Chapter Cover

AUX 1 : Tessa Vivuk - Character Sheet (End of Ch. 30)

AUX 2 : Tolan Morndelen - Character Sheet (End of Ch. 30)

AUX 3 : H̵̱̎͌͜e̶̘̥͙͑̀̈́̈́i̷̺̤̊̋͘ ̸͍͍̠̲͂͛̃̀Z̷̳̑͋̏͘h̴̠͖͚͆̑̔͐a̶̪͎͎͐́͠ó̵̢̒͌ ̸̫̤̮͊̉͂̊-̴͖̿͝ ̵̢͚̌̒̈́͜C̶̢͇̞̣̾́h̸̖̖̦̪̑̔̉̋ã̶͇̲̯̣̽r̶͕̄̍͜ä̴͚͕͓́̾̃̎c̵̣͎͕̈́̔͐͘ͅẗ̸̤́e̶̦̝͓͇̿r̷̦̝̯̐ ̵̠̝͎̬́S̴͕̘̱̃̀̾h̴̛̗̬͜͝e̵̝̞̓̈́̽͛ę̵̞̪̆̈t̵̮͕̦̓

AUX 4 : T̶̬͍̳̳̫͐ơ̵̧̨̜͒͛̒r̸̢͖̥̤̝̟̂̈́͊́̓͝g̷͉̺̹̫͉̥͆̊̓̅r̴̛̺̪̳͖̔̎̿̕͜á̴̖̫ķ̵̨̮͎͎̼͛̈́̀̌̔̈́ ̵̼̱̙͑̑̈́͝͝-̸͓̝͌͝ ̶̨̢͕̦̞̩̿C̶̡̰̗̫̰͙̉͝h̶̛͍͉̞̘͍̣͊̃ä̴̪̍̊͒̂r̵̡̛̻̹̫͈̳̀̐̆̚͝à̶̖̺c̶̤̜͙̗̤̬̊͋̈ṭ̷̣̎̃̎̇͛͝è̴͚̮͜ͅͅr̶͖̦̣̺̝̪͗ ̴͇̳̗̳̾̔S̴̙̞̻͇͘ḥ̵̝͉̘͌́͛̿͋e̷̢̦̰̼̍e̴̩̓͌̑̔t̵̻̗͈͍̩̉̈́

Chapter 0 : The Hero and the Dragon

Chapter 1 : Dreams From Propaganda

Chapter 2 : Running Blind

Chapter 3 : Unmet Requisites

Chapter 4 : Not a Coincidence

Chapter 5 : Kneel to Fate

Chapter 6 : Saved and Sabotaged

Chapter 7 : Apprentice of Bastards

Chapter 8 : New Lessons to be Learned

Chapter 9 : Drilling in the Basics

Chapter 10 : Fanatic Extermination Preparation

Chapter 11 : A Few Moments Before Chaos

Chapter 12 : Never Wanted This

Chapter 13 : A Little Bit of Green

Chapter 14 : The Resistance

Chapter 15 : In Through the Front Door

Chapter 16 : Conversation Between Villains

Chapter 17 : Seeing What's to Come

Chapter 18 : Spark Amongst Flames

Chapter 19 : Everything Starts with a Big Bang

Chapter 20 : The Gun Goes Off

Chapter 21 : Miniboss Meeting

Chapter 22 : The Starting Light

Chapter 23 : A Convenient Opportunity

Chapter 24 : Unapologetically Breaking a Promise

Chapter 25 : No Rest for the Wicked

Chapter 26 : But It Was Me...

