Celeste won’t talk to me. She won’t talk to Seraphine. She won’t talk to anyone. So, I simply wait with Celeste, as the male Gem soldiers enter the chamber, led by Karl.
“This way, please, the night is just beginning,” Karl does not meet my gaze as I stand up slowly to approach him. Now I am wearing a blue dress. Tight fitting and low cut. I haven’t fixed my hair. I just make sure I’m wearing something distracting and pretty. You never knew when a nice dress could potentially save the day... or night.
Seraphine pretends to struggle in her chair.
“Oi,” she snaps out, “A little help here?” I see her hand clasping the slashed light restraint.
We both discussed it was easier to use her freedom in a surprise attack. We were just waiting for the right moment.
“I’m coming,” I rush towards Seraphine as Celeste eventually jumps to her feet from her chair. She doesn’t make eye contact with me or anyone. She simply shoves past all who get in her way and she is the first to storm out of the bedchamber. I help Seraphine up out of the chair and step aside to rush after Celeste while the guards follow us close at hand. Seraphine pretends to lag with the restraints.
“We will guide you to where you need to be, the crowd is quite excited,” Karl explains to me, keeping pace as we exit the chamber. I glance at him and he is watching me closely with admiration, but he also has guilt evident in his gaze, “I uh, I apologise, my princess, please forgive me. I was only doing my job. When I overheard you using the radio –”
“It’s too late,” I snap back, cutting him off, feigning anger.
I had to pretend that was the only foiled plan; Traegr’s humiliation.
“What seats do we get?” We are all surprised to hear Celeste as she asks us from the bottom of the stairs, looking up at us with a closed off gaze. She speaks politely as two guards catch up beside her and keep close, lest she runs off again and makes their job more difficult.
“Seats?” Karl asks with a raised brow, “I’m sorry, Celeste... we were instructed to bring you out directly through the field’s ground level. The princess and Seraphine go to the King Traegr on the podium,” Karl explains, “Any other questions? I am more than happy to answer.”
Celeste rolls her eyes and turns on her heel, deciding to ignore his offer.
“Where is Val?” I ask.
“I cannot answer that,” he blushes, embarrassed.
We all try to catch up to Celeste, but she halts her fast pace and turns unexpectedly to face the rest of us.
“Why am I being taken to the field?” she asks, dryly.
“The opening show will be a trial,” Karl explains, “You will be partnered against Hraken the Warrior, I believe.”
“I am not a fighter, I am a healer,” Celeste murmurs under her breath, and Seraphine hears, as do I.
I watch Karl, who seems baffled by how to make Celeste happy. When I glance back at Seraphine, I see the impatience in her furious eyes. She didn’t need sadness for tonight, she needed strength.
“You’re a Royal female Gem, Celeste, the greatest Earth giver and spell caster we have ever seen,” Seraphine almost snarls at her, trying to force her to see her power, “You. Are. A. Fighter.”
“I am nothing but a maid, according to the King,” Celeste looks over her shoulder, her eyes lifeless and dead. It breaks my heart but everything I had said to try and comfort her before didn’t work. Now the greatest motivator of the Royal female Gems couldn’t even give her a boost.
We all remain silent as we walk through empty, lifeless halls. The life of the Stadium was above, as we were located beneath the busy stadium stalls. Everyone had a seat and every seat had a spectator.
We continue to walk in renewed silence, until I watch as Celeste is abruptly taken in a different direction. The soldiers with Celeste are headed for a wide metal arch, leading downwards to the ground floor lit by flames.
I try to think quickly, as this is the last time I will be by her side for now.
“You’re not a maid, Celeste!” I call out, quickly, hoping to remind her, “You should be his Queen.”
She looks back at me for one last moment, a fresh tear rolling out of the corner of her pink unwashed eye that is still red and bleeding near the eyebrow from Traegr’s nick with the knife.
She halts the soldiers once more after she hears my words. She faces me to nod.
I see her raise a finger to the blood by her eye.
She starts to trace Seraphine’s mask over her skin with the red life blood.
My heart lightens. It was a sign of rebellion and new-found courage. She would survive this.
When I look back at Seraphine, being led behind me by the majority of the paranoid guards, she nods at me with a smile.
“Have faith in her to succeed,” Seraphine encourages me to be positive, once we have walked further along and Celeste is out of sight, “Hraken will do nothing but tease her and it will be his mistake, she will win and she will be fine.”
