The Preliminaries Begin
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome, to the one hundredth and seventy-sixth Martial Arts Tournament, the one hundredth and seventy-sixth Destia Trome! Today finally marks the day where our festivities will once again begin!”
The master of ceremonies appeared to be using some sort of magic in order to amplify the volume of his voice. It echoed throughout the massive stadium even though he wasn’t shouting at the top of his lungs. The crowd seemed used to it, however, as his voice functioned as a cue that led it to cheer.
Unlike the spectators, who were situated in seats located all around the stadium, I was leaning on a guardrail with Zaien slung over my shoulders. But like them, I too was focused on the act of observation. Specifically, I was panning my gaze around the arena and taking in the sights. The excellent view I had was enabled by my current position. I was located on a viewing platform connected to my waiting room. It was placed in close proximity to the arena that would soon serve as the stage in which the tournament’s participants would vie for superiority. And as such, I could easily see every seat on the opposite side of the tournament so long as I chose to direct my gaze upwards. Many had already been filled. It was just the preliminaries, but a large number of people had eagerly come to observe the battles that would soon unfold nonetheless.
“A pair of special guests will be joining us this afternoon,” continued the MC. “Both our very own King Phynar and Gojim, Chief of the Fiends, will soon be joining us!”
Hearing the announcement led me to cock an eyebrow. I was more surprised than not to hear that the king would be participating in the event, as I had assumed that he would have taken the opportunity in order to work behind the scenes. I guess that means he’s probably done everything he needs to personally attend to. I mean, it’s not like he’s gotta personally take command of every little thing, right?
Another equally surprising fact was that I would finally get to see the enemy faction’s leader in person; I hadn’t expected him to show up either.
The way he had been addressed was indicative of the sheer extent of his authority. The master of ceremonies thought of him as someone so important that he had mentioned him alongside the king, the person that supposedly lorded over the demon realm. I wonder what he’s like.
My original understanding of the fiend faction was warped. I had thought that the term fiend denoted a specific race or group of races, but I was wrong. I would have been more correct a few hundred years ago, as the term used to refer to ancient demons that spawned through spontaneous generation. They were the individuals that Lefi often referred to when she spoke of the demons she had met in her past. As such, I had assumed that modern fiends were their descendants, that they were demons that happened to be more powerful than others as a result of their lineage.
But alas, again, I was wrong. It was true that many modern fiends had descended from ancient fiends, and that they judged others based purely off of their bloodlines and pedigree, but it was more than just that. The individuals that labelled themselves fiends were more Jehovah’s Witnesses than they were anything else. The product that they sold was akin to a religion, one that worshipped the concept of power.
While they did believe that blood was important, they weren’t completely unwilling to change their own definitions of what was and wasn’t good blood. Fiends had the tendency to label all those willing to support them as pure-blooded fiends and denote their enemies as mudblooded weaklings. These definitions and the cult’s willingness to adjust them was what had made the faction and its adherents so widespread.
Most ancient fiends apparently had their races end in demon, so I had assumed that all individuals with races that followed the aforementioned pattern were a part of the modern faction. But again, I was wrong. That said, it was, in fact, more likely than not for any individual with demon in their race to be a part of the faction than not. You know, if this whole thing’s just one big cult, then I’m pretty sure the guy in charge is probably the type of dude that radiates charisma.
My thoughts were poised to continue wandering all over the place, but they were interrupted before they could get much further. The door connecting the deck to the waiting room swung open to reveal a member of the event’s staff, one holding something that seemed to resemble a ledger.
The staff member took a few moments to explain the day’s agenda. Being outside, we were naturally exposed to the audience’s ridiculously loud cheers. But as I could hear him clearly nonetheless, I didn’t bother leaving the guardrail. To summarize, we were going to be called chronologically by number. One through fifty made up the first group, fifty-one through a hundred made up the second, and so on and so forth. The first round was set to start at ten in the morning, and each was prone to taking anywhere between one and two hours.
“Looks like we’re going to have to wait a bit,” I said.
“We’re third?” asked Enne, telepathically.
