Chapter 26:


Fantasy Life

Tsuda pulled up to the stadium which was crowded with people who had come to watch the competition. A volunteer directed them to a parking area for competitors. There, Kaida and the others saw their competition preparing their mythical creatures. As Tsuda drove by, a girl was stretching alongside her valkyrie. A few cars down, one team had a pool laid out for a mermaid to splash around in. Kaida couldn't remember a time when she had seen so many creatures all in one place.

Tsuda parked the van and another volunteer approached him. After the volunteer had left, Tsuda turned to the others and said, "We have a few minutes before they call everyone inside. Take this opportunity to stretch, hydrate, or do whatever you need to do." Kaida began by patting Chiyo and Yami down, making sure they were feeling their best. Rei helped Asa wrap some of her cloth tighter while Kei and Yun gave Matsume and Alba some treats. Jun fetched some water for Dallas before drinking some water of his own.

A voice came on the speakers over the stadium. "Attention! Attention all contestants! Please make your way to the entrance so we may begin with our opening ceremony!" Everyone lined up two by two behind Tsuda and Tani, except Chiyo and Yami who stood on either side of Kaida. They processioned in behind another team, and entered the arena used for the tournament. Originally used for rugby tournaments, the field had been completely covered with dirt. The stands were full of people, watching as each team paraded in one after the other. All the teams were lined up in front of a stand centered in the middle of the field where five judges sat, the commentator, and another man Kaida assumed was the host.

As the Ashikaga team walked along, the crowd started murmuring and staring at Kaida. She glanced up at some of the people and felt more nervous than ever before. Rei looked back at her friend.  "Don't worry. We'll show them who's boss!" Rei's enthusiasm gave not just Kaida, but all the others, some much-needed courage.

Once everyone was lined up, the host came forward to speak. "Welcome everyone to the Fantasy Life Nationals!" The crowd cheered so loud that the man had to wait out their applause before being heard. "Nothing makes me happier than to see an excited crowd. Now then, my name is Ibuka Akio and I represent the country of Japan on the Board of Directors for the Fantasy Life League. I will be your host and over here is my assistant and commentator for this tournament, Shoji Shuji." Shoji stood up and waved when his name was said. "And behind me is our panel of esteemed judges. Please give them a big round of applause!"

Ibuka held up a hand for the audience to silence their cheering. "Thank you. I am sure you are all excited to get on to our first event. Before it is announced I want to wish all of our teams the best of luck. May the best team win!" The audience cheered once more but became quiet when Ibuka held up a sheet of paper. "After I announce the layout of the tournament and the first game, each team will be given fifteen minutes to discuss whom they wish to play in the first round. This tournament will consist of three games. In the first game, each team will send two players, the second game will have three players from each team, and the third game will have all five members of each team competing. For this tournament, a team has to win two of the three games. If there are three separate winners then there will be a fourth game to serve as a tie-breaker. So without further ado, the first game will be... chariot racing!"

A murmur erupted from the crowd and some of the competitors. "Silence please!" Ibuka requested. "Each team will now be given fifteen minutes to choose the two members that will compete in this game. Keep in mind that the players from the first game may not be used in the second, so choose wisely. Once you have chosen your layout, managers please fill out the team roster and bring it to the stage. You may begin!"

All the teams clustered in different areas around the field discussing their strategies. Yui pulled out a pen and a roster that she had printed the other night. "So what's the game plan, guys?"

Yun was the first to speak. "I think Jun and Kaida should be the ones to take this match."

"What?" Jun questioned. "Isn't that a bit unbalanced? I mean Kaida and I are the most athletic, but then that leaves your team without a muscle man, and we don't even know what the second game is going to be."

"Normally I would agree. However, Dallas and Chiyo are perfectly suited to this sport, and it's physically taxing. I'm willing to bet that the second game won't be so strenuous on the body."

Tsuda spoke next. "I think Yun has a good strategy. I think it's also wise for the two of you to be well rested for the third game since we also don't know what that will be."

"I'm with Yun and sensei," Kei added. "We'll be fine for the second game. But for this one, you two are the obvious choice."

Kaida and Jun looked at each other then nodded together. "We'll do it," they said in sync.

"Excellent!" Yui exclaimed. "So Kaida, Jun, Dallas, and Chiyo for the first game. Everyone else for the second game. And for the third game, I'll sub in Yami for Chiyo. Is that fine with everyone?"

There were no objections. Yui ran up to the stage and delivered the roster. Now all they had to do was wait for the fifteen minutes to be up. During that time Tsuda approached Kaida and asked, "Are you nervous?"

"A little."

"As expected. Say, do you remember that friend who I asked about you competing with both Chiyo and Yami?"

"Yeah, is he here?"

"Well, it just so happens to be the host, Ibuka Akio. The two of us go way back."

"It's him?"

"Yes, I asked him to keep a close watch to make sure the judges don't judge you any differently for having two mythical creatures. These judges can become biased if not kept on a tight leash. He will also make sure to uphold any rules if there is foul play. So you can put any worries of criticism at ease."

Even though that was not Kaida's main stress factor, it was good to know that she would be judged just like everyone else at the competition. A whistle blew, meaning that the fifteen minutes were up. Shoji stood on the stage with a microphone in his hands. "Alright everybody, it's time to start the game! While all of our competitors are getting suited up let me explain the rules! First off, if you are not competing please follow our gracious volunteers over to the sidelines where you'll have the best seat in the house to watch your fellow teammates."

"Good luck out there!" Rei shouted as she walked off the arena. Some volunteers came up to the remaining players, providing each team of two with a chariot and armor for the riders.

"Next, each contender must wear the provided armor at all times for their protection, and our liability," he said the last part softly. "The winners of this game will be the first team to complete three laps around the arena. At least one person must remain on the chariot at all times. If both riders get knocked off then they are disqualified from the rest of the game. You may knock other players off by whatever means but any excess force against another team can result in a penalty. This includes attacking a rider after they have been knocked off the chariot. With that, racers please line up!"

Every team was suited up and ready to go. The armor consisted of helmets and some arm and leg padding to protect against a fall from the chariot. They did not cover the uniforms so the players could tell who their competitors were. Kaida held the reins tight in her hands. Next to her and Jun's chariot stood one of their top competitors. It was the Sapporo team. Two girls stood in the chariot being pulled by a sphinx and a griffon.

Her palms were a sweaty mess but Kaida didn't have time to be nervous. She had to focus. By the time she gathered her thoughts, Shoji began the count down. "On your marks! Get set! Go!"