The scent of coffee wafted through the common area of the Seeker’s house. Shanessa happily sat coiled around a chair as she heated up her hands by wrapping her fingers around the hot, disposable coffee cup. The machine on the table in front of her brewed more coffee that she passed out to the other members of her house as they left for their morning classes. She was more than happy to help them as much as she could, sacrificing time, energy, and occasionally money to assist when needed. Galahad wasn’t the only person who needed new cloaks from time to time. Soon, she would set up a fundraiser for her house. She still had some left over from the last time, a bakesale over the summer that many former and current house members took part in. “Good morning, Miss Shanessa,” A voice called as a young lizard man entered the house wearing a postman’s uniform. “And a good morning to you, Ray,” The lamia greeted back and put her coffee down. The lizard man rifled through his bag, “Got some mail here…” He mumbled as he produced a stack of letters, scrolls, and a few newspapers including Fairgarland’s Newspaper and Inquirer. “Thank you,” The lamia sifted through the mail, quickly sorting them by student, “Do you have much more to do?” He looked at her with tired eyes, “A postman’s job is never done. Two more houses and then the offices and lastly the staff dorms. Then I gotta go to class.” “Well, we all appreciate you volunteering your precious time for this,” Shanessa handed him a cup of coffee which he graciously took. Ray gave her a little tip of his hat, “See ya around,” He said before hurrying out of the tower. Shanessa procured her wand from a pouch on her hip and set about teleporting every piece of mail to its intended recipient. Each room had a little container that mail would be deposited into with her spell. She continued to sip on her drink before turning her attention to the newspaper. She unfolded it, blinking as she saw the front page article. ‘Fairgarland dueling tournament sees Seeker’s House enter a duelist for the first time in eight years!’ “I never submitted anyone…” She mused aloud. It wasn’t like they needed to go through her for it, but a few had asked in the past. Who had entered without letting her know and how? She skimmed down to see who it was. All of the other entrants were first and at the bottom was the Seekers house, it was– “Galahad?!” Shanessa gasped. A first year. There was no way he could perform well, much less even survive it! She leapt up from her seat and hurried to the stairs. The few students that were up at the moment got out of the long snake woman’s way. She got to the pocket dimension door and gripped the crystal next to it, “Galahad Loxley,” Shanessa barked. There was a noise as his room was brought to the front. The snake woman knocked, “Galahad! Galahad! Are you up?” Within a few moments the door was unlocked and pulled open. Galahad was still in his pajamas and a t-shirt that was on backwards as well as inside out. The man rubbed his eyes, “Shanessa? What’s up?” “I need to talk to you,” She nervously rolled up the newspaper in her hands. He frowned but nodded, “Come in,” He gestured and moved aside for the snake woman to enter. She slithered into the small room and sat at the foot of the unmade bed, “Is something wrong?” “Yes!” She blurted out as she furiously unfurled the newspaper, “Just what are you doing entering the duel?!” Galahad slowly sat down in his desk chair and turned around to face Shanessa, “Shanessa-” “Galahad, they are going to MURDER you!” She cried, the panic was obvious on her face, “I can’t let you enter, I don’t know why Zucharius would even let you join! What on earth did you tell him?!” Galahad turned away and dug through his desk for a moment, “Tell me, Galahad, just what are you doing entering this duel?!” Galahad turned, a small black wand in hand along with the ingredients he had ground into a fine dust in his palm. Shanessa froze, stunned as Galahad cast at her, scattering a smidge of dust on her. She inhaled it, instantly feeling at peace. The snake woman’s trembling body and pounding heart both ceased in most movements, “Shanessa, listen to me,” The wizard repeated, “I’m going to be fine. I was just about to go train before my tutoring session,” He assured her gently and put a hand on her shoulder. The lamia sighed, “Galahad. I cannot approve of this.” “I don’t expect you to,” He picked up a gym bag and grabbed his shoes, “I just don’t want you to feel like you need to stop me. Miss Manus was acting the same way.” Shanessa’s forked tongue slid out of her mouth as she folded her arms and looked toward the floor, “I just do not want to see you hurt.” “I won’t sugar coat it. I won’t be able to avoid getting hurt,” Galahad admitted, “But I’m going to scope him out a bit and learn what I need to do. I have the advantage of him not knowing what I’m capable of.” The lamia looked up from the floor and tilted her head, "Don't you think you are overconfident?" "Apparently Zucarius thinks I'm capable enough. I doubt I could have lied my way past him, Shanessa." "I suppose you are right, but even so I cannot allow this. Not even I or many others know what you can do. A first year going up against Fairgarland's best duelists, let alone Harold - it's unheard of, you can't do this!" "Maybe this will convince you," Galahad grumbled, sifting through his dresser again to produce a letter. He quickly handed it over to the snake woman, who opened it and scanned it once over, then again and again. After rereading it five or six times she looked up at her junior, "Is this… true?" She asked, "I have heard how you reflected one of Rita's spells and even healed her. Just now your calming charm seemed quite potent…” She rubbed her chin, “But this…?” She paused for a moment as the gears visibly