A young girl with rose-colored hair in light armor sailed past several combatants as they jumped away to dodge her. No one wanted to get in the way of a flame-encased sword that stuck out from the speedy blur.
One unlucky fighter was slow to turn his head, being occupied by another in front of him. By the time he felt her mana approaching and turned, the crackling flames and hot iron collided into his mouth and sent him tumbling.
Fortunately, this girl had used the flat of her blade, resulting in a cracked jaw and the hairs of his mustache burnt off. He was down for the count, in which soon after, Ludmila hopped in and whisked the man away.
In the meantime, the swift girl skidded to a halt along the edge of the arena, where finally, the people in the stands could see the reason for her speed.
“That’s not illegal in this tournament?” I asked Eryn, pointing to the levi-board she carried into battle.
The girl in question was Violet, the daughter of Viscount Lingonberle. She was a knight trainee that had just turned 16, old enough to compete in the tournament. Using a combination of fire magic and swordplay, she coupled her fighting techniques with the swift mobility of a levi-board.
Seeing her bounce from enemy to enemy and glide in and out of their attacks was certainly impressive to behold. It was like the board had become an extension of herself. Eryn was beaming with pride for the girl fighting below, her star pupil of the Valkyrie Knights.
“Of course not! The Queen gave me the okay for it!”
Though she had not entered herself, the next best thing was to enter a student that she had trained herself. Though that being said, Eryn worked on her swordplay and magic only.
Violet had a natural gift when it came to using the levi-board. It caught her attention when the product first became marketed. She ended up using nearly everything on her family’s grounds as an obstacle to perform tricks upon.
As such, she became the most proficient of the Valkyrie Knights, taking Eryn’s place as the prime representative of the Faulkner domain. I was a little jealous as to how fluidly she could weave around foes in conjunction with the rhythm of her attacks. I could never find myself able to do tricks with the board like she was able to.
Those that tried to knock her off the board found her disappearing before their eyes, before getting a nasty blow to the back. In the blink of an eye, Violet was able to accelerate her board into their blind spots. Even I, with my high level, struggled a bit to follow the exact movement. A single distraction, a single blink, and I would miss it..
“Geez, young people are so adaptable to new things, aren’t they,” I said, sounding like an old man. It had only been two years since I had come to this world, but life moved at such a blindingly fast pace that I couldn’t help but feel a bit weathered. Certainly, this was not where I imagined that I would be at the age of 21.
“It ‘is’ your fault for introducing such things to the world.” Eryn cocked an eye at me.
“I didn’t invent it, Katalina-“
“But ‘you’ were the one people saw riding around town…”
My retort was forced back into my throat. I might have been a bit too gung-ho on the streets. My flagrant horseplay no doubt attracted the attention of children and contributed to the popularity of the item.
I turned my attention back to the quickly thinning arena. It looked like Violet was currently in a deadlock with someone that could handle her movements. The heavily-armored man stood his ground like a turtle in its shell, cautiously scanning for openings for his spear to be thrust towards.
“Ah, but of course, a veteran would approach such tactics in a wise manner. Sir Gadwin has been defending the northern wall for many years.”
My memories perked up at Eryn’s mention of his name. I recalled that he was one of the regulars in the Tournament of Warriors. And come to think of it, he had done quite well keeping up with Pietro, only for his defenses to be crushed by the ruthless strength of Saki.
Certainly, Gadwin matched every blow that Violet dished out, regardless of where they seemingly popped up from. However, before either could land anything significant, the signal for the end of the last preliminary match sounded. Around them, two others were left standing,
Violet and Gadwin abruptly halted their attacks, giving each other a congratulatory salute. Upon their faces were slight grins, giving the impression that neither one had faced the other seriously.
And with that, the tournament bracket was posted for all to see:
Chancellor Evers vs. Feltz
Lord Deggendorf vs. Sir Smully
Lady Cornwallis vs. Sir Roderick
Saki vs. Sir Gadwin
Lord Allenguard vs. Lady Lingonberle
Jayce vs. Sir Trypt
Horwitz vs. Goldar
Juggler Mask vs. Butler Mask
I looked around the crowd of people who had qualified. Aside from those that I already knew, there were some unfamiliar faces – magic knights from different regions, mercenaries looking for fame, and one man who didn’t exactly look like much of a fighter.
