Immediately upon reentering the waiting room where the other hopeful participants were, Lone frowned.
He could see Soph trying her best to become as small as possible as three men and two women surrounded her and mocked her.
"Hey! Open your eyes! Lemme see those lifeless fuckers again!"
"Hahaha, how's she gonna fight when she can't even see?"
"Oi, do you think she'd die if we just grabbed her and tossed her in some random place? Like, wouldn't she definitely get lost?"
"That's a great idea! But I also kinda wanna see her after she gets her ass kicked by the examiners..."
"She reeks of magic. I bet she's not that cute in reality. She must be using illusion magic or something. Make-up's one thing, but magic? Pathetic."
Tears threatened to leak out of Soph's eyes as her body began shaking wildly.
"Okay, okay, we promise to leave you alone if you show us your eyes one more time, right, guys?"
"I swear on the Primals."
Soph very reluctantly peeled her teary eyes open only to be met with a round of thunderous laughter. The next moment, one of the women grabbed her by her hair and tossed her onto the floor.
'If you don't give us control this instant, we will forcefully take it and erase these people from existence!' Sophie screamed to Soph. The girl curled up into a ball once again and shook her head lightly. 'Please.. don't... Don't cause trouble for Lone...'
Before Sophie could respond with an enraged reply, a warm set of arms wrapped around Soph and helped her back up onto her feet. "Lone..."
Frowning heavily, Lone glared at the five people, all of whom were dressed exquisitely and had extremely expensive looking equipment affixed to their hips or backs. "Unsightly behaviour for nobles of Milindo. I thought we had come to a place that only discriminated again non-humans, but it looks like I was wrong. Such a barbarous land. Do you eat your food with your hands and growl at dogs on the streets as well?"
That comment earned a few stifled laughs from the seated participants that hadn't bothered helping Soph.
The presumed-nobles seemingly did not like Lone's tone of speech, as made clear by their looks of disgust and the fist that promptly flew towards his face.
'I can dodge it, but let's not,' Lone decided internally as he let his face get struck.
His head rocked slightly, but less than a second later, he looked none the worse for wear as he stared calmly at the man who had hit him. "Weak. Not only a nation of barbarians, but also one of cowards who only have the courage to harass those weaker than themselves. I am proud to be a slave of a noble from the Taslo Empire. Tell me, are you proud that you may have caused your country to be annihilated due to your bullying of my master, the daughter of a man very close to the current empress of the Taslo Empire?"
The young men and women flinched noticeably at that. The leading one scoffed, but still ultimately decided to back down for now. "This isn't over. Get out of my sight before I kill you right here and right now."
Lone simply scooped up Soph and held her in a princess carry before he started moving, however, as he was passing the group, one of the other men grabbed him roughly by the shoulder. "Did you pass?"
Lone stared at him. "Yes, I did. I got full marks from all three examiners. Now let go of me."
The man smirked and then shoved Lone. "I'm gonna rip your tails off one by one during the competition then."
Lone didn't respond to that. He was already suppressing the powerful urge to use Mental Destruction on the man, so he quickly fled the room and then the colosseum with Soph still held in his arms.
Once they were a fair distance away from the building, Lone let go of Soph and crouched down while he leaned against a random house's wall. He held his forehead and sighed.
"Skipping town is looking more and more attractive by the minute..." he muttered.
During his interaction with those presumed nobles, he had gained several notifications, so he chose to look at them now to distract himself somewhat. Soph watched him with a concerned and apologetic expression plastered across her adorable face.
|Congratulations! The host's passive skill [Persuasion] has levelled up! It is now Intermediate Level 1.|
|Congratulations! The host's passive skill [Persuasion] has levelled up! It is now Intermediate Level 2.|
"Well, at least I got something out of that..." Lone muttered as he halted his notifications and looks at Persuasion's skill description, hopeful for any significant changes.
|Passive Skill: Persuasion|
|Naturally makes everything that the host says 15% [+10%] more believable and also entices the host's listeners to trust the host's words by 15% [+10%] more.|
|Mastery:||Intermediate Level 2|
"Definitely a really useful skill, but still, not the most helpful thing in the world right now," Lone claimed as he resumed looking through his notifications.
|Congratulations! The host's passive skill [Acting] has levelled up! It is now Intermediate Level 9.|
|Congratulations! The host's passive skill [Acting] has levelled up! It is now Intermediate Level 10.|
|Congratulations! The host's passive skill [Acting] has levelled up! It is now Advanced Level 1.|
"Just these two skills, huh? So I guess Bluffing isn't a skill? Coercion, bluffing, intimidation, and all of that kinda shit must fall under the Persuasion skill, huh? I wonder why Acting has its own skill then," Lone said absentmindedly as he pulled up the skill's information.
|Passive Skill: Acting|
Naturally makes everything that the host does which does not align with their personality or motives 30% [+15%] more believable.
[New!] When acting, there is a 5% chance for the host's audience to become immersed in the host's act, increasing the likelihood of them believing it by 50%, regardless of how unbelievable or exaggerated the act may be.
|Mastery:||Advanced Level 1|
"Well, I can't really turn my nose up at a new effect, but boy is the wind blown out of my sails," Lone said a bit sadly as he straightened his back and cracked his neck.
