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343 Deciding Match 5

 Waltz gazed nervously at the battle in the arena.

The competition had exceeded his expectations. Indeed, although he thought that Rosen might not match up against Rhode, handling the other members of Starlight shouldn't have posed a problem. Waltz became much more confident after knowing that Marlene and Gillian weren't participating. However, never did he expect this situation. Since the start of this competition, not only did Rosen not kill anyone, but he also seemed to be lacking his mighty presence. The Rosen who conquered all obstacles was nowhere to be seen.

What exactly is going on?

Waltz couldn't figure it out. How were weak opponents able to constrict Rosen's movements and even escape death?

What exactly is causing this? Why did it become like this?

Waltz witnessed the fatigue on Rosen's face and his heart sank to the bottom. He finally understood what scheme was Rhode plotting.

Rosen was only one step away from the Legendary Stage, but this gap was massive. At the same time, it was the difference between an ordinary human and a godly being. Indeed, Rosen was powerful. But as he didn't breakthrough this limitation, he was still considered a human and there was something about being a human that couldn't be avoided.

Aging.

At the age of 68, Rosen seemed so mighty that he had never fallen. However, as a matter of fact, time was slowly consuming him and it was obvious that this was what Rhode was planning to exploit. Rhode clearly knew about the flaws in Rosen's non-lasting explosive strength and this was why he ordered his men to carry out such shameless tactics to drag and drain his energy. Indeed, Rosen was full of battle experiences, but everything was equal in the face of time and there were no exceptions for anyone. His aged body could no longer enjoy the freedom it did in its youth and sustain much longer. Many Swordsmasters failed to advance to the Legendary Stage due to this reason. Even though they were mentally young, filled with desire and passion, their bodies couldn't keep up.

Waltz just couldn't understand how Rhode's men were able to achieve this. In the previous matches, Waltz sent Rosen to deal with opponents which included Elites and Swordsmasters. Similarly, he was so much stronger than useless opponents that he never showed such a bad form. But this time, why did Rosen fall into that man's trap?

Not only was Waltz thinking about this question, but the audience was also equally confused. Even though Rhode used such shameless tactics, it shouldn't pose an issue for a top-class Swordsmaster, right? But right now, Rosen was clearly showing signs of weaknesses which Waltz had never seen before.

Where's the source of the problem?

"Lize was the cause of this entire situation."

Without a care in the world, Lydia laid on the soft sofa and frivolously chuckled. As an Archangel, Lydia definitely saw through Rhode's tricks.

Indeed, according to normal circumstances, even if Rhode sent his men to drag time and drain Rosen's energy, the situation wouldn't favor Rhode so easily since Rosen was a top-class Swordsmaster. But he was too careless during his battle with Lize. Even though Lize's 'Treat foes as friends' tactic didn't inflict any damage, it perfectly messed with his rhythm. A human body was like a precise machine. If everything worked well from the beginning, humans would only get better and better. But if humans couldn't get into form from the beginning, they would crumble in fierce battles. Not to mention, Rosen's body had entered an old age which was apparent to everyone.

"I'm speechless..."

Amund sighed and shook his head. Of course, after breaking through the limits into the Legendary Stage, he didn't have this problem which Rosen faced. However, he couldn't help but sympathize. After all, he wasn't young either.

"I have to admit that this kid is truly scheming and appears to be really confident... But, Your Highness..."

Amund paused to the clamors from the arena where the audience lashed out at Rhode for being a shameless person. However, these reactions were to be expected since Rhode and his men were just a bunch of ordinary mercenaries and they could only carry out such tactics in order to win. But now, Rhode held the strength to defeat Rosen, but he chose to engage in such a shameless method that enraged the audience. Not only that, but even the neutral audience members started siding with the opposition. To them, Rhode was young and energetic enough to defeat Rosen, so why didn't he fight like a man? Must he use such despicable ways to drain the old man's strength? Where's the honor and glory even if he won?

"... What are your thoughts on this?"

"Huhuhu, I don't think that this is despicable, Teacher."

Lydia caressed the window edge and shifted her attention to Rhode, who remained unwavered as if he didn't hear anything from the rowdy crowd.

"In order to reach his goal, no matter the obstacles before him... This attitude in seeking victory... Isn't it glaringly beautiful? Humans are always affected by wealth and status. From certain perspectives, some care less about their reputations and use any means that they can in order to seek victory. Wouldn't this be considered being detached philosophically? Humans should do as they please and not mind others. I do take a liking to him."

Amund shrugged hopelessly and revealed a bitter smile. Then, he shifted his gaze to Rhode. He had to admit that Lydia's comments were reasonable and he felt that Rhode and Lydia belonged to the same kind. They valued personal goals and ideals without any concern about others as if they were unaffected. Every year, Lydia spent huge amounts on her 'interests' extravagantly and often revealed her luxurious enjoyments. Many men in her service tried to convince her that even though it was nice to enjoy her life, there wasn't a need to display everything to the public. However, Lydia had never taken their advice to heart because she was the owner of this country and everything belonged to her. She worked hard and reaped what she sowed, all for this enjoyment, which was a matter of course.

Due to this reason, although she was criticised for being an incapable and licentious tyrant, she wasn't affected at all. As years passed, the country prospered as she enjoyed her luxurious life, and this was why the rumors and criticisms gradually died down. The civilians couldn't do anything apart from sighing helplessly.

But... Lydia was an Archangel, after all. But what about this young man? How was he able to maintain this willpower?

