For the final time, the pillars of light vanished to reveal everyone in their starting positions. Nora was back to her old self, smiling arrogantly, while Dominic carried his usual air of indifference.
“It isn’t a chance to lose everything you love. It’s a chance to fight against it being taken away.”
Though her eyes and cheeks hadn’t quite recovered from her crying, Lucy aimed a determined gaze at Nora, dwelling on the words Cedric spoke to her.
In the end he was right. It was an opportunity to fight for what she wanted. She understood how important that was, now.
It was thanks to that realization that her mind was calm. And because of that calmness, the sudden sight of Nora conjuring icicles failed to break her nerves.
And so, the final round began.
Lucy fired off several pairs of wind blasts, determined to finally hit Nora with a deflection of one off the other.
If there was one thing Lucy had learned in the match, it was that Nora’s dodges weren’t erratic. Rather, they were careful and planned out. It certainly demonstrated Nora’s greater experience and talent for battling with magic, but it gradually exposed a pattern—one that Lucy had been studying for the past few rounds.
That was why Lucy was certain this next one would hit. She was sure of where Nora would be after dodging this set.
Every subsequent step Nora took to dodge the attacks played right into Lucy’s prediction, until finally she dodged the last one, landing herself right where Lucy had wanted.
On cue, the last spell that Nora dodged suddenly exploded behind her and deflected its counterpart back her way. It didn’t look like Nora was wise to it either, and Lucy fought an impulsive cheer so she could prepare a follow up spell.
The blast of wind exploded against Nora, and the loose ends of her robe and hair whipped forward violently from its force, but Lucy and Cedric were shocked to see that Nora herself wasn’t thrown forward by the blast. Instead, the Elefrian took only a soft step forward to keep balanced from the sudden gust.
Lucy didn’t understand. She finally managed to deflect her wind spell at Nora, so why wasn’t she flying through the air right now? Then she grit her teeth, noticing something come into view as the dust behind Nora settled. It was a barrier—cast by Nora to block Lucy’s attack.
“She knew what we were doing after all,” Cedric muttered, keeping to himself how bad an outcome this was for them.
Lucy realized herself how bad things were. The one tactic they had left to defeat Nora—the one they had been trying for several rounds to make work—completely failed against her.
Nora smiled gleefully and conjured the last of her icicles, exploding them into a blizzarding cloud that obscured her and Dominic from view.
This was bad, but it wasn’t the end. Not as long as she didn’t give up.
“Should we rush at them?” Lucy asked, earning a dumb look from Cedric. “What? Will there really be a difference if we wait for that thing to come get us?”
Cedric sighed, glancing at the haze that was already drifting towards them. “Probably not.”
Lucy looked at the haze as well. A bead of sweat ran down her face.
This was it. In a minute or two the match would be decided. She didn’t know how she was going to pull off a win, but she had to believe there was a way.
Lucy and Cedric broke into a sprint towards the cloud that spanned the entire width of the arena. There were no gaps to pass through. The only way was to charge in and hope they could make it through.
“Here we go!” Lucy shouted, carving a path with a blast of fire and casting warmth on her and Cedric.
Together, the two ran into the tunnel that was already collapsing around them. Lucy cast several more blasts of fire to keep the path ahead clear, and she could see each one of them exploding against something far ahead.
“Wait a minute,” Cedric muttered. At first he thought it was the same wall of ice Nora used to border the haze’s rear, but with how far they had run, and considering where they entered the haze, Cedric realized that wasn’t the case.
Cedric slid to a halt and grabbed Lucy’s arm to stop her.
“That’s the arena fence.”
“Wha- where are they, then?”
“They could have gone around us,” Cedric said, glancing around the blinding haze before tugging her along. “We need to double back.”
Lucy took the lead, shooting another blast of fire to fend off the curling wisps of snowy haze that threatened to grab them. The fire traveled a ways down before exploding against something again, alarming Cedric and Lucy.
Cedric clicked his tongue as they came upon the cause. It was Nora’s wall of ice, bordering the side they had entered through.
