And number four. Hope you guys are enjoying so far!


Chapter Four: War

Fifteen seconds. The moment the referee's signal blares, all participants are granted fifteen seconds to plan through their course of action, make last minute adjustments to their decks, and pray to Bartleby that should victory not shine upon them, they could at least leave the war grounds with their limbs still attached.

Caring nothing for such ceremony, Karic opted for the former two, his firm gaze shifting between his equipment and opponents. His partner did likewise.

Sean, however, chose the most unlikely route. Starting a conversation. "Do you mind if I ask you a question, Karic?"

The Thaumaturge's face hardened, and his prolonged silence didn't deter the Diviner. "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore…and then run?" Karic and his partner watched Sean take a few practices swings, before shrugging. "Maybe it just sags like a heavy load."

He paused, raising his sword again. Sunlight glanced off its metal, catching his furious eyes just before the referee's whistle blared.

"Or does it explode?"

Everything happened in two seconds. Karic's shadow stretched as a screeching call rattled his eardrums. A searing column of sunlight descended to the left onto his partner, violent photons taking advantage of his lack of protective gear. The column dissipated as soon as it appeared, and kicked up a billowing cloud of dust.

Karic could see three figures as he peered through. One crumpling to the ground, one standing over his body, and one floating above them both. Pockets of dust cleared, inch by inch.

Revealing his downed partner, skin blistered and crimson, pupils rolled back in unconsciousness. Revealing the topmost figure, a Seraphim, floating on heron-like wings. Claymore pointed to the sky in request for the holy light of righteousness.

And between them both, the deadly, streamlined form of Morgan Day, looking towards her next prey.

The moment Karic took a step backwards, the Seraph blinked from existence and Sean burst into motion, his floating pips following his charge.

To Sean's surprise, the Ice prepared for the headlong rush. His glaive flew up from the bottom in a wobbly arc, meeting Sean's bisecting slice in a spray of sparks. The weapons ricocheted off each other, each combatant reeling back for a moment.

Then, both stepped forward again. Karic pressed the attack this time, stabbing out to pierce Sean's chest. The Diviner's sword came back across to knock it away. The Legend followed his sword's momentum into a haphazard spin, then sent several slashes out.

Sean backed up as needed, swiping his blade back and forth to pick off the attacks. He measured his steps carefully, though, and took note of Karic's frequent overextension. If sharpened metal wasn't bearing down on him, Sean may have laughed. A Legendary Wizard, Arena Captain, and such shoddy swordplay to show for it.

He took advantage of Karic's last overhead chop. He thrust his sword up, the claw atop catching the glaive. Then, he worked with gravity to force the sword down, locking the weapon between the claw and the ground. Karic saw Sean's smile for a moment.

Before a blast of myth energy slammed into his helmet and shoulder. The force propelled him into the air; his body rotating to glimpse Morgan's Arcane Staff leveled at his previous position.

He hit the earth with a messy clatter, rolling to a stop. The sound sparked something in the audience, Hunter noticed. Mouths parted in surprise all around him. Jordan's eyes held that all familiar glisten, but he noticed the slim up-curve of her lips first.

Sean and Morgan watched their opponent rise. A slim trail of blood descended his cheek, and his eyes seemed crazed as he pulled out a jagged machete on his holster. Neither liked the number of pulsing pips around him. Or that his flashing Ice symbol produced an iceblade above his head.

The Diviner dashed in as Karic's left hand started a second symbol, while Morgan entrenched her stance. Sean ate up the distance between, and drew his sword back as he reached him. Preparing to bisect Karic's spellsign before it finished.

Instantly, Sean's body froze: arms, legs, torso. His sword's momentum didn't even peter out; one moment it whistled through the air, and the next, its stillness matched the statues of Cyclops Lane. A stun shield unveiled before him.

The Storm Wizard had predicted more blading there. As it was, the Freeze spell did not impede Karic's machete from piercing Sean's forearm and wrenching his transfixed body to the dirt.

