The tournament matches happened every other day. Kou, who had fought with the Crimson Wolves yesterday, was having his parts inspected at Professor Andagi’s laboratory to check for any abnormalities in the composite Golem’s functions.
“I can’t really move the way I want to yet, so I was a bit nervous.”
「Really? I think you did a good job though, Kou-chan.」(Sayaka)
Apparently Sayaka had been watching the match. She was now keeping Kou company with conversation while he was being inspected. It seemed that she had become completely accustomed to the work she was doing in the laboratory.
The bell that signaled a guest’s arrival rang and Layos entered. Sayaka hurried off to prepare some tea.
「Kou’s being inspected, huh?」(Layos)
It seemed that Layos had also watched yesterday’s match. He brought up the topic of Gawiik’s group, who still seemed to not have shown their real ability yet, and their newest member: Kou.
「It seemed that you still aren’t used to fighting. Doesn’t it place a considerable burden on the body if you make those kinds of movements?」(Layos)
“We’re doing this inspection just in case, but I think it’s okay.”
「That composite body is specially-made, so those kinds of movements won’t cause any problems. Kuwakakakaka!」(Andagi)
The professor said that confidently while he checked the Golem for any signs of wear. Currently the composite body was in satisfactory, normal condition with no defects to be found.
The professor laughed loudly for some reason as he told Kou to keep showing the Golem’s power in the next match. Meanwhile, Layos began to share the information that he had obtained just recently.
「Apparently the opponent for Gawiik’s group in the main event has been changed to the Varow group.」(Layos)
「What? Was their opponent not supposed to be some adventurer group from the west?」(Andagi)
“This morning when we all gathered together, they were saying that it was good that we weren’t matched against the Varow group, you know?”
「That group paid a fine and withdrew. It was apparently accepted, since it happened before the main event.」(Layos)
Apparently they had had a dispute with the Varow group and caused a fight in the bar, during which some of their own members were injured. The Varow group were made to pay half of the fine and they had settled with that.
One of the groups eliminated in the preliminary round was chosen randomly to advance to the main event and the matches were quickly rearranged. The new addition to the main event was then paired with the group that the Varow group was originally supposed to face, while Gawiik’s group was chosen as the opponents for Varow group that shared the same rank of medal.
This was apparently decided so that Gawiik’s group would not be paired against a group that was of clearly lower rank, in order to be more fair to the other groups. While this would be good for the spectators, it was a real problem for Gawiik’s group.
「If we both win and advance to the next round, you’ll be facing us next.」(Layos)
Layos said this phrase in a way that seemed to contain some kind of hidden meaning as if to see Kou’s reaction. However, Kou was simply anxious to get back to discuss the changes in their strategy with everyone.
「Kou-chan doesn’t seem to be listening, does he?」(Sayaka)
Having said that, Sayaka brought the tea over and set it down on the table. It appeared that Kou did not have any fierce ambition, sense of competition or fighting spirit.
Layos felt this as he observed Kou, the composite Golem. He laid down on the sofa and rested his head on Sayaka’s knees.
「Hey, I still have work to do -」(Sayaka)
「You’re always working, aren’t you?」(Layos)
Thinking that Sayaka seemed a little moody, Layos took her hand and pressed his lips against it.
Just as Kou arrived at the inn that Gawiik’s group was staying in to relay the information he had learned from Prince Layos, a messenger from the organizers of the tournament also arrived to deliver the same information. An emergency meeting was called to discuss a strategy against the Varow group. They included Reaper and Daido, both of which had passed the preliminary round of the individual matches.
「They didn’t reveal their hand in the preliminary round match, either.」
They knew that the Varow group would be using various special equipment similar to Gawiik’s enchanted sword, “Wind Cutter” and Lef’s mystic staff, “The Flowing Hand”. Though, Gawiik’s group had the hidden trump card that was Kou. They would have to wait and see how their opponents had prepared, but they could not lose focus even for a moment.
「We’ll probably have to go all-out.」
「Kou, you have to decide on the timing yourself and think about which weapons to use.」
The fact that they could use magic had already been exposed, so they needed to make use of the things that their opponents were not aware of.
Kou had not yet shown his ability to produce weapons out of nowhere in public, let alone in a match. They would use his unarmed appearance to their advantage.
