Jake burned through the sides of the gate to get it free from the wall as he kept Eron trapped. However, it ended up taking him nearly ten minutes to get the door off as he had to split his focus, and he felt Eron attack his arcane barrier with more and more power.
Once Jake got the gate off, he grasped hold of it and pulled. The moment it stopped touching anything, he put it in his inventory and saw the barrier behind where the door had been. The people there, surprisingly enough, didn’t look alarmed but just kept channeling their mana.
Jake walked up to the magic barrier and placed his hand on it. Touch of the Malefic Viper pulsed out from his palm as the entire barrier began being corroded. It had only been there to make sure the gate stayed in place, making it far from durable.
With a final punch, the entire barrier shattered like glass, and Jake made it through. The moment he did so, all the casters and healers formerly channeling their power into the barrier just disappeared, leaving Hunter Insignias in their places.
They just fucking left like that?
He frowned as he quickly claimed all of them… and saw that every single Insignia was empty. The fuckers had handed off all their loot to someone else already, and this entire thing had been planned. Jake rushed forward as he had now wholly cut his connection to the arcane barrier behind him.
Passing through the halls, he soon looked down the hallway to the Count’s chamber. The gate was open, and in front of it, he saw only a single person he didn’t recognize sitting on the ground, waiting. Jake realized, there and then, that he hadn’t made it. Eron and the gate had together delayed him by over half an hour, which had proven to be enough time for the Church to kill the Count and leave with the key.
Jake walked slowly towards the chamber and the man sitting there. It was just a random level 101 human who didn’t look special in any way, shape, or form. It was just a D-grade from the Church who had barely qualified to enter the Hunt. Or, as the Church had clearly viewed it, a disposable messenger.
“Lord Thayne,” the man said as he stood up and bowed.
“Where is the Count and the key?” Jake asked, already knowing the answer.
“I apologize, the Count of Blood was slain a quarter of an hour ago, and the key claimed. The Augur expresses that he finds this entire situation unfortunate, but he made the choice he believed was the most advantageous for the Holy Church. Therefore, he hopes that these treasures can serve as an apology,” the man said as he summoned a number of items.
Jake narrowed his eyes as he saw the altar and coffin appear. The same ancient-rarity ones he had already claimed four of each of. This was all the loot the Count’s Chamber usually held. However, that wasn’t all.
There was also a black metal claw and a metal pike, as well two red gems. It was the hearts and weapons of two Counts of Blood.
“Due to other obligations, we cannot provide the keys, but the Augur and Church as a whole truly hope this can be viewed as recompense. The Noboru clan has already made prior claims on the keys, and how could we as a Church be trustworthy if we didn’t fulfill our obligations?” the man kept explaining.
Trying to play both sides… classic Jacob.
He really wasn’t sure how to feel about this entire thing. On the one hand, Jacob was an asshole for getting in his way, and on the other hand, Jake was an asshole for trying to kill the Count under the Holy Church’s nose. The fact that they now even gave him some kind of compensation for claiming a kill that most would rightfully point out was theirs to begin with, was a bit weird.
Jake swiped all the loot the guy had thrown on the ground, and the moment he did so, he saw the guy light up a rune on his hand as he spoke a final time. “The Holy Church hopes this does not create bad blood between Haven and the Holy Church or between the Progenitor and the Augur. Sometimes you lose, and this is simply the nature of the competition.”
“Oh, for sure,” Jake agreed.
It was also the nature of competition to openly rob people and kill them during this Treasure Hunt, so was that fine too? Jake had a strong suspicion that the last part wasn’t part of what Jacob had instructed the guy to say. Because Jacob wouldn’t have said something that dumb, that could be interpreted in so many ways.
Without further ado, the guy just activated his own Insignia as he disappeared, leaving an empty one just like everyone else from the Church. Jake walked further towards the Count’s chamber, and right in front of the gate, he found remnants of a magic circle. As he stood in the middle of it, he vividly felt the traces of space-affinity mana in the air, as it became apparent that those who had killed the Count of Blood had left through teleportation straight after.
It was another smart move, as Jake would have 100% gotten the key from them if they hadn’t.
Jake really wasn’t sure how to handle this entire situation but just shook his head as he reminded himself. Keep things simple, and take the complications as they come.
Seeing as there was nothing left to claim in the chamber, Jake turned around as he headed back towards the Mistless Plains, unsure of how he would confront the Holy Church. He sent a mental message to Sylphie letting her know and got back a response that she was headed there too.
