“Morgana! Did those dryads make a move just now?!”
The angry visage of Prefect Vera stared accusingly at the image of the beastkin who was supposed to hold the reins of those dryads. She saw her turn her head around and heard her repeating her question. Seemingly getting her answer she turned her attention back to the elf.
“Uhm… Castelia says she got upset and drank the man that hurt her roots.”
Vera let out a deep sigh. As expected, that Necromancer’s flashy performance spurred the dryads into action. However, something about that report just wasn’t right.
“Yes, ma’am. Something about nutrients?”
“So she… absorbed his body while leaving nothing behind?”
“I think so? She’s not very good at explaining things…”
“I see… Well, uh, we likely haven’t been found out, but make sure you keep them in line, okay?”
Even Faehorn who reported the Necromancer’s disappearance failed to see what went on with all the undead covering that VIP’s retreat, so it was safe to assume the Empire were just as dumbfounded.
She cut the connection and returned to dealing with the problem at hand. While losing 2 of their trump cards this early was definitely a heavy blow for the Empire, they still managed to penetrate the fortress’s defenses much sooner than anticipated. The Republic were planning to wear them down a lot more before that happened, but as expected, an Ultimate Skill could bring drastic changes to a battlefield.
Well, their plan did involve letting them swarm the fort, but that didn’t mean the Republic wasn’t going to make the Empire pay dearly for every step they took. Not to mention that, as Faehorn pointed out time and again, the dryads would only be effective as long as they were an unknown. The elves had only one shot at this, so they had to make it count, even if it meant sacrificing their people.
Back at the breached wall-turned-desert, the Imperial officers were considering whether it was safe to rush in. The life-sapping air had cleared, and the Necromancer that had caused it was nowhere to be seen. Although they found the latter to be more than a little unsettling, the lack of knowledge wasn’t going to net them any war contributions. Having two of their trump cards eliminated so soon was unfortunate, but they were definitely ahead. VIPs aside, casualties on both sides seemed to actually be equal, which was good news for the numerically superior Empire. Even if they took a pounding at the start and the elves had a superior position, the invaders could bring a lot more firepower to bear.
Therefore, seeing no reason to hesitate, the order was given and the Imperial troops rushed over the dried up sands and through the crumbled section of the wall. As they poured in, however, they were met with resistance.
Heavy, angry, drunken, dwarf-shaped resistance.
Hilda gave off a war cry that carried clearly across the noisy battlefield, and everyone that heard it felt its effects.
Your body trembles before the Tempest of Rage.
The effectiveness of the STR, DEX and AGI Attributes will be reduced by 20% for the next 15 minutes.
The invading infantry felt rattled down to their very cores. Their movements grew noticeably more sluggish, as each individual felt their armor and weapons suddenly grow heavier.
The Tempest of Rage has swallowed you up.
Melee damage will be increased by 20% for the next 15 minutes.
The Republic’s adventurers and soldiers, on the other hand, let off a unified war cry as they felt their bodies well up with power. Elves, humans and dwarves clad in shining silver-like armor rushed out to meet the Empire’s charge, their eyes visibly shining with an unearthly red light. And right at their head was Hilda, whose blue tabard had been dyed white just for the occasion. She leapt 10 meters through the air and swung down a massive greataxe that was easily larger than she was tall.
The blade collided with the ground, sending out a shockwave of red light that dug a 5-meter-long trench through it. Needless to say, any humans who stood in its path found themselves slain without being able to do anything about it. Hilda didn’t even bat an eye under her helmet. She merely lifted the weapon up onto her shoulder with one hand, and dashed forward while swinging it in a wide arc. Multiple men fell by the wayside every time her weapon flashed around, the honed blade cutting through them like a hot knife through butter. She kept forcing her way deeper into the Empire’s ranks like a blender as she let the red haze overtake her. No steel weapon could reach her, but Spells and various projectiles flew at her and started chipping away at her massive vitality.
However, inflicting damage on a Berserker simply makes them more dangerous. This sort of environment was where her Job truly shone. To make matters worse for her enemy, the vampiric weapon she bore replenished her lost vitality by sucking in her victim’s blood, turning her into a perpetual carousel of death. The sheer terror her blood-soaked form inspired in one’s heart could not be understated. Even her allies that followed in her wake trembled at the thought of even getting near her. Well, all except one of them.
An odd, gleeful cry came out from a small, mithril frame. Fizzy had taken this chance to further her own Metal Golem Job, and the effects of the Tempest of Rage made sure she would not fail to fulfill her true purpose.
