Shizuka woke, glancing around the dimly lit room briefly before pulling herself out of bed. Going through the same routine, waking, washing, eating breakfast and then same as each day before now she’d pick a book out of the small collection on the desk. She’d read until it was time, until everyone else woke up as well.
Seeing the mirrors flash on before her bed, Shizuka closed her book and turned to face them. Makaela, Nerick and Thea always woke a few hours after her, forced awake by Erik and transported back into their respective arenas.
She’d just watch, anxiously she’d watch them train the day away until weariness took her over and she’d fall back asleep.
For weeks all she did was watch them.
The monsters which they fought and Erik himself, having lost all sense of mercy from the first day. Shizuka had lost count of how many times each of them had neared death, be it from loss of blood due to severed limbs or potentially mortal wounds.
But each time they were healed back into perfect health, physical health, Shizuka was unsure what these experiences were doing to their minds.
She laid down on her bed, pillow beneath her as she lay forwards and watched.
“You’ve all gone through hell and back these past six weeks,” Erik began to say through the mirrors, his voice duplicated thrice, “You’ve beaten my puzzles and obstacle courses, you’ve surpassed each situational encounter I provided you with. Your horizon on magic has been expanded through long and tedious lectures, right after which you’ve gone through severe physical endurance and mana control training.”
Shizuka could almost see the drake’s wicked smile as he paused for a moment.
“Now, let’s see how you fare against these, this time around.” He then said, Shizuka’s eyes widening in interest as the monsters finally appeared.
Makaela casually walked through the ruined streets, her high heels undisturbed by the rough gravel she walked on.
She did not run, she did not try to hide.
There was no need, there was no point.
She sensed them, she heard their hungry screams.
Makaela felt the spectres approach, knowing exactly how many there were, and where each one was. Again, she counted a hundred of the phantasms. Coming from each and every direction, briefly watching her, searching for her blind spot.
Finding none, they all attacked anyway.
A dozen materialized out of the buildings ahead of her and many more came from everywhere else, they charged at her, several dozen dark apparitions surrounding and closing in on her all at once.
Seeing this, Makaela smiled, as an aura of gold ethereal energy formed over her eyes like two flames.
She evaded, claw after claw she danced about them, as light as the wind she moved. Her body bending beneath their lunges, side stepping their charges, dodging their every attack. Even where there seemed to be no escape, Makaela flowed through the crowd of darkness with ease.
Until she found herself standing outside their encircle, continuing to walk off while leaving the now enraged spectres behind.
They all turned towards her, briefly watching her voluptuous back moving further away, their faceless guise then suddenly breaking and forming an unnaturally wide mouth of furious displeasure. Each spectre hissed in agitation, and in a wave of gluttonous darkness they rushed after her.
Makaela turned to meet them, her expression undisturbed by the wall of hate and anger that flowed towards her. She raised her left arm forwards, slowly closing her fingers as she chanted, “Soul School; Spirit Form; Aether Bow.”
Golden light flashed within her outstretched palm, the light quickly expanding and taking shape. Makael closed her hands around the golden ethereal bow that appeared from the light, seemingly shattered into fragments yet each piece was held together by silver energy that arched from fragment to fragment, like lightning striking over several hundred times a second.
Nearer, the hungry spectres grew nearer by the second as she took aim.
The first a mere inch away from the arrow as it formed, silver shafted and golden tipped, while Makaela pulled it back along a non-existent string.
The spectre at the front tried to back away, but the many dozens behind it blocked its retreat, as they crowded one another.
Makaela released the arrow, and it blasted forwards in a blink of an eye, leaving a brief trail of golden light as it pierced through each and every spectre in its path. Destroying over a dozen in a single shot, leaving them to dissipate as many more flooded to take their place.
Too close, the spectres drew too close now and Makaela was forced to leap away, weightlessly she leapt and rolled back.
Releasing several more arrows as she soared.
Every arrow killing at least one spectre, some even more. She landed on her feet, her left hand held steadily before her as her right flashed with movement, pulling back arrow after arrow as each formed out of her fingertips.
Infinitely she produced them, all too fast she fired them, and none missed their mark.
Yet for every spectre she destroyed two more took its place, dozens more of the phantasms flowing out of the ruins around her and once again surrounding her.
Makaela flowed masterfully, evading their claws whilst unleashing searing arrows of light upon her assailants, whether it be a close range kill as she danced about their attacks or a long range shot in-between clashes.
Faster, with each spectre killed her attacks grew faster, her movements swifter. Every arrow piercing through the spectre’s ethereal bodies and dissipating them into particles of darkness, a keen eye would notice those remains flowing over the battle and into Makaela.
Each death imbued her with new strength, new speed and agility. Every kill, empowering her physically and mentally.
She’d spin around, aiming from one side of the road to the other, the transition smooth and brief.
She’d acquire her target, loose, and move onto the next without watching whether it hit or not.
And it always hit.
Her senses far from the norm, enhanced to not only hear the cries of souls but also read their brief thoughts of movement and action. Seeing their attacks before they begun, knowing their next move the moment they did.
And she’d respond much too quickly for them to react.
Enraged the spectres grew as she slew them by the dozen, what few of them remained after her onslaught now hid and ran about the city. Out of sight, but not out of range.
“Soul School; Spirit Detection.” Makaela chanted. Focusing on them, their hunger, their thirst, she locked onto their souls. She raised her bow, aiming up into the sky.
Closing her eyes as she created an arrow. “Custom Art; Soul Arrow Rain.” She chanted once more, the arrow she held suddenly lightning up a bright silver.
Makaela released the arrow, and it zoomed upwards. Exploding once it reached a high enough elevation, expanding into an ethereal cloud of silver energy out of which hundreds of arrows began raining down.
Shrieks of dying spectres sounded off from the ruined city as she glanced at the dozens of phantom corpses still dissipating about her. “Is that it?” She asked in elven, disappointment clear in her tone.
“Ready?” Nerick asked as Erik gave the go, the ground beneath them starting to rise.
(“You doubt me?”) Ivara asked proudly, standing over his right shoulder, with her chest puffed up and head held high.
Nerick chuckled, “Never.” he said, before leaping upwards with so much strength that the ground for a brief moment, flattened again.
The Golem rose out of the ground, its right hand already reaching out towards them, massive fingers of stone closing in around the two as they reached their highest leap yet. It grasped them, clenching its earthen fists to crush their bodies.
Instead its fist exploded into rubble and from within Nerick reappeared, a dark green pole-axe in hand. Made of bone, spiked reptilian scales and bladed claws. Expertly he swung it about, cleaving the golem’s other hand as it descended upon him. At the same time pushing himself away from it.
Nerick landed several meters away from the rising golem, sliding back briefly before coming to stop. He looked up, watching the golem’s hands regenerate, the earth and ruined city around it breaking apart and then rising to reshape its lost parts.
This didn’t bother him.
No, Nerick grinned, as Ivara’s shape blurred and changed, dividing into two before clearing back into view. Now a war hammer and a shield, both made of the same wyvern parts the pole-axe was.
Nerick stepped to the golem as it approached him too, millions of times larger than him yet he showed no fear. No, this lump of dirt and stone was nothing to him, nothing compared to what Erik had made them go through.
The golem’s newly regenerated right fist rose to the occasion, forming a fist and suddenly descending down upon Nerick with speed that should’ve been impossible for its size.
Nerick met it with his shield, blocking the fist, not even being pushed back a single inch albeit his feet dug into the dirt a few centimetres down. Nerick had magically increased his own weight and along the special magic each weapon Ivara turned into, the shield’s capability to minimalize force, the golem’s strength meant nothing to him.
“Barely felt that!” Nerick exclaimed with a wide grin, pushing his shield forward and sending the golem’s arm waving back.
(“Less talking! More hitting!”) Ivara whined within Nerick’s mind.
Nerick chuckled at the young wyvern’s impatience, “On it.” He said, then leaning forwards and stomping his right foot down.
Nerick shot forwards, charging forth faster than any arrow, his body blurring as he zoomed past the golem’s left leg. His war hammer crashing into its foot, taking a massive chunk off it along the way. He slid further away, trying to stop himself proved difficult. Even when he planted his feet into the ground he’d only slow his charge, the ground shattering and collecting behind him into a small hill when he finally did stop.
Yet, just like the hands, the golem’s foot quickly regenerated by absorbing the nearby earth. It turned to face him again, raising its left fist up as it did, spinning directly into another attack.
“Hah, let’s bring up the heat a bit.” Nerick said as the golem’s fist descended upon him, the black abyss within his eye sockets suddenly turning into a crimson red.
“Imbue; Flame!” He chanted, shield and war hammer bursting ablaze.
And again, Nerick charged.
Trailing flames along his path, Nerick rushed the golem’s feet once more. Shield held ahead of himself he crashed through the golem’s still regenerating foot, destroying half of it from collision alone.
He didn’t stop there, immediately stepping forward and bashing his war hammer into what remained of the foot, the weapon exploding into a blast of flames on contact and shattering what was left.
Nerick leapt aside as the golem lost balance, it began to fall to the side while trying to balance itself off a footless leg. He turned to face the other foot, changing his grasp on the war hammer before suddenly throwing it.
As he reached back, the weapon shone crimson. As he let go, smoke engulfed it.
The war hammer flew at high speed, spinning all the while as it soared through the air, trailing smoke and flames behind it. It crashed into the golem’s right shin, creating a massive crater on the leg’s front.
Nerick leapt back, coming to stand behind the golem. The construct had no eyes so this was no blind spot at all, yet Nerick had done this with a purpose. He raised his now empty right hand up towards where his war hammer was, focusing on it before smiling, “Recover weapon!” he chanted.
Suddenly the rest of the golem’s right leg exploded into debris, as the war hammer blew right through the golem’s right calf and flew towards Nerick.
He grabbed it as it flew past him, sinking a few inches into the ground from the force that transferred from it and into him. The hammer also was still smoking from the heat and had left another trail on its way.
Nerick watched, the golem had completely lost balance, waving its arms widely while it fell forwards. The ground quaked when it hit the ground, collapsing what remained of the ruined city beneath its gigantic body.
It immediately tried to rise, as its damage slowly regenerated. Slower than before.
Nerick gave it no such chance though, stomping his right foot forwards before suddenly leaping upwards. The air clashed with his face as he rose, higher and higher, he had leapt with so much strength that the arena’s ceiling was approaching.
Nerick shifted his weight, spinning himself upside-down.
His feet briefly touched the ceiling, the stone quaking at first from collision, and then quaking once more as Nerick pushed himself back down.
He flew down towards the golem, Ivara changing within his hands once more. Taking a single form, long and pointed, the wyvern took the shape of a spear.
Nerick held the weapon forwards, the crimson within his eyes shifting to a light blue as he descended at great speed. “Imbue; Ice!” He chanted, as he sunk his spear into the golem.
The collision alone caused a massive crater to form over the golem’s chest, revealing a large white crystal that lay within. Nerick’s charge did not end either, the force behind his descent carrying on past the first collision and causing a second.
His spear tip pierced through the crystal, shattering several meters of it before embedding itself within.
And suddenly, the entire spear was engulfed with frost.
Nerick stood over the golem’s core, his spear penetrating it as frost flowed from it and into the crystal, quickly freezing it over.
The magical ice clashed with the energy within the core, suddenly causing it all to explode. Tendrils of ice and earth formed spiralling outwards before a blast of blue and white energy expanded forth, engulfing everything in its path.
When the disastrous explosion faded, a single figure stood above the mountain of snow that it created. Nerick stood tall with Ivara laying around his neck. Other than a layer of frost and some torn clothing, not a single scratch lay over him.
“Well that was fun, what’s next?” Nerick asked, glancing up.
(“Fun! Fun!”) Ivara chanted, (“I wants to play some more!”) the wyvern exclaimed in excitement as its tail swung back and forth.
Thea held her weapon ready, blade ahead but prepared to switch into a gun’s grip.
She focused, breathing calmly as she felt her way to their bond. Willing her mana to grasp that connection, she widened it, and the energy flowed out.
Suddenly her eyes glimmered gold as lightning surged through her skin, passing into her weapon and slowly corrupting its core, turning it gold too. Her light brown hair, which she had kept short, also changed slightly as a few strands turned bright blonde.
Thea clenched her hands around her weapon, “Not this time.” She said, as the building to her left exploded into rubble.
The basilisk burst out of the derbis, rotating like a drill of death and quickly descending upon her.
Thea leapt upwards, evading its charge entirely as she switched to a gun’s grip. “Voltage!” she chanted, taking aim while in mid-air and as the basilisk rushed beneath her. Thea pulled the trigger and tendrils of lightning struck out of her barrels, electrocuting the beast as it spun.
It screeched in pain but kept going, destroying its way into the other side of the road before ending its spin, slithering off to hide.
Thea didn’t let it, sprinting after it the moment she touched the ground. Gunblade aimed at the beast’s back as it ran, “Twin bolt!” she chanted, firing two lightning strikes into the basilisk’s tail ahead.
Again, the beast bellowed in pain, then crashed its head through the wall dividing them.
Jaws wide open it lunged upon Thea, as she switched her weapon into a sword’s grip.
