Commission for Anon! Thanks again!
A fire crackled, sending dancing orange lights across the stone flooring of the open air building. The building was a square shape with the various rooms along the outer edge. There were six rooms, two bedrooms, a lounging room, an unused room, a small bathing room, and a room to store various goods like foods and treasures. I stood next to the fire that sat in the middle of the open air courtyard of the building, tending to the chicken that was cooking in a pan along with beans, jalapenos, onion, tomato, and corn. I could feel my stomach rumble as I stirred the soup with a wooden spoon. The simmering brew smelled wonderful as all the flavors mixed. It was nearly done, I just needed to wait for Taak’in Muuch to finish her duties. Taak’in Muuch, or Muuch as I called her, was a tlaloque. A kind of rain spirit that took the form of a gorgeous, dark-skinned woman with limbs that turned from caramel to light blue with dark blue splotches. Her extremities, the hands and feet specifically, were like that of a frog but that never stopped her from being able to manipulate small, fine objects with ease. She sat on a mat, her legs folded, and her eyes closed but still she looked up at the star filling sky as she communed with the nature around her. Across her lap sat her staff, a long and smooth length of wood with a golden medallion at the end adorned with bright blue feathers. Her headdress was decorated with the same feathers and her clothes matched the colors while also being fashioned with glimmering golden jewelry. She moved her hands in circles as the incense around her burned. The mana salt and herbs in her hands were gently mixed together. She moved one hand in the air, collecting the smoke from the incense and the nearby fire into an orb of congealing and glowing smoke. Muuch grumbled magic words to herself before putting both of her hands around the orb of smoke. I saw the fire, both that of the incense and cooking flames, flicker as the aetheric winds picked up and the air hung heavy with electricity. I swore I heard a tiny bit of thunder as the frog-woman pushed the orb up to the sky, wafting away on the wind and drifting out of view. “All done?” I asked as she rose to her feet, using her staff as a cane. She nodded, “As was requested, the rain will come tomorrow. The crops will drink deeply,” Muuch gave me a smile, “And what of us? Will we drink well tonight?” “Of course. I didn’t venture to the nearest city for nothing,” I smiled as I took the soup off the fire, “Maybe if the village gave you your favorite drink as tribute, we could spend more time on your work.” “Rick! They give me plenty. Too much even,” Muuch huffed. “I joke, I joke. I know your storeroom is full of foodstuffs. Not to mention the gold and jewels. We all really do appreciate what you do for us,” I smiled as I ducked into the store room and went to the small, enchanted ice chest, one of the few amenities from the modern world we had. Well, a bit of the old world too. “As the village thaumaturge, it is my duty. The gifts are a nice gesture, but my duty is what matters,” The frog-woman insisted as she sat at her table, eager to eat. I brought the pot of soup and the jug of chicha beer I had bought in town to the table, “It’s so strange to think about,” I started as I sat down, smiling at my childhood friend, “that you’re a fully fledged thaumaturge now.” “It’s tradition. I have become a generalist witch just like my ancestors before me. My mother taught me and her mother taught her, so on and so forth. Even in the old world, this was how it was.” “And just like in the old world, the village thaumaturge, usually the only caster in the village, needs her assistant,” As if to prove a point, I dished up for the two of us, making sure to give her a large portion, “Honestly, I don’t know if I was glad when I was called back to be your assistant. It was my lot in life according to everyone else, but I did feel I needed to. Traveling for work, seeing the outside world… I don’t know how I feel about it all compared to this quaint little village.” Muuch removed her headdress and set it off to the side, “We do not really need the outside world, Rick. Everything we need is here,” She assured me before starting to devour my cooking. I blinked as I looked down at my food, “I miss electricity, to be honest. TV and video games were neat,” I shrugged, “We don’t have any of that here.” “You do not NEED those things!” She protested, illuminated by the dim fire, “I know entertainment is sparse, but we have each other again, do we not?” “I know we do. I’m very glad to be back and spending time with you.” Muuch was quiet for a few moments as she put more tortilla strips in her soup, “Do… you do not resent me for the role you are forced to play, do you?” I sighed and put a few more avocado slices into my meal, “If I didn’t want to be here and helping you, I probably would have just kept traveling and working in the outside world. Even if I hadn’t