Luckily, most of the participants didn't need much sleep, so everyone was present at dawn, when the fighting began. It was single elimination to stay in the winners bracket, but the top two individual from the losers, who would be put in battle royal after battle royal until the winners reached the top 6, would finish out the top 8.
Even then, after the top 8 were determined, fights would continue, because they wanted to determine not only finish in the tournament, but also, the percentile they finished in. It wasn't explicitly stated in the Ghosthound's presentation, but they would be dividing the participants into percentiles, and awarding them "Contribution" points. For example, a person who was in the 64% percentile would get 6 points. And this was from the combat portion alone. You would be able to display your individual combat contribution, of course, as a show of strength, but you might also be able to combine it with your participation in the Tactics section, to have a higher contribution amount.
There would be badges available, already forged by Sam and his workers, which would provide various benefits. In fact, upon the return of the Ghosthound, Sam had exploded with ways to improve the contribution pins, giving them a much more appealing amount of stat bonuses. Already, Sam had requested that Mrs. Hamilton provide him with a talented NCC-er with a high Mana pool. It hadn’t been feasible previously to have a few Classers dedicated to Mana Engraving, but now with the library of runes that Randidly brought...
Donny and Mrs. Hamilton were working through the specifics of what benefits you would receive from having a higher contribution, but it would be noticable. And it would be pushed up or down depending on how you interacted with people who weren't familiar with Donnyton, incentivizing helping the tourists. Donny planned on being able to give away a few more points. This, of course, necessitated a census, and something like a Social Security Number in order to keep everyone straight, but Mrs. Hamilton turned out to already have such a compilation. Slightly disturbing, but useful.
The second reason that Donny didn't know whether to laugh or cry was that he couldn't help but feel that the movers and shakers of Donnyton were overrepresented in the Final 8 of the Combat tournament: the 6 that came from the winners bracket were Alana, Tykes, Decklan, Kayle, Paolo, and a fire-mage named Tina. From the loser's bracket, an absolute beast of a man, who rivaled Dozer in size, who called himself Thor emerged, as well as Jaylen, whose Class was Magician.
...shouldn't we have let some of the working Class in Donnyton work up to this point, and taste their share of glory...?
But Donny supposed this was for the best. The Ghosthound needed to have a look at their best, and this was their best, aside from both Dozer and Annie, who hadn't participated in the tournament to watch the baby.
The matches for the top 8 were selected by random drawing. Decklan would face Kayle, Alana would face Jaylen, Thor would go up against Paolo, and Tykes would face Tina.
These matches were a level higher than those they had seen in the past, because now everyone was forced to bring out their hidden Skills. All the participants here had levels in the 40s, and the difference in stats wasn't so sizable that one could easily handle the other. And to Donny's surprise, the first match was Decklan losing to Kayle.
As it turned out, Kayle was the ultimate opponent of Decklan. There were very few exemplary things about Kayle, aside from his leadership and Skill in tactics. But his Perception and Reaction stat were unusually high, and his mastery with his duel knives was such that very few attacks could get through his defense. Although Decklan was powerful in assassination attempts, and in burst power he was probably the highest in Donnyton, he wasn't able to use that to its full effect in a 1v1 situation. He could only become frustrated, and then succumb to the small wounds that Kayle inflicted upon him.
Aside from the first match, Alana was able to trounce the misleading and beguiling Jaylen and Paolo demonstrated to Thor how size wasn't everything to power. The fourth match was also interesting, because Tykes was in a bad predicament.
After a bit of inquiring, it came out that Tina was not affiliated with any Squad, so it was no surprise that she wasn't on anyone's radar. But she did have purely fire focused magics, and the ability to shoot Flamethrowers, Fire Grenades, and also Flame Slashes, which possessed very different areas of effect. Reading the report that was hurriedly brought to him, Donny wasn't surprised that they hadn't been aware of her until now. She had mostly participated in the clearings of the nearby Turtletown, going into the dungeon with some friends, avoiding the sanctioned trips. But she was sharp, and she was methodical.
