“Why do all of you talk about Eric?” Marcello asked cooly, summoning his blood stained archeios javelin in his right hand. “What’s so great about this guy, anyway?”
“He’s way stronger than you, and he has an entire army at his command! Unlike you, you homeless, wandering, motherless idiot!” Hilga shouted while backing off.
Marcello sighed, his exhalation of breath visible against the fog. “You know, I was deciding whether or not to let you live,” he said slowly. “Part of me was saying that maybe I should let you go, and maybe I shouldn’t get too used to killing humans.”
He began to raise his right arm with the javelin in hand. “But there’s another part of me that would love to see you skewered like a pork chop if you insult me again… and you’re making my decision rather easy.”
He twirled the javelin, then raised it. “So how about this? A compromise. I’d like to keep my conscience clean, and yet I’d love to see you killed. How about we leave it up to fate to decide.”
“Here’s the trade off. I’m going to throw this javelin towards your general direction until I run out of mana. If I happen to hit you, well that’s just bad luck, isn’t it?” Marcello said with a crazy smile on his face, hidden under his helmet, although the crazed sentiment poured out through the tone of his voice.
“You son of a bitch!” Hilga shouted, as Marcello hurtled his javelin towards her while laughing.
The javelin clipped her on the calf, taking a small bit of her skin off with it. The knight’s echoing laughter could be heard throughout the foggy woods as he summoned his accursed javelin back towards him with mana.
The red headed warrior took off with a bang, using the same charge ability that she had used to initiate combat, although this time to retreat.
The javelin whistled past her thrice as she ran after her charge ability wore off, none of the three attempts hitting her. And it wasn’t like the knight wasn’t trying. His aim just seemed to be exceptionally poor on moving targets at long ranges. That was normal, and to be expected. Hitting Hilga while she was moving erratically so far away was like threading a needle through all the trees and foliage.
Marcello simply laughed, taking the whole exercise as target practice with his javelin. Ultimately, it wasn’t every day that he had a perfect human sized target to practice against and freely use the entirety of his strength to toss a javelin at.
A few misses later, and he had run dry of mana retrieving his javelin from the increasingly further away landing points. The red haired warrior woman had disappeared into the distance as well.
His perception of humans was falling with every ambush that Eric’s camp laid against him. At this point, he would not feel particularly bad if he caused the death of another of his own race anymore. Those two were trying to kill him from the very start.
The monsters of the forest were not exactly dumb non-sentient beings either. After speaking to the gnome quest-giver, he knew that some of these monsters and otherworld races led their own lives and had their own feelings, just like humans. Even the banshee from the previous trial was the same, and Marcello even got a hint of sentience from that white dire wolf from earlier. The way the wolf moved against him in gigantic form, it did seem almost human-like to a certain extent, although maybe that was just him anthropomorphizing a bit too much in a way that his highschool literature teacher would have criticized.
But still, human-ness of his adversaries was not the root core of why he wanted to taper down the violence. He wasn’t on earth anymore, and earthbound moral standards were no longer in effect. He fully understood that. That wasn’t it.
What ultimately led Marcello to try to control his violent behavior was the fact that in recent combats, he was feeling that his bloodlust was beginning to cloud his rational judgment at times.
It actually helped his combat ability. Having an appropriate amount of bloodlust was necessary and desirable, but Marcello didn’t want to lose control over his own thoughts. That was where he drew the line.
He was beginning to harbor suspicion that his armor itself was influencing his mental state, similar to how Emma’s inheritance affected it, but in a more subtle and sinister manner.
Marcello looked down and identified his armor again. Maybe something had changed.
[Enigmatic Knight’s Armor (locked)] – An enigmatic knight’s armor. The armor is beginning to familiarize itself with a new human owner, and is excited by its new owner’s eagerness for conquest. Contains a trace of malice. May be worn. Unlock conditions still unclear. Unidentified.
It was just as he suspected. There was something different about the armor now, and the change had manifested itself in the description.
Marcello frowned. The description made the armor sound almost sentient, and yet he didn’t think that that was truly the case. Based on his gut feeling, Marcello felt that the armor was more sentimental. Whatever this armor was, it held more secrets than it was letting on at the moment.
Although, one thing did make him feel a bit happy. Marcello had decided from the first black door that he would take on a risky path of conquest to gain the strength he needed to make his own path in life, and the armor seemed to not only agree with that but also encourage it. It was nice to have some positive reassurance about his ambitions, even if they came from a possibly malicious piece of armor.
Anyway, now that that ambush was out of the way, it was time for him to go back to what he was doing beforehand.
Attempting to navigate with the piece of crap map that the goblin dropped. Marcello took a deep breath as he began meandering up and down the brook once more, trying to make heads or tails out of the poorly drawn map.
Eric’s men quickly overran Michael’s camp, taking many of Michael’s recruits as prisoners. Although it was hard to call them prisoners, when many of them willingly joined Eric’s faction, and even some of the dissenters were enticed to join when Eric revealed that he could grant them a proximity buff of +1 to all stats through his bannerlord class.
Soon, the entire camp was subjugated and assimilated into Eric’s after a very potent show of force of more than two dozen post-promoted fighters. In Michael’s camp, there were only two post-promotes, Michael and Nolan. Neither of which could be found at the campsite.
