Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 05 – Chapter 05

Author: John Nest
Proofreader: Overus

Note:  For easy character reference please refer to: 
Characters
Races and Religions

 

The Will of the Flames

Despite having a decent-sized room, Nash still felt cramped inside it. His Zectas game pod took a fourth of the space. Coupled with his newly hanged punching bag and computer table, he barely had enough room to do his stretching exercises.

‘Maybe the garage was a better place for the punching bag,’ he thought, while shaking his head in disapproval with himself.

He stretched out his arms and sat down in front of his computer screen. He clicked on his unedited video of Colere and Esper in Souer Settlement. The two OrkElf leaders were standing next to a large clay tank, filled with floating white membranes of pomegranates.

“What now?” asked Colere.

“Well, you remove the floaters completely, then begin pounding the seeds at the bottom,” said Nash’s voice in his DarkElf character.

“Alright, you heard the man,” Colere said to Esper, and the two of them began removing the floating white membranes.

“Wait, Esper, can you ask another male OrkElf to take your place?” asked Smoke. “And make sure he looks like Colere.”

“What now?” asked Esper. “Faux, you’ve been acting strange since you got here. First you have us perform this weird experiment, and now you want me to look for someone who looks like my husband?”

“Yeah, Faux, you’re asking for the impossible,” said Colere. “No one is as handsome as me.”

“Oh! Really?” asked Esper. “Wait right here!”

After a few seconds, Esper returned with an identical-looking OrkElf to Colere. “Faux, his name is Wachs. Don’t you think they could pass off as twins?”

“Definitely!” exclaimed Smoke. “Great job, Esper.”

While fishing out the pomegranate’s floating white membranes, Colere kept grumbling to himself. “He doesn’t look like me at all.”

“Now, Colere, I want you to call Wachs as Jinggu,” began Smoke. “And, Wachs, I want you to call Colere as Sharur. You got that?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ve done that a hundred times,” said Wachs. “You’re one of those DarkElves who like to play pretend that we’re OrkElves named Jinggu and Sharur.”

Wachs paused. “Which am I, again? Sharur, right?”

“No, you’re Jinggu. I’m the one you’re suppose to call Sharur,” said Colere. “But, Faux, what’s this for?What does Jinggu and Sharur mean anyway?”

“Well, in Wysteria, it means honorable and brave friends who are willing to die for you,” said Smoke.

“Which one? Sharur or Jinggu?” asked Esper.

“Both,” said Smoke.

“That doesn’t make sense,” said Colere. “How could they mean both when—”

“They just do, okay?” said Smoke, exasperated. “Now, please let’s just continue with this experiment. I promise, you two won’t regret it.”

“Of course, you know we trust you,” said Colere. “So, what do we do next?”

“Oh! You’re really one of those DarkElves,” interrupted Wachs. “Maybe you want Esper to be called as Sierra?”

“Now, who’s Sierra,” asked Colere, intrigued.

“Oh, it’s one of those characters that the Sonstwelters like their OrkElves Mercenaries to be called. The most popular ones are Sharur, Jinggu, and then there’s Sierra,” explained Wachs. “Well, sometimes they also add another name. I think it was… Adder, yeah, that’s it.”

Wachs paused, and turned to Smoke. “Also, there’s one more request those DarkElf Sonstwelters make… They usually want us to call them Smoke.”

“Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” said Smoke. “Why don’t you also call me that during this experiment?”

“Call you what?” asked Colere.

“Smoke,” said Smoke.

Colere turned to Esper, and she shrugged in response. The burly OrkElf then turned to Wachs. “Is this some Sonstwelter thing?”

“I don’t know, but they really seem to get a kick out of being called Smoke,” said Wachs.

“Fine, Smoke,” said Colere. “So, what do you want us to do now?”

“Right, clear out those floating membranes, and then pound the seeds with these,” said Smoke, handing them over-sized clay-pestles.

“You need to make sure that all of the seeds are completely crushed,” said Smoke.

Colere and Wachs silently obeyed Smoke. They proceeded to smoother the seeds in the bottom of the clay tank. The water turned purple, sticky, and syrupy.

“How long do we need to do this?” asked Wachs.

“Until all the seeds are squashed, and ten more minutes after that,” said Smoke. He got closer and threw minced medicinal plants into the purple mixture.

After thirty-minutes, their pompom was ready for tasting. Smoke used his Earth Manipulation to create a functional tap and added it to the end of the tank in advance. He placed one of his clay jars under the tap, and poured himself a jar full of pompom.

“Here, try this, Sharur,” Smoke said to Colere, handing him the jar.

Colere stared into the purple potion and back to Smoke.

“Well, here it goes,” said Colere, drinking it all in one gulp. “Mm. Ah! That was great, Fau— Smoke. It’s really delicious.”

“Doesn’t it? I call it, rejuvpots,” said Smoke.

“Why don’t you try one, Jinggu?” he said to Wachs, handing him a newly filled jar. “Not only will it restore your Life but your mana as well!”

“Are you serious?” asked Wachs, he intentionally cut himself on his palm and then drank the rejuvpots. “Whoa! It really did restore my health.”

“Who knew pome—” began Wachs, but Smoke quickly covered the OrkElf’s mouth with his hand. “Jinggu, now now. I don’t want you tell them what these things came from.”

“Eh? Tell who? It’s just us here,” said Wachs, staring at Smoke, confused.

“Anyway, it’s enough that we learned how to make this item from the famous OrkElf Alchemist, Esper!” said Smoke. “Too bad that she had to leave Wysteria and head for Sawtorn. I don’t know what city she’s in, but she promised to come back to Wysteria soon.”

“Wysteria? Are you alright?” Wachs asked Smoke. “You know that we’re really near Vo—.”

Smoke shut Wachs up with a gag over the OrkElf’s mouth.

“Now, Sharur, just make sure that you take extra care of those pots,” Smoke said to Colere. “They cost about 5,000 zecs each. It sounds expensive, but that’s already cheap considering they restore both HP and MP.”

Colere looked confused, but obediently followed Smoke’s lead.

“Of course, Smoke, I’ll get right on that,” said Colere. “I’m really going to miss that beautiful Alchemist. I wish she stayed with us a bit longer.”

“Stop it, Sharur, you don’t have a chance with her. Did you forget how powerful of a Warrior her husband was?” asked Smoke.

“Oh, right. He did indeed look powerful,” said Colere.

Smoke forcibly blinked his eyes multiple times, to indicate where he planned to end his video.

“That was great, guys,” Smoke said to Colere and Wachs. “Now, I want you to fill up this clay pots with the pompom juice.”

Smoke then signaled Esper to join them. “I’ll make about 20,000 pieces of these pots,” he said, and then handed her 50,000 zecs.

“Since you can’t wear an actual Alchemist’s robes, use that money to go to the Tailors and order clothes that would look like it belonged to one,” explained Smoke to her. “You sell them near the market district and near the arena.”

Esper obediently nodded.

Due to PVP events being held in the arena, Smoke decided to place Esper there. Potions which would restore both HP and MP in one drink was extremely rare, expensive, and useful.

“Don’t worry about the first couple of days,” said Smoke. “The sales will be slim to none, but just stick with it and I promise you people will come to buy it.”

“Alright, Fau— I mean Smoke,” said Esper.

“Oh, it’s alright, you don’t have to call me Smoke anymore,” said Smoke. “You can call me Faux, again.”

“Sonstwelters are really weird,” Wachs said to Esper and Colere. Both OrkElf leaders nodded without hesitation.

“But remember, don’t sell more than 1,000 pieces in one place,” said Smoke. “You can sell 1,000 pieces to a person. But after that, you need to tell them that you need to make some more.”

“Why should they do that?” asked Wachs. “They’ll have all 20,000 clay pots filled and ready.”

“The reason for that is to entice the public’s demand,” explained Smoke. “So, what you do is, find a different location in the city. Preferably somewhere in the same district, but the opposite direction.”

“And you’re sure that will work?” asked Esper.

Smoke saw the excitement in her eyes. It was clear how much she wanted to make a great profit for their settlement, and Smoke knew that this was a great way to get it.

“Alright, you two, I’m counting on you to make great sales,” said Smoke. “Oh, and make sure there isn’t a pomegranate in sight when you sell those potions.”

“You got it, Faux,” said Colere.

“Leave it to us,” added Esper. “Hm, Faux, how much is our split on this? Are we fifty-fifty?”

