Sally had no break before the finals, and to her dismay, she barely even got to sit back down before being called up again. Truly, her next opponent won the round so quickly that not even the now-defeated Katy could compare knockout times.

Sally wiped her brow of salty sweat before taking to the stage again, her feet like lead. Her Strength was starting to give and she wondered whether she could correctly hold her sword.

Yoh nudged Tom on the shouder, “Hey look. I’m sorry, but this is as far as she goes.”

Tom finally humored him with a skeptical look, “Don’t be so sure."

Sally was partially relieved, because her opponent was equally exhausted.

“Hello,” her opponent half-whispered, “It’s an honor to engage in a duel with you.”

She was a plain girl, one who was barely any bigger than the slight Sally. Her face carried and abundance of freckles, and Sally had never seen hair like hers. It was a red color, which was apparent less than a percent of people worldwide after the Great Reverse, and it was especially elusive in Susanoo or even in Lodestone. Sally realized it was natural judging from the even tone, and she couldn’t help but feeling delighted. The color of a warm sunset flowed from her head, though this was no time to grow distracted.

Her sword was unusual too, no; it was more like a hunting tool. It was clearly a poor man’s weapon, and what was visible of it through the rubber coating was jaded. It held a simple elegance that outshined Sally’s sword.

Sally tried to peak at her opponent’s name just like Tom had, even though it would’ve been more polite to ask. She was unable to because she had hastily gotten on the stage, but it appeared that the red haired girl hadn’t peeked either. They both had realized how odd it was that neither of them asked. The other girl thought this was because Sally was nervous, while Sally thought it was because that in Susanoo they might have different etiquettes for it.

Without much delay, once the match started Sally was bombarded with powerful slashes from another more normal sword which her enemy had kept hidden earlier. Sally should’ve guessed so because she wore an average sized sheath on her waist.

Not only should’ve the second weapon be expected, but Sally’s swordsmanship was outmatched and she quickly found herself at disadvantage. There was also one more ability she had not anticipated; The other weapon was used like a parrying dagger, but if Sally retreated too far away, She would throw it like a throwing knife, and since it was coated with so much rubber, it would bounce off Sally’s armor painfully and land somewhere close to her. She kept on retrieving it while Sally flinched, and this only added to the gap between them.

It might have been her imagination, but Sally’s sword almost slipped from her hand because of all the sweat. She was also certain she was bleeding from previous injuries. To add even more difficulty to her focus, if the dagger ever hit over her head or heart, it could be a qualification for defeat.

No normal knight, much less a trainee could be able to throw a knife with so much precision that it returned. In fact, Sally knew that the velocity and the orientation had to be within certain parameters. Another thing she noticed was her opponent made clear that the strike was coming, so no one would complain that it was an under-handed method. Sally was battered and bruised, and ready to give out.

Unlike Katy, it wasn’t like that girl was compensating for something, nor did it seem that she would tire out before Sally. Attacking head one while the gap between them was small would be the best strategy if something more specific wasn’t available, but she could probably hold her own. No, Sally was certain that she would lose an all-out exchange.

There is no other way, she decided. Sally waited to when she crouched over to pick up her rusty weapon, and then she lunged, scoring a powerful hit. She also stumbled and her surprised movements allowed Sally to compete. However, her actions were defensive, and she easily repelled Sally. In the end, Sally won over but she still suffered more damage considering her earlier clashes. Her opponent had the perfect offense at a distance, and a perfect trick for someone who thought she was unable to take a hit. But Sally’s counterattack did have a significant effect, as no more projectiles head her way.

Sally heard a rude voice that she understood as her conscious, “Don’t you dare give up. Do it and Ill hate you forever? Remember your goal. Winning or losing, a martial tournament doesn’t mean anything, but if you surrender, than what’ll stop you from surrendering in the future. You asked what it meant to be powerful. It means to be able to stand up to the occasion.”

Sally still knew that the only course of action was another clash. She cornered her opponent and predicted her opponent’s footwork based on Tom’s, and all the while meeting steel they worked themselves onto the edge of the platform. Sally lunged again, but instead of being repelled by her opponent’s skillful parries and returns, she turned on her side so instead the sword would slide painfully against her body. However, taking the blunt of the blows instead of retreating allowed Sally’s continued assault. It was no longer a duel but a siege of a castle. Even the best prepared fortifications crumble after enough attrition.

With her back against the wall, her opponent was at a great disadvantage, what but seemed the most spectacular to the crowd was Sally’s wild temper, which inflicted great pain without wavering when it felt it. Her determination made her go on, but she fell first, and in a last attempt, she landed a low pierce and both of the touched the ground.

The judges were going to proclaim it a draw, unless one was able to get up. Both combatants got up and on their knees, but until one stood, the verdict would be the same. Sally felt strange, almost like her center was outside of her frame. She picked up one leg after the other, not to win, but to find her head. She collapsed and woke up in the nurse’s office. The last thing she remembered a dull pain in her head, but then she realized it wasn’t just a memory. She didn’t even get her opponent’s name, nor did she know what time it was.

She was the only one there, and she snuck out, but strangely, the sky became brighter already. When she got to her room the clock berated her by telling twelve hours had passed. Even though students woke up late normally, she couldn’t sleep because she was out cold for so long.

She begun by showering and changing clothes and she had a long leisurely breakfast since she missed dinner. Today there would be no classes either, and she already took care of her chores before the tourney, so she waited boringly in her room. She always wondered, but now she really imagined if Stein and Tom ever caused the other agony.
Instead, she had lain with her eyes open, lonely and cold. Her aching stopped but she felt at shame that her education would stop so early.


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