“You are going to leave your current team and accept Miss Straughtvern’s kind invitation to join hers.”

Rosseau stood at the end of the table, his mouth agape as he listened to his mother’s words. Only a minute ago he had stepped off the carriage home—filled with excitement and optimism about tomorrow’s match. But as he arrived, he had suddenly been summoned to the main dining room, and the sight of Nora along with her parents made him realize what was about to happen.

Rosseau jerked, about to say something, but held his tongue and clenched his jaw. His mother’s gaze was stern, and after glancing at the decorated clothes his parents wore, and the eloquent feast they were about to indulge in, he knew it was futile. Nora’s family was in charge after all; his parents would do anything to satisfy them if it meant they could climb up the social hierarchy.

“It will be just like old times, Rosseau. Remember how much fun we had playing as children?”

Rosseau turned his gaze to Nora. Her face was disgustingly innocent.

“Oh, Miss Straughtvern. How lovely this must be,” Rosseau’s mother said, placing her hand inspiringly over her heart. “Now come, Rosseau. Take a seat, and let’s all celebrate this union that is sure find victory in this year’s tournament!” She held her chalice gracefully in the air, followed in cheerful agreement by everyone else at the table.

“Our two stars must sit together,” Nora’s father said before Rosseau could take the chair that would put him furthest from Nora. “Come, let’s put these two at the head of the table!”

A short shuffling of everyone around the table, Rosseau now found himself directly beside the ecstatic Nora. As the meal progressed, the adults began to converse with each other on matters beyond Rosseau’s care to understand. He didn’t even try to touch his food. He merely sat their—his fists clenched and shaking ever so slightly.

“How…” He whispered, catching the attention of Nora beside him.

“Hmm?” She hummed with an exaggerated cuteness.

“How can you do something like this?”

Rosseau didn’t look at Nora for a response, but in the corner of his eye he could see the nasty smile on her face.


“…Lucy! LUCY!” A voice broke through, jolting the girl out of her daze. It was Cedric calling out to her desperately.

“You have to confront Nora! She could be breaking the rules!” He told her once again, hoping for a response.

“Will both Lead Sorcerers please congregate to the middle,” one of the referees called from the center of the arena.

Lucy shot a panicked gaze back and forth between Cedric and Nora, unsure of what exactly she was meant to do.

“Please congregate now, or be disqualified,” the ref repeated.

Trying to choke a response to Cedric and simultaneously obey the ref’s command, Lucy tripped over her own feet and fell to the arena’s dirt floor, prompting a laugh from Nora which Lucy could well hear. Scrambling to her feet, Lucy dusted herself off and clumsily walked over to where Nora and the ref were waiting.

“Where is your knight?” the ref asked her. His decorated white mask partially hidden by his hood unsettled her even more.

“He… I…” Lucy muttered, her eyes drifted over to Rosseau who looked back at her from Nora’s side of the arena. The regret in his eyes told her everything. He didn’t want this either.

“She doesn’t have one,” Nora said smugly.

Lucy’s eyes flared with rage. “Because you stole him!” she whined.

Nora expression remained cool. “If you’re implying Rosseau’s transfer was not within the scope of the rules, I assure you it was perfectly legal.” Nora looked to the ref who had become a border between the two girls after Lucy’s outburst. “Look at the team rosters if it pleases you. It was all handled by the tournament office early this morning.”

The snobbish Elefrian punctuated her argument with a smile, worrying Lucy.

“Very well,” the ref replied. With a snap of his finger, two slim folders fell from nowhere into his hand. “However, will be the governing body in this discussion. The next one of you who speaks out of turn will be disqualified.”

Lucy appreciated the glint of annoyance the ref’s statement had caused Nora, but held her breath as the ref investigated the issue.

“Let’s begin with Team Straughtvern,” the ref said, double checking he had opened the correct folder. Flipping through a few sheets, he came upon the roster inside.

“Team: Straughtvern. Lead Sorcerer: Nora Straughtvern. Knight…Dominic Burgress.”

Lucy’s heart leapt with relief. Rosseau wasn’t Nora’s Knight after all. The news made her want to laugh in Nora’s face, but she would settle for her own smug look instead. However, when she looked at Nora, there wasn’t a trace of distress in the Elefrian’s expression. Instead, she was smiling cleverly. And Lucy soon found out why.

