Beholder was surprisingly easy to work with, given how much the members of Life’s Dream seemed to be wary of him. It was pretty easy to guess that he was the leader of Beholden, the group that Udona had been so worried about. Still, thankfully he didn’t seem to harbor any ill will just yet. And if he planned to use this as an excuse to frame me for stealing his quest credit? Well, we were leaving the city as soon as we were done getting the skill.
After he gave us the coordinates for the hob tribe, the two groups split up. Obviously, the group accompanying me wasn’t comfortable with having Beholder sticking around us, so it was probably for the best. The trip towards the base was a quiet one, at least until Hela stopped us again, her ears twitching while her eyes focused off into the distance.
“Hear something?” Jessex asked curiously, before seeming to focus herself. “Ah… a patrol.”
“How likely are we to be able to break into the hob camp and rescue Jinx without alerting anyone?” I glanced in the direction that Hela was looking as I asked that, already opening up my inventory.
“Well… assuming that he really is alive, and still there, they probably are keeping him alive for a reason. That means a heavy guard. Unless you suddenly learned how to make invisibility and teleport scrolls, I don’t think stealth is an option.” One of the other members, a human male known as Bryant spoke up. He was tall and slim, a flute carried on one hip and a sword on the other.
“Please tell me that you know how to make those scrolls.” Jessex’s eyes began shining as she asked that, clearly hoping for such wondrous items.
“No such luck.” I chuckled, pulling ten thin slips of paper out. “I do, however, have these. Try to save them for when they’re needed. I haven’t had the chance to test out their power yet. But… they should be at least as powerful as the lightning talismans you can get from the vendors.”
I passed out one of the talismans to each of our party. These were the firebrand talismans, those that had been enhanced with ki. In total, I had seventy of them saved up… well, sixty now.
Jessex had a rather difficult expression as she accepted the mysterious talisman. “Uhm… how much do we owe you?”
“Consider it payment for helping me with this quest. If, for some reason, you don’t end up using it here, you can keep it. If you do… I’ll try to make some more once we reach our next stop.” Her face began to brighten up when I said that, and she nodded her head.
It didn’t take long before the patrol was in sight, our preparations already taken care of. Hela gave a knowing smile, taking the initiative to flick her wrist. The talisman that she had been given, lit up as it flew forward, either with a throwing skill of hers or a function of the talisman itself. Either way, she seemed to be using this to showcase the power of the item.
The glowing paper immediately turned into a red symbol, one that I surprisingly couldn’t recognize or translate. Meaning that it either had no direct translation, or I had even lost that ability. Probably the former, if I had to guess.
The symbol flew through the air, landing against the chest of the center hob. This one was carrying a sword, while the two at its sides held daggers. However, we were only able to see them briefly before the symbol flared up, the green skin of the hob turning a smoldering black as it dropped dead, its sword falling from its hands.
“Seems like they’re pretty useful.” Hela remarked, waving her staff. “Confinement seal.”
Two streaks of white light flew out from the tip of her staff, shooting at the two remaining hobs. As expected, they had immediately turned to flee as soon as their comrade died, though they were not able to make it very far before the lights caught up with them. Each light circled around a hob, and seemed to prevent them from moving past their boundaries.
The rest of the group was suddenly staring at the talismans in their hands, until Hela called out to them. “Uhm, guys? My spell won’t hold them for long.”
Her words snapped them out of their trance, and they put those pieces of paper into their inventory. Only after that did they each draw their weapon and begin to battle. Two people within the group, a pair of elven sisters whose names I never learned, drew the longbows from their back, beginning to fire one arrow after another. Meanwhile, both Jessex and Bryant charged forward with their own blades drawn.
With Hela holding the hobs in place, it did not take long at all for the group to do away with the other two. After all, we were no longer either outnumbered or outmatched. A fact that caused me to glance towards Hela. “You know, we could have solved this even without that talisman, right?” There was an amused smile on my face when I asked that, one which she quickly returned to me.
“Obviously. But if we didn’t test it out now, how were we going to know their effectiveness for later?” As she asked that, she moved forward, crouching down and looting the hub that she had slain with the first talisman. Unfortunately, the only items dropped were a few coins, which she swiftly pocketed, and the sword. But since it had dropped the sword, the sword had become a ‘separate entity’, and thus free loot. It just didn’t resize like the spear had.
“Jess, you want this?” Hela asked, hoisting up the sword. Jessex was the only halfling in our group, and thus the only one that the hob weapon was suited for.
She shook her head, however, to decline. “No thanks. More of a dagger girl.” As she said that, she dashed off towards one of the other two hobs, hoping that their own daggers would become appropriate loot for her.
She was, unfortunately, disappointed when they dropped only coins again. Though among the coins was a rolled up scroll which made her brows furrow. She gave the scroll a brief glance, before nodding, looking over towards myself and Hela. “Neither of you two are interested in blacksmithing, right?”
