Frogs in all shapes and sizes, birds that ambushed with pecks nearly as fast as Jake’s arrows, and a plethora of other annoying animals hounded Jake, Sylphie, and Carmen as they made their way deeper into the mangrove. The first frogs they encountered were a good indicator of what they would face.
They were all specialized creatures adapted to their unique environment. They all made use of the many ambush possibilities offered by the dense branches and leaves above or the river below. Granted, Jake was the worst kind of opponent for them as the current him would never fall into an actual ambush, but some attacks were difficult to deal with even if you knew they were coming.
The mangrove was also more than a little annoying fighting in, especially for an archer like Jake. The creatures made full use of the winding roots for cover or hid away underwater to avoid his blows. Sylphie didn’t care much and was able to maneuver well enough to sometimes even take advantage of the environment herself. Carmen could do the same, just hiding away behind cover until her opponent was forced to get close or give up.
Jake still managed pretty well with melee attacks and could land some arrows here and there, but the deeper in they got, the more his archery fell off. When they reached their first target within the mangrove, his archery felt borderline useless.
The first target was a Prima Arnold had already scouted out before. It wandered with a small flock in this part of the mangrove and was a terror to most wildlife. When Jake finally saw it, he could get why. It was a bird with incredibly long and slender legs, a smallish body, a long neck, and an even longer beak. Identifying it, he confirmed it was indeed a Prima.
[Spearbeak Ibis Prima – lvl 190]
Its most notable feature was the beak. It was long, almost to the point of looking impractical, but Jake soon saw why that didn’t matter. The two humans and hawk made a plan as they engaged the Spearbeak Ibis Prima and its flock that consisted of seven more ibises, each of them around level 180.
“Same tactic as always?” Carmen asked before they engaged.
“Will try,” Jake said, a bit miffed at how it usually went. He felt like his opening salvo of Arcane Powershot often ended up just missing or being fired way too early as the opponent either noticed him or was just moving already, and with cover never more than ten or so meters away, most beasts could quickly escape his arrows.
The opening attack did go as expected, but Jake was forced to switch his target to one of the followers of the Prima as the damn Ibis walked behind a large root just before he released the string. The arrow tore off one of its legs and made it fall into the river below. Sylphie attacked the Prima together with Carmen but were pushed back as it was joined by the others in its flock near-instantly.
This was also when Jake learned the reason for the long Prima beak. Rather than fight, it escaped behind a root, but it still pecked forward as its beak simply bent around the root and pecked Carmen in the shoulder, sending out a shower of blood.
Jake and the others had fought one other group of Ibises before and knew they were all fast and had powerful attacks, but they had hoped to take advantage of their low durability. The ibises walked on water like it was nothing and could even run and kick off roots to launch themselves around at incredible speeds and even use their wings for further speed and maneuverability while in the air.
The Prima took this to an entirely new level as their group of three fought a foe that had truly made the environment it lived in its own.
There was never a moment when it was exposed as the Prima switched between the trees and dove under the roots all the time. The bird was only about two and a half meters tall, but the beak could extend to be more than fifteen meters when it pecked forward, truly proving the name Spearbeak.
“I can’t get close,” Carmen said as they all retreated a bit and hid behind a mangrove tree. “I go for the weaker birds?”
“Alright,” Jake nodded as he looked up at some of the branches above where Sylphie was hanging upside-down. “Help Carmen finish them off. I will try to handle the Prima for now.”
“Ree!” Sylphie agreed.
“Sure that is a good idea?” Carmen asked. “If I can’t get close, can you?”
Jake shook his head. “Maybe… but that isn’t why I want to handle the Prima alone. I see an opportunity.”
Carmen stared for a moment before nodding firmly. “Got it.”
She understood the sentiment even without Jake having to explain.
The words Carmen had said about him sucking at attacking had echoed in his mind all throughout this travel through the mangrove. He honestly didn’t notice it when he fought the beasts… at least not before now. Usually, he would get changes to counterattack or at least use Gaze to get an opportunity, but this damn Ibis didn’t give him the chance to.
In some ways, the Ibis fought similarly to Jake when he used archery. It always tried to keep itself at a distance and attack with ranged attacks. The difference was that the Ibis had solved one of the biggest issues: line of sight. Arrows could only fly in a straight line for obvious reasons, and a peck could also normally only go straight… but the Ibis Prima clearly didn’t subscribe to his logic.
Jake observed the beak bend at impossible angles as it pecked forward. Every bend was uniform, and that somehow allowed it to retain all its power. One would think a strike curved into a crescent would be weaker when it hit, but for the Ibis Prima, it clearly had no negative effects.
In order to get a good one-on-one fight, Jake summoned dozens of arcane orbs and exploded the area to force the Prima away from Carmen and Sylphie as he pursued it. The long-legged bird didn’t seem to care as it allowed Jake to chase, perhaps happy itself to finally get rid of Sylphie, who had managed to land a few scratches with her superior speed.
