| When it came to the biggest event of the second term, for the fundamental curriculum, it would have to be the wilderness training. For the upperclassmen, the individual entry tournament. The individuals' tournament was an event held while the fundamental curriculum students were gone. And this time's tournament held even more excitement than the norm.
Last year's champion Eunius, and the runner-up Aleist. Alongside the first-time challenger Luecke, and the greatest problem child since the academy's founding Rudel; a lineup to fire up the academy's spirits.
Unlike the students who expected to see a match of fates, the teachers could only pray the Three Lords' eldest sons didn't get injured. Last time, and the time before, their stomachs had gone into spasms seeing Rudel and the others run ragged. But elsewhere from the teachers' hopes, Rudel and the others were putting in their all.
"We're all over the place. If we ever go against one another, it'll have to be in the semi-finals."
Rudel looked at the posted individuals' tournament bracket as he muttered. Listening in to his side, Luecke was also convinced he would fight Eunius in the semi-finals.
"I wanted to get it over with quick, but the semi-finals are fair enough. Looks like it's your fated battle with Aleist as well. We might be going at one another in the finals."
While Luecke thought he was going to win, Aleist called over. He had come with Eunius to see the tournament bracket.
"Um, I also intend to win, but..."
"You've got no need to worry about who you'll go up against in the finals."
Cutting off Aleist's statement partway, Eunius intimidated Luecke. On that atmosphere, the other students who were similarly confirming the brackets distanced themselves. A prickly tense air ruled the area, but from Lena's words, Rudel's concentration was much lower than the other three.
"How interesting for you to come and provoke me. Because you can't win, you plan to play your wits? All I hear are the howlings of a sore loser."
Luecke feigned level-headedness, but his feelings towards Lena and Eunius were becoming complicated things. From a want to win, to hatred... and he was beginning to think of them as simply natural feelings.
"You make me laugh. Meanwhile, you've got no mind to use your wits or to give it your all. I'll be facing Rudel in the finals, so you look just right for preserving my stamina."
Giving a grin, Eunius continued intimidating Luecke. On those words, Aleist grew mildly irritated. He had been training too. Undergoing a grueling training regiment, he looked at Rudel with confidence. If he defeated Rudel, everyone would recognize him... he thought.
The Rudel in question was more worried about his feelings for Izumi than the other three. He was thinking too hard on it, and at this point, he was avoiding her so much it seemed unnatural.
"... So the tournament's already here."
He had no hesitation in becoming a dragoon, but when Izumi was brought out, his heart would waver. For Rudel alone, his feelings were going in a different direction.
"The individuals' tournament... how interesting."
(I don't really care. I care about it as much as that fluffless palace.)
Fina was looking at the tournament bracket she had been handed by Sophina. From Sophina's point of view, she had some interest in seeing how strong a student could become. What's more, the four who were participating were definitely strong.
"I think Rudel, who didn't participate last time, will win. What do you think, princess?"
Handing the paper back to Sophina, Fina spoke.
"I think so too, but Eunius-dono has more experience so he might have the advantage."
(So master's your one and only? Just how thirsty are you for his petting, woman?)
Some time had gone by since the second semester began and Fina had gradually transitioned from her life in the palace to the sort of fluffy lifestyle she preferred, spending her time in fulfillment. Even if she mulled over how to conquer Rudel, she didn't care about much else. But there a single something came to mind.
"Well no matter who wins, we should give him praise, Sophina."
(This is my chance! Even if master loses here, he won't be forced to leave the academy. In that case, if master loses and I wrap him in these transient breasts of mine... even if I can't conquer him, I'll grasp at the opportunity!)
"I-is that so, princess?"
(Huh? The princess is thinking something strange under that poker face again... I'll just ignore it.)
"I'm looking forward to it."
(That black hair and that traitorous junior disciple better prepare themselves! I'll lift master's petting ban in no time.)
As Fina polished her schemes, she spent that day faithful to her desires.
In the girls' dorm, the former goddess and Izumi looked at the tournament bracket. As Rudel had been unnaturally avoiding Izumi lately, the former goddess had been hanging around her more. Rudel knew that, and at this point, he could give the former goddess her own money to pay for her own expenses.
"So Rudel and Aleist will hit in the semi-finals."
"Ah, you mean that trainee? If only he was still a trainee, I'd be able to laugh. But if he loses to Rudel, I'll still be able to laugh."
After giving the former goddess a smile, Izumi looked out the window and breathed a sigh. She knew Rudel was avoiding her. But Izumi wouldn't press him on in. Both sides were aware of the reasons, They understood, but those around couldn't leave them be.
"... If Rudel loses I'm going to laugh too, Izumi."
"Yeah, you're right."
Seeing Izumi's unmotivated response, the former goddess sensed she was the same as Rudel. The former goddess who had no interest in status or fame, up until recently she was fuzzy on nobility itself. There was the king, then the nobles and finally the commoners... that was the ranking in her head.