been born the same day as you, setting my path in this big wide world as the one to be your assistant once your mentor passes on, at least according to our elders, I still would have come back.” “Because I asked you so nicely?” She teased. I sighed again, “Yeah. I’ve never been able to say no to you.” Muuch’s smile positively glowed at me, “Which makes you a great advisor! Rick, please eat. It is late and our duties are done. I am eager to retire tonight.” The sounds of the roosters’ morning calls roused me from my slumber. The sun was rising, and I was up soon after. I sat at the edge of my bed and drank from the glass of water at my bedside. I grumbled to myself, rubbing my eyes and stretching before slipping on my sandals and stepping through the curtain that concealed my private chambers. Shadows filled the courtyard where I began my work. Living in Muuch’s family’s ancestral abode was tradition of the village thaumaturge’s assistant. We lived in a small, picturesque village with just around a few hundred people living in it. I grew up here with my parents and sister, as did Muuch. Muuch was the youngest of her family, they had ten kids and the last of them was the magic-user they needed, someone to look after the village when the previous one would step down. I started the day by igniting a small lantern with whose light I used to illuminate the firepit where I constructed a small fire. I went to the store room and procured the materials and ingredients to make two hearty breakfast burritos. Ground beef, tomatoes, eggs, onion, garlic, cheese, and an avocado– one of Muuch’s favorite foods for some reason. She had the bad habit of eating avocado plain with just chips or on a tortilla. I smirked as I thought about my friend. As far as demi-humans went, she was the only one I felt like I understood. Most were so strange and complicated, they had odd traditions and mannerisms, strange features and weird hair and extremities. But Muuch was different, to me at least. Her routine was easy to keep up with, she casted spells for the village and blessed the livestock. It made a lot of sense to me. As I started cooking the beef, I went back to the store room and retrieved the fruit I had set aside. I got to cooking the eggs, throwing in other ingredients like cheese and onion as I cut up the fruit off to the side. Two hearty breakfast burritos and two little bowls of fruit salad. I began to dish them up, carefully wrapping the insides of the burritos. I heard a yawn coming from the other room making me smirk, “Always hungry in the morning,” I mumbled to myself as I shook my head. The frog-woman was quick to leave her room, dressed in a light blue nightgown and hurried to the table, “Good morning!” She cheerily called with a little wave. “Good morning,” I called back as I finished dishing up both meals, “Sleep well?” “Mhm,” Muuch nodded as her rosy cheeks gave way to her cute dimples, “I’ve been doing some thinking, Rick.” “Uh oh, that sounds like trouble,” I teased. “Hush! This is important!” She pouted and folded her arms, looking quite steamed. I chortled to myself, “Alright, lay it on me.” “Well, as I am sure you are aware, Aztlan Academy is hosting a tournament this year,” She started, timidly tapping her fingers together. “You mean the student duel?” I guessed, hoping that I was right. To my dismay, she shook her head, “Go on…” I gave her a wary look and folded my arms. She blinked at me, “I am talking about the open tournament, the women’s one, specifically,” Muuch explained, “I want to go.” “To observe, right?” She hesitated for a moment, “No…” “Muuch…” I trailed off with a big frown on my face. I felt sick to my stomach. She pouted, “I want to enter! I can do it!” We stared at one another until I grunted, “I don’t know.” “What do you mean, you do not know? I am a fully fledged caster!” Muuch protested. I shifted in my seat anxiously, “I know you are, but what are you going to do? Wash them away with the rain? Bless a cow to fight for you?” “Har har, very funny,” Muuch rolled her eyes, “Surely you know that I can cast other spells!” With wandering eyes, and an awkward cough, I could only shrug, “Well, I really don’t. I’ve hardly been back for a year, but I only see you bless crops and cattle, summon the rain, and I think you called down lightning on a roving band of marauders. The lightning is very powerful, but is that enough?” Muuch smiled, “Perhaps this is an opportunity to surprise you. Will you allow me to enter?” I frowned and cocked my head, mid burrito bite. I swiftly chewed and swallowed, “Why do you need my permission?” “You are my assistant and advisor. This outing will take me away from the village and I want to know if you think this is alright. I also very much value your input, Rick.” I smiled before quickly frowning again, “Are you sure you want to enter the whole thing? It will be a few days spent in town and like you said we’ll have to be away from the village. You’re these people’s protector and helper.” She