Under the half moon, a dark silhouette sailed on a silent river, its inhabitants thankful for the cover of night.
Hektor sat on the main deck with his back resting on the mainmast. He winced, stifling a cry as Kashi tightened a bandage over his injury.
“That ought to stop the bleeding,” Kashi said, patting the teen on his shoulder. “You really need some armour though; It would be foolish to perish because of a stubbed toe.”
Hektor nodded, then lay down on his back. He closed his eyes and his breath evened as he drifted off into sleep.
Kashi looked around the deck and saw the rest also asleep, having followed his instructions to get some shuteye. He walked up to the stern where Jero held the steering wheel, eyes peeled on the river.
“How do you suggest we attack?” Jero asked, glancing askance in Kashi’s direction.
“Not sure yet,” replied the dark elf. “What do you know about Merswamp?
Jero’s brows furrowed in thought. “Not a lot. I heard it had been abandoned on account of Froggers and stalkers.”
“Yes. terrible creatures that dominate the swamps south of Merswamp. During this season they migrate… no, escape further north.”
“It’s the season of the Geruk Frogs. They are too dangerous even for stalkers.”
“I see.” Kashi rested on the railings, enjoying the night breeze. “How long until we get there.
“Six hours at the most, half of that if the wind stays on our side.”
“Okay then. Go get some rest. I shall take over.”
Jero relinquished the wheel. He observed the Dark Elf as he took the wheel and gently but surely took control. “You have experience?”
Kashi chuckled. “Not exactly. Learned a bit from someone I know. I can only navigate open rivers in calm weather though. Anything beyond that and I am no better than a baby.”
“Still, it’s impressive.” Jero watched for a bit longer. When he was sure they would not crash in their sleep, he sat down and rested against the railings. He promptly fell asleep soon after.
Kashi looked down at the half elf, then back to the river ahead of him. How to go about this…
A sharp sound resounded in his left ear as a window opened.
Accept Call From Stryke?
He chose yes, recalling the energetic boy.
“Hey! Kashi, what’s up?!,” Stryke asked.
“I’m well. How are you doing?”
“Slamming. We just finished clearing a dungeon. Where’ve you been?”
Kashi hesitated, wondering if he should let Stryke in on his activities. He got an idea a few seconds later. “I went South. There are some nice quests down here.”
“Eh? But I heard the villagers are poor and don’t give any quests,” Stryke said.
“Go to Ranad. Tell them you’re a friend of mine. They should be more friendly.”
“Ranad? …You’re doing far more than you’re telling aren’t you?”
Kashi laughed nervously. He had to admit: the kid was smart.
“It’s okay though. We’ll take you up on your offer. Thanks bro.”
Bro? Kashi nearly lost control of the wheel in shock. “I-it’s fine.”
“Oh, Sara says hi.”
Kashi frowned, at loss for words. “Um… tell her I said Hello?”
“Sure. He says hello.. Ow!”
“Yeah. Nothing major broken.” He replied in a high pitched voice.
“Okay, good. I’ll see you soon.”
“Sure! Thanks again for the info.”
“Anytime.” The call ended and Kashi looked up to the starless sky. “That should speed things up.”
Three hours later, Jero opened his eyes. He looked to the side and saw Kashi still piloting the ship. He stretched as he rose to his feet and looked around, taking in their location. “We’re but a few miles away.”
“That was a short nap,” Kashi said.
“It was more than necessary. During the war, I sometimes went days without sleep.
Kashi turned to him. “How was it? The war I mean.”
A shadow crossed the half-elf’s face as he said in a gravely voice,
“…It was hell. I have never been as terrified as I was during my years of service.”
“The Dark Elves were that strong?”
Jero placed his palm over his face, eyes wide in horror. “Strength had nothing to do with it. They were excellent strategists, and from the dwarves, they obtained superior weaponry. Despite all this, we would not have faltered if it were not for their unimaginable cruelty.”
Kashi opened his mouth to speak, but decided against it. “I am sorry to hear that.”
