When Leguna returned to the inn, he found Kurdak, Vera, Innilis and Eirinn waiting for him, ears ready for gossip.
"Don't ask, she didn't want to talk to me," he explained.
"Don't feel too bad. You know how stubborn she is. How could her anger abate so quickly?" Vera consoled.
"I know," Leguna smiled, "I wronged her, so it's only natural that she's mad at me. I'll think of something, eventually."
"Alright, let's drop it for now. The next round is in two days and we need to prepare," Kurdak interjected.
Leguna and Kurdak focused all their attention on the tournament from then on. Leguna didn't really care about it, but he had to get to the finals or semi-finals to face off against Annelotte. He was confident in his skills, but he didn't want to take his chances, so he trained and researched his opponents diligently.
He was surprised at how many decent competitors there were. He'd met at least one person who could give him a run for his money -- the earth binder -- and there were bound to be more.
Kurdak relaxed after listening to Vera and prepared for his match. Vera was right, mercenary work wasn't lucrative here. If he wanted to make a decent living, he had to start considering a new line of work.
After much consideration, he decided the tournament was a good opportunity to make a name for himself. If he did well, he might get prospective employers' attention. His best bet was to join the army with Leguna. The empire would certainly be a firmer backing than a mercenary guild.
Failing getting the empire's attention, his reputation should get him several other offers of employment. And, at the very least, a good prize would buy him time to look for gainful employment.
Fortunately, the two quickly learned that their immediate opponents were all only average. Kurdak's group had two warriors and a ranger -- 14, 12, and 12 strata respectively. Leguna had one thorny opponent; a 13 strata magus. Leguna had so far only revealed 8 strata, it seemed he would have to show more of his strength in order to make it through his group. With Annelotte now definitely competing in the tournament, however, he had no reservations about revealing his full strength, so it wouldn't be a problem. If studied his opponent carefully and took the fight seriously, he might even defeat the man without using his gifts.
The first match day soon arrived.
The two easily defeated their first opponents. The 14 strata warrior in Kurdak's group lost to the 12 strata ranger. Kurdak was quite interested in the ranger after seeing their match. The man had pretty decent skills. He was even better with the bow than Vera. Kurdak didn't doubt the enemy would have died before he'd even gotten close were they not forbidden from killing.
The more surprising was that the ranger was also quite good at close combat. The injured warrior wasn't a match for the ranger even when they fought at arm's length. The man lost several tendons in his legs and was left immobile and lost the match.
The crowd enjoyed the match quite a lot and cheered the ranger as he left the arena. It certainly helped that he was quite young, just 21. He would certainly become an elite figure in the future.
Kurdak became much more serious after the match. He was stronger than the ranger's first opponent, but he could not be certain of his victory. He would have like to not have to fight him in his next match, but fate did not give him his wish.
He returned to the inn and asked Leguna to train with him. It was a good match-up since the two had similar styles. It helped that Leguna was stronger than the ranger, because if Kurdak could hold his own against the kid, he could rest assured he would do no worse against the ranger.
The next round came soon again.
"Hello, I'm Eibron," the ranger said friendly as he sized up his opponent.
The youth was quite good looking. He had a short head of yellow-brown hair and a face carved in short, sharp features. He stood about 1.8 meters tall with a slender but well-defined body.
"I saw your last match. You're quite strong. You're certain worth much more than the guy I fought last," Eibron continued, "I won't hold make, so please be ready."
The two shook hands and stepped back 20 meters according to the rules. The announcer popped onto the arena and shouted for the match to start.
Kurdak didn't wear any heavy armor. He'd opted for leather garments instead. He had to close in with his opponent and quickly as possible and stick to him and heavy armor would only hinder him. Vera and Leguna agreed.
His choice was quickly validated as the match started. Eibron had brilliant marksmanship, but Kurdak, much lighter than his former opponent, kept out of the ranger's sights and closed in rapidly. He suffered only a single slight graze during his approach.
Now in close combat, Kurdak put his bulk to good use. His savage style kept Eibron off balance and on his toes. His wild and almost random attacks also kept the ranger from extricating him from the engagement to put some distance between them again.
Eibron parried Kurdak's strike with his sword, but the force shoved him into the air, forcing him sideways several paces. Before he could get his footing and dash out of the fight, Kurdak was on him again. He grabbed Eibron's hand tightly and prepared to twist it.
"I surrender!" Eibron cried without warning.
"Huh? Are you sure?"
"Yes," Eibron nodded, lifting his free hand up to signal the announcer.
Seeing him surrender publicly, Kurdak let the ranger go.
"Your strength is immense," Eibron said as he cracked his wrist, "If you finished that attack it'd have been over. No point in suffering a blow you know will end it if you can avoid it by surrendering."
"Aren't you easygoing?"
Kurdak stared at Eibron, speechless. The youth was quite childish.
"I defeated the warrior, so I just have to defeat that other warrior to advance. I don't have to win this match, so why risk injury?" Eibron countered nonchalantly.
"Huh, you're interesting," Kurdak smirked, "Want to get a drink? I'll introduce you to my comrades."
"Of course!" Eibron returned the smirk, "But it'll have to be your treat. I'm pretty much broke."
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