The Selection

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Chapter 64 - Inteiru Expota - Circuit

“You mind?” Hina asks quietly.

“They’ll see us,” I answer in the same volume while carefully taking steps down. Tripping here wouldn’t be funny.

“They’ll already hear us if they’re nearby,” she says. She hasn’t taken any steps down.

“Fine,” I concede. I bond some Scrap Mana to some Fire Affinity and then release a small, steady stream of fire of outward heat out of my forehead. It barely illuminates several feet ahead of us. Something deep-toned rumbles in the distance. I stop releasing Fire magic from my forehead. The sound of whatever that was echoes.

When there’s only silence, I light the way ahead with Fire magic again.

“I really wish we hadn’t come down here,” Hina says.

“You can still turn back. I’ll go alone,” I say and descend slowly into the darkness below. She sighs and follows me. I have Rich Mana prepared within my body and my hands on my weapons in case anything happens.

We’ve gone down at least three flights of stairs with seemingly no end in sight. The steps, ceiling, and walls are made of the same stone material. Hina whispers, “This must’ve been constructed when the city was built.”

“Yeah,” I respond with a similar volume. “It’s stupid because it adds vulnerability to our defenses.”

“What’ll we do if we run into them?”

“Depends on how many of them are there. If it looks bad, flood the place, and we run. This passage seems narrow enough for you to abuse your high Water Affinity. No matter their skill, they can’t brute force their way through a large amount of Rich Mana Water magic.”

“My magic can’t save us from every scenario. If they pincer us, it won’t work, for one.”

“Good thing we know no one followed us. It would be obvious if anyone appeared behind us,” I say. Just a few more steps and they end. I lost track of how many flights we went down.

Ahead is a broader corridor, both in width and height, and still no sign of light. I don’t know how anyone without Fire or Light magic would pass. The path continues straight. With an area this large, it’ll be less efficient for Hina to push potential enemies back with Water magic if the need arises. They could focus their magic on a smaller point and break through.

Did the ground vibrate? I felt the slightest tremor for only a moment. I stop walking.

Hina asks, “What’s wrong?”

“I thought I felt the ground shake. Did you feel anything?”

“No…” she replies.

I survey our surroundings with the limited vision we have. It’s hard to tell if something’s going on here. I could increase the Fire output to my forehead to see more, but if there’s anyone here, they’d see us. Then again, it would be more beneficial to us to know if there’s any danger before continuing – mind as well as light up the whole place.

“I’m gonna light up the entire place. Get ready,” I warn. I’ll give her thirty seconds or so to prepare something if push comes to shove.

“Okay,” she says with no dispute. She understands the present potential danger.

It doesn’t take long for me to prepare a ball of Fire magic bonded to some Scrap Mana. All ready to go within a few seconds, but I wait longer to give Hina some time to prepare.

When enough time has passed, I release my magic. A small ball of fire appears in the air above us that slowly flies ahead of us. The slow speed gives us a larger window of sight. Surprisingly, there’s nothing ahead except a large, black double door at the end of the corridor that’s not too far ahead of us. I’ve never seen a door this massive before.

That thing is going to make a lot of noise when we open it. That rumble we heard must’ve been this door. It’ll alert everyone who’s behind it to our presence. One thing bothers me, though. How’d a monster-like thing open this door if it came through here? Unless what I saw wasn’t a monster, but a Xog. There’s nothing else it could be. Either way, this is too risky even for me.

“We should leave,” I say. The ball of fire collides with the door and disappears into nothing. Our sight reduces back to several feet in front of us. I increase the Fire output of my magic for sanity’s sake. There’s no one around us, and it would be better if we saw more of our surroundings.

“I was hopin’ you were goin’ to say that,” Hina says.

The moment I turn around, the ground shakes again, this time more violently. Knowing that something will happen, I sprint forward and exclaim, “Run!”

But it’s too late. The wall ahead of us rises rapidly and reaches the ceiling in a matter of seconds. The rumbling stops, but now we’re stuck. I was careless. I must’ve stepped on a trap. Is the door our only possible route now?

With the sound of the wall rising, it should’ve alerted everyone nearby. We’d be sitting ducks if we go through that door now. We might have a better advantage by waiting for them to come to us.

“I’m hopin’ you have a way out of this,” Hina says.

