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---A New Challenger Approaches---

Aleixo Demopholus took a deep breath to sooth his nerves as he waited. He had come to China for a reason, but his every attempt to meet with the sword clan had been rebuffed. Then Alexio heard that there might be someone who could help him in Shanghai, but he lacked resources and needed a steady income to continue his quest. Which is how he head ended up here, at M on the Bund. He could hear Magus Yuu now, announcing him to the cheering crowd.

Ladies and gentlemen- especially the ladies- we have a truly special match for you today! Our Challenger has traveled tens of thousands of kilometers, conquered uncountable monsters, wielding the ancient magic of heroes, and is now here to fight for your entertainment!”

The attendant indicated Alexio should enter now as the Magus made his crescendo.

“From the Greek Isles Magus Alexio Demopholus, the Lion of Lacedonia, the Bronze Champion, the Hoplite Hero!”

Alexio entered in to the ring, his hands held up high in acknowledgement of the cheers and catcalls. As for the catcalls, well, Alexio was dressed in nothing more than a fustanella- a kind of armoured skirt worn by Greek soldiers of antiquity.

He was not just wearing that to show off his physique, though he was quite proud of it, it would not make much sense to wear clothes that would just be destroyed by his magic. Magic clothes were expensive.

“And who is he challenging?” Magus Yuu hyped, “The still reigning champion- men envy him, women love him- Maaaagus Canto from Indonesia!”

Across from Alexio, Canto entered into the ring as well and the crowd went wild. It was, Alexio reflected, certainly eye candy for anyone interested. Two nearly naked muscular men preparing to fight in an underground- literally and metaphorically- nightclub. Of course, they were different kinds of muscular. The mage across from Alexio was muscular, but in the way that a martial artist was, whereas Alexio was bulky in the way a mage who fought as he did had to be. Between the alcohol and the mood, it made for a wild atmosphere.

“Prepare you bets, the nymphs of the House are going forth! Have your crystals ready and get ready for the Bout!”

The girls from the House of M went throughout the crowd, and fifteen minutes later Magus Yuu announced the start.

“And finally it is time! Time for the display of magical skill, of strength and cunning, of fury and wrath! And, for this once, our rules will be changed on the agreement of our two competitors. Normally, we have victory upon yield or shield break, but tonight, victory will be upon yield- Or incapacitation! That’s right, this battle will be shieldless as we have two Close Quarter Combat Mages!”

There would not be much of a point to fighting to shield break, Alexio’s magic techniques come from a time before shields were ubiquitous among mages and Canto likewise fought in close combat where shields were more often deactivated than not.

A flash of Conjuration mana and Yuu was atop the Force Cage shouting, “BEGIN!”

Alexio moved instantly. He had not front loaded a spell because he did not need to as he had trained this magic until it was second nature to him. His mana flowed through him and the spell finished on his lips in a mere fraction of a second.

“Hoplite’s Panoply!”

“Haste!”

Magus Canto also cast fast, and now hasted, struck even faster. A Pencak Silat master like Canto could use Haste as an offensive spell, because his Hasted body was the weapon. It was almost as if he had Blinked across the floor and his foot struck out towards Alexio’s face. But metal was flowing from the air around Alexio and before the kick could reach him, he had a large shield between himself and the Indonesian Magus. Alexio shoved forward in an attempt to put the man off balance, but Canto merely flipped away and prepared to come back at him.

Alexio, on the other hand, was now in the full armor of an ancient Greek hoplite. He was a Bronze Mage, an Earth Element mage who had- through specialised training and techniques- gained the ability to pull bronze from the elemental plane of Earth. A Conjuror/Transmuter, the spell “Hoplite’s Panoply,” although ancient beyond the formalized schools of magic, was almost perfectly made for him. Bronze was pulled from the plane of Earth and then Transmuted into armor around him, including a large shield and a spear.

