Back at platform three, the fourth round is still ongoing but my mind is still in a daze. Scenes of Kou fighting in that orichalcum armor keeps replaying as I helplessly try to find an opening I can exploit.
I am so distracted that time passed by like a haze and I fought in round after round while imagining my opponents as Kou. I even tried to fight against an enhancer without magic for a while to simulate fighting against Kou only to have it handed to me and forced to use magic.
The more I thought about it, the more useless my magic seemed against him. The only magic that even fazed him was the explosion but I doubt I have time to level my fire magic to do that now.
I only wake up from my daze when Kou entered my vision. The final eight are gathering at the central platform for the quarter-finals as I head there with Faris and Norton's party in tow.
The sky starts to dim but the entire venue is still bright as day as the guild deployed several light mages for lighting, allowing me to clearly see the approaching pitch black armor.
Strength Lv. 26
Feeling my gaze from this close, Kou stares straight back at me.
"...You, I've seen you before." Kou scans me and my companions before settling his gaze on Faris beside me.
"That's right, you're that adventurer who forces his slave to fight for him! If you're a man then you should rely on yourself instead of relying on unfortunate girls who fell to slavery." Kou says while all fired up with his speech.
"Mind your own business." I retort before Faris has a chance to speak.
Meanwhile, Norton and his group sees where this conversation is going and let out a helpless sigh.
"I'll give you double amount you spent on your slave, it'll be worth your while since it's impossible for you to get that price for a second-hand slave, go buy yourself some experienced knights or something if you want meat shields."
"No, it's not up for discussion no matter how much you offer," I say while trying to maintain my composure as much as possible.
Calm down, don't let his words get to you.
"...You...I hate people like you the most, I can't just stand by doing nothing while knowing a poor girl is being forced to serve and raped by the likes of you then only to be thrown away after her usefulness of being used as a meat shield is exhausted." Kou starts raising his voice, attracting the attention of the nearby people.
"Don't worry young lady, I will definitely save you from this scum." Having attracted more attention, Kou proudly declares to Faris.
"Mast---" Faris's words are cut off by me before she can voice out.
"I'm going to have to say the same, I hate people like you who force their own ideas on other people, jump to conclusions, and thinks your delusions is the truth to everything. You better fuck off before you regret it."
We stare at each other for a moment before a loud voice coming from beside me draws our attention.
"I DON'T NEED YOUR SAVING, I'M HAPPY AS I AM WITH MASTER!" Faris yells out before holding onto my side and glares at Kou.
Everyone is stunned as the surroundings enter into a silent lull at the unexpected outburst. I've never seen Faris like that before.
"...I see...so this bastard has even forced you to speak out against your own wills, you are truly despicable."
"You---" I draw Faris closer to stop her from talking to Kou anymore as I whisper into her ears.
"It's useless... This guy is straight-up an idiot."
"It's fine, let's just ignore him and move on" I finish whispering to Faris and gives Norton a look in which he nods back in response. Time to head to the quarter-finals.
"Where are you going you, coward! Don't run away from me." Kou positions himself to block our path.
"The quarter-finals are starting soon shouldn't you head there as well?" I try to misdirect Kou's attention to focus on the tournament while holding Faris back from arguing with him.
"Oh, so you made it to the quarter-finals as well then I take it, surprising for someone like you. You---" I shove past Kou while pulling along Faris's hand, interrupting him as I no longer want to listen to his ramblings.
"Stop running and show me that you're a man, let's settle this in the tournament! If you win, I can promise you anything within my powers but in exchange, If I win you have transfer ownership of your slave to me!" Kou shouts out after us while glaring hard at me.
"Fuc---" Before I can tell him to fuck off, an arm wraps around me as Norton's voice quietly whispers into my ear.
"It isn't wise to flat out reject him right now."
"...What? Why? There no way I'm risking Faris because of his stupidity." I struggle to keep my volume down to a whisper.
"The way he's glaring over here, you'll make an enemy out of him for real this time if you reject his bet, then they'll be no telling what an angry idiot is capable of doing, especially a rich angry idiot."
"Then what do you want me to do? I'll rather have to deal with assassins or whatever he sends at me than give him Faris, I'll come on out and say it, I have no confidence of beating him as I am right now."
"There's a way to make him get off your back without losing Faris, you guys trust each other right?"
"Okay, then for your part of the bet, tell him this..."
"...Haha, that's pretty good. What should I ask for in exchange, does making him my slave sound good? Having a rich slave doesn't sound bad to me at al---." Norton's grip around my neck tighten, cutting me off.
