I fell back onto the couch, panting for breath as soon as I appeared back in the room. Next to me, Accalia had an amused smile as she watched. “So, do you know what you did wrong?” She asked in a playful tone, clasping her hands in her lap.
“I can probably think of a few things…” I muttered, shaking my head as I replayed the fight in my head. However, that mental replay became wholly unnecessary when Accalia caused the entire fight to actually play on the TV in front of us.
“You actually did pretty good.” She said with a hint of admiration as she watched. “You quickly identified that you were facing a melee enemy and armed yourself accordingly. I’m not really sure what kind of sword you chose, but it seemed suitable for a front clash like that. And the first technique you launched would have been a good choice to launch at a blind target.”
“You even seemed to guess that it could sense your energy pretty quickly, going by your actions.” Accalia nodded as she reached the part where I began dodging the monster’s strikes. “However, if there was something that I had to criticize, it was that you didn’t identify its weakness.”
“The mouth, right?” I asked with a light groan, earning a knowing smile from Accalia. “Yeah… I guessed that near the end, but at that point there wasn’t much I could do.” Logically, the mouth is a weak point for practically every living creature. It’s just a small one normally. On this monster, however, it was much larger. I just didn’t have an attack prepared that could take advantage of it.
“So, do you want to watch me fight it, or move on to something else?” She asked curiously. However, I simply shook my head to that offer.
“You already know its weakness, so fighting it wouldn’t show me anything, let’s just move on.” After I took a moment to catch my breath, of course. Thankfully, it took her a bit longer to create the next monster.
After going through the same procedure as before, I once more entered the stone field. Across from me was not one monster, but what seemed like an endless swarm. Little flying creatures that made up a large black cloud.
“Select your weapon.” The dispassionate voice of the game instructed, but this time I had to take a moment to think. I couldn’t just go with a simple sword like last time.
If the monster was a swarm type, it might have a central consciousness, but that would be too hard to find with any weapon that attacked single targets. I had to be prepared to fight with area attacks. “A bow made from thousand year ironwood, enchanted to imbue an explosive property to its arrows, and a quiver of twenty arrows.” After I made my request, a longbow appeared in my hands, a quiver strapping itself to my waist.
I had not practiced archery much, but if it was just hitting a general area, I was confident that I could at least do that. Once this fight was over, though, I was definitely going to get Accalia to teach me some archery tricks. “Select your armor.” The voice spoke, and this time I did not brush it off like before.
“Leather chestpiece, enchanted with a flame burst spell.” If I was surrounded by the swarm, a burst effect would be my best option. And insects had a tendency to not enjoy fire, so…
Once the armor had materialized around me, the voice once again asked if I was ready. I reached down into the quiver, carefully pulling out one arrow and nocking it so that I would be ready to fire. “Ready.”
As soon as I had said the word, the frozen swarm burst into motion, flying towards me as a single cloud. At the same time, I released the held arrow, letting it fly across the field to meet it. My aim was unsurprisingly off, but that was not important. When the arrow flew past the swarm, I triggered the explosive effect, causing a burst of fire to erupt next to the cloud of beetle-like insects.
The closer they got, the better I could see them, and the less I wanted to. I hastily pulled out another arrow, fumbling for a moment and sending two more to the ground before I had it nocked and fired. This one fell short, stabbing into the ground between myself and my target.
However, something strange happened. The swarm stopped before it approached the fallen arrow, preventing me from being able to use the explosive effect. Instead of continuing its advance, it flew straight up, high into the air.
I couldn’t help but click my tongue when I saw that. There were less chances for me to hit it with my bad marksmanship in the air. Instead, I changed tactics. While preparing another arrow, I connected with the natural energy to send a wave of fire at the cloud of bugs.
When the fire hit it, there was a screech that was painful to hear, forcing me to wince. However, it seemed too brief. I thought I might have accidentally hit its core and killed the swarm, but then I saw it charging through the fire, not seeming to care about it anymore.
No, that’s wrong… there was a change. The cloud seemed a bit smaller, but the insects composing it were now red instead of black. Seriously?! It seemed to have a mechanism to adapt to elements that killed members of the swarm.
“If fire won’t work anymore…” I focused my eyes, conjuring an image in my head. In front of my body, three spell diagrams appeared and overlapped, before a bolt of lightning was shot out. I might not be confident in wielding third tier magic yet, but I could handle the second tier just fine.
As expected, the lightning bolt instantly impacted with the center of the swarm, letting out another screech. It was then that I was able to see what they did to evolve. When the swarm halted to recoil from the attack, those that survived flew to collect the ones that had been hit. Then, the entire swarm began to cannibalize its fallen members, lines of white appearing along their red shells.
“This is not good…” Is this what she meant by Keeper level monsters? I couldn’t refute her words at this point, as they were definitely every bit as dangerous as a Keeper. The only benefit at this point seemed to be that they weren’t able to adapt to blunt trauma.
