A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hiiiii everybody!

I'm...still thinking about that lobster, lol. I hope everyone's having a good December. I know some of you finished school for the semester, and so take care of yourselves. This is a stressful time of year. 

Alrighty, now for Isolde's no doubt reasonable amount of research. Let's go!

“The first fourth-tier spell we will have to worry about is, ‘Planar Doorway’.” Isolde pulled out her notes. “I was not able to get the spell-guide, but I do know that it is a teleportation spell which activates quickly, and can transport the caster up to a thousand feet at a time. It allows them to also transport an equivalent weight of matter, meaning the weight of their equipment—combined with that of any person they touch—which together must not exceed their own weight.”

Alex twitched at the thought of that spell. There was a spell he’d love to learn…immediately…too bad it was fourth-tier.

“Wait, can they do that to people who…uh, don’t want to be transported?” he asked. “That seems like a great way to drop people off cliffs, or separate team members and stuff.”

“Technically yes, but practically, no. At the fourth-tier, an act of will can resist the magic and stop one from being teleported against one’s will. Spells higher than fourth-tier teleportation spells can more easily translocate unwilling entities. The higher the spell is beyond fourth-tier, the greater the chance of teleporting anyone who is resistant.”

“So, we don’t have to worry about anyone teleporting us into the sky and dropping us like eggs,” Thundar grunted. “But, it also means that they can surprise us and just pop into our formations outta nowhere.”

“Indeed, which is why we must watch for it,” Isolde said. “Helpful common tactics will be ones that ensure our blind-spots are minimized, and our surroundings are well-scouted. Anchor of the Planes is a spell that counters all teleportation effects on an entity. That is the main counter against wizards who can cast fourth-tier teleportation spells.”

“Hmmmm…” Alex said. “I…I might be able to help with that. I don’t know if it’s an affinity for teleportation or what, but I can sense summoning magic and stuff like that pretty strongly.”

“True,” Khalik said. “And I could have Najyah remain above us to keep an eye on our surroundings.”

“Good, good,” Isolde said, writing down the strategies. “Another thing we shall have to worry about is ‘Fireball Formation.’”

“What’s Fireball Formation?” Theresa asked.

“It’s a Delver’s Guild expression.” Khalik drew an imaginary circle on the table. “It refers to when a group—who might be facing wizards, dragons or creatures that have the ability to create explosions or other massively damaging effects over an area—groups together tightly. If they remain close to each other, then poof-” He made a blasting gesture with both hands. “-a single fireball spell can destroy the entire group.”

“Hrm,” Grimloch snarled. “Like a whole school of fish caught in a net or stunned by a depth charge spell.”

“Right,” Khalik said. “Formations that group together—like the ancient phalanxes, turtle formations, or shield walls—are excellent for fighting infantry or even hordes of monsters. But, against powerful wizards, it is simply a good way of making a lot of burnt corpses very quickly.”

“What’s the counter?” Thundar asked.

“A third-tier spell called Protection from Energy is the most common counter for such devastating elemental spells as Fireball and Lightning Bolt.” She frowned. “But casting it over our entire group will take a lot of mana, especially if I must repeatedly reapply it. Also, it can only be cast to provide protection against one type of energy at a time: either fire or electricity, for example, never both at the same time…unless one were to cast it multiple times, each time selecting a different energy type to protect against. But that would take an immense amount of mana.”

“And you are our only wizard capable of casting third-tier spells,” Khalik mused.

“We could spread out,” Theresa offered. “Brutus and I could be further at the front, scouting. The rest of us could be spaced apart…what’s…” She struggled for the words while making a circle gesture with her hands. “How big of an explosion are we talking about with these kinds of spells?”

“Fireball mostly strikes a twenty foot radius from a central targeting point,” Isolde said.

“Right.” Alex frowned. “We could have Claygon in the middle. He’s an obvious target, and I think it’d take a lot more than your average third-tier spell to hurt him. The rest of us could do like a fifty or sixty foot spread. Most of us have ranged spells or arrows, so we don’t have to be right on top of each other.”

“We can group closer together if we’re in someplace like a forest,” Theresa suggested. “Where there’s lots of cover.”

“Mhm.” Khalik mused, deep in thought.

Isolde covered a few more spells that they’d be likely to encounter, such as the fourth-tier spell Stoneflesh, which hardened the body into living granite for a period of time, and Solid Fog, which created a rolling bank of fog that was as harmless as natural mist, but as hard to move through as thick porridge.