“Enhanced Ability, Enhanced Strength, Magic Weapon!” Canto cast in rapid succession and was back on Alexio in a flash. However, he was repelled by Alexio’s shield and armor. “Hoplite’s Panoply” was, in many ways, far superior to spells like “Bronze Flesh” or “Stone Skin,” just in a qualitative way the bronze armor made by it was stronger than it had any right to be, having been reinforced by the caster’s mana. In fact, what would be a mage’s personal shield was woven into the spell. It could not break without the caster going oom, and it was far more efficient than a regular shield. Further, the armor that covered him from head to toe also slightly enhanced his strength and agility, allowing him to move in the extremely heavy armor as if it was made of feathers.

When Canto pulled back the second time, Alexio twirled his spear with a flourish, striking the butt against the ground as he taunted, “I came here for a fight Canto, not a slap fight! If you need the extra help, I am more than happy to give you the time to cast!”

The crowd booed and jeered and cheered at the provocation, and Magus Yuu gave commentary happily and excitedly. Alexio, while taking this fight seriously, also remembered that it was a show and that part of his pay at the end of the night might depend on how well he could play it up.

Canto, for his part, had no choice but to answer Alexio’s challenge and a few seconds later he cast Polymorph and swiftly grew into a giant, one-eyed humanoid monster.

“A Cyclops!” Magus Yuu shouted from atop the cage, the divination magic in his here glowing as he was fed information, “The Grecian Cyclops is one of the most powerful subspecies of Cyclops and their hide is resistant to Fire elements, including any para or quasi-elemental variant of Fire! They even have natural water breathing and can be as intelligent as humans!”

Magus Canto had a tendency to try and beat his opponents with monsters they were used to, it was part of the Bout’s spectacle- much like Alexio’s challenge- but Alexio felt he had miscalculated this time. Alexio’s magic was reconstructed painstakingly from the magic of Ancient Greek heros, and those Heros had been born to hunt monsters.

However, Alexio was taken by surprise by the movements of the Hasted Cyclops Canto and the battle almost ended as the Magu’s now giant fist slammed into Alexio’s shield and lifted him off his feet and into the wall of the Force Cage.

“Classical Body!” Alexio finished his spell a split second before he hit the cage, and the sheer force caused the walls to ripple and strain. The second advantage of “Hoplite’s Panoply” over the other Transmutation spells is that despite its enhancing and protective properties, it did not directly change the body, allowing for another Transmutation spell to take place.

“Classical Body” was a variant of “Stone Skin” and transmuted the body into what looked like a marble statue. It granted some resistance to all of the Elements and further increased Alexio’s strength while greatly reducing all physical damage he might take. Between “Hoplite’s Panoply” and “Classical Body” he was nearly impervious to damage.

However, Cyclops were monsters that had grown alongside the ancient Greek mages, and their strength was not something to look down on. If Alexio gave Canto the chance, he could grind him down against the Force Cage and win by sheer attrition.

“Enough of a fight for you now?” Canto laughed, “Too much, by the look of it!”

“Haha, no, this is fine!” Alexio replied, still boastful despite being pinned. “Now I can finally take the kid gloves off, Heroic Strength!”

Alexio seemed to glow with a faint gold aura as he shoved and sent the giant Cyclops Canto flying. Landing on the ground, Alexio cast again, “Atlanta’s Fleet of Foot, Marathon!”

The glow around Alexio intensified and he was a gold and bronze blur as he leapt across the ring and attacked Canto, his spear leading the way. Magus Canto was not like the Monster Cyclops though, rather than trust in his bulk and his hide, he dodged and twisted and counterattacked- but he was sorely pressed and more than one cut appeared on his chest as he failed to perfectly dodge Alexio’s spear strikes.

They broke apart again, and Canto looked to be in a sorry state, but instead of looking worried he smiled.

“I should thank you, Magus Alexio.” He said, “A transmuter with Polymorph lives and dies on the library of monsters he can draw on, and I did quite a lot of research in preparation for this battle.”