How thick is this wall? I unsheathe one of my swords to use the hilt my sword to bash the wall. It doesn’t feel like it’s thin at all. I don’t think this Cobalt sword is sturdy enough to cut it either, and my Artificial Magic Weapon won’t do any good earlier. Platinum is heavier and harder than Cobalt, but not enough to make it be able to cut the rock. If Marin were here, she’d be able to move the wall with Earth magic. Does Hina have anything useful? I never asked about her other Magic Affinities.

“You don’t happen to have any Earth Affinity, do you?” I ask and put my sword back in its sheath.

“No, only Water and Wind,” Hina responds.

Wait, I’m sure that Teacher Moria said that the masked men used Wind magic to collapse the Academy’s dormitory building. That was mostly made out of stone. “Perfect. Put that Wind magic to good use and cut through this wall.”

“That’s impossible, you idiot.”

“No, it’s definitely possible,” I answer. “Remember how Teacher Moria said that the enemies used Wind magic to collapse the Academy’s dormitory building?”

“I do, and I’ve tried to cut stone with Wind magic several times since. It doesn’t work even when I use Rich Mana to do it. Nothin’ against Moria, but he must’ve misunderstood.”

“Moria has Wind magic too. You think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Clearly, you’re doing something wrong. You need to be more creative.”

“I don’t want to hear that from you. You got us into this mess, so don’t blame me for my inability to cut through stone with Wind magic. I’ve been mostly trainin’ my Water magic skills.”

“You’re the one who tagged along—“

Something loud creaks behind us. Someone’s opening the door. I shield my eyes from the light piercing through the open space between the doors. I stop emitting Fire from my forehead since there’s enough light. Is it them? I prepare instructions for my Mana and Void magic if things take a turn for the worst.

The doors open fully, revealing six Dwarves behind them. Each of them armed with weapons and armor. As they approach us, one of them exclaims, “Who ye be?!”

Do they want a fight? I grab onto both of my weapons.

“Dun even think abart drawin’ yer weapon er ye will regret it,” a Dwarf says.

I do as he says and take my hands off my swords. Why would Dwarves be down here? That’s good news, though. I don’t think they’ll harm us.

“Wha’ ye be doin’ here, Humans?” one of them asks. “Army dogs sniffin’ ’round?”

They know we’re from the army? No, they wouldn’t ask that if they did. Should I tell them the truth about seeing a monster in the city? Or do we tell them we’re from the Drosera army and hope that they’ll let us go? Or…

“Answer de question!” one of them exclaims.

Oh, hell with it. I’m not going to bet on the option that will get us nowhere. I reply, “We’re here to see Nazug’s fight. We heard he had another challenger.”

“Nazug?” one of them asks. They all turn their heads to each other.

I gulp. Did I make a mistake?

“Whaur be yer pass? Who referred ya haur?”

“Lotrem referred us,” I lie. It’s the only card we can play. “We spoke to him earlier about entertainment options.”

“Lotrem?” a Dwarf asks. They laugh in unison before the same Dwarf continues, “Dat bampot dint give ya a pass? Come on in.”

Hina and I exchange a glance before following the group of Dwarves inside.

Several paces beyond the door lead to a vast open area. I can’t see much from here other than that we’re at the highest elevation. There are stone pillars in the distance.

“Go ter de noisiest place an’ ye will find Nazug. Lucky fer ya, his battle has nae started yet,” one of the Dwarves say as all of them come to a stop. “Dun forget ter grab a pass befer ye leave. Have fun, Humans.”

I smile and nod my head. They close the double-door and then go into a doorway nearby.

Hina and I reach the railing ahead. There are over a dozen of stone structures in front of us and directly underneath the railing. The building sizes vary between small and large, with the number of people walking around in the hundreds. Loud cheers and screams resound in the distance. That must what the Dwarf referred to.

“This is amazin’,” Hina says. “It’s like an underground city.”

“Yeah, but it looks like it’s supposed to be a secret. Or at least I think it is. Why else would the entrance be hidden like that?” I ask.

“I don’t know. But there’s certainly more than one entrance. There’s no way there’s only one. It wouldn’t be a secret anymore if that were true.”

“Probably. I know we were originally looking for leads on the masked men, but you wanna check out the battle? There’s too much to explore down here within the remaining time left before we regroup at the Icy Tavern.”

“Sure. But you’re goin’ to have to promise me you’re not goin’ to pick a fight with Nazug. You’re not number one anymore.”

“Shut up. I’m not gonna do anything stupid,” I say and walk down the steps nearby. It connects to the curved wall.

