“Assaut Magnifique. Match Set. Lucy Hardtvelt.”
Lucy fell to her knees, and her eyes felt hot as she stared at the scoreboard.
Her mind didn’t believe it. It was impossible to conceive. But a second later the board changed with a flash to reflect the final score and confirm the reality Lucy was doubting.
Nora had been defeated. It was her victory.
Lucy buried her face into her hands, and, all at once, the emotions she had been struggling all week to bottle, came pouring out. Tears streamed messily down her wrists and between her fingers, and her cries wailed loud despite her best efforts to muffle them.
She had won.
She had really won.
Several meters away, Cedric saw her and hesitated to approach. He figured he should try to to congratulate her and lift her spirit, but his mind was more interested in the revelation at hand.
He stared at the spot where he had been trapped in ice, and then at his feet where he had landed after appearing over Nora. He couldn’t believe it. An actual person had been transported with Inanimport. Never before had something like this been observed. And if his theory on why it worked proved correct, it was a discovery that would require amendments to several, longstanding definitions of magic that hadn’t been touched in hundreds of years.
Another whimper from Lucy told Cedric that his investigation should wait, but while he began to walk over, he found himself outpaced by the head ref who teleported before Lucy.
“Hey. It’s alright. You’re alright,” the man said delicately, kneeling down to her level. “Here, use this.”
Lucy lifted her messy gaze to see the man holding out a handkerchief, and when she took it with a thankful grunt, he showed a cheery smile.
“People often think that winners should always be smiling. But rarely are they familiar with the emotions that come with victory.” The man paused, and his smile became tender. “Although, today I find myself unable to imagine what you must be feeling. There aren’t many who have fought under the same circumstances you had to today.”
Having wiped most of her face clean, Lucy looked at the hooded, half-masked man with her glossy, red eyes. There was something oddly familiar about him, but the olive tone of his skin and the handsome smile below his mask didn’t strike any memory in her.
Then, just as she was about to ask him about it, a distant shouting broke the silence.
“This is outrageous! She’s a cheat!” A rattled voice yelled.
Lucy turned her gaze along with the head ref to see the cause of the commotion, and Lucy looked surprised when she saw Nora glaring wildly from her box and pointing an accusing finger at her.
“You think that peasant knows how to teleport someone!? It’s a trick! I demand an investigation of everyone involved—including the refs!” Nora shouted. She then leaned on the arena’s short fence—looking ready to jump over and tackle Lucy.
Lucy looked at Nora with fright, but her nerves were calmed a bit when the head ref teleported right in front of Nora, startling the girl.
“Young Miss Straughtvern, though I can understand your frustration with the match’s outcome, you would do well not to let it cloud your judgement,” the man said sternly. “No blacklisted spells were used, and no aid was given by an officiating magistrate, of which our duties include monitoring our peers to preserve the integrity of the match.”
Nora clenched her fists so hard that her nails stabbed into her palm. And while it looked like she would resign her anger, a sudden point of her finger in the ref’s face showed that she wasn’t finished yet.
“Who do you think you are talking to!? You stand before the heir to the Straughtvern legacy, and my family won’t stand for such insolent-“
A spot of twinkling mist appeared from nowhere and struck Nora, dissipating quickly as it bounced off the harsh red mark it left on her cheek.
Nora looked shocked, and then fearful as she recognized the freezing sensation left on her face.
“Foolish girl,” Lady Straughtvern chided. “Do not sully our name further than you already have.”
“Enough! One more word and I’ll have you moving into Northorn’s dorms by this evening!”
Nora seemed to choke back a reply as her body visibly tensed. Her mother’s eyes were locked onto her, and the resolve behind them was unwavering. Still, Nora looked at her with desperate eyes, hoping she would reconsider. But she knew her mother could never be persuaded once her icy glare emerged.
A moment later, Nora begrudgingly slumped her head in submission.
It was over.
Lady Straughtvern turned to her husband. “Darling, why don’t you take Nora home. I’ll join you both shortly.”
“Certainly, my dear. Come along, Nora.”
Without a word, Nora followed as her father led them out the gymnasium’s large double doors that closed with an echoing thud.
“Allow me apologize for my daughter’s ill manners,” Lady Straughtvern said while directing a short bow to the head ref. “It seems she hasn’t quite understood our…expectations of her behavior in the tournament.”
The head ref paused, seeming to contemplate the woman’s careful wording. “I understand,” he said. “It is not uncommon for the children of such nobility as yourself to have trouble adjusting to the academy’s…non-traditional structure.”
“So, I’ve heard.” Lady Straughtvern said. “Despite the renowned graduates Greidwhen has proven to produce, I know plenty of families who harrow at the thought of enrolling their children here. They find the mixture…distressing.”
