Kyle looked out in the distance towards his destination. A coliseum-like structure towered into the air in front of him. It was there that the tournament celebrating the King’s birthday would be held. The simple shepherd closed his eyes in deep thought. Word had already spread around that strong competitors had entered the tournament. It would be no easy feat to beat any of them, even for a chance of winning the whole thing.

Kyle looked down to his friend walking by his side. His familiar looked back up at him. Darius, the Kamaitachi, was still quite nervous about entering this tournament. Sensing the nervousness welling up again, the shepherd finally spoke.

“Don’t worry, Darius. We’ll just try our best, like last time. Specific things might have changed, but the general rules’ll be the same.”

He was referring to the way these kinds of tournaments were structured. Only the familiars would be fighting in the battles. The keepers, though not allowed to partake in the battles themselves, would be responsible for strategizing with their familiars beforehand and cheering them on during the bouts. This was the King’s wish for such birthday tournaments; he wanted to watch monster battles between talented and skilled strategic masters, as those would always turn out to be the most epic and suspenseful.

To that end, the King dispatched messengers far and wide across the land in the hopes of spreading the word about the new tournament and attracting exactly that kind of talent. The description of the tournament, in addition, hinted at a mystery grand prize that would be awarded to the ultimate winner. Even though it was mentioned that the identity of the prize would be revealed on the final day of the tournament, it still drew lots of talk and speculation, further amplifying the publicity of the event.

Kyle and Darius were two such competitors who heard about the tournament by word-of-mouth, and they were actually sent a letter inviting them to participate. They took up the offer, and left their simple lifestyle behind for a short while to come to the coliseum they now approached. The shepherd knew how much of an impact luck could play in the tournament battles, and he could only hope that his strategic, analytical mind would help to shift the outcomes in their favor.

Nearing the building, the shepherd and familiar could see dawn just beginning to break in the distance. They were right on time.

“All right, Darius,” Kyle spoke to his Kamaitachi. “Let’s go.”

The two went towards the entrance, and towards their first battle of the tournament

Erik flipped, then caught a previously hidden dagger as the sun's rays permeated the cell and bathed the stone slab that had previously been his bed for the night. "How dare they accuse me? What would I want with that filthy wench's trinket?! Kraven! Are you ready? If you are to be fighting in this stupid excuse for a tournament, then this will be a fight that will not be forgotten for some time!" Kraven, the Tatzelwurm Stalker opened his dark, red eye a slit as light glinted off a brass ring pierced through his ear, while Erik paced the room working himself and slowly his familiar into a maddening frenzy.

A somewhat nervous looking guard came and spoke to Erik, before opening the door of the cell and leading the spiky haired redhead, who sported a similar brass earring to his vicious familiar along with fearsome burnt-in tribal tattoos toward a waiting room that opened into the arena.

As they walked in, a group of people could be seen, along with their familiars listening to a muscled man who was stating "..the first of which will be an all out Battle Royale to determine the toughest members of the group here"

[I was thinking a battle royale instead of individual battles (between author characters not NPCs) which might cause 'I'm winning!' 'No your not, I am!' situations. Of course individual battles will probably take place further along the storyline.

Gavin smiled brightly as he approached another village en route to Certo Fortis, the Colosseum, as it was more commonly known. Gavin preferred it's given name, Latin for "valiant struggle." It had a much more noble ring to it. A small throng of people stood along the path to greet him as he stepped through the gates, greeting him excitedly and wishing him luck as he passed. As a "Professional Explorer" and a Wilderness Guide for hire, Gavin's exploits, somewhat exaggerated in their many retellings, had given him an almost legendary status among the small-town folk in the area. He decided he would never tire of the hero's welcome he received and made a point of traveling through as many villages as he could on his way to the Tournament. After all, a little public support certainly couldn't hurt. Rhampadge, his Nidhogg hatchling familiar walked docilely behind him. Taking a cue from his partner's enjoyment of all this attention, he even consented to let the more daring boys run up and touch him, snapping warningly at them only if they invaded his space for too long. As the duo reached the far gates, Gavin's eyes fell upon an old woman among the crowd. Unlike those around her, she did not look thrilled to see him. In fact, she stared at him with a fierceness that he could only describe as contempt. He was half-tempted to turn to her and ask her what her problem was, but abandoned that thought when a young lady ran up to him and blushingly offered him a drink.

