“And there goes group indigo.”
“A shame,” Zoe said with a shake of her head. “They looked like they were doing so well.”
“When the tail swiped the… elf into the tree, I think the other two lost their nerves.”
“Indeed. Dragonkin are not to be taken lightly. Their scales can take a beating that even the finest suit of armor would have trouble holding up against. The students got a little overconfident when they managed to push it back. But if they would have stuck to their attacks rather than turning to flee, they might have forced it into a retreat. Especially the water mage, he should have used water rather than ice. Dragonkin don’t like their scales getting wet.”
“Right,” Hank said with a quick nod of his head.
Zoe doubted he really understood. At least, in general. Her previous statement had been simple enough. But the idea that it would be better to fight many of the things out in the forest rather than run probably didn’t mesh with his general worldview. Or that of most mundane people for that matter.
If they saw something scary, their first instinct would be to run. Even if they were running from something that was obviously faster than them.
Hank did manage to act like he knew what he was talking about. The narrations he gave were mostly play-by-plays, repeating what he was seeing on screen. It gave him the illusion that he was talking about something important, even though everyone could see what he was saying on their own screens.
He let Zoe handle explaining most magical aspects of the fights, of course, and asked intelligent questions when something was particularly odd to him.
“Still, getting slammed into the tree like that had to have hurt.”
“Probably,” Zoe admitted. “But the medical team is already on site and none of the three students were hurt too badly. They’ll be able to patch up any injuries in the blink of an eye.”
“That’s true. I think I’ve seen high school wrestling matches with worse injuries,” he said with a chuckle.
Zoe wasn’t sure if she believed that, but maybe he was trying to play down the violence for the viewers.
Even though more violence would probably mean more viewers. Humans were… attracted to that sort of thing for some reason.
“For those of you who are just joining us or otherwise missed out,” Hank said, sitting up straight as the cameras switched to them now that there was a lull in the action, “you can catch the replays and highlights on the website listed at the bottom of your screens. A quick recap of where each school stands.
“With the indigo group’s summary defeat, five students have been removed from the event. Isomer Holy Academy is down to a single student, currently in group violet. As is Mount Hope, their single student also in group violet. The Nod Complex is down to two students. Brakket and Faultline Academies are the only ones still at full steam.
“Now, two groups have reached the center of the event. Violet is closing in quick, delayed a short while by their encounter with…”
He stumbled, trailing off with a glance towards Zoe.
“Let’s just call her Lucy.”
“With Lucy. Don’t touch that channel. We’ll be back with more excitement from the magical world after a brief message from our sponsors.”
— — —
“Yes, we get it,” Emily said, looking over at the nun with a shake of her head. “You had tentacles in your mouth. You’ve been whining about it for the last five minutes. It’s gross. Can you just stop making those noises?”
“You don’t even know,” Anise snapped. “You only had a few tentacles around your waist. I was completely wrapped up.” She tugged at her shirt, still slimy from being wrapped up in Lucy’s tentacles. “That thing was probably venomous.”
“Poisonous,” Eva said, glancing back over her shoulder with a wide grin. “Venomous is when they bite you. Poisonous is when you bite them. And you were definitely doing the biting.”
“But don’t worry. Though she can be toxic, it is an optional sort of thing. With her orders not to actually hurt people, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“Why me? Neither of you got wrapped up so much.”
“I got my wand knocked out of my hand and all she’s got are fire spells,” Emily said with a finger pointing towards Eva. “Obviously you are the most dangerous of the three of us.”
Eva twisted her face into a scowl. Anise did just the opposite, brightening up for the first time since having her mouth stuffed full of tentacles.
She was just about ready to turn around and remind the two of them that, even with Lucy barely fighting back, they would both have been carried out of the arena if it wasn’t for her. However, she felt her breath catch in her throat as she walked up a short ridge.
There was no forest ahead of her. No trees and hardly any brush. There was grass, but it had been clipped short. The clearing was far larger than the area Eva had coopted for her ritual. At least twice as large. Possibly more.
Of course, a clearing wasn’t all that shocking. The Infinite Courtyard had a number of clearings dotted around. None as maintained as this, but they probably weren’t used for events very often.
No, it was what occupied the majority of the clearing that had Eva’s jaw dropping.
“You all see the giant pyramid in the middle of the forest, right? It isn’t some illusion.”
“It’s the Pyramid of the Sun,” Emily said, voice soft. “The plateaus on the sides… the stairs running up the middle. Ancient mages would conduct rituals at the very top. But why is it here?”
