Chapter 13 – Preparation For The Match

  • by lemuel moo
“Aunt Agatha! We are here!”
 
The sky was radiant with an orange hue as the sun was setting. Agatha was sitting in her kitchen while she enjoyed her tea when she heard the doorbell and Gale calling out to her. She immediately went to the door and saw a beaming Gale with Clere on his shoulders and a sheepish-looking Zeel.
 
“…You are quite the accomplished kidnapper aren’t you, Gale?”
 
“Don’t say that! I was trying to protect Clere by keeping her away from such a dangerous place after all!”
 
Agatha left Zeel at the living room while she led Gale to Clere’s room. Upon entering the room, Gale savored the sweet floral fragrance that was lingering in the room and looked around at her room for a moment. There were many shelves of books and Clere’s room looked like a mini library.
 
“Reading is one of Clere’s favorite pastimes. That’s how she kills boredom at home. Occasionally I will ask her to do some administrative duties for our intelligence network.
 
You can put her on her bed.”
 
Gale gently placed Clere and snuggled her under her blanket. The tenderness from Gale’s actions brought a mischievous grin to Agatha’s face.
 
“You can take this moment to steal a kiss, smell her hair and I will pretend not to see anything!”
 
“Why are you encouraging me to harass your own daughter sexually?!”
 
“I don’t think she will mind, to be honest. I definitely do not mind!”
 
“That’s not what a mother should say!”
 
Agatha laughed, and both of them left Clere’s room to join Zeel in the living room. After Gale introduced Zeel to Agatha, Agatha peered Zeel from the crown of his head to his feet as she mentally measured the extent of Zeel’s injuries. That made Zeel feel very uncomfortable, and Gale broke the silence for Zeel’s sake.
 
“What’s wrong, Aunt Agatha?”
 
“…How many matches have Zeel won so far?”
 
“Three.”
 
Agatha looked at Gale in disbelief.
 
“You’re kidding! He’s not going to last for seven more matches with his injuries! He also has a broken left arm!”
 
“…I don’t think we have a choice in this matter. If he doesn’t fight, the criminal syndicates will seek to destroy his shop. If he loses his fight, he will be forced to give up his shop away to someone else. The only way to move forward is to win the tournament at the moment.”
 
Agatha saw the determination in Zeel’s eyes, and she knew there was nothing she could do to stop the both of them from participating in the tournament at Babel Square. She then reached into her pockets, grabbed a box of pills and placed it on a table.
 
“Both of you, eat one of these pills. They will boost your stamina and strength temporarily for tonight.
 
Gale, equip yourself with your battle gear, and we will have a briefing before the both of you head for the tournament at Babel Square.“
 
After Zeel and Gale ate the pills, Agatha handed a key to Gale and instructed him to make his way to her underground bunker to equip himself there. Gale then left the living room promptly.
 
There was a flight of stairs within the house leading to a basement, and within the basement, there was a door which needed a key and a computerized console at the side.
 
Gale placed the key within the keyhole and turned, but the door did not open immediately. A computerized voice emerged from the console.
 
“We identify you as Gale Gainsborough. Is this correct?”
 
“Yes… wait, how did you know it is me?”
 
“The key you hold has a thumbprint scanner. We have identified you through your voice as well, and we are 100% certain that you are Gale Gainsborough.
 
Please head to the underground facilities immediately.”
 
At that point, the door unlocked and it was a tunnel with another flight of stairs below. Just how deep is this going to be?!
 
As Gale walked, the sides of the tunnel lit up, showing him where he should walk. At the end of the stairs, there was another door and it opened itself immediately.
 
Gale found himself staring at a command center which resembled a space command center, and there was a multiple of people working to gather data and intelligence from all over the world. In the middle of the command center, there was a holographic globe with various satellite indicators, and Gale could see the different countries just like an atlas.
 
Athena came towards Gale and greeted him.
 
“Welcome to one of our command centers, Gale! I believe this is the first time you are here!”
 
“…One of your command centers?”
 
“Of course! Mom is lazy, and she didn’t want to work outside of her house, so we built a command center below our house. However, it’s not the safest location as we reside directly above ground. We have secret bases all over the world to hide our tracks and gather information.
 
Mom indicated that you would need to suit up for a mission. Let me lead you to our equipment room.”
 
