Book 1, Chapter 59

A Fateful Battle

The creature Richard released was a snow rabbit as well, but less than a third the size of Steven’s it was only a little larger than its domestic cousins. The difference between this particular snow rabbit and any other was that its torso was light brown in colour, the fur shed when it was implanted with runes. This showed that Richard’s rune slotting still needed a lot of improvement, unable to fuse the rune into the creature’s physical body perfectly. On the other hand, it also showed that the snow rabbit itself wasn’t all that strong, the rune had to be implanted by force.

A collective sigh of relief spread out from the Solam camp once they saw the snow rabbit. How could such a weakling defeat a winter wolf? It was only Mountainsea that still rested her head in her hands, looking around the laboratory attentively without an ounce of worry or anxiety on her face.

Professor Fayr straightened up when he saw this snow rabbit, revealing a bewildered expression. Shaman Urazadzu opened his crusty eyes, sizing up the snow rabbit before he slowly shut them again. There was a slight smile on his face.

As for Sharon herself, she tilted her head and dozed off with her hands supporting her face. It looked like the trip hadn’t been a lucrative one, and the legendary mage hadn’t completely recovered yet.

The winter wolf caught the attention of the snow rabbit once Richard left the arena. It was a gutsy creature indeed— its fur stood up at the sight, and it started squealing at the canine.

Being provoked by such a weak being, the wolf went into attack mode with no hesitation. It let loose menacing deep howls, streamlining its body before jumping forward at the speed of lightning. With one bite, it sank its teeth into the snow rabbit.

However, the rabbit that wasn’t scared of the wolf earlier didn’t resist in the least, taking the attack without doing anything. It grimaced in pain, trying to struggle, but the wolf had already lifted it off the ground. Any attempt of struggle was futile.

But just at that moment, the snow rabbit took in a deep breath with all its might. Its eyes turned from icy blue to blood red, its body inflating rapidly as its thick coat of fur couldn’t withstand the glow of the flames within.

*Boom!* An explosion erupted in the middle of the arena, flames rising into the sky before morphing into a mushroom cloud that continued the ascent. They only dissipated when they reached the ceiling.

The dust cleared to reveal a distinct lack of a snow rabbit. However, the winter wolf’s mouth was missing as well, and the upper half of its body was charred black. It took a few unsteady steps forward, but then suddenly fell head first to the floor. Its four limbs spasmed before they grew motionless.

Silence descended upon the laboratory. The sudden reversal of the outcome came far too suddenly. It took but a few moments from the start of the battle for the explosion to occur, and nearly nobody had expected such an outcome.

Richard stood by the laboratory, feigning a calm that could not conceal his feelings of pride. The legendary mage suddenly opened her once-closed eyes, her eyes turning to happy crescents as she blinked at him.

The silence was soon interrupted by a hysterical cry, “Cheating! He cheated!” The dragon warlock, despite being held back by his subordinates, was trying to climb over the railings to charge at Richard.

But Richard remained motionless; his eyes curved into two half slits exuding happiness. His left hand’s fingers began moving subconsciously, and should the dragon warlock really charge forth he would find out what the true fighting techniques of the underworld were. Steelrock stared at Richard’s left hand, before looking at the dragon warlock who was resisting with all his might. His face revealed a sense of nonchalance as he deliberately and very obviously spat in the dragon warlock’s direction.

The members of the Solam tribe pretended not to have seen Steelrock’s actions, before a few warriors came forth to pin Steven down. A few mages were exchanging whispers, discussing the battle in hushed voices. Meanwhile, Minnie gazed at Richard blankly from the Solam seats, her face twisted with complicated emotions.

The Solams had turned into a mess, but the professors of the Deepblue remained sitting in their upright positions, not making any dramatic movements and only exchanging glances from time to time. At the same time, Mountainsea cemented her gaze onto Richard, neglecting anything else that appeared in her vision. However, having fixed her eyes onto Richard, Mountainsea’s expression revealed an immense sense of longing, which she tried hard to suppress by maintaining her upright sitting posture, retaining the virtuous disposition that Norlanders were known to have.

Although a majority of the barbarian warriors hadn’t been able to understand what happened, the change in expression of some of the palace guards implied they came to a certain realisation regarding things. The half--charred body of the wolf lay motionless in the middle of it all, with no chance of standing up once more.

“I won’t accept this! He cheated!” Steven was in a frenzied rage, resisting with all the strength he could muster, making it hard for the four warriors holding him down to keep him there. He even went as far as to bite the arms of the warrior in front of him, but although the man flinched a little he wouldn’t dare let go.

An old man dressed in common clothing stood up from the last row of the Solam seats, letting out a huge sigh before casting a sleep spell on Steven. The spell took full effect despite the dragon warlock’s resistance, sending him into deep sleep after a short struggle. The sheer effectiveness of the spell spoke volumes of how formidable this mage was.

The old man took a look at Steven before commanding, “Take him back.” The Solam warriors took their leave, bringing the warlock out of the laboratory.

Only afterwards did he walk out of the Solam seats, bowing deeply to the distant Sharon in apology, “Forgive me, my family hasn’t taught its children well. I hope you won’t take it to heart.”

Sharon yawned and barely opened her eyes. The effectiveness of the spell, albeit it being very top-notch, had not impressed her. Had she cast the same spell she would have sent all the Solam Family members here to sleep. She’d even have a near 50% chance of it working on Steelrock, a totemic warrior of the barbarian race. The only reason why Sharon had decided to be a little more formal was due to the old man’s social standing and his respectfulness.

