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Adano was tired but continued his frost magic training with unabated fervour. He was quite aware that this training had the dual use of making him more useful for the tribe and distracting himself from thinking about his strange situation. In fact, he welcomed that line of reasoning completely. Having a concrete task would keep him stable. Yet, there were doubts that this was the best course of action. Should he spend more time reflecting on his situation? No, he dwelled on such thoughts before, and decided to wait for opportunities at which he could collect some meaningful data. In the background his assistant explored the old fashioned internet of Arratan, which might offer some insightful cues, but so far that search didn’t come to any relevant conclusions.
Jolan noticed that Adano’s ability to concentrate had slightly diminished compared to yesterday: “Every thought that you spend on something not related to your training will decrease its effectiveness. Get back to the current moment, and your task.” Of course she was right. Adano asked his regulator to optimize his brain for complete mindfulness. Distracting thoughts quickly faded into nothingness and he became a sole practitioner of the fine arts of magic, nothing else.
That way he lost his sense of time. He was in a kind of trance, training and resting like a zen master robot, not caring about anything else. What disrupted his trance was a briefing by Shi Xifeng after a very indefinite amount of training: “Thank you for dedicating yourself so much to your training. Now we are entering the elven city of Ailissa, capitol of the Republic of Alyade. It is possible that we will be invited to the high court of Ailissa. They might ask about you, particularly why you are in such an elite group like ours. So, we’ve come up with a plausible cover story for you. It probably won’t hold up to strong scrutiny, but that’s alright. In the worst case, we’ll just frame your actual story as a second layer cover story that’s too absurd to believe. Anyway, the cover story is that you’ve won a secret lottery of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan, and have won a year long guest membership in our tribe. This secret lottery was revealed to specific people in Asgard as special feature of the Hyperbolic Vortex exchange programme. Actually, the Hyberbolic Vortex exchange programme is real. It’s a massive programme that replaced nearly 15% of all Arratanians with outsiders throughout Sol. That’s also how Desmond Arthur joined us a few months ago. So, it’s pretty believable that you are an adventurous Asgardian who was just lucky enough to win a lottery. You probably know more about Asgard than most of us, so you’ll be able to fill in the blanks. This cover story isn’t very elaborate, but you should stick to it, because raising too much suspicion would be bad for all of us.”
This made Adano get out of his super-focus mode and into a more neutral state of mind. He fleshed out the story of how his imaginary past self played a lottery, won, and got teleported to Arratan as special bonus for winning. Shi briefed him about the deal with Ailissa: “Our information sources point to Ailiassa as being the best source for further clues for the location of the Quest item we are seeking. The Ailiassans are very suspicious of outsiders, due to political reasons, but our reputation as elite Quest tribe might sway them. Ailissa and the republic of Alyade have been at war repeatedly with the empire of Herak Avonai, a tyrannical god. Ailissa has been burned down to the ground twice by the angry god himself, so there’s not the best blood between Alyade and his empire to say the least. Yet, due to their unrelenting resistance Alyade has wrestled a deal with Herak. The republic is now a semi-autonomous region of the empire, instead of being a complete vasal state. Let’s say that this status does not seem very stable, particularly during these turbulent times. Alyade has always sought for powerful allies who could help defend the republic against Herak’s overwhelming forces, especially the powerful god himself. So, the agents of Herak see all potential allies of Alyade with great suspicion. We really don’t want to get dragged into that conflict, since all we want is the Quest item. Yet, both sides will try getting us to support them. Please refrain from making any promises. And most importantly: Don’t mention that we are seeking a Quest item at all. Even mentioning that would cause an incredible amount of trouble. Officially, we are on a vendetta, though you don’t need to know the details right now.”
Shi continued explaining the tribe’s plan to him: “We are going to split up in Ailissa, mixing with the locals at taverns, markets, and other places to gather information. Agents of Ailissa’s high council, Herak’s spies, and certain other factions are present almost everywhere, so we can hardly avoid making our intentions getting noticed. Still, we don’t have any better options right now. Be on your guard, and remain as inconspicuous as possible. I’m teaming you up with Danisho, Jolan, Desmond, and Frenya Razni. She’s be your team leader. As always, she’ll end up showing off with her heritage from the sky goddess Fova Razni, which will hopefully draw attention towards herself and away from you. Just let her talk, and please don’t interrupt her. Also, try not to get trapped in a prolonged conversation with any locals. Let us do the work.”
