July 4, 1992, 6:20 PM, Final Clearing, Phoenix’ Roost
A silence permeated over the grassy clearing, seizing all of the wizards and witches present in a tight grip.
I looked around from left to right, noting that everyone else seemed as stumped as I was.
No one said a word; no one moved, either, and yet I could feel the bloodlust building in the air.
The need to fight, to pit your strength against that of your foes and strike them down was welling up inside everyone present; myself included.
I could see it in their faces, determined as they were.
I saw it in the way they were moving— tensely, slowly and with the tight efficiency one would expect from a veteran of a hundred battles who knew how to conserve the most of his energy.
To my left, Guffries was sending me a strange, worrying look of anticipation which set me on edge.
To my right, Wagner and Diallo were stretching their limbs with the deliberate slowness one would expect from a jaguar about to pounce on its soon-to-be kill.
Still, despite all of this going on, no one made a single hostile action. We all knew that, once someone did, well…
Once the first spell flies, there will be no going back.
All Hell would break loose, and we would fight until there was indeed only one person left standing.
My eyes went back up to the large, bold letters up in the sky:
LAST ONE STANDING
It had been this way for the past thirty seconds, and there was no indication of it changing anytime soon.
“So, do we start, or…” I raised my voice, trying to project it across the clearing to the others.
Looks of uncertainty were exchanged by the various wizards and witches gathered here, but before any of them could so much as open their mouths, the words in the sky disappeared.
The purple star began to pulse as it floated down into the clearing.
Its light dimmed enough to not blind the lot of us, but I still found that I could not look directly at the damned thing.
It stayed there for a few seconds before the star began to hum a glow alongside the new voice coming from it— I realized with a start that it was Vanessa’s.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our time together is almost over! Today’s sensational Symphony of Blood— filled with unparalleled upsets and drama— has only one last battle to go!”
Her voice paused as the mildly subdued, but still happy cheers of the crowd erupted from the star, washing over us like a soft wave of water.
“I know.” Vanessa’s voice came again. “I know. I’m just as disappointed as you are that this will all be over soon, but, my friends, all good things must come to an end! So let’s celebrate by getting so damn loud that they’ll hear us on the other side of the Isles!”
The roar that followed her words slammed into every wizard and witch in the clearing, amping us all up. My heart quickened as I felt some of my pains disappear in the wake of the adrenaline that was beginning to flood through my system.
“You can do it, Larusso!” “Yeah!” “Show them how it’s done, Kenra!” “Hit ‘em hard, kid!” “Let’s see some action!”
“Many of our fallen contestants have gone down in blazes of glory, showing just how strong the members of our order are!” Vanessa said. “But in this, as in life, there will only be one left standing at the end. One wizard or witch to stand above them all, to claim the win, the glory— and the chance to join Clan Zhenya, the most powerful Clan in the world!”
Another roar came from the crowd as the star headed towards the edge of the clearing, floating in front of one of the wizards.
“Let’s give it up for Vincent Larusso!” Cheers followed her statement as the star began to move on to the rest of the assembled wizards, with a cheer erupting after every spoken name. “Kenzo Kenra! Robert Chase! Jack Small! Andrew Cunnington! Ai Xiu! Diallo! Rebecca Wagner! Nick Guffries! And last, but certainly not least, Adam Clarke!”
We waited as the cheers died down for Vanessa to start talking again.
“Ten contestants remaining.” Vanessa said as the purple star began to float above everyone again, accompanied by the roar of the crowd. “Let the crescendo of the Symphony of Blood…”
I drew my wand and held it at the ready as we all moved away from each other, preparing our best spells for the end.
This is it.
Odgovor! No less than five chains burst forth from my wand, intercepting three different spells and sending them flying away towards the general direction of the other contestants.
I moved to the left, ducking under a jet of red light as I transferred one of the chains to my right arm, forming a small buckler.
Diallo stood in my path, smirking.
“Finally. You ready to—” He said but stopped, noticing something coming from his own left. “Son of a—”
Diallo was forced to raise a shield against a sudden onslaught of spells. Its source?
“Told you, Clarke.” Guffries said as he continued to cast spell after spell at Diallo. “The only one who gets your beat your stupid face in is me!”
“Get in line, Guffries!”
I humphed, ready to strike them both down when another spell came from my left.
I turned to parry it, turning the spell back to its sender, who simply batted it away as if it were a gnat.