“Sixty-forty, but we’ll talk about the specifics later,” said Smoke.

After watching the unedited video, Nash then immediately began cutting out the unnecessary parts. Due to them being inside the earth-doughnut structure, the pomegranates trees were completely hidden in the video.

‘Although, Colere and Wachs looked like vagrants, I think their clothes could pass off as undergarments,’ thought Smoke.

It took him over thirty-minutes to finish his video edit, which left him less than thirty-minutes to get a quick power nap before logging back in.

Nash locked his computer screen, and collapsed on his bed. Without looking, his hands automatically found his alarm clock, which he set for thirty minutes.

* * * * * *

With about five weeks left until the tournament, Smoke was patiently waiting for the elderly HighElf to begin their training. During his stay in the seminary, Smoke was asked to remove his earth-mask. This, he readily complied, as the only other people there were Eleve and Flora.

Yet, despite the urgency, he did not mind. For what he was truly after was a clue on the Magietrois, and what could be a better source than one of their direct students?

Squatting on tatami floors reminded Smoke of his time in Saruras Village. He wondered how the Simiavulgs were doing. Especially, Saru, the albino Simiavulg who greatly helped him learn the ways of the Manatl.

Suddenly, his thoughts were disrupted as Eleve called him out.

“Go on, drink some more, Faux,” Eleve said to Smoke.

Against his will, Smoke finished one more cup.

“By the way, where’s Flora?” asked Smoke, noticing the flower girl’s absence since he got back online.

“I sent her on an errand,” said Eleve. “Seeing as she’s the one who brought you here, then she should be the one to do all of the leg work.”

“Leg work?” asked Smoke, confused.

Eleve took a sip from her cup, and sternly stared at him.

“Forget about Flora,” said Eleve. “Are you here to train for Magi Gagnant Tournament or not?”

Smoke silently nodded.

“Then, I have a few questions for you,” she said. “And for this to work, I only ask you to be honest. You don’t have to tell me the whole truth, just as long as you answer the important points of my question.”

Smoke felt Eleve’s gaze intensify as she spoke.

“Can you do that or not?” asked Eleve. “Cause if you can’t, then we might as well stop now.”

“I can do that, I can be honest,” said Smoke with all sincerity. He had no intention of lying, as he felt that she had the capability of detecting false statements.

Eleve raised her eyebrow. She took in a deep breath and gently placed her tea in front of her.

“First things first, I’d like to know what you want to learn here? Is it to improve your Earth Manipulation ability? Clearly, this is what you had expected. Or do you want to learn the will of the flame?”

Even during the times he was logged out of Zectas, Smoke was thinking about this topic.

“To be honest, I have another elemental ability,” said Smoke. “I can also control Lightning. It’s nowhere near the level of my Earth Manipulation, but I believe given time I could master that as well.”

Without a word, Eleve swiftly picked up her teacup and threw it straight at Smoke’s forehead.

“Ouch! What was that for?” asked Smoke, rubbing his forehead.

“Are you playing dumb? Or are you just stupid?” asked Eleve. “Don’t you know that Earth and Lightning are opposite elements?”

“I do know that,” said Smoke. “But there’s a certain percentage where I could still get a decent amount of power from both of them,” he reasoned out.

“Tell me this then, which has the higher chance of winning,” began Eleve. “Someone who has completely mastered one element or the other who has two but doesn’t go near the level of mastery?”

“Well, that depends,” said Smoke. “The one who mastered an element could have a low life bar. He could be placed in a trap. Or one out of the two elements could be a counter element of the— Ouch!” he suddenly cried out, as another teacup came crashing into his head once more. “Stop that! You know you can just tell me I’m wrong.”

“Now, where’s the fun in that?” asked the batty old Highelf. “Did you count how many conditions you said in that one argument?”

“What does have to do with anything?” asked Smoke, still rubbing his head.

“Well, my dear, that just tells you how low your chances of winning are in a straightforward fight,” said Eleve. “Let me tell you right now, if you want to become a decent Manipulator of the elements, then drop Lightning.”

“But isn’t one of the members of the Magietrois a master of Lightning?” asked Smoke.

“Yeah, one of them is, but I never met her,” said Eleve.

“Yeah, about that, how did you meet Magietrois Florissant?” asked Smoke. “What was she like?” He probed with caution, concerned that asking several questions about her teacher would piss the touchy old lady.

Eleve fondly smiled.

“I was about nine or ten, when I first saw her. The Magietrois Florissant then was young, about thirty-five. It was the 919th Magi Gagnant Tournament, and before the finals started, she stepped onto the stage and called forth a phoenix. It was the most mystical creature I have ever seen,” began Eleve. “Its flames were red as scarlet, but they did not feel hot, not even warm.”

Eleve’s eyes dazzled, recounting the memory of meeting her master for the first time gave her the most winsome smile.

“When she was done performing, she got off the ring and suddenly went straight to me, out of everyone in the crowd,” said Eleve. “She asked me whether I was enjoying my monotonous life or if I was interested in being her disciple.”

Eleve blushed.

“Me, being very young and naive, was completely enamoured by her beauty and power. She made me feel so special, and I regrettably said yes,” she said smiling.

“You said you regretted it, but why do you look so happy?” asked Smoke, and gave her a grin.

Eleve guffed.

“Well, Florissant promised me a life of wonder, excitement, a life filled with magic,” she said. “But when I got here, it was even more dull and boring than back home. Everyday, it was the same thing. Read books, memorize spells, soul meditation, and mantra chanting,” explained Eleve, shuddering away the unpleasant memory.

“At first, there were over a thousand girls. They were all about my age,” said Eleve. “But when I turned eleven, there were only a hundred of us left.”

“Wait! Florissant didn’t eat them or devour their souls did she?” asked Smoke, alarmed.

“Of course not! Florissant was kind to all of us,” said Eleve, disapprovingly.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing?” asked Smoke.

“She was so kind in fact, that it made me feel irrelevant,” she explained. “She knew all of our habbits, traits, and even our dreams. When I turned twenty-one, there were only three of us left. The others were convinced that they had learned enough, and left to help the outside world with their gifted talents.”

“So, why did you stay?” asked Smoke. “And how’s Magietrois Florissant doing now?”

Smoke leaned in closer, hoping to learn more about the Flame Magietrois.

However, Eleve raised her eyebrows and sternly stared at him. “Anyway, I’ve said enough. I’ve digressed for far too long.”

“So, will you drop your Lightning Manipulation or not?” she asked again.

“By drop do you mean stop using it?” asked Smoke, taken aback.

“No! I mean unlearn the ability altogether,” said Eleve.

Stunned, Smoke could not reply and his mouth fell open.

“I’ll give you thirty-minutes to think about it,” said Eleve. “I’ll be back by then. If you do decide to keep the Lightning Manipulation, I will have to ask you to leave the Florissant Seminary.”

Eleve stood up and left him alone in the room.

“Wait a minute, are you serious? Is this some sort of test?” asked Smoke, but did not hear a reply from the batty old HighElf.

‘Should I do this?’ he asked himself. ‘We were still talking about her meeting with the Magietrois and suddenly she changes the topic to me losing an ability.’

Smoke moved his chin closer to his chest and said. “Igniz, do you think this could be a trap? The last time I trusted someone who claimed to be a Magietrois, I lost my Transmutation ability.”

The metal orb on Smoke’s chest showed no changes.

“Do you think I pissed her off? You know, asking about Magietrois Florissant?” asked Smoke.

Igniz let out a bright purple light. Smoke could only guess that his symbiote just shrugged in response.

“Right, I should make this decision myself,” said Smoke. “After all, I only have myself to blame for my own actions.”

Smoke stood up and ran after Eleve. Despite walking slowly, she was already several meters away from him.

“I’ll do it!” he shouted. “I’ll drop the Lightning ability.”

Eleve stopped, turned around and smiled at him. “Very good.”

Suddenly, she instantly vanished and reappeared in front of him. Her hand touched his forehead and he was pinned against the wall.

A red progress bar appeared with ‘Lightning Manipulation’ written on it. Smoke instantly felt a searing pain on his skin as if Eleve’s palm was burning him. His instincts told him to fight back, but he forcibly restrained himself.

A notification window popped up as soon as the progress bar completed.

– LOST ABILITY: Lightning Manipulation

Smoke thought that Eleve was going to let go of him now, but then she pushed even harder. A new progress bar with the same red color appeared. He tried to look at what was written on it, but he could not read it.

