Triple elimination meant that there was some room for mistakes, Randidly admitted to himself, but relying on that wasn’t a path that would be very productive. After all, there would be several fights in a short period of time, so once the losses started, they would be hard to stop. Also, as Randidly looked at the schedule, it was clear that the format was designed to benefit those coming from the more powerful Styles. Although ostensibly the arrangement was two in the morning, two in the evening, the middle two matches were very close to each other in time.
Even for Randidly, he would be hard pressed to recover his stamina in the short amount of time between matches. Depending on how long your 2nd match ran, your 3rd might begin immediately. Whereas the seeded individuals likely knew each other, and would acquiesce to their differences in strength immediately, Randidly suspected that those who came in by way of the preliminaries would struggle, desperate for all the wins that they could manage.
‘Well,’ Randidly reflected, with a small smile on his face. ‘All of this means nothing in the face of true skill.’
After the introductions and opening ceremonies ended, the group of them were taken into a dark, underground hall. As they passed, Randidly saw that there were 4 stages up in the main arena level. In the underground, there were simply long, dingy rooms lined with wooden benches.
In a strange show of solidarity even the high level Styles came down there, sitting in the darkness, biding their time. They of course sat with each other, and coolly ignored the preliminary winners, but still, in this respect and this alone, they were aligned. In their waiting.
An assistant began calling names, and steadily, groups of two would head upstairs and onto the stages, one preliminary participant and one from the upper Styles. Very swiftly, yells and cheers were audible.
Perhaps most dispiriting, most of the initial fights seemed to be going very noticeably in the favor of the Styles. This was to be expected, but many of the preliminary participants came down from their match wounded and hollow eyed. They were not allowed to use any potions in the interim, and were only given bandages to cover their wounds.
It was about halfway through the first round of matches that Randidly heard his name and slowly stood.
“Randidly Ghosthound. Kishta Darth.”
Randidly spared the woman who would be his opponent a glance. She was decked out in embroidered leather and had a willowy, ornate lance. She honestly looked like someone from Earth who was cosplaying as a druid, with flowers and plants hand stitched into every very expensive seeming article of clothing. But whereas the cosplayers from Randidly’s world ultimately had a hollowness to them, proof that they were just pretending, this Kishta burned with haughty arrogance.
Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, and she was far too important to spare him a glance. So the two walked up the stairs, mirroring each other, but refusing to make any sort of further recognition. They emerged and there was some mild cheers from the crowd, almost perfunctory. There seemed to be a very furious clash on Stage A, but there was much less excitement over on Stage C, where Randidly and the woman were to fight.
This fact finally seemed to penetrate through Kishta’s exterior, and her mouth thinned into almost nonexistence as she saw the lack of recognition as she ascended to the stage. As her gaze finally seemed to acknowledge Randidly, settling on him for a few seconds, her eyes began to fill with a vicious fire and determination.
Randidly wanted to sigh in exasperation. Sure, he wanted to have a good fight with the woman, sharpening his skills as much as he could in these earlier fights when he could afford a loss. But fighting against someone who was only doing it to earn the recognition of the crowd left him a bit…. unmotivated.
But then he closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. His heart was beating rapidly, excitement and nerves mixing in his chest. Aether began to slowly flow through his limbs. This was it. He’d finally made it. All this training these past two years, it was all for this. Reaching the top 8 at this Regional Tournament. Already, he could feel himself wishing for a return to Earth.
There was just this line to cross, and then he could return. It had only been 4 months from Donnyton’s perspective, but even that much made Randidly nervous, when left alone with the strange influence that was the System.
The referee for the match, an elderly woman who kept her hands held behind her back, looked at them both.
“Spearmen, are you ready?”
Kishta raised her beautiful work of art with a flourish. “Yes, this spearman is ready.”
Randidly mirrored her, raising his huge obsidian spear, which basically looked like an unrefined pole of rock next to the ornate grace of Kishta’s spear. But still, there was a baleful and oppressive power in that size.
“Yes, this spearman is ready.” Randidly’s voice trembled, speaking in front of such a large crowd tor the first time. There were thousands filling the stands right now, chatting and distracted by the four stages and fights. And there was still plenty of space in the stands. More people would come, as the level of competition would increase. This was still a time of refining, moving towards a lower number of contestants.
But his focus slowly narrowed until he only saw his opponent. The rest fell away. He was a spear, and the only way that he could proceed was by advancing forward.
If you crave something, take it.
“Begin!” The referee said, her eyes glinting as she looked at the two contestants.
Flexing his legs, Randidly launched himself at his opponent, his blood roaring through his ears. He would crush his opponent at any cost.
The male spear attendant had a grave expression on his face, as he watched.
“You really…” He started, lamely, then shook his head and tried again. “You really aren’t that attractive. Why do you need that foul smelling disguise?”
Helen gave him a sharp glance that told him she would brutalize him in their next spar, and then looked away. “Fucking focus, it’s starting.”
Claptrap now had enough support from the Brewing Association, so he no longer needed them to work for his rapidly growing “Concessions” business. Instead, they came early to watch the Ghosthound’s matches. Since they knew that his first match would be on Stage C from the schedule, they got a pretty good seat for that area.
Which stage he was on would be determined basically by how much money the Style of the seeded individual had donated to the tournament, so the fact that the fight was on Stage C meant that this opponent was not the upper echelon of the opponents that Randidly would be facing. But still, she was a pampered child of a powerful Style, the type of opponent that couldn’t be underestimated.
As the referee called the beginning of the match, the Ghosthound made the first move, launching himself forward towards his opponent. The woman’s spear rose, its delicate point aiming for his throat, but the Ghosthound began attacking viciously.
Once, twice, three times, their spears crossed, attacks smashing into each other in quick succession.
The male spear attendant yawned.
Helen sat on the edge of her seat, clearly much more invested in the fight. The male spear attendant could only shake his head and turn to regard Teliph, who sat on his other side. He too was engrossed in the fight.
“...their level of skill…. Both of them, not just the Ghosthound…” Helen said, sucking in a breath.
“But unfortunately for her… that is where their similarities end.” Teliph said as he crossed his arms, making the male spear attendant wonder how he managed to see with his eyes covered by bandages.
The Ghosthound struck again, smashing his huge spear into the woman, and her face twisted into a look of pure hatred as his attack knocked her a meter backwards. Advancing quickly, the Ghosthound pressed his advantage, attacking before she could regain her center of gravity.
They weren’t even huge blows, those attacks. They were non-skill strikes. But it was clear that the Ghosthound’s physical specs far outstripped the womans. She hopped backwards, hoping to make space, but he continued to advance, that black obsidian spear smashing again and again against her guard.
Twisting her feet, Kishta moved with a strange animal grace, finally managing to create some distance. The Ghosthound raised his spear, his feet settling to follow with the absolutely haunting Spear Phantom’s Footwork, but then he hesitated.
"You..." Kishta's eyes were murderous, and it was easy for the male spear attendant to understand why. He shook his head sadly.
He too, when he first met the Ghosthound, thought that he would easily crush the man. But he was less spear user, more monster, with a growth rate that surpassed the imagination.
He should be more respectful, but the male spear attendant just found himself annoyed at this junior who took so long to realize a lesson he, himself, had already learned.
"You forced me to this... consider yourself proud!" Kishta yelled, her eyes glowing. The ground beneath hem began to rumble.
Randidly couldn’t help but roll his. He hoped every spoiled spear user wouldn’t be this cliche.