FeralHeart Chapter 215

Artemis Valkyria stood in the centre of the underground Arena of Trials, bathed under the harsh radiance of a spotlight operated by dedicated Tier 1 mages. The rest of the Arena, except for the door through which her opponent would enter was plunged into darkness for dramatic effect. Her steel wings glittered under the light, while in sharp contrast, her dark metallic armour soaked it in.

It was a thing of visceral beauty, her armour. Sleek and streamlined, it covered each inch of her body seamlessly; the joints sealed shut by an elastic, nearly liquid metal. Made from orichalcum – the hardest, most mana-resistant metal known – it provided protection against both physical and magical threats. An intricate network of mithril ran throughout the interior of the armour like silvery veins, allowing her to conduct mana through it even when her opponent couldn’t.

The only visible parts of her were her hawk-like grey eyes glowing faintly silver within the depths of her helmet. Artemis had morphed only her eyes into that of her Feral form for the match, expecting to use the increased clarity of her vision to her advantage.

The armour wasn’t just one thick sheet of metal. It had been crafted from several thin wafers joined together with narrow gaps left between them. The gaps had then been drained of air and vacuum-sealed, resulting in a reduction of the weight of the armour while simultaneously soundproofing it. This was quite an important feature as the most common means mages used to bypass armour during close-combat altercations was by using vibrational attacks like focused shockwaves of sound. It did make her deaf within the armour, but that was a small price to pay. Coupled with orichalcum’s natural mana isolation capabilities preventing shadow mages from piercing through the armour with their Aspect of Space, the only thing she really had to worry about was if someone actually cut through or crushed her armour.

And there were thousands of tiny runes engraved upon its interior, connected to the mithril mana conduits. They packed a nasty surprise for anyone who thought that defending was all her armour could do.

She had commissioned it from the Iron Bear in celebration of reaching Tier 3, training with it extensively till it felt like a second skin. And when she had reached the peak of the Tier and begun participating in the Trials of Justice, it had served her well. She had debated not using it for today’s match as it seemed like too much of an unfair advantage, but then decided to use it anyway. After all, she hadn’t won duel after duel against seasoned opponents fighting desperately for their lives by underestimating them.

Her sword unsheathed, its tip embedded in the ground and her gauntleted hands resting on its pommel; her mind focused, unheeding of the tumultuous discussion of the audience gathered to watch their duel… She waited.

She didn’t have to wait long.

Mars Felidae emerged from the entrance on the opposite end of the Arena, stepping into the spotlight that was focused there. The circle of light moved along with him as he strode forward and took his station opposite her.

Artemis’ piercing eyes studied him, taking in his straight-back and confident demeanour. She wondered what could possibly be the source of that confidence while also noting that he was unarmed and unarmoured. He returned the favour, studying her in turn. His crimson eyes widened as they trailed over her armour – his mood vacillating ever so slightly before returning to that determined self-poise. Artemis recognized it. It was a battle-calm developed over the course of multiple life or death experiences. It was an essential factor that separated a veteran warrior from a rookie. She was extremely impressed with the boy for possessing it at such a young age. It showed that his merits weren’t just for show.

With both of the protagonists for the duel gathered, floodlights were lit all around the Arena, illuminating its entire circular extent with a patchy brilliance and leaving enough darkness for a Shadow mage to use. Some of the lights pointed up at the domed ceiling, making the fluorescent moss covering it gleam a neon blue.

The audience stands, too, were lit by a dimmer, more uniform lighting, revealing the densely packed rows of spectators.

The front row seats were reserved for the journalists and speed-painters (water mages with a talent for manipulating ink to make photorealistic paintings) as well as for the most important of the spectators: The members of the Council and the Emperor. Even the famously reclusive Empress, who usually avoided such lively occasions, had made an appearance and was sitting beside her husband. Princess Venus too was present with her family, although she had to keep her face veiled as tradition dictated that the bride could not show her face in public until she chose her husband during a Swayamvar.

The movers and shakers of the Capital had turned out in full strength. Ranging from prominent businessmen and administrators to the representatives of hereditary nobles; none had absented the event. There were even military personnel among the stands, as well as a S-ranked team of Delvers representing the Adventurer union.

A bored-looking researcher from the Academy lounged in his seat, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. In contrast, another group from the Academy – a group of female mages from the battle-mage division – occupied an entire section, cheering enthusiastically and holding up a large banner that bore the words: “Victory to the Princess and down with the Philanderer.”