Chapter 27 : Second Verse Same as the First

Chapter 28 : Ritual

Chapter 29 : That Lesson Paid Off

Chapter 30 : 30. The End of the First Story

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Chapter No6:Saved and Sabotaged

A few moments later, on the edge of the forest, the half-elf and dwarf pair from the Adventurers’ Guild approached. The half-elf had his shield already strapped to his left arm while having his right hand to his chin in thought, smirking. The dwarf shouldered his weapon while inspecting a strange cylinder made of brass before tucking it away. The dwarf asked, “So. Vhat’s da next step of yer plan ta deal vith our boredom?” (So. What’s the next step of your plan to deal with our boredom?) The half-elf lowered his right hand to his side before replying. “They’re probably resetting their formation and handling any injuries they may have suffered. Considering who’s the one leading them, I’d say he’s trying to get this done in one sweep of his axe.” “Metaphorically?” The half-elf chuckled, “And literally.” Taking the lead into the forest, the half-elf began walking towards where the cave entrance is. His eyes sweeping from one side to the other. Curious, the dwarf asked if his companion noticed something. “See a trap?” “Not a trap per se, but someone cast an illusion over part of the forest. Can’t say for certain if it’s meant for us, but definitely would be enough to keep unwelcome company from leaving.” “Like da lass and da ones she left vith?” “Yes, like them.” Continuing forward, the two moved with unwavering confidence. To most anyone else, it appeared that neither was on guard for anything. The half-elf kept his right hand on his hip, his armor clicking at its joints while snapping twigs and crushing dry leaves underfoot. Meanwhile, the dwarf would yawn or scan over one of his brass cylinders while the barrel of his weapon remained pointed to the sky. Then there was a rustling in the bushes to their right. A bandit spotted them and immediately turned and ran. The half-elf’s and dwarf’s eyes narrowed in on the rustling. Quickly drawing a throwing knife from his bag and flinging it at the fleeing bandit, the dwarf hit his mark before the bandit could alert anyone. “And here I thought you were going to blow his head off. Didn’t feel like using your prized creation?” “Didn’t vant ta ta spoil da surprise,” joked the dwarf. The half-elf gave a single laugh to humor the dwarf. As they got closed in on the entrance, they left all helpless in their wake. Those that the bandit chief had left to patrol the forest for more potential interlopers met similar fates to the first who found the half-elf and dwarf. Some tried to signal that the targets were here. Others made desperate attacks. And the last one lay face down in the dirt as the half-elf drew his sword from the bandit’s back. The corpse shriveled and turned to dust as the half-elf’s sword robbed it of a blue and wispy energy, disappearing into the sword itself. Now at the entrance, their armored feet already leaving freshly bloodied footprints behind them, the two wondered how to go about things next. The half-elf wondered, “Got any ideas for how we could make an entrance?” “Alvays one for zheatrics, aren’t ya?” “Says the one who literally broke into a castle vault because he was ‘bored’. And you call me dramatic.” The dwarf grinned, “Vell, if ya vant ta make an entrance, I have somezhing zhat vill do just zhat.” Cackling to himself under his beard, the dwarf took out a large, black ball that reeked of forged iron, strong chemicals, and charcoal. With care, he gently placed it next to cave’s wall a good distance away from the cave’s main entrance. Taking out a length of a weird string, he stuffs one end into a hole at the top of the ball before walking a distance back into the forest. Cutting it after it’s long enough, the dwarf then pulls out a match and lights it. Following his companion, the half-elf took haphazard cover behind a decently thick tree and waits. The dwarf connects the flame of his lit match with the string and it quickly dashes along the length, hissing loudly and leaving a trail of soot. Meanwhile, inside the cave, Tessa regained consciousness. The back of her head hurt, but everything else seemed to work fine. Looking around, she could see the bandits moving back and forth in torchlight. The bandit’s chief stood around a table with a couple others, discussing something she couldn’t hear, while the others carried supplies and weapons about the cave. Tessa couldn’t find Burf or Puff, but they had left Evera leaning against