Images and sounds flashed in Estella’s mind as she sifted through her memory.
The Resonance was a powerful ability, she was certain now. Her bond with Nox allowed her to view her memories with vivid alacrity, as if she was experiencing them all over again.
Nox’s presence loomed at the edge of her consciousness, silent but alert. Their minds had touched so many times before, but this was the first time that she would allow him to see her memories.
She wasn’t apprehensive, even though she should have been at the intrusion to her privacy. The Resonance was a link, a connection between two individuals. Fear, embarrassment, even shame—those thoughts would only decay the chain binding them.
If Nox had any comment about some of Estella’s actions in the past, he didn’t say it. Nevertheless, Estella focused on the particularly memory of her duel against Karsos, pushing aside all other thoughts until she found it.
The sun shone brightly that day, and the sky was clear of the previous night’s rain. The northern training grounds were packed with students who wished to witness the fight.
Karsos had demanded a date two days ago, but Estella had refused—she didn’t like his arrogance and forwardness, not to mention his track record of discarding lovers like mere toys. And now here she was facing him in a duel.
The overseer recited the rules. Both of them bowed to each other, then the battle began.
Estella charged first, Astra already coated in flames. She wanted to end it as soon as possible before Karsos could learn her movements, if he hadn’t already from her previous duels.
Her first stroke would have intimated other Wielders. Karsos merely smiled and summoned his Animarta, a majestic bird of red, green, and white, shrieking as it transformed into a pair of short swords.
He blocked it, his short swords crackling with lightning, and delivered a flurry of counter blows, too fast to see. Estella deflected them all, Astra tracing a complex pattern of crimson in the air.
She disengaged briefly, bursting to the right in an attempt to catch Karsos at the back. But he was faster, and he turned every way she went, never exposing his back.
Estella abandoned her plan then. She skidded to a stop, raised her free hand, and shouted as she closed her eyes, “Ignite!”
There was a flash. Karsos growled. Estella opened her eyes and saw him shielding his head with both arms.
Estella lunged. A gale swept around Karsos, a wall of condensed air that prevented Estella from charging through. With a smirk she leapt, sailing overhead. She had already anticipated this from Karsos.
As she reached the peak of her jump, intending to bypass the wind barrier, Karsos looked up with a grin. His short swords merged together, forming an elegant bow of emerald that he swept above, drawing the invisible bowstrings. A wind arrow formed along its length, aimed toward her.
Estella swore and swung, deflecting the elemental projectile. She landed outside the wind barrier. Thrusting her hand forward, she shouted, “Burst!”
A barrage of fireballs erupted from her palm, speeding toward Karsos’s wind barrier. Three feet away, they darted upward, soaring high in the sky. Karsos looked up in mild surprise.
Estella charged just as the fireballs shrieked downward like fiery meteors. She leapt once more, timing her jump so that the fireballs passed her first, before bursting toward Karsos’s position.
The wind barrier vanished. Karsos leapt away as the fireballs struck the ground in a cluster of explosions. From the smoke, Estella surged in a straight line.
Karsos was ready for her. His twin swords hissing with lightning, he met Estella’s first stroke, carving the air fiercely. Soon their Animartas were dancing, filling the training ground with the sound of their intense duel.
Her opponent was fast, Estella wouldn’t deny. Fast, and vicious. No matter what she did, she couldn’t land a hit. And all the while, Karsos had that smirk on his face.
He had the advantage of a versatile Animarta. She was stronger, Estella knew, but Karsos’s fighting style perfectly countered hers, she who relied on her agility and only used one weapon. Neither did she had the advantage in elements, for Karsos was also a Fire Wielder.
She switched to feints. Karsos evaded them all, then retreated a few yards. He held his bow once more, and Estella repelled every shot he sent her way. The ceaseless barrage pinned her on one spot; she couldn’t advance.
In an attempt to get away, Estella shot a cluster of fireballs by her feet and in front of Karsos. The resulting smoke created a thick veil, obscuring her from sight but shielding her view of Karsos as well. She dashed to the right, hoping that her ruse would work.
Karsos’s senses were sharp, and Estella was certain that he was tracking her now by sound, if not by sight. Still, the wall of smoke was thick enough to conceal her exact location.
She ran for some minutes, then burst toward the center. As she emerged, Estella smirked as she saw Karsos’s back facing her, three yards away. Momentum carried her forward. She could already feel her victory within reach.
Her right foot struck the ground, and a symbol flared beneath her. Estella looked down just as an agonizing pain surged through her body. She screamed, dropping to the floor as lightning writhed around her.
“Tut, tut. I expected more from you, Ella.” Still thrashing in agony, Estella could only watch as Karsos approached with a triumphant sneer. “Now, then, why don’t you yield?”
Despite the pain coursing through her veins—like her blood was fire—and despite the numbness gripping her muscles, Estella growled.
With all her strength she uttered, “Supernova.”
And the world went orange.
Estella opened her eyes, almost at the same time as Nox did, and their gazes locked. He stared at her intensely, a sea of emotions swirling in those dark eyes of his. Nearby, Aldros and Erian watched them with interest.
Finally, she smiled faintly. “Now you know how I was defeated.”
“You said it was a draw.”
“It was.” Estella let go of his hand and stared in the far distance. “Karsos tried to defend himself, but my Supernova was stronger. In the end, we both collapsed from exhaustion.” She sighed. “It’s a loss for me, Nox. In a real battle, that would lead to my death.”
“Because a Wielder who couldn’t remain standing after using their most powerful spell would become vulnerable,” Nox said. “That means I have to overwhelm his defenses without spending all of my magic.”
“Which might not be possible.” Estella looked at him, but his gaze was elsewhere, his expression contemplative. “At your current skill level, you wouldn’t last longer than five minutes if you use brute force. You’ll need to trick Karsos into lowering his guard.”
Her squire nodded. Estella couldn’t sense his thoughts through the Resonance, but his reassuring smile as he lifted his head to meet her gaze again somehow swept away some of her worries.
“I’ll think of something,” he promised.
As always, thank you for reading!