Light Novel – Zectas – Volume 05 – Chapter 06

Author: John Nest
Proofreader: Overus

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

 

The 999th Magi Gagnant Tournament

Cuddled on the sofa, Nash and Sherry held hands as they watched a documentary on puffins. The two of them shared the simple pleasures of being a couple and enjoyed their isolation from everything else in silence.

Yet, as Nash reached out to grab the cold lemonade from the coffee table, Sherry felt his discomfort.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Still bothered about Flora’s death?”

“Sorry, I know we already talked about it, but it’s all I can only think about,” answered Nash.

He then pointed to the tv screen. “Oh, look, the mommy puffin finally got her baby to eat by herself.”

BZZT

Sherry turned off the television. “You should no better than try to change the subject,” she said and patted his back.

“I just don’t get why she entered the cave,” said Nash. “She was the one who said it was dangerous to go beyond the entrance.”

“Well, you did say she was a special flower girl, right? She was the reason you met Eleve in the first place,” said Sherry, as she tried to console him. “I don’t know what Eleve will do to you, but like you said, it’s best that you tell her directly.”

She then stood up and offered her hand to him. “In fact, you should head home and tell her right now.”

“Wait, you haven’t told me how everyone in Verbrannt is doing,” said Nash.

“Not much has changed,” replied Sherry. “Jinggu is still missing. Adder and Ledur are still out training their special units.”

Suddenly, Sherry released his hand and lightly slapped his shoulder.

“Wait! There is one thing,” she said chuckling. “Mamelon went hysterical on your latest video. She kept laughing at those OrkElves you had pretend to be Sharur and Jinggu. She said you must have been pretty desperate to hire such wretched-looking OrkElves.”

Nash let out a forced grin. “Wachs was bad, but Colere was very good.”

“See, I thought I’d get you to laugh at that one,” said Sherry. “But you won’t feel better until you confront Eleve.”

This time, Nash gave her a sincere smile. “Alright, I’ll do that. Thanks again for listening,” he said and hugged her tightly.

“You know I kind of miss your Werebear form sometimes,” he said, as he squeezed her in his arms. “But the feeling quickly disappears when I feel your real body next to me.”

Sherry giggled and lightly slapped him on the cheek. She forced herself out of their embrace and said. “Your cheesy lines won’t work on me!”

Then, she gave him a quick peck on the lips and said. “Now, go already!”

“Alright, alright. I’m going,” said Nash, grinning widely.

He then grabbed her hand and said. “If ever you’re in trouble or just want to hang, just call—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know,” said Sherry and forcefully pushed him out of her house.

Nash no longer resisted and voluntarily walked out on his own.

When he stepped outside, she called to him once more. “Hey, maybe this will inspire you to get back into the game, I’m already level 116.”

“What?!” exclaimed Nash. He tried to ask how she raised her level more than he did, but was met with a shut door instead.

Nash shook his head while smiling. “I knew I shouldn’t have said my real level!”

Now, he had two reasons for sprinting back home.

* * * * * *

Squatting in Florissant Seminary’s supposed tranquil meditation chamber, Smoke felt that the atmosphere was anything but serene. Eight lit candles surrounded them and their flames were angrily flickering, rising in height and temperature.

Eleve’s stern gaze felt like her eyes were burning a deep hole in his chest. Even Igniz’s slowly flying around, as if trying to coax the old HighElf, was uneffective.

“So, let me get this straight. Flora ran inside the cavern to warn you and you couldn’t do anything to save her?” she asked condescendingly.

“Yes, that’s what happened,” humbly said Smoke.

“She was so special,” began Eleve. “In all of the flower girls of the Magi Gagnant Tournament, she was the one I connected with the most.”

Suddenly, the flames of all the candles in the chamber rose to the ceiling. He still felt the searing heat, despite his high resistance to fire.

“Eleve, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean—” began Smoke, but he was cut off. Several flaming swords entered his body. His life bar was instantly reduced to 30%.

“You’re lying!” suddenly shouted Eleve. “There’s no way that Flora is dead! Tell me where you hid her!”

Igniz attacked the elderly red-haired HighElf with his fireballs, but she easily deflected them. Instead, she attacked him with a flaming sword as well and pinned him against Smoke’s body.

“I guess the saying about bad luck with dark ember sprites was real after all,” said Eleve.

“Eleve, don’t!” begged Smoke. “Kill me, but please don’t kill Igniz.”

As they were talking, Smoke’s life bar went below 25%, thus activating Horrabelle’s cursed Decay Aura. He began losing 100 HP per second.

“What is this?” asked Eleve, stepping away from him. “You’ve been cursed?”

Eleve then canceled the flaming swords, which left a scorched Smoke sprawled on the floor. The flames of the flickering candles turned pure white and went to him, restoring his life bar to full capacity.

“Thank you,” said Smoke, but then the flames returned to its flaming sword appearance.

“I’ll tell you what, I won’t kill you,” began Eleve. “If I did, you’d just come back after four days.”

Igniz was about to attack her again, but Smoke held his symbiote at bay. “Wait up, Bud. We can’t fight her.”

“You really feel guilty for Flora’s death, huh?” she asked. “If she really is dead. Frankly, I don’t believe you. So, I’ll put you to the test.”

She pointed her palms at both Smoke and Igniz, which activated a notification window.

– Eleve has forcibly activated Synergized
– You do not have enough Fire Affinity to withstand this spell
– You do not have enough Intelligence to withstand this spell
– You cannot cancel forced Synergized state

Purple smoke came out of Smoke’s skin, indicating that he had merged with his symbiote.

“What is this? What are you doing?” asked a worried Smoke.

“I can’t technically kill you,” she said with disgust. “But I can make sure that you’ll be wishing you were dead.”

