Chapter 163

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The world was engulfed by blazing crimson flames.

No, Magma’s power was responsible. Everything in sight was swallowed by Magma’s fury, reducing the stones of the colosseum to charred, melted lumps. The flames of annihilation lived up to their name.

“Ugh!” The man in the center of that hellscape dropped to his knee and vomited blood. His clothes were tattered and singed by the fierce battle.

Another man stood—apparently victoriously—in front of him.

“Hahh.” Akshuler knelt as well and let out a painful groan.

They’d exchanged hundreds of blows. The longer they went, the more obvious it was to Akshuler: the wall between him and Ulabis was much greater than he had thought.

Especially the swordsmanship the Prince used at the end…

Akshuler forced his shaky legs upright.

“Awfully thoughtful of you… to worry about the crowd.”

“I trust them.” Ulabis’s eyes roamed over the sorcerers around the arena. The Magic Tower had sent support wizards who employed large-scale shielding magic to prevent the damage within the arena from spreading outside of it. The cool air in the stands proved they were successful, although the wizards themselves were sweating quite profusely from the effort.

“I’ve got nothing to say.” Akshuler smiled, an expression of both pride and regret. He turned back to Ulabis and asked in a quiet voice: “Why do you want to win the Master Battle, may I ask?”

“Didn’t you say it earlier? This is the best place to affirm the independence of Thran.”

“Is that really it?”

Akshuler eyed Ulabis, but the other man didn’t answer.

“It’s a bit shameless for a loser like me to ask you to let it out, but,” Akshuler’s expression became serious, “I’m hoping you’ll answer—if you can.” He knew they were fundamentally fighting for the same thing, but he was curious anyway.

Ulabis glanced to the side—at one person in particular. He realized that that person was looking back and smiled softly.

“Joshua Sanders.”

“What?” Akshuler gave him a blank, confused look. He wants to fight the boy? That’s absurd…

“What he said to the Steel Knight,” Ulabis was quick to add. “The words that can make the defeated stand proud—that’s my answer.”

Akshuler, of course, remembered those words as well. They were impressive words—powerful enough to make Babylon’s heart pound, and enthrall the entire audience in the process.

“…For the people of Thran, is it?” Ulabis reminded Akshuler of himself. Acquiring something meaningful wouldn’t change anything, but he was obsessed with it anyways… He laughed bitterly. I guess it’s because I’m the loser.

“It’s your victory,” Akshuler admitted.

The host started shouting before the crowd could erupt.

“Priest! Treat the participants!”

“Ah, yes, yes!” The gathered priests rushed into the arena.

The wizards began launching various water and ice magics.

“Spread a cold chill upon the earth: Ice Fog!”

“Aqua Ball!”

“Ice Bolt!”

The cold magic met the searing-hot earth, throwing up thick clouds of steam.

Belatedly, the audience broke into a roaring cheer, drowning out the hiss of the cooling stones.

“The Fourth Day of the Master Battle has ended! The victor of the afternoon Group B match is Ulabis, the Knight of Red Flames!”

Ulabis walked away, leaving the arena behind; Akshuler collapsed backwards as he watched him go.

“Hahhh… It’s been a long time since I’ve put in everything I had, but this…” He shivered and flinched as the pain set in.

“Th-The wound is quite severe.” The priest examining Akshuler looked horrified. “I think we need to treat you immediately.” His right shoulder, in particular, had taken a direct hit from the annihilation flame, scarring it down to the bone.

Iceline jumped out of her seat. “Oh, Mister…”

More and more emotions had been breaking through Iceline’s chilly exterior lately.

She used levitation magic and tried to float into the arena.

“You must not go in.” A staff member blocked her path.

“Why?” Iceline furiously demanded. “The battle is already over, isn’t it?”

“There are people from all across the continent here. We must prevent any unfortunate accidents in advance, thus, we cannot allow you access without verifying your identity.”

“Ugh…” Iceline bit her lip. She didn’t have a good way to prove her identity. Her family had collapsed years ago and she was on the run—the only reason she was here was because of Akshuler’s help. I’m… really insignificant. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“She’s my colleague.”

Iceline spun around. “Joshua…?”

“Joshua Sanders?”

“She’s my colleague.” Joshua lowered the hood of his robe. “Do I need to verify my identity further?”

“Um…” The official looked troubled. That was Joshua Sanders, no doubt about it—the problem was, he had no idea what the relationship between Joshua and Akshuler was. It didn’t matter what reputation Joshua had. They may both hail from Avalon, but Akshuler was representing the Mercenary Guild, not Avalon.

“I’ll take it from here.”

The official jumped. Behind him was a middle-aged man with a lion’s mane of golden hair and a distinctive bushy beard.

“M-Mister Ryan? Why are you here?”

“He’s a Master recognized by our very own Reinhardt. There’s no point in worrying about it.”

“Are you…” Joshua’s eyes widened as they panned over the man’s face.

“Say your greetings later, Master Sanders. You should take care of your colleagues first.”

Joshua stared at Ryan for a moment and then nodded.

“Let’s go.”

“Yes, yes!” Iceline eagerly trailed after Joshua.

The two found Akshuler surrounded by a gaggle of white-robed priests.

“Mister!”

Akshuler’s eyes slowly opened; when he saw the two, he smiled weakly.

“You look ugly.”

“You fought well enough.” Joshua glanced at Akshuler’s wounds and scowled. The priests continued to pour in divine power, but the wounds showed no sign of recovering.

“Recovery!” A burst of light from the priests’ hands washed over Akshuler’s wounds again.

“Now is your chance!” Count Ford urgently whispered. “If I can keep them focused on the priests, I don’t need to wait. I’ll prepare it right away!”

“Now?” Marquis Moreland gave him a wide-eyed look. “Really!?”

“So long as he doesn’t know our real purpose, he’s likely to leave since he’s already been recognized as a Master. It’d be better to deal with him as soon as we get the chance.”

“But—”

“Don’t worry, Marquis Moreland. Humans’ jealousy runs deeper than you think. Besides, didn’t I tell you? He has all the hallmarks of a suspect.”

“Well…”

Count Ford continued to press the Marquis.

“His skills, appearance, and personality are inappropriate for his age. Who would believe that anything so perfect could be human? If we dress it up correctly, we can convince everyone he’s a demon, easy. Then they’ll have no choice but to act on our investigation. If you go there…” Count Ford spotted the paladins gathering near the entrance of the colosseum and his eyes lit up. “It’s over, Joshua Sanders.”

“Whew…” Marquis Moreland sighed as he struggled with the difficult decision.

There was a small commotion around Akshuler.

“I heard that holy magic is entirely reliant on your divine power, unlike ordinary magic. Your understanding of magic doesn’t matter—”

“J-Joshua Sanders?” The priest cast a bewildered look at the sudden intruder.

“Do you do it… like this, roughly?” Joshua stretched out his palm and released a small wave of energy from his body. “Recovery.”

An enormous beam of light, like nothing the other priests had produced, burst out of Joshua’s hand.

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