The Primal Hunter
Chapter 882: Heartfelt Conversations & Hidden Agendas

”You’re a real smooth-talker, huh?” Jake heard from behind as Carmen walked up to stand beside him. ”Sure trying to get that little dragon princess wrapped around your finger.”

”Hm?” Jake said, not entirely sure what she was getting at. ”No, I was trying to be polite. She just seemed a bit sheltered and nervous.”

”Damn, you’re dense at times,” Carmen sighed. ”Think about it. That little princess has definitely been praised and raised up her entire life, with every single male influence in her life, either a family member, someone trying to get in her pants, or people too fucking scared to try anything as they know the kind of trouble they could get into for offending her. Then you come along, confident and unbothered by her status, treating her like an equal and being all nice, while she also knows her dad would probably be over the moon if she dragged you home with a ring on her finger.”

Jake stared at Carmen for a while as she spoke before shaking his head. ”I think you’re reading way too much into this.”

”She definitely isn’t,” Jake suddenly got backstabbed as his brother decided to join her. ”Let me put in terms you can probably understand better. Imagine if it was you, before the system, as a young man. One day, you are asked to deliver something to some attractive millionaire model, who then proceeds to have a nice conversation with you, treating you incredibly friendly. All the while, Mom and Dad are hiding behind a bush ten meters away, giving you thumbs-ups, telling you to go get her.”

”I… don’t think that analogy works,” Jake muttered.

”Kind of does,” Carmen agreed. ”Not really, but kind of, I guess. Anyway, the point is most women who view you as a potential partner will see you being nice as a green flag and potentially even the most mundane flirting in the world. Coupled with them being sheltered with no idea how to act around the opposite sex, you get situations like this.”

Jake looked at her and Caleb, who nodded in the background as Jake sighed. ”So, what’s the solution?”

”Fuck if I know,” Carmen shrugged and smirked. ”Not my problem either. Just trying to be helpful here so you are at least aware of what you’re doing and don’t get taken by surprise when you suddenly get a surprise proposal. In all honesty, I find your cluelessness and all the blushing fair maidens quite amusing.”

”Ditto,” Caleb seconded. ”Also, it would be hilarious if you dragged a dragon home to Mom and Dad. Even more hilarious if you dragged a whole bunch of women home from all sorts of different races…”

”Are you hinting at wanting me to introduce someone to you? Damn, I’ll have to tell Maja what you’re up to while exploring the multiverse…” Jake said, looking at this brother with a faux disappointed look.

”Alright, alright,” Caleb raised his hands in surrender. ”You just keep doing you. Anyway, I actually came to say that I’ll have to do some politics of my own, so see you around. Oh yeah, and I feel like I say this every time, but do come by Skyggen for a visit sometime, yeah?”

”Okay,” Jake nodded. Yeah, he really should visit, especially after spending such a long time in Nevermore.

Caleb walked off, and Jake saw Maria had also bailed somewhere. The others were busy on their own as Carmen stayed standing beside Jake.

”Don’t you have to do some Valhal stuff?” Jake questioned her.

”I am doing Valhal stuff right now by standing next to you and chatting in full view of a bunch of major factions, including that orange fuck across the room,” Carmen responded.

”Ah,” Jake said as he smirked. ”So you only bother to hang around me because it’s work?”

”Not gonna lie, I am getting a bit annoyed at both you and Valhal at this point. One day, they’re telling me to get closer to you; the next, they’re telling me to stay as far away as I can, and now we’re apparently back to them wanting to make it look like Valhal has a good relationship with you,” Carmen said, shaking her head. ”Fucking politics.”

”Amen,” Jake agreed wholeheartedly as he decided to quickly put up a barrier of stable arcane mana to keep their conversation private. ”But if it’s worth anything, I have a feeling they’re not going to flip-flop more after I met Valdemar.”

”Nah, definitely not,” Carmen shrugged, and with the barrier up, she seemed a bit more open to sharing information. ”Seems pretty keen on making you join Valhal at this point, and from what I heard, Ell’Hakan and Yip of Yore are fully aware of that, potentially even on board. I have no fucking idea what they’re planning, but it definitely includes separating you from the Malefic Viper, one way or another.”

Jake was a bit surprised as he looked at Carmen. ”You seem awfully informed. Do they keep you up-to-date on things?”

”Apparently so. Gudrun agrees with wanting a closer relationship between Valhal and you, and she seems to think the best way of doing that is through me,” Carmen explained casually. ”Pretty sure they want me to be a honeypot or something like that. Haven’t directly asked me yet, but damn, have they hinted at it.”

”I’m not sure how to respond to that,” Jake said, scratching the back of his head.

”Now you’re the one overthinking,” Carmen grinned as she punched Jake in the shoulder. ”Ain’t no fucking way I’m going to be anyone’s honeypot.”

Jake felt a bit relieved as he nodded in response.

”Not that you can’t have some honey once in a while,” Carmen said flirtatiously. ”Just don’t get your dick stuck in the pot.”

Chuckling, Jake shook his head. ”Not gonna say no when offered.”

