“The Godking’s Brawl will begin shortly.” What’s with that annoying man and his need to be in the sky all the time? The coliseum changed a lot from its previous two appearances. Instead of a grassy meadow or ruined flatland, it looked more like a traditional coliseum with a giant elevated circular platform in the center. On the arena platform, there was a little statue of a fat man sitting cross-legged.
“There are three hundred and sixty of you competing today, and if you look along the walls of the coliseum, you’ll see a matching number of cushions. Take a seat.”
Reena had stopped struggling, so it was easy to carry her along. I dropped her onto the spot next to me which had the number fifty-eight on it. Ilya Number One and Two sat beside us. All the competitors looked like a long line of ants pressed up against a wall. At the number one spot, that lionkin who hated acorn stew was sitting with his head in the air. He saw me staring and sneered at me. Really? I kicked your ass in the preliminary, you heretic. I’ll do it again in the real thing.
“Number one, approach the center of the stage,” the man in the sky said. He wasn’t even going to explain what was going to happen? At least Ilya described the process fairly well. How did it go again? Eh, I forgot. “Place your hand on the statue’s head and insert your mana and qi. Those of you who took the preliminary should be familiar with this process. Instead of making the statue light up, it’ll spit out an exact number for the leaderboards.” A board appeared in the sky next to the floating man. He really has a thing for boards and numbers, huh? I know how to read numbers since Ilya taught me! But names are still a bit too difficult.
The lionkin approached the statue and grabbed its head. He grunted before shouting, causing the statue to light up. “First, my mana!” he said, and a bright, neon-colored thirty appeared on the statue’s chest. “Then, my qi!” He roared, and the number jumped from thirty to six hundred and twenty. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s six hundred and twenty. No guarantees!
Then, unreadable—to me—characters appeared on the leaderboard followed by 620 and the number one. The lionkin nodded before walking back to the cushion. “Wait,” the man in the sky said. “Don’t sit just yet. Seat number two, approach the statue.”
A scrawny man with a beard hobbled up to the platform. He placed his hand on the statue and inserted his mana, which made the number 540 appear. Then he inserted his qi, and the number jumped up to 1,140! The lionkin glared at the scrawny, bearded man, but the skinny person was unfazed. He’s also a bit green. Green? Like he’s covered in mana? Is that a disguise!? It’s Snow, isn’t it!? For now, I’ll put this person on my kill-if-encountered list. Huh? I’m not a murderer. This is a justified list! I don’t know how to justify it, but it’s totally moral because I said so.
I wonder what the numbers mean though. The calculating system should make sense, right? Well, I’m sure my goals will be accomplished regardless. After the scrawny man, no one else broke four digits until Daniel. His mana score was a whopping 1,150, but he didn’t even try inserting any qi inside. Maybe he didn’t have any.
“I think I figured it out,” Ilya said.
What’s there to figure out?
“Zero to a hundred represent circles one to three. One hundred to six hundred are circles four to six. And six hundred to twelve hundred should be in between six and seven circles.” Ilya nodded to herself and smiled.
How do you figure something like that out? It’s because of Daniel, isn’t it? Since he’s a seventh-circle magician, it makes sense. Maybe she researched the other competitors and figured out their power levels and compared them to the numbers appearing. Damn, I’m smart. That’s totally how Ilya did it. This is what happens when a squirrelkin consumes a legendary bone of focus! If we could put our minds to things, we’d rule the world. It’s a shame acorns are so darn distracting though.
“But does that mean anything to us?” Reena asked.
“Of course,” Ilya said. “Know your enemy and know yourself to increase your chances of victory.”
“Seat number fifty-seven, this is the third time I’m calling you,” the man in the sky said. “Damnit, Lucia! Get up here.”
Oh, fifty-seven was me. I totally knew that. Alright, secret plan, begin! “First, I insert my mana!” Ah? The statue’s turning darker? Eh!? 2,400!? But what’s this little dash next to the number? My mana’s that amazing? Doesn’t this ruin my plan!?
“Negative 2,400…,” Ilya said. “That means your number is lower than zero, Lucia!”
How!? How do I have less mana than none!? Well, forget it. I’m definitely getting last place with this. Goal one, success! “And now my qi!” But I didn’t actually send in any qi, I just pretended to. Eh!? “Negative 4,800!?” But I didn’t even send in any qi! “This thing’s broken!”
“Oh?” the man in the sky asked. “How unfortunate. It worked for everyone else. I guess the statue just doesn’t like people who attack the host of the competition. Stand off to the side, please. Seat number fifty-eight, approach the statue.”
So I was rigged to fail regardless! I see how it is, Mr. Man in the Sky. Even though I may have wanted last place, I wanted to achieve that by myself, not by underhanded means! How dare he help me? I’m going to punish him after this competition’s over.
After I went, Reena scored a 400 combined total. Ilya scored 600 and 0. Ilya Number Two scored 50 and 300. I didn’t keep track of anybody else and directly claimed my last-place cushion. “So, Lucia,” Durandal asked. “Why did you want last place again?”
“For the heroic story!” Obviously. What makes a more riveting tale? Lucia Fluffytail claimed first place by an overwhelming amount and kept it? Or Lucia Fluffytail, the girl with zero talent, struggled against all odds from the very bottom to the top, beating talent after talent with her persistence and determination? The bards are going to have a field day with an underdog story! A peerless genius can’t attract the hearts of the commoners; even the Godking struggled to the top as a common villager. “And there’s that deal with the crown prince I have to keep. Just remember, when you fight the princes, you have to cripple them but not kill them. That’s what he requested of me.”
“So he’s using you as a tool to secure the throne,” Durandal said with a nod. “That makes sense. And what did he promise you?”
“A noble title, territory, and a mansion with lots of servants! We’re going to live there and have lots of children in the future!” This deal with the crown prince, it’s the first step towards my dream!