The sheer size of the command center was breathtaking. Athena and Gale walked pass the laboratory, the briefing room, and the library before they arrived at the equipment room. I wonder how many other rooms do they have in this facility!
 
“…No wonder your house is on a hill, Athena!”
 
“Yes! We own the hill, and there are hidden doors to enter and exit our secret facilities, but on the surface, it is a residential area.
 
Everyone who lives on the hill was vetted through background checks before they are allowed to buy property on our land.
 
Feel free to grab anything you want within this room! We have a locker specifically for you so use it. That key you received from my mother is yours to keep, and you are allowed to come and go as you please.”
 
Gale stared at his key and was speechless for a moment.
 
“…You all seemed to trust me too much. Are you sure it is okay for me to be here?”
 
“What are you saying? For the past ten years, you have helped us with so many life-threatening missions that we found it hard to repay you for all the work you have done for us. In fact, we should have informed you that we have equipment ready for you at any time you require, since you are protecting my precious sister!
 
Aunt May has a locker in here too! She has allowed your key to access her things, so if you want to grab anything from her locker, feel free to do so. I will leave you here, and when you are done, you can head back to the surface.”
 
Gale walked into the equipment room and found many rows of weapons for the picking. An A.I. robot, with a screen and it moves on wheels, came to Gale to ask him a few questions.
 
“Welcome to the equipment room, Mr. Gale! I am Gify! Would you like me to assist you by recommending you some equipment that suits your skills?”
 
“Tailored to my skills? What do you mean?”
 
“We have been collecting your combat data during the last ten years for your service with us. We have identified that your weapons of choice are swords and throwing knives, and you prefer to travel light to maximize your quickness in battle.
 
Of course, you can pick any choice of weapon you want outside of your usual preferences. Would you like me to assist you?”
 
“… Bring me to my locker first. I would like to check it out.”
 
“Affirmative.”
 
The robot moved in front of Gale and Gale followed its leading. At the side of the equipment room, there were many full-sized lockers with names on the doors.
 
Gale found his locker and beside it was Aunt May’s. The robot then asked another question.
 
“You have a video message from Aunt May. Do you want to watch it?”
 
“… Sure.”
 
The screen blacked out for a few moments and subsequently, Aunt May appeared. Aunt May was a beautiful lady with beautiful black flowing hair and her slightly tanned skin.
 
“…Hello? Hello? Is this working, Agatha?”
 
“It is working, May! Just look into the camera and speak to it!”
 
“Ah, okay! Hey Gale! Your Aunt May here! Welcome to Agatha’s hideout!
 
The purpose of this video is to test this little robot we have here. Actually, I have nothing important to say to you.”
 
Gale smiled and shook his head. We haven’t met for a while, and this is all you can say to me?!
 
“Anyway, my locker contains some of the weapons that I used to train you with so feel free to use them. My spare clothes and undergarments are there as well. Don’t sniff at my clothes, okay?”
 
Gale rolled his eyes at her insinuation. Why would I do that, you crazy woman?!
 
“I won’t be dropping by to see Raine and you anytime soon, so don’t miss me too much!
 
Agatha, how do you turn off this thing?”
 
The video message ended, leaving a speechless Gale who gaped at the robot.
 
“…Why did you even bother with the video message?”
 
Gale then opened his locker and was surprised to see it filled with his usual equipment for missions. Small knives, daggers, and shurikens were displayed neatly along the walls of the locker, full-battle tights and outfits that he usually wore during his missions, and a long black double-edged sword was standing at the corner of the locker.
 
Gale picked up his sword, unsheathed it to look at the condition of the blade and turned to the robot for a question.
 
“Why is my locker filled with my standard equipment, Gify?”
 
“Ms. Athena has stocked them up for you, Mr. Gale! In fact, your locker is replicated and stored in every base that the Sigrun Enterprise owns, except for your swords.
 
You have picked up the [Black Sky][1] sword, which is a unique double-edged sword crafted from a special ore called the [Void Stone]. It absorbs and amplifies energy from the user and the surroundings, and it is capable of augmenting techniques and power to suit the user’s needs.”
 
“… You have an encyclopedia built into you, Gify?”
 
“No, this information is stored in our central repository, and it is used to power all AI robots throughout Sigrun Enterprise.”
 
