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Noele the Noble Spellsword had only ever met an S-rank adventurer three times in her life. The first was when she was only a little girl, but the memory had been seared into her mind. It was a rather momentous occasion for her back then, since she was accompanying her sister to Whiteridge’s Adventurer’s Guild. They’d lived a few miles away from the town, and she rarely ever had a reason to visit other than when Nora brought her there.

However, this particular day was different. It was already a notable event in her childhood, but it was cemented as a core memory because of the events surrounding it. Because as it turned out, an S-rank adventurer had been visiting Whiteridge at the time. A handsome man whose face Noele could hardly remember. She just knew she had developed an intense crush on him for a full year after this single meeting.

He was charming, kind, and noble. He didn’t discriminate against anyone who came up to him. Even though Nora was a mere C-rank adventurer at the time, he had taken the time to speak with her and entertain Noele’s deluge of pestering questions.

He had left quite the impression on the sisters. In fact, the reason why Nora picked up the Noble Title as an adventurer, which subsequently resulted in Noele picking up a similar Title, even though they came from a family of commoners, was because of him.

Nicholas the Noble Knight.

It had been over ten years, but Noele still remembered him to this very day. She never thought an encounter with any S-ranks in the future would ever be as memorable. She had seen Insa the Cursed Sorceress in battle— she had met Garland the Chainbreaker in the Darkfell Mines and shared a fire with him— but the memory was still not as impactful as her encounter with Nicholas the Noble Knight.

Those were the three meetings she’d had with S-ranked adventurers. And the novelty of meeting S-ranks was starting to wear on her. Especially after meeting Amelia, Noele was certain her next encounter with an S-rank was going to be hardly even memorable.

Well, she was wrong. Because, today, she finally got to meet a fourth S-ranked adventurer. And it was going to be incredibly memorable. In fact, it might be a memory that stayed with her until she died. Because he was trying to kill her.

“Get back Garron!” Noele yelled as she leapt out of the clearing of trees.

The volley of arrows landed where she’d stood, right next to Garron the Steel Tank. He raised his shield, bracing himself, and the arrows exploded into a deluge of brambled vines. Noele’s eyes grew wide as the B-ranked adventurer was swallowed by the blast of plants with a scream.

“No—” she started, raising a hand out.

But a figure appeared in front of her. Her assailant. An S-ranked adventurer. An elf.

Jax the Forsaken Archer.

“What do you want from me?” she asked, tightly clutching the hilt of her blade.

He smirked as he raised his bow, aimed at her head. “You should be more worried about yourself.”

A second salvo of projectiles launched out her way. This time, Noele saw them glinting as they zipped mid-air. She narrowed her eyes and hesitated for a moment. For just a split-second, the Noble Spellsword considered her mentor’s words.

“Why can’t you just get stronger without the System—”

“Fuck that,” she interrupted that train of thought. Noele jumped back as a golden aura enveloped her. “[Flash Step]!”

She vanished, teleporting dozens of feet to the right. Now was not the time to train without her Skills. Jax the Forsaken Archer was trying to kill her for whatever reason. It was something she had never imagined, even in her wildest dreams.

She had heard of him before. Stories about the lone adventurer— the elf who was banished from his home continent for slaughtering his village. A bloodthirsty man who only sought the thrill of battle. Handicapping herself here would only get herself killed.

So Noele teleported out of the way of the incoming projectiles. But right as she reappeared behind a thicket of trees, the arrows swerved. They trailed after the Noble Spellsword, whizzing around any obstacles in their paths for their target.

“What— [Force Barrier]!” She raised a hand, and the arrows crashed into the blue shield before her.

The projectiles smashed against her magical protection. For a moment, nothing happened as they deformed against the shimmering surface. Her [Force Barrier] held up, even against an S-rank attack. Then the arrows exploded.

The arrows blasted out into giant blooming rose petals. It ripped straight through the blue shield as Noele’s eyes grew wide. The petals encroached on her, threatening to crush her as she backed up against a tree. She staggered back as she brought a hand to her chest.

“[Nobleflame Armor],” she whispered, activating her Level 50 Skill.

Any Skill gained when hitting an advancement level— such as Level 10, Level 20, Level 30, etcetera— was always going to be superior to a Skill gained at a random level— like Level 13, Level 18, Level 24, or Level 26. It was why they were called capstone Skills.

And since [Nobleflame Armor] was an A-rank capstone Skill, it was incredibly powerful.

Noele’s entire body lit ablaze with golden flames. The fire roiled at first, shapeless and formless like fire normally was. The coiling rose petals drew close to the blonde girl like sharp blades, before being ignited by the fire. They burned just from being in proximity with the flaming armor.

The golden flames calmed, no longer a wild blaze around Noele’s body. She stepped forward as it cooled into a wisping aura covering her body. She walked through the burning giant roses as she scanned her surroundings.

