A man’s scream dies abruptly as his heart is pierced by a mass of purple tendrils.
Sitting up in the bed, looking around the darken room. Panicked breathing.
A wave of the hand and energy flows into the crystal suspended from the ceiling, lighting the room. Raising a hand to shield my eyes. “Again.” Adjusting the light to a dim glow.
The same dream, again. I though, or hoped, they’d stopped. Haven’t had one in a while.
The trackers had found their hideout, an old barely standing burnt out farmhouse. They didn’t even have a lookout. There wasn’t much of a fight after the soldiers burst in. Father had the survivors brought out to up. Made them kneel in the grass.
Then I killed them.
I like the ballad better.
Which is what everyone will know after father pays a few more bards to spread the tale.
Tossing the sheet off and standing.
I call my magic, a manifestation of my will, a glowing purple cloud forms around me, a mass of tendrils reaching outward. Concentrating I bring them together from a general uncontrolled mass down to four tentacles. When I first started, I could only manage one.
Kneeling before me, father making. . . NO!
Focus on the magic the feel of it, all around me. Lightly brushing the bedding through one of the tentacles, feeling the rough cloth, straightening the bed.
Smiling, I bring all four down around me and push upward, raising myself to the ceiling. Reaching out I touch the crystal, stopping the light. Lowering myself to the floor, I reach out to the bed by feel and pull the covers back.
Climbing back in, I wonder. Could win? My standing in the class duels isn’t bad. I always held back, afraid they’d. . .No.
Doesn’t matter. I’ll find Grace tomorrow. No, the day after tomorrow, it’ll look better if I don’t rush. She’s been bought and everyone knows not to take what’s mine. I’ll issue the challenge then schedule a dueling circle.
May even tell her to ‘fight back’ make it look good before she surrenders. Keep up appearances. Father would like that.
At lunch in the apprentice’s dining room. I’d gathered most my court, as I liked to call them. All sons and daughters of nobles. I’d even let a few scions of knights’ tag along, even though their families had earned their titles. I know how that goes. Everyone here had a familiar promised to them.
The only one not here was Rachelle. Her duel had been right before lunch so she’s spending the day with her new familiar.
We were discussing how Rachelle had her new familiar, Tragen, throw a couple of low powered blasts at her. Which she easily deflected before she returned one and he surrendered. It gave a better impression than simply having a peasant walk in and drop to their knees.
Every eye at our table turned as Grace Reed walks in. Wearing a shockingly short, sleeveless slip and a knowing grin. Walks over to my table and stops. Hip cocked, hand resting lazily on it.
Eyes roaming her figure hungrily. “Enjoy wearing that now. I’ll have you in less after our duel.”
Grace arches an eyebrow in reply and glances down at her unmarked arm, half turning to show it off.
In a slightly annoyed voice, “Very well.” Standing and pointing. “Grace Reed, I challenge you, in the sight of Blessed Sinslar and the sanctity of the Circle, to the Duel of the Binding of Souls.”
Nothing happens. No flash of light. No magical brand appearing on her upper arm. Nothing.
Grace gives a sly smile and holds up her unmarked arm, then making a show of it, turns and presents her other, equally bare, arm. “You’re too late. I was claimed earlier.”
Waving her arm in a large sweeping gesture to encompass the Victor’ court. “Now that Grace is off the menu, I wonder who he’ll order to submit.” And with that Grace turns and exits the room.
The rampant speculation starts. “Who challenged her?” “I heard it was harder not to change someone.” “Do they realize what they’ve done?” “Who they’ve angered?” “What will Earl Hawks do?”
“I must.” Pausing and stepping out from behind the table. “Get me a list of some that’d take the familiar deal. I’ll let father know and have a replacement in a few days.”
Motioning to Mansel, “Mansel, I’ve an idea. Gather everyone. We’ll meet in an hour.”
I did notice one other thing. Not a single one of them realized that wasn’t Viscount Reed’s daughter.
In an apprentice lounge, after Lewis seals the door.
Standing I look over every gathered. All nobility. I’d talked to Rachelle explained everything already. She and Tragen, her new familiar, were guarding all the promised apprentices in another area.
