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Sneak Peek: The Silver Witch

Leading up to the release of volume 2...

... please enjoy a special preview! (1/3)


(SPOILER WARNING: Volume 2 picks up just weeks after the first volume. For those wanting to avoid spoilers, beware!)


For witches, being able to feel the ‘magic in the air,’ was more than an expression. And on cool nights like this one, this fact was especially apparent.

            The air was absolutely electric, and the band on my left ring finger burned with energy. Set within rose-colored metal, the apple red gemstone that matched my eye color glistened, sending its mystical power coursing through my body. The hair on the nape of my neck stood on end, and my fingers and toes squirmed restlessly.

            My teacher stood several yards in front of me, her long curls blowing in the breeze like wisteria vines. The sun had long ago disappeared, yet I could see her clear as day. I mean, Luna was brilliant enough on its own. But Oceana too? With two full moons, everything was bathed in a beautiful mix of silver and blue.

We were in a large clearing outside the city where it felt like we were all alone in the world. The earth was soft beneath my feet, the autumn breeze rustling through the grass and sending a shiver down my spine. I felt the wind wrap around my skin and tousle the peach-colored hair that spilled over my shoulders in waves. 

I took a deep breath. “Okay. I think I’m ready, Master Wis.”

            “You think? You don’t sound too sure.”

            “No, I am ready.” I bit my lip. “… I think.”

            “Isabel.” Master Wis crossed her arms. \

            What? I was nervous! It had been weeks since I got my Arcanus, but I had yet to successfully cast a single spell. I was plagued with self-doubt, and my confidence was at an all-time low. Is there something wrong with me?!

            “Close your eyes, Isabel.” My teacher instructed. 

            I breathed sharply through my nose but did as I was told.

            “What is magic?”

            “The essence of all things.” I quickly and mechanically replied.

            “And how do we harness that energy?”

            “We harmonize with it.”

            “And how do we do that?”

            “By feeling it.”

            “Then open yourself up. And feel it. Not just the wind, but its very essence.”

            Having the practical knowledge to answer a question was one thing, but applying that knowledge was something else entirely. The matter was far too abstract. Is there even a difference between the wind and its essence?!

            I groaned in frustration but tried to focus and imagine what harmony felt like. But as the chilly gusts of air chipped away at my body heat, all I could think about was getting back inside the apothecary and under some blankets with my fluffy cat Cloud. Still, it wasn’t as if I was completely unaware.

            “I feel… something…” I told my teacher, as the Arcanus on my finger continued to tingle.

            “It shouldn’t be difficult. Tonight is special.” Master Wis replied. “Everything is born from the celestial sphere, so the sky wields great power. With both moons at their peak, so too is our magic.” 

            In other words, if I can’t cast a spell now…

            “Now come,” She continued. “Send my hat flying!”

            I opened my eyes and fixated my gaze on the pointed cap resting on her head. It was adorned with an amber-colored ribbon that blew delicately in the wind. My own hat matched hers in every way, marking me as her student. I gripped it reflexively and pulled it down tighter on my head. The wind was picking up.

            I can do this, right? 

            I inhaled deeply and began synchronizing my breathing with the wind. I closed my eyes and searched for every little sensation: the wind flowing through my robes, the breeze tickling my neck and the cold air burning my cheeks. The energy from my Arcanus, the energy hanging in the sky — I worked to focus it all. There was no way I could fail.

            I thrust out my hand and confidently shouted, “Without shape and without form, wind come forth like a storm!”

 

***

 

            “Isabel!” The door to my bedroom was thrown open and an obnoxiously cheerful Hybrid bounded inside, scaring my cat half to death and causing him to flee from the bed. 

My uninvited guest had a sandy complexion, warm and rich in color. Two floppy dog ears stood out against her long, black hair, and a honey-brown tail wagged vigorously at her waist. Her mismatched eyes, red and gold in color respectively, were every bit as intriguing. Her name was Kyon, and she wasn’t alone. 

“Haven’t you been moping long enough? Get up already!” 

The person who followed behind shared many of Kyon’s features, and it was easy to tell they were sisters. Though this precocious sibling had messy, shoulder length hair, and more notably, wasn’t a dog Hybrid. Instead, Ailu had a spotted tail and splotchy ears reminiscent of a calico cat — and an attitude to match. The only other remarkable difference were her eyes, which were mirrored from her sister. Given the stark differences, some might be surprised to learn the two were actually twins - just a couple years older than myself.

“Go away.” I groaned, rolling away from them and throwing my blanket over my head. I don’t have the energy to deal with these troublemakers today…

“Madame Wis says you haven’t left your room all morning. Are you feeling okay?” Kyon asked, a touch of concern in her voice.

