Early morning before sunrise.
Victor, actively studying the announcement board with mana sight as Mansel keeps watch, his catboy curled around his legs.
Victor, having combined multiple tendrils into four large tentacles, raised himself to the top of the announcement board. As he examines it with mana sight, he comments. “I received word from father last night. He sent out representative to talk with a few families and I should have a familiar by the end of the week.” Sighing, “Although it may not be the highest quality.”
Mansel glances upward toward Victor. “I still don’t understand why you just didn’t grab one of the easy ones. I mean I know you expect to get Grace.”
Seething, Victor, strikes out with a tentacle. Almost yelling, “Do no bring her up.”
Mansel, reflexes honed from long practice sessions, quickly forms an ice shield blocking the strike. “All I’m saying is all the easy ones were snatched up on the first day. You could have challenged any of them and won.” Glances at the board, watching the numbers changes. “What are you doing anyway?”
“Buying time. My father insisted on an elementalist or baring that, someone who will bring power into the soulbound.”
Victor lowers himself and steps around to the front of the board. Smiling he raises a hand to his chin and making a show of studying the announcements. “Besides, there are still, some, remaining that will work. Those with raw power that neglected their training or those with a unique talent. Once I’m a magus, their training won’t matter. The only time they’ll ever feel their mana again is when I channel. What I receive from the soulbond is primary.” Watching the displayed numbers change. “But, I don’t want a completely useless one like Professor Woltman’s.”
“Besides, there is a fair number of unclaimed apprentices left.”
The board, in all silence, refutes that statement as Victor checks the unobscured numbers. A total of fifty-eight apprentices remain and I command almost half with eleven noble scions and their promised. That does limit the pool.
Mansel shrugs and nudges his catboy with his foot. “Wouldn’t it be safer to go ahead and challenge someone you’ve won against before? Wouldn’t have to keep making the others hold off on claiming theirs.” As Mansel strokes his familiar’s head. “Make everyone less jumpy.”
But each duel requires a pair and I’ll have to challenge another tomorrow morning to keep a challenge brand active. Still, that’s twenty safe days remaining, and it wouldn’t hurt me to extend that by throwing confusion into the mix, especially with the mandatory assembly in two days.
Smiling and tapping the board. Or every day as now displayed on the board.
Focusing in on remaining apprentices, Ramona is still listed, but not her promised. I had to ask Berriel who it was.
The top spot is now held by the Familiar. Grumbling, someone had to put her up to targeting me. Which is a concern I’ll have to deal with. Who knew she would be that strong? She avoided changing into an animal in any fight last year and still made it into the top twenty. From my group Lewis is next but he was twenty spaces below the Familiar. That would qualify her as a potential. Ramona is ranked even lower. She’s probably hiding in her room too afraid to do anything. I could order her to surrender, but that would reflect poorly on father.
Continuing down the list, the spell sharks have been active. Except for the bottom two, every apprentice in the bottom fifty has been challenged and easily claimed. Eh, what else would one expect from the rabble.
Those two lowest ranked, Davina and Emma? Not sure what either of them looks like much less how their magic manifested. But they’re the bottom two. How strong could either be? Then again, if no one has challenged them yet they’ve got to be hiding. Not sure it would be worth the effort to track them down. Others must be looking with more gusto and they haven’t managed it.
Still, maybe Mansel’s right?
If I pick someone else and guarantee a win, I may even impress Father. And if whoever the Familiar is working for is targeting me, I could order the information from her. Nodding. I’ve got a few potions I’ve been saving including one of befuddlement.
“Mansel, how do you feel about guard duty?”
Ducking and crouching behind the edge of the Alchemy building roof.
Damnit, damnit, damnit!
How does he keep finding me? Its like I’m wearing a bell that only he can hear. She’s cuter as Callie.
I barely spotted him as I was leaving the library. I’ve taken to hiding in one of the small study rooms in the basement. At least I’ve been studying, not much else to do in there.
My plan was going great, at least until Callie ask to pet Cat’o yesterday.
She spoke to me!
I muddled some excuse, ducked into a closet and shadow jumped out from under a stairway and ran.
