Peace fills the air in the land of Rune-Midgarts. A gentle breeze is felt through the plains of Prontera and the surrounding environs. It is overcast, and numerous Novices are seen in the fields, training themselves against whatever fauna they could find – a stray Lunatic here; some Porings there, and the occasional Creamy that would poke at whatever Novices it found before teleporting away in their usual manner.
It is midday. To the east, a small crowd could be seen heading into a small port city. The Novices would eventually catch notice of it and follow them. As they approached the city, cheering and applause could be heard amongst clashing steel. A Swordsman is felled by a swingeing blow, hitting the ground with a loud thud.
As adventurers and citizenry alike entered the city, a certain teal-clad Kafra – backed by her crew – could be seen greeting them at the main entrance.
"Good mornin', adventurers, townsfolk, and all in between!" greeted the ever-energetic Kafra Nora, waving to passersby. "Welcome to the satellite city of Izlude! Y'all have come here on a special day!" Several townspeople would break off from the crowd to gather around her and her team before she continued. "But first, a little about the place! Ladies!"
Right on cue, Nora's crew began gesturing toward the direction of several key places of interest in the city.
"Now, I'm sure everyone who's anyone knows that our beloved Capital city of Prontera has had population issues in the past! And with that, space became an issue, which in turn made increased defenses an issue as well – so the bigwigs decided to construct a satellite town – this town – Izlude! More than just a means of bolsterin' the city's defenses and providin' room for growth, the Swordsman Association relocated here as soon as the town was established! And thanks to its awesomely strategic location, Prontera had access to a port, givin' way to trade and transportation! It comes complete with an airship dock and shipyard; the Royal Criatura Academy where aspirin' adventurers can learn more about the world, and the ever-popular…"
Nora would pause for a moment before a small explosion is heard from the northernmost portion of the city, which made the crowd jump slightly.
"…Izlude Arena! And that is where the fun is really had here! His Royal Highness, King Tristan Gaebolg III, had this colosseum established to promote good, wholesome competition amongst adventurers and citizens alike! If you wanna learn more, meet us by the entrance to the arena!"
She always knew how to stir a crowd into action, and Nora did just that as the crowd eagerly followed her as they cheered the Kafra on. The town was busy and bustling, and the citizens were incredibly hyped for an exciting day to unfold. In the town's center were two individuals that any person in Rune-Midgarts would not be caught dead without knowing – a cool and stylish youth wielding a customized Gladiator Blade with a revolver as the handle, made from his own design. The other was a relaxed and disciplined young man, finding his center through meditation and prayer. These two were none other than Ray Kaza, leader and "Gun-Knight" of the guild known as White Trinity, and his brother, Lee, a powerful Monk hailing from Saint Capitolina Abbey.
"YES! I've missed this so much, Lee!" exclaimed Ray after taking a big stretch. "The fresh air – the sounds of battle… it feels like home!"
"This is our home," Lee reminded him as he stood up. He smiled and gave Ray a pat on the shoulder. "And yeah, I missed it, too. Fighting the Vixens and the Saviors was one thing, but nothing is more uplifting than fighting in the Izlude Arena!"
"Hell yeah and amen to that!" Ray chuckled. "With this hiatus in effect, we can get back to the action! And it looks like the fighting's going to be good today!"
Lee nodded and turned towards the Arena, its towering walls inspiring him and his brother. Without another word, Ray marched down the road leading to the colosseum with Lee by his side, being noticed immediately by the townsfolk as excited murmurs and scattered cheers filled the air.
"It's them! It's Ray! Ray Kaza…! First of the Gun-Knights!" said a young swordsman in awe.
"It's Master Lee! I hear he took on three of the Battle Vixens' best all by himself back on Beacon Island!" spoke a blushing female Acolyte. The praise gave them a considerable ego boost, but Lee remained humble. Ray, however, was living in the moment, showing off his gun skills to the fans.
"Don't ever change, Ray," Lee told him with a shake of his head. The two would make their way inside, where a large crowd of adventurers could be seen gathered at the center of the arena. Amidst the stands was Kafra Nora, who seemed to have been today's master of ceremonies. Flanking her was Kafra Pavianne on her left, patting down her apron, and Kafra Glaris on her right, fidgeting with her glasses. With a raise of her hand, the audience went quiet…
"Welcome, people of Rune-Midgarts, to the Izlude Arena!" she announced. The crowd cheered once more before she continued. "Today we've got a special event – the Tournament of Mastery!"
As soon as they heard the "T" word, Ray's and Lee's eyes widened and practically sparkled in the light.
"This tournament – sponsored by the Kafra Corporation – will pit adventurers from all walks of life against one another in single combat! Over the next two days, contestants will compete in five minute bouts to decide who will walk away as Izlude Arena Master! In addition to a fancy title, they will also be rewarded with a special weapon bestowed upon them from the royal treasury!" Nora explained.
"How in the hell did she get permission from the King to do that?!" Ray said with a twitching eye.
