Under the yellowed lights of the fighting ring, Celeste assessed the situation; it was tight. Casually shifting his weight, Damien Wolfman sent a wry look at Celeste, sending shivers through her body. Whatever he had in store for her could not be pleasant.
“Struggling a bit, Dabousiller? Maybe your petty mother could give you some advice from the heart.” He gave a wicked grin, before sweeping a foot underneath her legs. Her low stance betrayed her, bringing her crashing to the ground, and cursing under her breath. How did she fall for that? She’d been leading for a while, and it was still tight but after he had pulled that trick out of his sleeve, her concentration had slipped just momentarily enough for Damien to take advantage of it.
“Or maybe your surname really does describe exactly what you are; a mere stuff up.” Damien stood above her leering. The dreaded fool. Huffing in annoyance, she rolled to the side, returning to her feet near his unguarded left side. She shouldn’t be letting Damien, of all people, mock her using her parents’ surnames. They were both ridiculous; her mother’s surname, Delacoeur, meant ‘from the heart’ and her father’s surname that was passed down to her, Debousiller, meant 'to stuff up'. It was utterly pathetic.
Channelling her frustration and anger into her fists, she punched his jaw before swinging low with her leg, ramming her foot into the delicate soft tissue at his hip joint, earning a grunt of discontent from Damien.
“Maybe you should remember who you’re mocking, Wolfman,” Celeste spat as she threw another punch at his raised elbow. A satisfying crack sounded, giving Celeste all the confirmation she needed. In no more than two movements, Celeste had rammed her fist into his jaw again and swept her foot past his ankle, sending him staggering off balance.
“Care to mock me now?” With a look of disgust, Celeste placed her foot in the centre of Damien’s chest, she kicked, tipping his already off-balance figure into the dust of the fighting ring. “Maybe next time you mock me, you should remember just who it was that beat your ass in school and just who trained me. Baskara may have trained me since then, but before that, it was my mother who trained me in strategy, and my father who trained me in combat. So don’t go mocking my parents, because they were better parents than yours ever were.” Celeste grimaced at Damien’s bulky form on the ground before her. Such a shame that the once charming and somewhat handsome young boy had turned into this arrogant excuse of a man.
Smirking, Damien leapt up grabbing her foot on his chest and wrenching it down, bringing her down while he got up. “Well, not everything revolves around you. Many things changed in Legacy Hall after you left.” Slamming a fist into Celeste’s raising face he continued, “Baskara was royally pissed off when you left. He punished all of us, just because your stuck-up, princess self didn’t care enough to continue with your Legacy training. He made us swear on our futures that if we ever saw you, we would beat you into oblivion for the training and time that you cost us all. So kindly allow me to do so.” Why had Sinclair never told her about this? Surely he was all aware of the risks he was taking when he saw her while he remained with Baskara at Legacy Hall? Now stuck under Damien’s rough boots, Celeste struggled to free herself. Damien couldn’t be telling the truth, Sinclair would’ve told her. Wouldn’t he?
“I am LEAVING Sinclair, you will not convince me to stay. I cannot stand this place anymore, I cannot work under Baskara any longer. Don’t you understand?” Celeste shouted at Sinclair from across the room. Her best friend of many years looked up, tears limning his sapphire eyes and whispered,
“I’m sorry Melanie, I truly am.” He- He used that name; her middle name, the name that only he knew, the name that he called her when they were children. Celeste realised what she’d implied.
“No… I-” she looked away, “-it’s not you Sinclair, I promise. I just can’t stand Baskara, his training or the pressure anymore. It’s not that I don’t like working with you, but I’m breaking… and I have to leave before I snap. You are so incredible Sinclair, and you always will be. But me? I’m not even worthy to be a Legacy.” Sinclair looked her dead in the eye.
“No matter what you say, Celeste Debousiller, you are just as incredible and talented as any of the trainee Legacies here. You deserve to be here… But I respect your decision.” He walked across to Celeste, his emotions illustrated as clear as day, Sinclair wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “I will miss you Leste, but if this is what you want, do it. I will miss you with every fibre of my being but if giving up your training and your chances at being a Legacy is what you want, I will stand by you.”
Stepping back, Sinclair brushed away a strand of her hair from her face before putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Just remember that Baskara will not forgive you for this, and no matter what happens he will try his best to destroy your chances at ever coming back.” With one final look into Celeste’s eyes, Sinclair turned and left her to contemplate the emptiness beginning to grow in her heart. This place had been her home, her sanctuary. What would she do to fill her days without Legacy training and monotonous lessons? But the one subject that hurt the most was the people, the family she was leaving behind to escape the pressure. She couldn’t imagine her days without her thorn in the side and closest friend Sinclair, or the family she had built herself here. Was it worth it?
