The rest period was still underway, having been extended to ten minutes after Cedric used one of their two extension requests, and now each team was busy preparing for the next round.

Every now and then Nora threw a glance over to Lucy’s side, fantasizing about how broken and discouraged she must feel.

The Luckless Mage of Greidwhen Academy. What a wonderful weapon Nora’s upperclassman had given her. It made these past two months of flirting and flattering them well worth the trouble—especially after she was able to convince them that Lucy should be their target this year.

Now, it was only a matter of suffering through the rest of this match until everything would come together. Nora would qualify for the main tournament, and the only obstacle keeping Rosseau from becoming hers would be gone. It was perfect.

Nora gave a pleased smile after casting the last of her charms and focused her confident gaze onto Rosseau. He wasn’t looking as chipper as before, and his daggering glance at her betrayed that he was suspicious of what Nora had said to Lucy earlier.

It wasn’t fair, Nora thought. Why was he always concerned about Lucy?

Nora sighed. “Aren’t you tired of fighting like this, Rosseau?” she said, taking a seat besides Rosseau and scooting closer to him. If Dominic had been present, she wouldn’t have made such a move, but he was currently taking a much needed bathroom break..

Nora stared at the blond boy, appreciating his handsome features. He didn’t respond to her question, though. He didn’t even look her way. It made Nora’s heart sting.

“What is it about that girl that captures your gaze?” Nora asked.

Rosseau reacted to that question, much to Nora’s displeasure. He still kept silent, though; and after letting the question linger for a few moments, Nora stood up and turned to leave, figuring he would never give her a reply.

“Because she’s not a scoundrel like our families are…like you are,” Rosseau said. “Like I am…” he added with a mutter.

“You’re beginning to sound like a commoner,” Nora huffed. “We’re nobility, Rosseau. We aren’t scoundrels. We’re simply blessed, and the unblessed will always hate us for it.”

Rosseau didn’t respond. He’d had this argument numerous times already with his own family. He didn’t buy into their reasoning for a second.

“Do you really desire to be like them so badly?” Nora continued. “How unsightly. Your blood may be half human, but don’t forget where the other half comes from. Even a Half-Elefrian should be proud of the strength their heritage offers.”

Rosseau abruptly stood up and stepped towards Nora. His gaze was furious. “I know exactly what ‘gifts’ come with Elefrian blood! Rottenness, self-absorption, an insatiable desire for power and control! Our families pretend that we’re all vested in each other’s interests but they’re all secretly plotting to make each other fall! It’s a world I don’t want to be a part of anymore! One I don’t want to grow up in!”

Rosseau looked angrily at Nora, his breathing agitated. Nora was unperturbed. The look in her eyes was calm and missing the usual arrogance that was always hidden behind it.

“How naïve,” Nora said flatly. “Do you think you’ll be free from the high families’ influence just because they don’t concern themselves with a marriage unless there’s-“

Nora suddenly stopped, and her face looked as if some incredible truth had suddenly struck her. Rosseau watched nervously as the girl’s eyes seemed to dart calculatingly, and his chest tensed when a crude smile suddenly formed on her face.

“You’re using her, aren’t you?”

“Using? What are you talking about?”

“I can’t believe I didn’t realize it before. You think if you settle down with a commoner, you’ll be left alone.”

Rosseau swallowed hard and his brow furrowed. “That- that’s not true.”

“Yes it is!” Nora said, her tone was full of delight. “Because the high families typically don’t care about a marriage without a pure-blood involved, you want her because she’s human—not to mention her caste is so low it almost guarantees their indifference.”

“Stop!” Rosseau said angrily, his fists clenched.

“You probably didn’t even realize it yourself! You think your feelings are earnest, but that’s your true motive for getting close to her!”

“That’s enough!” Rosseau reached his hand out to grab Nora, not that he had a plan for what to do afterwards. Neither did he have a chance to figure one out as another body suddenly tackled him to the ground from his blind spot.

“Be careful with him, Dominic,” Nora said, watching as Rosseau struggled to fight against another one of Dominic’s holds. It was futile of course, and after tiring himself out, Rosseau lay helplessly on the floor with his arm contorted painfully in Dominic’s grip. Rosseau’s breathing was labored and his face was covered with dirt from the stone floor. He looked up at Nora, and his stomach turned at the sight of her jubilant smile.

“Oh Rosseau, you really are a scoundrel after all…”

The next round was about to begin, and both teams were already in position inside the arena, waiting for the referee to announce the round’s start.

