Carmine was still three matches away. While she went to the preparation room with Salicia and her management team, I swung by a group of boys leaving the coliseum with a single woman at their center. She was fretting over one boy in particular while the others gave her a forlorn look. That was the iceman himself, who had been healed and hadn’t been that hurt in the fight, to begin with. If anything, it was his pride that took the most damaging blow.
“Harem… I thought I recognized your… um… friend?” I called out to her.
The girl looked up, no recognition appearing across her face. At the same time, the guys moved protectively around her, forming a protective barrier as they looked at me suspiciously. I wasn’t planning on moving in on their girl, but it was an action that would have been impossible even if I wanted it. One by one, the guys seemed to recognize me. At the very least, they remembered the meal I had once prepared, and they started to relax their guard just a bit.
Finally, after enough time passed that I was starting to feel a bit awkward standing there, Harem let out a cry of happiness, “Ah! Newbie!”
I was glad she didn’t shout out my name in an area where that could cause me trouble, but it was clear she didn’t use my name because she didn’t remember it. All the boys around her, even those that hadn’t been in the Mirror Dungeon when I met her, shook their heads. I didn’t get it. Harem was a really dense and thoughtless person. I just didn’t understand what appeal man or woman would have in a dense person like her.
“I’m sorry about the match…” I said.
“Ah… well, I wasn’t interested in winning anyway. I just wanted to see how my boys compare to the current stock of gladiators. If we didn’t happen to get this year’s champion early on, Harem’s Boys might have even made it to second place! Alas, we just ended with some more bad luck this month.”
“Has your luck been particularly bad?”
She shrugged as she went closer to me, but the boys still made a perimeter where I couldn’t get closer than three arms width to her. “I didn’t find anything in Mirror Dungeon worth our time. Then, with the destruction of Fort Pride, the Ost Republic border went quiet. Looking for a challenge, that inevitably led us to the only coliseum. Unfortunately, this season had already started and we had missed the preliminaries. Thankfully, my boy Evan here managed to loosen the rules with a 5-gold bribe, but after two weeks of battle, it ended like this.”
Mary had acted like she was granting us some great favor by getting us in ahead of the preliminaries. It looked like a simple bribe would have done the same. I still didn’t know how I felt about the church. They may be titty-focused, but they also did preach a bit of xenophobia and they may have been more powerful and more dangerous in the past. The church in Aberis had regressed to this point, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other factions and sects that were worth my worry.
“Where are you going next?” I asked.
“Ah… isn’t that obvious? The Ost Republic!”
I scratched my head. “What’s in the Ost Republic that has any importance?”
“Oh? You haven’t heard? I mean, it’s still a month away. If we decided to finish the tournament, we’d have just enough time to get there before it starts.”
“That’s right! You don’t know! Well-” One of the boys suddenly elbowed her, and her eyes shifted to him, and then she snapped her fingers. “Ah, that’s right, she liked… um… I mean the princess of the Ost Republic is getting married. That’s the news!”
“Mm…Hmm!” Her eyes turned from the left to right. “Anyway, you should come to the Ost Republic, but you must arrive early! Alyssa will want to see you!
“Alyssa will be there?”
I felt stupid as soon as I asked it. She was some kind of general’s daughter or something. It was clear she had status in the Ost Republic. Why wouldn’t she also be invited to this wedding?
“Yes, she’ll be there, and she definitely wants to see you!”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Our last meeting had been at the beach. I had somehow managed to cheat my way through a victory against her. I cheated, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was angry about that. As to how I felt about her, I didn’t have any strong feelings one way or another. She was a strong opponent, yet even though she tried to kill me on two occasions, I struggled to see her as my enemy. Maybe it was because she had always been honest and straight forward with me, but I didn’t find myself hating her at all.
“So, you’ll come?”
“I-” I was going to say I was busy, but after seeing the strangely hopeful look on Harem’s face, I couldn’t bring myself to shut her down completely. “I’ll see if I can in two weeks.”