PLOP

Eleve and Smoke teleported out of the Seminary and onto a small island, with a land area of less than one square kilometer.

– Entered Pincer Island

– Monsters who appear on this island are extremely aggressive.
– Suggested level for entering this island is 150.

“The next piece of land isn’t for another three-thousand kilometers,” said Eleve. “Teleporting is the only way off this island. That, or death.”

A confused Smoke looked around the barren island and found nothing but a rocky ground with sea surrounding it.

“If you tell me that Flora is really alive, then I’ll let you go and I’ll even let this off as a mean joke,” said Eleve.

“What do you want from me?” asked Smoke. “You want me to lie?”

“I want you to tell me the truth,” said Eleve. “Tell me she’s alive, and you were just lying about her death!”

“I can’t do that!” replied Smoke. “I’m really sorry I couldn’t do anything to save her, but she really is dead.”

“Fine!” screamed Eleve.

She then attacked the sea from all directions with a myriad of fireballs. Steam began to rise from where her attacks landed.

After a minute of unceasing fireball attacks, she stopped and turned to Smoke. “I’ll come back after five days, if you’re still alive, then that means that Tlaltezin declared your innocence. If you’re dead, then your symbiote won’t be coming back to this world again.”

PLOP

With that the ancient HighElf vanished, leaving a disdained teleporting sound and a fiery fragment of her stern body.

“Igniz, I don’t know if you can hear me from within,” he said to his chest. “But I’m going to try logging out of Zectas. Maybe, that will cancel this forced Synergized state we’re in.”

Smoke logged out, and hurriedly logged back in. However, purple fumes were what greeted him when he opened his eyes in the realm of Zectas.

‘Damn it!’ he thought angrily. “Damn you Eleve! Damn you!” he cursed at the heavens, but no one was there to listen. He was alone on the barren island, or so he thought.

Suddenly, his Cunning of the Dire Fox picked up close to twenty monsters from the surrounding water. Slowly, red humanoid crustaceans walked out of the sea. Water dripped down from their scaly armored bodies.

With one look, he could tell that they were tough. These crab-men had one pincer larger than the other and walked upright. He tried logging out, but was met with the notification window he had expected.

– You cannot log out during battle!

“Guess this must be the start of the test,” said Smoke out loud. He then grabbed his chest and spoke to Igniz. “Don’t worry, Bud, I won’t let you die.”

Opening both his palms, Smoke used his Fire Manipulation to create a ring of purple fire around him. He began attacking the humanoid crab monsters with his fire-spears coming out from the flames.

After the aquatic monsters were hit, their life bars and names were revealed, clawful (177,640/180,000 HP). His fire-spears could only do a little over 2,000 damage points.

Smoke grinned. He unleashed a torrent of fire-spears at the surrounding monsters and was steadily withering down their lives.

However, the clawfuls would not back down. Sixteen of them broke through his firewall. They moved fluidly like boxers. These monsters led with their smaller pincers for rapid jab-like attacks, and then suddenly lunged out their larger ones, as they took a swipe at Smoke.

Thanks to his Cunning of the Dire Fox, he was able to dodge six of the attacks, but the other ten made contact with his flesh, as their larger pincers tore through his armor. Due to his synergized state being weak against aquatic monster attacks, each pincer-punch dealt 4,000 damage points.

Surrounded, Smoke used his Earth Manipulation to raise himself onto a platform. Only three clawfuls were able to cling to his rising escape. Using earth-spikes, he stabbed their bellies and dropped all of them down.

Finding sanctuary on his earth-platform, which rose to a height of nine meters, he looked down and assessed his situation.

‘I can’t use my fire attacks on them,’ he thought.

From high above, he began attacking the clawfuls with earth-spikes, dealing 6,000 damage points. In a matter of seconds, he killed one of the aquatic beasts.

+ You have dealt a fatal blow to the clawful.
+ You have killed the clawful.
+ You have gained 130,000 exp.

After swiftly dealing with one of the boxer-like crab-men, he grinned and felt good about himself. Yet, he suddenly felt a churn in the pit of his stomach. Something felt wrong, as if his gut told him to stop attacking the monsters with earth-spikes.

He wondered if it was Igniz trying to tell him something.

‘This wasn’t suppose to be easy. It’s suppose to be a test whether I am innocent of Flora’s death,’ he thought. ‘I should focus on only using Fire Manipulation.’

He took out a ruby mask etched with golden flames. The Paradox Pyro Face, which he got after Flora died.

Paradox Pyro Face (Mask)

A rare mask dropped by Paradox. It is made from two minerals serval fur, obsidian lining, and mithril.

+10 Intelligence
+10 Vitality

Equipment Ability:
*FiRetention (Passive)
> Reduces Fire MP consumption by 25%
> Strengthens Fire creations by 25%

While Smoke was inspecting the ruby mask, the clawfuls began helping each other scale his earth-platform.

‘Oh, looks like these crabs know how to work together,’ he thought.

Fixed on using his Fire Manipulation, he donned the Paradox Pyro Face. He then engulfed the barren island in a sea of purple flames. The damage from the firewalls were less than 300 points per second, but every accumulated damage mattered.

It took him the next forty-five minutes to kill all twenty clawfuls on this tiny island. He leapt down and quickly collected their loot.

+ Acquired clawful pincer
+ Acquired crab meat

Yet, when he was done looting, he felt an ominous presence. He felt he was being watched by someone from a higher position.

He quickly looked around, but could not see anyone, nor could his Cunning of the Dire Fox sense anything.

However, he quickly dismissed this odd feeling of being observed when he picked up close to a hundred clawfuls coming to shore.

Using his claws of Chiropterra, he scaled back up his earth-platform and prepared for the clawfuls’ attack.

“Who ever you are that’s watching me, just come out and face me like a man!” he yelled in all the direction of the island. “I’m ready for you anytime!”