”You know, I just realized how damn good I am at my job,” Carmen said as she stared out of the transparent stable barrier of arcane mana. ”Look at how damn well I showed off the multiverse the great relationship between us to the level of making that little dragon lady of yours jealous.”

Jake had indeed spotted a certain dragon in human form throw glances their way as the Disciple of the Heartsoul Daolord tried to take her attention away from Jake and Carmen talking.

”Oh well, I guess I should stop breaking the hearts of every young lady present,” Carmen said jokingly after a bit as she threw Jake a deep look. ”Hm, maybe it’s the mask? Nah, definitely the dangerous and mysterious aura.”

”Very funny,” Jake said as he waved her off and dispelled the arcane barrier.

”Hey, it has its appeal,” Carmen shrugged as she walked off. ”See you around, Jake.”

”Enjoy politicking,” Jake said as the Runemaiden gave him a middle finger before she decided to finally get back to some people from Valhal.

Returning to the others from the Earth group, Jake enjoyed talking a bit with Eron and Arnold. Alright, mainly Arnold, as Eron preferred to listen, not really adding much, and only ever really chiming in when he asked some questions about certain concepts. The three of them ended up mainly discussing the House of the Architect as time passed slowly, with the conversation being quite enlightening.

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By now, most of the people who really wanted to talk to Jake had. More did come by simply to congratulate him but without wanting anything in particular. People from the Altmar Empire, United Tribes, and a few other factions, big and small, either invited or restated their offer for him to visit, and they were all very polite about it.

From these interactions, it did become clear that besides the titles Chosen of the Malefic Viper and Harbinger of Primeval Origins, Jake apparently now had a third title that made others both wary of him, and interested in forging good relations. In other words, his prestige was building, and it was building at a far higher speed compared to his so-called rival.

Something this rival clearly knew… as it appeared Viridia’s prediction had been slightly off. She had predicted that Ell’Hakan would keep a good distance from Jake throughout the get-together, avoiding any interactions with him. However, Jake soon saw him approach, not even walking with any of his cronies or people from other factions. He made his way over all alone, and as the person with the second-most interest placed on him in the whole event, his movements caught quite some attention. As the entire get-together was also winding down at this point, far less interesting things were happening, making the Chosen’s actions stand out even more.

Jake calmed himself down as he saw Ell’Hakan approach from behind. He quickly considered what the hell the other Chosen was planning, as he also realized the implications of Ell’Hakan approaching Jake.

For him to seek out Jake was almost seen as a sign of submission – a sign he viewed Jake as someone with a higher status, making it only proper conduct for Ell’Hakan to be the one approaching Jake. What’s more, for him to do so alone indicated he came as an individual and not someone representing any faction or gathering of factions.

When Ell’Hakan got within ten or so meters, Jake turned to meet him. Acting arrogant or haughty would gain Jake nothing. He had treated every other person who approached him so far politely, even those he didn’t really know or wasn’t a fan of, and treating Ell’Hakan differently or even antagonistically would only play into his story that they were fated rivals or something dumb like that.

Jake especially wanted to avoid looking like some arrogant young master. Arrogant young masters never won.

One could almost sense the tension in the room as Ell’Hakan did something Jake had not expected. He cupped his hands and slightly bowed toward Jake with a smile. ”Greetings, Lord Thayne. I wish to congratulate you on being the new champion of the All-Time Leaderboards. It’s truly an achievement worth recognition.”

It took a lot from Jake to not just blurt out and ask what the hell the guy wanted, but he kept his cool. He couldn’t let emotions control any of his actions, especially not in front of Ell’Hakan, who could read everything. Jake really didn’t like to be put in this situation, but he would have to manage as he evaluated the situation.

Ell’Hakan had clearly taken a more respectful stance. His choice of calling Jake ”Lord Thayne” was definitely also deliberate. It communicated a closer relationship than merely using a title and remained polite in nature while also conveniently leaving out mentioning any relations to Jake’s Patron. Just from this alone, and his earlier talk with Carmen, Jake had a guess what Ell’Hakan’s goal was.

”Thank you,” Jake said calmly, continuing as he responded in kind, though he failed to not at least take a small dig at the other man. ”I should also congratulate you on your placement as Era’s Pinnacle. To hold such a title for even a moment is impressive.”

Ell’Hakan smiled at Jake’s reponse, as by now, quite a lot of attention had gathered on them. The conflict between Yip of Yore and the Malefic Viper was an undercurrent of the multiverse all factions with influence of any kind knew about. It was a situation they closely monitored, and a social clash between their two Chosen had to be of significance.

”I did my best, and I guess I couldn’t have done more than that. Still, I take pride in what I did accomplish, even if my performance ultimately only allowed me to enter the top 10 of the All-Time Leaderboards,” the other Chosen said with a sigh.

”All anyone can do is their best,” Jake simply agreed non-committedly, trying to give Ell’Hakan as little ammunition to work with as possible while remaining polite and neutral.

