As always please rate and comment. This is part of a double post so if you haven't ready chapter three that was posted as well then go and do it so you understand what's happening in this chapter. Also, please note that this chapter ties in a bit to the prologue so if you haven't read it or don't remember what it was about then I would suggest going back and getting familiar with it quickly.
Mishikail had me slaving over these two chapters for twenty four hours straight because she wanted to give the readers a little bonus so I really hope you enjoy... now if you don't mind I'm gonna go and pass out, hopefully not on my floor.
Sons and Daughters
Richard's eyes fluttered open, a massive migraine pounding at his tired brain as a shaft of moonlight struck him in the eye. He was lying on the bed in his room and he could hear someone breathing softly from somewhere nearby. Shifting his head on the pillow he peered out into the gloom that permeated the room and spied Aura sitting a few feet away in an old rickety wooden chair, her hair no longer in its usual braid but falling over her shoulders and back like a soft silky curtain.
'Welcome back,' she spoke softly when she noticed him move, 'how do you feel?'
'Like a truck ran over me, repeatedly,' he groaned.
Aura pulled her chair closer to the bed and sighed softly, a small smile creeping over her lips. 'I didn't expect you to wake up until tomorrow night.'
'How long was I out?' he asked and sat up in the bed, his stomach churning and threatening to dump his last meal all over his lap.
'Only a few hours, which is pretty impressive. The amount of magic you used, as an untrained person, should have rendered you useless for at least a day. You put on an amazing display.'
The memories of fighting in the arena flooded through his mind and he remembered everything that had happened. The things that stuck out the most were the light shield, the ball of pure light, and the ghost of the pain that still haunted his body. He could hardly believe everything that happened but the amount of pain he was still in was proof that it had indeed occurred.
'How's Lythia?' he asked and remembered that she had been caught in that duel from hell with him.
'She's fine. She was treated for some minor cuts and bruises, but the worst damage done to her was from your slap so there's nothing to worry about,' she answered and Richard felt guilty about hitting her in the heat of the moment. 'Thank you... for protecting her, Richard.'
'I only did what you asked.'
'No, you went above and beyond what I asked and I am truly grateful.'
'How did that even happen? I thought there was some kind of spell to prevent real damage like that.'
Aura shifted restlessly in her chair and looked him directly in the eyes, a sad frown on her face. 'We don't know exactly. It would take a really powerful mage to pull of such a stunt and there's no evidence pointing to anyone. We believe it was an attempt on Lythia's life. Whoever was after the Princess might be behind this as well.'
Richard thought about that and figured it very well could be true. When he had first gotten to this world he had apparently interrupted an attempted kidnapping and inadvertently saved Princess Reiea's life, even though he had been technically unconscious. Lythia and her sisters were royals as well so it would only be natural that they would be targeted too, especially when you put the weakest one on display in a duel like that. Now he felt even worse about the part he played in arranging the duel.
'There's a tonic for the pain on the table next to you,' Aura pointed after a few moments of silence, 'I believe a first year student by the name of Lisbeth brought it here when you were still sleeping.'
Once again feeling grateful to the shy girl who had once brought him some food when he was training with the sword, Richard grabbed the glass of cool green liquid and drank it one gulp. It tasted like grass but he instantly felt the effects as the pain in his body and mind began to wash away and became a tolerable annoyance.
'Remember to thank her the next time you see her.'
'I will, thanks. How long have you been here?'
'Since you were brought to your room. Lystia said she would be down soon to talk about some things so I've been waiting for her to return. I wonder if she figured you would be awake and that's why she had me wait here instead of my residence upstairs.'
Richard figured the Queen knew exactly when he was going to wake up and snorted slightly at the thought. She had once called him an enigma but he thought it was actually the other way around. Between her and her daughter they were two of the strangest people he had met here and she seemed to know more than she was letting on. He just hoped that she figured out how to send him back home soon.
A few more minutes of silence passed when there was a soft knock on the door and it opened slightly. A tall brown haired girl peeked her head in, two pointy ears peaking above her hair and big brown eyes scanning the room. She noticed Aura sitting there and entered slightly while clearing her throat.
'Ah, Daiya, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you here at such a late hour?' Aura asked, 'are some students acting up again?'
'Umm, no...' Daiya said softly, 'I just wanted to see how he was doing.'
The Dark Elf Princess's eyes found him in the gloom and her ears quivered a little, causing laughter to bubble up in Richard's throat. He quickly swallowed his laughter and tried to keep a neutral face. He had heard that Princess Daiya was a very serious person and could be a little prickly when dealing with other people. She was also the number ranked student at the school for four years running so he really didn't want to give her a reason to hate him. The first time they met she seemed to have been offended by something he had said or done and he hadn't seen her since.
'As you can see, Richard is doing just fine. Was there anything else?'
'Umm, no...' the imposing girl whispered. She stood there for a few more seconds, her ears still twitching before turning around and leaving the room in a hurry, forgetting to close the door.
Aura dissolved into a fit of giggles but Richard ignored her, sure he didn't want to know what she found so funny in that moment. Whatever it was probably wasn't good for him and he would rather just leave it alone and hope it went away. Another half an hour passed before someone else entered the room and this time it was Queen Lystia herself followed quickly by her teenage daughter Princess Reiea. As soon as Reiea saw him she ran to him and launched herself at him, pulling him into a powerful hug that knocked the wind from his lungs.
'Are you okay?' she cried and he tried to answer but the only thing that came out of his mouth was a yelp.
'He's fine Reiea, or at least he was until you attacked him,' Aura laughed and the girl quickly released him, tears in her eyes.
'I'm sorry!' she wailed, 'Did I hurt you?'
'I'm fine, Princess. Really.'
At the mention of her royal title the young girl flashed him a baleful glance, 'What?'
'Reiea, I meant Reiea,' he corrected and she flashed him an innocent smile.
'Alright Reiea, give him some space to breath,' the Queen said and her daughter moved back a half a foot but remained on his bed, her hand on his knee. 'I'm glad to see you are well, Richard. No ill effects I hope.'
'I'm in some pain but someone brought me something for it and I can manage now. Thank you. I'm surprised you are still at the school, Your Highness.'
Aura stood up from her chair and offered it to her aunt and then moved to stand next to the small window where the moonlight was entering. 'She's been speaking with the headmaster and student council about what happened during the duel.'
'Precisely,' the Queen smiled happily and took the seat offered, 'it's exactly as Aura says. I just got out of a rather lengthy meeting regarding the events of the night. While the sudden disappearance of the protective barrier over the arena was a troubling incident, it seemed what they really wanted to know about most was Richard.'
'Me?' he asked in disbelief and both the Queen and Princess nodded in unison.
'You were amazing out there!' Reiea gushed but Richard kept his focus on the more reliable source of information.
'They wanted to know if you really came from across the sea, who your parents were, and what your affiliation was to the crown. So I told them everything.'
'Seriously? After you told me not to tell anyone!' he blasted but she simply smiled at him and held up her smooth hand for silence.
'Yes, I told them that you were indeed from across the sea, hailing from a small island fishing village. I also told them the truth about your parents and why you are here.'
Richard shook his head in confusion, not sure what was going on here. If she told them the truth then she should have said he was from another world and that his parents were a couple of bastards who didn't care if he lived or died. Instead she just reinforced the story they had already been given.
'Reiea,' Aura spoke suddenly and broke his train of thought, 'would you go and get Richard something to eat from the kitchen? I'm sure he's famished right now.'
'Of course!' the girl squealed and her face lit up. She bounded off the bed and bounced out of the room, her heels clacking against the ground as she rushed down the hall at a brisk pace.
'She still doesn't know, does she?' Richard asked and both women nodded. Now it made sense why she hadn't told him the truth, because she had been there. 'So what did you really tell the headmaster?'
'Just what I said,' the Queen answered and Richard groaned in frustration and suppressed the urge to rip out his hair.
'That's not the truth though...'
'To anyone outside this room it is, Richard,' Aura said softly and the Queen nodded in agreement. 'We still can't let anyone know where you really come from, especially now that you proved you could cast very advanced magic. It's better if they believe the story the Queen has provided for you in case this came up.'