nodded, “Then how about just an exhibition match? One day in town,” I hesitated once more, “Think about it,” She urged, “We have chores for today and the tournament is far off. Take your time.” My mouth closed and I nodded, “Right. I’ll answer by the end of the day. Maybe we should ask my dad too.” “The sheriff? A marvelous idea,” Muuch nods as she picks up her breakfast, “Eat! Eat! We have dawdled long enough.” I sighed as my belly rumbled, nodding in agreement before munching on my own cooking. I put my boots on and stood by the front door, holding it open as Muuch in full priestly blue and golden garb stepped out of her home. I closed and locked the door behind us before following her down the steps and along the cobblestone path. The well worn stones were light and multicolored, arranged in a thin few feet wide path. I followed right behind Muuch, her staff being used like a walking stick. It jingled slightly from the golden charms that hung from it. The house was on the outskirts of the village, just a short walk to the northern part of town which was where the center of commerce was. To the left and right of the path were beautiful flowers which Muuch stopped to examine, making sure her precious plants were well watered and happy. She nodded in satisfaction as she checked some of the leaves. Past those were her just as precious avocado trees whose fruit were nearly ready to harvest. The witch nodded at these two before moving on to the village. I trailed behind, looking around as we stepped into the village center. A few villagers had set up tables where they traded with others for their crops or wares. All who Muuch passed by gave her warm greetings, glad to see their faithful quasi-deity amongst them. Muuch gave each and every one of them a just as warm greeting back. “Good morning, Muuch. Is the rain coming?” One asked. “Good morning to you too,” She replied, “Yes, you can see the dark clouds on the horizon.” “K’uhul, my prized cow gave birth this morning, will you bless the calf?” A second said. Muuch nodded and smiled, “Of course! I shall be by later for it. You live in the southern farms, correct?” I smirked. ‘K’uhul,’ the word for her title, ‘divine authority.’ My own was ‘Batab,’ or ‘axe-wielder.’ I folded my arms and gave a bit of space as Muuch spoke with the villagers. Most were human with a few halflings sprinkled in. The only other demi-humans were a family of ocelomeh, bipedal jaguar-like people. They made up most of the village's guards as they were war-like people, especially compared to the usually peaceful rest of the village. “Rick,” A gruff voice grunted my name. I turned to look the man in the eye, “Father,” I replied. He smirked, “A good morning to you too. We have nearly finished preparing a small wagon with tribute for our K’uhul.” I glanced over at the little wooden wagon full of food and a bit of gold and jewelry. I also spotted a sword, most likely created by our local black smith, “Thank you. Think you’ll ever get tired of being sheriff?” “I happen to enjoy the managerial aspects of the job. Besides, no one else in the village wants to do it,” My father smirked as he folded his arms, “What brings you two here today?” “Hello, mister Sheriff,” Muuch interrupted as she approached the two of us, “What a wonderful morning it is.” “Yes, it is,” My father nodded. “The reason we came, other than to check on the village, was about something Muuch brought up to me,” I explained. She nodded, “I want to leave town for a few days to enter in Aztlan Academy’s upcoming tournament. I would take Rick with me of course.” My father furrowed his brow and blinked at the two of us, “I know very little of this tournament, or the school, really. How did you learn of this, Muuch?” “Oh, I commune with some other casters through crystals. One of them went to the academy and told me all about it. It would be three days long.” “The trip there is a half-day by horse,” I added, “We would be gone for five, at least,” There was an apologetic tone to my voice. The sheriff paused for a few moments, “Maybe you should stay a bit longer?” My father suggested, “Seeing a bit more of the world might be good for her. Especially if she can learn from the other casters.” “So we can go!?” Muuch’s eyes sparkled at me, “What do you say, Rick?” “Is Rick hesitant?” My dad smirked. I sighed, “I don’t know… I don’t want her to get hurt.” “She is stronger than you think,” My father put a hand on my shoulder, “It will be good for you to leave the village again.” “Alright, father. Thank you for your wisdom.” I felt something nudge my arm as my father turned to continue guiding villagers. Muuch was poking at my arm, “Soooo?” I folded immediately upon seeing her star filled gaze, “Yeah. We can go.” “Yes!” Muuch clenched her fists in victory, hardly stopping herself from throwing her hands in the air. She coughed as she caught a few confused looks from the villagers, “I am glad you came around,” She smiled, “We should prepare soon…” “We have two weeks. We