“I would like to challenge you.”
Leon’s words were shocking to everyone present. Gaius, who had been about to step forward to face Leon again, froze. Alcander stared in amazement of Leon’s boldness; even he wouldn’t challenge such an ice queen in front of so many other nobles.
Slowly, all eyes turned to Valeria. Her cold exterior had cracked a little. Her eyes were wide, and she had tilted her head just a little in confusion.
‘Why is he challenging me?’ she thought. Similar thoughts were echoed in the minds of everyone else, as Leon had no apparent reason to challenge Valeria.
‘This animal would challenge a goddess?!’ thought a furious and indignant Gaius. He didn’t say anything, though, because the Senior Instructors were still present. They would doubtlessly defend Leon’s right to challenge anyone here if Gaius were to make a fuss, so he held his tongue.
‘Perhaps he has a crush on her and is trying to gain her attention?’ speculated a fascinated Marcus. Regardless, he greatly looked forward to seeing who would win this duel.
Leon continued to point, waiting for her answer.
[What are you doing?] asked Xaphan. The demon couldn’t fathom why Leon would want to challenge this woman out of nowhere.
[Her last name is ‘Isynos’, the same as at least one of the men who attacked my home and killed my father. I can’t say if her entire family is involved, or if it was just this one guy, but I want to gauge her abilities regardless.]
[You’re just testing her? Really? No other reason?]
[… She’s strong. Strong enough to be a match for me. Maybe even more than a match…] Even though Leon didn’t say anything out loud, Xaphan could still sense the anticipation in his statement as plain as day. Leon wanted to fight this woman and he’d find any excuse to do so.
Xaphan didn’t say anything more. There was certainly more he wanted to say, but he also didn’t want to distract Leon. If Leon were to lose, then it would also look bad on the demon.
This entire exchange happened in the few seconds of stunned silence that was left in the wake of Leon’s challenge. Leon let his hand drop from pointing at Valeria, but he never broke eye contact with her.
She quickly regained her cold exterior, covering up her surprise. She calmly walked forward while unstrapping the training spear from her back.
The nobles stared as she took a position only ten steps from Leon and said, “I accept your challenge.”
Leon’s face broke into a slight smile as he assumed a ready stance. Valeria did likewise, though without the smile.
The two combatants squared off, waiting for the signal to start. The Senior Instructor in charge of overseeing these duels waited a moment for them to speak a few words to each other, as was the typical custom. When neither spoke for several long seconds, he hesitantly said, “... Begin!”
Leon unleashed his killing intent as soon as the words left his mouth. However, unlike when he fought against Gaius, this move seemed to have very little effect on Valeria. In stark contrast to Gaius’ dismissiveness towards Leon, Valeria had prepared herself for a serious fight. She had been letting her magic circulate throughout her body since she had woken up—much like Leon—so she was perfectly ready to counter his killing intent even though her own wasn’t quite so potent.
She felt a chill run down her spine and her scalp tingled, but she didn’t freeze in terror. Instead, she lunged forward, stabbing straight at Leon’s stomach.
Leon wasn’t waiting around, though. His fighting style was designed to take advantage of the strengths of lightning magic. As a result, it was extremely aggressive, eschewing defense in favor of speed and power. He’d darted forward at the same time as Valeria, twisting away from her spear and getting into range with his sword in the blink of an eye.
Leon swung his sword in a horizontal slash aimed at her waist, but she rapidly stepped back, letting the sword taste nothing but air. She brought her spear back to lunge again, but Leon dodged and counter-attacked.
Valeria raised her spear, blocking the sword strike with the haft of her spear. She then tried to sweep Leon’s leg out with the back end of the spear, but he shifted his weight and the spear had as much effect on him as it would on a massive column. Leon took a step forward, still pushing against Valeria’s spear with his blade. She pushed back for a moment, then pivoted on her back foot and spun out of the deadlock.
