The A Ranks

“And the next match up is Zach and Leah.” James announced to the audience. Tom looked over at Nick with a grin of mild amusement, before speaking.

“You rigged our apprentices to fight?” Nick gave a shrug.

“Well they are currently the only two assistants not on rotation. Why not see what they learned against one another?” He comments back with barely a glance over.

“Point taken. So who’s the favorite? I know you have the stats.”

“On this fight? There isn’t one. Leah has a higher magical level currently than Zach, but she isn’t really a combat caster. Most of her spells are indirect or support magic. While Zach on the other hand, has mostly combat based spells, but little focus. So there isn’t really a clear favorite for the match.”

“Then let’s make it interesting!” Tom announces throwing his hat in the air, which then explodes into dozens of butterflies. “I bet you that Zach will win, and if he does the extra work I have from the last bet will be removed.”

“And if you lose?”

“Double it.”

“Deal.”

~#~#~#~

On the stage Leah looked nervously over at Zach. This would be the first time she’s had a chance to practically test what she had been learning from Nick. This wasn’t going to be an easy fight. Word had traveled fast about Zach’s sudden increase in power level. And his level of cockiness had grown with it. He stared back at her glowing with confidence. He cast a spell before the buzzer went off, creating a massive war-hammer. His weapon of choice when fighting.

“Well it’s now or never.” She mutters to herself. She quietly cast spells of her own. A shield to block at least the first blow, copies to confuse, and… The buzzer sounded off before she could finish her defenses. Zach shot forward lightning fast. Before he could make contact, Leah scattered with three other Leahs in all directions. The shock wave was immense. So much so it caught one of them as they ran and it disappeared from the hit.

He turned around to face Her. He maintained a surprisingly serious look. Now covered in spell armor, He looks from one Leah to the next. “You think this can stop me? I’m going to win this fight.”

Leah doesn’t respond to his declaration each one of them remains silent.

“Fine, don’t say anything.” Zach then raised up his hammer with both hands, it glowed as he did so. Then suddenly he had two hammers, one in each hand. He was quick to decide what to do next as he threw them both at different Leahs then charged at the one right in front of him. The smaller hammers easily glided through the air with their lighter more streamlined design. The slightly curved head of each flew end over end before making contact with thin air. With only one target Zach fired a single lightning bolt. It flashed and crackled before flying uselessly through an image of Leah.

“What?” He said dumbly as he slowed to a stop. He felt a light tap on his shoulder. Turning around he saw Nick standing behind him. Nick then punched him. He stumbled a away from the blow. “Hey! That’s cheating I’m only supposed to be fighting Leah.”

He continued to stumble till he ran head long into Mike. “What the…?”

Mike then punched him.

~#~#~#~

“What’s going on? Why is he flailing around like he’s being hit?” Tom asked. He was evidently perturbed by the spectacle.

“It’s because he thinks he’s being hit. Leah’s illusions and copies have gotten more powerful. If he doesn’t catch on soon he could be out cold because he thinks he is.” Nick responded.

~#~#~#~

“Ow! What the hell Tom you too?” Zach stumble away dazed and confused. Why was everyone all of a sudden beating him up in the middle of a match. Wait a second Tom might be crazy, but he wouldn’t interfere. He regained his footing and dodged and swing from Nick. He then threw both hammers into the air. They spun faster and faster, Zach’s hands then crackled with power. One lightning bolt after another shot forth at them. He had stopped counting after a while, until finally the hammers exploded with power raining lightning everywhere he hadn’t been standing. A yelp of pain echoed from his left side.

“Gotcha!” Zach charged at her, the remnants of his twin hammers rained all around him as he did so.

~#~#~#~

“Did you teach him that?” Nick asked mildly impressed at the sudden turn of the fight.

“No, but I wish I had though. I guess Zach has been picking up my flare. In his own brutal clumsy way.”

~#~#~#~

Zach charged firing off more shots of lightning and fire. Then when he was almost to Leah he reformed his hammer. less than five feet away he raised the hammer, prepared for a heavy handed swing.

“Stop, I’m not here.” Suddenly Zach stopped he looked around confused. She was just there a moment ago. “I ran off to the side you can tackle me for a ring out.”

Zach turned Leah was there running to the right side of the arena. He began running after her. Then he caught up quickly, and before she knew it he was tackling her off the stage onto the ground.

“And Leah is the winner!” James announced over the speakers.

“Dammit Nick! I’m going to win a bet eventually today!”

~#~#~#~

From a distance Jace sat there watching the events of the matches unfold. They were impressive, but relatively low leveled compared to himself. It was a curious thing. He wondered why they were doing such a thing, spending so much energy on the whole spectacle. The fiery Chandara sat down next to him wordlessly at first also intrigued.

“You should go down there.” Are the first words out of her mouth.

“And do what?”

“Compete of course.”

“And why would I do that? Our job is to observe. And besides at least some of them evidently know who I am.”