“I doubt it is the original,” Anise said with a scoff.
Could have fooled me, Eva thought. The brickwork looked haggard and rough, weathered by time and… well, weather. Green vines grew up alongside the stairway, though the stairs themselves were clear of any plant life.
Anise had to be right. Eva didn’t know what the Pyramid of the Sun was, but if it was a real building actually used by ancient mages, it was probably some protected structure like the pyramids in Egypt. For cultural heritage if nothing else. Redford had probably built this version specifically for the event.
Narrowing her eyes at movement on the staircase, Eva’s lips curled into a frown.
“We’re not the first ones here.”
Two figures were sprinting up the staircase as fast as their legs could carry them. Though the moon lit up the area, it wasn’t enough to tell who they were. Their hats were a decent giveaway for which school, however.
“Faultline,” Emily hissed—almost snarled.
Eva had to take her eyes off the temple to glance at her face.
Her teeth ground together, bared in full. Her eyes burned… she wasn’t a demon or a nun, but they were almost glowing as they caught the moonlight.
Glancing over at Anise, Eva nodded her head towards Emily with raised eyebrows. All she got was a shrug from the other girl.
“There are others scaling the pyramid,” Anise said as her eyes went back to the temple.
Eva spun around.
The trainee-nun was right. Another two were running up the stairs. Their silhouettes lacked the pointed caps that the Faultline crew had. She honestly couldn’t identify them. One might be a girl. It could be Rachael. It could be the other pair that had Mount Hope students. Or it could be the other group of three with one member missing for some reason.
It could even be two separate groups that got rid of their partners and had met up.
“Let’s go help them,” Emily said, already starting towards the temple.
“You don’t even know who they are.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, breaking into a run. “They’re not Faultline.”
Again, Eva glanced at Anise. Again she got a shrug in return.
“I guess we better go after her.”
“We are enemies, you know.”
Eva smiled. Not a wide grin, just a polite one. “After all we’ve been through together? How can you say something so cruel. I even rescued you from that evil tentacle monster.”
“That tentacle monster was only there because of you,” Anise said with a scowl. “She said your name, she walked up to you, you two talked. If you had been in a different group, I would never have…” she trailed off, bringing a hand up to her mouth before shaking her head.
“Not necessarily. That could have been her assigned area. Then you would have been antagonizing her without me there to keep her from doing anything worse.”
“That’s… not just…” She shook her head. “Emily is already at the base of the pyramid.”
Eva spun around and moved a single step forwards before hesitating. “I’m trusting you to watch our backs,” she said. “Especially for any vampires. Keep your guard up.”
With that, she blinked forwards three times, crossing the distance to Emily in almost an instant.
And just about got a fireball to her face for her troubles.
Emily spun around the moment Eva appeared, lashing out with flames from the tip of her wand.
Eva slid to the side. She didn’t retaliate. The blast of fire—a good twice as hot as the flames Eva had used on Lucy, at least—blew past the side of her head. Stepping backwards, Eva held up her hands.
Emily followed through on a second attack in a single motion of her wand before finally realizing who she was attacking.
She paused with her wand raised in the air, tip glowing.
“I wasn’t the one who almost broke it.”
Her wand arm dropped to her side as she grasped her chest. The tip of her wand was still bright red.
“Fine. Just startled.” She paused, glancing over Eva’s shoulder. “Anise back there?”
“She’s a bit slower than I am. I told her to watch our backs.” Eva pointed her out to Emily just to prove that she hadn’t broken the truce already.
And really, she wasn’t that slow. Unable to blink, yes. But her sprint carried her at a brisk pace. She was actually almost to them.
But Eva turned and took the steep steps three at a time, leaping up more than stepping as she left Emily behind.
She had a feeling that there would be a fight at the top. Two Faultline boys and two other people, probably not even from the same school. If she had been wrong and one of them was the vampire, she needed to be there and ensure he lost.
Anise and Emily would both have to catch up. Neither had Arachne’s legs.
She passed the first plateau. It really wasn’t that large. More of a landing than a plateau. From the staircase leading down to the staircase continuing up, there was only a few feet of level space. So she continued on without breaking stride.
Neither of her companions were doing quite as well. By the time Eva made it to the second plateau, they had only gone halfway up the first. Their speed dropped drastically. Climbing stairs was never easy and these ones were steep to the point of insanity. Just standing on the edge had Eva feeling like she was about to go tumbling off.
Whoever built the place hadn’t even put guard rails in.