Nora looked back to her team’s box, studying the sulking Rosseau in the corner seat hunched over with his head low. She then turned her gaze to her two opponents. To her delight, Lucy looked just as devastated as she had fantasized. The girl’s head hung low, and her staff was held loosely at her side in a fragile grip that looked like it could let go at any moment. There wasn’t even a circle of light around her feet to show that the protection charm was active.

The magicless beside Lucy didn’t carry himself so weakly, however, not that it surprised Nora. One of his kind should be a cold-feeling snake, and Nora began to wonder if she could get under his skin before the match’s end. Getting rid of Lucy and cutting the first threads of Rosseau’s attachment to her would remain as the highlights of today’s match, but wiping that disrespectful indifference off the magicless’s face would be the cherry on top of it all.

And if he didn’t learn his place today, there would always be tomorrow.

The ref slowly raised his hand into the air, letting it hang in the air while he took one last look at both teams.

“Begin!” he shouted, chopping his arm forth.

Nora took a thrusting step forward, conjuring an icicle three, four, then five times the size of her usual cast, and hurled it towards Lucy. An icicle of this magnitude would shatter the girl quite magnificently.

Dominic remained still, not bothering to rush forward. What was the point when your opponent looked as defeated as this?

Cedric braced himself but didn’t take a step. He only glanced anxiously between Lucy and the attack coming her way.

And then there was Lucy, who didn’t even seem to care what was happening. Her gaze was still downturned, and Nora could only imagine the hopeless expression that was hidden underneath those dark brown bangs.

The icicle closed in, a mere stone’s-toss of ground left to cover, and Nora smiled at her cemented victory.

Then, Lucy’s gaze shot up.

Nora saw the girl’s face and couldn’t comprehend its expression. It wasn’t broken. There wasn’t even a semblance of hopelessness. In fact, it was the complete opposite.

It was fierce, and it was frightening.

In the same second that Nora’s mind told her not to worry, that the ice would shatter the girl as planned, the ice vanished before Lucy’s fiery gaze and reappeared in front of Nora, hurtling towards her now. And before Nora could even begin to consider conjuring a barrier or dodging out of the way, the massive icicle crashed into her face and shattered her whole.

“A-Assaut Magnifique,” the ref said, his mask hiding the double-take he did to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks. “Eight points, Hardtvelt.”

Nora scrambled to her feet after being dumped into her team’s box. Her legs felt like jelly, and the disorientation caused her to stumble forward onto the short fence for support. There was a disturbing pressure pulsing across her face. It wasn’t physically painful—no headshots were in the tournament—but the terror of seeing a frozen stalk of ice accelerate into your head made if feel like something painful had happened. It was terrible, Nora thought; and she couldn’t believe it had come from her own attack.

“What sort of cheating move was that?” Nora snarled through her teeth while trying to hold herself up. Furiously, she fixed her gaze onto Lucy and was surprised to see the girl looking right back at her with her own aggressive stare.

Nora didn’t understand. Lucy was supposed to be brokencafter the previous round, but instead the girl’s eyes were fiery and intense.

As both girls stubbornly stared each other down, their line of sight was finally broken when a column of light shrouded Lucy, and Nora was left by herself with a bad taste in her mouth.

Lucy appeared back in her team’s box with Cedric beside her.

“That was good,” Cedric said without a hint of excitement.

Lucy promptly hunched over and let out a huge breath of relief. “Scary is more like it,” she gasped between her nervous breaths.

“I figured that too, but you did an great job. Starting without the charm to bait Nora, then sending the attack back at her with Inanimport… I wish I could have thought of all that myself.”

Lucy managed a smile, happy that she apparently had some talent worthy of praise. She remembered how hesitant Cedric was to go along with this plan. After all, Inanimport was a weaker derivative of the standard Teleport spell, and—with the tradeoff of requiring less magic to use—it wouldn’t work on people or magical objects. If Nora’s ice had been imbued with any kind of magic then Lucy’s spell would have failed, and she would have been shattered on the spot.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case; and now Lucy wouldn’t have to explain to Cedric that she lied about her skill with using Inanimport on moving objects. An embellishment really, but it was the only way to convince him to go along with it.

“Nora’s sure to be more hesitant with her icicles until she figures out what happened, not to mention that she’s probably irritated that her antagonizing didn’t get to you. This was an important round, and we’ve gained some advantages thanks to you,” Cedric said unabashedly.