“No need to apologise,” Jero said. He sighed, and leaned forward on the railings. He looked down to the deck where the rest of the team lay. “…You have done more for us in a day than we have done for ourselves the past ten years.”
“We are far from done. I will be relying on you until the end.”
Jero turned to him, a half-smile on his face. “I will answer your call; now and forever. You have my absolute loyalty.”
“That is good to know.” Kashi noticed an open bank ahead of them. “We shall weigh anchor over there. Please wake the others. We will go the rest of the way on foot.”
“…And the stalkers?”
Kashi turned to him, a look in his eyes the war veteran recognized. “If it comes to that, we fight.”
As its name implied, Merswamp was a town built upon a dense swamp. Thin trees and bramble bushes dominated the region, with muddy stale waters inhabited by several beasts. These beasts were famous for their diseases and poisons, making it infamous among adventurers.
Kashi and his men waded through the murky waters cutting a shorter path to the town. Kira led the group, alert for any hostile smells.
“Schkuck!” Hektor cursed as he dragged his feet through the mud. The moist earth sloshed between his toes, leaving him with a nasty chill. “Why are we going on foot again?!”
“Because we do not know how much security there is at Merswamp,” answered Jero. “It would be foolish to attack head on.” He pushed a bramble branch out of his way and it smacked onto Hektor’s face.
“We are almost out,” Kashi called. He could make out flickering light in the distance, and knew they must be coming from the village. They came to a halt in front of a large wall made from large tree trunks. “A walled village… The local beasts are that dangerous?”
“Yes. We have been fortunate not to have encountered any.” Jero said.
“Nothing to do with luck,” Iason cheered. “Kira here must have avoided them all.” He patted her head. In reply, she shook her body, tossing the mud onto them. Iason spat out mud, eyes furrowed. “Well, that’s the last time I compliment you.”
She grinned, revealing her large canines.
“How do you propose we approach?”
“Down!” Kashi yelled.
Everyone fell flat as a large beam of light hovered over their position. It lingered a spell, then passed over them. It scanned the swamp, then disappeared as fast as it had appeared.
“A searchlight…” Jero whispered. “It came from that tower over there.” He pointed to a guard tower at the left edge of the wall. “That’s odd. I thought the village would have been abandoned.”
“It is not the villagers,” Kashi said, taking out a rope from his inventory.He tied it to the end of his arrow.
“Wat ya doing” Hektor asked, puzzled by his actions.
“If there is a guardpost…” he said as he nocked the arrow onto his bow, and drew it to its full length. “There are guards.” He loosed the arrow and it stabbed deep into the top of the wall. “We cannot go through the front as it would attract their attention.” He pulled on the rope till it was taut, then tied it around some trees.
“You can’t be planning…” Iason mumbled.
“Exactly.” Kashi hopped onto the rope, then ran along it. He was too fast for his weight to fully bear down on it, preventing it from breaking. Seconds later, he was up and over the wall. He landed on a raised platform used by guards when patrolling, then beckoned for the others to follow.
“Wat da fuck?!” Hektor yelled as loud as a whisper would let him. “Y’all ain’t gonna attempt dat righ-”
The twins jumped onto the rope, skipped across and joined Kashi’s side.
Jero followed after them, his feet barely touching the rope.
Paris hopped onto the rope, somehow managing to look majestic as he ran across.
“Guess that leaves us then,” Iason said, chuckling.
Kira took a few steps back, then also dashed across, using long leaps to compensate for the poor footing.
Hektor and Iason stared at each other, then at the rope… then back at each other.
“Screw dis! Imma burst through da front,” Hektor said and huffed. “Only cowards sneak in the back anyway.”
“Uh.. I’ll stick with the kid,” Iason said. “Don’t wanna let him come to any harm right?”
Kashi could not hear him, but he understood the message. He nodded and waved for them to do as they wished.
“Will they be all right on their own?” Narkis asked.
“They will be fine. Those two are strong,” replied Kashi. He looked to his right where the watchtower sat.