I mumbled into my pillow. 

“We can’t hear you, dummy!” Ailu snapped.

“I said I’m fine!” I snapped back, tearing the blanket off my head. “… except I’m a totally hopeless witch.”

Well, a hopeless witch’s apprentice to be exact. 

Kyon and Ailu shared a worried glance. “Madame Wis said that may have been bothering you…”

A heavy breath escaped my lips. Despite the fact that wind magic was supposedly the easiest to do, and despite the fact that I had the power of two full moons backing me up, I still didn’t manage to cast one measly spell the night before. 

“I can’t use any magic! What kind of witch can’t use magic?!” 

“You’re being too hard on yourself.” Ailu shook her head. 

“That’s right Isabel, you’re super awesome!” Kyon added with a big smile. 

“Pfft. You both aren’t even studying magic and can still do more magic than me.” I pulled my lower lip into a sulky pout.

The twins had the remarkable ability to transform into the animals they resembled. It was magic that didn’t come easy, even to Hybrids. But the twins had a much different upbringing than I and were able to pick it up from the streets. 

In fact, when I first met the twins, they used that ability to try and deceive me and steal from the apothecary. But it was only to help their sick mom, a problem Master Wis and I helped resolve. Now we were good friends and sometimes they were around to help my teacher with odd jobs for money. Honest money. 

“Well, there’s no denying we’re awesome…” Ailu began.

“… but that doesn’t make you any less awesome! Just keep practicing. That’s what we did.” Kyon smiled at me and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

I rolled onto my back and outstretched my left hand out in front of my face, sadly admiring the Arcanus on my finger. 

“I’ve looked forward to casting magic ever since I stepped foot in this apothecary two years ago, but now that it’s literally on my finger… what if — what if I don’t have what it takes after all?” 

“Isabel…” Kyon murmured. 

“What are you babbling about, idiot?” Ailu hissed.

“Ailu.” Kyon glared at her sister. 

“No, seriously. This doesn’t sound like the Isabel I know. Are you really quitting so easily?”

My eyes flashed across a peculiar scar on my wrist, on the same arm as my Arcanus. It spontaneously started to itch, and I rubbed it gingerly. It was a bite mark from a precious friend, a vampire bite. It’s a bit of a long story, but I’m not undead or anything. My teacher could have removed the scar easily, but I didn’t want her to. I wanted it as a reminder of my resolve. My resolve as a witch.

“I never said I was quitting…” I muttered.

“Then get out of bed and wipe that miserable look off your face. Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to do you any good.” Though her tone was sharp, Ailu sat on the edge of my bed and let her tail flicker tenderly against my leg in a comforting manner — something Cloud might have done. 

I knew she was right, but… there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach I couldn’t shake. I was scared. It wasn’t rational, but I was. What if? Could an apprentice really get by just brewing potions, or… would I have to leave the apothecary? 

And there was one other thought that scared me most of all…

“Isabel — oh good, everyone’s up here.” A beautiful and elegant witch was the next to enter my room, rounding the doorway with a big smile on her face. 

She was the illustrious Wisteria Amberfinch, my teacher and the proprietor of Wis’ Apothecary. Her eyes glittered behind a pair of thin, red glasses, similarly to how stars twinkle mysteriously in the night sky. They complimented her lavender hair in color, as if it were no secret where she got her name. Lovely curls of hair fell over her shoulders, while the rest was held loosely in the back with a simple, black bow. 

I lived with Master Wis above the shop, which I helped her run and care for. As an accomplished witch, she was well respected within the kingdom of Aramore and beyond. It wasn’t lost on me how lucky I was to have her, though some days I showed my gratitude better than others…

“Is anyone going to knock today?!” I growled.

“Your door was open,” Master Wis replied innocently. 

I just glared at Kyon, as I snarled, “What?”

“I have a surprise!” My teacher clapped her hands together. “How would you girls like to attend a Spellcraft tournament?”

“Wait, seriously?” Ailu jumped off the bed in excitement.

“Seriously. I have a friend competing tonight and she said I could bring whomever I’d like.”

“So you mean us too?” Kyon beamed. 

“Of course!"

Coming from Pommeseed, a small town to the west of the capital, I have to admit I wasn’t super familiar with the sport. Yet it was safe to say Ailu and Kyon were big fans given the way their eyes lit up at my teacher’s invitation. 

Ordinarily, I might have been quite excited too. I had never been to a Spellcraft tournament before, despite being in Aramore for two years. The apothecary was too busy, and Master Wis never seemed too interested in it. In fact, this was the first I had even heard of a friend in the league. 

