The Maginasium was filled with enthusiastic chatter as one silhouette emerged from the stage’s curtains.
A silhouette of short stature and narrow shoulder width. Although the young lady held an appropriately modelled staff, she still had a sense of unbalance, giving away the fact that she was still in her growing years. Such was the entry of the Black Faction Freshman Representative, Lina. An overwhelming cry of support from the Black Faction members’ designated seats welcomed her.
Anyone present could see that Lina was quite nervous, which was apparent from the stiffness of her movements. Her first step was shorter than her shoulder width, the next one was quite light, and then the ones after turned more firm the closer she approached her spot on the stage.
“Nha-hah… Lina looks pretty nervous, doesn’t she?”
“It is only natural. Look at all these people… and on top of that, she will be facing her own teacher.”
In response to Anri’s remark, Claris offered her opinion. Idéa, sitting beside them, leaned her head in and joined the conversation upon hearing so.
“Oh, that’s the deal between those two?”
“That’s right. Asley taught Lina how to do magic before she got in school.”
“That explains them using the same weird chant, then.”
“Asley does not use magic much when in class, though. And when he does, it was mostly elementary-level spells.”
“He’s just putting up an act. So infuriating…”
“He seems like a funny guy but something about his face makes him hard to approach, you know… Not like he’s been avoiding us and not us avoiding him either, but… But sometimes he feels like a way older person.”
“That’s true… everyone in class addresses him with a certain degree of… elderly respect, too. Except me, Hornel, and Midors, that is.”
As Idéa rambled on while resting her chin on one hand, Anri grinned and nodded in agreement.
“Asley can come off as quite… strange, like sometimes he’s a kid who acts like an old man, and sometimes an old man who acts like a kid, I guess.”
“Still, he has become quite a popular topic among the girls as of late.”
“After all is said and done, he did serve as the Tactician during the Ogre subjugation, he is an A-ranked adventurer, and on top of those, a staff member of the Student Council. That would make anyone at least a little curious. There has been some speculation of him repeating President Warren’s prestige, too.”
“Hmph, being associated with the Black Emperor, huh. Looks like he can look forward to more promotions soon.”
Idéa did nothing to hide her disgruntlement toward Asley’s fame.
Meanwhile, Blazer, Bruce, and Betty were setting up what was practically a picnic in one section of the general audience seats, laying the great amount of food they had bought around them.
“Lina’s looking awesome out there!”
“True, she has a certain charm that draws people toward her. The guys from the Guild are coming to cheer for her, too.”
“Give it your best shot, Lina!”
Betty welcomed Lina’s entrance with a particularly loud cheer, and in response, Lina waved to her. As if the young lady’s half-embarrassed expression was the final blow, all the adventurers from the Guild followed suit in raising their voices.
Earlier, back at the Adventurers’ Guild, a grand announcement of the Friendly Match had been made, courtesy of Duncan. The event usually did not garner much attention there but since their little adventurer Lina was set to appear, everyone had expressed their desire to attend.
The trio could already see many familiar faces from the Adventurers’ Guild. Duncan, having arrived late, spectated from one of the back rows, and beside him was Dallas, sitting still, with his arms crossed.
Bruce looked around to identify the familiar voices among the cheering, then proceeded to notify the rest.
“Hahaha, they’re looking so formal. Old man Dallas is here, too. Probably here to see Asley in action.”
“Aha, looks like Duncan made it, too.”
“Now, here comes the opponent of everyone’s idol… wait, where’s Asley?”
Betty tilted her head, questioning why Asley hadn’t made his entrance yet.
“Seriously… the hell is he doing?”
“A sudden incident, maybe? He’s no stranger to such happenings.”
Blazer expressed his doubt, and at the same time, the surrounding crowd grew restless.
Irene, sitting in her referee seat with arms folded, started tapping her fingers impatiently. If this wasn’t a public event, she would likely have stomped the ground and yelled, demanding Asley’s presence this instant.
Gaston, sitting on a tier above her, in the center of the visitors’ seating area, heaved a deep sigh.
Hornel and Midors, working as management staff, went downstairs and peeped into the backstage, then made a hand signal to the Student Council signifying that there was no issue.
The commotion calmed down, filling the venue with momentary silence. Then Asley made his entrance, walking in a stylish, well-ordered posture with his staff. A second later, Pochi entered, following right behind him. Their stomachs, which had been inflated up until moments ago, were now back to normal, as if fixed by a miracle.
The audience, taken by quite a degree of surprise, welcomed them with utmost silence as they marched to face Lina on the stage.
“Um… are your stomachs all right now?”
The first thing Lina did was ask of Asley’s well-being with worry.
And the duo replied with ear-to-ear smiles,
“”We got it all out, no worries!””