If she complained to Rudel she was ignored, and no matter what she said to Izumi, she would only get a sad smile.
"Izumi, if you don't properly tell him your feelings, they'll never get across. I mean, it's Rudel we're talking about here. That man who can't read the mood, there's no way he could understand your feelings."
"That's... but we both have our positions. Me and Rudel can't become anything more than friends."
"You humans sure are a pain! You could all live just fine without some status or title."
Even if the former goddess was the one to say it, she lacked any fragment of persuasive power. In essence, the former goddess was being protected by Rudel's status as a noble, and only by it was she able to live in the academy.
"But just living isn't enough for Rudel. If Rudel doesn't keep looking up, then even if he lives, it'll be the same as death... he's enduring various things for that."
Izumi spoke as if saying it to herself, and the former goddess made a face as if she couldn't understand a word of that. Life the same as death. It meant if Rudel gave up on becoming a dragoon, he wouldn't be Rudel anymore.
"Izumi... I don't get what you're trying to say."
On the day of the tournament, Rudel and the others could see the spectators flooding the arena's seats from the waiting room window.Once the opening ceremony ended, they were sent right to the waiting room. Some moved their bodies, and others called their hearts. And even within that waiting room, all manner of eyes were gathering on the four.
As Aleist looked at Rudel, he saw he was acting differently from usual. At first, he thought Rudel was nervous too, but then he recalled he wasn't that sort of person.
As he looked on, Eunius who was watching the match called out.
"Whooh, they're all giving it their all. Aleist, your turn's coming up."
"Eh? Oh, yeah."
"What's with that, where'd your spirit go? Well you're better off than the guy who can only do magic."
In the waiting room, all the competitors' stomachs were beginning to hurt. Usually the man who couldn't read the mood- Rudel- would step in to mediate, but now he wasn't even trying to move. Realizing that the one they had their expectations on, Rudel wasn't of any use, everyone waited for their own match to come.
Just like that, the matches went on and on. Rudel and the others fought their ways through, and it was finally time for the semi-finals to commence.
"We'll really have to fix this."
The manager of the arena looked at the parts of the ring Eunius had destroyed in his fight with a fifth year as he reached that conclusion. He had no complaints with the contents of the match itself, but the ring was in tatters. They couldn't hold a match like this.
"It'll take at least an hour."
When he informed the teacher serving as referee, the teachers and staff gathered for a meeting. Whether to carry the match over to the next day, or spend an hour repairing it.
"Then I'll leave it to you to repair it. The next match also looks like one that'll break the ring, so once that's over, we'll call it a day. The rest will have to wait for tomorrow."
"You make my work sound so worthwhile..."
The manager took a few boys along and began mending the ring with magic. They could just increase the men on the job, but they weren't using any special magic. If anyone without experience unskillfully stuck their hands in, the ring would never hold up. You could call it the tricks of the trade.
But if they continued holding matches in the arena alone, the matches were liable to run into the night. That on their minds, the teachers decided to split up the semi-finals. The magic proving ground was strengthened, and it wouldn't be a problem, they decided. Eunius and Luecke's match would be held in the arena, while Rudel and Aleist would duke it out in the proving grounds.
As the competitors and referees and the students who were helping mend the arena headed off, the audience got into heated debate over which match to see. Both matches had some worth and watching, and contained a connection of fates. Both matches were ones they wanted to see, and the students were heated as well.
"What will you do, Izumi?"
Within all that, the former goddess tried asking Izumi. Izumi thought for just a bit before standing from her seat in the arena and heading off for the magic grounds.
"I'll go see Rudel and Aleist's match. I'm sure he'll be lonely over there with no acquaintances to watch."
Giving an excuse, Izumi pulled the former goddess' hand and walked off.
Over the arena's hour long break, Eunius and Leucke glared at one another. They had both been aware of one another from the moment they were born. As fellow nobles of Courtois, opposing houses would instill the information on their enemies from childhood.
"Did they really have to go this far, normally?"
"... I'm going to pound magic into that heated face of yours, Eunius."
Hearing those words, Eunius' fed up face turned to the fearsome smile of a bird of prey. The impression Luecke gave off was even colder than usual. As the two glared at one another, the starting signal resounded through the arena.
"Henceforth, the semi-finals shall commence! Begin!"
Hearing the referee's voice, the two of them sprung to motion. Eunius thought Luecke would try to take distance, and tried to close the space in an instant. But Luecke took an unexpected action. Luecke also leapt forward, bringing the match to a contest of blades. Eunius was surprised, but perhaps that's where his genius lay.
"That was a shocker, but that's all you've got? How soft!"
It was the moment he parried the wood sword Luecke thrust out. Eunius sensed danger and leapt back. As expected, to the place he had been standing flew a number of elementary magics.
"You've got good instinct. But don't think this is the end."
