Altering the Deal

As the B Rank games began, Peepers stepped out onto the tiled platform from under an archway. He was met with some pleasant cheering and he waved in response. As he walked into the sunlight, he conjured glinting spellarmor and a katana in one hand, sliding it into his belt. James sat at the announcer’s table, pretending to hold up a microphone and being amplified around the stadium.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the B Ranks have begun! A secret group of casters have prepared puzzles for our four competitors to solve. Succeed, and victory is yours! Fail, and you walk away in quiet defeat!” He signaled and energy flew into the arena around Peepers. He watched as thick cables, chains, and thin strands of yarn stretched from the lower walls of the Coliseum, knotting together into an amazing lump about two feet from the ground. Peepers waited impatiently as the knot grew larger, ending with a large pair of padlocks and a small red and green sign reading “Do Not Open Until Scars of Mirrodin”. “Peepers has been given the Gordian Knot challenge! He must make his way to the center of th…the….” James trailed off. Peepers had stepped forward, drawn his sword, and sliced through the entire mass in one sweep. The paper Christmas sign fluttered in two pieces to the ground, followed by the enormous crash of a complex mass of materials collapsing on itself onto the tile. The crowd loved it, and James shrugged. “He solved it! Peepers is successful!” Barely audible was Tom asking if “that was in the rules” and the sound of a huge book hitting a hard surface in the Judge’s booth.

Zac stood in the archway as Peepers stepped over the cut chains and yarn, passing by him with a high-five as the armored planeswalker stepped offstage. The pieces of Gordian Knot fell away, and Zac stood in the center of the arena to cheering from most of the crowd, largely female. James doublechecked the sheet in front of him. “Our second competitor, Zac, will be challenged by the Sharpshooter’s Test! He must hit all the targets in the allotted time!” Zac conjured a pair of classy-looking handguns as circular paper targets flew out of the ground, hovering and spinning around the field. On the large Jumbotron, a large clock appeared. Zac took a breath, dropping his first guns and conjuring two more. His first pair hovered in midair, and Zac closed his eyes. He aimed two of the guns without looking, the other two taking aim on their own. In a brief rain of shots, targets blinked and fell into the dirt around the arena in groups of four, the last targets falling as Zac’s guns fell still. He released his summons and waved pleasantly, walking offstage to loud appreciation from the crowd.

****

Tom had conjured a cowboy hat and pushed it over his eyes, sitting next to Nick in the Judge’s booth. His feet were resting on three thick books sitting on the table. “Is it time yet?” His fellow mage and administrator shook his head.

“Just wait, alright? You get to go on soon enough.” Nick shuffled some papers. “Attention-seeker.”

“Too right.” Tom grinned, adjusting his hat. “After all, what I’m best at… is style.”

*****

Sandra crossed her arms, snapping her fingers, as the last piece of her challenge fell into place. The conjured material, a giant puzzle-box, fell apart and revealed a flamingo inside. It took wing and flew away to the laughs of the audience before disappearing. James referred to his sheet and held up his imaginary microphone.

“Our last challenge for this rank is Chasity, attempting to conquer… Houdini’s Hypercube!” The crowd breathed in, and Chasity passed by Sandra, standing in the middle of the arena. Sandra wished her luck and walked away. Chasity took a deep breathe and gave the ready signal. Within seconds a large glass box surrounded her, and began to fill with water.

“All Chasity needs to do is escape the cube before time runs out.” James announced to the crowd.

The box filled up slowly at first, but as time passed the flow of water increased in strength. She first began to attack the walls with thick thorny vines. They bashed against the wall infectively. She continued for a moment then gave up. Switching tactics she tried to naturalize the cube by summoning plants from the outside to crush it. They didn’t even scratch it. She was floating now and two-thirds the way up to the top.

*****

“You think she’ll figure it out in time?” Tom asked Nick concerned with her performance.

“Maybe, I think people might have forgotten this is a puzzle challenge. Brute force won’t solve everything.” Was his only response to the question. Tom looked uncomfortable at the prospect of her failing this.

*****

Chasity was almost to the top now. She was out of ideas for spells. She pounded on the wall uselessly. The amount of air left in the tank wasn’t very inspiring either. She looked outside. She could see some of her plants encasing her prison had flowers. She saw a bee that had been summoned to the plain fly over to one of the flowers and take its nectar. It then flew away covered in pollen. Then it hit her.

“Wait, that’s it.” She began casting one last spell she made up on the fly. Green mana flowed from her finger tips, and outside. A giant flower grew from the plants she already had placed. It then shook itself letting the pollen completely cover the box. She then saw it. At the very top, was a hatch invisible normally to the naked eye. She pushed on it and powered a little power into it. The door easily opened, and she climbed out just before the tank fully filled.

The end timer sounded off and she gave a sigh of relief.

