40 Horses for the Journey

Vecna's boots made a soft rhythm against the cobblestone streets as he strode purposefully toward the towering gates of Valoria.

His mind buzzed with a myriad of thoughts, the events of the recent clash still echoing in his thoughts like the distant rumble of thunder after a storm. It was a situation he was glad to be leaving behind, yet the consequences of his actions would likely ripple for some time.

'I've done it. And I always acted careful to not get into the attention of the players. Now what?'

'I'm certain they managed to record the short clash between me and Bloodhound and his cronies.'

'Those interested in my Items would for sure be among the first ones to see it.'

'Huh. If they think about exploiting this weakness of mine, they'll be sorry for trying.'

The grand gates of the city loomed ahead, their imposing presence a reminder of the sprawling metropolis that lay within.

'Next time we meet. I'll make sure to kill you. Even if it's in front of the City Guards.'

'I should check in for some carriages toward's Comeo, and from there I'll travel by foot towards Summit's Crest.'

As his gaze fixed upon the gates, a glint of interest caught his attention from the corner of his eye – a stable nestled off to the side. The sight seemed to pull him, a momentary distraction from the turmoil that had unfolded.

'Right. This place was still here. Unlike in the past, I can now afford their services.'

Vecna's steps veered off their intended path, leading him toward the stable. The rhythmic clip-clop of horses' hooves accompanied by the soft nickerings of the equine inhabitants filled the air. With a sense of purpose, he entered the stable, the scent of hay and warm animal musk enveloping him.

His vampiric eyes took on the surroundings like he was an alien monster, instinctively grasping the number of living beings inside this Stable, about 24 horses, and five humans managing the operations of the Stable.

His footsteps drew the attention of one of the attendants, a middle-aged man with a weathered face and hands calloused from years of work. The man approached Vecna with a welcoming smile, failing to observe the invisible coldness the Vampire Lord was exuding.

"Good day, traveler. Looking for a horse to accompany you and your ladies on your journey?"

Vecna's gaze met the attendant's, his demeanor steady and business-like. "Indeed. I require three horses."

The attendant nodded, unfazed by the request. "Three fine horses, coming right up." With a swift efficiency born of experience, he led Vecna to a section of the stable where three horses stood, their coats gleaming in various shades.

Vecna's gaze shifted from horse to horse, his scrutiny thorough and meticulous. He evaluated their builds, the shine of their coats, and even the way they shifted their weight as if predicting their potential movements. After a brief yet calculated assessment, he made his choice.

'Not an expert on horses, but there's this feeling I have about some particular horses. Their vitality is potent enough that it makes me want to suck their blood.'

As he approached the horses, he moved with an almost predatory grace, his movements deliberate and controlled. His touch was gentle yet firm as he connected with each animal, his fingers tracing the curve of their muscles and the texture of their coats.

He felt their energy, their vitality, and even their instincts.

The first horse, a chestnut brown mare, responded to his touch with a quiet curiosity. Its ears flicked back and forth as if it were assessing him in return. Vecna noted the way it shifted its weight, a sign of its inherent strength.

The second horse, a dappled gray gelding, displayed a proud demeanor, almost challenging in its posture. Vecna's fingers brushed over its mane, and he couldn't help but feel a sense of camaraderie with its untamed spirit.

But it was the third horse, a black stallion, that truly captured his attention. As his hand made contact with its flank, the horse reacted with a mixture of caution and defiance. Its eyes locked onto Vecna's, a silent exchange passing between them. Vecna sensed a rebellious spirit within the creature, a trait he found himself admiring.

'Hehh. This one is quite the stubborn mule.'

Vecna returned his attention to the attendant staring confused at this blonde man, awakened by the calm tone of Vecna's. "I'll take these three."

The attendant smiled, revealing a missing tooth. "Excellent choice, sir. These horses will serve you well. It will cost you 3600 gold coins in total."

Vecna counted out the agreed-upon sum of gold coins and handed them over. The attendant's weathered hands accepted the payment with a practiced ease. "Pleasure doing business with you."

With the transaction complete, Vecna turned to Maribel and Elysia, who had been observing the proceedings with a mixture of curiosity and interest. "Ladies, we have our mounts."

Maribel's eyes sparkled with anticipation. "Oh, I can't wait to bond with my new friend here." She was all-natural, approaching the chestnut brown mare, even taking out some fruits she stole from the Grand Market to entice the beast.

'Shouldn't be bothered with her. She's a granny with tons of experience in life.'

'What I'm worried about more is… Her.'

Vecna's attention then shifted to Elysia, who stood a bit more uncertain. His crimson eyes locked onto her, and a faint sense of confusion crossed his features. "You can't ride a horse?"

Elysia's cheeks flushed slightly, embarrassment tinged with an apologetic smile. "I... I'm sorry. We mainly used Gryphons as mounts in my kingdom. I never had the opportunity to learn horse riding."

Vecna's gaze remained fixed on her for a moment longer, a mixture of understanding and surprise in his eyes. Then he turned toward the horse he had chosen for Elysia – the dappled gray gelding. As he approached the horse, his expression shifted, and his crimson eyes took on a playful glint.

