“Yaaaaaak-ov!” Viktor whined, draping himself dramatically over a pair of stadium seats. “Why do I have to sit here?”
“But I just got back from assignment! I haven’t been here in Boulder for months. I want to sit with my friends! Have mercy on me!”
Yakov smacked the back of his head. “Shut up, pay attention, and quit acting like a child. If I let you run off now you would be gone before the final event.”
“So?” Viktor said dismissively, scratching his nose with a long, perfectly manicured finger.
“So, there’s a Dark Seeker entering their final year of training and his mentors have just approved him for field work.”
Viktor sat up a little straighter. “Really?” He’d heard rumors, mostly from Chris, about a younger student who had come in a few years ago as a Dark Seeker. Viktor had already started field assignments on top of all his studies at the time, so he’d been too busy to really take note. “Are they any good?”
Yakov scowled at him as if to say ‘Do you think I’d be here if they weren’t?’
“Who’s been training them?” Viktor had really wanted a partner for years, to fully achieve his true potential as a Light Guardian; but there just weren’t very many Dark Seekers, and those he’d met had been thoroughly uninspiring.
“Minako and Celestino.”
Viktor cocked an eyebrow at that. “Neither of them are Dark Seekers.”
“No, they are not. From what Celestino has said, the boy had enough raw talent not to need specific training in his own Magics, just some general instruction to help him utilize it to its fullest potential.”
Viktor hummed appreciatively. While Yakov had trained him personally since the day he began at the Academy, he’d also had lessons with Lilia over the years as he tried to access some of the more elusive aspects of Light Guadian magic that not even Yakov had been able to crack. He still hadn’t figured it out, but Lilia theorized he just lacked the proper motivation. Whatever that meant.
Yakov hadn’t been any more help, simply telling him there were ways for him to improve, but he wasn’t ready for them yet.
Him, Viktor Nikiforov, not ready for more advanced magic? He really didn’t see how.
The stadium erupted in cheers as the current event ended, signaling the start of the finale – the advance magic battles.
There were all sorts of contests to be won at the tournament, from duels to obstacle courses, all catered so that every student would have a chance to compete and win. Viktor had won every category at least once, including the obstacle course in his first year. He smiled at the memory, summing Makka to his side so she could watch this battle with him. “Remember when we did this Makka?”
His familiar woofed excitedly as the eight contenders made their way into the stadium, which magically quartered each of them off into their own area.
There were a couple of boys, shirtless, with tattoos swirling over their arms and shoulders, only just beginning to trail onto their chests; and an equal number of girls, with backs laced with patterns or legs swirled with intricate spells. They were an impressive collective, their tattoos clearly signaling their advanced skill, and yet, to someone like Viktor, their bare patches of skin showed just how much further they had yet to go. Viktor’s own chest was mostly covered now, but his back still had just a few small designs, leaving space for future growth, space that would likely be taken up once he had a partner.
He smiled to himself as he rubbed his hands over his arms, the faint hum of magic tingling in his palms as he traced the full sleeves of spells he’d artfully placed there over the years. Makka, sensing his touch on her own tattoo turned towards him, snuffling his hand in a clear invitation for scratches. Viktor found himself chuckling at the way her tongue lolled out of her mouth at the affection before he returned his attention to the arena below where the contest would soon begin.
The challenge of the final event was simple — survive an onslaught of attacks longer than your opponents could. The longer the contest went on, and the more participants dropped out, the larger your battlefield became, and the more attackers you had to manage. It was a complicated fight that would often pull your attention in a thousand different directions. It required keen awareness and reactions, as well as coordination with your summons or familiars if you had them.
Viktor for his part had been lucky, really. It had been down to himself and a Necromancer named Georgi. Viktor’s stamina was at its very end when Georgi had made a miscalculation and missed blocking a rather nasty spell that had knocked him out cold.
Georgi was currently partnered with a Spirit Mage, both professionally and personally, and was apparently quite happy, though Viktor couldn’t see how. Georgi was a good wizard, but a bit much from time to time.
