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Nadia's Triumph (A Hundred Halls Novella)

Nadia's Triumph (A Hundred Halls Novella)

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Does Nadia have the skills to protect her sister at the world's most prestigious magical academy?

Competition at the Coterie of Mages has always been fierce, so Nadia Park is elated when her younger sister is accepted to the elite magical academy at the Hundred Halls. But when strange events lead Nadia to suspect her rival has involved her younger sister in the forbidden arts of demonology, fierce competition turns deadly which will forever change this prestigious hall.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Intricate Magic
  • Magical Academy


Does Nadia have the skills to protect her sister at the world's most prestigious magical academy?

Competition at the Coterie of Mages has always been fierce, so Nadia Park is elated when her younger sister is accepted to the elite magical academy at the Hundred Halls. But when strange events lead Nadia to suspect her rival has involved her younger sister in the forbidden arts of demonology, fierce competition turns deadly which will forever change this prestigious hall.

Intro Into Chapter One

Nadia's Triumph

"The greatest magics occur at the precipice of life and death," said Patron Malden Anterist to a room full of Coterie students on their first day of the new year.
The words hung in the air, poignant and indecipherable, just the way Nadia knew that Malden liked it. The students around her shifted in their seats, uncomfortable with the ambiguity, while Nadia let a light smirk rise to her lips.
Under normal circumstances, a man who looked like Malden Anterist would have been unremarkable. He had an ordinary face with a just-so nose. He stood an average height, was within the standard weight, not too fit, but not even remotely chubby. Even his hair was a typical brown, not even artfully tinged with gray to make him appear wiser.
But within him was a spark that burned so bright Nadia had seen celebrities fumble their words when they met him. His gestures signified a strength of purpose, a clarity of vision. Even the barest arching of the eyebrow contained multitudes.
A sharp elbow found her ribs as her younger sister, Alysson, a first-year student at the Coterie of Mages, who was seated next to her, whispered, "Is he always like this?"
As Malden continued to lecture at the head of the auditorium about the limits of magic, Nadia cupped her hand over her mouth and replied, "He makes these grand statements to keep the illusion up that he's all-powerful, dangerous even, but don't let that fool you. He actually cares."
Alysson sat up taller, scrutinizing the head of the magical hall. Nadia knew what her sister was thinking: could the head of the most powerful hall in Invictus really have a soft heart? It'd taken a lot of convincing to get her to join Coterie rather than Arcanium or Animalians. Either one might have been a better fit on the surface, but Nadia knew that this hall would get the best from her sister, as it had for her.
When Patron Malden asked for questions, a first year's hand went up in back, a girl with an Afro and freckles.
"I heard that Head Patron Invictus is missing. Is that true?" she asked.
Nadia sat taller. The rumor had reached her during the summer break, but she'd blown it off at the time. That those rumors had persisted was worrisome to say the least.
Patron Malden cocked a smile. "Head Patron Invictus has lived for a very long time. I doubt there's anything alive that can kill him."
"But no one has seen him since earlier this year," said the first year.
"True. But he frequently disappears on important missions that only he knows about, so I don't think there's any need to worry," said Malden.
Nadia shifted in her seat. Whenever someone told her not to worry, she always felt like it meant the source of the concern was real. But she also couldn't imagine that Invictus could be dead, because that would throw the magical university into chaos.
Patron Malden took more questions, which Nadia didn't care about because they dealt with topics one could easily learn about online. Then a first-year student asked one that made her take notice.
"I heard Coterie mages get to learn about demon summoning. Is that true?" asked a guy in the back row.
Patron Malden paced across the front of the room with his fingers steepled. "Demon summoning is an aberration of magic, which will only tear apart the fabric of this world. I recognize that the motto of this hall is limitless, but I hope you understand it is meant as a measure of imagination. Know that there are and will be limits while you are a member of this hall. Demon summoning is one of those limits. Not only is it extremely difficult, but it is dangerous, not only to the mage in question, but to the city itself."
"Why is that?" asked the first year.
"Because the act of summoning is to forcibly drag a creature from another realm into this one to do your bidding. The very act of that violence rips the barrier between this one and the next apart, having unpredictable consequences. The risk is not worth the reward," he said.
The answer got a lot of nods from the younger mages, who were still getting used to the idea that the boundaries of their abilities had just expanded immensely, and that came with risks.
Another first year, a handsome guy on the far right, raised his hand.
"What happens if you encounter someone summoning a demon? What do you do?"
Patron Malden raised an eyebrow as a grin rose to his lips. "For you, my boy, I would recommend running as fast as you can the other way."
The whole class erupted in good-natured amusement, and crimson stained the questioner's cheeks. A fellow first year patted him on the shoulder.
"But seriously," said Patron Malden with a wink, "run, really fast."
Nadia let the mirth heave her stomach, and her sister was nearly doubled over with the back of her hand over her mouth. As the wave of laughter subsided, Alysson glanced up at Nadia with a sparkle of enjoyment in her gaze, an acknowledgement that she was glad she'd chosen this hall. A point of sisterly pride for Nadia.
"Enough with my lecturing," said Patron Malden. "Let's see if our advanced students have been paying attention in class. Nadia, what's the first rule of stopping a demon summoning?"
As all eyes fell upon her, Nadia sat up taller and raised her chin as she spoke. "The first rule is that if it's already started, you're probably too late."
"Good," said Patron Malden with a nod in her direction. It brought a kernel of warmth to her midsection. "Victoria, the second?"
On the left side of the auditorium, Victoria Dreadmarsh sat surrounded by her gang of sycophants. Today, her hair was a mix of jet black and silvery blonde. Using enchantments to change one's hair color wasn't particularly difficult, but Victoria made it so damn artful that Nadia reached up and touched her own black hair in response.
"The second rule is that the energies to close a portal are greater than opening it because the summoner has had a head start." Victoria let a grin rise to her lips. "Of course, the best method would be to convince the demon to leave of its own accord, but if you could do that, you'd be the greatest mage ever in the Hundred Halls."
Her answer brought laughter to the auditorium.
"Excellent," said Patron Malden with a hand raised toward Victoria as the class beamed their smiles at her.
As the patron continued to lecture, Alysson said under her breath, "Who is that? She's gorgeous."
"She has the soul of a gorgon," said Nadia, scowling. "Her parents own half the property in Invictus—only the alchemist patron is richer than they are."
Alysson's forehead wrinkled as she tucked a strand of honey-brown hair behind her ear. "I bet she's not very good then if she's had mommy and daddy's money all these years."
Nadia sighed. "No, actually, she's really good, which makes her even more annoying."
She was so busy focusing her ire upon Victoria, Nadia hadn't realized the class had stopped and everyone was staring at her.
"Nadia?" asked the patron.
"Yes?" asked Nadia as her gut sunk into her knees.
"I was asking if you would like to join me for a demonstration," he said.
Nadia banished her embarrassment as she climbed to her feet. "Yes, Patron, I would love to."
As she made her way to the head of the auditorium, he gestured towards Victoria.
"Of course."
Nadia took position on one side of the patron, readying herself for a mage duel, relieved that she'd chosen to wear loose clothing. The dark black boots over leggings and her asymmetrical gray coat were dressy enough to go out to the Smoke & Amber, but not confining enough that she couldn't manage her spells.
Victoria stood on the other side of the patron wearing striped paper-bag shorts and a floral blouse that managed to thread the needle between casual bohemian and runway model.
"My older students will know this game," said Patron Malden as he pressed a button on the desk. The floor opened up smoothly and a colorful wheel rose up, coming to a stop at chest height. The circle was demarcated with dozens of slices on which the names of various objects—such as block of wood, hunk of hematite, or mercury orb—were written.
Like a game show host, Patron Malden gestured towards the latest addition to the room. "Wheel of Magic. As I said before, the hall motto, limitless, is about creativity. The best mages aren't just filled with useful spells or overflowing with faez, but so clever you could cut yourself on their wit. They perceive things others can't see, make connections that allow them to break through the expectations of what has been done before. This game is a training ground to develop that creativity."
"We will spin the wheel three times. The first time for an item, the second for an element, and the final time for a reagent. From these three, our mages will construct an avatar homunculus, which will do battle in a miniature arena to see which one of our students is the cleverest."
As Nadia blew out a cleansing breath, she couldn't help but notice the absolute adoration from her younger sister. She was counting on Nadia to win the contest, which wasn't going to be easy since she'd never beaten Victoria at the game. While there was nothing but pride on the line, Nadia didn't want to look bad in front of her sister.
"Let's start with Victoria," said Patron Malden.
He snapped his fingers and the wheel spun rapidly, the many colors becoming a rainbow blur. As it slowed down, the clicks from the wooden flipper built the tension in the room. While the end result would require magical creativity on both their parts, certain items and reagents made it easier than others.
"Steel balls," said Patron Malden.
Nadia inwardly groaned. It was an excellent starting item. The patron snapped his fingers to change the wheel and start it spinning again, this time with only five sections: fire, water, air, earth, and force/spirit.
When it stopped spinning it was on force, or spirit, depending on how you used it. Combined with steel balls, it was a strong start for Victoria.
Nadia had to hope that the reagent was something less compatible with those items, like manticore droppings or craterbird feathers, but her gut completed a full revolution when it landed on banshee tears, which besides being a powerful enabler had ubiquitous uses, giving Victoria a wealth of options.
Low whistles from the older students in the crowd signaled that her odds of winning had gone down considerably. Alysson glanced at the others, a look of consternation on her face.
"Quite a start for you, Victoria," said Patron Malden.
"Sometimes you get lucky," she said, adding a short curtsey.
Nadia refocused on the wheel as the patron set it spinning. Going second was a disadvantage because it meant that her opponent had more time to formulate their creation. Nadia needed to squeeze every moment she could out of the competition.
As the wheel slowed to a stop it appeared to rest at razor wire before slipping over to paper sheets, which was the absolute weakest item on the wheel.
During the next spin Nadia considered what kind of avatars she might construct based on the element. For earth, she could make a cannon or living bomb. Fire, while seemingly counterintuitive, with the fuel source of paper might be able to destroy the links between the steel balls, rendering them ineffective.
Without a doubt, the element she least wanted was air due to its weakness against force. As the wheel slowed to a stop, Nadia knew that it would end up on the least desirable element.
"Air," said Patron Malden in a tone that was almost apologetic. He tilted his head as if to say "how unfortunate."
By the time the wheel was spinning a third time, Nadia had a half dozen ideas on what to do with the paper and element of air, but none of them were strong enough against Victoria's trio.
She wasn't even paying attention to the wheel when it stopped, but knew it wasn't good by the heavy groans that passed through the crowd.
Darian Rutherford, a fellow fourth year, called out, "Nadia should get a do-over. You can't win with that combination."
The older students nodded in agreement with Darian with various levels of intensity. When Nadia glanced back to the board to see the clacker on copper dust, she understood their concern.
If she didn't know how warded the wheel was against tampering, she might have thought Victoria had spelled it to land that way. It was the worst possible combination.
Patron Malden let the disagreement rise momentarily, before giving the simmer-down gesture.
"No faith in dear Nadia?" He smirked as the volume lowered. "That's not how this game goes anyway. Sometimes you get dealt a bad hand and you have to do the best you can with it. But the truth is that all hands are winnable if you're willing to pay the right price." He stepped back and gestured to both of them. "Ladies, you may begin. Fifteen minutes."
Nadia threw herself into the work. There were two large workbenches on either side of the room behind a large privacy screen. The audience could watch them work, but they couldn't see each other.
Nadia pulled out a stack of parchment and a cup of copper dust. With only the air element at her disposal, she had limited options.
The first decision was the manner of homunculus she would construct. Paper, especially the thicker parchment, could be made stronger with the right folding techniques; after all, cardboard was just paper and glue.
Nadia tentatively folded a few pieces, deciding if she could make a walking creature that could leverage Victoria's out of the arena. But she knew that bipedal creatures would be too easy to counter, especially if her opponent made a shifting steel ball golem, which was the most obvious and powerful option.
There were two ways to win: the first was to push your opponent out of the arena, while the second was to destroy them. The first was the most common victory, because it was the easiest, but it would be the strategy Victoria was expecting.
She tapped on the bowl of copper dust. It was a great reagent for making potions involving skin and transformation, but terrible for powering enchantments.
As she rubbed the back of her head, she realized that was the problem with her items. They were unsuited for what she needed them to do. Since she couldn't trade them out for other things, her only recourse was to transform them in their current forms.
During the summer, to prepare for her Advanced Alchemical Chemistry class, she'd been studying the books and watching online videos, because making a mistake in a higher-level class didn't just result in a bad grade but possibly a gross deformation or death. Last year, a first year screwing around with a piece of portal obsidian accidentally sent their left arm to Miami. They died before a spell or tourniquet could be applied.
Copper dust was a weak reagent, but copper carbonate was much stronger. The carbonate form was what happened to copper after years of weathering. The copper roofs on some of the houses in the first ward had that pleasant greenish patina.
But the problem was that it required years to transform, and she needed to do it in minutes. First it had to be oxidized, then it picked up sulfur to form a cupric sulfide, and finally it could be transformed into carbonate.
Nadia dumped the copper dust into a beaker and put it over a burner. To facilitate the oxidization, she inhaled a great breath of air, filling it with faez. When she exhaled into the beaker of copper dust, Nadia concentrated it with the element of air. By the time all the air was out of her lungs the bright orange dust was black as coal.
Next she ripped up pieces of the parchment and shoved them into the mixture before taking a torch and blowing flame directly onto it, burning the parchment, which would release the bits of sulfur from the collagen wax into the copper.
For the last part, she inhaled again, using the air element to concentrate the mixture. The presence of faez, along with the air, burnt carbon from the paper, and released sulfates and carbon dioxide, speeding up the process until sparkles of green formed on the black dust.
She had to do three rounds of it before she thought she had enough copper carbonate for what she planned to do. Maybe ten percent of the copper dust had been transformed, but it would have to be enough because she only had six minutes left.
Now that she had a higher quality of reagent to work with, she had to decide how best to fashion her paper into an avatar. With more time, she could fold the parchment hundreds of times, using magic to compress the material, to create an object almost as hard as steel, much as blacksmiths fold metal to create strong swords. But she didn't have hours, she only had a handful of minutes.
Brute force wasn't going to win the battle against Victoria's creation. It would have to be guile and subterfuge.
With four minutes left, Nadia decided on the shape and began folding the paper furiously, fingers bending and creasing the parchment with expert acumen, adhering the copper carbonate to the exterior of the homunculus with a breath of faez. When she was finished, she grabbed the piece of jade wrapped in gold wire that would help her control the creation and stuck it with a touch of glue, a moment before Patron Malden called out, "Time!"
The screens were removed, and Nadia approached the center of the room while Victoria approached from her side with a pile of steel balls in her hand that shifted like an excited rope.
"Nadia, Victoria, please place your avatars in the arena and put your controlling pendants on," said the patron.
While she'd been working, the arena—a round table with foot-high walls roughly fifteen feet in diameter—had been set in front of the class. The angled seating of the auditorium gave a good view of the battle area.
Victoria set hers down first, drawing ohhs and ahhs as the pile of steel balls curled itself into a coiled snake. A golem would have been sturdier, but the snake shape gave it more agility and reach, which was a problem for Nadia's creation.
The light green round tube with a cone front did little to inspire excitement from the crowd until the sparrow's wings fluttered momentarily when Nadia placed the controlling pendant around her neck.
Nadia looked across at her opponent—the fashionable Victoria Dreadmarsh—who wore the mask of a warrior. There would be no underestimating from her opponent. Victoria planned to destroy her.
When Patron Malden began the countdown, Nadia took a deep breath, calming her fluttering heart, and pushed the sounds of the students shuffling in their seats out of her mind.
As Nadia lifted her arm to signal to her paper bird to rise into the air, the steel snake snapped out like a lightning strike. She had to funnel extra faez into the pendant to push her bird higher to avoid the deadly strike, which reached across the arena faster than she'd thought possible. The head of the steel snake barely missed her paper bird then landed with a heavy thud on the arena floor.
Nadia breathed a sigh of relief. Had the snake hit, her bird would have been demolished and the match over. She couldn't help but hear her younger sister call out encouragement.
Having avoided the initial strike, Nadia let her paper bird circle around the arena, being careful not to exit the airspace above it.
The steel snake, under Victoria's direction, coiled into a ball at the center of the arena, head rotating hypnotically, as it waited for the opportune time to strike.
This presented two problems for Nadia and her paper bird. The first was that she had to keep moving to avoid an attack, and second, the coiled snake didn't present a point of attack. The pile of steel balls was far too strong for her paper bird to penetrate.
Nadia kept the bird flying in unexpected directions, being careful not to fall into any patterns that Victoria could exploit. She was shifting back across the arena when the steel snake shot up, clipping the back of the paper bird and spinning it across the arena.
Slamming her guiding hand hard to the right, Nadia managed to keep the bird from careening out of the arena, but almost as soon as it landed, the snake shot over to finish the job.
Nadia managed to get the bird into the air before the snake reached it, but the damage to the tail of the bird was severe, and the copper patina cracked off, exposing the folded parchment beneath.
But the double attack left the steel snake extended across the arena, exposing the gaps between the joints, which were held together with tubes of force.
Nadia's bird dove to the center of the snake before Victoria could slip it away. The belly of her paper bird split open, expanding around the steel balls, capturing its midsection.
While Nadia's materials for her paper bird were less than inspiring, there were others available in the heat of battle. Copper carbonate was useful for a protective layer, but it also had a secondary benefit. It combined with banshee tears to form a powerful explosive.
Nadia sent a trigger through the paper bird, forcing the copper carbonate to react with the excess reagent on the steel snake, then followed it up with a healthy push of faez. The explosion flashed a bright white light, which briefly blinded Nadia. Through the gasp from the crowd, she heard steel balls clanging together in what she hoped were the bells of victory.
But when the spots retreated from her eyes, she was presented with a scene of destruction—for her paper bird. While the steel snake looked drunken as it slithered back across the arena, the bindings between its many parts loosened, the explosion hadn't been enough to destroy her opponent's avatar.
Her paper bird had not only failed to destroy the snake, but it had destroyed itself in the process.
She shook her head incredulously. It should have been enough, even with the loss of carbonate. There was no way that Victoria could channel enough faez to hold it together through the explosion. No one was that strong. The only thing she could think was that Victoria had cheated somehow.
Her avatar looked like a blowtorch had been taken to the back end. As she activated the pendant, the left wing gave a single sick flutter before failing to respond.
"The victory goes to Victoria Dreadmarsh," said Patron Malden, starting a vigorous applause from the audience. "Excellent work, Miss Dreadmarsh. The snake was a well-constructed avatar."
Victoria beamed at the crowd, throwing a wink towards Nadia as she strutted back to her seat, which felt like a dagger in the gut.
"That is the end of class," said the patron to the auditorium. "You may return to your studies, except for the first years, who will stay here for a quick discussion."
As the rest of the class filed out, Nadia poked her charred paper bird. Her sister approached the arena with wide eyes.
"That was awesome, Nadia. Even if you didn't win."
Nadia pushed up a smile for her sister's sake. Victoria always seemed to have her number.
Before she could leave the front of the auditorium, Patron Malden said, "You should be proud of that match, Miss Park. That was a clever solution, to upgrade your materials, changing the copper dust to copper carbonate and then try to combine it with Victoria's reagent."
"But it didn't work," said Nadia, swallowing back her pain. "I didn't win."
"No, you didn't," said Patron Malden, bunching his lips up. "But take that as a lesson for next time. What could you have done differently? The match was winnable. You proved that, but you didn't deliver. Next time you might need to dig a little deeper to win. You have to push yourself to the limit."
Inside, Nadia wanted to rage scream, to accuse Victoria of cheating, but that wasn't what was expected in the Coterie of Mages.
Instead, she nodded and said, "Thank you, Patron Malden. I will work harder next time."
"Good," he said with a wink. "Limits can't be exceeded without first mastering yourself."
Nadia left the room as her sister and the other first years gathered around Patron Malden. As she closed the door to the auditorium, his words hit her right in the back of the head.
"So, which one of you will become the next Victoria Dreadmarsh?"

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Customer Reviews

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James Good

Loved it be the f the best I read ever

April Teer
Loved it!

The characters are so real I found myself rooting for them. It definitely was a great page turner. Ready for more!