Karic planted his sword into the ground to lock Sean's arm. Then, his boot slammed down onto the Diviner's helmet, which dented under the force. Several more kicks found his chainmail-clad stomach. Some in rapid series, others heavy and flavored with malice.

The trail of pips around Morgan seemed to flare with her anger.

Those same pips, silent concentration, and a bursting life emblem birthed a warp in space, out of which charged a hulking creature, autumn leaves dancing on the displaced wind behind him. Earthen grime layered arms thicker than streetlamps and shoulders as wide as she was tall. Broad hooves rocked the earth as they touched down. Hands scarred from a lifetime of battle tested the oak-hewn longbow strung by taut vine.

The Centaur's belittling gaze captured Karic and the new tower shield circling him. His jeer resounded as he twisted his grungy sole into Sean's helmet. "Go ahead and try! That won't kill at all—"

Suddenly, light cast onto the side of his face from below. He whipped his head down to find the prone Diviner. His raised finger tracing a Myth symbol.

Sean's voice filled the quiet left by his consumed pips. "How about now?"

The earth beneath erupted into showers of dirt and rock as fissures pried open, spewing vents of subterranean air and climbing spires of blunt stone. At the epicenter, fierce aftershocks gobbled up Karic's tower shield, and hundreds of shrapnel-like stones leapt from the ground to gun down his blades.

Morgan, with all her distance, could not rise above a knee from the far-reaching clamoring of the ground. Even so, she didn't waste the opening Sean gave her. On her call, the Centaur's forelegs reared up, and the bowstring stretched. She glimpsed a figure tumbling from the earthquake's dust cloud, and seeing a blade through his forearm eliminated all her reservations.

Her second call let the arrow fly; the bowstring's pop making a shockwave that blew her over. The arrowhead screamed through the air so fast that Hunter could not see its path. He heard only a deafening twang, and then the dust cloud scattered in every direction as wood and plant matter did the same.

Morgan's attention flew to Sean, cancelling thoughts of sending a fairy his way. She would need to get rid of the machete first. The Diviner's face contorted as she yanked the blade and tossed it over her shoulder, and she had to sit on his arm to keep it still and curb some of the bleeding.

She started on the fairy again when two roars broke her concentration. The first stemmed from the battered but standing Karic, and preceded the second.

The Frost Giant's head bellowed as the remaining thousands of floating ice shards converged into its lower body. Spiritshadow's banner didn't hold a candle to the real thing. Its wide back obscured an entire section of the stands from Morgan's view, and the crystalline ice of its hammer gleamed as it obscured the sun.

Blizzards fell as that hammer came down. A wave of cryonic energy smashed into Morgan and Sean, eclipsing the ear-splitting screams of the crowd. Hunter had to shield his face to keep the icy wind from stinging his eyes. Seconds later, as the lull in action encroached, he brought them down and peered out.

A massive, spiked cloud of steely ice—an explosion frozen at the height of its expansion—surrounded the two Magus. Or what he believed to be them. The Frost Giant's ice was different from all before, and impossible to see through.

Hunter's eyes shifted to Karic, who seemed to be on his last leg, if his limp accounted for anything. Twigs, dirt, dust, and debris riddled the Legend's once pristine armor. The impudence that dressed his face had long since given way to terror and anger. The stadium was silent as he stood straight, as if in fear of tempting the fury etched into his eyes.

Jordan, however, didn't care. She kept her focus on the frozen explosion, unblinking. Hunter parted his mouth to question her, but the moment he did, a sharp crack severed the quiet.

Tendril-like roots burst from within the ice, thrashing and snaking before locking themselves in the earth. The colossal trunk of an oak tree sprouted from the highest point, crumbling the ice around it and spreading leaved branches in evergreen majesty. Those same leaves shimmered with emerald luminescence and cast it in a large radius while they sang with all the splendor of creation.

As quickly as it climbed, it retracted, smashing the remaining ice before leaving another calm in its wake. Crunching footsteps filled the gap after a few moments, and every eye watched as Sean emerged while carrying Morgan's transfixed body, both bathed in the same green light and encircled by Spirit Armor.

