.
“We’re not riding our mounts?” asked Igniz, confused.
“No. Better to let them rest,” replied Mamelon. “Besides, this will give us some more time to strategize on what we’re gonna do in Centza.”
“Don’t worry, Bro. I’ll stick with you the entire time,” chimed in Daga, grabbing a tight hold of Igniz’s arm.
With that, Mamelon and her group headed for the climactic city of Centza.
“I better get going as well,” said Sierra, and gave Smoke a quick peck on the lips. “Relax! This will work. We’ll get them to start a revolution.”
Smoke nodded and waved them goodbye, as they set off towards the southern most city of the Chayotl Kingdom.
Darius, Adder, Ledur, Neffe, and Jinggu stood behind Smoke, waving at Sierra and her group as well.
“Um… Before we go, I’d like to visit someone really quick,” blurted out Jinggu. Not waiting for Smoke’s answer, the OrkElf’s repeater ballista, which hung behind him, jiggled loudly as he ran towards Sharanga’s house.
“Ahem! Ahem!” forcibly coughed Ledur.
“Um… Uncle says we’re good to go?” interpreted Neffe, unsure.
Ledur nodded and pointed downward.
“And that we’ll just stay here?” went on Neffe.
“We can wait for a few more minutes,” said Adder. “I’ll give the griffons a bit of snack before we go.”
“Well, looks like we have a few minutes to burn,” Darius said to Smoke. “Oh, that reminds me. Forgot to give you these,” he said, handing four books entitled ‘Dwarvish’, ‘Satrew’, ‘Gnomish’, and ‘Duwendle’.
“Thanks! You always know how to keep me occupied,” replied Smoke. He quickly started acquiring the knowledge of the book entitled ‘Dwarvish’. But was stunned at what he saw.
|* [Dwarvish] Acquiring Knowledge Requires 8 Hours|
“Whoa! Is Dwarvish really that hard?”
Darius nodded in all sincerity. “Wait till you get to the ackh sounds. Feels like there’s a phlegm stuck up your throat.”
“Seriously?” asked Smoke, doubtful if Darius was pulling his leg again.
“You’ll know it when you speak it,” knowingly added the old Beggar.
“What about these two?” he asked, showing the ones entitled ‘Satrew’ and ‘Duwendle’.
“Not really sure if they’re even real, let alone what they look like. But they’re supposed to be an ancient race that was killed during the reign of the Reptilians.”
“Think we’ll find these races in the Primalands?” asked Smoke.
Darius shrugged. “Who knows what’s in there. That’s why it’s best to be ready for anything.”
“Alright. By the way, thanks again.”
“It’s fine. You know I’ve got a ton more books. I just got to unearth them… somehow. I still have five more floors in the basement of my library to sort out.”
“For real? I thought the one in the library was your entire collection,” said Smoke.
“Well, I wasn’t sure that you’d stick around.”
Smoke shook his head. “I’m not talking about the books. I want to thank you for being there for us. It’s a good feeling, knowing I could always count on you.”
“Hey, that’s what us old folks are for. Now, just go find out if there’s a safe place for your people there.”
Just then, Jinggu returned. Smoke noticed a hint of redness on the OrkElf’s face but decided not to ask him about it.
“Shall we go?” said Jinggu, hurriedly climbing up one of the golden griffons.
“I’ll be back soon. Hopefully, with good news,” Smoke said to Darius, giving him a hug. “Watch out for those goblins, now.”
“May Cuezaltzin guide your path and don’t worry about the goblins. They’ve grown to be such pests, but I know how to handle them!”
With their farewells said, Smoke and his group took to the skies. They headed towards the red mountains of Veneficatl Valley, hoping to find refuge in the Primalands.
* * * * * *
Strong winds pushed against Smoke’s face as he rode on top of a golden griffon. One of the Condortlians was commanding the beast from behind its neck, while he sat comfortably on a second saddle on the back. Smoke smiled as he stretched his neck backward, leaning his arms against the majestic creature’s soft feathers. Vape coiled tighter around his neck, making both himself and his pet warmer, while clutching two books entitled ‘Dwarvish’ and ‘Duwendle’. The acquired knowledge bar for the first book indicated only two hours left, while the Duwendle was still at a staggering four.
