I held my shortsword just above my waist, ready to attack or defend. The array of sounds that filled the arena were soon drowned out as my focus centered solely on the man standing in front of me.
The man named Kaspian, the one in charge of the biggest Guild Halls, held the menacing rapier lightly with his right hand. He stood upright, making figure eights with the tip of his blade while letting out a little hum. Yet, he had no openings. The baleful pressure of his bloodlust was blatantly let loose as he dared to let out an innocent smile.
Memories of fighting inside the dueling arena in my previous world flashed to mind as the air grew tense between us. My focus sharpened to their limits. The only sounds that came through my ears were those made by Kaspian: his blade whistling in the air, the crinkled sounds of his thin clothes, and the controlled breaths he took. My body screamed to take caution against this man.
I could feel my hands tremble ever so slightly, not from apprehension, but from excitement. I didn’t think I’d find an opponent of this caliber so soon. This battle wasn’t to the death but I knew it would different from the spars I had with Grandpa Virion back in Elenoir.
“I knew from first glance that you would have to be assessed in a different manner. I hope you don’t take this… special treatment to heart,” Kaspian commented as he lowered his stance.
In that brief moment, I analyzed every piece of useful information that I could about this man. His reach was longer than mine by about a foot, while his stance indicated that he primarily relied on thrusts rather than swings. Just from the amount of mana I could sense swirling near him, it was safe to assume that he wouldn’t make any careless mistakes.
“Please prepare yourself. I wouldn’t want the person Miss Flamesworth sponsored to lose too quickly.”
He sprang forward, leaving a trail of dust behind him as he closed the gap between us. In one fluid motion, he lunged his rapier like a coiled spring, using the momentum of his initial step.
I twisted my head to avoid the stab, but a few strands of my hair were cut off.
“Excellent dodge,” he mused, retracting his rapier in preparation for his next attack.
Immediately following up with an angled lunge, I held up my scabbard. A sharp thud echoed throughout the arena from the clash and I was thrown off-balance. It seemed like I was still unable to use the full extent of my previous knowledge in swordsmanship with this undeveloped body.
I recovered from this setback by pivoting myself, using the momentum from his attack to whirl my lacking body to generate a powerful swing.
Kaspian leaned back just moments before my sword reached his head, but a thin red line appeared across the tip of his nose.
His thin eyes widened in surprise but he recovered instantly. I took advantage of that split second, bringing my sword back to produce a sharp, upward swipe at his unguarded legs.
My blade reflected the arena lights, producing a silver arc as it whizzed through the air.
However, my opponent was able to reposition his sword to defend against my swing. The sharp ring of metal on metal made both Kaspian and I cringe. The both of us seemed to have had the same intent as we both used the opportunity to gain distance. Only a handful of seconds passed during the deadly exchange, but each of us came out with only minor injuries. I switched my sword arm since the impact of our last blow produced a sharp vibration that made my right hand tremble.
The realization that I was still unaccustomed to fighting in this body was all too apparent as I coaxed my hand.
“I must apologize for underestimating you. I shall be a bit more serious now.” Kaspian’s voice was calm but his face expressed a certain degree of seriousness that wasn’t there before.
His sharp eyes gleamed with a powerful killing intent that could only be present in someone who had years of fighting under his belt. His rapier was aimed toward me, but as he brought it closer toward him, the blade began glowing with a silvery hue.
“Ha!” Letting out a sharp breath, he thrust out his rapier, piercing the air in front of him.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose as my body screamed for me to run away. I instinctively pivoted myself away from where my opponent had lined his attack. A sharp pain burst from my shoulder as hot blood seeped into the sleeve of my robe…
“Seems like Miss Flamesworth has picked up someone worthwhile after all,” Kaspian acknowledged.
As far as I was concerned, this wasn’t some assessment anymore. Whether he had expected me to dodge or not, he had aimed for my heart.
Would I have been able to defeat him easily if I had the body of my past life? I wasn’t sure. There were too many factors that played into this; the quality of our swords, the use of long range mana manipulation that didn’t exist in my old world…
Taking a moment to charge his next attack, he let out two more consecutive thrusts, but I knew what to expect.
