Multifold Manus Chapter 9

	Lights beamed down from the upper row of the seating from massive, hot stage lighting that shone down on the freshly waxed flooring of the arena. The area of the ground was about the length of three basketball courts and as wide as two, plenty of open space for the one-on-one duels to come. Around that flooring was a stone wall, similar to that used in ancient civilization’s arenas. Rows and rows of seats rose high over the courts. Spectators had gathered around with camera crews ready to broadcast the duels on local networks. Each house’s banner was draped down over the walls of the arena with each house’s members sitting in their sections. Most students were in attendance while others stayed home to watch it with their families or in their dorms on TV. The roof over the arena kept the rain out, but a bit of fog had managed to creep in, casting a light mist over the floor.
	Miss Manus sat in the front row of her house’s section, right above their proudly flying banner. Suzie sat on a pad to help her see over the barrier and down into the arena, while Todd sat a few seats up so as to not block the other students’ views. Holmit sat on the other side of Suzie with his arms crossed, looking disgruntled as ever. Fredrik was the only member of House Karak-Albrac’s council that was not in attendance due to his participation in the duels, the golden wizard being sequestered away to the locker room with the other waiting entrants. It was the same with Galahad.
	“How are you feeling, Manus?” Suzie asked as she stretched her arms.
	“Anxious. Like I always do when our duelist enters the arena. All six years as president and my four years as an underclassman in House Karak-Albrac I have always felt this way,” Miss Manus’s hands were all interlocked as she tried to keep them busy, “I tried not to attend before I was president, but usually got dragged along.”
	“If I remember right, you were close with our previous president,” Todd mumbled, leaning down to speak to the fey-witch.
	“Somewhat. He brought me onto the council for this house when I first started. He saw something in me, or so he said. Perhaps it was merely because I was attempting mastery,” She sighed, “How our house has fallen since Markus left.”
	“Stop beating yourself up,” Holmit grumbled, “We lost our house duelist when Markus, Tera, and Persephone graduated. That is why we have fallen.”
	“For once I agree with the dwarf,” Suzie smirked, “As our leader, you are more than fine. We just need a fighter and we’ll be back to where we used to be. Good hours for labs, good standing with the other houses, and a good showing at the duels.”
	“Ya just need Lox to win then, huh?” A nasally voice inquired.
	Whipping around, Manus and Suzie laid their eyes upon the two goblins they had met just the day prior who had snuck up on them, “You don’t mind if we sit with you, right?” Rald asked.
	“Yeah, the Seekers House has been brewing with animosity towards our friend and I’m about to break someone’s nose over it,” Blud stuck his tongue out in the direction where his house sat.
	“Very well,” Miss Manus nodded, “I think your insight into Galahad’s tactics might prove useful.”
	“Yeah, it's not like much of our house showed up, grumbling about no alcohol being allowed in here. They’re probably watching this on TV in the dorm…” Suzie frowned.
	“Yup,” Holmit procured a flask from his pocket and took a swig, “Damn shame.”
	“If there’s one thing you dwarves got right, it's how to conceal liquor,” Blud drank a dark liquid from a potion bottle and wiped his mouth, “Too bad your own house isn’t here to watch Lox own-zone Harold for your benefit.”
	“Own-zone…?” Manus echoed in confusion.
	“Aye,” Holmit grumbled and turned back to the arena, “They struggle to believe he will win. Some even think him arrogant and foolish.”
	“You think he’s arrogant and foolish, too,” Suzie reminded him.
	“Aye. I do. But he’s got the guts that this house needs,” The dwarf replied, “That much I can respect him for, but it won’t mean a thing if he loses.”
	Todd nervously tapped his fingers together, his one big eye staring down at them, “I just hope they don’t get hurt too much…”
	“I hate all the… hate that Lox has been getting for standing up to that guy,” The lady goblin adjusted her cloak and folded her arms, “It’s all a load of bull.”
	“Even if he wins, I’m not sure if things are going to get better,” Said Suzie with a frown, "Some people just can't get over themselves."
In Manus' mind she saw that comment being directed at Harold. Should Galahad somehow win, would that humble the prince or would he double down? There was doubt in her mind, no amount of rebuffing had deterred him before, why would it work now? She shook her head, looking to her friends to see them all quieting down along with the rest of the crowd.
"So when does he fight?" Asked Blud.
"Who?" Said Todd who turned and leaned down towards the goblin.
"Lox, who else?" Before they could continue the deep sound of drums began to roll like thunder, signaling the start of the tournament. Several lights shone up towards the roof and swaying back and forth until finally they met in the center.
	“Welcome, welcome, one and all!” An announcer cried, her voice amplified by a magic spell. It was as if her voice came from everywhere as the lights died down and a flat circle made of a green, shimmering goo descended from the ceiling. Two people stood atop the slowly spinning goo, using their casting implements like microphones. The first was a witch with bright emerald eyes and white hair holding a long, gnarled staff with a green orb grafted to the top, “To Fairgarland Academy’s five-hundred and twenty-first annual dueling tournament!” It was Sophia Hamilton, a showy cat-witch whose black robes billowed as she hovered in the auditorium.
	“We’ve got a special showing for you all tonight!” The second announcer cried. He was a tall, skinny fellow with red skin and horns. He adjusted his ashen gray suit and red tie. A devil with a long, spindly tail and slicked back hair and a yellow armband– that of house Zucarius. He was a handsome devil known for being a showman and one of the main editors of the Fairgarland Newspaper, “Ten contestants will enter this arena, two at a time, and fight in a best-of-five rounds competition! Shall we go over the rules, Miss Sophia?” He asked into his smooth black wand with a golden tip.
	“Of course, Mister Gauldroy! As my fellow announcer stated, there will be five rounds in a match. Whoever wins three rounds will win the match! To win a round, you either have to make your opponent tap out, keep them from acting for ten seconds whether it be binding or incapacitation, or force them out of the designated arena!” She waved her hand and the dueling area, a little bigger than a basketball court, was outlined in a bright green light, “And to make sure no major accidents happen, our campus chirurgeons are standing by to heal any major wounds, we even have a cleric on hand for anything extreme!”
	“That’s right. Unfortunately for our combatants, they are on their own for their wounds and mana loss between rounds,” The devil explained, “Potions and healing spells are allowed to be used. Rounds will begin with a ten second period for combatants to prepare a spell or cast some kind of buffing spell on themself. Anything else, Sophia?”
	The cat-witch rubbed her chin, “Well, each combatant is allowed three magical trinkets. It should be an exciting evening seeing how each wizard or witch cleverly uses their talents!” Her eyes sparkled as the lights came back on, “Gauldroy, how about we speak to our contestants before the first match?”
	“A splendid idea! We’ll be right back in a few moments!” He threw his hand down, enveloping the two in a black smoke. When the smoke vanished, the two and their summoned platform were both gone. 

