July 4, 1992, 4:45 PM, Announcer Arena, Phoenix’ Roost
Vanessa Zhenya, The Russian Rogue
“Things are firing up again, my friends!” Vanessa said with excitement as she spun around slowly, sending a gleeful gaze towards all of the assembled wizards and witches, somewhat unnerving those who were seated closest to her.
She found their reaction amusing. I suppose I’ve given off a pretty strong impression that I am unapproachable. I don’t smile often, after all. Not to mention…
Vanessa resisted the urge to wince; she knew why the people here kept her at a distance, fearing any close contact with her despite the enticing prospect of joining her Clan.
Near the beginning of her tenure as one of Grindelwald’s top officers, there had been an… incident with a very uncouth fellow who thought too highly of himself. The way she’d dealt with the fool had given off the impression of her being vicious and quick to anger.
Oh, she was well aware of what the recruits and officers said about her. She had overheard quite a few people instructing their fellows not to call her Russian Rogue, among other things.
It was all very funny to her because they thought that it was him saying the nickname that set her off. It wasn’t.
The nickname itself didn’t bother her at all, even if it was one bestowed upon her by the corrupt International Confederation of Wizards.
In fact, it was a sign that she’d rattled the bird’s nest fairly well. Vanessa had multiple kill orders set upon her, and the fact that she’d thwarted every single one and then sent her would-be assassins’ heads back to the ICW had earned her that name.
She was not at all ashamed or disapproving of the title; it was a clear sign that she, Vanessa Zhenya, was alive and powerful enough to scare those in control of the Wizarding World’s governments.
Vanessa shook her thoughts away and returned to announcing the developing scenario before her. “As you can see, the three groups are about to converge on the same clearing.”
She waved her wand and brought forth the map of the terrain the groups were walking in, gesturing at it frequently. She began to draw their approach vectors. “As you can see, Group One, composed of Strontel, Rupert and Akshan are coming in from the northeast.”
“Group Two.” She indicated the group directly to the left of the clearing. “Coming in from the west, it’s Christos and George, our newest officers, who finished their recruitment training just last week. They’ll have a clear disadvantage against Group One, who have many years of experience on their team.”
“However.” She said, pointing down towards the third gathering. “Group Three from the south is the one with the greatest disadvantage, as it’s composed of two relatively new recruits, Diallo and Wagner. Admittedly, they are considered to be the best of their class, but will that be enough to prevail over the others? Let’s find out.”
The view lowered until it showed only the clearing. Vanessa said nothing, allowing the crowd’s energy to continue building. Their whispers grew more agitated, and their thirst for blood increased.
She waved her wand as she took measured steps around the display, superimposing a miniature version on the map in the corner of the clearing’s view. Two of the three points on the map were getting steadily closer, and they would intersect in about thirty seconds. The third point seemed to be wandering aimlessly around in circles, checking the southern direction.
“Get ready, everyone…!” Vanessa said, feeling the crowd’s excitement continue to build with every step the first two groups took towards each other. “Soon enough, the fighting will begin!”
A few seconds later, the two approaching groups emerged from the treeline, eyeing each other with predatory looks.
“It seems as if they wish to engage in battle from the very beginning!” Vanessa said just as they raised their wands. “Or do they?”
“I’ll give you this one chance to give up.” Strontel, a short man with a buzz cut, said from the viewscreen as he took three steps forward, all but declaring himself as leader of Group One. “We will simply Stun you and be on our way.”
The crowd buzzed in displeasure at that, and Vanessa was inclined to agree with them. Still, part of her also couldn’t deny the fact that offering your opponents terms of surrender was a nice move to curry favor with the general body of officers.
It was a grand gesture, to be sure, but one that showed that Strontel and his men were amenable to discussion and alliances, which would allow them to move up within the ranks of Grindelwald’s echelon.
Vanessa was about to say something to assuage the crowd when the two members of Group Two broke out into laughs.
“Methinks our opponents are underestimating what we’re capable of.” George said to his companion, Christos. He took a few steps forward to mimic the man’s movements. “I think you’re underestimating our abilities, friend. We’re officers of this order, same as you.”
“Yes, you are.” Strontel acknowledged the two men with a nod. “That is why I was willing to offer you this chance to surrender— a courtesy shown to my comrades.”
Courtesy? Vanessa thought with no small amount of derision. More like an insult.
She never could understand this mindset of theirs. She was proof that age did not necessarily track with magical ability. For all Strontel knew, his two opponents would prove his downfall, and yet there he was, pretending as if they were about as threatening as flobberworms.