The man in question had a thin frame, sullen eyes, and seemed like he belonged in some dark corner of society pitching shady wares. The man, who I vaguely recalled as Jayce, was the one person that didn’t seem to fit in among the physically well-trained participants. I neglected to catch how exactly he fought since he was in the round with the masked fighters. However, surviving that ordeal was quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
After a brief intermission, the signal for the primary part of the tournament rang across the arena. And the first match had me front and center to start off with. ‘Lucky me.’
As I drew my chef knife from its holder, I looked at my opponent, Feltz. Nothing in particular stood out about him, a standard swordsman with a swagger that exuded some confidence in his skills. The only thing standing out was that he was glaring at me like a hawk, trying not to miss a single movement that would betray my weaknesses. His unkempt hair and rugged jawline made him look like the typical mercenary. Probably, he was looking for a measure of fame.
And of course, Feltz would be cautious and expectant. I was the Chancellor after all. It was not a title that was haphazardly given to some lucky person. It showed a strong trust by the crown. Doing well against me was like a free ticket to some circles.
As the match began, he stood his ground, waiting for me to make my first move. That would have been wise against most unknown fighters, but for me, that was a deadly mistake.
I simply walked up to him casually, eyes glowing, making him even more nervous as it appeared that I purposefully left myself unguarded to taunt him.
But for most opponents, I needed no stance. The only action necessary was a quick flick of the wrist, something so casual and seemingly harmless when all one possessed was a dinky, short knife.
Feltz obviously had not trained himself well enough in mana detection. Otherwise, his eyes would have been drawn more to the mana building up around my knife than to the glowing eyes gazing at him.
Watch a person’s eyes – that is what fighters are often taught. But for someone as unorthodox as me, the casual sway of a weapon in my hands was much more of a danger. Its fangs hidden until the last moment.
Feltz realized this too late. With only several yards away, the mana running through my chef knife extended into a very long blade. A casual swipe of my knife in front of me sent a near-invisible mana slice at his legs. This resulted in the mana gates in his thighs to lock up and induce cramping of the muscles.
Feltz futilely tried to step back but found that his movement was sealed. As I approached within knifing range, cold sweat beaded around his forehead, a sign of obvious panic that he could no longer get away.
I smiled and pointed my knife right in front of his face, its mana now extinguished. Slowly, it inched closer to drive a sense of fear into him. That succeeded, as he bent backwards so much to avoid it that he finally fell over on his butt.
“I concede,” he finally said.
With that, the first match finished in less than a minute. An overwhelming victory for myself. Even as the cheers happened, all I could think of was how to end the matches quickly. This wasn’t something that I volunteered for in the first place, but Cornelius pressured me into giving a show fit for the title I held.
As expected of the next match, Deggendorf easily overwhelmed his opponent, a magic knight that I brushed by occasionally. It wasn’t that Smully was a bad fighter. Far from it. Deggendorf was just too imposing of a man.
If I could describe the entire match in one image, it would be a game of ‘katamari’ vs fleeing object.
Deggendorf created a giant ball of earth in which he proceeded to roll at Smully. Like experiencing the stereotypical scene from an archeologist flick, there was no fighting against a solid boulder stampeding towards him. Smully simply didn’t have the firepower that some other combatants had.
But he had his wit and his experience in combat. That kept him relatively safe from being rolled into the ball… that was… until a second round object emerged from behind the first one. With no way to avoid two chasing him now, the balls came together and squashed him in between.
Since the limbs sticking out from in-between the boulders grew limp, it was pretty certain that Smully was out for the count.
The opponent for Rodernick fared marginally better. A noblewoman named Penelope was a busty mage with ginger hair who specialized in Ice magic. Having seen his bout against the Queen, where Roderick was frozen into an icicle, Penelope was quite confident in her ability to do the same.
However, when the match started, she was surprised to learn that no amount of ice that she threw at him caused it to stick to his body. The frozen restraints cracked and shattered as they futilely tried to ensnare his body.
“Why! Why isn’t it working?!” Penelope muttered in a hushed voice, panicking at the result. “Knowing that he would compete, I watched and watched every move, every morning of practice to understand how I could take advantage of his weakness!”
Roderick arched a brow, overhearing her. “Oh? A man keeps a trick or two in his pocket. There’s no way I didn’t notice that someone was spying on me from afar. My mana detection ability could pick up your iciness overlooking the balconies.”