“Th-thanks, I’m glad,” Lucy muttered, averting her bashful gaze. She wasn’t used to being praised so much or so openly. As Lead Sorcerer, she was certain that she was supposed to be the steadfast one, but right now she felt like a little kid. Cedric’s brazenness certainly did have a strange effect on her, she thought.

“Now, if you don’t mind,” Cedric said, pulling taught the laces of his leather gloves. “I think we’ll go with one of my tactics for the next round.”

The next round began with a pair of wind-blasts from Lucy that Nora and Dominic both widely sidestepped in case it exploded. The two then charged towards Cedric and Lucy.

To Lucy’s unsurprise, it was just as Cedric had predicted: Nora wasn’t preparing any icicles and was instead focusing on making an advance with Dominic to close the distance.

“She’s trying to get in range for her stalagmites,” Cedric said while trying to recall any information about Nora’s range with them from her match recordings.

“What are the chances that Inanimport will work on them?”

“Probably zero. They aren’t exactly the same as her icicles,” Cedric answered shortly, not wanting to get into the specifics of how the stalagmites were likely an application of Nora’s Ice-make spell. If that were the case, Inanimport wouldn’t work because the ice was being actively transformed with magic to make it sprout from the ground.

Cedric cursed Nora’s adaptiveness, but also strangely respected it. A lesser opponent would hesitate to use the stalagmite for fear of the attack being turned on themselves again. And even though Nora probably didn’t know they were impervious to Lucy’s mysterious spell, it didn’t matter. What Nora clearly did know—whether through experience or quick deduction—was that the speed inherent with close-quarters combat would make it vastly more difficult for Lucy to turn them against her.

“This girl won’t let up,” Cedric whispered under his breath. “How’s it coming?”

Lucy, with an incredibly focus eye, continued to send off pairs of exploding wind-blasts but to no avail. “I haven’t figured out the timing yet,” she said with a slight panic.

Cedric watched as Nora and Dominic crossed the halfway point, both of them effortlessly weaving past all of Lucy’s attacks. Thankfully, Lucy’s attacks had forced them to split their advance on each side of the arena, but it seemed the result he was looking for wouldn’t come this round.

“That’s fine,” he said, unequipping his shield and handing it to Lucy. “We’ll go with plan B.”

Lucy sighed, taking a hold of the shield. “This seems mean.”

“And that bothers you?”

Lucy looked hesitant at Cedric, pouting her lip until she exposed her deceit with a wicked smile. “Not at all.”

Cedric didn’t react to Lucy’s playful ruse, much to her disappointment.

“Just don’t forget to keep Nora distracted, and don’t get distracted yourself,” Cedric said. He then charged towards Dominic, thankful that Lucy had been able to wedge the brute away from Nora. If Dominic and Nora had been allowed to advance together, Cedric didn’t know what he would do to stop them.

Cedric tightened his grip around his sword, knowing that his novice charge must look ridiculous to an experienced swordsman, while Dominic rushed with his own, much more practiced charge.

Stealing a glance to his right, Cedric was relieved to see that Nora was indeed occupied with Lucy’s attacks—now he just had to hope that Lucy didn’t forget her second task.

Dominic took another rushing step forward. One more and the gap would be closed. His eyes darted between Lucy and Cedric, watching their every move carefully. He had anticipated some kind of attack from the girl, but after that window closed with his last step, he saw no reason to hesitate with his advance.

With aggressive determination Dominic lunged forward, having already decided on the movements he would use to defeat the magicless.

Then, just as Dominic readied his sword for a strike, something appeared in front of his face. It was large enough to eclipse his view completely, but that was only because of how close it was. Dominic surveyed its splintery surface, noting the patches of dark brown wood and dingy teal paint scattered across its face, accompanied by a more careful pattern of metal rivet heads in its center.

A shield, Dominic deduced; and then his face connected with it, knocking himself clean onto his back and exposing his belly which Cedric readily plunged his sword into.

Dominic shattered in an instant.

Nora watched the glittering specks of light that used to be Dominic flutter at Cedric’s feet. Now, the magicless was looking at her—and the matter-of-fact look on his face made Nora’s blood boil.

“You insolent little-“ Nora tried to gnash under her breath, but a sudden hit from one of Lucy’s wind spells shut her up.