“Get out there and build some achievements, but retreat the instant your survival is at stake!”
Those were the orders given to her by her Hero, and she would follow them to the letter. The humans, being brought face to face with a Metal Golem that was faster, stronger and tougher than them, stood little chance in close combat. Her small size made it incredibly difficult to target her, as she smashed, bashed and crashed the people around her into a bloody pulp. Knees were smashed, spines were crushed, heads were squished and groins were mercilessly targeted.
Boxxy was right. There was just something… special about murdering humans. Killing elven prisoners or monsters for money in the arena just couldn’t compare to this thrill.
Of course, she didn’t go as deep into enemy lines as Hilda. Even if her shiny frame attracted attention, she was still just one among thousands of Republic troops doing their part to defend their land. Leave it to a Champion of Chaos to find a path through the sea of violence and slaughter around her.
And slaughter was the only word that could accurately describe the situation. Soldiers fell on both sides, as Spells clashed all around them. The counterattack the Republic had launched would only last for as long as Hilda’s Ultimate Skill persisted, and was ultimately nothing more than a smoke screen. That way they could inflict the most damage while suffering the least amount of casualties before pulling back.
The question was whether that dwarf actually planned to pull back. The way she was pushing forward would make one think she had no intention doing so. No, looking at how she had been cleaving her way into the Empire’s ranks, that may have been her intention from the start. The words ‘one-dwarf-army’ popped up into people’s heads, as the absurd existence that was Hilda showed no signs of ever stopping her carnage.
At least not until someone of comparable strength stood in her way.
A clear gong-like sound rang out, and the dwarf found herself being blown back. She landed on her feet and skidded across the blood-soaked ground as she came to a stop several steps from her previous position. Her dented helmet landed somewhere behind her with a dull sound as she shook her now exposed head to recover from the unexpected blow.
“Gah! Ah, got blood-drunk again, didn’t I?” she grumbled as she took in her surroundings.
All around her were Imperial soldiers baring their weapons at her, but none of them dared approach or attack her. Far behind her were the breached walls of Fort Yimin and the sounds of combat. Immediately in front was a sight she was surprised, delighted, and enraged to see.
The one who had struck her was a woman in light leather armor that was dark gray in color. Her torso was covered by a blue tabard that had a bunch of medals pinned to its left side. In her hands was a black, plain metal staff with golden-colored lumps on either end. Attached to her back were a pair of angelic wings - similar yet different from Lichter’s - which beat slowly as she hovered just slightly above the ground. The mysterious 4th VIP Faehorn had tagged earler had her hood down, revealing a beautiful yet cold expression befitting of an ice queen and shoulder-length, raven-black hair that fluttered slightly in the breeze kicked up by her wings.
It was a person the dwarf was very familiar with.
“Howdy, Jen!” she greeted a fierce smile while rebuilding her stance.
“Hilda,” replied the woman as she planted her feet on the ground and willed her wings to disappear.
“Fancy seein’ you here! Had a feelin’ ye didn’t bite the big one like Brightey said, but didn’t think ye’d turn military!”
The angelic woman didn’t reply, but merely assumed her own stance. She stood on one leg, with her knee bent, her staff held behind her in her left hand and her right palm held out in front.
“Cold as usual, aye? Still, cannae wait to see shoestrap’s face when he finds out ye’re still kickin’!”
In the next instant, the woman called Jen shifted a few centimeters to her left, and a phantasmal arrow passed through the space that occupied her forehead mere moments ago.
“Ah… Too late for that, eh?”
Several more arrows flew at her, but she idly caught them all between her fingers. As expected of a Monk, projectile attacks were practically useless against her. Still, the elf Ranger wouldn’t be himself if he at least didn’t test his old comrade.
Both he and Hilda recognized this woman as Jennifer Jackson, the fourth member of their team that also included Lichter the Paladin. She had left them of her own accord after a particularly bad falling out. They had heard she had been executed by the Empire’s authorities for some crime or another, but that was obviously not true.
“What’s with them medals on yer chest? Ye a big shot or somethin’ over there? Knew ye had it in ye, ye fucken’ psycho!”
The woman blushed slightly in response to that sarcastic praise. Seemed like she was still both dense and weak to compliments.
“C’mon, Jen! Ye must be at least a lil’ happy to see me, right?”
