Valiance

His Brother Is Entering The Tournament....
Her Sister Is The Prize....
But Neither Of Them Can Bare To Lose Eachother....



Persephone's new step-father and the reigning ruler of Vistic, Eragon, is the creator of the Vistic Tournament. The rules, fifty men thrown into the Vistic Arenas where they must fight inner demons and monsters aswell as each other in order to recieve the hand of the beautiful Prize at the end of it all.
The Prize?
Faith. Persephone's fifteen year old s

Part One..

Poker Face.

Chapter One.

“Legs.” Persephone dangled her legs down from the cream couch and sighed.

“The couch wasn't even that comfortable anyway.” She muttered. Her mother was forever nagging about her doing everything wrong. Lately she couldn't seem to do anything right. She loved her mother, but she hated the nagging.

She stood from the couch and ran her fingers along the pearl incrested armrest as she left the room. The hallway was lined with too many doors for Persephone to count on both her hands, as well as dozens of portraits and sculptures. It was her favorite part in the mansion. Not because of the huge vanity mirrors or the portraits of the people in her family, but because she felt so out of place when she was on this floor of the house.

She loved knowing that her step father Eragon hated her hanging around this part of the mansion if there were guests. He thinks it would give the wrong impression if they saw Persephone, who's everyday wear usually consisted of a pair of cut-off shorts with treads hanging everywhere, and a tank top or t-shirt. She usually had her hair down in it's natural wave or else tied back into a pony tail. He thought she never seemed to look 'lady like' and constantly reminded her of how much her younger sister showed her up in public. Not that Faith tried to show her older sister up. It was just how she was naturally graceful and beautiful and well dressed and....perfectly 'lady-like', really.

Every male guest to the mansion would gape at Faith like she couldn't see them. They would drool over her and even try to hit on her. Not that Persephone didn't get much attention. She did. But men had learned to stay well away from her. She was known for speaking her mind, breaking the rules and not being afraid to hit men in their....jewels, for coming on to her. Or trying to, anyway.

She hadn't always been so resentful towards Eragon. When her mother had first told her she had met someone, Persephone was happy...sort of. Her mother seemed to be happy so why shouldn't she and Faith be happy too?

She tried to be supportive, you know, help her with outfits to wear on dates- even though she and her mother never had the same sense of dress so Faith was more helpful in that department. She really did try...

Until she met Eragon.

As soon as he first walked in the door, Persephone thought he was bad news. The way he walked in as if he had a bubble of arrogance around him, the way he looked her and her sister up and down before extending a hand and shaking theirs.

The next day she had it out with her mother and tried to find what it was that she saw in him. And now, here she was in the big mansion reserved for the Ruler of Vistic. Eragon to be precise.

And she had been right about Eragon. His last act of stupidity was just another reason and confirmation of her thoughts and knowledge.

He had created the Vistic Tournament five years ago, just a few months after he had become Ruler. It's a 50 man tournament where young men fight one another and the dangers of a fixed arena where there lies monsters created by Eragon's scientists for the arenas. Monsters like Armours; men armed with enough weapons to wipe out an entire city on one round in each gun and a throw of each knife. Knights; wolf like beasts formed from a mutation of bears and lions that have a nasty liking of human blood.

She hated the man for everything he was worth.

The look in the girl's eyes when they were whisked away from their families and into the arms of a disgusting, bloody killer who had only gained her hand by slaughtering other men- the prize at the end of the tournament is the hand of a fair lady.

Each year Eragon chose a different young girl to play the part of the prize. Each year she is to wealthy and well to do so the winner is guaranteed a rich future ahead of them.

Eragon hand picks the girls and the families have no choice but to abide by his rules, other wise he has the power to execute them in terms of uprising. He had been very cunning and sly when he had created the rules and laws of Vistic.

She walked along the hallway in her bare feet, the carpet felt soft under the soul of her foot. She held her finger between the two pages of her book. As she was passing Eragon's guest waiting room; the room he used for people waiting to speak to him, she ran her hand through her chocolate brown hair and stopped walking. She took two steps backwards and peeked into the waiting room.

Usually the room was full of the type of people Persephone avoided, but someone had caught her eye.

A boy, one that would look like a man if you didn't get close enough, sat on one of the cushioned seats. Persephone knew he was sixteen, a year younger than herself. His face was a contrast of dark hair and eyes against pale white skin. He sat out of place in a t-shirt and jeans amongst the many suits and ties around him.

She knew Faith wasn't home. She was out somewhere in Vistic, feeding homeless people or something along those lines. If Eragon found the boy today, he wouldn't be happy. He had seen him lingering around the mansion and swore that the next time he saw him, there'd be trouble.

Persephone looked up and down the hallway. A hand full of cleaners and a few guests were walking the hall. She then looked for the cameras. She folded down the ear of the page she had stopped on in her book and put it on the ground.

