Chapter 41: Duel

Kason walked through the short dimly lit tunnel into the arena’s interior and blinked in the sun that shone down through the gathering clouds. They had left the college just after eleven with Professor Kinora, Ashton and two other senior division students as supervisors. From the college, they had gone to Constantin and from there taken a levicraft to another city called Dura’ma. Then, from the terminal where they landed, it was just a short walk to the coliseum.

The arena was actually quite small considering how large the one at the college was. He looked around at the edges as he entered and saw that instead of a viewing platform, there were rows of low benches rising in concentric circles around the outside of the arena. The first row was raised up maybe ten meters above the ground – which gave rise to the same sort of haze that the coliseum at the college did to obscure the other available terrains.

As he surveyed the barren, rock spattered environment, he felt the nervousness he had suppressed rise again in his stomach. He glanced over at the rest of the group spread out around him and caught Roan smirking silently as he gazed out at the arena.

Professor Kinora walked through their group, followed by a young woman in green robes. “You will be fighting in a minimal cover environment,” he said, “that is to say, this. There won’t be any spectators for this match apart from those here.”

“And, of course, you need to know the rules… Everything up to the fog is in bounds, if you try to encroach on the fog, you will be repelled and eliminated, understood? On the starting signal – a whistle – the coliseum will apply a shield for you to prevent serious harm. This means you can use any spells you know, without concern for hurting your opponents. They won’t get hurt. Well, not much.”

His mouth formed a slight smirk before he settled it back into his usual expression and continued. “The shield will also show you whether you’ve been eliminated or not. After your shield takes a certain amount of damage, it will flash white and then remain a milky colour until it is removed. This will show you that you have been eliminated. You will also not be able to use your wands, or whatever after you have been eliminated. Once you’re eliminated, make your way back over to this archway and one of these three will see to you.” He gestured to the three senior division students.

“This place isn’t as up to date as the stadium at the college, so I will need to oversee the match. I will proclaim the winner when one team has been eliminated and then we can all go home. As for wands or other foci, the coliseum crew will be able to provide…”

He looked towards the woman, who nodded and stepped forward.

“I have with me wands, gloves, and staves,” she said in a pompous tone, “You can choose whichever you want. Just tell me and I’ll get it for you.”

They each told her which implement they would like, and after each request, the woman would wave one of her hands. This hand was covered in many rings, one on each finger except for her thumb. After each wave, the requested focus would appear and be presented to whoever had asked for it. Kason chose a simple wand, as that was what he was most familiar with, and most of the others did the same. The only exceptions were Alford, who chose gloves, and one of Roan’s friends, who chose a staff.

After they all had their implements, the woman nodded to Professor Kinora and walked back down the tunnel, leaving them alone. Professor Kinora then dispatched them towards opposite ends of the stadium, where they would start for the fight. Just before their group set off, Ashton came over to speak to them.

“You lot got yourselves sorted?” he asked, “Got a plan?”

They nodded tensely, and Harper said, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Ashton said, “One of the other supervisors is the older brother of someone in the other team, so he’s gone to give them advice.” He said and jabbed his thumb over his shoulder towards the other team where one of the other senior division students was talking to the other team. “I thought since I’d like it to be a fair fight, I’d come and give you some pointers.”

Ashton then embarked on a rather detailed speech about the dos and don’ts of group battles. He talked for a few minutes about flanking manoeuvres and sneak attacks, which just made Kason more nervous until Professor Kinora shouted at them for wasting time and forced him to stop.

Kason walked beside Harper towards the end of the arena that they had been allocated, twisting his borrowed wand between his fingers. They reached it, a flat depression with several waist-high rocks surrounding it, and huddled together for a last minute talk before the fight began.

“Everyone remembers the plan, right?” Alford began, “Kason and Harper at the front, shields, me and Lexia forward, Kayla stay back.”

They all nodded.

“So we’ll go forward until we can see what they’re doing. There isn’t an awful lot to hide behind so we shouldn’t have too much trouble seeing if they try to go around us or something like that. Once we’re close enough to be in range, we’ll begin as we planned.”