"I thought you might be thirsty" she said softly, unable to look him in the eye. He was, and took the cup eagerly. "The tournament will begin soon," she remarked as he drank, "I'll be there cheering for you."

Gavin returned the empty glass to her, looked straight into her bright blue eyes, and said, "Thank you. Your support means very much to us. We won't let you down."

At this direct acknowledgment, the girl turned bright red and backed, almost dazedly, back into the crowd, nonetheless wearing a smile every bit as large as his. It's a shame she's not a few years older, Gavin reflected as he continued on, out through the gates. Certo Fortis was in view now, he would arrive by sunup, and in plenty of time to scope out the competition

Arriving at the entrance to Certo Fortis, Gavin and his familiar took a short while to admire the structure and its details before heading towards the arena inside. A few of the guards and staff they passed by greeted them with smiles, as they too had heard about the explorer’s adventures. Reaching the arena, Gavin was slightly surprised to see how crowded it was there. People and familiars were squished amongst each other and the arena walls, trying to leave a little space around the announcer. Despite their reputation, Gavin and Rhampadge found that they too had to push themselves in amongst the mob. From what he could discern in his cramped position, the Wilderness Guide observed that the participants numbered almost a hundred, or even more.

“…And you all should know the universal rules that govern this tournament,” the man was rambling on. “No backstabbing or otherwise injuring other humans, no interfering with competitor familiars prior to match-ups, no throwing things into the battle area…” His voice was quickly drowned out amongst the dissatisfied cries of the participants as they were squished even more by the increasing number of people and creatures entering the arena. The situation was threatening to grow out of control when suddenly, an emerald light shone up from underneath the competitors. The light engulfed the entire arena and swallowed up all those inside.

Finding his feet on firm ground, Erik quickly raised his guard and surveyed his unfamiliar surroundings, along with his Tatzelwurm. Confused shouts from others alerted them to the fact that they were not alone. The tournament participants stared around in shock and awe at the new landscape. They were standing in a wide open area, in the middle of what appeared to be grassy plains. There were no visible trees, and no signs of established civilization nearby. Not even the Colosseum was in sight.

“Excuse me for that,” a voice shouted, grabbing the attention of everybody. A middle-aged man stepped into the open, in clear view. He was dressed in a uniform not unlike those of the tournament staff, but the light decorations adorning it showed that he was in a position of some power.

“As you can see,” he started to explain, “I’ve teleported us to a secluded, spacious area. Definitely much more comfortable than the small arena, no?” Murmurs of approval came in response as the competitors finished spacing themselves from each other. “Anyways, it should be self-evident why we’ve scheduled a Battle Royale on short notice. We only have enough room to accommodate the best among you for the King’s viewing pleasure. How many of you, or which of you will advance, will be the decisions of myself and my fellow referees.”

“Now, some, no, most of you are unprepared for this. Unfortunately, such unpredictable events are the way of life, and we must start soon.” The uniformed one raised his open hand to emphasize his next point. “You will all have five minutes to organize yourselves and strategize with your familiars. Then, the battle will start, regardless.” Finished with his announcement, the man turned to address the judges and guards in a quiet tone.

The tournament competitors had various reactions to the news. Some, like Kyle, quickly used the time to begin formulating a new battle plan with their familiars. Some just stood with an air of confidence, waiting for the all-out fight to begin. Some looked as though they now wished they hadn’t come to the event. Once the five-minute mark had passed, the staff and guards directed the participants to stand outside of the designated battle area for the monsters. Everything was now in place; the tournament was ready to begin.

“Ready?!” the chief referee shouted. “Begin!!!

All familiars jumped into the fray at once. Shouts and screams could be heard both from the onlookers cheering on their pets and from the fighters in pain, rage, or a mixture of both. Dust quickly swirled up and obscured the humans’ vision of the battle. Practically no one could tell whether his or her creature had already lost or was still fighting furiously within the mayhem. Soon, however, one clear loser came out. A five-legged cow was thrown out of the makeshift arena and hit the ground some distance away.