She wasn't supposed to go into the waiting room. None of them ever were. One of Eragon's crazy rules that he thought was sane. She pulled her jacket off and threw it at the camera, covering the lens. She knew she would only have a few minutes before someone would come looking to find her and find out why she covered the camera.

She opened the door to the waiting room and simultaneously, all of the men looked up at her. She had to stifle a smile. They all looked sweaty and nervous, as if they were outside the gates of Hell or something. Then again...

Persephone looked at the boy and he looked back at her. “Joshua,” she said and beckoned him to stand. “Come on.” She told him and waited for him to follow her out of the room.

“Sephy..” He seemed confused.

“What are you doing here Joshua?” She asked him. He put his hands in his pockets. “Faith's not here.” She told him and waited for him to answer.

“I know. What are you doing here? I thought you'd be with Faith.” Persephone was confused now. “Sephy, I want to join the Tournament.” Sephy stared up at him for a moment, trying to figure out why he had chosen such a joke to play. She was aware that the preparation for the Tournament had been set in motion but that was all she knew about it.

“Are you serious? Why in the name of anything good in this forsaken place, would you want to join that thing? And what about Faith? Are you going to just dump her for whoever Eragon has decided to steal from their family?” Persephone narrowed her eyes at Joshua while he widened his before giving her a pitied look.

“Persephone...I'm sorry. I thought you knew.” He admitted.

“What? Joshua, what's going on?” She waited for him to speak. He watched as a cleaner passed them by before answering. He took a hold of her elbow and pulled her to one side.

“Sephy, Eragon chose Faith...” Persephone's face went blank. She shook her head, not believing it. Her little sister, Faith. She was only fifteen. She had only just gotten her first boyfriend, Joshua. And they had to keep it a secret. And now she knew why. If anybody knew that Faith had been sneaking around with someone, they wouldn't accept her as the Prize at the end of the Tournament. The tradition is that a free, innocent girl has to be the Prize, not a girl with a boyfriend or who is attached to anyone.

When Persephone had walked in on Joshua and Faith kissing that first time, she had sworn she would keep it a secret from everyone. She had just assumed that Faith wanted her private life to stay private.

“Joshua, when is the final entering?” Her voice cracked around the edges as she tried to keep herself from yelling. She could feel the anger boiling up inside of her. Not because she was only finding out about it now, not because her mother, sister and Joshua had kept it from her for so long, but because Eragon had chosen her younger sister in the first place.

In her room, Persephone paced back and forth. She glanced at Joshua who was sitting on her armchair. The armchair that her and Faith had written and drawn on when they were little. Eragon had tried to stop her from taking it with her when she was moving in, but she had insisted on bringing it.

Her room was the smallest bedroom of the lot, but it was still massive with an ensuite . It was painted cream and chocolate brown. The only things in the room was her double bed, her wardrobe, the armchair Joshua was sitting in and a desk that had nothing on the top of it except for a photo frame that held three photographs; one of Persephone, Faith and their two parents. Another photograph of Persephone and Faith together a couple of months before, and the final picture was of Persephone and her father playing a game of pool when she was nine.

She looked like her father more than her mother. She had the same color hair as him and the same golden skin and gold-yellow-amber colored eyes. She also had his stubbornness and personality. He and Persephone were always together before he died. She always loved to learn new things and he always had something to teach her. He taught her to play pool and snooker as well as how to fix household appliances. He even taught her how to hunt and how to defend herself against someone else. After he died, she continued learning all of those things, bettering herself all the time, however she hadn't been able to continue with her any of the training since Eragon had gotten married to her mother.

Faith on the other hand had always been a little princess to their mother. She always helped out with cooking and cleaning and the two of them used to sing together all of the time. Faith was a smaller and younger version of her mother. Her long blond hair that was never wavy or curly, her crystal clear skin, her stunning, yet soft blue eyes and her voice was soft.

Persephone's father had chosen both of his daughter's names. He named them because of their meaning, just like everybody else was named by their parents, according to the meaning.

They usually named them with the meaning of what they hoped their child to be when they were older, or what traits they hoped their children would have. Persephone's name meant Spring. She never understood how her parents had come to that name. Faith's name meant To Trust. Which was true, Faith was the most trust worthy person Persephone, or anybody else, had ever met

Faith had always looked up to Persephone and when she was scared after their father had passed away, she would always go to her. She had been the one to start calling her Sephy because she could never say Persephone properly. Her father had given her the idea, but Faith was the one that had always called her by her shortened name. The two sisters were closer than anyone else.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sephy had always known that Eragon would eventually pick one of the two girls for his sadistic Tournament, but she had always hoped he would choose her, not wanting to think about what would happen to her younger sister if they were separated.

As she paced she began thinking of ways to maybe swap positions with Faith, but Eragon would never go for it, and she herself knew that most men would prefer Faith's softer and less aggressive personality to Sephy's.

“Sephy, it's okay, I'm going to enter it.” She stopped pacing and looked at Joshua. Joshua's name meant Jehovah is salvation, or else just Saviour. Figures, she thought. Sephy remembered reading in one of her father's books about how the power of one's name can actually make them what their names mean. But how could Sephy be Spring?

