Ellen finally caught her prey. The enemy Trickshooter was stunned by her Beartrap, unable to fight back. It was the grand finale, all their previous fights led to this one decisive moment. Now, she was going to put that rookie in his place by teaching him his limits.
One arrow. Two arrows. The Trickshooter's HP plummeted. 10%. 7%. 4%. 1%. It was over. The next arrow would- No! He broke away!
"Ah!?" Ellen gasped. Her prey was about to slip through her fingers! The Trickshooter rolled aside as soon as the stun ended!
[My, how persistent! Accept your defeat already...!] Ellen's face contorted. Why couldn't he just give up like a good boy? This was the point where her prey was supposed to behave themselves and peacefully go down, that brat didn't know any manners!
[Shit, is this really happening!? ]She didn't account for this development. At this rate, her next arrow was going to miss!
But it's alright, no sweat. She still had 20% HP left, whereas her opponent was an injured kitten with just 1% HP. Even if he were to dodge the next arrow, she'd finish him off no problem... or was it too naive?
[... can I really do it? ]A sense of dread filled her. By studying and facing many strong players, she could sense it with every cell of her body: she was going to die, the reaper's scythe was already pressed against her neck.
Her prey was injured, but he was no kitten. He was a vicious tiger, ready to rip her apart at the first chance he gets. If she were to waver for even a moment, the Trickshooter would break through her trap and turn the tables on her. With just his superior strength, he'd crush Ellen!
She had to hand it to this kid, maybe he was the real deal. Unlike the show-off trash, who pretended he was a skilled player but turned out to be a fragile crybaby, this rookie had the strength and fortitude of a real beast. Honestly, it sent shivers down her spine.
However, she refused to yield to this terror. Until she got to her current position, she struggled through neverending humiliation, constantly ridiculed by the show-off trash. Her current playstyle was crafted for one purpose only: to crush those stronger than her!
Therefore, she couldn't give up the next shot. This had to end right here and now, just as she planned it. Her next shot wasn't allowed to miss, it'd be game over. If she were to fall here, she'd be yielding to the very mechanical monsters she trained herself to defeat. She couldn't give up, not here!
"Ha!" Ellen swept her mouse with all she had, making a sharp turn to the right. Perhaps she wasn't the goddess of mechanical skill, but even she could land a fast shot in a pinch! Right as the crosshair reached the Trickshooter - she fired.
『You have killed an enemy!』
"Yes! Ahahaha!" Ellen thrust her hands into the air, startling her teammates. "Oh, ahem." She cleared her throat and put on her usual foxy smile. "That rookie sure put on a fight, be in the end he was no match for me."
"You actually defeated Lars in 1v1...?" Julia blinked.
"Yes, my dear. I did it. I did it!" Ellen took a deep breath before excitement got the better of her again.
"B-But he's strong right? It's not like he'll fail because of it." Julia was nervous, as this was Lars's first death this match.
"Don't worry, sweetie. We don't expect rookies to actually beat veterans, so he'll be just fine." Ellen smiled. [That is, if this defeat doesn't haunt him. My, I'm such a terrible person sometimes. Please, don't break down like a certain show-off trash, or I'll never hear the end of it from Aron.]
"Speaking of rookies, how are you faring?" Ellen peered into Julia's monitor. She was so obsessed with trapping the Trickshooter this whole time she completely forgot about monitoring Julia's performance, which should had been her main job as the examiner. Oopsie~
"My, you're killing it, girl." Ellen nodded in approval.
From the beginning of the match and until now, Julia had been strongly pressuring her lane opponent. As a Pyromancer, she had incredible damage potential at close range as long as she maintained her heat gauge. She'd be at a disadvantage at long range, but her lane opponent was a Beastmaster, which didn't have any longer ranged shots. Good thing Julia banned so many pesky Mid Lane classes during the drafting phase, Beastmaster was one class she knew how to counter well.
Beastmaster was a peculiar Mid class, considered a "specialist" rather than a "mage". Instead of dishing out powerful damaging spells, the Beastmaster relied on minions to push lanes. Its passive, Whipping into Shape, buffed the stats of all nearby allied minions by 30%.
