Hope you all are safe! Sorry about the late release~
Chapter 56: Riding on Coattails
Where’s my interview? Where is my fan club? Where the hell are my fans?
Those were my questions as I watched Aegis on my phone. She was currently being interviewed outside letting off the pure smile of a bright-eyed swordswoman. I was watching her live inside the grand ballroom, beside me was Aegris who wasn’t at all interested in the interview and instead was rewatching his last match whilst taking notes.
The three of us had met on the train but on the way here Aegis had been stopped by a popular female reporter outside the coliseum. Being the person that Aegis is she wouldn’t let such an opportunity slip, I wouldn’t either, so she accepted.
The first half was boring, for me at least, with just simple questions about the city and being Aegis she put on perfectly the attitude of a slightly headstrong but still innocent girl from the sticks in a major city for the first time. I was sure for her many fans they loved the fresh feeling from her.
Right now, the interviewer was discussing the battle that made her famous. It was the razor-thin victory against a swordsman two days ago. The swordsman, Venndrol, was practiced in a similar style to her Nova Sword and because of this their match became a drawn-out battle. And I mean it when I say extremely long over an hour or so of non-stop intense combat. The match instantly became a hot topic more than doubling her and her brother’s fame in a single day.
What most, including me, remembered were the exasperated final blows, raw in the purest sense even Aegris and I became anxious about how it would end. Of course, in the end, Aegris managed to clinch a victory by having better managed her mana and keeping a calmer mindset throughout.
In terms of raw power, the swordsman was slightly ahead, that much was obvious, but a loss is a loss.
After Aegis answered a few questions about the match the interviewer headed to what the viewers wanted, a more personal tone.
“It’s been such a pleasure having you on miss Gidder, but before you go I have to repeat once more how amazing I believe you are. Not only do you have a perfect 94 wins under your belt you remain the only undefeated participant in your bracket. Many are in awe by your talents even the party Pointed Singularity have publicly stated they want you, your equally amazing brother Aegris, and that also undefeated friend of yours to join them.”
My ears perked up. That’s me! I’m that friend!
I put on a satisfied smile, feeling my mood improve having been mentioned.
“Miss Gidder I sure you must receive this question a lot but our viewers want to know how have managed to become so strong at such a young age?”
Aegis smiled sweetly as she paused for a moment gathering her thoughts, her bright red hair shining under the soft early morning sunlight outside. She looked back at the interviewer with clear eyes showing her red eyes emit a fiery resolve, which I was sure was all calculated, then answered.
“I wouldn’t put it on just one thing in particular, but what has empowered me the most is my family.”
I was speechless for a moment hearing her answer, she was able to say that so perfectly even I was almost swayed knowing it was just a performance. The Aegis I’ve come to know over the weeks is many things but she definitely is not this cavity-inducing sweet young girl with a little grit from the wilderness.
“My, how precious.” The interviewer put her hand to her heart.
She had fallen for it. The gaze that the interviewer returned to Aegis was so tender. I could only imagine how many others watching had fallen for it too.
That should be me being interviewed! My storyline ,that I made up, should be the one that’s melting peoples hearts.
“Could you tell us more about your family? Why does it mean so much to you?”
“As many know I grew up in an unprotected village, growing up in such a place meant living in perpetual fear of losing those I cared about. There was never a year where there wasn’t a funeral for a fellow villager.”
Aegis paused closing her eyes slowly then opened them up again.
“This type of life… it put constant pain on my heart and at times I would feel hopeless, but at the end of the day the people who would always be there to soothe and calm my fears where my family. They were my beacon of hope to press on another one. So I did what came natural and looked for strength to protect those that I care about.”
The interviewer’s face became more loving.
“That must have been hard living in those conditions at such a young age.”
Aegis’ gaze softened as she suddenly gave a distant look.
“It never really struck me as a life that was hard or unusual, that life it was my normal.”
Oh my god, I’m gonna puke. How can she be so shameless?
The interviewer visibly gasped.“Inspirational, its no wonder why so many young hopefuls look up to you and your brother. You two are true to Scale’s precepts.”
“You’re too kind,” Aegis replied retracting her gaze and looked back at the interviewer.
A moment after the reply the sound of a soft chime appeared sounding like a heavenly bell. It signified the start of the tournament for today.
“We wish we could have you on for more time but the bell has sounded its almost time to begin the tournament’s final matches any words to your fans out there?”
Aegis put her hands on her chest clasping them together then faced the camera like she was posing as a saint for a sculptor.
