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Eternal Awakening: Chapter Seven

2022-06-23 00:00:08

****Disclaimer***** This is not my story, I have not changed it. This is the original work of Captius' and is just a repost of his incredible work.

Rate and comment and please enjoy the read :)

Chapter Seven:
The Winter Festival and Tragedy

By the time Monday arrived the word of Richard's engagement had travelled to every inch of the academy and it was all anyone could talk about. For the most part during the weekend, Richard had secluded himself in his room where only staff and other male students could come and find him. He didn't want to deal with anyone anymore and wished he could stay locked up on his private floor until he was able to get home. Thankfully he didn't have to deal with Lythia anymore as she was no longer required to stay in his room to help protect him from getting raped in his sleep. When he had gotten back from the palace, a whole five hours earlier than anyone else, her bed had already been moved out and his room was once more his. That had been one bonus from the disaster that had befallen him.

When Aura had gotten back from the palace she had come to see him immediately and scolded him for leaving without saying a word to her or giving a proper farewell to those who had come to the party just for him. She was not happy and he did feel a little bad about being the reason for that, but he couldn't stay there at the palace any longer than he already had. She seemed to notice that something was bothering him but he played it off as nothing when asked about it. How could he tell her that he was angry at his fiancé right now, or that Reiea had kissed him on the balcony? She pressed him for a little while but after that she just let it go, telling him that when he was ready to talk she would be waiting.

The first day back to classes was one he was not looking forward to. He could handle his first two classes no problem, but it was the last two that were going to be awkward. How would he handle sitting next to Daiya for both of those classes now? As he left the tower and headed towards his math class he was greeted by other students as he passed them; some congratulated him while others looked as put out as Reiea had the previous night. He ignored all of them though and went about his day, trying not to focus on his magical classes that were looming on the horizon.

When the time finally came for him to go to Advanced Arcane Magic he did so slowly and made sure he arrived just before the bell tolled, that way he wouldn't have to speak with Daiya anymore than needed. When he took his seat she flashed him the usual smile but he ignored it and focused instead on what Aura was teaching that week. He could tell from the corner of his eye that Daiya wanted to say something and he realized his actions had probably hurt her. Oh well, she had hurt him a lot worse.

The same atmosphere hung between them during the next class and this time he totally ignored her. He sat closer to Coni than he usually did and even struck up a conversation with her just so he didn't have to worry about Daiya trying to talk to him. When class was over he was the first student out the door and he nearly ran from the tower and back to his private floor where he could rest in peace.

That night Karo visited him and they tried to study for an upcoming history test, but it was apparent that Richard's mind wasn't on his work and Karo called an end to their session early. He tried to get Richard to open up to him but in the end he just said he understood what he was going through and that he would get over it in time. Richard really didn't think so but he thanked his friend and then suggested eating their dinner in his common room.

Things remained like this as the weeks began to slip past and it had gotten to the point where Daiya wasn't even trying to talk to him anymore. He would still catch her glimpsing at him in class but she would often sigh and then turn back to her school work. At one point Richard had actually thought about trying to talk things over with her, after most of his anger at being betrayed passed, but found that he couldn't. He began to feel a little awkward about what he had said to her and it was that shame that wouldn't allow him to try and hear her side of the story. Then again he still thought he had hit the nail on the head with everything he had blasted her with, so he was sure hearing her side of the story wouldn't change anything.

Winter had fully settled over the academy and the cold nights were only getting colder. With each passing week the tournament grew closer and Richard tried his best to lose himself in his preparation for it. He, Karo, Lythia, and Lisbeth would go out into the woods three times a week to practice their spells and getting used to being out in the cold for long periods of time. Each one of them had made some advances in their skill and strength, but the true test would be actual combat and not half hearted attacks against your friends.

Richard really didn't care about the tournament but he did have a reason for training and studying so hard; he was after Dawkins. He still owed that asshole for trapping him in a prison of rock and had spent every little bit of time he had free studying up on Earth Magic and how to fight against it. When they got in the arena together he would humiliate that pompous prick in front of everyone at the school and visitors from around the country. He didn't want to just hurt the guy, he wanted to destroy him so fast that he would never again look down on another person. Maybe Dawkins would even realize that he wasn't all that great like he built himself up to be. He may be the number one ranked male at the school for the last three years but he had never beaten a female mage. Not even once.

After he was done humiliating Dawkins he didn't care what happened after that. Hell, he might even pull himself out of the competition after his match and pretend he had an injury or something. Unlike most other students, Richard wasn't out for glory or anything else like that. So what did he care how well he placed after he finished beating the one guy he even wanted to fight? If he met Dawkins in the first round and he won and then dropped out he didn't really care. So long as his one goal was accomplished.

Before any of them realized it the week of the Winter Festival was upon them. The tournament was only one part of the festival, albeit the biggest part. During one week in the dead of winter the school opened up their gates to the rest of the world and hosted the largest festival in the kingdom. There were shops set up both in and outside of school grounds, circuses, parades, student demonstrations, parties, tours, and various other events that could fill an entire week to the brim. While classes were cancelled during this time there was still plenty for the students to do and they were usually kept busy.

First years were tasked with taking care of the students that would be allowed to join the academy next year. When Richard first heard that he thought it was going to be a babysitting detail until he remembered that the students coming in at the start next year were his age right now. More than anything else they were peacekeepers trying to keep more than seventy girls and six guys in line. It wasn't the best job, but it also wasn't the worst. Lythia's year were helping the student council and disciplinary committee with security and that often meant standing outside in the freezing cold weather for hours on end. If Richard had to pick between them he would choose what he was already doing; at least he was allowed to go in doors whenever he wanted.

