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Chapter 46: In Which The Rats Leave Ship

Late that night, the message of the oncoming danger went out to everyone in the city. It stated that those in danger are only Wielders and recommended that whoever among them that could afford to, should leave the city at once.

There was panic. Wielders hurriedly packed what they could and crowded onto the trains that heavily rattled away well into the morning. Whatever Wielders were in the palace also left, though quietly enough for me not to notice. That, and for the first time in a couple of years, my network of loyal spies was gone. I did not get the regular reports of the happenings in the palace and city; I couldn't listen for their tiny feet scratching within the walls. I felt the heavy blanket of loneliness thinking of the horror of going through the network of tunnels that was my second home and finding no one there.

Varemini was gone, the rats were gone, and now the Wielders.

I managed to sleep only very little that night. At some point I thought that perhaps I had finally contracted the illness. But I met the morning tired, yet otherwise healthy.

The points from the second round were tallied along from the points earned in the previous round and the duels for the last round were decided accordingly. I was already told that I had qualified for the last round, but I did not know in what rank I had qualified. At least, I was not supposed to know.

But I knew. I knew that I had scored more points the Gruitfeld yesterday; I knew that I was the one who had scored closest to Erba-un and because of that, she was going to be my opponent. Scrying the results was nearly impossible; the judges, their thoughts and calculations were protectively warded by the will of so many magicians with so many styles of magic that even I would have never gotten past them.

That is, if they didn't underestimate the power of ratty perception. I've never heard of someone else with such an acute communication with rodents, and most chances were that they hadn't either. I was up against Erba-un from Kir-moot: that had been the rats' last message which I snatched from their minds before they fled the city.

I had a stomach full of tiny snakes that writhed and slithered within me, every so often biting me, making me cringe. My heart felt like barbed wire that was stuck in my throat making it nearly impossible to swallow the water I drank. I tried to drink anyway, because my mouth kept getting so dry that my tongue felt like an old leather shoe. Eventually, I drank so much that I had to run to the lavatory to relieve myself, the entire time I was stressing that the tournament official would show up at the little waiting room in my absence and that I'd be disqualified because I wasn't there.

Burgen and the old man were with me, but they weren't very helpful. They were both too stressed from the fact that at any moment the city would erupt into flames or whatnot and all the Wielders would die – or worse.

"This is stupid!" I finally yelled in exasperation. "If it's so clear that something is going to happen why isn't the Tournament cancelled?"

"Because gold is involved," the Grand Master said grimly. "If gold wasn't involved, then no one would risk falling under a curse just to discover which country is the strongest in terms of magic."

"Well, either Kir-Moot or Auranora is the strongest," I said. "Isn't that enough? This is insanity. Who would want to conquer a cursed kingdom anyway?"

"Welcome to the world," was the old man's cynical reply.

I sighed and leaned back into the metal-framed chair I was sitting in, bringing the chair's front legs off the floor and balancing it only on the back legs. I looked at Burgen, he was pale and ill and certainly had nothing to add, I turned back to stare at the old man.

He looked dreadful. Worse than dreadful, he looked so old he was grey. He looked almost dead. I leaned forward bringing the chair down with a bang. "Grand Master, sir?" I said, my voice strangely childish in my ears, as if I was speaking to the grandfather I had never had. "I don't think it's Gruitfeld. So it can only be her, Erba-un. There's no one else who's strong enough."

"What are you talking about, Rat?" his voice sounded so tired

"Cooper's rival," I said, I was clinging to this idea because in all the chaos, it seemed the best course my thoughts could take.

He surprised me by reaching out and placing his hand on my shoulder. His blue eyes looked dull, his skin so wrinkled it seemed to be melting off his face. "Boy," he said, "don't think about that now, don't focus on revenge, don't focus on anything but magic. To win, you must fully face the magic. Wield magic as if you yourself are magic, make it beautiful, make it new, make it as no one has made it before."

The Grand Magic Master of Auranora was no poet, but I liked his words well enough. Out of all the things he ever told me, those were the ones I liked best. We didn't talk any more that day. We were informed that my duel with Erba-un would be the very last one. We ate our midday meal in silence, and then I lay down on a table in the corner and dozed to the sound of Burgen's and the old man's voice discussing things in hushed voices.

***

The arena was a desert. There was sand at my feet and broken pillars of yellow stone were scattered all around, creating little caves and hide-outs. I could not see across to the other side, where my opponent stood. The afternoon sun shone brightly making everything seem hazy. I lifted my eyes to the stands above the arena, where the rows of people sat looking strangely discoloured compared to the sparkling golden sands. It surprised me that every seat was occupied, but there was a somber silence, as if everyone was expecting the worst. Something white in the dim grey of the masses caught my eye and my vision focused on a cluster of white-clad girls sitting in the special area reserved for the servants of the gods. One of them, although far, boasted a head of black curls.

Fizzgretta.

It was as if my heart was a candle and someone had kindled the wick. I broke my gaze away from her tiny, distant image and clutched my fists. I put my previous failures aside; I had been arrogant then, now I would focus, now I would do my best, give it my all.

"Watch closely," I whispered.

The Sky Monk appeared and reminded us of the rules. There was nothing to be careful of in this terrain, nowhere to fall to, but nowhere to push your opponent to either. The torch was lit, and the duel began.

...

A/N - Cue: Pulling Your Hair Out And Scream In Frustration. Short - but I hope all of you hold on tight and are prepared as you could be for what's about to happen....

Watch closely... and get ready for the madness.

Rat - YA FantasyWhere stories live. Discover now