The meat of the Beastmaster's kit was the skill Tame the Wild, which "captured" jungle monsters after their HP fell under a certain threshold. The captured monsters could later be released with the skill Let the Dogs Out, summoning them as allied minions on the lane. Jungle monsters, and especially jungle bosses, were much stronger than normal minions, so adding them to the minion wave allowed the Beastmaster to push hard. On top of all that, the summoned jungle monsters counted like normal allied minions for the Beastmaster's passive, meaning they were 30% stronger than in the jungle.
Relying on powerful minions to push lanes was very effective, but therein laid the Beastmaster's greatest weakness. The Beastmaster's push power was great when it had jungle minions, but it was nonexistent without them.
Just like Yuel always instructed her, Julia bought high power items early on and invested most of her SP into Flame Wave. Combining that power with the buffs from Pyromancer's Warmup and Pillar of Fire, she reduced the Beastmaster's minions to ashes within seconds, even when the wave included jungle monsters.
Outclearing her lane opponent allowed Julia to pressure the Beastmaster at all times, preventing him from venturing too often into the jungle. Once she cleared a wave, she pushed the Beastmaster all the way back to his Turret, threatening to murder him if he were to step out.
While the Beastmaster was busy clearing Julia's minions under Turret, she sneaked into the enemy jungle and cleared nearby jungle camps. Without any monsters to capture, half of the Beastmaster's kit became kinda useless.
At some point, the enemy Lionfolk noticed this routine and started helping the Beastmaster secure jungle camps. However, that didn't stop Julia from stealing the camps in the last second. She placed Wards around the important camps and went as far as using her ultimate, delivering a finishing blow on the jungle camp from behind a wall. Spending her ult like that felt like a waste, but Yuel recommended this tactic, so it must had been fine. To thoroughly defeat a Beastmaster, she had to deny him any jungle camps at any cost.
In response, the Beastmaster placed Sentry Wards around the jungle camps and took out Julia's Wards. However, in return, Julia just countered him by placing Sentry Wards of her own, destroying the Beastmaster's Sentry Wards. She wasn't gonna let him rest for even a moment!
The Beastmaster was forced to farm under Turret most of the time, so he gain reduced gold from minion waves. That made him way poorer than Julia, so there's no way he could win a war of Wards. After contesting Wards for a while, he was forced to give up on that approach if he wanted to build any new items at all.
Beyond that, Julia also used her gold advantage to place Wards in many intersections throughout the jungle, in the key points Yuel taught her. This helped her catch wind of incoming ganks and deny them. Whenever a Ward revealed the enemy Lionfolk nearby, she immediately retreated to a safe spot. She wasn't gonna let anybody gank her and ruin her chances of passing the exam.
"You've been showing them who's boss the whole game, but you haven't scored any kills." Ellen tilted her head. "You haven't even destroyed the Turret yet. What's up with that?"
"There weren't any good opportunities." Julia answered.
"Hmm, then what about now?" Ellen asked while peering into Julia's screen. Julia was in the middle of pushing the Beastmaster all the way back to his Turret. She already cleared the whole enemy wave, while hers remained fully intact. In other words, it was her and a full minion wave versus an underfed retreating foe.
"He's hugging the Turret, not much I can do." Julia shrugged.
"Hm? Nothing you can do? Why not tower dive him?"
"It's too risky." Julia shook her head. "If he hits me with his cripple then I'm dead."
"But you're at full health and he's below 30%, why so worried?" Ellen insisted. "You've done a fantastic job outleveling him, so you should take advantage of that and dive him."
"There's a chance their Jungler will come here next. Like, last time I saw him, he went for the Wolf Camp and he gonna be done with it soon. He can quickly get to Mid from there."
