Brorn wasn’t exactly known for fighting fair, or leaving his opponents alive. There was a reason the Guild had denied him membership for so long. “If Granstil doesn’t know any necromancy his only option is to wait it out,” Draevin told Peter. “Soul Fire is expensive to maintain and Brorn now has to spend mana to keep his soul bound to the mortal plane since he doesn’t have a body to hide in.”
“So we just have to wait for him to run out of mana? That doesn’t sound—”
“Bᴏᴏᴏʀɪɴɢ!” Sylnya heckled from her waiting area, which saved Peter the need to finish his sentence. It seemed she wasn’t the only one upset with Brorn for not giving up after being destroyed. The roar of the crowd lowered an octave as most started booing.
Granstil ran circles around the flames, no longer even trying to fight back. If he wanted to outlast Brorn he would need to save all his mana for True Sight.
Brorn didn’t sit—or rather float—idly by though. He pumped out as many Soul Fires as Draevin had ever seen him produce: seven more. The battlefield quickly became a game of cat and mouse. Granstil was small and quick and could fly in three dimensions, but twelve flames were a lot for anyone to keep track of.
Those in the crowd who couldn’t see what was going on started grumbling. From their perspective Granstil had incinerated his opponent and was now flying around the battlefield furiously for no reason. Those who could see were too focused on the display to say anything. There was a reason Brorn was so unpopular. His matches weren’t very fun to watch.
A flame nearly grazed Granstil and a gasp erupted from a minority of the spectators. Peter was among those who gasped. Draevin looked over at him suspiciously and caught him tapping on the side of his glasses as the light coming through them flickered a sickly yellow-green.
There wasn’t much time to dwell on Peter’s curious behavior though, as out on the field things were changing fast. It turned out that the Soul Fire hadn’t almost grazed Granstil, but actually grazed him. He fell out of the sky clutching at his leg and screaming as the invisible flames burned at his soul.
Brorn’s incorporeal soul descended on Granstil and extinguished the flames. Not to save him though, he only extinguished the flames so he could devour the soul intact. He pulled Granstil’s essence right out of his body and with True Sight Draevin could see the unnaturally strong soul energy of the necromancer wrap around the gnome’s and pulse brighter as Granstil was drained.
The slender gnome’s body released one final cough and went still.
“Granstil is dead. Brorn wins,” Maeve announced along with a chime from the official bell. Draevin heard just a hint of contempt in her voice. Necro-King Brorn, now wearing the body of his opponent, took a bow to the crowd as he smiled and waved to a chorus of boos.
“Don’t forget to buy something at Brornmart so my wish doesn’t kill you!” he shouted to the crowd. A lizard-kin near the front bellowed a particularly vile expletive but Brorn-Granstil just seemed to enjoy the ridicule.
“The crowd should really just ignore him,” Draevin commented, “that’s the only way to get him to stop coming back every year.”
“How do so many people keep coming back?” Peter asked after the booing from Brorn’s victory died down. “With this many people dying it just seems like they’d run out of contestants after a while.”
“This year’s been bloodier than most,” Draevin admitted, “but it’s always worse in the first round. Most of us experienced contestants know when we’ve lost and are quick to concede.” Draevin gestured to the little gnome on the arena floor that was now being possessed by the person that had killed him. “Take our gnome friend over there. He thought he could just keep dodging forever when his life was on the line and look where it got him. Gnomes are big risk-takers though, so I’m hardly surprised.”
On the field Brorn-Granstil paid no mind to the crowd and busied himself reabsorbing the Soul Fires still burning around the battlefield. Once that was accomplished he rooted through the ashy remains of the body he had been possessing before being vaporized by a Levin Bolt and dug out a small lump of unburned flesh. It looked like it might have been a toe or something.
“What did he do that for?” Peter asked.
Draevin dismissed his True Sight now that there was nothing left to see with it. “He can’t change bodies since he already registered with the one he came with, so he’s going to regrow it.”
“From a piece of toe?” Peter asked: flabbergasted.
“He can use The Pot and round two isn’t for two days. There’s plenty of time.”
“Will he still be able to access the memories that the body had, even though the brain was destroyed?” Peter scratched down a note in his pad.
“He’s had to do this in matches before and it’s never been a problem.” Draevin put a hand out to stop Peter’s little piece of charcoal. “But don’t quote me on that. I’m not an expert on necromancy.”
“Of course not,” Peter agreed, “I just wanted to know if he was going to be using visceramancy or chronomancy for the restoration. I was expecting visceramancy from a necromancer. Curious.”
