Hearts pounded all across the academy. After the fourth duel, a few more students streamed into the arena to watch the end of the first rounds in person. The collected breaths were held as the last fight of the night got closer and closer. Fredrik joined his fellow council members in the stands, “Good job out there, Fredrik,” Suzie greeted, standing to shove her little fist into his shoulder playfully. “Yes, quite impressive,” Holmit agreed, “How did you know which of his spells were illusions?” “He had a tell for when he was going to cast a real spell. His eyes would widen and his pupils would dilate,” Fredrik explained, smiling behind his mask, “Miss President, are you alright?” Miss Manus blinked and slowly nodded, “I am fine. Worried, of course, but you making it through your fight safely has calmed me down a little.” Fredrik nodded, “I am a bit worried about him too. Still, we should have faith in him, Miss President.” “Yes. Yes we should,” Manus took a deep breath, “I feel it is much too difficult to calm my frazzled nerves at the moment.” Blud shrugged, “I feel like you’re much more stressed than Lox is, Lady.” “Of course she’s stressed,” Suzie scolded as she shot an incredulous look at the goblin, “She has not one, but two entrants to this competition that she feels responsible for. Even I fear that Galahad is in great peril due to how much he angered Harold. He is untested and unproven to everyone at this academy. Why would we not be worried about him?” "Whoa, no need for the third degree, little miss gnome," Blud retorted, "have some confidence in the guy!" "Blud is right, you can worry, but don't show it for Lox." Rald added, coming to Blud's defense. "I don't want him to get psyched out for any reason, especially us." "I suppose you're right, but don't bother our president. She's worried enough as it is!" Suzie replied, pointing at the fey-witch. Manus sat deep in anticipation, ignoring the back and forth between her companions. She did her best to suppress her troubled feelings as she stared down into the arena. . . . . . “Settle down, settle down,” Root chided the gathering and her children. She placed the pizza boxes out, watching as her own small children went for the peppers, pineapple, and salami pizza. The orcs and fairy grabbed a few slices of meat lovers and her husband ate plain cheese with the ent. “So, uh, bets?” Crud asked, looking completely downtrodden and tired from his four losses already on the betting. “Harold,” The fairy stated, putting her money into the bowl. The orcs nodded in agreement with her and put their money in. The small ent shrugged slowly, “I think that the evocation president will come out on top.” The goblin dad sighed, “Root?” “Well… I like Lox. But I don’t know if he even has a snowball’s chance in hell against Harold.” Crud grunted and grabbed another beer, “Fine. I’m all in on Lox. Not like I’ve got much more to go all in on him with.” “I’ll match that!” The fairy laughed, throwing more money in the pot. “Might as well,” The ent slowly decided. The orcs were next, mouths too full of pizza to chime in. They tossed in their collective wad of cash. Root shrugged, “Fine, let's make it fun. So, the five of us against Crudy-poo’s one for Lox?” “Yup!” The fairy wrote down everyone’s wagers, “Look! They’re in the center of the arena now.” “Ladies and gentlemen!” Gauldroy’s voice boomed through the TV’s speakers, “It’s time for the fight of the night! The one everyone has been waiting for! I–in the red corner…” The spotlight came on and the cameras focused on the well-dressed form of Harold. He smiled and waved to his fans as they cheered, chanting his name. He raised his hand, making it flat and bringing it down towards the floor, signaling them to quiet down. Gauldroy put a microphone in Harold’s hand. He cleared his throat and put on a handsome smile, “It feels good to be here again,” He grinned as a few clapped and hollered, “As usual, I foresee an easy victory for my house, another year reigning as their president, and a nice dinner once this tournament is over!” There were some more claps and cheers, “Honestly, I feel bad. Not for ol’ Galahad here, but for anyone dumb enough to bet on him. What kind of person would put money on a man with no accolades or victories to his name?” He handed the microphone back, having said his piece. “In the white corner, representing the Seeker’s house, which hasn’t happened in eight years– Galahad!” Sophia introduced the man as the lights and cameras focused on him. The crowd got noisy, not a lot of cheering within the jeers and polite clapping, “There’s my boy!” Crud shouted at the TV as Galahad was handed another microphone. The goblin children around him clapped and cheered for the human. Lox tapped the mic, making sure it was working before clearing his throat, “I wouldn’t really count your accolades as wins,” He started, “I looked into it, and Fairgarland hasn’t had a dueling teacher in forty years. At the same time, you come from a line of warrior-wizards-kings. You’ve been formally trained while everyone else just shoots spells at one another without much rhyme or reason and hopes for the best. You’re beating the lame and gloating about how strong you are– a big fish in a small pond. We'll see just how strong you are when going against someone who can really hold a staff,” Galahad hissed. The crowd was silent with a few going ‘Ooooh,’ At Galahad’s taunting. The man blinked before bringing the microphone back to his face and changing to a much more gentle and friendly tone, “And uh, thanks to ‘Mr. Raxpedalia’s Wondrous Bazaar’ for supplying me with my equipment. Shout out to you guys.” He quickly gave the microphone back and turned