“Mother, it’s going to be fine,” Theresa insisted. “Just fine. Just like going out for a summer hunt. Actually, it’s even safer than that.”
Her mother paused at the window.
Theresa was alone with her mother for the first time since her parents had come to Generasi. Her father had gone to the market for some fresh bread and fruit for breakfast. She’d told her parents about the top shelf of the pantry being able to keep things cool—so they wouldn’t have to go shopping everyday—but they didn’t trust the idea of keeping perishable food on a pantry shelf.
Even if magic could give them a thousand different conveniences that they never could have even dreamed of back in Alric, they still weren’t comfortable with it.
She couldn’t really blame them, either.
After a year in Generasi, in some ways she was still trying to get used to all the magic that was a part of her daily life.
“Theresa,” her mother said slowly. “I’m sure you believe it will be fine, but I’m not sure how smart it is to be playing in games when the guards are still trying to find someone so dangerous. And I think fighting powerful wizards is a little more dangerous than a summer hunt.”
Theresa sighed. “Mother…they’ve got this magic. If anything bad happens to someone during the competition, it just teleports them away to safety. It’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know anything about how magic works.” Mrs. Lu turned around, her eyes filled with concern. “But we try to make everyone safe in our kitchen too. We train everyone, we put the knives away, we watch the fire…but none of that would help us if a bear suddenly charged into the kitchen.”
“…so you’re saying this demon summoner is the bear.”
Mrs. Lu winced. “I can’t believe you can say that so casually: ‘demon summoner’, like if you’re just talking about a wolf in the woods. Just what kind of life have you, Selina and Alex been living here?”
“Mother…it’s different here. But it’s kinda like the same back home.” She stepped up beside her mother and stood by the window. “When the news came about The Ravener coming back, we didn't panic, right? We knew what to do and we kept on doing what we had to.”
“That’s different, Theresa,” her mother argued. “When The Ravener came back we left and got out of danger.”
“But we always come back,” Theresa countered. “I mean all of Thameland: we leave while The Heroes are fighting The Ravener, but we always come back. We come back because it's worth it, right?”
“We come back because there’s nowhere else for us to go,” Mrs. Lu sighed. “The Rhineans have been very welcoming but…it’s not the most comfortable way of living, being in a strange land. Some folks want the Thameish there. Some folks don’t.”
“But there were other places for us to go before,” Theresa said. “In school, we learned that there was a time when the Rhineans only owned a quarter of the land north of the Prinean Sea. We could have stayed there then, but we left to go back to Thameland. It’s the same thing here. It’s worth being here. There’s dangers, but there’s also wonders. You saw the tower. I mean look at that!”
She pointed out the window. In the distance, there was a flying ship—complete with sky-blue sails—drifting through the sky like something from a faerie story.
“I’m learning so much, and you’re going to see that today. We can take care of ourselves now.”
A look crossed her mother’s face. “You sound like Evan. Your brother…and some of the other boys from Alric, and some other young men from other parts of Thameland. They’ve started to talk.”
Theresa frowned. “What’s he talking about?”
“Going back,” her mother said. “Going back and helping The Heroes and soldiers take Thameland back.”
Theresa’s eyebrows rose. “What? The most dangerous weapon Evan’s ever held is a kitchen knife. He didn’t even want to hunt.”
“Some of the retired soldiers that left with the rest of us,” Mrs. Lu said. “They’ve been training some of the Thameish young folk, talking about how we all need to do our part. Lately, he’s been saying things like ‘we can take care of ourselves’.”
“H-he didn’t do anything stupid, did he?” Theresa asked.
Mrs. Lu shook her head. “The soldiers aren’t letting us go back, for now. And your uncle still needs help. He’s getting lots of orders for steel nowadays.”
“…why didn’t you tell me-” Theresa paused, the irony in her question hitting her before she could finish. “…nevermind.”
“Because it’s talk for now,” Mrs. Lu said sternly. “If he had left, I would have told you.”
“Mother…look,” she sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but it just felt…wrong to tell you about that stuff in a letter.”
“I would have preferred to know, Theresa,” her mother said, cupping her daughter’s cheek. “If something happens to you, I’d rather know why, instead of having to guess. If you’re in danger, I’m allowed to worry: it’s what parents do.”
The huntress went silent for a bit, gathering her thoughts.
“Letters can only say so much, I know,” Mrs. Lu said. “But even if it’s only ‘so much’, it’s better than ‘nothing at all’.”
Theresa stayed silent.
Her eyes looked at the door. Outside, footsteps softly crept by, moving past the door. They were near-silent: she probably wouldn’t have caught them without her enhanced senses from life enforcement.
“Well, after today, you’ll know a lot more,” she said to her mother.
“He’s not here?” Theresa whispered to Alex as the rest of the group was setting up in the stadium. “And when were you going to tell me that?”
