War Aeternus 5: Chapter 3

Name: Lee Race: Human Class: Herald – Conqueror

Level: 56 Health: 660/660 EXP: 119012/465000

Primary Stats:

Power 66 (76) Toughness 66 (76) Spirit 66 (76)

Secondary Stats:

Charisma 32 Courage 23 Deceit 33

Intelligence 489 (562) Honor -3 Faith 36999

Personal Faith 561

 

Skills:

Unarmed Combat Novice Level 9 Swordplay Master Level 4

Sneak Adept Level 8 Cooking Novice Level 4

Trap Detection Novice Level 2 Knife Combat Novice Level 7

Mental Fortitude Journeyman Level 3 Sleight of Hand Initiate Level 9

Blood Shield Journeyman Level 3 Sewing Initiate Level 10

Glass Smithing Journeyman Level 4 Carpentry Journeyman Level 1

Masonry Novice Level 5

 

Heritage Town:

Satterfield (+10: Savior)

Defensive Strength Rating: 30 Economic Strength Rating: 25

Population Rating: 17 Territory Rating: 15

Tech / Utility Rating: 28 Influence / Tourism Rating: 25

 

Divine Skills: 

Golem Sculpting Master Level 5

Appreciative Drunk Adept Level 8

Nectar of the Gods Master Level 2

Spirit Smithing Journeyman Level 4

Faith Healing

Ignis Veritas

Ignis Vomite Journeyman Level 6

Telepathy Initiate Level 5

 

Divinity Powers:

Life in Death

 

Kingdom Modifier Rank: 2 (King)

Lion’s Mane

The People’s Will

The King’s Executioner

The King’s Grace

The Birth of a Legend

 

Titles:

Cheat Code Fighter

The Great Deceiver

The Aggressive Mile-High Chef

Man of Many Sighs

Genocidal Pyromaniac

Roasty-Toasty Regicide

 

“What’s with that face?” Jade asked Lee as the three continued to fly north atop the bicorn. “You look like Miller and his soldiers got their hands on that With Extra Whey brew and wrecked the camp again.”

Lee shot her a blank stare and chuckled. “That was a rough day but . . . no. It’s just Schinhofenfurt has finally been taken, the civilians have been evacuated, and the soldiers are running supply lines and setting up for the long siege.”

Ling, seeing Lee’s expression and hearing his words, sighed and put a hand on his back. “It’s okay. You do what you must do,” she said. She might have lamented some of Lee’s actions, frowning at every merciless purge of conspirators Lee ordered, but she was still there for him, and that last bit of conscience, the thing that made her argue with him for almost a minute about whether or not a public execution of the remaining Kirshtein dissidents was a good idea, was something he actually treasured.

“Thanks,” Lee said, taking a deep breath and wondering if he did the right thing by sparing the citizens. He knew Ling probably thought he was concerned about the lives he ordered taken to secure the city, but his biggest worry was the ones he had spared. 

Since he let the civilians escape death, he had to contend with the near certainty that one of those people would make their way to the enemy camp and report his number and strength to the men of King Ramen. After all, as Alexander, someone who had taught him a lot about strategy and war over games of chess, had said many times, words are just air, and if there is a single crack in the wall, air will find a way in and out. That’s how he treated gossip. Once someone who wasn’t as reliable as solid stone knew, everyone would know. Letting someone who wasn’t one of his soldiers live meant that there would be a crack in the wall for the enemy to gather word of the comings and goings. When they showed up, they wouldn’t attack until they were prepared.

“You’re being weird. What’s the big deal about a seized fort? Isn’t that what you wanted? Taking the big fort?”

Ling looked at Jade silently and then patted Lee’s back before sitting back down again.

“So you’re off to find magical temples. What’s so important about them?” Ling asked. 

“They have the, uhh . . . fragments of a world stone? World stones themselves? Who knows, Ling-a-Bing? I don’t keep up with that crap. It’s just basically the deus ex machina button for ending the game so you can avoid murder-hoboin’ every Herald in existence. There’s like nine of them total,” Jade explained, jumping ahead of Lee to fill in the blanks of the NPC’s limited knowledge. “And once you get them all, you win.”

“Then why do the Heralds kill each other instead of going for those?” Ling asked. “You would think that would be a much more reasonable option–and easier. The fighting Lee has gone through to kill even a few has been . . . rather brutal. Wouldn’t the stones be easier? And wouldn’t it also lend to cooperation, like more Heralds forming teams the way you two have?”

“Usually? Yeah. But Mary says they’re usually very hard to find,” Jade replied. She looked over at Lee. “And she said that the real problem comes from the fact that they cause people to kill each other even faster than if they weren’t looking for them. Also . . .” Jade scratched her head. “For some reason, the thing designing this game, it kind of put them all much closer to each other than usual. I mean, there is no way you should have as many as you do, Lee. Like, what sort of plot armor magic luck do you have? How come I didn’t hear of a single one in the area where I was?”

“That and the other issue,” Lee said.

“What other issue?” Jade asked.

“You know, the temples progressively get harder and harder, and the only way to take a world stone fragment from a Herald who has one is to kill that Herald. They can’t just give it to you,” he said.

“Oh? For reals? That’s crazy! Awesome! It’s like the system just loves to watch people die,” Jade laughed, seemingly overlooking the point she had brought up a moment ago about favoritism.

That’s not really the case, is it? Lee asked the system. You didn’t stuff them all in my area for some reason, did you?

I feel like, even if I answer you, you won’t exactly listen. I keep telling you over and over again, but you don’t seem to hear.

 

Right . . . right. Lee bit the edge of his top lip as he ran through all the things she had told him recently, trying to remember if she had spelled it out specifically or not. He was sure she had. The system was a lot of things, usually, but rarely a liar. Yeah, she’s not Augustus. If she says she’s answered it, she has, Lee concluded while giving up at the same time.

“And this is why your Wisdom stat is not even worth putting on your stat sheet,” Augustus chimed in while laughing, the voice filling his and Jade’s head as the shape shifting drunk God spoke to him. “You just can’t think for yourself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lee asked aloud, not bothering with keeping the answer in his thoughts. He might always talk to the system silently, never really wanting anyone to know how many conversations the system’s ‘tyrannical despot’ and his imaginary stat calculator actually had. 

“He’s talking to Augustus again,” Jade explained.

“Right. Is Augustus lecturing him about how he should go out and drink, try to pants us in public, or something else random and inappropriate again?” Ling asked.

“Nah, just calling him an idiot . . . again,” Jade said.

“He’s not being dumb though,” Mary said, her voice entering Lee’s head. “He’s wise enough, so stop harping on him. He’s just trying not to jump to conclusions. Being hypercritical and over analyzing things isn’t always bad. Don’t you yourself second guess everyone? 