Yet, there was no answer.

Feeling uncertain whether someone was really there, he focused on the invading clawfuls. He unleashed his fireballs and turned them into fire-spears, as he launched them at the aquatic monsters. Despite his unceasing use of Fire Manipulation, his mana regeneration well compensated the deficit.

It took him close to two hours to finish off the monsters.

When the battle was over, he quickly logged out of Zectas. Only to return a few seconds later.

‘Phew! At least I confirmed I could log out before they come surfacing,’ he happily realized.

He stretched his hands to the skies, as he prepared for the next wave of clawfuls.

Smoke remained on top of his earth-pillar, ready to attack with his flames. He filled the barren island with a sea of his purple firewalls as soon as the red armored crab-men surfaced.

“Crabababababa!”

“Crababababababa!”

He heard their mocking laughter as they easily walked into his flames. They were damaged, but it was not enough to deter them from scaling his earth-tower.

He began attacking them with his fire-spears, but this wave of clawfuls were more than he could handle. Twenty of them, with life bars of 80%, were briskly clawing their way to the top of his earth-tower.

Alarmed at their steady advance, Smoke focused his attention towards them. He targeted them with fire-spears, but the clawfuls simply hid their heads behind their large red crustacean shoulders.

Desperate, Smoke was inspired to improve his fire-spears. He concentrated on one single flaming spear and turned it into the shape of a sword. The same one Eleve used to attack him earlier. He found the flaming sword to be stronger and more maneuverable. With just one, he manipulated it to orbit around his earth-tower. It pried off the clawfuls’ pincers and threw them down to his firewalls.

With his right hand, Smoke controlled the fire-sword, and with his left he let out a steady stream of fire-spears on the clawfuls below. It felt like making circles in the air with his right hand, and squares with his left. Sweat drenched his clothes, his satiety bar was quickly draining. His new found method for fending off and attacking the clawfuls were effective, but it took a high toll on him.

Somehow, he survived the wave with only two crab-men reaching up to him. He suffered 10,000 damage points, but he quickly threw them down the platform before receiving anymore.

Spent, Smoke squatted on his earth-tower, quickly devouring the crabmeat and drinking pompom juice to replenish his mana bar.

The next few waves were equally hard, if not harder. The struggle was real. It was not until the seventh wave, when two pleasant notification windows popped up and made him smile.

+ Ability Level Up: Fire Manipulation
Active
Level: Intermediate Level 3
Experience: (0/3,000,000)

* 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 30 meters
MP Consumption: 197 MP/second

 

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

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


‘Looks like this test could be a blessing in disguise, after all,’ he thought happily.

* * * * * *

Smoke spent the next few days fighting against the same aquatic monsters. A normal person would have died of boredom due to the monotony of the waves of clawfuls. Yet, Smoke found the redundancy therapeutic and calming. He fed on their dropped meat and simply accumulated their pincers until he got the encumbered status. When that happened, he simply left the pincers altogether. He logged out when it was time to take his scheduled power naps, and returned promptly to repeat the whole arduous process.

With the constant going up and down the earth-pillar, he decided to create a staircase for him to climb on. This also allowed the next wave of clawfuls to climb after him. The stairs forced the clawfuls to line themselves up. He allowed this to happen, as the aquatic monsters were not good with the steps.

Using his Master-Level Earth Manipulation, he had built a death-tower specifically for the clawfuls. It had two staircases for the aquatic monsters to climb on. Whenever they began to ascend, he engulfed them in flames and assaulted them with fire-spears.

As his kills on the monster numbered by the thousands, he was hopeful that something good would pop up. When he killed the ten-thousandth one, nothing happened, not even a rare drop. The good thing that he got from all of this was that his Fire Manipulation increased to Intermediate Level 9, Serval’s Glow raised to Intermediate Level 6, and he rose by one more level.

Smoke was now level 115.

Also, during this entire period, Smoke’s feeling of being watched never vanished. Whoever or whatever was watching him, never appeared before him, but he could always feel their eerie gaze upon him.

PLOP

Suddenly, Eleve appeared out of thin air, as the agreed upon date finally arrived.

Smoke quickly leapt down to greet her. He removed his ruby mask and bowed down, lowering his head to the ground. “Greetings, Eleve. I hope this proves my innocence and truthfulness.”

“We will see,” she said sternly. She then pointed to his earth-tower. “What’s that thing supposed to be?”

“I used it to fight off the clawfuls during my exile here,” answered Smoke.

“You expect me to believe that you did not leave for your world and stayed there? Didn’t you only return to Zectas, today?” questioned Eleve.

“Technically, you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do that,” reasoned out Smoke. “But that’s not what I did. I really stayed here and fought off thousands of clawfuls.”

“Fine! Then, prove it!” dared Eleve. “Destroy your tower and fight a hundred of them at once.”

“Wait, I thought you said that if I’m still alive when you return, that your god Tlaltezin would vouch for my innocence?” asked Smoke.

“I did say that, but I need to see it with my own eyes,” said Eleve. She then fired her fireballs at the sea, causing it to swell with steam.

As expected, the crab-men emerged from the salty waters.

“Let’s do this!” he energetically cried out. “F-Y-I, a wave of these clawfuls consists of more than fifty. The ones you aggravated now are about a hundred,” he said to Eleve with a determined look.

CRUMBLE

Eleve turned around, as the sounds of falling rocks occurred behind her. Smoke destroyed his earth-tower at the center of the island. He placed his ruby mask over his face, as he prepared himself to face these aquatic monsters with only his Fire power.

Activating his shoes’ Trailblazer ability, Smoke encircled the island in a ring of fire. He then poured out his and Igniz’s synergized power into the fire and turned it into a wall of dark flames.

