Chapter 101: The After Party

“HAHAHA! I failed this time, but I don’t believe that I can’t capture them again. Let’s see how long you can keep that young-un away from me!” A voice cackled in the air, as a figure sped off into the distance.

Grandpa Thur blinked. During that time, not one of the council-mages had moved from his seat, or said anything aside from Council-mage Syrel and Magi Faerwind. He frowned. Could he have been mistaken?

Several Council-mages took off after the fleeing figure, struggling to catch up to it, but the accursed intruder, whoever they were, was too fast. Regretfully, they could only turn back and return to the stage.

Up on stage, when everyone felt that the crisis was over, both Keith and Briar suddenly felt the hairs on the back of their necks raise up. Immediately, they grabbed each other, as well as the second-place winners, and leapt off the stage.

The second-place winners, startled, grabbed onto the third-place winners, who lost their balance. And so, all six winners fell off the stairs, and, consequently, off the stage right before a new magic circle appeared, covering the whole stage.

This circle was a mana-depletion circle. And even the council-mages couldn’t help but fall to the ground upon being affected by it. Briar and Keith, as well as the second and third place winners had miraculously missed being captured under its effects by a single moment.

“Ho? You managed to escape that did you? Well not for-” His voice was cut off by a blinding flash of light, originating from Madam Rothema, who had been tracking the source of the sound.

“Abdd-difscations!! My researc-I mean, Ahem! I’ll be seeing you fledglings later then!” Briar heard a low hum begin in the air. And swiftly covered her ears.

“Quick! Cover your ears!” She warned the others. As soon as they did so, a large boom sounded from within the coliseum, as a wormhole seemed to open above it. A dark figure swiftly rose up and disappeared into that hole before it closed up.

After that, the magic circle on the stage faded and shattered, effectively freeing the trapped magicians.

“Whoah. How did you know about that?” Laura asked.

“I guessed.” Briar replied. “He was using some method of escape. Judging by the hum of high frequency mana, I guessed he was using a method of transport that needed a lot of power. So, the first thing that came to mind was a makeshift teleportation device, the old kind. But those are usually unstable and prone to making deafening noises, which is why I warned you.”

But, it was yet another half an hour before the magicians council members deemed that the assailant had truly fled this time. Thanks to Madam Rothema’s voice-tracking missile spell, the assailant left while he could. If only he had stayed but a few more moments, Rothema might have finished her imprisoning barrier spell.

Briar could only sigh. Since the attacker hadn’t been captured, there was now a hidden element of danger in any future ventures. There was no telling where the wretched man would appear for his next attempt, after all.

“Why are you sighing! Briar, you’re a hero! You saved us all from that doomed magic circle, and thwarted that rogue.” Laura clapped a hand on Briar’s back.

“But now we’ve lost sight of him. The chances of a sneak attack have been raised significantly.” Briar sighed again, upset at failing to capture the brigand.

Of course, most of this was all an act. Briar had her suspicions that the assailant was, even now, still present. After all, the best way to sneak attack is from up close when no one suspected.

“Oh come on! Don’t be such a downer!” Laura scoffed. “We leave the future to the future. Right now, we celebrate! Later, we make plans. Got it?” Laura acted as if she were explaining things to a two-year-old child. Briar rolled her eyes.

“Fine. I highly doubt he would act again unless he managed to catch us separated.” Briar responded. The whole group climbed up the rope ladder to Madam Rothema’s House, which had uprooted itself from the ground and flown over to right above where they were standing. Then they took a leisurely flight back to the city, where the house tethered itself in the air above Mayor Bradley’s house.

They alighted once more upon the ground upon receiving an invitation to an evening party, which included the names of several highly influential magi, and martial practitioners as well. Princess Claire was also among the list of guests to attend.

Briar attended the party in an evening gown Madam Rothema had magically whipped up. Perhaps she should be grateful her teacher had a somewhat useful hobby? Briar wondered as she now looked more mature than her usual appearance.

Outwardly she appeared to have relaxed, but inwardly she was still vigilant. Kael was also acting relaxed in a matching suit of stunning blue. Every now and then, though, he exchanged glances with Grandpa Thur; a silent way of communicating ‘all’s well so far’. Grandpa Thur was now fully vigilant, silently watching over the rest of the ceremony.

With that, not only were medals awarded to the second and third places for mages and martial artists, but also both Briar and Kael were commended for their quick response to the situation. And, with that, the ceremony was over.

“So, you’re going to head over to Marchand kingdom after this, right?” Laura asked.

“Well, I was hoping to stop by home first and see how things were doing back there.” Briar replied. “It’s been so long since I’ve last seen them, and I want to bring them with me on a vacation.”

“What’s a vacation?” Laura asked.

“Well, it’s like a personal holiday that you take to go somewhere enjoyable, like the sea-side.” Briar explained.

So you’re taking you’re family to Marchand kingdom?” Laura asked. After all, Marchand kingdom was in a dispute with their neighboring kingdom currently. It wasn’t exactly what one would term ‘peaceful’ or ‘enjoyable’.

Then Laura shivered as she thought. Unless Thera’s family members are all fighting addicts from the start! Then Laura shook her head. Of course not! After all, Thera’s mother is the picture of peace!

Little did Laura know, that when Helen became angry, no one was safe.

“But, you’ll be bringing Kael along, right?” Laura asked. “How are you going to explain him to your family?”

“What about Kael?” Briar asked.

“He’s supposed to be your brother? Wouldn’t it be odd if Kael’s supposed parents did not even know he existed?” Laura argued.

“Oh, that? There’s actually a very simple solution to that.” Briar replied calmly.

“What kind of solution?” Laura asked.

“Well, we could just say he’s adopted, because his parents died, and they were related to us.” Briar said.

Laura just stared at her. Then shook her head as her brain restarted. She turned to Rothema and asked. “Can she do that?”

Madam Rothema chuckled. “I don’t see why not. He has the family genes after all.”

Laura then grabbed her head, which was in pain. “You are all crazy!” She moaned.

“You can’t think of him as my cousin?” Briar asked.

“I can, but when I think of how he knows literally everything there was between me and you, it just feels odd!” Laura said.

Briar shrugged. “I’m not bothered by it. Instead, won’t it make things less awkward? At least we don’t have to take half a lifetime to bring him up to speed on everything that he missed.”

At that point, Princess Claire approached Briar, so Laura retreated over by Master Thales to sit down quietly and relieve her now splitting headache. Thales was busy scanning the audience for signs of his errant brother, Miles, attending. There was no party that Miles didn’t find a way to join in. If he was still in the area, he would be at the party.

“Congratulations!” Princess Claire said. “I’m glad to know that I was right to believe that you’d win.”

Briar raised an eyebrow. “Was this before, or after you fought me?”

“After. Of course, how could I put my faith in someone I didn’t know about?” Princess Claire readily admitted it. “To tell the truth, I was simply looking for competent magicians at the time, so my winning was never really my first objective.”

Briar nodded, silent for a moment, before suddenly speaking. “After this, I am going to go home.”