“What conclusions?” Augustus shot back. “He knows exactly what the system means. She’s messing with me. That woman loves to troll me.”

“Trolling,” Mary giggled. “Right. That’s rich coming from you,” she said, and Lee could almost swear he heard her pause to eat a piece of popcorn in the middle of the sentence, but the pause wasn’t long enough. “Wait, you think the system is a woman?” Mary was the one laughing this time, her cackle somehow sounding very similar to Augustus’s, not at all like the sweet, innocent one she used to have.

“It isn’t?” Augustus balked. “It sounds like a woman, talks like a woman, gets angry and jealous like a woman anytime Lee talks to another woman, and loves to mess with me like a woman. Seems like a woman to me.”

“If it were a woman, why would you keep referring to it by ‘it,’ or ‘that thing,’ or ‘the system.’ Why not by ‘her’ and her name, assuming she has one?” Mary said, her snicker morphing into a chuckle as she began to tease Augustus. “And if being angry, acting jealous, and trolling people are qualities of a woman, then why don’t I call you one too? Bit of a hypocrite, aren’t you?” 

“Oh, really? You’re gonna play that card? You’re gonna play that card? You really want me to prove I’m a man?” Augustus continued in a voice that made Lee quite uncertain whether he was mad, about to play off in a game of sports with a friend, or just teasing her.

“What? You think you can? You think you can? Come on, big man. Why don’t you show me you’re capable of hopping out of the past for five minutes to do anything in the present, you damn romcom junkie,” Mary said, her voice more challenging than angry.

“I am not stuck in the past!” Augustus said back, and as he did, Lee could hear their breathing grow louder and the rustling of something that sounded like clothes followed by an umph from what Lee could only assume was one of them hitting something else.

“Then why don’t you freaking prove it?” Mary demanded. “What? Got this far and can’t? That’s what I thought. It’s not Lee with the low Wisdom stat; it’s you. You’re denser than half the main characters in those dumb, crappy cartoons Jade is always watching. At least Lee knows how to take what he wants . . . coward.”

“I’m going to make you regret those words,” Augustus said back, his breath so heavy that it made Lee wish there was a push-to-talk function for whatever device gods used to communicate from whatever special dimension they were in.

“I bet you can’t even–mmm!” Mary let out a playful yelp at the end of her quick moan, a sound that was all too familiar, at which point Jade and Lee exchanged glances.

“Did he just?” Jade asked. “Is he?”

“I . . .” Lee stared back at Jade blank-faced. Lee was intently listening for any further sounds from the other side to confirm his suspicions. “. . . I think he did,” he concluded, knowing that if he were wrong, the only other explanation, that they were actually fighting, was much worse for both him and Jade. 

“Wait, did who what?” Ling asked.

“UGHHHHHHH!!!” Jade finally let out a long, grumpy groan. “How the hell?! This is not cool! No, no, no, no, this is not how it’s supposed to be.”

“What isn’t?” Ling asked.

“We’re in the middle of a dangerous, life-threatening adventure to raid some creepy tomb-like temples that an apparently jealous system made so that if one of us dies, our counterpart dies . . . and our counterparts just kokuhakued. You know, that super confession where one of them is like ‘OMG. You’re my best friend forever. Let’s have 4,815 kids in 3,612 years,’ and the other is like, ‘No, we should totally take two years off in the middle to plan an elaborate confession-of-love ceremony that blows through our savings and puts us in debt like we were trying to go to college in the states.’ Yeah. That serious. This is . . . This is . . . Oh god! Dad needs to turn off that sound-transmitting device! And . . . the confession, that means one of us is totally going to die! That’s not freaking cool! Couldn’t you guys wait until after we finished this random, life-threatening quest into the mountains?”

Lee had no idea how to handle that outburst. “You know he’s my dad, right?”

“Whatever! This isn’t the other world. There aren’t legal papers about this stuff. We sleep together, we live together, we make fun of that creepy chancellor who comes by at the start of every week complaining about the way women dress together. You know, the one who has ten strands of hair and insists on putting what I can only assume with this world’s level of technology is beeswax all over those poor remaining follicle survivors before combing those few remaining troops across his brown-spotted head? I think by this game’s standards, until the system fixes the script with some random DLC or add-on, we’re pretty much married. Right, Ling-Ling?” Jade asked.

Ling scratched her head, as if trying to figure out how to explain it. “Yes and no.”

“What yes and no?” Jade said. “Wait, do you guys actually have paper stuff? Does the king have to declare it? Lee, you’re the king. If you don’t retroactively declare it for me, Ling, and Red, I’m never doing that thing you like again.”

“That’s not required. The rulers couldn’t possibly have time to bother with marriages, and hiring government officials just to oversee who lives together is too expensive and taxing on the kingdom. Rather, it’s more like . . . you can buy a farm, but it’s not really a farm until you start planting seeds and harvesting the crops,” Ling said, avoiding Jade’s eye contact as the blue-haired girl’s mouth dropped wide open.

“What? Umm . . . Ha? But . . . uhh . . . crops . . . uhh . . .” Jade seemed broken as her words unexpectedly dropped pace to barely one every few seconds.

Lee, who was watching her mind grind to a shocked halt, could only thank the heavens that the subject and discussion had somehow derailed her off the crazy plot-predicting theory that the heavy panting on the other side–which managed to somehow be worse in Lee’s ears than two people in voice chat eating chips directly into the microphone–had inspired.

Ling, not understanding what had broken Jade any more than Lee did, looked over at Lee and gulped. “What, what happened to her? Is it some form of mental magic? Is there a Herald near us? Why is she like that?” Ling asked, extending both her hands as if she were going to tug at both her cheeks and stretch her face out.

“She’s fine,” Lee said. “Just let her . . . process.”

“Crops . . .” Jade’s slack-jawed expression twirled till she was looking at Lee. “Lee . . . did we . . . plant . . . Are we farmers?”

“Uhhhh . . .” Lee blinked. Are we? Is that a thing?

“No, we can’t be. In games and movies, and even in anime, people don’t become farmers in these types of situations. But . . . did we? Oh, God,” Jade gulped. “I took science classes. How dumb could I be? I’m too young for this! I shouldn’t drink so much all the time! This is all your fault for making the booze so delicious! If we end up as farmers, I’m making you do all the work while I sit at home and watch the boob tube.”

“That’s the magic box that displays the magical director’s dreams on a flat surface as if they were reality, right?” Ling asked, recognizing the slang term. “It’s the TV, right?”

