Stone Warriors

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Chapter 15

My fingernails bit into my palms. I squeezed my fists as hard as I could, all while plastering a look of indifference on my face as I watched the scene before me unfold. Zakyrik was losing. He was about to die and my heart couldn’t take it.

Please, no! I’m not sure who I am begging, I guess some omnipotent power in the universe who cruelly lets humans do this type of thing and does nothing to stop it. Perhaps we are just rodents in its eyes. Maybe it is hoping we kill ourselves off in the process, saving it the effort of doing the deed. If that is its wish, then eventually Evanyl will grant it.

Just when I seen Jyrixi in her stance to jump into the ring and call the match, Zakyrik was on his feet. Hope soared within me as I watched him kick Andivor, who rolled off the ring and landed on one of the metal spikes that were stuck in the ground next to the platform.

Zakyrik looked awful. His face was covered in blood and it was still pouring out of his mouth and nose. Jyrixi pulled a rag out of her back pocket and stuffed it in his hand. He wiped his face, but it was still visibly painted red.

The guards grabbed Zakyrik and escorted him off the stage, while another one was pulling Andivor off the spike. A woman ran to his corpse sobbing loudly and threw herself on his body. I teared up as I realized that was her son.

This is yet another reason for my hatred of this tournament. She shouldn’t have had to lose her child. How many other parents have lost their children here and vice versa? Guards escorted both the mother and Andivor out of the stadium, but her wails could still be heard over the ruckus of the crowd.

Glancing at my father, I wish I could scream at him that this was all his fault. He invited that boy to join this competition and he was the one who decided to keep his father’s sinful legacy going. Doesn’t it affect him at all that living, breathing people are meeting their untimely deaths? What kind of monster is he?

My internal rant stopped because I seen that for some reason he looked irritated. He was gritting his teeth and flaring his nostrils. What’s his problem?

He seen me staring and recovered himself quickly. He smiled and patted my arm, “Well my darling daughter, that was a waste of time wasn’t it? Hopefully this next one will be more interesting.”

The second match was between two of the voluntary warriors. They immediately grabbed each other around the shoulders. After twenty minutes or so of watching them try to overpower one another, my attention span wavered.

My mind wandered to Zakyrik and I hoped he was okay. I know he’s in pain and my stomach gave a little lurch at the prospect of him suffering. My care for this warrior is going to get me in a lot of trouble. My brain knows this, my common sense knows this, but my heart apparently hasn’t got the memo yet.

Jyrixi’s shrill voice made my attention go back to the platform. The match was ended with the ring covered in blood and the loser looked as if his eyes were plucked from their sockets. The winner didn’t look in too good of shape because two guards had to physically lift him from off his feet and carry him to the gate.

When we arrived back home, father announced he had business waiting on him in his study, but he would see us at dinner. Xera ran to her room to freshen up. I didn’t need for her to tell me where she was going because I already knew.

Shaking my head I started up the stairs, but stopped after just three steps. I willed myself to go to my room, maybe read a book or draw, but my legs refused to budge. After a few minutes of standing there looking like an idiot, I realized I was kidding myself.

Huffing out an aggravated breath, I proceeded to head to a very dangerous part of the manor. Dangerous for me, as well as who I was going to visit anyway.

Zakyrik opened the door and I walked inside, “You look like hell.” He snorted, which he groaned in pain right afterwards, “I thought I looked pretty handsome.” In my head I agree with him thoroughly, but I decided to just stay silent and led him to the couch.

After he was comfortable, I went into the kitchen and made him an ice pack, consisting of a rag and ice cubes. I carefully wrapped it up to where it wouldn’t fall open. This would help with the swelling and sort of numb the pain.

Father taught me how to do this after he broke his wrist. A painful memory sprung up as I remembered why he did it in the first place, but I shook it off. Now was not the time.

“I see you had yet another lucky win today.” I placed the ice on his face. I regretted the statement as soon as I seen him visibly tense up.

“A man lost his life today. I wouldn’t call that lucky!” Tell me about it, I thought, been watching this happen for years.

Unfortunately I couldn’t tell him that. I was already taking a huge risk befriending​ him like this, much less actually open up and tell him about my life. If word got out to my father that I was sympathizing with the warriors he would never let me see the light of day again.

In an attempt to diffuse the awkwardness, I opted for changing the subject, “This ice pack should have the swelling in your eyes disappearing by morning. Just keep on holding it like I am and refilling the rag with ice cubes when need be.” I brushed some of the hair from off his forehead so the ice pack could properly rest on his face and jerked my hand back immediately after I realized what I did.

