Arc 1 Chapter 18: The Test (4)
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As I was exploring the regions crowded by monsters, I realized just how over-prepared I was for this test.

I climb, fall, climb then fall once again on mountaintops and cliffs while traversing the rough-ish terrain. Behind me are the motley crew, Serge, Emily and Fil eagerly following me after several displays of strength against the monsters in this region. Also behind us is our tester, observing without so much as a peep.

While exterminating the monsters, we ran across a group of people who look somewhat like bandits, migrating in huge numbers in a large file line.

“Hello there.” I call out.

“Hey! What are you doing outside the group? Are you not concerned about getting attacked?” The woman spoke.

Before I can respond, she spoke again, “Anyways, you seem as though you are not prepared for this region. I can tell because you also don’t appear to be from around here. We are always migrating to the next region and raiding monster towns and villages to secure our safety. There is a vanguard in front of highly skilled Adventurers and behind them is a veritable army at their disposal depending on the army’s allegiance.”

“That’s interesting! Is there any chance that I can meet any of them?” I ask.

“Not likely. They are very skilled, but on the same token they are also very busy. To be able to meet with them while they carry the responsibility of an army of well over a hundred thousand each, averaging at about a million each army is a bit too much of a task to ask them to meet some strangers. I’m sure that if you have some merit in the army they may grant you an audience. However, even if you do, don’t expect to be treated as an equal. I am warning you not to offend them.” She said, glaring slightly.

“Then I will take my leave. I wish to see what you all are scared of so instead of following and moving to the front I think I’ll check the flanks.” I said.

“There are similarly skilled people at the back too. Do you think we would leave our flank unguarded or something?” Said the lady.

“You seem pretty concerned. What is your name?” I ask.

“I am a silly old woman who worries too much. My name is Debra, I am a middle-aged old lady who works for the army of One.” Said Debra.

“Is there some sort of hierarchy for this region to determine when fighters and people like them become promoted?” I inquire.

“Generally, yes. Merit is pretty much everything to this army. There are some exceptions to the rule, namely highly reputable people seeking attention but we generally stick to that principle.” Said Debra.

I feel some strength from her that does not exist from others.

I do not think the test will give me any troubles, but I can feel an overwhelming power difference between her and the others, so I ask.

“Would you grant me a sparring match?”

“WOAH!”

“Is this man serious?”

“He’s asking for death!”

“He doesn’t know Debra of the illusion!”

Debra of the illusion? How strange, might as well appraise her.

“[Appraisal Failed.]”

Wait… What?

“[Appraisal Inspect Error.]”

Appraisal Log

14:04:33.225 - Appraisal Started using skill “Bargain Bin Appraisal”...

14:04:33.312 - Symbology analyzed.

14:04:33.350 - ERROR: Unknown symbols / runes found.

14:04:33.400 - ERROR: Unknown spell structure found. Intelligence incapable of analyzing further.

14:04:33.500 - Appraisal Failed.

14:04:33.500 - Estimated cause of error: Bargain Bin Appraisal only functions on species ranked E and below. Upgrade Appraisal ability to further enhance analytics.

 

Wait. There is a ranking system?!

As I look around the menus and concentrate appraisals a little more, I came upon some more information that was put in my memory a very long time ago.

Log of ?? - Year ?? Day ??, Page 5 Marked “Species Rankings”

“What I have discovered by scouring the land for ancient documents and findings was a report to a certain upper being. We were working today to invent magic lighting with our crew when we found an ancient document that was apparently lost and thrown about.

It describes the stable ranking of “Species on Stardust.” Nowhere in the report does it make any mention of the demon realm nor any distinction between the races. Humanity as well as most species of animals and monsters were all given the “F” grade while werewolves, basilisks, elves, dwarves, pretty much most of the irregular species are granted “E” grade.

What does this mean?

As I was doing more research on the topic, I discovered several other reports marked for delivery. Apparently, they have been properly delivered to the post but they did not make it to the destination and were stolen.