“Yes, it’s the TV,” Lee answered with a nod. “She’s talking about the TV; she just likes to call it ‘boob tube’ because it has the word ‘boob’ in it.”

“So wait, could you finish explaining, Jade, what is wrong with the two gods getting together?” Ling asked earnestly, reminding Jade about the subject that had just been forced out of her head, despite the continuing sounds.

“What? Why would you ask her that?” Lee sighed. Then, after remembering how many times Jade and Ling had argued in the council chambers over even basic things, like what to serve at a state event, he couldn’t help but follow it up with another question: “When did you start taking her rantings so seriously?”

“While I disagree with her . . . approach to things, she has watched, read, and heard thousands and thousands of stories similar to ours, a fact you’ve affirmed, so she’s an expert on the subject,” Ling said. “Why not ask her if she has noticed a pattern between them and our current situation? Or maybe she has knowledge that you’re not sharing, like usual, about what happens when two gods”–Ling looked over at Jade–“‘become farmers.’ She tells me things you won’t.”

“I’ve told you about the things you’ve asked about,” Lee said in his defense. “Just yesterday I told you about convection oven systems and rice cookers.”

“You answer specific questions when asked, but she talks nonstop,” Ling countered, “even when no one asks anything.”

“Yeah . . .” Lee couldn’t argue that point. “That she does. Well, whatever. I can’t blame you, but you should avoid the topic for a while. As mature as Jade is, she somehow sees Mary and Augustus as a mom and dad, so this . . . might not go well for her.”

“Oh, right, right, good thinking, Ling-a-Ring,” Jade said, ignoring the fact that Lee was talking about her right next to her. “We have to focus on the important fact: One of us is going to die!!!” Jade panicked, reaching over and grabbing Lee’s hands. “Lee, Lee, I can’t die yet. I’m too young. I haven’t even become a proper farmer or beaten every RPG on my computer or read all my books or binge watched the last two seasons of that fiery-icy dichotomy throne show thingy.”

“Will you please stop that agriculture analogy?” Lee grumbled as he broke his hands free and put one on her head. “It’s really awkward and tedious.” He hoped that forcing her to change the metaphor might make her change the subject too.

“Ugh, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a clear death flag. They confessed! They’re all hanky panky, double spanky beasts with belts in the bed at the moment! That only happens before major plot turns. One of us is definitely going to die, Lee! It’s the only way one of them dies,” Jade said.

“No one is going to die,” Lee assured her. “Just calm down. Take a deep breath and relax.”

“Well, we might not . . . but someone is definitely going to die,” Ling said, pointing toward the mountain ranges.

“Huh?” Lee asked, looking over Jade’s head as he tried to make out what was happening and sent a Little Ethan at the same time to check it out. “What makes you say that?”

“There’s smoke coming from there,” she said, pointing toward a little patch in the mountain. “And look at all the birds leaving. Birds only flee when people and animals get too close. For that many to be leaving . . . imagine how big the group of people is.”

Lee nodded. Even if Ling didn’t have his scouting golems to use to find out what was going on, she was keenly observant about the way the world worked and could often pick up on things way before Lee could.

“It’s death. It’s death marching straight toward us,” Jade said, gripping Lee’s hand as she looked at him. “Whatever it is, just ignore it. We need to get out of here.”

“Will you stop panicking and adding tension? When we get back, I’m going to give you a ton of happy-ending books to cram so you stop seeing every damn thing as a death flag,” Lee said, but he didn’t take his hand away because, in a way, she was right.

“What is it? What did the mice find?” Ling asked.

“Death, actually.”

“RIGHT!” I’m always right!”

“You’re right 50% of the time, but I mean, there are . . . well . . . dead things,” Lee said. He could finally see them. The place with the fire was a tiny little town, no larger than Satterfield, the double-hamlet-sized settlement outside of Kirshtein, had been before Lee had fixed it up. This town didn’t have any walls, and it lacked even a fence or a gate to greet strangers. It was just a few dozen small houses, a large one that was likely for town meetings, and a little creek running down the mountain and right through the middle of the place.

Despite all this, however, the large rustling moving toward it had to be an army because, lined up in place of the walls that should have been surrounding the town, were rows of skeletons 15 deep. They were armed to the teeth with spears, broadswords, and shields or bows. It was a large force that was thousands of undead thick, and all of them were standing perfectly still as they guarded the town. Lee reckoned he could spy on the situation better, but as Little Ethan made its way through the trees toward the ground, getting a little closer so it could see clearly through the dense heavy treetop, a few of the undead soldiers turned their bodies, without moving their heads at all, and began firing arrows at the black metal-coated mouse that Lee often used for reconnaissance.

How in the hell could they see it? Lee wondered as they continued to pour arrows toward the Little Ethan while the clay creation scurried to safety. When the golem got about 30 feet away, the skeletons stopped what they were doing, their bodies creaking and twisting until they were once more facing forward and away from the village.

“What type of dead things?” Ling asked.

“Skeletons. Lots of them. Thousands of them. They’re just quietly guarding a village,” Lee said. “And they’re all very well armed. It’s like a static army.”

“Guarding the town? Are there people inside?” Ling asked. “Or is it just undead too?”

“Can’t tell. They keep shooting at my Little Ethan,” Lee said. “Their accuracy isn’t bad either. It’s not as good as yours, but it is good enough that I don’t know if I can sneak past them.”

“Mmm, how can they see the mouse when it has such good stealth?” Jade asked.

“They’re skeletons,” Lee said. “I don’t think they actually do see. I mean, I know what TV, movies, and books show, but skeletons don’t have eyes. There is no reason to assume that they see the same way we do.”

“No eyes, but they’re good archers . . .” Ling pulled her bow off her back and gripped it in her hand as if they were about to start combat right away. “And if there are undead, there is a Herald.”

“Well, every single one of them is as still as the grave. So that rustling of the leaves and trees, the thing that is scaring those birds into the sky, must be King Ramen’s men,” Lee said. “But why are they out here, and how did they find that town? We didn’t even know about it. Faustus’s little spies never even found this place, so how did Ramen’s forces find it?”

“They’ve been stamping out Heralds left and right. It’s not surprising. If there is one in these mountains, they’d be going for him too,” Ling replied. “As for how they knew . . . their manpower is much greater than Faustus’s. They might be able to systematically comb forests and mountains for hideouts.”

“Well, that kills my backup plan to winning this game. So much for operation ‘Let’s Just Take a Super Long Honeymoon and Wait for King Ramen to Finish off All the Heralds for Us,’” Jade said.

“You shouldn’t joke like that. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands would die before that happened even if we could?” Lee asked.

