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Midnight, within a private room in the Mensa castle.
"He suppressed his growth for three full years!" Jaaron was shouting hysterically as he scuttled around the room, "Don't you know what that means? He's at the level of a sky saint, a duel with him means death! This is a trap I tell you, a trap!"
The atmosphere inside the room was gloomy and depressing, the place almost empty save for two rows of parallel chairs. On one side were ten old men with various degrees of strength, while the other held grand mages and saints like Jaaron. Yuria's seat was towards the middle of her row, while Jaaron's was close to the end. There was only one host seat, taken by Duke Mensa himself.
"What else could we do?" Yuria asked grimly, "Just watch him destroy all our supplies and offerings right in front of us? You knew what was hidden within. Besides, as a new grand mage he won't even have the time to get used to his ability, why are you so scared? At this rate, Richard might as well be right. None of us even dares to duel him at the same level."
"But that's just being reck—"
"ENOUGH!" Duke Mensa finally interrupted the farce, immediately bringing the room to silence. Everyone looked towards the man who had brought forth a bulk of the family's success in recent years, a cunning wolf who did not hesitate to bring his opponents down with conspiracy instead of strength.
The Duke was also famous for being extremely easy to enrage. He routinely destroyed entire families for meaningless slights, using that as an excuse to seize all their property. This was a person who could not tolerate the growth of his enemies.
Even though Jaaron was technically correct in his concerns, they fell on deaf ears. Mensa's expression was as dark as the depths of the ocean as he said coldly, "Jaaron, you will go first tomorrow."
"WHAT? Why? I'm a grand mage, I can't accept this!"
Facing a powerful enemy with an unknown ability almost always spelt death. Jaaron's grand mage ability was known to the entire public, while Richard's was not. This difference in preparation alone could easily lead to his death. On the other hand, the person going second would have time to prepare. At the very least, they could end the fight in mutual destruction.
"You die tomorrow or you die now. I believe Richard will accept your body as a token so we can switch the first fighter," Mensa said coldly.
Jaaron immediately started shivering; it wouldn't be a simple death at Duke Mensa's hands. He looked towards the row of elders, begging with his eyes, but all of them were like lifeless zombies with no reaction to his pleas.
"Yuria, you will go second. You may ask for whatever equipment you need."
Yuria only nodded.
After a moment of hesitation, the Duke looked across the row of powerhouses in the room and locked his eyes on one, "Satch, you'll follow if Yuria fails as well. Goad Richard into a third round."
The young man in the second seat licked his lips, pulling back some of his thick, curly hair, "Let's see if he dares."
Everyone woke up early that morning, the seats in the arena filled hours before the start of the duel. Many nobles had even skipped breakfast just to secure a seat, the situation only avoided by Faust's fourteen who each had their own personal viewing platform.
Even these viewing platforms started to fill up before noon, many influential nobles looking on as ten mages strengthened the barriers in case any energy leaked out and killed someone in the audience. Of course, there were some viewers who enjoyed such things as well. Someone who got killed while watching a battle was not worthy of sympathy.
Richard appeared on the Archeron platform a quarter hour before the duel began, earning raucous cheers from the crowd. Duke Mensa immediately blanched, knowing exactly who the audience had bet on the most. The odds had reached a shocking thirty to one and were still increasing.
Standing right behind Richard, Waterflower looked a little worried. She leaned over and whispered, "Won't you reveal your ability during this duel?"
Richard turned and smiled, "You still remember who I was taught by?"
"And do you think there's anyone with a modicum of power who doesn't know her saint and legendary abilities?"
"Oh…" The girl seemed to have understood.
As the bells tolled the arrival of the afternoon, Richard and Jaaron slowly walked into the arena. Jaaron's equipment was extravagant, Duke Mensa even investing into a legendary wand to aid him. On the other hand, Richard was dressed in ordinary robes without any equipment to speak of. Even the well-known Twin of Destiny wasn't here, neither was the weird-looking weapon case that had created a small buzz of its own. Richard had actually come empty-handed.
The audience immediately made a commotion, while Jaaron grew more bewildered. He stared at Richard hard, trying to discern if he had hidden any powerful magic items on his body, but could find nothing.
When the referee finally announced the start of the duel, Jaaron immediately waved his legendary wand to cast three protective spells on himself. However, even before the glow of the barriers stabilised he felt an eath-shaking impact to them that almost sent him to the ground. His eyes went wide at the realisation that Richard's attacks had already arrived, heart almost jumping out of his chest. How could Richard's attacks reach him so soon, even shaking his shields? That needed a level 9 spell!
While the grand mage was busy struggling to understand what was going on, his entire vision immediately clouded in black smoke, all of the cheering in the arena stopped in an instant. Everyone watched slack-jawed as Richard continued to flick his slender fingers almost as though he was pulling the strings of fate, tiny balls of fire bursting out from within and shooting straight at the enemy's shields. Some were as small as a bead, others the size of a fist, but there were just so many of them that one couldn't even count.
Even as these fireballs bombarded Jaaron's magical barriers, the waves of fire almost drowning him out completely, some of the audience finally noticed that there were seven fist-sized fireballs just suspended in mid-air around the grand mage. All of them were equally spaced, and if they exploded together almost the entirety of their power would be overlaid in one point…
It didn't take long for this conjecture to be proven true. The seven fireballs exploded in an instant, instantly burning through what remained of Jaaron's defences to the point that his shields were completely destroyed. Before the dumbstruck grand mage could even react to the situation, six new fireballs exploded in tandem and flooded all over him.
Fire quickly turned to smoke, and Richard even did the crowd a favour by blowing that away. Jaaron was nowhere to be seen, only leaving behind a legendary wand and two sub-legendary rings that were on the verge of melting. It had taken a single barrage of attacks, and Richard hadn't even moved one step during the entirety of the duel.
"R… Richard wins!" the referee announced eventually, looking at the clock on a distant wall, "You have an hour and fifty-nine minutes remaining until two. Please return to the arena once you have rested."
"No need, just have Yuria come down now," Richard said indifferently.
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