"We're trying to NOT make an enemy out of the Hakuren family here, if you win with that as the wager, you bet your ass his dad is going to be going after you. Ask for something less extreme, that won't stir up bad blood, you guys don't actually have any unreconcilable grudge or anything, it's still easy to smooth things over."
"...You're right, I'll do as you say, thank you" I genuinely thank Norton as I fist-bump his chest, it's not bad having a friend look out for you.
"Stop whispering around and answer me!" Kou shouts out after having lost his patience.
"Fine! I'll accept your challenge if it's on my terms."
"Hahaha, very well state your terms." Kou seems elated as he can't possibly imagine losing.
"If I win, you'll acknowledge that I'm your better and address me as your senpai from now on. If you win, I'll give Faris the opportunity to choose if she wants to be transferred to you instead, though if we don't end up facing each other, we'll forget about the whole thing and no longer pursue the matter, deal?"
Surely with how caught up he is with the idea that Faris is a tragic victim, he'll no doubt think Faris would choose him.
"Only if you promise you won't try to throw matches to avoid me, otherwise I demand we have a match after the tournament."
"Okay, no problem."
"Hahaha, then Deal. Don't worry Faris, I'll surely save you soon." Kou happily accepts the deal and leaves after assuring Faris.
Seeing Faris sends off Kou with an angry glare I can't help but tease her a little.
"Aren't you happy, there's a little hero coming to save you."
"...Don't be stupid master, I'll always be on your side, that is if you let me... " Faris says while looking down.
"Of course you will be, there's no way I'd have it any other way."
"Heheh, but that sure was pretty sly of you master." Faris smiles sweetly.
"What? Oh, that? Just a little insurance, like I said, there's no way I'll risk losing you but doesn't mean I won't try to beat his ass and teach him a lesson."
"Hm, I can't wait to see that master." Faris displays her excitement through her clenched fists that are brought to chest level.
Now...back to strategizing how to defeat the Little Merchant Warrior, I have a clue on how to go on about it but I don't think it's enough...
The process remains the same for the quarter-finals as the eight of us wait near the flight of stairs up to the platform, waiting to be called for our turn.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the quarter-finals of the iron badge tournament, I'm happy that you all stayed with us throughout the entire day but the end is near! For the first match if you would welcome..."
I continue simulating fighting against Kou in my head during the matches until Kou's turn came for the second round of the quarter-finals.
Kou faces off against another strength enhancer in full armor for his match as I take the opportunity to watch how Kou fights in a melee. His opponent wields a long halberd while Kou's weapon of choice is a dark green greatsword.
His opponent skillfully dodges Kou's swings and successfully counter-attacks by connecting the axe of his halberd to Kou's shoulder. A small dent is visibly on Kou's armor as he swings visibly slows.
However, the match ends shortly after when Kou baits another swing on his injured arm before suddenly bring out a shield from his space ring to block the attack, not allowing his opponent to dodge his attacks. Kou swings down with his green greatsword while his competitor brings his halberd to parry but the greatsword easily slices through the halberd and stops at his neck.
I guess these matches with strength enhancers can change in a moment's notice with how much damage they can dish out in one hit especially with the superior equipment Kou has, heck I bet his equipment is even enchanted.
"The match is over. Kou is the winner!" The judge calmly declares.
"There it is folks! The Little Merchants Warrior's sharp adamantite sword easily slices through his opponent's defense, what a powerful sword!"
Let's hope that's his only weapon, I'm glad it isn't an orichalcum sword so at least he's not just a walking piece of magic absorbing metal.
My match is next as I fight against a melee dexterity enhancer, thankfully it is a good matchup for me as freezing the surroundings limited his options of closing the distance and enabled me to freely chip away his stamina from range until I found an opening to disable him with electric magic.
After my match, I take the time to try to rest up and avoid staring back at Kou. Truth be told, I'd much rather see him lose before fighting me, I'd be able to get him off my back without any effort but you know what they say, plan for the worst, cause it will come.
"That concludes the quarter-finals. The semi-finals will start right away or else I think everyone's stomach would eat me alive! Without further ado, let us start off the first match of the semi-finals with the Little Merchant Warrior, Kou Hakuren! Against him, we have a new adventurer who doesn't seem to be new to combat at all, the ice mage Aster Estrea!"
...Calm down, you can do this, my chances aren't zero as long as I don't give up.
I continue to do the maximum bet of 50 gold, got to show my confidence, especially to myself. We head up onto the platform and head to our positions while I take the chance to see the final odds.
Kou 1.24 Aster 4.16
I guess it's not that bad considering I'm a mage against the Little Merchant Warrior. It just means if I win, I win that much more.
Arriving at my position, I look back to see the suit of black armor opposite to me and the referee who everyone's attention is on, waiting for the signal to begin the match. The referee takes a moment to confirm our condition before throwing the flag up into the air.