Clare began to panic. “B-but you said you-”

“Hold on. I never said I was going home for good.” Briar interrupted her. “I’m going home to see my family and invite them to come along with me. You said there were a lot of nice tourist spots, right? So, while I’m helping you at the contest, my family can have fun sightseeing.”

“Is Grayell kingdom in such a good situation that one of their main knights can up and leave?” Princess Claire asked.

“Well. Not exactly.” Briar shook her head. “Let’s just say that it’s the king’s orders for my father to take a rest for a bit, before all hell breaks loose.”

“Goodness! You have a gateway to hell there?” Claire asked, concerned. According to ancient folklore, volcanoes were referred to as ‘gateways to hell’ back before the people became more informed about what volcanoes were.

“Um…No, it’s a local expression.” Briar corrected her. “It means before things start getting busy to the point where one might hallucinate they were in hell.”

“Ah. What an interesting expression!” Claire said. “May I use it?”

“Feel free.” Briar shrugged. “I don’t own it. As far as I know, anyone can use a simple expression.”

“Thank you.” Claire said.

“But, because I’m going home first, it’ll probably take some time to get there.” Briar pondered. “Unless I can ask Madam Rothema to bring us there in her flying house.”

“Just so you know, I trust you’ll be there on time.” Claire smiled confidently.

“At least one of us is confident~” Briar joked.

Then Claire looked around, slightly fidgety. “Um…is there perhaps a chance that your brother is here?”

“Kael?” Briar asked. “Sure! He’s right over…there!” Briar pointed over by the grand piano, where Keith was stylishly leaning against the wall, a glass of juice in his hand as he surveyed the crowds.

“Thank you!” Claire curtseyed before she began to make her way over to Kael.

Briar’s face twitched a moment as a thought came unbidden to her head. Maybe…She glanced in between Claire and Kael. As Claire finally reached Kael, her cheeks turned red. He smiled at her, and they both started chatting. Could it be possible…? No, surely not? As the topic began to make her head hurt, she decidedly shoved it into a corner of her head to ruminate upon at a later time.

Of course, after that, there were many young lads who approached her with the intent of dancing with her, and possibly stealing her away to their family. For those young lads, Madam Rothema’s hawk-like gaze managed to deter quite a lot of them.

Instead, they could only manage a bit of conversation before their desire to flee overrode their desire to get on Briar’s good books.

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Chapter 100: The Award Ceremony

Upon the martial stage, locked in combat, were Kael and Laura. From the start, Laura had pressed to the advantage, sending the first attack.

Laura was giving her all, sending out a flurry of kicks, punches, and sometimes even bursting out with flying daggers towards Kael. In the past few months, her form had become swift, steady, and accurate. But the things which she had gained the most of was strength.

Briar, who was observing, could see clearly that the force behind Laura’s strikes had become much greater over the past month or so. Even though the muscles in Laura’s arm was still as skinny as ever, the muscles had become more condensed and elastic, allowing her arms to build up more force and a faster acceleration.

And this was all thanks to Master Thales’s regimented training.

Huh? Briar looked around the room. Come to think of it, where is Master Thales? While Briar wanted to see what was keeping him, she also felt reluctant to leave and miss seeing the end of the match. She decided to put off looking for Thales until later, after the match.

Kael retreated, dodging the flurry of strikes by a mere 5 centimeters. The knives were either dodged, or redirected using a well-aimed kick, or a palm strike. Laura continued to press the advantage, as Kael retreated around the stage in a circular motion, avoiding being cornered against the edge of the stage.

Even when Laura began to use her martial skills and appear in different parts of the stage, Kael was completely able to keep up with her. It could be said that while Laura had become very proficient in Shadow Flight, Kael had become even more proficient in Ghost Evasion. The after-images frustrated Laura to no end.

He could also tell where she would be fleeing to, since she always glanced in its direction before activating the technique. If they were simply engaging in a training spat, he would probably tell her about it. But, since this was a competition, why help her opponent out?

Finally, Laura did the one thing that he had been waiting for: she teleported directly behind him. But, even before she finished, Kael had started turning, throwing a right straight punch at her. It struck her in the left shoulder before she understood what happened, tossing Laura back a certain distance.

Laura landed, sliding back a bit before stopping. She paused, glaring at Kael with suspicion. How was he able to guess where she would escape to? Should she test it out again?

Laura rotated the shoulder that had been struck. Although it wasn’t broken, she was certain that she could only use half as much force with that arm now. It wasn’t worth the risk to test whether Kael could tell where the destination of her Shadow Flight would be. She would have to assume that he had a way of knowing.

And so, Laura decisively sealed away her Shadow Flight. It was better to set aside something that was not working, than to risk exposing herself due to a flawed technique.

Kael raised his fists and struck a boxer’s pose. Then he smirked and pointed his hand out towards her, waving her forward, tauntingly.

Why this little-!

Laura grinned in anger as a vein started to throb in her forehead. Without hesitation, she launched herself at Kael. If she could just get a clean strike on him, she would win!

Kael continued to dodge, and block her attacks, as he backed up. Somehow, always managing to keep away from the edges of the circular stage. While bending over backwards, to avoid a facial punch, he landed on the palm of his hand, and kicked out towards the side of her head.

Laura turned her face, tilting her head in the direction of the kick, which redirected the majority of the energy. She just barely managed to avoid being KO’ed. Surprised, Laura’s eyes flashed with a sense of caution.

Kael flipped over sideways, and landed on his feet again. But he quickly jumped backwards as Laura smashed forward, pounding her fists onto the ground where he once stood. The sturdy stone stage cracked from the force of the blow.

“Is this all you are good for?” Laura raged. “Running away?”

“The term, my dear friend, is ‘strategic retreat.’” Kael replied easily. “Not everything can be solved by brashly charging into a situation.”

“Are you calling me brash!” Laura yelled.

Kael smirked. “Now why would you think that? I certainly don’t recall giving out any names. Or is it that you also think that you sometimes behave brashly?”

“Rascal!” She hissed and threw a punch at him.

“Verily.” Kael agreed, as he dodged.

“Coward!” She booed, shooting a throwing knife towards him.

“Completely.” He replied, as he caught the knife between two fingers, flicking it away in a harmless direction.

Laura then jumped back, and stood there, her eyes turning red.

“You are so frustrating! I trained hard to be able to fight you face to face! I did not come here to watch you dodge around like a dragonfly!”

He paused and tilted his head to the side in thought. “Then you can give up?” He said.

“I don’t want that!” She yelled.

“Then, what do you suggest?” He asked.

Receive the full force of my punch!” Laura cried out, gathering her strength.

“Good! Come!” Kael responded to her vigorous shout. Standing still, upright and unguarded. He opened his arms out.

“Let me see how good you’ve become!”

Laura once more launched herself at him, all of her strength behind this one last punch. Even up to six inches away, Kael stood still, waiting to receive the blow. But, when she reached 5 centimeters away, Kael finally moved.

Falling backwards, he moved in the direction of the punch, grabbing both of Laura’s arms as he fell, rolling backwards onto the ground.

Uh-oh! NOT GOOD! Laura realized, as she felt herself supported by a foot at her stomach, to fly right over Kael’s head, and swing headfirst into the stone ground just past him. All she could do was to clench her teeth before her head struck stone.