“Reserve member,” the ref continued, reading from the final slot of the roster. “Rosseau Lambourg.”

Lucy’s jaw dropped, and the ounce of relief she felt earlier was now being swallowed up by grief.

This wasn’t fair. What had she done to deserve this? What did she do to warrant Nora’s bullying? To be so hated by someone that they antagonized you to this extent?

Lucy’s eyes became hot. She wanted to cry. To hide. To leave.

But…in her heart, she also wanted to stay. To remain a student at Greidwhen. To remain at the place her mother had learned to use magic. To compete in the same tournament Lorena had won. The same tournament that might allow her to finally meet the mother she never knew.

It was slipping away, though. Had slipped away. Without Rosseau she would be disqualified. Her agreement with the Headmaster would be enforced, and it would be then end of her enrollment. It was too cruel. Too cruel.

“Next is Miss Hardtvelt’s file,” the ref said, closing Nora’s file and swapping it with Lucy’s. “Let it be clear to both Lead Sorcerer’s, if the roster inside has no assignment to the position of Sorcerer’s Knight as her opponent claims, Miss Hardtvelt will be disqualified, and the match will go to Miss Straughtvern. Is that understood?”

“Absolutely~” Nora said.

Lucy didn’t respond, her cheeks had already begun to drip with a few tears, and she couldn’t so much as choke out out a simple “yes”. Instead, she hung her head low and waited for the ref to announce her loss.

“Team: Hardtvelt…”

If only she hadn’t miscast that fire spell in homeroom.

“Lead Sorcerer, Lucy Hardtvelt.”

If only her opponent hadn’t been Nora.

“Sorcerer’s Knight,”

If only something had been different…

“What!?” Nora suddenly exclaimed, shocking Lucy. “Who is that!?”

Confused by the outburst, Lucy wiped her eyes and nose and looked to the ref who held her opened tournament file in front of him.

“Sorcerer’s Knight, Cedric Leonarch,” he repeated, realizing that Lucy had missed it the first time.

It took a second, but the meaning of the ref’s statement managed to overcome all the grief in her mind, and the realization dawned on her. Cedric? Cedric!

Lucy frantically turned back to look at the only person she knew by that name. To her surprise, he had just as confused an expression as she, but it also told her that it was indeed his name in the roster. She didn’t know how it happened, but she had somehow been saved from disqualification.

Nora, meanwhile, was furious. That peasant wasn’t supposed to have a knight to fight for her. Outraged, she looked behind her at Rosseau, who smirked smugly back at her.

“So, you have a knight after all,” the ref said to Lucy. He closed the files and made a motion as if to put them onto a high shelf, prompting them to vanish from his grasp. “You should get organized. The match begins in ten minutes.”

Nodding to the ref and taking a last glance at an irritated Nora, Lucy turned and rushed over to where Cedric stood. With every step closer, the meaning behind Cedric’s hesitant expression became clearer and clearer. He knew what she was about to ask him—and he wasn’t looking forward to doing it.

“You have to fight with me!” Lucy said.

Cedric took a reflexive step back, startled from the closeness of Lucy’s face after she propped herself onto the arena’s short fence to lean in towards him. She didn’t say anything more, but her eyes were pleading to him, and he noticed the drying trail of tears that ran down her cheeks. Her pleading behavior—whether on purpose or by habit—wasn’t necessary, however. Nothing would change the decision he reached after hearing his name being called from the roster.

“I don’t really have a choice, do I?” He answered.

Lucy gave a grateful smile, knowing that was Cedric’s unique way of saying yes.

Swinging her legs over the fence, Lucy landed outside the arena with him.

“We’ll be back!” Lucy shouted as a formality to the refs. Then, without asking, she took Cedric’s hand and pulled him along, rushing him over to her…their team quarters, where all the equipment he was required to use for the match could be found.

It didn’t take long for them to get ready. Because of his lengthy research sessions on the tournament all week, Cedric was already quite familiar with the Knight’s equipment. When it came to armor, there were two sets one could choose from: steel and leather. One could even wear set that was a mixture of both—such a choice was popular amongst knights the tournament. Cedric, however, opted for a near complete set of leather. His only piece of steel would be a standard set of chainmail beneath the leather and ceremonial tunic.