"My, you sure like stalking the mini-map~ Good girl, that's an important skill to have." Ellen smiled, though one thing bugged her: who put so many Wards in Top Jungle? Back when she left to fight the Trickshotter in Bot, there were like three Wards in Top Jungle. But now, there were seven of them. "I gotta say, our team is really overdoing it on the warding department... wait, don't tell me you placed all these new Wards?"
"Yeah, I placed most of them." Julia puffed her chest, no doubt expecting to be praised.
"Warding is important and all, but that's an overkill, sweetie."
"It's okay, I got gold advantage because the Beastmaster farms under Turret."
"Gold advantage isn't meant to be wasted on Wards, you know." Ellen sighed and examined Julia's item build. Thanks to the gold advantage, Julia's build was ahead of her opponent's. However, considering Julia had been dominating Mid Lane the whole game, the lead she gained was quite tiny. "Alright, listen, girl. You gotta stop hoarding Wards and start building items. You're wasting away your advantage like this."
"B-But the Wards help me maintain the advantage." Julia fidgeted, recalling a similar conversation with Yuel. Ever since he taught her how to effectively ward and maintain lane control, she prioritized these elements above everything else during the laning phase. As long as she warded, there was no danger of being ganked. As long as she maintained lane advantage, her lane opponent wasn't a threat. Easy game, easy life.
"Is that how you always play?"
"Um, more or less..." Julia gulped. Agh! She was gonna lose points like crazy right now, wasn't she!? Oh god!
"It's like you're investing your whole advantage into maintaining the advantage, you aren't using it to get ahead of your opponent. You gotta take the initiative at some point."
"I-It's okay!" Julia knew it wasn't okay, but it was okay anyway! "His Turret is already down to 15%, while mine is at full health! It gonna fall apart like real soon!"
"My, aren't we stubborn." Ellen sighed. Julia was like a kitten who cornered the mouse, but was too scared to attack. The image was adorable, but it came off as a newbie's inability to push when given a golden opportunity. Based on how Julia had been playing so far she was clearly no newbie, so such a basic mistake gave a terrible impression of her ability.
It seemed like Julia's playstyle was all about creating a "safe zone" for herself. She protected herself from literally every direction and focused on outclearing and outleveling her lane opponent by knowing her matchups. At least in these these departments, her performance was extraordinary and deserved hugs.
Julia's "strategy" for winning was apparently all about maintaining her "safe zone" and slowly, veeery slowly, wearing down her lane opponent and his Turret. It would eventually achieve the goal of winning the lane advantage in Mid, which was the most important lane advantage to have. However, it felt like such a waste, Julia could had achieved way more if she didn't play so safe.
Then again, considering Ellen's unconventional hit-and-run tactics, maybe she had no right judging Julia too harshly without seeing more.
"Well, with all said and done, you've been dominating the lane so far." Ellen said. "That's impressive enough for a rookie, so I'll turn a blind eye on these other things I mentioned, but just this once~" She winked.
"R-Really? Thank you very much!"
"My, aren't you just adorable~" Ellen smiled fuzzliy while stroking Julia's hair, as if petting a kitten. "We're heading into the team fighting phase anyway, so we'll see how well you fight real soon."
"Yeah, fight..." Julia averted her eyes. God, that sucked. The team fighting phase was considered the most important part of the game... and the one Julia hated the most. Fights were gonna happen left and right, with everybody being in each other's faces. Everywhere on the map was gonna become dangerous and stuff, it was so damn stressing. Like, that's totally the worst part of this game.
Before long, the first major team fight broke out in Mid. The enemy Turret fell down to 5% HP, so Lars and the Cryomancer rotated to support the Beastmaster. In response, Ellen and the Cleric rotated to help Julia. It was an important 3v3, which was going to decide the fate of Mid Lane.
"What about their ults?" Julia asked. "The Beastmaster's is still up."
"I believe Cryo is still down." Ellen said. "Trickshow is probably up again."
"I see." Julia frowned. It was bad, both Ellen's and Julia's ults were down. Only the Cleric's Arise was up, but it was wasn't gonna help the team's offense. Depending on how the Beastmaster was gonna use his ult, this fight could go south real fast.
