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Chapter 32 – Relieving Stress at the Tournament (Chie’s POV – The waiting room)
Three days had pa.s.sed since I had quarrelled with the Representatives from abroad, and the real tournament would start today. Each contestant had been a.s.signed a private waiting room this time, unlike during the qualifiers. It was a simple s.p.a.ce – a table, a few chairs, and a crystal screen for watching the matches. Like the others, I was silently waiting for my turn inside. Conrad was going to meet the b.i.t.c.h in the first bout of the day. My duel with the blockhead would come after.
I owed a debt of grat.i.tude to His Majesty for arranging this. He had lent an ear to my unreasonable request even though he had had so much on his plate already. But, to be honest, I didn’t think there was anyone in the Empire who wasn’t stressed out right now. Foreign soldiers causing trouble in the market district aside, there had been sooo many other problems.
Our own soldiers kidnapped by concubines…
Their female colleagues harangued whenever they tried to intervene…
Servants ordered around for no purpose…
Other royal children in the palace for Chris and Elene to keep company…
Two royal consorts and a harem of royal concubines for Her Majesty to entertain…
Ours and our vice-commander’s mess for His Majesty and the Prime Minister to clean up…
It was almost like three months of work had been crammed into three days of time.
It would all end today, though. Well, for me at least, since I would get to vent my stress by beating the c.r.a.p out of those two Representatives. Strangely, this was something the Prime Minister had requested himself.
“Please defeat those guys,” he had said, his face looking haggard.
Actually, that had been the first time he had asked me for anything. For him to have been pushed this far… I empathized with him.
We were going to beat those annoyances up real good.
After all, these rude, foolish guests of ours were long overdue for some punishment.( Conrad’s POV – The Arena Floor )
There were cheers all around me. I awaited the referee. Dispa.s.sionately. I had never been so dispa.s.sionate about the prospect of a match in my whole life. I was going to face Selene Mansfield, the woman who had incurred Commander’s wrath because of my mistake from four years ago. My opponent dressed herself in a pure white robe and wielded a wand with a sun-shaped magic crystal of the light element. And I just wanted to be done with this already.
I hadn’t seen the woman since the incident three days ago. She hadn’t tried to approach me even once. Back then, the Commander had said, “Stick with me until all the guests have returned to their countries. Just in case. It will not be strange for a commander and his deputy to stay together, and that bicchi won’t dare approach when I’m near.”. It had been a big help. Thanks to that, I hadn’t had much of a problem.
Really, I couldn’t hold a candle to Commander Chie.
Once again, I resolved myself to work hard until I won’t be ashamed to stand beside her.
Selene called out to me suddenly as I renewed my determination. I just felt disgust. If I had any choice, I would not remain in her presence a second longer. The Commander had said that too.
“What now? Once I’m done with this momentary annoyance of a match, we’ll have nothing to do with each other.”
“Huh? You presume you can speak to me like that and get away with it?”
Frankly, she went a bit hysterical at my response. But, well, it was kind of warranted.
“Just stop. You aren’t even my type. I’m seriously fed up with you.”
I sighed deeply.
She humphed in reply.
“I told you already, what you think doesn’t matter in the slightest! I always, always get what I want! And you, Conrad, will be no exception!”
She spat out the words through a smile full of scorn. That actually surprised me. Had the commander’s words gone through one ear only to escape via the other?
“Did my commander’s words really not penetrate through that thick skull of yours? Have you forgotten them already?”
For a moment, she lost composure, and her face crumpled, but almost instantly, her grimace was replaced by an expression of triumph. And that
made me puzzled and suspicious in equal measure.
“That? Oh, that won’t be an issue. I have taken appropriate measures.”
What on earth was she trying to say?
“I asked His Holiness to permit my marriage to you if I am victorious and to negotiate with the Emperor to make it possible. His Holiness agreed.”
“Huh?!” I exclaimed in astonishment.
Why did this woman even have the power to make requests of her liege? Her tenacity made me grimace for the first time today. Her smile actually widened at that sight, and she giggled mirthfully.
“Do you see now? You will be mine, and there will be no problems. Ohohoho! And that upstart will learn his place too. Such a wonderful day!”
What was that just now?
“And what exactly are you planning to do to the Commander?” I asked through clenched teeth.
The agitation was probably showing on my face. And that only made her more ecstatic.
“That upstart? He’ll pay for disgracing me. I’m not a simpleton who would believe that lie about slaying a dragon! Neither do I buy that hoax with the black unicorn! It must have been some spell to disguise a normal horse. You all are so insufferably dumb!”
