I held my shortsword just above my waist, ready to attack or defend . The array of sounds that filled the arena were soon drowned out as my focus centered solely on the man standing in front of me .
The man named Kaspian, the one in charge of the biggest Guild Halls, held the menacing rapier lightly with his right hand . He stood upright, making figure eights with the tip of his blade while letting out a little hum . Yet, he had no openings . The baleful pressure of his bloodlust was blatantly let loose as he dared to let out an innocent smile .
Memories of fighting inside the dueling arena in my previous world flashed to mind as the air grew tense between us . My focus sharpened to their limits . The only sounds that came through my ears were those made by Kaspian: his blade whistling in the air, the crinkled sounds of his thin clothes, and the controlled breaths he took . My body screamed to take caution against this man .
I could feel my hands tremble ever so slightly, not from apprehension, but from excitement . I didn't think I'd find an opponent of this caliber so soon . This battle wasn't to the death but I knew it would different from the spars I had with Grandpa Virion back in Elenoir .
"I knew from first glance that you would have to be assessed in a different manner . I hope you don't take this… special treatment to heart," Kaspian commented as he lowered his stance .
In that brief moment, I analyzed every piece of useful information that I could about this man . His reach was longer than mine by about a foot, while his stance indicated that he primarily relied on thrusts rather than swings . Just from the amount of mana I could sense swirling near him, it was safe to assume that he wouldn't make any careless mistakes .
"Please prepare yourself . I wouldn't want the person Miss Flamesworth sponsored to lose too quickly . "
He sprang forward, leaving a trail of dust behind him as he closed the gap between us . In one fluid motion, he lunged his rapier like a coiled spring, using the momentum of his initial step .
I twisted my head to avoid the stab, but a few strands of my hair were cut off .
"Excellent dodge," he mused, retracting his rapier in preparation for his next attack .
Immediately following up with an angled lunge, I held up my scabbard . A sharp thud echoed throughout the arena from the clash and I was thrown off-balance . It seemed like I was still unable to use the full extent of my previous knowledge in swordsmanship with this undeveloped body .
I recovered from this setback by pivoting myself, using the momentum from his attack to whirl my lacking body to generate a powerful swing .
Kaspian leaned back just moments before my sword reached his head, but a thin red line appeared across the tip of his nose .
His thin eyes widened in surprise but he recovered instantly . I took advantage of that split second, bringing my sword back to produce a sharp, upward swipe at his unguarded legs .
My blade reflected the arena lights, producing a silver arc as it whizzed through the air .
However, my opponent was able to reposition his sword to defend against my swing . The sharp ring of metal on metal made both Kaspian and I cringe . The both of us seemed to have had the same intent as we both used the opportunity to gain distance . Only a handful of seconds passed during the deadly exchange, but each of us came out with only minor injuries . I switched my sword arm since the impact of our last blow produced a sharp vibration that made my right hand tremble .
The realization that I was still unaccustomed to fighting in this body was all too apparent as I coaxed my hand .
"I must apologize for underestimating you . I shall be a bit more serious now . " Kaspian's voice was calm but his face expressed a certain degree of seriousness that wasn't there before . His sharp eyes gleamed with a powerful killing intent that could only be present in someone who had years of fighting under his belt . His rapier was aimed toward me, but as he brought it closer toward him, the blade began glowing with a silvery hue .
"Ha!" Letting out a sharp breath, he thrust out his rapier, piercing the air in front of him .
The hairs on the back of my neck rose as my body screamed for me to run away . I instinctively pivoted myself away from where my opponent had lined his attack . A sharp pain burst from my shoulder as hot blood seeped into the sleeve of my robe . . .
"Seems like Miss Flamesworth has picked up someone worthwhile after all," Kaspian acknowledged .
As far as I was concerned, this wasn't some assessment anymore . Whether he had expected me to dodge or not, he had aimed for my heart .
Would I have been able to defeat him easily if I had the body of my past life? I wasn't sure . There were too many factors that played into this; the quality of our swords, the use of long range mana manipulation that didn't exist in my old world . . .
Taking a moment to charge his next attack, he let out two more consecutive thrusts, but I knew what to expect .