More than anything, Lars's Trickshow was terrifying, Julia knew better than anybody how dangerous Trickshow was in Lars's hands. He was an unstoppable force, scoring triple kills with ease! It was so amazing, so cool- ah, it wasn't the time to be impressed by that. [Focus. Focus]
"So, isn't it best to play this one defensively?" Julia conveyed her worries to Ellen, keeping the brags about Lars's Trickshow to a minimum.
"My, here you go again, playing like a cute little scaredy-cat."
"T-That's not..." Julia's cheeks burned. "As I said, they have a big advantage in their offense."
"And we got the lane advantage thanks to your efforts. Their Turret is almost down, so we got them cornered." Ellen winked.
"If you say so." Julia wasn't convinced, but she decided to follow Ellen's lead.
Julia stayed behind Ellen and the Cleric, allowing them to soak most of the damage from the fight. Staying in the back wasn't the most effective way to deal damage with the Pyromancer's medium range, but getting any closer was way too dangerous. She only occasionally moved forward, to renew the debuff of Demonic Arm via basic attacks and to poke the enemies with Pillar of Fire. But other than that, she just stayed in the back and fired Flame Wave at incoming minion waves.
The enemy had to defend their crumbling Turret, so Julia's team managed to pressure them for a while. However, the flow of battle changed once the Beastmaster cast his ultimate, Legendary Beast, to summon a Drake.
[Tch, so they decided to go on the offensive. So annoying. ]Julia clicked her tongue. The Beastmaster's Drake was a hyper aggressive dragon which pounced at nearby enemies. Unlike normal minions, the Drake prioritized attacking enemy players, making him a headache in teamfights.
Agh, that was the worst. Julia prayed that the enemy team would keep defending, with the the Beastmaster summoning something like Mammoth. But that retard had to ruin everything, damn him.
"They're planning to kill us. We should retreat." Julia advised.
"Hm? I don't see why." Ellen tilted her head. "Sure, they got a Drake and everything, but we'll force them to retreat once we take their Turret. Don't worry, girl. We got this."
"Huh..." Julia gave a vague answer, her mind was already set on retreating. Continuing this fight was way too dangerous, it was suicide! She pretended to stick around and help fighting, but she secretly waited for the right moment to get the hell outta there.
『An enemy Turret has been destroyed!』
That was her cue. Julia turned around and activated Burning Spirit, gaining a movement speed buff to dash the heck outta there. "We should retreat now."
"What are you talking about? We finally got their Turret, they'll have to retreat- hey!" Ellen noticed that Julia was already on the other side of the lane. "What are you doing all the way out there!?"
"Idiot! You left us in a 2v3! Ah!" Ellen gasped as the enemies charged at her and the Cleric. As expected, Lars activated Trickshow to finish them off. He darted toward the Cleric first to prevent revivals, then he caught up to Ellen with quick slides.
『An ally has been killed!』
『An ally has been killed!』
[See? That's why I said we should retreat, hmph. ]At least Julia got out of that mess- or not!?
"Kya!" Julia jumped. The enemy Trickshooter slid right beside her!? Lars was already here!? He must had chased her hard with Trickslide, oh god! This was the worst!
"Kill that brat, he doesn't have much health!" Ellen said.
"Agh, ah." Julia trembled. Lars only had 20% HP, so she could wipe him out with a single Flame Wave. It was a wide AoE, so it'd be easy enough to hit Lars in the middle of a slide. Really, she had a great opportunity to kill him... but should she?
Leaving such a huge opening was the worst mistake ever. If Julia were to struck him down, all the examiners would focus on Lars's mistake. They'd surely grind his grade into oblivion, he might even fail the exam because of it! And it'd all be Julia's fault, he'd never forgive her! Agh!
"Don't just stand there like a scarecrow, do something! Don't let him get a triple-"
It was too late. Lars finished the slide and assaulted Julia with a combination of Trickshots and basic attacks. Lost in her dilemma, Julia failed to react to any of that in time.
