Chapter 159 – First Round
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The doors of the holding room swept open, the outside air blasting through. The roars of the crowd followed it, their stomps shaking the ground. The tournament participants made their way out of the room, the cheers intensifying as the crowd saw them. Yuki and Yuna held back until about half of the people had exited before following them out. 

‘They didn’t change the arena yet,’ Yuki thought as he looked around.

The arena was barren and flat, the floor made out of dirt and sand. It seemed almost the same as the one Yuki had fought in during last year’s tournament. But a few differences could be seen. For one, the size of the arena was much larger than the old one. Instead of a circle, the arena was that of a rectangle, the edges curved. The stands were higher up and there were giant holographic screens that floated in the center. 

‘It looks more like a sports arena rather than a coliseum. I guess that would make sense for the format they have this time.’

“These fifty people here are your contestants for this year’s tournament,” the announcer said, his voice grand and booming. “They have come from all years in the Academy and are here to fight each other for one prize. A coveted spot in Libra’s most elite forces, the Libra Taskforce. I wonder how well they will fare today.”

The man paused, letting the crowd’s cheers lull before continuing. 

“This year’s tournament is quite the special one,” he said. Yuki could almost hear the man’s smile. “It will be split among three days. The first day, today, of course, has already been announced to the competitors. The next two days, however, are complete mysteries.”

An ooo resonated from the crowd.

“To add to that, we are allowing teams. Something we have not done in over a hundred years. In this group participates, we have various teams of various sizes. Anywhere from four people to someone striking out on their own. Brave souls those people are. There’s a reason we allowed teams. And that reason will be discovered soon.”

Two people in uniform that signified them as Academy staff members, guided the participants that were in the middle of the arena to the side. Some of the competitors voiced questions that were either ignored or hushed. 

‘Oh. They’re going to display the function of the arena now. This is something I’m very interested in,’ Yuki thought. 

He positioned himself so that his gaze was unobstructed, a straight line down the middle, his eyes set on the center of the arena. Yuna stood next to him as he crouched down. He placed his palm onto the ground and waited for it to begin. 

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, we get to the real excitement scheduled for today. As you know, the first round is an obstacle. Of sorts.” The man let out a small laugh. “These combatants might find a few surprises here and there. But it is an obstacle course in its nature. However, you the audience are looking at this field with questioning faces. Faces that asked, how can this flat dirt ground possibly be an obstacle course. Am I wrong?”

The crowd roared back.

“Well, my friends. You are correct. That sad flat ground is not the terrain of today’s round. Let’s change that shall we?” 

Yuki felt a surge of mana from the ground that centered around the middle of the arena floor and resonated outward. The ground began to shake soon after and something not short of a miracle appeared before his eyes.

The flat dirt ground was being transformed into something else completely. Parts of it rose up while most of it sunk down. Water flooded the place and plants sprung up until the arena had become a vast swamp land. Platforms and towering rock formations jut out from beneath. And with the sudden changes in the terrain came another surprise. Monsters, holographic ones, appeared, populating the platforms and filling the water. These holographs were not the clear ones that the Academy students were so used to. They were realistic, their colors vivid and sharp.

‘I need to get some time alone and analyse that spell,’ Yuki thought. ‘It’s something I would never have expected from people that weren’t demons. Must be a genius.’

“Welcome to the Swamplands!” the announcer’s voice boomed with glee. “We thought that its murky waters and towering trees weren’t enough for what we have planned. So we’ve added a few elements of our own. An earth one and a fire one. But I won’t go too much into that. There’s also monsters, did I forget to say that? Maybe not real ones, but boy can they hurt. I’ve fought one of them before. I would say that even a third year would have some trouble with them.”

The crowd oohed as the people around Yuki let out groans.

‘Should be good practice.’

“Let’s get our participants into position now, why don’t we?” 

The two staff members guided the group of participants to the entrance of another room. Group by group, people entered, some in fours and others by themselves, just like how the announcer said.

‘I don’t know if it’s confidence or lack of foresight that drove people to go by themselves. If teams are allowed, then some sort of team based competition would be expected.’

Yuki and Yuna waited a minute or two until it was their turn to go into the room. Inside it were four platforms that resembled transporters. A staff member guided Yuki to one of the plates and Yuna to the other. 

