Kason wondered whether the coming days might present any more strange events, but contrary to his expectations, they did not. In fact, the rest of the week passed by in the same way as any normal week would.
Professor Kinora’s tutoring sessions continued in the evenings and the Young Questers’ club meeting was held as usual on their day off. During the next tutoring session, Kason had been tempted to see if he could get any information out of Professor Kinora about why he had missed their previous session, but he seemed to be in a particularly bad mood and so Kason gave up this endeavour.
On the bright side, however, he finally managed to get to the point where he was happy with his wind manipulation spell. He had managed to reduce it down to the size of a fist and although the speed was still not as fast as he would have liked it, it still had enough force to knock someone off balance if it hit them in the right place. He had found that as he gradually reduced the size the air got harder to control. With his end product, he could fire it at a relatively fast pace – but only if he increased its size.
During the Young Questers’ Club meeting, they continued to doggedly practice the fire starting spell. This was becoming something of a bore to Kason, given that he had already grasped this spell sufficiently.
On the first tutoring session of the next week, Professor Kinora made another announcement. After their customary warm-up, he gathered them together and began to speak.
“You all seem to have grasped the wind spell to some degree, at least enough where you can go and practice by yourself. That being the case, we will be moving on to studying a new spell.”
He paused and Kason wondered what they would be doing next. Following a logical progression, their next spell would be the last of the four traditional elemental spells, earth.
“I thought that this time, I might give you a choice of what spells to learn. Given that you will be duelling in just under two weeks time, I thought it would be a good idea to give each of you some variety in your repertoire. After all, it would be kind of boring – not to mention unrealistic – if you knew every spell which your opponent could perform”
He then told them to wait while he took each of them aside individually and presented them with the possible spells they could learn.
When it was Kason’s turn, he walked a short distance away with Professor Kinora before the Professor signalled him to stop and began speaking.
“So what type of spell do you want to learn?”
“Umm…” Kason had expected to be presented with a list of potential spells and so was momentarily at a loss for what to say. He after coming out of his daze, he quickly cast his mind to what spells might prove useful during the duel. He already had a few methods of attacking with his fire, wind and water spells and he supposed wind and water would also be quite good at causing distractions, but in regards to defence…
“Come on boy, quickly now!” Professor Kinora said.
Kason gave a start then spoke, “I would like to learn a defence spell, Professor.”
“What kind of defence spell? A barrier? A direct counter?”
Kason began to panic. He didn’t know what would be best, he had come across different types of defence spells in class, but only in passing and they hadn’t studied them in depth. Professor Kinora watched him flounder for a few moments then tutted and said, “A barrier would best suit your situation, boy.”
“Ah, yes. Thank you, Professor.” Kason said, letting out a soft sigh.
Professor Kinora then told him about the various types of barriers. How they, like most spells they were learning at the moment, were often better when done with a force type spell, but could also be achieved through other means. In the end, he concluded that an earth element barrier would work best and so explained the theory before sending him off to practise.
Kason wondered off, past the group of people who were still waiting, and moved into a relatively isolated area to begin working out how he could get the spell to work. At its most basic, the earth barrier was simply a tower of dirt raised up from the ground so that it stood in between a caster and their opponent. From this foundation, the caster could then try to strengthen the dirt with ether so that it could withstand greater impacts without collapsing.
After an hour or so of shouting a variety of words at the unresponsive ground beneath his feet, Kason decided to take a break and see what his friends were doing. He looked around and seeing that Lexia was nearest, made his way over to her. At the moment that he approached, she was standing still but occasionally, Kason had seen her striding about the quite vigorously, occasionally bursting out into a run.
He called out a greeting as he reached her then asked her what spell she had gotten from Professor Kinora.
“I wanted some kind spell to help me find out what spell the opponent might be casting. But he said that was too advanced right now, so we settled on a speed enhancement spell instead .” She pouted as if to show that this wasn’t adequate, but stopped on seeing Kason’s questioning look.
“Basically I’m supposed to do some stuff with air magic and it’ll make it so that I can move faster. Do you want to see? I can only do it well on one arm so far.”
Kason nodded and before he had even finished nodding, he saw a blur shoot forward accompanied and uncannily quiet whooshing of air. He then felt a dull pain on his ear as Lexia tugged on his earlobe before retracting her hand with a girlish giggle at his look of annoyed astonishment.
Kason rubbed his ear, frowning at her “Why did you do that?”
Lexia shrugged, “You wanted to see didn’t you?”
After this display, Kason went to find the next person available, who happened to be Kayla. She said that she had just asked for some help with the spells she already knew, which Kason acknowledged as a smart choice. He soon left Kayla to her practise and began looking out for either Harper or Alford.
As he walked, he wondered whether or not it would have been better to have asked for more help like Kayla had. Even though he felt pretty confident about his ability in the spells he had already learnt, it had been a long time since he had had any real guidance with regards to any of them.
He was contemplating whether or not to risk asking Professor Kinora for help when he suddenly realised that he had ended up back where he had started without seeing any signs of Alford or Harper. He frowned, wondering whether he might have just missed them by chance during the mental blindness bought about by his session of introspection.
So he went around again, this time making sure to give his full attention, and he managed to spot them, although he almost missed them again. He pushed his way through into a particularly dense clump of trees and found Alford and Harper facing each other with raised fists. They both immediately turned with fists still raised as Kason noisily entered their clearing but relaxed their stances when they saw who it was.
“Hi,” Kason said in an attempt to break the tension, “What are you two doing?”
“We’re practising our new spells,” Alford replied gruffly.
“Oh… But why are you practising in here? Why not out in some space where you’ve got room to move?”