. . . . .

	Carly sat next to Dora, the two watching with anticipation as the two hosts disappeared and all the spotlights went out, "They're going to interview Harold!" Carly whispered as best as she could over her giddiness. 
Dora stifled a laugh, "They're going to interview everyone."
"Shush, look!" Carly pointed down onto the court. There were two wizards, a dwarf and a human readying a device in the dark. It had several moving gears and a wheel-shaped crystal turning steadily on one side. At the center of the device was a glass 'eye' that was slowly building up with light from inside.
Dora squinted through the darkness at it, "Is that--"
"It's definitely an Artificial Eyemax Caster," Carly answered matter-of-factly. Soon enough the two wizards got the device working, a beam of light shooting out of the 'eye' as it began to project an image in the center of the arena for all to see. It followed Sophia and Gauldroy into the lockers under the arena where each contestant was waiting eagerly in their own ways.
"Fairgarland can afford AECs?" Dora asked, bewildered.
"There are more students this year, so maybe there's a bigger budget, now shush," answered Carly. She silently wished she had one for herself, as they were perfect for live broadcasting.

. . . . .

The hosts, Sophia and Gauldroy, approached two of the contestants who were excitedly chattering, “Talmirin Ryvalia!” Sophia excitedly introduced as she gestured to the first of the two, a small and lithe gnome.
	“And Dottathum Azum-Barowitz!” Gauldroy announced, pointing to the stocky dwarven woman as the two took places on either side of the contestants. A dwarf and a human held equipment, a TV camera on the dwarf that was transmitting to a local channel and a magic-tech device used by the human that showed the interview to the Fairgarland stadium through the AEC. The abjuration house cheered for Talmirin while the evocation school hollered when Dottathum’s freckled face was shown. 
Both smiled and waved at the camera, “So, the two of you seem to be getting along well,” Sophia commented.
	“Yup! Dotti is a good friend of mine,” Talmirin gave a bright smile to the camera.
	The dwarf nodded, “Aye. I knew Talmirin was in the tornamen’, and when Presiden’ Harold came ‘round lookin’ fer anothar contestant to go agains’ ‘er, I jumped at da chance!” She laughed, “Had to fight off some otha’ house memba’s fer it!”
	“I see!” Gauldroy smiled, “Have the two of you fought in a duel with each other before?”
Talmirin shook her head, “Nope! We’ve sparred a few times, but only recently have we gotten really into dueling.”
	“We wur kin’a waitin’ fer a good time fer our firs’ fight,” The dwarven woman brandished her long, metal staff, “Today seems like a good firs’ time, eh?”
	“I couldn’t agree more!” Sophia nodded, “Anything you want to say to your adoring fans out there?”	
	“Um… if I win,” Talmirin tapped her chin.
	“I’ll buy ya a roun’ at the pub, eh? Some glasses ah gnomish wine? Those onion rings and pre’zles ya like?” Dotti suggested.
	“Oooh, I’d like that. If you win, maybe we’ll go get some southern-human made steak? My treat?” Talmirin suggested, “Some flagons of ale too!”
	“Aye, that sounds heavenly!” The dwarf laughed. The two seemed to just forget they were on camera and went back to talking and chatting about classes, boys, hobbies, and everything else.
	“We’ll let those two get back to it,” Gauldroy sighed with a smile.
	Sophia nodded and adjusted her hair, “Agreed. How about we talk to–”
	“Interviews?!” A voice cried, just off screen. From the slightly muffled voice, the entire transmutation school knew who it was, “And you had the gall not to start with the fan favorite!” The cameras shifted to show the owner of the voice and the full glory of gold that he adorned himself in.
	“Ah, Fredrik Alistar Jeoffrey,” Sophia sounded less than enthused. Even then, people in almost every house cheered when they saw the golden wonder.
	“Fear not my advances, Lady Sophia. I have found another muse.”
	“Oh? Looking to dedicate the win to her?” Gauldry asked, taking the obvious lead for conversation.
"As it so happens, I am, though I cannot divulge for whom. That is only for the two of us to know," His mask, a golden devil ready for battle held an ever present grin, four tusks curling outward while two golden horns jolted up and out from his forehead.  
"Ooh, a secret rendezvous afterwards perhaps?" Gauldry egged on the golden wonder.
"Well… if you must know, I plan to reveal my affections to her when I take the gold," Fredrik announced.
"Haven't you already taken the gold? Why not call out to her right now?" Sophia snorted at her own joke, to which Fredrik joined in laughing. 
"Ever the clever jester, Lady Hamilton. I cannot, however, as I must admit, my heart is not yet ready."
"Then we shall not keep you from your preparations, I will personally be cheering for your victory, and the inevitable union of you and the lucky mystery girl!" Sophia layered on the schmooze.