“Not bad.” I muttered as I faced a tall man who looked to be somewhere in his thirties— but then, wizards in their sixties still looked like they were in their thirties, so it was hard to know what his real age was. “Jack, was it?”
The man graced me with a nod, speaking in an American accent. “Shall we?”
“Yeah.” I smiled as the spiral of chains forming my buckler tightened with a loud clink. “Let’s dance!”
No sooner had I said this that Jack went into action. He snapped off spells in quick succession before I could even think of launching my chains towards him.
I sidestepped the first and parried away the next two with my buckler. I ignored the feeling of my bones jarring from the impact of the spells as I continued to advance on him.
A small wave of my wand and three of my chains went flying forward.
Two were intercepted by Jack’s spells, but the last struck true, the spear tip puncturing his arm— or at least, that’s what would have happened had he not dodged to the side, only getting a cut on his arm for the trouble.
My eyes narrowed at the blood I’d drawn. A successful strike, but nowhere near enough to end the duel.
I thrust my wand forward again, bringing my two remaining chains swinging horizontally from each side, aiming them at right at his pivot leg in the hopes of stopping him in place.
In response, Jack hopped over the chains as if he was playing jump rope, looking amused with my attack.
I exhaled and drew my wand in before slashing it towards him, using my chain’s momentum to swing the tip around at an astonishing speed. Dodge this.
The sound of a whip cracking filled the air as the chains slashed into the man’s hastily conjured Shield Charm.
It stood no chance. The speed of the chain, coupled with the hasty casting of his spell… the chains tore his barrier apart like confetti— and then they tore into him, leaving a deep, cross-shaped gash on his chest before the chains embedded themselves tip first into the earth.
Jack, to his credit, kept on fighting even as he cried out in pain, clipping my right shoulder with a retaliatory strike— a very familiar sickly yellow spell.
I fell face first into the ground, getting a mouthful of grass and dirt as I felt my shoulder blade and the top of my humerus break with an audible snap. “Fuck!”.
Tough it out, Clarke. I thought over and over as I forced myself up as fast as I could with one hand, doing my best to ignore the sudden agony coursing through my right side. Maybe I could hit him before he can—
Too late, I realized as I saw Jack in the process of launching another Bone Breaking Curse at me.
This is as far as I go? I just about leapt out of the way, throwing caution and any attempt at keeping my movements tight to the wind. No. I won’t let it.
Merging the chains back into a single massive one, I swung it down at the man, hoping to end the fight right there and then.
Jack cursed and leapt forward in a roll, avoiding the chain smashing into the earth behind him with a loud thud— but that was exactly what I wanted him to do. Dismissing the remaining chain, I took one step forward and just about jabbed my wand into the man’s surprised face. “Stupefy!”
A jet of red light erupted from my wand, striking the man in the forehead and sending him face first into the ground.
He was unconscious.
“And Jack Small goes down! Let’s hear it for Clarke!” Vanessa’s excited voice came from above, but I was too busy scrambling towards a tree as a few people tried to snipe me. I took deep breaths to keep the horrible pain in my shoulders at bay before I was forced to fight another enemy.
I studied the clearing from the safety of the tree I was hiding behind, noting that a few of the other wizards had been defeated alongside Jack already.
And that’s when unwelcome news came.
“You’ve made yourselves loud and clear, my friends. The crowd will get what they want! Hiding in the forest is no longer permitted, contestants. Get outta there!” Vanessa’s teasing, amused voice came from the sky, and it was all I could do to stop myself from cursing up a storm.
Are you serious?
“Rule in effect in Five…Four…” I rushed back into the clearing and tried to reorient myself, cringing with every little movement I made. “Three… Two… One. Good, you all made it back in. Now stand and fight!”
‘Stand and fight’, she says. I thought as I spied Guffries, Diallo and Wagner trying to beat down a single witch— Ai Xiu— and failing miserably. Over to the side, I saw that a one on two duel was also taking place.
It had barely been a minute or two since the fighting had begun, but the clearing we’d entered at the start looked nothing like it did now. Trees were being burnt to cinders, uprooted or torn in half before being lobbed across the clearing between duelists.
The air filled with the smell of smoke and blood, as well as the loud roars of the cheering crowd coming from the other end of the floating purple star above.
Symphony of Blood indeed. I thought as I swung my wand upwards, erecting a barrier to withstand a stream of fire. I held it for a few seconds, ignoring the feeling of uncomfortable warmth as the shield wasn’t able to repel that much heat away.
I scrunched my nose and took a few steps back to avoid the billowing smoke that came from the now-burning grass surrounding me. Too much of that and I would pass out for sure.
