Tafel sighed as she walked through the carpeted hallway of the royal castle. Yelling and bickering ensued the moment the castle doors closed behind her, with many voices high-pitched in disbelief. The nobles had been expecting a long drawn-out struggle that would eventually lead to Gabel’s victory as a rightful heir to the throne. Guess I showed them, Tafel thought as she smiled.
Tafel froze and turned her head towards a closed door. She pushed it open and frowned. “Mother,” she said, keeping her head level. “It’s been a while.”
Mina sighed. “I saw your match, if you could even call it that,” she said. “You’ve gotten strong, stronger than I ever was. I’m proud of you.”
Tafel creased her brow. She found that she didn’t know what to do with her arms as she fidgeted and shifted her weight between her feet. “Thank you?” she asked as she scratched her head. “Hm. I was actually expecting you to yell at me for running away all those years ago.”
One side of Mina’s mouth quirked upwards as she rose from her seat next to the window. “I didn’t pray for your safety every night just so I could yell at you when you returned,” she said as she put her arms around Tafel. “Will you forgive me?”
Tafel stiffened and attempted to pull away, but stopped when she felt the trembling of her mother’s body. “I-, I don’t know,” Tafel said as she stood in her mother’s embrace. “I know that you were trying to protect me from Father, since he turned out to be crazy and all, but it still… hurt.”
“I know, Tafel. I’m sorry,” Mina said, her voice trembling. She released her daughter and held her by her shoulders at arm’s length.
Tafel stared into her mother’s eyes and bit her lip. “I guess we can try again,” Tafel said after a pause, “but not as mother and daughter. This time, we’re equals.”
Mina let out a sigh. “I think I could live with that,” she said and smiled. “You’re more than qualified to be my equal.”
Metal clanking noises echoed through the hall. “Excuse me, my lady,” Retter said as he stopped in front of the doorway. “The nobles outside wish to present gifts to the new demon lord.”
Tafel frowned. “That was quick,” she said as she broke away from Mina.
“I suspect that these gifts were prepared for Gabel once he succeeded in taking the throne,” Retter said with his head lowered.
Tafel nodded. “I’ll receive them in the throne room,” she said and turned to Mina. “Do you want to come too?”
“I’d love to,” Mina said as she took Tafel’s hand. “Chances are my new son-in-law will be from those pool of nobles.”
Tafel snorted. “Fat chance,” she said. “There’s only one person who I’ve found interesting, everyone else is too boring.”
“I guess the bar is set pretty high when the first boy you’ve ever been friends with had dragons for parents,” Mina said and shook her head.
The crowd of humans stared at the arena with their mouths gaping. Vur and Lillian stood in the center of the arena, with everyone else collapsed on the arena floor or sprawled out in the grassy fields surrounding the circular stone slab.
One person on the floor in front of Vur coughed up a mouthful of blood. “What kind of black mage is that? He didn’t even cast any spells,” he said through gasps. “He should be fighting in the warrior bracket.”
Murmurs broke out in the crowd and soon they started shouting at the referee. Lillian’s face turned red as everyone jeered at the two of them. During the fight, Vur thwacked everyone with his staff except for her.
“He’s just trying to avoid fighting the prince, so he slipped into the ranged bracket!” a man shouted as he threw a bottle at Vur.
Vur pointed a finger at the person who just spoke and a bolt of lightning flowed from his chest to his finger before striking the man. The crowd fell silent.
“See? Magic,” Vur said as he turned towards the referee. “We qualify for the main tournament now, right?”
The referee scratched his head while looking around. His gaze met with the king and the king nodded at him. The referee cleared his throat. “Although there were supposed to be three winners in this preliminary round, there’s only two capable of fighting left,” he said. “Vurdurr and Lillian have earned the qualifications to compete with the students of the academy in the main tournament.” A few students swore and wailed in protest. “The competition to enter the healer’s bracket will be starting shortly.”
Vur and Lillian left the stage and met up with Paul near some food stands. “Congratulations to the both of you,” he said as he offered them kebabs. “Man, I wish you could help me win my bracket.” Paul looked at Vur and sighed.
“Want to borrow my staff?” Vur asked as he held it out in exchange for the kebab. “It’s a really good weapon.”
Paul rubbed his chin and grabbed the staff. Vur let go and Paul fell to the ground. “Wha- How heavy is this!?” Paul asked as he struggled to slide his hand out from under the metal rod.
“I think it was six hundred pounds,” Vur said as he tilted his head.
“Is that why the caravan was uneven…?” Lillian muttered to herself as she took a bite from the kebab.
Paul rubbed his arm as he stood up. “I think I’ll just use my own staff… I don’t get why us healers have to compete in a free-for-all knockout competition like you guys,” he said and sighed. “Well, it’s not like the nobles expect us non students to win anyway. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” Lillian said. Vur nodded as Paul walked to the edge of the arena.
“Can he win?” Vur asked Lillian.
“Nope,” she said and tossed the kebab stick away. “He’s screwed.”
Just as she predicted, Paul lost miserably to a monk who ended up winning the preliminaries. Lillian pat him on the back. “At least you tried, right?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I’ll be sure to win a blessing for the both of us.”
“Due to the lack of participants for the warrior’s bracket, Stella wins by default.” The referee’s voice rang out over the field, his voice carried by the wind.
Vur tilted his head. “Why don’t people compete as warriors?” he asked.
Paul and Lillian glanced at each other. “That’s because the prince is counted as a warrior class and he commands a dragon,” Paul said. “No one wants to fight against a dragon.”
Vur lifted his mask and bit into a kebab. “Dragon, huh?”