Manticores were sure interesting creatures. Clearly pretty powerful for their levels based on how well the one Jake fought handled things. They even had mouth magic that impressed Jake as it could both breathe fire and shoot a beam of pure energy.
However, the most impressive was the stinger by far. Anything it hit was instantly petrified and turned to stone, and it could even shoot a weaker version of this effect out as bullets of petrifying poison. Physically it was also monstrously strong, and even if it was a bit slow, it made up for it with its bulky build and ranged attacks.
Overall it was pretty strong. Jake at least looked back at the fight as a good time as he sat in meditation with the half-decayed corpse of the Manticore right behind him. It had taken him a while, but ultimately, it didn’t even stand a chance. Jake had dominated from start to end and just kept a distance throughout as he slowly poisoned it to death before finally finishing it off with an Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter.
While it had an okay poison resistance, it only seemed to work against its own petrifying poison, so it wasn’t really that great. Ultimately Jake could have won even without poisons… even if poison did account for far more than half of his overall damage – with it only increasing the longer a fight goes on.
As Jake sat there in meditation, the projection popped up in front of him.
“Congratulations on passing the combat test with flying colors,” the scalekin said with a genuine tone of respect. “I can’t remember seeing such a dominant performance for a long time.”
“Does that mean I get a good grade?” Jake asked, hopefully. He didn’t know what the criteria were, and he did actually feel a bit cheated as he had been unable to truly show what he was capable of. Combined with his alchemy performance, this should result in an okay overall grade. At least he hoped so.
“Naturally,” the projection confirmed.
“Good,” Jake said with a smile. “Because I feel like it wasn’t that hard, you know?”
The scalekin returned his smile. “That brings us to the next topic… with this combat encounter done, the test is technically over. However, due to your performance in the combat portion, there is an eighth elective test you can choose to partake in.”
Jake instantly became alert. “Something even stronger? Wait, does this mean the alchemy portion also had an extra test if I performed well enough there?”
“Yes, but needless to say, your performance in alchemy was not good enough for that. This extra test will be a large step-up from those prior, and as always, you will risk true death if you fail. Are you interested?” the projection asked.
Jake found the question almost insulting. “Of course.”
“Very well. This test will be combat like those prior but last at most a total of one hour. This means that if you are on the losing end, it merely becomes a game of survival, yet at the same time also a test of your ability to deal damage and kill your foe within the allotted time. Trust me, it may seem easy with an hour, but what you will fight is not a simple creature,” the projection said gravely before continuing.
“What you will face will be the incarnation of the Lord Protector himself back when he was only a mid-tier D-grade. A beast of relatively low intelligence back then, but incredible might that swept across his planet as he devoured everything in his path. I am certain you know of the Lord Protector, correct?”
“A little bit, but a refresher would be nice? Been a few eras, and our understandings may vary,” Jake said honestly. Being ignorant was not being a heretic, was it?
“Very well. The Lord Protector was – and still is – a Hydra. I assume you know what a Hydra is?”
Jake nodded in confirmation, assuming it was the same kind of Hydra he knew about.
“Hydras are notoriously survivable and difficult to kill due to certain racial bonuses and a high base health pool and regeneration that amplifies further with every head. As for the Lord Protector? At D-grade, he was merely a two-headed Hydra – the one you will face - but as he grew, so did his power and number of heads, as is customary. A nine-headed Hydra at C-grade, hundred-headed Hydra by B-grade, thousand-headed Hydra at A-grade, and the ten thousand-headed Hydra at S-grade. At godhood? Counting the number of heads once he assumes his true form is meaninglessness incarnate.”
Jake wanted to comment on how a thousand or even worse ten-thousand heads was even possible, but that would certainly be heretic-territory, right? Like… was the main body just a big ball of flesh with heads coming out like hair? Just a big squid thing? Or… was the body just so massive it could facilitate it? No, that would just mean the heads were smaller. Was there even a real body… perhaps the heads did not exist in the physical plane all at once? It was impossible to know, but Jake really wanted to see.
“However… I have one warning. You have just achieved level 151, which means the one you will face will be level 160. The saved copies of the Lord Protector come in ten-level intervals, and as the test does not allow you to face those lower-level… you will have a steep hill to climb. Let me say this now, if you find yourself on the losing end, just buy time and wait it out,” the projection warned with sincere advice. Advice Jake would actually take if it came down to it.
Maybe… who knows? That sounded like a problem he would handle if it ever became pertinent.
“I will keep it in mind,” Jake said.
The projection nodded as it summoned a new token. “Use this when you are ready for the final test… and good luck.”
“Thanks,” Jake said as the scalekin projection disappeared. He closed his eyes again and entered meditation as he thought to himself: Time to see what Villy’s mate Snappy was like back in the day.
Vilastromoz went over some notes as he made a selection to be sent to the Humanoid Resources department. Under an alias, of course. They couldn’t know it was from him, but he was already smiling at what would soon happen.
“Jake is about to fight Snoarix’s Legacy Incarnation within the trial,” Duskleaf said, a bit nervous.
“Yep,” the Viper answered. “Gonna be fun.”
“That it is gonna be fun. Well, only for Jake, Snappy wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed back then despite having multiple heads,” Vilastromoz joked.
“But he was powerful… I have seen quite a few reach this stage before, and it nearly always ends with the testee forced to flee to survive or dead. Knowing Jake… he won’t flee, no matter how easy doing so will be for him,” Duskluaf argued.
