The second phase of the Treasure Hunt started out as a mad dash for the closest Vaults. The Risen had a headstart and had already located and mapped out the location of several before the phase began and had looted everything in and around these Vaults.
Other factions simply rushed for them. For most, it would be a half-a-day journey or more to the closest Vault and included much combat and challenges along the way, making it potentially take even longer. One had to remember that someone like Jake had a powerful movement skill, while a party often had at least one member – often the healers or the heavy warrior – who had difficulty traveling fast.
Due to the danger, as one moved further away from the central Mistless Plains, it wasn’t viable for most people to go solo either. Only the more powerful individuals could do this, as the average rogue, caster, or archer from a party would find themselves in hard-fought battles against several Ekilmare variants.
All of this ultimately resulted in only the most powerful parties or individuals making it to the Vaults first, and while this would, in the eyes of many, look like an advantage… in many cases, it wasn’t.
Jake made his way through the mist towards another Vault. The journey took him more than half an hour due to the distance, even with the constant use of One Step Mile. This one was about as close to the center of the Treasure Hunt as the one with the Nalkar vampire, just in another cardinal direction.
He had spent a good while killing fake treants and a good bit of time talking with the projection and looting. He knew it was unrealistic to be the first to reach this Vault, too, but still hoped for it. Yet as he got closer, it became clear he wasn’t the first.
Flashes of light lit up in the distance, only visible through the mist due to his high perception. No doubt a fight was going on, and Jake considered if he should interfere or try and head elsewhere further in, hopefully being the first to reach that one.
Ultimately, he decided to say: ”fuck it,” and just headed to his current target. With around a week left of the Hunt, it was fine to begin robbing a bit if people wanted to compete. If it was a puzzle or something, he could just beat people fair and square, and it was solely a fight to unlock the Vault… well, he would deal with that situation too.
Making his way over another hill, he saw that this Vault was also in a small valley. The plains had many valleys, and the further one moved from the Mistless Plains, the more verticality got added to the terrain, with hills, valleys, and even the occasional small mountain beginning to pop up - real mountains this time, not the live-in mountains.
He had a good vantage point at the top of the hill leading into the valley and saw the situation below.
A mish-mash group of people was fighting an even larger group of vampires of the Ekilmare variant. It was the usual Nocturne version, except for one of them that was larger than any of the others. It didn’t have the same sharp claws either, but something far closer to human hands. Its head was also disproportionally too large, and it had a huge belly.
Jake used Identify on them to get an idea.
[Young Nocturne Ekilmare – lvl 133]
[Young Nocturne Ekilmare – lvl 135]
[Juvenile Nocturne Ekilmare Matriarch – lvl 142]
He then turned his attention to the humans. There were eight vampires in total, while the human side had four. One of them used shadow magic and dodged around while firing bullets from a magical gun. Another was a mage alternating between fire and ice magic, the third a rogue with two swords, and the final person a mage surrounded by a massive stone armor.
From what he could see, these four weren’t party members but individual fighters. They clearly weren’t used to working as a team but did so nevertheless. Jake used Identify on them all, seeing they were fairly similar in level.
[Human – lvl 121]
[Human – lvl 118]
[Human – lvl 119]
[Human – lvl 124]
The rock mage was the highest-leveled one, followed by the guy with a magic gun. Jake stood on top of the hill observing and saw that he didn’t need to get involved, at least not right away. While the fight wasn’t easy for the group of four, they did seem to be winning. The Matriarch was more like a support variant than a true fighter as far as he could tell, and Jake saw the guy that he determined was from the Court of Shadows slowly wear it down with his shadow gun quite nicely.
Instead, he turned his attention to the thing giving off the massive pillar of red light, marking a Vault’s location - the thing in question being… nothing. The pillar just fired up from the blue grass on the plains, making Jake theorize the thing was underground.
Jake was in a bit of a conundrum. Should he walk into the valley to investigate? That would undoubtedly shift some attention to him and interrupt the fight, considering they were sometimes battling even within the red pillar. He hated interfering with fights without any reason and robbing others of a good challenge… but he also hated wasting his own time by sitting around.
