“Next up…” The bearded man announced as two janitors were using large brushes to scrub away the stain of blood from the arena floor, “Jerrick and Aldo!”
Vye released another small sigh. Although there were barely any participants left who had not been called, her name was not announced. Not her turn yet. She still had time to prepare. More time to struggle against the question of what her image would be.
I still have time.
Vye looked up toward a wide window at the side of the arena and out into the cloudless sky. At her core, she yearned to be out there, moving frantically in a mad dash toward the horizon. Chasing after the setting sun. That. That’s all I want. Does that count as an image…?
Jerrick turned out to be an extremely muscular man carrying two heavy axes that looked like they had seen frequent use. Aldo, meanwhile…
When seen out of the corner of her eye, Aldo seemed to familiar that Vye jerked around to look at him. But on closer inspection, Vye was left rather nonplussed why Aldo had seemed so familiar to her.
He was tall, but not too tall. Muscular, but not too muscular. And honestly, he was altogether extremely messy. His hair was sticking out in several directions and his jaw was covered in a few days worth of stubble. His clothes were worn through an extended period of heavy use. But most of all-
Then Vye blinked. Aldo was barefoot.
Aldo casually brandished a ‘spear’. Which was, in fact, just a branch that appeared to have been sharpened to a point. Blinking several times, Vye realized why he looked so familiar; when you barely looked at him at all, and let your focus narrow solely onto his bare feet…
He certainly had a certain surface level similarity to Randidly Ghosthound.
It seemed that Vye wasn’t the only person who noticed the passing resemblance. The bearded man seemed torn for several seconds after Aldo casually walked onto the arena, and then hesitantly said. “...Aldo, are you sure you don’t want any foot protection for the challenge?”
Aldo looked over coolly to the bearded man. “...some secrets you can’t experience until you expose yourself to the world. Some primal powers are too raw for the fearful to grasp through gloved hands.”
Everyone fell into a slightly awkward silence for several seconds. Then the bearded man shrugged helplessly. “Well, it is your decision.”
Without waiting for any more strange comments from Aldo, the bearded man swiftly signaled the start of the duel. Despite the fact that none of the earlier fights had done anything but make her more nervous about her own time in the arena, Vye found her attention being dragged to the messy and barefoot man with a branch for a weapon.
Compared to Jerrick’s brutal axes, a branch seemed unable to do much to alter the outcome of the fight. And Jerrick wasted no time rushing forward to close the distance and ensure that he could bring his superior weapons to bear.
Aldo barely even seemed to notice. With narrowed eyes, he calmly walked forward to meet his foe.
And as Vye watched the subtle movements of his feet, her jaw dropped.
There certainly was something… powerful about the way Aldo was moving toward Jerrick. Aldo’s leg muscles were clearly flexing and pulling, but he kept his bare feet on the ground the whole time. But… he continued to zig-zag lazily forward to meet his foe. More than anything else, it reminded Vye of the slow and graceful movements of ice skating.
But how could Aldo skate across the dirty and pitted ground of the arena without any trouble?
“Beware, if I use my full strength, I cannot guarantee your safety!” Aldo bellowed. Jerrick’s eyes tightened in fury, but he didn’t say anything in response. It seemed that he was competent enough that he had noticed the strange movements of Aldo as well. His mad charge slowed down as he considered the unpredictable movements.
As they neared, the moment seemed to stretch. Then, as if due to some hidden signal, both individuals accelerated toward each other. But Aldo moved so quickly in those last moments that Jerrick seemed to be standing still.
By spinning around Jerrick’s slash, Aldo built up a fearsome momentum. His spear swept outward only to-
Vye’s jaw popped from hanging open for too long. When Aldo’s spear struck Jerrick, the sharpened blade didn’t even pierce through the skin. Like an ordinary twig, the spear cracked in the middle and shattered into several pieces.
Without missing a beat, Aldo flipped the broken spear shaft in his right and brutally stabbed it into Jerrick’s bicep. Although the blade wasn’t sharp enough for a slash, it seemed that the broken wood was sturdy enough to be used as a dagger. At the same time, Aldo stretched his left hand out into the air and produced another sharpened branch from his interspatial ring.
Bellowing in fury, Jerrick seemed to transform into a tornado of steel and bloodlust. But Aldo calmly weaved through each of the strikes, cracked his weapon over Jerrick’s body, and then methodically stabbed the broken pieces into his opponent.
After about twenty broken spears and there were a dozen short wooden shafts were leaking blood out of Jerrick’s body, the muscular man clearly showed signs of nearing the end of his Stamina. His exhales were huge explosions of compressed air, his chest erratically rising and falling as he struggled to recover his energy.
“You… you…” Jerrick spluttered through gritted teeth.
