Marquis Deggendorf – a giant of a man whose presence could be solely defined by the bulging muscles that peeked out from his fancy attire.
The arrangement of a formal short-sleeved shirt and vest, barely containing the rippling arms, was quite peculiar. It was like a bodybuilder that had been placed uncomfortably in nice clothing for a one-time party. No one would be surprised if the flimsy strips of cloth would explode if he so much as flexed with vigor. Frankly, they might have done so if they weren’t made from a special fabric that contained a high amount of elasticity. The clothing was holding together very well as he fought proficiently upon the arena.
That was the kind of man I was facing against currently, as the next round of fights had begun. However, his forte was not defined by his physical might but a versatile array of Earth Magic that he could call upon.
“Tremoring earth that swallows my opponents – spread your rumbling to the hearts of my foes! Earthquake!”
With a mighty roar, Deggendorf punched the ground, sending a shockwave that could be felt throughout the stands. After a slight delay, the floor of the arena split open around me and geysers of earth spewed out from them. With the ground suddenly uneven, finding a proper foothold was proving challenging, even more so when jagged spikes of rock poked out from the ground.
“Ack, pointy! I don’t need platforming on hard mode!”
The safest thing to do was to hold my ground, cowering while I clutched onto one of the spikes to brace myself. But that was exactly what this attack was meant to do – instill fear upon an opponent by creating a field of dangers that few would dare to move through.
This was in direct response to the first few minutes of the bout.
Deggendorf started off by rolling the massive boulders that he used in previous rounds, hoping that a long-distance attack would keep me at bay. He had already experienced what I could do with my critical skill, wisely choosing to keep me out of range. His magic barrier and rippling muscles were no good against a one-hit-KO.
Despite how ominous the boulders looked as they came zooming towards me, I wasn’t compelled to run. There was no escaping from a rolling object that could be remotely controlled with mana.
Focusing my energy on my right hand, I punched forward with my ‘Eyes of Providence’ flaring. My fist collided with the surface of the rock in what would seem like a futile attempt for most people. But they had not been forced to train in splitting boulders bare-handed.
“Breaking Point Smash!”
As soon as my fist contacted the rock, a sharp pulse of mana shot through the large sphere, severing the mana flowing through the grain boundaries. With its energy source erased in an instant, the earth packed into this ball became brittle and lost its form. With a dull thud, the boulder exploded into a shower of harmless dirt.
One thing I hadn’t considered was that the dirt still retained its momentum, even when pulverized. As a result, it had become a wave that splashed over me, coating my outfit in brown dust. I hopped around, shaking off as much as I could before wiping my face with my sleeve. That dirt had missed the ground behind me, creating a fuzzy imprint of my shadow where barely any had landed.
Deggendorf didn’t hesitate to send more of the boulders rolling towards me. This time, I was wise enough to sidestep out of its direct path before pulverizing them.
With that, he knew that direct attacks would only be neutralized. As a result, the most sensible strategy was indirect attacks that tripped me up. After all, my skill only allowed me to target what I could reach.
If the entire arena was filled with jagged earth that caused an accident, then it would be my loss. Luckily, something like that happened once before, so I was extra careful of my two left feet.
Climbing from spike to spike, I ignored the gushes of earth from below that did virtually nothing but hinder my vision. Occasionally, what appeared to be meteors were flung down from above. In response, I drew my knife and honed my mana into a long blade, cleaving those that approached. I fought the urge to cough as the attacks exploded into clouds of dust.
Distractions weren’t going to be enough to force a mistake on my end. The nature of my critical skill required intense focus to aim properly. A bit of shaking and flying objects were simple annoyances I could deal with.
Suddenly, what appeared to be a wall of earth extended upwards and towered over me like a tidal wave. This, too, was hardly a big deal, as I had smashed through solid walls effortlessly before. The rippling wall threatened to envelop me head-on, but a well-timed strike created a hole in which I slipped through harmlessly.
At this point, Deggendorf was starting to run out of ideas. As far as he had known, only those who had stronger magic potential could overwhelm his own spells. That was the case for the young Duke of Reichenstein in the previous tournament, who had frozen his earth and turned him into an ice sculpture of a man seated while thinking.
One of his servants had shown him the resulting picture of his frozen position, making him wish he had been conscious enough to recreate the artwork in stone before defrosting out of it.
Regardless, he was unable to develop a strategy to counter me, the new Chancellor. Throwing everything to slow me down simply didn’t seem to work. And as I finally approached within striking range, he gave off a heavy sigh.
I paused for a moment, cautious of what else he was planning. However, the huge man looked at me with a grin.
“I guess it’s my loss, since you were able to get this close. Not even this much magic couldn’t stop you.” Then, Deggendorf paused before continuing, looking up at the stands. “With this, there’s no way the other nobles won’t accept you. To have our magic cancelled so easily would normally be a blow to our pride. Looks like the only matches I’ll be winning against you will be arm wrestling ones.”
Deggendorf extended his hand forward, as if he was planning to give me a crushing handshake. Feeling absolutely filthy after the dirt bath that I was given, I wasn’t exactly feeling nice enough to end the match cordially.
With a smirk, I shot back, “Arm wrestling, huh? Maybe, if you weren’t so obviously endowed. But what if we leveled the playing field….” I reached over and tapped a point on his forearm. “Like so….”
Deggendorf gawked at his right hand, which suddenly hung limp. He moved his arm up and down, but his wrist flopped like it had lost all feeling. No amount of effort could restore its strength.
