Miranda walked together with quite the group of people through the giant maze. A single Vault far larger than any other, and they soon found out why... because it wasn’t only one. It was several Vaults hidden within one Vault in some complex pattern, and one had to solve all of them to open the final one in the middle.
Coupled with that, it was a massive maze with dead-ends, traps, monsters, and – worst of all – other participants. Fights happened all the time, forcing people to group up whenever possible, and small factions had ended up forming.
As for who Miranda found herself with… well, it was a nice mix of new and old. Sultan had stuck with her after the whole Eron business, something she wasn’t sure how to feel about. They had later been joined by Sylphie and Carmen, who had managed to find each other. Then suddenly, a drone from Arnold had passed by, which was how they got to their current size, as he apparently had over a hundred in the damn Vault scouting things out.
Neil and his entire party, people from Valhal, a few members of the Court of Shadows, random individuals who Arnold had ‘employed’ prior, and even people led by a woman named Reika from the Noboru Clan ended up joining them. It was a mighty political mess, only made worse when Priscilla and a large group of undead also turned up.
Miranda, Priscilla, Carmen, and Reika became the leaders of this small band of misfits – although some would argue Sylphie was the true leader - as they explored the Vault and solved challenges one by one. The difficulty increased the further in, and as more and more powerful foes and dangerous traps appeared, their collaboration became quite the boon.
The four women and bird handled everything far more easily than expected, and Miranda had to admit things went a lot more smoothly than anticipated. She had expected it to be a political nightmare, but it actually turned out quite pleasantly. She was already friendly with Carmen, Sylphie accepted her, Priscilla was very accomodating and open to any positive relations, and Reika was also surprisingly friendly for someone associated with a faction Miranda felt wasn’t exactly an ally.
Solving the final Vault itself was done through their teamwork, and more than the final rewards which they shared, Miranda felt like the foundation of trust built among their factions was the true gain. Not that she was complaining about the Legendary-rarity Magic Circle Foundation she got – a large disc of odd stone specifically made to carve magic circles on and amplify them significantly.
Upon exiting the Vault, Priscilla turned to them.
“I believe it pertinent to warn you all that the final phase of the Treasure Hunt will begin shortly… heading towards the central plains would be the wisest to do.”
Reika nodded. “I also just got word when we got out of the Vault that the Holy Church has been preparing there for a while for what is to come. The rest of the clan too.”
Miranda listened, being a bit jealous of the women’s information network, while also wondering how the hell Arnold had managed to communicate and help guide them through the Vault while still hiding outside. Because it appeared like everyone else had been cut off.
Nevertheless, she nodded as they all split up yet stayed fairly close to each other as they all began heading back towards the Mistless Plains. Even Miranda, who was not a fighter or had particularly honed instincts when it came to this kind of thing, knew a big battle was on the horizon.
Jacob opened his eyes as he shook his head at the uselessness of his divination of the upcoming fight. The system wasn’t the one making things difficult; it was the presence of so many extraordinary people. All he knew was when and where it would begin. Thus the Holy Church made preparations – in fact, they had done so for days already.
A mighty magic circle was being prepared to face the final opponent of this Hunt.
“Think we will even need it?” Bertram asked as he stood beside him.
“I truly don’t know… this fight just has too many unknowns. Better safe than sorry, right?”
“Hm,” the large man nodded. Jacob looked at his old bodyguard and friend. The man was powerful, one of the strongest people of Earth, and the party he was in was likely the strongest on Earth… yet Jacob was fully aware the five of them couldn’t truly stand tall before the best Earth had to offer. They were all geniuses, but people like Jake and the Sword Saint were more than that.
“Great-grandfather,” Reika reported in as she met up with the Patriarch. The man stood staring into the horizon. Reika followed his gaze and saw the figure she recognized as the Judge from the Court of Shadows. He looked back their way, his gaze icy, but he didn’t look like he was planning to pick a fight. It would be foolish of him to, for the Patriarch had already shown mercy when he taught them a lesson.
“Has your time been fruitful?” he asked with a friendly smile. Reika couldn’t help but feel how he looked so weak standing there with his thin frame, long sparse white hair, sunken eyes, and wrinkled face. Yet his eyes remained strong, making her admonish herself for even thinking such things.
“It has,” she said, returning his smile. “How about you, Patriarch? Is all well?”
He shook his head a bit as he answered. “We always have more to strive for, and there is always more to do.”
Reika hid her frown as she saw the melancholy in her great-grandfather’s eyes. She didn’t understand why and looked questioningly at him. He returned her gaze and gave a comforting smile.
“It’s nothing. Just the ramblings of an old man who has to realize perhaps his time in the sun will soon be over. This world is for your generation, Reika. Ah, but don’t worry, dear… I shall remain long enough to play my role and have the clan experience this springtime season at least a little longer.”
She only got more confused, but she didn’t say anything… until she noticed him moving his arm a bit, revealing a few black spots that still emanated faint amounts of shadow mana. He was hurt. He had not trounced the Court of Shadows for free… and the wounds still lingered. She couldn’t help but worry, but he just placed a comforting hand on her head.
