The blinding sun hung high in the azure sky, with only a few ephemeral clouds dotting the endless blue; one could clearly admire the towering mountain peaks in the distance.
In other words, it was the perfect day for a duel.
"Here are the rules," Lirin announced to Mich and Onii, both standing on a dirt court across from each other while the remainder of the class spectated on the benches.
"Sheathed weapons and bare-handed attacks are allowed. Abilities that do not result in anything greater than bone fractures are permitted. However, spells that are fatal or spells that cause your opponent irreparable damages are forbidden."
Mich smiled — he had a good range of offensive spells that matched well with the rules.
"Defeat is declared upon surrender or when I decide the opponent is unable to continue."
Lirin raised her right hand to her chest and clenched it. Brilliant energy burst forth, igniting her fist in a royal blue aura.
"I will be using force to deal with any infractions of the rules. Understand?"
Onii nodded calmly while Mich presented the crowd with a bold thumbs up.
Mich was obviously the popular pick due to his confidence and social status as a merchant. While a few wanted to vouch for the swordsman, the fact he lacked magic potential meant he was at a heavy disadvantage.
Lirin uttered the spell,「Protective Barrier」, a standard 8th tier defensive spell that reduces physical and magical damage. Instantly, Mich and Onii's entire body were showered in snow-white before returning to their usual colors.
"Now then," Lirin raised her hand above her head and brought it down in a dramatic motion. "Let the duel begin!"
♦ ♦ ♦
Wei ordered as Mich collapsed on the dirt floor with all fours, panting repeatedly. Beads of sweat trickle down as he felt his heart continued to pound intensely against his chest. This was the fifth loss today. If they were to calculate their training session for the past few months, then it would be up in the hundreds, with Mich winning absolutely zero.
"Remember — this world has no place for losers," Wei spoke coldly, preaching his words of wisdom. "For Father and Mother, we must continue the family name with honor. There's a reason why the Ael Household remain at the top amongst the others, you understand what that means right?"
"Yes... I... do..."
"Don't disappoint me, Mich. You're talented but rusty like an infant. As of now, it's embarrassing for me to even call you my little brother."
Hearing those words slightly pained Mich's heart.
"I will do... my best... so you will... acknowledge me..."
There was too much on the line. He needed to succeed in less than a month before he leaves. Just once. Just one victory. That was all he needed to earn respect from his role model.
"Then I'll raise the stakes. If you do not win by the time I leave for Temple Academy, then you can forget about that personal recommendation."
Everyone has a role model. For Mich, Wei was his mentor. His source of inspiration. Everything he aspired to be and follow in close footsteps. Like him, Mich wanted to enroll in the same school and one day, stand beside his older sibling.
Managing to crawl himself back up, Wei's authoritarian demeanor turned slightly warmer. His lips let out a smirk while his finger beckoned Mich to be ready.
"Before we start, announce that you'll win the duel."
Could he really?
Doubt filled his heart. After hearing the conditions to losing, Mich wanted to cry. He was already trying his best yet why was that not enough for Wei?
This was unfair. His talented older brother could use up to 6th tier offensive magic. He was four years older than him. He was regarded as a brilliant pupil by his professor and even offered a recommendation to attend Temple Academy.
The older sibling clearly outshined him in every possible way.
"I'll win the duel!" The young boy shook his head to release the uncertainty. Then staring at his brother straight in the eye, he cried out. "I'LL BECOME A WINNER!"
"That's exactly what I wanted to hear," Mich revealed a smile of satisfaction before steadying himself into a combative position. "Now, use everything you have and fire that spell again."
"「Inferno — Charge」"
♦ ♦ ♦
"「Inferno — Charge」"
「Inferno」was an 8th tier ultimate offensive fire-based spell.
A swirly fireball formed and grew in Mich's open palm. It's been one of his favorite spells since he mastered it during the demonic training session. It was a memento that inspired him to be strong and unyielding like Wei.
To Mich's complete surprise, Onii remained at his current location with his sword pointed towards the ground. The more aggravating part was that he had a carefree expression, looking completely disinterested in front of a charging spell.
What is he doing?
All ultimate-based spells, whether it be offensive, defensive or utility, required several seconds of magic incantation to charge into its full potential. While it cost more mana and required a channel-time, the results were much stronger compared to the average spells.
I guess he really is clueless when it comes to magic. Mich laughed in his mind.
I almost feel bad for purposely causing a ruckus earlier. But I have to display my skills to the class so they'll trust in my abilities.
Plus, someone who can't use magic is a loser. And I have no need for dead-weights.
But still... what was that speed earlier?
The spell finished its channeling.
"「Inferno — Release」"
The colossal fireball discharged straight towards Onii at a rapid velocity.
