Showing an enthusiasm different from the norm, the day of the individuals’ tournament truly was a festival.
In the academy, the knights and soldiers on guard duty nervously carried out their duties, keeping watch over the royalty and nobles.
The areas short of numbers were strengthened with knights dispatched from the defenders.
On the entrance of the competitors onto the arena’s circular ring, the clamor reached max pitch at once. There had been a large cheer through the hall when the royal family appeared, but the crowds were even more heated as the competitors took their places.
Among the eight lined up on the ring, apart from Rudel, there was Aleist and Eunius, Izumi, and even Millia.
At the end of the line came Fritz, who had managed to win his nomination despite being a third year.
In a noble visitor room that boasted a full view of the ring sat the royal family and headmaster. Among the royal guard charged with their safety, a single high knight had slipped in.
She was Fina’s guard, Sophina, and she was sending some fleeting glances at her former colleagues around her. For every timid glance that returned came another triumphant smirk.
Even the high knights who had resisted at first had read the flow of the times, flowing over to the royal guard. A majority of the knights had transferred station. The royal guard was under Aileen’s direct control, giving them a considerably preferential treatment when it came to benefits.
Sophina gazed mournfully at her former colleagues. As she knew what was going down behind the scenes, Sophina couldn’t forgive the fact that all her former comrades were dancing on Fina’s palm.
Right, Fina had moved towards the dismantlement of the high knights. Sophina had put up a resistance, saying that those with high loyalty would persist as high knights without flowing off to the royal guard. If that happens, I’ll put a stop to their dismantlement, Fina had replied.
But looking at the result, a majority of the knights had transferred.
Fina was moving underneath, making sure Aileen didn’t notice. She had one transfer, and then another. That was all she did, but hopping onto the flow, a large number chose to transfer. Their numbers were such that even Fina was surprised.
(You dimwits! It’s because of you that the high knights will cease to exist!!)
Turning only her eyes to look at Aileen sitting beside her, Fina saw her rejoicing at Fritz’ entrance to the stage. Sitting across, on the opposite side of Aileen, her mother the Queen covered her mouth with a fan as she glared at her eldest daughter.
“Aah, how wonderful Fritz-sama is…”
Hearing those words, her father the king also sent a glance at Fritz, but his expression was dubious. He was surely trying his best not to let his feelings grace his expression, but from the subtle movements of his face, Fina could see he was dejected.
A noble hater, and the man who incited a rebellion among the academy’s commoner students. And yet Aileen accepted him on his approach. He could only have a bad feeling about this.
Fina looked over the ring.
(There’s only one fluffy fighter… besides master and black hair’s match in the first round, I’m only interested in Millia’s match. This time, whether master wins or not doesn’t really matter, so just how am I supposed to enjoy my time!? … hah, I guess I have no choice but to do some serious thinking.)
From Fina’s eyes, Aileen would definitely run wild if things continued on like this. This was just a prediction, but her mother was likely reaching the ends of her patience at the fact Aileen was in love with a commoner.
Originally, she honestly wanted to welcome Rudel, who had awakened as the white knight, into the family. If that matter with Chlust hadn’t happened, then not as an archduke, it would have been fine if they made Rudel king. But in that case, he would have to marry either Aileen or Fina.
King Alback had planned to marry Aileen to Rudel and Fina to Aleist. Rather than using his daughters in diplomacy, he prioritized getting a hold on the white and black knights.
But Fina was in a position opposed to her father’s plan. The moment she learned of it, she acted swiftly, bringing talks of an engagement between Aileen and Aleist to the queen. The queen did have a fixation on status and bloodline, but she was unable to look down on the black knight.
Black knight was the name taken by the first king of Courtois. And looking into the records, there were accounts of techniques that closely resembled the way Aleist fought. Fina hit into that point, having the queen recommend putting Aileen with Aleist.
(Well, I doubt it’s happening with my sister like that… hah, so I really have to prepare.)
To Fina, it was dangerous if Aileen didn’t cut off Fritz. Her sister who was practically blessed by the heavens, the sight of her seriously backing Fritz floated in Fina’s eyes. If played poorly, there was a fear that the system of nobility itself would disappear.
From Fina’s point of view, nobles going away or losing power wasn’t a problem. She feared the insurrections that would come in the process of the nobility’s collapse. When the large power beside them showed a movement, if they continued squabbling within the country was sure to collapse. In the worst case, the nobles would turn on them and send them to the chopping block.
