The time was slowly drawing closer to the start of the match as the surrounding festivities inside the campus also got more and more centralized towards the vicinity of the university's stadium.
And as the group of people wearing Verdante College's iconic green and cyan jerseys passed by the main road that led them towards their main stage of the day, a pair of relatively young but mature looking girls also saw these moving troupes of elite players with hints of interests in their eyes.
"That's them." One of the two girls carefully spoke, "The shortest guy at the very front there is the Ace Fielder and current Captain of the Windrider."
"--Jade, you really shouldn't be calling other people short."
Jade slowly turned her head to see the lively looking figure of her 'friend', with platinum-coloured hair that was tied into a ponytail, once again said something that she didn't have the energy nor willingness to retort to.
She looked at Sylphie beside her, the so-called young Captain of her school team, and heaved a sigh of surrender before changing the subject,
"How did you even manage to convince coach Reyner to let you come here and watch other city's game when we still have our own regionals to worry about?" Jade asked with a tone full of suspicions.
After all, there really weren't any good justifications for it.
Their school wouldn't have anything to do with any of the Zeta City's powerhouses at least until the start of Silver Crown next semester. And even then, for any information they'd require, they would be better off sending an actual scout rather than their Ace players to the match location.
But to her inquiry, the carefree Magnolia Thorns Captain only shrugged lightly while maintaining her innocent-looking face,
"I dunno, the same way I convinced you to accompany me here~?" She teasingly grinned.
"I doubt you actually pester the coach for hours on end until he finally caved."
"Come on~ If nothing else, a match of this level will always be a good learning opportunity to watch from! Not to mention that we might go against either one of them next semester should we win our regionals!"
"If nothing else, huh...?" Jade stared sharply at Sylphie, still wearing the skeptical look on her face.
"Erg... A-anyway, let's get to our seats."
Not talking anymore, the Solver, Jade, fixed her attention back to the screen of her mobile device, an activity that she had been continuing to do ever since they'd first arrived here before getting distracted by Verdante's group of players passing by just now.
"Seriously, what have you been watching? It's even a rare chance for us to see the live match of two famous Silver Crown regulars like this." Sylphie curiously tilted her head to the side, trying to glimpse at her friend's phone screen.
"It's the first Conquerors versus Defenders match of the season last weekend. Sigma Conquerors as the away team this time." Jade gave a succinct reply without turning her head.
"Ahh, the famous rivalry's here again. I almost forgot about that because of Ravenville's match."
"How can you even compare the two...?" She looked weirdly at Sylphie.
One was a world famous rivalry between 2 of the OPL top teams while the other was just a regional match between 2 college powerhouse teams of one city.
Granted the 2 college teams were still rather famous even within the whole of college Arena scene, but the level difference between the two matches were still miles apart.
"Well, the difference between most of today's all-star players and college players are just a couple of years in the end, no? Anyway, which one are you supporting?"
"I'm not supporting any of them." Jade remarked,
"But the Conquerors had always held a clear upper hand in their recent seasons against Lambda Defenders, so I doubt this season will be any different."
"Who knows, win or lose will never be totally decided unless both sides compete."
"...You're not wrong there." Jade eventually nodded, as always, her Captain would spout out some enlightening things from time to time,
"Let's just go for now. I've pre-recorded it anyway, I'll just watch it later."
"That's the spirit!"
Inside the Windrider's side changing room of the stadium, the old moustached Head Coach of Verdante was collapsing a pointing stick that's often used for teaching by pushing the tip down to the base.
"--Lastly, never get yourselves pulled into narrow spaces on any other circumstances except within their tower zones. The Ruined City is a very advantageous ground for the Illusions, combined with the twins' Abilities, it would be foolish of us to follow their pace on this."
"Head." At this moment, the short Captain of Windrider suddenly raised his hand up high for a question.
"Yes, Stiller." The Head Coach patiently responded by pointing towards the location he was seated in, gesturing for the Captain to speak.
"It'll not be good for us to go into confined narrow spaces against the twins for sure, but what if it was their other Fielders or Guards? In the end, we never know who their starting players will be."
"Mm." The Head Coach nodded accepting the question in a calm manner before answering,
"Our tactics still won't change. In any case, we're going against Ravenville. Speculating and adapting to the opponent's style is in their wheelhouse, not ours. Rather than breaking our rhythm in accordance to their formation, it'll always be a million times better to stick to our strong points." He spoke.
"And for that, we need our open space. As long as we maintain a position advantageous to us, any battle is ours for the taking, because--"
"We are just that superior in terms of power."
When the Head Coach had spoken up to here, he turned silent as if to observe the reactions of all his players in the room.
His last sentence seemed to carry a sense of certainty and unbreakable confidence within it.
"...Like you said, we won't know for sure who we'll be up against first or how they're going to play us. But that's not something that we should be stressing over, lest we got caught in one of Lark's mind games." The Head Coach emphasized this point more than his previous ones.
"The best way to handle them is to not get caught in their pace and play steadily with the set of tactics that you've practiced over and over to the point of near deaths. What you've perfected won't fail you in the end. Got it?"
They were almost finished with their final briefing right now, the moustached Head Coach pulled his clipboard up to his face to move on to the final key player on his list.
"And finally, Lee."
"Sir." The guy in a crew cut hairstyle stood at attention to respond to the call of his coach.
Just from seeing this, the Head Coach could feel the changes in his temperament from his young and brash past self just a couple years back, at least when he's not on the field playing.
"We've seen 3 Solvers so far from Ravenville, all your targets for this match."