can wait to put away our toothbrushes,” I assured her, “Come on, you’ve got cows to bless.” . . . . . A sunny morning greeted Muuch and I as we loaded our little horse-drawn wagon. A few villagers had come to see us off, handing over small containers of prepared meals, dried fruits, or drinks. I graciously accepted each in Muuch’s stead as she prepared another rain spell for while she would be gone. We had a small cart pulled by two horses owned by Muuch’s family. The wooden cart had a spot for the two of us to sit and enough storage room for more than enough food, a tent, some bedrolls, and all casting components that Muuch might require. The sound of heavy foot falls behind me alerted me to a presence, “Here,” My father grunted, “Take it with you.” “Huh?” I turned away from the wagon that I was painstakingly organizing and looked at him. A heavy object was put in my hands as my father gave me a proud look, “The family axe.” I looked it up and down, the long single bladed axe. The axehead itself was silver with gold designs inlaid on it, which shone in the morning sun. I felt the heft in my hands, it wasn’t much more than a ceremonial item within my family. Admittedly I knew it was meant to represent us; having been handed down repeatedly within my ancestry, “Really? You want me to take this to the city?” “Of course. Something to keep you safe and to represent our people with,” He explained as I took a moment to strap the weapon to my back, “Keep her safe, alright?” “I will, father,” I smiled before picking up a few more gifts and putting them in the wagon. “Sister! Sister!” A voice cried, cutting through the crowd. A few older tlaloques approached Muuch, “I cannot believe you get to go to the city!” They laughed as they hugged their sister goodbye. “I know!” Muuch giggled back as she looked at her three sisters, the rest of her family wasn’t far behind, “I am so excited to go!” Her mother approached, a much older tlaloque, and the village’s previous K’uhul with yet another parcel in her hands, “Will you be safe? I have heard the city is dirty and dangerous. And the food is addictive and fattening.” “I will be fine, mother,” Muuch assured her with a smile as she took the parcel, “Rick has lived amongst the city people and he will be my guide.” “I’ll make sure she comes back safe and sound. Preferably without eating any fast food,” I chuckled as I took the package from Muuch and placed it into the cart. It was warm and had a delicious smell. “What is fast food?” Muuch asked. “Thank you, Rick,” The mother tlaloque gave me a relieved smile, “May your trip be safe and easy. Muuch, good luck in the tournament, dear,” She hugged her daughter who quickly hugged her back. “Thank you, mother,” Muuch pulled away and grabbed her staff, gripping the wood tightly as she looked at her family with a wistful expression, “We… had best be off, it will be a long trip. Rick? Are we ready?” “Just about,” I threw a tarp over the wagon and tied it down with my father’s help, securing the contents of our wagon, “Ready to go,” I nodded and climbed up onto the wagon’s seat, gripping the horses’ reins. With my other hand, I assisted Muuch in climbing up next to me, letting her settle in as she pressed herself against me on the small seat. My childhood friend looked at me, the melancholic look on her face turning into a cute, little smile. She turned away from me and waved to the onlookers who waved back with tools, weapons and firearms as they watched their thaumaturge turn to leave. She nudged me, giving me the signal to move on. I snapped the reins, getting the horses to start trotting down the stone path toward the east end of the village, “BYYYYE!” Muuch cried as she turned back to wave one more time. The cobblestones under the wagon turned to damp mud as the horses started on the slim path that was encroached upon by trees. The humid air felt heavy, but I was glad to be on the road, “Rick?” Muuch sat close to me with a smile on her face, “You seem quite glad.” I smirked and nodded, “I like being on the road and traveling.” Muuch’s smile slowly faded and she put her hands in her lap, “You must resent being tied down to me then…” “Nah,” I assured her, “I’m glad I’ve got you with me this time too.” She grinned at me as she tried to get comfortable on the hard wooden seat and I leaned against the backrest, “Thank you, Rick. Hey, you never told me what fast food is.” “Oooooo,” I coughed nervously, “Don’t worry about it, okay? You really don’t need that stuff.” On the morning of our third day, I still held the reins in my tired hands. We had stopped to eat, sleep, and to rest along the way. Muuch had made me stop to collect a big bouquet of flowers that she later gave to a passing family. The two of us wore cloaks to keep the drizzling rain off of us as we rolled into town. The light fog did little to obscure the buildings that we passed by, restaurants, stores, hotels, and anything else we might want lined the streets. Muuch stared with wide eyes at