Prompt: A magic school where every year there is a battle. Those who win learn a new spell and those who lose have to leave the school. The main character only ever gets one spell (not a very good one).
The waterfall muffled any scream that might’ve escaped the natural arena. It was the least-used part of the school, only once a year during final testing, yet it always drew the largest crowd. People who’d never expressed an interest in education before showed up with snacks and noisemakers to see the graduation contest.
You could hardly blame them; it wasn’t every day that you go to witness a handful of young people beating the tar out of each other with magic. It was a free show too, since the arena was beneath a natural cliff outside the school’s boundaries. The waterfall drew the crowd’s ire, as its sounds and mist obscured nearly everything from the highest vantage points.
Krissender was favored to win, according to the man taking bets far above her. She wore red cloth armor, but her back was fully exposed. Magic had to be summoned from the spine, so clothing only got in the way. She was in her third year at the school and had placed in the top half of the contest every year. She wouldn’t still be there if she’d been in the bottom half a single time. Those students had to take whatever chaza bulbs they had earned and go back to their homelands.
Krissender obscured herself in the waterfall’s mist. It was down to the final five contestants in this year’s class of eight. The next loser would be the last. The student that placed first would earn a new chaza bulb and have it implanted by the school’s headmaster, ensuring positive energy and blood flow. The others of the top half earned a bulb as well, but a less prestigious implantation.
She knew she wouldn’t be the top of the class. She was decent with her two spells, but Anadole had four. One more and he was qualified for their ultimate goal: magical harmony. Five spells implanted in five vertebra aligned the soul with the energies of the universe. You could leave the tundra. You could leave the whole world. Your parents could cry in bliss and wait for the blessings you would undoubtedly rain on them as a student of the gods.
In her first year at the Deity Academy, after her struggles with the enlightenment and meditation classes, she earned the spell Dagger Ice. She took a deep breath under the waterfall and flushed the glass bulb on her lower back with energy. It glowed blue, the light shining through its snowflake insignia. With it she could toss an icy shuriken and perhaps shatter a competitor’s bulb, destroying one of their spells.
Her second achievement, buried in a red bulb emblazoned with flickering fangs, was Devil’s Breath. She would need to be closer to use that one, but she took a second deep breath and charged in anyway. She was ready to fight after strategically hiding in the water during the first half. Anadole would eventually get his shot at her, but she had a strategy. That strategy’s name was Stiff Gard, and she spotted him resting on the edge of the waterfall, feet in the water. She crept closer, behind the snow-covered bushes.
Good old Stiff Gard. Always the best on the scholarly side of things. He could meditate the longest, see the furthest in the realm they hoped to achieve. She overhead him say that his vision penetrated so far that he could see just under the feet of the gods. He claimed to have warned one of them away from a thorn once, so they didn’t step on it. Krissender doubted that; they certainly hadn’t shown him any blessings as a reward.
He was as young as the other students, but with the bent back of a man who spent his life carrying things heavier than himself. He could hardly bend to the left or right. The school physician had classified it as a fused spinal column. It made him the butt of most jokes, and it also made him the easiest prey for Krissender. She was just two bushes away now. She Swirled her fingers in a small circle. Her Dagger Ice bulb glowed and the ice disc formed in her hand. She tested the sharpness on each edge of the snowflake. One curved throw could shatter Gard’s single bulb. He would head home instead of her.
She couldn’t help but hate him. How did he even survive to his fourth year? His deformity gave him an incredible disadvantage. The spine was the river of energy within a person. Magic flowed through it. Soul flowed through it. Blessings too. With it dammed up like that he couldn’t even have one spell per vertebra. The world treated him as if he had only one, so only one spell could be implanted.
Even more laughable, the chaza, the material between soul and magic, had formed one of the weakest spells known inside his bulb. She remembered her reconnaissance, when she had followed Gard around the campus and judged his athletic abilities. He couldn’t even look over his shoulder, so she didn’t need to hide. She also watched for a use of his spell, to see if there was any hidden power to it.
There was none, as far as she could tell. It was a cream-colored chaza bulb with a symbol of stretched arms and contented squinting eyes. It was called, simply, Refreshment. She’d laughed aloud when the others told her about it. They joined her in guffawing, making their explanation last all the longer. The spell Refreshment merely gave one the feeling of having stepped out of a hot shower early in the morning and then immediately consuming a breath mint. That was all. Its targets, even after a direct hit, simply felt refreshed.
Krissender paused directly behind Stiff Gard. Her daggerflake was at the ready. She opened her mouth and let a flame drip from her uvula. Once she shattered the bulb she would leap forward and incapacitate him with a blast of Devil’s Breath. It was so simple; why hadn’t the others thought of it? She snuck out from behind the bush, pulled her arm back, and flung her icy weapon like a stone intended to skip across the pond. A perfect throw. Right towards his chaza bulb.
Stiff Gard fell over. It wasn’t much of a dodge, but it did the trick. With his stiff spine he fell over like a bumped mug. He rolled in the snow and aimed an open hand at her, giving her a good look at his placid brown eyes and empty expression. For a moment she was terrified, his awareness of her approach had given him the edge, but all she got a blast of was refreshment.
“You fool,” she said, standing tall. Her back popped in several places. It felt good, like she’d just done ten minutes of stretches. Like nobody would make her bend into a pretzel and meditate ever again. “All you’ve done is given me a second wind.” She barked fire to let him know the fight wasn’t over.
“My pleasure,” Gard said, still incapable of mustering any emotion. Did his head live in the clouds somewhere? Was his brain off licking the bottoms of the gods’ feet in supplication? “Have a third.” He stretched his fingers again. Gods, it felt good! Krissender involuntarily raised her arms, felt her shoulders pop and sing. The mist from the frigid waterfall felt like steam. There was color in her cheeks. Gard stretched his fingers again. She yawned. What was this? Again. She yawned so wide her eyes closed.
This was why nobody targeted him. He had only one spell, and it was truly terrible, but he had enough chaza energy to fire it endlessly. That was the fortitude of his fused spine. Krissender was forced to absorb a fourth wind, a fifth, a sixth. There comes a point in refreshment where you are simply asleep, adrift in warm light. She collapsed into the snow.
“I know I look ridiculous,” Gard whispered in her ear, “but you look slightly more, sleeping in the snow like that. Enjoy going home. That is my gift to you. I refresh your feelings of family and hearth. Remember me, when your mother makes you a warm bowl of porridge. I’ll keep looking out for you when I’m up there. If you’re ever lost at sea I’ll send you a boat as solid as my back.”
His voice disappeared. When Krissender awoke, she was out of the arena. Her parents were there. Her spirit sank, but she couldn’t stop the warm feeling in her cheeks. It was too refreshing to let her hit depression. Gard might make a fine god indeed. His capriciousness lived in her mind and warmed her cheeks forever after.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by SIXSIXseve_N during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!