'And what story would that be?' he asked and it was Lystia who answered.
'That you are the Aura's son and have come to Alysia to be with her.'
All Richard could do was stare at them with wide eyes and an open mouth. A gurgling sound was coming from his throat and he couldn't form any words as he found himself even more confused than he had been before. To their credit, neither of the women laughed in the situation and he was grateful for at least that.
'W... what was that?' he finally managed to ask and the Queen repeated her words. 'No one's going to believe that! First of all, is she even old enough to have a seventeen year old son? And secondly, wouldn't people figure out that they probably would have heard if a member of the royal family had a child?'
'Not if she had that child in secret on another continent, away from the eyes of society here,' the Queen explained simply. 'And yes, she is old enough to have a son of your age if she traveled to the other continent when she was seventeen, which she did.'
Richard turned to Aura, a shocked look on his face and in hopes that she would be as sane as he was right now. 'Is this really what you want people thinking?' he asked her. 'They're going to think you broke the law of arranged marriages or whatever you called it!'
'I did,' the woman answered stiffly and Richard was shocked into silence once more. 'Before I entered the academy I traveled across the sea in with my parents and I met a man there. He was a commoner and it never should have happened, but it did. Nine months later I gave birth to his child, but he was stillborn and I lost him.'
'I... I'm sorry,' Richard said gently and felt like he should be saying something more. But what did you say to a person in that situation?
'Lystia and my parents covered it up so I wouldn't get into trouble for breaking the law and having a child with someone deemed inferior,' she continued and then fell into silence for a few moments. 'So everything isn't being made up out of nothing. Besides, I agreed to this possibility when Lystia first told me about your arrival from another world.'
'It's the best solution to our little problem here,' the Queen said softly as well, the tone of the conversation having suddenly taken a turn into seriousness. 'I had documents drawn up last week proving beyond a doubt that you are indeed Aura's son. After your birth you were sent to live with your father across the sea to protect Aura as she was about to enter the school, and last year your father died which is why you were sent back to live with your mother. This will also explain your odd mannerisms and why you look out of place among our society. An official pardon has also been issued in Aura's name for her indiscretion due to the fact of her years of service to this academy and the nation as a whole.'
'This is nuts,' Richard said but it was lost in the silence.
'How do we explain the magic he was casting earlier?' Aura asked a minute later, 'What was that even? I've never seen anything like it in my entire life.'
'It's Light Magic,' Lystia answered and Aura threw her a skeptical look. 'It hasn't been seen in nearly two thousand years and much isn't known about it, even in the First Kings journal. It apparently disappeared after the great war. As for explaining it, well that's a lot simpler: we just tell the truth. It's documented in the history books already; you just have look hard enough to find it.'
Richard wanted to ask a hundred more question but they were interrupted by Reiea returning from her trip down to the kitchen to get him some food. She rushed into the room and placed a tray on his lap that was loaded with steaming hot food. He wasn't really hungry but he ate it anyways so the poor girl didn't feel bad that he had snubbed it.
'So what's next?' Aura asked as he ate slowly and the young Princess watched on in interest; which was a little annoying to be honest.
'Well starting Monday morning Richard will be an official student of Majou Academy and will be placed in with the first years for the academic courses. As for the magical classes, well, an entrance exam will be held in the afternoon that day to determine which class he will be placed into.'
'He's honestly being accepted into the school? He's still a year too young though.'
'That's not a problem,' the Queen explained, 'I put in a personal recommendation for him and the headmaster took in your prestigious standing within and outside of the school. He is your child after all. Now there is one more thing we need to discuss, and I'm sure Reiea won't like this.'
The girls attention was suddenly on her mother as she heard her name being said. She had a confused look on her face and obviously hadn't been paying attention the conversation that had been going on around her. Richard couldn't really blame her though. He had been doing his best to listen but he was fairly certain he had misheard them. There was no way he would become a student here, right?
'What is it, mother?'
'Richard's engagement,' she said and both he and Reiea gasped in shock. 'Do you have any potential candidates, Aura?'
'NO!' Reiea wailed and wrapped her arms around him tightly. 'He doesn't need a fiancé! I'll marry him!'
'That's not possible, Reiea,' her mother said gently, like she was talking to a toddler, 'Richard is your second cousin and you can't marry him sweetheart.'
'Silence, Reiea. Nothing you can say will change the fact that you two are family. Well, Aura?'
Aura looked at the Queen with a bemused smile on her face while Reiea refused to let go of him, pouting into his neck. 'No, I don't have any candidates yet but I don't think I'll have to worry. After the display of power he showed tonight they and their parents will come banging my door down. I assume you will be making the final decision?'
'Of course. You may be the head of your family but I am still the head of the Royal Family and that type of decision falls to me at the end.'
'Wait, wait, wait!' Richard shouted as his brain began to catch up with what these two crazy bats were talking about. 'I have to get married?!?'
'Yes, you do. It's the law after all,' Aura explained gently.
'But I'm not from here!' he roared and only hoped that Reiea assumed he was talking about being from some island far away from there.
'You might not have been born in Alysia but you are now a citizen,' the Queen refuted and he felt like throwing something at her. 'You are bound by our laws for as long as you live here.'
Richard took those words in and processed them, finding a hidden meaning behind them. It seemed like she was telling him that as long as he was stuck there he would have to play up the part he had been given, which was the son of a royal and a mage. Once they found a way for him to go back to his own world he would be free of their laws. At least that's what he assumed she meant.
'Don't worry, Richard,' Aura spoke, 'You won't be forced to get married next week. It's actually against school policy for students to be married while they are attending, so students with fiancé's don't get married until after they graduate. You'll have plenty of time to get to know your partner.'
'Good,' he breathed and meant it honestly. He was glad that he had at least four years before anything happened that he wouldn't be able to undo, and he highly doubted that he would be here long enough to even worry about that. So they could play their little political game for all he cared.
'Well I think we've taken up enough of your time, and you could probably use some rest. Tomorrow will probably be an exciting day for you. Come Reiea, Aura, let's let him get some much deserved sleep.'
The Queen stood up from her chair and her and Aura made their way to the door, stopping just before leaving to glare at the teenager still draped around Richard's neck and refusing to leave. Thinking he knew a way to get her to go he wrapped his own arms around her and gave her a big hug before whispering into her ear that he would see her later. She sniffled into his shoulder but after a few more moments let go and slowly walked from the room. Even if she was upset, Richard couldn't help but feel relieved. Now that he was supposedly her second cousin he didn't have to worry about her trying anything funny anymore, which he was sure was going to happen soon if things had been left alone. She's was a nice girl and all, but a little too clingy.
The door closed a few moments later and he heard the women walk away from his room, their soft voices passing into nothingness as they got too far away from him for the sound to travel. He put his head back on his pillow and stared up at the roof above him, trying to sort through everything that had just happened in the last few hours. It was hard as there was so much to sift through, what with the duel, the new lies he had to remember, the talk about marriage and fiancé's, and the fact that starting next week he would be a student at this school instead of a servant to some bratty girl.
Richard was woken the next morning bright and early by a loud knock at his door. Getting up with his body still aching he opened the door to find Aura, his new mother, standing there dressed in an simple yet stylish red dress and her hair pulled into a pony tail. She looked a lot different from the way he was used to seeing her and it took him a moment t realize he was staring in a way he probably shouldn't be.
'Morning,' she smiled and took a step in his room after he moved away from the door, 'how are you feeling this morning, sweetie?'
'A little better, but not much,' he answered and pulled on a shirt. 'What's up?'
'We're going into town for the day. Since our secret is out we might as well get you in some nicer clothes and we'll also need to get you a school uniform. No son of mine will attend his first class dressed as a staff member. So hurry up and get changed and meet us out at the front gate.'
Richard didn't get the chance to ask what Aura meant by 'us' as she quickly excused herself from his room and left him alone to get ready. He tossed on a pair of clean slacks and changed his shirt quickly before running to the designated meeting spot, curious to who else was waiting there for him with Aura. For a brief moment he thought that maybe the Princess was imposing herself into the shopping trip but he then realized how stupid of a thought that was; there would be no way she would be allowed to go into the city without a large contingent of guards and soldiers surrounding her at all times.