Listening from within the arena, Lucy glanced at Cedric and wondered if he was beginning to feel as uncomfortable as she was, but his expressionless stare didn’t give her an answer. She then glanced at Rosseau, who looked completely jaded—as if he had heard all of this before.
“Of course,” The head ref said. “And it is a distress we hope to ease with every passing year. As for Nora, I believe that there is no finer place for her to grow than here at Greidwhen. I hope we can continue to witness her talents for magic develop, despite this frantic moment.”
“We certainly hope to see that too,” she said with a flat smile, which Rosseau suspected was offered more out of politeness than agreement.
Giving another bow, Lady Straughtvern gave her goodbyes to Rosseau and his family, and gracefully took her leave. As she approached the gymnasium’s double doors, two glittering swirls of icy mist appeared and wrapped around their long brass handles. With a wave of her hand, the mist yanked the doors open, allowing the royal looking woman to exit commandingly though the center of their gap.
When the last trace of Lady Straughtvern’s figure disappeared behind the closing doors, everyone was surprised to feel the room’s air become noticeably warmer.
“Well, I expect we won’t be seeing an after-match handshake,” the assistant ref said, deadpanned.
The head ref shook his head. “It’s quite unfortunate. Victory should be congratulated, not antagonized. I would purpose all four of you to remember that going forward.”
Reflecting on the man’s inspiring words, Lucy subsequently made a curious face as she wondered who the fourth person was. It wasn’t until she looked past Rosseau that she noticed an awkward looking Dominic standing in the box’s corner.
“Is it okay for me to leave too?” Dominic said, earning a hefty laugh from the assistant ref, and a half smile from the head.
“Of course,” the head ref said. He then passed glances at everyone and raised his voice in announcement. “This match is officially concluded. And the winner, by no means of any luck, is Lucy Hardtvelt.”
Cedric plopped onto the worn wooden bench in the men’s half of their team quarters and let out an exhausted breath. Now that he wasn’t running around, the soreness was beginning to settle in all over his body. He didn’t look forward to waking up tomorrow.
For a whole minute, he simply sat there, letting his body rest while his eyes wandered and studied the antique design of the equipment-room.
The floor and walls were made of stacked cobblestone, braced by beams of old wood that connected into the ceiling for support. There were several sets of weapons hung from rusted metal racks which were bolted into the stone wall, and crates of armor were strewn about in no organized manner.
It was the ugliest room he had seen so far at Greidwhen, and yet he felt such a significant weight being in it.
How many generations of students had sat in this very spot before him?
How many of them had their dreams end right here? Not even getting a chance to fight in the grand arenas of the later tournament sections.
It was uncomfortable to think about, but it was also intriguing. A tournament can only have one winner, and yet, every year, thousands of students across the world would sweat, cry, and bleed themselves to become that one person.
It was a statistical improbability that you would win. The chances were astronomical. And yet that was probably why they tried so hard in the first place.
Cedric heaved a heavy sigh again, rubbing at the corners of his mouth while contemplating. That wasn’t the kind of mindset he could get into. Nor, thankfully, would he have to. By some miracle, he and Lucy had won together—but he decided it would be the last time. Now that Lucy was remaining at Greidwhen, Rosseau would likely resume being her knight, and Cedric could sit comfortably on the sides, supporting them while they chased their dreams.
Yes, that was the way things should be.
After all, this isn’t what someone like himself was meant to do.
“I didn’t think you could make a sulky expression like that.”
Jolted from his thoughts, Cedric quickly shifted his gaze towards the room’s only doorway, where he saw Rosseau leaning casually against its frame.
“That was an incredible maneuver at the end there. Did you teach Lucy how to do that?”
Cedric sat his weight forward and fiddled his thumb into his palm. “No. She did that on her own,” he said, feeling proud of that fact. “I…assume you’ll be coming back to her team now? Don’t worry, we both know you had nothing to do with Nora’s plan.”
“Thanks to your victory, my family has agreed to let me do what I want.” Rosseau smiled, grateful that everything worked out, but his smile faded as he remembered something. “I had to tell them about you. To frame it as evidence of Nora’s… inferiority if she lost. I’m sorry for that.”
“That’s fine,” Cedric said quickly. “So, you’ll be coming back then-”
“Did she ever tell you why she entered the tournament?” Rosseau interrupted.
Cedric kept a cool face as he shifted uncomfortably, praying that Rosseau wasn’t about to take this conversation into a mistaken direction. “Yes,” he confirmed.
A long pause followed between the two boys, one that made Cedric feel completely awkward as he waited for Rosseau to establish some set of ground-rules for being around Lucy. It wouldn’t be necessary, though. He couldn’t care less if Lucy and Rosseau were a thing. He only wanted to continue seeing them.