『You have been killed!』
"What was that!? You literally handed him the triple kill!" Ellen roared, her demonic expression made Julia's hair stand on end.
"S-Sorry." Julia hung her head. Oh god, what a blunder! She was so preoccupied with thinking about Lars that she couldn't act at all! This misplay was gonna destroy her score, she even made Ellen angry! Oh god! She was so doomed!
"Don't tell me you held back for your boyfriend." Ellen pierced Julia with a sharp glare.
"Eh? N-No, I just..." Julia desperately searched for an excuse, but nothing came up.
"Bull's eye, huh." Ellen sighed. "I'll be honest: I'm disappointed. Are you even seriously trying to pass this exam?"
"And yet, you prioritized your boyfriend over the exam. So rather than passing, it's more important for you that he passes, isn't it?"
"W-Well..." Julia knew she should lie here, but she quivered in front of Ellen's piercing glare. Honestly? Yeah, it was way more important for her that Lars passes this exam. She didn't exactly burn with passion to join the Classmancers club in the first place, she was just dragged along by Lars and Yuel.
"Wait, don't tell me you're only playing Classmancers to appeal to your boyfriend?"
"A-Agh!" Julia nearly fell off her chair. Oh god! She had to deny it! Like, right now! That's the one thing she wasn't allowed to reveal to the examiners! "A-Ahaha, o-of course not! I-I like Classmancers! Yeah!"
"I see." Ellen shook her head. Damn, she wasn't convinced at all. It was over. "Seems like I misjudged you. I thought you were a fellow girl who really liked the game, enough to grind your way to Ranked. But what, it was all to earn some points with a guy? How dumb."
"That's, err..." Julia's cheeks burned. She gritted her teeth and clenched her fists, fighting off the trembles assaulting her. Wouldn't Ellen just stop already? Please, just stop already!
"Really disappointing." Ellen sighed and turned away from Julia. "If that's all your determination amounts to, you better just quit. Sorry, but our club isn't for wooing guys. Try the cheerleading club instead, guys really dig the short skirts."
"Guh." Julia couldn't retort, she just trembled as she fought back her tears. What did Ellen mean by "That's all your determination amounts to"? She had no idea how hard Julia worked to get this far! She knew nothing!
To keep up with powerhouse like Lars and Yuel, Julia made many sacrifices. Her lunch breaks, her afternoons, her evenings and even her whole summer break. She had to play as much Classmancers as she could together with the boys, or else she'd be left behind. She even swallowed her pride and asked Yuel to tutor her, just so she could play better.
Just how many times she dismissed invitations from her classmates to hang out during the summer? Instead of spending the summer on the beach, she was stuck playing Classmancers in Yuel's room of all places. She played and played and played, fighting her best to stay relevant for Lars and Yuel's party.
And Ellen said all of that was dumb? That none of Julia's determination was worth anything? Just what the hell did Ellen even know!?
Julia wanted to yell all of that into Ellen's stupid face, but she couldn't. In the end, Ellen had a point. It wasn't the first time Julia questioned her own actions, and it surely wasn't going to be the last.
Was there really any point to all of this? Would Lars really like her more if she were to play better? Was that worth sacrificing her daily life for? Wouldn't it be easier to just confess her feelings and get shot down? At least it'd release her from all this hassle.
[Maybe I should really just quit. ]Julia sighed. It was all so dumb. Like seriously, why was she even struggling so hard? She didn't even like this stupid game, she was so fed up playing this crap every day.
Yeah, screw it all. Nothing mattered anymore, she should just quit after this. It was decided: this was gonna be her last Classmancers match. She was going to play until the end out of good manners, then she'd forget all about this stupid game.
Playing safe, giving a good impression, appealing to Lars and yada yada yada. For this final match, she was gonna ignore all that annoying shit. She was gonna go all out and smash her enemies with her pent up frustration!
Even if they were gonna kill her for sure, she was gonna leave the stage with a boom! They were gonna get a taste of everything she wasted her time to learn! She was quitting anyway, so might as well destroy as many of these Classmancers-loving bastards as possible!
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