Chapter 17 The Tournament Begins

“Woah, the first fight is like a rivalry!” Veron exclaimed as she found a new seat in the bleachers. The majority of Hales’ class was sitting together, with a few exceptions. It really felt like an ‘us vs them’ scenario as her class carried a distinct target on their backs. The students of the Class for the Savant were the privileged elite with all the help in the world from the military. Even the rich aristocracy seemed less interested in the army cadets.

Hales couldn’t blame the hateful looks and profane insults that were being thrown at her. They were new Specters trained by a famous Master partaking in a tournament for the hell of it. None of them needed to be here. Jealousy could amount for some of the disdain they were receiving, but it mostly came from the fact that the class had a secure future working for Garghent’s military. A lot of the other Savants in the tournament used this as a sort of job interview. Do well and you could be set for life, do poorly and you could leave with a permanent injury.

Hales knew it, the other Specters knew it, and the aristocracy knew it. The fact that her class was participating in the tournament was a farce. All they were doing was screwing up other people’s chance at a decent life. 

Hales could recognize a lot more at play behind the scenes then a mere Specter tourney. The military was, according to Dartan, unaware that this was going on or had gone on in the past. Perhaps a subtle power play by the aristocracy to undermine the military’s monopoly of Specters, which was pretty clear the military’s intention. Hales wasn’t too sure of all the politics going on in the world or even in her own city, but she was glad for one thing, she was on the side of the monopoly.

Whatever gave her the best odds for the future she wanted, that’s all that mattered. If she was on the side of privileged military kids than so be it. Hales would, however, keep her options open to any offers she may get. So far the only person she talked to with the potential for that was Rabio.

Hales’ thoughts were cut off when the two fighters of the first round of the tournament stepped into the arena. This time the whole arena grounds would be open to the duelers.

The fights would now be held one at a time with no clock. Another difference between the actual tournament and preliminaries was the crowd, no one stood in the arena area like they had before. Everyone had found seats in the raised stadium seating, a relative protection at best in case anything crazy went down. An almost guaranteed possibility.

It was also much quieter. For one, there wasn’t fourteen fights happening simultaneously. And two, this was the main tournament, people were getting serious.

Hales tried to tune out the hushed whispers of those around her, but she recalled a comment she heard a couple minutes ago by a classmate. Veron was right, this was a rivalry match.

Jonatan and Yillo. 

Hales heard Emilo a few rows below chuckle at something Garriot had said. Probably at how Yillo was going to get demolished by Jonatan. To be fair, Yillo did tend to lose his fights with Jonatan and his gang.

But Hales noticed a distinct change in Yillo ever since that day on the mountain he came back all bloodied. He was more focused, centered. No less angry though, that wild eyed look of a man on edge still defining his personality.

Hales wasn’t so sure Jonatan could win as easily as everyone seemed to think.

Hales leaned over and whispered to Dartan who sat a couple seats to her left.

“Hey Dartan, what’s Yillo’s record so far?” 

“Five and O’. He had an extra fight at the end.” Dartan explained, “He’s been fighting way better, although Jonatan also won his four fights and pretty flawlessly at that.”

“Jonatan is going to win, no one has been able to beat his Silence field.” Magun added in, his loud personality rendering him incapable of whispering. He was sitting next to Dartan.

Hales leaned back, not wanting to get into a loud argument right before the fight. She studied the two fighters.

Yillo had on what looked like business clothes. Black khaki pants and an untucked long sleeve light-blue button up shirt. His clothing, while formal looking, was clearly made of an athletic fiber. His dirty blond hair was matted down, probably from sweat rather than a comb. Yillo was barefoot, his toenails and fingernails painted white, in his usual style.

Jonatan wore less formal clothing. An old pair of jeans and a white t-shirt highlighted his cruel features by not over complicating his appearance.

Jonatan and Yillo each stood on opposite ends of the arena. The referee overseeing the fight was the only other person on the sandy floor.

All talking ceased when the ref signaled the start of the first duel in the first round of the tournament.

“Fight!” The referee shouted.

Yillo growled the word. “Paroxysm!”

His body flashed a red that steadily grew brighter. With his feet planted he launched himself forward, all the red in his body visibly draining out his leg at the point of impact where his foot exploded off the ground. His leap left the ground as a blackened crater in the sand.

