It was the next day and Tom had barely slept the night before. He’d spent most of the night working on a few idle projects (including a small tribe of tap-dancing hippos made of paperwork) and it was something of a surprise when James knocked open the door to his room, knocking over the mound of discarded worndown crayons.
“Tom, I challenge you to the first competition!” James shouted and the Izzet planeswalker stared.
“The first competition. Of the S-Ranks.” James crossed his arms, and Tom held up a finger.
“Hold that thought. Exposition!” He waved his hand and the two disappeared from the room.
“What’s this about the S-Ranks starting already?” The arena was already full, and Nick at his Judge’s table. Nick pointed to the Jumbotron spell floating over the field of battle.
“The S-Ranks. They started.” Tom narrowed one eye in response.
“And where was I?”
“Late. Not my fault.”
“Who’s competing? And at what?”
“You. You’re the only one in S-Rank, so we had a quick conference about what to do. Any sufficiently-leveled mage can challenge you to single combat. You only win if you can beat everyone who challenges you until… sundown, or so. We already have several challenges listed…”
“Hey, I called first; I even went and got him. And I say, we’re going to rock out!” James snapped, strumming a power chord on an invisible guitar. From nowhere, the bright sunlight dimmed and several spotlights danced across the mostly-empty arena. Nick looked on fake-sourfaced as the crowd went wild. Several Ally-puppets appeared behind the bard as he rose on a platform. Tom put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the show while James and his spell-band struck up a lively chord.
Nick sighed and sat down next to Leah at the judge’s table. He whistled something off-key and the roaring music was dampened for anyone behind the table. In the darkened stadium, dancing spell-lights and cell phones were swung in midair along with the music. The band was really rocking out, green energy flowing and racing around the floating platform. Leah tapped a pen against a clipboard along to the music.
“So, you were right about things going out of hand,” Leah said, and Nick nodded.
“They usually do. This is what Tom’s good at, taking chaos and making… well, more chaos. At least his way, it’s usually entertaining chaos.” The lawmage pulled a thick science-fiction book from his backpack and opened it, effectively ignoring the proceedings.
James’s spell and ally-band cut out with a loud roar from the crowd, a few of the audience-members conjuring and throwing various flowers. James took a bow right as a wild techno-rhythm picked up from underneath the platform. A burst of energy propelled the Izzet planeswalker up and next to James. The Ally tokens dispersed and Tom mimed taking the air guitar from his friend.
“Now, get off my stage,” Tom grinned, tuning the pretend guitar. James floated back behind the balcony of the audience seating as Tom began playing the first chords of “Thriller”. From the floor of the stadium arose rotting arms and gaping mouths as zombie soldiers started lurching across the field. James flew back, forming another air guitar, and with a glance at Tom began a counterattack of disco.
Quiet Joe and Alex watched with some interest from the boxes as Ally Tokens fought against dancing zombies as the two planeswalkers dueled, each of the wooden puppets wearing white disco-suits. Notes of “Staying Alive” filtered amidst the noises of battle, right up until the last beat where both Tom and James raised their hand in victory. The crowd went wild as the lights rose, illusions and puppets fading away. Nick looked up from his book, shrugged, and glanced at the order of combat.
“Look, Chebon called third pretty much from the start, so Alex can go after him. You’ll all get your shot at him, so just wait your turns.” Nick waved his hand at the order of combatants, shifting a few of the names.
“This should keep you from making jungle beasts out of my request paperwork.” He laughed to himself and went back to his book.
About three hours later, a sweating and tired Tom stood in the dead center of the broken and shattered tile arena. Chasity and Leah were manning the Jumbotron as Zac held the microphone for the recap.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve seen four excellent matches so far! Let’s look back on a few of the best shots as our S-Rank competitor tries to catch his breath.”
The screen blanked and the scene of James and Tom’s dancefight sashayed across the monitor. “First, we saw undead on never-living action as our resident bard challenged Tom to a Battle of the Bands!” After the ending note, the on-screen Tom reached into his jacket and pointedly turned off the impressive stereo-system he’d conjured from it. When the laughter of the crowd died down, he further reached into James’s impressive haircut and pulled out an old-time record player complete with sound horn.
The monitor faded again as a scene of Quiet Joe standing amidst thorny vines large enough to barely fit through city sewer pipes. Like angry snakes, the camera followed them as Tom leaped and ducked around thorny whips. Exploding saprolings chased him around the field, leaving the chaotic mage to tumble and stumble his way through. The scene cut immediately from mid-action to a shot of Tom scrambling down a curved vine, leaping outstretched and tackling Quiet Joe from behind a battalion of undead-plants. “Then, we saw rampant growth as Tom scavenged a win from Joe’s harrowing game of Tag!” The crowd went wild, and the skinny, tattooed mage groaned from his spot at a long table near the judges.