“As everyone here knows. Someone stole my promised familiar, Grace Reed.
Mona interrupted. “I heard Grace won.”
“My father is dealing with that.” Glaring at Ramona.
Standing from my seat to face everyone. “Before I was interrupted. I’ve already contacted my father. He’ll be dealing with Viscount Reed. I sent him a list of apprentices, whose families could be convinced to sell. But it’ll take a couple of days to track an appropriate one down and make the offer.”
Beginning to pace. “Here is what I propose. Everyone know that once an apprentice is marked for their soul binding duel, it is basically useless to challenge them again.” Glancing around. “Everyone here has a promised apprentice.”
“Here is the plan. I’m going to challenge one of you. Then you in turn will challenge your promised apprentice. That’ll give my father two days. If my father hasn’t found a replacement by then, simply walk into the circle with your apprentice before the time limit and have them surrender. My mark will fade as soon as you become a magus.”
Ramona, leaning toward Berriel. “Guess that means Grace really didn’t want him.” As they both break out into laughter.
Ignoring the comments. “I’ve worked out the order I’ll be issuing the challenges.” Glancing around. “Don’t worry, my father will make your wait worthwhile.”
Hand waving the protests off. “I’ll be challenging weakest to strongest as the spell sharks may try something otherwise.”
Pointing at Berriel. “Berriel Binelis, I challenge.”
Ramona screams and slides to the floor, drawing all eyes to her. Turning over and rising to all fours as a low, almost orgasmic, moan escapes her. Ramona looks up. “No, not Berriel. Lewis.” Pointing from the floor. “Lewis should be first.”
“What? Lewis is the second strongest here and I’m saving Mansel for last.” Shaking my head. “No, I’ve already worked out the order.”
Ramona, starting to stand, “No. You don’t want.” Taking a deep breath, Ramona stands.
Snorting. “What, are you claiming some prediction? You didn’t have you implements. Even with them, your ‘visions’ are so vague as to be useless.”
Looking flushed, Ramona retorts, “They’re more feelings than visions. You don’t understand.”
Interrupting “Understand what? You may be good against someone your level, but you freeze when challenged.” Sneeringly, “I won’t’ be planning based on anything you tell me.”
Deliberately turning my back, I pick up where I was interupted. “Berriel Binelis, I challenge you, in the sight of Blessed Sinsilar and the sanctity of the Circle, to the Duel of the Binding of Souls.”
I felt the hook of the Challenge sink into me for the first time.
“Aaaah.” Pacing back and forth in stocking; boots by the door. I don’t want to make too much noise, don’t know who may be waiting outside. Ready to issue as challenge as soon as I step out.
You have to see the person you’re challenging. I think.
Grumbling. I was up all night finishing my ‘familiar’. A cute stuffed black cat. I got the eyes and mouth right, even used waxed thread for the whiskers. But I forgot the claws.
Pacing. It isn’t like anyone notices the claws. Not unless you’re being scratched. Stopping to stare at, um, “Cat’o.” Nodding needed a name for it, um, him. “Cat’o”, easy to remember at least.
Sharp indrawn breath. Stopping. Listening. I don’t hear anyone in the hallway.
Slowing releasing the pent-up breath. I turn my attention to Cat’o.
Casting, shadows controlling Cat’o by mana strings. I direct the left side first and it flops over. Resetting, I try alternate pairs and Cat’o wobbles. Resetting, I try the front legs then the back. Better, but I’ll need to practice. I only need Cat’o to stand and take a couple of steps before I can pick him up and get him out of sight.
Grabbing Cat’o, squishy. I had to unravel one of my scarves for more stuffing. I rewove it as filling for Cat’o. Still Cat’o bulges oddly if I squeeze too tight, but with the shadow weave, I can smooth the look out with a touch.
Checking the pack again, an oiled tarp, some cord, couple of extra blankets and a basic weaving kit. I can only stay in the apprentice dorm for a week, maybe two. Can’t switch to the magus dorm, they’ve got runes on it to keep apprentices out, like the upper floor of the library. Now that would have been a good hiding place.