heel, heading to his starting spot. Crud cheered at the TV, “I don’t care if he loses now. A shout out like that made this all worth it,” Root nodded in agreement as she sipped on her ninety-nine cent canned iced tea before dipping her pizza in ranch. She felt bad about voting against Galahad, but it was too late now. All she could do was hope Crud wouldn’t blab in the future. . . . . . Harold stood still as he watched his opponent take his place. He glared, almost furious at his comments. Sophia and Gauldroy were beaming at one another. They had a real rivalry on their hands, “Well, there you have it!” Sophia giggled. Gauldroy copied her wide smile, “I wonder which of these two will come out on top in this rivalry? The prince Harold or the mysterious Galahad!? It’s starting to feel like anyone’s game at this point!” “How long has it been since Fairgarland saw something quite like this? Tensions are high! The stakes are even higher! Wizards! Please, take your places!” Sophia cried before readying a spell and teleporting her and Gauldroy to their booth overlooking everything. Harold scowled and took his spot on the red side of the arena. He took a moment to calm himself down. Galahad was merely trying to get a rise out of him, he decided. He had this in the bag, rude words would be the worst he could dish out and they would do nothing to save the first-year wizard in a fight. Harold took a deep breath and brandished his staff. Galahad stood across from him, his fiery eyes peering back over the folds of the scarf he wore and under the brimless hat. Neither arm was visible under his sleeveless cloak. It was impossible to tell if the first-year was casting anything at all. Harold held his spell, waiting as Sophia continued to rile up the crowd. “Fairgarland! Are you ready!?” The cat-witch shouted. “Let the first round of today’s final duel…” Gauldroy paused for dramatic effect, “Begin!” Harold was quick, holding his staff with the head pointing right at Galahad before running his hand down it. A ray of magical energy shot straight at the first-year before quickly looping around him and attempting to strike into his side. Galahad’s reflexes were quick as his hand created a thin, mostly transparent barrier that absorbed the blow. The impact still slid him a few inches across the arena floor. Galahad merely nodded, concealing himself under the cloak once more, “A powerful blow from Harold, but Galahad didn’t even flinch!” Gauldroy hollered, “How will the first-year respond?” Galahad’s hand appeared from under the cloak clutching a small mirror pendant. It glowed for a moment before being stashed under the cloak again. Harold had expected a retort to his spell, but the flash of light hadn’t done anything. He raised an eyebrow, but cast his doubts aside. If Galahad was going to make it easy for him, he would capitalize on it. He began casting another spell, his staff heating up as he muttered the magic words. Another spell blasted out of staff, a flaming ray of bright energy. Galahad’s hands appeared from under the cloak, his hand and his staff created a thick barrier, deflecting most of the ray into two much weaker beams that were absorbed by the protective runes on the sides of the arena. Harold presented a thick chunk of red crystal which he placed into the stream, strengthening the attack and disintegrating the crystal. The beam was still mostly deflected by the barrier until a small streak of energy broke through, drilling into Galahad’s shoulder and making him yelp as the force fully knocked him over. “And Galahad goes down!” Sophia yelled excitedly. The crowd was matching her enthusiasm with their shouts and yells, “Did that push him slightly out of the arena? An official on the field is checking now.” A gnomish woman dashed out from the sidelines and checked Galahad where he lay. She put her two arms in the air, “He’s still in! Looks like the tip of his hat doesn’t count for a ring out. Is he still well enough to keep fighting?” Gauldroy wondered. Galahad slowly rose to his feet, while Harold wound up for another attack as he summoned chilly air to create five spears of ice. The first-year brushed the char off of where he had been struck, “He doesn’t seem very hurt by it! That warding enchantment on his cloak was well worth it!” Sophia cried. “For gear that good, maybe I’ll pay a visit to this Raxpedalia’s Wondrous Bazaar myself!” Galahad quickly cast a healing spell on himself, mending the wound on his shoulder. Harold let the spears loose, forcing his opponent to block. Galahad put up another barrier, this one more akin to a screen. Again, the powerful blows forced Galahad to move back as his protective spells absorbed the bulk of the blows. “A ring out!” Sophia yelled, sending the crowd into an uproar. Galahad looked down and saw that he had indeed crossed the line. He simply shrugged, grabbed a blue potion from his bandolier and downed it. Harold looked smug as he did the same, feeling more confident than ever. "Not much to show for all that talk," Holmit harrumphed, unimpressed with Galahad's performance. "He's still standing," Suzie pointed out, "and did you see how he deflected that first spell? It circled right around him!" "Pure luck," the dwarf gave a dismissive hand wave. "Just you wait, Lox is just gettin' warmed up!" Hollered Blud, "Besides, that's only round one! Right, Rald?" "R-right!" His sister agreed, unable to take her eyes off Galahad. She was nearly biting her nails with worry before Blud grabbed her hand and forced it down to her side. Fredrik held his breath. Suzie was right, Galahad was still standing, but he would need to do more than that if he was going to win. He looked to his side where