Tom stood opposite a muscular mountain of a thirty-year-old man who was a head taller than him and if you asked a normally knowledgeable otaku, he would instantly say the man had to be a warrior instead of a magician.
Alas, the truth was often deceiving and in this case, disappointing for Tom.
The man was Nicholas Stern, and when Tom felt the amount of mana radiating from him, he couldn't help but inwardly sigh.
Tom couldn't precisely feel how much stronger than him Nicholas was supposed to be, but his educated guess would be that he possessed at least two times Tom's reserves. Realistically speaking, it was most likely more. A lot more.
This reminded Tom of a Biblical story, making him chuckle and causing the indifferent Nicholas to frown.
"What is so funny?" Nicholas furrowed his eyebrows and asked in confusion.
Honestly, the man wasn't as Tom imagined his opponent to be. No pre-fight long-winded speech on how he would crush him. In fact, Nicholas seemed to be a reasonable and well-mannered person which surprised Tom.
"Nothing. This just reminds me of David and Goliath." Tom explained in a jovial tone, which made Nicholas crack a grin.
"Heh. You fancy yourself a David, then?" The muscled man asked with a slight provocative mockery. It was obvious he found the idea hilarious.
"That depends. Do you fancy yourself a Goliath?" Tom quipped and leaned back.
Nicholas just rolled his eyes at that and snorted, "Sure. Why not? But enough chit-chat. Let's get this over with. I have more important things to do."
Of course, well-mannered or not, that didn't mean he had much regard or respect for Tom. He wouldn't humor his antics.
The match started almost anticlimactically. When both combatants signaled they are ready, Lord Belgrade used a sound-amplifying spell to shout, "Start!" and that was basically it.
Tom expected something grander and that's why he was caught by surprise when Nicholas instantly sprang forth, appearing in front of Tom in a burst of speed, trying to punch him in the face.
Only the instincts beaten to him in the sparring sessions with Natasha saved Tom from humiliation as his body reacted sooner than his mind, throwing itself to the side and evading Nicholas's punch.
As Tom rolled on the ground, from the corner of his eyes he noticed that Nicholas's punch left a small quiver in the air. It wasn't an ordinary punch. Inwardly cursing, Tom pushed himself back onto his feet, getting vigilant.
His opponent was using magic to support a melee hand-to-hand fighting style. In short, it was the worst kind of opponent for a mage on the same level.
'Of course, it is.' Tom snarkily thought. 'Plus, from the quivering of the air, I can deduce he is using something to spread the damage of his punch further. I probably shouldn't tank a punch or I could end up with internal injuries.' He grimaced.
Nicholas looked at Tom with slightly wide eyes, "You dodged. How surprising."
His face betrayed a trace of excitement, making Tom even more unamused than before. The prick was totally underestimating him!
Well, considering most magicians don't train in hand-to-hand combat, and Tom complained every second of the sparring sessions Natasha forced upon him, he could see where Nicholas's surprise came from.
Most low-level magicians needed time to focus on their spells and because of that, someone like Nicholas was their bane. Tom had understood why he was pitted against this man in the first place. The lengths to which the schemers would go to ensure he lost astounded him.
Nicholas bumped his fists together and small magical circles appeared on the upper sides of his hands as he slouched into a fighting stance and exclaimed with a grin on his face, "Let's see how you can deal with this, then!"
Nicholas once again disappeared from his spot in a burst of speed, this time Tom noticing a small flicker of magic from under the man's soles before he was forced to lean back to evade a swipe from Nicholas who appeared in front of him.
Of course, it was just a feint and Nicholas's other fist was already barrelling through the air, aiming at Tom's chin...
Suddenly, a magic circle appeared between Tom and Nicholas, blocking Nicholas's fist and shocking him alongside the audience because his fist completely lost its momentum on the contact.
Nicholas's brain barely managed to realize what happened and Tom was already putting his hands in front of him, knowing what was going to follow since the not-so-magical but rather-an-alchemical circle was his.
The alchemical circle pulsed once... and then it released all the absorbed momentum and force of Nicholas's punch straight back at him, pushing him back with enough force to make him fly for a few meters before his feet landed on the ground and the next five meters he slid back, bending his knees as he tried to slow down his momentum and stop.
Unfortunately for Tom, Nicholas had barely a bruise to show for this attack because of how strong his trained body was.
The alchemical circle was unable to reflect all of the force and momentum, however. What it did, was basically just absorb force and invert its vector, its direction, via the use of magical energy. It was simple and a very good concept but because of how hastily Tom had to create it, he didn't have the time to feed it much mana.
Hence, the circle directed as much force back to Nicholas as it could before it released the remains that were above its limits in their original direction, straight at Tom.
Tom anticipated that and that's why he guarded himself with his arms. At the same time that Nicholas was launched back, Tom was also sent sliding back for three meters as the pushing force slammed into him.
Unlike Nicholas, the force that impacted Tom was minimal, not because the limit of his hastily created alchemical circle was big, but because Tom's design always spread out the remaining force into a bigger surface before it let it continue. Because of how stretched out the force was, it had a lesser overall impact and was way easier to shrug off for Tom.
Tom rolled his shoulders, trying to relieve the last smidge of discomfort he felt from the 'magic shove' of his own making, and looked at Nicholas, only to sigh when he noticed the hulking man not being injured in the least.
'Well, figures. This is mostly a defensive spell.' Tom mentally lamented. Frankly, he was far too weak and had far too little preparation time to give it any offensive potential and it irked him to no end but there was no worth in dwelling on it right now.
Nicholas looked at Tom with a complicated expression for a moment... only for his face to twist into a picture of elation.
"I see! Great! You blocked it! Can you block my full power, though? Show me that you can hold on! Hahahaha!" Nicholas shouted and started laughing as the battle junkie he was while his body flashed with magical energy, coating itself in it and Tom's body sagged in tiredness at having to deal with a person like this.
His enemies wanted to kill him through embarrassment. He was now completely sure of it.
Moving on… Tom had no idea what the spell Nicholas had just used was but he wasn't dumb enough to not realize it strengthened his body. Whatever kind of body reinforcement spell it was, he knew the fight would now get that much harder for him.
'It's official.' Tom distastefully thought as he leaned back while secretly preparing his next attack, 'I hate fighting muscle-brained idiots.'