Treants, oh treants. It was a creature type that was present in so many video games, fiction, and general fantasy. No doubt humans from ages past had seen trees and wondered: “what if that massive fucking tree could walk around and smash stuff?” and just let their imagination take things from there.
Yet when Jake finally got to meet them, he got some scuffed broken versions that were far closer to elementals than actual trees. He felt cheated and betrayed that they even kept the treant-tag. They couldn’t even do proper tree magic! No spearing roots, no long vines extending from them, or razor leaves fired after him. Just a bunch of rotting trees that blew up with a single arrow and reassembled themselves using their curse energies.
Jake did what he could as he worked to make the world right. He tore the trees apart one by one, starting with the Lord. It was the biggest of the bunch and the only one Jake hoped would at least give him a bit of entertainment.
Well, the first thing he did was to take out the Root of Eternal Resentment, hoping he could just bonk them to death and be done with it. Sadly it didn’t work, Jake assuming it was because these weren’t truly part of the Yalsten curse… just generally fucked up by curse energy. If the Yalsten curse directed them, wouldn’t they hold more hate for the vampires sitting around the edges of the valley trying to take advantage of the fight than for Jake?
No, even if cursed, they were still directed by the fake-metal-tree-that-wasn’t-even-a-metal-treant tree. That damn tree was a big disappointment too. Sure, Jake got cheated out of fighting real treants, but a mech treant could still be cool, right? But noo, he just had to fight these shitty rotting things. They even smelled.
Still… not as bad as mushrooms.
As for the fight itself, it was just the usual stuff. The wannabe-treants used simple attacks, mainly just trying to smash Jake with a bit of curse magic mixed in here and there. The Treant Lord used its weird tentacles to try and grasp Jake and infuse him with its curse, which was also the reason why he targeted it first. Those damn vines were a bit too mushroomy for his liking. Cursed and mushroomy, even.
What he had to hand to the treants was their durability. He kept blowing them apart time and time again, yet they kept regrowing the broken wood. In the end, Jake blanketed the entire valley in toxic mist and, with his blood-soaked arrows, poisoned the fake treants one after another, whittling them down. While his poison didn’t do much… it did take its toll.
Needless to say, destructive arcane energy also did plenty of damage.
For nearly an hour, the valley was a hellscape of broken and rotting pieces of wood flying everywhere, pink-purple explosions, and a constant poisonous mist blanketing everything. Occasionally the entire valley would light up for a brief moment as a Mark of the Avaricious Hunter was activated, making it quite the show from an outside perspective.
Sadly, all the vampiric observers had taken off in fright, not wanting to get involved at all. Probably a good decision on their part.
In the end, Jake stood in the middle of the valley, destruction all around him as he cleaned his cloak that looked to now be covered in mold. Cursed mold. Good thing he got it upgraded. Altmar technology sure was something, that’s for sure. To his surprise, he had even gotten a level from the entire endeavor.
*You have slain [Cursed Vault Guardian Treant Lord – lvl 150] – Bonus experience earned for killing an enemy above your level*
*You have slain [Cursed Vault Guardian Treant – lvl 140] – Bonus experience earned for killing an enemy above your level*
*You have slain [Cursed Vault Guardian Treant – lvl 140] – Bonus experience earned for killing an enemy above your level*
*’DING!’ Class: [Avaricious Arcane Hunter] has reached level 136 - Stat points allocated, +10 free points*
*’DING!’ Race: [Human (D)] has reached level 133 - Stat points allocated, +15 free points*
In retrospect, it probably shouldn’t surprise him. He hadn’t gotten a level after he killed the last Count of Blood, and he had gotten a bit more experience since then too. Granted, the fights hadn’t been the hardest, but Jake hoped he would encounter something worthwhile later on… if not, then at least that final boss should be worth something.
If he had to place these cursed fake treants on any kind of power hierarchy, he would say they were about the level of the Warlords or Fungalmancers, AKA creatures Jake could kill relatively easily dozens of levels and hundreds of elixirs ago. On the other hand, he had a feeling these enemies weren’t truly designed to kill anything but just stall people more than anything. They were overly defensive, after all.
With all the fake treants dead, Jake summoned the Root of Eternal Resentment again, and this time it reacted. It began absorbing some of the energy from all the dead enemies, but only a bit of it. Once it was done absorbing the energy, he put it back in his Insignia and also stored all of the wood that remained of the fake treants. It looked like shit, but who knows? Maybe it was worth something to someone.
