Stone Warriors

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Chapter 22

If Zytriana could see everything I’ve done so far she’d be disappointed in me. I thought of her often and wished I could just see her, even for a second. I know she’s okay because I left her in good hands, but it would make this place a little more bearable if I could just watch her smile.

When I wasn’t thinking of her, Xori took over. I stopped trying to distract myself from picturing her face. It was becoming next to impossible.

In the morning I’ll see her again from afar and I’ll be reminded once more why I’m never going to be able to have her. That still doesn’t stop my heart from leaping when I get the opportunity to look at her. Her family will always be the bane of my existence and the reason I was wrenched away from the only family I have left, but it’s just not right to log Xori in with them. I’m convinced there’s more to her than what it seems.

The truth is, I’d have to be deaf to not hear the kindness interlaced in her voice, blind not to see the timidity in her steps and ignorant not to notice the faltering in her actions when she has to act like her family. When I see her sitting next to her father it looks as if she’s just as much a prisoner as I am. I also think I’m reading too much into it. I sighed and settled myself in the bed to try to sleep before the mess I’m going to have to deal with in the morning.

Sometime during the night I was awoken by a knock on the door. Whoever it was didn’t wait on me to get up and answer, they just walked right in. A man who looked slightly familiar came walking to my bedside, “Up, Ruequal,” he demanded, “We have business to discuss.”

He sat down on a black leather armchair that was closest to the door, “I suppose you probably know who I am or at least seen me before while you were tilling away in the fields my father owned, but I’ll introduce myself anyways. I’m Trevalo Ranswits, Axrenorian’s son. I’m taking over his sponsorship of you and his other responsibilities while he’s... Resting.” A smirk played on his face as he said the last part.

Fighting back a growl was damned difficult at the moment, “I wasn’t aware he needed time off.” This man’s demeanor made me wary and I didn’t trust him immediately. Axrenorian was not my favorite person in the world, but I’d have him as my sponsor any day over this prick.

“Yes well it’s not as though you were of enough importance to confide in as he did to Lord Vyron and I. It just so happened I came to Evanyl to visit my father when I noticed he wasn’t exactly well and needed help. So here I am. Now, onto business.”

Those dark blue eyes almost turned black when they narrowed as he looked me over, “You are to be in the training area for the guards to give you sparring lessons four hours a day, no excuses. My father was too easy on you and didn’t push you to winner potential. I, however, will push you until I see fit to stop. No more sleeping in until almost time to go to the stadium either.”

My anger started rising as I opened my mouth to protest, but he held up a hand, cutting me off, “There’s no need to thank me or for small talk. I will have someone wake you with the dawn and you are to go practice fighting with the guards. No more skin-of-your-teeth wins, in which you only didn’t die by pure luck. You will fight like a real warrior where you will maim, kill and destroy your opponent. If you are not covered in your opposition’s blood at the end of the match then you are not doing it right.”

He rose from the seat while I boiled internally with fury. This ass is just going to march in here and demand stuff in the middle of the night, but not let me speak? I knew I’d be executed if I said just a tenth of what I wanted to say to him, and that’s the only reason I kept quiet.

Before he reached the door, he called over his shoulder, “Fight like I command you and you’ll be rewarded. Fight like you have been and the punishment will be worse than death. You don’t want to cross me, Ruequal, so you better improve immediately.” He slammed the door behind him and left me simmering with rage.

Well that was a cheery guy. Cocky bastard. What could he possibly do to me that hasn’t been done so far?

Huffing out an irritated breath, I went back to bed in a worse mood than I was already in and had an unpleasant dream. Axrenorian was opening his mouth to try to warn me of something, but before he could talk his face turned ashen, blood poured from his mouth and he keeled over on the floor. Dead.

The next thing I remember was a guard shaking me awake, “Get up, warrior. We have orders to bring you to our training session this morning.” The covers were flung from my body and I was hauled to my feet. An awkward afterthought that I thankfully don’t sleep naked ran through my head before I was carted out the door.

The cathedral ceiling training room was exactly how I remembered it when Axrenorian showed it to me except this time there were about twenty different guards standing around it watching two men in the ring. They both were wearing boxing gloves and circling each other with determined looks on their faces. So, was this supposed to be my training, to watch the guard fight?

The younger looking one of the two lunged forward and threw a right jab to the other, to which he ducked. The older one retaliated by delivering a serious upper cut, making the younger one cry out and fall to his feet. The throng of men broke out in laughter and a few were clapping as the older guy pulled the young man to his feet.

“You have a lot to learn, but the potential is there. Welcome to the guard.” Cheers erupted around the cage as the young man swelled up with pride like he was given the highest honor he would ever receive in his lifetime.

“Looks like he’d be a little less excited to be hand delivered the death of his freedom if you ask me. Poor lad probably don’t realize what he’s getting in to.”

With a bit of a start, I looked over my left shoulder to find the owner of the voice, and was relieved to see Detro. He inclined his head, “Morning, Zakyrik. Glad to see you are still hanging in there.”

My eyes darted back to the display, “Yes, somewhat. You snuck up on me. I didn’t hear you come in. So why is working for the guard a bad thing? Not that I think too highly of them, but I’m just merely curious as to why you think that.”

Detro ran his hand through his unkempt hair, “These apes are to do what Tamminalin says every hour of everyday. They don’t get to see their families or have down time and I swear some of them don’t even sleep. I’ve had the same guard at my door for at least three days and nights, nonstop. The way that they strive to earn Tamminalin’s approval is weird and downright eerie actually.”

The boy stepped down from the cage and was greeted by pats on the back and murmurs of approval. He looked younger than anybody in this room. He was handed a red uniform and a sword in a sheath, then sent out of the training room.

The guard member who drug me out of bed had now stepped up, “We have a treat today boys. Mr. Ranswits has personally asked us to get Ruequal ready for today’s match. I say we give him our full attention and don’t leave nothing out.”

The men laughed and looked at me with amusement in their eyes as if I were a cat playing with a ball of yarn. “We’ll come on. We haven’t got all day.” He beckoned me to him.

Detro, apparently having lost all patience, called out, “And what of me? I’m a damn warrior in this godforsaken tournament, too. What of my training?”

The guardsman looked annoyed, “Name?” He barked. Detro scowled, “Detro.”

The man, to my surprise, laughed. Detro was taken aback, “Do you find something funny about my name?” The guard was still laughing when he got his answer, “No, no. Name’s fine. You will not need training for the fight you have today so you should go ahead and return to your room.”

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