“Fine, fine. We’ll protect your NPCs. So . . . do we protect the ones in this village? I mean, they have a skeleton army, so they should be okay, right? And how big is the village?” Jade asked. “It can’t be that large considering I can’t even see it from here.”

“It’s about the size of Satterfield, so there aren’t many people in it . . . but . . .” Lee looked at the rows of skeletons. “I think we might end up needing to do something.”

“So those skeletons aren’t a threat to you in the future?” Ling asked. “Are you going to try and stamp them out too?”

“No.” Lee shook his head. “The opposite. If a contingent of Ramen’s troops is attacking here, it means they’re ahead of the other army. If they succeed here, they’ll be able to attack the fort where Miller is far before he is expecting and potentially from an angle he hasn’t predicted.”

While Lee was talking, he had his Little Ethans, who couldn’t get close enough to the skeletons, however they were sensing them, go check out the enemy army. It was as he expected. King Ramen’s roughly 6,000 men didn’t outnumber theover 15,000 skeletons, but he didn’t know the fighting strength of either group. Numbers could lie. If fights went strictly based on numerical advantages, then Lee would have died before ever saving Satterfield.

“So, I guess it’s time for operation ‘The Other Herald is Our Human Shield,” Jade said. “This is going to be a blast!”

“Your definition of fun . . .” Ling said, looking over at Jade.

“Oh, come on, don’t tell me you aren’t pumped too. Can you imagine how many fresh bodies we’ll have? And with no other bicorns in sight, we’re going to be the only ones floating around on an unpierceable skin-flap cloud of electrical boom boom while we rain death from above! This is going to be a blast! We can start off with something super fun”–Jade’s talking speed picked up as she began her description–“like, like, I got it! We can try to simulate a meteor shower! We just need to get a ton of bottles of boomy stuff, float up above Ramen’s army, and then start casting it down. Then, Ling, you can shoot the bottles right before they hit the skyline. It’ll make it look like fireballs. If we do it right, it’ll look like a ton of fireballs! This’ll be soooo fun!”

Lee was still studying the army through his Little Ethans, so Ling ventured a response to Jade’s enthusiasm: “But what about–” 

“Little Bobby?” Jade asked, cutting Ling off. “Don’t worry. Once there are enough bodies, I’ll make a Little Bobby so big it’ll be like the monsters in that show about tall skinless giants that attack that town that is somehow like the size of Sweden but with the population of a small town, and yet the people there somehow act like they’re constantly starved for space. I swear, it’s like most writers don’t even consider population numbers when they talk about things.”

“I meant–”

“You me–”

“I MEANT!” Ling practically screamed, forcing her words into the conversation through pure volume this time, not letting Jade just steamroll over her again. “What about the trees, our limited supplies, required mana reserves and production time, and the enemy Herald. The plan you proposed might be fun, but I don’t see it working. Unlike the trees near the villages that have been chopped down over and over again, never living that long because the towns use them for firewood, lumber or other things, these are deep-wood trees. Their trunks are bigger than houses sometimes, and the tree line is solid. If we try your meteor shower, there is no guarantee it will even reach them, nor will you have the line of sight I have observed that you need to make the Little Bobby out of any corpses on the ground. 

“So I’ll just wait for soldiers to die, get just close enough, make a Little Bobby and go on with it,” Jade said.

“There is also no guarantee that the dead-raising Herald won’t see you as a get-out-of-jail-free card and attack you too. Lee powers up after every Herald kill. If this necromancer has thousands of skeletons, he might already know that Heralds can gain power this way. After all, one doesn’t get this many dead from a regular hamlet, and there are no ruins of a city or giant battlefields that I know of nearby.”

Unless that person doesn’t actually need a dead body to make a skeleton, Lee thought. “Either way,” he said, cutting off their debate, “let’s not speculate until we see the battle. We’ll plan from there.”

“Right,” Ling agreed.

“Ugh, I just want to rain some fireballs and rename myself the Meteor Madam,” Jade grumbled with a frown, even adding a harrumph to the end of her sentence. 

“You might get your chance in the future,” Lee said, “but at the moment, just be patient and be quiet. Let’s pull our bicorn down lower so you all can act when needed, but try to make sure we don’t reveal ourselves before we need to.”

After finding a good spot, the trio waited patiently as Lee studied what was happening below. He didn’t dare to move his Little Ethans near the village, instead opting to scout the situation from behind King Ramen’s army.

When the king’s troops reached the enemy, Lee expected the general to order them into a fancy formation. He half anticipated that they’d spread out and adopt some Roman manipular formation or at least organize up like a Greek phalanx. They had the shields and the short weapons, so it was all possible. Instead, they just cramped together right in front of the skeletons, the general forcing his way through his own men. It was such a crowded body of varied races, armor types, gear appearances, and styles that Lee thought he was looking at the auction house in a popular MMO game rather than a well-organized army typical of the ones he expected from a king.

Ramen’s general smiled ear to ear, his long blonde braids clumped up and hanging behind his very loose-fitting hide armor as he made his way through the troops. He had an odd holstering device that went over his back and shoulders, looped around his waist, and gave him room for eight small hatchets, and in his hand as he rode forward was a person-sized double-bladed axe that put Dave’s flail to shame with its intimidating hugeness.

Across the blade of the axe were carved small designs that looked very similar to an odd combination of Norse and Arabic. Internally, he knew the language. The system translated it perfectly, the message being a series of names, but visually it was incredibly beautiful and foreign looking to him.

“Their general is a Phouka player,” Lee said, noting the odd gleam in the general’s golden eyes. He didn’t know why–there wasn’t a specific detail that gave it away, like the glowing symbols that were on the foreheads of some Phoukas–but as he stared at the blond man, he knew it for a fact: That guy was a shapeshifter, not a Human.

“Didn’t all the Phoukas we met earlier die? We totally watched that, right? I mean, they all killed themselves after their weirdo Herald died, right?” Jade asked.

“These must have come from a different world or a different Herald. He’s a Phouka though,” Lee said. “Don’t know what animal. He looks much larger and stronger than the Phoukas we saw before, so his shapeshifting might not be as impressive.”

“Right, since the more crippled and decrepit they were, the greater their blessing,” Jade said.

“Yeah except . . .” Ling looked over. “There have been several Human Heralds, Firbolg Heralds, and Leprechaun heralds. Each of them, and the players that came from their area, have come from different places. Different dimensions as you call them. There is no guarantee that this one got his shapeshift blessing the same way that Meadhbh’s people did. We shouldn’t assume anything.”

“Right, right,” Jade said with a nod. “The story designer might have retconned some rule just so he can mess with us for plot reasons.”

“That’s not how this works. We just haven’t seen much of the world,” Lee said.

