“Those two, who are they?”
“Hmm, not from the Gold sector. I can look into them later if you want.” Replied Fujo.
“No need.” He smiled as he said that.
‘Most likely from the Iron sector. Ha! Zest, you haven’t wasted any time.’
“The first round of the preliminaries has concluded. May the remaining one hundred and fifty rookies make their way onto the stage.”
Nyoka and the remaining rookies carefully walked up. It didn’t take a genius to realise that the air of competition had clearly risen in potency.
Although, it wasn’t publicised, it was common knowledge within the Association that the top one hundred rookies would be prioritised before the others. Benefits, resources, treatment, care, tutelage, all of these would be given in larger quantity and quality to those who proved worthy. The rookie Ranking tournament was just one of many tests the Association uses to filter out the average from the truly exceptional.
For Fire guardians getting into the top one hundred on the Rookie Rank stone was exceedingly tough. Once again, the fact that the Alchemy Association was biased towards Alchemists could be attributed as the main cause of this.
After this tournament concludes, the rankings on the stone will temporarily have more Fire Guardians in the top one hundred than Alchemists. This however, will soon seize to be the case once the Alchemist’s rookie test, the Winter Concealed Scriptures display takes place later in the year. The rankings on the stone will then revert back to having a majority of Alchemists at the top.
In the past, the percentage of Alchemists in the top hundred was seventy percent to a measly thirty for Fire Guardians and naturally, the Fire Guardians were usually located close to the bottom of the hundred. Therefore, if a Rookie Fire Guardian wanted to get into the top one hundred and stay there, their performance during the Ranking tournament needed to be beyond good.
With the one hundred and fifty rookies all assembled on the stage. Laniya nodded.
“For the final round of the preliminaries, the Association has prepared a special challenge to best determine where the current crop of rookies stand in their training. Everything from decision making to raw skills will be encompassed in this challenge therefore, prepare your minds because everything you do is being closely examined and analysed to determine your rank. As for the rules of this challenge, there is but only one. Stay on the stage.”
Before the participants could question her, Laniya had already disappeared from the stage. From the distance came her powerful voice. “Begin!”
The already huge metallic stage abruptly started expanding outwards. The stage rumbled for a few seconds before settling down once the expansion of about another fifty meters was complete.
The rookies on stage, Nyoka included, were confused by this. If their objective was to remain on the stage then what purpose did the expansion serve?
In the middle of the metallic structure, a long yet thin yellow rod, suddenly rose up from below. It stood upright, firmly embedded into the surface of the stage however, that was all. There was no imposing aura being leaked out from it nor were there any striking inscriptions to be seen on its body. Appearance wise, it looked completely ordinary but for it be placed in the middle of the stage, the rookies understood that there was definitely more to it than meets the eye.
As expected, the yellow rod started spinning at an unbelievable speed, impossible for the naked eye to keep up with.
A streak of yellow lightning hit one of the unprepared rookies squarely on the chest. Surprisingly, despite its speed the streak did not pierce through the Beast’s body, instead sending him flying through the air, blood and mangled pieces of flesh falling from the sky before he ultimately plopped down, unconscious due to the pain.
Seeing this, the other rookies were instantly sent into high alert. All of their focus was kept on the yellow rod lest they suffer the same fate. Jumping off was probably a better option compared to being disfigured by the blunt force that streak of lightning possessed.
The yellow rod taking up all of their attention, the competitors failed to react in time when the stage beneath their feet shockingly began shrinking. Some of them lost their footing due to the unstableness and in that moment,
Another streak of lightning flashed past, and unable to escape in time, another participant was wrecked by its pure force.
Those who had been calm before quickly experienced cold sweat flowing down their backs and to make matters worse, the speed at which the stage was shrinking had without warning, increased.
‘This test isn’t simple. Who came up with it?’ wondered Zilan. Not only was it physically and mentally taxing but with one look he could tell that there existed a meaning beneath the surface, just that he had yet to figure it out.
As the stage grew smaller the space that before seemed quite large was now, in an unexpected turn of events, completely not enough. With less space to manoeuvre, the yellow streak would be able to pick off its targets much easier.
The yellow lightning shot out again, only this time its target was Nyoka.
Seeing the danger approaching, her expression turned grave and it was clear she was flustered, on the brink of panicking. However, with the streak just about to hit her, her body actually twisted about in an unimaginable fashion, easily avoiding being hit.
“That was?!” Zilan’s eyes widened in disbelief but he quickly calmed himself after confirming that the technique she displayed was not the one he was thinking of.
‘Must be a Serpentine Divine ability. For a moment I thought it was the [Boneless technique].’
