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Randidly sat down immediately after the match started, exhausted.

His opponent raised his eyebrow. “Do you concede?”

Randidly folded his hands and closed his eyes. “No, I do not concede.”

“Then why do you sit?” His opponent said with a frown, his dark eyes crinkling.

“Because… this is the best way to win.” Randidly raised his hand and unleashed an Incinerating Bolt that rushed forward, a scarlet blur that was aimed at one of his opponent’s knees. Perhaps a more direct shot would inflict more damage, but at this point, Randidly’s main focus was incapacitating and giving himself some room to breath.

But his opponent simply snorted and lowered his spear, a huge, metallic grey slab of metal, and intercepted the bolt. It ricocheted, howling off to the side, crashing into the empty space around the arena, throwing up a cloud of dust. His opponent frowned, looking down at his spear, where there remained a slightly red portion, from the heat, and a small dent.

With glowing eyes, the spear user looked up at Randidly. “You are a mage.”

It was not a question, so Randidly didn’t bother answering. Instead he raised his hand and fired two more Incinerating Bolts, aiming for his opponent’s gut and shoulder. Apparently realizing what this could devolve into, his opponent began to thunder forward, his huge legs exploding with power and allowing him to rush through the barrage of bolts.

The bolts hit his weapon again, once more leaving small dents, which made the spear user frown, but Randidly knew that it would take a long time to deal a significant blow to the spear, although each of these dents was a slowly growing weakness.

“Know that the name of the man who defeated you-!” His opponent thundered as he rumbled forward. “Is Bertarn Yish!”

The very air shook with his voice. This Bertarn was a different sort of monster than Azriel. Where she had been speed and precision, Randidly had no doubt that this man was strength and endurance. A monstrous, unstoppable momentum. Incinerating Bolt was a direct, targeted spell, and probably the one of Randidly’s that did the most damage in a small space. It was concentrated. Yet it was still not enough.

Randidly supposed it was good then, that his highest mental stat was not Intelligence. It was Control.

“Root Control.” Randidly murmured. And roots surged upwards, heeding his call.

****

Bertarn frowned slightly as the roots surged upwards out of nowhere, but his pace didn’t slow. That was not his way. It was surprising that this strange spear mage seemed able to utilize both flame and plant spells, but it mattered little in the face of true power. It was simply a smoke screen, and Bertarn had a hard time believing that he would have enough time behind the roots in order to salvage this situation.

Even before the match had started, it was clear to Bertarn that his opponent was in poor shape. After all, he had been given to the Azriel, the Hungry Needle. Although she was not the favorite to win the Regional Tournament, she was definitely the only individual who had hopes of defeating the favorite.

As for Bertarn, in his stoic way, he had accepted that he was battling for entrance into the top 4 of the tournament, and it was an especially brutal match. There were 10 or so individuals at his level of strength, or near it, that would compete for those unclaimed two spots at the top. And now there was his current opponent, the Ghosthound, and that other red haired woman, who had grasped victory against Ivitri…

Bertarn’s spear swept sideways, severing through the flailing mass of roots that rushed towards him, basically levelling it. As he did so, several roots ripped outward from the severed mass, stabbing towards him. At first he snorted, but then his eyes widened as he sensed a not insignificant amount of spear intent from those roots.

These… they had the power to scratch him…?

So Bertarn sidestepped, avoiding them, and slashed again with his spear, destroying what remained of the quickly regrowing roots. But as he did so, his neck tingled, and he stepped forward, avoiding the stabbing roots aiming for his back, advancing towards the area where his opponent must be.

But as he stepped, several roots twined around his foot and smashed it sideways, aiming to destroy his stance. At the same time, several other attacks rushed upwards, roots ripping towards his exposed areas.

Bertarn’s eyes flashed. This level of control…! This spear mage was truly fearsome.

