"I would have beaten you, had I not fallen into that nest of nibblets," Bowyer complained as they chatted about things over their evening meal.
Pike chuckled, admitting that Bowyer had bad luck. Those vermin always hovered in groups and would tenaciously chase any out of their territory and beyond, meaning Bowyer had to deal with them or have to watch his back while fighting stronger prey. Not that the little ones did much damage, but it would accumulate and that is if they did not get lucky and throw something in your eyes!
"I had to keep reminding myself that you guys were just in an illusion!" Sun said, brightly. "It looked so real! And the way that you dealt with the Mesmyr, that was awesome!"
Pike ruffled Sun's brown hair, fondly. He had grown to like this little brother, much more likeable than Jin Li, who was glaring at the food in front of him with a shadowed expression upon his face. Leon, on the other hand, was yawning frequently, struggling to lift his spoon to his mouth.
"It'll be your turn to prove yourself next year," Bowyer grinned. "I'd like to see how both you and Jin Li fair."
"No problem!" Sun agreed, cheerfully. "We'll storm the top ten and meet you in the inner school without fail!"
Pike chuckled. "I'd rather bet that the pair of you will be fighting in the Standings within our school rather than challenging entry into it." Sun beamed beneath his praise.
They heard a spoon fall and a soft thud and turned to see Leon face down and leaning upon the table next to his plate. He didn't stir as they watched him for a moment, but they could see that his breathing was steady. "Looks like we should find Leon a bed," Pike mused.
"No need," Jin Li replied, darkly, shoving his chair backward and moving around the table to pick Leon up into his arms. The youth's eyes struggled to open, so gave up and simply nestled into Jin Li's hold. Sun watched, wide eyed as Jin Li princess-carried Leon out of the Food Hall, before they widened further as they fell upon Jin Li's plate.
"He left food!" Sun whispered in awe. Pike and Bowyer exchanged knowing glances and slight grins.
"You should stay with one of us tonight," Pike invited the youth, who remained. "We can give you tips to help your own fights in the future."
"Really!?" Sun asked with happy excitement.
On the fourth day, the one on one battles would begin. The students were grouped based on their points over the last three days. There were ten groups of twenty four students and one group of twelve. This final group held the top twelve performers of the Standings so far, although the total points were quite vast from first to twelfth. Ari, with a score of two hundred and seventy five dominated first position, while in twelve, having snuck into that position by a mere point was a young woman named Delphi. She had one hundred and sixty five points.
Pike and Bowyer were sixth and seventh respectively.
"The matches are listed like this," Pike advised, using a stick to draw in the loose ground beside one of the practice stages. He drew a long line and twelve small points below it, indicating twelve students that were grouped together to fight. He then joined two points together and then had a third line meeting a point above the pair. "Basically, two students will fight and the winner will then fight a seeded student. Ah, a seeded student is simply one of the top four or eight in their group, so that the top performers don't face each other early on. The top four in our group are Ari, Crux, Ophius and Certi."
"Ari and Crux were first and second last year as well," Bowyer mentioned. "Main, who was third left school last year and Piter, who is now Fifth was fourth."
"Hmm, he's not doing as well this year," Pike said, before continuing. "The Teachers randomly place the seeds then randomly place the other students. For each win, a student can add ten points to their final score, the seeds get twenty for their first win, to keep things fair. Otherwise, non-seeds can earn more points than them overall, which can result in unfairness. There also might be a few grudge matches at the end, but these too have rules."
"One can't fight anyone more than ten places above them and they can't challenge anyone lower placed than themselves," Bowyer added. "These are worth ten points for the win, two for a draw and a loss of ten points for the loser, which is why there won't be too many grudge matches."
"W-why b-bother in the f-first p-place?" Leon asked, curiously.
"Generally, it's about final placement," Pike explained. "See, Delphi is in our group, but is just one point above a seeded person in the second group. If that person wins, they will gain a lot of points and could push Delphi out of the top twelve. So Delphi has the right to challenge this and get back points and her placement."
"There probably will be scores settled as well," Bowyer admitted. "Which is why grudge matches are timed, unlike the groupings."
"It sounds c-c-complicated," Leon sighed, to which Jin Li privately agreed, though as a martial artist, he could also see some benefits of having the varying rounds and battles. These were to challenge the students into considering their skills, martial arts, spiritual abilities, strategies and teamwork. It was no good being superior with your weapon of choice if one could simply sneak up behind you and stab you in the back, just as it was no good at being great at teamwork, if you could not hold your own. Understanding the skills of another martial artist was also not the same as knowing the abilities of a beast. But this whole points thing; keeping tally was a headache.
After sparring a bit amongst themselves (with the exception of Leon), the men went inside and towards the main arena, where their matches would all be held in full view of any who wished to peruse them. Logan and Luna were due to fight first, whoever won had the misfortune to face Ari. It also happened that in the third match, Pike would have fight Bowyer. However, neither seemed displeased by this.