Locke recovered well over the next two days. Now that he was in his best form, it was time to resume his journey to the top. Truth be told, two days weren't long nor brief. Yet, they were enough for the participants to reshuffle the rankings and witness the emergence of rising dark horses.
He’d dropped to fourth place due to idling. The time spent in the cave recovering was extremely peaceful but the world outside remained chaotic. As a result, people began to wonder about the Scar member that had been inactive for two complete days. Questions and doubts floated about in the air. Was he hurt? Was he surrounded and outnumbered? Was he in deep trouble? The crowd could only guess since there were no answers offered. The discussions grew fiery as time stretched on.
To everyone’s surprise, the subject of their interest had finally shown some activity on the fifth day of the games. It wasn’t significant, but he would regain his champion status if he could maintain this rate.
There was a lush plain in the heart of the realm, where Mermerri’s Cottage raised Hueire elves. The elves were only as tall as a human calf and their lacklustre competence had made them vulnerable. They were only as strong as low-rank Lehrlings! Even so, they were one of the best creatures Mermerri had found success in cultivating over the century. The elves were producers of Hueire crystals that could help elevate the mastery of elemental mana among low and mid-rank Lehrlings with minor side effects. It went without question that they were Mermerri’s greatest export.
Unfortunately for the elves, their habitat was disturbed by a fierce duel between a green-robed caster and a knight that wielded a monster bone shield. The ferocity of their battle had surpassed that of Locke and Yeffermun even.
“Are you sure you want to fight me for the Hueire king’s crystal core, Vienerson?” The green-robed caster warned chillingly beneath his heavy hood.
The knight huffed. “I’ll have the Leaf of Life no matter what it takes,” He replied nonchalantly as he dispersed an explosive blast of flames with his shield. He mocked, “What’s with you today, Jelredar? Your spells are shabby!”
The green-robed caster appeared unfazed, opting to reply to his old friend with a larger and stronger flaming ball.
As the leader of all Hueire elves in the realm, the elf king was a base-rank lifeform. Despite its excellence and higher competence, it was inevitably reduced to a prize for a duel between Jelredar and Vienerson. It was obvious that they were objectifying the creature. Gaps between quasi-rank elites could be large. Since the Hueire elves were smaller, their lethality was greatly diminished, making them all the more vulnerable among their peers.
“Let’s see if your impetus has improved.” Jelredar huffed disinterestedly and thrust his staff forward. He murmured a spell, manifesting vines and trees that grew to a few dozens of metres tall. Their branches twisted and turned like snakes, shooting towards Viernerson in a flurry.
“I’m afraid you’d be disappointed this time!” Vienerson steadied his sword and filled the weapon with impetus. He created a storm of blades that shredded up Jelredar’s vines. If based solely on the vehemence of his impetus, Vienerson’s was of better quality and higher capacity than Locke's; this much was to be expected from a Mermerri elite. Both Jelredar and Vienerson were expected to become either level-one or level-two lifeforms.
The Magisters in the sky watched them among the fluffy clouds.
“Must be nice to be young!” A three-hundred-year-old Magister cooed as he watched the two elites collide. Many of them had walked the same path; each level-one Magister had been regarded as some form of a prodigy when they were Lehrlings. Those whose potential could shine during their budding era were often the characters that caught the faction’s attention. Organisations were more willing to support such talent with more resources, after all.
Regardless of the outcome, Jelredar and Vienerson were bound to receive huge support from Mermerri’s Cottage. The Leaf of Life was not sufficient to award such talent. Apart from that, the wealth of long-standing factions that’d managed to last through hundreds and thousands of years was unfathomable to most. The sheer amount of foreign planes that the factions invaded was the source of their bottomless coffers, after all.
Two days later, the event had reached its eighth-day mark; the end was near. The battle on the Hueire plains concluded with Jelredar’s victory. The caster had subdued Vienerson with his arsenal of violent spells, destroying the knight’s proud shield during the scuffle even. A third of Vienerson’s body was badly damaged by the attack and it was fortunate that he managed to escape moments before his irreversible defeat. The timely retreat had saved his life and points, but that had come at the price of losing the Hueire elf king.