“You will be sent to a random place in the arena in just a moment,” the staff member informed them. “You will not be sent together. Are there any questions?”

“No,” Yuna said. Yuki shook his head.

“Good. Best of luck to you,” the member said.

A bright flash followed his words and when the light cleared, Yuki found himself standing on a platform high up in the air. The roars of the crowd soon reached his ears again. He looked around himself and noticed other people located in random locations in the arena. He reached out with his hand and was met with a barrier.

‘Interesting.’

“As our participants get set into place, allow me to explain the objective for today’s round,” the announcer said. “Scattered about the Swamplands are twenty golden coins. The goal is simple. Retrieve one of the coins, and you pass. Each team needs to only get one coin. Doesn’t that sound so easy?”

‘Yes. If they’re really made of gold, I can find one within the first minute.’

“Of course, these teams will have to hold onto their coins until time is up. And that time is two hours.”

‘There it is.’

“Now let’s get into the safety features of this tournament. Every competitor has on their wrists a bracelet. With this one of a kind bracelet, they can fight to their heart’s content and we can watch every second of it. In these bracelets are also a few spells to prevent any life threatening injuries as well as a few spells to tell us how the person wearing it is doing. And it could all be yours for only five gold pieces!”

The crowd laughed.

“But it seems that everyone is in place. Now we can begin.”

Yuki glanced down and saw that there was no longer a line to enter the small transportation room.

“Let’s put the countdown to one minute!” the announcer exclaimed. The holographic screens that hovered above the arena began to display a timer. “When that timer hits zero, all participants will be free and the first round of this year’s Academy Annual Tournament will begin!”

A loud beep rang out from the screen and the seconds began to count down. Yuki scanned the faces of those that were near him but couldn’t find Yuna. 

‘They must have separated each team as much as they could.’ 

More beeps resonated out as the timer went down to its last ten seconds. The crowd began to stamp their feet, an avalanche of noise rolling through the arena as they waited restlessly for the timer to hit zero. 

‘Find Yuna. Grab a coin. Survive,’ Yuki listed in his head. ‘Simple enough. Compared to the next round.’

The timer blared violently and the barrier in front of Yuki fell as the roars of the crowd rose. Immediately, Yuki leaped off his platform, ignoring the bewildered gazes of those that were near him. Before hitting the ground, he raised the earth to catch him. The soft dirt answered his call and cushioned his fall. Then he rolled off and connected himself to the ground.

‘I can’t use wind here. No one knows that I can use that and I want to keep it that way. Let’s see where Yuna is.’

His mind’s eye expanded out, examining each footstep that hit the earth until he located a few possible suspects that could be Yuna based on their impact that size. He stood and raced forward, avoiding the monsters that were in his path. He would deal with those later.

‘Let’s see possible Yuna number one.’

He leapt up into the trees and crossed the remaining distance between him and his target. When he saw that it wasn’t the person he was looking for, he changed directions and headed toward the next target. 

On the way to the fourth possible target, he ran directly into a monster that dropped from the trees. A jungle viper, within the range of rank c to rank b. Without a moment’s hesitation, Yuki grabbed the folded staff at his waist, expanded it to its actual length, and smashed it into the snake. The snake’s spine snapped instantly, its fangs still bared. Then it disintegrated, ghostly particles flying into the air until it left a gold coin in its wake.

‘Well then.’ Yuki stopped and picked up the glittering coin. ‘That was even easier than I thought it would be. I guess that the coins aren’t actually lying around.’

He pocketed the coin and continued on his quest to locate Yuna. On his sixth target, he found her as well has an entourage of twelve goblins that she was dealing with at an impressive rate. By the time he arrived, she had already dispatched them all.

“You’ve improved,” he commented as he dropped down from the trees into a crouch. 

“I can thank you for that,” Yuna replied. She sheathed her sword. “So now that we’ve regrouped, what’s the next plan of action? Find a coin?”

“Yes. Good news about that, however,” Yuki said. He reached into his pocket and took out the gold coin in it. “I’ve done that already.”

Yuna stared at it, her mouth slightly open.

“You, you found a coin while also looking for me? And you did that in, I think, seven minutes?”

“I was lucky really. I killed a snake and it dropped,” Yuki shrugged. “So now we can go to the next course of action and just survive. Unless you want to lower the competition?”

“What do you mean?” 

“How do you feel about doing a little hoarding?”

 

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