Eva hopped up to the third plateau in three jumps. From there, she was close enough to see everyone at the top through her blood sight. The two Faultline boys were in a fight with Rachael and… the dryad. She was pretty sure. If she hadn’t gotten a look at the dryad back when everyone had been assigned their teams, she would probably be a whole lot more confused.
She took the fourth set of stairs, being only half the height of the rest, in a single bound.
And landed right in the path of a lightning bolt.
Eva shuddered as the electricity ran through her body and out her feet. Steam rose from her shoulders in faint wisps. Her knees hit the stone top of the temple before she could stop herself.
A quick blink had her back on her feet in an instant.
That was probably the first time she had been hit with real lightning. She had been on the receiving end of Elysium Order lightning once or twice, but, although it looked like lightning, Eva didn’t think it really counted. Of course, even air mages didn’t put out a real lightning bolt’s worth of power in their strikes.
The bolt she had been hit with was probably somewhere around the output of a taser. A lower powered one at that. Getting hit with the bolt hadn’t given her a very good view of it. However, she was relatively certain that Zoe’s regular lightning bolt was a few magnitudes higher by default. That was just the impression she got from being in the area while Zoe casted.
Of course, the Faultline student who had cast the bolt could probably increase his output as well.
Four pillars stood around the top of the pyramid, one in each corner. Rachael and the Dryad had taken cover behind the ones opposite from the stairway. The two Faultline students were behind the closer pillars. Eva’s blink after being hit had carried her right next to Rachael, partially using the pillar as cover.
Both sides were flinging magic at each other as fast as they could, essentially at random. Mostly air attacks from one of the Faultline students and mostly fire—of the explosive variety—from the other. Both occasionally switched it up, but not enough for Eva to think they were anything but an air mage and a fire mage.
On her side of the fight, Rachael had a fairly constant wave of flames surrounding the air mage’s pillar. The only reason he hadn’t burned up was because the fire mage kept dampening the flames between his attacks.
The dryad was… doing something. Plants had sprouted straight out of the stone around her pillar and vines wrapped around it. A couple of the flower pods spat seeds around, but Eva wasn’t sure how effective she was actually being.
Having her brief moment to look at the fight, Eva realized that she really shouldn’t have landed between the two Faultline students. Her momentary pause had caused her to get hit. Either she should have attacked immediately upon landing or retreated behind the wall of flames. The air mage couldn’t even see her through the wall of flames.
Eva let out a low growl, igniting her hands as she blinked straight back to the other side.
Her foot stuck one of the Faultline boys in the side, knocking him out from behind cover and knocking the wind out of him at the same time. He wasn’t the one who had struck her, but he seemed the more dangerous of the two. Much like Eva, he was a fire mage. And, much like Eva, he had decided that explosives were the way to go.
Chunks of the pillar providing cover for the dryad were lying around the top of the temple. Enough so that Eva was worried it might collapse. The vines were probably the only reason it hadn’t.
They didn’t seem to like the flames much though.
Really, Eva should just let the dryad get taken out. She was part of the Nod Complex and ultimately allied with the vampire. However, she was currently allied with Rachael. Turning her into an enemy would make it three versus two at the moment. While Eva felt like she could take all three of them at once, she couldn’t be certain.
Best to take out Faultline first and then deal with the dryad on her own. Her seeds didn’t look dangerous, so she shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe the dryad would be more of a threat if they were fighting in the forest.
By the time the Faultline students would be incapacitated, Anise and Emily should have made it up the stairs as well. They could help out against the dryad.
So long as they were still allies.
A flower sprouted in front of Eva, just in time to intercept a lightning bolt from the Faultline air mage. Lavender petals exploded everywhere, creating almost a smokescreen between the two pillars.
Eva hesitated in delivering another kick to the flame mage’s chest. Accidentally killing him would probably actually be bad. Really bad. Especially with cameras watching.
Instead, she plucked up his wand and flung it as hard as she could. It disappeared from her sight off the edge of the pyramid. He might have a second, but the way his eyes widened and his arm trailed after it, Eva doubted it.
She might actually feel a little bad about it if she found out it was a family heirloom or something, but for the moment, Eva had other thoughts on her mind.
Namely, her temporary allies.
If her two companions made it to the top and saw Rachael, they might actually side with the dryad. A two versus three scenario in their favor. A preemptive attack to prevent Eva and Rachael from ganging up on them.
Eva still believed that she could take the three of them, but the Elysium Order magic would be far more dangerous than anything a thaumaturge could throw out. Hopefully she would tone down her lightning bolts below the level that hit Arachne, but Eva really had no idea how all that worked.