Thea did not try to evade, instead she stepped towards the beast’s fangs. Slashing in a wide arch, “Blaze slash!” she chanted as her weapon’s blade suddenly burst aflame.
The flames shot forth like a projectile, taking the form of a blade of flame as it soared ahead. It enveloped the basilisk’s face, exploding on collision then filling the alleyway they stood in with fire and smoke.
Thea’s vision was blocked by the smokescreen, but she rushed in swinging anyway, meeting the basilisk’s tail as it lunged out with her blade. Mithril clashed with carapace, her blade digging into the stone-like tail and cutting the green flesh beneath.
The basilisk’s head appeared out of the smoke then, hissing with rage as it locked eyes with Thea, as its sockets of green energy opened wide and began to shine brighter.
Thea briefly looked into its eyes, taking aim with her weapon as it still lay embedded into the beast’s tail. “Frost Beam!” She chanted quickly, her weapon shooting out a ray of dark blue energy, freezing the basilisk’s face.
The beast reared back in confusion from the layer of ice that now covered its head, collapsing the wall behind itself as it tried to escape.
But Thea held it still, gripping her weapon tightly as the blade still lay embedded to its tail.
“Lightning Art; Electrocute!” She chanted, and her weapon suddenly surged with violent tendrils of electricity. The energy flowed into the basilisk causing the beast to screech in agony, angering it further.
And once her attack ended, it faced her, eyes still encased in ice. It hissed ferociously, fangs in full view before lunging at her.
Thea pressed her right foot onto the beast’s tail, forcing her weapon out and then turning to face its approaching maw. With a gun’s grip she faced the basilisk’s widening mouth, dead set on devouring her alive, and wide enough to do so in a single bite.
She didn’t have time to chant, it was too close and approaching too fast so she leapt back. Taking aim as she soared backwards, as it continued to chase after her.
“Flame burst!” She chanted quickly and a sphere of flames blasted into the beast’s maw, exploding within and briefly stopping its charge. The basilisk though quickly shook the pain off, undisturbed by a few burns, it lunged again.
Thea had landed by then, and as it approached, this time she was ready.
Eyes closed as she focused, “I stand prepared, nothing shall move me. I stand with resolve as my shield, and you flowing through me, as my weapon. Lord, one who I would call my dragon, lend me your strength!” weapon held ahead of herself in a sword’s grip as she chanted.
She charged it, energy gushing through her hands and into the crystal core. The blades on her gunblade now shining gold as tendrils of electricity surged through the crystal.
Thea opened her eyes to see the basilisk starting to spin, now mere centimetres away from ripping her apart.
“Draconic Martial Arts; Custom Art; Draconic Blade!” She shouted, her powerful bellow snapping the basilisk out of its spin as her blade suddenly burst with black and golden energy. Like a flame the energy rose out of her weapon, twice the length of her blade yet it retained the shape.
Seeing the raw energy, the basilisk turned its charge and rushed past her, but it was too late.
Thea turned after it, slashing her weapon down as it rushed by, her blade of surging mana cutting through its carapace with ease. And as it touched the serpent’s hide, as it met flesh and blood, the blade grew even longer.
She forced her weapon down, and the creature shrieked in agony. She cut, further and further, until the hissing and torturous screeching ended, until the beast stopped moving entirely.
Thea took a deep breath and released her magic, pulling her weapon out of the basilisk’s now limp corpse. It had been cleaved in half, not at all clean as it had been moving as she cut it. Instead, it lay in two pieces, mangled and tattered from one another.
Thea kicked the closer half, making sure it was dead.
It didn’t move.
“Well…I guess that’s that.” Thea mused while backing away from the bleeding corpse, a puddle of green blood forming around both parts. “So…again?” she then asked, she hadn’t fought the basilisk in weeks and this was the first time she had beaten it.
“No,” Erik said, “You all three passed the first combat training session. Now, you move onto the next one.” His disembodied voice explained.
Thea then suddenly found herself elsewhere, a hall similar to the last one in size and appearance, other than that there was no ruined city lying around her this time.
To her left stood Makaela, seemingly bored. To her right were Nerick and Ivara, one glancing around warily and the other in excitement.
“This time you’ll be working together, improving your team working skills and experiencing real combat with another powerful wielder of magic and martial arts.” Erik’s voice explained.
Each of them heard a sigh of annoyance, turning to face the source they saw Alan standing alone. “Well, whenever you’re ready.” He said, unsheathing his sword and taking a basic stance.
“Come at me like you mean it.”