“Wait here,” he said to the group. He lightly jogged to the tower’s base, looking around to make sure he was not being followed or watched.
He climbed its ladder, taking each rung carefully. It would not do to spook the target so soon. He peered into the tower and saw a figure leaning over the half-wall. It looked odd, so his pupils narrowed to improve his sight. He made out bulging muscles with fins along its underarm and back. This was no human.
“I smell you, elf. Show yourself.” It had a throaty voice like it was gurgling on water.
“Heeh? You have an advanced nose eh?” Kashi said as he climbed into the small square post.
The thing turned around and Kashi felt a chill run down his spine. Red bulging eyes glared at him from a large round head that could only belong to a frog. Its muscles were really large lumps of fat that rolled over each other, with a protruding belly. It wore a loincloth and nothing else. In its hand it held a large sword.
“Now, before you do anyth-” Kashi ducked under its swing, then dashed forward and speared it onto the wall. Its body was slippery and he soon lost his grip. It elbowed him on his back and he fell under its overwhelming strength.
The Frogger kicked him with its webbed feet and he crashed onto the opposite wall. It made to impale him, but he rolled towards it, dodging the strike. He looked up into the Frogger’s eyes as it opened its mouth and spat at him.
Once again, Kashi quickly rolled away, but his retreat wa blocked by the sword. He suppressed a cry as the spit dropped onto his arm, and burned it with the ferocity of an acid. Grinning at its trapped quarry, It spat at him again.
This time, Kashi kicked against the wall pushing him back. He would have slammed his head against the other end were it not for his quick reflexes. He placed his arm in an arc onto the floor, and pushed against it, propelling himself into a handstand. The acidic spit burned the wooden floor, and Kashi fell forward, slamming the heels of his boot into the Frogger’s surprised eye. It opened its mouth to scream, but the dark elf quickly twisted himself, delivering a rising helicopter kick to its jaw, effectively shutting it up. He kicked it again, sending it crashing onto the wall.
Kashi righted himself and once it stood up, kicked it on its shin, sending it over the half-wall. It fell to the platform and he followed after, jumping onto its abdomen from the tower. Its mouth opened in a soundless cry and he grabbed its tongue. “This is for my arm,” he whispered as he ripped it out and stomped on its face.
It burst into myriads of light, then floated into the sky. The tongue in his hand also burst into light, turning into a small bottle with a clear liquid in it. “Identify.”
Frogger’s Venom: Poison from the Venomous Froggers.
-30 HP on Impact.
-30 HP / 5 s
Kashi smiled, pleased with the find. He looked at his left arm and tried to move it, but it refused to respond. It seemed he had let a bit too much poison hit it in one go. Ripping its tongue out had also worsened the injury.
Annoyed by his carelessness, he took out bandages from his inventory and wrapped them around the arm. He tightened it violently as if to punish himself. He received a message telling him it would take a few hours for the arm to fully heal.
First aid complete, he jogged over to his team once he was sure no one had heard the scuffle.
“I saw something fall. Was that you?” Jero asked.
“Something like that,” replied Kashi. “The guards here are Froggers.”
Jero tensed. “You’re sure?”
“No doubt about it, just defeated one. Be careful down there; They spit out poisons from their mouths.”
Kashi jumped down from the platform onto the earth. It was softer than normal, so he bent down and touched it. It was moist, yet firm enough to hold weight. The villagers probably sand-filled the swamp with clay.
He dashed through the town, followed closely by his teammates. He motioned for them to spread out and they combed through in an upside down V-formation, with him leading the charge. The village was empty as they had guessed. However, there were no signs of the Froggers either.
A loud cry caught his attention and he dashed towards the main entrance. Several Froggers surrounded Hektor and Iason. Blood seeped from the men as they parried blows from several directions and struck back.
If it were anyone else, they would be dead by then, but they both possessed large health and resistance. Perfect tanks.