Finishing up with his boots and gauntlets, he felt incredibly vulnerable. It wasn’t that he chose leather because it was the best decision. It was the only decision for him. If his physique had permitted it, he would have gone for a full breastplate of steel at the very least, but he was weak, and moving in such a thing would exhaust him long before the match’s end.

His weapon too would have to be chosen with the same things in mind, and suddenly, Cedric wondered if Lucy even had a chance to win with him as her knight. He didn’t know what he would do if they lost because of his athletic shortcomings


“Please hurry…” Lucy muttered under her breath.

Alone, she stood at her end of the large, oval arena. She glanced at Nora, who was chastising her own knight who had only recently arrived. It seemed careless of him to be so late, until Lucy had figured out why. Nora’s plan was to have her disqualified before the match even began, so she foolishly told her own knight there was no reason to show up—Rosseau’s presence as a reserve member would be enough to satisfy the rules. But now, Lucy had a knight, and Nora had been forced to cast a messenger-bird to notify her own knight that the match was happening.

“Uh, hey,” Lucy heard a voice call from behind her. Turning around, she saw Cedric, clad with a set tattered, leather armor on top of a blue tunic and chainmail. He was also equipped with a steel short sword and a wooden shield. The former hung from his belt, protected in its sheath, and the latter dangled awkwardly in the grip of his left hand.

“No helmet?” Lucy asked.

“None of them sat well with my glasses,” Cedric answered.

Lucy smiled nervously. She wouldn’t tell him, but Cedric didn’t exactly look as capable as Rosseau did in his own knight outfit.

“Will each team please take their positions for the casting of the tournament charm,” The ref’s magically enhanced voice bellowed throughout the gymnasium.

Hearing the command, Lucy surveyed the ground for the circles of crimson dirt she and Cedric were meant to stand inside. There were six in total on their side of the arena. As usual, she took her place in the one at the head of the group, closest to the arena’s center. Cedric, too, was aware of where he should be from his readings and took his place in the circle beside Lucy’s, just a bit further back than hers. He noted how the circle’s crimson outline of dirt remained undisturbed even after he kicked some of it away with the tip of his boot—it was an interesting application of magic he’d never seen before.

Meanwhile, Nora and her knight took their positions on their own end, and when everyone was correctly situated, the circles around each of them began to glow.

Cedric quietly marveled at what was happening, appreciating it more than anyone else on the field. This mechanically intensive charm made the entire tournament possible—at least how it was known today. The charm was a multiplex of several others: protection, tracking, triggering, teleportation—all of them working to protect the match’s participants from severe injury and keep this tournament from becoming an unsightly deathmatch.

Cedric moved his gaze to the two figures in black cloaks and ceramic white vizors—the ones responsible for casting the incredible charm. To the uninformed student, the two figures may be mistaken for ordinary mages who had the unfortunate responsibility to play referee for a bunch of kids, but Cedric knew—even before his research—that only one degree of mages were trusted to cast a spell that was so critical for the student’s safety. Magistrates—mages who had proven themselves so wise and capable that they were depended upon by countries to advise and govern in matters that dealt with complex magic.

SCHWING!

The sound of the charm finishing its cast chimed loud. Cedric looked around at his feet and then at Lucy. Interestingly, the charm had no visual presence around either of them, probably to keep things as close as possible to a real fight as Cedric figured.

“Now, will both team’s Lead Sorcerers please congregate to the arena’s center for the pre-match ceremony,” the ref in charge announced.

Lucy’s heart beat fast with anticipation, and she threw an anxious glance towards Cedric and handed her staff to him before heading off to meet Nora.

Cedric looked back at her, astonished as he noticed that Lucy’s hair and eyes had both turned a dark shade of brown. It made sense to him after a moment, though. Pink hair and eyes weren’t natural, and from their first meeting he figured that she used magic to make them that color—it was something several girls did at Greidwhen. However, in a match, no combatant was allowed to enter with magic that was already acting on them, so Lucy had dispelled her unnatural hair color before the magistrates had cast the match’s monitoring charm.

The change in Lucy’s hair didn’t go unnoticed by Nora either—it even seemed to please her. Another smug smile formed on her face which Nora punctuated with a flip of her own, natural white hair that all Elefrian’s were proud of.