her. Evera was still out, the effect of the sleeping drug unlikely to wear off soon, but Tessa wondered why the bandits had left them by the side of the wall. She thought back to the last words she heard before blacking out. They were talking about using Evera and me for bait, but why the two of us? Why would whatever they’re hunting prefer the two of us? The bandits had spoken of their quarry like it was a genuine monster that needed so many people to take down, but she couldn’t think of any obvious monster that preferred females. Tessa thought, Perhaps a demon like an incubus, but that would require a sanctioned summoning at best. And being so close to Faethun, not even the insane would risk getting caught nigh immediately. As for beasts, it would make sense for a landshark, owlbear, or wyvern to require this many people to hunt it. But they had their own preferences for prey. She shut her eyes, hoping some miracle would happen and save her. Then, from a wall off to the side, an explosion tore the air asunder. The original entrance caved in on itself from the change in structure as pebbles flew every which way imaginable, a rush of smoke, sulfur, and outside air filling the room. Tessa’s ears rang loudly from the sound of the explosion. She’d kept her eyes closed as some of the debris had rushed past her, but sounds slowly returned. Though what she heard first was a loud but contained explosion, followed by a sharp and mechanical clicking pattern. At first, it was distant. Bwoom. Chuk. Pok. Schink. But got closer with each repeat. Bwoom! Chuk. Pok. Schink! And as it got closer, an evil chuckle followed. BWOOM! Chuk. Pok. SCHINK! It was the dwarf, laughing and entertained with every pull of his finger. A wide grin across his face, hidden only by his bushy beard. BWOOM! Chuk. Pok. SCHINK! Opening one of her eyes to see what was going on, Tessa watched as two people she’d never seen before appeared out of the source of the explosion. The dwarf entered with some weird weapon made of wood and metal in his hands, one end kept against his right shoulder as he looked down its length. The half-elf followed, but quickly took a position ahead of the dwarf. Shield ready but no weapon in his right hand. Tessa thought, Who are these two? Are they… Heroes? Then she noticed several bandits, equal to the number of times the dwarf had pulled his trigger, lay bleeding out on the floor. That’s assuming they weren’t already dead. Immediately, Tessa threw the idea that these two were Heroes away. To kill others was a grave sin in her eyes, something she believed unnecessary even when all other options have been exhausted. And yet, the two showed no pause or remorse in their actions. Then the room fell silent, no one daring to move. The bandits all appeared frozen in place, sweat dripping from their brows as none dared make a move. The half-elf spoke, “Well, don’t go stopping the party on account of us. We were so eager to join in that we couldn’t help but make an entrance of our own.” The bandit chief responded, “Good to see you too, Hei. Though can’t say we expected you to be so… early.” He reached for a greataxe just to the left of him on a table. The dwarf raised his weapon, but Hei motioned to allow it. “You also brought Torgrak along with you, I see. If we’d known, we’d have prepared… additional entertainment.” Everyone could tell the bandit chief was stalling, but Hei and Torgrak let it slide. The chief’s eyes darted about the cavern, observing some bandits that managed to hide in the shadows after the explosion went off. Then Hei raised his right hand to his chin in thought, but every bandit froze in fear that Hei was about to do something. Hei addressed the bandit chief, “Hmm… you look familiar. If only I could remember.” The bandit chief grit his teeth, biting back words he wanted to say. All he could do was force a smile while sweat dripped from his brow. Torgrak threw out some suggestions. “Maybe a former noble ya disgraced?” Hei thought about it, finger to his chin. “Perhaps, but he seems too rough around the edges for nobility of any kind. Possibly a former villager from one of the towns your ‘experiments’ blew up? Torgrak laughed, “If he vas, zhen he’d be missing at least two limbs.” Hei agreed, “Fair point.” While the half-elf and dwarf appeared busy, Tessa saw the bandit chief gesture with a hand behind his back. His fingers were pointing in different directions, but she could hear some light shuffling in the darkness. Her eyes were finally adjusting, and she could see glints of metal from several daggers just