The attack sent Nora flailing backwards several feet, then onto the ground into a pathetic tumble. When she had finished being tossed, she tried to get up and get a sense of direction, but it was already too late. Cedric had caught up with her, and his sword sliced straight through her neck.

Nora’s face went white and she let out a yelp just when the attack shattered her, and the brief image of her glittering figure appearing decapitated looked gruesome to everyone in the room. Nora was fine, of course, immediately appearing back in her box where she collapsed onto the floor and desperately grabbed at her neck to make sure it was there.

“Assaut Norme. Five points, Hardtvelt.”

“Agh!” Nora yelled and slammed her fist into the wood fence beside her. The loud clap it created quaked up and down the line of old cedar boards.

“What is this farce?” Nora whispered to herself with a cold bite. “What spell is she using!?”

“Beats me,” Dominic said while avoiding Nora’s gaze, hoping with all hope that she wouldn’t bring up his blundered attack.

Nora nearly hissed through her teeth as she scrambled to pick herself up. It was outrageous. Outrageous that she was losing to the lowest talent at Greidwhen Academy.

Nora stomped her foot onto the fence this time, the sensation of its bending frame barely satisfied her.

There was no being calm about this situation—no settling of her nerves to invite rationale. Nora was angry, and she was going to feed off that rage for every round from now on.

“You think she’s mad!?” Lucy shouted, her worried eyes didn’t know where to focus. The next round had begun not ten seconds ago with a pair of wind shots from Lucy, and Nora had immediately answered with a barrage of icicles that were now hurtling towards her and Cedric.

“I can’t send all of these back at her!”

“Just do what you can to minimize their contact with the charm,”


“Dodge them!”

Cedric and Lucy both ran opposite ways to escape the attack’s wide range. At the last second, Cedric abandoned his shield to lighten his load and help him escape every icicle. Lucy, meanwhile, slowed by the weight of her heavy staff, managed to inanimport the last two icicles on her side to avoid every one of them as well. She fumbled with where to release them, however, and the two icicles reappeared, pointing towards Nora’s side but completely missing her by a wide margin.

It annoyed Lucy that she didn’t aim it better, but she didn’t have any more time to reflect as another barrage was coming directly at her. Its coverage was too wide to dodge left, and the arena wall kept her from escaping to the right, and there were too many to attempt an inanimport. At the last second, Lucy created a barrier to protect herself, she couldn’t let her protection charm take damage.

Nora’s ice crashed into the barrier, then, as Lucy somewhat anticipated, the ice turned into Nora’s favorite cloud of snow.

Lucy struggled to see anything outside the dense, chilling haze of snow that surrounded her. She considered all of her options for escaping. Hold the barrier in front of herself and rush back to Cedric? Let the barrier down and blast the haze away with her wind? If only she had practiced how to create a sustained barrier that she didn’t have to actively put magic into.

Lucy heard more icicles collide with her barrier, and the haze became thicker with the snow that their remains added. Though she was standing still, Lucy felt like there was a weight pushing against every subtle movement her legs made. Then she looked down and realized why. The snow was clinging to her. At first it was just patches of thin powder on each leg, but the patches began to expand until all their ends met to form a complete, thin layer of snow that started moving up her body.

Lucy tried to brush the creeping snow off in a panic, but it had already hardened into a rough layer of ice that her fingers scratched at helplessly. Realizing it was hopeless to keep clawing at it, she tried to step back, planning to run away. Unfortunately, she was too late to realize that her feet were frozen to the ground, and she fell backwards from the sudden imbalance after trying to move. The ice around her knees cracked and shattered under the weight of her fall, but it quickly reformed to keep her from moving.

The ice as a whole was moving quicker now, and its layer on her body became thicker by the second. Lucy’s heart raced, and it became harder to breath after the ice fully covered her torso.

Lucy nearly screamed as the ice felt like it would creep up her face and over her mouth, but it stopped just short of her jaw and only continued to grow its thickness.

“Cedric!” she cried out instinctively. She didn’t expect that it would do any good, but her expectation was shattered after a familiar body came trampling into the cloudy haze.

Cedric, equipped with his sword and shield, bustled into view with a more nervous look on his face than Lucy was used to seeing.

Cedric stood still for a moment, clearly thinking about what he should do, but his concentration was broken as an icicle shattered against his protection charm.

“My barrier isn’t up anymore,” Lucy cried, realizing that she had broken her connection with it when she fell. Her eyes then went wide as she glanced at Cedric’s legs. “It’s getting you too!”

