Summoner (Ash and Magic 1)

BOOK: Summoner (Ash and Magic 1)
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Summoner

Ash and Magic 1

Copyright 2015 Sophie Park

 

"So, what do you tell your parents when they ask what you're studying?"

"Spanish literature!"  Ashley laughed, trying to ease the tension of the moment.

"And they believe you?"

"I think so."

Ashley and Sam sat in a small antechamber, nicely appointed with comfortable ottomans and low lighting.  There was a single coffee table in the middle.  Lying in the center was a small crystal, glowing faintly as it rested.  It didn't look like much but they were both staring at it intently.

"Alright, so, what's you strategy today?"  Sam was the first to move.  He picked up the crystal and touched one of the top faces.  Immediately a glowing sheet of light appeared in the air above it.  There was an image on the light, filled with little images of knobs and sliders and a whole lot of text.  As Ashley's second, it was his responsibility to make sure that the crystal was calibrated properly.

"Try not to end up with my pants down."  Ashley sighed and sat on a divan, facing away from Sam.  She gathered up her hair in a bunch and moved it out of the way so that the nape of her neck was clear and free of obstructions.

"I'm serious.  You need to try and win this one, Ash."

"Okay, okay!  What are my chances?"

"He's a low-ranked duelist, bottom quarter for sure.  He makes a lot of mistakes early on and that's usually his undoing."

"So do I!"

"Come on, I'll talk you through it.  This shouldn't be too hard."

"It shouldn't."  Ash sucked in a deep breath and held it for a long time.

Wizards University was not supposed to be like this.  When she got that sheet of paper in the mail, ancient vellum smelling of oil and ink, telling her that she'd been accepted it was the happiest day of her life!  Magic High School was interesting but you only needed a small amount of talent to get in and they mostly focused on the basics.

Potions, simple spells, the fundamentals that you needed in order to start slinging the really powerful stuff but nothing else.

Now she was in her second year, majoring in Summoning and Conjuration, and doing quite well in almost every class.  It was the thing she'd dreamed of since they first lit paper on fire with their minds in grade 10, and everything was perfect.

Except for War Wizardry 301.  It was a required class for all second year students.  You couldn't take third year courses without it!

War Wizardry 301: The Fundamentals and Basics of Dueling.

"Alright, you've got the first and second spheres down by now I think.  What about third sphere?"

"Fireball, Lightning Bolt and advanced energy protection."  Ash looked down at her cellphone while she waited for Sam to finish the calibrations.  It had some study notes for some of her second sphere spells and would hopefully help her to remember some of the more complicated maneuvers.

"Good.  Okay, I like it.  Simple but powerful, you're going to have trouble with those when you get to fourth sphere."

"I'm not going to get to fourth sphere, Sam."

"Listen, okay?  He's going to have Immunity for those, especially if you let him know you're packing both in third."

"Then I won't let him know.  Anyway, it won't get that far."  Ash sighed, trying to keep the edge of despair out of her voice.  "I never get past third."

"Don't... don't think like that, okay?"  Sam finished calibrations and dismissed the light sheet.  "Now, don't fidget, okay?"

"I know."

Sam gingerly took the crystal over toward Ash and held it just above the bare skin at the bottom of her neck.  Immediately there was a thrum in the room as the crystal's power kicked in and tendrils of light reached out from inside the crystal towards Ashley.

Slowly at first, then more quickly, the tendrils tangled themselves into her skin.  Ash sucked in a deep breath braced herself for what was next.

The energy reached Ash's spine and she felt starbursts of... not pain, exactly, but something very similar run through her body.  The crystal's energy latched onto her personal magical fields and hungrily attached itself.  There was nothing slow or tentative about this, the crystal delved deep into Ash's metaphysical being and integrated itself with her entire energy matrix.

It wasn't pain she felt, but the metaphysical sensation of the crystal's magic meshing with her own.  It interlocked with her fields, twined around her flows and when it was finally done Ash had tears in her eyes and was gasping for breath.

"Come on, Ash.  It's not that bad."

"It's awful.  Every time!"  Ash wiped tears out of her eyes with a brisk dash of her hand and frowned at Sam.  "Is it solid?"

"Let me check."  Sam called up the sheet again and fiddled with some more knobs and sliders while Ash waited impatiently.  She just wanted this to be over with.

Sam was a Grad student, working for the best Summoner in the school, and he had been only a little better than Ash when he went through Dueling class.  He sympathized with her but these were the rules set out by the arch-magi, no use complaining about something you couldn't change.

"Alright.  I think you're good."  Sam dismissed the crystal's calibration spell and took a deep breath.  He was not supposed to get so wrapped up in Ash's success, but he really wanted her to win.  "Remember: you just need one win to pass.  It won't be pretty and it will hurt your GPA, but that's all."

"One win.  Right."

"This is close to your last chance, Ash.  You don't have someone this low-ranked coming up again and some of your later duels are against some really heavy hitters."

"No pressure, right?"

"No pressure.  But seriously, go out there and set him on fire."

"I'll try."

Ash took a deep breath and walked to the curtain that separated her antechamber from the arena.  She paused, hand on the curtain, and tried to steady herself.

This was always the worst part.

Well, this and whenever someone decided to use acid spells.

Ash stepped out into the arena.

Considering that she was about to try her best to kill another wizard, the crystals prevented it of course but the intention was to duel as if your life depended on it, the arena was fairly boring looking.

