About twenty kilometers from the center of the plains, six figures suddenly appeared – five humans and one vampire. The vampire instantly turned towards the humans and charged without any hestitation.
Neil blocked the Cursed Soldier with a barrier, giving Christen time to engage it in melee. Levi was already flanking the vampire as Silas cast buffs on Eleanor, who was charging up a Powershot. Neil had managed to teleport them all to the circle he had prepared in the distance, isolating them with the Soldier just as planned.
The Soldier and Christen crashed, but she easily held on as he redirected the sword swing with her buckler. This particular Soldier had a sword and a shield, and while it was quite powerful, it wasn’t very talented at using its weapons.
Levi came in from the side as his sword was aflame. He cut the Soldier across the back, making it growl and turn to hit him. Christen took the opportunity to try and stab the vampire with her rapier but found her blow blocked by the shield.
Neil moved his magic as he created spatial pressure on the Soldier to try and suppress it and allow his comrades to land blows. Eleanor was finally ready just as Neil’s own magic also finished, and with a combined attack, the Powershot empowered by Silas was released as it left a wake of silver light.
The vampire was blasted back, allowing Levi to strike again with a crosscut that sent out a small whirlwind of fire and wind. The rest of them also kept up the pressure as they dominated the Soldier from start to end. They killed it within a few minutes, and once it was done, Neil disappeared.
Ten seconds later, he reappeared and nodded towards Eleanor, who stood ready with a charged arrow. He activated his spell, and space warped as a Soldier was teleported. The Powershot hit it before it could get its bearings, as the group attacked it, using many of the same tactics as the last one.
Neil and his party had naturally chosen to stay and fight, yet they had no delusions about their presence truly having a large impact. They had seen the monsters that would handle the most dangerous foes and knew it was not their place to stand beside them… at least not yet.
Because while they knew they weren’t extraordinary, they were still hopeful. Neil was a space mage, a very good class that took a lot of natural talent to comprehend. The rest of his party also weren’t slouches either, and they had all five managed to get the Perfect Evolution. After they all reached D-grade, things had truly taken off as they grew more in levels than before, their teamwork also improving.
They had constructed a strong foundation and were now building upon it further to improve their strength. Their time in the Treasure Hunt had been very fruitful, with plenty of treasures obtained and levels gained. It had also helped tremendously that they had avoided all human conflict due to their affiliation with Haven, at least after Lord Thayne had that confrontation with the independent factions. Before that, there were some rather passive-aggressive people.
Neil had even spent quite a while with that guy Casper inside a Vault. Neil had detected one that was heavily based on space magic, so he had sought that out as the rest of his party hunted and leveled up against those Reanimated Armors in an abandoned tower.
He had to admit, the undead had some interesting and very different insights into space, but that also meant Neil had actually managed to help a lot. It felt good and affirmed that Neil wasn’t as untalented and useless as he had begun feeling while only spending time in Haven.
There was a strong feeling of inadequacy when he and his party had to compare themselves to Lord Thayne for the longest time. Neil had then seen the World Congress, where he felt like one of the weakest people present. Besides Lord Thayne, there was Arnold, an insane scientist of sorts who Neil wasn’t sure about, but he seemed smart and, of course, Miranda. Then Sultan also came, another man more talented than any of them. Miranda wasn’t a combatant and had always been clear about that. Oh, but it did help when some unaffiliated D-grades began showing up, and Neil began to realize that none of them seemed even close to as good as he and the party were.
But… they still had a long way to go. Neil teleported another Soldier away from the center and to their ambush spot as he took a good look at the battle between the true elites. A stage where they did not belong yet, but one he yearned to stand on.
For now, all they could do was help with the small-fry. The same as thousands of other people who knew directly engaging the foes in the center of the Mistless Plains would be utter suicide.
One Royal Guard down, Jake snickered as he stared at the battlefield in the distance. The Soldiers were running towards the many humans lining the perimeter of the plains, many already fighting. There were foes in all directions, meaning most groups of Soldiers weren’t more than five or six, with many even being alone. Parties of humans had engaged them, some employing interesting tactics, such as Neil and those guys and gals teleporting Soldiers away and fighting them there.
Jake himself didn’t bother with the Soldiers. They were a good source of experience and fighting experience for those on the weaker side. Instead, he would focus on the Royal Guards and Monarch. The death of the Royal Guard healer at the hands of him, Casper, Caleb, Carmen, and Sylphie had now truly woken up all of the more powerful vampires.
The four remaining Royal Guard’s had their eyes lit up as a bit of clarity returned to the Monarch’s eyes, and coupled with the “resonance” stuff Casper had done beginning to fully wear off, it was time for the true battle to begin.
As expected, the four Royal Guards moved as a party as they took up a defensive perimeter around the Monarch. The big boss regarded his surroundings, it looking like he had now fully understood the situation.
For the first time, he spoke, his voice reverberating throughout the plains. Jake felt the power it held… perhaps vestiges of a being that had once been A-grade. He looked into the horizon, Jake following his gaze. With the mist gone, for the most part, Jake could see the sky in the far distance shattering as space broke apart, and so could the Monarch.
“Yalsten has fallen, its inhabitants gone.”
He turned his attention towards the people attacking him, throwing a glance at Jake and the Sword Saint in particular.
“Is this my final role? Is this meant to serve as punishment? Tell me… how many eras have passed?”
All of the Soldiers still ran and fought people, but the center of the Mistless Plains was devoid of fighting. Everyone had stopped as the Monarch began talking, with the Royal Guards also doing nothing. The Monarch did not seem to carry any hatred towards those who had come to slay him either, or even that they had killed one of his comrades. Or maybe subordinates was a more accurate term?