The really bad thing about the festival was that their little group could no longer go out into the woods and practice their magic in secret. Tours of the school and the surrounding grounds happened every few hours and the schedule was so chaotic there was no guarantee that they would go unseen. To get caught breaching school rules now would land you a pretty hefty punishment and two students from the first year had already been sent to the kitchens to help the chefs prepare meals for the entire student body. None of them wanted that, so during their free time they usually hung out in one of the girls common rooms and read up on magical theory and practices, hoping to learn something that would help them.

The first day of the school wide tournament was scheduled to start Friday morning and by Wednesday the bracket was posted in each dorm for the students to read. Both Richard and Karo were put up against third year male students they didn't know. Richard had really hoped to draw Dawkins first but it looked like he would have to fight his way to him. Lythia was pitted against a first year girl from one of Richard's classes and Lisbeth was going to fight against a second year student who lived a few rooms down from Lithia.

Richard could have stopped reading the list once he had located everyone he had been training with, but his curiosity got the better of him and searched for Dawkins' name to see who he was going against. The bastard looked like he was getting a pretty easy ride as his first two opponents were second years. For Richard to even meet him in the tournament he would have to win three matches and then hope Dawkins did the same. The good news was though that if Richard beat Dawkins it would be in the all male bracket, just one win away from where the men's and women's joined together. That was an added bonus he hadn't been expecting.

Two names already on the list for the semi-finals were Daiya and Coni, the first and second place finishers from last year. Even though Richard wasn't planning on fighting either of them if he could help it, he still thought it was pretty cheap that they only had to win two matches to claim the title. By no means was that fair. But it didn't really matter to him, did it? Once he beat Dawkins he could care less.

The night before the tournament began Richard and Karo were up in his private common room relaxing after an exhausting day of keeping potential students in line. Two of the females had tried to sneak off while one of the males tried to pick a fight with someone else, so there had been a lot to deal with. Thankfully they didn't need to call anyone from the student council in to smooth over the disputes and things had gone rather smoothly after that. While they sat on a long plush couch in front of a roaring fire they got to talking about the impending event and what their battle strategies were. It hadn't escaped either of their attentions that if they both won their first two matches they would end up coming against each other, something neither of them wanted.

'Well I doubt I'll even make it that far,' Karo sighed and sat back against the couch so he could stretch out his sore legs, 'and if I do I'll just forfeit or something.'

'Don't do that,' Richard advised and kicked his still wet shoes off. 'I don't like the idea of fighting you anymore than you do, but I also don't want a win that I didn't earn. If we meet in the arena we should really duel because it might be the only chance we get at doing it safely. Besides, Fire Magic got the better of me once before.'

At the mention of his duel with Daiya he grew silent and knew he had said to much. He was still trying to figure out what to do with the whole engagement thing and also the fact that he and the Dark Elf Princess were expected to meet in the tournament. It had been over two months since that damn party and not much had changed since then. He knew now that he was a bit of an ass but he didn't have the courage to try and talk to her anymore. He wasn't happy about being blindsided but he also didn't want to lose someone who he had once called a friend.

Karo seemed to notice what he was thinking about because he brought it up a moment later, much to Richard's chagrin. 'Still haven't talked to her?' he asked and Richard shook his head. 'Well I guess you have lots of time to, right? You shouldn't worry about it too much right now. Just focus on getting to Dawkins tomorrow. The men's bracket should be over by the end of the day.'

Richard nodded with a sigh and tried to focus solely on that. He had been waiting for this moment for nearly two full months and it was almost at hand. 'Have you talked to your fiancé yet? What was her name again? Sabina?'

'Yeah that's her name, and no I haven't talked to her in a few weeks. Third years had exams two weeks ago and last week she was training for the tournament. She ended up drawing Agnes in the first round tomorrow.'

'Well let's hope Sabina can kick her ass. If you see her tomorrow tell her to watch out for the combo she uses with lightning and wind. That hurts!'

'I'll pass it along if I get the chance,' his friend answered but Richard knew he wouldn't actually go and look for her. If he saw her then he saw her, if he didn't then it wasn't worth worrying about it.

When Richard first learned that Karo didn't want to see his fiancé much he thought that he just wasn't that into her and didn't care enough about it to make any effort. On the few occasions he had seen the two of them talking he came to see that it was completely the opposite. Karo actually seemed to like the girl and they looked to get along well. He was probably just shy and didn't know what to say or do and that's why he didn't hang around her much. She was also two years ahead of him and a pretty formidable mage from what Richard had heard so he could understand that Karo might feel a little intimidated by her presence. It didn't help that she was fairly pretty as well.

When Richard thought about it like that he began to wonder if that's what his real problem with Daiya boiled down to. It was very likely as she was the most powerful mage at the school, the Daughter of Fire, a Princess to an entire nation, and she would one day become a Queen. Whereas Richard was a fake, plain and simple. He was a commoner from another world and nothing else. There is no way he should be engaged to someone as powerful and destined as Daiya and maybe that's the reason why he couldn't talk to her. Sure, he still felt betrayed but there was only so far you could carry that. She hadn't done a single thing since then to prove she was untrustworthy and she even gave him the space he asked for.

He couldn't let himself think about that right now; he had bigger things to worry about. All he needed was three wins tomorrow and he could finally get his revenge for being locked up in rocks in the middle of the night. He had already mapped out his plan for when he got into the arena with Dawkins so all he needed to do was get there. He was fairly confident about his chances.