Damien was definitely a stronger fist-fighter than she had expected. He was known for his archery, his lethal precision from hundreds of feet away, but his melee was better than she’d like to admit. Pinpointing the trigger-point just above the rim of his sturdy leather boots, Celeste rammed the heel of her hand into it, earning a rewarding groan from Damien. Taking her chance, Celeste threw another few disarming moves at her opponent, earning more grunts before he recovered from her initial strike.
Damien recovered from the temporary ankle pain faster than she had expected and brought his fists up in preparation for another blow. Celeste dodged a few more hits, allowing a few of them to make their mark before launching her attack. Turning to the side, Celeste monitored Damien’s every move. Would he take the bait? Damien did. As soon as he noticed Celeste’s unguarded back, he skirted around her to gain better striking ground and launched his punch. Predicting his move, Celeste dodged under his sweeping punch, crouching in preparation before springing up and aiming a strong roundhouse kick at his now unguarded head. Ha! Take that. Celeste’s foot made impact with a thud. Before Celeste could see Damien’s anguished face, pain went searing up her leg. Damien had grabbed her outstretched foot and twisted her leg into a concerningly unnatural position. Squinting through her pain Celeste seethed,
“Who said I’m a fool now? You’re the one that left Legacy Hall only to be competing for your place as a prestigious Prime Legacy three years on.” Damien dropped her leg to the ground, more pain shimmering across her vision. Celeste narrowed her eyes and placed her hands beneath her, pushing herself up. She would not let Damien win. She had to win, she just had to.
If it weren’t for the confounded last-minute change of the rules the fight would’ve been over in under a minute. Celeste itched for a blade, any blade just to end this faster. Damien was a lousy swordsman, his bulk and heavy footing making the light-footed dance nearly impossible, and it would’ve given her just the upper hand she needed. The match should’ve been quick, but after the balanced sparring match, her stamina was burning out rapidly. If she had a blade she could finish it, a few well-placed lacerations and he would be done. But with this injury? She didn’t know how much longer she could go on for, the pain was excruciating, torturing her with every attempt it took her to stand up. If only she could obtain a knife…
Finally allowing the sounds of the crowd to infiltrate her focus, she could hear spectators tapping their fingers in frustration, Damien’s trainer grunting and cheering, and the one person she wouldn’t look at; Baskara. On the sidelines cheering for Damien, was the one man she loathed with every fibre in her body, the one man she wouldn’t mind throttling to death despite his superior ranking. Averting her eyes from where she knew Baskara would be standing, she scanned the crowd for familiar faces. Sinclair and Penelope were both here, but at that moment it was Sinclair that mattered most. Hearing Sinclair’s uplifting encouragement, Celeste staggered to get to her feet. She would not let this arrogant son-of-a-prick beat her up like this. She rose, raising her forearms in a defensive stance as if challenging Damien to come at her. With little more than three punches and a hard shove, she was down on the ground again, groaning in pain.
Glancing over, she saw two matching delicately embroidered shoes approaching the edge of the ring, stopping just before crossing the line. Looking up, Celeste saw Penelope’s eyes gazing down to her, before flicking to a glinting light a mere foot away from her grasp. What was she saying? Penelope’s eyes flicked to the glimmer of light again, before toeing it and nudging it in her direction then fading back into the crowd. Penelope had been her friend for years at Legacy Hall, but after Celeste left unceremoniously, did the friendship last? Celeste considered Penelope a friend, but was it mutual? Penelope knew Celeste was stronger with blades, but she also knew that it was against the rules for Celeste to wield a blade and that the consequences would be malevolent. Maybe she was helping her after all. Debating the benefits and the consequences, Celeste slid over towards the blade at the edge of the ring. It was an exquisite hunting knife with purple whorls on its hilt. With a short glance at Damien’s approaching figure, Celeste moved to shield her hand grasping the blade from view. Silently she slipped into her pocket before turning to face Damien, but not before catching Penelope’s secret smile and Sinclair’s disapproving grimace. Surely he understood her desperation for the blade? But what did Penelope’s smile mean? They all knew the blade wasn’t allowed.
Making her decision, Celeste went to take out the blade but was knocked back by the back of Damien’s hand before he grabbed her collar and chucked her to the side. Her nose hit the ground with a sickening crunch, but Celeste was only beginning to drive on her fury. Murmurs were going through the crowd. Surely they hadn’t seen her reach for the blade? Ignoring the pain in her hip and the blood dripping from her nose, Celeste launched herself at Damien, tripping him and dislocating his shoulder with a twist of his extended arm. During his momentary recovery time, Celeste didn’t attack him. Instead, she approached the side of the ring, thumbing the knife. How she would love to know what this fine blade could do, but she knew it wasn’t right. Once again, she tried to discreetly remove the blade from her pocket. Crouching near the outer rim, pretending to fiddle with her shoelaces she grasped the knife in her pocket and quietly slid it behind her. Trying to push with just the right force to slip the knife to the edge of the ring and no further into the audience, Celeste looked behind her to see what she was doing and caught Penelope grinning like a wild cat before stalking off to whisper something in Baskara’s ear. The filthy little traitor. Didn’t the years of friendship and coaching count for anything?