“…You don’t say.”
Every single person in the crowd was stunned silent by her nonsense. She really shouldn’t have said that. But, due to misreading the mood perhaps, she continued happily.
“That’s right! Compared to that fake, I am—”
“—dumb beyond saving.”
“…What did you say?”
My interruption to her rant wiped the smile from her face. She just didn’t seem to understand what had just happened. There was a variety of emotions in me I had felt for the first time ever. I wasn’t angry. I felt disgust and revulsion. I wondered if that was what people felt when they were pushed beyond mere ‘anger’. Right now, even though anybody would consider her face pretty, and every man alive would l.u.s.t after her body, I found her extremely ugly. Her drivel was no longer worth even getting angry at.
“For the last time – I will not be your plaything. You can’t even beat me.”
“W-what are y-you—?!”
She barely stammered out a response, while her ecstatic smile was replaced by a look of terror. I must have ended up making that expression. The one I had tended to make back in the day when I had detested and looked down on all my opponents.
“Sheesh, why the h.e.l.l did I ever sleep with this sort of woman? I must have lost my mind.”
Even my voice scared her. To be scared this much… Was she really a soldier of the Holy Kingdom? If that was all there was to their Representative, the Holy Kingdom didn’t amount to much. That must have been why the Holy King had accepted that sort of request. Well, all I could do was show them who was the boss and wrap this farce up. Thankfully, the referee had finally arrived. I could end this and make sure she would never approach me again. I decided to show her the gap between us. With the referee in position, I raised my wooden sword. She had also raised her wand, fear still visible on her face. Seeing that we were both ready, the referee raised her hand.
I rushed forward as soon as the referee’s hand swung down.
My blade arced down, stopping a hair’s breadth from her forehead. The force of the slash lifted her hair making it flutter behind her. She fell on her backside with a yelp and just looked at me as she trembled fearfully. Right now, she was a textbook example of ‘losing one’s fighting spirit’.
“Referee?” I asked, not hearing a verdict.
That woman too was stunned, as if not understanding what had happened, but my question brought her back to her senses.
“T-the winner is, the Empire’s Conrad Aiden.”
The audience, especially the one on the Empire’s side of the stadium, cheered loudly. For a moment, I turned to leave, but I changed my mind.
“Let me just say this – that attack just now? Even our vice-commanders would be able to react to it.”
She looked up at me with confusion in her eyes. I smirked at the unsightly figure, and continued.
“In the end, you only amount to this much. Why did you ever delude yourself that your victory over me was a fact?”
I smiled at her calmly, wanting to calm her down.
“Oh, and one
one more thing. The commander whom you insulted before is much stronger than me.”
Having said that, I turned around once more and walked towards the exit. For real this time. On my way back to the waiting room, I looked up at the royal boxes designated for the Emperor and his family, presently occupied by the royalty and Prime Ministers of the three countries. Not all of them, of course. Some, like the Empress, were watching the proceedings on a big crystal screen in the palace. I saw that His Majesty and His Excellency Prime Minister were both smiling in satisfaction, and our guests from the Kingdom looked surprised. But His Holiness had a sour grimace on his face, while his Prime Minister turned ashen. My Liege and Prime Minister were probably feeling the same thing looking at the face of our esteemed guests as me.
Sweet, sweet, refres.h.i.+ng satisfaction.
“Serves you lot right, “ I muttered under my breath.(Chie’s POV – Waiting room)
“Yep, that went as I expected.”
The match went exactly as I had expected it to go. The outcome, the b.i.t.c.h’s reaction, the Kingdom’s referee’s shock… Everything had been as predicted. Incidentally, the referee had to come from the Kingdom, the country not partic.i.p.ating in the match at the time. If he hadn’t, his fairness would be doubted no matter what the outcome was.
What did the b.i.t.c.h say to Conrad anyways?
I could watch the proceedings on the screen, but there was no audio, so all I could tell was that whatever words had been spoken had made him angry. I didn’t think I had ever seen him make that sort of face, though. Before the tournament, he had promised me that he would respond with restraint to whatever she said. Even though, it would have been better to just ignore her completely. I figured things would probably end up the same way had he ignored her though. She had kept chattering on and on… She must have pushed some of his b.u.t.tons. Honestly, back in j.a.pan, that kind of face would have been deemed scary enough to warrant a mosaic over it. I had caught a glimpse of some people in the audience covering their children’s eyes at one moment. I wished he was more careful next time.
