As the match between Shin and Natasha was still ongoing, two brooding figures furrowed their brows the moment the young girl displayed her true might. Suji, who was widely considered to be the best weapon-type Spirit User in the freshmen year, was highly disturbed by how much Natasha had grown, and he posed a question to his partner.
“Dan… Are you capable of blocking that slash?”
“T-That… I’m not sure…” Danroy’s voice slightly quivered as his throat contracted out of fear. Even though the obese youth claimed that he was uncertain, both Suji and he knew that Natasha’s strike was sufficient to break through both their defences as if it were made of butter.
“Yet another emergent talent… How many more are you hiding, Imperius Academy?!” Suji’s grip on his pants tightened while spectating the odd phenomenon. Ever since he entered the school, talents that were rarely seen in decades seemed to have been popping out one after another. Initially, Kanari and Suji shared a duopoly to the claim of best in the generation. Yet, now there were more than five prodigies that could potentially threaten Kanari’s throne. “Tsskkk, let’s see how this plays out. The winner of this match would face us after all…”
“…” Hearing Suji’s words, Danroy just kept silent. Although the sinewy youth didn’t think too much before uttering that statement, as a long-time friend of his, Danroy could piece together his childhood friend’s innermost thoughts.
‘Suji… In your eyes, I’m probably not as worthy to fight you as compared to those two down there right?’ Danroy pondered. Feeling a wave of despondency crash into his very soul, the obese youth dropped his head down wistfully. ‘And you might be right… Against those two, I’m probably nothing…’
The atmosphere in the stadium started to get more and more heated after Shin and Natasha’s first exchange. Even though their movements were too swift for the naked eye, just spectating the particle effects and the aftermath of the split second bout made the audience’s eyes glitter with wonder.
Through his earlier probe, Shin had learnt how dangerous it was to charge headfirst into the attacking range of Natasha’s Starlight Katana. Even though his overall speed was much faster than the young girl’s, Shin still couldn’t evade that one quickdraw ability.
‘I can’t carelessly attack her! That one move is capable of ending me immediately!’ Shin cautioned himself.
With Natasha on the defensive and Shin trying to find a potential weakness from afar, the two stared at one another for almost ten seconds without moving. In the heat of a battle such as this one, just one mistake would prove to be fatal. Thus, even though it looked like Shin was merely standing still, in his head, he was calculating the hundreds of potential outcomes.
‘It looks like she’s going to wait until I make the first move… Hmph! Did you really think that I will play into your game?!’ Shin scoffed at Natasha’s ignorance and summoned out three spheres of water. One of the water globes turned itself into eight rings that enveloped the black-haired youth, acting as a buffer for any rogue sword slashes that might end up in his area, while the other two turned into thousands of water droplets that floated in the air.
‘Let’s see how you handle this!!!’ Throwing his hand down, Shin threw the thousands upon thousands of tiny water balls at the swordmaiden, creating a horizontal rain that was unaffected by gravity.
Instead of moving from her position, Natasha released the tremendous amounts of mana stored in her Starlight Katana and created a defensive field that easily evaporated the raindrops that entered her striking zone. With every disappearing water sphere, it seemed that Shin’s long-ranged attempt had failed spectacularly, and just when the swordmaiden was feeling confident of her defence, a giant shadow darkened the sky above.
Sensing danger, Natasha immediately glanced upwards, ready to take on the oncoming threat. However, what greeted her was a torrential whirlpool, made out of a dense liquid that emulated the shape of the milky way, spinning rapidly above her head. Crashing down at an astonishing speed, there was no way that Natasha’s Celestial Aura could evaporate that much water in time. Using her signature foot technique, Natasha left her Iaido stance and moved tens of metres away, evading the oncoming whirlpool.
Naturally, the onslaught was part of Shin’s master plan to force the swordmaiden to leave her deadly quick draw stance, and now that her fastest attack was out of the picture, Shin jumped at a blinding speed. Her battle instincts tingling, Natasha pivoted her body in the direction of Shin’s oncoming attack and the moment she saw a lean shadow speeding towards her, the swordmaiden swung her sword from her awkward position.
Caught off guard by her reflexes, Shin immediately coated himself with a glove of water and only barely managed to slap the blade away. Somersaulting once to regain her stance, Natasha swung horizontally through pure instinct, forcing her attacker to retreat once more using the Lightning Swallow Steps.
‘Her movement speed is slow, but her sword is so damn quick!!!’ Shin hollered out mentally. His speed was clearly superior to Natasha’s, but he still couldn’t find an opening to exploit.