When both of us shook our heads, she deposited the scroll into her inventory. Standing up and brushing off her knees, she walked over with a small shrug. “It won’t drop the daggers I want… but it drops a crafting recipe for daggers instead…”
“A crafting recipe for… daggers?” I was understandably confused. “I thought any blacksmith who knew their trade would be able to make daggers without a dedicated recipe for it.”
Jessex glanced towards me in surprise, before understanding what I meant and shaking her head. “Oh, no, not like that. Uhm… think of it like spellsmithing. That’s what they call the specialized blacksmithing skill that molds the magic in an item. Blacksmithing recipes like this one come with preset spell patterns, letting blacksmiths bring out the power of a spellsmith on a single item type.”
I gave a small nod of understanding with that, before glancing towards Hela. Our group was already walking once again towards the coordinates for the tribal camp. “So, that throwing technique you used earlier?”
“Hmm? Oh, that’s pretty simple, really.” She explained. “Just inject a bit of ki into a talisman, and you can make them fly really well. It’s a trick I learned on the outside. Good thing it is able to be applied here, and that talisman didn’t just go off at my feet, right?” She gave a playful wink when she said that, though I could see Jessex’s face turning a deathly pale at the thought.
I simply chuckled, walking along behind the group. My only real weapons were my body and the talismans in my inventory. Since they didn’t seem to have any area to their attack, I had to save them for difficult solo encounters, or when I was ready to use them with the chakra skill.
The next group we found, Hela immediately bound them with the same light as before, and the fight was again over quickly. We were enjoying the feeling of being the hunters, rather than the prey, rejoicing over how easy the battles became after we had gained a bit of strength and worked together.
We quickly noticed, however, that the patrols were starting to come more frequently as we neared the hob camp. A clear sign that the area was becoming more and more populated, but also caused us to be more careful. The last thing that we needed was to trigger a raid and have the entire camp descend on us at once.
“How do you want to handle this?” Hela asked towards Jessex as we neared the perimeter, looking between the trees to see a group of pieced together sticks and leathers making a few dozen buildings.
Those of us in the group peered in, looking for any clues. There wasn’t anything obvious that could tell us where Jinx might be kept. Nothing that looks like a prison, or cages, or even a big hole in the ground.
“Where could they be keeping him?” Jessex wondered silently, looking towards the largest hut. She had only dismissed it originally due to the sounds that continuously echoed out from inside. Sounds that very clearly labeled it as not a prison tent.
“Yeah, I’m not going into their baby factory.” Hela said rather flatly. “Let’s think… use the clues we have so far… what are we missing?”
The way that she seemed to be hinting at something worried me, so I began to think back. I wasn’t with the group for most of the quest, but they had told me the majority of their findings. At least, I would assume that they did.
Step one, they learned from the old war veteran about the chakra expert that had been missing for a few months, signs of battle at his home with a heavy hint towards the hobs. We get there, and find that Beholder had already arrived on the scene, and interrogated a spirit--... oh, I really hope I’m wrong here.
As I channeled the mana from my shirt into my body, and up into my eyes, I noticed Hela giving an approving smile. However, that sight only lasted for a moment as my vision turned darker. Wisps of silver mist began to flood the area, spiritual energy flooding the camp. At first, it was hard to make out one shape from another, until I was forced to accept that these spirits had been ‘re-killed’ after their first death.
Standing at the center of the camp, daggers held in either hand, was a halfling man. When he swung his arms, the tide of spiritual energy surged, moving in tandem with him to lash out against any new spirit that appeared. He kept his eyes on his surroundings, a hateful expression etched across his features.
When he turned towards us, he seemed ready to lash out once again, before stopping himself. He began turning away before pausing, his eyes immediately looking back to meet my own. There was a flash of grey before he appeared directly in front of me, staring up into me. His lips moved, but no sound emerged. At least, not that I could hear physically.
You can see me…
Rescue the Recluse has been completed! Please inform the quest-giver about the results of your investigation.
“Huh?” I could hear Jessex’s voice from next to me. “What happened? Tebor--Oh… it’s one of those…”
“You’re Jinx?” I asked, earning a nod from the halfling spirit. I gave a soft sigh, shaking my head. “Looks like we’re too late to rescue you.”
Rescue..? It has been so long. There is nothing left to save. Go, tell whoever sent you what happened. Tell them that the blood debt has been set.
His words made my eyes go wide, because they seemed different from the usual monotonous voice of the NPCs. For a moment, I wondered if he had gained some form of sentience, of if this was just another written scenario from Vivi. The blood debt… it oddly called back to the first war of the halflings. And if it meant the same thing here as it did there… Xanjafar was about to get a lot louder.