At sixteen Joshua looked and acted a lot older than other sixteen year old boys. She knew it had something to do with his past, but never asked Faith about him. He looked older and acted older, but she had seen the size of the men that enter the Tournament, and frankly, she didn't know if he would make it past the opening arena which was usually the most vicious part of the Tournament, except for the last round, anyway.

“Joshua, I don't want you to get hurt. I'm going to talk with Eragon and see if he'll swap me for Faith.” She told him.

“And if he won't?” Sephy looked over at him and met his eyes. She could see how scared he was, even if he was trying not to show it. Trying to be brave when he knew there was a high chance of him not making it out alive from the Tournament.

“Plan B.” She said and smiled to herself as a plotted plan crossed her mind. One that would be dangerous, stupid, reckless, irresponsible and wild, but most importantly exceptionally brilliant and against the rules- her favorite kind.

As Sephy walked into the court house like room, which was situated off the left side of the mansion, she took in the fact that not only was Eragon present but so was his court team and her own mother. Faith didn't seem to be present, however.

Joshua hadn't come with her. He had tried to get into the court room but Sephy knew it would only cause havoc if Eragon knew about their relationship.

Sephy's mother sat in one of the seats where the Jury would usually sit. She had her head down, picking at her manicured nails; something she always done when she got nervous or anxious. Eragon sat in the Judge's chair with a 'welcoming' smile smacked across his face. Sephy wasn't nervous, she wasn't scared like other people would be and she definitely wasn't happy.

As soon as Joshua had left the mansion, Sephy had pounded on Eragon's office door, ignoring the protests of his assistants and secretary. She stormed in and demanded him to change the arrangements he had for Faith.

“Sephy.” Eragon said, his voice calm. Even his tone of voice was annoying her.

“Persephone to you, Eragon.” Sephy replied. The court room felt cold even though there had to be at least eight heaters inside of it. Eragon just nodded at Sephy.

“Okay, Persephone. What have you come here for today?” He asked her in that same calm tone.

“Don't pretend to not know what I am here for. You know right off that I am here because I want you to relieve Faith as the prize of the Tournament.” Eragon nodded again and didn't stop smiling once.

“You don't think Faith would play the part well?” Persephone looked around the room. She saw all of Eragon's court team who did most of his job for him. To any passer they would look professional and serious, but to Sephy who had always been good at reading people, they all looked exhausted, frustrated and downright fed up. But none of them would be brave enough to go up and complain to the Ruler about it. Especially Eragon who was both ruthless and vicious.

“I want you to swap me for her.” This surprised Eragon, but he tried not to show it. He kept that smile on his face, not letting the cracks open wide enough for anyone else to see. Sephy heard her mother gasp and then Eragon shot a short glance her way.

“That's interesting. I would have guessed you to be the selfish one.” Sephy didn't respond. She just kept a hold of his eyes while he dared her to look away first. He sighed and sat back in the leather seat. “Persephone, I appreciate you and what-”

“Don't even try to start with the crap. The only person you appreciate or even care about is the person staring back at you when you look in the mirror.” Eragon narrowed his eyes at her and ran his tongue along his lower lip.

“Okay...” He sat forward again and leaned over so he could get closer to Sephy. “I didn't want to have to say this because it might hurt your feelings, but to be frank I don't think we would have very many contenders for the Tournament if what they won was you.” Eragon said, the fury that he had tried to hide seeping into his malicious voice. “Look at you Persephone, you're a mess.” He waited only seconds before adding, “and it's Ruler Eragon, to you.” It was only less than a minute before Sephy was leaving the court room and pacing back and forth in her room again. She knew that it would have been hard to get Eragon to do the exchange, but she had at least thought she would have been in there for more time than she had been.

Now she had to find Joshua and tell him what had happened. Tell him what was going to happen. She checked her reflection in the mirror before tying her hair back and changing into a pair of denim shorts and a brown tank top. Looking at her watch she saw that it was going to be late when she got back, so she put her keys into her pocket and left.

She had only been to the Vistic Homes bar twice. One of the times she had been dropping Faith off to meet with Joshua, and the second time was to just get as drunk as she could before someone told on her.

Not many people recognised Sephy as the step daughter of the Ruler. Not many people noticed her at all really. But Faith. Faith was always noticed and recognised as the step daughter or Eragon because of her beauty.

Inside the bar was noisy. People all over were shouting and laughing and just having fun. She slipped under the arm of a drunk man and bumped into a barmaid.

“Sorry..” She mumbled and continued on.

The bar had several benches fixed to the walls and had lanterns everywhere you turned, giving the place a dim glow. It smelled of beer and perfume rolled into one, and there was a pool table through an arch way, left of the bar.

Sephy looked around until she saw Joshua. He stood at the pool table with a que stick in his hands. She made her way over to him.

