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Chapter 33 – Finals and Stirrings
Conrad’s Waiting Room
An hour had passed since Commander Chie’s match. I had seen it all through the crystal screen, and the results were not a surprise. Both my respect for her and my exasperation towards her opponent increased though. It felt complicated.
The representatives from the other countries had never amounted to much over the past years, and we had always won the contest in the past. But even in light of that, this bunch was truly something else. Those countries had always maintained the idea that nobles were superior to commoners, and thus, only nobles could ever become anything more than a rank-and-file soldier. On top of that, in order to get promoted, you had to belong to the Army Commander’s faction. The nobles even placed their own people at the top of the chain of command to prevent the army from ever defying them.
In short, those officers were just puppets.
And since a lowly commoner would never even be in consideration for the role of the Representative, it would end up belonging to the strongest puppet. At best, the puppet would only be slightly better than average. At worst, it would be just above weak.
And it showed. They were not like the truly strong people, those able to sense the strength of their opponent. They had arrogance missing in those who spent enough time training diligently to learn humility. They lacked the common sense and the judgement of those they claimed to be. After all, the truly strong would never allow themselves to become puppets. But those tools had been spoiled since young, raised on stuff like “Nobles are special. They are an existence above commoners.”
An army stuffed full of such tools was no longer fit for purpose. It lacked any strength. A powerless army created space and demand for combat guilds to flourish since somebody had to fight monsters and bandit bands. It would be fair to say that these guilds were the only things standing between those countries and ruin.
One could ask why didn’t the guilds revolt if they were that much stronger. Well, they weren’t well-versed in politics. Being commoners, they were unable to join the government, or receive formal education.
Thinking of this, I felt lucky to have been born in the Empire.
It was truly a blessing that I had been able to obtain an education. I made a heartfelt nod to that thought. At that exact moment, I heard a knock on the door and saw a soldier enter.
“Vice-commander Conrad, it is almost time.”
Oh, it’s that time already?
“Understood,” I said. I grabbed my wooden sword and left the waiting room.
It was time to focus.
Arena Floor (Chie’s POV)
I returned to the arena floor after an hour of rest.
After my semi-final concluded, I hadn’t really been tired at all, and it would have been fine to start the final match right away. But there had been a schedule to keep.
I kind of regretted finishing my match so quickly.
Just a little bit.
I looked for the source of the voice and saw Conrad walking towards me, with his right hand raised and a refreshing smile on his face. For some reason, he looked positively radiant. It looked like he got to vent all his stress too. I was glad for him.
I waved back. This wasn’t the way one should treat their imminent opponent, but I was hardly in a position to criticise. We were both in a good mood, so it just ended up like that.
I nodded to myself, watching him reach his designated spot. All that was left was to wait for the referee.
By the way, the referee this time would be from the Empire. Since both of us were from the Empire, a referee from another country wasn’t needed.
I looked at Conrad while we waited.
We had worked together almost every day for the past six months, but we hadn’t sparred with each other even once. We had been too focused on making our soldiers stronger.
In truth, they had already been stronger than the armies of the other countries, but I, as an otherworlder, had still found them quite shabby. I might have been an amateur, but the knowledge Lady Amaterasu had granted me, along with the observation skills I had ended up honing back in my original world, had made up for my lack of experience.
From what I could tell, they had had no problems working together in small squads, but there had been a need to teach them how to work together as one whole army. After all, their jobs had been more than just patrols, subjugation missions, and escort duties. That had been why we had a need for people able to unify the whole army, but there had been no one with that talent available. So, all the Commanders and Vice-Commanders had ended up with something to do.
And that had been why Conrad and I had never had a mock battle.
It had been the same for the other Commanders, the only one I could ever spar with was Claude. That didn’t mean, however, that I hadn’t analyzed Conrad’s fighting style. I had observed the other Commanders during the qualifiers as well. Since I lacked experience fighting them, the best way to come up with countermeasures was to use my knowledge based on what I had seen.
Having just power on its own was pointless.
Ideally, I would like to gain experience using only my head, without relying on my strength at all. This match would be a chance like no other. After all, he had been the winner of the previous tournament, formerly known as the “Empire’s Strongest”. I was considered to be that now, but the title didn’t sit well with me since I had gained it without defeating him. If I was to stand above him, I needed to earn that spot. Even if the title itself wasn’t something I was interested in or attached to.
Being his superior officer could be such a pain.
My face cracked into a dry smile. I was grateful for the helmet. It was awfully convenient to have other people be unable to see your expression at times like this.
The silence – we hadn’t said anything to each other since I had been lost in thought – was suddenly broken.
“I’m so sorry for the wait!” said a young man, our referee, who had just run over with a calm smile on his face.
“It’s fine. No problem,” said Conrad.
His smile was so refreshing.
“Sigh, to be able to witness the match between the Commander and the Vice-commander from up close… I’m so happy to be the referee!”