Hina follows and responds, “I hope not. We’re goin’ to need to figure out how to obtain passes too, so we can’t watch for too long.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

We navigate through this underground city toward the noisy place. There’s one thing we noticed. Most of the people here are Dwarves with the remaining Humans. Not much different from the surface exception that there’s not a single Elf. There aren’t any Xog either, but that’s no surprise.

We reach our destination, though we can’t see anything. The noise is coming from beyond this circular curved wall. After following the edge, we discover the entrance and then go inside.

“More customers? De first fight’s already started,” a Dwarf sitting behind a table says. There’s a massive pile of money on the table in the form of all three currencies. I’m surprised there isn’t more security here. It’s just the one guy, and he doesn’t look too competent when it comes to combat. Though, I don’t know anything about how Dwarves fight. It might also be that this underground place is already under lockdown.

“What fight?” I ask. “We’re only here to see Nazug’s fight.”

“Two Human newcomers. ‘Tis de openin’ foight befer de main one yer haur ter see. Ye will nae be able ter make a bet on dat one sin’ ’tis already started. Dae ye want ter bet on de winner fer de champion’s foight?”

“Nah, we’re good,” I answer and walk toward one of two possible paths to take from here. I’m not sure what point there is to the betting system when you know who’s more likely to win. I’m also a little more interested in these fights now. It sounds like we could participate. I thought it might have only been a Dwarves only thing.

The cheering comes on full blast as we reach the end of this passage. It leads to an wide area with seats all around the edges. The audience numbers at least a hundred, but most of the available seats are empty. There’s a railing that separates us from the center of this arena. Inside is a pit with two monsters fighting. Unexpected because I thought it was two Humans fighting during the first round, but we might’ve missed it.

“Get him Bullet! Don’t let him catch you!” someone yells. His voice is extremely loud for some reason. It’s a Human male standing on a platform above the pit. It’s connected to the same one we’re standing on. It looks like you have to walk around to the end of this place to get there. There’s the same platform opposite of him with another guy on top of it. Those must be the two Humans he was talking about. But this is not what I expected.

The two monsters fighting are a lion and a boar. The latter looks familiar. It’s one of those boars we encountered during the Academy when we were on our way back from those ruins. The one with red fur. We found out later that it’s an E ranked monster with some Fire Affinity and Fire Resistance. It stands no chance against that lion. I haven’t seen that type before, but the ones I know of are all C rank or higher. There was the lion from the tournament, but that was summoned through Conjuration magic. Just an artificial creation that didn’t even have any magic capabilities.

“Kill that little bugger!” the other Human opposite of the previous exclaims. How are these people yelling so loudly? It overpowers the cheers of the crowd easily. What does he hope to accomplish by shouting stuff at the monsters? Is he trying to communicate with it?

The boar jumps two stories high in the air, which is about our eye level. I gape as the boar shoots several balls of fire from its mouth toward the lion underneath him. I’ve seen this magic enough to know that it’s made with Unrefined Mana. It’s the same boar, but somehow it looks much more deadly than the ones we fought back then. There’s no way for the boar to reach that height unless it used Enhancement magic.

The lion evades the fireballs and closes in on the boar at the same time. After the boar lands on the ground, it immediately runs away. Balls of fire appear above the boar that flies toward the lion. It’s using Intermediate Evocation magic now. The lion chases the boar, but it’s not as fast. The lion gives up on dodging and takes the balls of fire head-on. Has it given up?

No, monsters don’t merely give up and die. They’re always fighting for survival. The only option in this enclosed area is to fight until one of them dies. If I didn’t know any better, it seems like that boar has the advantage in the fight. I haven’t seen the lion use any magic yet, though. Must be toying with the boar.

The lion suddenly speeds up its movement. It outclasses that of the boar.

“Bullet, watch out! He’s increased his speed!”

It’s over. The lion has decided to stop messing around. The boar tries to run, but there’s nowhere to run. It leaps in the air as the lion reaches arm’s length, but the lion continues to follow the boar’s trajectory. The lion leaps and catches the boar with its teeth. The boar cries out as the lion rips it apart.

“Bullet, noo!”

“An’ dats it! De crowd’s favorite, Bullet, has bit de dust! Brandy won his first foight!” a Dwarf yells loudly from the opposite side of this arena. His voice is also ridiculously loud. He’s holding onto something close to his mouth. The two Humans were holding onto it too. Is it a new kind of magic item? It could be something the Dwarves created.