Anyway, I wasn’t really in the mood to have magic rubbed in my face at the moment. I couldn’t even produce a gust of wind. I certainly didn’t want to see what a wizard athlete was capable of. 

“No thanks.” I rolled back over on my side, away from my intruders. 

“What?” Ailu cried out.

“Isabel, don’t be like that. It’ll be so much fun!” Kyon shook me by the shoulder vigorously. 

“I don’t want to go.”

“Well, what if I said you didn’t have a choice?” Master Wis smirked. 

“Huh?” I scoffed.

“It’ll be a lesson in spellcasting, my young apprentice. A mandatory one.”

“Don’t I have a say in the matter?” I rebutted. “That’s an abuse of power!”

“Oh yes, how dare I demand we have some fun.” Master Wis chuckled as she rolled her eyes. “I’m truly the nastiest teacher ever.” 

Today it certainly felt like it.

 

***

 

Walking up to the arena was like an event in and of itself. Thousands of people were descending upon the massive structure of heavy stone and thick beams of oak, so naturally dozens of vendors were stationed outside to greet us. 

The aromas of roasted nuts, smoked meats and fresh bread blended together in a truly devious way, which tickled the nose and taunted the stomach. But seeing as I was dragged here against my will, I wasn’t about to ask for any food. That might make it look like I was ready to enjoy myself. And trust me… that won’t happen!

Ailu and Kyon were in the lead, chattering with each other as they pointed to one thing and the next. My teacher and I tried to keep up, with the swarms of fans threatening to absorb them at any moment. 

“Careful girls! Don’t get too far ahead.” Master Wis called after them.

There really was so much to look at: stalls selling fireless torches and enchanted whistles, and merchandise tents that peddled replica Arcanuses and the signature, pointed caps of competitors. You could even purchase enchanted programs with text that would dance across the page, transforming with each match to give up-to-date stats on each athlete. 

“Pretty cool, huh Isabel?” Master Wis asked.

“Hm?” She must have caught me staring at one of the merchants as he was making his pitch about the programs. “Oh… I mean, I guess…”

I’m not excited. I’m not excited.

Master Wis just smirked in her all-knowing way but didn’t say anything more as we continued to make our way to the arena. Nestled on top of a small hill, it was just high enough that you could look down and see Aramore’s bustling port off to the west. Even as the sun was setting, there was no shortage of work for the sailors and merchants who only measured time with coin. And the Sea of Aramore made for a beautiful backdrop to the arena, as the sky changed from orange to purple. 

“Does anyone want a snack?” Master Wis asked before we cleared all of the vendors.

“I want fire-salted peanuts!” Ailu cheered.

“Cinnamon for me!” Kyon chimed in.

“Isabel?”

“No thanks…” I muttered. 

We made our way to one of the many food carts. Master Wis repeated the twins’ order and withdrew a coin purse from her robes.

“And will that be all, Madame Witch?”

Master Wis shot me a quick look and smiled at the vendor. “Actually, could I also get two bags of chocolate-covered peanuts?”

“I said I didn’t want anything.” I frowned.

“Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be sharing.” Master Wis chuckled, flashing me a devilish grin as she paid the merchant. 

Ugh. She knows I love chocolate…

After a quick stop at the ticket office, we continued into the arena. There were only so many entrances, so traffic was tight in the narrow hallways as the throngs of people pushed their way inside. The hallways emptied out into a large, outdoor amphitheater, with various, wooden staircases that led to two upper tiers of seating.

But we didn’t need to go up any stairs. Master Wis led us straight ahead towards the front row, where we were positioned not even ten feet from the arena floor.

“No way? These must be the best seats in the house!” Ailu exclaimed. 

“Who exactly is your friend?!” Kyon learned forward on the rail, admiring our premium vantage point. 

“Hm… what’s her moniker again?” 

“Last time we were here, we snuck in. But we had to sit all the way up there.” Ailu pointed at some distant seats at the end of the stadium. “Remember, Kyon?”

“Yeah.” She chuckled. “That was forever ago.”

As everyone continued to flood in and find their seats, it made me think of how busy the streets were during Princess Fleur’s wedding festival. I got tired just thinking of how hectic that evening was, fleeing through the throngs of people with her. 

The amphitheater must have held 20,000 people easy! The stands quickly became a sea of heads, and like an intricate patchwork quilt, a vast array of colors worn in support of various competitors. The crowd was so rambunctious, you could literally hear the excitement hanging in the air. It was a contagious energy that was becoming increasingly difficult to fight off. I caught myself smirking and was quick to disguise it with a cough before any of my companions noticed.

