“Ladies and Gentlemen! Over the last month, you’ve watched countless fighters battle in the arena. You’ve been there through the sweat, the blood, and the tears. You’ve seen them taste victory, and you’ve seen victory snatched away! We’ve finally come to one hundred remaining gladiators. The best of the best!
“We have reached the championship rounds. All battles from now on are one on one. Teams may decide who fights, but they fight for the whole team now. Who is the best? Who will fall? Who will win the championship? In only six more rounds, we will have our answer!
As we approached the arena, an announcer seemed to be repeating this spiel every few minutes. There were two weeks left for this competition. It went on for about two months, an entire season, which was there to ramp up hype and separated the casuals from the hardcore. It was now reaching the boiling point. There were various cross tournaments, including groups, singles, knock out, and even shows like what they tried to do to Raissa before I rescued her.
By the way, Raissa was the only one who had a magical mask on. For the rest, we depended on hoods, face masks, and the dungeon store’s Trait Hiding skill to make everyone else hard to notice. After shopping with Salicia, I had everyone wear clothing that wouldn’t be amiss on a commoner. We’d blend into the crowd. The one exception was Carmine, but she apparently always wore her helmet when fighting, so no one had seen her face yet.
Every fighter that made it this far had been given some kind of pet name by the crowds. Carmine’s name was the Shiny Knight. When I heard this, I was going to sympathize with her, but she was quite happy to have such a name. I supposed, as long as she was happy, I wouldn’t make fun of her particular tastes.
As we reached the edge of the coliseum, she attracted more and more looks. I could hear people whispering her name. It seemed like she had a reputation.
“Numerous competitions are going on all month.” Drake, Carmine’s current fight manager, explained eagerly, trying to warm up to me while his cronies took point. “However, One-on-One is considered the most prestigious and high tier. That’s the one that will win you that dwarf blacksmith, as well as a few other prizes. The prizes he’s giving this year are excessive, even by normal standards. That’s why so many tough opponents have shown up.”
“What kind of prizes?” I asked out of curiosity.
“C-can he do that?”
“He can create Knights. He also can give land and create barons. To most people, that already is completely changing their life around. They can buy property in the cities, they can own land… to any commoner, it’s the same as changing their fate, which would otherwise be impossible. Ah! No, offense, my lord.”
“What offense? I was able to become a Count.”
“R-right…” Drake scratched the back of his head. “Anyway, the point is, this is a massive spectacle right now. Carmine has garnered interest for fighting solo.”
“I thought you said solo was the most popular.”
“One-on-one is the most popular, but most of those people are still on teams. They pick which teammate fights based on their opponent. Carmine is only one of a handful that has fought solo and reached the top 100. It requires endurance to fight life-or-death battles nonstop. The finals will be the worst, however. Six matches in two weeks. That’s six fights until literal exhaustion. The first will have a 5-day break, then a 3-day, 2-day, and the last three matches will be daily. In other words, it’s an endurance run! Carmine had incredible resilience, but I have to say, she won’t be able to fight three matches successively like that!”
“If she can’t take the matches…” I started.
“When we initially signed up, we did sign it as a team, basically, everyone who was part of your party at the time. That means that Shao, Miki, or you could stand in for Carmine if needed.” Drake finished.
So, that was what he was getting at. He thought that we’d need to take turns fighting. I could hear a bit of worry in his voice, so I felt his advice came from a genuine place. He didn’t just want to win, he was also worried about Carmine. Having lived close to the girl for the last month, and seeing her fight numerous battles to the death, as he called them, I could imagine he had developed a sense of comradery with her. Perhaps he even saw her as a sister.
Thus, I considered his words with a great deal of weight. However, with my bonuses, Carmine should already be much stronger than she normally was. If she could get this far on her own, then as long as I made myself available these days to help boost her, she should be fine. We could be worrying over nothing. She had faired fine over the rest of the season. I didn’t see any reason that the Championship would suddenly crank up the difficulty by that much.
As the team owner, it turned out I was able to get special seating in a box overlooking the field. It seemed like my fake identity as a rich merchant was holding out fine. This was partially thanks to Faeyna, who occasionally sent parcels to sell in Alerith to help sell the illusion. She was always thoughtful like that. Because of Alerith’s taxation, it wasn’t very valuable to sell anything in this city. Most merchants that were here were solely concentrated on supporting a gladiatorial team.
Drake had only mentioned it in passing, but it turned out that I was becoming popular as well. My alternative personality, Reynolds the merchant, was one of the only merchants still selling anything in town. As I said, I don’t make money off it and was only doing it so that I could maintain the illusion as a merchant, but it was single-handedly keeping the markets in Alerith going. It was the only reason people were even eating. I wondered what Lord Reign’s face would look like if he knew I was the reason his lower and middle-class citizens weren’t starving and revolting.
