“This is you last chance, Mister Sebastian,” Telroy said. He flipped his wand idly, mockingly in his left hand. “Last chance ever to beat me in a duel. How does it feel, knowing you’ll lose. Knowing you’ve lost to me every time?” His annoying, nasal laugh punctuated the taunt.
I gritted my teeth, trying hard not to show my anger. And yes, my fear. I was sweating in rivers under my uniform. This bastard had been after me my whole career at the academy. He’d manage to finagle the dueling charts so, nine times out of ten, I had to face him on the field. And yes, he’d won every single time. This time would be different. The prior rounds were all just for practice. This was the final round, the one for all the marbles, as Ransom likes to say.
“Don’t count your hatchlings, Mister Jacobs,” I replied. I held up my wand into the traditional dueling salute. Telroy did the same, although he somehow managed to make it look like an insult at the same time. The crowd – all my fellow students, from all the grades – cheered and jeered. I imagine most of them weren’t expecting much.
Except, I hoped, for Lillieth. She’d been the one coaching me for weeks.
Telroy grinned. I could see his teeth gleaming across the fifty yards that separated us. “I’ve always like your spirit, S,” he said as the crowd quieted again. “That’s what makes it so fun beating you, over and over. I will miss it.”
This time I said nothing, holding my pose, waiting for the signal to start.
In the past I had never been fast enough. Telroy had an amazing sense of tactical defense. The array he could bring up in a short time was stronger than anything we trained against, anything even the teachers could do. But it still took time. He had made a mistake, making me fight him so many times. I had come to realize his habits, his patterns. And his fault was this: he was so good, had been for so long, that he never changed it up, never got better.
“Begin!” cried the duel-master. The arena immediately went still and quiet, waiting for the first move.
“C’fth malor, n’ctYa fthan!” I shouted, hurling my wand at my opponent. The throw looked week, but the wand carried itself straight across the distance. Telroy paused for a beat, his physical shields still in formation. Still, the throw was just a throw. He stepped aside and the wand landed on the grass behind him.
I imagined the audience’s gasp behind the silence wall. The tactic was unheard of. I’d thrown my only instrument away. I might as well have conceded right there. What others had never noticed was that Telroy’s defenses, fast as they were, always started in the forward direction. The fastest, most direct spells always came that way. It was a strong tactic.
I finished my chant with a single word, long practiced. “mYenfth’atrel’orwenghtah!”
Telroy had no chance to react. The ground beneath my wand ripped open into darkness and the tentacles came for him. Pitch black, shining with oil and alien starlight, they wrapped around his waist and pulled him into the void. It took only seconds before the portal closed again.
Panting, I dropped to my knees from the sudden exertion. But my heart was full of exhilaration. I had survived. I would graduate. And nobody would doubt me again.