While Jake was the first to notice what was happening, everyone naturally became aware when a huge magic barrier surrounded them, and people suddenly appeared on all sides.
”What the fuck?” the elemental mage asked as he readied himself.
Jake’s first course of action was not to answer but took a step towards where the cube had been as he quickly swiped all the loot. This did earn him a few glances, but he was happy to see there was nothing accusatory in them from the rogue, the assassin, or the elemental. However, the earth mage did glare daggers, as the man had already begun backing away.
The shadow assassin had also realized the earth mage was in on it and turned to him: ”Are you for real? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
”Oh please, stop acting all surprised; you’re a fucking assassin and a thief,” the earth mage replied in a snarky tone. ”This is a Treasure Hunt, and I’m just playing by the rules.”
Jake didn’t bother with the earth mage but had turned his attention to someone else. It was a man who stood at the top of the hill, surrounded by others. Jake was pretty sure he recognized him and a few others of those around him. Those are…
That is when Jake recognized them from the World Congress. These were city leaders and people related to cities that weren’t involved with any specific factions. The independent forces. He remembered Miranda talking about them making internal alliances, and that seemed to be true… he did wonder why they had chosen to attack him, though. Jake looked at the man at the helm and Identified him.
[Human – lvl 130]
He was the strongest person Jake had seen in quite a while. Nearly Jake’s own level. Then again, he was a city leader, and those tended to level quickly. Looking at those standing with the man, Jake saw that nearly all those closest had levels above 120.
”Lord Thayne,” he heard the man yell from atop the cliff. ”I had hoped not to meet again under such strenuous circumstances, but here we are.”
Jake looked up at him. ”I think you accidentally activated a barrier or something.”
”No, no, this is quite the purposeful act,” he answered back with a smile.
The elemental mage, rogue, and assassin all scurried closer to Jake as it became clear what this was. Jake looked around him a bit more and counted one hundred and seventeen people, one hundred and eighteen counting the earth mage. All of them were naturally D-grade. Most were between 100 and 110, but a lot were also above 110.
”Are you sure you want this? I’ll give you a chance to wisen up.” Jake asked. This really seemed like an entire thing, and Jake felt like this could all turn real complicated quickly. There were many city leaders there, and he could already begin to predict the issues this would create for Miranda.
At the top of the hill, the man shook his head as he began rambling. ”Do you know how screwed up the current status quo of Earth is? A large religious organization is the largest faction. A god damn assassination cult is among the most influential forces. We even have non-human monsters sitting in the high seats. This planet is slowly being claimed by outside forces. Gods and their factions from outside our universe are claiming our planet. I, no, we, will not stand for this.”
The man paced a bit back and forth as Jake was just listening to the man rant.
”The choice is either to be subservient to some higher power or get screwed over. Yet, that is something some of us won’t do. We refuse to give up our world and deliver it on a silver platter to exploitative foreigners. We are here because we refuse to be ignored. We will reclaim our planet, and we will make things right. Purge the undead and return to secularism.”
Jake scratched his head, not exactly sure what the guy was getting at. Wasn’t this guy as extreme as everyone else?
”What has anything of this got to do with me?”
”Hah!” the man laughed. ”It has everything to do with you. You, a chosen puppet of some god. The so-called strongest person on Earth. Do you know the reason why we’re not listened to? Because people think we’re weak. That we can’t stand up for ourselves. That’s why we have come here. To show we can, and what better demonstration than taking down the first city owner of the planet and the most prominent slave of the gods?”
”Not to mention the bounty from it. I heard he killed three Counts of Blood, and he sure as hell got a lot more besides that,” the earth mage said with a huge grin, the greed in his eyes evident.
”I believe what my comrade is trying to say is to just surrender with dignity,” the leader said, smiling.
One hundred and eighteen people stood surrounding four people. A barrier was sealing them all in. One side had come prepared and the other taken by surprise. All of this had been done to make Jake into an example. For the independent faction to prove that while they may have been weak individually, together they were strong.
While they were certainly aware they likely couldn’t kill Jake, they were confident in forcing him to leave the Treasure Hunt. A few of them were even using magic to record the scene to have proof of what had happened. The independents would prove, once and for all, that they were not to be ignored.
