Ah! Ilya vanished! Did the orb teleport her somewhere? It stopped glowing and fell to the floor after she disappeared. Hmm, I really don’t like teleportation magic after being tricked by that stupid acorn in the forest. But I have to do this to pass the preliminary and find a chance to kill, err, accidently murder Snow. Let’s see, what did the man in the sky say I had to do? Squeeze and…
“Uh, Mr. Announcer! Host! Mr. Firethunder!”
“You again?” the man in the sky asked. Hey, if you didn’t want me asking questions, you shouldn’t have asked if anyone had any questions. Jeez. What do you mean, me again?
“The orb broke.” I pointed at the shattered fragments on the ground. I didn’t even insert my qi!
“It broke?” the man in the sky asked. The other nearby contestants turned their heads and stared at me. It’s not my fault! I just followed the instructions! “Let me see.” Another orb dropped from the sky and landed in my hands.
“See, squeeze…”—ping!—“and it broke again.” It’s a good thing my hands are so calloused from swinging mini-DalDal all the time or I might’ve been injured by all these fragments.
“Interesting,” the man in the sky said and rubbed his chin. What are you doing trying to look so profound for? You don’t even have a beard! “Let’s just say you pass for now.”
Ah? But it didn’t light up. The man in the sky waved his hand, and my vision spun around like Rogath casted Topsy-Turvy on me. A few seconds later, the world cleared up and I was standing in a land of gray. Just gray. Even the sky was a slightly lighter shade of gray than the ground. Oh, it’s Ilya. “This is the next testing ground?”
“Apparently,” Ilya said with a nod. She looked around and scratched her head. So far, there were only a few hundred people in the area with us. It was a lot less sweaty and gross compared to the previous place. I swear, some of those catlike beastkin had no idea how to bathe themselves, thinking licking their skin would keep them clean instead. “Cain’s really rushing this competition compared to the previous ones. Is he in a hurry?”
“Maybe he has a date.” That’s possible, right? He’s supposed to be the strongest person in the world. If he were single, that would be a little disappointing, no? At the very least, he should have a harem of five people after struggling to reach the top. No doubt, he should’ve swayed one ice-cold maiden’s heart with a lively barbeque, or he saved a fiery beauty in the nick of time when she was being hunted, or perhaps he even took care of someone stronger than him while they were injured. Who knows? As the strongest person in the world, there’s no way he lived an uneventful life. …Now that I think about it, my rise to divine warrior was pretty uneventful. If anything, I only met two people: Ilya and Snow. And they’re both women! Well, Snow’s not, but he looks like one.
“You think of the strangest answers to everything, Lucia,” Ilya said and shook her head. Hey, I think they’re very reasonable answers; otherwise, I wouldn’t say them. “Is Snow here?”
“Nope, I don’t see him. I don’t think he’s the type of person to do preliminaries when he can join the finals directly.” He’s like a rat, very opportunistic. I checked the other competitors just in case he was in disguise, but I really didn’t see him. Everyone else was clumped up, forming cliques of demons, humans, and beastkin. There were also some really short people and some really pale-looking fellows with pointy ears. Were they part vampire bat?
“Those are elves,” Ilya said. “And those are dwarves. They’re part of the fae. Like you. Shouldn’t you know this at least?”
“Nope, never learned it.” All I was taught was how to be a slave and how to use a mace.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen an elf,” Durandal’s voice said from mini-DalDal. Hey! Maybe fists and blades do have eyes? “The last one was…, right, the elf child that Roland kidnapped. I can’t remember her name. Marilyn?”
She should be ancient then, right? There’s no way she’d be participating in the brawl for people younger than thirty.
Ilya tugged on my sleeve. “Is that elf approaching us?”
Don’t tell me that’s Marilyn’s descendant seeking revenge! There’s no other reason for an elf to approach me. Unless she has business with Ilya?
“Lucia Fluffytail!” the elf girl shouted and drew a massive greatsword out of nowhere. It was at least twice her height and width. Then again, she did look around six years old or so. “In the name of justice, surrender Durandal!”
“…This girl, do elves have problems with their heads?” I looked at Ilya, but she looked just as stunned as me.
“No…,” Ilya said and scratched her head. “Elves are generally smart, level-headed people.”
“Nearly a century ago, the Godking kidnapped my grandmother and subjected her to unspeakable deeds!” the elf said, pointing the sword at me. It wobbled a bit like she couldn’t hold it steadily. “I’ve come seeking justice, and I’ll only be satisfied when one of the culprits, Durandal, is in my hands.”
Ah! I was really right! That usually never happens!
“I guess she’s just going to be unsatisfied for the rest of her life, huh?” Ilya asked me.
“Yup.” Well, even if she is here for revenge, that doesn’t change a single thing. I’m never giving up Durandal. Without him, I’m a literal sobbing wreck, and I never want to feel that way again. “I’m not handing over Durandal, so shoo. Go away. I bet no one likes you.”
The elf’s face turned red as she gritted her teeth. “Evildoers must be punished,” she said and raised her greatsword into the air. She nearly toppled backwards due to the weight, so I decided to help her by poking her on the forehead. She yelped as she fell over. Tears sprang to her eyes as she pouted.
“You made a little girl cry, Lucia,” Ilya said. “Is this a hobby of yours?”
Have I ever made Ilya cry? Why does she sound so bitter? Oh, right. She did cry after helping me sell those p****es. Hmm. Oh, wells. “Shouldn’t there be a lower bound for ages like how the upper bound is thirty?”
Ilya shrugged. “Talent is talent. She’s passed the first test at least. Maybe she’s older than she looks? Elves do age slowly.”
“Don’t speak as if I’m not here!” the elf girl said as she struggled to lift her sword. I poked it with my finger, and she fell over again. Hey, this is pretty fun. “I curse you, Lucia Fluffytail! In this lifetime, we’ll forever be at each other’s throats! Neither of us can live while the other’s alive!”
Wow, that’s some heavy stuff right there. Are all elves like this? I don’t think I ever promised anything that drastic when I was still just a child. I know! I’ll sacrifice some of my hot chocolate and make friends with her. I bet she’s just grouchy because she’s hungry. I pulled a cup out of my ring and held it in front of her face.
“What’s this?” the elf girl asked. “The ground up and heated remains of a treeman’s unborn child!?”
“No, it’s hot chocolate. Try some.”
“Oh.” The girl brought the cup to her lips. “It’s good. I can have this?”
The elf girl bit her lower lip. She glanced at the surface of the chocolate, then looked at me. I smiled at her. She brought the cup to her chest. “Maybe you’re not a bad person…. I renounce my curse! For now, we’re acquaintances. My name’s Mirta.”
“Nice to meet you, Ilya Number Two.” I placed my hand on Ilya’s head. “This is Ilya Number One. Children should get along with one another.”
Ilya Number One and Two shouted at the same time, “I’m not a child!”
Mm. They’re getting along so well already. Before I could say anything else, a massive crack appeared in the light-gray sky. The man in the sky from before stepped through, and the gaping portal closed behind him.
“Congratulations on passing the first part of the competition. The second portion will begin shortly.”