Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 03 – Chapter 06

Proofreaders: Vaanouney & Timaeus

Note: For easy character reference please refer to: Characters

Unique Indoctrination


A heavily-bandaged Smoke laid on top of an emergency gurney made out of latched logs, branches, leaves and vines. The Simiavulgs placed a splint on his right leg and left arm that broke as a result of his fifty-foot intentional drop.

He laid flat on his back, which displayed a black metal orb attached to his leather breastplate. The orb’s bulky appearance raised Castas’ curiosity.

The chimpanzee Simiavulg asked. “What is that thing on your chest? It looks like a part of a shield or something?”

“Good eye. I’m impressed! That’s right, this was a part of my round shield. I needed to upgrade my shield for a better one, but I couldn’t leave my lucky charm behind.”

Smoke patted the round black orb on his chest. “I now think of it as a part of my body. I know that it’s because of this thing that I survived through a lot of life-threatening situations. This shield even blocked against a …”

Castas raised her hand and shrugged her shoulders as if to signify that she didn’t want any further information. Smoke understood and shut his mouth. Thus, their silent trip towards Saruras village resumed.

From previous stealth operations and from the time when he pretended to be Ilad, the Flame Knight, Smoke realized that it was imperative to have a discreet hiding place for Igniz.

His dark ember sprite also felt uncomfortable staying hidden beneath Smoke’s hooded cloak. Which was why he agreed when Sharanga, the WoodElf Huntress, suggested to create a metal compartment for his symbiote.

There were minuscule slanted holes on the orb’s surface, allowing Igniz to see outside it. The dark ember sprite remained in his dimmest state to block the light from where he hid.

With Igniz’s hiding place secured, he resumed his observation of the four carriers of his emergency gurney. Doctus, the orangutan Simiavulg, led the way as he carried the front right-side of Smoke’s gurney. Castas, the chimpanzee Simiavulg, walked beside Doctus and carried the front left-side.

Tenvis, the gorilla Simiavulg, carried the back left-side of the gurney, while Meras, the gibbon Simiavulg,  carried the back right-side. The whole group walked silently through a thick luscious forest towards the summit of Mount Yunggo.

Interestingly enough, the monsters inside the forest stayed away from them, although Smoke could feel their bloodlust and guessed their levels to be well beyond 100.

There were still some of the monster species from the lower level of the mountain, like the badger dogs and the ruby bears, but there were two other that stood above the rest.

A monster called Lemurcat closely resembled an asian tiger, except that its face was that of a lemur. Due to the lemurcat’s comical appearance, Smoke found these monsters funny at first.

Yet, when he saw one of them prey on three ruby bears, his impression of the monster changed instantly. He imagined that if lemurcats were to travel in packs, they could prove extremely difficult to handle.

Then they met a group of monsters called Three-headed monitor lizards. These monsters had traveled in a group of five. The lemurcats that traveled solo did well to avoid these monsters with a body length of three meters.

Each head of the three-headed monitor lizard would attack with whip-like elasticity and its prey would be killed after three salmonella-filled bites.

For the three-headed monitor lizards, it didn’t matter which kind of monster they would hunt. They would eat everything that stood in their path.

However, none of these two species of monsters ever came to attack Smoke and the Simiavulgs. The DarkElf noticed that these monsters always remained ten meters away from them.

Smoke made a habit of noticing minute details in his surroundings. There were many things he would still miss, but he felt that he had become better at it.

This was also in preparation for an escape route if things in the Simiavulg village were to go south. Smoke carefully watched where they had gone and where they were going. He tried to make a mental image of the route based on any imposing landmarks that he could find.

To his dismay, all of the scenery that they passed looked similar. Although Darius gave him a parchment with the locations of Saruras and Pferde, he feared that this information might be outdated.. He noticed that Pferde’s actual location was ten kilometers off the mark when he found it, so the same might hold true for Saruras. He hoped that Saruras village was not like the temple of Aeternus Praesas, the medical temple of Guardias de Tiempo, where the last Beggar Imperator Kumbaba took his son Giro to. That temple would not appear on a player’s map even if the player had been there already.

He learned this from the time he got his hidden Job. Darius told him that there were other places in Zectas with this bothersome ability. You would need a special map in order to find their actual location.

Despite the lack of prominent landmarks, Smoke noticed that his view from the gurney was slightly tilted. He concluded that they were still climbing further up.

He received a whisper from Ledur earlier. He told the captain of his Tikbalang corps to stay out of the Simiavulg territory, but to remain on Mount Yunggo.

Smoke told them to be ready for anything, but also to increase their levels and hunt while waiting for further instructions.

As they ascended further up Mount Yunggo, a notification window popped up.


+ Entered the Simiavulg village of Saruras

    Wysteria Continent’s only Simiavulg community. It has existed for over 5,000 years. The Simiavulgs survived by keeping mostly to themselves.

The notification window surprised Smoke. The scenery had not changed at all. Laying on the emergency wooden gurney, Smoke could only see tall trees and faint sunlight that would sometimes break through the canopy above him.

A few steps after the notification window popped up, his Cunning of the Dire Fox ability detected thirty Simiavulgs directly over him.

Smoke used his Telefax Vision ability and saw them expertly clinging onto the trees. Some of them only used one hand, while others hanged themselves upside down with their feet.

He felt extremely lucky. If Doctus and his party had traveled on top of the trees when they met, they would have seen right through his lie.

After his deep sigh of relief, he resumed his study of the scenery above him. All of the visible Simiavulgs on the trees carried staves, but theirs were blue, unlike the black metallic staves that Doctus and his party were equipped with.

He wondered if those colors had any special meaning to them. There were numerous occasions when he thought about asking Doctus and his men, but decided to keep his mouth shut.

This was only Smoke’s second time experiencing broken limbs inside Zectas. The first time was when Mitleid tortured him. When he came up with this plan, he thought that he would recover 100% of his health after some time.

However, Smoke couldn’t have been further from reality. It had been four hours since the Simiavulgs started carrying him and despite their medical treatment, his life bar only recovered to 80%.

His right leg and left arm remained broken. ‘I wonder if it will also take six weeks before my broken bones heal?’ He remembered his experience in the real world.

When Smoke was fourteen years old, he tried to impress his younger brothers with a slam dunk. Unfortunately, it ended with him breaking his arm instead.

‘Well, I could always kill myself and recover completely. But I’m sure there’s a better way to heal myself.’

Smoke sighed. Lying down proved to fill his head with idle thoughts. He began to second-guess himself whether his plan on gaining access to the Simiavulgs would work at all.

He shook his head and cleared his mind. ‘The glass is half full.’ He opened his mouth to try to have a conversation with any of the Simiavulgs but they suddenly stopped moving.

They had reached the summit of Mount Yunggo. From where they stood, Smoke could see a blue-green expansive lake with a small island right in the middle of it.

“What is this place?” asked Smoke with mystified eyes.

The black-haired Simiavulg smiled, touched his shoulders and answered. “Welcome to Saruras village.” Taken by surprise due to their previous silent treatment, he responded with a forced smile.

Smoke wanted to slap himself for asking the question out loud. He did just read the notification message, but he couldn’t stop himself.

The mysterious island at the center of the lake captivated him in a way he couldn’t understand. From his seated position on the gurney, he couldn’t see any boats or other means of water transport nearby.

Black sand and dark-colored pebbles covered the shoreline of the lake. He wondered how they would get across to the island. He heard Doctus order the rest of the Simiavulgs to put him down.

Then, he saw Doctus walk over to an unnatural rock formation near the edge of the lake. He watched as Doctus placed his black metallic staff into a receptacle on top of the rock formation. The Simiavulg then made his staff face the island.

Smoke heard a rumbling sound, but didn’t feel the earth shake. A brick road covered in green algae rose from within the lake. It had a width of five meters and Smoke thought that even carriages could travel on it.

Doctus took out his staff and joined the other Simiavulgs as they carried Smoke over the risen road. The DarkElf remained seated on his wooden gurney and watched in awe over the green lake. After thirty minutes, they were halfway to the island. There, Smoke thought that he saw something moving inside the lake.

He squinted his eyes and tried to peer into the murky waters. In an instant, a coral spear attached to a tentacle sprang at him. He reflexively tried to dodge and almost got knocked off the gurney.

However, the coral spear was blocked by a transparent barrier that changed its color to red upon impact. Seven more tentacles with coral spearheads attacked the barrier of the brick road, yet, none of the attacks made a dent on it. The lake monster raised its head and looked at them. Smoke looked around and found that the Simiavulgs remained unfazed by the monster’s appearance.

