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As the Noble leadership takes a moment to confer, I take a few steps to pressure them and do my best to plan what I’ll tell the crowd if they don’t act on their own. It would be less impactful if I have to ask for what I need after all but the story should go fine if I do.

Barbarian.” Uhla mutters from behind me as she likely picks up the Thrin.

I throw a look over my right shoulder to give her a corner smile and turn back to my opponents. They pull flow from their followers and then theirs to give it all to a middle-aged man with a trimmed black beard.

They gather between seventy-five to a hundred portions, maybe more. The previously rather cheerful mood takes a sharp dip. Things are getting interesting. This is my show. Cheapskate. You’re supposed to rest, so rest. Don’t be nervous, your plan is solid.

A Noble that steps out of the group, surprisingly a thirty-year-old woman with placid black eyes instead of the Lord. She doesn’t seem intimidated but the fact she has both gloves and helmet tells me she takes me seriously.

Baroness Otun.” She simply presents herself as she draws a short sword.
“Could you all do me the favor of drawing your weapons so I can deal with you one after the other in succession like fish in a barrel?” I address the group behind her with a cocky grin.

They ignore me. I turn my eyes to my opponent and notice that the parts of the Baroness’ chain-mail that aren’t hidden by her tunic are taking a golden glow. I squint and grow serious as her short-sword and helmet take golden hues as well.

She’s definitely using an armor-piercing construct because, like Tuala, there is little sense in fighting with a defensive one unless I use an armor-piercing construct myself.

Take my flow, Dame Freepath!” The barman suddenly yells over the crowd.

Don’t feel obliged, helping me is as voluntary as the Due but lacking the latter must eventually be made up for.” I reply as I turn to him.

Otun freezes on the spot as she hears the words exchanged while a deafening silence takes over the plaza because the man’s action would previously have qualified as rebellious on top of treasonous, both crimes which would have sent him to the gallows.

Finally, someone picked up on the fact my victory makes their lives easier. The crowd parts around the barman as he gives me his single portion of flow without hesitation. His action causes more and more to step forward to the point where a group of around thirty somber looking low born forms behind me.

They don’t represent most peasants or poor slum dwellers, far from it considering a handful are wearing decent clothes. Many others on the plaza seem hesitant to help, the general attitude isn’t one of hostility but one of unwillingness to get involved.

A separate group shapes up and tries to give their flow to the Nobles, they are much more numerous than those who support me but no better dressed. Yet, even both combined are far from representing the majority.

Otun doesn’t accept any energy, appearing to wish to fight me on ‘equal’ terms even though she was fine with dueling me when I was out of energy. I throw a glance at their hesitant leadership.

They immediately refuse the offered energy, causing their supporters to scatter. Decently smart of them not to give me more ammunition to use against them. Any rhetorical victory would now have the effect of gaining more energy to use against them, the situation changed but they still can’t afford to appear weak.

I have four portions of flow at my disposal.” Otun declares, abandoning the rapidly spoiling myth of Nobility being inherently superior rather than simply having more access than others.

I need only a single one.” I reply confidently.

The woman charges with her short-sword held overhead as soon as I finish speaking. I use half my portion of energy to make a perception construct and prepare lion strikes with the rest.

I activate the Moebius loop just as she slashes down. I step forward and to the left to protect my umbrella and ram my armored shoulder into her helmet. Clink. She steps back with a retreating upward slash aimed at my cuirass without seeming stunned in the least.

I crouch while leaning back and to the left, letting the blade fly overhead and erupt up with a straight stab. With her short-sword held high, she has no choice but to dodge, which she does with a side-step. I flick my wrist and use a brief lion strike to turn the stab into a slash down at her thighs.

Otun counters with a powerful overhead lion strike, clearly planning to take my blow. I lightly step forward to avoid her swing and apply a lion strike to turn my waist as well as flick my arm to twist my slash back into a stab.

The point of my broadsword impacts the chain-mail covering her belly and scrapes down, ripping her tunic. The Baroness leaps back. She is panting and her cheeks are red, a familiar sight for us but it is usually Liz who triggers fear in others.

I notice that my five seconds of slowed time will run out in a single second. Rather than taking it slower, I close in on her. I flip my broadsword inside my hand to direct the single-edge up before bending my wrist down and bringing my elbow back in a rather awkward gesture to launch an upward slash at her unprotected chin.

She tries to cut my broadsword with her short-sword by swinging sideways. I almost forcefully interrupt my attack and let go of the hilt to switch to a backhanded grip so as to both avoid her move as well as enter very-close range combat but manage to stop myself because that’s what Liz would do.

I instead stomp down with my right foot and use it as a pivot to gracefully redirect my forward momentum. I spin my torso clockwise to bring my right shoulder back, which pulls my weapon out of the way of her slash and throws my left side forward.

Her flow infused short-sword cuts the air right in front of my helmet’s nose-guard and the edge of my umbrella. My half-shoulder impacts her chest a moment later, making her stagger back and disturbing the umbrella a little.

Don’t break it! I won’t, I won’t. I flick my weapon overhead and bring the dull edge down on her helmet with a lion strike, relieved that Liz didn’t make me miss the timing. Clank.

This time, her eyes grow hazy and she stumbles so I take advantage to slip around her right side and bash her biceps a few times with the base of my weapon because I’m too close to use the tip or stab. She grits her teeth but muffled painful sounds escape her.

Otun tries a desperate backhanded swing to push me away from her flank but I bring the dull side of my broadsword down on the flat of her short-sword, turning her already awkward attempt into a debacle.

Her weapon doesn’t break but her stance is such a mess that it doesn’t matter. I notice her right thigh clenching so I swipe at her feet with a lion’s kick. My foot impacts hers just at it leaves the ground, throwing her right leg behind the left one and causing her to trip.

She splatters on the ground and skips a few centimeters instead of leaping away. I swiftly move in on her and step on her right wrist to immobilize her sword-hand.

Otun thrashes to try to free herself but it takes me a mere moment to flick my broadsword around in my palm, bringing the sharp edge forward, and place the blade on her throat.

She stops moving and releases her sword, which is still glowing from her armor-piercing construct. The Baroness barely consumed any flow during the fight, the only construct that was of use is her defensive one and it lost at most a third of the energy she put into it.

I admit defeat.” She grunts.

I pull my weapon back and repress the words of respect I would have given anyone else. After all, she didn’t posture and fought better than the other two. I can’t even blame her for not trying to make it a fair duel before she knew she’d lose because I likely wouldn’t have either in her circumstances.

The crowd is silent and tense unlike before, no doubt bedazzled by my awesomeness. You were pretty close to using my style. T’was brawling at most in the end, no worries. I don’t especially care, just let me bash Vikiana and all will be well. No, and you would lose. But I’d get to bash her.

I grab Otun’s helmet and pull it off before removing my foot from her hand. I turn and throw it at the barman who instinctively catches it. The Baroness gets up to her feet and leaves by splitting through the crowd without a word, once more surprising me.

W, what do I do with the helmet?” The barman asks me.

Hang it somewhere, it’s a trophy.” I reply unconcernedly.

I return to my position and face the black-bearded man who raises his hand. Following his movement the mass of flow they’ve gathered collapses into a sphere that floats behind his back.

I quietly raise my sword and await the decision of the people grouped at my back. I can’t directly pull the energy of those who pledged to me because some may have sworn to Elizabeth Vil so it would expose me if I did.

Silver streams soon appear behind me and slowly float towards the sword like nimbus clouds. I wait for my supporters to cut their links to them before seizing the energy. I soon obtain forty portions.

The middle-aged Noble starts making constructs so I lazily shape various constructs; air-blades, air-needles, kinetic cubes, and even a few fireballs. We both end up with these same constructs except that he has more and a look of surprise on his face.