"That woman's got some powerful connections, that's for sure," Lee thought aloud as he crossed his arms.
"The hundred 'n' twenty-eight gathered here will duke it out in a free-for-all in a series of three rounds! Takin' out an opponent awards you with a point! Get enough points and you move on to the next round! After the third round, sixteen lucky contestants will compete in the quarter-finals!" Nora explained further.
An overeager female Monk punched a random Novice with such force and such speed that she was sent flying into a wall as her eggshell helmet was floating in midair!
"Oi, the round's not started yet!" Nora said with a wag of her finger. The female Monk suddenly found herself immobilized in a stasis field. The others were somewhat intimidated by the powers of the teal Kafra – only Ray and Lee were unfazed as they experienced firsthand at how formidable Nora actually was. "Anyway, without further ado, let's begin the preliminaries!"
The 128 contestants (technically 126 with the incapacitated Novice and Monk) begin spreading out evenly amongst the four gates of the colosseum. Ray and Lee made their way to the southwest corridor as they discussed battle plans…
Ray: Okay, so here's what we're gonna do: we take out the healers first!
Lee: But Ray, it's a free-for-all. There's no team play here; everyone will be fighting for survival.
Ray: True, but all it takes is one well-timed Holy Light spell for those Priests to steal a point!
Lee: Whoa… that's actually pretty smart.
Ray: Yeah, I guess it helps having a strategist as brilliant as Thiji in our guild – think he's starting to rub off on me a bit.
Lee: So anyway, what should we do about the rest?
Ray: We wing it as always, but don't make it obvious that we're working together!
Lee: So… fake a fight?
Ray: Exactly! But only if we run into each other. If we suddenly stop when our eyes meet, people will start getting suspicious!
Lee: That does make sense… So we just need to make sure we stay in through the entire preliminaries. Sounds easy enough!
Ray: All right, it's settled! Oh, and if you run into any Dancers, tell them Ray said "hello" before you punch them out.
Lee: I'm beginning to think Raien's rubbing off on you as well…
The contestants waited patiently within the gated corridors as the audience counted down with Nora…
"Ten! Nine! Eight!"
Priests were seen buffing themselves with protective magicks; Knights, Crusaders, even Alchemists made the necessary preparations to fight at their prime…
"Seven! Six! Five!"
Ray quickly double-checked the chamber in his revolver – all full and ready to go. Lee got a good stretch in before applying his knuckle dusters…
"Four! Three! Two! One…!"
"Fight or perish!" commanded Nora as she lowered her hand to signal the opening of the gates. All contestants charged out of the corridors, shouting at the top of their lungs as they all met in center field. Steel and sorcery collided as warriors and mages alike began falling one by one.
Several minutes into the battle, Lee met face-to-face with a female Monk who happily traded blows with the young man. Getting a good look of her, he gasped and abstained for a moment…
"B… Botan…?" Lee uttered in confusion. "Why are you a Monk all of a sudden?"
"What the hell's a Botan?!" the female Monk replied with an arched brow. She had the same features and countenance as Botan, which threw him for a loop. The lady Monk would then be sent flying as she became the receiving end of a plated boot delivered by Ray.
"Phew! That was a close one!" Ray chuckled before heading back into the fray. Lee snapped back out of reality a moment later and continued fighting. The crowd was restless, their cheers becoming louder and more intense as the round went by. The first round concluded after five minutes had passed, instantly teleporting those that could not rack enough points either out of the colosseum or in the stands to join the audience.
After Kafra Nora commenced the second round Ray was feeling pretty confident in his ability, wasting no time to charge out to center field, guns already pointed at anyone foolish enough to get within range. The only one that took his challenge was an audacious young man with an eggshell helmet and wearing garb similar to that of a Novice's, except that the jerkin was more white and blue as opposed to the usual brown cuirass. Firing off a few Cold Bolts at the Gun-Knight, he pulled out a stiletto and got into a combat stance.
"So, a Super Novice, eh?" Ray scoffed as he deflected the icicles. The rest of the contestants battled amongst themselves and left some room for them to "duel." Dodging a shot from Ray's revolver, the Super Novice dashed toward him with increased agility, attempting to pierce his armor. Ray easily avoided his attack with a sidestep, but the Super Novice stuck once more with blinding speed, slashing him on the right side of his waist. The damage, however, was negligible. "Not bad, little fella… one for you. And now…"
Striking at the Super Novice with his blade, Ray would clash steel with and eventually overpowered him as he struck at his weapon, disarming the Super Novice. Ray then had his gun trained on the eyes of his opponent and pulled the trigger, discharging a flash of light that utterly stunned him. With a swift diagonal slash of his Gladiator Blade down the Super Novice's chest, he would slowly collapse to the ground and was defeated, scoring him a point. "…One for me!"
As Ray went back into the fray with Lee, Nora and her crew observed from the top tier of the colosseum…
Curly Sue: The fight's going well, wouldn't you say, Pavianne?