Kashi’s men attacked the Froggers from behind, slicing away at them mercilessly. The Froggers had not expected the attack and instantly fell into disarray. The men took full advantage of this and rode their momentum to slay even more. On Kashi’s signal, Kira also joined the fray, knocking the Frogger’s over with her massive build then proceeding to rip at their throats
Kashi watched the skirmish with calculating eyes. So far, everything had gone to plan. He had purposely let Hektor and Iason go around. It was a gamble to test their strength and endurance. Knowing Hektor, they would draw the enemy’s ire, leaving them defenceless. He did not feel any superficial pride or joy from using them the way he did. He just instinctively knew tough decisions had to be made by any leader worth their position.
There would definitely be those who would curse him for his leadership style, but he cared not. He only used them because he recognized their skills. It would be an insult not to.
Kashi turned to the source of the growl. A large Frogger almost twice his height burst through a building, wielding a large club. Froggers followed behind, cheering it on. This was bad. The others were only riding their momentum in the fight. If their rhythm was disrupted now, they would surely be routed.
He left the comfort of the wall he was resting on and stood in the monster’s path. “How about I entertain you?”
“Darkling.. injured. No.. challenge,” it boasted and roared in his face.
Kashi held his breath as the monster’s putrid breath breezed past him. “I do not need my ha-” He was cut short as the monster’s club slammed against him, crushing his left arm. It sent him careening through the walls of a mud house. The building collapsed on top of him.
“Hmph.. Darkling.. dead.” It turned away with its followers to head towards the fight. A few steps to its destination, it heard a cry behind it. It turned and saw its followers all on the floor, bursting into myriads of light. At their center stood the dark elf with a mocking smirk.
“Did you never hear the expression, Don’t turn your back on your enemies?” Kashi said.
“Gruuuaaa!” It swung its club with all its might, but Kashi stopped it with his right hand. Confusion, anger and fear registered on its face as the Elf clenched his fists on the club. A large crack ran from the point his hand was on, all the way through the weapon. The Frogger stumbled as it saw the Elf’s confident eyes through the falling splinters.
“My apologies. You seem confused.”
The elf vanished from its sight. It searched around, then suddenly felt heavy pressure on its head. It attempted to grab the Elf, but once again he was gone. “Urk!” It cried as a painful blow, penetrated the fat in its belly and sent a shockwave of through its body.
“You see, I recently discovered I no longer needed the Dexterity stat,” Kashi said, kicking it at its back. It cried in pain and whirled backwards, but he was gone. “The handicraft skill did everything my Dexterity should have done.” Kashi punished it with an uppercut to its chin, then disappeared again. “So, I deleted it.” He appeared in front of the monster and it struck at him with its fist.
Kashi blocked the blow with the palm of his right hand, and locked the monster’s fit in place. “… Where do you think I chose to place all the stat points I had in dexterity?”
It clenched its left fist and hammered down on him. Kashi released the arm he had held hostage and the monster stumbled back from the unexpected recoil. The elf took an arrow and jumped onto its face. “Have a taste of your own medicine.” Kashi said as he stabbed the arrow into its exposed eye. It cried and whirled around in pain, drawing the attention of the others who were fighting.
“You are already dead,” Kashi said and walked away.
The creature trashed around in pain, crashing into walls and buildings. It fell to the ground, holding a hand out to the Elf. “Ab..sa…lon-sa..ma…..”
Alarm bells rang out in the Elf’s head as he dashed to the monster and grabbed it. “What did you just say?!” It did not answer, its good eye slowly clouding over. “Hey! Wake up!”
His efforts were futile. The Frogger burst into light leaving behind a parchment.
The Froggers seeing their chief fallen, began to flee, having lost the morale to fight.
“Do we chase or not?!” Jero called to Kashi.
The dark elf clenched the parchment in his hand, as he read the message. “Let them run,” Kashi said. His voice was dark, carrying in it malice so thick it made them shudder.
“Forget eight days. We end this farce tomorrow,” Kashi declared as he squeezed the paper in his hands.