He tensed at my touch. I was hoping he didn’t notice that, but apparently he knew all too well. Slowly, he pulled the ice pack off and takes a tentative breath, “Why are you here, Xori?”

Well, you see, I have this consuming infatuation that I can’t shake and so I had to come see you. I bit down on my tongue and stopped my brain from going down that avenue. I ran a hand down my face, “That’s a good question.”

My obviously delayed common sense finally kicked in and reminded me I was an idiot for being here in the first place. What was I hoping to get out of coming here? What purpose did this accomplish?

Zakyrik was still looking at me inquisitively. He opened his mouth to say something, but I interrupted him by putting the ice pack in his hands and made my way to the door. I had to leave and I had to do it right now.

He called out, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound hateful. I’m just in a lot of pain right now. Please, don’t leave.” Oh, by all that was golden, did that man have a voice that sent shivers down my body.

That was almost my undoing. I just about turned around and gave into my desire to feel his skin touch mine again. I had to summon every ounce of courage I had before I did or said something I’d regret.

“No. I need to go and I’m afraid my visits here have to stop. I wish you good luck, warrior. Try not to get yourself killed.”

Shutting his door as he called out to me again was almost too much to bear. As quickly as I could without drawing unwanted attention, I headed down the corridor to the grand staircase. I had to get away from that pleading voice before it hooked into me and lured me back. Lifting the hem of my dress, I ascended the stairs and attempted to compose myself in case I passed anyone on the stairway to my room.

Everything in me wanted to run back downstairs and hold him until he felt better. What is wrong with me? Of every warrior I’ve ever seen, why him? What has this man done to me?

It’s not just his good looks, it something else. It’s like a primal subconscious connection happened the first time I looked into his eyes. I couldn’t have fought it if I tried.

Flopping down on the bed, I stared at the ceiling. Zakyrik is plaguing not only my dreams, but my every thought. I can’t go two seconds without him running through my mind.

Rolling over onto my stomach, I shut my eyes and wished I was anywhere, but here. Somewhere that I wasn’t a Tamminalin and he wasn’t forced to risk his life. Somewhere I could be around him without consequences.

Zakyrik slid his arms around me and nuzzled into my neck. It felt so good I didn’t want to move. Chill bumps formed on my arms as a shudder of delight rushed through my body.

But then I remembered. “Zakyrik! We can’t do this!” He shushed me and gestured to look at the vast landscape before us.

It was most definitely not Evanyl. There were giant redwoods and dense forest for as far as the eye could see. We were sitting on top of a fallen log and not a soul was around. We were alone, just like I fantasized.

“Do you understand now? I’ve taken you far away and he cannot control your life anymore. We are free.”

Suddenly I was awakened by one of the servants letting me know it was time for dinner. Dammit! What can I do to make this stop?

Without thinking, I reached up to where his face was at my neck and ran my fingers across it. That dream taunted me with a life I could never have. My heart was so heavy that all I wanted was to throw the covers over my head and stay in my room.

Father will be upset and I know what happens when he gets that way. All too well. I wrapped my arms around myself, forcing my mind to not remind me of what his punishments are like.

No matter how hard I tried to push it away though, I couldn’t fight the memory from replaying in my head. It was already fresh in my mind when I made the ice pack for Zakyrik, but I stopped it in it’s tracks. Now it went full out and there was no stopping it.

When I was eleven I told my father that I no longer wanted to go see those competitions. They scared me and I thought that he would understand, to want to protect me from my fears. I learned that day how wrong I was.

He balled his fists up as his face contorted with rage. I backed up against the wall as he yelled, “You will continue going and you will learn to love it. This competition is everything to this family and I will not tolerate this insolence!”

When he reared his fist back I stopped moving, petrified of what was going to happen. He drove it through the wall, only a few inches from my head. When he removed his hand, it hung at a strange angle.

Father sighed, “Look what you made me do, Xori. You see what happens when you make me angry? Do it again, and I will not miss the next time.” He looked pointedly at the hole beside my head.

A tear rolled down my cheek as the memory faded with us in the kitchen and father explaining how to make an ice pack. From that day forward I always tried to be the perfect daughter. I kept my true feelings inside, terrified of the outcome if he ever found out.

If he almost hit me when I was a child over the competition, then what would he do if he ever found out about my interest in Zakyrik? A fearful chill shot down my spine at the prospect.

Sadness flowed through me as my decision was made. I can’t let my feelings for Zakyrik get him killed. I have to stick to my word, I can’t go see him again. For his own good.

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