After a few moments of prancing back and forth in front of the troop line on his mount, which was a giant ram-like beast, bigger than a clydesdale, he started laughing. “My friends,” he said, “King Ramen sent us here to kill a Herald. I thought it was a punishment for how long we spent killing just one of his enemies. But, it appears I was wrong. This isn’t a punishment; this is a reward. He has given us a beautiful forest, the cold crisp air of the mountain, and a nice scenic walk to enjoy on our first little vacation. And then, at the end, he has prepared us a bountiful package of experience for our levels so we don’t fall behind the others,” the general laughed. “I tell you, by my name, Machmuller, this is the nicest little gift we could have asked for. Our opponents lack muscles, they lack brains, and they even lack the eyes needed to see they’re nothing but toys for us to play with!” Machmuller guffawed.

While he was laughing, the men near him were too. They were also shouting and creating a ruckus.

“What the hell? It’s been too long since we’ve had a fight. Let’s kill these boney bastards and bring back some chew toys for our Krunklerumps!” Machmuller yelled, raising his double bladed axe with his left hand in the direction of the skeletons before charging forward, the whole army following him in a large mass. The ones closest to him reacted first, and the ones on the outskirts a few seconds later, when they saw what was going on, causing the formation to look much less like a line and more like the bell curve on a statistics graph as the general the charge.

The skeletons didn’t respond at all. They didn’t show any fear as they stood perfectly still, but the moment the enemy got in range, arrows began to fly at the advancing blob. A few of them were aimed at the general, but bounced off the ram’s horns as the beast twisted and turned its head to make sure that none of them hit its passenger. The front line of skeletons also braced themselves, dropping large shields and digging them into the ground as the fleshless troops behind them did the same, each digging in their shields and pulling out spears. Within a moment, Lee could already foresee the end result of the battle. It was going to be a slaughter, and the skeletons would indeed be free experience for most of Machmuller’s men.

To confirm his theory, he had his Little Ethan go forward past the troops to a section of the village that wasn’t being attacked. When he did, the skeletons shot arrows at it again, but this time he didn’t dodge. He let his little golem take an arrow to the body and confirmed his theory. Little Ethan had been hit only once and lost over 85% of his total hit points. The archers were deadly. However, as he looked back at Machmuller’s troops, he clearly saw several of them taking arrows left and right. They had massive health point pools. Each one of them was probably able to take as many hits as one of his own commanders or generals. The skeletons, while fierce, would be nothing more than cannon fodder for them.

“Don’t go after the boss till we’re all ready!” Machmuller shouted as he tore through one enemy with his massive axe, wielding it easily with his left hand while he pulled the hatchets off his makeshift ammo belt and started throwing them one after the other at the skeletons around him.

“I don’t think we can save the Herald or the people in the village,” Lee said. 

“Are they that formidable?” Ling asked.

“I don’t know what our chances of winning the war are anymore,” Lee replied with a frown. Are these troops of Machmuller Level 50? 60? 70? he wondered. Are these his elites, or are they his average men? His thoughts continued to swirl as he watched the skeletons do their best to fend off the mob of men at Machmuller’s disposal.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Ling asked. “Should we at least try? Potentially weaken them a bit? You have one scroll left,” she added.

Lee nodded. It was true. He still had one wish scroll. But is it worth using that scroll to save a Herald I’ve never met or fight this army when the next one may be even fiercer? Lee wondered as he looked at it sitting there in his inventory.

“Lee, if they’re really that formidable, we can’t let them reach Miller while he’s still setting up. If they push south, Miller’s base will break like a termite-infested bridge at the worst possible moment,” Ling said.

“Yeah . . .” Lee frowned. But how do I tip things so that we have a chance of winning? he wondered, his eyes fixated on the skeletons, the source of the army’s free experience.

“Uh-oh, he’s got a plan, and it’s going to cost us,” Jade said. “I’ve seen that look in his eyes before.”

“Yeah, I do,” Lee said as he pulled out the scroll. “Though it’s going to be a bit more difficult to pull off than previous ones, and we won’t be able to kill all of the enemies. They’re too strong.”

“Well, then what do we do?” Ling asked as Lee took out a pen and began writing on his last scroll. He had hoped to save it as a last resort, but he didn’t have that luxury anymore.

“We’re going to kill Machmuller, and then we’re going to kill the Herald,” Lee said while writing out his plan on the document. One of the things he loved and hated about the scrolls was that, once his pen touched the paper, it was no longer his pen. It moved on its own, writing out the script for what was about to happen and using Lee’s hand as its instrument. Lee had no control over the details of the story. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, but since he couldn’t predict the future, he couldn’t accurately write it out. When he got near the bottom of the story, he grimaced a little, gulping at the situation it’d leave him in, but he didn’t have much of a choice. The story had to be written.

“Alright,” Lee said after about 10 minutes when the page was filled, front and back, with fancy cursive handwriting. The words on it began to glow like elvish script from one of his favorite childhood movies. “Get ready,” he said.

“For what?” Ling asked.

“Yeah, why?” Jade asked. “Did you put my wish onto the scroll?”

“Yep,” Lee answered, smiling. “We’re going to have a meteor shower.” 

“But, but, Lee . . .” Jade stared at him. “There is no way. Wouldn’t that kill us all?”

“No, not exactly,” Lee said as he pointed to the sky where the spell was forming. There, above the tree canopy, above them, above the clouds, hanging in the starry sky, was a giant expanding light. The light had an aquamarine center with a bright neon green exterior, and as it blew up across the sky, a giant orange and red center began to form, pushing the aquamarine and neon green even further out until the magical colors covered every inch of the sky. Then, the glossy, bubble-like surface of orange and red was pierced by a hundred balls, causing the anomaly to explode and igniting each of the rough spheres, leaving them burning blue as they soared toward the ground. Each one of the balls was the size of Lee’s bicorn, and each fell so fast that it was hard to follow, tearing downward with violent speed and force. They shot through the forest canopy so quickly the leaves didn’t have a chance to ignite before the meteorites smashed into the ground where the skeletons and soldiers were fighting. Lee had to do his best to ignore the flood of death notifications as his vision was filled with hundreds of them left and right, both sides being caught in the impact zone of the meteor shower.

