This time, I knew more of what I was doing than the first time that I had been to one of these meetings. As the Keepers began to file into the gaming area, I took a closer look at the names on each door. With the knowledge of the games that can be bought on the market, I knew a bit more about how they were able to keep things fair, so I wasn’t as concerned.
Of course, that didn’t mean I was assured of my victory in any game I played. Rather, I just was more confident that I wouldn’t be a punching bag… Big difference there. For instance, I saw one door that listed a racing game. My current reaction times would not be nearly enough to compete with the experienced Keepers, so it would be best to avoid those.
I debated starting with the Keeper Sim game, since I knew the grand prize for winning that tournament was a thousand points. However, I wanted something new first. I even saw a door which was labeled ‘Keeper’s Cards’, which at least showed that there was one other game here that I would be familiar with.
Ultimately, however, I still wanted to get warmed up with something new. Dip my feet in unfamiliar waters, so that I would have a greater understanding of how things go. The door that I first went through was one labeled ‘Combat Tournament’. I knew that I wouldn’t be a match for those ultra-powerful Keepers who have been doing this for decades, but at the same time I was sure that the rules would give me a chance. And if not, then I could simply bow out and try something else.
Though, I did leave quite a bit before it was time to do so, and arrived in the tournament room early as well. It was still surprising that I was nearly the first one here, aside from a woman standing at the far end of the room. One who I assumed was either a member of the Gilded Branch, or one of Grimor’s companions.
The room itself was large, with dozens of square stands spread throughout the area. On the far end, she stood alone against the wall, giving me a small nod as I entered. Her appearance looked human, but I couldn’t really be sure these days…
I found a spot to stand and wait, knowing it would be useless to try to get her to explain the rules to me before everyone had arrived. It just wouldn’t make sense if she did agree to it. And sure enough, after a few more minutes passed, people began to wander into the room. Some of them looked curious, as if they were trying it for the first time like myself. Others, confident and likely to be returning players.
Of course, something that those confident people all had in common was their physique. They were all toned, for their body types, with defined muscles and sharp eyes. At least the name on the door wasn’t misleading…
Once roughly thirty people had filed into the room, the companion clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention, the sound echoing in the room unnaturally. Definitely a companion. “Okay, everyone. Looks like we got some first-timers in here, so I’ll go over the rules!”
The companion had a grin on her face as she looked towards a few people within the crowd, myself included. “This is a one on one combat tournament. Before each fight, you will be given time to design the character you want to compete as. You will be given one minute to acclimate to your new body before the match begins, and the match ends with either Keeper’s death.”
One of the more curious Keeper’s paled at that, looking to the companion and asking in a shaking tone. “D-death? You mean we could actually die doing this?”
An echoing laugh rang through the crowd from the veterans, while the companion simply smirked knowingly. “Fret not. We’re using a system-regulated method, and no death here is permanent. Can we get a couple of volunteers to demonstrate?”
Two of the veterans immediately stepped forward. One was a four-armed cyclopean with two horns on the back of his head, and dark red skin. The other was what I could only call an orc. Tall, green skin, and bulging muscles. The two of them obviously knew each other, going by the grin that they shared when they approached one of the stages.
Once they moved into position, they began to maneuver their hands as if they were interacting with a message window, while the companion again spoke. “The standard for power in this tournament is for a Rank 1 Keeper on their home ground. For those of you that haven’t entered the Games yet, that means a Keeper who has just qualified, and isn’t strong enough to face the big boys yet.”
“Any systems can be used, as long as the game does not judge that the total power level has risen above the first rank. In the event that you choose a set of systems reliant on items, you can create an inventory for yourself to take with you. None of the items used here are real, naturally, so you won’t be able to keep them after the fight.”
As she finished her explanation, the two Keepers vanished from their positions at the stage. At the same time, a large projection appeared above the stage, showing the two of them in different locations. “This is the preparation phase. Both combatants will be stationed at a random point in an artificial world with a size rating of three. Once the minute has ended, they will be allowed to leave their areas to search for their opponents.”
“To prevent this fighting tournament from being a game of hide and seek, the world will constantly shrink as time goes on. After ten minutes, the world will be down to a size zero, making it easy for them to find their target. If they still can’t find them, then five minutes later the world will be the size of one of these stages, and the one knocked out first will lose. This means that most matches will have a time limit of fifteen standard minutes!”