"Alright, then. Watch me and do the same. Don't be afraid of the horse." His tone carried a hint of amusement. "Oh, and…"

As if he had a bipolar personality, his gaze turned cold and predatory as he focused on the horse. His words were a quiet threat laced with dark humor. "If you try to pull anything weird on her, I'll turn you into a sausage. First, I'll drain you of all your blood with my fangs, then butcher you for all that meat."

The horse snorted, as if understanding the warning, its eyes wide as it regarded the formidable figure before it. Vecna's intensity lessened, and he turned back to Elysia, his expression more relaxed. "Don't worry, I've given it a stern talking-to."

With a reassuring nod from Vecna, Elysia mustered her resolve.

She followed his instructions carefully, positioning herself near the horse. To her astonishment, the horse knelt on its forelegs, a gesture of acceptance and cooperation. Elysia's gaze widened in amazement, a smile tugging at her lips as she mounted the horse with newfound confidence.

"Has that bad person scared you? Don't be, I'll not let him turn you into food."

Maribel watched the scene with a pleased grin, her connection with her own horse deepening. "You're a natural, Ely."

Elysia's laughter held a mix of excitement and newfound confidence. "Thank you, Maribel. I never thought I'd be riding a horse like this."

Elysia's laughter held a mix of excitement and disbelief. "I can't believe this. It's incredible."

Vecna mounted his own horse, the black stallion he had chosen. His movements were fluid and practiced, a reflection of his familiarity with such activities. With a gentle nudge of his heels, he urged the horse forward, setting the pace for their journey. Maribel and Elysia followed suit, their horses falling in line behind him.

"If you're good, I might turn you into my Vampiric Stallion. The power you'll have will be otherworldly."

He cast a sidelong glance at Maribel and Elysia, both adjusting to the sensation of horseback riding. Maribel's joyful expression and Elysia's growing confidence were a reassuring sight.

With everyone mounted, Vecna led the group toward the sizable walls of Valoria. They approached the city gates, the guards stationed there casting casual glances at them, their scrutiny light and unobtrusive. Without further checks or questioning, the trio passed through the gates undisturbed, the recent events seemingly having left no lingering impact on their exit.

Elysia couldn't help but be surprised by how easy their departure was. She glanced at Vecna, her eyes reflecting her astonishment. "It's... different from what I expected. How did we leave the city without any issues?"

Vecna's response was cool and assured. "It's different when stepping back. But with me around, you'll pass without being searched or questioned."

Elysia's lips curved into a small smile. "I'll trust you."

Maribel chimed in, her voice brimming with curiosity. "Vecna, where are we heading now?"

A sense of purpose flickered in Vecna's crimson eyes. "Of course, towards Travian Sierra. We'll be on a Goblin and Orc Hunt."

With those words, the group of three rode away from Valoria, their horses carrying them forward toward a new destination, a new adventure awaiting them beyond the horizon.

The wind whispered through their hair, the rhythm of their horses' hooves creating a harmonious symphony as they ventured forth, without worrying over the commotion inside Valoria City player-scape.

Since then, the gameplay for Vecna took a different turn, returning to his rather monotonous days where nothing of substance happened. Unlike the most RPGs and MMORPGs that he heard his school colleagues speaking about, or those that he looked out online on Skynet, this VRMMORPG that he played was different to the norm.

While there was a lot of freedom inside Satisfy, there was a rigid structure to the world. Players' couldn't bounce from location to location with a flick of their fingers, the basic means of transportation for Users being while hiring transportation services of Carriages, taking NPCs and User's alike to different Towns of their Region.

That would be the cheaper solution, and for those who could employ some resources, buying your own horse was far better, not having to worry about being slowed.

And if you wanted to go over-the-top, you could buy the exorbitant services of the Mage Towers who had Portals to the Kingdoms Capital or Regional Capitals.

As such, resuming to journeying out on horseback, the journey stretched on for about a week.

The trio's horses carried them through diverse landscapes and villages along the way toward the border of Travian Sierra. Despite their determined pace, they found themselves taking refuge in smaller villages as the sun dipped below the horizon, the world bathed in twilight's embrace.

It was during these stops that the constraints of the Satisfy world became apparent. While Vecna was free to rest as he wished, Elysia and Maribel had to find inns or lodgings for the night, adhering to the rules that governed their characters' lives within the game.

Despite the differences in their circumstances, the trio navigated this aspect with a shared understanding, Vecna's solitary habits fitting well with the situation, as he had the chance to roam like a phantom in the night streets of those smaller Towns.

The Vampire also didn't have to worry about his Insatiable Hunger which he found out could vary depending on what activities he was doing inside the Satisfy World. If he was fighting or training his body, his Hunger Meter would decline rapidly, according to the effort he was doing, and if he remained calm without expending his energy, similarly his hunger would decline slower.

However, along this journey as the trio got closer his Hunger couldn't be kept in check, no more.

The journey through the mountainous landscapes of Travian Sierra had taken its toll on Vecna. The exertion of riding, the constant vigilance against Goblins, and the adrenaline of the impending confrontation all contributed to the swift depletion of his energy. His Insatiable Hunger, a constant companion, was growing stronger with each passing day.