Shaking his head sadly, Aldo regarded his exhausted opponent. “Do you see? Unless you remove your boots and experience the baptism of the Earth’s natural energies… in what world could you have defeated me?”
“YOU--!!!” Jerrick roared and rushed with his axes raised. For the first time all fight, Aldo’s foot lifted off the ground. He unleashed a high kick that moved so abruptly that Vye saw nothing but a gleaming flash like sunlight off the barrel of a gun.
With a groan, Jerrick collapsed and Aldo walked calmly back toward the buffet table. Shaking his head, the bearded man returned to the arena with his two helpers to mop away a few gallons of Jerrick’s blood. While they worked, the bearded man raised his head and smiled upward toward the area where the Order Ducis was standing. “And now… Vye! Our final challenger.”
Vye frowned. After a few seconds, she began to walk up onto the arena. They didn’t… call a second name?
The bearded man continued to speak. As Vye moved nearer to him, the man looked much older. There were dark bags underneath his eyes and his face was covered with wrinkles. “Unfortunately, one of the contestants was forced to withdraw from the Lottery, so there is an odd number of individuals who participated. Therefore…”
The bearded man’s face split into an even wider grin. “...I suppose that I, Roland, will be your opponent, Miss Vye! Please rest assured, victory or defeat doesn’t matter. Just use this opportunity to display your capabilities for everyone that’s watching. To… show that ideal version of yourself to the Order Ducis”
Vye felt a sinking feeling in her chest. “...I only have one question. Why me?”
“You are a Meticulous Technician, correct?” Roland asked with a polite smile. “We read the information card you submitted. As such… you are one of the few non-combat Classes in this Lottery. In order to allow everyone else to have the chance to display their own talents, it's best for the combat Classes to fight each other.”
Which means that you had to step forward? Vye’s eyes grew increasingly cold as she glanced to the watchers above. Or did you think bullying me in front of the Order Ducis would give you a springboard to apply to join their Order? Is that how our match will allow everyone to display their own talents? Either way…
Rather than angry, Vye just felt her muscles and bones shiver and crack as her vicious focus crawled through her veins and chilled her blood into a sluggish and poisonous ooze. Hyper aware of every movement, Vye produced a pen and a stack of high-quality paper. She watched Roland smiling up toward Naffur Suite, as though waiting for him to intervene.
Naffur looked at Vye. Their eyes met, and such was Vye’s cold fury that she didn’t feel any need to look away. And whatever Naffur found there, when he looked away he didn’t raise a hand to stop the fight.
The image of the wide sky she had been struggling to grasp receded like the tide. In its place, the twisted and beaming face of Roland remained. I might not know how to seize for myself the ability to be truly free, but I sure as hell know how to deal with self-important cocks like you. Let’s all display our. Very. Best.
Without waiting for a signal for the fight to begin, Vye began to drag her pen elegantly across the paper.
For several seconds, Roland watched in amusement. “Are you prepared to begin?”
Vye ignored him. She could transcribe her talismans quickly enough that she didn’t need any extra time at the beginning, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to enjoy seeing Roland face after she made use of that time to smash his smug grin into the dirt. For her talismans, the difficult portion was creating the paper. Once the paper was refined, it took only a split second for Vye to use calligraphy to put one of the four rituals she had learned thus far onto the paper.
It wasn’t a series of Skills she learned from her Class but was instead related to the Ritualist Path she had taken on a whim. Therefore, many people tended to underestimate her when she revealed what her Class was; Roland’s reaction brought back too many familiar memories to Vye.
It took about ten seconds for Roland’s patience to wear thin. His smile became somewhat strained as Vye continued to scribble on her rectangles of paper without acknowledging him.. “Unfortunately, you won’t have an infinite amount of time to prepare in battle. Therefore, I’m-”
With a flick of the wrist, Vye threw two dozen recently complete charms into the air. The carefully processed pieces of paper had enough weight that they cut through the air easily and surrounded Roland. As he opened his mouth in shock, Vye spoke dismissively.
The two dozen attack rituals activated at the same time. Rather than any sort of flame, what they produced was much closer to small bombs of energy that zipped forward toward Vye’s chosen target and detonated on the first object they hit. In this case, that unfortunate target was the rather surprised Roland.
Although the destructive force of each individual Ignite ritual was small, two dozen added together to be the most destructive attack that had occurred in the Lottery thus far. No smoke was released by the ritual, but the burned clothes and singed hair of Roland filled the hall with a distasteful muskiness.
“You…!” Roland bellowed his acidic indignation as he ripped the charred remnants of his robe off to reveal a rather muscular chest.
Vye winked at him. Hard to show off before the Order Ducis when your beard is on fire, huh?