Species rankings are an arbitrary grade given to species based on the potential power they are capable of possessing. There is some kind of mediator assigning the rankings based on their opinion of other species’ strengths and weaknesses.

The weirdest thing is yet to come though. The thing is, apparently, an administrator is assigned based on the relative strength designated by these beings, making them a higher species, even greater than the demon generals. What the heck could be a greater threat than the invasion that wiped clean half of the world’s population nearly a quarter million years ago?!”

As I finished reading the report, I found out a few key bits in here.

If the species are given a rank (not static, able to change based on individual talents), why did the Adventurer’s Industry try so hard not to use rankings?

Do they not know about these things? This information does not exactly appear to be private information. Is this information possibly being suppressed? If a species is able to mutate a branch to a higher ranking, would that not make them excellent warriors?

“Do you accept my challenge?” I ask.

“What an interesting fellow. Why not?” Replied Debra nonchalantly.

Debra is wearing a red and black obi. The obi has runes engraved on it as though it is magic. Clothes cannot be enchanted in this world, right?


We walk to an open space. The area is a dirt patch surrounded by grasslands.

“Is this place okay?” Asks Debra.

Debra takes a combat stance while a few spectators surround us.

“Ooh! That Debra is taking a combat stance! It looks like she intends to take this seriously.” Said a random spectator.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” Shouted random people in the audience.

Debra lunged at me, though I dodge.

Lunge to my right side, lunge to my left. After recognizing that her lunges failed,
I started to notice a faint red glow in her hands as she tries to stab me with them. She is  not chanting anything, all I could do is visualize the technique.

This cannot be. Is this “Qi”?

“Hey Debra, is what you are using Qi?” I ask.

“No, it’s magic. I am properly enchanting my fists to fight. What is Qi anyways?” She asks.

Hmm, it seems I am the only one to know about it. Qi is meant to be a special way to power up physical attacks, but it appears you can do that by simply enchanting yourself.

I doubt you could do that if you are a regular not-mutated human.

“Can I ask how you are able to dodge so well? I once long ago participated in the extermination of the Demon King’s army and that is how I got assigned as rear-guard.” Asks Debra.

In other words, they thought you were too old to be the vanguard. You really do not have to spell it out for me to get it. I do feel bad for her though. Maybe being able to avoid fighting is a blessing in disguise (retirement)? Nah, for a warrior being stuck in the back is one of the ultimate humiliations.

“I have been able to train dodging and also have a series of special powers I can use to give myself the advantage in this fight.” I add.

“So is it that you are roughly equivalent in strength to a demon general?” Asks Debra.

“Shall we continue fighting?” I finally inquire.

As she lunges more and more, she appears to be getting slightly more exhausted.

“Very well. [Ability Release]!!” Shouts Debra.

Her obi’s runes started glowing yellow and her body started glowing yellow and red in random flares.

Woah. Her power all of a sudden skyrocketed.

No. More like, her power all of a sudden jumped to her full potential. In a world where powerful fighters dominate, the result is often determined after the first move. I learned that in my travels in my previous world.

Once she lunges once more, I barely have time to react. A couple of my fingers are immediately sliced clean off by her fingers this time.

Once my hand starts bleeding, I finally understand the situation better.

“Why the hell aren’t you panicking or even looking worried?? Next time, I won’t miss, you know?” Asks Debra.

“Ahh, I understand. The reason my appraisal didn’t immediately improve is because the structures weren’t optimized at the time to reflect her full potential. Now that she is fully powered, the analysis should not only improve but also upgrade my Appraisal. Two birds with one stone.” I go off on a tangent, seeming to ignore her.

“[Appraisal]!! [Redescription: Upgrade Appraisal]!!”

Appraisal Log

14:10:27.125 - Inherent Skill “Bargain Bin Appraisal (ΘΘΘΘΘΘΘΘΘΘ)” Upgraded to “Analytical Appraisal (ΘΘΘΘΘΘΘΘΘΘ).”