“We have just entered the 93rd era. Not even a year has passed since then,” a voice echoed out as a figure in all white stepped forth from the Holy Church camp, flanked by Bertram and his four party members. It was Jacob, who Jake had honestly thought would have left the Hunt.
The Cursed Monarch looked towards Jacob as he stood there. Jake tried to Identify him on instinct but hit a barrier.
[Human – lvl ?]
Jake frowned but knew his Identify didn’t fail because Jacob was too high level; the dude had just gotten a skill to resist it. Sadly, Jake didn’t have time to try and peer around it as the Monarch spoke again.
“You give off the stench of the Holy, yet I feel no trace of lies in your words.. truly so long as passed. Tell me, slave of the Holy Tyrant, have you come to finish the job at the behest of your masters? Or have I simply become the subject of the system’s limitless mercy?”
He saw Jacob in the distance frown, his façade falling for a moment as he felt the pressure of the Monarch’s aura.
“Ah… my words strike true. A second chance, given as my world crumbles. Another life. Escape, gifted with only a single requirement-”
Power suddenly enveloped the entire Mistless Plains as the Cursed Monarch released his aura, and his body began burning with power.
“-I merely have to claim my own future… by taking all of yours’.”
He raised his hands as two beams went out, one towards Jacob and the other interestingly enough headed straight for Jake. Jake watched it as he fully drew back the string on his already nocked arrow, allowing his perception of time to slow down.
A fraction of a second before the beam hit him, Jake released the string as he sent the stable Arcane Arrow barrelling down. It hit the beam and parted it as two red screens of light flew by Jake at either side, him snickering beneath his mask.
As for Jacob, he did perhaps the most interesting. He just stood here as he had a hole blasted through his body and was sent flying back with worried gazes upon him. Yet he had barely landed before he stood back up, the wound on his chest already healing, not from some healing spell, but solely due to his insane vitality.
His old boss had clearly gotten some pointers from Eron, and Jake also knew the lopsided stats of Augurs gave them a shitload of vitality.
As for the people around Jacob, they took the chance to charge towards the Royal Guards and Monarch. The same was true for Sven and those from Valhal, Priscilla and an undead party, two groups from the Noboru Clan, and a few other talented or overconfident people.
One of the groups from the Noboru clan had Reika in it, and Jake saw her as four swords were summoned above her head as she charged forth. All of the swords burned with intense blue flames, giving off a rather dangerous aura.
Yet, the Monarch cared not for any of these parties. He suddenly turned to mist as he appeared several kilometers in the air where he looked down. Jake met his gaze and saw him also observe a few others, primarily the individuals Jake also knew were powerful.
Jake just drew his bow and fired an uncharged arrow, which the Monarch easily swatted away, but just after a bolt of black lightning came from below, followed by two kinds of crescent waves – one green and one blue.
If it was the Monarch before his ‘awakening,’ he would have just taken them… but as he was now, he had intelligence, so he merely dodged as he turned to mist again, appearing a bit to the side with a smile.
More attacks arrived soon after, as space began warping around him, a group of space mages from the Holy Church below trying to restrict his movements. The Monarch scoffed as he merely pointed down at them, making five people explode as they turned into mists of blood, disrupting their ritual.
He turned around in the air as a figure was flying towards him at high speeds, holding out his hand as he blocked the glowing fist of Carmen. He furrowed his brows a bit as he was pushed back slightly and quickly had to react again as a metal staff descended with dark lightning crackling around it.
Jake’s arrow then arrived from the side, forcing the Monarch to dodge back, only to find himself confronted by an old man who looked even older and more derelict than the vampire that had been dead for countless years.
The Sword Saint slashed down, and for the first time, Jake saw the Monarch open his eyes wide. He exploded with a wave of blood, sending everyone flying back away from him, including Sylphie, who was preparing to strike from behind.
Another teleport later, and the Monarch found himself free of enemies.
“Not bad for a bunch of low and barely mid-tier D-grades… or have I truly become that weak? No, that isn’t it. Tell me, what factions do you all belong to be sent to such a perilous land? I already see those of the Holy Tyrant and the undead, even a warrior of Valhal, and an assassin of the Court, but as for you two-“
The Monarch motioned towards Jake and the Sword Saint in particular. “You two, I cannot quite place. Free agents? Hired help? I must admit, this entire entourage is quite the mix.”
Jake stared from afar, not being able to answer due to the vast distance. Or maybe the Monarch would still hear him? Eh, it didn’t really matter as Jake didn’t feel like answering. He was totally fine with being a far-off sniper.
Who did answer was the Sword Saint. “I serve only my clan,” the old man said as he stayed alert.
“Hm, I guess it does me little good to know; I am certain many new factions have emerged. What of you, Hunter?”
Jake stared back again, still not sure what to answer… but decided to anyway. The Monarch knew of most anyway, and he saw no reason to hide himself. Besides, the Monarch would probably figure it out himself. If he had once been A-grade or at least contained many of the memories of an A-grade, it only made sense he would be familiar with an ancient faction like the Malefic Order. Also… everyone else knew.
He released the aura otherwise suppressed by Shroud of the Primordial. The power of his bloodline mixed with the signature marking him as the Chosen of the Malefic Viper as he let it wash out of him.
The Monarch stopped as he stared. He looked deep into Jake’s eyes, the deep red eyes of the Monarch meeting those of the hunter. No one moved for a while as the Monarch just looked confused more than anything else.
Having noticed the confusion, Jake frowned. He saw Casper looking a bit weird, Jacob too. It looked like they expected him to know something. Did I miss something?
“What has happened throughout these eras for the Malefic Order to decide to hunt us down? Why would the Malefic One make such a decision…”