Cautiously peeking over the edge, watching.
Wait, there he is, the familiar. Can he, or she or maybe both? What if? Losing myself.
Looking up at Callie from the floor. Blinking. No. Looking up from the bed as she pulls her dress up and off revealing her breasts. Stepping forward, pushing me back, scarves gone, as she slides her hands up my sides as she reaches my breast, cupping them. Squeezing and releasing as her hands slide to my nipples. Thumbs rolling them in circles before pinching and pulling me up for a kiss.
Only to break it too soon as she pushes me back. Posing dramatically, Callie lowers her panties, revealing a thick upthrust cock.
Mesmerized, crawling toward it.
Watching Calvin circle the tree, again.
One hand threaded through the scarves and the waistband, sliding along my outer lips. Feeling the gathered slick. Holding my hand, palm pressed over my clit as my hips start moving.
Hand pulling up, spreading my fingers wide, a couple on either side of my clit. Hips shaking.
On my knees, leaning forward on one hand, in my mind, Callie steps forward, running her cock along my outer lips.
Small moans and whimpers spill fourth. “Aaaahh. Ahh, Aaaah.”
Calvin, half leaning over, one hand braced on the tree takes in a lungful of air. Lost her, again. I followed her scent from outside the library to the tree. Keeping a hand firmly on the tree, casting life scan. It is a tree, a magically strengthened fire resistant tree, but no apprentice hiding in it. At least not that I can sense.
Stepping back for a better view up into the colorful canopy. Circling the tree again. Maybe she climbed out on a limb and jumped? Widening the circle. The trail to the tree is strong. I saw her run to it and duck around behind it, but it is still only one trail. Where did she go?
The wind shifts.
Close, so close.
Eyes widening, What?!? He’s heading for the building.
Scrambling back on my knees. He couldn’t have heard me.
No. No. No!
Grabbing the pack, I head to the other side of the roof and into a shadow.
Hearing someone approach I look up. “Magus Wynter.” Glancing down at the leashed catgirl. “And Rayne”.
Sighing and adjusting my position. Waiting. Watching everyone else walk by. Nodding to the empty seat.
Wynter walked up, rayne following to the side, just as she had learned to do. Leash held loosely in her hand, she smiled.
“Can I ask you something?”
"Of course,", she said, adjusting the thin robe she was wearing and sat in the chair. "I always have a moment for Apprentices who need guidance." Rayne purred as they circled, and then laid their head in Wynters lap, where she got scritches.
“Did you know you would win?”
"Did I know? Hmm...I walked in confident. The kind of confident that doesn't allow for failure. Was I certain? No. But in a Binding Duel, there can be no room for uncertainty or doubt. Strike first, strike hard, and strike until one of you doesn't get back up. It helps if you know your opponent, or even better, you have a plan. Little Renatus didn't, rightdear?", she said, petting the catgirl. "All bluster and strength. Not an inconsiderable amount of skill. But the plan is what helps. Sometimes."
“I tried that. Preparing I mean.”
Looking out over campus toward the main dueling circle. “I got challenged by Alicia a few days ago. I wasn’t expecting it and told her we’d duel the next morning.” Shaking my head. “She ran off and found someone else, then lost the duel.”
Wynter nodded. "Alot of people run scared. They throw themselves at the first person that they think they can defeat, not realizing that some of them have been hiding their abilities for just this moment. BUT...I'll let you in on a secret. Nobody can stop you from issuing a challenge if a Proctor is there. Oh, the friends might be pissed. But once the Challenge is issued, then it's issued."
“But I should have challenged someone sooner. Within the first couple of days at least.”
“I checked the boards and there just aren’t many apprentices left.” Sighing, “Even that shy girl, the one that’s always wrapped up, Daphina, Dali, um, something like that. Even she has a familiar now and I don’t think anyone expected her to win.”
"Well of course I'm right", Wynter said with a chuckle. "Well, here's the thing. Challenges will be made. They have to be", as she absently scratched Rayne behind an ear in such a way that the catgirl gasped and purred. "Sometimes people don’t' expect someone to win. There'd always an element of chance. Like during My Duel, I could have slipped. Or misjudged a spell, or not jumped far enough through the cinder-cloud that was thrown at me, so I had to finish my Duel in my underwear."
