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Battle Royale 1.3

Posted on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 @ 7:59am by Fae of Sky Maus & Zumbe Jericho Stark & Fae of Fire Cat Random & Celestial Angel & Guardian Brann Connolly & Mystic Zachary Craft

Mission: Sinister Whispers...
Location: Stark Academy and Demesne, Academy Arena, Shadow-World
Timeline: November 28, 2011 - 1000 am local

OLD

The Arbiter spread hands in both directions and stated firmly, "The field is set. The Condition..?" it turned it head slightly to indicate the Challenger, Damocles.

"Death-Waiver for defeat," he replied with haughty arrogance.

The Arbiter turned to Summer to see if she was in agreement.

Summer smiled and her face, in a blink, became completely inhuman. Her mouth was entirely too wide to be real, her teeth narrow and needle-like, her lips too red to be real and the blue of her eyes swelled to fill in the whites. With the long pinky-nail of her right hand she made a tiny "x" over her heart, actually cutting through her own skin and drawing a tiny bit of her own black blood and said with a clotted chuckle, "Cross my heart, hope you die."

And then she turned her back on Damocles.

"Holy Phnaebrus," the cloaked figure breathed in amazement, closely echoing a collective gasp that went up even as the Arbiter spoke softly...

"Begin."

NEW

As soon as the Arbiter spoke, Damocles was moving, a two-handed sword-like axe appeared in his hands and cut through the space the Arbiter had been in a split-moment prior (having already disappeared as he spoke the word), his right foot out and leaning forward, brilliant light and shadows cast in sharp relief as his sword slashed Summer and split her from head to toe.

"He's screwed." Cat said softly. She knew Summer was fast enough to avoid the blow so she had to have let it land for a reason. To Cat it looked like the baiting that Summer had done had worked, making him react before completely thinking through what she had done or planned.

"Yeah," Daygon breathed as his eyes fixed on the magnified scene before them.

Impossibly Summer twisted her torso towards Damocles, a black line remaining where his sword had cut through her torso and remained still embedded in her hips. Strangely, there was no blood and Summer seemed entirely unfazed by the blade that projected through her lower abdomen from her sternum to the crux of her crotch. She chuckled, the viewer zooming in on them as if those in the sitting area were mere feet from them and said, "You lose."


Her body exploded into a shower of black rose petals and shimmering raven feathers as Damocles staggered back a half step and swung to his right, twisting the blade horizontally, a back "x" having formed over the heart of his armor and from it leaked brilliant light surrounded by sizzling black ichor.

The swing seemed desperate and wide even as his right shoulder took a blow of such strength it spun him around and warped the air around the impact point. Summer appeared standing on the flat of his blade unharmed, her foot firmly planted on his right shoulder where it had struck and yet she remained standing despite his gyrations.

From their vantage they could see her own small slashed "x" over her heart was glowing softly around the edges even as the mark itself seethed with black.

"Question," Cat said looking at Erris, "did the 'x' transfer to him when he hit her?" It would make sense, Summer cast the spell or curse or whatever it was on herself and gained the protection from it while the moment he hit her the spell transferred, maybe even transferring the damage that he had done to her to him.

"Its a sympathetic curse," Erris replied as he watched the fight intently, Damocles slashing around trying to hit Summer while she moved too quickly for him to perceive, "he had to hit her, or something that was tied to her, for her to pass it on to him. So right now, he and she are linked."

"Was that an illusion she used for that?" Maus asked the cloaked guy over by him.

"Doppel," the cloaked youth replied. "A solid sorcerous clone created from her magic and a tiny bit of her blood. Not technically necromancy, which she's been forbidden to use."

Zach chimed in, "Why?"

"Because the Arbiter set rules to even up the fight at the beginning," Desinora reminded them. "Duels have rules and if they hadn't taken Necromancy off of the table, he'd probably be ash already." She sounded a bit proud of Summer when she said that last part.

Or perhaps fervent that Damocles would be ash. Either way.

Damocles roared and threw his head back and the light in the arena deepened to shadows and twilight as his body glowed brilliantly, casting Summer's shadow on the ground despite her invisibility. He took a step forward as it to dash at her but as he set his blade his entire body slid forward on a stream of light that seemed to pierce her shadow and he passed through that space, slashing the shadow into shreds with his blade!