“Joshua..” She said. He seemed to be in his own little world. He jerked his head up quickly in surprise.

“Sephy? W-what are you doing here?” Sephy shrugged.

“I had to talk to you and I thought you'd probably be here seen as Faith is always talking about how you spend your spare time here.” She explained.

“Oh, yeah that figures. So uh, why'd you come?” He asked Sephy.

“I talked to Eragon.” Joshua's eyes lit up. She knew she shouldn't feel offended by his enthusiasm about the thought of her being the Prize and not Faith. “He refused.” Joshua slumped back down. He tightened his jaw a few times.

“I'll enter.” He finalised.

“No, you won't.” He looked at her in confusion.

“But wouldn't you rather I won than someone else?”

“Of course I would. But I don't want you to enter because you aren't strong enough, or fast enough.” She said. Joshua waited for the punch line. “And because I'm going to enter.” Sephy added with a smile.

* * *

Gage glanced down at the two cards he held in his hand and then back up at the five cards laid out on the green velvet table top. He twisted the silver coin under his fingers and around each one of them as he looked at the pile of money on the center of the table.The pot was now over flowing with coins that he needed. Well if he wanted to eat, anyway.

He looked around at the four men that were also eyeing the cards, or maybe it was the money they were checking out. It didn't matter either way.

Rooney sighed, giving away his position. Gage knew the eighteen year old too well. He slid the coin around his fingers once more before flicking it with his thumb and making it land on top of the other coins, exactly where he had aimed.

“I fold.” Rooney placed his three cards down, facing the velvet. “Screw that. I need to eat.” He muttered. Chase, across from Rooney tried to stifle a smile, but he wasn't quick enough and Gage caught him as he quickly brought his hand up to cover his mouth.

“You all right, Chase?” Gage called from his seat. Chase hadn't been surprised and just offered a nod in return. “Not letting the pressure get to you, I hope?” Gage teased.

“You know I'm not the type, Welker.” He replied.

“Up to you, C.” Mario said. Gage looked to C, short for Cosco. He threw down two more coins. Cosco was definitely the most experienced player here. Well, except for Mario. Mario was a dark haired, sallow skinned man with beady eyes and a horse voice from years of shouting at employees at his farm land. He was too busy practicing poker to tend his own farm. But it paid off. Gage knew well that Mario Bronze was known for getting all your money and not feeling one bit bad about taking your last penny.

Little did Mario know that Gage was the most experienced at lying, cheating and hustling as well as the poker face.

The smoke from the cigar that Cosco held between his lips made it's way over to Gage. He wiped it away from him and cleared the air. “Hey, C. Do you mind puffing that in the other direction? It's blurring my vision.” Gage said and laughed with Cosco when he replied,

“Oh, what a shame that'd be.” Gage didn't like cigars or cigarettes, but he didn't push Cosco. He was a six foot tall man that looked as though he had been a body builder before a mechanic. His square head was twice the size, and Gage was willing to bet twice as hard, as any other mans.

“To you, Welker.” Mario said as he threw down his bet before Chase matched it. Gage ran his tongue the length of his lips before sighing and throwing in the last of his coins, not that he had much. He just about had enough to stay in play.

“Right, gentlemen, on their backs, if you don't mind.” Mario said, taking a pull from his own cigar.

“There's not a day that goes by when I'm not glad to lay a woman down.” Gage heard Rooney do a sort of inward whistle as Cosco lay down a king and a queen that would match with the queen and king dealt out on the table. Gage didn't show anything but indifference as Mario smacked his two aces down on the table and laughed loudly. He had managed to get four aces, two in his hand and two on the table top.

You son of a gun, Maz! That was the last twenty-coin I had!” Chase put down another queen and jack of spades.

As Mario leaned over the table, still laughing with his cigar hanging from the edge of his lips, he put his hands around the pot and began to pull his winnings in.

“Hold it, Maz! Welker here still gotta lay them down.” Cosco put his hand on Mario's arm. Mario froze in place and then slowly sat back in his seat.

“Go on then, Gage.” Rooney said. Gage looked to Rooney and then at each of the boys. He sighed and Mario began to laugh again.

“Sorry, Maz. But I gotta take that away from you today.” Gage said and lay down a ten and a jack of hearts that matched up with a queen, king and ace of hearts dealt on the velvet table. All hearts, all in ascending order.

Mario slumped in his seat and pulled the cigar out of his mouth before he spoke. “Welker, you sly dog.” Was all he said and then they began laughing. Gage poured his winnings into his pouch and laughed along with the others.

“Nicly played, my man. Drinks are on you tonight.” Rooney said as he punched him in the arm. Gage smiled crookedly and tried to pretend that he didn't see Cosco watching him with some speculation.

“Not trust me, or something?” Gage said light heartedly as he pulled the two strings that would close up his pouch, before tying it around the loop in his jeans.

“Should I?” Cosco answered as everyone stood to leave for the bar.

“Well, C, can you really trust anyone when you play a game of Texas Hold Em'?” Gage asked him. “It's a liar's game, after all.” Gage teased.