「Well, the first thing about the Varow group’s organization is that their captain Varow is a warrior, but he uses a special bow as his main weapon.」
The bow was a self-loading mechanical bow made in Na’Hatome, designed for firing consecutive attacks. It was used to mark targets to attack in battle as well as providing backup for their close-quarter warriors.
「That mechanical bow’s rate of fire is no joke, so we need to watch out for it.」
「That thing’s gotta be super-heavy, right?」(Karen)
The next enemy to be discussed was the vice-captain, a female swordsman. They knew that she wielded an enchanted sword that released shockwaves. Blocking her swing with one’s own sword would result in taking damage from the resulting shockwave, so it was of utmost importance to avoid a direct engagement with her.
「It seems using the captain’s “Wind Cutter” to oppose it would be safest.」
It seemed that the advance guard of the Varow’s group was formed by that female swordsman and a heavy warrior with a shield. The rest of them were high-ranked members of the group - another warrior, a Magician and a girl in black clothes that was apparently a Sorceror. With the information they had confirmed, they knew that they had to be careful of Captain Varow’s mechanical bow and the female swordsman’s enchanted sword.
「They’re specialized in fighting other humans, aren’t they?」
「Well in that case, having Kou with us is one of our strengths, isn’t it?」
He was capable of things that no normal human was capable of. Their opponent was a group that had little experience in fighting non-human opponents, so that would become a weakness they could take advantage of.
They decided on a formation similar to the one they used when exploring dungeons where the members would be moderately spread out but not too far apart. Kou would form a wall to cover Lef and Karen, making sure they would not be targeted.
「We’ll have to think of everything else as we fight.」
The next day.
A particularly anticipated match of this tournament. The arena was full of spectators who had come to see the matches between these famous fighting groups. The match between the Varow group and Gawiik’s group would be in the afternoon. The Golden Sword Dragons led by Prince Layos would be fighting in their match before noon, so the huge crowd was present in the morning.
Prince Layos’s match ended as soon as it started. In a way, it was impossible to tell what he had up his sleeve.
All of his members had equipment with special properties and used their powers right at the beginning of the match, overwhelming their opponents before they could do anything.
Even the mercenary bands and adventurer groups who were watching the match could not think of an effective countermeasure to their power.
「They really are aiming for the legendary title, huh?」
「Honestly, even if we defeat Gawiik’s group, I don’t feel like we’d be able to win against the prince’s group.」
Prince Layos’s group returned to the waiting room under the cheers of the audience. The Varow group’s vice-captain, Stua, was watching from one part of the audience. With her was Karvan, the heavy warrior who was the protector of the Varow group. The two of them were sharing their thoughts on the match.
They began to leave to head back to the inn they were staying at to prepare for the afternoon’s match. The rest of the matches were not particularly worth watching.
「So you’ll be the one to engage Captain Gawiik after all, Vice-Captain?」(Karvan)
「Yeah, they’ll probably try to make that to happen as well.」(Stua)
If they had figured out that Gawiik’s enchanted sword “Wind Cutter” was the only weapon that could directly engage Stua’s enchanted sword “Crumbling Wave Breaker”, they had no reason to do anything unusual. Looking at it another way, the only way to deal with “Wind Cutter” was to use the “Crumbling Wave Breaker” to face it. It was fine to have a fair competition of strength.
「What are the chances they’ll push onto us with that magical soldier?」(Karvan)
「None. It’s an interesting Golem, but that’s definitely going to act as a wall for their rear members.」(Stua)
Stua knew that it did not have the ability to put up a challenge against truly strong opponents. It was obviously durable, flexible and had high speed, but now that they knew about its speed, there were countless ways to deal with it.
In her opinion, humans that could adapt to their situation were more difficult to face.
「Apparently their vice-captain is a good all-round warrior, you know?」(Stua)
「Fu, I won’t let them lay even one finger on you or the captain.」(Karvan)
Karvan, the shield for the Varow group, responded with a confident reply to Stua’s small joke.
The audience seats of the arena were completely full in the afternoon. The nobles’ seats that had been empty until yesterday were now filled with noblemen and noblewomen and the announcer’s voice rang out loudly.