Richard awoke the morning of the tournament a few hours earlier than he normally did and he began to mentally prepare himself for his day or vengeance. He made sure to eat the entirety of the hearty breakfast that had been prepared for him and got ready. He pulled on his dueling gear with purpose and made sure every piece was properly on. It had been a long time since he had been this serious about something and the energy of the day was revitalizing him, filling him with courage and determination that were rarely with him.

At ten in the morning the school bells tolled three times and the students vacated their dorms, every single one of them in their battle gear and ready to start the tournament. Teachers waited outside each tower and gathered the students into two straight lines by year. Before the tournament was officially started there would be a parade of students to the arena while townsfolk, parents, nobles, and others lined up to watch. It was a pretty impressive sight and Richard was filled with even more vigor as random strangers cheered as he walked by.

Every single student in the academy lined up outside the main entrance to the Arena where a large stage had been erected. Aura, the headmaster, and a few other professors including Alyssa stood on the platform and once all the students had arrived they all gave small speeches. They spoke of how momentous of a day this was for everyone and how they should uphold the spirit of sportsmanship. Aura issued the rules to everyone and then Daiya and Coni were asked up to the stage to take the participants oath.

Throughout this whole procession Richard tuned in and out, only catching half of what was said. His eyes kept scanning the crowd hoping to locate his friends and Dawkins, but there were just too many people and he could only find Karo who stood right next to him. When the speeches and oaths were finished a cheer surged through the crowd of students and spectators as fireworks soared into the wintery sky and exploded in a rainbow of colors. The Winter Tournament had finally begun.

Students were split into two groups and instructed to head to the ready rooms under the arena. First and Second years were together on the South side of the arena while third and fourth years were on the North. Thankfully Richard and his friends were all in first and second years so they remained together, carving out a little area for themselves in the cavernous room under the arena near the back.

Both times he had been in this room it had been quiet and full of tense waiting that had nearly given him a heart attack. Now it was full of talking, nervous laughter, and teachers yelling out students names as their matches were being called out. It was a totally different atmosphere and Richard actually enjoyed it this time. At first he didn't even want to participate in this stupid event, but now he couldn't wait for his first match to begin. He was chanting the number three in his head like it was a mantra. All he needed was three wins to reach his real opponent.

Lisbeth was the first of their group to be called out and she left, giving a nervous wave and a half smile. She hadn't been in a duel before and she was easily the most nervous of all four of them. Richard really wished he could be up in the stands watching her fight, cheering for her as loud as he could. He doubted anyone from the general public knew her name and her parents probably hadn't made the trek out there to see their daughter duel. As far as Richard knew she hadn't spoken to them once since she had almost been expelled.

'Remember, all we have to do is score two hits or knock our opponents out to move on,' Karo said and his voice was rather high.

'We know, we heard the rules too!' Lythia snapped but as usual the two men ignored her snarky attitude. 'First day matches are decided by the first to score two hits. Second day matches are determined by whoever scores four hits first, and the semi-finals and finals are win by knock out only. No need to keep repeating it every thirty seconds.'

'He's just nervous, Lythia,' Richard said his voice remained even as he ran his hand over his golden bracer, 'We're all a little nervous, even you.'

Lythia shot him a glare that said 'I've been in the tournament before' and then went back to readjusting her cloak as it seemed a little too big for her body. She ignored them until she was called by one of the teachers for her match. Both Richard and Karo wished her luck but she simply ignored them and walked away, disappearing into the crowd between their spot and the entrance to the arena.

As more people got called out others were coming back in. Some showed signs of being covered in bits of ice and snow, or drenched with water, a few looked like they were smoking slightly and others were covered in mud. One thing Richard noticed was that fewer were coming back into the ready room than had left and Karo told him that the losers of the match exited through the stadium instead. They were free after having lost and could spend the rest of the day any way they wanted. Most would probably remain in the stadium and watch the tournament unfold though.

A few minutes after Lythia left Lisbeth walked back in with a giddy smile on her face and her normally well brushed hair windswept. She rushed over to where Richard and Karo were waiting and squealed with delight at winning her first match in her first tournament. Both men congratulated and hugged her before she dove into what her match had been like. Her opponent had been a wind/lightning user and she credited her win to their training sessions, saying that their practice on deflecting attacks really helped her out. She mostly had Richard to thank for this as it was a subject taught in Advanced Magical Theory.

Their little celebration didn't last long as both Richard's and Karo's names were called out together. Lisbeth wished them luck and said she would be waiting right where she was for when they came back, something Karo didn't think would happen for him. They both walked together towards the open gate and were ushered out into the snowy landscape that echoed with spells, cheering, and booing.

The first thing Richard noticed as he and Karo were separated is that tall stone walls had been erected on the arena floor and he couldn't make out anything other than narrow corridors that spread out in every direction. Alyssa, whose job it was to lead combatants to their duel site, smiled at him and explained that to accommodate the amount of duels needed to end the first day the arena had been split into ten separate and smaller arenas. Richard's happened to be located on the far end of the arena and it was quite a walk to get there.

When he walked through a small hole in the bricks that quickly closed up behind him Alyssa whispered a quick good luck and then went back to her job. Richard found himself standing in a snowy little square of the arena that was just a little bigger than his room; which was actually pretty big considering. His opponent, a rather charming looking third year man stood at the opposite end of the square and held a gnarled wand in his hand, his knuckles white. A professor stood off to one side to act as the referee and she motioned for both of them to bow to one another and the crowd, something they both did quickly.