Master Wis was on my left and nearest the aisle, and Kyon then Ailu were to my right. Master Wis and I began casually discussing store business, while the twins passionately discussed the athletes who would be competing. 

“I hope we get to see Phoenix in the finals.” Ailu commented. 

“Really? I’d rather see The Enchantress finally get a shot.”

“No way she makes it that far.” Ailu scoffed, waving the idea away with her hand. 

“Yeah?” Kyon challenged. “Wanna bet?”

“I’m listening.”

Uh-oh. I wondered if I should stop them. When it came to the twins, nothing good came from them getting each other riled up like this. It’s gotten us all in trouble before. 

“Okay. Loser is on swab duty the entire time we’re next at sea.”

“Deal.” The two shook hands, and Ailu leaned back confidently in her seat. “You’re gonna regret that soon, Kyon. Enchantress only has a shot if Phoenix bumps into the Silver Witch early on. Really, I feel bad for anyone who does…” 

“Ah!” Master Wis suddenly exclaimed, surprising everyone. “Yes, the Silver Witch! That’s her moniker.” 

“Wait, your friend is the Silver Witch?!” Ailu grabbed Kyon by the shoulders and shook her. 

“Is she a big deal or something?” I asked.

“The biggest!” Kyon replied. “She’s the reigning, six-time champ, and hasn’t lost a single match since she went pro. It’s totally unheard of!”

Master Wis opened her mouth to elaborate, but at that moment, the torches burning brightly across the arena to light the stands extinguished all at once. Simultaneously, giant braziers placed across the edges of the arena floor erupted in flames. I could feel the heat on my face.

“It’s starting!” Kyon squealed, grabbing my hand and Ailu’s on the other side. It was pretty amusing to see her so ecstatic.

“Good evening, one and all!” A large plume of smoke arose from the center of the arena, and when it cleared, a mage in flamboyant robes of teal and gold stood in its place. “My name is Adelis Zataell, former three-time champion and presiding magistrate of the Aramore Spellcraft League. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to the 62nd season of the Spellcraft championship series, the Autumn Solstice Cup!”

A small burst of fireworks lit up the night sky, eliciting thunderous applause. Kyon’s screams alone were nearly deafening. 

“We have quite the stacked roster for you this evening, with only the most accomplished mages from across the nation vying to prove they are the best. The fiercest. The boldest. Right here. On this hallowed ground.”

Though she was speaking from the base of a giant amphitheater, undoubtedly magic was helping amplify her voice, if the cheers from even the furthest stands were any indication. 

“Now then. Let us begin!” She raised her hand, an Arcanus glowing on her finger, and pillars of fire shot up from all the braziers. For just a brief moment, the arena was filled with blinding light and feverish warmth.

“Getting excited yet?” Master Wis whispered in my ear.

Ugh… Yes. 

As Adelis retreated from the center of the arena, the floor began to transform! It had just been packed earth and sand, but grass and foliage began growing and a small pond of water appeared. Before long, we were overlooking a peaceful meadow. 

Noticing my confusion, Kyon leaned over. “To ensure all the mages are on an even footing, they always have the four basic elements present.”

“Huh…”

If I was understanding correctly, this was so wizards didn’t have an inherent edge over witches. Wizards used magic that let them conjure and cast adjurations, bending reality to their will. Meanwhile witches, like my teacher and I, relied on the magic already present in nature. 

“But the stage is random each tournament!” Ailu added. “So there’s always an element of surprise. It keeps everyone on their toes.”

“But what about fire?” I asked.

Kyon just pointed to one of the many braziers lining the arena. 

Oh, duh.

“Ahh! Sho shpicy!” Ailu was fanning her mouth with her hand. An open bag of fire-salted peanuts was in the other. She turned and looked at us. “Want shome?”

Kyon just rolled her eyes, but right then, I made a mental note to pay attention to the location of those peanuts at all times — lest my devilish friends manage to trick me into eating some.

“We’re starting off hot for our first match.” Though Adelis was no longer visible, her voice still echoed across the arena as if she were up in the stands with us. “First, one of our league’s fastest rising stars… with lots of firepower and the feathery companion everyone adores… Arlette ‘PHOENIX’ Poulin!”

Phoenix entered the arena, standing tall and giving big, sweeping waves to all his adoring fans. I assumed Phoenix was just a nickname, but I was surprised to see an actual phoenix perched regally on his arm. 

Wow! 

The crimson bird was absolutely beautiful, with golden plumage and a long, sweeping tail. It must have been at least four feet tall and stuck its chest out proudly. I was absolutely captivated.