He tried looking from a distance and narrowed his eyes as he inspected the area with the pillar. He felt the mana given off by the area was different, probably also the reason why the vampires were there. Monsters just loved areas like this with special mana or a higher mana density. It allowed them to passively level and stay powerful while also making their resources regenerate faster. Well, Jake and other humans also got the benefit of faster mana regeneration.
As he was thinking all this, something great happened. The lowest-leveled of the bunch - the ice and fire mage - was suddenly jumped by four of the vampires at once in a coordinated attack. The Matriarch even empowered them all with some magic making their claws glow in a dark color.
Jake happily saw his chance to interfere when he saw the poor guy about to be ripped to shreds. If this had been an actual party and not just four random people, this situation would have never happened, but none of the others present had really considered defending their most vulnerable member.
The mage used his magic and summoned walls of ice around him as he used flame magic to launch himself into the air, but the Matriarch opened her large circular mouth and fired off a black beam that made the wall explode and throw him off-course, allowing a vampire to grasp his foot and drag him down.
Just as he was about to be torn limb from limb, Jake arrived. Or, well, his arrows did.
All four vampires froze at once, and a fraction of a second later, four arrows arrived, piercing through a vampire each, sending the bloodsuckers tumbling back. It was a hastily fired Splitting Arrow with stable arcane arrows, and it wasn’t enough to truly down the vampires… but it was enough to buy Jake time.
Jake manipulated a string of mana and wrapped it around the mage’s ankle. Then, he pulled with his mind just as the vampires stabilized themselves and tried to jump the caster again, only to see him be dragged across the ground away from them.
He fired off another round of arrows, this time more focused on killing and not only delaying. He rapid-fired, each of his arrows now covered in his own blood. The vampires barely had time to react as they were pierced straight through, leaving festering holes.
The Matriarch shrieked and turned her attention to Jake as she opened her mouth and fired off another beam. Jake simply looked over at her and took a single step, avoiding the beam at the very last moment, before he loosed another arrow – this one towards the Matriarch.
A good thing about the Matriarch was her isolated position… making her a perfect target for explosive arcane arrows. The arrow split at the very last moment, and she was hit by five massive explosions, blasting her backward and tumbling across the plains.
He refocussed on the regular vampires again and saw that after the initial confusion, the rogue, gun-guy, and earth mage all resumed their own assault. With Jake pre-occupying half the vampires, they swiftly made progress.
The earth mage had grasped one in his massive hands and had begun smashing it down into the ground, reinforcing said ground and making it slightly spiky all the meanwhile. The assassin with his guns was blasting a single vampire repeatedly with black bullets that exploded on impact. Finally, the rogue with the two swords was fighting two vampires as she adeptly cut them up while expertly dodging.
With the fire and ice mage out of danger, he also got back on his feet, threw Jake a grateful glance, and returned to the battle. He helped the rogue with her swords as he summoned a giant flaming ice spear, penetrating a vampire through its back.
It took them only a few minutes to finish off all the vampires, Jake likely doing most of the work despite joining so late. He wasn’t entirely certain, though, as the group had worn down the vampires quite a bit, and based on the corpses of the ground, had already killed three before he got there.
Once everything had calmed down, Jake finally entered the valley. The four people looked at him, with only the earth mage and the rogue looking a bit apprehensive.
“Thanks for the help mate, I would’ve been fucked without ya,” the elemental mage said as he laughed. Jake finally looked him over properly and saw he was a middle-aged man with a full beard. He was solidly built, and if he were smaller, Jake would have assumed him to be a dwarf.
“No problem,” Jake said, his attention already more focused on the Vault than anything else.
Clearly, the earth mage noticed this as he spoke: “It’s hidden approximately fifty meters below us.”
Jake nodded, already having walked closer to see it in his Sphere of Perception. It was a magical cube, reminding Jake a bit of a Rubik’s Cube... making him already have a feeling what they were in for.