"Oh, please, Miss Hamilton! Please do not be disheartened by my rejection, surely there is another man out there waiting for such a lovely, pure-white, blooming caster such as yourself."
Many in the crowd were laughing at the Golden Wonder's antics; though Sophia did her best to hide her embarrassment, her flushed face made it plain that a cord had been struck.
Gauldry quickly ushered her away with him towards their next interviewee, "Here we have a returning duelist, Rigard Aemison, as mighty with magic as he is muscle, but not much for speaking, as he tells us every year. We’ll give him a break this time," Sophia announced as Gauldry goaded him on to strike a pose. The orc smiled at the camera and flexed his arms, his biceps testing the seams of his sleeves. Many witches in the audience swooned. Rald and Suzie groaned, both of them smiling at one another as they realized they shared an opinion on the matter. 
"Why don't you ever flex for us, Todd?" Some of his underclassmen teased. The timid cyclopes seemed to shrink down into himself, hunching his shoulders up to his ears as he stammered as his face turned red.
	“Anything to say to the crowd, Elton Sidgard?” Gauldry asked the stout gnome as they approached him. The divination house hooted and hollered for the hairy, bespectacled gnomishman.
	He ran his fingers through his white beard and pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, “I have divined the odds of my victory! They are quite high if you look at the math here,” He procured a scroll from his red and yellow robes and unfurled the ten yard long parchment, “As you can see here–”
	“In english, please,” Sophia groaned.
	“W-well…” He looked at some notes, “Carry the seven, plus eight… roughly a seventy-five percent chance that I will defeat Wilbert! I have divined his signature spells and prepared accordingly to deal with them!” He proclaimed as he started to pull graphs, diagrams, books, and even an old magicked laptop from the seemingly bottomless storage. As soon as a powerpoint presentation was opened up on the laptop written in comic sans, Sophia and Gauldry knew it was time to move on.
	“Alright! That’s all the time we have! Good luck, friend!” Gauldry called as the two hurried away, "B-but I haven't shown you my victory speech!" The white gnome called after them, waving around a lengthy scroll he had prepared beforehand.
	Sophia looked around frantically for their next interviewee as she tried to get away from the gnome. She knew that Harold needed to be left for the end so more viewers would pay attention to the rest. But who would draw eyes back to the screen? Sitting in the corner away from everyone else was her answer. He was sitting on a bench and facing the lockers that lined the walls of the dressing room turned waiting room, “Mister Galahad Loxley,” Sophia introduced.
	From the other side of the AEC, Miss Manus frowned as she heard the jeers and boos of the crowd, “Damn moss-collectors,” Blud scowled back at the faces of the crowd.
	“Do ya think he’ll prove ‘em wrong?” Holmit asked no one in particular.
	“He has to,” Rald and Suzie both muttered before Rald’s face lit up, “JINX! You owe me a soda!”
	“Quiet, he’s gonna talk,” Todd hushed.
	The cameras took a moment to fixate on Galahad, it wasn’t obvious it was him at first due to his garb. He had the red conical hat on along with the black robes in addition to a red scarf that covered much of his face. His bright, fiery eyes were the main indicator that it was him, “Well, Galahad, what do you think about your opponent?”
	Galahad’s eyes darted between the cat-witch, the cameras, the devil man, and Harold who eyed the group with interest. It took the wizard a moment to gather his thoughts before he cleared his throat. His eyes looked down, but the rest of his body was very still, “Not much to say, but it should be a– fun bout.”
	“Fun?” Gauldroy smirked.
	“Not fun like–” The young wizard glanced at the dwarf and halfling who were still chatting excitedly, “like they’ve got. It should please the people, I think. Or,” The crowd could see a mischievous smirk, even behind the face covering, “it could really piss them off, ya know?”
	Sophia and Gauldroy glanced at one another, “Good for ratings?” Sophia joked.
	“Oh, it should be the match of the night. Really glad we’re saving it for last. Heh,” Gauldroy nodded, “Well, good luck to you Galahad. I know many want me to tell you to ‘break a leg,’ but I like your spirit more than they do, at least.”
	“I’m really looking forward to it, Galahad!” Sophia called as they pulled away, looking for the next interviewee.

Miss Manus nodded as she stared at the projection, “It seems that Galahad is taking this very seriously.”
“Huh?” Most everyone around her gave her puzzled looks.
The fey-witch felt a bit more at ease, “He is covering his face so as to not let his opponent see what he is casting. I can guarantee he will cast beneath his cloak as well.”	
	“I don’t know what to make of him, really,” Holmit mumbled as he went for his flask again. 

