The Broken Tournament – Full Book/PDF

I wrote this book and want to release it online for as many people as possible. I hope you enjoy!

Prelude

I had ridden for days, but at last my work had been rewarded, this was it, Withwood village. I never thought it would or could exist, to most people it was simply a myth, and for good reason. The once prosperous and heaven like image of Withwood had vanished. Now it was a small shell of its former self. I knew that once I had arrived at the fields I was going to find something; where there’s farming there’re people, but I had expected something much better than this if I were to ever of found it.

Withwood was a very simple place and was very strange looking, almost post-apocalyptic if not for the well looked after fields, and obvious signs of noisy and uncivilised people. Surrounding it was a deep forest to the east and many, many abandoned fields. It would seem that Withwood was unsustainable and they lacked the resources to farm as much as they used too. The location was very flat except for the mess of buildings in the centre. With grand, dusty houses scattered around it just looked like a deserted ruin. Was this even the right place? It had to be, surely? No other village could possibly be like this.

Traveling bards and story tellers would recount vivid images of exotic and ornate buildings so expensive that even kings would need to save to live there. I didn’t doubt that I saw brilliant houses, they were just long past their prime. No, I had to be wrong. I was in Withwood village and the feeling thrilled me.

They say that obscure rural villages have a natural fear of outsiders like me, especially on horseback so approaching would be a risk that probably wasn’t worth taking. I dismounted and took a roll of parchment out of my saddle bag, it was the map I was working on. I kept a draft copy for minor notes. Once I had completed my travels, precisely adding every detail I would copy it up onto the real thing. When the map was finished it was going to be distributed for the whole of Sevren to see. Of course my draft had many scribbles on it already, from exploring the small town of Candan and visiting many minor villages in the process of avoiding Glenmore forest at all possible costs. I drew a little number 16 at my location and added Withwood village to the key on the side. This wasn’t going to be good enough and I would need to take a few trips back and forth checking and writing everything. This discovery could quite possibly make me a knight. I saw this becoming a pilgrimage spot in the future, it had that dead, saintly aura too it.

It’s sad because even if the legend was vaguely true, the remains would always disappoint or show the tragic nature of time. The incompetent leaders had done this; they took a beautiful place and devalued it by converting it into a wreck, what a desolate place. It was both well built up yet devoid of anything, what an absolute wreck of a place. As words, myths and legends travelled from person to person across the ages and naturally it had gotten out of hand, to the extent that discovering the legend would only disappoint and ruin the story for everyone else.

I decided to ride around and see if I could find someone who was alone, if they made a dash to run I’d leave but ideally I’d like to talk to at least one of them so that I could discover as much information as possible, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was curious. There were very well defined paths between the fields that were clearly looked after and many routes around them. At one point I came across a path that was so worn out that it was clear it was regularly used. A road had once been here but it was now a withered melancholic grey with weeds and grass growing through it, and so many cracks that I was worried if my horse would be ok walking through it. It was good that I had found this route because paths meant that I would find people eventually.

Remarkably though I could see three more paths like this across several smaller empty fields that would put any farmer to shame, what was the benefit to having paths in such close proximity? One of the fields was completely empty so I crossed the muddy gap through the field boundary to enter. It was nerve-racking being in a location full of so many people who could potentially want to murder me but it would be worth the effort if I could only get some extra information.

As I forced my horse along I noticed hoof marks being left behind me, great! Brilliant! Now they will know that someone’s been here! So basically I had to find someone really quickly today or I would forever feel nervous about going back, not that I couldn’t go back but returning would be so difficult. You hear things about ancient villages worshiping outsiders to their village as gods but at the same time you also hear of them sacrificing their gods as well. The risk was massively not worth it and I’m not sure I want that kind of attention anyway.

Reaching the end of the field I could see the paths spiralling outwards and just vanishing into dirt, it seemed that people might have lived on those paths, there was slight evidence that houses had once been there, I wonder what happened. The day was still young but I wanted to find someone and promptly get out, spending the rest of the evening drawing the map up. As soon as I had my questions I would be able to relax, return to the council, or even the king if they had finally got around to deciding who he would be.

Before the previous king of Sevren died he put special measures in to ensure that the next king wasn’t his son but someone else, I suppose he hated him. He had the noble and rather foolish ambition that the king after him and every other king following would be decided by a fighting tournament, he was so strange and was probably very paranoid in the last stages of his life. The tournament seemed fairly prone to foul play but hopefully they’d have protective measures in place to stop everyone murdering their next opponent before their battle! This competition doesn’t concern me anyway; all I need is to get that map back to the council and I would be in a life of luxury. The council would have to be the ones to do this and I was still being paid a lot of money, if they forgot about me I would be able to take it else ware to others who would pay fortunes for the knowledge. But would anyone believe me? Probably not but I didn’t want to think about it.

I continued through the fields looking for people, hopeful that I would be able to find at least someone.

Part 1 – Withwood

Chapter 1 – Kil

I continued jogging through the broken paths Withwood village trying to ignore a huge stitch I had in my stomach. Hopefully I’d be able to get back soon and recover before tomorrow. As I ran, breathing heavily, I was alarmed to see a complete and utter stranger sitting on a horse. The shock made me forget where I was going and the distraction caused me to trip over a huge crack in the ground. Something about falling just really hurts; it grazes your knees and is extremely annoying. Falling that small distance can cause way too much inconvenience. Luckily this fall wasn’t so bad and only minor damages had taken place but I had more worrying things to deal with. This stranger was approaching me at a quick pace.

He had a brown horse with many bags attached to it, the horse was very plain but the man wasn’t, he was so unusual I didn’t know how I should act towards him. He had a strange hat with feathers as well as clothes with many layers of cloth or fabric coming off in ripples; I lacked the words to describe it since it was so different to the normal clothes I would see daily. Brown and red just looks strange to me, I have no idea how he was able to get an item like that, all the clothes sold here are just green all over, simple as that. What was also strange was that he had the same thing I used to tie my shoes together to tie his shirt together! Why on earth is that a good idea? He looked stupid, not to mention that it’s a waste of time when you could literally put the whole thing over your head without tying it anyway. The use of his clothes was pointlessly over the top.

He looked massive and intimidating from his huge mount and I suddenly realised that this guy might be dangerous instead of some kind of strange sceptical for me to laugh at. Before I could think to run away he started to talk to me, I guess he was friendly after all.

“Where is this place?” The stranger asked, he had brown tuffy hair out the side of his hat and a relatively normal, if not wide face with a hairy stubble which really needed to be cut off or grown into a beard, the middle ground did not suit him.

“Um” I hesitated, how could he not know? Surely this was the place he’d come from, otherwise he’d never be here. “Don’t you know? Aren’t you from here?” I tried to come across as intimidating as I possibly could from a position of lying on the ground staring at my knee.

“Ha ha, yes, but I seem to have forgotten.” His face switched from mild nervousness to confidence, as if forgetting the place where you lived was the most normal thing in the world. I suppose it wasn’t impossible, there were times in the past where I forgot my way and got lost however I would never believe that one could forget not to dress properly. I would need to ask him where he got his clothes from.

“Well, it’s Withwood village? How could you not know?” This whole thing was very strange, he might have been lying but I found it hard to believe that anyone could live anywhere else but here so I had no choice but to believe him.

“Well I took a fall from my horse and knocked my head, the names Matthew by the way.” He got off his horse and went to sit down on the path next to me. Then he put his hand out vertically as if he wanted something from me.

“What?” I said, his action had made me nervous. This man wasn’t threatening but now he was just confusing. He quickly retracted his hand in nervousness, now I was able to relax since he established himself as weak.

“If you don’t mind theirs a few more things I’ve forgotten, do you think you could help me out?”

Well I did have plans later; for one thing I had to prepare for my trial tomorrow which would let me stay in the village.  When a boy becomes an adult they go through a village trial which determines what will happen to them as an adult, it was all very vague and nobody ever mentioned it but it was the event plaguing my thoughts right now, having someone to talk too whilst taking a breather could never be a bad thing.

“Alright” I responded.

“So how many people live here?” He had actually taken out a scrap of paper, something rarely seen in the village, and was writing stuff down on it. I knew vaguely how to spell and write words but I was slow and didn’t know the correct way to write the letters in. Reading and writing was a pointless hobby anyway, if I never used it, how could I possibly need it?

“I’d say there would be about, um 50? I’m not sure really” I really wasn’t but it’s more a number I threw out there randomly when I get embarrassed that I can’t really count past, well very far. I never sold the wheat, I just picked it. I would get paid five small brown coins and that’s all the counting I needed.

“50? Alright” He clearly didn’t seem satisfied with my answer and had stopped writing. “Are you sure? This is a very big place! I would have been sure that there would be more than 50!”

“Oh yeah I meant 5 lots of 50.” I just said it without thinking, in fact I didn’t really know how many people there were in the village, if there were roughly 20 people working on the fields and 9 fields how many people would that make? Also theirs probably about 50 people just working on who knows what in the centre. “Never mind” I said, and I told him that information.

“So theirs around 230 people?” he asked me.

“Yeah I guess” I was more amazed with how quickly he could count, or even get that number in the first place, I had no idea people could ever get that clever or speedy.

“And what do we do?” He asked the question carefully for some reason, as if he should be worried.

“Harvest um potatoes mainly, we also harvest wheat and the folks back in the village turn it into bread, it’s a really cool method, I never knew it would be possible to turn something so… so um…” I found it difficult to think of the word “Something so… uneatable into a thing that tastes really nice”

“Aha I see” the man, whose name was Matt (Right? I don’t even remember) continued to write about me with continued interest. Everything about him was strange but he seemed pleasant enough, I was happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and talk to him in this pleasant way. He was strange and interesting, like no adult I had ever met before.

“Also what’s your name?” He asked me as an afterthought.

“Kil” I said, that was a fair enough question. I threw in a little sentence at the end to check I’d got his name right “It’s kil, Matthew.” At this point Matthew became excessively nervous and started sweating more than I had during my run. To comfort him I put my hand on his shoulder, this was instantly way too awkward for me and I fiddled around with the grass behind my back to try and calm my nerves and make the whole thing feel more natural. This clearly had the opposite effect because he had become crazy and started breathing hard.

“Well Kil, I I I I m M mustbe  going n n now, it was p p leasent talking though!” he quickly leaved me, riding away on his horse as fast as he possibly could, what a strange man I thought.

 

 

I realised that I should probably get back to my training for the trial tomorrow and got up to run. Nobody has really told me anything about the trial, all they seem to say is that nobody has ever failed and that I’ll be fine if I train properly. Well that’s nice and all but I’d still appreciate knowing more information!

I returned to the massive buildings in the centre of Withwood where a familiar and vile face greeted me. It was Jak, the leader of the village and he was insanely creepy and very camp.

“Kil, how are ye?” Oh dear, he opened his arms to hug me and I had no real choice but to go and hug him, he was the village leader after all and you had to follow what he says at least some of the time.

“fine” we hugged for a brief moment and then I pulled away, but he was still grabbing me. He patted me on the back but wouldn’t let go until a few more uncomfortable seconds had gone by and I was made to feel very cold and horrified.

“Ye ready for yer trial Kil?” Looking at this large old man actually gave me some reassurance, if this elderly ugly fart could pass it then pretty much anyone could.

“Yep” I said, one word answers were the way to go with this guy, if you kept on talking for long periods of time it would inevitably lead to a new conversation and that was the last thing I wanted. He had a talent which I hated – being able to talk about anything pointlessly forever.

“Aha! Ya see, you’ll be FINE! I look forward to see you become an adult Kil, the time seems about right! You certainly look like an adult!  And a very strong and HANDSOME one at that!” He talked to me as if he owned me and felt comfortable touching my shoulder and chest for long periods of time as if it was completely normal. Sure it was normal for him but ultimately that still wasn’t a good thing.

Thinking about the shoulder thing from earlier (as Jak touched my shoulder) made me realise that maybe that’s what Matt thought when I tried to reassure him. Because it’s either that or he really wants to give me one, and the very idea of that disgusts me.

“Yep, well see you” I replied and moved to leave.

“Alright Kil, no worries, I’m sure we’ll have an even longer time to talk once ya pass yer trial and become an adult like me, we’ll basically be in the same age range at that point! We’ll be sure to have a long talk then!”

“ahahahah, yep, see you” I walked off as fast as I could, he was horrible to talk too, every minute made me feel filthy and felt way longer than it should. Something about the way he talked to me was just extremely unnatural. The villagers often said things like “Don’t worry, he tends to like men of your age” and it was common things to joke about. Was he like that really? No, he was probably just as uncomfortable as I was but trying to hide it.

Even if Jak was interested in me I’m not attracted too males, and not old fat ones at that. Most of the girls at the village were nice enough for me. If any of them came on to me as hard as Jak did then I’d have a much different reaction. In a way it might be simpler for me if I did like old fat guys, I wouldn’t have any relationship troubles then and I’d be in a position of power by default. But contemplating that idea for even a minute made me feel sick inside so it wasn’t even worth it, I’d sooner die than be forced to be with him.

I went to the nearest shop which sold food and once I had brought a small meal I sat down eating it on a high overlook gazing at the village I call home. This was Withwood. Tall and magnificent with sprawling landscapes of beauty and buildings of excellent feats of construction, the sun was high in the sky and it cast the whole view in brilliant sunlight, this was the life. Just relaxing in the sun, I knew that I needed to win the trial, just so that I had another chance of seeing this view again. I promised myself that when I came back here eventually I would sit here again and think of the many years of comfort I was to have.

Once I finished I walked down the path to meet with some friends before going to do some more training, a simple circuit of press ups and sit ups would probably be enough, I don’t want to wear myself out before the big day. It was at this time that to my complete shock and horror I was grabbed from behind and gagged.

“argh” I tried to speak but words would not come out, I did gag myself once because I thought it would be fun but never as badly and tight as this. I wrestled with my captors who I couldn’t see but in the end it was futile, they took me into a carriage and drove off. One or two of the villagers were still at their stores and I could hear shouts wishing my luck on my trial. So this was it, my trial was beginning.

Chapter 2 – The Trial

I was whisked in a dark carriage before I knew it. Some strange squishy object was touching me, then I realised that food was scattered all around me in this terrible filthy place. Initially I didn’t eat it because I wasn’t hungry, and I was gagged, then my stomach started to crave. After a couple of hours waiting and removing the gag I gave in, the food was disgusting and bitter, the bread was difficult to chew and turned to mush in my mouth for minutes before I was finally able to swallow. The dishevelled and mouldy conditions were something I had to get used too. I would often get uncomfortable lying on the solid wooden floor and need to change my position. Then everything started to ache and nothing became comfortable. I hated it.

It only too me minutes to notice that the carriage I was in wasn’t much of a carriage at all, it was a surface with a sheet tied over it making it nearly pitch black at night, the pale light shone strongly through creating an unbearable heat until the sun set. The captors hadn’t said anything to me at all so I shouted “Is this the trial?” I heard quick “yeah” in response. It was good to know and allowed me to feel at least a bit reassured.

Many hours had passed since then and it was only now that I realised if I were to kidnap someone on a horse and tie them up, I would claim they were on a trial anyway so that they wouldn’t run. I thought that the only people nearby were my fellow villagers but now that I thought about it maybe Matthew wasn’t from this place, maybe these guys weren’t from this place either.

“Can you prove to me that I’m on the trial” I shouted hoping they’d be able to say something that proved it though I wasn’t sure. They didn’t say anything, so I shouted “DO YOU HAVE PROOF?” still nothing. I decided to attack the cover that was holding me in the carriage, shouting as loud as I could at the same time “DO YOU HAVE PROOOOOOF I’M ON TRIAL!” this time I did get an answer but it wasn’t the one I wanted.

“SHUT UP, AND LEAVE THOSE ALONE.” I didn’t have much of a choice, I either had to trust these guys or escape and I wasn’t prepared to leave the carriage unless it actually wasn’t the trial. Even then being kidnapped is a pretty good excuse for missing your trial so it would probably be alright anyway. It was too late to run now, I had gone too long without doing anything and leaving would only cause me to get lost, and suffer in the cold for days.

The hours continued to go by and I tried to go to sleep. Instantly I could hear the horse plodding along and I became very irritated with the stupid creature. I promised myself that if at all possible I would kill that horse because it would ease my troubles and let me sleep. The mummer of my drivers was also irritating but I wasn’t  about to do something as barbaric as murdering humans just to make me sleep better, that would be ridiculous and I value human life a lot higher than that, even if the person’s being annoying or kidnapping me. I wouldn’t be able to sleep well with murder on my hands anyway. I decided that I would try to instead minorly inconvenience them by doing something like killing their horse so they couldn’t get home. Yeah, something similar to that. It’s a little bit evil but not so evil that I would feel bad about it. Anyway I couldn’t really make out what they were saying so the noise went over my head but those horse hooves made me mad as they clopped loudly and louder over and over again.

At one point we reached a place with softer ground and the sound of the horse hooves wasn’t as bad. I still had pent up frustration which made sleep difficult but eventually I settled for just relaxing the hours away in the most uncomfortable state possible.

 

 

I guess I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up to see that the sun had risen again and we were moving, the horse was as annoying as ever. I really needed the toilet and I was getting concerned that I might not be able to do it for a long time. I shouted “CAN I GO TO THE TOILET”

The response I got was “WE’LL BE THER IN AN HOUR” this made me relieved, I wouldn’t have to pee in here and then just sit in it, thank goodness.  They hadn’t given me any water either and the terrible heat only made me want to drink. The dry bread given to me for breakfast didn’t help either.

Later an hour passed, I was sure of it, I even waited far longer than I would have thought an hour would be and we still hadn’t arrived. So again I said “CAN I GO TO THE TOILET PLEASE, I’M VERY DESPERATE!” I tried to sound really traumatised so that they’d sympathise with me but it clearly didn’t work.

“We’ll be there very soon.” Ok, great, that’s reassuring. The men didn’t appear threatening so I had to assume that they were just doing their job.

After an extra hour and a half we finally arrived. A strong, masculine adult towering over me took off the sheet and my restraints finally letting me escape. When he pulled off the sheets I felt the cold air rushing into me and the cool open air made me relax, I was free.

“Go now” He didn’t have to tell me twice, I leapt up and walked a few meters into the wooded section which was near the road we were on. Once I’d taken a long time to relieve myself I returned only to find that nobody was there, they had just left me.

What was going on? How could this crazy trial not even tell me what my objective was? I looked around and saw that there was a map on the floor with instructions. It said to follow the signs on the map and reach the checkpoint, once reached pick up another map to end your destination and complete the trial. So this whole thing was a map reading exercise? I wasn’t actually sure how to read a map.

I picked it up and had a look anyway, Withwood had completely vanished and I was in an area I was unfamiliar with, they clearly had taken me out a long way but it was difficult to get my head around the fact that Withwood would have built such a massive road just so that they could do this trial, it was a complete waste. Anyway I positioned the map to the road, this was clearly where I was but which orientation was I relative to the map?

I could see clearly a sort of uphill accent on the map and tried to spot if that would give me any clues to my location. The plain space to my right was uphill so I knew which orientation I had to go towards, I would be walking through a small wood, nothing as big as a forest, on relatively flat ground at first to reach my destination. I couldn’t tell any more information from the path that I was on so I simply continued through the woods and hoped to find something that would let me recognise where I was located.

The forest was pretty muddy to walk in and my already battered shoes started to sink and slide around. The forest was guarded by many branches and stingy nettles that I wanted to avoid, they only ever appeared in patches at least, most of the time all I had to worry about were some spikes on plant leaves, which wasn’t too bad. This continued for about 500 meters or so until I reached an end and could stare out at the amazing landscape overlooking the coast. I had heard stories of a great sea but this was the first time I ever saw it, it was both captivating and dangerous. The ocean was directly in front of me, maybe ten miles away and there was a huge forest to the right. This was very good because it matched the visuals on my map. The rest of the land was just relatively flat grass, navigation was going to be easy, especially in such good conditions.

I was on the higer ground and as the map confirmed the landscape sloped downwards until the high cliffs separating land from water. The best thing to note was that I could see a clearly identifiable building near to the sea which was on the map, I put it in the back of my mind as a place I would probably end up at later. It was more or less directly in front of my vision so I was able to see where I was on the map. I had to go more to the right and into a large set of trees further down the coast from the shack. So it was simple, the task was starting easily. No wonder all the villagers didn’t worry about it.

Conscious of the fact that I might be timed I decided to jog towards the location at a rather quick pace, only slowing to a walk when I was tired. The grass was a very nice place to run on and it wasn’t too bad excluding a few dodgy bits where the mud was pretty rough and deep. After about an hour I had made it to the checkpoint but instead of being greeted by a person it was a simple wooden stand with a button. On the stand it had a cabinet with two dispensers at the bottom and a sign that was embedded within the device. The sign said ‘Press the button to reveal your question’ and sure enough there was a big wooden button on the top of the device.

When I pressed the button the sign switched and a new piece was revealed, it must have been on a rotator or something and the question was on another piece of wood that slid into the display of the contraption… or something like that. I read the sign.

‘You only have half an hour to answer this question; your answer will affect your chances of winning the trial. Two people are starving and will die if you don’t give them food, which person should you give the food to?

  1. The old woman
  2. The old man

You’re time has already started.’

It was a very difficult question and didn’t even give me a lot of time to think. I wish there was a choice where you could say you’ll let them decide between themselves or try and split the food between them. Unfortunately I had no idea what to answer because it was such an odd question.

You could say that it doesn’t matter because they’re old but that’s still a human life dying at your hands so it’s not like you can’t answer and give it to nobody.  Giving it to an old man… when I think of an old man I think of Jak and his strange, creepy speech and touching. I didn’t really want to save a guy like that, so I’ll give it to the old woman I guess? I was dubious but it was such a difficult question that it was my best answer. Then I saw that there were no buttons to confirm your answer and whatever choice you made. I went around to the back of the machine to check and sure enough it had two buttons, one with old man and one with old woman. I pressed the old woman button and I could hear the sign change.

‘Congratulations, you chose the right answer! It was indeed the old man!’

This was pretty shocking but if a really stupid problem with the thing (I don’t even know what to call it) had led to me winning the trial then it was fine by me! My insane level of luck was hard to believe. I remarked that I was so close to failing the trial and that a problem by the villager’s handy work was what caused me to win, maybe the one who created it needed to have their own trial. It was a pretty good and scary feeling, I could have been exiled or something! I felt like I had cheated death, the serious stakes of losing were now dawning on me and a sensation of fear rushed through my body and I noticed my heart rate quicken uncontrollably.

A map popped out of the bottom of the ‘old man cabinet draw’ with directions for where to go next, luckily enough for me they pointed towards the building I had seen earlier. So I knew how to get there very easily, it was right by the sea as well, hopefully that was as difficult as it got.

It took me about half an hour to arrive and it was a rather big building with visibly tall wooden walls painted a faded black. I could see beyond the building into the small pebble beach by the sea where there was a large piece of wood sticking out, I had no idea what it was for but it was interesting. I knocked on the door and waited.

I could see the person who let me out of the carriage for my trial right there in front of me “Congratulations, you’ve passed the trial! Come with me!”

It was difficult to believe! After all this build up, the trial that I had been stressing over in my head was finally over, I was officially an adult of Withwood village! It was an amazing feeling! I followed the guy downstairs to a dark grimy corridor with elation.

“We’ll need you to wait here for a bit but congratulations, you’ve passed!” He gestured to a very dark and horrible disgusting room, but if it was just for a few minutes it couldn’t be that bad!

Someone already in the room shouted “KIL RUN!” but before I could do anything the guy pushed me into the ground and locked the door. I couldn’t see it clearly enough earlier but I turned to see that the door to the room I was pushed into had bars on it. A relentless flood of terror took over my consciousness.

Chapter 3 – Maron

It was going to be another one of those days, Joe and everyone else were going to have one of their parties and I’d have to join them.  I’m trained in using a sword! I shouldn’t be forced into these things I don’t want too, especially with my problem.

At a very young age I had started drinking with my mum, who encouraged me enthusiastically. At first I’d have very small amounts but it quickly got out of hand to the extent that we started getting drunk together, starting a long addiction that had plagued me for my whole life. It was bad enough being a drunken failure. But my time at the fighter’s guild had started to reflect badly on their reputation. Once everyone had seen one of their members crying for help from every individual nearby due to drunkenness they thought of the fighter’s guild as more of a joke than anything else. That was my worst night and it was recounted to me the following afternoon, making me quake in shame. Apparently I also attacked everyone after asking them for help too, it was a very poor way to behave.

It eventually reached a point that the fighters guild had banned me from drinking, giving me a serious warning. Giving up alcohol was difficult, cripplingly so, and I never fully got it to work since I would always sneak away to drink small amounts in secret. I found that every moment I wasn’t criticising myself for being a ridiculous and untrustworthy detriment to my guild or dreaming of wining the kings tournament I would have the desire in the back of my mind. It wasn’t a nice feeling and it was made even worse because once I started drinking it was difficult to stop. Initially it was to take my mind away from everything and escape my self-defeating thoughts but even though I’ve been needing it less and less I can’t help but want it.

Becoming less reliant on drinking was one of my goals, yet going to a party with Joe really didn’t sit well with me since I would be tempted to try the beer they had there. There wasn’t much you could do to have fun but drink, that was the main purpose most people had in mind when going out which was what annoyed me about having to attend. Joe knows that I have a problem yet he doesn’t care enough to stop me from going. I’m on uneven terms with him and the time when he said “I wish you could just be normal” still echoes in my head and makes me cry. Breaking up with him would hurt me a lot because I like being able to talk and have sex with a cute guy whenever I want, and I worry if anyone else would want me if I did split with him. All I had to do was get better, something easier said than done.

Right now I had to wait for him to arrive before leaving with him. The worst thing about him was that he’s often late and forgetful, but this time his insistence on going made me sure he’d turn up. A few minutes later he appeared.

“Maron” He said neutrally at a distance. Even though I didn’t like what he was making me do I was happy to see him and leaned in for a hug instead he grabbed my hand and walked me to the place. A rich friend of ours had organised the party and had lots of flagons out already as well as barrels to take from. Many people were already there and it was fun getting to talk to them.

Once I’d been there, surrounded by people drinking Joe came up to me with a flagon of drink.

“Here you go.” I looked at him sternly, why he tempt me like this? Doesn’t he know I have a problem?

“No I’m ok.” I replied.

“Just hold it Maron, I don’t want you to be the weird one who doesn’t drink.” He was just as stern as I was and put the flagon in my hand. Great, so I’m either the weird one who doesn’t drink anything or the weird one who gets insanely drunk. Just great. I could be the weird one who just held a drink and did nothing but I already had started to rationalise everything in my head and the drink did look good.

After a while I took a sip, it was beer, then I couldn’t help but continue drinking.  It tasted so good and warmed my insides, a sensation of desire was fulfilled completely, but only for a second. The sensation was there and gone as soon as I swallowed. A few minutes later I finished and was just holding a cup with nothing in it, which looked strange, so I filled it up again, but of course I ended up finishing that one as well and by that time I didn’t care if it would mess me up. I just wanted it. I did this a third time, then a fourth until I lost count and didn’t even care anymore. The feeling I got from drinking was too good to resist, it was a feeling I had missed.