The corner of Mars’ eye twitched at that and he almost dropped out of his mental state of the Void. He had heard that the First Princess was extremely popular among the female section of the youth and that many young women took her as their role-model for her strength and independence. It appeared that her fans weren’t too happy about him trying to alter her marital status.

At first, he had thought that there wouldn’t be very many people in attendance for the duel but Ceres had set him straight. She had informed him that the stands would be packed, not because the attendees were particularly interested in who won, but because of the banquet that would be held afterwards. It would be the first such gathering of leaders from all walks of society after the Shogunate’s invasion. Many would attend just to gauge the political climate and the attitude of the Council. It was a chance to forge new alliances to better deal with and even profit from the current situation.

She had made it clear that if he won the duel, then this would be the best possible debut in high-society he could hope for. Of course, the entire Empire would know of his loss by the next day if he didn’t. No pressure.

It was Mars’ first time with so many gazes fixed upon him, appraising him, judging his worth. He was understandably nervous. Even his stint upon the Firang wall had been different. They were focused on the enemy then, not so exclusively on him. If it wasn’t for the emotion draining aspect of the Void, he would have been suffering from a strong case of stage fright right about now.

The sight of Artemis’ armour had nearly knocked him out of the Void as well. With that kind of protective shell, his chances of winning had just shrunk drastically.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford armour for himself. No, quite the opposite actually. In the last week he had been swamped by offers of free equipment from various weaponsmiths and merchants, several of whom were in attendance today. With their sharp noses for business, they had smelt the underlying opportunity for advertisement in the duel. Unfortunately, he had to reject them all. He just wasn’t used to wearing armour and trying to adapt to something new a week before a duel was the pinnacle of idiocy. He might as well just forfeit.

Searching for his wives among the stands and finding them waving at him supportively from the first row, Mars took a deep breath. Connecting with the wind mana in the air, he centred himself, waiting for the announcement for the fight to begin. Armour or no, he would give it his all and leave the results up to providence. As a martial warrior, he owed himself and his opponent that.

The Emperor’s voice amplified by wind magic rang out throughout the Arena, silencing the clamour of the audience. “We are gathered here today to witness the duel between Our first daughter, Princess Artemis Valkyria, and Our Vassal, Mars Felidae, for her hand in marriage. We shall not introduce them or their prior achievements – their worth will be demonstrated by them upon the stage shortly – but We shall take the liberty to state that these two are among the foremost talents of the younger generation and the future pillars of the Empire. There is much honour in victory, but no dishonour in defeat.

“Young warriors, display your abilities heartily. Do not worry about injuring each other; for your safety is in capable hands.”

Artemis raised her sword and Mars settled into a low battle-stance.

“Without much further ado, We announce the commencement of the duel.” Raising his hand, the Emperor brought it slashing down. “Begin!”

The ground beneath Mars’ feet shattered as he disappeared from the spot. A sonic boom rang out shortly afterwards.

Artemis had a lot of experience fighting wind mages, many of whom were speedsters. Though she was a little surprised by the extreme velocity demonstrated by Mars, her instincts had her responding in the most correct manner reflexively.

~ Aspect of Gravity: Circle of Pressure ~

Her grey eyes flashed silver from within her helm and a field of force proliferated with her as the centre and the ground around her cracked, crushed by its own weight.

Mars crashed into the region of enhanced gravity, but instead of stopping dead in his tracks and crashing to the ground like she expected, he merely slowed from effective invisibility to a blurry streak. His palm grew large in Artemis’ eyes and before she could react, it smashed into her helmet.

A blindingly white brilliance exploded from the point of contact as Artemis’ barrier activated, draining her mana to negate the impact.

Mars’ eyes widened. When he had learnt that she was contracted to her sword, he had thought that she had, at most, found a way to push Vita’s divine will into it and stop herself from going Feral. He hadn’t expected for her to have a functioning Barrier.

Artemis felt like a mountain had crashed into her chin and though she didn’t feel the impact of the blow, it had been angled upwards and it sent her blasting backwards into the air. Snapping out her wings, she balanced herself. Flipping midair, she landed on her feet and slid backwards, her armoured boots leaving two trails in the dirt.

With the sound of thunder, Mars slammed another palm into her from the side, disbalancing her and sending her flying again. Before she could regain her balance, he slammed into her again, angling the blow so her feet didn’t touch the ground.

Her eyes flashing silver, Artemis increased gravitational pressure around her to slow him down, buying herself enough time to lighten herself to weightlessness. Beating down hard with her wings, she shot up into the air, out of the range of his unilateral pummelling.

