By the end of the information session and the sign-up that followed, Alex’s group had registered for several events, some individually, and some as a team.
Fortunately, Kybas could participate too since he’d taken and passed first year battle magic. He’d entered Harmless in the Duel by Proxy Event: Lightweight Class.
Grimloch, Theresa, and Thundar had entered the Grand Melee as a team of three. As she’d told Selina she would, Theresa had signed up for the archery competition, while Grimloch had signed up for a foot-race, and an event called the Great Water Hunt.
Khalik had entered the Spell-Joust, and had signed himself and Najyah up for Duel by Proxy, in the lightweight division.
Alex and Theresa had decided to register for the Grand Land Hunt together. It was an event where The Watchers released a small, fast moving creature that they’d summoned into a wild area of the countryside. Teams would then have to pursue and try to capture it, and the first one to catch it would be the winner of the hunt.
Finally, Alex had signed up with Claygon for the Duel by Proxy in the super-heavyweight class. He couldn’t wait to see Claygon going up against other wizards’ summoned monsters, constructs and tamed beasts.
When the group had finished choosing the events they wanted, Isolde stayed back with them, using Claygon, Grimloch and Thundar to hide behind while she kept her eye on Derek, and then—once the Ursa-Lupines had finished their sign-ups and go on their way—she rushed over to check the sign up list.
She examined each list, looking for certain names under the different events, then hurried back to her friends with a sparkle in her eyes.
“I thought as much,” she announced, with a sly smile. “The Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood signed up for the Grand Battle: Second Division.”
The Watchers had explained that event earlier during their announcements.
It was a team event similar to The Grand Melee: a simulation of a typical battle. But while The Grand Melee was like a battle between warriors and knights, The Grand Battle was a lot…well, grander and less constrained.
In the Grand Melee, which took place on a large open field, the participants were provided with blunted weapons—though they had to bring their own armour—and then set loose on each other with abandon. Participants were allowed to take part as individuals or in teams, with the express goal being to capture or ‘defeat’ as many opponents as possible. Each participant was scribed with a spell-mark—similar to Baelin’s—that would teleport them out of the field if they were about to suffer a major injury. It was a mock version of a real battle among knights, where capturing enemy knights for ransom was a valuable practice.
Apparently, the Grand Battle—also called the Battle Royale—was an even wilder version. Instead of a field, the participants were taken to an island west of Generasi where the forests grew thicker, and there were few inhabitants.
Like in the Grand Melee, each individual or team would also be scribed with a spell-mark that would whisk them away to a safe place on the island if they were about to suffer a major injury. One of the goals for the participants to reach was to get to a central mountain, while fulfilling and overcoming challenges along the way.
If they reached the mountain top, that would be worth a certain number of points, and if they held it for a certain amount of time, that’d be worth even more. Eliminating enemy teams along the way was worth points as well. Each individual or team would be granted a ‘flag-bearer’, a floating construct that would hold a small flag for each team.
Capturing another team’s flag was worth additional points.
“Hmmm, I see why the Brotherhood would have signed up for this,” Khalik said. “The Sky-Joust and Grand Battle are worth the most when it comes to earning points for the grand prize, and they’re also seen as giving the most glory among The Games.”
“Hmmm...it doesn’t surprise me that a glory hound would enter the Grand Battle...I want to participate in that event,” Isolde said, with no hint of irony. “If we put a team together, I am sure we can make a fine showing. A showing that might, say…humiliate certain back-stabbing insects.”
“Hmmm,” Alex muttered. “Second Division, that’s limited to anyone who can cast up to fourth level spells…that’s a lot of firepower. More than we’ve got.”
“It is only a competition,” Isolde said, with a look of desperate hunger in her eyes. “We have faced greater dangers in The Barrens during Baelin’s classes.”
“Yeah, but.” Alex scratched his head. “Look, I think we’d be smarter to go for stuff where we could actually win. That’s just my opinion, though.”
“Oh ye of little courage.” Khalik threw his arm around Alex’s shoulders. “Think of it this way. Perhaps we might lack in raw power, but we make up for it in ingenuity, fellowship and coordination. Not to mention…”
The prince turned to Grimloch. “Say, my friend, what would you say to participating in a Grand Battle, pitting yourself against other warriors and wizards?”