 

 

The inside of my brain was pounding my skull. I was awake and lying down on the floor completely nude in a place I had never seen before. A feeling of dread and horror rushed through my stomach and made me shiver as I wondered what could have possibly happened. I didn’t know anything about the events that had took place in the past ten hours. I just lied there horribly regretting everything until I became conscious of a cold liquid running along the front of my body. Blood.

I leapt up, the sight of blood made me able to somehow ignore the fatigue and pain in my head. What I saw made the feeling of terrible guilt multiply in my head to a level that was difficult to handle. I could tell now that I was in someone’s bedroom, and there was a naked dude who I didn’t know lying on the bed with a bloody oozing knife in his chest.

While drunk I had stabbed a huge cut through his stomach and sliced him causing blood and guts to pour onto me. How did I not notice the smell before? It was inescapable and rancid,  completely filling my senses. I began to panic and physically felt my heart rate quicken. Yes he might have tried to rape me or something but being a murderer wasn’t much better. If there was one thing that would make me never drink again it was this, I wasn’t going to touch a drop in my life ever again if this was the harm I could cause. I hastily grabbed my clothes, put them on in a rushed inefficient way and then stormed out without thinking of being seen.

I had to leave this place; I would never be accepted here, not before, not now and not ever. What was I going to do? I’ve got nowhere to go! I hastily rushed into my house in a mad panic to get everything and leave. I took food, warmer clothes, and other things I might need.

Then I found a small letter everyone in the fighters guild received advertising the kings tourney. That was it, it was all I could do, my only option was to either go to another town to try and find a job there or to do this, I’m a good fighter, I’ve now killed, this is something I can do or die trying to do, perhaps that would be for the better. I looked for the dagger I always kept on me but realised I must have left it in the room I fled from, I instead grabbed another less well kept one and left with all my possessions in a bag. I realised I had forgotten something, if I was ever going to enter the tournament I would need proof that I was a citizen of Sevren. I grabbed my form and for the last time left home. I would never be allowed here again not after they knew what I had done, this would be the last time I would ever be in Hanasen village, they would be glad to get rid of me.

I’m sure the lives of everyone would be a lot simpler without Maron Alpick to ruin everything for them.

Chapter 4 – Rick

“KIL RUN” I shouted as he got pushed into the dungeon, I was too late. My friend was trapped. That’s what these monsters do, they lie to you to keep you for as long as they like.

“Kil, are you ok?” I crawled over to meet him, he looked rough and dishevelled but I knew that I was a whole lot worse. He was the kind of guy who wouldn’t realise he was trapped so I either had to comfort him if he worked it out or slowly break the news to him. I had a theory though, and it was confirmed with his next sentence.

“Who are you? What’s going on?” Kil said looking at all of the other bodies in the room before returning back to me. So he had no memory of me at all, too many people had forgotten us for it to be coincidence.

“Don’t you remember, I’m Rick.” Confusion swept across his face and I saw that it was futile. Then from his sat up position he glanced at the rest of the people in the room. It was creepy how most of us just lied there in our spots, looking down at the floor and saying nothing. I had tried to create conversation at first, but their pitiful sadness was infectious and I found myself joining them in creating the dire mood of the dungeon.

“No I don’t know you.” He was trying to avoid looking at my face; even in the minor candlelight he could still see my gruesome mutilation.

“Come over here” I said beckoning him to return to my corner at the back wall of the room. A few heads had turned to look at us but they were already bored with the new addition to the group, they returned to the mind games in their head, dreams of home and escapist fantasies.

“This is why you don’t know me. Think about this, how many people are adults in Withwood compared to the number of kids who’ve not passed the trial?” I asked him knowing more or less what his answer would be.

“Well theirs a lot more children.” So Withwood hadn’t changed, everyone including the adults had no idea what was going on behind the scenes.

“That’s because there’s so many people who are taken here! The fact that you don’t remember me when you should tells me that.” At first it was painful when people didn’t know who you were, but you just had to live with it. For some reason it wasn’t their fault.

“Why should that tell you anything? All it tells you is that I’ve forgotten you.” Kil replied, he wasn’t as smart as he looked, or maybe me idea was really farfetched. Despite having the air of intelligence he really comes across to me as someone who doesn’t know what they’re on about. Yes he’s physically strong and relatively good looking but that doesn’t mean anything.

“Well there are so many children compared to the adults because most of the adults fail their trial and are sent here. I failed and was sent here as well!”

“Well maybe but I don’t believe that I would have forgotten you. You’re appearance is quite, something I think I’d recognise.” Kil replied trying not to be insulting, he’d been through a trial and horrific circumstances but was handling it quite well, maybe he was clinging on to a belief that this was another part of the test.

“Think of our group of friends, we’re called the 5 farmers. Who are those members?”

“Well theirs me, Josh, Mike, Jack and a fake fifth member who we have just to make the name sound cooler.” Well he was right on all the members except one. I had no idea how memories could be erased this easily, but I suppose things like this would fill in the gaps.

“I am the extra member, you’ve all forgot me since I went on the trial and lost. Somehow and by some way the people who fail the trial must be forgotten about.”

“How about you tell me something about me a complete stranger wouldn’t know?” Kil said inquisitively, he wanted to believe me, I’m sure. The idea had been repeated so much in my head until it had become normal so I appreciated his doubt. I had to tell him something he only told me or very few people. I decided to tell him about the rat.

“Ages ago when you were younger you found a rat near a road and put it in a massive bottle so you wouldn’t lose it. You would feed it all the time and even asked people like me to feed it as well, at first it would try to desperately escape the container but eventually when you tried to set it free. But the rat had got so used to living there that it didn’t try to escape. A few days later we found it dead in that same bottle.” How was that I thought triumphantly!

“I guess I believe you.” Kil said and even though he was reacquainted with an old friend I could see him almost tear up. To him this would have been his first realisation that he hadn’t won.

“We were great friends, I can tell you more if you want, it’s not like we’re going anywhere.” I realised I said too much, that light hearted statement might have been too soon. Kil ignored it.

“What happened to your eye?” he asked me, interested. “How did you lose it? Maybe I’ll remember something.”

Kil would not have any memory at all because I lost my eye here. After days of wasting away I decided to escape, but I was caught way too easily. They cut it out at punishment, not before mashing a tiny knife the size of a pin into it and moving it around while I was still conscious. It was the most painful experience of my life and made the dungeon look like heaven in comparison. Telling Kil that would shock him, I couldn’t do that to him yet.

“I fell over and grazed it with a rock, they had to take it out because it messed up my vision so I couldn’t see properly, and luckily it healed.” I felt a little bit bad about lying to Kil, but it seemed miraculous to have a conversation again that the topic didn’t feel like it matted.

“Yeah they used to say “Watch out for one eyed Rick!”” I said to try and make light of the situation. One person had called me that once but it was with a lot more malice, then followed by a shivering low key laugh.

“Why did you cause much trouble?”

“No I just kept bumping into people.” I’ve had dreams and thoughts of home just like the rest of them, and that was a joke I had said to them.

I thought that after Kil had lost so much so quickly I needed to present him with my plan. The pain from the previous escape plan hadn’t fazed me, and the fact that Kil was now here only made me more adamant that the idea would succeed. But first I had to make sure of one thing.

“You do know that you’ve lost the trial right?” Kil suddenly looked really sad.

“Yeah” he mumbled the words to himself because he didn’t want them to be true; he knew deep down that he’d done something to fail and that really made him mad.

“It’s not my fault that I lost.” Kil said “There was the wooden cabinet or something and I pressed the other choice and they thought I’d pressed the other one by mistake.”  Kil had failed on one of the insanely early stages of the trial; you had to pick a choice where there was no right or wrong answer within a time limit. The way to win was to not answer at all, wait for the timer to run out and have the person give you the right map, and both maps were the same. I decided to ignore this and thought it was best to save this information for a later date; even though he was my friend I hadn’t seen in months I still needed to keep things from him.

“ That’s horrible, which one did you pick?” I asked him so that I could say the same one he did, and pretend that that’s how I got in this situation as well.

“I picked the old woman but they thought I’d chosen the old man, which is why I was sent here.”

“Yeah I picked him, it really sucks, it’s a very difficult question and who are the village to say who’s right!” I promised myself that I would tell him, but there was more time for that later. I had to tell him the plan soon.

“Exactly” Kil responded “This was the most stupid trial possible, so the difference between the child’s and the adults is that one wants to save an old woman and one doesn’t. It’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah, absolutely, it’s so stupid. The whole village is terrible, and here’s what they do and you won’t like this.” I thought I’d tell him about what Jak, the leader of Withwood village did with the people he held captive “Jak sells citizens of his own village as slaves.”

“What! No!” Kil shouted, it made me aware that everyone was looking at us again with quiet and brooding concentration. Sadly this was true though, I had seen many slave masters brought in to choose who they want. Luckily for me my eye had prevented me from ever being bought even though at first I was in much better health than the others.

“Yeah, slave masters come in and decide who to buy, I’ve been here so long because they don’t want to buy a guy with just one eye, and they’ll always choose someone else over me. Also don’t listen to anything Jak says from now on, he pretended to me that I’d won the trial as well and used me, do not do that.”

“Ok” Kil said thinking to himself “how can we get out of here then?” he said it too loud, every single person in the room had heard him. We were obviously being eavesdropped. It sucked, so I had to lie.

“Escape? We shouldn’t escape; they’ll do bad things to you when they catch you.

“How will they catch us?” When I was captured I had a terrible smell on me from the piss and faeces of the room. It was all too easy for dogs to track us.

“They use dogs to follow us.” Realisation appeared in Kil’s eyes.

“Surely it’s better to try to escape?” He asked me, even though I had the tunnel prepared for the plan I wasn’t about to let him know about it yet. I had spent a few days covering a blanket with mud until it blended into the back wall which was mud since we were underground. Then I had stuck it to the insides by wetting the sides so it would stick and form a kind of door. Then by cover of night I had tried to break away into a tunnel. Nothing had worked so far though.

“Yeah but I don’t know how, I tried assaulting the guard one time but it didn’t work out well. Not at all well” I couldn’t help but flinch and grab my eye, the trauma rushing back to me. “We won’t escape”

After that I didn’t work on the tunnel at all and kept Kil Company, I had to make sure he wouldn’t reveal anything to the other people there. I’m not sure why I waited except for the fact that something about him made me think in my head that it was for the best.  A few days passed and on one of them Jak came to visit. Kil was appalled by the food as I expected and just generally felt down most of the time. As I had been here so long having Kil around was a welcome diversion from everything else and I honestly enjoyed some aspects of it. On the day that Jak came to visit Kil was taken with him to another room.

I knew what Jak would do to Kil in that room and felt terrible for the experience he and many other victims would go through. I just hoped he wouldn’t lose his mind because of it. I think I had scared him so he never talked to me but from the very few things people would say about him I had my ideas.

When he came back he didn’t say anything, but something was obviously wrong, he was crying and trying to hide it again. I felt a burning sympathy. I left him to rest for that day but planned to tell him the escape plan on the next. The thing that was stopping me was the fear of his commitment to Jak, I wasn’t sure if he would trust the leader of his trial over me. But now I felt like I had my definite answer.

When I woke up the next day I told him about the tunnel in hushed whispers before anyone else had woken up. I was nervous that he might be annoyed that I kept the secret for that long but he was suddenly extremely happy and wanted to help dig it himself because I was extremely weak from a poor diet of liquid malnutrition and he was still relatively healthy compared to others. And with his increased work effort we had the tunnel done in about a week, making sure to hide each other and watch out for other people who may have been looking.

“What do we do now?” I asked Kil, I was a lot more nervous about this whole thing knowing the risks of failure but as a person who wanted very badly to escape he had taken over everything. He was a better leader than I was and more confident of a person, so I was inclined to trust him. There was a lot of trouble to do with being caught and I would rather someone unworried by the future threats deal with it.

“We do it today.” He said

“Today, but what if we get caught?” I said, we couldn’t be sure if Jak and his dogs would be close by so they could find us straight away. I would rather wait until we were sure he wasn’t around.

“You’re not coming.” Kil said to me, what? How could he say that? I was the one who had the whole tunnel idea In the first place! It was unjust.

“No I am coming.” I said, if I was to escape again I would have wanted it to be with Kil. Whether or not his stupid plan had any merit.

“I can’t have you coming with me if you’ going to be this nervous, you have the mind-set of a person who will be caught.” I realised this was true, I was insanely worried after last time, this was when I resolved that I’d escape no matter what, even if it meant throwing Kil down to Jak at one point.

“No, I’m not going to be caught ever. I just thought it would be easier to do it when we know Jak won’t be around, he’s got his dogs remember?” Kil clearly hadn’t thought about this part of the plan but it clearly didn’t matter to him, he was going to do it regardless of what I said.

“It doesn’t matter, we’re getting away.”

“Alright then I thought, fine by me.”

 

 

 

The tense wait for our escape went by agonisingly slowly, then unannounced without warning Kil silently crawled into the tunnel and I followed, placing the stained blanket I had prepared behind me. I just hoped it would stay there long enough that we wouldn’t be noticed; I had never closed it from the inside and regretted not being that prepared. My heart was racing and I couldn’t believe how well Kil was holding it together. When Kil got to the breaking point of the tunnel, he turned around as if he had no doubts at the speed I could put the blanket on at. He paused for a moment until I turned around and gave him my full attention.

“Rick, when I break this we’re going to run as fast as possible and we don’t stop until I stop, you follow me yeah?”

“Yeah”

“Alright” He broke the tunnel with his head as if it was never there to begin with rushing out. I quickly followed, ignoring the dirt sprayed on me and saw him running towards the forest to the east, and realised just how brilliant his plan was.

We kept on running for about ten minutes before stopping at the wooden cabinet which was where Kil lost his trial.

“Help me break this open!” He spoke urgently, so fast he was barely able to get out all the words correctly.

Not wanting to appear foolish I kicked the cabinet to the side and started jumping at it, kicking it with all my might trying to break it.

“Give it to me.” Kil said and I got off, he grabbed the cabinet and flung it on the floor, it didn’t break but it dented slightly. Once that didn’t look like an option we continued to kick it together in the dark of night until finally the contents shattered open. Wanting to hide the fact that all the maps would be the same I pounced on them before Kil had a chance and grabbed several. I couldn’t see the map at all but I knew all we had to do to get to our next town was to go in the same direction we were already going in. That town was called, Canden? Something like that.

It was too late to go back to Withwood, we’d burned that bridge the moment we lost the trial. We had to make our lives for ourselves now and the best way to do that was to start in the nearest town and work from there. It was going to be difficult wearing the clothes of a slave but you had to start somewhere, and with Kil as a companion I was optimistic about our future. But in the heat of the moment, with the stress and high of the escape we made one fatal error. We forgot that the road nearby existed about an hour’s walk away, and instead headed straight to the forest.

Part 2 – Road to Taltree

Chapter 5 – An Exhausting Day

I woke up early and saw Rick asleep, I had listened to him talk about the tracking dogs and it really didn’t sound nice, I had to wake him up so we could move as fast as possible. The dogs were the only things that worried me. The terror of the looming threat would have prevented me sleeping if me and Rick hadn’t walked for a stupidly large amount of time at night.

Far worse than the brutal conditions of the slave room was the lie of the whole village. Being treated like that after spending my whole life living there is difficult to handle, while everyone but a key few people lived on in blissful ignorance. I didn’t know whether I would have preferred to live on never knowing, or live rough knowing the truth. It didn’t matter now anyway, if I didn’t move quickly things were going to become pretty difficult. I have no idea when they check for prisoners, but the fact that they didn’t find us shows that it’s probably in the morning breakfast. They would start hunting for us today.

At first we had intentions of walking the whole night but eventually it got out of hand. Rick lied on the floor exhausted, saying he couldn’t go on much longer. Then I took a break as well and sat down. Next thing I knew it was the next day. I crawled over to Rick who was breathing loudly as he slept. He never snored but his deep sleep breathing was basically the same thing. It was pointless to get mad at each other; we were all in the same boat anyway so it was pointless to get mad over things out of his control. I had learned to turn his breathing into something relaxing instead of annoying. The fact that he was sleeping was something that made me happy enough to put up and relax to it. Sure it was weird but much better than the alternative which was getting very frustrated. I of course would never tell him.

The figure sleeping in front of me was haggard, malnourished and disgustingly thin. I had never seen anyone look so restless in sleep.

“Wake up Rick!” His one eye opened and closed. Making the contrast between his disgusting mess of a left eye even greater and it was difficult to look at. He can’t help it but it’s creepy.

Even though all memory of him had vanished from my mind I felt like I had a lifetime bond with him after everything we’d been through together. It was strange, and maybe imaginary, but I could imagine him back in Withwood like he was really there. He was healthy and well, it was nice to think about.

Last night we’d gathered some maps from the container on the way to find, whatever was going on…wherever we wanted to go. Now that it was morning I could see mountains in the distance as shown on the map, from what I could tell the nearest town, Canden was right on a road and there was nothing else but a huge forest in its way. It might be a good start to head over there and see if there was anything we could do. It was hard to believe that there was a whole world outside of Withwood village, being so isolated for so long had made the rest of the world feel fake. This new world was so much bigger that there was likely to be a good option for us. Maybe we could find ourselves a situation even better than Withwood, whatever it was it was going to be better than being a slave.

Despite not being confident at all, it was for the best to put on a show of confidence for Rick. I realised that Rick never actually woke up or had quickly returned to sleep. “RICK!” he awoke with a nervous start and looked at me for a few seconds.

“Kil” He said.

“You ready to head off now?” I thought we may as well continue walking; there was no way the dogs weren’t after us by now anyway. Every time advantage would be necessary until we were sure of our escape.

“Yeah, I’ve not got anything to bring” For some reason Rick had taken more than one map which was strange, only one of us really needed to navigate. Despite all that it still took us a few minutes to set up and get going but once we did we were ready to run.

Rick got tired a lot more easily than I did, which was understandable just from visually looking at him. We were both starting to get hungry and couldn’t find anything. The fastest route to Canden would be through Glenmore forest, maybe retreating to Canden would be far enough to get away.

As I got closer I saw that what I thought was a small gathering of trees in front of a huge mountain range was in reality a massive gaping forest. It was colossal, and not just dense but tall as well. It was the monster we were going to traipse through to make our escape.

I was so fixated on the forest that Rick’s observation startled me.

“Look over there, isn’t that a person?”  I froze and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my body. Had they actually found us? I had a look where he was pointing and the person was charging towards us. They didn’t have any dogs but a force of terror shook through my core and I was immobile, too terrified to move.

“What do we do?” Rick asked me, panicking. I had no idea; somehow I must have looked more composed than I felt. I decided not to answer him for the moment. From a distance where the strangers face was still a blur I heard a should

“llr” I couldn’t make it out properly, but it didn’t sound threatening. It took all my effort to force myself to say something to him.

“Just stand. We outnumber him.” I said to Rick trying not to shake. The figure got closer and we could immediately tell that she posed no threat at all, and we began to feel stupid. She was simply a lost traveller who needed help and a lot of it.

“Help me!” She cried out as she appeared before us panting, desperately out of breath.

“Hey, um what’s wrong?” I said as I approached trying to calm her down. Her hair was a shoulder length mix of brown and red and her clothes were torn and unsuitable for travelling. It was worrying to see that this depressed mess of a traveller looked better equipped than we were.

“I’m hungry! Do you have any food?” I did think about food but neither me or Rick mentioned it since we hoped it would sort itself out.

“Sorry no.” Rick said nervously, he was clearly on edge because he could still feel a sense of danger.

“Surely you do!” She cried out desperately as if we were hiding something from her.

“We honestly don’t” I said “it’s the truth”

“No, how could you have got this far without food?” She said accusingly.

“The same way you got here without food…” She seemed defeated at the last moment but I saw that she had a lot of stuff with her in her bag, it looked useful. Maybe she had some things that we could ask of her. I didn’t want to take anything from this poor woman though, maybe if she was going to the same place we could help each other out on the way.

“Where are you going?” I asked casually.

“I want to get to Canden and then I’m going to go up to Taltree.”I suppose that if you were in the middle of nowhere there was only really one location you could want to go too, I had never heard of Taltree though, maybe there was a huge tree in Canden she wanted to climb. She looked little bit older than both me and Rick yet growing up in Withwood allowed us to learn things she might not have done, so maybe we could be useful for each other and find some common ground.

“Well we’re going to the same place, we also know how to get food.” I paused for a moment of hesitation, nothing bad would happen if she didn’t want too but I still would have felt hurt “so do you want to come with us? We can help you get food later.” Upon hearing the news she made a wide smile, walking around hopeless for a very long time changes people. I knew that we both smelled and Rick was unpleasant to look at for more than a second. I’d obviously got used to it but there was no getting around that we both looked like slaves and stank, so I was just thankful she was prepared to put up with us.

As we continued I found that she was an interesting person to walk with and had lots of interesting stories that she could just remember easily. It seemed like her whole life story up until that moment had been crazy.

It seemed like a lot of her problems were to do with a substance called alcohol, even though it caused problems for her she still drank it for no reason at all. Alcohol seemed to have the ability to make people keep coming back to it even if they didn’t want too, I of course wasn’t sure how much to believe. While all my suffering had taken place after I failed the trying, her suffering had taken place for her entire life to the point where everyone in her village hated her so much that she needed to leave. Besides that the other thing she talked about was a tournament.

Withwood was never the centre of the world, now it was great to realise I was never alone at all and there was more to life than just getting accepted to the village and doing farm work all day. When I heard her stories and what was promised in more grown up life I couldn’t help but feel a little excitement.

Withwood village was actually in a country called Sevren, a place where a king controlled all of the towns and villages and made rules for people to follow. He was basically Jak but if he had governed a much larger amount of people over a much bigger area.

I also learned about Kova who neighboured Sevren and was a little bit bigger, Evren which was all the way in the east and many other smaller islands that had far more people in them than Withwood ever had.

Even though Sevren was meant to have a king we were in a time period where the king of Sevren died and his successor was still to be chosen through a fighting tournament, she  was going to compete in that tournament! It was amazing to think that someone I just met by chance in a field could become the future ruler of, well, nearly everything.

Her name sounded a lot different to the standard village names, Maron, it was so simple yet sounded so nice.

After a lot of talking we arrived at Glenmore forest, which had trees fifty times my body height, which was amazing to see! We entered the forest and continued through the path, after walking for several hours a large furry animal was looking at us very intently. It was like a brown horse but with a less straight face, a much smaller body, extremely small legs and a huge lump of fat as its body instead of something slender and thin like a horse.

“Bear” Maron said with a quiver. Suddenly an idea formed in my head, we could eat this animal, she called it a bear right? The bear had a lot of meat on it, not to mention thick fur which could be put to many other purposes. But was it dangerous?

“Should we eat it?” I asked calmly.

“Are you mad?” Maron looked at me as if I was the stupidest person in the world, it might be true but the look really hurt me. She turned back to the bear but it had already used our momentary confusion to launch an attack going straight for me.

I tried to resist and push the bear back but it succeeded in forcing me to the ground. Adrenaline started rushing through my system and I became angry. What right does this brainless creature have to eat me? It was all I could do to keep its head off of mine, it massively hurt my hands but that was minor compared to protecting my head.

Maron took her knife out and plunged it deep into the bears back. It groaned. This gave me a moment to jump up and push it to the ground before it had a chance to attack again. Maron utilised this and stabbed it in the back twice before it made a move to bite me again. The bear wasn’t done and thrashed out at Maron, she dodged and stabbed it again, this time in the face. Blood spurted out and covered her dagger, she forced it in harder for good riddance and the bear flopped to the ground, this was what death looked like. It was nothing spectacular like I would have expected but just a sad permanent sleep.

Rick had been standing there the whole time. I could have been mad that he didn’t help but I was just glad he was ok. With the bear already dead wedecided to eat it, why wouldn’t you? So we set up camp for the night.

Worried about the dogs we smeared bear blood and guts over ourselves to prevent our smells and made way to prepare cooking the bear. We couldn’t smell any worse anyway and Maron asked no questions.

At Withwood we learned a lot about survival because you had too basically. Once all of our firewood was gathered we set forth to making a fire which was just a lot of rubbing sticks together until something happened. It took me a lot longer than normal but we got there eventually. The bear was huge so once the fire was set up correctly we cut off pieces of it and cooked it on sticks, leaving them to cook by sticking them into the earth where we were. The huge pillar of smoke surrounded us but it contributed to hiding our scent from the dogs so it was something we would just have to deal with. Once we’d cut everything we could off the bear we tried to separate its skin so that we could sleep without waking up as cold as we were yesterday.

Despite everything the day had actually been pretty good. I’d made a new friend and we were in happy possession of more bear meat than we could possibly want to eat. We set up shelters out of trees and bushes, using the tree branches for the main structures with bushes and smaller branches at the side, providing a nice resting place since the ground was fairly even. I gave the skin of the bear to Rick because he seemed to need it more, and Maron obviously wouldn’t want a blood and guts covered bear skin.

I remarked that provided we were able to get tools like Marons we’d be able to live quite well for ourselves here. This bear meat would last us three days at the minimum! We settled down for the night and all of us were able to sleep calmly, unaware of the terror that would befall us the next day.

Chapter 6 – The Forest Bandit

What a load of fools these travellers were. Even for a man of the forest who could blend in well with their environment you’d normally expect them to be suspicious of the rumours, but no. They just walked through the forest all day, blissfully unaware that they were being watched. How stupid can you get? Well they would soon learn a painful lesson.

They were loud and used the common path through the forest, our easiest hunting spot. I had returned to Griffin several times and found them nearly straight away. It was difficult for them to travel far when the shortcuts we had made were so much faster. They often say don’t leave the path but this advice was always false with Griffin and his men who ruled the forest, not just the forest but the minds and actions of rich men with power.

Maybe they hadn’t heard the rumours of the forest bandits who resided in Glenmore forest, robbing people just to live well and subtly influencing the politics of the Sunflower kingdoms. It was basically fact that this rumour was correct, we never killed so many accounts would have travelled by word of mouth. One time on an expedition long ago the previous king of Sevren went into the forest and was kidnapped by Griffin, our leader. Ever since he’s had his foot in the door of the politics of the Sevren kingdoms controlling everything, including the tournament that was going to take place very soon.

It was a hopeful future for the bandits of Glenmore forest. With both political power and strangers almost begging to be robbed and taken, not a lot was going to stand in our way. Our tactics had made us stay in our wooded base for too long, we would soon no longer need to fear anyone and be able to branch out.