'You may begin in ten seconds!' the woman called out and both men nodded. Richard could feel a familiar sense of nervousness well up in the pit of his stomach but he quickly pushed that away as the count was getting lower. He began to gather his power in his bracer and held it up, pointing it directly at the man who was to be his enemy.

'Three... two... one... begin!' she yelled and the second the words were out of her mouth both Richard and the other man attacked.

It seemed his opponent was a water user and Richard watched as a small wave of bubbling water came rushing at him. He released the power from his bracer and a small ball of pure white light shot out from it, cutting through the water like it wasn't even there and disappearing from sight. In the next instant Richard called up more power and shot it through his bracer like a laser the moment before bringing up a shield of pure white light and blocking the incoming attack.

'Stop!' the referee called out a second after the small wave crashed into his shield and didn't go any further. 'The winner is Lord Proud!'

Richard dropped his shield in a bit of confusion and looked through the snow to find his opponent lying motionless on the ground, a small dot burned on the stone wall from where his second attack had hit. It seemed he didn't even need to attack twice as the first one had actually knocked the guy out only seconds after the fight had begun. That was definitely something Richard hadn't been expecting but he felt the confidence that had already been in his swelling up at this stunning win.

The crowd around his end of the arena erupted in a loud and powerful cheer as Richard was led back out into the corridor while his opponent was loaded on a stretcher, his eyes opening just as they lifted him. Richard didn't have time to enjoy the atmosphere as an attendant quickly ushered him back towards the ready room and told him to remain there until his name was called again.

Lythia had already come back after winning her first match and both her and Lisbeth were stunned to see him back after only a few minutes. He quickly recapped his match to them, which didn't take long at all, and then listened as Lythia went into great detail about her own. She had apparently won by the skin of her teeth but from the way she told it sounded as if she had won just as easily as Richard had. He couldn't complain about it though, he was a little proud that she had won and would be moving on as well.

Time continued to pass by and Karo had yet to return. After twenty minutes they realized that he hadn't made it past the first round and their little group wasn't so happy anymore. Even Lythia seemed a little bummed out that he hadn't returned and Richard wondered if that was simply because she had been helping him out and didn't want his early exit to reflect on her. Regardless, it sucked pretty badly and he wondered just how bad it had gone for his friend.

Over the course of the next five hours the ready room continued to empty until you could actually walk around without bumping into people by accident. Richard's second match had been against a first year and had ended just as quickly as his first one had. The timid guy barely had time to get an incantation off before he was overwhelmed by Richard's power and it ended after only a single hit again. Both Lithia and Lisbeth had also won their second matches but Lisbeth looked a little out of it. She had been up against a mage who used Earth Magic and had taken a rather large rock to the head. Even though no actual damage was done her brain still believed it had been hit hard and she was suffering from the effects. Richard didn't know how much longer she could keep going.

Richard's third match was against the third year who had taken Karo out in the first round and he turned out to be a wind/lightning user. His wind was pretty powerful but his lightning was weak and Richard was able to deal with him fairly easily. It took a few more exchanges than his first two matches but he managed to win by hitting him twice with his Light Magic and blocking all of his attacks. That was the win he needed though. With any luck his next and probably last match of the day would be against Dawkins.

When Richard came back to the ready room he found Lythia standing there alone in their usual spot, a sort of sad look on her face. Richard quickly walked up to her and asked what had gotten her into a bad mood. There could be a million different reasons but Richard hadn't seen her look quite this sad before and it was creeping him out a little.

'My match was against Lisbeth,' she answered his question and looked away.

'Oh, I see,' he sighed and sat down on the bench that was still warm from when he had left it a few minutes ago. 'You didn't hurt her too much, did you?'

'I didn't want to at first. I was just hoping to end it quickly and spare her but she just kept fighting back. She's got a lot more power than I thought she would and the score at the end was two to one for me. I was really surprised.'

'Well, at least we're still in it.'

Lythia looked at him and actually flashed a sad smile before frowning once more and looking away. All of them knew that going against each other sooner or later was a possibility but it still sucked. Then again, with Lythia's continuing participation that meant all of their family was still in the tournament and that was something at least. Lythia had really come a long way from her nearly last place finish from the year before and if she could win just one more match she would make it through the first day. It was expected that half the field would be eliminated on the first day so she not only beat her old record but shattered it into a million pieces.

When Richard's name was called out an hour later he came out to the arena floor and he found that the sun had set and a wintery chill had swept in, bringing with it thick snowflakes that fell from the heavens heavily. Alyssa once more led him to the area his duel would take place and she gushed about how well he was doing the entire time. She also managed to get a few jabs about him being engaged in and had enough time to flash him a fake pout before he was sealed into the small area.

The minute he appeared in the open the crowd roared out his name and he thought he could even hear Karo's voice mixed in with the torrent of sound. A moment later all of his attention was suddenly focused on one thing in the world as his opponent walked into the arena and sneered at him. It had been exactly what he had hoped for; he was given a chance to pay Dawkins back for what he did two months ago.

'I didn't think you'd make it out of the first round,' the bully laughed and pulled his wand from his cloak, pointing it directly at Richard's face like he intended to attack right now.

'I had some pretty good motivation to get this far. I was hoping I'd get the chance to fight you.'

'Didn't you learn anything last time? You have no hope of beating me!'

'That's right, keep laughing you jackass,' Richard whispered under his breath.