He repeated the same process, but this time he created a smaller ring close to the center of the island.

“I suggest you stay here close to me,” said Smoke to Eleve. “Unless you want to attack these clawfuls and help me out?”

PLOP

Eleve instantly teleported next to him.

“Faux, I swear by Tlaltezin, that if you defeat these monsters by only using Fire, I will accept Flora’s death and hold you in no way responsible,” said Eleve, placing her hand over her heart.

“I’ll hold you to that,” said Smoke.

Then, the clawfuls easily walked past through his first layer of dark flames. Their life bars reflected the smallest of damage, less than 1%.

The outer flames began protruding sharp spear-heads, thirty-two of them in total. When the clawfuls got in the middle of the two flaming rings, the fire-spears launched with deadly accuracy and dealt a bonus damage from their back attacks.

The clawfuls cringed in pain from the flaming spears. Some turned around, while others knelt down, using their larger pincers to support their heavily-armored bodies.

Smoke attacked with another volley of thirty-two fire-spears, which most of the clawfuls blocked with their pincers.

However, sharp fire-swords protruded out of the dark flames in the inner ring. They blocked the path of the clawfuls that tried to step closer towards him.

“You copied my flaming swords,” said Eleve, as she noticed the similarity.

Managing eight flaming-blades was Smoke’s current limit. The fire-swords slashed across the clawfuls’ red crustacean carapace.

The aquatic monsters frantically looked at both firewalls, confused. Despite his two blazing weapons, the clawfuls numbers continued to increase, as more of the monsters stepped through the outer ring. Smoke relied on his basics. Sixty-four fireballs, the size of Igniz’s own body, steadily spewed out from the outer ring towards the inner one.
Slowly, the hard red-shells of the clawfuls were being blown off by his basic attacks. The constant assaults of fireballs and fire-spears, coupled with the hindering fire-swords, trapped the clawfuls in between the two rings.

Sweat poured out of his pores and drenched his clothes. Yet, this were not caused by the heat of the flames, but rather by the sheer concentration he exerted to simultaneously control this fiery inferno.

Remembering to give his enemy false hope, he did not set the middle grounds on fire. He feared that if he did, the aquatic monsters would be forced to push through his flaming sabers, straight towards him.

In the span of only twenty minutes, he had killed about half of them. Yet, his mana bar of 393,093 MP was now left with less than 10%. Even the 25% reduced mana consumption from Paradox’s mask and his 345 per second mana regeneration were not enough to keep up with all of his unceasing fire strikes.

Needing to replenish his MP, Smoke paused the torrent of fireballs. He quickly fished for a jar of pompom juice and drank it all in one gulp, but this only restored his mana bar by 30%.

Determined, Smoke spent the next twelve minutes tearing out the carapace of the clawfuls and attacking their openings with his fire. Thus, he finished the last scraps of the clawful wave.

An exhausted Smoke slumped down on the middle of the singed island. He clutched his chest, as he thanked Igniz who was merged inside him.

CLAP CLAP CLAP

Eleve’s slow clapping confused him. He was unsure if she was being sarcastic or not.

“As Tlaltezin wills, I, Eleve Dawkins, find you to be truthful and innocent on the unfortunate circumstance of Flora’s death,” somberly said the elderly HighElf, as she tried to keep a straight face.

However, she still collapsed on the ground next to him.

“I can’t believe it, she’s really gone,” she said with a deep melancholy.

Smoke patted her shoulders. “I just want you to know that it was a quick death. I don’t think she felt that much pain.”

“If only I didn’t have that event, then she wouldn’t have—” Eleve stopped herself and began sobbing. “I would have been there instead of her. Flora’s always been too kind for her own good.”

“She was,” said Smoke with a smile.

Eleve smiled back, and stood up. She fluffed off the soot from Smoke’s fire attacks on the ground.

“Faux, it’s time,” she said to him.

“Time for wha—” he was rudely cut off, as Eleve teleported them both back to the seminary.

* * * * * *

“We’re finally back, Freifahrt!” exclaimed Smoke. He rode bareback on his dirus wolf with a rickety cart in tow, riding towards the amethyst city.

They stopped in front of Votl’s city gates, where four Warriors stood, clothed in the city’s emblem of three mountains. They wore black leather armor with long bastard swords on their sides.

‘These guys look stronger than the previous Guards,’ he thought.

“Halt,” ordered one of the Warrior Guards.

“Whoa, boy, it’s time to show them our papers,” said Smoke to his mount, patting the dirus wolf’s head.

He got off his mount and displayed his brown Earth Elementalist attire, but with a slight improvement. His entire ensemble were all accented with fire-red linings. This went well with his ruby mask, etched with golden flames, the Paradox Pyro Face.

“What’s your purpose for entering the city?” asked the other Warrior.

“I’m Faux, a participant of the Magi Gagnant Tournament,” answered Smoke.

“Wait a minute, you can’t be him,” said a weaker looking Warrior, who came out from their guard post. “I met Faux before, he looked like a beggar in his torn brown robes.”

Smoke recognized him as the guard who stopped them on his first time here. Then, he remembered that this was also the place where he first saw Flora.

“Hello, I’m the same guy,” said Smoke, in his friendliest tone. “I was here with some children back then, and Lord Avilo came to vouch for me, remember?”

“Faux? What happened to your shabby brown clothes? And that mask?” eagerly asked the guard. “It looks really expensive.”

“It’s a memento of a good friend,” replied Smoke.

“Hm, after looking at you more closely, you do still have that tattered look about you,” said the guard. “Let him in boys.”

“Shut it,” said the stronger looking Warrior, and pushed the guard to the side. “You’re not the boss of us.”

The Warrior in black clothes then turned to Smoke. “Show me your papers.”

“Of course,” said Smoke, handing in his participation document for the tournament.

