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Chapter 47: Wherein Rat Makes His Last Stand

I began the duel wrong. I sent out my mind to find her, but she wasn't anywhere, there were only broken pillars and large boulders; but nothing in the arena was alive. She was camouflaging herself from my thoughts, or perhaps hiding within one of the boulders, I began penetrating deeper with my thoughts, looking into the details.

She melted out of the wall right behind me, I reacted as I turned, shielding myself from what was a well-planned and definite attack.

Erbaun was as tall as a man; she had long thick raven black hair, tightly plaited into dozens of little braids. Her skin was olive and her eyes icy blue. Despite her height, she looked nothing like a man, her arms seemed strong, but they were still slender female arms. She wore a tight suit, with her shoulders exposed and her curves made obvious.

There was something fierce and focused in her gaze; it was as if she had no heart at all.

"They joke," she breathed out in heavily accented Auranian, the force of her magic making me take a step backwards. "They joke at me. A weak child?" She spat on the sand. I was astonished; I didn't know how she had the concentration to talk with the force of the spell she was pinning on me. "They joke." She pushed harder. "They give me a rag to defeat?"

I turned the plaits on her head into venomous snakes. She cried out as one of them bit her on the side of the neck. I made the sand beneath her feet into quicksand and finally I tied her shadow to the shadow of one of the boulders. Then I stood back. I had to put her to sleep and that sort of thing called for working inside her head. With all these little detainers, that would buy me enough time to do it if her defences weren't too complicated. It would be best to end this quickly and cleanly. Then I could jump into the stands and take Fizz with me away from the city. Now at least, after she had seen me in broad daylight, she was sure to understand that I really was alive and not a dream.

Nothing went as planned.

With one shake of her head, the snakes turned back into hair, the venom that was supposed to make her drowsy had no effect on her, the sand beneath her feet stopped pulling her in and her shadow untangled from the long shadow of the boulder, bouncing back into shape as if it were rubber.

She smirked and attacked me. I defended, but it was no use. I flew back with such force that body crashed into a stone pillar that exploded into small pieces. I coughed dust and sand, dizzily trying to get to my feet, but she was upon me again. All I could do was defend against her spell, which I recognised with horror. She wanted to break me into tiny pieces so that I'd mix with the sand, and it would take hours, even days, for me to put myself back together.

"Surrender," she commanded, pressing at me with all her might. All things considered, even during those young years I was pretty strong for a magician, but Erbaun was so much stronger that she made me look like a weakling; she made me feel like a nothing. I couldn't hold her back and I knew I was going to lose to her if I didn't do something. Sometimes it feels like there are muscles holding the magic together, as if every Wielder has metaphysical muscles with which he or she wields magic. And if that was the case I had reached complete muscle failure.

I had only one choice. All my strength went toward holding her back; I had to do something that was simple, something effortless.

I turned into a rat, and before she could understand that that was what had happened, I burrowed into the sand. My little mistake from the first round had now become my only chance of winning.

Two feet or so underground the sand was moist and cool; I managed to create crumbly caverns. Even with sand up my ears I could sense and hear her every move. She roared, enraged, sending up mounds of sand in search of me. I anticipated her movements, my rat senses far more acute than my boy senses, I kept digging, kept moving, kept out of her radar.

My only chance would be to get her by surprise; I had to be fast in everything. I knew that there was only one chance for this attack to work; my little whiskery trick wouldn't work a second time.

I bided my time, letting her fume. I gathered my courage, counted to ten and, boy again, burst out right underneath her, bringing her down in a swirl of sand. I filled her mouth and skin with sand as I locked her spine, weaving my spell into her spinal cord; she wriggled once and turned into a yellow sandstone statue.

I pulled back, triumphant, waiting to hear the crowd roar.

To my horror, the sandstone broke off her body as if it was a shell and crumbled away. She glared at me with eyes so cold it made my knees feel weak before she attacked me once again with all the force of her magic. I fell flat on my back, and she stood looming over me.

I had to do it, I had to ward her off, but she was just too good, she was so much better than me. My heart and soul screamed, I was about to be defeated, I could not accept the reality that was burning its way toward me. Any moment now, it would be the end for me.

I couldn't believe it, I had actually failed. I had led my life without having to accomplish anything besides surviving, until that day three years ago when I met the Grand Master. Then my life had become nothing but this task, nothing but this Tournament. I was so certain that even though it would be hard, I was going to win.

And I failed.

"You lose!" Erbaun cried, her voice filled with jeering laughter.

I lost.

My eyes stayed open. Even though I was going to turn to sand for the next few days, I would never give her the satisfaction of showing any sign of fear, for I knew now without a doubt that she was the one, she was the Wielder who had hidden her powers from Cooper, she was the one who had killed Luenelaine.

I felt as the last strands of my magic were giving way, and I felt her spell tear forward.

But suddenly it stopped. It was like the wall I was leaning against suddenly disappeared, all my magic burst out, sending her backwards to the ground. My heart leapt from my stomach into my throat with excitement. Did I have hidden strengths that I never knew about? I was winning!

I got to my feet and stopped my attack at once. Something felt strange. The air felt too light, too thin, I looked at Erbaun; she suddenly seemed smaller, suddenly insecure, out of place, confused. She stood and looked at something over my shoulder, I turned.

And saw it.

At first, I couldn't understand what it was and how it had gotten there. At first I thought I was seeing a strangely shaped man walking towards me from a distance.

But it wasn't a man; it was a golden haired toddler, naked like the babies that play in the fountains during summer. But he walked toward me with sure steps, with confidence, not the walk of a toddler. I gaped in horror when I noticed his eyes were black pits with no pupils.

I recognised this baby. This was the curse of the Wielder's Taboo. "Erich?" I said, "what're you doing here?"

Erich, if he knew his name, ignored me and continued walking. He walked until he stood at the very centre of the arena. Then he raised his face to the heavens, opened his mouth and cried the cry of a curse.

The sound is not one you can easily hear with your ears, not one you hear with your mind or heart. It is a sound you hear with those parts of you that make you a Wielder. I didn't know where those parts really are, so all I could do was cover my ears.

The sound stopped time, the blue sky vanished, replaced by empty blackness, and everything glowed in an eerie green glow.

The curse had arrived.

Rat - YA FantasyWhere stories live. Discover now