“Or a hustler's playground.” Gage narrowed his eyes at Cosco and realised they were the only two left in the room.

“Are you insinuating that I-” Even if it was the truth, Gage didn't like being called up on the second deck of cards he had under the table, already tricked for when he was to be dealer. He made sure to have the person before him shuffle,

No, just so everyone knows I didn't fix the deck in my favors!” He had said to Chase, making sure that he wouldn't have to shuffle once he was given the cards, ensuring that his fixed deck would remain intact. And while he watched him shuffle before quickly switching decks from the shuffled one to the fixed one he would suggest that they slow down for him in the next game, so he could catch up with the winners.

“It just seems awful strange how you have only played 'once or twice', isn't that the way you said it?” Gage held Cosco's eyes for no longer than a second, the trick of the game was to turn it back.

“Starter's luck and all that, I guess.” He shrugged. Cosco's dark eyes were no more that two slits in his face now.

“And all that...” Cosco walked from the poker room and out of sight from Gage.

Gage closed the door to Mario's diner and turned the key in the lock before putting it under the mat again. He put his hands deep into his pockets after trying to warm them by rubbing them together. A white cloud of breath came from his lips, disappearing into the moonlit sky.

He could hear Mario's voice in the distance as he strolled along the pathway. He could hear the jingle of the coins hitting against one another in the pouch. He knew the drill, after all, he had been the one who created it. He just hoped that his accomplice would remember as well.

He had let the others go ahead, it was all about the plan. And once he got into the bar and served a round of drinks, everything would go smoothly. As he glanced down a side street, Gage ran his hand through his blond hair.

He could hear the music playing in the bar already. It was between two double story houses owned by locals. A lit up sign went across the top of the bar. It read: Vistic Homes. Beside the name there was an luminous picture of Eragon, the reigning ruler of Vistic. Gage looked up at the picture and at the grey- haired, clean cut, dark eyed man.

“Welker, where you been? We've been waiting on you! You're supposed to be buying, remember?” Rooney called from the entry door of the bar.

“How could I forget?” Rooney patted Gage on the shoulder and then the two headed inside.

Inside the bar the music was even louder. It blasted through the speakers that were situated at each corner of the room and at various spots around the walls and over head seats. It was far from empty; quite the opposite. A handful of brave individuals stood on the wooden floor and were dancing with small, sharp moves.

Out of their heads, Gage thought.

Each of the stools at the bar were full with men and women out for a good night, and others out to feed their addiction. It was hard to move around the room without bumping shoulders with another punter.

Gage tried to inconspicuously find the pool table that he would later play on. After doing so, he found the painting of the girl with the glass mask and then lowered his eyes to the boy who stood under.

“Stand straighter, damn it!” Gage muttered, wishing he had some ability that would allow the boy to have some fraction of Gage's game.

“Did you say something'?” Rooney asked over the music. Gage shook his head and made his way over to the bar. He nodded at the barmaid and she walked over, a tea towel over her left shoulder.

“What can I get you?” She asked. Her blond hair flowed down in straight strands and her brown eyes were surrounded by a band of dark make-up.

“Give me five pints?” She nodded and pulled glasses up, slowly. Gage thought a monkey could have pulled the pints faster. The barmaid fluttered her eye lashes at him as she placed the first two drinks on the counter top.

“Get in there, Welker!” He heard Rooney chant in his ear. He forced a smile and handed him the drinks. He could feel Rooney's eyes on him as he waited for him to make a move on the obviously interested girl.

“So, what time do you get off at?” He shouted across, over the loud music. She smiled at him and handed him the last of the pints.

“Two. What are you doing tonight?” Gage shrugged.

“Well, that depends.” He replied. She leaned up against the counter top.

“Yeah? On what?” Gage had to stop himself from laughing. It was the oldest pick up in the books.

Well, it depends on whether you're free tonight. He could have said it. He knew that any other guy would have said it. But he wasn't any other guy and he wasn't that type of guy. Besides, he had some work to do.

Just as he was to let the girl down gently, his attention was caught by a very audible sigh to the left of him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a girl with deep, dark brown hair, the color of chocolate, tied back into a pony tail. Her eyes were golden and shone out, even in the darkened room. Above them, two slightly slanted eyebrows. Her skin a light gold color. She was shorter than Gage and looked to be around the same age as him.

“Did you say something?” He asked. She narrowed her eyes at him and in the back of his mind he thought of a lioness in the wild. Her eyes were almond shaped, and he could see that her eye's weren't just a way of seeing for her. But also a way of feeling.

“I think that's disgusting.” She told him, referring to the 'pick up' he was about to pull, or at least had thought about. Gage widened his eyes and scoffed.

“Well nobody asked you!” He said. “Are you even old enough to be here?” He wondered. When she didn't answer, he knew she didn't need to speak for him to know. He began to laugh. Behind him the barmaid scowled and reluctantly made her way over to another customer.