”Isn’t that the truth,” Ell’Hakan said with a melancholic smile as he spoke in a slighly louder tone than before. ”It’s what we all strive to do. To do our best in any situation, with the power, resources, knowledge, and state of mind we have at that moment in time. Yet sometimes, even our best does not prove enough, as was proven on the Leaderboards this day. This… brings me to the past, where I also made decisions and did things that I at the time believed were my best course of action, but now, in retrospect, only brings me regret.”

Jake had tried to not give Ell’Hakan ammunition… yet it seemed like he had done just that as the other Chosen continued.

”My failure was to be found in the knowledge I had, forming the reason behind my actions. Assumptions, created from nothing but my own biases and through sin by association… something I now realize was a mistake, and the second reason I approached you here today, Lord Thayne,” Ell’Hakan said, very deliberately wanting all the eyes on him he could get as he bowed.

”With my deepest sincerity, I apologize for past transgressions. I acted foolishly and committed sins I can only hope to be forgiven and strive to make up for,” Ell’Hakan continued before speaking to the room as much as to Jake. ”I invaded your planet, killed people close to you, and created chaos, believing I was doing the right thing. Believing I was freeing your world from a tyrant who wished to use the planet in the fashion we have seen the Order of the Malefic Viper use so many others. I was wrong and had jumped to conclusions, and now I realize you never acted on orders of your Patron. I realize you are not the second coming of the Malefic Viper… you are Lord Thayne, your own person, through and through.”

There were few times in Jake’s life when he had been more glad he wore a mask than now because his face did not look good. He had no idea what to say, as by all accounts, Ell’Hakan’s words sounded honest. Moreover, Jake did not detect the slightest use of any Bloodline shenanigans – assuming Jake would even be able to detect it.

The only place it was maybe used was Ell’Hakan using it on himself, making his own words sound more emotional and sincere. Because damn, did he sound genuine in his apology. Thing is… Jake knew he was playing at something, and Jake desperately tried to figure out what that was so he could get out ahead of it before it was too late.

”In fact, I came to learn that despite your identity, Jake Thayne is far more than just the Chosen of the Malefic Viper. Harbinger of Primeval Origins and now the one holding the top spot of the All-Time Leaderboards are but two of your titles. Look at those you associate with, too. Your fellow natives, friends, blessed by more than half of all the Primordials.”

Ell’Hakan continued his speech, as he no longer had his head bowed, but looked up with a smile on his face.

”You are truly a one-of-a-kind existence. A Bloodline Patriarch, wielding more potential than possibly anyone the multiverse has ever seen, and for the longest time, I didn’t realize that you weren’t this special because you were the Chosen of the Malefic Viper… you would be you, regardless of which god had realized your excellence first.”

His words were clearly praise, but they made Jake feel slimy, as he now had a really good idea of what he was trying to do.

”I say all this with the hope of making it clear… I never bore any animosity toward Lord Thayne. Only the Chosen of the Malefic Viper. The one friend I killed was also a follower of the Viper, making me believe he, too, was a fanatic who would only cause the multiverse harm. Now I see he may have been innocent… and that knowledge truly gnaws at me,” Ell’Hakan said with a sad look on his face.

”Alas, I hope we can look toward the future. I hope you will give me the opportunity to make up for the sins of my past and repay you, Jake Thayne, for the transgressions I have caused. I swear now that I will truly do my best to try and set things right.”

Jake simply stared at the other Chosen for a bit, and just as he was about to open his mouth, Ell’Hakan bowed one more time.

”Please, take the time to consider my words… I do not need an answer here today. I merely wished to express my emotions and regret, as I hope to one day be forgiven. Regardless of your decision, know that I no longer hold any animosity toward you. Even if you can’t forgive me, I, at the very least, hope that the next time we meet, it will not be as enemies. I truly do not want to fight you if it can be avoided.”

Ell’Hakan did not leave more time to say anything as he spoke loudly to the crowd and Jake alike. ”Thank you for listening to my words so patiently today, Lord Thayne. May next we meet be an encounter we both look back upon and call fortunate.”

With those words, Ell’Hakan bowed and left swiftly as he teleported away… leaving Jake with a final telepathic message.

”Do not think my words a mere ruse or deceit. I truly have nothing against the man known as Jake Thayne, only he who identifies as the Chosen of the Malefic Viper… and I have a feeling you perhaps are more of the prior than the latter. You do not need the Malefic Viper, but he desperately needs you to rebuild himself. I already know how thin your loyalty is and how little faith you have in your heart. This is not a sin, but merely recognizing your own worth. So, I implore you to rethink your position. Rethink if staying with a god such as the Malefic Viper is truly in your best interest in the long run. Valhal, a reputable and respected faction, is also interested in having you join them, and if you choose to throw off the chains that is the failing Malefic Viper, I truly believe the War God himself would take you as his Chosen. I will not tell you what to do; just remind you of the many alternatives you have. You will thrive anywhere; you need no one. Can find a home anywhere. So why stay on a sinking ship?”

Chapter 882: Heartfelt Conversations & Hidden Agendas
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