• Lynn Veevers

Chloe Shipton & The Witches of Cavalry Hall

Coming this Spring

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Chapter Eight

The Duel

Lacey was the last to step out of the portal onto the white, sand and rock shore that was the edge of Winther Lake. The tops of the dueling poles sparked and a current of electricity arched to each of the four barrier spikes on the very edge of the playing field. The current was there to keep the challengers within the field of play, a field that was no bigger than a tennis court. The eerie blue-white glow of electricity had everyone present taking a step back from the dueling field. A hushed silence ensued as two of possibly the greatest magic wielders of our time engaged in leisurely combat.

Lacey sucked in a breath of excited anticipation. “Oh this is going to be a good fight. I’ve never seen Grand Dean Alvars use his natural faction of magic—come to think of it I’m not entirely sure what order he even belongs to, but I have seen Head Mistress Langley use hers. Sure she looks sweet and nice, but just you wait. She pulls no stops when it comes to winning.”

I glanced at Devon and then gave Lacey my attention. “The Grand Dean is a Terra sorcerer. I thought everyone knew that. What order does our Head Mistress belong to?”

Lacey cast me a knowing smile and answered with the simplicity of a single word, “Mortem.”

I didn’t know all there was to know about Witchery, but knew enough to know that being both Mortem and a witch or warlock wasn’t all that common—not unheard of—just unusual. The same was true of belonging to the Somnium Order and being a sorcerer or sorceress. With Mortem being the darkest order of magic, and Witchery being the darkest religion of magic, it creates the same concept as two negatives forming a positive—an impossibly overpowered positive. Lacey was right, it was going to be a good fight.

The dueling poles’ electrical currents grew with a bright intensity as the two school masters primed their respective powers. The Grand Dean’s side of the court took on an olive green hue while The Head Mistress’ side permeated a charcoal gray color. The sizzle and pop of concentrated electricity snaked up the poles and shot into the air signifying the start of the duel. The wind picked up and the sand within the dueling field’s boundaries on the Grand Dean’s half started to swirl. In a split second he’d completely disappeared from sight.

“She is never gonna be able to find him in all of that,” Devon said smugly, “Even trying to would put her at a disadvantage.”

Lacey hiked a brow and offered Devon a sarcastic laugh, “Are you sure about that Windsor Two? Lurking in the shadows is something that most belonging to the Mortem order are particularly good at. I really don’t see a sand storm being so difficult for her to navigate.

I knew Lacy had a point and judging by how Devon’s smug smile had morphed into a concerned frown, I was betting he knew it as well. The three of us watched as Head Mistress Langley turned a half circle and vaporized into a thick gray mist that slowly spread in opposing directions from where she’d been standing. It skirted the perimeter of Grand Dean Alvar’s sand storm.

Lacey leaned in between Devon and I whispering, the excitement barely contained within her small frame. “I’ve seen her do this move before! She knows he’s somewhere in the middle of all that mess of cover he’s created for himself, and so she is going to surround it and then collapse herself in on him. He can’t go anywhere if he has nowhere to go without running into her. Wow, this isn’t going to last as long as I thought.”

The ground started to rumble and shake just as Head Mistress Langley’s ominous black mist constricted around the sand storm fast and fierce. Clouds of sandy dust scattered in every direction imaginable, quelling the sand storm into nothingness. By the time all of the darkness she’d created came together in the center of the dueling field, a ravine had cracked a path to the side she’s began on and Grand Dean Alvars rose to the surface once again on a mound of freshly turned soil.

Lacey gawked and I laughed as she stared in shock, “Did he just tunnel underneath her?”

“Well if you can’t get around something, you go over or under it. You might want to grab some sand and take a seat; the Grand Dean has some tricks of his own, Lacey. These two are Grand Masters for a reason. Like you, said this is gonna be a good fight.”

Lacey sat next to where Devon and I had planted ourselves just as the Head Mistress rematerialized and Grand Dean Alvars started hurling spikes of stone at his opponent. They were lightning fast and thrown with deadly precision, just barely missing his mark with each attempt.

Meanwhile, the Head Mistress had dispersed into her haze of black mist once again, and was weaving the best she could to avoid the spikes. They made a high pitched sound almost like a whistle as the zipped through the air, and a sound like grinding stone when they planted themselves into the shoreline. He wasn’t hitting her, but he was doing a great job of slowing her progression toward him down.

Devon tapped me on the shoulder, tearing my attention away from the duel with a question. “I’ve never really followed the events of the Magical Decathlon and dueling isn’t taught until the second half of senior year, so I really don’t know how to tell who is winning. Is he winning?”

I offered him a bright smile. He knew enough about me to know that I’d know what he didn’t. I got a warm fuzzy feeling inside over the prospect of being needed and filled him in.