The venue instantly burst out in laughter. Irene, from the extreme whiplash between rage and laughter was red to her ears, covered her face with both hands. Even Billy, the serious man sitting beside her, showed a slight bit of confusion with a wry smile. Hornel and Midors, standing nearby them, also looked to be quite embarrassed in their classmate’s stead.
“Dahahaha! They’re really killing it!”
“Heheheh… never thought the Friendly Match would start on such a humorous note.”
“Huhuhu, those guys will be themselves no matter where they are.”
The Silver trio didn’t make any effort to suppress their laughter, while the other Guild folks who were here to support Lina jeered at Asley.
Headmaster Tangalán coughed to clear his throat, which in turn signalled the beginning of the main event. This resulted in the laughter transition to a wave of passionate cheering.
Seeing this as a good timing to get things started, Hornel raised his hands to signal the Student Council. Noticing that, Warren stood on top of the Spell Circle, which contained a voice amplification spell. Tangalán, confirming that there was no issue, promptly stood up and slowly walked down to where Warren was.
[LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BLACK AND WHITE CHAIN OFFERS ITS THANKS TO ALL WHO HAVE COME TO SPECTATE THE ANNUAL MAGIC UNIVERSITY FRIENDLY MATCHES. I AM WARREN, MAGIC UNIVERSITY STUDENT COUNCIL PRESIDENT. THE LONG VERSION OF THE INTRODUCTIONS HAVE BEEN COVERED DURING THE OPENING CEREMONY, SO WE WOULD LIKE TO KEEP THIS SHORT…]
Everyone in the know chuckled at Warren’s scripted and rehearsed speech.
[THE FIRST MATCH WILL BE BETWEEN ASLEY AND LINA. ASLEY HAD BEEN ACCEPTED INTO THE UNIVERSITY WITH EXCELLENT MARKS AND HAS THUS FAR EXHIBITED EXTRAORDINARY ABILITIES NOT ONLY IN CLASSES BUT ALSO AS AN ADVENTURER. ON THE OTHER HAND, IT HAS NOT BEEN LONG SINCE LINA’S FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH MAGIC, BUT SHE ALREADY POSSESSES MORE THAN ENOUGH ABILITY TO REPRESENT HER CLASS IN THE FRIENDLY MATCH. NOW, WE EXPECT YOU TWO TO BRING OUT THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITIES IN THIS MATCH.]
The concise introduction of the participants ended with moderate applause, which Warren waited to end before continuing.
[THE MATCH WILL COMMENCE AT OUR HEADMASTER’S SIGNAL. PROFESSOR TANGALÁN, PLEASE.]
Tangalán, now stood at the ready behind Warren, and was welcomed by an enthusiastic round of applause.
Tangalán switched with Warren, standing himself on the voice amplification Spell Circle and spreading his hands as a signal for the applause to subside.
[AHEM… AH – IT IS BY THE GUIDANCE OF OUR WAR DEMON EMPEROR VAAS THAT WE ARE ABLE TO ENJOY THE FRIENDLY MATCH IN THIS DAY. ASLEY, LINA, STRIVE FOR THE ZENITH OF THE BLACK AND WHITE CHAIN, AS TO HOLD NO REGRETS WITHIN YOUR LIVES OF PRESTIGE…]
The venue fell dead silent. Tangalán cleared his throat with two light coughs.
And then finished with…
The declaration resounded through the venue. Simultaneously, the crowd’s cheering intensified. Deep and husky voices raised in support of Lina, high-pitched and piercing voices raised in support of Asley, Bruce’s voice raised in a teasing impression of Pochi, all sorts of voices clashed against one another.
“Here I go – well, the teacher making the first move sounds kinda strange, I guess? Bring it on, Lina!”
Lina brandished her Star Rod, the very one she had received as a gift from Asley, and activated two magic spells.
“Speed Up! Power Up!”
<“Oh-ho, quite a drastic decision to slot in two support spells. Not using the staff-estoc this time, either. Staff martial arts, maybe? Whoa–?”>
Lina took the first move, taking Asley by surprise with her increased speed from when she had fought Hornel. Closing the gap almost immediately, Lina brandished her staff, taking advantage of her short stature to deliver a heavy blow. Asley took it with his staff, leaving him with only one hand free. He subtly grimaced at the numbing impact the blow still had on his body but was not particularly troubled otherwise.
Lina continued to whip out more attacks, and Asley parried each of them with one hand, displaying the difference in their martial arts skill.
<“She’s hiding her actions very well. The attacks were more like supplementary, but they were effective in hiding her true objective. If I was her, I would start it up in small proportions…”>
<“I knew it.”>
Met with an instantaneously accelerated blow, Asley hopped away.
