The medical team in charge of the recuperation was top-notch and in the span of the ten minutes given to them, Bro was up and walking without much trouble.
Though, his missing front teeth caused his lips to cave inwards, distorting his otherwise handsome face. Well, nothing a follow-up session with a healer couldn’t fix.
When he came back to the stage, he gave Lionel a nod of acknowledgement before walking up to the centre.
Despite his injuries, his mana hadn’t been depleted much and he had two cards remaining. As Lionel had displaced him, it was now his turn to challenge someone else.
With the conclusion of the exciting fight between the two of them, the tinder of audience enthusiasm had been lit and it was burning brightly demonstrated by the volume of their cheers.
Skipping over the Tier 2 mages as his status wasn’t optimal, bro decided to challenge the Tier 1 wind mage ranked twenty-sixth, only to get a card to his face.
Using his final card, he intertwined for a long time before challenging the twenty-fourth seat; a Tier 2 Fire mage in the hope of his accepting the challenge.
Hoping to pick a bargain due to his injury and depleted mana reserves, the fire mage agreed and a frigid battle ensued with bro emerging as the victor.
I shook my head. It was a foolish move for the fire mage to face a Tier 2 mage in lieu of a Tier 1. It wasn’t just about the quantity of mana, it involved the sharp rise in the lethality of even Tier 1 magic when utilized with Tier 2 mana fueling them. He had miscalculated.
The fire mage used his two cards to challenge the Tier 1 mages ranked twenty-six and twenty-seven one after the other only to get declined with a card.
He resentfully occupied Lionel’s erstwhile position at the thirty-third seat.
This intense series of exchanges had fed the flames of audience enthusiasm and the atmosphere was at an all-time peak.
It was in this situation that I received my first challenge.
The thirty-second seat stepped out confidently and pointed straight at me with his card shining red with his fire mana.
A shining blue paper plane left my hand, flying straight and true aided by my wind mana and slammed into his card, causing both to explode in a shower of sparks that scattered on his face.
There was a moment of silence as he stood there dumbfounded, his curly hair smouldering from the sparks, before he turned red with rage and pointed at me with a shivering finger while the audience went into hysterics.
Soaking in the adulation of the crowd, I settled back into my seat with an emotionless face while internally, I was pumping my fist. I wanted to do that the moment I saw the cards. What artist can bear to see paper that can light up in multiple colours and not go: origami?
Marquis Delphinidae had to do his best to suppress his grin as he explained the rules again to the irate boy. “No, my boy. You cannot challenge the same person twice. It does not matter if you have another card. Choose another opponent.”
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Phobos rolling her eyes while Deimos covered her mouth and giggled.
The fire mage shot me a miffed glare before challenging the one ranked at twenty-six. The helpless boy who had run out of cards was forced to accept and an evenly matched fight ensued with twenty-six preserving his seat.
Having faced all three of the challenges he needed to, he could finally relax.
Apparently, thirty-two wasn’t enough as an example as even thirty-one felt I was the rose among a bush of Tier 2 nettles and confidently extended her blue water-mana laden card at me.
Only to swiftly withdraw it behind her back as soon as I reached for my card in my pocket.
I smirked. Not that easy, girl.
A jet-black origami crane leapt out of her shadow from her back and crashed into her card causing both of them to disintegrate much to the audience’s delight.
She pouted at me with a look like she wanted to eat me… in more ways than one. I prayed for her future husband. He would be one exhausted man.
After she was done with her challenges, I pulled out my third and final card, blatantly putting it on display as a deterrent towards challenging me.
My use of the modified version of Shadow Walk had pulled the wool over the eyes of the competitors and they had re-evaluated me as a Tier 2 threat.
Thank you, Steven, wherever you are.
Thus, instead of challenging me, they turned their attention and cards towards Bro. The poor exhausted guy gave me a betrayed look before stomping up to his Tier 1 opponent who was bursting with energy.
He tried. He really did, but it just wasn’t enough.
As I watched him take seat thirty with slumped shoulders, I could only apologise mentally. It was me or him. I preferred it to be him.
Finally, it was Lionel’s turn again.
He took centre stage and extended his challenge to the thirteenth seat.
It was the Tier 2 Lutrinae girl. Actually, I had very little hope for his successful advancement since anyone he challenged might potentially decline him with a card now that his prowess as a pseudo-Tier 2 was out.
There was only one slim chance.
The Lutrinae had given us a card. I had also noted that the girl in their team whose marriage I had presided over had, like Lionel, challenged twice, meaning that she had a minimum of three cards.
The cards had to come from somewhere and if I was right, the ‘somewhere’ was the higher-ranked members of their contingent. They were hoping that they wouldn’t be challenged as much.
I mentally pumped my fist as my speculation ran true as with a grimace she accepted the challenge.
She probably only had one card and was saving it for stronger opponents or for a challenge.
If she knew that Lionel’s erstwhile display was a result of his holding back to the level of someone who was at the peak of Tier 1 but had a contract with a Tier 2 woman and that he himself was at the level of Tier 2, she might re-think that decision.