everything around us, “This is what the city is like?” She mumbled, even staring at the asphalt under our weary horses. “This town is a little on the small side,” I explained, “The main attraction is their little magic academy. We need to find a hotel.” “A hotel?” Muuch cocked her head to the side in confusion. I nodded, “Uh huh. A hotel is somewhere we pay for to sleep for a few nights.” The frog-woman nodded, “I see… What will we eat?” “Well, there’s a few restaurants we could eat at. We’ve got more than enough money from what the village could scrounge together for us, though we do still have some food leftover, I’d rather save it for the return trip,” I looked around, slowly easing the horses to a stop as we neared a red light. A big, fancy, horse drawn carriage crossed in front of us, “Check that out,” I nodded behind the carriage at the car slowly coasting along. A bright yellow cruiser with lit up headlights. The vehicle’s mana reactor quietly hummed along. “Oh my stars, what is that?” She gaped at the car in awe, her eyes not leaving it until it rounded a bend. “A car. A pretty nice one too. Hmm, I think this is a fine place,” I glanced at a small hotel with a stable for horses on one side next to the sparsely populated parking lot. We pulled in and put the wagon in a parking lot, using a lock to tie it to a pole before getting the horse’s untied from it. We quickly paid for the horses’ care and checked into the hotel. We unloaded the wagon and put the contents in our room. It was mostly food but also Muuch’s casting components and clothes. Muuch climbed up onto one of the beds and jumped on it, making it creak and groan. She giggled, “Look, Rick! Look how bouncy this bed is!” I sighed, “Cut that out, we need to get you registered. Then we can get lunch, okay?” “Fast food?” She pleaded. “No, you’re mom said to not feed you that stuff,” I smirked, “We’ll get you something healthy at a nice place. It's your first time eating out, I want it to be good and not make you ill.” “Okay… you are always looking out for me, huh?” She smiled as she picked up her staff and picked out a few magical reagents, “Come along then.” The on foot trek was short as we meandered through the small college town. Muuch stopped at nearly every shop to ogle at the items in the window. Cloaks, wands, and staffs in one. Puppies, kittens, and lizards in another. Dresses, TVs, appliances, and many other things drew her attention. I kept stopping and watching her, seeing the awe and curiosity on her face brought a smile to mine, “Rick! Look! What’s that?” She pointed at a dishwasher. “It washes dishes. Muuch, we’re gonna be late…” “Sorry, sorry,” She sighed and continued walking down the street with me. Aztlan academy shortly came into view, making Muuch’s eyes light up at its splendor. The fog cleared and the rain stopped as we crossed the last street. We stepped into the building that we spotted other wizards filing into. I had never been to one of these magic academies, but I assumed this was some kind of admin building. The walls were lined with portraits of wizards and witches of all kinds. Muuch and I examined a portrait of a wolf man in a dapper looking suit and tie with a matching conical hat, “Former dean: Lyander Lucrosse, 1968?” Muuch read. “Looks like he was in charge here for a bit. Let’s get you signed up,” I motioned for her to follow me. We stood at the back of the line, both still wrapped in our damp cloaks. Three fold out tables were set up where three people signed up the entrants. We got in the left line and my eyes started to wander. Muuch’s did too as she started to stare and glance at everything she saw. She hummed to herself as she looked at the dresses, gowns, robes, and outfits that the other casters wore. She ogled at one in particular in the middle line right next to us. A long, opulent white and silver dress worn by a sneering dark-skinned half-elf. Muuch blinked as she noticed the detestable gaze, “I see they let anyone into Aztlan Academy these days,” She scoffed. “P-Pardon?” Muuch meekly mumbled. “What are you? A frog beast-man?” The woman wondered as she ran her fingers through her long, blonde hair. “I-I am a tlaloque, Taak’in Muuch. I-I am my village’s K’uhul–” “K’uhul?” The elf rolled her eyes, “You villagers and your superstitions. I care not to deal with your voodoo mambo jambo and shamanisms.” “O-okay,” Muuch put up her hood and slinked over to me, “Why is she like that?” She whispered. “Just ignore her. She’s from the city and thinks that makes her better than us,” I whispered back. I swore I saw her smirk as she stepped to the front of her line. “How many?” The woman at the front asked. “I will participate in… five,” The half elf decided. The administrator nodded and waved a metal wand in front of her. The wand flickered a bright orange color, “Top of my game, as always.” I frowned, having no idea what that meant. Muuch stepped up the table next, “How many?” “Uh… one?” Muuch had a wary look in her eyes as she had the