July 4, 1992, 2:30 PM, Phoenix’ Roost, England
“You really should join up, Adam.” Elena said, patting me on the back as we watched the aides put the final touches to the arena. I imagined that it would have been the site for one-on-one battles for this little shindig they had going on.
They went all out for something so simple. I thought, remembering Grindelwald’s words on the matter.
I turned my gaze to Elena. The woman had a hopeful expression on her face.
“Why?” I said. “I’m not really interested in fighting anyone right now.”
That was, of course, a lie. Seeing the aides and various people setting this whole thing up had sparked a small fire in me.
The chance to pit my strength and skill against those of another… I thought. There’s something about it that appeals to me.
“There’s no need to lie; you’ve been staring at them the entire time!” She said, gesturing at all the people standing off to the side. “Besides, it’ll be fun!”
Wagner, Diallo, and a bevy of others, including even Guffries, were waiting in line. At the head of the registration line sat a worker, taking down names as the Russian Rogue herself watched on, judging the entries with a critical eye.
Vanessa froze for a moment before her gaze turned to me. She smiled and nodded down at the desk, inviting me over.
I held her gaze for a second longer, not letting any sign of either my fear or excitement show before I replied to Elena’s remark.
“You’re right, it could be a little fun.” I said. “But it would also be nice to just sit down and enjoy the show, no? Just kick back and relax…”
Of course, this was also a good chance to gauge the power of the other recruits. Seeing as I had been thrown in with the newest batch, I had no clue what the more senior recruits were capable of.
Besides. I thought, looking towards the line of entry and seeing far more than simple recruits; even the older, more experienced wizards and witches were joining. This whole thing might give me an insight on the baseline of everyone around here, not just the recruits.
“He’s got a point.” Akari, Elena’s friend, said as she tucked a spiky lock behind her ear. “In my youth, I had the honor of witnessing the tournaments of Mahoutokoro school. They were marvelous— displaying the proud strength of our people.”
I frowned at the woman for a moment, her attitude confusing me. “The proud strength…?”
Akari pursed her lips and gave me a look, as if considering me for a moment before she continued speaking. “It is true that I have made an enemy of my own country by joining with Grindelwald-san… rather, Mr. Grindelwald, but I will continue to respect the power, dignity and strength of my foes. Doing otherwise would be a mark of great dishonor upon me and those I represent.”
I nodded. “I guess I can understand that.”
What a strange culture. I thought. Then again, it is Japan. They’ve always been very traditional when it came to this sort of thing. That their Wizarding population would exhibit similar tendencies is to be expected. It could be interesting to go there at some point.
I wouldn’t have stopped just in Japan though. The idea of traveling the world, experiencing all of its mysteries was something that called out to me with an ever-strengthening voice, ever since Quirrell had put the idea in my mind, all the way back then.
Had it already been that long?
I guess time flies when you’re having… I thought and stopped, feeling something between amusement and annoyance. Well, I guess I can’t really call this ‘fun’, can I?
“I want to visit someday.” Elena said, bringing me back to reality as she nudged her friend with a smile. “I want to see your school.”
“Perhaps.” Akari allowed with a mild shrug. “It will depend on how things will progress in the next few years, but I also wish to return to Mahoutokoro in the future— if only to reunite with friends and mend the rifts between us…”
“A good goal.” I murmured, my eyes glazing over as I considered my own goals and dreams. Pursuing magic’s secrets was something I had dedicated myself to ever since I had learned it existed, and it had taken me on a veritable rollercoaster, with twists and turns to boggle and break the minds of many.
But it was worth it. Despite my injuries, my heartache, and everything else, it was worth it.
Making friends and enemies, finding myself again after my tumult— I had never felt more complete in either life.
So why am I hesitating to join this tournament? I thought for a moment. It would give me fighting experience in a non life-threatening setting. It would show me the power of these people firsthand, and I might even get the chance to build more connections if I join Vanessa’s Clan. Possibly get her to ditch Grindelwald’s cause— a long-shot, but what do I have to lose?
I wasn’t sure what joining Vanessa’s Clan might entail, but judging by everyone’s excitement, I figured that I would be making a big mistake by not trying my hand at this. I didn’t know all that much about Clan Zhenya, but I imagined their secrets must have been precious indeed if so many people were going so far as to risk their safety for even the slightest chance to learn about them.
It took hundreds of wizards and witches to take down a handful of them, Rafiq said. If I can glean even a single percentage of that Clan’s knowledge, it would have been worth the effort. I thought; my mind, I realized, was more or less made up.