'Both combatants please bow to one another and to the crowd,' the referee called out loudly. Both Richard and Dawkins simply nodded their heads at each other and then gave a full bow to the crowd that could sense the tension between them. 'The match will begin in ten seconds!'

Richard turned back to face his tormentor and gathered up as much of his power as he could. He had been dreaming of this day for so long now and he knew exactly what he was going to do to humiliate this asshole. Dawkins had been right about one thing, Richard's magic was influenced by the strength of the light around him and he was sure to try and take advantage of that. What Dawkins hadn't realized was that Richard had been experimenting with his magic and had come up with a little attack that would end this once and for all. He only needed one hit.

'Three... two... one... begin!' the referee yelled and the crowd exploded in cheering as they expected to see something spectacular.

Richard really hated to disappoint them but he wasn't fighting for their entertainment. The moment they were allowed to begin casting a massive explosion of light erupted in the arena and dust, snow, and dirt was tossed in every direction violently as everyone was blinded. Even mages in the other parts of the arena were blinded by the light and covered in snow and dust as the explosion was so powerful that the ones in the ready room could feel the arena and stadium tremble around them.

When the smoke and dust cleared the entire crowd let out a collective gasp by what they saw and Richard couldn't hide the wide smile that was growing over his lips. The back wall where Dawkins had stood in front of had been totally demolished in the explosion and even the wall across from it had been toppled. Two mages who looked like they were just about to start their match stood where they were and stared at him with wide eyes, covered from head to toe in dust from the walls that had once been there. There was a massive crater where Dawkins had been and a twitching body lie at the bottom of it, tendrils of smoke rising from his clothes and his eyes still open but unseeing.

'The winner is Lord Proud!' the referee yelled out but her voice was suddenly a lot quieter than it had been. She was also covered in dust and snow and she was blinking furiously as she still seemed to be partially blinded from the flash a few second earlier.

The entire match had lasted less than a second and was by far the fastest one of the day, if not in history. The way Richard had accomplished this was by gathering ultraviolet light around Dawkins during the countdown and then detonating it the second he was allowed. Humans couldn't see ultraviolet light but Richard could feel it, so Dawkins never would have seen it coming. He had also used so much of his strength to gather as much of it as he could and he was glad it was the last match of the day; if he had to fight again he wouldn't have enough stamina to keep going. The sight of seeing Dawkins twitch in the massive crater was more than worth it though. The strongest male student at the academy had fallen in the blink of an eye and Richard didn't think he would be waking up any time soon.

'You are absolutely amazing!' Karo exclaimed and smacked in Richard on the back hard. 'I wouldn't be surprised if people from the capital saw the explosion!'

'He's right, Richard,' Lisbeth smiled and passed him a cup of steaming tea as she sat down on the couch next to Lythia, 'I've never seen anything like that. Everyone at the festival will be talking about that for years!'

Richard, Karo, Lythia, and Lisbeth sat in the common room on one of the girls floors having a snack and drinking some tea. It was a few hours after the end of the first day of the tournament and they were all enjoying a relaxing moment by the fire going over their fights. Well that had been the intention anyways. Instead, all they wanted to talk about was his match against Dawkins. Even Lythia.

'I just hope he learned his lesson,' Richard remarked with a small smile and took a sip of his tea.

'I don't think he will ever forget that lesson. Last I heard about him was that he was still in the infirmary and hadn't woken up yet. They think he might have a concussion.'

'Wouldn't surprise me if he did,' Lythia snickered softly and everyone looked at her in a funny way, 'I mean you did break the protective barrier on the walls and destroyed them like they were nothing.'

'And it took me forever to create those barriers!' a voice said loudly from the stairs and everyone turned to see the newcomer. Aura walked into the room with a neutral face and still dressed in her teaching clothes, her hair a little frazzled around the edges. 'Now I have to find an even more powerful spell for tomorrow so this doesn't happen again.'

'I... I'm sorry...' Richard stuttered as she walked closer to them. Suddenly there was a smile on her face and she patted her 'son' on the back gently.

'Don't be. I'm really proud of you. I'm proud of all of you! It takes a lot of guts to fight as well as you all did today and you should all be proud. Even you Karo. Your opponent was no pushover and you almost beat him.'

'T... thanks Professor Proud,' Karo beamed and Richard slapped him on the back as he had just done to him a moment ago. 'Richard won't get into any trouble for breaking the barriers though, will he?'

'No he won't. It's up to the teachers to provide a safe environment for the duels and we are supposed to prepare for anything. None of us had any idea that someone would have that much power in a single attack though so we didn't take it into account. Besides, I heard from Daiya that Dawkins and his friends had attacked you illegally and that he deserved what he got.'

'She told you about that?' Richard groaned.

'She is engaged to you,' Lythia pointed out and Lisbeth and Karo nodded.

'She told me before that,' Aura explained with a slight smile, 'and I told her to just leave it in your hands. She was pretty worried that you would end up getting hurt if someone didn't step in but it seems like she was worried about nothing.'

'Yeah, Richard wasn't the one to get hurt,' Karo laughed but quickly stopped when no one else joined him.

Richard remembered that Daiya had tried to get him to tell her about what had happened but he had refused, saying that he wanted to take care of it on his own. He had just thought that she was doing her job as the head of the disciplinary committee and there was nothing else behind it. To learn that she had taken it to Aura was surprising though. And it had been before they were engaged. If the princess had been just trying to gain his favor to get his marriage rights she probably wouldn't have taken the problem to Aura after Richard told her to leave it alone, would she?