He crossed half the distance of the arena in a second. His redness returned instantly and he made to leap again but Jonatan’s swaggered voice stopped Yillo in his tracks before he could move.

“Silence.” Jonatan grinned cruelly as he spoke. He took a small step forward and activated his field. The bubble growing from the touch of his shoe to the ground. Yillo froze in his spot. Jonatan took a deep breath in, savoring the moment and the fresh scent of oranges that somehow filled the air.

“It’s over, Jonatan knows it too.” Magun whispered this time, his voice was distorted, the sound muffled. 

Yillo was stuck where he was standing. 

“Good try kiddo.” Jonatan said mockingly. His voice resounded clearly in the arena, everyone could hear it as if he were standing right beside you. The arena remained eerily silent when Jonatan wasn’t speaking and when he was, it became plain creepy.

“You want to know why I hate you so much Yillo?” Yillo of course couldn’t respond, not in the field.

Or so he shouldn’t have been able to respond. His speech was slow, yet speak he did.

“Don’t… give… a damn.” Yillo forced the words. He was no longer bright red but instead a deep, dark crimson. Yillo had lost all saturation.

Jonatan’s eyes narrowed. Like everyone else, he didn’t expect a response. 

Jonatan scoffed, unperturbed by the angry man. He made to speak more, but then something surreal happened.

It happened in slow motion. An explosion fire-red grew sluggishly, inexorably out of Yillo. Emerging from the fire, Yillo jumped the rest of the distance to Jonatan, close to ten meters.

He didn’t land immediately, instead gliding through the air at a leisurely pace. Even the flames licked out at an impossibly slow rate. 

Jonatan stood his ground waiting for Yillo to land, his arms in a fighting stance. He had been expecting a one-sided brawl. 

Yillo finally landed, skidding to a halt, the sand kicking up but barely moving beyond that. Yillo returned back to normal skin color. Still there was no noise.

Jonatan smiled and closed the rest of the distance. He was about to deliver a vicious uppercut into Yillo’s chin.

Hales gasped, though the noise muted when it escaped her lips.

Yillo flashed bright red, then to the dark crimson, and then he burst into flames. The force of the heat caused Jonatan to step back, wide eyed. Yillo’s color changed in less than a second. While transition was instant and imperceptible, the final product was not.

Yillo was on fire.

Despite the slowing effect from the field, Yillo moved faster than even Jonatan.

Yillo grabbed his own head around the temple and forehead area as if to nurse a pounding headache and produced a shout that was a mix of pain and fury. Hales could feel the raw bloodlust that seemed to emanate from Yillo.

Yillo froze when he shouted, the sound being cut off.

It was clear to Hales that Yillo was in agony from his own Aspect. He was burning his own body to cinders.

Pockets of light shined through the dark red skin of Yillo. It looked like he was going to burst apart like a time bomb. More and more spots of bright orange light threatened to tear Yillo’s body to pieces.

Yillo somehow found his bearings and flashed his eyes at Jonatan. Eyes that flamed.

Jonatan tried striking out, but Yillo was faster, somehow so much faster.

The punch Yillo delivered obliterated Jonatan’s throat. All color drained into his fist and erupted outward as a pillar of fire that extended several meters. The Silence field was down but the sound of Yillo’s attack wasn’t produced. It’s not the field that snuffed out the sound this time, it was that Yillo’s punch broke the sound barrier.

Blood splattered on the wall behind Jonatan’s still body. The blow was so clean that his head fell right on top of his own shoulders, an expression of horror permanently etched into his lifeless face.

As the body was about to crumple the noise of the punch finally caught up to the scene. The sound of thunder boomed into the arena, the body and head of Jonatan were thrown about like a ragdoll by the delayed shockwave.

Yillo dropped his hands and blinked long and hard. His color was normal, his Aspect deactivated. Steam rose off of his body. He took one glance at the corpse of Jonatan, turned and walked to the referee who then led Yillo into a separate room.

“What the f-” Hales heard Garriot say from further down the bleachers.

Argument and conversation broke out all at once. The arena was no longer quiet as everyone took in the what just happened. The first fight of the tournament ended in a death. Jonatan was out for obvious reasons, and Yillo would be eliminated for killing his opponent.