Adano got a very strict and serious look from Shi who seemed to be afraid that he would mess this up somehow. He tried to sooth her: “Don’t worry. I’ll stay in the background and won’t talk unless somebody addresses me directly. Then I will strictly stick to the cover story.” Shi seemed to be pleased with that answer and smiled. He joined the teammates that were assigned to him. Adano had already taken notice of Frenya with her waist long silken sky blue hair and her fair elven complexion with her fiery red eyes. His guess was that she was half-human half-elf, though he dared not to guess which lineage had the claimed connection with that sky goddess. Under her deep blue sorceress robe that was adorned with sapphires she wore full plate armor. Perhaps the most attention provoking about her was the brilliant tiara on her head that shone in a soft white light. Frenya took note of Adano approaching her and greeted him: “Pleased to talk with you, Adano Rahec of Asgard. Leave all the talking to me, and we’ll be golden. It’s great that you won this lottery and all, but now we’re into some serious business. Let my divine blood lead to us victory! Oh wait, you may not have heard about Fova Razni, the glorious sky goddess of the flying city of Vevedria.”
While Frenya enthusiastically and ceaselessly told Adano everything he never asked to know about Vevedria, Fova Razni, and most importantly herself, they approached the city wall of Ailissa. The wall was eight meters high, protected by a deep and wide moat, and had guard towers each twenty meters apart. Large mystic symbols were engraved in or painted on the walls, probably to grant them additional magic protection. When they got close to the south entrance of the city, they noticed large banners on which a green dragon was placed in a crossed out red circle. Apparently, dragons had to stay outside, even though the gateway was large enough for them to pass. Adano wanted to ask why they didn’t want any dragons in the city, but then got reprimanded by Frenya: “Hey, what’s there to look at? Is a boring city wall more interesting than the divine Frenya Razni? Of course not. Please pay attention, or you will miss the most important parts of the story. And you don’t want that to happen, do you? Now, where was I? …” Adano continued listening to Frenya, even though he didn’t care a lot about her stories. Interrupting or ignoring her would be too rude for him to consider.
The southern gate was recessed in a large semicircle behind the line the city wall would have taken. On the walls there were literally hundreds of archers and battle sorcerers ready to rain down death on any potential attacker. Visitors had to go over a long and narrow bridge that ended at the drawbridge of the southern gate, which was guarded by huge titanium golems. Apparently, Ailissa emphasized deterring unwanted guests. As they approached the bridge towards the gate, they were greeted by a loud metallic booming voice of the golems: “You shall not pass without proper invitation papers from the high council of Ailissa. Only one representative shall enter to apply for permission.”
Chief Modi went forth on this own and urged everyone else to wait there. Meanwhile a small garrison was sent out from the city wall to collect names, titles, and biometric data from the visitors, like fingerprints, retina scans, saliva samples, aura readings, and various scents – each of those twice. The tribesmembers were aware of the critical political situation that called for such measures, so they didn’t protest too loudly. During all that time they observed regular travellers entering and exiting the city, with most of them having the right papers that allowed them to enter and exit relatively quickly – though even they weren’t spared from some brief biometric measurements. Adano wondered what the Ailiassans were afraid of. Did they expect shapeshifters who impersonated others to gain access to the city?
Shortly after their arrival, showmen, entertainers, and peddlers from inside the city greeted the visitors and started performing various acts, and offered snacks and souvenirs. As his assistant had found out on the internet, Arratan had a habitat-wide reputation economy with a universally accepted digital currency called the Arratan Mark. Other currencies were usually banned, though there seemed to be a vibrant black market based on signed gold coins in some places. Trading in the energy equivalent of matter was very illegal in Arratan, even though that was of the pillars of the overall economy of the Canonical Coherence. But of course, each habitat could make its own economic rules that fits its particular policy. Even though he had no Mark on his own, he still “liked” some of the acts of the performers. Those “likes” would eventually contribute to their variable income in Arratan Mark. Adano was particularly enamoured with a play by a troupe of actors portraying absurd situations at the checkpoints in early 21st century airports on Earth with passengers trying to smuggle various hilarious items like marihuana plants, expensive portraits, or huge dildos. The tribe even got a visit from McLembas drive-by carriages supplying them with healthy elven fast-food cuisine. Adano could get away with observing all of that very attentively, because Frenya was luckily busy with talking with the apparent garrison leader.