Many professors had recommended they partner up since Necromancers were similar to Dark Seekers and were often paired with Light Guardians in a pinch. Dark Seekers were paired with Spirit Mages when the opposite was true. It was only Viktor’s stubbornness that had prevented Yakov from forcing the issue. That, and Lilia’s insistence that they wait which probably had more to do with it.
There was a shrill whistle as the competition began, and Viktor instantly spotted the Dark Seeker. He was a rather adorable Japanese boy with large, blue-framed glasses, which he quickly pocketed as the attacks began.
The contestants weren't allowed to so much as summon a familiar before the battle began, so the first few minutes were always tense for fighters like Dark Seekers who didn’t have many defensive tools until they’d fully ignited their powers. Only this one seemed to be an exception.
His right arm ignited with purple flames mixing with the blue glow of his tattoos as he tossed his dark fire at the attacking magicians, keeping them from getting a good attack off. Meanwhile, his left arm was also aglow, busy summoning his familiar to his side.
Makka gave a cheerful bark seconds before the tiniest poodle Viktor had ever seen hopped out of the nether, a large chain clamped in his teeth as he darted off towards the attackers, intent on hindering them while his master fully engaged his dark powers.
“Oh my god, he’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!” Viktor squealed.
“Focus, Vitya!” Yakov growled.
“I am! What’s his name? Look at how cute he is with his chains!”
“There is something very wrong with you,” Yakov said with a scowl, but Viktor couldn’t care less as he studied the Seeker below him. The boy had covered his eyes with dark energy, both hands dug into the ground as giant spectral claws burst from the earth across the field from the Seeker, blocking attacks, or launching their own, working in perfect tandem with the tiny familiar who was making things very difficult on the attackers. His strategy was clear – attack hard and fast so that the mages against him couldn’t concentrate their attacks on him. And it was working.
He wasn’t even looking up, Viktor realized in awe. He had worked with a few other Dark Seekers in his time, and never had he seen one with such keen sight . And this wasn’t even against demons! How much better would he be in a real battle?
“Why have I never seen him before?” Viktor asked.
“He didn’t enter the contests his first two years, and he’s been getting mostly private tutelage from his mentors. They’ve had some issues with the standard methods with him.”
“He either completely panics or he destroys every demonic being in the room within seconds. His power is unprecedented, but his head gets in the way sometimes. His tutors have been working with him on the nerves.”
“It seems to be working,” Viktor commented as he watched the Seeker’s giant hand swat away a fireball like it was no more than a fly. The boy didn’t even look like he was breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, competitors in the other arenas were already starting to fall. In fact, they were already down to five. When two more dropped there would be a break so the remaining three could catch their breath before the final showdown. Viktor had a feeling it would be between the fast-moving Earth Mage and the Nature Witch user who seemed to have excellent control of her vines.
“His name is Yuuri Katsuki.”
Viktor’s head snapped up. “Katsuki? As in Mari Katsuki?”
Yakov nodded. “He’s her brother. It seems talent runs in that family.”
“In abundance,” Viktor breathed. Mari had been three years ahead of him and was a legend at the school, both for the several near misses she had when her magic got away from her, and for her overwhelmingly strong performances in the tournaments. The only reason Viktor won the obstacle course was that Mari hadn’t done it in favor of saving her energy for the final competition, much as Viktor had done in his final year.
“Yuuri has competed in every event today,” Yakov added.
“What?!” Viktor said in surprise. “But some of them are completely impossible for a Dark Seeker!”
A hint of a smile quirked at Yakov’s lips. “I think that was Minako’s strategy for calming him down for this event. It’s the one everyone looks to. He’s a little tired so he’s had time to work out the nervous energy, and he’s already come dead last in a few competitions he stood no chance in, so really, what’s left to do but succeed?”
Viktor’s mouth fell open at the strange logic which would fail with anyone else but was somehow working amazingly well for this young Seeker. He couldn’t take his eyes off him; the way his magic moved…
There was a small bang as someone clattered into the seat beside him with a huff. “Good, I didn’t miss it.”