Stabilizing herself in the air, she shook her ringing head to clear it. That very first blow to the chin had shaken her brain in her skull, dizzying her and letting him play pinball with her for a while. Quickly checking her mana, she was shocked to find nearly a fifth had been consumed.

She could hardly believe it. What kind of monstrous strength did he have to cause that much impact damage? Wasn’t a Hominum’s body supposed to be much weaker than a Bestia’s? Then what was this anomaly. She shook her head. Apparently close combat was out of the picture. At his speed and strength, she wouldn’t be able to touch him even though she was confident that a single slash of her sword could bisect him.

If anyone had doubted his actual strength, just this much was enough to put all those doubts to rest. With just a simple wind spell for acceleration and only his physique, he had demonstrated a level of close combat prowess that would be more than enough to take out any unprepared Tier 3 mage. She had felt that each of his palm strikes caused a focused shockwave of thunderous sound that could bypass a Barrier and attack the internal organs. If not for her armour negating the sound, she would have lost the battle in one strike. He was a formidable opponent.

Well, since he was so strong, she wouldn’t be able to beat him with normal methods. Beating her wings, she rose higher into the air until she was close to the ceiling. Floating there weightlessly, she turned her gaze upon the figure of the red-headed boy looking up at her from below.

He had made no attempt to follow her into the air, knowing that his strength and manoeuvrability in the air would be much lower than hers and that he wouldn’t be able to take advantage of his physique. He was just standing there, looking up at her and waiting for her next move. He most likely wanted to play this reactively, countering or dodging her moves as she made them and waiting for her to run out of mana. After all, not requiring mana was his specialty.

A mistake.

She pumped her mana into her wings and they shone a bright silver. She whipped them down.

~ Aspect of Sharpness ~ ~ Aspect of Gravity ~ ~ Aspect of Regeneration ~

~ Tier 3 personal magic: Rain of the Feather Swords ~

Her metallic feathers detached from her wings and with each downward whip of her wings, shot down to the ground with their edges shining a sharp silver and accelerated to a blur by the enhanced gravity. It formed a beautiful but deadly sight as thousands of the tiny swords rained down upon the Arena below, covering the entire region without a gap. As her wings thinned out, new feathers grew, replacing the ones lost, letting her maintain her barrage uninterrupted.

The first of the feathers struck the ground, punching through it like a hot knife through butter, only stopping after penetrating several feet into the ground when all the mana attached to it had been exhausted. Then the sword rain fell in earnest, perforating the ground like a sieve.

Artemis watched with mounting horror as the boy made no attempt to dodge, simply standing there utterly stunned, and several of the feather swords punched right through his body. Her mind came to a screeching halt and she hastily stopped her attack.

For a moment frozen in time, there was utter silence, then screams resounded through the audience as they all fell into a tumult.

This wasn’t supposed to happen! He wasn’t supposed to die here. Artemis admitted that there was some mental inertia from only fighting life or death battles against convicts… but she had only used a killing move because father had said that there were protectors. She had expected them to intervene if things got too dangerous.

Had she overdone it? Had the protectors slipped up and let the boy die because of how broad her move was and how slow he was to react? Her mind was in turmoil… she didn’t want the blood of an innocent on her hands.

Wait! Something was off. Why wasn’t the figure toppling over and why wasn’t there any blood?

Suddenly, her instincts screamed of danger. Every fine hair on her body set upright as a giant sense of crisis covered her from the back. She tried to dodge or turn around.

But she was too late.

As the shadow doppelganger on the ground melted away into nothing, Mars dropped down on her from behind. With both his fists clasped, his biceps bulging and veins standing out from the amount of Vita’s divine power he had pumped into his arms, he hammered down on her back, sending her blurring down in a streak of silver and black.

She hit the ground with a thunderous crack, making it fissure and cave, raising a ring of dust. Mars landed on his feet next to her, crouching to absorb the impact.

Without giving her any time to recover, he grabbed her ankle and swung her limp form above his head, bringing it slamming down onto the ground. He thrashed her like a farmer would a bunch of wheat. With every swing, he pumped the scant remains of divine power in his body into his arm to increase the power of the swing. He was going to run out soon and if he didn’t manage to knock her unconscious within the limited time-frame, he would lose all his advantage.