Coming out of the main tower he found Aura standing next to an ornate carriage, her dress billowing in a stiff wind and holding the door open. He couldn't see anyone else out there waiting but as he climbed into the carriage that Aura was holding open for him he almost froze as he saw Lythia sitting in it, a small and light bruise on her cheek from when he had stuck her. She ignored his entrance and instead looked out the window next to her so he quickly sat down across from her while Aura climbed in and took the seat next to her sister.
The carriage started moving a few moments later and soon they were travelling through the open fields and plains that surrounded the school and well on their way to heading to the Eternal City. For most of the journey they rode in silence, preferring to each look out the window and admire the natural beauty, but it wouldn't last for long as Lythia suddenly shifted her gaze towards him and cleared her throat loudly.
'So,' she said but let the single word hang heavy over them and didn't say anymore.
Richard looked at her curiously for a minute, not sure what he should say to her. He was sure she still hated him, especially after the duel where he had taken all the spotlight from her when it had been her big chance to prove she was just as good as her sisters. Then again, if it hadn't been for her he probably would have died in that arena last night.
'Thanks...' he said softly and she tilted her head curiously, 'for saving me last night and knocking Agnes out.'
'I was just returning the favor,' she answered stiffly and brushed a few strands of blonde hair from her eyes, 'I don't like being in debt to people.'
'Still, I really mean it. Thank you very much.'
They fell into silence once again and Aura looked back and forth between them with a small smile on her beautiful face. Richard tried to ignore her though and instead looked out the window and gazed upon the lush green fields they were passing through, small farm houses dotting the horizon and the sound of laughter travelling through the wind.
'I'm told that you're my nephew,' Lythia said suddenly and Richard looked back at her, an almost apologetic look in his eyes. 'I can't say that I'm excited about the whole idea. Someone as young as me having to be an aunt to such an uncouth man two years younger than me isn't the kind of attention I want.'
'Lythia,' Aura laughed softly and nudge her younger sister playfully, 'you're not the one that has such an old child, I am! Besides, nothing about this actually affects you and I would like to think that you will treat Richard with the same respect you do with Coni and I.'
'I thought she already did,' Richard joked and Aura laughed. Lythia growled and turned her attention elsewhere, ignoring the other two occupants for the rest of the journey, which didn't bother Richard one bit as it meant he could rest in peace and enjoy the ride.
When they reached the town Richard was dragged from shop to shop by Aura, a pile of soft and colorful clothes piling up at each one to the point that it was hard for him to carry it all. He had been right about one thing, his six gold piece wage for working as Lythia's attendant was a paltry sum and it would have taken him a month just to afford a single piece of clothing they were looking at. He didn't have to worry about that though as Aura was paying for everything they bought. At each store she simply had to sign a receipt and apparently the money would be taken from the family's vault, sort of like a credit card.
After a small lunch at some bistro that gave them a private table away from the rest of the customers they went back to their shopping and it was time for him to get fitted for a school uniform. It didn't take long to get through with that as most of the pieces had already been prepared for him by measurements the Queen had somehow taken. However he did learn a few things. The most surprising thing he learned was that the black cloak he was to wear actually held a small magical charm that helped to protect the wearer from harm, but it wasn't powerful enough to stop a strong spell from killing him though. The second cloak he was given, the one he would wear in the arena, had a stronger spell cast on it though and would actually absorb one powerful spell to protect his life. As he was being fitted for it he couldn't help but think that he could have used it the night before; maybe he wouldn't be in the amount of pain that he was in now.
Another thing he learned was that students from prominent families were allowed the use of their Coat of Arms on their uniform, to show they were above the rest of the students. It was sewn to the front of the white dress shirt right above the heart and apparently most students didn't wear theirs as the school promoted equality among the social ranks while they were there and it would seem pretentious if you tried to show your status within the world while there. Aura had her Coat of Arms added to his uniform though, under the pretence that it would show beyond a doubt that he was her child, something some people were still having trouble believing. For a person to use a crest that wasn't theirs was tantamount to identity theft and impersonation of a noble or royal family member and could actually be punishable by imprisonment, fifty lashes, or even death if the offense was large enough. So by him wearing it and not having any repercussions would prove to everyone that he was indeed who they were told he was. It also didn't hurt that they had the Queen on their side and she was helping to hold the lie up.
After finishing up with the uniform they got back in the carriage and headed back to the academy, everyone nodding off slightly as they traversed the bumpy dirt road. It had been a long and exhausting day and all Richard could think about was getting back to his room and climbing into bed for the rest of the night. Before that he might just have to go and find Lisbeth and ask her where she had gotten that pain tonic she had given him the previous night. He could use another one right about now.
When they arrived at the school and he headed towards the main tower where he had been living, Aura stopped him short and pointed to the first year tower off to the left. 'Coni and the student council moved all your belongings into your new dorm room. Lythia will show you the way,' she said and then pulled him into a light and awkward hug. Knowing she was just playing the part of his mother he returned the hug tentatively and then said his goodbye as Lythia had already stalked away and was quickly nearing the dorm tower.
Having been Lythia's attendant he had already been inside the first and second year dorms many times, so he wouldn't actually get lost. In all his time being in there though he had never found out where the male students had lived, as there were only sixteen of them between both years and he rarely saw them. When he entered behind Lythia they climbed the large set of stairs that reached ever higher into the tower and he was surprised when they didn't stop climbing until they had gone sixteen floors. His guide suddenly stopped and turned to face him, an annoyed aura shrouding her.
'This is far as I can go. Female students aren't allowed on the men's floors so you'll have to go on your own,' she explained and it was obvious she didn't like the idea of a whole section of the tower she lived in being closed off to her. 'Your room is on the very top floor and it will be the only one with a nameplate on the door.'
'Doesn't anyone else live up there?'
'Male mages are treated differently since there are so few of them. Members of the Royal Family that are men are placed above all others, regardless of age or ability. The top floor is completely dedicated to housing them and since you are the only one at this school it is all yours. Try not to make a mess.'
With that Lythia turned on her heel and walked back down the marble stairs, her school cape billowing behind her until she rounded a corner and disappeared. Richard shook his head and continued to climb, coming to the final landing on the twentieth floor and peering around. He found himself in a large common room filled to the gills with plush and expensive looking furniture and ornate paintings hanging on the walls. While it looked immaculate it also felt empty and it seemed like no one had lived up here for a very, very long time.
He found the name Richard Proud written in gold paint on a heavy polished wooden door at the far end of the tower and opened it to find a massive room on the other side. There was a large four poster bed up against the wall, a dining table, a work desk, a walk in closet, and enough chairs and couches to seat twelve people comfortably. Right across from the bed was a large fireplace built into the wall and a crackling fire licking at some logs as a warm and gentle heat spread through the rest of the room. This was a massive upgrade from the tiny broom closet he had been living in before and he realized there was actually too much space. There was only one person living in this room, not an entire soccer club. Hell, there was only one person living on the entire floor. He didn't need all of this.
The next morning Aura visited him for a short while and explained to him that it would be better if he stayed in the dorms for the day. Apparently his sudden reveal was a big deal and her and the Queen wanted to handle this with care. To those who didn't know the true story behind him he would appear as the man who was third in line to the throne of Alysia, even if there was no way he would ever take it. Because people believed it to be true though things had to be handled differently, and since it was a lie they had to control the flow of information. His first class of the day, first year math, wouldn't require his presence so he would make his debut in school during first year history, a class Aura taught. That way she would be there to help Richard along if he needed it when people began to ask him questions. That was her reasoning though.
Richard didn't mind not going to Math the next day though. He hated math with a passion and it appeared what they were being taught in first year was actually material his grade eight class covered years ago. He was sure he could muddle his way through most of it but it still didn't sound fun. As for being cooped up in the drafty tower all day, well he wasn't happy about that either. He had been hoping to go for a walk in the sun and maybe hang out by the river, but it looked like that wouldn't be possible right now. So he resigned himself to his fate and move to the common room, skimming through the academy handbook he had been given by his mother/teacher/accomplice.