"The flag has landed, the match has begun! And according to the gambling odds, you guys think Little Merchant Warrior will secure an easy victory against yet another mage! Or will the rookie ice mage be able to go against your predictions and be the one to prevail in the end?" The sound of the crowd and the commentator muffles the sound of the pitch-black armor's movement who is casually walking towards me, holding his dark green greatsword at rest.
I put a hand on my back to feel the shield strapped on to me that hasn't seen action in quite some time. Here goes nothing, I just need to bait him in and catch him off guard, I simulated this many times in my head, everything should work, just a matter of how much mana will it cost and will it hurt me too?
"I'm sure am lucky to have drawn you for this match, I guess this means our deal is on, right?" Kou shouts out.
"Yeah, bring it. Let's see what you can do by just relying on your equipment." Immediately after my words, Kou breaks into a charge you wouldn't expect to see from someone wearing full armor.
Time to put on a display of a desperate struggle without holding back. I concentrate on collecting two pools of electricity with my electric magic while Kou continues to run at me in a straight line.
Just a bit closer...
Just when Kou enter the range to be able to lunge out at me, I fire off two lightning bolts at the same time, one aimed at his visors while the other aimed at his sword. The bluish lightning bolts instantly reach their targets.
The spells that make contacts with the visors of the black helmet disappears without a sound, with only the color of the visor changing from pitch black to an almost black dark grey to show for as a result of the spell. The second lightning bolt hits the greatsword in his hand, knocking the sword to the side but Kou's grip stays strong on his weapon.
That took almost a fifth of my mana and all I got in return was him momentarily coming to a stop from being blinded and his weapon pushed back but it's enough, it's shown that magic can still be effective against him.
I take the opportunity before Kou recovers and thrust out my spear, aiming for the gaps in his armor, the armpit on the side where his hand got staggered. It sucks that tournament rules prevent me from aiming at the slit where his eyes are but I doubt a mage like me would be able to do it accurately and swiftly enough before he reacts anyways.
My spear makes contact with the gap in his armpit and the feeling of hitting something hard assaults my hands. Not good, I couldn't even pierce the chainmail underneath, is it made out of some cheat-metal too? As I recover my spear, a sword rapidly approaches from my left. Kou managed to swing his greatsword one-handed from his staggered position earlier.
I quickly generate an ice shield, as strong as possible while I roll off to the side. The ice shield barely stops the sword for a moment before cleanly slicing through it and into the area I just was at. I try to stand up and recover my posture as Kou relentlessly pushes his attack.
A thrust in chasing after me just as I fixed my posture forced me to jump off to the side. Just as I think that I successfully fended off another attack, the thrust motion suddenly turns into a swing, chasing after me as I struggle to cast another ice shield to slow down the attack as I once roll away again.
Mid-roll the sound of my ice shield shattering rings out from behind me as chunks of ice propels into me as I am knocked down onto my stomach.
He must have used the flat of his blade to bat my ice shield at me...
"That all you got?" Kou sneers, giving me a moment of rest from his pursuit.
"That's my line, I expected more but it turns out you are just someone who wouldn't be able to fight without his fancy gear supporting him." I taunt as I get up onto my feet and fix my posture.
My words seem to have agitated him as he starts charging at me once again but with more vigor. Good, lose you cool and just charge head-on, the simpler your movement, the better.
Kou leaps up and lunges at me as he swings down at me with an overhead swing.
Nows the time to do it.
I cast another ice shield in his path and jump to the side while taking out the shield on my back and hold it towards Kou who is just a breath away from me. Kou's movement ceases as his sword is embedded into the ground. giving me a chance to start casting a spell.
From seeing his fight against that fire and ice mage earlier, it showed that reactions from spells worked on his orichalcum armor like the explosions. With my arsenal of spells, I thought I wouldn't be able to do the same without fire magic but all I needed is a way to superheat the ice to cause an explosion.
Remembering how my lightning bolts can even bore a hole through metal and how my electronics in my old world got hotter, I remember learning about how electricity doesn't give off heat but generates it from how fast the electrons move past things. So I basically just need a current that runs as fast as possible come into contact with my ice and it should be able to cause an explosion though I'm not sure if it will be hot enough. Let's just hope magic will fill in my blanks and this works.
I quickly generate an ice lance between my shield and Kou while conjuring an electric current nearby. I control the current to move around in a circle imagine the current to move as fast as possible. Feeling that the current is spinning the fast as possible within my capabilities, I overlap my ice lance with the electric current.
Light instantly flashes, a strong sound sends my ears ringing while a strong force pushes against my shield and picks me up and blows me away. A steamy fog obscures my vision as I stand up on my feet. My body aches as I struggle to see the aftermath of my spell.