THUD.

Laura’s head whirled with dizziness as she fell onto her back, temporarily unable to get up. Kael just stood up, looking down at her with a wry smile.

“You-you cheated!” Laura muttered unwillingly.

Kael chuckled and sighed.

“Silly girl. Did I ever say that I would actually receive that punch of yours?” He replied.

“Of cours-…huh? You rascal!” Laura’s bitter face could pickle cucumbers as she sighed. “It’s my fault then. I should have known better than to jump in headfirst after hearing something like that… I admit my defeat. You win.”

“You don’t want to stagger across the stage a bit more?” Kael asked.

“At this point, I’d be lucky if all I could do was stagger. Your blasted move gave me a concussion!” Laura growled frustrated.

“Then, lie still and wait patiently for the medic to arrive.” Kael replied.

“BRIAR HAS WON!”

The announcement sent shivers through the audience, awakening them from the daze they had been in. The final duel had been an eye opener for some, and a mouth opener for others as they dropped their jaws, with no sound coming out.

But that silence did not remain for long. A deafening, frenzied cheer rose up from the crowds, one which didn’t dissipate even after several minutes, as they cheered themselves hoarse.

“There will now be a half an hour break to recover. Then, afterwards, we shall begin the last part of the martial competition. Don’t think that this is over! There’s still one last round to finish.” The announcer reminded them, as the crowds filed down to the concessions stands for food, and to the stationed outhouses to relieve themselves.

Kael had now been confirmed as the temporary first place. If Laura didn’t challenge him to another match–or was not challenged by the dragon lad and defeated, allowing the lad to challenge Kael for first place–then Kael would be confirmed as the first place winner.

At this point, Briar jumped up on the stage, to go examine Laura.

“She has a concussion.” Keith told her helpfully.

Briar sighed as she got to work, placing her hand upon Laura’s forehead as she chanted “[Heal]”

A blue glow surrounded Laura’s head, and the damage was quickly beginning to be reversed under the effects of the calming blue light.

Keith whistled. “You can restrict the spell to just a single area now?” He asked. Usually, when [Heal] was chanted, the glow would spread to the entire body, unless otherwise specified. To do what Briar did meant that she was able to manipulate her mana to a very high degree. Several members of the Magicians Council were very impressed when they saw this. But, Briar didn’t even spare a glance in their direction.

“Don’t challenge him again.” Briar said to Laura, patting her on the shoulder.

Laura made a face. “You’re just saying that because you want him to win!” She muttered.

“I also do not want to have to heal your bruised head again. Otherwise, if there should be a next time, I might just leave you to suffer through it, Hmm?” Briar smiled cheerfully, but Laura shuddered.

“No, I’ll be good.” Laura muttered, feeling a bit happy that her best friend cared enough about Laura to be concerned about her health.

“Good. My job is to get you in tip-top shape so that Dragon Boy doesn’t have even a chance at first place.” Briar nodded. Laura felt a bit better thinking that she might have another chance to bash that jerk’s face in.

Unfortunately for Laura, the lad was traumatized enough that he wouldn’t dare to face Laura after that. And so, after the half-hour intermission, the first, second, and third places were confirmed for the martial competition.

Of course, Keith was in first place. Laura was in second place. And the dragon lad was in third place. They made their way to the stage that had been erected outside of the double-colliseum under the thunderous cheers that besieged them through the magic barrier around the pathway.

The magician winners were already present up on the stage. Of course, Briar was in first place. Youma was in second place. And Elsa was in third place. On top of the stage was the usual three steps for first second and third place. The two first place steps had been placed together, so that they could stand side by side.

As Briar and Kael stood together, many people began to notice the similarities between the two, including the fact that they shared the same name. But before they could begin to hash out theories about why the two looked so similar, Council-mage Syrel stepped forward, alongside Mayor Bradley.

While Syrel and Bradley were busy with the presentation of the rewards, Grandpa Thur was suspiciously watching the Councilmages behind the winners on the stage. The person who had been observing Madam Rothema’s viewing room had come from one of these men, and Grandpa Thur would be darned if he didn’t catch a clue as to who it might be.

“And so, Briar Mikael, I present to you this first place martial medallion, along with the first place prize of fifty thousand gold coins.” Syrel announced, as Bradley beamingly placed the medal around Kael’s neck, and presented the coins to him. Kael bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement as he accepted the coins, placing them in his ‘magic’ bag.

To his and Briar’s great luck, not even one of the magicians noticed the fact that Kael was Briar’s double, allowing the ceremony to proceed smoothly.

“And to you as well, Briar Rose, I present this first place magic medallion alongside this permanent pass to the Great Library of the Magician’s Council. It will allow you to enter anywhere in the Library, of course, aside from the forbidden books section. I trust it shall serve you well in your pursuit of the peak of knowledge.”  Syrel said, personally giving the prize to her this time.

“Thank you very much!” She said with a smile.

“And now-What is this!?” Syrel exclaimed as a blue magic teleportation circle opened up beneath Kael’s feet.

“Magic Dispersal!” Briar shouted. But the magic circle only receeded for a moment before rebuilding itself. Syrel, finally reacting to the situation, slammed his staff down upon the stage. The magic circle shattered with Kael collapsing to the floor, his face turned pale.

“WHO! Who was the blasted fiend who DARED to interrupt this Ceremony!” Magi Faerwind’s enraged voice boomed out like thunder as the wind began to gather around him in a mini tornado.

Chapter 99: Magician’s Stage-Final Match II

The young man nodded. “I see… In that case, my apologies in advance.” He said as he took off his robe, letting the breeze carry it away. Briar glanced at the cloak for a moment, before turning back to the young man.

“Likewise.” She answered, as she smiled and pulled her camo cloak out of her bag.

The large cloth covered her figure for but a mere moment. However, after the cloak had blown away, Briar was nowhere to be seen. The youth’s eyes widened, as he realized she had become invisible. But a moment afterwards, they narrowed.

“You think you can pull that cheap trick on me?” He laughed, sending a magic shockwave through the air around him. Tens of translucent mirrors shattered into nothingness, but Briar was still nowhere in sight.

“Huhuhu~ Whether it is a trick or not remains to be seen.” Briar’s voice came from all around. But the young man still could not pinpoint where she was. His back suddenly was covered in cold sweat. If this young woman were to become an assassin, he would be quite helpless.

Instead of keeping her advantage, though, Briar stepped out into the visible spectrum as easily as if stepping out of a door.

“Magic is like that, after all.” She said, with a knowing smile.

“Ho? Where is your impressive familiar? Are you hiding it in the shadows, too?” The young man asked, looking around.

“Unfortunately, they just served lunch upstairs, and she is taking her afternoon nap. My apologies.” Briar replied as she sidestepped the white cloak that had suddenly made a beeline in her direction.

“Did you honestly think that I would fall for a trick that has already been used once?” She asked.

He shrugged.

“I can only try. Any and all techniques are acceptable as long as no one gets hurt.” He had the cloak try to wrap around her at every opportunity, but Briar swayed and dodged it every single time.

“Hey, is dodging all that you can do?” The youth asked, with a grimace. “Magicians should fight with magic, not dodging manoevers!”