Arlette himself mirrored his companion, with streaks of gold running through his red, shoulder-length hair. His eyes didn’t just burn in the competitive sense, but in a magical one. 

“Is he a warlock?” I asked Kyon.

“He sure is.”

“So the phoenix is his familiar. Fascinating.” Master Wis remarked.

That explained his appearance. Warlocks were mages who got their powers from pacts with magical beings. I read somewhere in Master Wis’ library that their appearance often changed when a pact was made with their familiar, sometimes rather drastically. 

Arlette hoisted his arm up and flung the bird into the air, which proceeded to soar above and circle the arena. The bellows, stomping and clapping of the audience shook the stands and caused me to wince as the volume intensified. 

“Isn’t that kind of unfair?” I shouted, plugging one of my ears with a single finger. “Doesn’t that mean the fight is essentially two against one?”

“Not really.” Ailu shouted back. “Just by being warlocks, the magic they can use is pretty limited to the abilities of their familiar. And familiars aren’t allowed any direct contact with the opponent either.”

“If anything, he’s at a bit of a disadvantage, no?” Master Wis conjectured. “If he went up against someone versed in, say, water magic, he’d be in trouble. And if his familiar ran out of magic, that would be it for him too.” 

Ailu and Kyon both nodded their heads. “Still, if a warlock is skilled enough, they can put out some pretty devastating power. An Arcanus has nothing on an actual creature of magic,”

“And Phoenix is one of the best!” Ailu cheered. 

Arlette whistled and the phoenix obediently returned, meeting him down at the center of the arena and perching on the gauntlet protecting Arlette from its talons. 

“And if anything can rival the flames of a phoenix, it’s our next competitor’s temper…” Adelis’ voice once again thundered across the arena, as she continued the introductions. “Known for his aggressive fighting style and signature scowl… KHEPIUS THE INFERNAL!” 

The doors opposite of Phoenix burst open and a hulking mass of an orc barreled into the arena. He wore a cape that billowed from his broad shoulders, and even from this distance I could notice the scars that covered his rough skin. He had a perfectly square jawline, and fists that seemed about as big as my head. His eyes were jet black, and the pointed cap on his head was a deep, velvety red. 

Unlike Phoenix, Khepius was greeted with torrents of boos and jeers. The intimidating mage responded with quite the crude gesture to the audience. 

“Oh my.” Master Wis and I exchanged bewildered glances.

“Don’t worry, it’s just an act.” Kyon assured us with a laugh.

“Some people really eat up the whole villain bit.” Ailu added. “He’s the kind of guy you love to hate.”

The two competitors met at the center of the arena, facing one another. Khepius towered over Phoenix, by no means a short man himself. Khepius wore what must have been his signature scowl, while Phoenix simpered up at him.

“To your places…” Adelis instructed.

The two mages shook hands and then retreated to opposite ends. The audience fell quiet.

“… Begin!”

Before Adelis’ voice even finished reaching across the stadium, Khepius had muttered a few words and was charging towards Phoenix with inhuman speed. Phoenix launched his familiar into the air and outstretched his gloved hand for a spell of his own. A bolt of fire, burning blue, sprang forth and hurtled towards Khepius. 

“Gah!” With tremendous force, Khepius somehow managed to punch the magic, causing it to explode at his fist. The resulting heat had no problem reaching us in the first row. 

“Hold on.” I leaned forward. “He’s just using his fists?”

“He’s a battle mage. Combat magic is his specialty!” Kyon replied, enamored with the action.

I had no idea something like that was even possible! Of course, the expression on my face wasn’t lost on my teacher.

“Let this be the first lesson you learn tonight, Isabel.” Master Wis nudged me endearingly. “Magic takes all shapes and forms.”

Khepius continued charging forward, unhindered by the volley of fire blasts Phoenix shot at him. In no time at all, he was within striking distance.

“Watch out!” Ailu shouted.

As Khepius brought his fist down, Phoenix leapt high into the air, as if the laws of gravity had no effect on him. He somersaulted over Khepius and gently floated back down to the ground behind his opponent. Where he once stood, a large crater — the earth below standing no chance against Khepius’ fist. Shredded foliage and blades of grass accompanied the dust that filled the air, before settling. 

Phoenix spun around, and at point-blank range, shot Khepius with his largest fireball yet. Raising his arms defensively was all the battle mage could do before the explosive blast sent him flying into the southern wall of the arena. Khepius fell to the ground but managed to catch himself on his forearms. His entire body was smoking and the tail of his cape was smoldering, but he was otherwise unburnt. 

“Cool!” Ailu clenched a fist and held it to her mouth. I too was pretty floored. This was Spellcraft?! 