Leon didn’t lose balance, though, and he kept up the pressure with a blistering round of attacks. Valeria had little trouble blocking most of them and dodging those she couldn’t block with enough room to spare that she got in a few attacks of her own.
As he barely ducked out of the way of a counter-attack after one of his strikes was deflected, Leon’s smile grew wider. He increased the flow of magic into his muscles, bringing greater strength and speed at the cost of greater magic consumption. However, even with his increased fighting capability, he still couldn’t land a good hit on Valeria.
He felt it was time for a slight change in tactics.
Valeria had gained a little distance after blocking another of his strikes, so he lunged forward to close the distance. He pulled his sword back in preparation for a stab, but he held it for a moment to create an artificial opening.
Valeria wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. Leon had been keeping the pressure on well enough that she didn’t know when, or if, a chance like this would present itself.
She stabbed forward, aiming directly for Leon’s stomach. This was the moment he was waiting for. As the spearhead hurtled towards him with all the force of a powerful third-tier mage, Leon’s smile grew even wider. He side-stepped with only the briefest of moments to spare and the spear tore past him.
He took one hand off the sword and grabbed the spear. Valeria’s eyes widened in surprise and she tried to pull it back. Leon didn’t let go, not even when the spearhead came into contact with his hand. The weapon’s enchantments were strong and his arm rapidly lost feeling, but he stepped forward and swung again at Valeria, aiming for her leg.
She didn’t let go of her spear and consequently couldn’t move out of the way in time. Leon’s blade hit her calf, sweeping her leg out from under her and sending her straight to the ground. When her back hit the grass she tried to roll away, but her leg wouldn’t move. Leon calmly tossed the spear away and stabbed the sword down in the ground, less than an inch from her face. Valeria froze, and slowly turned her head to look up at him.
The two stared at each other. She was well aware that he could’ve ended the fight by striking anywhere else on her body rather than the ground. She had also lost her weapon and used much of her magic power. Valeria sighed when she realized the obvious.
“I concede defeat,” she said quietly.
The watching nobles could only stare in awe. This fight had been fast and brutal; both combatants clearly hadn’t held back in the slightest. The results were even more jaw-dropping! Valeria had fought several times before in private competitions held between young nobles, so most of the spectators had a good idea of what she was capable of. Leon defeating this tigress in a fair fight said far more about him than it did about her.
Even Marcus was stunned. He had correctly predicted that Gaius would lose to Leon, but that was because the noble didn’t bother raising his guard before the fight. Marcus believed that if the other nobles had put aside their own arrogance and pride in their station, then they too would’ve easily predicted Gaius’ loss. Valeria, however, wasn’t playing around. She came out swinging, but Leon was the victor in the end.
Even more shocking to Marcus than the result were Leon’s tactics. This fight had given Marcus a good look at Leon’s fighting style and the noble was astonished at the sheer lack of concern Leon seemed to have for defense. Leon’s final move—grabbing Valeria’s spear—made quite the impact on Marcus.
Leon pulled his training sword out from the ground. He still had a very wide smile on his face which made it clear just how much he enjoyed the fight even though his left arm was hanging limply at his side. He drew the ire of several of the watching nobles—chief of whom was Gaius—when he started walking away from Valeria. The young woman’s leg had been disabled when Leon struck it with his sword, which Leon seemed to be ignoring.
Gaius was about to rush forward to help Valeria to her feet, but Leon surprised everyone again by beating them to it. Instead of walking away and leaving her on the ground, he’d actually walked over and picked up her spear. He calmly returned to Valeria and handed her the spear. She blinked in confusion and surprise, but she gratefully accepted the spear.
“Thank you,” she said as she rose to her feet while putting all her weight on her good leg. She didn’t actually need the spear to stand, but she would’ve had a very hard time walking without the support.
Leon nodded back to her in acknowledgment as he walked away. This, too, shocked Valeria. Due to her strength, beauty, and noble status, she was used to everyone she spoke to treating her like a goddess. Leon’s indifferent treatment of her was unusual, to say the least.
