Chapter 1:

6th Candidate

Ardent's Fall

Through the rays of sunlight that were passing by the leaves, I was able to see the last stop I needed to take before I finally made it to Lusque.Bookmark here

“Hope this one isn’t as boring as the last one”, I muttered to myself as I made it through the forest, trying to not step on anything, be it bugs due to pure distaste in them, or parts of the forests such as twigs that would wake any sleepings animals in vicinity.Bookmark here

The walk was rather slow, it gave me time to think about what I might need to do next, but after pondering about it for a while, I decided to leave the worst for after I see the village.Bookmark here

After about a 15 minute walk I finally made it.The big rusty sign, “Rez Village”on top of a battered gate greeted me,while not exactly pleasant to look at, it still made me feel quite welcome. Without any delay I entered through the gate, and to my surprise the village was quite lively today, despite having a reputation of being rather calm. Looking around I saw crowds of people just talking, playing table games and generally having a good time. After thinking it was finally time to check out what was happening, I approached one of the confident-looking men that seemed to operate some sort of stall, though I wasn’t sure what he was offering.Bookmark here

“Um, Excuse me, is this how the village always is? Quite the opposite of what I’ve been hearing about it” - I asked rather hesitantly, as I wasn’t sure of their attitude towards outsidersBookmark here

“No no, it’s the damn the sword, the festival is happening again” - Said a man with a rather impressive mustache, while he wasn’t exactly nice he didn’t give off a dangerous vibeBookmark here

“Sword? Festival?”Bookmark here

“Not from around here are you?” - He asked with a rather annoyed tone, but continued nonetheless - “Take a look at most people here”Bookmark here

I didn’t notice it at first, but after the man pointed it out, the brown taint, with occasional patches of green, was prominent on a lot of people. If I had to guess maybe every 3rd person had it, proud of my observation I resumed the conversation with the man.Bookmark here

“ I assume the brown parts are the problem”Bookmark here

“Yeah” - he sighed rather sadly - “ You wanna know then?”Bookmark here

“Yes, please” - I said with honest sincerity, as this was the first time I have seen such thing happenBookmark here

“it’s not a short story, bear that in mind, but the participants aren’t ready yet so I guess having a bit of chit-chat won’t kill anyone” - said the man with some enthusiasm - “Years back, decades, hundreds, thousands, I am not even sure myself, this village got cursed, nobody knows why or by whom, all we know is that the cause of the curse is the sword in middle of the town” Bookmark here

“Can’t you just move the sword out of the town then?” Bookmark here

“if it only was this simple, no matter what happens, this sword always returns to this town, throw it into the ocean, melt it, bury it underground, and next day, if we’re lucky maybe the day after that one, the sword is back where it came from” Bookmark here

“Well that’s not good” Bookmark here

“ Quite good insight haha” - the old man laughed for a second but soon went back to a serious tone and continued - “ if the sword coming back was the only thing it did, it would not be an issue, however the longer the sword stays in this place, the more people get cursed by it, you saw it for yourself, those parts of skin crumbling away, rotting and almost rusting away” - the man started at the ground for a second as if reminiscing something from the past - “ But our people have found a way to prevent the curse, well at this point I’m not even sure if it was found by our people or proposed by some traveller that visited this village.This festival is what our ancestors have left with us, this competition.Bookmark here

“Competition? For what?”Bookmark here

“I was just about to get there, the sword doesn’t come back to the village if one of the villagers stays with it at all times, this also prevents the rusting curse too, but all people who took the sword so far have all met tragic fate”Bookmark here

“Hmm. I see…” I said, thinking about the situation rather deeply “Thanks old man, you said something about participants, am I allowed to join them?”Bookmark here

“You should be able to see the track from here, the main event will start there, you’re free to watch but participation in the trials is prohibited for outsiders, and I’m not old!”Bookmark here

“Haha! Thanks again” - I said, hiding my rather conflicted feeling. “why would they send people away to their death?” I thought to myself for a split second, but decided to not question their decisions, after all, I'm sure they’re the ones who are hurting the most.Bookmark here

Regardless, I made my way onto the the main event, which seemed to be some sort of a race, on a wooden Sign there seemed to be list of Participants and their starting positions:Bookmark here

- Shen, Looked rather Slender but he was pretty tall and despite his slim appearance has visible muscle.He also had purple hair with a taint of white and black in the front of it, which made him rather distinguishable from the restBookmark here

- Alvare, Top of his hair was blonde while the sides and back were black. It looked like he had some sort of tight tunic underneath, with a goldish chain-like shirt over it, his pants had some guards around Knees, I guess he was trying to have the best chances of winning.Bookmark here

