In spite of all the tension the demon summoner’s attacks had caused throughout Generasi, the venue for The Games of Roal was one of the cheeriest looking places Alex had seen in a long time. Well, maybe not as cheery as the Rainbow Tower with literal rainbows shimmering inside, but close enough.
The main tournament grounds were set up on campus to take advantage of the facilities that were already there, like the stadium and sky-track.
Seemingly overnight, an absolute sea of tents and deceptively permanent-looking buildings had been erected on campus. Alex figured that by using magic, one could build all kinds of stuff pretty quickly. In Alric it took weeks to set up for festivals that were a fraction of the size of The Games.
Since it was still early morning, there weren’t too many people around yet, though there were a number of folks setting up, and competitors for the games were walking around, doing the same thing that Alex’s group was: scoping out the competition, prizes, and where they’d be competing.
In the early morning sunlight, a mix of peoples from Generasi and far beyond were organizing their carts, tents, and stalls, throughout the venue, and completing the installation of magically erected buildings made of colourful woods in all shapes and heights. Dozens of languages rang through the air, mixing with the aromas of a variety of foods: some Alex recognized, and some he didn’t. It was the same with the languages, and he kept listening closely, planning to take in as many as he could to go over later.
He also watched different folks around them, gathering valuable information about their body language from their movements.
Alex looked high up above them where a busy sky reminded him of the vespara’s swarm with how packed it was. Loads of sky-ships, flying beasts and sky-gondolas soared through the air, arriving with people from the city bright and early. Judging by how many were already coming by air, the area would soon be filled with people, and that wasn’t even taking into account the crowds that’d be making their way over from the city by foot or carriage.
His eyes returned to the people around him. There were plenty of Watchers of Roal and city guards patrolling the grounds as a presence to keep order, and be on the lookout for the elusive summoner. According to Isolde, fights and even riots had broken out at previous games. Not to mention all the illegal gambling, excessive drinking and other hot-blooded activities that went hand in hand.
Among the crowd, he spotted folks that he thought might be more than just the average spectator, vendor, or Games official. If he was reading their body language right, then he’d already picked out at least half a dozen plainclothesmen in less than half an hour.
He didn’t point them out to his friends: he just kept his eyes out for them. And, for the demon summoner.
There was no one around the area who seemed overly suspicious—no one that screamed ‘hey I summon demons!’ or anything like that—he didn’t even see any of the other expedition team mem-
At one end of a long pathway, he suddenly spotted Amir—looking as tired and worn out as usual—walking with his own group. He recognized Sinbrock—the dwarven grad student who worked with Professor Val’Rok, and who’d been the invigilator for some of his exams—and some of Professor Jules’ grad students, some who were on the expedition team, and some who weren’t.
There were also three other people with Amir who Alex didn’t recognize: a laughing, heavy set fellow with dark hair, a thin, rangy young man with a pale complexion who was also laughing, and a tall red haired young woman who looked just as tired as Amir.
‘Are any of them the summoner?’ Alex wondered.
From their body language, none of them were acting in any way that stood out, but following closely behind, officers were blending in with the crowd. It looked like all of the expedition team was being followed.
He glanced at Isolde as the group made their way through the colourful tents and stalls.
“You ever…” he paused. “Think about who the traitor might be?”
The tall young woman froze in the middle of examining armour on display outside an armourer's stall.
“Well that was a question right out of the blue,” she said.
Most of their group turned toward him. Thundar and Grimloch were more focused on food that was on display. A nearby vendor had an entire goat roasting on a spit, and the smell of garlic was filling the air around them.
Alex idly wondered how Baelin would feel if he saw it. Then again, Thundar ate beef, so maybe he wouldn’t care either.
“Yeah, it kinda is but…being here at The Games has me thinking about it.” He glanced meaningfully down the street, and Isolde followed his gaze until her blue eyes caught sight of Amir, Sinbrock and their other companions as they rounded a corner.
“It just got me wondering. Lots of people here. I dunno, maybe I’m just overthinking things, but every time I see one of the team now, I can’t help but think about it.”