“Jennifer is dead,” spoke the woman in a deadpan voice. “I am Zone. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“Ah, they even gave ye a fancy codename, eh? Well, then ‘Zone,’ let’s see if ye can still swing that stick around as well as ye used to!”
She leapt forward, swinging her axe in a wide diagonal swing. Her opponent didn’t even flinch as she swung her staff downwards, knocking the heavy lump of metal off-course and causing it to dig into the ground. She swung her fist around, aiming at Hilda’s head. The dwarf raised her shoulder, deflecting the blow with her armor while she pulled back her weapon. She swung it once more, but the Monk leapt over it and swung her staff down on her head, which was barely deflected by the haft of Hilda’s axe. The dwarf pushed against that staff with all her might, intending to drive her axe’s blade into Zone’s neck at near-point-blank range, but her target unfurled her wings and retreated into the sky before that happened. She flapped her feathers a few times to gain some altitude before swooping in with a sweeping strike of her staff. It was the same attack that took Hilda’s helmet off, except the now-in-control Berserker was able to sidestep it with minimal movements. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Zone deflect another barrage from Faehorn with little difficulty.
“Damn,” cursed the Ranger under his breath. “It really is her, isn’t it?”
Back on his perch, he was doing his best to support Hilda’s reckless charge as he picked off the enemy’s magic users that targeted her. And then that problem child showed up. The woman he knew as Jennifer had grown immensely in the twenty-something years since they last saw her, but that troublesome personality of hers seemed to still be intact. The fact she had managed to Rank Up in that time frame was nothing short of impressive, which made him strangely glad for his old friend.
No, make that former friend. She was the enemy now. She was also probably same person who saved those griffins from his barrage about a week ago. Only a Monk could be that adept at nullifying a Ranger’s attacks. Still, that didn’t mean she had the luxury to defend against his arrows and go toe-to-toe with Hilda at the same time. She wouldn’t stand a chance so long as he provided covering fire while his partner on the ground did her thing.
That’s when the Comm-crystal at his feet activated, meaning Underwood was trying to contact him. The Ranger hesitated for a moment, but he still answered it with one hand while keeping a trained eye on Hilda and Jennifer’s battle.
“What is it, Silus?”
“Faehorn! We have trouble! Air units coming in from the south!”
It was a direction he had no line of sight on. The enemy had come at them from the west, and he himself was on a north-facing branch.
“... Can it wait?”
“No. It really can’t.”
Of course it couldn’t. The fact that Underwood was contacting him meant it must have been a threat others couldn’t handle. Faehorn sighed and decided to trust that wrecking ball of a dwarf to handle things on her own.
“Alright, I’m on it.”
The Ranger put the blue cube away in his pocket and ran along the sheer side of the Hylt tree. He kicked off its surface and grabbed onto a vine dangling from above. He used his momentum to swing over to the next vine, and then the next after that as he made his way around the side of the massive tree. He relocated to another branch that was a bit lower in altitude, but gave him a good view of both the battle and the approaching threat.
“... You gotta be shitting me.”
‘Aerial units’ was putting it lightly. The six griffins he saw were more or less as expected, but the one leading them was not. It was a gigantic creature that was one size bigger than the others. It had a long neck and tail, a massive torso with four legs ending in claws, and a pair of massive, bat-like wings attached to its back. Its entire body was covered in shining green scales and it had large, black spikes running down the length of its spine.
“What’s a freakin’ dragon doing here?!’” he screamed at nobody in particular.
No, his eyes already knew the answer. There was someone riding atop the mighty beast. A stocky figure wrapped in brown furs and a pair of goggles to shield him from the wind. The massive black beard that flowed out from his chin and fluttered around either side of his neck made it quite obvious as to who he was. Well, it was the thing that he was riding that really gave it away, but that was besides the point.
“Uh, Silus,” he reported into the Comm-crystal. “That’s Thorgren the ‘Dragon Tamer,’ isn’t it?”
One of the few Monster Tamers to reach Level 100, and the only person in recent history who was able to fully control the prideful creatures that stood at the pinnacle of the monster world. Having to face a dragon was bad enough in and of itself, but a creature under a Monster Tamer’s control was always stronger than a wild one. Not to mention that the added direction and cunning of an experienced adventurer made them tricky to bring down. The only consolation was that the dragon’s lack of horns showed it was still a young one.
“That’s right. Can you take him?”
“What, alone?! Where’s Imiryl?”
“She’s currently engaging the Black Tower on the field. She’s trying to keep him from activating his Ultimate Skill.”
