A great wave of flame erupted from Narcissa’s snout, directed at the ground. The crowd watched with wide eyes as a metallic mound emerged from the ground, slowly coming from below, creating a hill of gravel and dirt to all sides. Narcissa gazed intently at Cauri until she nodded.
Cauri forced herself to swallow as the mound formed into a portal, the edges blurring as monsters appeared.
Three hydras stood before her. Cauri watched with calm anxiety as they slid slowly from the portal. Each had five heads that leered at her. They were massive creatures, about half as large as Narcissa, with long snake-like heads topped with perverse wolf-like faces, each with fangs as broad as Cauri’s torso. Their plump snake bodies slithered forward on stubby legs, and kept balance by swishing their massive tails. Thick drool dripped from colossal fangs as they slithered towards her.
Cauri closed her eyes, grasping her magic as it thrummed through her, now almost achingly, from the test of pain. She let the magic pour in, taking over the authority that sought her intent, forcing it to follow her will. It shrank from her submissively. She had the authority now. She felt released, somehow, by the constraints imposed by the laws of the guilds. Laws that decreed no witch or wizard should ever possess such magic.
A smile formed on her lips as she watched the hydras slithering closer. Without doubt, Cauri knew that she could vanquish them. Her body thrummed with magic stronger than she had ever felt before.
“Begin!” roared Narcissa.
The closest hydra lunged at her with one of its many heads.
Cauri leapt easily from its path and rolled into a defensive crouch as she watched the other two loom closer. They slid slowly over the rough stadium ground, lumbering with effort on stubby legs, each wolf-like head growling fiercely at the tiny quarry below them.
Cauri’s mind flashed through her studies. She knew that hydras were grandmaster water creatures, and that they could only be defeated with a combination of grandmaster-level spells. She decided that a light spell joined with an earth spell would create the proper electric charge to blow them to bits.
She dodged another toothy strike, rolling to her feet and racing back several paces. With a brutal start, she realized that she would need to cast the same spell that had taken her best friend when she was a child.
Tears flooded her eyes as the memory surged through her with more pain than the test had exacted. Had Narcissa planned this? Had Brogan? Disgust and fear churned in her stomach as she realized they must have designed this for her. To prove she could overcome the spell. To prove she could be a grandmaster of the most complicated aspect of magic – her own intent.
Cauri shook her head, banishing her thoughts with resolve. She wouldn’t let the past interfere. She wouldn’t let Brogan or Narcissa’s will interfere. This was her battle now.
The closest hydra lunged again, its massive fangs almost snagging her uniform.
She yelped in surprise at the size of the teeth that thrashed towards her, each one almost as thick and long as her own torso.
The hydra was too close. If the others were able to gain any ground, they could back her into a corner before she had time to prepare the spell.
Cauri dodged two swiveling heads in a complicated roll to the ground, as she looked frantically to the stands, seeking out Kael. They locked eyes for a moment. Cauri could see the same comprehension shining in his eyes; he knew what this spell meant to her. To all of them.
Cauri prepared the spell on her lips and spun at the hydra, her hands gripping the ground as her legs swung up from her crouch, smashing the creature hard in one of its gaping maws with her boots. She rolled defensively to the side as another head lunged at her. Leaping to her feet and twisting her body in a bounding flip, she dashed away. She had to get some distance. This spell would take longer to cast because she was pulling from both realms of magic. It would also be messy.
She screamed the incantation, holding her hands out before her, as she dropped to another roll on the ground.
A ball of purple, electric energy surged from her open hands, striking all three monsters in a great wave of electric explosions. The hydras paused, looking confused.
The entire arena gasped as one.
Immediately the beasts began to expand, their bodies bulging and throbbing as the purple energy flared around them. They began to bubble. The closest hydra turned from Cauri, intent on getting back to the portal, away from its distress.