Around lunch time one of the maids brought up his meal and placed it in front of him. He found that he was no longer being given the hearty food he was used to being nothing more than an attendant, but a full course of gourmet food the likes of which he had been fed while at the palace. The maid who brought it to him seemed to be skittish and wouldn't look him in the eyes. When he asked her about it she explained that it was how they were expected to act around a royal and it was a little awkward since he had once been seen as one of them, just a commoner. He told her that he didn't want to be treated any differently than he had before as it made him feel even more uncomfortable and after a little nudging he got her to agree and pass on the word to the rest of the staff.
The next morning Richard awoke to find he felt as nervous as he had when he was walking into the arena a few days before. The sky outside the thin glass window next to his bed was a heavy gray and it looked like it could rain at any minute. Thankfully someone had come into his room during the night and kept the fire in his fireplace going so the heat still radiated through the large space even now. A tray of food was waiting for him on the large dining table near the far wall and it still steamed as if someone had just placed it there a few minutes earlier.
All throughout his breakfast he went over his agenda for the day, all the while a sense of dread filled his stomach and heart. As nice as it was to eat great food every day and sleep in a bed that wasn't lumpy or a little too small, it came at a pretty hefty price. His new fake life began today and he wasn't sure how it was going to go over. Only three days ago he had been some nobody who hid under the radar, but now he was about to step out into the limelight pretending to be someone he wasn't. What would happen if someone found out what they were hiding? Would the Queen even be able to explain it away.
Between each class there was a thirty minute period where the students were free to do whatever they wanted, and it was during this little break that Richard dressed himself for the first time in his full uniform. It was strange wearing it, especially since the heavy embroidered crest of the Proud family was weighing on his mind. As soon as he finished adjusting his heavy black cloak with a brown trim denoting him as a first year there was a soft knock on his door and a tall redheaded woman entered, a stern look on her face as she took him in.
'Alyssa,' he said and she scowled deeply at him, 'Umm, Professor Meetra...'
'I thought you and I got along well,' she said and stepped into his room, closing the door behind her, 'and here I learn that you and Aura were keeping a big secret from me. How do you think that made me feel?'
'I... I'm sorry,' he blurted and took a big step away from the woman, 'I was told not to mention anything while I was getting used to everything here.'
'That's not what I'm mad about. I can understand how the illegitimate child of a royal would need to be hidden. What really gets me is that you skipped my class on your first day!'
'S... sorry... Professor Meetra...' he managed to squeak out and the room was suddenly full of loud laughter. Alyssa was nearly doubled over as she laughed and Richard nearly collapsed from surprise.
'I'm playing with you, Richard!' she gasped between giggles. 'I already knew you wouldn't be coming to my class today! I just wanted to see your face when you thought you were in trouble. And there's no need for all this professor talk. You and I are friends, aren't we?'
'That's mean,' Richard grumbled and it only caused Alyssa to laugh more.
'But oh so fun! Anyways, second period is going to begin soon and I've been asked to come and get you by your mother. Are you ready?'
Richard nodded, an annoyed look in his eyes, and then grabbed the leather pouch that would carry his work book and quills and left his room together with Alyssa. They left the dorm tower and quickly walked through the crowded grounds as students watched him pass with interest, before entering the large tower that held the first year courses. They left the first floor that held the teachers' lounge and ran up the stairs until they came to the third floor. They walked down a curved hall and came to a stop outside a small door about ten feet away from a larger door that had a plaque on it reading 'First Year History A'. Alyssa opened the door and nudged him in, closing it a moment later as she herself had entered.
'This is your mother's private office,' she explained and when he looked around Richard saw stacks of paper piled high on almost every flat surface. 'The class should be starting in a few minutes so we'll wait here until she comes to get you.'
'Umm, are you coming in too?' he asked and she shook her head with a small smile.
'No, you'll be going in alone. I just thought you could use some company while waiting. I'm sure you're feeling pretty nervous.'
'You have no idea,' he admitted and took a seat in an empty chair by a second door that most likely led to the classroom next door. 'I'm not exactly used to this kind of stuff.'
'You'll be fine, dear. Aura will be there to help you if you need it so don't worry about it too much. What you should be more worried about is your magical placement exam later this afternoon.'
'Why is that?' he asked but the woman shook her head back and forth.
'You'll see. Now, I haven't been completely honest in my reason for staying with you. I have favor to ask.'
Richard could already guess that her favor wasn't something he should be agreeing to, but he was curious as to what kind of crazy thing she could have come up with so he said, 'What's that?'
'I plan on throwing my name into your arranged marriage pot and I would really appreciate it if you put in a good word for me with your mother,' she smiled and there was nothing innocent about the grin. It was filled more with mischief and Richard was sure his skin crawled just a little bit. 'If I come out on top I will make sure you pass my class with perfect marks without even writing your name on a single test. Sound good?'
'Why... why don't you just ask her about it yourself?' he asked and was furiously hoping the door to the class opened quickly and he was saved from this awkward topic.
'She doesn't seem to take it seriously,' Alyssa answered and Richard couldn't help but agree. She was a very promiscuous person and even he had trouble believing her request. Then again, if what Aura had told him about the treatment about powerful and noble male mages was true then he was sure Alyssa was just trying to take a step up the social ladder.
Before Richard could think of anything to say in reply the door he was sitting next to opened and Aura walked through, closing it to a crack. Her hair was back in the usual braid and she was dressed in her teaching uniform, hiding most of her body's good points from view. Once more Richard had to shake those thoughts out of his head.
'I asked you to bring him here, not stay with him,' she said and pointed her remark to her younger friend who looked like she had just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
'I was just getting to know your secret son better,' the woman smiled but Aura wasn't having any of that.
'I've told you already that your position as a professor at this school exempts you from being a candidate. Besides, do you think it would make me happy having my best friend as my daughter in-law?'
'Oh come on!' Alyssa pleaded, 'then we can be related!'
'Thank you for bringing Richard here. If you'll excuse us we have to get to class,' Aura said and brushed her friend off, preferring not to deal with her anymore. She turned to Richard and flashed him a nervous smile. She was obviously not comfortable with doing this either. 'Are you ready?'
'No, but do I have a choice?' he asked and she laughed at that for a brief second. She reached out and opened the door again, walking through it with Richard right behind her.
The classroom he walked into was like nothing he had seen before. What he had been expecting was a carbon copy of the one he was used to back home, with small desks and uncomfortable chairs spaced evenly on the floor filled with rowdy students who usually made his life hell. What he instead found was something he would expect from an expensive university. The desks were long oak like tables raised on tiered platforms five levels high. Two narrow stairways led to the upper rows and split the long desks into three rows. Each one only sat two students even though they looked like they could seat double that amount. All the students present sat quietly at their desk, parchment open and quills close at hand. They were so well behaved and quiet you could hear a pin drop fifty feet away. It also didn't escape his notice that he was currently the only male in the class. The other male first year students were probably in another history class and he wished he could have been placed there with them instead.
Aura walked in front of a massive blackboard against the wall and turned to face her class, motioning for Richard to come and stand next to her. As soon as he appeared from behind her back every eye in the room was on him and the sudden weight of it made his knees nearly buckle under pressure. Never before in his life had he ever been looked at by so many women in such away. Instead of glowering at him most of the faces were actually smiling and a few had even stood up from their desks to get a better view.
'Alright class, we have a new student joining us today. I'm sure most, if not all of you have already heard about him but I would like to give him a proper introduction. Introducing for the first time, Lord Richard Proud. Please treat him like anyone else and I'm sure you will all get along.'
A tall girl in the front row stood up from her desk and raised her hand in the air, a smile on her lips and an eager look in her eyes. Aura looked at her and nodded, allowing the student to speak. 'Are the rumors true?' she asked and most of the classed nodded and said 'Good question.'
'It's not appropriate to discuss that any further than to just say that yes, he is my son. I wasn't planning only holding a question period so I will just allow one more.'
