The Primal Hunter - Chapter 742
To kick or not to kick. That is the question.
Well, alright, it wasn’t really a question but just Jake’s default way of handling any opponent he met in the arena. He knew full well that the situation couldn’t continue forever, but for now, his stats just outmatched everyone else by quite a margin.
It quickly became apparent that most of his opponents didn’t even have 10 in all stats, much less 16 in even their lowest, like Jake. This meant Jake thoroughly beat any and all opponents he met just by easily overpowering them. He was – metaphorically speaking - an adult professional fighter beating up a bunch of kids to quickly advance in ranks. If simply skipping ranks was possible, he would have gone for that, and on the third day, Jake even tried to ask the Battlemaster if it was possible to meet some higher-ranked opponent for a promotion match. To which the middle-aged man answered in a totally not judgemental tone:
“Oh, I am sure you would want that. Hey, do you think anyone else here wants the same? You’re confident, so surely that is enough, right? What complaints could your opponent possibly have for getting matched with some low-rank opponent who doesn’t even pull in a good audience? Surely, the fight itself would also go without a hitch, and with a victory, there would to so much glory in beating someone several ranks below yourself. And who would possibly feel humiliated if they lost to someone expected to be so much weaker than themselves? Yeah, definitely no one, so let me do you a favor here and now and change the centuries-old rules of the Colosseum just because you don’t feel like advancing the usual way! Who needs proper rules and a ranking system anyway? So old-fashioned. Having everyone fight everyone would be so much more exci-“
Jake cut him off after that, having gotten the point. The Battlemaster was a bit short with him the rest of the day after that, but luckily he was back to normal the next morning. However, during his first match on the fourth day, he found himself in an odd situation.
Standing ready behind the lowering gate, Jake looked at his beastkin opponent. She was a woman who was nearly two meters tall and had metal claws strapped to her hands. She definitely looked menacing and ready to pounce.
“Combatants, enter the arena!”
The moment the gate lowered, he walked forward as his opponent charged, yelling loudly:
“Heard you’re good at kicking! Let’s see you kick my claws, you pathetic human!”
With an annoyed frown, Jake looked at her and decided to get the fight over with right away. He even felt a surge of killing intent due to her comment as he considered employing the secret technique known as the dropkick. His eyes met with hers… and then things got weird. Right as their eyes met, she came to an abrupt stop and jumped back with wide eyes, hair standing up on her back.
Jake stood confused as she stared at him for a moment. Her sneer was gone, and her form lowered as she slowly backed away, looking perplexed. Jake took a step forward, making her jump back as she yelled loudly.
More confused than before, he wanted to ask the beastkin what the hell was going on… but before he even properly registered that the fight was over, she had run out of the arena faster than she had arrived. Jake had no idea what was going on initially… until he got an idea.
In the next fight, he tested his theory.
Jake considered something he hadn’t really thought much of for a long time. Everyone had an instinct; he knew that. It was natural, and while the enlightened races tended to have weaker ones than beasts, it was still there, with beastkin often having instincts often comparable to or even surpassing some beasts. Why did this matter?
Back during the Tutorial, Jake had far less of a handle on his Bloodline than now. One way that lack of control materialized was his presence always leaking slightly. He learned to hide it pretty quickly, though, as it was a dead giveaway that he had a Bloodline due to its peculiar effects. This leakage of presence back then didn’t really have any major impact under normal circumstances, as it was pretty normal to leak a bit of aura in the lower grades, but for Jake, it had quite the implications outside of being a neon sign advertising his Bloodline.
He vividly remembered several beasts avoiding him during the Tutorial. Raptors began to steer clear of him when they felt his aura and ran on sight. Even after coming back from the Tutorial, when he claimed the Pylon of Civilization, it shrouded the entire area in part of his presence, marking Haven as his territory.
Zoning out presences was something one tended to naturally learn just by being in the, well, presence of other living beings. After reaching higher grades, Jake couldn’t use his presence to directly pressure anyone around his own level of power without using Pride of the Malefic Viper, even if he had a powerful Bloodline. Not because it was less powerful than before but because people had learned to resist it. The only way he could have turned his Bloodline-empowered presence into an actual attack would have been to actively infuse it with energy and do something akin to Pride. The problem with that was how ineffective it was, and even if the quality was high due to his Bloodline, he wouldn’t be able to do anything to people he wanted to fight.