It was likely that she timed her explanation with the countdown, because as soon as she finished speaking the two people moved into action. Both fighters had chosen to keep their own bodies, so it was easy to identify them. It took them less than a minute to run into each other, at which point the two of them began an all-out melee brawl.
I could see blue and golden energies flying between their bodies, but it was hard to accurately grasp their movements due to the speed that they were going at. It was hard to say whether or not I’d even be able to keep up with them if I went all out using my current limit of power. All I could see were the blurred punches and kicks, and hear the deafening roars that came with every strike.
This went on for another five minutes, with neither side seeming to have an advantage. Until suddenly, the four-armed cyclops clapped his hands together to release a green shockwave. The orc-like Keeper was caught off-guard for a brief moment, which allowed his opponent to stab his four hands directly through the man’s chest.
There was a gasp from the crowd, no doubt the same Keeper who had raised the question of death in the first place. However, as the orc’s body seemed to go limp, the projection faded. Moments later, the two Keepers appeared at their original places at the stage again. The red-skinned Keeper carried a triumphant smile, whereas the other shook his head.
“And that’s your demonstration. As you all just saw, MeanGreen clearly died just now under MissTery’s final blow.” A round of chuckles rang through the gathered Keepers as the four-armed fighter’s Keeper title was revealed by the companion. Yet, she didn’t seem to care at all and continued. “Like this, everyone can be assured that the game is totally safe. This all happens under the system’s eye, and there are no true deaths here.”
Her words spread a wave of relief throughout the newer Keepers, myself included. I had seen from the games you could get from the system that it was possible to simulate death as part of the game, so I knew that it could happen like that. However, getting a first-hand example did help me to believe that nothing was going to go wrong.
“Now!” She clapped her hands again to get everyone’s attention, her green eyes shining. “This is an elimination-style tournament. If you lose, you will be entered into the loser’s bracket to determine your final standing. If you are eliminated a second time, you are out. The winner of the loser’s bracket will have the chance to challenge the runner-up for their title. And if they win, they will be allowed one shot at the champion.”
“Everyone, take a look at the back of your primary appendage, where you will find a number. I took the liberty of marking each of you during this explanation, and those numbers will be the stage that you report to for your first fight. Before the tournament begins, you will have ten minutes to check the system and familiarize yourself with it. Then, five minutes to set your character, and finally one minute to prepare before the fight.”
I turned the back of my right hand over, and found the number eight written on it in black. Oh yeah, definitely one of Grimor’s companions. If she was able to do all of this, she had to have way more than Guest Privileges. This place had to be like her own home.
Still, I did move towards the eighth stage. At it, I thankfully found another of the new Keepers, judging by how they had looked before the rules were explained. A brief glance through the room told me that all of the new Keepers had been paired up together, and not just the two of us.
“Good luck.” The man across from me said. I could tell that he was a martial artist by his outfit, which looked like a tight black robe tied-off and cut just below the waist, his legs covered with matching loose pants. He was the very picture of a martial artist from Earth, aside from the fact that his skin was a light grey and he only had three fingers on each hand.
“You too.” I gave him a brief nod, before stepping up to the stage to take a look at the system. Immediately, a display appeared, looking similar to the one in the Keeper market with various purchasable systems. There were even ‘preset’ characters that you could choose to play as.
Naturally, I wanted something that I could take advantage of with my limited training. My own body was the one I was most familiar with, so I left it alone. For the powers, I gave it mana and ki, allowing myself to create chakra. Though… just to be safe, I turned to raise a question towards the companion hosting the tournament.
“I have sealed spirit entity within me. Will it come to any harm in this game?” A few other contestants raised their heads at that, either surprised at the reveal of information or simply curious about the answer.
“Nope.” The companion answered with a light shrug. “Your body, and everything within it, are saved the moment the match begins, so everything will be returned to its previous state when the match is over.”
That helped to calm me down a lot, since otherwise I would have immediately left the tournament. After all, if Leowynn were going to be killed just because I entered a fight, then that would not at all be worth the prizes. And, although the companion herself did not mention what the prizes were, they had apparently already been registered with the system.
The first place champion of the game would go home with fifteen hundred points. Second place would get one thousand, and third place would get five hundred. After them, fourth would get two hundred points, but nobody else would see a reward.
I gave a small nod as I read that, before returning to the display to begin setting up my character. As I was scrolling through the list, I saw something interesting, which I couldn’t help but smiling about. One of the systems of magic that could be used in this tournament, our very own card magic.