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The next morning came earlier than Kahari wanted, or perhaps needed. It’d been a busy journey just to get here, but his time for rest hadn’t arrived yet. There was a knock at his door, yawning, he climbed from the bed and slipped on his boots before answering.

“Miraki Kahari?”

“Yes?”

“This way please, it’s time to prepare for your combat test.”

Kahari nodded, and grabbed his coat, just to be safe, before following the angel girl once again. She led him back to the strange moving room, before clicking a button labeled ‘TST’. Once they arrived, Kahri found the other new members being shuffled through by other guides. He was escorted to an armory where he was measured, and fitted with the gear of his choice. Choosing a spear and a hammer as his weapons of choice, and a shield as back up, he was escorted to a small, bare stone room with a single wooden bench. The heavy wood door behind him closed, and he stepped up to the stone wall on the other side, hand brushing against it. It shimmered, before turning transparent. Now he could see out into the arena, though his view was limited. It also let sound through, as he could hear the idle chatter of people close to him in the stands.

He waited for about ten minutes before there was a gong sound, and looking out, he saw the Bearkin and the Nymph step into the arena. The Nymph had only a bow, wearing no armor, while the Bearkin was wearing thick armor, and had a large axe firmly in both his hands. That meant Kahari would be facing the Marionetterist. He wasn’t sure what kind of skills she’d have, but it sounded like a more exotic Job than anyone he’d met so far.

Kahari watched the pair fight, keeping a close eye on their movements. It wasn’t everyday someone got the chance to watch a fight such as this. They seemed to be a little stronger than him, and sure enough when the gong signaled again for them to clash, two small screens popped up on the wall in front of him, showing their level and stats. They were both level five, where Kahari was still at level four. The screen was much simpler than the one of the status spell Bedora and Nissa had used on him. It just showed their name, job, and some relevant stats. It was more like a handout than a full spell, and likely was just projected for the use of the spectators. Still, it was fairly useful. The Nymph’s Strength and Vitality were fairly low for her level, but her Magic and Wisdom were about as high as they could get, there was very little room for growth left. Her opponent meanwhile had fairly low Magic and Wisdom for his level, even compared to Bedora, though she was more well rounded than most martial jobs, but his Strength and Vitality were high.The Nymph had a slight perception edge while the Bearkin had a slight Dexterity edge.

It was, quite literally, a matchup of raw physical power against magical power. Echellia, the Nymph, used Water, Nature, and Air magic, as well as Prophecy. Given her low level the Prophecy was likely to be inexact, but it let her predict her opponent better. Her opponent, Basal, on the other hand had some surprising skills, Fire and Light magic, and had Bronze Skin in his own right. Low Magic meant he had probably just grinded Fire to get it, and if Kahari had to make a bet, the Light magic was probably just a basic healing spell.

He hated to say it, but he gave the edge to the Seer. She had more versatile skills, and had obviously had to have been in a few real fights. Basal on the other hand seemed like he was set up explicitly for group fighting, and would need to rely on support members to help round out his problems. His prediction was correct, though Basal was tough enough that he landed a few light blows on Echellia, she was able to restrain him and keep her distance well enough that after five minutes of this, Basal signalled his surrender. Both fighters were drenched in sweat and breathing heavily, with fresh blood in the arena sand. Kahari was somewhat surprised at how thick Echellia’s blood was, it was more like sap than blood, though it was still a dark red. Once the fight was over, a bright white light filled the arena, after a few seconds, and the wall before him dimmed automatically so he wouldn’t be blinded, it faded. The two fighters still had sweat and blood on them, but their wounds were closed and their chests no longer heaved.

They both left through opposite exits, and then the wall solidified again. It simply read ‘cleaning in progress, ETA thirty seconds’. It hadn’t been a very intense fight after all. The arena was equipped for fights between beings much stronger than the Golds and Rubies hanging around here. As the timer ticked down, there was a knock on the door behind him. It was the same angel girl again, he still didn’t know her name.

“This way, it’s time for your duel.”