“Can you break it with Draw Water?” he asked frantically, watching the space around them begin to fill with the haze.
Lucy raised her staff to cast the spell, all the while trying to ignore the knot in her stomach. She was granted some relief, though, after she realized she could feel the wall of ice through her magic.
“I can feel it, just give me a second- Woah!”
Lucy took a fast step backwards, barely dodging an attack from the figure she saw jump down from the top of the wall. They landed with a heavy thump, armor clanging, and sword embedded into the ground. It was Dominic.
Lucy thought it looked like he had something snarky say as he settled into a fighting stance, but even he must have had some discipline seeing as he charged at her instead.
Cedric threw himself between them, blocking Dominic’s slash with his shield.
“Abandoning your sword again?” Dominic said, eyeing the blade Cedric left behind. “You don’t really get how a swordfight works, do you?”
Cedric grit his teeth, struggling to push against Dominic’s sword. He couldn’t waste any time. The haze had nearly filled the surrounding air, and soon it would begin to freeze onto either him or Lucy.
Dominic drew back his sword and executed a flurry of slashes against Cedric. His strikes were hard to keep up with, and Cedric just barely managed to handle blocking them. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold out for much longer, though. They had to take him out now.
Cedric threw a glance to Lucy after blocking another strike.
“A little help would be nice!” he shouted.
“I don’t want to hit you!”
“There are more pressing concerns at hand here-!”
Cedric and Lucy’s bickering was interrupted as Cedric’s shield was knocked out of his grip.
Dominic smiled and raised his sword over his head, ready to deliver the final blow. However, something caught his eye that unsettled him. The magicless had a smile of his own, despite his defenseless position. Then, before Dominic could register it—the undersides of his arms were slashed with a sword.
A sword? How did the magicless get a hold of his sword? It had been abandoned on the floor, hadn’t it?
Dominic released his own blade and his arms fell limp at his sides—a product of the tournament’s monitoring charm since his arms were technically gone now.
“H…how?” he asked.
Cedric didn’t reply, but the sight of his shield appearing in his grasp from nowhere gave Dominic the answer—the girl had returned his sword to him with Inanimport.
Not wasting any time, Cedric drew his sword back and thrust it up between the plates of Dominic’s armor.
“Ah…da-“ Dominic muttered, unable to finish before his body exploded into light.
Cedric stumbled forward through Dominic’s glittering remains and traded a satisfied look with Lucy. Now there was only Nora left to deal with.
Their satisfaction didn’t last long, though, as they both noticed the ice begin to creep up Cedric’s body. Lucy ran over and cast her magic to fight against the ice that threatened to consume him, but Cedric gave her a hesitant look.
“Go. You can make it out while Nora is focusing her ice on me.”
“No way,” Lucy said, shaking her head. “We stand a better chance together!”
“I think we’ve lost that option. You can’t cast warmth while fighting the ice, and we’ll be pulled out by the refs when it becomes too cold for our safety.”
Lucy frowned, not enjoying Cedric’s sound deductions for once. He had to be wrong, just this one time. If only she knew more useful spells—ones that could do something about this haze around them—but, she didn’t.
Lucy’s eyes trailed down to the large rings of light surrounding them. Even this protection charm, which she had suffered through violent whirlwinds of dust and debris to learn, couldn’t…help them…here?
Lucy gaze froze, and her eyes began to dart to and fro in deep thought.
Cedric looked at her curiously, about to ask why she looked so shocked when suddenly she raised her staff and dispelled her protection charm.
“What are you doing!?” Cedric asked, feeling the ice begin to move on him again.
“Setting it up the only way I know how…” Lucy said, getting as close as she could to Cedric. He recognized the stance she took, but he didn’t understand why she dispelled the charm just to cast it again.
Then, the air around them began to cyclone.
Cedric’s mouth went agape, watching the haze around them get pushed to the edges of the whirlwind. Immediately he felt he ice on him stop moving, no longer having anything to feed itself with.
“Incredible,” he whispered. This wasn’t like her previous failures when practicing the charm. Lucy had control of the torrent—purposefully keeping the charm stuck in the middle of the channeling process.