“Everyone, I appreciate your love and kind words. You all give me the power to do my best and show what I can do. Thank you!”
I could only sigh knowing she had just put her and her brother at the top of the tournament in terms of public support. The massive amount of positive comments pouring in are already enough to prove how hard she was able to sell the story.
At least even with this fame, I was just glad the siblings haven’t pushed me aside, they treat me as they’ve always had.
My best option, for now, is simple.
Rride on their coattails! I am, after all, the amazing Gidder sibling’s friend that’s mentioned from time to time.
It didn’t take long for Aegis to find her brother and me after her interview. She took the spot beside Aegris on the sofa next to the one I was on. Her expression was normal as if nothing big had happened.
Seeing she didn’t want to bring it up I held in what I wanted to say and prepared for the upcoming day’s battles.
It was time for our final matches. With so many matches the mystery of the brackets was solved long ago and there were only five possible opponents left for us and only Aegris had a troublesome one coming up.
For Aegis and I, we only had some middle of the pack participants that had around the same amount of wins and losses.
I tossed another look over at Aegis.
She’s really not going to say anything about the interview?
I threw a few more looks at Aegis who was like her brother rewatching past matches.
Fine, I’ll bring it up.
“Wow, your fan clubs are going to be enormous, they have their claws on people inside of here already, look.” I waved my finger pointing at the many who were standing abnormally close to what I would call a tiny living room set.
“All these are waiting for a chance to talk to you two.” I looked at the Gidder siblings sitting together on the sofa.
Aegis glanced at me and simply smiled as she picked up a teacup from the coffee table, “Nous, is that a trace of envy in your voice? Did you want to be interviewed that bad?” She said then took a sip of tea.
“A trace? My voice should be filled with it. How can life can be so cruel, here I thought I would the one swimming in a sea of fans like you two are.”
I found my situation extremely vexing. All my matches showcased me as exceptionally powerful, but I was just missing that that extra vague intangible thing the siblings had that the public wanted.
Aegis said nothing in reply and just gave a short chuckle placing her teacup back down. No matter how hard I could try to hide my envy, the situation was clear and this feeling would be a given so there was no point in doing so.
“Lumi, you shouldn’t want them just look at them,” Aegris looked up showing a slight amount of disdain then continued.
“It’s disappointing. I expected the people granted a chance here would be more focused on improving themselves instead of gawking over their competition.”
Aegris’ arrogance also grew, but deservedly so. However, is words are also true. At least he was smart enough to speak in a low voice so as others could not hear.
The two haven’t dropped a single match during this entire stage. Both of them, like me, are at 94 wins and I swear if they could they’d find a way to take a win against themselves and reach 100.
But to be fair, their undefeated streak wasn’t smooth sailing, plenty of their matches where close. So they were definitely putting in the work on improving themselves every day here.
However, they would have to give it more than their all now and take out a miracle if they wanted to continue winning because I’m not going to let them beat me.
Even if my level of fame has left me feeling unsatisfied, I am truly happy about my relationship with the siblings.
Because I am the reason for those wins, me! Partly… in a way… had I not gifted them the lustrating techniques and invited them into my party, which led to them obtaining extra money to get better weapons, they might not have had an extra edge to win this much. Their growth type weapons are already at the same level as their old ones now and would only get stronger.
Had they not met me they would be still have done well, with many more wins than losses, but just not undefeated as they are now.
Everyone else here came with their best and they’re just as supremely talented with differences separated by a hair’s width because there is only so much skill expression possible under the apostle stage.
“It’s getting chilly under your shadows so stop being so stingy with the limelight.” I muttered half truthfully and half jokingly.
It was already bad enough fighting for fame with the other 34 participants that are also undefeated in their brackets, one of them being our real-yet-artificial enemy Star King. There are other participants plenty strong too only losing one to two times and who knows maybe those losses fueled a drive to surpass their limits.
Well, it’s not too big of a deal as the three of us are pretty much shoe-ins to be accepted into Laurent Academy.
What’s more important is how I’m going to pivot my fame with the siblings to be able to stand on my own. My best prospects would be to reach further than them in the second part of the tournament where the people with most wins in the 100 brackets all enter one together to compete.
“Its time for me.”
Aegris got up from the sofa.
“Be careful okay Aegris? You’re the only one with a match with someone who is also at 94 wins. You can’t afford to overestimate yourself.”
“I know,” Aegris replied in normal tone before leaving our sight.
With him gone I turned my sights to the live matches and waited for him to get on the battleground.