“Did you see that, Isabel?” Master Wis asked. “He was able to conjure a protective barrier at the last second.”

I remained silent. It happened way too fast for me to notice anything, but not much could escape my teacher. I had the feeling that if Khepius hadn’t managed to block the attack, the fight would have been over. The twins were right, Phoenix’s fire attacks seemed far beyond what should have been possible for an ordinary wizard.

“ARGH!” Khepius, incensed, slammed his fists into the ground. But it wasn’t just a fit of anger, the Arcanus on his finger shone brightly.

Hands made of earth emerged at Phoenix’s feet and wrapped around his ankles. He lurched forward, nearly losing balance as the expression on his face turned to panic. 

Khepius launched himself onto his feet and once again charged his opponent. 

“Azar!” Phoenix called in desperation. His familiar descended quickly, and Phoenix reached for him. The two met and there was an explosion of light. 

Hundreds of fire bolts no larger than feathers scattered in all directions, causing Khepius to immediately halt his advance. He protected himself with a giant wall of earth that tore itself from the ground, but what were we supposed to do?!

The assault of flaming feathers was heading straight for us! I shrieked and ducked, but I had nothing to worry about. Runes on the stadium walls began to glow and the bolts exploded on a magical barrier that appeared. The powerful enchantment even dissipated all of the intense heat that must have been released. 

“Scaredy cat.” Ailu teased, sticking her tongue out at me. I stuck my tongue back out at her with a soft growl. 

Phoenix had bought himself enough time to escape and was readying his next attack. But Khepius wasn’t stalled for long. He smashed through his earthen shield and once again went to punch Phoenix. The warlock evaded, but then Khepius slammed his foot. The earth below Phoenix split and he wasn’t able to catch his footing. I gasped in shock

An audible crack resounded through the arena as Khepius’ fist connected with Phoenix’s face. The fire mage went tumbling, and kicking up dirt, grass and rocks, screamed as he skipped across the ground. He came to rest in an unnatural position, his limbs contorted at odd angles. He wasn’t moving. 

“No!” Ailu leapt up from her seat.

I was at a loss. At first, Kyon was silent too. But then she leaned back in her seat, running her hands through her hair. “Man… Have fun swabbing those decks next week.”

“Wait. Wait!” Ailu shoved an outstretched hand in her sister’s face, her eyes still glued on the arena. 

As Khepius began to gloat, taunting both his fallen opponent and the audience, Azar slowly descended and landed softly next to his master. The phoenix nudged Arlette’s face several times before looking up at the sky. It then cried out with a mournful and mystical call, holding a strange power impossible to describe.

“Hm?” Khepius, who had been facing the audience, turned around in time to watch as Azar and Arlette were enveloped in golden flames. He stepped forward but there was nothing he could do.

Phoenix began rising into the air, his familiar at his back like a giant pair of wings. He rose higher and higher, the golden flames consuming him. But there was no burning, no pain. He opened his eyes and outstretched both of his palms. 

“With fire and spirit, together we fly… never forget the phoenix’s cry!”

The magic that followed was so powerful the Arcanus on my finger began to tingle. Azar once again cried out as a fireball half the size of the arena appeared at the warlock’s hands. It took the shape of a phoenix, burning a splendid mix of red, gold and blue. 

And then it blasted forward. Right at Khepius.     

The battle mage quickly spouted off an incantation, and his body was encased in layers and layers of earth as the flames of Phoenix’s attack washed over him. There was a giant explosion and I was completely blinded by light. The barriers of the arena once again activated, this time unable to keep out all the heat. Sweat began running down my forehead as the temperature became sweltering. 

  When my vision returned, my mind raced to try and figure out what was going on. The audience was lost in awe, no one uttering a word or cheer. Even my ever-composed teacher looked befuddled.

Phoenix had returned to the ground, Azar resting on his arm. The earth encasing Khepius began crumbling away, turning to ash as it scattered. The grass at his feet was completely charred, burned to nothing. Khepius was standing, but his eyes seemed blank, smoke once again rising from his body. His clothes were singed and his cape in tatters, with skin that glowed red like he had been in the summer sun far too long. 

And then he fell. The crowd exploded with an energy that rivaled Phoenix’s final spell. 

“Annnd PHOENIX! Off to the semi-finals!!” Came Adelis’ bellowing bravado.

Woah. This was Spellcraft! 

“Yes!” At that moment, I completely forgot I was supposed to be feigning disinterest. Without realizing it, I was on my two feet, cheering loudly with Ailu, Kyon and thousands of others.

“That was…” I looked at Ailu and Kyon wildly. “I mean… who would’ve… wow.”