Just as Alford finished speaking, a short sharp whistle rang out over the stadium. As soon as it did, Kason’s vision flashed with a bright blue colour that faded as quickly as it had come. He cast a glance at the others of his group and saw that they were now covered with a translucent, hardly visible blue barrier. This, it seemed, was the barrier the stadium provided to prevent harm from coming to the fighters.

As soon as the whistle blew, Alford had begun to move forward out of the depression they currently stood in, Lexia a few steps behind him. They had reached the top before the others had realised what was happening and called down to them impatiently.

After Kason, Harper and Kayla scrambled up the bank, to join the other two, they all set off towards the centre of the arena. They didn’t walk fast and kept an eye out for the other team all the while they walked. The arena wasn’t very big, and they found that they could see the other team almost as soon as they got out of their starting position. From what Kason could see, they were doing roughly the same as them, just walking towards them at a relatively slow pace.

“How far do you think you could hit them from?” Harper asked Kason as they walked.

Kason opened his mouth to answer, but all that came out was a hoarse grunt. He cleared his throat and tried again, “From here, maybe when they reach there?” He said, pointing to a large rock that jutted out of the sparse grassy ground around twenty metres away. If he was being honest, he didn’t really know what the range of his spells was. That was one thing, he realised now, that he had forgotten about during practice.

Both teams carried on their walk until they were maybe thirty metres apart. Kason was just wondering whether they should be settling down to attack when suddenly, Lexia who was walking in front of him, gave a shout and stumbled backwards.

“That was a wind spell or something!” She cried as she steadied herself.

Kason, who had been absorbed in his thoughts as they walked, quickly looked up to see what the other team was doing. He could see that three of them were indeed stood still. The boy who had picked the staff was stood with the staff pointing towards them while another two stood by his side. The remaining two were charging across the ground towards them.

“Shields up, quickly!” Alford shouted, firing a wind spell himself with his hastily raised wand.

Kason’s wand immediately rose, although his mind was still not totally focused.

“Rise!” He heard himself shout, as if in a dream. He felt the rushing in his head as ether poured from him to his wand. Not even a moment later, the ground in front of him grew upwards to form the earthen barrier Kason had called for.

Lexia ran past him at that moment, having already righted herself, and rushed towards the approaching students at top speed. “The staff has a longer range than the wands,” she cried as she went past the group, “until they get closer, there’s no need to worry about the other two!”

Finally coming to himself, Kason quickly crouched behind his conjured wall as a whistling overhead suggested another wind spell had just flown past. What was he supposed to be doing again? Ah yes, attacking. He peered around the stone to get his bearings and to check on the progress of the people running towards them.

Looking around his shield, he saw Alford running forward and to the side, following Lexia to circle around and intercept one of the incoming enemies. Kason briefly wondered what the other two students who had stayed with the staff-wielding student were doing, but quickly dropped this thought and turned his wand on the other student still barrelling towards them.

He was moving with a speed that could only come from some kind of magical enhancement so that he had already gotten three-quarters of the way towards them. Kason, still peering around the side of his rock shield, took aim with a shaking hand and said, “Blast!”

He felt again the rush of ether and saw the rippling air as he fired his own wind spell at the student. He tried to trace its movement through the air but couldn’t. He did, however, see the student stumble as his wind spell passed by one of his legs. Then, before the boy could recover, another two spells collided with his chest causing the student to fall over backwards – his wand flying out of his hand.

Kason took a quick glance over his shoulder and saw that Harper and Kayla, both of whom had stayed behind as discussed, also had their wands raised, pointing at the now grounded student. Kason lowered his wand momentarily and let out a shaky breath. His nervousness had disappeared, remaining only as a vague memory from a few minutes prior and had been replaced by some new marvellous source of energy that made Kason feel as if he could do anything.

Kason saw the grounded boy begin to rise and realised that he had not been eliminated. He hesitated for a split second and then decided that getting closer would be better for the moment.