“Well, we thank you for this… generous offer.” George said in a false politeness, nodding towards Christos. “What do you think, partner? Should we accept this proposal of theirs?”
Christos took a single step forward and promptly spat on the ground— the universal sign of disrespect and contempt. The crowd chuckled at that, their previous anxiousness and displeasure washing away in the humor of the moment; their whispers and mutters increased in intensity again, along with their excitement.
Battle is inevitable now. Vanessa thought to herself, a wide, anticipatory smile spreading over her face.
“Well said, my friend. Well said, indeed.” George said with a smirk, leveling his wand at his opponents. “Shall we?”
Strontel’s amicable visage shifted into one of annoyance before he raised his wand in return. “On your head be it. Just remember: I gave you an out.”
A second later, the clearing erupted in a series of multicolor flashes as the five wizards began their clash.
“And it begins!” Vanessa roared to the delight of the crowd, waving her wand to zoom the image in further.
Strontel was stepping forward as he cast a multitude of spells, sidestepping his foes’ curses and retaliating with many of his own. Errant beams, jets and debris flew left, right and center, slicing off tree branches, cracking trees in half and damaging the surroundings. A deflected fire curse impacted against a large bush, setting it ablaze and spreading the fire despite the fairly humid conditions.
Through it all, Strontel continued to gain ground on his enemies, displaying reflexes and magical skill befitting a man in his position.
“Strontel leads with a full frontal assault, uncaring of any mode of defense!” Vanessa said as the man in question continued to steadily gain ground on the two men. “He seems to be trying to close the gap between them— but why?”
She saw a look of alarm flashing over the faces of the members of Group Two. They scrambled backwards as a massive section of the ground in front of Strontel transformed into a bog, threatening to consume any who stood in it.
“And Strontel’s attack fails at the very last second!” Vanessa said, though she was impressed by the spell’s attack range. It would have to be something she learned to replicate, later. “Despite their youth and inexperience, it seems that our two new officers have taken their own training seriously! But will it be enough to win them the day against superior opponents?”
Even as she said this, George was clipped on his left side by a spell, sending him tumbling into the ground. In response, Christos swept his wand forward and pelted his enemies with a cloud of dust, wood and pebbles, hoping to delay them long enough for his teammate to recover.
“That must’ve hurt bad.” “Strontel’s group has got this, I think.” The crowd began to mutter as Vanessa continued to announce the contestants’ actions.
“It seems that Group One has seized the advantage.” Vanessa said, gesturing at Strontel’s companions who were casting spells— Akshan seemed to be shielding Strontel, and the other one, Rupert, was spreading the cursed fire behind Christos and George in an attempt to box the two wizards in. “And it seems that Strontel’s attempt at creating a bog was part of this overall plan to trap them. Ingenious, but will it work, I wonder?”
“No! They can just Apparate out!” One in the crowd shouted and laughed.
Strontel raised his wand and drew it in a spiral before swinging down to the earth. There was no outward indication as to what the spell he used was, but Vanessa shook her head. She’d seen it used many times before.
There was no mistaking it.
“And Strontel shows his ability to adapt to his allies’ tactics!” Vanessa said, gesturing at the two boxed in wizards who were trying, but failing to Apparate out. “Those of you who have never seen it before, that was the Anti-Apparition Jinx. Burn that wand movement into your memory, for it may cost you precious seconds wasted on an attempt to Apparate out!”
“They’ve got them now.” “It’s over.” “I knew Strontel was going to win that one from the start.”
Oh ye of little faith. Vanessa didn’t voice that thought, though she smiled in amusement as Christos and George shared a quick look before they turned their attention to their opponents; their postures became completely different from what they were a few seconds before.
“It seems that Group One has backed its foes into a corner!” Vanessa said, a dangerous gleam shining through her eyes. “But is the corner not the place from which a Wizard or Witch is at their most dangerous? Let’s find out!”
The two young men proved her right as they roared in defiance, blasting through the shield covering Group One with sheer desperation. A bevy of spells flew through the opening, dropping Akshan down in an instant. Rupert managed to recover well enough to conjure another barrier as he was forced to backtrack and take cover behind a tree.
“Bring it down!” Christos called out, pointing towards a nearby tree that looked to be thick enough to weather the fire well enough.
George wasted no time and brought it down over the flames, creating a quick exit for them. “Let’s go!”
“Just like that, Akshan is down in less time than it takes to blink!” Vanessa continued to speak even as the two men climbed on top of the downed tree, running past the wall of flames and into relative safety. They started to circle around the flames to engage their enemies once again. “And now it seems that the two underdogs have evaded Group One’s trap! Is this the comeback of Group Two?”
