Jake and everyone else in the Treasure Hunt all got the notification at the same time.

While the curse slowly claimed their world, the inhabitants of Yalsten did all they could to fight back. As a final gambit, they created a device to seal the curse forever and banish it from their homeland. Yet the curse was too powerful and the device too weak… so they waited - empowering the device as the curse slowly weakened.

During this time, when Yalsten deteriorated and the nobility began weakening, they sought ways to preserve their heritage and wealth for future generations. To do this, Vaults were set up with the most priceless of items, hidden away within the cursed mist till the day Yalsten was ready to rise again.

That day never came… and now the Treasure Hunters from another universe have come to seek them out. Nine Counts have fallen, the keys assembled, and the spire summoned. As the curse is made to retreat and the mist washed away, the vaults have been reactivated once more.

However, the keys to these Vaults have long been lost and forgotten. To acquire the treasures in the Vaults, the Treasure Hunters must overcome their defenses, and whilst these defenses have weakened with time, they are not to be underestimated.

Be warned… that legends long forgotten may be released as the Vaults begin to open.

May your continued Hunt be fruitful.

What is a good system message without ending with a warning and then telling you to do the exact thing it just warned you about, Jake joked with himself.

He was a bit surprised at the system just spelling things out like that, but perhaps that was a part of the rewards for clearing the first phase? Or maybe it was to get everyone up to speed, as it assumed most of the influential forces who had hunted down Counts knew this already.

Which, from what he had gathered, they did. Most had found out through old recordings or messages or such left behind. Jake was pretty sure he had lucked out with the projection, even if the information he had received was a bit flawed. It said there would be a treasure left by that True Ancestor in the center of the Mistless Plains, and Jake had a hard time seeing that be the big crystal spire. Primarily because the True Ancestor should have left the treasure there long ago, while the spire was made to fight a curse that came to be later on.

Jake also wasn’t sure if that crystal tower could be called the “greatest treasure” either, so he felt pretty damn lied to.

Well, technically, the projection hadn’t lied… for in the eyes of the vampires, this tower probably was the greatest treasure to be found in this world. It was their final hope of fighting against the curse - a way to seal it in and then possibly take the entire spire and toss it away somewhere.

Of course, that would still leave all the usual vampire problems, but at least they would have cleaned up one issue.

But… there was still one thing bothering Jake a bit. Why was this entire plain devoid of mist while it existed everywhere else? The spire didn’t remove the mist itself; it only absorbed the curse in it. Perhaps the altars had absorbed the mist? Or was it something else?

While he saw many others around the plains begin to group up again, Jake headed straight towards the spire to get a better look at it. The red runes still dominated the inside of the circle, with the energy walls still present, but Jake didn’t feel any danger towards the energy. It was just there for the spire and not harmful to him.

He made his way towards the spire and, with his sphere, saw complicated devices that appeared to be made of the same black beneath the ground. All of it was organized in a highly complex matter, giving the magic circle both a magical and physical form.

Jake kept getting closer and saw the complexity only increase the closer he got to the crystalline spire. Sadly, he had to stop when he got within a hundred meters of it as the power of the curse began invading his body, proving that while it was contained, it wasn’t fully suppressed.

This would have stopped him if not for his special little Root of Eternal Resentment. He summoned it, and instantly the curse let him pass as he moved closer to encompass more of the spire, but more importantly, what was below the spire.

A coffin.

The bottom part of the spire encased a coffin that was even more intricate than any of the other ancient-rarity coffins. Within it, Jake saw a figure lay, and the moment he did, a shiver went up his spine. Strong. Below the coffin itself was not an altar, but what looked like a giant safe of some kind… a giant safe that was pure darkness when he tried to look inside it. Like a system lockbox, Jake noted.

He was pretty damn certain he just spotted the final boss of the Treasure Hunt as well as that special reward.

Jake was uncertain if he should share this knowledge and decided to do it with his closest allies. Primarily to tell them to move their basecamps out of the Mistless Plains, as he had a feeling whatever was sleeping below the pillar wouldn’t be in a good mood when it awakened. At least not if any of the other creatures he had awakened during this Treasure Hunt were used as references.

Now, when he said: “tell others to move their basecamps,” he naturally meant his allies. So Caleb, the folk from Valhal and, of course, Miranda, in case she wanted to warn anyone.