Pavianne: Yes! And the third round is almost here! In fact –
Nora would sound the end of the second round. Lee was seen pummeling some unfortunate Ninja into the dirt before he was teleported out of the premises. Ray and Lee were still in, along with fourteen other competitors, and were sent back into the corridors as the next round would commence…
Leilah: Hey, Blossom! Want to make a wager?
Blossom: What? On Ray and Lee?
Leilah: Yup! I'm willing to bet Kafra Nora's second-in-command position that Ray defeats the Monk!
Glaris: Girls, the bet is already invalid; I am second-in-command in Nora's Kafra Krew.
Blossom: Oh, really? Because I was going to bet that as well for Lee beating the Gunslinger-Knight guy!
Nora: C'mon, now, girls! There's no need for that! They're gonna make it to the finals, no doubt! No need to be bettin' on who's beatin' who! The fun's all in the battle!
As the third round commenced, Lee was scanning the area for the remaining opponents: a Wizard battling a Sage here, a male Crusader from the Holy Saviors dueling with Ray there, a Taekwon boy and girl duking it out with punches and kicks, a mixed assortment of other adventurers… and one Priestess that was eyeing Lee, already singling out her opponent.
"You're kidding, right?" Lee chuckled before a large wave of holy energy was sent his way. He dodged it with some effort, looking back at the Priestess with an arched brow.
"Not all Priests are full support, you know!" she retorted before unsheathing her mace, charging at the Monk. Lee braced himself for an attack as the Priestess showed formidable skill with the mace, putting him on the defensive.
"Come on, Lee!" Ray shouted to the Monk as he clashed blades with the Crusader. "Don't let her shake you! One mistake and it's over!"
Lee attempted to fight back, but the Priestess was a fierce combatant. She was able to avoid his blows and sweeping kicks with ease, and Lee found himself on his last legs. Just as the Priestess came upon him with a downward swing of her mace, he had remembered his training and encounters with the Battle Vixens as he finally let his guard down to grab hold of the mace and left them both standing still… the Blade Stop technique.
With a quick Body Relocation, he had appeared behind the Priestess, confused as to where the Monk had went, only to turn around and be greeted with a Raging Trifecta Blow followed by a Raging Quadruple Blow which left her reeling. Caught off balance, he focused on his might on the final attack of the combination: the Raging Thrust. With a powerful double punch, he sent the Priestess skidding across the floor and into a wall, not only giving him a point, but taking the Priestess down for the count.
"I have to remember my skill…" he thought aloud as he shook his hands from the impact of the attack. As he rejoined the fray, the Kafra Krew was spectating from their vantage point as usual…
Blossom: Yeah, that bet's as good as mine, Leilah! Don't worry, though; I'm sure Nora will understand!
Leilah: It's not even the quarter-finals yet! You're counting chickens before they hatch!
Glaris: Ladies, we already said that this wasn't going through; I am second-in-command.
Nora: You don't have to do all that! I love y'all equally!
All Kafra except Nora: Aww, thank you, Kafra Nora!
Nora: Oh, cut the sappiness, girls! Y'all know how I get!
They all chuckled as the clock ticked down. In the last ten seconds of the battle, Ray and Lee struck down their own opponents, scoring yet another point and tying them in the lead at seven points. In the confusion of battle they charged at and threw a punch at one another, colliding fists with such force that a small shockwave erupted from the point of impact. As they finally noticed each other, however, the round was over, and the unworthy sixteen were teleported out. All that remained were Ray, Lee, the Taekwon boy/girl duo, an Alchemist, a Sage, two Rogues, the Crusader Ray had contended with, a Soul Linker, a Dancer (without a Bard, surprisingly), a Knight, two Blacksmiths, a Hunter, and a Gunslinger. Nora stood up from her seat and made her way to the edge of the balcony…
"The preliminaries has come to an end!" she cried. "These sixteen chosen contestants will fight it out tomorrow to decide who will walk away with the title of Izlude Arena Master! Until then, enjoy your time in Izlude, and the Kafra Corporation thanks you all for your continued support!"
After a big round of applause, everyone would begin departing the colosseum, and the contestants chatted amongst themselves, wishing everyone luck and bragging about their exploits in battle. Ray and Lee, however, did not take the time to "mingle," and immediately vacated the premises, only to be stopped by Kafra Nora and the clipboard-toting Kafra Blossom…
Blossom: Congratulations are in order, you two! You've made it to the quarter-finals.
Ray: Thanks. I'm looking forward to winning!
Lee: So am I! Think of what that'll do for White Trinity's publicity!
Nora: Hah! You sound like a regular businessman, Monk! But you gotta remember: you two are both in the tourney; one 'o' ya's gotta make it to the top.
The Gun-Knight and the Monk gazed at each other for a moment, feeling a bit of tension rising between the two of them. Ray, in confidence, walked out of the colosseum boasting about a new technique to use in the competition, while Lee went in the other direction, heading to the Swordsman's Association to hone his skills on the training dummies. Nora, curious on how things will unfold, pondered on the two with an eager smirk while Blossom wrote away on her clipboard to keep herself occupied. Just then, Blossom received a call from one of her colleagues at Headquarters. After about a moment of conversing, she tugged on Nora's apron and informed her of some new breakthroughs regarding the mysterious activity surrounding the Emperium Frontier.
