The combat arena changed once more as the forest was replaced with a mountainous valley. When it was done changing, the environment was bare with a mountain range in the distance, making Jake think the room had also expanded spatially.

Jake considered if he should head there, but instead, he saw movement. From atop one of the mountains came a black mass of flapping insects that would no doubt look like a black cloud to someone with far less Perception. Jake used Identify on a few of them as he inspected.

[Soilwasp Swarmer – lvl 105]

[Soilwasp Swarmer – lvl 107]

[Soilwasp Swarmer – lvl 106]

Each Soilwasp was about the size of a human with a large stinger and, of course, wings. As they got closer, Jake saw them point their stringers upwards towards the air as they all released their attack at once. A rain of small black, almost diamond-like shards rained down upon him as he was attacked by thousands of D-grades at once.

At the same time, Jake felt something not from the sky but from the direct opposite direction. Through his Sphere of Perception, he saw several forms move below him. He had no idea what it actually was, but it looked like some weird insects that managed to dig through the ground.

Describing these insects was difficult. They had long slender bodies and huge claws and mouths that seemed to somehow swallow up the soil as they moved through it. Jake had to be honest; they all looked kinda creepy.

With a casual demeanor, Jake raised one of his hands as arcane energy moved around it. A bubble formed around him, shielding him from attacks coming from below and above. He then turned his gaze towards the many incoming wasps as he smiled.

Through Jake’s extensive training to control Shroud of the Primordial, He had become very familiar with his own Soulshape. He had already faintly noticed how he flew a bit better on his way back to Haven, But it was not only his wings that had improved.

In the same vein that understanding a skill, it helped improve it, understanding your own body also made you better at using it. So what happens when a skill is inherently tied to the body? Wings were an example, but one example was even more prominent and relevant for this improvement.

The skills Jake had received related to the Malefic Viper didn’t actually alter Jake’s physical body or his Soulshape, but instead simply created phantasmal body parts. These were only temporary parts of his Soulshape but It funtioned similarly, even if it wasn't exactly the same.

However, one skill had permanently altered Jake’s actual physical body. It was the skills that had turned his eyes from their normal brown color to a beastly yellow. It was the first legendary skill Jake had achieved that wasn’t done through simply bullshitting with his Bloodline. Well, alright, he had kind of bullshitted it by buying it through a tutorial store, but still.

Jake usually only used his Gaze of the Apex Hunter to freeze foes that were difficult to fight or to simply keep them still for him to land a good blow, but today, he would use the more lethal part of it. With intense focus, Jake controlled all the energy going towards his eyes, as he almost felt the metaphysical veins going to them.

It wasn’t to make the ability more powerful. Instead, it was to shield himself from doing any more damage than necessary using this skill. Was using Gaze necessary, and wouldn’t it just be better to bombard them with some arcane attacks? Well, sure, but Jake wanted to use his Gaze, so he did.

He infused his eyes as they glowed yellow, and bar-none Jake released the most powerful Gaze of the Apex Predator he had ever used. The legendary skill truly showed its power as he looked at all the incoming wasps, wishing death upon them.

After a brief sting in his eyes, the sound of wings flapping in the distance suddenly lessened significantly as more than seventy percent of the swarm fell to the ground, lifeless – the remaining ones only surviving by having their bodies covered by their comrades.

Something a second Gaze quickly fixed as the last nearly seven hundred wasps also fell lifelessly to the ground, their souls destroyed by the gaze of an apex hunter.

At the same time, the ground beneath him erupted as seven huge insect-like burrowers tried to consume him. Each of them was as large as a bus with huge maws filled with teeth-like grinders. When they came up, they shot Jake into the air as the arcane bubble around him held up.

Jake let himself float upwards as he gathered mana in his hands. He also identified the newcomers

[Razormaw Rockshooter– lvl 151]

Their names made a lot more sense in the next second when they all shot human-sized shards of rock towards him, but Jake simply dodged to the side as arcane bolts gathered around him. With a mental command, he released them all in a bombardment of pure death as the ground below him exploded.

He kept shooting out dozens of destructive bolts every second as the insects struggled, some of them even trying to re-burrow in the ground. Jake shot that down as he teleported down and grasped one by its tail-like limb and pulled it up again before just giving it a few good punches till it died.