Peter went back to his notes. Draevin gave them a peek and saw a life-like sketch of Brorn that seemed impossible to have been drawn so quickly. As he watched, Peter turned the page and jotted a quick line that read, “A fat goblin eating beetles with its toes.”
“Got a thing for goblins, do you?” Draevin asked.
“The last match today between Sylnya and Nilice will begin shortly,” Maeve announced in the background.
Peter looked up at Draevin quickly with a furrowed brow and slapped his notebook shut. “It’s a… code,” he explained, “it’s how I keep notes.”
“And this beetle-eating goblin is supposed to…”
“It’s not supposed to do anything,” Peter said defensively. “It’s part of the code.”
“I don’t know,” Draevin told him. “It just seems to me like translating a silly code is only going to make it harder to figure out what you were trying to remember later.”
“Quite the opposite. Easy for me: impossible for you.”
Draevin let out a huff of air. “Ugh. Fine! Keep your stupid secrets. I know more than you about this stuff anyway. It’s not like you have anything to hide…” He thought back to Peter’s glowing glasses from a minute ago during the match. “Unless.” Draevin pointed to Peter’s face. “Those malfunction again in the last match?”
“What?” Peter’s eyes bugged open and he snatched the frames off his face. “Umm, they might have been picking up some interference from Brorn’s necromancy.” He poked a switch on the side that Draevin hadn’t noticed before. “I was trying to oscillate the frequency to fix it, but it wasn’t working.”
Draevin sort of suspected Peter might be trying to use big words to confuse him. Not that it wasn’t working. “Right. I assumed as much. You should have had a professional make those.” He decided to change the subject. “Sylnya’s match should be a quick one. Some newbie gnome doesn’t stand a chance against a professional like Sylnya.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Peter said without looking up. “Nilice’s item is a ‘mana interference field generator.’”
“How do you know that?” Draevin asked him.
Peter readjusted his glasses with a self-confident smirk. “It’s amazing what people will tell you when you’re wearing the right face.”
Draevin just shook his head. “Even assuming you’re right, that’s not really an advantage. A mana interference field generator scrambles up all spells. Nilice would be just as powerless as Sylnya. Less so even, since Sylnya has Kot with her and is a powerful dryad.”
“That’s just it,” Peter said seriously. “There’s no way Nilice would be able to win with that strategy.”
“What do you mean? You just told me that was her strategy!”
“No, it’s got to be deeper than that. Every contestant here, not just taking a payout from a sponsor, at least believes they have a serious chance at winning the whole tournament,” Peter insisted. “If Nilice had to seriously fight every contestant here and neither of them were allowed to use magic of any kind how many do you think she could beat? She’s a tiny female gnome.”
Draevin had to think about it for a minute, “Boom’ba… No, goblins can be vicious little shits when they want to be. I don’t know. Is this a trick question?”
“It’s not. The answer is nobody. Literally nobody. Physically she’s the weakest contestant here. So why would she bring an item that scrambles up everyone’s spells? It’s just a sure way to lose.”
It was an interesting way to look at things. “So you think there’s more to her plan?”
“Yes,” Peter said confidently. “I have no doubt. I read somewhere that it is theoretically possible to cast spells inside a mana interference field generator. It would just require reverse permutations and incantations to match the field, but theoretically it could be done. With enough time someone could train to adapt to the changes. I think that’s what Nilice is planning. She’s not scrambling both contestants’ spells: only her opponent’s.”
Draevin’s brow migrated to their highest position on his forehead. “She’d be the only one with access to magic? Tell me you told Sylnya about this theory!”
Peter scowled. “Of course I did! What do you think we were talking about when we walked to The Pot together earlier?”
Down near the fighter’s boxes Sylnya was upending bucket after bucket of water over her head in preparation for the fight and her shadow stalker was perched as far away as it could get from her, looking betrayed. She stared daggers at Nilice as she did this: her body language exuded confidence. “She seems like she knows what she’s doing,” Draevin said.
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, “I suggested she plan to win with only her innate dryad abilities.”
