A Change of Pace

The morning breeze felt nice to Alex as he wondered the main courtyard.  It was early in the morning. So early that it was that golden time when the late nighters were in bed and the early risers hadn’t woken-up yet. Alex gave a silent yawn, he was tired, but he found it hard to sleep at night with his arm. His best solution normally was to just wander around till he was too exhausted to really care about anything. The lights in the courtyard flickered in the darkness ahead of him. Normally this wasn’t grounds for notice, but there was strangely an ad board covered in fliers that wasn’t there yesterday.

Alex approached it in curiosity. There were 8 fliers all reading the same thing. Alex grabbed one with his good arm, and read it. Slowly his excitement grew. If this wasn’t a prank then the next few weeks were going to be interesting. He sprinted away from the board still holding the flier, his tiredness completely forgotten.

~#~#~#~

“Tom, Check this out!” Alex exclaimed as he burst in the door.

The room was an even bigger mess than before. The Giraffe was done and disturbingly accurate. It was too tall for the ceiling in the room and had to crane its neck to fit. The only way Alex could tell that it was fake was that it was strangely glossy, like a photo. He ran in trying to ignore the thing as he walked towards the back room Tom usually used. His haste unfortunately paid him back in full as he stepped on a paper banana peal, and slid across the room on it, screaming the whole way till he crashed into the back wall. He fell over and was seated on his back.

“Alex what are you doing?” Tom stood over the boy rubbing his eye. He looked as if he had been sleeping at his desk.

“Ouch. Banana peels, really?” Tom grabbed Alex’s good hand and helped him up.

“What? It’s for the monkeys.” He pointed upward to reveal several of the little glossy creations hanging from the ceiling tiles.

“Right, anyway check this out.” Alex handed Tom the crumpled up flier. His eyes scanned the page as it got lower on the page his expression turned from sleepy to an evil grin. He let out a maniacal laugh that echoed far more than it should have.

“Yes! I will win this!” That was all Tom declared before going to his room. When he got there he was almost to excited to fall back asleep. He would be ready, and the next few weeks were going to be great. Even full of shenanigans if he had anything to do with it.

~#~#~#~

Word around the campus spread quickly. Everyone was ecstatic for a change. By mid-day everyone knew about this grand mage competition. The idea was only further reinforced as people continued to speak of it.

On the edge of the campus partially inside the forest to the east Zac sat on a log with with Nick as Alex jogged up.

“Hey, what are you guys up too?” Alex asked taking a seat near them.

“Preparing for the tournament.” Nick said before he took a sip from the cup in his hand.

“But you’re not doing anything.”

“I’m supervising. Anyway you got it down Zac.”

“Yeah, I just had a few touches left.” Zac stood up, and cracked his knuckles. Zac referenced the slips of graph paper containing his notes. He then acted as if he was crafting clay in mid-air, and every hand motion caused a reaction in the earth around them. Pillars first sprung forth, quickly followed by archways that connected to stands that surrounded them. Then they were raised up off the ground as a large stone stage formed beneath them. By the time he was done the surrounding area was completely changed. The whole building looked almost as if he had designed a Roman Arena. The structure itself could hold thousands.

“Nice job Zac. How stable is it?”

“Very, and with some spells from Jason it can stay that way during the competition.”

“Meaning?”

“Tom’s involved take a guess.”

“Good point…”

~#~#~#~

A small crowd of people gathered around a booth that Nick sat at with Jason as Alex walked up. He patiently waited as the people thinned out after registration. When everyone was gone he walked up to the booth.

“Hey, you registering too?” Jason asked Alex.

“Yeah, how does it work?” He looked over and saw Nick reading a book. He didn’t move at first then closed it. “Are you okay?”

“Huh, yeah why?”

“You haven’t done anything for this event.”

“What are you talking about I’m supervising.”

“You said that last time.”

“Still true.”

“Anyway…” Jason interrupted. “We have five choices for the tournament. You can register for D, C, B, A, and S ranks.” Jason pointed to the five pieces of paper in front of him. “D rank is a simple show of your magical talent and the lowest ranking. C rank is a gauntlet in which you run an obstacle course and use your magical talent to make it to the end. B rank is a puzzle challenge in which a scenario is placed in front of you and you have to solve it before time runs out. A rank is Colloseo in which contestants battle each other with magic in single combat. And finally S rank it’s the marathon challenge. This one really isn’t possible; it’s a 24 hour long challenge in which the contestant has to accept every challenge given to him by planeswalkers and high level mages. We didn’t even put a line to sign on for registration because how hard it is.”

Alex took a closer look at the S rank one for a second before he let out a laugh.

“Did Tom add a line then sign-up in crayon?” Jason took looked closer at the paper, and saw Tom’s name written in yellow crayon.

“When did he do that?”

“Oh, by the way Tom signed-up when you were in the bathroom.” Nick chimed in.

“Anyway, I think I’ll do A rank.”

“Alright we’ll notify you the day of the competition who your opponent is.”