He was confident the Noboru Clan and Holy Church could handle things themselves and didn’t need a heads-up, right? And if they didn’t prepare, and some powerful creature went on a rampage and began tearing things up… those in the camps better be fast on those Hunter Insignias. If they weren’t? Well, that was just too bad and not Jake’s problem.

Oh, who am I kidding…

Jacob probably already knew with his weird-ass prediction skills, and the moment the factions saw everyone evacuate the Mistless Plains, they were sure to follow.

Jake shook his head as he made his way over to where Miranda was supposed to be. He sprinted to meet up with her and Carmen but was surprised to see that Caleb had also come and was currently conversing with the two women. Sven and his ‘pets’ weren’t anywhere to be seen.

“… it was really funny, and you just had to be there. Jake’s face was priceless, and he was so embarrassed.”

He heard his brother’s voice as he got closer and only began rushing even more as the little traitor was clearly sharing stuff he shouldn’t. Miranda was smiling, and Carmen laughed loudly at whatever he had said.

“Anyone wanna clue me in?” Jake said when he appeared before them.

“Oh, no, it had nothing to do with you,” Caleb confidently stated with a smile, the two women not even trying to hide their smirks.

“I heard my damn name.”

“Must have misheard. It happens,” Caleb dismissed it, still grinning.

“I wanna bet I have more perception than all three of you combined,” Jake argued.

“And yet you managed to mishear… truly a wonder of the multiverse,” his brother said as he stared questioningly at the sky, acting all philosophical.

Jake nodded as he smiled and turned to the two women. “Caleb faked having diarrhea for eight hours straight because he was too scared to ask out his now-wife and hid away in the bathroom.”

Caleb just stared at Jake for a moment. “It wasn’t eight whole hours, and it wasn’t like I hid away all the time…”

“No, you just ran back there every time she tried asking you something,” Jake kept piling on.

“I was like sixteen, and-“

“She ended up asking him out because he was too much of a chicken.”

“Now, let’s just move o-“

“He then booked them a table at a family restaurant but accidentally chose the wrong day.”

“I believe we have something more important to do!?” Caleb yelled, waving his hands dismissively, muttering under his breath. “Besides… it was fine… they had plenty of free ones…”

“What?” Jake just asked his dear brother. “I didn’t say anything; you must have misheard me. See, that’s what happens when you don’t invest properly in perception.”

“With these Vaults opening up, I assume you will go and explore them?” Miranda finally came in, saving poor Caleb.

Jake finally showed mercy and nodded in agreement. “For sure. Also, tell everyone to evacuate the Mistless Plains. I believe we have a final boss on our hands, sleeping right below the large crystal spire. No doubt it will be released at some point, and ancient entities that have been sleeping for a long time tend to be grumpy when woken up.”

Caleb returned to a more serious mood, too, as he nodded. “We already planned on de-centralizing all control personnel to not risk a direct attack on us. The members of the Court of Shadows will spread even more out from here… do be warned that when three days remain of the Hunt, we will switch from simple thievery and obtaining loot ourselves to acquiring treasures more forcefully.”

“Should we be worried?” Miranda asked, a bit in doubt.

“I hope not; they should be aware of the members of Haven,” Caleb answered, turning to Carmen. “I cannot say the same about the members of Valhal. While those unassociated with larger factions will be prioritized as targets, those from Valhal will undoubtedly also be hit. The orders are to avoid lethal force if possible and just make people leave… but accidents do happen.”

“Oh, that’s fine,” Carmen said dismissively. “I don’t really give a shit.”

“I… alright?” Caleb answered, a bit perplexed before just shaking his head. “I’ll have to head back now. See you guys and gals around.”

Carmen and Miranda gave him a nod in acknowledgments, with Jake giving him a big wave as he headed off, soaring into the sky, Sylphie mimicking his waving movements, looking cute as hell. Jake felt the intensely jealous gaze of Carmen, and it was easy to understand why.

Everyone wanted a cute feather ball like Sylphie, but only his head was a satisfactory home for one.

He chose to ignore her jealousy and instead simply asked: “I wanna go and find these Vaults and possibly do near-suicidal and reckless things to clear some of them quickly… would you two be fine taking care of Sylphie meanwhile? You can always contact me through her if any problems come up, and I can feel her location at all times.”