Isn’t magic absolutely incredible?

I later learned that Luminaries, mages who specialized in healing magic, treated the athletes after matches to ensure they’d be ready for the next fight or tournament. As they ran to address Khepius and Phoenix, the twins both extended their hands to me for high-fives - which I gleefully accepted. I then turned to my teacher with my hand out, who had her chin tilted up in amusement. And then I remembered. 

I cleared my throat and shrugged. “What I’m saying is… I suppose that was pretty cool.”

Before I could withdraw my hand, Master Wis leaned in and clapped it. “How about these seats? Much better than your bed, huh?” 

I didn’t fight the stupid grin that spread across my face, and plopped back down into my seat. My mind was still racing! Magic existed to help people. Master Wis taught me that. I believed that. But right then, its potential seemed truly limitless. Could I really become a witch capable of anything like that?

“Cinnamon?” Kyon asked, offering me her bag of peanuts.

“Sure, thanks.” I was too lost in my thoughts and popped a small handful into my mouth.

It was only as my mouth began sizzling with intense heat that I realized my big mistake. I whipped my head around to the twins, tears forming in my eyes, only to find them doubled over each other in laughter. 

“Ailu! Kyon! I’m going to kill you!!” I cried out in a mix of pain and rage. 

They were lucky I didn’t know any magic yet…

 

***

 

The twins should have gone with me to get water after that, but they didn’t want to miss a second of the action. Luckily, Master Wis was nice enough to come along instead.

“They’re such jerks!” I vented between gulps from my stein as we made our way back to our seats. “My mouth is still burning.”

Master Wis laughed. “You should consider yourself fortunate to have such energetic friends.”

“Fortunate? That’s the word you’d choose?”

By the time we returned to our section, Adelis was already announcing the winner of the next match. “And with that decisive finish, Iharis of the Tempest is moving on to the semifinals!”

“See? We missed the entire match! Thanks a lot guys.” I snarled as we slid into the stands. 

“Hush. An hour ago you didn’t even want to be here.” Ailu said with a haughty wave.

I rolled my eyes and sat back down in my seat.

“Peanuts?” Kyon teased, offering me her bag. 

At times like this, it was best to not engage them at all. I kept my eyes squarely on the arena. 

“Here.” Master Wis whispered. It was one of the bags of chocolate peanuts she supposedly wasn’t going to share. It was her plan all along, so I felt a little dirty accepting them. But, well… chocolate. 

“How has everyone liked tonight’s matches so far?” Adelis shouted with gusto, trying to pump up the audience. The crowd replied with resounding enthusiasm. 

“Well, this next matchup might be the most anticipated yet. First, coming from the southern hills of Aramore, she’s as mysterious as she is mystical… Our beloved wizard of the veil, who’s mastery of the senses will leave you dazed and confused… it’s the ENCHANTRESS!”

The doors at the east end of the arena opened slowly, and a swarm of colorful butterflies fluttered in. The air sparkled behind their wings, catching hues of red, green and yellow in the light. The insects gathered at the center, merging and taking the shape of a woman.

“She’s up! She’s up!” Kyon shook Ailu by the shoulder.

The wizard wore a rather ordinary black, pointed cap, but a smokey veil draped down from the brim, obscuring her face. She was tall and boney, though she held herself with grace. The Enchantress grabbed the hems of her robes and dipped for a curtsy to the audience. I noticed her ears were pointed as she turned her head back towards the center of the arena. 

“But tonight… can she trade her veil for a crown? Does the Enchantress have what it takes to dethrone our next competitor, and put an end to her hellish onslaught?”

“Wait, could it be??” The twins both leaned forward in their seats.

“Ladies and gentlemen… Put. Your. Hands. Together. For our six-time reigning champion — the undefeated, the unbroken, our Queen of the Pale. THE SILVER WITCH!”

“No!!” Kyon threw her head back and pulled down on her fluffy ears.

“Haha!” Ailu kicked her feet up on the side of the arena and placed her hands behind her head. “She’s toast.”

Kyon whimpered as Ailu mocked her, “Have fun swabbing those decks next week.”

I found myself on the edge of my seat. The doors at the west were thrown open and the tournament’s star strutted in to a frenzied and clamorous welcome. She raised her hands to rile the crowd even more with a loud and arrogant laugh. 

“That’s so like her.” Master Wis rubbed her forehead with a wry chuckle.

Kyon had far too quickly gotten over her dejection, and joined Ailu on her feet in applause. “WOOHOO!!”