During the commotion, a guardian placed some gemstones on the ground in a circular pattern. Suddenly a teleportation spell was activated and three heavily armored soldiers and an indigo unicorn appeared within the circle, together with a swarm of magical flying camera drones. The unicorn reared, whinnied loudly and addressed the audience: “Dear spectators and visitors, welcome to the champions’ league of Ailissa! Our proud city has been honored by the arrival of Section 73 of the fascinating Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan. How powerful are those enigmatic travellers really? Can they defeat the legendary defenders of Ailiassa, the exalted champions of Alyade? Behold the power of the ultimate champion of the city: Lord Venn Jariel Kamui Aresh of the holy city of Valnurea who wounded the powerful god Herak during the Fourth Great War and forced him to retreat. His noble angelic powers enable him to spar with the gods themselves. His polar opposite is the fallen shadow demon Vedra Ulam, former general of the armies of the dark demon god Laneg. Despite his former allegiance to Laneg, Vedra Ulam has sworn eternal loyalty to the republic of Alyade. Vedra never fails to strike fear into the souls of his opponents. And finally, our finest elven warrior, Lord Tithorat Autri Ano Levi, co-leader of the mighty dragon extermination battalion defending our fine city from the wrath of the dragon clans haunting the Spirit Mountains. Those who manage to defeat our terrifying heros win the possession of the unique heavenly lightning spear Kal’azerni crafted in the divine plasma forge of the high god Tano, patron of Valnurea. It was the incredible power of Kal’azerni that made Lord Venn Jariel triumph over demon god Laneg during the Shadow Siege of Ailissa. With that powerful artefact our angelic protector achieved what even Herak could not: Free Ailissa from the eery grip of the umbral demon forces. Is there anyone who dares challenge our greatest heroes to a melee match? By the way: Only anthropomorphics allowed. No large dragons.”
During the mentioning of the spear Kal’azerni, it materialized over the indigo unicorn, floated there magically and turned into every direction. Vice chief Lairesh, an elven priestess of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan asked the unicorn: “Ah, that’s a very impressive prize you have there. But what if we challenge you and lose?” The unicorn showed a wide smile and replied: “Oh, that’s no problem. We don’t expect you to win anyway. Challenging our champions is free.” Except that such a match would allow the Ailissans to figure out about the general power level of the tribe, as Adano realized. After all, the game Quest didn’t broadcast the might of players or groups in this habitat. Declining such a challenge was a delicate matter, since it could sour the relationships between the tribe and the city.
Lairesh announced: “Alright, we challenge your heroes. I’m assuming the usual Berserk rules with Quest gear?” The unicorn replied: “Sure, customary rules. Circular arena with 12 meters radius. One single fight. No interference from the outside. Damage to gear will be nullified after the match.” Lairesh choose her warriors and presented them to the audience: “Behold our finest warriors, commander Jissat, Lord Arun, and Gandri.” The audience waited for more information, but the unicorn quickly got what was going on: “Ah, the legendary brevity of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan in action. You let your actions speak for themselves. Very well. May be battle begin!”
As the combatants entered the circular arena, the gear of the challengers materialized. Commander Jissat was a tall male lion therianthrope wearing thick adamantium armor that could only be penetrated by adamantium weapons or magic. Not that the incumbents didn’t wear at least equally impressive sets of armor. Adamantium could be recognized by its subtle fractal hexagonal patterns. It was the game equivalent of the iron/carbon metamaterial commonly known as resisteel. Lord Arun was a nearly two meter tall wingless yellow humanoid dragon wearing a colorful full plate armor covered in arcane symbols. Gandri was more of a surprise. That dwarf measured about 1 meter 30, and his skin seemed to be merged with silvery tree bark in most places. It looked like a partial fusion effort with a tree spirit or something like that. He also wore a full plate armor with at least an outer layer of adamantium.
