Shin followed king Kreunzeit’s group to a training ground, a square area about 200 mels wide, where many soldiers were fighting with wooden swords and shields.
The soldiers near the entrance reacted loudly when they saw the king. Upon hearing this, the other soldiers also stopped training and stood at attention.
“I must speak with whoever is in charge. Can someone go call them?”
“Yes! Your Majesty! Please wait a moment!”
“The others may resume training! Do not push yourself too hard, just because the king is watching!”
Fagall barked an order to the soldiers, who were still standing and saluting. Their training seemed much more intense than before, though.
“Hah, I wish they were always so enthusiastic… well, sir Shin. What shall we do about the weapons? Using our training wooden swords would make it difficult to duel, I suppose.”
“I will lend you the weapons we use for practice. Even if you swing them at full power, they barely cause any damage.”
“Something like that exists? May I take a look?”
Shin heard that Fagall’s main equipment were twin straight swords, so he gave him two of his 『Sponge Dagger』 weapons, which had shorter blades than the 『Sponge Blade』, similar to the weapons that Fagall used.
“Impressive…even if I focus my strength, there is no damage caused.”
Fagall tried swinging a 『Sponge Dagger』 on the training wall, but seeing that it wasn’t even scratched, he expressed his surprise.
“With these weapons, there is no risk of harming others, so there will be no effect on the upcoming battles. The non-lethal enchantment also affects magic: the blade part can deflect spells.”
“Impressive for being training weapons. To know we can go all out in this duel isn’t bad in the slightest.”
While talking, Fagall tried a few practice swings. His elegant, flowing form made him look as if he were dancing: his movements were clearly different than Chosen Ones who just relied on their physical attributes.
“We don’t have too much time, so you two should come here quickly.”
While Shin and Fagall spoke, Namsaar was explaining the situation to the person in charge of the training grounds.
The duel would be held in the center of the grounds: all soldiers could thus witness it, but considering the objective, that was an obvious result.
After learning that not only the king and the leader of the knights, but also the heroes were present, all the training soldiers’ attention was focused on them, expecting that something was going to start. The atmosphere was very different from the loud exchanges and shouting from moments before.
“Shin, I beg you, I implore you, please be careful!”
“What are you worrying about? We’ll use Sponge weapons, there’s no way he’ll be killed in one blow.”
“Well, it’s you, after all…I bet you could do that even with a Sponge weapon…”
“That’s ridiculous, really. Even if I could, there’s no way I would.”
If he removed his limiters, it wouldn’t be impossible, Shin thought; however, the purpose of this duel was to display his strength, it was in no way a duel to the death.
Rather, if he ended up killing a hero, it would have a negative impact on both the battle against Greed and Shin’s own future activities.
“They’re talking like my defeat is inevitable, again.”
Shin, put off by Hilamee’s warning, heard Fagall’s mumble. He was just whispering, but Shin’s hearing could catch it.
Sherlene, maybe because she was speaking to a hero like herself, used a plain tone.
“It looks like they’re worried that he doesn’t go overboard, instead. Lady Hilamee should know how strong you are, Fagall: if she talks like that, Sir Shin must be just that strong. I can’t tell how powerful he is either. Why don’t you go ahead and give it everything you’ve got?”
Being underestimated wasn’t enough to lose one’s cool, but it surely wasn’t pleasant. This was what Fagall seemed to be thinking, so Sherlene gave him a piece of advice.
She didn’t speak openly, because of the presence of King Kreunzeit and Zear, but Sherlene was still wary of Shin and Schnee.
Her instincts, honed through many battles, told her that Shin and his subordinate, Yuki, were truly strong. Luxuria, being a devil, was obviously powerful, but the power Sherlene felt was definitely different than Shin and Schnee’s.
“I’m planning on having him show the strength that supposedly surpasses even devils. With these weapons, I can go all out, after all. Sherlene, what do you think of sir Shin?”
“…I can’t tell. My instinct, however, is telling me to be more wary of him than of Lady Luxuria.”
“If you say so, they must be really skilled. I get the same feeling from both sir Shin and lady Yuki. While sir Shin leaks more magic power, I thought lady Yuki was more powerful.”