Smoke had a concerned expression, which was why Castas assured him. “Don’t worry, this barrier was made by four black-staves masters who were way stronger than us.”

A pair of giant eyes attached to an even bigger head appeared. A giant squid with two feeders menacingly dancing behind its head emerged from the water.

The giant squid launched its strongest attacks, but the road’s barrier still did not budge. The giant squid thrashed around the lake before submerging into the deep once more.

Meras, the gibbon Simiavulg, addressed the rest of her kin. “You’d think that Calamar would have learned by now.”

Doctus replied. “Giant squids aren’t like war elephants. They never learn their lessons. Calamar will keep on trying to smash through our barrier for as long as it’s alive.”

Meras then asked Doctus. “How old is Calamar now? I mean, he has to be old for him to reach level 500.”

“I don’t know. Ever since I was a young Simiavulg, he was already that big.”

Smoke listened intently on their conversation and tried to join casually. “Are there any other high-level monsters like Calamar in the lake?”

Doctus looked straight into Smoke’s eyes. The DarkElf felt like the Simiavulg was looking deep into his soul for a few seconds before Doctus finally answered.

“There are two other monsters whose levels reach beyond 300, but aside from those there are only monsters with an average level of 100.”

“Those three monsters feed on the lower-level monsters as easily as if they were fish bait.” Added Tenvis, the gorilla Simiavulg.

Smoke nodded as he listened to the Simiavulgs’ explanation of the monsters in the lake. Once the Simiavulgs started talking, there was no stopping them.

They reached the end of the algae-covered brick road in no time. Smoke worried earlier because his intimacy with them had not grown at all ever since he joined them. Yet now when he checked his intimacy bar with them, it had grown to 82%.

He was laid down on the ground once more as Doctus walked over to a similar rock formation with a receptacle for a staff. He saw the Simiavulg turn the staff around and brick road descended back into the lake.

All four Simiavulgs carried him towards the tall iron fence that surrounded the whole island. They stopped when they reached an ornately designed iron gate.

The embossed iron figures of four Simiavulgs equipped with staves, aligned and in their fighting poses, looked extremely similar to the ones accompanying Smoke, which made him ask. “Are those four Simiavulgs on the gate based on you guys?”

“Howk howk howk. I wish!” Tenvis answered. “No, those are the four legendary grandmasters who lived 5,000 years ago.” Tenvis then tapped on the iron gate with his black metallic staff and shortly after, the gates opened wide.

When they entered, Smoke saw a small hamlet similar to the one in Nanahuatl. The houses were made out of wood and concrete. Their glass-stained windows decorated in Simiavulg art brightened up the village.

Zectas’ virtual reality had imprinted the sense of a belongingness in him and that was in Nanahuatl. He suddenly got homesick. He couldn’t believe that he had been away from Nanahuatl for a long time now.

Steadily, a crowd of Simiavulgs from the four different sub-races began to gather in the main street. For most of them, this was their first time seeing another race.

He heard a small gibbon Simiavulg talk to his mother. “Mama, was that guy punished? Why did the four great masters shave off all of his hair? And they even beat him till his skin turned purple!”

Similar comments from other young Simiavulgs ensued. Smoke’s only reply was a smile and a wave. Doctus, Tenvis, Meras and Castas walked onward with military precision.

Smoke kept up his pleasant demeanor. He felt like he was being paraded and displayed for the entire village to see. The Simiavulgs took a right turn when they reached a fork in the road.

He noticed that the scenery changed afterwards. All he could see were tall walls, grandiose gates and the roofs of the buildings behind them.

The rooftops of the buildings in this street looked like the ones of oriental martial arts temples from the old chinese movies he liked to watch.

The street had two well-decorated gates on each side and one at the end of the road. There were five of them in total. In front of each temple gate were Simivulgs with blue and brown metallic staves.

All of them had their heads bowed down, with their staves pressed against their chests as both their hands touched. Smoke could feel the deep respect these Simiavulgs gave to the four Simiavulgs who were carrying him.

The biggest of these gates was the one at the end of the street. The entrance had two red pillars with a green dragon on one and a golden tiger on the other.

The Simiavulgs left him in front of the two massive wooden doors with intricate depictions of Simiavulg art. Smoke remained seated on the gurney, completely helpless. He tried to ask the four Simiavulgs what was going on, but they left before he had the chance.

CREAAAK.

Slowly, the wooden doors swung outwards. An orangutan Simiavulg stepped outside. He dragged a red metallic staff that made a weird noise as it touched the floor of the temple.

Smoke sat still as the orangutan Simiavulg studied him. “Hmm. Doctus said that he found a gravely injured Cuezaltzinian, but I don’t understand why he decided to allow a DarkElf entry to Saruras.”

Reflexively, he tried to explain his situation to the Simiavulg. “You see, I was …”

“Shush! Quiet! I wasn’t talking to you.”

Smoke stopped mid-sentence and still had his mouth wide open.

“Well, with these injuries I guess it wouldn’t take even an hour to patch him up and send him on his way.”

He immediately wanted to protest when he heard this. He wanted to earn the Simiavulgs’ trust and recruit them to his cause. If he couldn’t do that, then he planned to at least gain their rumored gift to increase his power.

Yet, the Simiavulg with the red metallic staff would not hear him out at all. Instead, the Simiavulg lifted his staff and tapped the ground loudly.

A pure white gorilla Simiavulg with red eyes came in a hurry and bowed down before the orangutan Simiavulg.

“Saru, take him to the House of healing and truths.”

“As you command, Grandmaster Indignus.”

Swiftly, the white gorilla Simiavulg single-handedly carried Smoke’s wooden gurney with ease. Smoke couldn’t believe that Saru could be that strong. After all, he was only as big as Tenvis.

Smoke was carried into the martial arts temple and led to a small detached house the size of thirty square meters. Once inside, he found an open space with a big casting circle almost the same size as the house.

He liked the wide rectangular windows on all four sides, which gave off an inviting feeling. Saru placed him inside the casting circle with numerous runes inscribed around the it.

Some of the runes looked familiar to him. ‘These runes looks similar to what Baldaquin used in his casting circle of truth.’

He heard Saru chant a strange incantation, as the white gorilla Simiavulg placed both his palms in front of the casting circle. It created a white light and Smoke found it to be warm and comforting.

Slowly, he could feel his bones move and shift to their proper place. He could already imagine the bones being reattached and restored.

“So, how exactly did you end up like this?”

Smoke turned around and found the Grandmaster Simiavulg behind him.

He thought for a split second and decided to be as truthful as he could.

“I fell off a tree when I was following the Dikaya guild. That’s when Doctus found me and saved me.”

“You were following the Dikaya guild? I thought you were their captive? Or was it sacrifice?”

“I was originally traveling alone, headed to your village, but then certain circumstances led me into that predicament.”

The Grandmaster raised his eyebrow and gave him a questioning look. “Hmmpf. Of course. The Dikaya members wanted to come and gain our ability. Are you the same as them?”

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t want it, but I came to your village with a different reason in mind.”

“Really?” The Grandmaster Simiavulg stroked his chin. “That’s hard to believe, but I know that you’re telling the truth. What is your reason for coming here?”

“I came from Pferde. One of the Witches of Wysteria attacked that village. I fought together with the Centaurs and we managed to defeat Terrabelle, yet it came at a great price. They’ve lost their military power.”

Smoke hoped that by telling the Grandmaster about the events in Pferde, he would raise his intimacy with him.

“I’ve convinced them to move to a different place in order to avoid the two other witches’ revenge. Then I heard that they would come for your village next. I was thinking that I could convince you to leave and join the Centaurs at the place they migrated to.”

Since it had given him access to Saruras, he used his Beggary ability once more and hoped for the best.


BEGGARY ABILITY FAILED!
  > You have failed miserably. The Grandmaster is insulted by your suggestion.
  Note: It will be harder to raise intimacy with the Grandmaster for the next 24 hours

“Centaurs! You dare compare us to those filthy Centaurs! You’ve been to Pferde, right? Then you should know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“I apologize. I didn’t mean to insult you in any way.” Smoke decided to keep his mouth shut for the time being. He feared that if he spoke out to defend himself again it would only lead to a more disastrous situation.

“Hmmpf! Doctus may have allowed you entry to our village, but don’t go blabbing about those Centaurs while you’re here in Saruras.”

The Grandmaster turned his back on Smoke and began to walk out of the room. Smoke could hear him mumbling to himself. “If it wasn’t for political obligations, I would’ve fed this DarkElf to Calamar.”

Smoke’s eyes grew wide when he heard this, but then the Grandmaster faced him again, this time with a forced smile.