Adano was aware of the usual Mevara realm characteristics of the Quest game. Adamantium was extremely expensive, since only divine beings were able to create it. Steel was usually the abundant standard material for armor, sometimes in conjunction with kevlar. Sometimes, advanced titanium alloys were used by wealthy groups. Apart from its cost, a serious disadvantage of adamantium was that it could not be enhanced with enchantments, because they would disturb the delicate atomic structure of the metamaterial. Penetrating any kind of serious plate armor was quite difficult. Warhammers, maces, lances (on fast mounts), and heavy warbows (at short distances) were some of the few non-magical weapons that were capable of getting through plate armor. Certain kinds of arcane magic were also able to get through plate armor, though trying to heat or freeze your enemy to death with magic attacks was also a viable option. Most armor sets had weak spots, though it wasn’t easy at all hitting your opponent there. In the absence of better options, it was advisable to attack with weapons that could effectively cause some blunt trauma. The surest way of penetrating armor were managuns, propelling small armor piercing projectiles up to extreme velocities with intense magical telekinetic fields. They were the magic equivalent of railguns, so to speak. Thick adamantium armor was still capable of stopping ordinary managun projectiles, though. Another way of protecting yourself against managuns was to target their mana capacitor crystals with an anti-magical blast. For that reason, anti-magic blasters were quite popular. But then, you could protect yourself against them with special anti-anti-magic shields. Also, an effective way of deflecting managun projectiles were reactive magic shields that set up small mana deflagrations that diverted the path of an incoming projectile. Finally, multi layer magic shields were an option, also. Enemies protected with such magical shields could usually only be defeated with melee weapons, or by depleting their mana reserves.
The existence of those kinds of magic attacks and defenses made combat in the Mevara Quest system quite elaborate. To make it even more complicated, there was a kind of stable magical plasma called ether. It was possible to create weapons made out of ether. They were able to penetrate even the toughest kinds of armor, but had the tendency to evaporate or explode when they got in contact with strong anti-magic blasts or magic shields. That fact made them a rather unpopular, but there were materials called ether composites that provided a metallic containment matrix for the ether field that protected it quite effectively from such critical failures. Ether composite weapons are generally among the most effective weapons in the world of Quest. To ether composite weapons even the hardest conventional armor was more akin to a liquid like honey than anything else. There was the inglorious tendency of ether composite weapons to get stuck in armor, which was a good reason for having spare weapons in the likely case of that happening. Nevertheless, ether composite weapons were supremely effective against any kind of defence except for ether composite armor. The problem with ether composite armor is that it was quite weak against regular weapons. To ameliorate that issue, ether composite armor was sometimes “sandwiched” between other types of armor. Now with ether composite materials being very expensive on their own, the delicate sandwiching process required to integrate ether composite armor between regular layers of armor makes those types of armor almost as expensive as pure adamantium armor. The most expensive and generally best type or armor is called “adecti” armor, featuring an outer layer of adamantium, an intermediate ether composite layer, and a usually magically enhanced inner layer of titanium armor. Only gods and legendary heros used that kind of armor. Killing enemies in adecti armor usually required overwhelming the use of overwhelming magic power, or anti-armor adamantium weapons. If you had none of those, your only realistic options were fleeing or surrendering.
Recollecting this information and anticipating the upcoming spectacle with excitement made Adano nearly forget his current situation of being lost and abandoned. Nearly, but not entirely. The gravity of the situation weighed down on him like heavy storm clouds above his head. Lightning could strike him any time without prior warning. Worse yet, if it hit him, he wouldn’t know how to react. So, what could he do? He had to trust in fate. Trust that whatever he would be confronted with, he would find a way to master it. He could neither really trust his new companions, nor himself. Certainly not in the way that he could trust the wise. Despite all of that, he knew that indulging such thoughts wouldn’t help him. Adano needed to make strategically rational decisions. And his current situation mostly called for collecting more data and information. So, he remained passive and continued watching and observing.
The champions of Ailissa mustered their challengers coldly. Their leader Venn taunted them: “You seem like a decent team, but that won’t do. Where’s the fun in defeating the three of you? Let your big dragons join the fight in order to create a real spectacle for our spectators. Lady Vanya, please grant us this extravagance.” Lady Vanya, the indigo unicorn bowed to Venn and spoke: “Very well, Lord Venn. Your wish may be granted. The challengers may try their luck with their three humanoid warriors and their two dragons, with otherwise unchanged rules, except for an extension of the radius of the arena to 24 meters. Do you accept these conditions?” The challenging Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan unanimously answered with “Yes.”
And so the green dragon druid Zathinax and the red dragon warrior Chahezla joined the challengers on the flanks of an arrowhead formation with Gandri leading their charge. By now, the fighters have all materialized their weapons: Gandri had an adamantium heater shield and an adamantium kriegsmesser. Lord Arun to his right wielded a large adamantium mace. Commander Jissat to his left used a 2.4 meter long adamantium bill hook. The two large dragons didn’t use any special weapons other than their bodies.