wand waved in front of her. In a few moments, the tip of the wand also flickered orange, “Oh?” Muuch tilted her head. She had little time to ask what that meant as the admin started asking multiple other questions that made Muuch’s head spin. I stepped in and assisted her in answering a few. Once that was done, the two of us left the building, knowing that the duels began the next day and that was when Muuch would be competing. We stepped into the midday sun, still somewhat obscured by dark rain clouds. Muuch rubbed her face, “I think I am ready for a nap after that interrogation and the mean woman.” “I know what you mean. We’ll go get lunch and–” “MUUCH!” A voice cried. Muuch shook herself and looked to the voice. A beast woman mage had bounded up to my friend, “Piya!” The frog-woman replied, putting a wide grin on her face, “You look so much different in person!” “Aye, you as welll,” Piya had sharp cat ears on to top of her head and jaguar fur on her arms, signifying that she was a wayob– a shapeshifter who could turn into a large jaguar, “I am so glad I got to see you today. After you told me through our scrying-crystals, I couldn’t wait to sign up! What group did you get in?” “Group?” “What color was the wand they waved at you?” “Oh! It was orange, I-I think,” Muuch looked to me and I nodded. Piya’s eyes got wide, “You placed in the top rank?! Oh! I am so happy for you! You never told me that you were so strong!” Muuch blinked, “I-I had no idea. I have no other casters to compare myself to back home.” Piya nodded, “No worries. You will do well tomorrow. So who is this? Your boyfriend?” She gestured to me. Muuch was shocked by her friend’s guess, “W-well– H-he’s…” The beast-woman just laughed at Muuch’s tomato-colored face, “Ah, young love. Go get some rest, friend, and try to enjoy your time in the city… with your boyfriend,” She hastily added with a laugh. Muuch looked at me nervously, “S-should we go eat?” “Like a date?” I teased. “RICK!” She cried. . . . . . I tapped my fingers on the half wall separating me from the twelve or so foot drop down into the arena. I had seen some lower level duels up till now, they threw somewhat impressive spells at one another until one ran out of mana. The middling group were a bit better, actually knocking one another out, the high rank even more so. Now we were in the master’s. Muuch was one of the first fights. Best of three rounds, either incapacitate your opponent for twenty seconds, make them tap out, or push them out of the boundaries of the arena. Muuch had taken her position, the crowd cheering for her as she stripped off her cloak and revealed her blue and gold priestly garb. Her opponent, the half elf from earlier, sneered as she brushed off her white robes. Muuch timidly scanned the crowd, waving once she spotted me. I smiled and waved back, holding in my nervousness. There was little prelude to the fight, the announcer merely said the name of both, “Elyra, the half-elven wizard!” The elf woman waved her staff overhead, showering the stadium in sparkles, “Muuch, the tlaloque thaumaturge!” Muuch hesitated for a moment, thinking of what to do. She simply raised her staff and summoned a light, pleasant rain that cooled my skin. I heard a few people in the big crowd whine, but the rain only lasted a few moments before giving way to the harsh sunlight. The elf gave a smug look before dropping into a casting-ready stance. Muuch did the same, looking a little awkward in her pose. “You look nervous,” The half-elf smugly declared, “Your outfit, do they let all peasants wear gold where you come from?” Muuch blinked, “Not usually. Do the people where you come from all act like children?” The elf just glared in response as the announcer’s microphone switched on. My mouth felt dry as the crowd started to chatter with anticipation, “Begin!” The announcer cried. The half-elf released a powerful arc of magical lightning at Muuch. The frog-woman raised a single hand, catching the arc in her palm and sliding back from the force of the attack. Muuch unleashed her spell as the surprised elf ceased in her barrage, “Impressive.” The tlaloque raised her staff in the air and summoned the rain once more, this time as a torrential downpour, “You’re all washed up!” She smirked at her little joke as the dirt floor of the arena turned into a thick mud almost instantly. The elf tried to cast again, but stumbled as she tried to take a different stance. Still, she managed to charge and cast another bolt, the rain and water only making it stronger as it struck Muuch. I heard her yelp in pain before being tossed out of the boundaries of the arena. I stood as I watched her slump over, every part of me wanting to rush to her side. Thankfully, the arena’s chirurgeons were instantly on her, mending her magic burn. One round to the elf who looked more smug than ever, “As expected.” The rain continued to pour. The second round began as Muuch took her position again, the announcer telling them to begin. The elf started