That's none of your business!” The girl said to him. Gage regarded her for a moment. He recognised her. Or at least he thought he did. But from where? “What are you staring at?” She asked. He shook his head.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Gage wondered aloud. He watched as her cheeks flared red.

“No. You don't know me. Now, if you don't mind..” She pushed past him without ordering a drink. He checked over his shoulder to see if he could see her walk away, but she had already disappeared into the crowd.

Gage handed Mario and Chase their drinks before taking a long swig from his. Across the table he could feel Cosco's eyes on him, watching him.

“So, what do you think of Angela?” Chase asked him.

“Who?”

“The barmaid that you were flirting with!” Rooney added. Gage looked at Rooney before he realised what they were asking.

“Oh! Oh, yeah, she didn't go for it.” He lied and took another mouth full of his drink. The table was silent for a moment. “So I couldn't help notice a young chap over by the pool table earlier.” He offered as he caught sight of the young boy being approached by two players.

“Yeah? Well you seem to be on a bit of a role tonight. Why don't you go and play him?” Mario suggested and finished his drink.

“Eh, I don't know. I'm a bit of a newbie. Why don't you all have a shot first?” Gage knew this was the hard part, that's why he had given himself that part.

“Well, maybe because you took all our money!” Chase laughed.

“I think you should have a shot, Welker, after all, 'beginner's luck', isn't that what you said?” Cosco pitched in. Gage nodded, playing it cool.

“I think I actually said 'starter's luck.” He corrected and scanned the pool table. The two men had walked off, leaving the boy alone, again. “I guess I could have a shot.” He answered. The five men got up from their seats and crossed the room to the pool table.

He put his glass down on the wooden edge and looked to the young boy who held a que stick in his hands. “Alright if I give you a game?” He asked. The boy across from him was only sixteen. He had black hair and dark eyes. His skin was pale and he wasn't as tall as Gage. He wasn't as good at acting either.

“Gage.” Gage stretched his arm across the table to shake the boy's hand. He felt the firm grip of the boy's hand, returned as well as the sweat. He tightened his jaw.

“Joshua.” Gage nodded and took his hand back. He already knew the boy's name. He already knew the boy's age. He already knew that he would let Gage win the first game even though he was a much better player. In fact, Gage knew absolutely everything about this Joshua, down to the way he swapped hands each time he took a shot. He knew all this because he had grown up with him.

Joshua was nothing like his older brother. Where Gage was light haired, golden skinned and grey eyed, Joshua was dark haired, dark eyed and pale skinned. Gage knew no one would be able to guess that they were related. Not even Rooney knew that Gage had a younger brother.

“Yeah. You're going to have to wait your turn, though.” Joshua said to his older brother. Gage faltered for a split second before composing himself again. “I said I'd give her a go first.” Joshua explained, pointing towards a girl with dark brown hair. The same girl that Gage had met earlier.

“Oh. Okay, well I can wait.” Gage told him and stepped backwards. He finished his drink and again wished his younger brother could understand him or have the same idea as him. To let the girl win. It would make the hustle so much better.

Gage swallowed the last mouthful of beer. He hated the taste of it, but he didn't need to stick out. He sat against the wall and observed the game. Joshua broke the balls apart like an amateur.

“Nice..” Gage said to himself. What he was more focused on now though, was how loosely the girl held her que stick and how she looked so natural with it at the same time. From where he sat, he watched the game unfold. After a long five minutes, neither of them had potted a single ball. He had kept his eyes on the girl, even though he knew he should be watching his brother.

Was she...?

“Son of a-” He sighed to himself and folded his arms. He now understood what was happening. She was trying to hustle Joshua and then the rest of the guys too. He could see it in the way she barely let the que tip hit off the white ball and in the way she forced disappointment onto her features every time she potted the white ball by accident. She was very convincing. But not for Gage. He had been playing this game for a while. Longer than her, by the looks of it.

By the looks of it, Joshua was getting more frustrated by it, too. He was trying so hard to set up the ball for her to get a clear shot, as well as miss his own shots, and she was just missing them each time. Gage knew that it was hard enough for Joshua to lose in the first place; he never wanted to lose. And losing to such a 'poor' player would kill him. Gage wondered if Joshua could tell that she was trying to play the same game he was.

Gage kept his eyes on the girl. She played as if she were a ditsy blond, trying not to break a nail. When she sighed after potting the white ball again, Gage caught her glancing his way. He smiled at her and saw that flush of red flash into her cheeks again.

“I think I'm going to have to give up soon. I'm terrible at this game.” She said in a high pitched voice that didn't belong to her. Gage knew that much. She added a giggle and turned her back on Gage.

“You don't need to quit.” Gage said. “I think you're holding the que stick wrong. Chase can show you how to hold it, can't you?” Gage turned to Chase. He seemed surprised to have been brought in, but didn't refuse helping her.

