Chapter 2

 A blacksmith’s forge isn’t much of an office, but that is where Ser Boers Grabba had chosen to administrate his university. And there he was, hammering away on a bar of metal glowing red with heat, while an attractive blonde in a knee length black skirt, cream colored silk blouse, and dark framed glasses  informed him of the remainder of the day’s schedule.

The headmaster cast an impressive figure. Hard. Thickly muscled. The scars and tattoos on his arms revealing his past as a soldier as much as his posture and disciplined intensity at the anvil. His salt and pepper hair was cut short, in military fashion, and he favored a rather impressive mustache that curved down to the edge of his jaw. He had been working on his project for a while. The sweat dripping from his brow as it furrowed in concentration. Yet, Dryn knew that he was not neglecting the information his assistant fed him.  

Dryn looked around the room. In a far corner away from the anvil, There was a simple bookshelf of medium height made of dark wood. Many large, imposing tomes of varying hues adorned its shelves. Beside it, a small desk that Dryn figured had once been a workbench, along with 2 old, but still comfortable, high backed chairs, one maroon and one ochre, provided the bare necessities of a working office. No frills. No decorations. Just what he needed to do the two things he loved. Shaping metal and shaping the next generation of magi.

As Dryn quietly considered the scene, Grabba picked up the now cooled bar with a pair of tongs and surveyed his handiwork. His assistant paused as he inspected. 

“Needs some more.” he said.

 His assistant stepped back as he took a deep breath. A large, focused gout of flame burst from his mouth quickly turning the metal white hot again. Dryn yelped at the sight of it and fell backwards onto the ground. Having alerted both of the room’s occupants to her presence, she began to blush and made quick to stand up again. The headmaster swiftly set the piece of metal on the anvil and wiped his hands on his leather apron as he moved toward Dryn.

“Are you alright miss?” he said.

 “I’m sorry. I was startled by the fire.” Dryn said meekly.

“You know she could’ve been hurt.” his assistant chimed in. “This is why you need a real office.”

 “Oh no, please don’t. This office is great” said Dryn. Her initial excitement renewed.

 “At least someone appreciates me.” said Grabba with an amused smile.

 The assistant rolled her eyes at Grabba and turned to Dryn, “What brings you to the headmaster’s office, miss…?”

“Dryn, ma’am. Dryn Elward. I am here to enroll in the university.”

 “The semester has already begun. You can submit an application for the next semester if you wish.”

 “Come now, Jayne. I think we can at least listen to her.” He grabbed one of the chairs by his desk and brought it closer to the group. “Please, sit. Dryn was it?”

 “Yes, sir. Thank you Headmaster, sir.”

 “Call me Grabba. Please.”

 “Yes sir.”

 “So tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?”

 “My grandparents have a cottage about a day’s ride from Dimir.”

 “So you live with your grandparents.”

 “Yes, my parents died when I was very young.”

 “I’m sorry to hear that… Did your grandparents teach you magic then?”

 “No. Well, they tried to, but I wasn’t able to learn. No magic I guess.”

 “None?”

 “Nope.”

 “Then what, may I ask, brings you to the University of Magical Sciences?”

 “I was able to pick up a few things and I very much want to become a mage like my parents.”

 “And where did you pick up these ‘few things?’” said Grabba amusedly.

 “You probably wouldn’t believe me. Most people don’t.”

 “Try me.”

Dryn paused. “I’d rather show you what I’m capable of.”

 Grabba sat back with a pensive look in his eyes and an intrigued smile. After a short pause he stood up and turned to his assistant.

“Well that settles it then. We will have a display of her abilities and based on that she will either be sent home or become our newest student. I’m hoping for the latter.” His assistant stood up and turned to Dryn. “If you will come with us to the dueling grounds we will find a student for you to spar with.”

 They left his office and made their way to the main courtyard. As they approached the dueling grounds, Dryn noticed that the crowd was still gathered around the same two boys.  The headmaster said nothing but quickly the headmaster’s presence became known and the crowd began to grow quiet as their excitement and curiosity rose. The boys who had been dueling stopped to see what was going on.

 “Excuse me students,” said Grabba. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we have a potential new student whom I’ve decided will get a chance to show us her skills in a duel. Her name is Dryn Elward and we will be choosing a student for her to spar with.”

 The excitement was palpable. The crowd was buzzing with talk. Who is this girl? Who would the Headmaster pick? What magic does she use? Dryn couldn’t help but feel elated. The students’ delight in the turn of events only fueled her own. She decided that she would turn it up a notch and give her new friend a chance to showcase his own skills.

 “Grabba, sir? Might I choose my own sparring partner?”

