THE CHAMPION, Part 4

Last Week: Jared “The Sabre” Sabor, a teenager from Denver has somehow found himself in the inner world known only as The Contested Lands. Kidnapped by a warlord and held hostage on the life of his sister, he has been forced to use his sports knowledge to train Rival Grell’s challengers. Unfortunately, an escape attempt organized by his team ended in tragedy when Jared refused to be liberated.

champion2THE CHOP BLOCK

Part Four (of Five)

One week. Jared had one week to get his demoralized and shorthanded team into shape for an off-schedule challenge with his own life on the line. He now had two guards, and this time, they weren’t pretending to be servants. Even though he knew that she had been put near him to kill him, he missed Keyvessa. Now he didn’t even have someone to talk to.

The twin suns were at balance, the brightest time of the endless day. Jared’s body was covered in sweat from his scalp to his soles, stewing in the torn Nikes he still wore. As theyn, he wasn’t expected to exert himself to train his challengers; from what Jared had heard, most theyns didn’t even get out of their watch-chair. That Jared was physically present among them was one of the things that had initially surprised and impressed his challengers. Since the debacle with Konor, though, even while he was on the field, the challengers kept their distance.

Vik seemed to be taking it the worst, glaring and muttering to the other challengers as they ran drills. Most of the challengers had bruises and cuts from whatever beating or punishment they received from Rival Grell after Jared surrendered himself. While neither Jared nor Konor had said anything about anyone else’s involvement, Grell wasn’t stupid. The distractions during the feast were obviously part of the escape plan, and he took his anger out on any and all possible suspects. Emphasis on “all.”

Jared determined not to let it get to him. Putting his two fingers in the corners of his mouth, he let out a sharp whistle, drawing the attention of the challengers.

“All right!” Jared yelled in his breaking voice. “Fall in! I have a few things to say!”

Mathu and Brayd stopped what they were doing and walked over. Vik and Atum tried to harangue some of the other challengers into lagging behind, but in the end, the word of the Theyn was law. A moment later, twelve grown men stood at attention in formation around the young boy from Denver.

“Look,” Jared said, trying to muster as much authority as he could. “I know that we’ve had a hard week.”

There was a snort from Vik. Jared ignored it and continued. “You all put yourselves on the line for me… and you think I don’t appreciate it. You think I betrayed you.”

Now even Vik was silent.

“But you don’t know the whole story,” Jared said, more pleading than he wanted to be. “I… I have a sister. Grell is holding her hostage to make sure that I work for him.”

“The girl who Grell keeps hidden?” Nicol asked.

Jared turned to the muscular woman, mouth wide. “You… you know where she is?”

Nicol snorted a disdainful laugh. “Did you ever think to ask us, Theyn Sabre?”

Suddenly it clicked in Jared’s head. It wasn’t that they mistakenly thought he didn’t trust them. It was that they saw how he really hadn’t trusted them.

“You think that because we are slaves and challengers that we are simple, Theyn?” Vik asked with a sneer. “That we are fools?”

“I… I didn’t…” Jared stammered.

“You have shown us many things, Theyn Sabre,” Nicol said. “Let us show you something for a change.”

What had started as an awkward training session in the dry open field at the grassy edge of Rival Grell’s encampment suddenly became an overland hike into the heavy vineland forest to the north. Jared followed as best as he could, but he was soon out of breath. To their credit, none of his challengers said a word but merely slowed their pace to match what he was capable of.

After an hour, they came to a chasm in the middle of the vinelands. Built into the far side was some kind of cliff dwelling, like the Anasazi ones Jared had visited a few years ago at Mesa Verde. Tunnels and ladders spotted the vertical stone face and zig-zagging along one side was a staircase cut directly into the rock. At several points along the top of the cliff, large mirrored glasses were set, reflecting the twin suns down into the shadowed canyon.

“This,” said Nicol, “is the Perpendicular Keep, the home of the Observer order.”

“Wow,” was all Jared could say for several seconds. Shaking off his awe, he suddenly realized the implication his challengers were making. “Wait…” he said. “You mean Rival Grell doesn’t have my sister? That she’s here?”

“If she were in Grell’s camp, there would be the possibility you would find and free her.”

“Me? I’m barely able to…”

“Win a challenge? Stop the bloodthirst of a Rival? Escape from an armed camp? He fears you, my Theyn.”

Jared looked across the chasm again. It was too far to be able to identify any figures moving around inside the dwelling, but Jared peered anyway, hoping to miraculously see his lost sister.

“Why would the Observers do this for Grell?” he asked, frowning. “I thought they were neutral in all of this.”

“They are,” Vik offered, and to Jared’s relief, his tone was less harsh than it had been an hour ago. “They keep peace among the Rivals by serving all and yet none. It is not uncommon for them to hold prisoners and hostages as part of a challenge’s victory purse.”

It might have been a trick of the light, as one of the twin suns moved in its binary orbit into the sightline of one of the Perpendicular Keep’s mirrors, but it was as if a light appeared over the Sabre’s head.

Jared suddenly knew what he needed to do.

To be continued…

© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.

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