“Ha ha… whew. So what do I have to do next, Sir Gaston?”
Having successfully felled the Diaminotaurous, Betty turned away from it and addressed Gaston.
To the elderly man’s side, Fuyu held her breath in awe at the sight of the monster’s lifeless remains.
[Impossible… A warrior like Miss Betty – even with difficulty – prevailed over its diamond-like skin? When I voiced my objection to this test, Sir Gaston laughed it off… and now I know why. The result speaks for itself… doesn’t it?]
Gaston took a brief glance at Fuyu and subtly raised the edges of his lips upon seeing her clench her fists.
His countenance was as serious as ever, but the subtle expression suggested his satisfaction toward his pupil’s improvement so far. He turned back to Betty and brushed his beard while he observed the brave warrior’s aura as she sheathed her blade.
“Hmm, as the saying went, ‘he who believes is strong’…”
Fuyu faintly mumbled to herself, with Gaston not quite hearing the whole thing.
Gaston’s words to Fuyu this time were an imperative.
It was particularly because the spot Fuyu stood at now would soon become dangerous. Fuyu, immediately knew what he’d meant and, as if she’d gotten so used to it, promptly jogged back to the approximate distance that Gaston instructed her.
But then the old master proceeded to say,
“Fuyu… two more steps.”
By Gaston’s far-reaching voice, Fuyu was surprised to know that this would be more dangerous than she’d initially anticipated. She moved away just as she had been told.
Although Betty hadn’t been told what this step of her Rank-up Evaluation would be, she realized what it was from the fighting spirit Gaston exerted, and also the weight of his order to Fuyu.
She would be having a match against Gaston – against one of the Six Archmages. Knowing that, Betty promptly made her next move.
First, she prepared for the fight by applying the effects of all her special techniques – Fortify Strength, Fortify Resilence, Tempest, and Light Body.
Then she confirmed the spots she and Gaston were currently standing on and came to the conclusion that at this distance between them, a warrior like her had the upper hand. With that in mind, Betty turned to Gaston one last time.
“Will we be beginning immediately, sir? At this range, we’re not-“
“Don’t worry about it.”
Gaston interrupted her before she could finish what she’d intended to say.
When considering the preparatory steps of combat, the first thing one would most likely think of was to determine their opponent’s type and the corresponding advantage of range.
As a first-class warrior, Betty knew from experience how much of an advantage she currently held. Such a skill was naturally obtained by those who had gone through a reasonable amount of combat.
It was impossible for one of the Six Archmages such as Gaston to not be well-versed in the topic. Betty had attempted to make her previous statement with than in mind, but Gaston had insisted on proceeding without any change.
Which meant that…
[Sir Gaston considered the gap between his abilities and mine to be THAT great… Is that it?!]
He had been making fun of her, or so Betty thought as she ground her teeth and propelled herself forward, aiming to close the gap within one bound.
Mages were weak against warriors when pitted against the latter in close combat. Practically anyone was aware of that unwritten fact. Moreover, the fight had commenced with Betty’s dash. With her having the head start, Gaston could even consider it a sucker punch.
Yet Gaston showed not even a sign of him making a move. No defense, no counterattack, no Circle drawing, no revving up his staff for Swift Magic…
Although Betty had her doubts, she ultimately couldn’t afford to let this perfect opportunity slip by.
[Not my fault that you underestimated me, sir! Apologies in advance if you end up getting hurt!]
Mid-rush, she quickly drew a blade from her leg sheath – so quickly, in fact, that Fuyu almost screamed.
An ear-pricking metallic clash echoed through the vicinity. But the sight that had come before the sound caused a single drop of cold sweat to run down Betty’s face.
Betty had exerted the full force of her weight in unleashing her attack.
Yet Gaston had taken it head-on, causing it to result in no more than a slight vibration of the old master’s staff.
“You need more training, lass.”
That was no bluff. Neither did his voice suggest that he was struggling to hold the attack – or exerting any force, for that matter.
The older man, of shorter stature, proceeded to speak with a perfectly flat voice.