“My assistant will comply with your healing request.” The Grandmaster gave a signal to Saru, the white gorilla Simiavulg, and left the room Smoke was in.

Saru proceeded as ordered and healed Smoke in silence. Smoke wanted to have a conversation with the Simiavulg healing him, but he decided not to.

He learned to keep his mouth shut with the Simiavulgs. He feared that he would make the same mistake and offend him as well, just as he did with the Grandmaster.

The healing process took a while. He sat there in silence, but wanted to learn more about Saru. So instead of talking, Smoke spent the time observing the white gorilla Simiavulg.

He noticed the matching white metallic staff next to Saru, as well as Saru’s red eyes. Due to these two facts, he wondered whether Saru was an albino Simiavulg.

Yet the one question that his curiosity obsessed about was the meaning of the colors of the staves. This only grew even more when he saw Saru and Grandmaster Indignus’ staves.

‘I wonder if Saru is on the same level as Doctus and the others?’

In the silence, his mind wandered even more, thinking about what form of power boost the Simiavulgs would give him. After thirty minutes of healing inside the casting circle, Smoke’s life bar displayed a fully recovered state.

Smoke stood up and did some random punches and kicks to see if there were any problems with his previously broken limbs. He found none and felt even stronger than before.

He watched a kneeling Saru waiting patiently for him to finish his self-checkup. After his short stretch, he was taken to another building.

The scattered cherry blossom trees in the courtyard gave the martial arts temple a romantic feeling. He wondered where the other Simiavulgs were.
‘I guess this isn’t like the shaolin movies I’ve seen, where the students are constantly training everywhere.’

Saru led Smoke to a palatial building. They took five flights of stairs, which led to a door with a Yin and Yang symbol on it. The white gorilla Simiavulg knocked and they heard a metallic staff being tapped on the floor in response.

Smoke saw Saru place his white metallic staff on the side of the door and then push the door with his two hands. This made Smoke wonder just how heavy those doors were.

He was led inside a circular room with a single black marble chair that had a spotlight on it. In front of the chair was a raised desk shaped like a curved wall.

Apparently, the Grandmaster, Doctus, Tenvis, Meras and Castas were all waiting for him. Saru left the room after Smoke was seated in the chair.

‘I guess this means that Saru isn’t on the same level as these guys.’

Doctus stood up and reintroduced themselves. “Hello again, Smoke. As you might have already guessed, the four of us you first met are the great masters of the temples that we’ve passed through to get here.”

Smoke couldn’t help but notice that Doctus and the Grandmaster looked exactly the same. He remained silent as Doctus pointed to the other Simiavulgs and stated their names again.

When Doctus was about to introduce the Grandmaster Simiavulg, Smoke saw all four great masters stand up and bow before the Simiavulg with a red staff. “And this is our esteemed Grandmaster, Indignus. The four of us report to him.”

He thought to himself that it would have been nice if Doctus was the Grandmaster and not Indignus. He could tell right away that Indignus had it in for him.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why we’ve called you here.” Doctus said.

“With all due respect, I know why I’m here. This should be a talk whether or not I’ll be allowed to stay in Saruras.”

Doctus smiled at him. “That’s correct. That’s very perceptive of you. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it.”

‘But Indignus does.’ Smoke thought to himself.

“But Grandmaster Indignus pointed out that it would be unfair for you to stay here just because  the four of us wanted to ensure your complete recovery.” Doctus paused and looked at Grandmaster Indignus.

“According to the rules, an outsider can only stay in our village under the restriction of being a student of our sacred arts.”

“Then I would like to humbly ask to be one. Where do I sign up?” Smoke replied with eagerness.

“I had a feeling you’d say that. Well, to become one, you would need to best at least one staff-wielder. Seeing as your treatment in the House of healing and truths was finished only moments ago, we asked the Grandmaster for a compromise.”

CLAP CLAP CLAP.

After Doctus clapped his hands, a young chimpanzee Simiavulg boy around seven years old stepped into the room. Smoke instantly noticed the boy’s yellow metallic staff.

“This is Cibus, a recent graduate of my Pillar Temple. That’s where our young receive basic training.”

Smoke looked confused. ‘Am I supposed to fight this little kid? Are they looking down on me?’

“Oh, I think you misunderstand. We don’t want you to fight this kid per se. We want you to try to destroy his barrier.”

Castas flipped her straight black hair and smiled. ” Put simply, break the kid’s barrier and you will earn the right to stay and train here…”

“Which is why this is ridiculous!” Grandmaster Indigus said in an exasperated voice. “Normally, the lowest-level Simiavulg an outsider could encounter would be a blue-staff wielder.”

Indignus angrily scratched the back of his head in frustration. “I don’t understand why you four would allow this man to challenge a recent graduate of Pillar Temple.”

“But, Grandmaster Indignus, you clearly said that Smoke’s challenger need only be a graduate of any of our temples.” Meras answered with a straight face.

“Argh! Not that again. I clearly meant any of the temples except for the Pillar temple. Any of the specialized temples!” Indignus raised his hands in frustration.

Smoke felt Lady Luck smiling upon him. It had not yet been twenty-four hours since his Beggary Ability worked on the four great masters.

Due to this, his Intimacy with them was still at 82%. “I accept this challenge! Thank you for giving me this fair and just opportunity, Grandmaster Indignus.” Smoke spoke fast in order to retain his favorable conditions.

“Fine! Fine!” Indignus looked to the seven-year-old Simiavulg and asked him. “Young Cibus, Doctus told me that you could maintain your Manatl for thirty minutes? Is this the truth?”

The young chimpanzee Simiavulg nervously shivered. “Ummm. Yes, Grandmaster Indignus. I am able to hold my Manatl for that long.”

“Good good. Then, Smoke, you will have ten minutes to destroy young Cibus’ barrier.”

“Wait… What, now?” The DarkElf asked in an alarmed voice.

“Your challenge starts now.” Indignus lowered his right hand and a red timer appeared across their table.

Cibus created a glittery spherical barrier in front of himself. Smoke stood completely still in front of the formed barrier before him. He thought that he saw shards of small glass on it.

After being taken aback for a moment, he took out his weighted Chain and Sickle of Dasende and started attacking the barrier in a clockwise manner. A damage roll of 30,000 points flew over the barrier.

Once he completely circumnavigated around the barrier, he confirmed his theory that there was no weaker portion of the sphere. ‘Thought as much.’

Two minutes into his challenge and he had made no progress. He activated his most powerful attack, his weapon’s active ability called Cyclone of Slaughter.

His body moved like the wind. It appeared as if he temporarily transformed into a tornado as afterimages appeared all around Cibus’ barrier. However, even after numerous slashes , the barrier remained undamaged.

Smoke was becoming desperate. He only had two minutes left for the challenge, but all of his attacks were being deflected by the barrier. From the direction of the raised desk, he heard Castas talk loudly. “I’m impressed with Cibus’ inclination towards Physical Resistance, but I guess this means that he isn’t good against attacks that inflict Status Ailments then?”

“Castas! Why in the world would you…” Indignus reprimanded the female chimpanzee Simiavulg, but Smoke drowned out the red-staff wielder and concentrated on his task at hand.

‘Status ailments, huh?’

Smoke unequipped his weighted chain and sickle and grabbed a pair of poison pellets from his backpack window. With a green pellet in each hand, he smashed them hard against the sphere.

Instantly, a yellow bar which displayed (298/300 BP) appeared on top of the barrier as soon as Smoke’s pellets made contact.

His eyes lit up as soon as he saw the damage. He only inflicted a single damage point to Cibus’ barrier with each poison pellet.

The green poison pellet that would normally kill a level 70 monster in just a few seconds if forcefully ingested. Smoke started taking out several pellets out of his backpack window with each hand and smashing them against the barrier as fast as he could.

A shocked seven-year-old Simiavulg stepped back as soon as he saw that his barrier was about to be destroyed.

BRREAAAAKK!

With ten seconds to spare, Smoke broke Cibus’ sphere. “Phew!” Smoke slumped down to the ground as soon as the barrier disappeared.

From his seated position, he saw Indignus’ face turn sullen. Tenvis walked over to Cibus and patted his back.

Smoke heard him praising the young Simiavulg for his impressive performance. “If master Castas remained silent, I’m sure your barrier would have held out.”

Doctus stood up and asked the young boy to leave the chambers. Smoke saw Doctus turn to face him.

“Well done. You are hereby allowed to stay and train in our village. However…”, Doctus paused for a moment.

“The final decision to do so must come from you.” Doctus finished his sentence.

“What? Why me? If it were all up to me, then of course I’d stay here. Why wouldn’t I want to stay?” asked Smoke, surprised and confused.