“So that's what this thing is called? I've been calling it ball poker since I started.” She giggled and shot a fierce look at Gage. Chase moved up behind her and helped her with holding the que stick between her fingers. With Chase's help, she potted the first ball of the game. She squealed like a little girl.

“Ha! Thank you.” She said and turned so she was in Chase's arms, facing him. Gage could see the heat rush to Chase now. He stifled a smile.

“If you want, I can help you some more..?” Chase offered. Just as she was about to protest, Gage interrupted.

“She sure needs it! You should help her out.” Gage coaxed. The game only lasted another few minutes. The girl with dark hair won and left Joshua at the starting line. She smirked at Gage.

“I wanna play again!” She cheered. Joshua came and stood beside Rooney. His eyes only barely flickered to Gage's, but Gage knew it was enough for Cosco to spot. “Will you play with me?” Gage raised his eyebrows when the girl turned to him.

“Go on Welker, you wanted to play, didn't you?” Gage nodded.

“Yeah. I did.” Gage admitted. He stood up and took another que stick into his hands.

“Wait..” Gage turned to Cosco. He had been getting ready to beat this girl and he didn't want to lose his opportunity.

“What's wrong Cosco?” Mario asked him. “We're just about to see Welker lose the money he so proudly won. Our money, I might add.” Mario said with a smile.

“No. There's something else. You,” he pointed to the girl. “I recognise you.” He said. Gage turned to see the red flow back into her cheeks for the third time. “Yeah I do.” Cosco added when the girl shook her head.

“You were on that television show! The one where you won the junior championship at pool!” Gage gasped loudly and she scowled at him.

“No. Way! You were trying to hustle me?” Gage tried to sound hurt, surprised but also sarcastic. And she sensed it. She shot a glare his way. “I feel...violated. Vulnerable even.” He continued. The girl put her hands on her hips and waited for him to finish.

“You done yet?” She wondered, her natural voice coming out instead of that squeaky, hysterical voice that she played before.

“Nope. You know there should be a law against this, shouldn't there?”

“There is.” Gage swallowed hard and turned to Cosco. “Here in Vistic there is a law against it.” Gage raised his eyebrows in surprise. He smiled and turned to the girl.

“Did you hear that?” He asked her. Her face was blank.

“So you're going to charge me with NEARLY hustling you? I'd like to see how that turns out for you.” She retorted.

“Well you're going to.” Gage was pushed aside by Cosco as he made his way over to grab a hold of the girl's arm.

“Woah, C. Do you really think this is necessary? I mean she didn't actually get the chance to hustle anyone.” Rooney said. Cosco shook his head. Gage could see that he was holding the girls's arm tightly, bruising it already. He stepped forward, serious now.

“Hey, Cosco, let the girl go. It doesn't matter.” Gage tried to reason. “She was caught before anything happened. Chill.” Gage said, meeting Cosco's eyes.

“It's dirt like her that give people in Vistic bad names.” Cosco growled and ignored her struggle to get free.

“Or is it guys like you?” Gage watched as a purple vein exploded from Cosco's forehead. And the girl in his clutch whimpered a little as he squeezed harder. Gage looked away for a second and then back at Cosco. “Listen, all I'm saying is to learn a little forgiveness. Besides, I was the one being hustled. Shouldn't I be the one handling it?” Gage waited until Cosco let the girl go. She rubbed her arm.

“You piece of-” She began. As Cosco narrowed his eyes, Gage thought of a physco killer with huge bulging eyes that seemed to come out from their sockets. Gage quickly pulled the girl close to him and put his hand over her mouth.

“Come on, I'll take you home.” He said. “I just got you out of being pummeled to an inch of your life, could you please stay quiet for a minute!” Gage whispered into her ear. He could smell the sweet scent of her skin.

“Okay, what's your deal?” Gage asked when they were outside. She pushed his hands away from her and began walking. Gage followed her and looked over his shoulder when he heard the door of the bar open. Joshua came out and looked both ways before seeing the two. He didn't follow.

“None of your business!” She answered.

“I'm pretty sure it's my business now. After all, I did just save your life.” He joked. He kept in pace with her as she stormed up towards the Lakeside Manor house. She scoffed at his reply.

“I could have handled that jerk by myself.”

“I doubt that.” The street was alive with people dancing to music that came from stereos and men creating arm wrestling matches. Lights came from the moon and the windows of shops and homes that had been lit up. There seemed to be a party of some sort going on in the street. The Lakeside Manor, however, was empty.

“You don't even know me.” She said and walked through the gates.

“Well why don't you enlighten me?” He asked. She stopped walking and looked at him. In the moonlight, her eyes shone out like amber stones.

“What do I have to do to get you to leave me alone?” Gage smiled down at her. “What?”

“You're a feisty little one, aren't you?” He teased.

“You know, not all girls are a damsel in distress.”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah it is.” He turned to face her. Only half of her face was highlighted by the moon.

“I'll have to write that one down to remember it.” He started walking again, towards the lake, in front of the hotel. He stood, looking out across the glass-still water that was like a mirror to the stars and clear sky above it. He stopped when he got to the water's edge. When he turned to look at the girl, she was gone.