“Is that so?” Briar asked, with a smile before she said. “Then I shall apologize in advance.”

A bright light suddenly exploded in between them, blinding both the youth and the audience with its dazzling brilliance.

Once everyone had blinked the light out of their eyes, they rubbed them again in surprise. Briar was still standing in the exact same spot she had been standing before she left.

“Haha! Do you think I am stupid?” The youth asked, quite annoyed. It’s obvious that this is only an illusion!” He once more sent out a magic shockwave. But, what surprised him was that this time the image did not shatter in the least. Her braids simply waved in the breeze behind her.

“Huh? But how!?” He exclaimed.

“I’m afraid this time I am the real deal.” Briar shook her head. “Can’t you tell the difference between a fake person and a real one?”

His face turned slightly red from embarrassment. “Nng! Try this!” He pointed. But nothing happened. “Huh?”

Briar pointed off to the side. Glancing over, he saw his white cloak had been completely entangled and pinned down by Briar’s camo cloak, keeping it from lifting up off the ground with its weight.

“Good one!” He praised, giving Briar a thumbs-up. “But now, I guess it’s time I stopped fooling around~!” He said with a tehepero[1] as he brought a wand out from within his shirt.

“I’m glad to hear of it.” Briar replied. “I also am tired of playing games.” She took out a simple wooden stave and gently let the end fall upon the ground. Mana rippled forth from it as if that simply touch had been upon water instead of ground.

The audience was mesmerized by the beautiful display, but the youth was experiencing a different kind of admiration. The area effected by the rippling mana had an increased gravitational pull, thus it felt way more difficult to just stand up.

Instead of speaking, the youth was forced to use one of his trump cards to break away from the effects of this gravitational change.

“Zero Gravity!” He spat out through gritted teeth.

Instantly, all the pressure around him vanished. Briar instantly ended her now useless gravity spell, right after she cast the next one.

“Anti-gravity!” She smote the ground as a large magic circle appeared that encompassed the entire stage.

It should be said that, while [zero gravity] was an intermediate level spell, [Anti-gravity] was actually a high level spell. When combining the two together, the results were an accelerated speed of rising into the air that was faster than both spells put together. Thus, before the young man could even understand what she had said, he had shot upwards and smacked hard into the magic barrier surrounding the stage.

The blow to the back of his head jarred him into cancelling his zero gravity spell. Briar, likewise, dispelled her [Anti-gravity] as well, allowing him to fall towards the ground. After all, high spells-though powerful- had a correspondingly high mana cost the longer they were in effect.

A cloud of dust blew up where he landed.

“Ouch! That was a bit brutal!” The youth shook his head as he stood up. Before he had hit the ground, he had been lucky enough to cast [Earth Pillow], a spell which softens the ground for those falling from great heights. It was due to this that he hadn’t ended up in an unconscious state.

Briar narrowed her eyes.

“I would not have to be brutal if you were not taking me seriously.” She replied. “Were you farting out of your mouth earlier when you said that you’d become serious? …Understood. From now on I shall take your words as fecal air.”

“Say, that’s a bit brutal, don’t you think!?” The youth complained.

“Not at all. A Master class like yourself should be ashamed for trying to pull such cheap tricks on me.” Briar replied, a dis-satisfied expression on her face.

“…So you’d noticed?” He asked. His eyes became sharper and more focused afterwards. His general aura changed from that of a smiling idiot, to that of an elite intellectual.

“It’s harder still not to notice.” Briar smiled wryly, as her magic eyes clearly showed her the extent of his mana.

“Hah!” He laughed. “…I had taken this contest for a joke, but perhaps I shall get serious after all, then?” He spoke ponderingly as he began to accumulate his mana.

“That is all that I could ask for.” Briar said while she also began to accumulate mana.

The audience knew what the two were doing. Their next spell casting would be their strongest spells. Their next exchange would be their last. Whoever’s spell gave out first would lose.

Everyone was on the edge of their seats, not daring to close their eyes, or to wipe the sweat that accumulated on their foreheads due to the hot sun. All felt that if they were to miss this next exchange, they’d regret it for the rest of their lives.

Finally, both sides began to move.

“Sword of Annihilation!” [Youth]

“Hundred Hexagonal Barriers!” [Briar]

Both yelled out at the same time. A Great Sword appeared in the air over the stage, falling down upon Briar’s position. But it was blocked by a barrier made up of a hundred compressed hexagonal grid barriers surrounding Briar. The ground around her showed signs of collapsing, but she continued to pour out her mana into the shields.

At this point, whoever ran out of mana first would lose. But this time, Briar was placed in a rather precarious position. If the youth gave up first, then he’d only be exhausted. But if Briar gave out first, then she’d have to bear with the full brunt of the spell, and most likely be highly injured, if not killed. It was a highly suspenseful moment.

But Briar had chosen not to move out of the way, but to face the attack with her strongest spells: Barrier Magic.

The place where the great sword met the shield elicited a rather ear-piercing shrieking sound as the area where both spells clashed began to glow brighter. The air around it began to warp. Both sides were using all their mana to vie for the winning spot.

Briar’s quick emptying of her mana reserves caused her mana veins to start working faster, collecting more mana from the atmosphere to refill the emptying tank. This allowed Briar to keep up the hundred barriers as though they were all one.

But they weren’t. Compressed together, thought they were, Briar still had created a hundred shields instead of one. Instead, the youth only had one spell to concentrate on. And so, because of that, even with Briar’s monster mana capacity, she still ended up only breaking even against her opponent.

But then, Briar’s barriers started to flicker, and the sword began to dip lower, until suddenly, the sword quickly descended, making contact with the ground, and sending up another, even greater dust cloud.

“What happened?”

“Did Briar lose?”

“Did the boy just win?”

The audience murmured amongst themselves as the youth collapsed into a sitting position, sweat trickling in small rivulets down his face as he gasped for breath. It was a good thing the spell ended where it did. If it hadn’t, the spell might have dug into his vitality and continued at the risk of his health.

But when the dust cleared, Briar still stood in the exact same spot she had. Her Barrier still stood around her. The only difference was, now its shape was not semicircular. Instead, it was shaped more like a wedge of cheese on its side, with an almost sheer slope leading down to the ground at the side of Briar.

A Deep crack in the earth showed exactly how much damage that [Sword of Annihilation] was currently able to do. The depth of the cut could not be seen.

Briar approached the youth slowly as she asked.

“So, are you convinced yet? Or shall I need to go on the offensive as well?”

“Hah..hah…no..n-no need!” The youth tried to catch his breath. “I can’t recite another spell….I concede.” He said with a wry, somewhat self-ridiculing smile as he slowly stood up from the ground.

Briar nodded and dispelled her barriers.

“Briar has won the magicians contest.” Syrel announced, as the audience began to cheer the loudest they could.

Briar held out her hand for a handshake. “Don’t let them tell you any different. You are actually quite powerful.”

He shook his head. “Me? I’m average. I can’t even beat someone like you.”

Briar shook her head. “No, I just so happen to be an incredible exception, since I have a reputation to hold as one of Madam Rothema’s monster students. Truth to be told, if I had not been your opponent, you could have easily won this tournament.”