The video cut to Chebon and Tom racing around the still-ravaged arena, the former playing a handheld video game and the latter reading a book of manga. Mid-entertainment they both slung spells at each other, dodging and weaving until Tom crouched down. Chebon chanted, fingers manipulating buttons, and his opponent leaped forward managing to brush a finger against the video game. Chebon paused, jabbing at the controls, and scowled. “Ah, dammit, how the hell did you do that?” Tom snapped his fingers, sparks rising into the air as he read the book held in his other hand. “Chebon had a unique challenge in mind, trying to break the other’s concentration. Apparently… ” Zac grinned as he held the microphone, “Tom managed to turn Chebon’s Dissidia game into… heh, really? Into Twilight’s video game. That’d distract me for sure.” Chebon sat on Joe’s other side, scowling, a broken PSP cartridge on the table.
“The last match we saw involved Alex leading Tom on a merry chase through a Time Trial game, where Tom had to catch his opponent in under two minutes!” The playback showed Alex teleporting around the arena, the Izzet planeswalker chasing him around in futility. “The last bit of that battle speaks for itself, let’s watch.” The Jumbotron floated to the middle of the field, the video showing on both sides as it twirled slowly.
Alex dashed out of reach, the other mage sweating and bent over with his hands planted on his knees. The tennis mage grinned, still full of energy. “Come on, ya mad? You mad, Tom? Why’re you mad?” Tom stood up, breathing hard, and started counting to himself. The young man appeared just out of reach, dangling his hand towards him. Tom leapt forward wearily, just as Alex teleported out of reach. The teleporting planeswalker danced around him, trolling Tom. After a few seconds, Tom howled in frustration and raised a clenched fist. Alex hopped around, dodging flying tiles spinning towards him, Tom frantically directing more of the arena as projectiles. Rock carved grooves as they narrowly missed Tom’s younger friend. The clock above the battlefield ticked down, and at fifteen seconds Tom released the chunk of tile, chanting and stomping his foot. Alex laughed as he teleported around the field until his face slammed into an invisible wall. Tom walked between the pattern of carved tiles, grabbing Alex by the scruff of his neck and tapping him on the nose gently. The spell-circle Tom had engraved with his projectiles was dispelled and shattered after the match.
“Let’s hear a hand for our fifth match! Since Zeke was lost to us, our resident medical mage has offered to stand in as a biomancer for the Zeke Moon Memorial Match.” Zac took a seat as Sandra walked onto the ravaged battlefield, light-green doctor’s coat trailing behind her in the wind. Tom cracked his knuckles, standing up to meet her. Without a word, the doctor swept her hand towards the challenger as strange owl-bats appeared to attack Tom midair. Tom razed each in order, calling up blue flames to incinerate the monsters. Sandra raised her hand and snapped dramatically, “Set this on fire, for I AM THE ONE WHO SHALL TRANSCEND THE GODS!” as she summoned a giant Tarrasque with the wings and head of a small penguin. Sandra’s medical coat shimmered and transformed into spellarmor modeled after a particularly loud assassin character. She grinned and Tom conjured a small sign reading “Meep”. The audience screamed loudly and Jason got up from his seat. With a casual wave, a set of thick magical barriers rose between the battlefield and the viewers. Sandra’s Pengui-rasque roared and chased the planeswalker around in circles.
“Can she do that?” Leah asked, and Nick started to reach under his chair. He paused, put down his novel and looked under his chair. A comedic-sized rulebook failed to appear, and there came a heavy THWACK from the field. Tom held a shield-sized hardback book over the fallen hybrid monster, panting and obviously having used the book in his hands to slay the monster. With a brief skip, Tom ran over to the judge’s table and dropped the book onto the already-impressive stack. As Sandra started to leave the field, Tom called out to her. “Hold on a second.” He pointed at the penguin-headed behemoth and it set ablaze. “You asked me to, after all.”
Nick raised his hand to the bridge of his nose, pinching it softly. “Oh… really.” He took the microphone from Zac and cleared his throat. “We’ll be taking a short break for the audience to grab refreshments while we repair the battlefield and Tom battles these scorpion-ninjas.” There was a tired and outraged shout from the arena and Nick shouted a word in response, waving a hand. “At least, he is now.”