“I saw that you’ve been tracing Circles with your fingers between attacks. Not bad at all, especially when you pulled that while attacking with both hands.”
“I-I still have more tricks up my sleeve!”
“Don’t let him faze you, Lina!”
<“And why are you cheering for her!?”>
Pochi, sitting in one corner of the stage, grinned at Asley as he grumbled in his mind. She had planned not to participate in this match, unless Baladd, Lina’s Familiar, was summoned.
Up in the audience seating, Bruce chewed on some dried meat snacks while spectating the fight.
“Lina’s got some nice moves there.”
“Of course she does, Brother. I was her sparring partner, after all.”
Betty said in a blatantly boasting fashion, and Blazer nodded in satisfaction of the fact.
“I see, so that’s why she has the same openings in her attacks. She’s inherited your skills a little too well.”
“Hey hey, combat skills are fine and all, but don’t be a bad influence on her attitude, yeah, Betty? Lina can be too accepting at times, you know?”
“Sh-shut up! Her being like that was why she learned from me as quickly as she did, anyway!”
“Now, I’ll have you know that I’ve trained Asley to fight, too. Damn, was I good at it!”
“Mm-hm, did you think Asley would be fit for a warrior style, by any chance?”
Blazer asked, and Bruce shook his head.
“Dude’s a magic maniac to the core. We’ve often gone out to fight monsters these days, so I should know… he’s super obsessed. As soon as he sees a connection, he’s gonna associate stuff with magic or alchemy. No wonder Pochi has a hard time dealing with him.”
Although Bruce was sitting in a chair, he crossed his legs, rested his elbow on his knee, then placed his chin on his palm. He heaved a sigh and kept his eyes on Asley.
As the clash of staves went on, Gaston kept a close watch on the honoured guests’ designated area, located on a balcony opposite to the audience seating area. To his side, there was a ceaseless stream of spirited commentary, assaulting his and Dragan’s eardrums incessantly.
“GAHAHAHAHA!! That boy is quite an interesting fellow! Which reminds me, Sir Gaston, didn’t you say that you’ve taken the boy with you to hunt the Ogre King?”
“That is so. For someone this young, he sure has some backbone… No – perhaps I worded that poorly. Well, no – he surely is a talented individual, at any rate.”
The source was a man of a magnificent appearance, with an eyepatch covering his left eye, sparking with a golden glint of excitement sharp right eye, long, white eyebrows, and ruffled indistinguishably between gold and silver color hair. His face was deeply wrinkled, yet those wrinkles were notably well-ordered like a pattern. If not all those, at least his immense size was worth a mention. He was far larger than even Dragan, the man whose build had been associated with bears by Asley, and his chair creaked constantly under his mass.
He was none other than one of the Six Braves and the Warrior University Headmaster, Charlie the Thousand Morphing Blade.
Gaston kept a dignified tone while conversing with him, and Dragan kept silent, perhaps out of a desire to avoid getting involved.
“Now, did something happen, Dragan? Not feeling well today?”
The Dainty Tiger grimaced at how the other man’s voice shook and rippled the seating area’s glass windows.
Perhaps sensing such discomfort, Gaston offered him a timely rescue.
“Sir Charlie, surely that can wait. We should enjoy ourselves while the match lasts, don’t you think?”
“Gahahaha, that’s right, that’s right!”
“Mm, there seems to be some movement over there?”
Dragan grumbled to himself, his gaze panning away from Lina and Asley to one corner of the wall.
“Rise, A-rise, A-rise, Cross Wind!”
“Rise, Cross Wind!”
Lina unleashed an intermediate-level wind spell, and Asley retaliated with the same spell by tracing a Circle with overwhelming speed. The two wind blades collided, bursting into a severe shock wave before fading away.
Witnessing the brief exchange, Irene and Billy sprang up from their referee seats.
That comment caused commotions to break out among students and Student Council staff members. The latter spell’s invocation speed, without the help of Swift Magic, surprised even one of the Six Archmages. It was definitely not normal.
“I knew you were awesome, Sir Asley! Rise, A-rise, A-rise – A-rise! Heavy Chain!”
“Whoa!? R-rise! Middle Chain Double!”
In retaliation to Heavy Chain, the advanced-level restraint spell, Asley cast the same spell of the series, but one of the intermediate level. The Friendly Match rules dictated that the use of attack magic was limited at the intermediate level, but that did not apply to support and recovery spells.
“That’s amazing. I never expected you to use support spells on this level already.”
“Hehehe, this is the only one I can use, though. “
“Still, your tracing took long. It’s not quite on a practical level yet, is it?”
“I believed that you would wait for me, Sir Asley.”
“I see… You’ve grown up splendidly, I must say.”