As he slid to a stop it was as if his face hit something low and for a split-second Summer's body was visible as the impact of her lower leg on Damocles' face, his back bending back as his knees collapsed. Her right leg was parallel to the ground, her left leg perpendicular and her torso at a forty-five degree angle between them to leverage tremendous force.

Right after she became visible a shockwave blasted out in all directions from the point of impact, blowing dust and light debris in concentric outward circle from her and Damocles. For a split-second it seemed as if they moved in slow motion and then time resumed and he flew backwards like a bullet shot from a gun and she disappeared once again to appear as he was flying backwards to get another kick in to enhance his velocity before she disappeared again.

Then she appeared again against the wall he was about to hit and set her pike, a twelve-foot length with a sword-like tip and curved outward blades designed to do extreme damage if it was rammed into (or through) something else.

Damocles tumbled in his course and twisted suddenly, facing Summer's set pike upside down mere yards from it before hitting, bringing his own blade up between them and deflecting himself off of the path of the pike as the blades struck one another. The force of the velocity transformed in the impact slammed into the opposite wall making runes and circles of overlapped spells appear and shake as he flew straight up into the air!

With a mighty thrust of his sword, he flung himself sideways even as Summer appeared and hit him in the mid-section with her bare foot in a leaping kick posture, right foot hitting and left leg held back with knee bent, deflecting him diagonally upwards with a brutal kick and an impact that produced another rippling atmospheric shockwave.

"Assuming the power level is equalized per what I have heard before, is this...gentleman just that slow or is he waiting for something?" Zach asked to no one in particular.

"She's faster than he is," Daygon murmured softly as he watched avidly, "but he's able to take damage to a greater degree. If he fails to take the bait and really lose it, she's going to have to up the game and even without Necro, she's got fearsome powers."

"She's got a higher gear than this?" Maus asked, squeaking just a little on the last word.

"Oh my yes," Oriel commented for the first time, chuckling, amused. "I'm fairly certain she could break the wards on the arena if she got very spirited."

"Be more certain," Jericho commented pointedly to him and turned her red eyes in his direction, choosing to speak for the first time since the combat had begun. "She could crack this arena open like a fragile robin's egg if she were to become angry or determined enough. She won't though," she said as she turned back to the fight, "because that would endanger people she loves and she's just not insane right now."

Cat smirked slightly. She had always known that Summer's bright and bubbly personality hid a fierce warrior. "Cause Summer is just that kick ass." It was easy for anyone who knew Cat to hear the pride in her voice.

"She does and I have every confidence she can beat Domacles," Jericho nodded firm acceptance. "But he has to know that too and waiving death-protection... I'm not sure what he's got planned but he made himself vulnerable to her full might and tied the hands of the Arbiters."

"Could it be a case of 'with my last breath I spit at thee'?" Cat asked cocking her head to look over at Jericho. "He knows he can't out and out beat her so he's hoping to take her with him?"

Jericho didn’t reply but Oriel looked slightly less confident and his twin, Desinora, looked a bit more drawn.

“Oriel,” Daygon spoke to the Celestial, “can you catch how Summer is achieving that thrust? I think it’d be educational for the new students,” he added in a not-quite pleasant tone.

“Lizard,” Maus murmured.

“Viper actually,” the cloaked figure murmured back, leaning over to be quiet. They shared a glance and Maus smirked.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Oriel confirmed and bent his head slightly, concentrating harder as Summer appeared standing about twenty yards away from Damocles, still in her colorful shift and barefoot, without a weapon in her hands. She paused for a heartbeat, just long enough for him to see her and turn towards her, weapon held ready in a two-hands thrust as he stepped forward and blasted her with a shaft of laser-bright golden light!

She blurred even as the light rushed towards her, the scene on the magnifier slowed dramatically and then ran backwards slightly as that part moved to the side, returning to the second before Summer disappeared again.

From their angle they were behind and to the right of Summer, slightly lower than her waist and looking up but able to still see her feet. Ever so slowly she dropped her left arm and straightened her right hand to make a knife-hand posture. In the next six image-ticks, fractions of a second as the playback worked, small circular glowing golden runes appeared and duplicated making a “stack” of runes on the heels of each foot, her elbows, her lower back and several on her face of different designs than the others. The image froze.