“Oh?” Alexio affected an amused tone, though he would not prefer to let the mage talk or cast, his earlier taunt had trapped into responding to this as well. “Then show me, and I will show you what Heroes are made of.”

“That is just the thing, Alexio.” Canto’s voice turned serious, “I don’t believe in heroes any more. Polymorph!”

What he changed into… It did not defy description, but it did to an extent defy imagination- you had to see it to understand what it meant. Alexio immediately recognized the monster, because it was not a thing that anyone familiar with Greek’s Black Zones would forget. An observer would be forgiven for thinking it was some form of tentacle monster, but they would soon see that it did not have tentacles but arms, one hundred of them.

He had polymorphed into a Hecatoncheires, the Psuedo-Mythic Class giants whose name meant, “The Hundred Handed Ones.” Canto clearly could not polymorph into the full version of the creature, but even an inferior copy of the unmatched might those monsters could wield was incredible, and Alexio’s eyes widened in shock and nearly was defeated instantly due to his surprise.

But, Alexio thought to himself. Even if Canto could bring forth power this immense, power that could challenge Mythic Class beings- if only for a short time- Alexio had inherited the magic of Heroes, and Heroes could slay Gods.

“AEGIS OF ATHENA!”

The bronze armor on him turned liquid and flowed, surrounding him much like a classic mage’s shield and his Astral Soul screamed in protest as his Mana Channels burned. Alexio was Tier Six Earth (Bronze), Tier Seven Transmutation and Tier Five Conjuration, whereas the “Aegis of Athena” was a legendary signature spell that required at least Tier Six Transmutation and Abjuration, as well as Tier Seven Conjuration. It was a spell that could only be used safely by powerful Magisters, and its effects were the things of myths. A perfectly cast Aegis could withstand strikes from Tier Ten Evocations or strikes from Mythic Beasts.

The only reason Alexio could cast it at all was that the Ancient Greek buffs were different, and often more potent, than their modern equivalents. They strengthened the human body and soul to the point where Heros could overcome their own limits, to an extent. There is a reason the old stories always showed Heros pushing themselves forward until one day they met a challenge they could not win and their gambles failed.

As the storm of strikes from Canto fell upon Alexio, he grit his teeth against the fire burning through his very soul. Heroes endured. Heroes reached towards the sun even if it melted the flesh from their bones, and grasped it. In a world of monsters beyond human understand, Heroes were the ones who reinforced their magic with indomitable will and yelled defiance at monsters that could end the world, and won. Heroes were those who could endure the impossible and reach victory.

***

Canto did not generally take these fights personally. The Bout was business, after all, and both the money and the perks were very good. The House of M was an excellent employer, and there were not many places where a mage with his skillset could earn a living like this while not being in mortal danger. Not that there wasn’t danger, but the Bout was not to the death and their were Healers on call to handle the worst injuries.

However, Canto took this challenge very personally. Even if he did not show it, he was angry- furious, even. He did not hate Alexio so much as he hated what the man represented. He hated the idea of Heroes. Hated the idea enough to do a dangerous polymorph like this one. Changing into the form of the Hecatoncheires was not easy, humans were just not capable of handling the power these creatures held, or even handling control over so many limbs at once. He did not quite recognize the spell Alexio had cast that covered him in a bronze ball, but he did know that it was beyond Alexio’s ability.

So as Canto’s Astral Soul bent under the strain of his transformation and he struck out at the Aegis- dozens, hundreds, thousands, of times- he realized that this had become a game of attrition, of betting on whose body and soul would give out first.

Canto knew “Heroes.” His team had both kinds in Micronesia. He remembered those who gave their lives so that the rest of the team could live, smiling even as they faced death because they believed that by doing so they had bought life for their friends. He remembered those “Heroes” who had left him in a Black Zone, returning home to medals and rewards while he fought for his life on a daily basis.