The entire class suddenly bolted up from their seats, more than thirty hands raised high in the air. Noticing that only one of the questions would be answered they began to huddle together in their rows, whispering back and forth about what they should ask. Richard was impressed by how they all came together and tried to figure out the perfect one and he realized that the class was a pretty close knit group of friends. He figured there was no way he was going to fit in with them quickly and he began to have flashbacks of when he was at his own school and always left out of everything that happened.
After a minute the girls walked back to their seats and a single girl in the very front row remained standing, her hand raised and a triumphant smile on her face. It seemed they had agreed her question was the most important and given her the go ahead to be the one to ask it.
'Yes, Miss Rickey?' Aura asked and the girl beamed at her professor.
'Umm, Lord Proud,' she directed the question directly at him, 'what magic were you using in the duel? No one has ever seen it before.'
'That was... uh...' he began but thankfully Aura stepped in and took over as she sensed that he was floundering.
'Richard can use Light Magic,' she explained. 'It's a very rare piece of magic and hasn't been seen in a long time. As far as anyone knows he is the only person on the entire continent who can use it.'
The girls began to murmur excitedly and shuffled their chairs closer so they could hear their neighbors. Aura quickly calmed them down with a wave of her hand and the noise level died down to near absolute silence. It was pretty amazing how much respect she commanded within her class.
'Alright everyone, now that your questions have been answered and we have made Richard's introduction I would like to begin class. Richard, find an open seat anywhere and pull out your writing material if you would.'
Richard nodded gently and slowly moved towards the class at large. There were a few empty seats at the very top of the class and he had been planning to head there when he caught the sight of motion out of the corner of his eye. Looking over he found a familiar face smiling at him, her hand beckoning him over to an open seat at her desk.
'Hi, Lisbeth,' he said and the shy girl beamed at him. 'Mind if I sit here?'
'I'd be honored,' she replied rather appropriately and he took the open spot while feeling more than a dozen pairs of eyes on him as he did so.
He pulled out the contents of his bag and placed them on the desk, pulling the lid off the vial of ink and placing his quill over top of it. Four levels below him Aura had her back to the class and was writing something on the board in flowing script that he found hard to read. To be honest, he wasn't even sure if he had to actually do the school work as this was only a cover for who he really was. He was interested in this world though so he would at least pay attention to this class as much as he could. He guessed he would be terribly lost though as everyone in the room already knew more about the subject than he would probably ever know.
'Since we have a new member joining the class today I thought we could give him a chance to catch up with the rest of you, so we're going to be reviewing what we covered last week,' Aura announced and the girls around him shifted in excitement at the prospect of not having to do any work. 'Who can tell me when the New Age began?'
The girl who had asked Richard about his magic raised her hand quickly in the air and Aura nodded towards her. 'One thousand nine hundred and ninety nine years ago, after the closing of the Great war,' she answered and Aura smiled at the correct answer.
'Exactly right. That's one point to your academic score. Now, the Great War lasted for close to thirty years and plunged most of the continent into darkness. Who can tell me what the invading army was called and why they were called that?'
This time a few more hands were raised and Aura chose a girl in the third row. 'They were referred to as the Slave Army and this was due to the fact that everyone fighting within its ranks were doing so against their will. A powerful spell had been cast on them that turned them into nothing more than empty husks that were susceptible to suggestion.'
'Correct, Lydia. One point on your score. No one knows how the spell really worked but what we do know is that it was very dangerous and even to this day there are laws against any spells that force a person to do something they normally wouldn't. Over the course of thirty years the invading army pushed the allied forces under the command of the Alysian King Murdoch and the Dark Elf King Zedmos into the Dark Elf Kingdom and all hope seemed to have been lost. However, three mighty mages who had been on the frontlines of the conflict from the first day of the war rose up and refused to be defeated. Who can tell me who these great heroes were?'
A lot of hands were tossed into the air this time and everyone looked eager to be the one picked. In that moment Lisbeth pushed a piece of paper with three names written on it in flowing black ink and called out to Aura: 'I believe Lord Proud can answer, ma'am.'
Aura turned her gaze to him, a small smile playing on her thin pink lips. She nodded gently and against his better judgment he rose from his chair. There was a lump in his throat and he quickly swallowed it as he glanced down at the paper he had been handed. 'The First King, The Lady of Dragons, and the Eternal Master,' he read.
'I'm impressed,' Aura smirked and motioned for him to sit down. 'One point will be added to your academic score. Yes, these three heroes whose names are known by every child, adult, and elderly person on this continent fought in a battle on the edge of the Dark Elf Kingdom. They were outnumbered nearly four to one and not even the two kings thought there was any hope of winning. But even against this staggering disadvantage they won the day and in one fell swoop the war. The Lady of Dragons led the Dark Elf Dragoons into combat while The First King led the bulk of the army into a battle on the ground while mounted atop his Elder Dragon. The two cousins are said to have fought valiantly and because of their efforts they indirectly won the war. However, there was another battle taking place at that very moment and the outcome changed the world forever. Who knows why that is?'
Every hand was put in the air and Aura picked a girl at random from the back row. 'The Eternal Master, the greatest mage to ever live, confronted the leader of the Slave Army and fought him in a duel. No one knows what truly happened during that fight but The Eternal Master won and killed the enemy before disappearing.'
'For an extra point can you tell the class what the name of the enemy leader was?'
'The Demon King. No one knows what his real name is or where he came from. After a magical explosion in the capital of Alysia he appeared and began his war.'
'Correct. So, the war was won and peace was once again restored after thirty years of bloodshed and destruction. The First King, no longer a Prince as his father passed away from old age the day after the great battle, set forth on rebuilding his family's lost kingdom. His story was not to have a happy ending though. He had already lost his best friend, the Eternal Master in the final battle and only two weeks after the passing of his father his younger sister, Princess Celia, exiled herself from the kingdom and disappeared into the fog of history with no further contact to her brother. A year later his cousin and close friend, The Lady of Dragons, also disappeared and was rumored to have delved into the dark corners of Magic that are forbidden.
'All this tragedy didn't stop The First King from creating the Kingdom the people both wanted and deserved after so many long years of war. To this day Alysia is one of the most prominent countries in the world and also one of the wealthiest. Each one of us here owe our undying gratitude to the people who lost their lives in the Great War. They paid for our freedom with their blood. Next year marks the two thousandth anniversary of the end of the war and all across the continent celebrations will be held in honor of it. We must not forget the sacrifices made though, for they are all that truly remain from that time.'
The door to the class opened a second after Aura finished speaking, almost like the person had been waiting for a break, and a member from the student council entered. She handed Aura a small slip of parchment and then excused herself from the room.
'Richard, you are to be excused from the rest of class so you can prepare for your Magical Aptitude exam. Please proceed to the gardens to receive further instructions,' she called up to him.
A little stunned that he was being called out from class for something as simple as a placement test, Richard packed all his stuff away quickly and walked towards the door. Aura walked with him and opened it, leaning against the side and getting close to him so she could whisper and he would be the only one to hear it.
'No one told me about this, but if it's Alyssa calling you out just come back to class okay?' she said and he nodded quickly. He excused himself from the class and walked out into the empty hall.
He stopped off at his room first and dropped off his bag before leaving and heading to the gardens that were located between the back wall of the school grounds. It was a nice little area taken care of by the students and rows of flower beds stretched for long distances. The entire area was alight with vibrant colors and the smell of fresh flowers clung to the air like a gentle perfume. Richard had been expecting to find a teacher standing there waiting for him but what he found instead was a small brown haired girl in a regal dress and a large smile on her face rushing towards him.
'Reiea?!' he cried as she flung at him and hugged him around the neck. 'You called me out here? What are you even doing at the school?'
'Mother brought me here to watch your exam and I didn't want to wait so long to see you! So I pulled a few strings with the student council and got you called out of class! Aren't you happy?'
'You shouldn't do that, Reiea,' he scolded gently but he was actually a little glad to be out of that classroom now. 'If you promise to never do it again then I promise I won't go back to class for right now.'