Artemis felt like a ragdoll in the hands of a child throwing a tantrum. Although her barrier was absorbing the impact and her armour was protecting her from physical damage, the sheer whiplash from the thrashing was causing her brain to rattle around in her skull and giving her a concussion. She was dizzy and her mind was struggling to work.

But above and beyond that, the sheer absurdity of the situation – how humiliating it was for her as the First Princess of Regiis to be manhandled in this manner in front of such a distinguished audience – made her breathless with shame and anger. Enough was enough! She hadn’t even gotten to use her sword!

With a wrathful scream, she pumped her mana into the channels of her armour and activated the runes. The entire armour began vibrate with an extremely high frequency, releasing a shrill whine that caused Mars to release her and stagger backwards with his hands covering his ears.

Artemis’ feathers began to resonate with the whine along with her sword, releasing a grating sword cry.

Mars coughed up blood as the sound bypassed his barrier and attacked his internal organs, making him feel like he was being pricked from the inside by a thousand swords. He began to bleed from his ears and nose, followed by bruises forming all over his body as the capillaries under his skin ruptured.

~ Tier 2 wind magic: Void Barrier ~

Calling upon the wind, he sketched out several runes into the air and the ambient mana around him responded to his call, surrounding him in alternating layers of compressed wind and vacuum, cutting off the infernal sword cry.

~ Tier 2 light magic: Heal ~

A warm light seeped out from the interior of his body, making him glow red as it passed through his flesh. His internal injuries began to heal rapidly and his bruises faded. Standing straight, he raised his head to see the First Princess floating a few metres above the ground, glaring at him with her intense grey eyes.

Mars’ magic was versatile but it wasn’t particularly stronger than that of a Bestia at his level, especially not when the Bestia in question was the Sword Maiden. Drawing in Vita’s divine power from his wives with Abstinence, on the other hand, made him much stronger and faster than his peers physically. That had given him the idea to use it to surprise Artemis.

Artemis excelled in close combat. If he managed to overwhelm her in the field she was strongest in, she would treat him very cautiously and only attack from afar, allowing him to engage in a battle of attrition while dodging her attacks as best as he could.

The first part of his plan had succeeded. He had caught her off guard with his unexpected speed that prevented her from reacting and strength that gave him the ability to resist the increased pressure of her gravity with just his body. Managing to seize the offensive, he had pummelled her relentlessly, wiping out a large chunk of her mana at the cost of his divine power reserves.

But the good outlook hadn’t lasted long. Breaking out of his barrage, she had flown upwards and scoured the entire Arena with an area of effect attack.

At this time, the second surprise he had prepared for this match had taken effect.

In preparation for today, he had mastered the use of the shadow doppelganger created by Phobos. He had used light magic to alter the colours of light the shadow doppelganger absorbed and the ones it reflected, modifying it so it would look exactly like him. It had been a month since his mother had promoted to Tier 5 and given him her notes on her path to mastering the Aspect of Radiance. He was currently an Adept in the Aspect.

While he couldn’t turn invisible like his mother could, he could make his form fuzzy by bending light around himself. Also, unlike his mother, he wasn’t restricted to the use of the light element. He could also use his shadow magic to cast Stealth upon himself. The combined effect of the two had let him evade the notice of most of the spectators and Artemis after using a quick Shadow Walk to jump into one of the areas of shadow in the Arena, leaving his doppelganger behind in his stead. He had been careful to make the switch right when Artemis was disoriented and had broken out of his first barrage of attacks.

Then, as the Princess prepared her attack, he had flown silently upwards, weaving through the light and shadow of the Arena and sneaking up behind her. He had covered himself up in a film of vacuum to block off all scent and sound as well as used his shadow and light magic to hide his visual presence even further.

In her moment of distraction when she believed that she had slipped up and killed him, he had dropped out of the sky from behind her and attacked.

Artemis’ entire body began to glow silver as it grew and morphed into her Feral form – a falcon that was three-metres long from tip to tail. Her armour morphed along with her, encasing the large raptor in plates of dark metal. Her sword too melded with the form, forming her tail feathers.

As someone with a Daemonic bloodline and a special affinity, Artemis could have created her own Aspects but she had chosen, instead, to opt for the most common Aspects that existed and fit into her ideal fight style. This way, she would be standing on the shoulders of giants. With the doors of the Imperial library open to her at all times, it was no wonder that she had progressed so fast in her mastery of her Aspects and grown so strong. If she had created her own Aspect, which no one before her had used, then she would be left fumbling in the dark on her own and wasting a lot of time.