“Can you get it up?” he asked, looking over at the earth mage.
The man looked back at Jake, not the scared type. He was still in his armor of stone, making him a five-meter tall golem-looking dude. Jake could still see him within, and Jake looked straight at the chest where the man was hidden.
“How do I know you won’t just take all the treasure from the Vault, leaving us all with nothing?” the earth mage asked with an accusing tone.
Jake looked at him as he smiled beneath his mask. “First of all, from what I have learned, these Vaults aren’t just something you instantly open and empty out. My guess is this one is a puzzle of some sort, and without solving the puzzle, there is no way to get the loot.”
He said this first part being nice and diplomatic, explaining some of the mechanics of this second phase of the Treasure Hunt. He wasn’t as nice with the second thing. His aura bellowed out, infused with his presence as he looked at the earth mage.
“Secondly, you don’t know if I will just take the Vault, but what the fuck makes you think you can do anything about it? If I really wanted everything, I would have put an arrow through your head before you even knew I was here, really taking everything from you. Would you prefer that?”
Jake felt like the guy was a moron. He had just helped them, so if he really wanted to do them harm, wouldn’t he just have killed them too? Or was he so blind he thought Jake couldn’t? Because then he would truly be a moron.
It ended up not being the earth mage, but the bearded man that said something in response first:
“Ay, if he wanted to fuck ya up, ya would be fucked already. Also, stop hidin’ in ya little shell of a stone. It ain’t gon help for shit. I know ya low on mana, so stop actin’ like a dumb cunt already.”
“The man has a point; let’s just play nice, alright?” the shadow assassin chimed in, Jake thinking that if anyone were going to turn on anyone else in this group, it would be the guy who was an actual assassin.
The stone mage grunted as he dispelled his stone armor, allowing himself to fall to the ground. He was a young man in a brown robe, and he looked suspiciously at everyone present. Does the dude have trust issues or something? Jake asked himself, not really caring all that much.
What he did care about was having the mage help bring it up to the surface. While Jake could do it alone, it would be a long and time-consuming task, while he had a feeling an earth mage could handle it quite a bit easier.
“Fine… but swear that you’re not letting us all leave empty-handed,” the guy agreed, not even having to be asked as he felt the gazes of everyone present on him.
“I’m not gonna promise you shit,” Jake said, dismissing him instantly. “But I’m not gonna rob you if you manage to open the Vault first, I can promise you that. But if I end up doing it all alone, then you can take the scraps I leave you or fuck off.”
The earth mage grunted again as he just shook his head and muttered something under his breath.
“Still betta than those religious freaks,” the ice and fire mage said loudly, shrugging. The shadow assassin and woman with her two swords also stayed behind, giving their tacit approval.
Jake saw the earth mage plant both his hands on the ground as he began channeling mana into it. Then the earth began shaking as it churned and moved. The soil was being displaced, and a small hill began forming on the side of the valley as the earth mage used his magic.
At the same time, Jake saw the cube slowly be lifted up towards the ground, pushed by the soil underneath. Jake saw in his sphere that it had been anchored before, but those anchors were now broken, likely by the system, or perhaps just the passage of time had eroded them.
Not long after, the cube got within a few meters of the surface, and once it did, it seemed to take on a life of its own. It suddenly shot out of the ground, sending up an eruption of soil and stone. A pulse of mana went through the valley, washing over them as the cube was revealed.
Yep, that’s a Rubik’s cube, Jake confirmed to himself.
The entire cube was more than five meters on each side and wasn’t the usual sort with bright colors and only three, by three by three. It was the sort made by people who were honestly too much into Rubik’s cubes. It was a fifteen by fifteen by fifteen cube.
Jake stared at it for a bit, seeing the magic sigils on the cube, making it obvious this was a puzzle.
“Yeah, fuck this,” the bearded caster said as he just turned around and walked away.“Thanks, mate, but no way in fuckin hell am I doing that,” he said to Jake before he exited the valley, clearly not into Rubik’s cubes.