Co-Winner: Best Story
Co-Runner-up: Least Contrived Use of a Thesaurus
Nelia was running out of energy. She closed her eyes, and forced another surge of power into the spell. More air filled her, and her body stretched to accommodate it. She opened her eyes to see Maren rising above her again. Dammit!
Nelia had studied magic harder than any other student. By her third year she’d surpassed everyone.
Then came Maren. Thanks to distant shapeshifter and wind elemental ancestors, she was a natural at transformation and air spells. And Nelia refused to be beaten at anything. Mixing a stretching effect with air creation, she made a spell that could turn a person into a giant… a very round giant. She’d challenged Maren to meet her under the floating gardens, where there was nothing but the levitator seals and plenty of room, and where they could settle who had more skill.
This was the tenth challenge. So far they’d all ended with Maren barely beating Nelia in size. Maren had to be practicing just as hard as Nelia to stay ahead.
Maren wasn’t like any other rival. She politely accepted every challenge. She never trash talked; she barely talked at all. She showed up dressed nicely, while Nelia just wore robes. Maybe a show of confidence?
Well, Nelia had confidence too. She’d practiced for this like never before. By the look of it so had Maren, but Nelia just needed to make it a little further.
Nelia felt a twinge of pressure from her robes. She smiled. Here it comes…
Her robe’s enchantments failed. There was a SNAP that left the remains of her robe fluttering away, and Nelia naked.
Maren’s reaction was everything Nelia could have hoped for. Her eyes opened wide, her cheeks turned bright red. Neila had never seen Maren anything but calm, and couldn’t help but feel victorious at breaking her composure.
You’re going to have to pop out of that dress to beat me, thought Maren. And you didn’t bring spare clothes!
Maren shook off her surprise, though the blush remained. She caught up to Nelia with another SNAP.
Oh, well—it wouldn’t have been satisfying if that was all it took. Nelia resumed her spell, but couldn’t hide that she was almost spent. Maren looked the same, but was keeping up. Just one more push, thought Nelia. She readied herself, shifted her stance… and her foot came down on something cold. She’d stepped on a levitator. And she was draining power from it!
The power reacted with the spells. Nelia shot upwards, both from doubling in size and from starting to float. The pressure was immense, the stretching spell wasn’t keeping up. She triggered her spell’s release, trying to relax. Nothing happened. The levitator’s magic was interfering!
There was another problem. With power stolen from the levitator, the slab above was dipping. In mid-air, Nelia couldn’t escape. She couldn’t even manage the simplest spell to move away.
The slab fell. Nelia closed her eyes.
When a hundred tons of rock didn’t crush her, she opened one eye.
There was nothing but a pale peach color. No… she was looking at Maren. And Maren was enormous. She reached all the way up to the slabs, where…
She was holding up the slab! Maren could increase her strength and stretchiness at the same time? And she’d done it so quickly!
Maren had been toying with her. Nelia barely noticed her spell finally release. As she descended and shrank into a small, naked girl, there was nothing but the humiliation.
Maren withdrew her hands. The slab was floating again. She breathed a sigh of relief that went on and on as she shrunk.
Nelia got up, tears in her eyes, and ran. A giant pair of hands grabbed her. “Let me go!”
“Let me explain!”
“You made a fool of me! I can’t beat you!”
“No!” Maren was still shrinking. The hands wrapped around Nelia’s body became small hands resting on her shoulders. “I didn’t want you to give up, because I think you can! I’ve never met anyone as good as you! And…” Maren’s blush was returning. “And… no one’s ever devoted so much time to me as you.”
Nelia stared at her.
“Uh,” said Nelia, finally. “There’s spare clothes in my bag. Why don’t you take them… and I can tie what’s left of my robes and your dress around me.”
For the first time, they walked back together. Nelia still wanted to defeat Maren, but maybe it was time to change how she made that journey.