‘Sure is different from gliding,’ thought Smoke, enjoying the three-hundred-sixty-degree view.
Golden griffons were much faster than his sorry excuse of flying, but in terms of pure speed, they were still no match for Gandiva’s stag moose. However, these flying monsters easily compensated the difference by not having to maneuver the winding paths on various terrains.
“So, Asp, what did you name your griffon?” Smoke asked the Griffon Commander he was riding with.
“Windstorm. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of naming my griffon even when I was young,” replied Asp. He was one of the fifteen Condortlian Warriors that survived out of thirty-six. “Jinggu doesn’t seem to like flying that much though,” he added, pointing at the OrkElf, riding on another golden griffon next to them.
“Well, Natter isn’t really making it easy for him,” said Smoke, motioning for the way the other Griffon Commander purposefully riding up and down.
“Certainly picked the wrong guy to ride with,” said Asp. “After all, that’s why we call him Natter.”
“Smoke! Check down below,” called out Adder, riding on a golden griffon leading the V-formation.
Checking his map, Smoke realized that they had already flown over where Condortl was. There was nothing there but a remnant of burned houses.
Yet, that was not the site that Adder wanted him to notice. It was the valley after it—Veneficatl.
Instead of green grassy knolls, it was now covered in a throng of green goblins.
|+ Entered Veneficatl Valley
Previously home to a wide array of creatures. It is now currently overrun with only one species—Goblins.
[STATUS: Overpopulated 300%]
Using his Telefax Vision, Smoke exclaimed. “There must be a million of them!”
Among the rough movements down below, Smoke noticed that there was a periodical group leaving the valley. He surmised that those must have been the ones who were kicked out. He likened them to grasshoppers. When they reach a point of overpopulation, they turn savage and become locusts.
“How are we suppose to pass everyone through here?” asked Jinggu, in between his motion sickness.
“What about we head to Araign Valley?” suggested Asp. “That’s the place next to Mount Vatour. Where we got these wonderful partners,” he added, patting windstorm on the head.
“Was thinking the same,” replied Adder. “You okay with that, Smoke?”
“I’m fine with it,” he replied. “What about you, Ledur?” Smoke asked the winged Tikbalang flying next to them.
Ledur nudged at Neffe.
“Uncle says he’s fine with it too!”
“Lead the way, Adder!” yelled out Smoke.
Heading five degrees due northwest, they went past Veneficatl Valley. It was also during this time that a pleasant thing happened to Smoke.
|+ Learned Ability: Translation – Dwarvish
Level: Beginner Level 1
Gives one the ability to communicate with Dwarves in their native tongue. Eloquence in the language depends on the ability’s level.
*Can converse in Dwarvish on a child’s level of speech
*Can read documents written in Dwarvish
WARNING: A low level of this ability might prompt a misunderstanding that could even lead to war.
Smoke smiled as he read the acquired knowledge window. But then his thoughts went back to the Duwendle tome, and wondered whether such a race still existed.
Redirecting his attention forward, Smoke caught sight of Mount Vatour, a rocky gray mountain speckled with golden patches.
|+ Entered Mount Vatour
Home of the majestic golden griffons. Their numbers boomed over the past year, thanks to a sudden influx of food from a nearby valley. The golden griffons currently have a population of 100.
Zooming in, he spotted the golden griffons.
A choir of shrills came from the golden griffons they were riding on, which was shortly answered with the same power and fervor from the ones nesting in the stony mountain.
“Think I should get a golden griffon of my own?” Smoke asked out loud.
“You definitely could,” answered Asp. “But I don’t think Vape would like that.”
Just as Asp guessed, Vape was already hissing at Smoke, leering at him with its sharp eyes.
“I was just joking!” hurriedly said Smoke, petting the baby wyvern on its tiny horns.
Yet, as they flew closer to Araign Valley, the golden griffons stopped flying forward and stayed outside its zone.
“What’s wrong?” asked Smoke.
“Not sure, they just won’t move,” replied Adder.
Ledur tapped Neffe and pointed upward.
