༺ Hunting Grounds (1) ༻
“As expected of the Great Witch.”
I was long aware of how strong she was, but I still couldn’t help but marvel at how absurd it was. Lady Josephine was probably the only mage that could use such a large-scale dimensional movement spell.
It was one of the highest-ranked spells, ❰Unique Grade: Crowd Teleportation❱. This time around, it was a random teleportation but when the Academy was in danger, I saw her teleport hundreds of students to one place.
Except for the Chairman who was sick all the time, she would probably be the strongest person out of the entire Academy. That was also why she was in charge of someone as unique as Hua Ran.
Now, the quest at the hunting grounds was finally underway. My goal was to defeat one Grade 2 named character at least.
In this practical lesson, the surrounding students would gang up on the named characters, which was obvious because their armbands would equal more points. In turn, it was actually a disadvantage to have a higher Grade in this activity – it was like a balance patch put in place to make the high-achievers eat shit.
‘I guess the Academy wants weaker students to build experience at forming parties and the stronger students to experience fighting multiple enemies at the same time but…’
That might have been fine if that was all there was, but there were in fact 2nd year students as well in this forest.
Their job was to become an obstacle and thoroughly stop the freshmen in the stead of Grade 1 and Grade 2 demonic beasts, which obviously did not exist in the forest for safety purposes.
– Clank! Chank!
– Y, you bastard!
– Hahahat! Become a sacrifice for my marks!
– Die! Die!
A group of students that were quick to understand the rules were swinging their swords around already. Well, none of them would be too hurt though, because all the weapons that came into this forest had a spell cast on them that made them non-lethal.
‘About time I started looking for Alicia.’
I raised my senses to pick up the location of the rune in Alicia’s belly. Although it didn’t let me clearly see her location, it gave off a peculiar aura that guided me forward.
The mana inside the rune was closer than expected. Chasing after its trace, I traveled through the forest as a bunch of boisterous shouts reached my ears.
– Clank! Chang!
– Go in!
The students of this damn Academy were all brawns as well. Even though their brains were good, their minds were very simple and straightforward.
It might be because of the mental relief they got from how the blades of the weapons were sealed, but they attacked each other without turning back. Most of the students in the forest were like aggressive mobs that attacked first in an RPG.
I ran for a long time while avoiding unnecessary fights and soon arrived at an open plot of land which already had signs of a battle.
“Ughh… A, are you aiming for my armband as well!”
Wearing the same unique martial uniform that revealed her shoulders, Alicia with her lustrous brown hair was gazing at me in the middle of seven fainted students.
“Give me your armband.”
“I trusted you, Mr. Korin! You gave me candy so I thought you were a good person!”
She said while pointing her sword at me.
“N, now that it has come to this! We cannot get along anymore! Die if you wish to survive! Survive if you wish to die!”
“I understand what you’re trying to say, but that’s not how you use that expression…”
Alicia was a purely physical-type fighter and a Grade 2 Knight and her specialty, Eyes of the Boundary, was still something she couldn’t use to its full potential.
Judging based on her ability to fight as an individual, she was probably average among Grade 2 students…
The blue armband on her left arm was very appealing..
At the entrance of the forest after the disappearance of the students were Chairman Eriu, Senior Professor Josephine and Hua Ran, who was crouching down with a bored gaze.
“Let me now head off to the forest as well, Chairman.”
Although there were several professors located across the forest, it would be even safer for her to enter the fray just in case.
“Sure. Then I will be watching over from here. If by any chance…”
“I will make sure you don’t have to take action.”
The professors in the forest were all proven veterans. There were also senior students inside, but their strengths had been restricted so there should be no-one suffering from big injuries.
After opening the dimensions, Josephine was about to walk into the forest when a soft whisper stopped her in her tracks.
It was Hua Ran.
“I want to do it too.”
Chairman Eriu appeared slightly surprised by her sudden remark but Lady Josephine raised an objection before the Chairman could even say something.
“You cannot. You can’t restrain your abilities and this activity is meaningless for you at first…”
Her words were put to a stop by the carefully risen hand of the Chairman. The Chairman slowly walked up to Hua Ran, kneeled on one of his knees and met his eyes with hers.
“You seem to have had a change of mind.”
Hua Ran looked straight back into his eyes.
“I see. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine as well. You can do as you wish.”
“I know, Clara. I know this lesson is not suitable for Student Hua Ran and I also know that this child has access to quite the dangerous amount of power.”
“Hua Ran. Can you promise me one thing?”