Penelope had indeed spied upon him during morning practice to gauge his abilities and craft a plan of counterattack. Given that she was the second daughter of Viscount Cornwallis, there wasn’t much for her to do but dabble in magic, the one skill she was proud of. Despite being barred from enlisting as a magic knight by her family, that didn’t hinder her interest in spellcrafting. She wished to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Duke Reichenstein. Past her prime for being married off and too eccentric to suit those that met her, her remaining option was to head to the capital and impress someone with her magic.
A man of the Duke’s caliber was too far out of her reach, but perhaps, he would take notice of her if she did well in this tournament. Therefore, she was determined to spy on the training of the royal guard, teasing out what weaknesses her magic could capitalize upon. The well-trained men that protected the crown were the perfect study to validate her magic ability.
She had done well in the preliminary round, freezing all those who approached her. Luckily, many of the combatants were focused on the girl speeding around on her magical board. Unfortunately, that was all crumbling before her eyes, as Roderick had also renewed his focus after his embarrassment.
That came in the form of approaching Lau Ki Young, the rival of the man he looked up to. Seeing the frequent challenges thrown at Pythagoras had astounded him. Here was a man who could go toe-to-toe with a legend. And he desperately wanted to know his secret.
After a bit of training under Lau, he found his answer – a thick shell of mana collected around him that repulsed magic and rendered its effects null. Those from Sistina merely learned to craft barriers encompassing the surroundings around them. But if that shield could be shrunken and wrapped close to the body, the effectiveness was exponential due to the proximity of mana to oneself. Very little was wasted and scattered into the air as a result.
He smiled at Penelope. If it had been the him from before, there was a possibility of being overwhelmed by magic. But as it stood now, he hardly felt a chill. He could tell that was her trump card. She was no fighter, just a bored noblewoman with a genuine interest in spellcrafting. He recalled looking up towards the balcony during practice, careful not to tip her off that he knew.
Penelope absent-mindedly formed pieces of artwork from ice, only to leave them to melt in the sun. Sometimes, she would toss one over the railing and onto the grass below, a look of dissatisfaction on her face. Sparking his interest, he walked over after practice one day and pulled out one of the pieces that had shattered from the ground’s impact.
His eyes stared intently at the remains of the carved ice, marveling at how such fine detail could have been placed for something she simply tossed aside. Such things required a significant amount of mana control.
Walking right up to her, Penelope grew increasingly more panicked as her continued shower of ice was simply shrugged off by Roderick.
‘Oh no, I am making a disgrace of myself!’ Her eyes wandered to the seating area of the Duke, wondering what he was making of her. She saw the man in the distance rubbing his chin with a thin smile, an action every bit the boyish charm that handsome face was supposed to induce.
“Ehem, shouldn’t you be looking this way?” Roderick’s voice interrupted her swooning.
Surprised that her attention had swayed so much, she turned back to see Roderick right next to her, his arm raised back for a swift punch.
“I realize that this is a battle, but I really don’t like decking women. Won’t you consider conceding?” he asked nicely.
Penelope looked down, willing her mana to stop the blast of ice. “Yes, I am no match.”
“Great, a beauty such as yourself is attracting quite the attention. Rather than that, I much prefer keeping it all to myself. You and your lovely crafts that I’ve gazed at this past week.”
Penelope’s eyes widened at Roderick’s sudden statement. Something momentarily stirred in her heart. She looked up sheepishly. “Y-You’ve been watching? You knew?”
“Of course, I did. Who wouldn’t notice someone like you suddenly coming by every morning? Though I had my doubts at first, you really were watching me, weren’t you? I even tried to put more ‘oomph’ in my sparring to catch your attention.”
“Oh my, I noticed that you were being a bit more gallant than usual, Sir Roderick, but I had no idea it was because of me.” She placed a hand over her mouth to mask her surprise.
Roderick pulled off the gauntlet from his hand and reached out to gently take hers. “Since the match is over, does this mean you won’t be coming by to show off your icecraft anymore?”
Penelope looked away with a blush before answering, “I don’t know. Should I?”
“It would be my pleasure, if you could.”
While still holding her hand, Roderick led her off the arena, ignoring a crowd that snickered at their public exchange. What started as a bout ended as a connection – two hearts longing for something a little more than they had settled for. And for once, they had found an appreciation of each other, not simply one-sided adoration.
But that would be a tale for another time. The tournament was far from over.