The Princess nodded excitedly and released her hug only to grab him by the arm and latch on. Together they walked closer to a few of the flower beds and admired the beauty they held. The sun had finally come out now and it shone down on them with radiance, even if the air was still cooler. It felt like winter was going to be coming in the next month or two and Richard wondered how cold it got around here. If something wasn't done about sending him home soon he might just find out the hard way.
'Are you nervous about the test coming up?' Reiea asked him and he shook his head.
'Not really. Don't I just have to try casting a few spells?' he asked and now it was the Princess who shook her head.
'Not for you,' she answered and when Richard looked at her she elaborated, 'I heard my mother talking to the headmaster about your test this morning and it will be different from what everyone else has to take. I don't know how it will be different but I heard my mother mention that it was more of a marriage interview than an exam, whatever that means.'
'A marriage interview?' he asked incredulously.
'That's what she said. To me it just sounds like you'll sit down with a bunch of girls.'
'You seem to have gotten over all this talk about marriage pretty quickly,' he pointed out and Reiea shrugged her shoulders stiffly.
'I don't really have a choice, do I? If we're related by blood then there's nothing that can be done about it, no matter how much it sucks. At least I will be allowed to see you more. Who's going to tell the crown princess that she can't go and see her own cousin?'
Richard laughed nervously at that and had a mental image of her finding her way into his bath again. He felt like telling her that if she acted a little differently, like not being so clingy, she would be a lot easier to deal with and he might actually have fun when with her but he couldn't bring himself to. Besides, did it even really matter?
They continued to walk through the gardens, Reiea lacing both of her arms around his right arm and refusing to let go. After a few rounds their quiet privacy was intruded on by the sound of shoes clacking against the stone ground and looking over Richard saw Princess Daiya advancing. Now he was stuck dealing with two Princess', one who clung to him and the other who either seemed repulsed by him or shy around him. It was hard to tell with the Dark Elf as her emotions seemed to fluctuate.
'Here's something I didn't think I would ever see,' the older girl said with a smile and looked at Reiea instead of Richard. 'Have you gotten over your fear of men, Reiea?'
'Not really,' Reiea answered with a shake of her head, 'It only works with Richard.'
'Well, whatever the reason I am glad to see it,' Daiya said and she walked closer. Reiea extricated herself from his arm and gave the other Princess a hug before returning to where she was. 'It's good to see you again so soon. Are you here for the duel?'
'Duel?' Reiea asked in confusion.
'I thought you knew. Richard's exam will be a mock duel to test his strength and knowledge.'
'Wait! Are you serious?' Richard asked a little harder than he had intended. Daiya simply regarded him with a smile and nodded her head. 'How come I wasn't told of this and why can't I just do what everyone else had to do?'
'I see now,' Reiea mused and released Richards arm to sit down on a white stone bench a few feet away, 'That's why my mother called it a marriage interview. You're being put on display to prospective candidates and their families.'
'Ugh!' Richard groaned and hid his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes roughly for no good reason. 'I hope to god I'm not fighting Coni, she's been looking for a reason to tear me to shreds!'
'No, no. Being the student council president she has to oversee the match,' Daiya explained and he sighed in relief. 'However your opponent won't be a pushover. Just keep your head up and mind clear and you will do fine.'
'Easy for you to say considering you're the strongest mage here,' he grumbled but also meant it more of a small joke as well.
'She's also the Daughter of Fire,' Reiea interjected.
'Daughter of what?'
'Daughter of Fire. Each element has a master who is considered the strongest within that discipline; fire, water and ice, wind and lightning, nature, arcane, and earth. Each element also has a son or daughter, the person who is considered the most likely to take the title of master after their specialized training is completed by the master,' the young princess explained. 'Daiya is the Daughter of Fire and Aura, your mother, is the Daughter of Arcane.'
'It's nothing really,' Daiya tried to play it off but Richard stared at her in disbelief. He had been told that she was strong but he didn't think she was that strong; she was going to be the next master in her discipline.
'I wonder, are you considered a Son of Light or the Master of Light considering you're the only one who can cast it?' Reiea asked softly, mostly to herself.
'I'm not a Son and I am definitely not a Master. Whatever happened in the arena was probably just a fluke and people will see that today.'
'That's not true!' Reiea said loudly and jumped to her feet with an angry flair.
'She's right, Richard. I watched your match as well and the things you did were pretty impressive. Magic is mostly about concentration. I don't know how your type works but I am sure that as long as you keep a clear mind and focus on what you need to do you will be able to stand a good chance. I would offer one piece of advice though: don't pull your punches because your opponent won't hold back.'
Richard nodded to Daiya in thanks and couldn't understand why people said she had a cold personality. Besides the first time they met on his first day here she had been pretty nice to him and had even come to see if he was okay after his duel a few nights ago. Reiea was looking rapidly between the two of the, her face colored with annoyance and a low grunt coming from her throat.
'Richard, would you escort me to the headmasters office to see my mother?' she asked and without even waiting for an answer she grabbed him by the wrist and hauled him off.
Richard stood in the underground room beneath the stadium that surrounded the arena, this time alone. The cool air of the day made the whole massive room chilly and he changed into his battle gear as quickly as he could. He could hear a loud murmuring coming from the crowd that had gathered above him and he pushed the sounds out, trying to get his mind clear like Daiya had advised him to do. It was pretty hard to do though as his mind kept wandering.
The door that led back towards the school opened and Aura walked in, a smile on her face instead of the grimace she wore the last time he had seen her in this room. She walked towards him and did a quick check to make sure he was wearing everything he needed to and even helped him adjust his cloak so it wouldn't get in his way if he had to run.
'You sure look happy,' he breathed and she laughed.
'I'm just glad that you look good in the armor. We need to do something about your shaggy hair though,' she giggled and ran her hand through his mange of hair quickly.
'So are you here to give me the rules again?'
'Not this time. You'll be told those when you get into the arena. Even I'm not sure how this duel will be held.'
' I thought you were the referee for all duels held at this school.'
'Just the ones during hell week. And now that people believe you're my son I wouldn't be allowed to judge your duels anyways. It would be a conflict of interest. I just came here to give you some tips and advice, seeing as how you haven't had a proper lesson on controlling your magic yet.'
'Daiya gave me some advice too, although I could definitely use more.'
'Oh, she did she?' Aura smiled wryly but thankfully didn't go into it more. 'We only have a few minutes so I will give you the basics. Magic flows through the casters body like a river, and it is through the use of a Focus that we can divert that river and bring it into the world around you. Your Focus is the bracer stuck on your arm and it does just as the name suggests; focuses and controls the flow of magic from your body and into the world. When casting a spell you must always will the magic through your body and towards your Focus. Normally when you do this you must also say an incantation or a Quick Phrase that will form the magic into a spell. It seems with your Light Magic you don't need incantations so you can use that to your advantage if this is just a normal duel. You'll be able to cast your spells a lot quicker than your opponent can.'
Richard took all of that in and tried to commit it to memory. He wasn't sure how most of that information helped him in a duel but he was sure that it might be on a test somewhere down the line. 'If I don't use incantations then how I do know what I am casting?'
'I'm not really sure to be honest,' Aura admitted with a sheepish smirk, 'how did you create that wall of light in your last duel?'
'I just thought about putting something in front of me to stop the attack. That can't be how it works though, can it?'
'You might be onto something there. All spells created come from the imaginations of the creator. Of course they have to dabble with magical theory and try to restrain the raw force of magic from doing whatever it wants when they create a brand new spell. But what I saw from you in that duel was the ability to create and control magic spells in the blink of an eye, something that no one should be able to do. The fact that you don't use incantations to restrain it is even more of a conundrum. So when you're out there just focus on the feeling of magic flowing through your body and concentrate on what you want it to do. If that doesn't work than I don't know what else will because we are dealing with an ancient and lost form of magic here.'
'Right... so I'm just walking out there and hoping my one and only plan doesn't explode in my face? Awesome...'
'Take a deep breath, Richard,' Aura advised and he did just that. 'The spell protecting the fighters is working so there shouldn't be anything to worry about. And don't worry, it's been checked, rechecked, and triple checked just in case. I did it myself. Now I must go and meet with the Queen before the match begins, so just remember everything you've been told and keep your calm out there. You'll do wonderfully, I'm sure of it.'
