Asley, quite unaware of what was going on in Irene’s mind, was having a hard time dealing with her as she lunged at him again and again, getting more and more hurt each time.
A strike too powerful could very well injure her fatally.
That momentary fear caused Asley to slightly lower his attacking power.
“What wrong!? You won’t ever beat me if you don’t start hitting harder!”
A dull pain started to build up bit by bit in Asley’s body.
If he were to go all out, he was more than sure to win quite easily. However, his determination — the resolve he was supposed to have already made — was tied up by something inside him, and by what Irene had said and her attitude in this fight.
Moreover, Irene’s masterful command of martial arts took Asley by surprise.
[S-she’s super skilled…! So skilled that she could overwhelm anyone on her level — Hell, no more than a handful of level-100 people are this good! And in this era, no less…! Her further refined arcane energy and the techniques to control it are adding to her skill, too!]
Despite his calm judgment, Irene’s assault was so intense that he could not counteract it properly.
Her body was far more beat-up than Asley’s. All that remained intact in her body were her experience, her time as a former member of the Six Archmages, and all the accomplishments that had been holding her up. And then there was her tenacity — she had never stopped training, even going straight to Tūs. Perhaps that burning passion of hers was being manifested in her attacks…
…Not unlike Gaston the Great Mage of Flame.
“Don’t be so careless, you fool! Hah! Gravity Point!”
A localized gravity magic spell went straight at Asley.
“Y-you little–! Hah!”
Asley stomped on the ground, sending out a powerful impact that canceled out Irene’s spell.
But Irene’s goal, in the first place, was not for that spell to successfully hit.
Irene shouted out… As if she had someone fighting alongside her.
By the time Asley realized who it was that Irene had called, he was too late.
After all, ‘she’ did say that…
…There was something she needed to do over there.
She had not at all stepped away from the fight. She had been in front of Asley, and when the match started, she made use of her known character, tone, and calmness to maneuver herself behind him.
By the time Asley turned around, finally realizing what she had been up to, she was all but finished doing what she had been aiming for.
“–There we go. This is my Deca Boundary, Mister Asley.”
She put one hand on her cheek and cracked a grin, the lenses of her glasses shining ominously.
“Nice shot, Trace!”
“Ngh–!? What in the…!?”
Caught within the Deca Boundary, Asley could not move.
Typically, even Sancta Boundary would not be able to restrain Alsey for long. But now, this magecraft — one that was supposed to be an inferior tier of it — was preventing him from lifting even a finger.
“I have developed the Boundary magecraft specifically for anti-personnel use. The smaller the Boundary’s area, the higher its binding force.”
Trace grinned and pushed up her glasses.
And so, finally…
…Irene gave Asley a hard slap on the cheek, knocking him down. And then she stood there, proudly folding her arms.
Discharging a powerful surge of arcane energy, Asley managed to free himself from Trace’s Deca Boundary, but that did leave him out of breath as he looked at Irene.
“T-that was dirty…”
“Well, no one ever said anything about fighting one-on-one, you know.”
“I mean, that’s true, but…”
“But I DID say that I’d use everything I have to beat you down. And that I wouldn’t show you any mercy if you hold back!”
Asley definitely recalled hearing Irene say that.
“Trace is both my friend and subordinate. It’s a superior’s duty to consider her subordinates’ characters and abilities, and put them to the right job.”
Irene totally got him with her perfectly reasonable argument.
“You held back, so your performance slipped. You only have yourself to blame for that.”
And even worse, Asley felt as if the look in Irene’s eyes was stabbing right through him.
“Seeing the face you’re making, I’ve pretty much won this fight now.”
“Wait, we’re not even–“
“–Not even what? My objective was to beat you down… and you WERE down. That means the match is over. What, are you going to attack me when I’m not resisting?”
One word after another served to make Asley feel as if he was being beaten again. And so, Asley raised one hand and said,
“Hmph. As long as we’re on the same page.”
That very moment, Irene’s face cracked into quite a happy smile.
Now in a good mood, Irene put her hands on her hips and walked away… not toward Lina and the rest of the spectators.
Then she stopped for a moment and turned back around.
“And remember, you just got told about your weakness just now.”
As she turned her back on Asley, Irene’s words were tinged with a slight sense of unease, as if she was worried about Asley.
“I’ll keep that in mind…”
“…No, you’ll definitely forget about it.”
Irene grumbled that last part to herself, and Asley did not hear her.
She proceeded to move to a spot away from Lina. Trace followed her there.
Pochi, seeing that, pointed her paws in their direction and asked,
“Why are they going the other way?”
Warren pushed up his glasses and answered,
“Hehehe… They’re declaring themselves the winners by setting themselves apart from the others, if I were to guess. Oh, Miss Irene, so adorably petty…”
Warren’s creepy grin caused Pochi to shiver.
“B-b-b-by the way! The thing you just said about two reasons — W-what’s the other one!?”
Wanting him to stop smiling, Pochi tried going off on a tangent.
Briefly, Warren stopped all movement.
“That is… quite simple, Pochi.”
Then he took a step forward.
The challengers’ fight against Asley was still going on — With Warren as the last remaining participant.
“Our end goal is to overthrow the Nation, but we must also keep in mind who is most publicly acting against us.”
“Ah, huh… That would be Ishtar, yes?”
“Correct. Since Asley is unable to fight all-out against women, Miss Irene had decided to point that out to him… by exploiting it in a real fight. Being this obvious, even someone like you should get the message, yes?”
Warren smiled, turned to his side, and started walking.
“It IS a serious issue that needs fixing. After all, Asley fighting against Ishtar is pretty much an inevitability at this point. He will have the rest of us assisting him, of course, but still…”
As Warren talked, he stood in front of Asley. Obviously, this meant Asley also heard everything. Irene’s worries, Warren’s exposition, and Pochi’s shock.
“Ah… I see…”
Asley cast his eyes down. Seeing that, Warren continued,
“So, how was it? What you’ve seen of us so far — see, I know you’ve gained many things in antiquity, Asley, but surely you also got to learn other things by experience today, yes?”
“Due to having access to Limit Breakthrough, combat of the past era must have put a lot more emphasis on physical strength and arcane energy. Not saying that the same applies to you, of course — but in the current era, to prepare for fighting stronger enemies, we can only improve our skills. And today, you must have gotten to experience various fighting techniques from fighting everyone.”
“Using the best of what I currently have to close the gap between me and a stronger enemy… Right, if I’d learned to fight like that before getting sent to the past, maybe I would’ve had an easier time there.”
“At the end of the day, you did get out of that hell alive. That is a wonderful thing, Asley.”
“You have a… scary look in your eyes.”
“Oh? I’m trying to make a nice-looking smile, though?”
“Make… right, you are — you’re just making up emotions as you go along.”
“Now then, I’m the final challenger… How exciting. I wonder how I should approach this fight.”
Asley kept his guard up, carefully observing Warren’s every action as the latter walked around him.
“Hehehe… Now, I’ll start getting embarrassed if you keep staring.”
“Well, I can’t tell what you’re planning to do. Also…”
“What is it?”
“About what you said earlier… is that true?”
Warren had not clarified his answer so far.
He turned to look at Irene for a moment, then put on a serious face and looked back at Asley.
“Well, yes, Ishtar of the Black is a woman. Quite an ill-natured lady, too, I might add.”