A few minutes passed then the stream began. I quickly found Aegris’ battleground and placed my phone on the table for Aegis and me to watch.
“Oh, it’s him.” I let out seeing his opponent arrive on the stage.
Aegis breathed a short sigh.
“I already advised him, I know he understands he can’t underestimate his future opponents but being undefeated would make anyone still do it without wanting to.”
Saying this her face showed a tenseness that wasn’t there when speaking on camera to millions.
I turned my attention back to the projection of the battleground setting the “camera” to be operated automatically.
Aegris is facing a young man named Layle while he is around the same age his appearance made me think he was a tad bit younger side. His hair was a fine dark green of medium length parted to one side and his height is on the shorter side for most his age.
His weapon was a single thin sharp black blade that resembled a katana including the use of a sheath on the side instead of transforming into a ring, the most noticeable difference was the hilt had a crossguard and a teal crystal ring as a pommel.
While his looks and general aura were average we knew everything else about him thus far screamed he was anything but.
“Good luck,” Layle said in a voice that wasn’t arrogant or submissive but not normal either.
“Do you think I would need that to beat you, are looking down on me?”
Layle didn’t reply and simply entered a fighting stance standing slightly crouched with his left hand holding his sheath to his thigh and his right hand on his sword. I could feel a deep calm stillness resonating around him like he was held in place by the weight of a sea.
Aegris also prepared by summoning his buckler and sword. The morning sun brightened the light around him giving an intense color from Aegris’ topaz gem weapons. The sun striking the yellow gem mixed with his hair and eyes creating an aura of a raging fire being kept at bay.
The match began.
Aegris shot off to his left the instant the ring sounded off, passing where Aegris had stood was a crescent-shaped of teal light.
Not stopping his momentum Aegris ran at Layle as Layle continued to send a flurry of sword crescents flying towards the running Aegris.
Fast on his feet, Aegris managed to dodge most, however, three left him no place to move. His front and back were cut off with another attack flying right at him.
With his movement blocked off Aegris was forced to defend against a single vertical slash of sword light causing a flash of blinding green light. Layle must have planned this out as he was already quickly moving forward. With a few fast steps, he propelled himself into the air with both arms over his head bringing his sword down to cleave Aegris in half.
“Argh!” Layle groaned out as he was thrown to the side hit by something.
The damage, while high, looked to have been spread out over a large area as has he easily managed to land on his feet. His failed downward slash creating a gash in the ground next to Aegris instead.
When did Aegris throw his buckler after defending? I wondered as I put the pieces of what happened together.
I came to a realization. Aegris must have forgone using the buckler to defend and had tossed it right before impact to his the fact.
However, Aegris was injured too…
To make it look like he defended the attack with the small shield he had taken the attack full-on with his sword. With a part of the energy passing through cutting up his arm.
Not letting the injury stop him Aegris flung himself forward with a heavy horizontal slash at Layle. Layle defended it with his sword but was being pressed back by the following stream of attacks. While he used a sword his style was no match for the more swordplay focused Aegris.
Seeing he was being pushed into the corner of the battleground he rolled to his side then jumped away in a streak of green light he reached the opposite corner.
The buckler had followed after Layle smashing into his back the moment his movement magic had ended before he could turn around causing him to almost stumble.
This isn’t good for Aegris it was a huge amount of space again he would have to overcome this again.
Aegris ran after Layle causing the exact same scene play out except Aegris had adjusted his positioning to make up for the fact that Layle could block off his movements. Focusing on defending against undodgeable ones with his shield as Layle wouldn’t fall for the buckler attack a third time.
Aegris caught up once more and entered a close combat battle. Making work of the opportunity Aegris easily overpowered Layle cutting up Layle’s sides and shoulders at every opening he saw or created.
Not seeing an opptunity to escape the barrage Layle took another gash to his upper arm using the position of Aegris sword arm to hit it away with his sheath making space to jump away again.
Aegris was getting agitated as he grit his teeth seeing his opponent run off again. He was getting hurt from defending against the sword lights every time Layle would escape back. Although the damage was much less from the time he defended with only his sword the multiple times against it now had caused his arms to become a bloodied mess and his face too, appearing as if his parts of his skin had been sanded off.
“You were right I did look down on you, but trust me when I say I didn’t mean to,” Layle said calmly from the other side putting his sword back into the sheath.
He planted his feet firmly then took the same stance he had at the start of the match.
Aegris said nothing in response as his buckler returned to his arm after having missed the blunt blow to Layle’s back when he escaped this time.
Wait…something is off about that stance.