turned in her head, “You must be able to sword fight if she can vouch for you.” “Not exactly,” Galahad smirked and reached into his bag where he procured a mace. He rolled the flanged mace over in his hands, “I can use this pretty well.” The lamia’s tongue flicked out of her mouth as she started to think, “Listen,” Shanessa gripped his shoulders as she suddenly lurched forwards, “I'm sure you know this, but melee weapons are allowed in the duels. Using melee combat may be your best bet. Harold is a monster when it comes to casting and even if you’re good at abjuration he may be able to outlast you. He knows how to use a rapier, but your mace would be difficult for him to counter. He struggles in close range, I have seen it.” Galahad blinked and slowly nodded, “I see.” “I have no idea why you would put yourself in this duel, but if I can't stop you then I will help you in any way I can,” Shanessa let him go and gave a little, worried smile. After a moment, Galahad smiled back, “Thank you. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” “Please do not ask the impossible of me,” Shanessa sighed and rubbed her forehead, the tip of her tail slamming against the floor. The wizard chuckled, “I appreciate you worrying so much about me. My mother never worried this much. I was the fifth of eight kids. She always said if I’m anything like my four sisters before me, I’m tough. But I was never as tough as them or the three girls born after me either.” “Y-you have seven sisters?” “Yeah. All demi-humans. I’m the only one who didn’t get mom’s sorcery soul too. Growing up was hard,” He sighed and scratched his head, “Sorry, I shouldn’t be dumping this all on you.” “You are part of my house and you can vent to me about anything, be it family or school. Good luck with your studies, Galahad,” Shanessa turned to leave the dorm room. A younger student stood outside the dorm room, nervously fidgeting as he looked past Shanessa at Galahad, “G-Galahad, there’s a crowd of reporters outside th-that want to talk to you… I-I can’t get past them to go to my class…” Shanessa sighed, “Vultures. All of them. Galahad, I will turn them away. Perhaps it would be best to stay inside for a time.” “Got it,” The wizard gave a thumbs up and got ready to do his workout within the confines of his room. The snake woman slithered down the stairs and went to the front door that was being pounded on. She threw the door open and stood there sternly, hands on her hips as the reporters begged or demanded to speak to Galahad. The lamia reached into her bag for her wand. Without a second thought she cast a spell that tore through each of the reporter's notebooks or recording devices and threw them up into the air, sending them out into the courtyard bushes. "You are causing trouble for my housemates, leave before I make you leave." She growled, readying another spell. "Or maybe I'll have Professor Zucarius expel or ban you off campus?" The reporters looked at one another then back to the usually loving and sweet but now horribly imposing lamia who stood with crossed arms as a few timid first years slinked out of the Seeker’s house in the confusion. She sighed as the reporters slowly dispersed, “I hope you know some illusion magic, Galahad,” She mumbled, “You are going to have a tough time just walking around campus now…” . . . . . Fredrik was just wrapping up his last duties of helping around the campus mailroom as it was Tuesday again. Evening had already come when he looked out the window. It was enchanted like the ones in the dorms, however this one was more like a security camera showing many angles in front of the Grand Hall in each quarter of the pane of glass. In it Fredrik saw a student dragging his feet across the walkway, meandering between the crowds of others happy to be out of class and amongst friends. It only took Fredrik a moment to realize the lone student was Galahad and he was clearly bothered by something. Glancing at the clock, Fredrik quickly confirmed that it was indeed after four in the afternoon, so the man had not skipped out on studies nor had he been kicked out of class– presumably. After wrapping, weighing and measuring the final package on his table, Fredrik wrote down all the details on a card and placed the package on an appropriate shelf. Quickly he turned on his heel and made for the door, waving a silent goodbye to the mailman on duty. "Thanks for the hard work, Fredrik," he called after the Golden Wonder. Outside, Fredrik scanned the campus grounds and found Galahad sitting on a bench, his head in his hands. Wasting no time at all, Fredrik reached him on quick feet and sat beside him, wrapping an arm around his junior's shoulders, "What troubles you, young Galahad?" He did his best impression of what he thought might be a patriarchal figure. Galahad tried to pull away before he looked up at the golden mask, today's the spitting image of a Venetian harlequin's mask, gold with intricately painted black and white diamonds around the eyes and cheeks. A black upper lip and white lower on its face, all encompassed by a crown like a sun with bursting, lacy points curling around the top and sides. His clothes were equally puffed up and vibrant with furls of white and gold across black, too splendorous to be a fool in motley. The expression on Galahad's face said he must agree, though the shock quickly wore off as he realized who was behind the mask, "Fredrik," Galahad simply said before relaxing on the bench. He reached up and wiped his face with both hands with a groan, stretching his body before shooting up straight to give his full attention, "How's it going?" Fredrik chuckled, "I came here to ask you that, my friend. As I said, you seem to be troubled." "No trouble. I'm just tired is all. I've been practicing, preparing, being tutored, and studying. I