	“There’s Lillian Gourdbeater of house Hamilton!” Sophia shouted, “How are you, Lillian?”
	“F-fine,” The halfling played with her long, curly brown hair as her eyes darted around. Sophia made a gesture, rolling her hand as if to say ‘yes, and?’ to her. Gauldroy got the feeling Sophia had coached her fellow house member, “Oh, uhm, I’m a little nervous of course. Excited, m-maybe?”
	“That’s natural,” Gauldroy assured her as he adjusted his robes, “Now, how do you feel about your opponent?”
	“R-Rigard? He seems pretty strong… but I’m feeling confident I can go toe-to-toe against him,” She smirked, “With a little help, of course.”
	Sophia smiled, “I would be greatly disappointed if we were not going to see the help. Anything else to say?” The halfling just shook her head and the interviewers moved on.	
	“Wilbert Dodgary, he isn't your average plainsrunner griffonite, people! This one is sharp and experienced,” Gauldroy politely and respectfully introduced the aging griffonite man. 
	The plainsrunner wore a hood across his face, casting unnaturally dark shadows over his eyes. He glanced at the interviewers as they slowly and carefully approached. The wingless griffonite nodded slowly in greeting, crossing one taloned leg over the other while his taloned hands gripped his gnarled wooden walking stick. The necromancy house politely clapped for their representative. Sophia and Gauldroy exchanged looks before the cat-witch swallowed nervously, “Anything to say, Wilbert?”
	There was a long pause before the griffonite glanced at Elton who was still struggling with his papers and scrolls, “The gnome. He speaks too much.”
	Sophia blinked and looked at Gauldroy. The demon just smirked, “We can agree on that at least. You’re a man of few words, so we’ll call this interview concluded.”
	“Next on the docket, the great Ulyses Bradley!” He introduced, clapping for the human man who stood and bowed to the cameras before striking a pose. 
He was definitely a pretty-boy in every sense of the word, he made the illusion house cheer for him with a smile while women from many other houses swooned for him, much to their classmates' chagrin. He was in enchanted black robes with swirling yellow, flowery designs running across them, “A good day to you both,” Ulyses grinned and winked at the camera, “What do you wish to know?”
Sophia looked at him then to Fredrik on the other side of the room, a sense of dejavu washing over her, “What do you think of your opponent for today?”
He scoffed, “The Golden Wonder? Eh, I’m not too worried,” He shrugged with a little smirk. 
	“Really? He’s usually done pretty well in these tournaments,” Gauldroy warned as he gave a wary look to the camera. 
	“Well, yeah. But transmutation isn’t a great combat spell. Even though it is my first year competing I’ve watched several of his old duels and I think I’m prepared. To be honest, I’m more worried about the others,” He explained. He didn’t bother waiting for them to press him to continue, “You’ve got Harold, of course, the respected head of evocation, not to mention Dotti, his underclassman. Her and Talmirin are two competent witches in schools geared towards combat. The mysterious Wilbert. Who knows what he’ll do? But, you also have the wild card, completely untested and unproven, yet here he is, all bundled up– Galahad. To be honest, I wish I was going against him.”
	“Oh?” Sophia pressed.
	He smiled and leaned in, “An easy first round, I’ll bet. That dog, Harold, doesn’t need the freebie, now does he?”
	“You certainly are confident for your first year in the tournament,” Gauldry pointed out, “Are you sure you aren’t a little too confident?”
	“Nah, it’ll be fine. I’ll get worried when I fight Harold next round.”
	“I just hope you can put your money where your mouth is,” Sophia gave a wink to the camera, “Anything else?”
He struck another pose, “Shout out to my fans out there!” He grinned and gave a thumbs up, “I’m sure your support will give me the edge I need!”
	“Aaaand last but not least,” Gauldroy and Sophia approached the last of the ten contestants, “Harold Garnalga Babarry!”
	“What do you expect the outcome of this tournament will be?” Asked Gauldroy.
	“A flawless victory for yours truly, of course,” Harold’s voice oozed with smugness. 
	“What about your first opponent? Do you think he’ll be a challenge for you? No one has ever seen him fight, he could have a few tricks up his sleeve,” The white cat-witch pointed out.
	Harold scoffed, “A challenge? Sophia,” He gave her an incredulous look, “I have had four consecutive years as reigning champion, I assure you I shall not have any trouble with the whelp. Personally I am glad that he is my first opponent, as the other tournament goers shall have a greater experience and more excitement while I have to babysit. It really is a shame, the boy never had a chance.”

. . . . . 

Crud could barely hold himself back from throwing his beer can at the TV, “What an ass!” The goblin hollered as he slouched in the human-sized recliner. Four of his kids sat on either side of him.
	“Crud! Language!” His wife, Root, seethed.
	Their friends laughed. The house was full of various demi-humans. An orcish couple, a pixie woman, and a small ent with crisp, green leaves and long, spindly limbs. A few of them brought their children who played with the small horde of goblin children who didn’t care about the duels, “Screw this Harold guy, I’m sick of seeing his smug face every year,” Crud grumbled. 
“Yeah, but you’ll bet on him winning like you do every year,” The pixie smirked.  
The ent’s wooden form creaked as he looked around, “Betting?” He slowly asked.
	“We bet every year on the fights. You can sit out if you want,” The orcish man explained. 
“Usually only the last fight matters for betting as everyone goes all in,” The pixie continued.
Root nodded, “Usually it's all in good fun. My husband gets a little heated sometimes.”
	“Sush! The first duel is starting soon!” Crud cried, “I’m puttin’ my money on Talmirin.”
	“Really?” Root smirked, “I think that dwarf has it.”
	“I just wanna see our ancestral enemy lose,” The father goblin grumbled.
	The pixie turned back to the TV and grabbed a tiny can of beer that was on the shelf next to her, “Shaddup and watch, it's almost time.”