Besides, there was no real downside to losing. Sure, this tournament would allow us to be rougher with each other, but Healers were on standby, ready to act at a moment’s notice. My eyes fell on towards the small group of wizards and witches in all-white robes, setting up a small hospital ward near the arena.
They seemed to hit a snag, however, when one of them wasn’t doing his job, instead staring obsessively at the woman beside him— Healer Durand. He’d been co-opted by her allure, I gathered with a smirk.
I smiled a little before shaking my head. No, I would be fine, assuming lethal measures were taken out of the equation, or mended in time.
The most that would happen is getting my ego bruised, and as far as I was concerned, that could only be a good thing. A big ego was the ticket to failure. It caused one to be arrogant, overconfident and made you underestimate your opponent. Those were often fatal mistakes, and I didn’t want that.
I stood up abruptly. “Fine. I’ll give it a try.”
“That’s the spirit!” Elena said, grinning wide. “Go and show them what you’re made of!”
“I, erm…” I said, a little unnerved by this woman’s bubbly, happy personality.
Someone so happy and supportive— I had only recently met this one and she was already acting like how one would act with friends they’ve known for years. I didn’t really know how to respond to her, so I nodded, instead.
When in doubt, nod. I thought as I walked away from the group, acknowledging Akari’s words of ‘good luck’ with another nod. It’ll get you past many uncomfortable situations in which your words serve no use but to sink you deeper into the hole of awkwardness.
Joining the line of registrants took some maneuvering, as I had to get past all of the small groups of people blocking the way, but I eventually made it— even cut in before ten other wizards joined.
Ten fewer people to wait behind. I thought in amusement which lasted for a single second when I realized there were at least twenty people ahead of me in the line. This… is going to take a while.
And so it did; time passed by at a snail’s pace as I waited for my turn. I began to feel the gazes of many in attendance boring into my back.
“The boy’s going to fight?” “Isn’t that the kid with the new trainees?” “I get that he’s Mr. Grindelwald’s protégé, but isn’t this a little much?” “Nah. If it’s anything like his showing against Miss Vanessa, we’re sure in for a treat!”
I ignored the whispers and tongue wagging as best as I could until I found myself face to face with the aide at the desk.
“Name?” He said, not even looking up as his quill hovered over the spot for a new entry.
“Adam Clarke.” I said.
The aide’s hand went down to write the name before hesitating and looking up. “Ah. Mr. Clarke. Aren’t you a little too… Erm… Young?”
From beside the man, Vanessa scoffed and spoke in a clear voice. “I can vouch for his ability. Let him in.”
“Ah…” The aide said, swiveling his head to the Russian Rogue in a mixture of confusion and fear. He quickly gathered himself before responding. “Yes, of course. Of course.”
He wrote down my name as Vanessa gave me a piercing look. I opted to ignore her entirely.
“With an ‘e’ after the ‘k’.” I said, noticing that the man got the spelling wrong.
“Ah, yes.” He said, doing as I requested. “My apologies.”
“No, it’s okay.” I said, waving it off. “Happens way too many times, can’t really blame anyone.”
The aide nodded, feeling far more comfortable with me than he had previously. He nodded towards his left, where the other applicants were. “Thank you. You may join with the others, Mr. Clarke. Good luck.”
“Thank you.” I said and, without even looking at Vanessa, I moved towards the group of wizards standing at the center of the tournament area.
“Adam!” Diallo’s excited voice was the first to greet me. “So you’ve decided to join.”
I nodded as I approached the tall man, not adding anything more.
“Oh, you came, after all.” Rebecca Wagner emerged from the group and moved to stand beside Diallo. “I see that this impromptu tournament will be an interesting affair, indeed.”
I nodded a little more quickly than I wanted to, unable to hold back the primal sensation of excitement beginning to course through my body. “I considered not joining, but I was talked into it. Took a little convincing, though.”
“Is that so?” Diallo said, sending a look towards the two girls who had been sitting with me for the past twenty minutes. “I will have to thank the two ladies later for making this possible.”
“You overestimate my abilities, man.” I said, shaking my head before gesturing towards people who were already officers in the hierarchy. “There are many people here, and I doubt any of them are pushovers.”
“And yet, you are one endorsed by Miss Vanessa herself.” Diallo made sure to argue.
I scoffed and rolled my eyes even as Wagner directed her next question to me. “You did not wish to partake? Why?”
I shrugged, not really knowing how to answer this one. “I guess part of me was just hoping to sit back and relax?”