Gage flicked through the channels on his television. It was a cheap one that he had worked his butt off for. After finding nothing to watch, he turned it off and stood up. On the wall above the TV, a picture of the Ruler, Eragon sat crookedly. It was one of his laws that every house must have a picture of him.

Gage didn't know the guy but he knew that he didn't like him. The guy had crazy rules and laws that mostly revolved around himself. Another one of his rules were no one is allowed out after three a.m. That was a law that Gage had already broken three times. He had been given three warnings now and if he was to break another law he would be seen by the Ruler.

Lucky him.

He didn't know much about the Ruler, unlike every other citizen, Gage didn't feel like he would be afraid of him. He knew a little from what Joshua had told him. Like how he has two sons..? Maybe he has two daughters. Either way, Gage knew that they were stepchildren. Their mother had married Eragon. Now that he thought about it, he remembered seeing one of them in North-Mount city when him and Joshua were staying there for a few months.

Vistic was a very, very, very big city. The Ruler, whoever it was, would have a handful keeping track of all the people in it. It was the richest city in Bowland too. Out of the seventeen cities in Bowland, Vistic was the most advanced. Gage would know. He had been in almost each of the other cities.

All of the cities have a Mayor, but Eragon controls them too, so really he should be called the King or something like that. That's what Gage would be called if he was ever the Ruler. It would give a comedic side to the whole 'I am the boss of you', thing that all the Rulers have.

Then again if Gage was the Ruler, he would just share everything evenly so no one has any power over other people. Simple as.

In the small sitting room, Gage had let Joshua decorate when they first moved in. If it was up to Joshua, the place might look better because left to Gage, it would still be half empty.

But living in the back end of Vistic wasn't fun. Joshua and Gage barely got by some days.

The couch, TV, the picture of Eragon and a few other things was all that filled the living room now. In the cramped hallway, there was a lamp and a plant. In the square kitchen there was a table, fridge, cooker, sink and a few counter tops along with a few alcoholic beverages. Other than that there was nothing in the house other than two beds, one in each bedroom and a bathroom with the obvious furniture. Joshua's room had all of his things that he had collected over the years, but Gage's just had the necessity. Clothes, bed, wardrobe.

He opened the fridge and pulled out a sandwich that he had made earlier. As he sat down at the table, Joshua appeared at the door, rain dripping from his clothes.

“Where you been?” Gage asked him, his mouth full of food. Joshua looked like he was caught between a rock and a hard place, well that's how Gage imagined he would look like if he was in that position.

“No where.” Joshua answered and turned to walk away. Gage watched him as he walked down the hall and then stopped before coming back into the kitchen. He stepped in and pulled a chair out. He was only sitting down for less than ten seconds before he got to his feet again and began pacing. Gage looked at him, puzzled.

“Josh, why are you going around like you got chilly powder in your jocks?” Gage asked his brother. Joshua stopped and put his hands on the back of the chair.

“Gage, I gotta ask you a question,” Joshua started. Gage waited for him to go on. He thought it was strange seeing his younger brother like this; they had always been so close and been able to talk to each other about anything and everything, Joshua had made sure of that. He never let Gage get away with being in a bad mood without knowing the reason for it.

“If you want the 'birds and the bees' talk, just say it. It could be a little uncomfortable, but...I'll do it. You're my little brother after all.” Gage said sarcastically and took another bite from his sandwich. Joshua didn't find the funny side. “Jeez, Josh, crack a smile every now and again. It won't kill you.”

“Gage, I don't have time for this.” Gage let his head roll back.

“Okay, I'm sorry. Sit down and let me in on the big secret.” Joshua did as his brother suggested. He put his hands on the table and looked Gage in the eyes.

“I met a girl...” He began and then stopped. Gage waited for more, but nothing came. Gage clapped his hand to his forehead.

“Ah, crap! I knew I should've had 'the birds and the bees' conversation with you when you were twelve! You got her pregnant, didn't you?!” Gage sighed.

“No! Gage, can you please stop with the jokes for one second!” Joshua pleaded.

“Right, fine! But what else was I going to think? I'm not a mind reader Josh!” Gage teased and sat forward in his seat. “Okay you said you met a girl. Is she nice?”

“Yeah, course she is. You see, em, well she is..we aren't supposed to be together.” Gage narrowed his eyes in confusion.

“Why?”

“Well... Faith..” Gage didn't see how fate had anything to do with it, until a young girl walked through the door of his kitchen. She had long blond, straight hair that fell past her elbows. Her eyes were striking and soft at the same time and she had the kind of face that everyone would love because you could see there was no lies to her and how beautiful she was. Angelic, even.

Ehm, Gage, this is Faith, Eragon's step-daughter and the new Prize of the Tournament. Faith, this is my brother, Gage.” Joshua stood and went to Faith. He put his arm around her waist and hugged her close to him.

The End

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