"Good deal, Blossom! We got some free time, so let's head on back and find out what our sisters have learned!" said the teal Kafra before taking her leave.
Outside of the Swordsman's Association headquarters was Lee, noticing a small group of Swordsmen honing their abilities on some training dummies. When they felt eyes upon them, they all halted their actions and stared at the Monk, immediately recognizing who it was. One of the Swordsmen gestured to Lee, offering him to join in their training, which the Monk had graciously accepted.
"I have to hone my talents somehow, I guess," Lee said to himself as he followed them to the training grounds.
Ray, however, had other plans. He had boasted earlier about creating a completely new technique all his own, and he would be wont to use it in the events to come.
"All right… first we'll flip some coins…" the Gun-Knight said in his mind as small blue orbs began to levitate and revolve around him. As soon as five coins circled around him, he smirked as he attached his gun onto his sword before he pointed the weapon toward a nearby tree. "Game on!"
As both individuals commenced their training, memories had begun to emerge from within – their past exploits and feats echoing in their subconscious. For Ray Kaza, ever since the start of the Emperium Frontier, he had only one thing on the mind above all else (other than watching out for his teammates, of course): glory. Ray constantly sought to make a name for himself and for his guild, for he knew that he could only go so far be participating in colosseum matches and arenas alone. Thus, whenever he and his allies found themselves under attack, be it from an opposing guild or otherwise, he was at the frontlines, sending White Trinity's message clear through his trusty blade and guns. It was from this trait alone where he would find his strength, and thus drove him to excel in his training.
Lee of Saint Capitolina Abbey, however, was a different story. His battles were more than just contests of might. Whenever he fought, Lee always found himself facing incredible odds, but had always found the will to stand his ground. Whether fighting side-by-side with his brother as he did in the Emperium Jungle, or taking a defiant stand against his enemies alone like he had accomplished in his bout in the Emperium Pyramid, his skill always shone the brightest. He learned that battles are not always won through strength alone, but through superior mastery of one's own abilities. Thus, through the understanding of the word "skill" he would find his strength, and this alone would drive him to excel in his training as well.
The fruits of their labor would show on the battlefield as the following days were full of heated battles; the competition would be fierce for the two Trinities, but Ray & Lee persevered to the end. With Ray, his opponents were the Alchemist and the Sage, and being around Thiji enough had given him an edge against magic-users. The Alchemist gave him trouble at first with their dangerous ability to damage and ultimately break equipment, but the Gun-Knight kept his composure and made short work of his alchemical creations with superior firepower. The Sage, although fierce in battle after having taken out one of the Rogues from before in the 1st quarter-final, would find himself hard-pressed to deal with the Gun-Knight's ranged capabilities and was overpowered in the end, solidifying Ray's place in the Finals.
Lee found himself face-to-face with the Crusader that engaged with Ray in the preliminaries as his first opponent. Immediately recognizing the Monk as one of White Trinity's best, the Crusader was both honored and eager to face such an opponent, hoping to make his own name amongst the ranks of the Saviors. He was strong defensively, effortlessly guarding against Lee's barrage of attacks, but his offense left much to be desired, and this imbalance resulted in his downfall as Lee managed to best his opponent through attrition. His opponent in the 2nd quarter-final was the Dancer whom had defeated the Soul Linker from before. Unlike the Crusader and his powerful defensive abilities, this woman was able to weave through Lee's attacks, dodging with little effort and countering with a vicious volley of arrows. Apparently she took a few combat lessons just for the sake of the tournament, but once more Lee's resolve showed as he found a way around the Dancer's elusive steps and through clever use of Body Relocation, he caught her off-guard and took her down, eliminating the femme fatale from the tournament. Before she took her walk of shame, however, she revealed that she was a disciple of the Battle Vixens, and in defeating Lee she would have been guaranteed a spot amongst their elite. The Monk's response?
"You'll have to dance better than that to be a Vixen! Oh, and by the way, Ray Kaza says, 'hi.'"
The Dancer simply responded with a wink as she exited the arena. Overseeing it all was, of course, Nora and her crew, watching the battles unfold. They could practically feel tensions between the two brothers reaching a fever pitch, which made the teal Kafra wonder just what might happen in the finals...
As Nora would begin to announce the end of the semifinals, the Taekwon duo appeared before her in the arena and declared to surrender their spots in the semi-finals, making the Monk and Ray win by default, taking them straight into the finals. This sudden turn of events was just what Nora had hoped for, and as a smile crept on her face, she would begin to speak…
"Due to the unconditional surrender of the Taekwon pair, Ray Kaza and Master Lee shall advance to the finals – and it shall happen tonight!"
