”Why does he keep commenting on the taste?” one of the projections muttered.
”A better question would be why he wastes his time inserting insults towards every fungus he consumes, most of which aren’t even sensical,” another chimed in.
”But his speed and accuracy…” a third one said.
”Oh no, definitely a five-star performance so far; I am just saying that having entire rants on mushrooms and comparing the taste of herbs to that of foodstuff none of us are even familiar with doesn’t hold much meaning,” the first projection said.
”You mean to claim ”that green cake they had for sale every Saturday at the local bakery close to work” is not a known type of food?” a new projection said with a laugh.
The projection that had shown Jake around initially due to ”winning” the random number generator just leaned back as he looked on as the D-grades methodically went through the boxes one by one. Level 150 human, but he had stats far surpassing the expected, making it clear he was considered genius-tier.
Moreover, his legacy skills were of high rarity, with the assumption that Sense and Palate were both at least ancient. Based on how fast the knowledge was interpreted, it was also possible he had Sagacity, and the Scales were likely at legendary rarity.
But more than anything… his Perception stat had to be through the roof. His senses dove into the essence of every herb right away. He ignored every veil that some plants placed around themselves to hide their true toxicity or purpose, and he even instantly identified those with soul-attacking properties.
”Fifty-four minutes,” he said as the others turned to him, all of them also seeing the human was done. Six minutes before the limit did not seem like much, but it was considered outstanding as going through all the herbs in itself would be a challenge.
In the chamber, working as judges were a total of one-hundred and twenty individuals, all of them of various ranks, grades, levels of power, and specializations. They had all left projections there and served as a council to determine the performance of new initiates, a huge honor in itself. Together with system-assisted observation tools available due to it being a dungeon, it was hard to get a better panel.
”Let’s move on to the next test,” the original projection said as he disappeared.
Jake was happy pooping was no longer a thing after D-grade because he sure as hell would have gotten diarrhea after eating that much weird shit within an hour. The difficulty boxes had totally been a thing, and there had been ten ”hard” items, thirty ”medium” items, and sixty ”easy” ones. The ten hard ones had been the most fun for sure, while the others were a bit simpler.
If he had to guess, then the difficulty was based on rarity, and the easy ones were rare with a few being epic, the medium ones were epic with a few being ancient, and the hard ones were ancient or legendary. He could be completely wrong, but his gut feelings rarely were.
He had no idea how well he had done, though. Jake had just poured his thoughts into that weird crystal thing as he went through everything, not sure what information was deemed necessary and what was just fluff. But he had to have done alright… right?
Just as he thought that, the projection popped up in front of him. ”Good performance on the first test. Ready for the next, or will you need a break? Note that there are no penalties associated with breaks in between tests.”
Jake just took out a health potion and drank it to restore some health as he spoke: ”Nah, I’m good.”
He had lost quite a bit of health due to eating extremely deadly plants and herbs. He also had to admit the test had been interesting. Some of the herbs had been quite hard to identify, and some even avoided his Sense of the Malefic Viper nearly entirely.
Others required him to use some of his other senses. Smell was a big one as it also partly stimulated Palate, and hearing even played a role with a single odd tube-like piece of bark that made a sound to mentally affect those hearing it.
So yeah, it had been fun.
”Very well. The next trial will involve knowledge and your ability to apply that knowledge, as well as test your experience as an alchemist and your ability to identify and rectify issues,” the projection said as the room began changing again. ”What crafting tool do you usually use?”
”Cauldron,” Jake answered.
The projection nodded as a cauldron appeared in the center of the room, along with a table. ”For this test, your objective is to finish the simulated crafting session fifty times. A failure will merely result in moving onto the next simulated craft until a total of fifty have elapsed. Each crafting session will require you to quickly identify any issues that crop up and apply your knowledge and experience to fix them. Merely imagine how you would do it, and even without additional ingredients, the cauldron will react as if you put them into it.”
”What kind of crafts are we talking about?” Jake asked curiously.
”Wouldn’t you like to know?” the projection answered with a smirk. ”Would kind of ruin the challenge if you knew, wouldn’t it? It would just turn into me telling you and you sitting down and studying the entire library you probably carry around with you in your spatial storage for solutions. No, for this test, you need to apply the knowledge and experience you already have.”
Jake relented as he nodded, understanding the point. He was pretty good at energy control and was confident in his ability to adapt if things went south during the craft. He had also eaten a lot of stuff throughout time and even crafted a mythical item, so he went in with confidence as he went over to the cauldron.
”There is no time limit, just a total of fifty crafts. There will be a one-minute delay in between each craft for you to collect yourself. The gauntlet starts when you activate the cauldron.”
With that, the projection disappeared again, and Jake got to work as he sat on a chair in front of the cauldron. He focused his mind as he put both hands on it and infused mana. The cauldron was a bit like the practice cauldron Villy had given him after the tutorial, so he was already looking forward to this test.
As his mana invaded the cauldron, he felt it come to life as suddenly different types of energy existed within it as if several herbs had just been put into the cauldron. The cauldron made him aware he was crafting some kind of healing item, but a stream of energy went haywire just as he realized this.
Jake tried to get it under control, but it was simply running wild. He considered implementing other herbs to try and control it, but nothing came to mind. It kept getting worse as Jake isolated some of the beneficial energy as he got an idea.
Pure destructive arcane energy entered the cauldron as it surrounded and utterly destroyed the haywire energy. Jake then manipulated the energy he had isolated with stable arcane mana earlier and began fusing that. He even added in a herb that suddenly came to mind, and a minute after, the cauldron made him aware the craft was complete.
It emptied with energy, and Jake breathed out a sigh of relief at succeeding in the first craft. Quite a bit harder than expected, he thought, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle.