To push the haze further out, she poured more magic into the spell, which forced the overwhelming amount of magic to escape from her staff in whirling, explosive bursts. Soon, Nora’s haze was pushed completely out to the very edges of the arena and obliterated as it was minced against the arena’s protective barrier.
Satisfied, Lucy finished the charm’s process, calming the stirring outpour of magic and prompting the charm’s ring of light to surround her once more.
Everyone outside the arena looked bewildered from the spectacle, and Rosseau had to fight a reflexive cheer so that Nora’s parents wouldn’t know he was rooting against their daughter.
Lucy looked around and was equally amazed at what she had accomplished. Nora’s wall of ice was completely visible now, and she was surprised to see that it didn’t stretch the entire width of the arena. It was taller and thicker in the center, but its structure became dismal as it went further down, stopping well before it reached either arena wall.
“I should have realized,” Cedric said while Lucy broke the ice around his legs. “It would have taken way too much effort to span the entire length.”
Lucy thought about telling Cedric not to blame himself, but a more pressing question surfaced in her mind. “Where’s Nora?”
The arena was oddly still, until Cedric’s eyes went wide before he grabbed Lucy and pushed her as far as he could from the wall of ice whose center exploded into snow.
“Cedric!” Lucy screamed, witnessing the snow engulf and harden into ice around him. Thinking quickly, she cast Draw Water to stop it, and she could feel it fighting against her to crush him.
“Tch. I was hoping it would hit you,” a beautiful, unsatisfied voice called out.
Lucy looked beyond Cedric to see Nora emerge from the settling dust and snow. Like Lucy, she had her staff fixated towards Cedric, battling for control of the ice that covered him.
Nora smiled. “What say we ignore your knight for now? Make this a one on one?”
Lucy released a chide breath. “You’ll crush him the moment I let go…”
“And you’ll set him free the moment I let go…”
Both girls looked unwaveringly at each other, but Nora’s eerie expression began to unnerve Lucy.
Nora fought a reflexive glance towards the head ref. She’d rather that she didn’t have choose her words so carefully around them, but she was used to even stricter conditions.
“You know…I believe I owe you an apology. Despite what the other students may think, you’ve proven to be a capable opponent.”
Lucy tensed up as her mind echoed the mocking title she had been labeled with by everyone. The worst student amongst the first-years. The Luckless Mage of Greidwhen Academy.
Nora suppressed a gross smile after noticing Lucy’s focus waver. Then she put on a distraught face and clutched her chest.
“The circumstances you have with the headmaster are terribly regrettable, but I have no intention of losing on purpose like Rosseau suggested.” Nora looked over to Rosseau, and then to her mother. “I have my own expectations to measure up to after all.”
Lucy looked distraught and glanced at Rosseau, hoping his expression would tell her that Nora was lying, but his downturned look only confirmed Nora’s words. It made her heart tense. Why would he ask that? Did he really have such little confidence in her ability to win?
She tried to shake her head free of these thoughts, but her mind couldn’t help as it flashed to all the times he defended her—all the times he stood up for her.
Maybe a part of her understood why he would ask that, but it didn’t make it hurt any less.
Nora showed a gross smile, relishing in her successful breaking of Lucy’s resolve. In a swift move, she exploded another chunk of the wall into snow, and directed it a Lucy, wrapping her in it while she was too distracted to defend herself properly.
At the last second, Lucy managed to focus her magic onto her own ice to stop it from crushing her, but she was alarmed at the opening it would give Nora elsewhere.
Thinking quickly, Lucy used her free arm to direct her magic at Cedric’s ice, barely making it in time to fight against Nora’s control on it that was about to crush him,
“Oh? How clever of you to see through that,” Nora said. “However, you’re both frozen now, and it’s only a matter of which one of you I break first.”
Cedric grunted from the ice that squeezed tightly around him, and he could feel it rustling back and forth between Lucy and Nora’s control. Only a little more pressure and he’d be a goner, and the same was probably true for Lucy. Still, he had to do something.
