Stone Warriors

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Chapter 40

Xori took up every thought I had every second since she left last night. It is driving me insane. She consumed me and I loved every agonizing minute of it.

Not sure, but I think it’s sometime in the afternoon and each minute that I don’t get to see her is making a pain radiate through my chest. This is love. I finally understand what all the stories of epic romance and tales of separated lovers were really about, especially since I’m dealing with both right now. I never thought I could feel like this, nor did I think it was possible to care about another like I do her.

The lovesick idiot part of me is hoping she dares to come back out tonight so I can give the pain in my chest a break and see her. A much bigger part knows that it’s best if she lays low with Zytriana until tomorrow is over. I can’t bear the thought of something happening to her because of me.

As the sky turned to red, signaling the setting sun, my anticipation of seeing her again turned to fear. I was scared for her and Zytriana. If by some divine miracle I win in the morning, there’s no chance that Vyron will let me have what I want without him lashing out. It’s competition protocol that the winner gets whatever he desires, and he is the one who offered up his daughters, but that’s because he knows Cicatrix is going to have no problem defeating me.

What if I fail? How could I have not remembered to ask Xori about what her plans are with Zytriana if I die? I resolved myself to ask her first thing if she does indeed show up here tonight.

Not too long after I settled back down, I heard distant footsteps and I heard the cellar door creak open. The heaviness in the steps let me know immediately that it was not the woman of my dreams coming to visit again. A guard appeared in front of me and jerked open the cage, “You are to be escorted to the manor on Lord Tamminalin’s orders.”

So I do get my bed back? Nice of Trevalo to change his mind. My heart felt a little pang as I was led away because the love-struck idiot side of me thought of how sad I would be if I found out Xori did come to see me and I wasn’t here.

On the way to the estate, we passed by a coach that looked suspicious parked in an alcove among the hedges. The guard stopped our coach to investigate this and came upon another scene. There was what looked like strips of fabric caught in the thorns and a sunk in spot on top that looked like someone stepped on it.

The guard leapt into the driver’s seat and swatted the horses with the reins causing us to jolt forward at top speed. I couldn’t understand what had caused this, but whatever it was had spooked the guard. He hollered out to the drawbridge operator and it lowered as fast as it could. They’re not going to tell me, of course, but my curiosity couldn’t help wondering what was such a big deal about an abandoned coach and tattered strips of material.

We came to an abrupt stop in front of the manor and I recognized the guard who was waiting for us. He didn’t acknowledge me as he called out to the guard, “Are you sure? This will cause him much grief and worry over something that may or may not be true.” The guard was nodding his head eagerly, “No sir, I’m sure. It was her coach, Captain.”

Rox scratched his chin, “He just went to bed and now I’m going to have to wake him. You understand the consequences if you are not certain?” The guard again nodded, “Yes sir, but I’m positive. I’d notice her coach anywhere.”

He sighed, “Very well. Take this one to his old room and stand watch outside it until I return for you, understand?” The guard pushed me forward as Rox disappeared up the grand staircase. This was maddening trying to decipher what they were discussing so I put it out of my head as I had more important things to worry about at the moment.

After being pushed unceremoniously into the room, I was a little shocked because I figured Trevalo would arrange​ for me to sleep in the first room I was put in when I arrived. The one with the horrible smell coming from the bathroom that had no door. I went straight to the bed and stretched out my limbs, which were happy to be out of that cage. My eyes were threatening to close and I didn’t even realize how tired I was until just now.

Rolling over on my stomach, I thought about the next morning. Tomorrow everything is going to change, whether bad or good I’m not sure. I’m going to face the reigning champion of Evanyl with only the battles I’ve won as a reference of what to do during our match.

Honestly I should be worried, or terrified really, of what’s going to happen when I next open my eyes, but for now the lull that’s pulling me to a deep sleep is too comforting. Tomorrow could be just a scary dream for all I know right now.

“Ruequal! Up!” I opened my eyes to see Trevalo’s smug face. My heart stopped for a few seconds, then started beating wildly.

Today’s the day. I’m facing Cicatrix. Bittersweet terror flew through every inch of me. It feels like I’ve been waiting for years, but at the same time it’s came too soon.

