Chapter 16:

Emperor’s Day (3)

Mad God


“I didn’t expect we would have this many people,” Ren said, sitting in Leinor’s lap as they were waiting in the giant tent reserved for those who will participate in the tournament.


“Even though it's winter, many young people came,” Zern said as he brought them hot tea.


“Thanks a lot.” Leinor smiled, blowing on his, while Zern just nodded, happy he could call himself a friend of the Prince. “I asked Father; around 100 or 120 people got through the screening. It was double who signed up, but many were eliminated because of fake identities or their age.”


“Yes, they took it seriously. Still, we have a pretty high seed number, so it will be a long before it’s our turn.” Leinor nodded.


“I’m bored!” Ren moaned, slurping on her tea with an annoyed face, showing her side that resembled a girl of her age that, for others, was natural but for them seemed out of place. Or maybe not, as they recalled their little pepper was just as moody as the weather.


“What can you do about it? This is how it goes, Master.” Zern tried to soothe her.


“Why not let all of us into the arena and have a big battle? A chaotic free-for-all until only, I don’t know, 50 remains? The world outside isn’t built on one versus one. It would judge people’s character, decision-making, and leadership. Those who can form groups quickly in a mess like that are true talents and charismatic leader materials. Or if they can survive that, they are lucky. Luck is still a skill. Also, we could see those with backstabbing personalities because it sure would come out.” Ren threw out an idea between two yawns.


“That sounds. Good.” Leinor nodded with a surprised face, and Zern also found it interesting as he dwelled on her words.


Not long after, it seemed the tent was filled with people. Around an hour later, black-clothed soldiers came in, with Director Orchell leading them.


“I assume everyone is here. Those who couldn’t arrive in time should be happy not to be flogged a hundred times. Now listen up! All of you are to head to the built-up arena, and after the Emperor announces, the competition starts. The first elimination round will be a group battle. Only 50 of you will advance to the finals,s which will be the normal elimination rounds. Of course, the second part will only take place tomorrow.”


The tent was quickly filled with people’s voices, but the most surprised were Leinor and Zern.


“Don’t look at me. It’s not my doing. Probably.” Ren said, a bit taken back, scratching her cheek.


“Silence! Listen up! There are some rules! First, those who leave the boundaries of the arena are disqualified. The quickest way to disqualify someone is to push them out of the arena. If you push out your opponent or jump out, it’s like you surrendered. Second, murder is prohibited. If you murder someone, you will be harshly sentenced, crippled, or beheaded. We will watch everybody, don’t even try doing something funny! Third, weapons, armor, or any accessory is prohibited. Everybody can only rely on their prowess. Fourth, alliances are permitted, don’t come to us crying when you are outnumbered; demons or enemy raids won’t care about your perception of chivalry. Fifth, you won’t get any extra rewards.”


“Wha-”


“I’m not finished!” Orchell roared, and his aura burst out, and Ren felt just like when Boursat released his own at the end of their fighting. “Do. Not. Interrupt. Me. Understood?” he said while his gaze swept over everyone before the oppressing feeling vanished from their hearts. “After we have only 50 people remaining, those with lower starting numbers can jump upwards! Because we will reallocate the ranks of the top 50. The seeds won’t be given out by how many people you beat but by your overall performance. What does that mean… I’ll let it to your imagination. Be ready! Ten minutes and we start!”


“Interesting.” came a feminine voice, and when Ren turned her head, she saw Isha standing next to them.


“Yo. Care to join us?”


“That was my plan.”


“What?” Zern and Leinor asked at the same time.


“What, what? It will be easier to stay in the top 50; we are the strongest. It would be a waste of energy to fight before the finals. I don’t want you to have any excuses when we meet, and I beat you up, boytoy.” she looked at Leinor with a smile.


“Nyahaha, I like her!” Ren laughed. “Welcome to the team Isha!”


“Haahh… If Master is fine with it, so be it.”


“Anyway, our little squad is ready! Zern, you are responsible for defense, watching our back.”


“Yes, Master!”


“Leinor, you have the role of the meatshield.”


“Wha-” he blinked his eyes with a surprised face while Isha stifled a satisfied laugh.