The crowd cheered uproariously, already anxious to watch the battle between White Trinity's own combatants. The inevitable clash where skill meets glory was going to happen much sooner than the both of them had intended, which made them nervous for perhaps the first time of their lives. The two said nary a word at each other, and went their separate ways once more, leaving the colosseum with thoughts of victory in their minds. The crowd was so excited that a majority of them opted to stay behind and wait out the entire afternoon for the finals to arrive. Nora and her crew simply stood by, watching several spectators exit the area…
Pavianne: Wow…! It's hard to say who's going to win at this point!
Leilah: Yeah, forget about the bet! At this point I just want to see them duke it out!
Glaris, adjusting her glasses: Not like it was going to go through anyway…
Pavianne: Anyone else find it somewhat weird that the semifinalists just gave up so that Ray and Lee would face each other? It's almost like this was meant to happen!
Curly Sue: Don't overanalyze it, Pavi! I'd watch myself too if I was gonna face someone from the big three!
Blossom, writing on her clipboard: Kafra Pavianne has a point.
The rest of Nora's crew turns and face Kafra Blossom.
Blossom: The unconditional surrender of the Taekwon Boy and Girl does spark a bit of suspicion in the essence that the plot would have been too drawn-out and would eventually cause the spectators and viewers alike to lose interest, since the climax of this tournament would only make more sense if it culminated with a duel between the Gunslinger-Knight and the Monk to decide whom is the superior fighter. Therefore the surrender of the Taekwon duo is justified so that events would come to a more pleasant conclusion.
Everything went silent as the rest of the crew except for Nora - whom was staring out into the distance, pondering something – gave various expressions to Blossom, ranging from confused to outright puzzled (and even a facepalm from Kafra Glaris).
Blossom, looking up from her clipboard: … What? Did I miss something important?
Curly Sue: I take back what I said to Pavi just now…
Pavianne: No offense taken, Sue.
Nora: Very astute o' you, Blossom, but we can leave the lampshade where it's at right now. What we need to worry about is the finals!
They nodded in agreement and began preparations for the climactic finals match. As the afternoon progressed Ray and Lee were visited by spectators and fans alike, begging for autographs and interviews. Ray was simply enjoying all the attention, whereas Lee was a little bashful on occasion, only in it for the opportunity to improve himself and not so much the fame. Seeking to get away from the masses, the Monk stood alone at a secluded area by the docks – it was empty save for a couple skippers that occasionally ferried travelers to Byalan Island far out to sea.
The sun setting over the Rune-Midgarts Kingdom soothed the Monk's mind, for he would need as much composure as possible while there was still sunlight. For as long as he could remember, Lee and Ray were always fighting side-by-side, keeping each other's spirits high in the face of overwhelming odds. However, he had never even dreamed of facing his own brother in pitched combat, and he was wondering how to proceed. If he lost he would not be given the title of Izlude Master, as well as the powerful item promised to the champion. On the other hand, should he become the victor, Ray would lose a considerable amount of fame, and perhaps even face ridicule from passersby, or worse – The Battle Vixens.
The Monk was at a complete loss. Time was running short, and his thoughts were racing. He sat down and laid a worried hand on his head, hoping to find some sort of silver lining in between. Just then, he would hear footsteps approaching him. They were soft, but dignified strides, and as Lee turned around, his eyes went wide at whom he beheld…
"Not losing your spirit, are we?" her voice was soft, yet firm. Auburn hair and hazel eyes; delicate features and a slender figure. The commander of the Holy Saviors had approached before Lee – the Crusader, Youmei, but not in her battle attire. Instead she was wearing a flowing, silver gown with her guild's symbol emblazoned along the skirt (it showed some pretty nice cleavage as well). The Monk shook his head, keeping his gaze focused on his reflection, and then Youmei's as she stood beside him.
"I did not expect you of all people to be here," Lee replied coolly as he rose to his feet. The Crusader chuckled to herself. Since the Holy Saviors harbored no ill will towards White Trinity and its members, he had nothing to fear from the Crusader, so he could let his guard down without having to worry about being attacked.
"This competition was a nice refresher from the Frontier," Youmei said with folded arms, "and when I noticed you and Sir Ray were among the contestants, I was... compelled to stay behind and spectate. Your skills have grown considerably since the Battle of Britoniah. It was admirable to see you and your comrades perform, yet remind yourselves that you are not like those uncouth ruffians of the Battle Vixens."
"But we're at the finals now," Lee stated, "and I don't know if I can face him. Only one of us can come out of this as champion. What am I to do, Youmei?"
"Perhaps so, but that would not be the first time the warriors of White Trinity have changed fate," spoke the Crusader, shooting a glance at Lee with a light smile. "I will be watching every second, Master Lee. I ask that you not hold back, but I also implore you to remember why you fight – your purpose. I feel this… conflict as a whole is more than just a contest of strength and glory. Much more."
