Two days passed in the blink of an eye. Fran and I found ourselves staring the third round in the face before we knew it.
We were up against Colbert, the exact person that we’d been expecting to have to fight. We’d known that our confrontation with him was coming for a long while already, but I ended up feeling a bit nervous regardless. It wasn’t something I could really help.
Fran, on the other hand, was calm and serene, seemingly in part because she was currently engaging in meditation, specifically zen meditation. I’d been the one that taught her the concept, but honestly, I barely knew anything about it myself. My knowledge of Zazen pretty much did nothing but scratch the surface. I was only able to tell her the concept and the fact that it involved closing her eyes and concentrating. She really seemed to like the idea, so she’d more or less figured the rest out all on her own.
Her current session had spanned just over ten minutes. Urushi hadn’t wanted to disturb her, so he ended up laying down beside her instead of attempting to warm up as he had while waiting for the tourney’s second round.
It seemed that the opponent Goldalfa faced in the third round was much stronger than the ones he’d faced in the first two, as he hadn’t actually done his usual thing and won the round in a matter of moments. We would’ve had to leave the room basically immediately after entering it if he had. We instead had to wait for about another five minutes before finally begin called for.
「Good morning. It’s time for your match. Please follow me, I’ll lead you to the arena.」
Fran’s eyes shot open the moment the clerk said her name.
Her lips curved into a smile as she got back onto her feet.
She didn’t seem to be even the slightest bit nervous, nor did it seem like she’d be off because she was way too hyped up.
Today, Fran was in perfect condition.
（Master, will go all out this time.）
『Want me to start helping right off the bat?』
（Nn. Will try to go for quick win.）
Like most battle maniacs, Fran normally tended to prefer a bit of a more wait-and-see type attitude, but today, she decided that it would be best to go full throttle right off the bat. Her decision to treat this battle differently from all the ones that preceded it was one I agreed with.
That tendency to allow one’s opponent to go all out wasn’t what I’d call wise. We couldn’t really afford cutting our opponent any slack given that we had to live up to the Beast Lord’s expectations if we wanted him to actually bother speaking to us, especially because said opponent happened to be Colbert.
Another factor that played into her shift in attitude was that she no longer had to worry about antagonizing the Beast Lord. The possibility of him attacking us had basically been shrunk all the way down to zero, so we wouldn’t need to pull our punches nor keep a few trump cards in reserve just because he was watching.
Fran passed through the usual dark corridor and entered the ring, only to be greeted with cheers and shouts even louder and more passionate than the ones she’d heard just two days prior.
「And there she is! Our first contestant today is the girl that’s overwhelmed both the opponents she’s fought so far despite all expectations, a Black Catkin, Fran! I can’t wait to see just how far her strength can take her!」
Colbert had yet to arrive, but the crowd had started to roar regardless.
The screams directed towards Fran could be split into three main groups. The first, were the angry folk that’d bet on her opponents in the first and or second round. The next type cheered in a much higher pitch, and seemed, in general, to have taken a liking to Fran because of how cute she was. The final group was a bit different from both of the first two and mainly consisted of adventurers.
At first, I was a bit surprised that there were so many of them rooting for us, but I soon realized that they were mostly members of Erza’s faction. I kind of suspected that he’d probably ordered them to cheer for us, as the extent of their motivation almost seemed a bit unnatural. I apparently wasn’t the only one to feel that way, as many of the other guests also seemed a bit shocked.
Seeing the crowd caused Fran to recoil a bit in embarrassment, but she still seemed kinda happy they were cheering for her regardless. The audience as a whole immediately reacted to her bashful attitude by getting even rowdier. It seemed she was really popular.
Even so, the noise was soon overwhelmed by a series of hollars that matched the one that’d first greeted her when she entered the ring.
「And there’s her opponent! This round’s second contestant is no less popular than the first. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you a man known for using nothing but his fists to defeat even the most powerful of foes, B ranked adventurer, Iron Claw Colbert!」
I appraised Colbert and confirmed that his stats were basically the same as what they’d been back when we met him in Barbra… which meant basically nothing given that the stats that showed weren’t actually his real stats.
「Hello Fran. I can’t say I was expecting to see anyone else.」
「Nn. Colbert too.」
「Hahahah. As a B ranker, I won’t lose that easily, especially not to anyone weaker than me.」
「Well, I don’t think you’re any weaker than I am… but I will have to win anyway if I want to keep face.」
「I feel the same.」
Sparks almost seemed to fly as the two narrowed their eyes and looked at each other. The fighting spirit that emanating off their bodies expanded through the entire venue and shrouded it with an intense pressure powerful enough to silence the crowd. The spectators instead gulped as they observed the tense atmosphere that’d broke out between the two warriors.
「Let the third round’s second match… begin!」
Colbert was doing what we expected. He took on the typical wait-and-see type approach, not because he was going easy on us, but because he was confident he could handle anything we threw at him.