“Still too easy,” Jake muttered. These enemies sucked. Straight up did. They were low-tier creatures, and Jake reckoned that most humans above level 135 or so could kill them. This was also why Gaze so easily killed them all with nearly no backlash… they were just too weak.

Jake once more pulled out the token and activated it. The environment began changing again as he now found himself standing on flat plains with nothing around him in any direction. Far off in the distance, he saw three creatures be summoned too.

They were all tall – about three to four meters - lanky with sharp claws at the end of arms practically dragging across the ground. They had not seen Jake yet from where they stood but were instead curiously inspecting their surroundings as one of them began tearing up the ground for fun.

[Venomclaw Kalamore – lvl 156]

[Venomclaw Kalamore – lvl 155]

[Venomclaw Kalamore – lvl 158]

“Venomclaw, really?” Jake asked, wondering if that wasn’t just bullshit. Jake could clearly see that these beasts were melee-focused, so he decided to meet them head-on. He just ran towards them as he pulled out Eternal Hunger. The blade had been complaining a bit recently about being hungry, so why not feed it a bit?

As he ran over, they also spotted him. They all turned on a dime as they practically flew towards him, surpassing Jake’s own running speed. Jake met them as he stood his ground and swept his blade upwards as he met the claws of the first Kalamore and sent it flying back, its hand now dripping with blood.

Jake turned and blocked a second one as he dodged the third and weaved in between them as he swung his blade and cut one in the back. The third one attacked again, but Jake blocked it with his mana-infused gloves as he forcefully twisted its wrist and made it stab its claws into its own body.

Jake then just let one attack him as it ripped through his back and drew blood, also infusing its venom. Weaksauce venom doing little more than provide him a bit of mana regeneration as Jake decapitated one of the creatures.

The two others fell soon after, having not really managed to accomplish much. Still too damn easy.

He activated the token again as the environment shifted. He suddenly felt like it had gotten very hot as everything turned red. Looking up, he was now within some kind of cave with lava dripping down from the ceiling and pools of hot magma bubbling in deep pits below.

Jake was on a large circular, almost arena-like platform as someone appeared across from him.

[Emberblade Berserker Demon – lvl 155]

And it truly was someone. It at least looked humanoid, but the berserker part of the name proved quite relevant fast, as Jake didn’t see much intelligence and awareness in its eyes. It was a large bulky demon wearing tattered plate armor and wielding a two-handed sword more than four meters long.

It saw him instantly and, with a bestial screech, stormed towards him as its large sword began burning and red pulsating veins that seemed to almost burn covered its body. This was the test that marked the average member who did the test back during the trial period, but Jake was far from average.

Jake still only stood with Eternal Hunger as he allowed it to come. He blocked the first blow and found himself tossed airborne as a wave of fire licked across his body. Outmatched in strength, huh? Makes sense.

While still mid-air, Jake stepped down as he teleported forward, appearing right in front of the demon. He didn’t give it time to respond as he stabbed his sword into his opponent, also making the blade explode with arcane energy to send the demon reeling back.

The demon flew back and was now bleeding from a hole in its chest, but at the same time, the veins also began glowing more intensely as the wound healed. Without any reprieve, the demon attacked again, slightly faster than before.

Yep, really a stereotypical berserker. Take damage? Do more damage!

However, Jake knew the counter to this. With a swift move, he coated his blade in his own blood to poison it and prepared for slaughter. As the demon was upon him, his body exploded in arcane energy as he released Arcane Awakening at the balanced 30%. He dodged under the first swipe of the heavy sword and cut the demon across the chest. It attacked again, but Jake just dodged and kept cutting it.

It tried to fight back, but Jake didn’t let up as he kept cutting and kept stabbing. He was far faster and more agile, not allowing the demon to land a single hit. Even as the berserker grew stronger and faster, Jake just kept dodging. Towards the end, he didn’t even bother attacking but re-deposited his blade in his inventory to just dodge the sword blows one after another.

In the end, the demon just fell over as it succumbed to the poison and its own wounds as Jake stood unscathed besides a few burn marks on his cloak. He deactivated Arcane Awakening again as there was no weakness period due to only using it at 30%.

