Here is the third chapter of Eternal Awakening. Don't forget to rate and comment and be aware that this chapter is part of a double post so once you are done with this one you will also find chapter four posted as well.
Richard's first week as a personal attendant to Lythia had crawled by at an excruciating pace. He was worked to the bone by Lythia and he was honestly getting sick of her. Just the other day he had been forced to wash her undergarments by hand four times because she wasn't satisfied with the job he was doing. As far as he was concerned Lythia could wash her own damn panties. There was only so much you could force someone to do and it didn't help that she was annoyed just by his very presence. Which was good in one sense; they were hardly around each other. It wasn't always like that though; the first night he was there she demanded that he undress her for bed and when he refused outright she got mad and started yelling at him about how it was part of his duties. Apparently rich folk on this world were too proud and full of themselves that they actually had their maids and attendants dress and undress them.
Not being around each other much changed when the first weekend of the school year came and Richard found that she was a pretty lazy person. While most of her classmates ventured to the capital city for some shopping, or buried themselves in the library and poured through magical tomes, Lythia preferred to lounge around her room all day and boss him around. It was so bad that she even had him turning the pages on her romance novel that was bound in leather. Richard couldn't believe that she was related to the upstanding Professor that was her eldest sister and the idol of the school that was Coni. They were completely different from her.
The hours he was working weren't that great either. He worked for fourteen hours, from six in the morning till nine at night and it was really starting to weigh on him. He woke up every morning with thick bags under his eyes and sore muscles, only to be forced to do it all over once again. It also didn't help that his first task of the day was to go to Lythia's room and wake her up. Then he would head down to the kitchens, grab her breakfast and then bring it up to her because she preferred not to eat in the dining hall with the other students. By the time he got back up to her room Lythia would have fallen asleep and he would be forced to shake her awake once more, all the while getting cursed at in half mumbles and have to dodge pillows and fists.
Thankfully Lythia hated being woken up before noon on the weekends so that gave Richard ample time to get his own breakfast, clean up his own room (which was nothing more than a large closet with a bed and trunk to put his clothes in), and then do some of her laundry before finally having to go and rouse her. He really wished she didn't have any morning classes so he could do it this way all the time, but he learned that the school was split into two different levels. Morning classes were dedicated to scholastic topics such as math and history while the afternoon classes were all about magic and were on a different system than the other courses. How old you were and what year you were in had nothing to do with the magic classes you took. You could be a first year and be in the advanced magic courses, or be a fourth year and still be stuck in the novice magic class. It all depended on your score from your magical aptitude test given with the entrance exam and where you stood within the school ranking in power and strength.
Sunday afternoon, after taking care of his own things and getting Lythia's lunch, he made his way to her room and knocked loudly and announced that he was entering the room. He expected to see her still asleep in her large and comfortable looking bed, the covers thrown off her small body and her long blonde hair everywhere with some drool on her lips like she usually was right before he woke her up, but instead found that she was already awake and dressed. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, a large leather tome open on her lap and reading out loud to a small black haired girl who sat on the floor in front of her.
Richard hadn't seen this girl before but he recognized the color of the band around the edge of her black cloak was brown, announcing that she was a first year student. Brown was for first years, blue for second years, yellow for third years, and red for fourth years. Richard thought it was odd that they color coded the different years like that, as he had never heard of that at any school back home, but he was told by one of the maids he worked closely with in the laundry room that they did it here because it was a status symbol. Apparently even beyond the walls of the school the students were treated differently by their strip of color and some fourth years were even allowed access to restricted library's just because they were considered elite enough.
'You're late!' Lythia growled as he entered the room and he rolled his eyes at the little brat. 'Why didn't you bring me my breakfast this morning?'
'Sorry, I wasn't aware that you would be awake for it,' he explained and put the silver tray on the small table by the door. 'It won't happen again.'
'It better not!' she growled and slammed shut the tome that was on her small lap. 'I've been waiting four hours for something to eat! If you do it one more time I will have my sister revoke your pay for two weeks!'
'But, Lady Proud,' the small first year girl at her feet spoke in a soft and timid voice, 'I only woke you up half an hour ago...'
'You don't know what you're talking about, Lisbeth!'
'But... you just lied.'
Lythia ignored the smirk that was spreading over Richard's visage and turned to the small girl on the floor, her eyes flickering with outrage at being called a liar even if it did sound like she was lying. 'What I tell my own attendant is none of your business! If I tell him I have been awake for four hours than that is the truth to him!'
'But nothing! Now let's get back to going over the school handbook! If you fail the test on it tomorrow it will reflect bad on your mentor as well!'
Richard sighed in frustration and began to pick up around the room quietly while the two girls studied. It was bad enough having to deal with one girl like Lythia, but he was almost angry to find that she was trying to warp another, more innocent girl's view of things as well. Why couldn't the Queen have made him Aura's personal assistant instead of having to be under the thumb of this horrible girl.
'Richard!' she breathed angrily and once again her eyes were on him. 'Leave this instant!'
'As you wish,' he breathed, rolling his eyes once more. He turned around and headed back to the door, thankful that she was busy with something and he could leave and find something else to do that didn't involve being around her.
'Lady Proud,' the timid girl spoke just as he reached the door, 'what about that request Professor Proud asked of you?'
'Damn it. Richard! Wait a second!' she said loudly and he begrudgingly turned to face her once more. 'Aura asked if she could borrow you for a while so you will be working under her until this evening! I expect you back here as soon as she is done with whatever it is she needs help with. Is that understood?'
Nodding quickly and forcing the smile from his face, Richard quickly turned on his heel and nearly ran from the room, slamming the door shut behind him. It had been almost a week since he had last seen the nicest of the three sisters and he was happy to get the chance; whatever it was that she wanted him to do had to be a million times better than anything Lythia would throw on him. He might even be able to take some much needed time off afterwards and just tell Lythia that his task took him longer than expected. He would just have to hope that she didn't mention anything about it to her sister because then he really would be in trouble.
He quickly walked down the hundreds of stairs and out the doors into the brilliant sunlight that swathed everything it touched with warm light, chasing away the chill air that clung to the interiors of the towers. Many students had taken advantage of the good weather and were outside, reading, practicing simple magic, and chatting with friends as their last day off for the week was slowly nearing a close. Richard checked the teacher's lounge for Aura first but found that she wasn't there. One of the other professors pointed him to the courtyard between the eight towers and said that she would probably be having lunch out there in the sun. Sure enough she was, her long braid of dazzling blonde hair sparkling in the sun and a soft smile on her face as she read over a book at a small table by herself.
Richard nimbly walked through the crowds of students and teachers alike who milled around the courtyard, cups of tea in their hands and a loud murmur of idle chatter ringing through the air. When he approached Aura she looked up from her book and smiled her sweet smile at him, motioning to the chair across from her. Before sitting down he bowed his head slightly, a habit he was beginning to get from having to do it every time he saw her or another teacher.
'I was beginning to think my message never got to Lythia,' she said gently and pushed a fragile teacup towards him. She quickly filled it with steaming hot and sweet smelling tea and passed him the bowl of sugar and milk. 'Please, have a cup.'
'Thank you,' he said and dumped four spoonfuls of rough sugar into his cup. 'I doubt you asked me down here just for some tea though.'
'You're half right,' she giggled and took a sip from her own cup as a few third year students passed slowly, a curious look on their faces as they noticed the young and beautiful Professor Proud sharing some tea with a servant. 'I thought we could sit down and have a nice chat about how your first week has gone. There is also something I wish to discuss with you, but it won't take long.'
'I'm all ears,' he spoke and took a drink from the scalding hot tea that burned the roof of his mouth painfully.