Jake shot off arrows as he chased, missing every single one. At the same time, he was forced to block or dodge the spear-like beak repeatedly. Their fight was incredibly basic, with one person just shooting arrows and the other pecking while dodging and flying through the mangrove forest.
Seeing the Ibis Prima had given Jake inspiration. The beak was a solid object, yet it seemed so everchanging. He didn’t actually want to make his own blade somehow long and bendy… no, it was the concept behind what the Prima did that intrigued him.
Soon enough, the two of them were several kilometers from Sylphie and Carmen. Jake kept trying to land a hit and accomplish what he was attempting to do, but something was missing. Missing to do what one might ask?
It was something Jake had theorized a long time ago. He could do telekinesis, so why couldn’t he control his own arrows mid-flight? The problem was that arrows in flight tended to be quite resistant to being affected by, well, anything.
Jake trying to influence the trajectory would often just result in him forcing it to slow down. This would make it not hit as hard, if at all. Slower objects were obviously easier to dodge.
He had even looked up some books on archery while in the Order. He saw several guides on controlling mana bolts and tried a few of those out, but it always came with the caveat of reduced power for any piercing attack.
There were methods, though, just none that Jake found fitting. Some were simply because Jake found himself in quite an unfortunate situation with his arrows in particular: they liked to destroy stuff due to his arcane affinity. This included any “strings” of mana Jake wanted to attach to the arrows.
He had also tried to change the arrow design, but that hadn’t worked either, as his arrows just flew too fast. The passive destructive abilities of his arcane arrows also helped alleviate the effects of wind resistance or any other resistance for that matter. This was awesome for making arrows go fast and straight, but not that good if you wanted them to do anything else.
Other books recommended simply bending space or manipulating time to make the arrow’s flight unpredictable, but for obvious reasons, that wasn’t quite doable for the current Jake. No, he would need to find another way… because there had to be a way.
The fight with the Prima continued, and finally, something happened that changed the situation. Jake jumped away from a beak spear as suddenly another flew for him. He managed to bend his body, but he was confused because the first peck hadn’t fully retracted yet.
Then a third came, but this one was too fast as Jake was pecked in the chest, sending him flying back with a hole through his right lung about the size of a fist. Jake just stared as he had no idea what had just happened. How could it have two beaks at once? Three?
Despite his surprise, he still managed to stabilize himself and avoid any follow-ups. The Ibis Prima had entered open space to pursue him, and now Jake truly saw how it attacked. Before, he had thought the break actually extended, but it wasn’t quite like that. In fact, he seemed to have misunderstood the creature entirely.
Every time the Ibis Prima attacked, it pecked forward and sent out its beak at such a speed it fired off a mirror image of sorts that looked like the physical beak… a mirror image so “real” it actually appeared like a physical object in his sphere and to all Jake’s senses.
Before every attack, the Ibis Prima slightly shifted its head, and Jake felt the sheer level of focus that went into the attacks. The beak was extended and curved, always at a consistent angle based on the starting position of the Prima’s head. There was never more than one bend either.
He finally understood why he had taken inspiration from it. It was a beautiful technique. He saw the straight beak be aimed towards him once more, but it suddenly seemed to bend as it came from an angle, forcing Jake to dodge away, but not before he loosed an arrow to counter.
The arrow floundered as it flew at an odd angle and crashed into a tree. Jake was not undeterred as he shot again, with every arrow just harmlessly hitting roots or falling into the river below. The Ibis Prima had already hidden away again and used the cover of the trees to counter as Jake just shot his arrows into said trees.
By now, Jake was fully focused. He analyzed the Prima’s every move as he tried to mimic what it did in his own way.
Bend, Jake thought as his arrow bent mid-air and cracked into small crystalline pieces.
The arrow flew off to the side even if he had fired it right in front of him, smashing yet another innocent root.
As the string moved, the arrow seemed to slightly turn, but as it was loosed, the arrow lost its course and once more did nothing.
Jake’s eyes opened wide as he focused. He released his arrow but, at the very end, also infused a large wave of Willpower into it, infusing the arrow with a bit of his intent. It merged with the arrow and bow effortlessly, just like all his prior attempts. When the arrow was pushed forward by the string, it seemed to bend until it was finally let go and did exactly as Jake intended.
In a glorious crescent, it traveled around the massive root the Prima was hiding behind, and he heard the beast cry out in surprise as it was hit on the right wing.
Jake had tried to do it like the Ibis Prima but found it impossible. The Ibis Prima retained that connection between itself and the beak all throughout the attack, something Jake could not do. No, he had to find a better way.