Eventually, the two girls met in the center once again.

“This is, both of you,  your fifth match in the tournament preliminaries, so I’m sure you’re well familiar with the etiquette expected of you. Leave any grievances you might have with each other outside of this field, and remember that we compete not to glorify ourselves, but to honor those who fought before us. Understood?”

“Yes,” both girls replied.

“The match will run for sixty minutes including the ninety-second preparation periods between rounds—only stopping for extended preparation requests of which you both have two. The base amount of points for winning a round is five, and extra points for exquisite displays of skill and strategy will be graded at the discretion of the head referee. Now…” The ref lifted his hand into the air and snapped his finger. Instantly, two bundles of fabric appeared in the air, each over one of the girls and falling into their hands. “Present these to your knights.”

As the bundles settled into the girls’ hands, the magic that kept them from unfolding dissipated, and the bundles unfurled slightly in their palms. Ceremoniously, Lucy and Nora turned themselves around and approached their knights.

This part was always embarrassing, Lucy felt. Even doing it four times with Rosseau didn’t make it any easier. This time, however, Cedric was her knight—a fact she hadn’t quite gotten used to yet—but now she would have to do this for him too.

Finally reaching him, Lucy stood squarely in-front of Cedric and gently unfurled the purple fabric to reveal it as a banner. Carefully, and bashfully, she lifted it over his head and draped it along the back of his neck so that it’s ends hung over his chest. Evening the ends, she took the one on her right and used the length from the end to the shoulder to tie it to a leather strap near his collar. After a check to see it was fastened properly, she took the other end and pushed it back behind him so that the entirety of the banner draped from behind his shoulder. Finally, it was over, and Lucy let out a relieved breath as she took her staff from Cedric and positioned herself in her spot once again.

Nora finished as well, standing in her own spot. The refs had already taken their stance on two separate podiums outside the left and right sides of the arena which gave them a high view of the entire floor.

Everyone was in position.

There were no charms allowed to start with in the first round. No hum of magic to fill the silence. The head ref, visible to both parties, lifted his hand slowly into the air. He paused, and both teams promptly focused their sights on the opponents a hundred feet away from them on the other side. The ref’s hand chopped down the air in front of him, and he shouted something that Lucy and Cedric didn’t quite pay attention too. All they knew, was that the match had begun.

Cedric’s heart raced much faster than he anticipated. Before he could unsheathe his sword, a set of icicles cast by Nora were already on their way. Cedric stumbled to dodge, figuring there was no way his flimsy wooden shield could hold them off. Trying to pull his sword out at the same time, he tripped to the floor—inadvertently allowing the frozen projectiles to fly over him but also earning a distant laugh from Nora.

Lucy, meanwhile, handled the situation by casting a barrier in front of herself to intercept them. A couple icicles missed her altogether, but two others connected, and Lucy winced as they shattered violently against her magic.

She should have cast a barrier for Cedric too, she realized, seeing him get back up in the corner of her eye. But then another figure’s movement caught her focus from downrange, and she realized too late that her loss of focus in the battle at hand was a much bigger mistake.

It was Nora’s knight, Dominic. He had advanced upon them during their muddied defense. He ran fast at them, short-sword in hand, and shield abandoned to give himself a faster step. In a few more seconds, he would reach them, and he had Lucy right in his sights.

There was no time to cast an offensive spell, so Lucy cast a wide barrier with the intent to shove it right into him. As soon as the barrier appeared, though, Dominic pivoted his direction and raised his sword. He was going for Cedric now.

Cedric saw the attack coming, and instinctively raised his sword to meet it—a foolish decision as he soon realized. The first swing from Dominic hammered Cedric’s sword downward, out of his grasp, and the second swing cut upwards and slashed his chest.

It was an odd sensation. As Cedric anticipated, Dominic’s blade didn’t pierce his body. Instead, it scratched against a barrier that layered his body as a result of the charm the referees had cast. It still hurt, though. More than he expected. Like he had been whacked with a blunt rod rather than slashed with a sword.

A sound like shattering glass erupted amidst Dominic’s attack, and Cedric disappeared from the arena—looking as if he had exploded into shards of light. It didn’t worry anyone except Lucy, however, as he reappeared in a spectator’s box at the outside edge of the arena.

