Obviously I knew Trevalo was going to be pissed, but I didn’t understand the extent of his anger until I was escorted off the platform yesterday to a lower level of the stadium instead of Trevalo’s coach. He was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs when we reached the bottom floor. The air here was dank and stale. This must be a cellar of some sort.
Trevalo gave me an annoyed look and waved us forward in the darkness. It was difficult to see where we were going, but the guards navigated me through perfectly until we reached a section that was lit up by a small hole in the stones at the very top of the ceiling. There were four cages with iron bars tall enough for a man to stand in. My heart sank as I put together why we were here.
Trevalo opened the first cage, “This will be your new home for the time being. I told you not to underestimate my seriousness of changing the way you perform, so maybe sleeping here will convince you to actually go out there tomorrow and fight like a man! I told you I am not my father and hopefully this will teach you to defy me, Ruequal. Into the cage, now!”
The guards threw me into the iron prison, which I hit hard causing my back to instantly ache, and slammed the door. “I’ll be here first thing in the morning to make sure the guards came to give you your next training lesson. Attempt to get some sleep, though between the bugs and the bars I don’t see how that’s going to be possible. These cages were created to be as strong as the person inside it and can only be opened by someone on the outside, so escape is futile.” He laughed, along with the guards and walked away, leaving me there with a bruised back and bad temper.
Getting comfortable lying on the bars was not happening, so after a while I gave up and looked around. The few dredges of sunlight coming from the setting sun were still illuminating the wall in front of me so I could thankfully see, for now. There was a stack of about three small hay bales to my right and if I stretched out to the point of almost dislocating my shoulder I could reach. I have to try to get at least some padding in here somehow.
Steadying myself against the bars, I slowly extended my arm. My fingers only touched the very ends of the hay and I caused a few of them to flitter down to the cellar floor. Damn! I have to stretch farther!
Taking a deep breath, I put my arm back through the bars. I got as far as the edge of the bale again, but this time I forced my shoulder through the bars, and a painful, squeezing sensation shot through my upper chest. If I could just reach a little farther... There! I grabbed a handful of hay and pulled it back in between the bars.
My shoulder was sore like I had been overworking it all day. I spread the hay out by the left corner of the cage. I figured if I grab enough to make a makeshift pillow I could just prop up against that bar and catch a few hours of sleep before the guards come in. Unfortunately this handful wasn’t enough so I had to restart the process all over again.
After a few more handfuls, and a new bruise forming on my shoulder, I had enough padding over the floor bars that I could sit with my back against the corner, looking out into the darkness that the sunlight didn’t reach. Now that I was somewhat settled, I could actually think. So tomorrow’s the semi-finals? This seemed to pass by so quick and at the same time it felt like this tournament lasted a lifetime.
My nausea came back full force as I thought about the lives I’ve taken. I’ll never be able to forget the looks on their faces, the blood, the way I ended their walk on this land. What kind of monster have I become?
How could I ever face my cousin ever again? What would my parents think of me if they could see me now? Somehow in between all my self-loathing, I drifted off to sleep.
Making my way through the gate, I made the familiar journey toward the platform. My procession stopped as I seen a familiar figure hunched over and walking towards me. He was slightly taller than me, the same cinnamon-brown eyes and same raven hair as I have. It was my father.
“Son, you’ve arrived. I’ve been waiting for you.” He patted me on the back as we both turned to stare at the platform.
It looked larger and more intimidating than usual. “Father, I didn’t want this to happen. I’m so ashamed of myself.”
It felt oddly like a weight was lifted off my shoulder as I confessed to my father what all I had done. When I said that I was ashamed, however, that set all my other emotions in line and I realized that underneath my anger, sadness and hatred the more prominent feeling was shame. He leaned against the stairs that led up to the surface of the platform, holding his side as he quietly listened to me. When I had recounted all that occurred, I was shocked to feel tears streaming down my face.
Father was quiet for a while as he pondered on what all I confessed, then he gently smiled, “My dear boy, I only lasted to the third round. Of course, back then there were fewer warriors and my fight was right before the semi-finals, but no matter. I fell to Cicatrix as he broke my rib cage and my heart was pierced. It took me almost ten minutes to bleed out. Your uncle’s death was worse. He had his throat ripped out.”
He came off the rail and crossed his arms, “Anyway, the point is, I had killed three men before my death. I had no choice, just like you, that’s what I kept telling myself over and over again. It didn’t help much because underneath it all three men lost their lives because I had a burning desire to get back home to my family. You two were the last people I seen as I closed my eyes in death, Zakyrik.”
A tear fell down his haggard face, “My brother and your mother came to join me afterwards. That’s what this land is cursed to thrive on, death. It seems like it’s alive and calls for fresh blood every five years.”
He wiped the tear away, “Zakyrik you did well. I know you will have those men’s deaths on your conscious for the rest of your life, but listen to me, you have to survive. If only for Zytriana’s sake.”
When you win the competition, Vyron is subjected to giving you whatever your heart’s desire is. That’s the rules. Tell him you want permission to leave with your cousin and that you never want to be bothered with Evanyl again. He will tell you that you must return in five years, but will let you go.
Keep moving, get so far away that no one in Evanyl can ever find you. You two must get out of here, alive. I’m sorry I’ve had to burden you with this task, son, but you are the only one who is left that’s strong enough to do it.”
A sorrowful look shadowed his face, “Zytriana can’t be left in this land alone, because a terrible future will await her if so. She will be given to an auction where the wealthy bachelors in town can bid and do what they please to her. She’ll be without a male figure as her head of household and she is considered too young to responsibly handle her own finances, so therefore she will be sold off. That’s a fate worse than death and I am sure you don’t want that to happen to your cousin.”
He broke off and took a breath, “My time is up, son. I was only granted these few minutes to come speak with you. We are proud of you and love you so much.”
He put his hands on my shoulders, “Put these shameful feelings behind you and face your opponents with your head held high, especially that brute Cicatrix. I have faith in you, my son. Remember, you must survive!” He hugged me, then stepped back smiling as my dream faded.
“Father..” I called out, but was surprised to hear a chorus of laughter, “No boy, not your father, but you’ll be crying for your mother when we are through with you today!” I opened my eyes, and to my horror, the guard was already assembled around my cage, ready to give me my next training lesson.