The Events that Took Place The Day Before the Tournament Began
The Martial Arts Tournament was set to begin tomorrow.
Fran, Urushi, and I were doing the usual thing and honing our skills within the Eastern Dungeon.
『Hey Fran, I think it’s about time you take a break.』
『You sure? You seem to be losing focus.』
Fran had pushed herself to fight for such an extended duration that she’d started to show signs of mental exhaustion. She’d started to accumulate a good bit of damage from both mistakes in and out of combat. In other words, she’d started getting worse at both noticing and disarming the traps she came across.
「…Little bit longer.」
In spite of all that, she ended up refusing. She simply bit down on her lips and narrowed her eyes as she scoured the area for another enemy to engage.
『Haaaahh… Fine. Just a little longer then.』
I was a bit concerned that she wouldn’t be in her best possible condition for the prelims tomorrow if she pushed herself any further, but ended up complying regardless.
In a sense, being in top form was also exactly why she was pushing herself as hard as she was in the first place. Fran wanted to evolve before ultimately having to face off against the Beast Lord, but she wasn’t showing any signs of doing so. Hence, she only ended up feeling the need to push herself even harder.
『Would you happen to have a moment?』
We suddenly heard Rumina’s voice resound through our minds as we continued pushing ourselves onwards.
Hearing her voice just pop out of nowhere had left me a bit surprised, but I soon managed to calm down as she just seemed to be using something that resembled my telepathic abilities.
『I have a matter I wish to discuss with you, and would like you to pay me a visit if you do not mind it.』
Though I was a bit curious as to why she went as far as to call for us, I ended up deciding to take her up on her offer immediately. Her timing was pretty good seeing as how Fran needed a break, and she was also kinda just a teleport away, so there wasn’t really any inconvenience associated with us dropping by.
Rumina greeted us as we teleported into the room she’d made for us.
「I… welcome you…」
『Well, you did tell us to drop by, so.』
「Indeed I did…」
Something about her seemed a bit off. She appeared to have less magical energy than usual, and kinda just gave off a bit of a frailer impression overall. It’d almost seemed like something bad had happened to her.
「Rumina, doing okay?」
「I apologize for worrying you. You need not mind me, I am simply feeling a tad exhausted.」
『You sure you’re okay?』
「I am fine. More importantly, I would like to offer the two of you a trial. Have you any interest in it?」
『You said a trial?』
「A trial indeed. I cannot describe its details, but would like for you to partake in it. What say you?」
The fact that she couldn’t tell us any details was kinda fishy, but I highly doubted that Rumina would try throwing us under a bus or luring us into a trap.
「Be warned, the trial will be an exceedingly dangerous one.」
Fran didn’t seem to doubt Rumina even in the slightest, and so she immediately nodded and acknowledged that she knew that she was going to be getting herself into something difficult should we accept.
I figured that there was practically no way Fran was going to choose to refuse Rumina’s request given how close the two had become, but ended up deciding to quickly double check her intentions regardless.
『You want to take her up on this whole trial thing, Fran?』
『You 100% sure? The fact that Rumina’s going out of her way and saying its dangerous probably means it’s really dangerous.』
It looked like Fran had already made up her mind and wasn’t planning on changing it.
「I take it you wish to accept my trial then?」
Rumina had us head over to the massive room in which she’d sparred with Fran.
Entering it caused us to catch sight of something that left us feeling completely overwhelmed.
『Is that supposed to be a magic circle?』
The enormous magic circle filled basically what was the entire 100 meter wide room. It was created in such a way that it parts extended into a sort of radial pattern with its point of origin at the room’s center. The independent pieces all came together at the edges to form a single massive design.
It wasn’t like any of the other magic circles I’d seen to date. None of them were on this big a scale.
I couldn’t even begin to fathom what this one was supposed to be used for.
「I shall now proceed to summon a Magic Beast. Demonstrate to me that you are capable of defeating it.」
Rumina’s voice almost seemed to sound like it was coming over an intercom or PA System.
「Nn. Got it.」
So our trial was to defeat some sort of Magic Beast? Why that of all things? We’d been doing that for quite some time already. Was fighting the thing she was summoning going to benefit us in some particular manner…?
「Very well. Begin!」
The magic circle began shining as an incredible amount of magical energy suddenly started getting concentrated into the circle’s centerpoint. Strong winds swirled around the room in response, winds powerful enough to make a complete mess of Fran’s hair. She had no choice but to squint in order to observe the mana as it lumped itself together.