“Next time we fight, you won’t win,” she said. She then started hobbling back to the watching crowd, not even watching him long enough to see the smile of anticipation he wore in response to her statement.
“My lady, may I offer you some assistance?” asked Gaius as he hurried forward. He tried to put on a look of concern, but his eagerness got the better of him and he smiled like an idiot as he held out his hand.
Valeria responded with a very curt, “No. Thank you.” She returned to Asiya’s side before sitting down on the grass to rest. She glanced over at Leon and saw that he was doing the same. Their fight had taken its toll on both combatants; they were tired and low on mana. Their mana reserves could be recovered in several minutes, but the stun effects from their weapons would take another hour or two to wear off. Until then, it was obvious they wouldn’t be fighting again today.
Or rather, it was obvious to most of the nobles that neither would be accepting any challenges. Gaius, however, was not most of the nobles. Seeing Valeria limp away while leaning on her spear had infuriated Gaius almost as much as waking up in the bathroom after passing out during the combat test. That it was the same person responsible for both only made it worse.
Gaius stepped forward and drew his training sword. He pointed it at Leon just as he did on the day of the combat test.
“Get up here, savage! For daring to bring harm to lady Valeria, you deserve nothing but death! However, in consideration of the fact that you are a fellow student of the Knight Academy, I’ll settle for beating you like the disobedient dog you are!” Gaius put as much of his hatred in his words as he could. There was nothing he wanted more than to tear Leon limb from limb and his tone made that obvious.
Leon, however, didn’t move from where he was quietly meditating. His only response was to glance at Gaius and slowly shake his head, which only served to infuriate the noble even further.
“What, has the barbarian lost his nerve? Get up here and receive your beating, mutt!”
Leon sighed. He was about to speak up, but the Senior Instructor supervising the duels beat him to it.
“He’s already fought once, and his arm has been stunned. He’s under no obligation to fight again.”
Gaius’ face twisted into an ugly snarl, but he couldn’t force the issue now that this Senior Instructor had made his position known.
[Smile at him,] said Xaphan.
[What?] asked Leon in slight confusion.
[Just do it! Smile at that dickhead!]
Leon complied, flashing Gaius a cheeky grin. Gaius’ face grew so red from anger that he appeared to be in danger of bursting a blood vessel. The arrogant noble started grinding his teeth and his knuckles went white from how hard he was gripping his sword.
[HAHAHA! LET THAT DICKHEAD FEAST ON NOTHING BUT HIS OWN IMPOTENT RAGE!!!] thundered Xaphan in sadistic glee. The demon’s rapturous response was so unexpected that Leon almost burst out laughing. He actually let out a few chuckles and Gaius had to literally bite his tongue to prevent himself from sprinting over and attacking Leon, despite his refusal to duel.
Most of the other nobles were content to watch this play out. They had never seen anyone who had angered Gaius so completely before. A few of the other nobles were also very interested in Valeria and seeing Gaius—who they considered their main rival—in such a state was incredibly entertaining. Alphonsus was counted among their number and he didn’t even bother trying to hide his laughter.
This laughter seemed to drive Gaius over the edge as he took a few menacing steps toward Leon. He didn’t get very far before Alcander rushed forward.
“Since the Valeman won’t fight, how about indulging me?”
Gaius continued to glare at Leon, but he reluctantly agreed after several quiet seconds. Unfortunately for him, his anger at Leon filled his mind and dulled his reflexes; Alcander beat him handily. Gaius managed to walk away from that duel, though his mood had only grown worse.
Regardless, no one challenged Leon again for the remainder of the morning.
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
Want to know what happens next? Head over to my Patreon, where you can not only read up to 5 chapters ahead, but also gain access to my Behind the Scenes posts where I talk about the inspirations and iterations the various elements of my story have gone through!
If you want to support this story further, please head over to Royal Road and leave a rating or review! It's free, and every rating helps!