Khalik sighed. “A sad state. Such distrust has ended empires.”
“And yet there is nothing we can do about it.” Isolde frowned. “I must admit that I have my suspicions about some of the members…if that was what you were asking, but I cannot help but feel that sharing those suspicions would be as bad as idle gossip and do more harm than good.”
“Yeah…” Alex said. “Yeah, I get ya. Trust and all that.”
He looked up at the sky again. Morning was getting on. Selina and the Lus would be waking up soon.
“In any case, let’s go scout out what we’re fighting for. It’ll be a lot cheerier than thinking about traitors and demons.”
“Oh holy shit, I am so glad I entered these Games,” Alex said, barely resisting the urge to press himself against the glass.
“Hm,” Khalik said. “I thought there would be more. Some prize purses in the past have been much greater.”
“Truly,” Isolde sniffed. “Even last year the prizes were superior.”
Thundar and Alex looked at each other.
“You two really need a better idea of what ‘average wealth is’,” Thundar snorted. “This is a hell of a lot. Like a hell of a lot.”
“Agreed,” Theresa gaped.
“Yeeeeah,” Alex muttered.
The prizes for the various events in The Games of Roal were on display in the central square of the event grounds. On a raised platform, behind magically reinforced glass and watched by several squads of Watchers, were wonders that glittered in the morning light.
There were multiple suits of full plate armour inlaid with gold and precious jewels displayed as prizes for combat oriented events, like the sky-joust and the grand melee. There were swords with jewelled hilts, and other weapons that bore glyphs with strong—and deadly—enchantments. For other events, magical items like cloaks that always kept one protected from the elements, or boots infused with glyphs of running enhancement, would be presented to the winners.
Cornucopias spilled open with rare magical fruits, or herbs and minerals that were worth a small ransom to alchemists.
Then there was the gold.
There was a lot of gold.
Many of the events—instead of a fabulously crafted or even magical item—offered large purses filled with glittering gold coins.
Alex rushed over to the section that displayed prizes for the Proxy battles.
“See that, Claygon?” He pointed. “That’s what we’re going to be trying to win.”
To his disappointment—but only a little—there didn’t seem to be any special magical items or other interesting prizes displayed for the Proxy battles. He supposed that made sense: the prizes for other competitions were useful for that event. Bows could be won for the archery contest, for example.
However, the Proxy battle was a battle between summoned monsters, tamed creatures, constructs and other beasts or creations controlled by wizards. Wizards’ pets and companions were so varied in shape and kind, that it would have been impossible to know what kind of physical prize would be useful to an as yet unknown winner.
A magical collar, for example, would be two collars too few for Brutus, and probably wouldn’t fit Claygon, nor be of any use to him. Armour would need to be fitted to a creature’s body, which wouldn’t be helpful to a summoner who didn’t consistently summon the same kind of monster.
So the practical solution was on display: cold, hard coin.
And there was a lot of it.
His eyes skimmed over the grand prizes for the lighter divisions:
Three hundred and fifty gold pieces for the light-weight division.
Five hundred gold pieces for the medium-weight one.
One thousand for the heavy-weight, and…
His eyes grew so wide they nearly rolled out of his head.
Fifteen hundred gold pieces for the super-heavy weight division.
“That’s a lot of bloody coin,” he murmured, checking out the prizes for second and third place, which were purses of seven hundred and fifty, and three hundred and seventy fight gold pieces respectively. “How come it’s so much bloody money?”
“What do you mean?” Isolde asked as she was examining some of the other prizes.
“Yeah what do you mea-Oh by The Traveller!” Theresa cried, staring at the purses. “That’s more than my entire family makes in about ten years back in Alric!”
“Yeah, and it’s a hell of a lot less than the standing bounty for the mana vampire, which you know…involves risking your life.” Thundar said.
“Indeed,” Isolde said. “But that is also not a spectator sport that brings thousands of paying visitors from many of the realms north and south of the Prinean Sea just to see the spectacle. Coin begets coin: and many people pay to watch the sport, so those that win are handsomely rewarded.”