Just before Celeste released the blade, her breath was pulled from her chest as she was propelled upward by Damien grasping her collar. Struggling to free herself, Celeste glanced back to where the blade should’ve been. She turned her attention to Damien as a clatter sounded across the floor. Grimacing to herself, Celeste forced herself to look Damien in the eye. She just hoped it hadn’t landed anywhere too obvious.
“Let this teach you to-” His eyes narrowed and turned to the clatter on the floor behind him. A gasp rippled through the crowd. Legacies' liberty. She glanced below, the blade was in plain sight near the centre of the ring. Celeste scolded herself for even considering that the blade was a good idea. She knew the rules, yet she had been so desperate to end it that she hadn’t thought through the consequences. With a pathetic thud, Celeste crashed to the floor.
“WHAT IS THIS?” Baskara yelled over the murmuring of the crowd. Celeste looked up to her previous master, regret plastered across her face. Why did she pick up the blade?
“I… It must be a misunderstanding,” she dipped her head.
“MISUNDERSTANDING? How can a knife in an unarmed challenge be a misunderstanding?”
“I...” Celeste looked down at her torn clothing. “When Wolfman threw me down towards that corner, it caught on my pocket?” Celeste’s voice was more unsure than she would’ve liked and Baskara was fuming.
“You dared leave the Hall because you couldn’t cope. Now you sneak a knife into this competition because you don’t think you’ll win?” Murmurs of agreement sounded from the crowd and Baskara pushed his way forward. “I had hope, Celeste. Hope that you would finally come back.” He shakes his head.
“I... I didn’t use it, Baskara. I really didn’t. I was trying to get rid of it when Damien grabbed me by the collar. I never intended to use it.” Amusement glinted in Baskara’s eyes.
“No matter. Whatever your intentions were, you broke the rules. The fight will continue, and if you win, you will stand trial for this breach before you are allowed to occupy the position of Prime Legacy. If you lose you can go back to whatever slums you came from without a word from me. I will leave your record clean Celeste, but only because you were the best, but I will not allow you to occupy any position in Legacy Hall until you have completed all trials and challenges again.” He turned to leave. “Oh and… Call me Master, Celeste, because deep down you're nothing more than a slave to me now.” The fight resumed, but it was a challenge no more. Celeste’s rage drove her beyond any logical level of strength with her injuries and the challenge was soon over. She was now to await her trial.
Leaning against her door, Celeste listened for the world beyond her quarters yet again. The wait until her trial was painstakingly slow.
“What did I tell you, Melody? I am a genius. I told you she would take the knife. It was only so long she could resist the exquisite blade I slid to her in the ring.”
“I know Penelope, she is so useless compared to you. I can’t believe Baskara even considered her for his replacement when you are clearly the better option. At least your plan worked.” Baskara… He- No, there is no way he would’ve ever even considered it.
“It did indeed; Damien lost to that unworthy rat, and once she is convicted I will be the next in line for Prime Legacy.” Penelope was next in line? Since when? “It’s a shame such a good knife went to waste, I was hoping she’d put it to use but I heard it’s just sitting around in her chambers for no good at all.” The knife! Of course! Carefully getting up as to not make too much noise, Celeste rushed over to where the fine hunting knife lay on the birch table. Running her fingers over the hilt, she eyed the patterns. This could be evidence, the purple insignia was known from Penelope’s family, and Penelope had been standing right at the corner before the knife was revealed. Could she fight this case? Without a backward glance, Celeste rushed to the standard provided computer in the corner of the room. They must be stupid to allow her access to the internet. Quickly hacking the feeds, Celeste retrieved visuals from the fight and the audio from her quarters in the past few minutes, saving it as an audio recording and closed her computer with satisfaction. Everything would be okay.
“I did it, Sinclair, I did it.” Celeste ran up to her best friend, enveloping him in her arms.
“It’s over Celeste. You did it.” Breathing in his scent, Celeste sighed. She was back where she belonged. She lifted her face to look into Sinclair’s sapphire eyes.
“Oh, I missed you so much.” She sobbed, “I’m so sorry I left, Penelope is-” He hushed her and leant his forehead on hers. “Why didn’t you tell me about Baskara?” she whispered. Leaning closer, Sinclair murmured,
“Because I love you.” Sinclair brought his lips to hers. It was like Sinclair had been her true north for a very long time and only now had she begun to see it. For she had lost so much, but she had gained more. At that moment she knew; as long as she had Sinclair she would be okay. Penelope had crossed the line from friend to traitor, but Sinclair had crossed the line from brother to lover and for that, she was thankful.