President Manus sat, her intense gaze completely locked on to their underclassman. Though her expression showed nothing he knew she must have been just as worried as Galahad's goblin friends. “Are you ready for the second round, Gauldroy?” Sophia asked her co-host. “Of course I am. Not the most exciting first bout, but Harold showed off some flashy spells while Galahad’s proficiency with abjuration was put on display!” The devil nodded as the lights started to come up, “Let’s get this second round… started!” Harold’s magic charged up, eager to be unleashed in a burst of fiery energy. Galahad raised his hand and snapped his fingers. The prince felt the mana and wind leave his lungs, completely negating the cast. Harold stood still for a moment as he struggled to regain his composure, “A powerful counter spell has left Harold speechless!” Sophia cried. The prince scowled and began another casting as Galahad slowly advanced toward him. Magic energy crackled as he tried his trick again, a white bolt of magic was flung at Galahad before it circled around him twice, attempting to strike his front. The first-year’s arm appeared, slapping the attack away from him with nothing more than the back of his hand and sending it careening into the walls where it was absorbed by the runes. “Amazing!” Gauldroy shouted as the crowd ‘oooh’ed and ‘aaah’ed at the display of power. “A nice trick, but could Galahad do that again?” Sophia wondered, “He should be fighting for house Maximillion at this rate. We haven’t seen a single offensive spell yet!” Harold drew his rapier and cast a minor haste spell on himself. He waited a moment before casting another minor spell on his blade, making it crackle and hiss with electricity. He could see his opponent casting an enchantment spell of his own. In an instant Galahad lowered down and darted forward with inhuman speed toward Harold, his mace was drawn and brought down in a flash, forcing the prince to back step. The impact of the blunt weapon chipped the floor of the arena. Harold’s rapier was quick, but Galahad was faster and easily knocked the thin blade aside before he brought his mace into Harold’s ribs. The prince howled as he was wracked with pain, but kept fighting. The prince back-peddled again before retrieving a trinket from his pocket. He waved it in the air and blinked to the other side of the arena, giving him space between him and Galahad. “Harold’s on the back foot!” The announcers shouted together. Galahad tapped the head of his mace with his staff, encircling it with dark, broiling energy. Harold rushed closer, shooting off a quick bolt of fire that Galahad simply shrugged off before unleashing the power of the necromancy spell in his mace. The weapon hit the floor and erupted into a powerful curse that sapped the prince’s strength. He struggled to thrust his blade at his opponent, merely knocking off his brimless, red cap as he ducked under the stab. As soon as the hat was off, Galahad put a hand on his temple, using his circlet to blast Harold with a massive ball of snow, shoving him out of the ring. “Amazing display from both combatants!” Gauldroy cried, “Round two for Galahad!” “He’s just full of surprises!” Sophia laughed. “How many schools was that, Sophia?” “Well, we saw abjuration, necromancy, enchantment, and I think that evocation came from his magic circlet,” Sophia listed, “Last round we saw a glow from a trinket around his neck. No telling what that could be!” “Right you are. Looks like the two need a moment before the third round.” Fredrik tapped his foot as he watched the two wizards prepare for the third round, “He fights well,” He murmured, “But that is not the style of a duelist.” “What do you mean?” Miss Manus asked, finally peeling her eyes away from the arena. “He fights like a man fighting for his life, while Harold fights for sport. A real warrior or adventurer taught our friend,” The golden wizard explained, “Magically strengthening himself slowly and then going in for the ‘kill.’ I can only wonder where he gets it from.” “Yes, he seems much more competent than he originally let on. Why is he not studying abjuration, enchantment, or necromancy is my question. He seems so competent in all three,” The fey-witch wondered as the two wizards took their places. “Unless…” “Unless?” Fredrik prompted his president. “No, pay me no mind, it was a fleeting thought,” There was no way he was a master in those schools of magic, he was much too young. She dismissed the notion entirely. Round three began slowly, the two wizards rounding the arena like a tiger might encircle its prey; though which was the tiger and which was the prey was still unclear to the audience as well as Manus as she watched the first bout of spells being flung. The colors of Harold's firebolts danced over her eyes, only for each to be batted away like paper planes by Galahad. "Looks like those deflections weren't just luck, Galahad is brushing off every spell Harold is throwing at him!" Gauldroy announced to the audience. Harold, not to be outdone, fired another spiraling fireball followed by another, each of them circling Galahad in opposite directions. The first-year warded his mace in an instant and swung, batting both balls of fire back at his princely opponent. One fireball whizzed by Harold, while the other landed before him, smoke erupting from the collision. "A smokescreen from Galahad, what could he be planning?" Sophia wondered aloud. "With the way things are going he could be planning anything. Literally anything," Replied Gauldroy. There was no way for her to know for sure, but the smoke had filled most of the arena, blocking all sight of either duelist. Fredrik nudged Manus and pointed to where