With that parting thought, Youmei gracefully turned on the heel of her foot, her gown flowing in the wind, and walked back to the stadium before the match, leaving the Monk to his thoughts. As she left and reentered the town square, she ran into Ray and bowed her head slightly before saying, "Best of luck, Sir Ray. I am sure White Trinity will surprise me yet again." Her words completely flew over Ray's head as his mind (and eyes) were focused… somewhere else. He snapped out of it after a moment and made his way back to the colosseum. As everyone made their way back, Nora and her crew had the field ready for the final battle…
"This is it, Midgartians! This is what you've all been waitin' for – the Izlude Master finals!" declared Nora. "The battle will be on a 5-minute time limit! The victor will be decided once one o' you falls! Now – let's welcome our finalists!"
Cue the thunderous applause and cheers as Ray and Lee slowly approached the center of the arena. They were both calm – focused. They knew that the other was going to go all out, and would not have it any other way…
"This is it, Lee," Ray greeted his brother.
"Yes. This is where we'll decide who the Master is," Lee had said, clenching his fists, adrenaline beginning to set in.
"Show me a good time, then, buddy!" Ray exclaimed, drawing his blade.
Both contestants were poised to strike, staring each other down as they awaited the battle's commencement. Youmei sat on the front row, arms and legs crossed, watching them intently. After several minutes of cheering, the commotion would die down until silence began to set upon the city of Izlude. Nora's crew stood tall, flanking the teal Kafra on either side as she slowly rose to her feet, approaching the balcony to declare the battle's commencement. The crowd became anxious; spectators could barely contain their excitement that they would begin jumping in their seats; other spectators even held their breath, too nervous to even blink for worry that they'll miss even a fraction of a second of the action.
"Now is your time, White Trinity, to prove even when pitted against those you care for most, that anything is possible," Youmei said in her mind with eyes shut. Everyone now awaited the signal from Nora…
"HAJIMARU!" yelled Nora at the top of her lungs, getting into the heat of the moment. As soon as the last syllable was uttered, Lee had made the first move, dashing towards Ray at high speeds, ready to deliver a strong straight punch. The Gun-Knight responded with a quick draw of his revolver and loaded it with a coin and cried, "Cracker!" before pulling the trigger and blinding Lee with a point-blank flash of light, stopping the Monk in his tracks. Ray smirked and prepared to attack with a horizontal slash, seeking to bring a swift end to the match. The contrary happened, however, as he found himself being halted by Lee who had blocked his blade with his knuckle dusters! The crowd cheered loudly for Lee as he got back up to his feet, deflecting Ray's barrage of attacks as he allowed his eyes time to adjust. Sensing an opening, Lee struck back with a Raging Trifecta Blow, knocking the Gun-Knight back a short on the third hit, which put a smile on Ray's face. Thirty seconds had now passed.
"You always were a strong one, Lee," Ray had said in his mind. "No matter what came our way, you fought your hardest and then some whenever things got serious. It's that very resolve that got our guild to where it is today."
Switching tactics, Ray decided it was time to show off his new technique, flipping enough coins until five floated around him. Then, after making a high jump, focused his power into his blade, aiming down at the Monk, whom had just recovered from his blinded state. "Have a taste of a Gunslinger's skill and a Knight's power! My Circle Blast!"
Quickly spinning 180 degrees, Ray ignited the coins as they combusted into small orbs of fire, then pulled the trigger after making another 180 degree turn, forming a radial shockwave of superheated air that caught Lee off-guard striking him with sufficient force to knock him on his rear.
Quickly getting back up, he shook the sweat from his face and returned to his combat stance as Ray touched back down to earth.
"Ever the glory-seeker, you were good at adapting to anything our battles threw at us," Lee said to himself. "Don't ever change, Ray. White Trinity wouldn't be the same without you leading it."
A full minute had now passed, and the crowd was beginning to get restless. Nora and her crew watched intently as Youmei nodded slowly to herself, noticing that the two are had remembered their reasons of fighting.
With the initial bout now complete, it was time to get down to business. The Gun-Knight advanced against the Monk with a volley of bullets as Lee stood his ground, deflecting or dodging them while sending Spirit Spheres at Ray via Finger Offensive. The counterattack of spheres slowed Ray down considerably to where Lee had delivered a strong kick at his hands, causing his blade to fly over his head all the way to the other end of the arena. But Ray had come prepared.
With two of his available coins (he had flipped five during Lee's little self-talk), he absorbed its energy to activate the Gunslinger's Panic ability, increasing his movement speed.
"Catch me if you can, Lee!" he taunted as he retreated. The Monk responded with an Agility Up spell after answering, "With pleasure!" and chased after him, occasionally catching up to and trading blows with the Gun-Knight while also avoiding shots from Ray's gun, although the Gunslinger's Panic skill significantly reduced the accuracy of his ranged attacks. After about twenty-five seconds of chasing and wall-running, Ray recovered his blade and used what was left of his momentum to jump from off a wall, dodging a mighty Raging Thrust from Lee, and drawing another pistol from his holster to rain lead upon the Monk with a fierce Rapid Shower.
"These two are really going at it!" Curly Sue gasped, leaning over the edge of the balcony in excitement.
