Jake stared confused as he had a feeling he had really missed something. Also, why did Casper look so weirdly at him? He got Jacob, but even Casper knew? Shit, even Carmen threw him a confused gaze. At least the Sword Saint wasn’t in the loop either…

He tried to focus his voice as he infused some will into it and projected it into the distance towards the Monarch. “Being real honest here, I have no idea what you’re talking about; I’m just here to get treasures. Do feel free to clue me in.”

This only got him more confused stares from everyone, the Monarch too. Jake, on the other hand, was just happy his voice-projection had worked so well.

Casper, in the distance, just began laughing as he shook his head. Jacob face-palmed, and Carmen nodded like his answer made sense.

“Hah…. Ha, I must confess, this is quite the situation. Who would think the system would throw me into such a bizarre situation. Tell me, does the Chosen come here at the behest of Malefic One or of his own volition?” the Cursed Monarch said as he laughed out loud.

“Nope, I’m here all on my own,” Jake answered truthfully, just wanting to get back to the fighting.

“I see… it does sadden me our race is so insignificant that not even his Chosen would know of us… but more than eighty eras have passed, have they not? Perhaps it is to be expected,” the Monarch said, looking disappointed.

Jake was beginning to feel a bit bad for the poor guy. It must suck to be resurrected and find out that your entire race has potentially been wiped out without any way of finding out. Or there probably was, Jake just didn’t know, and even if he did, would it help to tell him?

Also, more than eighty eras… and with what Jake knew, it had to be nearly ninety, as to his knowledge the Viper had been ‘gone’ for more than eighty. He didn’t know the exact timeline yet, and he had never asked Villy as he didn’t want to dig up old wounds by asking about stuff like that.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Jake answered back. “I’m just not the most informed when it comes to matters like that. Besides, does it matter? I reckon if you win here today, you can leave, and if you lose, well, you’ll be dead, so that’s that.”

He really wanted to finish off the conversation, as it was tiring to project his voice like this. The fighting below with the army of Soldiers and even the four remaining Royal Guards was ongoing, so in that sense talking was to their advantage. Humanity and the undead were clearly beating the army of cursed vampires handily, and Jake would lie if he didn’t find the Monarch’s indifference slightly surprising if not downright worrying.

“You may have a point, Viper’s Chosen,” the Monarch acknowledged. “And as you said, the system has given me a new path. I merely need to defeat all of you, making you leave before Yalsten collapses to escape. Meanwhile, I assume you lot have to exterminate me.”

The Monarch didn’t need any answer to get his theory confirmed, as the silence of those present was good enough.

“Chosen, I have a proposition,” the vampire Monarch said as he looked towards Jake. “Assist me in slaying the slaves of the Holy Tyrant and the filthy undead as well as those who side with them, and I shall allow you to finish me off afterward or do anything else you wish with me. My only other request is that if you choose to slay me, then you will at least promise to assist in the survival of the vampiric race in the multiverse, or at least not be their enemy.”

Jake stared at the vampire as the Monarch waved his hand and did something. He was surprised at the proposition and even more so when a quest suddenly appeared before his eyes:

Quest Received: Friend of the Monarch

As you stand before the Monarch has given you a choice. Side with the Monarch to defeat everyone else by either making them leave the Treasure Hunt or slaying them. The endless gratitude of the Monarch will be yours.

Slaying the Monarch or choosing to fight him will nullify this quest. Accepting it will nullify the quest: [Cursed Monarch].

Objective: Defeat all other Treasure Hunters present. (4.2%)

Rewards: Final rewards will be calculated after the Treasure Hunt concludes.

Warning: Due to the destruction of the world, the Treasure Hunt will end in: 11:28:52

The atmosphere of the Treasure Hunt seemed to change as he felt the gazes of all present and not occupied with fighting. Even Casper looked worried his way, with Jacob looking especially troubled. The only ones who looked unbothered with it all were Caleb and Sylphie. Sylphie just seemed confused as she had also gotten the quest, but she either couldn’t or didn’t do anything as she allowed Jake to decide.

Now, for the large pros and cons list, first of al-

“No thanks, can we just get to fighting already and stop chatting? Oh, but I have nothing against vampires; I just don’t really wanna make any promises.”