don't have much free time lately to rest." "You should take better care of yourself, you wouldn't want to get caught 'asleep at the wheel' in the upcoming duels," Fredrik patted his friend's shoulder. "So you know, then." "Of course I do, I assist Miss President who has been endlessly pestered all weekend, and besides; word has spread all over campus." "I know. Everyone has pestered me about it endlessly today, too, and Carly the day it happened," Galahad sighed heavily, his weariness quickly catching up with him, "If this keeps up, I won't even have the energy for studying, much less dueling. Even when I'm resting in my dorm I get run down by Carly and every other wannabe journalist on campus. Shanessa has chased off more than I can count, but there's only so much she can do." "Perhaps I can help you with your predicament. I too have entered the duels and I have a special place I like to go when I am practicing." Fredrik explained, "As for lodging, why not spend a few days in my dorm? There is plenty of room, and I can easily conjure up a guest bed for you. The reporters would never think to look for you there." Galahad looked at the golden masked man, his eyes trying to read his intentions beyond the dark slits in the metal, "You mean that?" He asked cautiously. "Why shouldn't I? We're friends and peers, I am both obligated and honored to help a fellow student. Besides, there is a benefit beyond your rest," The golden wizard smiled under his mask, "You will be able to go undisturbed with your tutoring with Miss President. Something I hear you desperately need after the last incident." "You have no idea how right you are," Galahad groaned, head in hand once more. "Poor Miss Manus… She has it worse than me. It seems every class she's in, whether she's a teacher or student has been bothering her about this whole thing. I can't imagine what our class is going to be like tomorrow, not to mention that Harold hasn't let up either." Fredrik shook his head, "You worry about Harold at the duels," He said with a smirk, "For now, you should come to House Karak-Albrac. I will contact Miss President and inform her she will be able to tutor you there." "Fredrik… thank you. Really," Galahad smiled, standing up with his golden counterpart. "You're a good man." "Nice of you to say so, my friend." Fredrik nodded, "Come, I'll make the accommodations that you will have room and board for an easier time. We'll inform your housemate Shanessa and gather your essentials up and keep them at my dorm until all the excitement dies down. Suzie will likely help as well, I think she likes you, you know." Fredrik laughed when Galahad's face turned red, "I jest, I jest." After what only seemed like an hour all the preparations had been made. True to his word, Fredrik had assisted in making a cozy living space in his own dorm with the help of Suzie. The gnomish woman had been a big help as well as managing to whip up some of her juniors to help move an extra bed they had in storage into the golden wizard's room for Galahad. "Nicely done, everyone!" Fredrik congratulated, patting the dresser he and Galahad had carried up from the basement. Galahad sat on the bed, feeling the mattress underneath. Not too soft, not too firm, it was nice, he thought to himself. "Thanks, everyone." He let a content sigh escape his lips. "This is perfect." "A little home away from your home?" Fredrik jested. "Away from that home," Suzie added, having sat at the work desk by the window between the two beds. "Try not to keep each other up with work or any of that boytalk I know you men like to do." She teased. "It's as simple as a silence spell to deafen the senses," Fredrik assured the gnome. "Right, Galahad?" "Right…" He smirked back. "I had better go find Miss Manus for tutoring." "Good idea, she should be waiting in the common room." Said Fredrik. "How do I…?" "Ah yes, navigating the corridors. It should be as simple as hugging the left wall, my friend." He instructed, motioning to his left side. "Hugging the left wall…?" "I'll show him." Suzie giggled, "Come on, Galahad, don't keep Manus waiting." "Oh right, I'll show you that thing I promised later!" Fredrik called after the two as they exited his dorm. Under the cover of nightfall, Fredrik led Galahad out into the woods north of campus. The air chilled Galahad to the bone despite the heavy cloak he wore, but he didn't worry about that. He was just thankful that no one else was out to get in the way as he followed Fredrik further into the woods. After a few minutes of walking in silence they came to a small clearing in the trees, several run-down buildings filling the gaps in the forest. "This is it," Fredrik explained, holding his staff aloft and casting a light up above them. The rays of light showed just how overgrown each building was, cracked and decayed, devoured by nature. "This was once part of the Fairgarland campus, but an earlier dean had decided that the forest was more important than the facilities, since the trees give us mana. It's my home away from home. I'm certain no other students know about this place." "So you train here by yourself?" "Among other things, like crafting my true art, but tonight we can do a short sparring session if you like." The golden wizard offered as he held his staff up towards Galahad. "Just to gauge each other's abilities, of course." Galahad drew up his own staff and smirked, "So you just wanted to test me before the duels, huh?" "I admit that I had an ulterior motive for bringing you here, but it's all in good sport, I assure you." Galahad could see a glimmer in Fredrik's eyes behind the mask, a smile in his voice. "Well, there's no better way to practice, is there?" After their sparring session, the two retired to their room back at House Karak-Albrac. Galahad's knuckles were stinging from the