Chapter 166 – First Blood

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Momentum carried me past Mára and out of range of the magic assault, but I nearly dropped my sword and brush from the surprise. I reversed the jade writing brush and chanted “[Healing]”, using the tool to sweep the casting up and down my body.

“You were saying something, little monster?” Mára was jeering.

The blast had come out of nowhere, with no mana circulation or anything to warn me about it. The pain had hit so suddenly, I didn’t see what caused it.

“What was that?” I demanded of Durandal in a low voice. “I didn’t see her cast anything at all!”

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It was [Purification], My Lady. It came from one of the magic treasures on her person. The chain around her waist, I believe.

“You turned a belly chain into a magic item?” I retorted out loud, in half-disbelief, as I turned to circle again. To be able to store that much mana in that small amount of material, it had to be mithril. The metal could charge up a lot of mana, but with such a small mass, it couldn’t possibly recharge very fast. I wondered exactly how long the cool-down time actually was.

Mára stared at me as if disbelieving the results of her attack as she wheeled to return. Surely Feraen had described our fight to her. Maybe she thought Feraen’s purification had failed to hit me, rather than failing to kill me? Well, that’s just my guess, but for whatever reason, Mára had expected a different result.

She veered into a circle running the reverse direction, to meet me head-on. She didn’t want to fall into the same merry-go-round pattern as before.

“Purify this!” I yelled as we met. Our swords created another shockwave. No purification this time, so I was probably right about a long cool-down.

Could the other two magic treasures she carries be anti-monster items as well? Durandal wondered.

Reversing in a tight turn, I chanted, “[Fireball]!” and pointed the brush handle at her while she was making her own turn, dumping a heavy dose of mana into it. To my surprise, rather than the one big ball I had created in the past while using my hand, a repeating series of smaller balls shot out like tracer fire, flying at her with several times the usual velocity.

It occurred to me that this was the first time I had cast the [Fireball] spell while using a magic focus. Immediately, I wanted to do it again, to figure out how I had created the repeating fire. I had to drag my stupid curiosity off the issue and pay attention to the fight.

Mára’s eyes narrowed as she fended the magic bullets off with, of all things, an [Aether Mirror]. Ceria never told me that [Aether Mirror] could be used that way when she taught me the spell. She only used it as a mirror.

Now Mára and I really did fall into a circling orbit over the stands, chasing one other’s tails. I called “Shield!” as a chantless [Ice Javelin] came flying at me. It shattered against Durandal’s [Shield of Oranos], but I was blown sideways from the strength of the impact. I had to beat my wings furiously to steady my flight.

“You’re quite the trickster, little monster! How many toys do you have hidden on you?”

Two?

Maybe she didn’t think I was using my own power? Well, she wasn’t wrong; it’s just that Durandal was one almighty powerful ‘toy’.

I grabbed air with both my wings and my Wind mana skills to wrestle my flight path into a charge directly at her. I could see Water, Fire and Wind manifesting around her black turtle shell comb, which was a very odd combination.

“It’s just little me and my sword out here, old lady,” I called back. “Oh, and this writing brush too, I guess.”

I had never seen Ice magic before– there’s no Ice mana; it’s one of those inexplicable fairy magics– but high school physics came to the rescue as I worked out that the previous [Ice Javelin] was a result of using Wind to propel the manifested Water mana at the target while stripping the Fire mana away. Water minus heat equals a shaft of ice. Voilá, Ice magic explained!

The regenerating Mana draw meant she was sustaining the spell for a second shot.

I remembered Durandal mention that one of his shields was more effective against Water and Wind. As I charged at her, I called out “Wall!”. She waved her comb at me like a magic wand at the same moment that a beautiful magic circle of Wind mana appeared in front of me at the center of what looked like a fishing net. It solidified into the [Wall of Eurybia] just as the second [Ice Javelin] arrived. The spear shattered against it and this time the impact didn’t affect my flight. I came in yelling “[Holy Rend]!” as I swung Durandal.

My partner dropped the [Wall of Eurybia] just in time to clear the way for my swing as I brought him through. Mára was forced to drop her Ice spell to parry.

Just before I struck, she flooded her blade with raw Earth to reinforce it, in the same fashion I do, and the collision of her mana with the Wind mana of [Holy Rend] generated a flash and blast that blew us apart from each other.

For a moment, I couldn’t see the effect I had on her, because the blow had spun me around, but I saw the shockwave hit landing on the shield protecting the audience. It looked like a sheet of iridescent rain moving across the surface of a lake as it spread outward, revealing the fact that the shield actually extended far beyond the hilltop, creating a curving shield above the forest canopy in the shape of an inverted umbrella.

I got myself stabilized and turned to see Mára discovering that her sword had just been sheared off, just like I had done to her niece in Cara Ita. I had looked just in time to see the rest of the sword falling onto the arena grounds below.

“The challenger’s blade is broken!” Tenre announced, down below us, using the same magic amplification that the crown prince had used. “Will the challenger concede the battle?”

“A fairy knight concede to a monster?” she scoffed, then chanted, “[Victorious Blade]!”

Out of the stump of her sword grew a dense mass of Earth, the supply of mana fountaining up from the ground below like a geyser and pouring through the hilt. It congealed into a new blade.

This was the trick that Aenëe used before. I recalled her calling it a family secret.

“Master Miröen, shouldn’t that have counted as first blood? Hasn’t your niece already won?” I heard a youthful feminine voice asking in puzzled in tones.

It was a shock to hear that voice so clearly, when it was speaking at ordinary conversation volume and I was this far above the stands. The rest of the crowd was a blend of unintelligible voices. I shouldn’t have been able to hear one of them so clearly, and so near.