“Okay, oh and are you guys competing?”

“Nah I have to maintain the defensive spells.”

“Yeah me neither. I’m one of the judges. So I’m not competing to maintain neutrality.”

“Cool.”

~#~#~#~

Days passed by quickly. Only a small number of people registered for the higher tiers, but those that did were talented and will likely put on a good show. People milled about as music echoed through the halls. It was usually generic music and cycled to some people’s dismay through rock, country, and rap.

“Five minutes until start.” Nick’s voice echoed through the halls. People hastened to their seats in excitement. This had been the most interesting thing that wasn’t lethal that had happened in a long time.

~#~#~#~

People spoke loudly to one another as the timer on the massive illusionary screen above the ring. When it ticked down to zero what sounded like an air horn went off, Nick walked over to the center of the stage, holding a microphone that wasn’t connected to anything. He opened his mouth to begin to speak. Then Tom burst on to the stage with a cloud of pink smoke.

“I have been asked to say a few words before we begin!” Tom yelled from his cupped hands, but could easily be heard throughout the arena.

“No we didn’t.” Nick said.

“I’m going to say a few words!” He quickly corrected. “Welcome, everyone!”

Tom then poofed away without saying anything else, Nick coughed a little from the smoke, and waved it away from his face.

“Well on that note let’s begin right quick with the first round of competitors for the D rankings.”

~#~#~#~

Nick sat down at his table next to an older man in his late thirties. Nick didn’t say anything at first then let out a sigh.

“You did fine. It is several thousand people after all.”

“No, it’s not that Richard.” He said mildly annoyed.

“What then?” Nick pointed up to the screen above the stage and above that even more there were two counters. The first one said right quick and had the number one under it, and the second one simply said Nick’s face palms, which had a number zero under it.

“Oh.” Nick looked over and saw the culprit.

“Damn it Maytee.”

“What? It’s funny.”  She said as she sat down on the other side of Nick.

“Yeah, Yeah.”

They then looked forward as the first contestant stepped on to the stage.

~#~#~#~

Sliver Joe stepped forward decked out in his usual attire. His tripp pants jingled from the chains as he walked. His black hair was tied back  into a ponytail. The crowd went silent as he reached the center of the stage. Nick then spoke into the mike in front of him.

“You can begin when you hear the buzzer.” The timer on the screen counted down from 3…2…1, then sounded off like a basketball games buzzer. Sliver Joe then cracked his knuckles. He then pointed at three spots quietly around him, and snapped his fingers. Immediately three slivers of different types spawned around him creating a deadly triangle. They each raised their heads and single claws as if to attack their summoner who was in the middle. Then instead gave him a polite bow, turned and repeated the motion to the crowd. They went ballistic as they cheered to him. He then unsummoned his pets, and walked off the stage. Quietly Nick, Maytee, and Richard all marked on score sheets on how well he did.

Following his act was the petite girl Jamie. She was clearly nervous, continued to stiffly walk to the center of the stage holding a sketch pad.

“You can prepare your spell, but you can only cast after you hear the buzzer.”

She sat down on the ground and began drawing in her pad. It was longer before the buzzer went off. When it did though she jumped slightly then looked at her drawing.

“Ooooh. I guess it will have to do.” She rubbed her hands together then touched her drawing. The exposed pages glowed green with the power she into them, then a claw reached out from the book and gripped the stone floor. A second claw followed. They gouged into the ground as the outline of a Chinese dragon climbed out from it. Once it was halfway, it flew the rest of the way out, and circled the stage from the sky. Slowly colors appeared on its skin and it looked more realistic. It let out a massive roar that scared the viewers. Then strange anime styled cat people suddenly appeared with chains and ropes. They threw them at the creature as it swooped down to attack them. Several of them climbed on to it and tangled it till it couldn’t move. Then all the creatures exploded into a menagerie of colors till they swirled away. After that show people cheered even louder than before.

~#~#~#~

Outside the main floor in a side hallway, a shorter guy was walking next to Tom speaking quietly.

“Where are we going Tom? We’re missing the show?” He said nervously looking over. A roar was faintly heard followed by people cheering a few minutes later.

“It’s okay Allen I’m giving you a much better seat for the next show.”

“Really? That would be great.”

“Yeah, really.” Tom then opened a door for him, and they were standing on the grass of the grounds near the stage.

“What?”

“Oh yeah by the way I signed you up for this and your up bye.” Tom then slammed the door behind him.

“Wait what?” Alan turned around, and tried to open the door. It was sealed tight. He then tried to quietly approach the judges.

“Alan, your up.” Nick said to him as he looked up from his score card.

“But I’m not ready. I can’t compete.”

“Sure you can. You’ll do fine. Just use the spell your most comfortable with.”

“But…”

“Go the buzzer is about to sound off for you.”