This time, Indignus stood up and answered Smoke’s question. “That is because you will have to undergo a test after your first month in Saruras.”

“What kind of test?” Smoke asked.

“A test equal in difficulty to one a blue-staff wielder would be given.”And let me warn you that for most Simiavulgs, it takes about a year of intense training to reach the blue staff level.” Indigus gave him a smug smile.

“And what would happen to me if I were to fail this test?”

“Your level and your various ability levels would be reduced by roughly a third of what they are now.” Indigus answered with a straight face.

Doctus tried to console him. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you could do it. The four of us completed our basic training after about twenty-eight days.”

Smoke who didn’t know the meaning of the staff colors only replied with a polite smile.

Indigus’ impatience became apparent. “So, what will it be? Are you willing to take the test or shall I have Saru escort you out of our village?”

A notification window popped up after Indigus asked the question.


+ Quest: Ways of Manatl
    Ability Quest
    Level: A

    Pass the Simiavulgs’ test after thirty days. Test’s parameters will be given by the temple master you are assigned to.

    Failure Penalty:
    – Current level will be reduced by 30%
    – All ability levels will be reduced by 30%

    Accept the Quest? [YES/NO]

Without hesitation, Smoke confidently replied. “It would be foolish of me to leave now. I shall take your test! I’m sure the great god Cuezaltzin will not forsake me.”

                              

* * * * * * 

Smoke was taken to the wide concrete courtyard outside. The cherry blossom trees did not look as calming as before. They placed him in front of an ancient jar filled with water. It had a height that matched up to his waist.

He observed the jar, as it looked extremely old and oddly simple to be of any significant importance.

‘If anything is out of place in this whole temple it would be this old jar placed smack at the center of the courtyard.’ Smoke thought.

Smoke, Doctus, Tenvis, Meras and Castas circled around the jar. Doctus explained why they were all gathered there.

“Do you remember what happened when we fought against the Dikaya guild?”

“Vaguely. All I know is that you wiped the floor with them.”

Tenvis chuckled. “And we weren’t even using any of our black staff techniques yet. Howk howk howk.”

“Ahem. Can we please stick to the topic at hand?” Doctus reprimanded Tenvis.

“Sorry. Please don’t mind me.”

“As I was saying. If we responded with normal forms of defense or counter-magic against the Dikaya guild, then I doubt that we would’ve handled them as easily.”

With his right hand on his black metallic staff, the orangutan Simiavulg opened his left palm and a yellow light-energized glove covered his hand.

“This is what we call a Manatl. It is said that our founder was once in deep meditation under one of these cherry blossom trees.” Doctus pointed to the trees in the courtyard.

“It was then that she discerned that the Mana around us could be forged into an energy catcher that could absorb all forms of energy.”

Smoke then saw Doctus give a sign to Meras and she performed a Lightning Wizard’s ability called Wrath of a Thunder God. The clear skies turned to gray and bolts of lightning appeared from within the storm clouds.

CRAAASSSHH CRAAASSSHH CRAAASSSHH CRAAASSSHH!

Series of lightning bolts from stormy clouds began to strike down to the ground. Doctus planted his black staff in the ground and stood on it with only his right foot. The orangutan Simiavulg raised his left hand covered in an energy glove and caught all of the lightning bolts with ease.

The storm clouds dispersed and so did the lightning bolt attacks. Doctus leapt off from his staff and held it comfortably with his right hand.

“Of course, this isn’t the most efficient way to do this. What if an attack would come from the back? Which is why our founder thought to create a covering. A mantle, if you will. Hence the name… Manatl.”

Doctus raised his black metallic staff over his head and created a yellow spherical barrier around him.

“In this form you could block any attack. Even from below. The Manatl goes down into the ground and creates a perfect sphere around you.”

“Whew!” Smoke whistled loudly. He would’ve clapped and even jumped if he wasn’t able to keep his excitement in check.

“Although the basic Manatl can block most attacks, it would only block up to a certain percent. Let’s say you were hit with a sword. Then, at best, it could only absorb up to 80% of the damage and that’s after years of training.”

“But you guys were unscathed after you fought against the Dikaya guild? How did you do that?”

“Well, that’s because all four of us have trained with specialized Manatls.” Doctus smiled at the other three Simiavulgs with him.

After the short explanation on Manatl, Doctus shifted everyone’s attention back to the ancient jar.

“Now, let me explain what this jar is for. This is the jar of Sensus. It belonged to the founder of Manatl. This jar can tell us which Manatl a student should focus on. I think you’ll get a better understanding after we show it to you. Tenvis, if you please.” 

The gorilla Simiavulg gave his black metallic staff to Doctus and stepped in front of the jar. He then placed both of his hands into the jar until his elbows disappeared. Tenvis then began a swirling motion which created a small whirlpool within the ancient jar.

As the whirlpool inside the ancient jar got stronger, the plain old jar began to strip off its outer layer and revealed a glass jar.

Yet, upon closer inspection, Smoke discovered that it wasn’t glass but diamond. He briefly thought about Cibus and his spherical barrier before hearing  Tenvis speak up. “This diamond jar signifies my proficiency in the physical field.”

The gorilla Simiavulg took out his hand and the used-to-be-ancient jar remained in its diamond form. Doctus gave back Tenvis his black staff and the gorilla Simiavulg struck the diamond jar as hard as he could.

KLIIINNNNNKKK.

The diamond jar resonated loudly like a delicate glass bell. “Ahhh that brings back memories. I always love to hear that sound! But usually its the white staff graduates who are the one making it. Howk howk howk.” Exclaimed Tenvis.

Smoke then remembered the physical attacks from the Battle Monks and Daemon Knights. ‘No wonder why their attacks were ineffective.’

A few seconds later, the ancient jar returned to its original state. Tenvis stepped aside and Meras, the blond gibbon Simiavulg, stood in front of it.

She did the same procedure as Tenvis and dipped her hands into the jar until her elbows disappeared. However, the jar did not turn into its diamond form after she created a whirlpool.

Instead, it floated into the air by five feet. Gusts of wind, electric sparks, crumbled rocks and water streams orbited around the ancient jar.

“As you can guess, I specialize in the elements.” Meras said with a grin.

Smoke nodded with an even bigger grin. “But how did you guys alternate your Manatls? The Dikaya’s attack varied a lot.”

“I can’t really put it into words, but it feels like you’re in a different plane once you get to be a black staff holder.” Meras explained.

The orbiting elements dispersed and the ancient jar slowly descended. Meras stepped away from the jar and was replaced by Castas.

She brushed aside her black hair which covered her eyes, before dipping her hands into the ancient jar. She followed the lead of the two Simiavulgs who went before her and swirled the water inside.

After the water inside the ancient jar reached a certain speed, Castas stepped away and watched from a far. The other Simiavulgs followed her lead.

Smoke then felt her hand pulling him backwards. “You’ll have to move away a bit this time. It gets a little bit scary.”

He quickly followed her instructions and stepped even further away from the ancient jar than the four Simiavulgs. The swirling motion of the water inside the jar transferred to its container.

The ancient jar began to spin around and was slowly picking up speed. It sped up to the point where the jar began to emit an eerie wheezing sound.

Despite that, the jar remained in its ancient form. Castas then proceeded to cast a harmful spell at the jar. Shards of the broken jar scattered in the air around it, but they didn’t fall to the ground.

The broken pieces remained suspended in the air. A few seconds later, the shards started to converge in their point of origin.

CLICK CLICK CLICK.

Shards of the ancient jar reconnected with one another. Slowly, the jar looked almost whole again. Once completed, it restored itself to its former appearance, an undamaged plain  old jar.

“My Manatl works best against debuffs and dispelling.” Castas said coyly.

“Then you should have no problems against Witches?” Smoke asked.

“Hmm. I don’t know. I’ve never fought with a Witch before, but I think I should be able to handle them.”

Smoke licked his lips as he imagined what he could do against Crucibelle and Horrabelle if he gained this ability.

Doctus tapped Smoke’s shoulders and brought him back to reality. “I’m sure you want to give it a try, but only graduates of my Pillar temple get to take the jar of Sensus and receive a yellow staff after they’re sorted into the specialized temples. “

“Are you sure Smoke can pass the his test through the normal process? I hope he won’t be forced out of Saruras.” Asked a concerned Castas.

“We can never be sure, but I guess we’ll just have him take the basic course for now. I’ll teach him the ways of the Manatl as best as I can.” said Doctus.

“Are you sure that’s the best decision? Shouldn’t he have some sort of special training? I mean, he only has thirty days til the test.” Added Meras.

“Thank you for your concerns, but I believe in Doctus’ decision.” Smoke answered the two female Simiavulgs. “He’s the one that found the goodness in his heart to save me.”

* * * * * * 

Smoke bowed down before Doctus as the orangutan Simiavulg handed him a white metallic staff. “Let this staff guide you on your journey to become a Manatl master.”

“Thank you. I hope to achieve such a prestigious title as well, Master Doctus.”

A simple ceremony attended only by Smoke, Doctus and his assistant ended. This signified his official acceptance into the Pillar Temple, which was under Doctus.

“I’m glad you have such a positive attitude, but I have some terrible news.”

‘The fact that I have to take an extremely difficult test in thirty days isn’t terrible enough, huh?’

“Grandmaster Indignus would not allow me to personally teach you the basics of Manatl. I’m afraid you will join the other students.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure I can handle it.” Smoke tried his best to conceal his frustration, but he still spoke with gritted teeth.

Smoke and Doctus bade their farewells and one of Doctus’ assistant teachers led Smoke to his sleeping quarters within the Pillar Temple. It was a modest room that could just barely fit a wooden bed.

In front of his bedroom door, the assistant teacher warned him. “You shall not receive special treatment just because you’re not a Simiavulg. It’s best that you learn to adapt to how things work in the temple as quickly as you can.”

He was pushed into his room and the door shut loudly behind him. The rough assistant teacher did not appreciate Smoke’s enthusiasm to learn the Manatl ability.

As the assistant teacher left the room, Smoke heard him mumbling. “Grandmaster Indignus is right. Manatl teachings should be exclusive to Simiavulgs.”

Smoke sat down. He found the room to be quaint and simple. He carefully observed his metallic staff and admired its flawless appearance.

Not missing the opportunity to recharge his real body, Smoke logged out to get some proper sleep.

TANG DING DING DING DING DING TANG TANG

A series of triangles and cymbals clamored and he could hear the shuffling of feet outside of his room. He stepped outside and found young Simiavulgs scurrying down to the courtyard. Most of them still had bread and eggs from the mess hall in their hands and were swallowing their breakfast whole.

The cemented octagonal courtyard had a single skewed cherry blossom at the center of the grounds. The bright morning sun made a bothersome glare.

All of the Simiavulg students went to their respective places. They stood straight with their white staves held tightly in their right hands. The young Simiavulgs formed an evenly distanced rectangle of six students per row with five rows altogether.

Smoke, who didn’t know where to stand, stood alone in the back. A male gibbon Simiavulg wielding a brown metallic staff stepped to the front and addressed the students.

“As I have taught you last week, we feel the Mana and project it on top our left hand. Form a small barrier the size of your fist and make it last for as long as you can. Remember that your staves will help you channel the Mana.”

In a synchronized manner, all of the students opened their left hands and began to concentrate their Mana to form small barriers.

Smoke could see small sparks appear on top of the hands of most students, but the six students in the first row all had clear small barriers already formed.

When he noticed this, he realized that the students in the second row had faint glimpses of the barriers, but they were still unstable.

As the row went further back so did the lack of stability in the barriers. The gibbon Simiavulg spoke to the students once more.

“Alright! I want you to hold your barriers for the next four hours.” He left the front and sat under the single cherry blossom tree in the whole courtyard.

Smoke tried his best to form a barrier, but not even the faintest sign of Mana would come out. An hour passed and he was already soaked in sweat.

Yet all the students from the first row maintained their barriers for the first hour. It was only afterwards that their barriers began to disperse.

The barriers of the first-row students turned similar to the ones of the students in the second row. They remained standing and concentrated on forming their barriers until the second hour.

One of the students in front of Smoke fainted and fell down. The gibbon teacher calmly stood up from his shaded spot and took the student to the infirmary.

‘That’s right. These students are around seven years old. I guess it is too much to ask of one to stand under the heat of the sun and concentrate energy into your left hand.’

Ten minutes later and the entire row in front of Smoke fainted. All of them were taken to the infirmary. After that, it was every twenty minutes or so when one more student would faint.

Before the final hour passed, only Smoke, the students in the first two rows and one student from the third row remained. The gibbon instructor returned and told them to get some water.

The students instantly ran to the faucets that were aligned with the eight sides of the courtyard. As Smoke walked towards one of the faucets, he again thought that the training was too rough for a seven-year-old to handle.

He would have liked to discuss this with Doctus, but decided not to. This was their culture and the kids in the first two rows looked like they handled themselves very well.

TANG DING DING TANG DING DING TANG DING

The students walked out of the courtyard and into the mess hall. There, they were given tofu with string beans garnished with chopped carrots and potatoes.

All of the students were seated at the tables according to the rows from their morning formation. Smoke sat alone in an isolated corner of the mess hall.

He didn’t mind the treatment and just enjoyed how everybody hungrily ate the food in front of them. He followed the children’s lead and wolfed down the bowl in front of him.

It had been a long time since Smoke felt this hungry in Zectas. He thought that the food tasted extremely delicious, but he couldn’t tell whether it actually did or if it was only because he was really hungry.

After their lunch, the students were given two more hours to rest in their separate quarters. Smoke spent the next ten minutes concentrating on generating a barrier on his left hand, but it never succeeded.

He did notice, however, that his mana was going down as he tried to perform the exercise. His four hours of straight training made him skip his scheduled break, so, he decided to take one now. He logged out quickly and took a power nap. Twenty-five minutes later, he logged back in, just in time to hear the triangles and cymbals.

TANG DING DING DING DING DING TANG TANG

It was time for their afternoon training. Smoke followed the students into the dojo. He found that the students sat with their legs crossed on the tatami floor.

Each student was seated three meters away from another. Smoke sat down to one of the free spots and found three objects the size of his foot on the floor.

He looked over his shoulder and found that everyone had the same three objects in front of them. There were three pyramids of different colors – yellow, black and red.

The same gibbon Simiavulg instructor from their morning session appeared.

“Alright, same as before. Put the three objects in front of you and push them as far away as you can by only using Mana.”

Just like in the morning, the instructor gave no example or any explanation on how to do the exercise. Smoke did his best to visualize his mana pushing the three objects away.

Sadly, he got the same results from the morning exercise. None of his objects moved. He checked the progress of the other students and found that the students from the first row had one of the three objects further away from their bodies.

‘I guess even the gifted kids can move only one of the objects.’

This exercise was scheduled for the next four hours. Smoke took a deep breath and focused on his own three objects. He consumed all fours hours and the three objects remained in the same spot.

CLAP CLAP CLAP!

The gibbon Simiavulg instructor signaled the end of their afternoon session. All of the students stood up with their right hands on white staves and their left hands behind their waists.

“Good job today. I could feel the force of the Manatl in the entire dojo.”

The DarkElf raised his eyebrow. He thought that the gibbon instructor was incapable of giving out praise.

“I know that the training is harsh, but this method has been proven to be very effective for hundreds of years. Who are we to question the ways of the great masters?”

The instructor nodded his head as if to reassure himself as well.

“Alright, I know that you’ve already suffered enough, but you still need your supper. Head to the mess hall and energize your bodies.”

The gibbon Simiavulg gave an awkward smile as he laughed at what he said.

‘There must have been a Simiavulg joke in there somewhere? Whatever it was, I sure don’t get it.’ Smoke thought to himself.

The instructor resumed his talk. “You have free period after your meal. Remember to be inside your chambers no later than nine. I’ll see you again tomorrow for another day full of the same exercises.”

CLAP CLAP CLAP!

All of the students bowed down and slowly walked out of the dojo. They were just sitting down under a roof, but all of them were still exhausted. Even Smoke, whose objects didn’t move at all.

Given the freedom of time, Smoke thought to look around Doctus’ temple. ‘Maybe I could find a library and get some clues on what this Manatl really is?’

He asked one of the students and was directed to walk past the octagonal courtyard, the small pond and the chinese bamboos. Smoke stopped to enjoy the lily pads and the koi fish swimming inside the pond.

After he crossed the pond, his Cunning of the Dire Fox noted that there was no one near him. He crossed the small bamboo garden and found a small hut that the bamboo covered.

The detached house was supposed to be the temple’s library. ‘This place looks more like a gazebo than a library.’ He thought.

Smoke opened the door and dust flew everywhere. He equipped his special gas mask to breathe as he tried to open up the windows.

With the dust finally settled, he found that the small library only had two desks and a single row of books neatly stacked against the wall.

He went to the wall and read through the book titles. “The bullied fish”, “Simiavulg etiquette”, “The ignorant Centaur and the wise Simiavulg”, “Simiavulg Staves”, and “The three rocks in the pond”.