	. . . . . 

	“I really just wanna see the dwarf lose,” Blud chuckled, “That’s what my dad would say if he were here.”
	“Blud, you don’t need to tell everyone that our dad is racist,” Rald groaned.
	Suzie smiled, “Most of us probably have close relatives that would say something along those lines, no need to be embarrassed. A lot of people still cling to the ways of the old world.”
	“I for one want to see the dwarf win doubly, now.” Holmit jeered at the goblin. Blud tightened his lips as he eyed the dwarf, but he thought better than to insult him and instead placed his hope in the little gnomish woman.
	Miss Manus’s hands idly rolled her cracked sphere between themselves. Seeing Galahad taking this seriously had helped a little, but as time dragged on she was becoming more and more anxious, any confidence she had was slowly and agonizingly whittled away with each passing moment.

	. . . . .
As the debating over duelists went on in the crowd the lights quickly and gradually turned off, ceasing all conversation. Two stage lights lit up both Sophia and Gauldoy who stood at the center of the arena.
"In the blue corner, come all the way from across the Atlantic in Winshire, England, she's been with us for years now and is a skilled abjurationist! More fearsome than she looks, Talmirin Ryvalia!" Gauldroy announced with his magically amplified voice. The gnomish woman was illuminated by another bright overhead light as she twirled her magic dagger between her fingers before casting a warding spell over herself. Her house cheered the loudest for her, causing her to blush.
“And in the red corner, from Azumovall, Alaska, one of the best evocationists in Fairgarland and as fierce a friend as anyone could ask for! Known as ‘Dotti’ to her friends, Dottathum Azum-Barowitz!” Announced Sophia, the dwarf standing as tall as she could on her side of the arena while flourishing her iron staff. 
Gauldroy held both his arms out to either duelist before projecting his voice again, "Contestants, are you ready?" The two bowed their heads to him and to each other before stepping away from one another and taking their positions about a basketball court’s length away from one another. They stood in the ring, the boundaries of the arena being easily visible, "Fairgarland, are you ready?!" The crowd roared as the lights were gradually turned up, but kept dark enough around the arena for the two duelists to focus on one another, "Then let the five-hundred and twenty-first annual Fairgarland tournament begin!" A bell rang out, marking the start of the match.
At once Dottathum let rip a firebolt from her iron staff, her quick-cast spell aimed for Talmirin's chest. The gnome easily deflected the spell, sidestepping it and batting it aside with a handwoven ward where it struck the edges of the wall, fizzling on contact with the magicked barrier. The crowd was already hollering, excited by the flashy casting. Dotti fired another spell just as fast as the last one with two more to follow, though this time Talmirin redirected them back at the dwarf. She ducked under one firebolt and blocked the other two with her staff. Dotti laughed, "'Atta girl, Tal!" She cheered, holding her staff forward as she charged up a different spell.
"You've gotten faster, Dotti!" Talmirin called back, weaving another ward between her hand and her dagger as the dwarf let loose a thunderous crack of lightning from her staff, "But you'll have to do better than that if you want to win!" The gnome, while blocking with her dagger, reached out and took hold of the lightning with her other hand, using her warded fingers to curve the arcs back around at her friend from all directions. Dottathum held out her staff with either end at her side, using them as a lightning rod to absorb the spell back into her weapon. 
"I've been workin' on more'n jus' speed! How's about this?" The dwarf spun her staff around, firing off a firebolt as well as a blade of wind with the other side. Talmarin blocked the firebolt but struggled to ward off the windblade, Dotti closing the distance between them Talmirin did her best to keep up her defense, some of the dwarf's spells making it past her hands and bouncing off her ward she had cast from the start. As the gnome retreated, Dotti pursued, looking to get a ring out if possible. As she closed in on the gnome, Dotti raised her staff and prepared to land a finishing blow that would push her gnomish opponent out of the ring, but just before she could strike Talmirin waved both hands into a clap, and an invisible force constrained the dwarf, pushing on her from all sides.
"What the - Tal! When did ya have time fer this?!" The dwarf cried out from her magical prison.
"It was the first spell I cast at the start! Did ya like my little trap I set for you, Dotti? I can use wards for more than just defense y'know!"
The dwarf struggled inside the ward, unable to break it. After ten seconds there came the toll of a bell, marking the end of the round.
"Looks like we have a winner for the first round, Talmirin has immobilized Dottathum in a sneaky ward trap!" Gauldroy announced as the two duelists wasted no time getting ready for their second round. Both took a drink from flasks, regaining some of their lost mana. 
"You betta be careful, Tal. I won't fall fer that again!" Dotti called from her side of the ring, corking her flask. Talmirin smiled back at the dwarf as she refreshed her ward, and took another sip before putting her own flask away.
"Round two!" Sophia called before the bell tolled again. This time Talmirin charged forward, pushing her open palms towards Dottathum one after the other, each thrust forcing out a wall of magic that pushed the dwarf back as they passed through her. Dotti growled, agitated at the sudden waves of magic shoving her back. She forced herself to lean against the next wave before casting a fire spell that engulfed her iron staff. Each wall that came close to her she struck with such strength that they shattered instantly, the crowd cheering at her display of raw power both physically and magically. Even Talmirin was surprised, though the gnome regained her composure quickly and kept up the pressure. She kept pushing with one hand while preparing another spell with the other, keeping her distance while waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Dottathum roared, charging right through one - two - three more barriers before Talmirin cast a great barrier, pushing the dwarf back on her heels. Dotti pushed with both hands, even using her head and shoulders as best as she could but the barrier continued on its path, taking her straight towards the edge behind her and out of the ring.
Talmirin nearly let out a laugh, but stopped herself short when her dwarven friend furrowed her brow. She was getting angry, the expression on her face made that plain. The gnome quickly prepped a warding spell, there was no telling what Dotti would do when she got mad. Dottathum was already working up a spell much like her, her staff held high as she awaited the bell. When it came, both witches cast their spells, Talmirin forcing out a dense ward to push Dotti quickly while Dotti thrust her staff forward, a crack blew through the whole arena as a bolt of blue lightning crashed through the ward like glass and shattered the spell, slamming into her gnomish opponent and sending her flying back across the arena, her petite body sliding over the floor until she came to a dragging stop. The whole arena gasped as one. Manus' heart sank as Dotti let out a cry of terror. "Tal?! What've I done?!" She raced to her friend. Gauldroy and Sophia both swooped in as well as one of the necromancy wizards. Sophia quickly dispelled Talmirin's ward while the necromancer checked her body and cast his recovery spells on her wound. 
"She's still breathing," He assured them, "She's going to be okay, her ward held back most of it." 
Dotti was fighting back her tears as she knelt down beside her friend, "Oh God, Tal, I'm sorry!" She wept, "I didn't mean ta…"
Talmirin coughed, her eyes snapping open. "You sure can pack a punch…" She smiled, flinching in pain as the necromancer moved his hand over her stomach.
"She has a bruised rib, she's definitely out." He advised Sophia. "I'll have the chirurgeons take her to the infirmary."
The tears rolled down Dotti's cheeks, "Tal, I-I didn't mean ta--"
"It's okay." Talmirin cut her off, "You won fair and square, now you better win first place for me- ouch!" She flinched again as two volunteers helped her onto a stretcher. Dottathum nodded and wiped her eyes, "I'll do it, I'll win for ya. But first we need to get ya to tha infirmary, we can watch the rest of the matches from there."
Gauldroy cleared his throat for the audience, "Well, there you have it! The win goes to Dottathum Azum-Barowitz! And how about Talmirin, what a trooper, can we get a round of applause for one of House Maximillion's most stalwart defenders?!"
The arena lit up with cheering and thunderous applause as the gnome was taken out by the chirurgeons with Dottathum following close behind.
Manus was beside herself. She had just witnessed her greatest fear for Galahad take place in another student. In her mind it was a sign, an ill omen for things to come. If a friend could hurt another in such a way then what would stop someone like Harold from maiming or worse, killing Galahad? Would he do such a thing? In her mind's eye, Manus could easily see him play it off as an accident and that Galahad was at fault for entering the tournament in the first place. Was he truly capable of something so despicable? Was she being irrational or would this spat between the two facilitate such a barbarous act?
"Hey, are you okay, Manus?" Asked Suzie, "You look… faint."
"I will be fine," the fey-witch lied, knowing that if anything happened to her student… she pushed the thought from her mind. Have faith, she reminded herself. 