"You don't look so well, Vecna. Are you affected by sunlight like I heard Vampires do?" inquired Maribel, as she noticed Vecna looking paler and paler, a sharded mirror of his former handsome visage.

While on his black stallion, this time he was completely indifferent to Maribel's playful inquiries, even talking made him feel it would drain on his Hunger Meter.

[Hunger Meter: 24/100]

"It doesn't hurt if you would speak to me. I thought we warmed up a bit since we've been on this journey to the mountains."

Maribel's attempts to lighten the mood were met with Vecna's wearied indifference. His responses were curt, his mind consumed by the battle he waged within himself.

"Maribel, I don't think he acts like this on purpose. He must be hurting and struggling a lot this entire time." chimed in Elysia, watching Vecna with a worried expression.

How could she forget that vampiric transformation that took over Vecna, the sight of the Hungry Monster that still found reason to act gentlemanly with her as she was chained up in the Dungeons of some corrupted Commander Guard.

Vecna shifted his predatory crimson eyes to look at this silver-haired beauty that for once abandoned the practice of hiding even her head with the black cloak, revealing to nature her stunning beauty. Her long silver hair acting like a wave while on horseback, her purple eyes holding an insurmountable amount of life.

"How bad is it, Vecna?"

"It's fine, this is nothing. It's just like the cravings for sugary things. You can fight them off."

"Please, don't be stubborn and tell me if you want to drink my blood. We can take a stop at a spring for the horses to drink up, and do the deed there."

Elysia persisted, her concern for his well-being evident in her voice. She offered her own blood, a selfless gesture that held a surprising intimacy. Vecna's gaze turned to her, a mixture of gratitude and refusal in his crimson eyes.

"No. I appreciate your consideration, but no. At least, not now. We're getting closer to Como. I don't want to have some peasant noticing me feeding."

Maribel, ever the mischievous one, threw her own proposition into the mix.

"Ahh, so that's what his problem was. Why not ask me for some blood? I'll gladly let you lick my neck."

"..."

Vecna's response was both candid and sarcastic, his sharp wit undimmed even in his current state. His fangs elongated as he spoke, a physical manifestation of his need that he couldn't fully suppress.

"You'll be the last living being I drink blood from. Heck, probably even demon blood tastes better than your oil engine."

"Now, now, can you two not butt heads again about this? Also, you Maribel, don't make fun of Vecna in his current state. He's very weak. It's better that you don't hurt a man where it hurts the most, some wise words of my… mother." tried Elysia to be the peacemaker.

Elysia's attempt to defuse the situation and bring some levity to the conversation was evident, her heart in the right place despite the heaviness of the topic. But even in her role as a mediator, she couldn't fully escape her own thoughts and emotions.

As the trio continued on their journey, Elysia's mind wandered. Her thoughts were a labyrinth of memories and worries, tangled with the uncertainty of the future and the weight of her responsibilities as an Elven Princess.

The beauty of the mountain landscapes around them seemed to echo the bittersweetness of her thoughts.

Her entire family, unsure but certain they were killed in the Siege of the two murderous Dukes of the Empire. They were the last ones to leave their people, holding a sacrifice for the future of their Silverwood Kingdom.

'Mom, Dad. I really wish from the bottom of my heart that you managed to escape that Hell.'

'No need to worry about Ely. I found some good people that actually care about me.'

'I really wish I could introduce them to you two.'

With her purple eyes flickering once with life, they turned downcast, as if death energies took over them. She felt better when a large hand touched her head gently, caressing it a bit as the Black Stallion of Vecna was moving at the same speed with her own, even though it was far stronger.

When Vecna's large hand reached out to gently touch her head, a shock of warmth radiated from his touch. It was a simple gesture, a caress that spoke volumes.

She looked up at him, her gaze meeting his crimson eyes. In that moment, the world around them seemed to fade, leaving just the two of them in their own shared reality.

"No need to think about uncertainties. You still don't know the truth about Silverwood's situation. Once we take care of those parasites who chained you up like some worthless being, we'll do an excursion towards your home."

Elysia couldn't help but smile at Vecna's confident words. His attempt to reassure her resonated deeply, a reminder that they were all bound by a common purpose.

Those words warmed her cold heart, but in a moment of silliness from her side, she couldn't help but remark. "Better take care of those fingernails or you'll not touch me."

Her cheeky remark about his nails brought a surprised laugh to his lips.

"Don't you say it? Can't do much about them since I could pierce even a blade with them."

She continued to smile at him, appreciating that luck brought him into her life and she could now turn around her life.

"Vecna, I never thought I'd see this side of you," she teased, her smile genuine. "Thank you, for everything."

"It's enough to have a downcast in the group, two would be too much." saying that, he kicked the Stallion that performed exceptionally this entire journey slightly with his reins, resuming his vanguard spot in the group.

As their horses carried them forward, Elysia's gaze shifted from the rugged mountain landscapes to the man beside her. She felt a growing connection to him, her heart palpitating without him doing anything perverse as in the past. Only his presence and kind words were enough to put a smile on her lips.

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