Instead, a notification window popped up.

+ Learned Ability: Fire Manipulation
Active
Level: Beginner Level 1
Experience: (0/1,000)

* Strength and duration of the constructed object depends on:
the user’s knowledge of the object
the user’s Fire affinity
the level of this ability
* Range increases as level increases

Effect: Manipulate fire within 10 meters
MP Consumption: 200 MP/second


Eleve then released him, and he unintentionally slumped to the floor.

“Good choice,” said Eleve. “Now, let’s begin.”

* * * * * *

Squatting on white marble floors in the center of the largest training room of the seminary, Smoke and Eleve were staring at a single lit candle. The chamber was devoid of light, but Smoke could feel a subtle breeze.

“Tell me, what is it that you wish to accomplish with this training?” Eleve asked Smoke.

He thought about telling her that he was looking for the Magietrois, but decided to give the other reason.

“I’m here to gain the power to defeat Ouragan,” said Smoke.

Eleve snorted, but quickly suppressed herself.

“Since you’re intention is to fight against a Prime Wizard in the next few weeks, I will have to use the more unconventional methods in training you,” said Eleve. “If I feel like you can’t go on, I’ll tell you immediately and that will be the end of it.”

“Don’t worry, that will never happen,” sadi Smoke.

“We’ll see about that,” guffed Eleve. She then pointed to the candle’s flame.

“The specialisation of the Fire element delivers good and sustained single target damage, as well as incredible cleave capabilities,” said Eleve. “Also, Masters of the Fire have little to no mana issues.”

Smoke respectfully nodded, as he was intent on learning his newly acquired ability and its mastery.

“As a Fire Elementalist, you will have access to a broad range of spells,” she said. “Some are applicable for both singular or multiple target situations, while others are exclusive to one.”

With a steady flame, the luminance of the the candle quintupled, as Eleve projected out four more floating lights of the same flame.

“In multiple target situations, the strategy you will use will depends on several factors,” said Eleve. “Such as their resistance to Fire, their physical and magical defense, their health points, and your mastery of the element.” she said, while suddenly extinguishing the flames one by one.

“Why don’t you try what I just did?” she asked Smoke, pointing to the candle.

Smoke bowed down before attempting the exercise. He directed both his palms at the flickering fire. His mastery of the Earth and his experience with learning the Lightning element helped him manipulate the flames.

Slowly, the single flame flickered and two more flames floated beside it.

“That’s not bad,” said Eleve. She then threw a minute fireball from her hands, and it hit Smoke right in the face.

“Ouch! What was that for?” asked Smoke, rubbing his nose. Since he entered the seminary, he found himself getting more injuries than learning anything.

He had experienced strict teachers before in Saruras Village when he was learning his Manatl, but this was the first time to be under a physically abusive instructor.

“Just curious if you could deflect it,” passively said Eleve. “You’ll need to learn that.”

“Why do you do that? Was Magietrois Florissant like this when she trained—” began Smoke, but a small fireball appeared from behind him and sent him flying across the training room.

“Talking about Magietrois Florissant is now off the table,” said Eleve. “You, who are not her disciple, have no right to talk about her. If you broach the topic again, I will kick you out, understand?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Smoke, raising himself up from his sprawled position. Despite the small fireball, it still dealt 10,000 damage points.

“Now, repeat the exercise again,” said Eleve.

At once, Smoke ran back to his spot in front of the candle. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath before splitting the flames into three. Sure enough, Eleve sent one of her minute fireballs at him.

Yet, this time, Smoke was able to deflect it while still maintaining the floating flames beside the candle.

They carried on with this exercise for the next two hours. Gradually, Eleve increased her miniscule fireballs to four, and Smoke could deflect two of them. With this exercise alone, he increased his Fire Manipulation ability to Beginner Level 5.

“That’s enough,” suddenly said Eleve. “Next, Do you know what a Fire Triangle is?”

Smoke silently shook his head. He decided it was better to stay quiet than act like he knew anything about it.

“The fire triangle represents the three prerequisites needed for a fire to exist. All three requirements must be present at the same time to have a Fire. The fire will continue to burn until one element is removed,” explained Eleve. “And these three requirements are fuel, heat, and oxygen.”

The elderly HighElf then pointed at the candle. “Just like that wick being burned, that plays the role of fuel. Heat or spark is when we lit it, and of course oxygen is around us. The optimum amount for oxygen to burn anything is 21%, the exact percentage of the oxygen we need to breathe.”

With a wave of her hand, Eleve then snuffed out the light of the candle. She then let out an even larger flame on top of her right palm.

“Now, why do you think I can make this fire burn?” she asked Smoke. “I’m not burning my flesh, but the flames are still there. What am I using as a substitute for the three requirements?”

Smoke’s body leaned in closer, as he pondered on Eleve’s question.

“For oxygen, of course, it’s the air. For fuel, I’m guessing that you’re using your mana,” answered Smoke. “But I don’t know what you used for spark.”

“I’m using my Gahum,” answered Eleve. “Gahum is not simply mana. It is everything and nothing at the same time. It is the special catalyst that controls all elements. It changes the element into something else.”

“Gahum can be used for both creation,” said Eleve, summoning a small salamander next to the candle.

“Or for destruction,” she went on, and the salamander turned into a fiery ball of flames as it devoured the candle into nothingness.

The training room went pitch black. Then, Eleve created a floating flame in the place of where the candle was.

“Now, why don’t you try it,” said Eleve.

Once more, Smoke respectfully bowed down, and faced his opened palms. He concentrated all of his mana into it, but nothing came out, not even a small spark.

“Of course nothing will come out, you idiot,” said Eleve. “You still don’t have the Gahum of Fire.”

“The Earth element is convenient, because it is always there before you manipulate it, right?” said Eleve. “But what did you do when you used your Lightning Manipulation?”

“I had to use a special equipment to produce Lightning,” answered Smoke.

Eleve nodded, scratching her cheek and chin. “I guessed as much.”

“Well, there are several ways to acquire the Gahum of Fire,” said Eleve. “You can go on a quest in Votl City, the one where Fire Mages receive an engraved Flame Ring socketed with an ember stone.”

Smoke’s face cringed at the thought of submitting himself to apprenticeship to be a Fire Mage, simply to acquire some ring.

Eleve saw his reaction and slightly smiled.

“Then, there’s also the accumulation of the Fire Gahum within your own body,” she said with the same stern expression.

“How do you do that?” asked Smoke.

“Hm… You could eat ten-thousand fire fennel flowers,” said Eleve. “They have flaming petals that when consumed bonds with your inner organs.”

“But that would take too long, as they are very scarce,” said Eleve, dejected. “There is another way, but that one is next to impossible.”

“What’s the other way?” eagerly asked Smoke.

“You could go hunting for ember sprites, but these things are extremely rare and skittish,” said Eleve. “They run and disappear as soon as they sense the presence of other species. Even if you do find one, they will only join those who are great leaders, and I’m doubtful that you will pass that.”

Smoke’s eyebrows instantly raised. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Positive. At least, that’s what Magietrois Florissant told me,” said Eleve and shrugged. “I’ve only ever seen them in books.”

Staring at his metal orb compartment on his chest, Smoke was slightly hesitant to let his symbiote out. However, he quickly dismissed his doubt after he saw a slight purple glow from Igniz.

“To be honest, I have an ember sprite,” said Smoke. “In truth he is my symbiote.”

He then opened the metal orb on his chest and released the dark ember sprite.

“No! It can’t be,” said the old HighElf excitedly. “That’s an ember sprite, but it’s purple? Wait, Is that what the book called a dark ember sprite?”

Smoke humbly nodded as Igniz flew around the dark training room.

“You might have just changed my opinion of you,” said Eleve. She suddenly paused and her eyes brightened. “Could this be why she chose you?”

“Who chose me?” asked Smoke, confused.

“Don’t mind an old lady’s babbling,” she said. “Anyway, what about your symbiote? What kind of abilities have you learned with it?”

“Igniz is a he,” reflexively snapped Smoke. “Please stop calling him as if he was a mere object.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Eleve. “Looks like you can be a bit touchy when it comes to Igniz, huh?”

An astonished Eleve stared at the blitzing dark ember sprite in the room. “He truly is a fascinating creature, isn’t he?”