On the other side of the arena, the Starlight Blade was evidently having some troubles composing herself as well. ‘He broke my Iaido stance just like that?! Since when could he control water like that?!’
When Shin first came to the academy, he was cautious not to let any of his techniques leak. Thus, the student body only knew that he had promoted into the Spirit Core realm and had a knack for close-combat martial arts. Not many people knew that Shin could create and control water as he pleased, sending Natasha’s plan of solely relying on her quick draw to disarray.
‘I can’t remain on the defensive! If he could continually generate gallons of water, I would just be a sitting duck!’ Switching up her plans, Natasha changed into a different stance. Her Starlight Katana shone in a celestial light as she raised her sword up with both her hands firmly attached to the hilt.
“The First Waltz! Entering the Cosmos!” With a shout, Natasha sped forward, catching Shin off guard immediately. Moving in a beeline to confuse her enemy, the swordmaiden left afterimages of herself as she traversed the stage, showing off the full effect of her foot technique. Only after reaching five metres away from Shin, did the girl changed her stance to an offensive one.
Natasha’s katana started to become illusory as the starlight it emitted obscured the boy’s vision. Sending a slash at the boy’s general direction, Natasha gritted her teeth as she felt her mana being drained from her body. A crescent energy blade shot out of the tip of her katana and sped forward at light speed, giving Shin no time to evade.
Forced into a corner, Shin sent his water sphere before him and defended against the energy blade. However, that wasn’t enough. Immediately evaporating the water globe, Natasha’s sword light flashed forward, thirsting for the sweet, succulent flesh that Shin possessed. As a last ditch effort to protect himself, Shin threw out three of his mana enhanced needles to mitigate the strike.
“*Bsssttt!!!*.” Echoes of his needles being evaporated into dust sounded in Shin’s ears as the energy blade dissipated right before his eyes. His heart beating a thousand kilometres per second, Shin rubbed the cold sweat off his forehead, feeling relieved that he had escaped the Grim Reaper once more.
‘That must be her second spiritual ability, Astral Slash!’ Shin reached deep into the recesses of his memory to recall Natasha’s spiritual abilities.
‘Although it seems to be capable of slicing anything it comes into contact with, it looks like it has a certain range before it disappears. Perhaps ten metres?’ Immediately analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the swordmaiden’s new attack, Shin made a mental note to run whenever the signature starlight flows out of Natasha’s katana.
‘Okay, let’s try this then!’ Keeping out of the Astral Slash’s range, Shin jumped high into the air and found two obvious meridian points on Natasha’s body. Picking out two more needles from his arsenal, Shin mana enhanced them and shot them both at the girl.
‘Hmph! Such a telegraphed attack won’t work on me!’ Natasha sneered as she effortlessly sliced one of the flying needles and allowed the other to land straight on the ground beneath her. However, the moment she took down those two needles, a sense of dread towered over her, and the swordmaiden immediately took a defensive Iaido stance once more.
Up in the air, Shin had released his spiritual pressure, and at the same time, his right fist glowed with a cerulean light. Coating his right hand with a layer of water, Shin gathered a significant portion of his mana into that one point, intending on finishing the fight with that one move.
‘Hmph! You underestimate me, Shin Iofiel!!!’ Laughing off Shin’s foolish attempt, Natasha congregated her mana into her Starlight Katana and waited for the boy to enter her reach. In her Iaido stance, the girl could reach a draw speed that Shin could never hope to match. Once he reached her zone, Natasha would simply slice off the boy’s arm, making him wish that he had never belittled her in the first place.
Taking the plunge, Shin’s body descended at an astonishing speed, as if he was unafraid of getting hit by Natasha’s light speed sword. Still in her Iaido stance, a sinister grin crept up the young girl’s face as she realised that she was about to defeat her opponent in the next move. Natasha’s grip on her katana’s hilt strengthened as her sword began to glimmer in a gorgeous light. The stars that lay hidden in her Celestial Aura twinkled in joy as the mana being supplied to the sword overwhelmingly increased.
‘Five… Four…’ Natasha predicted the trajectory of Shin’s descent with an expectant gaze and counted down the time to impact in her head. Looking at the unchanging face of the black-haired boy, Natasha could practically taste victory.
‘Three… Two…’ As Shin descended faster and faster, Natasha had to alter her counting speed slightly. Nonetheless, the fact still remained that once Shin entered her range, the young swordmaiden would have free reigns to claim his arm as her own.
‘ONE!!!’ The moment Shin’s extended fist entered into her zone, Natasha’s right arm muscles flinched as she attempted to draw her blade from the Iaido stance. However, as she was midway through the attack, the young girl felt that something was amiss.