Viktor looked up, eyes widening in surprise. “Mari Katsuki! What are you doing here?”
The Earth Mage grinned, her fingers cracking as she stretched out beside him, kicking up her feet and earning a silent glare from Yakov. “Had to catch my little brother in action but some renegade magician was trying to blow over a whole town and ruin my plans. I swear, I’ve got sand in places I didn’t know I had.”
Viktor sat stunned, barely able to speak as he watched Mari lean forward and gaze down at the arena below. It wasn’t often he was impressed by someone, but Mari Katsuki was a legend . You didn’t nearly destroy the academy in a fit of rage and not gain a bit of notoriety. She’d earned her nickname – The Boulder of Boulder – for a reason. You’d be mad not to be just a little scared of her. “I meant, what are you doing here ; sitting by me ?”
Mari blinked at him, a smile slowly stretching over her lips. “Never you took you for an idiot, Nikiforov. Isn’t it obvious? You’re the best Light Guardian in the world right now and my little brother is, well he’s not ranked yet, but in my completely biased-yet-justified opinion, he’s by far the strongest Dark Seeker in about three decades. Not that he believes that.
“I knew you’d spot him today and run over to flash that magazine-cover-smile at him and beg him to partner with you. And he’d say yes. Call me over protective but I wanted to get a feel for you first; I wanted to know I could trust you with my baby brother.”
Viktor’s mouth fell open. She was so blunt (and scary), but still...Yuuri would work with him? He knew he was a charming sort, and rather well known in the magical community, but still... Yuuri was clearly gifted; the way he wove his spells together, it was a whole other level, one Viktor could never hope to attain.
“Focus, Nikiforov,” Mari muttered, “you won’t want to miss this.”
Viktor blinked and quickly turned back to the arena just in time to see Yuuri’s giant hands grappling with a stone golem, while his familiar launched himself away from a small hoard of skeletons, a large, dark hole appearing in his wake, swallowing up the skeletons before they could reach his master.
The familiar landed on the Seeker’s shoulders, giving Yuuri a cheerful lick to his temple before darting off again, returning to his work of thoroughly vexing the teachers and magicians who were trying their best to take the pair out.
Dark Seekers’ weakness was their lack of defense. Generally, if you swarmed them with enough enemies, something would slip through their offensive tools and they’d be left vulnerable. This is why they were such a natural fit for a partnership with the Light Guardians who could protect others and negate the attacks of demons. Together, they were an almost unstoppable force against the vilest forces of magic.
“Wow,” Viktor whispered as he took in the sight below, forgetting who he was sitting beside for a moment.
“They’re a true team,” Mari agreed softly. “Of course Yuuri totally spoils Vicchan so it’s not surprising that they have such a close bond, but it’s cute nonetheless.”
Makka gave a small, slightly affronted woof at the very idea of anyone not spoiling their familiar, making Viktor chuckle and stroke the poodle’s head.
The whistle blew as the fifth competitor fell, leaving the three Viktor had predicted would get to the end.
The Earth Mage and Nature Witch both sank down to the ground, panting a bit, happily accepting some water. Yuuri, on the other hand, simply withdrew his hands and kneeled down to play with his familiar.
Mari clicked her tongue. “And here I thought I might have to worry about some upstart challenging me. That little shit is all flash and no substance; hardly worth the name Earth Mage.” Viktor raised his eyebrow at her, earning him a chuckle. “Don’t give me that look; I have a reputation to uphold here. If that kid had a chance in hell of winning this thing over my brother I’d have to duel him.”
“Aren’t those illegal?” Viktor said with a little smirk.
Mari winked at him and turned back to the arena where Yuuri sat in an almost peaceful state. “Technically, but Yuuri and I have been battling since we were kids. He’s not invincible, far from it, but stuff like this is right up his ally. He’s used to being the underdog. To being so outmatched he has no chance of winning. But he keeps trying, and that’s what makes him amazing.”