Some members of Michael’s camp did not want to join Eric’s faction, most notably several women who had heard exaggerated rumors of what happened to the women at the eyepatched man’s camp.
With the assimilation of the numerous members in Michael’s camp, Eric’s faction was now without a doubt the largest in the entire forest by sheer headcount.
“Sir, that’s everyone we can find,” a veteran warrior reported to Eric.
“Any sign of Michael?” Eric asked.
“No, sir,” the warrior replied.
“He must have fled,” Godfried added. “It’s to be expected.”
In actuality, Michael did not flee without a plan. A devious plan that would materialize at that very moment.
From the outskirts of the camp, the sound of swords and arrows began to spread.
Eric frowned, shooting a glare at Godfried. “Michael?”
“Let me check,” Godfried said quickly, running forward while pulling the bow off his back. As a promoted ranger class specializing in scouting, he was exceptionally fast at climbing trees and seeing far into the distance.
The sounds of combat were drawing closer to the camp. As Eric’s subjugation team had dispersed after taking Michael’s camp with little to no resistance, there was a distinct lack of cohesion at the moment.
Godfried reappeared after a few minutes. “It’s not Michael,” he said quickly. “One of our fighters from sector two recognized them. Two individuals called Agnis and Daphne, and they brought promoted fighters with them too!”
“Why the hell are these sector two people attacking us?” Eric replied.
“I don’t know!” Godfried replied.
They were unaware that Michael had sowed the first seeds of chaos within the forest. Events were unfolding well before the blood moon would take hold with its ominous grasp.
There was a decrepit wooden rope bridge in front of Marcello, dangling off of a precarious cliff with sloshing dark ocean waters underneath. The fog was incredibly dense in this part of the forest, or should he say island, and Marcello wasn’t quite sure that he went the right way. He couldn’t even tell if it was night or day anymore. A light drizzle came from the clouds above, darkening the sky even more.
He had given up marking trees with his hatchet ever since the fog had gotten so thick that he couldn’t find his markings anymore.
Up ahead beyond the wooden rope bridge over rough waters, he saw a small fog covered island with the faint glow of a bonfire and several bone ornaments surrounding the fire. Small figures were moving about around the fire, with strange bone headdresses.
Goblins. Marcello could see their tell-tale green patchy skin, bulbous noses that pointed downwards, and large pointed ears through the fog. Actually, he could only see their outlines through the thick fog, but his memory viscerally reconstructed those little buggers as if they were as clear as day.
The vicious little monsters would always have a special place in his heart as the first traumatic experience he had encountered in the trials.
The existence of goblins checked off one item on his list, but unfortunately did not check off the second. Marcello was searching for the grove with goblins that the gnome had mentioned, and this place checked off the goblin checkbox but did not check off the grove checkbox. Instead, he found himself far off course and standing just outside what he could only imagine was the goblin shamanic ritual site on the map.
Oh well. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it wouldn’t hurt to investigate this site first. Maybe the shamanic ritual site would have further clues about the nature of the secret of the forest.
“I’ll just have to go over this unsound looking rope bridge,” the lone knight mumbled to himself, looking at the precarious drop downwards into sloshing waters. “Yeah, no.”
As much as he wanted to explore the secrets of the island ahead of him, he couldn’t bring himself to go over the rope bridge. The bridge was falling apart with several footholds missing and had what looked like years of storm damage and water rot on the wooden footholds. In addition, the size of the bridge looked like it was designed for goblins in mind, and he was a one hundred and ninety pound human even without armor on. Or at least, that’s what his bathroom scale said when he weighed himself a week before he was transported here.
There was no way he was going to risk the rope bridge. Fortunately, there was another way across, and he wouldn’t have to.
Marcello summoned the immense wooden ladder that he had constructed back on the terrestrial plane, and measured it against the rope bridge. It was still a few yards short of making it across.
He spent the next hour adding some more wood to the length of the ladder, until it was finally long enough to pass the entire length of the chasm with the churning ocean waters below.
Marcello laid the ladder down horizontally with great effort, then sealed his end of the ladder with just a bit of mana, just enough to make sure that it would stay put.
It was time to crawl over.
Taking a precarious step onto the wooden ladder bridge, Marcello ended up crawling on all fours, holding the rungs of the ladder as he swallowed his fear of falling.
“Think of all the treasure that could be on that island,” he murmured to himself, assuaging his unsteady heart that beat with increasing alarm as the wooden ladder began to bend under his weight as he continued onwards.
The dark ocean water churned below, and the lone knight continued onwards with slightly shaking hands.
He was halfway there now. The crawling process was slow but steady, as he wanted to make sure that he kept his grip solid.
Suddenly, he noticed a group of figures approaching the rope bridge from the island, their dark outlines highlighted by the light of the bonfire up ahead.
Marcello had laid the ladder bridge just a stone’s throw away from the rope bridge. He would have made it a bit further away, but this small section was the shortest distance between both islands.
If that group of goblins reached the rope bridge, they would surely see him trying to crawl over from there. Not good.
Author’s note: fixed minor continuity issues. shamanic site moved from east -> north