The Silver Witch had hair that was deep and blue like a tropical ocean, though the tips of her short bob were colored a much lighter shade, similar to turquoise. She was pretty, but had a rugged, tomboyish quality. Her eyes were the color of ash. And true to her name, she was donned in silver robes that glittered subtly. Her hat, of course, was also silver, and looked like it was made of a very fine, silky material. The bloom of a moonlight lotus adorned the brim, similar to how an amber ribbon adorned my own.

The Silver Witch approached The Enchantress at the center of the arena and the two shook hands.

“Why does the Enchantress wear a veil?” I asked the twins as I grabbed a small handful of my peanuts. 

“There’s all sorts of rumors.” Ailu answered. “She’s a dryad, but only partially. So one theory is she’s hiding some kind of birth defect.”

“Others say the opposite, that because she’s part dryad she’s too beautiful.” Kyon joined. “So she wears the veil to keep from involuntarily ensnaring others with nymph magic.” 

“So no one’s seen her face?”

“Not professionally, at least.”

The veil caught the eye, but so did the Silver Witch’s moonlight lotus. It was a particularly pretty and rare species of the aquatic flower that wasn’t even native to Aramore. Seeing as the Silver Witch was her friend, I turned to ask Master Wis if she knew anything about its significance, but as Adelis began readying the competitors, I thought it best to wait. I didn’t want to miss a second of the action!

Adelis gave her word for the fight to begin and the audience roared, but neither mage moved an inch. Instead, they just carefully watched each other waiting for an opening. The noise from the crowd diminished, drawn in with anticipation. I watched with bated breath. 

The Silver Witch… what exactly is she capable of? 

It was Enchantress who decided to break the standoff and make the first move. She raised a hand and… began to sing? 

The language was strange, but she had an incredibly beautiful voice. With the weight the words seemed to carry, even a novice like me could tell it wasn’t any ordinary song. It had to be magic.

"Is she trying to charm her?" I turned to my teacher and then the twins. 

"Exactly. Enchantress isn't a fighter, but is known to end things quickly by incapacitating her opponent with charms and illusions." Ailu answered. 

I noticed the sigils on the arena walls were glowing, protecting us from the magic. 

"I believe it's some kind of sleep spell." Master Wis watched intently. 

It didn't look like it was working though. While the Silver Witch wasn't making any attempt to defend herself, she didn't seem particularly fazed either. Then as if to settle any doubt, she charged in. 

"Your voice is really irritating!" The Silver Witch chanted a spell as she ran alongside the field's pond and launched a barrage of frozen water darts at Enchantress. But as they struck, she just dispersed into a cloud of butterflies which immediately swarmed in.

"If my voice won't work…" The butterflies coalesced behind the Silver Witch and the Enchantress appeared at her back. “Goodnight, Silver Witch.” 

Her hand began glowing a dark purple, and she reached for the Silver Witch’s shoulder.

"That's her finishing move, the Touch of Death!" Kyon gasped. 

From behind, the Silver Witch was totally exposed. But as Enchantress made contact, there was a spray of blood and she let out a shrill shriek as she hastily pulled her hand away. She clutched her wrist in pain as blood dripped to the grass below. 

“Wait, what just happened?” I exclaimed. Did I miss something? It didn't look like the Silver Witch moved at all, let alone cast a spell. 

Enchantress scowled, and once again disappeared into a cloud of colorful insects which surrounded the Silver Witch, filling the air around her with dust from their wings. The witch began coughing into her arm as she tried to swat away the butterflies, but it was futile.

“That’s not good…” Ailu bit her thumb, her voice filled with concern.

“What kind of spell is that?” I asked.

“It’s a magical poison Enchantress uses to paralyze her opponents.” Ailu replied. 

I looked back at the arena, and sure enough, the Silver Witch’s movements were beginning to slow. 

“This might be a bad matchup…” Kyon anxiously tilted forward. “Even wizards have trouble dealing with charms. A witch can’t really counter this kind of magic without a potion or talisman, right?" 

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Master Wis replied. There was a twinkle in her eye.

Despite my teacher’s confidence, the Silver Witch fell to her knees. Though she tried, she was unable to get back up, and soon stopped struggling all together. 

Descending like a butterfly herself, Enchantress reformed and gracefully dropped in front of the Silver Witch. The wizard held her tenderly by the cheek and raised her other hand high in the air — glowing purple with energy. 

“Is it over?” I gasped.


***


Stay tuned for part two of three next week! What do you think so far? Please let me know in the comments, or give me a share! Do you have a favorite fighter?!

Like the Becca v.s. Hunter fight in volume one, I really enjoy writing fast-paced action scenes. And I can promise there's a lot of action left!

Volume Two releases on Amazon April 6th.

Until next time, thanks for reading!


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