"What are those?" Cat said gesturing at the golden runes on Summer.

"Prepped invocations?" Erris looked at Desinora, all but Oriel turning to look at her. Desinora gestured to the image and the image magnified and the cleared, as if imaging software was processing out the image “noise” until the rune-circles were shown in crystal clarity.

"'Speed'," Desinora confirmed. "She's stacking runes and throwing invocations, probably on a rune-cycle."

"I don't understand," Brann spoke up. "Can you explain?"

"It's like the autoloader on an automatic pistol,” Daygon explained. “The stacks of runes are the bullets in the clip and the clips are stored, in a way, like in a loader rack. So when you need to the loader will slot a new clip into the gun for you. Unlike an auto-pistol, she can fire the entire clip all at once, in groups, or one at a time." He gestured to the image, “She’s firing off entire clips of speed enhancement runes, fast enough to break the sound barrier from standing still to maximum speed almost instantly. Her body is under immense stresses when she accelerates that fast and yet, she can stand it. The fact that she’s hitting Damocles with her arms and legs at that speed and damaging him is the best combination of her skill, her speed and the power of her tensile integrity.”

Zach's head leaned slightly to the left and spoke up "That seems risky even if she is the better fighter. Isn't there a way you could get a similar effect but less stress on the body?" Zach asked. His eyes were a glow as he worked hard to memorize every detail of the fight.

"Not practically," Oriel replied. "The tighter the focus, the easier and less energy consumptive it is. So working off of 'speed' or 'toughness' or 'barrier' are cheaper than say 'weather' or 'distance'. Scope and range affect how much of what you can do, when you can do it and how."

"So random question. What did this Damocles dude do to earn Summers wrath." Cat asked with a raised brow.

"I wonder about that too," Brann looked around at Jericho and the advisers. "Why do they want to kill each other?"

"He's been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children," Desinora replied woodenly. Erris' flames grew brighter and his face was grim, the easy sexy playful grin was gone. Daygon didn't look any different but nodded slightly and Oriel looked sad. "Each Academy has its own philosophy about how to train and develop the young immortals they receive as students. Damocles' philosophy at Cross Academy is to take in children prior to their awakening to their Truselves and to pack them with as much training and knowledge as possible and then lock it under a Geas. If they awaken, the skills and knowledge awakens with them and they are instantly ready to go to their battles. If they fail to awaken or do so too late or awaken to less potential than they were trained, they die or go mad. Even those that awaken fully and meet the training are still... off."

Brann darkened angrily, "He's a weapons manufacturer and his weapons are kids. The loss of a few weak pieces in the assembly line is his idea of quality control. He guarantees only the best 'weapons' go into the hands of his buyers." By now his voice trembled and he clenched his fist, "If he saw lives or feelings he wouldn't care. He snuffs out hopes, dreams, ambitions, and choice and for what, profit, prestige?" He looked away from the battle to regain his composure. "I'm so glad to be here where I have a family and teachers I love and admire."

"'Guardian'," Daygon snorted mockingly.

"Congratulations, you can point out the obvious," Brann teased, having calmed down after turning his attention away from the battle.

Cat let out a low growl. "I'm with Summer on this one. Dude needs to die. I have a feeling that there aren't that many of us to begin with so loosing even one of us is a serious issue. Why doesn't someone stop him, take away his academy or something?"

"Rules," Daygon replied simply. "Each Academy has its own Way and each Academy will flourish or perish under its chosen Way. The structure of the rules prevents us from going to war against one another so it all happens through Contests and Duels to prevent collateral damage. A war between Academies would create chaos and kill off far more than Damocles has with his misguided efforts, but all at once, instead of trickling over the last three centuries. In simple numbers, that trickle can be replaced. Depleting thousands all at once would cause us to be dangerously weakened against the next Ur-Season when our forces would be needed."

"Now it makes sense," Brann mused aloud. "The arena is a pressure valve that allows academies to handle conflicts without resorting to war. The war is down there." He looked to Desinora, "We're effectively at war against Damocles Academy and Summer is our army - our champion."

