Silo was torn.
He partially was horrified at the needless and excessive violence he had engaged in. Although the guard was an asshole, that was no reason to strike him. The other part of him glorified in it. There was a simple satisfaction in being physically superior to someone else. It was a simple pleasure like nothing else Silo had experienced.
This split was nothing new. It had been a constant source of inner pain and turmoil since he had pushed himself to Level 50 with the gift from his masters.
As they walked, Silo’s gaze shifted to his group. He barely controlled a sneer. They seemed rather hale and healthy, they probably had done little actual engagement with the enemy. Meanwhile, Silo had been behind enemy lines. Every day, he had killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Wights.
In those circumstances, others would have probably fallen into the hands of the enemy, and Silo couldn’t deny there were many close calls. A handful of times he had sustained a deep injury that put him in dire straits. But with his new, more powerful images that he had received from the gift, he was able to grasp victory.
Silo was aware that he was losing a portion of his old Skills, but it was hard to care. After all, everything was to show these pompous Central Styles that they can’t just trample over the lives of the people in the Spearman School.
In his pocket, Silo’s hand tightened on his Soulstone. No matter what the rest of his squad had done, Silo was sure that his actions were enough to buy them a ticket into the finals. And from there, he could demonstrate how far he had come.
He could kill someone.
The thought came unbidden, and Silo stumbled as part of him recoiled horrified.
Without much respect, Azriel pushed lightly on Silo’s back. “Keep walking.”
Silo felt a flash of hot fury, but he buried it. Instead, he hurried forward. Why did he suddenly… suddenly think about killing someone? And why…
…did he want it so badly…
Luckily, they soon reached another room, where there were 16 larger Soulstones, about the size of a large closet. Although this new room was just as spacious as the first, the sixteen Soulstones did make it feel pretty cramped. There was a small wooden podium in front of the Soulstones, and Raption Veir walked to it and began to speak.
“Since we are here, let’s begin quickly so we can return to the festivities. One at a time, each team will come up to touch one of the Soulstones. They have been labeled. To begin, Team One.”
With an easy smile on his face, Althumber and his group walked forward. They laughed as they did it, too, which made Silo dig his nails into the palm of his hand. In his mind, Silo had no doubt that Althumber had never been placed in a situation where he was in any danger during this three-month time span. He had simply collected his points from others. It was infuriating.
But then Silo forced himself to relax. Although he had suffered while Althumber had not, the experience of fighting alone behind enemy lines was invaluable. Silo had no doubt who would be able to triumph in a direct confrontation.
Very quickly, energy flowed out of the Soulstones they pressed on the larger Soulstones. It was like watching a sphere slowly fill with mist. Silo felt a flash of glee as no more energy flowed into the large Soulstone, and the large thing was not even halfway full. It truly appeared like think grey mist was pooling around in the stone.
But when Raption spoke, it was with laughter in his voice. “Oh! Our Team One’s final scores… is 26,132! Truly impressive. They truly set a high bar. As expected of the number one team!”
Althumber looked smug. Silo did his best to suppress his twitching.
More and more teams went up and put their energy into their individual Soulstone. Team Two’s score gave Silo something of a shock because it indicated how he might have underestimated how badly the Veir’s were cheating for the First Team. Team Two scored 15,079.
Team Three was 9,010, but Team Four was 17,982, which gave Raption a moment of stiffness before he congratulated the team. It seemed that Team Four’s performance was not in the cards. The rest of the Teams were largely in the order they were ranked, however, except for one notable exception.
“Team Eleven! 25,999! That…” For several moments, Raption truly seemed unable to fathom what to say. Instead, he just stared at the lovely woman who had turned in the lion’s share of the points. Silo spared a glance for Randidly, who was yawning.
The lovely woman bowed. If Silo recalled correctly, her name was Helen and she traveled here with this group. It was… incredibly impressive that she had accomplished this much.
After a few more teams went up and revealed scores between six and seven thousand, it was finally their turn.
Silo stretched his hand out to his teammates, stopping them. “Please, let me go first. You will understand why afterward.”
Unlike the rest of the team, his team shrugged and let him go up alone. His gait was calm and his breathing was even, but the wild and dark side of him was practically giggling with glee. Although he didn’t know how much energy he had gathered, Silo had no doubt the amount was jaw-dropping.
An acidic smile curled up the edges of his mouth. It was time to give them the first sign that they were not as in control of this tournament as they thought.
Silo pressed his Soulstone against the larger Soulstone labeled with sixteen. Energy rushed out of it and began to pool in the bottom. More and more flowed out, very quickly passing the point totals of most of their competition.
But ultimately, Silo had a bitter expression on his face as he noticed that his total was barely short of Team Two.
“Team Sixteen… 14,578…!” Now the shock in Raption Veir’s face gave way to barely concealed fury. It was clear that the man was grinding his teeth as he regarded Silo. It did a lot to alleviate the frustration that Silo was feeling. “How… surprising. Well, if that’s all, I’ll announce-”
“Ah, wait, I haven’t had a turn yet.”
Everyone turned as Skarch, the Spear School Style woman walked calmly forward. She removed a Soulstone and tapped it against the larger Soulstone. Then she turned and walked away.
Everyone stood stock still as they checked the new amount of the Soulstone.
“Team Sixteen… 42,394 points…” Raption mumbled. Then he turned around and gave Randidly and Azriel, who were standing some distance away, a hard look. When they didn’t move, it seemed something inside of him relaxed.
Silo experienced a similar reaction. Forty-two thousand meant that the other three had gathered twenty-eight thousand together. That evened out to a little over nine thousand a piece. It wasn’t as big as he had gathered, which was reassuring. There had a been a moment when Silo had felt a strange surety that they had each gathered that much energy.
…and something told Silo that of the three of them, Skarch wouldn’t have the most. Her attacks were too direct. Meanwhile, Randidly’s Spellspear Skills…
“Ah, Well then. Ahem. Our final five teams are… Team One, Team Two, Team Four, Team Eleven, and Team Sixteen. The- errr…” Here Veir paused briefly before continuing. “The board of elders had decided to do away with the seeding element, and randomly distribute the byes for the first round of the tournament, which will be determined on an individual basis.
“The drawing will… well, occur presently. Ah, to make the numbers work… there will be 8 individuals who will need to fight in a preliminary round, and then those four will join the remaining twelve in a typical single elimination style. I will write down the names, and select them presently.”
Sneering at Veir while he hastily scribbled down on scrap paper brought to him by an aide, Silo knew that the plan had likely to give the winners a bye, and perhaps force the final two teams to fight themselves. It was quite satisfying to see him thrown by the outcome, but it was still frustrating that they couldn’t admit Team Sixteen was superior.
In fact, they could have just accepted the seeded method and forced Teams Two and Four to fight each other and Given the other three the bye into the final top 16 portion of the tournament. But that was likely politically untenable. Although not as important as those in the first Squad, Squad Two had a lot of the pampered elites of the Central Domain.
And to protect their fragile feelings, Raption Veir would do anything.
“Oh, also,” Veir added before the drawing began. “Even should you fail in the tournament before the end, worry not. For the remainder of the tournament, you will stay in housing provided by the Hall of Stances. During that time, you may peruse the outer area of the Hall. But only the final two shall be allowed into the Inner Sanctum. So, without further ado…”
As expected, none of Squad One and only one from Two was selected. That individual was from the Death School, which was largely independent and cared not about such things. But two people from Squad Four was selected. Two people from Squad Eleven as well. And finally, three people from Squad Sixteen.
Everyone but him would be fighting in the first, preliminary, round.