For once Dartan was at a loss for words. Magun had no time to comment since his fight was next. He got up and started to leave.

“Crnobog is strong, Magun. Be careful.” One student warned. Without looking back Magun responded confidently. “So am I.”

“I haven’t seen Magun this serious in a while.” Dartan spoke aloud to no one in particular, noting the determination in Magun’s marching stance down the stairs.

Crew members swept over the sand, resetting it to an even level as well as removing Jonatan’s body.

Hales overheard a nearby group talking.

“Those bastard military kids killed one of their own.” One guy commented with disgust.

“I’m sure he’ll get promoted real quick, you know how they like ‘em violent.” Another joked.

“Hey, wasn’t that mantis freak also in their class? She killed some poor kid too.”

Hales realized whose group that was. The pair of headphones resting on one of their shoulders gave them away. It was that group with Josua. That vigilante group with the impossible to remember name.

She noticed Antho there too. Isn’t he going to defend our school?

Hales didn’t necessarily think their school was worth defending, but it seemed like it would be the right thing to do.

“I think he’s going to quit.” Veron pointed out. She had eavesdropped too, thinking the same thing.

“The school I mean,” she finished.

“Did he say so?” Hales asked.

“No, I doubt he’ll tell the school. You can just tell. He got what he needed, his Aspect.” Veron said. Dartan scooted a seat over, closer to Hales and Veron and joined in their whispering.

“You’re talking about Antho? I thought the same thing when he came in with Josua. They’re capable, I bet they can get him out of his contract with the military.” Dartan predicted.

“But uh, can we talk about what just happened?” Dartan asked.

“I didn’t think anyone could move through Jonatan’s Silence.” Veron said, her voice astonished but not necessarily disappointed. She probably hadn’t liked him either.

They went back and forth in their discussion with a few other classmates joining in.

Hales sighed. Everyone was just saying what was on their minds. No one was really saying anything substantial. The only thing running through Hales’ mind was the foreshadowing that the fight wrought upon her class.

Jonatan’s death marked the first of their class to be gone. Out of the world just like that. Twenty-four from her class remained.

Hales shivered.

Conversation ceased once more when the referee declared the beginning of the next fight.

“Tank!” Magun started running, not at Crnobog but to the side. He needed to buy time in order for his Aspect to build up.

His cannon arm swelled up faster than Hales had ever seen before.

Crnobog needed no invitation to begin his assault. He started by twisting his hands, as if he were wringing out a wet towel. In turn Magun’s cannon arm began to twist violently, bending out of shape. 

Hales remembered that he didn’t feel pain in his cannon arm, but she wondered what Magun was going to do against this opponent. Hales still ached from her fight with him, and she probably would to some extent for the next few days.

After Magun’s arm was distorted beyond use, Crnobog moved on to the rest of Magun’s body. Magun convulsed instantly. He had a plan though. 

Magun’s cannon grew out of its misshapenness and fired off a bone-shot. Despite the pain that inflicted him, his shot aimed right on target.      

Crnobog had to stop his attack on Magun in order to compress the shot in midair. In that time Magun fired again, and then another.

It was Crnobog’s turn for defense. His face took on more concentration than when he fought Hales.

“Oh, he is human.” Hales said snidely, still bitter over her loss.

Magun didn’t have unlimited ammunition. He stopped firing when his arm was a thin twig. Crnobog restarted his assault. First, he snapped Magun’s arm into two pieces. Magun stood unphased.

Next, Crnobog clapped his hands, which were angled at Magun’s legs. Bone stuck out and Magun cried out in pain as he fell to the ground.

Hales squinted. It wasn’t his actual bone, but the bone that grew from his Aspect.

“Magun’s bluffing.” Hales told Dartan quietly. 

“Are you sure-” Dartan stopped talking when he saw Magun jump to his feet and fire a huge blast of bone shards as he shouted his attack.

“Blunderbuss!”

He had used the splintered bone from his leg to fuel the shot, without compressing it into a cannonball first. Without his cannon arm, a whole in his shoulder served as the barrel. The result was a clos ranged scatter-shot that Crnobog couldn’t completely defend.

The shrapnel tore into Crnobog’s arms and legs, stomach and chest. He had chosen to cover vital areas as opposed to trying to destroy each individual piece of bone.