Galahad would have been, a light emitting from an unseen spell he was casting. It wasn't long before Harold blew a gust of wind through the arena, clearing out the smoke, "Ooh, that is not a good look for Prince Harold," Gauldroy jeered at the blackened prince. Harold wiped soot from his face with a snarl, drawing up his rapier and advancing on Galahad. He was cautious in his approach, his rapier held forward while his staff held a spell he had prepped under the smoke. Galahad waited, his mace held back with his staff forward in anticipation of another offensive spell. Harold was only a few steps away now, his rapier just out of thrusting distance. The prince circled left, then back right, waiting to see what his opponent would do, but Galahad remained put, simply turning to meet him. Why was he not moving, Harold wondered, what trick was he trying now? The prince prodded at Galahad, his rapier clanging against the first-year's staff. Galahad slapped the rapier away, forcing Harold to retreat, but he remained still. Whatever he was planning, it wouldn't matter now! Harold quickly twisted his staff forward and released the spell, a whip of lightning striking down on Galahad's arm before pulling him forward towards Harold's rapier. The spell came out fast, but Galahad anticipated it, he ducked under Harold's rapier, knocking it away with his mace. Using the momentum, he got behind Harold and flung a spell of his own from his staff. Harold turned, ready to defend himself from anything, but nothing came - nothing visible. A split second later he felt a large, heavy object slam into his gut, sending him careening backward onto the floor, rolling head-over-heels until he stopped on his belly. As he lay face down– the wind knocked from his lungs, he saw a rune had been left underneath him. His eyes shot up to Galahad who had just caught something with his hand. The first-year grinned underneath his face coverings at the prince before a large rat appeared curled up in his arm - the invisible object that had struck him. Before Harold could react Galahad snapped his fingers and the rune activated. Not a moment later, the arena was gone, along with everyone else. Harold scrambled to his feet, finding himself surrounded by impossibly tall, winding walls in a gray, lifeless labyrinth. After ten seconds the prince was spat back out onto the arena floor to the cheers and whistling of the crowd. "Galahad just ejected Prince Harold to a pocket dimension! That's some high level abjuration! He also utilized a summon!" Sophia bellowed, overcome by her own hype. "Conjuration and illusion! Is there anything this kid doesn't know?" "I'd say he doesn't know how to hold back! He hasn't pulled any punches, Sophia!" Gauldroy joined in on his co-host's energy. "And that rat! He's so big and cuddly!" The white cat-witch swooned as Galahad fed the rat a cracker from his pouch before sending him away with the wave of his staff. “HE DID IT!” Blud shouted as Rald gripped his shoulder. “My plan worked!” The lady-goblin yelled. The two excitedly cackled to each other as the bulk of Karak-Albrac stared in confusion. Fredrik cocked his head, “The two of you came up with that?” “Well, we helped Lox workshop that one. In the first round, he used his necklace to make his rat invisible. Then, under cover of smoke, he placed the labyrinth rune down on the floor. All he had to do then was lob the rat at Harold and push him into the rune!” Rald explained, “Easy incapacitation victory! Ten seconds isn’t long enough to navigate ANY labyrinth!” Fredrik nodded as he turned back to the arena. Harold slammed the butt of his staff on the floor to cast a simple cleansing spell that blew all the remaining soot off of himself. Galahad stretched and drank his potion as usual. Without being able to see the underclassman’s face, Fredrik could only guess if he was enjoying himself– though anyone dragging Harold through the proverbial mud-- or the very real soot in this case-- was sure to be having fun. The announcers were clearing their throats when the two combatants took their places and began their casting. Round four began with Sophia’s simple signal, “Go!” Harold was hesitant to strike first, waiting for Galahad to start the fight. The crowd was hollering at both of them to act, but the two waited for the right time. Galahad removed his hat and shot a few ice spears out of his circlet which Harold easily destroyed with a burning wall of flames. The first-year immediately began to charge up his next spell, a quickly moving wall of force, a low level abjuration spell. The prince rubbed a brooch on his rapier and used it to cut the spell in twain. Galahad followed up with a short break in between by lobbing a fan of summoned daggers at his opponent. Harold blocked a few but two managed to slice his leg and thigh, staggering him. Galahad didn’t stop, next he put another black, necromantic spell on his mace. Harold hardly had time to begin casting a barrier before Galahad unleashed his attack as he thrust the long, dark beam of energy at the prince. The necromantic attack pierced Harold’s meager defenses, making him slowly fall to his knees and then to the floor. He was still in the ring, but he lay motionless on his stomach. Galahad felt his heart stop, had he killed the prince? He hurried to his opponent’s side just as the chirurgeons started to mobilize onto the field, “Looks like Harold is down and Galahad is concerned for his opponent?” Gauldroy scoffed. Sophia tilted her head, “Looks like it, Gauldroy. Maybe he–” Harold sprung up with sudden vigor as Galahad neared, thrusting his rapier forward and stabbing Galahad through the chest. The crowd started to jeer at the