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A note from puddles4263

9/17

After Paolo’s silent transformation, the Ghosthound said nothing, but he returned to the crowd. Donny could see that those of his volunteer honor guard that were part of Paolo's crew were particularly reverent in their gaze, while Kayle's crew seemed somewhat displeased.

But the other match ended in a surprise; to finish Kayle off, Tina summoned a Flame Tiger, which stayed in a fixed position, but threw constant fireballs towards Kayle. Using her remaining Mana, Tina controlled Kayle's movements, forcing him to accumulate damage. And her Mana lasted longer than his Stamina, which was surprising.

Kayle sat down on the bench, sighing and depressed. He rolled back and forth. He threw his hands up to the sky.

He sighed again.

Finally, he looked in the Ghosthound's direction, and coughed. "Hmm... I really feel like I am only a single step away from understanding something profound..."

The silence was deafening, so much so that Paolo's snort echoed throughout the arena.

After a few seconds, the Ghosthound walked out onto the arena once more. "Your knives... why don't they just cut through everything? If you cede those things beyond your range, it's only fair you demand that range belong to you."

Then he walked away. From his hunched posture, Donny was sure that the Ghosthound felt embarrassed from his first outburst, and even more uncomfortable from the forced second, and would spend some time hiding.

But to his credit, Kayle began to chuckle, and then laugh maniacally, a strange aura appearing around his knives.

"Kukuku... to think... I was neglecting my ultimate weapon..." Kayle laughed, a silvery glow surrounding his weapons. Now it was Paolo's group's turn to have ugly expressions as they looked on at the arena.

The final was Alana versus Tina, the powerful blessed individual of the Ghosthound going up against the unknown girl from Donnyton. Tina, perhaps channeling her inner flame mage, had dyed her hair a vivacious shade of red-violet that was difficult to look away from. A lot of the men among the audience were looking at her in a way that made it clear her rather close fitting robe was popular among them.

Meanwhile, Alana was more metal than woman, wearing very serviceable chainmail mixed with shaped bone plates, specially made by Sam. She had a spear that was glittering with runes, which she was slowly polishing as the crowd repositioned themselves to gather around the central stadium, where the final match would occur.

Tina was surrounded by a group of people with similarly bold hairstyles. One girl had a mohawk, and the tall, gangly male that was holding Tina’s hand had his hair in pigtails. They talked quietly amongst themselves. While watching them carefully, Donny gestured for one of Daniel’s aides to bring him the info that he had on those kids.

It was strange to think of them as kids, considering they were probably of an age with himself, but… Responsibility had a certain propensity to warp your outlook. To Donny, these people who hadn’t run a Village for almost a year were just kids, enjoying their relative freedom. Not that he would begrudge Randidly his lost innocence, but…

His newfound power and influence came with drawbacks.

There really wasn’t any true information to be had about the kids, only two of them had received Classes from Donnyton, including Tina. The other 3 had gotten them from Franksburg. Not that it really mattered, but… Donny made a mental note to push a little harder for the information exchange with the other town. Donnyton had all the expertise, but Franksburg had numbers an order of magnitude higher than Donnyton, possessing somewhere between 5 and 10 times the population.

Tina’s Class was Fire Caller, and her stat gains, if not her Skills, were recorded here. It was a Class that no one had achieved since, which showed it was rare, and the stat gains were high, which meant it was powerful. But neither of those explained. Why she had done so well in the tournament. Not to doubt her skill, but…

Donny’s eyes were flinty as he examined the group. There was something amiss.

The fight started without fanfare, the two fighters 20 meters apart. Instantly, Alana rushed forward, holding her shield in front of her, while the spear was pressed tightly against her body. As expected, Tina danced backwards, throwing Fireballs and trying to create space.

When it became clear that Fireballs were far from cutting it, she began alternating the typical Fireballs with Flame Slashes and Fire Grenades. This caused Alana’s speed to slow down, but it was far from being able to stop her, or inflict any real damage.

Then, with a shout, Tina pointed upward, and her flaming bird descended, spewing fire towards Alana. This was the first real damage that she was forced to face, and there was a split second where Donny’s eyes narrowed, watching the fight. Because Alana hesitated.

And then she leapt backwards, moving out of the area covered by the flame phoenix. Some members of the crowd began to boo in jeer, in good fun, but some others because they had been knocked out in a very dispassionate manner by Alana. Then they fell silent, because after scratching her chin briefly, Alana leaned back, raised her spear, and threw it like a javelin.