Seriously, why would he accept such a bad proposition? Also, he could only begin to imagine how pissed Miranda would be if he decided to make pretty much all other humans on the planet his enemy. It wasn’t like he would actually kill them and make troubles go away even if he had a momentary lapse of judgment and joined the vampire. They would just leave, and he would return to Earth with everyone hating him. On top of that, he would miss the best part:

The fight with the Monarch himself.

Jake visibly saw the relief of the anxious onlookers, Caleb just shaking his head with a wry smile. The Cursed Monarch didn’t look surprised or even mad. Instead, he just nodded in acknowledgment. “Very well… I must admit, to fight the Chosen of a Primordial just after my return… the system has given me quite the path.”

A bit of a miscalculation there, mate, Jake thought. I’m not the only one you have to be careful of.

Almost as if his words were prophetic, a figure flew up towards the Monarch. Carmen appeared with her glowing fists as she punched, sending a wave of force out. The Monarch blocked easily but was once more attacked from behind as black lightning struck, and before he could even register that, a bird attacked from above.

The first blow was blocked by a palm, the lightning dismissed as he simply tanked it, with the bird’s attack narrowly dodged as he turned to the side. With a palm strike, he leaned forward and sent Carmen flying away with a hole in her chest and a trail of blood in her wake.

An orb of blood appeared in his one hand as he sent it flying towards Jake. It began morphing in mid-air as a clone of the Monarch appeared, flying at high speeds in Jake’s direction. Jake scoffed as he fired a barrage of arrows towards it. The clone was fast, but just as it tried to pass through the projectiles from the Splitting Arrow, they all blew up, taking the clone with them.

It was the first time Jake had used an explosive attack, and it worked quite well as the clone clearly wasn’t made to be durable. It was just a distraction allowing the Monarch to continue his attack towards Carmen, who he had apparently viewed as the one he wanted to take down first.

He pointed down and fired a red beam towards her still-falling form. No one could get there fast enough to help block it, but luckily they didn’t need to. Carmen somehow punched the red beam, making it explode and sending her smashing into the ground even faster. Her fist was mangled, but she was already self-healing at a visible rate.

The Monarch clearly wanted to try and finish her off but had to block another blow as the Sword Saint appeared. His blade fell, and the Monarch coated his hand in a red aura as he blocked, yet as the sword made contact with it, it seemed to almost pass through as the Monarch was truly wounded for the first time.

A small cut appeared on his one leg, making his eyes open wide. He attacked the Sword Saint as twenty orbs of blood appeared around him and bombarded the old man, but the swordsman didn’t let up. The sword fell two more times, making two large cuts on his arms before the Sword Saint was forced to retreat from the orbs. The old man looked to almost shimmer as he fought, making even Jake frown in confusion.

Seeming almost offended, the Monarch began glowing red as he moved like he wanted to tear the old man to threads, but for the umpteen time during the fight, he was forced to face something else. An arrow came in from far away, making him dodge back and away from the Saint, clearly not wanting to block the Arcane Powershot directly.

Jake himself was currently flying closer to the battlefield. Hitting reliably from such a distance was hard, and he wanted to at least get within a few kilometers where his arrows would arrive within a second with every shot. Currently, Jake had to calculate every blow far too much, and the last Arcane Powershot was fired on the way. Oh yeah, that was another thing, he had to use Arcane Powershots to make the arrows faster, and that simply wasn’t sustainable.

He fired a few arrows a second as he flew forward, aiming at the Monarch and throwing off his momentum. Jake deliberately avoided using Gaze as he wanted to save it for a more opportune time and not tire himself out.

The Monarch fought the Sword Saint more, and with the support of Jake, the old man avoided taking any injuries. Caleb and Sylphie were incredibly fast strikers, coming in and landing glancing blows from time to time too. Carmen also joined their assault not long after, completely healed from her previous injuries.

Below, Reika, the party with Bertram in it, the ones from Valhal, Priscilla and the undead, and several others were fighting with a huge advantage against the Royal Guards, who were a member down. Each of the Royal Guards was about as strong as a Count of Blood, and like the Counts of Blood, could also be weakened by stakes. It didn’t take long for the human side down there to figure that out as each of them was stabbed through, every faction having more than enough stakes left over.