The minute passed as the cauldron filled again, and this time it was some kind of toxin. A few seconds in, Jake realized it was a neurotoxin, but this time some of the energy also didn’t seem to fit as Jake felt the entire concoction begin to weaken itself.
Jake didn’t have much experience with neurotoxins but applied general knowledge as he once more poured destructive arcane energy in to fight off the energy destroying the creation. At the same time, he pushed the unaffected energy to merge, and less than a minute later, the craft was finished as Jake got another win.
The third and fourth went much the same. The fifth was an utter failure as Jake tried to destroy the energy, but when he did so, everything else just fell apart as it resulted in his first failure. Luckily he refined his approach a bit and got better at isolating and destroying the unwanted energy completely every time.
On the thirty-ninth craft, he bumped into something very familiar. Necrotic Poison. Jake felt the energies mixed, and once more, something cropped up that should not be there. However, this time, Jake had another idea than to isolate and destroy as he instead added in three herbs that came to mind he had used in the past. The overwhelming death energy from the Bluebright Mushrooms and some of his own blood consumed the unwanted energy and only empowered the creation, while he tossed in a third type of mushroom to stabilize the entire thing.
It was a great success as the craft finished.
The next few were back to the same tactic of isolation and destruction. At least where it worked. Jake did get one more at number forty-seven where he got an idea as he bumped into a soul-affecting poison, and he used a similar tactic as he had when he made the poison for the big mushroom that had been down in the biodome.
When he finished craft number fifty, Jake took a tally, seeing he had only failed a total of six out of fifty crafts. It wasn’t ideal, but he had completed the craft nearly nine out of ten times, so his overall evaluation had to be quite goo-
”That may be one of the most surprisingly horrendous displays of failure I have ever seen in over ten thousand years of alchemy,” the projection said as it appeared.
”Huh?” Jake said, utterly surprised.
”You only had two truly successful crafts, while you just destroyed more than ninety percent of the potency for every other simulation. This is, of course, not counting those you failed completely. This is like me telling you to go weed out a garden, and you set the entire thing on fire while protecting a few of the plants with mana, leaving only those few ones alive together with fire-resistant herbs. Sure, you may have killed all the weeds, but you also destroyed the garden. You performed like someone who has never made more than a dozen different products total throughout all your years of doing alchemy,” the projection said, shaking his head as he really piled on.
”I…” Jake said as he processed the words. ”That does sound about right?”
”What?” the projection asked, looking at Jake weirdly.
”Around a dozen seems accurate? Mana, health and stamina potions… then I made Hemotoxins and Necrotic Poison and then some soul poison once. I also made some Agility, Vitality, and Perception elixirs. If we count rarities, it isn’t that far off,” Jake answered.
The projection stood and stared at him for a bit. ”So, you are an utter amateur who just has an incredibly high level of mana control and Perception, as well as a high rarity in Palate of the Malefic Viper and Sagacity?”
”Kind of?” Jake answered. ”I guess I am more the type that studies what to make a lot beforehand and then go in with a strategy.”
”So you bang your head into the wall until your original idea works through sheer force of will?” the projection asked judgingly.
”I wouldn’t phrase it like that…” Jake tried to defend himself.
”Few would, and honestly, your way isn’t terrible, but you are an incredibly inexperienced alchemist who only has surface-level knowledge of… well, everything. Having Palate and Sagacity at high rarities does not make you a knowledgeable or experienced alchemist. Only time, effort, and a willingness to diversify will give that, and even if you are highly specialized, then dipping your feet in other areas may lead to inspiration in what you primarily focus on,” the projection explained.
Jake nodded, a bit surprised at not just getting a snarky comment but actual advice.
”You are talented, so don’t waste it. But as for this test, well, you were shit. Let’s move on to one I feel like you will handle better based on what you just did: energy control. Are you ready right away, or do you want a break?”
”Ready as can be,” Jake said with a nod.
The projection acknowledged his words as the room began shifting again. Everything disappeared as it became barren before four pylon-like objects appeared, all of them looking a bit cracked and broken. In the middle was also a metal disc only about a meter across. Jake instantly felt each of them held a lot of pure mana within, and he was still inspecting them as the projection explained the third test.
”Your objective in the third test is straightforward. Your aim is to protect the four pylons from foreign energies trying to invade and destroy them while at the same time guiding and directing energies that will aim to repair the Pylons. Throughout, it will change what is beneficial for what Pylon when, and a few more factors will be tossed in to increase difficulty. Throughout the test, you are to remain on the metal platform in the center, and no tools may be used to assist you. This includes potions. The purpose of this test is to evaluate your ability to manipulate the energy of different affinities in a stressful environment. The test ends when all four Pylons are destroyed or fully repaired,” the projection explained.
”Got it,” Jake said as he went to the disc in the center of the room. The moment he stepped on the disc, a small barrier of sorts covered it. The barrier was one to keep him in and did so he couldn’t send anything physical out of it, but pure mana could leave. He also felt that his equipment had somehow been limited. The stats given were still there, and the increased mana regeneration and all that still worked, but he found he couldn’t activate the Second Wind enchantment. It appeared this was to stop any gear with skills or anything to help with energy manipulation.
Jake quickly understood this test was about pure mana control and not really about mana application with skills. He assumed the mana around him would be mostly free of intent and thus prone to manipulation, and if energy with intent did appear, he was to use his own mana to overwhelm and control it.
This meant that the trial wouldn’t only be one of pure control but also of resilience, focus, and the testee’s ability to conserve and efficiently use their energies. Jake could undoubtedly make this entire thing easier by using Pride of the Malefic Viper right off the bat, but all that would do was make himself run dry faster.
”The test will begin in one minute. Good luck,” the projection said as it disappeared.
Jake prepared himself as soon after he felt energy enter the chamber from all around him.