- Buzlock, though he didn’t seem very athletic, he was pretty big compared to all the other participants, I wasn’t sure if it was fat or muscle, but I’m sure he had to dominate the strength depending competitions. Bookmark here

- Artetta, was the only woman out of all the participants, having a ponytail similar to mine, but with blonde colour, looked like she was related to Buzlock, since they shared the same hair colour, and they had relatively similar face structureBookmark here

- Ferro, ,he was the oldest out of all participants, looking to maybe be in his 30s or even 40s, regardless, he had a patchy beard, and similarly to mine he was also rocking a ponytail, which honestly made me quite self conscious of having same sense of fashion as someone who could be twice my age.Bookmark here

- Spade, he was the most out of shape out of all of them, while also being the shortest out of all of them, his posture didn’t help him, as I wouldn’t be surprised if he got called twig at some point in his life.Bookmark here

While the old man from before told me I can’t participate in the trials, it would be kind of a waste to not try them, so I decided to go along the track. Bookmark here

I didn’t have much time to prepare as the announcer, who was obstructed from my vision by the crowd was already counting down to the start of the raceBookmark here

“Uooh, 2… 1…. and go! Our brave warriors finally start the first trial of today, with Artetta leading the pack, followed by Buzlock and Shen. Will this continue until the competition is over? Ladies and gentlemen please keep watching to know!” Bookmark here

All of the players have burst into action, sprung forward with their determination, though not all of them looked suitable for this competition, some with scrawnier bodies and some with bigger ones. “Ah, finally some action!” I thought, though with a bit of a delayed start from me I was able to keep up with the rest of the participants, though I saw Spade and I think Sharra, one of the scrawnier ones, running rather slowly behind, I thought I’d check up on themBookmark here

“Yo, you’re kinda behind, you’re not going to win like that, what’s your name?t” - I said rather scornly, though who won was not my business Bookmark here

“I’m Alvare and this is Spade” Bookmark here

“Hugh.. h-hello” - thanks to the tone of his voice I think I was able to see why they were behind the rest, it didn’t seem like he was exactly the best person to participate in the trials, but it wasn’t up to me to judge. Bookmark here

For a second, all of us focused on running but that silence was quickly broken by 2 “You’re not from here, why are you participating in the trials?” Bookmark here

“Me? Thought I’d test myself and watch from the best place possible, I’m Saya by the way” Bookmark here

“I see, well we are a bit behind. I think we should speed our pace up by a bit. What do you say Space?” Bookmark here

“Ugh.. ugh…” - he was clearly struggling to catch his breath but regardless of that he still answered the question “I-I don’t think… I can do it Alva” Bookmark here

“That’s not what you promised me for all those months, you begged me to let you participate, are you really gonna let it end like this?” Bookmark here

“I’m sorry I.. don’t think I..”- Before he was able to finish, a large clap to the back from Alvare seemed to change his opinion “I THINK I CAN I CAN” Bookmark here

“Haha I’m glad to hear that” - As soon as he said that we started picking up the pace “ What brought you here, I don’t think our village is a massively attractive to tourists” Bookmark here

“Oh? I heard a couple of things about it from a relative ages ago, I’m travelling to Mea city and since this way on the way I thought it was good idea to stop” Bookmark here

“Really? That’s where I’m planning to go after I win the trials” Bookmark here

“Quite confident aren’t you? We sped up but people in the front are nowhere to be seen” - I said with a worried toneBookmark here

“Yeah, there’s no way they were this far away…” - Alvare said while becoming more tense, which was clearly reflected by his eyes- “let’s speed up a little bit more” Bookmark here

“Uhh… uhh even more??” as Spade said it I saw the despair in him rise “uhh no.. no! I can do this!” - he said enthusiastically soon after, looks like the encouragement from previous time is still workingBookmark here

As we started going faster and faster, it wasn’t long before we noticed that the gap between us and the people upfront was even more unnatural than we first thought, fate didn’t give us much time to think the silence was quickly broken by a roar of a monster, accompanied by a couple of grunts and loud steps following into our directionBookmark here

The monster was about 2-3 times taller than me, he appeared slouched over, although one of his hands was near his mouth, I think he was eating something. The black fur that covered him made him very visible and looked like was more adapted to hunting in the night but the festival must have disrupted him. Its face was different however, the glint in the eyes gave me chills whenever I looked at them, the face structure was definitely that of an herbivore, but the teeth suggested otherwise.Bookmark here

“Huh… Was this planned?” I asked jokingly despite the situation being very tense Bookmark here

“I think you can guess” - Bookmark here

This was the start of our journeyBookmark here

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