barely drawn in the shadows. Hei disregarded the matter of remembering for now, turning his attention back to the bandit chief before him. “Well, doesn’t really matter now. Just nice to know the one who we trapped is someone we’ve met before.” Tessa immediately became confused. Wait, what? However, as Tessa tried to figure out what was going on here, the bandit chief raised his axe and charged. The other bandits joining in all at the same time. Yet Hei and Torgrak didn’t even flinch. In a blur of movement. Torgrak blew holes in some while bashing others away with the stock of his weapon. Hei raised his shield and rushed the bandit chief, his shield grinding against the axe’s edge, as he separated them from the others and creating two separate battles. A moment passed with no one moving again. The bandits, unsure of what to do, glance for a moment at their leader but didn’t take their eyes off the dwarf for more than a fraction of a second. Torgrak joked, “Ya sure ya don’t mind me catching up in kill count? Might end up passing ya.” Hei replied, “I got out to a lead from our last mission. Consider this a donation.” The bandit chief addressed Hei, “So, should I bother asking how it is you figured things out? Or are you going to say this was all planned well in advance and you were just waiting for us to ‘walk into it’?” “More like: found a way to stop being bored and took a chance.” A slow but growing rage began filling the room. It wasn’t easy to notice, but every bandit gripped their weapon tighter. The bandit chief snarled, “Does that mean ruining all of our lives wasn’t enough to entertain you?” Hei chuckled, “Oh, don’t worry. It was definitely fun and all, but…” In a quick flash, Hei drew a sword from nowhere and struck at the bandit chief. Raising his arm high and recklessly bringing it down in an arc. A wicked smirk across his face as the bandit chief had barely enough time to block. Quickly, he raised the head of his greataxe to block. The edge of the axe loudly clashing with Hei’s sword. “Hard to compare a cheating wife to the rush of battle, if I’m being honest.” The bandit chief’s anger was becoming much more physically present. Hei’s words cut like no other weapon could. And it struck the hearts of the other bandits as well, the group surrounding Torgrak charging in with reckless abandon while the dwarf smiled evilly. With unexpected agility and finesse, the dwarf dodged the initial attack and got behind one bandit. Putting the muzzle of his weapon to the back of one of the bandit’s skulls, he chuckled to himself and pulled the trigger. With a loud crack and the sound of metal clicking, the bandit fell to the floor without a moment to realize what had happened. The bandit chief had turned for a moment to see what’d just happened when Hei got the attention back on himself. Pulling his sword back and striking with an arc from underneath this time, Hei knocked the bandit chief’s axe up and left him defenseless for a moment. Yet he didn’t strike again when he had the chance. Instead, Hei allowed him to refocus on the matter before him. Hei grinned, “Your fight is with me, Keith. That was the whole point of your trap, wasn’t it?” Keith grit his teeth. Rather than respond, he ran straight towards Hei with his axe ready. First, he thrust with the head of the axe, aiming to break an arm through the shield with blunt force. Hand on the handle and palm to the bottom of the shaft, he shot the flat head of his greataxe at Hei with as much power as he could put behind it. But there was no clang or thud. Instead of raising his shield, Hei dodged to the side and let his sword go. Letting it fall into a small void as dark as the blade itself before using his free hand to strike at where Keith was gripping the shaft, forcing it down. Keith let out a cry of pain, but held onto his weapon and attempted to yank his weapon back. Aiming to catch Hei with the edge or point of his axe. Hei grinned before dodging again. The blade’s axe scraping against his armor at the waist. Then, with his shielded arm, Hei threw a strong jab into Keith’s stomach. The shield was blunt, but the pointed end of kite shield would leave a good bruising. Immediately, Keith staggered backwards from the strike. Gasping for air for a couple of seconds, he struggled to get his breathing back to normal. “Come now, Keith. This can’t be all you have, is it?” Getting a grip on his weapon, Keith’s eyes narrowed. He took a defensive stance, uncertain of what would come next. Left wrist to the sky and nearest to the axe’s head. Keith asked, “Why are you