“Girls,” Karl interrupts as we round a cornered bend and reach a small set of stairs, “Once you enter the stadium’s podium we expect silence from both of you,” Karl speaks with professionalism, “Just for the purpose of the beginning of the show. It will be broadcast as soon as you enter the podium’s stage. It will be shown to all of Kiyr and all who watch. Please remember to maintain traditional respect to Dark Gems. These are the words of Traegr, he asked me to relay them. Please, follow them,” Karl is just doing his job. That much I can tell.
So I do not hold a grudge against him but I do not acknowledge the request, either. I just remain silent.
Now we proceed to walk up one level of black metal stairs and pass through a black security door armed and manned by more guards on the other side. As we walk through, I glance over my shoulder and I see the familiar electrical laser guns used with the invasion on Earth strapped to their belts.
It floods back to me like it was yesterday; killing that male Gem while my memories were still absent.
That moment in time rushes back to me and it feels more real than anything else in this moment. I’m consumed with a rush of emotions, the same ones I felt, when my actions had come to pass as I defended myself back on Earth.
I had been filled with instincts even lost memories could not hold back. The instinct to stand up. To outwit. To fight. To win. To protect.
To back down wasn’t even an option. My body had recognised the males as non-human. Instead I recognised the Gems as creatures, cursed with a void, creatures who could only fill it with lust, desire and control of their other half. The half that held their light.
As I think this, I suddenly feel powerful in my own right. Everything Seraphine had worked towards hits me hard. My gender as a Gem, naturally, gave me certain power. In fact, it gave me great power.
Surrender and submission were not a part of a female Gem’s instincts for a reason.
Male and female Gems didn’t want to control one another because of a matter of sex and gender. No. We fought to balance out our most cursed and bewitched elements.
The females held magic and the males held our release as we held there’s.
Have too much of any one of those aspects and either side could be easily corrupted.
The only way to balance it out, was to have a good leader.
That was the answer.
The only way for Gems to live at all with any sort of peace was to have a leader who could help bring two halves together and teach lessons that brought that dream... to a reality.
Traegr. Well, he had no idea how to be King. He didn’t even know the meaning.
One man did, though.
And now, my thoughts inevitably turn to Celeste. Gentle... sweet Celeste. I was terrified for what was to happen to her but at the same time, I knew Hraken would be gentle. He had something Traegr did not. Real control. Not a false bravado, no big words, in fact Hraken was a man of very few. Traegr was loud, Traegr was insulting, Traegr was a disgrace to his fellow Dark Gems and most of all; to his bonded partner.
Just this thought causes anger to surge through me because I may not be Celeste’s bonded-anything, but my love for her would outweigh his false love any day.
My thoughts come to a halt, as we have all stopped in a dark, dank, stale room.
Ancient Kiyr yellow limestone surrounded Seraphine and I as she is led to stand adjacent to me. Around us we can hear the roaring stadium above, filled with excitement.
“Good luck and have fun,” Karl nods at us as the other soldiers begin to back out of the room through the black metal door, “And welcome home as well. 1000 years of your absence was a disruption to all of Kiyr. Nothing felt whole. Now every member of the planet will be watching. Cheering for you. Welcoming you home.”
I nod at Karl and he finally leaves me with Seraphine. He shuts the door and then it is just the two of us.
“What’s that thing around your neck?” Seraphine asks.
I had almost forgot. The shock collar! I would have to watch my words.
A creaking noise interrupts and the entire wall of limestone before us starts to lift off the ground before I can answer her. Light floods in, along with many roars of encouragement. The light continues to feel blinding for a while, as it comes from the stadium’s overpowered lights.
Seraphine takes the first step, head held high and a smirk plastered on her lips. I quickly follow so we approach the podium together. Step by step, we get closer to a stage along a wide lime stone walkway.
We were headed towards a podium completely made of Ametrine. The brilliant purple-gold glints under the stadium lights and all around me I see hundreds of stalls lining the stadium. The stalls are protected with large, limestone barriers.
The stadium ground was covered in beautiful Kiyr grass, spotted with a rainbow of freshly grown night-flowers, which had a luminescent glow under the moon.
On the podium is the King. Traegr stands tall while a line of Dark Gems recline on a curved, pompous black couch behind him... like they are about to watch a movie. How entertaining for them while groomed under their leader to find this all normal.
Ladonna sits behind all of them, at a rickety desk, with a proper pen now. She is still writing the contract, completely consumed in her work.