“Brandy, I’ll feed you later. Go back to the cage!” the man orders, but Brandy continues to eat the lifeless boar.

An expected response. Monsters don’t listen to our commands. I don’t know if I misheard the announcer, but did he say the boar was the crowd’s favorite? So that means that the majority of people bet on the boar? That’s strange.

“Clean up crew, get in haur!” the announcer exclaims.

“This is insane. It’s a monster fightin’ arena,” Hina says.

’Yeah, but I don’t see why it’s so popular. The outcome should be obvious from the start. The lion obviously outclasses the boar, but more people bet on the boar? Are these people dumb?” I ask.

“Hey, how’s it going?” someone asks from behind us – a middle-aged guy. “I don’t see Humans too often around here, so I came to say hi. I’m Floyd.”

I shake his hand and say, “Kai. That’s Hina. You come here often?”

“Indeed. Aerkin battles are quite exciting, and if you do your research, it’s easy to make some money through the betting system,” he explains.

“Aerkins? The monsters?” Hina asks.

“Yes, they’re basically monster companions that fight in the Achilles Sundance Circuit. It’s this arena you see here. People bring their own Aerkins to fight for glory.”

“Wait,” I say. I’m too confused about the part where he mentions that it’s easy to make money. “Why’d more people bet on the boar? It should’ve been a safer bet on the lion. Does that mean the more risky option has a higher payout?”

“Nah, that’s not how it works. The winnings on the boar depend on how much money people place on the lion. The majority bet on the boar this time around, so whoever bet on the lion split a portion of the money placed on the boar plus their original bets. Well, there are a couple other calculations they use too. A portion of the money goes to the owner of the Aerkin who won while another portion goes to the organizer.”

“Forget about the bettin’ system. We don’t need to know about that,” Hina says and gives me a dirty look. “What exactly is the Achilles Sundance Circuit?”

“You don’t know that either? I figured you were at least informed of that, considering that you’re here to spectate.”

“We’re completely new here. Referred here by…a friend,” Hina says with a smile. “If you don’t mind explainin’ things to us.”

“Well, we’re waiting for the next fight to be set up anyway. The Achilles Sundance Circuit is the name of this sport of training Aerkins and battling other Aerkins. It’s based off of the first Human and his Aerkin who came up with this idea,” he explains.

“First Human? It wasn’t a Dwarf?” I ask. Considering that most of the spectators here are Dwarves. I would think they’re the ones who came up with the idea.

“Indeed. The Dwarves took a liking to the sport since then and created this arena. Back in Achilles time, people did their fights unofficially, and it spread by word of mouth. People still do fights outside of an official arena, “ Floyd says.

“How long ago was the sport invented?” Hina asks.

“I don’t know. For at least several hundred years, I imagine. There’s a story in Xantho about Achilles, though I’m not sure which village it originated from. It was close to where I was born. Those interested in the Achilles Sundance Circuit, know that he was a legendary, undefeated adventurer. But one day, he showed up with his foot from the heel down gone but had a fox next to him, whom we now know as Sundance. He went on to build the foundation of Aerkin battles, and his Aerkin, Sundance, went on to be undefeated.”

“What kind of monster was Sundance? An S ranked monster?” I ask. “For it to be undefeated.”

He laughs and then answers, “It was an E ranked monster. Some say that it might’ve not even be considered a monster. It wasn’t in any monster codex at the time. It’s not now either.”

I drop my jaws. Was it an Anomaly? The Albino Flying Squirrel was a low ranked monster, but it was extremely powerful.

“Haha, I know it’s hard to believe at first, but the lower-ranked monsters tend to have more potential. Achilles proved that they could grow to be very powerful if properly trained.”

“Trained…you mean he taught it to use magic?” Hina asks.

“Indeed.”

“Did it have red eyes?” I ask.

He knits his eyebrows and replies, “I don’t think so.”

Right, that makes more sense. There’s no way anyone could control Anomalies. They’re too destructive and crazy. But then again, it’s still crazy that anyone managed to communicate with monsters. I ask, “How’d he manage to teach Sundance how to use magic? Is there a way to communicate with monsters?”

“No one knows how he did it. Some say that he did it by feeding Sundance his foot. But we know now that his selection process was very precise. You see, monsters have personality. Some monsters are more friendly and are more receptible to being trained. Some trainers go for a more wild, aggressive monster like the owner of that lion. Those monsters are controlled through drugs, and the relationship between the trainer and Aerkin is more artificial,” he explains. The lion in the arena collapses as several Dwarves with crossbows close in on him.

