The Chosen Council didn’t have any set time. Sometimes it was every two years, sometimes three. It all came down to when the King demanded it be held. When Imperia announced that a Council was to be held, the various cities of the kingdom complied. What followed was a kingdom-wide celebration.
Chosen participated with the hopes of seeing their prestige rise. They all dreamed of basking in the king’s appreciation, and maybe even being invited to live in Imperia. All the many merchant companies vied for the right to present their tributes so that the king would shower them with gifts, relics and riches.
The average man also placed great importance to this spectacle. They could not participate themselves but that didn’t mean they couldn’t join in the festivities. It was a grand opportunity to see Chosen perform miraculous feats.
Once every few years everything – from gambling parlors to all manner of businesses – came alive. They didn’t want to miss the chance to raise their profile and profits. In many ways the Chosen Council was a national carnival.
And it was about to begin.
Summer arrived at the arena where it was being held. Although he’d been warned by his sister and grandfather, they couldn’t stop him from worshiping Cloudhawk.
Summer wasn’t an idiot. He knew he was just a normal guy with average talents at best, not the sort destined to ride the tides of time. His destiny was to be one of the faceless millions, just some commoner. It was a pity, but… did that mean he couldn’t even look up to people better than himself?
Maybe he was just an ordinary guy with a head full of ideals and nothing to show for them. Maybe he would never know what it felt like to be the center of attention and walk the world stage. But at least he could project those ideals on the people he looked up to.
There were a number of people signed up to participate, but really on Red Banner and Seven Leaf were contenders. The other four together couldn’t match up to one of the two top-tier companies.
To these groups it wasn’t about getting the opportunity to offer tribute. It was all about making a name for themselves.
All six organizations presented their champions. The rules were that no one organization could put forth more than ten representatives. In other words this year’s Council would have sixty total challengers.
Redleaf wasn’t swimming in Chosen. Aside from displays like this when were there ever sixty Chosen together? And these weren’t your typical warriors, either. They were the very best of Redleaf!
Summer was able to determine which Chosen belong to which organization by their flags and banners. The first group to catch his eye was the delegation from Seven Leaf. They’d brought the full ten allowed by bylaw, but only seven of them were worth mention.
These seven fighters were all dressed differently except for their capes, which were all uniform with slight variations in pattern. They were stitched with depictions of branches and leaves; one had one leaf, another had two, then three and so on until it reached number seven.
In the Seven Leaf Company, the leaf was a sign of power and prestige. To be awarded a leaf meant you were the best of the Chosen. From there, the more leaves one accrued on their cloak the more it denoted their power. The one with seven leaves by definition was the greatest Chosen in the city. He’d been famous in Redleaf for two decades, so illustrious that even Seven Leaf’s president was essentially just a peer. He was Red Banner’s nightmare.
These were the illustrious Venerated.
Red Banner had four that they put forward as champions. Seven Leaf had seven. They were the very peak of their organization’s power and simultaneously the very strongest warriors of Redleaf.
They didn’t just capture the imagination of people like Summer. Every Chosen looked up to them like heroes. It didn’t matter where in the world you found them, people respected the strong all the same.
One unique figure stood out against the group from Red Banner.
Cloudhawk was dressed exactly as he’d arrived. The only difference was the mask that covered his face that lent him an extra layer of mystery. However, his ragged appearance had many suspecting Red Banner had just pulled someone off the street to represent them.
In the present of the seven Venerated and four Standard Bearers, who would pay attention to a man in rags and a silly mask? But Summer was thrilled. Today, Cloudhawk would show them how strong he was!
Leaders from the six organizations gathered. Beck Roth called out a greeting to his rival from Seven Leaf. “President Blanc. Here we are, competing for prominence in the Chosen Council.”
Seven Leaf Company’s president was a thin, white-haired old man. When confronted with Beck’s smiling face his lips pulled into a scowl. Cold words replied. “Maybe Red Banner will last longer this year. You haven’t won once in the last two tournaments.”
The edges of Beck’s lips curled downward ever so slightly but bounced right back. “Seven Leaf Company is a formidable opponent and an old power here in Readleaf. As your junior, Red Banner would never be so bold as to assume victory. We’re just here for a little fun.”
“I hope you remain this gracious in defeat.”
Members of Red Banner felt the anger bubbling up inside. President Blanc treated them all like dirt. But he was the leader of Redleaf’s strongest and oldest organization, so no one dared voice their frustration.
“The two of you sure love to loathe each other.” A tall and skinny elder tottered over to the two men. His face was a tapestry of criss-crossing gullies and his eyes were partially hidden behind gray films. He blinked at them as though he had trouble seeing. “You two are Redleaf’s greatest leaders. Come, the Council has started. Take your seats and chat.”
“Greatest leaders?” President Blanc spat the words with contempt. “Blind fool, if you have nothing of worth to say then shut your wrinkled mouth! Nothing about Red Banner makes them a great leader. This city only has one, and that is Seven Leaf!”
The blind old man cringed away and said nothing. Red Banner and Seven Lead held this city in the palms of their hands. Redleaf’s top tier. They’d competed several times, trading wins and losses, but Seven Leaf often came out on top. The blind man and all the rest of the organizations together couldn’t hold a candle to them. To Beck Roth and Otus Blanc, this mouthy codger didn’t even have the right to speak.