Gale sheathed his [Black Sky] and wore his usual battle gear, which was an all black tight outfit and had hidden compartments to store thirty throwing knives and needles. After the equipped himself with his throwing knives and latching his sword to the side, he closed his locker and proceeded to check Aunt May’s locker.
 
A jack-in-the-box popped up and made Gale jump in fright! Gify’s screen suddenly blacked out and featured Aunt May’s video footage again.
 
“Ahahahaha! I wish I could be there to see the look on your face, Gale!”
 
The screen blacked out again and displayed a blank screen. Gale gripped his fists tightly as he seethed with embarrassment.
 
“I will get you for this, Aunt May!”
 
Gale took the jack-in-the-box and threw it away at the garbage can nearby. He proceeded to inspect Aunt May’s locker.
 
There were neatly folded clothes, different assortments of pills and medicine, and a range of swords that were lined up within her locker. A wooden sword caught Gale’s eyes, and he picked up to inspect it.
 
“Isn’t this…”
 
“This is the [Five Elemental Wooden Sword], used as a training tool to for the [Ten Thousand Elemental Skill][2]. It helps to train the user in gathering natural energy from his surroundings, and the user would be able to manipulate natural energy at will. Its wood came from a special tree that grows in the [Heavenly Mountain Range].”
 
Gale stared at the wooden sword for a moment and decided to bring it along with him. He took a few pills, closed Aunt May’s locker and proceeded to walk out of the equipment room with the robot following behind him.
 
“Is that all you are bringing with you, Mr. Gale?”
 
“Yes, Gify.”
 

 
Gale returned to the living room with his battle gear, and Zeel was stunned at how professional Gale looked.
 
“Wow… you look like you are an elite soldier!”
 
Agatha looked at Gale for a moment, and she felt uneasy about it.
 
“…I think you can’t look like that and pretend you are Zeel’s manager. Let me grab you a coat.”
 
Agatha returned shortly with a white coat and put it on Gale before inspecting his overall outfit.
 
“…That will do for now. Let’s have a briefing before you guys head for Babel Square.”
 
The three of them sat around the coffee table in the living room, and each had a cup of tea in front of them. After Agatha sipped on her tea, she proceeded to explain to both Zeel and Gale on what they should do.
 
“When you reach the tournament compound, immediately register Gale as your manager, Zeel! If I’m not mistaken, managers are allowed to be at the side of the arena, and if there are breaks in-between matches, he is supposed to give you light treatment and advice you in your fights.
 
Managers are also there to prevent fighters from being killed by throwing in a white towel to forfeit the match. This is especially important since killing is allowed in this tournament! You don’t want to be knocked unconscious and end up dead because no one was there to forfeit the match in your behalf!
 
As soon as the towel hits the ground, you lose the match by default and the opponent is not allowed to kill you if you are still alive.”
 
Zeel immediately turns to Gale upon hearing Agatha’s advice.
 
“Don’t go throwing in the towel just because I am beaten up badly! I will not forgive you if you forfeit the match when I am still able to fight!”
 
“I won’t. I want you to win too.”
 
Agatha then held Zeel’s hands and stared into Zeel’s eyes with a concerned expression on her face.
 
“It’s okay to lose the shop, but don’t lose your life! No one can face your sister, Sunny if you lose your life out there!”
 
Zeel could not bear the intense gaze from Agatha, and he turned his face in embarrassment.
 
“I-I know… I will be careful, and Gale will watch over me.”
 
Agatha released her hands from Zeel’s hands and then looked at Gale.
 
“Remember, even if you win this match, it is only the fourth match. You have to come up with six more good excuses to placate Clere on why you didn’t want her to be at Babel Square.”
 
Gale smiled sheepishly and laughed.
 
“Yeah! I will tell her I needed to inspect the place to see if it was suitable for her to join us. If it’s safe, I will bring her there next time!”
 
Agatha gave the ‘you are on your own’ face and then asked Zeel a question.
 
“Do you know anything about your opponent for your match later?”
 
“He is a blind old swordsman who also uses a pair of dices to fight. I think his name is Yan Kun.”
 
Agatha froze upon hearing that, and her worried face made Zeel twitch in uneasiness.
 
“W-What’s wrong?”
 
“I thought Yan Kun stopped fighting ten years ago. Why is he picking his sword up again?”
 
Agatha immediately called Athena on the phone for more information.
 