Of course, if another group showed up, everything would become much more complicated.
The cloud of petals slowly drifted down to the ground. The air mage tried flinging a few spells towards Eva. She had no cover over on his side of the temple, but she really didn’t need any.
She dodged the first lightning bolt, having seen where he was aiming while the petals were still up with her blood sight.
A second and third bolt followed much faster than Eva would have expected. The second hit her in the shoulder. She didn’t get a chance to dodge the third. Lightning caused too many jitters and the mage was casting too fast.
It struck her square in her stomach.
Taken down to a knee, Eva just smiled at the air mage.
She had no need to take another bolt.
The fight was over.
While he had been distracted with Eva, the flowers, and his fallen companion, Rachael had gone around the edge of the temple to come up behind him.
The tip of her glowing wand was pressed to his throat.
“Drop your wand,” she said.
He glared. Mostly at Eva. She could see the fight in his eyes and the tense muscles in his arms.
Gritting her teeth while keeping her smile as genuine as possible, Eva got to her feet.
“I hit you three times,” he hissed, throwing his wand to the floor.
Eva looked down, running a finger through one of the holes in her shirt. It was true, she had a hole in the chest, shoulder, and stomach of her shirt. Black scorch marks surrounded each hole. However, the first had barely hurt her, only bringing her to a pause because she hadn’t been expecting it. The second and third… well, Elysium Order lightning was still much worse despite the extra power he had put behind them.
A few more might have been enough to drop her for a time—or a good shot to her head—but he hadn’t managed that thanks to the flower from the dryad and Rachael’s flank.
“Yeah,” Eva said with a shrug, choosing to downplay exactly how harmful his bolts were. She stepped up to him, picking his wand up off the floor. “Kind of tickled,” she said, almost about to chuck the wand off the roof with the other.
After a moment, she thought better of it and simply slid it into her pocket.
Vines sprouted from the ground around his feet. He didn’t resist as they wrapped up around his legs and arms, binding him. Only when he was down on the ground and completely immobile did Rachael take her wand off him.
Eva had been about to ask her if she had seen Randal around when the dryad walked up. It almost startled Eva. She was just so hard to keep track of with blood sight.
The dryad stopped a good two arm spans away, staring with obvious caution, but also with a small smile.
Eva wasn’t sure how to react. Should she throw the dryad off the pyramid now, before Anise and Emily arrived? Wait?
Her plants shouldn’t be dangerous to Eva. At least not the ones she had seen. Even the vines shouldn’t pose any more of a problem than Lucy’s tentacles had. They might trip her up, but blinking would solve that problem easy enough. Or just igniting her legs. The vines wrapped around the pillar hadn’t taken the heat well.
“Thanks,” the dryad said, breaking Eva out of her devious plots on how to deal with the situation. “I thought that pillar was going to collapse on me. And then the fire–” She cut herself off with a shudder. “I don’t take fire well.”
Eva wanted to groan. Everything would be so much easier if the dryad just up and attacked her. Instead she decided to give thanks? And offer up an obvious weakness to go with it?
It was enough to make Eva sigh.
“No problem,” Eva said with another sigh. Rather than do anything else, she turned her head to Rachael. “Randal?”
“Haven’t seen him.”
“He’s got a demon in him. I doubt he would get taken out. Wonder what is taking him so long?”
“We ran into an earth mage. Some crazy strong lady. Pretty sure she let us go in the end, though she looked like she was pretty tired. He might have run into something similar and didn’t get so lucky.”
“My group ran into Lucy,” Eva said. “Speaking of, they’re still climbing the stairs.” Though it was taking them a really long time. Mortals. “I should probably check on them.”
Rachael stepped forward and dropped the volume of her voice. “We’re going to have to take them out at some point.”
“Yours too,” Eva said without glancing over her shoulder.
Rachael shifted her weight, looking off and down to the side. “I think she’s afraid of my fire. She has been very compliant of everything I ask. Makes me feel like the bad guy here.”
I know how you feel, Eva thought with yet another sigh. Raising her voice from her whisper, she turned slightly to address both members of the green group. “Stay up here, I’m going to find my companions. Keep them contained,” she said with a nod towards the Faultline students. “Fight off anyone else. If you can figure out what we’re supposed to do here, great. Though wait for me if you can.”
Without really looking at the plant girl, Eva walked over to the stairs.
The first plateau was fairly far away. It also had flashes of light coming from at least four different sources.
Blinking up the staircase was difficult. Because of the angles, it was almost impossible to see where to blink. There could be uneven terrain or plants growing that would splice her up if she teleported into them.
