38 Ch38. Some things are simply not to be.

The jaws of Nicholas and everybody in the audience dropped onto the ground, and the people almost missed as the match referee dumbly declared Nicholas the winner, his mouth moving without his brain having the time to fully process what just happened.

Smiling in satisfaction, Tom turned on his heel and started walking towards the exit of the arena as if he just didn't throw a very important match.

Honestly, Tom had had enough of this bullshit. He was satisfied with his performance and the fact he came out unharmed from the fight considering his odds at victory. He was no story protagonist. It wasn't like his opponent would trip and knock himself out if he kept on fighting.

Learning valuable lessons and getting some real combat experience was also invaluable to Tom. He was glad he fought Nicholas. He was even happy that his butt was so thoroughly kicked and the flaws in his self-made spells were so clearly revealed to him.

It was a bit sad that he couldn't avoid future trouble by winning the duel though.

But... screw politics. The second he gave up the fight, he made up his mind too. Tom was not dealing with that. The table was in for some serious flipping.

Nicholas's mind only rebooted when he saw the disregard Tom showed him by turning his back on him.

But... he was currently in the Belgrade Mansion and attacking Tom outside of the duel would be equal to showing disrespect to the Belgrade Family. He could only clench his fists angrily and glare at Tom's retreating back.

"Wait!" Nicholas's grudge eventually won out and he shouted at Tom, stopping him in his tracks, half-turning towards Nicholas with a questioning look. Scowling, Nicholas continued in an upset tone, "That's it? You aren't going to give your all? You just give up?"

Nicholas's ego couldn't accept a victory like this. It rubbed his whole existence the wrong way. Yes, he was declared the winner, and his family's scheme could now continue without a hitch but when he saw his opponent nonchalantly walking away... not even a slight limp or a sign of bruise anywhere... his blood boiled at a conclusion like this.

He just couldn't believe this should be counted as a victory in a duel! Not when both of them had barely a scratch.

Tom blinked, totally unaware of Nicholas's inward thoughts, and in an 'isn't it obvious?' kind of tone he said, "Huh? Of course. Why would I continue when I know it's pointless?"

Not waiting for Nicholas's reply, Tom turned around and continued on his way out of the arena, leaving behind a much angrier Nicholas to stew in his rage and body juices.

Unknowingly, Tom had created a one-sided rivalry that day.

The second Tom entered the preparation room for the contestants, Natasha engulfed him in a tight hug full of relief and worry.

"I am glad you are alright." She whispered, her voice cracking a bit.

She did not enjoy watching Tom fighting. He had too many close calls for her tastes. Unlike someone who had no idea about Tom's abilities, she was there when he made his spells and practiced them so she knew best just how utterly unable to properly fight he was during that match.

Feeling Natasha's care throughout all the bruises she was currently squeezing, Tom winced and donned a pained smile, "Yeah. I am thankful for that but could you please stop trying to make me pass out?" Tom jokingly quipped.

Natasha's eyes widened for a second in realization and she instantly pulled away before she gave Tom a worried once over.

Chuckling, Tom slightly drew back his sleeve, showing a nasty purple bruise underneath it before he quickly covered it and winked at Natasha while whispering, "I protected my hands and head with magic but Nicholas's shockwaves wrecked me quite a lot, to be honest."

Not knowing where he was bruised under his clothes, Natasha took Tom's hands into hers and squeezed, her eyes flickering with emotions that made Tom want to cuddle with her until she passed out from all the spoiling. It was in moments like these he could plainly see how much the redhead cared about him and it was utterly endearing.

Smiling like a fool, Tom pecked Natasha on the lips, drawing her out of her thoughts full of worry, "Don't make that kind of face. Remember your training, Natalie." He whispered as he pulled back, showing her he didn't want others to notice his state.

Giving a small reluctant nod, Natasha donned a calm and collected facade but refused to stop clutching his hand so Tom just entwined his fingers with hers and held her hand as a couple would.

It was just in time too. Lord Belgrade noticed that Tom and Natasha's reunion was finished and approached, an amiable smile on his face.

"That was a well-fought battle. You did well all things considered." He praised Tom.

As someone who sold Tom quite a lot of grimoires, he had a bit of insight in Tom's level. Depending on what Tom bought from him, Lord Belgrade could make an educated guess.

And unlike the utterly pissed Lord Stern, Lord Belgrade came to the conclusion that Tom didn't have even one mid-tier spell in his current arsenal. He suspected that showing only basic low-tier spells was not because Tom was arrogant, but because he simply didn't know better spells.

It was ever so easy to forget this genius came from an upstart family sometimes...

In mid-class magician families, a kid first had to master a mid-tier spell to be declared a full-fledged magician. That usually made others from these families misleadingly assume that every 'adult' magician knew at least one mid-tier spell, which was simply not true.

Most did as the mid-class and high-class families were the main source of magicians in their community and they jealously guarded their knowledge, only reluctantly sharing for massive benefits, but whenever an upstart family rose a bit above its usual paygrade, this happened.

