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It was just a lucky strike. Nothing else. He’s fully aware of this!

Jiv was born in the streets of Radiant City, and because of it, he turned to thievery from a young age. He’s always had a lanky body, but he’s always been proud of his quick feet and dexterous hands. They made it easy to take someone’s purse and run away. But when the streets turned dangerous even to someone like him, he turned to the Dusty Hall and became a mercenary. They didn’t even look at his background. They just tested him and accepted him. The life of a mediocre mercenary is even harder than that of a skilled thief, but at least Jiv doesn’t have to worry about waking up with a knife in his gut every night anymore.

Three weeks ago, Jiv was out on a job near Era Village. His task was simple: find and kill a wolf monster that was hiding in a small forest nearby. Now, Jiv knows he’s not the strongest, but he’s… competent. Killing a single wolf monster is within his capabilities, but if there happened to be more he’d have to leave the job to someone else. The reward wasn’t big enough to be profitable if he split it with someone else, so he was alone.

But during that job, something happened. He was walking back to the inn in the village as the sun was setting, having spent most of the day trying to find the thing, when he heard screams. Further down the road was a very fancy carriage, but more importantly, the wolf he’d been looking for was furiously barking at it and scratching its door. No, it was practically ripping it apart with its claws. The beast was bigger than common wolves, its fur different shades of gray and its eyes red.

Jiv knew that was his best chance. Not only was the wolf distracted, but the carriage obviously belonged to someone wealthy. If he rescued them, he’d most likely be rewarded with good money!

He took out a stone from his pocket and started his Prana Flow. His weak soul had been a blessing as a thief because people barely noticed him, but as a mercenary it was pathetic. He needed to be crafty to survive fights with monsters. He broke into a run just after he threw the stone. It landed right where he wanted, right in the head of the beast. It stunned it enough for Jiv to jump on it and wildly stab it with his short sword several times on the neck.

The wolf’s whimpers quickly ceased, and Jiv was victorious! He felt proud of himself, both for seeing the chance at an easy victory and for taking it. He announced the death of the monster to the people inside, and a fat man dressed in extremely elegant clothes came out with an armed guard behind him.

The fat man beamed at him, while the guard seemed ashamed of his performance. Of course he was. He was useless, he didn’t do anything! Jiv, on the other hand, saved them! He’d surely be rewarded with a fat purse of gold!

The fat man introduced himself as a noble of the kingdom, and he said he was impressed with Jiv’s bravery. Which was natural, of course. He said he wanted to reward him, which obviously made Jiv giddy, even if he had to pretend to refuse the first time. The noble kept praising him, saying that he was even stronger than his guard and that his strength was wasted as a mercenary.

So in the end, it’s only due to luck that Jiv is here right now, in a spacious room in the castle and waiting for someone to announce the bracket for the Knight Selection Tournament.

THE KNIGHT SELECTION TOURNAMENT!

This is such a huge deal! It’s a chance only the luckiest ever get! If he were to become a knight, he’d earn more money than he’d ever earn as a thief and mercenary combined! If he got even luckier, he’d be assigned to one of those brigades that only do patrols around the country, leading to a very easy life! But to get there, he needs to win the tournament, and that’s when things turn grim.

Jiv has a keen eye for people, so he can easily identify the three other commoners like him in the room. Three other people got invited to the tournament and the other ten are nobles.

He swallows nervously. Everybody here looks strong. And he hates to admit it, but the nobles have this presence to them that’s… intimidating. He’s 22 years old, but even if many of these kids look like they’ve just come of age, that’s the impression he gets. They must have spent their whole lives training for this day.

One of those nobles, a kid with short brown hair and a slim, toned frame walks up to one of the commoners sitting on a bench. He has a scowl on his face, and Jiv has the feeling that this will turn ugly.

“Are you the man called Arthur?” Only hearing that arrogant tone irks Jiv. The commoner, a boy just as young with black, messy hair and wearing a black simple gambeson looks up to meet the noble’s eyes.

“I am. Have we met?” He asks, surprising casual. Jiv has to wonder if he’s irreverent towards nobility or just plain clueless.

“We have not. My name is Alan Zaphiel, third son of Duke Adrian Zaphiel, head of one of the Four Great Houses.” He bows politely, but the scowl remains on his face.

Arthur stands up from his seat and does a short bow in return. “A pleasure.” His expression remains mostly neutral and expectant. He doesn’t know why a noble would approach him or know his name, probably.

“Let me ask you, Arthur. Are the rumors true? Did you receive your invitation to this tournament from Sir Samuel Alba himself?”