The losses were minute in comparison, though. The biggest damage Vienerson shouldered was a blow to his confidence. It had been ultimately humiliating to be defeated by his nemesis; getting humbled by his enemy was more painful than death itself. His flaming owl skull shield was shattered but it was nothing compared to his diminished poise. There was no doubt that he was destined to become a level-one Ritter provided that he wouldn’t wallow in self-pity.
“What’s the current ranking looking like?” A black-robed man approached Old Korr. He was one of the main officers of the Krimea Scar branch and could be considered Old Korr’s boss.
“The first place has 1534 points, the second 1321 points, the third 1298 points and one of our members is in fourth place with 1221 points!” replied Old Korr enthusiastically.
“Not bad.” The black-robed man seemed pleased. The Scar of the Death Bell had only dispatched two of their finest talents to sabotage Mermerri’s Cottage, it being the Bone Chilling Yeffermun and a quasi-Ritter recommended by Old Korr. Regardless of whichever talent placed fourth, it was a great accomplishment regardless and a task fulfilled by the Scar’s higher circle’s standards.
While the current achievement was splendid news to the black-robed man, he couldn’t help but feel that something was off. Necromancy and shadowmancy were very similar to occultism, which gave many of its practitioners sharper perceptions that exceeded that of regular casters, second only to arcanists and occultists. Despite the weird premonition, the black-robed caster decided against entertaining that thought, chalking it off as his anxiety. He knew nothing about the quasi-Ritter, but Elder Yesserker had given Yeffermun a tube of Vermouth potion before the games. The man did not doubt that Yeffermun could easily outrun anyone when necessary.
As the event progressed, Locke’s climb eventually plateaued. He was still gaining points, but there was no improvement to his current ranking, an unfortunate situation brought on by limited resources. The Enchanted Forest Realm may be a resource supplier but the faction couldn’t afford to offer all of its major monsters and high-ranked materials to the cultivators.
He gained another fifty points upon squashing the heart of an ivory-horned rhinoceros. Locke looked around, bewildered to not find any major monster above mid-rank in the huge swamp. If that was the case, he could only resort to slaughtering competitors, which would be the most merciless aspect of the event.
With Fermoss’ help, Locke killed a dozen participants on the ninth day, which allowed him to claim third place with a total of 1432 points. While the scoreboard wasn’t disclosed to the participants, Locke felt like it would only make sense for him to be somewhere at the top. He doubted it was enough to get the elven potion, though. He decided to focus on earning as many points as possible to increase his chances, just to be safe.
It was on the last day when Locke came across a ruthless battle in the middle of Blaze Valley involving a certain green-robed caster, whose skill was extremely refined, against a hoard of knights and casters. It was a one-to-ten situation and all of his opponents were at least high-rank lifeforms. Locke would have emerged from such a fight victorious, but not without summoning Fermoss for support. His mind was boggled; the green-robed caster was fending himself with only spells and mental abilities.
“Damn!” Locke could sense the violent energy in the caster’s brooch even from a distance. The concentration of energy was slightly more intense than his! Locke lamented, Why are there so many prodigies out here in the wild? He thought he’d thinned out his competition earlier.
“Mm?” There was a shift in the atmosphere. The green-robed caster tilted his head over to Locke’s hiding spot with a cautious look. It took him no time at all to be through with his hoard of attackers. Once he was done absorbing their points, he zapped over to Locke, completely disregarding the other spoils littered haphazardly across the ground.
Flight was an ability that expended immense mana, even for quasi-Magisters. Even so, the green-robed caster was completely unfazed by the output, which indicated that he was definitely a peak quasi-Magister, merely a step away from becoming a Magister.
“Oh? A knight?” Jelredar’s found Locke in his armour.
Locke’s heart sank at the unexpected proximity. He could recognise this person. The green-robed caster was one of the geniuses from Mermerri’s Cottage that Old Korr pointed out while they gathered before the portal. He was Jelredar, the current hotshot of the faction!
“You’re a tad stronger than Vienerson. That bastard would’ve been pleased to meet you,” commented Jelredar with a faint smile. Vienerson may have been his life-long nemesis but he’d gained a great deal of respect and acknowledgement from Jelredar.
“Well then, time to draw your sword, knight!” In true chivalric fashion, Jelredar raised his staff and challenged Locke to a duel.