fighting this way? Got bored with using your sword now, too?” Hei laughed, “No, no, no. Nothing like that. Just wanted to try emulating the fighting style of a brawler I met some years ago. Honestly, not as effective as I thought it’d be.” Keith looked Hei up and down, conversing with the damned half-elf to buy time while he looked for an opening. “By ‘met’, I assume you two weren’t acquainted for long.” “Am I that obvious? When you live as long as I have, some things slip away.” Keith shifted to a low stance, the head of his greataxe nearly touching the ground. Hei, however, couldn’t resist the urge to push every button he could. “Though that I have saved Eloisa’s particular taste to a special part of my memory.” “That’s it!” Keith charged again, this time his axe aiming to cleave Hei from his right hip to left shoulder. “Die monster!” While all of this was happening, Tessa tried to make sense of what was going on. Just a short while ago, her party had stumbled across the bandits by accident and were completely decimated. Yet these two, on their own, were toying with them. The fight between Hei, if she heard right, and the bandit chief appeared entirely one-sided in the half-elf’s favor. And when the other bandits attacked the dwarf, Torgrak, the entire cavern became filled with the sounds of clicking metal, contained explosions, and pained cries and screams. Blood flying every which way imaginable while the dwarf fought in a brutal yet efficient manner. Torgrak took advantage of his shorter stature to get behind or beneath his target’s guard before shoving the barrel in their face and taking them out. And when stuck for a moment to crack it open and pull spent ammunition out, he would force one bandit into another or use the wooden stock as a club. Sometimes even grabbing and breaking a bandit’s arm and force them to be a human shield as he reloads. How they fought bewildered Tessa. Who… are they? She watched in awe and horror. The power the dwarf wielded, even when greatly outnumbered, is literally deafening. The pained cries and cracking of Torgrak’s weapon echoed all over the cave. Tessa’s stomach churned while her head pounded. She held her hands to her ears and shut her eyes, just wanting it all to stop. It went from loud banging and crashing to muffled slashes and booms. Then it quieted down with one last shot from Torgrak’s unique rifle. A bullet right between the eyes of the last bandit standing before the bandit fell into a slowly forming pool of his own blood. Tessa opened her eyes slowly to see that the fight between the bandits and Torgrak was over, and he’d taken out a cigar to smoke as he waited for Hei to finish playing with his food. Letting her hands from ears, Tessa listened and watched as Keith struggled to do anything against Hei. Swinging his axe in arcs that never hit or just barely grazed against Hei’s shield or armor. Keith was panting heavily. Each swing was powerful, carving chunks out of the floor from time to time, but never landing a solid hit and pushing his stamina to its limit. Only his rage kept him going. Keith roared, “Fight me or die!” Hei yawned. Seeing a chance, Keith closed the gap with one last swing. Pushing his arms to their limits, he swung with all his might to rend Hei’s head from his shoulders. Unfortunately, Hei had gotten what entertainment he could out of the frothing mess Keith is now. As Keith swung forward, Hei sidestepped while drawing his blade from the void it lived within and stabbed it straight through Keith’s heart. A bored expression on his face as Hei watched Keith’s last breath escape. Cutting down through the ribcage and splattering the blood on the ground, Hei withdrew his sword as Keith’s axe fell from his hands. Keith’s mouth moved, but no sound followed as blue wisps of light trailed from his body to Hei’s blade. The body quickly mummifying in mere seconds before Keith’s body turned to dust before it hit the ground. Hei returned his sword to its dimension again before dusting his hands off and being satisfied with what he’s done today. Turning his attention to the cigar-smoking-dwarf, Hei spoke. “That’s our fun for the day. Now onto what we’re here for.” Torgrak took the cigar from his mouth to let out a puff of smoke. Giving a chuckle, he put it out by smashing the head against the armor on his arm and stored the remaining in a bag at his side. The two then approached Tessa. She began panicking, confused and scared of what would happen to her. Th-they’re coming right for me. Wh-what do I do?! I-I can’t fight them! Then Hei stopped moving, his gaze