I inhaled and then released slowly. Today was just another day, I convinced myself. Just another day full of mobs and mobs of people. No big deal, right? I shivered and almost gagged at the thought of performing in front of thousands. I've done this a million times so why was this any harder?
Perhaps it was because a violinist was not the best person to duel with. Not a duel with violins mind you, but a duel with swords. Real swords. Not the ones you bought that were plastic and easily broke. Real, live and deadly swords that could break the skin and make you bleed to death. Today was definitely not just another day.
I peeled my coat off and gave it to the man who was appropriately wearing black. My funeral colors. I swore I could hear funeral music as I stepped slowly into the warm up room. I asked myself why I had been such a fool to end up here. I should have known better than to play my violin in public. Now look what I've done. Gone and killed my life before it had even really started.
Anyone in Port knew the risks of musical talent. Here, was where you would get killed or be enlisted into The Duels if you used those talents. I wondered who was luckier - the person who was killed quickly or was killed slowly and painfully in The Duels. Probably a quick death would have been better than this. The leaders of Port were cruel and hateful humans. Music was a joy and a light in the darkness. They could not stand the sound of music, of any kind. They'd sooner kill you than listen to its purity.
I swung a sword clumsily and wished I had been trained by my father. He would have made me a champion if he had been still alive. However, you can't do anything about a father who was murdered because of his violinist talent. That was really the only talent I inherited from him and right now would have been a good time for sword talent. I sighed, this was going to go nowhere and I was going to die.
I could curl up and weep my heart out but I had already done that yesterday. It was too exhausting of a task. A knock sounded at my door and I croaked out, "Come in."
Like I had any choice in the matter. I was pretty much a prisoner in regular clothing. A young man around my age entered. His dark hair was cut expertly and his deep green eyes searched my face. He fidgeted and I glared at him to speak what he needed to say. However, he quietly closed the door behind him and locked the door from the inside with a golden key. I gulped, we weren't even on stage. What was I supposed to do? I grabbed the sword I had laid down moments before and shakily pointed it at him.
"W-what do you want?" I said and knew I sounded pathetic.
"Relax, Vi. I'm not going to bite. I came here, to help," his calm voice said.
No one called each other by real names anymore. Real names had power and no one dared reveal them in fear the leaders would find them out. The man had called me by my talent in shortened form. I thought it strange he already knew what my talent was.
"What's your talent?" I asked him.
"Cello. Guess we're related, huh?"
"Well then, Cel," I said and lowered the sword. "Why are you helping me?"
He moved closer but I stayed my ground. I dared not look any more vulnerable. You never knew who was really on your side or not. He did seem friendly but I wasn't going to lower my guard anytime soon.
"Because I want to survive, just like you. I'm dueling you in the next round and I cannot stand any more bloodshed," he softly breathed.
I scooted a little closer and spoke skeptically, "You really think I'm going to trust you when I don't even know you?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, Vi. You know that. All of us do."
I looked at him, not convinced in the slightest. He sighed, his face contorted in sorrow. How I wished I could do something but I still didn't know if I could trust him. I just met him and after all, you can't trust someone you just met, can you?
"Look, I don't know if you even care about my back story but maybe it will help you see that I am not a monster."
He shifted his weight and leaned on the wall. With eyes seeing my vulnerable soul, he began his tale, "I was a Cellist for the better part of my life. Always have had the gift. But you see, my parents knew nothing of it. My sister was the only one who knew and that I trusted. Her faith never wavered. I would play my cello at night and many people came to hear me. One day, my sister was trailed by my mother. My sister always checked and backtracked to the place I played every time she went. But our mother was shrewder. She followed her to my place and saw me performing. I saw her the same instant she saw me. Do you know what it’s like to see your own mother hate you? I saw it. It is a sight you never forget. She called the Enforcers on me, her own child. They took me away and I have never seen my beautiful sister again."
"What was her talent?" I asked, surprising myself. I did feel sorrowful at his story. Not many had it as lucky as I once had.
"Voice," he said and turned away. "They never found out, I made sure they wouldn't. I protected her the best I could."
I slid closer to him and put a hand comfortingly on his shoulder, "Voi will be alright. She seems like a smart girl."
He turned and smiled at me. It made my heart thud faster but I ignored it.
"I had a father who was murdered by the Enforcers and a still living mother. They both knew about my talent. My father was actually a violinist. My mother is a clarinetist. She hasn't played since my father's death."
"I think we both have something to live for," he commented and smiled warmly at me.
"That we do," I agreed.
"Then let us start forming a mock duel so real, they'll never see it coming."
We both grabbed swords and began demonstrating ideas. Throwing ideas back and forth. He was smart and knowledgeable. His gentleness brought me comfort in my dark world.
"Where did you get the key to the door?" I suddenly asked with curiosity.
"Oh, you know, it was a gift from an Enforcer," he said and grinned. I grinned back, maybe there was hope after all.