He looked quite happy indeed. I figured he really wanted to study the duel between his two superior officers. Was it really worth being so happy about, though?
“Aren’t you exaggerating a bit?” I asked.
But he hastily shook his head.
“No way, Commander!” he insisted with passion. “It’s the reigning champion versus the hero who slew Fafnir! Anybody would be thrilled to witness such an exciting match!”
“Alright! Alright. I get it,” I said, holding both my hands in front of me.
I didn’t expect him to be this passionate. It brought back my old worries – just what did the Imperial army think of me?
I could tell when it came to Conrad, Kyle, and other Commanders, but the rest of the soldiers were a mystery in that regard. With the exception of Charlotte Aveline, I couldn’t tell what was going on in their heads, even though I had watched them train for the last six months. And it wasn’t a topic I hadn’t been brooding over.
“I get how you feel, soldier, but do calm down. And more importantly, shouldn’t we start already?”
“Oh! Apologies, Sir!”
Conrad made his reminder with a hint of a smile, and the chastised referee hurried to his spot. He was really good at helping me out of these troubling situations.
I readied my bokutou.
At that moment, Conrad called out to me – “Commander! Please don’t hold back.”
The smile vanished from his face, replaced by an expression of absolute focus.
My reply was terse. There was no longer any need for words.
We were both just waiting for the signal.
“Now then. Ready… Begin!”
Seeing that we were both ready, the referee started the match.
I closed in on Conrad immediately, swinging the bokutou down as I charged. He blocked. We locked swords together.
I saw that his forehead was wrinkled in concentration. He must have been exerting quite a bit of effort.
So this was his real strength. This was the former ‘Empire’s Strongest’, the reigning champion.
I was using a bit less force than it had taken to beat Fafnir half a year ago. I wasn’t holding back out of conceit. He was simply the first human opponent to push me this far since coming to this world.
I put a bit more strength into my arms and pushed him backwards. His balance was disturbed, and I used the chance to stab at his midriff. He recoiled back with a groan.
He moved back to gain some distance, likely having judged that the exchange wasn’t going well. I held my bokutou at the ready, waiting to see what he would do next.
If I attempted a thrust again, he would probably deal with it.
Well, not one of the Empire’s Commanders would fall for the same trick twice. The match wasn’t completely decided yet. Just now, Conrad had managed to immediately back away from my attack, reducing the damage. But I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t expected to win with that move.
It had been meant to incapacitate him, though. I had probably used enough strength to stun any of the other Commanders.
Usually, when I swung my sword, even Claude would barely be able to dodge.
And Claude was faster than Mr. Musclehead. He had helped me practice dealing with agile opponents.
Conrad, however, had easily been able to react to the speed that even Claude had struggled with. My blow would probably have been dodged completely if I hadn’t forced him off-balance.
It looked like I had to try a bit harder.
That meant my bokutou would definitely break, though. Still, there was no choice.
I briefly wondered what would come first, my victory or my sword breaking.
If I had taken the Commander’s attack head on, I would have been done for.
Cold sweat trickled down my back as I observed her stance. She had had me on the back foot from the start. I really needed to use this short reprieve to come up with a plan.
The signal had barely sounded, and she had already appeared right in front of me, sword swinging down. I had been able to block it, barely, but even my full strength had not been enough to make her budge. We had locked swords for a while, but she had soon broken my stance with a nudge and stabbed her sword at me in a vicious thrust. I had managed to leap back just in time, but my stomach still throbbed in pain.
So much for mitigated damage.
Given how she was waiting and studying me, I could tell that she wasn’t trying to finish it quick. That thrust too had been something I could have dodged unscathed if I hadn’t lost my balance.
That was her style – at first probe the opponent for strengths and weaknesses. Then, once she had enough information, she would deal with the enemy appropriately. And usually, it took her, at most, a minute of exchanging blows to find out all that she could.
This was the scariest thing about her.
She was doing it now too, as expected, organizing the insight gleaned from our short clash.
That was why she stood still.
If done by any other person, this would be an opening. But Commander never let her guard down while processing the information.
There were no openings.
Resigned, I admitted to myself that I probably couldn’t win.
I had never fought against her until now.
I knew nothing about her as an opponent.
This was the reason I had wanted her to face me seriously. She was the first person whose back I ever felt was worth chasing.
I resumed my stance with a deep breath and then looked straight at her.
She didn’t show any intention of making a move. It looked like she was waiting for me to act.
So be it!
I charged at her with vigour.
I swung my sword with vigour.
She wasn’t kind enough to just sit there and take the blow, of course.
I attacked with all my strength from every angle, but she blocked each and every strike. No human had ever been able to stop my blade before today. She was really, really amazing. Was this how one felt when one’s blood began to boil?
I hadn’t known. I would have never guessed that facing such a strong enemy, even for a brief moment, would feel like this. Exhilarated, I understood why Celestia liked this.
I didn’t expect to win, but I would keep Commander Chie company to the very end.