Then Briar curtseyed. “It’s a pleasure meeting your acquaintance. My name is Briar.”

“I know.” He replied. Then a moment later, he realized that he hadn’t introduced himself at all. “-Er, um, I’m Yohma.”

Briar’s emerald green eyes fixed upon the youth for a moment. Yohma, is it? Or is it Ryouma? She wondered to herself. While it was now quite apparent that he was a reincarnator, Briar still retained her decision not to reveal her status.

How did she know he was a reincarnator? Only people from her world knew about ‘tehepero’. Thus it was actually quite easy. And, while she wouldn’t reveal her own situation, she decided to keep on friendly terms with Ryouma-er Yoma.

“Nice to meet you, Mister Yohma. Although, next time, perhaps we should do introductions before fighting~” Briar chuckled.

“What!” Yoma exclaimed pulling a bitter face. “I’ll still have to fight you!? No way! I learned my lesson the first time! Count me out of any fights where I’m opposed to you!” And with that, the elite intellectual aura had once more changed back into the idiot happy-go-lucky one.

“If we ever meet again, go easy on me, okay?” He smiled as he made his way to the stairs, where his little angel girl awaited him. Briar likewise turned around to head back towards Rothema’s side of the stage. The awarding ceremony itself would take place after the first place had been decided for the Martial stage as well, so until then, Briar was free.

At the edge of the stage, Yoma paused and looked back, a rarely-seen serious expression on his face.

Me? Powerful? Hah! His grey eyes seemed to darken as he looked at the retreating figure of Briar. Though our appearances are of a similar age: I, a twenty-one year old man, losing to a twelve-year old girl can be nothing but a big huge joke.

His eyes returned to their original grey shade and he stepped down off the stage.

Facing his expressionless companion, he laughed in a carefree manner. “Well! I suppose I lost! Hahahah!”

The girl, Fiona, nodded, and quietly patted him on the shoulder. “There, there.” When he lowered his head, she also patted him on his head.

Yoma nodded his head, in agreement with himself. “Fee’s comfort is truly the best!”

He grinned, proudly, until Fiona lost patience with him and pounded a fist down upon his lowered head.

“Stop talking nonsense.” She replied in a monotone.

—————

Back in Rothema’s observation room, Briar noticed that no one was on the side that observed the magician stage. “Has the fight already started?” She wondered as she quickly charged through the curtain into the other room.

The sound of loud cheering suddenly blasted her ears as her attention was immediately drawn to the stage.

[1] Tehepero: a motion by which one shows that one is being silly; wink + tongue stuck out [pero] + knocking fist against the head + short laugh [tehe] = tehepero

Chapter 98: Magician’s Stage-Final Match I

At that moment, Briar, who had been close to motionless this whole time, jumped to her feet and dispelled her barrier. Unfortunately, in between Briar and Elsa was still a perfect globe of ice! Being a magician, Briar could not expose her physical strength.

“Hurry! We have to get her out of there!” Briar cried, worriedly. “The air inside has gone bad”

Indeed, Elsa’s perfect ice sphere had done more than get in the way. It had blocked off Elsa’s airflow. Briar’s barriers, though hard, were not airproof unless specified during their creation. But, Elsa’s ice sphere was made of water, thus naturally air proofing the interior. If only the sphere had had a single opening, Elsa would not be facing such a problem.

This was probably one of the only times a magician lost a match because their magic spell was too perfect.  But, the ice sphere was in the way. If they did not manage to extract Elsa within a short period of time, then Elsa could have severe repercussions and could possibly die.

But, the people in charge didn’t understand why Briar was so worried, and so their response was delayed. Moreover, the barrier around the stage hadn’t yet been removed, so no one could enter. The person in charge of the barrier spell had even accidentally dropped the control crystal by accident. He bumbled around to try and find it.

They’re too slow! I’ll have to do this myself! Briar’s eyes narrowed as she brought a hand up to the frigid sphere. The ice is too thick! A fire spell will not make it in time! Briar clicked her tongue. I also can’t use Martial Spirit, or else I’ll be giving myself away! She closed her eyes for a moment, then came to a split-second decision. I guess I’ll have to use that…

Her eyes snapped open, and she quickly brought out a metal staff with a large crystal fixture on one end, and several spikes radiating from the top of it.

“She brought out a staff?”

“What’s a staff going to do to help her get through that?”

The audience watched, curious as to how Briar was going to break open the sphere.

Briar brought her mana to her finger.

“I was going to save this for the final match, but I suppose I have no choice….” She spouted some analogous BS to mislead the audience, while she concentrated her mana to her finger, then outside of her finger.

In a flash, she had swiftly written the formulas for acceleration and gravity enhancement down the length of the staff, then used her magic circle trampoline to jump up above the sphere.

“Support spells?”

“Body Enhancement spells? Why did she write that on the staff?”

Then she swung, instantly activation both support spells by injecting her mana into the staff.

As she had surmised, the staff instantly accelerated, it’s weight growing heavy like a mountain. Sparks flew along it as it faced the friction from air resistance, but it did not stop. At this point, it couldn’t stop.

The staff then met with the ice sphere, and a loud noise echoed through the stadium.

Briar stood on top of the sphere, her staff embedded in the ice, which still appeared flawless. A single spike from her staff had punctured through to the inside. A slight hissing noise sounded, and then nothing.

By all appearances, it seemed as though her plan did not work. But then, Briar sighed and jumped down from the sphere, walking away.

But her performance had shocked the audience into utter silence. It was generally agreed that body enhancements should be used on the body. Thus, while everyone had known about enhancement spells, no one had ever thought about using them to enhance weapons before.

The older magicians then began discussing it amongst themselves while the younger audience was wondering why she had ceased to attempt to break the sphere.

“What?”

“What happened?”

“Why isn’t she trying to break it open anymore?”

“Did she give up?”

“No, wait! Is she perhaps out of mana?”

The audience was now louder than ever.

At this point, the barrier man had found the control crystal and turned off the barrier. At that point, several experts had rushed on stage to remove Elsa from her ice globe. But, it turned out, they weren’t necessary anymore.

Elsa had finally woken up. She sat up, and looked around, groggily holding her head. While she wasn’t in the best of conditions, she could still dispel the ice on her own.

“What happened? I…how?… did I just lose?” Elsa asked.

The experts could only inform her that she had lost. She sighed with disappointment, but she gracefully accepted her loss.

Briar, had already returned to the side of the stage, ready to come out for the last fight. As Elsa was about to pass by Briar, she suddenly paused.

“I know that I lost. But what I can’t understand is…how did I lose?” Elsa asked.

“I told you, didn’t I? Encasing yourself in ice is not a good idea.” Briar replied.

“But, why isn’t it a good idea?” Elsa frowned and tilted her head, not understanding.

Briar looked at her with a measuring gaze. But Elsa was simply honestly trying to understand the reason for her failure.

Then she smiled shyly. “While magic can easily be made flawless, their casters are still human. Water, though highly manipulative, is also highly airproof. Even water combined with the north winds is no exception to this property. Humans still need to breathe air. In that respect, my barrier already had allowances for air. But your ice on the other hand…” Briar shook her head. “If there had been even a single hole in that sphere, you would not have fainted from lack of air.”