He walked up to the metal tree and placed his hand on it again. This time, he got an entirely different response. It felt almost like an invitation… and without further ado, he accepted it as he disappeared – teleported into the hidden space of the metal sphere.
As for how he knew he was in the metal sphere? Because he could vaguely feel the outside of the tree through his Sphere of Perception as he now found himself in a perfectly spherical room. He stood on a platform surrounded by a barrier in front of him, with the space behind him filled with furniture and other amenities, like it was a living area. The entire sphere was only about ten meters in diameter, so not exactly a huge space.
Behind the barrier, Jake saw plenty of stuff that he assumed were treasures. The issue was… he had no idea how to get through the barrier. He placed his palm on it and felt like it was utterly impenetrable with usual means… maybe he could wear it down with enough time if he used-
Before he could finish his thought, a figure suddenly appeared off to the side of the metal sphere. It was a woman in an odd uniform, and Jake instantly recognized that it was some kind of projection and not a real person.
Jake looked at her and saw the red eyes, indicative of a vampire. Her pale white skin also made him think the same, and she had an odd symbol on her forehead, reminding Jake of a third eye. Identify didn’t return anything as it wasn’t actually a person, but he still had the feeling that whoever left the projection hadn’t been weak. Quite the contrary.
“Who are you? How dare a mere D-grade enter this place?” she said, her voice filled with venom as she made it sound like Jake had just killed her entire family.
“I’m here to claim whatever is stored in this Vault, so would you kindly lower the barrier and allow me to take it all? Yalsten has long fallen, and there will come no one else to claim it,” Jake answered, looking straight into her eyes. If she was going to be an ass about it, so would he.
Weirdly enough, she took offense to his response.
The entire room became flooded with an aura Jake could only recognize as above D-grade. C-grade? Possibly even B-grade? Either way, it wasn’t one with any true intent, just the aura and nothing more. While Jake knew that would often be enough of an intimidation tactic against most other D-grades, Jake just kept starring at her unfazed.
“Well?” he asked.
She looked a bit perplexed, which surprised Jake. A part of him had assumed this projection wouldn’t show any real intelligence but just be like the Counts or something. That there were pre-determined responses and such… but the look of utter confusion on her face seemed very genuine. So… closer to the Altmar one?
“Who are you?” she repeated.
Jake had taken this time to properly inspect the room, as well as what was behind the barrier. While he couldn’t see through it with his eyes or other magical senses, his Sphere of Perception sure could, and behind it, he saw a few interesting things. One of the items was more interesting than any others, as it had a certain motif engraved on it that he recognized… and based on its prominent position…
He decided to take a gamble.
Jake stared at her as he faked anger and related his own aura. “A better question is who you think you are to ask me that? Has Yalsten really fallen that far?”
As his aura washed over the room, he happily mixed in a bit of an aura that was normally concealed by Shroud of the Primordial – the one marking him as the Chosen of the Malefic Viper.
For what Jake had seen in the Vault was a medallion with the motif belonging to the Order of the Malefic Viper. Prominently displayed on a pedestal in the middle of the room for all to see.
His actions were a pure gamble… one that paid off.
The projection of the woman paled – something he was impressed that a vampire, much less the projection of one, could even do. Jake allowed her to bathe in his aura as he let it sink in who he was, gladly playing the arrogant young master to get some benefits.
After a few seconds, she seemed to come to her senses as she practically prostrated herself on the floor.
“This member of the Nalkar line greets the Malefic’s Chosen; I apologize for my disrespect and not recognizing you!”
She stared at Jake with amazement in her eyes, which made Jake feel both uncomfortable and amazed at the overdone response. However, he had to keep up his persona as he tossed around his clout.
“I don’t really care either way and didn’t I tell you to open up the damn Vault already?” Jake said, literally staring down at her.
“This… I am under strict order to only open if a member of the Nalkar line arrives or someone holding the key…” she said, her own domineering attitude utterly gone as she seemed meek.
“I wasn’t asking,” he spoke before shaking his head in fake disappointment. “And here I thought the Nalkar’s were smart… but it appears even your intelligence is merely an illusion. How disappointing.”