Forcing my shaky legs to steady and my heart rate to slow down, I was determined not to let him see how completely nervous I am. Trevalo gave me a surmising look and stated, “I see your a little unnerved. I suppose you should be. This is a critical day for the remainder of your life. Mainly your either going to have one or you will not.” He gave a cold laugh and gestured to follow him out the door.

There were two guards to flank me on either side as we walked down the crimson colored hallway. This I deemed unnecessary because if I haven’t tried to escape before, I definitely am not now. I have too much riding on the outcome of this battle, as in two women I love.

That thought reverberated through me and suddenly I wasn’t as worried. It’s like this was just a small endeavor I must plow through to get to the girls. They will be waiting on me when I walk off the platform. Everything will be fine.

My realist side then kicked in and forced me to shake the relief I had away. It told me being apprehensive is best right now. Being on edge will keep me focused, keep me cautious and most importantly keep me alive. I went over strategies that may be to my advantage or may just get me killed while we marched on to his coach.

“What are you thinking about, Ruequal? I’m curious. What’s going through your mind right now?” Trevalo had sat back, observing me since we left the estate.

My first reaction was to ignore him, but I decided to oblige, “I’m thinking about my prize after I win the competition.” His laugh was mirthless, “Oh? That’s mighty presumptuous of you, but tell me, what would you request?”

This man’s pompousness has always irked me to the point of wanting to break his face. I came up with six different responses before I decided on one that wouldn’t anger him. I still have to play my cards right until the end, “My freedom of course and permission to leave Evanyl.”

Trevalo narrowed his eyes, “Ah, but you automatically get your freedom so that would be a moot point. Seriously, what are you going to ask Lord Vyron for?” I internally rolled my eyes, “When he tells me I am able to leave, I will be gone and you’ll see I was not lying. This is all I want.”

The jerk sat forward, “You are forgetting two key elements though. Number one, if you win, you’ll be required to return here every five years to hold your title and that’s not negotiable so he may not even let you leave at all. Number two an extra prize is offered, which you must chose a daughter to marry. I’m curious as to your choice on that. Who would it be? The oldest and boldest, Xera? Or maybe the youngest and more reserved, Xori? Surely any choice would be a dream come true for any man as they are the most beautiful women in all of Evanyl. So who will you choose?”

This felt like he was probing for information. Why did it matter to him which one I picked? I knew he was still trying to find Zytriana and I knew that damned guard told him Xori had came to see me, but had he put the two together? Did he figure out Xori had her? No, surely not or else Xori would be in danger.

I’ll not be the one to help him lean towards her, “I’m sure he’ll let me live outside Evanyl and return the year of the tournament. If he knows my location and keeps an eye on me then there’s no problem. I don’t really want any of his daughters. I’m going to opt for neither, but if I’m forced then I’ll decide when I have to. Right now, I could care less.”

Trevalo sat back and eyed me for a moment. It may have been my imagination, but he looked relieved for a second when I told him I wanted neither daughter. He then said, “Very well.” I could tell he didn’t believe me, but I didn’t exactly care.

A tumult of shouting, screaming and cheering could be heard in the coach before we even reached the stadium. My blood ran cold while my breathing intensified. This is it. No turning back now.

Trevalo was still studying me with an unnerving fascination that made sitting in this coach with him uncomfortable. It was beyond irritating. Finally I blurted out, “Is there something else you wanted to ask me or do you just intend to keep staring at me until the answer writes itself upon my forehead?”

Trevalo’s lip twitched, “Defiant to the end, Ruequal? It’s nothing pertinent, just a passing curiosity of if you have a strategy or not. The outcome of the match no longer matters to me due the change of my status, but I can’t help to wonder if you have a plan to beat who’s considered the fiercest warrior of all time?”

My rigid back pushed against the seat, “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you. When I step out of this coach, I no longer belong to you anymore, whatever outcome I meet. All your aberrant attempts at trying to get me to bend to your will has failed. As a matter of fact, we are here. Good-bye, Trevalo. I hope whenever we meet in the afterlife, you are burning in hellfire.”