"Indeed," Blossom followed as she kept an eye on the clock, "But there is still over three minutes left, and that's plenty of time for the battle to change!"
Lee immediately went on the defensive and braced himself for another attack, using his Spirit Spheres to use his Steel Body technique, giving Ray enough time to renew his own resources and prepared another Circle Blast. Lee wasn't able to dodge it fully, so he had no choice but to bolster his own defenses for the impending attack.
"Here it comes again!" Ray warned as he made his 360 degree turn, sending another shockwave of superheated air Lee's way. The Monk faced the attack head-on, his enhanced defenses shrugging off a large portion of the damage. The crowd felt the temperature rising from the repeated use of Ray's new technique, save for Youmei whom was calmly spectating with an eager expression, her auburn hair blowing in the air displaced by the shockwave.
Three minutes left, and Lee found his opening after Ray reloaded his weapon. Dropping his guard to go on the offensive, he charged with all his might and struck Ray with a mighty Raging Thrust, this time hitting its mark, and sending the Gun-Knight skidding across the ground for a few seconds before catching himself and recovering. The attack connected with such force that his guns fell out from his holsters and landed beside Lee, disabling Ray's ranged capabilities.
"I knew I should have brought my other guns…" commented Ray with a sigh. Lee had the upper hand, now, and slammed his fist into the ground as his Spirit Spheres resonated.
"Critical… Explosion!" cried the Monk, dashing towards Ray, looking to get back on the offensive. "Three minutes… that's all I'll need."
Ray, with no alternative, focused on his sword; it would feel lighter in his hand. He would then become enveloped in a yellow aura as he activated the special Knight skill – the One-Hand Quicken.
"He's gun-less now! Could this be the end?!" Curly Sue gasped, still leaning over on the balcony to the point where Glaris had to hold on to her by the skirt of her apron just to keep Curly Sue from falling. Blossom was rapidly jotting down notes on her clipboard as Pavianne curiously looked over her shoulder; Nora and Leilah were simply enjoying the spectacle.
Ray would soon find himself assailed by a flurry of rapid strikes from Lee, but his enhanced awareness and speed was able to match, and then some. Lee would deliver a left hook, which Ray would then avoid with a small jump back and retaliated with a Bowling Bash, striking his brother with great force and knocking him back. The Gun-Knight would then respond in kind with his own flurry of slashes, maintaining the pressure on Lee.
The eyes of both Youmei and Kafra Nora darted back and forth as the two brothers exchanged blows with each other. The clash persisted for over two minutes, with neither side giving no quarter. Even without his guns, Ray was still powerful with his melee weapon alone, and all Lee needed was his fists, but even with his limited range capabilities he was able to level the playing field by removing Ray's firearms from the equation. A smirk crept upon the Crusader's lips, mildly impressed by their performance, but would shortly fade as she laid her eyes on the clock. She had mentioned to them before that during the eleventh hour is when White Trinity shone the brightest, and the clock was winding down…
"Show me," Youmei said to herself with narrowed eyes, "the strength of your bond!"
Thirty seconds remaining. Lee had gathered all his strength, the earth rumbling slightly beneath him. Ray, seeing no further use for his guns at this point, took a deep breath, and firmly grasped his blade in both hands. Behind a chuckle, he said in a hushed tone, "Thanks for not holding back, Lee…"
Twenty seconds remaining. Ray got into his best defensive stance as Lee absorbed as much ki as his body could contain, engulfing him in a white aura made of his own energy made manifest. Fifteen seconds…
"Now give me your best shot!" the Gun-Knight shouted.
As the last vestiges of time wound down, the memories of their adventures flooded back in their minds. Through thick and thin, Ray and Lee persevered through everything, never forgetting that brotherly bond they shared. They remembered this during their battle, and as a result would go all out for each other, because to them, it was no longer about glory or skill. It was simply just another obstacle they had to overcome, only this time, that obstacle was themselves.
Ten seconds. The Monk charged at Ray with all he had, and the Gun-Knight timed it just right as Lee struck him with the most powerful skill in a Monk's arsenal: the Guillotine Fist. With a bright flash from his blade, Ray would successfully guard against Lee's strike with the Counter Attack ability, sparks flying from the impact. The earth trembled as the crowd shielded their eyes from the explosion of power that soon followed. Youmei and Nora simply squinted their eyes, trying to focus on the fight as much as possible. The tremors caused Kafra Curly Sue to fall from her vantage point, with Glaris and the others tugging at her skirt to keep her from plummeting to the lower floors.
As the clash ended and the dust settled, both parties were still standing as the final five seconds ticked down. Ray's blade, having endured the full force of Lee's Guillotine Fist, began to crack, and would then shatter, and Lee, having exhausted all his ki, began to stagger, desperately maintaining his balance. Both of them were equally injured and bruised, but they smiled at each other, knowing that they had given their all.