"For now," Jericho growled. "There are some situations and occurrences that are making it very difficult to maintain the Accords."

"The intruders," Brann perked up. "The academy students posing as payers? What academy were they from?"

"Lord Cross'." Cat said with a raised brow. "Summer and Jericho were talking about how they did the same thing to the Oaken Queen last year."

"That explains something," Brann looked to Jericho, "Mistress, I find something about the spies disturbing. They didn't act like spies. They never tried to escape. They acted like..." he lowered his gaze sadly, "They were begging for help."

"And they may have been," Jericho acknowledged. “But Cross has been known to send in children with Facades in place, an overlay persona so tightly integrated they're very difficult to trip up unless you know the original very well or you’re sensitive to that sort of magic.” She looked at Brann, “Ember, as you probably would guess, is extremely sensitive to mind-bending magic. So taking them in would have been like taking in ticking time-bombs you couldn’t tell how long they had left before they exploded and caused mayhem. I had to make the decision to send them back, as is, but I had Summer deliver them back to Cross by herself." She shook her head slightly, "as I understand it they still haven't rebuilt the grand hall yet."

"Children as weapons and bombs?" Brann felt cold, hard fury and a sickness weighing heavily against his heart. He remembered their desperate, plaintive eyes. "Their parents allow this?"

“Brann,” Jericho told him softly, “their parents chose to put them there. They know fully well what they are sending their children to and either they’re disillusioned and desperate for their child to succeed in ways they never did or could or they are as twisted inside as Cross and fully support that method. Either way,” she shook her head slightly, “until Cross Academy is destroyed, there will be no end of this.”

"Count me in on tearing Cross down," Brann swore solemnly, "In any way I can. I want to help."

Cat raised her hand. "Me too."

Zach asked "Despite the cost, is his house's methods effective?"

“They believe so,” Jericho replied a touch sadly. “But the waste of life and potential is too high, to me.”

"Would something like that explain why I am so different than the rest of the residents at," Zach paused for a moment suddenly confused by what he should call where he lived, "the school? Was I turned on early and then trained, then turned off?" Zach noticed his pulsed was racing but was unclear if that was the battle lust he was barely holding in check or something else.

"No," Jericho's expression softened as she responded to Zach, "you've been at my castle since you were in diapers Zach and your parents were Summer's friends. She actually brought you to us directly from your Mother and," she smiled slightly, "your differences are your parents' sameness."

"Oh. So I am like my parents then? Are they here?" asked Zach.

"Your father died but you mother survived and lives in the Shadow World," Jericho explained. "But she's not the woman she was and I'm unsure how she'd react to seeing you as you are now." She paused, "Indications aren't good so far."

Zach nodded. "Strange, my heart seemed to flutter for a moment." He shrugged and turned back to the fight at hand seemingly un-bothered by what Jericho said.

"Ma'am?" Cat said almost hesitantly. "What about the rest of us? Is there any chance that we would meet our parents here?"

"If they're alive and mobile," Jericho nodded, "they may approach you. If not, you'll have to wait a bit before you can go seek them out. Some of them are dangerous to you and you'll need to understand more and be more capable than you are now not only to get to them but to defend yourselves from them, if needed." This last she added with a matter-of-fact yet pensive note, unhappy having to say it but clearly determined not to obfuscate the facts.

"So the Ur, that's the right word right?" Cat said with a small frown.

"Meaning?" Jericho asked.

"So the Ur drove them mad? Or is it just their very nature?" She didn't want to think that there would ever be a time when she turned dangerous to those that she loved, and so wanted to know straight up if it was possible.

"In some cases the Ur did it," Jericho nodded, "in others, the things from the war did it. War between Immortals can have unspeakable horrors in it. Things that can drive one mad, for a time, or for ever." She shuddered slightly, "Every one of your teachers had been Mad at one time or another and have climbed out of that yawning pit, sometimes with help, to redefine themselves."

"Eternity converts the improbable into the inevitable," Brann spoke his favorite quote by Norman Cousins. "I can't imagine any one of us facing this for eternity alone. We need each other."

"So likely we're gonna have times when we're completely round the twist?" Cat questioned after a moment of silence.