I knew I had only one shot left at this point, and I wouldn’t have time to fire another spell or arrow after that before they reached me. Not if I didn’t run away, at least. So, I began to condense my ki into the head of the arrow I had nocked. The swarm was smaller now, so there was a chance that I could destroy it all with one well placed arrow.
While the tip of the arrow began to glow, the swarm again charged towards me, the buzzing of their wings finally audible to me. I could see the arrowhead beginning to crack from too much ki, and took that as the sign to fire.
Perhaps because I had been focusing on my ki, or maybe I got lucky, but the arrow this time flew straight towards the center of the swarm. Golden light spiralled around it, lashing out at anything the arrow passed. The size of the swirling light was easily larger than the swarm’s current size, so I thought I might actually win this one.
Unfortunately, fate is a fickle catgirl. As the arrow approached, the swarm dispersed, leaving only a few of its members to be hit by the ki. And just as quickly as the arrow passed, the swarm continued to surge towards me.
I couldn’t use the flame burst, since they seemed immune. If they really did have Keeper levels of power, my ki would not be enough to protect myself either. I only had one thing that I could do as a last ditch resort.
Dropping the bow, I gathered my ki along my arms, lowering my body and drawing one foot back. Just as the swarm surrounded me, I did a rapid spin, releasing the ki out through special paths along my arm. Golden blades shout out all around me, slicing at many of the swarm.
However, again it was not enough. The moment I felt a small pain in my palm, I knew that it was over. “I surrender!” I called out just as I began to feel the flesh of my hand tear, knowing that this time would not be so forgiving as the last. I could either end it early, or feel my body being eaten by hundreds of insects.
Thankfully, I had made the right decision as the simulation ended as soon as my words did. Once again, I was back on the couch. My eyes couldn’t help but be drawn towards my hand where I had felt one of the insects biting into me previously, making sure that it was alright.
“You did pretty good again.” Accalia told me with that same smile. “But… you’ve never really trained with a bow, have you?”
When I shook my head, she let out a soft sigh. “Thought as much. You didn’t use any of an archer’s moves, and even your way of drawing an arrow was sloppy. Do you want to review, or skip straight to watching me fight it?”
I again had to think about that for a moment, before looking towards her. “I want to see you do it.” I said frankly. I wasn’t able to find a discernible weakness in the swarm, aside from something that swarms were already incredibly strong against in the first place.
Accalia nodded her head acceptingly. “Alright. I’ll use the same stats that you used in the fight, but with my own body. After all, it’d feel weird for me to suddenly fight in a man’s body.” She said with a light laugh.
I watched Accalia quickly navigate the menu, using all of the settings from the previous fight, and set myself in the spectator column. This time when we arrived at the stone field, I found myself floating high above the ground, my body invisible. I tried to open my mouth, but found myself unable to make a sound.
Likely knowing where the spectators spawned, Accalia turned her head to look right up at me. “Alright, watch this!” She said, before waiting for the voice to speak up.
For her weapon, she chose a longbow forged in blood essence using the sinew of a ‘golden ape’ for its string. Aside from that, she chose a simple quiver of twenty arrows, and no armor. When the blood red bow appeared in her hands, she gave it a few test pulls to make sure that it worked, before telling the system to begin.
Just as the swarm began moving, so did her hands. She grabbed not one, but four arrows at once, one between each of her fingers. And just as quickly, she began to fire them. Accalia didn’t shoot her arrows at the swarm, but rather off to the side or in the air in wide arcs.
When she grabbed the fifth arrow, she drew the bow back fully before launching it straight at the swarm. Blue lights wrapped around the five launched arrows, forming into spell diagrams surrounding the shaft of the arrows themselves. The four arrows launched early burst into flames, while the fifth impacted the swarm directly.
It was hard to tell what had happened next, but all I saw was the swarm exploding in a burst of fire. The four arrows that had been shot in different directions had vanished, and over half of the swarm had been killed in a single burst.
Of course, now the rest of the swarm had already began devouring their dead companions, gaining the immunity to fire that annoyed me so much in my own match. And while they were doing that, Accalia slowly drew another arrow, nocking it and aiming it at the center of the swarm. Her voice echoed through the playing field, the elements thrown into disarray as she spoke.
“Strike at the moment the swarm is at its weakest with an overwhelming attack. Piercing rays of light to strike them dead without fail. With one arrow, settle the match.” Four spell diagrams formed in front of her as she spoke, crackling with an electric glow. When she shot the arrow through them, they shattered one by one, their energy circling in on the arrow.
Immediately, the arrow itself split apart into countless splinters, forming a white wall of light that moved through the swarm. This time, there was nothing left safe, not a single insect remaining to devour its comrades and become immune to her attack. As for Accalia, she let out a soft breath, and looked up at the sky, forming a V with her fingers in my direction.