Listening to them talk had been quite interesting. One of them actually wanted to enter the kings tournament herself. She’s incredibly delusional if she thinks she has a chance of possibly winning at all. The way she took down that bear was poorly handled yet still better than most of the initial scum trying to enter the tournament. A group of our own men, vastly superior in strength to her had already joined the tournament ready to win, with tactics and methods so advanced that we would blow everyone out of the water in an instant, and not just through battle. Ideally we would want our own man to win but the kings son would actually be a fine replacement since we’d still have influence, if it was looking bad he would make a good compromise.

Most of the people there were on the same level as us, but our secret weapon was a genius trained by Griffin himself to be his replacement. He wasn’t quite on the same level but he would get there eventually. He was able to keep morale high and use trickery to get everything he wanted. He had talked me into staying behind, and it’s only now that I recall back on his words how well he manipulated me while I was unaware. Overlooking his manipulation of me I had complete trust that he would obtain the right result.

The travellers set up to sleep and I reluctantly joined them high on top of a tall tree nearby. I had to listen to the stupid ‘adventurers’ talk. Two of them were nutters who said they were from Withwood village, that dead ruin, and I can’t blame the other one for not believing them. Maybe I’m just too old and I’ve been doing this too long but this was ridiculous. Thankfully the skinny one kept quiet, the problem was the girl and big guy who kept on laughing together.

They started to eat the food they cooked yesterday. You never want to cook in Glenmore forest, because if the bandits haven’t already found you they will, it’s unavoidable, and they’ll stay following you until you can be captured easily. To the outsider this place feels massive but people like me can navigate blindfolded. I’ve never actually tried that though, maybe I should?  It wasn’t just their cooking that was bad, once they killed the bear they rubbed its flesh on themselves which made following them even easier. Putting up with the smell I drifted off to sleep.

 

 

I woke up at the usual time and saw that they were still asleep, every ten minutes or so I would move around to warm up for the day ahead. I became bored of waiting, snapped a thick branch off a tree and dropped it near to where they were sleeping. The quiet one woke up and they spent the next 30 minutes packing up. It was remarkable how easily they were prepared to leave things like fires and shelters out, at least try to cover your tracks! These people deserved everything they were going to get. I was looking forward to giving them a scare later.

I didn’t feel bad about what we were going to do. The plight of our leader Griffin was far too great to worry about the lives of strangers like this. If we wanted to survive and influence the kingdom we relied on these people, and we would ultimately be able to help them anyway with the power we’d obtain with their resources. After saying that these two thought they were from Withwood village Griffin said that we need to question them in case. I personally didn’t see the advantage to doing this but Griffin might have some good plans for Withwood if for some miraculous reason it still existed, especially if it was still in its prior form.

Griffin is old and he’s not got much time left, maybe he wants to see Withwood before he dies. Griffin had been the pillar of the group for so long that I dreaded the day when he left the world, whoever followed him would have some huge shoes to fill.

I let them leave and inspected their campsite for a while; they seemed to know a little bit about what they were doing but there set up was still quite basic. It took me a few extra minutes than I first predicted but I eventually caught up to them, climbed a tree to see their journey and watched them like that for most of the day. The boy and the girl talked to each other very well but the skinny one was really out of place, it’s not often you see a dynamic like that and I wondered in my head if these guys had ever even met before.

A while ago I had changed all the signs in the forest; they were completely on the wrong path and walking more into the heart of Withwood, where the remaining bandits were. They seemed confused but weren’t ready to trace back their steps yet. One of them made an effort to climb a tree near to me but his attempt was futile, it was pointless. He just fell on the floor while the girl and scrawny guy laughed the terrible tree climber joined in too as if this was some kind of game. They had no idea how foolish they were being. I noticed a bear coming at them roughly a hundred meters from their location and went to down to kill it. I didn’t want them getting to the travellers before we could question them.

I took out my bow and shot it from a far distance so that it couldn’t get to me. Then for good measure I shot it again just to make sure. It was the kind of shot that could only be made after hundreds of thousands of practice shots, practiced and perfect. It was nearly time for them to be captured and one bear was not going to ruin our plans.

Sure enough half an hour later I found more of my men who were there as planned, we followed behind them for a few moments. We were better organised, better equipped and better men. Our time was coming very soon.

Chapter 7 – An Encounter With Some Pleasant Men

I could see Kil and Maron walking and laughing together in front of me. It made me feel jealous and inadequate. Maron was so beautiful. She had shoulder length red hair, a brilliant laugh and a body to die for. It was painful watching Kil get along so well with her while I was left behind in the dust. She had already judged me as weak and probably hated me. I felt awkward, with an extreme sweat and lips that just wouldn’t feel comfortable. My mouth was dry and there was just no way to make it feel right no matter how much I moved it. I was reduced to shivers in the presence of such a lovely girl.

This new problem made the rest of my issues feel insignificant. The threat of danger from our pursuers was negligible compared to my current troubles. That a girl I loved was right next to me and there was nothing I could do about it. I could love again but it wouldn’t be the same. She’s the cutest girl I’ve seen and that goes for Kil as well. He knows it too.

I’m so nervous that I can’t even speak up to talk anymore. It’s an irrational worry but it’s there all the same. Why is Kil able to be so confident around her? He’s stronger and better looking than be but even so, it shouldn’t change much. But somehow it does. My anxiety is what changes everything, I just can’t get rid of it.

Every time I think to talk to her I can’t help but think of my stupid, ugly, empty eye, which nobody, not even myself can stand to look at for more than a moment. People shouldn’t judge you for your horrible facial inconsistencies but I feel like I’m constantly judged, not by myself but everyone. Every time I have a thing to say it’s shot down by the loud mind which won’t stop calling me worthless. I wouldn’t mind just the restricted vision, but it’s a wound that cuts much deeper than the physical.

I could barely focus on the path I was walking on. It was all the same. All I could do was look at the ground to make sure I wasn’t tripping over any of the stones or holes in the ground.

One moment I was walking with Kil and Maron slightly in front of me, the next moment they were missing, and then I was tackled to the ground. It hurt so much to be pinned down, I felt pain rush through my body.

I tried to scream and alert the other two that something was happening but my mouth was covered. Hopefully they could save me, or get away, whichever was most possible. I wrestled and tried to break free but no matter how hard I tried my captors were stronger and more skilled than me. There was nothing I could do. I tried to fight but eventually gave up.

“Don’t fight back” a rough sounding voice said as I was lifted to my feet. A gag was tied round me which was impossibly tight and my arms were bound. I saw that they’d done the same to Kil and Maron.

Our captors, dressed in green, took us to a forest cave in a clearing so obscure to see that we never would have found it without being led there. They took Kil away for questioning and left me and Maron to lie in the back of the cave all tied up. We were just lying amongst chests and barrels of presumably equipment, food and supplies as well as a couple of beds. With one guard watching over us and the sun in our eyes we waited.

They had already grabbed Marons supply bag and it seemed like they would let us go. They weren’t dangerous but I didn’t like it. Maron was next to me so I had this one chance to prove myself to her.

We exchanged glances lying next to each other, in this dangerous situation it felt strangely intimate. She might have been trying to convey something to me but I couldn’t tell. I went to move slightly closer.

“Don’t move” The guard said. He was dressed in green with a bow and arrow, his clothes looked as if they were made for walking around the forest, they were very strong and seemed very suitable for climbing and survival. I had to think of a way out of this situation.

After what felt like an hour of this awkward staring they took me out for an interrogation. The man they put me in front of was old yet athletic; he’d clearly been doing this for a long time and an air of confident experience about him. His most distinctive feature was his long white hair that had decided to stick around despite his age.

“Alrighty, just got a few more questions to ask you, ones that your friend didn’t really answer very well. I don’t think he can count properly.” He was being open and nice but I had to be wary and hateful towards him.

“Ok what village do you come from?”

“Withwood.”

“Well the only thing is that Withwood doesn’t really exist, it’s a legend. So I’ll ask again what village are you from?”

“Withwood, I assure you it’s there.” he obviously wasn’t happy with this answer but there wasn’t much he could do.

“Ok fine, so how many people are in Withwood?”

“About 100 to 150 I’d say. Mostly children really.”

“Oh and why are there so many children?”

“Well it’s to do with something called a trial, once you’re old enough to be an adult you get given the trial to enter the village, if you can’t you’re sold as a slave.”

“That’s interesting thank you, where can you buy these Withwood slaves from?” He liked that I was complying but I was too scared not to. I was just glad he didn’t want to kill me. And I was about to reveal another answer he’d be very pleased to hear.

“Well I actually have a map of its location” then I thought that if I would be able to return then I might be able to set everyone free “I’ll just go back and get it.”

“You will do no such thing.” Griffin said calmly, he looked at his companion, “get the map” minutes later he returned holding the map that Kil and I had stolen from Withwood village people. He was very impressed. I didn’t know where the village was relative to my position; potentially that was why they had the trial out so far, so that the people who escaped to Glenmore couldn’t report them.

“Thank you very much for this, I assume you know the location of the village?” Griffin said to me

“Nope but if you ask someone at that house then you’re sure to find out where it is, if not you can wait for someone who’s on trial to arrive from the road and find out that way.” I just wanted this whole thing to be over, Griffin didn’t look like the killing type, so I trusted him to be relatively pleasant if I complied normally.

“Thank you, that will be all.” Griffin walked out and his companion grabbed me and took me back to the cave where my friends were.

“You are free to go, but we’ll be taking all your things.” Griffin said casually, and that was it, we were taken out of the forest a considerable distance with nothing but the clothes we were wearing, they weren’t evil enough to make us hand over our clothes. I wouldn’t be sure if seeing Maron naked would be worth it, or actually… no it wasn’t right.

We had been robbed and made to look like fools by some terrible, terrible people. So as I thought about it more a revenge plan began to form in my head for what we could do. But it would all have to start at night.

 

 

After half an hour of walking in silence with everyone I had my idea. I placed myself in between Kil and Maron and put my arms around their shoulders and whispered.

“They’re still following us. Keep quiet.”

“Why would they follow us?” Kil said who had the unfortunate view of my left eye.

“I don’t know but they are, we know where their hideout is so it’s important to them that we don’t go back or leave any markings that would indicate someone is here.” It felt so great to be talking normally in front of Maron with my arm around her, using stealth as a pretence when I wasn’t even sure myself if they were listening in. Having a plan and a prepared idea, clearly establishing me as the leader of the operation felt so satisfying. The plan was good though.

“Actually maybe…” Maron said, I could hardly believe she’d talked to me and agreed with something I said, it made me so happy. It also made me a lot more confident when trying the next part of the plan.

“It’s getting late and it’ll be dark soon, we’ll have to sleep here, in this forest. Once we do that the person following us will either leave or go to sleep, after that we’ll be free to backtrack to their location and get our stuff back.”

“But won’t there be more bandits sleeping there?” Kil asked questioning the plan, but I had reason to believe otherwise.

“I showed them the map that had where we came from on it, I’m sure that they will be making the trip over there instead with very few people left back.” I spoke more confidently than I sounded.

“Oh you genius!” Kil said louder than I would have liked “that means nobody’s going to be there but it also means that we won’t have to worry about those dogs, once they find us and take us back there’ll be no slavery to return too!”

“You’re slaves?” Maron asked.

“We were slaves, me longer than him, hence my skinniness” I said it calmly but I wasn’t prepared for Marons look of sympathy gazing deep into the soul of my very existence, making those days and months of misery feel ok. “And there’s no guarantee that they’ll take those dogs out for us.”

“Yeah anyway can you get off me now?” Kil asked, and I got off of both of them, happy that they were going to follow my plan. It wasn’t long before I was able to put it into action.

To my surprise Maron was very sympathetic of our slave status and happy that we were freed. It was weird to talk about something that only happened a few days ago but she was very understanding.

When we arrived at the place we wanted to stay the first thing we did was lie on the ground in a row facing upwards, that way we could look for the bandits who might have been looking for us. Out of the corner of my eye I was sure that I saw movement in one of the trees but I did nothing, I had a better idea than to openly demonstrate that I knew where the guy was.

When it had been night for several hours I got up without telling anyone and went to the tree where I saw movement and shook it. I shook it hard and still nothing. Then I went to another tree nearby and shook that one too, then another and another and another, continuously working my way through shaking all the trees as hard as I could. I shook another one nearby and a man fell out, he wasn’t sleeping so high that the fall killed him but he clearly wasn’t able to get up. I tried to ignore the sound of broken bones as he fell from a huge height. He was an evil stalker who had robbed us, how could I sympathise?

“KIL, MARON” I shouted. They wearily got up and walked over to me.

“Look what I’ve found.” I showed them the injured bandit lying on the floor, clutching his feet in a ball crying. “He was lying in that tree.” Kil was impressed but Maron looked a little sick. I never wanted her to feel bad but taking down this bandit is probably for the better of our situation.

“Let’s loot him.” Kil said which was what I was thinking. Together we ignored his pain and screaming, held him back to prevent him from attacking us while we got his bow and arrow, knives, and bag full of equipment.

Looking in to the colossal bag he was holding made me wonder if we even needed to go back for our stuff at all. It had plenty of food, a map, tools I’ve never seen before as well as a whole lot of useful things like a flint and steel. It was really enough, I wasn’t sure if I could even find the way back to the hideout anyway.

“Hey don’t you think this is enough that we don’t need to go back?” I asked showing them the mountain off stuff I had acquired.

“Maybe.” Kil said and we had decided by majority rule without hearing Marons opinion.

“Here you go Maron” I said as I gave her a knife “I know you always carry one around.”

“Thanks” she said “but what are we going to do about that guy?” She gestured over towards the forest bandit who had clearly seen better days.

“Well I don’t think we should kill him” I said.

“And I agree” Kil was backing me up really well.

“So are we just leaving him?” She asked.

“Yeah I guess.” And me and Kil walked off, walking slowly so that she could catch up later.

Chapter 8 – Canden

When I left Hanasen village I was foolishly unprepared and I had paid the consequences for it. Walking for days suffering from hunger was unpleasant. Being attacked by a bear was a nightmare. And getting kidnapped for a day was a nightmare that wouldn’t stop even after you woke up.

Every bristle of wind caught my attention and made me alert. It shocked me with fear. I would never check but the idea of being stalked by people who knew the forest like the back of their hand unnerved me and destroyed the morale of the group.

The two people I had found looked shady and violent. The one called Rick had an eye missing and a terrifying glare. Kil was a man made of muscles; he was physically impressive and would also have scared me if I wasn’t so desperate for food. They both reeked of something difficult to name and had unpleasant hygiene. But they were good companions anyway and the smell was very easy to get used to.

While I found it difficult to talk to Rick, Kil was very friendly and welcoming. They had also been slaves. I had been wasting my time back in Hanasen getting drunk and murdering while these people had spent a lot of their lives suffering. It made me realise how much of my life I had just thrown away being stupid. I had the time Rick and Kil never had and just squandered it.

I wish I had been as mature as them when I was their age. Slavery had changed them into people who were fearless, strong and smart. Knowing the horrors of what they have faced would lead them to become better people in the end.

They had treated their lives as slaves as shameful when there wasn’t really anything to be shamed about. They were in a situation out of their control. If anything I was the one who should be ashamed. I had hidden my dark past from them and through that betrayed their trust. It felt like I was using them. If they knew anything about me then I’m sure they would leave me in an instant.

It was a little humiliating to rely on people far younger than me to survive but I was grateful for their company. I don’t think you could be tied up next to someone for an hour of perpetual terror and not end up forming some kind of connection. I think that’s what led to me and Rick becoming good friends in the end. They were both young teenagers and I was happy to be the first person to help them and talk to them after their horrific expiriences.

What worried me was that they were going to try and live In Canden, the town just outside of Glenmore forest. The bandits would be a constant threat to their safety. If I won the kings tournament I would make sure to burn Glenmore forest to the ground, or at least cut the whole thing down. It had caused too much trouble.

It was hard to believe that I only left the village about a week ago, but I felt like such a different person. The people you’re with change you a lot. Maybe having Kil’s jokes to ease my crippling worry helped a lot.

I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be for the pair to get jobs giving their position of outsiders. We would have to see.

It took us two days to arrive from Glenmore forest but when we did we were sourly disappointed. While Canden was still on the map it had clearly shrunk in size. There were very few shops and little sign of anywhere else to work. There were maybe one hundred houses at most.

I simply trailed around the pair, going from place to place looking for work, and getting rejected at every opportunity. It could be to do with their smell or the fact that Ricks wound was really ugly. I didn’t dare ask how he got it. I’d assume it took place when he was a slave but I wasn’t too sure.

Spending time with them nearly made me forget the look of my victim, I’d been having those cravings for drink again but there was no way to fulfil them, so staying sober was painful yet easy. I suspected that there would be some back at the outlaw base but they didn’t seem to want to go back, it was probably for the better.

It’s sad to say that I contemplated murder for a second time after seeing that outlaw on the floor hopeless. I was able to trick them into not realising but now I just felt sick about it. Every so often the anxiety and fear for my actions would worm itself back into me like a panic attack. I didn’t want them to know I’ve killed; I don’t want them to hate me.

Canden was small but it took a surprisingly long time to visit everywhere, each time they’d say “do you know where I might find work” after the rejection but it was extremely unhelpful and it became very clear that they were not wanted in this place. Once they had all but given up I sat them down.

“The place where I’m going next is Taltree, it’s where the kings tournament is taking place. It’s also the capital city of Sevren so it will almost certainly have jobs for you. Do you want to join me further?”

Almost instantly Rick said “Yeah, I think we have to now.” And Kil slowly came to agree with him once he realised how much he didn’t want to be alone in a new place which wasn’t friendly to new visitors.

“I was going to hire a horse and cart but there doesn’t appear to be any here, which is a shame, so do you want to buy food and then get walking?” I asked.

“Yeah” they both said one after the other. They were tired and fatigued. They didn’t want to continue, they wanted to rest. But both Kil and Rick knew that waiting wouldn’t make anything any easier.

The bag we had taken from the outlaw had a little amount of money in it and was enough to buy food for about ten days, after that we’d need to get our own food but I wasn’t worried anymore since I knew someone would think of something, maybe even me. We had to worry about getting to Taltree before contemplating what we would do when we get there.

So we set off along a huge road that would take us right from Canden to Taltree, but I knew it had to happen at some point, we couldn’t have lasted the whole journey without experiencing even a little bit of rain and this was the time. It started soft at first but it quickly turned into a vile storm which relentlessly attacked. Each drop thundered to the ground and it felt like a constant attack.

Unfortunately it showed no signs of stopping, this continued for a long time and we just had to bear it. After fifteen minutes I saw a shelter on the left. Our path was next to a huge mountain range so the path was rather hilly. This was to our right though and a smaller mountain was in-between us and the big ones. This mountain had a small hole in the side of it and without thinking I shouted “FOLLOW ME” and ran into the cave. It was spacious and more importantly dry, with only a few trickles of water leaking through. I sat at the back, it was dry and I was happy to relax.

Rick ran in quickly and sat next to me, while Kil entered more slowly, choosing to sit by the wall on the other side. I was freezing and it quickly became apparent that everyone else was as well.

After a few moments Kil asked “How long do we want to be here?” as if the rain wasn’t as big a deal, maybe he just wasn’t affected by it as much.

“I’m feezing! I want to wait to it stops.” I replied. I was not leaving. They weren’t about to abandon me so they had to stay as well.

“Yeah it’s a shame we can’t have a fire” Rick added “there’s not enough wood around to burn, it’ll all be wet.”

Kil took his shirt off as well as his trousers; both me and Rick looked at him. He was as strong as I imagined, he didn’t have a six pack but his build was very muscular.

“What? We’re all friends here.” He seemed rather defensive for a person stripping in public “The thing about wet clothes is that they freeze you, I’m never going to get warm wearing them.” It was a fair enough argument and if he was comfortable with it I guess it was fine. For obvious reasons I wasn’t about to join him, no matter how much warmer it made me. Also I didn’t want to show them the marks from when I cut myself. To avoid being found I cut in places people would never see, but still some would have been visible.

Rick decided to do the same thing, so I was now an adult in a cave with two half naked young boys who were maybe 18 at best. This didn’t make me look like a molester at all!

Despite the fact that they looked so silly they were actually getting warm which was annoying because I was still cold yet recovering slowly. As I sat there in silence I heard the noise of a horse and cart which was approaching at a mild pace.

“You hear that?” I asked. They nodded in silence. “Shouldn’t we ask if they’d let us ride with them?” I was met with blank faces.

“Well they’re not going to let us on, it’s stupid to ask.” Kil said but I had already thought of something that might persuade them.

“How about we ask and then if we don’t get on we steal it.” Stealing might be a bit extreme however I felt like the time called for it. It might just be worth it.

“What no? That’s stupid!” Kil shouted loudly

“And why is that?” I asked “It’s not like we’ve not stolen before, we even crippled someone just for their food bag, what difference does this make? It’ll also let us arrive faster, theirs a cave here and they can just wait here like we are for the rain to stop.

“These are good people, I didn’t mind robbing from people who robbed us but this is extreme.” Kil said.

“Alright how about if we ask and don’t get in then we go back and wait for someone else.” I said, hoping it was a good enough compromise. It was probably the suggestion I should have mentioned at first, it might have made me look less crazy.

“Alright” Rick said and Kil was basically forced to go along with it. If nothing else we could leave him here and ask if he didn’t want to go.

They scrambled to put their clothes back on and braved the outdoors; we spread out across the path so that there was no way they couldn’t stop for us. I saw that it had a carriage for carrying people and probably belonged to a very rich person.  Hopefuly they were generous and rich, otherwise I’d be pretty angry. I was surprised by how far away they were, I could have sworn they would have been closer.

The horse and carriage approached at a quick rate, quicker than I expected, I had no idea why they didn’t pass us already at this speed. I nervously stood there hoping that it would come to a stop but it didn’t, in fact it was going faster. And I only realised it when it was too late, both Kil and Rick had stepped to the side but the cart was going to hit me.

I was able to avoid the horse but the cart bashed my head and body so hard I couldn’t feel it and I fell to the ground only to have the terrible pain of a heavy carraiage scraping through my back. I couldn’t help but cry out in pain “Fuuuuuuuuuuck” it was horrible.

“You FUCKING BASTARDS!” Rick shouted and he chased after the cart, Kil did the same. They ran to climb on the top of the carriage and before I knew it they’d thrown the two passengers out and were brutally kicking them. It was good to see justice done, all we wanted was to ask to ride and they’d trampled over me. I felt a strange sense of satisfaction to watch Rick jump on top of the drivers head and Kil repeatedly kick the other dude in the balls. It showed that I had people who cared about me, and at least now I would be able to rest in the carriage. It was a terrible display that I relished in.

Rick ran back, picked me up and placed me in the carriage, once that was taken care of he threw the unconscious bodies into a ditch, we didn’t kill them but I hoped they would die, nobody who did that deserved to live. The pain was too much; I passed out.

Chapter 9 – Taltree

Our journey to Taltree had been long and difficult. Navigation was never the hardest part. We followed a very simple stone road which took us directly there. On our left was always a clear view of beautiful ocean waves, with sailing trade boats of varying size passing through to the most important capital city in the world. To our right was a region of huge green mountains, each one leading into another. Upon these was grazing cattle and sheep and in places a small village could be found.

A large number of people also had carts; the first was a farmer with sacks of wool who gave us an odd frown as we passed through without saying anything. The carriage we had belonged to a very rich individual and we clearly looked out of place. This led to a dilemma, if we were going to be seen a lot while driving we were going to arouse suspicion. This eventually led to us to tearing all the rich decorations away and battering the sides of the cart so it looked like a cart which used to belong to a person of wealth, but not currently.

Both Rick and I had to look after Maron, who was painfully recovering.  I hated my powerlessness for letting Maron get hit, I wish I could have done something, and the gaze in Rick’s eye when he looks at Maron tells me he thinks the same.

We also had the horse to deal with and getting it to move and follow the road was not the easiest thing to do.

It’s easy to say forgive and forget, but that sound of cracking bones as Maron was hit removed those rich people from their humanity. Not only did I rob their cart but I took all their money as well, what horrible people. How could anyone do something so evil? The sight of that mans mauled face brought sweet retribution to my mind. I don’t know what we would have done if we never caught up to their cart.

We had decided against Maron joining the tournament for now, she couldn’t fight. Now we were worrying about if we would get to Taltree on time. The best future for us was with the kings tourney, in the few moments where Maron was conscious she said that there would be people there looking to hire mercenaries so it wasn’t a stupid idea overall, I mean we either become a king or have a very good chance of being hired by someone, so we were in a good position.

A day or two before arrival Maron was well enough to walk around and was fairly active compared to earlier. It was pretty awkward to find out but she had a big mark going across her back where the carriage had hit her. It didn’t show any signs of going away but she wasn’t so bothered by it.

Taltree was a huge city, brilliant in size with colossal buildings and arenas, there were shops all around selling mainly weaponry for the tournament and it was so busy that we had a very difficult and slow time manoeuvring the cart.

We went to the stables who agreed to take care of our horse and cart for a price, which was something we could easily afford with our stolen currency which was apparently called chufs. He seemed a bit sceptical that we might be thieves but he didn’t want to ask too many questions, we joined a line to register for the tournament but there was a group of people dressed in green in front of us, when they saw us arrive they whispered amongst themselves and laughed, I heard a vague voice going.

“Don’t Rob” and presumably Rob saying “No I will.” Rob turned around to look at the three of us, he was far taller and stronger than we were and looked at us with a menacing and humorous grin, “What a bunch of stable boys you are! They don’t let cheer leaders into the tournament!”

“Well we’re here because we think we’ve got a good shot.” I said, because what else are you going to say to a group of massively strong men?

The person who everyone was calling Rob suddenly and without warning punched me square in the face and I fell to the ground, it was a terrible pain and I clutched my nose which had started bleeding, I didn’t want to be in my body anymore the pain was so unbearable. He did the exact same to Rick who couldn’t doge it either.

Rick and I were a lying mess next to a small Maron, surrounded by people laughing at us, the tournament hadn’t started well and I hoped I’d never have to fight these guys in a real battle field.

Once those guys had gone we joined the queue to register for the tournament. Maron went first.

The stern looking guard put on a pleasant smile, clearly happy to see a new gender other than his own, he asked for a proof of citizenship which she produced and handed over. She was told to wait there while her card was being made, in the meantime it was time for me to show up, and of course I didn’t have a proof of citizenship, even though I was native to Sevren.

“Sorry I left it behind, and so did he.” I looked at Rick who shouted to Maron “Me and Kil are going to go and get our proof of citizenships from the inn, we’ll be back before you know it!”

“Ok” She shouted back nervously, but she seemed to get what we were doing.

That was quite clever in my opinion, if Rick told them that I didn’t have one then if I returned again with one they’d be suspicious, now all I’ve got to do is find a proof of citizenship. Rick seemed to have an idea though.

“Why don’t we forge them?” He asked.

“What do you mean, how could we possibly forge the forms? We don’t even have Marons form to check!”

“Well theirs got to be someone who can forge us one surely?” But he had doubt in his voice.