“What about making them fly higher?” suggested Neffe.
Forcibly reigning the golden griffon to a higher altitude, they finally entered the next area.
|– Entered Araign Valley
Home of Araign—King of Spiders one of the living members of the ancient race of Gigantes.
Smoke was the only one to gulp as the notification window could only be seen by him.
“Guys, I know why the griffons won’t fly here,” said Smoke and pointed downwards. “Ledur, Neffe, stay close.”
Instead of trees or grass, an ocean of cobwebs blanketed the entire valley, a black lonely hill stood at its center.
“What’s that?” asked Neffe, pointing at the hill.
“Think that belongs to Araign,” explained Smoke, getting out his sacred clay staff and projected a large flat Manatl shield directly below them. “Adder, make the griffons fly even higher and closer.”
At once, the golden feathered griffons happily flew as commanded. At this height, the air was extremely thin.
Finding it difficult to breathe, the griffon’s movements had become sluggish.
Suddenly, a loud wet sound resonated below them. Smoke’s Manatl barrier was bombarded with a gigantic ball of web. The attacks continued on for more than a minute, but then it stopped all at once, just as unexpected as it started.
Smoke looked down, and found the hill at the center to be moving! It was the King of the Spiders—Araign. It moved swiftly despite its size. It had a humanoid shape with six spider legs for arms and two human-looking legs.
“No way in hell is that a spider!” yelled out Neffe.
“Great! Now, how are we going to get our people through here?” asked Jinggu, always the pessimist.
“Know what? I can see your resemblance with Sharur now,” said Smoke, pointing out how pessimistic they both were. “Let’s just get out of here for now. We’re still here to investigate the Primalands.”
“Couldn’t agree with you more,” said Adder, increasing their griffons’ speed out of Araign Valley.
Araign let out another volley of spider balls, but none of them could reach Smoke and his companions. The giant man-spider returned to the center of the spider web ocean.
After safely traversing through the Gigante-Arachnid’s domain, Smoke and his companions descended to a lower altitude and were met with a never-ending view of trees. The forest grew thicker and thicker below.
Riding in silence, an uneventful flight of thirty minutes passed. Out of the blue, another notification window popped up.
|+ Entered Zwergnuten
Welcome to the plains that divide the Primalands from the rest of Wysteria.
“Guys, we’re here!” blurted out Smoke. “We’re in the Primal—” he was abruptly cut off as iron nets flew overhead. In a split second, all of the griffons plummeted to the ground.
Windstorm, Asp’s golden griffon, suffered a broken wing and its life bar was reduced by 15%.
“Werar bistach duar undar wasar machstar duar hierar inar unsererackh Stadtar?”
Covered in the heavy iron chains, Smoke used all his might to lift them up. It was then that he spotted the speaker, a long-bearded Dwarf with red hair.
“What’d he say?” asked Jinggu, in the same situation as Smoke. All of them were grounded by the heavy iron chains.
“It’s in Dwarvish,” replied Smoke. “Good thing Darius gave me those books. Let me try to talk to him.” He concentrated as he composed what to say. “Duar willstachk sterbenar…err… Befreiear unsar.”
Then, more Dwarves appeared from the ground and maliciously pointed their heavy axes at Smoke and his companions.
“Deinear Familiear werdeark ichar allear essenar,” went on Smoke.
“Argh!” screamed one of the Dwarves standing in front of Jinggu and struck him through the chains with the side of his ax.
“Stop!” cried out Jinggu. “You’re only making it worse!”
“Sorry! Sorry! Just learned the language a few minutes ago,” said Smoke. He debated with himself whether he should use Vape but opted otherwise. After all, he was here to look for a better home for his people, and not to start a war.
Suddenly a familiar voice Smoke had not heard for so long spoke out in Dwarvish. “Bittear vergibar ihnenar. Ich weirar dassar DarkElf.”
Hurriedly, Smoke turned to face him. An albino Simiavulg with the same kind red eyes—Saru, his real master in the ways of the Manatl.
“Better not talk in Dwarvish,” said Saru. “You know you just told him that you’ll eat his entire family?”
“Really? I said that?” said Smoke, grinning widely at his old friend.