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“So… how did you win so easily?” Kathy asked from across the platform, still confused by her loss. “My harpies seemed to have had an advantage at the start, right?”

I nodded, and then began explaining. “You never upgraded them, so my centaurs were able to overpower them. Games like this were pretty popular in my world, and upgrading your units is typically a basic strategy.”

“Oh…” She said, dejectedly, looking down. “My world never got that far, I guess. This is my first time ever seeing a game like this.” Suddenly, she looked up, slapping her cheeks with both hands. “No, I won’t give up that easily! Let’s play another game, I can do better this time!”

We played a second game, and again I chose the centaur race. It’s not like they are overpowered or anything, but I am already getting familiar with them. Maybe next game, I’ll try something new.

Anyways, the second game lasted over twice as long as the first. On my end, I again decided to stock up on archers quickly, building a defensive fort. However, I managed to get all the way to the exploration age with technology before my scouts found her base. Or, I guess you could call it a hive, instead.

This time, Kathy had chosen to go with her own people, the arachne. Maybe she had more confidence with playing them, but either way it turned into a big disadvantage for me. The base for her arachne was a cave system in a tall mountain. Given the centaur’s size and body types, they were not really suitable for climbs like that.

I almost thought that I would have to either concede the match, or wait until I got a big gun to level the entire mountain. And, it really did almost come to that. Being forced into a defensive strategy once again, I concentrated on advancing my people further and further. When I reached the information age, I got exactly what I was needing.

Centaurs, being unable to properly traverse certain terrains, had equipment and technology available in the information age that solved that issue. Specifically, they possessed flying drones. After setting up an automated drone factory, I built up my future invasion force, when something truly terrifying happened.

I had set up a sentry tower near Kathy’s mountain, so that the main display would let me keep an eye on it. And, on that large display at the center of the platform, I saw a flood of black oozing out of the mountain. There had to be thousands of arachne, enough that when they had fully exited the cave system, the mountain itself had turned black.

I could only watch as that flood of enemies made its way to the sentry tower, immediately engulfing it. Just barely, I saw a few puffs of smoke rise up from the defeated centaur, before the screen returned to the standard view of mountains and plains. “Here I come~.” Kathy called out with a smile, obviously pleased with herself.

I wasn’t sure if she had spent everything on new units, just to flood me in the late game, but whatever it was definitely worked in her favor. I deployed my few dozen drones to meet her army, having them attack from a safe distance. The automated weapons mowed down wide paths of enemies, but soon they too were destroyed. About a third of the way into her army, the arache seemed to be carrying weapons. These were rifles, of a sort. Rather than destructive ammunition, they fired sticky nets.

These nets wrapped around my turrets, jamming the propellers and causing them to crash into the ground. From there, it was a simple matter for her army to advance to my base. Fun fact, building walls will not stop spider people from invading…

The end result, although I managed to take quite a few with me, my forces were ultimately crushed. Across from me, Kathy’s legs were skittering along the podium happily, while she raised her hands into the air. “Yay! I did it!” She exclaimed happily.

At that time, I was just about to ask for another game, when the same voice we heard before echoed out through the room. “The tournament is about to begin. Non-participants, please vacate the gaming platforms. Anyone still remaining on a platform at the end of the count will be considered a participant.”

“The first prize for this tournament is one thousand points. Second place will earn three hundred, and third place will earn one hundred. In each match, the contestants may decide amongst themselves which game mode they wish to play. Each contestant will be required to face every other contestant before the tournament is concluded, and the amount of wins will determine the final placings.”

“In the event of a tie, both parties will face each other to settle the final victor.” There was a brief pause before the voice began speaking again. “The tournament will begin in thirty seconds. Thirty, twenty-nine..” He slowly counted down, and I looked around to see several people climb up to the platforms, until all of them were occupied. Looking across from myself, I saw that Kathy was excited to participate in this tournament, and showed no signs of moving.

As for myself, I might as well. The other rooms were likely starting their first tournaments about now, so I didn’t have any time to learn another game before it began. Even if I have no hope of winning, it should be fun.

“Three, two, one. Let the games, begin!” There was a brief flash of white throughout the room, and I realized that the positions of the participants had all changed. Across from me was no longer Kathy, but a tall, blue man with four arms.

He gave me an indifferent nod as he saw me. “New guy, right. Battle mode, then?”

I hadn’t played with any of the other modes yet, so battle mode was the only one I even stood a remote chance in. Naturally, I agreed, and the first round began. For this round, I chose to play as demons, the same race I had taken note of on the market a while back.

My starting creatures were five imps, and from my map, I appeared to be in an underground cave. This will probably work to my advantage, geographically. I smiled, setting all five to work on mining the gem pillars embedded in the walls. “As you say.” One of the imps spoke out as they flapped their tiny wings to quickly reach the gems.

Unlike the centaurs, each imp only cost me a single point to buy. However, I had to get special buildings in order to unlock their evolutions. They very much reminded me of another race in a game I had played in the past, which made it somewhat easier.

Within ten minutes, I had upgraded my starting five imps to earth demons, allowing them to dig and mine with increased efficiency. I was also breeding hellhounds, and expanding my cave system to create a larger base. Finally, I had advanced my technology to the exploration age, allowing for even more abilities for my demons.