The Aspect of Sharpness from wind magic, the Aspect of Gravity from earth magic and the Aspect of Regeneration, a variation of the Aspect of Healing focused solely on healing oneself, from light magic… These three formed the core of her fight system and now, they came together to form her Domain.

With an angered screech, silver mana spewed out of her, leaching the colour out of the world around her and dyeing it a dreary grey. Her feathers detached once again from her wings and this time, instead of shooting at Mars, they circled around her protectively in a tornado of feathery swords. it closely resembled the Tier 2 wind magic: Blade-edge Hurricane.

As she pumped more and more mana into the Domain, the tornado of blades expanded outwards, forcing Mars to retreat again and again. Soon there would be no space left in the Arena for him to hide and he would have to forfeit or be dismembered by a thousand cuts.

Well, sighed Mars, it seemed like he was out of tricks. His magic was as strong as a Tier 3 mage’s but the problem was that he had absolutely no counter to a Domain. He cast magic by taking control over the ambient mana but a Domain would push out that mana, replacing it with the mage’s personal mana. He could attempt to jack into the Domain but it would end up as a mental tussle for supremacy over the mana with the mage at a much greater advantage as the mana was theirs in the first place. Not worth it. Besides, in this case, as he had no affinity for earth magic, he wouldn’t even be able to try.

He sighed again. This was why he had wanted to finish things before she could resort to her Domain. He would have to forfeit the match.

Suddenly, his ears picked up a familiar voice. Snapping his head around, he saw Deimos standing up on her seat, cupping her hands around her mouth and shouting at him, using her wind mana to direct and amplify her voice. “Master! Use it!” he heard her say.

His eyes widened as he realized what she was referring to. But… was it safe to use? His eyes hardened. The Princess had used a killing technique without any compunctions and if not for his doppelganger, he would be under very real threat of dying under her sword rain. If she could do it, then why was he hesitating?

Setting firm resolve, he took a deep breath, filling his lungs with air. A huge suction erupted from his mouth and all the air in the arena began to flow towards him in a vortex as he pushed his mastery over the wind to the very limit.

Within his lungs, he compressed the air again and again until it was extremely dense. Then he breathed out gently. There was something different in the air he breathed out. Somehow, it seemed like it lacked vitality. This dead air gathered around him, wrapping him up in layer after layer of wind barriers. The swirling masses of air obscured his form, making him seem fuzzy to the observers.

Artemis noticed his actions but she didn’t care. A wind barrier was like tissue in front of her Domain. She just accelerated its expansion.

As the Domain bore down upon him, Mars spat out a condensed sphere of air from his mouth.

~ Tier 1 wind magic: Air Bullet ~

The bullet tore through the Domain, knocking away a large number of the feathers as it penetrated into it, making its way towards Artemis at its centre. But as soon as it entered her Domain, Mars lost contact with it and without him holding it together, it destabilized and fell apart. At the very same time, a tiny spark of white fire at its core blasted out, breaking the shell of vacuum it was encased by.

~ Tier 3 fire magic: Explosion ~

Incandescent blue flames covered Mars’ line of sight, erasing everything like a bucket of paint splashed onto a canvas. His air shields popped like flimsy soap bubbles and a scorching wave of heat washed over him. His last thought before the tidal wave of blue flames submerged him was: ‘Maybe that was just a bit too much.’

Then, his world turned blue.

Flinching against the onrushing flames, I turned my back to them and curled up into a ball on the ground, minimizing my exposed surface area. But instead of the scorching heat I was expecting, a cool breeze washed over me.

Blinking in surprise, I uncurled myself.

My head throbbing and my mind fuzzy from overstraining my soul, I staggered to my feet. The sword cry from Artemis had dulled my hearing and the blast of the explosion had finally put my eardrums out of their misery. I could hear nothing. Dredging up the last of my strength, I drew upon a little bit of ambient light mana to patch one eardrum to serviceable conditions before turning around.

The uproar of the audience hit me but I was in no state to pay attention to them as I was shocked at the sight before me.

The slender figure of a female stood between me and the flames, a beautiful blue curtain of water mana shimmering in front of her, protecting us from the explosion. Her waist-length ultramarine blue hair undulated gently in the breeze of the blast like waves upon a tranquil sea.

“Nice boys don’t play with explosions,” teased Isabella, turning around with a smile, “especially ones they can’t control.”

Beyond her, the deluge of incandescent blue flames seemed to rewind and compress back into a tiny sphere that floated down into the palm of a man who had appeared baseless in the middle of the Arena.