Mich could not help but grin.
It was a flawless victory that ended in mere seconds because his opponent lacked common sense. If Onii knew how ultimate spell functioned, then he would have at least tried to evade around to make it more difficult for Mich to aim.
But it was too late.
He was a winner.
The thought of Onii razing up in flames and possibly suffering second-degree burn excited Mich's very core. After all, he had helped the F4 class cleanse a magicless individual while declaring himself the alpha of the pack.
Killing two birds with one stone.
As the fireball landed on its target, Mich's mouth blossomed into a triumphant smile, which then turned into a frown—
—the enormous fireball dissipated into sparkling embers before completely vanishing within Onii's right hand as he held it up.
Loud gasps and murmurs swept the crowd as everyone was equally confused like Mich.
"What the hell just happened?" Mich furrowed his brows, wondering if the spell had really hit Onii. "My attack should have impaired your movement and ended the duel..."
"It seems that I overestimated your abilities. For an 8th tier, that was quite disappointing. You really are all bark and no bite."
Onii shook his head — it was as if the duel itself was a huge mistake and the spell Mich had devoted years to properly grasp was an absolute disappointment.
"Shut up-! Y-You'll pay for ridiculing me, I swear that in the name of Ael Household."
"Don't make a promise that you can't keep."
Onii swiveled his sword hilts with a nimble twirl and stabbed the tip into the dirt ground.
"Why are you discarding your weapon...?"
"You should realize that when a swordsman draws their blade in a duel, it means he is serious. But after appraising the first spell, I have decided that it's unnecessary against someone of your level."
Someone of my level..?
Does that mean I'm not even worth for him to use a blade?
Back in Kansai, no one had the audacity to speak to him in such a condescending way. He was one of the strongest magicians in his cohort and placed second in the Youth Tournament. After Wei's departure, the community even nominated him as one of the most promising mages.
So there was no way a talented magician could lose to a magicless swordsman.
"I will win this duel no matter what happens. Enough of this nonsense!"
"I am merely stating the truth. You just can't accept the reality in front of you."
Mich could not keep up with his opponent's patronizing banter.
"Who's the one that can't accept reality? There's a reason why you were placed in the F4 class. Magic should always have an edge against fighters. Everyone knows that from grade school."
"It seems like you are in denial," Onii replied with an inscrutable expression on his face. In a tone better suited to coaxing little kids to behave, he replied, "Then how about another chance?"
Onii just released his weapon and now he is offering me another shot?
A thrill of cold ran from the bottoms of Mich's feet to the top of his head. Was his opponent that confident in securing his victory?
Mich shook his head and concentrated on recollecting his thoughts. Despite the unexpected turn of events, he should make the most out of it.
I clearly have the advantage and he must be giving me another chance for some unknown reason. Maybe there's a trick to the disappearance.
This means I should use a spell that he won't expect.
His arrogance will be his downfall.
However, Onii's unusual attitude filled Mich with anxiety and doubt in his ability to win.
Mich took a deep breath, trying to ignore his enemy's nonchalant mood. Onii probably had some sort of defense if it was against a singularity-based spell. If that was the case, then he will definitely have trouble with a multiplication-based spell.
"「Triple Enchantment — Fire Bolt」."
After a few seconds, three lightning-shaped bolts of writhing flames appeared from Mich's fingertips and flew forth to its target.
Mich fired each bolt precisely at his opponent's head, chest, and groin.
Even if one bolt were to somehow disappeared, at least two will land in the vital spots, disarming Onii and offering Mich enough time to cast the next spell. This was one of the strategies that Wei had used against him many times.
Mich had absorbed every battle tactic his older brother knew before he left for the Academy and became the highest ranking in the Potential.
In fact, Mich was considered a C-rank from the entrance exam. But he requested to be placed in F-rank because he promised Wei he would rise through the rankings through his own merits. To show him that he was now a competent magician and not that naive boy from back then.
Reading monthly letters from Mich, Mich knew how Temple Academy solved student conflicts. The sudden escalation for the duel was realizing there were a Platinum-tier adventurer and a famous Princess in the same class. Winning this fight was the only way for him to become elected as a class representative.
And it was the only way to carry the class and eventually, reach Wei.
But if he manages to defeat me... doesn't that mean he is above a C-rank? The voice in the back of Mich's mind taunted.
As the bolts arrived at their destinations, Onii's right hand danced in a く fashion at a lightning speed. All three flame spell had disappeared in his hands despite being fired at the same time.
Another wave of surprise and consternation swept across the battleground. As though to shatter the atmosphere of shock, Onii treaded towards Mich with his bare hands.
Mich felt like he was trapped in an unwinnable duel.
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