Two weeks was a long time, but between the end of the gladiatorship and the battle against the Bandits, I didn’t see myself having time to go down and visit. Well, I guess I had a full month before this wedding officially began, but she said she wanted me there early. If I couldn’t be early, then I probably wouldn’t bother to show up at all.
“Good… good…” She looked strangely relieved for some reason.
“Master! Carmine’s about to start!”
The voice in my head was from Miki. Usually, I needed to open up Slave Communication with a Slave to be able to talk to her. It was like making a phone call, where their side could only forcefully receive it. However, as Miki’s mental powers grew, she had found a way to send me messages as well.
“I need to go.”
“Ah? Are you in the competition as well? I didn’t see your name?”
“It’s… a friend. I’ll tell you about it later, at the wedding!”
“it’s a promise!”
She gave a bright smile that caused her face to shine, and I was stunned for a second. She really was a beautiful girl when she smiled like that. My heart started to beat faster. Then my eyes landed on the men all around her, who were now glaring with hostility at me. I’m not after your girl, you can all stop glaring at me!
I got back to my seat just as the announcer was introducing Carmine and her opponent. Her opponent this time was a burly man with wild hair and a pair of wicked hand axes. He had an almost psychotic look to him, and I had a feeling that if I ever faced him, I’d definitely feel fear. His teeth were crooked and yellow, and it was hard to tell if he was smiling or snarling at everyone. He also looked antsy, as if he couldn’t wait to leap out and take Carmine’s head.
“On the left, we have the Shiny Knight, Carmine! Her beautiful armor has turned the blades of a hundred men, sending them scampering away with embarrassment. Let’s see if her extreme defense is enough to win today’s battle.
“On our right, is Frick, The Slaughtering Berserker! His savage style of fighting and lack of fear has made him a vicious opponent in the ring. On one side, we have the ultimate defense! On the other, we have the ultimate offense! Let’s see which one will win!”
As they gave their talks, I looked around the stage. Lord Reign wasn’t there watching the event. He seemed to have a lower lord sitting in as his proxy. As for Bernard, the winner of the last match, he was sitting down and watching this match. I admired him a bit at that moment. Despite being heralded the Champion for his lossless streak, he still felt he could learn something from these matches. Since he was an opponent though, it still left me a little worried. He wasn’t just strong, he was bright.
“Begin” The announcer declared.
Carmine slammed down her shield. “Master is watching me today, so I apologize if I don’t act politely.”
“Hehe… I’m never polite.”
He let out a bellow which caused me to jump, but the cheering that exploded in the crowds suggested this was his usual chant right before he attacked. He slammed his axes against her shield and then spun to the side, slamming them against her side. Unfortunately, with the smallest amount of movement, she had twisted, keeping herself behind the shield.
“You- how dare you block me! Ahhhhh!’ He screamed, seeming to grow enraged that she blocked him as if she shouldn’t.
As the attacks went on, I could hear the people in the stands starting to mutter to themselves.
“Damn… not even he can get through that armor.”
“Leave it to the Shiny Knight. All looks, no glamour.”
“I was hoping with a Berserker, we’d see a different outcome.”
Bernard watched intently, but everyone else’s excitement seemed to drop quickly. The match went on, but there was nothing but shouting as he slammed his axes against her over and over again. He even used a skill or two, but as soon as he did it, she’d use a defensive skill that nullified it. She was like a towering giant, standing there unmoving, no matter how much the Berserker raged. The crowds grew more and more annoyed as a five-minute match turned into fifteen.
“Just fight me!” Frick looked like he was about to cry, his face red and ugly.
With her helmet hiding her face, she was like an unmoving obelisk looking down on him.
“Just give up!” One guy from the audience screamed out.
“She’s never gonna move.”
I scratched my head. “What’s… um… what’s going on?”
“Well, it’s not like Carmine has that many offensive abilities.” Salicia laughed.
Drake spoke up with an embarrassed cough. “I mean, she’s tried, but she lacks speed, coordination, or strength. She almost lost a match when she fought a different way. So, we decided the best way is for her to rely completely on her strengths and just let the opponent tire themselves out.”
“Doesn’t that take a really long time?”
“Her longest battle took six hours.”
My gladiator champion was a joke!