Could he scare a bunch of E and even D-grades shitless with his presence? Sure, but that wouldn’t be worth anything. No, the only normal application of unleashing your presence was to intimidate people and flex your power. Semi-uniquely for Jake, he could also use it to train others to resist presences faster, but he had found that just being around him seemed to do the job, though it was far slower than active resistance training. This was, as mentioned, only semi-unique to Jake, as others could also help you train to resist presences, but Jake was the only one who could give that really qualitative training.
However, even if his presence was useless as a C-grade, there were at least three key differences between the real world and the arena. Firstly, they were all level 0, as far as he could tell. They didn’t have any exposure to powerful presences and thus had no resistance. Partly related to this was the second reason: everyone’s souls were weak. The third difference was Jake himself, who had realized something.
While he could use Pride as a presence attack, there were other ways to use the uniquely powerful response others had to his Bloodline. The instinctual response it instilled in anyone who wanted to fight him. He still believed a powerful foe could zone it out… but these low-ranking opponents? No shot.
Continuing his little experiment, Jake made a human guy piss himself in his next match as he unleashed his full presence and murderous intent. He even infused mana into it right as the match began, scaring the poor guy shitless. The experiment was a big success, but he also knew it had only worked because the guy was so much weaker.
In the third fight of the day, Jake didn’t go as hard but focused on only one aspect of his presence: Suppression. No, calling it suppressing was wrong. It wasn’t quite the concept of suppression but something else. Something far more simple and primal…
The fear of a predator. The fear any human would experience when confronted with a bear or a lion before the system. It was the kind of fear that solicited a response from his foe. One that triggered fight or flight instantly.
During this third match, he saw that happen. He faced an elven woman with a rapier. She began with refined footsteps, and when fear gripped her, she didn’t retreat. No, she chose to fight. However, she was unable to keep calm and lost her cool as her instincts took over, making her decide to charge while yelling, earning her a kick to the temple, knocking her out in a single blow.
For the fourth fight, Jake once more tried to experiment as he wanted to work on something else. Because he did have one other skill that he felt was at least tangentially related to the concept that inspired this fear:
Gaze of the Apex Hunter.
The skill allowed him to use soul attacks by looking directly at his opponent’s souls. More accurately, he directly attacked their Soulshapes through an ocular connection, which was also why he needed visual contact. How exactly this concept worked, he wasn’t sure, especially not considering it completely ignored distance… but hey, something to look into.
One very interesting aspect of Gaze was also how it scaled. Its effects in E and C-grade were effectively identical, and in both grades, it barely took any energy. In fact, it took a proportionally minuscule level of energy no matter what grade he was in. Instead, the true cost of the skill was the mental drain from attacking another soul.
Jake currently didn’t really consciously infuse anything related to his Bloodline when using Gaze… but who is to say he couldn’t? Based on the description, he should be able to.
“A hunter who has seen his gaze reflected in the eyes of the Apex Predator and now stares back with equal zeal.”
Gaze of the Apex Hunter had come from the fusion of Hunter’s Sight and Gaze of the Apex Predator. Jake earlier considered how he infused instinctive fear into his opponents… much akin to an Apex Predator. Which was exactly how the skill worked before the upgrade:
“A single glance, a fallen prey. The Apex Predator has grown to where their foes cower in fear as it lays its eyes upon them.”
With all this in mind, why couldn’t Jake do his own skill-less version of Gaze? One that was probably far weaker but had some of the same concepts, at least. This was also one of the purposes of the Challenge Dungeon based on Jake’s estimations; to allow the ones doing it to truly reflect upon their paths and skills. Gaze was a prime candidate for some kind of improvements, too, especially when one considered how core it was to his Path by now.
So that is why he spent the next many matches experimenting with trying to incite instinctual fear in his opponents. Many fights still ended with him kicking his foe either because he failed or because the person resisted the fear effect. Sometimes it also just made them mad. Which did make it clear that even if he did succeed, it wouldn’t be the kind of ability that would work on everyone. At least not fully.