Both infuriated him for different reasons, but that did not matter now. Canto would show this upstart challenger that the time for Heroes was over, and at the end of the day, it was not the hero that remained standing, but the Survivor.

***

Magus Yuu watched the battle play out and dismissed the Force Cage so that the girls could remove the mages and get them healed. Neither he, nor any of those betting on the match, had even considered that it would end in a draw like this- with both mages collapsed from Mana Burn.

Still, the intense battle had been amazing and the perfect thing to squeeze crystals out of the crowd. Magus Yuu felt he really should reward Alexio for playing it up so well.

“He was looking for the Sword Mages, right?” Yuu muttered to himself later, after the Bout. “Something about exchanging techniques between Iron mages and Bronze mages to try and work out how to make other alloys like steel? I seem to remember that the Mistress is friends with a girl who knows those techniques, maybe I should talk to her about arranging a meeting after the IIUC.”

Then the Magus sighed and mumbled, “If she does come back, anyway…”




=======



-The List-

*A list found in the storage space of a Rogue Mage attempting to exfiltrate a secure PLA facility. Attempted self destruction of the storage space and use of multiple ciphers have made much of the document illegible, interrogation from Song Guo has revealed some details-



(Personal message, unknown receiver- possible connection to Sydney Incident? Notes on possible “Shifter” identity attached.)

I’ve got the updates, but I think the hounds might be on to me. Need to extract the bone before it gets gnawed. Without the shifter, these guys are just too secure. Might be better to set the bowl in London or Washington, the first leaks like a sieve and you can always buy what you want in the second.

I’d say sorry that it's out of order, but it isn't like I could update the list whenever I wanted- and Illusion Enchanted paper isn’t cheap enough that I could start a new page whenever I want.

(Much of the message is scrambled, multiple cipher’s used. Appears to be a list of mages that are considered particular threats in combat, mostly from data stolen from the PLA records. Only a few of the lists mages have been decoded as of yet. The commentary included appears to be written by the captured mage.)

Radiant:

Not much new on the Radiants, thankfully not many of them become real big threats if the Morningstar is any indication of what they could be.

Name: Gunther Shultz

Moniker: The Morningstar

Allegiance: British Mageocracy, Oceania

Element: Radiant, Unknown Tier (est. 5-6)

Known Schools: Evocation(presumed), Unknown Tier(est. 6-7); Unknown second school, presumed to be Conjuration or Illusion based on Divination observations, no tier estimate.

Additional Notes: Apprentice of Magister Henry Kilroy. De facto master of the Sydney Tower post Incident. Possible relationship with Allessia De Button. Considered a strategic level threat.

(More commentary from the captured mage)

There was more information about that guy, but it was buried deeper than where I could get to it. The PLA takes this guy seriously, even relatively well known stuff like that he has a signature barrier is not listed anywhere I could get my hands on. Honestly, I’ve seen recordings of him in Sydney, might as well just make copies and use that to get an idea of what he can do- reports just don’t do it justice. Bottom line: He can one shot a Leviathan from across a city, just imagine what he can do to you.

Name: Chel Star (formerly, Chelsey Davesson. Name changed in 2000)

Moniker: The Star of the Stage

Allegiance: Silver Screen Vidcast Corporation, United States of America

Element: Radiant, Tier 5

Known School: Illusion, Tier 8; Enchantment (Mind Magic), Tier 6; Divination, Tier 6.

Additional Notes: While not a combat mage, Magister Chel Star’s abilities are incredibly potent. During a demihuman raid on a vidcast filming location in Hawaii, reports indicate she forced over five thousand mermen to commit suicide with a single spell. Attempts to recruit her have been rebuffed, the Magister claims to prefer entertainment to battle.

Primary:

(Commentary from the captured mage)

So the biggest change here is that Kilroy has been removed. No one here really compares to that old bastard anyway.

Name: Alfred Bane

Moniker: The Synthesist

Allegiance: None, freelancer for American magitech corporations.