Shin’s magic power control had improved, but Schnee was still far above him in that aspect.
It all depended on experience, trial & error, and time spent in training it, after all.
In terms of magic power and MP quantity, however, Shin was overwhelmingly superior, so his magic power was much more difficult to control than Schnee’s. If he had an average player’s MP quantity, Fagall would have probably seen them as equal.
“We do not have much time. Are you both ready?”
“I am too.”
“Yuki, the barrier, please.”
The training soldiers were informed that the duel would soon start, so they retreated to a safe location. Before them, a blue semi-transparent wall appeared. The wall was generated along the training grounds’ own walls, leaving only Shin and Fagall inside.
“There will be no need to worry about stray spells like this.”
“God, I knew you weren’t ordinary people, but a barrier like this would require all of our specialists, and even then I’m not sure if they could manage it or not. With this, however, we could seal the devil in and fight it. Was it really alright to show it here?”
“Not a problem. Devils inherit the memories of past battles, so I think they know about it already. Barring escape routes with barriers is a common tactic, I’ve slain many of them with it.”
“I see, so it’s a strategy we are basically expected to use.”
There were monsters which tried to flee when they were at a disadvantage. Some devils belonged to this category too: players tried various methods to not let them flee, such as inflicting status ailments to limit their movements and block their escape routes with barriers.
Judging from what Luxuria said, she clearly remembered past events. Thus, it was easy to imagine that the devils would remember about such tactics too.
“If you know how they fight, I would appreciate it if you told me too. Could you spare some time later?”
“Yes, you have my cooperation.”
Shin and Fagall finished talking and headed to the center of the grounds. There was nothing else to do now: they both quietly created some distance between them and wielded their weapons.
Shin held one 『Sponge Blade』 in both hands, holding it vertically before himself.
Fagall had one 『Sponge Dagger』 in each hand, pointed down, with his left arm in front and right in the back.
Namsaar made sure they had taken their stances, then gave the signal to start.
As soon as he did, Shin quickly stepped in towards Fagall, quickly enough that an average person couldn’t follow. The Chosen One and hero Fagall, however, could react: he stepped backwards to avoid the 『Sponge Blade’s』 swing, then kicked the ground to go on the offensive.
Shin had paused one moment, then accelerated again. The 『Sponge Blade』 and 『Sponge Dagger』 clashed and were repelled.
Shin and Fagall did not fight against the impact and slid to the right, once again creating distance between each other. Their speed, however, did not reduce.
In the training grounds, those who managed to catch this lightning-quick exchange were only Schnee, Hilamee, Luxuria, Sherlene and Namsaar. Shin and his opponent’s movements were clear to them, but normal knights and soldiers couldn’t keep up with their speed.
Based on Fagall’s reaction speed and the feeling of their weapons clashing, Shin more or less grasped his stats. He had done it to figure out what kind of anti-devil gear to give him, so he did not need to know Fagall’s exact stats.
He blocked Fagall’s 『Sponge Dagger』, who had attempted another direct strike, and forcefully beat it back.
Shin was currently shackled by 【Limiter】 level 2. Fagall’s strength, even if boosted by the acceleration, wasn’t enough to break through Shin’s defense.
“As expected by someone who can wield a heavy weapon like that…I couldn’t push you back, huh.”
“It’s too early to say I’ve shown my power.”
Fagall’s attacks felt terribly light to Shin. His fighting style and speed were excellent, but he severely lacked in strength, or so Shin was about to conclude.
Fagall, however, was a Chosen One blessed by the Hero title. He had to be capable of more. Shin kept parrying Fagall’s attacks with his 『Sponge Blade』, one after another.
At first glance it looked like Fagall was unleashing a neverending barrage of attacks; his expression, however, was grim.
He wasn’t using his full power yet, but his weapons wouldn’t advance an inch. It wasn’t like Shin couldn’t move from his spot, he simply didn’t. They were fighting with only weapons, but Shin was still very much unfazed.
“So tough…I feel like I’m fighting against a block of Orichalcum.”
“I have to show what I can do, or people will interfere.”
“I see…I better make sure people don’t think I’m holding back, then!!”
As Fagall uttered these words, his body started glowing gold.