“I told you not to worry. I still have a role to play, and I shall not bow out before it has been played to completion. The wound is merely a reminder of my own incompetence and the constant need to strive for improvement.”
Jake broke out of the Vault, mentally spitting at the shithole that was the water level. He was a bit sad he hadn’t learned the subspecies of vampires responsible for the Vault. That would have given him some easy targets in the future to carry out justice on. Fuckers probably liked mushrooms too.
He had barely been out of the Vault before he noticed someone… or rather something looking at him. He looked up as he saw something float far above. It looked to be made of metal of some kind, and before he could properly investigate it, the thing flashed a small light in an odd pattern.
The issue was, Jake had no idea what it was trying to tell him. He was pretty sure that was one of Arnold’s satellite-like things, wasn’t it? Staring way longer than he should, he finally noticed something else looking at him. A small drone flew towards him at pretty high speeds, and this one he knew for sure belonged to Arnold.
“Hey there!” Jake yelled to it as it got close. The drone stopped in front of him as Arnold’s voice sounded out.
“The satellite should have already informed you that the City Lord and others have organized a rendezvous in the central plains.”
“It did?” Jake answered, staring up at it again, noticing it had stopped blinking.
“Through morse code.”
“I don’t know morse code?”
“Apologies for my assumption of competence,” Arnold acknowledged in the most insulting way Jake could imagine phrasing it, yet he felt not the slightest hint of intent to insult in his voice.
“Anyway, where do we meet exactly?” Jake asked. “Also, how has the Treasure Hunt treated you?”
“I have had adequate success in this event. To get to the central plains, simply head that way,” the drone said as it fired off a small beam of light towards the distance, “and spotting someone should be natural. However, be warned that there may be others in the path.”
“Got it, thanks, mate,” Jake answered as he turned and took off, waving to the drone as he took off.
It was difficult to explain how damn good it felt to run across the open plains and over the small hills after just being stuck in water or that small final room for so long. He felt faster than before but knew it was only marginal and due to his stat growth.
Jake ran without using One Step Mile to enjoy the wind on his face. He passed a few groups of people and soon made it to the top of a hill giving him a good look at the Mistless Plains. Looking in the direction where he felt Sylphie, he could faintly spot Miranda and Carmen with her. Sylphie sent back a mental greeting asking if she should come, but Jake declined and said he would come to her.
Just as he was about to head off, someone approached him. A man was flying through the air surrounded by odd energy, and when Jake got a closer look, he recognized it was his old colleague-turned-undead.
Casper landed in front of Jake elegantly, touching down elegantly before not-so-elegantly yelling: “So YOU have it!”
“Oh, hi Casper, nice to meet you too,” Jake said a bit snarkily. “Also, I have what?”
“A byproduct of the Seed of Eternal Resentment. You know what I mean, right? It can take many forms, including a small pebble-like seed, perhaps a large spore or a weapon forged of it or something,” Casper explained.
“Something like a Root also works?” Jake asked as he turned his wrist and made the Root of Eternal Resentment appear.
[Root of Yalsten’s Eternal Resentment (Unique)] – A wooden root from an unknown tree that has absorbed the curse energies of the black mist that has hung over Yalsten for unnumerable years. The deep and eternal resentment towards the vampires that permeates the curse has now been absorbed and concentrated. Will cause disastrous damage and curse any vampire it comes into contact with; however, it can only be used once. While in possession of this root, the cursed mist will not see you as an enemy. Be warned that while the curse will not seek to damage you, it will still influence you. This effect grows as it absorbs the curse energy of any cursed vessels related to the curse in Yalsten.
Casper stared at the black root in Jake’s hand before he slowly nodded, having clearly used Identify on it himself. “That’s the one. How much do you want for it?”
“Before I answer that, tell me first what you will use it for?”Jake countered. He did know Casper was into curses and stuff, so maybe he wanted to make a weapon out of it or something? Jake didn’t really wanna give it up as he had a strong feeling he could still find a use for it.
“I will use it to absorb the curse energy in the large spire and then against the final boss of the Treasure Hunt to weaken it,” Casper answered. “At least that is the official story I was supposed to give you. In actuality, we will use it on the spire to still absorb the curse, act like it has no other uses, and beat the final boss without it by using people like you and the Sword Saint. We will then bring the Root back to Earth, where we will use it as a power source in a ritual together with the World Quasi-Core we will get from this final stage. All to construct a special dungeon especially suited for us undead and inherently antagonistic to anything and anyone else.”
“Oh,” Jake said, taking it all in. “Sounds fancy. Do you absolutely need the Root?”
“Absolutely? No, but it would be very useful for us,” Casper answered.
“You know what, let me think about it, okay? If I don’t find a use for it, I doubt there will be much interest at the auction,” Jake answered. “Also, thanks for the tip. I didn’t even think about bonking the big spire.”
