The morning sun danced through my window, warming my face and waking me just as I planned. I raced to my wardrobe and pulled out my lavender dress with the blue hues, my favorite, and rushed downstairs. Just so I won’t seem suspicious, I’ll do what I always do when I stay at my penthouse, I’ll let father know first.
Everything was set in my head, even my inner pep talk. Everything is going to be just fine. I am doing the right thing and I have nothing to be nervous about. I didn’t know was this conversation was going to change the way I looked at my father forever.
Arriving at his bedroom, I was a little surprised to see one of his betting partners from another land outside his door. Father was scowling and running a hand down his face at whatever the man was telling him, but then his demeanor changed instantly when he spotted me. “My darling daughter, you are up awful early! What brings you here at the crack of dawn?” The betting partner mumbled hello to me and told father he would see him later today.
“What was that about?” I asked curiously. Father shook his head, “Just a small snag in today’s line up. It seems his warrior passed away last night from injuries he sustained from a previous match.”
He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, “It’s a pity because his warrior was to fight Cicatrix today and he’s not going to be happy that he won’t get to spill blood this morning. Now only Ruequal will fight the last remaining sponsored warrior, Pyrcie. I’ve been meaning to talk to you by the way about a special prize announcement I’m making after the finalists are called at the end of the battle. But first, what have I done to be granted the luxury of you gracing me with your presence at the crack of dawn, my lovely?”
My father has always been a charmer and he can make words flow out of his mouth as smooth as a river runs over rocks. I always wondered if that’s how he made my mother fall in love with him. A pang hit my chest, so I forced the thoughts of my mother away. Each time I think of her, the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death flood my mind and I cannot afford to lose sight of my mission today.
Realization hit me like a brick when I ran back over what he said. The semi-final, Zakyrik’s fight is the only match today and that means in two days the finale will take place. I’m running out of time.
“Well, it is nothing as important as what your associate just informed you of. I just wanted to tell you that I’m going to my penthouse to spend time with Jyrixi before she leaves. I haven’t got to spend too much time with her this competition.”
Those dark blue eyes lit up a little as he smiled, “Nonsense, Xori, anything you have to say is a hundred times more important to me than what any of the sponsors blab on about. I’m afraid your limited time with her was cut even shorter by my new additions to the competition, and for that I truly am sorry, but it’s a necessary improvement that was well overdue. Go ahead and go over there, but please show up to the competition promptly a half hour before it starts, understood?”
Feeling instant relief, I nodded once and gave him a small smile. He leaned against the door frame and looked at a spot somewhere over my head, “This tournament has flew by hasn’t it? All the changes I’ve made has brought in twenty times the amount of people and hundreds of bets, which equals up to an unsurpassable pile of money. All of this, of course, I do for you and Xera because I am getting up there in years so when my time comes I want to pass without worrying about what will happen to my beloved girls.”
My gut started churning, an ominous warning, to let me know that my father was about to say or do something horrendous. The thoughtful look shifted to a whimsical expression that would be hilarious on anyone else, but on him it looked downright frightening. I felt my heart start racing as he placed his hands on my shoulders.
“Speaking of your future, I’m making a special announcement today after the fight. To show how dedicated this family is to the Stone Warrior Competition, I’m going to grant the winner a special prize. That lucky champion will be able to select one of my lovely daughters to marry! Xera, of course, loves the idea, but what do you think about this?”
My mouth dropped open and it felt like someone punched me in the stomach. It was a few seconds before I could even talk, “What? Why would you do that?”
He cocked his head sideways, “It’s going to be considered a high honor for whoever wins this year to be able to pick which one of you to claim as his wife. Cicatrix told me just the other day that he will pick you, but don’t tell your sister because you know she’ll go mad. He will take good care of you or else I would not approve.”
There were no words I could think of in the English language that could possibly describe how infuriated I was. He asked me my opinion, but he was actually just expecting me to submit as always and live out the rest of my days as that scarred lunatic’s housewife. Offering his daughters as prizes was a sure way to quadruple the millions rolling in.
“You would do anything for this tournament, including sacrificing your own flesh and blood. Did you even consider how I would feel about this? The only way I’ll marry Cicatrix is if I have a bullet shot straight through my forehead while I’m walking down the aisle.”
Father’s eyes widened in surprise, but as quick as it appeared, it morphed into something sinister. Those midnight blue eyes had storm clouds in them as they turned black. He took a menacing step towards me, which made me step back against the wall, and I had to crane my neck to look into his eyes.
“Xori Tamminalin, you listen to me, right now. You will accept this, as you have no choice in the matter, and you will do as I say. I would give my right arm for you to be like your sister, but I won’t hold that against you because, believe it or not, you turning out this way was not your fault.”
