Jake hastily dodged the arcane beam but was still scratched by it due to its intense destructive power. The remnant energies burned his cloak as Jake felt his left arm singe a little as some of his own damn affinity invaded his body and did damage.

Gritting his teeth, Jake returned fire as he switched it up. The arrow split into five in mid-air as the Hydra only managed to swallow one of them as the four others hit and exploded on its scales. The Hydra roared in anger as it did something Jake had not expected. It stopped and just stared up at Jake, who was flying far above.

Deciding to just shoot again, Jake released another barrage of Splitting Arrow, but this time when the Hydra opened its mouth, something else happened. It was as if space itself distorted when the Hydra breathed in, and all five arrows were swallowed whole as the Hydra didn’t even react besides closing its maw and staring back up at him with both heads.


Jake hesitated for a moment, unsure how to proceed. The Hydra looked relatively calm, too, just staring up at him with one head as the other began scavenging the ground. That is when Jake realized something… the one-hour timer wasn’t just for Jake’s advantage. It was as much for the Hydra, forcing the participant to actually fight.

As it was right now, Jake could just stay up in the air for a good hour and leave the test. The Hydra clearly didn’t bother with him more than necessary, and the problem was that Jake couldn’t see why it should. This stalemate was only to its advantage, even discounting the timer the Hydra probably wasn’t even aware of.

It was just healing as it stood there, and the poison within it was slowly being eliminated. Jake knew he had to do something, so he did. He nocked another arrow as he fired a barrage of stable arrows down. The Hydra swallowed them again with one of its heads, not even bothering to raise the second one from the ground.

Jake shot again as it repeated. For the third shot, the Hydra was just about to swallow as Jake used Gaze of the Apex Hunter, freezing it for a moment. The arrow hit it straight in its mouth, sending blood flying and poison down its throat before it became able to move again.

Finally, he did something to get its undivided attention. Jake shot again, but it swallowed once more. Jake kept going as it now kept swallowed active for longer and used it early too, likely to avoid him repeating the attack. Little did it know Jake would pop his eyes out of his sockets before he could kill the Hydra using Gaze and Powershot or Splitting Arrow.

His current hope was that the Hydra couldn’t keep using that swallowing ability infinitely. He even managed to make it swallowed even more regularly when he sent a directed mist of poison from Wings of the Malefic Viper down towards it. His hope was high for a bit as he saw it swallow nearly constantly while still having a tinge of poison infect it.

A hope that died within ten or so minutes as it just kept going doing the same shit. Perhaps he shouldn’t have bet on something with Perennial Consumption in its name to become unable to absorb within an hour…

Jake gritted his teeth and cursed under his breath. He had yet to take any real damage at all, yet he felt like he was losing. The damn two-headed lizard was just staring up at him, a bit more mad than before. It at least gave him the attention of both heads now. Sure, it sometimes fired his own damn magic back at him, but that never hit.

It probably could fly, Jake reckoned… all D-grades had the basic energy control to do that. But why would it? Jake was just someone annoyingly firing arrows, and from the looks of it, it tolerated his presence for one reason only:

It liked his mana. After a good barrage of arrows, he saw it smack its mouth in satisfaction, which infuriated him. Jake was just burning his own resources at this point, even if he had been smart to downgrade Arcane Awakening to the balanced 30%.

Sighing, Jake decided to change things up again. He began flying downwards as he landed on a tree in the marsh. The Hydra looked towards him, not even moving to attack as Jake was a few kilometers away from the creature that towered over him.

When ranged fails, one turns to melee.

Jake stepped down as he charged forward with both wings leaving a trail of poison. The Hydra, surprisingly enough, didn’t use the swallowed ability. Instead, it attacked simply by snapping forward, trying to gobble him down whole.

He easily dodged it as he took out Eternal Hunger and the Bloodfeast dagger. He flew past the snapping head as he cut the Hydra’s long neck with Eternal Hunger, releasing a spurt of blood. The second head then came down on Jake even faster than the first, forcing him to retreat.

