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Chapter 38: Wherein Rat Eats Honeyrolls

We were five nervous people sitting in a small inner room underneath the stands of the big stadium. Outside we could hear thousands upon thousands of people, walking and talking, finding their way to their seats. There were the shrill voices of children, the loud cries of food and drink vendors selling their wares, the deep hum of excited men and high cluck of women. We couldn't hear the words being said, but we knew from the floods of people that had entered the city in the past weeks that the voices spoke in as many languages as tones.

Aside from Burgen and me, there were three other Auranorian magicians who would compete in the War Magic category. Of the dozens of magical categories, it was the most prized, the most significant, the hardest to master and thus the most competitive. Each kingdom could enter as many as ten magicians into the category. Auranora, being one of the smallest kingdoms competing, only entered five competitors. Five was the absolute minimum, because that was the standard size of a War Magic "team." The first event in the category, and the first competition that opened the entire Tournament, was Group War Magic.

The other members of the team, Mirgul Rife, Salan Hortigery and Jea Seminorget, were older than Burgen, and outright old next to me. Among them, Jea and Rife were both past forty and had participated in the Tournament that had been held in the Republic of Jumma four years ago. Cooper had won the gold medal there, and they had not brought home either silver nor bronze.

We all knew that the gold medal was the only one that really mattered. For Auranora, it was gold or none. The imperialistic Iridiya, the jealous Bordinary and cunning Kir-Moot were all known for their powerful War Magic. If they could not be defeated here, there would be nothing to stop them from raising an army against us.

I couldn't bring myself to care about the politics; I wanted the gold only for myself, for my own selfish pride.

I had met Jea, Rife and Salan several times before the Tournament. We had to be coordinated to be able to defeat five other War Magicians. We didn't even know who we were up against or at what time we would be competing until the very day of the Tournament. I didn't get on so well with Jea and Rife, they refused to see my talent as a war magician and only looked upon my age.

Age was a big thing in Auranora. All kids were taught not to talk back to their elders even if their elders were wrong. That made the young ones relish the day they became the old ones when they could finally assert themselves. For me however, a kid who had never been taught anything by anybody, the whole elder issue seemed absurd. Wasn't it the elders who taught the kids how to talk to elders? I promised myself that when I'd be old enough to be called an elder I would make sure to break this circle of foolishness.

While their attitude frustrated me, I was willing to overlook it because they brought something interesting along with them:

Outer-palace gossip.

There was talk of the prince's marriage and his son, talk of the King raising taxes and changing policy in this and that, but what interested me was to learn that there was talk about me. Even though Jea and Rife could be relied upon to make anything associated with me sound like a bad thing, what made it all the juicier was that no one had set eyes on me. For the three years I had lived at the palace, I had been obscure to the city. Mine was the type of story that people loved. A base-born child, self-raised on the streets by his own luck and wit, accidentally found by the Grand Magic Master and discovered to have magical talent beyond reckoning. And more than anything, how romantic for him to hold the name of Rat.

What appealed to me most about this story was that there was no mention of Cooper. Even though Jea and Rife had obviously met the man, the only connection that they found between me and him was that in the city there was talk about me being "the next Cooper".

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