"Indeed," Jericho nodded sadly. "But proper training can prevent and limit not only the incidence but the duration of such events. It always seems so odd that for natural Shadowworlders, it's the Mortal world that gives them fits. You have an advantage there."

Brann, picking up on that line, asked, "Mistress Stark, what is the philosophy of your academy? I mean, the one that applies here, not what we've all read on letters the Payers leave on the ground for us to clean up."

"They're different here than back in the Mortal World," Jericho replied. "Your familiar with the world you grew up in. In this world, my Academy is based on the idea that power awakens at the level it is meant to and then can be nurtured and allowed to grow under supervision and using training methods and the understanding of knowledge presented."

"So you take a more natural approach, letting the individual realize their powers and then grow them." Cat said with a curious tilt of her head.

"Indeed," Jericho allowed. "Everyone gets the same training, limits are felt out and understood and then pushed to make sure they're not just due to lack of maturity in one's strength or gifts or its a hard level of power limitation. Once the ceiling of power is reached, the student gets drilled hard on technique foundations and then spends guided and unsupervised self-development time to find their own unique techniques and abilities." She shrugged, "There's a saying that changes, depending on who says it but it goes 'No two Efrit have quite the same flame'."

Cat laughed. "Or the same Passion." She gave Jericho a cheeky grin.

"You're actually mistaken there," Erris pointed out. "All Efrit have the same Passions because our Passions are what make us Efrit. Its the Passions that decide whether you're an Efrit, a Drake, a Jann or any one of the lesser Flames."

"So what exactly are an Efrit's Passion as opposed to a Drake, Jann or any of the lesser Flames?" Cat turned her attention to Erris. "You like to forge and work glass too?" She was slightly confused since her conversation with Hulga she had thought that her Passion was different than other Efrits.

“Creation, Inspiration, Lust, sometimes Love,” he shrugged, “those are the Passions of the Efrit. Our element is Fire, obviously, and my Crafts are Seduction, Gambling and Weaving.”

"Isn't Weaving the odd man out there?" Cat asked cocking her head to the side as she continued to look at the other Efrit. "And what are the Passions of Drakes or Janns? For that matter what are Janns?"

“Not at all,” Erris grinned at her. “I make soft beautiful garments and light armor as well as cloth parts needed for other people’s crafting that they don’t have the skill to make themselves.” He quirked an eyebrow at her and asked mock-arch, “Such as fire-proof inner lining? Anyway, Jann are like us but they’re less powerful, more common versions of the Efrit. They usually have either the same Passions but less powerful, less elemental capabilities or they lack as many Passions as we do.”

"So is there a limit to how many Passions any one can have? Like me. I do Forging and Glassworking, do you think I'll discover more as time goes on?" Cat asked her eyes burning with curiosity. Now that she had some sort of direction to go she could try and start figuring out the right questions to ask to get where she needed to be.

“Those are part of Creation,” Erris grinned. “So there’s probably no limit to how many you could have, except your interest and willingness to learn them.”

"So how do the others manifest?" Cat cocked her head to the side as she continued to question Erris. "How do you find out what your passions are?

Erris held up his right index finger to stop her, "You misunderstand, I believe. 'Passions' are not something you learn, like spells, nor are they skills you can pick up. They are what make you what you are. We are the embodied Passions of Mortals given form and purpose by their Intellectual development of those Passions, their poetic licenses and with a little help from Gaia."


"I think I understand that..." Cat said with a soft frown. "If our Passions determine what we are how do we know what our Passions are? I mean I've never been much for Lust or Love or Inspiration, well that last one not so much in others but loads in myself. So how do we know that I'm an Efrit? That's what I was really asking, how can you tell what Passions any one individual embodies?"

“When someone looks at your Truself its pretty clear,” Erris replied with a grin. “I’m a Half-Infernal, so I have Chaos in my Passions as well. I have horns, which isn’t a trait of the Pureblood Efrit. My other Passions are shown via the fact that I am Inspired and that I Inspire others to the degree that I can harvest Inspiration from them. I am a Lustful creature and I inspire some of the naughtiest thoughts from others and Creation is reflected in my strong drive to create things. Fire-types tend to be extroverts but sometimes, if we’ve been isolated for a long time, we turn inward to feed on our own Inspiration and our own Lust to create.” He gave her a look that his expression asked ‘do you see what I mean?’.