“Who could we get to forge something for us, as well as that we’ll get thrown in prison if we ask the wrong person to forge us something!” I said

Rick thought out a response before replying “Well in every big city theirs got to be a few people who might tell as about a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend who’s a forger.”

This was an interesting idea but I didn’t like the idea of going up to people. We didn’t have much choice though.

After a few hours walking we took ourselves away from the nice pleasant part of the town to the people who lived in poverty, I saw that this could easily be us if we got a job here and was glad to be going for the tournament instead.

There was a guy who was asleep on his face in the middle of a dark alleyway. Rick went to wake him up.

“Um excuse me” He shook him harder “exuse me”

“Whahaaaht?” He said slowly getting up, “whahah do youuu waatnt?”

“Do you know where we might find someone to forge things for us?” He looked at us blankly, it was a really silly thing to do, you don’t go around asking random people if they’ll forge things for you but we really had no idea what to do.

“As a maaheet of faaaact, I might have a frwend who knowwws a fwiernd who knows a forger, would yoaa lioioiike me too take you too hin?” He was very tired and I wasn’t sure if we should trust him.

“Yeah” but I found myself saying yes anyway.

“I couuuuld shooooy youu da wea buut iii woon’t unless yiu payyy me.” He said in a very dopey way.

“Alright you get us there and we’ll pay you.” He was too tired to consider that we didn’t have to pay him once we arrived but he said “ooohhhhk” anyway.

It took as a while of going through places, getting lost a couple of times and avoiding strange people that we eventually found the place. It just appeared like a normal house but of course a forger couldn’t advertise himself. We entered and a small man asked “Wha you want?”

“Can you forge us citizenship forms?” I asked.

“Sure NAME”

“Kil”

“And last name as well!”

“Sazron”

“Very unusual name but ok, ok, ok. Where are you from Kil Sazron?”

“With…” Rick cut me off and whispered

“Say Canden, Withwoods not meant to exist.”

“What wah that?”

“I’m from Canden? It’s very close to here.

“Oh yeah I know it, bin there all tha time, all tha time, I tell ya. Alright if you want that it’ll be one gol piece, you got that?”

I did so I said “yes”.

“Oahhh and wun last thing before I let ya go, what’s ya date of birth?” he asked me, he looked very foolish for forgetting something as important as that, it would obviously be on a citizenship form. How could he be so stupid to forget!

“1st of June 1200” I said.

“And do you want wun as well?” He said looking at Rick.

“Yeah” He said.

“NAME, LAST NAME, AND LOCATION”

“Uh, Rick, Watt, also from Canden”

“Date of Birth?” he definitely wasn’t going to forget this time, although it looked like he almost did.

“1st of January 1200” he replied.

“No problems Rick, I’ll have these made in just a jiffy.”

I would normally assume that I would be scammed in a place like this but it actually seemed fairly legit, there was a loud noise from printing and he hadn’t actually asked for any money yet, which meant we’d pay when we got the certificates. He came out and showed me a certificate which looked identical to the one I saw Maron use and I was impressed, you couldn’t tell the difference. He’d even drawn very accurate pictures of us which was needed.

“Alright give me ya monea and I’ll make the next one!”

I handed him over one gold coin and grabbed the certificate. A little while later I did the same thing for Rick. As we exited the shop I was amazed with my luck and how far it had taken me. Who knew that the first person we asked wouldn’t try to rob us or anything. The man who brought us there was waiting outside and I gave him one gold coin as well. He seemed really happy with it, maybe one gold coin is a lot but I had plenty more where that came from.

We returned to the queue and handed in our forms, to my surprise the person at the desk didn’t recognise us. I felt a sense of nervousness when I handed over the papers to him, I was sure for a moment that he’s scream that I was a forger, but nothing happened, he told me to wait in line for my card and then he told Rick to do the same. About ten minutes later a person came out to give us our documents and our tournament card back. It was a miracle, somehow we had gotten ourselves into a tournament and nobody could really do anything about it!

Part 3 – Tournament

Chapter 10 – The Tournament Grounds

It didn’t take us long to find Maron, insistent on checking if she was ok, we searched quickly. Kil promised she’d be alright but I was still as nervous as ever. We found her sitting by herself on the edge of a large field of the tournament grounds; she kept her distance from the large parties of people nearby and single travellers who also hoped to win. It was a sunny day, but she had found a place in the shade covered by a patch of tall trees. She smiled at us and called us over.

We explained everything to her in excited detail. She was amazed at the speed we found a forger and the risks we took to get there. It was great seeing her loving smile light up and her shoulder length hair, a brilliant mix of brown and red, sway as she moved.

I didn’t feel the same attachment for her as I used too, having the confidence to speak with her normally made me realise how human she was. Still, I would find it very difficult to live without her.

No longer mysterious, she was mature, strong and quiet. Perhaps a lot older than I was in fact, I had to find out but I dreaded the answer, if the age gap was too big then my love would always be unrequited. I thought it was better to just ask her.

“Hey Maron, how old are you?” I could see Kil flinch as I brought the question up.

“I’m 24, you?”

“18”

“Wow I thought you were a lot younger, like 20 at most!” I said in a forced surprise.

“Well ok” She said confused.

“What’s wrong? Kil asked.

“I’d just like to think I come across as older”

It made sense, 20 was four years ago for her, four years ago I would have been 14 and a complete brat.

Right now we were all just wondering around at night, despite having the money for it we lacked the foresight to prepare a place to sleep. Not wanting to be robbed we decided to just spend our time talking and walking. It didn’t take long to get boring.

As we walked around we could see the group of people who beat us up yesterday and another larger gathering of people in a colossal tent. Was it me or did everyone here seem massive? And I wasn’t even that small myself, I was taller than Kil and Maron as well as most of the people back in the village.  But they weren’t just tall, they were huge.

“You know I’ve been thinking, at one point if we make it in this tournament one of us will come to fight the other, which one of us should we let win?” I asked, we had to be prepared.

“Let? The person who beats the other should go through.” Kil said reasonably, though his statement was devoid of all reason.

“Ok think about it, we’ve got a lot of opponents to beat if we want to win; beating ourselves up isn’t going to do us any favours!” I argued and thankfully Maron, the other voice of reason, agreed.

“Yeah true, it’s pointless to attack each other when there are tougher opponents ahead.” She said putting a smile on my face.

“I should be the one who’s put through.” Maron finished.

“What why? It should be me!” Kil said, “If it’s not me then I’ll fight you for it!”

“Maron is the only one with real citizenship, so she’s the only who is officially aloud to win, as well as that she’s been training for a lot longer than we have, in the fighters guild as well!” I said, raising my voice.

“But I’m probably stronger. Maron’s injured!” He said angrily, wanting to resolve the situation I said.

“She’ll be recovered by then, anyway we’ll see whose stronger later when the fights actually start!” I replied.

“Well I’m better” he said smugly.

I left the conversation at that. Maron, being a member of the fighters guild was sure to prove herself later.

“Why don’t we just go and buy a tent?” others had set up tents all around the grounds so it wasn’t such a stupid idea.

Instead of that we just talked and argued even more. Towards the darkest hours of the night we sat down and Maron very quickly passed out, she looked so sweet when she slept. I just wanted nothing more to reassure her that it would be ok. With me and Kil around she would be safe anyway, then Kil drifted off and I thought I’d give him five minutes of sleep before getting him up again but then I drifted off as well.

 

 

When I woke something was very badly wrong, I could smell burning, and smoke was coming from a large tent. Maron was awake as well but Kil was still asleep.

“Can you smell that?” I asked.

“Yeah, either a crazy accident or…” She trailed off.

“You don’t think someone did this on purpose do you?” I asked interested to see her answer.

“Well I’m saying it’s possible, there are a lot of bad people in the world, and it might be considered a way to get rid of your competition.” Well I suppose it was possible but it was difficult to see why people would risk doing that.

“In a few days they’re releasing all the fights and when they’ll take place.” Maron said and I felt a sudden nervousness and pit in my stomach. Who would I have to fight? What would it even be like? I suddenly felt like an amateur, because I basically was one. I’d never wielded a blade before and previous fist fights did not count as experience.

We woke Kil up to go and buy a tent, it was stupid not to, everyone else had one and we needed a camp.

 

 

Kil had all the money for some reason and he wasn’t happy to lay it off to me who might know how to spend it better. Once we bought a tent we bought new clothes, food, drinks, two swords a dagger and a sharpener from the store, even with all that I was surprised with how much money we still had, when I looked at it I realised we might even have enough for a suit of armour for each of us if we were lucky.

We found a quiet place in the training square and practiced sparing with each other, we realised that we were both terrible and even if we had no fear of cutting the other person we still wouldn’t do too well. There was also no guarantee of survival during the game except if you shouted “I surrender” though it was unreliable.

Maron had said that there was no real rules set up for the tournament and that the rules will be announced soon. It was pretty much a given that we’d have to use swords though if people were there looking to recruit mercenaries.

In this manner, we practiced sparing, ate, and went to sleep until they announced the matchups, which would set into motion one of the darkest and most difficult challenges of my life.

Chapter 11 – The Matchups

The rules of the competition would make or break us; they were the difference between life and death. But as Kil once told me, worrying about death is the right mind-set to have if you want to die. The confidence that Kil could display at times was amazing, I could barely contain my nerves.

A large crowd had gathered In front of a moderately sized yet tall wooden stage. We joined the back and waited, more people filled in. Twenty minutes later a short fat man emerged from a staircase underneath the stage. He introduced himself and briefly introduced the tournament, then he went on to the rules.

“THE FIRST RULE OF THIS TOURNAMENT IS THAT WEAPONS ARE NOT ALLOWED” screamed. Brilliant. Practicing with the swords was clunky and difficult, I found it amazing how easily Maron could run rings around us with just a dagger at a much shorter reach.

“THE NEXT RULE IS THAT IF YOUR OPPONNENT SHOUTS ‘I SURENDER’ YOU MUST STOP FIGHTING AT ONCE OR YOU WILL BE ELIMINATED.”

“IF YOU FAIL TO ARRIVE FOR YOUR FIGHT ON TIME, YOU WILL LOSE THE MATCH, IF BOTH OF YOU DON’T ARRIVE YOU WILL BOTH LOSE THE MATCH. THERE ARE TOO MANY CONTESTENTS FOR US TO WORRY ABOUT THE LATECOMMERS”

“THE MATCHUPS AREN’T REVEALED ALL AT ONCE, ONLY TOMORROWS MATCHES WILL BE REVEALED. WE DO NOT HAVE THE SPACE TO BE GIVING OUT EVERY SINGLE MATCHUP AT ONCE. YOU CAN FIND THESE MATCHUPS ON THE BOARDS OVER THERE!” He pointed to his left where there were 8 huge boards next to each other, they previously had sheets over them which had been removed revealing the names.

“THAT IS ALL, USE THE HOURGLASSES HERE IF YOU DON’T HAVE A WAY TO TELL THE TIME AND, GOOD LOOK FIGHTERS.” There weren’t any hourglasses; we just had to hope when the time came they would be there. We never had a way to tell the time in Withwood however it wouldn’t be difficult to ask someone and figure it out.

At the sound of this statement a roaring cheer was sent out amongst all of the contestants, and a flood of people rushed to find their matchups.  Even though only tomorrows would be announced people would still need to make sure they didn’t have a match (or did), and the only way to do that was to check every single one. This caused a mess of bodies frantically trying to look for their names on the lists. It was very clear that this aspect of the tournament wasn’t very well planned; it would not be surprising to hear that people died in that crowd.

Once the crowd had dispersed enough the three of us went to look for our names. The boards were huge with big writing so the names were easy to see. While I was checking the third board Maron came up to me to say that she found my name on the 6th board. I was to fight tomorrow at 12, which I was told was immediately after the 11th hourglass ran out.

We spent a long time reading over the list of names, double and triple checking, but we couldn’t find anyone else. I would have the first fight.

It was only until I practiced on Kil that I realised how badly prepared I was. The months of a slave had really taken a toll and caused me to be weak. There was nothing I could do but give it my best shot. I The man I’d fight was a mystery, all I knew was a name: Rollo Gerald and it  didn’t give me too much information.

As I slept I couldn’t help but imagine losing in terrible ways. I practiced punching the air above me but it didn’t help at all. Each time I punched fear filled me because even those punches felt weak. It was all I could do not to scream, bury my head in the floor and run away.

We were delusional, just simple ordinary people fighting against monsters. I even started to question if Maron was strong. In this state I fell asleep.

 

Practice fighting with Kil was not difficult anymore; Maron was a different story. She was brilliant and had the advantage that I hated to punch her. Even when I tried to hit her she always found a way to doge, weave round you and attack with a new move I wasn’t expecting. The only thing she’d told me was to step into punches because going in at a closer distance would reduce their impact.

Something Maron had also mastered was punching without being punched. She was able to step in for a punch and step out before I could retaliate and then go back in for another. It was the most annoying style to fight and I really wanted to be able to replicate the technique.

We spent the rest of the morning checking every single board for our names. We still didn’t find any so we assumed that they wouldn’t take place. Perhaps this was the tournament’s first way of eliminating people, hiding the dates of when you fight so that more people miss out. Once we’d checked all I had to do was go to fighting arena 40 in just a few minutes and win.

Chapter 12 – The Brutal Fist Fight

It was time to fight, and since there had been no explanation of what to do before a fight I was learning on the job. To my surprise the only thing you could wear was trousers and pants, and it was a cold day, which made me tenser.

You weren’t allowed to see you opponent until you started so all I could see were Kil and Maron wishing me luck. This was arena 40 out of 50, not many people had travelled down so far to see us so it was literally just them and another few guys for the other guy. Marons cheering made me motivated to win, and humiliated to lose.

I stood on the small rectangular arena, it was a blue rectangular floor with ropes on the sides to prevent people from leaving or being pushed off.

When I saw my opponent I was very happy, he looked weak and lousy, with a small figure and tired expression. I made use of the fact that I had a disgusting eye to try and scare him; it was hard to tell if it worked, he seemed very calm.

I was ready to fight; as soon as the match started I would completely crush him. I remembered everything up until now; I’ve survived torture, escaped slavery, nearly killed a guy and jumped on someone’s head. If that’s not preparation then I don’t know what is!

I stared this little guy down and he stared back, why was he so confident? Couldn’t he see that I was about to murder his face?

We lined up facing each other ready to fight, the official said “begin” and the match started.

 

I ran forward instantly, he had the reflexes to punch me in the face before I got to him but it didn’t matter I was charging for him and I was going to take him to the ground. This worked, he fell over backwards and I was on top of him punching his face with alternating hands each time.

With his hands around his head he kept bringing his leg up to kick me in the balls but I kept on punching him. It the most pain I’d ever felt and my hands were bleeding from the impact, I didn’t want to think about my own pain.

Noticing my bleeding fists I switched targets and winded him by punching him in the stomach, it was certainly the right way to go, it didn’t hurt nearly as much.

For a brief moment I hesitated and he used that to wiggle out, I tried to grab him to get back the loss but he let go. Suddenly I was taking multiple uppercuts to the chin, unable to move, painfully frozen on the spot.

I remembered to go close when your being punched so I did, I almost cuddled up right next to him to try and escape. I saw his crotch in front of me and punched his balls as hard as I could. Despite his pain he pushed me over and jumped on me. The full force of his weight wasn’t that strong though, when he went for the second time I used it to pull him over.

He was soft; he would never think to jump on a guy’s head, that’s what I decided to do. But I couldn’t jump; something was stopping me. In this time he stood up.

He held his arms up in the air, in front of his face and I did the same, though barely. My bleeding hands felt weak and it was all I could do to keep them held at that height. After a few moments I realised what he was doing, he was buying time from his injuries. He wasn’t staring me down at all, he was desperate on his last legs, but so was I, the damage had caught up to me. I didn’t want to leave it at this though so I made a move forward and with pinpoint precision he dodged to the side, where my blind spot was and punched me in the liver. I fell over the side from pain, it hurt so bad and I wanted to lie there.

“Common Rick!” Kil shouted.

“Destroy him!” Maron bellowed.

Instantly I stood up, pain didn’t matter anymore I would have to finish this quickly so I could get back to my friends.

I threw a punch and he knocked it to the side. But I followed it up with a much faster blow to the face, he stood there. Then tried to punch me back, I jumped backwards before he could hit me and punched him again. Then he tried to punch back but I found that I was able to return back before and go into punch him again.

The next time he did this I smashed his face as hard as possible and he fell down to the ground, unconscious. I had knocked him out, I was victorious.

The rest of what happened that day was a blur. After changing I was carried back to the tent where I just lay there in victorious exhaustion. Yes I had won but at what cost? My hands were scraped and bleeding and every single muscle in my body ached. Maron sat by my side promising that Kil would be back soon with medical supplies but it felt way too long.

Still it sounded like I did a good job, she was happy that I’d copied her punching method at the end, something I never realised I did. But too many of my muscles and bones were hurting that I didn’t care that the women I loved was looking after me and sticking by my side. I must have looked terrible, there’s no way I didn’t. I just hoped that I could recover in time for the next one.

Chapter 13 – Creating A Plan

When I got back Rick had passed out, unsurprisingly. Maron smiled at me with relief. The most pressing issue was his fists, they were a sorry sight.

We wrapped bandages around his bleeding fists; I questioned what good it would do but hoped for the best. From that point he was mostly covered in bruises and other bleeding gashes.I was amazed by how focussed Rick was during his fight, he endured a bleeding nose, face and eye to win. Rick’s opponent didn’t look it but he was really tough as well. I could see that Rick’s neck had clearly taken quite the beating as well but there wasn’t much I could do really.

 

We wrapped his nose and eye up but that was all I knew. We left him there to recover, hopefully he would rest well.

The next we found who would be fighting tomorrow, it would be me. I hoped beyond anything that I wouldn’t suffer a fate like Ricks.

“Maron, do you know how you can win a fight a lot quicker than Ricks?” She pondered the question and gave it much thought as we walked back. She stayed in silence for much longer and then during practice she answered.

“What if you could put them on their back, and threatened to dislocate their arm if they didn’t surrender?” This was amazing; people would value their arm more than winning. It may not work into the final rounds however it would be a great and easy way to get through the early parts of the competition.

“How do I do it then?” I asked and she got me to lie down, showed me how to pin a person to the floor while holding they’re arm in the air. She slowly twisted and I got a feeling of the true pain it could inflict. I couldn’t get out either. Despite Maron being considerably weaker she did something to make me unable to escape.

“Stop! I GET IT!” I shouted but it took her an extra second to let go, it helped me to see what it felt like. That had just been 5 seconds, it would be unbearable for longer.

“Alright can I try it on you?” I copied what Maron did to me and without too much time I had done it completely, she was now the one telling me to let go and once I reached that point I was happy I could win.

I felt very creepy pining Maron down, we were in extremely close quarters and it felt sort of wrong to touch her.

“What if they don’t surrender though?” I asked Maron, after getting her into that position a few times from different places.

“I’d just keep twisting until it actually dislocates, then move on to the other arm, after both are dislocated they wouldn’t even be able to fight anyway so you’d still win.” This was reassuring advice, and very good advice at that. Due to this we practiced switching arms as well. I obviously didn’t dislocate her shoulder and I hoped that if the time came I would properly be able to do it.

It was really good to have an action plan for the future; it would help things a lot. It was at this time that a person I recognised approached. He walked up to us as if everything was fine between us and we were long lost friends or something, I hated him though. His wicked smirk irritated me and I hated his face. I remember his name as Rob, he was the guy who beat us up at the start of the tournament and as you can imagine, I was not pleased to see him. However he looked very pleased to be walking up to us.

Chapter 14 – A Fixed Tournament

His mocking face looked defeated and fake, it was a forced expression. Kil looked angry but I was just intrigued, this was not a person of hostility anymore.

“To whom do I owe this pleasure of meeting again?” Never mind he was still a twat.

“Kil” he said through gritted teeth in a fighting stance.

“…Maron” I said. Did this guy just think we could become friends after everything he’s done to us?

“And I’m Rob. It’s a pleasure to meet you” It was odd to see him being so formal, maybe he had just forgotten us. Regardless I’d let Kil do most of the talking.

“Do you remember, maybe a week ago, the large tent that caught fire?” He must have been referring to the smell of burning on the first morning in Taltree.

“I was the only person in that tent who survived.” For the first time I felt a little bad for him, but I wasn’t going to start liking him for this reason.

I imagined the same thing happening to Rick and Kil, it nearly did happen to Rick and that was terrifying. I cast my mind back to when I was watching over him, just praying that he wouldn’t die over and over, feeling sick inside. With Rick unable to withdraw I dreaded the future fights he might have to face.

“Ok” kil said in response “Poor you.”

“What do you want to say?” I asked, this conversation wasn’t going in any real direction.

“I trust you two, and the other one…” He seemed sincere but I hated the way this was going, like he was going to ask us to do something.

“Why is that?” Kil interrupted “If you remember correctly surely that gives you a major reason to distrust us?”

“Ha ha ha ha ha! If I can’t trust you then I can’t trust anyone. This tournament has been set up and rigged from the start and you’re the only people I can be sure have nothing to do with it.”

I had a lot of reason to doubt both statements, the majority of contestants couldn’t be involved in a scheme because they would want to win so it wasn’t just us and the names were shown to be chosen randomly, the matches seemed ok so far and there was no way anyone had enough power to rig anything. As well as that the leaders swore an oath to keep everything as fair as possible. I still would have had the sheet explaining it if we’d gone back to get it from the base. He did have a point that we were clearly not involved though.

“No it’s not” Kil said, “it doesn’t matter if it’s rigged because the best fighter will always win anyway.” This a foolish statement, assuming there was no foul play it could be rigged in ones favour by giving them easy opponents and skilled people more skilled opponents so by the time they got round to fighting they were too battered and injured to win despite being the better fighter on paper.

“Ahha no, not quite, you see the best fighters were my group, that group’s now dead. You want to know why? Someone burned our tent to eliminate the difficult opposition.”

“So your tent got burned down and you think it’s because the tounaments rigged? It could have been an accident or person who has nothing to do with it who wanted to have cruel fun. What makes you sure it’s rigged?”  I asked him, if this was the basis of his argument it was very weak, coincidences happen all the time, who can say that one thing is definitely true because something just happened to occur. I wanted more information, a lot more before deciding it was rigged.

“That’s not it, not just it, the matchups are rigged as well, let’s say two fighters face each other and one’s stronger than the other, how can the weaker person win?” I started to see what he meant; this was about injuring your opponents through other tough opponents.

“You would make sure that the weaker fighter wouldn’t face anyone and that the stronger ones would have to go through a brutal battle to get there, one would be unscathed while the other would be in a terrible condition, without a doubt losing easily to the weaker opponent who they should be better than. That’s how this tournament is rigged.” He finished.

“First of all, you have no proof, and even if you did it could just be coincidence, and second of all who could possibly be rigging it?” I asked him, any answer wouldn’t have satisfied me, I was only in the conversation to prove him wrong.

“Well I’ve got a good guess, Kova.” This was laughable, Kova was a completely separate county to Sevren, they’d have no influence, granted a motive, but the risk would be too high to bribe officials and send their own men in to burn tents, it was not worth it. I couldn’t help but let this laugh show and he looked at me accusingly.

“Stop laughing, Kova have a completely valid reason for rigging this whole thing.”

“Sure they’d have a valid reason but the risk is so high they’d never do it, also they have no influence on the matchups at all.” I said continually laughing.

“Kova are at work already, so that they can crown a Kovan as the king of Sevren. You.” He looked at Kil “Do you have proof that you’re from Sevren?”

“Yeah, of course!” Kil said normally, even though he obviously got forged papers, “How did you get that proof?” Rob continued as he took a step towards him. “I know how you got those papers, and there’s no reason a kovan couldn’t get them the same way.”

“What about rigging the matches, they have no power to do so.” I asked, knowing I probably wouldn’t get a great answer.

“Do you not know who’s on the Tournament Comittie? It’s not all Sevrens you know! There are people from Sevren’s lands, we’ve got a guy from Greba and Clennor, these two don’t care, they’d change the matchups for any amount of money!” Greba and Clennor were lands under Sevrens colony, but there was no reason to suspect why they might rig anything, they relied on Sevren to live and had a strong friendship as their ally.

“No they wouldn’t because they are still part of Sevren!” I tried, desperately hoping he would see sense.

“It’s true that they’re a part of Sevren but that doesn’t mean they can’t take bribes! “He seemed desperate, just because it was possible didn’t mean it had actually happened. The two representatives would know how important this was and how neutral it should be.

“And how’s it going to look when they take bribes from a country called Kova! Even if they did they’d be kicked out immediately!” I said obviously.

“FOOL, Stupid girl, you don’t think about anything! Theirs a middle man somewhere, a person who’s affiliated with Kova but works in a position of power with Sevren, you think they wouldn’t take bribes from a person like that just to move a few of the names around?” This was making me mad and it was making him madder, he was crazy. It was all hypotheticals which were possible yet so absurd it would be pointless to consider them.

“When you get a bribe don’t you have to question the motives behind it? They’re aware that there are ways to win and pre-determine victories, they know all these things and have considered them!”

“Not necessarily, they’re not going to care about rigging it in this early part will they? It’s too early in to the competition to matter. And by the time it’s gotten far enough it’ll be too late; there will be nothing but Kovans in this tournament! We’ll be too late, they’ll do things like set fire to people before they can even win!” I was just amazed by how quickly he could reach this stupid conclusion.

“Why are you coming to us then?” I asked, he looked triumphant as if he’d won, which he hadn’t, I just knew there was no reasoning with him.

“I’ve come to you because I know that you’re not spies, I met you outside, it was obvious from the start! You were badly dressed, ill prepared, weak… and right now that’s a good thing, because it means I can trust you.” Had he really not met anyone else besides us going in to the competition? Or did we just stand out that much?

This argument spiralled and fluctuated until he took us to the matchup boards, it was apparently evidence.

“Alright look at the matchup boards. I’ll be able to predict the results of the matches because I know how rigged it is. The people on the first board are people who they want to stay or lose to the people who want to say, the fights on this side of the board will be less skilled. Then the people on the later boards will be much more skilled, since they want those people to be taken out so all the skilled people will fight there. As proof I was on the later board.”He said.

“So you got knocked out?” I asked.

“Yeah. Anyway these are what the outcomes will be.” He went through the entire first row of names from the top scoreboard and wrote all of them down, he did this for two more boards.

“I’ve been looking around for people I suspect to be Kovan, I don’t think it’s coincidental that half the people on this row are from the same tent and against weak nobody’s like you when their skilled mercenaries. I can show you later. But I want you to hold onto this list of names.” He gave the list to me, “and confirm that all my predictions are correct.” I wasn’t sure whether to leave Kil here or not, he could do with some extra training but he already had a winning strategy and strong physique. I decided to follow the man and let Kil decide on his own, he decided to follow.