prince as the first-year fell to the floor, writhing in pain as the non-lethal enchantment sucked out most if not all of his energy, “What a dirty trick!” The cat-witch gasped. Suzie gasped in the stands and turned to her council members, “Is that legal!?” Fredrik’s hands were balled into white knuckled fists, “Unfortunately.” “C’mon, Lox. Get up,” Blud grumbled his hopeful plea. A bell rang ten seconds later and Galahad remained on the ground, “Looks like round four goes to Harold,” Gauldroy noted as the incapacitation timer was up. The prince just chuckled, “You’re in no shape to continue. Just give up now, boy.” The chirurgeons helped Galahad to his feet, “Are you well enough to–” Galahad slowly gripped the weapon in his hands and tore the rapier from his chest with a pained grunt. The audience gasped. The sword clattered on the wooden floor as the first-year’s breaths turned labored and pained. He went for his bandolier and grabbed a few potions as he wordlessly moved to his spot. “A tough son of a bitch, ain’t he?” Holmit smirked, more invested in the fight now than before. “Yeah,” Suzie just stared in awe as Galahad downed a massiva mana potion, the one that Manus had given him. The gnome glanced at the fey-witch who looked more pale-blue than before. Sophia issued a few orders to the spotlight operators as each of their beams shined down on the two duelists. Each one went for their potions, “What a match!” Gauldroy laughed into his microphone from his plush chair in the floating, overhead booth, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a duel go to the fifth match!” “That’s right, Gauldroy,” The cat-witch nodded, “Exciting stuff tonight– oh? Looks like Galahad is moving to the center of the arena?” “Miss Manus!” The first-year hollered to house Karak-Albrac’s section of the arena as he removed his hat and face coverings. Most of the crowd quieted down, curious to what he was doing, “Your champion has a request!” He was putting on an uncharacteristically thespian voice after saying next to nothing the entire duel. The fey-witch stood in her section after being quietly egged on by Fredrik, Suzie, and the goblins, “Yes?” She called back. Her hands were starting to feel raw from the amount of nervous wringing she was doing under her cloak while she was filled with worry all day, “What would you have of me?” Galahad looked around the arena, to Harold, and then to Manus, “I… well, you see how hard I’m fighting here,” He chuckled to himself and put on the most handsome grin he could despite the pain, “Had I not been so hard pressed up to this point, I would not feel this way, but I’m fighting for the benefit of your house. How about some kind of reward for when I win?” “IF you win!” Shouted Harold, getting red in the face. “A reward? Of course, what can I offer you?” Miss Manus replied, ignoring Harold. There was a moment-long pause as if he was building suspense before Galahad looked back up at Miss Manus, “How about something Harold will never have? A simple kiss will do?” There was an uproar in the crowd almost immediately. Jeers, shouts, hollers, ‘oooh’s, and excited cheers all filled the arena. Harold’s teeth were grit and now even his ears were red hot with simmering rage. Galahad swore he saw some obvious blood vessels on his temple popping. The first-year just smirked and shrugged, “I can’t believe it! Can you imagine being so bold!?” Gauldroy yelled into the microphone, barely audible over the yelling. “I don’t know whether to call this romantic or insane!” Sophia laughed, “Could this be revenge on the prince for his dirty trick? The crowd is starting to quiet down and look to President Manus for a response!” Four of her hands were gripping the brim of her hat, trying to hide her rosy cheeks. She took but a moment more to compose herself, letting the brim go and clearing her throat. She did not need to look for advice from her house mates, “I agree, Galahad. A kiss shall be yours– if you win, of course. I swear it.” There was even more of an uproar. Galahad just grinned at Harold. The princely wizard was shaking, his eyes were getting watery, and he was completely flustered. He felt nothing but fury. “What a perfect lead into the final round!” Gauldroy shouted over the crowd, “How about you get this thing started, Miss Sophia?” “Of course! Duelists! Take your places!” The cat-witch hollered. Both went to their sides and began their opening casting, “Here comes the final bout! Who has the energy to finish this fight? Who will come out on top!? Round five– go!” Harold was quick to cast, his first spell was supposed to be a large blast of fire, but due to his emotions running wild the spell fizzled into nothing more than a few sparks. Galahad winced from his wound as he tried to start another spell. Despite healing and reenergizing himself with potions, the sudden stinging pain caused his casting to fail as well. “Both casters have suddenly developed some kind of casting dysfunction! Sputtering spells on both sides!” Gasped Gauldroy, “They’re both trying to calm themselves down or get over their wounds! Who will sling something out first!?” Both Galahad and Harold panted, their eyes locked on one another with intense glares. Galahad revealed another red potion and quickly drank it. Harold attempted to calm himself down, taking a deep breath and readying a spell slowly and carefully. Galahad inhaled and did the same. He didn’t have the strength to keep this going. He would struggle to trade blows. From that massive potion he drank, he had the mana, but his body lacked the will to continue. The aching and stinging pain would get to him before long. Harold wasn’t much better. He had taken numerous hits from