walloping Fredrik's metallurgy spells had given him. Though he managed to block them with his abjuration magic they hit hard and fast. There had been no conclusive winner to their practice duel, which had surprised him. Even so, he was proud to see that he had managed to wear down Fredrik, who despite how he presented himself was quite formidable in a fight. It was no wonder why he was the duelist representing his house. The golden wizard flopped onto his bed and sighed, "That was quite the experience, my friend. Much more engaging than shooting darts at those buildings." He yawned. "But I suggest we get some rest. Classes tomorrow and all that." "You gonna sleep in that helmet of yours? Afraid that I might accidentally see your face?" He teased the golden wizard. Fredrik chuckled to himself, "Do not worry yourself over that, I have many ways of hiding the mystique," Fredrik pronounced, withdrawing a beautification mask from his nightstand. Galahad took one look at it and shook his head, letting out an incredulous laugh, "Gold?" He guessed by the look of the package. "It is good for my complexion, I assure you. You should try it some time!" Fredrik offered another, to which Galahad held up a declining hand. "I actually like my complexion, but thank you." The first-year wizard laughed, "Ah well, maybe one day. I bid you goodnight, my friend." "You as well." Galahad lay back in his bed, turning away from Fredrik as he pulled off his mask and placed the other over his face. Soon after he conjured several partitions and blocked each other's view of one another, simultaneously respecting Galahad's privacy while bidding he respect his. It was a welcome change in the room, Galahad preferred the coziness, it reminded him of home. Home… After a quick, circular wave of his hand, Galahad summoned his rat, Randy and snuggled up to him. He quickly reassured himself that he had made the right choice and fell into a deep sleep. . . . . . Wednesday. Alchemy class. Blud’s eyes were fixated on the door, only looking down at his hands to adjust the bandages covering them. It was the only reason he would look away. It was like everyone in the class was doing the same, waiting for either the professor or Blud’s lab partner, Galahad. Which one was more anticipated now was up in the air. The goblin had no idea what was going through his friend’s head, but if the Inquirer was to be believed, he had some kind of beef with Harold now. Blud himself wanted to congratulate the human on entering, not a lot of first years had the means to join the tournament and none, except for Galahad, even had the balls! No one in the Seeker’s house - well, maybe Shanessa, had the years behind them to easily petition to join. Four years was how long Blud had been in the academy and Shanessa was more than twice that. But Galahad hadn’t been around for even a month let alone a year. He kept saying he had been apprentice trained, but Blud hadn't really seen him put his money where his mouth is. Sure, he summoned a big rat the other day at his parent’s table, but that wasn’t enough to win a fight. It felt like the room stopped every time someone walked in. Another group stepped into the room, splitting up as they went to their desks. Among them was Galahad. He had dark circles under his eyes and his short dark hair was a mess. He wore the green robes he had bought at the shop Blud’s family ran. Glancing around, the goblin saw that nearly every pair of eyes in the room was on the wizard as he trudged to his seat. Blud kept his mouth shut, eagerly waiting for his friend to sit down. The eyes stayed on Galahad and the scowl on his face showed that he knew it, “Yo, Lox,” Blud whispered, “Ya doing okay?” The human rubbed his face and pulled his cloak’s hood over his head, “I’ve just been working hard. Maybe too hard. I’m sure you know why.” “Yeah, my mom wanted me to ask you why you’d get yourself involved in this duel. Demanded I drag you back so she could scold you herself.” “I’ve already gotten enough of an earful around campus,” Galahad snapped. Blud recoiled and stared with his wide, yellow and red eyes. Galahad looked at him before sighing, “I’m sorry. It’s only been a day and a half since that newspaper came out and now every witch, wizard and warlock on campus has given me a piece of their mind." He grumbled, "Saying crap like, 'you think you're better than us, first year?' And 'you're gonna get yourself killed.' if I have to hear one more lecture from another student, it'll be too soon." “Note to self, tell mom and Rald not to berate or scold Lox about the tournament,” Blud grumbled to himself. “Did you have something to say about it too?” The man grunted, a scowl still on his exhausted face. “I was gonna give you a fist bump! I WANT to see you beat the snot out of Harold! But do you really have the skills to take him on? Like, what the hell kind of spells and schools do you practice in? I know how much you know about transmutation,” Blud folded his arms and frowned at Galahad. The wizard frowned and leaned in, quickly lowering his voice, “We don’t discuss such things in front of others. We can’t tell who here is ears for Harold.” Blud looked around, he could see numerous students quickly look away from the pair as they tried to listen in, “So… then what do you do? You’re all alone in this if you can’t trust anyone.” “I know a few I can trust, but how about we wait until after class to talk? I’m sure Rald is going to chew me out,” Galahad gave a weary sigh and rubbed his face, “I’m not gonna be able to pull my weight today…” “I’ll take the lead. Just act like you’re helping, at least,” Blud offered, “Relax a bit.” “Thanks. Don’t let me just sit here, though.” Blud and Galahad idled at their desk, taking their time as they cleaned up their day’s materials and waited for most other students