Jake saw that the Monarch’s confident grin began turning into a frown. A few more minutes had passed, and Jake was now only a few kilometers away and had stopped to bombard the Monarch from there. After all, as an archer with so many melee fighters to support him, why get close?

Casper did a bit the same as Jake as he prepared some magic off the side. Several wraiths flew around him, and Jake faintly felt the Root of Eternal Resentment react within his Hunter Insignia, making him aware those wraiths were like that Shade of Eternal Resentment he had seen back then. Ghosts of sorts born from the curse… and from the looks of it, Casper was preparing an attack using them.

The battle continued both above and below. The Monarch was faster and stronger than anyone else present, but he was pressured by so many strong people around him. Anytime he was close to landing a blow, he was forced to block or dodge, something that seemed to miff him quite a bit.

However, this did also mean that the Cursed Monarch had only taken minor wounds so far. The few wounds he did suffer healed nearly instantly too, and Jake began to realize something as the fighting went on. Time isn’t on our side.

For some reason, the Cursed Monarch at least believed so. Was it because of the world breaking down? Would that result in default victory for him? Or was it something else? Jake did notice how the Monarch never really committed in any attacks. If he would have to trade blows, he would rather avoid it altogether.

Or perhaps the Cursed Monarch just had confidence in being able to outlast their resources and win through that… which actually wasn’t out of the question.

Jake himself would be fine due to his high and diverse stats, alchemy, and even the mask increasing mana regeneration. Casper also looked like he would be fine as he mainly borrowed power from other sources, but the Sword Saint, Carmen, Caleb, and Sylphie? Jake could see all of them run out if this kept on. Especially Caleb and Sylphie were people who burned their resources to land swift and deadly blows. This was all fine and dandy if you only had to land a few and win a battle through a burst of power, but in a drawn-out struggle, it could spell disaster.

He sent a message towards Sylphie asking her about her resources and got a bad response… she was spending way too much. She herself didn’t see any issues, but Jake clearly felt how unbothered the Monarch was.

Was the talking also part of his plans to drag things out? Jake had no idea, but he knew he would have to change up the game, so he did what he always did when people wanted to play the long game against him: proved that was a really bad idea against a poison alchemist, much less the Chosen of the Malefic Viper.

Jake drew his bow and got even closer than before. He drew back the string, and just as time began slowing, he spat some poison on the tip of the arrow. One had to remember that his most effective version of Blood of the Malefic Viper came from the poison excreted by his canines using Fang of the Malefic Viper – a skill he really didn’t think about much.

Taking aim, he fired at the Monarch. As always, the vampire tried to dodge, but for a brief second, his body tensed as Jake used Gaze, allowing the stable arcane arrow to hit the vampire in the left arm. Jake followed up with another arrow, also with spit on it. At the same time, he had summoned two bottles of uncommon-rarity Necrotic Poison and poured it in his quiver.

He shot again and then swiftly moved his hand to just above his quiver. He began summoning stable arcane arrow after stable arcane arrow, allowing them to drop down into the quiver and soak in the poison. In less than a second, he summoned thirty arrows into his quiver, and with that done, he chugged a mana potion. Unfortunately, all the Arcane Powershots earlier, as well as the Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter, had drained his mana quite a lot, and if this was going to be a long one, he would prefer to get ahead of it.

On the good side, the Monarch had been hit by two arrows, and Jake would now begin to build up damage. Now the only problem was if the rest of them could keep the Monarch busy and outlast him long enough for it all to accumulate. If not, Jake would have to take matters more into his own hands.

The problem was how they could possibly outlast the Monarch. One would have to be-

Suddenly light washed over the Sword Saint and Carmen, who were engaged in melee, making the old man heal at a visible rate and speeding up Carmen’s regeneration. The Monarch opened his eyes wide and saw the newcomer. In a flash of mist, he disappeared. Clearly, he knew a healer would complicate the situation… there was just one problem for the poor guy.

The Monarch’s fist penetrated through the chest of the white-robed man, and with a palm-strike, his head exploded. Wanting to make sure – or perhaps just not seeing a notification – the Monarch blew up the rest of the healer’s body, leaving nothing behind.

That is until a second later, a new body appeared right in front of the Monarch, making him stare down in confusion.

“My, my, quite the rude welcome,” Eron said with a smile as white flames began burning on the madman’s body.

A note from Zogarth

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