Faehorn glanced over and was immediately able to locate the site of their battle. They were just under the walls, immediately south of where the sandy hole was. The two of them were exchanging lightning Spells with great intensity, and seemed to be rather evenly matched. That man, even though he had a physique and weapon like those, he was still quite adept at magic, huh?
“So can you do it or not?” urged Underwood.
“No chance. I don’t have nearly enough MP to kill a dragon, let alone one controlled by a Monster Tamer!”
“So if you had the MP, you could do it?”
“Maybe, but I’ll get struck with potion sickness before that happens.”
The Ranger always had bad affinity with Alchemy. He could only drink three potions a day without the debilitating condition started setting in, and he had already used two of them so far.
“Good enough. Standby.”
Underwood’s image disappeared from sight, even though the Comm-crystal was still active. He must have let go of the item on his end.
“What do you mean ‘good enough?’ Silus?!”
A green girl’s head with hair like grass poked out of the branch he was standing on, almost literally between his legs. It caused him to let out an uncharacteristic scream of surprise as he instinctively leapt back a ways.
“Ah, uhm… C-Castelia, right?”
“Yep! Mommy says you need some food, so here you go!”
A number of leafy, blue colored vines sprouted from around the elf and grew straight upwards, then began wrapping themselves around his waist. The Ranger had no idea what was going on, but this was clearly part of the plan so he let the plant lady do what she willed. He then felt something flowing into him. Looking at his Status, he saw his nearly-depleted MP was recovering at a mind-boggling rate.
“Oh, I see! Clever, very clever!”
If dryads could suck the mana out of living things, then it was only natural they could return it as well. However, the influx of energy didn’t stop when it hit maximum, and his current MP went over it. The over-abundance of magical energy in his body was causing his joints to ache and his temple to throb.
“Uh, could you tone it down a bi- Gah, she’s gone!”
The dryad, it would seem, had already departed. Like it or not, he had the MP he wanted. Now he just had to make sure he spent it all before it made his head explode. Well, worst case scenario, he just had to cut off the vines with the dagger on his belt. Doing so would probably piss the dryad off a little, but he had a feeling she wouldn’t exactly stop ‘feeding’ him on her own. Restraint was one of the things those little ladies most definitely did not have.
Not waiting for his symptoms to get any worse, the High Elf went down on one knee and leveled his bow against the targets in the distance. Unlike usual, he was holding it horizontally, with the bowstring above his right arm.
“Hunter’s Mark. Strafe. Wind-imbued Arrows. Deadshot. Adrenaline Rush.”
He activated numerous Skills in rapid succession from both his Ranger and Rogue Jobs, and then took a deep breath.
“Turret Stance: Snipe!”
The pain in his limbs and head gradually went away as he started spending his overabundant MP. His hands moved at a speed that would be difficult for anyone to follow, leaving behind mere afterimages of him pulling the bowstring. The weapon, his body, and even the branch under his feet shook violently from the excessively rapid fire that clocked in at about 200 shots per minute.
He first targeted the dragon, hitting it in the snout with a dozen arrows before it could react and begin weaving and dodging. Once the enemy knew they were under fire, he changed targets to the six griffins. Those were shot down in as little as 15 seconds, as they fell to the ground while resembling gigantic pincoushins. He turned his aim back to the approaching dragon and kept the constant stream of blue lights trained on it.
As expected, however, he wasn’t doing much. The dragon bobbed and weaved at a speed that belied his large body, making it excessively difficult to land clean hits on him. At least half the shots missed completely, while those that hit mostly bounced harmlessly off its tough scales. Trying to target the dwarf strapped to his back proved to be pretty much impossible, as the spines along the beast’s back served to give him a surprisingly good amount of cover. The dragon’s movements were also highly unpredictable, meaning it was impossible to nail the owner at this distance. Besides, the dwarf had probably linked his vitality with the monster under his command, meaning either both died, or neither of them did.
Still, damage steadily accumulated on the great beast. Its scales were steadily being chipped away, and the membranes on those huge wings had numerous tiny holes being punched into them. If things kept going on like this, Faehorn might have actually stood a chance. Unfortunately, the temporary effects of his various Skills started wearing off, and both his rate of fire and accuracy suffered as a result. The burden he put on his body wasn’t helping things either. His bones creaked, his hands bled and his muscles screamed. But he didn’t stop - he couldn’t stop.