In the stunned silence of their appearance, Morgan cracked a weak smile. "Hmph. Duke Chase is colder than that."

Karic stuttered out the question on the entire stadium's minds. "H-H-How…How!? Rebirth!? That's impossible! There's no way you could have…" Hunter's eyes widened, just as the Thaumaturge came to his realization, and hissed. "Treasure cards."

Sean's grins always seemed to answer his questions, but this one was different. The others mocked him from below, like the lone conniver biding his time to challenge the throne. But never like this.

A hunter gazing down at trapped prey.

"I will not be defeated by Magus scum like you! You will bow your heads and beg for mercy! Do you hear me!?"

His frenzy was like nothing they'd seen before. Sean wondered if he'd pushed too many buttons, as one last golden pip flared into existence around the Thaumaturge. Even in his mindless rage, his ice symbol traced perfectly. When it finished, his every last pip imploded.

It was strange how a single pip cost above the frost giant could craft such an awe-inspiring creature. Time seemed to freeze as the Pegasus descended on wings that made Morgan's ivory robes black in comparison. The shadow cast by the rider's hood resembled like a bottomless hole, and all that was frozen in existence churned in his lantern.

The Frost Giant's presence had made Hunter shiver, but this… His breath was freezing before it climbed his windpipe.

Sean readjusted Morgan's paralyzed body. That rebirth had been a stroke of luck, its spellsign finishing just before the Giant's stun took hold. And that stun didn't seem to be fading as quickly as the Freeze had. He gazed out at the Snow Angel, put off by its power but not undaunted. They both had a fair amount of vitality, a fresh spirit armor, and the attack wasn't even bladed.

And as if to intentionally break his confidence, a white burst of raw, magical energy surrounded Karic at the peak of his rage.

The angel bared its lantern, and a roiling river of arctic wind pushed through the air towards Sean and Morgan. Had it been a normal angel, Sean may have avoided it even while carrying the girl's body with his wounded forearm. But critical spells were a tier of their own, and its doubled speed crashed into them, leaving sonic booms in its wake.

Karic dropped to a knee after the angel finished its onslaught, glancing back at its summoner before fading away in particles on a passing breeze. The Legend watched Sean climb to his feet. The wind had melted off the majority of his armor. Tattered chainmail clung to his skin by freezing blood. Morgan's clothing lost its sleeves and hood, and the looser articles tattered.

Ice began to scale both their legs like a creeping virus.

"Can you find triage?" Sean's eyes softened at her silence. He set her down gently, then arched his sword back to sever his cape, tossing it over her body. "I'll finish it then. Cover me."

She nodded, and began her final life symbols. Sean bounded from atop the ice, breaking into a run. Life symbol after life symbol burned through her remaining pips, and produced multiple fairies that zoomed to catch Sean's speed, granting pulses of rejuvenating light before flying off. The first tick almost knocked Morgan out and caused Sean to stumble after shattering their spirit armors. He quickly threw up his sole Thermic Shield for the next.

Fear claimed Karic's face as Sean sprinted, frosted hookblade leading the rush. The large patches of ice didn't help his stride, and the Diviner was beginning to regret his previous earthquake, if only for the splintered ground he now had to traverse.

He found some use in it, though, as the Thaumaturge watched him dive into a trench to avoid a defensive blizzard. The Legend cursed under his breath, raising his final tower shield. He hadn't packed many, and virtually no healing. He'd never had to against magus before. But there was hope for him yet. The Snow Angel's influence was still active. If he could just hold him off long enough—

A spinning cylinder of wind tore up from within the trench, spewing a large creature that skid to a halt. It didn't waste a second. Scaled, purple arms reached for the sky, gathering surging electricity into a spear of lightning. The Kraken's solid white eyes found Karic, and let the bolt fly with a roar.

Karic's tower kept the blast from blowing him away, but the lightning still coaxed an excruciating scream. Still, he held his ground as it surged through his every cell and nerve, and his eyes rolled back in his head. An impulsive sweep of his arms cleared away the excess streamers, and in a haze bordering on unconsciousness, he spun around.