She patted him gently on the shoulders and then walked back the way she had come from, leaving him in the shadowy room on his own as the crowd roared above him. It felt like he was about to walk into a gladiatorial fight against slaves, tigers, and chariots. He had to keep reminding himself that this duel wouldn't be like the last one; that he wouldn't be in danger and it was only to see how strong he was. All he had to do was go out there and put on a good show and hopefully, no matter what happened after that, he could return to a semi-peaceful life and not have to worry about stepping back into this building.
Five minutes after Aura left he heard the familiar sound of the match being about to begin; the loud booming voice of Coni as she probably explained to the crowd why they were there. A minute after that the heavy wooden gate keeping him from entering lifted and he began to walk up the slope that led out into the brilliant sunlight. Each step he took the noise of the crowd grew louder and for the first time Richard understood why everyone sounded so excited. After behaving so well every day in their classes this was a chance for the students to blow off some steam. He just wished he could be up there with them instead of marching into the arena as their entertainment.
When he breached through the darkness and was swathed in sunlight the crowd around him cheered loudly. There was standing room only and the mob of people looked like one giant entity instead of individual people. In her box above the rest of the stadium sat Queen Lystia with Aura standing at her side, whispering something into her ear. On the Queens right side sat a tall and well built man with dark tanned skin and his white hair pulled into a tight ponytail on top of his head. What Richard noticed first about the man though were his ears; they were longer than a human's and came to a pointed tip just above the crown of his head. He realized this man was probably the Dark Elf King, Daiya's father who had apparently made the trip out to the school.
A few seconds after he stepped into the powdery sand that lined the arena floor another cheer erupted and Richard knew his opponent had arrived. He wasn't sure who to expect or even if he knew the person at all, but he really hoped it would be someone in his year so there wouldn't be that large of an experience gap. What he saw though was pretty much the exact opposite. Walking out from the gate at the other end of the arena was not one person, but five. And leading them was someone he had seriously hoped wouldn't be there; the Daughter of Fire, Princess Daiya.
'You've got to be fucking kidding me...' he breathed and his voice shook in trepidation.
Richard didn't recognize the other four girls but judging by the stripe on their cloaks they were all fourth years and had probably been handpicked by the Queen for this very duel. The only thing he could think about in that moment though was how people expected him to fight five people all at once. When he had fought Agnes one on one he had nearly been killed and his instincts took over to save his life. He was filled with panic and his knees began to tremble. Even one of these girls would probably make a fool of him on their own, and he didn't even want to think about what Daiya could do.
'Will all combatants move to the center of the arena please!' Coni's voice rang out through the stadium and everyone quieted down.
His knees still shaking and the idea of running from the area was rampant in his head, Richard walked slowly towards the center of the arena while the five girls did the same. They all came to a stop about ten feet away from one another and he couldn't help but notice the excited glint in all the girls eyes as they smiled at him. Aura had told him once that the Proud Family name was always hunted down during Chaos Week by mages who wanted to make a name for themselves by defeating them, and he was sure that's just what these women had in mind. The only one without that haunting look in her eyes or on her face was Daiya; she actually looked a little nervous herself and wouldn't meet his eyes.
'Why didn't you tell me you were one of my opponents earlier?' he asked her, just trying to talk his uneasiness away.
'Just remember what I told you: don't go easy because I won't,' she answered and still wouldn't look at him.
'The rules for this duel are simple!' Coni called out and Richard was pulled back to the packed stadium around him. 'There will be three exchanges of spells between the combatants! Princess Daiya and her team will be the first to attack while Lord Proud defends. Once the attacking team is done they will then defend against the return attack from the opposing force. This cycle will happen three times! If all fighters are still left standing after the final round the winner will be decided by a panel of judges. Combatants, raise your right hand if you understand and agree with these rules!'
All six people standing in the arena raised their right hands in unison and a small cheer broke out, the sound of clapping reverberating through the area. They were asked to bow to the royals present and then to their enemies before walking ten paces back to give them more room. It was during this walk back towards the gate that Richard had to squash the urge to keep going and run from the fight. It was extremely hard for him to force his feet to stop moving when he had moved ten paces, and even harder when he had to turn back around to face the five girls who would get the first strike.
The girls facing him had everything time out perfectly and the very instant the bell tolled to signal the duel was to begin there was an earth shattering boom and Richard barely got his hands in front of him and a shield of light in the way before five spells smashed into it and exploded in a cloud of smoke and dust. There was so much coming at him that he couldn't even tell what elements the girls were using on him; except for fire which would undoubtedly be coming from Daiya.
He could feel his shield bend slightly and groan in protest under the powerful attacks but it didn't shatter and he was completely protected from everything that had been thrown at him. As quick as it had happened it was over and he was left coughing in a cloud of black smoke and choking on ash that had appeared out of nowhere. His vision was obscured but thankfully a stiff wind rolled through the arena and blew the smoke away, clearing it up enough to see five women staring expectantly at him. The four flanking Daiya held slender wands pointed in his direction while Daiya had an empty hand. It didn't take him long to notice that the silver bracelet she wore on her right wrist was glowing gently though and he realized that was her focus.
A hushed whisper had taken over the crowd and even his enemies seemed to be murmuring to themselves at what had happened. They had probably been expecting him to be taken out by the power of their attacks but as the smoke continued to clear they saw that the was still standing there, completely unscathed. Their eyes grew wide and a cheer roared through the air as the crowd was able to see him once more. Only Daiya stood there smiling at him slightly, like she had expected as much from their first attempt.
'My turn...' he whispered to himself and held his hand up towards his prey. He closed his eyes momentarily and reached down deep to grab hold of the feeling that welled deep within his body. The second he located it he felt the power surge through him and his head began to spin a little, like he had just taken a shot of whiskey without getting the burn in his throat. Using all of his concentration he pulled it up from the bottom of his feet and let it flow through him like a raging river, slowly guiding it towards his bracer where he hoped something interesting would happen.
Like the last time he had done this his bracer began to glow gold and the insignia white. It grew heavier on his wrist and he struggled to keep it pointed at the girls before him, willing the magic to gather and condense in it as much as possible. When he was somewhat happy with how much it was glowing and the burn he could feel in his body he opened his eyes and opened his hand, facing his palm to the girl on the very edge of the line. In an instant he felt the power leave him and a massive explosion erupted and engulfed all of the girls in a ball of light and dust.
When the dust settled and the light vanished everyone in the stands and arena got a good view of what exactly had happened, and it was surprising even to Richard. Out of the five girls, three had been tossed to the ground ten feet from where they had been standing, their hair a mess and their eyes closed as they had been knocked out from the shock of the attack instantly. The girl standing right next to Daiya was still standing, but she wobbled dangerously on her feet and her wand was still held in front of her like it was the only thing keeping her up. Daiya herself seemed to be mostly unharmed, a few strands of hair out of place, but nothing she probably couldn't handle.
'Your form's a little raw but your power is good!' she called out and raised her hand towards him once more. 'No more holding back!'
Daiya's lips began to move and Richard held out his hands in preparation, forming the shape and size of the shield in his mind before pushing it out from his body. The girl next to Daiya seemed to be moving her lips as well but after a few seconds her eyes suddenly rolled into the back of her head and she fell to her knees, totally out of the fight. Richard didn't have much time to focus on her though as a tidal wave of flames erupted from Daiya's hands and rushed through the distance between them, completely blocking out the sun as it towered high above him. In an instant he realized his shield wasn't big enough to protect against this attack and he quickly released it, his mind going through a million different things that could possibly save him.
There was just no time though. Before he even realized it the wave had reached him and the heat sent tendrils of pain straight to his brain as the spell meant to protect them from harm did just that. The wave of fire was still a good three feet away from him but he was in so much pain already he knew he couldn't take a direct hit, it would end the match instantly. He only had one choice, the ball of light attack he had used last duel when he was fighting Agnes. The attack itself wasn't what he was after, it was the gravity of the super dense ball of light instead. It created a field of gravity . He had noticed it when he had gotten closer to Agnes and saw that she was affected by it. If he could summon one strong enough now it might just save him. But he only had a fraction of a second.
