38 A-Rank Advancement Exam
Nick let out a nervous breath as he woke up, or more accurately, appeared in his second reality. Today was the day of his A-rank advancement exam and he was not ready mentally. For the first time in a long time his mind was full of self doubt. He had trained for this day for a long time and now that it was finally here he was not sure he was ready. After all, it was hard to gauge your own growth.
What if I get defeated? What if I am never strong enough to advance to A-rank? Am I really at the point where I could rival Dario, Will, or Zach? These were the types of questions that plagued his mind as he slowly got ready to head to the guild. If he couldn't advance to A-rank today he was not sure what to do, up until this point it was almost like life was forcing him to progress.
Today was different, he had no official training to increase his strength. All he did was throw himself at stronger and stronger enemies in hopes of being able to defeat them. All enemies were different, they are hardly an accurate way to gauge improvement. He knew he could very well be strong enough to take B-rank quests with ease but still lose this fight. The difference between the weakest and strongest A-ranker is great, Dario had said that much.
"Fuck it... I will never know unless I try, regardless of the outcome maybe I will see some improvement." He let out a heavy sigh as he finished getting dressed. "Guess I won't need Azara today." He mumbled to himself as he sat on his bed and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. Today would be the truest test of his skill in a while.
With a huff Nick got up and made his way out of his house and down the road he had walked down many times at this point. In fact, he was not far from that fight club he went to once. Shit, I completely forgot about that place after all that happened. This walk to the guild, for some reason, he felt compelled to take in his surroundings. All of the fantastical things that had grown common began to catch his attention.
For example a man with wolf ears and a tail flirting with a girl who had cat ears and a tail. A strange sight that any other day he would pay no mind to. The same with an elvish blacksmith lighting a fire with his fire magic as he starts up his shop for the day. There were so many things in this world he had not really paid much attention to until now... Why am I suddenly thinking like a tourist? I have walked this stretch of road so many times...
Eventually he made it to the front door of the guild, hesitating slightly before entering and walking up to reception. He pulled out his card and put it on the desk before speaking. "I am here for my A-rank exam..."
The receptionist picked up the card and looked at it briefly before checking a few pieces of paper on his messy desk. "Ah, seems your opponent is ready for you. We just need to clear out the arena. I hope you don't have stage fright, people really like to watch advancement exams for A-rank and above. People are always looking to scout new talent for their parties from these advancement exams."
Nick could feel his body tense slightly at the mention of a big crowd, crowds have never bothered him before but he didn't want people to see him get beaten if he wasn't strong enough. "It's fine, I am a little nervous but that should go away once the fight starts."
"If the nervousness doesn't go away this is going to be embarrassing."
"Yeah, you're telling me..." Thanks for the vote of confidence, man...
"Wait here for a minute, I'll go get the arena and your opponent ready. I will come get you when we are ready."
"Alright." Nick sighed as he sat down on a nearby bench and began to wait. The wait, while no more than thirty minutes, felt like an eternity. Each second that passed was like a minute, each minute like an hour as the hands of his pocket watch moved in seemingly slow motion. It was only when the receptionist was walking back towards him that time seemed to resume at its normal speed.
It is so unlike me to be this nervous. When meeting the king, of all people, I was not nearly this nervous... Why now? He could only guess, but his leading theory is all that is at stake. What it means to lose this fight and not advance.
"We are ready, please follow me." Those words from the receptionist made him feel like a noose was tightening around his neck as he was pulled behind the man. Though, that was obviously all in his head. In reality he was just following the man like normal as his mind was in turmoil.
"Alright..." He said in a hushed tone, trying to calm down the chaos is his mind. This is no big deal, even if I lose this fight it doesn't mean anything. That was what he was telling himself even though he didn't really believe it. This was a big deal whether he wanted to admit it or not.
"Go on in, your opponent is waiting inside. One of the S-rank adventurers will be announcing and acting as the referee. He will break up the fight if it looks like one of you is about to kill the other." The receptionist said as he opened the door, the harsh daylight making Nick squint as he walked into the arena. Slowly everything in the arena began to come into focus.