“Oh yeah, cuz it has so much more value than you know, actually destroying super dangerous mana vampires that would kill everyone.” Alex snorted.
Khalik shrugged. “It is the way of things. A soldier in an army risks their life for their lords and their kingdom. Meanwhile, a bard with a wealthy patron lives on the pay and luxury of their liege, and merely has to sing on command. Three guesses as to who has more coin poured into their coffers?”
“Ugh, ah well. And I guess that’s why super-heavy weight winners get the best prizes?”
“Now you are thinking,” Khalik said. “It is the most popular of the proxy battles—watching big monsters defeat each other is more of a spectacle than watching small ones—and so that event has the most funds for its prizes.”
“Fair enough, better for me I guess. Wait. The Grand Battle is super popular, right?” He walked along the glass as the crowd around the prizes grew. “So what’s the prize for-Holy ever loving shit!”
His eyes fell upon a massive chest filled with gold.
The sign below showed how much coin filled the chest.
“22,500?!” he gasped at the amount. “What in the ever loving hells! That…that could buy a castle!”
He looked at Isolde and Khalik. “That could buy a castle, right?”
“Depending on where you build…perhaps a small one,” Khalik nodded. “What do you think, Isolde?”
“Indeed, the land would be a major expense…then there is the labour. Perhaps it could buy a flat-house or small townhouse in Generasi, depending on the district one looked in.”
Alex and Theresa looked at each other, shocked at the sheer amount of wealth being casually thrown around during the conversation. Alex told himself that in his future, earning that kind of coin was going to really have to be part of his plans.
He was sure Claygon was worth a lot more than that, but he’d rather lose an arm than lose his golem. Well, maybe not lose an arm but-
“Ah, but remember.” Isolde tapped the side of her nose, interrupting Alex’s thoughts. “That prize must be split with up to a maximum of fifteen people on a team. So that is the reason the amount must be so bloated.”
“Then what the hell is the grand prize for the whole tournament?” Alex rushed over and looked at the prize on the highest display.
Rising from the top bracket was another chest filled with ten thousand gold pieces. From that chest standing straight like a young tree that had been planted in the center, was a wizard’s staff.
The haft was pure platinum and covered with glyphs, and it had a massive ruby sitting on top, a ruby as big as one of Selina’s fists. Alex could see enchantments for spells of Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Flame Wall and Flame Scythe built into the glyphs.
“By The Traveller, that’s nice,” Alex muttered. He couldn’t use the spells built into it because they were too advanced and because of The Mark, but it looked really cool. His eyes went wide when he saw that it too was worth ten thousand gold pieces. “So the grand prize for all the games is ten thousand gold, plus a battle staff worth another ten. And that goes to one person. No wonder people come from so far away to compete and watch.”
He noticed that the sheer amount of points needed for the prize was…pretty much impossible for him to earn. Placing in different events gave you different levels of ‘points’ that counted toward the whole tournament. It looked like the Grand Battle was worth a lot, but the Duel by Proxy was worth less compared to other events, like the Sky-Joust.
It seemed like he’d have to compete in about five different events to have a shot at getting enough points to win one of the overall tournament prizes.
“There’s always next year,” he said. “Hey Theresa, what’s the top prize for the Grand Land Hunt?”
She pointed up at it. “It looks like it’s a magical quiver that never runs out of arrows, and some sort of hunter’s horn.” She squinted at the horn’s effects. “It says it can only be heard by people you want to hear it, to everyone else, it’s silent. And whoever hears it, sees a clear image of whatever the person blowing the horn sees. Hmm...that would be great for teams of hunters.”
“Alright, we’ll go for that then.” Alex said.
“Now that we’ve seen what’s on offer and what we can qualify for, why do we not split up here?” Khalik suggested. “We can scout out the locations of our individual events before the crowds become too thick.”
“Yeah, good idea,” Alex said, looking up at Claygon. “Come on, let’s see where we’ll be fighting, big guy.”