'Do you remember the discussion we had at the start of the week, about the arena on academy grounds?' she asked and he nodded; he still hadn't had a chance to go and see it for himself yet. 'Well, starting tomorrow, students will finally be allowed to use the arena for duels and practice and things are going to get pretty hectic around here. For the next week I won't have any free time at all as I have to witness and referee each and every match myself.'
'Is there something you needed me to do, to help out?' he asked hopefully, hoping that she would give him something that would take him away from Lythia and her horrible attitude.
'Actually yes, there is. It's common for the students to go crazy when the arena opens up and for the first week there are over a thousand duels. We call that time Chaos Week, because that's exactly what it is. Now here's where the problem lies, with my duties dealing with all the duels and Coni's work as the new student council president having to approve all of them, Lythia has no one to watch over her. For the entirety of the next week I want to you to stay by her side at all times and never let her out of your sight.'
Richard blinked and it had nothing to do with the bright sunlight pounding down on him. 'Why?' was the only thing he could think to ask.
'The Proud family are kind of like celebrities here at the school. We've always had a proud history of producing the best students and some of the strongest mages to attend here, so during Chaos Week it's not uncommon for other students to approach members of the family and challenge them to a duel in hopes of gaining their own sort of fame. Like I told you earlier, I was a three time tournament champion and for the last three years Coni has placed second in it, so there's a lot of attention on the family for that as well. Lythia however... well she's not what you would call a prodigy. Last year she came six hundred and fiftieth in the tournament, twenty short of last place. So people look at her and see an easy target.
'Last year during Chaos Week it fell to Coni to watch over her and make sure no one tried to challenge her, which worked out pretty well. No one's going to approach the schools second most powerful mage in order to challenge her younger sister. With her being the student council president this year she can't spare any time to do it, so Lythia will be alone in a crowd of hungry wolves looking for their own celebrity status.'
'And you think me, her attendant, being around her is going to stop people from challenging her? If anything it will make more people come after her. Besides, why can't she just turn down the challenges?'
Aura sighed and took another quick sip from her tea before speaking, 'Normal duel invites can be turned down with no problems, but that's not where the problem is. First of all, you know how hard headed my sister can be so do you really think she would turn down a duel when it was her chance to prove she was just as good as her sisters? And secondly, there are two types of duels allowed at this school; the first being a friendly duel for prestige and ranking points and the second one is to decide a dispute. A duel over a dispute cannot be turned down as the school sees it as a way to reduce fights and bullying. So even if Lythia turns down a normal duel offer students can still create a dispute for the sole purpose of getting her into the arena.'
Now it was Richard's turn to sigh and he hung his head slightly in frustration and resignation. He really didn't see what the big deal was about this whole situation. Maybe it would do Lythia good to get a little humility shoved into her face in the arena. For all anyone knew it could actually calm the girl down enough that she wasn't such a bitch to everyone. Then again it also had the possibility of back firing and making her even more of a bitch when she did end up losing a fight. She was a proud person after all. None of this mattered though as he doubted he actually had a choice in the matter.
'I'll do my best.'
'That's all that I ask. Just keep her away from volatile situations and whenever someone tries to challenge her try to change the subject or do something to get her mind on something else. I'm sure it shouldn't be too hard to make her mad when the need arises,' Aura laughed and smiled politely at him. 'Now that we've got that settled, why don't you tell me how your week has been. Are you adapting well enough?'
'I guess,' he answered in a sad tone and then began to tell the caring woman everything that he had done and that had happened to him. She was greatly amused by the tales he told her of trying to wake Lythia in the morning and mentioned that she was glad he didn't bruise easy, or people would think he had gotten into a fight with a rabid animal.
By the time he finished explaining the first week in great detail to her his mouth was dry and his throat sore. Aura poured him another cup of tea and even put the right amount of sugar in before sliding it to him, an amused smile on her face at the good entertainment he had just provided.
'Things should calm down after this next week and it should be easier for you to do your job. Which reminds me, your payment for the first week is being held in the faculty room so just drop by any time to pick it up. I was going to give you the going rate for your services per week, which is three gold pieces, but I figured you deserved more having to deal with Lythia of all people so I doubled it. You can spend it anywhere in town on your free time, if you manage to snag some.'
'Thank you,' he smiled, even though he had no idea how much money that actually was. Considering he was considered a servant he figured it probably wasn't much, especially if it was a buildup of everything he had done for one week. 'How are your classes going?'
'Oh my,' Aura said with a hint of honest shock at the question, 'are you really interested or just trying to be polite?'
'Umm, the first one I guess. All of this is new to me and is actually kind of interesting. I kinda wish I could perform magic.'
'It's cast magic, sweetie, not perform. We don't do simple parlor tricks here and everything we teach is highly advanced and specialized. Some of it is even combat related so it can be dangerous. Besides, I really don't think you know what you are wishing for. As I mentioned on your first day here, the ratio of women to men is almost fourteen to one. At very young ages, as soon as a male child shows signs that he can use magic, their parents arrange a marriage for them. It's actually a law, to keep the number of mages going. Two non magic users can sometimes have a child who is attuned to it, but that is extremely rare. One mage and one commoner have a little bit higher of a chance at giving birth to a child with that attunement, but it's still considered low. Two mages however will have one once every two children at the least, so it's very important that male and female mages are married to produce more. So if you were able to use magic you would also be forced into an arranged marriage.'
'Seriously? How can there be a law deciding that? What about love? What if the two people don't like each other at all?'
'It happens, but as ones who can cast magic we have an obligation to our kind and our nation to do whatever we can to bolster our numbers. The main reason for this is magic is considered a very prestigious thing and those who can cast spells are lifted from the commoners and are considered to be noble, even if their families lineage has no previous nobility. Does your world not have arranged marriages?'
'Sometimes, I guess,' Richard answered and sat back slightly in his chair so he could stretch his legs out further under the table. 'It used to be common in some cultures but has mostly died out in the modern world. East Indian families still do it a little but it's not normally against their child's will, and I've also heard that powerful families, like royals or business tycoons will do it on occasion to keep their family strong.'
'It's not that different here, only we have to also keep our nations in mind as well. During times of war the military will draft mages above a certain age, in most cases third year students and above, into their ranks. Against large groups of non magic combatants a single mage can be devastating and can change the course of the battle. Get enough of them together and your army will be a force to be reckoned with.'
'I guess that makes sense,' he admitted and took another sip from his tea that was quickly beginning to cool. 'So do you have a fiancé?'
'No,' she answered with a wry smile from behind her teacup, 'It's a bit different for stronger mages. The Arranged Marriage Law has a provision in it which basically states that powerful female mages won't be joined to less powerful male mages. While any child born on this world has a chance to cast magic, it's also been found that two powerful mages will give birth to an equally or even more powerful child. For people like me and the Queen, our mates are chosen from powerful male mages, which there haven't been many of in the last twenty years. If, by chance, we aren't married to someone powerful enough beyond a certain age we are allowed to find our own husbands as we see fit just to carry on our family names and titles. The fourth year student you met at the start of the week, the Dark Elf Princess, is simply attending this school on her father's orders in hopes of finding a suitable husband, one who is stronger than her. I don't see that happening though because she is the number one ranked mage in the school and is considered one of the twenty most powerful mages in her kingdom.'
'Okay, maybe I don't want to be a mage,' Richard laughed and Aura chuckled.
Over the next twenty minutes they continued to chat about general things and the stuff that was happening in or around the school. Sadly the time came when the tea in the pot ran out and Richard figured Aura was going to send him back to Lythia to continue the rest of his day; something he wasn't looking forward to one bit. Amazingly he was saved from that fate though as someone walked up to the table and took a seat next to Aura, placing a fresh pot of tea in front of them.
'Here's where you are,' the new woman smiled at Aura, 'I have been looking for you for the last hour. I thought we were going to have tea together this afternoon and here I find you with a gentleman.'