He was a giant of a man, nearly two and a half metres tall with bulging muscles. Bright orange-red reptilian scales covered his clawed arms and most of his bare chest while the scattered wisps of white hair on his head did nothing to hide his four dark, curving horns. Scales covered his prominent brows instead of hair and in their shadows, two draconic eyes burnt an incandescent yellow. His long reptilian tail whipped behind his back, never touching the ground.

Closing his fingers around the sphere, the man tightened his fist, casually pinching the compressed explosion out.

Astarael Salamandra, the Sunlight Soldier, the Demigod of the Radiant Flames, looked up from his palm and fixed his burning eyes on me. When our eyes met, I felt like I was staring directly at the sun. My very soul seemed like it would burn. I averted my gaze, my eyes tearing up and my vision spotty.

Suddenly, I noticed that my head wasn’t hurting anymore and that my mind was much clearer. Not only that, all my injuries, including my damaged ears, had healed and I could hear everything perfectly again. I remembered, belatedly, that the Sunlight Soldier’s flames were also attuned closely to the light and that he had been a paladin back in his days of military service. He was quite the accomplished healer.

Blinking the tears out of my eyes, “Thank you,” I said as I bowed to him, and then to Isabella, “and thank you for coming to my aid.”

When the Emperor had said that our safety was in capable hands, I hadn’t understood exactly how capable those hands really were. They were two Demigods for Vita’s sake.

Isabella shrugged nonchalantly. “I was just passing by.”

“And I was pestered by my granddaughter into coming,” said the Sunlight Soldier, the undertone of a growling hiss colouring his words.

Behind him, Artemis, back in her Bestia form, fluttered down onto the ground. Our eyes met. Her eyes were still grey, but they were dull with defeat, no longer containing the sharp glint of silver they had before. Averting her eyes and looking down, she sheathed her sword, standing with her arms hanging limply by her sides.

“So, senior,” asked Isabella, “since we intervened, to whom do we award the victory?”

As I was standing behind her, I couldn’t see her expression but the Sunlight Soldier looked from her to me and then back again before rasping out, “Well, I suppose it would have to be the boy.” His voice echoed throughout the stadium and sparked ripples of discussion among the audience.

Artemis’ shoulders dropped further and I could see her clenching her fists.

The explosion I had caused was a result of my experiment with my great grandfather’s technique of Sapphire Flames. I had been trying to distinguish between dead and vital air by breathing a large amount of air into my lungs and waiting for my body to consume the vitality leaving only dead air behind. Then I would study the wind mana fluctuations of the dead air to memorize it. Finally, I would skip the process and directly use my control over ambient mana to separate out the vital and dead components of the air.

I had succeeded to an extent, though I still needed to breathe the air in and perform the separation with the aid of my lungs.

Then I had hit upon another roadblock. I couldn’t use fire magic when I was in the mental state of the Void as the flames required emotions to wield them. The fix was simple. I had to drop out of the Void and perform the spell in Oneness. While possible, it was exponentially more difficult and inefficient. In practice, I would botch the attempt nine out of ten times.

All in all, I had lucked out today by being able to pull the spell off. I managed to separate the vital and the dead air, used the dead air for the air barrier and the vital air for the explosion.

But still, the epicentre of the explosion had been closer to me than to Artemis and orichalcum was very resistant to heat and her armour was pure orichalcum. If she wrapped herself up in her wings, the most she would suffer would be a few molten feathers, while I would be a charred husk.

My attack was purely suicidal. I didn’t deserve the win. But when I opened my mouth to protest the decision, Isabella’s clear voice rang in my mind. “Just shut up and accept it.”

I shut my mouth with a click of my teeth. What exactly was going on here?

After a short pause, the Emperor stood up and addressed the gathering. “The winner of the duel is Mars Felidae. For the meritorious military service rendered by him in the war against the Calamity, We bestow upon him the military rank of Marshal, making him the youngest man to ever rise to this rank in the history of the Empire.

“And for the feat of besting her in a Trial by Combat, it is with great pleasure that We bestow upon this young hero, Our daughter, Artemis of the House Valkyria. May their bond be eternal!”

Getting to their feet, the entire gathering echoed his statement in unison, their combined voices vibrating the air. “May their bond be eternal!”

End of Volume.

With that, we come to the end of the volume. I will be taking a few days off to finish the last three chapters of Volume 16 on Patreon and then build up a small buffer so I don’t have to force myself when I’m struggling to write every so often.

See you again next volume.