"Like me you mean?" Cat asked in a soft voice. "I'm not very outgoing and so I feed my own Passions through creating things in the forge." She nodded understanding some of what he was saying.

"Not specifically," Erris waved at her gently, "but it does apply, doesn't it."

"And I'm man enough to own it." Cat said with a laugh.

He laughed too and then added, "No, I don't see a man anywhere in you Catherine." He smirked impishly, which for an Efrit with demon-blood was especially appropriate, "Not yet anyway."

Cat blushed brightly and turned her attention back to the ring where Summer was fighting.

Brann watched as Cat asked her student adviser questions and he leaned close to Desinora. He spoke over the din of the crowd, "I hope we can talk soon. I have so many questions"

"I predict that you'll come to hate having said that," she replied with muted jauntiness.

Just then a thunderous shockwave shook the entire arena and their attention snapped back to the events unfolding on the viewer. There was so much debris and dust in the air it was nearly impossible to make out but it appeared that Damocles had actually gotten a slash across Summer's abdomen, which was sealing as they watched, the blood flowing back into the wound and the shift closing behind it.

He didn't look so hot either, a clear size six ladies footprint in his chestplate demarcated where she'd gotten him even as he'd gotten his cut on her, cracks radiated out from it seeping bright white light. Damocles flourished his sword-axe and his head disappeared, replaced covered by a helm that seemed to imitate his features but trapped them in a hateful grimace of fierce rage, baleful white light glowing from the eyes and mouth.

"And things are about to go to shit," Delsinora commented in what seemed like an uncharacteristic use of profanity that her compatriots didn't startle, merely nodding as they watched. A harsh metal tone sounded, like a great bell struck and the note continued as the upheld sword radiated more and more white light. Summer's body shimmered and vanished, the side-window captured runes showing her moving though she didn't seem to reappear. A moment later there was a flash of white light so bright it was as if a star had gone off in the middle of the arena, centered on Damocles!

The viewers immediately darkened to filter the brilliance but there were cries of surprise and fear from the stands in the arena on all sides as a massive stroke of energy hit all the barriers at once, scouring the inside of the vastness and making the inner barriers appear and several layers of them flash and shatter, dissipating ablatively.

The light cleared and Damocles stood on a spot of near-molten stone in a wide circle nearly fifty-feet across, he half-stepped backwards and braced his right leg before he lowered his sword, clearly weakened by that massive effect. The arena floor out from that sizzled and smoked, cracked and damaged everywhere, clouds rose and were dissipated by the arena's effects. Slowly a slender shadow standing to one side resolved itself into Summer, a tiny circle around herself perfectly safe and unaffected by the blast Damocles had brought forth.

She raised one hand into the air over her head as if reaching for something and a tiny creature emerged from her hair to stand on her shoulder. It appeared like a fairy, spun of glass colored and layered to look like wood and leaves, it's wings were shaped like oak leaves and it's tiny eyes glowed like bright emerald stars. Summer spoke, her voice carrying ghostly to all ears in the Arena. "I who am Lady Summer Sapphire, Outcast of the Summer Court, Outcast of the Winter Court, call upon the Eldest Force and invoke my Contract of Summoning, my sacrifice is the defeat of my enemy. I summon the power of the Primordia!" she shouted and a collective gasp went up in the stands and then a moan of surprise as one of the other heads of Academy erupted into a white glow, a pillar of white light shot up from their seat and shot into the sky and then, though not visibly linked, shot down onto Summer.

Summer raised both arms as if embracing the light and within seconds, her body transformed into a gigantic oak tree standing in the exact center of one of those crimson circles she had laid down earlier. The circle lit up with bright red light and swirling curls of light spun out from it, linking to other circles and activated those, spinning out more spirals to interconnect to others until the entire floor of the arena was covered with crimson designs forming a vast symmetrical, circular design on a pitch-black field, which the rest of the stone had turned.