Richard looked over the woman who had just sat down and saw that she was wearing the same teacher's uniform as Aura was. She looked younger than her older counterpart, somewhere around her mid twenties and had short red hair and big green eyes with a smattering of freckles over her face. She wasn't as attractive as Aura was but was pretty beautiful in her own right, someone men would look at more than once if they saw her walking down the street.
'Alyssa this is Richard, Lythia's personal attendant. Richard this is my colleague and best friend Alyssa Meetra. She teaches first year math and advanced ice magic.'
Alyssa stuck out a small slender hand and Richard shook it quickly with a smile, 'It's nice to meet you,' he said.
'Likewise,' the woman purred and shifted her chair a little closer to him. 'Why is this the first time I am meeting this young gentleman, Aura?'
'My apologies, I've been pretty busy this past week Alyssa.'
'Mhmm, and I am very glad. It wouldn't be fair for you to keep this strapping young man all to yourself now would it? If he is Lythia's attendant then why is he having tea with you?' the woman asked with a raised eyebrow and a hint of laughter in her words.
'I wanted to see how his duties were going and we were just having a nice little talk about this school.'
'I'm sure you were,' Alyssa smiled and there was something in her voice that told Richard that she was referring to something else entirely. 'Maybe I could borrow him for a few hours. I have a few boxes stacked in my residence that are in dire need of being moved. Think you could manage that, Mr. Richard?'
'I don't think so Alyssa,' Aura interjected and her words were a little harsh. 'He's only seventeen and under the Queen's care while he is living here and is off limits by her decree. Don't go trying to sink your claws into him. Besides, you have enough play toys in town to take care of your needs.'
'But that's no fun,' the redhead pouted, 'This one's so innocent looking.'
Aura sighed and turned to Richard, her eyes half serious and half amused, 'If you are alone and see her somewhere, just walk the other way Richard. Be careful because she will hunt you down.'
Richard nodded, trying not to smile. It was funny how things had changed so much for him in the last week and a half. Ten days ago there was only girl in his life that looked at him with anything other than loathing and now there were a few. He didn't doubt the validity of Aura's warning though as he looked over and saw Alyssa biting her lower lip and sizing him up, a hungry look in her eyes. If he saw her walking down a hall he wasn't going to walk the other way, he was going to run as fast as his legs could carry him. She was beautiful and all but he was sure he would be nothing more than a new toy for her to play with and he didn't like that. Well, not much anyways.
'I should get back and see if Lythia needs anything from me,' he said and tried to excuse himself from the table. Alyssa grabbed his hand before he could get up and shook her head, her bottom lip jutting out a tad as she pouted.
'But I just got here. Have another cup of tea with us, won't you?'
Richard feared that if he didn't get away now he was going to be stuck there for quite some time, but when he looked over at Aura for some support she just nodded her head and began to pour everyone another cup of tea. It appeared that while one woman wanted to make him one of her toys the other wanted some afternoon entertainment and he felt trapped between a rock and a hard place. He was still technically working for Aura right now so he couldn't just leave unless she excused him. So heaving a heavy sigh he sat back down and accepted the tea being offered.
Aura hadn't been joking when she told Richard that the school dissolved into craziness when Chaos week started. The morning of the first day had brought with it eight fights in the dining hall of the first/second year dormitories, one hundred and thirty registered duels, and eight challenges almost issued to Lythia. All of this was before breakfast had even been served.
Richard had managed to steer his ward clear from challengers fairly easily, but it hadn't come without a price. The first few times he simply had to speak and she would turn to him and start to scold him right in public, but that began to backfire when she started to ignore him like he was nothing more than an annoying gnat. To get better results he took Aura's advice and decided to make her angry. He had a few tactics that seemed to work well, like dropping her utensils or bumping into her, or even taking a piece of food off of her plate. In the first two hours of the day he had already been docked two weeks pay and he was sure that by the time this week was over he would be in debt by at least a thousand gold pieces. He only hoped that Aura was considerate enough to realize why he was acting this way and didn't take too much of his pay away, since she was the head of the family and responsible for their money.
Against Lythia's orders, Richard followed her to her classes and stood outside the door, knowing that there was a rule against issuing a duel invitation within the classroom. By the time dinner had come around the number of duels had nearly tripled and he had successfully saved Lythia from thirty in total. He was more than happy when, in a fit of anger over the way he was acting, Lythia sent him away and said she was going to study alone in her room. Sadly that didn't mean his job was over and he had to stand outside her room and keep anyone who tried to disturb her away. Even after his shift had ended he remained at his post and waited until most of the students had gone to bed before even starting the work that had piled up during the day. He wasn't able to climb into his own bed until after midnight.
The next few days followed the pattern of the first day and Richard was running on no energy, in dire need of a day off that he was never going to get. He was going to have to have ask Aura for one once this week had ended and hoped she was nice enough to grant it. For now though he was just going through the motions, doing his best to keep Lythia out of trouble. He was sure she was on the verge of hitting him though and he wasn't sure that would end well. He was being pushed pretty hard already and he feared he might snap if she tried to hit him.
It was Wednesday afternoon and Richard stood next to Lythia as she sat at a table under the shade of a large tree in the courtyard before the start of her afternoon classes, which consisted of her magical portion of classes. Things had died down slightly around campus and he was just enjoying a peaceful moment in the shade that didn't require him to steer Lythia away from any duel challenges. As always though she had other ideas and was dead set on ruining his peace.
'I want some tea,' she demanded in a huff, her arms crossed over her non-existent chest. 'Go get me a pot of something strong!'
Normally he would try to find a reason why he couldn't leave her side, but he was running on empty now and his brain wasn't working as it should have. So with a slight nod he walked away from her and headed towards the kitchen in the main building where everyone got their tea for the courtyard. When he had some brewed and began to bring the tray back he was hit with the sudden realization that he had just left her open to anyone looking for a duel and a sense of dread filled his stomach.
He rushed back to her table as fast as he could while carrying a tray with fragile china and scalding hot tea; and that's when he made a mistake. As he pushed open the door leading back to the courtyard he tried to weave through the throng of students present and accidentally bumped into a girl as she had been standing there talking to some of her friends. The pot of tea slipped off the edge of the tray and fell to the grass, spilling most of its contents on the back of the woman's soft black cloak.
'How dare you!' one of her friends hissed and began to dab at the wet spot on the cloak with a white handkerchief. 'Look what you've done, you peasant!'
'I... I'm sorry...'
The girl he had actually spilled the tea on turned around to face him, her face distorted in anger and both fists balled tightly. The trim around her cloak designated her as a fourth year student and she seemed to be someone very important at the school as already a mob of people had moved closer to see what had happened.
'You've ruined my cloak!' she barked and the girls that huddled around her nodded, their own faces filled with anger as if it had been them to get tea spilled on them.
'I'm terribly sorry,' he apologized once more, keeping his voice even, 'If you'd like I can personally clean it for you and return it to you as soon as I am done.'
'Didn't you just hear me? I said it's ruined! No amount of cleaning is going to fix the damage you have done to it! How do you intend to make up for your blunder, servant?' the girl sneered and in the back of Richards mind he wondered if she had given Lythia bitch lessons. It was uncanny how alike they sounded.
'I... I don't know. It was an accident and I've already said I was sorry.'
'That's not good enough! Who's your master?'
Before he could answer there was suddenly a break in the crowd gathered and Lythia pranced onto the scene, an annoyed look in her eyes as she spotted Richard standing there with no tea in hand. Ignoring the girls currently harassing him she walked directly up to him and stared him down.
'How long does it take to get a simple pot of tea?' she demanded and all Richard could do was shake his head.
