Chapter 13: A Small Flicker of Hope
“H. O. P. E. Hold on, pain ends.”- Anonymous
After parting ways with Gilan, Rea walks over to the next entrance. She notes the guard there - either to keep crowds out, or captives in. Presuming it’s the latter, she walks up to the guard.
“What do you want?” he grunts, annoyed.
“Is there any job openings here sir? I can do most anything from cleaning to cooking.”
The guard glares at her. “You’re asking the wrong person,” he says, stepping to the side. “Ask Jane, she’s in charge of all that.”
Rea nods, “Thank you, and good day to you, sir.”
The guard shrugs, and Rea walks past him. After wandering through the maze of corridors and asking around, Rea finds Jane.
“You want to work here, eh?”
Rea nods, “Yes ma’am.”
“You look awful small, you know how to work hard?”
“I’m stronger than I look, I used to live on a farm.”
Jane studies Rea, then shrugs, “Alright. You’re in. Follow me, I’ll show you what to do.”
Another challenge begins, but Gilan isn’t paying attention. He has spotted a set of twins that match Rea’s description of Ralph and Kaden, and is curious as to whether or not it is who he thinks. Gilan watches as one mutters something to the other, and both walk away from the stands. He sees them go into the space beneath the stands and turn left. Moving quickly so he doesn’t lose them, he follows the twins. Glancing down the corridor, he sees them walking side by side and talking in low voices. Hoping they are who Rea described, he continues after them. Gilan listens to their conversation as he comes within earshot.
“We’ve underestimated her. I thought she would be dead by now,” one says to the other.
“She wasn’t supposed to be so… good at completing the challenges,” the other agrees.
“We need to give her a challenge she can’t complete. One that she is sure to die in. Thankfully, the Ranger isn’t going in the arena tomorrow, so we have some time to prepare.”
“And give your nose extra time to heal. I doubt it’ll ever be the same.”
“Trust me, I’ll make sure the blasted Ranger pays for what she did.”
His twin chuckles, “I’m sure you will.”
The brothers go quiet, and Gilan hardly dares to breathe. After a long moment, one finally speaks, “Ralph, if we plan on doing this, we need to report to the Warlord.”
“Though we both know he will agree. Anything to make the games more interesting for him and the other spectators.”
The other, presumably Kaden, laughs, “Very true, brother. Now, let’s go celebrate our cunning plan with a drink.”
Ralph nods and the twins head off to the nearest tavern, not knowing that a Ranger was tailing them.
“As the newbie, you’ll also serve the competitors their meals. Most don’t try to escape or fight anymore, so you should be safe,” Jane explains, adding it to her quickly lengthening list of things for Rea to do. “I’ve already shown you where they are. Also, you will do any other extra tasks I assign. Any questions?”
Rea shakes her head, “No ma’am.”
“Alright, then get to work. Go to the kitchens to serve supper to the competitors.”
Rea nods, hurrying away. She navigates her way to the kitchens, realizing this is her opportunity to locate Alix.
“Take this to the first door,” a different servant say as she gives Rea a bowl of… something unidentifiable. Rea nods, trying to ignore the pungent scent coming from the bowl. Rea knocks quietly on the door before she opens it. When she sees what’s inside, she lets out a small squeak of surprise.
“A bear? How did they get a bear?” she questions, staring at its sleeping form. Realizing she should probably leave, she quickly puts down the food, and shuts and bolts the door. She returns to the kitchen and, thankfully, the next meal she is given looks much more edible than the last.
As she continues to give the meals to the competitors, she moves with increasing urgency, wanting to find Alix quickly. Rea knocks on the penultimate door, and unlocks it with the same caution she opened all the others with. Peering in, she sees a familiar figure lying on a straw mattress, facing away from her.
“Alix?” she whispers, stepping inside the room and setting the meal down.
Alix rolls over to face the figure at the door. Her eyes widen as she realizes what she is seeing before her, “Rea? Is that really you?” she breathes, standing up.
Rea nods, “Alix, you look…”
“Terrible, I know,” Alix agrees, reaching up to gently feel the bruise on her cheek.
Rea steps forward, and the mentor and apprentice embrace, “I’ve been so worried Alix, I didn’t know if you were hurt, or dying, or dead!”
Ralph’s words come rushing back to Alix, ‘At least you can thank us because we didn’t bring your apprentice here to see you die.’ And she steps back. “Rea, you shouldn’t be here.”
Rea frowns, “What? Why? Gilan’s here to help me get you out of here, and we can head back to Araluen.”
“I don’t want them to get you too. Either of you. Rea, forget about me and get out of here as fast as you can.”
“I’m not going to leave without you,” she says stubbornly.
“Rea, I won’t allow-”
“Gilan isn’t going to leave either,” Rea reaches up and unclasps her bronze oakleaf , and puts it in Alix’s hand, “I’m not going to leave you here to die. We’re going to get you out of this horrible place,” Rea gives Alix a reassuring smile, then leaves quickly before Alix can say anything more.
Alix looks down at the pendant in her hand, and for the first time in days, feels a small flicker of hope.
Gilan watches as the two enter the tavern together. He waits a safe amount of time to be able to enter without seeming suspicious. The tavern is relatively busy, and no one pays attention to the newcomer. Gilan spots the twins easily, and strides over to them, sitting across the table from them.
They look up, “What do you want?” Kaden asks, frowning at the stranger sitting before them.
Gilan shrugs, “I saw you at the games. Wondered how you liked today’s competitions.”
“Wondered how we liked them? We planned them ourselves.”
“Really? Must have been a lot of work,” Gilan comments.
Kaden chuckles, “Not when all you have to do is put them against a difficult challenge.”
“I see. Even so, I was fascinated with the fight against the giant.”
“I agree. We all thought the Araluen Ranger would fail against him,” Ralph adds, frowning.
“How did you manage to get a Ranger into your games? From what I’ve heard, it should’ve been impossible.”
Kaden takes a long drink before answering, “We received a tip that the Ranger would be away from Araluen. After that, it was easy.”
“A tip from whom?” Gilan asks.
“You’re rather nosy, aren’t you?” Ralph points out, his frown deepening.
“Only when it’s something that interests me, like your brilliant competitions.”
Ralph studies Gilan, “If it interests you so much, find us tomorrow during the games, and we might explain more to you, if it suits us.”
Gilan stands up, “Very well. Thank you for your time.”
Ralph watches as he leaves, then turns back to Kaden, “There’s something about him. Something not quite right.”
Kaden shrugs, “If you say so,” he reaches for another drink, but Ralph grabs his wrist.
“We need to get back to the arena before it gets too dark.”
Kaden reluctantly nods his agreement, and follows Ralph out of the tavern.
“I found Alix.”
“You did? Excellent! I spoke to Ralph and Kaden. I plan to find out more information tomorrow from them.”
“I’ll to see if there is a safe way we can get Alix out without being seen.”
“Good. She isn’t fighting tomorrow, and if all goes to plan, we can get her during the early hours of the day after,” Gilan tells Rea.
“Thank goodness. Then we can go home,” Rea smiles.
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