As was the majority of the significant forces of the Treasure Hunt, Jake reckoned.
“Ms. Wells, I believe we should at least discuss the distribution of loot properly,” Sven tried as Miranda and Sylphie traveled towards the Mistless Plains with the people from Valhal.
“Dude, just cut it out; I already told you this is what Sylphie and I agreed. Are you saying I’m a fucking liar or what? Oh, or are you arguing that it wasn’t the two of us who did the majority of the work?” Carmen butted in, staring daggers at Sven.
Miranda quite honestly found the entire situation utterly bizarre. Carmen was fully aware Sylphie was related to Haven, but she still chose to support the small hawk over the faction one would expect she should. It made Miranda believe that perhaps the relationship between Carmen and the nominal leader of Valhal on their planet wasn’t the best.
Carmen’s position in Valhal was one Miranda wasn’t certain of. Clearly, Sven recognized her as of higher rank than him, and Miranda wasn’t sure if that was solely due to Carmen being more powerful. Miranda knew that Valhal placed much importance on combat prowess, so it was a possibility… but none of that explained why Carmen sided with Sylphie and Haven over her own faction.
Of course, even if Carmen supported Sven… Miranda couldn’t really do anything about the hawk. Something she had tried to explain several times, but Sven seemed to doubt her words.
“As I told you, I am not able to command Sylphie,” Miranda asserted once more. She wasn’t sure if she could divulge the actual relationship between Sylphie and Jake, but she was pretty damn confident both Carmen and Sven had figured it out. Primarily by the process of elimination.
A few of the members of Valhal had beasts they had brought into the Treasure Hunt. Only two people, but it still set a precedent. They knew a human had to have some kind of bond with the beast to bring it into the Treasure Hunt… and who else but the Lord of Haven could bring in a small green bird that was one of the most powerful individuals in the entire Hunt?
“Please understand why I find it hard to believe that the City Lord of Haven doesn’t even have the authority to give simple orders to the pet of-“
“Not a pet,” Miranda and Carmen said at the same time, exchanging a smile. As for Sylphie? Sylphie was just silently floating through the air alongside them as if perched on an invisible branch. Miranda had noted how she tended to refuse to sit on anyone except Jake. That part was kind of cute.
“Companion then,” Sven corrected himself, as Miranda was sure he thought of both Miranda and Carmen as unreasonable women.
Miranda had to admit that she had approached Carmen partly with purely political intentions, but from their first encounter, she had liked the woman, and Carmen was starting to become someone she would consider a friend. In some ways, she reminded Miranda of Jake. They were both highly individualistic powerful people who were more than a little unreasonable and unpredictable most of the time.
Is it weird I’m beginning to find those likable traits?
It probably was, but it was probably also fine for things to be a bit weird sometimes.
So she continued to talk to Carmen as they made their way back, ignoring Sven for the most part, with only Sylphie joining in sometimes with screeches.
Overall? She was having a good time.
The group of hundreds walked through the black mist.
A curse that everyone else who had dared venture into the mist was forced to wrestle with appeared calm and even gave away to the large group. Shades of Resentment and other creatures of magic born from the powers of the curse swirled and flew around the group in excitement as they welcomed them.
At the front of this group were three people. Two Risen and a wraith, with a man walking slightly ahead of everyone else as he showed the way.
It was naturally Casper, Lyra, and Priscilla, leading the D-grades of the Risen in the Treasure Hunt. They were a group that had not hunted Viscounts or Counts, not solved puzzled or sought after loot, but had instead headed where no one else could. Beyond the wall of mist, away from any mountains. They had ventured into a land that had been covered in darkness for countless years.
Casper listened to the Shades as the powers of the curse bore into his body but did no harm. Instead, it encouraged him. Cheered him on as the curse wished for them to reach their goal.
“The final Count has fallen. It’s only a matter of time now before they activate the device,” Casper said to Priscilla and Lyra as the Shades told him.
“We still have a head start,” Priscilla answered. “Once the Vaults unlock, we will be in position.”
Out of everyone in the entire Treasure Hunt, the Risen were the ones that came in with the most information. It was a pure stroke of luck, or perhaps what some would call fate. For when they entered, and Casper felt the curse on that very first day, he knew.
When he practiced during the tutorial and was taught about magic and curses, the one that inflicted Yalsten was one of his topics of research. It was an example of a curse that hung over an entirely separate world in its own subdimension and had been studied for years before the world was sealed off.