Cedric looked down at the tiny patches of snow that were forming on his legs, and he immediately shifted his feet to make sure he wasn’t stuck.

Another set of icicles smashed against his charm, and Cedric immediately rushed to Lucy’s staff hand. Getting on his knees, he dropped his sword, brought his shield up into the air and with both hands slammed it down onto Lucy’s wrist.

Lucy winced at the sight of the shield’s banded edge crushing down on her arm, but it managed to shatter the ice around it with little pain. Cedric followed up quickly with hits at her elbow, then shoulder, freeing her entire arm.

“Cast some heat!”

Cedric didn’t need to ask twice as Lucy quickly lifted her staff, preparing to cast the one spell every kid was taught to use whenever winter’s chill bit past their blankets—Inward Warmth.

Lucy cast the spell and raised her body heat to a degree higher than she ever had before. The thin ice that was already trying to re-encumber her joints turned to slush, and thin streams of water flowed from underneath the larger pieces of ice that still covered her arm.

Cedric shifted his position, not allowing the ice that was still spreading on his legs to settle around his joints or freeze his feet to the ground. He was incredibly cold, though, a detail Lucy didn’t miss as she watched him crack the rest of the weakened ice around her with his shield. Eventually, Lucy was completely free, and the shattered shell of ice that had covered her body peeled and tumbled wetly to the floor as Cedric helped her up.

“Thanks-” Lucy tried to say, but she was cut short as Cedric’s legs suddenly buckled. Thinking quickly, she threw her arms under his, catching him gently and letting him lean against her.

“You’re cold,” Lucy said, now able to feel the incredible rate of his shivering. The cloud of snow must have gotten colder since earlier.

Another set of icicles crashed against their protection charms, hitting Lucy’s for the first time and probably bringing Cedric’s to its final limit.

“We need to get out of here,” Cedric said through his chattering teeth.

With her staff in hand, Lucy created a barrier in front of them and backed out of the chilly haze, still supporting Cedric. When they finally exited, Lucy took Cedric into her arms once again and the two of them dropped to a kneel.

“Just stay like this for a while,” she said, letting the remnants of her enhanced body heat warm him. Cedric would probably berate her for dispelling the barrier to cast a warming spell for him, so this was all she could think to do.

It only took a few seconds for Cedric’s shivering to stop before he pulled himself away from Lucy.

“Thanks,” he said flatly, rubbing his hands and breathing into them to bring in the last bit of warmth they needed. He looked over to the cloud of snow that was only a few feet away from them, and Lucy could tell by his hardened gaze that he was already analyzing their options from here. What she wasn’t ready for, however, was how wide his eyes went, and how suddenly he sprang from his kneeling position to lunge at her.

“Get down!” she heard him shout as he pounced and forced her to the ground. Her face was surprised at the suddenness of his actions, but she was even more surprised by the sword that came slashing out from the snowy haze, barely passing over Cedric’s head and also shattering the remains of his protection charm.

Dominic suddenly broke through the haze, and his fleeting image passed before Lucy’s eyes, stumbling onto the other side of her and Cedric and kicking up a mess of dirt. He quickly got back up, but he was too late to strike as an unarmed Cedric tackled him to the ground.

Fist fights weren’t exactly looked favorably upon in the Sorcerer’s Tournament, but they certainly weren’t illegal. The first punch into Dominic’s face felt incredibly satisfying to Cedric, and though it wouldn’t physically hurt his opponent, he knew the tournament’s charm would fog his mind and vision for a second or two.

Unfortunately for Cedric, Dominic didn’t need to see or think in order to fight back; and after a seemingly instinctual set of movements from Dominic, their positions ended up completely switched, punctuated by Cedric getting clocked in the face himself.

“Get off him!” Lucy shouted, sending a ferocious fireball straight at Dominic. Her jaw dropped, however, as she witnessed him expertly roll backwards and throw Cedric into her spell by the collar of his tunic.

Cedric shattered amidst the violent flame, and before she could finish processing the fantastic maneuver, Lucy heard a deep splitting of the ground from behind and turned just in time to see a stalagmite of ice spring from the ground and into her side. The next thing Lucy knew, she was inside her team’s box, and the ref was announcing five points for Nora’s team.

“That should bring her down a peg,” Nora said after appearing back in her box. Her tone was unsatisfied, though, as she noted the eighteen-point gap between her and Lucy that was displayed so gaudily on the arena’s scoreboard.

