Phillip's final move was his most powerful, the 'Third Step' of the Raeven Sword Techniques. The highest possible step in the Apprentice Exalt realm.
The crackling Ein on the tip of his sword was loud and drew the air around it like a hurricane. It wasn't transforming and manipulating the air like Rachel's 'Tornado Spear' but simply by the strength of the Ein alone.
Oscar swung his arm and threw the buckler at Phillip's head with all the Reis he could muster from the ground. It spun rapidly like a bandsaw in the Foundry.
However, this deadly saw-like buckler missed its mark. Phillip's expression did not break as he ducked as the buckler grazed the tips of his hair.
He expected the buckler to make its way back to the back of his head, but that never came to pass.
Oscar again used 'Reis Awaken' and poured more Reis into a forceful tug; he swung the buckler in a half-circle trajectory back to himself. In doing so, he infused the buckler with double the Reis.
In the meantime, Phillip finally made his move and bolted forward in a wide leap with his sword extended out. The sword was destructive as the air and stage trembled with its passing.
The 'Third Step' was a direct stab, but the key factor was the amount of Ein concentrated in its utmost tip. It was also the fastest of the three steps, as a stab was faster than a swing.
Feeling the pressure of death, Oscar grabbed the buckler as it finally arrived back to him. He used his foot as a pivot and spun with the buckler to not let it lose any of its momentum and Reis.
A full rotation later, Oscar stamped his other foot on the ground to generate even more Reis.
Oscar utilized 'Reis Awaken' to guide more Reis, creating a triple collection of Reis in his buckler. Then he poured all the Ein in his body into the buckler, emptying his core.
His mind felt like countless needles were digging into his brain, and his body started to burn as his heartbeat hastened past his limits.
Blood suddenly popped out of some of his veins, his mouth, eyes, and ears. But Oscar was not backing down.
The buckler was overflowing with his Ein that the smooth black surface turned into a deep shade of blue rather than an aura forming around it.
Oscar felt his body boiling as his blood was heating up from his heart. It was pumping his blood like surging rapids. His eyes were almost blacking out from his mind, almost breaking down.
"I refuse to back down!"
At last, Phillip's blade and Oscar's buckler were about to crash.
With the last of his power, Oscar activated his spell to boost his body's toughness at the moment his buckler collided.
Triple the Reis, All of Oscar's Ein and more from outside, and 'Steel Scales'.
This was Oscar's final move. The combination of everything he had.
On the terrace, Margaret's face finally cracked as a small expression of disbelief twitched.
"Is he mad? He could never be an Exalt ever again! Doing something like that is nothing short of suicide!" Margaret exclaimed.
"That doesn't matter to him. Oscar does not care if he's given it his all." Draven finally called Oscar by name with a hint of pride. He remembered the boy casually accepting the death training by saying he'd survive and live on even as a cripple.
"Is that something you're proud about? You should have taught him restraint." Margaret scolded.
"As a commander and strategist that looks at the big picture, you might not understand. But sometimes, you can't back down and must throw all your eggs into the basket." Draven sighed.
"I thought I said…." Draven cut off Margaret. "Don't make light of his determination."
Draven's elegant tone was now lost. Before, he had only a hint of anger, but now it was on full display.
The teacup in his hand shattered, and the table cracked, spilling the tea everywhere.
The servants and attendants at the side quickly bowed their heads to the ground and trembled in fear. They did not wish to do anything to anger the Warden more.
Even Margaret felt a drop of sweat run down her cheek at Draven's angered state. She sighed and swiped her hands, making the table and shattered ceramic vanish.
"Are you not worried for your disciple?"
"Temporary disciple. No, I'm not worried. Whatever the outcome, it is his own doing. What matters is what he does after."
On the stage.
Oscar and Phillip extended their hands out further.
The buckler and sword clashed against each other.
Ein exploded in the center of the battle, breaking the stage in half between the two fighters. The air itself became hot as it blew in all directions outward from ground zero.
The sword's tip was on the center of the buckler, but neither gave an inch.
The stage kept collapsing as Oscar and Phillip sank further into the caving ground.
Both gave off a final shout as the clash reached its climax. The entire stage erupted as a loud booming force resounded through the stadium. It was like a small hurricane had descended.
The crowd of students was shocked and turned toward the source. Earlier, many were focused on the Greater Apprentice matches, but the power they felt from the Middle Apprentice match was incredible.
"What happened? How can a Middle Apprentice match be this terrifying?"
Little by little, students gathered around the broken remains of the stage with curious and shocked eyes. The students that were watching from the start were speechless and unable to answer the inquiries of others.
The proctor had a grievous face because he had been too engrossed in the battle. He forgot to fulfill his duty and stop the match if it got too dangerous.
The crowd of students and proctor watched as the big dust, smoke, and heat clouds were still churning.
"Who was fighting?"
"I think I saw Phillip Raeven here."
"Phillip Raeven? Isn't he a genius of the Raeven family? Who was his opponent?"
"I don't know."
Finally, the dust started to settle, quieting the crowd.
"Look!" One observer pointed at the shadow of a figure in the smoke.
The figure had rosy hair and deep purple eyes holding a beautiful prismatic sword.
"Phillip!" A person shouted.