Element: Primary, Tier 9

Known Schools: Transmutation, Tier 7; Evocation, Tier 5

Additional Notes: The only known user of “Synthetic” Elements in the world. Natural born high-tier Primary Elemental mage, he uses a highly practiced version of Elemental Shift to produce Elements not found in nature. Some examples being, “Pyroclast,” a mix of Earth/Fire/Air Elements that combines the offensive power of Magma with the speed and flexibility of Air; “Cyclone,” a mix of Fire/Water/Air Elements that can have incredible destructive power in AOE and is also capable of using all Para-Elemental mana like Ooze or Smoke. Works both in magitech research and as a mercenary for many corporations.

Mineral:

(Commentary from the captured mage)

Lot of interesting people the PLA is keeping an eye on here. Mineral bloodlines always sell well, if we could grab a relative of the more unique people here we could make a fortune in the bidding war that followed.

Name: Bacia Bilomba

Moniker: None

Allegiance: Kingdom of Bunyoro

Element: Mineral (Kaolinite), Unknown Tier(est. 4); Postive, Unknown Tier(est. 3-4)

Known Schools: Transmutation(presumed), Unknown Tier (est. 5-6); Enchantment (Alchemy), no tier estimate; Conjuration, no tier estimate.

Additional Notes: Despite the apparent low tiers when compared to others, Bacia is considered one of the premier support mages in Africa and is considered to be the main reason that the Kingdom of Bunyoro has been able to push back against the African Black Zones and keep itself established in the wake of the Great War. Her mineral, Kaolinite, has healing properties that she expands upon with her knowledge as an Alchemy-Enchanter. However, more impressive her ability to slowly convert the land around her into Kaolinite. With her at the center of the spell, Kaolinite will slowly spread outwards replacing the earth granting powerful buffs and healing to her allies.

Hostile forces that are on the converted ground will suffer the effects of Positive Energy overcharge, developing cancers and ultimately dying as their bodies grow unsustainably- though this effect takes a long time to occur.

Name: Guan Lu

Moniker: The Coffin Maker

Allegiance: Unknown, often seen in Northern China allied with the undead.

Element: Mineral (Coffinite), Unknown Tier(est. 5-9)

Known Schools: Abjuration, Unknown Tier(est. 6-8); Conjuration, Unknown Tier(est. 5-6)

Additional Notes: There is very low confidence on what Lu’s elemental affinity is, he appears to have a- previously unknown to exist- Coffinite Spirit. Despite being an Abjurer, Guan Lu is an offensive combat mage. His usual method of fighting involves projecting his personal shield around a target and encasing them, hence his moniker, “The Coffin Maker.” Using Abjuration spells like “Dimensional Anchor” to prevent escape, Lu’s targets either die from lack of air or from radiation poisoning. His spirit seems to allow him to quickly shift his personal shield and encase targets quickly, making him extremely dangerous for anyone incapable of breaking through his shields.

Furthermore, he has been seen working with the undead on the Northern Front. Mages killed by him almost always end up returning as Liches, though he is not a Necromancer himself.

Name: Straus von Hap

Moniker: The Puppeteer

Allegiance: House of Hapsburg

Element: Mineral (Ozokerite), Tier 5

Known Schools: Enchantment (Multiple Branches), Tier 8; Transmutation, Tier 7; Conjuration, Tier 5.

Additional Notes: Magister Straus’s Element, Ozokerite, is a type of naturally occuring wax. Far softer and weaker than most Mineral mages Elements, Straus is known for making armies of golem puppets and is able to produce a combat-ready Ozokerite wax golem in just under fifteen minutes. Weighing several hundred pounds, and enhanced by multiple Enchantments, the golems overwhelm opposition with both sheer number and power.