 

What I witnessed was amazing, every single prediction was correct! It wasn’t just that they won their victories it was that they won so easily which is what proved everything. When you looked at all of these individual people in a group they did look slightly foreign, like Kovans. But I didn’t want to believe it, yes I felt like a rigging was possible. And how could I be sure that these guys really weren’t from Sevren or just the man’s friends who deliberately tried to trick us. Rob showed no signs of it and I actually doubted he could organise that many people into doing what he wanted, at any rate we were not important people, even if he convinced us we wouldn’t be able to do anything.

I found a way to test whether his theory was correct, if the people who won had forged citizenship forms (as confirmed by Kil whose seen one) then it would be enough. Kil had been taken in to believing everything almost straight away but this was the one thing we would test. There were a few more people left to fight, if one of them had the wrong form then I’d believe Rob.

Once one of our suspects had got into the arena I saw that his bag was unattended.

Kil and I ran over towards the bag and frantically searched through everything, the form definitely didn’t want to be bent so it should have been kept in a container to stop it from bending. I took out what looked like something resembling it and took it out. With my knowledge of the real certificate and Kil’s knowledge from the fake one we would hopefully be able to work out whether or not it was real or fake.

“Does anything look different to you Kil?” I was looking at it and it seemed the exact same as mine but with different details.

“There’s this mark at the side that printed wrong, my form has it too.” Well that sucked, if this was one massive conspiracy then I’d much rather let another person sort it out. I hate being in the role of responsibility in this way. Quickly we put it back and returned to Rob.

“So did you find anything?” He asked knowing what we’d answer.

“There was a printing error at the side.” Kil said.

“Alright do you believe me now or do you need to check another person’s? There are still a few fights left.” He said it mockingly but I actually did want to check again, there are too many factors and it could just be a coincidence. So we did check, we checked two more times and the error was in the same place. Then we ran back to the tent to compare mine with Kil’s, mine was the only one without the error in that same place. So this meant that the tournament might actually be rigged? It was a hard pill to swallow and it left me with a lot of responsibility if I accepted it to be true. I would have to inform Rick all about it, he would really want to know about everything that took place.

 

my whole world view had changed in just one day. There were too many coincidences that the whole thing wasn’t possible to not believe. Kil had his match tomorrow so I left him to sleep but there must be someone I could report the news too, if I could say to an official that I found their rigged certificate’s then that would be a great way to solve this problem peacefully.

I went to the front desk, and asked “Is there a place where I can report people?” I felt strange for asking it.

“You can report people here, what seems to be the problem?” He asked the question sweetly.

“Well I found three people’s citizenship forms, and they’re fake.” I said but he looked like he doubted me, after all he was the one who checked all the forms in the first place.

“Alright who are these people?” He asked, and I told him the names of the three people I wanted to report because I knew for a fact that they’re forms were fake. He jotted the names down.

“Thank you for your time, we’ll investigate these people as soon as we can.” It reassured me and was certainly a huge weight off my chest. If these people weren’t removed from the tournament then it was most certainly rigged. All I had to do was wait and see what happened.

Chapter 15 – Kil’s Winning Strategy

Maron had been obsessing over the chance that this whole thing might be rigged. Yes the evidence is strong and in my opinion probably true but even so, there was nothing we could do about it. All I could do was win my fight and keep on winning.

We were woken by Rob who remembered where our tent was. He had checked the matchups to find that Maron was against one of the people who (according to Rob) was supposed to win easilly. It was sad that it had happened to her and I really wanted her to pull out of the fight. She was having none of it though and was convinced she could win.

Anyway all of that stress could wait until after the fight.

I didn’t start to feel nervous until I saw my opponent, he was strong and slightly bigger than I was, he was going to be difficult to take down. Since Rick was still recovering only Maron, and Rob had come to watch me. I hated the way he would stand close to Maron, and I could tell she hated it as well.

I was ready to face him and immediately take him down using the dislocation method. The official said “Start” and much like Rick I immediately ran to take him down, it had worked quite effectively for him last time and I hoped to replicate the effect.

He wasn’t expecting it at all, and I took him down with ease. Then I got into the position Maron had told me and began to twist.

“Surrender or I dislocate it!” I screamed out. He tried to wrestle free but I kept twisting and twisting until the moment when I was sure it was going to go. I felt bad for the guy but had to do it for the win.

“I surrender.” He cried and I let go of him and walked to the side. That was my first win, it was a lot easier than Ricks but it felt less earned, like I had cheated.

“That was brilliant!” Maron laughed from the side-lines, “excellent!” Now the main thing to worry about was Marrons fight, I was glad that Rick couldn’t be there because he might just explode on the person who attacks her, and I wouldn’t want him to do that. He probably likes Maron a bit too much.

Maron was going to lose though, we saw him fight yesterday and he looked very strong. All I could really do to help her was to practice fighting. So when Rob left to attend to his own business we sparred together.

Maron was an exceptionally good fighter, especially when you consider her gender. She was nimble, quick on her feet and ultimately pretty nasty, using underhand methods to get the upper hand. I didn’t mind practicing with her; she was a lot more interesting than Rick and a lot prettier too. While Rick would mostly flail on you, trying every random thing he could to push you down or hit you in the face Maron knew some form of martical art yet punched a lot weaker. She could use all the techniques she had but at the end of the day she lacked the muscles to do any real impact. She was improving though; they were getting better placed and better timed to the point where I wondered if she was holding back.

Our campsite had changed from a very busy place with many tents to a place only half as busy, most people had set up to camp but with so many people being defeated tents left very quickly.

I switched to thinking about everything Rob had told us about and thought about the conspiracy. It made me think why Maron would have been placed against someone this early.

“Why do you think you’ve been placed with one of the most difficult opponents so early?” I asked her.

“There are many potential reasons.” She said as I continually tried to punch her, she was practicing dodging and doing very well.

“The first is that it’s a coincidence.” It made sense, they do happen.

“It could also be that he’s not actually strong and Rob’s lying about the position places.” I didn’t really believe this one, Rob carried himself around with a huge degree of certainty, he knew exactly what would happen with such a confidence that it was impossible not to believe.

“What about if it’s rigged?” I asked, she seemed to know a lot more about these things than I did so I would trust her opinion over mine at the end of the day but it wouldn’t stop me from believing what I saw.

“Well why would they place a person from the fighter’s guild against one of the people they want to win? Surely they wouldn’t want a potentially dangerous opponent?” That was actually fair enough, I wouldn’t want her as an opponent either, but I thought that it was maybe something that we did which brought this upon ourselves.

“Are you sure that there’s nothing you did? Maybe we stick it for being with Rob or something?” At this phrase Maron became very thoughtful and less good at dodging, I punched her in the shoulder but she seemed to not even notice it.

“I did do one thing.” She said, and I stopped punching.

“What! What did you do?” I couldn’t believe Maron had done something to alert anyone’s attention, yes we looked through those forms but I’m pretty sure nobody saw us.

“I reported those three guys with the fake forms.” She said, but I didn’t see how it mattered, a fake form is a fake form, theirs nothing suspicious about reporting one.

“What would that do?”

“If these people are actually Kovans, and are rigging the tournament then reporting them would be a bad idea, they’d not only be let into the tournament but would want to take the person out for being suspicious of them, if my opponents as strong as we think he’ll be then I’ll be convinced this tournament is rigged and we need to do… something. I’m not sure what.” She aired her thoughts out; all that was left was to wait until tomorrow.

 

Later that night Rob returned to see if we had made up our minds, Maron was adamant that we waited until tomorrow so that was that. I sat next to Rick as Rob had a private word with Maron outside the tent. I watched them talk.

They were standing very close to each other and Rob put his hand on her face, it looked like she had clasped but after a few moments she was fine again. It was strange but I didn’t think about it too much, he seemed to be a decent person now who just wanted allies to help him for his cause, and if his cause was right… well that was terrifying to think about.

Chapter 16 – Freak

I had beaten up Kil so many times that I lost count, so I felt I was ready. I felt bad for how strong I was but we both agreed it’s what we had to do to win. Apparently my opponent was very tough, I just hoped I could be tougher.

Fighting as a woman wasn’t difficult if you’re good, you’re always underestimated, even in the fighters guild it took them a few days to realise my true strength. I wasn’t the strongest member of the guild but even for those people I was no pushover. I dreaded the idea that I might meet anyone from the guild, they would call me a murderer and turn on me.

I’d been trying not to think about my problems but with the match coming I was starting to crave again so much worse. The only thing that stopped me was the visualisation of my knife in that man’s chest.

Anyway I wouldn’t be able to drink a lot, at this point I had to drink so much more before I felt better.

 

Male fighters fight only wearing clothes from the waist down, so as a woman I was wearing an odd mix of the tournament trousers and my own normal clothes on my top half. I had no time to worry about that because my opponent was very strong.

He looked foreign, like a Kovan, he had a six pack and was a good metre taller than me. He was imposing and arrogant.

“Are you sure you don’t want to surrender now, girl.”  His jeers couldn’t get to me, I had to be strong and intimidating. Kil and Rob were on the side-lines and I didn’t want to be the only person not to win a fight.

We faced each other. “Start” the official said. Before I even had time to think I was flung to the floor. I tried to get up quickly but I couldn’t move, the man was pinning me down.

“Get him off you!” Kil cried from the side-lines as if I hadn’t thought of that already, but how? He could stop me moving in any direction. He started to punch me in the belly a lot harder than I was used too from Kil, I felt sick. I tried to resist but the pain froze me to the floor as I was used as a punching bag. I couldn’t focus, I wasn’t trying to resist, I couldn’t.

Then Rob started muttering in a language I’d never heard of before “Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.” What on earth was he saying?

At this point my head, body and brain felt very distant, and the man was punching me slower and weaker. When he threw his next punch I grabbed it and used the rest of my body to throw him to the ground over me. I stood up and kicked his ribs as hard as possible, then I got on top of him and pulled his arm up in the air.

“Surrender or I dislocate it!” I shouted, amazed by how intimidated I sounded, the voice that came out was a lot stronger than I felt, I continued twisting until it dislocated, it was loud but hearing his pain made me feel good and happy as I switched to the other arm, I was winning.

“Surrender or I dislocate this one too!” It was win win, he could never beat me with two dislocated arms. He was still trying to struggle out and I dislocated it before he could say anything, his arms were in pain and there was nothing he could do. I was unstoppable.

I looked at his fleshy back of solid muscle. I bit him there as hard as I could, tearing I pulled off a chunk of his skin and spat it out to the side.

At that same time I heard Rob speak in that same strange language. “Anata wa katta. Anata wa okoru hitsuyō wa arimasen.”

His strange language made me lose focus. For the first time I heard the bleeding man dying in front of me, screaming.
“Ahhhhahahh! I surrender! Ahhahhahahah! Surrender! You won! Ahahhahhah!” I got off him and realised what a mess I had made of him, and myself. I was soaked in blood, the back of his spine was spraying out liquid and his arms were limp to the side, he couldn’t use them. What had I done? This person was dying, he was going to die, for the second time I had killed a human.

When I left the stage there were no congratulations or hugs, just fear in Kil’s eyes while Rob looked bored.

“That was…” Kil began.

“Do you think you could get me some new clothes? I don’t want to use these ever.” I said to him. Kil just nodded, now was not a time for talking.

What a monster I was, what a freak I had become.

Chapter 17 – Rob Reveals All

Maron entered the tent soaked in blood, bleeding from the mouth. I had worried about her all day and I knew I would be worrying more.

“Are you ok?” I shouted to Maron.

“I’ve been better.” She said lying down. She reeked of blood but and looked beautiful despite it all.

“Where’s Kil?” I asked her.

“Getting new clothes.” She said “These are not going to be worn again!” She was really sad and brooding. I knew that the enemy was supposed to be tough, but this was a completely new level of strength.

“How did it go?” I asked, knowing that she lost.

“I won.” She said.

“yes” It was a good thing, though I was sad she would have to fight again, especially after her injuries here.

“How are you feeling?” She asked.

“Don’t worry about me. Everything hurts but I’ll be ok.” The only thing I’d been doing was resting, worrying and thinking about the idea of a rigged tournament, it was very uneventful.

“How did you win with all your bleeding?” I asked Maron.

“I’d rather not say, but most of this blood isn’t mine.” She replied. That’s Maron for you, incredibly strong and ruthless.

 

We just lied there next to each other for a very long time, we both had our hands near each other, without thinking I grabbed her hand and held it softly, she didn’t resist, or say anything. Was she asleep? I turned my head to look at her but she was also looking at me, she smiled and I smiled back. She was beautiful.

 

Half an hour later Kil returned with Rob and Maron was able to change clothes.

Every day of this injured state had been completely miserable, the recovery was slow and a lot of these injuries would never fade. Seeing Maron and Kil train and walk together turned days into jealous envy, however I’d remember the moment we shared for the rest of my life.

Once she’d changed we rested in the tent to talk.

“So Maron what do you think?” Rob asked her, he was talking about the conspiracy, and she said she’d decide after this fight if it was true or not.

“Well I think I won fairly easily in the end so not really.” She replied and Rob looked unhappy with this answer. Her idea was that she had reported the three people who the riggers wanted to win, so if she was put against a tough opponent that would mean that the tournament group are trying to get rid of him.

“You would have lost that fight if it wasn’t for me.” Rob said

“But you did nothing.” She replied.

I had no idea what had happened but I was very dubious to what Rob was saying, he wasn’t a great person and also wasn’t fighting.”

“Was it when you said those strange words?” Kil asked “The moment you said them she became a different person, I’ve never seen her fight so well.”

“That’s true Maron, I cast a spell on you, that’s why you won.” She was clearly angered by this; she obviously wanted to win by her own merits and didn’t appreciate having her victory taken from her.

“It’s always excuses with you isn’t it? You have a reason for everything! Can’t you just see that I won normally?” She cried angrily.

“Alright let me prove it to you, Rick.” He turned to me “You’re very damaged are you not?”

“I’m hurt all over.” I replied.

“If I were able to cast a spell on Rick to make him better would that be enough to convince you?” He asked Maron “Would that make you believe me?”

“Yeah.” If he could that it would be amazing, though it seemed too good to be true. He placed his hand to my face and chanted a spell.

“Anata ga kenkōnanode, anata no kenkō o shinpai suru hitsuyō wa arimasen.” I heard it and on those words my pain stopped.

“I’m better!” I shouted, it was amazing, “I’m fine!” I got up and jumped, ran outside and stretched, none of my muscles were hurting, and it was great! A complete recovery!

“The spell isn’t permanent.” Rob said, and I felt a bit gutted inside “You are not completely better. You should still recover naturally.”

“Kurutta koto o yame, anata ga omotte iru hodo kenkōde wanai” and with that the effects of the spell vanished, I fell to the floor and the pain came back much stronger. I had to crawl back, it was good that I had a way to feel well during the fight at least.

“Alright I believe you.” Maron said, so the conspiracy was real, it had to be, there were too many pieces of evidence pointing in that direction for it to be false. “But what are we supposed to do?” Maron asked.

“For now I will teach you the only spell you need, focus on winning first and I’ll tell you the plan later. As well as this I checked the matchups and you’ve got one tomorrow Rick, they’re cycling around now, everyone here has won one game.” Great, I would be able to use the spell to be well during the fight.

“Rick as I’ll be casting the healing magic on you, I’ll need you to cast the spell that makes you able to fight better yourself, it’s the same one that I used on Maron.”

“But I don’t know magic” I said , it was true, I wasn’t born with anything close to magic. “I will unlock it within you. I’m able to do that.” Rob said, and he put his hand over my face and quickly took it back. In the time between putting his hand on my face and removing it ten minutes had passed but I didn’t even notice.
“Say these words out loud” He held a slip of paper in front of me with a sentence on it.

“Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.” Suddenly I started processing the world very differently it was slower and I was quick, I could see everything that was taking place and I felt strong, like I needed someone to fight. I nearly punched Rob but the pain stopped me.

“Anata wa katta. Anata wa okoru hitsuyō wa arimasen.” Rob said and suddenly everything became normal again. It was a crazy experience.

“That was weird.” I said, this would certainly help me in the fight as well.

“Remember those two phrases, I’ll write them down. When it looks like you’re going to win cast the spell on yourself to remove it because it will make you more violent. You’ve got to remember it. If you forget and fail to cast it you will progressively get more violent, attacking anyone in sight, and if nobody’s in sight, you’ll end up attacking yourself.”

I didn’t have too much time but I knew I could remember the words. Once I’d looked at the notes to the point where I thought I’d memorised them I said the words again.

“Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.” And time slowed down around me, perceiving things at a much greater rate, I quickly said the follow up words.

“Anata wa katta. Anata wa okoru hitsuyō wa arimasen.” And it stopped, I was able to do it and control it at will. It was brilliant. I could do this.

Chapter 18 – Using Magic

It was the moment of truth; my opponent would see me being carried with Kil on my left and Rob on my right, being lulled into a false sense of security. They put the fighting clothes on and did everything for me. The spell was being saved for the fight.

When it was time to go Rob said the words and I walked as if nothing was wrong, amazed that I was fine again. My opponent was sure of themselves but obviously taken aback with the ease I walked up. He had black hair with well-built shoulders, his legs were quite small and his confidence made him look a lot more formidable. I was told his name was Joshua Whitten, and he seemed to have got through his previous match unscathed.

“Start” The official said and I retreated from him as fast as I could while saying the words. He remained in the same spot.

“Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.” The spell had worked and I started to perceive things in different time, not going for me straight away was his great mistake, I ran towards him but he was ready for me. He threw his arm out early to lean in for a punch but I dodged to the side easily and gave a stronger uppercut to the face. He was wide open, he had no chance of outmanoeuvring me.

Rob, Maron and Kil cheered me on as I punched him again in the guts but he blocked it, then I went to punch him square in the face. It didn’t matter that my hands were bleeding again because I couldn’t feel them; the blood would get in his eye as well and he would be weakened. He switched to blocking his head and I continued punching his stomach.

He broke free and gave another slow weak punch, but I dodged it. He threw another and it was impossible for me to doge, I could just tell that it would get me, instead I put my elbow in the way of his punch, the full force of the impact felt like it might have shattered it but his wrist and hand were probably broken as well. My elbow was incredibly bony and sharp.

I had him on the ground now and the look of his eye appealed to me. I remembered the brutal process that happened when I got my eye removed and wanted to do the same thing with my finger this time. It was only fitting.

I stuck my finger as hard as I could into his eye socket, at the same time I saw his lips moving. Could it be that he was saying he surrendered? I had the time to glace over his body and saw that I had a high chance of winning anyway.

“Anata wa katta. Anata wa okoru hitsuyō wa arimasen.” And I stopped, he was shouting “I surrender” terrified and shocked. I took my finger out and walked away, dropping his squashed eyeball as I went. I had been victorious, and won. But I looked over at the brutal remains of my opponent in disgust, if this was what the spell did, could I justify using it? It had made me a monster; surely I should know that the pain of someone mashing your eye is terrible?

“Kurutta koto o yame, anata ga omotte iru hodo kenkōde wanai” Rob said, and I collapsed to the floor. The pain was terrible, the most horrible pain I had ever felt at one time rushed through me.

“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed. There was no pleasant fainting or loss of consciousness, I was awake the whole time. I writhed in agony as Kil and Rob took me back and continued to feel unthinkable pain for the next few hours. I wanted to escape from my body but the pain kept on keeping me awake.

“Please! Please cast it again!” I shouted to Rob but he wouldn’t listen, he said that I shouldn’t use It more than once a day. I hated it, the whole thing and the saddest part was that I felt like I deserved it, I shouldn’t have attacked that guy so badly. The eye…

Once I had stopped screaming but was still clenching in terror Rob addressed the rest of the group, ignoring my injury.

“As you can see, magic alone isn’t enough to win against these people. Eventually the effects will catch up to you and it won’t work out. We cannot win the tournament using these methods, meaning we have to take our enemies out in new ways.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” Kil asked, I didn’t particularly want to break the law or anything.

“I say we do the same thing they did to us, burn their tents down.” Rob answered.

“There’s no way that we can just burn down a tent without more proof that they’re from Kova!” Maron said. I wasn’t even thinking now, the thought of fighting seemed stupid when I hurt this much. I stopped listening, lied down and went to sleep.

Chapter 19 – Followers

“I say we do the same thing they did to us, burn their tent down.” Rob answered Kil who was wondering how we could stop the tournament now that it was clear magic could only take us so far. He, like me, had realised just how rigged this was and that we needed to do something.

“There’s no way that we can just burn down a tent without more proof that they’re from Kova!” I responded, wanting to be careful that normal people weren’t hurt.

I saw Rick pleasantly drift off after his injuries; he was lying there so sweetly. His fight had made me realise that I wouldn’t have bit that guy if I wasn’t under the influence of the spell. Right? The sight of the bleeding corpse had terrified me, and spiralled me into a dark place in my mind. I had to seek company or I would be forced to remember, and I really didn’t want too. I felt bad enough already.

I desperately wanted to go back to my village, huddle up to Joe and have him tell me that it’s all going to be ok, but no. I would never be able to see my family or friends again.

“A way that we can find out is by using the birth certificate method, we should see if they have an incorrect one and look Kovan. If they do then we follow them around until they get to their tent. That’s the method.” It was a good suggestion; why not add to that murder tally? It was a necessary evil, maybe the total would be so high I could forget all of them and they would all become a blur. At least I had that to look forward too.

Either way it was the only plan we really had so I reluctantly agreed. We went to sleep and got ready to execute our plan the next day.

 

 

The city of Taltree was divided into three layers of circles, each circle within another. It was a huge place and very easy to get lost, it would be a tough day.

We went to the matchup boards towards the exit of the training ground and wrote down the names of the people who we deemed suspicious. We said that we’d try to keep on doing it all day if possible to get all the tents that we could.

It would look suspicious if we were to follow people in threes so we decided to also follow our own individual person. Not wanting to be left behind the others I volunteered first.

I was following a man by the name of George Orsen. He was tall, strong and bald with throbbing veins all over his body. He won easily, looked foreign and his certificate was faked. Once he had picked up his bags and travelled away I quietly walked. Not wanting to look strange or be caught hiding I walked in the open as if we just happened to be walking in the same direction. He went past all of the tents and left the training ground, making sure I still had my tournament card I left as well.

We made an agreement that we wouldn’t follow anyone too much into the city because we could hardly start burning down city buildings. We were only to follow until we could be sure that his home was too far away or he was heading back, also stopping if we actually find the place where they’re saying.

The streets were crowded with people, shops and carts. One of the horses reminded me of Barney (the secret name I’d given to the horse that took us to Taltree) and I reminded myself to go and see him.

It felt weird to tell people about the name, sort of for embarrassing reasons. I found myself feeling fairly distant from everyone, unable to tell them anything. Now with my fight it was difficult to go back. Rick was the only one I felt comfortable around since he didn’t see the terrible things I had done.

Blending in, I followed further and further as the crowd around me became less busy and more dispersed. Hiding in the crowd had reassured me but now that was going away. The high buildings against the large side wall leading to the 2nd part of the city cast dark shadows from above. My loud footsteps echoed and the street was never exactly straight. My heart beat skyrocketed.

I saw a food shop and I desperately wanted to go inside. We could do with some more food and it would be a good way to remove any suspicion the guy would have against me.

To my relief suspicion wasn’t a problem. He entered a building which looked like the place he was staying at. The sign read “Milk in” with the last “n” missing from the word inn. I looked through the open door and it became very apparent that it was a brothel. There were signs for prices in visible sight.

What a disgusting person. I contemplated whether I should wait or go back to try and find someone else. I sat by the city walls looking at the “inn” from a distance waiting for him to come out. It was surprising how people didn’t pay me any attention.

Just when I was ready to leave I heard a voice.

“What do you think you’re doing? You’ve been following me this whole time!”

It was the guy who I was following, he looked even bigger than earlier from on the floor, and he had a massive angry vein showing. This was going to take some explaining.

Chapter 20 – Followers 2

I watched nervously as Maron followed the man. He was big and dangerous; Maron looked like a mouse in comparison. I could imagine Rick wanting to follow with her to help, but I trusted her ability to look after herself.

None of us liked what we had to do, but it was for the greater good. Maron would be back soon anyway so we would execute the plan and hopefully that would be it, after this nobody from kova would be left.

I picked a target and followed him to his massive tent where there was a huge gathering. They were shouting and jeering to each other. I looked around trying to find Rob, basically retracing my steps until I found him following another person.

“I’ve found the tent he’s sleeping in; there are lots of people there! “I was excited to report the news and stupidly talked way too loudly, attracting the wrong kind of attention. People looked strangely before ignoring us and returning to their day.

“Alright go and find the next one he whispered.” I did what he said picked another target out of the list of fights and followed him.

This time the person was a much slower walker so I had to shuffle along, he went on a long detour, calmly walking around the grounds before eventually finding his tent. This took me about half an hour and annoyingly he slept in the same tent as the previous person I’d found. It was so odd that he went the long way.

I went back to try and find Rob, he was sitting at the place where the arenas were located waiting for the next match to begin so he could follow the next person.

“Found anywhere?” He asked

“No it was just the same place.”

“Yeah everyone I know has been going to the same place as well, one went out of the city but I decided to stop following.” At this time I had a thought, where was Maron? She hadn’t showed up in a very long time, about 40 minutes, so something was taking her a while.

“Have you seen Maron?” I asked him.

“No she’s not shown up, yet, I wonder what’s taking her.”

“Do you think she left the grounds then?” It was a scary thought but it might actually be true.

“She probably did.” Why on earth would she do that though? Surely she could just find someone else?

“Maybe the guy knew she was following him.” No don’t say that, it would mean she’d died.

“I think we should look for her.” I said.

“Yeah, we’ve got the tent we need anyway.”

We walked to the gates together.

“I’ll go left and you go right.” Rob said “Come back if you don’t find her in an hour” and with that he was gone.

To think of where she would be I had to think of where she might follow someone too. The guy would either be staying in an inn or going weapon shopping. If he had been going shopping it wouldn’t have taken Maron this long so I had to exclude that, meaning I was looking for a place where people could stay.

But Maron was a needle in a haystack, she was very difficult to look for. On the way I saw a food shop and decided to enter because we were running low. I had my bag on me with the money so it would be easy. Last time we had just got hard pieces of beef and they worked out quite well. They preserved over long periods of time and didn’t taste too bad. After this I got out and continued looking.

Chapter 21 – Followers 3

I was on the floor shivering when the man, towering and strong, accused me of following him.

“I don’t know what you mean.”  I innocently said unable to prevent my nervousness showing.

“What are you here then?” He shouted, there wasn’t a person around to help me and he looked ready to start fighting.

“I was buying clothes, but I got tired.” I said.

“There are no clothes shops around here! You walked past all of them!”  He said irritably.

“Those ones are too expensive; I was looking for other shops.” I said after a moment of silence to think. All I had to do was keep the story going and I would be ok.

“So you just happened to watch my fight, follow me around, and then wait in the exact place I stopped.” He was a lot more observant than I had imagined, I contemplated saying I was following him because I fancied him but thought against it.

“I don’t know what you mean; I’ve never been to the tournament.”