All of them were children’s books except for the one entitled “Simiavulg etiquette”. ‘I guess that makes sense.’

He made a promise to himself to consume all the books he finds if the opportunity would allow it. Thus he began acquiring the knowledge of the books.

It didn’t even take a full minute for the progress bar to complete each of the books inside Pillar temple’s library. The one entitled “The bullied fish” intrigued him the most. He opened the acquired knowledge window of the book to review its contents.


+ The Bullied Fish

  Long ago, there was a fish that was bullied by two other fishes everyday. The bullied fish sought refuge and finally found one through a narrow passage following a small underground river, which led it to a secluded lake.

  There, the bullied fish flourished and preyed on the small lake monsters. The bullied fish felt happy and content.

  Here in the lake, he was bullied no more. Years passed and the fish grew big enough to easily deal with the two other fishes who used to bully it.

  The now-confident fish thrashed about issuing a challenge via low-frequency calls to its former bullies. The targeted bullies heard this and were outraged by the bullied fish’s audacity.

  Both of the bully fishes swam to the challenge, but were surprised to see that their small prey had turned into a giant adversary.

  The giant fish played around with its two former bullies and left them with 2% of their life bars. After its overwhelming victory over them, the giant fish decided to go back home to the sea.

  It held onto both of its half-dead trophies tightly. Yet, as the giant fish was about to pass through the small underground river, it discovered that it had grown too big for the narrow passage and that it could no longer return to its home.

  The place it thought to be its sanctuary had turned into its prison.

Smoke loved the irony of that book. ‘But it’s really weird that this was supposedly made for children.’

Next he acquired the knowledge on the book entitled “Simiavulg Staves”. He had always wondered if the staves’ colors had any special meaning to them.


+ Simiavulg Staves

  A Simiavulg staff is one’s link-helper to Mana and facilitates bending it to one’s will.
  These are the stages in the mastery of the Manatl.

  White Staff
  > Beginner Manatl. Student of Basic Training under Pillar Temple

  Yellow Staff
  > Intermediate Manatl. A graduate of Pillar Temple. Student of one of the three specialized temples.

  Blue Staff  > Graduate of Intermediate Level Manatl. Still a student of the specialized temples.

  Brown Staff  > Graduate of the specialized temples. On the way to becoming a black-staff wielder.

  Black Staff
  > A master of one of the four temples.

  Red Staff
  > Grandmaster of the Simiavulg Manatls.

He saved the book entitled “Simiavulg etiquette” for last and scrutinized the contents of its acquired knowledge.


+ Simiavulg Etiquette

  * Always remember to know your place when you speak. You can’t freely talk to someone ranked higher above you.
  > If you need to talk to someone above your rank, then you need to perform the Simiavulg bow.

  * Simiavulg Bow
  > Get on your knees, gently place your staff on your right side and raise your right hand. Wait for the person of the higher rank to get your hand and speak to you.

  * Making loud noises as you eat shows respect to the one making the food.

  * When drinking, it is appropriate to turn your back and not show your face.

  . . .

After closing the window of the Simiavulg etiquette, he was greeted with a pleasant status notification.


+ Your total ‘Acquired Knowledge’ has increased your Intelligence by 1.
+ Your Intimacy with the Simiavulg race has risen by 1.

Despite the gained Intelligence and Intimacy points, he still left the library with a heavy heart. It wasn’t like him to leave a library without a smile on his face.

None of the books in the temple’s small library contained any information about how to use Manatl. He dragged his feet back to his quarters.

Smoke retired to his room and ended his day without any fruitful results. He released the dark ember sprite from his secret compartment.  

Igniz immediately flew around and enjoyed the bigger space.

“Got any ideas on what this Manatl is?”

His symbiote shook his head and orbited around him. Igniz suddenly became brighter and brighter as he released all of his saved-up energy for the entire day.

“Don’t go supernova on me now, bud. I’m sorry you have to hide for so long.”

Igniz gave him an encouraging smile and Smoke understood what his symbiote meant. He got his white metallic staff and stood up.

He concentrated on forming a barrier on his left hand. He simulated the barrier-making exercise they did that morning. He could do only this because the colored pyramids were only accessible to him inside the dojo.

* * * * * * 

The second day came and went, but Smoke still had no results to show for his Manatl training. He used the knowledge of Simiavulg etiquette and gained Intimacy points with some of his fellow students.

On Smoke’s third day of basic training, Grandmaster Indignus and his albino gorilla assistant, Saru, came to observe his progress. The grandmaster could not suppress his laughter when he saw that Smoke had nothing to show whatsoever.

Ten more days passed and no breakthrough in understanding Manatl had been made. Hearing about several students from the first row already graduating from the basic training course made Smoke’s confidence waver. 

TANG DING DING TANG DING DING TANG DING

Lunch time arrived and the students from the second and last rows were almost running towards the mess hall. The Grandmaster coughed loudly which made the young Simiavulg kids stop and walk slowly instead.

While Smoke ate his lunch alone, he saw Saru leaving from one of the instructors’ offices. He thought maybe he could ask him for advice if he followed the Simiavulg etiquette.

Smoke ran in front of Saru and performed the Simiavulg bow and raised his hand. Saru immediately stopped walking. He took Smoke’s hand and spoke to him.

“No Simiavulg has ever given me the Simiavulg bow before, but seeing as you’re a DarkElf, I guess that fact still holds true. What could I possibly help you with?”

Smoke quickly told Saru his problem.

“It’s already been two weeks and I still don’t have a clue what Manatl is. I see my Mana draining during the exercises, but nothing’s happening.”

“Hasn’t Lectus taught you anything at all?” Saru asked.

“Lectus? Who in the world is Lectus?”

“Huh? You don’t know who Lectus is? He’s the gibbon Simiavulg who’s been training you for the past two weeks. Didn’t he even tell you his name?”

Smoke angrily shook his head in response.

“Doctus has been grooming him to be his replacement, but I’m afraid he is still no good at all.”

Saru patted the DarkElf’s shoulder.

“I’m guessing you were projecting the Mana from within your body?”

“Yes, that’s what Lectus told us.”

“Are you sure? Even if it’s Lectus, I don’t think he would have said that. Maybe you misinterpreted his instruction.”

Smoke gave Saru a confused look.

Saru pointed to the area in front of them. “You see this empty space? Even here, there is Mana. Everything has its own energy, even inanimate objects like rocks.”

The albino gorilla stretched out his left hand and formed a small barrier. “You don’t use the Mana inside of your body. You use the Mana that is flowing everywhere.”

“But how can you use something that isn’t a part of your body? It’s already hard enough to control the Mana inside of me and you’re saying that the way of the Manatl is to use the Mana on the outside? How is that possible?”

“Hmm. Maybe you need more time to meditate. Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.”

Saru gave him a smile and left. One of the Simiavulg students approached Smoke and asked him a strange question.

“Why were you talking to that old white-staffed Simiavulg? Don’t you know that if you’ve gotten old and you still have a white staff, that could only mean you’re not right in the head?”

Smoke paid no attention to what the kid said, and focused his attention on the advice Saru gave him.

* * * * * * 

Smoke sat down on the tatami floor with a new mindset. He stared at the yellow, black and red pyramids.                                     

After taking a deep breath, he concentrated on the three objects. He visualized the Mana flowing inside and around the objects. Three hours passed and he still saw nothing.

He closed his eyes and tried to visualize the objects. Their shape, texture and  form. There was something that was keeping all of these things together to form a yellow, a black and a red pyramid.

Within his mind he saw light emitting from the objects and when he opened his eyes, the light remained around the three objects.


 + Learned Ability: Manaception
        Passive
        Level: Beginner Level 1
        Experience: (10/1,000)

        You have gained understanding of the flow of Mana around you.

Smoke’s body then moved on its own. He grabbed his white metallic staff tightly and felt it ground itself to the floor. He then stretched out his left hand.

He could feel the Mana around him pushing all three objects away. All of them left from their starting positions and moved one centimeter further away.

CLAP CLAP CLAP!

Lectus signalled the end of the afternoon session and broke Smoke’s concentration. “Alright, that’s it for today, guys. Let’s put in even more effort tomorrow.”

No one may have noticed it, but Smoke had broken the dam that restricted him from understanding the ways of the Manatl.

He immediately went back to this room and released Igniz.

“I think I got it! Watch this, Igniz.”

His dark ember sprite waited with excitement.

Smoke stood up and took the morning exercise position. His right hand on the white staff and his left palm open and pointing to the roof.

He felt the entire Mana of the room flowing. As Igniz released all the saved-up energy for the day, Smoke could feel the strong flow of Mana increase.