'Don't forget to get to bed soon, Richard, Lythia. You'll need all the energy you can get tomorrow if you plan to go any further.'

'Sure, sure,' Richard answered and he must have rolled his eyes because Aura stopped as she turned to leave and glared at him, her cold eyes piercing right through him.

'You are planning on continuing to compete, aren't you?' she asked but Richard didn't answer and averted his gaze. 'You had better. You're not just representing yourself but also the royal families from two different countries now! So don't forget that! Besides, if you make it to the final day you and Daiya can work things out in the arena.'

'Ouch, she can see right through you,' Lythia snickered and Richard fixed her with an annoyed expression.

'I mean it Richard. Everyone will be able to tell if you throw a duel after the display you put on today. You were the overwhelming favorite. So get some rest and get prepared, because tomorrow you are being thrown into the women's bracket.'

Aura gave him one last stern glance and then left the common room, her heels clacking on the cold stone stairs and disappearing from sight and hearing range. The group of friends sat there in silence for a while after that, each of them staring into the fire and relaxing as best as they could. Now more than ever Richard felt like a complete idiot and he knew what Aura told him was true. If he could get into the semi-finals and/or finals he could probably talk to Daiya and smooth things out. If he couldn't talk to her than he could at least make it up to her by getting his ass kicked in a match he was sure he couldn't win.

After a while they all began to get tired and decided to call it a night. Karo and Lisbeth wished both Richard and Lythia luck tomorrow and said they would be watching from the stands and then they all headed to their separate rooms. Richard had wanted to fall asleep early but he had a lot to think about that night and didn't up falling asleep until the second time the attendants came to put another log on the fire at around one in the morning. Thankfully the matches for the next day started later than the first day so he had the chance to sleep in for a few extra hours.

The nervousness that should have crippled him the first day set in the next morning and Richard had trouble forcing his breakfast down his throat. Lythia came and told him that he would be expected in the arena ready room by eleven and that if he was late it would mean a disqualification. She then left to get herself ready and Richard sat on the edge of his bed trying to get his mind where it needed to be. For the past two months he had been training to get to one single point in the tournament and now that he had accomplished that he had to get psyched up all over again.

When Richard left the tower to make his way down to the arena he found that his friends and Aura hadn't been exaggerating about how much of an impact his duels the previous day had on the spectators who were there. Everywhere he went he had people coming up to him to wish him luck, thank him for the shows he was putting on, or even ask him questions regarding his never before seen magic. Most people also told him not to lose because they had bet everything they had on him winning the whole tournament and that was proved to be true when he passed a dozen different betting circles just on his way from the tower to the arena. He wondered if betting on the matches was even legal but figured it didn't matter to him and he should just focus on what he had to do today.

Once again Richard was directed to the south ready room where the first and second years were held and when he entered he noticed immediately that the atmosphere of the previous day had died. Only a handful of students from those years were left and each of them sat off on their own with their heads bowed as they were deep in thought. Even Lythia had sequestered herself in a corner and had her back turned to the rest of the room, her wand gripped tightly in her hand as she waited for her name to be called. Out of the entirety of both first and second years less than thirty students remained. Richard was also the only male standing in that cold dark room.

A large write out of the current bracket standings hung on the wall near the gate leading to the arena and Richard checked it out quickly, wanting to find out who his next opponent was. He didn't recognize the name but she was a fourth year student and had an asterisk by her name which indicated she was a top ten finisher the previous year. He also noticed that Agnes was still in the tournament and had beaten Karo's fiancé in the first round yesterday. Richard hoped his friend had at least went and tried to cheer her up after her loss, because it would have given him some bonus points in her book and Karo could always use them.

Lythia was the first of their room to be called out and Richard wished her luck silently as she walked past him. She was so deep in concentration that she didn't even notice him waving at her gently and she disappeared quietly through the gate as the crowd clapped and cheered at getting to see another member of the Proud family fight.

Richard didn't get the chance to wait behind to see if she won or not because less than a minute after Lythia had been called his own name was yelled and he had to make his way into the arena as well. This time it wasn't Alyssa who led him through the corridors to where he would be fighting but Aura. Richard suspected she was solely there to make sure he fought for real but neither of them spoke. The tense atmosphere crushing down on him was enough to make him shiver a little and it took all he had to keep his feet moving, one in front of the other until he was stepping into the trimmed down arena.

The small area had changed drastically from what he had seen the other day and he immediately had to take everything in. Five small pillars had been erected in the area that had been made close to twice as large as it had been before; four pillars stood in the corners while the fifth stood directly in the middle of the floor, blocking most of his view of the other side where his opponent would be coming in at. The stone walls that also closed the area off to the rest of the arena had been changed and seemed to be thicker; not to mention there was a soft hum coming from them and Richard could feel the protective spells that had been placed on them. It looked like the teaching staff weren't taking any more chances.

A few seconds later he heard the wall being lifted back into place as someone entered and he side stepped until he could see around the pillar to find a familiar face. The girl was tall, a little round, and had shoulder length red hair and puffy eyes. Richard had seen her once in his duel against Daiya and she had been one of the three who were knocked out by his first attack. She seemed to remember that time too because she was looking at him nervously and the hand the clutched her wand was shaking badly.

'First person to score four hits or knock their opponent out will be the winner!' the referee announced loudly and both Richard and his opponent nodded that they understood. 'Bow to each other and then the crowd!'