Narrowing his eyes only made them seem even darker, “This competition is our family’s legacy, Xori. I’m doing this for Xera and yourself. Do not act so selfish and stubborn. In everything I do, I think of you two.”
He grasped my chin and gave a low growl, “To think that you would defy me makes me unbelievably angry. You remember what happens when I get upset, don’t you dear? I have no problem reminding you if you can’t recall.”
A shiver of fear ran down my spine and I fought back the tears threatening to form. I have never, not once, forgotten how deadly he can be. He might say he loves me, but this isn’t how you treat your child.
Not trusting myself to speak for fear of crying in front of him, I shook my head, letting him know I didn’t need a reminder. The storm clouds started dissipating, “Good. I don’t like when I have to do that, but you sometimes forget your place, Xori.”
He stepped out of my personal space and had a smile plastered on again, “Okay, now that’s settled, go have fun with Jyrixi. I cannot wait to plan your wedding, my darling girl! Xera will come around after I tell her about the extravagant maid of honor dress I’m ordering her, so don’t worry about your sister being mad at you. Everything will work out.”
He hugged me tightly, then walked into his room, closing the door behind him. I don’t care what my father says, he’s obviously never loved me, not enough to put me in front of this damn competition. I’ll die before Cicatrix gets one of his disfigured hands near me.
Xera only agreed to this because she thinks he will choose her. She’ll release her full wrath on all of us when he rejects her. She’s just as vicious as my father when she’s upset. She even stabbed a girl in the leg one night with a carving knife for trying to talk to Cicatrix.
Pulling myself together, I raced down the stairs to the stables where our coaches sit idle until we need them. Our stable boy, Lon, came out with a bucket of feed for the horses in his hand. “Hello Miss Xori. How can I assist you?”
Pointedly I nodded at my coach, “I believe I’ll take mine today, Lon. Can you put two horses on it please? I need to go somewhere before the competition.”
He looked shocked for a moment, because I never go anywhere without my father or sister, then recovered by running straight into the first two stalls and pulled out two spotted white horses. After harnessing them and pulling the reins back to where the driver sits, he said, “Alright, it’s ready to go. Who shall be driving?”
To my inner amusement, I further surprised the boy by saying, “Me. Thank you, Lon. You did wonderful.” I climbed into the driver’s seat and gently whipped the reins, signal the horses to trot forward.
In actuality I haven’t driven a coach in a long time so I had a little difficulty keeping the horses straight at first, but as I neared the drawbridge I finally had it under complete control. The guard looked shocked to see me driving my own coach, but smartly said nothing as he lowered the bridge so I could cross into town. As much as I’ve figured, Trevalo is going to keep the girl close by. How else would he be able to show Zakyrik that he’s taken her captive without somebody seeing him smuggle a girl in the competition?
The only place I could think of is the holding cells that are in the bottom level of the stadium. It was once a cellar, but was transformed by my grandfather where the sponsors could keep the warriors until their matches. However, the sponsors started keeping them elsewhere a while back out of convenience. They haven’t been used since so that would be the best place for Trevalo to sneak a girl onto the premises without being seen. First and foremost though, I need to go to my penthouse.
Upon arriving, the inside looked exactly the same as I left it. It was spacious, with powder blue carpeting in the front entrance all the way until it met the kitchen floor where it turned to black marble. The window in the living room stretched all the way across the far wall, but could be covered up by the black curtain that was rolled up at the moment.
When I walked into the kitchen, I opened up the cabinets and seen there were no food or drinks. Well, that can be fixed and I’ll worry about that later. If I can pull this off, I can get something for the girl ordered and delivered to the room.
As I walked to the front door, the implications of what I was about to do hit me, hard. If I get caught tampering with Trevalo’s demented scheme, he would try to kill me. If he even suspected that I was trying to stop him, he would use his master manipulating skills to somehow make it seem like I was the one who was trying to sabotage Zakyrik.
The main rule of this competition is if a sponsor is caught harming, threatening or bribing another sponsor’s warrior the punishment is immediate expulsion from the sponsorship betting league. If it’s anyone else, that individual will get a public death in the town square and I am sure my father will not sweep in to save me because I went against his precious competition rules. He would do it to prove that he shows no mercy even for his own children. After the conversation we had earlier I would not put anything past him of how far he will go for the tournament.
Leaning against the wall for support, I tried to stop myself from creating worst case scenarios. Finally I straightened up to my full height.
Get it together Xori! You are the only one who can stop this madness and no one else is going to help the warrior. You can’t deny what you feel for him anyways. You can’t let him suffer anymore, plus his cousin is an innocent girl who is scared, alone and needs rescuing.
Shaking my head to clear it I set out on my mission. My heart skipped a beat at seeing Zakyrik again even though this time I was risking my life in the process. Well, here goes nothing.