There was also one other interesting snippet of information. The ritual performed on the mist to attempt to help the vampiric race had not been thought up by the King as many believed. It was one he had acquired. What the vampire King had not known was that the creator was undead.
For even if some of the world’s history had been altered and parts of the world changed, one fact still remained…
The state of Yalsten had been ultimately engineered by the Risen. This was their world, and to them, the curse was no obstacle. They also knew about the next phase the Hunt would enter based on what the Shades had told them… they just had to be ready for the moment the people in the Mistless Plains initiated it.
To Casper, it was never a question of if, but when that phase would activate. But he had to admit… it had gone faster than expected.
Jake walked back the way he came and saw the cube of white fire as his arcane barriers were being corroded at an ever-increasing speed. Finally, after a few seconds, the entire box exploded in white flames, the arcane barrier destroyed, and the gates fell to the ground, making the entire hallway quake.
Having his priorities straight, Jake hurried up over to get the four gates back in his inventory before Eron could claim them. His arcane barrier had made it so Eron couldn’t put them in his Insignia, but Jake feared that the guy could now that the barrier was broken.
He also saw that his Scimitar had been blasted away and was now lying on the ground. He went over to pick it up but hesitated for a moment. It was practically humming with power as it absorbed unprecedented amounts of vital energy… more than it had in all the time he had owned it. Usually, the absorbed vital energy would first heal Jake and then empower the blade afterward. When in combat, he always took a bit of damage all the time from minor things… but not today.
But now? Now it had been stuck in a guy with seemingly infinite health with no other purpose for the energy but to empower the curse.
Knowing it was a bit risky, Jake steeled himself as he put his hands on the Scimitar of Cursed Hunger. When his hand made contact with the handle, he felt a pulse of emotion invade his mind. The endless hunger and avarice of the blade flooded his mind, as Jake just made a toothy smile. Sated, eh?
He knew the blade was now stronger than ever before.
Where the makeshift prison had been a moment prior, Eron walked out, looking to be in near-pristine condition. But only near-pristine, as he actually looked a bit tired.
“An unexpected approach,” Eron said as he eyed the Scimitar of Cursed Hunger. “The curse on that blade is not simple, and most certainly not of earthly origins. I would tell you to watch out, but I think it fits you very well… it also brings comfort to know that should you die, the curse dies with you.”
Jake held onto the blade as he looked at Eron. “I didn’t make it in time, so I guess you’re happy?”
“I simply fulfilled my duty even if you made a valiant attempt to make me fail.”
“So you wouldn’t mind me stabbing this blade back into you to empower my weapon more?” Jake asked Eron.
“Truthfully? No. But sadly, the blade seems satisfied for now as it stopped absorbing vitality a minute or so ago,” Eron explained.
Jake inspected his weapon again and indeed found that while it hungered, it was also full. So it would need some time to digest all the vital energy before it would be worth it to go stab the unkillable healer in front of him.
“Quite so. With this appears all nine keys are assembled,” Eron stated. “My hypothesis is that you are now headed back towards the Mistless Plains, correct?”
“Yep,” Jake agreed as he put the weapon away.
Eron smiled as his response. “Mind if we travel there together? I believe we have much to learn from each other. The type of mana you used is part of your arcane-affinity, is it not? A curiosity, don’t you think? That both of us possess bloodlines and that both of us have managed to create our own affinities. While that is only two data points, it still does not feel like a coincidence.”
Jake looked at Eron for a moment before he shrugged. “You know what? Sure. Let’s take our time and have a nice long chat as we go there.”
While he couldn’t get payback on anyone for his loss right away… what he could do was delay the entire event that would happen with the nine keys by being incredibly petty and not hurry back to the Mistless Plains.
Also… he genuinely did believe he could learn some interesting things from Eron. As for getting revenge or something like that against Eron? Jake honestly didn’t care that much. He would just take learning a bit about controlling vital energy as payback.
Not even three days after the Treasure Hunt began, the forces of Earth had gathered all nine keys and were ready to unlock the second stage of the Treasure Hunt.
While the Noboru Clan was the faction to acquire five keys first, determining a winner was not easy, if even possible. Because while they had obtained the five of the keys, Jake had obtained more of the loot from the Counts. All of this also disregarded the many individual actors of the event who all stumbled across lucky opportunities and treasures.
The Treasure Hunt continued… as determining an overall winner was far too early with more than a week to go.