He was creating sharp bullets of wind, which were near-invisible . However, it didn't mean that they were impossible to dodge . By the timing of the thrust to when it had reached my arm from his previous attack, I was able to gauge the speed the spell travelled .
The spell travelled in a straight path based on the direction of his jab, so while the speed of the spell was frightening, there were holes to take advantage of .
I ducked underneath the first bullet of wind as it barely grazed my hair . I parried the second bullet with the flat of my blade, redirecting his spell away from me . Immediately after, I willed mana into my legs and dashed toward Kaspian .
I had to shorten the distance between us now that I knew he had a long range spell at his disposal, but I knew even in terms of melee combat, it would be a hard battle .
I had a body that was more than several inches shorter than what I had been used to when sword fighting and a much smaller pool of mana to utilize . So even with the assimilation of Sylvia's dragon will making my body tougher, I didn't have that much of an advantage against a veteran fighter with a body enhanced with mana .
The only advantage I had was the fact that Kaspian didn't know what I had up my sleeve .
Focusing mana into my free hand, I ran my fingers down the blade of my sword, imbuing it with fire . Approaching him, I swung down to release an arc of fiery red .
I could see the concentration on Kaspian's face as he willed more mana into his rapier until it, once again, glowed in a silvery white . He fanned away the flames with a powerful swing, leaving an ever-so-slight window for me to take advantage of .
Gathering mana into the sole of my left foot, I molded the spell to manifest into the proper form .
A succession of fiery explosion erupted underneath my foot, propelling me directly beside Kaspian .
"How—" was all he could manage . His mouth agape, his rapier was still held up from his defense against my previous attack that I had used as a feint . My position wasn't optimal; I had launched myself a foot more than I had wanted to, but it was enough .
Without enough time to form a proper spell, I simply strengthened my body with mana as I thrust my sword forward .
However, even as the distance between my blade and Kaspian shortened, I could make out the words that the Guild Hall manager was chanting . "Gather and unleash!"
I was barely able to rescind my attack and jump away as an intense swirl of airstream burst out from Kaspian, surrounding him in a protective twister .
The Guild Hall manager was hidden from view within the twister of wind and debris, allowing me some time to prepare for his next attack .
The spell was released to reveal Kaspian, sweating and panting, with his sword arm tucked closely to his side like a snake about to lash out; his left arm was stretched out—palms open—aimed directly at me .
He was obviously chanting as the blade of his rapier began glowing even brighter in silver .
"Pierce those who stand against me!" he roared as his rapier disappeared into a blur of countless thrusts .
This was just an exam, right? Was he actually trying to kill me?
"Screw this," I muttered to myself as I concentrated the last of my remaining mana deep into the sensory and motor neurons in my body .
One of the few techniques I had managed to develop using knowledge from my previous world while training with Grandpa Virion . A technique that used liaghtning affinity mana to run currents of electricity throughout my nerves, quickening my reflexes to a superhuman extent . The average human had a reaction time of around 0 . 3 seconds, but there were trained fighters that could get it down to 0 . 2 or even 0 . 15 seconds .
Using Thunderclap Impulse, my reaction time was able to shorten to about 0 . 05 for a brief amount of time .
My pupils contracted as the hairs on my skin stood up on end due to the electric currents .
I could hear the sharp whispers of the air bullets shooting towards me as I readied myself to dodge them .
"Release!" Kaspian screamed . The torrent of ar bullets suddenly dissipated, rendering his spell to a harmless draft of wind .
"I may have gotten a bit carried away with testing your limits," he apologized, sheathing his sword . The Guild Hall manager immediately turned away and headed toward the exit as I released my spell as well .
"From the fact that you were so adamantly withholding your full abilities until the end, I can only assume that you wish to be placed at a lower rank," he said, continuing his stride without turning his back . "Note . B-class . "
"Just before disappearing into the passageway he had come from, Kaspian turned his head and looked me in the eye, one of the lenses on his glasses cracked . "I'm sure you have no problem with this?"
I merely nodded my head in agreement, watching him walk out of sight down the dark corridor .
"That was the last examination for today! Please go to the front desk to receive your adventurer's card . Everyone is dismissed!" the augmenter examiner shouted out as he and the other examiner both rushed after their boss .
