Chapter 29:

Chapter 28. Fearbound

Zero to Hero

With sunlight streaming through the window, I slowly opened my eyes to find the fairy girl perched at the corner of my bed, her pink eyes fixed on me.

"Morning, Ken! When did you and Yami return last night?" she inquired cheerfully.

"Mmm, pretty late. I wanted Yami to get her exercise, so we stayed out for quite a while," I replied with a yawn.

"Are you sure you weren't out with some secret lover?" she pressed on.

"Oh yeah, forgot I was definitely having a grand time with this sexy elf with a nice plump butt," I joked.

"KEN!" her shout drew the attention of the others, who poked their heads into my room to see what was happening, while I simply craved some breakfast.

"Sorry, Yami, you'll have to stay again. I'll take you for another long walk tonight," I promised as we left the hotel room.

"I'm coming with tonight, no matter what," Candace declared stubbornly, refusing to believe my jest.

Arriving at the stadium, we chatted with a few locals before Tina pulled us to the betting booth, embracing her newfound passion for gambling.

"You're against Carla for your next match... Why are you trying to make me bet on you when it's a guaranteed loss?" I questioned Tina's strategy.

"Ken... Make her stop. I don't want to bet on her either! I want to save this gold for my family," Abigail protested loudly as Tina attempted to pressure her into wasting her gold.

"Just bet all your gold on Ken like I am. He's gonna win, so we can cash out big," Candace advised. Despite Tina's protests, Abigail followed Candace's lead and wagered all her gold on me as well.

"Tina, you can't go around forcing people to do something they don't want," I scolded the wolf girl.

"What I do with my friend is none of your business!" she retorted, feigning deafness to my words.

As we settled into our seats in the stadium, I scanned the crowd, hoping to catch sight of Carla, the enigmatic corrupted elf, to satisfy my curiosity, even if I had no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship with her.

The morning matches passed swiftly, lacking much excitement for me while the girls watched and cheered loudly, like most of the crowd. When the last few matches to determine the top 16 finally concluded, we had a two-hour intermission to grab some food and take a quick stroll before returning for the afternoon session.

With only the top 16 left, including a few like me and Carla who had yet to compete, the excitement for the afternoon matches was as high as ever, with the crowd cheering loudly as I stepped onto the arena floor to begin my first match.

Gazing up at the massive crowd, tightly packed into the stadium, there must have been at least 50,000 people eagerly awaiting the action. Despite having fought countless times in front of crowds almost twice the size, I felt a sensation I had never experienced before.


For the first time ever, fear gripped me while inside the ring. Though I had felt nervousness when facing formidable opponents like Julius and Zishell, I had never feared anyone, no matter how strong.

Why now? Was it because there was no one to end the match before someone got hurt? Or perhaps because I had been away from the spotlight for too long? Maybe it was because I feared a ceiling I could no longer reach, even though I thought I had made peace with the fact that I could never become the strongest.

Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly heard Candace's voice and snapped back to reality just in time to see my opponent charging at me, sword drawn and ready to end the match while I was spaced out.

Thankfully, being in the second seat meant my opponent was only slightly stronger than Tina, and with a massive difference in ability, the seconds I had to prepare for his charge felt like a lifetime.

Easily blocking the sword swing, I danced around at a slightly faster speed than my opponent, clashing with him every so often to provide the audience with the action they craved.

Why prolong the match when I could have won in mere seconds? Was it to entertain the crowd, like the heroes used to do at Dragonspire? Or perhaps to bask in the glory of the spotlight, like in the old days? Maybe I was trying to confront the sudden fear I felt, even against such a low-level opponent.

While I was on autopilot, lost in my own thoughts and barely paying attention to the fight, I simply put up enough effort to keep the audience engaged. Amidst this, I heard the loud shouts of the impatient wolf girl urging me to hurry up and end the match so she could get her own started.