Cedric stumbled backwards, disoriented, even though he knew what had happened. It was another function of the tournament’s charm. Dominic’s attack was powerful enough that it was considered a lethal blow, so the charm had teleported Cedric out of play. He had been defeated so quickly, and now all he could do was watch from the bench as Dominic advanced on Lucy.

Frightened from seeing Cedric get taken out so effortlessly, Lucy tried to ready herself. Her opponent dashed left, trying to get around the barrier she had cast. Lucy moved it accordingly, keeping it between them. In a moment she would throw the barrier out towards him. It wouldn’t be enough to shatter him from the arena, but it might give her enough time for a follow up attack-

CRASH!

Lucy heard the familiar sound of ice shattering, this time accompanied by an abrupt pain on her left side. She had been hit by one of Nora’s icicles. The impact from the attack swept Lucy off of her feet.

Glancing towards Nora’s direction, Lucy had just enough time to see the second icicle before it smashed into her face. The icicle shattered Lucy, and she reappeared in the sideline box, falling to its floor alongside Cedric.

Assaut rapidesix points,” one of the refs announced. To his left stood Nora’s scoreboard, which—like Lucy’s to his right—had three rows of nine crystals embedded into them. After his announcement, though, the first six crystals in the first row of Nora’s illuminated with light.

Cedric grit his teeth. Assaut rapide. It was one of the grades that determined how many points a team received for winning a round. The standard was five points, but Nora and Dominic had taken them out so quickly that they were awarded a extra point.

“Let’s cast the charm,” Cedric said, looking over to Lucy.

“Huh? Oh, right…” she replied, dazed. As she picked herself up off the floor, she noticed her breath was uneasy, and her legs shook—almost causing her to stumble. Finally getting up, she brought her staff up to cast the charm as she had done many times before, but this time when she closed her eyes to focus, her mind was met with the image of Nora’s ice crashing into her face.

“Lucy?” Cedric asked.

“It’s nothing,” she replied, setting herself up for another attempt. Again, she closed her eyes and focused on the spell process, and this time the image of Nora hitting her with a barrage of icicles flashed in her mind.

“What’s wrong?” Cedric asked, worried.

Lucy didn’t answer as she continued with another attempt. She put everything she had into this one, but her mind became distracted with another harrowing image of Nora’s ice. Suddenly, the spell-cast rebounded violently, and Lucy found herself being thrown across the sideline.

“Lucy!” Cedric rushed over to her.

The girl sat herself up, her breathing was erratic.

“I *hic* can’t cast it!” she choked out.


“Looks like we won’t have to worry about her protection charm after all,” Nora said, looking over towards Lucy from her team’s own dugout.

CHING!

The sound of Nora completing her own charm resounded around them.

“Ah, that’s better,” Nora let out a satisfied huff. “The first round always feels strange—not being allowed to use charms and all. Though I wonder if I’ll even need them for this match. After all, they’re meant for ones where the rounds last longer than ten seconds. What do you think, Rosseau?”

At the corner of their team’s sideline, Rosseau sat quietly—only there because he was required to. He didn’t answer his new leader, though. He didn’t even look her way.

“It was quite the shock when that magicless’s name was called from the list. You always were clever—even when we were kids.”

Rosseau sat still, continuing to ignore the rotten girl beside him.

“Fine, continue brooding if that’s what you want. You’ll get over it—as soon as that peasant loses and is expelled.”

Rosseau’s eyes suddenly went wide and he had no choice but to jerk his gaze towards Nora. “Expelled?” He asked. His voice trembled.

Suddenly, two circles etched into the ground began to glow before Nora and Dominic, who took their positions inside them. Pillars of light began to bubble upwards from each of the circles, slowly surrounding the two of them.

“She didn’t tell you such an important thing? She told him.”

Rosseau looked at Nora in disbelief, until the perimeter of light hid her from view. He then looked over to Lucy and Cedric’s box—catching a brief glimpse of Lucy looking back at him before she became hidden by her own light as well.

Once everyone was covered, four other pillars of light sprouted from the crimson circles within the arena. Then, suddenly, every one of them shined intensely before disappearing in an instant. Both teams were now in their original arena positions. The second round was about to begin.