Elsa’s eyes wavered, then she sighed. “So that’s it? Looks like I truly have lost to you this time. For you to know more about my ice magic than I do, who could have imagined it?”

Briar scratched at her cheek with a finger. “Just an observation I made. I’m no expert.”

“I see. Then I look forward to witnessing your next performance, Miss Briar. Perhaps we could become friends in the future?” Elsa asked.

“Perhaps.” Briar replied a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Until later, then.” Elsa ducked her head in farewell before proceeding out of the contestant area.

Someone who reflects upon their mistakes to learn from them…this one will go far in life, if her path is not barred. Briar noted to herself, before returning her staff to her magic bag.

While others might not know, Briar’s staff was actually just a training staff for one to get a feel for the wind element. Thus, the spell matrix inside of the crystal was simple and harmless. And so, when Briar had struck the ice sphere, she did not simply cast two spells simultaneously, but three.

Briar had used it to force fresh air back into the sphere through that single hole that she had created in Elsa’s sphere. Otherwise, the air would not have returned to normal so quickly. If it was any other staff with any other spell, Elsa may not have returned to the world of the living so quickly.

But, enough about Elsa. Briar stared across the stage at her opponent: the self-taught magician. This next fight would decide the champion of the magician’s stage.

—–Briar’s opponent’s side—–

The magician waited for the fight to be announced. By his side, a girl stood unhindered.

“Ho? Looks like someone’s staring at you.” She noted.

“I’m blushing~” He joked back.

“You better not be.” She replied seriously.

“Alright! I’m not blushing, then!” He replied in the same tone.

“Which is it? I need to clearly know the reason why I’m killing you later on.” She said in a monotone.

“Haha, no need to get violent, Fee~ I was only joking.” The young man waved his hands in defeat.

“That is not something you should joke about.” She said blandly before changing the subject. “That person…it is difficult to analyze the depths of her strength…the likelihood of you losing is over 70%”

“Whoah! That much?! I though it would at least be something a bit closer to 50% !” The man was clearly surprised.

“Even after performing such a mana-draining spell, she has neither lost focus, nor become out of breath. It is for certain that she has more stamina than you do. The only advice that I can give is to aim for a quick victory. You will definitely lose if this becomes drawn out.” The girl said.

“Thanks for your insights. I’ll try my very best up there today!” The magician smiled at her before climbing to the stage, ready for the final battle.

“Yes. Try your very best, so that I can comfort you when you lose.” The girl replied blandly.

The magician almost fell over.

“Hey! Can you stop trying to undermine my confidence here?” He exclaimed, not sure whether to laugh or cry.

“So you really are nervous.” She replied.

“Isn’t it obvious!?” He stared down at the girl from up on the platform.

The girl looked up, and finally her near expressionless face changed. She smiled. “Do your best, young master!” She said, her smile turning her from an expressionless doll into an adorable little angel.

“Count on it!” He replied with a silly grin.

————

Briar witnessed that small personal exchange, patiently. While she wasn’t 100% certain, she felt that this self-taught magician might just be yet another reincarnator from her world. While it could still be possible that he wasn’t, Briar somehow felt that it had to be so. It was far too convenient for a self-taught mage to just pop up out of nowhere, so close to the time of her reincarnation.

If he wasn’t a reincarnator, then he was certainly a rare genius. However, if he was a reincarnator, then that could certainly explain how he was able to master a form of magic that not many had seen before in this continent. Briar calmly observed him as he stood there on the platform opposite her.

He grinned. “I don’t suppose you would simply forfeit, right?”

The whole audience was struck dumb at the nerve and audacity of that statement. To ask someone to forfeit either meant that they were more powerful than their opponent, or that they completely disregarded the opponent’s strength. To say such a thing, either he was way more powerful than he looked, or he was very brash.

Briar smiled and replied with a chuckle. “Well, personally, I wouldn’t mind forfeiting…”

The audience was once more shocked into silence. Surely, she wouldn’t just give up at the last fight? The silence was deafening.

“Okay then-” the magician began, but was quickly cut off by the rest of Briar’s reply.

“But! Unfortunately, I’ve promised my teacher that I am going to win this. Madam Rothema isn’t one to approve of my giving up before I even tried. Isn’t that so for your friend over there as well?” Briar asked glancing at the man’s companion down below the stage.

“Ahahah. I guess you’re right.” The magician replied with a good natured smile. “Well, there’s no use delaying things then. Shall we begin?”

At that, those in the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief. It would be no joke to allow the last match to end in a forfeit before it even began.

“Ah, for that, you should ask the announcer…” Briar turned towards the announcer’s stage, where Council-mage Syrel stood.

He nodded. “Let the final match begin!” His voice echoed through the stands, and the audience broke out into an excited cheer.

Chapter 97: Dangers in Ice

“How’s that?” Kael asked. “How is this a blessing in disguise?”

“At least, you’ll know if someone’s using magic on you.” Rothema said. “Especially if it’s of the more forbidden kind like mind-controlling magic, or curse magic.”

“But I thought those books were lost in the fire?” Briar asked.

“Just because the books were lost, didn’t mean the magicians who read them were. Those who were familiar with the magic would certainly have written a few secret tomes of their own from memory. And those were only re-written so that future magicians would know how to fix the disasters that arise from such a practice.”

Rothema tapped the lip of her cup as she pondered. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the more incomplete drafts trickled out through a crack, somewhere, and ended up in the hands of those who couldn’t help themselves, since there still are people being found using such magic.

“So, what I’m trying to say, is: this is definitely a good thing.” Rothema finished.

Kael thought about it for a moment, then nodded. It really was a good thing. By that time, he had returned to the very picture of health.

“By the way, what was that other spell that you used on me earlier?” Kael asked.

Rothema smiled and said nothing.

Before Kael could ask her further questions, Helen pointed towards the stage. “Oh, look at that! That was amazing!”

Everyone turned to observe the martial stage, where Laura was fighting the Eldest Twin.

Right, I forgot about that. Kael remembered. He also moved closer to watch and to gauge just how much Laura’s strength had grown in the past few months.

———————

Laura lithely jumped backwards, away from the swing of the youth’s sword. While she could easily block its swing with her arm guards, the weight that the youth was able to place behind his blade was shockingly more than she could handle.

To those in the audience, it seemed only like a case where the older contestant was naturally stronger than the younger one. After all, the Dragon Twin was fifteen while Laura was only twelve. A gap of three years was certainly something not easy to bridge. But what they didn’t know was that Laura was a 9th rank blue class.

To put things into perspective: one didn’t start training until around six or seven years old when their internal vision was opened.  They would then focus on expanding internal energy capacity until the age of ten. At that point, no matter how much they trained, that capacity would remain unless they broke through to the next rank, in which they would acquire a small increase.

Once they were ten, they would then enter the yellow class and start physical training and internal cultivation of the bones until they broke through by condensing diamond bones, which could take anywhere from ten to fifteen years. So, by the time most broke through to the green class, they would be twenty to twenty-five years old.

On a side note, Briar’s father, Sir Maverick, was on the higher end of the scale, able to reach blue class by the time he was 20.