It was clear to Donny that Tina was not aiming for a win early, as Tykes stumbled multiple times, rushing for her. Instead, she focused on pushing him back, and working on slowly burning through his Stamina.
Tykes realized her strategy 30 seconds too late, and with a roar, he charged at her directly. But she just Flame Slashed towards his legs, and tossed a Fire Grenade to keep him from closing the last dozen or so feet between them. Again he was forced back, and now, without anymore strength, he was forced to concede in the face her Flamethrower.
Donny's brow wrinkled as he watched Tykes spike his large iron ball into the arena, leaving a huge hole, and then stomp off. That kid...
But the matches continued, as an individual with Earth Mastery healed the wound he had left. The semi-finals would be Alana versus Paolo, and Kayle versus Tina.
"I'll see you in the finals," Paolo said, with an exaggerated bow.
Kayle snorted. "Perhaps I'll be in the finals, but you..."
The two of them glanced at Alana, who was beginning to glow a warm gold color, the energy from the sun filling her, driving her forward. Both of them winced.
The matches started without much fanfare, the attention of even the losers, aside from Tykes, focused on this battle. Alana and Paolo's fight turned into a grind, where both were just slowly landing hits on the other, dealing damage, and pulling back to recover quickly, before skirmishing again. This continued for almost 10 minutes, before Alana started to rely more heavily on her Skills, which were superior, even to an untrained eye. She simply started to overwhelm Paolo, pushing him slowly back, until he conceded.
In Donny's eyes, it was an honorable loss, although a tragic one. In the wake of it, Donny couldn't help but wonder how his own Skills compared to Alana's. She was a monster, birthed from common origins, but Blessed by the Ghosthound, and she had quickly overtaken basically everyone to become the most feared fighter in Donnyton. Even Lucifer had turned down her request for a duel, although his attention had truly been focused mostly on clearing out Raid Bosses of late.
To everyone's surprise, as Paolo sat on the sidelines, a towel over his head, a man in a cloak and bare feet, the only such man in the entirety of Donnyton, stepped out of the crowd and walked over towards the bench on which the depressed man sat. He sat down next to him.
"Where's your pride?" When the Ghosthound had walked out, everyone had fell silent. Which made his insult echo strangely in the arena. And afterwards... well, no one could come up with an answer to THAT.
Paolo looked up, the expression on his face hidden by the towel. The Ghosthound continued. "Your Class is the Grappler, yes? Yet you do not embrace the core tenant... pride in the ring. When she is there, she is doomed to be suppressed, for that is your area. While she would be more comfortable on the battlefield... you should show her how stifling the dueling arena can be. Can you see it?"
As he spoke, a strange aura spread slowly out from the Ghosthound. A suffocation. A pressure that couldn't be understood with the typical human mind, a primal, animalistic thing, where the very breath caught in your chest, escaping understanding, avoiding it.
Even Donny, as he opened his mouth, felt that nothing could happen but stillness. He was... completely suppressed.
Then the moment passed, and the entire crowd breathed out a sigh of relief.
"Do you understand?" The crowd shivered then, because that cloaked figure was now ominous, his power to suppress most everyone here made clear. That strength was not a fluke. It was the spine of Donnyton, that kept them all almost invulnerable in the face of the threats arrayed against them. It was the Ghosthound, spreading his wings.
"Huhuhu... to think it was as easy as this. Thank you, Mr. Ghosthound." Paolo said standing, whipping the towel off of his face. And from his body, a different aura exploded, a strange energy, that seemed to spread outward in a wave, hitting the blood of everyone in the vicinity, and setting that blood buzzing. It was a resonance, a beautiful call and response, a power that no one could ignore. And the more their blood resonated... the straight Paolo seemed to stand, the heavier his shadow was, as if it became more real with every audience member.