“But…”

“Go Alan, your signed up so at least try.” Nick cut him off frustrated. Alan walked to the stage; he felt the eyes of everyone on him. He tried with all his might to ignore the lead weights in his throat. He began to cast, he didn’t know what yet. As he the power flowed from his finger tips the buzzer sounded. I startled him, and he fell over on to the ground, his spell gone awry. When he stood back up something felt wrong, the spectators were silent. He looked around then spotted it. He was standing on thin air, but that didn’t make sense the ground felt solid. Then the stage reappeared. Stunned at first people began to clap and cheer. He gave a short bow and slid away as fast as he can.

After that a flurry of competitors showcased their magical ability. One person summoned a pyramid of goats. Another threw fireworks into the sky. Unfortunately not all contestants were successful in their attempts. One competitor grew his feet fifty times their normal size. While another accidentally turned herself purple.

Finally, the last person took the stage to showcase his magical talent. James rubbed his beard for good luck, and immediately cast his spell.

“Can he do that? Compete in D ranks I mean.” Tom asked as he popped up at the edge of the table. Nick the produced a book the size of as encyclopedia labeled “D Rank Rules”.

“There’s nothing in the rules that say he can’t. Puppets burst from the ground with instruments in hand. For some reason the sky grew darker and neon lights flashed around the ground floor. Then fog rolled in at his feet for a greater effect. Then they began to play. Each of his wooden puppets played with all their might. The song echoed and sounded as if it had been run through the magical loud speakers. The buzzer was muffled by the rock concert. James himself stood in place surround by his band with his arms crossed. He felt very accomplished. Finally, after several minutes the music winded down and his puppets poofed away. Everything was back to normal and the crowd was still cheering.

Nick walked up next to James with a microphone in hand. He smiled all the way over.

“Good job Jame excellent spell.” Nick began.

“Thanks.”

“Unfortunately you’re disqualified for casting before the buzzer.”

“What?” The crowd didn’t like that and cups began to ping off the shield held by Jason.

“Anyway, the C rank competition will begin shortly.”

~#~#~#~

An hour later after various lunch breaks Nick announced for the contestants for the C ranks to head to the floor. When people returned the grounds looked completely different. The stage was gone and replaced by a random assortment of traps and obstacles. Anyone running the course could be seen reviewing where everything was from the judges table. An air horn went off signaling they line up at the starting line. As they did Nick announced the competition, from his seat.

“All the competitors will be running at the same time. When they hear the gunshot signal they will run the course using what ever magical aid they want. The only rules are you can’t leave the course. Now we are ready to begin right quick” The counter ticked up once more.

Everyone lined-up. Quiet Joe stood next to Chebon who was looking down at his handheld. Next to him was Josh who looked ahead ready to run. Beside him was the smaller guy Aaron with his tied on fox tail and real fox ears. Besides a random assortment of people that Nick didn’t actually know the only one left was his friend Drew. Drew looked completely relaxed and himself with a homemade beer in his hand. The stuff tasted awful but it was strong. Skunk brew he called it.

They waited. Crack! A gunshot noise went off, and almost everyone went running. Aaron took an early lead by turning into a fox, and out running everyone. He was followed by Josh who bashed away a few people with the repulsion effects of his shield spell. At the end of the pack Drew was jogging behind them. For some reason the mages near him would veer off laughing and acted as if something was in front of them. Clearly they were seeing something no one else could. Chebon, paused his game and watch the other run, climb, and dodge. Next to him Quiet Joe still stood there.

“You gonna run?” Quiet Joe asked.

“Nah, you?”

“No.”

“What’er you gonna do?”

“Wanna see?”

“Yeah.”

Joe touched a vine tattoo on his left arm. It glowed for a second, and then black thorny vines erupted from the ground beneath him. He was kind enough not to envelop Chebon in the vine before he charged forward. The runners were halfway through the course jumping from ledge to ledge over a water pit before he caught up. Everything in his wake was tangled up in his spell the contestants in the rear included. Many ran faster. The course itself was demolished.

Chebon watched this and chuckled to himself. He then walked through a black portal he made in front of him and came out in front of the finish line without actually running through everything. He crossed the line well ahead of everyone else.  After that Aaron crossed unscathed. Behind him Joe and his vines were snaking around as if something was wrong. Then the screen revealed Drew sitting next to him. They both looked out of it, and crossed together with everyone else behind them tangled in Joe’s creation. The vines went away, and they were on the ground laughing at nothing.

“Well that was new.” Maytee said to her companions. Nick gave himself a face palm before speaking.

“Yeah, can they do that by the way?” Nick recovered from his face palm and pulled out an even bigger book then the last Labeled “C Rank Rules”, and placed it on top of the first book.

“There’s nothing saying he can’t.” The judges marked their sheets. Afterwards Nick rose to speak again.

“That’s it for today’s rounds please comeback tomorrow for the B and A ranked matches.” People rose and left talking about the day’s events. Spirits were higher than normal as things wrapped up.  The score sheets were gathered up and hidden from public view, so no one can know the full out come till after the competition was over. The first day was over, now the fun parts could begin.

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