Laura, on the other hand, was only twelve. Moreover, she had already broken through to the blue class, an entire class higher than green class, which was the current class for almost all of the contestants (sans Briar and Kael). Therefore, for Laura to be overpowered by someone who -logically and mathematically- should be in green class, was highly irregular.

Laura was even at the highest end of the blue class, only one rank away from purple class. But, even so, Laura had to decline facing the young man’s attacks head on. Instead, she had been reduced to dodging or redirecting the strikes aimed in her direction.

The youth’s eyes suddenly sparked with a strange light as his sword suddenly flickered. Laura reached up to touch her cheek, only to bring her hand away with blood on it. Somehow, he had managed to cut her face without her seeing it.

Seeing blood, Laura blinked her eyes, were confused. Then she realized what the blood meant, and she began to see red.

How dare this boy attack the face of a lady! Moreover, he marred the face of a Noblewoman! Unforgivable! Laura took on an odd stance as she swayed back and forth. She was pulling out all the stops. This deplorable was headed for hell.

Kael’s eyes glinted with a knowing light. This young man had managed to get on Laura’s bad side. He silently offered up a prayer for the man who had no idea what he was in for.

The youth on the stage smirked at Laura’s odd display, but he was not allowed to be complacent for long. Laura threw out several knives in a fan shape with a swing of her arm. While she wasn’t as good at knife throwing as Briar, she had learned it just in case.

The young lad dodged them in contempt. And the knives harmlessly embedded themselves into the ground behind him, in a semicircular layout. The fact that they were able to cut into the stage was commendable, as the stage was magically protected.

“Is that all you got?” he chuckled. But his expression changed when Laura disappeared.

“Nope.” Her syrupy voice sounded from behind his back.

He spun around and was only just barely able to defend against Laura’s attack with his sword. After which, she threw out knives again. Again, they struck the ground behind him, missing him completely.

He felt confused. Why would Laura use that crummy skill again? But he didn’t have time to think, since Laura disappeared again. This time, learning his lesson, he spun around to block, but he was surprised when he was greeted with an empty stage. Where did she go?

He didn’t have much time to think before he was punched in the side of the head from behind, causing him to stagger sideways as his jaw almost dislocated itself. He spun to face Laura, whose stance had changed yet again into somewhat of a sideways boxing stance. Her eyes glinted with a somewhat dangerous light as she disappeared again.

He quickly spun around, slashing out into his surroundings, hitting nothing but air. Where had she gone this time? He snapped his head around to behind him, only to find another stretch of empty stage.

Unfortunately, his attention to what was behind him distracted him from what was in front. Before he could turn his head back to the front, he was clocked once more on the jaw. This time, from his front, sending him staggering back.

What followed after was a carefully-calculated, one-sided pummeling of the youngster. In which he had no way of bringing out his excellent swordsmanship. Kael shook his head and sighed.

Laura’s attack patterns were built upon the assumption that the victim would learn from the previous attacks. Each subsequent attack was calculated to throw off the tempo of her opponent, creating openings for the subsequent attacks.

Thus, there really wasn’t anyone among the younger generation that would have an easy time dealing with her aside from Kael and Briar, who knew similar styles from earth.

In all truth, he had been asking for it, though. Just because it was a fighting competition didn’t mean that they had to throw all manners and common decency aside. The young women in the audience were cheering especially loud at Laura’s display.

The young men winced as they sympathized with the youth, and likewise offered up prayers that his soul rest in peace. There was no doubt that this young man was surely skilled: skilled at angering people he shouldn’t mess with.

Finally, Laura finished with another punch to the jawline, jogging his brain into the black dreams of unconsciousness.

“Laura is the winner!” the announcer cried. The crowds of young women cheered with respect for their newfound object of admiration.

Now there was only a single fight left: the fight for the championship. By this time, Kael had already finished healing up, and was in top condition. However, Laura had just expended a large amount of energy. Seeing that this was the last fight, both Laura and Kael were given about twenty minutes to rest and recover.

Kael, having little left to do before the final fight, decided to check up on how Briar was doing.

—————————–

Just as Laura was finishing up her final blows, Briar was called up to the magician’s stage. Her opponent this time was the Ice Queen, Elsa von Icht.

“I hope you don’t disappoint me as much as my previous opponents.” Elsa remarked, readily.

“Wow, for someone known as the “Ice Queen”, you sure are heated up today. Is this the rumored ‘firey sunset over the icy plains’?” Briar returned in kind.

“Hmmph.” Elsa snorted, and stood at ready.

Briar stood: her back straight, her arms by her side, her eyes looking calmly at Elsa.

“Begin!” Syrel announced.

Elsa sent her magic into her staff, channeling a frost ground spell in her surroundings.

At that moment, Briar did something that caused everyone to be confused. She closed her eyes.

“What is she doing!?”

“She closed her eyes? Could it be that she’s throwing the match?”

“IS SHE CRAZY?”

“How is closing her eyes going to make her win!?”

The audience volume raised as they discussed in a mutter about why Briar chose to do something so foolish as close her eyes.

Briar then yawned and sat down on the stage.

“Are you trying to make a fool out of me?” Elsa frowned menacingly.

“Nope. It’s just that I have no need to fight an enemy that’s no longer a threat to me.” Briar explained. “Oh, and I’d stop expanding that frost aura, if I were you. It won’t end well.”

“What do you mean?” Elsa asked, when she noticed that the frost on the ground was starting to climb up off the ground and coagulate into a crystalline globe surrounding Elsa.

Her frost field was no longer expanding out from her because Briar had flipped the proverbial cup over the bug and surrounded her in a clear, spherical force field. By this time, the ice sphere had completed itself to perfection. There was not a single inch of the barrier that had not been encased in ice.

“Hah! I may not be able to get out, but that also means that you aren’t able to get in. Are you planning to tie for second?” Elsa scoffed.

Briar politely shook her head.

“Oh no! There’s no need for a tie at all. It’s unfortunate, but there will most certainly be a winner to this duel. I won’t even need to raise a finger.” Briar replied. After all, barriers were her forte. It’s just such a shame that her loss is self-inflicted. Briar shook her head. She had been expecting something more…impressive.

The whole time, Elsa was busy attacking the barrier wall.

“Ice shot doesn’t work.” Briar sighed.

Elsa tried to create a mini blizzard.

“Ice blizzard doesn’t work either.” Briar noted in a bored manner.

Then Elsa summoned ice into the shape of a large icy drill. Briar sat up a bit. “Oh?”

The drill did nothing to penetrate the barrier surrounding Elsa. Briar sighed again, seeing how the competition was pretty much in the bag at this point.

Elsa didn’t understand why her attacks weren’t going through. Barriers normally wouldn’t last more than a ten minute pummeling before they were shattered like glass. But this person’s barrier was seemingly indestructible. Was it getting warm in there?

Briar watched on for about five more minutes before, all of a sudden, Elsa fell over in a dead faint.

“Elsa has fainted. Briar is the winner!” Councilmage Syrel announced.

Temporary Hiatus

My computer had a technical problem and is being fixed, currently. Therefore, the weekly chapter on Tuesday will not be posted until the following week.