(I want to see fluffadise. I don’t want to die.)
Expressionlessly, yet sorrowfully, Fina stared at Aileen.
The all-important first match was left to Rudel and Izumi.
In order to make this individuals’ tournament a success, the academy had put in quite a bit of work. But in the end, it all came down to the competitors’ performance.
The academy simply heated things up as much as they could, praying it all would end without incident.
Facing one another, Rudel and Izumi held their wooden straight sword and curved sword as they awaited the signal from the referee. They didn’t have anything to say to the other. They were concentrated hard enough, they didn’t need to exchange a light greeting before the match. It was something both sides understood.
And as the first match was about to begin, the hall’s tensions rose as well.
After confirming the preparations were complete, the ref turned to the audience and sent a sign.
A group with large magic circles engraved on their shields started moving around the front row. As the shield knights occupied the first row, the row which was most worthy to watch a match from, a single noble drew close.
“Oy, you lot, if you’re not using all of the front row, then give me a seat! Is there any meaning in keeping them? I’m sure it’s some sort of magic, but don’t waste our time with something meaningless!”
The young nobleman surrounded by a few followers grabbed the man who looked to lead the shield knights and interrogated him. The fact his foe had a vague knowledge of magic only made the shield knight more troubled to explain.
“So you see, this is a formation to protect the audience seats, and we have to move around to match the situation, so we have to leave them empty…”
The commanding officer was Rudel’s upperclassman Vargas. He was appointed as head of the newly-formed shield knight unit, leading the force of young knights.
“Like hell a magic circle can display an effect if you move it around! Get me the guy in charge!”
“… Ah, young master.”
“Don’t call me that, Vargas! More importantly, what’s this? Are you trying to deface me?”
The one who appeared was Luecke, wearing a different robe than usual. In order to distinguish himself from the spectators, he clad himself in a white robe bearing the crest of his house. The reason Luecke was so hyped up was that this was his opportunity to unveil the knight unit he formed himself.
If this succeeded, he planned to expand it to a brigade. But now he had another reason to put even more power into the individuals’ tournament.
“huh? This person’s Vargas-san? Pleasure, I’m Lena Arses!”
The one to Luecke’s side, able to get a front row seat on the condition she kept close to Luecke, was Lena. It was Rudel’s last, long-awaited tournament, so wanting to see it with her own eyes, she had made the trek.
But troublingly enough, the seats were full. The appearance of Luecke led to the current situation.
“… You understand, don’t you, Vargas? I cannot fail here.”
“Yes, but that’s just because your crush is… eep! Understood, I’ll return to my station!!”
Hurriedly returning to his position, Vargas was pressured to flee. Lena waved her hand at Rudel, and Izumi across from him.
As Luecke turned back to the noble who spoke out, he instantly saw through his house and faction.
“Hah, this is why the Diade faction is so troublesome. It would be one thing if they were ignorant to magic, but to think they’d mouth off on half-assed knowledge.”
From the crest on Luecke’s robe and his looks, the man saw he was dealing with a future Archduke, and even if he was of a different faction, he faltered. The followers also proposed for their lord to pull back.
Put at a disadvantage, the nobleman turned his back and walked off. Losing interest, Luecke saw his subordinates had taken their positions, so he activated the magic.
A faint, blue dome, close to transparent, spread out to protect the audience seats. The spectators raised cheers at that magic field they had never seen before.
But more than that, Luecke…
“Luecke-san, thank you for letting me into the arena!”
Seeing Lena smile, ignoring his magic entirely as she delighted over the fact he let her in, Luecke gave a gentle smile back. He was acting completely differently to how he had treated Vargas and the noble.
“That much is nothing.”
“And hey, what’s this blue thing?”
“Hmm, this is a special field. I used markings on the shield knights to complete a magic circle. Softening impacts is a simple task, but if the shield knights move, it’s a magic that can prevent direct attacks as well.”
Perhaps it was too difficult as Lena held her head. Luecke frantically gave a simplified explanation.
“I-it’s pretty much a barrier!”
“Oh, I see. So it’s a barrier!”
Relieved that Lena had finally understood, Luecke also sent his eyes to Rudel and Izumi. During the match, Luecke would have to constantly pay mind to the positioning of the shield knights.
To summarize, this was a situation where anyone could go all out.