“Bullshit” he said, and looked around quickly, no one was there. He punched me, and didn’t stop. They were massively strong and I felt like my stomach was turning itself inside out. There was no running. I slumped to the floor and doubled over clutching my stomach.

“BITCH” He spat, walking away.

I wanted to murder that guy with all my heart. I lied there in shame for five minutes before gaining the strength to get back up. If I could find his tent and follow him again I would have no problems burning his skin off, it would be fun.

I hobbled along for five minutes before finding Kil who was relieved to see me.

“Maron, what took so long?” He hadn’t seen that I was badly injured.

“I followed this guy…”

“Yeah I saw him before I found you. I was worried!” Kil said hapilly.

“Well I was trying to see if he was staying in a place outside the city, seems like he was just visiting a brothel.” I didn’t want to worry him with my injuries, I would rather he didn’t notice.

“We’ve got to burn that guy tonight. Can you see if you can find him?” I said it in a calm voice but there was real anger there.

“Yeah ok.” Kil said as he left.

 

It took me a long time to get back. I was in a sad and depressed contemplative mood which was only made worse by my injuries. I’d killed two people in my lifetime and the fact that I had no consequences for those actions made me sad.

The fact that Rick had probably killed his opponent made me feel slightly better, we were in the same boat. I was not a normal person, a murder drunk and sober, with a recovering addiction and the only woman trying to win a competition rigged against her. I was a complete outsider.

I thought of Joe, and how he probably hates me now. I vanished on him, and made his life miserable. I murdered someone and left him behind. And I didn’t dare think of this in my mind but now that I had started thinking I couldn’t stop. When I awoke on that day, with a hangover, we were both naked. It saddened me that the last moments I spent in my old villiage could have been moments spent cheating on him. It was disgusting. And now I was going to leave that life behind just so that I could murder more people and cause more trouble. I was quite possibly the worst person in the world, with the only positive trait trying to save the country from having a Kovan as the king.

This chance was my only possibility of redemption. If I was able to prevent Kova from taking over the tournament I would feel better, like I did justice for my county and saved the lives of many from a horrible fate, I would pay back the two lives I had taken. That was my new goal, it would be a noble one and even if we never got the praise or recognition I know that we would have done the right thing.

I got back late, with these terrible thoughts on my mind. I wasn’t a person who was admirable; I was evil and stupid, and horrible. Nobody would want me, I was tempted to just leave and never return, and maybe it would be better that way. The only reason why I came back was for my own selfish reasons, I wanted to see that person burn.

I got back to the tents and only Rick was there, while the others were checking the board.

I lied down on my front, trying to conceal my tears from Rick, he wasn’t having a very good time in this competition and was still extremely hurt. We lied there in silence for a few minutes, my thoughts getting worse and worse. It was easy to forget them when I was distracted but now I struggled.

“Maron.” Rick said as he was lying down on the floor. I instantly felt a rush of guilt and panic.

“I genuinely feel like I might die soon…” His pain was bad and I had never even noticed. What kind of terrible person wouldn’t notice when their companion was dying? “and I want to tell you this in case I do.” Maybe this would be the time when he brought up my previous fight, or somehow he could have known that I was a murderer before we’d even met, I wasn’t the best at keeping secrets.

“I love you Maron.”

I hadn’t heard those words in a long time, not even from Joe. I didn’t expect them to stir up such strong emotions. I began to cry even worse than I had been already. He didn’t just accept me despite the terrible things I had done, he loved me.

All of this made sense, when I felt disgusting after my fight; he grabbed my hand and comforted me, despite the fact that I was sweaty and horrible. It was nice, being with him always was.

I looked at this poor, battered and bruised boy with an ugly eye, and realised I had loved him all along. It made me feel better, like it would all be ok in the world.

“What’s wrong?” Rick asked.

“Nothing. But, I’m a murderer.”

“Really?” He asked, it was sad that I had to tell him everything to keep my conscious clean.

“While you were here and I was in a fight, I bit a guy’s back and he died from the blood loss.”

Rick was shocked by this “But weren’t you under the effects of the spell, shouldn’t you blame Rob?”

“Just because I was under a spell, doesn’t mean I still did it.”

“No, I was under that spell too and there’s nothing you could have done, it makes you violent, and it’s not you! The spell changes you to something you’re not!” Rick shouted with emotion.

“It’s not just that Rick, before we even met I was a murderer.” Ricks eyes went wide, he couldn’t believe it. “I woke up one day after drinking to find that there was a dead guy I’d killed with my knife.”

“Were drunk? I don’t think you knew what you were doing!”  For every defence he had I had something against it.

“I know I have a problem, but I did it anyway knowing the risks.” I cried, it was sad; I wanted to love him but knew getting close to him would hurt him.

“I don’t care if you have a problem! I’ll help you! You’ve been sober this entire time!”

“I still want it though!”

“That’s fine! One day it will stop!” Rick shouted, I believed that was his true thoughts but at the same time I couldn’t believe it as well. No person should love someone like me.

“I love you Maron, I really do.” Rick said seriously.

“I love you too” I was happy to get it off my chest, and Ricks pleased face really made me smile, if I could make him smile like this his feelings were genuine.

Part 4 – Scheming

Chapter 22 – Burning the Tents

It was to my great relief that none of us had any matchups coming up soon. Rob and I had checked repeatedly in paranoia only to find that nothing was there. Rob had arrived back at the tent just a little before I did and was relieved to find Maron there. Yet both of us could share the disappointment that Maron’s struggles had left us nowhere. But at least our search hadn’t brought back nothing.

The cold day had been one of tension and worry but most importantly fear. Once we went ahead with our plan there would be no turning back. Even though we were doing the world a favour we would be hunted down and searched for by every guard in the tournament grounds.

I was worried about Maron after sending her ahead of me. She probably wasn’t in the best state of mind. What I hoped, at the very least, was that she had found her way back to the tent so I didn’t have to search the tournament grounds looking for her.

When I got back Rob had bought a container of liquid which would burn easily and quickly, it was the key to our success. But there were more things I was worried about than our method of arson.

There were three compartments to the tent, one for Maron, one for Rick and one bigger space for where I slept. I entered through my side and could hear strange noises. It sounded like Rick was breathing very hard and very badly, it can’t have been good for his health.

“Have you seen Maron Rick?” I asked, the heavy breathing stopped, “are you ok?” I asked, moving to open his side of the tent, as soon as I did Ricks hand shot out to stop me.

“No I’m ok don’t come in.” It was strange for him to stop me since we did this all the time but it was fine by me. “Have you seen Maron?” I asked.

“Ohhh yeah I’ve seen Maron! She’s looking after me.” He said, most likely with a wink but I couldn’t tell for sure because I couldn’t see him.

I had soon realised what the heavy breathing was and felt a little bit sick inside, “Tell her sex probably isn’t the best thing for your health right now” I said as I walked out going red, it really irritated me that right now Rick was doing something I couldn’t, and in a bedridden state at that. It’s not that I found Maron particularly attractive; it was more a jealousy of the idea instead of the person. But there was nothing I could do but try to feel happy for the two of them.

 

 

A few hours passed and it was time to burn the tent now that night had fallen. Rob carried the liquid while I carried a lighter, I hoped this didn’t mean I would be the one to use it. Maron seemed like a completely different person. Before she was worried about doing this plan but now she didn’t appear to have any problems with it, in fact she seemed happy and healthy. I guess Rick must have been better at it than I first thought!

The tent felt like ages away and we had to weave through in an indirect way before finding the dark path that took us right there. After making sure we had identified the right tent me and Maron watched in fear as Rob poured the liquid everywhere.

“So what’s going on with you and Rick?” I asked, as if I hadn’t worked it out already.

“Kil this isn’t really a good time.” She said clearly more panicked now that the actual deed was ahead of them “I love him.” She said simply, confirming what I thought. There was no way Rick was going to say no to her, I probably wouldn’t have said no to her myself at this stage of my life.

“What do you like about him?” I asked, I wasn’t going to try and break them apart but now I was just interested. What could she possibly love about this crippled, one eyed, skeleton thin monster?

“I told him everything, and he accepted me anyway.” She replied.

I wasn’t massively convinced with this answer, what had Maron possibly done wrong? I thought it better not to ask; maybe I’d ask Rick later. I was about to ask “If you told me everything and I accepted you would you fuck me too?” but it seemed quite insensitive and degrading, not to mention that it was too late. And anyway Rob was walking towards us with an empty container.

“All done”  He said as he walked closer “all you’ve got to do now is light it and then we can run away. Is anyone nearby?”

“No.” I said.

“Nope” Marron said, thinking about it her job was very easy, she probably didn’t even need to show up in the first place. Rob was going to hide back at our tent and Marron simply had to watch me set it on fire to check no one was around and then run away with me. But now that the liquid was there our task was suddenly very easy.

Rob had already left by the time I put the flint towards the liquid, while Maron stayed to make sure I was ok. I stroked the flint for about 30 seconds and then it was ablaze, it burned very quickly. And was already quite a way across the tent before I realised I had to run. Maron was waiting for me and we ran back together as silently as possible keeping our heads low and hidden from sight.

I pictured the worst case scenario of people walking around and seeing us but not a soul was out there but us.

If our assumption was wrong, we had just done a terrible thing, if we were right then we would have saved a lot of lives. There were too many pieces of evidence proving that we were correct though, we couldn’t possibly be wrong, it was too much of a coincidence.

With so much build up it was strange to think that we had gotten the job done so quickly. I thought about the people who would die from burning, or from inhaling smoke. If only there was a way to settle this peacefully. It only took us a minute to run back and Rob was already there.

“Good job guys” he said “I think we’ve gotten away with it. Nobody saw us and nobody could relate this to us in any way, we can breathe now.”

While Rob was initially a person I hated my opinion has changed dramatically. He was smart enough to point out the conspiracy in the first place, and had been organised throughout this whole thing, he was even able to get the only people he trusted on his side, but was it enough? Would this be the end of it, one simple stunt that would eliminate the competition, we’d have to find out later.

Even though I thought that no matter what I was doing the right thing it didn’t stop me from nervously trying to go to sleep, it was pretty awkward with Rob sleeping in the same compartment as me.

I started to hear a strange breathing from the compartment where Rick was staying in and sighed, how could they possibly think the two of us wouldn’t know? There was even a small gap right near to my head in the tent and I really wanted to look through, I couldn’t though because some things were probably better left unknown.

But of course my curiosity got the better of me and I took a quick look and it was about as bad as I had imagined. Considering that Rick had to lie down because of his health I was treated to a wonderful view. Maron looked better than I had realised and I felt like a fool for writing her off. But with this there was a very real threat of eye contact so I looked away.

It was a strange predicament to be in, and I needed to sort it out, because there was no possibility of going to sleep like this. I lied there for a couple of minutes pondering the least awkward ways of telling the couple that they might not be as quiet as they thought.

Chapter 23 – The Book of Contestants

Several days had passed and Kil and I had won our fights using the magic taught to us by Rob. Honestly it wasn’t very difficult to use, you just needed somebody to awaken it for you. Thankfully Rick was recovering well;, in the past few days I had seen a side to him many others hadn’t and it was great wake up next to him and see him improve each day. We were both happier together and I was amazed by the things he’d told me.

He said that he fell in love with me nearly straight away, which was something I couldn’t believe – for all that time walking and travelling he had loved me. The moment he knew it to be truer than anything was when I got run over by the horse and cart. Seeing him come to my rescue and furthermore, understanding the motive behind it, made me happy. I wasn’t too affected by it now but I’m sure the mark still remained.

All three of us were through to the third round of the tournament but we’d basically given up on any chances of victory at this point. The best people there would use magic too and we wouldn’t stand a chance. Though we thought we could identify a few Kovans, we were still wondering if they were actually taking part in this conspiracy.

Word had spread that there would be another announcement later that day so we all headed to the newly assembled stage to hear what it was about. It was the same person from earlier but because there were so much fewer people than last time, he didn’t have to raise his voice as much. He still raised it anyway, but he didn’t have too.

“CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF YOU CONTESTANTS!” In the old crowd that would have received a cheer, but the winners here were too stoic and reserved to react in any way at all.

“IF YOU’VE MADE IT THIS FAR THEN IT MEANS THAT YOU ARE IN THE TOP 25% OF CONTESTANTS!” Nobody seemed too pleased; the remaining people were here to win, not to be praised.

“OVER THE COURSE OF THE TWO WEEKS THIS TOURNAMENT HAS BEEN TAKING PLACE, WE HAVE HEARD MANY COMPLAINTS, AND WE’VE BEEN LISTENING. YOU ALL HATE GOING OVER THE TOURNAMENT BOARD AND THERE’S BEEN TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO HAVEN’T SHOWED UP TO MATCHES JUST BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T FIND WHEN THEY HAD A MATCH! WELL I SAY NO LONGER!” This actually did raise a cheer, people really hated the system.

“WE ARE GOING TO GIVE ALL OF YOU A TOURNAMENT FIXTURE BOOK, WHICH WILL HAVE EVERYONE IN IT FOR THE COURSE OF THAT ROUND! EVERYONE WILL BE IN THERE SO THERE WILL BE NO CONFUSION TOWARDS MISSING YOUR MATCHES!”

“OH AND ONE LAST THING, PLAY FAIR, THERE’S BEEN TOO MANY ATTACKS LATELY AND WE CAN BARELY COPE. WE ARE INCREASING SECURITY TO TRY AND FIND THE CRIMINALS BUT UNTIL THEN, DO YOURSELVES A FAVOUR AND STAY OUT OF TROUBLE!”

“THAT IS ALL, GOOD LUCK CONTESTANTS!” He left the stage and that was it. For my whole life I’ve heard people talk about criminals yet I never thought that I would end up becoming one of them. I was fearful of this – of course I was – we were going to need be a lot more careful from now on.

What I found interesting was that he didn’t even say where we could get the books from. I’m sure they wouldn’t be difficult to get but even so…

“So where can we get these books from?” Kil asked the two of us. I honestly wasn’t sure, so I remained quiet.

“I’d assume they’d either hand them out now, or put them in a place where we could easily get them, maybe where the old scoreboards are.”

I looked around. Nobody wanted to move; everyone was just waiting for someone to do something.

“Wait here” I said to them as I got up and left., Everyone was looking at me as if I knew what I was doing, but I really didn’t know at all. I just worked out that if I was wrong I could borrow Kil’s book but if I wasn’t maybe I’d be able to get the books first.

Approaching the location of the scoreboards it became very clear that I had made the right decision. There was a stand with a man sitting at it, with some books. That had to be it. But then I realised something: out of everyone who was just waiting there, if none of them had a match book, then I could actually win. What if I were to take them down and burn them? I would be the only one with a tournament book and I could win easily!

Unfortunately for me a few people had gotten up to follow so it was out of the question. I didn’t know if I would be able to do that anyway.

“Can I have a tournament book please?” I asked the man behind the desk.

“Tournament card please,” he responded. I got it out to show him, and he handed me the book and ticked my name off a list. I flicked through the item he had handed to me. The contents of the book were amazing. It wasn’t just about the fights that people needed but included a list of contestants who were favourites to win, with pictures, and most of them were the people we were looking for. This would be great, as we would be able to find all of the Kovans early and hopefully get rid of them. I could barely contain my excitement.

It also told me that I wasn’t the only female here – there were three others. It wasn’t a lot but it was better than nothing. As I walked back I saw a worrying headline called “big surprises,” and it shocked me to the core. I was in it, right at the front of the display. If this wasn’t going to get me attention I didn’t know what would. This was about to become very bad, and very difficult for us to do our jobs.

I could vaguely hear the sound of the man getting back on stage again to tell people where to go. It would seem that he had begun shouting “GO TO THE PLACE WHERE THE OLD SCOREBOARDS WERE TO GET THE BOOK! THERE ARE PLENTY BUT IT’S ONE EACH FOR NOW!” As I started heading back more people began to follow and a crowd was forming.

I saw Rob and Kil walking in the same direction calmly. I whispered to Rob, who was walking on my side very confidently, “This is terrible!” He looked at the book shocked, and quickly became nervous.

“Why’s it so bad?” He asked.

“What, this is bad?” Kil said, as if it wasn’t obvious. “I’ll run and get another, this sounds bad.” He was then gone, running towards the correct location. Kil was a great runner who was physically strong, so he would have no problem overtaking most of the people there. I saw a few people following Kil’s idea and running after him before I turned back to Rob to continue whispering in his ear.

“I’m in it,” I said. “People are going to be looking for me, and I won’t be able to go unnoticed as easily.” Rob didn’t look very nervous.

“LOOK! Look at this!” I opened the book to the correct page, the one with the big surprises on it. While I wasn’t in the dead centre, I took up a large portion of the page and had a whole piece written about me.

“It’s nothing to be afraid of,” Rob said calmly. “It just means you’re doing well.”

I couldn’t tell if Rob was being genuine or just trying to help me calm down; if it was the latter it didn’t work in the slightest. My nerves had been more on edge than ever lately and this was one of the worst things because it showed the terror to come. Having me noticed by the creators of the tournament would only put me in the limelight even more, and encourage them to pair me against the difficult guys to force me out of the competition. They saw what I had done, and they hated me for it and wouldn’t rest until I was taken down for good and either dead or too injured to move. This tournament was too rigged, it was obvious from the start that other countries would try to influence it.

I just wanted to escape from all of this; why did it have to be me? Why couldn’t Rob have found someone else to help him? Why couldn’t he still? We weren’t good enough to win, not even Rob won his match so how could we?

“Rob, how did you lose your match even though you have magic?” I asked because it was the first time I had ever questioned it.

“Well it’s simple really. I can’t use magic on myself, because it doesn’t work like that.” He seemed to question his words and mull them over in his head, paying special attention to how he worded everything. Magic was a foreign concept to me so it must be hard to explain. “I am unable to cast magic on myself., Well I could, but… it’s way too risky, I wouldn’t be safe and more importantly other people wouldn’t be safe, and I know what you’re going to say!”

I had no idea what I was going to say; it made sense that he didn’t think it was safe.

“You must be thinking: if Rick could do it then why couldn’t I?” Of course, it was really strange, but I was eager to know what he had to say.

“Why couldn’t you?” I asked. He said it was too risky so I guess that was the reason?

“As I said earlier I could have done it, but there wasn’t anyone else around who could have used magic on me. I didn’t want to lose control of everything and kill everyone around me – it would have been terrible and I would have been eliminated. When Rick was fighting I let him cast the magic on himself because I was there, if I really needed to I could have removed my spell and then removed his spell. I however had no option to do that, the spell makes you more violent, we’ve not tried doing it for very long but once we removed every target the person started trying to strangle themselves, so I could have died as well.”

That was pretty unlucky but it didn’t answer one thing. “Weren’t any of your other friends capable of using magic?”

“Oh um no, I had my match after the tent got burnt down, and they died. So I couldn’t use it in the tournament”

That was really unlucky for him. But as soon as that question was answered another one popped into my head: when Rob had talked about trying his spell, it sounded like an experiment that he did with many others. “How did you learn magic, and what group were you with when you learned it?”

“A group, I wasn’t in a group!” Rob said as if I was being outrageous.

“But you said “we” when referring to trying out the spell; were you with a group, the Mages’ Guild? Is that a thing? The Fighters’ Guild is a thing so I’m just wondering.” I said. Rob was being very confrontational about this when I had no intentions of being rude to him.

“Yeah the Mages’ Guild – it does exist but I’m not in it. Not anymore. So that’s where I learnt it all.”

“What else did you learn?” It was rare for Rob to tell anyone about himself so I was ready to take advantage of this rare opportunity.

“Um not much really, I’ve shown you a lot of what I know already. There is the one which makes you experience reality at a slower speed, makes it fe… I mean the one that heals you for the duration of the spell and a few others.” He said.

“You didn’t tell me any of the new ones!” I cried at him, he was pointlessly holding information away from me just so he could tease me.

“No I don’t want to talk about it, I’m getting my book.” He stormed off a lot more angry than I thought he would be. Maybe I pushed him too far. Since he was involved with this level of magic something could have happened to him.

The talk with Rob was only a minor diversion from the anxiety that I felt due to the book. I decided to go back to Rick. He was a comforting presence and was often a lot more mature and interesting than he looked. I didn’t really understand why I liked him but his confession really struck a chord at the time when I needed it most, and now I needed him again.

Chapter 24 – The Final Solution

Maron was the first to return, which was normally the case, and she looked distraught.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her, she was beautiful, and I felt sick as I took delight in her crying pained face which was as visually striking and appealing as ever. I was sick.

“It’s this.” She gestured towards the book before sitting down leaning over me. For a moment she looked happy. “Are you better” she asked warmly.

“A bit” I said. Soon I would be able to walk. I turned to the page she was showing me, more concerned about what the problem was. It said, “Big Surprises” and there was a drawing of her right in the centre around other fighters.

I gulped, so this is what the problem was, the tournament organisers were onto her. It wasn’t likely that they would have made her be here normally. I hadn’t seen much proof in my bedridden state, but this made it clear enough.  She was at risk of being caught, and by extension, so were we.

Maron was in too much danger. I made a promise to myself that whatever it takes I would keep her safe. And keeping her safe meant stopping her.

“This is terrible!” I said “Look, soon I’ll be able to walk and once that happens, I don’t want you to be involved in this. I think it’s too dangerous for you now that they have this picture of you for all the world to see.” I hated that this had happened, and I felt bad for feeling the need to stop her, but how could I lie down all day here and let the love of my life die without me? If all my injuries were Maron’s, then things would be much simpler. Though both were very undesirable.

“No Rick you can’t. Don’t use that spell again, it will make you a cripple for life” She said “If you do what I do… you won’t be coming back”

I could only sigh. There was no changing her mind “I love you Maron. I know I can’t stop you, but please whatever you do, don’t do anything stupid”

“Thank you Rick” she said “This is something we have to do for the kingdom, once it’s over we’ll laugh about it. I love you too”

We embraced each other. She was slim and cold at the touch. I loved the way her body felt next to mine, her skin was soft, and her love was overwhelming. Being with her was heaven. As we looked at each other, we both smiled.

Later Kil and Rob taking Maron away for training. Bored, as always, I had tried to get up for the third time, but nothing was working. I just wasn’t strong enough yet, but I was close. The next day I’ll do it, I will do it.

I picked up the match book and started reading.

But it was hard to get into. Bitter thoughts of home passed through my mind. To think that my old friends were sold as slaves all along, and I didn’t know about it. All the good memories of home had been taken away, taken by that scumbag Jak who tried to sell me. He was evil, and selling slaves wasn’t the only bad thing about him. The fact that he’d sell me and be my parents’ best friend the next day was infuriating beyond belief.

The initial pages which took up most of the book I was struggling to pay attention too were the matchups. The three of us had our matchups fairly spread out across the fighting period but we were all jammed in at the back this time. The three of us had a good two days to prepare before my match, which was first. Why was I always first? It was like I was the guinea pig for them to experiment and learn from. It would be my match and then both Kil and Maron’s the next day.

The most obviously good thing were the pictures since it was an easy reference to find out who were the ones in trouble, we could also tell who had died when the rest burned the tent down, not that I possibly could have known. It wasn’t until I saw my name in the matchups that I started to doubt the usefulness of the book. My picture, which I assume must have been drawn secretly was completely wrong and didn’t look like me at all. For the first thing the person had two eyes and not one. Then Maron’s picture was the same; completely different despite her image at the start of the book. These pictures were unreliable – only Kil’s was correct – and if two thirds of them were wrong then the book was difficult to trust. It was a shame, but was it worth the risk to try it anyway? No. I couldn’t risk a 2/3 chance that I would be killing an innocent person, I would have to take it to Rob to see what he thought of it.

I moved on to the big surprises page which had Maron and a few others. Contrasting everyone else Maron had a huge piece written about her.

Big Suprises – Maron Alpick!

Everyone out there thought that Bruce Clot was sure to win but we were shocked when he was brutally beaten by a woman of all people! It’s well known that you shouldn’t underestimate anyone who made it through the early rounds of the competition and we hope that this will be proof of that! Bruce didn’t even have the chance to underestimate as he was knocked out straight away!

Was it just beginners’ luck or is Maron just that good.

Maron is terrifying in combat and seems to have complete control of everything going on around her, stopping at nothing to get her victory! Initially it didn’t look so good for her, but at the last moment she was able to haul the six-foot-tall man of immense body weight over her onto the ground and be on top of him in an instant, threatening to break his arm if he didn’t surrender.

Bruce wasn’t prepared to go down without a fight! He wouldn’t surrender so Maron got through both arms and took a huge bite out of his back before the victory was declared to be hers. Should have known when to give up!

You really needed to be there to see it! It was the most brutal of blood baths on display in arena twenty-one.

The bite caused Bruce’s blood to leak from his body at a rapid rate, he’s not dead (yet) but medical professionals are still trying to save him from the blood loss and terrifying injuries he faced.

Interestingly enough Maron’s dislocation tactic has been spreading, initially with her friend Kil but now more and more people are using this tactic. It seems like an easy win as the fighter can progress relatively unscathed. But I warn you about using it – some know how to beat it!

If you are up against Maron then you’d better say your prayers because you’re in for a very, very difficult time. I’ve even heard some speculations as for her becoming the first queen of Sevren, wouldn’t that be interesting?

Good luck Maron, and more importantly; good luck to whoever has to fight her!

The queen of Sevren? It felt so off and impossible to imagine. But that idea was actually within reach. Maron being queen of Sevren, would that make me the king? Or would she ditch me for more power?

I looked for the next segment which was also the last. It said “favourites to win” and had a list of names who were the favourites with little quotes by their names which they presumably had said. They read “If I only know two things, the first thing is that I’M GOING TO WIN, AND THAT’S IT!”, “Well I’m going to win, I’m already thinking about my future plans for the kingdom.” They were all similar to this. Maron was also in this part of the book and the quote next to her was “I will break everyone in my way”

When did they get a chance to talk to her? There weren’t very many people when I had my fights so it was hard to imagine that the guy who wrote the article was actually watching her. Most likely the official had given his perspective of what had happened. A great quote might have been “Surrender or I’ll dislocate it!” As she had told me she said it and it sounded epic.

My request for a meeting was postponed until later. When I asked Maron during a break she claimed never to have given an interview at all.

The day was long, but finally it was time to talk in the tent.

“I’ve read the book, and it’s bad.” I began while they were all sat around me in the larger part of the tent. Technically we were in a circle but even so I felt like the leader, but maybe we all did.

“No it’s fine, it’s good!” Rob said, was he mad?

“More publicity is far from fine!” I responded, maybe he just hadn’t looked through it thoroughly enough. I could even see Kil and Maron nodding approval in my direction, Rob was the only one who didn’t know.

“Think of the bigger picture.” Rob said “The people we need to take down are the ones in the favourites to win category and not necessarily our matchups. The people in the favourites to win are the only people we need to worry about, but we can’t make it look suspicious. We’ll kill them secretly”

“Hold on a minute.” Kil interjected  “How will killing these people help us win our fights? We won’t get to these guys if we don’t get rid of our opponents!”