“And as for opponents we should be most concerned about: both the Hydra Companions and the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood are old, strong battlemage houses. In any number of years, they have taken home the grand prize for the entire Games, and either house regularly wins the Grand Battle,” she said.

“Who won the Grand Battle last year?” Alex asked.

“It was won by a group of fifteen from outside Generasi. They called themselves the...” Isolde flipped through her notes, coming to a local announcement about the winners of the previous years’ games. “...Outcasts of the Divine Wind. A rather impressive name, in my opinion.” She offered.

“They were a team of Rhinean elemental knights, former students of Generasi who had made names for themselves in mercenary work, three centaur archers from the Nephelean Plains, and a few hired mercenaries. They were obviously very skilled, experienced, and had fought together in the past. It was a sweep.”

“Oh jeez…are they coming back?” Alex asked.

Isolde shrugged. “It is hard to know, since they were all foreign to Generasi. But if they do…well, we shall prepare ourselves. There are three individuals from the university that we must be aware of as well.”

She flipped to another page in her notes. “Tyris Goldtooth—in third year—is an excellent swordswoman and a very fine battlemage whose specialty are spells of earth and fire, as well as summoning spells from those same elemental planes. She combines her magic to create lava.”

Isolde turned to another page.

“Indrajit Hanuman—also in third year—has become a master at both life enforcement and blood magic, and is a vicious hand-to-hand combatant.”

Finally, she reached the last page.

“And, then there is Wolud Ranier, a very skilled illusionist who is in his third year. He is one who has passed two years of Baelin’s classes. We must be very aware of his abilities and not be fooled by his tricks.”

“Ugh,” Thundar grimaced. “That guy’s going to fight smart and dirty. Not gonna lie…winning this seems…impossible.”

“Where is your spirit, my friend?” Khalik asked, raising an eyebrow. “Victory does not come to those that defeat themselves…even if the odds are vastly against them.”

“Yeah, and it doesn’t really come to weak peasant boys who try to fist fight dragons either. We’re overpowered here. And probably outnumbered too.”

“Hey, I’ve heard more than one story about peasant boys defeating dragons,” Alex protested.

Thundar snorted. “Yeah, well, even if those stories are true, folks make sure to write about the rare winners. You know, because it’s rare enough that it makes a good story. How about all the times the peasant boys get smashed or fried? I’m sure that’s happened way more times, they just don’t write stories about them.”

“…yeah, good point. I still think we can maybe do well if we fight smart and get some luck. Maybe even win,” Alex said.

He thought back to the lava spewing dune worm. It had seemed a lot more dangerous than even the most capable third year student. Sure, the odds would be against them, but they’d beat hard odds before.

And it wasn’t like they’d die competing in the Grand Battle.

“Hmm, perhaps, Alex,” Khalik mused. “Since there is a fine gallery of rogues and dangerous magics for us to face. …it seems to me that our strategy should be one of aggression.”

“I was just thinking that,” Alex said.

Several of the others nodded and Grimloch grinned. “Favourite kind of strategy.”

“Indeed,” Khalik said. “We lack numbers and some raw power, but we have combat experience and we do not hesitate. Our melee fighters are Brutus, Thundar, Theresa, Grimloch, Claygon, Svenia, and Hogarth. I would venture to say that our opponents will be hard pressed to field a team of warriors as deadly as ours. With less people on our team, we are also more agile. I suggest classic skirmisher’s tactics: we hit them as quickly as we can, and as hard as we can. Press advantage during confusion, and do not give them a chance to prepare or counter.”

“I was about to suggest the same,” Isolde said. “And I will admit, I have some interest in placing high, but my motivations are selfish: as long as we place higher than the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood, I shall be satisfied.”

“Shock and awe tactics it is.” Alex cracked his knuckles. “We’ll also need to be careful now: if people are hanging around trying to figure out what we’re going to do, that means they’re probably researching us too. We’ll have to think of ways that others might counter us.”

He thought about how he used Orb of Air to stop himself from breathing in fumes from the booby-trapped potions. If others knew about him using the altered potions, then they’d definitely wear Orb of Air to block the gas.

“Say, Isolde, do you know if any of our friends from Baelin’s class are in the Grand Battle?” he asked.

“I do not,” she shook her head.

“I do,” Grimloch spoke up. “Nua-Oge’s not in the Grand Battle, but she said that Shiani’s been doing things in secret lately. Saw her with Rayne and Rhea yesterday.”