When the meteors slammed into the ground, they dislodged everything at the same time, knocking down trees, flattening soldiers, igniting the people and woods around them–it was carnage on all sides. For a moment, it looked like the entire forest would also become victim to Lee’s spell as blue flames spread out on impact, covering the ground, people, and vegetation around the point they struck, but just as soon as the fire started to settle, the glossy, oil-like canopy of magic that had summoned the spells reformed, this time without the orange and red center, returning to its original aquamarine and neon green, and then transformed into large aquamarine clouds. From there, a rain as thick and strong as a monsoon season’s worst torrents started to pour down, soaking Lee, the point of impact, and everything 100 to 200 meters in every direction from that point of impact with slightly green and bright-blue raindrops. When the magical water hit the flames of the meteorites, it extinguished them, not giving the incendiary azure fires a chance to climb up their newest victims or finish off the people that had lived through the initial burn, and in place of those flames a large billowing black and gray smoke cloud began to grow.

This is the best I can do for you, Lee thought as he saw the blankets and blankets of smoke continue to rise off the meteor shower’s leftovers. He had aimed the spell right at the clashing point, where the soldiers of Ramen were bunched up as they fought each other for the chance to kill the skeleton warriors, laying out the most damage possible, but even then, Lee’s attack had only chipped off somewhere between a quarter and a third of Machmuller’s total troop count. He had used his last magic scroll against bunched-up, undefended enemies and that was the best he could hope for. It didn’t even give him the one kill he had hoped for most: Machmuller. Instead, the spell had given him what he needed to actually get the kill: shade.

“There is our cover,” Lee said as he pointed at the wall of smoke billowing up toward them. “It won’t last long. The scroll said it will last 10 minutes at most, so we need to hit our target and be out before the end of that time.”

“How is this our cover? Won’t we die? Won’t the smoke choke us out?” Jade asked. “Pretty sure smoke being deadly was the first lesson in kindergarten.”

“It’s not really.” Lee looked at the cloud. “It’s going to be very hot, but it won’t kill you. It’s magical. It’s not real,” he said, remembering that the words on the page had conveniently mentioned that detail. 

“Ah, then . . . time to make a Little Bobby!” she said, jumping down from the bicorn to the trees, landing on one and making her way farther down toward the ground where one of the meteors had landed, and there would likely be abundant bodies. It was easy to tell where the falling rocks had landed. They were still lit up beautifully. Other than that, however, it was nearly impossible to see now. The smoke was so thick that without going down there and practically touching the bodies, she wouldn’t be able to find one. The magical, pillowy white and black green-tinted clouds erupting from the places where the flames had met the greenish water was thick enough that one would have trouble, without the assistance of a magical eye, seeing his own hand two feet from his face. 

“Wait!” Lee did his best to stop her, sending a Little Ethan to her. “Use the mouse, channel some of your energy into it, and use it to sense the floor. You don’t need to be in the thick of it,” he cautioned. He didn’t want her to be killed by a stray arrow or an angry soldier attacking wildly as she crafted Little Bobby’s form, which often took her a few moments. He didn’t know if the trick would work, but they had mixed their divine powers often, and his golems were just that, an extension of his divine powers, so he was hoping it would. The Little Ethans didn’t have perfect vision either, but they could scour the battlefield on their little feet and act as a proxy sensor so Jade would be at less of a disadvantage.

Ling squinted. “How will I see?” she asked.

“Can you hear me?” Lee asked back. 

“Yeah, perfectly fine. Why?” Ling replied.

“Because that’s how you’re going to see. I’ll call targets. We’ve practiced enough. Just follow my voice,” Lee said as he called back the black metal-coated scouting Little Ethan to act as his own eyes, seeking out tree limbs for him to jump on before he called up to Ling to let her know to follow him. The plan wasn’t perfect, each time he opened his mouth he made himself vulnerable to a potential enemy attack, but it was the best he could do. As he made his descent, jumping from branch to branch toward the bottom, he kept calling out, “Now jump here,” and confirming Ling had followed him by the rustle from the leaves and the distinct thud as she landed on the branch after he left it. It only took a few moments till he was down on the ground, and once he was, he had his Little Ethan begin circling him in the air.

At first he didn’t think he’d be able to find anyone, but he needed to because he was trying to reach Machmuller while the smoke was still thick. However, after a moment, his little black magical rodent golem landed smack onto a target.

“Fire here!” Lee shouted, throwing his voice onto the target, and Ling did as he said. She hit the target enemy perfectly from the sound alone. Lee hadn’t used Sneaky Old Space Wizard, an extension of his Sneak skill, since the days before the battle of Kirshtein, but thanks to his stealth and his divine powers combined, he was a great ventriloquist when he needed to be. “Again!” Lee said, noting that, even after being struck twice in the chest with Ling’s arrow, the soldier was somehow still alive.

No, the party was getting close to 12,000 EXP per kill. These bastards are tough, tougher than anything we’ve fought before. It makes sense that unless it’s a shot in the eye or throat, they’re not going to go down with just one or two hits.

Calling targets for Ling whenever he found one, Lee continued to search around the area, remembering that this is where MachMuller had been fighting earlier. He almost laughed at the shocked expressions on his victims faces, all clearly wondering for a split second how a voice seemed to be sounding from their chests, one even swiping at it with his axe and cleaving into his own skin half an inch before Ling finished him off with arrows. It was an amusing–if not also a little rough–thing to watch, but then the seventh target started to shift the moment he heard Lee’s voice from his chest. The man freaked out, and his body started growing fur where only light hair was present before. His nose shrivelled up, and his hands started morphing into partial paws, the thumb still intact, letting him grip onto his shield and 

“It was a Phouka,” Lee said as he stared at the corpse. A moment later Ling was next to him, holding her bow tightly with an arrow already nocked and ready to shoot.

“What was it turning into?” she asked as she bent forward and looked at the body as closely as possible.

“Don’t know, but this doesn’t bode well. We need to hurry,” Lee said. He remembered exactly how evil the Phouka race was when they transformed. It had taken himself and Miller using every cheat skill they had to defeat an unleveled baby one before that turned into a bear, he didn’t want to see what a high-level Phouka that fully understood its powers and capabilities could do.

“Right, then keep moving,” Ling said, nudging him. “I’ve got your back. Just call the target.”

It took him a few more minutes, and roughly 17 more victims, before he finally reached the main target he had come for: Machmuller. In a fair one-on-one fight, he was certain he’d lose. With Ling, he still wasn’t sure he’d win. However, if Machmuller had his vision, his combat capabilities, and his army, Lee was certain he’d be dead. So the minutes he had left were incredibly important to him. He had to finish the fight quickly.

He tried to start it off just like the others, calling out the target for Ling. “Shoot here!” he demanded.

Ling didn’t respond, not giving away her position or the direction of the arrows as she loosed three back to back at the target. Lee thought the attack might go smoothly, but the moment the first arrow flew, Machmuller had already reacted, yanking the Ram he was riding so that the beast turned its head and took all three arrows right in the face.