	. . . . .

	The second duel came and went in a way that surprised everyone, with Lillian Gourdbeater trouncing her opponent. Rigard’s orcish strength could do little against the hordes of creatures that Lilian summoned against him. One round he was carried out of the boundaries by a massive horde of spectral rats. Crud swore as he paid out his lost bet again, “Oh-for-two. But that Elton guy has the next one. I can feel it,” He decided as his wife brought him a tall beer. 
	“Sure he will, Cruddy-Poo,” Root lovingly teased, “I’m on Wilbert,” She tossed her money into the betting bowl. Crud’s expression was that of betrayal, “What? You lost me money the last two times.”
	The pixie laughed, “I’ve got you this time, my money’s on the gnome. He’s got that math stuff backing him up.”
	“Thank you!” Blud groaned, “Is the next one starting soon?”

	. . . . .

Fredrik sighed and stretched. He was itching to fight and the wait was starting to drain him. It was quiet with Dotti and Talmirin gone now. With a glance around, he spotted Galahad who still sat alone in the corner of the room. The gold-clad man stood and made his way to his friend. He could feel the eyes of the other contestants on him as he moved, all four sets of eyes. Galahad's were planted firmly on the floor as if he was examining the tiling of the locker room. Fredrik plopped himself down on the bench and put his arm on his friend’s shoulder, “You shall pop a blood vessel if you continue to stress yourself like this,” Fredrik whispered.
Galahad turned to him, “I’m fine. What about you?”
“Well, I am full of anticipation and anxiety, in all honesty. But I would assume everyone in this room is.”
The first year adjusted his face coverings to speak softly without the others hearing, “Anxious? I thought you’d be full of confidence, Fredrik.”
Even through the mask, it was obvious Fredrik was making an annoyed expression, “Always the kidder, hm?”
“Mhm. But I’m feeling like you are. It’s hard to deal in absolutes with magic involved. Even if a hundred diviners said I was going to win, I’d still be worried.”
“True. I still have nothing but confidence in you, Galahad, even if the bones rolled the opposite way.”
“Thanks, Frederik. I’m sure you’ll do well today, too,” Galahad smiled, “You’re gonna make the whole of Karak-Albrac proud, I’m sure.”
“As will you. Win or lose, your place is with us. You have already proven yourself to our house,” The golden man assured him, “Remember, Suzie and I will take over your tutoring if necessary.”
The young wizard sighed and looked weary, “I pray that won’t be needed.”
An attendant opened the door, “Wilbert? Elton?” 
The necromancer and the gnome both got up, sizing one another up before exiting the room, leaving only four remaining wizards, “The hour approaches,” Frederik mumbled to himself, “I have preparations to complete. Good luck, my friend.”
“And good luck to you too.”

. . . . .

	“What a match!” Sophia cried as the chirurgeons loaded Elton onto a stretcher. He groaned, his arm in a sling already and an ice bag on his head. 
	Gauldroy nodded, “A two round tap out brought on by Wilbert’s evocation and hemomancy! A real upset when everyone was expecting him to use skeletons and zombies! Anything to say, Wilbert?”
	“He spoke too much,” The griffonite grunted before walking off the field, his bum leg obvious as he limped off.
	“Well there you have it,” Sophia shrugged, “How about we quickly move to the next match?”
	“Right you are, my lady!” The devil waved his hand and the lights came down slowly, leaving only the excited chattering of the crowd in the dim stadium.
	Two lights came on. The more eye-catching of the two was Fredrik, clad in golds and blacks, he nearly glimmered in the spotlight. On his belt was a sheathed longsword, a magic weapon he had used in each of his duels.  He ate up the attention, posing for the crowd with his arms spread outward. Across from him in black robes with constantly swirling and almost mesmerizing patterns was Ulyses who held his wand with a tight grip as he stared down his opponent. 
	“In the yellow corner!” Gauldroy shouted, “Ulyses Bradley!” The illusion house cheered for their champion as he snapped to attention and waved to the crowd.
	“And in the gold,” Sophia began. Even before his name was uttered, numerous fans of the golden wonder cheered, “Fredrik Alistar Jeoffrey!” He waved and posed, taking in the adoration of the crowd. 
	“A wonderful evening for a duel, hm?” Fredrik asked the audience, magically amplifying his voice, “I know the fight of the night is next, but I am honored to take part in the penultimate duel. Wouldn’t you agree, Ulyses?”
	The illusionist sighed and shrugged, “I guess so. I’m just looking forward to denting that stupid gold mask,” He amplified his own voice by talking into his wand.
	“We shall see about that,” Fredrik replied, throwing his hands to the side before pressing two fists together at the side. When he spread them apart, he revealed his now summoned staff made of glimmering gold. The air around him sparkled as if he had thrown flakes of gold around him, each reflecting in the eyes of the audience. Ulyses swallowed nervously and got ready to prepare a spell.
