Having just witnessed Irene whipping out a barrage of spells with Split Invocation, Asley took a deep breath to process his surprise, and then quietly said,
“…That was impressive.”
“It’s thanks to that one guy who showed it to me two years ago.”
Irene was staring straight at Asley — And Asley was scratching his cheek, cracking a dry grin as he looked away.
“Miss Irene… What was your opinion on me as I was up to now?”
“Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when this fight is over.”
Getting just that as Irene’s reply, Asley grumbled. Then Irene continued,
“I’ll be SO NOT HAPPY if you don’t go all out, Asley.”
“You sure like to be mad at me, you know that?”
“Oh, when have I ever been mad at you?”
“You’re not mad right now?” Was what Asley seemed to want to ask her, as apparent from his face, but Irene only narrowed her eyes.
Facing Irene, Asley held up his Drynium Rod.
A wave of arcane energy surged through Irene’s body.
Asley was showing Irene the most powerful arcane energy release so far today.
“I’ve never… Seen this much arcane energy before…”
Viola widened her eyes.
Lina, Fuyu, and Hornel promptly stood up.
Hornel tightly clenched his fists for a brief moment, and then released them.
[I’m nowhere close to his level yet…]
Setting aside Hornel’s reactions and thoughts toward him for now, Asley started drawing a Spell Circle.
“I won’t let you–“
“I don’t need your permission — I’m already done. All Up.”
In almost an instant, Asley boosted his physical parameters and dodged Irene’s lunge at him. Then he landed a powerful kick on her back.
Irene realized that she had been kicked only after being blown away.
She forced herself to flip in the air, facing back up and looking in the direction where Asley had been, but he was nowhere to be seen.
She clutched the ground with her hands, trying to stop herself from flying too far, but her momentum would not die down.
And then her back was hit with an even stronger impact than before.
It was a full-bodied tackle, courtesy of Asley.
Irene’s body passed the spot where the battle began, and then passed by Warren’s side, crashing into the rock wall.
Seeing that, Asley looked deeply concerned — both because of what he was seeing, and also the fact that he was objectively the stronger fighter by an overwhelming degree.
The attack was so powerful that it cracked the rock wall quite a bit. This meant Irene must have sustained considerable damage as well.
But despite coughing up blood and bleeding from her head, Irene stayed steady as she looked at Asley, gritting through the pain that was spreading through her body.
“What, is that all you got?”
She was enduring all that pain out of sheer pride — That much was obvious to Asley.
Seeing that, Warren remarked as he sneakily scooted over closer to Pochi.
“Well, well… It’s Miss Irene’s public execution!♪”
And in response, Pochi looked at him and chuckled nervously.
Warren replied to her with a radiant, ear-to-ear grin, causing Pochi to be so nervous that her face started turning pale.
Irene lunged forward again — straight at Asley.
She did not even stop to heal her body; such was the degree of her pride that enabled her to endure her injuries.
For a moment, Asley seemed extremely disturbed, but then he felt a newfound resolve sparking inside him.
“So… you’ll be mad at me if I hold back, right?”
Irene’s fighting spirit burned in a silent rage.
And Asley, seeing something shining brightly in Irene’s eyes, felt his body trembling and a lump blocking up his throat.
Irene lunged at Asley again and again, and each time, she was knocked down.
Her body was in shambles, but her fighting spirit remained fierce.
Asley, on the other hand, was starting to be disturbed by her persistence.
“Why… why do you keep letting yourself get hurt…!?”
“Hah hah… You… really don’t get it!”
“Just… look how much power you have… Why didn’t you just finish the fight already…”
Irene grumbled as she coughed out blood — and as her body sustained injury after injury.
“You could just… knock me out… like you did to Hornel just now…!”
“W-why are you–“
“Why? That’s what you don’t get — You wouldn’t beat a woman, even if she was an enemy!”
Asley was taken aback by what Irene had said. The look in her eyes suggested that she was very much serious.
“You put Viola to sleep. Drained Fuyu’s arcane energy. Advised Lina to give up — and she did. And then you got Jennifer to drop out by HEALING her!? What a load of bullshit! Come with me with everything you’ve got — or it won’t be a real fight!”
Not even a single word from Irene had been false.
There definitely was a bias in the way Asley waged his battles. All of Irene’s examples had involved him forcing the fight to end, rather than defeating his opponents.
Asley tried to argue against what Irene had pointed out…
“B-but we’re not enemies–“
“–That doesn’t matter!”
…But in the end, he had nothing to say.
With the tension in the air rising with every passing moment, Pochi turned to Warren, who said to her out of the blue,
“Are you curious… as to why Miss Irene is so… obsessed?”
“I-I haven’t even said anything yet!”
Pochi put her pawas on her cheeks, and Warren grinned at her again.
“There are two main reasons.”
“The first is… how things currently are. Asley has the Limit Breakthrough magecraft in his possession, doesn’t he?”
Pochi nodded, surprised by Warren’s keen insight.
“Miss Irene is aware of that, naturally. And Asley still hasn’t realized why she would start this fight without letting it be used first.”
“Why does that ‘why’ matter?”
“According to the story just now, when you two were sent to the past, you were at the mercy of… the chaotic outdoors, yes?”
Pochi had also been present during the meeting when Asley went into detail about their trip across time.
What Warren had said were Asley’s exact words, but he had asked again anyway because he wanted confirmation from Pochi herself.
“Now look closely at Miss Irene.”
As Warren kept his grin up, Pochi looked at Irene — and with the eyes of a Heavenly Beast, and the intuition of pretty much the only one who could fight on Asley’s level, she could easily tell…
“Miss Irene is… shaking.”
“She’s up against Asley. One is not supposed to feel fear when facing a familiar ally, don’t you think?”
Pochi fell silent.
“That’s right. For this match, Miss Irene is fighting Asley for real — by considering him an actual enemy, disregarding any pre-existing relationships and personal attachments. That’s why she’s shaking so much.”
“But why would she do that?”
“How am I supposed to know? I’m not exactly one to understand maidens’ hearts myself… Though if I were to guess, it’s probably for the vicarious experience.”
Pochi tilted her head, failing to understand what Warren had meant.
“She’s trying to put herself in the era of legends — to understand the time period the two of you have been sent to. She’s probably thinking that, by doing this, she will be able to measure the efforts that Asley had to exert.”
“…Oh, I see.”
“Miss Irene… she truly is a kind soul. Now, I wonder when Asley will realize that message she’s trying to send?”
Warren grinned subtly and pushed up his glasses.
Pochi, her expression and voice lightening up slightly, proceeded to say,
“He probably never will realize THAT, and you shouldn’t expect him to. My Master is a fool, after all.”
“Oh-ho? What do you mean by ‘that’?”
“That Miss Irene is a kind soul… I guess?”
Pochi said with a smile so hearty that Warren was surprised.
And then, after pondering things over for a moment, Warren smiled again and replied,
“I see. Understandable!♪”
Warren the Black Emperor, looking a little happy, moved one step closer to Pochi… as if trying to bridge the distance between their hearts.
Warren smiled again, and Pochi did so as well.
Jennifer and Dallas were watching them from the other side of the arena.
“Why does Pochi… take a step away each time Warren takes a step toward her?”
“Hell if I know. They’re just messing around, I guess?”
Obviously enough, the distance between hearts was not so easily bridged.