We, on the other hand, had already turned the dial to 11.
The three spells I casted worked to form a sort of tunnel around Fran and Colbert.
He immediately tried smashing its ceiling in order to escape, but he was too late. The fact that he allowed us to take the initiative meant we were already a full step in front of him.
Both Fran and I immediately cast a flame-based spell and flooded the tunnel with fire before Colbert could escape it. The attack’s heat was so intense that it caused the stone we created to start melting, but it didn’t collapse right away. The flame and wind walls supported it and managed to keep it standing for a few seconds by regulating its temperature.
In other words, the other two walls attempted to feed heat back into the interior as opposed to allowing it to leak outside, which in turn meant that it ended up not only trapping Colbert, but also providing a bit of a boost to our Inferno Bursts’.
We knew our attack was a fairly sound one, but we didn’t let up. We trusted that Colbert was too strong to fall to just that, and so, we threw in a follow up.
All the smoke and flames made it so we couldn’t actually see him, but that didn’t matter. We simply shot where we felt his presence in order to pin him down and keep him from moving.
Only then did we finally throw in an attack that was actually meant to inflict some more serious harm.
『Let’s do this!』
The next attack was one I hadn’t had a chance to use in quite a while, my ever so reliable Telekinetic Catapult. The arena was a bit too small for me to reach my full speed, but I still flew at him incredibly quickly nonetheless.
I was confident that not even Colbert would be able to avoid the strike without sustaining a significant injury.
But I was wrong.
A mana-covered fist approached from my side right before I managed to pierce him, one that contained so much force that it seemed like it would send me flying into orbit.
His counter made me realize that he was much more dangerous than I’d been expecting. He was skilled enough to easily knock aside the attack I planned to finish him off with, and basically hadn’t taken any damage from our prior bombardment. The only thing that’d even gotten the slightest bit burnt was his clothing.
We had to defeat him before he actually got serious.
I hit the brakes as hard as I could by using telekinesis and wind magic while also making myself as spiky as a porcupine and cloaking myself in lightning.
Colbert’s voice rose in shock. Never in his wildest dreams had he ever envisioned that the sword he readied himself to hit would stop in place and transform.
His defenses were ridiculous. My needles, which were capable of tearing metal armour to bits, failed to pierce his skin. However, he didn’t remain unharmed. He was assaulted by the lightning I’d wrapped around myself nonetheless.
Fran followed up my attack by throwing another lightning-based spell at him.
The two potent electrical energies shot throughout his body and caused sparks to erupt all over it.
「Finishing blow! Gale Hazard!」
Fran’s finisher, a blast of wind magic, evidenced that she wanted to end the match without having to engage in melee combat. She didn’t want him pulling off what Kurusu tried, and turning everything around at the last second.
Colbert was sent flying over 20 meters. It looked like he’d ring out and crash into the audience.
Fran stayed vigilant, she carefully watched as he flew so she could prevent him from recovering with magic should he try it.
But it wasn’t enough.
『Did he just use a Feather of Teleportation?』
Colbert suddenly disappeared. I immediately recognized that he’d teleported, but couldn’t figure out where he went. I wasn’t able to find him by scanning the stage.
『He took to the sky!?』
Fran immediately caught onto the fact that Colbert had chosen to teleport way above the arena. His decision was a solid one that made good use of the item he’d employed. Gaining airtime allowed him to not only avoid losing but also respace himself. The only thing he had to really worry about was how he was going to land.
However, it wasn’t without its demerits. Hanging around in the air basically made him a sitting duck given that Fran had an abundant amount of long ranged attacks.
She took aim and bombarded him with a whole slew of spells. Specifically, she’d chosen wind-based ones that prioritized max range over power.
I matched her attacks by throwing out several flame-based spells. The wind-based ones functioned as visual clutter and prevented them from being seen, which worked quite well, as they were powerful enough to instantly end the match.
But again, I was hoping for too much.
Colbert tore every single last one of our spells apart with his fists the moment before they hit him.
He then changed his direction midair with a burst of Qi and oriented himself so he was facing Fran.
An incredible amount of magical energy suddenly began emanating from his body. The martial artist swung his fists through the air. Each movement, each punch, was accompanied by a blast of Qi that headed straight for Fran.
The individual Qi based projectiles were rather weak, but they were threatening nonetheless due to their sheer quantity; Fran was forced to respond by blasting them out of the sky with a few techniques of her own.
Still, they’d accomplished their job. They bought Colbert enough time to land.
He took a guarded stance with an evident lack of openings the moment his feet touched the ground before turning towards Fran and narrowing his eyes.
Likewise, she raised me and matched his glare with her own.
「Fuh. You sure are impatient, trying to end the match right away like that.」
「Was just taking advantage of opening.」