He puts one knee down to the pavement and directs flow into the ground. Four constructs separate from the energy and expand to rip four javelin-shaped projectiles out of the stone.

I roll my eyes and fix the image of a kitten in my head. I then direct a bundle of unstructured energy to adopt the shape, succeeding better than I hoped. The black-bearded Lord frowns as he figures out that I’m making fun of him.

You ready or should we keep playing?” I ask.

I turn the kitten into a big tiger with long canines that I’ve witnessed once inside a cage in Meiridin. The man raises his hand, causing several air-blades to rise. I ignore those because I notice that he’s using them as a distraction for the javelins which moved in slight increments to aim straight at my chest.

I make the flow tiger walk in front of me as if mockingly parading. He snaps his fingers, shattering his kinetic cubes into a cloud of golden dust. I realize that this is the late Duke Meria’s shredding cloud and involuntarily take a sharp inhalation.

I focus on my three kinetic cubes and target them at the air-blades, holding off on launching them to program my four fireballs. I use my intent to give these a slightly arcing trajectory to attack the man from up, left, right, and front.

I ignite the fireballs and launch them. The bearded man sends his six fireballs to counter. I seize direct control of a single air-blade and use it to intercept the two extra constructs.

A blaze of fire erupts in a wide arc around us. I send the air-blade through it towards the Noble. I feel my link to it die moments later. I focus on the unstructured saber-tooth tiger, seizing direct control and turning it into an air construct under cover of the blaze.

Just as the fire disperses, when I would be the least on my guard and wisps of smoke would cover my sight the most, I detect four hazy silver javelins silhouettes flashing out towards me.

I crouch behind my tiger while ensuring to keep my focus on it. Two of the javelins hit the animal’s flanks and grind against the solid air to clatter off and break in pieces.

The last two javelins, on the other hand, hit the tiger head on and shatter. It costs me two whole portions of energy to prevent the flow creature from being blown off but it cost the Lord much more than this to make these javelins.

As I disperse the tiger, I notice air-blades flashing at me with an insane speed that would be difficult to react to unless I use a perception construct, and it’s too late to make one. I smirk and activate my kinetic cubes without bothering to dodge.

The cubes fly out from my sides and automatically intercept the air-blades. Craacrackraack. The constructs detonate half their kinetic charges almost at once, flicking the light air-blades off their trajectories and into the ground a few meters behind me to shatter more of the plaza’s pavement.

That worked a lot better than you thought it would. Shut up or help with the shredding cloud, Liz! Resting. I pull the kinetic cubes above my head and detonate them to barely intercept the silver needles I detect falling on me like rain.

I pull my own air-needles behind and above my shoulders to keep them ready to be fired while protecting them from the golden cloud slowly advancing towards me at walking pace.

The man could make the cloud move a lot faster but it would cost a lot of energy to do so, a risk I wouldn’t take either without knowing whether my opponent has a counter or not.

The shredding dust construct expands in an attempt to envelop me or force me to take a step back. I take a step forward as I think quickly about the defects of air-constructs. I conclude that heat will be more effective on the tiny golden particles than it would be on a fast air-blade.

I turn the flow from the tiger into a shield of fire that I soon turn into a semi-circle expanding wall. The golden dust cloud impacts the blaze and small crackling sounds erupt along with small bursts of flames, indicating my guess worked.

My mood rises as the construct eats through his because I’ve managed to hold onto about ten portions while he no doubt burnt through the majority of his energy. Three constructs suddenly surprise me by bursting past my flames a few meters in front of me, each made of distorted spheres.

I instantly make a semi-unstructured perception construct with a single portion of flow, compressing the Moebius loop so that it creates a field of energy that’ll burn through my energy in two seconds.

Time slows down to a crawl, causing a sharp headache. The rate at which I perceive time’s passing is now five times slower than the rate it would be during a normal perception construct’s activation.