“Aw, no, Moo-Moo!” a short, fat, nerdy-looking person called out to his Celphie. He ran to help his pet, but somehow tripped and fell down, eliciting snickers from some of the onlookers. With one competitor out, the battlers resumed their attention on the continuing chaos

It was immediately apparent that the MC's words were not simply for show. Not a single competitor on the field had come into this tournament truly prepared. No amount of confidence, strategy, or yelled words of encouragement was worth much in this all-out melee. Instinct, skill, and a certain amount of luck were all that separated the successful from failures. The battle was only twenty minutes in, and already the competition had nearly halved. Some had the misfortune of bad timing or placement; most were simply outmatched. And as the battlefield thinned, the sidelines became more and more crowded, as familiars joined their masters to watch the remaining combatants. Although no one was permitted to leave, some of the disqualified chose to distance themselves from the rest, nursing their wounded pride alone. Others chose to take out their frustrations on one another, although officials patrolling the crowd managed to quell any small outbreaks before they escalated into a second brawl. Many, however, remained focused on the ongoing struggle, even picking favorites for which they continued to root, with every bit of enthusiasm they had displayed for their own contenders.

In fact, the battle was beginning to take on a discernible shape, with individuals emerging from the fracas and definite styles and abilities becoming visible. Several Bennu Pharaohs and Nidhogg Drakes hovered above the action, taking occasional swoops down on the fighters below, and numerous strikes at one-another. A Tiamat Serpent and a couple Ryu Wakai tried to keep their distance, launching water attacks into the fray until a couple of fighters inevitably brought the fray to them, forcing them to fight their way back out. Darius and one Miraj Coney managed to keep their sparring strictly personal, the rabbit skirting around other fighters to launch a near-relentless series of heavy strikes against his chosen foe. But his speed could not compare to that of the weasel's who managed to constantly remain one-step ahead, sometimes even finding the time to get in a swipe. Unfortunately, his relatively weak attacks had little effect on his opponent, save giving him the close proximity necessary to finally connect a hit. Meanwhile a pack of assorted monsters, including Rhampadge and Kraven, kept things chaotic. The bulk of the fighting was being done on a primal level—even the highly disciplined and most well-trained battlers had descended to a more feral state. Two contestants teamed up to attack a third one minute and switched teams the next. A Monoceros charged through a substantial part of the group, striking all but a couple contestants, who immediately took advantage of its temporary vulnerability. After beating him to disqualification, the pair, a Garm Prime and a Hydra Lernaean, reduced to only two heads, turned on each other. They grappled for several minutes, the Hydra slowly wearing the Garm down with its degenerative attacks and steady healing, until a fiery casting from one of the Pharaohs above came down on the non-yet-regenerated stump of the Hydra's second head searing it decisively. The Prime, seeing its opening, lunged for the weakened Lernaean, clamping firmly down on its sole remaining throat. While the strike wasn't fatal, it was enough to disqualify the monster. It shuffled toward the sidelines to be healed by his trainer, stopping just before it left the field and turning to face the hound one last time. It gurgled for a moment before spewing a vile liquid, a mixture of its own natural poisons and equally venomous blood directly at the victor. The Garm, caught completely unawares, took the toxic brew full-force. His partner had no choice but to recall him from the fight as well, or else face serious, and potentially permanent, damage.

More and more the battle was becoming personal, as were the supporters. Rallying cries of "Git'em Fox!" and "Nice job, Artimis!" were more frequent, and the called-out familiars invariably responded with a renewed rush of energy, while negative jeers, such as "Take that Katoe. Can't even touch him!" served to dishearten the less confident. Many of the fighters were developing a large fanbase, no doubt due in part to the heavy amount of betting going on amongst the defeated. Rhampadge, a Bandersnatch, and a Basilisk Tyrant, all crowd favorites, were locked in a three-way no-holds-barred grudge match, while a Kamaitachi named Dai-Sho darted about the field, sniping at anyone and everyone. Kraven found himself momentarily allied with a Ryu Stormcaller against two Bennu and Nidhogg, the three remaining aerial assaulters. While Kraven kept the Nidhogg at bay, the Ryu took on the Bennu, his elemental advantage balancing out their strength in numbers. As the five dueled, a Cwn Annwn slinked up unnoticed nearby, watching for the perfect moment to attack. As the pair of Pharaohs dove in on Shugenja, the hound selected his prey and leaped. A single warning shout of "Look out, Phoenix!" prompted one Bennu to break its dive and turn around toward the lunging Hellhound. As a result, the beast missed the first aviator completely and the second Bennu took the full force of the attack. Phoenix fired a single Ray attack at the Cwn Annwn in retort before turning to face the Stormcaller alone.