As fast as his brain could process his thoughts he was already forming the ball of pure light in his open hand, the feel of heat and weight settling over him. He pushed every ounce of power he could grasp onto and pushed it through his body hard until it was erupting out of his bracer, feeding the growing sun he was holding on to. Calling it a small sun wasn't an exaggeration either; it burned, dazzled, and affected everything around it just like the sun did and he was sure if he dropped it onto the ground it would create a large crater.
He had run out of time and suddenly the tidal wave of fire was upon him, the flames licking at his skin but causing no real damage. He only felt it in his mind and he had to bite his tongue to keep from screaming out in agony. At first it didn't look like his little sun was going to have any effect on the fire as it curled in around him, but that quickly changed. The flames that had been trying to claw at his skin began to swirl, condensing and being swallowed by the super dense ball of light he held in his hand. In a matter of seconds the entire wave of flame had been devoured and he stood there, his hair and clothes slightly smoking but none the worse for wear. The ball he held in his hand however now held tiny flickers of flame as the attack had not only been eaten but absorbed.
Looking up at the girl who had cast the spell he couldn't help but smile lightly at the look of shock on her face. It was almost the exact same look Lythia had given him when he had slapped her right on the cheek. Now it was his turn to return the favor and attack her to end out the second round. He could have just thrown his little sun at her but he was pretty sure that it was too dense and would end up doing more damage than was good for the arena. That's when another thought entered his mind and he couldn't repress the laugh that bubbled past his lips. This might just be the first time he was actually enjoying magic.
'Are you ready?' he asked and Daiya was brought back to the present. She nodded stiffly and spread her legs slightly so they were spaced at shoulder width, a look of determination etched on her face almost like it was a permanent feature.
Holding the sun towards her he latched onto the power flowing through it and drew some of it back into his body. In the next instant he expelled it back out and through the ball of light, effectively super charging it, and aiming it directly at his foe. What happened next was almost too fast for his eyes to catch and he could only vaguely keep track of everything. His beam of light rocketed across the distance and smashed into a vortex of flame that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, engulfing Daiya in the very center. Flames weren't going to stop his attack though and a second later it shot directly through it and crashed into the arena wall behind it, sending a large cloud of dust into the air.
Richard didn't know what to expect, but he was hopeful that he had at least hit her. He had seen Agnes curve lightning through a mini tornado but he wasn't sure if that was possible with a beam of light as dense as the one he had cast. So he was pretty shocked when the fire vortex suddenly shifted and became a long whip and flashed out at him, catching him in the side of the face before he could so much as react. He was tossed off his feet and thrown back five feet before landing roughly.
It felt like his head had been split in two and he was sure he could feel his flesh bubbling, which was impossible. Reaching a slow hand up to his face he rubbed it over his skin and only felt a little heat radiating off it. It was still smooth thank god. That didn't excuse the fact that he had just been blindsided and he could barely control his body as his vision turned dark around the edges. Still, even in the amount of pain he was in he forced himself to his feet once more and shook his head as sand fell out and onto his shoulders.
If he had been counting right, which he wasn't sure of anymore, then that meant Daiya had just used her third and final attack. That meant he got the final blow of the contest and it would have to be a good one if he wanted to come out on top. He didn't intend to get competitive in this duel, expecting that he would just play around a little and then walk away, but now that he had been hit that hard he couldn't just let it end there. He wanted to win.
It wasn't that he wanted to hurt Daiya; not at all actually. He just knew that if he gave up now it would tarnish his family name. Even if it was just a fake family, he still wanted to protect it because Aura had been so nice to him every step along the way. She may not be his real mother but she was certainly acting like it, and he really didn't want to let her down. Not again.
With a trembling breath and his left arm shaking, he raised it towards the Daughter of Fire and summoned another ball of energy into his hand, twice as quick as he had before. Without giving his opponent time to for a barrier against it he pulled his arm back and threw it at her like he was simply tossing a baseball. Daiya didn't even bother with using her magic to stop it. She didn't need to. All she had to do was avoid it to win the match, which is exactly what she did. She dove into a roll to her left just as the attack was about to hit her. Richard had been expecting that though, and he already had a plan to fight against it.
The moment he had released the ball from his hand he had realized that he could still feel it, like it was connected to him by a small thread. He could feel it move through the air, vaporize small particles of dust, and even the rotation and velocity as it moved. Not only that, he knew in the root of his mind that he could still control how it reacted and moved. He could still use it as an attack even though it had missed originally.
He moved his hand in the direction that Daiya had rolled and the ball of light instantly obeyed, streaking in the direction almost like it had a mind of its own. Only it was him that was controlling it. Daiya instantly realized that the danger wasn't over and she once more rolled out of the way, kicking up a cloud of sand behind her. She continued to run, leap, and flip around as the orb continued to follow her, always remaining just out of range from it touching her. At this point Richard was beginning to get desperate and he knew there was only one thing he could do, so he clenched his fist tightly and the ball exploded into a massive and blinding light that reached every dark corner of the arena.
The ground beneath him shook and the roar of the explosion threatened to rupture his ears as the concussion ripped through the air and tossed a tidal wave of dirt into his eyes. He was pretty much blinded but at the last second he did see a flicker of red and orange and knew that Daiya had gotten some sort of spell off, he just couldn't see what it was. When the smoke, dust, dirt, and light cleared a loud gasp rose up from everyone gathered as they saw Daiya kneeling in the sand, her eyes open and still very much awake. She may have been breathing hard but she looked fine.
'That concludes this duel!' Coni yelled out and the crowd roared their approval. 'The decision will go to the judges so please stand by for the announcement of the winner!'
Before he knew it more than a dozen people rushed into the arena and started tending to everyone. The girls who had been knocked unconscious in the first attack were put on stretchers gently and taken from the field while a few people brought Richard and Daiya some cold water and asked them if they were alright. Richard mostly pushed them away and tried to catch his breath, the weight of everything he had just been through pressing down on him until it felt like he was suffocating.
'You alright?' Daiya asked and she had pushed her own attendants away to come and see him. Her eyes were alight with something that resembled glee and there was a broad smile on her face.
'I... I think so...' he answered honestly. 'I didn't even hit you with any of my attacks did I?'
'Not directly,' the happy girl answered and he felt his heart drop a little, 'but your second and last attacks hit me enough to rattle me up pretty good.'
'I see,' he said and finally accepted a glass of water that one of the attendants kept holding out to him. He mostly just took it to get that person away from him for right now he had had some personal space.
'Thank you for waiting!' Coni yelled out and Richard looked out across the stadium and located her standing in the royals private box. 'By unanimous decision the winner of this duel is Lord Richard Proud!'
The crowd exploded in cheers, whistles, and clapping as the announcement but Richard could only shake his head. Even Daiya stood next to him clapping gently and beaming at him for some strange reason. When he met her eyes though he knew who the real winner had been. That fire lash she had hit him with probably would have knocked him out if the ground hadn't been covered in sand; and besides, he had only landed glancing blows while she managed to hit him directly. There was no way he was the winner.
Without even thinking about it he reached out and grabbed Daiya by the wrist, lifting her hand into the air and pointing at her. 'What are you doing?' she asked him over the still loud crowd.
'I didn't win, you did!' he yelled and she flashed him a puzzled look. He continued to hold her arm in the air and turned her to face each end of the arena, hoping that people understood what this gesture meant. For all he knew it could be something native to his world only.
'Well how about this turn of events!' Coni yelled out in her magically enhanced voice and the crowd fell silent once more. 'It appears Lord Proud is forfeiting his win to Princess Daiya! It appears he doesn't think he won the duel!'
After making a full circle Richard suddenly felt his legs give out under him and he started to fall towards the ground, the arena spinning around him. He was quickly and nimbly caught by Daiya and with her help he remained standing, even if he had to toss an arm around the taller and older girls shoulder.
'Are you alright?' the Dark Elf asked with concern.
'Yeah... I think I just need to sit down for a minute,' he breathed and she nodded. With her help they walked from the arena together while people in the stands watched on in confusion.