“Telefax Vision and Symbiote Vision,” suddenly said Smoke. “Those are the only two abilities that I’ve learned with Igniz.”

Eleve smiled. “You’re in luck! Wait right here,” she said and teleported out of the training room, leaving a fiery afterimage of herself.

Smoke then turned to Igniz. “At least you don’t have to hide anymore,” he said. “Hey, wait a minute! Was that the reason you wanted to reveal yourself?”

Igniz pretended not to listen to Smoke. Instead, the dark ember sprite energetically flew around the training room, as he enjoyed his newly gained freedom.

PLOP

Eleve suddenly reappeared in the same spot where she was squatting. In her hands was a bulky book with special leather bindings.

“I’ve been wanting to see this tome put to good use,” she said to Smoke. “Faux, please take this.”

She handed the book to him, and a notification window popped up immediately after.

+ Learned Ability: Symbiote Synergy
Active
Level: Beginner Level 1
Experience: (0/1,000)

Synergized Fusion with your symbiote on the cellular level.

* Acquire the Physical attributes of your symbiote
* Acquire the Elemental attributes of your symbiote
* Acquire the Gahum of your symbiote

Notes:
> The entity with the higher Intelligence gets main control of the body.
> Dying in synergized form means permanent death for the symbiote.


After the book vanished, Eleve eagerly ordered Smoke. “Go on, use it already. Merge with Igniz!”

“Wait, before I do, I want to know more about the ability?” asked Smoke. “What exactly happens to Igniz when we’re merged? Does it lessen his lifespan? Am I slowly absorbing his abilities, or even worse his essence?”

Eleve chuckled and hysterically slapped her knees. “Stop being overdramatic. Your symbiote is going to be fine… probably. Now, go on and just do it. I thought I wouldn’t see this in my lifetime.”

Igniz flew down near Smoke.

“Well, what do you say?” Smoke asked his symbiote. “Are you up for this?”

Letting out a bright purple flame, Igniz nodded his head in agreement.

“Alright! Let’s do this!” shouted Smoke, and used their third symbiote ability. “Synergized!”

The moment Smoke activated the ability, Igniz’s small flaming body was absorbed into Smoke’s. Fumes started coming out of his skin. Until, two dark purple flames came out from his palms.

“I can’t believe it!” said Eleve, shaking her head and loudly clapping her hands. “You actually pulled it off.”

However, a notification window popped up in front of Smoke.

– You have received the Burned Status. Losing 500 HP/second.


Smoke’s life bar was steadily being depleted, and Eleve instantly noticed this as well.

“It seems your Synergized form is still not complete,” said Eleve. “You will have to work on it until it doesn’t hurt you anymore.”

A carefree Smoke nodded. Despite the steady decrease in life, he was still widely grinning. He tried letting out several fireballs, and at once eight purple fireballs came out of his palms.

“Whoa!” exclaimed Smoke.

‘The fireballs were even stronger than the ones from Igniz,’ thought Smoke.

“Good, now let’s really start your training,” said Eleve, resuming her serious tone and even sterner appearance. “Here in Florissant Seminary, we believe that repetitive actions leads to mastery.”

“Normally, you would spend numerous days, memorizing spells and incantations,” explained Eleve. “Yet, due to time constraints. It would be best for you to practice being autodidactic.”

“Autodidactic? What’s—” began Smoke, but he was instantly cut off as Eleve teleported Smoke and herself into a survival mission.

* * * * * *

“Where are we?” asked Smoke, looking around. A purple flaming Smoke stood next to Eleve, who teleported them to a small grassland in between two forest patches. His life bar was steadily being depleted.

“We are in one of Florissant’s special gaming grounds,” said Eleve. “There is a high chance that you might die, but I thought it would be okay since you’re a Sonstwelter.”

“But that won’t be good for Igniz,” said Eleve. “So, I suggest you cancel your synergized form and do this yourself.”

“Gee, thanks for thinking about my well being,” replied Smoke with a hint of sarcasm, and obediently ended his infused state with his symbiote. A purple flash suddenly appeared and Igniz was happily flying next to him.

“Of course, Faux. Like I said, I’ve changed my opinion of you,” reminded Eleve. “Now, that I know you have a dark ember sprite.”

“So, shall we get started?” said Eleve.

Without waiting for Smoke’s reply, she pulled him closer and pointed to one of the forest patches.

“There are foraging santelmos to your left, and voracious servals to your right,” she said to Smoke. “Of course there are other creatures in those forest, but those two are the monsters that I want you to focus on.”

“Why?” asked Smoke for clarity.

Eleve grinned at him. “Let’s just say that something special happens when you kill enough of them.”

Smoke’s eyes instantly livened with excitement. “I need to kill ten thousand of them before that happens, right?”

“Hey, how did you know that?” pouted Eleve.

“You know, for an elderly HighElf, you sure don’t act your age sometimes,” suddenly blurted out Smoke. “I mean you act on opposite ends of the spectrum,” he quickly added to appease her.

“Hmmp. Don’t you know that deep down, all of us are just kids? We never truly grow up,” she reasoned out, while her wrinkled face still pouted. “At least that’s what I learned from her.”

“From Flor—” said Smoke, but quickly stopped himself as to not ensue the wrath of the sensitive HighElf.

“So, can you tell me what abilities I can get from the servals and the santelmos?” asked Smoke.

“Well, aren’t we cocky?” pointed out Eleve. “It’s not yet a guaranteed that you can get their abilities, because this gaming grounds has a time limit. One can only stay here for eight days straight once a month.”

“You should have told me in advance,” angrily said Smoke. He quickly did some rough calculations in his head. “Considering our wasted time, this means I have to kill at least sixty of these monsters in under an hour for the next eight days straight. That’s one monster per minute.”

“I’d say that’s about right, and you can only choose one of them too,” said Eleve.

Smoke was troubled because this meant that he would not be logging out for Zectas for the next two days in the real world. He would be violating the health rules of the game.

“Hurry! Tell me which one is easier to kill?” asked Smoke.

“That depends on your abilities,” answered Eleve. “The santelmos are plentiful and don’t attack unless provoked. Whereas, the servals are scattered and vicious.”

After hearing Eleve, Smoke ran for the forest filled with santelmos. He had no idea what a santelmo or a serval looked like, but he decided to go with the less aggressive monsters.

“You’ll need one of these monsters abilities in order to take the next step!” shouted Eleve to him.

Using his Hyper Jump ability, Smoke reached the forest patch in two minutes.

 – Entered Fourrage Forest

– The creatures of note in this forest are stone deers, stag moose, and santelmos.
– Suggested level for entering this place is 200.


Smoke ignored the notification window, and immediately set out to find the santelmos. Only seconds into the forest patch, and he spotted twenty of them.

They had humanoid bodies covered in orange flames, and were almost two-meters tall. Most of them were picking up rocks in the forest. They threw them into their mouths as soon as they picked one up, swallowing it in one bite.

Smoke took out two black lightning rods. He was aware that he no longer needed to increase his Lightning Affinity.

However, after dropping his weighted chain and sickle against Ultimo, this was his only remaining weapon that could inflict great melee damage.

Right from the start, he used Lightning Strike on the fire monster. A blue flash of light enveloped the forest. The targeted santelmo’s life bar displayed (360,000/400,000 HP).

A flying Igniz overhead blasted his fireballs at the santelmo, but displayed an attack damage of zero.

“I think you have to sit this one out,” said Smoke to Igniz.

Immediately, the other santelmos gathered near it, ran far away. Whereas, the injured santelmo’s flames became hot red.

It charged at Smoke, but its speed was noticeably slow. Smoke engaged the monster and delivered blow after blow worth 4,000 to 4,500 damage points.

The sluggish santelmo could do nothing against the experienced Smoke. He danced around the red fiery monster, unscathed.

Smoke spent the next two minutes attacking the monster until he finally reduced its life bar to zero.

+ You have dealt a fatal blow to the santelmo.
+ You have killed the santelmo.
+ You have gained 380,000 exp.


‘That’s not bad,’ thought a delighted Smoke, picking up the loot of the santelmo.

+ Acquired coal.


Despite easily defeating the santelmo, his state of mind quickly dampened. He realized that he could only kill thirty of these santelmos at best, and he already used his Lightning Strike ability.

Recognizing that he needed to increase his damage output, Smoke grabbed the black and silver metallic rocks from his backpack, and threw them to the ground. He used his Electromagnetic Golem Offering and created two minions to his aid.