KASPIAN BLADEHEART'S POV:
I arrived at my desk and before I even have the chance to take a seat, the two examiners in charge of today's placements bombarded me with questions .
"George, Emily, take a seat and don't talk all at once," I sighed, sinking heavily into my chair .
"Sir! What was with today's examinees?" George immediately shouted out . "Three B-class adventurers right off the bat in a day? This kind of situation is unheard of . Not to mention that two of them were kids! Light orange at the age of eleven . . . has that ever occurred amongst humans?"
Emily nodded fervidly in agreement .
"Do you remember what happened half a year ago here in Xyrus?" I asked .
"Around six months ago should've been the time when the first tournament amongst the three races took place, right?" Emily answered .
"Yes . The Adventurer Guild workers will all know soon, so there isn't much of a point in hiding this; I was just notified of this a couple of weeks ago as well . The ban on elves and dwarves becoming adventurers has been lifted and today's batch included some of the representative examinees . " I pulled out a thin file from my desk drawer .
"S-Sir, do you mean to say that all three of them were either dwarves or elves?" George's eyes had widened to a frightening degree as he expressed his shock .
"Lucas Wykes is a half-elf that has been residing in the Kingdom of Sapin . The information on his birth is classified but if I had to guess, he was probably a product of an elf slave . The Wykes Family has always had a bad reputation for dabbling in nefarious ways to breed better mages for their house . He's an unusual case, though, being able to be so adept in flame affinity, despite his elf lineage . He awakened at the age of eight, which is fast, even amongst elf standards, and was sent here for a sort of trial run . The Wykes no doubt expended a lot of money into buying beast cores and other resources to quicken his growth . " I flipped to the next page .
"Elijah Knight . He's quite the mystery . According to the file, his origin is unknown . He was, however, raised amongst dwarves at a young age . He was sent as one of the first representatives from the Kingdom of Darv to assimilate into the human kingdom . "
"How come he wasn't tested, Sir? The clerk only told me to just put him into B-class," Emily asked, her voice higher than usual from excitement .
"Elijah awakened a few months ago, so he's only now barely reached the dark-red stage . As for why he was allowed to be a B-class adventurer, it probably has to do with the person backing him up . I don't have any say in his case, so we can only let him be . I'm curious as to what his abilities are, though . " I shook my head, putting down his file .
"As for that masked augmenter from today, to be honest, I have no idea who he is . He wasn't recorded as any of the representatives on the list . I was simply curious as to what kind of person Miss Flamesworth would be willing to sponsor . "
"Flamesworth…as in that Flamesworth House? The famous house that is known for birthing the strongest fire attribute mages?"
I put away the file and regarded them seriously, adjusting my glasses . "I told you all of this because you will find out soon anyway . However, I trust that you guys will refrain from telling others until the announcement is officially made across the country?"
With fervent nods from both of them, I dismissed my two employees .
I was left to ponder over today's events .
That masked augmenter . His techniques were not the standard skills that most fire attribute mages used . Even his style with the sword… it was something that made me shiver .
Regardless of all this, however, I couldn't help but get a sense that his movements were off somehow . Based on the movements that came off as awkward at times, it felt like he was somehow restrained, or even uncomfortable with his own body .
I dismissed my needless thoughts and began going over the pile of unread documents .
I couldn't help but grin to myself; this continent was changing . There would be a lot more interesting events happening from now on .
ARTHUR LEYWIN'S POV:
The same receptionist that had led us to the examination site handed me my bronze-colored adventurer's card at the front desk .
From E-class to B-class, the card was a copper color, while starting from A-class, it would change to silver, then gold for AA class, then white for S class .
"Do you have a close relationship with Kaspian, Jasmine?" I asked after putting away my card, Sylvie asleep on my head .
"He's an acquaintance of my father," she said simply with a cold chill to her voice .
I didn't dig for any further answers . She obviously didn't have any positive feelings regarding the man . Changing the subject, I asked my adventuring partner, "So what should we do next?"
She pondered for a bit .
There were several options . We could do missions that were at, or below, our ranks . These missions included a variety of tasks, from guarding to acquiring specific items . We could also transport ourselves to the Beast Glades and explore while hunting down mana beasts . Or . . .
"Dungeon-exploring," Jasmine answered, a faint smile forming on her face .