Galahad. He was ready to end this. “They’re charging up!” Sophia cried, the audience was going nuts as they shouted for their favored combatant to come out on top and strike their opponent down, “This could be it!” Each wizard unleashed their magic. It was a raw burst of mana from both, each one coagulating into a ray of blinding light and fervent energy. Galahad’s stream was made up of swirling blues and blacks, while Harold’s magic was hues of red. The two streams collided, each wizard drawing from the depths of their natural mana to maintain their attack as they started to let off sparks and crackles of electricity. A power was building in the center of the arena and the conglomeration of magic was threatening to burst. Harold could feel the strain on his body and something was going to break soon. His robes billowed as the aetheric currents in the air raged around them. Galahad’s body felt like it was about to fall apart. He was pulling too much of his mana, but he knew he had to win. With a grunt, he started to move, limping toward his opponent despite their contest of magical strength. A high pitched wailing came from their power struggle, the mana concentration was building to a dangerous level. Both of them knew, but neither was willing to back down. The noise reached an uncomfortable volume, most of the spectators watched in awe. A few started to sweat, wondering if the two were about to kill themselves. Sophia and Gauldroy didn’t dare speak, trying to let the two focus. The congelation of mana glowed, turning a bright white before the whining sound stopped– and quickly burst. The explosion rocked the arena, ripped a hole in the ceiling as most of the energy traveled up, and left behind a massive scorch mark on the floor. Galahad and Harold were both down on one knee and the smoke hung heavy in the air. The two wizards could see one another but the screaming and shouting crowd were out of view. Harold tried to cast, but his mana reserves needed a moment’s respite before being pulled for one last attack. He scrambled for a potion instead. Galahad needed no such rest, he mumbled his magic words, his aching body screaming for him to stop. He lurched his staff arm forward, blasting Harold with a wave of force, the abjuration magic knocking him back. Galahad’s arm contorted painfully as his body was pushed to its limits, draining the last bits of his mana, and making him cry out in pain. The smoke cleared quickly, showing everyone that Galahad stood in the center of the arena, towering over his opponent. He dropped his staff as his arm went totally limp. He gasped in pain, unable to move it. His head was fuzzy, and his vision was dim. Over the ringing in his ears, he heard the roar of the crowd, “An explosive ending! What a finisher!” Sophia shouted. “A round five ring out by Galahad! He’s done it! He’s won!” Gauldroy announced, “That was the closest match we’ve seen in a long time!” Galahad wearily looked over the crowd, raising his good arm with a fist in the air in a tired, celebratory salute. He looked right at Miss Manus who he saw clapping politely with a little smile of relief on her face. The world went dark soon after, and the first-year fell to his knees before laying face down on the arena floor. Onlookers gasped as the chirurgeons rushed to both combatants, quickly checking their vitals and finding they both lived, but Galahad was in rough shape. Rough enough for them to want to immediately move him to the infirmary. A stretcher was summoned and the first-year was carted away and out of the arena. Suzie blinked as the duels ended, completely speechless. Galahad had pulled it off against all odds. Every student in the arena chatted with their peers, some in worried, hushed whispers and others with excited cadence in their voice. The gnome looked at her fellow housemates and the two goblins that had come to sit with them, “He did it! He did it!” Rald shouted, “I knew he could!” “You said it wasn’t likely when you scryed it,” Blud snorted. “Shut it!” She punched her brother on the arm. Fredrik cleared his throat, “Though I am sure I know your answers, we shall make this official. I hereby put forth the petition to induct Galahad into House Karak-Albrac as the official house duelist.” Suzie shook herself, “House duelist? We haven’t had one in a decade or more. Very few houses even have one now. Are you sure?” Holmit downed more booze from his flask, “The honor and glory of his victory will go to our house, and he will gain status as a council member of Karak-Albrac. A win for both parties. I see no mistake in it. Aye, I’m for it.” Suzie nodded, easily convinced into it, “Might as well.” “I-I see no reason not to. Better him dueling than me…” Todd mumbled with a nod. “Miss President?” Fredrik asked, “It will make it easy to keep him close at hand, hm? Seeing as you have a vested interest in his development as a transmutationist as both his teacher and tutor.” Miss Manus nodded, “I struggle to see how much my tutoring will do now after witnessing his strength, but I would still like to induct him. I will converse with him about our tutoring later.” “After you give him that kiss you promised?” Blud teased with an impish grin. “That was merely a ploy to get a rise out of Harold,” The fey-witch replied matter of factly, “We had best be off then since we are all in agreement.” “Alright, I think I know where they took him,” Rald declared as she hopped up, “C’mon! Hurry!” Down in the arena, Harold slowly rose from where he had been ringed out. He silently dismissed the young chirurgeon who stood by to check on him. His body was sore, but he had stopped before hurting himself too much. The most pain he felt was in