Unsure of how long the match had lasted, I glanced at the crowd and the enthusiastic cheers assured me it couldn't have been too long. Nevertheless, since the impatient girl wanted her match to commence sooner rather than later, I decided to conclude the match. With a swift motion, I snapped my opponent's sword in half with my bare hand and pressed the broken blade against his neck, prompting an immediate surrender before any blood was drawn.

"What took you so long? Even I could have won that!" Tina exclaimed.

"It's about giving the crowd their money's worth. They paid too much to see the match end in a second," I retorted.

"Are you sure? You seemed spaced out at the beginning," Candace asked suspiciously, probing for what I might be hiding.

"Who cares about him! My match is about to start. You better cheer for me loudly. I'm going to defeat that ugly horned elf and win this whole thing!" Tina declared.

"Tina, I knew you were dumb, but I didn't realize you were also blind. Carla is drop dead gorgeous, just like Candace," I remarked.


"Call me dumb again and I will cut your thing off in your sleep!" Tina threatened.

"DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HIM!" Candace shouted as the wolf girl left our seats to head onto the stage for her match against Carla.

As the lowest seed of the top 16 and barely at the master level, everyone except Tina herself knew she stood no chance against the tournament favorite. As Carla was introduced, the stadium erupted into a loud cheer, illustrating her status as a hometown favorite.

Despite being relatively close in age, Carla's stoic and cold demeanor made her appear much more mature compared to the erratic hothead, Tina.

"I hope Carla goes easy on the beastman girl. It would be a shame if such beauty were to be disfigured or worse," I overheard a pair of middle-aged elves chatting behind me.

"Care to explain what you meant?" I inquired politely.

"Carla is known for her brutality in the ring. She goes for the kill no matter who her opponent is and is responsible for almost all of the deaths. The regulars usually surrender as soon as the match starts, but travelers like you and that beastman girl typically end up seriously injured or even dead," one of them whispered softly.

"Indeed, some groups even place bets on how many deaths will occur in each tournament and other gruesome outcomes that you can't bet on in the official betting booth," added the other.

Turning my attention back to the arena as the match began, I realized that Carla was a completely different caliber of fighter compared to someone like me. Without hesitation, she charged at Tina with a fully powered strike, aiming to kill.

Too slow to react, Tina's protection spell from her necklace artifact shattered instantly from the first hit. Without giving the wolf girl a chance to even surrender, Carla delivered a second strike, intending to end her life.


"What's wrong with you? You would have killed her!" I screamed at the horned elf.

Seeing that Carla had given Tina no time to even surrender, I knew that if I didn't teleport between them, the hot-headed wolf girl would have been smashed into pulp by Carla's polearm.

"I'm simply following the tournament rules," Carla replied emotionlessly, showing no remorse for her actions that nearly resulted in Tina's death.

With the fight interrupted, Tina was declared the automatic loser, while I received some harsh warnings that ultimately meant nothing for an outsider like me who could care less about future tournaments.

"Let's go," I told Abigail and Candace.

With Tina still in shock from the near-death experience, I carried her on my back with the others following closely behind as we left the stadium, no longer interested in the remaining fights.

"Cheer up, dummy. What happened to all that energy?" I said, attempting to lift Tina's spirits.

"You're so lucky! I wish it was me that Ken rescued like a princess in front of all those people," Candace chimed in, attempting to cheer up Tina.

With Abigail also sweet-talking and trying to uplift her friend, Tina eventually got over the embarrassing defeat and started talking again.

"You gonna kick that ugly elf’s ass tomorrow, right?" Tina asked.

"I mean, her actions were pretty ugly, but I don’t know if I’m strong enough to beat her. Now get off me if you can walk on your own," I told Tina, who decided to kick me as a thank you for saving her life.

"Your wrist, Ken! It’s swollen!" Candace exclaimed as she held up my arm.

"Hey hey… be gentle! That impact shattered my wrist. Her power is no joke; she infused her magic to increase the impact for sure. It was like trying to stop a waterfall. Good thing we explored this city the past few days and found that healing clinic," I replied calmly, pretending my throbbing wrist wasn’t in terrible pain.