A respected magician without proper spells.

But Lord Belgrade digressed. It wasn't his job to explain this to Lord Stern. He was all too happy to leave this conflict between the Sterns and Tom stewing. And who knows? Maybe it would bring him unforeseen benefits in the future.

Still, Tom's show was... exemplary.

He had used alchemy for combat. That was just not done and Lord Belgrade was impressed. If the boy was willing to join the Belgrade Family, he would spare no resources for his grooming, even giving him a choice of unmarried women from his family to marry. Alas, Tom was too stubborn to know what was good for him and it was simply not to be. Such a pity.

"Er... thank you?" Tom slowly nodded, not knowing how to take this praise. He felt like a bruised shit and that made him doubt this claim of 'you did well' the Lord Belgrade spouted.

Over a decade of learning magic and this was what he had to show for it? It was depressing.

But such a thing was natural in the real world. People who could rise in strength above others with just a few months of effort were very rare and usually had some bullshit thing that basically cheated the system.

Boosted Gear and Issei, the pervert. Divine Dividing and Vali, the Lucifer descendant. Ring any bells?

The normal people had a hard time just surviving while these pieces of arrogant shits sailed through their life as if it was a harem story about them, always coming on top because they had two of the strongest entities shoved into their souls due to luck.

"I was especially impressed by the number of your spells." Lord Belgrade said, pulling Tom out of his disgruntled thoughts.

Even though it was mostly basic low-tier spells, alchemy was hard and the number of alchemical circles Tom employed impressed Lord Belgrade.

It had to be mentioned that magicians were not walking books of spells. Everyone had a few strong spells they spent months learning and from then on, they usually tried to qualitatively improve the spells in their chosen repertoire rather than learning new ones.

Even Lord Belgrade only knew three high-tier spells and a dozen of mid-tier ones after sixty years of learning magic. Sure, they were all personally modified to be better than their originals by a huge margin but that didn't change the fact he didn't know that many spells.

Human magic was hard. It was based on calculations and learning a strong spell, a spell from mid to high-tier, could take months if not longer. Learning many spells was simply not worth it and then there was the factor of tutelage.

Teachers and elders in a family usually taught only their personal students and progeny things they learned themselves, giving them invaluable insights in hope of making their path easier. In hopes that these young people won't make the same mistakes.

That also limited the spells magicians belonging to particular families learned and kept magic knowledge 'in the family'. Hence, the diversity of magical knowledge between families.

Seeing Tom's uncertain expression, Lord Belgrade apologetically smiled and decided to cut the chase as he patted Tom on the shoulder. "Look, Tom. There is no easy way to say this so I will just be blunt." He sighed, "I like you. I like you a lot. But I don't like you more than my Family." He gave Tom a meaningful look.

That... was fair enough. Tom could only respectfully nod. "I understand."

He might not like what that meant. Lord Belgrade would definitely not prioritize their amicable relationship before the interests of his family. But that was just natural. Tom couldn't ask that much out of him. It was sad but... he was Lord first before he was a person.

Such was the burden of the responsible family head.

Not that Tom planned to ever be the 'responsible' kind of family head and play politics with other geriatric old coots.

"Good." Lord Belgrade nodded in satisfaction. "Let me give you one last piece of advice. You should use the Sitri Family as your shield."

Nobody would be able to touch Tom if he joined the Sitris.

But Tom understood that by saying 'use as a shield', Lord Belgrade meant that Tom should become a devil.

From what Lord Belgrade knew, Tom helped the Sitris earn a lot of money so if he begged them to join a peerage, they should not be averse to it. He had no idea about the real deals between Sarael and Tom so at worst, they would let him join the peerage of some distinguished servant of their house, in Lord Belgrade's opinion.


"We both know that's not gonna happen." Tom just helplessly shook his head, rejecting that notion.

He had his opinions about Evil Pieces and he would not be changing them. Not even if hell froze over and then became the next Heaven.

Lord Belgrade saw the reluctance in Tom's expression and didn't press further. He also just helplessly shook his head and muttered, "Youngsters nowadays..."

Quickly recollecting himself and letting go of Tom's shoulder, "So this is it." Lord Belgrade straightened, "I can only wish you success in your future endeavors. We will uphold our current business with you but please, don't contact us anymore for any more favors." He spoke for his family, his eyes showing a bit of reluctance before he politely excused himself and left Tom and Natasha alone.

Watching his retreating form, Natasha squeezed Tom's hand and asked, "What do you want to do?"

She didn't mind either way. All she had to do was stick with Tom to the very end. She made peace with her feelings for him and wholeheartedly accepted them. That... was a massive source of resolve for her.

Tom looked at her and fondly smiled, "Let's go home, sweetheart. I already have a plan of action. Just ignore it."

Alas, if Natasha knew Tom's last sentence was not him telling her how to act but rather him revealing what he was going to do about it, she would not feel as at ease as she did now.

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