The day passed as Jake continued his six matches a day – five regular fights and one promotion match.
Like this, a good week went by. Jake had reached Journeyman Fighter by now and had spent some time checking out other areas of the Colosseum with all the downtime he had. After becoming a Fighter, he had even gained access to a bigger training area, but he had no interest in that.
On this fateful day, he had already won five matches and was just waiting for his promotion match. Jake was beginning to feel the pressure by now. In the last two matches, he had to use dozens of kicks to achieve victory, and he even ended up getting his clothes scratched a few times as he cut things too close.
And… he had a feeling this promotion match would be the end of his kicking-only spree. At this point, he continued just out of pure vanity, with the only changes to his fighting style being his experiments with inciting instinctual fear in his opponents.
While waiting, he quickly checked his status.
Current objective: Be promoted from Journeyman Fighter to Veteran Fighter
Current rank: Journeyman Fighter (5/5)
Colosseum Points: 765
Lives remaining: 10
His points had grown quite a lot. As for why they were what they were…
Well, math time:
The way Colosseum Points were rewarded wasn’t just doubling every time he got promoted, but the growth was quadratical. As a New Blood, he had gained 2 points for every victory and 10 for his promotion. That did double to 4 per victory as an Initiate, with the promotion offering 20, for a total of 40 – a doubling of points.
However, the theory of doubling died when he became a Fledgling Fighter, where every victory now gave 7 points, with the promotion match giving 35. Upcoming Fighter rank then rewarded 11 points per victory and 55 for the promotion match. With that data, Jake understood the formula.
Every time Jake ranked up, the points per victory would increase by 1 more than the prior increase. That was confirmed when he finally became a Fighter, and every victory gave 16 points – up 5 from before, with the prior increase going up by 4.
Promotion matches would always reward the same as all of the five victories combined, meaning they there clearly the most important to complete. Of course, the most important thing overall was still getting promoted fast for some of that quadratical growth to really kick in.
As an example, winning a single match as a Gladiator would give 56 points, and winning all matches and getting promoted would give 560. Of course, that was all with the assumption that his math continued to be accurate and that the rules of the Colosseum didn’t change… something he could totally see happen. It was also entirely possible the number of matches you need to get promoted changed, at which point-
Jake was thrown out of his thought process as someone spoke to him.
“Hey, you’re up now,” Owen said, having just walked over after ditching Polly somewhere. The guy, despite seeming pretty damn weak, had managed to reach Upcoming Fighter himself and was honestly doing pretty well.
“Oh shoot, you’re right,” Jake said, standing up and stretching his legs a bit. “Thanks for the reminder.”
“Good luck!” the guy smiled. “May your kicks be swift and strike true.”
“Sure, sure,” Jake shook his head as he walked toward the tunnel leading into the arena. Walking in, he was both looking forward to and dreading what was about to come… and not because of the upcoming fight. No, it was because of what would happen just before the fight…
Approaching the gate, he heard it. The dreadful voice that had recently begun to haunt his dreams.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and anything in between! Today, we have a truly exciting match on our hands! A battle between an old legend and a rising star. At one end of the arena, we have a true warrior of carnage – a veteran from the battlefield. A man with the power to cleave a bull in two! An arm so strong it takes three warriors to match him. Today, he is here to once more cleave his way to victory. That’s right, it’s the Cleaver!”
Jake heard the crowd go wild at the announcer introducing the fighters making him sigh. Things were a lot different now than when he started. Thousands lined the stands, all yelling in excitement as the same damn commentator from Jake’s first match spoke.
“On the other, someone trying to do the impossible. He has had a truly meteoric rise in the ranking, getting promoted every day since he registered! However, is today the end of his streak!? Is he a meteor that sours till it becomes a fallen star, or… will he ascend to the heavens!? Perhaps he’ll even be able to kick the existing stars out of the sky! Because if there is one thing this man can do, it is kick! You all know who I’m talking about… the man with a leg of steel and a kick spelling the doom of his foes. Welcome, the one, the only, Doomfoot!”
Jake fucking hated that name.