It’s a different stance? I could barely make it out but from the look on Aegis face, I confirmed my thoughts.
Don’t take it on Aegris!
I wanted to yell out to him in warning but could only slightly frown and watch it play out.
“HAAA!” Layle yelled out as massive streams of dark green water appeared behind him like giant coiling snakes.
The various streams all began to merge turning into a large flowing circle behind him reminding me of the ouroboros.
Aegris continued his silence as he sprinted straight at Layle. Quickly closing the distance he threw the buckler right at Layle’s head. Layle moved to the side causing the buckler to hit the invisible barrier and bounce back to Aegris. While the buckler was still returning Aegris was already in combat distance as he ran with his sword thrusting out aiming for Layle’s heart.
A deep sound coming from a collision reverberated. I took control of the projection to see it from Layle’s point of view. I tilted down to see a stream of water pushing against Aegris’ sword. Seeing his attack fail he quickly jumped back.
The stream of water fell to the floor with a splash once the yellow gem sword had retracted.
“I didn’t want to show this yet, but it seems I have no choice if I want to win.” Layle happily said as the flowing ring of water sped up to an incredible speed.
The spinning ring quickly shrunk in size turning into a rotating halo above Layle’s head.
Aegris only watched with a vicious glare. On his face, I could see his eyes moving about as he was trying to analyze the function of the water halo to figure out how to deal with it.
I zoomed back out overhead and continued to watch.
Taking a defensive stance with his body slanted with his buckler at the front and his sword a bit behind Aegris waited. It was probably the best choice to deal with this unknown, even I didn’t know what else the teal water halo did.
“Deep Sea Rend!” Layle yelled out as he planted his feet wide gripping his sword’s hilt whipping it out of its sheath
Following the arc of Layle’s blade flowed out a sea of teal water raging forward with a roaring charge with waves reaching tens of meters. Higher than Aegris could jump!
Doing something! Aegris!
Did he freeze up he’s just standing there. Those waters are going to rip you apart!
N-no way, I think Aegris lost. This dude might be stronger than Star King easily. I stared at Aegris’s face from Layle’s point of view. Trying to discern what he was going to do.
Why aren’t they calling the match? He might get killed!
A wave crashed downwards completely engulfing Aegris making me unable to see how he was doing from the projection.
“Aegis your brother! They have to stop the match!” I whipped my head to look at the still silent Aegis, but I was surprised.
A grin? Why is she grinnin—
A deafening whistling sounded out as a flash of steam exploded from where Aegris had been standing, completely covering the battleground making the invisible barriers extremely obvious as the clouds of white steam showed the lines of a rectangular box.
“What is that? What happened? You know something right Aegis?”
“Winner, Aegris Gidder!”
The announcement called out.
Calming myself I looked back to Aegis, “What did he do?”
“We’re going to be competitors soon, and because you were so worried I’ll tell you after both of us face you off.”
The steam and roiling water had covered the entire projection it would be impossible to tell what happened without the full data logs from the battleground and those weren’t available to the public. All I saw was Aegris about to be destroyed followed by a flash of pure white steam.
I sighed, “Fair enough.”
“Glad you understand.” Aegis sent me a curt smile.
[Please enter locker room R41 your match will begin soon.]
“It’s time for my match, I’ll be back in a bit tell Aegris I said it was an impressive fight.”
“Of course, do your best. It would be a shame if we didn’t meet you in the finals.”
Parting from the little living room set in the ballroom of many I left still wondering what Aegris pulled off.
Nova Sword? With such a name was obvious it had something to do with light or heat seeing the steam but was it a technique like the water halo or something else more similar to my First Snow.
I couldn’t fault her for not telling me she is right we are going to be fighting one another soon and it would put me at an advantage knowing the entirety of this trump card of theirs…
Or just his?
Thinking back Aegis’ battle was really dire if she could use whatever Aegris just used she would have done so back then.
Aegris also didn’t use it against the bear when we were returning from our quest which meant one thing. He was able to gain proficiency over it recently.
This non-stop battle grind has helped them tremendously. I know this well because my skills have also sharpened. As great as Frium is my battles with her were pure spars stopping me from comprehending as much as I could right now.
I pushed the thoughts back and went to refocus on my current match. While I could always resort to being a brute it didn’t get me the reaction I wanted so instead I am using these matches to continue to improve my spearplay.
Following the long hallway I entered my designated locker room and met eyes with the Laurent official awaiting my match. For Aegis, now Aegris after beating out Layle, and me the day would be smooth sailing right into the finals.