“Well then, let the first match… commence!”
Receiving the ref’s signal, the two took their stances, While Rudel held his one-handed sword up front, Izumi stooped down and took an iai stance.
On that stance unknown in Courtois, some restless voices sounded from the audience seats. As Rudel hesitated on his first move, Izumi took the initiative.
As she pulled swiftly drew her sword out towards Rudel, who was out of her range, Rudel suddenly leapt back. At the place he had jumped from, the remains of a slash were carved into the ring.
Now with her wooden sword ‘unsheathed’, Izumi made a bold approach, and Rudel dodged her blows as he called over. While he showed leisure, those fast and sharp slices were making a sport of him.
“What was that right there? I couldn’t’ see the light of mana.”
“It’s called iai. Normally, my range is only around a few meters, but I saw your magic sword and tried imitating it.”
If he took distance, those invisible slices would fly his way. Rudel judged the time she stayed out of her starting posture. He concluded those shockwaves wouldn’t fly if she wasn’t in stance.
But she showed movements subtly different to what he knew. Her fighting style was the same, but culture also varied from country to country. Unlike Rudel and the others who would leap to close distance, Izumi would step in.
It wasn’t much of a difference, but those subtle discrepancies put Rudel off.
Rudel’s fighting style of cladding his sword in mana was possible for Izumi. But Izumi only activated it when it was necessary. She only used the minimum amount of mana required.
By that, she could fight a prolonged battle.
As Rudel was measuring her range, Izumi changed the way she swung her sword. It was similar to the motion she used to pull her sword in her previous stance, but this time, she didn’t pretend to resheathe it.
“Normally, you’d use the sheath of the katana as well. But a wood sword has no sheath, right? Then I need not adhere to it.”
Izumi gently smiled, but she was pretty much saying she didn’t need to take a stance. If she could project her slashes even without a sheath, then it was only natural she could do it in any stance she chose.
“That really is troubling.”’
Rudel held up his left hand, commencing an attack with magic. It was an invisible attack through the magic of wind. With that, it looked as if both sides held the same conditions.
But Izumi’s shockwaves easily cut through Rudel’s wind to attack him.
“Can you quit playing around, Rudel? I’m serious.”
Seeing Izumi’s serious face, Rudel looked at the edge of his clothing that had been sliced. Without any fraying, it was cleanly cut through.
“… You better not call it underhanded.”
With those words alone, they had reached an understanding. From those around, they were already completely a couple. In the noble visitor room, Fina was infuriated within.
As Rudel decided he couldn’t win with wind, he used the earth magic Luecke had utilized the year before. Sticking his left hand into the ring, he manifested a wall to surround Izumi.
Compared to Luecke’s, it differed in strength and size.
Surrounded by walls, Izumi quietly took a stance.
“Ooh, my bro’s amazing.”
“Yeah, making one of those on the fly is considerably difficult. Strength aside, with this, he’s sealed off Izumi’s invisible slashes. It’s Rudel’s win.”
Luecke was convinced of Rudel’s victory, but Lena shook her head. As she did, her side-ponytail swayed. Turning to Luecke’s smitten face, she told him Izumi hadn’t given up.
“Not yet, he hasn’t. There’s no way Izumi-in-the-flesh-san would give up here.”
“I-Izumi in the flesh?”
Rather than the direction of the battle, Luecke was more curious about the in-the-flesh title.
Right after, the earthen wall surrounding Izumi was shredded to tatters by countless invisible slashes. The hall convinced of Rudel’s victory was wrapped in voices of surprise.
It was a single instant. As fissures raced across the wall at once, Izumi appeared with her wooden sword drawn. Rudel was making a delighted face. And perhaps Izumi was also happy, having made Rudel serious.
From the audience’s point of view, ‘foreign women are scary’, was what filled their heads.
On Lena’s words, Luecke was impressed. He wanted to ask if she had foreseen the events that had unfolded before them, but first off, he confirmed that Izumi was more of a threat than he had imagined.
Instantly changing the placement of the high knights, He moved the knights who had only been focused on Rudel to keep them wary of Izumi’s attacks as well.
(If it gets destroyed in the first round, my barrier will lose its credibility.)
Luecke prayed that the barrier wouldn’t be shattered by Izumi. But he couldn’t help but picture an image of her cutting it through.
Because of Lena, that high-level magic was henceforth dubbed barrier.