The scarecrow, whatever it was, caught two of the ward-breaker spells and sent them back in my direction. My own wards swallowed them and powered up. Someone was fond of pyrotechnics. Lightning spells left behind the smell of sweet metal. Blinding lights and screeching noises tried to tear at my senses. Sorry, the last time that trick worked on me I was four years old, when I could barely cast any spells at all. That time I countered the trick by kicking big brother Heath in the stomach. Hard. I pushed up with my right leg, struggling to rise, casting Dance of the Air to help me get off the ground. Standing, I fell back into pure defensive combat, each finger on my left hand releasing a separate ward. Now I was on my feet. With my right arm, I managed to touch my gnothdiar hilt. The sword leaped into my hand. I pivoted and took two steps back. Every combat master teaches you to charge at the enemy, to create threats. I stepped back to create surprise.
I faced a vaguely manlike creature of shiny metal and glittering lights, surrounded by a haze of warding spells. What was it? A straw-filled scarecrow this was not. I could see its attacks, lightning and fire, striking the ground where I had stood. They weren’t so much powerful as very tightly focused. I sprang to the side well before the creature realized I had moved.
Sharp, I thought, Sharp. I called the most powerful destructive spell I knew, backing it with both hands and gnothdiar, directing it straight against the creature’s core. The air between us trembled and bent. The creature’s wards would not go down. I drew on the Presence, pushed on my void nodes, sending all the power I could into a different attack. My wrists burned where the nodes touched my skin. The creature’s wards would not go down. I interleaved a dozen attack spells with ward breakers. Its shields remained intact.
All this time, its spells were striking me, spells as as sophisticated as mine, backed by more power than I could call. Very rapidly my wards were getting worn down. The rules said I could end combat by backing through the wards. That counted as a loss, but losing still measured my skill. I stepped backwards, once and again, reached the wards around the combat circle, and spoke the password. Nothing happened. I repeated. Nothing happened. How could I possible have forgotten the dismissal phrase? The wards were locked up, refusing to let me pass.
I distantly recalled Grandpa Worrow’s condemnation of full-power dueling: The limit locks are supposed to cut off attack spells in the moment between ‘his wards failed’ and ‘your opponent is now burnt toast’. Limit locks are unreliable. Even if I stopped throwing combat spells, I couldn’t keep this up for long.