That didn't use as much mana as I thought, in fact, it was like barely more than a normal spell like ice lance. But I guess I can only make it explode near me or else I won't be able to control the currents as I please.
"A sudden explosion shocks the stadium, what spell could Aster Estrea possibly have cast to create such an explosion like the Temperate mage's?!" My ears start to recover as the voice of the announcer starts to become clearer.
Just as the steam clears up, a figure lurks out at me, catching me off guard, I instinctive turn towards the figure with my shield out as I cast an ice shield. My spell doesn't complete in time as the figure jumps through the water that I have yet to freeze and jump kicks into my raised shield. Once again a strong force assaults me and sends me flying except this time I feel my left arm not able to support it and it starts hurting to the bone.
I resist the pain and get a bearing on my situation. I notice half my shield missing as it snapped off and the figure who assaulted me recover as well and heads my direction. It seems my explosion didn't hurt Kou much, it only blasted his sword away.
This is bad.
I've used up my trump card, I don't have anything effective against him anymore.
Do I surrender? Fuck that, I've come this far, think Aster think, there must be a way, I need to teach this arrogant asshole a lesson
Kou once again charges at me unarmed as I cast another ice shield and roll off to the side.
What can I do at this point, my explosion spell didn't work, in the first place I should've known explosions by themselves aren't that powerful, it's the shrapnels they send flying that are deadly, that's how grenades work, how can I not know something so basic...
Kou backhands into my shield that seems to soundlessly disappear as his blows lands on the half a shield I'm still holding. Fuck that hurts, I think my left arm is broken.
Kou chases after me as my fight or flight instinct kick in and I flood the platform with water before freezing. I slide away on the ice while every step Kou takes deletes the ice, forcing him to run normally after me.
"Booooooo!" Booing fills the crowd as I run away.
Fuck this is so uncool, maybe I should forfeit after all.
I can't believe I was stupid enough to think my makeshift explosion spell can be compared to high-explosives, heck if it was I probably would've been badly hurt as well anyway. It's like the difference between black powder and smokeless gunpowder, the two propellant both explode but at different strengths...wait, propellant?
"Give up, I acknowledge your strength but you have no way to beat me. With your abilities you have no need to use your slaves like a meat shield, you should be a man and be the one to stand out on the front-line, let this be a lesson for you." Kou says while walking towards me.
Let's try this out, all or nothing.
I start charging at Kou with my spear pointed to him. I force my broken hand to help support the spear despite the pain advising against it.
"A futile last struggle, you can't possibly hurt me with that spear of yours without even being an enhancer!" Kou spreads his arm, ready to take my charge.
I continue rushing at him until the distance is close enough for me to lunge out at him but before doing so, I flip my spear around and point the blunt end at his chest.
Just like before, maybe a bit weaker this time.
I focus on casting two spells at the same time, creating a ball of ice at the tip of my spear facing away from my charge while I summon another electric current traveling in circles, accelerating its speed.
I leap at Kou who has his arms spread, looking at he's ready to receive a hug and aim the back of my spear at him. I thrust out and at the same time, overlap my two spells at the tip of my spear.
"Here's a lesson for you!" I scream out.
You're not the center of the world, the main character of a story, stop being so self condescending.
"Wha---?" Kou gets surprised the moment I flip my spear and sees the ball of ice at the tip of my spear but the sound of another explosion cuts him off.
The back of my spear thrusts out at Kou with my full force plus that of the explosion's, launching the spear with incredible force straight into his chest. The force of the spear manages to knock Kou off his feet, sending him flat on his back.
A visible dent shows in his chest.
Kou breathes heavily and quickly struggles to stand up.
"Have another!" I scream out as I jump ontop him and stabs the back of my spear straight down with only one hand as he tries to push me off, I repeat the previous process once more and cast another explosion at the tip of my spear.
Another dent appears on the left side of his breastplate and his struggle weakens. He suddenly tries to punches out at me causing me to once again hammer down my spear into him with the power of my spell.
The first dent on his armor deepens as blood leaks out from the bottom of his helmet. His struggles stop as he lay motionlessly on the ground.
The entire venue is silent since I knocked Kou onto the ground as the referee pops out and examines Kou. I breathe heavily as I remain mounted ontop Kou with my left hand dangling to my side and my right hand still grasping onto my spear, ready to slam it down at him once more.
"Kou is unconscious, the fight is over, Aster is the winner!" The judge stands up and loudly declares, erupting cheers from the crowd.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I stand up and let out a warcry and raise my only working arm high into the air while holding onto the spear.
I won...I can't believe it, I DID IT!
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