Jake walked through the hall as the black mist parted around him. He found that even with the Root in his inventory, the mist still parted for him. The Root was an interesting item that he was certain had some specific intended use already.
Also, the wood the Root was made of was a bit recognizable. He had a strong suspicion that whatever tree this Root came from was the tree that had been used to make the Pure Ones’ anti-vampire weapons and, of course, the Stake. However, the Root was clearly far superior to the Stake. In fact, Jake had a strong suspicion that if he stabbed a Count with it, it would be a near-instant kill.
The mere fact that it was even useful before using it as a stabby tool was awesome, and he saw several possibilities to explore areas filled with black mist. But for now, he planned on just keeping it hidden away in his inventory… at least that was the plan.
Yet just as he reached the atrium again, he felt something from his Hunter Insignia. The Root wanted out, and Jake responded as it appeared in his hand, and the moment it did, it functioned as a black hole of curse energy once more… but not towards the atmospheric mist.
No, it was from some of the nearly a thousand golems he had slain. A large number of them below sent energy up towards the Root as it absorbed every bit of it, and Jake felt the curse be amplified as it subtly influenced him. It wanted him to slaughter vampires and made him feel anger and hate towards them… or at least it tried to. The thing is, Jake had been walking around with a cursed blade for months and had gotten accustomed to its constant influence, plus he had to deal with what was essentially an emotional minefield caused by his bloodline, too. So yeah, while the curse on the Root was powerful, it failed to really do anything. Also, one shouldn’t discount the now legendary-rarity Pride of the Malefic Viper, which facilitated his resistance and amplified his will to resist the curse.
It only took a few seconds before all the curse energy had been collected, and when Jake jumped out over the railing, he got in range of even more dead golems and felt yet another rush of cursed energy. He kept holding the Root throughout the halls as he just let it absorb more and more curse energy.
He decided to give the tower a quick rundown for any hidden treasures, considering the Count’s gate had been intact, so maybe there were other hidden places too?
Well, after half an hour, he did finally spot another closed gate, and once he got close, he saw that behind it was another six Knights. They were gathered around a chest, making it damn obvious they were guarding some kind of treasure or something.
I guess I can kill a few more.
He went up to the gate and just gave it a quick kick as it fell apart. All the gates in this place were just shitty. Jake had expected the five Knights to react when the gate was suddenly destroyed, and they did… just not as expected.
They all turned towards him for a second before just returning to standing around the chest, ignoring him completely.
”Huh?” he said out loud as he walked closer. Jake went straight up to one of the golems and just poked it with his finger, not getting any reaction. He then looked down at the Root and got an idea.
He lifted it up and hit the golem gently on the helmet with the blunt end of the Root.
*You have slain [Reanimated Black Knight Golem – lvl 135] – Bonus experience earned for killing an enemy above your level*
The black mist that inhabited the golem was instantly absorbed into the Root as the armor fell to the ground and crumbled into scrap metal. Jake’s eyes lit up as he went over to the next golem.
*You have slain [Reanimated Black Knight Golem – lvl 135] – Bonus experience earned for killing an enemy above your level*
With childlike glee, he bonked the next three too. Seeing the enemy that had given him that much grief just fall apart and be one-shot with the Root was so damn satisfying. Also, he was fully aware that while he got notifications for the kills, it wasn’t like he actually got any worthwhile experience. It was like that rat swarm in the Forgotten Sewers he had killed with the control staff. Sure, it said they gave experience, but it was negligible due to the way he killed them.
Once they were all turned to scrap, he opened the chest and saw a pillow was placed within with a collection of small orbs on it.
[Bead of Curse Resistance (Common)] – A bead that will grant the user temporary resistance to all kinds of curses once crushed by coating the user in a veil of mana. One-time use. The veil of mana will be worn down faster, dependent on the power of the curse it blocks.
Correction, he saw a pillow with a collection of small beads on it. He counted about thirty of them, and he was amazed at how useless they would be to him after obtaining the Root. This was the puzzle room all over again, in the sense that it was clearly intended that he should find this place before he headed for the Count’s chamber. That way, he could have used the beads to defend himself while exploring the upper floors.