“Seems like it. We’re probably going to have to fight somewhere around lunchtime,” I said. “We might be able to start around noon if the first two rounds are fast.”
Blech. Talk about bad timing.
“We’re going to have to fight hungry,” said Enne.
“Probably, yeah,” I said with a light chuckle. “Why don’t we grab something good to make up for it later.”
“Okay,” said Enne. “I can’t wait.”
Though I hadn’t realized it at the time, the people around us were giving us a series of stares. They were weirded out by the fact that I was talking to my sword, but I continued to do exactly that regardless.
“The first preliminary round will now begin!”
The MC’s declaration raised the curtain on the martial arts tournament and led the audience to explode into a series of wild cheers.
Watching the preliminaries hadn’t proven all that entertaining. The real tournament wasn’t set to start until tomorrow, so we were stuck with nothing but a series of messy battle royales. Anyone that had ever won a round in anything beyond the preliminaries was seeded, which in turn meant that the fights we watched contained nothing but a bunch of weaklings. The whole fifty man free for all aspect made the endeavour a lot more interesting from a visual standpoint, but it didn’t change the fact that each individual was still incredibly weak. To make matters even worse, the entire thing was more or less just a massive slugfest, a contest of brute strength where people charged at each other and kept punching until one of the two parties collapsed. There were a few guys that seemed somewhat impressive, but not because they were particularly strong or skilled. They just happened to stand out because they happened to have a thing for acrobatics.
The average fighter was basically nothing next to the adventurer I had fought back when it was prince season. Man, thinking back, he really was pretty damn strong, huh? Though I guess there’s not really much of a point comparing him to these fools, seeing as how this is still just the prelims and whatnot. You’d probably have to wait until tomorrow if you wanted to see anything interesting.
“The third preliminary match will be starting shortly. All participants, please head over to the stage immediately.”
Like everyone else set to participate in round three, I adhered to the announcement and made my way out towards the massive stage in which the fights took place. A single step was all I needed to exit the hallway and step into the arena, but the difference between the two zones was stark. Taking the step felt like putting a foot into a whole other world. The first thing I felt upon exposing myself to the outside was a rush of excitement. And not just my own. The crowd was raring for the fight to begin, and their energy was focused entirely on the stage. Likewise, the other fighters were so tense and worked up that one could almost feel their spirits burn just by being in their proximity.
Looking up, I noticed that a large crystal orb was suspended in the air above me. It was about the size of the massive screen one would find in a baseball stadium, and like said screen, its function was to provide a magnified view of the stage with a focus on actions of interest. Man, this world sure is weird. Most of their tech is like stuff out of the dark ages, but then they’ve got shit like this. What the actual fuck?
“It looks like all of the third preliminary round’s participants have gathered. So without further ado, let the fight begin!”
A low resonant note rang throughout the stadium as one of the event’s staff members struck a large gong.
The sound caused the amount of excitement in the air to suddenly spike. And with it rose the temperature. Everyone leapt into action and immediately engaged in a sweaty, all-out brawl.
People shouted war cries as their weapons met.
Of course, I too was the subject of some degree of aggression. A pair of assailants drew their weapons and charged at me with the spirits blazing despite the fact that I was more or less standing still and not really doing much of anything at all.
“Drop dead, brat!” roared one.
“I’m going to murder you!” screamed another.
Welp, time to do the thing. We’ve yet to have lunch, so I’mma just wrap this up real quick and then go meet back up with Leila.
“Cover your ears real quick, will ya?”
Wait. I know I literally just told her to do it, but does Enne even have ears when she’s just a sword? How the hell does she even hear in that form anyway? Man, you know, this is coming pretty late, but Enne sure is one mysterious creature, isn’t she? I smiled wryly as I entertained a few thoughts before taking a deep breath.
And then, upon turning towards the two out for my head, I released all the air I had taken in at once.
With a roar.
The ground shook.
The air shook.
Everything shook as my primal cry rang loud as thunder.
One by one, the other fighters began dropping like flies. Those closest to me were first to fall, but the others further away soon followed suit. The more distance between us there was, the longer it took the individual to fall. But fall they did.