He was creating sharp bullets of wind, which were near-invisible. However, it didn’t mean that they were impossible to dodge. By the timing of the thrust to when it had reached my arm from his previous attack, I was able to gauge the speed the spell travelled.
The spell travelled in a straight path based on the direction of his jab, so while the speed of the spell was frightening, there were holes to take advantage of.
I ducked underneath the first bullet of wind as it barely grazed my hair. I parried the second bullet with the flat of my blade, redirecting his spell away from me. Immediately after, I willed mana into my legs and dashed toward Kaspian.
I had to shorten the distance between us now that I knew he had a long range spell at his disposal, but I knew even in terms of melee combat, it would be a hard battle.
I had a body that was more than several inches shorter than what I had been used to when sword fighting and a much smaller pool of mana to utilize. So even with the assimilation of Sylvia’s dragon will making my body tougher, I didn’t have that much of an advantage against a veteran fighter with a body enhanced with mana.
The only advantage I had was the fact that Kaspian didn’t know what I had up my sleeve.
Focusing mana into my free hand, I ran my fingers down the blade of my sword, imbuing it with fire. Approaching him, I swung down to release an arc of fiery red.
I could see the concentration on Kaspian’s face as he willed more mana into his rapier until it, once again, glowed in a silvery white. He fanned away the flames with a powerful swing, leaving an ever-so-slight window for me to take advantage of.
Gathering mana into the sole of my left foot, I molded the spell to manifest into the proper form.
A succession of fiery explosion erupted underneath my foot, propelling me directly beside Kaspian.
“How—” was all he could manage. His mouth agape, his rapier was still held up from his defense against my previous attack that I had used as a feint.
My position wasn’t optimal; I had launched myself a foot more than I had wanted to, but it was enough.
Without enough time to form a proper spell, I simply strengthened my body with mana as I thrust my sword forward.
However, even as the distance between my blade and Kaspian shortened, I could make out the words that the Guild Hall manager was chanting. “Gather and unleash!”
I was barely able to rescind my attack and jump away as an intense swirl of airstream burst out from Kaspian, surrounding him in a protective twister.
The Guild Hall manager was hidden from view within the twister of wind and debris, allowing me some time to prepare for his next attack.
The spell was released to reveal Kaspian, sweating and panting, with his sword arm tucked closely to his side like a snake about to lash out; his left arm was stretched out—palms open—aimed directly at me .
He was obviously chanting as the blade of his rapier began glowing even brighter in silver.
“Pierce those who stand against me!” he roared as his rapier disappeared into a blur of countless thrusts.
This was just an exam, right? Was he actually trying to kill me?
“Screw this,” I muttered to myself as I concentrated the last of my remaining mana deep into the sensory and motor neurons in my body.
One of the few techniques I had managed to develop using knowledge from my previous world while training with Grandpa Virion. A technique that used liaghtning affinity mana to run currents of electricity throughout my nerves, quickening my reflexes to a superhuman extent. The average human had a reaction time of around 0.3 seconds, but there were trained fighters that could get it down to 0.2 or even 0.15 seconds.
Using Thunderclap Impulse, my reaction time was able to shorten to about 0.05 for a brief amount of time.
My pupils contracted as the hairs on my skin stood up on end due to the electric currents.
I could hear the sharp whispers of the air bullets shooting towards me as I readied myself to dodge them.
“Release!” Kaspian screamed.
The torrent of ar bullets suddenly dissipated, rendering his spell to a harmless draft of wind.
“I may have gotten a bit carried away with testing your limits,” he apologized, sheathing his sword. The Guild Hall manager immediately turned away and headed toward the exit as I released my spell as well.
“From the fact that you were so adamantly withholding your full abilities until the end, I can only assume that you wish to be placed at a lower rank,” he said, continuing his stride without turning his back. “Note. B-class.”
“Just before disappearing into the passageway he had come from, Kaspian turned his head and looked me in the eye, one of the lenses on his glasses cracked. “I’m sure you have no problem with this?”
I merely nodded my head in agreement, watching him walk out of sight down the dark corridor.
“That was the last examination for today! Please go to the front desk to receive your adventurer’s card. Everyone is dismissed!” the augmenter examiner shouted out as he and the other examiner both rushed after their boss.
