A young girl equipped with a twin set of mallets stepped up to the arena, where a soldier gripping a spear was waiting. Metallic clunking accompanied their steps, coming from the extremely thick and sturdy armor the two had on. If it weren’t for their exposed faces, Saki was certain that a particular chef would have joked about it being a battle between two mobile suits.
For the two of them, this was not their first time facing off. They had met in the final match of the Tournament of Warriors previously, with Saki decisively knocking Gadwin out of the ring. Given that he was a seasoned warrior, there was no doubt that he had trained himself to become even swifter for this rematch.
That was evident as he barreled forward at the start of the match to set the pace from the onset. Given Saki’s less experience in martial arts, Gadwin moved quickly to put her on the defensive. The mighty blows of a man with decades of training were strong. They put dents in her armor when left undeterred, so she had no choice but to focus on guarding them.
With both mallets occupied by the spear’s thrusts, she didn’t have any chance to attack. And even when there was a slight opening, the shorter reach of her own weapons left her at a disadvantage.
Before, Saki had fought Gadwin with a long sledgehammer type of weapon. Though it was heavier than her mallets, she could still swing in a wide, sweeping motion to keep her enemies at bay. After all, anything that so much as touched the end of her weapon would be sent flying unless its defense was extremely high. Gadwin himself needed to parry the blows to make any gain in ground.
In a turn of events, the Electi of Attack had demolished her previous weapon and taken up a pair of smaller ones. These new weapons moved in a pattern that gave off a sense of unfamiliarity, something not unnoticed by Gadwin.
He could tell that Saki was right-hand dominant, her swings by the off hand transitioning poorly and more delayed. As such, he circled to her left, taking advantage of that weak spot to pepper her with spear thrusts. That forced her to turn in haste and deflect in an awkward position.
Things seemed to be going well this time for Gadwin. But then, he felt a chill down his spine. The flash of a massive hammer seemed to come straight for him, causing him to jump back in fear. However, he saw no motion whizzing by his body as he expected.
‘What the bloody hell was that feeling?’ The thought stirred in Gadwin’s mind.
From where he stood, Saki had casually swung her mallet in front of her, preparing to guard his blow, but he had held back and escaped at the last moment. He shook off that dread and rushed in for another strike.
Once again, a heavy feeling encompassed him. From the corner of his vision, a humongous hammer seemingly came from the sky, threatening to smash him like an insect. This time, he definitely didn’t imagine it, so he leapt back once again. And to his surprise, the hammer magically disappeared from his vision, like a mirage.
By now, the crowd had noticed his sudden retreats of caution. To them, it seemed like Gadwin had chickened out from following through with the attack. They had no idea of the looming feeling of death that seemingly appeared out of thin air when he approached.
‘Was he scared of her power? That couldn’t be, could it?’
He had heard rumors of her causing the previous King’s untimely death, but those had been unconfirmed. However, her attack power would certainly be enough to crush the kingdom’s finest set of equipment, far superior than his own. And if even a man of that caliber wasn’t enough to stop her, what would happen if he took a direct blow?
“Enough of this! You are a soldier of Sistina! Shed your doubts!” He beat his head into the pole of his spear to reignite his spirit. Hammer of death or not, he simply needed to follow through with his attack.
With a third time being the charm, Gadwin dashed forward once more. As he leapt into range, the hammer, sure enough, came down from the sky. Ignoring it, he placed all of his focus into his spear for one mighty thrust, watching it plunge into the belly of his opponent.
It started drilling through her armor, forming cracks of noticeable damage. One more thrust and her protective capability would fall enough to topple her. If he held back, it would be a disgrace to himself as well as his opponent. Hopefully, she would forgive him for scarring the body of a young girl.
But then, the hammer swiftly fell upon his head. With unimaginable speed that defied where it should have been, a downward force slammed him downward. To his surprise, it was like the weight of the world had suddenly fallen upon his shoulders. Crushed by its immensity, all he could do was be buried into the ground by it.
The hammer had not been an illusion, at least, not completely. Saki had been using her skill, Aura de Gigante, but in a more controlled fashion. Not wanting to scare the entire coliseum like it could have, she had honed the skill to a smaller range of effect. Unknown to Gadwin, he would only fall under its effects by being within five meters from her.
The mallet she wielded was distorted into an illusion in the sky. For that reason, Galdwin misjudged her attack, not seeing what the crowd had observed – a simple swing of the mallet by Saki colliding into an unguarded Gadwin. He had instead been looking up at a giant hammer coming at him from above. The sudden impact from the real mallet made it seem like he had been hit by an impossibly fast swing.
Regardless of what Gadwin perceived, Saki’s attack connected, sending the full brunt of her attack power into him. As a result, Gadwin’s body was now partially imbedded into the surface of the arena. A network of cracks spiraled around the resulting crater.
Saki’s lack of experience was masked by a distortion of perception caused by her skill. It had been worth the effort refining, even if it relied on the powers of darkness. Luckily, the charm around her neck allowed her to use it without the accompanying danger.