to leave, “Think we’re in the clear?” Blud mumbled as the next class’s students started to file in. “We should get out of here before these guys even think to question me,” Galahad scooped up the last of the ingredients before getting off his chair with Blud hurriedly following him. Blud quickly took point, rushing past the longer legged human, “Rald should be around here,” He looked up and down the hallway, “Okay. We should get moving and–” “BLUD!” Rald stormed up to her brother as the duo started to walk away from her, “Where have you been? You never take this long leaving class! Oh, hi, Lox.” “Hey, Rald,” The human gave her a little smirk as he adjusted his hood. “Wow you look…” She bit her tongue, not wanting to insult him, “Rough? No, rugged. That’s the word, I think.” “You can say that I look terrible,” He chuckled before rubbing his eyes, “It's been hard to keep cool since yesterday. I finally have some respite as of last night, but it's hard to get some practice.” “You can always hide at our place, Lox,” Blud reminded him. The human nodded as the three left the transmutation building. It was chilly and a bit dim, even though it was around noon. The dark clouds overhead blocked much of the sun, leaving last night’s rain puddled on the sidewalk and in the mud, “What’s for lunch, boys?” Rald asked, “I’ve got some money and I wouldn’t mind going somewhere.” “Anywhere not on campus,” Blud suggested, “Lox looks like he needs a break.” “Or just somewhere hidden away,” He groaned. Rald’s eyes lit up, “I know. Won’t be fancy food, but we can hide,” She spoke quietly as she led the two boys a ways up the street. On the other side of the road was the staff dorms, and on their side was a few restaurants and a convenience store along with a book store. Rald glanced behind them, “Down here,” She pointed down an alley between a restaurant and the convenience store. She grabbed both men’s wrists and dashed down, nearly tripping both of them as she hurried to the far end. They ran past a few trash cans and Rald knocked one down on purpose. A stray black cat arched its back and hissed before running out the back end of the alley and out into the woods. There was an overhead fire escape for the second floor of the convenience store and restaurant. The three stopped before exiting the far end. With a quick motion, Rald drew her wand and made the shape of a square with a small intricately carved miniature of a wall in her other hand. She whispered to it before thrusting the wand forward and setting the tiny wall on the floor. The air in front of the three began to shimmer, and along the edges, Galahad and Blud could see the edges of a chain link fence. She then waved her wand again, shooting a small fireball targeting the ground in front of them, beyond the illusion. A small explosion rang out and a scorch mark was left on the walls and floor. No real damage was done to either. Blud crossed his arms and gave his sister a scowl, “What are you–” Rald slapped her hand over his mouth and held a finger to her own mouth. Galahad instinctively drew his staff as he heard footsteps rushing toward them. A group of four stopped at the entrance of the alleyway. An orc, two humans– a man and a woman, and a gnome who spat on the ground, “They musta teleported away. I think one of them goblins hangs out with people in the Hamilton House.” “You fat idiot,” The woman groaned at the orc, “They definitely saw us because of you.” “Whatever, let's just tell Harold we saw him with some goblins and they vanished. I’m tired and I don’t wanna be on this stupid patrol anymore,” The human man grumbled, “Come on.” “They really are trying to spy on you,” Blud scoffed, “What a… a…” He sat on a discarded blue milk crate and shook his head, “An ass, I guess.” “Is this crap even allowed, Lox?” Rald asked the human who leaned against a wall and removed his hood. He shrugged, “Probably,” With the wave of his staff along with the burning of a few cotton balls in his hand. The air pressure around them increased and the sounds coming from the nearby restaurants and shops were deafened, “There. We can speak freely now.” “You two stay here, I’m gonna go get some food for us,” Rald offered before casting another illusion on herself to turn herself into the same gnomish woman they had seen a few moments ago, “Blud, summon some furniture. Some chairs at least,” She stepped through the zone of silence and the illusionary wall before turning to the convenience store. “Sure, sis,” His first task was to summon a big comfy couch made of a shimmering green material and gesturing to it for Galahad to sit on, “Rest, friend.” “Thank you,” The man sighed before nearly collapsing onto it. Blud frowned at his friend’s sorry state. He needed to do something, he felt. A few discarded noodle cups sat on a summoned table with the fat rat, Randy, who ate up chips, candy, and noodle scraps that the three had discarded. Blud sat across from his sister and friend, lounging on the milk crate as he drank a blood orange flavored soda. Lox hadn’t said a word in some time, he simply sat with his hands on his knees as Rald stared up at him, “Lox, your hair is a mess,” his sister scolded. She grabbed a comb from her pocket and spat in her hand before standing on the couch and fixing up the human’s hair. He gave her a little smile as she moved onto wiping his face mostly clean with a rag from her pocket, “I never noticed your mouth before,” Galahad mumbled as he embarrassedly looked at her face. “Huh?” “Your mouth, it's shaped like a cat’s. The top of it kinda connects to your nose,” He explained as he took a moment to stretch after she finished fixing his hair. The goblin blushed, “Oh? Do you think it’s cute?” “Uh, w-well, I, uh–” “I’ve got a little nub tail too. Got it from my dad’s side, mom and dad are two different