to cast again, but Muuch only had to stomp her staff on the floor to vanish. The elf stopped, looking around or Muuch’s location. Unlike the elf, Muuch’s footsteps were not visible in the mud as she gracefully glided over it, her feet not sinking at all into it as I could not see footprints. My mouth was agape, I was stunned at what Muuch was capable of. I assumed the rain was making it hard for the half-elf to hear, as I knew they were usually very perceptive. Muuch suddenly appeared behind her, touching her staff to the ground and opening a sinkhole beneath the elf. She struggled in the mud, yelling and cursing in her weird elven tongue before tapping out. With the wave of Muuch’s hand, the mud spit the elf out. She looked pissed, her once opulent dress was now stained brown, “I feel that ugly color is much more befitting of such an ugly soul,” Muuch mused at the elf. The score was one to one. The rain started to let up, but not before soaking every onlooker to the bone. I stared intently, my heart pounding as I watched the two casters take their places. The elf had gotten her footing and the rain was starting to let up. Another cry from the announcer signaled for the two to start. Muuch was quick, dropping low and pressing her hands in the mud. The elf waved her hand and staff, from the look on my friend’s face I could tell that the spell must have failed. The half-elf threw a barrage of flaming spears, each on sailing through the rain and landing in a ring around Muuch. A moment later, a fiery cage formed, starting to cook the frog-woman, “Hah! Victory! Tap out now or burn, little frog!” The elf looked smug again, thinking she had won as the cage started to shrink. Thinking quickly, Muuch slammed her staff down in the mud, forming a barrier around her, completely obscuring her in the small cage. The crowd started to mutter amongst themselves. The cage and the mud falling away, revealing that Muuch had vanished again. The crowd cheered and the elf scowled to herself. The mud exploded in the center of the arena, revealing Muuch before she threw a single shot at the half-elf, just as the frog-woman disappeared under the mud once more. The opponent stayed on her toes, easily blocking the first attack, but she wasn’t prepared as Muuch appeared behind her and threw three more bolts. The elf blocked two, but was struck by the third. Muuch stood before her opponent, preparing another spell. The elf tried to cast but stumbled and vomited, the frog’s poison taking hold instantly, “Even a child knows to keep their eyes open in the rain, elf,” Muuch giggled. Muuch uncontestedly stabbed the tip of her staff into the mud, forming big stone and mud pillars that closed around the ill elf. Muuch smiled and skipped over to the half-elf who scowled and groaned in pain. With the single tap of her staff, Muuch sent her opponent and the mass of mud slamming into the wall on the other side of the arena, winning with a ring out. The crowd cheered for my friend who simply stood in the slowly revealed sunshine with a big grin on her face. She brushed some mud off herself, looked up at me and waved again. I waved back, glancing over at the cursing, mud covered elf and chuckled. . . . . . “I can’t believe you did so well, Muuch,” I praised as I watched my friend devour her food, “I didn’t expect you to be so underhanded and sneaky,” Muuch smiled at me as she finished chewing her big mouthful of fries and burger. She quickly went for the milkshake next. Piya nodded in agreement, “So you turned down the scholarship?” She gave a confused look to the frog woman, “You could have attained mastery in a school of magic here! Gotten a fancy diploma and everything!” Muuch shook her head, “I have the village to look after,” She explained. The three of us sat in a stall at a small burger joint. Probably the only restaurant in town serving up American food, “And… Rick would not have been able to come with me as he is not gifted with magic.” “Ah. Gotta keep your man close at hand. I get it~” She teased. Muuch and I both turned red as the jaguar woman laughed at us, “He seems pretty attentive of ya from what you’ve told me. You’re a lucky lady.” I started to mumble, “I-It’s my–” Muuch wrapped an arm around me, “Yup! He is a great boyfriend, after all,” My face was even redder, somehow. Piya laughed, “You make a fine couple!” She calmed down as she took a massive bite of her burger with her sharp front teeth, “What did you do with the prize money then– or what will you do, I mean.” Muuch smiled, “Well, I bought a mana reactor for the village. With all the agriculture and my weather shaping magics, it should be able to keep a few things going. Besided, with some modern appliances, Rick’s cooking should be even better!” “A nice oven would be nice to have…” I rubbed my chin, thinking about all the things I could make. “And a deep fryer too?” Muuch quietly added. I sighed, “If you want.” “Yes! Thanks, Eric!” Muuch leaned over and gave me a hug. My face turned red again.