Jake was fully aware that a lot of what he relied upon was reputation over actual feats of strength. He was powerful because people said he was powerful. He was a Progenitor, but most didn’t know what that entailed. He had killed Counts of Blood, but the other six had been slain by several different factions. None of the people present had seen him actually fight. While they had heard some about how he had publicly slain the first Count of Blood, that was in the end still hearsay. Also, even if he genuinely was more powerful than all of them individually, they came prepared with numbers.
Perhaps they also relied on him being mentally exhausted from solving the cube, which he partly was. He was also isolated, and the three people he had to assist him would not be able to do much. All in all, the approach of the independent forces had been calculated and well-thought through.
While their tactic wasn’t entirely asinine, they had made several mistakes. The first one was to seal off the entire space, giving not only Jake and the three others issues escaping, but themselves too. The second mistake was to not attack but stop up and monologue. Perhaps even giving them a chance to trigger some powerful large-scale attack that Jake couldn’t have dodged to wound him from the get-go.
The final and perhaps most egregious mistake was what the man said. Not the information he gave, but his choice of words. For while Jake could handle a lot of insults, there were some things he couldn’t take. Some words and insinuations triggered him and made him have very extreme responses.
Jake really didn’t like being called a puppet.
Much less a slave.
The man atop the hill was preparing to open his mouth again but didn’t get the chance to.
A presence overtook the entire valley. Jake jumped, black wings and scales covering his entire body as he took on an inhuman and monstrous form in the eyes of his foes. Power swirled around him as Limit Break activated at 20% instantly. His presence infused with his mana blanketed everyone present, not only pressing down on them with sheer almost physical pressure but the full brunt of his primal rage.
Jake flew up and looked down at all the people present as they were mentally torn down. Weakened. Fragile. Slaves to their own fear. Puppets to whatever moron had convinced them to participate in this ambush.
His eyes glowed yellowed with a visible sheen as he didn’t bother holding back. Killing humans was something Jake tended to avoid. It was messy and led to complicated situations. It was something he only did if he felt forced to – or he really wanted to.
This was a case of the latter.
Gaze of the Apex Hunter landed on every single one of the ambushers. The fear of a predator so far superior to themselves flooded their entire beings and souls, making them shake with fear. Most were frozen, cold sweat soaking their backs.
But for some… for some, everything simply cracked.
More than forty people fell to the ground like puppets with their strings cut. Their eyes glazed over, and not a hint of life in their body. Within an instant, the force of nearly ten dozen was cut down by a third – the weaker of the group dying.
Jake stared down, red now mixed into the yellow of his eyes as two small drops of blood ran down his cheeks. It didn’t stop him as the bow appeared. He aimed, and just before people were able to move again, an Arcane Powershot soared down.
It hit the man right to the left of the leader of the group, penetrating straight through his skull. The man didn’t die instantly, but he became unable to act. Unable to teleport himself out of the Treasure Hunt. Jake followed up with another barrage, the people below now able to move.
Everyone except the guy with his head pierced through retreated, none of them even trying to help their downed comrade. Five arrows fell upon the man, exploding on impact as Jake had just set the scene for the ‘battle’ that was about to take place.
”GET IN POSITIONS! ACTIVATE THE-”
The man in charge yelled but was forced to take out a staff and summon a shield around himself as Jake fired an arrow at him. The shield cracked but didn’t break, sending the man reeling back nevertheless.
Jake quickly recognized the man’s class. A rarity among the truly powerful, as more often than not, healers were more in a supportive role. Their personalities often leaned towards the dependent types and not the independents. Of course, there were exceptions. People who simply reveled in the sense of power that came from wielding the life of others in their hands… or fanatical individuals who had an unhealthy relationship with the concept of the preservation of life - Eron coming to mind there.
This man was the former. He raised his staff as a wave of light was sent out, pushing back the effect of Jake’s presence. While that did stop them from continued exposure, it didn’t dispel what they had already experienced. Pure dread was already ingrained in many of those present. Dread that would hamper their abilities to put up a proper fight and react adequately.
Down in the valley below, it wasn’t silent either. Instead of hiding away or taking cover, the only three people not affected by Jake’s initial salvo moved. The rogue, assassin, and elemental mage had been excluded from everything as they weren’t the target of Jake’s ire, while the earth mage standing close by had been. With him distracted, the shadow assassin was the first to move.
