Jake sat in meditation a bit as he went over his gains and familiarized himself a bit more with Fangs of Man and his improved Fang of the Malefic Viper. Having the time, he also reached out to the Viper, who promptly answered.

“So, thoughts on the test dungeon? It is pretty old and outdated, but it still gets the job done, doesn’t it?” the Viper’s voice echoed in his head.

“Rather uninspired interior design, I must say. Very old-timey and old temple-like. Reminded me a bit of an abandoned crypt,” Jake answered jokingly.

“I would have the designer executed if she hadn’t died well over a trillion years ago,” Villy answered.

“Heh. Anyway, I think it was fine, but I don’t really have any frame of reference, now do I?”

“True. But you did at least get to fight a strong opponent,” Villy said with an obviously teasing tone. “Hydras aren’t easy foes, and this particular one sure had you countered.”

“I would have won without the timer,” Jake asserted.

“Maybe, maybe not. It did certainly become a possibility after your powerup and upgrade of Fangs. You used the Path of the Heretic-Chosen skill, right? Or have you gained some new skill or ability since last that makes you ignore cause and effect to travel through space and time?” the Viper asked.

“Nah, just the old and boring Path,” Jake answered, but he felt reluctant to get into details. The vision had not exactly been a flattering one for the Viper.

“Oh? Not spilling the beans what it is about?” the Viper asked. “Come on, you already saw my bad phase at B-grade back then. This can’t be worse.”

Jake decided to not hide anything if the Viper wanted to pry as he just said four words. “Valdemar. Fang of man.”

A few seconds of silence followed. It was enough for Jake to consider if saying it was a mistake, but luckily the Viper finally spoke:

“Was there a golden sphere involved or present?”


“Ah… right.”


The two of them sat in silence for a while before Jake finally broke it. “Pretty specieist back then, not gonna lie.”

“I guess you need some context?” the Viper asked. “It was a different time, you know.”

“Pretty sure I have heard that excuse before when people did some messed up shit when younger… and it wasn’t like you were young,” Jake said half-jokingly.

“Alright, alright. Listen, it really was a different time. There was far more antagonism back then and a lack of mutual respect. The enlightened races treated all monster races like trash and viewed them as lesser, while the powerful monsters began looking down on humans and elves and the like. It was a kill-or-be-killed kind of scenario whenever you met.

“Believe it or not, that day was the first time I faced a human lower level than myself after reaching sapience that beat me. I had lost to humans before but always when they came in groups or were vastly higher level. I still held respect for humans, however, not as fighters but as creators. They were some of the best craftsmen around, with me having learned much from them in the realm of alchemy. Valdemar was an… outlier,” Villy said with resignation.

“He did seem rather unique,” Jake agreed.

“You don’t know the half of it. Valdemar was and still is an absolute monster. That fight back then was a humiliating loss that made me reconsider my stance on the enlightened races as a whole and began working with them more, not as servants but equals. You also need to understand that humans as a whole are far more reliant on Records and history than a beast like me. You nearly always need legacies and such to truly excel. Your racial skills even revolve around passing these legacies down. This, at least, was what I thought until Valdemar proved me wrong. The two of us both have in common that we lived during the integration of the first universe. He had no legacies but forged his path entirely on his own.

“Think about it. Humans have a way more diverse path than beasts and way more space to adapt. Legacies help expand this. Meanwhile, a beast is mostly set after evolving, with little to no skill choices during entire grades. I remember very rarely getting five options, and that was only due to me walking a diverse path, to begin with. Someone like Snappy never had a single choice in D-grade and only a handful in his entire journey to godhood. Beasts instead choose their path solely by their actions and their evolutions. This is to say, beasts are defined by their race which is often not related to anything but their own path, while humans rely far more on their classes and professions, which are heavily defined by legacies and the experience of their ancestors and what they learn from each other. One can frame it as humans being far more reliant on knowledge and experience while beasts just need to kill, grow and improve on their own.