But I had to ignore the strange puzzle. I was too busy fighting.

I never actually traded blows with Aenëe’s mana blade, so I didn’t have any idea how strong it would be. But Wind opposes Earth, so I debated coating with Wind mana for a moment, then decided I better play it safe and reinforce Durandal with Earth. Mára was coming at me fast.

I rushed at her, declaring “Fortress!”. Then, pointing the brush handle, I chanted, [Fireball]!”

“[Golden Fire Lance]!” she retorted, with her hand raised. I don’t know when she stuck the comb back into her hair. The chant was unknown to me, but Wind, Fire and Light mana simultaneously gathered in her empty hand.

The [Fortress of Gaia] formed, but Durandal also warned, Magic treasure!

During all this, I was also hearing Prince Manlon answering the question. “It’s true that she could concede it as first blood, but she’s the challenger, so she doesn’t have to accept it. She can insist on requiring a true wound.”

Why the heck was I hearing the voices of Manlon and his disciple so clearly? Was it something to do with this brush I was holding?

A strange mirage, a giant needle of weirdly gold-hued Fire mana, formed in Mára’s grip, then solidified as she threw it at me.

I wanted to complain, that’s not a lance!

A lance is not a throwing weapon, you know? Sure, maybe in Anime, but not for real!

As my stream of fireballs peppered her defenses, I dropped so that the needle’s point would hit the sphere that was the [Fortress of Gaia] at an angle above my head. It was a good thing I did, because the weapon exploded into a giant fireball powerful enough to get through to me had I hit it head on.

“Aren’t you going to go invisible on me like you did to my granddaughter?” she jeered. “Shouldn’t a vampire play cowardly tricks like that?”

“What cowardly?” I retorted. “Your granddaughter was in stealth when she ambushed me!”

“Liar!” she yelled as her comb again gathered mana. The same elements as before. It looked like a repeat of the ‘lance’ was going to be coming. I sped up.

It’s the truth though?

“You must have a magic tool to let you see through my Vampire Cloak,” I said with a smirk. “Were you hoping to catch me off guard while I cloaked?”

Until now, I had planned to fight without using it, so I didn’t get accused of cowardice, but now I briefly Cloaked, then sprinted to one side. Her head tracked me before I came out of Cloak and laughed. “Thought so!”

She scowled as she realized I had just tricked her into revealing the truth, despite the fact I had just told her I expected she could do it.

Her eyes full of fury, she fired the second ‘lance’ as it materialized. I reversed my direction of flight immediately, which should have caused her to miss, but she called, “[Guidance]!” and the shot changed direction to track me. It was an intensely powerful strike. [Fortress of Gaia] broke as the shot struck directly on target. What remained of the weapon penetrated, hitting me in the shoulder.

My [Body Fortification] was still going strong, and the lance shattered without piercing my skin, turning into a giant fireball that blew me backward. I had just begun saying “Fort…”, to ask Durandal to put the ‘Fortress of Gaia’ back up, when another lance, this one a standard [Earth Javelin], came through the ball of flame and struck me in the gut.

My [Fortification] hadn’t had time to recover before the second weapon hit. My magic failed and the weapon punched through my gut. My wings dissolved from the jolt of being suddenly skewered.

I plummeted like… well, like a girl without wings. I was over the hillside outside the arena seats, but inside the lights ringing the base of the hill, so I was still in-bounds. That hardly mattered now, though. The [Earth Javelin] dematerialized as the spell expired, but it had served its purpose already, drilling a nasty hole all the way through my midsection, just to the left of my navel.

“Oh no, Master! Your niece is hurt!” I heard Talene exclaim.

Thank you, useless fairy armor, I thought while falling, as I hurried to reform my wings. They had only just materialized and barely begun slowing me down when I slammed into the invisible screen. The impact caused me to lose the wings again, and Durandal and the writing brush escaped my hands. It’s a wonder I didn’t black out.

“The defender is wounded,” Tenre announced. “The challenger has scored first blood. The challenger shall return to the grounds.”

“Pasrue, as soon as Lady Mára stands down, you must fly out with your Fire Maple Spindle to heal Tiana!”

Manlon’s voice had lost its half-disinterested, laid-back tone. He sounded genuinely worried about his poor niece for once.

“As you wish, Master Miröen,” a different feminine voice responded. His other disciple, I assumed. Apparently she was the calm type.

The screen was an invisible floor keeping me suspended midair. I looked down at my waist, saw the damage, and hurriedly put my hand over the wound and flowed the mana I had in circulation while gasping “[Healing]!”

I didn’t hold back at all, because of the severity of the wound. If I didn’t heal it fast, I might pass out from blood loss. The mana was searing hot, and took my mind right off the pain left behind by the mana skewer, but the bleeding stopped and the wound rapidly closed.

As the mana flow ended and the burning subsided, the dull knife metaphorically stabbing me in the heart twisted as it sunk in that I had lost the duel. Serera correctly predicted it, and it was a surprise to nobody, but losing was not an experience I had known since coming to Huade. I needed to regrow my wings, collect my weapons and fly back, while trying not to get too depressed about losing to a millennium-old senior knight.

But a passing thought concerning the character of the knight who defeated me prompted me to look up first to check on her.

Yup.

Mára wasn’t flying back to the ground to accept her victory. She was staring down at me from far above, eyes full of hatred, mana sword still active and turtleshell comb back in her hands, heavily charged with Aether.

She propelled herself downward feet-first with Wind mana, aiming directly at me.

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I almost cut the chapter short because it got so long, but I wanted that moment as the chapter ending, so I left it long.

Check out my other novels: Sword Of The King and Tales of the ESDF

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