Rosseau let out a grievous sigh. “I really thought I could be the one to take her there…” he said. His tone carried some grief, which along with his statement, caught Cedric off guard.
“After losing our first couple of matches, she told me how she was aiming to reach the Celestial Mages. To reach, well…you know.”
Her mother, Cedric reminded himself.
“Before that, I didn’t think much of the tournament. I was simply answering to my family’s expectation to participate. But, after learning Lucy’s goal, I found myself wanting to support her.”
“However, it turns out resolve doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the skill to beat your opponents. Lucy always felt it was her fault we kept losing, but it’s not like I was doing anything useful to help her outside of swinging a sword around. Nothing useful like you did.”
Cedric’s brow hardened in disagreement. “The charm I recommended may have helped the odds, but it still feels lucky that we won at all. It would have been much better if you had been the one by Lucy’s side. Speaking of which…”
Cedric paused, and glanced at the violet banner that Lucy had tied to his collar at the beginning of the match. It was the only ornament required to be worn in the tournament, worn solely by those who served the role of Sorcerer’sKnight.
Hesitating for a moment, Cedric untied it from his armor’s collar and furled it into a tight bundle.
“Here,” he said, tossing the bundle of cloth at Rosseau who caught it. “Now that you’re back, we won’t have to rely on miracles to win.”
Rosseau nearly chuckled as he studied the bundle of cloth. A miracle. That’s what Nora had said it would take for Lucy to defeat her. Little did Nora know, that miracle was fighting beside Lucy in the arena the entire time. It was there to inspire her every time she felt weak or vulnerable. It was there constantly strategizing to counter Nora’s playbook. And it was there to deliver the final blow that won Lucy the match.
Cedric was Lucy’s miracle, at least that’s what Rosseau thought. In all honesty, it made him happy knowing Lucy had the potential to go further in the tournament, but it also felt painful knowing what he would have to do to give her that chance.
“I’m not the one who can take her there,” Rosseau said somberly.
“Hmm? What does that mean?”
“It means there’s someone far better suited to be Lucy’s knight than me.”
Cedric gave a disappointed look. “Surely you aren’t suggesting that someone is me?”
“Who else could I be talking about?” Rosseau shrugged. “You’re the one who led her to victory—and against Nora, no less. Meanwhile, I failed four times against opponents far weaker than that. The difference is obvious.”
“That’s some reckless reasoning,” Cedric shook his head. “It was a disadvantage that I had to fight in your place. All I’m good for is helping you both prepare for a match—not trying to fight in one.”
“That isn’t true at all.”
“And how do you figure that?” Cedric asked, sounding annoyed.
“How about your incredibly adaptive strategies, for one? I couldn’t have come up with half the things you did. And don’t try to lie. I know Lucy didn’t think of sailing you at Nora with a blast of wind.”
“A move that relied on too many variables. Most of all, luck.”
“And that’s why you adapted it, and sent Nora flying at you the second time. And because of that, she was forced to keep a close eye on Lucy’s wind spells from then on.”
“True,” Rosseau asserted.
Cedric paused, folding his hands and leaning forward in deep thought. Why was Rosseau being so persistent about this. It was ridiculous. This isn’t what he was cut out for. Not one bit.
“I saw the look on your face when you appeared over Nora,” Rosseau said. “Lucy probably couldn’t see from where she stood, and it wasn’t something anyone else would have thought significant, but…”
Cedric tensed up and waited for Rosseau to state the fact he had been trying to ignore since it happened.
“You were smiling. Just for a second, it looked like you were having fun.”
Cedric didn’t say anything as his eyes traced the stones peppered into the opposite wall.
“And I know Lucy was having fun too, despite how tense things got in the end. I haven’t seen her like that since our first match together.” Rosseau smiled, remembering it fondly. “She truly enjoyed fighting with you. And I’m sure…if she had to choose…”
Realizing his somber gaze had drifted to the floor, Rosseau glanced at Cedric, who was now wearing a contemplating expression and touching at the corners of his mouth.
Unfurling the banner, Rosseau tossed it into the air above Cedric, where it fluttered down and draped over the back of his neck.
Pulled out of his deep focus, Cedric grabbed at the cloth and shifted his astounded gaze to see Rosseau already halfway out the door.
Rosseau turned his head, passing a final glance at Cedric.
“Quit trying to find an excuse. It’s okay to do what you want. And I’ll help you with any training you need.”
Cedric continued to look astonished at Rosseau. His mind was telling him to protest, but the words were failing to come out.
“It’s your responsibility now. You’re the only one who can help her reach the Celestial Mages.” Rosseau said, passing through the doorway. “I wish I could have done more…but she’s already chosen you.”
