The Match Begins
The match was set, it would go on whether he wanted it to or not.
The top four of the tournament were Bektor, Bribahns, Annelotte, and Ley. The empire’s representatives were less than a total of the participants, but half of the top four were directly linked to the top brass. The other, Bribahns, had a mysterious relationship with the empire. Only Leguna did not have some connection with the empire’s forces or imperial family.
Perhaps because of an odd sense of recognition, most people supported Annelotte, about three quarters of the crowd, only a quarter supported Ley. It was rare for support to be this split. Annelotte enjoyed complete support in all her previous matches.
The man thrust of Leguna’s support was because of his suspected humble origins and his victory over Legg. The Hockians felt the barbarian’s presence was an insult. It was as if there weren’t enough talented people in Hocke. Leguna had saved their face and stopped him from making it into the top four. He’d also lost his disguise in the fight. His rather fair looks, hiding an impression of weakness, made him an instant favorite.
Unfortunately, the majority of the audience was male, and Leguna could never win their hearts with looks. Having a quarter of the audience’s support was nothing short of amazing.
Leguna stayed in the restroom. This wasn’t his first match, but it was the only one that mattered. He had participated for this moment alone. He took two deep breathes and thought of the conversation he had with Vera.
“Feeling anxious?” she’d asked.
“I... I don’t know,” he had answered, “I’ve not cared about winning or losing the other matches. Now… I’m wary of Annie.”
“What’s there to be afraid of? Don’t forget who you’re up against. How could you be nervous?”
“I’m worried she’ll ignore me for good.”
“Nonsense! I know Annie. She’s mad at you, which means she still cares about you. Even ignoring you would be a good sign. Just worry about how to earn her forgiveness.”
“OKay. I came here to earn her forgiveness, and that’s what I’ll do.”
“That’s right. Show some confidence. Put up a good fight! You’re not some coward!”
Vera encouraged as she patted his back.
Leguna thought about it over and over. He couldn’t stop a smile from creeping onto his face.
Why worry? If nothing else, I get to see your face again. Worry? About what?
“Ley, you may step onto the field now,” informed a tournament official.
Leguna took a deep breath, stood up, and left the resting room. Not far from the entrance hovered a portal. He stopped for a moment, hesitating, before stepping through.
The audience’s booming cheer burst into his ears as he emerged into the world again. Quite a few cried maniacally. This match was far more exciting than the other one.
The other match was between Bribahns and Bektor. One was an old man in his sixties and the other a messy-bearded middle-ager. How could it be as exciting as a match between a boy and girl in their late teens?
Additionally, the empire had organized the tournament with the goal of scouting more talent. Annelotte and Ley obviously fit the bill. Bektor was older than the two of them combined, and yet they were about as strong as he. Everyone placed their hopes on the youths. It was no surprise many thought this match was far more attractive.
The afternoon sunlight backed Leguna and blinded him momentarily. Squinting, he peered through the light and saw an icy figure in front of him.
She had come. Leguna’s greatest fear had not come to pass. He’d been terrified that Annelotte would not even show up. He’d have collapsed if he’d done all this and not even get to see her.
“Listen to the audience cheer! Our two contestants are in position!”
The announcer seemed to be on some sort of stimulant today.
“Ladies and gentlemen, they are quite well known in Melindor, but allow me to introduce them to you all once more!”
The audience jeered. They had impatiently waited for the match, but, just as they thought they’d finally be rewarded, another obstacle had sprung up.
“First, we have our handsome and mysterious young assassin!” With his years of experience in this field, the announcer completely ignored the jeers. He pointed at Leguna as he spoke.
“He is the most mysterious participant we’ve had in a tournament in years! But don’t be fooled, he had power equal to his mystery! His first victories made everyone think he was just lucky, but his last match was nothing short of spectacular! Luck could not have defeated the unstoppable barbarian, Legg. Luck did not win back our pride!”
“Why do they hate barbarians so much? I hope Legg makes it home safe,” Leguna wondered privately.
The barbarian had injured him quite badly, but Leguna did not hate him. He was crude and uncultured, but he had pride and honor. He was like a hedgehog, scary from afar but cute up close.
But nobody else could be bothered. They were wholly focused on Leguna.
“He’s just a youth, but he’s more powerful than most of us! His name is... Ley!” the announcer continued.
When he said his name, a third of the girls in the audience squealed. His true appearance had caused an uproar in the city. Many girls had been cursing the barbarian for days. In their eyes it was a sin to harm such handsomeness. They all sighed and swooned when they saw his face had healed.
Kurdak would’ve been on cloud nine if the cheers were for him. But Leguna wasn’t. He knew the women were cheering for him. While the proud and cold Annelotte and the gentle Eirinn wouldn’t say much, he couldn’t say the same for Innilis, who might sneak in a jab or two. The little girl’s tongue was quite sharp sometimes. Leguna had been overwhelmed by her several times already.
But before long, the women’s cheers were drowned out by another wave of loud cheers. The announcer had begun to introduce Annelotte.
“The next one is... oh! She’s the brightest court magi pearl. She’ll no doubt also become a shining star in the magic world! She’s none other than the only daughter of the galestorm swordsaint, Sir Marolyt, the youngest ever court magi consultant. The talented, beautiful, wife, rational, mysterious, and highborn girl. Tell me her name!”
“Annelotte!” most of the men cried savagely.
Another wave of cheers followed. Leguna felt like a tsunami was rushing at him. He could indeed not compare to her. His reputation was too meager.
“Oh! It seems Miss. Annelotte here is quite the fan favorite! Yes, I’m one of Miss. Annelotte’s fans as well. Alright, enough with all that. Our two contestants, one mysterious, young, and talented assassin, and the other a beautiful, strong, genius magus. Which will be the star of the younger generation? Let us bear witness! Let the match begin!”
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