Sam nodded after remembering the content of the briefing.
"I don't think I need to say anything about Naomi Fletcher since you can most likely handle her just fine. Having her on the field would be our best case scenario..." The Head Coach's words trailed off a bit at the end.
"The worst case scenario would be if Renee Morgan is out first. Truthfully speaking, the current you won't be able to show your maximum efficiency with her around, our Plan B that we've talked about before precisely revolved around if this Captain of theirs is starting in today's match."
"Which brings us to their 3rd Solver,"
"From the available data, he only ever came out together with Derrick Wallace and Naomi Fletcher as a combo. In which case, it would also not be a problem for us since you'll just be going after Fletcher first before him."
The coach's words had the utmost confidence in Sam's ability to handle the situation when he talked about his tasks. He continued,
"But since we're going against the Illusions, we should never easily count on the previously available information, especially when there're so few of them. So in the case of when the Starseed Irvine Lang come out alone or together with Renee Morgan as starters, here's what I want you to do..."
Together with the rest of his teammates, Sam Lee carried a serious but calm expression as he listened to the coach's instructions word for word.
Nobody aside from them knew if his current calmness was because of his matured temperament, or simply because of his bottled wild nature waiting to come out at the right moment.
Similar to the scene in Verdante's changing room, on the other side of the stadium's field, the Illusions' regular members were also currently having their final strategy meeting before the match in their assigned room.
"They'll aim for eliminations rather than points."
In front of the players, standing beside a whiteboard, Ravenville's Head Coach, Lark, calmly smiled as he looked at the eyes of his three Solvers one by one.
"There is NO question, about whether or not they'll do this. Since we have the battleground advantage this time, that bald moustached bastard of a coach will surely go for the simplest and easiest way to his win, which is getting rid of you three in open spaces."
As he said this, the three Solvers of Ravenville all had a completely different reactions written on their faces.
Naomi was the most obvious in her nervousness as she repeatedly tapped the ground below her with her foot at crazy fast speed.
To her side, the Captain, Renee, was the calmest of the three, showing barely any facial expression on her straight face,
As for Irvine,
After listening to the gist of their plan for this match, and furthermore remembering the future famous player that would soon be his main opponent on today's match, Irvine couldn't help but to subconsciously open and close both of his fists time and again while trying his best to check the condition of every corner of his body.
It was not an unfamiliar name to him.
'This could be said to be my second time playing a match against one of the future all-stars of my generation I guess.' He thought in his mind with a smile.
With the first one being the similarly dangerous Sylphie Hunter, Irvine's excitement this time was also no less when compared to their practice match against Magnolia.
It might even be greater since unlike that spar where both parties were not showing all their cards, this time, they were battling for not only the spots to the Silver Crown, but also the decisive ranking of the city.
Looking at each of the three Solvers, Lark once again showed a faint smile on his face,
'Well, it's at least better than I thought.'
Even prior to today, Lark had actually already briefed the three of them together regarding the situation on today's match.
At that time, he had mainly talked about the influence of having Sam Lee as an opponent for their team, but today he would like to focus more on the guy's threats towards each of them specifically.
Just like how Verdante's Head Coach was familiar with his style and thought process to a degree, Lark too, was not a stranger to the other party's strengths and weaknesses as a Head.
The two of them could be said to be the prime example of a complete opposite with their respective coaching and planning styles.
They were like the water and the rock.
If Lark was the type to consider every possibility and exploit other's weaknesses with the different ways he handled his cards, Verdante's Head Coach was the opposite kind who prioritize on the best type of plays his players were most compatible with and polish it to the extreme.
One was fickle and could be bent all kinds of ways while the other was straight as an arrow.
It could even be clearly seen from the writings on their whiteboards.
Verdante's Head Coach had only had a couple bullet points on his board within their changing room, while Ravenville's...
The board was complexly filled with many different conditional branches of hypothetical situations, sheets of different plays, and interconnecting red strings. The whole image of it almost as if the players were seeing the board used by the police in those various crime dramas.
If one looked closely, they could even see each of the regular players holding a binder on their sides.
This was the possible list of plays that they had practiced and memorized for this ONE match.
Lark was pretty clear on the other party's intention for today's match just like how the other party too was clear on his,
'Morgan will be the hardest for any one of them to eliminate, but that doesn't mean it's impossible if they go all out with numbers...'
'Or they could choose to exhaust her and go for a tie or 1-0 win if we can't score any until late game.' The gears in Lark's brain were turning at a fast speed even as he continued with his briefing for the team,
In Battle Arena, if at the end of the match, the scores between the two teams were tied, the decisions would be based on the collective HP percentages lost between the two parties first.
And if today's match came to this conclusion, Ravenville would most probably lose, simply because the difference in the two teams' damage dealing capabilities.
'It's not gonna go so easy for them now, is it?'
Even with various bad and worse scenarios running through his mind, Lark didn't feel even a shred of fear regarding his chances, quite the contrary, he felt that he was more confident than ever.
After all, his team was not just about his already well-developed 4th year players, he had the same level of confidence with Naomi, Irvine, and every other regular he had chosen for his team.
'The rest is up to me to maximize the potentials they have and go for the win.'
As the team reached the end of the briefing, Lark concluded,
"--Nothing more for me to say here guys, you all have memorized all the plays too, do them well and victory itself will have no other choice but to go to us." He grinned widely with the same kind of smile as when he thought up his various schemes,
"Remember, time is a factor today..."
"It'll be a direct race between us scoring and them trying to 'kill' us. Let's go!"
Here is the weekend chapter, thank you for reading!
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