Whisper shook her head, trying in vain to calm her panting breaths. No. It couldn't end like this. No. Not after all she'd done, all she'd fought for.
The jeering of the crowd echoed through her ears, and she couldn't feel more ashamed, scared, broken. The Arena. It was all she had ever aspired to, since seeing her brother go through it so many years ago, since seeing him succeed. But here there was no success. Blood poured from cuts that sliced across her toned body, her heart was fluttering in her chest, bruises made themselves known, deep and throbbing.
"All he has to do is give her one final strike and the Bonus Prize is his!"
Her heart stopped. For a moment, the whole world froze. Then everything came back. Her heart thumped in her stomach and her breathing screamed in her chest. She looked up, her eyes searching out his, no longer caring about the indignity of being on her knees in front of him, her shame of losing against a farmboy like him. There was just him and her, in a circle of bloodstained sand.
"But will he do it? Will he kill Whisper? Or will he throw his victory away?"
She looked at him for a second, and then managed to open her mouth: "Don't... don't do it, Farmboy. We... agreed. Just... walk... out."
He looked straight back at her, his violet eyes the only thing visible behind his chainmail helm. He hesitated, and then looked at the crowd around him. He could hear their shouts as well as she. They were telling him to do it, get it over with, kill her already! He seemed confused. He looked back down, staring at her.
"We agreed." She reminded him, slowly, quietly, her eyes warily tracing his now loosened grip on his sword, "Let's stop fighting now. You win."
What was he thinking behind that helmet of his? She couldn't tell. She had known they irritated each other, fought constantly at the Guild, such ridiculous competitiveness in both of them. But would he really kill her? Was he even capable of that? And... and for money, just gold?
She gritted her teeth, ignoring the pain the motion caused, "We had a deal, Farm-... Hero. Please. Just... walk away."
He cocked his head slightly to one side in that way that he did, thoughtfully. Then he looked away from her, up into the stands.
Whisper followed his gaze. He was looking at Jack. Jack of Blades. The Hero of Heroes. Did he value this man's opinion so much? Jack was leaning over the balcony, weight braced on his arms, staring straight at him, unmoving.
You don't need his validation! Her mind screamed, You don't need him! Jack of Blades is nothing but a lie - he's not what you think he is! You are a true Hero, Farmboy, far better than any opposing you! You don't need him!
The winner will receive a special prize. The loser... will have the privilege of dying before you.
No. Don't do it, Farmboy. She had barely the energy to stand, let alone fight again. She couldn't defend herself if he tried again.
A tear trickled down her cheek, unheeded. "Matt. Matt. Come on. C'mon, Matt. Please. I can't... I can't fight anymore. I'm done. C'mon."
He cocked his head again. "You never call me Matt." He said, slowly.
His voice was soft, quiet. He never spoke. This was one of the very few times in their time together that he had said more than two words. Whatever had happened to him as a child, back in Oakvale, had left him a sort of voluntary mute.
Except for in his dreams. He screamed loud enough in his dreams.
He knelt down, bringing himself to her level, and rested his blade on her shoulder next to her neck. She felt the slight heat as the blade's lightning augment sparked, ready. His eyes searched out hers. He tested his grip on his Legendary cutlass, the dark green blade shifting slightly on her shoulder.
Whisper shook her head, the cold blade brushing across her neck, and closed her eyes, calming her breathing. She let her heart still. She felt the blade leave her shoulder, and heard the familiar crackle of the augment as he raised his weapon, ready for the kill. Her face remained blank while her heart missed more than a beat. She waited, waited for it all to end, waited for the blow.
But it didn't come.
Whisper opened her eyes. Farmboy stood, his weapon back in the holster on his back, looking at her. Slowly, he held out a hand. She hesitated, frowning, looking back and forth from his face to his outstretched hand. Then she took it. He easily pulled her to her feet, supporting her when white-hot pain split through her wounds, threatening to put her right back down again.
Farmboy noticed, and he frowned slightly. He adjusted his grip, one hand supporting her by a strong hold just below her shoulder, the other hand on her head, brushing her hair, above her ear. She felt heat spread across her, and then a strange tingling, and then prickling, like pins and needles. Whisper flinched, pulling slightly away from him, but he kept his grip firm. The tingles moved, targeting, and she watched with something close to surprise as her wounds started to fade, fresh blood rolling back up her skin and into her flesh, cuts shrinking down and down until there was no sign they were even there.
Whisper watched. Then she glanced up at him, surprised. Farmboy looked at her for a second, and then shook his head, leaning down to her ear, "No Heroes need to die today. C'mon."
He led her back a few steps. The crowd was screaming, yelling in rage and frustration, but he most artfully ignored them, seemingly completely unaware of their presence. He pushed the huge doors open, stepping back to let her go through first, a hand still brushing her shoulder. She walked across the stone floor, numbly, barely noticing as he shut the door behind them and the room fell into silence.
Whisper shook her head, and then turned. He was still standing by the doors, watching her.
She paused, licking her lip, unconsciously, and then shook her head, "Why."
He gave a slow shrug, "Couldn't leave you there. Couldn't kill you."
Farmboy paused, his purpely-blue eyes locked on hers, "You're all I've ever known."
"I... I don't understand."
He shook his head, and she knew he was feeling a spark of frustration: it wasn't that he was ineloquent, it was purely that he wasn't used to saying things like this. "You're... you're all I have. I have Theresa, my sister, I have the Guild Master, Maze... and I have you. You... mean something to me. You were there that day, when I was brought to the Guild. You threw me into training." He waited a beat, and then shook his head, "I... could... never kill you, Whisper."
She nodded, slowly. Her heart fluttered in her chest. He paused for a moment, and then shook his head, turning away from her, walking over to the door.
Then he stopped. He waited for a moment, and then turned back to her, "Thankyou."
He paused, looking at her, then shook his head, "For showing me who I really am."
She looked at him for a second. Then she nodded, slowly. Matt returned the gesture. Then he turned, pulled open the door, and left.
Whisper stayed there, watching the place where he had been, waiting for her brother to come find her, sigh with disappointment, berate her on losing to a farmboy, and then suggest better training, which, right this moment, she couldn't want less.
You're all I have. You... mean something to me.
Better training... No. No, that wasn't what she wanted. She didn't know what she wanted.
Whisper slid to the floor, pulling her knees up to her chest, covering them with a long, strong arm and then resting down her forehead.
She had a lot of thinking to do.