The male spear attendant folded his arms across his chest, annoyed at this whole proposition. Sure, the Ghosthound had given him an occasional pointer. Sure, the Ghosthound had managed to get the better of him in their initial meeting. Sure, he was now the Ghosthound’s spear attendant.
That didn’t mean he appreciated being treated like a cheerleader. He was a powerful spear user, with burgeoning potential!
But Teliph was able to weasel his way out of sitting here in the viewing area due to his claimed “Aether Sickness”, which the male spear attendant suspected was simply a way to get a few more minutes of training in. Obviously, the fool was spineless, but smart enough to realize that with the rate the male spear attendant was improving, it would only be a matter of time before he surpassed him. The man’s fear was natural.
Much more annoying was Helen’s reasoning, which was that she was approached by far too many men as she sat politely in the stands. These men brought with them mugs of mead and smiles, asking her which of the Styles that she was supporting. By the end of it, she simply scowled and stomped off furiously, saying that she would be back soon. It had been 20 minutes, and she had not returned. The male spear attendant wondered whether she had taken the time to beat the shit out of some poor fellow who had the bad luck to try and strike up a conversation while she was in a bad mood.
The male spear attendant shivered. Perhaps it was better that she wasn’t here.
Movement on the display area caught the male spear attendant’s attention, and his eyes focused. The stands were set up in front of an arena setting, but now, the arena was clearly empty. This would likely be used for matches later, but for now, there were 20 numbered poles hanging across the area. And from those poles, the attendants began to hang Tassles. The male spear attendant watched the group move quickly, very soon draping 40 or so Tassles over each pole.
A lot of them were a similar color that could be seen in the sky during sunset. From oranges, to bloody reds, to warm yellows. There were some clear, bright blues, and some neon lime greens, but there was definitely one Tassle that was very eye catching.
What made the male spear attendant worried was that it wasn’t even the Ghosthound’s. It was a lavender color, flapping lightly on the 14 pole. There was a muttering in the crowd around him as it came up; they too realized what it meant. That someone who was related to the Patriarch’s Style, the leader of the entire Spearman School, was here.
Afterwards, the crowd went silent, because immediately afterwards, the Ghosthound’s emerald Tassle, bright and bold with its gold lettering, was hung. For several seconds, the silence lasted, as people looked from one to the other, and the male spear attendant could almost hear the gears turning in their heads. Was this a coincidence, or….?
A rivalry of geniuses coming out to the Northern Region to play.
Of course, they would likely be slightly shocked when they saw the Ghosthound. He was clearly… if not a foreigner, a social imbecile. Alternatively muttering and strangely mute, powerful but laid back, never wearing shoes but taking exceptional care with his shirts and pants.
Very soon, the attendants were finished, and they straightened. A man came to the front and opened his mouth, and began to explain the rules of the “Tarnak” Challenge that would be the first half of the preliminaries.
“Alright you on this one, and you on this one…. Alright, that’s all of you.” The short, female attendant clapped her hands. Randidly stood on a small raised square platform with his arms folded. He felt it bounce lightly as he shifted his weight, a strange mechanism beneath him clicking slightly.
All of the spear users were on similar squares, making a strange checkerboard style set up. Everyone was glancing around at those nearest, holding their spears lightly, still prepared to leap forward to battle. But Randidly could only frown. There was something…
“This… will be the Challenge of Tarnak. I hope you are all prepared,” The female attendant said with relish, and quite a few of the participants gasped, looking up with wide eyes at the low ceiling above them. Randidly simply sighed inwardly.
What the hell was Tarnak…?
“You might be wondering about why we asked about your strength. That is because the weight you will be bearing is the weight for all of you; it is measured based on the strength you gave. If everyone is honest… it is theoretically possible to hold the weight up indefinitely, should you be able to squeeze every ounce of strength out of your bodies.
“There are three ways to pass the challenge of Tarnak. The first is to bear a weight that is 20% over what would be expected in a normal strength motion, given the strength value that you had given to us. The squares beneath you include scales. If you bear enough weight, the scale will record it, and you will be excused. The weight allotted to you would also be removed.