breeds of goblin.” “Y-You do?” Galahad looked bewildered, like he had never heard of such a thing. His face was turning red now as Rald leaned in a little closer. “Maybe you wanna see it sometime~?” She giggled and teased, poking Galahad’s red cheek. Blud cleared his throat loudly, “Rald. Our friend here needs to rest,” He reminded her, his protective instincts for his slightly younger sister flaring up. “I know, I know. I just can’t stand to see him looking so disheveled. No offense, Lox,” Rald gave the human some space as she played with her hair, coiling it around her finger and gently pulling on it. The wizard smirked, “None taken. Thanks for helping me hide, guys. It's nice to just relax a bit.” “Good to hear it,” Blud nodded, “Rald, when you first saw Lox, I’m surprised you didn’t start acting like mom when she heard he had gotten himself entered.” “From the look on his face, I could see he had gotten enough from other people. Like, yeah I’m concerned and afraid, just like mom, but I have a bit better grasp on my emotions than our mother,” The corners of Rald’s mouth contorted into a grin, “But, if you don’t mind me asking, Lox, why? I’m not trusting the lies that the Inquirer is dishing out.” “You were all ready to believe it last week,” Galahad teased before shaking his head as he dropped his little joke, “Well, since you want to know. I really don’t like how he harasses Miss Manus. Constantly asking and demanding that she marry him since they’re both high born or some other crap. Constantly disregarding her dreams of being a professor and talking about how powerful they would be together.” “So you’re entering the tournament on Manus’s behalf?” Rald could hardly hold her jealousy back. “Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. He said something about me not knowing how to treat a woman right since I spend so much time with goblins and lesser demi-humans,” Galahad’s face contorted into a scowl, “I just can’t believe someone like that can be a president.” The anger was painfully obvious to Blud, “And then Sean broke up your fight, right?” He wasn’t sure if his friend was more upset about how Harold treated Manus or the comment about demi-humans. “Yup. Then he immediately started to brag about winning the upcoming tournament and how Miss Manus would have to fall for him once he wins and dedicates the victory to her. I… was a little rash in challenging him, I’ll admit. But I had to. I wanted nothing more in that moment of time to see him lose,” The human shook his head at himself. “How’d you even get in?” Blud pressed a bit further. “Well…” Galahad’s eyes darted around, “I had some… documents that I showed Zucarius and he agreed to let me compete.” “You can’t just leave it at that…” Rald whined, the curiosity was killing her as she clenched the cranberry juice can in her hands. Galahad shook his head, “You’d… I just don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather not.” Blud just shrugged, “Alright, we won’t ask. But Lox, can you give me some kind of assurance that you’re not gonna get yourself killed in this duel?” “You know abjuration at least, right?” Rald’s face showed nothing but concern, “This zone of silence is enough to prove that.” Galahad looked around, “Yeah,” He slowly nodded, “I am more than adept at it.” “That much is obvious. But barriers will only get you so far, Lox,” Blud tossed his empty can into an open trash can, “What else?” “I have varying knowledge in conjuration, enchantment, and necromancy. Very little about evocation and transmutation.” “So illusion and divination are off the table? I remember you saying you gave those up the other day at lunch,” Rald guessed as she scratched her head, “Do you have a plan? At all?” “I’m gonna punch him in the face,” Galahad shrugged. Rald and Blud looked at one another as both sensed a lack of confidence in Galahad, “I’ve got an idea. You need to learn his mana signature,” Blud explained, “Take an L the first round. It's the first to three. You can lose one.” “That might not be a bad idea,’ Galahad nodded slowly as he thought about it. Rald looked at Randy who was in no rush as he scurried around the conjured table. Her lips spread into an impish grin, “I think I have another idea. Something they might not expect.” The boys blinked at her, waiting for her to stop with her long, drawn out dramatic pause, “Go on.” “Well, it involves Randy…” . . . . . Eight wizards and witches all sat around the room. The tables were formed in a U shape with each chair spaced out evenly. The presidents all sat in the same order as their house towers were situated in the center of campus, with each side separated evenly between the eight. On the far left side of the U sat President Manus, she was quietly observing the other house presidents take their seats and exchange greetings. Beside her, to her obvious dismay was Harold looking smug as ever, though thankfully his gaze was directed at the other presidents instead of her. The conjuration president sat beside him, the shy and always puffed up Veruka Goldmoon, the owl-harpy’s feathers looking ruffled as always. Rita sat next to the owl mage, which was fortunate for her as Veruka was one of her favorite people to play tricks on, whether she realized it or not. Rita had exchanged pleasantries with her already, managing to get a smile and a hand-to-wing handshake out of the wide-eyed Veruka. That was step one of her grand plan for today. Across from Rita sat the ever reclusive president of the necromancy house, Edelgarde Hiersing. None really knew who she was despite how long she had been at Fairgarland, and from what Rita knew that was longer than nearly everyone in this room. That title would go to the dwarvish man beside her. Malagrim Warsong was reclusive in a different way; the dwarf was hardly agreeable and even