The projectile streaked across the arena, so fast that Donny almost had a heart attack. If Alana’s casual throw killed this talented girl… and suddenly a new headache was dominating Donny’s attention, as he struggled to come to terms with the balance they needed to strike between putting these warriors in danger, and raising them safely. Threats like this, that could legitimately take away your life in a second, seemed a bit…

Looking bored, Alana raised her hand and pointed twice. Meanwhile, Tina finally reacted, scrambling out of the way just in time, the spear barely missing her. She stumbled, and then straightened to look at Alana, but was struck in that moment by the two Mana Bolt’s that Alana threw, while she had been distracted. They were weak, like getting hit with a snowball, but they had hit her in the gut and chin, and had caught her completely by surprise.

Although Alana’s Mana Bolts weren’t strong, Donny knew that she had focused very long and hard on making them extremely pure, so they were practically invisible, if you weren’t paying attention.

As they landed, Alana leapt forward, but this time, Tina was more on top of her game, pointing at the ground.

“Smokescreen.”

Thick, black smoke billowed upwards, cutting off vision in every direction. In a 10 meter area. But contrary to expectations, Alana simply raised her shield and ran right into the smoke. Donny’s mouth crinkled up. So, Tina, what tricks do you have left…

The smoke screened area exploded, a huge gout of flame shooting upwards. But, spoiling the image, was the sight of Tina, scrambling backwards cursing loudly, covered in soot. Alana walked smoothly after her, relatively unscathed, her armor only slightly scuffed.

“You can make a clone that’s a bomb? Interesting. But if I hear your breath running away from your body… how could I fall for it?” Alana said coolly, raising her shield.

“Get fucked,” Tina said, flicking her fingers and creating 3 Fire Grenades. Immediately afterwards, she shot out a Flamethrower, which Alana deftly deflected with a spear. Rather than stepping backwards, Alana continued forwards, and the Flame Grenades bounced harmlessly past her before exploding.

Widening her eyes, Tina scrambled backwards, raising her hands again for another attack. But nothing happened. Of everyone, Tina seemed the most surprised. Rather than paying attention to Alana, she turned around and looked towards her group. Donny followed her gaze.

The Ghosthound stood among them, his hand on the shoulder of the pigtail guy. Narrowing his eyes, Donny allowed himself a small smile. So it had been cheating… Sam had been right. Can’t trust anyone these days…

But Tina’s strength was real, even if she used some sort of supplemental Skill from someone else. Probably some sort of Mana linking, which would explain why she had access to so many spells, constantly. But that was a strength that could be reproduced in battle, even if it wasn’t very useful in single combat. Not a situation where she should forfeit her rewards, but still…

Donny tapped his chin. He had a few ideas with what she could be used for.

*****

Now that he had caught them cheating, Randidly felt no qualms about digging deeply into both of the people, his Aether Detection prodding them, feeling their classes and Skills, examining the details. The fiery haired and hotter tempered girl was interesting, but she mostly seemed to have a strange ability called Mana Syphon, which was a Spell Vamp that stole Mana from the opposing party.

He wondered if Alana had noticed, and that’s why she began to use her spells against Tina. Either way, it would make Tina that much more effective in areas where she could inflict huge amounts of damage. The Mana returns would make her unstoppable…

Meanwhile, the pigtailed man, whose named was Peggy, which didn’t end up clearing up his/her gender identity at all, had a much more interesting Class: Mana Blessed Hermit. Upon consulting Daniel, it seemed the Hermit was a know Class, possessing superior Meditation-esque Skills, as well as some basic healing, earth magic, and monster interaction Skills. Either of these three Skills could be improved relatively quickly, and they all gave Paths at Skill Lvl 25, that then rewarded another Skill, effectively specializing the Hermit.

Mana Blessed had apparently given him another Path, that allowed him to give and take Mana with willing participants. So the whole group had fueled Tina’s run. It was fascinating, because the way Aether interacted with the Mana, to provide that effect, gave Randidly some ideas about how to use the runes they had, made with Mana, to intuit how Aether would do a similar thing.

Although he had wanted a break from studying Aether, improving the success rate of the final attempt was most important, so he had Peggy use the Skill dozens of time, examining the strange series of interactions.

Satisfied, around 3 PM, Randidly finally around the tired man to stop, collapsing exhausted on the ground. It was truly a good haul for the day. Looking at the sun, Randidly judged he still had time, and began walking over towards the next Assessment.

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