The Boneless technique was exactly as its name implied. The body could move as if it didn’t have bones, it was an extremely terrifying supplementary technique to defend against since the attacks were unpredictable to the extreme. If coupled with a powerful body strengthening art as well as powerful Martial arts manuals then, one could dream about defeating such a practitioner but should forget about killing him or her. The technique has other benefits but all of them revolved around the principle that the body should be flexible yet immovable. Its only detriment was that training in it until the pinnacle was so difficult, that in the history of the technique, the number of people to actually do it can be counted on one’s ten fingers.
“Hoo…Did you see that?” Shouted someone from the crowd.
“As expected from a maiden of the Sumu Alliance.”
“Hey, what’s that person doing?”
“Eh? Is he crazy?”
“Didn’t the rules say that one just has to remain on stage? What is he doing that for?”
Looking over towards where the commotion was brewing, Zilan’s eyes widened for the second time in less than a minute.
‘So that’s what this round is looking for. Clever!’
On the stage, standing at almost eight feet tall, a giant of a Beast who resembled a Wolf but much more muscular with a wider frame, bulkier arms and long serrated teeth could be seen. Unlike other evolved Beasts though, his appearance, aside from the fact that he stood on two feet, was unlike any human Zilan had ever come across.
His long, wild mud-brown fur danced in the wind as he lazily stared at the rest of the participants on the stage. The Beast wore no shirt or anything for that matter, except for a pair of ordinary dark green shorts.
“Troublesome. Father did not say it would be this troublesome.”
He lazily stretched out his left hand and made a fist.
Closing his eyes, he relaxed his breath for a minute. The fur on his body seemed to be transforming, the mud-brown colour suddenly turned into an indistinct mud-brown armour.
The stage was shrinking even quicker now as participants were being blown off left and right by the yellow lightning.
“Troublesome.” His eyes then snapped open and with a speed that produced after images, punched the metallic stage.
Unexpectedly, blunt black spears suddenly pierced out from the stage, accurately hitting at least sixty of the remaining one hundred and ten rookies.
Without injuring them badly, those sixty were hit off the platform, effectively eliminating them.
The remaining fifty people on stage, all stared at the wolf like he was a Monster.
“Too troublesome. Need to end this quickly.”
Hearing his words, the other participants on the platform all seemed to understand something.
“The more people get hit off, the faster the stage shrinks. The rod also starts shooting out lightning at an increased rate.
The rule of this round is to stay on the stage however, the aim of the round is something entirely different. Who will sit and wait for the lightning to pick them off? Who will be aggressive and throw people off to end the round quickly? Who will evade and think their way to victory? These are the questions the person who designed this round wants answered.” Whispered Zilan as he smiled.
Fujo overheard him speaking but he was nowhere near as astonished by his words as he was by the actions of the Wolf on stage.
“How did he do that? He controlled the metal platform?”
“Oh! You don’t know him? He has quite the unique appearance so I thought that you would know him.” Asked Zilan.
“You think I know everyone? I’ve never seen this guy in my life. Anyway tell me how did he manipulate the stage?”
“You think I know everything?”
Zilan, “Okay, I’m not too sure myself but I’m guessing that stage is not made up of metal, at least not entirely. It must consist of all the elements to some level, but only those with great affinity in their element will be able to detect it let alone influence it.”
“What’s his element?”
“You need me to tell you that?”
“Cough, is it earth?”
As the two were talking, the battle in the ring intensified with that Earthen Wolf on the offensive. He took out ten more, increasing the speed of the shrinking yet again.
“You, if you touch me my facti…”
“Troublesome.” With a wave of the wolf’s hand, that person would have to finish his sentence outside the stage.
*Shiu, Shiu, Shiu, Shiu, Shiu*
The yellow rod in the middle of the platform for unknown reasons, simultaneously released multiple streaks of lightning all aimed specifically towards that unstoppable monster.
“Troublesome.” The wolf’s body had started enlarging when he suddenly shivered before looking up and sighing.
“Father is so troublesome.”
Without waiting for the lightning to hit him, the Wolf youth who didn’t look like a youth at all, became a blur and jumped off the platform of his own volition.
Zilan’s eyes narrowed as his gaze remained fixed on that youth. No one dared to approach him or seek justice for him throwing them off the stage and that youth also didn’t pay them any mind, lazily looking up at the platform.
Zilan felt that he had seen enough, he had even gotten more than he bargained for in that wolf but then again, when had anything ever gone easy for him.
“I’ll be leaving. Let me know later on, if anything else of interest happens.”
Fujo blanked out for a second before turning towards the walking Zilan,
“What makes you think I want to stay?”
“Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll be able to find at least a few ‘beautiful’ reasons to stay.” He then left the arena.
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