“Hey Athena, have you heard anything recent about Yan Kun? Zeel is fighting him tonight, and I want to know why is he picking up his sword again.”
 
Agatha took a couple of minutes of hearing everything about Yan Kun from Athena. She ended the call afterward and turned to Zeel and Gale with a grim look.
 
“Yan Kun was a retired assassin, otherwise known as ‘The Gambling Swordsman,’ who was an excellent swordsman and used a pair of ‘Pandora Dice’ to fight.
 
The ‘Pandora Dice’ is a magical indestructible artifact that uses luck to augment a person’s techniques or magic. It has a multiplier effect and the number that was rolled on the dice multiples the potency of the user’s techniques.
 
I have heard that a non-magic user could use the ‘Pandora Dice’ to cast spells, but we have no verified accounts of that. Yan Kun had received this pair of ‘Pandora Dice’ from a witch, and it was said that he used his blood to forge a seal on the ‘Pandora Dice’, which made it unusable for anyone else other than him.
 
Yan Kun retired from being an assassin ten years ago when his son and daughter-in-law were mysteriously killed. From then on, I heard he had dedicated his time to taking care of his granddaughter, who was his only kin.
 
I have just asked Athena and reports indicate that he had incurred a lot of debt recently. Perhaps Yan Kun is using this tournament to make money.
 
This opponent is very dangerous, and he is in a class of his own! The ‘Pandora Dice’ made him an ‘S’ class assassin during his prime! Zeel is only at most ‘B’ class!”
 
Zeel scratched his head because he didn’t understand parts of Agatha’s words.
 
“What is ‘B’ class? And what is ‘S’ class?”
 
“The government has come up with a system to appraise the skills of individuals. It goes from class ‘F’ to ‘A,’ and the ranking system branch out to two different ranking systems that are beyond ‘A.’
 
‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ class fighters indicate that they are highly skilled martial artists who are beyond the normal strength ‘A’ class fighters, while ‘S’ to ‘SSS’ class fighters indicate that they have a special technique that isn’t common. Our Sigrun’s [Cursed Ink Technique], which allows us to generate magical ink from our energy and this ink can be used to cast spells, has categorized Athena as an ‘S’ class fighter.
 
Zeel is at most a ‘B’ class fighter regarding strength. He is definitely not ready to face Yan Kun at this point!”
 
Zeel’s face turned pale as he faced the prospect that he could potentially lose his shop. Gale lightly punched Zeel lightly to snap him out of his worries.
 
“The ranking system is meaningless. I have seen lower ranked fighters overcoming higher ranked fighters all the time. If you give up in your heart now, you will lose before you fight!”
 
Hearing from Gale, Zeel immediately steeled within himself to win the upcoming match as he couldn’t bear to see the disappointed faces of his workers and Sunny. Agatha then continued the discussion.
 
“…I wanted to see if I can help you prepare for tonight’s match, but it seems that there is little that I can do besides giving you some medicine and a new cast for your broken arm.
 
Yan Kun can’t see, but he has a keen sense of smell and hearing to figure out where you are. Also, he will radiate his killing aura like a radar to trace your movements. Be attentive at all times.
 
Yan Kun usually doesn’t use the ‘Pandora Dice’ outside of augmenting his sword techniques, so you don’t have to worry about magic spells. Every sword technique of his will be aiming at your vitals, so make sure you are aware of where he is attacking you.
 
I see that Gale has brought along his [Five Elemental Wooden Sword]. It is a fitting sword to protect you if Gale could not forfeit your match in time and if Yan Kun was about to puncture your vitals.”
 
“…What does the [Five Elemental Wooden Sword] do?”
 
“The [Five Elemental Wooden Sword] allows Gale to manipulate natural energy with his own [qi]. Thus he will be able to conjure fire, wind, lightning, water, and earth from the surroundings using his sword. We refer such techniques as the [Mystic Arts].
 
In this world, there are natural powers that govern the world, such as weather and tremors from the earth. We commonly refer to them as ‘natural energy’. This natural energy differs from [qi] since [qi] is the energy you are born with, while natural energy is derived from the atmosphere, terrain, and nonsentient living things. 
 