'Well I should've known,' the mean girl suddenly spoke and drew Lithia's attention for the first time, 'that his ill-mannered and bumbling servant belonged to Lythia Proud! What's that saying? Birds of a feather?'
'What do you want, Agnes?' Lythia growled and the two girls stared intently at each other. Seemed like there was some bad blood between them which was strange, Richard would have thought that they would get along famously being that they were both bitches.
'Your slave here just spilled a pot of tea on me and ruined my very expensive school cloak! As his master aren't you liable for any damage caused by someone under your employ?'
'You think so, do you? Then go bring it up with my sister, Professor Proud. She's the one that hired him, not me!'
The mention of a teacher sent a hushed whisper through the crowd and for a moment Richard thought things were going to stop there. Sadly it seemed that Agnes wasn't intimidated by the thought of having to deal with Aura, in fact she smiled at it.
'The Professor may be the one paying him but he takes your orders, so you are the one who is supposed to keep him on a leash! You need to make reparations for this farce!'
'What did you have in mind?' Lythia growled and the mood of the crowd that surrounded them shifted as the air was filled with tension and excitement. Once again, Richard should have noticed what was about to happen but he was dragging his heels and couldn't read the mood properly.
'A duel,' the older student sneered with a wide smile on her face, 'Since your servant wronged me and you are responsible for him I believe this falls under the category of a dispute. You can't hide behind your sisters skirt this time!'
'Like I would do something so cowardly!' Lythia roared and the crowd cheered. 'I accept your duel!'
'Wait, wait!' Richard shouted as his mind had finally caught up to what was going on in front of him, 'There's no reason to duel over this. It was an honest mistake and I couldn't be more sorry.'
'Shut it, mongrel!' Lythia sneered but he ignored her and turned to Agnes instead.
'I was the one who spilled tea on you, not Lady Proud, so your dispute is with me and not her.'
'That's not the way it works,' one of Agnes' blonde friends sneered and everyone nodded.
'The duel has been issued and accepted anyways,' another added, 'By the laws of this school there is no turning back!'
'I've just had an interesting idea,' Agnes suddenly said and Richard didn't like the smile she was wearing, 'why don't you have your little slave fight with you. It's not a very fair fight if it's just me against you, is it Lady Last Place?'
'I don't need anyone to help me! I can beat you on my own without breaking a sweat!' she countered but everyone gathered laughed at the statement.
'No one believes that,' Agnes laughed, 'so I will go ahead and schedule the duel with the student council and make sure they understand that it will be two against one for you.'
With that the girl turned on her heel and left, her friends falling in around her as the crowd parted wide enough to allow them through. Lythia stood rooted on the spot, visibly shaking with rage at being made fun of and Richard was surprised to find that he felt a little bad for her. He had been where she was now for most of his life so he could sort of relate to how she felt, even if she was the bane of his existence. He would never tell her that in a million years though.
By dinner the news of the duel had spread throughout the entire school and it was apparently a big deal as everyone was talking about it, even the faculty and the staff. No matter where you went you heard people whispering about it in excited tones and Richard was sure that at any moment he would be attacked by Coni or scolded by Aura for not doing his job, and he couldn't really blame them. He had been entrusted with keeping Lythia out of Chaos Week and he had failed miserably, but what was worse was that he was also going to be made a fool because he was going to have to step out into the arena with her and get his butt kicked by some crazy mage on a rampage.
The upside to all this was that he no longer had to follow Lythia around and keep the people away from her. Everyone was too excited for her upcoming duel to even care about trying to get their own with her and they pretty much left her alone. So it wasn't that big of a deal anymore for him to leave her in her room alone and get her dinner from the kitchen. He even managed to take a few moments rest while he waited for it to be finished and snack on a dinner roll the cook had given him while waiting.
Things immediately changed when he returned to the room and found a very angry looking Coni and a rather subdued looking Aura waiting with Lythia. He put the tray down on the table and was about to excuse himself from the room, figuring they were going to have a family discussion. He hadn't even taken two steps towards the door when Coni yelled at him in a rage, using her magic to send a wave of wind at the door so it closed.
'WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?' she demanded and Richard shrunk away from her, pressing his back up against the wall as she raged. 'Your task was simple and yet you screwed it up so horribly! Do you have any idea what you've just gotten Lythia into?'
'That's enough, Coni,' Aura said softly but her words were hard.
'No, he needs to know who it was exactly he pissed off! Agnes Lykin is a powerful mage and has ranked third in the standings for the last three years! She's not someone Lythia can handle and you managed to go and make sure there was no way I could turn down the duel agreement! I barely edged her out myself last year and that was using everything I had in me!'
'I can beat her!' Lythia announced angrily and slammed her fists onto her mattress in a fit, like something a toddler throwing a tantrum would do. 'I'm not the weak little girl I was last year!'
'Yes you are!' Coni rounded on her younger sibling, 'You think you are strong but you are going to be defeated in the first ten seconds of the fight! Everyone knows this! And what's more, you're going to ruin our family's reputation!'
'Enough, Coni!' Aura said once more but there was more force behind her voice this time. Both girls who were on the verge of throwing punches quickly snapped to attention and stopped bickering, but the tense atmosphere still hung heavily around them.
Aura sighed deeply and stood up from the chair she had been sitting in by the window. She paced around the room for a few tense moments, her eyes glued to the floor as she was lost deep in thought. Both her sisters and Richard remained silent and unmoving, to afraid that they were going to invoke this normally gentle woman's wrath. Richard didn't know much about her really, but he did know that she was considered immensely powerful and he had seen a little bit of that back when she was using her magic on him at the palace.
'What we should be focusing on here is the duel that has been scheduled for the Friday night, and not how this impacts our family. Shame on you Coni for even saying that. You should be more worried about your sisters feelings than how people see our family name!' Aura scolded and Coni couldn't meet her sisters eyes. 'First of all Lythia's not going into this fight blind; she has the your experience from last year's tournament to fall on, so I want you to tell her everything you know about how Agnes fights and what she can do to protect herself out there. Secondly she's not going in alone, she has Richard with her.'
'Like that's going to do any good, he's just a plebian,' Coni snickered but a stiff glance from Aura shut her up instantly.
'I don't need him there with me,' Lythia pouted but she was ignored as Aura turned towards him instead.
'You have almost two full days to prepare, so with some hard work and good tactics you two should be fine. I'd help if I could, but as the referee I am not allowed to. So Coni, every free moment you have I want you to help Lythia and get her as prepared as you can. Is that understood?' she asked and Coni nodded stiffly, still not making eye contact with her. 'As for you Richard, well, I want you to see me out.'
'Yes, ma'am,' he answered with no emotion. This is where his lecture would come in, he was sure of it.
Together they left Lythia's room, leaving her and Coni alone so they could get over their little fight and begin creating a plan of attack that would probably never amount to anything. He and Aura walked in silence for a few moments, making their way to the stairs and Richard feared she was more pissed than he had originally thought because she was being extremely quiet. When she finally did speak though he was surprised to hear that she didn't sound angry, just tired.
'Since you couldn't keep her out of the arena I am trusting you with a new task, one that I hope you will take more seriously. You are to protect my little sister with everything you have during the fight. I don't care how you do it, just make sure she doesn't get hurt too badly.'
'I don't think I can do that,' he admitted sadly, 'what am I supposed to do, run at her with my fists and hope she doesn't take me seriously? She'll probably cast one spell and take me out for good before I even get close.'
'You'll be allowed the use of a weapon during the duel, since you won't be using magic. Have you ever held a sword before?' she asked and he instantly shook his head. 'Then I want you to go down to the river tomorrow during second period and learn how to use one. I hate to do this, but the only person I know who can even use a sword at this school is Alyssa, so you will be learning from her.'