Friendly monsters huh… I remember Rocky. A friendly turtle we saved after we came out of the ruins during our fourth year. Good monsters and bad monsters. Is that what he’s talking about?

That boar that got killed by the lion might’ve been the same kind of boar we encountered back then. So the guy who trained the boar taught it to use Enhancement magic? Monsters could have the same potential as us, but they don’t have the same knowledge as us. They can’t think and make decisions like us…or can they?

“If they’re controlled by drugs, can you really call that a monster companion?” Hina asks.

“Aerkins were originally monster companions when the sport was invented. However, past Achilles generation, violent monsters have been allowed to participate in the battle to make it more accessible. So that virtually anyone could acquire an Aerkin and participate in the Achilles Sundance Circuit.”

“I see. What you said before doesn’t make any sense to me. You’re sayin’ that the E ranked monsters are the strongest monsters? They’re E ranked for a reason, they’re the weakest,” Hina says. “But they can grow to be the strongest? As strong as S ranked monsters?”

“Bah. The monster codex is all garbage. It’s based on the standard monster of that type. It doesn’t take into account the ones that survive repeated near-death encounters,” Floyd says.

“You mean like a monster who fought another monster to the death? Or a monster who fought a person and lived?” I ask.

“Exactly. They grow stronger in the same way we do – through fighting. They rely mostly on instincts, so the more they fight, the stronger they’ll get. Well, if that were the only thing it took, everyone would have success with low ranked monsters as Aerkins. It’s a rare case that anyone manages to repeat the same thing Achilles did with Sundance.”

It makes sense. We know that there were people like Ragnar who learned how to use magic without learning it formally at the Academy. Monsters are never taught by anyone how to use magic. They just do it. It’s not as if the higher ranked monsters have more fighting experience, either. It could be that some monsters are born stronger than others. But he said Sundance was an E rank or weaker… It doesn’t add up.

“What of magic did Sundance use?” I ask.

“The legends say that he elegantly danced across the battlefields with colorful lights. That’s why he was called Sundance. Unfortunately, I don’t know if that’s really true. I’ve never heard of any sort of magic like that,” he says.

Yeah, that sounds a bit sketchy. It’s just a legend. All of it could be a made-up story to make people think that weak E ranked monsters can grow to be strong. But it wasn’t a lie when that boar was putting up a good fight against that lion. It could have something to do with changing the special property of Light, but I’m not sure what that entails. I can’t even make cold fire yet.

The Dwarves in the Arena push the lion and boar onto separate flat carts. They push them through the gate on the left side.

“So, will either one of you two purchase an Aerkin or capture one yourself?” Floyd asks. “You seem to be a capable bunch, given your equipment.”

“Nah, not interested,” I say. Our only purpose here is to find leads on the masked men. That shadow of a monster I saw might’ve actually been a monster. There’s not any point in staying to watch the rest. “We’ve got other business to take care of, so we’re gonna leave.”

“Oh, come on. Why not stay to watch the champion’s fight? Don’t you want to see what kind of a monster the current undefeated champion is? You’ll understand why the crowd favored the boar in the fight you saw.”

I look at Hina. She nods her head. Come on. She’s the one who said we shouldn’t stay too long to watch. It can’t be helped. I respond, “Fine. We’ll stay to watch.”

“That’s the spirit,” he says with a smile.

Judging by his words, Nazug’s Aerkin must be a low ranked monster. There he is. He walks toward the center of the platform overseeing the arena. Nazug looks toward us, perhaps recognizing us from the Icy Tavern. His opponent’s a Human. What kind of fight will we see?

“Ladies an’ gentleman. Haur be de moment ye have all been waitin’ fer. On de east side, our current champion, Nazug, and his Aerkin, Splinter!” the announcer exclaims. The crowd bursts into a loud cheer. The gate from Nazug’s side of the pit opens. A Gray Wolf walks out.

A Gray Wolf…? I saw a few dead ones on our way to the Rising Champions battle. They’re native to Xantho. Captain Albius’ team were the ones who took them out at the front of the group. They couldn’t have been any higher than E rank. Splinter doesn’t look much different than them, but he’s somehow undefeated.

An older Human male walks to the platform opposite to Nazug.

“On de west side, our latest challenger, Dominic, an’ his Aerkin, a Brown Ursa!”

Something roars from beyond the other gate. It bashes against the closed gates.

“Why doesn’t his Aerkin have a name?” Hina asks.

Floyd answers, “The monster name is used instead when the owner hasn’t provided a name yet. Typically, those are the people who disregard the Aerkin’s life and use drugs to keep them tranquilized out of fights and additional drugs to give them a boost before the fight. I’m not a fan. That’s why I have my money on Splinter.”

“I haven’t heard of the Brown Ursa. What kind of monster is it?” I ask, the monster still bashing against the gates. Whoever’s in charge of the gate control must be scared. At this rate, it’ll bust it open.

“An Ursa is a more vicious type of bear native to Neomeris. A B ranked monster. From what I saw, the bets are about evenly split. That’s no surprise because it’s also been given a performance-boosting drug. It makes them more violent.”

“I thought you wanted to show me why the crowd would favor the lower-ranked monster,” I say.

“It’s the first B ranked monster Splinter will have fought. Some people are skeptical, especially taking the drug into account. I’ll take my chances.”

Another roar resounds as the west gate busts open. The gate is flung in the air and falls flat on the ground. An enormous brown bear stomps out of the entrance. It paces around in small circles. Meanwhile, Splinter hasn’t moved from his side of the arena.

“Kill that fucking mutt, you stupid bear!” Dominic yells with the magic item in front of him.

“What’s with that sound amplifying magic item?” I ask. The bear stands still and roars. “It doesn’t look like Nazug has one.”

“It’s optional. The organizers profit from it because you have to pay a fee to use one during the fight. Newbies tend to buy them because they think yelling at their Aerkin to do something would be effective. Proper trainers like Nazug doesn’t need one. He’s trained Splinter well enough to adapt to the fight on his own.”

“I see.” That makes sense. It would be annoying if someone were trying to give me orders while I fought a battle. But if I watched a pair of goons fighting from my team, it would be more effective for me to give orders. Though, I think it could still be useful for more experienced fighters too. It’s basically a cheat. Having someone look overhead and give warnings that the fighter doesn’t see. That proves that Nazug has high confidence in his Aerkin’s ability to win despite the challenge ahead of him.

“You worthless shit bear! Get off your ass and kill the mutt! He’s right in front of you! I paid good money for you!” Dominic yells. The Brown Ursa turns toward him as if understanding that the orders are directed at it.

“Uh oh. We might have a casualty today,” Floyd says.

“Casualty? You say like that’s a normal occurrence,” I say, thinking that he’s talking about the trainers being killed by an Aerkin.

“It happens from time to time.”

“Arent there safeguards placed above the arena?”

Floyd laughs and then responds, “Of course not.”

“What’re you looking at, twatface? If it weren’t for me, you’d still be rotting in that disgusting cage. Now, go kill that wolf!” Dominic exclaims. A rock appears behind Dominic that knocks him past the railing. He falls. “Don’t you even think about eating me you fucking be—“

Chomp. The bear catches his head by his teeth. The audience explodes into a cheer again.

“What the hell?” I interject. No one’s fazed at all by his gruesome death. The monster tears into the rest of his flesh. An unexpected meal for him.

“Dominic has a bit of an infamous reputation around these parts. Just another snobby noble.”

“There’re more people like him?” I ask.

“Yeah. The majority of people who partake in the Achilles Sundance Circuit are wealthy, but not all of them are like Dominic. The hobby has recently grown to be more accessible by the lower-income class, however. An unknown group has been supplying them at an astronomically low price so that practically anyone could participate.”

“What’s the point? Is it to make money?” I ask.

“Recognition in the community for one. You get better rewards, the more victories you get with the same monster. You have a chance to make it into the hall of fame. The short term rewards depend on the betting pool, so your profit is a tossup, especially if you purchase one,” Floyd informs.

“What kind of rewards?”

“Never participated, so I don’t know.”

This fight still hasn’t started. Splinter has started moving slowly toward the bear, though. Either the Brown Ursa doesn’t see Splinter as a threat or hasn’t noticed him yet. I ask, “What happens if the monsters never fight? Has that ever happened?”

“It’s rare, but I’ve seen it happen once. They’d find a way to make them fight. That won’t be necessary here. Splinter’s a smart wolf.”

Splinter howls. The Brown Ursa turns around and stares at him for a moment. But it turns back around and continues his meal. From the looks of it, it’s almost done. The wolf could use this opportunity to attack it, but he doesn’t move.