“Alright, you can pass,” said the Warrior in black.

Traveling with purpose, Smoke directed his dirus wolf straight to a decent sized shop called Perdant Wares.

TIDING TING

Looking up, Smoke saw the newly installed bell and smirked.

‘Leave it to Perdant to copy other shops,’ he thought to himself, amused.

“Welcome, welcome, honored guest,” said a plump old man sitting on the counter. “My name is Perdant and I’m the owner of this humble shop. How can I help you today?”

Smoke removed his ruby mask, revealing himself.

“Master Smoke? I’m sorry, but I didn’t recognize you with your new clothes,” said the old Merchant. “And that red mask, it’s really something. There’s a league of difference from your old one. It’s only been a few weeks, but it’s like you’ve completely changed.”

“Let’s just say that I found a great place to learn magic,” said Smoke and grinned. “Anyway, I’ve come to hear the update on our investment and on my request. I’ve been waiting to hear a message from you, but nothing ever came.”

“I apologize, but I was afraid to contact you,” began Perdant. “I feel that my dealings have performed poorly and would warrant your anger. Of course, I’m prepared for any absolution you see fit.”

Smoke gulped. “How much did you lose?” he asked as calmly as he could muster, clenching his fists as he prepared himself to hear the old man’s answer.

“Well, you left me with fifty-million zecs, right?” asked Perdant.

Taking a deep breath, Smoke nodded.

“In these past few weeks, I regret to inform you that I only raised it to fifty-five-million,” said Perdant.

As soon as he heard, Smoke let out a sigh of relief. He thought the old Merchant had squandered all his money.

“Don’t worry. I’ll do better next time,” said Perdant. “And the other reason why your profit is so low was because of this.”

The plump man gave Smoke a scroll. “I couldn’t believe how much the Spy was asking for it, but I believe that it’s exactly what you wanted.”

+ Acquired Scroll: Ouragan’s Info – History Abilities, and Strategies

“Nice! Any amount of zecs should be worth it for the latest information on Ouragan,” said Smoke.

COUGH COUGH

The old Merchant let out a forceful cough as he gulped hard. “Um, actually, that scroll might not be so up-to-date.”

“Really? When was this information gathered?” asked Smoke.

Perdant replied with hesitation. “It may have been three

“Three weeks, huh? That doesn’t seem that long,” said Smoke.

“Or, three months,” quickly added Perdant. “The Spy assured me that he hasn’t seen the old man do anything new, apart from what’s written on those scrolls.”

Purple flames came out of Smoke’s hands, as he clenched them tightly.

He took in a deep breath, as he tried to calm himself down. “How much did you spend on this scroll exactly?”

“It cost quite a bundle,” began a nervous Perdant. “They guy asked for three million zecs, but I haggled it down to two.”

Smoke hugged himself tightly and dug his nails into his skin, as he tried his best not to burn down Perdant’s entire store to a crisp.

* * * * * *

The deafening sounds of three-hundred-thousand people all chattering at once echoed throughout Pulper Stadium. Despite the hot blazing sun on a cloudless day, the crowd was exhilarated to see the start of the 999th Magi Gagnant Tournament.

“You really think you can beat Prime Wizard Ouragan just because you upgraded your robes and got that fancy looking ruby mask?” asked Avilo Dawkins, the royalty ninth in line to the throne of Vitzytl Kingdom.

“I’m sure Faux has done more than just that, Lord Avilo,” said Jack. “Daniel and Geisel send both their regard. Sadly, they can’t make it to the tournament as they went back to Vlahui City,” added the boy, whom he rescued from the OrkElf named Cynar.

“It’s fine,” replied Smoke. “I didn’t even think you guys were going to watch.”

“Of course we’ll be watching, Sir Faux, all of us have our own candidates,” said Mouche, Avilo’s elderly HighElf steward. “I’m personally rooting for Xantana to win. Of course, Lord Avilo is betting on Prime Wizard Ouragan. Only Jack here seems to think that you have a shot of winning this.”

Avilo then chuckled. “Too bad Jack doesn’t know your pairings,” said the young HighElf noble. “Your first round opponent is Trottel, the Prime Wizard of Vlahui City.”

“What?!” asked a surprised Smoke. “I didn’t know there were other Prime Wizards besides Ouragan. What about the Prime Wizard of Votl City?”

“Silly, Faux, there is no Prime Wizard here,” answered Avilo. “Why would we need one, when Magietrois Florissant is here to protect us?”

“Oh, I see,” said Smoke, as the realization sunk in. “But what about this Trottel? What kind of Wizard is he?”

This time, it was Mouche who answered him. “He is the youngest Prime Wizard out of the three. Fortunately for you he focuses on Lightning.”

“Regardless of the elemental advantage, a Prime Wizard is still a difficult opponent,” said Avilo. “So, don’t let your guard down, Faux.”

“Are you being serious, or are you just playing with me?” asked Smoke.

“Hey! I told you that I’d support you all the way. Except when you’re facing against Ouragan,” calmly replied Avilo. “But that doesn’t mean I think you’ll win.”

Smoke shook his head and grinned at him, albeit his face was covered by the Paradox mask.

Avilo and the other Zectians had their own persons of interest, but Smoke had his own as well. He checked on Xantana’s, Ouragan’s, and Chrysopelea’s places in the tournament.

Chrys and Ouragan were in the same western bracket, while Smoke and Xantana were on the eastern one. If Smoke defeated Trottel, he would be waiting to fight against Xantana or her opponent named Fanfaron, a High Wizard specializing in Wind.

After a few minutes, the announcer’s face appeared on the jumbovision screen.

“King Kajou, Queen Ella, my Lords, my Ladies, and the rest of Vitzytl Kingdom, I welcome you all to the 999th Magi Gagnant Tournament!” cried out the Announcer.