Next, he used his Master Level Earth Manipulation. He molded a clay golem after its predecessors. Yet, this one was slightly thinner. He hoped that this would make it move faster.

Then, Smoke used his Animate ability on it, giving it a simple command to attack any flaming humanoid monsters like the santelmo.

After completing his golems, Igniz orbited around Smoke, as if asking if he could do something to help.

“Sorry, Bud, but these guys are Fire elementals,” said Smoke. “You can’t do anything against them.”

He then switched out his twin lightning rods for his power chainsaw bow. He only needed to run a few meters before he spotted another group of the santelmos.

Firing four arrows, the same number of red santelmos were charging straight for them. Smoke faced one of them, while his metallic and clay golems challenged the other monsters.

The metallic golems moved like sloths, but their speed were evenly matched against the fiery santelmos. The red flaming monsters damage on his minions only amounted to 500 points, while the monsters could dish out 1,000 points with their strong punches.

On the other hand, his animated clay golem moved slightly faster. This gave it an edge of parrying the santelmo’s attacks before delivering a counterstrike.

By the time Smoke killed his santelmo, the golems had damaged their opponents’ life bars by at least 24,000 points.

Smoke then proceeded to help them finish off with their respective santelmos. Together with his minions, it took him five minutes to eliminate four santelmos. He had gotten close to the one minute per monster condition. Yet, his mana was only at 16% and was steadily being depleted.

He would have wanted to create a second clay golem, but the Animate ability required him to spend 500 MP/second to retain its form. With his current mana regeneration at 268/second, he could only keep his clay golem for another three minutes.

Deciding to maximize his clay golem’s duration, Smoke attacked five santelmos at once. Yet, this proved to be a miscalculation on his part, as the clay golem was the one targeted by two flaming monsters.

One of the santelmo’s red hands grabbed hold of his clay golem’s neck and arms, giving the second santelmo the opportunity to strike at Smoke’s undefended earth minion.

Desperate to save his clay golem, Smoke disregarded the santelmo attacking him, and targeted the one attacking his golem instead.

Smoke was attacked from behind, but only suffered 150 damage points. Wielding his twin lightning rods with blitzing speed, he killed all five santelmos in six minutes. Yet, he suffered 10,000 damage points and his clay golem’s duration ended.

“This won’t do at all,” said Smoke out loud.

Turning around, he quickly headed for the Fourrage forest’s exit. His metallic golems slowly dragged their feet as they followed him.

Using his Hyper Jump ability, Smoke reached Eleve in a matter of seconds. Only Igniz could keep up with him, as his sloth-like minions were left behind.

“Faux? It hasn’t been even an hour and you’re already calling it quits?” asked Eleve.

“No, I just wanted to clarify something first,” said Smoke. “Since I’m a Sonstwelter I can leave to go to my world, but if I do that will I be able to return here?”

“I’m not sure on this one, but I think you should be able to,” said Eleve. “Provided you didn’t die of course.”

“Of course,” said Smoke, smiling.

“Why are you happy? When you’re clearly behind schedule?” asked Eleve, confused.

“I think I was just pressured by the idea of killing one monster per minute for the next eight days straight, that I couldn’t see the answer clearly,” explained Smoke. “But I think I’ll try the more aggressive servals. Maybe, I’ll have more luck with them.”

 – Entered Harceleur Forest

– The creatures of note in this forest are badger, dogs, badger dogs, lemurcats, and servals.
– Suggested level for entering this place is 200.


‘Lemurcats, huh?’ grimaced Smoke as he remembered the tiger-like monsters with the face of a lemur. They looked ridiculous because of their faces, but were formidable opponents. He and Saru, the albino Simiavulg, were almost killed when they faced four of them at once.

‘I’m sure Saru would have died if Ledur didn’t rescue us,’ thought Smoke.

After seeing the notification window of the forest, Smoke decided to back out of the forest. He quickly grabbed for an ancient bison jerky and bit a big chunk out of it.

‘Golems would be useless against them. The badger dogs could already kill them, what more if lemurcats were added to the mix, and I don’t know what these servals are like,’ pondered Smoke.

Igniz flew above Smoke’s head, but not too close as to upset his thinking.

Taking a peek inside his backpack, he saw that he still had fifty jars of pompom juice. One jar could restore 50,000 MP. He wondered if he should use it here, since he only needed to rest twenty-four minutes to restore his mana bar to full capacity.

“Alright, Igniz, why don’t you scout above the trees?” he said to his symbiote who was eagerly waiting for instructions.

At once, the dark ember sprite entered the forest.

His Cunning of the Dire Fox could already sense more than a hundred monsters near the entrance, but Smoke wanted to get a visual of the monsters’ locations.

Using Symbiote Vision, Smoke saw one of the lemurcats attacking three badger dogs at once. Then, he spotted a flash of orange-light whizz past them.

While the lemurcat was chasing after the badger dogs, three more blitzing orange-lights passed near their area.

As the three-meter lemurcat was about to lunge on one of the badger dogs, the four orange-lights smashed into the tiger-like monster and pinned it to the ground.

Igniz stopped directly above them, giving Smoke a better view of what was happening. The blitzing orange-lights finally showed their true shape. They were half-meter orange flaming cats with black spots and pointed ears. These monsters were only slightly larger than your average house-cats.

One of the servals went straight for the lemurcat’s jugular, while the other three went for the joints on its limbs. The lemurcat’s life bar rapidly went down to (84,250/250,000 HP).

Their flaming bodies greatly damage the lemurcat, but the large monster would not give up without a fight. The lemurcat clawed off the serval on its neck, and revealed the serval’s life bar (150,000/180,000 HP).

‘That’s a lemurcat for you, one attack and it already got in 30,000 damage,’ thought Smoke, shaking his head.

However, that was the only attack the lemurcat could do. The four servals torched the massive tiger-like monster’s life bar to zero.

‘So that’s what a serval looks like,’ surmised Smoke. He then sent a message to Igniz, telling his symbiote to head towards the center of the forest.

Along the way, Smoke saw similar scenarios scattered throughout the forest. He could see badger dogs being hunted down by lemurcats. Whereas, the servals, who hunted in a pack, chased after anything in sight.

‘Looks like I was wrong about the lemurcats being the strongest monsters in this forest,’ thought Smoke.

Then, at the center of Harceleur Forest, Smoke saw a reversal. Six servals were surrounded by four lemurcats.

The simultaneous attack of the lemurcats scattered the servals’ formation. In a single glance, Smoke understood that even two servals were outmatched by one lemurcat. The flaming monsters that fought one-on-one with a lemurcat were devoured in a matter of seconds.

Smoke canceled his Symbiote Vision and jumped straight up. He equipped his Digger’s Wand and opened his Wings of Cologus, gliding directly to the center of the forest.

“Igniz, to me!” he ordered his symbiote when he got closer.

The dark ember sprite did not need Smoke’s instruction. Igniz orbited closer to Smoke creating a large fiery comet as he traveled around him.

Unified, their large flaming mass burnt the branches of the trees blocking the center of the forest patch as they fell through it.

CRASH

Smoke used his Comet Crush ability, making a deep impact on the ground, stunning both lemurcats and servals in the area.

While the monsters were immobilized, Smoke pointed his wand downward and created a deep pit. Bewildered, all four lemurcats and the surviving servals fell in.

Smoke expertly glided and landed on the edge of his pit. He then turned to Igniz. “You just aim for the lemurcats, while I’ll finish off the rest.”

Both lemurcats and servals desperately attempted to climb out of the pit, but none of them could do it. They all fell back down.

Igniz hurriedly hurled his fireballs at the lemurcats trapped in the deep hole. Whereas, Smoke used his earth-spikes to attack servals from a safe distance.

After five minutes, multiple notification windows popped up.

+ You have dealt a fatal blow to the lemurcat.
+ You have killed the lemurcat.
+ You have gained 200,000 exp.

 

+ You have dealt a fatal blow to the serval.
+ You have killed the serval.
+ You have gained 150,000 exp.


He ignored the similar windows as they kept popping up.

After killing all of the monsters at the center of the forest patch, Smoke turned to Igniz. “This is it, Bud!”

Equipped with the Digger’s Wand, Smoke started widening the pit. His Cunning of the Dire Fox alerted him of hostile monsters nearby, but none of them came close to attack him.