“Where is he…?” she asked, frowning.

Jax was gone. She glanced around the forest, but he was nowhere to be found. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to peer through the growing smoke, only to cough in a fit. Noele realized something was amiss in an instant. She leapt away from the burning plants and glanced back.

The rose petals continued to burn behind her, emitting a noxious green gas that rapidly killed the grass and the trees around it. Noele watched the nearby plants wither in mere moments as the poisonous smoke crept towards her. She was certain it would have killed everything in this section of the forest if she let it continue to proliferate.

The Forsaken Archer had dashed off to escape this attack. It must’ve been dangerous to him too, so he left her alone with it to die. Clicking her tongue, she pointed at the remains of the giant rose.

“[Grand Blaze].”

She spoke a Skill’s name— the evolution of her [Grand Fireblast]. Rather than just a simple cone of flames that swept out over dozens of feet, she could control the grand flames now. Whether it was in creating a single golden fireball, a hail of golden fire arrows, or even a golden firestorm.

And she used it to incinerate the noxious gas and the burning rose. A single bolt of golden fire shot out, exploding upon impact. A blast that engulfed the thicket in its entirety and left behind nothing but ashes. Even the green smoke was gone.

Noele let out a sigh of relief and turned around. “Garron—” she opened her mouth.

Then she caught herself. The Noble Spellsword drew back warily, hearing a faint sound in the distance. It sounded like the rustling of leaves, except more violent. A quick sound that came and went in an instant. She spun around as she heard it echoing all around her.

Jax the Forsaken Archer shot out from a nearby thicket, passing her by as he loosed an arrow for her head. Noele recoiled as the bolt shattered just before her head. Her [Nobleflame Armor] flickered, protecting her from the projectile. The arrow burned away as it lay at her feet, and the elf vanished once again into the forest.

“You—” she clenched her jaw.

And he rapidly leapt out from behind a bush once again. This time, he fired two arrows that bounced off her flaming golden aura. It flickered one again, partially dissipating for just a second. That would have been fine if Jax didn’t continue this onslaught repeatedly, zipping around the blonde girl as he unleashed a salvo of bolts her way.

He was shooting regular arrows. Nothing special. If a regular Level 20 [Archer] were the one firing the bolts, they would have been instantly incinerated the moment they drew close to the [Nobleflame Armor]. But his volley whittled away at her golden aura. Noele stumbled back as the last vestiges of flickering flame were about to wink out of existence.

She dropped to a knee, seeing the blurring figure shoot around her at impossible speeds. Even if she tried, she wouldn’t be able to catch him with a [Grand Blaze]. He was too fast for her to even… keep… up.

Noele closed her eyes as she was pushed to the brink of defeat.

“Surpass your limits,” Amelia's voice resounded in her head.

How was the blonde girl supposed to do that? Against the Goblin Lord, she took advantage of time— she could prepare artifacts and her potions before jumping into battle. When she fought the titan centipede, she took advantage of the monster’s weakness. Each time, there was a way for her to face an enemy above her level.

Even still, at most, it allowed her to fend off an enemy a few levels above her. But the fact remained: a Level 45 [Warrior] was never going to best a Level 55 [Warrior] in battle. It was just how things worked. It was just how things were supposed to be.

Yet, Amelia defied all of this. The brown-haired woman rejected this very notion, fighting against an Elder Dragon without a Class. Somehow, she did it all.

Noele had seen it with her own eyes. So it was possible. It had to be possible. There had to be a way for the blonde girl to win. And now, she saw a growing flame within herself. Her eyes snapped open as she raised her head.

“[Unending Dauntless Fury]!”

She lashed out with a flurry of strikes, deftly deflecting the incoming projectiles with a glowing blade. It was a direct evolution of [Undaunted Rage], consolidated with the C-ranked [Aura Slash] Skill. With each swing of her blade, a white blade of light shot out, tearing through the arrows and chasing after the elf.

Noele swung in all directions as she felt the flames in her heart grow larger. Her onslaught of attacks slowed Jax as he tried to avoid the flying blades. And that was when the Noble Spellsword took her chance to strike.

She dashed forward with a [Flash Step], cutting off the speeding elf. Jax blinked, clearly caught by surprise at her sudden burst of speed. Noele’s onslaught of [Unending Dauntless Fury] didn’t stop.

“Take this!” she yelled as she unleashed a dozen glowing slashes at once.

Jax narrowed his eyes, dancing around the flying blades as he backed up. Noele pointed past him and lunged.

“[Ice Wall]. Then—”

He blinked as a large barrier blocked him from behind. His back hit the cold wall, and a golden aura coalesced around Noele’s blade. She was about to call out with a [Noble Slash] but stopped herself. She remembered the mantra that replayed repeatedly in her head.