his pride. The thought passed his mind, wondering if Galahad was cheating due to how quickly he could chain spells together, but Harold struck the idea from his mind. He knew better. His own grandfather could do that technique. It was difficult and taxing, but entirely possible. It was something only war-magi taught and learned to do– usually, at least. He brushed himself off, knowing the rest of his house was going to be very cross about losing their prime lab and recreation time slots. “Harold!” A few journalists and a news crew rushed across the stadium to him. It took a moment, but the prince put a handsome, princely smile on his bruised face as cameras were pointed at him. Lights flashed and numerous journalists spouted off unintelligible questions. The prince shook his head, “One at a time, please. You, what do you wish to know?” He pointed to a pretty woman with a tape recorder in her hands. “Harold,” She cleared her throat, “This is the first time you’ve ever been knocked out of the Fairgarland duels in the first round! Anything to say?” “Eh, no comment,” He grunted before pointing to another journalist. “Anything to say about your opponent, Galahad? The first-year?” Harold tilted his head, “Well… he is definitely not a first-year in the traditional sense. I will not make the mistake of underestimating an opponent again.” “What are you going to do now?” A third in the back howled. “Train for whatever comes next. Good day,” He nodded and strutted off, heading back to his dorm room. There were a lot of things on his mind now that he needed to contemplate alone. . . . . . Galahad lay on a cot with a thin cotton sheet covering him. His arm was in a sling and one leg was wrapped in rune covered bandages. The non-lethal stab wound from Harold’s rapier had left a large bruise on his chest instead. He squinted at the journalists– both from Fairgarland and local papers that had come to interview him. They all shouted questions at him, too many for him to really pick out any singular one, if he could even work up a response. His throat ached along with the rest of his body, leaving him exhausted and struggling to speak. He grimaced as another picture was taken of his bruised and beaten form. “Make room! Make room!” A nasally voice ordered as the gawkers were forced aside. There were a few more grunts and shouts, “Coming through, official Fairgarland business, you see,” A more regal voice explained. “Galahad?” A soft voice said the wizard’s name, prompting him to painfully turn his head and blink until he could open his eyes more. A few people had gathered around him, the first he saw was Manus followed by Fredrik, the goblin siblings, Suzie, Holmit and Todd. “Oh, hey,” The first-year grunted as he struggled to sit up, “What’s–” He winced in pain. “Take it easy!” Rald scolded as she helped him lay back down, “Did you not let the chirurgeons heal you?” “Let a bunch of amateurs mend my bones? No thanks,” He chuckled as the goblin woman frowned at him. “You did great!” Blud excitedly shouted, “The way you blocked and countered his spells! And when you threw the rat! And–” Fredrik cleared his throat, “May we not forget what we came here to do? So that our friend might rest? We may shower him in praise another time.” “Right. Manus?” Suzie prodded the witch forward as a few journalists took notes or spoke into their note taking devices. The fey-witch slowly approached her champion and stood by his bedside, “Galahad Loxley,” She slowly began, “After the great risks you took for House Karak-Albrac, going against the reigning champion of the Fairgarland duels– because of you, we have gained much better lab times for our students, not to mention the recreation space we will get to use at similar times. From each and every one of my fellow council members and house mates, thank you, Galahad.” The injured wizard smiled the best he could, “Sure. Nothin’ to it,” He joked, “Wasn’t even–” He grunted in pain, “hard.” “On behalf of Karak-Albrac, after a unanimous decision by the council, we have come to petition you to join our house. If you would accept it, we would also like to bring you into the fold of our council as house duelist. Karak-Albrac has not had one in a long time, and we feel that only you would be suitable for the role,” The fey-witch’s voice was flat and her face was stoney as she proposed her offer. Galahad didn’t take much time to respond, “I’ll do it. Duelist and all that. I would be honored–” He grunted in pain again as he tried to get up, “Forgive me. I’m in no shape to kneel.” “There is no need for that,” She assured him, “The honor is ours, Galahad. Welcome to our house,” She pulled a golden sash from beneath her robes and adorned his good arm with it. Video and photos were taken as a few journalists shouted off more questions that were subsequently ignored again, “I would shake your hand but I fear I would hurt you further.” “Don’t worry about it. Just gotta sleep this off for a bit. Thank the heavens I don’t have a class tomorrow. I’ll be back in your care on Wednesday,” He gave her a crooked smile before closing his eyes. “We shall prepare a room tonight,” Fredrik offered, “You will be welcomed with open arms as soon as you feel well enough to venture to our house.” “Thanks,” Galahad sighed and nestled into his bed as Rald pulled a thicker blanket over him. “Alright, everyone clear out! Let the man rest!” Holmit shouted as he started ushering the journalists out with Todd’s help. “Should we set a watch for him?” Blud wondered, “Don’t want anyone to bother Lox, right?” Fredrik nodded as he, the goblins and the other two council members started to clear out, “Suzie, perhaps you should procure some refreshments