I notice Sabir, too, as he sits at the edge of the couch with the other Dark Gems. He is watching me with amused eyes and a smirk on his lips. He waves the little remote at me and I feel a vibration run through my neck.
A pleasant feeling.
For the moment.
Sabir’s smirk widens at the same time that I realise how much he would have potential control over what I said, with the device he created. No one would know he had the control.
“Welcome, everyone, the Star Renegades... returned, to their natural habitat,” Traegr’s voice echoes around the stadium and I fake curtesy while Seraphine just stands and glares at him with a curled lip, unblinkingly staring him down. He ignores her stand of defiance and curls two fingers towards the Dark Gems on the couch.
One stands and comes over with an ear piece and microphone, the same concealed type Traegr is wearing over the back of his ear.
Of course, Seraphine isn’t allowed to wear one. But I am.
“My beautiful princess,” Traegr drawls, just as the device is fitted to my ear and the Dark Gem backs off to sit again. Sabir is glaring at the other who has touched me and I can’t help but smirk; even though his jealousy should be the last thing on my mind, “...oh and we can’t forget Seraphine.”
I thought the Gems in the stadium went wild over me being introduced as the princess. It does not compare to the roar Seraphine receives. Traegr almost looks shocked by the enthusiasm, but only for a moment.
“What an honour, to be back, here, of all places,” I speak, to test out the microphone. Indeed, my voice booms across the Stadium also. And I am secretly glad I have been given so much power, “...the field is beautiful.”
“Yes, girl,” Traegr answers, smiling slowly, “It is beautiful. I’ve got a surprise for you, dear princess. A gift from the King. You get to commentate the first trial. This planet has had enough of my drab, deep tone. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind to hear your beautiful, lulled, sweet voice.”
“Thank you,” I smile, again putting on a show. I smile lest Sabir shocks me and makes me cry out for no reason in the face of thousands. Something I didn’t want to happen and knew could happen, at any damn moment.
“What better way than to show everyone how important your place is, within our guard, for the planet’s survival. First, let us welcome, Celeste... our Earthen Fairy... onto the field,” he raises a hand and everyone goes quiet as a barred gate comes rising from the earth, revealing a dark tunnel.
For a few moments there is no grand entrance.
Then, the wide screens high above the stadium focus on the entry of a meek light footed goddess. Celeste truly looks like one, adorned in her silver sequenced dress that sparkled under the light. Her hair was piled upon her head, held together with more flowers she had grown recently.
She tiptoes through the grass, and there is an ethereal grace about the way she moves once within her own element.
She slowly makes her way to the middle, her eyes focused upon the podium once she finds it.
It was pretty hard to miss the lump of Ametrine stone, a brilliant centre piece and statement for all of those on Kiyr. A reminder of who was in charge. The King then continues the introduction with his arrogant, mocking tone... and I wonder if he even realised how condescending he always came across.
“No one has seen the likes of Celeste on a field, only in history books as my... hand-maiden,” Traegr introduces her to the crowd, “The false tellings suggest she was my bonded partner. All lies. In fact, she tried, so hard, to force my hand... and I think someone needs to be taught a lesson. High handed and high chinned, how will she fare against Hraken,” Traegr fills the crowd with more anticipation and they go wild yet again as the next gate at the other end of the stadium opens, “Welcome! Hraken the Warrior.”
We all watch as he appears, dressed in his warrior outfit and a sword strapped to his back. Hraken comes out wearing black charcoal face paint. War paint. His hair is a wild, familiar mess. The crowd slowly quietens as Hraken approaches and halts directly opposite Celeste, mere inches from her. He towers over her slight frame and grabs a piece of stray, silver hair, tugging it through a finger and thumb as he feels how soft the strands are.
He then runs the length slowly through his fingers and a collective gasp escapes from everyone watching. How handsome, they were probably all thinking. Probably also wondering what he looked like without that warrior leather wrapped around his perfect warrior physique.
As was I. But once again, I didn’t want to get distracted.
Celeste faces Hraken bravely, and jerks in surprise when he abruptly turns.
He starts to walk away, but not to his spot on the field before the trial would begin.
Instead, he turns towards the podium unexpectedly.
Traegr’s smile is wiped right off his face and everyone goes quiet as Hraken approaches with clear intent.
“Hraken the Warrior,” I welcome as my other half, or should I say third – meets my gaze with his attentive own, “You wish to speak some words?”