He did try and realized fully controllable arrows weren’t something he could do. He would lose momentum if he tried to control them too much… so what if he didn’t guide them? What if he just gave them a slight nudge and changed their fundamental trajectory, still making them fly “straight,” but defined that as a “straight arc.”
Or, the easiest explanation: he changed the trajectory before he even shot it. He re-defined what a straight line was using his own Willpower, just like the Prima had. Rather than try and “program” the arrow to follow an advanced trajectory, he just infused this one intent, making it shoot at a certain angle, following a simple vector.
The blow was still predictable… it bent predictably. This did perhaps seem like a flaw, but it was quite the opposite: it preserved speed and momentum.
Jake smiled as he heard the notification that signified he had progressed his archery skill, but he saved looking at it for later. For now, he had a Prima to kill. The beast quickly adapted as Jake began whipping arrows around the roots at awkward angles.
What was perhaps most surprising was the lack of any magic or mana involved in the process. It looked like Jake was just firing arrows like normal to any outside observer, but they all flew at different angles and bent around the roots. Granted, this did result in them traveling a further overall distance, making the time it took to hit the target longer. This would be a flaw under normal circumstances, but in this kind of environment? Well, there was a reason why the level 190 Ibis Prima could dominate any opponent it found.
Getting his spirits up, Jake attempted to fire an Arcane Powershot and used the same technique. The arrow did bend slightly, but when he released it, it only diverted by a few degrees, passing the root the Prima hid behind, flying into the distance before it exploded upon impact with another mangrove tree.
Okay, doesn’t work with Arcane Powershot.
The attack was just too fast and too powerful. Jake could not infuse enough intent into the attack to make it do as he wanted… but he did have an attack that would work.
Jake dodged around as the Ibis Prima began adapting and counterattacking. Neither party was ever within the line of sight of the other even as they exchanged blows. Jake was attacked several times as he did the mental calculation before he fired his bow once more.
A single arrow bent around a root, but just as it did, it split into five. Jake repeated this as he fired another arrow from the opposite side that also split. The Ibis Prima was forced to retreat backward but was still caught in the explosion that came from ten explosive arcane arrows colliding.
Jake took this opportunity to sprint forward and give chase. He shot off two more arrows as the Ibis Prima prepared to jump away, but suddenly it stumbled when its foot hit the water, making it get hit by another arrow.
The beast looked confused and then terrified. It had clearly been too distracted to notice what had happened to it. That first arrow Jake had hit hadn’t just been another regular stable arcane arrow, but one thoroughly soaked in Jake’s new and most powerful Hemotoxin.
Wounds had accumulated on the Ibis Prima. Wounds that would typically have already healed. It had noticed too late as Jake was upon it, ready to deliver death.
Jake jumped to the right as he shot to the left, making the arrows curve around to hit the Ibis Prima. In mid-air, he charged Arcane Powershot, and when he made it around the network of roots and landed his sights on the bird, he used Gaze of the Apex Hunter.
The Ibis froze and barely became able to move again to try and block the Arcane Powershot with its beak, sending it reeling back and bleeding from its head. Three more arrows had also hit it from Jake’s curved shot, and by now, the Ibis Prima only thought about escape. Something Jake wasn’t going to give it.
It was time to finish this as Jake finally pulled out his final weapon. Arrow of the Ambitious Hunter emerged from his inventory, and the Ibis Prima instantly fled. Jake just looked as it escaped behind a net of roots. Jake didn’t care as he released the finisher.
The arrow bent around several trees as it struck the Ibis Prima that had already lost its senses. It fell forward into the river as Jake got the kill notification.
*You have slain [Spearbeak Ibis Prima – lvl 190] – Bonus experience earned for killing an enemy above your level*
Jake flew forward and quickly swooped up the Beastcore and the fragment the Prima had dropped as he also checked and saw he had gained levels. Plural.
*’DING!’ Class: [Avaricious Arcane Hunter] has reached level 154 - Stat points allocated, +10 Free Points*
*’DING!’ Class: [Avaricious Arcane Hunter] has reached level 155 - Stat points allocated, +10 Free Points*
*’DING!’ Race: [Human (D)] has reached level 162 - Stat points allocated, +15 Free Points*
Jake was surprised at seeing two levels. He wondered if it had to do with the skill upgrade, but skill upgrades didn’t tend to give him class experience. The fight had not been overly dangerous, even if Jake did have a few holes in his body by now. In fact, he would say that overall, this Prima was on the weaker side, being a one-trick pony.
It was also entirely possible he had just been mega-close to a level-up already and now just barely passed the threshold to gain two.
“Got what you needed?” Carmen asked as she finally went over together with Sylphie. Jake knew they had been observing from afar to not interrupt his fight and take away Jake’s chance to get the inspiration he had been seeking.
“Yeah, thanks,” Jake said.
“So?” Carmen asked.
Jake just smiled and nodded as he checked out his newly upgraded skill.