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Chapter 44: Wherein There Is A Wet Bloody Mess Touched By Golden Wings

He used light to vanish half of me from myself. Suddenly I was seeing everything from only one eye; only one leg was standing on the ice, only one hand was waving about trying to find balance for half my stomach, half my chest, half my neck. We both fell back at the same time. I stuck my thumb in my half-mouth and blew out my cheek until my missing half swelled out from my present half.

Meanwhile, Gruitfeld untied the knot from his shadow. We both got to our feet and faced each other again. My mind could sense that somewhere behind me, Burgen had recovered and was now fighting Effe, but my eyes were fixed on Gruitfeld's blue eyes; my focus was on him and on him alone.

I do not want to take away from the value of group magic competition. It is perhaps the best simulation of what a real war is like. But the real challenge begins one-on-one. That is when you take war magic to the next level.

We both attacked and blocked at the same time. It didn't matter which spells were used, now when we were completely locked on each other, the whole point was to get something, anything, in.

I knew that Gruitfeld wasn't interested in fighting Burgen, just as I didn't particularly care about Effe. Effe might have made a grand name for himself, but he was old, and he wasn't going to develop any further. The impressive ones were the young ones, who had surpassed the old ones and would be even greater when they themselves would be old.

Defence and attack, it was a fight more of concentration rather than of magic. We danced in circles around the ice, several feet apart but locked together. Breaking away would be fatal.

So far, we were matched in speed and in strength. Whenever I tried to take it up a notch, he was right there with me. It is an intimate situation, to fall so closely with your opponent. We were completely immersed in one another's rhythm, our heartbeats synched in perfect harmony. Gruitfeld was young for a magician, but much older than me. While his face was fair and his eyes looked clear of evil, I wasn't fooled. He was a suspect; could this be Cooper's rival? Could this perhaps be the man I was going to destroy?

All I needed was for him to make a mistake; all I needed was one small crack, which I would turn into a chasm.

A splash somewhere in the arena did not break my concentration, but he turned his head to see who fell into the water. I didn't care, whether it was Burgen or Effe, it mattered not. I found my moment and shot out with a cutting wind, I turned Gruitfeld's limbs into rubber, pulling them back into a binding knot. He fell forward comically, right on his face, with his limbs tied in bowknots behind his back. I plunged him into darkness and made to whisk him off the ice, but just then I felt the forming of magic somewhere behind me and a little to the right.

I slashed Effe's spell in half, but was hit by its motive force – apparently, Effe had tried to take me down with all he had. It blew me off the ice, but I made the weight of my body insubstantial just on time, skidding across the surface of the water until I reached the nearest ice platform.

Burgen was down and I was left alone with Effe and Gruitfeld. That wouldn't do. I needed Gruitfeld alone. With Effe distracting me, stabbing me in the back, Gruitfeld would have his way with me.

My only choice was to do something unexpected. There were still probably a few seconds until Gruitfeld released himself from my spell; in the meantime, Effe was rushing my way. I sent out a hook that pulled him toward me. The force of my little spell mingled with the force of his movement made him come hurtling my way, his body nearly slamming into mine. Before he could realise what had happened to him, I stole the light from his eyes, made his feet heavier than boulders and pushed him into the water. He satisfied me with a short scream as one of the sharks took a particularly keen interest in him. He went down with a dull splash and didn't come up again.

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