“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat.” The words were harsh and though Lila knew the reason for this, it still hurt. Her brother was just trying to protect her, to ensure that she had a fair chance at the throne but what he didn’t know, or perhaps, what he didn’t want to hear was that she didn’t want it. She didn’t deserve it and she knew deep down that if she took it she would only lead the kingdom to ruin.
“Jasper… One of us is going to die and it’s not going to be you. You deserve this. After all you’ve endured, and how strong you remained throughout all of it. You will rule well brother. And you will not die at my hand because you don’t believe I should die.” Lila spoke her words true, her eyes not wavering from her brother’s face. It was such a stupid tradition. Why should they, the ones who were taken from their parents, trained all their lives, locked step by order of the one’s who raised them. Why should they be forced to fight each other all for some throne? Of course, the elders had given them a reason. They seemed to always have answers, no matter how vague they were. They had told them that this would teach them to make impossible choices. This was something rulers would have to do often. It would make them stronger. She didn’t want to be stronger.
“You’ve endured just as much as I have!” Her brother’s words were earnest, pleading. In this moment he still seemed so young. She knew seeing her die would break him but she held onto hope that he would recover. That he would come back stronger. He always did.
“But I haven’t remained strong, not like you,” Lila responded, her voice was gentle, fragile, like there was a crack in it and if it was pushed too hard, it would shatter, like glass.
Jasper shook his head. “You have! You’re the only reason I’m still here. You protected me, you put me above everyone else, you…” Her brother trailed off, tears forming in his silver eyes.
“And you listened to me because you knew that I was doing the right thing.” She countered quietly. “I need you to listen to me one more time Jasper. I know you don’t want too but I’m the one in charge, remember?” On the last word, her voice broke. She swallowed hard, trying her best not to cry. She needed to be strong here. One last time she needed to convince her brother everything would be alright, even if it wouldn’t.
Jasper's tears fell unchecked now as he looked at her. “I can’t do this without you.” He whispered and the utter despair in his voice made a tear fall down her cheek.
Only a day had gone by after that fateful conversation. One day that had felt both like an eternity, and also as though it had gone by in only seconds. Time didn’t feel real now. On the day when she would die. Part of her felt entirely not ready for this moment, while the other part… Well, it longed for it. Death seemed like the easy way out. All her worries would be gone, no more pain, no more loneliness. It was the guilt that made her scared. Her brother would be left to deal with all of that, and more.
She turned quickly as the sound of the door opening sounded. For a split second, she expected it to be her brother, but of course, that wasn’t the case. They weren’t allowed to see each other today, at least, not until they were in the arena. Instead, it was one of the elders. The woman's face was tight and the sight made her sick. These people, the ones who were supposed to care to care for them couldn’t be less caring.
“Have you prepared yourself?” The woman asked, tone not the least bit caring.
Despite the seriousness of the question, Lila couldn’t help the dry laugh that escaped her lips. “Prepared?” She repeated, another round of laughter shaking her body. How could she truly be prepared for this? How could anyone prepare for their own death? Say goodbye to their loved ones? She had none, no one besides her brother. Come to terms with death? She didn’t know if that was possible. There was always a part of someone who wasn’t ready to die, or at least that’s what she believed. You could be so exhausted that you wanted to give up, or you could be in so much pain that you felt like death was the only option, but being prepared? No. “You are sending a child to kill the only person she’s ever cared for. So, no. I am not prepared.” She bit out.
The woman stared at her for a moment before collecting herself. “You are not a child anymore. Both you and your brother turned eighteen at midnight, did you not?” She asked, eyebrows raised. She knew that there was no way Lila could argue with her, because, it was true. The woman gave a pleased nod when Lila said nothing in return. “Mind your manners Lila, or this will only be made more difficult for you.”
Lila bit her lip. How could this be any more difficult than it already was? She wanted to ask, but, then again, if it could be made worse she was sure the elders would find a way.
She hadn’t counted on the King watching their battle. He sat high on his throne, tucked away in a viewing box filled with plush chairs and pillows. Adding to her anger, he looked interested, excited even. He sat on the edge of his seat, his emerald eyes glimmering in the afternoon sunlight. At that moment he reminded her of a snake. Watching, waiting to strike. At least she could be content knowing that when her brother won, he would take the throne from this man. He would at least try to abolish this tradition as long as he wasn’t stopped.
She couldn’t see her brother from where she stood. The arena had been filled with walls, creating a maze of traps. None that would kill, of course, that was saved for the middle of the maze, the place where the final battle would take place, the last act of the show. The traps were simply meant for drama. Add a wound, slow someone down. Test their skills. Their critical thinking. Their instincts.
Every muscle in her body was tense, waiting. Any moment now, the horn would blow and the battle would be underway. She lowered herself into a running stance and with that, the horn sounded.
She ran, she ran faster than she ever had in her life. The weapons were laid in the center of the maze, meant to give the first person to reach them the advantage of their preferred weapon. She needed to reach it first. Her brother hadn’t wanted her to do this and she feared that if he got their first, he wouldn’t give her the chance to sacrifice herself. He had always been faster than her, but this wasn’t only a test of speed. She dodged trap, after trap, doing everything in her power to maintain her speed. Distantly she could hear the crowd cheering them on in the background.
She had run this maze more times than she could count. The elders had forced it. The traps had never been there. That would have made it too predictable, but the walls had. She could have run it with her eyes closed. She knew now that there were only two more turns, two more and she would be there. A left and… As she rounded her right turn there was a trap she wasn’t anticipating. She swerved out of the way as quickly as she could but the blade still grazed her leg. She let out a cry of pain, feeling the warm trickle of blood come out of the wound. Her pace slowed, but she didn’t stop. The pain didn’t matter. It would all be over in just a few moments, just a few more. There, ahead of her, she could see it, the center. Her choice of weapon, a dagger, and her brothers, his sword. He wasn’t here yet. Her hand went straight to the dagger and she brought it to her own throat just as her brother entered the center. She heard a gasp from the crowd as they realized what was about to happen but it barely registered with her.
Her eyes were fixed on her brother. He stood frozen, staring at her. If she hadn’t been in front of the weapons, she knew he would have gone for them, but he couldn’t.
Tears filled her eyes as she stared at her brother, her dagger digging into her throat. She had wanted to do this before he got here. Hadn’t wanted him to see. If only she had been seconds faster.
“Lila, don’t please!” Jasper pleaded, raising his hands shakily as though proving he was innocent. Lila only shook her head. She had too. She pressed it harder against her neck, once again the warm trickle of blood greeting her. “Wait!” Her brother screamed. With a lightning-fast gesture, his hand dropped, and in that split second the light flashed off of something in his hand. A shard of glass.
“No!” Now Lila was the one screaming as her brother sliced the shard against his throat. The red blossomed instantly, the contrast against his pale skin making it look like a work of art. It was horrible. The sound of that shard of glass shattering against the ground as her brother fell felt as though it was the loudest sound in the world. Everything else was just gone. She caught her brother in her arms as he fell, sobbing. “No, no, no! You were supposed to listen! You were supposed to survive!” She cried, her voice utterly broken. “You were the good one.” This was quieter, barely a whisper as she planted a kiss on her brother’s forehead. She should have been faster. She could have stopped this. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I failed you.” She whispered, and with that, she too shattered, just as that glass had when it hit the ground. She was alive. She was alive and she was going to rule. She was going to destroy everyone who had made this happen. She was going to kill them all, and she would do so while her soul, her mind, her heart, remained shattered.