Hales was genuinely impressed, “I didn’t know Magun could spread his growth that far through his body.”

“Yeah he learned how to really control it just a few days ago.” Dartan explained. The relief in his voice quite clear from knowing that his friend hadn’t been crippled.

“It’s not over yet.” Veron reminded him.

“A battle of attrition.” Dartan said, agreeing.

The two Specters would fight until one of them was worn down more completely than the other. A game of ammunition and stamina. Hales realized her mistake in her fight against Crnobog. She had needed to overwhelm him with stars, even while she was being twisted and crushed from the inside. A steady stream of attacks to distract him. 

Hales cursed herself under her breath. 

I panicked in my fight. Never again, I won’t lose like that again.

Hales stopped berating herself once she saw Magun close the distance. 

Crnobog was visibly getting anxious. That anxiety led to raw anger. He took his index and thumb finger, held it up to eye level and squashed the fingers together. To Hales, it appeared how a child might pretend he were crushing something in the distance, only this wasn’t make belief.

But Magun had figured out how Crnobog’s power worked. He raised his half regrown cannon arm in front of his head and let it take the force of the attack. The arm was crushed into near oblivion once more.

But it was never his cannon arm that he steadily closed the distance for.

It was his other, regular arm, built by years of weight training that he closed the distance. Magun delivered a hook that hit Crnobog square in the chest, temporarily closing off his lungs.

Crnobog wheezed and doubled over. Magun spun into a roundhouse kick that took Crnobog in the head. Crnobog landed hard on the ground, unconscious.

Magun was the winner. Magun was far more clever than he led on. A brute without manners on the outside but a calculating tactician on the inside. His Tank Aspect fit in more ways than one.

Hales found it interesting that Magun always loses to her while sparring, but she lost to Crnobog who just lost to Magun. Aspects weren’t so simple as to say whoever has the best one wins. There were no best Aspects as far as Hales could deduce, it depended more on physical and mental ability. She knew this, or at least was taught this, but seeing it in actual combat, in first hand experience was completely different. Knowledge is only relevant as long as it’s applicable, she thought.

“That was a good fight.” Dartan said grinning.

“Not to mention he gets a free round, since he was in the same bracket as Yillo.” Veron was about to say ‘Yillo and Jonatan’ but she decided against saying the latter’s name.

“That’s only if no one else gets killed.” Talayia said from the row above. She had stayed quiet for a while, brooding in her failure to qualify for the main tournament. Finally her dour mood broke and she was herself again.

“This next fight is going to be good.” Talayia said. “But I don’t think Genjam is the type to kill.”

Hales noted how numb to violence her classmates were becoming. For some she knew they always possessed that bloodlust. Now that they were being exposed to violence she could see how everyone reacts. For most, it was just another game.

This isn’t a sport. But I am just as guilty as the rest of my class, just by being here.

Hales knew in her mind that the middle of the tournament was the wrong time to be second guessing her recent life choices. Get ready for the next fight and nothing else. Hales’ duel was still a few fights out but in combat the loser would automatically be the one who wasn’t sure what they were fighting for.

A better life, fight for that. Be the best and you can have whatever you want. That’s reason enough.

Hales told herself this over and over.

“Karnev is Genjam’s opponent. Should be interesting.” Dartan said responding to Talayia.

Those two fighters stepped into the fighting grounds next. The sand swept over per the usual.

“Fight!” A different referee cycled in, and called for round three to start.

“Palisade.”

“Chaos Blue!”

The two Specters activated their powers. Genjam’s Aspect was unique in being that it was in the Color category, making it rare and highly sought after. Not that it was necessarily stronger than any other Aspect, the categories were subjective ways to differentiate powers for posterity’s sake more so than any other reason.

If nothing else, people wanted Specters with Color’s to see what happens when they become Masters. 

Genjam had a swirling mass of blue dotted with black specks float over his head. With this mass he could form any object that his hands could shape. He created spears by pointing his fingers. They emerged from the blue mass, forming from the total supply of Chaos Blue. Once formed, the spears looked like steel, completely solid and shining in the way only metal does.

He created half a dozen spears, leaving most of his Chaos Blue intact. With a wave of his right hand, fingers spread, and a cameo from his left hand, a single finger pointing out. The floating spears shot forward. One for each finger.