A triangular-shaped spike made of wood appears above Splinter’s head that speeds toward the back of the bear. This will do some damage if it’s a direct hit. A stone wall appears behind the bear at the last moment. The wooden spike collides with it for a moment before falling to the ground. The attack did nothing to the wall, but half of the spike disappeared, leaving only the blunt half behind.

So, Splinter uses Intermediate Evocation magic as the boar did. He’s already above the normal E ranked monster standards, but I don’t see how he can beat the bear with such weak firepower. If I had to guess, that wooden spike was only made of Scrap Mana.

The stone wall suddenly bursts into pieces. Each small piece speeds toward Splinter as the Brown Ursa charges right behind. Splinter jumps over the incoming barrage of rocks, but the rocks change trajectory to the left, right, and above its original course. A stone wall appears in front of Splinter. The rocks crash into the wall, destroying a part of it.

Another stone surface appears under Splinter. He jumps backward before the bear crashes through it with brute force. While the platform disappeared a moment later, the fragments of the wall propel into the bear. The same attack that the bear used turned against himself. It seems to do no damage as the bear does not let out even a sound when it hits it. Splinter has no chance of victory utilizing only Scrap Mana.

Stilll, it’s very impressive that he’s utilizing these strategies. This is more advanced than anything I’ve seen monsters employ.

The Brown Ursa lands on his legs and then roars. It charges at the wolf again. Several small balls of fire appear above the bear that flies toward the wolf. It’s more like a barrage with the speed at which they’re appearing. Splinter runs in a diagonal away from the Brown Ursa. He’s too fast for the bear to catch up, and the Fire magic proves ineffective even though they’re made of Rich Mana.

The bear speeds up his pace to match Splinter, all while continuing to shoot the same barrage of Fire at him. Stone walls erupt from the ground around the wolf to cut off his retreat. In mere seconds, he’s completely trapped inside a makeshift structure presumably created by the Brown Ursa. There’s only one way in or out, and the bear is charging toward it. It stopped releasing the barrage of Fire, but there’s no way for Splinter to get out of this one.

A bigger sphere of Fire appears in front of the bear. It’s big enough to take up the entire width of the entrance of the structure. I don’t know whether Splinter has tried escaping, but with Scrap Mana, he won’t hope at accomplishing much. The Brown Ursa has stopped playing games and is going all out to kill him. If that large fireball disperses while inside the structure, Splinter will take a direct hit from a strong dose of Fire magic.

A wall of Rich Mana appears in front of the ball of fire at the last second. It redirects the ball of fire back at the bear, erupting fiery gases all over him. He cries out this time, unlike with the small rocks hitting him from earlier.

Splinter can use Rich Mana?! On top of that, he has skills in Abjuration magic. That’s ridiculous coming from an E ranked monster. It was almost as if he purposes hid his real power at the start until this scenario came up. Did he plan for this?

It’s hard to see how much damage that really did, but it stopped the bear’s charge forward. A stone spike erupts from the ground in front of the wall of Rich Mana. A loud bang resounds the spike rips through the Mana, trapping Splinter inside. The reflective mode doesn’t work against magical objects that are grounded in something. The Brown Ursa understands that weakness.

The stone structure collapses inward, and boulder-sized rocks appear above it that crash down quickly. I gape as the Brown Ursa launches a relentless Earth attack on Splinter. A dust cloud forms that obscures everyone’s sight from the battle, but the sound of rocks crashing onto stone resounds.

Eventually, it stops. There’s only silence as the dust cloud clears. I can’t believe what I’m seeing right now. I expected to see a pile of destroyed rocks, but instead, the Rich Mana envelops the entire area. Splinter stands atop of it all.

Floyd smiles and says, “There it is. The Brown Ursa has completely fallen in Splinter’s trap. He’s won this battle.”

“What do you mean?” I ask. He survived the barrage somehow, but the bear could launch another attack now that he sees that the wolf is fine. The excessive Rich Mana surrounding the whole area seems a bit excessive since Splinter is outside of it. He must be standing atop the rocks. The Brown Ursa shoots fireballs at the clump of Rich Mana, but a wall of Rich Mana appears. It deflects the bear’s magic again. This time, it side steps the fire.

“He’s perfectly utilized the Cohesion property of Abjuration magic.”

“I’m not sure what that means. I know Abjuration magic can reflect magic…but what else does it do?” I ask. As with most magic, the Academy only taught the basic concept. Abjuration magic deals with the bonds between Mana particles. The specifics were introduced only if you had talent for it. Drugo wasn’t the most talented Abjuration user and only informed us of two modes; Reflection and Destroy.