“Mmm? Your internal energy makes you recover the fastest and have the biggest energy reserves. You are responsible for soaking up attacks and supporting Zern. I have a lightning affinity, and Isha has fire. We will be the main force dealing damage. I'll strike quickly, and with my speed, I can circle enemy groups before they realize what's going on, and Isha’s explosive strength can be used to break through them. A two-prong attack easily shatters any resistance, especially what we will take head-on here. Even if they work together, most people here will have little understanding of their partner’s skills or habits. I trust you two with my life, and I got a good feeling about Isha’s strength.”


“This… feels like you were planning this from the start,” Isha murmured, looking at her weirdly.


“Call it a woman’s instinct.” she winked at her.


“You are barely a woman; you are flat like a washing board and barely reach waist height!” Isha countered her quickly.


“At least I won’t be stuck in a doorway going in. You stripper.” Ren snorted with a sulking expression.


“Okay, okay, don’t start fighting now. We’ve just become a team.” Zern stepped in, trying to diffuse the sudden situation. “But Master, this feels like you knew this would happen.”


“I did not. But since yesterday, I felt like someone was creeping around and watching us like an old pervert!” Ren giggled with a mysterious smile.


Meanwhile, at the city’s walls, where the two Emperors sat, Carthus’s face showed a particular expression.


“What is it, Father?”


“That little daughter-in-law of yours is a beast.”


“Huh? Where does this come from now?”


“I have my consciousness on her since yesterday and told you to modify the first round based on HER idea, which I found interesting and wish to try out. I just did not expect that she subconsciously felt my monitoring. She intended it or not; she did use me. I really, really like her Son! Make sure they marry. As soon as possible. Don’t let her escape.”


“You mean it was that little imp’s idea? Because of that, you completely messed up the order of things?”


“Yeah, and I found it interesting and fun. Hah, I bet the Forefather will be thrilled to take her as a disciple. Especially if the Agency’s reports are correct and the little witch worked out something new that propelled her and your son’s strength to the level they are at now.”


“You sent agents to the General’s Mansion?” Dermitos asked, furrowing his brows.


“Yes. You may be friends with that fella Xendar, but I’m not. I won’t refrain from using the Empire’s tools, or this wouldn’t fly under your radar for long.”


“Just… stop. We will only have another argument. Growing up under grandfather’s tyranny sometimes still shows in you.”


Carthus didn’t have any response to that. He just stayed silent, watching the arena as the participants arrived.


….

…..


Ren’s little group was standing at the edge of the arena that was now elevated above the ground for at least 2 or 3 meters, leaving a slope that ended in a wall of snow. The spectators had their stands built, and around 15.000 people were gathered to watch the show. The empire’s nobility was seated on the walls having a great place to see everything from above, while the Agency’s people were standing in a circle around the stage, ready to jump in any time if needed. The weather was nice and sunny, only a bit chilly, but all the participants’ blood was boiling, looking around nervously before the chaotic fighting started.


“Do you see those five bald guys?” Ren whispered, and on the opposite of them stood five men, all with shaved heads and wearing an orange armbands.


“Mm. I don’t recognize them. They are probably not from the Capital.” Zern said, and Leinor also was clueless. “They look like disciples of some martial school or something.”


“Maybe. I never saw them, either. Why?” Isha asked.


“They are eyeing us. Probably think we are easy targets because of me.” Ren grinned.


“Should we go for it?” Leinor smacked his lips, already seeing them as his first target.


“No. Let them come. It’s easier to counterattack when they underestimate us.”


It was then when Aerthus IX’s voice resonated through the city, signaling the start of the first round and all hell broke loose. The impromptu teams rushed out and started to gang upon those who seemed lonely and without allies or took on weak-looking opponents. In the first five minutes, more than two dozen people landed at the bottom of the arena and stopped by the snow wall. Some even had furious expressions as they were still uninjured, full of energy but got thrown out by weaker opponents who worked together.


“They’re coming!” Leinor said, stepping forward. He blocked two incoming fists simultaneously, surprising the “Baldy Team.” Zern immediately stepped up as one of them tried to circle, but he just stood in the way, and the rushing man bounced off of him like hitting a giant wall head-on.


“They are… weak.” Ren sighed with disappointment because as soon as they started to move, she realized they were just at the fourth level.


“Your bar is at a surreal height, girl; most people may only reach 5th refinement even if they try their whole life.” Isha sighed with understanding and pity, looking at the other bald guy from the “opening” in their left flank. “Yet you have already fought with a Harmony Realm expert. If they knew about it, everyone would avoid us like the plague.” she continued while punching out, meeting the incoming fist with hers and sending him flying out like a bullet, disappearing from the arena.