She grinned. "Don't judge yourself by someone ELSE'S achievements. That's a sure way to not only make yourself miserable but ignore your own talents. Like...what's your talent?"
Shyly smiling. “I’m a binder. I create magic restraints.”
“My Dad is a squire. And we had a large flock. If something spooked the herd I could keep ‘em from scattering.” Gazing out. “It’d been a bad winter. No idea how something that big could sneak, but a worg had gotten into the flock. It killed a couple then turned its sights on me. My magic manifested and I locked it to a boulder. It took both me and my Dad to finish it off.”
"But you had nothing to bind this worg with, correct? No leash or muzzle, or anything else?"
Shaking my head, “Nothing like that. I create bindings. Like this.” Holding one hand up, I channel and a single silvery manacle appears floating a few inches above my hand.
"Well....that's impressive", Wynter said, looking at it. "Can you throw them, or make them at a distance from you? Because, dear, if you think your talent is rare, then that means that nobody else knows what you can do, and THAT is quite the edge."
Blushing. “Em, now you’ve got me thinking I should challenge the Familiar.” Shaking my head. “The elementalists and evokers are scary, but the Familiar is crazed when it comes to fighting.” Shuddering. “I’ve seen her break both arms and continue.”
Pausing, watching Rayne nuzzle into Wynter. Nodding in though. “I can face scary.”
"The Familiar? I'm not...familiar..with that one", Wynter said with a smile. "Forgive me, I couldn't resist. Tell me about them." Watching them look at her as she petted Rayne, Wynter smiled. "Do you want to pet her? I find it comforting now. Almost like a mantra while I try to unwind a complex problem."
Reaching out, tentatively laying a hand on Rayne.
“The Familiar. Callie um, Calvin. They change as they want.” Lightly running my finger along Rayne’s head and neck. “Everyone started calling them the Familiar because they change into animals.” Starting to stroke Rayne’s fur. “Then Victor declared it a useless power. Because every magus can have their familiar change.”
Lightly scratching behind an ear. “It didn’t’ help that Cal lost basically every duel in first year.”
Head tilting, lost in though. “Cal never did give up. They’d be back in the circle before they’d even finished healing.”
Rayne opened her eyes and purred as she was given scritches. Loving how good it felt, and their tail whipped back and forth.
"Well, then you have you ask yourself if something can slip from a binding. Have you ever tried to change something that was bound? Because if they could, then that's quite the problem." Wynter smiled. "And they sound quite determined. THAT, in and of itself, is usually the biggest problem during a duel. Not understanding the word 'quit'. THAT makes a difference. What about the rest?"
“Determined is one way of describing the Familiar. In the rankings they’re at the top with the elementalists and evokers.”
"Hmmmm. That does indeed sound like someone that you shouldn't challenge."
Holding a hand up, raising a finger to counting them off. “There are three groups really. The one I’m in, apprentices that weren’t targeted by the spell sharks. We have a rare talent or are just that good at fighting.”
Raising a second finger. “Then you’ve got the group that follows Victor Hawks.” A sour look passing over my face. “All the nobles have apprentices that their families, um, bought. I don’t’ know why they haven’t claimed them yet. But I bet it has to do with Grace Reed. She was supposed to be Victor’s familiar but she dueled Gretchen and won leaving him without a bought apprentice.”
Raising a third finger. “And finally, somehow, the lowest two ranked apprentices still haven’t been challenged. No idea how they’re avoiding it. If anyone is hiding their strength it has got to be them.”
“That’s why I’ve been waiting here. I’ve been hoping to spot someone I can challenge.”
Wynter listened thoughtfully and nods. "Well, it seems like you can either go for one of the lower ranked ones...OR perhaps try to 'steal' one of the apprentices that 'belong' to a Noble. OR take your chances with someone who has that rare talent.”