Sean vaulted from the trench, opposite the Kraken. The angel's second tick ate the ice shield, and he knew instinctively that Morgan didn't survive it.

Karic brought his hand up to draw a symbol. Any symbol at all. But he had only a single pip left. Everything in his hand would need more.

Droplets of blood marked Sean's trail. His steps were heavy, and he had no strength, but he would finish this. For Morgan. For the kingdom.

The sword lanced forward.

Karic's bracers came up into a cross block, shielding his eyes.

Then, only silence. Moments into seconds, and seconds beyond. Every last thing in the arena had stopped, no movement, no breath. Karic lowered his guard.

To stare into Sean's blade, halted an inch from his neck. The Diviner's body was frozen mid-step, arms and legs quivering at times in complete exhaustion. How he was still standing at all was anyone's guess, but the Thaumaturge didn't care. That last tick had made it in time. He survived.

He won.

The Legend's maniacal laugh echoed through the stadium, and clenched fists shot into the air in triumph as both tournament officials and referee blew on their whistles. Hunter deflated, though he didn't show it past sinking his head into his hands. Many in the stadium cheered, but a noticeable few remained as quiet as Jordan.

Karic returned from his victorious high to look upon his conquest again. To relish in the anguish on his face before the medics and Tourney Officials came to wrap the match up.

Instead, he followed Sean's outstretched arm to his face. Grinning like a madman.

The Legend grimaced. "Even now, you don't accept your defeat. This is why you are trash."

"Oh, but it's just begun, Karic."

Before the Thaumaturge could respond, one of the officials assisted Morgan to the arena's center. The other, Alex Lifewraith, helped Sean after the medics took over with Karic's partner, if he could even be called that. Alex set to work on dressing the more prominent injuries with fairies, his face displaying everything his position banned him from saying, and Sean and Morgan nodded their thanks.

But when Sean reached a stable state, Alex pulled out a star-capped wand and spoke into it. His voice projected from multiple points across the arena. "Is there anything you'd like to say?"

Hunter found that odd. Officials carried voice amplifiers to make calls, but rarely allowed a dueler to use one. Not against any rules, but strange.

Sean's head rose, and his face was solemn and serious. "My name is Sean Starbright. If all you saw just now was a win and a loss, then what I'm about to say is not for you. This is for those who saw the potential to win. Those that are tired of bowing at their heels every time you enter this arena. And those that will fight to the ends of the spiral to take this arena back."

He forced himself to a stand, glancing around. The other official restrained Karic from assaulting Sean. Sean's eyes fell on Hunter's section, and the pyromancer could swear they were directed right at him. "You saw it yourself. We have the tools, and we have the will. You don't have to fear them anymore. Stand, and take your arena back."

Morgan joined him, using her arcane staff as ballast. At first, no one responded, and the nothingness stretched on for what seemed a minute. But just as Karic opened his mouth, the most unlikely thing happened.

Hunter wasn't sure what propelled him to stand, or why, but he stuck out a waist above the crowd, knees locked in place to prevent him from turning back. Sean seemed to notice him, and Hunter could only imagine his devilish grin.

"And I thought I was going to have to drag you up." Jordan whispered as she mirrored him. Hunter didn't doubt that threat in the least, but he was more concerned with the chain reaction they'd apparently set off.

There weren't many, perhaps not even a dozen out of the four hundred plus. Lucas Legendblade, Elijah Hawktalon, and others too far away to pick out. But they were there, standing undaunted amidst the sea of color around them.

Hunter paid no attention to the legion of stares. He was much too caught up in the moment, his quivering legs hiding under the loose fabric of his pants. Perhaps he was the only terrified one, but only because he knew the trouble that was in store for them.

For that banner was more than just propaganda. The bunny skit was more than harmless fun on Karic's behalf. The match was more than victory or defeat. And this was more than a defiant demonstration.

This was a declaration of war.