It suddenly came naturally to him to bend the Mana around him. He formed the gathered energy into a tiny marble-sized barrier on his left hand.


 + Learned Ability: Manatl
        Active
        Level: Beginner Level 1
        Experience: (10/1,000)

        You have gained the knowledge to bend the flow of Mana around you.
        You can store the captured Mana in your Manatl and release the stored energy.

A dark purple barrier appeared on top of his left hand. He smiled victoriously, but a second later his eyebrows crossed. ‘Weird. I wonder why mine isn’t yellow like the others’?’

He spent the next six hours in his room holding the small Manatl barrier. He confidently looked forward to the next day of basic training in the Pillar Temple.

TANG DING DING TANG DING DING TANG DING

Smoke stood in the last row alone. The same spot as he did on the first day. He excitedly waited for Lectus to give the signal to begin the barrier training.

“Everyone settled in? Then start making your barriers.”

Lectus walked beside the rows and inspected the progress of his students. He casually noted that the students in the first row instantly created their barriers. Even the students in the second row had more tangible barriers by now.

Yet it was Smoke who grabbed Lectus’ attention. The DarkElf proudly held a dark purple orb the size of walnut. “Finally some progress, Smoke.”

Lectus called for his students’ attention. “Class, stop for a moment. I want all of you to take a look at Smoke’s improvement. Sure, it may not be much right now, but in time this small Manatl will become larger than his whole body. This just proves that our teaching method is definitely effective.”

All eyes were on Smoke. He proudly stood tall and kept concentrating on his barrier. He could hear the whispers about his different-colored barrier.

Lectus clapped his hands once more and told the students to resume with forming their own barriers. Smoke retained the barrier for the first hour, but after that he began to feel weaker.

‘What’s happening? I was able to keep the barrier up for solid three hours last night.’

His knees shook and he felt dizzy. He strengthened his grip on the white metallic staff and tried to assess what changed. His body told him that it was the strain from maintaining the size of his current Manatl.

He took a deep breath and shrank the barrier to the size of an even smaller marble than the first time he made a Manatl. He slowly began to recover. As time passed, his barrier only got smaller and smaller.

Before the morning session ended, his barrier was only the size of a spec of dust that floated over his left hand. ‘I may not be able to see it, but I know it’s still there.’ Smoke thought as he tried to console himself.

He quickly ate his lunch and logged out to get some sleep. He logged back in just in time to for the afternoon session. He liked how he could adjust his sleeping pattern with the free time Lectus gave them.

After he found a comfortable sitting position, he focused on the three objects in front of him. He took a deep breath and resumed his training.

Slowly, he pushed the three objects at the same time. Millimeter by millimeter. His pure concentration eliminated all unnecessary thoughts. There was only him and the three objects.

CLAP CLAP CLAP!

Lectus had given the signal to stop the exercise, but Smoke couldn’t hear him. Some of the students had already left the tatami room.

Yet, Smoke kept pushing the three objects millimeter by millimeter. Lectus had to physically shake him to get his attention.

When Smoke snapped out of it and regained his senses, he saw that he had pushed all three objects ten centimeters away from him.

Lectus lightly slapped his cheek and scolded him. “Your concentration is impressive, but you also need to be aware of your surroundings.”

* * * * * * 

Smoke spent the next five days of his basic training in all eagerness. He had improved both the duration and size of his barrier. He could now even make a Manatl that could cover his entire body, albeit only for a short time.

He reached the one-and-a-half-meter distance in pushing all three objects. Although, the first-row students each reached three meters for one out of the three objects.

Lectus had recommended Smoke for the jar of Sensus exam to Doctus. A part of him felt sad at the thought of leaving the Pillar temple. He had fond memories of self-discovery here.

The day for his examination with the jar of Sensus had arrived. Three of the first-row students were asked to join him as well. Apparently, they had also passed their basic training.

Smoke smiled when he saw the wide-eyed expressions of the first-row students when they saw the four masters of the Manatl, but found their reaction after seeing him to be even more interesting.

Doctus, Tenvis, Meras and Castas all stood near the ancient jar and waited for them to take the test. Three Simiavulgs and a single DarkElf stood in line to be tested by the ancient jar.

As the first student dropped his staff to the ground and stepped in front of the ancient jar, it transformed into its smaller form. The jar became comfortable enough for the smaller Simiavulg to dip her hands into it.

He watched as the young gorilla Simiavulg performed the same procedure as the great masters showed him before and stepped away from the jar. The jar started to slowly spin in a familiar way.

When Castas heard a faint whirring sound, she aimed her harmful spell at the jar. The jar broke apart, with only a few shards suspended in the air. Most of the broken pieces remained scattered on the ground and only returned after a minute had passed.

The self-repaired jar was now ready for the next student.

‘Castas’ example restored the whole jar. I wonder why only a little of it was spared this time?’ Smoke mused.

Then Smoke heard Castas speak to them. “Remember, the jar displays the aptitude you have for a speciality. As of now, she could only save a portion of the jar but after years under my training, I’m sure she’ll be able to protect the whole jar from shattering.”

The young gorilla Simiavulg stepped aside and Castas called out to her. Castas took the student’s white staff and gave her a yellow one. Afterwards, the first yellow-staff student stood behind her.

The next student was a chimpanzee Simiavulg boy. Smoke saw the boy nervously dip his hands into the water. Seconds later, the jar floated an inch from the ground and faint particles could be seen orbiting around it.

In her serious voice, Meras called out to him. Stiffly, she swapped his white staff with a yellow one  and asked him to join her.

The last of the first-row students placed his hands in the jar. It turned into its diamond form, but when Tenvis hit the jar with his staff, he made a noticeable dent.

Tenvis called the young Simiavulg to his side and changed his white staff with a yellow one. The young boy stood behind Tenvis with a big smile on his face.

Smoke eagerly smiled at them. He was happy for all three of them. He may have not raised their Intimacy to be as high as blood brothers, but he considered those young Simiavulgs to be Pillar temple brothers just the same.

“Smoke, it is your turn to be Manasensed. Please get in position.”

He excitedly stood in front of the ancient jar and dipped his hands into the water.

In a whirling motion, his arms moved and created the needed speed to get the jar of Sensus to work. Smoke stepped backwards and hoped for the jar to start spinning.

However, the jar did not spin. Nor did it float. It didn’t even turn into its diamond form. It remained unchanged in the same spot.

Doctus looked worried. He sadly looked at Smoke and said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I thought you passed the basic training. At least that’s what Lectus told me.”

Castas hurriedly asked Smoke. “Can you show us your biggest Manatl?”

A confused Smoke nodded. His right hand held onto the white metallic staff tightly and carefully placed it on the concrete floor.

He took a deep breath and covered his entire body with a dark purple sphere of Manatl. “This is my biggest Manatl as of now, but I can only keep this size for five minutes…”

Tenvis raised his hands and told him to stop. “Don’t worry about it. It is already impressive that you managed to make it cover your entire body. Five minutes is already plenty for someone who just learned Manatl.”

Meras then spoke. “But that just makes it even stranger why the jar didn’t pick a temple for you to train under. During your afternoon sessions, what was the object that you pushed the furthest? Yellow pyramid? Black? Red? Which one was it?”

“None.” Smoke answered in a disheartened tone.

“Huh? You weren’t able to move any of them?”

“I was able to move them, but I moved all of them equally.”

“Really? And how far were you able to move them?” Doctus asked in a surprised voice.

“On the last day of basic training, I managed to move them one and half meter away from me.”

Doctus looked at the other three Simiavulg masters and said. “Maybe that’s the reason why the jar couldn’t sense which temple he should go to next?”

The four masters spoke as they reminded each other that the three objects were a precursor to what the jar of Sensus would show.

The yellow pyramid was charged with elemental Mana and a person who could specialize in this Manatl would have pushed that object the furthest.

The same thing applied to the other two objects. The black pyramid was charged with a type of Mana with regenerative properties, while the red one was charged with a very dense form of Mana.

“Then, what should we do? He moved all three objects equally.” Asked a concerned Castas.

“We have no choice. Without a reaction from the jar, we can’t accept him into any of our temples. He will have to learn the ways of Manatl on his own.” Meras said with a straight face.

“It’s regrettable, but Meras is right.” Doctus said with a sigh. The orangutan Simiavulg then looked to Smoke and said.

“It pains me to tell you this, but we cannot accept you into any of the specialized temples.”

“And what about my test? What should I do about that?”

“Well, it is usually up to your black-staff mentor to give you the test rules and passing parameters.”

KLANK KLANK KLANK!

Smoke and the Simiavulgs turned towards the sound of a heavy metal staff being dragged on the courtyard.