	“Are you ready, Fairgarland?” Sophia cried, riling up the crowd. Fredrik moved to his starting position and began to prepare a spell, golden runes appearing on the ground around him. Ulyses waved his wand above his head and prepared his own casting.
	“Round one,” Gauldroy raised a hand, “Start!” He dropped it.
	Ulyses let loose a spell, an arc of bright, forking lightning. Fredrik’s counter was ready in front of him, as he let the spell loose, raising a collection of slender stone pillars to shield himself. The bolt cut straight through, even through Fredrik, but did nothing to him. “Simply an illusion,” The gold wizard mumbled to himself as his stone barriers fell away. The young illusionist was preparing another spell, Fredrik knew he had little time. He gazed at his opponent’s face, watching as he uttered magical words to himself. Fredrik’s off-hand slowly reached into his robes. Ulyses’ eyes grew wide and he waved his wand at his opponent, a single, large fireball being sent toward the foe. Fredrik was 	quick, drawing his golden longsword and slashing the fireball in twain, dissipating the magic.
	“An impressive move by both combatants with Fredrik coming out on top!” Gauldroy shouted. Fredrik ran his staff down the blade, sending golden sparks around him. He stood his ground, the horrific mask seemingly gazing into his opponent’s soul, ready to devour it. 
	Ulyses felt himself clam up. He swallowed his nervousness and started another spell, “He’s just standing there!” Someone in the crowd shouted as Fredrik didn’t move a muscle in reaction.
	“He's trying to intimidate his opponent!” Another added.
	Ulyses snarled, “It doesn’t matter!” He shouted as another spell came out of his wand. This one was a barrage of icicles, summoned as a half circle above his head. Fredrik still did not move as each of the eight ice-lances flew straight towards him. Each one phased through the stalwart wizard, “W-what?” Ulyses gaped. 
	Fredrik seized the moment as his opponent’s shock took hold, “Those illusions need work!” He hollered
He pointed his staff and sword, letting loose a raw burst of magical power that knocked Ulyses back and out of the arena, “Round one goes to Fredrik!” The crowd cheered as Fredrik waved to them.
	The chirurgeons looked over Ulyses, “Nothing too bad,” One of them muttered, “Ready to get back in there?” 
	The young illusionist grunted as he was helped to his feet. He downed a small blue, salty, and alcohol tasting potion and threw the empty glass bottle on the ground.
	Even more gold flakes and dust were scattered about the arena now. Fredrik put his sword away then prepared and held his opening cast. Ulyses did the same, knowing exactly what to do now, “Round two! Start!” Sophia shouted.
	Ulyses was quick on the draw. He waved his hand left, and then pointed his staff to the right. Identical copies of the illusionist. They spread out in a half circle to the left and right, “Find the real one!” He taunted as the copies shuffled about, each one speaking in unison. 
	“A mirror image spell!” Gauldroy shouted into his microphone. 
	Fredrik ceased his original casting, “Impressive,” He began again, this time procuring a bar of magicked gold from his cloak and tossing it into the air before shooting it with a beam from his staff, covering the arena with gold flakes. 
	The audience gawked at the sparkling flakes, “An expensive but seemingly meaningless spell by Fredrik!” Sophia hollered, “How will his opponent respond?”
	The mirror images encircled Fredrik who stood his ground. They started to cast. With the snap of Fredrik’s fingers, each flake of gold around him began to glow. Only one of the copies had a glow on them, easily telling him which one was the real Ulyses. He watched the facial expressions on the copies, their eyes went wide again. Fredrik turned as each copy fired off a spell. He put his palm out, conjuring a flat, semi-transparent golden screen to block the real blast of fire, “A rousing display!” Gauldroy shouted, “Looks like those flames engulfed Fredrik, will the heat melt his–”
	“No! Look!” Sophia interrupted, “The golden wizard still stands! That fire didn’t do anything to him! Amazing!” 
	“H-how…?” Each copy of Ulyses was panting, unsure how Fredrik had figured him out.
	“You rely too much on illusions,” Fredrik warned, with the wave of his staff, numerous pieces of gold flew to the real Ulyses’ wand and quickly began to heat up.
“Ah!” He cried as his hands started to burn before he threw his wand away. Fredrik drew his sword and slowly advanced on his now unarmed opponent. The  illusionist patted down his own cloak, desperately searching for something to aid him. He grabbed a small gem, crushing it in his hands and blowing the dust at Fredrik. A single slash of his sword blew the dust away, completely sweeping it aside. Ulyses fell to his knees, feeling completely overpowered, “I yield,” He mumbled, “I’m out.”
“And a decisive victory for Fredrik of house Karak-Albrac! A two round surrender!” Sophia shouted as the crowd cheered for the golden wizard.