As they faced off against one another, she didn’t bother playing around and directly uncorked her three bottle-gourds.
The two at her waist let out a clear fluid which climbed up her arms and formed into two whips of water while the largest gourd on her back let out a violently green acidic potion that circled around her in streams like poisonous serpents poised to bite.
Lionel strapped his shield to his back and sheathed his short-sword behind his waist, freeing his hands for better control over the earth.
His Barrier could block wind blades as they were purely physical but the acid’s corrosion was not block able by the barrier. Thus, he had no choice but to attack as relying only on Stone skin for defence against Tier 2 Fluid Manipulation was a tad risky.
She said, “Let us limit ourselves to only one third of our mana as we wouldn’t want to mutually exhaust the other only for someone else to pick up a bargain. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” He nodded.
At the Marquis’ signal, the two of them moved.
Slamming his joined fists to the ground, the earth wriggled as his golden mana poured into it. Tens of pillars of stone burst out of the heaving land and shot towards his opponent.
Her eyes widened as she realized that she had been tricked. This scale wasn’t possible for a pseudo-Tier 2, the mana backlash needed to be withstood required much thicker mindscape walls.
Clenching her teeth, she wove the liquid around her in a Water Veil and moved fluidly through the maze of earthen pillars and stone spikes that was slowly hemming her in.
She was a sight to behold as she contorted into impossible shapes, slipping through the narrowest gaps, her acid burning through the stone when it got too close.
Her whips were like parts of her body as she used them to hook around the pillars and swing through and above them turning her motion path three-dimensional.
Lionel’s face was devoid of emotion as he continued to attack, each pillar expertly positioned to limit her motion.
Till finally, she was thoroughly caged in by rocky pillars.
With a grunt, his veins popped as he strained his magic pushing the pillars closer together as if to crush her.
Her eyes glowed blue and swinging herself at the walls of her cage, it seemed like she wanted to slam against it.
At the last moment, with a blinding white radiance, she turned feral, shrinking in the process.
The otter surrounded by a coat of noxious green mist blurred as it passed through the narrowest of gaps in the impromptu prison, corroding the gap wider in its passing.
It seemed that Lionel who was in the midst of his spell wouldn’t be able to dodge the corrosive projectile in time.
Yet, he suddenly grinned, baring his teeth.
The earth beneath him heaved, shooting up into a tall pillar, raising him high above the projectile’s trajectory.
The otter slammed into the pillar, causing it to fissure and corrode with its impact point as the centre.
Sensing great crisis, it immediately tried to escape.
It was too late.
Lionel’s foot clad in several layers of heavy stone slammed into her from above, planting her into the ground, causing it to spiderweb into fissures from the point of impact.
The otter spat blood from the internal injury from the vibrations that penetrated its barrier.
Drawing his sword, Lionel placed the edge at the otter’s neck.
She morphed back to her Bestia form and choked out from beneath the weight of the stone.
The crowd went wild.
“Lionel!” “Lionel!” “Lionel!”
They chanted his name and I smiled. Really, it was the big guy’s big day.
I saw him turn to the stands and I followed his gaze to Ororo whose tears wouldn’t stop.
Yeah. My heart beat faster. I would have to work hard to one-up him.
He set a really high target.
The dishevelled girl stumbled to the ringside for medical help before returning to the ring to continue her challenge since she was now at twenty-third.
Bruno at fourteen was a hard-counter for her water with his ice so she had only one choice: seat fifteen.
He was a fire mage from the Duchess’ contingent and the logical thing for him to do would be to block her with a card. But, he accepted.
Actually, I think she just wanted to waste one of his cards. She too was stunned when he actually accepted her challenge.
He was elementally disadvantaged. Though his condition was much better than hers, it was too risky a move and I couldn’t make head or tails of it.
The fight was extremely frigid. Mostly, because the fire mage used tactics that would lead to mutual injuries quite often.
His firepower was extremely high and even with her Water Veil, she suffered from the aftershocks of his fiery explosions. He was taking advantage of her newly healed internal injuries.
In the end he won but at the cost of nearly having the entire skin of one arm corroded by acid.
When he returned to his seat after the treatment, he blatantly put his two cards up for display.
It was then that I understood what he was getting at. Now that he had been challenged once, he could just block twice.
The psychological pressure on anyone wanting to challenge him would be too much as the most likely outcome would be them wasting their card.
If he played it right, he could end up with two unused cards by the time his turn came around.
That way he could challenge twice. Specially since the Lutrinae were short of cards, he might even challenge successfully and defeat or deplete some of the mana of their members at a higher rank so the other members of his team could beat them.
It was all a gamble to further their gap with the Lutrinae as they were the only ones who could challenge them for the Ducal post.
Really, the Vulpine team were all as sly as the foxes that were the originators of their bloodline.
I focused my mind and cut out all extraneous thought as I walked up to the stage, passing by the dejected girl who was walking off it towards the twenty-third seat.
It was finally my turn.