Phillip's clothes were roughed up, but he had no visible wounds. The crowd wondered if he came out uninjured, then why did the battle turn out this way?
To the audience's shock, the prismatic sword had a crack on it. Phillip coughed out some blood from the rebound effect of his Anima being hurt.
"He's bleeding?! Who the hell managed to crack his Anima? With the Grade Seven Exolsia, there should be very few who can do it." The crowd exclaimed.
On the other side of the broken stage, Oscar came into view.
However, Oscar was lying on the floor, unmoving. There was a shocking amount of blood splattered behind him.
His upper clothes had been blown off and revealed a horrid hole in his chest, slightly above his heart. A person could see the ground through the injury if they were close enough.
The crowd visible winced at Oscar's wound-ridden body.
"What a pitiful guy. He managed to crack Phillip's Anima but at such a grievous cost." Someone murmured.
Everyone shook their heads in pity for Oscar.
Phillip did not say anything and stepped closer to Oscar. Since the force of the collision blew off his blindfold, he wanted to take one good look at Oscar.
"Even though you're in this condition and lost consciousness, you still have an unyielding face."
Oscar's eyes were rolled back, revealing the white under. But still, they seemed to stare directly at Phillip. Oscar's face looked as if he was still fighting, with his teeth clenched.
Phillip turned and spotted Oscar's buckler on the side. He picked it up and placed it on Oscar to cover his wound as a show of respect.
He noticed a grotesque mass of poorly healed flesh on Oscar's stomach. It was the wound from the battle with Greg.
"What the hell did you experience to have this wound?"
To have an injury like this meant Oscar was close to dying at one point. Phillip looked back on his life and the intense training he had been through.
"It seems I was lacking compared to you. I never faced a true battle of life and death like you. I was immature next to your determination."
The proctor finally came about and announced Phillip as the winner.
Phillip turned and departed but stopped, feeling a sharp pain in his right arm. It was fractured and almost completely broken.
Phillip glanced at Oscar, who was being carried away by the proctor.
"Thank you….You were an incredible opponent. I'll never forget this fight. I hope to see you recover and fight me once you're stronger."
Margaret crossed her arms and started at Draven, who was silent. She wanted to say more, but she knew Draven had some inclination toward Oscar. There was no benefit to poking a wild beast.
"That was a beautiful strike. He exceeded my expectations." Draven almost hummed at Oscar's unyielding display.
"Nice tea. I'll be taking my leave now. Enjoy the rest of the Grand Gathering." Draven disappeared before everyone's eyes.
Elder Saul was trimming some branches off the trees. He suddenly stopped and looked in the direction of the stadium.
"The boy lost. That was well done for a Grade Four, but even with Reis, it's hard to overcome a stronger Exalt that is also Grade Seven. However, this is good. Let the loss soak in."
He resumed trimming with a lazy expression.
Draven suddenly appeared in the healing station, hidden in the shadows.
The healers worked hard, trying their best to reattach and reform Oscar's flesh to shut the gaping hole. It was a laborious process that needed delicate control as the injury was right above the heart.
Finally, the healers closed his wound thanks to their expertise and elixirs.
The other issue was Oscar's heart.
"His heart is so slow. I can barely get a beat."
"We've given him more blood and closed up his wound. Why is his heart so weak?"
Draven stared at the healers, who tried to make Oscar's heart return to normal.
'That won't work. The overuse of 'Reis Awaken' has affected his body, while the complete overdraw of his core attacked his mind. He needs a greater stimulus.'
His hand reached out. The contents of one of the elixirs were replaced with some other liquid. Draven hurriedly flicked his fingers, making the unknown liquid turn the same color as the original elixir.
The healer, unaware the elixir was switched, poured it into Oscar's mouth. They didn't expect much, but Oscar's body suddenly began to convulse.
"His heart's back! He's almost coming to!"
The healers were ecstatic and let out sighs of relief. They did not wish to have a student die on their watch.
'The elixir I gave you was the Grade Three Thunder Jolt Elixir. Normally, it's used for combat and gives people a lightening fast awareness and movement, but here it'll charge your heart and mind to jolt them up.'
It was a very precious elixir. Grade Three was meant for Knight Exalts, but Draven was nonchalant about using it for Oscar.
Hours passed after Draven left.
Slowly, Oscar's eyes opened.
His vision was blurry for a bit until it came into focus.
"I'm in the healing station." Oscar remembered the familiar ceiling of the healing station. However, the respite ended when the accumulation of all the pain he endured broke out.
Pain covered every inch of his body, and Oscar was sweating bullets from the insane headache he was experiencing. But none of that compared to the pain he felt inside.
Oscar recalled the last moments of the battle against Phillip.
When the stage exploded, Oscar's buckler was forced back as it could not keep up against Phillip's Ein. The sheer concentration of Ein in Phillip's sword tip overwhelmed him.
The next thing he remembered was his buckler blown away and the sword stabbing into his chest like a hot piece of scalding metal scorching his flesh.
Oscar did notice a slight crack on the sword.
"I used everything, and it only cracked his Anima…."
Tears began to overflow from Oscar's eyes to all over his face and the pillow below.
Oscar put his hand on his face to cover his tear-filled eyes.