Another thing Richard had achieved in all this time was more improvements to the fireball spell— he’d shortened the incantation time by half a second. This was the first step towards instant casts, and also the most important. The process greatly enriched his understanding of the principles of magic, especially because he wasn’t using the same method for a standard quick cast of a spell. If he could continue enhancing the spell to its limits, he would one day be able to instacast great fireballs, a mark of a powerful mage.
Richard continued to look in the mirror. Those with elven blood flowing in their veins naturally took care of their own appearances, but today he was prepared for something specific. He’d ordered a pure white bouquet, and was going to scatter the petals from the Deepblue’s outer terrace. It was said that Deepblue’s summit was near the trade wind region, so in theory the neverending air currents would spread these fresh flowers out hundreds of kilometres if he threw it from up high and had good luck. He wished his mother would be able to see them from the heavens.
Richard walked out of his residence as usual, this time with that bouquet in hand. He headed for a teleportation point that would take him to the top of the Deepblue, an expensive but convenient means of transport that could send a little over ten people to a specific floor.
When he got closer to the spell formation, Richard found quite a few familiar faces waiting around it; they were people he used to have lessons with. There were other people he’d never seen before, though, seemingly waiting for something else.
These people seemed to change their minds the moment Richard walked in, pushing their way into the crowd. The formation wasn’t large and there were already some people within, so it grew crowded immediately. Still, the shaking of the formation only lasted a few seconds before the restrictive feeling disappeared. The teleportation had ended, and Richard had reached the twentieth floor of the Deepblue.
He needed to take another teleportation point here, going up to the fortieth floor. This would continue a few times, until he finally got to the eightieth floor of the tower where the terrace was located.
The moment he stepped out of the light, Richard felt a sudden, stinging pain at his buttocks. Someone had mercilessly made a move on him! Not expecting it at all, he only let out a cry of surprise and charged out immediately.
However, something tripped him as he tried to make his way out, causing him to fall. He slid across the glazed blackstone floor for a few metres before stopping, the pain from the fall so intense he couldn’t get up for a moment. The sudden impact had left him slightly dizzy, but the laughter and teasing that sounded out suddenly from behind him told him he had been made fun of.
Richard didn’t care all that much about that low blow, but the flowers he’d planned on spreading for his mother had fallen down and been strewn everywhere. Petals were everywhere, and the stems of the flowers seemed to be broken.
He darted over in a hurry, intending to pick the bouquet up. These were the flowers his mother had liked the most, and although they weren’t rare in the village they were hard to get this far up north. He’d had to order them from a flower shop a month ago to be able to get them today.
However, another hand reached forth the moment he was about to make contact with the bouquet, grabbing the flowers first. Richard stiffened as he stood up slowly, glancing ahead of him.
A young mage, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, stood smirking in front of him with arrogance. Half a head taller than Richard, the boy dressed in acolyte robes twisted his head to study the bouquet in his hands. He was one of the acolytes who’d been waiting in front of the teleportation point before, and by the looks of it the leader of the gang. The others advanced towards him one by one, subtly encircling Richard.
No matter how slow Richard was he’d finally understood that these people had come here especially for him. What he didn’t understand was why him? Immersed as he was in the world of magic, he hadn’t even interacted much with anyone other than the professors, and he’d never talked to this group before. How had he offended them? The exceptional memory granted from his blessings allowed Richard to vaguely remember that this youth in front of him was called Papin, someone from an average noble family of the Sacred Alliance. He had some amount of magic talent, but in the Deepblue he wasn’t really exceptional enough to have Richard hear about him. As for his magic… The numbers in Richard’s vision jumped around for a bit as Richard calculated Papin’s mana reserves through his aura. The value ended up at fifteen points, equivalent to a level 2 mage.
Papin took a closer look at the disheveled flowers, even shaking the bouquet hard. It only caused more petals and leaves to fall. He then glanced at Richard from the corner of his eyes, arrogance lining his words as he asked, “Are you that Richard? I really can’t tell what’s so great about you that Sharon herself took you in as a disciple. Honestly though, you have a pretty good butt!”
The young acolytes all began to roar with laughter, evidently having experience and understanding in what this meant. Even without having had experiences like this before, Richard could understand the malice in their eyes. His face immediately turned red, but his persistence allowed him to hold the fury at bay as he spelt out slowly, “Return, the, flowers!”
“Ah, the flowers! I almost forgot!” Papin exclaimed in an exaggerated manner, and then put on an act as he gazed at the bouquet in his hands. He actually licked the flowers before speaking, “Is this important to you? Let me guess… Is this for a woman? Little Richard, I really wonder if you’ve even started growing hair down there. You’re already learning from other men and giving women flowers? This isn’t good. Who are you giving it to? Let me help you! Look, I’m such a great person. I love helping people! Then again, these flowers do look rather terrible. They’re already in this state.” He then swung the flowers hard, causing more petals and leaves to fall, “It’s like something you’d give to a prostitute…”
“Return it to me!” Richard’s voice was very low, sounding like the roar of a young lion.
“Oh! So you really like this thing…” Papin bowed slightly and leant closer to little Richard. However, he released his hold and allowed the flowers to fall. Before Richard could even react, one of the acolytes nearby stomped down, and then crushed them. The pure white flower petals fell everywhere, and the bouquet could no longer be restored. Even more petals were crushed under the young acolyte’s shoe.
Richard’s response exceeded all expectations. He did not charge forward to protect the flowers, nor did he stop the acolyte. Instead, his body moved backwards, and then like a rebound from a stiff bow that had been pulled back, his hard forehead mercilessly smashed onto the smile on Papin’s face!