'Umm are you sure that's a good idea?' he asked as they slowly traversed the long spiraling stairway towards the ground floor. 'What if I accidentally hurt her with it? I'd be afraid that I'd get a lucky hit and slice off an arm or something.'
'You don't have to worry about that. The arena is protected by a powerful arcane spell that stops all physical damage from melee weapons and spells alike. The blade wouldn't hit her. It would stop an inch away from hitting her and the spell would send the feeling of the pain it would produce directly to the persons brain. It's the safest way to hold the duels and no one is actually harmed. Your brain doesn't know that though so if you sustain enough blows it will knock you out for a little while and the fight is over.'
'That's pretty cool,' Richard whispered but Aura had heard it. She looked over at him and smiled as they came to the first floor. He walked her to the large double doors and held it open for her as she walked out and stopped before turning back to him.
'Remember, tomorrow during second period by the river. I want you take this seriously and not forget what I have asked of you. Train your hardest, please.'
With that Aura turned and stalked away, her black cloak billowing in the light wind. She disappeared into the gloom and Richard stood there for a few minutes longer. He was glad to hear that no one would actually be hurt but he still wasn't keen on actually being in there fighting against the third strongest mage at the academy. His best guess was that the fight would be over in a matter of seconds, with him having no impact on the outcome at all.
Deciding that the two sisters probably needed time alone to speak, he decided not to return to the room and instead headed to the main tower and where he lived. He grabbed a hot meal, did some of Lythia's laundry and folded it, and then climbed into bed. For as tired as he was he couldn't seem to fall asleep. He just lie there awake, his mind going over the events of the day as a lead ball of nervousness was already welling in the pit of his stomach. When he finally did fall asleep his was haunted by dreams of being torn apart by powerful magic in the arena while hordes of rowdy students cheered on from the stands. It wasn't the most restful sleep he had ever had and he woke up feeling as tired as he had been the night before.
When he brought Lythia her breakfast that morning he found that she was already awake and dressed, pouring over an ancient looking book at her work desk. She completely ignored his presence, even when he accidentally knocked a stack of papers onto the floor. It was almost unsettling how she was reacting to him now and he wasn't sure if he should feel happy about it or not. She was either really engrossed in that book of hers or doing her best to pretend he didn't exist.
For the first time in three days he didn't follow her around like a lost puppy, and when she headed off to her first lesson of the day he was able to get back to all the work that had been piling up. He replaced the folded laundry he had finished the night before, cleared her desk of clutter, gathered up some new dirty laundry, and then returned her half eaten breakfast to the kitchen. That was only scratching the surface though and he realized that he still had a lot more to do, but it would have to wait for a little while. Second period was coming up soon and he had to head down to the river like Aura had asked.
It was a cool morning and only a few students were milling about on the green grounds. When he left the walls of the academy he found himself completely alone and the walk to the gurgling river a few minutes away was silent, occasionally punctuated by the lonely chirps of birds in the distance. When he finally arrived at his destination he found the redheaded professor that would be his sword teacher standing there, hands on both hips as she waited expectantly.
'It's rude to make a lady wait,' she said cheerfully and beckoned him closer.
'Sorry,' he said lamely, remembering the warning he had been given about this woman.
'It's perfectly alright. It makes the chase so much more fun,' Alyssa laughed. She picked up a wooden sword from the ground and tossed it towards him, almost hitting him in the face with it. 'So Aura tells me that you have no experience with weapons.'
'Only in video games,' he answered before he could stop himself. Alyssa looked at him with a puzzled expression and he quickly covered it up, 'No, I don't.'
'Then we will start with the most basic rules and that's how to properly hold it. Keep both legs at shoulder width and stand with your side presented to your attacker, like this,' she instructed and showed him what she meant. 'You don't want to grip the hilt to tightly or you will find that you have less control. But if your grip is too light you can be disarmed too easily. I want you to hold it like you would your manhood when you relieve yourself.'
'Excuse me?!' he choked and Alyssa laughed at him as his face turned red slightly. She nodded for him to take the pose she was currently in and he tried his best, keeping his legs parted at shoulder width and holding the sword straight out .
'No, not like that,' the woman complained. She walked over to him and took a position behind him. A second later her arms were around him and moving his body to the way she wanted him to stand and also adjusting the grip he had on the wooden sword. 'Don't hold it right at the hand guard but slightly beneath it, then place your thumb along the length like this.'
Richard felt very uncomfortable with her holding onto him but he struggled to keep his mind on what he was being taught. He had already had an idea of how you were supposed to hold a sword but it was totally different from the way he was being shown and it didn't feel right, but then again what did he know? Alyssa seemed competent in what she was showing him and he was sure Aura wouldn't have given him a teacher who would only end up making things worse. She wanted her sister protected after all.
When he had finally nailed down the proper way to hold the sword they moved into different poses and she explained the benefits and draw backs of each one. Most of what she taught him was about blocking or deflecting magical attacks but she also warned him that it wouldn't always work and that he should learn to become highly adaptable on the battlefield. Magical attacks that used air, water, arcane, and fire were impossible to stop with a sword which wasn't good considering his opponent was someone who used wind and lightning magic. She also warned him that he could block a lightning attack but it wasn't a good idea because the metal sword would just act like a lightning rod if he wasn't grounded properly.
With a few basic forms and a semi-decent grip they began to spar, and it became very apparent that a single lesson wasn't enough. She managed to unarm him in under five seconds the first time. On the next attempt she side stepped one of his wild swings and smashed him in the back of the head with her sword a second later, causing a headache to sprout up out of nowhere. Every subsequent time after that was no different from the first two and by the time they stopped for a short break he was drenched in sweat and his body ached in various places.
'This isn't going to work,' he groaned and fell to the ground, letting the grass cool him down. 'The duel is tomorrow night and I can barely hold onto a sword!'
'Walk before you run, dear,' she said and Richard ignored the new little name she had been calling him for the last half an hour. 'You'll get the hang of it eventually, it just takes time. There aren't many mages who learn to use a sword and even fewer who know how to fight against one properly. They think themselves above any weapon that isn't magical in nature and give them little consideration, so you will have surprise on your side tomorrow.'
'I don't think it's going to matter,' he admitted as she sat down next to him, 'I'll be taken out by Agnes a few seconds after the fight begins.'
'Don't sell yourself so short and don't forget that you won't be in there alone. Let Lythia focus on the magic and you just keep your mind on getting close to Agnes. No matter the gap in skill and power, it is hard to overcome both a mage and a swordsman at the same time.'
Richard knew she what she was saying was good advice but he highly doubted that he and Lythia could work well enough together to make any kind of upset possible. With how stubborn she could be and the fact that she thought better of herself than others did she would probably end up rushing into the fight alone, forsaking him. No matter which way he looked at it he saw this duel as more of a bloodbath than anything else.
Alyssa had him continue training through lunch, telling him to forget about Lythia's lunch for the day as she was certainly capable enough of getting it on her own. No matter how much he trained though he couldn't last more than three exchanges before Alyssa's overwhelming skill blew him out of the water. No matter how bad he did though she would just keep smiling and encouraging him which actually felt pretty nice. At least she wasn't hanging all over him anymore.
When third period came around they stopped their training as she had to teach a class and she advised that he take a short break and then continue on his own, using a tree as his opponent and going through the motions until his muscles remembered them. Honestly he wanted to just quit for the day and go rest before Lythia got out of classes, but Aura had asked him to try his hardest and he didn't want to let her down again. Once was too many times and he still felt horrible about it. So, after dipping his feet into the cold river he began to hack and slash at a defenseless tree with a wooden sword.
When the sun was beginning to set behind the lush forest that sat on one side of the academy Richard was still at it, swinging away at the tree like there was no tomorrow. He was surprised to see in that moment that someone was approaching him from the direction of the school, a small and unimposing figure. At first he thought it was Lythia because it was almost the exact same form, but as they grew closer he saw that it was not her but the girl she had been with in her room over the weekend.