“To me, back then, the natural result of this was humans having a far wider breadth of power but could never reach the top as an individual, only a collective. They had forced upon them professions that result in inherent non-combat potential, something that in a beast would nearly always come with a trade-off in fighting power. If the power scale went from one to a hundred, a human could never surpass ninety, while beasts and monsters could.

“Naturally, I know now the multiverse doesn’t work like that. The multiverse is far too open to opportunities, and a set scale doesn’t matter. Too many ways to grow more powerful exist. Valdemar forged a path I could not comprehend and grasped power beyond anyone else I had ever faced at the time. He was not some paragon of his race or someone more knowledgeable than anyone else. He was just an individual. He opened my eyes to never looking down at someone for their race alone, especially not enlightened species. As time passed, it has only been confirmed again, and again the true power you can achieve isn’t defined by your race but by who you are as a person, your talent, and so many other factors. These are what is truly important.”

The Viper made the long speech as Jake listened intently. He liked the explanation even if there was not much new. In fact…

“You are actually embarrassed, aren’t you?”

To overexplain why you did something was the hallmark of someone embarrassed and Villy seemed to really want to justify and explain why he acted as he did back then. It was very relatable.

“Do you have to rub it in? I am beginning to really dislike that skill of yours that just shows you uncurated shit. If someone from the Holy Church got such a skill, they would be executed promptly for being able to circumvent all the propaganda and whatnot,” Villy said, but with a tone of jest.

“Way of changing the subject,” Jake joked back. “But hey, good to know even evil snake gods can learn to grow as a person. And speaking of growing… who is stronger now? You or Valdemar?”

It was an obvious question Jake couldn’t help but ask.

“I guess I should have seen that one coming… but I don’t know. Do I think I can beat Valdemar? No, not really, but I don’t think he can beat me either. The thing is, Valdemar only truly fights someone when he has a cause. A justification that makes him want to fight and create a legend from it. Ah, but if you speak of a duel… well, let’s just say I tend to avoid them as fighting him is a pain. In a fight to the death, the most likely is either one party retreating or mutual destruction. This assumes third parties don’t involve themselves and we fight on neutral ground too… all of this is to say there are too many factors,” the Viper answered.

“I see,” Jake said, not really wanting to pry more.

“Anyway, it sounds like you had quite the journey, and I will say that taking inspiration from Valdemar would be smart. You and he do have some similarities in mindset but are just as different, but if it is just about melee fighting and his application of will, go right ahead. Just don’t try to mimic him too much… he has just as many places where he has absolutely no talents,” Villy said, obviously taking a jab.

“Such as?”

“His talent when it comes to manipulating mana is so bad he ended up completely giving up on it and eventually transformed it all into stamina and health somehow through sheer rejection of the resource. Also, his profession was very much neglected, which was part of the reason why he was so strong despite his low race level. Valdemar was already level 999 in his class back then and was working on his profession,” the Viper said.

“Let me guess, his profession is to be a brewer of some kind?” Jake asked.

“Yeah, that was the only thing he figured out how to really do as his father apparently owned a brewery before the system. Well, Valdemar said his father owned a brewery but later said he just made moonshine and sold it under the table,” the Viper said jokingly.

“It sounds like you two made friends later on?” Jake asked half-rhetorically. The Viper seemed to know a lot of personal stuff about the guy after all and even talked about duels.

“Yeah. That first encounter was not our last, and we butted heads a dozen or so more times before godhood. I did win some and lose some, but more often, it never got that extreme as one party had an advantage making the other back off. After godhood, it ended up being an utter stalemate. It was and still is for all the Primordials, so eventually, we ended up just co-existing and, in some ways, got close. It is hard to personally know someone for countless years and not begin to understand them and get to know them. Of course, some get along better than others, and there is plenty of healthy rivalry going on, but we can all get along in the same room as a semi-dysfunctional family,” the Viper explained.

“Sounds fun. Though you and Eversmile didn’t strike me as on the friendliest of terms and didn’t you kind of screw over Stormild with the whole Sylphie contract thing?” Jake asked pointedly.