less cordial than even the angriest troll, which made him the perfect target for Rita. He was definitely the oldest at the table, though as with all dwarves he had retained his youth for much longer than the average human races. He had been at the academy since 1959, after he had mastered dwarven axe fighting, forging, tinkering, dwarven war drumming, human country music, gone on tour, then started from the basics with magic. He was taking so long due to focusing on two schools, enchantment, which he was the president of, and transmutation. He also took very few classes a term so as to not stress himself out too much. He shot Rita a frown, his grizzly, unnaturally gray beard drooping with the corners of his mouth. “What’re ya eyeballin’ me for, imp?” He growled at her. “Oh, nothin’ really, Mal. Did ya change your hair products?” She asked with a snicker. “So, it WAS you!” He stood up in his chair, slamming a fist down on the table. “Settle down, Mal.” Sean said, taking his seat beside the irritable dwarf. "Yes, please, no fighting." Mira Minsley spoke up sitting at the other end of the U-shaped table across from Manus. She had managed to pry her singular eye away from her crystal ball to admonish the dwarf who merely harrumphed and sat back in his chair, muttering obscenities to himself. Rita let a smile spread on her lips before Sean stood up and cleared his throat. "I'm sure you all know the subject of today's meeting?" "The dueling tournament," Everyone replied in unison, some more enthusiastic than others. "Right. Well, let's hear from everyone who has submitted a duelist." He requested, directing everyone's attention towards Mira Minsley. "House Ophelia has submitted her duelist," Mira announced, her mono-eye scanning the faces of her peers who sat before her. She wrote the name on a piece of paper and folded it in half, "Elton Sidgard. He is a junior of mine. I foresaw he will do well enough, but most importantly he will learn a valuable lesson." "You're certain?" Sean asked, writing down the name of his house's duelist. "I have foreseen it," Mira repeated, her decision final. "Very well. I submit Talmirin Ryvalia as House Maximillian's duelist." "The gnomish woman?" Harold scoffed, "Suit yourself, I submit yours truly as House Fritz'eleo's duelist." "Again? Harold, when are you going to give your juniors a chance at dueling?" Sean grumbled, resting his head in his hand. The prince raised his chin at the president of abjuration with a self-satisfied smirk, "Maybe when I finally lose, but it's more likely I'll have mastery of Evocation before then," He snickered to himself. "House Calmashorne submits Rigard Aemison," Malagrim grunted out, stroking his gray-dyed beard before scribbling down the name. Rita's smile widened, everything was going well for her little scheme. "Who?" Asked Harold, surprising no one. "Ye best not test me, princeling, or I'll whip the snark out of your mouth with my boots," The dwarf warned him. "Oh, you wouldn't dare-" A shoe was thrown from across the table, striking Harold on the jaw. It stunned him more than it hurt, but the dwarf sat down, satisfied. "He just hit me!" Harold moaned, indignation in his voice. "He did warn you," Rita snorted, the rest agreeing with her. She smiled and stuck her tongue out at the prince who sneered back, another part of her plan in action. Harold's mouth would be shut tight for the rest of the meeting after that display. "I submit my favorite fellow student Ulyses Bradley," Rita proclaimed, "I hope your 'champions' are up for him." "Wilbert Dodgary," Edelgarde's voice was scarcely heard over everyone else, yet somehow everyone had heard it and a chill ran through their bodies. "L-L-Lillian Gourdbeater," Veruka voiced her entrant. "What happened to Raymond?" Asked Rita. "He came down with a bad case of Mana sickness…" "Overtrained himself again?" Rita surmised. Veruka pouted, "He's s-such a blockhead." "Well, Manus?" Rita spoke over her two neighbors. The blue witch merely nodded at her, "Fredrik Alistair Jeoffrey." "Golden boy, huh?" Rita smiled, "Hope he does better than last year." "Is that everyone?" Sean asked. "No, actually," Harold scoffed, "Aren't you forgetting someone, Dear Manus?" Rita turned to the prince, a little startled that he would speak up first. She watched as the blue witch shot a glare at the prince before standing up, "I must also announce that Galahad Loxley of House Seeker has entered into the drawing." "Galahad? The first year from the other day?" Sean asked. Manus nodded, "Yes. He was adamant and even managed to get Zucarius' approval." "I see. That complicates things for our pairings." "Nonsense," Said Harold, "You asked me when I'd let one of my own students duel, well I stand corrected, I will procure one before the day is up," He announced to the table. "Good. Well, if that's everyone, please place your students in the hat," Sean announced, pointing to Veruka Goldmoon. The owl harpy conjured up a hat with the wave of her wand and floated it past each house president, all of them throwing in the scrap papers with their duelists names on them." Rita smirked again when it passed her by, the imp quickly tossing in her own scrap paper. Harold submitting another student wouldn't matter, she was going to pull this off no matter what. Veruka guided the hat around her and to Harold, then Manus. After both had placed their two papers each, she put the hat before herself. She quickly wrote down her student's name and dropped it inside. Rita contained her glee as everything had gone off without a hitch. After a brief moment of magically shuffling the names, Veruka pulled out the first pair, neither of which Rita cared about. After the first two pairs, finally Veruka announced, "Galahad and… Harold." The Owl looked at Manus who grimaced, clearly still worried