Strontel, however, was having none of it. With a wave of his wand, he spread the flames in a wide arc towards his two opponents, shouting something unintelligible at his comrade. Rupert’s grin, however, seemed telling.
“Be ready!” Vanessa called out. “It seems that Strontel has another trick ready for his opponents!”
In a few moments, Vanessa watched the events unfold, understanding immediately what was going on. “And it seems that Group One has utilized the remainder of their trap and turned it into a cursed firestorm of epic proportions! What will Group Two do in retaliation?”
Spells flew through the fire, striking nothing but the trees around them. Vanessa adjusted the view to show that George was casting spells blindly in the hopes he could reach the source, while Christos attempted to hold the flames back with conjured water.
“They’re done for…” “Still, that was a good showing by those two.” The crowd’s mutters reached her ears.
But Vanessa didn’t heed their words, instead moving her attention to the tree besides Rupert. It had taken much damage over the course of the fight, and it was now tilting down towards him and Strontel without either man’s knowledge— “Look out below!”
The man in question finally realized his predicament. He cried out in alarm, prompting Strontel to cease his spell and move away.
Rupert tried to get out of range as well, but it was too late; though he managed to avoid being crushed by the main body of the tree itself, he wasn’t able to avoid a rather thick branch which caught him in the back of the head, sending him down into the forest floor, face first.
“Of all the…” “Really? That’s what does him in!?” “I had good money on them! What the hell is this shite!?”
Vanessa laughed at the incredulity of the situation before addressing the crowd again. “What a twist to this battle; Rupert is down! It seems that lady luck is still looking out for Group Two— but how did they fare against the firestorm?”
The view moved towards the members of Group Two, showing an unconscious, heavily burned Christos surrounded by the slowly dying embers of Strontel’s firestorm. Kneeling beside him was George, who was checking over his ally’s wounds with as much care as he could manage.
“It seems that Strontel’s assault has indeed borne fruit.” Vanessa said in a grave tone. “Healers, prepare emergency measures. As soon as the two move off, get them.”
The crowd murmured unsurely, wondering if it was wise to keep the man under such severe burns without treatment.
“Not to worry, everyone.” She waved their concerns away. “I’ve lived through worse than that, so I’m sure Mr. Christos will be taken care of quickly.”
It didn’t seem to do much, but Vanessa shrugged and waved her wand. The view zoomed out a little as the two remaining combatants moved away from their allies, not willing to harm them.
Vanessa nodded towards the medical team, then. The unconscious bodies of Akshan, Rupert and Christos appeared at the center of the ring, right in front of Vanessa. Without her even needing to say anything, the three men were rushed off towards the hospital tent.
“A splendid showing from our officers. They have done well.” Vanessa gave them a nod of respect, before turning her attention to the viewscreen again. “And now, for the conclusion. Who will win the day? Strontel, or George?”
The crowd said nothing as the two men in the viewscreen faced off. They said nothing to each other, instead raising their wands in the traditional sign of respect. A moment later, and the two re-engaged in their battle.
Compared to their previous showing, this was far more pitiful. In the course of the battle, the two men had been wounded, disoriented and tired. And yet, their spells now felt far more vicious, each one impacting the other with much greater force than one would guess.
But in the end, Strontel managed to clip George’s leg, sending him down into the earth before putting him out of his misery with a quick Stunner.
“And George finally goes down!” Vanessa waved her arm down, gesturing towards Strontel. “Making Strontel the—”
Out of nowhere, a jet of red light struck Strontel in the back, sending him crumpling into the earth besides his defeated opponent.
“What the…” “What just happened!?”
Vanessa shook her head as she waved her wand, zooming the screen’s view out until it revealed the perpetrators to everyone.
“Group Three finally enters!” Vanessa said as she gestured towards Diallo and Wagner. “Choosing to let the two groups battle it out before finishing them off after the fact!”
There was a moment of silence, and then—
“Boo!” “Those new recruit shits!” “Strontel earned that win, fair and square!” “What gives!?”
Vanessa shook her head; though she hated to admit it, she knew that such a tactic was generally the best one in times of war. Why suffer needless injuries in a battle when you could let other factions weaken each other, instead?
Group Three were the true winners here; all they’d had to do was use a single spell to achieve success, while One and Two wasted valuable time and energy in pointless posturing.
She nodded to herself, deciding to keep an eye on these two.
Though they’ve now earned the ire of our order. Vanessa thought in amusement as she kept the viewscreen on those two for a few seconds longer before dismissing it with a wave of her wand. I can tell that they will go far, if they continue in this fashion.