The light that completely enveloped his body was a clear sign of a physical boost due to his title and skills. Furthermore, Fagall’s weapons started emitting a black glow.
Based on his experiences of fighting one on one, Shin guessed that he had used a Darkness elemental combination skill.
“Here I go!”
The ground burst under Fagall’s feet. He ran around Shin with irregular patterns, much faster than before.
The darkness enveloping his blades left a trail: to the eyes of the spectators, it looked like golden and black lights flashed around Shin.
Shin didn’t move, waiting for Fagall’s next move. The latter feigned approaching him a few times, then moved behind Shin’s back and abruptly changed directions.
Fagall’s quick turn was almost a full 90 degrees, but Shin had predicted it and calmly reacted: He used his left leg as a pivot and turned, then blocked Fagall’s strike with his 『Sponge Blade』.
The pressure on the 『Sponge Blade』 was much higher than Fagall’s previous attacks. Shin’s arm strength and 『Sponge Blade』 could easily withstand it, but the ground couldn’t.
In a 20 mel diameter around Shin, the ground was eroded and formed a vase-like shape.
The skill Fagall used, Sword/Darkness combination skill 【Gravity Edge】, was a skill that had its power halved when used upwards and doubled when used downwards.
To sway the opponent with speed and deliver a single powerful blow, compensating stat gaps through skills, was a nostalgic strategy for Shin.
Combining skills like 【Gravity Edge】, which increased in power under specific conditions, and physical boost was a tactic Shin often employed in his player days.
“Not even flinching…I don’t see what’s funny, though.”
“I’m sorry, it’s been a while since I last saw something like this, so I started enjoying it.”
Shin apologized to Fagall for unconsciously smiling. This duel served the purpose of showing his actual strength: it wouldn’t be proper to look like he was looking down on Fagall.
“It’s my turn, then.”
Shin forcefully knocked away the 『Sponge Dagger』 pressuring him towards the ground. Usually they would slide over to the right or left, freed from the shackles of gravity, but, within the same movement, Shin also knocked Fagall away.
“What ridiculous power!!”
“I’ll take that as a compliment!”
Shin kicked the ground and leapt up.
Fagall recovered and was now standing on the edge of the vase-shaped area, where the ground hadn’t caved in. Shin had jumped diagonally over Fagall, as to leap over him.
“You went in midair yourself?”
The black glow enveloping Fagall’s weapons turned a red hue: Fagall swung his two daggers twice. Every time they drew an arc in the air, crescent-shaped flame slashes attacked Shin.
The number of slashes corresponded to the times the daggers were swung: it was the Sword/Flame combination skill 【Red Moon】.
Shin could have easily avoided it using the Movement-type skill 【Flying Shadow】. Fagall was apparently aware of the existence of this skill, however: he was trying to guess the direction Shin would fly to.
The number of flame slashes 【Red Moon】 could launch were four per weapon. Fagall wielded two weapons, so he had six slashes left, more than enough to target Shin as he changed directions in midair or landed.
In addition, Fagall had an 【Ice Arrow】 spell ready, in case 【Red Moon】 missed. The Sponge weapons rendered magic spells non-lethal as well, but he was seriously going all out.
“Ah, this is really fun.”
To knock an opponent in midair off balance and do a follow-up attack.
In the game era, Shin did it every day. Thanks to the Sponge weapons, Shin didn’t have to worry about killing his opponent, so he was feeling quite carefree.
A duel was still a duel, though. Shin felt a bit sorry for Fagall, but he decided to crush his predictions straight on.
Jumping without any preparation was just asking to be targeted. It was natural to think that an advanced player would have something up their sleeve.
Without a care for 【Red Moon】’s blades of fire, Shin swung his 『Sponge Blade』 in the air.
His blade was enveloped in a red glow, just like Fagall’s daggers. He launched fire slashes, just as Fagall had done, but their size and power were much greater.
“What the !?”
Fagall’s slashes were approximately one mel wide: in comparison, Shin released giant fire slashes extending to three mel each.
Fagall’s slashes were easily swept away, as Shin’s attacks flew straight towards Fagall’s position.
He gave up on canceling Shin’s slashes with his when he saw how they vanished, then evaded their trajectory.