“This range, you see…”
“Is the range at which I operate best! Burst!”
Gaston grinned as if looking down on his opponent and called out the name of his spell. That gave it away as one occupying one of his Swift Magic slots.
The staff, which had taken Betty’s full force head-on, pushed the young warrior back with an even greater force.
After having been blown away, Betty managed to break the impact with a rolling maneuver, but was then caught off guard by her opponent’s sudden approach.
“Fix that screams of yours and I might just consider you an actual warrior, lass.”
Betty matched the swings of the dreaded staff with her blade in repeated spinning slashes. And at the same time, she sped up once again and retreated.
Gaston’s offense was heavy and precise, his relentless blows felt as if they could burn the body – this reminded Betty of what Irene had said at one point.
[Do you happen to know why that old man is called the Great Mage of Flame? It’s not necessarily because he’s good at fire magic, you see. It’s rather his… reputation among those who have fought him. ‘It’s not just his magic, but also his attacks that were so fiery that it felt like he was burning you down’ they said.]
Now that she got to understand from first-hand experience those words that she hadn’t paid much heed to, Betty couldn’t help but crack a smile.
Betty, while also keeping up her flurry of blows, mustered all the strength in her body to kick the ground for propulsion.
Seeing how Betty leapt backwards, Gaston stopped giving chase and instead set his eyes on where she would be landing. He brandished his staff and prepared to call the name of the attack magic he had set within it, but Betty interrupted him the way she best knew how – throwing daggers.
The old man deflected the daggers and fixed up his stance.
“Oh-ho… this technique wouldn’t have worked against the Diaminotaurous…”
Gaston, looking back up at Betty, was met with a second wave of daggers – this time they were like a curtain that was about to cover Gaston’s whole body.
The semi-circle storm of daggers approached Gaston, prompting Fuyu to hold her breath in fear, but it did not succeed in changing the expression of the man himself. He held forward his left hand – the side that wasn’t holding his staff – and shot ‘something’ at the blanket of blades.
Betty had planned to close the gap once Gaston took hits from her daggers, but by the time she landed, she was disappointed to see that none had connected. Nothing could be seen leaving Gaston’s left hand, but the flying daggers started losing velocity in their tracks, ultimately falling to the ground before reaching him.
Betty made no effort to hide the astonishment showing on her face.
“…Arcane energy, lass. Just a thin layer is enough for the push.”
“It can do that, too…?”
Betty, having just experienced a fighting style she’d never seen before, felt a streak of sweat run down her back.
Her plan had been foiled, and she had just used the last of her throwing daggers. Gaston, being one of the Six Archmages, was absolutely not on a level which she could take on with just one blade.
With the stop of Betty’s assault, Gaston held his staff toward her. Betty, expecting the attack spell that had been interrupted earlier, leapt a slight distance backwards. Attack spell, no matter how large, could be dodged if one was far enough away. Betty knew that full well.
But that was exactly why…
“Again, you need more training.”
“Hype Up! Speed Up!”
…When she realized what was up, it was already too late.
Just as it took time for one to move away, it would take as much for the other to close the gap. With that in mind, the sly Gaston had opted to cast ability-enhancement spells on himself.
Betty rushed forward – and when she was about to reach him, Gaston cast the third of his enhancement spells, Power Up, and swiftly moved away.
And of course, he was now faster than before, having fortified his speed to be almost on the same level as Betty’s. After a brief stalling using his evasive maneuvers, he finally invoked his attack spell.
What Gaston, the one called Great Mage of Flame, unleashed… was an earth-elemental spell.
Moreover, it had been via Swift Magic. It took Betty, and even Fuyu, by surprise. They hadn’t anticipated him using up one of his precious Swift Magic slots for this particular spell.
[And that, people, is exactly why it is worth doing.]
A wall of earth emerged before Betty, its height making it impossible for her to jump over.
Opting to dash around the wall between her and Gaston, Betty started toward her left.
However, the spectacle of Gaston’s spell did not quite end there.