Name: Ian Mckellen

Moniker: Magneto

Allegiance: British Mageocracy

Element: Mineral (Magnetite), Tier 10

Known Schools: Transmutation, Unknown Tier(Est. 8-10); Abjuration, Unknown Tier(Est. 8-9); Evocation, Unknown Tier(Est. 7-9); Conjuration, Unknown Tier (Est. 6-8)

Additional Notes: A reclusive British Magi of great age. Although officially “retired” his word carries great weight in Parliament. Known for his ability to control metals at will and for throwing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at the American Magi Jean Grey.

Ash:

(Commentary from captured mage, cipher broken by Song Guo after intensive interrogation.)

Not many to note here, the less stable Neg’s never live long- only two really worth making the list and one of them is too classified to find much on.

Name: Song Jun

Moniker: The Ashbringer

Allegiance: CCP

Element: Ash, Tier Classified.

Known Schools: Classified.

Additional Notes: Classified.

So look. Getting information on this guy is hard stuff, the Song family works in counterintelligence and Jun’s father is likely the one on my tail. But since my cover gives me access to PLA facilities, I do hear things- it would be hard for him to make good propaganda if they told us nothing after all. Guy’s got a high affinity with his element, more than he should have and be alive. But that is not the interesting part, according to my sources his VMI is off the charts. The battle that he got his moniker from was a big one, and he might have spent a total VMI of more than a thousand average mages during it. Estimates are difficult because I can’t find the guy’ tiers, but he spent somewhere between 9,000 and 45,000 in that battle. No fucking clue how though.

Name: Unknown

Moniker: Pompeii

Allegiance: Unknown

Element: Ash, Tier Unknown

Known Schools: Conjuration, Tier Unknown; Evocation, Tier Unknown.

Additional Notes: Terrorist wanted for crimes in Italy and Spain. Extremely dangerous mage known for launching AOE attacks in civilian centers.

(Information retrieved from the captured mage indicates possible allegiance with the group calling themselves “Others.” Still unknown in what capacity.)

(Much of the rest of the document has yet to be decoded, prisoner needs to recover or risk brain damage before information can be retrieved. The last part decoded is a piece about possible new additions to look out for.)

So these people aren’t on the official list yet, but the PLA is watching them with the assumption they will be some day. Some of these kids are scary shit- but this girl takes the cake. Get a message to the top about her, if they don’t know about her yet, they will soon.

Name: Gwen Song

Moniker: The Worm Handler. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. It’d be fucking hilarious if she wasn’t so terrifying.

Allegiance: British Mageocracy, CCP. Girls in both camps. She has connections to people in both Pudong and the PLA, but most of that is classified. Part of the Song family though, just like Song Jun, the Ashbringer.

Element: Lightning, Tier 6; Void, Tier 4. No idea how this happened, but this girl is genetic gold.

Known Schools: Evocation, Tier 5; Conjuration, Tier 5; Transmutation, Tier 3; Abjuration, Tier 2; Illusion, Tier 2; Divination, Tier 1. Again, I’m not kidding and this is not a joke. Six schools, and the girl isn’t even twenty yet. She isn’t even going to be a Magi, they are going to have to come up for a whole new word for this girl. Demigoddess? If she keeps this up, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NoM’s thought she was Divine and she started gathering Faith from them.

Additional Notes: Two familiars, one Pseudo-Kirin spirit and one Void Beast.

That is all the notes on her as well, most of the stuff is classified. Information I’ve been able to gather about her has her involved with some very influential people in Shanghai and Sydney, but everyone is tight lipped about her. She is either going to be a huge threat or a great ally in the future, but we need to figure out which she will be now.

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A note from vladerag

Some of the references to help you understand the various mages.

Kingdom of Bunyoro and Kaolinite

Coffinite

Ozokerite

Ian McKellenMagneto, and Magnetite


About the author

vladerag

Bio: Hello! I am Vladerag the author of several stories here on Royal Road! I hope you are enjoying whatever you are reading, and I hope you check out some of my stories!

You can find them here! https://royalroadl.com/profile/76129/fictions

And if you are interested in supporting me, you can do so here as well! https://www.patreon.com/vladerag

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