‘W-What?’ Natasha’s entire world started to turn dizzy, and the mana that she had supplied to her Starlight Blade had been cut off. Her control over her body was sent into chaos as the backlash from her mana being thrown back into her spiritual body pumped her blood in the wrong direction.
Before she could attempt to diagnose the problem, Shin’s fist was already in striking distance, and there was no way that the youth was going to pass up on this golden opportunity.
“Soul-Piercing Fist!!!” Shin’s extended his arm and struck with all his might. Watching as the fist that she sought to cut off just seconds earlier etched ever closer to her body, Natasha could only use her Starlight Blade to defend herself meekly.
“BOOOOOMMM!!!” A thunderous echo reverberated through Lucha Amphitheatre, breaking the eardrums of those who sat on the front row.
Shin’s fist had collided with Natasha’s sword and had sent the poor swordmaiden flying dozens of metres away. Like a broken toy, Natasha rolled on the ground for a few seconds before finally collapsing on the stadium. A sweaty mist sizzled out from Shin’s knuckles while he attempted to recover his bearings. Even though he had landed the overwhelmingly superior strike. Natasha still managed to somehow evaporate all of his water protection and defend her vital organs from any significant harm.
‘Just how skilled can one get?!’ Shin was in complete shock. Even in that disadvantaged position and given less than half a second to react, Natasha could still protect herself. Watching as the girl struggled to get to her feet, Shin dropped his jaw in wonder.
“Hah… Hah… W-What was that?” The swordmaiden’s right hand quivered uncontrollably, and her legs barely kept her standing. Panting heavily to get rid of the excess heat in her body, the young girl tasted iron in her mouth as a red liquid dripped out from the corner of her lips. After facing the backlash from her mana spiralling out of control, it took a while for Natasha to regain her bearings and attempt to figure out what went wrong.
Now that she had some time to herself, Natasha could thoroughly inspect her shaking body. Sensing a sharp pain at the back of her calf, the swordmaiden glanced down to see a sharp silver needle poking into her body. Recognising it as the pin that she allowed to stick to the ground, suddenly, everything made sense to Natasha.
‘So that’s how he disrupted my mana flow! He must have the ability to remotely control those needles!!!’ Natasha theorised.
“Natasha!” While the young girl was still in the midst of recovering, Shin’s youthful voice echoed out from across the stadium. “Just give in… You’re clearly in no shape to compete anymore. Your right arm is broken, you mana circulation is out of control, and my Divine Needle Binding doesn’t come out that easily!”
Shin cautioned the swordmaiden from digging further down the rabbit hole. Although she managed to defend herself, a large portion of her right arm bones had been shattered, and her internal mana flow was still in disarray. No matter how tough Natasha was, there was no need to risk her life over a school competition. If she gave in now, Shin would undoubtedly give her the first aid that she so desperately needed.
‘Divine Needle Binding? Is that why I get lightheaded every time I try to touch that silver needle?’ Natasha speculated.
A typical needle strike would be simple to resolve, as simply plucking it out would be sufficient. However, with the Divine Needle Binding technique, each time Shin’s victim tried to even go near the needle, their mind would turn muddied, rendering them incapable of removing the binding on their own. Furthermore, if someone other than Shin tried to use their mana to remove the needles, the victim being pinned would enter a threshold of pain rarely felt by the human body.
“Natasha! There’s no need to risk your life! Just throw in the towel!” Unwilling to attack a handicapped opponent, Shin warned the swordmaiden once more. As much as he wanted to win, there was no way that Shin would finish off a weakened foe that was unable to fight back.
“Hahaha…” Natasha giggled slightly at the boy’s words. Her face turning purple as her fingers placed a firm grip on the silver needle that blocked one of her meridians. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!”
Using laughter as a tool to mask the pain and faint sensation that pulsated through her body, Natasha hollered out: “Shin Iofiel!!! A warrior never backs down from a good fight! Throw in the towel?! Never say something that foolish again!!!”
Tidal waves of dizziness came crashing into the girl’s consciousness as she yanked out the needle from her calf, stunning Shin and everyone in the audience.
“ARRRRRGGHHH!!!!” The moment she pulled out the needle an ungodly agony electrified Natasha’s entire being causing her to yell out in pain. Beating the concrete floor until her hands bled, tears spewed out from Natasha’s eye ducts as she rolled around, hoping that the pain would stop.
Many in the audience couldn’t bear to see the sight of Natasha suffering and quickly moved their gaze away. Even Shin, the perpetrator of Natasha’s suffering, started to tremble. Only after twenty seconds, did the young swordmaiden manage to stand up from the damage that she had sustained.
“Well then… Shall we continue?”