He emerged from behind his stone shield and sprinted over to where the student had fallen, thankful – for the first time – for the physical training they had been doing. The boy was on his feet, however, he did not have his wand. Seeing that it had landed a few meters away, he tried to make a grab for it but Kason quickly pointed his wand at it and pulled it away using telekinesis. He then conjured up a ball of fire which he threw from his wand at the boy, who failed to dodge and went down with a shrill cry.

Kason, conscious of his lack of cover, began conjuring another fireball, but before he finished another ripple of air shot past him and struck the boy in the side. The blue shield that covered the boy’s body then pulsed with a pearly white light, putting out the magical flames that still licked at his body and signalling his elimination from the match.

Kason turned and ran back to his stone shield, giving Harper a grin as he returned. He jumped down behind it and let out the breath he had subconsciously been holding. He thought it strange that he hadn’t been targetted by any other spells while out in the open and peeked over his shield to check on the three students of the enemy team who had stayed behind.

They were gone!

He looked around wildly, trying to figure out where they had gone when suddenly his ears began to ring and he experienced a sharp pain in the back of his head. He cried out in surprise and pain and threw himself to the ground just as another spell flew over his head, striking his stone shield with a crunch and showering Kason with dust.

There as a shout of laughter from behind him, and as Kason raised his head, he saw one staff and two wands raised in his direction.

“How in the Seven’s name did they get there?” Harper shouted as he fell over while dodging a spell.

Kason didn’t reply as he was too busy scrambling to get on the other side of his shield, but a mocking voice floated over to them along with the bombardment of spells.

“That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention Harper!” said Roan, his tone gleeful.

Kason, now safely behind his shield again, realised that the other three students must have snuck around behind them while he and Harper had been focussed on defeating the other student. As for what had happened to Kayla, Kason had no idea. He hadn’t seen her when he looked over at Roan and company.

Another spell crashed into his stone shield, breaking a chunk off the top and bringing him back to the present. He stuck his wand tentatively around the edge of the barrier and blindly fired off a wind bullet in the general direction he knew Roan to be in. There was no sign of it hitting anything so he didn’t try again and instead sat, thinking furiously.

He glanced to the side and saw that Harper was hunkered down behind a nearby boulder. The shower of spells had stopped, but Kason was sure that as soon as either of them broke cover, they would immediately be under fire. He wondered where Alford and Lexia were, surely they would have finished dealing with the other student they had been dealing with by now? And what about Kayla?

Another spell hit his shield and more of it broke off, hitting him on the head and making him jump. He couldn’t stay behind the shield that was for certain. He looked back towards where Harper was crouched, wondering how long it would take to get there.

More of his shield broke off and he decided. Now was the time. Before the rubble had even touched the ground, Kason was off. He leapt away from his shield and sprinted towards Harper’s boulder. It was only a few meters away and yet it seemed to take an age to get there. As he ran, he glanced to the side to see what their three opponents were doing and saw that two of them were gradually making their way closer towards their positions, while one was circling round to come upon them from the side.

He ducked as a flash of light whizzed behind him with a crackling sound and jumped down beside Harper, who pulled him into a safer position.

“There’s a guy creeping around the side of us!” he said in a slightly breathless voice.

Harper nodded and said, “We’ll rush him, no point in hiding here forever.”

“What about the other two, we’ll be hit easily!”

“Doesn’t matter, we can take a few hits. We just need to keep moving and not get hit too many times.”

After saying this Harper jumped up and pulled Kason back to his feet and said, “You go that way and meet him, I’ll go the other way and hopefully get him from behind.”

Kason nodded and they both began to run. Kason had only moved a short distance, however, before he encountered the boy running at full pelt towards him. He had obviously started running as soon as Kason had spotted him and Kason, busy listening to Harper, hadn’t heard his steps.

With a cry, they rammed into each other. Despite Professor Kinora’s exercise regime, Kason was still the smallest boy in their tutoring sessions and was knocked over by the bigger boy’s weight. The other boy, caught by surprise, also tripped and fell, landing across Kason’s legs and eliciting another cry of pain from Kason.

The boy righted himself first and, finding himself wandless, used the next best weapons he could find, that is to say, his fists. His first blow struck a still disoriented Kason in the chest, the next in the head.

