Author\'s Note: the  marks beasts speaking beast tongue, not human language.
The Scorpicore was a monster big enough, to make any sane man willing to face it rethink his life choices, no matter how brave he was.
Its shoulder height reached almost the three meters (9\'10), it had a scarlet red fur and mane, with shades of white, black, blue and yellow.
Actually, there were also red shades, even though only an interior decorator could have noticed them.
The monster had the body and the head of a lion, bat-like membranous wing coming out from his back and the tail was that of a scorpion.
From one of its pocket dimensions, the Scorpicore took out a gold rimmed pince-nez, that as soon touched the snout, grew big enough that each of its lenses became the size of 17 screen.
[Let\'s see where are the nearest playgrounds.] Thanks to the magical glasses, the monster gained an ability that closely resembled Solus\'s mana sense, paired with the ability to zoom in like a telescope.
[One group is near the green spring, another in the river clearing…] Despite the great distance, it was able to locate the groups of five unknown mana cores, identifying the students\' drop spots.
[Order and chaos, these humans have no imagination.
Everything is identical to the last time! Where\'s the fun in that]
While grumbling about mankind\'s lack of originality, the Scorpicore started sending teams of three magical beasts to intercept the humans and banish them from the forest.
[Rules of engagement] M\'Rook asked.
[Same old, same old.
Make a roar, growl, po*p on them, whatever.
Let them somehow notice your arrival, otherwise everything will be over before we can say \'order up\'.
As long as the Headmaster doesn\'t break the rules, we\'ll play along.]
[By the Great Mother, M\'Rook, you are an excellent second in command, but you need to start to pay attention to human\'s hierarchies.
The Headmaster is the boss of the castle, the thing you call made-mountain.]
It had almost finished dispatching the clean-up teams, when it noticed a pleasant surprise.
[Wait a minute, there is one group of six mana cores instead of five.
I call dibs on that!]
[What\'s a mana core] Asked a Cron, a hawk evolved in a magical beast, the size of a small piper plane.
[You are too young for that, Sentar.
Survive another twenty years and I\'ll teach you how to evolve again.]
[Boss Scarlett, you are making no sense, we are already at the pinnacle, right] Sentar tilted its head diagonally in disbelief.
[Yeah, right, and I was a born a Scorpicore.
No dimwit, magical beasts are just a step.
Before evolving in a Scorpicore I was just a Shyf (AN: see chap50), and before that I was a cute and cuddly house cat.]
Scarlett rolled on its back, exposing the giant tummy to the sun, purring like a muscle car.
Despite all its efforts, it was more disturbing than cute.
[You are joking right] Asked M\'Rook.
[No, I\'m not.
It\'s not like only you forest folk can turn into magical beasts.
And if you keep doubting my word, I\'ll rat you out to one of my dragon friends that once was a lizard.
I\'m sure he will be happy to have you all for dinner, with some good red wine.]
The various magical beast preferred swallowing down their incredulity.
Boss Scarlett told them the most ridiculous stories all the time, yet every single one of them turned out to be true.
[M\'Rook, Termyn, Sentar enough chatting, follow my lead!] With a single flap of its wings, the Scorpicore took off.
Only Sentar was able to follow it, while M\'Rook and Termyn, a Cingy (boar type magical beast), could only stare up.
[What a d*ck.] They said as one, while the Scorpicore was laughing its a*s off.
[Have you seen their faces This joke never gets old.
They are too serious.
They need to learn how to sit back and relax.
When I was your age…]
Sentar stopped listening to the Boss\' rantings, just nodding from time to time and giving a random answer.
Meanwhile, Lith\'s group was still arguing.
Everyone wanted to be the leader, to prove themselves being as good as the so-called top tier students.
Lith could only think of them as four caged hungry dogs, with only a piece of meat.
The problem was that the cage restricted only them from harming each other, it offered no protection from real threats.
Every second they spent yelling and arguing, was like setting up the table for all the beasts in the proximity.
He had already tried all the diplomatic approaches he and Solus could come up with, but with no result.
Him being a top tier, made them dismiss all of his proposals as attempts to rack more points at their expenses.
Sick and tired of their childish behaviour, Lith summoned a strong gale, that took them by surprise, making them fall butt first on the ground.
Listen up, you idiots. If being nice didn\'t work, he could as well return to his original demeanour.
Do you see that, that and that He pointed at several claw marks on different trees nearby.
Those are not rustic decorations to embellish the landscape.
Beasts use them as territorial marks, meant to warn intruders they are trespassing in their turf.
If you take a second to look away from your ego, you\'ll notice that this area is being contended by several magical beasts.
Each of them is capable of leaving claw marks the size of a book, and your rantings are alerting them all!
This is a group survival test, we are supposed to get along, put aside our differences and work as a team.
I want anyone watching us know that if we get wiped out before even an hour, it\'s all these idiots\' fault!
He said looking around, having no idea were the magic cameras could be.
The speech, especially the last part, worked like a charm.
After getting back up, they didn\'t even complain about the surprise attack.
