William watched more duels. His reaction after watching one set of duels was to mutter, “Does nobody know how to fight? Why is that?” He didn’t expect an answer.
However, the elderly professor Phineas Pierce was nearby. He had helped William a couple times in the past. Although he could tell William didn’t expect an answer, he could also tell William actually cared about the question. “How could most people learn how to fight well without someone to teach them?”
William turned towards professor Pierce. He gestured around to the school in general. “Is this not the greatest academy of wizards in the nation? How is it that none of them learned, or figured it out themselves?”
Professor Pierce smiled slightly. “William, you’re a smart kid, surely you can come up with the reason. Well, perhaps a hint is in order. The last demon king war occurred just before your generation came to be born.”
William pondered that. “Right. The war cost the lives of about a third of the population. So, a third of the good wizards also died, and thus couldn’t teach anybody else. However, that should leave two thirds of them, and I haven’t seen anybody skilled in combat…”
The professor shook his head. “Certainly, a third of the general population perished. However, civilians contributed very little to the war effort. Those that became knights and such were valuable, but that was a very small part. The demon king is not a threat that the nations take lightly. Sending anything less than the entirety of those capable of combat would have been foolish. Then, instead of a third of those dying… Eleven parts out of twelve of the best wizards, knights, and martial warriors were killed. Thus, those that are left were the lucky survivors, or those who were almost useless in combat. I’m part of the second group, in case you are wondering.”
William’s jaw dropped, and he just sat there in stunned silence for a time. Then he sighed. So that was how it was. He looked around the arena, and realized it looked very empty. Even if all the students and teachers attended, it wouldn’t be close to full. Though there were many students, they were mostly young. In contrast, most of the teachers were very old. The exception were those devoted solely to research and the non-combative parts of magic, and they were only somewhat younger on average.
“As you can now see, we are in quite a sad state. Most of the promising young wizards of the previous generation participated in the war effort. The majority of those who managed to survive couldn’t handle the experience, and have quit studying magic. At least, they no longer are at the academy.” A somewhat more real smile crept onto his face. “The good news is that there are several promising students in the next young generation.”
William nodded. “Especially Lila.” There were a couple other kids he could think of, but nobody else was close. Well, William had seen another duel by Marius, and he’d improved significantly in only a short time.
Phineas Pierce just laughed to himself. Sometimes, William acted more like an old man than himself. He knew that William understood he was exceptional, but somehow he felt that William sometimes forgot to consider himself as a child. Thus, he subconsciously excluded himself from that group.
Over the next several years, William got used to his life as a student wizard, though one that couldn’t use magic. He felt that he could likely have advanced through the classes more quickly than he did, but he didn’t want to miss any information. It was not like he was short on time to learn. He was quite happy to live his new life normally. Well, as normally as a wizard could live. A wizard that couldn’t do magic.
He’d gotten used to being unable to do magic, but he thought it would likely become the biggest problem in the near future. Soon, he would start participating in duels. He didn’t have to, of course. After all, wizards weren’t just about fireballs. They were also about conveniences, such as everburning lanterns, as well as many other things. Including studying magic that as of yet had no practical use. William equated that to some higher level mathematics, though of course he couldn’t be sure, since he hadn’t studied any of such magics yet. After all, there was only so much time to learn.
However, though he didn’t have to participate in duels, William wanted to. Part of that was that he was now twelve years old, and basically a teenager. He thought that might make him want to get into fights more. He was also interested to see how he’d do. Maybe if he actually did well, people would learn from what he knew, and become less terrible at combat. William knew Marius would definitely learn from him… but only if he did well. Right now, Marius was at the top of the pack, even against those who were older than himself. William would like to say that it was all due to his advice, but Marius always applied everything the “mysterious teacher” told him better than William expected. To be honest, Marius wasn’t even close to being the best at casting spells. Whether it was casting speed, use of energy, or power, he wasn’t at the top. However, he was good enough at everything to come out ahead. Some others started imitating his style of moving around the arena during duels, but none of them understood the precise timing he was putting to use. Instead, people generally ended up circling around, which only made them slightly harder to hit with spells, since they were moving but predictable targets.
William was nervous about how his first matches would go, because he had only sparred against Lila. The arena was often open for practice matches. Since it kept participants safe, all that was necessary was that a teacher was willing to be there to help with any unexpected accidents. As it was, most injuries could be recovered in only a few days, faster with a trip to the infirmary. William… had gotten quite used to such injuries. He would have liked to say that he always lost to Lila because he wouldn’t hit a girl. However, that wasn’t true. Sadly, it was just that he couldn’t. The difference, of course, was that he tried. However, she was very good at magic. He could avoid some of her spells, but she’d somehow managed to learn to change her spell’s trajectories after they were cast. The power was lowered, but it still usually ended with him being laid out on his back halfway across the arena.
Sometimes, they would spar just using padded staves, since staves were the only thing allowable in the arena besides magic. Though the magical wards kept even unpadded staves from causing serious injury, the padding made it so there was rarely even bruising. Of course, the intention of staves in the arena was that the staves be used to amplify magic, but hitting your opponent with a staff was still perfectly valid… if somewhat outside of the spirit of the rules. William wouldn’t have been comfortable sparring against Lila if anyone other than professor Pierce had been watching, because it was best that Lila not show her full abilities to most of the professors. Professor Pierce, however, just quietly asked about how some of the techniques worked, instead of getting upset over “nontraditional methods”.
William was going to have to rely on the, admittedly rather poor, staff techniques he had developed to have any chance in duels. Still, he expected that most people would be completely incapable of fighting back… if he could get close to them. Thus, he focused quite a bit of his efforts on running and other types of movement. He wasn’t sure at all if his exercises were optimal, but he tried to make them close to what he actually thought he would do.