“The rules are simple. They are the same as the one in the prelimina—” began the announcer, but Smoke paid him no mind. The fact that the King and Queen of Vitzytl Kingdom was here caught his attention.

Using his Telefax Vision, he looked around the important looking seats in the stand. There, he was surprised to find the ugliest King. A small hairy man with brown facial hair and a crown on his head sat on the King’s throne. Yet, next to him was a vision of beauty. Smoke was taken by surprise to see such an attractive Queen. Next to them were two children, a boy and a girl who took after their mother’s looks.

‘I wonder what the King of Chayotl looks like,’ thought Smoke, reminiscing about Wysteria’s own Kingdom. ‘Guess this tournament must be a big deal.’

The Announcer’s booming voice brought his focus back on the jumbovision. “Right off the bat our first contestant is our favorite to win, the Prime Wizard of Vona City, Ouragan!”

CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP WOOT WOOT CLAP CLAP CLAP

The deceitfully old looking HighElf landed softly at the center of the ring. The High Wizard wore his trademark sky-blue robes, blue pointed hat, and equipped a small elder wand on his right hand. While his black cape waved dramatically with his created wind.

The announcer’s voice tried to drown the crowd’s cheer. “And he’s up against a raising super nova, Danarga the Enchanted Maiden!”

His opponent then climbed on the other side of the ring. She was a beautiful Enchantress, wearing green revealing tights. As soon as the battle started, she summoned a tree ent and even used charms to increase its powers. All this in order to attack the flying Aero Wizard, but none of her attempts could hit him. After playing around in the air for some time, Ouragan let out his strongest gust of wind and knock both the Encantress and her tree ent off the ring. It took him only two minutes to finish her off.
After he won, Ouragan looked towards Smoke’s direction. As their eyes met for a brief moment, Smoke did not hesitate to stare right back at him. 

‘Is he angry at me or something?’ wondered Smoke. He had no clue as to why the Prime Wizard would give him such a look.

Then, the Announcer’s voice boomed once again. “As expected! Ouragan advances to the semi-finals! And he does it with such ease!”

CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP WOOT WOOT CLAP CLAP CLAP

Sounds of cheer erupted. The crowd always cheered loudly whenever Ouragan was up, and this time was no exception. Even though his battle was short, the audience still loved his performance anyway.

“Next up, let’s go to the eastern bracket. The hottest Pyro Magi Xantana, versus the proud and dashing young lord Fanfaron!” cried out the Announcer.

Fanfaron, a young Aero Magi dressed in green robes, was at a clear disadvantage against Xantana. She mercilessly abused her elemental advantage. With Fanfaron’s each attack, she countered with a much stronger fireball. Her flame attacks grew triple in size as they were fanned by Fanfaron’s power. In the end, she defeated the youth in under ten minutes.

“There you have it folks! The hot Xantana advances to the semi-finals! And she’s just warming up!” screamed the announcer.

CLAP CLAP CLAP

The sound of clapping and cheering was definitely softer than Ouragan’s, but a loud applause came from where Smoke sat. Next to him was Mouche, Avilo’s steward, as if the old HighElf was clapping for dear life.

“Next, let’s go back to the western bracket. The proud flying Sonstwelter Chrysopelea, versus the electrifying High Wizard Lightoric!” shouted the announcer.

Right from the get go, Chrys copied Ouragan’s move. He flew upward and stayed out of range from Lightoric. The old High Wizard’s lightningballs could not hit Chrys’ swiftness in the air. However, Chrys was not playing around. When the wind picked up, Chrys immediately let out his strongest gust of wind, and pushed Lightoric off the ring.

CLAP CLAP CLAP

“Chrys is in the semi-finals! Although, it was clear that his moves looked extremely familiar!” cried out the Announcer.

Focused on the Announcer’s voice, Smoke felt like the guy was screaming at the top of his lungs. “Finally, it’s time for our last participants for the semi-finals. The unknown Earth Elementalist Faux, versus the powerful Prime Wizard of Vlahui City, Trottel!”

* * * * * *

On the large circular ring, an older tiger Lioumerean of about forty stood across Smoke. His long orange hair with black and white stripes flowed freely below his shoulders.

A poised Smoke with open palms was waiting for Vlahui’s Prime Wizard to make a move. Despite having heard the Announcer start off their fight, none of them were attacking.

“You’re a fan for the theatrics, huh?” Trottel suddenly asked Smoke.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he answered. He contemplated whether to initiate the first attack, as he had planned to play it defensively.

“Your mask,” said the Lioumerean Prime Wizard, pointing towards his face. “Why do you need it? Is it a solution to your problem? Because the problem is your face?”

Trottel chuckled at his own joke.

Deciding to wait for Trottel to make the first move, Smoke calmly stared at the hysterical Lioumerean. Albeit, slightly confused why he was laughing.

“Alright, alright. Let’s get on with it,” said Trottel, raising both his hands. “I was looking forward to a challenging first round. Too bad it was against some, Amateur.”

Sparks of lightning flickered out from Trottel’s fingertips. The Lioumerean casually formed his fingers into the shape of a gun and fired several shots of lightning-bullets from it. Blitzing electrified projectiles leapt out towards Smoke.

With the aid of his Hyper Jump ability, Smoke reflexively dodged the initial onslaught. Yet, there was no end to Trottel’s lightning-bullets. Four earth-pillars immediately rose from the floor of the ring and blocked the incoming attacks.

“Your Earth powers are no match for me!” taunted Trottel, as he kept on firing the same lightning-bullets into one earth-pillar.

Normally, this pin-point attack would have destroyed any barrier, but Smoke’s pillar stood sturdy. All of this was credited to the bullets being made of electricity, which was grounded into the floor of the ring.