Needless to say, Jake had no need for them now with the far more effective Root. Hence, he moved on.
Because now it was time to speedrun some Counts.
While Jake had been busy fighting an army of cursed golems, the different factions had stayed closer to the center of the Treasure Hunt area, also known as the Mistless Plains. Additionally, they had chosen to focus on the Counts first above anything else, and it soon became obvious that the faction named the Pure Ones had hidden armories or weapon stashes in nearly all the towers. All of them hiding a Stake specifically created to severely weaken a Count.
News spread that the Sword Saint had slain a Count after around a full day of the Hunt. If a Stake had been used or not was unknown. Either way that would be the second person to kill one after the Lord of Haven. As for the Holy Church? They were aiming to get the third at this moment.
”Noor, Joshua, how long till the barrier is ready?” Bertram asked as they stood outside the room to enter the Count’s chambers. The caster and healer of the party were hard at work laying down a barrier in collaboration to seal in the Count of Blood to avoid it running down the tower or, worse yet, flee outside the chamber.
The first kill on a Count had made it clear that one couldn’t let the vampire run free and consume people, hence why they decided to seal it in. Jacob had also warned them that it could become a very tough fight if the vampire ran rampant.
Lucian and Maria, the swordsman and archer of their party, were just hanging back, both also making subtle preparations. Maria was preparing her bow by temporarily making it stronger and boosting its enchantments – courtesy of her profession. Lucian was sitting with a small pen, engraving small runes upon one of the swords related to the Pure Ones, each rune pulsing with magic.
They were going all-out in this fight.
”It will be done within the next minute,” Noor answered him as she finished up the final parts.
”Good. Lucian will sneak in first and use the Stake on the Count. The moment he does so, he will retreat to the rest of us, and we’ll deploy the tactics discussed and used against the Viscount. Any questions?”
Seeing only nods, Bertram motioned for Lucian to get ready. The swordsman donned a robe enchanted with stealth-improving properties and went up to the gate. The moment Noor gave the sign that the barrier was ready, he presented the Mark of Blood as the gate opened.
Lucian slipped inside, no movement inside yet as he held the Stake in his hand. The vampire didn’t react before the moment the Stake penetrated its chest, making it scream loudly in pain as black veins spread from the wound.
”YOU DARE USE THIS HERETICAL TOOL TO HARM ME!? MERE LIVESTOCK DESERVES ONLY DEATH FOR SUCH TRANSGRESSIONS!”
The Count screamed, but all of them had been prepared and steeled their mental defenses. Luckily they all had skills to resist the constant mental attack from the Count that slowly dwindled away the will of his foes through what, granted, did sound like horrendous speeches.
Bertram stormed the Count first as his team followed up. They had planned for this using the last half a day or so, and that preparation showed itself. They continually suppressed the Count, Joshua searing it with powerful light magic, and Maria bombarding it with fire arrows that left flames that refused to burn out.
The fight ended up still taking nearly half an hour, with the Count of Blood struggling throughout, but it was far from powerless. It used whips of blood to try and cut them up and summoned snake-like creatures from bloody spots it left on the ground. These attacks had not been predicted, and the Count seemed far less melee-focused than they had come to believe. Ultimately, while this did add some difficulty, the party of five still proved superior.
Bertram cleaved down with a mighty swing of the blade and finished off the already-haggard vampire. From Lucian building up poison with envenomed attacks to the two powerful ranged fighters, they had significant damage output. Bertram constantly smashing it down and keeping the Count controlled had also been a major contributor to what made them victorious. Noor had been supporting them throughout it, of course, and she especially proved her worth when she used a healing spell to regenerate Joshua’s arm when he got it whipped off.
As the vampire turned to ash, Bertram claimed the key as well as all the other loot. The entire group was tired, and Noor was already sitting down from being out of mana along with Joshua. Maria was in the best condition as she had managed to avoid all hits and stayed as far away as possible throughout the fight.
Bertram looked at his party as he commended them. ”Great job, everyone… this was a tough one. We can all be proud.”
Three of them smiled, but Maria shook her head as she looked at the ashes of the vampire. ”And the Sword Saint and Lord Thayne killed one each alone… no one reported seeing signs Lord Thayne had even used a Stake, in fact, they found one in that tower later… do we even know the Sword Saint used one? Is this really anything to be proud of?”