about her junior. Rita sighed, maybe she was right to be worried, but this fight was just too interesting not to rig and both Malagrim and Veruka had unwittingly helped her do so. Two well placed, time-delayed spells planted on either of them allowed for an easier time of casting illusions on the duelist names, Malagrim's gray beard no doubt passed through his fingers several times that morning as he tried to scrub it clean, the lingering spell infecting his fingertips and Veruka never expected so straightforward a spell cast upon her wing-talons, let alone one so mundane. The imp allowed the biggest smile to cross her lips as the meeting continued, planning for the event to come. Her debt to Galahad was now paid, but even so she would have gladly done it at the mere thought of someone attempting to knock Harold down several pegs. The last of the names were drawn and the pairings were formed. Then each was given a number that was drawn in order to place them on the tournament board. The tournament had five fights to start. Fights A, B, and C. The winners of A and B would fight, then the winner of that would fight the winner of C. Whoever won that would go to the finals. On the other side, there were fights D and E. The winners of both would fight then whoever won that would go to the finals to fight the left side’s winner. The right side was the one that Manus and Rita were interested in. Fight E was Harold against Galahad. D was Fredrik against the illusion house’s entrant, Ulyses. “That settles that matter of business,” Sean announced, “Next we have a few other orders of business. Elections are coming up. If our houses feel that we need to be replaced, we shall know.” “Hopefully they finally kick Harold out,” Rita giggled, “Replace him with someone who has his house's interests in mind.” “For your information,” Harold hissed, “I have my house's interests in mind at all times!” “If you did, you never would have agreed to Galahad’s conditions,” Rita replied with a smug look. The prince opened his mouth to speak, “Don’t even try to talk your way out of it. You’re going to say something about being confident you can’t lose, but I know more about Galahad than you do,” She gave a devilish grin, “He’s more powerful than you know, and no amount of spies will help you learn just what exactly he’s capable of. When you lose, I hope your house replaces you with one of those demi-humans you loathe so much.” Harold slammed his hands on the table. He was covered in sweat, his nerves were frazzled and his cloak looked disheveled, “You– you have to be lying,” He decided as he stood up and adjusted his robes, “I will not lose to a first year and I will be president again. And I will not sit here and be insulted! I have important matters to attend to, good day,” He growled as he stepped from the room, taking what meager materials he had brought with him. Sean sighed, but most presidents looked quite amused, “Do you really have to push his buttons during meetings, Rita?” “Of course I do,” The imp giggled as she leaned back in her seat, “How else would I enjoy these drab meetings?” “As for the elections…” Sean tried to get the meeting back on track. “If I may,” Edelgarde interrupted softly, “None here are at risk of being replaced now that Harold has left. Most students do not want the burden of the presidency on top of their studies.” “Fritz’eleo is most likely the only one big enough to have such a student who would want to replace him,” Mira Minsley remarked, her large, single eye blinking a few times in succession, “I can see it in my visions.” Veruka nodded, “Especially i-if he loses their highly c-contested lab and rec room times…” “I wouldn’t mind seeing that manling prince knocked down a few pegs, but…” Malagrim frowned, “Has anyone really tested this Galahad character?” “Fredrik has kept an eye on him for me,” Manus replied, “They sparred and he put up a good fight, but he believes that Galahad was holding back.” “Do you think he can win the tournament?” Sean asked, “A first year beating Harold would be a huge upset, but winning the entire tournament would be massive.” “I am not sure that he even has his eyes set on winning the tournament. For how he talks during our tutoring sessions, defeating Harold is his only goal.” Sean rubbed his chin, “For the first time, I find myself doubting Harold’s win. Well, as I believe what Edelgarde said is correct, we can adjourn the meeting. I hope you all once again vote for me as your student body president.” “You can keep it,” Rita blew a raspberry as she slumped in her seat, “Normal presidency is more than enough work already…” “I would not mind being student body president, at least for a time,” Mal decided as he stroked his beard, “Perhaps–” “Nah,” Rita smirked, “You’re too old school, you fossil.” “F-Fossil?!” Like the Cheshire Cat, Rita vanished bit by bit as the rest of the presidents slowly filed out. The last pieces to vanish were her eyes and then her mouth, grinning from ear to ear as the dwarf felt a bit of sweat pour down his brow. He unfortunately knew what the imp was capable of and illusion magic had always been the bane of his existence. He folded his arms and used a cloth from his pocket to wipe his forehead. For some reason, it felt like his forehead wouldn’t get dry from the wiping. Sean looked over, waiting to be the last to leave, one of his ‘duties’ as student body president, “Uh, Mal.” “Y-yes?” He snapped to attention and stood. “You… well you have something on your face,” Was all Sean said, a little smirk on his lips, while he left before the dwarf. With trembling hands, one of which could not remove the handkerchief from his forehead now, the dwarf conjured a mirror for himself. He had glue smeared across his forehead and with some in his beard and hair. His anger was beginning to boil.