“Don’t worry. It’ll return to normal in about an hour or so. That’s thanks for getting dirt in my… whatever. I’ll have to go shower off now.” I moved forward to pat him on the other shoulder as I walked by, but Deggendorf shrank back at my potentially paralyzing touch.
Seeing a man twice my size move back in such a way, a devious chuckle bubbled up my throat, which I had to stifle. I didn’t want to give others the impression of being evil, especially not after the last Chancellor.
With that, it was time for the next match. I looked over to Saki in the distance, giving her a sign of apology that I would miss her next fight. There was no way I could stand the feeling of dirt shifting around inside my pants.
Saki watched Claude glide off on his levi-board to freshen himself after the match. Frankly, she felt relieved that he wouldn’t watch her, as there was a good chance that she would have to face off against him next. Keeping one’s tactics secret was the key to victory.
“And next, the quarterfinal match! We have the Captain of the Royal Guards, Sir Roderick. And Lady Saki, the Electi that serves… well another Electi, but who is now our Esteemed Chancellor who you have just seen neutralize the most powerful of Earth magicians.
Lady Saki was the previous champion of the Tournament of Warriors, but she will be facing against someone powerful who has not participated publicly before. This will certainly be a match to behold. A battle of strength versus swift strikes of the blade!
Here they come-, wait… where is Sir Roderick?”
The announcer of the tournament looked around, seeing Saki on the freshly-fixed (again) arena, but he saw no signs of the royal guard captain walking up. He bellowed out for Sir Roderick again, prompting the crowd to look around for him as well.
Soon, the crowd’s eyes collectively honed onto one corner of the coliseum, where Roderick had been hanging around, oblivious to the calls for his attendance. His back was turned to the crowd, facing the wall, and it wasn’t until he shifted to the side that they saw what had captured his attention.
Ginger locks of hair came into view as a gauntlet-less hand gently fiddled with their ends. Another shift and they could see two faces passionately locked together in a feverish kiss. By now, some had a good angle as to why Sir Roderick had been too absorbed to care about his next match.
Since his previous one, he had been getting to know his former opponent extremely well. After all, he had originally entered the tournament to show off and catch the attention of someone attractive. And now that he met his goal, his mind was on other things than fighting.
“Um… Sir Roderick? Excuse me for disrupting your, um, moment, but you do have a match right now….” The announcer hesitantly tried to ease him out of the current situation.
Roderick immediately froze, finally noticing the entire crowd’s eyes upon him. With slow, deliberate movements, he backed himself away from the blushing girl and adjusted his armor in an attempt to look proper.
“I, I supposed that can’t be helped. I’ll be back soon.” He turned towards the arena, placing his gauntlets back on.
As he trotted up to the arena to begin the match, Saki gave him the stink eye, in part due to jealousy and another due to her general disgust of flirty men. Especially due to his flippant behavior just now, it had somehow tripped a switch inside her.
‘How dare he be doing th-that! To think I was trying to be serious about this!’
Saki had a very focused nature, being absorbed in things once she took interest in them. This turned into a competitive spirit once she realized that she had a good chance against most in combat. Because of that, she couldn’t very well lose to a man who had nearly forgotten about their match!
As soon as the match began, Roderick drew his sword and… promptly froze.
What was a girl before had turned into a menacing djinn with eyes gleaming of murder that towered over him. Darkness flowed out of her mouth like sickly blood being vomited. The form held not mallets but what appeared to be a body crucified onto a thick slab of wood in each hand. While he didn’t want to look, he couldn’t help but realize that the bodies were that of himself and Penelope dangling lifelessly. Long, metal stakes nailed them to the wood.
Their arms, legs and chest were hammered securely into the makeshift weapons being slung around while blood flowed generously from the wounds. Bloody tears also traced their pale faces, completing a vision that was enough to make him drop his sword and scream in terror.
“OH, HELL NO! I’m not dying a freaking virgin! Nuh-uh! To hell with it!!!”
Roderick leapt off the arena and bolted away, stopping by Penelope to hoist the surprised girl over his shoulder before continuing his escape. The crowd, as well as the Queen, were left with their jaws hanging as to what had happened. Only the few that could detect mana proficiently felt a hint of change in Roderick’s aura, which went cold with fear. While they had been out of range of her special attack, Aura de Gigante, they shivered at the bubbling miasma leaking from the Electi of Attack. Having kept silent due to being informed about her ‘abilities’ ahead of time, that didn’t prevent them from reaching for their weapons, just in case.
Fortunately, it appeared that Saki was in complete control, as the sensation of miasma started dissipating the moment Roderick left the arena, forfeiting his match.
Saki took a deep breath, clutching the charm that Koujiro had given to her. The negative feelings were starting to fade, thanks to the divine power it held.
‘Perhaps, that was a bit excessive.’ That thought flashed across her mind.
Her ‘Aura de Gigante’ skill, left unrestrained, would take on the exaggerations of her negative thoughts. In this case, it projected a murderous feeling towards the ‘love-birds’. While she had an inkling of what had resulted, only those in range could see what her illusion had truly turned into.
Fortunately, the only person it affected was Roderick. No one outside of the skill’s proximity would have the slightest clue as to what scared him so.
Truthfully, this skill was only meant to confuse her opponent and allow for a decisive blow like last time. Not outright scaring them into forfeiting. She wondered how much worse its effects could get.
“Well, what’s done is done… Now, I’ll be facing off against Claude,” she mumbled as she walked to the sidelines to allow for the next match.
In her thoughts, she pondered what would unnerve her most challenging opponent to date, breaking the focus he needed to land an instant victory. Distraction was crucial for a match that would end in one strike. And she knew just the thing. One word slipped from her lips, which she repeated several times.