Maeve stepped out and hushed the crowd. When it was quiet she gestured towards Nilice who had just stepped into her fighter’s box. The little gnome had her pink hair up in pigtails and was wearing a miniskirt that matched. It even looked like she had a heart painted on one cheek. Maeve began the introduction. “Nilice is a gnome aeromancer representing Lord Janus Trenton III. She is carrying a mana interference field generator which she made herself.” That confirmed Peter’s information was right. Down on the field Nilice held up a metal cube covered in runes. “Her wish if she wins is to install Lord Janus Trenton III as the ruler of a new independent gnomish nation in Trenal in order to end the conflict. She wants everyone to know that the most obvious solution to this mess is for Trenal to become its own nation again. The gnomes of Trenal don’t want to be under the thumb of Eldesia or Caldenia.”
Nilice did a cutesy pose and blew a kiss to the audience. “Make love, not war,” she piped out in a high-pitched girly voice. This earned her many adoring cheers despite being a newbie.
“Sylnya is a dryad herbomancer representing the Setsyan Breeders,” Maeve announced next. Sylnya swaggered around her box waving at the crowd with both hands. Her fans started shouting and cheering in a significantly lower timbre than the last cheers as soon as they heard her name announced.
Sylnya’s fans were shouting for blood. “Fuck ‘er up!” one orc bellowed and a number of his fellows took up a chant of, “Fuck-Her-Up! Fuck-Her-Up!” Maeve waited patiently for the chant to die down before continuing.
“Sylnya is accompanied by a tamed shadow stalker and her wish is to restore the Setsyan forests destroyed by Brornian industrialism. She wants everyone to know that you too can own your own shadow stalker for the low low price of 199 gold, inquire at your nearest SBI today. Financing available for those who qualify.” When she announced the shadow stalker, Sylnya’s companion dashed in a circle around her, slowly rising out of her shadow and jumped into her arms to lick her face.
Draevin shivered. “I wish she wouldn’t let him do that. Kot’s tongue can draw blood on non-dryads!”
Maeve held up her hand and the crowd hushed all at once. The bell chimed and the match began.
Right away Nilice smacked the metal box she was holding and gave it an underhanded toss towards the center of the arena where it stopped, frozen in midair. There was a shimmer around it and it began to glow with a pulsing bluish-purple light. Right away Draevin could feel the difference in the air. It felt wrong. Then he felt a breeze.
“Ummm,” Draevin said out loud in a serious tone. “There shouldn’t be a breeze in here. I think Nilice just knocked out the wards protecting the crowd.”
“Should we be concerned?” Peter asked.
“I’m… sure we’ll be fine,” Draevin replied uneasily. Hopefully they didn’t try any big spells.
Sylnya had sent her shadow stalker, Kot, to attack Nilice as soon as the match started, but once the interference device went off the black panther was forcefully ripped from the shadow he’d been bounding through. He gave a yelp of pain and ran back over to hide behind Sylnya with his tail between his legs.
Sylnya gave Kot a reassuring pet and let him stay behind her. She hadn’t moved since she left her box and hadn’t even tried to cast any spells. She just stood there and called out insults to Nilice. “Come on you little pixie bitch! You trying to bore me to death or are we gonna do this thing?” she yelled across the field.
Nilice paid Sylnya’s insults no mind and looked to be casting a spell much as Peter had predicted. Her movements were jerky and unnatural looking, but the spell also appeared to work. It looked like a perverted form of aeromancy, which was confirmed when a gust of wind blew across the field at Sylnya. She was trying to blow Sylnya out of the arena.
“You think farting on me is going to work?” Sylnya shouted in response, utterly unaffected by the gust of wind.
Nilice tried again with a blast sufficient to start stripping away a column of dirt along the path to Sylnya. This time Kot was nearly blown away, but Sylnya grabbed at the poor creature and held him in her arms. Her ankles bent with the breeze but her feet didn’t budge a single span from where they started.
Nilice was starting to look frustrated. “Look, you’re starting to scare him,” Sylnya called out while stroking her shadow stalker’s neck to calm him down. “He’s not used to gnome farts.” Nilice didn’t rise to Sylnya’s goading and focused on her spell-work, which was admittedly quite complicated. After several seconds of casting she directed her spell upward into the sky. The clouds above began to twist into a spiral.
“She’s casting Colossal Galestorm!” Peter called out in wide-eyed excitement.
Of course she was. Leave it to a gnome to summon a tornado onto an unsuspecting crowd after disabling the wards protecting them. This was about to get dangerous.
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Bio: I'm working very hard on my first real story right now. I'll post new chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until it's done. That is my solemn swear to myself. It's been a fun story to write and I hope it will be just as fun to read! Any pictures included in the chapters, as well as the world map can be found (for free) on my patreon at patreon.com/jdfister