Chapter 45:

Chapter 38: Tournament of Trials (3)


“Would you look at that, ladies and gentlemen! It seems we have a marvelous display of strength finally being showcased amid the 5th group! Coming from none other than the ‘Tier S’ Adventurer, Zaeh, of the Old Palisade guild! The Psionics of the Onothi are not to be underestimated after all! I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that attack just now! Goodness!”

Geez. This announcer talks way too much...

Thanks to immediately casting [Force Push], I had successfully created enough distance between her attack and myself in the split second before impact. A long and thick outline that resulted from her skill now decorated the disturbed ground, sitting haphazardly in the middle of us. I could now see just what had created the attack to begin with too as she held a large, wand-like stick in her right hand.

“No, it extended while in the air, didn’t it? So, a whip...? That would make more sense, since...”

The second she landed on her feet; I had already activated [Investigate] the moment I was able to catch another glimpse of her. In due to that, the announcer’s comment from earlier hadn’t delivered any new information regarding my current opponent.

Name: [Zaeh]
Rank: [Onoth]
Level: [56]
Class: [Psionicist/Whipsinger]
Alignment: [Chaotic Neutral]
Titles - [Adventurer, Tier S],
[Exul of the Onothi]

I had underestimated her simply based on what I once knew about her species from MO. With what I knew now, I wouldn’t dare make that same mistake again. Taking her class into consideration, her overall proficiency was definitely rooted in her fluid movements and attack distance. I should have taken her ability to instantly move out of my [Lightning Probe]’s strike zone as a blatant sign of her high dexterity too.

We’ll be here all day if we make this into a battle of attrition by fighting from a distance. Yet, if I move in too close—and too soon—there's no telling how disastrous her Whipsinger’s skills will be for me. Just my luck...

“Just so we’re both on the same page, human, remember; you were the one who attacked first.”

She definitely had a sufficient reason for retaliating against me, and I wouldn’t ever say otherwise. I had been heavily influenced by prior experiences, so I didn’t feel like humoring a more non-confrontational approach. Other than shutting her out and getting her teleported or disqualified, that is.

“And to be honest, I’m starting to feel a tiny bit of regret for doing that now. You know, if that helps ease anything...”
“Either way...”

Shifting her body, she readied her whip for another assault.

“ doesn’t matter to me. I joined this tournament to test my own abilities against people stronger than myself. This group is severely lacking in that, but you somehow dodged my [Psi-Scourge]. So, you’ll have to make do until the next stage!”

As expected, she was pretty peeved as she portrayed that emotion quite vividly whilst coating her whip with her next skill in mind. The black tip from her golden tail that rested on her left shoulder was once again shining brightly. The two worked in sync—both tail and whip—as an aura intensified as a result. She was currently blocking the only route to take for the both of us too, so regardless of my choice, I had to go through her to leave now.

Let’s see. My best course of action here would be to create an opening, subdue her and quickly move on forward, right? That means by attacking her—or more specifically—striking at the Onothi’s weak point. Ah, I only have one choice then...

“Now, I wonder if you’ll be able to dodge this too!”

The whip extended forward and swiftly, in a surprisingly straight line. On instinct, I immediately evaded with a sudden crouch—barely dodging the attack—only for her voice to then further provoke an additional movement out me.

“Bad choice! Skill: [Unbridled Fall]!”

I could feel the air above me become restless with an uneasy tremble as the whip now somehow remained suspended. The stored psionic energy that was seemingly laced within the extended whip was becoming unstable and reading to burst. I leapt to my right as my body then smacked against the wall at the same time the whip descended with immeasurable force.
She had further decorated the labyrinth grounds with a new, deadlier design and depth. That lingering pause earlier had continuously built up that reserve and unleashed it all at once—propelling it downward in response. It dawned on me in that instant that it was fairly similar to my [Condensed Electric Bullet] experiment.

“Ha! You’re like some child that just can’t sit still. Is dodging all you know how to do, human? I’m still waiting—show me that same arrogance that led you to attacking first!”

