I sat cross legged in the middle of my arena, basically a commandeered military training ground, breathing evenly and meditating to adjust my condition in preparation for my first match.
The training ground was quite small, barely a hundred metres on each side with the limits clearly cordoned off with a thick white rope.
Since the fights were timed, it wouldn’t do to make the arena too expansive or the fast ones like the wind mages and the elusive ones like the shadow gifted would just drag out the time.
Thankfully, I had a huge advantage in such a format, having both shadow and wind mana due to my dual contracts.
With my resource-enhanced body and the overlay of the physical enhancement from the portions of Vita’s divine power I had absorbed from Phobos and Deimos, I was confident of eking out a high rank in this competition format.
Unless, I met someone ridiculous.
The sound of a gong informed me that my first opponent had arrived. Breathing deeply, causing the air around me to rarefy as the coating of wind mana in my lungs compressed it to provide a large reservoir of oxygen for the forthcoming fight, I opened my eyes and stood.
My opponent was a five-foot seven-inch boy with rounded ears and ochre scales covering his neck and joints.
For a moment I was taken aback by the scales since Bestia with reptilian characteristics were rare in these parts before I remembered hearing of the prominent Earl family with Pangolin bloodlines that were subordinate to Marquis Ursa.
As I was sizing up my opponent, he too was evaluating me. He obviously found me lacking for his lips curved up in a derisive sneer as he formally announced his challenge:
“I, Marcus Pholidota, the firstborn of Argus Pholidota, Earl of Manis District, hereby present my challenge!”
“And I, Mars Felidae, the firstborn of Veer Felidae, Marquis of the East of the South-Eastern Province, accept.”
We bowed to the other before taking our stances across from each other as the referee, a member of the Duchess’ retinue, took her place by the ringside, where seats for the informers of the various aristocrats and the spectators were arranged.
As the scion of the Felidae clan, which was currently in the news due to our conflict with the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries, the seats were quite crowded.
I was quite surprised to see Marcus taking an aggressive stance instead of the defensive stance those gifted with the element of Earth usually preferred.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to probe his intentions before the match began. “Why do you choose to attack? Is it not in your favour to drag the time with defensive measures?”
Marcus shook his head, sneering as he replied, “I aim to win. If I dragged the time, it would harm my time record. The one who should drag the time is you. I don’t know if you mistook this for the stage for the calligraphy and painting competition, but this arena is no place for a Hominum.”
I narrowed my eyes, “We’ll see.”
With the referee’s injunction, both of us shot forwards, rushing to narrow the gap between us.
His skin shone with a golden lustre as earth mana coated him, solidifying into a scaly coat of rock armour.
Tier 1 earth style magic: Stoneskin.
Stoneskin was the best defensive magic in the entire list of known spells and their variations. One would think that after one developed one’s own Barrier, post Marriage, it would become obsolete. One would be wrong.
The Barrier was inextricably tied to the mana pool and each use drew upon the user’s reserves. Stoneskin, on the other hand basically had a one-time cost and only needed more mana to repair the armour, making it extremely efficient.
This was a problem, especially for me, since, even with both my contracts, I only had a mana pool equivalent to two-thirds of a Tier 1 mage and any participant coming my way would be at least at the peak of Tier 1.
If they were more mana efficient than me to boot… I would only have one road to walk, a swift solution.
Thankfully, whether from a strategic standpoint or from the format of the competition, this strategy was the best one anyway and my opponent today seemed to underestimate me enough to make employing it laughably easy.
Marcus’ eyes widened as my form blurred and vanished from his field of vision.
Tier 1 wind magic: Haste.
Tier 1 shadow magic: Shadow Stealth.
Intermediate class step martial arts: Ghost Step.
I didn’t even give him a chance to respond as my twin natured mana surged out of me, reducing the wind resistance, lightening my body and bending light away from me, making me incredibly fast and hard to spot.
My body rocked strangely, splitting after-images and shifting from one direction to another, making it seem as though several of my doppelgangers were assaulting Marcus together.
He clearly hadn’t expected for me to be able to utilize magic due to my lineage and was caught off guard. I was unforgiving.
Thunderclap Samsara Palms: Infinite Barrage.
I and subsequently my after-images wantonly pummelled him from all sides, leaving him flustered as to which side to guard, surrounded as he was by my network of palm-shades.
Despairing of seeing through my skills, he hunkered down, rolling into a ball of scaly rock just like his bestial counterpart would in the wild.
Even though each of my blows were fast and heavy with my enhanced physique’s power behind it, they only managed to crack his armour and with a surge of his golden earth mana the fissures healed.
This way, it would devolve into a battle of attrition, which I would lose.
“Oh, no you don’t.” This situation called for something much more drastic…
Like a Sudden Thunderclap.
My palms broke the sonic barrier for a brief moment and the shockwave from the impact was directed completely at the curled-up Marcus.
With a resounding crack, the Stoneskin armour split in two as his body went flying, landing a full metre away and leaving a deep furrow on the ground before coming to a stop.
I spat out the foul air in my lungs in a jet of white steam and inhaled deeply again, watching Marcus warily, for in the last moment before my blow had landed, I had felt his mana surge.
That density and quality was far beyond what was possible for someone at Tier 1.
My opponent was a Tier 2 mage.
Marcus slowly stood, leisurely patting his body, causing the dirt and the remnants of his Stoneskin armour to fall off. He spat out a gobbet of blood due to his internal organs being injured by the penetrating soundwaves from my last strike.
He turned towards me and bared his teeth in a bloody grin. The smile didn’t reach his eyes.
He slowly clapped his hands as he advanced. “I underestimated you Magister Mars. Your lineage blinded me to your prowess… and the resources you might be privy to. Two Tier 2 marital companions… I must say, I’m jealous. If you met anyone in Tier 1, you would win easily, but…”
His mana surged, forming a golden corona around him.
“Today you met me.”