“That battle may be over, but don’t relax yet, everyone!” Vanessa said as she pulled up another viewscreen, showing a familiar, scarred young boy standing beside an older man as they faced off against two other wizards. “For it seems that another may be starting very soon!”
“It’s Clarke!” “That kid is insane— the way he used his own body like a bloody toboggan while people were dropping rocks on him!” “Impressive, isn’t it? I would expect nothing less from our leader’s protégé.” “Why’s he grouped up with Guffries? Isn’t that the one who—” “Yeah. Beats me, though. Maybe they worked it out?” “Still…”
That kid’s certainly an eye turner.
Maybe he would be the one to join her Clan? Vanessa smiled.
He’d have to prove himself, first. If he did somehow manage it, though, then she would have fun with him; that was for sure.
Same Time, Rainforest, Phoenix’ Roost
I didn’t bother exchanging insults with our new opponents, instead banishing everything I could towards the two men in front of me while Guffries summoned all of the vines around us in an attempt to entrap them.
The one on the left got tangled, but the other was quick footed, taking six measured steps back and banishing the vines toward us, forcing us to defend.
I reacted quickly, slicing through the thickest clump and feeling the remainder strike my body hard enough to make me cringe. Those will leave some bad welts, later; I just know it.
This kind of pain was nothing compared to the Cruciatus, though. I stepped forward, blasting the earth at my foes’ feet with an Exploding Charm before following up with a Knockback Jinx to send some of the debris in their faces.
Judging from the sounds of dismay, it seemed to have worked. A jet of red light flew out of Guffries’ wand and into the impromptu smokescreen, striking the source of one of the cries.
“Hebert!” A cry came out, and I shot a Stunning Charm of my own towards the source just as everything cleared. The spell missed by a foot, striking the tree beside the remaining combatant and forcing him to step back.
He said nothing for a moment, looking between Guffries and his unconscious comrade, who’d crumpled down onto the ground, still tangled up in vines. A moment later, he raised his hands in surrender.
“I give up.” He said.
I blinked in surprise. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.” The man said, sighing as he moved to sit beside a tree, exhaling in relief. “I’ve already had a few battles. I’m at my limit— can’t take any more.”
I opened my mouth to say something when I finally noticed it. He’d seemed quick footed and energized before, but that might have all been an act. Now that he’d let his guard down, I could see how utterly tired he was.
I saw it in the way his form sagged against the tree, the way his eyes closed a little more than they should have, and the way he cradled his right side.
“Well, all right.” I said. “I accept your—”
“Stupefy.” Guffries launched the spell at the man, striking him in the chest and sending him into blissful unconsciousness.
“—Surrender.” I finished lamely before turning to the man with a look of irritation. “You couldn’t have waited until I finished talking?”
“‘What for’, he says.” I shook my head in irritation. “Maybe he had some decent information on where the rest of the participants are? Maybe even the lay of the land.”
Guffries opened his mouth to say something before closing it to consider my statement
“True enough.” He acknowledged my point with a nod before pointing it at the man. “I could revive him, if you like.”
“Forget it.” I shook my head. “Too late now.”
“But I can just—”
“Fine.” I said in a clipped tone before I winced. “Sorry; I’m a little irritable right now.”
“You’ve barely had a wink, so I can’t blame you, there.” Guffries waved it off before leveling his wand at the unconscious man. “All right. Renner—”
He stopped his spellcasting and pointed at something far ahead, up in the sky. “What’s that?”
I raised my gaze to see something that shined like a star above the treeline with an ominous purple, which clashed against the slowly darkening sky. “I have no idea. Was that always there?”
“I don’t think so.” Guffries said, glancing between me and the floating purple star. “Look.”
I turned my gaze to see words forming beneath it. They said:
15 CONTESTANTS REMAINING
COME TO THE STAR FOR THE FINAL SHOWDOWN
I stared at it for a few seconds before shaking my head. “Well, I guess we don’t need to ask the guy any questions, after all.”
“The final showdown, eh?” Guffries said from beside me, his eyes showing mirth and no small amount of mischievousness. “It seems our alliance is soon to be at an end, then.”
“Seems that way.” I said, my grip tightening over my wand. “Not that it was particularly long lived to begin with.”
“Do not worry!” He said cheerfully, leading the way. “I promise I won’t turn on you until we are the final two remaining participants.”
“How gracious of you…” I said, my words dripping with sarcasm.
Guffries laughed at that, and the sound was so infectious that I found myself sharing in it.