She turned slowly, fully facing Viktor. “You will be his partner, won’t you?”
Viktor didn’t even need to consider it. “If he’ll have me. I’ve thought for years I’d have to settle for a decent Seeker, but I have a feeling he’ll be the one settling if he chooses me.”
Mari nodded smugly. “Glad you understand. I won’t have him paired with someone who doesn’t see his value and isn’t just as committed to the partnership as he is.”
A movement caught Viktor’s eye and he turned back towards the arena to see Yuuri slowly roll up the cuff of his right pant leg. What was he doing? Seekers didn’t move around much so there was no reason for them to worry about tripping hazards, and really the only reason to reveal more skin was if you literally had something up your sleeve…
“Or ankle,” he muttered, and Yakov, who’d been ignoring him for some time, looked at him strangely, while Mari just grinned, leaning forward once more as the whistle blew, warning the competitors to ready themselves. It was hard to see at such a distance, but Viktor was sure he could just make out a small line of a tattoo swooping across the Dark Seeker’s shin.
They were allowed to keep any spells or summons they wished active during the break, and the Seeker took advantage of this, clouding his eyes and hands over with his magic once more, while his familiar picked up its dark chains, ready to get back to work.
There was one small difference now though. Before the Seeker had been sitting on his knees with his hands pressed into the ground. Now, however, he was kneeling, one foot pressed to the ground in front of the other knee.
It was his right foot.
“Oh, he’s getting serious now,” Mari muttered with a smirk as the whistle blew once more and a positive flurry of attacks rained down on the three competitors.
The Nature Witch looked to be overwhelmed almost instantly. She was particularly weak to fire attacks and it seemed the teachers had rearranged themselves to truly test each of the three finalists. With her vines burning away, the Witch was barely fending off the attacks.
The Earth Mage seemed to be dealing with slowing attacks and water, while Yuuri was being pelted with with every summoning type of enemy you could imagine, swarming him from all sides.
Viktor felt his nails bite into his palm as he watched the mighty hands swat enemies back, one after another, the mob growing closer and closer.
A scream filled the air as the Nature Witch fell, and suddenly there were two, the arena instantly changing, leaving the two teenagers still standing to face more than a dozen fully-fledged wizards each.
Suddenly a wind seemed to ripple and Viktor felt every hair on the back of his neck stand on end as Yuuri looked up. His eyes were pitch black and his arms glowed violently as all of his tattoos flared ever stronger to life, as if his magic was only now activating. A small shockwave emanated out from the boy and his ankle suddenly glowed dark blue.
A shadow passed over the arena and a gust of power burst up from the Seeker, sending his hair flying as giant spectral wings sprouted from his back, reaching up, high into the sky...where a dragon had spawned.
“Psh, it’s a wyvern.” Mari corrected, and Viktor wasn’t sure if he’d said it out loud or it had been someone else.
The wyvern screamed, and then with a shout from Yuuri it took off, burning the ground all around him with its dark magic, decimating everything in its path. There were gasps and even some screams as the crowd watched in amazement as the Dark Seeker flared to life, his dark aura swirling like some sort of god of war, ready to destroy any who might face him.
“Hey Viktor,” Mari said suddenly in a whisper so serious that it was the only thing that could have torn Viktor’s eyes away from the battle below. “It’s going to be your job to protect him, so you should know — my brother’s a self-sacrificing idiot. I know he looks powerful, but he's not invincible.” She paused, staring down at her brother below. “Don’t ever give him reason to roll up his other pant leg.”
Viktor swallowed as the tension of the moment swirled around them. “What’s on his left ankle?” he whispered.
Mari’s face grew dark as she turned back just in time to see a particularly vicious attack knock the Earth Mage out, the whistle blowing, and the crowd exploding in cheers as Yuuri’s magic faded away, leaving behind only a small, rather shy boy who was waving awkwardly toward the crowd. Mari nodded with something like pride, even as her voice spoke of something far more grave...