“I’ve been trying to find someone with a rare talent, but no luck.” Tapping a finger against my chin. “Now stealing an apprentice. Hmm, they all seem to be in hiding.” With a grin. “But I know where the nobles have been staying.”
"You could. From what I've seen, many of the nobles didn't do much since they had an apprentice waiting for them." Wynter’s smile turned cruel. "Rayne, before she was mine, was a particularly talented but egotistical Noble. But, I taught him. Blood doesn't make anyone Noble, but how you act. The care that you take for other people."
Wynter thought. "What about Illusion? Distract with an illusion until you're close enough to make a binding? Or learn how to create a binding that you can throw, like a fireball, and redirect?"
“I control them.” Flicking my wrist, sending the manacle spinning as I have it circle us once before bringing it to a stop, back above my palm. My issue is range.”
Giving Rayne one last ruffle of fur. “Thank you. That really did help.” Standing and facing Wynter. “I’ve a plan now and a noble to track down.”
Calvin the Mutable
What is wrong with this place! I’ve challenged everyone that was even near me in the rankings. Everyone! And I still haven’t fought a single duel this year.
Maybe it wouldn’t be this bad if I hadn’t gone after that damn group of nobles Mansel hangs with.
I really made ‘em’ angry when I challenged two of them. One right after the other as they were leaving the apprentice dining room. Had a whole group chasing me until I ran into one of the dueling circles. I thought for sure one would have followed me in. Still got another one before they all left.
They whole group sticks together now. They even have some of the new magi keeping watch. I overheard one of them complaining about timing and how they don’t want to risk losing their ‘promised’.
Flipping a focusing rod as I head back to the dorms to pick up a pen and a mostly empty bottle of ink.
Which leads to why I’m hiding amid the lose stuffing of a couch in an apprentice lounge as a mouse. I’ve been here for hours. Managed to set a couple of tricks when I first got here. But warding has never been my strong suite, so they’re basic.
Chewed a small hole through the front of the couch so I could keep watch.
I spot a new familiar coming in with the group of apprentices. One I’d seen recently, Mansel’s new Catboy. He’s got him running around on all fours. I watch as Mansel stops and seals the door.
They expecting someone to burst in? At least it means the apprentices won’t be leaving quickly.
We’re three stories up and the nights are cold, but I’m hoping with this many people in the room someone decides to open a window. That is one of the things I’ve setup.
The entire atmosphere is depressing, like a wake or something. The only one doing anything is Mansel. Sitting, feet outstretched as his familiar straddles one boot, gently rocking causing his dick to harden. As he uses his claws to pick at the stitching of Mansel’s pants.
Eventually, I tire of waiting and trigger the wards. They’ll turn this room into a sauna. I’m covered in fur already, but even I can tell the room is beginning to warm up. Surely someone will open the window. They can’t expect some apprentice to come flying in.
If only. I haven’t mastered tailfeathers yet. Wings will get you up. Tailfeather will keep you from slamming face first into a tree. Nose scrunching up in remembered pain.
Mansel finally sighs and shakes his legs, causing his familiar to slide onto to the floor. The catboy crouching, intently focuses on Mansel as he stands and loosens his pants. Sliding them down to his knees he resumes his seat.
Mansel pats his lap, “Come on Brute.” Brute bounds from the floor, landing in his lap already bent over Mansel’s semi-hard cock. Brute, wrapping his tongue around it, brining Mansel fully erect.
Brute? He named his short thin tawny furred catboy ‘Brute’?
A few minutes later, one of the apprentices decides to crack a window open. I’m not sure if it’s due to the wards or Brute and Mansel heating the room. But either way, it’s open.
By this point Brute has wrapped his legs around Mansel’s waist, arms behind him bracing on Mansel’s knees as he works his hips rubbing their cocks together. From where I’m hiding, I can tell Brute has Mansel’s full attention. Perfect.
I slip from beneath the couch to the chair with the magus. I wrap my forepaws around a leg and shift, pushing up, catching the underside of the chair on my shoulder, fully standing as Calvin. The chair, flips and Mansel ends up sprawled over Brute with the chair on top.
The ‘promised’ react as expected.