Throughout it all, Darius and the Coney kept their stalemate. Darius had picked up far more damage, although the Coney had tired considerably and was hitting the Kamaitachi less than ever. Regardless, the spar seemed as though it would never end. Darius, although beginning to wear down himself, had taken to circling the Miraj endlessly which served only to irritate the rabbit, while giving it an opportunity to rest up. It merely rotated in place to keep track of its opponent. Suddenly from the side, Kyle shouted, "NOW!" and Darius broke off the circuit, darting straight toward the Coney and slapping it across the face with a bladed arm. The rabbit blinked in surprise momentarily, then charged, somewhat dizzily, but forcefully at the brazen weasel. Darius simply grinned, if indeed such an act can be attributed to a Kamaitachi, and darted off in a straight line. The Miraj pursued and, being somewhat recovered, actually began gaining on him. Just as it was about to launch an Alicorn attack, its target darted to the side, causing it to ram directly into a nearby Peluda. The Exile, for its part, was rather unfazed by the crash, but still chose to respond the best way it knew how, by attacking. With his enemy now properly distracted, Darius took charge with a rapid series of attacks that effectively overwhelmed the Coney. The Kamaitachi then turned his attention to the Peluda he had used moments ago, and to a wholly different style of fight.

And so it continued, personal fights constantly switching hands, team battles with constantly switching sides, until finally, and quite suddenly, boomed the command, "Stop!" The preliminary round was over. The contestants had been chosen.

[OOC: All names not established previously in the story were intended as cameos, tributes if you will, to some of the BD greats. I purposely avoided mention of their fates, and they should probably not be used further, at least not without express permission from the members themselves. In fact, if anyone objects to the use of their familiar in this post, I will gladly replace it. Boy, I hope no one sues.

Leaning against the wall and putting as much distance between himself and the few other contenders in the room as prudently possible, Erik silently cursed the tournament staff for making him wait with unwanted company. They were in a well-furnished waiting room, currently being used to separate the advancing contestants from the masses not too far outside. The preliminary battle had ended about an hour ago, and the officials were still attempting to keep order while sorting out the winners. Erik and Kraven were among the first batch of victors led into the waiting room, where they were told to wait for further news. So they waited, with some passing the time through idle conservation, others checking on their familiars, and still others regarding the remaining competition. Every now and then, the door to the room would open and a couple more people with their familiars would come in.

“Hey, excuse me, you there,” a woman addressed the redhead in a cordial tone, causing him to turn to her with furious eyes. “Um, I know this is an awkward question, but I was just wondering, are you in it for the prize? For the competition? For fame and—“

“None of your business!” the vicious one snapped.

“Well, I’m sorry for trying to lighten the atmosphere here!” the woman shot back in a noticeably more hostile tone.

“Nobody asked you to!” Erik shouted.

The woman was about to retort, but then restrained herself as the others looked in the direction of the growing argument. She decided instead to move away from the redhead and chat with some other, more friendly faces. Relieved and irritated at the same time, Erik spoke quietly to Kraven.

“We’ll beat them all. No matter what.”

A chorus of cheers could be heard through the walls of the large room, grabbing the attention of all inside. A minute later, the door opened to reveal another pair of advancers. Rhampadge quickly settled into the new environment, glad to have his own breathing space again. Gavin came in more slowly, still waving out the door and thanking people here and there for their praise and words of encouragement. Finally closing the door, the guide took a seat in one of the chairs scattered around the room and smiled at the other participants around him. Only a short while later, another few competitors entered the waiting room. Among them were the shepherd and his Kamaitachi. Feeling uncomfortable under the glares and stares from the others, Kyle and Darius took their spot in the room, trying not to draw excessive attention to themselves.

After what seemed to some like an eternity of waiting, the uniformed official from earlier came through the door into the room, followed by various staff members and guards. He glanced over the people in the room and, apparently pleased with what he saw, began to speak.

“You all should be proud of yourselves so far. The twenty-four of you have demonstrated that you stand out from the rest of the ordinary masses. Well done!”

[Fun brain-teaser: Why 24? The answer is related to the story and its roots. *winks*

Copyright © 2013