	. . . . . 

"Wow, Fredrik sure is fired up today," Suzie smiled widely at Todd before she stood and cheered alongside her few housemates that came to watch. The cyclops nodded at her and raised a fist for a brief moment before putting it back down. Even the two goblins were cheering for Fredrik, Blud and Rald shaking Holmit by the shoulders who sat with his arms folded. Eventually even he began roaring praises and old dwarven victory hymns, much to their surprise. Manus put on a smile of her own, clapping a set of hands for the Golden Wonder, but inside all she could feel was dread. Now that this duel was over it was finally happening. Galahad was going to fight Harold. Part of her didn't even want to watch, but she had to see this through. She had to hope that Galahad could win, for both their sakes.

	. . . . .

Harold sat with his legs crossed and his eyes closed. He was deep in meditation, or at least was attempting to be. Every time he started to slip into his trance, a piercing, cold feeling would shoot down his spine. He opened his eyes and glanced at his opponent, the only other person in the room. Galahad’s fiery red eyes stared back, “Cease your mind games, cur. They will not affect me.”
	“If you say so,” Galahad’s eyes blinked softly. 
The crowd overhead cheered, “And a decisive victory for Fredrik of house Karak-Albrac! A two round surrender!” Sophia cried, her voice was muffled through the floor of the arena overhead. 
	Harold scoffed, “It appears your friend is not as foolhardy as I thought. Glory to Karak-Albrac, as hollow as it may be,” His voice oozed with sarcasm, “A fluke, I’m sure. They will not get two victories.”
	He looked back at his foe who stared back, his fiery eyes giving an intense stare, “So you and Manus, hm?”
	“Yes, my future bride to be. I will overcome you and then win her heart. Eventually. A fey heart is quite hard to penetrate. Not that you would know anything about a maiden’s heart, other worldly or no.”
	Galahad’s eyes blinked softly again, “What do you think kissing her is like? Maybe hugging her is cold to the touch?”
	Harold furrowed his brow, his concentration on meditating completely destroyed, “I have no clue why you would ask. You will never have the opportunity to.”
	“You sure? She seems to like me a whole lot more,” Galahad’s grin even under the scarf irked Harold, “Maybe after I win, I’ll get a kiss. Ri-ight on the cheek. Cold, but also warm, in a loving way.”
	“Love!?” Harold laughed and laughed, “What makes you think she would love you.”
	“I could say the same to you. You are nothing more than the prodigal son of a dead kingdom. You have nothing more than a title to your name, isn’t that right? I don’t have much of anything, but at least I don’t act like I do.”
	Harold grit his teeth, “We will see who the pretender is soon enough. I will see you on the field,” He stood as the officiator came to collect them.
	“Yeah. We will,” Galahad smirked, adjusting his clothes and heading up stairs.

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