Before the earth mage could properly awaken from his stupor and be unfrozen from Gaze, he was shot several times in the chest and smashed into the ground by a sledgehammer of ice before his one arm was cut off by a sword. The other blade of the rogue tried to decapitate him, but a passive defensive skill activated as the armor of stone began assembling automatically.
Within five seconds of the ambushers making their intentions clear and Jake making his move, the mood was set. The formerly confident group, believing that outnumbering the group twenty-five to one would make it easy, came to a stark realization.
Teamwork was important, and in many situations, numbers did matter. The Holy Church was proof of this working. They were known for conducting grand rituals with hundreds if not thousands of people. Through the power of the collective, they could take down foes they otherwise couldn’t… but the crux of it was that they were a collective.
They worked as one unified being. The individual was discarded for the sake of the whole. Meanwhile, the people attacking Jake were just a group of individuals with a few parties. They had all come to intimidate, believing they were far superior. Sure, Jake was strong, but was he stronger than a hundred people? Would he risk fighting them?
Even if he did choose to fight, could he truly kill them when they had so many people around them to assist? To put it simply… they had clearly come without fully realizing this would be a fight to the death. They honestly believed it was all just intimidation, and the ’weaker’ side would back down without actually fighting.
Jake fully shattered that illusion in his opening attack. Of course, this shouldn’t mean the fight was over already, but in many ways, it was. He had only wiped out a tenth or so of the enemy fighting power with Pride and Gaze, meaning that if the other side truly fought, they could likely put up quite the struggle.
But all of that was dependent on their intention to actually fight. Jake had even killed an enemy leader, showing that even the more powerful among them could die. That they could be rendered unable to exit using the Insignia and save themselves. It had become life and death.
Many of them hadn’t signed up for that as they began retreating, only to be faced with their own barrier.
”Rally! Don’t panic!” the leader of the enemy faction yelled.
”Activate the shields!”
Others of those more willing to fight also joined in. Jake was still flying in the air and fired arrows down, only to see more and more of them be blocked. Jake realized what he had to do and began spreading poison mist with his wings, but not to attack his foes. The mist around him quickly turned black from dark-affinity mana, obscuring himself completely.
He then opened his palm and began summoning his Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter, all while dodging in the air. When he first got the skill, it took him quite a while to summon an arrow, but that summoning depended on many things. Summoning speed was based on how powerful Jake was, his ability to control energy, his understanding of the skill itself, but more so than anything, his familiarity with the target.
Ever since getting the skill, Jake had never summoned an Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter to kill a human. Yet when he did, it quickly became obvious… of any target he had ever chosen, humans were the most obvious. Of any foe, what could Jake be more familiar with than one of his own race? He was fully aware of his own weaknesses, and comprehending his own body was a necessity. He understood the way energy moved within him. He knew borderline everything.
So when he summoned an arrow to kill one of his kin, the skill responded promptly. At high speed, a simple-looking arrow grew out of his hand. It was just wooden with a metal tip. Of all the arrows Jake had summoned with the skill, this was perhaps the simplest-looking one ever. But Jake knew that was just perfect.
From start to finish, summoning the arrow took five seconds. This had barely been enough time for the ambushers to collect themselves and organize a bit. Most of them - primarily those dragged along just to push up the numbers - had all just retreated, hoping the more powerful people could handle it.
Jake would make it loud and clear they couldn’t.
While being bombarded with a few attacks, Jake nocked the arrow and took aim towards the healer below. The man was rallying his troops as he was maintaining a barrier in front of himself. It was not a barrier Jake could break with only regular arrows… but he could no doubt break it.
He pulled back the string and began charging Arcane Powershot. At the same time, he focused on his surroundings that were still affected by his infused presence. With the ease of controlling mana within that area significantly increased, he did something he hadn’t been able to before.
As he charged his shot, arcane bolts began condensing in the air. A dozen bolts of highly destructive arcane mana came into being in the air, some of them tens of meters from Jake, serving two functions. First of all, they became targets of range spells, and secondly, they were naturally tools to attack with.
Jake began bombarding the perimeter with arcane bolts, doing little damage but creating panic aplenty. All of these bolts were hastily constructed except three. These three bolts floated around Jake, all of them meticulously constructed.
His plan was simple… kill the leader in a single shot, and make it absolutely clear that if one chose to attack Jake and make him an enemy, then no matter how much you tried to plan or how many people you gathered, the only thing you would get out of it was death.
Oh, and also...
To never call him a fucking slave.