In the meantime, why don’t we have a guessing game? Please post about which you think Kael will face in the final round? Laura? Or the Eldest of the Dragon Quintuplets?

Edit: Thank you for waiting. My computer has been fixed and I can now commence with writing the rest of the next chapter.

TAOSAT- Chapter 43 Part 2

Everything else was clear and precise, but only here was there that fuzzy, muddled feeling.

She intended to get to the bottom of things. Holding her hat onto her head as the breeze blew by, her memories seemed to be coaxing her into the woods.

She picked out the remains of a small path through the woods. “Shortcut!” A child’s voice echoed in her mind. Stepping onto the path, she followed the call of the forgotten.

She heard a dog’s growl, and turned to face the largest black dog that she had ever seen. Then, she blinked, and there was nothing there. She turned around. It had been this way. She started to run. Sounds of footprints led her forward. It wasn’t in a straight line. her childhood self had run zigg zag to shake off the beast. Finally, she stopped at the edge of the gorge. Yes. It had been here.

Then she heard something else, something that did not come from her memories: the clink of metal. Hmm? She looked for the source of the sound. A flash of light reflecting off something nearby caught her attention.

There! On a tree branch overhanging the gorge, was a beautiful blue teardrop pendant on a silver chain.

Sora had never seen it before, yet she felt most strangely that it was familiar.

She reached out, holding onto a nearby trunk, and snatched at it.
It took three tries before she managed to snag it on her fingers, once she had gotten ahold of it, she retreated.

Once away from the cliff’s edge, she examined it closer.

Something deep within the pendant flickered with a blue light, like there was a flame inside of it.

Sora looked closely as the pendant flared in a flash of blue white light.

I promise upon this necklace, and upon all the memories stored within, I will definitely return here! Even if it takes days, or weeks, or months until I can come back-even should it take years: I will definitely return!

Inside of that flash, she heard her voice from six years ago.
All her missing memories poured back into her. It seemed to last forever, even though it was but a few moments.

When the stone’s light faded, the inner star had disappeared, and it returned to its usual deep blue crystal, Sora sank to the ground. It was all clear to her now.
Everything.
She started laughing.
And when she was finished laughing, she was crying tears of joy.

Finally!

She flipped open her phone and texted her mom and dad.

“Dear Mom and Dad:
I’m going away for a bit.
It took me a while, but I finally remembered an important promise.
I’ll return someday, perhaps.  I might even bring company.
I love you both very much.
Stay healthy, and see you later!
Love, Sora.”

She sent the message.

Once she received confirmation that it had been sent, she placed the cell phone in the hollow of a nearby tree. She wouldn’t need it where she was going.

She eyed the distance across the gorge.

Narrowing her blue eyes, a golden glimmer coursed through them as she could only just pick out the edges of the portal, glowing with a soft white light.

She swung her bag experimentally, calculating how strong she’d have to throw it to get over the distance.

Finally, she swung and let it fly free of her hands.

————————————————————

One second Tseng was bent over, looking for the pendant. “It should have fallen somewhere around here…” The next:

“Oof!” Tseng staggered backwards into a tree, and ended up crumpled on the floor with a huge headache.

“OW. What the…?” On the ground nearby was the source of his misfortune. A suitcase. Tseng stared at it, confused. Where did this come from?! Someone must have thrown this. He pulled himself up, his head still throbbing.

“Oi!” Tseng called out. “Who threw this!”

———–

Once the suitcase had gone through, Sora backed up, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Then she darted forward, using the edge of the ravine to propel her through the portal.

Her sun hat blew off, landing on a nearby tree branch, abandoned by its owner.

———–

The portal crystal suddenly shone brightly, illuminating the portal edges as a figure came through. Sora used her hand to brush her long red hair back, wishing she had thought to bring hair ties.

Surprisingly, although the area had been devastated by the battle with Pythagoras only six years ago, there were now young saplings growing. But, since most of them were only six years old, Sora found she couldn’t see very far.

“Oh dear, I hope it didn’t fall too far away!” She wondered as she began looking for her suitcase. Coming around a particularly verdant tree, she came face to face with Tseng. She was wearing the necklace around her neck.

Tseng blinked. A strange, red headed young lady stood in front of him. She looked around his age, maybe a little younger. There was something oddly familiar about her, and there was no one else around for miles.

The only reason why Tseng didn’t recognize her this time was that he was now used to seeing people of all shapes and colors, having traveled a lot.

AH! It was her! She’s the culprit! He realized.

Tseng folded his arms, still holding her suitcase, and glared.

“Now, see here! I don’t much appreciate having things thrown at me, especially suitcases! That blasted case knocked me over! Watch where you throw your stuff!”

Sora quickly bowed her head to apologize. “I’m terribly sorry about all this! You see, I didn’t know anyone was here, and I only arrived after the suitcase did.”

And I’m probably not making any sense right now. She thought to herself.

Just then, her pendant slipped into view.

Tseng felt that he had seen her somewhere. Her voice sounded familiar. And something suddenly sparkled in the light around her neck. She…she was wearing the pendant!

“Huh? You found my-” Realization hit him. “SORA?!”
Sora stopped, and looked up. That wavy black hair looked familiar…

“…WHOAH! TSENG? I completely didn’t recognize you there!”

“Same to you! You look so different! Wait, wait a second. This is almost like that time we first met!” Tseng laughed, delighted.

“I remember.” Sora replied. “You mistook me for a boy at that time.” Tseng’s face froze, and he looked off to the side. I kinda wish you didn’t remember that part. He thought to himself.

She laughed at his awkward expression.

“I-I don’t know what I was thinking. My eyes must have been blinded by the sunlight.” Tseng replied. “There’s no way anyone can mistake you for a boy now, though.” He said, glancing at her hair that had grown out long, and her clearly feminine face.

“But, where have you been all this time?” He finally asked.

Sora looked a bit sheepish.

“Er…the strangest thing happened…I fell down a ravine, hit my head, and forgot about everything for a loong time. Then my parents took me far away until today. I only just remembered everything.”

“So, it really was amnesia, this time!?” Tseng laughed.

“Yup!” Then Sora lifted the pendant. “But, my promise and this pendant helped me to remember. Still…I wonder how it got on my side of the portal….” She frowned as she looked at the pendant. Then she looke up at Tseng.

“Didn’t I give this to you?”

Tseng suddenly looked away and cleared his throat. “Well…I was starting to believe you weren’t going to keep it…6 years is a long time. You caught me right when I’d just about given up. In a fit of frustration, I accidentally flung it away. But, when I came to look for it…I was hit by a flying suitcase.”

“I know why~!” Sora grinned. “It was Divine Punishment~.”

“Must be because you’re divine. You struck me across two different worlds for doubting you~” Tseng teased right back.

Sora laughed. “A poor divinity I’d make-forgetting all of my subjects! I wouldn’t qualify!”

She turned aside, as a wind blew around them. “But, it’s partly my fault, I guess…Sorry! I made you wait.” She looked back at Tseng.

“I’m back.” She smiled, the glow setting sun creating a golden halo around her flaming red head.

“Welcome back.” Tseng replied, smiling warmly in return.