Soph very slowly and very gently grabbed the hem of his shirt as tears began welling up in her eyes for the second time today. "U-Um... I-I'm sorry... I... I... Uh, I didn't know what to do when they asked about m-my eyes, so... so I panicked and froze..."
Lone smiled very wryly. "It's not your fault. Dickheads like that will find any excuse in the book to pick on someone they deem weaker than themselves. It happened to me all the time in school, both as a kid and as a teacher."
Soph pouted and looked at the floor as she buried her head in Lone's torso. "A-Are we gonna leave the country now?"
Lone frowned. "Maybe. I need to research how severely they enforce the capital punishment for not attending the tournament as an official participant. I'd imagine they have such information in the library, so we'll go there first. Are you okay to come with me, or would you rather I unsummoned you? I know you don't like that place, but you have plenty of candles, and you'll be safe in there."
Soph slowly shook her head. "I-If it's okay, em, I wanna stay by your side..."
Lone felt his heart melting. "Of course it's okay. Let's grab a snack then head to the library then, okay?"
Soph smiled very weakly as she replied, "Mmm..."
"Fuck," Lone audibly swore as he and Soph sat in an abandoned corner in the library.
He scratched his head roughly and pulled on his hair a little bit in frustration. "'Duke Henry Malik personally enforces all capital offences, and in the past century, under his watch, not a single person has escaped death under the justified laws of the kingdom'? What fucking bullshit. So now I have no choice but to stay?"
Lone wanted to throw the thrice-damned book across the room, but that would do nothing beyond vent his upset, so he instead rubbed his temple and thought long and hard. "Well, for starters, he's a human, but he's been doing this for over a century? How's that possible? Is it because he's an S-ranker? Does ranking up expand a person's lifespan?"
Soph was leaning against the wall with her eyes half closed, but she slowly rubbed them open and began listening to Lone's ramblings.
"So, at the very least, I need to somehow test my Mental Destruction on an S-ranker, maybe a powerful monster. If that works, then I'm fine. We can just flee from this place and I can kill him if he pursues us." Lone stroked his chin and frowned.
"Worst-case-scenario, my Mental Destruction doesn't work on S-rankers, or I'm too weak for it to work on them, so I need to really grind my stats as much as is humanly possible for the next month before the competition, win the fuckin' thing so I'm not killed mid-match, then leave Milindo immediately." Lone closed his eyes and sighed heavily.
"Either way, I need to go questing and look for powerful monsters, don't I?" Lone leaned his head back and stared up at the ceiling. "There's also that meeting with the Crimson Foxkin Clan's matriarch, Lossa Redtail. I could always ask her for help... maybe. There's still a while before she's supposed to meet me, so it'd be wise to start hunting as much as possible before then regardless of if she will or will not help me."
"All done?" Soph asked cutely as she yawned.
Peering outside only to see that the sun was now setting, Lone smiled. "Yeah. Let's head back for today and get some early rest. Sophie and I will be busy all day tomorrow hunting."
Soph wore a warm expression on her face. "Sophie says she's looking forward to it."
"Hahaha, of course she is," Lone replied as he got up and put the book he was reading back where it belonged, after that, he left the library with Soph and returned to the Amberbark Inn.
"I heard you and your friends entered an altercation with a non today, Son," a portly man said as he glanced at one of his three children before he cut off a slice of his steak and gleefully shoved it into his mouth.
Shrugging, his son replied, "Yeah. He was a liar serving a cripple, but since he somehow cheated his way into the annual tournament, I spared his life today."
"How generous of you," the man's mother - a woman with more make-up than flesh - said with a certain proudness in her voice.
One of his younger siblings raised the courage to ask, "What species was the non? A rare one?"
The portly father reached over the dinner table and smacked the young girl across her head. "What species the beast was hardly matters, Cornithia. What's brought on this sudden interested in nons, hmm? Has professor Lyndon been teaching you some things that he shouldn't have been? Do I need to hire a new personal tutor for you?"
"Please don't, Daddy! I was just curious," the girl no older than eight said as she pouted cutely and held the top of her head with both of her tiny palms.
Her mother held the portly man's hand and smiled graciously. "Come now, Dear. She's but a child. It's unbecoming of you as a margrave of Milindo to be upset at a child."
"Ahem, right you are, Annabelle. Regardless, Cornithia, I hope this interest in nons was a one-time thing, do you understand?" the margrave said in a stern tone as he pointed the sausage pierced on his fork at his only daughter.
She bobbed her head up and down as she replied, "Yes, Daddy!"
The other child - a boy in his teens with apathetic eyes - scowled silently as he ate his peas.
Meanwhile, the man who had been harassing Soph earlier that day, ground his teeth internally. 'There's no way that filthy mutt's master is anyone important in the Talso Empire... There's no way. Telling Father would only needlessly complicate things and might even put him in a tight position politically. I... I'll have both the non and his master assassinated. That should fix everything...'
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