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A/N: May the Lord of Promises and Literary Integrity smite me with the ink of 1000 books...I broke the law. Not 'the law', but my law. You all remember when I said "Each one-shot is 750-1000 words"? Wait...did I ever say that? Anyways, I broke my law; specifically, the 1000 word limit. So, to save my sorry butt from the holy wrath of fan-made literature everywhere, this one-shot is considered an exception to the word limit. Maybe not, since it's really only 1098 words. Well, you guys pass judgment on whether I had good enough reason to break my rule. Moving on to the reading! Also, please leave a review if you particularly liked a certain aspect of the story and tell me about it!

---ToBattle---

The roaring crowd falls silent as I step into the arena. It's purely luck that I am able to make it this far into the tournament. So far, only my experience as a mercenary keeps me above the competitors in terms of skill. Thankfully, no one has been seriously injured since we've all been using wooden weapons. What worries me now is my last opponent and the high stakes I have on winning this competition.

Just one more match and I can leave this city, maybe find some more leads on Rook. It's been three years since he got injured, I hope he's doing okay. Why would he re-join the Dragoons though?

Tightening the straps of my gloves, I glare fiercely at my enemy for this final match; it's a monster girl, a Salamander. This confirms my suspicions of being the only human left in the tournament, meaning every other male was made into a husband. I've had my share of monster girl opponents, but I managed to advance in the tournament. This last monster girl I'm facing feels different, though. Instead of an aura of lust and hunger for energy, I can sense determination and faint bloodlust rolling off of her in waves. Her appearance is equally fearsome, looking close to a lizard with her scaly arms, legs and tail, but more like a dark-skinned human in the middle of it all. This kind of fighter is someone I would enjoy sparring with, but I can't fail here after coming so far.

We both walk towards each other to the center of the ring and draw our weapons. The announcer starts to countdown the starting signal, but as we stand there with our blades against one another, a small flame starts to blaze upon the tip her tail.

"Begin!"

I dive to the left, landing on the ground just in time to dodge a wide cleave. She raises her sword above her head, but I scramble to my feet fast enough to block the blow with my own blade. I redirect her weapon off to the side, landing a heavy blow into her body with my left hand. The impact knocks her back a few steps, but she's unhurt. She seems somewhat surprised, but smiles widely in the next moment as soon her whole tail is set ablaze. There's an intense pressure coming from her as she readies herself, but this only serves to edge me on and I take the chance to attack.

I try to swipe at her side, instead I receive a forceful kick in the stomach. I double over and fall to my knees, pain creeping into my vision and breathing. All of it makes me want to forfeit, but I know that if I do, then I'd lose all hope of ever finding Rook.

This is the moment of decision, then. If I don't end this fight in the next move, then all of my efforts are wasted. Thinking back to my knight training, there's only one move that I can use in this position, the one Rook taught me.

The only question is, will she do it?

There's an impossibly small chance that she will make the move that allows me to counter, but if she does, then it's all over for her. There it is! She raises my head up with the tip of sword, enabling me to knock her blade aside with mine and shift her arm backwards, breaking her balance just enough for me to force her to the ground. I pin her with my left arm holding back her sword and my blade just barely brushing her neck. Her eyes burn with an odd admiration even though she lost, and the flames of her tail dance in a fiery inferno.

"Good fight." Smiling, I help her up and look once more into those powerful eyes.

---TimeToCelebrate---

“Bartender, something for the road, please.”

I sit down in front of the fireplace with drink in hand. Taverns are still the same despite all of the monster girls everywhere. It's noisy here, but quite cozy. Everyone is talking about the tournament, but mostly how it was the first time anyone's ever beaten the champion. I don't bother listening and simply relax. After some time, my mind slowly drifts back to Rook as it always does.

Rook, what happened to you? I thought you hated the Dragoons...

“Hey, you.”

“Hm?” I look over to see the Salamander sitting next to me.

“I want a rematch.”

“What.”

“You heard me.”

“Are you insane?” This is too much to deal with on my last night in town.

“You gonna fight me now or later?”

“Tomorrow morning, outside the gates.”

The next morning, just as I'm about to leave town, I see her waiting for me. There's no way around this, so I walk to her with my hand on the sword at my waist. Something in her eyes gives me a feeling of unease, but it's probably the rematch she's hoping for.

“Ready?” She holds up a real sword, waiting for me to draw mine.

I simply nod as I raise my hands.

“Why won't you draw? We're fighting with true blades!” The flames on her tail seem much brighter than yesterday.

“You may start now.”

She scowls and charges at me.

In the next instant, her broadsword is stuck firmly in the ground. Satisfied, I turn away from her and the town to continue my journey.

“Wait.”

I slowly look back and suddenly she is pressing herself against me.

“What are you doing?”

“Hear me out. That fight yesterday...I loved every second of it. Somehow, losing made me feel so happy, so excited that I met someone stronger. I wanted to feel that again, in the same way from the same person. Just now, I felt complete even when I lost again. I don't know anything else, but I think I'm in love with you.”

Those last words stir up a fire in my heart as I find myself agreeing with her now. That fight wasn't just good...it was amazing, and all because of her.

“I like you too, but there's only one way to be sure.” I give her a quick and passionate kiss on the lips, leaving her stunned before I take a few steps down the road.

“Hey, you coming?” I call out to her, to which she firmly clings to my arm with a faint blush across her cheeks.

---ThisIsGonnaBeALongTrip---

A/N: I loved writing (typing) this chapter out! This was something I've wanted to do ever since I first came across the MGE page for Salamander. There's just so much personality to her, that I seriously had to reel myself in while making this one-shot. I know that some of you will disagree with me and others will, but there's one teeny-tiny little detail I forgot to tell you all when I announced the poll: Author's Picks! No, I'm not selfishly making my favorite one-shots into stories. What I mean by that is, I'll be casting my own votes along with you guys! I'll have my own top 3 choices as well, but they'll stay anonymous. You guys probably figured out that this will be one of my picks, so no point in hiding that, but what are the other two I wonder? For next time, we'll be taking a dive into Mermaid and seeing how she keeps her man. This is your friendly neighborhood Drake Kanto, signing off.