Silence followed.

“Then we shall assume they are forming a team as well,” Khalik said. “Which will mean that a very experienced team will be in play that knows many of our tactics. If we had a few more members…but again, I still worry about changing the composition of our team unless anyone we add is exceptionally powerful. In any case, we must prepare well, and hope we are not surprised.”

The first surprise happened only a few hours after their team meeting and training session had ended.

Alex was heading to The Cells to practice his Summon Elemental Beetle spell when a voice called out to him.

“Hello, my friend!”

He turned, wondering who was calling him their “friend,” and saw a tall blonde fellow approaching. There was a cold cast to his features and he wore the familiar blue shirt of the Hydra Companions.

“Have…have we met?” Alex asked.

“We have, we have, but I’m not surprised you don’t remember me,” the young man said. “Last summer, myself and a pair of my brothers—at the time—were looking to recruit new students into our club. You faced Gregori?”

“Oh yeah, I think I remember you know,” Alex said. “Wait, you were part of the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood, right?” He became cautious.

“So, what’s up?”

“Hopefully, my team’s chances of winning The Grand Battle,” the young man gave a cool smile. “I am Roderich, pleased to become acquainted. And as for my new colours…I found that the Companions more agreed with me than the Brotherhood did, in the end.”

He offered his hand.

“Uh, Alex,” Alex introduced himself, slowly reaching to shake Roderich’s hand.

“A pleasure. Gregori is still a bit sore over your spell-joust last year. He thinks you acted the part of the fool to mock him.”

Alex fought the urge to wince.

“Vitaly is also annoyed at your friend, Khalik.”

“You still talk to them?”

“We are still friends, even if I chose to wear different colours. Some in the Brotherhood are sore at me for leaving and bear me a grudge, but other friendships transcend such boundaries.” He moved on. “The Hydra Companions have heard about the deeds your group accomplished this past year.”

“You know about us?” Alex said, growing more cautious by the moment.

What was this?

He thought of the Ursa-Lupines and the air of entitlement that always seemed to ooze from them. In a way, they reminded him of certain characters in old tales that the bards told. They were always overbearing and made it their mission to try and intimidate the town hero into keeping out of their way.

He began picturing a bunch of sneering Brotherhood members folding out from behind buildings, threatening to pound him to keep him away from The Games of Roal.

‘Get a grip, Alex, this isn’t some one copper troubadour’s story,’ he thought, shaking his head. ‘They’re not about to try and break your legs. Besides-’

He glanced up at Claygon

‘-they would have a very bad time if they did.’

“We do, we do,” Roderich confirmed. “We make it a point to keep an eye on anyone who’s passed the chancellor’s Art of the Wizard in Combat class. They usually make fine battlemages. …but you have no interest in becoming a battlemage, do you?

His voice had a rough quality, as if a growling wolf had learned to speak like a man.

“So like, spying, you mean? And no, I have no interest in being a battlemage. I just think it’s better if I know how to protect myself, because a wizard never knows what demons and such they’ll run into.”

“Not spying, not spying,” Roderich said, trying to sound reassuring. “Recruiting. The Companions ask that you—and anyone else among your friends who might be interested—join us.”

Alex blinked. “But I’m no battlemage.”

“No, I’m aware that you’re not,” the young man nodded, with a smile that was slightly…off. “We’re not asking that you join the Companionhood…we are hoping that you will join our team for the Grand Battle competition.”

“I’m not going to betray my friends,” Alex said, finding this Roderich to be more and more offensive the longer he talked.

“Then bring them all.” The Hydra Companion smiled. “I’m not the only one that’s seeking out your group members with an offer. The more the merrier. Our goal is to defeat the Brotherhood and Ms. Von Anmut has an enemy among them, doesn’t she? We can break them together. We might even see that you all earn some coin out of it.”

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

So fun fact, in an early early concept of this chapter, it was actually going to be Derek coming up to Alex and asking him to try and join his team. But the more I thought about it the more kinda dumb and tropey it felt. 

"Join me!" said the bad guy while offering no sensible incentive to get the hero to betray their friends.

So anyway, I went in this direction instead. 

Also, I am looking forward to cramming as much Witcher S2 into my eyeballs as I can tomorrow hahaha. Let's hope it's good! If I hate it or love it, I'll tell y'all.

Cya Tuesday!

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