It was natural that other factions would be using the tournament for the same purposes of assessing the strength of different groups as John. In a way that was made easy, since many people wanted to display such strength. They might keep some things hidden, but ultimately showing off in front of other factions was for the purpose of asserting dominance. One of the stated reasons for the tournament was to avoid larger conflicts between regions, and while individual factions might show some weakness, as a whole a region could show their strength.
The tournament didn’t always serve that purpose, but it was decent enough, and while grudges might form during the tournament, it could also be a place to resolve more minor disputes with less chance of anything serious happening.
John knew he was supposed to pay more attention to rivals or potential rivals, but he couldn’t help but continue to focus on the triplets. There were others in attendance to report on the other battles anyway. It would be fine.
A beam of light shot past Melanthina’s head, scattering on the wall behind her. The walls were the only thing saving her as she slid behind another one, additional beams of light following up quickly.
What was she supposed to do in an arena brimming with the light element against a cultivator who practiced it? It wasn’t fair!
But of course, nothing would be fair. Both walls and wide open areas were beneficial or detrimental to different individuals, and the same was true of element. Melanthina mostly just wished she wasn’t having to face off against the worst sort of opponent for her. She’d had the opportunity to spar with a few younger disciples of the Golden Tomb Guardians, but they favored close range abilities, unlike this jerk. Some kid who used light beams that turned into rainbows.
What the heck was the Combining Luster Sect anyway? This guy wasn’t combining anything. If anything, he was doing the opposite! Another stupid light ray split apart as it reflected off the wall instead of falling apart like it properly should on impact. The smaller beams barely contacted Melanthina but it stung. Light did not get along well with darkness.
Melanthina slipped behind a wall, trying to erase her presence. What was this Nik even doing in the tournament? He was a kid! It was embarrassing to have to fight him. Sure he might be like… somewhere close to her own age, but it still didn’t make sense. And the way he pranced around on top of the walls was annoying! Just stand on the ground like a normal person!
At least he lost track of her for a second this time. She had a good angle from below and behind. She just had to be quick with her attack, gathering energy and chucking her throwing dagger right for the middle of his back.
And the punk still managed to dodge it. Just a twist of his body, and he was looking down on her from above. What was with that blank expression anyway? It was like he didn’t even care. He was so sure of his win already.
Nik was going to die today. He knew it. It didn’t matter what the tournament rules said or what protections the area theoretically offered. This crazy girl was going to stab him in the spine and then his entire torso would explode and he would be dead. And she might get a slap on the wrist as punishment because she was from a powerful clan. Melanthina Tenebach. Whereas he was just Nik.
Being a disciple of the Combining Luster Sect really didn’t compare to that. He wasn’t important, just another disciple. If the sect was really looking for a war they might use him as an excuse, but they wouldn’t actually care.
It was a good thing Melanthina didn’t have particularly strong ranged abilities, at least as far as she’d displayed. It was all he could do to run around on top of the walls creating a sort of maze in the arena, keeping out of reach of her weapons. Except when she threw those little daggers. It was the malice that tipped him off, the complete antithesis of darkness against his light element, and even then he just barely twisted his body out of the way. His shoulder burned, even though it hadn’t been touched. He was lucky that the arena had some light element to replenish himself because these walls were really screwing with his abilities.
The technique he was using needed sufficient space to split and recombine the facets of light to amplify the effect. Melanthina was darting around in unpredictable ways and he could never get a good angle. He just needed to hold on for her to make a mistake… or something. He didn’t really know.
He stretched his hands out, forming his fingers into something like a triangle. He knew that obvious movements were a weakness, but he could only perform his techniques with the mental support from that. Once more Melanthina dodged his attack, and though he could split the beams back towards here just before they struck the wall, he didn’t have an angle to recombine because she was gone again.
How did she even do that? He knew darkness dulled the senses, but it should have stood out against the arena. His head swiveled around, trying to track her somehow. A hint of her presence was all he needed. But he had to move.
He leapt between walls, watching for threats down below while trying to find somewhere that had a good angle. Maybe he could spot a sign of the techniques she was using, but what was he going to do against someone that was born with an affinity? From what he knew, her clan even had a guardian beast that empowered each generation with even greater darkness affinity. All they had at the sect was shiny underground rocks.
At least he could detect when she was going to attack. If he anticipated that, he could dodge, possibly even dropping down on the other side of a wall- though that would forgo a counterattack.
