5 5. The Day of the Tournament.
Steff was enjoying herself. A lot. Well, not too much, since it was so scorching hot, but the sight of thousands of sweaty, panting nobles was something you didn't get to witness often.
So far, it had been a great day. Waking up refreshed and with a full Sol pool. An excellent breakfast, even by Jien's standards, followed by her armour being cleaned and polished. Yeah, today was a good day.
She had already known the Grand Demon's Duel took place at a collesium outside the city, but had expected the nobles to just ride out in carriages and domes. When a crier announced the by the Emporer's decree, all people not directly related to him must make their way there under their own power, she had been ecstatic.
A quick march to the Middle district gates, and a longer one through the Lower District and Slums had seated her near the front gates, watching with glee as sweaty, already tired nobles trooped through the gate, sweat staining their precious silks. 'Under their own power' had included no slaves or servants carrying either fans or waterjugs alongside them. Most, had, of course, forgotten to even think of those. Not to mention sandcloaks. She had hers tightly wrapped aroumd her, the heavy, but ventilated material snuggling up against and into the cracks of her armour, keeping the blowing sand out.
And these fools had forgotten the first rule of the desert. Sand got everywhere. Everywhere. Even into your privates. It stung. It rubbed you raw. Oh, and it got into your mouth. More than one dandied up priss had been spitting it out as they staggered past.
Now, there were a few smart ones. Some fire cultos had been walking past, draining the heat from their bodies. A few water types had surrounded themselves with mist, though one guy had a screen of water that had quickly turned to mud. She had cheerfully waved to him as it had collapsed, caking him and his silk robes in filth. He had flipped her off in return.
Or at least, the golden city version of flipping off, which had involved him pointedly sticking him large, pointy nose in the air and walking away. He made it five steps before a burst of sand got in there too.
Some of the weaker one's had turned back, pouting and crying at the emporer's cruelty as they tromped back home defeated. Not that the old man gave a fuck. He had been the first out of the city, carried on a massive palaquin with most of his harem onboard and two cultos straining to keep the portable dome up. It had been a strangely majestic sight, an ancient cultivator, the picture of stoicism, eyes straight ahead and face in a regal frown. A red robe adorned his frame, and atop his head rested a circlet of pink sunlight. Majestic, indeed.
Until she had noticed something bobbing between his feet, hidden from the masses by the waist high lace curtain. Looking closer had revealed a head, giving the old man, well, head. He had seen her, and broken into a gap toothed grin while waving at her. Well, the skinny old fart had his priorities straight. Had to admire that.
She had her own water canteen with her, and took a swig from it. Lukewarm. A quick flick turned half of the water into ice, and another thought crushed that into sliver-like shards. Another sip told her the cold was already setting in. Much better.
She sat on her earthen throne, shaped in the likeness of The Iron Throne from a game about said thrones, raised above the ground and inside the shadow of the wall as the sun rose. Hapless nobles straggled by, hurrying towards the collesium for the emporer's speech. She sat, a scroll open in her lap and drinking iced water as they sweated and panted, already dragging their feet out of the gates. How the would make it an entire mile in these conditions, she didn't know or care.
The scroll was...interesting. It stated most of the tournament's rules, as well as a few technicalities and oversights. Good stuff actually, and more than a few that could help her make a maximum impact.
The tournament started with a free for all prelim, where unselected candidates would slug it out to get a spot in the main event itself. She didn't bother, as she had already bought her own spot. It wasn't just nobles or even people from the city, but everywhere. Many people would already be in the collesium itself, which had living qurters and a recently stopped trade caravan. The tournament was eight official rounds, each a series of one on one battles, with the loser falling out of the rankings. Two hundred and fifty six participants would attend. One would walk away with the grand prize. Her.
There were, of course, demonstrations of skill, beast fighting and other events included in the three day festivities. They just loved going overboard with everything. Hell, this event was one of the smaller ones, there were others hosted throughout the year for other age groups.
Finishing the scroll she snapped it closed and tucked it in her pack, then wrapped her scarf tighter aroynd her face and dropped to the sand, letting her throne crumble behind her. Slinging her pack over her shoulder, she set off for the massive monument of money in the distance.
The last of the nobles had left the city gates, and now the commoners were being let through. Time to get moving. One, large lumbering fool, clad in silk was huffing in front of her, sweat dripping from his back and attempting to carry a rack of spiced foods with him as he walked. Just for a minue, she considered tripping him, but walked past and snatched a treat off the rack instead.
Grinning as the sweet taste filled her mouth, she ignored his shouts, and striding into the sand, gave him the middle finger salute over her shoulder.
Half an hour later had her standing in line at the collesium, waiting her turn to be let in. While there were two gates and the guards were just waving people through, the veritable tide of human bodies had slowed progress to a crawl. People covered the entrance, pressed up against the walls of the enormous building, even standing up and down the sand dunes in lines. It smelled of heat and sweat, the slightyl rancid odor finding it's way to her nostrils.
To make it even worse, two bodies ahead of her stood someone. If anyone's look had ever screamed, 'hi, i'm the main character' it was him. His clothes, torn and ruffled but hanging at angles that complimented his body instead of looking like rags. His face, a grin of a man out to conquer the world. His posture, confident, with a stylishly ragged bag slung over his shoulder, perfect hair and gleaming sweat trickling down his bare arms.
A girl stood next to him, looking nearly identical and making goo-goo eyes at him when he wasn't looking. She was shorter than him, blushed often and fiddled with her robes. Blonde hair, long and flowing, flowed back over her shoulder and down her curvy body.
On his other side, with her arms crossed and pretending to not be sneaking glances at him, was a girl dressed in black. From head to toe. In the freaking desert. She too was standing close to him, while pretending to keep her distance and quickly looking away whenever his head turned towards her. Her body was slightly underdeveloped, but she had a phat ass.
Steff stared at them for a full minute, then stepped out of line, walked seven places back and forcibly reinserted herself. Nope, she was NOT getting involved in that hot mess.