“Earl Fornon Solam… Why sneak in without a word of greeting? Were you afraid the competition wouldn’t be fair?” she asked in a mocking tone.

Fornon was Duke Solam’s younger brother, a powerful level 18 mage who controlled a formidable branch family himself. It was evident why he appeared in the Deepblue this time, requiring no extra explanation.

Earl Fornon let out a huge sigh, and looked at Richard with complex feelings, “No, the results were very fair. We did lose the competition. The rune that was attached to the snow rabbit’s body was likely a self-destruction rune, that’s a grade 3 rune condensed down to an elementary one. Even if it was only a third of the efficiency, that’s already very close to being a true runemaster. The competition was a test of one’s understanding of runes, and Richard managed to create his own while we only stuck to the standard. Regardless of whether he designed it personally, we’ve failed the test.”

“I’m glad you think that way! There’s no need to be too devastated about it, it’s only one chance lost. There’s no lack of such with me,” the legendary mage revealed a dimpled smile, “Considering our long relationship, I can consider giving you another slot. The fees will be the same as before, only half of what a paying student would give. Of course, it won’t be in runecrafting. Hmm, how about this: I haven’t taken in any apprentices to train based on bloodline, perhaps you might want to take up that domain? A strong warlock is like a mobile cannon on the battlefield!”

Fornon’s face twitched a few times, before he thanked the legendary mage once more for her kind intentions and expressed his plans to discuss it with the duke before sending over a disciple with a bloodline to learn from the legendary mage. The Earl indeed had the demeanor of an aristocrat. Only after expressing his well wishes towards Richard once again did he lead the members of the Solam Family away.

Once the Solams left, Blackgold sighed deeply in regret. His gaze had been the same as Sharon’s as they watched Steven being taken away, reluctant to part with him. Not every student could burn money like the warlock did. Steven indeed had no fitting opponent in that domain. It was a pity that, even though Sharon offered to teach him as a warlock, the Solams had decided to cut their losses…

The grand mages entered the arena, beginning to clean up. They flipped the charred winter wolf carcass over, beginning a hushed discussion.

Eventually, Professor Fayr couldn’t help but stand forth and ask, “Richard. That rune you attached to the snow rabbit, did you simulate self-destruction or an implosion spell?” His voice was trembling just at the mention of the latter. Implosion was a grade 9 spell, something only the Solomon Family’s fifth grade set that was passed on from generation to generation could recreate. Having asked the question, Fayr noticed how overly agitated he was as well. Even a simulated implosion would be at least grade 3, and the spell that Richard had implanted onto the snow rabbit was obviously just an elementary structure.

Richard suppressed his own agitation, slightly bowing towards the grand mages before answering like he was in a classroom. “I referenced self-destruction, but that’s not what gave rise to the explosion. There’s many kinks I have to iron out before I can recreate a grade 3 spell, so I actually just added three fireball spells into the rune, ignited by the vitality of the snow rabbit. Two of them had differing amounts of delay, so all three effectively burst forth at the same time. The life energy the snow rabbit could burst forth with on the edge of life and death triggered the effects of the rune.”

The explosion of three standard fireballs at the same time would have more than seventy degrees of power, definitely enough to fatally injure the winter wolf even if they didn’t hit a vulnerable area like the mouth of the creature. Only grade 2 runes could cast multiple spells simultaneously, however, and they weren’t something Richard could make now. Thus he’d decided to use the method with three fireballs and delays, but even so this wasn’t something an ordinary runemaster could do. Only someone with precise calculations like Richard was capable of this feat. Just the delays on two of the fireballs had taken him a good half month to complete, requiring lots of practice and luck to get it within the 0.2 millimetre window he had.

However, Richard’s words sent the mages into an uproar, and they couldn’t help but start speaking in hushed voices.

“Three fireballs with two delays, and the timing of the delays was controlled so accurately? How unexpected!”

“So many different spells in one elementary rune?”

“Is this really something Richard built?”

It was no surprise for so many of the mages to be shocked. Implanting so many spell structures in such a small rune was no easy task. Furthermore, the rune itself had been custom designed, and if Richard really was the one who came up with it he would face no obstacles on his path to becoming a grand runemaster. Grand runemasters were very esteemed people in the three kingdoms, and some of them were people even Sharon couldn’t offend. There were runemasters amongst the mages as well, but they watched on in wonder at the birth of a legend.

Having heard Richard’s explanation, Fayr nodded his head and sat down slowly. He said profoundly, “Richard, the creativity you’ve shown with this rune is quite commendable, and it has your style. But remember that the gates of power have only just been opened ahead of you, and there is a long way to go before you reach the peak. Only when you complete your journey can you have the last laugh. Things like self destruction are a last resort, something you shouldn’t use in most other situations. Putting everything into offense is not the best choice.”

Richard smiled faintly. Fayr’s words confused him a little, but they also touched him. Runes really were a two-way bridge: the runes he created would allow others to peer into his own self.

Fayr had said his piece, but Richard felt distinctly that there were others paying attention to him as well. Chief amongst them were Sharon and Mountainsea. He’d won this fateful competition, revealing for the first time his gift that could take him to the level of a grand runemaster.

However, this was but a small stop in the grand scheme of things in his heart. He knew the hatred between him and Steven wouldn’t cease just yet. Just like he’d told Mountainsea, some animosity could never be forgiven.

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