The stands were filled with easily over a hundred people. It could reasonably sit many more but this was just an A-rank advancement exam and on rather short notice. In the arena there were two people, the referee and his opponent. The referee was an older man looking to be in his late thirties with long golden hair and brown eyes. He wore a long tattered coat and civilian looking clothes, he didn't look S-rank.
His opponent was a bit different. His opponent had black hair, ears, and a tail with a white tip. He looked to be a wolf demi-human, something Nick had never fought before. He wore jean-like pants, an extremely tight black sleeveless shirt, and a thick fur cloak that currently looked more like a cape. He definitely looked his rank, his piercing blue eyes exuded confidence and authority.
Nick slowly made his way into the arena where there was currently a practice sword laying on the ground. His opponent was currently holding his calmly at his side as he sized up Nick, his opponent. Once he picked up his sword the crowd began to cheer loudly and the referee began to speak with a booming voice. "Everyone! Welcome to the A-rank advancement exam for B-rank adventurer Nick Anderson!"
As the man continued to speak to the crowd everyone began to cheer louder. "His opponent today is Isai Prince! You all know him as the young adventurer who has been making a name for himself this past year with his lightning magic and powerful familiar! You all may also know him by his nickname, The Prince of Thunder!" At the mention of his achievements and nickname the crowd somehow managed to cheer even louder than before.
Hearing his opponents credentials did not help Nick's confidence. Wonderful, I have to fight some kind of lightning prodigy with some kind of amazing familiar... Wait, will we be able to use our familiars in this fight? I just kind of assumed we wouldn't be able to. Guess I will find out when the announcer slash referee gets to the rules.
"Now, let's get to the fight you have all been waiting for!" At those words Nick's fingers tightened around the hilt of the dull practice sword. "The rules are simple, anything goes! We have medical teams on standby so don't be afraid to cut or maim. However, killing is strictly prohibited, if your opponent dies and you are at fault you will be banned from the adventurer's guild!"
Wow, that is a bit extreme... Well, at least I don't have to worry about dying. Or at least I hope I don't have to worry about dying. This guy seems really serious, I feel like he could kill me without laying a finger on me. Nick gulped as a bead of sweat rolled down his neck.
"Ready! Get set! Fight!"
Nick's eyes flared red as the word "fight" left the referees mouth, this seemed to shake his opponents confidence some. The feeling of his demonic energy coursing through his veins filled him with a lot of confidence. I forgot what a great stress reliever this is... He thought as he grinned. His opponent grimaced some.
"Thor!" Isai shouted at the top of his lungs, leaving Nick stunned with the name of a Norse god being shouted out. Not even half a second later what looked to be a massive lightning strike hit the ground in the arena, leaving a crater with a giant wolf with gray fur and bright blue eyes in it. The wolf was easily twice the size of Isai while standing on all fours.
"Shit..." Was all Nick could say, looking at the wolf in stunned silence before remembering he has a familiar of his own. "Azara!" He shouted out, fire erupting from the ground as his demonic familiar stepped out from it.
"Oh? We have an audience this time I see. I didn't take you for an exhibitionist, master." Azara said in a cheerful and carefree voice before the wolf let out a deafening roar. "Jeez, what kind of wolf roars?" She continued with a now irritated tone as she got into a fighting stance.
"Azara, I need you to handle the wolf. I will take care of its demi-human master."
"You get all the fun..." Azara said sarcastically as she shot off towards the familiar, Nick doing the same as he ran at Isai. He didn't waste a second as he swung his sword towards Isai's collar, though it was easily blocked. Half a second later Nick could feel his body tingle and convulse slightly as electricity ran down his blade and into his body. Shit, lightning magic.
Luckily, thanks to his mana shield that coated his body, he was able to maintain enough control to jump back and away from Isai. He took a deep breath, steadying his breathing before shooting forward again, thrusting his sword directly for Isai's chest. This time he focused all of his mana shield on his arms, when Isai slapped Nick's sword out of the way Nick sent a left jab at his chest instead.
"Foolish." Isai said under his breath as he grabbed Nick's wrist and began to shock him with even stronger lightning magic. Though Nick just grinned, thanks to his concentration of mana on his arms he was fine. Without his fist even touching Isai he sent out a powerful blast of shock magic, making Isai wince and let go of Nick's wrist as he shot back a couple of meters. "Damn... I wasn't expecting that..."
Meanwhile, as Isai and Nick fought, Thor and Azara were having their own fight. Currently they were rushing at each other, but when Thor got in striking distance he went in for a bite. Azara wasn't fazed by this, her body bursting into flames as she grabbed his upper canines and braced her foot against Thor's lower jaw. "As if I would let some electrified puppy take me out." Slowly she began to force Thor's jaw open a painful amount, planning to break it.
Thor growled in gain, sending electrical energy surging through Azara's body. Azara yelled out and then gritted her teeth, putting all of her strength into her leg to force the large wolf's jaw open, breaking it, before jumping away. "Damn... Dog..." She said between deep breaths. It took a lot of mana and willpower to do what she just did, but the wolf was not in much better shape.
Nick was briefly distracted when he heard Azara and the giant wolf yell in pain, but he still kept his eyes on his enemy. Azara will be fine, she is much stronger than me. While he was briefly distracted Isai pointed his palm at Nick, a large bolt of electricity shooting out and hitting Nick in the chest at insane speed. Luckily he had re-distributed his mana shield after his attack earlier. Though now he focused it on his chest, making it a battle of sheer mana capacity.
"Shit..." He groaned, feeling his knees grow weak as he concentrated more mana on his chest. "I am not going to be defeated here!" Nick yelled, running forward towards his attacker. Once in ranged he swung his sword down at the assaulting hand, while the attack was easily avoided it did save him from being continuously shocked.
Though, it was never really his intention to hit with that attack. Instead he used the momentum he generated with his swing to spin and send his left heel into the other man's left temple. Isai had no way to see this coming and couldn't react, taking the full force of the attack. The force of the attack was enough to send him stumbling a few feet to his right before regaining his footing. A solid hit!
Nick grinned as he looked at Isai and saw a drop of blood run down his face. Isai didn't say a word nor did his expression change, though he did seem slightly more angry somehow. Isai gritted his teeth and this time went on the offensive, swinging his sword with his right hand at Nick's neck from the left side. Shit! Nick thought as he quickly ducked under the sword, reaching his hand out to touch Isai's ribs.
He then used almost all of the mana he had left to hit Isai with a devastating shock, making him lose his grip on his sword and essentially throw it across the arena mid-swing. As Isai fell to his knees Nick swung his sword hard at his neck, stopping short to signal his victory without having to actually unnecessarily harm the man. "I win." He said, a newfound confidence evident in his voice.
As he looked over to Azara he noticed she had somehow knocked out the giant wolf and was struggling to keep standing herself. One of her arms was also cut badly and bleeding heavily. "The winner is A-rank adventurer Nick Anderson!" The referee announced, a chorus of cheers erupting from the crowd that was previously silent from anticipation. With that announcement Nick let out a deep sigh of relief as he dropped his sword.
After a few seconds he offered his hand to Isai who reluctantly accepted the help getting up. "Nice to meet you." Nick said.
"You are a lot stronger than you look, I underestimated you. Congratulations on the promotion." Isai replied as a few medics walked out into the arena.
"Either of you hurt?" One of the medics asked.
"I'll be fine, a couple of bruised ribs." Isai said as one of the medics walked up to him and placed a hand on his back.
"It would heal on its own but you also have minor internal bleeding from a fracture, come with me and I will heal that right up." The medic said, basically dragging Isai off the field.
"Are you hurt anywhere, Mr. Anderson?" A female medic asked.
"I don't think so..." Nick said as he looked at his arms and then his chest. His chest did have some electrical burns, though nothing he couldn't heal on his own. His shirt was ruined though. "A couple of minor burns but I can heal those myself, I can use healing magic."
The woman tilted her head with a doubtful look appearing on her face. "Shock and medical magic? That is nearly impossible..."
"If you don't believe me I can show you my card..."
"No, that is fine. As long as you are fine we will take our leave, excuse us." She said, taking the other medic with her as they retreated back into the guild.
As they made their way off the field he made his way towards Azara as the giant wolf disappeared into a ball of electricity. "Are you going to be okay? If not I can bandage you up."
"As much fun as that sounds I will be fine in a little while if I just return to the underworld." Azara replied with an exhausted chuckle.
"Alright, get some rest." With those words Azara disappeared into a ball of flames. Once the battlefield was mostly clear the announcer/referee made his way over to Nick.
"Congrats, kid. I think I have seen you around the guild a couple of times but I have never really noticed you before, I'm interested to see what you are able to do in a couple of years time. Maybe it will be us standing in this arena when you are trying for S-rank."
"I guess we will see." Nick said with a smile as his demonic energy left his body and he was hit with a sudden wave of lightheadedness that almost knocked him off of his feet. "I need to go sit down... How do I get my A-rank card?"
"They should bring it out to you in about an hour or so, you can wait for it in the main hall." The man said, Nick nodded his thanks to him and slowly made his way out of the arena. Once he sat down on a bench in the main hall he nearly fell asleep, he was one second away from going back to earth before he caught himself. No way I can sleep in such a public place... He thought, chuckling to himself.
Nearly an hour passed before the receptionist came out and walked up to him. "Congratulations on becoming A-rank." He simply said before handing Nick his upgraded card and taking his old one. He couldn't help but grin as he slid his new card into its holder, running his thumb over it. His last one was getting old and damaged, this one was new and smooth.
As he was lost in thought he saw Isai come out of a back room, one person on each side of him. One was a man dressed in formal clothing, dress pants, shoes, and shirt but no jacket and he also had metal plated leather gloves not unlike the one Nick wore when Azara turned into a glove. He had dull blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and tanned skin. He was also smiling, indicating he was probably the most cheerful of the group. He was also the tallest, standing a whole head above Isai.
The other was a small and somewhat flat-chested woman in leather armor with two daggers fixed to her hip. She had brown hair and green eyes and had a half smile on her face as she talked with the tall man. Man, looks like quite the party... I should go say hi. He thought as he stood up and began to walk over to the small group.
"Hey, Isai! All healed up?" He asked, waving and smiling as he approached them.
"Ah, Nick. Yes, I am fi-" Isai was saying before being cut off by the tall man.
"You're the kid who beat Isai! Hey, what is your rank? You want to join our party?" The man asked with a loud and excited tone.
"Rank? Also I wouldn't mind joining your party if you are offering." He replied, a bit taken aback by the man suddenly jumping into the conversation.
"Yeah, your rank! I'm rank 20, Talia is rank 21, and Isai is rank 12! You should be able to ask for your rank at reception."
"Ah, I wasn't aware... I guess I will check, then.
"Don't mind that idiot, he always gets excited when meeting strong people." The woman, who Nick assumed was Talia, said.
Once the man opened his mouth to reply Isai poked each of them with one finger and shocked them, making each of them yelp in both pain and surprise. "Ignore both of them. I wouldn't mind having you in my party, you did beat me fair and square after all, but I am also curious of our updated rankings after the fight."
"Alright, well let's go and see." Nick said before walking to reception, waiting for the man to see them before talking. "Hey, we want to check out rankings." Nick took out his card and placed it on the desk, the other 3 doing the same.
"Alright, let's see here. Talia Orozco, rank 22. Blake Weber, rank 21. Isai Prince, rank 12. Nick Anderson, rank 14." The man said, sliding the cards back to their respective owner after reading each card.
"Dammit, I went down a rank again!" Blake complained as he put his card back.
"Well, the new A-rank is stronger than us so what do you expect? Not like the rankings mean much anyway, they only ever get updated when people fight so they aren't an accurate gauge of skill."
"Regardless of rank I would be happy to have you in the party. The more people in the party, the harder the quests we can take." Isai said in his normal monotone voice.
"Sure, I'll join your party for now." Nick said with a grin as Blake and Talia began to argue back and forth about rankings.
"Good, meet up here the day after tomorrow at noon. If you aren't here by then we will leave without you." Isai said, turning and walking towards the exit of the guild without another word. The other two eagerly followed behind him without getting even slightly distracted from their argument. Today went a lot better than expected... I just hope this doesn't end like the last time I joined a party.