The teleportation formation lay in front of a large path, so there were a fair number of people gathered here. A sound of crushed berries rang out as bones snapped to the force of the blow. The attack even caused some people to twitch their noses in fear.
Things turned black in Papin’s eyes, and then red, yellow, and all other colours. The world began to spin as he lost all hold of his location. Even then Richard took advantage of everyone being in a daze. He pounced onto the youth, putting all his body weight into his hands as he pulled the older boy into the air. His hands firmly on Papin’s head, he planted that bloodied face firmly into the ground. As long as this smashed down firmly, Papin’s skull would break!
However, such a terrible thing could not be allowed to happen amidst the swarm of mages in the Deepblue. A grade 6 physical shield was cast on both boys, and the repulsive force between the spells caused the two to bounce off each other like balls.
Only great mages, at least at level 14, could instantly cast grade 6 spells. Two middle-aged mages walked out as expected, stern looks on their faces. “What’s going on?”
Physical shields were very effective, only disappearing to a dispel or if they took enough damage. A bloodshot Richard ignored the words of the mages, doing all he could to attack the shield and get out.
On the other hand, Papin finally recovered from his dizzy spell. He grew both afraid and furious at what had just happened, still feeling the unbearable pain from his nose. He touched the place with trembling fingers, realising everything was a mess.
The discovery almost caused the youth to faint; the face he’d always been proud of had been destroyed! The discovery almost caused Papin to lose his mind, to the point that he managed to suppress the pain for an instant. He pointed at Richard, beginning to yell in a crazed manner, “Bastard! Do you have the guts to enter a magic duel with me? The one who loses has to kiss the winner’s ass!”
Richard calmed down at Papin’s shouting, stopping his attacks on the shield. He tidied up the sleeves he’d bunched up his arm, speaking calmly with an expression not befitting of his age, “I accept.”
“No!” The middle-aged mage who had separated the two frowned as he tried to stop them, but the other one just pulled at his robes. “Let them do as they wish!”
The middle-aged mage froze, whispering, “But Richard is a student of Her Excellency…”
The other man chuckled, and then answered in a low voice, “The one challenging him is called Papin, a follower of Randolph who’s also a student of Her Excellency. The duel was probably Randolph’s idea, but this idiot almost messed it up.”
The middle-aged mage came to a realisation, “We have no need to involve ourselves in matters between Her Excellency’s students. Fine, let’s go by the book!”
Traditionally, unresolved disputes in the Deepblue were ended with money and magic. If one proposed a magic duel and the other party agreed, if there was no obvious disparity between the strengths of the two parties a duel would be held under the supervision of the supervisors of the Deepblue. A specific arena had been set apart for this very purpose, and some mages were appointed to protect the place.
A large amount of money needed to be offered if two parties wished to use the duelling arena, to make up for possible losses from damage. The mages stationed there would then act as overseers, protecting both parties. After all, in principle a duel shouldn’t endanger any lives. Of course, there was no such thing as absolute fairness. For instance, Papin was still registered as a level 1 mage, but he already had the mana reserves of a level 2.
Richard and Papin were inside the arena half an hour later, twenty metres apart and facing each other. Papin’s injures had been crudely taken care of by then, and beside the slightly pale face he didn’t look as pathetic as he used to. His blood-stained robes had also been changed, though the sunken bridge of his nose still looked unusual.
A fair number of people were here to watch the duel despite the fact that it was between two level 1s. News of the conflict had spread quickly, and Richard’s special identity ensured that the viewing platform that could support two hundred people was rather full.
The audience seemed relaxed, acquaintances greeting each other without much thought to the upcoming duel. As high-profile as it was, this was still a battle between acolytes. Grade 1 spells wouldn’t kill anyone, and with their mana reserves these acolytes would only be able to cast three of them at most.
Most people were only here out of curiosity. They wanted to know what was so special in Richard that Sharon herself would take him in as an apprentice, and it would be great if the boy was humiliated here. Watching a lucky person fall to the depths was something most people took guilty pleasure in.
Two of Sharon’s apprentices stood behind a one-way window within a box up on a high platform, Minnie and Randolph.
Minnie was a tall and slender girl who looked cold and arrogant, possessing an imposing aura despite her youth that threw off anyone soliciting attention. Randolph was a large, tall young man; possessing an appearance, background, aura, and power well beyond his peers. Only a genius among geniuses could become apprenticed to the legendary mage herself.
Minnie looked down at the two in the arena as the countdown began, saying coldly, “A pretty good idea, Randolph. If Richard loses this duel with those conditions, Master definitely won’t want him anymore. However… Why do you need to use such methods to take care of a mere level 1 mage?”
Randolph shrugged it off with an elegant smile, “I just want to see what’s so special about this future runemaster. The famed runemaster, His Excellency, Saint Klaus, determined that I’m talented in the field long ago, but Master didn’t let me train in the field… Besides, would it make sense for an apprentice of Master to lose to trash like that? It’s just a difference of one level.”
Minnie mocked Richard, “Indeed, just one level— level 1 and level 2, that is. Are you insulting my intelligence, Randolph, or your own? Besides, aren’t you afraid Master will be furious once she’s back?”
Randolph chuckled arrogantly, “Master wouldn’t give up on a genius like me for a loser. I get over 100,000 coins every month from her! On top of that, Father… Nevermind, the duel’s about to begin. Let’s watch!”
Minnie gazed towards the arena as well, but she muttered to herself, “But why is it that I hear Richard gets 500,000?”
Randolph did not speak, as if he had not heard Minnie, but his expression darkened.