Machmuller, feeling his mount die underneath him, roared out in anger. “Not Gordon the Siege Ram!!” Machmuller yelled toward the sky as the mount collapsed, and he fell off it, agiley throwing his leg over the beast and pushing off it so he himself landed on his feet.

“Here next,” Lee said, calling out the target the moment the general landed on his feet, but this time Machmuller was even better prepared, holding the massive double-bladed axe in front of his chest where the sound had originated from, blocking the arrows before grabbing one of the hatchets off his side and throwing it right at Ling.

Lee was too far away, and Ling, lacking Lee’s Blood Shield reaction skill, wasn’t able to dodge in time as the small hatchet ripped through the smoke. Lee could hear it smashing into something, but couldn’t see how badly Ling was hurt through the magic smoke.

Lee didn’t even know how Ling avoided screaming from the pain, but she didn’t make a sound, and she didn’t hesitate to instantly and quietly fall backward to the ground.

Lee, having heard where the hatchet had landed, could only gulp and pray Ling was okay as he pulled out a health potion, a concoction of his made by forcefully fermenting the mana-heavy waters that acted as standard heals. He tossed it to Ling as he did his best to stay focused on the enemy through Little Ethan. He pulled out three glass daggers and tossed them as hard as he could toward Machmuller. The purple crystalline blades had the damage of a regular glass weapon plus the 24 bonus damage that he got from his high Glass Smithing ability. The lethality was then compounded even further by his Power stat and Knife Combat skill. The thrown knives weren’t as deadly as Ling’s perfect arrows combined with her amazing archery skills, but they were no laughing matter: They could easily tear through most armors.

However, when they struck Machmuller’s chest, they barely even made the large man bleed.

“You think that’s all it takes?!” Machmuller yelled, chucking two small hatchets from the leather weapon belt straight at Lee.

Lee had already equipped his best shield, the Cannon Rush Mk. 2, and was able to block both of the incoming projectiles, but not without effort. He felt the force of their impact push him back a little. He didn’t waste time as he threw more daggers. For a moment, Lee felt positive he could handle this fight since the enemy was only using small hatchets, but as soon as that thought entered his head, it left. Machmuller had abandoned his hatchets and instead used the massive person-sized double-bladed axe, hurling it straight at Lee. Lee did his best to dodge it, but he wasn’t fast enough. Instead, he had to settle for holding his shield tightly and at an angle, trying to deflect its force, but even that didn’t work well as, despite the fact his shield was one of the best in the entire game thanks to his Spirit Smithing skill, the axe nearly smashed it in half, leaving a giant crack in the front as the blow sent Lee flying back, and the blade itself bounced off and away from him toward the ground to his left. 

What the hell is this bastard made of? Lee wondered with a grimace as he tried to stand up, throwing the now nearly-worthless shield in his inventory and pulling out a few more throwing daggers to toss at Machmuller.

Machmuller didn’t stay in one spot though. The golden-braided man howled at the sky, his body rippling with his Phouka transformation. Lee’s purple daggers dug into his skin but didn’t seem to phase him as his body grew larger, his chest ripping outward and filling out the once-loose hide armor.

What in the . . . Lee was almost stunned for a moment as he saw the form that Machmuller had taken: a large half-man, half-reindeer. The golden braids had grown longer, and his thick deer-like fur had grown everywhere, extending his main out as giant horns shot out from his head, and his face had contorted to look like that of a reindeer’s too. Machmuller had grown, and he was far larger than any reindeer Lee had ever seen before. The beast easily looked over one ton as he stood up straight and angrily faced Lee, who was still on the ground. 

Crap, I’m going to die if this bastard hits me, Lee thought, and then he decided to do a gambit, using the stealthy ventriloquism skill to make it sound like he was rolling to his right and standing up, like he was cringing in pain and huffing it. In actuality, he quietly rolled to his left, gripped his sword in one hand, and took out a giant bottle of liquor and held it in his left.

Machmuller took the bait, charging at the moving sound like an angered bull pushing headlong toward a matador cape. He sped past Lee and slammed into a tree in the background, hitting it so hard that Lee could hear the massive trunk crack and shake under the impact of the one-ton monstrosity. 

“Your tricks won’t last forever!” Machmuller shouted as Lee threw 10 more daggers in rapid succession straight into the Phouka’s back.

 

Your mastery of Knife Combat has progressed from the rank of Novice Level 7 to the rank of Novice Level 8. This skill sharpens one’s facility with short blades of all varieties.

 

Due to improving Knife Combat, you have received +1 Intelligence. Current Intelligence: 490.

 

I’m not worried about forever; I’m worried about the few minutes I have left, Lee thought as he checked the system’s time. The longer this fight dragged on, the closer certain death became. I just need to . . . Lee was thinking about how to handle the situation, when he, in his nearly blind state, tripped over Ling, who was healing on the ground, falling flat with an umph.

“I’m not falling for the same thing twice!” Machmuller declared, and then charged again, this time in a direction very far to Lee’s left, leaving Lee speechless for a second, but then he quickly looked down at Ling to see how she was doing. The hatchet that Machmuller had thrown had carved deep into her right forearm, halfway into the bone, and Ling was doing her best to wrap it with a cloth using her left hand as she held the now-empty bottle of healing liquor with her teeth, likely afraid to drop it and create any noise.

Freaking hell. Lee winced at the sight of Ling’s injury. He knew just by looking at her condition that he was on his own for a while. The barbaric reindeer Phouka had decomissioned her shooting arm, and she wasn’t as ambidextrous as he was. Even if she were, the injury would be too deep to risk it.

Lee wanted to throw more daggers at Machmuller, but he knew it wouldn’t work. The only way he was going to win this encounter now within the timeframe he had left was if he somehow managed to land a major critical hit in the next 45 to 50 seconds.

Damnit, damnit straight to Augustus, Lee cursed in his head as he pulled out his sword, cracking his neck and preparing for the only strike he knew would be sure to finish off the behemoth.

“What? I am not hell! Don’t go damning people to me!” Augustus rebuked, but he was laughing as he did, and Lee thought he could even hear Mary in the background giggling too.

He didn’t express his thoughts in words, but the feeling that those two would be the last people he heard if this went wrong was somewhat comforting as he pulled out his sword, the Proxy Gateway Mk. 3, a large 4-pound magic-infused solid-steel blade that had the strength and sharpness to cut through the hard exterior of a Cragaboom with ease, assuming the wielder could land the blow.

“I’m not playing tricks this time,” Lee taunted the still nearly blind Reindeer, following its every movement with a Little Ethan that flew inches from the top of the beast, just out of reach. “I’m right here. Are you going to come and get me?” he asked with a grin as he prepared for what was to come.