“As I said, healthy rivalry and plenty of disfunction. Have no doubt that if both needed help with a task, they would also come to me and ask, and that both of those have also taken advantage of me in the past.”

“Fine. I’ll let you off with a warning not to look down on humans this time around, aight?” Jake thought, unable to hold back a smirk.

“I am astounded at your benevolence,” the Viper answered.

“Now, any comments on the test yourself and how I did?”

“Take the advice of the teachers there and follow what is in the token. The only thing I will add is to not take it as gospel but merely a guiding hand. Just focus on the sentiment of their teachings rather than any actionable advice,” Villy answered.

“Noted,” Jake thought. “If there is nothing else, I will get some meditation done and actually reflect on stuff. You know, like the judges in the trial advised.”

“Seeing you make smart choices brings a tear to my eyes,” Villy teased.

“Better be careful, or I shall have you taste the fang of-“

Without any warning, Villy cut off the line of communication as Jake smirked to himself. There was something profoundly enjoyable about taking jabs at a god far more powerful than himself. Also, he knew Villy could take it and, in this case, kind of deserved it as he had been an arrogant dickhead back in the day.

Well, more of an arrogant dickhead than current Villy. Not that Jake should throw stones while living in a glasshouse. He wasn’t exactly the most humble either.

Anyway, Jake entered meditation as time slowly passed, and through his sphere, he felt the waiting room fill up over the next day or so. During his meditation, Jake reflected primarily on the vision from Path of the Heretic-Chosen as he knew he had more to internalize. He also considered the fight with Snappy and how he could have done better, and what to do if he met a similar opponent in the future.

Reika had also arrived by now and looked rather glum but also surprisingly determined. The same could not be said about the alchemists following her, and Jake considered going down checking on them but ultimately decided against it. They had Reika, and Jake was not going to the Order to play babysitter. If they had been crushed in spirit from the trial, now was the time to get their shit together and actually improve. He did notice one alchemist missing, though.

Draskil came into the room on the fourth day since the first person entered the dungeon, looking rather glum himself too. He had taken far longer than Jake and most others, making Jake wonder why that was. More surprising was that it ended up taking the full week as the succubus had warned them about before the final person arrived. The level 168, now 169, harpy was the last to be done.

On that note, Draskil had not leveled up, while Jake had not chosen to appear higher either.

The succubus had returned together with the harpy. Irinixis, as she was called, regarded them all as Jake felt her gaze linger on himself but also Draskil as she smiled.

“I want to congratulate you all on finishing the test. Only ten people died during the dungeon too, which is pretty good. As for the performances, the average rating was rather low at only two-stars level one, with the highest at four stars level ten, on the cusp of attaining five stars. The lowest was at one-star level one, attained by not one but three people. That, I must admit, is surprisingly pathetic,” the succubus said curtly.

Jake mainly bit onto how the highest rating was four-stars level ten. That was quite a bit better than his own at four-stars level five. From the looks of it, Draskil wasn’t the one to get this grade either, as they both exchanged glances when it was announced.

A few more minutes passed as the succubus talked some stuff about the test before continuing.

“Now, let us move on. Remember, no matter how well you did in the test, this is only the beginning and in no way something that determines your path. This is merely the beginning of your journeys as alchemists. You all come from a newly integrated universe, which has granted certain advantages, but also demerits, such as your lack of proper teachers and equal sparring partners. So don’t fret no matter what your performance was, as now is the time to prove how talented you truly are.

“Soon, you will be taken to your residences, which will be based on your performance in the test. One and two-star performances will be in the communal dorms, while three and four-stars will get their own personal residences and benefits depending on their evaluations. Naturally, those in the dorms can also get their own residence if they perform well, with more information to follow on how to upgrade. When you get to your residences, an information package will be present. I am assigned as the attendant in charge of this batch, and once you have exchanged your tokens, the new ones will include a way to contact me. Now, please follow me to the token exchange, and let’s get you all settled.”

A note from Zogarth

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