“Because I have no other choice!” she yelled and swung down.

Her eyes glimmered. The flame in her soul blazed like a wildfire, no longer controlled or tamed, but unleashed in all its glory. It burned without any restraint as she slashed down at Jax.

It was a golden glow that shone brighter than before. A giant sword that wreathed her own, twice the size of her [Noble Slash]. It seemed to tremble with the wavering intensity of her [Nobleflame Armor] despite being made without flames.

Jax stared in shock as her attack came crashing down at him. He couldn’t escape in time. The golden blade struck him, before exploding. The earth split open as a blast erupted outwards, ripping apart the nearby trees and flattening the nearby foliage. Noele put everything she had into the attack. It was like a mixture of [Grand Fireblast] and [Noble Slash] which was then doubled in strength.

“Is it over…?” Noele asked as she stepped back.

She panted, waiting for the rumbling to come to a halt. The Noble Spellsword had put everything she had into that attack. She was exhausted— she wanted to just collapse to the ground. The golden light faded away. The dust settled as she stared into the center of the crater. And her eyes grew wide as she saw the figure emerge from the smoke.

Jax the Forsaken Archer walked out of the explosion unscathed. A spherical barrier of pink flowers and thorns receded as he grinned at the Noble Spellsword..

“[Blossoming Azalea Barrier],” he said. “Nice try, but you lost.”

“I—” Noele flinched as he appeared next to her.

The elf struck her with his bow, knocking the blonde girl to the ground. She lay there, staring up at the Forsaken Archer. At the S-rank adventurer. He had taken everything she had thrown at him and escaped unscathed. She had surpassed her limits and still lost.

“It’s over,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

Jax nocked an arrow into his bow as he nodded.

“It is,” he said, and loosed the arrow.

Noele braced herself— she prepared for what was to come. She grabbed a handful of grass, her fists reflexively clenching. There was a thudding sound. The impact of the arrow striking something soft resounded. And the blonde girl opened her eyes.

“What?” She stared at the Forsaken Archer as he slowly lowered his bow.

“It seems you really aren’t the one who killed Glutaz the Goblin Lord.” He shook his head.

“...what?” she repeated herself.

Her mind reeled. Noele was utterly confused. She didn’t know what was going on, but Jax just stepped away from her, disappointed.

“You are strong for a newly-anointed A-rank, but you are nothing special either,” the elf snorted as he walked off.

“You’re just… leaving?” The blonde girl scrambled to her feet, looking at him aghast.

But Jax just glanced back at her dismissively. “I am not here for you. I am here for the one who, against all odds, killed the Goblin Lord and saved Laxo from a Goblin King before the threat could even foster. I am here for the one who defies all logic and deals with A-rank threats without a level. An unranked, unofficial adventurer.”

Noele paused. “Do you mean you’re looking for Amelia?”

“Amelia?” He raised a brow at her, almost dubiously. “That useless street vendor?”

“Amelia is my master. I—” The blonde girl pursed her lips. “Why are you looking for Amelia?”

“It is simple,” Jax said as he crossed his arms. “I am looking for a worthy foe.”

“But why?” Noele blinked, still confused.

He explained simply, “I have killed my way to become one of the strongest adventurers in all of Vacuos. There are only two individuals out there I consider stronger than me. Not the [Hero King], and not the Grand Sage of Imbel Forest. And neither have accepted my challenge for a duel.”

She watched as he spoke almost bitterly. As if he was affronted that no one wanted to fight him. Like they were the insane ones, and not him.

“There is only one way to get stronger, girl. That is to face enemies equal or above you. That is how you surpass your limits and grow stronger.

“That’s…” Noele wanted to say something, but bit back her tongue. Instead, she glanced back to where Garron had been— towards the explosion of vines. “And you killed Garron because of that?”

“Your friend is not dead. He is merely incapacitated because he is weak.” Jax spat as he glanced away from the clearing of trees. “Any competent A-rank should be able to escape those brambles.”

“But he’s B-ranked,” Noele said in Garron’s defense.

“And he shall forever be a B-rank.” The elf smirked before turning to face the blonde girl. “You speak highly of your master, girl. I shall trust your words, even if I doubt that failure of a street vendor is anything special.”

Noele blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I am asking you to bring this Amelia to me,” Jax said, shaking his head. “I will test her. I will see her strength with my own eyes when I challenge her to a duel.”

“That—” Noele started, but paused. The words hung on her tongue, refusing to come out as anything other than a thought. That will be your funeral.

She stared at Jax the Forsaken Archer— at the man who just randomly attacked her out of nowhere without warning and nearly killed her. If she didn’t believe in his terrible reputation before, she believed in it now.

Noele shrugged, almost grinning. “Sure, I’ll bring my master to you.”

“Good.” The elf nodded, satisfied with himself. “I will be waiting.”

 

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