“You’re still lying. You’re throwing your voice,” the Phouka said, stamping its feet and turning its head wildly as it tried to figure out where Lee was.

Lee picked a few more of his purple daggers out of his inventory with his left hand, holding onto his sword tightly with his right, and threw them at the general. He had no illusions of them doing any significant amount of damage. “I’m right here,” he said, still a little nervous about the plan as he threw a few more daggers so that Machmuller didn’t doubt his position. He needed him to attack straight on.

“Willing to die? Then I won’t deny you the trip to Halvanna! I shall see you when the world dies at the gates of the war at of the end time!” Machmuller declared as he charged forward, lowering his long sharp antlers straight at Lee.

Please work, Lee thought as he gripped the sword’s handle with both hands and held it tightly. “You’re dead now!” he said, casting his voice a little to the right, trying to lead the large reindeer a few inches to the side.

“Ha! Tell death that Machmuller sent you!” the general taunted as he closed in on Lee.

Lee had to grip the sword tighter as he did everything he could to calm his nerves, preparing for the strike. His foe had angled his attack slightly to Lee’s right, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still likely to hit him. If he did this wrong, moving an inch in the wrong direction, he was dead. The long, sharp spikes of Machmuller’s antlers would gore him, and he’d be left hanging in the air like a freshly painted red Christmas decoration.

As the Phouka came in, Lee shifted his body a little to the left, making himself small as he built up as much tension in his lower legs as possible, waiting for the right moment. Then, just as Machmuller entered range, he pushed off the ground with all he had, aiming his sword outward and striking straight at the reindeer’s throat. It was a direct hit, a clean blow into the jugular of the beast. It tore through a very thick layer of fur, through the hide, and pierced the skin, digging into the vein and spewing blood everywhere as the edge cut Machmuller’s throat and blood vessels at the same time.

Surprisingly, Machmuller didn’t die instantly. After what Lee hoped was a fatal blow, the reindeer shifted his weight as best he could, pushing off his legs with as much force as he could and angling head head to catch Lee. While Lee was already underneath the antlers, sliding past them, he wasn’t able to dodge the reindeer’s weight, and the full body of the beast smashed into him, knocking him back before the beast collapsed to the ground, dealing a painfully high amount of damage, crushing his lower half from his stomach down, and pinning him to the ground, leaving him unable to free his feet.

Damn it to Augustus! Lee yelled in his head as he gritted his teeth and did everything in his power not to let out a yell and draw more enemies to his location. The wound had hurt him greatly, dropping him down to barely 250 hit points from 690. Machmuller’s weight had been more than anticipated and had actually been heavy enough to crack a few bones in Lee’s leg as he landed on him. However, what was actually causing him the most stress was that he only had 20 or 30 seconds before the smoke stopped, and then it would start clearing up, and he’d be there, defenseless on the ground with only still-healing Ling to defend him.

No, I’m not dying like this, Lee thought as Machmuller, still not fully dead either, used his hooves to push further into Lee and drive up his pain even more. Not knowing what else to do, Lee reached out to the Little Ethan with Jade, trying to figure out how far the little guy was from him. It was tough since the mouse couldn’t see more than a foot, so he was hoping that his telepathic connection with it would let him gauge distance and location better, but by the time he reached out, he realized he didn’t have to. It wouldn’t matter.

“I’m here,” Jade said as she rushed over to Lee, putting away her blood scythe as she did. Her whole body was covered from head to toe in gore, and behind her was the cause: Little Bobby. The monstrosity she had been able to make with the charred corpses and bloody remains of the people who had recently died was the size of a four-story building, and as it lumbered forward, Lee could see several bodies become freshly added to its feet. “I don’t have much mana left. This thing is too big,” Jade whispered back, getting the drift as she hesitantly  stepped forward slowly, one foot at a time, and had her Little Bobby pick up Machmuller.

“How did you know where I was?” Lee asked as he pulled her hand, not wanting to lose her in the last remaining bit of fog as he went toward the spot where he had left Ling.

“The little mouse, it kept tugging me toward you,” Jade said, reaching out and petting the Little Ethan.

“Well, whatever the cause, we need to get airborne fast,” Lee said as he pointed toward the trees. Even as he spoke, the scroll’s spell lifted. The smoke was no longer rising anymore, and the battlefield was beginning to clear.

“Roger dodger,” Jade said, having her Little Bobby reach out and extend a palm as it placed the back of its hand flat on the ground. It was massive enough that it easily held Jade, Ling and Lee in its hand, lifting them to the top of the tree canopy and removing them from view.

“How long does Bobby have left?” Lee asked, knowing that if it was that big, it couldn’t be sustained for much longer.

“Enough for one more bowling match,” Jade laughed as she triggered her Little Bobby’s favorite move: Spiked Bone Ball of Fleshy Death. It wasn’t an official title, but Jade often called it that when Little Bobby would mash itself up into a ball after building just a little momentum and then use its weight alone to crush foes into dust under its titanic mass.

A moment later, the large blood golem had grown even greater in size, smushing a row King Ramen’s men with several skeletons in the mix as well. Then, petering out and then breaking apart against a tree, it finally shattered into a bloody mess in all directions.

“Step one of your plan is done,” Ling said as Lee healed her. With his mana reserve still high at over 90%, even after patching up his own injuries, he was easily able to close up her wound and fix her right arm so she could be combat capable again. Healing her took less than 4% of his total mana, a nearly negligible amount. “Should we still kill the enemy Herald? Why not leave it?”

Because if he has a world stone fragment . . . Lee thought, but then he shook his head. He replied using the better reason: “Because even with Machmuller dead, even with the losses King Ramen’s men sustained during the meteor shower, even with the kills those skeletons racked up in the darkness, the Herald is still going to lose. If we let one of them kill a Herald, there is no telling how powerful that soldier will become. We can’t allow that type of threat to exist in an army so close to our border.”

“Not to mention all those soldiers of his must be having a field day leveling on those skeletons. If we don’t kill that Herald soon, they’re going to be a higher level than anyone we have,” Jade said, pointing out another obvious fact. 

“Well, we can use the tree canopy to get through, but we’ll still have a lot of arrows to dodge. Be careful. Those skeletons can sense you from any angle, regardless of stealth or visual obstacles, if you go within a certain distance of them. Be ready to dodge and defend at any moment. We’re going to have to sneak over them though,” Lee said as he tested the strength of the tree branch by jumping on it, and then after being satisfied, he started to run across it toward the direction of the town, still gripping his sword tightly as he readied himself for whatever dark monstrosity that could summon over 15,000 skeletons awaited him.

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