They reconsidered their actions from the beginning, and prayed the gods to turn back time and give them a do over.
Being the gods otherwise busy, the timeline kept moving forward, and so did Lith.
I am no leader, I always hunted solo.
But one thing I know: in a dangerous environment the key to survival is being as stealthy as possible.
We need to find a place where to hide during the day, and easily defensible at night.
We must leave before…
The high-pitched shriek of bird of prey filled the air, while the ground started trembling below their feet.
Lith stopped talking, immediately taking the three fake potions out of his dimensional pocket and gulping them down.
He could now activate fire, earth and air fusion magic without arising any suspicion.
(AN: by infusing himself with said elements he has just become faster, stronger and tougher.
See chap19 for more details.)
Before he could finish drinking, Sentar swooped down, kidnapping the cutest of the two black haired girls from the group, and taking her up in the air.
- What a moron. The Cron thought.
Still defenceless despite my warning.
Fourth years are the worst opponents, barely offering any resistance. –
Cursing whoever Professor had picked his teammates, Lith could only watch the Cron getting higher and higher, supporting its flaps with powerful updrafts.
- I wish I could run away and let them get what they deserve.
I hate teamwork! – Lith thought.
Everyone else was still in a daze, refusing to accept reality.
What the f*ck are you doing Someone must take flight and save her! With her arms locked in the talons, she can\'t use magic! Lith wanted to beat them to death himself.
A monster, another monster! The high-pitched little girl-like voice actually belonged to the only other boy of the group.
He was pointing at a black mass, as big as a carriage, approaching at break-neck speed.
It was Termyn, the Cingy, joining the fray while announcing his presence causing small quakes as he closed in.
F*ck you all! If you want to stay on the ground, take cover while I… Lith realized that talking was useless.
The two girls had fallen on their knees, hugging each other, while the boy, judging from the repugnant smell, had pi*sed himself.
- Now I get why Trasque was so hard on me and them the second day.
Yet it was all for naught!- Lith thought.
A Cingy was a tough opponent, and Lith could only use fake magic.
He needed to keep his three rings\' charges only for desperate situations.
Being all five of them still in play, he racked his brain searching for a solution.
- Wait a minute! Usually Cingy are limited to the use of water and earth magic.
I can exploit that! Magical beasts do not control all elements. –
Termyn was unable to escape its boar nature, charging straight toward the prey.
It saw an evil eyed kid starting to chant something, so Termyn activated one of his best defensive spells, Mountain Body.
The Cingy knew all too well how predictable was its attack pattern, so he never underestimated an opponent.
Mountain Body raised its body weight and defence to the limit, making it impervious against weapons and magic alike.
- Chant all you want kid.
You\'ll never finish your spell in time, I\'m too fast.
It will be your requiem! – Termyn inwardly sneered
Yet the chant ended right after it started, and Lith began a new one, while a small yellow orb flew in collision course with Termyn.
- What an idiot! My earth magic is the perfect counter to air magic.
Zap me, push me, whatever.
It will never work! -
When the two collided, nothing happened, not even a small spark against its hide.
The Cingy started to think that the boy had misfired out of fear.
Then, Lith completed the second spell too.
Brezza Reale! He had invoked the training spell Lift.
Suddenly, Termyn felt like a gentle caress on its belly, yet it managed to push it several meters in the air, like he was just a balloon.
Then a second and third push came, making it rise above the threes.
Hidden between the bushes, Scarlett was watching the whole scene, giggling under its whiskers.
[Termyn, you idiot, the first was a basic Float spell.
It wasn\'t meant for damage, but to make you weightless and set-up for another quick spell, to take you away from the ground and make you helpless.
Pride goes before a fall.]
Listening to the Boss\' explanation, the Cingy understood what had happened, and started laughing at itself.
[Damn! Such a feisty brat! I\'ll keep you for last!] He yelled at Lith, that unable to understand animal-speak, ignored the beast\'s oinks reciting his third spell.
One of the greatest advantages from forgemastering, was that he had trained chaining short simple spells for over a month, making him able to move his fingers and mouth non-stop, no matter he was using fake magic, like before, or using the true one.
Lith reconsidered Lift value, since it allowed him to keep pushing away the Cingy even when he was casting another spell.
After he finished casting his true magic flight spell, he rushed to save the girl.
Sentar was slowed down by her weight, and everything had happened in barely a few seconds.
He was expecting Termyn and M\'Rook to have the situation below under control.
When he perceived a magic perturbation in the air currents, it was too late.
Lith had coupled the flight and slipstream spell, making him faster than a bullet.
He had scarce knowledge about magical beasts, but he remembered well how despite their big sizes, the birds\' hollow bones made them frailer than they looked.
So instead of using a spell that could be easily countered by the opponent\'s air and darkness true magic, he just combined his speed with the hardness and the explosive strength from fusion magic to land an uppercut right under the beast\'s beak.
Because of his almost vertical trajectory and the fire generated by the friction between his fist and the fast air currents, it looked exactly like a dragon punch.