Undisturbed, he targeted several trees that were caught inside his pit. He had Igniz burn them with a sea of firewalls. He spent the next hour doing just this until he finally had a massive hole in the ground.

“This should be big enough,” he said to Igniz. He signaled his dark ember sprite, and together the two of them headed into the trees.

With his power chainsaw bow out, Smoke hit all of the monsters within range. Badger dogs, lemurcats, and servals alike, none were discriminated by their attacks.

Due to their larger size, Smoke could easily target the badger dogs and lemurcats, but the servals were a different story.

Luckily, Igniz’s flame attacks annoyed the fiery house-cats and turned the servals’ flames into an angry red, making the fiery cats chased after Smoke as well.

Despite being tailed, he calmly traversed the forest patch in a clockwise manner. His Cunning of the Dire Fox indicated that there were close to seven-hundred monsters chasing after him.

The lemurcats were fast, but they were not close to Smoke’s speed. Only the servals could catch up to him. Their attacks dealt 600 damage points, quadruple the damage of the santelmos.

Injured, Smoke relied on his well timed Hyper Jumps to evade the servals. He ran around the Harceleur Forest for fifteen-minutes more before heading for the center.

He stopped using his Hyper Jump ability, and braved the back attacks of the servals. Smoke incured a damage of close to 30% of his maximum life bar.

All of the pursuing monsters were gaining in on him. Yet, Smoke did not change course. When he got to the center of the forest, he dove straight into the pit that he had dug earlier.

The servals immediately behind him, leapt without second thought. This made the other monsters do the same.

Smoke then opened his hooded cloak and glided safely upward. Yet, the monsters on the end started to slow down. He pointed both his palms at them. He slightly raised the ground, creating an inclined plane which slid the monsters into his pit.

Igniz then started creating a sea of firewalls, but only the badger dogs and tiger-like monsters were damaged. Whereas, earth-spikes protruded in and out on the bottom of the pit, damaging both lemurcats and servals.

One Smoke’s sharp earth attacks skewered several monsters in one go, inflicting the Bleeding status on them.

The trapped monsters used their claws to climb up, but Smoke’s earth-spikes suddenly protruded from the walls and sent the monsters hurtling down.

As Smoke and Igniz began killing the monsters inside the pit, several notification windows popped up once more. He planned to ignore them until they killed the last one, but one of the windows would not be denied.

+ Level UP!

You have 10 stat points ready for distribution.
Your HP has increased by 6,100.
Your mana has increased by 6,100.
Fame has increased by 1.


Smoke smiled. Seeing that particular window could never be a bad thing. Yet, he kept on piercing the captured monsters with his earth-spikes.

It took him thirty more minutes to kill all of the monsters. He then eagerly checked the summary of the notification windows.

+ Killed badger dogs: 695
+ Killed servals: 217
+ Killed lemurcats: 88
+ Total experience points gained: 58,820,000


It took him one-hour and thirty-minutes to kill two-hundred-seventeen servals. At this rate, it was almost like he could kill two servals in under a minute.

However, his mana bar was completely depleted, and his life bar was left with 60%. Not to mention that his satiety bar was already at a dangerous level. He dove into the pit and started brewing a rejuvenison soup.

While his meal was still cooking, Smoke started collecting the loot dropped in his trap.

+ Acquired lemurcat hide.
+ Acquired badger dog meat.
+ Acquired serval foot.


“No rare items at all,” he grumbled to himself. He grumpily sat down and began drinking his rejuvenating concoction.

While the soup may have helped with his HP, he needed to spend another twenty-minutes for his MP to be fully restored. With his satiety, life, and mana bar filled, Smoke leapt out of his deep pit. He winked at Igniz, and together they headed out on the other side of the forest.

The two of them repeated the same process for the next seven hours, giving him a total of 2,540 servals and one more level up.

His current level was now at 112.

“If this training is just grinding, then I could do this easy,” said Smoke to Igniz, while the two of them were resting near his brewing rejuvenison pot.

“I really appreciate the boost in experience as well,” said Smoke.

Deeply contemplating at his character window, Smoke stared at the unused 40 points that he had not used in his last four level ups.

“What do you think? Should I use all of them on Int?” he asked Igniz. “After all, I am playing the role of a Mage at the moment.”

Igniz replied with his typical purple-flame shrug.

“Fine,” said Smoke, annoyed. “I’ll do all of the thinking myself.”

He clicked all of the unused stat points into Intelligence.

“There, it’s over,” he said, hesitant. “But I know that this would be really useful.”

He looked at Igniz and raised his eyebrows. “What? Not convinced?” he asked Igniz. “Alright, let me check. Regen Window.”

HP Regen:  20/second
MP Regen:  283/second


A wide grin appeared on Smoke’s face. “See? What did I tell you!”

With this, his MP regeneration could now completely compensate for his Earth Manipulation or Fire Manipulation and then some.

As a daily habbit, Smoke then proceeded to do the exercise that Eleve taught him. He directed his palms at the flames under the pot, and began creating up to eight flickering flames. He spent one more hour of this tedious exercise before stopping.

“Okay, I think I’m gonna call it a day, Bud,” he said to Igniz. “You’re free to attack the badger dogs, but don’t try the lemurcats, okay?”

Smoke then logged out of Zectas, as he planned on getting a quick power nap of an hour in the real world.

* * * * * *

After discovering his method, Smoke spent the next five days honing his luring techniques. He had slightly increased his pursuers to almost one-thousand-five hundred.

During this period, not only did he collect thousands of lemurcat hides, badger dog meat, and serval foots, he also gained two more levels. This time, he allocated all of the stats to Intelligence.

Another eight hours passed, and it was time for him to take his scheduled power nap, but he did not. He was only short three-hundred servals to reach the coveted ten-thousand mark.

“Still up for one more round?” he asked Igniz, to which his ember sprite nodded with excitement.

They gathered the monsters in the Harceleur forest once again. Within these past few days, the two of them had already mastered the in and outs of these woodlands, and the respawn points of its creatures.

It only took them thirty-minutes to gather a horde of a thousand pursuers. Despite the redundant process, the monsters still fell for their trap, as none of them could live to warn the others who were freshly respawned.

A sea of firewalls and sharp earth-spikes ushered the badger dogs, lemurcats, and servals to their deaths.

After fifteen more minutes, the anticipated notification window popped up.

+ Learned Ability: Serval’s Glow
Passive
Level: Beginner Level 1
Experience: (0/1,000)

After killing 10,000 servals, you have understood how they use their Fire Gahum.
Effects:
> Increases Fire abilities by 0.2%
> Initiates Kindling


One of Smoke’s eyebrows raised. “Does this increase my attack damage? Fire Resistance? What does this exactly mean?” he asked out loud.

“Igniz attack that lemurcat with a fireball,” he suddenly said to his symbiote.

At once, Igniz obeyed. Yet, before the purple fireball could hit the tiger-like monster, Smoke used his Fire Manipulation and redirected the fireball to the badger dog beside it.

A big hole with burn marks appeared on the stomach of the badger dog, and it fell down shortly afterwards, dead.

“It looks like it increased Igniz’s fireball damage, but is that all there is to it?” he asked Igniz, to which his symbiote shrugged.

‘I better ask Eleve what this ability really is,’ thought Smoke to himself.

“You know, you’re not a very great conversationalist,” he said to Igniz.

As there were still several monsters inside the pit, he decided it was time to return to the elderly HighElf.

Before he left, he luckily remembered that monsters which would give secret abilities, would also drop rare items.

He excitedly turned around and finished off the remaining monsters in his trap with much gusto.

Smoke scoured for the item covered beneath piles and piles of lemurcat hides, serval feet, and badger dog meat.

Then, as he walked slightly away from the center of his trap, he felt something awkward beneath him.

+ Acquired rare boots: Scorching Serval Shoes


“Another footwear, just can’t catch a break,” grumbled Smoke, as he watched an emblem of the fire serval prominently displayed on the shoes. He was hoping to get greaves or another accessory since he already had his Lunar Gravity Boots.

He then inspected the serval shoes to compare them.

Scorching Serval Shoes (Footwear)

A rare footwear from the fiery serval. It is made from three materials serval fur, obsidian lining, and mithril.

+20 Intelligence
+30 Movement Speed

Equipment Ability:
*Trailblazer (Active)
> Leaves a trail of flames behind you
> Additional Increase of 100 Movement Speed
> Consumes 1,000 MP/second


Smoke stared at the Scorching Serval Shoes window. ‘Wait a minute, this could go well with my Hyper Jump ability,’ he thought. ‘The Lunar Boots are great for aerial movement, but this is better for fighting on the ground.’