In theory, the tactic of the Mist Hunters should be clear. Since dragons were much stronger than humanoids, they could simply overwhelm and incapacitate their opponents with sheer force, even if they were virtually invulnerable in their adamantium armor. Of course, the champions of Ailissa wouldn’t let themselves be overwhelmed so easily, since they used weapons that were deadly even to armored dragon warriors like Chahezla: Sir Tithorat used a 3 meter long adamantium tipped spear, while the demonic Vedra held magical shadow arming swords in each of his hands. Lord Arun certainly had the most extravagant weapon: An ether matrix longsword, which was basically an adamantium sword interwoven with a network of small channels that let ether flow through it. The ether engulfed the blade of Lord Arun’s sword. This required a level of magic control that’s only feasible for divine beings.
Both parties started rushing towards each other, with the dragons trying to flank the Ailiassans. The first contact happened between commander Jissat and Lord Arun as Jissat swung his bill hook at the matrix blade of his opponent and managed to hook into one of its ether tunnels. Meanwhile Zathinax managed to grab Arun with his claws from behind. What he underestimated was the speed of Vedra who pierced one of his shadow swords with almost no resistance through the adamantium shield of Gandri, his titanium armor, his ash bark skin, deep into his lung, just to quickly step sidewards and cleanly sever Zathinax’s claws from the rest of his body.
On the other side of the ring, Sir Tithorat and his adamantium halbert faced Arun and Chahezla who tried flanking him. After Arun retreated from a stab from Tithorat’s halbert, Chahezla approached him from the side, which made her feel the axehead of Tithorat’s halbert, which penetrated her hardened steel plate as well as her hard dragon scales and bit into her flesh. Despite her injury, she rushed on, together with Arun who tried hitting Tithorat with his adamantium mace. After his successful hit, Tithorat retreated towards his teammates and drew an adamantium arming sword and an ether composite dagger at the same time. While retreating, he deflected Arun’s mace blows with his sword, while trying to keep Chahezla at bay with his magical dagger. Keeping even a slightly injured dragon at distance with a dagger hell-bent on eliminating her target turned out not to be a viable task. Chahezla simply grabbed Tithorat’s arms with the front claws, even though his ether composite dagger got stuck in the middle of her right front claw. Then she accelerated as quickly as possible towards the edge of the arena, flapping her wings frantically. She successfully dragged Tithorat outside the boundary, eliminating him and herself from the fight.
In the meanwhile, Lord Venn drew back and freed his sword from the grip of Jissat’s bill. He then swung it powerfully at the head of Zathinax who was hurt too badly to escape that attack in time. The ether matrix blade decapitated him with absolute ease. Concurrently, Jissat hit Venn in the back with full force of his adamantium bill and incredibly succeeded in penetrating the adecti armor, but the attack lost so much of its power in the process that the resulting wound was hardly even an inconvenience to Venn. Only a fraction of a moment later, with unfathomable speed and precision, Vedra decapitated Gandri, who was about to start a feeble counter-attack, and cut off Jissat’s head immediately afterwards.
All of this happened so quickly that Lord Arun hardly had time to react to what happened to his fellow combatants. Realizing the danger that Vedra posed, he put all of his magical energies into the two following strikes. One was a magical lightning blast emanating from his left hand that engulfed Vedra and vaporized his shadow blades. The second one was an immediately following telekinetically enhanced strike with the adamantium mace, that he wielded in his right hand, concentrated directly on Vedra’s temple, cracking his skull, despite the protective adecti helmet that was worn by him.
Despite this brief victory, Lord Venn used the exposed position of Lord Arun to quickly separate his head from his shoulders with that mighty ether matrix sword. With only Lord Venn surviving the battle, the heroes of Ailissa won within less than six seconds that the whole fight lasted.
“Once more the champions of Ailissa emerge victorious from another glorious battle.” Lady Vanya announced and continued: “Despite their slim chances, the courageous challengers have proven their worth by taking out two of our strongest champions during battle. Such a feat is truly rare, even though it was clearly encouraged by the generous change of rules proposed by Lord Venn.”
“Now what brings the mysterious Section 73 of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan really to our magical city of Ailissa?” Lady Vanya went on provokingly: “What do you pretend looking for?”
Vice chief Lairesh wasn’t fazed in any way and composed a calm answer: “We seek for justice after a grave betrayal from within the highest ranks of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan.”
... to be continued ...