Under the Oak Tree

Chapter 446 - 207
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Nobles lounged under colorful canopies, each embroidered with their respective coat of arms. Dozens of servants fussed around them, tending to their every need. Beneath them, wealthy citizens took their seats, while the ground floor teemed with commoners in less lavish attire. It seemed as if all of Balbourne had converged in the stadium.

Riftan scanned the audience, their faces flushed with heat and excitement, before his gaze landed on the area reserved for Wedon's nobility. Even at this distance, he immediately spotted his wife among the gaudily dressed aristocrats.

She was a vision of elegance in a dark green gown, her long tresses neatly coiled on her head. Though he could not make out her expression, he could tell from the rigid way she sat that she was anxious.

His face clouded with concern, fearing she might faint from the stress. Though he knew his wife was not as fragile as she appeared, he could not help but fret whenever he looked at her.

"Now, for the moment you have all been waiting for!" bellowed the flamboyantly dressed administrator. "Let the semifinals begin!"

From his position by the arena entrance, Riftan shifted his focus from the crowd to the podium.

"For the first match, Livadon's champion and commander of the Bolose Royal Knights, Sir Sejuleu Aren, will face Wedon’s champion and commander of the Remdragon Knights, Sir Riftan Calypse! May the knights enter the arena!"

Deafening cheers erupted from the audience. Riftan turned as heavy footfalls approached from behind. Sejuleu Aren, clad in black armor, walked up to Riftan's side.

"Ready for a beating, my friend?" the knight said jauntily.

Ignoring his taunt, Riftan strode into the arena. The cheers subsided as the two knights faced each other.

Raising a hand, the administrator announced, "This tournament honors the spirit of Wigrew and the twelve knights! I implore our contenders to uphold the code of chivalry in their duel!"

As the trumpet blared, signaling the start of the match, Riftan immediately drew his sword and adopted an offensive stance. Sejuleu Aren aimed the tip of his blade at him. Despite his typically jovial demeanor, his posture betrayed no weakness.

Riftan's lips curled slightly. The Livadonian commander was clearly more than just talk. This time, his alertness was markedly higher than in their first duel.

"Shouldn't you wrap this up in three minutes to maintain your reputation?" Sejuleu taunted as Riftan looked for an opening without moving. Ignoring his jib, Riftan plotted his strategy.

Suddenly, Sejuleu's flashing blade came flying toward him. Riftan raised his sword, feeling the force of the strike jolt through his arms. The unexpected strength behind the attack stirred his adrenaline.

He shoved Sejuleu back, gearing up for a counterattack. But before he could even swing his weapon, the next assault came. Riftan's eyes darted, searching for an opening while tirelessly deflecting Sejuleu's onslaught. It seemed the knight had no intention of drawing out the match.

He's giving me no chance to attack.

Sejuleu, intent on a swift victory, was focused solely on the offensive. He seemed aware that time was not an aside. Riftan retreated, sharpening his senses to their limits. A single lapse could prove fatal.

Living up to his reputation as a master swordsman, Sejuleu Aren wielded his blade with swift, unpredictable strokes. His weapon seemed to possess a will of its own.

Riftan clinched his jaw as he concentrated on his opponent's flashing blade, which darted at him from both sides. He parried each blow, maintaining a steady distance. Then, abruptly, Sejuleu shifted his momentum.

Realizing that his opponent was angling for a decisive strike, Riftan braced himself. In nearly the same breath, the sharp blade shot toward his chest with arrow-like precision. He swiftly raised his sword, deflecting the blow and sidestepping to disrupt Sejuleu's balance.

Sejuleu ducked into a defensive stance, but Riftan spotted a fleeting opening and aimed for his side. Blue sparks flew as their blades clashed. A sharp, grating sound echoed, and blood was drawn.

Riftan clicked his tongue as he drew back. His attack had narrowly missed its mark, leaving his opponent with only a superficial gash on his arm. Even so, the outcome of the match was now clear.

He closed the distance again, now with Sejuleu on the defensive. When Riftan delivered a powerful swing, Sejuleu barely managed to block it, clearly outmatched in strength.