“I thought you weren’t going to use that spell until later in the tournament,” Dominic asked. He rubbed and patted his jaw cautiously, trying to make sure the tournament’s charm had done its job protecting him from Cedric’s punch.

“I kept the cloud up so that it couldn’t be seen in the recording. A lot of good it did since it also slowed the spell’s progress.” Nora thought about how she had to keep feeding the spell with icicles so that the haze wouldn’t disappear. “If that wasn’t such a necessity, it would have shattered her in a matter of seconds.”

Neither Nora or Dominic saw Rosseau’s head perk from that statement.

“Well, it’s no matter. We’ll continue with this strategy for now,” Nora said, flipping her flawless white hair behind her. “We won’t be caught by their teleporting tricks anymore.”

“And why, precisely, were you falling for these tricks in the first place?” an older woman’s stern voice called out from behind. Nora’s eyes went wide with shock, recognizing who it was before she even turned around.


“Sorry about that fire spell,” Lucy said, holding Cedric’s chin and checking his cheek for any swelling. “Are you sure you’re alright? That hit looked painful.”

“I told you, the tournament charm absorbs traumatic hits. It dulled my senses for a moment but I’m fine now. More importantly, you should reconsider announcing your presence before sending out an attack.”

Lucy laughed, much to Cedric’s surprise. “I definitely won’t make that mistake again,” she said. She brought her hand back down and smiled before casting the protection charm back onto themselves in just under half a minute.

“You’re soaked by the way,” Cedric pointed at her clothes. “Might want to dry off.”

Lucy looked down at her combat robe and couldn’t believe she had missed such a detail. The once bright purple robe and pink sash she wore had turned shades darker from being logged with water, not to mention that everything hung heavier now that she noticed.

Luckily, Lucy had studied a spell just for such occasion, Draw Water—though last time it was her entire closet that was soaked with water after she had accidentally Inanimported it onto the snow-laden lawn outside her dorm window.

Effortlessly, Lucy drew the water out of her robe, sash, and thermals and collected it into a wriggly blob that was bigger than her head. For a second, she thought about splashing some at Cedric, but she wasn’t sure his serious personality would appreciate it. Instead, she led the sphere to the stone floor and let it collapse there without incident.

“Pretty good control,” Cedric said, watching the water flow along the mortar paths that branched between each stone.

“Thanks. I just hope we don’t get caught in whatever spell that was, again,” Lucy said. She thought back to the image of a shivering Cedric and tensed up. Why did Nora have to use such cruel ice spells? Why couldn’t she use something more gentle like this water?

A horrifying image of Nora holding a sphere of water on someone’s head to suffocate them suddenly flashed in Lucy’s mind. Okay, maybe Nora wouldn’t use it so gently. But still, at least Lucy could probably use Draw Water to escape it. It’s not like she could do the same with-

Lucy’s eyes went wide, and she drew up her hand to cover her agape mouth.

“What is it?” Cedric asked, intrigued by Lucy’s expression which screamed…

“I think I have an idea.”

“Mother? Father? What are you doing here?” Nora asked, swallowing hard and hoping that her tone hadn’t sounded too worried. Then she noticed Rosseau’s parents behind them, but was too slow to address them as another voice called out.

“Mom? Dad? What’s going on?”

Nora’s mother gave a silent but visual scoff, and her father’s brow hardened at the informal way Rosseau addressed his parents.

Rosseau noticed his parents react to it too, clearly suppressing embarrassment from the undignified manners their son was displaying. He would have to play along, he supposed.

That’s all he was ever expected to do.

“Lady Straughtvern. Lord Bermouth,” Rosseau addressed Nora’s parents with a graceful bow. “To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”

Lady Straughtvern smiled proudly. Her perfect white hair—the symbol of her Elefrian heritage—draped behind her. Its cut was even longer than Nora’s.

“Oh, do raise your head, Rosseau,” Lady Straughtvern said. “A bright and talented young man such as yourself need not grovel for the sake of custom.”

“You’re too kind,” Rosseau replied with a glaze over his eyes.

The beautiful older woman smiled pompously once again before moving her gaze to Nora. “I felt it would be a treat to witness your qualifying match for the tournament. Surely you must be in a fantastic lead already.”

Nora held her breath as her Mother’s delighted gaze danced towards the arena scoreboard, her expression turning blank as she focused on it.