Smoke inhalation is no joke. I thought as the fire finally subsided, revealing my newest opponent. Kenra, I believe his name was— he looked about as beat up as I felt, but he had the advantage here.
He didn’t have a broken arm; I did.
I narrowed my eyes at the small spark of flame building at the tip of his wand and cast my next spell. Another fire spell? That’s fine with me— Aguamenti!
Fire met water with a loud hiss, blowing hot steam every which way and clouding our immediate surroundings. I winced at the hot water vapor, half-shutting my eyes to still be able to see while keeping them relatively safe.
Our struggle continued for a few more seconds before the pressure let up. I immediately dove to the side, seeing no less than five flaming arrows dropping down from above, hitting the ground and fizzling out of existence.
Fire arrows; can’t stop! I thought and called a single chain forth even as I dodged another salvo, doing my best to ignore the spikes of pure agony driving themselves into my arm, shoulder and neck. Odgovor!
I stifled the cry of pain that had already half-come out of my throat, wrapping the chain around my broken right arm and tying it tightly to my body so that it would not be jostled.
It was a half-baked, piss-poor job at best, but it would do for now. I shielded against another salvo of arrows for a few more seconds, slowly acclimating myself to the ever-present, but slightly duller pain coming through my shoulders.
I focused my will and pressed the barrier forward, infusing it with the Knockback Jinx and sending it crashing into the guy’s body.
I heard an ‘oof!’, as well as the sound of a thud and dismissed my Shield Charm before casting my next spell, aiming it at where I heard him last. Odgovor!
The spell flew forward, blowing through the now clearing steam and crashing into Kenra’s Shield Charm. A second later, it bounced off.
I grimaced; I was already weakening? I recalled the chain and split it into three as I saw the man get back to his feet, eyeing me warily.
Damn it, I almost got him, too. I thought in displeasure as we circled each other, keeping an eye out for any interlopers. For now, the coast seemed clear enough; all of the others were still busy with their opponents. I’ve got to play this one smart.
I also noticed something even more worrying. My balance was off, and I was starting to feel dizzy. I guess I inhaled a little more smoke than I thought I did?
No choice, then.
I had to end things quickly before my body straight up shut down on me.
“Diallo and Guffries go down by a frankly ferocious set of spells by Ai Xiu! There’s a reason why they call her ‘The Sickle Spellslinger’!” Vanessa’s voice came from above, and I used my opponent’s moment of distraction to launch my attack.
Now, now! Two of my chains flew forward quickly, crashing into the man’s Shield over and over, but it wasn’t enough. His barrier refused to budge. Still, I kept at it while trying to reach him from behind with my third chain.
In response, he extended his Shield Charm’s range, comfortable in his little conjured fortress and happy to let me chip away at its defenses until I was exhausted enough for him to counter attack.
I needed another avenue of att— That’s it!
I kept smashing my chains against his barrier, letting him think that this was my last ditch effort while sending my third chain burrowing underground.
His defense may be currently stronger than my offense, that much is true. I thought as I continued my assault for the next few seconds, only stopping when the third chain erupted from the ground beneath his feet, wrapping around his throat and squeezing. But no defense is absolute. Thanks for the idea, Gaara.
Another twist of my wand, and the chain also wrapped around his wand hand, twisting it so hard that it broke. He tried to cry out, but all that came out was a strangled whimper. I kept the pressure up for a few more seconds, even as his barrier faded into nothing. Then, I let him go and Summoned his wand over to me.
“Clarke shows his vicious, but ingenious mind once again by bypassing Kenra’s defenses and strangling him into unconsciousness!” Vanessa’s voice came again, even as I fell to my knees in exhaustion. “But is this a Pyrrhic Victory for Clarke? Will he be able to continue fighting?”
“Oh, shut the fuck up.” I muttered as I tried to get my breathing under control.
I tried to get up, only to find that I could not. My muscles protested against every movement. I was at my limit.
Do I just call it here? I thought, dropping down on my back and letting the waves of fatigue and pain wash over me like a massive, weighted blanket. Vanessa’s disembodied, overly excited voice faded into the background as I delved a little further into unconsciousness. I mean, after everything that’s already happened….
Had duels all over the forest, got hunted down, chased, slid down that hill while boulders were being dropped onto me, fell into the lake, was forced to fight again and again— it was a miracle that I’d made it this far.