He eagerly switched out his footwear and immediately used its active ability, Trailblazer, as he headed for Eleve. Smoke’s eyes felt the surge of wind, similar to when he was gliding at top speed.

Spotting the ancient red-haired HighElf, Smoke began to stop. However, he tumbled down and rolled three times before coming to a halt.

“I guess that’s one way to make an entrance,” said Eleve.

Igniz was flying fast after him, as Smoke unintentionally left him behind the forest.

Smoke supported himself up with his right hand and looked at the flaming trail he left behind. After three seconds, the fire on the ground died out, but it left black scorch marks on the earth.

“This wouldn’t work for a surprise attack,” he said out loud.

“No, no it wouldn’t,” added Eleve. “But I am impressed that you managed to gain one of the sacred fire monsters’ abilities, and with two days to spare.”

“Well, grinding monsters is relaxing for me,” explained Smoke. “But I don’t think this ability isn’t that useful,” he said complacently, as he compared it to his Cunning of the Dire Fox, Agility of the Horned Rabbit, or even his Armor Break of the Armored Armadillo.

“Faux, Faux, Faux, why do you make me think less of you?” questioned Eleve. “Now, I’m wondering whether that dark ember sprite of yours is defective or not. What does it see in you?”

“Have you used the ability?” asked Eleve.

“Yeah, of course,” replied Smoke.

“Then why aren’t you impressed?” asked Eleve. “It was only a couple of days ago, when your life bar was getting drained in your synergized form.”

“Oh, I should have used it that way,” shamefully said Smoke.

Eleve slapped her face with her palms. “Come on! Why this guy?” she suddenly shouted to the heavens.

“I just rushed here and didn’t have enough time to experiment on the ability and—” began Smoke, but was silenced by Eleve.

She then turned to him and said. “Forget about it! Just try the Serval’s Glow again. This time, use it with your Symbiote Synergy.”

Smoke respectfully bowed down, and signaled Igniz to merge with him. His symbiote flew straight into his body.

FLASH

Purple flames came out of his exposed skin. His face, hands, and arms were all covered in it.

“Well, check your life bar,” ordered Eleve.

“You’re right, I’m not losing any HP anymore,” said a smiling Smoke. He increased Igniz’s flames to a higher intensity, but his life bar was unaffected.

“Now, let’s move on to the next phase,” said Eleve, and she abruptly teleported both of them to the next location.

* * * * * *

With Igniz flying close to Smoke, he pulled Freifahrt’s reins, hard. “Whoa, calm down,” he said to his mount and patted its furry head.

They were traveling on a thin ledge overlooking a steep mountainside, and the dirus wolf kept wanting to turn back.

While Smoke was soothing the perturbed mount, an annoying voice came from behind them.

“It shouldn’t take us this long to get there!” exclaimed Flora. The young HighElf stood up from Smoke’s rickety cart.

“I could have gotten here faster if I was alone,” he said to Flora. “Why did you have to come anyway?”

“I told you, Eleve doesn’t trust you to find this place by yourself,” she answered.

“Well, couldn’t she have teleported us here?” asked Smoke.

Flora nodded her small head. “She could, but where’s the fun in that? Besides we’ve only traveled for half a day.”

She directed her voice to the dirus wolf. “But at this pace, we’ll get there by dawn.”

“Hey, don’t be like that,” interjected Smoke. “Freifahrt’s doing his best, and why do we have to go down this mountain? Can’t we go somewhere, where there are proper roads?”

“We could, but then we won’t be facing the monster that Eleve picked for you to fight,” said Flora.

“By the way, where was she headed?” Smoke asked her.

“She had to be somewhere important. Just don’t mind things that doesn’t concern you,” answered Flora. “Also, this isn’t a mountain, it’s a volcano.”

“Really?” asked Smoke. Due to the lack of smoke and sulfur, he surmised that this was inactive.

“Well, you heard her, Freifahrt, this isn’t a mountain,” said Smoke. “So, you better hurry up.”

His dirus wolf quickened its pace and they reached the bottom of the dormant volcano in twenty minutes.

A group of fifteen orange santelmos greeted them. The fiery humanoid monsters were merrily eating the rocks on the ground.

Some of them would pause and observe Smoke, but seeing as he did not attack them, they resumed eating their fill of volcanic stones.

“These are just santelmos,” said Smoke. “She should have told me she wanted me to get their abilities in the first place.”

Smoke turned to Flora. “Tell me, do you know if this place is similar to the special gaming grounds?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Is there some sort of time restriction on how long we can stay here?” asked Smoke.

“No, not that I know of,” answered Flora. “Anyway, if you’re planning on killing santelmos, I suggest that you don’t bother.”

“Why is that?” asked Smoke.

“Because that’s not the monster that Eleve wants you to vanquish,” she said and pointed to a narrow passageway on the side of the volcano. “You’re to venture in there. Your mount and I will stay here. Otherwise, it could be dangerous for us.”

Smoke nodded and dismounted Freifahrt. “Okay, but what kind of monster am I facing?”

“It is called Paradox, the monster with many faces,” said Flora. “Eleve asks that you get its dropped item, and that you must defeat it with your synergized form,” she said, pointing to Igniz.

“Using any other ability or equipment may cause you to fail this test,” she quickly added.

“Okay, but what does this Paradox monster look like?” asked Smoke.

“You’ll know when you see it,” answered Flora.

“Fine,” said Smoke, and signaled his symbiote to him. “Igniz, let’s do this.”

Smoke activated the Symbiote Synergy ability, and the dark ember sprite vanished as he was absorbed into Smoke’s body. Fumes started coming out of his skin.

“I’ll be back, but I’ll make you  something to eat while you’re waiting,” said Smoke. He took out firelogs from the back of the rickety cart and prepared it for them. He placed a pot filled with venison and water.

He stood back and grinned at Flora. “Everytime I’m about to cook, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
CRACKLE

A small purple fireball came out from his palms and ignited the firelogs to a warm fire.

“That’s weird,” said Flora. “Doesn’t Igniz just do that for you?”

“Yeah, he does, but this time I’m the one doing it,” reasoned out Smoke. “Never mind. What’s weird is your reaction to Igniz. Eleve got all excited when she found out, but you acted like it was nothing.”

“That’s because Eleve already told me,” said Flora. “You should have said that you wanted me to act surprised and I would have.”

Smoke shook his head in disbelief. “Anyway, I’m going. Make sure to feed some to Freifahrt, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know how to take care of myself,” said Flora.

His visibility quickly vanished after entering through the slender passageway. Smoke got the sudden urge to say. “Flame on!” and low purple flames came out from his hands and head. He felt like a superhero straight out of a comic book.

With the aid of his Cunning of the Dire Fox, he sensed a group of sixteen monsters up a head. Thankfully, the cramped tunnel was quickly becoming wider.

Then, a notification window popped up.

– Entered Bock Haben Paradox

– The creatures of note in this cave are santelmos, olms, and paradox.
– Suggested level for entering this place is 250.


As soon as he stepped outside, Smoke disregarded the window. He found a massive cavern with an underground lake. He estimated it to be as large as an arena, if not larger.

The place was well lit as a group of red santelmos were engaged in combat with one large blue water elemental. The aquatic monster towered over the santelmos at a height of three-meters.

The water elemental let out several water-whips which struck the santelmos’ vital parts.

Eight of the santelmos brushed off the water-whips and punched the water elemental’s body. The life bar of the water elemental was revealed (121,200/400,000 HP) and its name, Paradox.

Paradox grabbed one of them with its large hands and lifted the monster up, towards its face. Its mouth then grew wide, obscenely out of proportion to its body. It swallowed the santelmos whole.

The other flaming monsters came in and attacked Paradox with their powerful punches. They were slow to move, but their numbers worked to their advantage and allowed them to make contact. Yet, the aquatic monster did not even flinch as it took in the damage.

Instead, Paradox grabbed another santelmo and wolfed the monster down in one gulp.

‘This should be easy, with a life bar of only 400,000 HP,’ thought Smoke. ‘Might as well join in and help those santelmos.’

He pointed his palm at Paradox, and charged all of his mana in front of it. A large purple fireball was slowly taking shape.

Yet, before Smoke could launch his attack, his eye caught the sudden movement of a giant monster coming out from the lake.