A simple dirt circle stood in the middle of an open air stadium.  The circle's diameter was about half as long as a football field, and it stood in the middle of the University so there were walls and buildings all around.  The bleachers were mostly empty: the rest of her class sat clustered around each other, laptops out and either chatting or checking Facebook.  Her professor lounged behind the announcer's lectern, idly playing with his cell phone and not really paying much attention.  There were a few younger students, eager to learn the art of dueling before they had to do it in Second Year, and her cheering section.

Her cheering section...

Ash was something of a legend around the school now.  One month into the second semester and she hadn't won a single duel.  It was quite literally a record, although not the kind of record you wanted to have.  Her cheerleaders mostly consisted of third and fourth year students struggling with their own duels, looking for a bit of a pick me up by watching her: no matter how terrible they were, she was worse.

"Go Ash!"

"Come on, Ash!  You can do it!"

"Don't set yourself on fire this time!"

The cheering section stood up and yelled loudly as she entered the arena.  She smiled and waved at them, wondering if they really wanted her to succeed or if they were secretly hoping she failed.  Probably the latter.

Other than that, the stadium was quite empty.  For some of the more spectacular students, the bleachers could be half-filled... or more!  For Ash and a relative unknown, only the people who had to turn up did.

Ash sucked in a deep breath and looked out across the arena.  Her opponent hadn't shown up yet.

Was that good?  Did it mean that he was unorganized?

Was that bad?  Did it mean that he was taking advantage of a little more time to get prepared?

Did she have any way of knowing?

Was she ready for this?

"Oh God, I'm not ready for this."  Ash tried to breathe as slowly and evenly as she could but it was hard.  Her breath started coming in short, sharp gasps as her mind spiraled through all the possible meanings of her opponent's absence.

Maybe he forfeit!

Would a default win count?

Could she pass her class because someone else was lazy or sick?

Would the match be rescheduled?

Where was he?

There!

He looked more prepared than she felt.  He was wearing a T shirt and jeans, comfortable and loose fitting, and a decent pair of sneakers.  Ashley had on a pair of yoga pants and a button-up blouse that hugged her curves, accentuating her body and also making it harder to move and breathe.  She was wearing the most modest pair of heels that she owned, but they were still not suitable for running.  A brisk walk, maybe.

He had a staff with him, sprouting a number of small totems from the sides and with a lovingly carved hand grip.  It looked old, maybe a family heirloom or something he'd picked up at the thrift shop.  His foci were all lovingly polished and hand-crafted, showing real workmanship, and they each had their place in the staff.

By contract, Ash kept her foci on a sash that she'd slung haphazardly over one shoulder.  She didn't go in for totems and instead had a series of pins, each emblazoned with an image of the spell they were meant to represent.

Her last opponent had called it both 'quaint' and 'charming' just before he absolutely destroyed her in the arena.

This opponent stepped into the arena lazily, taking his time, smiling at the spectators.

That bastard!

He expected this to be a walk in the park!  He expected her to live up to her reputation and absolutely fail to do anything useful to him, basically cinching his victory and increasing his possibilities of advancing to the next year.

That jerk.

He was probably right about all of it, which stung the worst.

The professor looked up when a brief hush fell across the crowd at Ash's opponent's entrance.

"Oh!  Hmmm, I see that we're all here and all ready?"

Her professor did not look like a War mage.  Smith was his name, Professor Smith, and he wore clothing that was just this side of ratty.  He had a pair of khakis that seemed to be permanently stained with coffee and a flannel shirt that looked like it would fit a lumberjack better than a professor of magic.  His beard was unkempt but short, and his glasses were just shy of trendy.

"Yes, Professor."  Ash said it at a non-confident speaking level.

"Yes sir!"  Her opponent shouted, proudly puffing out his chest and stepping forward.

"Ahem, yes, I see.  Alright.  Come forward."  The professor stood at the lectern and indicated that the two duelists should step up to a circular patch of dirt in front of him.

They had both done this before and knew exactly where to stand.  From a distance it didn't look like much but when you got there you could see that the circle was actually crafted out of intricate runes, interlocking and cavorting with one another until they looked almost like a solid line.  They were a dark, rusty color.

Blood.

The contestant's circle was drawn with blood.

"Ashley Cook!  I didn't know you were up again so soon."  Smith adjusted his glasses and peered forward at her.  "Are you ready for this, child?"

"I think so."

Ash's opponent smiled viciously.

"Yes, well!  As I think we've discussed, you must win at least one duel in order to pass the course.  I have a few TA's who might be willing to give you some coaching, if you like?"

"Sam's been very helpful, sir."

"Sure.  Well, not that helpful, eh?"  Smith laughed and so did everyone else.  Just for a moment, Ashley could see a little twinkle in his eyes at the attention.

He looked like he didn't care, like he could not give two shits what you thought about his outfit and his demeanor and the fact that his stupid class was mandatory, but that was not true.  Professor Smith had one of the most important jobs in the entire University: weeding out wizards who were not battle-ready before they graduated.

The upper level War magic classes were harder but they weren't required.  This one was.  This was the crucible, the test.

Normally you had to be in the sixty fifth percentile or better to pass but sometimes they made an exception for students who were a prodigy in other areas but who, for whatever reason, couldn't do well in the arena.

Ashley was an excellent Summoner and an awful duelist.

"Alright!  Listen up class, there will be no lecture today."  Smith turned to the assembled students in the bleachers.  "We have two more duels scheduled after this one.  Unless."  Smith looked back and smiled at Ash.  There was cruelty underneath his bristly beard.  "Miss Cook here happens to extend past the expect time limit.  Which is fine!  Don't get me wrong.  It could happen in the other two matches, as well.

BOOK: Summoner (Ash and Magic 1)
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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