The envoy from Sisiya went directly to Nostalgia. They exchanged a few whispers before they proceeded to the VIP area. Nobody knew what they told her or even if they told her anything.
Even the audience felt there was something strange, but the excitement building up in the competition was just too much for them to pay it any heed.
So all of them are from Sisiya? Armad thought.
"Is she the one that tried to kill you?" Aish asked.
Armad nodded. "Yeah, and those two leading the envoy."
"She is the daughter of emperor Áyúbu. The man on the left is the crown prince of Sisiya, the eldest son of emperor Áyúbu. They call him God's Sword. His real name is Hasan. The younger man is his brother prince Malik." She explained.
"So I made enemies with an emperor?"
"You sound like you are already defeated. Take a glance at the VIP area, can you see that man in grey? The one with closed eyes?"
Armad took a quick look at the VIP area and immediately spotted Uznu Urúrú. "Who is he?"
"That's admiral Uznu Urúrú. As long as he is here, all the participants, including you, are safe. Even the emperors can't trouble you when he's around."
Armad nodded. "How is the Duke?"
Aish smiled widely. "Leave the Duke to me. Focus on the game. Have you ever seen the Statue of Truth?"
"I have, a couple times maybe. They call it Alkadar, right?"
"Yeah, Alkadar in Old Aldurish. So you know how to use it, good. Give it all you can. I'll go back into the VIP area. Be careful of that girl, she is a powerful mind mage. I haven't seen anyone like her in a long time."
She left Armad and headed toward the VIP area, but she suddenly turned around and came back.
"What?" Armad asked.
"I think I'll stay here for the meantime." She said and she found a place near the rings and stood.
"Ma'am, that place may not be safe, I'll advise going back into the VIP... " The nearby guards started but she cut them off.
"I will stay with my candidate, unless if it's not allowed."
"No, ma'am, but.."
Emperor Iluru ordered food and drinks for the VIP area before he went back to his seat beside Uznu. The man still didn't open his eyes; you really wondered what was in there.
"I hope the younger generation is performing well. I will give fifty grade 3 ayrids to all the participants who reach the semifinals. The two that reach the final will have one hundred grade four ayrids each. I'll accept whoever wins the final as my disciple." He drank the juice on his cup. "I'll be handing out the rewards personally to show these smaller countries the importance of the Jinzidal."
"Thank you for upholding peace through the Jinzidal. If we get what we want, we won't forget your contributions." Uznu said.
The emperor narrowed his eyes. He could already guess what the admiral wanted and he didn't like it. But there was nothing he, or anyone, could do about it. Besides, he was a Jinzidal King, he'd already sworn to follow and protect the Agents of Peace.
On the ring, Nostalgia, Armad and Niyashi stood in front of the Alkadar. Nostalgia had recognized Armad long before he even saw her. "Why are you acting as if this is our first meeting?" She said loudly. Niyashi turned around and looked at her with a puzzled expression.
"Is it?" Armad asked with an impassive expression.
"Is this our first meeting?"
Nostalgia sighed. She looked offended. "Listen, sorry for what happened ealier. There's a dark alley west of this arena, meet me there in one hour. My brothers will be there as well. We will explain everything." She said as if what had happened between them was just a simple misunderstanding.
Of all the things he'd expected to hear today, this was the most unlikely. "I'll be there." Armad said. The sarcasm in his voice was palpable.
"Will you look at me when you are talking? I feel like you are ignoring me." She said with a genuine curiosity. Her face a mixture of innocence and seriousness. Armad wished he could beat that expression out of her right now. He had to struggle not to. In the end, he just ignored her and focused on the Alkadar in front of him.
Malik and Hasan also came down to support Nostalgia. Commander Asifu ordered his surbodinates to come down and stood behind prince Niyashi. People from the Third World and the Dénizens also stood behind Hán Amuru and Déniz Bizaya. The only participant who didn't have anyone with him was Tyren. He was alone but he wasn't bothered at all. In fact, he looked more confident than all the others. His gaze was fixed on the sky, staring menacingly at the First World.
As Aish and the others told their candidates what they needed to do to win, Ghalee made another announced. "Listen, everyone, listen. Has any of you ever seen an emperor?"
A resounding 'no' arose from the audience.
"I can't hear you, have you ever seen an emperor?"
"Good. Because today, everyone of you is gonna see an EMPEROR...!! The emperor himself will be giving additional rewards to the winner. Should we assume even the emperor was impressed by what the Invincible Six did?"
Another uproar came from the audience! None of them had ever seen the emperor face-to-face. This was a great opportunity.
Ghalee went on to mention all the rewards as mentioned by the emperor, including the slaves that would be won.
Even the six remaining participants and the members of the high table were moved by the rewards. Aish turned around and looked at the emperor through the transparent glass. She knew the underground empire was rich but this was way beyond her expectations.
Some of the audience fell silent to contemplate the rewards. Ayrid tree was one of the rarest trees in the world. It produced the most special seeds. These seeds were of two types: wet and dry. The dry seeds were processed by the Coin Industries to produce ayrid coins (the most widely used currency). The wet seeds were mostly used for magic enhancement, as ingredients for making pills and potions and for temporary elevation of longevity. Unlike dry seeds, wet seeds were graded depending on their energy content. A grade 1 seed cost about one million ayrid coins. The last time a grade 3 ayrid was auctioned, it was sold for two hundred million coins. No wonder everyone was shocked.
The wood of the ayrid tree was also used to create communication devices called ayrid comms. Depending on the enchantment used, ayrid comms could send instant messages over wide range of distance. It could even create live video feeds.
Ghalee gave the audience enough time to contemplate the stakes before he ordered Armad, Niyashi and Nostalgia to get in line. The Alkadar was brought to the stage.
Alkadar was just a stone statue with a face of glass. Behind the glass there were calibrations, ranging from one to hundred. The chest of the statue had inbuilt enchantments that could convert any attack into numbers, which would be displayed on the face. The highest score would be the winner.
Niyashi was the first to try. He walked to the Alkadar, lifted his spear up and punched it through the chest of the statue. The face glowed and the numbers came to life.
Fifty, sixty, seventy... It reached seventy-five before it slowed down.
The reading slowed down again. But in the end, it reached eighty-nine.
The audience from Burja went into an uproar. Asifu and the others from Burja began to congratulate themselves. It might seem preemptive, but the highest record in any Jinzidal was eighty-eight. If Niyashi broke that record in his first attempt then it was almost a certain success.
Nostalgia, cheered by her brothers, came forward. She used her bare hands to punch the Alkadar.
The statue came to life and the numbers changed from zero to fifty-nine before it slowed down.
Nostalgia looked at the ground in embarrassment. Even the commentator fell silent. First, it was the late arrival of their envoy and now this. Nobody would think a daughter of Áyúbu would perform so bad.
It was finally Armad's turn. He used all his life energy to create a hundred meter wide bolt. The size alone drew a lot of attention. When he hit the statue, its chest absorbed all the lightning. The face lightened up and the numbers moved rapidly from zero to sixty-five, then it slowed down as the size of the bolt reduced.
It slowed down again.
It stopped at eighty-eight. Armad stood motionless, waiting and desperately hoping for the number to move even one step. But it didn't.
"That's one less than Niyashi's, did I lost?" He murmured to himself, unable to believe his eyes. But it was clear; he'd lost the Jinzidal and his first chance of getting the Triple-factor.