“Well, should get harder now, right?” Jake said to himself and the more than a hundred observers as he activated the token again, not feeling like he needed a break.

Once more, his environment shifted as space expanded obviously enough for even Jake to notice. The cave walls were gone, and he now found himself within an expansive sky, standing on a small cloud. In front of him flew a single creature larger than anything Jake had ever fought before.

[Whisperleech – lvl 174]

It looked like small banners of cloth that extended from a humongous balloon with lightning crackling within. Like a massive sky-jellyfish or something like that, but with just ridiculous proportions. The cloth-like banners extended for more than fifty kilometers out from it as the main body was perhaps a kilometer in diameter.

Jake was amazed a creature of such size could still only be D-grade, much less have such a “low” level. Moreover, how it could feel so… unthreatening? Jake stared at it, and even when it also became aware of him and began attacking, he didn’t feel much danger.

He considered if he should take out his bow and just finish it quickly and decided that yes, that would be a good idea as he really didn’t wanna storm in and try to stab the massive creature. Primarily because he could only begin to imagine whatever goo it would spew when stabbed. He had a strong feeling it would be very disgusting.

Let’s hope the next one is stronger.

The chamber of judges had been quite rowdy for the first few parts of the combat test but had eventually turned quieter. That he easily passed the first test was expected. Practically everyone did, with the only ones struggling being those who were pure alchemists, having likely not even evolved their classes yet, or were of a race with close to no combat abilities.

It was in the second test something changed. It was a test to see how a testee handled being swarmed, but none had expected it to just end. A single glance and a soul attack of incredible power was released that killed nearly all of the wasps, with a second one just ending it outright.

The third fight was a slaughter. The fourth was too… but one thing stood out.

“What exactly is his class?” a projection asked after the fourth test.

“Magic and melee so far, a form of spellsword or magic warrior?” another one proposed.

“That weapon… a Legacy weapon of some sort? I feel incredible power from it,” a third one said. “Definitely not something a D-grade will usually walk around with. That curse is no joke…. Ah, perhaps that is related to his class? The soul attack also makes this probable.”

The scalekin projection did not chime in but just sat confused more than anything. The testee fought with so many different tools and methods it made little sense, but it quickly became clear he only did so for, well, fun, it appeared. He even commented out loud on the lack of challenge.

Looking over at the beastkin, who was the most powerful among them, the beastkin returned his gaze. “As I said before, he is a hunter. A hunt with unworthy prey is never interesting.”

“Thoughts on his fighting style?” the scalekin asked.

“So far, his high Perception is clear from how he fights. He predicts attacks and goes for weak points. The way he handled the demon was masterful as an evasive fighter. Overall, from what he has displayed, he would be a monstrous melee fighter or mage if he focused on that,” the beastkin explained, everyone else quiet as they listened in.

“If he focused on it?” one of the projections discussed earlier asked.

The beastkin grinned, showing his teeth. “He is a hunter, is he not? A human hunter with a high Perception. There is only one true weapon for such a man.”

“A bow?” the scalekin asked, a bit perplexed. “He has not shown any signs he uses one so far.”

“Because nothing worthy has appeared yet. A dragon does not bother wasting its Dragon Breath on unworthy foes but merely crushed it with all its other methods.”

Just as they spoke, the fifth combat test began.

“A Whisperleech? Annoying creature to deal with as a melee fighter,” a projection commented.

The human in the test looked at it a bit and waved his hand as a bow appeared.

“I told you so,” the beastkin laughed.

“We do not know if that is his most powerful method. It may merely be a more effective way to use his magi-“ a projection began but was swiftly cut off.

The human had drawn the string in the test, and instantly energy surged. He took aim and a few seconds passed before he released the string. The cloud and sky were parted as several appendages of the Whisperleech were torn apart by the arrow that soon impacted the main body resulting in a massive explosion of destructive energy.

None commented as a second shot came a few seconds later, and without the Whisperleech even being able to fight back, it was killed by only four arrows total. To make it more ridiculous…

Jake saw the huge creature collapse like an ill-engineered airship as he tsked. “Four fully charged Powershots with Arcane Awakening at 30%? Tankier than I thought, huh.”

A note from Zogarth

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