I heard a knock on the door, and I let the visitor in.
“Excuse me for intruding, Knight Commander, sir.”
It was one of the soldiers.
“It’s time for you to get going.”
I left the room with a new bokutou in hand.( Chie’s POV – Arena )
The crowd cheered the moment I entered the arena floor. There was a lot more people in attendance now compared to the qualifiers, so it was much louder than before. I saw the Blockhead also enter as I reached my designated spot. He was wielding a wooden sword the size of the greatsword I had seen him use when I had first met him. As soon as he saw me, he made a nasty face. Really… I didn’t care about being liked, but he must have hated me quite a lot. I decided to get this match over with quickly.
Suddenly, the people in the general audience seating began to chant: “Black Knight! Black Knight! Black Knight!”
I looked at the crowd in surprise. I spotted Byron, and then the rest of my acquaintances from the neighborhood and the market district. The imperial soldiers decided to join in on the chant too, taking advantage of my amazement, most likely. Neither the foreign audience, nor our n.o.bles seemed to expect this kind of reception for me. Honestly, I was still the most surprised person in the arena, though.
Why would they…?
Suddenly, I heard a call out from that area. I was only able to hear it over the din because they used Voice, the sound amplifying spell. I scanned the stands carefully, and found the owner. It was a boy riding on the shoulders of a Mr. Musclehead-sized old man. He was the kid I had saved three days ago. I saw him wave to me with a big smile on his face. When I turned in his direction, he stopped, cupped his hands to his mouth, and shouted: “THANK YOU!”
Everyone heard that. The people around him had to cover their ears due to the volume, but they all looked at him tenderly. n.o.body seemed to
seemed to consider him an annoyance. They must have all worked together for the boy’s sake. All the others, soldiers and audience, seemed to agree too. They had ‘Well said’ written all over the faces. I wondered how long they had been planning this.
To have such a surprise for me in store… How sly.
I raised my right hand holding the bokutou, yet another of my clumsy works, high into the air. The stadium erupted with cheers once again. I was so happy I worked for the Empire.
The Blockhead snorted. “Swarming and clamoring like that. Just like a horde of goblins.”
His words made me freeze in my tracks. Icy cold replaced the warmth the citizens’ words brought me. And Mr. Blockhead was just getting started.
“Swarming in large numbers, like pests… Those sheeple are truly better off as slaves. It’s hard not to pity the ignorance and the depths the Empire has fallen to. And you… You must be just as foolish as them,” he sneered.
Now he’s done it!
I slowly turned back to face him. Seeing I didn’t respond, he smiled in a repulsive manner.
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Don’t try denying it, you know it’s true.” He roared in laughter. “What happened to your strength from before? You’re supposed to be a duke, but all I see is an upstart! Real n.o.bles could squish you like a bug! But maybe, all citizens of the Empire are bugs? They must be, if someone like you is a duke. Rock bottom, indeed!”
He continued to rant like a madman. But that made him too busy to realize something – I had no longer bothered to restrain my bloodl.u.s.t. A Blockhead indeed. This was the moment when the referee from the Holy Kingdom arrived. My killing intent made the poor man panic a bit. It must have been an odd contrast, my murder aura and the Blockhead’s oblivious guffawing. I felt a bit bad for the referee, but I had no intentions of restraining myself. I couldn’t let it all out yet either. We were waiting for his signal, after all.
The man steeled himself and asked, “Are both of you ready to start?”
“Hm?” asked the Blockhead, “Ah. Yeah. Let’s. I want to show the true colors of this impostor to the sheeple of this country.”
He raised his sword. I didn’t a.s.sume a stance though. Both of the men looked at me puzzled.
“Um… Sir Knight?”
The referee asked again if I was ready. I sighed, and started speaking. However, my words were directed at the Blockhead, not the referee.
“You’ve been running your mouth for quite a while now. Is that all you’re good at?”
I wondered briefly why in the world a guy like that would ever become a Representative, but then it hit me. The majority of the Kingdom’s strongest fighters belonged to the Guild if my memory served me correctly. I figured they had to sc.r.a.pe the bottom of the barrel, and ended up with …that.
“Mr. Referee, hold this.”
I handed my bokutou to the fl.u.s.tered man.
“Can you please take care of that for me?”
“Huh?, B- but—”
He started to object, but I forced it into his hands anyway. Then, an idea struck me.
“Oh yeah, Mr. Referee, are you able to use Bind?”
“Huh? Umm… yes, but why?”
I smiled beneath the helmet.