She led Kahari through the short stone halls, warm though they were, to an iron gate. He could see into the arena beyond that, and at the far end was the girl behind her own bars. She still had her hood up, but there was a pair of small shadowy figures with her. Kahari frowned, wondering if some kind of mistake was letting him fight a group. Before the question could be asked, the gates lowered and Kahari took a deep breath, before stepping into the light. The stands didn’t have many people in them, the Association’s box was shrouded, he couldn’t see inside. The crowd was mostly the more common races. Humans, different Beastkin, Elves, and some Goblins. However VIP seating had a couple of Angels in resplendent armor, one of which was even talking and joking with a Demon counterpart. He wasn’t sure how high up they were, but they were probably higher than Cherubs and Imps.

The thing that caught his eye the most though, was a massive Dragon coiled around a metal roost that looked like it could hold two or three other dragons of the same size, and the arena had seven encircling it. The Dragon looked as though it was made of glass, and had a massive, roasted Giant Boar dangling from a hook next to it. When it took a bite, Kahari could see the meat even in it’s closed mouth, but once it swallowed it just seemed to disappear. It didn’t seem to have much interest in the current fight, and was talking to the other Angel, and what Kahari could only assume was a Stone Giant.

“Ladies, Gentlemen, and everything else besides, welcome to the second Qualification round of the day. On the West Side, we have a human boy by the name of Miraki Kahari. Hailing from the town of Seras, he is a Level Four Battlesmith, though his job is unconfirmed. While meager, among his claims to fame is having helped clear the Orb Weaver nest in the Votston Wilds, helped defend Sok Village from a Night Talon raid, and assisted in the destruction of the Ghast known as ‘Damya, The Amber Hunter’. On the East side we have a Lamia-dyn Girl by the name of Chara. Hailing from the Videl Empire, she is a Level Four Marionetteist, Job aslo unconfirmed. Among her claim to fame is having survived a Ouroboros Crusade, assisted in fighting and driving off a Soldier Wasp patrol, and helped destroy a Glacier Ant nest blocking off the Videl-Altesia highway in the Voston Pass.”

An androgynous, sourceless voice rang through the arena as it introduced the two fighters in the current match. Kahari gripped his spear firmly in both hands, while the girl raised her hands, the shadowy figures revealed to be feminine looking marionettes, one dressed in black and red, the other in white and blue. Kahari could see the faint glint of the wires attached to them, but he wasn’t sure how they worked. As the voice introduced Chara, she lowered her hood. Her face was covered in delicate, nearly see through scales with pale whtie skin beneath. Her hair was white and her eyes, they were purple. She was Albino, that explained the hood, she used it to protect herself and likely was just in the habit of not lowering it even indoors.

“Now that introductions are out of the way, the conditions for this match were decided as chilly, with a light fog.”

As the voice continued to speak, the walls around the arena flared, and a translucent barrier formed around the field. From seven colored crystals encircling the combat area, a fog began to pour in. As the arena slowly began to fill, a crisp chill not unlike an Autumn wind filled the area. After a short time had gone by, Kahari could barely make out his opponent in the fog. It wasn’t growing any thicker, but the chill got stronger for a few moments before stopping. A gong sound rang.

“Begin match!”

There was a faint flash in the fog, and the two small marionettes began moving.

 

Crap, they’re fast!

The Red and Black marionette was circling to his left while the White and Blue came straight at him. They crossed the distance with a slight distortion around them. They could use Stutter Step, just like him. A pair of blades now extended out of the arms of the White and Blue marionette, flashing dangerously in the dim light. The White and Blue marionette came in hard and fast, aiming to finish the fight with the first move. Kahari spun his spear and caught it in mid air with the haft of the weapon, batting it aside and out of sight. It was heavier than it looked, the dress reacted normally, but if he had to guess, the body was metal plated beneath the dress.

Not waiting for the Black and Red, he’d call it Rose for now, to ambush him, he raised a hand and shouted the spell needed for Flare, filling the arena with bright, Holy light. He heard a growl in the fog, likely from Chara, as the light seared into her eyes. It was easier to make out their shapes in the fog, but he had been too slow. A sharp pain erupted from his leg as a bolt sprouted from it. Rose was a ranged attacker. Kahri pulled his shield from his back and readied it just in time to intercept a second bolt. Thankfully poisons were disallowed in this fight, otherwise he’d have been worried about the bolt in his calf. It was painful, but with the shield as cover, he yanked it out and cast Mend Wound on himself.