He and the fourth year woman did as they were asked and then faced each other once more as the countdown began. The thought of using the same spell he beat Dawkins with crossed his mind but he didn't want to hurt her and it would also drain him; he still had a whole day of dueling left. So he figured he would do it his normal way and try to end it fast so he could get back and see how Lythia's match gone. It didn't go exactly how he planned though.

As soon as the referee let them begin Richard attacked immediately, shooting a beam of pure light directly at his opponent. He figured she would try to block or parry it but instead she ran, the beam narrowly missing her as she dove behind a pillar in the corner. Every attack he cast she would avoid by running away and she wasn't even trying to fight back. It was actually starting to get annoying as she continued to hide behind the pillars and he was getting fed up with the stalemate. This match had lasted four times as long as any of his the previous day and he was starting to feel a little drained at casting so many spells. He needed to end this now before he got too tired to continue, which was probably his opponents plan from the very start.

With his annoyance building up, Richard gathered a lot of power into his focus and pointed it directly at the pillar she was hiding behind right now. He released it all into a ball that formed into his hand and hurled it as hard as he could towards the pillar, shattering it in the blink of an eye as a shower of dust and debris filled the air. Before it had even settled he saw a had reach out from behind what was left of the pillar and toss a wand out.

'Winner by forfeit, Lord Proud!' the referee announced and the match was over.

'Sorry if I went a little overboard!' Richard called out to the shaking girl who was picking up her wand from the snow covered ground.

'It's what I get for drawing the man who is engaged to Princess Daiya,' she called back with a small smile and waved off his apology, 'Good luck with the rest of your matches.'

Richard and the girl were ushered out of the arena and he was led back to the ready room by Aura. He wanted to ask her how Lythia had done but considering she was taking people to and from the fights she might not even know. If Lythia had been on the opposite side of the arena then it was another professor who escorted her, so Richard would have to wait until he got into the ready room to see if she was there.

She wasn't there though. Her match had to have ended by now because Richard's had taken so long but Lythia was nowhere to be seen and he realized he was the last one left out of his group. He felt bad for Lythia. She had worked so hard on getting better and had come so far but she just fell short. It was such a big turnaround from the previous year that Richard was sure people would begin to take notice of her though. He just hoped that she was happy with how she had done, because if she wasn't she was going to be insufferable for the next month or two.

Over the next hour and a half Richard watched as more and more students were called out for their first match of the day and was surprised when less than twenty percent of them came back. By the end of the first round only eight students remained and the mood in the room was dismal. Getting this far into the tournament was hard for first and second years to do and now it was starting to show. When up against students who were two to three years older than them and in the more advanced courses there wasn't a whole lot you could do to win anymore. The older students were on a whole other level.

Richards second match of the day was held at close to two in the afternoon and was against a third year girl who had apparently been stunning the older students with her seemingly perfect wins. Richard was a little nervous to be stepping into the ring with her because when he had checked out the betting tables outside earlier, her name was amongst the top five who were expected to win; she was right up there with him, Daiya, and Coni. Both of their roads to the finals lead through each other and they both knew there would be no taking it easy. This time there would be no surrender if he flashed a bit of powerful magic and he knew that.

Richard realized just how good his opponent was when the match started and she fused Arcane Magic and Earth Magic into a powerful and deceiving attack that caught him totally off guard. Before he could even think to attack he was already reacting to a thick beam of purple magic being hurled at his face. He lifted his shield up at the last second and felt the arcane power smash into it a half second before it would have slammed into him. He thought that was the end of the attack but was proven wrong when a large chunk of cold rock crashed heavily into the back of his head and he was sent stumbling forward as he desperately tried to keep his shield up.

'Point, Morrins!' the referee shouted and held the hand closest to the girl up to show she had just scored a hit.

Richard quickly tried to shift the wall of light in front of him into some kind of attack but once more had to defend against another beam of arcane power being directed at him. He once more blocked it with his wall but it followed the first hit all over again and he was once more thrown off balance as another rock smashed hard into his head. This time his eyes swam and he dropped his shield as he stumbled forward and fell to his hands and knees. Even though the attacks never directly touched him it still hurt like hell and he had trouble seeing straight.

'Point, Morrins!'

Morrins was on a whole different level than anyone Richard had faced so far in the tournament and the gap in their knowledge was made very apparent to everyone watching. Even with having to chant incantations she could work two spells at once somehow and she had targeted Richard's weak spot, right behind him. Until now he had never taken a hit, but now he had taken two. If this had been the day before, the match would already be over and he would be making the slow walk into the stands as he would have been eliminated. It wasn't yesterday though.

Without even bothering to get up from where he was kneeling, Richard sent out a shockwave of light from his body and pushed it to every inch of their fighting space. Morrins quickly surrounded herself in a cocoon of earth to protect against the attack and probably would have come out on top if Richard hadn't already been putting another attack into the works. The moment the shockwave dissipated and Morrins released her suit of armor made from rock she was instantly engulfed in a large chain of explosions that rippled on every side, exploding all at once and creating a large ball of light that expanded until it was only a few feet away from Richard.

While his opponent had been defending against his first attack, Richard had collected light into four balls and placed them around her in a circle. The second she wasn't on the defensive he detonated them before she could attack and hit her four times in the span of a second, ending the match where it was. Even if Morrins had been able to stand after the attacks it still would have been over as the attacks would have been considered separate hits. Richard had been a lot closer to losing than he wanted and he realized he still had a lot to learn when it came to being a mage.

'Winner, Lord Proud!'