“Good. Please seal my hands behind my back so that I can’t use them.”
My request astonished him, and the Blockhead cut in too.
“What the h.e.l.l are you saying!?”
His revolting grin was replaced by an angry glare.
“Can’t you see?” I responded in mock surprise, “I don’t even need a sword to beat a bug like you. So, to make it fair, I’m sealing both of my arms.”
Well, even with me using my feet only, he was not a match for me.
(TL note: Related )
“You think you can get away with mocking me, imbecile?”
His reply was bristling with irritation, but I had had quite enough of him already.
“Right back at you, worm. Do you think you can get away with mocking the Empire?”
I laced every one of those words with unrestrained killing intent. It actually made him flinch for a second, but then, he just clicked his tongue and resumed his stance. That left the referee.
“Hurry up, we don’t have all day.”
The man was still hesitating, but I wasn’t going to do this without the handicap. I might accidentally kill the accidentally kill the idiot otherwise. Mr Blockhead had reeeally picked the wrong fight here. And I wasn’t sorry for him in the slightest.
“Quickly, before I lose my patience!”
Since the referee was still hesitating, I threatened him.
“Eek! F-fine, I-I’ll do it!”
He finally moved to cast the spell on me, and I apologized in my mind for having to threaten him. Seeing the man cast Bind, the crowds stopped cheering. A murmur ran the length of the stands. But I paid it no mind and returned to my designated spot. The referee, his face rather strained, raised his right hand to signal the start of the match.
And so, it started.
The Blockhead was the first to move. His speed was rather easy to follow, though. In fact, he was much slower than Mr. Musclehead.
He held his greatsword raised high above his head as he charged. His movements were much more wasteful than Stupid Swordsman’s.
He swung the blade, and I dodged to the left, avoiding it with ease. As if unable to believe that I had dodged it, the Blockhead shouted angrily.
He swung again. This time, I avoided by jumping up into the air and landing with a graceful backflip.
“Stop jumping around so much!!”
His anger was plainly visible as he swung yet again.
But the blow lacked any weight. Celes beat him in that department.
I was aware that they shouldn’t be put on the same level, but I expected him to show something worthy of a Representative. He was such a letdown.
A captain-level fighter at best.
Woken up from my idle musings, I realized I had been dodging for a several minutes now. The audience was silent, spellbound by the sight. It was about time to end this. The blockhead was breathing heavily. He had continued to swing the sword with all his might all this time. I increased the distance between us. Seeing a change in my behavior after only dodging his attacks all this time made him pause.
Hey, isn’t that suicidal in a real battle? I thought.
Then he kicked off the ground with his right foot, the greatsword held high over his head in both hands. That made his torso area wide open. I pivoted on my right foot and drove a roundhouse kick into his solar plexus.
With a groan, the blockhead fell to his knees holding his stomach. I heard the wooden greatsword clatter across the ground far away. I held back, but he still shouldn’t be able to move for a while.
“Eh. Uhm… The winner is, the B-Black Knight,” stammered out the referee.
The audience welcomed the result with a stunned silence at first but, eventually, they realized what was going on, and erupted into cheers. I approached the blockhead.
“I held back quite a bit, but I don’t think you’ll be able to move for a while. Just stay here, I’ll arrange for my subordinates to send you off to the infirmary.”
“s.h.i.+t… How could I lose to someone like you?”
I figured that if he could still swear, he would be fine. Still, I found that ‘someone like you’ rather displeasing.
“I told you before,” I replied coldly, “The Empire has plenty of soldiers like you. You may be a big-shot out there in the Kingdom, but here, you don’t really amount to much. So you better mind what you say and do.”
With that said, I walked to the referee. The man still had my bokutou, and there was one other thing I wanted a word about.
“I came to pick up my belongings.”
“Y-yes! But before that, let me dispel the Bind!”
The referee started to dispel his spell.
“About that… Let me give you a piece of advice.”
“Eh?” asked the man tilting his head.
I flexed my arms and shattered the Bind in front of him.
“People can easily break out of something like this. You put enough magic power into the spell, but you need to make it more concentrated.”
The referee had probably never imagined that his Bind would be broken. He stared at me wide-eyed and speechless. I looked up at the royal boxes and met eyes with His Majesty. He smiled happily. Beside him, the Prime Minister also clapped, although his smile was rather strained. Had he begun to acknowledge me, perhaps? I bowed slightly, and headed for the exit. Recalling the pale faces of the other monarchs made me smile.
Ah, I feel so refreshed! I thought.