“It’s Intermediate Abjuration magic. The Cohesion mode allows his Mana to form bonds on other magical objects other than his own,” Floyd explains. “As a result, The Brown Ursa won’t be able to unleash more Earth magic until he removes Splinter’s Mana or his magic expires.”

I raise my eyebrows. It has that sort of interaction? I’ve always had to deal with that limitation with Fire magic. I can’t force fresh Fire magic to come out of my body if I’ve already utilized all the Fire Affinity I have. If I had other Evocation Affinities, I could ignore that, although, it would not be very efficient as it would force the previously cast magic to disappear. That would be especially stupid if they’re about to hit a target, and I replace it with something else.

The Brown Ursa charges forward. Perhaps its only chance now is to come into physical contact with its magic to cancel it. With the Rich Mana surrounding its magic, it can’t even send out its own Mana to cancel it. And its Fire magic will be deflected.

Splinter jumps off the rubble toward the bear. Wooden platforms appear in the air that the wolf uses to jump off from one to the next, circling the bear. Afterward, the platforms transform into several spikes that fall toward the bear. The bear sends a barrage of Fire toward Splinter’s path, but that’s not very smart. As a user of Fire magic, I know. Splinter’s trying to abuse Fire’s greatest weakness, but he’s forgotten one thing.

The bear turns toward Splinter and shoots out large balls of fire. Its Fire magic quickly destroys the wooden spikes. So easily that Splinter must’ve utilized only Scrap Mana to create them. The Fire magic goes into the distance above the arena. Unfortunately for Splinter, we’re already underground. There’s not a whole lot of distance compared to an open sky. But the magic at least won’t hit the audience or the arena walls.

The Brown Ursa also seems to have forgotten that the pile of Rich Mana is defenseless right now. It could bust through and get its Earth Affinity back, but it may be too late. Splinter falls from the air. If The bear already used all its Fire Affinity, a few seconds is all Splinter needs to finish off the bear. The Brown Ursa only has its leftover Mana as a defense to whatever Splinter has planned. The brute force of the bear isn’t to be estimated, so it could still have a chance.

Splinter must have a better plan because he could’ve simply used his Rich Mana to deflect the balls of fire back at the bear as he did previously. He wanted to create this scenario of the Brown Ursa having no Affinity left. The bear lunges toward Splinter as he approaches the ground.

A stone spike appears between them with the sharp side pointing at the bear. It stays stationary for a moment as Splinter uses the flat side to rebound to the ground. The Brown Ursa covers its paw in Rich Mana as it swipes the spike. More spikes appear from every angle around the bear that shoots toward it. Rich Mana surrounds the bear now as it falls to the ground. A loud bang resounds as the spikes strike its Mana and rocks hitting the ground. A bed of spikes trap the bear inside.

A massive rock appears above Splinter’s magic that dives toward the bear’s location. At the last moment, all of Splinter’s previous magic disappears, revealing a clump of Rich Mana inside. A giant spike erupts from the ground as the boulder from above smashes the bear. There’s nothing but the crackling of the remnants of Splinter’s magic until he sits and howls.

The crowd applauds and cheers.

“An’ dats it folks! Nazug an’ Splinter have claimed dare twelff victory!” the announcer exclaims.

“So, what’d you think?” Floyd asks.

“I-uh-bluh,” I interject and shake my head. I witnessed Splinter winning, but I can’t believe it.

He laughs and asks, “What about you, Hina?”

“I’m at a loss for words. All my previous beliefs about monsters have shattered.”

I’ve always known monsters were capable of thought ever since I met Rocky, but I never imagined they would be this skilled at using magic. Even though the Brown Ursa was not very strategic or smart in its tactics, he was able to write all the instructions to the magic very quickly during the battle. That only goes to show how dangerous these monsters can get. Society recommends an entire group of six C-ranked or B-ranked adventurers to take down the bear, but this wolf did it alone without a scratch on him. What’s more impressive is how Nazug managed to train an E ranked monster to this level…

“I’m glad I was able to educate you on this amazing sport,” Floyd says and walks away from the railing. “So, I’m sure you understand the lengths I’ll go to, to protect it, right?”

“Huh?” I interject and turn around. Oh, shit…

Five Dwarves trap us between the railing. They don Titanium armor and Titanium weapons of various types. I know they’re no ordinary fighters and trying to escape or fight would be stupid. One of them says, “Humans…yer comin’ wiff us.”

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