Hua Ran didn’t reply, but she didn’t turn her head away and that was a sign of approval, which was already better than before.
“Try your hardest to not cross the bottom line. It is always going to be you who decides the color of your soul.”
“…I will try.”
This was something Korin wouldn’t have expected.
He wouldn’t have expected the big tempest caused by the butterfly effect; and the result of him flapping his wings.
But unfortunately, half of that was what he brought upon himself.
Alicia Arden was in a panic when she got viciously attacked by her peers immediately after the teleportation.
‘Why is everyone attacking each other? How mean! Why can’t everyone be as kind-hearted as Mr. Benefactor?!’
She had already been mercilessly betrayed right before entering Merkarva Academy, so her response wasn’t that late. Seven of her peers attacked her but Alicia managed to defeat all of them with ease.
She was conscious of it herself, that she was in the realm of ‘geniuses’ thanks to her astounding talents. Of course, it might be nothing compared to her older sister who was the true genius, but she did not deny the fact that she was a powerhouse in the top 1 percentile.
In the end, she was a genius who didn’t feel the drive to work hard and had no passion.
That was why she wasn’t that cautious even after seeing Korin, a Grade 5 Knight. He was a nice person and was a kind person who invited goodwill, but that had nothing to do with his strength.
He was just a Grade 5 student. She had easily defeated the union of Grade 3 and Grade 4 students, so she thought it would only take her 10 seconds to neutralize a Grade 5 Knight.
‘What is this person?’
That was what she had been thinking 30 seconds ago.
– Chakk! Changg!
‘He’s extremely strong!!’
The Grade 5 Knight snuggled in with the spear in hand. While misleading the eyes with his slithering spear, he would suddenly stab forward at a terrifying speed.
She tried a variety of attacks – sword dance at a close distance, and attacking from outside of his range.
But the opponent saw through her sloppy attempts every time and constantly pressured her by attacking back.
There was no room for retaliation. Logic told her that she should be able to see a gap after closing the distance, but the retrieval and stab of his spear were so quick that she could not exploit it.
He was just using a little bit of snap in his wrist and footwork to make this possible, and he was as seasoned as a veteran soldier.
‘But it’s not like he doesn’t have any gaps! His breath before his stabs and his swings are a bit different! If I make use of that data…!’
Alicia’s sharp eyes perceived Korin’s brief exhale which was the prelude of a ferocious stab. Although she had no passion for martial arts despite being one of the successor candidates of a renowned martial household, her innate gifts were incomparable to average people.
She did not miss that gap and instinctively knew this was the opportunity to slash at him.
The shaft of the spear was swung at Alicia, who dared to shorten the gap between them. Right – although she had been pressured by his relentless stabs, the wide-range swing of a spear was the scariest attack of its kind.
It was impossible to dodge it with ease and attacking wasn’t a viable option either because the spear would be the one landing first.
In the face of the mighty power that forced others to give up on attack and focus on defense, Alicia had to stop her offense and block the spear.
His attack carried the fierce impact through the blade of the sword, and it felt as if the air had exploded next to her. Alicia was too light to hold her ground against the attack and ended up bouncing off to the side.
It was an attack made by supplementing the aura with an outburst which could only be done through the amalgamation of the body, mind and technique. It was very efficient as long as it was used properly, but it wasn’t something that was easy to learn…
‘How is this a Grade 5 Knight?’
Korin continued swinging the spear in a dazzling manner that tried to trick her eyes. His movement and his highly experienced skills that always let him find the right attack regardless of his posture had definitely exceeded the limits of a Grade 5 Knight.
‘It’s not like he’s physically strong but…! All of his skills are no joke!’
First off, she decided to flick the spear away. By pressing down on the spear, she would restrict its movement and dash in for the final slash!
However, Alicia’s ambitious goal was stopped by his first response. Her attempt to fling the spear away instead resulted in a fancy return of the spear that deflected her sword off instead.
Outer Trap – swinging the spear outward to deviate the attack.
After pushing the sword off to the side using the outer trap, he pressed on the blade again with the shaft of his spear. In the blink of an eye, Alicia’s sword was all the way down next to Korin’s thigh.
This was the Inner Trap – swinging the spear inward to restrain the enemy’s weapon.
Alicia became startled after realizing that her sword was suddenly facing the bottom, and what she saw next was the spearhead stabbing towards her.
Stab – a forward thrust.
The combination of those three fundamental skills was what made up the most basic yet most profound counter skill of the spear – the pinnacle of spearmanship.
The tip of the spear landed on her solar plexus. She blocked the attack with her aura but the power behind the stab pierced through and made her gasp for breath.