If I was a more capable guy, I probably should be helping the collapse along, as it’d be advantageous to me. However, that would require me to allow children and women to starve, and I just couldn’t allow that. I’d probably send more goods to Alerith now that I knew there was a problem like this. It was probably very easy for nobles to suppress the lower class in this world. After all, nobles and their soldiers could be resurrected, while peasants couldn’t afford it.
Think of it this way, Lord Reign had already accepted foreign aid. If a peasant revolt truly began, to what length would he go to squash it? At best, he’d invite a foreign army to help him quell them. The low-caste would die for good, and anyone they did manage to kill would only keep coming back. I couldn’t imagine the death toll, and I didn’t want to have the blood of innocent people on my hands if I could help it. Thus, I had a plan to follow, and quelling the Bandits to the south was just step one of said plan.
As I considered my next moves for not the hundredth time, the afternoon matches began.
“For our next match, on my left, reintroducing a man who had battled his way through countless trials and tribulations, the devilish iceman Jarmin Condor!”
The man the announcer indicated was a tall pretty boy with flowing white hair. He truly did have an icy appearance. His expression was cold, and the women all seemed to make adoring sounds as they looked at him. Devilish didn’t have anything to do with some kind of dark power, and everything to do with his effect on women! Thankfully, my women weren’t affected by such a pretty boy.
“Sigh… the things I would do to that man.” Salicia purred.
“He’s so pretty.”
“Et Tu, Shao?”
“Relax, Master, there is more to a man than looks. Just because he’s pretty as a flower doesn’t mean he’s desirable. Master has many manly traits that Jarmin couldn’t compare with!” Miki said defensively.
“R-really?” I sniffled. “I’m manly?”
“Ah! Shao, you made Master cry! Repent!”
“M-master! Please use my lap as a pillow as part of my apology!”
“Apology my ass! Aren’t you just taking advantage now!”
Ruby crossed her arms and snorted. “I don’t know what the big deal is. He’s not that good-looking at all. He’s all skinny, looks sick. I like a man with some meat on his bones.”
“You mean, like Deek?” Miki asked with a mischievous grin as she tried to keep Shao from offering her lap to me.
“Ah!” Ruby’s cheeks turned red.
I didn’t notice though, as my attention was the next opponent who was being announced.
“And on my right, so far undefeated, he comes from the Imperial Cloud Meadow, where they call him the Demon-Slaying Hero, Bernard Castille!”
In a word, the guy looked cool. He had a long cloak that fluttered behind him in the wind, and half of his face was covered with a scarf. He wore a black-rimmed hat. In his hand, still in its sheath, was a long-curved sword that might have been a katana. He seemed to have a similar Asian appearance to Shao. Was that the look of demonic blood, or Imperial Cloud Meadow? I just didn’t know enough about them to tell. As for Shao, she said her days before her capture into slavery were foggy, and then it was just a daily struggle for survival. As for the lore I gained, it never showed much detail except when relevant to the story.
Bernard only stood there as Jarmin moved into action. He shot out a bolt of ice, but that was only a distraction as he started to glide across the stage. I realized he was using the ice to travel, causing the ground immediately in front of him to freeze as he skated around the rink. He was incredibly fast, and he moved like lightning. The ice bolt he had sent was dodged with a slight lean from the other man. Jarmin darted back and forth across the arena, but Bernard barely seemed to move.
The longer time progressed, the colder it got. Soon, even the first few stands were starting to shiver and cover themselves. Only Bernard on stage seemed unaffected by this cold, watching Jarmin with only a passing interest like he was watching a fish in a pond.
“Since you won’t make the first move, allow me!” Jarmin suddenly yelled.
He suddenly split into two people, although one of them was completely made of ice. They attacked as a pincer attack, each sending a hundred icicles out at Bernard. It was a surefire attack, but even that wasn’t enough. Both the fake Jarmin and the real one created blades of ice, and they launched into a flurry of attacks. With a hundred ice daggers tying Bernard down, he’s powerless to block one Jarmin, let alone two.
Only a second before the first dagger of ice touched Bernard did he finally move. He pulled his curved sword from his sheath and swung a single arc. It wasn’t aimed at anything and seemed almost lazy. In an instant, a wave of energy exploded out. The icicles all shattered, as did the swords the two Jarmin’s held. Well, one Jarmin, as the other also exploded. As for the other, he was hit back in a horizontal line, flying away from Bernard. His strike hadn’t even been aimed at anything in particular, but the force caused Jarmin to slam into a wall outside of the arena barriers. Disqualification.
The crowds immediately rose into applause. This wasn’t the first-time seeing Bernard fight. Had I been paying attention at the betting rings outside; the bet was overwhelmingly in his favor. The other guy seemed to have been outmatched. As for me, I was starting to have a sinking feeling these last six matches wouldn’t go so easily.
“He’s the running champion, also a solo like Carmine. He is who we need to beat,” Salicia explained. “What does Master think?”
My eyes fell on a young woman who had walked out. She shouted some choice words at Bernard, who ignored her and then began to fret over the iceman still embedded in the wall.
“I think I see an old friend I’d like to talk to,” I responded.