It was a monster he was most familiar with. A subspecies of a water dragon with the ability to attack with Lightning, an olm.

Looking at the thick tube-like body of the monster with two black rods coming out of its ears, Smoke remembered his time when he fought against Aral.

Thankfully, this olm was significantly smaller than the one he previously killed. As Smoke was wondering what the olm was doing, a flash of blue light illuminated the cave when it suddenly launched a Lightning Strike on Paradox.

‘No! That olm is killing my prey!’ thought a worried Smoke.

BTOOM

The Lightning Strike resonated around the cavern. A cloud of dust picked up, obstructing his view of Paradox.

He could not see anything, but his Cunning of the Dire Fox sensed that his targeted monster was still there.

When the dust settled, Paradox’s life bar displayed (400,000/400,000 HP). However, this time, it was no longer a water elemental. Instead, it had a rocky figure, similar to Smoke’s golems.

Paradox launched a boulder from its right hand, and struck the olm on its head, revealing the olm’s life bar (250,000/300,000 HP).

Now embodying the form of an earth elemental, Paradox fired another boulder on a humongous stalactite on the ceiling, directing it to fall on the olm’s head.

The stalactite pierced through the olm’s cranium and split its head into two. Paradox then sent a barrage of rock bullets on the dying olm, and reduced its life bar to zero.

In its earth elemental form, Paradox opened its mouth in the same manner as when it was a water elemental, and ate the severed head of the olm.

The surviving santelmos were still in their aggravated state, as their flames flickered with blood red.

They simultaneously attacked Paradox. The first hit did zero damage and only morphed Paradox back into a water elemental.

It was only after that when the santelmos inflicted a damage of 400 points on the versatile monster.

Paradox did nothing to stop their attacks, and allowed them to pile on the damage, as if to taunt them of their difference in power. It was not until its life bar displayed (350,000/400,000 HP) that it grabbed one of the santelmos and gobbled it up.

Smoke hurriedly resumed making his charged fireball. He concentrated all of his mana to the front of his palms. It took him ten seconds to form a fireball half the size of his body.

Watching from above, Smoke stepped closer to the edge of the ledge, in order to get a better aim at Paradox.

BAKOOM

Smoke’s massive purple fireball hit Paradox squarely on the back. However, another dust cloud picked up as a result of the sudden blast.

The dust cloud blocked his vision of Paradox. Then, his Cunning of the Dire Fox picked up four water-whips heading his way.

Trying to avoid them, he leapt down from where he stood and fired several fireballs at the general direction of the now aquatic monster.

He caught a glimpse of Paradox’s life bar as it displayed (335,000/400,000 HP).

“Really?” said Smoke out loud. He knew that his fire attacks would have lesser damage on Paradox, but he did not think it would only amount to this much.

Then, ten water-whips emerged from the aquatic monster. Smoke tried his best to dodge them, but four water-whips hit their mark.

Smoke was damaged for 5,000 points on each attack, revealing his life bar to be (259,254/279,254 HP).

An onslaught of water-whips came his way. Smoke kept backing away, but there was not enough room in the cavern to escape the extra-long whips.

Cornered, Smoke parried with numerous fireballs, deflecting the water-whips from directly hitting him. He thought he was getting the hang of Paradox’s attacks, only to realize that the monster was actually still feeding on the surviving santelmos.

After it finished, the water-whips doubled in number. Smoke thought about using his Manatl, but decided not to as it could risk changing Paradox’s element and restoring its life bar to full capacity.

Thinking on his feet, Smoke used his serval shoes and ran circles around Paradox.

Its water-whips could not keep up with Smoke’s blazing speed. Moving in a clockwise motion, he encased Paradox in a circular red firewall.

As fire from the Trailblazer ability began to fade, Smoke fed it with his mana and turned the flames to purple. The ring of flames became a full-fledged dark inferno.

Smoke then stepped behind the flame barricade and began attacking Paradox with fireballs from all directions. His Fire Manipulation was still at Intermediate Level 2, but he was already capable of firing up to thirty-two fireballs at once.

An enraged Paradox countered with water-whips cracking out of the firewall on random locations, but Smoke could easily detect the long range melee attacks of the whips.

His fireballs could only damage Paradox for 200 points, but the numerous and steady barrage brought the monster’s life bar to (215,800/400,000 HP).

Whenever Paradox tried to leave the center of the flaming ring, a myriad of fireballs attacked it from that direction, and pushed the monster back to its origin.

“Kayaaaaaata!” cried out Paradox in anger.

The screams of the monster only fueled Smoke’s attack, as the fireballs slowly increased in size.

Paradox stopped attacking with its water-whips. Instead, it used hundreds of them to prop itself up. The monster could now see beyond Smoke’s firewall and spotted his exact location.

However, Smoke did not know this, as he only relied on his Cunning of the Dire Fox. An ability which informed him that Paradox was still at the center of his flames.

Then, Paradox raised sixteen of its water-whips to its shoulder-level. The water-whips instantly began to take a different shape. It was that of a javelin.

Oblivious to the incoming projectiles, Smoke kept on attacking the center of his firewall, which only had water-whips propping up Paradox.

Suddenly, he heard Flora’s voice coming out from the elevated entrance of the cavern. “Faux! Above you!”

Smoke looked up and saw the water javelins coming his way. He was able to dodge half of them, but received a damage of 72,000 points. His life bar was reduced to 64%.

‘It can do that as well?’ thought Smoke in disbelief, as it looked up at the raised Paradox.

Smoke aimed his fireballs upward and resumed blasting Paradox.

Yet, the monster did not mind Smoke’s attack. Instead, it looked up at Flora. This time, it raised thirty-two water-whips and turned them into javelins aimed straight for the HighElf girl.

Desperate, Smoke redirected his fireballs to intercept the water-javelins, but his fireballs only turned to steam and did not reduce the javelins’ speed.

Flora stood still, as if frozen in her place as the javelins flew closer towards her. Several javelins pierced her body, and she fell down from the ledge of the cave’s opening.

Smoke tried jumping in order to glide to her, but his serval shoes did not have the same leaping ability as his Lunar Boots.

Instead, he used his shoes’ Trailblazer ability, and ran as fast as he could to her. Sadly, he was too late as he saw her body settled on the cave floor, pierced by a stalagmite.

Before Smoke could get to her, Flora’s body turned to ash. The ashes scattered, as if a sudden gust of wind blew through the cavern.

Angry, guilty, and frustrated; Smoke was left speechless. Instead, he turned around and extended both his arms towards his ring of flames.

Smoke charged up to sixty-four fireballs from all directions. They were slowly growing in size, but not evenly.

Instead of a spherical growth, Smoke’s flames became elongated. They grew thinner and thinner.

Elevated by its water-whips, Paradox began moving out of Smoke’s firewall. It launched another round of water-javelins at Smoke, to which Smoke easily evaded by using his Hyper Jump ability.

Leaping to Paradox’s blind spot, Smoke launched his charged fire attacks at the monster. He modified Paradox’s technique, and turned his fireballs into fire-spears.

All sixty-four of them hit the aquatic monster’s back. Each fire-spear damaged it for 1,500 points, for a total of 96,000.

Despite heavy damage of Smoke’s new attack, Paradox was still left with (89,800/400,000 HP).

“Ahakahakahakahak,” sniggered Paradox. The aquatic monster raised its water-whips and was about to counterattack, when it spotted Smoke’s second volley of fire-spears overhead.

A notification window then popped up in front of Smoke.

+ You have dealt a fatal blow to Paradox.
+ You have killed Paradox.
+ You have gained 1,500,000 experience points.


He was surprised to see such a high experience reward from a monster with such a low life bar. Yet, he quickly dismissed the idea. He realized that Paradox did have the ability to fully restore its life whenever attacked by a different element.

Instead of heading for Paradox’s remains, Smoke went to see where Flora’s body was. Nothing was there, not a single trace of the red-haired girl was left behind.

Dragging his feet, Smoke went over to pick up Paradox’s loot. It was a red metallic mask with golden flames etched into it.

+ Acquired rare mask: Paradox Pyro Face


‘Guess this must be what Flora meant when she said Paradox had many faces,’ somberly thought Smoke.

Depressed, Smoke canceled his synergized state and separated with Igniz.

He then showed it to his symbiote and said. “We got the mask, but how do we tell Eleve about Flora?”

 

 

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