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“Begin!”

“Ahooooo!”

“GRAAAAAA”

“For the Kindred Mountain Style!”

As Randidly expected, as soon as the challenge began, and the weight was slowly lowered down onto their shoulders, most of the individuals thrust upwards with all their strength, frantic to reach the 20%+ mark. When activated, the scales underneath them had a panel which displayed a strange symbol.

After Randidly looked at the symbol for a bit, it swirled and resolved itself into a number that was quickly falling.

0

-1%...

-4%....

Hastily, Randidly pressed upwards, pushing until his number once more settled back down at 0%. Around him, there was no cheer of success, so it didn’t seem like there was anyone who was able to succeed.

“17%....! Just a little more…… Dig deeper! Explosive Strength!”

“No, I will be taking that first finish reward! Let’s gooooooo!”

It seemed that two individuals formed most of the competition, as most everyone else, just tried to maintain their equilibrium. Still, if neither of those two had made it, there probably was no one out there who was allowing their total to go far below 0. Randidly briefly considered letting his fall down, to let one person out and get this process started, but he hesitated. After all, there was no guarantee that those two would be the ones to absorb the amount.

This was a 0 sum game, after all, in a fashion. The one difference was what everyone was searching for was a percent of their total. Due to this, it would be much easier for an individual with a lesser amount of strength to pass this challenge, because the absolute amount of 20% for them was much less.

Having someone leave due to passing was a much better outcome than a failure too. Because the weight of failures would be distributed, but it wouldn’t for passing.

Randidly grimly looked upwards. His arms were trembling, and a thin trail of sweat was dripping down his forehead. This level of weight… it really made him feel like he was being crushed. But he hadn’t trained viciously for nothing these past two years. This level of exertion was something that he could support, perhaps indefinitely, but that prospect was rather daunting, even for Randidly, who had a ridiculous amount of strength.

But if they pressed up much longer….

Randidly looked upwards. He obviously couldn’t see anything but the large square weight that was pressing down against them, but as he looked around, he realized most everyone was pressing upwards, their arms straight. Which explains why they were separated by height, this challenge wouldn’t be fair otherwise.

And then the mechanisms above began to click. Randidly bared his teeth as his hands trembled, and his arms began to drift downward, pressed by the increased weight.

“This….!” Orangey seemed agast. He was one of those struggling to reach that 20% early, and now, as the weight began to slowly increase, the folly of his actions seemed to strike him. “Everyone! We need to relax and discuss it calmly, don't’ struggle for the 20% above threshold! You will doom us all!”

“Asshole,” The female spear user Orangey insulted earlier hissed. “Do you think we are imbeciles? If we relax, you will simply press and seize the chance for yourself, and the prize for being the first to pass. Like hell we will let you.”

“Obstinate bitch!” Orangey swore, his eyes red. “If we do not cease this, we will all be crushed and fail!”

Randidly shook his head. Although he admitted to himself that he was rather antisocial, that didn’t mean he didn’t have enough emotional acumen to not know swearing at those you were negotiating with is a bad thing. The woman snorted, and just continued to press upwards.

The weight began to increase even further, the burden on everyone growing increasingly more onerous. A drop of sweat ran down Randidly’s neck, and then down his back. It had been only 1 minute since the challenge started. Randidly almost wanted to laugh.

This certainly would be a long challenge, or perhaps a very, very short one. Thin tendrils of invigorating energy worked their ways upward through the strange mechanisms he was standing on to enter his body. Although there wasn’t much of a boost, it was still nice to feel the energy flows from the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil nurturing him.

“You know… maybe being crushed won't be so bad after all.” One spear user said sarcastically. “We only lose if we stop bearing our proportionate share of the weight, based on our relative strength. If we are all crushed into mush, we might still make it past the preliminaries.”

Although his words did have a certain morbid logic to them, Randidly could only shake his head. Not only were the man’s words not true, but they also were extremely unhelpful. Orangey was standing in a square next to that man, the distance between them being about a meter. If Orangey was to reach down, pick up his spear, and strike out with it, he could likely kill the man.

In an amusing fashion, Randidly watched that very thought process flutter across Orangey’s face, and then the realization that it would be impossible to reach down and pick up his spear with him lifting the weight like this. But if he lowered the weight some….

“Okay, okay. Here.” Orangey said, laying off with some of the strength he used to lift, allowing the weight to fall, just slightly. Everyone sighed in relief as the mechanisms above stopped engaging, and the weight ceased to creep upwards.

The female attendant chuckled evilly. “Well done. You’ve resigned yourself of waiting around until your will gives out. Good luck.”

Orangey glared at her and flexed again, but then bit his lip, even though his emotions were clearly bubbling beneath the surface. Randidly’s arms trembled and he looked down. +3%. Breathing out through his teeth, he slowly allowed his arms to fall a small amount, so that the number settled down to 0. He hadn’t really even noticed that he was pushing up.

For his part, Randidly found himself becoming strangely excited by the weight. It had been a long, long time, from his perspective, since he had done this sort of training, not since his time with Mrs. Hamilton. Although Marco and Shal had made sure that Randidly never slacked off in the slightest in terms of physical conditioning, this was an altogether different animal. And Randidly wanted to test himself.

That was one reason that Randidly chose this course of action. If he would have been satisfied for just passing, he would just lash out with spells, defeating at least 80% of those around him and moving on to the next part of the Preliminaries. Which was fine, in a way, but he would miss out on the skill levels that Randidly knew he would gain by pushing himself like this. And also…

A prize, specially picked out by the organizers of the tournament. Randidly had never been one who found very much “loot” in this new system assisted world, and Mrs. Hamilton had once speculated that it was due to his lack of a class. As though the connection to the Village gave shape to the prizes that you earn, like experience and loot. Not entirely, of course. But it assisted in the formation of loot.

Randidly wondered what was considered a prize by those who lived on the 5th Cohort, who had been here for at least 100 years, based on what Randidly could gather. Sure, he could knock people out and pass, but if he knocked people out, their strength would be assumed by other people, making it more difficult to obtain the individual who lasted the longest in this competition prize, which Randidly believed to be the best.

So for now, Randidly bided his time. His muscles bulged and strained, starting to grow uncomfortable, but not too much so. Another minute slowly trickled past. And then another. And then another.

All and all, it had been 5 minutes since the challenge began. Everyone around Randidly was sweating, and their eyes were desperate. Their rates of exertion seemed to be much higher than his. Randidly looked down and noticed that his weight total was creeping slowly up to about +6%. His lips twisted.

“We….. we need to talk. You MUST let me get to +20%.” The female spear user began to babble, sweat pouring down her face. “Otherwise…if even one of us fails...”

“If even one of you fails…” The attendant said sweetly. “Passing the easy way will be almost impossible. You will be forced to wait until 80% of the other participants have given up or have been disqualified.”

The female spear user’s face went pale, and the tiny female attendant laughed and slapped her knee. “Do you hear that? It is the sound of spirits breaking. It is my favorite.”

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