While he liked spending time with Sylphie, the reality was that she simply wasn’t powerful enough to travel with him, and his entire style just functioned better alone than with others. Miranda and Carmen also both seemed to have taken a liking to Sylphie – especially Carmen – and the woman from Valhal also felt pretty strong, so the little hawk should be safe.

Not that Jake had seen anything he believed could slay her in the Treasure Hunt quite yet, besides maybe that Shade of Eternal Resentment, but his belief it could was primarily based on him not knowing what it was capable of. In truth, he wasn’t aware of what Sylphie could do either, but he did know she was incredibly difficult to put down.

“Of course!” Carmen answered before Miranda could answer. She even tilted her head a bit towards Jake and Sylphie, expectantly. Sylphie looked at her and then down at Jake. Jake just shrugged, letting the bird do that she wanted to.

Sylphie decided to meet Carmen halfway. She jumped down onto Jake’s shoulder, rubbed her head against his cheek in goodbye before she flew over and landed on Carmen’s shoulder. While the hawk had not graced Carmen’s head with her presence, Sylphie had still granted her the privilege of having the mighty Sylphian Eyas stand on her shoulder.

Truly an honor.

Jake smiled as he waved them goodbye, once more reminding them to take care of the little hawk. Mentally, he also sent Sylphie a message telling her to take care of Miranda and warn him if anything bad was happening. Once he got a mental approval from her as well as a semi-angry screech in his mind, admonishing him for how he dared believe there was anything she couldn’t handle, he left.

Casper stood with the other undead as the energy washed over them. The darkness and curse-energy within the mist were pushed back as the mist around them returned to pristine white once more. Casper held out his hands to feel the energy and sighed.

“They activated the device,” he concluded.

The curse had been pushed back in all directions and had more or less expanded the scope of the entire Treasure Hunt as it opened up areas otherwise dominated by the curse, allowing only those of the undead race to enter. Yet now, it was open to everyone as the curse disappeared.

They continued their travel for a bit longer until finally, the pulse of energy reached the edge of the Treasure Hunt world.

At that moment, not far in front of them, a red pillar of light fired up towards the sky like a massive flare. Not long after, a similar red pillar arose in the distance to the side, followed by a third and then a fourth.

“The Vaults have been revealed,” Priscilla said with surprise before quickly recomposing herself. “Remember, our primary goals are the Seed and the Core. The Core should be in the Vault we are headed for, but be warned that finding the Seed may take longer. Not even the Shades were sure of its location.”

She spoke primarily to the Risen, who had been scouting the immediate area until the system message appeared, getting them all up to speed and on the same page. “Additionally… do not enter any Vault without proper preparations, and hand over all acquired loot before doing so in case you are forced to teleport out, or the worst happens.”

They all nodded as the group continued towards the red pillar of light, as they suddenly reached a cliff… if it could truly be called that.

Casper stared down into the abyss as he stood at the edge, knowing where he was. He had reached the edge of the world… at least he was close to it. For before him was the Vault they had been looking for. It was on an island floating in the middle of nowhere, the dark abyss below.

Yalsten was not a planet in the multiverse but a separate dimension. One that had been slowly eroded and begun falling apart many, many years ago. It remained stable enough to not break entirely as an equilibrium had been reached... but the edges were still damaged.

Casper looked back at the others as he looked towards the Vault in the distance. “I’ll handle this one alone. Go for the next Vault before other participants arrive.”

They had already looted everything that had been within the mist on the way to where they were now. It was done partly hoping that it would make people believe the area was desolate of treasures… but they hadn’t known the red pillars would appear, marking all the Vaults. While there were many of them, people were bound to come sooner or later, so they would have to move fast to press their advantage.

“Remember to hand over what you acquired so far first,” Priscilla reminded him. “I promise you will get it all handed back when you return successfully.”

He just turned to her. “No.”

“We have a protocol and a process, you are not excluded fro-“

“I said no,” Casper said again. “If I fail, we all fail. So just do your job while I do mine.”

Dark energy began revolving around him as he jumped off the edge and began flying towards the floating island in the distance. The turbulent space mana in the area tried to distort and rip his body apart, but the moment it got close, it was rebuffed… the curse of Yalsten still echoing out of Casper’s body, blessing him and granting him power.

A note from Zogarth

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