KASPIAN BLADEHEART’S POV:
I arrived at my desk and before I even have the chance to take a seat, the two examiners in charge of today’s placements bombarded me with questions.
“George, Emily, take a seat and don’t talk all at once,” I sighed, sinking heavily into my chair.
“Sir! What was with today’s examinees?” George immediately shouted out. “Three B-class adventurers right off the bat in a day? This kind of situation is unheard of. Not to mention that two of them were kids! Light orange at the age of eleven… has that ever occurred amongst humans?”
Emily nodded fervidly in agreement.
“Do you remember what happened half a year ago here in Xyrus?” I asked.
“Around six months ago should’ve been the time when the first tournament amongst the three races took place, right?” Emily answered.
“Yes. The Adventurer Guild workers will all know soon, so there isn’t much of a point in hiding this; I was just notified of this a couple of weeks ago as well. The ban on elves and dwarves becoming adventurers has been lifted and today’s batch included some of the representative examinees.” I pulled out a thin file from my desk drawer.
“S-Sir, do you mean to say that all three of them were either dwarves or elves?” George’s eyes had widened to a frightening degree as he expressed his shock.
“Lucas Wykes is a half-elf that has been residing in the Kingdom of Sapin. The information on his birth is classified but if I had to guess, he was probably a product of an elf slave. The Wykes Family has always had a bad reputation for dabbling in nefarious ways to breed better mages for their house. He’s an unusual case, though, being able to be so adept in flame affinity, despite his elf lineage. He awakened at the age of eight, which is fast, even amongst elf standards, and was sent here for a sort of trial run. The Wykes no doubt expended a lot of money into buying beast cores and other resources to quicken his growth.” I flipped to the next page.
“Elijah Knight. He’s quite the mystery. According to the file, his origin is unknown. He was, however, raised amongst dwarves at a young age. He was sent as one of the first representatives from the Kingdom of Darv to assimilate into the human kingdom.”
“How come he wasn’t tested, Sir? The clerk only told me to just put him into B-class,” Emily asked, her voice higher than usual from excitement.
“Elijah awakened a few months ago, so he’s only now barely reached the dark-red stage. As for why he was allowed to be a B-class adventurer, it probably has to do with the person backing him up. I don’t have any say in his case, so we can only let him be. I’m curious as to what his abilities are, though.” I shook my head, putting down his file.
“As for that masked augmenter from today, to be honest, I have no idea who he is. He wasn’t recorded as any of the representatives on the list. I was simply curious as to what kind of person Miss Flamesworth would be willing to sponsor.”
“Flamesworth…as in that Flamesworth House? The famous house that is known for birthing the strongest fire attribute mages?”
I put away the file and regarded them seriously, adjusting my glasses. “I told you all of this because you will find out soon anyway. However, I trust that you guys will refrain from telling others until the announcement is officially made across the country?”
With fervent nods from both of them, I dismissed my two employees.
I was left to ponder over today’s events.
That masked augmenter. His techniques were not the standard skills that most fire attribute mages used. Even his style with the sword… it was something that made me shiver.
Regardless of all this, however, I couldn’t help but get a sense that his movements were off somehow. Based on the movements that came off as awkward at times, it felt like he was somehow restrained, or even uncomfortable with his own body.
I dismissed my needless thoughts and began going over the pile of unread documents.
I couldn’t help but grin to myself; this continent was changing. There would be a lot more interesting events happening from now on.
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
The same receptionist that had led us to the examination site handed me my bronze-colored adventurer’s card at the front desk.
From E-class to B-class, the card was a copper color, while starting from A-class, it would change to silver, then gold for AA class, then white for S class.
“Do you have a close relationship with Kaspian, Jasmine?” I asked after putting away my card, Sylvie asleep on my head.
“He’s an acquaintance of my father,” she said simply with a cold chill to her voice.
I didn’t dig for any further answers. She obviously didn’t have any positive feelings regarding the man. Changing the subject, I asked my adventuring partner, “So what should we do next?”
She pondered for a bit.
There were several options. We could do missions that were at, or below, our ranks. These missions included a variety of tasks, from guarding to acquiring specific items. We could also transport ourselves to the Beast Glades and explore while hunting down mana beasts. Or…
“Dungeon-exploring,” Jasmine answered, a faint smile forming on her face.