She was carrying a small bag in her right hand and her black hair swaying to and fro with each small step she took. She wore a timid smile on her face and she didn't seem surprised to see him standing there with a wooden sword, dripping sweat. In fact it looked as if she had come there for the express purpose of seeing him.
'You... you look tired,' she said softly and Richard had a hard time hearing her. 'Maybe you should take a break.'
Richard lowered his raised arm, the sword smacking painfully into his thigh as he didn't have enough strength left to stop it. He wiped the sweat from his brown and nodded, falling to the ground a moment later with his back against the tree he had just been abusing.
'Good idea,' he said gently and the girl rewarded him with a shy smile.
'I... I saw you training from my class window and I thought you could use something to eat,' she smiled and pulled a large chunk of bread from the bag she held. She took a small step forward and held it out to him.
'Thank you,' he said sincerely and gratefully accepted the offer, tearing off a large bite immediately. 'I'm sorry, I don't remember your name.'
'Lisbeth, Lisbeth Monei. I'm... I'm a first year here.'
'It's nice to meet you, Lisbeth Monei. Again, thank you for the bread. I probably would have starved if you hadn't shown up,' he laughed but she didn't return it. In fact her face turned a little sad and she knelt down on her knees a few feet away from him.
'Why are you doing this?' she asked seriously, 'Why are you pushing yourself so hard for her?'
'What do you mean?'
'She treats you like an animal and yet you are doing all of this. Why? You should just let her fight on her own. There's no need for you to get hurt too.'
A little stunned at the sudden shift in this demure girls attitude, Richard took another bite from the delicious bread and chewed it thoughtfully for a few moments. She continued to stare at him intently, worry etched all over her features. 'Professor Proud asked me to protect her and it's because of me that she is even in this duel.'
'I know, she's not a nice person. But her sister is and she has been a big help as I try adjust to life here.'
'Lythia told me that you're from a small village across the sea, but that still doesn't explain why you are doing this for her. I know how you feel when she speaks harshly to you, because that used to be me,' the girl explained and her face was pained. 'I'm the first mage from my family. Before I learned that I could cast magic I was always looked down upon by mages. Those who can't use magic are nothing but insects to them and I hate that! The only reason I am even here learning magic is so I can change that perception. Just because some people can't use magic doesn't mean they are a lower life form.'
'I completely agree,' Richard said gently and sighed a little, 'but there's nothing I can really do in my position. The Queen herself gave me this job and I will try to do my best at it for the time I am here, which I hope won't be long. I really appreciate your concern though.'
Lisbeth opened her mouth like she wanted to say something further but she blushed deeply instead and averted her eyes. They sat there in silence as he continued to munch down on the bread she had brought him and when he was finished he went back to his personal training while she watched on with a sad look. She didn't say anything more to him and eventually left on her own, so quietly that he didn't even notice until he turned around some time after and saw that she wasn't there. He was glad that she wasn't like all the other stuck up mages he had met so far and hoped that one day she realized her dream. It didn't really concern him though. One day he would be going back to his own world where magic didn't exist and he never had to hear about it again.
The day of the duel dawned hot and it seemed the cool weather they had experienced the day before wasn't a sign of things to come. Once again Lythia ignored his presence and buried herself in the same book she had been pouring over the previous morning. She didn't even so much as mention his absence the other day and he was grateful for that. There were so many things on his mind that he didn't need to be chewed out by her right now.
On his way to the kitchen to return Lythia's once again half eaten breakfast he ended up running into Alyssa, who was aware of how much he had trained the previous day. She told him that today's training was off as he would only succeed in over working himself and becoming sluggish for when the time of the duel came around. Instead he was instructed to take the rest of the day off and take a hot bath to ease his muscles before relaxing. He wasn't very well going to complain with those orders.
He spent the remainder of the day just lying in his bed and napping as much as his nervous brain would allow. One of the maids who had heard about his duel was even nice enough to bring his lunch and dinner to his room, feeling sorry that he had been dragged into two prissy girls fight. Most of the other non-magic using staff also felt the same way and whenever he came across them they would offer their apologies or wish him good luck. Richard did his best to ignore this though as he needed to focus on what he had been taught the day before.
It was strange how when you were excited for something time seemed to slow down, but when you were nervous or afraid of something it seemed to speed up. Richard experienced that very thing and before he knew it the time had come for him to leave his room and make his way down to the arena where the duel was being held. Even though he knew it was safe and that no one would actually be hurt, it was still the most terrifying journey he had ever made. The one place in the entire school he had wanted to see now became the one place in the entire universe he didn't want to go into. It was pretty ironic really.
Many students were also making their way down to the arena as well, chattering happily and in excited tones as the main event for Chaos Week had finally arrived. Those who knew his face would point him out to their friends and he found that he was haunted by laughter the entire way down to the arena. He really should have gotten there earlier so he could have avoided all of that attention.
When he arrived he was ushered to a Ready Room by one of the professors and told that someone would be inside waiting to tell him the rules of the duel and what to expect. He walked through the cold stone passage that sloped slightly down into the ground and was stunned when he came out the other side to see a massive round room with large stone pillars supporting the ceiling. There were more than a dozen wooden benches for people to sit down and little cubby holes built into the walls to put your possessions in. Sitting on the bench closest to the massive wooden gate that undoubtedly led to the arena floor was the small form of the blonde Lythia, her head down in concentration. Standing next to her was her older sister Aura, a grim look on her face as if she was just as nervous as the two combatants were.
'Welcome, Richard,' she spoke and her voice echoed through the large empty room, 'I've already spoken to your opponent about the rules. If there is anything you would like to ask please do it now.'
'I'm fine,' he croaked and his voice cracked savagely.
'Very well. The rules of the duel are simple: it will be a two against one scenario and the winning team will be whoever is left standing at the end. There is no time limit. The use of forbidden spells will result in a disqualification and the attempt at physical abuse through the use of your body will as well. Weapons are allowed. All combatants must wear protective gear at all times and you will find some for you back near where you came in from. That is all.'
Aura bowed slightly at the hips and then placed a gentle hand on her sisters shoulder before leaving through the way Richard had entered. Richard looked at Lythia and noticed that she was indeed dressed differently from her school uniform. Her black cape was twice as long and would drag across the ground and seemed to be heavier, like it had been made from a thicker material. The short skirt she normally wore was replaced by a pair of dark leather pants. The white dress shirt was still worn though and Richard wondered why that was. He didn't spend too much time on it though as he had to prepare himself.
Like Aura had told him there was a set of clothes for him on a small wooden table near the entrance and he quickly began to put it on, storing his normal clothes in one of the cubby holes in the stone wall. He had been given a hard leather tunic, hard leather pants, a metal bracer for his right arm, a grey cloak that looked like the one Lythia wore, and a single metal shoulder guard. He was able to easily put on everything but the shoulder guard which took him a few minutes to figure out how the straps worked. Also on the table was a rusty old sword that was as dull as a plastic knife and weighed four times heavier than his wooden sword had.
After getting everything on and picking up the sword he moved back to the entrance of the arena and found that Lythia was already standing, a skinny wooden wand held in her hand tightly and her jaw set. He stood next to her by the gate and together they waited, the sound of the crowd talking loudly above their heads penetrating him to the bone. A few minutes later he could hear a loud voice break out over the chatter and speak for a few moments, the words sounding mumbled through the heavy stone that lay above them.
'Don't get in my way and don't embarrass me out there,' Lythia said trying to sound tough but her voice quivered slightly. 'You better be ready because the Queen is here to witness this.'
'The Queen?!' he shrieked and his voice came back at him a second later.