Three… two… one…
The timer had reached zero. Both Ray and Lee were still standing. The crowd fell silent as eyes flew over to Nora, whom was slowly approaching the edge of the balcony (after Kafra Curly Sue was hoisted back up, of course). The teal Kafra scanned the entirety of the colosseum, the suspense slowly building. After a long moment, the silence would finally be broken…
"Ray Kaza. Master Lee," spoke Nora authoritatively, which they would then immediately direct their attention toward her. Another brief pause before she continued. "Ladies and gentlemen of Rune-Midgarts… the time has expired, and both contestants still stand! But this match can not end in a draw! So, the victor of the Tournament of Mastery shall be decided by the people! Because who doesn't enjoy good old-fashioned democracy?"
Youmei shook her head as she hid a light chuckle. The air began to fill with murmurs and hushed whispers. Nora then gestured first to the Gun-Knight and shouted, "First of the Gun-Knights, leader of White Trinity – do you people take Ray Kaza as Izlude Master?!"
The crowd went silent in response. Her crew looked around in confusion as to what ploy their eccentric yet fearless leader was making. After another moment had passed, Nora gestured over to the Monk…
"Monk of Saint Capitolina Abbey, Seeker of Skill – do you all take Master Lee of White Trinity as Izlude Master?!"
Again, silence. Nora's crew was beginning to grow concerned at this point, still trying to dissect Nora's actions, until Blossom gave a light gasp and covered her mouth with her free hand, believing she had an idea of what Nora was planning to do. Ray and Lee looked around quizzically, noticing the shaking of heads amongst several of the spectators. This is precisely what Nora counted on. "Just what I was hopin'…" the teal Kafra thought, then she pointed to both of them, which prompted the spectators to jump out of their seats and cheer, almost knowing exactly what she was going to say next.
"Ladies and gentlemen of Rune-Midgarts… DO YOU TAKE THEM BOTH AS IZLUDE MASTERS?!" she shouted with feeling, and the crowd went ballistic with applause. Youmei joined in and put her hands together as well. Relieved by this, both Ray and Lee heaved a sigh, picked themselves up, and approached each other for the first time since the tournament began…
Ray: How you feeling, buddy?
Lee: Like I could spit fire! You really kicked butt out there, Ray!
Ray: I'd say the same to you, Lee! The Guillotine Fist almost did me in if I didn't time the counter!
Lee: And you almost had me when you showed off your Circle Blast!
They both chuckled and placed a hand over the other's shoulder, ignoring their injuries as they waved at the audience. Moments later, the Nora and her Kafra Krew made their way to the arena and presented to them some items on a long purple satin pillow, carried by Kafra Pavianne and Kafra Leilah. Nora was seen flanked by the Royal Guard of Prontera Castle, to make this moment official.
"Ray Kaza of White Trinity," started a male Royal Guard, "By order of His Majesty, King Tristan Gaebolg III, and for earning the title of Izlude Arena Master, we humbly present to you a weapon to commemorate your success – a sword favored by fighters and gladiators alike, granting its bearer great strength against his foes – the Valorous Gladiator Blade!"
"And to compliment it," followed a female Royal Guard, "we bestow upon you a firearm made of the purest gold, demanding the attention of all who witness it – the Gold Lux!"
Curly Sue took the blade by the hilt as Blossom took the revolvers and ceremoniously presented them both to Ray. Curly Sue, being the flirt, gave the Gun-Knight a wink, which gave Ray a considerable ego boost. However, he remained humble and bowed in respect to the Royal Guards. They would then turn to Lee…
"Master Lee of White Trinity," started the male Royal Guard once more, "By order of His Majesty, King Tristan Gaebolg III, and for earning the title of Izlude Arena Master, we humbly present to you these gloves."
Curly Sue and Blossom each took a glove and approached Lee, who immediately fell to a knee as they slipped the gloves in their respective hands.
"Blessed by the spirit of combat," spoke the female Royal Guard, "these gloves grant the bearer nigh unending vitality, reaching exhaustion much slower than most normal combatants. We present to you – the Brave Battle Fists!"
Ray sheathed the blade and holstered the guns, rising to his feet as Lee did to be congratulated once more by the citizens of Rune-Midgarts, complete with the cliché confetti shower. The cheers roared on and Nora gave them a thumbs-up, although Pavianne was pondering to herself…
Glaris: Something wrong, Pavianne?
Pavianne: Nothing. Just wondering what we're going to do now. There's still some time to kill before this year is over.
Nora: We'll have plenty to do, Pav! These people love our events!
Blossom: But for now, this day belongs to Ray and Lee – they've definitely earned it!
While everyone continued congratulating the two and chanting White Trinity's name to the heavens, Youmei exited the colosseum with a satisfied grin. She had left the city and made her way back to the Capital City of Prontera to reunite with her sisters.
"Well done, White Trinity," Youmei thought to herself. "Once again you have trumped the very fates and surprised us all. I pray to Odin that you both remember this day; remember this bond that you share – as friends; as brothers, and as comrades in arms. Keep that in your minds, and you will always triumph in your endeavors. But for now, enjoy this hour, for it is yours."
The Tale of Ray & Lee - End