Hey all...figured I'd give a shot at a Zatch Bell-inspired setting. While much of the original concept is still in play, I've decided to experiment a bit with some of the details...I guess this would have to be considered an "AU" version. I'm not sure if established characters are going to show up or not, but it is set in the modern world. I've also set down a few other rules to apply to my story, mostly having to do with the spellbooks. Here are some basics to start with;

There are now 333 mamodo children in the tournament. While this may seem like a large number, it would only require eight or nine rounds of matches to determine a winner. While it's still more of a hunt than a round-robin tournament, and won't always break down so easily, you get the idea. Besides, the world's a big place...that many mamodo would still seem incredibly small compared to the billions of humans around them. Which brings me to my next point...

Now, any mamodo can get a vague sense of the location of other mamodos by holding their own book and concentrating. The feeling imparted won't be precise, but it can be used to eventually track down all the other mamodos (and allow them to eventually track you as well). This is done to ensure that all contenstants in the battle actually fight. In addition, the more battles you win, the better your tracking sense becomes. Eventually, the mamodo with the most wins (and most power) will be able to find everyone...so no use hiding, your best bet is to get in the game and gain power (though those wishing to actively fight do show up stronger than those wishing to lay low). A specific mamodo can't be identified solely by this tracking power, even by those who know him, and the closest the power will ever indicate is within a radius of 100 feet.

Ever wonder how some of the really, really odd mamodos seem to just wander around without any problem? The books also create a magical 'cloaking' effect on most normal humans. They will still see the mamodo, and even be able to discern their unusual abilities and features, but none of this will seem odd to that human. Any obvious differences are either ignored or easily explained away with the flimsiest of reasons. About one in a hundred humans might remember/realize more, and that's one way for a mamodo to help identify his bookowner...they always recognize mamodos as being 'unearthly'.

On the inside cover of each book is a clearly inscribed number. This number is the number of remaining contestants in the battle, which changes by itself as that number drops. Exactly who was defeated by whom remains unrevealed.

...so...on with the story. This is really more of a prelude than a proper chapter. I'll introduce one character, and set up a battle.

The sun was just kissing the western horizon, and the sky was painted in fiery shades of orange and pink. A large, rugged-looking man leaned back against a boulder, sitting in the shade as the afternoon desert heat quickly began to fade. He had stopped to take a break about a half-hour ago at a convenient roadside rest stop, as he had spent most of the day travelling. The last few days still seemed like a dream to him, in some ways. He pulled the large, bright yellow-green book out and opened it, looking at the strange symbols written on the thick pages.

The man reading the book didn't look like the book-reading type. He was tall, with a solid, muscular frame, long brown hair woven into a single long braid, and a trim beard and mustache. A long scar ran down the left side of his face, and his dark tanned skin sported many tattoos, including full sleeves, and even a few on his neck. His features were strong, with a heavy jaw, broken nose and furrowed brow...he was probably in his late 30's. He was wearing biker boots, jeans, and a sleeveless black t-shirt. A half-helmet rested nearby on the seat of his Harley.

A rhythmic, high-pitched purring suddenly arose from the left saddlebag on his bike, caused him to look up momentarily, then smile to himself.

"Hmm...so she snores, too" he mumbled in a gravelly drawl, as he reluctantly pulled out and put on a pair of reading glasses. "How the hell can she can sleep right next to that roaring engine, but wake up when she hears a freakin' candy bar being unwrapped?"

A number on the inside cover read "319"...which was unsettling, as last night, it said "322". The script, though beautifully calligraphied, was mostly just gibberish, except for the first few lines...it seemed to clearly say "Nijiru", though he certainly didn't know what language this was. He didn't say it out loud, of course, least his ride be damaged in the resulting discharge of energy. Sounded crazy, but he had seen a whole mess of crazy in just the past few days, and something told him the worst was yet to come.

The sound of a car engine slowing down and pulling into the rest area caused Cade to look up. This part of the highway was very remote, and he hadn't even seen a car nearly the whole time they had been there...certainly not a car like this.

A beautiful, candy-apple red Duesenberg LeGrande rolled to a stop across the small parking area. Cade found himself whistling in spite of himself as he admired the classic, graceful lines of the car. The owner clearly took very good care of her. He intended to hail the driver and possibly get a closer look, then suddenly snapped to a state of readiness as he saw what came out of the vehicle.

A greenish-brown iguana-like creature, standing on its hind legs and wearing what looked like green and yellow lederhosen, scampered around the open door and regarded Cade with what looked like a wicked smile. It then seemed to unfurl a frill around it's neck, almost like it was popping open some kind of neck-umbrella...or one of those cones a dog has to wear so it won't lick it's own wounds.

"They're HERE, Blaine!" the lizard hissed loudly.

"Oh, I see them, my dear Checho," came a posh voice from the other side of the car. A short, older, rather androgynous human stepped around the front. The tone and general demeanor made Cade think it was probably a man, but he wasn't sure. He was wearing an old fashioned red suit, complete with red bowler hat and ascot. His hair was white, and he wore a pair of granny glasses on the end of his rather pointy nose. His lips were pursed, and he had a fair amount of wrinkles...and what looked like a bit of rouge and lipstick. In his red-gloved hands was a dark red book...a book which looked suspiciously like the one Cade was holding.

"Bellalani!" Cade yelled "Wake up! Yo, 'Lani! We got some of that company you were telling me about!"

"Huh...wh-what?" came the sleepy reply from the saddlebag. It's flap flipped up from inside, as a small being stood up inside it and streatched her tiny arms over her head, yawning widely. She rubbed her eyes, blinked a few times, then looked out eagerly at the newcomers.

With a small yip, the pixie-like girl unfurled a double pair of shimmery, dragonfly-like wings and jumped out of the bag. She was barely a foot tall, with a thin frame. Her long, platinum blonde hair was worn loose, with a noticable tuft on the top of her head. Her eyes were bright green, and had faint lines running from, down her cheeks. Her ears were thin, pointy and quite long, sticking out a bit to the sides. She wore several gauzy, scarf-like cloths tied around her thin body. As she started gaining altitude, she looked down on Cade.

"See! I told you the book would led us in the right direction! And you thought it was a waste of time riding all the way out here!"

"I do beg your pardon," the one known as Blaine interupted, "but I only feel it is right to advise you to surrender your book and just admit defeat. Save yourselves a right drubbing! My dear boy Checho and I have already defeated two other mamodo, and I understand the competition has only just begun! Clearly, with Checho's undeniable martial skills and my own intellect and good breeding, we are a force to be feared."

"Yeah! What he said!" Checho agreed in a shrill voice.

Cade stood to his full height, causing Blaine to gulp a bit and involuntarily take a step backward. Though it didn't seem possible, the large man's scowl actually deepened.

"Blah, blah, blah...bring it on, you creepy little bastard," he growled "Oh...by the way...nice car."

Blaine clutched one hand at his collar, with a look of umbridge on his pinched face. "Thank you," he said flatly, "It was very expensive. Now...En Garde!" And with that, he snapped his book open, and his features were illuminated by the glowing script.