“The second way is to be one of the last 20% of the participants who are still within the trial. Afterwards, you may bow out or continue to experience the challenge.
“The third way is to be the final member of the group to be participating. If the rest of your group is incapacitated… you will move on to the second half of the preliminaries.
“There are a few more rules. Some of you may have lied about your strength. We do not care. But know that the scales beneath you work both ways. If you demonstrate 20% greater than what is expected… you pass. If you demonstrate 10% less, at any point…. You fail.
“If the weight is pressed up too high for too long, without anyone passing, it will get heavier at a fixed rate. Since the only way this could happen is if you lied about your strength, the evaluation of all the remaining participants strength will rise accordingly. If you all rush for the 20% passage too quickly… hehehe, well it is a bad idea. Finally, should anyone fail, the number they gave for strength shall be divided evenly among the remaining, making passage that much more difficult. No matter the cause of their failure.
“Ah, there will also be a reward for the first person from each group to pass, and the last individual overall to remain. These have been chosen very carefully, and will be invaluable to spear users such as yourself. So good luck~”
Randidly frowned, mulling over the rules in his head. It was a complicated series of relationships. They each had scales beneath them. Assuming there was agreement, there would need to be at least 4 people working together to have a single person pass: three people to allow their contribution to the weight to fall, and a fourth with enough strength to press up and take up the slack. But everyone would want to get out early by demonstrating that strength, so they would push up, trying to eat up that slack. Probably to the point that the weight was too high, and would slowly increase.
So the 20% strength demonstration was just a prize to distract the group and turn against each other. If they didn’t work together, it was impossible to achieve. And from the way they described the weight… it would not be easy to hold. So people would quickly turn to the second method of passing.
Making sure that they were part of the last 20% by eliminating people around them.
In this respect, Randidly probably had a large advantage. Most of the people here didn’t have spells, and likely wouldn’t be able to do this as effectively as he. But somehow…
Randidly breathed in, and breathed out. Somehow he wanted to pass this challenge directly. He wasn’t sure who Tarnak was, but it seemed like a challenge similar to Atlas. Hold up the world. If your fellow participants failed, you would need to bear their weight. The only way to pass early was to explode at the beginning.
But Randidly suspected that strategy would be very popular. He just smiled, rubbed his neck, then slowly and methodically cracked his knuckles.
“What’s this, isn’t this really simple?” The male spear attendant muttered to himself. “Just push up very quickly, it’s as simple as that.”
“Ha, this is why you will always be the type who fails often.”
The male spear attendant turned, surprised that the homeless looking person in a musky leather cloak had the voice of Helen. She flashed him a stern look. “Your idea is fine. If no one else has the same idea. But if they do, and people all push up… you will push it up too high and the weight will increase. Then suddenly not only the amount you need to pass has increased, but the lowest amount you can maintain without failing. And-”
Although the male spear attendant wanted to listen to what Helen was saying, he simply couldn’t. He waved at her, desperate for her to stop, one hand pinching his nose. “Please… the smell of that leather… did you dig it out from a pile of rabbit shit…?”
Helen’s face, contrary to what the male spear attendant expected, did not darken. Instead, she smiled brightly. After several seconds of this, he smiled back, hesitant, but rather pleased, all the while covering up his nose. Did his natural charm finally win her over…?
After fiddling with the straps, Helen removed her hood, shaking out her beautiful black hair. Then she grimly walked towards the male spear attendant, the smelly and rotten scrap of leather held in her hand.
“Kekeke, you fucking asswipe. You think I don’t know how this smells…? This was my entire childhood. Let me teach you a lesson about smelly leather…”
“Noooooo-grpk!” The male spear attendant tried to struggle, but she was faster and stronger, and swiftly caught him. Some other spectators looked concerned, but then caught a whiff of the smell of rotten leather, and backed away, leaving the male spear attendant to be slowly drowned in the smell.