Still, it wasn’t enough. As soon as the pressure arrived on his foot, Bertarn smashed his foot towards the ground. He calculated, repositioning his body slightly, so the stabbing roots would only skid off of his skin. His natural Endurance should be enough to deflect indirect blows.

To his surprise, when his foot hit the ground, it smashed through and into a hole, that had been prepared for it. Even as he twisted, the stabbing roots curved, aiming to hit his weak points directly. Furious, Bertarn smashed again with his spear, destroying what remained of the root bush, revealing his opponent, the Ghosthound.

He was standing there calmly, his eyes a chilly green, spear at the ready, a small smile on his face.

Several roots punctured through his skin, thrashing towards his insides, but Bertarn just flexed his muscles and frowned, a powerful, dominating aura of a mountain emerging behind him. To be forced to use his image, in a situation like this… it was truly admirable. But this was the end.

But as he reached to grab his spear with his off hand, Bertarn discovered that it was bound by roots. It would take but a second to throw those off, but that was time that he didn’t have. The Ghosthound struck, and a strange ticking filled the air. Slowly, a woman manifested itself, a woman who was half flesh, half skeleton, and began to float towards Bertarn.

Not enough time. His hand on his spear flexed, and he swung his huge weapon to meet the oncoming thrust, even as an air of hopelessness and frustration filled the air.

BOOOOOOOM.

The blows met, and even though his was only a one armed, off balance swing as his foot was stuck in a hole, Bertarn was surprised to find them evenly matched. Further surprising him, the Ghosthound stepped forward, his emerald eyes burning, pressing forward, overpowering him further.

Bertarn gritted his teeth. If he had to, he would use-

But strangely, the Ghosthound’s strength very quickly waned, and Bertarn struck, smashing his opponent backwards. More roots stabbed upwards, but they had clearly lost some of their edge as their master was sent stumbling backwards. Bertarn rose, his spear rising with him.

A series of clever ploys were useful, but it was shallow. The Ghosthound was either weak, or still too wounded from his previous battle to continue.

Honestly, it didn’t matter. He still had a job to do. Although he disdained it, Bertarn still would follow the instruction of his Style’s vice-leader and break some of his opponent’s bones before he knocked him out of the ring. They must send a message. Bertarn personally must reclaim some of his sense of unstoppable strength.

Those emerald eyes locked on him as he approached, practically glowing. What would be truly satisfying about this, Bertarn mused to himself, was that his opponent would not surrender or drop his spear. That was what those eyes screamed to him. They declared their vicious rejection of this outcome, a refusal to accept the loss.

Although Bertarn could not do it now, this was a spear user deserving of acknowledgement, even though he had chosen to become a mage. His strength was still real.

But that was for later. Now, for the lesson.

*****

Groaning, Randidly woke again, a familiar face frowning down at him.

“The benefit of going early in the 3rd round is that you will have another hour until the 4th round begins.” The bearded referee said, eyeing at the strange angles that Randidly’s left leg was bent.

Randidly said nothing, grinding his teeth. At the last moment, as he was pushing that completely over muscled spear user backwards with Stalemate Breaker and Empower, his small Stamina pool, that was regenerated in the short time his roots bought him, ran out, leaving him practically helpless.

The amount of time that Bertarn had taken to rip through his screen of roots was intimidating to say the least. Although it wasn’t similiar, Randidly felt like the spear user that he had defeated in the first round, completely overwhelmed by the other’s strength. It was a wake up call, in a way.

Sighing, Randidly laid back and stared at the ceiling. Allowing his wounds to slowly heal. His head was pounding, slightly ringing from some of the previous blows. So this… this was truly his relative level. There were perhaps other methods he could utilize, but it would be difficult now, as he had 2 losses. He could not afford another one. Not for quite a while.

But for now...

He closed his eyes and began to meditate. One fight at a time. He needed to win the 4th match of today and secure his survival before he worried about anything else. God, he could use a nice massage. Or a day off.

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