Cedric watched Nora intently. Unlike before, the ref wouldn’t be signaling the beginning of the round anymore. Nora’s team won the previous round, so the current one wouldn’t begin until she or Dominic made a move, or until twenty-five seconds had elapsed without them doing anything. Without hesitation, though, Dominic charged forth, and the second round had begun.

Cedric took as appropriate a battle stance as he could figure and glanced at Lucy. To his dismay, she was visibly frightened. Her failure to cast the protection charm may have left them wide open, but Cedric’s biggest fear was that it had also devastated Lucy’s spirit. And, unfortunately, the fear in her eyes all but confirmed his worries. He had to do something.

Recognizing that hesitation would be their greatest enemy, Cedric ran in front of Lucy and brandished his shield forward—prepared to intercept Dominic who was already halfway towards them. Looking beyond his immediate opponent, Cedric could see Nora already prepared with an arsenal of icicles hovering around her. She hadn’t sent any out yet, but she surely would once his clash with Dominic began.

“Don’t worry about the protection charm,” Cedric said, keeping his gaze forward. “There’s more to your abilities than just that.”

Lucy stared at Cedric, bewildered by the vulnerable positions he had taken before her. As she looked closer, though, she could tell his legs were shaking. He was nervous, too.

Lucy didn’t have any more time to dwell on Cedric’s actions, though, as Dominic finally reached him.

Cedric braced himself, doing his best to watch Dominic and Nora carefully. He had to think, to calculate. How does a sword-fight work? More importantly, how does a sword-fight with spells supporting your opponent work?

He had a guess at what Dominic and Nora’s strategy entailed, but he would prefer an absolute answer.

Raising his sword, Dominic went in for a strike. Cedric stepped back, ignoring the opportunity to meet Dominic’s sword with his shield—and when his opponent followed his swing through with a low crouch, Cedric knew his guess had been right.

As Dominic crouched, he revealed behind him a set of rapidly approaching icicles sent by Nora. Cedric appreciated the coordination such a tactic must have taken. Nothing Nora did suggested she’d thrown any them, and Dominic’s near miss of them himself demonstrated how perfectly timed the attack was.

Knowing his shield couldn’t handle a direct hit from the attack, Cedric tilted it at an upward angle and swatted at the ice. The shockwave and sound of them bouncing off the shield’s hardwood gave him a jolt, but he was glad his inexperienced deflection of them had worked.

He couldn’t dwell on his cleverness for long, though. Dominic was already stepping forward with clear intent to slash upwards at him. Cedric wouldn’t be done-in with the same attack as last time, though.

Liking the result of his last tactic, Cedric stepped back again and let the swing miss him. If he could, he’d do this forever, but he knew he had to retaliate at some point, and that was the part he had zero confidence in. The short sword weighed heavy in his grasp, and the strength required to deal a lethal swing was compounded by the complete lack of muscle in his body. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was irritating. He was a reader, and his body wasn’t trained for combat.

Seeing Dominic go in for a horizontal swing, Cedric stepped back again. He was caught by surprise, though, as his opponent didn’t follow through with the swing, but instead made a quick step forward at him. A feint, Cedric realized. He had heard about them before, but it was a completely different experience seeing it happen before his eyes—more so being on the receiving end of it.

With nowhere to run, Cedric brought his shield up, absorbing a strong, rightward slash from Dominic’s sword. The force from the hit made Cedric’s shield-arm swing outwards, exposing his body for a follow up that he now realized Dominic had purposefully set up.

Exposed and having no time to intercept with his sword, Cedric waited for the next strike that would spell his defeat. Suddenly, however, a large piece of wood with a crystal embedded into its head extended forth from behind Cedric and smashed itself right into Dominic’s face.

“Get away from him!” A familiar voice yelled from behind Cedric.

The voice was familiar, but the tone wasn’t. Still, Cedric didn’t need to wonder who was responsible for saving him. It was Lucy—who came into his peripheral view with a mightily pissed off expression.

The attack shattered Dominic from head to toe, eliminating him from the fight with an explosive sound.

“RAHHHHH!” Lucy shouted victoriously, lightly scaring an unassuming Cedric.