“Maybe you’re right.” Ren nodded, shooting out with lightning speed sweeping away the last one with a kick to the neck, knocking him out with a foaming mouth.


Meanwhile, Leinor grabbed the two with his hands, keeping them in place. Then when he saw Ren and Isha finishing quickly, he lifted them and threw them out like nothing. Seeing this, Zern raised his hand, grabbed the now terrified guy by the bald head, and flung him out like an unwanted toy. Those participants who saw this just gulped, trying to keep their distance from them as they did not want to lose their place.


“What now?” Leinor asked as he came up next to Ren.


“Do you see that group? The one who that middle-aged man leads in dark red clothes. If I felt right, their leader is at the 6th level and has a bunch of weaklings protected behind him.”


“Oh? I know him.” Zern said, “I don’t know his name, but he is the warden of the city’s prison. He is a good guy, at least from what I heard. No wonder he decided to protect those who he can.”


“That's good, but they are doing nothing, only leeching off him. If they get into the second round, they will be only there to make up the numbers. Not ideal. It’s like you protect someone just to throw them to the lions later on and watch them suffer. This is being good to a stupid level.”


“What are you thinking about?” Isha asked with a small smile.


“Zern, you go, bog him down. Leinor, take care of the two other fighters in their group.”


“No problem.”


“Come, Isha, we will clean up a little. We don’t need leechers.”


“Ugh, we will look like the villain.”


“Hey, you are a gangster, no? What’s the problem with being a little nasty sometimes?” Ren giggled, but before she could answer, Zern was already upon the warden while Leinor attacked those who dared to fight back.


Ren quickly shot through the now opened-up gap into the fray of six people.


“Yo, had your fun, guys?” she giggled with a slight smirk that immediately irritated her opponents. “Standing here, reserving energy, while others fight for you. Nice. Do some of you plan to attack them in the back after they have exhausted themself?”


“Don’t try to turn us against each other with slander!!”


“Huh? No, no, no. Sorry, I was just curious. I’m not here to disrupt you. I’m here because I couldn’t help but bully you all~” Ren licked her lips.


“Stop!” The warden cried out, but Zern was always before him, and his punches felt like landing on something made of pure and thick steel as the young man blocked his way. He had a similar, earth-based affinity, but even though he punched out with all his force when Zern met his fists, a resounding thud rang out before Zern did a counterattack with his own, pushing him back again to the starting point.


He met two helpers this morning, both at the fifth refinement and part of the city’s guard force but without any significant achievement or backing as both were only commoners. They immediately chose to work with him and tried to defend the weak, who had no allies, but now the two guys were fighting the Fourth Prince.


“Don’t hold back. I’m just a fighter now, not the Prince.” Leinor smiled, letting them attack and change their only defensive thoughts. “Even if you beat me, nothing will happen to you. My Father promised anyone who beats me got extra rewards, no? Here are your chances to rise to nobility. What are you waiting for?”


Soon they nodded and released all of their energy, trying to oust him from the Arena but somehow, if they pushed Leinor back two steps, he gained that back with one strike of his own. He kicked out, landing his feet on one of their elbows, as he sent the poor guy stumbling backward into the other, almost falling over.


“Come, come, this is your best time to train. Don’t worry, you will advance to the next stage.” Ren smiled, still provoking the group.


“Doubt it,” Isha said, arriving next to Ren and looking at the others. “How do you want to do it?”


“Easy.” she replied as she took a deep breath and let out a loud shout that first sounded like a small girl's cry but soon turned into rumbling thunder.


Even the spectators around the arena felt their ears ringing and heads spinning, not to speak about the poor guys and girls before them, as some of their eardrums had been blown out, now bleeding from their ears, not just temporarily losing their hearing but also their balance. After this, she just kicked out multiple times, leaving images behind of her small leg, and in the next moment, six shadows had flown out of the arena.


“Geez, you are ruthless.” Ishas shook her head.


“They need to realize their place. If they wish to act weak, they will attract predators.” Ren said while dusting off her hands, looking at the warden, who now looked angry and frustrated. “You are a good man.” she sighed but said no more, just stood there, looking around the arena.


It was already clearing up by now, most of the people who failed to form a group or alliances were off by now, and only teams with members numbering from 3 to even 10 stayed standing, now watching each other like tigers, ready to fight.


“Oh? If I count correctly, we have 51 people.” Ren looked around with a smirk. “Now, now, who will be the unfortunate to lose out?”