A single magic beast revealed itself once the magical energy that formed it finally dimmed and vanished.
Controlling all that energy had caused Rumina to begin panting rather heavily.
「Rumina. Something wrong?」
「I… am fine… Mind me not…」
The fact that she didn’t sound even the slightest bit fine served to evidence that the act of summoning whatever it was she wanted us to fight had taken one hell of a lot of magical energy.
What appeared before us was a humanoid creature with its entire body dyed jet black. The dark miasma enveloping its body made it difficult for me to make out its form, but I assumed it was something not too different from a Kobold given that its head and whatnot seemed to be covered in fur.
However, appraising it allowed me to determine that it was something so fiendish and powerful that a Kobold couldn’t even begin to compare. It looked even more powerful than the pillbug we fought the other day. It didn’t have too many skills, but, its stats were ridiculously high, as if to compensate.
Species: Evil Manbeast. (Evil Apparition-type Magic Beast)
Evasion: Lv 9
Fang Techniques: Lv 8
Fang Arts: Lv 8
Presence Detection: Lv 9
Instantaneous Regeneration: Lv 8
Blink: Lv 8
Magic Resist: Lv 5
Huh… It apparently had the Awakening skill…?
「Defeat it… and absorb its magic stone…」
I knew it! This was something she’d summonened so she could help Fran evolve!
Still, summoning it had totally exhausted her. It seemed that not even a Dungeon Master could pull off something like this without having to really push themselves.
Fran seemed to understand that, as her expression had transformed and become more determined than it had ever been before.
「Master, let’s go!」
『Let’s do it!』
Fran immediately drew me and engaged the magic beast in close quarters combat.
Holy crap was that thing fast. It moved so quickly it was able to avoid Fran’s attacks with ease and even throw in a few counters. Moreover, it also basically instantly healed all the wounds we inflicted upon it.
『And now it’s gone and awakened!』
The entire magic beast’s body seemed to swell up in size. Most notable were its fangs and claws, both of which doubled in length. It’d gotten stronger stat-wise as well. Its agility in particular had totally skyrocketed so much that I’d actually lost the ability to keep up with it. Its hands almost seemed to disappear each and every single time they moved.
We were able to fight it because we had access to Sword Lord Arts, but, its obscenely high agility stat made engaging it extremely difficult. Its Presence Detection skill made it so we couldn’t even hit it if we tried getting the jump on it by teleporting.
I figured we’d have an easier time hitting it if we just used magic, but, it had access to the Magic Resistance skill, so we wouldn’t be able to deal any real damage to unless we hit it really hard. Knowing that, I tried hitting it with an Inferno Burst immediately after it avoided one of Fran’s attacks.
I clicked my tongue. The attack worked, but it didn’t work well enough. The magic beast had both a high health pool and a decent magic stat. Those two factors, when combined with its Magic Resistance, meant we wouldn’t be able to finish it off in a single strike, which in turn meant that it would just end up regenerating.
『I know right? It looks we won’t be able to finish it off unless we kill it in a single blow.』
We quickly devised a plan to deal with the situation, albeit a rather simple one. Urushi and I were to slow down the magic beast with surprise attacks and Telekinesis respectively while Fran went in for the kill.
The plan’s execution went pretty well. Fran initiated by attempting one of her sword drawing techniques, which caused the magic beast to attempt to dodge, but Urushi latched onto its foot while I restrained it, and so, she ended up landing her strike.
It was a full forced, reckless blow. I figured there was no point in conserving my durability, as we needed to end the battle immediately if we actually wanted to win it. Thus, I threw in as many skills as I possibly could in an attempt to use my entire mana pool. We also activated a whole bunch of different elemental blades despite the fact that doing so was sure to damage me so badly I’d end up temporarily unusable. Specifically, Fran activated lightning, while I pitched in with both wind and fire.
『Let’s do this!!!!』
The magic beast panicked and attempted to do everything it could to escape us.
But it was already far too late.
Fran’s strike had already landed and seperated the Magic Beast’s left and right halves. I’d felt its magic stone, which had been located within its heart, split into two cleanly cut pieces.
Our attack had drained the hell out of my durability. I had less than 20% remaining. Cracks ran down my blade as it slowly began to crumble. Still, it was worth it, especially since selling what was left of the creature we’d just killed was sure to earn us a pretty penny.
Both the considerations I just mentioned were honestly nothing but mere afterthoughts. I was instead much more focused on my skill page. That is, I was hurriedly looking through my memory in hopes of finding the skill I’d just obtained.