「AND NOW -! THE AFTERNOON MATCH OF THE MAIN EVENT OF THE ROYALLY-SPONSORED GREAT TORTOLUSE FIGHTNING TOURNAMENT -! BETWEEN GAWIIK’S GROUP AND THE VAROW GROUP -! IS ABOUT TO BEGIN!」
Loud cheers rose from the audience as the two groups entered the stadium. As they took up their battle formations the audience’s interest was focused in Gawiik’s group’s composite Golem and the Varow group’s mechanical bow. In the nobles’ seats, Prince Layos was sitting with Sayaka, who he had dragged there.
「Ah, it’s Kou-chan. He stands out because he’s so big… I wonder if they’ll focus on him.」
「Kou shouldn’t be fighting in the front; he’ll probably be protecting their rear members.」
As Layos predicted, Kou stood not far from the archer Karen and the Magician Lef, acting as their wall. At the front, Gawiik and Mandel stood the same distance apart. They were taking a vertical formation against their opponents.
The female swordsman Stua and the heavy warrior Karvan were at the front row of the Varow’s group formation, while Varow himself was standing in the middle with his mechanical bow. In the same row, off to the side, were the warrior and Magician with the Sorceror at the back.
Soon, the start of the match was signaled and the battle began.
Both groups faced each other, trying to see if the other would make the initial charge. In this deadlock situation, Varow fired the first arrow.
It was a first-class, top-quality product among the mechanical repeater-bows from Na’Hatome. The standard arrow capacity was thirty arrows, but it had been expanded to hold fifty. It repeatedly loaded arrows into the bowstring and fired them at rates that were impossible for normal bows.
There were five initial arrows fired from the Varow group. Kou, acting as the wall for the rear members, was unharmed by the arrows. Of course, the ones he was protecting, Karen and Lef, were also unharmed. Mandel held his shield up to block the arrows and Gawiik temporarily stood behind him to use him as a defense. An arrow was being fired every second.
The arrows used in the match were non-lethal, but its rate of fire had a psychological, intimidating effect.
Gawiik’s group also opened fire with Lef’s offensive magic and Karen’s arrows, trying to measure their opponent’s defense. As the warrior in the middle row of the formation blocked the attack with his shield, it became clear that his shield had an anti-magic enchantment.
For now, the battle was mainly a psychological one and the audience was beginning to voice its dissatisfaction. However, the Varow group had already begun to make their move.
「-- Lito, are you ready? --」
「-- Yes, I’m perfectly stable now. --」
When jobs were accepted from the Adventurers’ Association, depending on the mission, sometimes communications equipment was loaned out. It was special magical equipment called “Opposing Far Voices” that allowed conversations to be carried out at long distances, and the Varow group was in possession of a particularly high-performance one.
The four Opposing Far Voices allowed the other members to communicate directly to both Captain Varow and Vice-Captain Stua. The weakest-looking member among them standing at the back, Litoinaize was the one who confirmed with Varow that she was ready.
Nobody knew about the fact that the Varow group was using the Opposing Far Voices equipment to communicate to each other.
「-- It’s a good time… Go, Lito! --」
「-- Yes~ Here I go! --」
It was known that she was likely from Eiyoa. What was not known was that she was a rare Sorceror with the ability to fight in direct combat, known as a “Shadow Artist.”
Leaving a magical illusion of herself in place and concealing herself with a partial barrier, she went to circle around the edge of the arena to bring down the defenseless rear members with a surprise attack. Shadow Artists were professionals at assassinating and causing havoc behind the scenes.
Varow’s arrows aimed at the rear members were to draw attention to himself as well as provide cover for Lito’s surprise attack on her targets, the Magician and archer hiding behind the Golem. Lito finally arrived at the wall of the stadium after moving carefully so that her footsteps would not be heard and her feet did not cause any clouds of dust.
The spectators who were wanting the battle to be more spectacular would soon be letting out voices of surprise. As this thought went through his head, Varow continued pulling the string of his mechanical bow. The Shadow Artist’s Hidden Movement Technique. Nobody would be able to see her behind her barrier’s concealment.
『Huh? What’s that?』
Seeing a flow of magical power wavering like steam near the wall of the arena, Kou tilted his head. The magical power was wavering in an arch-like shape and moving slowly along the arena’s wall. Lef was right behind him so he told him about it through letters and she replied that it might be a Shadow Artist’s Hidden Movement Technique.