The sharkman grinned, showing his many white, triangular teeth. He cracked his knuckles, and it sounded like rocks splitting. “I’m game.”
“See?” Khalik said. “Between Grimloch and Claygon, I would dare say that any warrior on another team will be hard pressed to face us. Besides, wizards have a habit of underestimating the power of non-wizards. We can catch them and crush them in their own miscalculation of our team’s ability. We might not win, but I have no doubt we can place. Remember too that wizards who can cast up to fourth tier spells do not exactly grow on trees, my friend. Those of our level shall be much more common.”
Alex thought it over.
There was something about Khalik’s words that were a little intoxicating. The fact that the competition was worth the most points was also appealing. It might let them get one of those cash prizes that were on offer. Also, it might be good practice for the expedition to Thameland. Like it or not, he was becoming more and more convinced about signing up.
He looked at Theresa and Selina. One look at his girlfriend’s death-stalker face convinced him that she’d love it. Selina also looked excited about the idea.
“…okay, but we’ve gotta have a plan-”
“Yes!” Isolde cheered. “Good job, Khalik! With Claygon’s might by our sides we’re sure to crush all those we seek to bury.
“Indeed.” Khalik grinned. “Claygon will be an excellent addition to our force.”
“…and what about me?” Alex asked.
The prince waved a hand as though his question was of no consequence. “You will be a nice bonus, I suppose.”
“I hate all of you,” Alex grunted.
“Even me?” Theresa asked, putting on a mask of innocence. Her lower lip trembled like she was about to cry, but Alex had known Theresa long enough to know what that whole lip trembling thing actually was.
He gave her a withering look. “Look, don’t try that when you’re barely holding back evil laughter.”
She immediately burst into evil laughter.
Shaking his head, he pulled out of the prince’s grip and walked away from them, feigning disgust and planning petty revenge. As he did, he noticed Kybas standing a little away from the group, watching them with a strange look. Beside him, Harmless was swallowing some dried fish.
“Heya buddy,” Alex said. “We didn’t really get a chance to catch up yet. How’s your summer been so far? Taking any summer courses?”
Kybas shook his head as though he’d been in a trance. “Oh, hmm hmmm? It’s been nice. Nice here. It’s warmer here than it is at home. Quieter too. Uh, summer courses: I’m taking only one, just one: the Habits and Anatomy of Monsters II.”
“Oooooh, that sounds fun,” Alex said. “Say…you ever thought about taking the chancellor’s Art of the Wizard in Combat? It’s super badass.”
“Hrm, hrm, I haven’t heard of that one.”
Alex quickly explained the whole course, going into a little too much detail in his excitement. Kybas’ eyes widened.
He gave a vicious grin. “That sounds fun…but maybe next year. I’ll be strong enough for that class next year, if I have time for it.”
“Awesome, it’s too bad we couldn’t have been in Baelin’s class together in first year,” Alex said. “And I take it, Harmless is alright?”
“Oh yes!” Kybas beamed with the same enthusiasm as a horse rancher showing off his prize stallion. “He’s growing very well! Very quickly! Soon things will be running and screaming when he’s out with me. Hehe, he’ll be big enough to eat a water dragon one day.”
Alex glanced down at the still smallish croc as he finished his snack. Well, at the rate the little critter was growing, that day might be coming soon.
“Have you been feeding him potions?” Alex asked. “I remember you wanted to do that to help him grow faster.”
The goblin paused and gave an almost apologetic smile toward his familiar. “As much as I can…most potions and potion ingredients are pretty expensive.”
“Yeah, that they are,” Alex said, and he noticed something about Kybas’ clothes. They looked a little…well, a lot more worn than the last time he’d seen him. He knew better than to ask awkward questions, though, but was just glad that meals were included in the cost of tuition at the university.
‘Well, just get through these three more years and you’ll be able to make gold every time you blink,’ Alex thought.
“I can only brew potions when I’ve got the open classes with Professor Jules,” he said, thinking about his own struggles with making more potions. “Honestly, I wish I had my own ingredients-garden and lab. I’ve thought about growing the ingredients myself, but figured I should take Magical Botany first. So…y’know…I’ll know what I’m doing.”
“Ooo! Ooo!” Kybas jumped excitedly. “With Professor Salinger? I loved that course!”
“Yeah!” Alex said. “It’s pretty good so far! Were you the guy that got his plant-sheep to metamorphize?”