 “Hmmm. I don’t see why not.”

 “Thank you. I would like to spar with him.” she said pointing into the crowd. “Daeken.”

                                 §     •    §    •    §

 

 Seriously? Who is this person? thought Daeken. He had come to this university for a simple, quiet, anonymous school career and some looney he had never met before today was going to ruin it. Part of him refused to go up there and another part of him wanted to teach her a lesson. A third part of him wanted to just leave and a fourth was embarrassed to refuse. It was a very complex set of emotions. Daeken never liked complexity. It was all too tiresome.

Ultimately, he couldn’t refuse her challenge but he could deny her a satisfying reaction. He calmly got up and walked up the ramp toward the dueling field to the cheers and jeers of the growing crowd of students. Daeken looked out to the crowd. Even some professors were making their way to watch. He let out a long sigh to clear the tightness in his chest and turned to face the girl. It’s already too late to do anything but give the crowd a good show and they shall have it, he thought, but does she have to wear that stupid grin on her face?  She was enjoying all of this, and it was starting to annoy Daeken. He couldn’t understand why she interfered. Why she chose him to do this with. Then he remembered what she said earlier.

 “Tell me, why aren’t you up there? You want to, but something’s keeping you from doing so?”

Ridiculous. It was hilarious to him how wrong she was. All he had ever wanted was to be left alone.

 Grabba stepped onto the platform to take the role of judicator and the noise fell to hushed whispers as he began to speak.

 “This match will be a one round spar to determine enrollment eligibility of Dryn Elward.  The round will last for 3 minutes. Duelists at the ready.”

Daeken’s heart began to pound. This was actually proving to be rather exciting. He took his position and watched his opponent. She began to trace an image on her legs with her pointer finger with what looked like ink. Where the ink was coming from he had no clue. The image itself looked like some kind of runic symbol. He had never seen its like but he had never put much study into runes. She inscribed another symbol on both arms and when she was done the ink shone a bright orange leaving behind what looked like a tattoo instead of wet ink. What kind of magic is that? Everything about this girl, was different. From her attitude, to her magic, she was foreign. No sign of fear or nerves, just a calm happiness that was both irritating and unnerving. Either way, she’ll get what she wanted. I’ll show her what I’ve got. Still, the goblins in his stomach knew nothing of his resolve.

He readied his stance. His left side closest to “the enemy.” He slowly began to draw his right arm back, his hand forming a fist as he twisted his forearm. He had practiced this so many times. As the motion reached it’s zenith, a tiny flicker of light began to appear, then started to grow as the ambient light seemed to be drawn to a point at the front of his fist  and gathered into a ball of liquid light.

 “Begin.” shouted Grabba as he chopped downward with his hand. Daeken was ready and began his assault by punching through that tiny ball of light. All anyone could see after that was a flash as the beam of light he created erupted towards the target. She had been ready as well, for the beam had missed, but Daeken had already prepared another attack with his left arm which he subsequently loosed. The crowd behind Dryn flinched instictively as Daeken’s barrage missed her and roared towards them. The protective shield surrounding the dueling grounds held firm, though, rippling in various shades of blue from the points of impact.

 This one was fast, but he could be faster yet. He increased the speed of his attack. She began to swiftly circle the grounds, appearing as a blur to the crowd, but his attacks were too fast. She was knocked into the air as a beam struck her shoulder.

 It’s over, thought Daeken. His inclination to celebrate turned to surprise as something impossible happened. At least in his mind it was impossible.  As she flew towards the edge of the grounds, she gained control of her momentum and righted herself landing with the grace of a bird alighting a branch. Another foot and she would’ve been out of bounds. The crowd went wild with excitement at the display. She examined the burned shoulder of her dress with acceptance. There was no wound. With a shrug of her shoulders and a bright smile she turned her attention back to Daeken.

 He had no time to process what had just occurred as Dryn rolled to her right, away from the edge and began her advance. Daeken fired another beam and she rolled to the left.  It seemed her every movement brought her closer to him and every attack he made missed by a hair’s breadth. It was then that everything went black for him. At the speed of thought, Daeken reviewed what had just happened. The girl had made a strange movement with her head and then he was blind and his head was soaked. Surely she hadn’t spit on him. Either way, his head was covered with the slick, black liquid. He futilely tried to wipe the liquid from his eyes, but he didn’t notice how close she had gotten till his feet left the floor. The world tumbled and suddenly he was on his back, slammed to the ground. As he tried desperately to regain his bearings, the ink, it was definitely that strange ink she had used on herself, glowed that same bright orange as what once was liquid became solid stone fused to the floor.