Kason raised his arms dazedly to try and protect himself, feeling his body ache from the assault. Then, suddenly, there was a roar and a surprised yelp, and the weight was removed from Kason’s legs. He lowered his arms and saw the hulking figure of Alford standing over him, the boy who had been hitting him, held in one gloved fist. Alford gave a grunt and threw the boy to the floor then gathered a ball of fire in his open palm which he tossed, almost leisurely onto the boy’s body.

He then held out his other hand to Kason, who grabbed it and pulled Kason to his feet. Kason stood on shaking legs and let out a quavering breath

“Thanks,” he said with a weak smile.

Alford nodded and said, “Would’ve been over earlier, but the guy me and Lexia were tackling did something weird. Made our feet sink into the floor. Anyway, Lexia will be over as soon as she gets out.”

There was a brief moment of silence, in which Kason suddenly became aware of sounds of battle from the direction Harper had gone.

“I’m gonna go help out over there. You finish off this guy and come as soon as you can,” Alford said as he broke out into a run again. Kason nodded and went about searching for his wand. He found it lying a short distance away and fired off another fireball at the boy, who was still on the ground.

After the flash of white, he hurried in the same direction that Alford had gone – hoping that Harper had been able to hold his own against the two opponents he had been facing.

He came around the boulder a few moments later just in time to see Alford punch the staff-wielding student in the gut with a flame coated fist just one of those flashes of light hit him in the back. The student keeled over while Alford grunted and fell to one knee. Harper who, miraculously, had still not been eliminated, dodged away from a spell from Roan and finished off the student with a wind spell that hit him in the arm. The staff fell out of his hands just as his shield flashed white – leaving Roan as the only one remaining on the enemy team.

He was backing away slowly, his face set in a grimace and eyes darting about. As Kason ran up to get clearer aim, he fired a spell at the still recovering Alford, who didn’t fall but whose shield flashed white all the same. This left Harper, Kason and Roan as the only combatants in the area.

There was a tense moment, where Harper and Roan stared at one another, then shouts filled the air as all of them fired spells at the same time. The flash of light that was discharged from Roan’s wand flew faster than Harper could react and hit him squarely in the chest. Harper’s was slower, however, and Roan dodged out of the way.

Kason could see a smile play upon his lips for just a moment as he escaped and began to move in the direction of cover. But then it froze. Kason’s wind spell hit him in the side, below his outstretched arm, and he could tell that Roan had not seen it coming.

There was a flash of white light and Roan’s legs gave out from under him. So did Kason’s. He sat on the floor and a grin spread across his face.

They had won.

There was a clamour of footsteps on the ground and Lexia burst into view, her college robes flapping about her as she ran. She skidded to a halt and surveyed the situation. She saw Roan and the other student on the ground with their shields glowing faintly white and a smile broke out over her face.

“We’ve won!” she cried, jumping up and down on the spot.

There were more footsteps and Kayla appeared. Her shield had the white sheen of someone who had been eliminated. She took in the scene as well and ran over to Lexia to join her in celebrating.

Kason slowly got to his feet and went over to Harper, who hadn’t moved since the Roan had been eliminated. He patted him on the back and he turned around.

“We’ve won!” Kason said, grinning.

Harper swallowed and said slowly, “Yeah.”

Then Alford’s voice came over to them and stopped their celebration. “But Kinora hasn’t said anything yet, you sure we got everyone?”

Realising Alford was right, Kason looked over to where Professor Kinora was standing. Was it possible that they had missed one?

Professor Kinora was standing on a small floating platform that hung a short way from the stands above the entrance tunnel. Below him, Kason saw the senior division students also looking up at him, then as one, they all turned and to their left. Kason frowned, he glanced up at Professor Kinora and saw that he too was looking in that direction.

Kason looked over in that direction as well and gasped as he felt a nostalgic cold sensation begin to gather around his lower back. A figure, wreathed all in black, was standing on the top row of benches, looking down at the stadium.

Ah well, I’m sorry for the long wait, but the chapter’s finally up!



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