“Yep! Yep!” he said. “Professor Salinger said I had a green thumb for monster plants! I’m taking the second year course next year too.”
“Sweet,” Alex said. “Maybe we’ll be in class together again-” He glanced behind, noticing his friends gathering their gear and getting ready to leave. “Oops, I gotta go. Maybe I’ll see you later this summer, Kybas. I’m gonna be hosting a few dinners and would love it if you showed up.”
Kybas blinked. “Oh uh…yeah sure, that sounds good. Will there be food for Harmless?”
“Oh yeah, we’ll make him big and strong, don't you worry. Here, tell me how I can contact you.”
Alex and Kybas exchanged contact information and then he watched the little goblin and his familiar for a few moments as they left.
This summer was going well, a lot better than the previous summer of ‘stressing over if he got accepted’ and ‘slaving away for McHarris’, and ‘fleeing from Uldar’s plans for his life.’
Hopefully, Baelin would be back in a few days with good news. They’d also be meeting the Lu’s tonight…
Things were looking bright.
The sun was starting to set when the ship finally got close enough for them to make out Mr. and Mrs. Lu standing on the deck.
“Moooother! Faaaaaather!” Theresa shouted over the sound of the waves, waving her arms and jumping up and down.
“Mr. and Mrs. Lu!” Selina cried beside her, copying her movements and waving both of her arms above her head.
“Heeeeey!” Alex called out. “Claygon, wave!”
The golem slowly raised his two right arms and waved them at the approaching vessel, while Brutus ran around the dock, barking with excitement.
“-looooooooooo!” Mr. Lu’s voice boomed back across the waves.
“Theresaaaaa! Aleeeeex! Selinaaaa! Hiiiii!” Mrs. Lu’s voice called as their still distant forms grew closer.
It seemed to take forever for the approaching ship to dock, and Alex was a little disappointed when it wasn’t the Red Siren. He wondered how Fan-Dor, Gel-Dor and the rest of the crew were doing.
After what seemed like hours, the gangplank was lowered and the Lu’s almost sprinted down to wrap their daughter and the Roth siblings in a tight hug.
“Mother, father, it’s so good to see you!” Theresa cried. “How is everyone else?”
“They’re fine, they’re just fine, oooh it’s good to see you again,” her mother said. “Oof, you’ve gotten so strong!”
Mr. Lu hugged Alex and Selina at the same time.
Alex fought back tears as he felt the warm embrace of the man who was essentially his second father. Selina was outright crying.
“By Uldar, boy, what happened to you!?” Mr. Lu pulled back, gripping Alex by the shoulders and examining him. “I hardly recognized you from the boat! I thought you were someone else at first.”
“Well, I’ve been working out,” Alex chuckled.
“I’ll say: you’d make the blacksmith’s son look bad. I thought they were supposed to teach you magic here, not strongman training!” He glanced over at Theresa. “And look at you, by The Traveller, you look so strong girl!”
“And so beautiful,” Mrs. Lu leaned back, looking up at her daughter and reaching for her face.
“Mother…” Theresa grunted as her face was turned this way and that. “Stooop, I’m not a doll.”
“Of course not, but your skin…it looks incredible, what have you been doing? Oh, and your hair!” Mrs. Lu blinked in amazement. “Some herbs and sun?”
“Life enforcement,” Theresa said, standing up to her full height proudly. “Just like great-grandfather.”
“Right…” Mrs. Lu said, glancing at her husband. “Well that’s good. Very good. And…uh…is this the goll-lum you talked about in your letter?”
“Goal-lem,” Theresa said quickly. “And yes, this is Claygon. We’ve got so much to show you!”
“I’m sure…” Mr. Lu muttered, staring at the djinn and demon statues that flanked the massive gates to the city. “Can’t…still can’t quite believe that what I’m seeing is real. Are those boats up in the sky?”
“I told you about those, father!”
“It’s one thing to read about them in a letter, but quite another to actually see them in person!” Mr. Lu said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Alex grinned. “We’ve got sooo much to show you. Generasi is…one…of…”
The hairs on the back of his neck began to rise.
Something was coming.
Something from far off.
Teleportation…no, summoning magic.
“No,” he turned his head in the direction of the city. “No no no…”
A flash of light and a crack of thunder blasted through the air in the distance.
Coming from the direction of City Hall.