Jake quickly poisoned both weapons as he dove in again. The two heads kept snapping forward like two snakes trying to tear him apart, making it difficult to get close. After a minute or so dancing back and forth, Jake got an opening as he used One Step Mile and dove between the creature's legs, cutting it along its belly as he used One Step Mile again just in time. The huge monster slammed down where he had just been, sending water and mud flying everywhere as a few of the marsh trees fell over all around them.

Turning, he tossed a few bolts of mana, but the Hydra swallowed again as it ate both up. By now, Jake was certain… the swallowed ability only worked on mana or at least energy-based attacks. Jake moved forward again as he wanted to press his advantage, but the moment he got close, the Hydra opened one of its maws towards the sky and roared.

For a moment, Jake felt his entire body tense up as he froze in place, just as the second head came down upon him. Jake barely managed to activate Gaze on the Hydra as both of them just stood frozen for less than a second before they both moved again.

Jake dodged away as the Hydra slammed its head down, getting a mouthful of the marsh as Jake went in close again. A clawed foot flew up as it raised a leg to kick him, but Jake was fast and blocked it with the Bloodfeast dagger as he plunged Eternal Hunger into the Hydra’s leg.

He was still knocked back due to the sheer difference in size and bulk, but he hadn’t taken any damage as he landed on the shallow water. He got a good look at the Hydra and could only frown. He had made a few wounds… but they were just pricks with a toothpick to the large Hydra. The poison did help a little, but he would have to do more.

Even if this wasn’t timed, Jake frankly wasn’t confident. But all he could do for now was try and mount the pressure, so he attacked once more as he only managed to land a weak blow every few seconds while dodging the snapping maws. This was only with two heads, and Jake could only imagine how fucked it would be to fight one with nine.

Jake was surprised at one thing, though: how few methods the Hydra appeared to have. It was just a massive creature with incredibly high stats and bulk, but nothing really besides its ability to swallow energy and that roar.

Was that really all there was to such a monstrous creature? Then again… did it need more? Probably not, but Jake still felt like there was a small chance for one reason: stacking damage. With every strike of his weapon, he infected it with poison, and with every arcane attack he managed to sneak in, the Arcane Charge from Mark of the Avaricious Arcane Hunter grew.

He even began to use other methods as he got more comfortable. Blood of the Malefic Viper spewed out as he cut himself purposefully, and the mist from his wings also still hung in the air. Occasionally, the Hydra did consume some of it, and it even fired a breath of toxic mist back at him, but Jake easily managed.

Jake got a bit riskier as he pushed himself to inflict more wounds. He had seen the attack patterns and could predict them by now. It was still questionable if he could make it with the timer, but if it went as it did now, it should be manageable. As long as the Hydra didn’t change up the game and-

He fucking jinxed it.

The Hydra suddenly changed as it did something Jake had not seen coming. It retreated a bit away, growled, and then slowly began shrinking.

Jake quickly pulled out his bow to attack, seeing a chance, but the Hydra could still use its consume-ability while reducing in size. Instead, he quickly charged in and attacked but was frozen by a roar, followed by a second roar functioning more like a pure shockwave, sending him flying back. Unharmed, but having missed an opening.

When he finally got ready to attack again, the situation had changed. The Hydra had shrunk to only be around four to five meters tall, even with its heads, and its body had turned into a darker gray than before. All wounds were still there, and so were the poison and Arcane Charge. But he still got a bad feeling.

One would think that size was always beneficial in a fight, but not in every case. Like the Thunder Roc – the first D-grade Jake killed besides the King – size could become a demerit. One the Hydra had fixed by reducing itself in size.

Now, if this was all it had done, Jake was still confident. The problem is… it wasn’t.

The Hydra charged, its four clunky limbs suddenly seeming nimble and agile. It reached him within moments as a head flew forward. Jake was forced to block as he held up both weapons and was knocked backward.

Way fucking faster, Jake thought as he landed and skid across the ground, both arms hurting. But also physically weaker? Or the same, but just less mass behind every blow?

It charged again, but this time Jake was ready as he sidestepped the first head, only to see himself faced with the second. He blocked it and prepared to attack as the first head twisted around and came for him again. Dodging once more, he barely managed to swing the Bloodfeast Dagger at the neck before the second head attacked again, again.

