The exchange with Nora was heartwarming, but somehow, he felt a little uneasy. He was aware that his concerns were likely to be unfounded since nothing worrying had happened thus far, but human emotions didn’t necessarily listen to logic.
Nora’s decision to withdraw from the tournament was soon announced to the public through the organizing committee. It caused quite a stir amongst the crowd.
The Challenger Cup was highly regarded throughout the Sia Continent. The prestige won from claiming the champion trophy would contribute to one’s influence, which was important when it came to political dealings.
No one would accuse the princess of the Saint Mesit Theocracy of tampering with the tournament, but most spectators were disappointed about her withdrawal, especially those coming from the Theocracy.
Nora was the national idol of the Theocracy, and many had taken months to travel all the way to Leinster just to cheer her on.
It was fortunate that citizens of the Theocracy still had another person to cheer on. As a result, Roel was able to gain a lot of new fans just by being the only Theocracy’s challenger left in the tournament.
This was additional stress on Roel, but he could only obey Her Highness’ order and try his best to bring glory to his country. Nora’s opponent for the top 8 was Teresa, so her withdrawal meant that the latter was advancing straight into the top 4.
The news of Nora’s withdrawal caused a huge storm when it was first announced, but it took a mere day for another explosive news to overshadow it.
One of the popular champion picks, the man who was ranked second in the seeded challenger ranking, Grayrose Ringbearer Edward, had lost his battle.
He was defeated by William.
Most spectators had expected to see Purplerose Ringbearer Lilian and Grayrose Ringbearer Edward facing off in the finals. Those two had proven their strength on multiple occasions over the years, so there was not a single person who doubted their prowess.
No one expected the seemingly ordinary William, who fought with straightforward tactics in all of his battles, would actually be this powerful.
It was in the fight with Edward that William first showcased his Swordheart, and the effects were astounding. This was especially so when his blade rushed forth like a shooting star, piercing through multiple barriers before slicing Edward into two. It was such an exhilarating moment that the crowd rose to their feet and cheered aloud.
William had crushed Edward in every aspect even though the latter was known to be extremely close to Origin Level 3, proving himself to be the superior transcendent here. The crowd naturally understood what it meant.
The second Origin Level 3 transcendent in the tournament had appeared.
It took mere hours for this news to spread throughout Leinster. This was the first time that two Origin Level 3 transcendents had appeared in the same iteration of the Challenger Cup.
Roel could understand what the fuss was all about.
There was an age restriction on the Challenger Cup that limited the participants to youths. This effectively capped the strength of the challengers. The number of Origin Level 3 challengers that appeared in the tournament’s centuries of history could easily be counted on one hand.
Even the organizing committee was caught off guard by this development.
William’s reputation shot up to a whole new level. Many lauded him as the ‘unstoppable knight’, and he swiftly became one of the most popular picks for the champion seat.
The last pairing in the top 8 was between Lilian and Charlotte, and the results were just as everyone expected. The crowd knew that it was impossible for Charlotte to deal with Lilian in a 1-on-1 match. It was not about just the disparity in their Origin Levels but the differences in their fighting styles too.
Charlotte’s Golden Soul was known for its flexibility in alternating between offense and defense, but it lacked destructive prowess against overwhelming numbers. She was able to somewhat make up for it through her Jewel Magic, but even so, the rate she was clearing enemies was still slower than Lilian’s speed of summoning.
As there was a bit of national grudge mixed into it as well, Charlotte was tenacious in the duel. She obstinately held on, refusing to give up. The battle dragged on for nearly an entire hour before she was finally overwhelmed.
It was a loss, but the crowd still gave her a warm round of applause for her determination.
Roel could tell that Lilian didn’t go all out in the fight, possibly because she didn’t want to worsen the ties between both countries. She had opted for an attrition strategy instead, which made the fight look much better for Charlotte.
In any case, the challengers advancing to the top 4 were finally selected.
Teresa Constantine, William Cambonyte, Lilian Ackermann, and Roel Ascart.
These were the four transcendents who were going to compete for the title of the strongest young transcendent.
Roel couldn’t help but notice that it was two sets of older sister-younger brother pairings, and it left him feeling a little queer inside. Of course, there was hardly anyone else who shared his thoughts since there weren’t many people who knew about his relationship with Lilian.
Some saw it as a showdown among three countries, and some chose to segment the group into transfer students and Ringbearers. In any case, the current popular champion picks were the two Origin Level 3 transcendents, Lilian and William.
Under the witness of the crowd, the four of them began drawing the lots of fate. The results were met with a mix of delight and disappointment amongst the crowd.
“I’ll be announcing the results of the lots. In the first group, Teresa Constantine will be fighting against Roel Ascart. In the second group, William Cambonyte will be fighting against Lilian Ackermann.”
There was a huge ruckus in the colosseum following the announcement.
Amongst them, those from the Saint Mesit Theocracy and the Bluerose Faction cheered loudly to celebrate Roel’s incredible luck.
As remarkable as Roel’s performance in the tournament was thus far, there was hardly anyone who thought that he could really win the champion trophy. There were simply too many monsters this year. The challengers who were still in the tournament were prodigies boasting great skills and powerful abilities, such that a difference in Origin Level spelled an unbridgeable gap.
But while it was impossible to claim the champion seat, it was still worth pursuing for the first runner up.
In comparison, those from the Austine Empire and William’s fans looked frustrated. No matter how they looked at it, it wasn’t going to be an easy battle for the person they were supporting.
While the crowd were feeling anxious about the results of the lots, two of the challengers heaved a sigh of relief.
Lilian didn’t want to fight Roel prior to the finals. William shared the same thought as well, especially since her goal was to prove that she was stronger than everyone around Roel so as to convince him to choose her.
“Good luck. I’ll eliminate him on your behalf.”
Lilian inconspicuously walked over Roel and murmured to him, and the latter chuckled in response.
The crowd applauded loudly as the final four challengers left the colosseum. They knew that regardless of the results, the four of them were destined to become the leaders of the younger generation.
The hype around the Challenger Cup further rose as the tournament proceeded into its semifinals. One could hear speculations flying around, be it on the main streets or in alleys. Drunkards could be heard impassionedly theorizing about the winner in the local taverns.
Time slowly ticked by in such an atmosphere.
Soon, it was time for Nora to journey back to the Theocracy.
“I’ll be making a move first. Make sure to bring the champion trophy with you when you return,” Nora teased.
Standing beside the carriage, Roel made a grand bow and formally accepted the princess’ order. His ‘loyal subject’ attitude successfully induced a chuckle from Nora.
After confirming that Nora was still in stable condition for the time being, Roel was able to set his heart at ease. The two of them bade each other farewell, and he watched the carriage depart under the escort of the Theocracy’s guards.
Only when the carriage disappeared by the horizon did he finally make his way back to the academy alone.