Her voice stupefied the others, and as they looked around, counting, everyone was soon aware that only one of them needed to be out for the first round to end. Leinor and Zern stepped back, leaving their opponents, and converged around Ren while Isha stood there, fiddling with her red hair unbothered. The groups went into a bigger stalemate than ever as nobody wanted to be the first to speak, put on the chopping block by it, and lose their place in the top 50.


“How interesting. What should we do?” Ren said, walking forward. “Should we kick out the weakest among us? Or gang upon the strongest? And eliminate her now, before the one on ones?”


Both of her words sent the others into nervous contemplation, looking around even in their groups, not realizing her meaning at first.


“Hah, I see many of you are thinking about the first option, eh? The easier one. Pathetic. I suggest the second option. Come if you are not afraid.” She stood in the middle with an angelic smile, but her aura was more like a devil’s as her body was cloaked with purple lightning bolts that cracked even the ground under her feet.


The spectators gasped with shock as this spectacle was reserved for those at the peak of the Body Refinement realm or in the Harmony Realm. Even then… seeing it on a 12-year-old girl’s petite body was unprecedented.


“Oh boy, Master’s switch has been flipped again!” Zern sighed as he massaged his temples.


“Hmf, Boss called her a mini-bitch, and she acts like one, that's for sure.” Isha snorted.


Only Leinor stayed silent, watching her with a slight smile on his face, holding his hands behind his back, standing straight and proud, and his eyes shone with warm light, reflecting the lightning bolts in them as his gaze was locked on Ren. Just like the first time he looked at her, he felt happy. When Ren was acting like this was the most exciting, and he found her the most beautiful.


“What? Nobody wants a go at me?” Ren laughed. “Should… I make the first move?”


“You’re too cocky, kid! You just try to show off, don’t try to fool us!” a man who was towering over her like a mountain stepped forward.


His muscles were bulging on his naked torso, and his brown, long hair was like a lion’s mane.


“Maybe.” Ren nodded. “But tell me, who are you? Your skin is tanned. You probably work under the sun all year round, so you must have a common background. You have good muscles, but you went a bit overboard. Most girls would find you more intimidating than charming. Look at him.” she said while pointing at Leinor, who almost fell over, smiling wryly and with a reddening face as Isha stifled her laugh. “He has a well-defined body yet still looks normal. You look like a barbarian mixed with an ape. Uncool.”


“You little!” the man roared as he punched down with a furious fist swing without thinking. His muscles bulged up, expanding, doubling in size, letting off steam through his bronze skin as his fist landed square on Ren’s chin.


Leinor immediately stepped forward, but Isha held him back.


“Easy. Control yourself.”


“Is this all you’ve got?” Ren asked, while her head was now turned sideways, as the man’s fist was still connected to it but was trembling from the literal shock he felt circuiting through his nervous system, numbing his whole body. She looked at him with a slanted eye as blood dripped down from her lips. “Barely felt anything. Did I strike a sensitive spot? Maybe you are still a virgin? Is that it? That shouldn’t be a problem. It’s good to save yourself for your true love. Or do you hate nobility? Or just girls? Kids?” she asked with rapid succession, turning her head back, pushing his fist away with her little chin before grabbing onto it; electricity was rushing through his body more intensely, assaulting his every muscle, making him unable to move or respond. “Well, it doesn’t matter. We got our volunteer. Let’s end this!”


Soon the gawking crowd saw a tiny, little girl lift a man, triple her size, and throw him out like a sack of potatoes right into the snow wall over the other end of the arena. The man’s body was only out halfway from the snow, still twitching before going limp as he lost consciousness.


“Ptui,” Ren spat out some blood, wiping off her now red lips and cracking her neck. “When you meet me next round, you need to take me seriously, you know.”


As she looked around the others, she said with a flat voice, going back to Leinor, who immediately knelt, wiping her mouth with a handkerchief, sending his energy into her to close up the cut inside.


“Ahaha, easy, easy, it’s nothing~ You little crybaby~” Ren giggled but let him do his thing.


“Tsk, seeing is believing,” Carthus murmured, sitting on the city wall, clicking his tongue repeatedly. “Let’s end it here and continue tomorrow. I want to see what they will do. Start allocating the points so we can start at nine in the morning.” he stood up and soon disappeared from the wall while Dermitos just sat there smiling before announcing the end of the first round of the competition.