Without even giving her the time to restabilize herself, the spear struck her sword once again. Their weapons were flung off and those weapons were each about to return to their original places when the spearman kicked her ribs with his leg.
“Lack of practice from over-reliance on talent.”
She retrieved her sword. It was faster than that of the spear due to being a shorter weapon, but what came instead was a palm that was even faster than her sword.
“Looks like you only relied on the sword and didn’t learn anything else.”
The aura-embedded palm strike landed a clear attack on her chest.
Along with the same burst of air that echoed across when she was hit by the Horizontal Gust of a Tiger, Alicia flew in the air for 10 meters before landing on the ground. Consecutive attacks to the solar plexus was enough to drive normal people unconscious but Alicia immediately stood back up after rolling on the ground.
It was painful. That palm strike just then made the half-digested food inside her belly climb back up her throat, but it was in perilous situations like this that Alicia became the most rational.
‘I knew it. She’s the type of person that shows her true colors when provoked.’
While Korin was once again realizing how much of a genius she was, Alicia was also serious now that she had become ever so rational.
‘He’s strong. I have to use my strongest attack!’
He wasn’t an opponent she could look down on just because he was in Grade 5. His skills and combat senses had been trained to the extreme and was definitely above her own.
Without closing the gap, Alicia sheathed the demon-slaying sword back into its scabbard and postured herself. It was the posture for battojutsu1the craft of drawing out the sword Battōjutsu (抜刀術, battō-jutsu) (“the craft of drawing out the sword”) is an old term for iaijutsu (居合術). Battōjutsu is often used interchangeably with the terms iaijutsu and battō (抜刀). which was unique to Alicia’s fighting style.
It was still an unpolished move, but it was one that allowed her to definitely slice anything that was next to her.
Korin Lork observed her while holding the spear while Alicia was eager to end this fight with this one strike.
‘I will hit you with my strongest counter-skill if you come near me!’
The spearman deeply stared at her. For some reason, he stayed still without moving an inch for several seconds.
Instead of running up, he relaxed his arms and lowered his guard.
This is not good…
The fact that she let that fluster show on the outside was a clear proof of her inexperience. While looking at the blank-minded Alicia, Korin picked up a few pebbles and grinned.
The pebble came flying at her.
‘Did he notice just by seeing that it was a counter-skill against his approach?’
It was clear what these pebbles were for. He must be planning on dashing towards her as soon as she unsheathed her sword to parry the pebbles.
‘It won’t go the way you want!’
Empowering her entire body with aura, she blocked the incoming pebbles.
Fortunately, she was in a vastly superior advantage when it came to the total amount of aura. It should be a piece of cake to hold off against his pebbles!
– Bam! Slam!
‘Hmph! This is nothing! As if I would…’
Her superhuman eyes saw a letter engraved on the pebble. Immediately, it flared up in red.
“H, huh? Magic?!”
Seeing the scorching piece of rock, she unconsciously unsheathed her sword and parried it away. Little sparks landed on her clothes but she judged that her aura would be enough to defend them.
“Having and not having long-ranged attacks is a big factor.”
Several more pebbles came flying at her with the words, Hagalaz, Sowilo and Berkana engraved on them.
The runes of the harsh tempest, scorching sun and birch twigs were like oil to the flames of Kenaz.
“Ahh, that’s hott…!”
She could no longer hold off against that vigorous rush of flames. Although rune magic was only as strong as an elementary-grade spell, the power created by the combination of several rune letters was on the level of a medium-grade spell.
At this rate, she would be burned to death. Alicia was in a panic but still managed to react in time to the sound of something cutting through the air.
Korin got in front of her while her vision was being blocked by the flames and the downward swing of his spear was as brutal as always.
Because of her fluster due to his sudden use of magic, she was late in responding to the attack and had to kneel on one of her knees.
‘W, what should I do? M, my clothes are being scorched! What if my hair gets burned as well? Ah, I forgot my sunscreen!!’
It was the sound of something being ripped off in a very clear and refreshing manner.
Sitting in Korin’s hand was Alicia’s blue armband.
“Are you an idiot? How can you think about something else during a fight?”
“Ehk? Ehk? P, please have mercy…”
“No. Go back.”
Tears welled up in her eyes.
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- 1the craft of drawing out the sword Battōjutsu (抜刀術, battō-jutsu) (“the craft of drawing out the sword”) is an old term for iaijutsu (居合術). Battōjutsu is often used interchangeably with the terms iaijutsu and battō (抜刀).