'I am her niece after all!' his partner growled and stomped on his foot roughly.
When the loud voice speaking to the crowd stopped the air was suddenly full of loud cheering and screams of joy. The show was about to begin and Richard had to physically stop himself from teetering over as the gravity of everything landed on him hard. A moment later the massive wooden gate blocking their path began to lift, creaking loudly. Together with Lythia he walked up the stone ramp and towards the light that beckoned him, his body shaking in fear and nervousness.
As they exited the tunnel Richard was paralyzed momentarily in awe by what he saw. The arena floor was as large as football field and oval in shape, the ground made from soft sand that made it a little hard to move around in. Erected all along the edges of the arena were massive stone pillars that reminded him of Roman architecture and he instantly saw their use; he could hide behind them and avoid magical attacks without worry. Right across the way from them was another massive wooden gate that was opened fully, a single female form walking out of it slowly and dressed identically to Lythia.
While he and his partner shrank away from the thunderous cheering from the packed stands, Agnes ate it up. There was a big smile plastered to her face and she held her head high, her hands out at her sides slightly like she was some kind of hero. Her hair was pulled back into a tight pony tail and every movement she made oozed confidence. And why shouldn't it? She was the third ranked student at the school and her enemies were the nearly last ranked Lythia and a completely useless Richard whose sword shook in his hand.
'Will all three combatants please bow to Queen Lystia and then to one another!' a loud voice rang through the cheering and Richard recognized it as Coni's, the student council president.
Following Lythia's lead he turned to the right and spotted a private viewing box where the Queen sat, high above the normal crowd of students, professors, and staff. He bowed deeply to her, keeping his eyes locked on at all times. A moment later they were turning back to the center of the arena and bowing once more. While both Lythia and he observed the bow completely, Agnes only nodded her head and continued to smile at them.
'You may begin at the sound of the bell!' Coni instructed and Richard got into the stance he had been shown by Alyssa the previous afternoon.
What felt like an eternity later a large bell was struck once and all hell broke loose. In the exact same moment he began to charge towards Agnes he was struck by a powerful gust of wind and thrown back five feet, landing heavily on his ass. A second later a beam of purple rocketed over his head and drove right towards the better fighter. For a moment he thought it was going to strike her, but Agnes simply flourished her wand and the beam of purple light was deflected harmlessly towards the ground ten feet away where it exploded in a shower of dust.
Once again Richard got to his feet and charged at her, bringing his sword above his head in a more defensive posture, and once again gale force winds struck him in the chest and hurled him into the air before he could make it even ten feet. He had just enough time to get up and turn back to his enemy to see a streak of yellow lightening arching towards him. He quickly dove out of the way and was narrowly missed as it hit the ground a few inches from where he was.
'You're useless!' Lythia roared as she hid behind a pillar just before a storm of dust picked up by the wind Agnes was controlling slammed into it. 'Just go hide somewhere!'
Richard growled at the insult, his testosterone getting the better of him as adrenaline coursed unimpeded through his blood. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears and taste sand in his mouth from when he had been tossed back. Above all of that he could feel anger scratching at his heart and mind, an anger he had never given into before. Now was as good a time as any he figured and once again rushed at Agnes who stood across the arena laughing at them.
He saw her raise her wand once more and her lips began to move as she began to chant an incantation to a spell. In a moment of pure instinct he stopped all his forward momentum a second before a bolt of lightning shot out from the tip of her wand and struck right where he should have been. It had been so close and so powerful he could smell the ozone in the air and every hair on his arms stood straight up. Seizing the chance he had given himself he ran forward again and quickly closed the distance between them, his sword raised high and ready to strike.
He should have taken a moment to take in what she was doing as in the last moment, two feet away from her, she pointed her wand directly at him and he was hit full on by a powerful spell that tossed him high into the air a moment before a bolt of crackling lightening struck him directly in the chest. The pain coursing through his body and mind as he landed was enough to cause his eyes to roll into the back of his head and he shook for a few seconds, writhing in the dirt he lay on.
His vision was blurry and his hearing distorted as the blood rushed through his ears and silenced all the cheers and jeers that had erupted from the crowd. He knew he could just lie there on the ground for the rest of the match and be left alone. He would be safe that way. He wouldn't have to feel that pain ever again. But was that really what he wanted to do? He had spent all of yesterday slicing at a tree with a wooden sword because he had been asked to. Because he had been asked to protect Lythia with everything he had, and he hadn't given his all yet.
He knew he couldn't take her head on again though, so he crawled to his feet and made a break for the pillar Lythia was currently taking shelter behind, massive bolts of lightning striking it repeatedly as Agnes attacked continuously. He narrowly made it behind the massive structure before a gust of savage wind blew past and slammed into the side of the arena wall, kicking up enough sand to obscure their vision.
'I thought I told you not to embarrass me!' Lythia howled and he felt like hitting her in that moment. 'Look at yourself! You're bleeding!'
Richard wiped his hand over his mouth and looked at it, seeing a smear of blood on the back. Now he could even taste it in his mouth and he grew confused; he thought this was supposed to be safe, that there wasn't any physical damage. Looking down at his chest where the lightning bolt had hit him he noticed that there was a large burn mark there that still smoldered a little. He knew for sure that wasn't supposed to happen.
'Stay here while I go finish her off!'
Lythia moved to step out from behind the pillar but he quickly grabbed her arm and roughly pulled her back. 'Don't!'
'Don't touch me you rat! You have to do everything I tell you to do!'
'Listen to me for a second! It's dangerous to go out in the open! I don't think the spell protecting us is working! Look, that lightning actually hit me!' he said and pointed to the big burn on his leather chest protector.
'Don't be ridiculous! It's impossible for anyone to actually get hurt in the arena! Now let me go!'
Lythia ripped her arm out of his grip and once again tried to move out into the open. This time Richard dragged her back in roughly and pushed her up against the pillar. When she opened her mouth to yell at him once more he lost his cool and smacked her flush on the cheek, the sound reverberating through his mind. It worked though. she stood there stunned as a red hand print appeared on her pale skin and a few tears stung at her eyes.
'If you go out there you will get hurt!' he roared loudly and hoped she finally listened to him.
He never got a chance to find out though. A second later a wall of wind ripped through them and tossed them both flying into the dirt ten feet away, sand in their eyes. Agnes had gotten bored of just shooting lightning at a pillar and had moved into a better position, one where she could strike at them. From where she was now there would be no where he or Lythia could hide and he didn't know how many more times he could be struck before he passed out or died. If he could get closer to Agnes and tell her that the spell protecting them had failed then maybe they could stop this before anyone got seriously hurt, but he doubted she would even listen. She had a hungry glint in her eyes and it frightened him a bit.
'Rus zy no kil rom tel doh!' he heard Lythia cry out and a moment later a glowing purple ball flew through the air towards Agnes. It looked like a pretty powerful spell as the dirt on the ground was being tossed into the air as it sped over, but against the third strongest student at the school it was nothing and Agnes easily deflected it. Richard was actually a little glad about that, as if it had hit her it might have one some serious damage.
Agnes pointed her slender wand at them once more and her lips began to move over strange words, a spell building in her body and Richard knew she was planning to end the duel here and now. In a fit of pure stupidity he jumped to his feet and moved in front of Lythia who was completely defenseless, holding out both hands in front of him with the palms facing Agnes as he hoped to absorb the entire attack himself.
He yelled out for her to stop but his words were lost in the crowds overwhelming cheering and he knew that in the next second he would probably be seriously injured or killed. With Lythia at his back though he knew he had to do this. Aura had asked that he protect the youngest sister and that's what he intended to do. He doubted she had had this in mind when she asked him but it didn't change the fact. Lythia was in this mess because of him, because he had spilled tea on Agnes, and he refused to let her pay the price for it. He only hoped that after this next attack took him out they would have enough common sense to stop the fight.