Okay, that’s the third time today that I’ve been referred to as a child! Fine, dammit! If you want a fight; I’ll give you one!

I immediately withdrew my [Abysmal End], holding it in my left while my quarterstaff still remained in my right. I just needed the former for the next three preemptive spells anyways. I originally didn’t have any intention on using it here, but that prior comment had definitely struck a chord with me. First the irritable walls and now a continuation of a weirdly reoccurring and defamatory label? I was quite provoked, all right.

“Casting: [Self Accelerate], [Sundered Boon], [Lesser Stalagmite]!”

A combination that remained useless in wide areas due to the restrictive span of the attack. [Self Accelerate] was for myself and for what would come after, whereas [Sundered Boon] allowed a short-lived extension of my own self-applied buff toward either another person and thing—or a single spell. Lastly, [Lesser Stalagmite] was a low tier ground spell, one that would help stagger an enemy. It was easily avoidable in larger areas, though, its purpose and span would fit perfectly in this labyrinth.

It should reach her instantly. Let’s see...

Returning my stave, I then slammed at the ground with the bottom of my quarterstaff. I sudden and quick traveling chain of stalagmites was sent her way.

With that whip still stretched out, without a doubt, she’ll—

“Is that the best you can respond back with?! Measly rocks? That’s useless against my partner here!”

As expected, she then swung the already outstretched whip with another coating of psionic energy. Crashing against the tide of stalagmites, shattering and stopping them in their place. That being said, I was already amid casting my next spell.

“Casting: [Telekinesis]!”

Activating [Telekinesis], I began sending the debris from the splintered stalagmites her way as a means to shift her focus on delaying and halting the incoming barrage.

“...You really have some nerve to come at an Onoth with that sort of spell! Skill: [Psi-Stasis]!”

With an instantly invoked skill from her end, the debris immediately came to a standstill, stopping in place and remaining scattered throughout the air amid the labyrinth’s path. She easily overpowered my spell—which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I had no intention on trying to go toe-to-toe with an Onothi’s psionic ability with anything of that level. It was merely a meager parlor trick for the next step anyways.

“You seem to be quite the mage, human, but anything of this extent won’t be able to—huh?!”
“You also talk a bit too much!”

Thanks to her attention being refocused toward the lingering debris and my [Self Accelerate], I was able to reach her just in time to catch the opening. The Onothi had a glaring weak point, one that they continuously displayed more times than not.

“Since when—grgh!!”

And that was the gem-covered mound on their head, one in which I slammed my own head against. I could see the faint and sporadic flicker of light from the black tip of her tail. Her mind had definitely been rattled, and her next action clearly announced that as she then attempted to retract her whip and lash back.

“Wha... You...!!”

And that was just what I was hoping for as I quickly stood ready to parry her whip and activate a certain skill in response. One that would amplify my parrying strength by 1.5x that of my Defense stat after it had already been exchanged with my highest stat—my Magic Defense in thanks to my [Robes of the False Nephilim]. This would be—by no means—a weak counter.

“Skill: [Scaling Bole]!”

The counter was successful, as I slammed the bottom of my quarterstaff against what I had assumed to be the left side of her stomach. She was then sent flying toward the left wall where she immediately curled upon impact. The debris behind me dropped to the ground as my eyes remained in her direction.

There’s no way she can get up after that, right...? That was a pretty strong hit, and it definitely felt as if it connected without any issue...

I took a second to catch my breath as she then suddenly began to move ever so slightly in the distance. I could feel my eyes twitch and squint as I gazed toward the area of her body that I originally aimed for. Her hand was now pressed against her chest—in that same hand—the bottom of the wand-like whip extended to her left side. My target. She had still received damage apparently, but had seemingly blocked the bulk of the counter. And now, she was already lifting herself from the ground.

Geez. You have got to be kidding me?! Dammit!

“Can’t you just stay down?!”

Those words accidentally slipped through my lips and as they did, I immediately turned around and began running down the right-side path. That tactic from earlier would not work on her again, and I had no intention on remaining in this damned labyrinth with her for any longer. Casting [Divination] once more, I began seeking out the exit with less caution than before—and more swiftly too—as a voice came trailing behind me with serious speed.

