Kishta Darth was the nurtured chosen disciple of the Blooming Flower Style. This Style wasn't particularly powerful in the Northern Region, but it had affiliations with the leading Style of the Eastern Region, which was eyeing the relatively less competitive Northern Region. This Style was the first probe, and Kishta was the chosen poster child.
If she were able to achieve exemplary results in the tournament, the Blooming Flower Style would earn prestige, and finally be able to step out from the periphery to be one of the more well known Styles in the Northern Region.
However, the elders of the style were realistic, although Kishta was an extremely talented seed, she hadn't yet come into her true skill as a Spear user. She had rushed up in levels too quickly to improve her strength, not focusing on her skill levels.
Still, the Eastern forces wanted to still make a splash, so they had ensured that recently, Kishta had spent quite a bit of time training in less mainstream arts, giving Kishta a weapon the elders were sure to catch her opponents by surprise.
Which was why it rankled Kishta that she was forced to use it so early. But results outweighed methods. She could not lose to a prelim cretin, especially when he so clearly was the type to overinvest in strength, earning himself a ridiculous power, regardless of his true skill. In Kishta's mind, she knew that if it became a battle of endurance, this fool who invested so heavily in the physical attack stats would run out of stamina and lose.
But that would take some time, especially if he realized her plan, and also it wouldn't achieve the splashy results that the Eastern Style demanded. She had no choice.
"You forced me to this..." She spat out, glaring daggers at her opponent, "Consider yourself proud!"
To Kishta's disappointment, the man simply hesitated, and then advanced towards her, his face blank. He was a tall man of lean muscles and dark hair to his shoulders. He was strangely pale of skin, but otherwise he seemed like an unimpressive spear user. The only detail that revealed his infuriating strength was his vivid emerald eyes. Those eyes had dispassionately looked at her the entire fight, calmly analyzing, not even seeming to recognize her for her well admired beauty and prestige.
That moment when she attacked, and his emerald eyes widened with panic.... Kishta was looking forward to it.
A wave of mana spread outwards, as she marshalled her forces, and then the spell kicked in. Thin, extremely numerous roots crept upward from the ground. They were thin and weak individually, but when several dozen wrapped around your legs, their strength was more than enough to slow a spear user down.
That was the secret weapon they had worked so hard on these past few months. She had refined the rather useless skill Entangling Roots into Root Manipulation, allowing her to rather simply seal off the movements of other spear users.
Kishta had become extremely proficient at using and controlling these roots while attacking. So she lowered her spear and rushed forward, pouring all of her mana out in a huge explosion of roots from the ground. Hundreds of these thin roots surged upwards, wrapping around her opponent's ankles and knees. More surged forward, heading for his arms.
As Kishta prepared to execute her Blooming Strike Skill, she glanced very quickly at her opponent’s eyes, searching for that fear. Instead, she found that his gaze was filled with a strange.... pitty.
"Is this... a joke...?" Her opponent whispered, seemingly talking to himself, and Kishta flushed. It was true, this wasn't honorable. And also, based on the fact that her opponent hadn't used many movement skills, he could still rely on his superior strength without changing his battle style overmuch. But once he was locked down, she could slowly slice this fool to pieces, for the glory of her Style.
"A win's a win! Prepare to be crushed-"
Kishta blinked. Three huge roots, gnarled, monstrous things that seemed strangely gold and luminescent ripped out of the ground and flailed back and forth, ripping through all of her roots.
Kishta froze, which was a mistake; in a huge swing, one of the three roots whipped outwards and smashed into her thigh, and she heard the bone crack. With a low cry, she fell to the ground.
"What.... what was....?"
Kishta was at a loss, her perspective rattled. Her opponent shook his head and looked to the referee, who shrugged. "Technically she still has the capacity to fight, and she has not given up. The match must continue."
Sighing, her opponent turned back to her, his emerald eyes lightening to fresh cut grass in summer. "Fine. Stand up and raise your spear. It is only in spear skills that you have the strength to fight me."
"You!" Kishta hissed, leaping to her feet. This method was carefully considered by the elders of her Style., and it would carry her to a high finish in the tournament! They had lauded her as a genius when it came to combining battle strategy with spells. Her mastery over Entangling Roots gifted her with Root Manipulation faster than they had ever seen! And now this foolish preliminary trash dared mock her?
Using all of her mana in a single go, the ground exploded with roots, thousands of the small, pale green things stretching forward, aiming for the spear user opposite her.
In slow motion, Kishta watched the man she faced shake his head.
The next moment, Kishta felt her body pierced by several strong forces in quick succession, and she lowered her gaze to find that she had been riddled with sharp roots, her mobility completely destroyed. Then blood began to gush from the huge wounds inflicted on her, and swiftly her consciousness departed.
"This.. this wasn't how.... it was... supposed to..."
Then the darkness claimed her.
"After the first round," The head referee began, as he spoke right before the second round of fights were announced. "13 individuals voluntarily withdrew from the tournament, due to unrelated reasons.”
Randidly grimaced, and a lot of the preliminary participants had similar expressions on their faces. Most of those withdrawals were due to injuries that couldn't be recovered from within the requisite amount of time between rounds. In a way, it was more honorable to just surrender, without wasting the audience's time with matches that were meaningless.
But Randidly felt some cold gazes on his back, and squared his shoulders.
It seemed that one of those withdrawals was from the individual he had fought against, but he couldn't really bother to care. Before he had been even able to work off the nerves of fighting in front of the huge crowd and find a rhythm with their spear fight, she had challenged him with roots. It was one of the most silly things that had happened to him in recent memory.
Randidly had even sensed that if he had wanted, he could seize control of her roots with his superior grade skill, Root Control. But what would have been the point? So Randidly crushed her mercilessly, ending the fight as quickly as possible. Randidly did not believe that her injuries had been so serious they couldn't be recovered in the interim, so the mental blow he had given her by destroying her roots must have crushed her will to fight.
Based on his performance, Randidly had earned the dubious nickname as the "1st Prince" among the preliminary participants. There were 5 Princes in total, for the 5 preliminary spear users who defeated individuals from the larger Styles. Randidly had faced a relatively weak one, but still, those numbers were discouraging. That meant that 71 out of 76 victories had gone to the larger Styles.
And based on the excitement generated by Randidly and the other 4, this was the highest amount of victories that preliminary entrants had managed in decades.
These thoughts faded away as Randidly began to meditate focusing on the issue at hand. Slowly, the second round began, and more names were called and summoned to the stage.
Relatively quickly, Randidly's name was called. "Azriel Blanche. Randidly Ghosthound."
There was a tremor in the crowd as the two contestants headed to the stage, the first stage. After ascending the stairs from the underground waiting area, Randidly turned and found himself facing a slim girl. She had white hair hanging to her waist, and her eyes were a bloody red. In her hands she held a strange, slender spear, that was pointed on both ends. It seemed more like a needle than a spear. She wore an ensemble of black leather that left her shoulders bare, and seemed eminently capable in it.
Her gaze was frigid and remorseless, but seemed to be calculating something as she examined him in turn. She was, Randidly admitted to himself, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
"They won't have told you," The girl, Azriel, began, "But I am one of the two most likely to win this Regional Tournament. Your matching with me... was not an accident, Mr. First Prince, Ghosthound."
Randidly remained silent, sizing her up. But she kept talking.
"But in fact... I care very little for the honor of the Styles that hold sway in the North. I would like to thank you, on their behalf, for ridding us of someone weak. She was judged fairly, and failed. To purge the Northern Region of that weakness… it truly is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?"