“I am not Hraken the Warrior,” he calls out, facing Traegr, and even though he has no mic, he is close enough and his voice travels far enough; to hit both mine and Traegr’s, “I am Hraken of the Obsidian bloodline! And you insult me by throwing your woman, known to be gentle and fair-handed, down into my path? To what, to slaughter? She would be in a pool of blood with one knock to the head, King Traegr Ametrine. I see a far better opponent within my sight.”
“An Obsidian?” Traegr murmurs, glaring down at Hraken with enlightened eyes, “You lying mendacious poser. You are no Obsidian. Obsidian’s are notorious for excessive drainage. You content yourself with keeping your hands to yourself. And now, you are embarrassing yourself in front of thousands –”
“I am asking for a fight, my King,” Hraken smiles, condescendingly, “Ametrine against Obsidian.”
“Once again, you make a fool of yourself, Hraken,” Traegr rolls his eyes, “Give up the pretence. Obsidians haven’t been around for a millennia. The only Obsidian born in that very last millennia is our dear, deceitful, Seraphine.”
“You are blinded by your own words, Traegr,” Hraken takes out his sword, “You fail to see what is right in front of you,” he points a sword at Seraphine, “My bonded partner? No. A lie too many believed. My sister,” Hraken then points the sword to me, “My bonded partner,” he then points the sword to Sabir, who has stood in an instant with the claim over his princess as not his, “My brother.”
The crowd is gasping and Traegr is spinning on his heel to stare at Sabir in shock, but Sabir had no idea how to even react and looks just as bewildered.
“Not just my brother,” Hraken continues, “Sabir the Punisher is my twin brother. Traegr of the Ametrine... you have ruled a thousand years and more. Your rulership has led us into disaster, you rule with your desire for power rather than peace. I am challenging you to a fight for rights to Kingship. Unless you’d prefer me to split your pretty little earth fairy in half... with my cock,” Hraken smirks at this, knowing it will be the final straw to push Traegr over the edge.
“Take Celeste off the field,” Traegr snarls to whoever is listening, “We have a change of plans. Someone get me a fucking sword and my traditional fighting gear. Now!”
Two soldiers instantly run on to the field and I watch as Celeste doesn’t even blink. The soldiers are soon wrapped in branches of her green magic with a flick of her wrist. She then turns and walks gracefully towards the podium instead. Hraken turns to her, approaches and leads her with a hand on her back to the bottom of the podium.
He then places out an open palm for her to step on and Celeste grabs his shoulder as he hoists her up. I run forward and reach down a hand to pull her over the edge and into my arms. I grab her into a tight hug as soon as she is on top with me.
There is a collective cute sigh from the crowd and I pull back to gaze at her face, only to see her barely holding back tears. When I glance over to the King, I see Traegr eyeing her blood Seraphine symbol with hatred.
I’m scared he may hurt her so I turn to him to make sure I am within his sight.
I just stare at him and he eventually smirks and focuses upon me.
“Once I’ve cut off his big fat neck and his cock, I’m having you both for dessert,” he winks at both Celeste and I and I feel sick to my stomach.
He had fully submerged into depravity and not a good, fun kind.
I turn to Celeste and I hold her hand, glancing only briefly at Sabir.
Seraphine has stood back this whole time, her gaze fully focused upon Traegr.
“Don’t look so saddened, brother,” Seraphine is speaking to Sabir, even as she glares down the King. However, now she does abruptly meet Sabir’s gaze, “Your family name will be the Leading Royal family soon... and your little play toy – Sapphire – will be a proper queen, to my brother, who will be King. Choose your allies wisely.”
“We’ll see about your sly words, sweetheart,” Traegr looks over his shoulder to glance at Seraphine, just as a few extra soldiers come out with leather, traditional fighting gear and a long sword, “Don’t stop writing, Ladonna,” he catches her attention and she just nods and keeps at it.
Oh, how I wish I could see what she was writing. For us? Or for them?
“I hope he dies,” Celeste whispers in my ear and I glance at her to see her pain is still present, but it has turned to strength rather than weakness as she holds the back the tears and keeps her head held high.
“So do I,” I answer, truthfully, “It is time for change.”
When I look at Sabir again, despite his evident confusion and his narrowed eyes upon me as he sorts through his thoughts, I hoped he realised his potential for power if he chose the right side.
It was only a matter of time.
And it was time for Traegr’s timely end.