Suddenly he felt a wind manifest around them, and he watched in awe as Lucy proceeded to shoot out a sizeable fireball from the end of her staff towards Nora.

“LET’S GO!” Lucy ordered at Cedric before charging towards the opposite end of the arena.

Cedric complied and charged along with her—afraid of what the repercussion might be if he didn’t. “Why are you yelling!?” he asked, trying to make sense of her confusing manner.

Lucy glanced briefly at him but didn’t answer. It felt as if it was the only response he needed to understand, however. Her eyes held shame in them. Shame that she let herself get paralyzed with grief while Cedric, with no combat experience of any kind, didn’t hesitate to throw himself out there to protect her. That was his guess, anyway.

“Duck!” Lucy said, seeing Nora throw another series of icicles towards them.

Both of them dodged the projectiles with ease and continued their advance. Cedric didn’t know if Lucy had a plan upon reaching Nora. In fact, he expected that she didn’t. Still, having them both close in on Nora would put them in a better position to take her out.

Cedric looked carefully at Nora. There was a cool look on her face as she threw another set of icicles at the two. Again, they dodged without trouble. It wasn’t a complex attack. It was almost too easy to dodge. It made Cedric uncomfortable, and the suspicion intrigued him enough to look back behind himself.

He only caught a glimpse of it, before the icicle struck his left shoulder blade. The hit threw him off balance and he tripped onto the floor, his momentum causing him to roll over a few times.

Lucy saw what had happened in the corner of her eye, but it was too late to take action as she felt herself get hit with an icicle from behind as well.

Lucy fell to the floor as well, a trail of dust puffing in the wake of her impact.

Neither of them had been shattered from the attack, but they each had enough time to look up and see another set of icicles thrust into their chests.

The explosive sound of magic encompassed them, and their view from inside the arena changed in a blink to that of their sideline view. They had both been shattered, and Nora had earned another round for herself.

Assaut norme. Five points, Straughtvern.

Nora’s scoreboard changed to reflect her total of eleven points. She looked at it, satisfied, while Lucy and Cedric viewed it with grim eyes.

Defense Aut. Two points, Hardtvelt.”

“Huh?” Lucy said, watching in confusion as her own scoreboard changed to reflect an amount of two points in her name.

“It’s for taking out Dominic. Even if you fail to take out the Lead Sorcerer, you can earn a couple points by taking out their Knight.”

“Oh? I didn’t know it counted if I was the one to take them out. I always thought it had to be Ross- erm the other Knight,” Lucy said, shyly looking away. Why did she hesitate to say Rosseau’s name?

Cedric noticed her fumbled words but chose to ignore it. Nothing useful would come from digging into it. Right now, what they needed was to focus on the match.

“Do you think you can cast the charm now,” Cedric asked, hoping he didn’t sound too insistent.

“All I can do is try,” she answered, forcing a smile that Cedric saw through immediately.

Holding up her staff, Lucy closed her eyes to try the cast the charm. Unfortunately, her doubts from before began to show up again. Doubt in her ability to cast the charm. Doubt that she could to win the match. Even the inspiration she received after seeing Cedric try his hardest didn’t help her here. She wanted to succeed…wanted to prove that she belonged at Greidwhen. But when she thought about all the obstacles she was facing, it seemed impossible.

Then, Lucy felt a gentle touch on her hands.

She opened her eyes and saw Cedric. He stood much closer to her than before, and looking down, she noticed that he had placed his hands carefully on top of hers.

“I…know I’m not very good at this,” Cedric said. “The odds of you winning with me at your side are a far throw from winning with Rosseau. I know that. But…I also know that none of that changes what you are capable of. I’ve seen you cast the charm hundreds of times before…I know you can cast it here.”

Lucy looked into Cedric’s eyes. She was at a loss for words, but her heart felt warm.

“It wasn’t hundreds of times,” Lucy whispered, looking away bashfully.

“Perhaps. But I thought it made the speech sound better,” Cedric said bluntly.

Lucy let out a laugh, wiping away the tear she thought was in her eye. She smiled at Cedric and closed her eyes for another attempt, focusing on the comforting pressure of his hands on top of hers.

The wind around them surged. And almost as quickly as it had come, it left—leaving behind a pair of glowing rings around the two kids.

“Perfect. Now let’s go show Nora what you can really do.”