for our friends?” The gnome nodded, “Gotcha!” She dashed out of the room, leaving Manus and Galahad alone as the door closed behind the gnome. The witch smiled softly as Galahad’s labored breathing turned quieter and he quickly fell asleep. She glanced at the closed door, making sure no one was around. She had a promise to fulfill. She had no idea how to do it correctly, nor where to do it. She thought about how her mother and father did it, maybe that was too intimate? She shook her head and looked at the wizard’s forehead. She took a deep breath and leaned in quickly, planting a small kiss on his forehead, her fey ancestry forcing her to uphold her promise. As she stepped back, she swore she saw a little twitch of a smile on Galahad’s face before his head rolled away from her. Miss Manus nodded. Her duty was done. She wished to rest with a nice book and a glass– no, only a full pitcher of tea would do after such a stress inducing day. . . . . . The rest of the duels proceeded as planned over the next two days, with the semi-finals on the second day and the finals on the third. In his current condition, Galahad was unable to continue to compete due to his mana deprivation and broken arm. Rather than giving both Fredrik and Wilbert free rounds, the two went against one another in the second match of the second day. Dotti lost to Lillian in the first match, and Fredrik won his bout and went on to lose in the finals to Lillian the next day in a long four round match; leaving the conjuration house to take their first win in more than fifty years. Thus concluded Fairgarland Academy’s five hundred and twenty first annual duel. At the goblin’s home, Crud celebrated win after win, his luck turning around completely once Galahad’s victory gave him the biggest pot. He stayed on his winning-streak the whole three days. The goblin made a note to send the kid a care package after getting so badly injured and him profiting off of it and taking such a big pot home. Galahad did not move into his new accommodations at House Karak-Albrac until well after the duels concluded. . . . . . Sophia Hamilton stepped off the carriage, returning her to Fairgarland’s school grounds. A rain was just starting to come down in a light drizzle, not enough to ruin her designer robes, but she cast a duck feather ward on herself to be safe. She had just returned from a long celebratory night with most of her house. They had rented out an entire pizzaria for house Hamilton’s celebratory victory dinner. The liquor, beer, and Sophia’s favorite: a halfling red wine called Redbuckle's, had all flown freely and she had admittedly had a little too much to drink. Her house, along with the other duelists who had been invited as a polite gesture, had partied long into the night. Wilbert and Harold had not come due to being sticks in the mud with Galahad still bedridden in the infirmary and could not attend. Fredrik had taken a box of pizza upon his return, planning on giving it to the new champion of House Karak-Albrac. All other party goers had returned already with Sophia being the last. She had many things in town to take care of, thankfully being slightly inebriated didn’t slow her down much. The cat-witch hummed to herself as she walked across campus, taking the southern path by the woods to make a quick stop at the labs to pick up a project that had been brewing. As she neared the labs Sophia’s nose and ears both twitched. Something terrible was assaulting her senses. It was a putrid smell, worse than anything she could remember for being inebriated. As the smell pervaded, Sophia sobered up entirely. A feeling of dread washed over her as she looked toward the woods where a soft wind was blowing from. Whatever it was, the smell was coming from there. Without any hesitation, she tapped her staff on the ground, teleporting herself into the lab where the lights were off and she could overlook the immediate area. She saw a dark figure emerge from the woods. A tall, slender person making their way towards the campus. Sophia trembled as they passed under a dim streetlight. Their face and features were not visible due to the darkness of the night and the heavy cloak they wore. Though they were moving, she saw no sign of walking, no legs to speak of coming out from under that long, heavy cloak. It was as if they were floating, she realized. For a moment the light reflected up and shone on the entity's face, pale and unemotional. A disguise? Sophia could see what she thought was a mask under the hood, its white features marked with a red stain– blood. When they moved out of the lamplight, they used a wand to blow the blood from their cloak and veil before moving further north through campus, heading toward the house towers and dorms. The rain swiftly swept the crimson liquid away. Sophia put her back to the wall and slid down it, sitting on the floor with her legs hugged to her chest. What had that been? A ghost? A student? A murderer? She wondered silently as she trembled, unwilling to look out the window again. She can't let them go to the dorms unchallenged, what of her fellow students? At once she forced herself to her feet - though on shaky legs, and teleported out to meet the fiend. As she stood where the hooded figure was with a spell prepared for a fight, she realized it was gone. The would-be murderer had disappeared into the night like vapor, leaving the cat-witch shivering alone in the dark, rainy night. The brim of Sophia’s conical hat drooped as it got soaked. She pushed it up and shook her head, wondering if she had drank too much. Despite her doubts, she decided to report what she saw to the campus security at once, simply hoping she wasn’t going mad now.