The Only Thing I Can Upgrade is Strength chapter 172

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This year there was a new game. From what I could see, it looked to be a dunk tank. It was the sort of thing for people who played baseball… or anything at all, I supposed. I hadn’t exactly been up to the physical exertion required for any sports back on Earth, or even standing up. However, dunk tanks had always looked fun… but only if you knew the person being dunked. Then you would want to throw the ball to hit the target which triggered them falling into water from their perch above it. I would certainly try my hand at it, but I wasn’t that motivated to just get some random person covered in water.

Then I saw him. Sitting on his platform over the water, completely without a care in the world. He had not even a drop of water on him, and looked as if he was about to fall asleep sitting up. It was Ruslan. That explained why there was a throwing game… but it didn’t explain why he was still completely dry. There was a long line of people getting ready to throw, and I knew many people must have gone through already. Then I saw the actual challenge.

Normally a dunk tank simply require throwing accurately from a distance. In a way, that was true here as well. There was a convenient straight line where the ball could be thrown through a series of iron boards to hit the target on the other end. That was where the problem arose. It was a straight line where you had to throw a ball through holes basically the same size as it. Discounting gravity, all it would have taken was a good throw… but with gravity, there was no way to do it without magic. On Earth, that would have meant it was impossible… but here, that really just meant it was harder to do.

There were ten boards blocking the way, each spaced out a couple feet apart, with some extra space in front of the first and behind the last. A throw from thirty plus feet away was no big deal, but in this case it was much harder. It also wasn’t possible to throw around the boards to hit the target- not only did the rules specifically forbid it, the target was blocked from every side but the front by presumably magically enchanted glass.

I watched as most people managed to throw the ball through one or occasionally two of the boards. There wasn’t much leeway over the size of the ball, but these were adventurers. With three tries pretty much any adventurer with a focus on physical activity would get through at least one of the holes. 

A few people threw underhand, arcing the ball up slightly so it came down and into the second hole, but there was no chance of that technique getting it through the third. Some people threw it fast enough that gravity barely managed to pull it down, making it through two or sometimes three holes before it hit the boards and bounced off and down. One person actually managed to put some kind of spin on it such that as it went through the first hole and fell down, it bounced off the board, back off of the first, and through the second hole. They replicated that all three throws, so it was clearly on purpose… but it didn’t seem like it would be possible to go much further. 

Eventually came my turn. I looked over the rules once more- throw the ball through the holes in the boards, hit the target hard enough to trigger it, three tries, nothing surprising really. I tossed the ball up into the air a few times to feel the weight- I’d seen other people do it so it seemed to be allowed. Once I had a feel for it, I got ready to throw. Ruslan was what motivated me to try this- it was a challenge to see how well I could throw. Perhaps Ruslan himself was also a hint. He’d been the one to teach me Piercing Spear- and while I wasn’t using a spear, the same sort of techniques could be applied. It was all about control and technique, both physical and magical.

I threw the first toss, the ball spiraling in a straight line. It flew through the first hole… the second… the third… and bounced off the fourth. It seemed my straight line wasn’t straight… or was angled wrong, or perhaps I had just done a poor job translating the technique from spear to ball. Maybe I needed to use it with more types of things… though I couldn’t exactly leave and go practice for a few hours between throws. The ball came rolling back to the front, and I picked it up… then dropped it. I pulled it back up with a thread of mana. That was Return Weapon, a skill I knew Ruslan also knew, though in a different context than I’d learned it. Even so, he’d been my reason to want to learn that. 

I needed more control. I thought back to the first time I’d seen Ruslan use Piercing Spear- and the only time up close. I considered all the times I had used it, and I felt and saw the air distort around the ball, even if only slightly. It flew straight, through the first hole… the second… the third… the fourth… and all the way through to the target, which it bounced off. I waited to see Ruslan fall… but he didn’t. Behind me, I heard someone say, “What, is it broken?”

I shook my head. It wasn’t broken. Maybe that was the problem. The impact had been soft. I’d been too focused on accuracy to get the required power. What good was one without the other? I concentrated again, the world disappearing around me as I did so. There was only me, the ball, and the target. The iron boards in the way? They didn’t matter. I had a straight line to my target, and I was going to hit it. This time, I threw with all of my Strength. If I was even slightly off, it would violently bounce around inside… but a moment later I heard a thunk, not the sound of the ball on iron, and then a splash.

Kantrilla, who was watching over on the side, rushed over and hugged me in excitement. “That was great! I got got see you do something cool again, just like last time we saw Ruslan!”

It took me a moment to remember that Ruslan had been there at all. I looked over at him, and saw him settling into his position again, soaking wet. He glanced over at me, his face expressionless, though I thought I saw a hint of recognition in his face. Then the operator managing the game handed me a token for winning- a special looking one. There were several varieties based on how hard the game was, but I’d never seen this particular one before. There was copper, silver, gold, and was this… platinum? Or maybe it was just silver again.

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