Chapter 7:

First Lance

Fantasy Life

The students were still processing what Tsuda had just said but returned their focus when they heard their names called out. Kaida was struggling to remain calm. She never anticipated that she and the other students would be provided faulty equipment. She looked around her, it seemed she wasn't the only one losing her nerves. There was a gentle nudge on her shoulder from Chiyo. Kaida straightened at the unexpected touch.

"Hey, be careful." Chiyo let out a grunt to show support. "You're right. I need to stay calm otherwise I've already lost. We will be alright. We just have to make it through three matches." She looked over at Rei who was being comforted by Asa. "Seems like Rei's on edge as well."

"Next up," Tsuda shouted holding a piece of paper. "We have Rei Iwasaki versus Konda Iwao."

"Who's that?" Rei asked looking around. There was a boy standing next to a red-faced tengu. The boy looked over at Rei and gave a nervous wave. Rei waved back. "Do you know him Kaida?"

"I think he's a first-year student. Go easy on him," Kaida giggled.

"No time for jokes!"

Tsuda pulled out another piece of paper. "Kaida Fujihara versus Mita Keiko."

"I've heard that name before," Kaida looked around. "I believe she is a third-year." She spotted a girl waving at her. Beside the girl, there was a large bull-like creature with curled horns.

"What is that?" Rei asked.

"I believe it's a bonnacon, but I can not recall where it's from," Kaida replied. The bonnacon snorted at Chiyo who gave a loud whinny. "Calm down Chiyo. This is going to be a very long day."

"Now that everyone has been paired up we will begin the rounds." Tsuda turned to point at the field behind him. There was tape sectioning off four rectangular areas of the field with a long fence running down the center. "As you can see the field has been sectioned off. There are only four areas, and 20 teams. The judges for each quadrant will call a group over to begin their jousting. So listen for when your names are called. Students, I wish you the best of luck."

A judge stepped forward and called four pairs and directed them to a quadrant. Rei and Konda were called to the third area. "Dang it! I wish I had time to strategize." Rei exclaimed.

"It is a disadvantage to go first but you can turn things around," Kaida said trying to cheer her friend up.

"How so?"

"The staff has supplied us with the lances and we were told that there will only be two provided for each person. We were also told that the real criteria is to work with our mythical creatures, correct?" Kaida let Rei give a nod before she continued. "I think Tsuda sensei was trying to give us a hint. I think the points are a facade and that the real goal is to use our mythical creatures to help reinforce our lances."

"How do you reinforce it?"

"I'm not sure yet, which is why we can use the first lance to our advantage. It will be a gamble though."

"Tell me, hurry!" Rei said impatiently.

"Let's both use our lances as they were given to us. Since we're not going at the same time and there will be five rounds before they re-pair us, I'll watch your battle and you'll watch mine. We will both test to see what damage these lances can take and then we can plan ways to reinforce the second."

"You're right, that is a gamble," Rei thought. "I'll do it. I mean it's better than having no strategy at all, right?"

Kaida nodded and raised her hand for a high five, "Good luck out there."

Rei reciprocated, "I'll do my best."  Kaida watched as Rei and Asa got on Turnip and rode to the third quadrant.

Konda and his tengu beat Rei to the match. Konda was also on a horse lent to the students. He was a short, stocky boy with wild hair. His tengu on the other hand was tall and scrawny, and carried a feathered fan with him that matched the dark wings on his back. "My tengu, Kiji, and I look forward to battling you senpai," Konda said politely once Rei arrived to begin the match.

"My partner Asa and I feel the same," Rei replied. "Let's both do our best." The two teens rode their horses to opposite ends of the rectangle and prepared to begin. One of the judges came out to ensure that everything was set.

"Alright when you hear my whistle blow, charge at your opponent," the judge instructed. "I want to see a nice good run from the both of you." The judge stepped out of the area and blew her whistle.

At the sound, both Rei and Konda ran their horses to a gallop. Rei gripped the lance tightly in her hand. It felt much different than holding a shinai in kendo. Not only was the lance bigger and heavier, but riding on horseback made it more difficult to hold it steady. All that comforted Rei was the thought of Asa being right behind her. As the two horses drew nearer to each other, Rei handed the reins to Asa and prepared to strike.

The two lances were thrust forward, Rei realized she was on target to hit Konda's chest plate. So long as Konda missed his mark, the match was hers. Or at least that's what it seemed until a gust of wind shifted her lance away from Konda. His lance also missed and the two rode past each other without landing a single hit. 

"What was that wind?" Rei asked herself. She turned around to see Kiji holding his feathered fan, wind whirling around it. Rei was taken by surprise. She never expected Konda to use Kiji in such a way, but her determination did not waver. "Two can play at this game."

The judge came back out and instructed that they go another round since there had been no hits made. As instructed, the teens started the match again, running their steeds to a gallop. Rei focused on Kiji and noticed his fan was out again, ready to defend Konda. Rei once again gripped her lance in one hand but this time, she did not hand the reins to Asa. Instead, she let them fall and shouted, "Now Asa!"

Asa held out both her arms and strands of cloth came undone. She gripped the threads and wrapped them around the tip of the lance. Kiji swung his fan and made another gust but it was of no use. As the wind tried to push Rei's hand up and away, Asa held onto the thread that she wrapped around the lance. The two of them together were able to keep the lance from moving off target.

As the horses came side by side, Konda thrust his lance forward but barely grazed Rei's armor. Rei, however, thrust with all the might in her one arm and struck Konda directly in his chest, knocking him and Kiji off the horse. Luckily for Konda, Kiji grabbed him and flew up to avoid getting hurt by the fall. After the two landed, Rei rode over to check on them. "Are you two alright?" She asked.

"Yes I think so," Konda replied, his legs shaking from the fall. "Thanks to Kiji that is."

"I'm glad you didn't get hurt." Rei dismounted and held out her hand. "Good game."

"Yeah, you too." Konda shook her hand. "Oh, by the way, is your lance in one piece?"

Rei grabbed her lance and gasped. There was one long crack down the center. Rei felt that most students would have panicked to see their weapon so severely damaged, but the only thought that was in her mind was how grateful she was to still have her first lance in one piece.