A few seconds later, the red slashes struck the location Fagall was standing in. The hardened ground was gouged by deep, crimson gashes, followed by a tall burst of flames.
Shin didn’t check the aftermath of his attack, moving at high speed towards Fagall.
Shin’s leap was much faster than his first one, so Fagall couldn’t react in time. Without time to shoot flame slashes, he blocked Shin’s attack with his daggers.
Offense and defense had switched places since the start of the duel. One major difference, however, was that Shin’s attack blew Fagall back. Shin followed with the next attack, so Fagall released the 【Ice Arrow】 he had kept at the ready.
However, the spell’s effect was halved, as Shin was already next to the caster. The frozen arrows turned to snowflakes, leaving trails behind.
Shin swept away the remains of the spell and swung his weapon at Fagall. The 【Red Moon】 glows remaining in their weapons drew arcs between the two fighters.
One clash, two clashes, three clashes.
Fagall held his daggers to defend against Shin’s slashes. The sponge weapons’ light, soft sounds echoed through the training grounds.
If they had used normal weapons, the sound of their clashes would surely boom like thunder. That’s how much power the spectators felt through the barrier.
The two combatants did not only cross swords, but fought with magic too.
Spells that missed their mark would sometimes fly towards the spectators, but Schnee’s barrier blocked them without budging.
Some of the soldiers who were watching also practiced magic; looking at the level of the magic that was exchanged between Shin and Fagall, they had turned pale as ghosts.
What surprised the spectators the most, however, was that the hero Fagall was slowly but surely falling in disadvantage.
“I can’t believe it…”
Someone whispered a sentiment shared by most of the spectators, excluding the very few who already knew his actual strength.
The heroes and leader of the knights were Erkunt’s most powerful warriors. In terms of stats, Sherlene was higher, but Fagall’s clever use of skill combinations put him on the same level.
Who exactly was the person currently dominating Fagall, then? All soldiers’ eyes were focused on Shin.
“Okay, time to shift gears then!”
The mental burden of having to hold back was gone; the situation demanded Shin to show a certain degree of strength. He also felt safe, thanks to the non-lethal equipment in use: Shin focused his grip on the 『Sponge Blade』 , to a degree close to the game era.
Shin paused for a moment and the storm-like exchange of blows ceased. It stopped because Shin was on the attack and Fagall did nothing but defend.
Fagall saw Shin hold the 『Sponge Blade』 over one shoulder and a whisper escaped his lips.
The 『Sponge Blade』 was emitting grinding noises. The very same 『Sponge Blade』 which did not even budge during the clashes between Chosen Ones.
Fagall’s experience and ability as a Hero and Chosen One let him estimate just how powerful a blow Shin was about to release.
The 『Sponge Blade』 , which couldn’t be used to kill, appeared as a very sharp blade in Fagall’s eyes.
“—here I go.”
The sword resting on Shin’s shoulder turned into a blur.
Fagall’s body leaped towards the direction the 『Sponge Blade』 was being swung, before he could even think. At the same time, he swung his daggers with all his strength. Before he could tell what they hit, his body was being flung horizontally across the training grounds.
Looking at Fagall being shot like a bullet, Shin let out a concerned mumble. He realized, too late, that he had gone a bit overboard.
To make it all even worse, the barrier erected in the direction Fagall flew to boomed loudly, spider web-like cracks running through it.
Fagall had not received the attack head-on, but the power concentrated in Shin’s 『Sponge Blade』 would not vanish just like that.
A single attack so powerful to make a Hero shudder even before it was unleashed: it wouldn’t just make the air tremble a bit.
Shin’s 『Sponge Blade』 had drawn an arc from his shoulder to the ground: Fagall had deflected it diagonally, forcing the weakened shockwave to fly towards the barrier. As a result, the barrier was weakened to the point of collapse.
“Haha…he can hunt devils for sure…”
After carving a long path in the ground, Fagall laughed and said this to himself, while looking at the clear skies over the training grounds.
The soldiers beside the barrier stood still, as if time had stopped.
As Fagall would later say, if he didn’t deflect that attack, he would have probably died.
The soldiers standing near the point where the barrier cracked also added that, if the barrier hadn’t been there, they would have surely died too.