“You were gone by the time I got the message,” Alex whispered back. “And then I had to panic for a bit, and then I went to find you to tell you and I heard you talking with your mother and it sounded super serious and I didn’t want to interrupt, but then when we were walking here your parents were in earshot-” He glanced back at the seats in the stadium where her parents were sitting with Selina, who was showing them all kinds of different parts of her messenger construct. “-so now was the earliest time…better than ‘not at all’, right?”
“Ugh, you sound like mother.”
Alex blinked. “T-thanks? Wait, that’s a compliment, right? I mean it can’t be an insult, I like your moth-”
“Right, right, talking less now.”
Theresa’s eyes scanned the rim of the stadium as though she expected to see demons flying overhead at any second. Of course, she’d never actually seen a demon, but from what Alex had said, many of them could fly.
She slowly looked over the other occupants of the stadium. Other student teams stood together, practicing combat maneuvers. Like her group, they probably would have preferred to practice away from the watching eyes of their competitors, but the school had very strict policies about casting combat spells in non-designated areas of campus without a very good reason.
“Alex, what do you think the chances are that they'd attack here? In the stadium.”
He ran his fingers through his increasingly long hair, which—she had to admit—she liked on him. She resisted the urge to fix part of his chestnut bangs as they fell crookedly over his forehead.
His eyebrows knitted together in thought, and he did that thing where he puzzled things out in silence for a few seconds.
“From what I know—and keep in mind, I’m no crazy demon-summoning renegade wizard—probably not. The first attack was right on campus, but there was a rally for the priests going on. The second one was at City Hall itself. Both of those targets are more significant than this stadium. …but we should keep an eye out just in case...that is, if we’re going to stay. Want to call it off?”
“No,” Theresa said. “All the best fighters among our friends are here. We’re probably safer now than we would be back at the apartment.” She reached up and kissed him. “But thanks for thinking about that. C’mon, let’s get to practicing.”
She and Alex joined the rest of their teammates as Khalik and Isolde broke down what they wanted to do with the day’s session. Not surprisingly, the two of them seemed to fall naturally into the roles of ‘leader’ for their Grand Battle team.
“Correct me if I am wrong,” Isolde said. “But I think it would be good to warm up with some sparring first, especially among you warriors.”
A low, pleased growl came from Grimloch.
Svenia and Hogarth looked at each other, then slowly turned to look at the shining teeth of the ten-foot sharkman.
But Grimloch was too busy looking at Claygon to pay attention to them.
Theresa cracked her knuckles. Facing the giant sharkman would be…well, she would be lying if she said that the thought hadn’t crossed her mind at least once. He looked more powerful than ever as his experience with life enforcement grew.
At the level of conditioning she was at now, she could see herself maybe being able to take him before he’d started his own training. Now, though?
It would be a good challenge.
She glanced at the seats.
And a good chance to show her parents what she was capable of.
All the front line fighters organized themselves into a group and drew straws to decide who would face who, though—by the end of the warm up—each of them would have faced each other at least once.
“Khalik, will you be joining us?” Theresa teased the prince, looking at his short sword. “I know you don’t use that thing much, mighty wizard, but you’ll get rusty if you don’t at least wave it around now and then.”
“And there’s only five of us sparring without you.” Thundar grinned, taking a couple of practice swings with his mace. “Let’s get that skull of yours good and cracked-I mean get you back in practice.”
“Well, now I must join in,” the muscular young man chuckled, drawing his sword. Stepping to the side of the stadium, he ran the blade over a glyph built into a small column there. A teal light ran over the sword, sheathing it in a magic meant to dull the edge and prevent injury. “Shall we draw straws, then?”
Theresa would be facing Hogarth first.
“Right you are, then, young lady,” the squat soldier saluted her with a muscular arm. He buckled his helmet under his chin. “Let’s get started, then. …just…I’ve seen you fight. Keep in mind that I ain’t a giant monster, or a sharkman, or a wizard or one of your life enforker things.”
“Mhm.” Theresa said, dropping into her stance. “And you keep in mind that you probably have a decade of experience on me.”
“Right, call a man old just before the fight even starts,” Hogarth snorted. “Cut his spirit before you even cut his body.”
Theresa laughed, “Hey, it’s not my fault you were born ages before me.”
Hogarth snorted again.
Khalik called the spar to begin and Theresa charged Hogarth like a coiled snake, her curved blade flashing into guard.
The soldier stepped back, thrusting at her with his spear; he tried to use the length of the weapon to keep her at bay. Theresa watched the spear carefully, then grabbed the haft as he thrust it.
He cursed as she pulled on it; he had to release the weapon to keep from being dragged toward her. His blade rang out of its scabbard just as she came in with a blurring cut.
Hogarth used his experience, surprising her with a parry that smoothly turned into a twist designed to run the dulled blade along her fingers. But she followed his twist with her greater speed, and slid her blade up and past his guard.
“Balls,” he swore. “You’re quick as a bloody buck running from rabid wolves. Well done.”
They shook hands.
She glanced at the seats.