Arriving at the clinic we discovered during one of our random explorations of the town, I paid for the top healer available, and for the remainder of the afternoon, I sat in the clinic having my shattered bones healed.

"Man, that took forever! If it was Mrs. Fleming or Professor Aleheart, this would have been a 30-minute job max!" I complained as we left the clinic after many hours, rotating my wrist to ensure everything was working correctly.

"Why are there so many healers anyways? Isn’t space magic the hardest to learn?" Candace asked as we headed towards the direction of our hotel, looking for a place to get some dinner.

"99% of those who end up able to conjure space magic choose to focus on becoming healers. All the rich nobles and royals around the world pay a ton to have healers extend their lives. Only a few like me or one of the heroes would choose something like teleport or soul magic."

"Didn’t you learn healing magic from Elder Theodore?" Tina questioned. Bringing up our time spent at the remote village.

"Tina… I can close a cut and heal some small wounds, but I haven’t really had time to focus on getting stronger with all the traveling we are doing. I am barely back to what I was 5 years ago, and that just doesn't seem to be enough anymore for the world we live in today."

"Ugh… You better be strong enough to beat that elf up! I can’t believe she would try to kill me for a stupid tournament!"

"Yeah… something isn’t right about that girl. She’s what? 21? How could such a young girl think killing isn’t a big deal. And unlike Abigail, I don’t think she would have cared a single bit if you got turned into mush."

“Let’s go get some good food. Both Tina and you could use a nice meal,” Abigail commented, and we wholeheartedly agreed.

Returning back to the hotel, I took Yami out for a run with Candace tagging along as the girl refused to take no for an answer.

“That was pretty scary, wasn’t it? I didn’t think things would get this serious when we first set out.”

“Yeah… Things really escalated, didn’t they? It was all fun and games traveling and saving people from goblins to having to harm people and deal with some secret underground boss.”

“Remember what I told you at Bailee’s village? If you want to just run away, we can just leave. Leave Abigail some money and we can just get out of here if you are feeling too much pressure.”

“Just leave Abigail and not Tina too?” I questioned jokingly.

“Yeah… We will take that annoying one with us. She’s too troublesome if we leave her here.”

“Just admit that you two are close friends now.”


Chatting with Candace openly as we strolled through the dark night, I couldn’t help but open up to the fairy girl.

“You know, I spaced out during my fight because I got scared. I was never afraid even when I faced Zishell when I was in Dragonspire. I used to believe if I trained hard enough, I would eventually become the strongest but now, I couldn’t even beat Fernard or Ryo or Zeev or probably even this Carla girl.

“I don’t ever want to have regrets, seeing Rena like that and not knowing what has happened with the others, it’s something I never want to go through again but I’m also not that strong anymore. I thought I had given up on becoming the strongest and it was fine but without strength, I could barely prevent Tina from getting killed. I’m scared that I’m simply not strong enough and never will get strong enough…”

“What can I say? I’m never in a position to be the strongest like you so I can’t relate to those feelings. All I can say is that it’s okay to run away, to ask for help, to depend on others. You don’t have to be the strongest you know. You have friends like Fernard and Ryo who are extremely strong, your old mentor is one of the 10 heroes for crying out loud!”

Watching the beautiful girl comfort me animatedly with her fiery red hair flowing and her pink eyes shining through the moonlight, my vow to not ever fall in love with anyone else was on the brink of failing with each passing day.

“Let’s head back and get some rest. Long day tomorrow if I want a chance to beat that elf girl and figure out if we could help Abigail.”

Feeling the fear dissipating after my chat with Candace, we returned to the hotel with Abigail and Tina both fast asleep.

“Want me to keep you nice and warm tonight?”

“No thanks. I’m only interested in big butt elves,” I countered jokingly.


“Good night, Candace.”

After wishing the beautiful fairy girl a good night, I laid awake in bed, rotating my freshly healed wrist, thinking of ways to beat the stoic elf girl whose strength is at least on par, if not greater.

Learned today that Toriyama Akira has passed away =( May he rest in peace. His contribution to the shonen battle manga genre is no doubt, revolutionary.