Then, Smoke’s Cunning of the Dire Fox lost Trottel’s presence. Less than a split-second later, it sensed the Prime Wizard again, but this time he was standing directly behind him.

Lightning-bullets flew out of the Lioumerean’s finger tips, but they did not reach their target as Smoke had put up a full concave earth-dome.

“Aww! Won’t you come out and play?” jibed Trottel. “I promise you’ll get a jolt out of it!”

Vlahui City’s Prime Wizard then proceeded to fire his lightning-bullets at Smoke’s earth-dome. Two minutes of the same attack did nothing to Smoke’s earth defense.

Sensing that Trottel was on the northern side of the ring, Smoke created an exit of his earth-dome on the opposite side.

Carefully, he stepped out and was about to launch his counter attack.

However, an electrical flash crept up from behind.

BZZZTT BZZT BZZT BZZZT

A large ball of lightning, three-meters in diameter, grazed him on his left shoulder. He was blown towards his earth-dome, crumbling all of it down.

A storm of lightning-bullets hit Smoke’s back. The grounded DarkElf took all of the electrical attacks.

Sprawled on the floor, his life bar displayed 78%. Then, Trottel stopped attacking him, and moved in closer.

“Pfft! Even though my element was supposedly weaker than yours,” sneered Trottel, pointing his fingers in the shape of a gun at Smoke. “You still couldn’t do anything against me!”

Smoke slowly lifted his face up to look at the tiger Lioumerean.

“Heck! This was easier than a stroll around the plaza,” added Trottel. “Capital E-Z— Aucck!” He was cut short as a large boulder, the size of his body, struck him from behind.

Trottel’s arms and legs were pushed backward against Smoke’s massive boulder. The Prime Wizard of Vlahui City was forcibly thrown above the ring.

From his grounded position, Smoke pointed his hands at the boulder and changed its trajectory. Its height increased even farther. He sent the tiger Lioumerean ten meters in the air, only to send him straight back to the ground in one fell swoop.

CRUMBLE CRUMBLE CRUMBLE

The jumbovision picked up the distinct sound of Smoke’s boulder fragmenting. He canceled his boulder before it would smash Trottel to a pulp. He did not want to accidentally kill a Prime Wizard in front of a full stadium. His boulder, however, still did its job.

The screen of the jumbovision focused on an unconscious tiger Lioumerean lying outside the ring.

Then, the Announcer’s voice crackled across the stadium. “Um. I don’t exactly know what happened, but it seems that Earth Elementalist Faux got in a lucky shot and dropped Prime Wizard Trottel off the ring… I guess this means that Faux is miraculously moving on to the next round.”

No one in the stadium clapped, not even his friends Avilo, Jack, or Mouche. They stared at Trottel and back at Smoke, and back at Trottel again, shock at how quickly the battle ended.

Smoke struggled to get up and clutched his injured shoulder, while he limped off the stage.

An astonished Jack and a confused Avilo quickly went to help him down. Old Mouche also started running, but the HighElf was not fast enough to keep up with the two young nobles.

“You sure got lucky with that one, Faux!” exclaimed Jack, carefully grabbing Smoke’s right arm and helped him walk. “But you know what they say, Luck is also an ability!”

Trottel’s followers hurriedly ran to him and placed him on a stretcher. Healers circled around the Vlahui Prime Wizard, as they exited the stadium posthaste.

“Don’t give him false hopes, Jack,” said Avilo, who walked beside them. “One can only be so lucky in one tournament.”

Smoke lightly laughed. “Who knows? Maybe lady luck will stay by my side throughout the entire event?”

‘Good thing, that guy was chatty,’ thought Smoke. ‘Otherwise, he could have ruined my plan.’

In order to make his other opponents lower their guard on him, Smoke intentionally allowed himself to be injured.

The damage was minimal to say the least. In fact, he could walk fine and was only pretending to limp as well.

“Hmmp! Even with all the luck in the world, you still won’t be able to defeat Ouragan,” argued Avilo.

“Don’t be too sure on that,” said Smoke. “We won’t know the outcome, until it actually happens.”

* * * * * *

After a short ten minute break, the Announcer’s voice boomed anew. “Despite Faux’s lucky break, I’m sure that Chrysopelea and Prime Wizard Ouragan will give us a more entertaining fight!”

Ouragan, an old High Elf in blue robes, stood on the left side of the circular ring. Whereas, Chrys, a young DarkElf Sonstwelter with goggles, was in a fighting pose on the opposite end.

The audience in the front-row seats were suddenly blown back their chairs, as a strong surge of wind came from the ring.

Both Ouragan and Chrys disappeared from sight, as the two of them were already in the air soaring above the cloudless sky.

“I’m sorry that our jumbovision could not keep up with this long distance battle,” apologized the Announcer. “But I’m sure the victor of this bout will be clear soon enough!”

Smoke, who sat together Jack, Avilo, and Mouche, was looking up. He used his Telefax Vision to get a better view of their aerial battle.

In the sky, Ouragan was sending surges of wind-cutters at Chrys, which the young Sonstwelter easily blocked by putting up his own air-shield.

‘Looks like the scroll Perdant bought was on the mark,’ surmised a pleased Smoke. ‘He really does open with his wind-cutter attacks.’

Chrys then zoomed out from where he was hovering and tried to flank Ouragan’s left side. He copied the Prime Wizard’s wind-cutter attacks, which Ouragan easily evaded with his swift flying.

‘Chrys is doing a pretty good job against Ouragan,’ thought Smoke, somewhat surprised.

“It appears that Ouragan has the upper hand, and is running circles around the young challenger,” suddenly said the Announcer. “Yes, Folks, Chrysopelea is defenseless against the mighty Prime Wizard’s wind-cutter attacks!”

