“Good Juewuhl, very good” said Traynur as I held my blade my latest opponent’s throat. Over the last six days, I had won three of the four matches I had participated in. This match had almost been a loss for me, if I hadn’t have gotten a good strike on Whyp’s leg early in the match, he would have defeated me for sure.
Unfortunately, none of my last four opponents had responded like Pownde after the match. Most of them still had a good deal of hostility towards me, and losing to me didn’t improve that much.
Traynur beckoned me over as I stepped out of the ring.
“You did well Juewuhl, but you keep making the same mistake.”
“Yes, and it nearly cost you this time. You can’t be afraid to hurt your opponents. They anticipated it when they chose their Shrouds, they expect it when they step into the ring, and they won’t hesitate to cause you some if they can. Your distaste to cause injuries is a weakness, and word of that weakness is spreading. People will use it against you in the Tournament. If you can get over this dislike, it will be a great advantage to you. You will have the element of surprise on those who don’t expect you to mark them very severely. If you want to win, you’re going to need to use that element for all it’s worth. Alright?”
“Good. Now get to bed early tonight. The Tournament starts tomorrow and you want to be prepared in case you have one of the opening matches.”
“Yes Traynur. Thank you. Will you be watching the fights?”
“Good. I’d really appreciate your feedback. I want to win this more than you know.”
Traynur smiled. “I think I know quite well actually… you don’t think that I can’t put together a few pieces do you?”
I folded my arms, “Alright then, how much do I want to win?”
“I suspect that if you don’t win, you would sooner commit suicide than wait for the next tournament.”
“Well you’re not far off the mark there. Why do I want to win?”
“Well based of my previous assumption, I doubt you’re going to choose to live in the Castle if you win. That means that you’re going to ask for a favor, and I can think of nothing more important to you, than asking to go home.”
I looked at Traynur suspiciously, “You can’t read minds too can you?”
He laughed, “No, but I can listen to people who blab about their plans to their friends.”
“You were eavesdropping on Pownde and I?”
“Did I say that?”
“You certainly implied it!”
“Oh get some sleep Juewuhl. You look like you could use it.”
“Fine. Thank you Traynur.”
I didn’t go straight to bed that night, because I knew if I didn’t exhaust myself first, then I would be able to sleep at all. I kept thinking about her.
Amazing how one conversation could completely ruin a friendship and steal nearly all my waking hours… and what few sleeping hours I was able to get.
I had established a routine that would get me tired enough to fall asleep as soon as I hit the mattress. I would sprint to the cliff, climb up and down three times, and then run back as fast I could. When I came stumbling back to my room, all it took was me laying down on any surface, like the floor if I missed the bed, and then I was out.
I had been fortunate not to run into to Pailadyn when I went on these excursions. I assumed she still visited them every once and a while and I always hoped that she wouldn’t be there when I started climbing.
I got back from my run just as the sun was setting, and when I stumbled into my room and flopped on the bed, my brain shut down and I remembered nothing else.
I woke up the next day, not feeling completely rested, but I was alert and energized. After our falling out Pailadyn had stopped waking me up in the mornings, but my internal clock had been re-programmed over the last month; so for the most part, I had been able to wake up on time during the last week.
The usually silent halls were now bustling with activity. Participants were headed to the Arena, people in charge were bustling about making sure everything was ready, and “fans” were everywhere. They clogged the hallways and nearly filled the Hub itself.
This was a very big deal.
I had been to one or two actual fights but this was on a much larger scale. I pushed and shoved my way to the arena where I had to sign up at a desk and put my name on a slip of some papery substance. The paper was thrown into a hat and I was ushered out into the arena that I knew so well.
Thought I knew so well… I took a step in and found that the Arena I knew was completely gone. Overnight it had been turned from a gym to a coliseum. The training dummies were gone, the ropes that we used to separate our areas were gone, pretty much everything was gone. The only things that remained were the stands, which seemed to have grown bigger, and the big black circle in the center of the room.