I spend quite a bit of the time I’ve bought handling the spikes of agony piercing my brain and thinking about a solution. Those look like explosive constructs, kind of. Words, use, explain!

I think explosive constructs would look like this if the oxygen compressed inside went through a fire construct, the constructs look like they’re on the verge of bursting.

I instantly send three of my air-needles at the three deformed spheres, burning through the energy they contain to cause them to accelerate. When they pierce their center, which they can because the oxygen hasn’t been turned solid, I manually detonate the air-needles and lower my head.

The spheres explode instantly, sending a wave of blue-red flames in every direction. The blaze trickles over my armor and helmet. I don’t wait any longer to dismantle my perception construct and pounce forward while launching my last four needles ahead of me.

As my eyesight clears, I notice that both the golden cloud and my wall of fire were obliterated by the explosion. The black-bearded Noble looks baffled to see me rushing him but doesn’t let it distract him from raising his hand to use his flow to block the air-needles.

I narrow my focus on my constructs as I sprint and send six portions to my air-needles while absorbing the last four in my empty reserve. Two of the portions I sent are burnt to provide the energy to catch up to the projectiles but, once the rest reaches the constructs to fuel them, the needles double in speed.

The Lord panically makes use of a defensive construct on his gear to protect himself, blocking the projectiles before they can make it more than a few millimeters past his chain-mail and hard leather armor.

The needles burst, further damaging his tunic and the hard leather he’s wearing underneath but fail to draw first blood or destroy the chain-mail. Still, the leather covering his torso is now in pieces because he overcharged it with energy so he only has mail and a shirt protecting him.

I close the distance with a lion’s step before he can assemble another construct, not that he has much energy left to work with, and swing my elbow at his nose with a lion strike.

Kinetic strike!” I exclaim with a huge grin.

My pointy bone impacts his nasal ridge. Crack. My win. The middle-aged Lord is propelled back into the arms of the other leaders who stumble a bit because I didn’t hold back. They glare at me, many of them with shaking closed fists.

The Lord of the broken nose will undoubtedly survive but I can cut the next one’s leg with an air-blade if you feel my kinetic construct is too brutal. Trust me, I won’t make a mistake and use so much flow it’ll cause full dismemberment.” I tell them with a polite smile.

It was a duel, not a tavern brawl!” The man from Avery Colby’s guild criticizes angrily as he rushes ahead to support the fainted Lord.
“Is the Councilman aware you’re here?” I question back with narrowed eyes.

The man flinches and lowers his eyes. He hurriedly pulls the Lord back to hide with him behind the other leaders who seem hesitant about what to do now that they’re out of flow and I’m so close they can’t talk in private.

I raise my weapon and use a single portion to activate the runic plowing construct. They draw theirs but none dares to stand right in front of me. I take it to mean that they’re not challenging me so I take a step forward to make them clarify their intent while assembling the shell of an air-shield in case they try to ambush me.

The group disperses a bit to let me pass so I take another step which makes them retreat even further, causing a gasp to go through the plaza’s crowd behind me. I smirk and determine that the hero should just walk through them without fear now.

I have a ball to attend in the evening, so I’m not going to be waiting all day for you to find your courage.” I loudly proclaim. “You can go have your Arbitration.” I add disdainfully just for them to hear.

I take a step and then another through the group of leaders, leaving them all behind and on my flanks. Cheers explode behind me but I don’t stop. I calmly make my way past the Nobles’ followers who move away from my path, most have blank expressions as if they can’t believe what just happened.

As I enter the street, I notice a single carriage with recently waxed wood and golden engravings waiting on the other side. Prince Arkur is staring from the door’s window with his chin resting on his palm in a lazy manner and an amused smile on his face.

His blue eyes are almost sparkling and his blond hair are combed. I ignore him because the alternative is to go pick a real fight which would ruin the effect I’ve achieved this morning. I go north, planning to then head west and return to my workshop.

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