Their battle went on for hours. A boom—almost like explosive magic—went off every time they met. Every time Ulabis swung his sword, the floor fractured and crumbled. His pillar of fire shot in every direction, its brilliant red tongues flickering over his body as if they intended to consume him. The hot air was red and hard to breathe.
“Hoo… Haa…” Akshuler’s breathing was heavy. They’d exchanged dozens of defensive and offensive moves in a brief span of moments. Even with Akshuler’s intensive training, he couldn’t withstand this tremendous heat for long.
“You’re getting sluggish.”
“Ugh.” Akshuler yanked his body away from Ulabis’s flaming red sword. The sword wasn’t all he had to deal with—he had to avoid the tail of flames coming after it. The combination of anticipation and fire magic was torturing Akshuler. “None of this is simple, dammit!”
He couldn’t get close because Ulabis would use those stinking flames anytime he tried. They were impossible to predict.
“If we keep going like this, it’s never going to end.” Akshuler paused his attempts to close in, to Ulabis’s surprise. “I don’t like it.” Akshuler clenched his fists. A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye—unless he did something. And he only saw one other option. “Haa… Hoo…” He began to flex his entire body’s muscles. His enormous arms swelled even larger, larger than a man’s torso. Akshuler’s shirt stretched dangerously close to ripping.
Ulabis’s eyes lit up.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m not going to let you do whatever you want.” He seized the initiative by retreating safely into his sea of flames. Akshuler was a traditional fistfighter—he used his well-developed physique to aggressively press his opponent and give no ground. Ulabis knew how risky it was to strike first.
Akshuler grinned as he watched Ulabis speed away.
“This is the end game.”
Akshuler dived in, aiming to take advantage of Ulabis’s large movement. Heck, it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t take advantage of it. His vision was just as good as any knight’s.
Akshuler’s trembling hands reached out—to his own feet. Ulabis’s eyes widened in shock.
“A powerful earthquake rocks the ground,” he muttered, feeling the ebb and flow of mana in his body through his right hand.
Ulabis hastily retreated, barely dodging an ear-splitting explosion.
“What kind of mad power—?” He batted several stone fragments away.
Then came a weird sound under his feet.
The whole arena—made of Gold River Stone, one of the hardest stones on the continent—was disintegrating around Akshuler’s fist, like a real earthquake had taken it. One particularly large fracture sent a cloud of dust into the air.
“Now it’s worth living for.” Akshuler crossed his arms contentedly.
Ulabis groaned and placed his feet cautiously.
“Are you crazy? The crowd could get hurt.”
“They seem grateful to me for getting rid of your sea of lava, actually.” Akshuler shrugged and gestured to the audience. As he said, they seemed very content. “Let’s quit the pointless battles and fight for real. Like men.”
“Hmm…” Ulabis felt a faint wave of energy. He couldn’t see anything, but with his finely honed senses, he didn’t need to. “…Aura Fist.”
A-Class auras are unique and distinct. There was no way Ulabis could be mistaken.
He responded by drawing out every mote of mana he could, wrapping his sword in a flaming crimson aura blade. His surge of power slammed into Akshuler’s and held fast.
“Are you ready for the second round?” Akshuler smirked. “Alright then—”
Akshuler, perplexed, looked up at the voice. The host raised his hand from behind the audience.
“I-I’m announcing it!”
“You’ve been approved! Both of you, Master!”
The colosseum went silent.
Akshuler and Ulabis looked at each other. They’d been so focused, they didn’t have any time to spare on anything else.
The silence was broken by a cheer from the audience almost as hot as Ulabis’s flames.
“Breath, breathe! I am blown away!”
“Wow! I’ve never seen a fight like that. This was the most exciting match ever.”
“So that’s four Master now? Then the imperial and non-imperials are equal?”
Akshuler eyed the crowd. “You’re not satisfied with being declared Master, are you? This is the best place to revive the Thran name.”
“Well…” Ulabis looked at Akshuler with burning eyes. “I haven’t felt the thrills you told me about yet.”
Akshuler’s grin deepened.
“When you were being constantly pushed back, you flipped the earth to drive your opponent away—even the fires were doused,” Iceline mumbled. “The tides of battle shifted in an instant… You are magnificent. This battle… as a magician, it surprised me. What do you think, as a participant?” Iceline turned to Joshua.
“…Joshua?” Her brow wrinkled. Joshua’s face was so stiff that Iceline could practically read him like a book.
Bronto… it’s shaking. The primordial stone crackled. Joshua thought Bronto had melted into his body completely—but now it was struggling, like it had its own will.
[Has it begun?]
[You noticed, didn’t you? He’s not using everything you saw in your old life.]
Joshua nodded. Right. Ulabis was one of a kind, and was a firm member of the renowned Nine Stars. His strength was not a spark, it was an all-devouring hellfire. No common man could dare approach it.
[Bronto’s power of growth has reduced your development time by at least five years, give or take. But the power of Magma is “elimination.” It provides the user with immense power for a short time, and it’s more potent than any of the other primordial stones.]
Joshua watched Ulabis intently as he mulled over Lugia’s words.
[If Bronto is acting like this… perhaps that man also noticed…]
“What?” Joshua, surprised, spoke out loud. He looked up and realized that there were a pair of crimson eyes staring at him, oblivious to his opponent.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m okay.” Joshua turned and met Iceline’s anxious gaze. “I was just focused on the battle.”
Iceline seemed relieved.
[To be clear, it’s not the human reacting to Bronto’s energy, it’s Magma.]
Why does the primordial stone respond so strongly? Joshua’s face scrunched. It’s like… He felt an overbearing feeling filling his chest. I’ve never felt such an intense urge before. It was biting at his consciousness, dissolving his awareness.
[Do you want to know why?]
[That thing you’re feeling—I know why. You’ve got to admit I’m pretty awesome, right? If you ask, I might tell you for free.]
Joshua wanted to puke. Thankfully, Lugia followed up quickly.
[The primordial stone, Dali, the crystals of God… were once one, not many.]
Joshua was rattled. Inside him, the dread of Reinhardt’s destruction was bursting.
This could decide the outcome of the game in an instant.
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