No way in Hell was I going to tell her that I hadn’t wanted any of these people knowing what I was capable of, but I supposed it was a moot point by now. So what if I showed them my powers at this juncture?
It would serve as motivation for me to surpass whatever benchmark they imposed on me in their own minds, later.
Plus, it really would be nice to cut loose against people who should be more or less around my level. I thought. Dealing with people like Quirrell, Voldemort and Vanessa has definitely skewed my understanding of what an adult wizard is capable of.
This exercise would remedy all of that.
“You? Relax?” Diallo gave a booming laugh, drawing the attention of the other applicants for a few seconds before they looked away. “Impossible.”
I gave a small smile. “The best feeling in this world is when you relax or fall asleep, Diallo. That is the ultimate truth of the universe. It’s like being on a cloud.”
“Can’t argue with that.” Diallo said, though he looked unconvinced. “And yet the allure of fighting still drew you in, didn’t it? Don’t deny it; I see it on your face.”
“Yes, well—” I tried to say but was interrupted by Wagner.
“If he doesn’t want to tell you, then he doesn’t have to, Diallo.” Wagner said, poking the man’s chest with a stern look on her face. “Besides, we’re not all in it for the fight, you know. The chance to join Clan Zhenya is not an opportunity to be ignored. Many people in the past have made the attempt, only to fail in the process.”
“You mean die.”
“Failure is death.” Vanessa said as she approached. All conversation came to a grinding halt as the woman came to us with her usual, ethereal grace.
“Though I hope none of you will die here, today.” Vanessa added to ease the few looks of unease seen in the group. “With our Healers ready for anything, we are prepared to deal with all but the worst of injuries. Now, if you’ll direct your attention to the viewing arena…”
“Welcome, all!” Mr. Grindelwald’s booming voice called out from the center of the arena. I turned my head to see that he held a wand to his neck, the clear mark of the Sonorous Charm being used. “I have not attended an event such as this in many decades, so it is with great excitement that I am to host this Symphony of Blood!”
Whispers spread through the crowds in the bleachers, as well as the participants.
“The Symphony of Blood?” “You mean that crazy multi-way battle tournament that was banned in the twenties?” “I thought it was to be a one on one tournament.” “Are they going to fit all of us in that small space?” “This is not what I was expecting…” “Me neither, but this will be an event to remember!”
Grindelwald quieted the crowd with a single gesture before calling Vanessa over, speaking as she approached. “That’s right, my friends. The spectacle we will bear witness to will be a sixty-four-way battle between the gallant and brave wizards and witches who have applied to the event! Miss Vanessa, if you would…?”
Vanessa reached the man, pressed her wand against her neck and began to speak. “Of course, Mr. Grindelwald.”
“Sixty-four…?” I repeated, my eyes wide with surprise. I threw a look behind me and saw that most of the people here shared my reaction— except Guffries. He’d already adopted a look of deep determination.
Our eyes met, and he scowled before turning his attention towards Vanessa and Grindelwald again. I frowned and did the same, eyes widening as the bright blue skies around us seemed to vanish, covered by a film of dark.
My eyes fell on Grindelwald, whose wand tip was glowing an eerie navy. How was he doing this? What sort of spell?
“I bid you welcome!” Vanessa roared as the area around her lit up. She swiped her free hand in a wide arc to the crowd’s delight. “To the Symphony of Blood!”
The loud, excited roar that answered her words hit me like a wall of noise, supercharging every cell in my body and banishing the small spike of fear that appeared at the sound of such an ominous event name.
“It’s time we had ourselves a big event like this to celebrate our victory at Remords De l’Âme!” Vanessa said, grinning madly. “And what better way to do it than this!? To our esteemed brothers and sisters, we bid you the warmest of welcomes!”
She is quite the orator. I thought, my lips parting with unexpected surprise. What the Hell has this woman done in her younger years?
People cheered for a few seconds before Vanessa raised her hand. “Are you sitting comfortably? For today, the most gruesome spectacle anywhere on the Isles— and beyond— shall be yours to witness!”
Fireworks erupted from the arena floor, flying high up into the air and exploding into millions of sparks. A second later, they began to twist, combine and twirl to weave the scintillating image of a large group of wizards and witches running through a forest as they exchanged spellfire of all kinds and colors between each other.
“Today’s grand prize will be no less than the chance to join my esteemed Clan— Clan Zhenya! The most powerful Clan in the world!” Vanessa roared. “And there’s only one way to get it: brutalize your opponents! Viciously! Without mercy!”