“That won’t help us win. It’s going to look awful suspicious if we kill all the people we’re going to fight” Rob responded, in the circle I was facing the door of the tent, to my left was Maron, then Rob and Kil was on my other side. Rob switched from looking at the two of us to Kil. “We need to be smart about this. If we eliminate most of our strongest fighters in the right places then naturally Maron is going to win.”

I noticed that as we thought about it more in the day the idea of murder had gotten far too ingrained in our minds. That was the price of justice.

“As is said in the article Maron was able to take out one of the better fighters straight away without too much effort under my influence. We kill all the competition, especially the other ones who know my secrets of magic and then we’re sure to win. Nothing could go wrong because my spells wouldn’t let them go wrong.”

“Alright so what do we do?” I said eagerly “How do we kill them?” killing a large group of people was interesting to think about, I just didn’t know how we could get away with it.

“Who said we were going to kill them?” Rob replied, slightly taken a back. “Here let me do something to you Kil, you’re probably the most receptive to it. He spent the next 20 seconds talking to Kil closely, then, waving his hand in front of his face made him collapse.

“He’s asleep Rob said, and nothing will possibly wake him up, go on try.” I wasn’t sure how likely this was to be true so I slapped him on the face lightly then as hard as I could, he didn’t wake up. “Sure I guess it works.” I said to Rob “Try more.” He said. So, I did “Keep on doing it.” Rob said and I was probably too pleased to oblige. I grabbed his face and lifted his eyelids apart, so they were wide open and shouted into his face. There was no waking him up.

“So we put everyone to sleep?” I asked him.

“Yeah basically, a whole tournament ground of sleeping warriors, sounds good doesn’t it? But that’s not all, you’re also going to be sending them into sleep as well.”

“You’ll teach us the words?” I asked excitedly.

“No. I’ll give you a fluid blessed with my spell; it will do the exact same thing. Putting someone to a sleep like this is far too advanced for you.” This was a much better alternative to magic.

“Aren’t you going to wake Kil up?” Maron said, she had been staring intently and thinking the whole time, she was clearly concerned for his wellbeing.

“No, I won’t wake him up.” Rob said.

“WHAT?” I shouted at him showing my outrage.

“Just kidding.” Rob said laughing “but you do realise that if I wasn’t on your side Kil would have slept for days, this is going to be true for the other people and this is how they’ll feel. This is what we’re doing.” Rob woke him up much to my relief.

We conferred and finetuned our plan. To a point where we were confident, we would be able to do the task tomorrow. We were going to be smart about it. Not everyone had a fight to miss, and some people could be dealt with in later rounds.

It was now the time that I had been waiting for. The only time of the day I enjoyed. With my health recovering my time with Maron was better than ever and I longed for the day to be with her once I had recovered fully enough to do everything I wanted too. In the meantime, I guessed that I needed to enjoy it as best I could. Unfortunately, I finished quickly. It was too quick. And I lied there in a sweat next to a sleeping Maron feeling sorry for myself.

Chapter 25 – Goodnight Future Kings and Queens of Sevren

I woke up peacefully. Here it was usual to be awoken by the sounds of early morning practice, or people shouting but thankfully today was quiet, and Rick was already up.

“Are you better?”

“I’m feeling… ok. Do you fancy a walk?” he asked grinning.

I got Rick up slowly and leaning on me we left into the open. Rick couldn’t be happier. We spent an hour walking and having conversations about things that you miss or don’t think about, and only realise when you see them again after being cramped indoors so long as well as many other things.

I felt apprehensive about the plan. In some ways it was flawed as well, but there was no use bringing it up because the plan had to be done. It would always look suspicious if I was the only one left alive from the list of favourites. We had decided on a compromise since I was adamant that it would be traced back to me but even so, there was always a risk.

It was too far from the tents, but Rick still needed to sit down. So we picked a nice spot overlooking a group of people practicing.

“I don’t think I can walk any more today. I really want too, but it could do more harm than good” This was sensible.

“Alright we’ll get you back and then you can rest.” I said.

Ricks legs gave way halfway back, and I had to carry him.

He was heavy and it was difficult. And the idea of the future queen carrying a weak, half blind, crippled person through a large glorified campsite was just funny to me.

“I feel really bad.” Rick said “You’re so frail.”

“You’re the one who can’t walk.” I said trying to ignore the pain.

In this manner we made our slow way home, taking intermittent breaks to rest. Occasionally Rick would walk, but it was difficult to get very far like that.

“Are you any better Rick?” Rob asked as we arrived back. He had started a fire and seemed to be brewing a strange concoction.

“I walked for a long time… and then ran out of strength Just a little bit more rest is all I need” Rick replied.

“Well just sit tight here, hope you’re healthy by tomorrow.” He said.

“Thanks” Rick replied enthusiastically.

“Now Maron since you’re awake already do you think you could buy me something, here’s some money.”

“What do you want?” I asked Rob.

“Just get me some empty bottles, I’ve not got any. Oh, and also, here’s a bit extra so that you and Rick can buy yourselves a tent. I can’t stand hearing you at night.” He handed me the money and I blushed with embarrassment, it felt humiliating.

“In the meantime, me and Kil are going to start with the plan and Rick will guard the tent. Does that sound good?”

“Yeah.” I said, still shocked that we hadn’t been as quiet as I thought. Struggling from exhaustion I went to the shops, feeling my shoulders being noticeably lighter.

When I finally arrived, I couldn’t find a place for bottles, why couldn’t we use water skins? Maybe they weren’t safe enough or something but I saw no reason why a small bottle would be any better. So after a while of not finding anything I took to my last resort which was buying things that came with a bottle: alcohol.

I picked up some bottles of wine because it was all they had. They were quite large. But very tempting and I’m sure very tasty. As I went home, with tent in hand, I desperately wanted to drink it all.

I set up the tent quickly and went to get Rick. Rob was nowhere to be seen.

“Look what I got!” I said but Rick was asleep. “RICK!” he woke up with a start and looked pleased to see me.

“Yeah?” He asked.

“I’ve got us a new tent, common let’s go!”

The tent was a lot smaller than the other but it was marginally bigger than the compartment we used to be in. I showed him the wine I’d bought and he looked excited to share the moment with me. We opened a bottle and drank from it in turn, hoping to drain the whole thing away so that we could use it for putting people to sleep. All my worries of drinking vanished with him around because I wanted to be with him more. It didn’t take us long to be stupidly drunk with just over half the bottle gone. Once we reached this level we were too busy playing around with each other to notice the drink left. After a while I knocked it over stupidly and we lied in a stupid mess, not bothering to pick it up. Then we did it.

About five minutes in he said “Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.” Clearly. This was the spell to increase alertness and perception, slowing and distorting time. Then he said “Anata ga kenkōnanode, anata no kenkō o shinpai suru hitsuyō wa arimasen.” Which were the words used so that he would feel better again.

Despite time being slow for him, he went inside me harder and harder until it began to hurt. Then he started putting me into painful, unnatural positions that I didn’t want to be in. I was bruised and pained. I noticed blood, my blood.

“STOP! STOP! STOP!” I shouted pulling away, but he wouldn’t let go. Rick was under the influence of the spell and there was no way of making it stop. In my panic I forgot the words to the spell and had no idea what to say. For every action where I tried to break free, he would know exactly how to counteract.

Rick finished and to my relief pulled out. He had been horrible to me. I ran away as fast as I could from the monster. How could he use the spell knowing how violent it makes people?

Rick would now attack the first person he saw, I realised that now.

“ROB! KIL! ROB! KIL!” I shouted. Where were they?

“what?” Rob said only moments later running. I was too scared to remember that I was naked, but he instantly knew what had happened and ran to get Rick. He put his hands over his face and he collapsed.

I was exhausted too, and moments later I decided to rest. When I got back, I found that there was still more wine left.

I woke painfully the next day with Rick unconscious next to me. All I remembered was running away from Kil scared for my life.

“What happened?” I asked him as I woke him up tiredly.

“I’m sorry Maron. We did it, but I… scared you…I… think I cast the spell and it made me go crazy. I’m really, really sorry”

“Yeah I remember now. That was…horrifying”

“I’m so sorry Maron that was stupid. Please I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t so drunk” He said.

I was reluctant to go along with him, but understood what had happened “We were both drunk let’s just forget about it”

I left the tent without another word. Then I saw Rob, and he was furious.

“What the fuck is the matter with you?” Rob shouted at me, only to my confusion.

“I… I’m feeling a bit better” I said, but it only made Rob more enraged.

“I asked you to do one thing! One fucking thing! And look what you do. You get drunk out of your mind and cause all this mess for us, who are actually doing our jobs! I had to wrestle that wine off you!”

“I’m sorry” I said.

“You should be. You’re supposed to be the future queen of Sevren, act like it! Now let’s find Rick”

Rob gave us the scolding of our lives. He was annoyed, and rightly so, starting to feel tempted to make Kil the king instead.

Luckily for us Kil and Rob had eliminated a lot of the contestants while we slept through the day and night. Rob poured all of the wine away, and I couldn’t help but stare.

“Maron come with me.”

I followed him worried; I didn’t want to go but felt like I had too.

“I don’t trust that I’m able to support your goals anymore if you’re as stupid and immature as this you don’t deserve the title.”

“But…” He cut me off before I could explain and promise never to do it again.

“There are some conditions I need from you now for me to support you, or you’re going to sleep just like the others.” This was blackmail, I began panicking “When your queen, I want lands, a lordship and to be your hand”

Honestly, I didn’t want to agree but Rob was a good person and I could see why he didn’t trust me. He would also do well in those rolls. I had never thought of the power that came from being the queen, it hadn’t occurred to me.

“Ok” I said, fully aware of what the consequences could be.

After, I went back to Rick and the whole incident was never brought up again.

Chapter 26 – Rick Fights Again

The feeling of walking was something that I had felt my entire life, but not it was strange to be able to feel it again. I could walk more or less fine, with only a small amount of strain on my legs. The few days since I cast the spell with Maron, had not been easy. We had argued a lot. And though it seemed to have healed, it was going to take a long time before it felt the same way again.

A large amount of this was my fault, and it was difficult to not feel guilt in every waking moment. I had to push all of this out of my mind though if I was to win the next fight.

Everyone would be there watching me and I couldn’t stand the thought of losing, because it would help us as a group. When both Kil and I were matched up against Maron, she would have an easier fight, whereas the other opponents would have two more matches to worry about.

I couldn’t help but feel like we had let some clue to our motives slip, however we had to act normal, and fight like we should, or that would only make suspicion even worse.

A large crowd had gathered now as I waited for the match to start, it would be the most people who had ever seen me fight. I was looking forward to it. The person standing in front of me was a huge, strong man, but I would use his size and weight against him.

The official said “Begin” and the match was on the way, and I felt that rush of exhilaration that you always feel when a fight begins. I chanted “Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.” And I could process everything better, the world around me was yet again in slow motion. This was the mental state needed to win fights. It could defeat years of skilled, technical training.

Instead of doing anything we literally just stood there facing each other in a stalemate. I was waiting to see what he would do, and he was clearly doing the same. Confidence was key here, and I realised I was uncommitted to patiently waiting, I needed to strike. There was no use contemplating when I had such an advantage mentally.

The crowd didn’t like this style of fighting and started booing to encourage us to fight, I wasn’t able to hear correctly but the words couldn’t have been pleasant.

It felt like in this case whoever gave in first would lose, it made me hesitate, for only a fraction of a second in real time. Then I saw a change on his face which said he was going to switch and attack. His usual focus changed ever so slightly and I was able to use this to my advantage. As he moved in for a punch instead of dodging it I grabbed his punch to the left and whacked it to the side so he missed me. He looked shocked that I was able to do it and I wanted to capitalise on this moment of uncertainty as much as possible. I did the exact same blow he had done to me and this time it hit him.

Though it didn’t register consciously at the time. I made the decision to force him into a surrender, by copying his every move but doing it correctly.

So I did nothing again while we looked at each other. I saw that he was going to throw a fake punch and not actually hit me. It confused me at first, but I realised he was going to follow it up afterwards, the signs were already there in his other fist, it was clear to see. For the first fake punch I didn’t move then for the next one I pushed it down to the side again.  I did the exact same thing to him only this time it hurt him. I couldn’t punch hard, but I could punch better.

He realised what I was doing at that point and stood there thinking about what to do next. I wasn’t about to let him just rest though, I needed his movements to be predictable and erratic. I slammed my fist up into his chin and looked at him. He realised he needed to fight better and to keep it up to win. It looked like he still had some fools ambition that he actually could still win the competition. If he couldn’t even beat me then how could he possibly beat Maron?

Sure technically I was cheating but nobody would find out until it was too late, anyway there was technically no proof.

Instead of going for a punch he ran to grab me. I thought it would have been funny if I had grabbed him as well, but I doubted that I could due to his size.

Instead what I did was dive into his feet and knock him down on the floor. I have no idea how I did it I just knew with perfect confidence that as I dived it would send him falling. Once he was down on the floor I backed off because I wanted to drag this out as long as I could, proving my skill.

He slowly got up and I shoved him back on the ground again and watched him struggle to get up. Every time he would try to get up I would have the speed and strength to push him back down again. He was a complete and utter pushover and the whole crowd knew it. They were laughing at him with me, it was a fun experience. In whatever way he fought back, it was easily dodged and taken advantage of by me. For the first time in what felt like ages the majority of people were on my side! Despite my defects and off-putting eye I could still be accepted. It made me happy. Something that I had forgotten about was my eye but now I vowed that I wouldn’t care about it anymore. I was a champion and people would love me no matter what happened or what I looked like as long as I kept on doing stuff as cool as this.

The man was determined to not surrender, and I let him stand to face me. I kept him in place for another 30 seconds, the recovery time would do little to help him. But I read a strange emotion from him: Happiness. I didn’t understand it, surely he should be writhing in anger but he was actually enjoying the fight. Every time I let him back up he would stare at me with that same smile as if it was all going according to plan. He stopped trying to dodge or avoid everything that I was doing and every time he fell to the ground took great pleasure to make the time he spent getting up as long as possible. Both me and the crowd were confused.

The fight in total had been around 20 minutes up until this point and it was surprising for something to go on for so long. I was fine with no injuries at all, but he was certainly out of breath and struggling. This fight was going on for too long and it was time to end it. Even the next competitor who was after us was ready to fight, watching the events with interest.

Because I could perceive things faster than others the fight felt so much longer so maybe it was all in my head. I slowly walked towards him and he began retreating. He always made sure we were the same distance apart no matter what happened. Maybe he thought he was the one tiring me out? Every time I charged forward he would charge back. He looked at the audience often and didn’t feel embarrassed by his pitiful display at all. He may as well have been simply running away at this point.

Then his tone shifted and he moved to attack me. It obviously didn’t work but he had a good way of shaking off the blows. When I punched his chin from bellow his head would move upwards to sort of cushion the blow. This was also true for his chest, he could easily move is backwards so that the damage would be reduced. On the surface it looked like he had taken really heavy blows but he was doing things to reduce the impact of them subtly. I was the only one who noticed. Each collision felt different and softer like I wasn’t able to get my full body behind a punch. I knew to maintain a level head though and contemplated about ending it instead of baiting a surrender soon.

Then before I knew it he looked into the crowd and said “I surrender” it was met with booing but what could you do? When he stared off into the audience he looked at someone who looked as if he was his friend smiling. Why would a friend smile like that after surrender? The man shook my hand, praised me for my strength and started trying to talk to me about how I learned to be as good as I was. Unfortunately for him I didn’t want to talk and tried to leave quickly, but he held onto my hand and I was unsure of what to do. I had taken the spell off me the minute he surrendered but it still made me wonder if I should put it back on. I whispered the spell, pulled it away, and then cast the spell to remove it almost instantly.

When I got back to my friends Rob said “Why didn’t you cast the spell?”

“Didn’t you watch the fight?” I asked.

“There was no way that was the spell there, it makes you continually more and more violent, you were extremely passive throughout the whole thing!”

We both stopped for a moment confused.

“I guess I’ve got some research to do then.” Rob said because he clearly believed me. Perhaps the spell had worked in different ways, or I had said it differently to achieve different effects? Or the trauma from the last time using the spell had created objections in my mind to being more violent?

“You did great Rick! Well done!” Maron said to me as we hugged each other warmly. She was always so lovely.

“You do realise that guy was just playing you?” Kil said, and I looked to him with confusion.

“No, I don’t think so” I said.

“He could have easily performed much better than you, you were so slow for the spells influence and there were a few times where his better reflexes betrayed him into performing better than he wanted too. For some reason, I have no idea why, he wanted you to win. “

I couldn’t believe this and I didn’t want too. Maron also came to see me with bad news.

“They’ve changed who I’m fighting yet again, they’ve put me against Kil.”

I looked around, I wanted to shout but there were too many people nearby. This had to be corrupt. They even said in the last article about Maron that she was friends with Kil, how could they change it after knowing that?

“Well Kil will have to back down I guess.” I said to him.

“Yeah we had already planned that, Marons going to win tomorrow, it might be a good thing, as it’s a fight we won’t have to worry about” Kil said reluctantly, there was once a time where he wanted to win no matter the consequences or friends lost. I was just glad that discovering this conspiracy put his mind in the correct place.

When we returned back to our tent we got a vague idea of why they may have been making us take so long. Our tent was completely destroyed. A lot of our resources and materials, including bags and food were gone and the remains had been knocked to one side. Either someone didn’t like us or the officials were on to us. I would have guessed it was the latter considering what Kil and Rob had done.

It didn’t look good at all. Fortunately we still had money but it wasn’t safe for us to be in the tournament grounds anymore. We collectively decided that we should leave and only show up to hear announcements, fight, or get the next tournament book. Kil and Maron knew that they had a match tomorrow but only Maron would attend letting her win the game.

So we left the ground with deflated spirits and moved out to look for a place to stay. The problem wasn’t necessarily the price but the fact that most of them were full. Everywhere we went had a full capacity due to the increased interest in the city because of the tournament. It was getting to a point where we were too far away from everything for our new home to even be a good idea. We decided to return back to where we started to see if we could rent a house from someone. This would be more expensive and probably drain us until we had just a few gold left but it was necessary.

After a full day of searching it was getting dark but at nightfall we had found a house to rent with the price listed in front of the house for everyone. It was actually for sale and not to rent for a simple gold coin, of which we had plenty.

The poor person we had brought it for was unemployed and was trying to survive in poverty. The person had sold all of their possessions and wanted to leave to find their family again, not before getting rid of their last piece of property. He was an ideal seller.

We bought the house from him for three gold pieces instead of one and made ourselves comfortable. The single room house inside the dark alleyway was on the second floor and had another person staying bellow it. This gave us a good view over a lot of the city and it was interesting to see. We were about a mile or so from the tournament ground and it was visible enough that we were confident we wouldn’t get lost on the way, despite the sprawling location of houses most of which could only pass for slums.

Our house was old and mouldy with nothing left inside. Still, it would do its job fine. The main problem for me was that there were no sections for privacy. It was something Maron and I couldn’t mention but we were all thinking it.

Kil and Rob left to buy supplies such as bedding, food, drinks and e.c.t while me and her were alone. It was a strange change of location. They told us not to go to sleep before they came back with matts to sleep on, but we woke up with our backs aching on the hard-wooden floor anyway, so I guess we broke that rule.

Today was the day when Maron would be one step closer to becoming queen. The day promised to be simple, we would be able to focus on other things while she took an easy victory.

Chapter 27 – Getting Back to The Tournament Grounds

I would be left behind to watch the house as the group went to tournament grounds so Maron could win her match. I, as the person who would lose the fight, couldn’t be seen. We had no idea how much people knew about what we were doing, but it was always best to be safe.

The person who fought Rick yesterday had an agender and was deliberately stalling us. Someone knew about us. Whether it was something me and Rob had given away or through other means I didn’t know.

I remarked as I sat there how much of a job this felt. The days had gotten long, tedious, and full of constant worry. We only had this little amount of time before Maron would become queen, yet it felt so far off.

The days were starting to get bad, and It didn’t help that I felt always drifting apart from Rick and Maron.

Once the three of them were armoured with new supplies and clothes the team of Rob, Rick and Maron went out to fight in the tournament. It felt a little pitiful to rule yourself out of the tournament when your weakling friend was able to stay in but there wasn’t much I could do since Maron was the only one who could really win. She had the best chances at least.

The view outside of the house was interesting and it revealed a dark alleyway not so dissimilar to the one where me and Rick had obtained the forged documents such a long time ago. It did worry me a little, but they would be fine. As they got out to leave from behind, I looked out of the window to see where they were going and to my shock there was a group of people, who were so far away the details were difficult to make out. There were two on the roof, and two at the end of the alley they wanted to leave. They looked incredibly suspicious.

“Guys!” I shouted from my position of high altitude where I had a better situation and view than they did. But unfortunately, they used my words as a signal to shoot. Both archers on the roof fired towards my window, which was unfortunately open because of the heat of the room. Both arrows flied in at the exact same time and I had to duck forward into the window to be completely away from cover, luckily, I was swift enough that they passed me.

From bellow I could hear Rob shout the magic words that transformed me into a being capable of observing reality and comprehending it at insanely fast speeds. He had made it so we were all effected. As a side effect I was about to become insanely violent if he didn’t remove the spell quickly. Chances are that if I was left to my own devices in that empty room, I would tear my own throat off by the time they got back to get me. I crawled my way out, but it was locked. I would need to jump out of the window. Another arrow fired while the other presumably was aimed at my friends, who hopefully had found cover.

I realised that they wouldn’t have any possible way to get rid of the archers at the top which meant that it was up to me to deal with them. I looked around my room, not as the place where I slept this time but as the place where my weapons would reside. I had a few knifes and equipment I could throw at them. I picked up two knives and two plates. The arrows had stopped firing at me, so I had a quick peek around and sure enough they were firing downwards. I threw the first knife and it missed terribly.

I hadn’t thrown the knife at the right angle and it hit the bottom of the roof where they were standing on and fell off.

“THANKS KIL, GOT ANY MORE?” Rob shouted up. Luckily, they seemed ok.

“Sure” they must have been using the weapons I dropped so that they could fight back. In a hand to hand tournament there wasn’t any need for weapons so whether knowingly or not I had created a chance for them to fight back by giving them a weapon. I was sure that the others from the side must have been advancing at this point so I acted fast and threw it straight away. This time the knife hit slightly above where they were, but it still fell down to the same effect.

The archers then switched so that one person was targeting me and the other was targeting bellow. It was so strange fighting a person with friends where you had no idea where the other three were or what they were trying to do. I dropped my arrows I had collected from the archers down below so that they could use them for weapons if they hadn’t collected enough already.

Then every time he shot an arrow I would throw something. But not at my guy but the one firing bellow. This would also distract him and stop him being able to dodge. Then I stumbled on something great. It was a wine bottle full of the liquid Rob had turned into sleeping drugs, there was still a lot left.

I threw it at the left most person on the roof. It was a solid hit and smashed into his head almost definitely killing him. The glass shattered and sleeping liquid went everywhere on him. The other person reacting to the smell lost balance and fell off to the floor landing headfirst. I could hear the squishing sound of his bones as his neck almost definitely snapped.

I used this moment to my advantage so that I could jump out of the window to see what everyone else was doing from below. They were hiding together near a large box. Maron was in the box to hide and the others were behind it. Now that we had cover, we pushed the box which was very heavy with Maron inside to create a cover for the archers at the end of the alleyway who were just standing there waiting to see if we had made a move. Once they realised, we would stay in perfect cover they began advancing again and we picked up the several pieces of arrows and equipment I had dropped into the street from above. Fighting archers in a narrow alleyway was insanely difficult because there were very few places to hide. These people weren’t going to shoot at us. I wished I could have gone back now, having the higher ground would have been useful to drop things on top of them and hopefully get the upper hand.

Suddenly I could smell burning. The box we were using for cover had a flaming arrow embedded in it and it was slowly burning our defence away. Then they lit another one and shot it into our open window. They were committing arson and I wasn’t going to stand for it at all. Ignoring all of my instincts of fear I jumped up past the box and ran towards the archers. What was lucky was that they hadn’t accounted for reload speed. I was able to be right in front of them as they had their bows reloaded. This unfortunately would mean that I could either demolish them, or take an arrow at point blank range.

I roared at them before they could lift their arrows up to fight so they panicked and shot them at the floor. Then they tried to run away, but I followed quick. Rick had followed me up there to fight as well. Maybe he thought I was making a noble sacrifice and needed to make sure the chance was capitalised on or maybe he thought I could win and wanted to help anyway. I couldn’t stop to ask him. So I charged at the one who was running away leaving the remaining one for Rick. By now I was sure that Maron was out of the box and Rob was putting the fire out back in the house so the whole problem was sorted.

I caught up to him and stabbed him in the back with his own arrow. Then I stabbed him again. Then again. Again and again and again and again and again. It made me feel happy to have a subject to direct my anger at. By the time I had stabbed him 40 times Rob came up to me and whispered the words in my ear. I had lost control and he took me back to normal. I was somewhat disgusted with what I had done, blood was everywhere, and he could barely be recognised.

Now I could tell that we had definite justification for believing these coincidences. After having our tent destroyed, we must have been followed to where we stayed and then ambushed so that we couldn’t get to the tournament. That was the only explanation. Nobody wanted us to win so they hired archers to follow us around and then take us out before we could even show up at the tournament. I was so confident that if we were to pull out of the tournament now, these coincidences would stop, and we would return to our peaceful lives. But we had no such option.

“Is everyone ok?” Rob asked after he made sure the fire was out. We were all tired and terrified. A match was one thing, but this was different. Fighting against someone with weapons was a lot different to fists and the added danger of being out of the arena made me even tenser than I should have been.

There was four of us and four of them. They had planned an attack through following us and judging our movements and primitively attacked us while we were unprepared. It was only really through luck that we had won. Luck that my throw had hit the archer on the roof, luck that they had found a box big enough to take cover from and luck that I decided to leap out of cover just when they were reloading. We should have died, and it should have been us instead of them. But whether we were or weren’t stronger we were certainly luckier which was all that mattered in that situation.

The encounter had given us a setback that had stalled us by about fifteen minutes. When we left, we would have been on time but now we were running late. We could not afford to have Maron be late to this. So we did what anyone in the situation would do: run. All four of us sprinted through the streets together. Our windows were shut and our door was closed, as if I was worrying about those trivial things in a time like this.

One thing that worried me was the fear that we would encounter those people again or more people sent to kill us. If it happened again it would be very difficult to deal with, we would have to send Maron out alone and I hated that idea. Rick hated it even more.

When we ran to the stand to show our ID cards Rick was ahead and he was let through fine, but when Maron showed hers the man said.

“You’re not in the tournament anymore, you failed to arrive on time for your match.” And that was it. Both me and Maron were eliminated from the tournament for a cause which was of no fault of our own.

“Maron and Kil were both late!” Rob said, “Can’t we have them fight at another time?”