Get up. A very small part of me said, but I almost didn’t even register the thought. I’d already done so much in the past few hours. I could just sit the rest of it out, couldn’t I?
Get up… The voice grew a little stronger, more insistent. Can’t let it end here. Better to be beaten in a fight than pass out like a pussy.
Was I really being a pussy, though? My shoulder blade and arm were broken, I was already exhausted from all the previous battles, and I was sure the smoke inhalation wasn’t doing me any favors.
I knew it was ridiculous to expect more out of myself, but I just couldn’t help it.
“I’m so pathetic.” I murmured with a cough as I slowly, agonizingly, pulled myself back up into a seated position. “I just gotta have more. Don’t know when to fucking quit, do I…?”
I pushed off of the ground with my good arm, my entire body shivering with the exertion as I swept my gaze across the clearing. Almost everyone was down for the count, unconscious or sporting various debilitating injuries.
At the center of the clearing stood the three remaining participants. It was Ai Xiu, Wagner and a third guy whose name I couldn’t remember anymore.
There was no room for that, right now.
I coughed as I staggered forward, almost losing my balance again, but forced myself to keep going out of sheer will. Won’t give up so easily.
Passing by the unconscious duo of Diallo and Guffries, I graced them with a single look before I continued to walk forward, setting my sights to the fight ahead.
I didn’t have much left in me— honestly I was running on fumes at this point— but I was going to give it my best shot, anyway.
Couldn’t forgive myself, otherwise.
Sounds returned as my awareness of my surroundings increased, and I could hear Vanessa roaring something or the other. Her words came out garbled to my ears, so I ignored them, instead raising my wand to the sole person standing before me.
My eyes registered the downed forms of Wagner and the other guy— Vincent, the name finally came to me— who were on their backs and barely clinging to consciousness.
“C-careful, Clarke.” Wagner said, her eyes clutching at a deep wound in her side. “She’s got some strange bladed magic. Just—”
Two things happened, then.
A jet of red light struck Wagner dead center, and the words died in her mouth.
At the same time, Vincent launched a last ditch effort at his foe, catching her in the ribs with a vomit green curse.
It had no effect.
The woman retaliated instantly, Stunning him into unconsciousness as well before turning her attention to me.
Ai Xiu took a step forward, leveling her wand at me with a smile. I was about to do the same when her eyes widened and she brought her hand to her mouth, doubling over as she spewed the contents of her stomach down on the ground.
My only chance. I thought and imbued my will with as much determination as I could muster in my exhausted state. Stupefy!
The spell flew towards her, but Ai reacted quickly, blasting the spell away even as she continued to dry heave.
Bombarda! The ground at her feet exploded, pelting her with debris and buying me a second of breathing room so I could refine my will as much as I could.
Now’s my chance. I’m going to bash her into the ground before she can recover! I thought and stepped forward, hearing the sound of roaring. Was that the crowd?
No, I realized. It was me.
“Odgovor!” The chain materialized with a loud clink before I swung the spell down at her, bringing with it the force of my will aided by the gravity of the world.
Her eyes widening, she cast a nonverbal spell of her own. A flurry of jade, spinning blades erupted out of her wand, striking the links at their connections and severing the chain in multiple pieces.
But I wasn’t done yet, not this time.
“Converge!” I roared, bringing my wand down at her.
The remnants of the chain froze for a moment before they launched themselves at her in a last ditch effort— a trick I learned to do after my duel with Vanessa not too long ago.
This was it, do or die.
Ai Xiu didn’t even move from her position, however, swinging her wand in a wide circle and deflecting every single piece of the chain in different directions.
Really!? I thought and sank to my knees, watching the remnants of my chain fly around aimlessly before fading away.
An instant later, I sank to my knees, no longer able to support my own weight. That was all I had left.
The woman got back to her feet, her wand trained at me; a pink spell glowed at its tip. She stopped however, when she noticed my exhausted state.
She walked towards me, pressing her wand against her stomach and muttering the countercurse to whatever magic was causing her nausea.
Stopping a few feet away from me, I finally noticed the damage to the right side of her face. I had thought it was just the dirt, but no. I had hit her with that. My spell had been a success, after all.
Small consolation, that.
“Good fight.” Ai Xiu said, leveling her wand at me again. “Surrender?”
I wanted to say no, to fight her tooth and nail; but honestly, this time, I really did have nothing left.
“Yes.” I said. “I surrender.”
I barely registered the roars of the crowd as the Healer crews began to Apparate into the clearing to treat everyone.
The Symphony of Blood was finally over.