Luecke took a stance with his sword, but this time he used magic to fill in the space between Eunius and himself. Clicking his tongue, Eunius put his all into evasive action as he looked for an opportunity to approach.
He avoided and used the mana in his sword to cut through the magic blasts raining down. Repeating the process, he was thinking of inviting Luecke to expend all his mana. He thought over it, but... he wouldn't permit himself to do that.
"This is the last time you can get on your high horse!!"
Receiving a few hits of magic, Eunius flooded mana into his pseudo magic sword to move it like a whip. By that, he spread out his reach and launched an attack at Luecke's neck. But without and panic, Luecke stopped it with the wood sword in his own hands. No, he erased it.
"You've surprisingly dull. Even if it's a sham, it's no different from a magic sword. In that case, there's no problem as long as I can put up the right defenses."
"Oy, oy, what do you think you're doing... just when things were getting fun, no one was asking for a lecture!"
Caring not for his disappearing magic sword, Eunius leapt straight at Luecke. As the space between them closed in, Luecke fired magic at point black range. It was a self-damaging move he had used in his match with Rudel, and now he used it to create some distance.
"For a battle maniac like you, this is more than enough!"
When Luecke unleashed a stream of intermediate magic, even Eunius took distance. He did, but carrying out the calculations, Luecke read his moves as he aimed. The magics assailing Eunius were high in output and vast in scope. It was impossible to avoid them all.
But if you can't avoid, then don't, thought Eunius as he leapt straight into the magic. Carving them up with his magic sword, and enduring those he couldn't avoid even so.
"Are you human!?"
Luecke took distance as he prepared his trump card. Feeling that Eunius' wood sword was nearing its limit, he decided to use that to decide the match. And Eunius also felt his sword's end drawing near and went on the offense.
"This is the end, Eunius!"
"Don't make light of me, beansprout!"
Sensing Luecke had prepared something, Eunius put the maximum magic he could into his sword and lowered it at him. Seeing that, Luecke was convinced of his victory. Eunius' swordplay exceeded Rudel, but if they fought he would lose. Luecke knew the reason why. He had an overwhelming lack of cards in his hands. He was to fixated on forcing his way through with his sword.
So Luecke thought, and even when he had erased the magic sword, Eunius had simply tried the same means again.
Eunius' magic sword didn't reach Luecke. No, before it could reach, he could lower it no longer. Eunius was surrounded by Luecke's wall of magic, the wall gradually shrinking in scope. Before that sturdy wall his sword couldn't collapse, Eunius' wooden sword snapped.
"You're surrounded on all sides, and if you try running into the sky, you'll be shot down. There's nothing you can do when you don't have a sword, Eunius."
The magic he had begun preparing from the moment he was running around was a sturdy one. He would have to buy ample time while utilizing a number of different spells, but Luecke had pulled it off. Everyone was convinced of his victory when a cloud of dust rose the sturdy wall fell apart. The sound of crumbling rock resounded through the arena, the spectators swallowed their breath.
"Don't think a wall of dirt would be able to stop me."
Tattered as he was, Eunius walked towards Luecke with an intrigued, ferocious smile on his face. Luecke tried to prepare magic, but Eunius closed the distance in an instant, hammering a fist into his stomach. On that impact greater than anything he had anticipated, Luecke couldn't even understand what had happened as he was blown through the air.
"Just as I thought, it really is hard to do it with your fists. But... this is usable!"
As Luecke tried to stand, Eunius gave pursuit to instill the final blow. This time Luecke put up both his arms to guard, but his crossed arms couldn't withstand the impact. Feeling the sound of breaking bones through his body, Luecke let out a cry. Surrounding his fist with magic, he was slamming them in with brute force. That was all there was to it. That was Eunius' trump card.
"Hah, hah, that's not all there is to it!"
But channelling magic through his broken arms, Luecke used a self-harming attack on Eunius as he swung his fist towards him. An explosion broke out between them sending both sides flying. Eunius waited for the smoke of the explosion to die down, surprised when Luecke leapt out of the cloud. He was surprised, but seeing Luecke's face that had yet to give up, he cried out.
"Nice pluck, but you see..."
As Eunius tried to say something, Luecke cried out as if to answer him. It was the true feelings of the two that just happened to overlap.
"You alone I can't lose to!"
"You alone I don't want to lose to!"
Eunius sent a punch at Luecke, but his magic had disappeared. Eunius' mana was also approaching its limit. And receiving that hit. Luecke launched an attack at his head. His attack perfectly caught Eunius in the jaw.
Both of them were unsteady on their feet, their eyes unable to focus. Just like that, they stopped moving without even the slightest twitch. The referee confirmed their states, and once he found they had both lost consciousness, he declared.
"This match... is a draw!"
As everyone was about to boo out the ref's answer, a tremor and the sound of an explosion strong enough to reach the arena came from the magic proving ground.