Karnev defended by raising both his hands, palms upwards, into the air. The ground in front of him raised, creating a thick wall of sand and cement.

“It’s composed of the materials he’s near, isn’t it?” Hales asked, referring to Karnev’s wall. Dartan nodded, too engrossed in the fight to give a verbal response.

The spears crashed into the wall, penetrating deep, but not enough to break through.

Genjam closed his fists, which caused his spears to break into thousands of blue and black particles that rushed back to rejoin the mass above Genjam’s head.

Genjam prepared more spears, now that he had a feel for his opponent’s power he was confident to go on offense.

Karnev saw his opportunity.

“Watchmen!” Karnev called. On the battlements of his wall a dozen figures appeared. Clay soldiers armed with bows. As Karnev summoned his offense Genjam waved both his hands out, all ten fingers stretched in a spread.

Ten spears fired from above Genjam’s head. He aimed them higher than the wall and angled down at Karnev.

Karnev’s clay soldiers raised up in time to take the blow of the spears. At least half the spears tore soldiers to pieces, and the other half of the spears were easily avoided when Karnev leaned in close to his wall. The spears landed a meter behind him.

The clay soldiers that remained standing, Hales counted eight, drew the strings on their bows, aimed and fired.

“This is like an ancient battle!” Veron remarked excitedly.

The clay arrows whizzed through the air at Genjam, who reacted by making an O with his hand by curling his fingers. The remaining Chaos Blue formed into a shield in front of Genjam. It wasn’t enough to cover his whole body so he did the most logical thing.

Genjam jumped and drew his knees to himself, curling into a ball in midair protected by his shield. He made the right call as arrows landed around, under, and clanged into his shield, shattering themselves in the process. 

Genjam landed back on the ground and made a fist beside his head, this signaled his weapons to reform back into their original Chaos Blue mass state. 

Hales saw Karnev discard his soldiers, and summon new ones from the ground. It seemed to Hales that it was easier for him to recreate a fresh set of archers than it was to animate them to reload. She could imagine how difficult the process must be. Aspects were like clean slates with a rule book. You can do anything with the slate as long as you follow the rules. Write on it, step on it, whack someone upside the head with it, anything. And the rules could be stretched as long as one was clever enough.

Karnev prepared his next attack, and so did Genjam. It was Genjam who moved faster.

This time he positioned both his hands with palms inward, his fingers set in ninety degree angles toward each other. 

His Chaos Blue transformed into ten more spears that launched immediately after being formed, a process that took barely a second after his hand signs were set.

They shot forward, missing the wall wide. Five going too far to the left and five going too far to the right. Once passed the wall, the spears turned at ninety degree angles and continued on their new course.

Karnev didn’t realized his mistake. After seeing the spears miss his wall he started to summon more archers.

Spears whizzed by from both his sides. At least three punched into him. They hit hard and he was knocked off his feet. Fortunately for him, they were blunt. Genjam wanted to avoid any fatalities, even at the cost of reducing the efficacy of his attack.

The soldiers Karnev summoned ended up raising anyways. He called out in a bruised voice that he surrendered. Karnev was prudent enough to realize Genjam had made a point of keeping his spears blunted.

Round three was over. Another student from the Class for the Savant had won. It took crew members a few minutes to clear the field of all the walls.

“Genjam’s strong. I wonder if we’ll fight in the quarterfinal round.” Magun posed the thought. That would be the next time Magun fought someone after receiving a bye-round from Jonatan and Yillo’s elimination, the opponents he had been bracketed with.

Genjam’s classmates congratulated him. It seemed the crowd had gained some respect for Genjam for fighting without trying to kill. They were still wary of the class as a whole. It was a start if nothing else.

Hales had seven more fights in front of her. She was fine with the wait, it gave her more time to hydrate and allow her body to heal a bit more. She wasn’t tired at all, the nightlife was her element. Being an insomniac had its advantages sometimes, she hoped anyways. 

Hales tuned out once more the conversation from her classmates around her, she was preparing herself mentally since Mathis was returning for the first time in a while, ascending the stairs from the bottom.

Hales sighed, not wanting to do this in front of her friends. She tried not to think about the rich and how they played their games as she watched the next pair of Specters, her classmate Winnow and another Specter named Kris, step to the sand for their battle to the death.