A few gasps, some pointing. “Hey aren’t you?” “What are you doing?” “Victor’s going to be mad when he gets here.”
Ultimately they’ve already given up. Ignoring them, I spot my targets and begin spouting challenges as fast as I can.
I feel the bite of the second challenge as I step from behind the overturned chair. Rushing the window, I move to push one of the ‘promised’ out of the way before recognizing her and issuing another challenge.
Which was a mistake. I should have gone straight for the window. I do manage to finish the challenge. But I’m stopped as ice freezes my lower legs to the floor and begins creeping upwards.
Mansel stands and yells, “I got him.”
I can’t help but laugh. Mansel standing there, trousers around his knees cock hanging out and his catboy staring longingly at it like he’d just found his new favorite toy.
“What are you laughing at?” As Mansel fumbling with his pants and pushing Brute away.
I hear the door open and others entering the room.
Galvin walks over, “You got his focus yet?”
Mansel, fastening his pants. “Not yet.”
Galvin steps in front of me blocking the rest of the room. “Anyone he’s challenged stay. The rest of you leave.”
Most in the room file out. Galvin looking angry turns his attention to me. I’d spent time picking my targets. One was Galvin’s promised.
“Hold him.” Two of the promised grab my arms and hold me.
Galvin order the third. “Go tell Victor his plan worked. Then go find a prefect, the one waiting by the front door. Tell ‘em Evon’s hut.”
The door slams shut as the promised rushes to obey.
Galvin rears back and punches me, again and again.
Mansel, “Hey. No need to beat him like that. He’s not going anywhere covered in my ice. Besides, Victor will dose him before he’s thrown in the circle.”
Coughing, I take a deep breath as the two pull me up.
“Hey. Galvin Duchamp I challenge.” I twist with the hit as best I can with my feet still suck. “You, in the sight of Blessed Sinslar and the sanctity of the Circle.”
Mansel sighs and shakes his head. “You had to push it.”
Galvin lines up this time and swings from the hip.
I tighten my abdomen barely keeping my breath as the blow lands. Rushing through the rest. “to the Duel of the Binding of Souls.”
Wheezing as another blow is delivered and I feel another challenge set its hooks.
Galvin steps back. “Take his focus.”
The promised paw at me a bit and recover an old focusing rod and everything else I’m carrying. Which is just a pen and a small empty vial. The pen and ink are the simplest of warding tools. With them one trained can channel their mana into a temporary ward. Theoretically, a ward can hold any spell, but the better you know a spell the better and more complex the ward.
“Make sure he doesn’t move.” And the beating continues until I’m hanging limp.
At some point, Mansel turns away.
Sweat rolling down his form, Galvin, stands back. “Dismisses the ice.” Without looking Mansel does so.
The promised pick me up, dragging me along, to follow Galvin and Mansel out.
I twist, snort and cough as I pass through the doorway. Hiding the healing from the ward.
Galvin looks back. “Settle down. Victor will meet us at Evon’s hut. Take the fight right out of you with that potion he had brewed up and then everyone will go home happy.” Glancing at the apprentice on my right. “Everyone.”
My breathing has eased by the time we make it to the side door.
Then everything happened at one.
Galvin, who had gone ahead, was holding the door and looking back.
Mansel and Brute were behind us and didn’t see the other apprentice round the corner.
The other apprentice, a thin chestnut haired young woman, saw what was happening and ‘Screamed!’ and blasted one of the promised holding me.
There is a thing about natural talent. What you’re drawn to. What you’re best at. You see every apprentice expresses their magic, usually quiet young, due to some sort of stress. Sometime it’s after an accident, like a healer. Or to stop from being hurt, like an abjurer. Or just being afraid of the dark, like an illuminator.
When that natural talent is expressed for the first time. It is all instinct. All want and desire. When you focus, everything becomes easier, like drawing a picture with a fine brush versus a charcoal stick.
Think is, you never forget how to use that charcoal stick.
All that to explain why a ridgeback heeler roused the apprentice dorm after midnight. Howling, running through the hallway being chased by a magus and three apprentices.