The room freezes at Alan’s words, and all eyes turn to them. Even Jiv can understand the weight of those words.

“I did.” Arthur admits with a nod and a shy smile.

Alan looks at Arthur up and down, studying him as if he could tell everything about him from just that.

“I don’t know what he saw in you, but I know better than to question the vice-general’s judgment. If we meet in the tournament, I will defeat you.” With a final scoff and without letting Arthur have another word, Alan turns and walks away. The poor kid is left with a confused expression on his face. He can barely understand what just happened.

Jiv guesses everyone here has their own issues. But other people’s issues don’t concern him. He’s here for himself. Still, he has to thank that Alan brat for what he did. He now knows that Arthur was handpicked by the strongest man in the kingdom. Unlike Jiv, who was invited by a clueless man who didn’t understand a thing about strength, that Arthur kid must be the real deal.

A castle guard comes into the room with a parchment in hand. He reads the tournament bracket out loud for everyone, and Jiv’s body freezes.

First Bout: Arthur vs Jiv.

Of all people, Sir Samuel Alba’s protégé? True, Jiv is probably the weakest participant here. He knows that he stands little chance against formally trained nobles and exceptional commoners. That’s why he brought something to give himself an edge. Well, two things, actually.

One is a special potion. Not one that has any effect on people, but one to apply to metals to subtly corrode them and weaken them. It’s not exactly illegal to carry it, as mercenaries sometimes use it during jobs, but it is illegal to use it on private property. Yet pinpointing its use is difficult, because it leaves very little evidence and absolutely no smell. Any kind of metal the liquid touches goes through a very fast process not unlike metal fatigue that’s invisible to the eye, weakening it so that a strong enough external force will break it in a way that seems relatively natural, like the material just wasn’t maintained properly. This little thing is one of the tools that made his exploits as a thief easy, and he still has the contact that sells it to him. Making it requires magical expertise, after all. He can’t make it himself.

The second something is 100% illegal. It’s a small, black pill of [H.U.P.], [Hard Ulzer Paste]. Its name doesn’t come from the fact that the pill is hard, but because of its effect. He has no idea how it’s made, just knows that swallowing it somehow numbs the body and soul, as well as cause something like an adrenaline rush. As a result, pain is no longer an issue. One can still move and run prana through the body, if only with slight difficulties. Some people also tend to call it the [Berserker Pill] because they say it lets them fight like maniacs.

Jiv has only ever taken it once, and he can attest to that. The pill doesn’t actually make you stronger, but it does give a big boost to your reaction time. It also numbs any pain you feel in your body and your soul, so you can fight as recklessly as you want, making you as wild as a monster and totally unpredictable.

That one’s his last resort. Something he’d rather save until the last match. But he can’t really take on the guy that was handpicked by the strongest man in the kingdom just with his skills.

His decision made, he walks up to the young man. The container in which he’s carrying the potion is not a glass vial, but something like a very small waterskin hidden under his left sleeve.

Taking advantage of his dexterous hands, he gives the boy a friendly slap on the left shoulder. With that, the deed is done. Thanks to his years of experience, drops of the transparent liquid fall on the sword’s cross-guard and they will slowly slide down the blade. The metal-fatigue effect should start soon. Just like this, he’s assured himself that he’ll fight an unarmed opponent in the first round.

But he still needs to deal with the boy, who turns around and gives Jiv a puzzled look with a raised eyebrow. “Yes?” He asks.

“Hey, you’re Arthur, right? I’m Jiv. I’ll be your opponent in the first match.” He smiles the friendliest smile he can, another skill he learned as a thief. “We’re both commoners, so I thought I’d at least try to be on good terms with you. Let’s fight fair and not hold any grudges, okay?”

Jiv keeps the easy smile on his face as he extends his hand to the boy. Arthur returns the smile with such pure honesty that it almost makes Jiv feel bad. Almost.

“Yes, let’s.” Arthur nods and shakes Jiv’s hand.

This was too easy.


Part 3 - END.

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About the author

WrittenFantasy

Bio: I'm just a guy who loves writing and telling stories hoping to become good enough to hopefully make a living out of it.

I used to write fanfiction years ago and stopped to focus on my university studies. In 2019, I returned to the world of creative writing on a whim, writing erotic fiction because it seemed fun. Most of the stuff I've done so far is that, which is why I wanted to give high fantasy a try.

If you're interested in my work or in harem stories, maybe give my works a chance? There's links to everything I've written in my patron's 'About' page.

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