Spoiler

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Name: Debra

Race: Human [D] Level: 2,713 (2.14%)

Known Jobs / Titles:

  • Blessed Slate User => Monk

[JOB] User has received a blessing from the human-inherent “Slate” trait. Slate Users are given a random talent, and using Suggestion, they are taught common uses for their talent. Humans blessed with this job are capable of mutating to higher ranks as well as acquiring other jobs.

Complexity: ΘΘΘΘ

Spell Structure: Suggestion (First Grade) ≤ Vortex (Lesser) (3 Modules)

  • Debra of the illusion

Cosmetic title granted through widespread recognition. Has no effect.

Complexity: Θ

  • Monk

[JOB] User has abilities to enchant parts of body to acquire temporary special abilities.

Complexity: Θ

Spell Structure: Hollow (1 Module)

  • Hero

The bearer of this title is recognized as a hero to the realm of light. Has no special effects.

Complexity: Θ

  • Retired Adventurer

The bearer of this title have abandoned their previous achievements to acquire solitude and do side jobs instead. This title overwrites achievement titles.

Complexity: Θ

HP: 15,557 / 15,557            MP: 215,588 / 215,588 (+0)

Racial Unique Skills: Slate (ΘΘΘΘ)

Skills:

  • ERROR: Process cut-off midway. Likely interrupted through concealment or anullment. Learn more through debugging.

[collapse]

Learn more through debugging? No thanks. I have learned plenty even without it. I think I will analyze myself later to examine the changes.

What the heck is with her beefed up status? Middle aged?! Assuming levels above a thousand require more than a year to train even with talented users… Just how old is this hag?!!

“I see.” I add.

“I felt something strange just now. I was able to intercept it midway through, but it felt like stabbing, but I see no blood. What a creepy feeling.” Said Debra.

“Well, let’s continue then.” I said.

After that, I was well prepared with a strategy to win. Apparently Slate is a complex spell structure granted to all humans that randomly bestows blessings depending on inherent talent. That seems rather unnecessarily complex, considering my system of analysis only scratched the surface of its contents with a brief description.

After pondering for a moment of my circumstances, I then activate flame finger. I still have not found an upgrade to this ability yet, but I will investigate it later. For now a small fire is all I need.

“[Flame Finger + Black Lightning [15MP]]!!” I shout two consecutive abilities.

Why is it that I activated black lightning at the same time? It is of course because my flame finger ability creates a tiny distortion in space. Does one think I am capable of producing flames using my body? Sorry, it is not made of oil and matches.

When my black lightning went through the fire, my 15 MP points gave a substantial boost to its power as well, creating a smoking lightning bolt.

I have learned that if the lightning bolt is smoking, it disables any enchants on whatever I target. How does it work? I have rewritten that law previously when fighting monsters using my “Redescription” ability.

As Debra receives the brunt of 15 of my MP combined with the flame, she is tossed to the ground, dragged slowly through the dirt and eventually stopping near the grass.

Yes, her stats are indeed impressive but like I said, even at high levels if you are overwhelmingly more powerful than your opponent then none of it matters. She must have realised the same thing.

She got up slowly while twitching.

“I concede. Victory is yours.” Debra states.

“Woooahh!!” The whole crowd is in an uproar!

“Woah! Did he just beat Debra?? She didn’t use her illusion abilities right? What is up with that?”

Huh, that does remind me.

“Hey Debra. How come it is you are granted the title of an illusionist even though you have no such related abilities?” I ask.

“So you were able to tell, huh…” She snapped back immediately.

She continues, “Yes, the title is only there because people were impressed by my speed. I guess some people were drunkenly seeing copies of me and assumed I was casting illusions. My best ability is to amplify my monk abilities but even then to you it seems like I have not improved at all. I still tumbled with the same rigidity and attained defeat.”

So concludes a completely anti-climactic duel.

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