The next dagger that came for him was a fake. He didn’t even realize it until he dodged it, but it forced him to dodge one way while the real attack came later. Nik’s attempt at a counterattack fizzled out, and instead of a proper beam a flash of light exploded from his palms as he toppled over the wall behind him.
Somehow his arm was still attached, but he didn’t want to pull out the dagger at the moment. The more serious damage had been caused by the elements reacting as they were expected to do. He’d probably lost half of his defensive energy all at once as his whole left side took a hit.
At least he ended up in one of the longer corridors he’d been aiming for. Now he just had to hope he predicted the right direction for his opponent to arrive. She couldn’t actually make herself invisible, but she really messed up his energy senses.
He slowly gathered light between his hands. Would she be coming?
He saw just the slightest movement ahead and took his chance. A single ray fanned out, splitting into a rainbow of colors and then recombinging. He had just enough space, and what was even more amazing was that his target was actually there. His attack hit and he felt the safety formations kicking in as Melanthina was pushed back against the wall.
Nik vaguely heard his name being called as the winner, and he swiftly turned around and made to leave. No way was he staying to stick around after that. He needed to patch up his arm and maybe sleep for a week.
“And then he left without even saying anything!” Meltanthina complained. “Why did they even let a kid like him into the tournament?”
“You know,” John said, “He’s probably actually a year or two older than you.”
“Whatever,” his daughter crossed her arms. “Tournaments are stupid anyway.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” John agreed amicably. His daughter needed a chance to vent, but she’d likely forget about the whole thing soon enough.
Since the triplets couldn’t be in combat at every moment, John still had some opportunities to watch different groups. This particular match was the Mozdar clan versus the Emerging Bamboo Sect. They were about as physically separated as any group that attended this tournament could be. The Mozdar clan was from the Glass Hills, east of the Green Sands. The Emerging Bamboo Sect hailed from the Viridia Wildlands, beyond the Shimmering Islands to the west. Both regions had little population, but what they had produced tough cultivators.
The arena currently resembled a sort of desert canyon- John could feel the heat from the fire element, though it was only minimally weighted towards that element. It might come into play if the battle dragged on, but it didn’t really benefit either side.
The battle began quickly with the cultivator from the Mozder clan sending a bolt of lightning streaking through the sky- rising above the ‘canyon’ and streaking back down to avoid the terrain in the way. John expected the cultivator from the Emerging Bamboo Sect to just take the hit. They were an earth cultivator, after all. Instead they stomped the ground, but instead of a pillar of earth rising up a ten meter tall stalk of bamboo arose from the ground. The lightning found it to be a tempting target and even controlled was unable to pull away to attack the earth cultivator. A plant made purely out of spiritual energy wouldn’t last beyond a few moments, but for the sake of a battle they were lasting enough.
John was intrigued to see different types of earth techniques be used. The Stone Conglomerate really leaned on its name, more or less considering dirt the same as stone. They were sturdy and powerful cultivators, but plant life also fell within the earth domain. The Emerging Bamboo Sect, at least, seemed to be quite adaptable. Before their opponent could make another move, they launched themselves forward, angled stalks of bamboo launching them in the air. They were clearly expecting a similar sort of attack as before, and their opponent obliged in the most roundabout way.
Even though their target was without any sort of cover, they didn’t aim directly for them or arc their attack upwards. Instead, they focused on the ground. A blast of air element fizzed into nothing… or so it appeared at first. Then feelers of lightning rose from the ground, lightning striking towards the sky. The airborne cultivator managed to react in time, spreading their arms wide and forming a sort of shield of latticed bamboo which spread out the impact of the attack, but that wasn’t all of the attack. As they landed, the ground beneath them was molten. Nothing a cultivator couldn’t resist, but they had to immediately leap away while flinging the clinging ground off of their boots.
The Glass Hills cultivator was prepared to follow up, but a forest began to spring up around the other, growing towards them. The giant stalks of bamboo acted as a sort of mobile defensive barrier, only covering the ten meters around the cultivator but providing many avenues to divert lightning attacks.
Earth ultimately had the advantage as an element, but the field favored the air cultivator to some extent. They dashed about, keeping their distance while leaving charged bolts in the ground behind them. The way they concealed their attacks- either stationary buildups or targeted at their opponent- was quite masterful for someone of their cultivation.
Ultimately, it was still early in the tournament so John didn’t imagine he’d learn much from the Foundation Phase combatants, but it at least let him understand their styles. And the appearance of the groups at the tournament with cultivators of all levels indicated they were interested in making a showing on both sides.