A few seconds was all it took for me to end up as the last man standing.
All that followed was a moment of silence. None of the other fighters could so much as make a noise. The same went for the crowd. It had stopped responding in its entirety. Well then. And here I was thinking that there’d be at least a few left standing. Oh well, whatever. Works for me.
The skill I had activated was none other than the one I had obtained after murdering the brain-damaged dragon supposedly crowned his species’ king. Its effect was to intimidate all foes in range, and in doing so, dull their movements. In other words, it provided crowd control in the form of a slow. However, as demonstrated, it was also capable of knocking out my foes if they were too much weaker than me.
“I-I can’t believe it! The match is already over! One of our contestants has defeated all forty-nine of his peers with nothing but a roar!”
The MC’s voices served to snap the crowd out of the trance that the sudden change in the situation had left them in. Its members once again began to cheer just as vigorously as they had the moment the match began. Well, demon king, there you are. You wanted me to stand out, so I stood out. But don’t you think that this is all I have in store. Heh. Now listen up, plebs, ‘cause demon lords have got way more juice in them than just a roar or two.
And so, I won my preliminary match without so much as drawing Enne from her sheath.
Two men stood side by side in one of the walkways between the seating zones meant for the event’s spectators. The preliminaries had already begun, and as such, they were the only two still in the area. Each was observing the stage with a pair of sharp gazes, gazes completely devoid of all the excitement that possessed the rest of the crowd.
“Who’s the guy in the mask?” asked one.
“Phynar snuck him into the competition a few days ago,” replied the other. He claims to have been born in Regighihegg, but that’s most likely false.”
“You think he might be the mercenary that everyone’s been talking about?”
“That certainly does seem to be the case,” spat the second man in a spiteful tone. “And that means that he is only here to sully our honour. Despicable.”
The term honour may not have been one that seemed all that important at first glance. But as a matter of fact, it was. As men that believed in a doctrine supporting power over all else, the two discussing the masked man’s identity felt that honour was something to be valued and preserved. The loss of one’s honour was akin to the loss of one’s power. And that, in turn, was no different from the loss of one’s rightful place in the world.
“He certainly does seem strong. Do you have any clue who he really is?”
“That’s something we’re still investigating. We’ve yet to figure out the details.”
“He looks like the type to be beyond the reaches of our control. But it doesn’t matter. If he’s going to get in our way, then we’ll crush him the way we would any other obstacle,” said the observer. “Erase him. Erase him before his first real match.”
“Your orders are my will.”
“What a barbaric conversation you two are having.”
A third voice suddenly joined in on the conversation.
“What!?” Its presence caused both fiends to spin around in surprise.
And as they did, they were greeted by the sight of a hood. One of the two immediately reached into his pocket, drew a knife, and launched an attack, but it never reached its target. His arm fell right from his shoulder before it did. Blood immediately began to erupt from the cleanly cut stump.
Neither of the two knew exactly when he had drawn it, but the hooded figure had in his hands a naked, bloody blade.
“Graaaaaaaagh!?” The man that lost his arm began to scream after a brief delay. It was a loud shout that normally would have attracted plenty of attention. But the crowd drowned it out. Their cheers were so loud that none could hear the expression of his anguish.
Upon seeing his comrade fall, the second man immediately turned around and began to run.
“No, no, no, get back here. I can’t have you doing that. I’d really rather not be yelled at for letting you get away.”
The moment the man took his first step was the moment his head flew from his shoulders. There was a shower of blood, and then, nothing. He collapsed before he even had the chance to scream. That wasn’t to say that there weren’t any screams, however.
His companion began to squeal like a terrified piglet.
“Oh, don’t you worry. I won’t be killing you. The two of us? We have plenty to talk about,” the hooded figure laughed in a dark tone as he grabbed the armless fiend by the scruff. “I really do appreciate My King’s newest ally. He’s making my job much, much easier.”
The moment he finished speaking was the moment the hooded figure suddenly disappeared. And it wasn’t just him. The corpse, the blood, and the armless man were gone too. All of it had, in an instant, vanished without a trace.