“No” the person said. There was no avoiding it, two of us had been kicked out of the competition and only Rick was left standing against the greats. Not only would our chances fall dramatically but with half of our team unable to enter the tournament we wouldn’t be able to carry out our sleep scheme.

“Could we bribe the committee organisers to put their match at another time,” I asked,

“I don’t know where to find them.” Rob said. Rick, who was on the over side, returned to us.

“What’s happened?” He asked worried.

“We’re both knocked out, it’s just you.” He looked very annoyed but didn’t say anything further. He was probably raging inside. I was too I just hoped that I was better at controlling it.

“Is there any way we could speak to the organisers about this?” Rob asked the man in charge.

“I couldn’t possibly do that.”

Rob put one gold coin on the table.

“Right this way sirs.” He said.

Chapter 28 – Negotiation

This would be the first time we encountered the corrupt organisers who we were trying to bring down. We were all nervous, but on the surface, appeared calm. Sure, I wanted to be the next queen of Sevren but maybe Rick would be able to do it? We were basically throwing ourselves into the enemy territory, it was far from safe. These were the people who wanted us killed. Rob was the one leading us, so I was content to just sit and listen while letting him take charge. Rob always seemed to know what he was doing.

Rick whispered in Rob’s ear and I couldn’t make out what he said, whatever it was I’m sure that it was probably to do with the very thing I was thinking. When I asked Rob he simply told me not to worry about it.

Then words flashed back in my head to what Rob had said earlier, he suspected that not every committee member was using bribes. If the ones from Clennor or Greba weren’t there then we had a good chance of survival, no a perfect chance of survival! We had to hope that there were at least a couple of members who weren’t rigging it.

We were taken through a gateway in the side of the city gates and through a large tunnel. This brought us through to the second inner part of the city. It was a part of Taltree I never had visited before, so it was exciting to see what the richer part of it looked like.

We were eventually led into a large room with many doors along it. The guard knocked on one of the doors.

“Yes!” A man shouted from within.

“Lord bostley, some people have a complaint.” He said.

“Send them in.” He said.

Before any of us could move in Rob said to Rick “Stay out here, you’re not needed.” He looked hurt and I didn’t really understand why. This was a complaint from me and Kil that would be brought forth by Rob, Rick’s appearance wouldn’t help our situation. Perhaps he should have stayed behind before even coming.

“Good morning my lord.” Rob said bowing respectively and prompting the two of us to do the same.

“I understand you have a complaint?” Lord Bostley said.

“Yes indeed we do. May I begin?”

“Go ahead.”

“These two people here Maron and Kil were both ambushed and attacked at the same point of the city making them both late for the tournament. They were supposed to fight each other. It was not their fault for being late because they were both attacked; therefore, I request that they are allowed to fight in a rematch to put the numbers back up to the correct amount.”

“I understand that but I’m afraid that I can do no such thing.”

“I was going to surrender anyway!” Kil said, “Can’t you put Maron through?”

“Ahhh, that’s difficult” he said, “It would take a lot of work, but it would be possible with 25 gold pieces.” We did not have that kind of money at all.

“Done, I’ll have you the money in a couple of days.” Rob said

“Oh no no no no” Began Lord Bostely “The last possible chance to change it is today. I’m not doing this without the money up front for me today.”

“Would it be possible to retrieve it today?” Rob said.

“I won’t do it without the money.” Lord Bostley responded stubbornly.

“How about we make a deposit, we give you half the money now and half later?” What I realised was that Rob wasn’t the best at negotiating. He could have maybe got the price down to a price we had but didn’t get the idea that he was just making up numbers.

“You can make a deposit if you want but I want the full price of everything before I’m willing to do anything.” He said.

“Alright, we will be with you in a few hours with the money, how may we find you again?” Rob asked

“I’m here always.” Lord Bostley said calmly “I suppose you want a better way in than the bribe you used on my guard is that it?” He was quite perceptive. “The password today is 7539, say it and the guard will let you in.”

“Thank you” Rob said. “We’ll take our leave.”

When we walked back through, we realised to our horror that Rick had vanished.

“What happened to Rick?” I asked the guard.

“Well here’s exactly what happened.” He began as he gestured for us to walk back, forcing us to walk “While you lot wer talking to Lord Bostley another Lord just happened to come back through, it was lord Evley. He took a great interest in Rick because apparently, he matched a certain description provided by Lord Drenvil. You see Lord Drenvil was running a bit late for the tournament and was made even later still when a group of people blocked his carriage and then attacked him and his driver stealing his horse, cart and money while also brutally beating him. He had to walk a long way to get to the tournament and was only just on time because another cart had picked him up. Still he was annoyed that he had been attacked, rightly so in my opinion, and made out a search for the people, yet the only thing he could remember was a guy with just one eye, Rick as you called him.”

“No what’s he done to Rick!” I said worried in a trembling voice.

“Before I carry on.” The guard responded, “You have to give me your confidence that you didn’t know Rick when he did this.”

“We weren’t with him.” Rob said quickly.

“Very good “the guard said continuing “So basically he’s been taken to prison for questioning.”

“That’s terrible.” I said

“He will likely be proved innocent. After all it’s only a vague matchup and is likely due to him fighting in the tournament. I’m sure he’ll be set free” Kil put his arm around me and it only helped slightly to reassure me. This was one of the worst things that could have happened. Nearly as bad as him dying because being taken prisoner by a lord in person never looks good for anyone who wants to prove that they’re innocent. I was sure they would find him guilty. Then what would they do?

Thinking about it we probably had around 25 gold pieces at the start but we slowly dwindled them by spending it on ridiculous things that didn’t matter.

Once we had left the tunnel which the guard had taken us through, I spoke to Rob “How are we going to get Rick back?” I asked him with tears in my eyes.

“Forget about Rick.” Rob said, “He’s as good as dead.” This brought me to tears. Not winning the tournament felt trival compared to this, because it was trivial. The person who had cared and loved me for so long was instantly gone before I could do anything, the thought was so sad that I didn’t want to think about it. The only thing that I could hope for was that he would be able to escape.

I desperately wanted to head back in there, to find the jail that he was in and help him escape but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. They would announce the new competitors tomorrow and there was only so much we could do. The first thing was that I vowed was to get the next tournament book for Rick, because he would hopefully be released in time to fight, then we needed to formulate a plan for him to win. He had to win, whatever we did, we needed to get him back.

“So do you have any way of getting enough money?” Kil asked Rob.

“We’re not going to give over the money. I have a different idea” He responded confidently.

Chapter 29 – Wink

Maron had insisted and insisted and insisted that Rick would be coming back, so we needed to get a tournament book for him. Did it matter that there was no way to do that other than stealing from people who got knocked out the tournament? Not to her anyway. I suppose it wouldn’t matter to me either if I thought there was a chance of his return. We had bribed our way in again, and would attempt to get a tournament book regardless.

Rob was able to vanish without a trace while I was left with the crying widow. Last night we were lucky that only one of us was taken, I thought. What we had done was stupid. We could have still won with Rick; however, we had given him away, it was our greatest mistake.

This couldn’t have been a coincidence though. Three friends who were competing got knocked out of the competition at the same way due to unfair reasons. It sucked that we couldn’t get a bribe and it also sucked that none of us would win. Rob acted like he had a backup plan but it sure would have been nice if he had told us what it was in more specific terms.

Once a crowd had gathered in front of the stage the announcer appeared to talk to everyone and address the group.

“HELLO LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, OR JUST GENTLEMEN NOW, SINCE ALL THE FEMALES GOT KNOCKED OUT!” the announcer expected the audience to find this funny, but it was greeted with a bleak silence. Trying not to let it get to him the announcer continued.

“I’M SURE THAT YOU’RE ALL EAGERLLY AWAITING THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF WHO YOU’VE GOT LEFT TO FIGHT. WE’RE GETTING CLOSE NOW AND THE REQUIREMENTS TO VICTORY IS, TO WIN 9 MORE FIGHTS!” A lot of people looked reassured by this but honestly, they hadn’t fought that many times already. The competition was decreasing exponentially. There were about 500 contestants left now.

“I SAY 9 WELL SOME OF YOU WILL ONLY NEED 8. THERE WERE ABOUT 4000 PEOPLE AT THE START OF THIS TOURNAMENT AND HERE WE ARE NOW. ANYONE WHO HAS MADE IT THIS FAR SHOULD BE PROUD OF THEMSELVES AND YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE THE RANK YOU ACHIEVED IN THE TOURNAMENT FOR WHEREVER YOU GO, WHATEVER MERCENERY GROUP YOU JOIN.” He said the last part sneeringly, as if being a mercenary was a terrible and bad job, like being a person who shouts at a big crowd was any better.

“NOW WE STILL NEED TO ENFORCE THE RULES” he was able to put even more emphasis with his shouting on “rules” I had no idea how he was able to do that by shouting as loud as he could. I wish I had lungs like his.

Then it settled on me the true terror of what he might be talking about.

“THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WHO ARE BREAKING RULES AND DOING CRIMINAL ACTS, THESE ARE OBVIOUSLY UNTOLLERATED AND YOU SHALL BE REMOVED FROM THE COMPETITION IF YOU FAIL TO COMPLY WITH THE RULES. EVERYTHING IS HERE, SET IN PLACE FOR A REASON SO AS TO MAKE THE TOURNAMENT AS FAIR AS POSSIBLE.” Yeah right “AND THE PUNISHMENT FOR BREAKING THESE RULES, THE EXTREME ONES, IT EXECUTION” Why? When he spoke, it felt like he turned to me and Maron at the back with a knowing smile, it should have just been a coincidence, but I dreaded to wonder what would happen now.

“HERE, SINCE THE LAST WARNING WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH, WE’VE BROUGHT YOU AN EXAMPLE!”

An executioner walked on to the stage carrying a block and a sharp axe.

“HERE HE IS, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU WHEN YOU BREAK THE RULES.” Two people wearing hoods on their head walked through from the back to the front of the stage, they had been locked up underneath beforehand. The mask was taken off and he was not in fact Rick, it was a different skinny boy. He had blonde, slightly brown hair and a short body. He was lined up with his head on the block.

“ANY LAST WORDS?” The person about to be executed said something so quietly I couldn’t hear it.

“ALRIGHT, GET ON WITH IT THEN!” The executioner chopped down his axe and the boys head fell off, blood spurted slowly out the top as his limp body fell down to the side. That was the example, he had been killed, and this is what would happen to us if we weren’t careful.

“OH AND ONE MORE THING.” The man at the front said, “HURTING ANY OF THE ORGANISES WILL ALSO NOT BE TOLLERATED, THIS MAN HAS DONE THAT AND HE WILL BEFALL THE SAME FATE.” A pit appeared in my stomach. The second hooded person was Rick.

Maron began to cry and desperately began trying to work her way through the crowd to get to him. I stopped her and restrained her; I didn’t want her to get executed as well.

“Let me go” she cried. I forced her to the ground in desperation and lied on top of her. She was crying sadly with her eyes “LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET ME GO!” After a while she stopped resisting and just began crying. It was sad to do. None of us saw Rick but we heard his voice.

“ANY LAST WORDS?” the man said to Rick.

I could hear him, but the words were impossible to tell. Rick was not loud, and I had to deal with Maron.

I picked Maron up and told her not to look back. Then I walked her away.

Unfortunately, this was advice that I didn’t follow. I looked back and saw Ricks winking decapitated head. It was unpleasant, only yesterday I was talking and exchanging jokes with this person. But they had killed him.

The only thing stopping me from breaking down was stopping Maron from breaking down. I had known Rick for longer, but I had been brainwashed to forget him, our grief was the same.

Though I didn’t hear his last words, I felt like his face said it all. Rick was a man who could only wink, yet now in death his wink seemed natural, as if his eye was deliberately closed. He wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad, he would have wanted us to prevent the conspiracy.

“We’ll stop all of this Rick, I will, I promise you.” I found it difficult to hold back the tears, and they started flowing strong. We’d have our revenge. Nothing could stop us; we had to use any method possible to prevent this conspiracy from taking any more lives.

The first task was to find Rob. The second task was to murder.

Chapter 30 – The Smell of Burning

Rob had never told us what his plan was, however, collectively I could guess that we had all reached the same conclusions. Everyone was out of the tournament, which would mean if we did nothing the whole kingdom would go to Kovan rule. There was only one solution to prevent this from happening now, and that was to prevent the tournament instead of winning it.

“Rick was executed what’s your plan?” I asked sharply when we returned to meet him. He immediately looked sad and frustrated. He didn’t know Rick in the same way we did. He had never gone through the experience of slavery or those woods, or that painful encounter on the road. Yet, he was still very much on his side.

“Revenge.” He said “Now that we can’t win the tournament, we’re going to destroy it. I don’t remember if I told you when we first met but there were two possible ways to avoid a future where Kova invades us. The first is to win the tournament, the second is to destroy it.”

“How… can… we… destroy it?” Maron said through sobs. She was in a pitiful state.

“We go to that same place where we went yesterday, instead of bribery we murder. We go through office to office killing everyone. Then we set it on fire and escape together. This will end the tournament, and make the kings son king instead, as that is what is written to happen in the event that the tournament cannot finish”

The plan was not perfect, but it was our only option. That was all we had to do. One night, one bloody night, and it would all end. We had no other choice. Though nobody themselves would realise, we would be heroes.

We spent the rest of the day frantically preparing, as we had learned yesterday, they already knew where we lived, and we had likely been seen already, we needed to act quickly. We had a flint and steel each, easily flammable material and we had walked to the shop to buy some sharper knives, I guess you would call them daggers. Eventually we were ready, sitting with each other in the main room of our house. One minute passed and then another and five more. We were all looking from one person to the other, ready to go and fight. Eventually Rob spoke “Common, let’s go.” And he walked out.

We slowly followed him with anticipation.

“When you stab the person, don’t alert anyone to it. Hold your hand over their mouth and slice their throat as hard as possible. Make sure it’s not weak or you will not murder. This will block their windpipe so they’re unable to scream.” Rob said, and I felt a strange concern that this was something he had definitely done before.

More time passed as we walked.

“We’ll set up a safe room for all the dead bodies. We’ll keep them all in one place, so nobody gets suspicious.”

More time passed.

“There are lots of lords there, but if we kill about five or six then that should be enough. It’s not a lot. Then it’s just the fire and it will be over”

More time passed.

More time passed.

“How are we feeling?”

More time passed.

“Fine” I said

More time passed.

“Be ready with the money Kil”

More time passed.

More time passed.

More time passed.

“Ok”

More time passed, and then we were there, with the guard. We bribed him once more.

“You do know it’s not going to be enough?” The guard said. We were all silent. The one leading us along was going to have to be our first victim. He was the same guy as last time but even so… he was contributing to this evil scheme. He had to die. We would risk too much by letting him live.

“Which lords are opposed to the tournament?” Rob asked the guard.

“From what I can tell most of them. Except for two.” The guard responded. These two must be the ones from Greba and Clennor who were openly rigging it. It was reassuring though since we didn’t have to be too selective with who we killed, we just needed to get the message across that this level of corruptness wouldn’t be tolerated by the people.

We were a small rebel alliance, but we could still be powerful.

The endless corridor continued, and I started to become worried that we were going the wrong way and we wouldn’t end up in the same place as last time.

We walked through the tunnel.

I looked around at the backs of the people. Rob, Maron, and the guard we had to kill.

We walked through the tunnel.

I thought that if we were going to kill the guard, we should at least know his name.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Rob” He responded.

We walked through the tunnel in silence.

“My name’s Rob too.” Rob said.

“Yeah I noticed” he responded.

We continued.

“Here we are” the guard said.

We reached the end of the tunnel. It had to be done now.

Rob grabbed the other Rob’s mouth and sliced his neck open with a knife. He was quiet. Rob laid him down to rest, we would now follow his example, though we were disgusted, we didn’t question it. We each split up to enter our own individual rooms. There was five of them on this level so that meant five rooms. I would take the first one, Lord Bostleys room and check on progress later. The room I had to take out would become the safe room, so it would be the most essential.

I walked in without knocking. Lord Bostley was there. He looked surprised.

“Didn’t I tell you to knock last time?” I wasn’t in the mood for this. I took his mouth in my hands and sliced his fat neck off while he was still struggling, he didn’t make a sound. He slumped downwards and I felt relieved, and I felt better. Now that I had made it this far there was no turning back, it would make every murder following easier. I dragged Rob’s corpse to the room and put him there. As I was leaving, I walked past both Maron and Rob who were dragging their own victims. None of us had backed out; we were saving the world one kill as a time.

There were two rooms left and I took the one nearest to me. The man was a stranger, I didn’t have time to look at the names on the doors, he was leaning over a stack of books and writing. He didn’t even look up when I walked in. It was easy to kill a man who wasn’t looking you in the eyes. I did the exact same repeated process and dragged him away. It felt better this time, with each kill I was stronger and a step closer to my end goal.

The final room was empty, so we walked up the stairs and looked to our left and right. It was a big corridor with even more rooms. There were two guards one at each end of the corridor. But it was a long corridor and there was nothing we could do to avoid being seen.

“Maron, you go in and kill the guy in that room, both guards will then come to the room if you’re silent about everything to check what you’re doing. When they get near me and Kil will Kill them.” Rob said. Maron clearly had the least blood on her, so she would be the least suspicious.

“Ok.” Maron replied and she entered the room. There was no noise, so we assumed the plan had been successful. We could also hear the footsteps of the guards which we needed to take out. Both of them turned to the door at once and we pounced. Rob used the same hand over mouth trick, yet it was less effective with armour while I went for the back of the neck, this created a fairly loud sound. Without thinking we immediately ran into the room with our corpses and left them there, this was the new safe room. The place where we were was empty so all Maron had to do was wait.

“You idiot” Rob whispered to me.

“Sorry.” I replied.

“You will be.” He said.

We continued to go through our motions from room to room, when we got through one side, we did the exact same to the other, and brought with us an army of slit throats. Once the whole corridor was cleared, we thought about heading downstairs.

“Is this enough?” I asked everyone.

“Not nearly enough.” Maron responded.

“I agree.” Said Rob

I guess I would have to save the world even more, there wasn’t a lot to complain about.

“Start the fire then.” I said.

“Good idea.” Replied Rob “Now might be our only chance if we’re seen”

We hastily made fires over the sections which we had concurred. They were small but eventually they would build up to achieve the effect we wanted.

On the floor below us to the other side of the way we had entered I heard a man say, “Do you smell that?”

“Yeah what is it?” Another stranger responded, calmly.

“Like rotten flesh or something, and… smoke”

The two came up the stairs and we hid, me and Rob ambushed and killed them in the same way as the two guards earlier. Maron stayed back to watch.

“Same plan but downstairs Maron?” She nodded. Though we had started on the bottom floor, and gone up the stairs, there was another staircase on the oppose side which lead to more rooms on the bottom floor opposite. It was more heavily guarded than the top since the main entrance was in that direction.

Then I heard a haunting voice as soon as she went down the stairs.

“What do you think you’re doing missy.” And then the shriek, the terrible shriek.

“Let me go!” Maron shouted in a cry as she flailed around trying to get out of the guard’s grasp.

Sensing my urge to go and help Rob put out a hand to stop me.

“There are too many, it’s not worth it.” It went against everything I wanted to do but sure enough the footsteps were loud and terrifying. They didn’t sound like they were going to kill her which meant that she had made a necessary sacrifice. She had taken many guards away, which would make our job easier.

“I’ll go and check on David and Mike!” Another soldier said as he walked up the stairs quickly. The two of us exchanged a quick, knowing look. I would be the one to kill him. It was easy now I was used to it. The loss of life was exiting. I would have no problems joining a mercenary group once this was all over. Fighting would also be justified then because I’d be paid.

Sure enough he dropped to the ground and we waited for a few minutes and the fire started to spread, it was up to the ceiling now and for some reason nobody had noticed. To stop the time from being wasted we lit fires with each other so that there was no way this building would be saved.

I admired my handiwork, but something was wrong which made my time a lot more difficult than it should have been. The smell of the fire and corpses were building up and somebody was bound to notice eventually. We rushed downstairs to the nearest room and entered. There were two guys this time and they looked at me in shock. For the first time I noticed I was covered entirely in blood.

I killed one and the other man screamed with terror as I abruptly ended his life.

This was terrible, it was the scream to cause Sevren’s crown to fall into the wrong hands.

When I was about to leave the room, Rob poked his head in to talk to me, he said one word: “Run”. He then ran himself.

When I quickly left the room, a guard was already quite close, regardless I was able to run up the stairs. I saw Rob throw his knife into the glass window, smashing it so that he could jump out. I would have done the same, but the guard from behind was holding me back.

Before I knew it the guard had stabbed me in my back. The most pain I had ever felt in my life entered me and I screamed. The blood was rushing out from the wound and it was the most unbearable pain that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried to react. Nothing was going to work at all.

In my adrenaline rush, I somehow escaped from the sword and shoved the guard away. I kept retreating.

The blood leaked out more and more.

I kept retreating, slowly.

The guard looked at me as if I was a monster as three more came to join him.

They looked at me as I stumbled and fell, trying to escape. I was too slow they were going to catch me. I was so slow as I crawled that they just watched me, in confidence that I would drop and die. I didn’t want them to have that satisfaction. I was strong, and they were weak. I didn’t want to lose to them.

I decided to mutter the spell. We knew already just how dangerous it was, yet I was out of options.

“Sore wa hontōni kūrudesu, ē, anata wa sentōkidesu, anata ga katsu.”and time slowed down. Somehow it had worked.

With the first guard I took advantage of the surprise, turned and rammed my dagger from bellow into his guts and quickly, and pulled them downward spilling them onto me. I pushed him into the guard behind him with all the strength I had left and somehow struggled to stand up.

I walked to the other two guards and slashed their face. For the first one my dagger went through their first eye and made a gash that left at the second. For the next I jammed the dagger into his throat and left him there with the blood pouring out into his neck. He would surely choke and die.

Then I collapsed. I tried saying the ending words “Anata wa katta. Anata wa okiro hitsuyō wa arimasen.”

But it didn’t work. I kept on trying to say it but couldn’t.

I had to live out the final moments of my life perceiving one second as one hundred, it only intensified the pain hugely. I was collapsed on the stair with three other dead bodies I had killed surrounding me.

It was the smell of burning which did it. I felt the fire wrap around me with an intoxicating smell. I didn’t want to be there anymore. The spell had made me want violence. I put my hands around my throat and tried to rip it out. It wasn’t unpleasant, but not as bad as the stab wound.

I continued, digging in with my fingers as hard as possible. Skin fell open, but so much blood had been lost already that very little came out.

Why wasn’t I dead yet? I thought. But then I saw the dagger.

I picked it up and admired it fondly. The murder this dagger had brought would surely prevent the tournament from being cancelled. It must have been the right thing to do.

I brought it down into the centre of my throat, but it had gotten stuck, I started choking slightly.

I pulled it up again and fully immersed it.

I tried to choke, scream and cry, but I couldn’t. I breathed my last, steely smoky breath. It was only a matter of time now.

Chapter 31 – Sacrifice

I woke up in a large wooden room with slight slits of light illuminating minor parts of the room. The grassy floor I was on wasn’t typical to normal prisons, and it didn’t take me long to realise that I was underneath the stage where Rick had been killed.

I didn’t know whether to feel anger towards Kil and Rob since they didn’t help me when they could have done, but then again, they may have had a good reason too, I provided a good distraction and there were guards, so many guards. And I suppose they needed me to take me away.

I was their sacrifice. I didn’t mind because it would lead to a greater future, however I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew what they were doing when they sent me down there first.

I was more concerned now about whether or not they survived. I sincerely hoped that they had, Kil in particular. If nothing else the fire was sure to get a good amount of people anyway, and I was content to live with that as long as the world had changed, and the tournament was cancelled.

Maybe everything was a lie, and we had made our moves and attacks based on superstition. It was extremely unlikely though, and anyway, why take the risk? By trying to make the kings son king instead of anybody else fighting it would be sure to prevent the worst-case scenario we were all scared of.

“I’M HERE TODAY BECAUSE OF AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT, BUT FIRST WE HAVE ANOTHER CRIMINAL WHO CLEARLY DIDN’T LEARN FROM YESTERDAY! AND THEY WILL BE EXECUTED AS A FURTHER EXAMPLE! YOU MAY FEEL SORRY FOR HER AT FIRST BUT ONCE YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT WHAT SHE DID, AND WHAT HER ACTIONS LED TO AS A CONSEQUENCE YOU SHALL NOT BE SYMPATHETIC AT ALL!”

“HERE IS THE EXECUTIONER!” I could hear the big man walk onto the stage and place down his heavy block, it worried me, naturally. Then he crept down the stairs and opened a small door, it was the door that led to me.

I knew what had to happen, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I tried to pray to any god out there for help. Whether or not it would help, I’d find out.

My executioner wore a mask. He was scary. I couldn’t run, my legs could barely hold my weight.

But I still had hatred. I didn’t hate my friends, but I hated how they escaped, and I hadn’t. I hated Rob because while he was doing a good thing, his actions led to Rick’s death. It wasn’t a rational hate and if anything, I hated myself for being weak and able to fall into the guards’ hands so easily. I hated that this was a problem in the first place, that this was a problem in the world that I had to fix. That there was nobody else out there who could fix that for us.

Where did I go wrong? What caused me to become the kind of person who could just murder, and slash people through the throat so easily? I had no idea. Everyone had changed. I remembered the days of walking from the forest to Canden or from Canden to Taltree, those were the innocent times when we didn’t have anything to worry about. When the fate of our country wasn’t resting on our shoulders. The best I could hope for would be that it ends now.

Whether I had seized victory or not I was still a criminal, I had done a bad thing, many bad things. Now was the time for me to pay for my crimes, the ones not directly linked to saving Sevren. The ones that set me on this crazy journey to my death in the first place. I was evil, it didn’t matter if my goals were just because the ends didn’t justify the means, not often anyway.

They put the bag on the head and walked me to the block. I looked into the crowd for Rob, or Kil, but they weren’t in sight.

“THIS PERSON HAS COMMITED VIOLENT ARSON. MURDERING MANY OFFICIALS IN THE PROCESS. ALL FOR THE REASON THAT SHE COULDN’T ARRIVE FOR HER TOURNAMENT MATCH ON TIME!”

They took the bag off of my head and people looked shocked. Perhaps they recognised me from the first tournament book.

“ANY LAST WORDS?” The announcer shouted as my head was placed on the block.

I began to cry. When I first set off to the tournament, I had no idea that it would end like this. What a miserable life it had been. I had always wanted to die surrounded by family and loved ones at an old age. Not this.

Yet my goal had been ultimately good, I realised that our methods were poor. All I could do now was hope. And as I looked into the crowd, a crowd of Sevrens, only two words came to mind.

“I’m sorry”

 

2 thoughts on “The Broken Tournament – Full Book/PDF

    1. Wow thank you so much for reading! Hope you’ve enjoyed it so far. I think its much better to read this way than as the chapters released.

      I get what you mean. Its interesting to see the different perspectives that people have. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

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