“Success!” James yelled into his mike. The crowd went wild seeing her narrow escape.

*****

After that the arena cleaned itself up. Into a pristine battle ring again. James shuffled the blank paper in front of him before speaking.

“Now on to the A rankings!” Cheering erupted from the crowd; they had been waiting a long time to see this part of the tournament. “Would the contestants please step out onto the stage?”

Slowly the small number of people the registered for the ranking stepped out. First on to the stage was Mike, followed closely by Alex who was in his sling for some reason. Maytee walked out next with Leah at her side. After that the last two stragglers of Zach and Loud Joe arrived. Alex and Mike both waved to the cheering crowd while Leah looked nervous to be in the spotlight like that. Maytee seemed unconcerned and ready to fight. While Joe and Zach just maintained a blank stare.

“These six competitors are the only people that registered for this section of the games. For the A rankings we will randomize the contestants, and they will fight one another in single combat. Till either one surrenders, they are knocked out of the ring, or a judge deems them unable to fight.”

*****

Tom now drawing on his hat looked up for a moment at Nick. “The fights are randomized? “

“Nah, I rigged the placements an hour ago. I didn’t want a repeat of Zach and Mike.”

“Can you do that?” Tom asked quizzically. On this Nick reached under the table and pulled. He maintained a very strained look on his face, but eventually revealed a very small pamphlet labeled “Judges Rules”. He glanced through it for a second, and finally said.

“Yes, I made the rules remember?”

“Right, made the rules got it….”

*****

The first two names appeared revealing Mike and Alex. They both looked to one another. Alex gave a grin. Mike followed suit.

“I’ll give you a chance to concede since you’re still injured.” Mike offered.

“Nah man I’m good.” James’s voice echoed across the stadium. Will the contestants who’s names aren’t currently showing please leave the ring. In small groups everyone, but Alex and Mike left the ring. They then walked to opposite sides of the sage, and waited for the buzzer to go off as the anticipation grew. It sounded, and with a burst of energy Alex charges his opponent head on. Mike laughed at the audacity of the move. He then gave a snap of his fingers, and cannon barrels shot up from the ground around him. They then took aim and fired in a variety of different colors; causing explosions all over the arena. Smoke and debris went everywhere. People couldn’t see a thing inside the smoke including Mike himself. He gave a knowing grin.

“Man, you’ve gotta have better aim then that.” Alex muttered amused. Mike himself glanced over at the sixteen year old. Alex was just standing a few feet away in full trench coat and fedora battledress. His silvery racket held backwards in his off hand.

“My aim’s fine. You’re the one teleporting everywhere.” Alex gave a pained shrug his arm was still in a sling, but had definitely healed some.

“What do you expect me to do when you surround me with…” He doesn’t get to finish before he’s forced to deflect an energy blast from a cannon. The red colored bolt rebounded and smashed into the floating artillery piece. ”That’s new.”

More cannons fire, tearing up the place. If it wasn’t for the shield around the them there would be a lot of injured people by now.

*****

“Now that’s what I call a match.” Tom comments off-handedly as he fools with various dimensions of reality. “Who’s the favorite by the way?”

Nick looks from the daze of the match. “What? Oh sorry it’s Alex.”

“Think that’s gonna change?”

“No, not really he’s just messing around because he’s been bored recently. See?” Nick pointed to the stage now showing Mike in the center of it firing at random into the sky at Alex. Who just dodged out of the way.

“We’ll see.”

“I bet you a day’s work he still wins.”

“Deal.” Tom then suddenly rose with a massive banner containing Mike’s face on it swinging like mad. “Go Mike! You can do it!”

*****

“Look Mike you have a supporter.” Alex pointed out as he back-flipped away from a blue cloud of flak.

“Tom probably made a bet with Nick over the match.” Mike replied not looking over, but can some how still hear Tom yelling like mad. Alex continued to dodge a variety of colors then slide downward as a lightning bolt shot past him. Landing on his right foot Alex spun for a second then smashed another bolt away into another cannon. The rest of the cannons all pointed at Alex on ground level now. They were charged and ready to fire.

”Give up.” Mike tells him from behind his arsenal.

“No.”

“I’m going to beat you.”

“We’ll see.” The cannons fired all at once giving an even more impressive explosion than before. The blast was blinding making it look like a miniature nuke had gone off. There was again dust and debris everywhere, and when the smoke finally cleared mike was on the ground hogtied by Alex’s jacket. He was squirming, but couldn’t really do anything in the restraints otherwise. The boy himself had a foot on the incapacitated opponent keeping him in place. A thirty second timer ticked down. By the time it ticked down to zero a loud buzzer went off.

“And Alex is the winner!”

The crowd went crazy over the battle that had taken place in front of them, and barely audible in the background Tom could be heard screaming.

“NOOOOOO.” And with that the first round of the A Ranks were concluded.

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