He growled, “Listen, you worthless scrap of dog shit, I’m still going to find Zytriana and she will still die! I have not forgotten that! Your little outburst has just sealed her fate. Even if you win, we are not equals. I’ll kill you and her the first chance I get.”

I huffed, “You are right, we’re not equals and the threat goes both ways. After this competition, if I’m alive and we cross paths I’ll make sure you are no longer breathing to spread your diseases around here. The lower class will not suffer at your hands.”

He started to say something else, but I already leapt out of the coach, caring nothing for whatever empty words he was trying to make me hear. I have enough to worry about at the moment, but I felt the resolve to make good on what I just told him settle inside me. It’s the truth, when I cross him again, he will pay.

The guards, who I assume were there to escort me on stage, were too busy engaging in conversations with each other and the crowd, so I walked myself to the platform. I always thought it was infantile they did that because where was I honestly going to run to? I’m in a stadium with only one exit.

Starting up the steps, I seen Cicatrix’s bulking form still as he eyed me from across the platform. I felt panic try to set in, but I forced it back. I couldn’t afford to lose control right now, even if I only had the brave facade I’m wearing as my only strategy.

Cicatrix looked deranged as he smiled, “Ruequal, you made it. You rose to the challenge and came to face me. Too bad your road to glory ends here. At least you will entertain me for a little while. The battle five years ago only lasted two minutes. Hopefully, you’ll at least give me ten.” A distorted, wavering sound came out of his mouth that I realized a few seconds later was his version of a laugh. It was eerie and almost inhuman.

A short, brunette girl walked into Jyrixi’s spot on the corner of the platform. She must be the referee for the day. I wonder where the bouncy pink headed one was? I let my eyes travel up to the VIP box, wanting to see my new reason for living. My heart dropped when she was absent, but a new shock hit me when I seen Jyrixi standing beside her empty seat with a worried look on her face.

Cicatrix started his weird laugh again, “If you are looking for Xori she’s not there. She’s in safekeeping until I get her for our wedding night. You don’t think Vyron knows and she wasn’t found out? Well she has been and you will not get the luxury of laying eyes on my future wife before you die.”

My anger peaked, “You will NOT touch her! I’ll make sure your death avenges all the lives you’ve taken just for an upper class status! Does all that gold help you sleep better at night? How do you live with yourself knowing you killed innocent people just to make a name for yourself?”

Cicatrix looked taken aback for a minute, then recovered, “Name? Upper class status? Nah, Ruequal, you’ve got me all wrong.”

A mirthless laugh escaped from my mouth, “So you’re going to tell me that you’ve been forced to fight, too? That you were an innocent victim of this competition as well? I’m not buying it.”

He grinned, showing yellow teeth, “No, no. Nothing like that. I’ve enjoyed everything. I fight because I can kill without repercussions. I could care less about the gold and the riches, I just want to spill blood without being hanged in town square.”

My stomach turned. I always called him a monster, and he’s proved he’s the right person for that name, but I never knew just how deep his depravity ran.

That’s what makes him so dangerous. He literally has no remorse for anything he destroys, not even children. Cicatrix seemed to revel in the inner turmoil he caused everyone.

We were interrupted by a familiar voice, “Alright, beautiful people of Evanyl! We’re here at the final fight! The winner takes all! Will the beloved champion finally be defeated or will Zakyrik Ruequal just be another fallen warrior felled by Cicatrix? I’ll be announcing from up here in the VIP box because we have a referee in training down there. At her count, the match will begin.”

My adrenaline kicked in when I heard the brunette yell three. Cicatrix didn’t charge me like I thought he would. Instead he walked left and started circling me, so I went right to be opposite of him in his pacing. The last thing I wanted was for him to get behind me or catch me off guard.

We rounded the platform twice before I understood what he wanted me to do. He was waiting for me to strike first. Of course he was.

Gathering my courage, I thought of my mother and father. I thought of Zytriana and my uncle. I remembered the promise I made to Detro and Pyrcie. Detro’s solemn plea to get his wife and son out of here, Pyrcie’s request to recite to his wife how much he loved her. Xori’s eyes bore through my heart and that was the last face that stuck in my mind as I made my move. If this was my final breath on this land, then I’ll die with Xori on the forefront of my mind.

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