Back in the gaming days when Rhode gloriously led Starlight, hateful comments filled entire gaming forums. There were even players who spent huge amounts of money just to publicly insult and demean him.

A tall tree attracted the wind-the hate that he attracted never died and he was used to leading such a life. In fact, the disses in real life couldn't even be compared to the toxicity on the Internet. Due to this reason, he was more concerned about Joey's match than anything else at the moment.

Rosen's movements slowed down.

His condition didn't return to its prime after his match with Lize. Moreover, he also withstood the wrath of the magic arrows thereafter. At this moment, he showed obvious signs of fatigue.

"Ah!"

Joey screamed frantically and crashed on the arena. Feeling battered, he quickly stood up and dodged. At the same time, the shield swung by and smashed into the position where he stood just a second ago, creating a huge crater on the sleek, flat slab. The gravel struck him, but he gritted his teeth and vanished from the arena in the blink of an eye.

"It seems like it's too difficult for him."

Rhode frowned while Gillian swayed her fluffy tail casually.

"Master, your plan is great, but there will always be minor changes during the execution... You must have also predicted this, right?"

"We shall see."

Rhode gave a short reply.

At this moment, Anne who cheered for Joey shifted her gaze to Rhode. She sneaked to the entrance of the passageway where Lize and Lapis were attending to Randolf's wounds. Rosen's attack on him was too powerful and Randolf was totally crushed. If it weren't for the 'Protection Cloak' that Rhode had given to him, Rosen's shield would have pierced his body and ripped his heart out.

"How's Randolf doing?" Anne quietly asked and Lapis looked up.

"He's doing fine... The serious wounds have healed, but his internal injuries are still rather serious. Although they were healed by Miss Lize's spell, they will still need some time to recover fully."

"I see..."

Anne nodded. Then, she leaned in to Lapis's ear and asked, "Lapis, I remember that you made a strong potion, right?"

"Hmm? Yes..." Lapis gazed dubiously at Anne. "... Is there a problem?"

"Hehe... Can you give me one bottle?"

"Anne?"

Lapis startled in astonishment.

"What are you trying to do? Leader warned you that this potion shouldn't be consumed without proper guidance, didn't he? Also, if you consume too much of it, it will trigger intense side effects."

"Don't worry about Anne, Lapis. Can you give it to Anne? Just one will do... That old man seems really strong and Anne is just worried that we can't defeat him. So, give Anne a bottle, just one will do. Anne will keep it a secret from leader, okay? Don't worry, Lapis. As long as we don't speak about it, no one will know! Don't you want me to seek revenge for Randolf?"

"But... the effects are really strong..."

Lapis hesitated. A refined potion shouldn't be consumed without guidance, not to mention the strong potion that Anne requested that was also warned against by Rhode.

However, she saw that Anne was determined through her pretty, round puppy eyes.

"Lapis, you are aware of what leader will do in this battle. If Anne doesn't defeat that irritable old man, it will be leader's turn to face him. What if the old man turns desperate and injures leader? If it's Anne who faces him, he will not be that wary against me. So, Anne wants to use this chance to utterly defeat him once and for all!"

Anne pounded her fist on the ground.

"Anne will fail!"

"..."

Lapis slowly dug into her pouch for a small bottle of maroon potion.

"Do you really want it, Miss Anne?"

"Don't worry, Lapis. Anne can handle it!"

With a complacent smile, Anne took over the potion.

At this moment, the outcome of the battle was decided.

Although Joey followed Rhode's instructions to use his concealment technique to disrupt Rosen's movements, there was a tendency for the Thief classes to be vulnerable while facing classes with high defense. Therefore, even though Rosen's movement speed decreased, his damage output hadn't lowered. If it weren't for a Thief's nimbleness in fleeing, Joey would have been defeated more than ten times now.

Joey felt his head spinning and couldn't differentiate between sky and ground. He panted and struggled to stand on his feet with fuzzy vision. Almost there-it would be the final blow next!

Joey stooped over and vanished from the arena once more.

"Hmph."

Rosen sneered in disdain. However, he sensed his strength flowing in disarray and gradually showed uncontrollable signs.

If I give him another ten minutes -just ten minutes...

Rosen turned around and along with the sound of mechanical clicks, the shield on his right arm expanded and enveloped him. At the same time, Joey dashed and emerged before Rosen while the latter brandished his shield.

"Get lost!"

"Damn it!"

Joey felt a strong attraction force from Rosen's shield that tightly clasped onto his dagger. Then, a shadow shrouded him entirely.

"-!"

Rosen brandished his left shield and coordinated with his right shield like a large pincer. All Joey could do was to defend with the other dagger in his right hand.

But no one noticed Joey's cheeky smile.

Clang!

The shield collided and shattered the steel dagger into fragments. Then, the powerful force threw Joey into the air like a rag doll.

At the same time, a green smoke erupted from the shattered dagger and shrouded Rosen. However, it only lasted for a second as it was instantly dispersed by a raising whirlwind.

Then, Rosen sprung up to pounce on Joey.

"Argh!"

Joey rolled and leaped to the edge of the arena. He escaped from the iron shield by merely an inch, which caused him to break into a cold sweat.

Then, Joey landed frantically and instantly raised his arms with a complete lack of grace.

"I admit defeat! I admit defeat!"

I missed? How is that possible?

Rosen was baffled because never did he expect that his counterattack would miss. He watched in fatigue as the newbie Thief scuttled off the arena. He had never felt this exhausted.