I get it, Bertram thought but chose to say silent. But do not compare yourself to monsters, for it will lead to nothing good.
”Stop being a downer,” Lucian scoffed. ”No one says we couldn’t have beaten it without the Stake either. We don’t even know how effective it is, and he maybe used something else to weaken it. Also, clearly, they were not identical monsters, so comparing them one to one is just moronic.”
”Do you seriously believe that?” Maria shot back.
”Unless you present proof that shows otherwise, why wouldn’t I? We don’t know which is true. Maybe that other Count was just weak in comparison,” Lucan shrugged. ”Point is, nobody knows, so why be a downer and assume we’re weak compared to that Thayne guy?”
”Because we are weak in comparison,” Bertram said with a sigh, getting everyone to turn their attention to him. ”That is simply a fact. But he is also alone. His support system is weak compared to ours. He may have the biggest stick, but we have thousands of sticks. So don’t be discouraged… we don’t need to be the most powerful people on Earth. The Holy Church just needs to be the most influential faction. And the best way to make the Church stronger is to do as we are doing right now and progress. Got it?”
He got a few glances, but they all eventually nodded. After that, Bertram just closed his eyes as he entered meditation. One thing he had left unsaid, though…
While the Holy Church certainly was powerful on Earth… Bertram didn’t need to voice his doubts that their numbers would be ultimately useless before true monsters in human skin.
An unlikely party traveled through the tower. Two women and a small green ball of fluffy feathers tore through the halls with incredible speed, tearing apart anything in their way. It was mainly done by the woman at the front as she slammed her fists into the cursed black golems.
Behind her was another woman with green magic revolving around her. She summoned bolts of what looked like shimmering green fire and pelted the enemies, but it was only when the golems died she truly showed her worth.
A golem neared death as it exploded into black mist, but the woman simply waved her hand as the golem suddenly sank into the ground. A moment later, a few scraps of metal remerged where the golem had just been, emanating black mist making it clear it had just exploded.
Another golem tried to attack them from the side, but the feather ball flew up to it and cut a deep gash into the black metal before sending it flying back with a green gust of wind.
This unlikely party was Carmen and Sylphie, now joined by another friend.
”I feel like I’m getting carried on the back of you guys,” Miranda miffed as the woman and bird both displayed power above her own in these direct fights.
”You’re doing great; those explosions are shitty to deal with,” Carmen comforted her.
”Ree!” Sylphie added, none of the women understanding the bird, but still giving her a nod anyway as if they did.
”Well, I’m trying,” Miranda smiled in return to Carmen.
Miranda had coincidentally run into one of Arnold’s drones, and when she asked it about information, he told her the location of Sylphie and Carmen inside one of the many grave hills. Miranda had believed there was a chance Jake was also there or at least nearby but had found only the two comrades she now explored the Hunt with.
Carmen had especially been welcoming. As for Sylphie? Miranda had luckily made a habit to always carry some of those pellets the bird liked. Yes, it was 100% a bribe to make the small hawk like her, but what can you do?
Funnily enough, Carmen hadn’t asked Miranda about the bird other than if she knew it. Miranda had just responded it came from Haven, and they had left it at that. Honestly, she appreciated it, as she wasn’t comfortable divulging it had entered with Jake. Not without his permission, at least.
”Do you think we can take down a Count?” Carmen asked.
”Ree!” Sylphie chimed in. Both of them understand that clearly; she believed they could.
”We need a Stake, that’s for sure,” Miranda answered. ”Perhaps a few more allies too. I heard a group tried to take on that Count the Holy Church was after and ended up being slaughtered within minutes. It even wasted a Mark of Blood as the gate slammed shut after their deaths.”
”You sure we can’t do it just us three?” Carmen asked again.
”A hard maybe…” Miranda once more reiterated. ”But I would argue it would be better to get some more powerful people involved.”
Miranda was naturally trying to get Carmen to do something. And…
Carmen sighed as she gave up. ”Fine, I’ll call Sven and the others.”
The Mistress of Haven just smiled in return. ”With them, it should be more than manageable.”