With her victory determined, healers raced onto the scene to care for Gadwin, while Earth magicians moved to repair the damage to the ground. All of this took less than five minutes, hardly much of an intermission before the next fight would start.
Next was the girl that fought while atop a levi-board, her entrance as she rode gallantly onto the arena earning her much praise.
Her opponent, on the other hand, was not amused.
“My dear Violet, always playing such games with silly objects. You make a mockery of the Magic Knights!” a man who was a few years older retorted.
“You diss me, and you slander Marchioness Faulkner with that statement. I am a proud knight under her tutelage! What more could I ask for, young Lord of Allenguard?” Violet looked exasperated, like she knew how he would respond.
“Why, marrying into my family, of course! You may be taking advantage of a rising noblewoman’s influence, but I find your child’s play laughable. You’re better off passing your magical aptitude to a family of established renown!”
The young lord, Rowen Allenguard, was from a family with the rank of Earl. They had largely stayed out of the conflict that had split the nation, looking to bide their time until one side had fallen. After the Queen ascended to the throne, they were quick to prostrate themselves to her. The Allenguard family looked to exploit the holes that were left behind, hoping to grab a better position from the ordeal.
Part of that scheme was to connect with those that had prospered with the birth of the new Kingdom of Sistina. The Lingonberle family had quickly grown in prestige due to the expansion of their wine business. Having been one of the first to align with the Valkyrie, their products now included virtually every kind of novelty beverage sold in the markets, from sweet wines to bubbly non-alcoholic tonics called ‘cola’.
Rowen himself had been eyeing the eldest daughter of Lingonberle, a magic knight trainee gifted with Fire magic. Quickly wedding her would establish a suitable connection that he could take advantage of. However, her streak of independence was something of poor pedigree in his view.
The image of her driving off opponents and qualifying for such a prestigious tournament with trickery and silly toys made the blood of traditional values boil within him. He would show her how a real person of nobility fights!
As Violet hovered before him, he had several options. The Earth magic that he wielded could easily throw her off balance by forming uneven ground. ‘Stone Rain’ could shower her with debris, making it difficult for her to approach. After hindering her mobility, he could trap her within a prison of hardened walls, while raining ‘Rock Javelins’ from the open ceiling.
He licked his lips. There were many ways to tame a child that relied on a momentary fad to gain traction. The traditional ways of magic combat were tried and true, effort established from many generations of nobility and archived in official manuscripts.
Even if she happened to dodge his spells with her toy, no harm would come to him if he put up a strong defensive barrier to negate the mana levels of the still-developing girl. His high-tier, ‘Fortress’ spell would be sufficient, given her stats that he secretly had someone look into.
As the signal rang to begin the match, Rowen was ever so confident of his victory. That was probably why he didn’t notice the girl chanting three simple words.
“Flash of Strength.”
Before he was able to draw his sword and begin casting, his vision went completely black, and his body plopped to the ground. In an instant, Violet Lingonberle had ended up behind him, skidding to a stop with her sword drawn, ending the match before anyone could blink.
The crowd in the stands hadn’t the slightest idea what had just transpired. The young Magic Knight trainee had moved so blindingly fast, taking out a magician of promising ability in a single strike.
But for those who knew about this ability, the ‘Flash of Strength’ skill had temporarily doubled her parameters, including the speed of the board she rode. With near-instantaneous movement and enough power to shatter Rowen’s magic shield, the flat of her sword caught him in the head and knocked him out.
“Eryn, that was your doing wasn’t it….” I peered over to Violet’s instructor, who had a slight smugness to her expression. That stat-boosting trick was one of her signature abilities.
“Well, she was curious what would happen if she combined the mobility of the levi-board with ‘Flash of Strength’. When I saw the result, I just knew she had to enter the tournament.”
With the match over in an instant, Violet trotted towards our direction. I had an inkling of her objective.
“Sir Evers! Marchioness Faulkner says that you can negate the side effects of ‘Flash of Strength’. Would you please cure me before I collapse from it?” Violet waved as she dashed up to me, giving the sweetest smile possible.
“And why would I help out a competitor?” I retorted, turning away from the cute face that she was making. I felt an elbow jab into my side.
“Because you’ll do it if ‘I’ ask.” Eryn smiled, knowing me all too well. “Besides, would you really leave her crippled and dash her hopes of doing well in the tournament? What if Ludmila or Chrys was in her position?”
I placed my hand over my face. She got me there. I couldn’t help being soft on the young ones. And if a girl was going to get all cutesy with me, my resistance was bound to crumble and fall.
“Fine. Sit down.” I gestured her over to one of the benches.
With a few simple mana-infused taps upon her over-exerted gates, her mana flow became normal again. However, I could have done without the girlish squeaks and suggestive trembles during that time.
“Sir Evers, you really have magic hands! Recovering from those side effects was rather… stimulating.” Violet winked at me, a flirtatious tone laced in it.
Before I could respond, she took my hand and thanked me, a piercing gaze fixated upon my eyes. I had to look away, wondering what Eryn thought of the situation. However, she had simply turned away, hiding a giggle that shook her body.