I didn’t actually see my opponent’s forces until nearly half an hour in, when I was at the information age of technology. Doing this allowed me to create some interesting units, specifically the demon lords. Each demon lord required a vast quantity of gems, but also possessed an incredible fighting strength.

When I saw them, I couldn’t help but click my tongue in annoyance. He had chosen to play the humans, and I stumbled upon one of his mines. Although it was accidental, it gave him an easy way to find me, giving up my element of surprise. However, it also let me know where to find him, so I tested the waters by sending out one of my demon lords, while setting up contingency bases throughout my tunnels.

The demon lord quickly emerged from the mine, spitting out black flames that destroyed his miners and the few troops he had gathered to defend the mine itself. From there, it stepped out and began attacking the town he had made near the mine. With the loss of troops, he wasn’t able to defend that town, and it was quickly lost.

“So, that’s how you want it, huh?” He shook his head, and watched as his city burned. He had already created roads to use for trade routes, so I ordered my demon lord to follow those roads, while my earth demons dug out a tunnel underground to follow. Honestly, it felt like I was using an epic unit as a simple scout, but in this case it worked.

My demon lord found the next base soon enough, a large fort city. At this one, there was a party of five people waiting at the gate, each one equipped with a weapon. For one, it was a glowing, golden sword. The other four had what seemed to be large rifles, and all were ready for the demon’s arrival.

Enchanted weapons? I looked at the golden sword curiously. I hadn’t seen any options yet to buy magic-related items. I couldn’t help but look to my opponent and ask. “How did you get a sword like that?”

He glanced up at me, largely uninterested. “You need to find mana stone veins, if you want to unlock the magic development route.” As if that explanation was enough, he looked back to the battle that was about to take place.

My demon lord didn’t seem to fear the enchanted weapon, and charged forward. Under suppressing fire by the four riflemen, he suffered minor injuries before appearing before the swordsman. However, with a single swipe of his sword, he managed to inflict a fatal wound on the demon lord.

I watched, stunned as the scene returned to the default one, marking the battle as over. I had been preparing my tunneling crew to launch an attack from below, but after that display I had second thoughts. In my mind, five demon lords should have been enough to take out anything short of a nuke, yet he was countered in a single blow.

I knew that I had probably already lost this round, but still proceeded to expand underground. And… that was probably a bad decision, on my part. Later, I knew that I should have left my tunnels and established surface bases as soon as he knew how to find me, but the thought did not cross my mind until it was too late.

As if viewing a cinematic scene, the central platform shifted to show a view of a large lake, five men standing along its borders carrying staves. I was confused, because as far as I could tell, I had no units in the area to trigger a combat event. Soon though, my confusion was replaced by shock when those mages began casting their spell.

Five mages, working in concert, opened a hole beneath the lake. I watched as the water funneled down, through the new drain created, and knew what was happening. Quickly looking at my map, I found a flood washing through the tunnels faster than I could stop it. In an effort to halt the tide, I had earth demons collapse the tunnels, only for the rubble to get washed away.

Although this tactic did not completely destroy all of my bases, over ninety percent of my forces had died in that one attack, including all of my demon lords. With a sigh, I shook my head and looked at the other party. “I lost.”

The platform immediately shifted to its inactive state, and the man gave a nod. Soon, he vanished in a flash of light, only to be replaced a moment later by a more energetic, short humanoid. I could only guess that the new man was a halfling by his stature, and he excitedly greeted me. He apparently recognized me as one of the new Keepers, as well, and we had another battle round.

This time, I again chose the demon race, for their geographical advantage. Starting underground was a big plus, as long as you kept an eye out for the dangers. But, again, this time I managed to lose. The cause of my defeat this time was actually that my opponent simply advanced too quickly while I was trying to find the mana stones that I had been told about. The sight of dozens of halflings wearing storm trooper armor and firing laser rifles was… not what I had expected.

In the third round, I actually managed to find the mana stones, and started making magic demons. This time, I managed to pull in a win, albeit a close one. My opponent had been using a heavily defensive strategy, so I was able to tunnel into the center of their base and overwhelm them.

The matches continued like this. Out of the thirty-nine rounds, all of them were in the battle mode. However, I did not stick with demons the entire time. Every few rounds, I would change the race I was using, as a way to understand their strengths and weaknesses. I tried out humans, demons, centaurs, angels, even slime people at one point. That was an interesting round.

I knew my chances of winning lowered every time I changed to a new race, but that didn’t really matter to me. I was doing this as a learning experience, and I knew that I wasn’t going to win even if I chose one race for all of the games. What I was doing was testing the waters, learning as much as I could about the physical abilities of each race, for future knowledge.

In the end, I had only gotten eight wins out of all thirty-nine matches. To my surprise, Kathy actually managed to get third place. And she was crying tears of joy when she was up on the stand, waving to everyone. Most likely, she used the same flood strategy that she used against me in her later games.

Smiling for her success, I slowly slipped out of the room to see what else this place had to offer. I wanted to at least get one more game in, before I went back to my own world. I had to admit, these were kind of fun.
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