By this time, a full minute of his barrage had passed, and the dragon had gotten within 300 meters of his position. Smoke rose from its nostrils as it let out a gigantic ball of green flames, aimed directly at the Ranger. But he didn’t panic, and just kept shooting at the incoming projectile while aiming at its dead center. The spectral arrows from his bow ploughed through the flames, dissipating them in a matter of seconds - but these were precious seconds he didn’t have to waste, and he immediately turned his attention back to the incoming flying lizard.
Except that his hands had stopped. He let out a few ragged breaths and rebuilt his stance. He waited until the dragon’s nostrils flared up again before he re-started his Ultimate Skill.
“Turret Stance: Burst Shot!”
Streaks of red flew out this time. Although it lacked penetrative power, Burst Shot was still the Marksman Martial Art that boasted the greatest destructive power, although also the highest MP consumption and a relatively short range. Neither of those drawbacks were of much concern right now, though. As for why the sudden change of strategy, it was to exploit one of the dragon’s two known weaknesses.
The first was that their bodies were actually surprisingly weak. Their strength was still formidable from a person’s perspective due to the sheer size difference. However, if a dragon and a human were in the same weight category, then the human would be able to overpower it in a contest of raw physical strength. Of course, even if a human that massive actually existed, the dragon would just back off and burn them to a crisp using their Dragon Breath - their deadliest weapon.
However, it was also the main way to exploit their other key weakness.
A dragon’s scales made up one of the toughest natural armors in the world. They deflected both physical and magical attacks with ease, and merely damaging them was a problem in and of itself. The only thing in Faehorn’s repertoire that could even scratch them was Snipe, and a Blast Shot had no hope of getting through them. Their insides, however, were frightfully vulnerable. Obviously, landing an attack from inside the beast was pretty much impossible, aside from the times when they opened their massive jaws. And the only reason they would do such a thing was to either unleash their breath or bite something in half.
And it was that moment that Faehorn was waiting for. The green fireball left the dragon’s maw just as dozens of red-tinted arrows ploughed into it and lodged themselves into the back of its throat. The sudden jolt of massive pain caused the beast to stop its advance and recoil while grabbing onto its snout with the clawed, webbed fingers of its forelegs. A heartbeat later, the arrows inside its mouth exploded violently, ripping its throat to shreds. The beast let out a pathetic cry as it plummeted towards the ground with black smoke coming out of its jaws.
Feat of strength performed! You have unlocked a new Perk: Dragonslayer.
All Attributes +20.
“Heh… Hehehehe! HAHAHAHA! Hack! Koff! Koff! Koff!”
Faehorn’s victorious celebration was cut short by him coughing up blood. He hadn’t realized it, but the MP influx had overpowered his expenditure ever since his rate of fire dropped, and his body was breaking apart. He quickly took his knife out and cut away the mana-imbuing vines. The excess MP in his body then began slowly draining away, allowing him to finally catch his breath.
“Huff, huff, huff!”
Just then, he realized the Comm-crystal at his feet was ringing again. How long had it been doing that? He grasped it with his bloody hand and answered it immediately.
“Silus! I got the-”
“You have incoming!”
No sooner did Underwood utter those words when the exhausted Ranger felt a presence rapidly approaching him. He looked to his right just in time to see something long, thin and black hurtling towards his face. There was a dull sound as the object made contact with his head and sent him flying off the branch. His skull had most definitely cracked, and he lost vision in one of his eyes, but as he fell, he was still able to make two things out.
One was the winged figure of Jennifer, the one responsible for knocking him off his perch. Her eyes held the same cold glare he remembered, and the utter lack of emotion on her face was the same as it had always been. The other was the dragon’s last fireball, which he failed to diffuse. His final assault had thrown off the creature’s aim, and its attack crashed into the Hylt tree’s upper canopy, enveloping it in fire. He was sure the dryad was in pain right now, as a dragon’s flames burned with an intensity that was in a class of their own, capable of melting through literally anything.
Ah… that poor kid…
His thoughts drifted off to the catgirl who would have to deal with that distraught child and keep her in line. The catgirl that showed more promise than any other student he had ever seen. The catgirl that had suffered far worse than any person should have had to endure. The catgirl who had the strength of will to smile and seek happiness despite all that. The catgirl that was sure to carry on his legacy. The catgirl he never found out was a monster that wholeheartedly wanted to kill him and absorb his body, but never got the chance. He had his suspicions, but ultimately it was a good thing he never learned of the truth.
I pray she becomes a fine mother...
It meant that his final thoughts before he hit the ground and lost his life were thoroughly happy ones.