Humans have sought to harness this nature energy for their benefit for thousands of years, and there are two schools of thought of how we can use it. The first is [Mystic Arts] where martial artists theorized there are ‘elements’ which are the foundation of how this natural energy was born from, namely the five elements which I mentioned earlier, together with wood, metal, light, and darkness. By melding ‘natural energy’ with [qi] in the surroundings, practitioners can create supernatural techniques such as adding fire and lightning into their attacks.
 
The other way of manipulating natural energy is using [Magic Arts], where practitioners harness natural energy by refining their [qi] into ‘spiritual energy’. We become spirits when we die, and as our body becomes unable to hold our souls anymore due to age, almost all of our [qi] converts itself into ‘spiritual energy’ as our souls leave our bodies. 
 
Magicians learned that spiritual energy was better than [qi] in harnessing the full potential of natural energy by conducting experiments with the souls of the dead. As a result, they created methods and formulas such as the runic language, magic sequences, and incantations to convert our [qi] into ‘spiritual energy’, and through such methods, they meld this ‘spiritual energy’ with natural energy to create supernatural phenomenon such as casting fireballs at opponents from their body. 
 
The pros and cons of these two schools of thought are evident. [Mystic Arts] require no incantation, except a few hand signs or signals for complex techniques, and usually, their techniques are quick but much less powerful. [Mystic Arts] are also limited by the elemental system and cannot perform techniques such as teleportation or polymorphism. However, [Magic Arts] have no limitations, and they are only limited by the imagination and knowledge of magic incantations of the caster. Thus their techniques are slow, but they are exponentially stronger than [Mystic Arts].
 
Also, magic casters are generally weaker physically. That’s because [qi] is the source of strength of our physical body, while ‘spiritual energy’ only occurs naturally after our souls leave our bodies. By forcibly converting [qi] into ‘spiritual energy’, magic casters weaken their bodies and potentially their lifespans to cast magic.
 
Gale is well-versed with [Mystic Arts], but at present, he lacks enough [qi] to use these techniques because the silver needles in his body are hindering his flow of [qi]. By using the [Five Elemental Wooden Sword] as a catalyst, he will be able to use his [Mystic Arts] without removing the silver needles. It is especially useful in cases where he can’t reach you in time physically, and he could protect you using his wind and earth techniques.
 
Zeel was annoyed that Gale was far more skilled than he seemed.
 
“Just how ridiculously strong can you get?!”
 
Gale shrugged and quickly ended the discussion to stop Zeel from probing more.
 
“I think we better get going, Aunt Agatha! I have to register myself as Zeel’s manager before our match start.”
 
“Yes, it’s getting late. Be on your toes at all times!”
 

 
“Argh…”
 
Clere woke up and found herself in her room. Agatha woke her up by releasing the energy clot on the acupuncture points on the back on her neck.
 
“…Why am I in my room? Wait, I thought I was at Zeel’s shop!”
 
“Yup, the boys have gone ahead to the tournament at Babel Square.”
 
Clere stared at Agatha and grabbed her hands passionately!
 
“Mom! We were preparing for the tournament with Zeel! Why am I here?! Did you forbid me to go to the tournament?!”
 
“I did not do anything nor did I forbid you to go. Gale didn’t want to compromise your safety, so he knocked you out. Once he has verified that the venue is safe, he will allow you to join the next time.”
 
“THAT GALE! Grr…”
 
Agatha gently caressed Clere’s hair as the latter seethed with anger.
 
“Now now, Gale did that for you. He knew you were going to be stubborn, so he took matters into his own hands and knocked you out.
 
That boy is astute. He probably wasn’t confident that he could protect both Zeel and you at the same time, so he made that choice. Become strong enough so that he may feel confident in bringing you along the next time, alright?”
 
Tears were formed at the corner of Clere’s eyes as she punched her blanket in frustration.
 
“That Gale just doesn’t trust me!”
 
Agatha hugged Clere and embraced her as a mother bear would for her cubs. As Clere was comforted by her mom’s embrace, a conviction formed within her heart.
 
I swear that I will make you acknowledge my strength, Gale!
 

 
[1] [Black Sky] is [hei tian], or [黑天] in Chinese.
[2] [Ten Thousand Elemental Skill] is translated into [wan xing shen gong], or [萬行神功] in Chinese.
[3] [Heavenly Mountain Range] is [tian shan shan mai], or [天山山脈] in Chinese
 
 
 
 
 

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