The crowd cheered again, even as Vanessa continued. “Only the most ruthless of fighters shall claim the glory which awaits— and of course, a spot in my Clan! Are you ready!?”
A roar met her answer.
“You can do better than that!” Vanessa shouted with a grin. “Let’s hear it!”
The cheering just about doubled in intensity, charging us all up even further.
“That’s more like it!” Vanessa said, raising her hand and clenching it into a fist. “Contestants! Come forth so you can be transported to your positions.”
Positions? I thought as a handful of Grindelwald’s aides appeared with pops. Had they just Apparated? I thought the area had an Anti-Apparition jinx over it.
I looked towards Grindelwald, who seemed unperturbed by the whole matter. I gave a mental shrug as the aides began to gesture for us to approach. He must have disabled it— or at least a part of it for the express purpose of this event.
“Good luck, Clarke.” Wagner said and moved past me. “You too, Diallo.”
“May the best wizard win. Or witch.” Diallo said, and I gave the two nods as I watched them, as well as others fall in line with the various aides.
A moment later, I followed suit, feeling my inner fire roar with anticipation as it continued to feed on the kindling of expectation. What would I face in that forest? I had never ventured outside of the grounds of the manor proper, but I had a feeling that there were more than regular animals waiting out there.
Grindelwald would have made sure of that. My mind continued to whirr at a ridiculous pace even as the number of people before me continued to thin more and more until I found myself standing before one of Grindelwald’s aides.
“Ah, Mr. Clarke.” He said, holding out his arm. “Are you ready?”
I looked behind him, towards Vanessa. The grin was still firmly plastered on her face even as we made eye contact. Her eyes burned with far more anticipation than even I was feeling, which only served to make me even more excited for what was to come.
“Mr. Clarke?” I tore my eyes away from the woman and saw that the aide was growing impatient.
“Sorry.” I said, placing my hand on his forearm. “I got distracted.”
“Ready?” He said, not bothering to acknowledge what I said.
“Yes.” I said and immediately felt like I was being squeezed through a too-small tube, which coiled around my chest and neck, suffocating me. A moment later, I found myself standing in the middle of a forest, still in the darkness.
Had Grindelwald also enacted the spell of darkness here as well?
“Mr. Clarke.” The aide said, getting my attention.
“Please wait until the signal is given to begin.” The aide explained, gesturing at his surroundings. “The forest is large enough to comfortably house double your numbers as an arena, so you will not find enemies to do battle with immediately. Still, I would recommend that you be on your guard at all times.”
I nodded. “Is there anything else I need to keep my eye on?”
The aide gave me a look. “Consider this a test on dealing with the unknown. There may be certain creatures lurking within these woods, but then, there may not be. As I said—”
“Be on my guard, I got it.” I finished for him, seeing the man roll his eyes and smile.
“Good luck, Mr. Clarke.” He said before Disapparating with a loud crack.
I stared at the spot he stood at for several moments before sighing. I would have my work cut out for me, wouldn’t I? I swept my gaze over my surroundings with a wary look.
In every direction, I saw nothing but many trees, both thin and thick, standing atop uneven ground and framed by a sea of black that was reminiscent of the dark skies of the Abyss itself.
Grindelwald— he must have based this spell on his experience in the Abyss. I thought, taking a mental note to work on something similar in the future.
Not heeding the aide’s remarks, I kept my feet light as I tried to walk around this small area in a circle, passing between a few trees and feeling their leaves slide off of my bare skin like wet tongues. I frowned and stepped a little harder down on the earth, feeling my foot sink in a little.
So he’s even changed the terrain, somewhat? I thought, wondering if this was his preparation for the event, or if it was always like this. It wouldn’t make sense to have muddy ground here; it hasn’t rained in a good while.
Sighing, I made my way back to my initial position. Whatever it was, I knew that it would make the challenge even harder.
I had no idea how large this place was— enough to house double our number doesn’t really give me anything concrete to work with— and my line of sight was not particularly far, between the darkness and the abundant foliage blocking my long-range view.
Still… I thought as I took deep breaths to center myself. This means that other people can’t see me, either. I’m not the only one at a disadvantage.
I was about to begin running through any possible strategies when a bright fluorescent purple light erupted in the distance, rising high into the sky before exploding in a magnificent show of power, which sent a shockwave across the forest.
I felt the wave rattle the ground and shook my head at it all. What a spectacle.
For, in the sky, proudly written in big bold letters of bright purple, was the following word: