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The 50th Annual Magician's Games

Naim Kabir is a novice who was lucky enough to get noticed: by Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and now, Daily Science Fiction. If you're feeling kind and generous with your time, you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or on his site at KabirCreates.com!
Em didn't have a single drop of magical blood in her body--and yet here she was.
The fiftieth annual Occulta Luda Ad Promotionem Veneficii Et Ignotorum.
Which, to the rest of the world, was simply called the Magician's Games, a tournament created by the vanished legend Al-Jaber The Magnificent, the Speaker of the Word and most-high disappeared master of mana.
Wizards, warlocks, witches, and wiccans came from every corner of the Bowl to promote their School of Magic, in a grand competition in front of all the Kings of all their kingdoms, the Queens of their queendoms, the Dukes of their duchies and the Counts of their counties.
The idea was: if enough people with magical blood impressed enough people with royal blood, they could all get together and have themselves a nice bloodbath. Or something.
Em wasn't entirely too sure: her master hated talking about politics and royalty.
He was all about problems, and solutions.
"Today's problem," he'd said, "is actually a problems set. They'll come at you tough and fast, but if you work hard enough you'll overcome them."
Sounded more like one of his final exams, really.
But that was fine. She always aced those.
This would be no different.
The first problem is what the wizards called Dimicatio Motus, and what the rest of the world called an obstacle course.
Em was going against three others, each from some far-flung corner of the Bowl. There was the Ghizri warlock, the Modaban witch, and the Gurnickan wiglaer.
The Ghizri were all about modifying their bodies. It was likely that the warlock would strengthen his legs until they rippled with muscle and sinew, and then simply jump over the moats and kick through the walls.
The Modabans liked the idea of subtlety. It would take some doing, but the witch would probably take on the form of a ghost and phase through the obstacles.
The Gurnickans were all about destruction. Fireballs? Pretty much a given. Explosions? Likely. He'd blast through everything without a second thought.
Em grinned.
They wouldn't stand a chance.
When the gong hit, a susurration filled the air--incantations from ancient books locked in ancient towers, whispers from another age.
"How long for an average Ghizri invocation?" her master had once asked.
"Twenty seconds."
"Now, for the whole lot of them: low-class spells?"
"Ten."
"Master-class?"
"An hour and a half."
And how much time to climb the first wall and shoot her payload?
No time at all.
Em unloaded the launch tube and caught the sun on its twin mirrors. She looked back and moved her shoulder so a small dot of sunshine appeared on a stable sheet of wood. She looked forward and made sure a similar pinprick of light blinked to life on the goalpost at the center of the field.
"Make up an incantation," her master had said. "This needs to seem legitimate."
Before the others could finish their last saltare or phantasma, she cried "OOGA DOOGA BOOGA" and two steel hooks blasted out from each end of the tube and lodged themselves deep in the wood.
She blew her opponents a kiss before riding a single unbroken cord to the finish line.
The second problem was the Dimicatio Praestigiae, or what the common folk liked to call "capture the flag."
Guarding a single hill was a patrol of soldiers, and at the crest was a lovely flag the color of magic--a kind of pale mauve.
Against Em were a shaman from Hittia, a Kalmani archpriest, and a Didurite witch doctor.
She could read their strategies like they were open textbooks: the shaman would summon a great and ancient fog spirit to conceal him, the archpriest would split the earth to cover him, and the witch-doctor would swarm the guards with armies of red crabs to distract them.
The gong rang sonorously and the wizards whispered onerously. Their ugly incantations would take them some time.
But how much time for her to plot out the guard patrols and palm her clever tricks? No time at all.
"Tell me, what is a wizard's greatest weakness?" her master had once asked.
"They look behind and never ahead, they read their books and never learn, they say the words and never understand."
"And worst of all," he said to her, "they think those things unworthy!"
From the bottom of the hill she threw four bombs for maximum coverage, shouted "YABA DABA", and watched four identical bursts of black smoke engulf the columns of soldiers.
She stuck a finger in her mouth, gauged the direction of the wind, and followed the cloud of smoke to the flag, and back out into victory.
The third and final problem was the Dimicatio Proelii, or what in the common tongue was a bar fight.
Without a bar.
So just a fight, then.
She was up against a Glemer, an elemental from the south. Very quick. Very dangerous.
She'd studied him on practice sands while she put together another one of her inventions, but even with all the devices in the world, she couldn't avoid his gouts of flame forever.
Her forehead was slicked with sweat and she had to kneel to catch her breath.
"What are the principal limits of a wizard?" her master had once asked.
"The magic in their blood."
"And what are your limits?"
"That I have no magic in my blood, sir."
He'd upended the table and growled, "No! What are your real limits?"
"Practice," she'd remembered. That was his lesson for that day. "My limit is how much I can practice."
She'd done this before. Picking up patterns--it was a skill. And she'd been practicing for a long, long time.
The Glemer cast a fountain of flame for eight seconds, a lightning bolt for two, and gust of wind for ten. Between each spell he had to wait a full ten seconds. For a moment Em wondered if there were some inner battery that he had to charge before each spell.
Though there could just as easily have been none.
"The only pitfall to thinking deep and theorizing much is doing nothing. Be decisive. Do."
The lightning bolt harmlessly coursed through her circuited chainmail and she sprinted directly at him. He was sixty meters away, and she could run that in approximately eight seconds.
Which left two seconds in his hypothetical recharge for her to--
The Glemer gave a long, agonized groan before cupping his loins and falling as flat as a board into the arena sands.
"We have a victor!" shouted Humayun, the King of Kings and the Master of Crowns. He strode out onto the sand and shook her hand. "Three events in one day! What is your lineage, O champion? What is thy School?"
She felt a familiar chill and the whipcrack sound of her master appearing on the sand.
The crowd gasped in awe and the Kinglord whispered his name: Al-Jaber, the Vanished One.
"This girl was born in a hovel on the Swati coast." His voice was magically amplified. "There's no magic in her blood."
They all gasped.
"What she has," he continued, "is what we all have. And what she's done, is what we all can do. Regardless of whether she's been given the Gift."
There came a faint murmur: "She's not a mage?"
"Lords, Ladies. Look to your own people. A half-century of study and I've learned that the world does not need more wizened ideas from ancient wizards. It needs ingenuity."
He took Em by the shoulders and stood up proud. "It needs engineers."
And with that, the fiftieth Occulta Luda Ad Promotionem Veneficii Et Ignotorum was over and done, the very last of its kind.
The next year the Bowl held a very different kind of fare:
The first annual Multinational Scholastic Decathlon For The Schematization, Systematization, and Implementation of Affray Apparatuses.
Or, what you might call a contest to build the most dangerous siege engine.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 11th, 2015


I remember thinking "Muggle Power!" every time I read through Harry Potter--which by last count means I must have thought it at least six times. The Wizards always bumbled around with their archaic spells, mindlessly mouthing ancient words from a million years ago, while only Arthur Weasley realized the genius and innovation of Muggle engineers. That's the kind of disconnect I tried to channel here. Honestly, I feel like a phone call to the RAF and a nice trained team of SAS spec-ops soldiers could have made short work of Voldemort....

- Naim Kabir

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