“Once one of the opponents lands a hit on the other, the one hit will be jettisoned to their starting side of the dueling field, if they weren’t already there, and teleport the winner to their starting side. The barriers the dueling poles created will shrink to encompass the winner’s half of the field for five seconds and then fall completely to signify the end of the duel. It’s that simple. When the playing field is wrapped in its barriers like it is now, the challengers can’t hear anything outside of it. If you want we can try it sometime when I get back from Calvary Hall next semester.”

Devon nodded and said, “Yeah I think I’d like that.”

We both turned our attention back to the duel that had turned into a flurry of motion. Grand Dean Alvars zipped around the dueling field on waves of earth like he was shredding a tidal wave, and the Head Mistress looked as though she’d about had enough as she pivoted in the center of the playing field watching his every move. Dipping down she brought her arms up above her head as though she were scooping up something huge and she disappeared into a rolling plume of a black smoke like substance. It churned and sparked, emitting a dark, angry energy as it swirled and grew. It pulsed like a heartbeat, strong and repetitive. With every pulse it grew another half of its size.

“What’s she doing,” I asked when the smoke had taken over most of the dueling field. So much that Grand Dean Alvars had to build himself an earthen platform near the fifty foot threshold of the field’s ceiling. With a flourish of hand gestures the Grand Dean had the ground rumbling and shaking violently as a wall of molten lava and rock rose from the sand. It kept reaching toward the sky until it was level with the earthen platform on which he stood. From there the wall tapered and curled around until it met the sand of the shore again. I tried to read the Grand Dean’s thoughts so I might see what he was planning but the barriers kept me firmly out.

“She’s cornering him,” I heard Lacey say.

The black plume was still pulsing, but not growing anymore. Tendrils shot out in all directions, all reaching for the Grand Dean as the sand storm came back in full force and engulfed him. Again he vanished from sight and the sandstorm escalated to a tornado of earthly debris. The tornado slashed at the smoke making it disperse to the edges of the playing field, taking its searching tendrils with it. The tornado finally died down and where its eye had been stood Grand Dean Alvars. He looked tired, but not defeated because he still had the determined gleam of fight in his eyes.

A black tendril shaped like a clawed hand shot from the roiling smoke that was the Head Mistress and came down with shattering force atop where the Grand Dean stood. There was a collective gasp from the crowd and when the dust cleared the black shadowy hand remained poised. Between the ominous fingers I could see the dome of earth that was protecting the Grand Dean. The ground again started to tremble and in that split second of warning the Head Mistress managed to move the shadowy hand of her current form out of the way before the stone spike that thrust from the dome’s top impaled the appendage.

I physically recoiled as did my friends at the sound it made breaking through the layer of earth. “Neither one of them are playing very clean,” I said casting a concerned look at Lacey.

She shrugged nonchalantly, “Why would they? I know it is just a friendly duel but, competition is competition no matter which way you look at it, and neither wants to lose, not with so many looking on.”

A piercing screech snapped our attention back to the dueling field in just enough time to see the blackest bolt of smoke shoot from the rest of the mass that the Head Mistress had become. It stopped about thirty feet up and the figure of a ghastly young woman with sunken black eyes, wild hair, and spectral skin as white as a snow, emerged. The sight brought to mind a genie ascending from its lamp—a terrifyingly undead genie. Her clothes were tattered and hung from a thin, frail frame. A sinister smile curved her cracked lips as her eyes began to glow with a dark purple hue. Black nails the size and shape of bear claws jutted out from gnarled fingers as she raised her arms and opened the black hole that was her mouth. The blackness of her mist swirled as she swooped down keening so loud that everyone present slapped their hands over their ears, including the Grand Dean.

The sound echoed and bounced off the rock walls that formed Turquoise Falls, a Banshee’s Wail that brought every living soul to their knees as the head Mistress descended upon the unsuspecting Grand Dean. She flew right threw him and he fell face first into the sand. The dueling poles sparked and crackled as the Head Mistress was teleported back to her side of the playing field and then exclusively surrounded in the field’s barriers.

My hand flew to my mouth as I stared at where the Grand Dean stirred and slowly stood holding his chest and breathing heavily. The protective barrier around the Head Mistress’ side disappeared and the onslaught of applause started as the Grand Dean made his way over to the Head Mistress that, for once, looked harried and unsettled.

“She won,” I said surprised.

“Trust me you are not the only one surprised, look at the look on Head Mistress Langley’s face. She is just as shocked as you are. She didn’t think she was going to win. She won by taking his breath from him when she passed through. Banshee’s Wail is a very advanced skill, only the best of the Mortem order can execute it correctly. It’s a talent intended for the end result of death. To be able to concentrate its power down so much that it simply takes one’s breath instead of their soul takes an unbelievable amount of magical control,” Lacey said in wonder.

I glanced at my new Head Mistress’s expression and Lacey was right. It was clear that she hadn’t expected to win—she looked lost and dazed.

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