“You’re just full of cheap tricks like this, aren’t you?” Cedric said to Nora.
Nora looked unimpressed at the magicless. “Says the one trying to distract me and buy time?”
Nora redirected her magic at Lucy and began to squeeze, but Lucy responded quickly enough to stop it. In turn, Nora backed off and pretended to aim for Cedric, but instead retook control of Lucy’s ice a second later. Nora was surprised, however, when she realized Lucy was keeping the same ice under her control.
“My, my…you’re quite the mind reader…” Nora said, enjoying the tease of her impending victory. “Unfortunately, the situation is in my favor. I only need to win this little game once.”
Lucy became distraught when she realized Nora was right. Even stopping her ice indefinitely wouldn’t bring her any closer to winning.
Nora suppressed a laugh, reminding herself to be careful about her conduct before the refs. It was over though. Her victory was certain.
Lucy watched Nora, waiting for her next move, but her heart began to feel jaded. There was no chance anymore. This was it.
“Not…until…it’s over…” Cedric grunted. His chest was squeezed so tight that he could barely breathe. Even so, he was determined to support Lucy. To keep her from defeating herself.
Swiftly, Nora redirected her magic at Cedric, but Lucy managed to do so as well, earning an annoyed huff from Nora.
Lucy looked at Cedric, captured by the determination kindled within his usually stoic eyes.
Don’t give up…
Not until it’s over…
It’s not a chance to lose everything…
It’s a chance to fight from it being taken away!
Lucy felt his determination spill over into herself, and she was filled with resolve.
Nora felt a tinge of nervousness at the fierceness of Lucy’s expression, and tried to calm herself. There was nothing the peasant could do to escape. Nothing at all.
Lucy meanwhile, brainstormed for an option.
An attack? No. Nora would dodge it and shatter one of them after. She had to think beyond that.
There was a shell of ice on both of them. Draw Water? She was already doing that.
Another muddied cast of the protection charm? What good would that even do?
Lucy’s mind replayed how Dominic had been caught off guard several times by it.
But how could she use it in this situation? Teleport the ice away?
Maybe. If she could predict one more time which ice Nora wasn’t going to control. But then that person would have to face Nora alone, and what were the chances they would last against her? Not good in the least.
Not good. Not good.
Inanimport is a dead end, she thought, causing her mind inadvertently flashed to the time when it failed to make Dominic’s sword disappear.
“They’re imbuing his sword with magic…it was designed to be an optimal method of teleporting inanimate objects.”
“But a sword is inanimate!”
“I know, but it also had magic in it…classifying it as animate…”
Something fuzzy began to connect itself in Lucy’s mind.
Lucy’s eyes went wider than they ever had before.
It seemed impossible.
It seemed stupid.
But it was the only idea she had.
Jerking her head up from her concentrated daze, Lucy put her staff forth and shot the spell.
Nora reacted by taking control of Cedric’s ice, thinking that Lucy might be feinting and still protecting herself. Even if she wasn’t though, it would just be another stalled moment for her inevitable victory.
Surprisingly, Nora felt her control of Cedric’s ice move uninhibited. Without holding back, Nora squeezed the ice as hard as she could, causing it to explode from the pressure it exerted.
Glittering shards fluttered in the air above where the ice had been, and Nora looked up to bask in the magicless’s remains.
What she saw, though, wasn’t his remains.
It was him.
He was directly above her, whole and unscathed, with his sword raised up and a bewildered look on his face.
Nora’s mind went blank, and she watched, helpless, as he donned a look that frightened her and descended with a roar, striking his blade clean down the center of her body from head to toe.
“Huh?” Nora said, shattering in the next instant.
The ice around Lucy crumbled, and immediately she and Cedric traded looks of unbelief.
“Inanimport…on me…?” Cedric muttered, but Lucy didn’t respond. Instead, her eyes went wide, and then they felt hot as she collapsed to her knees while the ref’s final words fell on her ears.
“Assaut Magnifique. Match Set. Lucy Hardtvelt.”