Her parents were openly gaping, while Selina was clapping in delight.
Theresa smiled, giving them a salute with her sword before moving to wait for her next opponent. After the first round of sparring ended, it was Thundar who clopped up to her.
He grinned. “Well, well,” he said. “Don’t think I’m going down so easy. I could be the leader of this cabal after all.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Theresa said as he cast two body enhancement spells on himself: one for strength and one for speed.
Then he rushed her. Fast.
His speed surprised her and she barely ducked his teal-sheathed mace as it swung for her head. She heard her mother yelp, but kept her focus on her opponent.
Stepping back, she ducked and parried the minotaur’s avalanche of an assault. Even without his magic, he was damned strong and surprisingly quick. He was also clearly a trained warrior, even if he was attending wizard school: his training and magic made for a deadly combination, and his aggressive style pressed her a lot more than Hogarth’s more cautious one.
But she’d been training and proving herself against the younger members of The Watchers of Roal for months now. She was used to facing superior strength and speed.
As she dodged around Thundar’s mace, she gave less and less ground, letting it pass closer to her: using less movement left her more balanced. More able to counter.
She let his swing go wide then caught his arm when it was fully extended with her free hand, then twisted to lock it. Her blade flashed up, resting just below the minotaur wizard’s chin.
“Whoa, whoa, I surrender!” he said, holding up a hand. “Jeez, that’s what I get for not hanging around with you. You’re faster than you used to be. You know more tricks too: that was a good bind.”
“You’re better too,” she said, shaking his hand. “If it weren’t for me sparring against the Watchers, I’d be on the ground right now.”
“Yeah, well, maybe it’ll go that way next time.”
“Maybe.” She smiled.
As Thundar went to face Khalik, a large, ominous shadow fell over Theresa.
She looked up into the grinning teeth of Grimloch. “Been wanting to fight you.”
His knuckles cracked as he lifted a massive club that looked less like a weapon and more like an uprooted tree.
“Yeah…” she said. “Me too.”
They looked at each other for a moment, but said nothing else. Her dark eyes stared into his jet-black orbs as others fell quiet.
“Begin!” Khalik barked.
Grimloch lunged at her.
Theresa swore and jumped away from the massive swing of his club. Even with the teal magic sheathing it, a blow from that thing would be painful. Very painful.
The sharkman stalked after her, using his greater reach to keep her at a distance. His teeth gnashed in a horrifying grin and his footsteps seemed to shake the stone. He was also damned quick, it was clear that he was no untrained brawler.
His fighting style was one that threw his weight around, but his blows were smooth, his steps calculated. Theresa took a deep breath, calling on every physical reserve she had. A giddy feeling rose in her chest. She’d helped make this monstrous warrior by introducing him to life enforcement.
And now she would try to bring him down.
Despite his shocking speed and reach, she was still faster and more agile: she’d also been practicing life enforcement longer. She didn’t even bother trying to parry, she just danced around his swings, waiting for a moment to strike.
His club slammed into the ground.
It exploded; the old wood splintering under the power of Grimloch’s swing.
The sharkman grunted in surprise—his newfound strength catching even himself offguard—and Theresa darted forward below his arms. But he was ready for her.
His hand shot up and grabbed her free arm in a grip that she couldn’t imagine ever breaking; his jaws shot forward, ready to snap over her torso.
She felt the teeth close in on her, but then he froze.
The tip of her sword hovered just above his eye.
For a few moments, they stood frozen: Theresa in his grip with his jaws ready to bite her in half, while her sword was poised to stab through his eye.
“Draw?” Theresa offered, trying to quiet her pounding heart.
Another moment of silence.
“I agree…though me biting you in half trumps you taking my eye,” Grimloch gave a grinding laugh and stepped back. “But I don’t eat friends. Usually.” The grinding laugh continued as he went to find his next opponent.
Theresa fought to keep her face neutral despite how terrifying it was to think about ‘nearly’ having half her body ‘eaten’ by a sharkman, even if it was just a joke and a spar.
Theresa grimaced and slowly looked up at her parents.
Did it go right?
She couldn’t tell from their faces.
“Attention! May I have your attention!”
Everyone froze as a magically augmented voice swept over campus.
“There have been attacks on several temples within the city. As yet, there have been no casualties reported, but it is advised that you remain on campus until further notice.”
Theresa swore under her breath. That probably meant the end of practice.
She was getting tired of this summoner.
They were a coward too, attacking again when Baelin was gone. She frowned. Maybe they were watching his movements, she hadn’t known he’d be gone until Alex told her, so him being away wasn’t common knowledge.
It was only later in the evening—when she found Alex in his room, his face white as a sheet—that she realized just how dire that train of thought was.
“I just got a note from Baelin…everyone on the research team did,” he said, his voice shaking. “Theresa…Baelin didn’t tell anyone that he was leaving. Except for us. We’re the only ones who knew he’d be gone.”
Her blood went cold.