Indignus walked over to them and sneered at Smoke.

“Hmmpf. Normally, that would have been the case. However, since you do not belong to any of the temples, it will be I, the grandmaster, who shall decide on the parameters of your test.”

Smoke gulped. ‘I’m really in trouble now,’ he thought.

“The test will still be held on your thirty-first day in Saruras. But let me remind you, you are not allowed to be taught by any of the four masters or their subordinates in the meantime.”

Indignus looked straight at Smoke as he spoke, but Smoke could tell that this reminder was meant for the great masters and not him. The Grandmaster Simiavulg then asked his assistant Saru to take Smoke outside and away from the Manatl temples.

* * * * * * 

Smoke was taken to a secluded part of Saruras village. There were no other Simiavulgs in sight except for the albino gorilla Simiavulg who had led him there.

‘Not only is the test going to be even harder, but I don’t even have a proper teacher to take me to the next level of Manatl.’

For the first time since he accepted the Ways of Manatl Quest, he felt concerned that he would really end up losing 30% of his precious levels.

“Smoke, Smoke! Snap out of it!” Saru yelled.

The DarkElf turned to face the albino Simiavulg with an empty look.

“Don’t worry about the test. The Manatl you have right now may not be enough, but it will be if you work on it. Come, follow me.”

Smoke followed Saru without question. After all, he didn’t know what else to do. He was like a floating ghost, an empty shell.

“This whole area is safe for you to train in.”

Saru showed him around the place. He saw a small pond that had an unusually abundant amount of fish. Next, he was taken to see a decent-sized cave with tiny bats hanging from its ceiling. Lastly, he was shown a group of bamboo trees that swayed with the wind.

“You should stay within this area. Otherwise, it could be troublesome for you. Let me show you a couple of simple exercises that will help you strengthen your Manatl.”

Saru started near the bamboo trees. The albino gorilla sat down under the trees and projected a faint Manatl barrier around his white body.

Smoke watched curiously and noticed some bamboo leaves that fell down. The leaves would only travel around Saru’s barrier. He expected them to disappear or maybe even stop and slide off. Yet none of that happened.

After that, Saru took him to the pond. There, Saru sat down once more and created his Manatl. This time, the albino Simiavulg floated on top of the water and crossed the pond.

Saru’s education tour around Smoke’s newly-assigned area had taken some time. It was now getting dark and the tiny bats inside a cave were getting restless.

The albino Simiavulg took Smoke to the front of the cave. There, Saru stood with his white metallic staff in hand and created his Manatl. The swarming tiny bats moved around the albino Simiavulg naturally.

Once the last of the bats flew off. Saru faced Smoke and told him. “Do these three exercises until the time of the test and I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Smoke nodded and obeyed. It was nighttime and Smoke thought it best to clear his mind from the recent turn of events. He logged out of Zectas and slept soundly for the next two hours.

A sliver of light from the breaking dawn greeted Smoke when he returned to Zectas. He thought to start his training with the bamboo leaves.

Before he could even sit down, Smoke felt the sharp edges of the leaves graze his purple skin. “Ouch! What the…”

The bamboo leaves turned out to be razor sharp. He quickly grabbed hold of his white staff and concentrated to create a Manatl.

He could only hold his barrier for five minutes and then came the razor sharp bamboo leaves. He sat there until his life bar was at 15%.

Smoke stepped away from the bamboo trees before his life bar situation got critical. While his health recovered, he thought about trying the small pond.

With his white staff in hand, he created the Manatl and took a step towards the water.

PLOOOP!

Smoke instantly fell under as soon as he stepped on the surface of the pond. He sat on the edge of the pond meditating, trying to float on top of it with his Manatl, but nothing happened.

He repeated this exercise until nighttime came. He quickly got into position in front of the cave and created a Manatl before the tiny bats could harm him.

Sadly, he received status ailments of blindness and bleeding as soon as the swarm of tiny bats’ attacks broke the limits of his current Manatl.

He repeated all three exercises day in and day out. On the twenty-eighth day, Saru returned to check up on his progress.

Smoke’s armor changed colors from all the time it spent in the pond. It was also covered with cuts from the razor sharp bamboo leaves, as well as bite marks from the swarm of tiny bats.

He noticed Saru’s troubled expression and told him. “Don’t worry about it. I look worse than I actually am. I’ve been waiting to show you how much I’ve improved.”

Smoke started with the bamboo leaves. He sat down on the ground and struck the trees until the fallen leaves surrounded him.

His dark purple barrier incinerated the razor sharp bamboo leaves as soon as they touched Smoke’s Manatl. He left a spherical scorch mark on the ground where he had made his barrier.

He stood up and stomped the ground hard.

BADOOOOOGGG!

The land around them shook from Smoke’s absorbed Mana. He turned to see Saru’s reaction and found that the albino was trying to remove scorch marks from his own barrier instead.

Next, Smoke took Saru to the small pond. From the edge of the pond, his dark purple Manatl absorbed the water it touched and evaporated it.

After that, he took Saru to the cave. It was still early in the afternoon, so there were no tiny bats flying around. Smoke picked up a rock and threw it towards the ceiling.

His thrown rock disturbed ten tiny bats and they dived straight down to attack him. Smoke fluidly created his dark purple barrier and incinerated the bats as soon as they made contact with his Manatl.

Smoke’s charged-up staff was directed towards the ceiling. He released the captured Mana from the ten bats and a strong gust of wind was on its way straight to the swarm of sleeping tiny bats.

Saru leapt in front of Smoke’s attack with his white Manatl barrier surrounding him. He absorbed all of Smoke’s attack into it.

When he landed down on the ground, he dispersed the energy of Smoke’s attack gently into it. He then sternly reprimanded Smoke.

“Your training has gone far too much to the destructive side.”

“Has it? I’m sorry, but I figured Manatl should be used as a charger in order to empower your next attack. I thought I was using it right.”

“Well, in that aspect you are, but I was hoping you would discover the other side of the coin. Anyway I’m here to tell you the time and place of your exam.”

Smoke noted the disappointed look on Saru’s face as he told him the details of the exam. He was supposed to wait in front of the shoreline of the lake near the submerged bridge.

“Good luck with the rest of your training. May Cuezaltzin grant you peace in this time of turmoil.” Saru immediately left without looking back at Smoke.

He planned to spend the last three days of his training trying to figure out the meaning of words Saru left him with. ‘What is on the other side of the coin?’

Yet as the days went by, his Manatl’s destructive force steadily grew stronger. He increased the duration of his full-body Manatl to ten minutes, but he would need to rest at least for an hour before he could use it again.

With the words Saru left him, Smoke tried to invigorate a couple of withered flowers. He used the gathered energy from his Manatl and tried sending it to the flowers, but it only disintegrated them.

Eventually, his blind focus on improving his current Manatl made him give up on Saru’s riddle.

‘It’s better to have this power rather than have none at all.’

* * * * * * 

Smoke anxiously headed over to his assigned testing grounds. The setback involving the jar of Sensus hurt his confidence.

Yet, he thought that he had the right amount of fear and anxiety to keep him on his toes. He knew that he needed to perform well on this test.

Indignus, Doctus, Tenvis, Castas, Meras and Saru were all waiting for him on the shoreline near the submerged bridge. The Grandmaster Simiavulg called out to him.

“DarkElf, you have spent a month here in our village. As such, it is time for you to submit to our test.”

Indignus nodded towards the four Simiavulgs with black staves before he continued.

“All four masters have requested that I make this test as straightforward as possible. I’m more than happy to comply.”

The Grandmaster pointed his red staff towards the lake.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of them, but there are lake monsters called Kappas. Their levels range from 110 to 150 at best.”

Smoke respectfully nodded to Indignus before the Grandmaster spoke again.

“You merely need to defeat a hundred of them using only your staff and your gained Manatl ability. Violate any of these conditions and your result will be considered a failure.”

Smoke had read about the Kappa monsters. They were humanoid monsters who had turtle shells on their backs, webbed hands and feet and sharp beaks for mouths.

“Take that boat and ride over to the deeper end.” Indignus pointed to an eight-passenger row boat docked on the shoreline.

“Don’t the kappas attack near the shoreline?” Smoke asked.

“Yes, but don’t you want to finish this test faster? You see, there are more kappas in the deeper part of the lake. So, could you run along and start your test already?”

Smoke bowed to all the masters, as well as Saru. He pushed the wooden rowboat by himself and jumped on board when it gained enough momentum.

By chance, he looked back and caught a glimpse of Indignus while floating away from the shore.  Smoke got a bad feeling as soon as he saw the red-staff wielder’s smug smile.

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