Considering how she had named herself a part of the Nalkar line, Jake naturally remembered that he had a heart from a Nalkar vampire. The Nalkar vampires were naturally talented in illusion and mind magic and were more casters than warriors, unlike most vampires Jake had encountered. As for the insults? Well, he was a young master, was he not?
“I…” she said as she pulled herself together and got up, still keeping her head lowered. “I shall naturally unlock it; apologies for the continued disrespect. I was simply too caught up in old customs and procedures. I hope this has not led to any bad blood between the Nalkar line and the Order.”
With that, the vampire made some motions as different runes around the room began glowing, unlocking the barrier. That is when Jake realized this was actually just another puzzle. One he had bypassed by fooling the projection into helping. But then again, perhaps that was also just another option. One he could totally see someone like Jacob exploiting.
The barrier began slowly fading away as more and more runes were activated, and Jake decided to be a bit nicer. “I shall make sure to mention it to the Malefic One that the Nalkars aren’t all that bad.”
“My eternal thanks,” she said with a bow. “It gladdens me those who fled from Yalsten made it safely to the Order… it may be overreaching, but how is the clan doing?”
Jake hadn’t expected that one as he stopped up, looking as if he was thinking. He was actually just waiting for the barrier to fully disappear, as he didn’t want to say something dumb that could make the projection change her mind.
If he said he had no idea, it would be a bit suspicious considering he clearly knew of the Nalkar vampires… or would it? He didn’t know how common they were. If they happened to only originate from Yalsten, it would be suspicious as hell if he was super knowledgeable. On the other hand, if he lied and said they were doing well, it would be a bit out of his fake arrogant master character, wouldn’t it? Mainly the part about him even bothering knowing if they were doing well.
Man, did he wish he could just ping Villy and ask him if his Order happened to have a bunch of vampires in it and if any of those were of the Nalkar variant.
Luckily, the barrier went all the way down without any issues, and Jake stepped inside past where the barrier had been before, ready to One Step Mile out if the projection became hostile as he answered:
“Are you questioning if the Malefic Order doesn’t take care of its own? That I even bother knowing of the Nalkar vampires should be answer enough about how they’re doing, shouldn’t it?”
It wasn’t a perfect answer, but it seemed to be good enough as the projection looked visibly relieved. Jake totally understood that… this projection had been left in this Vault a long time ago, only to be activated at some unknown future time. If Jake’s theory was correct, these projections were more or less just clones, which meant they had their own thoughts, even if they were only temporary existences. To give the projection a bit of relief wasn’t too much to do… and he decided to actually check in with Villy after the Hunt to ask about them.
“Naturally,” she finally answered, a smile on her lips. Considering the projection seemed satisfied, Jake began inspecting the loot. He at first wanted to start with the medallion related to the Order of the Malefic Viper but decided against it. He was the Chosen of the Malefic Viper; why would he care about some small token? Thus he went for the other stuff first. Also, there was something to be said about saving the best for last.
The first item he went for was the one giving off a rather impressive magical aura. There were three items in total giving off strong auras, which he did find a bit weird considering how this was meant to be a Vault made by powerful beings far above D-grade. No doubt, the system had curated what was handed out.
He went over to the item, and even if it was the one giving off the weakest aura… it was quite the impressive item nevertheless.
[Wand of the Mindbreaker (Epic)] – A wand created from an unknown type of wood with the ability to project a portion of the abilities of a Mindbreaker. The wand has been soaked in the blood of a dead high-tier D-grade Mindbreaker variant and been infused with the core of one, granting it some of the Mindbreaker’s abilities. Allows the user to cast the spell Mindbreak, sending out a wave of pure mental force to damage the outer layers of the soul for anyone nearby. Enhances all mind magic cast using this wand. Enchantments: Empowered Mind Magic. Grants the skill: [Mindbreak (Epic)]
Requirements: lvl 120+ in any humanoid race.
It was a wooden wand that honestly didn’t look that special besides its carvings and the slightly reddish-brown color that looked uneven in places. Jake considered experimenting with it a bit but decided to pick up his pace to avoid spooking the projection. Looking impressed with a measly epic-rarity wand wouldn’t be something an arrogant young master would do, now was it?
So he nonchalantly tossed it in his Insignia and moved on, trying to fake utter indifference like swiping epic-rarity loot was just another day in the office for the arrogant young master of the Malefic Viper.