She was under no such limitations in blinking downwards.
Eva landed between Anise and Emily and promptly ducked to dodge a glowing white battle axe.
“Seems a bit deadly for a friendly competition,” Eva said, grabbing hold of Anise’s hand before she could try to swing again.
Recognition lit up in her already glowing eyes. She shook her head, pulling her hand out of Eva’s loose grip. “Tell that to those monsters.”
Eva moved slightly closer to the waist-high wall of stone at the edge of the plateau that hadn’t been there her first time up. Emily’s handiwork no doubt. A bit of cover for any spells that might come their way. Peeking over the edge, she realized that the stairs weren’t even there. A steep slope had replaced them.
Though he had lost his cap, another of the Faultline boys was flinging shards of ice around. Water appeared out of nowhere, rushing over the earth towards his opponent. All the while, he was doing flips and jumps that a trained gymnast might find troublesome.
Eva couldn’t think of a single other mage she had encountered that moved so much. Genoa came close, but even she was more like a rolling boulder than a circus performer. The demon hunter that Eva had killed moved fast, but lacked showy flips.
Actually, Eva thought, the other hunter might be similar. Eva had only fought with her once before Arachne paralyzed her. And even then, not for very long. But she had been fairly animated.
So he wasn’t the only mage. But a kid?
Then again, it wasn’t hard to see why he was moving so much.
Randal was at the base of the pyramid with him. Large black orbs flew from his fingertips, wilting the grass beneath them as they moved. If they came near any ice or water, it vanished in an instant. Everything thrown at him simply got eaten by the orbs.
Eva wasn’t sure what would happen if one of the orbs actually hit someone, but it probably wouldn’t be a pretty sight for the three camera drones circling over the fight.
“They ran up, flinging spells at each other. I managed to slow them down with a few lightning bolts.”
“And I turned the stairs to a slide.”
“After that, they just decided to fight each other down there.”
“What is that magic he’s using?”
Eva glanced to Anise, half expecting her to respond with some insight gleaned from her hive mind.
Instead, she shrugged and gave Eva an apologetic look.
“Your third eye doesn’t tell you?”
Emily blinked, turning her head. Eva ignored the other girl for the moment.
“I don’t think I can find out without getting closer. I don’t really want to get closer.”
“Fair enough,” Eva said. “It’s demon magic. I can tell you that much. No clue what it’s doing.”
“It’s like a black hole,” Emily whispered with a shudder.
“Demon magic,” Anise said with narrowed eyes. “Friend of yours?”
“He goes to my school. Be back in a moment.”
Eva blinked down again, making sure to land where the black orbs were not. She conjured fire marbles and flung them out almost immediately. They were even lower power than the ones she had first used on Lucy, but they were also surprise attacks on an unsuspecting target’s back.
At least, she thought she had been launching a surprise attack. The student flattened himself against the grass, rolling over to one side.
The marbles flew over him. Several were eaten by one of Randal’s orbs while the rest exploded harmlessly off to the sides.
Eva blinked, putting herself facing the pyramid with the student between it and her. Just a movement to keep him on his toes.
She was about to launch another volley of orbs when a crack split the air. White lightning struck him square in the back.
He collapsed to his knees, moaning in pain.
As much as she could empathize with him, she didn’t hesitate. Personal experience taught her that as painful and debilitating as it was—and deadly if they meant it enough—he could very easily get up and continue fighting if he collected his wits enough. Devon had gotten back to his feet after being hit and Devon was a wuss.
She blinked up to him and pocketed his wand.
After ensuring that Eva had the Faultline student’s wand, Randal pointed a finger towards the pyramid.
Eva blinked to him, gripped his arm, and yanked it skyward.
A black orb flew from his fingertip, hit one of the circling drones, and… passed through without hurting it.
Eva shook her head.
“They’re friends,” she said in a rush. She needed to stop him before he killed someone.
He just stared at her.
Conceding the point, she added, “For the moment. I know we should have talked about this beforehand, but what are you throwing around? You can’t kill people.”
“It destroys magic. Most magic anyway. Wouldn’t hurt a person.”
Eva opened her mouth, paused, snapped it shut, and opened it again. “How were you planning on winning against that guy if you couldn’t hurt him?” Or anyone else for that matter. “You’re lucky he didn’t realize that.”
“It isn’t the only thing I can do. Plus regular thaumaturgy. Besides, I figured you would save the day.”
Eva rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Rachael is already at the top. We should hurry and win this thing.”
“Lead the way.”