“Nora, am I mistaken? You are currently behind by eighteen points?”

“A minor setback, Mother,” Nora said quickly, though it didn’t ease the suspicious glare her mother aimed at her. “W-we actually just won the previous round. Dominic did a magnificent maneuver to shatter their knight—only after I cornered them both with my spells, of course.”

“Dominic?” Rosseau’s mother chimed in, studying the red banner with gold embroidery that draped behind Dominic’s back and signified his position as Nora’s knight. “I thought you were Miss Nora’s knight, Rosseau?”

Rosseau kept a cool face and threw a blank look to Nora. Her face told him that she was prepared for this, however.

“I’m sorry Madam Lambourgh, I know you must have been looking forward to seeing us compete together, but Rosseau and I just haven’t had an ample amount of practice yet to fight together,” Nora said. Her apologetic tone was completely exaggerated. “I promise, as soon as we’re ready, I’ll make sure you receive an invitation to see our first match together.”

Rosseau’s mother breathed disappointedly but seemed to accept Nora’s reasoning. Rosseau wasn’t surprised; instead, he was more interested in Dominic’s reaction. Everything about the visit could suggest that Nora intended to replace him. But, despite all of that, Dominic’s cool attitude was completely unshaken. From the smirk he smugly flashed at Rosseau, it was clear he believed that he wasn’t going anywhere, and maybe he was right. That was the most unsettling part of Nora’s talent for lying—how artful she was at finding ways to keep people quiet, despite any suspicions they held.

For Dominic, it must have been a promise that he wouldn’t be replaced. For Rosseau’s parents, it was the rare chance to rub shoulders with Nora’s highly respected family. And for Rosseau himself, it was the knowledge that, no matter what evidence he gave, or how well he argued, his parents would never support an accusation against the Straughtverns’ precious daughter.

The runes on the floor beside Nora began to glow, demanding to be stepped into to begin the next round.

“That’s our cue. Please watch, Mother, and I’m sure you’ll see that there is nothing to worry about.”

Nora and Dominic stepped into the runes, and Nora surprised Rosseau with a confident grin before the rune’s light swept her away and into the arena. Rosseau looked back to his parents, and then at Nora’s who looked upon him with pompous eyes.

“Lady Straughtvern, may I ask that you allow me to speak with my parents alone?” Rosseau said, giving a short bow. It didn’t take much else to flatter the nobles, and Nora’s mother obliged him with a short reply.

Rosseau hoped the round would last long enough to say what he needed. He couldn’t leave the box to speak with his parent’s, so it would have to happen here.

If class politics was the only thing this gross family of his responded to, then that’s what he would use to make them listen…

Nora sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, letting the arena’s cool air calm her senses. The round was hers to begin at her discretion, and she was fully intent on letting all twenty allowable seconds tick by before starting—and there was plenty to think about during that time.

The stakes had changed. Her mother was watching now, and it would shameful to offer her anything short of witnessing the total annihilation of her two opponents.

Nora breathed in deeply again…

And again…

And finally, for the last time.

Then, shards of ice materialized around her in an instant, and as soon as they had started, the runes at everyone’s feet ceased to shimmer, and a magical chime resonated throughout the room signaling that the round had begun.

It took all of two seconds for Nora to finish conjuring her icicles. They were imperfect and jagged, and too brittle to do as much damage as her more carefully crafted ones could. But these icicles weren’t meant for that.

A split-second later, Nora sent them off, throwing her full weight into the throwing spell that launched them.

The icicles flew at Lucy, and Nora was already wondering where she would have to throw the second set after she dodged. To Nora’s surprise, however, Lucy wasn’t dodging. Instead, she was staring down the ice coming at her. Was she planning to stop them with a barrier? That was fine by Nora. The cloud of snow would manifest from the debris, and this time she would make sure it took Lucy out quickly, even if it revealed the nature of her strongest spell in recording.

The ice flew at bewildering speed towards Lucy, a short second away from hitting her.

Nora braced for explosion that was sure to result, and prepared the spell that would manipulate the snow to freeze onto Lucy. Strangely, though, the explosion of snow never came.

The lack of a cloudy haze at the opposite end of the arena confused Nora, and she focused her eyes hard on the purple robed figure to see what had happened.

That’s when Nora saw it.

The icicles were stopped dead in the air in front of Lucy, and Nora’s mouth fell agape as Lucy flashed a nervous smile before whispering…

“It worked.”