For a second, nothing happened and then Damocles summoned a rush of power and shot forward, bringing his sword-axe down in a vicious vertical slash that split the tree from the split of its branches to its roots. A crimson pulse of energy erupted from the tree and slapped him away as a child may do a rag doll, sending his to crash heavily to the arena floor several dozen yards away.

The oak tree became a crimson and emerald energy, swirling together as it surged upward and took a familiar woman-shaped form. Damocles rose and as he did so she held forth her right hand and a blast of emerald energy show straight at the dented place in his chest plate. Almost immediately he spoke the words no one expected him to ever say.

"I yield."

The blast dissipated before it hit, turning to a blast of green leaves and flower petals, dew and frogs. He staggered back a few steps and fell back on his rump, tripping over his cloak, his armor helm disappearing showing a certain consternation and... pain.

Ignoring him, Summer-empowered turned to the glowing figure in the stands and asked, "Lady, has my sacrifice been accepted?"

The other person clapped their hands and the arena cleared instantly, the light disappeared and Summer fell from the air to land delicately on one toe-tip and then both feet. There was utter silence in the stands as she addressed Damocles. "Your act of cowardice has saved your life for now Usurper of Innocence. You have lost land and succession rights this Season and will follow Lady Jericho once again. How it must grate upon you to have to take orders from us year after year," her voice dripped contempt and she turned on her heel, her back to him.

The stands erupted into cheers on all sides except Cross Academy, who remained stonily silent.

"What, he slinks away to torture and murder more kids?" Brann jumped to his feet with his fists clenched in outrage.

"So if he surrenders the death warrant is null and void? Well certainly takes the risk out of the situation for him." Cat frowned as she looked around them. "Summer would have manned up, just another illustration of his contemptible and cowardly philosophy."

Angel had been very quiet through the whole spectacle, barely blinking as she watched Summer fight. It was awe inspiring and terrifying all at the same time. When she spoke it was in a soft voice that she hoped carried, "If they have to listen to us, does that mean that they can't hurt their kids?"

"Unfortunately not," Jericho replied without looking around, "but for another season more of those children will be contracted here, instead of at Cross, where we can care for and nurture them and protect them from him and his minions. The choice is still the parents of those children, those who suspect their children have the spark and want them to grow up able to fight or to make the world better and safer. But not all of them will be sent here; some will go to Cross anyway because they're twisted up inside. Some will go to the Grotto and some to the Sky-Hall and many will go to the Oak, who make the best healers."

"So it's kind of like the houses in Harry Potter. Are each of the houses known for turning out certain types or just the Oak and Cross?" Cat asked cocking her head to the side curiously.

"'Potter' is sort of an insult around here Catherine," Jericho replied a little bit teasingly, "for mystics and Zach might not like being called that."

"I can't say I blame them," Brann smirked. "I'd feel insulted too if someone compared me to a broom riding pointy-hat."

"I don't see what's insulting about that." Cat stated with confusion. "Then again if people get insulted over something as inane as that well then." She shrugged.

Zach shook his head. Sometimes he wondered about the others but he was not insulted by the word Potter and would let her take it up with someone who would be.

“Once you’ve heard the ‘smokin’ hot’ joke several hundred times,” Erris snorted, “you’ll be over it, trust me.”

Cat just shrugged once again, only people she gave the power to could hurt her with words, and very few of them would use that power to spite or hurt her. Besides the joke might become tiresome but those who said it just wanted some kind of reaction.

"Broom riding pointy hat sounds kind of fun," Angel retorted to Brann, she actually liked the HP books, "then again with these," she ruffled her wings, "the broom wouldn't really work or be needed for that matter," then her voice dropped lower, "that is if I ever learn to use them."

"Be careful what you wish for," Brann flashed a knowing smile her way.

"After archery training," Angel said, rubbing her upper breast, "a few crashes can't be that bad."

"Never say something like that. People might take it as a challenge." Cat looked at Angel and raised a brow.

"Good point," Angel said, eyeing her mentor, "I'll shut up now."

"I think the phrase is too late." Cat chuckled before looking back at Jericho again. "You didn't answer my question ma'am. Do the different Academies turn out different types of us and if so what kind does Stark tend to produce?"