After Rosseau left, Cedric remained still for several minutes, thinking about everything. There were too many questions to consider. Too many avenues for his mind to explore from this. Despite Rosseau’s suggestion, Cedric didn’t know if this is what he wanted, and he certainly didn’t know if this is what was best for Lucy. All he knew was that a huge responsibility had been thrust upon him.
Still, in the end it depended entirely on what Lucy wanted.
“She’s already chosen you…”
Cedric mused over Rosseau’s last words to him, not quite sure where he got off making such a claim. It didn’t matter though. Cedric decided he would find Lucy, and ask her directly if she wanted Rosseau back.
Finding some semblance of resolve, Cedric changed out of his armor, and back into his normal clothes. When he returned into the gymnasium, he was surprised to find it completely empty. Not even Lucy was in sight.
There was no way to tell if she might be in the girl’s half of the team quarters, or if she had left to give her update to the tournament office in the next building over. Either way, Cedric wasn’t one to wait around, so he left the gymnasium and headed for the foyer to leave the building for good. When he entered the foyer, though, he was surprised to find Lucy waiting for him—her hair and eyes turned back to their pinkish hue.
Seeing Cedric enter, Lucy let out a nervous sigh and smiled. “There you are. I thought you might have left without saying anything.”
“Sorry. I was…taking a moment to rest up. My body hasn’t had to move like that in a while.”
Cedric almost winced at how lame that sounded out loud. And Lucy fought a teasing smile while thinking the exact same thing.
“Are you…fine?” Cedric asked.
Lucy let out a spitting laugh.
“You mean, ‘am I going to break down and cry again’?” Lucy laughed, though she couldn’t help rubbing her eye again. The whites of her eyes were still a light shade of red as Cedric noticed.
Calming down, Lucy averted her eyes and smiled warmly. “I’m fine, now. Everything feels completely different. Like I was falling before, but now I’ve gently landed.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. You certainly earned your place here after all the hard work you put in this week. What will you do now?”
“Hmm? I wonder.” Lucy said, averting her eyes even more from him.
This was it, Cedric thought. She was going to let him know that she needed Rosseau to come back.
“Well,” Lucy muttered, now fiddling with her fingers. “I was hoping you could teach me more spells for the next match.”
“Of course,” Cedric said, masking his satisfaction at Rosseau’s misjudged claim. “Though you’ll have to be my guinea pig every now and then for some spells I want to see tested.”
“S…sure,” Lucy said shyly.
“Oh don’t worry, it’s nothing dangerous. They just might not be useful for you or Rosseau in matches.”
Cedric noticed Lucy tense up immediately. Her gaze was now completely fixed at her feet, and her face was curled nervously as she fidgeted her foot into the marble floor.
“It’s not that…” she said.
Cedric suddenly felt nervous himself, though his face didn’t show it. But then Lucy turned her eyes up at him, and when he saw the way the window’s afternoon light glistened inside them, his nervousness gave itself up.
“I wanted to ask if you would remain as my knight in the tournament.”
Cedric’s mouth nearly went agape. He couldn’t believe it. Rosseau was right.
Once again, a million questions exploded in Cedric’s mind, but amongst them all, there was one he knew should be asked. The only one that mattered.
“Are you sure?”
Lucy looked up at him, and there was a seed of hesitance in her eye that even Cedric could see. She shook it off however, now giving him a look that was completely earnest.
Lucy Hardtvelt tossed and turned in her bed that night, unable to fall asleep. It probably had something to do with the fact that curfew was still an hour away—evident by the lively noises of several students in the yard outside the dorm—but she figured she should turn in early to recover from the weeks-worth of anxiety, and the physical exhaustion from fighting in the match.
The match, Lucy thought as she rolled onto her back and plopped her arms on top of the comforter.
She replayed every detail of it in her mind. It was her first win in the tournament. Even now, she couldn’t believe that it worked out.
But it did—and she was determined to go even further than this. That was the reason she asked Cedric to remain as her knight.
She had thought his instruction leading up to the match was helpful already, and she was truly grateful for it. But he was even more incredible in the match itself.
The way he strategized. The way he calculated…
The way he supported her every time she broke down…
Lucy swallowed nervously at that last point, and she could already hear the voice in her head telling her not to make anything out of it. It sounded a lot like her father.
Two loud knocks suddenly thumped on the dorm’s door, which couldn’t have come at a better time, Lucy thought. While she got up to answer, a muffled voice called out from behind it that Lucy couldn’t make out.
Using the spare wand on her nightstand to create some light, Lucy opened the door and was greeted by a half-masked woman whose silky brown hair poured forth from the bottom her drawn hood.
It was another magistrate. One whose mask Lucy didn’t recognize.
“Lucy Hardtvelt,” the woman announced. “You are being summoned to the Headmaster’s Court. On the pretense of using a spell incompatible with the tournament’s charm.”