Two more bolts sprouted from the shield, but now that he was done with that, he raised the hand holding the shield, aimed, and used Air Piercer, a spear of wind flew through the air. He wasn’t sure if it had hit or not, but it forced Rose to be on the move again. Kahari needed to close the distance with Chara, and fast. If he didn’t, he was at a severe disadvantage. Activating his own Stutter Step, he moved quickly to close the distance, his Flare helping him keep sight of his opponent. She was small, but larger than her marionettes, and her hands were full with manipulating them.

He closed half the distance before he was forced back on the defensive. This time a bolt of flame soared over his shoulder, forcing him to spin just in time to catch White and Blue, Lily as he’d call her for now, dashing low, with it’s mouth open. Another bolt of flame shot out at him, and this time he could hear Chara whispering the spells. Being able to cast through the marionettes was huge, but she still only had so much mana. As the marionette grew closer, flames spread out along the blades protruding from her arms. Another spell, and one to assist her up close. Dropping his spear, he leveled his shield, and held his hammer in his other hand. One blade embedded itself in his shield, flames licking up it as the marionette tried to swing around and impale it’s second blade in Kahari’s face.

He managed to stop it from finding it’s mark by deflecting the blade with his hammer, but it still cut deep into his cheek, trailing up to cut his scalp as well. It hurt, the flames hurt more than he thought was possible. At least he was alive and still standing. He brought his hammer back around, and instead of hitting the marionette with it, tangled it in the wires. The thing went limp, legs still flailing but it seemed he’d severed enough control that Chara now had to focus on Rose. Grabbing his spear, he again started closing the distance with his opponent even as Rose continued to close in on him.

The crossbow on her arm fell away, replaced by a line of sharp claws extending from her hands. Chara needed to keep Kahari away, so with one puppet too tangled to use, she dropped it’s wires and took control of Rose with both hands. It’s movements became faster, more precise, and more powerful now that all her magic, and focus was on controlling it. It’s claws flashed as they came in, seeking to tear Kahari to ribbons. He kept moving, staying still with that thing would just kill him sooner. If he was to have any chance, he needed to close with Chara, but now she herself could maneuver more and she started running to keep distance with Kahari.

Kahari growled, and spun, changing the direction he was moving to slam his shield, with Lily still attached, directly into Rose, sending her flying back. The marionette recovered quickly, one of it’s claws broken, but that still left plenty that could still cut Kahari up. Chara cursed under her breath, and invoked a longer spell. Kahari couldn’t understand it, so it wasn’t Air or Holy magic. After a moment.

“Grasping Stone!”

The sand beneath his feet disappeared, revealing the same grey stone that made up everything else, before it started trying to climb his feet. He could still move, but it clung to him, trying to draw him in. Panicking, knowing that if he got stuck in the enchanted stone it’d be all over for him, Kahari used his Stutter Step again, managing to tear himself free, but he was driven away from Chara by the motion. Rose was back on him, claws tearing into the same calf he’d had to heal earlier. Once again he used his shield to fling the doll away, but this time her block was ready, preventing any real damage to the marionette.


Still, it bought him time to start closing again, giving him a chance to pressure the Marionettist. He muttered the healing spell once more, without yet being able to see his mana gauge he couldn’t tell how close he was to running out, but he had to guess he was about half out. Little less, but close to it. The Marionette was on him once more, he managed to catch it’s claws on the haft of his spear before using his free hand to hit it square in the chest with an Air Piercer. If it was a normal person, they’d be gravely injured or dead, but the Marionette was sent flying, a hole in it’s chest. While it was still flying through the air, Kahari kept moving, leveling his spear and shield, Lily still stuck tight to it, before charging at Chara once more, activating his Stutter Step.

Blades flashed, blood filled the air, there was a pause, as everything came to a standstill. Kahari’s spear was lodged in Chara’s side. There was a sharp pain in his own, and looking down, he found the steel claws of Rose protruding from his chest. Both of them coughed, blood coming out of their mouths. Neither could really move, strength draining from their limbs. Kahari managed a weak smile, even as the girl spoke. Her voice was quiet, soft, but held no resentment or fear,

Good fight…”

Kahari collapsed first, the many wounds in his chest killing him faster than the one he had in Chara. As the world faded to black, he heard a faint gong even as Chara fell to the sand herself.

“Winner! Chara!”

The voice was faint, he could barely understand it before the pain disappeared. He was floating in a black void, stars hanging all around him. Before him was the moon, it’s dark face turning red, before even the void faded away from him.

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