『Where the hell… Found it!』
The skill I’d been looking for and the skill I just found was Awakening.
『We did it Fran!』
『Should I swap it in right away?』
I equipped the skill, thereby allowing Fran to make use of it. I felt like I was soaring above the clouds, but did my best to stay calm so I could immediately inform her that the deed had been done.
『Should be done now. You feel anything?』
「Nn… Can use it.」
Her affirmation doubled as confirmation that she was now finally capable of evolving. Given that, I settled down and silently waited for her to do the deed.
「Fu… Hah… Nn! Awakening!」
She took a couple deep breaths before activating the skill and causing the amount of magical energy within her to skyrocket.
『Looks like it’s working!』
Black lightning started erupting from within her and rampaging through her surroundings. The storm of both electricity and wind that engulfed the room forced both Urushi and I to retreat from where she was while pondering whether or not she was actually okay.
『Hey Fran! You alright!?』
She didn’t respond even though we called out to her, which in turn led me to worry that she’d lost control of her abilities.
Fortunately, that wasn’t actually the case. The raging energies around her eventually settled down to reveal her with both her tail and ears completely straightened out. A second look made me realize that her tail was actually a bit different how it normally was. It’d become striped, with alternating shades of its usual black and a slightly lighter, ash-grey shade. The difference between the two colours was so minute that I could only barely make it out because of the magical illumination that filled our surroundings.
Large teardrops began flowing down Fran’s cheeks.
Her dearest wish had just been fulfilled.
I didn’t need to ask to know that countless memories and emotions were swirling about within her.
I remained silent as I approached her and gently, telekinetically stroked her back.
She grabbed onto my handle and used me to support herself as she began to cry.
She eventually ended up collapsing forward and pressing her forehead against the flat of my blade. Feeling both her warmth and pulse almost made me want to join her in crying despite the fact that I was a sword.
In fact, I wasn’t the only one that’d started feeling that way, as Urushi, who’d snuggled up against her, had started to tear up as well.
It took about 10 minutes for Fran to finally stop crying.
She rubbed her eyes, stood up, and showed a bit of a shy smile before rubbing Urushi’s head, as if to hide the fact that she felt embarrassed.
『Don’t worry about it. We know how much this means to you.』
『Alright, how about we check everything over real quick?』
Fran sniffled one last time before tightening up her expression. She looked down her hands as she opened and closed them in order to feel out exactly what about her had changed.
『Well? How do you feel?』
「Nn… Overflowing with power.」
『Hmmm, well you don’t look too different, so I guess I’d better check your sta-WHAT THE FUCK!?』
Seeing Fran’s stat page force me me into a state of shock.
Her agility and magic stats had both been boosted by 300. Her HP and Mana had both been completely topped off, and she’d even gained an innate skill by the name of Brilliant Lightning Rush, all seemingly because she’d used Awakening.
『Evolving sure does come with some pretty impressive looking effects. Wait a second…』
Glancing over Fran’s stat page again had caused me to do a double take. I’d assumed that she’d turned into a Black Tigerkin because that was what Rumina was, but I was wrong.
『Hey Fran, you uh… kinda just became a Black Heavenly Tigerkin.』
The Black Heavenly Tigerkin were legendary Beastkin that were by no means weaker than the Golden Flame Lionkin that held the Beast Lord’s throne.
『I wonder what all this is supposed to mean…』
『What do you think, Fran?』
『Fran…? Urushi…? Hello? Hellllllo…?』
Both my companions had suddenly gone dead silent.
Taking a second glance at them made me realize that they’d completely stopped moving too. They weren’t even so much as twitching or anything like that at all. They were simply unmoving. It was almost like someone had stopped time, and that someone couldn’t have possibly been me given that I hadn’t used Space/Time magic at all.
「The hell’s going on?」
Darkness came out of nowhere and swallowed my surroundings as I asked the question. I couldn’t process what’d happened. It was almost like my sense of sight had been completely turned off.
T-The hell just happened? Are Fran and Urushi both still fine?
「Don’t worry. Nothing’s happened to them. I’ve just temporarily stopped time for everyone but you.」
「You sure have gone and done it now… I never would’ve thought it was possible for you to allow her to evolve the way you did.」
「You meeting her, that young Black Catkin girl, was nothing short of a miracle in and of itself already. I never expected the two of you to get this far.」
『Uhhh. So who exactly are you?』
「I’m one of the individuals governing over this world and its ways. I guess the most understandable way for me to explain my identity to you would be for me to name myself as Goddess of Chaos.」