“Because here we can hide from Roan and his lot.”
“Do you really need to be hiding?”
“Yes!” Alford said frustratedly, “And you should too, it’ll stop the others from knowing what you can do, which was the whole point in Professor Kinora telling us our spells privately anyway. In fact, go and get the two girls, we’ll all move to a place where we can practise in private.”
Kason nodded and hurried off, he often felt quite intimidated by Alford’s tall, thickset figure and deep voice. The other boy had grown enormously over the course of the year, while the same couldn’t really be said for Kason.
They all continued on for the rest of that week, practising the spells that they had been taught at the beginning of the week. Harper, who had also gone for a sort of shield, succeeded in making a wind barrier by the fourth day and was immensely pleased with it, even if it could be broken through with a well-thrown rock.
Kason had also managed to get his shield to work properly. He could now successfully call up a large, if rather thin, mound of earth to protect himself from incoming magic. He had also started trying to strengthen the earth to improve its durability but found that this task was particularly draining. If he was going to keep his energy consumption manageable, then he could only strengthen a meagre earthen wall which could barely cover his small frame.
With the group now having two working shields, Alford eagerly sought out both Kason and Harper so he could test his spell. The spell that he had learnt was definitely the most combat oriented of all Kason’s friends. He was now able to coat his fists in an element – Kason had seen him using fire and water so far – for a small duration of time to add more power to his hits.
To test out their defences, Alford took them each in turn and struck them as hard as he could with each type of his elemental fist. Harper’s wind shield mostly dissipated after each strike and Kason’s earth barrier was reduced to just a lump of dirt after his water element punch. His shield did, however, managed to hold up rather well against his fire element punch – standing mostly intact with the exceptions of a few stray cracks zigzagging across its surface. Emboldened by this success, Kason excitedly asked Alford to test his strengthened earthen barrier. Alford said that he shouldn’t however, given that he needed to recharge.
For the rest of the week, Professor Kinora gave them free rein to practise their spells as they thought necessary. At the end of the last session, however, he gathered them together again like he usually did when he had something to announce.
“Next week will be the last week before your duel. I won’t be teaching you anything specific, therefore, as if you haven’t learnt anything by now, then there’s no point in trying to get anything through to you at this late stage,” he paused and snorted to himself, his eyes wandering over the group and pausing on a few individuals. “That means you are free to do as you wish. You could even take the week off if you want. But if you want to practise still, I might find it in me to turn up as usual.” He then dismissed them with a wave and walked back over to the trees to pick up his cloak.
The next day was a welcome break for Kason. The whole business with the duel was becoming quite a hassle for him. Yes, it was exciting to learn new spells and all that, but the increasingly antagonistic atmosphere between Roan’s group and Kason’s that was present whenever they met – whether in or out of tutoring – was beginning to wear on Kason’s mind. He spent the day relaxing, apart from that week’s Young Questers’ meeting where he spent the time trying to avoid the members of Roan’s group and before he knew it, he was back down at the Range with the rest of their group.
As he had said, Professor Kinora didn’t teach them anything, in fact, he didn’t even do anything for the entire session. After a few minutes of awkwardly standing before Professor Kinora, waiting for him to do something, they cautiously broke away and began their regular routine. That first session, they went about it as they might any of the previous few tutoring sessions, except for the fact that Professor Kinora remained as active as a rock throughout it.
During the next session though, Harper called them all together after their warm-up.
“I’ve been thinking… Perhaps we should come up with some kind of tactics? I mean, we can’t do an awful lot at the minute, but it wouldn’t hurt to try and prepare some kind of game plan?”
What followed was a long drawn out discussion on how they should be doing things. A lot of times the regional bouts were mentioned, Harper and Lexia both using examples of formations they had seen there as suggestions for their own. Kason tried to participate, offering up some of his own ideas, but when they began tossing around some technical sounding jargon that Kason didn’t understand, he gave up. He then stood there and listened as words like ‘tankers’, ‘rearguards’, ‘glass-cannons’ among others were thrown around over his head.
At the end of it, however, a general consensus seemed to have been reached. As one of the only two of them who could produce a good enough shield, Kason was given the job of going up front with Alford and Harper and helping to stop everyone getting hit as soon as the match began. He didn’t much like it but understood the necessity of such a move nonetheless.
As for the general plan, it would start off with Kason and Harper creating shields and then using them as bases from where to harass the opponents and stop them from having enough time to cast their own spells. While this was happening, Lexia and Alford would try to go around the sides and start hitting the opponents from close range. At the same time, Kayla would remain behind Kason and Harper and try to hit their opponents from long range.
This all sounded all well and good until, well, things didn’t go exactly as they planned. What if, as Kason thought later that night, Roan’s team could cast their spells faster than he could prepare a shield? What if they could produce shields of their own? What if he failed to cast his own shield properly under the pressure? Of course, there was a veritable sea of things that could go wrong and the answer that was given the next day when Kason voiced his concerns was hardly satisfactory.
For the rest of the week, they practised their formation and tried to set in place some back-up plans in case things went wrong. Kason practised his shield more vigorously as well, hoping to get it so deeply implanted in his memory that he would just be able to pull it off by sheer force of habit.
Soon enough, the day before the duel came around. At the end of the tutoring session, Professor Kinora once again brought them all together to give them the last minute information they needed.
“Tomorrow, you will need to meet me in the nexus of the main building at eleven o’clock in the morning. We will then travel to the coliseum which I have arranged and begin the duel before coming back here in the afternoon.” Professor Kinora then dismissed them as he usually did, but after a second he called them back. Kason and the rest turned and saw Professor Kinora sneering at them.
“Good luck,” he said with a short laugh.