“Well, I guess he will just have to win then,” the Viper shrugged.
Did Vilastromoz think it would be easy? No, of course not. Snappy was a freaking monster even back then. But then again… so was Jake. Snappy did also have some glaring weaknesses, at least on the offensive front.
There was just one little issue.
“However… it sure is a bad matchup.”
Jake looked at the token a bit, tossing it up and down before he made his decision and activated it. He had fully regenerated and was in the best shape possible, so if there was a time to fight a Hydra, it was now. The environment changed again, just like every other time. The ground beneath him turned mushy as he felt it soften, with the moisture in the air spiking.
Thick gnarly trees sprung up as a bit of water covered the ground everywhere. Jake even saw in his Sphere that the shallow water hid pits here and there. His senses spread, and instantly he picked up on an aura quite a bit away. A powerful one.
Jake once more entered stealth, not fucking around. He was fighting a D-grade nine levels above himself that had become a god, after all. Moreover, it was a Hydra… Hydras were not to be fucked with if mythology had anything to say, even if this one only had two heads.
Sneaking forward, Jake made his way through the deep roots springing up from the trees, the trees themselves lifted and raised so one could hide underneath. He kept low as he followed his senses. Soon, he saw something rise in the distance.
It rose far above the treetops, making the creature easily fifteen to twenty meters tall. Jake got closer and finally found a spot where he could get an okay-ish look at the Hydra. It had dark gray scales and spiky scales covering its body, feet like a dragon, and two necks far larger than its bulky body. A long tail was behind it, and the heads themselves looked like snakes, except their mouths looked almost too big.
The Hydra was currently digging something out from beneath the ground, ignorant to Jake’s presence as it seemed to just swallow up the earth and water to create a large pit, opening its maws like an excavator. Jake finally used Identify to see exactly what he was dealing with.
[Two-Headed Hydra of Perennial Consumption – lvl 160]
That’s quite the mouthful, Jake thought, not just speaking of how the Hydra had just chugged down a few tons of soil. Then again, he had a profession with an equally long name, and it wasn’t like his class name was short either. As for this particular name… perennial consumption did sound like it was something a high-tier creature would have.
Now, Jake did not know much about Hydras, but he did know a lot about scaled beasts in general, and he truly believed they were similar enough to meet the criteria… which proved true as he began summoning an Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter within his quiver.
He stayed hidden as he did this, no energy leaking out. Before activating the token, he had already prepared poisoned arrows in the quiver, so he was good to go. Now he just needed a good vantage point to attack from.
Jake used Mark on the Hydra as he snuck away to the far corner of the swamp. There was no way for the Hydra to detect his Mark as he stealthily made his exit with his high Perception. He went nearly twenty kilometers away over the next ten minutes before he stopped in a nice and open area. Some quick maths confirmed he had a good angle as Jake took out his bow and also took out the Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter.
He poisoned it and nocked the huge arrow. It looked more like a black metal spear with a drill-pike head. Certainly looked well-made to penetrate scales. Jake drew his bow as he took aim, closing his eyes meanwhile. Being able to see or not had no advantage here. Instead, he would go solely by instinct.
Jake lifted his bow at a very upwards angle as he breathed in. Arcane Awakening activated with the destructive boost as Arcane Powershot began charging. Everything was ready as Jake opened his eyes and released the string.
He quickly nocked a new arrow as he shot at a slightly different angle after a fast Arcane Powershot to give it good speed. This repeated as Jake fired a dozen or so arrows more, the first eight stable ones and the last four destructive.
When the last arrow was shot, he quickly took out a mana potion to consume as he ran away from his original position to not instantly get found out. Making his way to a new vantage point, Jake felt the first arrow hit right on target as his Mark was suddenly infused with a lot of arcane energy, and Sense of the Malefic Viper made him aware that the Hydra was now poisoned.
His plan now was to find a new spot to fire from, but as he made his way forward, he felt something wrong. After Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter hit, he felt only two more impact on his Mark, despite the Hydra not moving. It blocked it?
No… that also felt wrong. The poison on the arrows was something he could usually feel even at such a distance, but now it was just gone. Destroyed completely. As he wondered, the Hydra finally began moving. It ran towards the direction he had shot from for a moment before it suddenly changed course – headed straight for Jake.
Jake instantly knew the Hydra was aware of his position as it beelined for him. It moved fast, crossing more than two hundred meters every second as Jake took to the air and decided to use the distance to his advantage. He flew upwards for half a kilometer as he looked down and saw trees topple in the distance.
A path of carnage was being carved, and Jake saw the massive Hydra stomp towards him with heavy steps. It was bleeding from its back where Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter had hit, but Jake also saw it already healing.
Two more stable arrows stuck out of its thick scales on one of the necks, with the other arrows gone. Jake nocked an arrow and fired another Arcane Powershot towards his target.
Jake watched as the arrow flew for one of the Hydra heads, as it responded in an unexpected way. It opened its mouth and ate the Arcane Powershot like it was a tasty snack. Its head did recoil a little as it shook it, but it didn’t stop running for even a moment.
“So that’s where all the other arrows went…” Jake muttered
He had a feeling this wasn’t going to be an easy fight. Something that was confirmed as the Hydra opened its mouth towards him. He felt energy gather, but not the energy he had expected. Pink-purple mana came out of the Hydra’s maw as a beam of pure destructive force was fired towards Jake.
A beam of arcane mana.
Jake’s arcane mana.