I’ve been looking and the tops of the Alchemist and the Enchantment building are both flat. The alchemist building smells funny, so I’m setting up on top of the Enchantment building. I’ll carry my pack over later this afternoon, when the sun hits the trees, and the shadows rise to the roof.
I grab an apple and settle down to practice with Cat’o. Need to sneak out tonight and grab some more stuff from the kitchens. I’ll get enough for a few days.
I’ll give it a couple of days, maybe a week. Let some duel’s occur with new familiar’s being made. Rubbing my thighs together as I feel them grow slick. Definitely the familiars. Then I can use Cat’o and start going back to the dining room.
And the best part is, no one will challenge me. Since I’ll already have Cat’o.
Light peeking in, a low moan forms, as it strikes. Grumbling, “First light, have to get up and.” Arm thrown up and twisting to the side. Blinking, “now I’m awake.” Sighing, “May as well get it over with.”
Walking across campus, the entire academy feels as if a giant breath had just been taken. Holding, waiting, anticipating the perfect moment.
Apparently, that isn’t breakfast.
Only about a quarter of the regular crowd is present. I bet half are running around trying to track down who they picked to challenge, and the other half are hiding. The smart hunters will wait by the doors, hunger will drive the others out. If not today, then certainly by the end of the week.
Those just hunting for weaker apprentices, spell sharks, tend to run in groups. They target those perceived to be weaker. Spurring each other on to invoke a formal challenge. Personally, I think they’re more scared of each other. Afraid their friends will turn on them if they can’t find easier prey.
I spot a couple hanging around outside the dining area, waiting on other to come in. I slip out as a group enters. Even then I hear comments as I walk by.
“What about her?”
“Na, she’s got those rings. I hear, if one locks on, she can drain your mana.”
Quietly grinning. Not quite true, but I’m not going to correct them.
I continue walking, passing the peripheral of the growing crowd around the main dueling circle. People are streaming toward the duel to watch, comment and make challenges of their own.
Shaking my head, I head to the library to study a new ward. I know dozens that I can cast in a handful of minutes, but that won’t help me in a fight. I only have a few that I can cast in a handful of seconds.
I’ll take any edge I can get. I’m not the best fighter, but I can at least hold my own against most. Those elementalists though, they scare me. There is only so much a mana shield can do when they can completely envelope you in stone, rain fire, or freeze you solid.
Standing in front of the mirror. Is it a Callie or Calvin day?
Turning in front of the mirror. Calvin today.
I’d love to have the full abilities of a familiar, on my terms. Being able to combine two patterns pull bits and pieces from each or even coming up with something new. I don’t want someone forcing me to shape, or even worse, locking me in one.
After dressing, I head to the dining room, running through eh normal gamut of derogatory comments.
“Useless magic.” “Familiars can already be shaped.” “Almost a familiar.” And others.
I’d grown used to it in short order. It was better they made fun of me than my pa and the farm.
I expected one of the spell sharks to challenge me on the way out, but they hurried off after an illusionist. Smiling to myself. At least they thought so. I could smell the illusionist had gone the other way.
It isn’t like I tried to pick fights, but once people found out my natural affinity. it seemed that everyone wanted an easy win against the familiar. I’ll admit, I only won five duels my first year, and most of those toward the end. I didn’t have the basics everyone else seemed to start with.
As I caught up, I started winning. But my reputation had already been set.
Grinning. My second year was much better. Halfway through I started pulling elementalist numbers. They always take the top spots, but I was right under them mixed in with the specialist.
It doesn’t hurt that I had the largest apprentice level mana pool at the academy and can heal myself. If I didn’t win in the first minute, I’d fall back and wear them down. Let them run out of mana as I dodged and healed.
Still doesn’t really compared to a full magus. I heard your mana pool doubles and can continue to grow if you can get your familiar to fully bond with you.
I didn’t practice like mad for dueling though, that was just a bonus, a big bonus. I did it to improve my shaping. The larger my pool, the more patterns I can use. I can go half the day, switching every hour without strain. If I stick to one and don’t change, I can make it all day.
Combining templates, that takes real effort.
On the way to my room, I run into an alluringly excited scent. Sniffing. Definitely excited. Leaning for another sniff. Excited and not a familiar. Wonder who? Probably a new magus trying out her familiar.