“Come back here, you! We’re nowhere near through with our fight!”

No, no, no. I know I sure am!

I ignored her scattered howls completely. I even sprinkled a few spells her way, activating some traps here and there, and oddly enough—she was always still behind me somehow.

I never knew the Onothi were so persistent! Can't she just give up on fighting me already?!

With a series of twists and turns throughout the maze, I had finally reached one of the exits as a staff member approached and congratulated me. I turned around one last time to check if she were still there, and unfortunately, she was as the anger in her stride was still glaringly obvious. Walking toward me, I felt as if she was readying to strike me outside of the arena.

“You’re quite the bundle of surprises, human. I wasn’t expecting anyone in the 5th group to—not only be able to hold their own against me—but to also escape my pursuit. I don’t like that you ran from our fight, but that’s fine for now. You won’t be able to do that in the next stage!”
“Aha... Understood...”

She then walked past me, saying not a word more and disappeared within the halls of the arena. I could only feel exhausted and a bit worried. That girl, Zaeh, seemed like another who was a bit too persistent with seeking a fight.

Whatever that next stage is, here’s to hoping there aren't more people like her...

A staff member then approached me once more, asking me for my name. I gave her the one I was using for the tournament and headed back toward the eastern halls of the arena with a drag in my steps.

And that next stage better not be anything similar to this damned labyrinth again...

Upon reaching the eastern halls, I could hear the announcer’s voice reverberate throughout the arena’s walls as he made his closing address for the day.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!! That is now the end of the first round and day of the Tournament of Trials! What a mesmerizing experience, wouldn’t you all agree? All five groups have completed their trials, some far bolder and daring than others, and very many have failed in their attempt in making it to the next round! These 16 combatants will be the next set of stars to glimmer on the upcoming stage tomorrow! And here are their names: Baccas, Krogr, Zaeh, Euler, Guil, Yojim, Maela, Lord Vostoun...”
Ah. I don’t know who any of these people even are... And wait, was that a small kick at me for running away or something...?”

A short sigh escaped me as I lingered on the announcer’s words, ruminating over what I should expect for the next stage. It then dawned on me that it would benefit me to do some sort of reconnaissance before tomorrow’s event too, since I hadn’t known any of the other participants besides Zaeh.

“Now that I think about it, I’m surprised that 15 others made it through that labyrinth too...”

Lost in thought, two sets of footsteps then approached me. I adjusted my eyes in their direction and was met with an ecstatic-looking Euler and a now awoken and smiling Alisa.

“I can’t believe you actually did it, Albel!! You don’t understand how happy I am, for both your victory and unharmed return!”
“Euler here told me about what happened, and about how you helped heal me. You even took his place in the arena. Thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart!”

Alisa took a slight bow toward me while Euler then wrapped one arm around my shoulder, prodding at my chest in a cheerful manner. Small bouts of laughter, teasing and astonishment toward what he had witnessed while watching over the 5th group trial left his mouth. He was getting a bit too close for comfort, but at the same time, I could see tears forming in both of their eyes for whatever reason. I didn’t think I did anything worth the amount of praise they were giving me either, especially since I had been complaining the whole time throughout it.

“How about we head on over to the Entertainment District, Albel? We know of this amazing tavern there! At least one night of celebration shouldn’t hurt, right? I’ll make sure to explain our situation in full as well, since I wasn’t able to earlier...”

Euler extended this invitation with a slight smile. There was also still the issue with the ‘payment’ he stated would be worth my while. That being said, I was starting to get worried about leaving Eru alone for so long as well as late evening had finally arrived.

I don’t even have an inn arranged yet either... Sickness, visions, getting carried away and a contemptible labyrinth—what a hectic day...

For now, I decided to accept their invitation since I could also take this opportunity to learn more about the current state of Nefra and a possible inn recommendation. And most importantly, as well as gain any insight on where Eru might’ve headed off to.