Jake exploded with arcane mana as he launched himself back to not get entangled by the two snapping heads. Seeing the narrow wound left by the dagger made him frown. Its scales and underneath hide were both way tougher. The Hydra’s transformation skill was not merely size control but size compression, so even if it had made it less weighty, its stats appeared to have improved.

It wasn’t like reducing to a third its size made the Hydra three times faster and tougher, but it sure wasn’t an insignificant improvement. And if he was honest, the scales were close to three times more resilient now than before.

The Hydra attacked once more, and soon Jake was forced to push Arcane Awakening to 60% just to keep up, putting himself on yet another countdown. He gritted his teeth as he tried to figure out patterns, but so far, the only reason he still had his head was due to his precognitive dodging abilities granted by his Bloodline.

One thing was certain… even with all his boosts, Jake was slower, weaker, and less resilient than his opponent, and moreover, his archery was near-nullified. It was frustrating. Jake had even summoned his own scales just to get a bit more physical resistance, but one thing differed significantly between Hydra scales and dragon scales.

If a dragon scale was the bane of all magic, then a hydra scale was the bane of all physical attacks. There was a reason why hydras and dragons were often compared in mythology. Both were absolute monsters and high-tier beings. Snappy in front of him being an apex hydra.

Meanwhile, Jake was just a human. An all-rounder.

For the first time… Jake reconsidered that choice he had made when he evolved to D-grade. The choice of not becoming a Malefic Dragonkin. He did not hold a shadow of doubt in his mind; it would have given him a stronger and more monstrous body. It would have made him half-monster, and Jake was certain monsters had a lot of benefits to make them stronger. He even had a theory their stats counted for more when it came to things like getting health points, and surely toughness made hide and scales tougher than Jake’s useless human skin.

What did being a human give him? The claws of the Malefic Dragonkin could still use his bow, and meanwhile, he would also have claws… he would have fangs. Maybe it made sense humans were just worse off in purely bodily strength?

A human could never beat a bear in battle pre-system, right?

In the fight, Jake was once more blasted back as he tried to dodge but was frozen by a roar. His arm got torn up, and he flew several hundred meters through the air before finally hitting a tree and smashing it into pieces, sending large splinters flying into the marsh water.

Jake just felt more and more frustrated. This wasn’t like the Sword Saint using some Transcendent skill… it wasn’t a master swordsman. It was a dumb beast – no offense to the current Snappy.

As he pushed himself up, his hand caught onto something as he pulled it up. It was a wooden stick that had broken from the tree earlier, giving it a sharp edge. Like that of a spear. Jake looked at it a bit as the Hydra made its way over slowly, not bothering to quickly give chase.

It was just healing rapidly anyway due to being a damn Hydra anyway, right?

Looking at the stick, Jake suddenly had a flashback to his childhood. He didn’t know where it came from, but when he looked at the stick and then back at the approaching beast, it just popped into his head.

It was when he was maybe six or seven years old? He remembered going to a museum with his parents and Caleb, looking at things from the ice age. Jake vividly remembered looking at a display of seven hunters standing before a felled mammoth.

Jake remembered asking his dad how the hunters had won. He didn’t understand how a few small humans could beat a beast even larger than an elephant. To his young mind, it just didn’t make sense. His dad had tried to explain as an attendant had helped to provide an answer that had stuck in Jake’s head.

“Humans may not be strong and big like mammoths. We may not have the same natural weapons as they do, but we have something else: the ability to pick up nearly anything and make it into a weapon just as good if not better. So even if humans don’t have fangs or tusks… we can make our weapons. That is why humans are the true apex predators: we always find a way.”

Jake looked at the stick as the Hydra got closer, and he felt an odd response from a skill he had not expected.

Requirments met.

Do you wish to experience the forming of a High-Record Fragment related to the path of the Malefic Viper? Uses remaining: 2

Warning, experiencing a High-Record Fragment will consume 2 charges.

He didn’t even know what skill it was for or if it was only related to one skill related to the Viper, but he had a feeling. Without hesitating, he accepted, disappearing just as the Hydra was about to set upon him.

A note from Zogarth

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Just a reminder that I go on break from the 9th to 23rd of May.

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