“Come on it’ll be fun, and it won’t be hard. You’re a mind mage after all. Besides look here at the guy with the spiky hair. He likes to do costumes for his magic. I’ve seen him pose as you a couple times. Just go down there, and take his place.” Jace looked at her in disbelief.

“We’re not here to have fun.”

“Fine, then think of it as an up close data gathering mission. You can use it to gauge the level of his opponent. You know that girl who likes to punish people.” Jace didn’t respond immediately. He weighed his options first.

“Okay I’ll do it”

~#~#~#~

Loud Joe ran to the bathroom as fast as he could in his new Jace costume. He had fifteen minutes to do the deed, and rush back to his match.

Minutes later he opened the stall door only to be face to face with a guy with blue hair and robes. His eyes glowed to with power his hand was extended. Next thing he knew Joe was falling asleep sitting on the toilet.

~#~#~#~

With damages repaired the contestants were called to the ring. First Maytee walked out followed shortly by Joe. This one had to be his best costume yet. He looked taller and more muscular. He even wore the hood the correct way. And finally even from the judges booth they could feel the air Jace likely carried about him.

“So it’s Maytee versus Joe huh?”

“Yep that’s all who’s left.”

“Fine, I bet you Joe is gonna win.”

“Uh huh you don’t want to hear the stats first?”

“Nope they’ve failed me so far. I’m gonna just blindly bet. ‘Cuz that is the safest route.”

“Riiight, and the what do you want if you win?”

“Double or nothing again.”

“Deal.”

~#~#~#~

On the stage itself Maytee was bursting with energy. She had her spell armor up helmet in all. She acquired a target lock on Joe, and waited for the buzzer.

It sounded off. Maytee immediately flew into the air and summoned her blasters. Joe snapped his fingers and they disappeared mid-summon. She summoned multiple balls of energy, and Joe fired his own and again her’s died mid-casting. She did her best to dodge the copied attack, but one of the dozen or so landed a solid blow on her jet pack. She flew around wildly, unable to control her flight path anymore. For safety she dispelled the armor and fell to the ground. That had hurt. She stood back up and fired a wave of energy in hopes of pushing him off of the ring. For some reason it passed harmlessly through him. Then the image he had left there had faded away, and he was standing next to her. She tried to fire another wave of energy, but he simply copied and canceled it again.

Maytee went flying off onto the ground outside of the stage for a ring out.

~#~#~#~

“Well that was unexpected.” Nick commented looking back at his note pad.

“Haha! Take that Nick! I win! I’m the best!” Tom immediately began dancing and throwing fireworks into the air. They would explode into a menagerie of colors shaped as Tom dancing.

“Yeah yeah. Stop for a sec and take a look at this.” Nick said as he dragged Tom away.

“What?” Nick pointed at his sheet revealing a variety of data regarding Maytee and Loud Joe. Tom evidently didn’t understand the meaning of it. Nick let out a sigh before explaining.

“Joe should have lost. I had it set up that when people signed-up the paper would also take a reading of the magical talent of each person. According to the data Maytee has twice the magical ability of Joe. Even with his talent for copying a character he shouldn’t have been anywhere near the caliber that we saw.”

“So?”

“So, he either became the most powerful mage on this plane in the matter of a week when he signed this, or that wasn’t him.”

“Huh, then who could it possibly have been?” Tom asked as he watched Joe scurry away as fast as he could.”

“I dunno Jace?” Tom immediately burst out laughing at the thought of that. “I’m serious.”

“Okay then why? There are an impossibly large number of planes in the multiverse. If he did magically find us here why would he interfere with a tournament, posing as a mid-level mage?”

“I didn’t say it was likely. I just said it was a possibility.”

“So what are you going to do about it?” Nick thought about it for a second before responding.

“I’m gonna follow him. Your not scheduled till tomorrow so I have no reason to be here anymore since that is the last of the A rankings. I’ll talk to you later when I find out more.”

“Okay, good luck.” Tom didn’t sound to convinced, but he humored Nick on this one. Nick himself slipped away from the booth before people had a chance to really clog up the walkways.

~#~#~#~

In the crowds Jace moved quickly before people could stop him He had to rush back to that room he had left the real Joe in. He thought that was his name anyway. He rounded another corner before he noticed that he was being followed. Someone was onto him. It must be that construct replacing the territory mage. He seemed suspicious of him when he won the fight. This whole thing was a bad idea. He couldn’t afford to have his cover blown. He walked past the room he was really going to, and rounded a new corner.

When Nick had followed he was gone. Jace didn’t know the specifics, but he knew that the creation didn’t have the real mage’s magical ability. Only a few tricks the keep the illusion of being the real thing, and it had worked. Before he knew it, he had written in the necessary memories into the sleeping mage, given him a fake broken device that “amplified” his magical power, and was back at the observation point with Chandra by sundown. It was fun, but that was far to close for comfort. If they had been discovered who knows what the repercussions would have been.

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