shifting off Tessa and onto a figure behind her. A bandit was still hiding in the shadows and moved to make Tessa his hostage. Holding his knife to her throat, he began making demands. “D-don’t take another step closer, unless you want her blood spilled all over the floor!” Tessa’s attention shifted at breakneck speed. Now she was a hostage. Her fate seeming to end in death or death. The bandit then quietly whispered, “I’m not going to hurt you. Just stay quiet and I can get us both out of here.” Immediately, Tessa was now even more confused. She couldn’t tell what was going on anymore. Who’s the “bad guy” here? The two who just slaughtered everyone but herself and the one with a knife to her throat? Or the one currently threatening her life but saying he can get both of them out alive? Hei raised his hands, agreeing to the bandit’s demands. “Alright, alright. We won’t take a step further.” The bandit’s voice was still shaky, but became more confident now. “G-good! Now, I want you two to let us leave, and I’ll let her go the moment we get to the forest.” Tessa let out a terrified squeak. Wait, what?! You’re going to leave me to these two just to save yourself?! Hei and Torgrak looked at each other before turning their attention back to the bandit and Tessa. They’d heard the bandit’s demands and broke out in a hearty laughter that nearly drew tears from their eyes. “Sh-shut up! I’ll kill her! I swear I will! Now just let me go and she won’t have to die,” demanded the bandit. The knife’s blade scraped against Tessa’s skin, nearly cutting. The cold steel sending chills down her spine. Her eyes pleaded to anyone who’d look in them. I-I don’t want to die. Please! Just let me live! I-I’ll go away to where no one can find me and never bother anyone with my dream of being a Hero again! Just please let me live! Hei cleared his throat. “Alright, alright, we’ll agree to your ‘terms’.” The bandit’s knife shook in place slightly, his nerves getting to him. But he’d gotten what he wanted and forced Tessa to get up and start walking. Constantly keeping his eyes on Hei and Torgrak to make sure they didn’t make a move. Slowly, he and Tessa moved around from the back of the cave to the entrance Torgrak had blown in the wall's side. Once they got there, he whispered again. “I’m going to release you in a moment. When I do, I’m going to run as fast as I can. Follow me and you can escape them. Not asking you to trust me, just to follow until we get out of the forest. Alright?” Tessa didn’t respond. She was still trying to figure out who actually meant her harm, but at least the bandit was giving her a way out. Nervously nodding, she agreed. Hoping that this really was the right way to go. “O-okay.” He began taking steps towards the forest, blade still to her neck. Then he heard the crunch of leaves and twigs underfoot. “Alright. We’re in the forest. Now, when I count to three, turn and run. Got it?” Tessa nodded again. Her heart now beating at a mile a minute. “Okay. One. Two. Thr-!” The bandit lowered the knife from Tessa’s neck just as he turned to run when a shot rang out. Tessa felt a sudden impact in her chest that passed through and out of her back. Everything slowed down. The bandit who was going to lead her out of the forest fell face first, a hole where his heart should be. And looking down, she could see a similar hole, blood quickly trailing and spreading out from it. Once her body hit the ground, a horrible burning pain seeped from the wound as she bled. Her eyes only able to see the cave that they’d just left, and the blurred appearance of two people approaching her. A-am I dying? Is this what happened to all those the dwarf killed? No. I don’t want to die like this. It burns. It hurts. Why? I did nothing wrong, so why am I dying? Hei and Torgrak approached her, yet all she could clearly see were their feet. Torgrak took a knee and examined her. Hei asked, “So, can you fix her up?” “Aye, but it von’t be cheap.” “We can always get more. Need our new investment to be alive first, after all.” Tessa’s consciousness could barely comprehend what they were saying. She heard Bits and pieces, but nothing made sense. Her vision began fading to black, the pain overwhelming her senses. I’m going… to die. Torgrak took something from his bag and began getting to work. Little shuffles, clinks and tinks of metal, glass and other things as he dug into it. She whispered, “I… want… to live.” Torgrak chuckled, “Ve know.” His voice was definitely hinting at things beyond what she knew, but this was her body’s limit and Tessa blacked out.