In Redleaf, the Chosen Council was merely a stage for Red Banner and Seven Leaf to duke it out. The rest were just opening acts.
Time had come for the qualification round.
The arena used for the Chosen Council had six fields. The six organizations spread their representatives evenly across the fields and those that won the qualifiers were elevated to the next round.
Undoubtedly, these early contests came down to luck. Since there were only six competing organizations they all postured to control more of the rings. The more representatives they could bring into the finals, the better their chances.
Once the leaders had made their decisions, the Chosen Council began in earnest.
The first batch of contestants was presented. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but feel a little stunned, as his first opponent was the Fourth Leaf from the Venerated. Middle of the road when it came to that bunch, but likely still very powerful.
On other fields, Sixth Leaf was facing off against the fourth Standard Bearer and Seventh Leaf was pitted against Red Banner’s second strongest. Six and Seven were Otus Blanc’s first rate fighters. There was no question they could handle Red Banner’s bearers.
In fact, when he saw the roster Otus’ mood improved tremendously. He cackled loudly.
It looked like Red Banner would lose two of their best in the opening rounds. Their only saving grace was that the best of its Standard Bearers was pitted against the First Leaf. But he was practically alone, leaving Red Banner with no advantage.
It wasn’t hard to see that the final, free-for-all battle would see Red Banner facing insurmountable obstacles.
Otus’ face softened. “Beck, it doesn’t look good for you this year either. Beg and I may decide to go easy on you. Make a sad puppy face and I might let you off.”
Beck’s expression was dignified and he did not reply. Things certainly did not look good.
Sixth Leaf versus Bearer Four. The fight in field three was about to commence.
“Welcome to field three of the Chosen Council!” The announcer’s voice boomed over the crowds. “Our first contest looks like a fine fight between two powerful contenders. Please join me in welcoming Seven-Lead Company’s Mr. Six, and Red Banner’s Fourth Standard Bearer!”
Roaring cheers shook the arena. In the eyes of Redleaf’s populace they were both heroic figures.
The Fourth Bearer took the field with a dark expression. Opposite him was a grim, dark-skinned man in his middle years.
Mr. Six didn’t carry any obvious weapons, but was accompanied by a very large jet-black wolf.
The beast did not have a tuft of hair on it. Its flesh was rough and coarse like stone. It stood obediently by its master, calm, still as a statue. Its eyes burned green and never left the Red Banner representative on the other side of the field.
“Let the fight begin!”
A cold smirk crept onto Mr. Six’s face. Without any word or motion, the black wolf took its cue and leaped into action.
It then disappeared like a puff of smoke.
Fear hidden beneath a veneer of grandeur glimmered in the Fourth Bearer’s eyes. This divine beast was called a shadow wolf and it had the ability to phase in and out of reality. When they did so their opponents couldn’t pin them down and the wolf could chose its timing and angle of attack at will.
“Go!” The Fourth Bearer knew his foe was strong and dared not underestimate him. An enemy like him, who tried to win through deception, needed to be quick. The way to defeat them was to never give them a chance to use their speed to their advantage.
He began by immediately dispatching the black condor he’d used to battle Cloudhawk. The bird’s form was wreathed in smoldering black flames and it released the full extent of its power from the outset. It became a streak of sinister black fire directly right at Mr. Six.
It wasn’t a bad tactic to attack the beastmaster with one’s own beast directly. Let’s see who was faster!
“Red Banner hasn’t improved at all.” Mr. Six shouted at his opponent mockingly. “You think this attack can hurt me?”
He raised his hands and light shone from the rings on his fingers. The light solidified into a screen that separated Mr. Six from the flaming bird. When the column of flame struck it was all deflected and not a lick got through.
The Bannerman’s face stiffened. What relic was this? Why hadn’t he been told?
Spectators looked on in disbelief. Mr. Six was a beastmaster, when did he learn to use such a treasure?
Seeing their reactions Otus chortled. “That is a gift we received after our last victory. The King, in his strength and wisdom, gave us this relic for our showing. Two years in a row you’ve lost, and that’s twice you did not receive the grace of the king. You keep falling further behind – do you think you have a hope of defeating us? The only thing left to see is how much of a fool you’ll look like by the end of all this!”
The Fourth Bearer could sense the danger he was in. His mind raced, trying to find a way to protect himself.
A snarly wolf jumped out at him from the shadows. It seemed larger than it had before and suffocating power hung over it like a cloud. The ground cracked beneath its paws as it sprinted toward him with incredible speed. He had no time to get out of the way.
Red Banner’s representative was struck. The crowds could hear the sound of breaking bones over their gasps and cheers. The Fourth Standard Bearer was flung bodily from the ring and slammed into a wall. By the time he hit the ground he was already unconscious.
What everyone had expected to be a mighty fight between two monsters was over in less than a minute. The gulf of power was just too vast!
It came as a shock to them all that Seven Leaf Company had grown so strong. So much that Red Banner appeared to have fallen far behind. As far as everyone was concerned after this first fight, it didn’t look like Red Banner would be on the way to meet the king this year, either. It was more likely they’d leave this Council weaker than when they arrived.
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