The crowd roared around him and Richard tried his best not to let it go to his head. Aura opened up the wall behind him and he left and went back to the ready room to wait for his next match, noticing the proud smile his 'mother' wore on her face the whole time. Only being two wins away from the semi-finals Richard found that he was now the only person in the first and second year ready room. It was eerie walking down the ramp and into the massive cavern under the stadium. It had been quiet when he had gotten there a few hours earlier but now it was downright silent. It felt like even the cheering crowd above him couldn't be heard and he felt utterly alone.

A late lunch was brought to him while he sat silently on a large bench in the middle of the room and he ate it slowly, going over in his last match in his mind as he tried to figure out a way to compete against other such tactics. There were only sixteen mages left in the tournament, including Daiya and Coni who wouldn't fight until tomorrow, so the competition was the best the school offered. In just one more round they would be down to the top eight and into the quarter finals. It was almost a surreal feeling knowing that he was one of the very few left in the hunt for the championship, especially when all he had been focused on was a single match. Now he stood four wins away from winning the whole thing. To do that he would need to fight Daiya and/or Coni, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. One was the Daughter of Fire while the other was the student body idol and second place finisher for the last three years.

Richard's third match was called an hour after he finished his lunch and the sun was already starting to go down. The arena was covered in shadow and torches had been lit to produce enough light for the mages to see what they were doing and where they were. This match was up against a fourth year who was in his afternoon classes. They had never talked before so he didn't know much about her, just that she was one of the smartest students in the school. Her magic proved to be just as powerful as her brain and Richard barely made it out of the fight with a win; he only edged her out by a score of four to three. But with that win he had won a place in the quarter finals and only one more win away from making it through to the last day.

When Richard got back to the cold and empty ready room he found that Karo had somehow snuck past the guard posted outside and was waiting for him, a tall and pretty girl standing beside him. The girl who was with him was Karo's fiancé and Richard was glad to see the two of them together, even if there was two feet of space between them. Something was better than nothing and at least they were talking today.

'Congratulations, Lord Proud,' Sabina said warmly to him and smiled.

'Thank you, but please don’t call me Lord.'

'He hates it,' Karo chuckled, 'just call him Richard. Anyways, good work out there. Keep this up and you might just get into the semi-finals.'

'That would be cool, but honestly I am dead tired right now,' Richard said and sat heavily on a bench near his friend. He was covered in a sheen of cold sweat and his muscles and mind ached as the activities of the day wore him down. He had no idea how he was going to muster the strength to go back out in the arena one more time. All he wanted to do was crawl into bed and forget the world for a few hours.

'You've got a short break before you have to go fight again, I think the announcer said there was another hour until the quarter finals began. Anyways, I'm sure you're wondering why we snuck in here,' Karo said and Richard nodded. 'Sabina dueled your next opponent on the first day last year and she thought she could give you some tips on how to beat her. Although I pretty much had to drag her down here to do so…'

'I just didn't think we should bother him right after his match,' Sabina reprimanded her fiancé gently. 'Her name is Ginla and she's a fourth year. She uses water and ice spells so you should watch out for her trying to freeze you and ending the match on the first attack; it's her favorite way to fight. If you can defend against her attacks then it should be pretty easy to win, since you don't have to use incantations. Her right knee is weak from an injury she got as a child so she can't put much weight on it or run very fast.'

'So if you exploit that weakness, Richard, you can beat her without breaking a sweat,' Karo finished for the girl with a wide grin. 'In her last match it looked like she twisted her leg trying to avoid an attack and she limped off after she had won.'

Richard sighed slightly and looked up at his friend. He flashed him a quick smile and then said, 'Thanks guys. I really appreciate this. By the way, did you see Lythia's match?'

'Yeah… we did,' Karo said slowly and Richard could see in his eyes that it hadn't gone well.

'She was frozen in a block of ice on the first attack from your next opponent. I heard she's still recovering in the infirmary,' Sabina said sadly.

'We should let you get some rest. Good luck out there, Richard.'

Karo and Sabina left a moment later and Richard was once again swallowed up by the loneliness of the large room he was sitting in. He decided to lay down for a little while and stretched out on the bench, letting all of his muscles relax as much as they could. He just kept thinking to himself that he only had one more duel and then he was free to go and sleep in his bed. Just one more and he could get warm again. If he could win once more today than he could forget about the tournament for a few hours and focus on tomorrow when it came. He was so tired he didn't even go to look at the bracket to see who else was left. He was sure Agnes was still hanging around though and he was glad he hadn't come across her yet. After beating her once and then utterly destroying her brother she was sure to come at him with every ounce of magic she had. Daiya or Coni would have to deal with her.

An hour came and passed and Richard still hadn't been called back out to the arena. Every once and a while he could catch the sound of cheering and stomping feet above him and he figured the other matches were going on right now. He really wished he could be out there instead of lying in the cold ready room as his muscles began to freeze up on him. Then again, they were in the quarter finals so they were probably doing the final matches of the day one by one, that way the crowd could focus on them instead of being bombarded with the sights and sounds of twenty different fights going on at once like they had been all day.

It was another hour before he was called out for his match and he walked slowly out into the snow covered arena to find that the walls that had been built up for the last two days were gone now. The arena was back to the way it had been before the tournament and Richard was sort of glad for it. Being closed up in a small square of the arena floor was a little claustrophobic and he hated how he couldn't see most of the stadium around him. Now he could see just how packed it was and he noticed that there wasn't even standing room left. Every seat, every stairwell, every inch of the stadium was packed full of people and they were all watching him.

When a