The Livadonian commander gritted his teeth as he was helplessly pushed back. "I see you're strong as ever."

Gripping his sword with both hands, Riftan bore down, nearly driving Sejuleu's legs into the mud. Sejuleu, recognizing his disadvantage in strength, deftly twisted his blade to deflect Riftan's and lunged for his thigh.

But Riftan was quicker. He swung his sword diagonally, the blade flashing just beneath Sejuleu's helmet. Sensing the imminent danger, Sejuleu immediately froze.

After a moment of suffocating silence, Sejuleu exhaled deeply. "I yield."

The trumpet sounded from the podium, and the audience erupted into thunderous applause. Riftan slowly lowered his blade from his opponent's throat. Sejuleu removed his helmet, tossed it aside, and raked a hand through his damp hair.

"The Dragon Slayer is indeed a tough opponent to beat."

Frowning against the deafening cheers, Riftan raised his visor. With his senses greatly heightened, loud noises were more difficult to bear than usual.

"You've improved," Riftan said, sheathing his sword. "It was a close fight."

"Coming from you, I'll take that as high praise," Sejuleu replied with a grin. He extended his hand.

Riftan paused, eyeing the man's outstretched hand. After briefly studying Sejuleu's invigorated face, he finally accepted the handshake.

Sejuleu's smile widened. "It was a gratifying match. I eagerly await our next encounter."

Releasing his grip, Riftan turned toward the arena's entrance. He was just about to leave when he spotted Richard Breston, poised for the next round. The northerner looked visibly uneasy.

Breston caught Riftan's shoulder as he was about to head to the waiting room, hissing into his ear, "Don't expect our fight to be as boring as that."

With a shove to Riftan's shoulder, Breston marched into the arena. The trumpet sounded once more.

"The next match will be between Sir Richard Breston of the Knights of Phil Aaron and Sir Nell Anthus of Arex's Royal Guard!"

As the cheer subsided, a strange tension settled over the stadium. The crowd, uncertain of what level of ferocity to expect from Richard Breston this time, fell into a nervous hush. The Arexion knight entered amid the palpable silence, his yellow surcoat draped over plate armor.

When the two knights faced each other, the administrator called, "I implore our contenders to uphold the code of chivalry and fight a fair duel!"

The announcement had barely finished when Breston drew his white greatsword from his back. After carefully studying the man's stance, Riftan looked at the other knight. Sir Nell Anthus seemed visibly on edge, clearly afraid.

He probably plans to yield after a few blows.

Though his honor prevented him from forfeiting outright, he seemed to have no desire to engage in a serious battle with the northerner.

Riftan's gaze lingered on Nell Anthus's rigid, unconfident expression before he turned away, only to be startled by a horrific scream behind him. Whirling around, he saw Breston's sword deeply embedded into Anthus's shoulder.

"You draw your sword to save face, yet have no real intent to fight. What a disgrace," Breston scorned, kicking his fallen opponent and yanking his bloodied sword free. He then pointed it at Riftan. "You can come out now. It's time for the main event."

After watching Breston with a steely gaze, Riftan glanced at the injured knight. Clerics rushed to heal the man with magic, but it was clear the wound had been fatal. Riftan stepped into the arena.

"Yes, let's end this now," he said, drawing his sword. "I tire of you."

The frozen audience began to buzz with murmurs. The flustered administrator declared loudly, "Tournament procedures must be followed! I ask the two finalists to remain in the waiting room until the situation is resolved."

"What's the point in waiting?" Breston snapped back. "The semi-finals are over! It's about time we decide the winner."

Amid the murmuring, some voices urged for the final round. Those hungry for a bloody spectacle began to clamor for a dramatic fight.

The flustered administrator looked to the high priests, after debating among themselves with grim expressions, the high priests gave their reluctant nod of approval. The final match was to begin.

Clearing his throat, the administrator boom, "With the finalists' consent, the final round will now commence!"

Excited cheers shook the humid air. Riftan walked past the pool of blood and took his position in the center of the muddy arena. When the Arexion knight was carried away on a stretcher, the trumpet sounded to signal the start of the match.

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