Smoke quickly turned to face the Announcer, who was staring up at the sky. He realized that the Announcer could not see them, and was only making things up.

‘I guess Ouragan opening with wind-cutters was common knowledge,’ he thought, slightly worrying about his two-million zecs investment.

“See! What did I tell you, Faux?” suddenly said Avilo, slapping him hard on his supposedly injured shoulder.

“Tsk, the Announcer is just lying,” replied Smoke.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” coaxed Avilo. “Just because you’re scared of fighting Ouragan, doesn’t mean the Announcer is wrong.”

Smoke ignored Avilo and focused his attention on the aerial battle. Chrys was zooming around Ouragan, which created a barely visible trail.

Then, the wind-trail left behind turned green. As Smoke was wondering what kind of attack Chrys was about to do, a foul stench descended upon the entire stadium. Unfortunately, the paradox mask gave no protection against such a repugnant smell.

Seconds later, Jack, Avilo, and Mouche were inflicted with the Poisoned status.

“What’s going on here?” asked Avilo, clutching his chest with his right hand.

“I think it’s caused by one of the contestants attack,” said Jack.

Having a high resistance to Poison, Smoke was not inflicted with the affliction.

Then, the Announcer’s voice echoed throughout the arena. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please do not panic. There is no cause for alarm. Magietrois Florissant will cure us from this ailment.”

Not a second later, an orange phoenix flew across the coliseum. It left a trail of an orange flame and covered the entire area in a dome-like barrier. Then, golden dust sprinkled down to the entire audience.

At once, everyone was cured of their Poisoned status and were completely healed, even the noxious odor disappeared.

Quickly searching for Magietrois Florissant, Smoke looked around the entire complex but could not locate the phoenix’s caster.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll see you soon enough,’ he thought to himself, positive of the tournament’s outcome.

Looking back up, Smoke could no longer see Ouragan. The only thing visible in the sky was a flying Chrys and circular green clouds.

Zooming in on Chrys, Smoke saw him grinning widely.

‘The Poison must be even more concentrated up there,’ theorized Smoke. ‘Too bad that won’t do anything to Ouragan.’

Then, the green clouds were suddenly swirling faster and faster. Smoke originally thought that it was another part of Chrys’ attack, but seeing the worried expression on the fellow DarkElf’s face told him otherwise.

“That appears to be a poison-cloud attack coming from Chrysopelea,” informed the Announcer, as the screen displayed a slightly closer view of their aerial battle. “I certainly hope Prime Wizard Ouragan is not affected by the Poison.”

Three seconds later, the green clouds completely dispersed from the area, and an unscathed Ouragan appeared in its place.

“What did I tell you, Folks! As Expected of Ouragan!” exclaimed the Announcer, his voice resonated from the jumbovision.

‘Looks like Chrys didn’t know that Ouragan has high Poison Resistance,’ mused Smoke, pleased that his Ouragan info was indeed correct.

“Hey, Faux, you don’t expect me to believe that you can actually see them from here?” said Avilo, and tapped on Smoke’s arm. “Why aren’t you looking at the jumbovision screen like the rest of us?”

“Wind-wyvern,” blurted out Smoke. “Ouragan is about to use his wind-wyvern attack.”

“Oh, so you’ve brushed on Ouragan’s moves, I see,” said a pleased Avilo. “That’s good, but I don’t think he would use it against another Wind specialist.”

Smoke then turned to Avilo. “Didn’t he use it against an Aero Magi named Schwätzer, about four years ago?”

“Oh, yeah, he did do that,” said Avilo, nodding with his knitted eyebrows. “But why would he use a finishing move this early?”

“Maybe Ouragan got pissed at Chrys’ poison attack,” suggested Smoke. “Especially since the whole audience was inflicted by it.”

A few seconds later, a clear shape of a wyvern made of air blasted Chrys off the sky. The Sonstwelter was plummeting fast, but he soon recovered and flew back up to where Ouragan was waiting for him.

“That’s what you get for not doing anything against Prime Wizard Ouragan’s wind-wyvern attack!” cheered Avilo.

“Chrys’ barrier just couldn’t stand Ouragan’s attack,” explained Smoke.

Jack then tugged on Smoke’s arm. “Faux, you can really see them from here, can’t you?”

Facing Jack, only his smiling eyes were seen as he nodded at the young noble.

KATHUD

Everybody quickly turned to the center of the ring, the source of the loud sound. The circular ring was broken into several fragments, with a big hole at its center.

Then, Ouragan slowly descended towards it. When he landed, he shouted to the announcer. “He’s technically inside the ring, but I don’t think he will be getting up anytime soon.”

“I beg your pardon, but who is inside the ring?” asked the Announcer.

“Chrysopelea! I blasted him down just a few seconds ago, didn’t you see that?” asked Ouragan loudly.

“Oh, of course! As expected of Prime Wizard Ouragan!” exclaimed the Announcer. “Like I said, Folks, the winner of this match will be decided quickly. Prime Wizard Ouragan proceeds to the finals!”

“And may I say, that all of us watching are pleased with the results!” added the Announcer.

Smoke stared at Ouragan, bewildered at what move he used to finish off Chrys. While he was doing so, the old HighElf caught his gaze and grinned at him.

Ouragan then floated out of the stadium.

As Smoke was staring at the back of the old Prime Wizard, the Announcer’s voice rang again. “Due to the unfortunate circumstance of our ring being destroyed, we will have to delay the next match for another two hours.”

A unified groan was heard all over Pulper Arena.

“If you want to leave, please feel free to do so. The tickets you hold will still be useable then,” added the Announcer.

The announcement ended as soon as Ouragan disappeared from Smoke’s sight. Just then, he felt a cold wind breeze through him, and he felt the familiar ominous feeling of being watched from pincer island once more.


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