Kou, able to see magical power, had detected the Shadow Artist’s approach by seeing the small amount of magical power she was emitting to maintain the barrier that was concealing her body. Lef and the other were cautious of her, but even if they wanted to intercept her, they could not accurately pinpoint her location without getting close enough to feel her magical power.
But she was getting dangerously close, so Kou decided to intercept her. Varow’s rapidly-fired arrows were still coming, so Kou produced a wide, heavy shield as a counter-measure.
「It’s heavy -」(Karen)
「... It’s heavy.」(Lef)
「Voh vaah~」“I’ll be back soon~”
Lef and Karen would have to endure this for a while. One part of the audience stirred as they wondered where such a large shield had suddenly appeared from; perhaps he had the shield on his back and they had been unable to see it from such a distance? Coming to this conclusion, they settled back down.
But the majority of the audience were wanting an end to the stalemate of the battle, and had their hopes raised for a new development as the strange Golem of Gawiik’s group began to move.
「What is it, what’s wrong, Kou!」(Gawiik)
Seeing Kou suddenly break the formation and run towards the arena’s wall, Gawiik called out to him. Kou, deciding that there was no time to explain, simply wrote “I’ll explain later!” on his back as he dashed forwards with the same speed that he had shown in the match with the Crimson Wolves.
After quickly closing the distance to the wall, Kou embedded barrier-breaking properties into his arm and swept his arm through the barrier. As if the air itself was being distorted, the area around his arm became a blur and the girl dressed in black who was supposed to be at the back of their formation appeared.
「Hyii! I-I’ve been exposed!」(Lito)
With her Hidden Movement Technique broken, Litoinaize was in a panic. The illusion of herself that she had left at the back of the Varow group’s formation faded away and disappeared. Seeing the technique of an extraordinarily rare Shadow Artist, the audience was suddenly excited again.
At the same time they were awestruck by the hidden abilities of Kou, the composite Golem who appeared to have some barrier-breaking function built in.
「Ah, ah, err...」
Facing the giant Golem with her back against the wall, Lito pressed her small body sideways along the wall to try to get some distance from him. But perhaps because her legs were trembling, it seemed she was unable to escape properly.
Tch, to think my barrier was destroyed, what the hell kind of Golem is this… In any case, I have to look for an opening and at least try to crush one part of it...
Her frightened behavior was an act; her frail appearance was a weapon she used to cause hesitation in her opponents’ attacks and make them lower their guard. It was particularly effective on opponents that had human morals.
However, Kou could read the thoughts in her heart and knew that she was pretending to be afraid while looking for a weakness in the Golem.
『I see, her appearance is that kind of weapon, too~』
Kou was observant when it came to anything. Leaving her intentions aside, her appearance was indeed thin and frail-looking. Kou extended his hand to attack with just the right amount of force.
「Hyi~ H-help me...」Ah shit, this won’t work on a Golem?
Carefully holding her head to protect it from hitting against the wall, he sent one attack into Lito’s body.
Taking a light body blow just strong enough to lift her body off the ground, she thought『it’s useless after all』 as she lost consciousness and crumpled onto the ground.
From the outside, it appeared as if the Golem had held the helpless girl’s head against the wall and delivered a merciless attack. The crowd began to stir.
「--Captain, Lito’s been taken out!--」
「--Yeah, I know!--」
As Varow replied to his subordinate via the Opposing Far Voices, he clicked his tongue as he realized that Lito’s psychological defense did not work against the Golem. Though the Golem may have the personality of a human, there was no guarantee that its behavior would be that of a human. But that was something that made it more like a human.
「We have no choice, let’s do it! Stua, you take command!」(Varow)
The Varow group had wanted everything to go smoothly with their surprise attack, but they had no choice but to deviate from their pre-planned strategy. Captain Varow took position to continue his rapid fire while Vice-Captain Stua took over the role of giving detailed commands.
Their formation had been as packed-together as Gawiik’s group, but now they opened their formation up and began expanding sideways to go on the offensive.
「We’re going to go at the same time as the captain’s rapid-fire. Be careful of that Golem. Karvan and I will engage their advance guard, the rest of you go for their rear members.」(Stua)
Soon after that, Varow’s mechanical bow unleashed a fierce attack of consecutive arrows.