 His hands scrambled frantically for a way to extricate his head, but he was firmly attached. He was at a loss for words, at a loss for thoughts. He didn’t know how he got in this situation and he was angry. Angry that all his hard practice in secret had been for nothing. Angry that this annoying little nothing of a girl was taking him apart. Most of all, though, he was angry that he cared about all that. Suddenly he heard a scream of rage and quickly realized that it was coming from him. His fists rose to the sides of the mask and dual light beams crumbled his stone restraint. He was back on his feet in a flash desperate to find his quarry .

He spotted her as she was moving in for the finishing blow. She leapt in the air, again showing that birdlike grace, and prepared to deliver a powerful punch but, she was moving slower than before. He charged his fists and slammed them together catching Dryn in midair with a powerful flash of light that sent her flying backwards. Her body rolled on the ground but she quickly righted herself and slid to a stop on her feet. She had felt that one, Daeken noticed, but instead of anger or fear or even disbelief, he saw that same excited smile as if even this experience provided a source of enjoyment.   

He rushed at her, eager to take advantage of this new opportunity. She stayed low and swept her leg to trip him, but he jumped over it. They quickly spun around and clashed, fists and feet flying in quick succession. He punched, she countered. She kicked and he ducked. Several times she swept low hoping to bring him to the ground, but she was moving so slowly now. Her vigor and speed were decreasing. Even her strength, what were once bruising blows were now those of, well, a young girl. She kicked high and Daeken knew this was it. With both fists charged and a smile on his face, he blasted her in the abdomen as she finished her rotation. She went flying across the arena. The crowd went crazy as Daeken’s grin faded to a look of pure frustration. It wasn’t that he had missed. It wasn’t the glowing symbols that Dryn had painted around him as they fought. It wasn’t even the pain he knew was sure to come. It was the sudden, sneaking suspicion that she had that stinking smile on her face again. At least, he could rest assured that his last shot had been a good one.

 The glow given off by the symbols kept growing brighter and brighter until it released in an explosive tornado of energy that knocked Daeken almost 7 feet off the ground. It had been so quick and violent that Daeken had barely released his pose after his own attack and half the crowd missed it entirely for having focused their attention on the airborne Dryn.

She’s done it, he thought.  He was surprised that she had it in her to take it to this level. He might have even, if pressed, admitted he respected her for it, but that in no way meant he would go easy on her. She was, after all, responsible for all of this. She had chosen him to fight; he would finish it. She had thought she was strong; he would show her power. She had thought she was fast; he would show her what fast really was. He just had to get up.

                   §     •    §    •    §

 What an exhilirating and… painful experience, thought Dryn as she struggled to regain her breath. Daeken’s last attack had struck dead on in her sternum and her stomach. Pain and nausea wracked her body as she crawled to her knees. It had been a risky gambit but she knew it had paid off as soon as she could see Daeken.

He was half conscious on his hands and knees trying to stand up. She couldn’t help but be impressed at how strong an opponent he had proven and she was relishing the chance to put what she had learned to the test. After all, this was the first time she had ever been in a duel. More than that, she was happy to see her new friend doing what he loved to do (no matter how he tried to resist the notion) and to see him doing it well. These thoughts and many more flashed across her mind as she struggled to move and before she knew it she was back on her feet as was her opponent.

She took her ready pose aware that Daeken was not moving at all and a strange smile crept upon his face. He has more, she thought to herself as Daeken’s feet lifted out of his sandals, but she would not see what that something was because the headmaster suddenly appeared out of nowhere and put his hand on Daeken’s shoulder.

“That should do quite nicely. You may exit the dueling ground.”

Dryn made her way over to Daeken as he was leaving the ground. He was grumbling to himself (probably about being interrupted in the middle of their match) as she stopped him. She took a deep bow and said, “Thank you so much for being the kind of friend that would fight me seriously.” He let out a chuckle and walked away shaking his head with a smile on his face. When he got to the steps he turned and gestured for her to exit before him. She looked up with a smile and followed him to the grass where Temperance was waiting.

“Impressive.” said Temperance. “Your magic is most interesting. You will have to teach me.”

“Thank you,” said Dryn. 

“And, you, Daeken. I didn’t know you knew any magic. I was most surprised.”

“Happy to be of service,” Daeken said sarcastically with a mocking bow. And with that, he turned on his heel and sauntered away from the buzzing crowd.

It was about this time that Grabba took the stage. The din of the crowd fell to a sudden quiet.

“Your professors and I have come to a decision. We will accept Dryn Elward’s application for enrollment.” He turned toward Dryn and gave a slight bow. “Welcome to the University of Magical Sciences.”                 

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