Everything happened at once as the world seemed to break around him. A massive bolt of lightning streaked across the distance, long tendrils of electricity breaking off from the main body and spiraling through the air. As his brain seemed to slow down the flow of time around him he closed his eyes and held his arms out straighter, expecting at any moment to feel the impact of a devastating attack. Only it didn't happen. Not in the way he expected anyways. He could feel the bolt strike but it was five feet away from him, and there was no pain. Only the sound of electricity crackling through the air and the pressure on his arms as if someone were trying to push him backwards. Even the crowd stopped their shouting and the arena fell into stunned silence.
Opening his eyes Richard was stunned to see that the bolt of lightning had actually stopped five feet away from him, striking a field of pure white light that had been erected between him and Agnes. At first he thought one of the teachers had noticed something was wrong with the duel and jumped in to stop it, but then he realized he could feel something flowing through his body. It was warm, powerful, and deeply rooted within his blood almost as if it was a part of him. With a familiar feeling he looked over at the golden bracer on his left wrist and saw that it was glowing with a brilliant golden radiance and the insignia etched into the surface was bright white. It was almost the same thing that had happened when he had accidentally put it on back in his apartment, only this time he felt he could actually control the magic coursing through him.
Another bolt of lightning hit the barrier he had created but it did nothing against the power. A powerful gust of wind quickly followed it and Richard found that behind the barrier of light he and Lythia were protected against it as well. The wind howled around them but the small bubble right behind the barrier was completely safe.
Noticing that her attacks weren't working Agnes stopped casting and the murmur of the crowd quickly filled the void left behind from the howling winds. Richard held his hands to his face and balled them into fists, holding onto the power that still ran through his body. It felt so amazing that it actually made him a little dizzy and giddy.
'How did you do that?' Agnes demanded loudly across the twenty feet between them. Her wand was still pointed at him and he knew he wasn't out of danger yet. She may have stopped attacking for a few moments but it didn't mean she was done. 'I asked you how you did that?!'
Richard took a deep breath and smiled at her, 'It doesn't matter. Your magic isn't strong enough so stop this now! You can't win!' he yelled loudly. It was more of a bluff than anything else though and he only hoped it worked. What he felt inside him was indeed powerful but he had no idea where it came from or if it would work again. He just hoped he had put on enough of a display to dissuade Agnes from continuing.
'Are you crazy?' she barked and he instantly realized this his ploy had failed. 'I haven't even begun to show you how strong I really am!'
She waved her wand in an intricate pattern and the dirt in front of her began to swirl around and around. As she continued to twirl her wand the vortex of sand and dust grew larger until it stood at least twenty feet tall. Even at this distance he could feel the wind pound against his body and he had to firmly plant his feet so he didn't stumble backwards. Agnes once again pointed her wand directly at his chest and the small tornado began to lumber towards him, tossing dirt high into the air.
'Get behind the pillar!' he yelled at Lythia but didn't have time to check up on her. He held his hands out in front of him again and willed the shield into existence, hoping with everything he had that it worked.
A second later light began to gather at the edges of his hand and solidified into a large curved wall, stopping the wind from touching him and protecting him from the sand that was being hurled around the arena. He quickly realized that wasn't enough though, as the shield only stopped things coming at him from the front but not the sides. Using the powerful gusting winds of the tornado she had created, Agnes cast a bolt of lightning into it and it actually curved just enough to breeze right past the edge of his shield and catch him on the leg. It was only a glancing hit though and the damage was minimal, but that didn't stop it from hurting like a bitch.
Richard had to end this now. He had just provoked Agnes into fighting harder and it was apparent that she was really strong. The attacks she had used on them before were child's play compared to what she was using now and it was safe to say that she had just been toying with them. But now her pride as one of the strongest was put on the line and she wasn't going to just give up. She would come at him with everything she had and she wouldn't stop until he couldn't move.
He began to concentrate as hard as he could, letting the feeling of power flow through his body unimpeded. He could feel it build up within him, heating him up from the inside and making his brain feel a little fuzzy. It was a heady feeling and he knew what he was capable of if he just tried. He had just imagined the wall forming from his hands and it had happened, so if he could imagine some kind of attack he could effectively fight back. But Agnes wasn't going to give him a chance though and she made that clear when another bolt of lightning curved around his shield and hit him in the same leg once more.
This one had hit a little harder and Richard suddenly found himself falling to one knee, his right hand gripping at where he had been struck as the pain radiated through his entire body. With his concentration broken his wall of light stuttered and then vanished without a trace, leaving him completely vulnerable to a brutal attack. An attack that Agnes had already been preparing.
He could hear the strange words being thrown at him from the wind and he knew by how long she spent saying the incantation that this spell would be unlike anything he had ever seen before. He willed his body to move but the pain was overriding that and all he wanted to do was run, something he couldn't do because his leg refused to support any of his weight. He was helpless as he watched Agnes point her wands directly up into the darkening sky and finish her incantation.
Richard could hear the attack before he saw it. There was a massive clap of thunder that shook the entire arena and a second later a missile made from pure lightning shot down from the heavens, lighting up an area twenty miles wide. His mind went blank when he saw it and he couldn't think of a single thing that would save his life. He was doomed.
That was a concept his body wasn't willing to accept though.
His left hand raised above his head in the last moment and he felt the power flow from his body in the exact moment the bolt of energy slammed into him. He was covered in a shower of light that blinded him and the pain running through his arm and into his body was so immense he was about to pass out. His body still refused to give up though and in the next moment he found himself jumping to his feet and running full out to where Agnes had been standing a moment before he had been blinded. The hand that had absorbed the whole lightning attack was suddenly out in front of him and more power began to leak out, forming a compact and powerful ball of light that shined with the same intensity as the lightning had. It hovered a half inch from his flesh and radiated such extreme heat that it should have burned him clean to the bone. But it didn't.
A split second later he erupted from the shower of light caused by Agnes' attack and his body automatically pushed out a wall of light. This time it wasn't used for protection, but to slam into Agnes and push her back until she crashed into the stadium wall. Before she could so much as scream he was upon her, the ball of pure light in his hand a foot away from her face as she closed her eyes against the pain and brightness. His body could have very well pushed the ball into her face and killed her, but it stopped at the last minute and he regained a shaky control.
'I... it's over,' he breathed and could feel the pain coming back to him as it once more threatened to fell him where he stood. 'You can't w... win...'
To make his point clear he lifted the hand with the ball of light to the sky and pushed it out from his body. It sped high and when he was sure it was clear from the stadium he clenched his fist and it exploded brutally, turning the night sky light like the sun had just risen. All Agnes could do was watch in fear at the awesome display and he figured that it was over now. He released the wall of light pinning her to the wall and she fell to her knees, a small dribble of blood dripping from her bruised lips.
Richard turned and began to slowly walk away, a noticeable limp haunting him as his leg threatened to give out with each step. The crowd still remained silent and as he continued to walk away he could hear Agnes pull herself up from the ground and those strange words hiss from her mouth. He instantly spun around, his left arm with the bracer held towards her as he intended to knock her out but found that he was beaten to the punch. A blast of purple light came from behind him and slammed into the girl full on, pushing her backwards until her head smashed into the wall and her eyes rolled into the back of her head as she fell unconscious.
Turning around he found Lythia standing there, a look of shock on her face and her wand pointed at the knocked out girl. Her hair was a mess and the spot Richard had slapped her was bright red and angry looking. Still, he had never been more grateful to see her. He wanted to thank her for saving him there but he suddenly found himself falling forward as his brain had had enough of this abuse and was shutting him down. The last thing he felt was the pain of his nose smashing into the dirt as he collapsed in the middle of the arena.