“The Wildwood Grove produces the best Healers yes,” she nodded, “commanded by the Oaken Queen,” she gestured in the direction of the person who had seemingly granted Summer some sort of grand might in the battle, “but they can also be mighty and fierce warrior, in the right circumstances. All that work, those circles and petals and effects you saw Summer using on Cross leading up to her invocation of the Primordia were sacrifices necessary to set the stage just right. Cross understood entirely too late, or perhaps had allowed it to happen to find out how she would get there, to try to stop her in the future.” She shrugged as if the idea didn’t bother her at all. “Stark Academy trains each student to their strengths and strengthens their weaknesses, honing technique to a razor’s edge once the ceiling of raw power is attained. We make sure that our students are grounded in basics and can perform utility magic of whatever type they have access and if they can craft, help them find one that suits them.”

“Then there’s Cross, who favors Guardians, Celestials, Summer Court, Sky and Sea Immortals but will accept ‘lesser species’ if they have the money to pay the tuitions,” she explained with some contempt. “Cross trains for War and tends to ignore anything else but raw power and the ability to kill with it.”

"Guardians..." Brann rubbed his brow. The more he heard the more he felt sick in the heart and sure that Cross Academy had to fall. The more those three pairs of eyes from that day at the Academy haunted him.

"So why is he getting off? He agreed to the Death Wavier." Cat asked wondering why Cross was still breathing.

“Rules,” Erris explained. “He can always yield and that immediately stops him from being slain though, at that level, it’s a coward’s trick and he’s been branded as such. The problem is, he’s more than honorless enough that such a thing wouldn’t bother him and confident in his own standing he has no real problem with being branded unsavory by anyone he considers to be of lesser stature than himself.”

"So everyone is lesser than himself? What is he that he's so bloody great?" Cat asked with a disgusted tone.

"His personal opinions do not make it true dear-heart," Jericho snorted. "In the Defense Rotations, I'm up next year and I believe he thinks I'll be a pushover since all the Champions have been far more capable, in most cases, than their opponents. Odate accidentally killed Cross Academy's Master-at-Arms four years ago and her replacement is nowhere near the same grade of combatant as the former instructor. Rin crippled their Master of Rites so badly five years ago the man hasn't been able to get past the fourth sacrifice and that makes him nowhere near powerful enough to face any champion I might designate. Victor defeated Cross' Necromancer in a direct confrontation, power versus power and who knew the Necromancer was so vulnerable to mind-magic? Last I heard he's still a gibbering idiot. Ras went head to head against Cross Academy's Dark Mystic at their arena and summoned an Ur-Lord, out of season, shaming them and forcing Cross to yield the fight before it got loose." She ticked off her fingers, "Ember was narrowly defeated in a contest against The Grove's Herald of Stone who bears the scars of their fight proudly and tried to date her for a year before she convinced him to give it up. She ran out of strength before his endurance gave way, so he won by default since she ate dirt first. And Hulga was defeated when she went against the Grove and went up against the Oaken Lady," Jericho smiled and shook hear head. "She took Hulga down with strength-sapping spells and paralyzed her, rather than doing spells that would cause permanent damage."

Brann's eyes lit and he joined Desinora's brother, "Oriel, can you turn the magnify the viewer on the kids in the Cross stands?

"Unfortunately not Brann," he replied with a slight frown. "This spells works only to see inside the arena, not into the stands around it."

Just then Summer popped up at the edge of the wall, stepping onto the stone. Jericho stood immediately and clasped her in a hug as the student-advisors clapped, the applause radiating outwards to include the entire Stark Academy audience. Summer smiled, though she was a bit mussed here and there with dust and a little of Cross' blood.

Cat pulled a cloth from her pants pockets and handed it to Summer. "You might want to wipe off the stench of cowardice." She grumbled shooting a hard glare over to where Cross stood still breathing.

“Thank you kitten,” Summer smiled brilliantly and palmed Cat’s head affectionately, shaking it slightly. She had some scratches and bruises here and there but they seemed to be fading, healing up as she stood there with them. She turned to the rest of them, “One day, that could be any of you,” she said, encompassing

"When do we start training?" Cat asked with a raised brow.

She traded a 'I told you so' look with Jericho and smiled broadly, "Very soon, I think. Very soon."


 

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