(Chie’s POV )
Conrad was smiling. In a very ghastly way.
I grimaced under my helmet, wondering if I had possibly awakened something that I really shouldn’t have.
(Unknown location – Claude’s POV)
I watched the two knights carry on with their bout on the arena floor. I could do it from where I was because Chie had given me a crystal.
It was such a ridiculous sight.
I had never seen anything like this, even though I had been sparring with her a lot. She clearly must have been holding back. Well, to be fair, I did know that. Totally.
Never mind Chie, I was no match even for Conrad.
I brushed my bangs aside, looked up to the sky, and smiled after a momentary pause. I had to become stronger, or I would be left behind again.
I looked back into the crystal. The battle there continued, as intense as ever.
If I didn’t want to be left behind, I had to learn from Chie and take in everything I saw.
(Arena Floor – Chie’s POV)
Several minutes had passed since the match had started.
As I had exchanged blows with Conrad, I had continued to make adjustments.
I had learned three things.
Regarding his speed : I had gained a good idea of it from that first thrust. He was just a bit faster than Claude.
Regarding his strength : I had gotten a feel of it as we had exchanged blows. He was a bit weaker than Fafnir, of course. But he was still strong enough to make me exert this much power.
There was really no conceit in me.
Lady Amaterasu had given me a body that rivalled the demon lord’s. For him to be able to push me this far, he was way out of the norm.
I briefly wondered how would he fare with the Hero’s sword. It was a very scary vision.
And finally, the last observation: he was a battle maniac. I had figured that out from how he seemed to enjoy himself while he swung his sword.
Why did he have to do it with such a scary smile?! There was such a huge disparity between his normal attitude and how he was now!
Usually, he was a gentleman, always there to offer you support. I would never have imagined he had this side to him.
Nobody had told me about this! Neither Alice nor the Blue-Haired Ikemen. (TL note: This used to be “Long, blue-haired ikemen” but that’s too long and silly.)
There could only be two reasons. Either, everyone had kept it secret from me. Or this match in particular had fired up his warrior spirit. Both were equally possible at this point.
But either way, I had no plans to lose.
After all, he was the one who gave me the most respect as his superior. Losing to him would mean losing face.
In his eyes, at least.
It was time to end this, so I put a bit more strength into my sword-arm. His wooden blade flew into the air. The tip of my weapon rested at his throat.
He was quite surprised.
A few seconds later, his wooden sword clattered on the ground behind his back.
“We have a winner! It’s the Black Knight!” announced the referee, as if spurred by the sound.
The crowd went wild, and the sudden roar made me realize that they had been deathly silent while we fought.
The arena once again filled with cheers.
I removed the bokutou from his neck and held it in my left hand. Then, I took off the gauntlet and held my exposed right hand out to him.
“How was it? Am I worthy of being your boss?”
He looked stunned for a second, but soon made a resigned smile.
“What are you saying, Commander? Of course you are. This match just reinforced that conviction. Nobody but you can stand above me.”
He took off his gauntlet as well and shook my hand. The gesture stirred the crowd even more.
Suddenly, I felt something strange from the bokutou in my left hand. I looked at it. So did Conrad, apparently noticing something strange.
A crack ran down its length. I must have overdid it a bit.
When I let it go, it split into two halves with an audible crack.
“Ahh… I knew it.”
He looked bewildered, so I decided to explain.
“It couldn’t withstand my strength. It reached its limits towards the end, so I had to rush a bit.”
I smiled with self-depreciation.
“The first one lasted all the way to the finals .This one was new, but I guess all this was just too much. You were so strong that I started to panic.”
It broke after just one match.
At that moment, I noticed that, for some reason, Conrad blushed.
“Hm? Conrad? What’s wrong?”
Thinking that it might be a fever, I put my bare right hand on his forehead.
“Nope, not a fever.”
Conrad turned even redder. It was quite puzzling.
“Ah,” he sighed in exasperation, “she really is…”
He put his gauntlet back on. I wasn’t sure what had just happened, but I did likewise.
The closing ceremony would be next, so we didn’t have to leave the arena.
It looked like the other two wouldn’t be joining us. One was likely too scared, the other still couldn’t move. Things would end peacefully if nothing else happened.
If nothing else happened.
“Well then, you foolish people! Let’s put an end to this festival! ”
A sudden voice from the sky ruined the atmosphere.
Everyone looked up, including me.
I saw a group of strangers riding gryphons. They were dressed in odd, black robes.
Would they be the last job of the day?
To be continued
Thanks for waiting
How was chapter 33?
We saw a new side to Conrad.
He isn’t your ordinary heroine.
He’s normally a gentleman (to Chie), but against a strong enemy, he becomes a battle maniac (only against people of Chie’s level). He’s that sort of waifu.
How will they deal with this new enemy?
Stay tuned next time!
My work got busier, so I couldn’t update much, but we’ll take small steps.
It was a bit rushed, but I’ll fix it up later.
Please continue to read this novel!