Casper just smiled as he shook his head. “I guess it’s about time to get the show started. Once the two of us move closer to the spire, the final phase of the Treasure Hunt will begin. You good with that?”
Jake quickly took a glance around, noticing a slew of familiar faces. He saw Jacob far off in the distance with Bertram beside him. The moment Jake looked at him, Jacob looked back. Jake felt the guy was using a skill to see that far but didn’t consider it more as he saw Jacob just give him a nod. Clearly, the Holy Church was ready. He then tossed a glance the way of the Noboru Clan, seeing the Sword Saint and Reika both stand ready, also fully aware of what was about to happen. In fact, Jake felt like he was the last to know. That did suck a bit.
“Let’s go,” Jake said as he summoned his wings. Casper followed him as they flew to the spire. Once they got within a certain distance… something shifted. Like the sound of a massive mirror being broken, the sky above shattered, and Jake’s eyes darted around as he felt the entire world change.
Casper was enveloped in light as an item appeared in his hand before swiftly disappearing into his Insignia, and at the same time, the system responded.
Quest Received: Cursed Monarch
The world of Yalsten has reached the end of its lifespan as the last anchors keeping it together have been removed. A foregone conclusion, as suppressing the curse would inadvertently lead to this fate anyway. Space will crumble as the world slowly turns to nothingness.
Yet, in this final moment, an ancient figure has awakened. The husk of the once glorious King of Blood who cursed the World of Yalsten, resurrected by his own creation, morphed and twisted by eons of pain and torture, his Records and existence morphed into something unrecognizable.
In his greed, this Cursed Monarch chose to be buried with not only his entire clan but a mighty treasure, one their world had been tasked with keeping safe by the True Ancestor – a treasure still untouched by the curse. The Cursed Monarch must be returned to the soil along with the soldiers he raised alongside himself to claim this treasure.
Objective: Defeat Cursed Monarch and his soldiers.
Final Rewards will be calculated after the Treasure Hunt concludes.
Warning: Due to the destruction of the world, the Treasure Hunt will end in: 11:59:59
Jake skimmed it as he made his way to the massive spire. He bonked the Root into the crystal spire without any hesitation, making it shatter just like the sky above. It turned to crystalline dust the moment the Root touched it, and Jake felt the curse in the Root of Eternal Resentment amplify to extreme levels as it absorbed far more than anything prior. The intent and emotions of the curse invaded his mind as this happened, assaulting every inch of his being. Gritting his teeth, he channeled his Pride and suppressed the desire to slay the vampire he knew dwelled beneath and was about to awaken, getting himself fully under control. No fucking way he was going to let a stupid ancient curse able to destroy an entire world ruin a good fight.
He tossed the Root back in the Hunter Insignia as he flew over to Miranda and the others, the crystal spire slowly turning to nothing behind him. He had barely landed and given them a friendly nod before another message appeared before him and everyone else.
System Announcement: The Cursed Monarch will awaken soon. For the next fifteen minutes, anyone can choose to exit the Treasure Hunt while retaining all currently obtained treasures and without any penalties besides the inability to participate in the final stage. During this time, no items can be withdrawn from or deposited into the Hunter Insignia or any other spatial storages or items.
Jake read over the messages, and before he even had time to open his mouth, the plains were filled with flashes of light as people began leaving the Treasure Hunt. He even saw quite a lot in the distance, making it clear that this wasn’t even a question for many. A way to escape without having having to fight some final boss and potentially even risk more human-on-human conflict? Jake could kind of understand it.
Not that he himself had any plans of leaving.
The same couldn’t be said for those around him.
“I believe it would be wise of me to take my leave,” Miranda said. “I have gotten enough… and quite frankly, I’m not confident in my ability to fight on a stage like this.”
She looked like she was afraid Jake would disapprove, but he just nodded at her. “Understandable. This is more my kind of thing, so I’ll happily be the representative of Haven.”
“Ree!” Sylphie screeched at his side.
“With Sylphie, of course,” he quickly added on with a smile. Miranda nodded and disappeared. Arnold also said his goodbyes without any explanation as the drone he kept with Miranda just poofed out of existence. The rest of the people from Haven chose to stay behind. Neil only gave Jake a brief greeting, the man and those with him fully aware they were not there to fight the Monarch himself but the soldiers the message mentioned. No, those who would fight the Monarch were the best Earth had to offer.
Jake peered all around the plains as he saw everyone who would face the Cursed Monarch.
The Sword Saint, Casper, Priscilla, Carmen, Sylphie, Reika, Caleb, as well as the most powerful parties of Earth with Bertram and Sven in them. Others also remained behind. In fact, many chose to face the final stage and help assist them, including a large group from the Holy Church and another large one consisting of undead.
Jake exchanged glances with the Sword Saint who stood beside Reika. The man gave him a knowing smile. Jake nodded with understanding as he also prepared himself to face the final boss.
With that, the fifteen minutes expired… and the Cursed Monarch awakened.