Fatefall - 37

Fatefall - 37

A Chapter by A.L.
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Adrian

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Chapter 37 - Adrian 

Xegalla would be divided for a final time.

Adrian dreamt that he was dying. Agony tore him apart, ripping into his gut and setting his entire body aflame. The pain was so vivid it felt real. Adrian began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t a dream after all.

He couldn’t remember how he’d ended up in this situation in the first place. The last thing he recalled was dancing with Poppy. Telling her that she floated on the edges of his mind constantly, impossible to forget longer than a minute. He remembered his hands shaking as nervousness tightened around his neck like a noose. He remembered the dull glow that lit Poppy’s eyes, almost like she was using her Grace, which would explain why she’d seemed so distracted. He could even remember the trace of honeysuckle drifting through the air, as though Poppy had worn perfume for the occasion. 

So why didn’t Adrian know what had happened to him?

The pain in his side worsened, now an ever-constant throbbing that couldn’t be ignored. It didn’t help that his Grace twisted and writhed, as though fending off some foreign force. The effect was sickening. 

Or maybe that was the sweet aroma that tickled his nose and sent his brain spiraling into darkness. 

Adrian lost all sense of direction. Up was down and down was up. He stumbled aimlessly, searching for an exit in the unending darkness and finding none. Occasionally, flickers of conversations would float by but whenever he tried to follow them back to reality, he ended up even more disoriented. It reminded him of the door from the first Trial, except he had a vague idea of where he was. That, and the aching in his side refused to dull.

Eventually, he must’ve succumbed to the darkness for real because the next thing he knew, his eyes were fluttering open and the pain in his side returned with renewed force. He groaned, trying to sit up.

“Shh, sweetie. Lie back down. Aida, go get your father.” It was his mother’s voice, light as a breeze. Adrian clung to her words, forcing himself to remain conscious despite the pain racking his side and his chest. He felt her hand slide into his, her Grace of Life sliding past his Grace and stealing away some of the agony. 

With the pain once again dulled, Adrian was finally able to get a grip on reality. 

He was shirtless, laying in his own bed with bloodstained blankets twisted below him. A pristine bandage wrapped around his gut, stained scarlet on his left side. His mother perched on the edge of his bed, her chestnut hair knotted and ratty and her eyes swollen and puffy. She still wore the gown she’d donned for the Fete. Adrian wondered how long he’d been unconscious. 

An abandoned stool sat beside his mother, probably Aida’s. 

On the other side of his bed, a healer hovered like a pesky fly. Adrian could sense the healer’s Grace roving over his body, but his weakened Grace could do nothing to stop it. What had weakened his Grace in the first place? Actually, better question: what had happened at the Fete? 

He shot the healer a glare. “As much as I appreciate you saving my life and everything, I’m pretty sure I’m not in danger of bleeding out anymore, so you can’t stop your prodding.”

The healer frowned and his Grace retreated at once.

“Adrian,” his mother chastised, offering the healer an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to excuse my son’s blatant rudeness. That being said, your duties are fulfilled and you are dismissed. Thank you for saving my son.” 

The healer mumbled something under his breath and disappeared a moment later. 

“Thank you,” Adrian said, wishing his voice didn’t sound so much like a death rattle. “I’m not sure how much longer I could’ve handled that man fawning over me.”

His mother laughed, though it sounded empty. “You’d rather have your mother doting on you?”

“I’d rather have Aida, actually. She’s rude, but she’ll probably let me get out of bed the soonest. Speaking of which--”

“The healer said you’re on bed rest until tomorrow morning,” his mother said. “And I agree with him. We can get you more comfortable if you’d like, though.”

Adrian nodded his agreement and together they worked to prop him into a sitting position. It felt nice to at least be on eye level with the person he was conversing with. Actually, it felt nice to be speaking with his mother again. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d conversed with any of his family members besides Aida for longer than five minutes.

“So,” Adrian began, eager to keep his mother talking. “What exactly…happened?”

“How much do you remember?” his mother countered, wringing her fingers together. 

Adrian hesitated, unsure of whether or not his parents were aware of who his dance partner was. “The part where I got stabbed is pretty hard to forget,” he answered.

His mother bit her lip before launching into a brief summary of the attack. Adrian had been dancing with one of his teammates---apparently his parents had known he was competing all along, a fact that should’ve been shocking but was more disappointing. He thought he’d been good at hiding his whereabouts, but evidently he’d been wrong. 

His teammate had managed to push him out of the way so the dagger that had plunged into his side had missed its intended target---his heart, or so it was assumed. Following the incident, his father had closed the gates so that no one could enter or leave the Fete and they were currently in the process of investigating who the attacker was. Adrian had been rushed to a healer, who had been forced to sedate him due to an odd magic that coated the blade---almost like a poison---that had nearly claimed Adrian’s life. His mother and Aida had been waiting at his side ever since, while his father had welcomed Adrian’s teammates into the castle. 

Adrian snorted at that part, amused to think of his friends’ reactions to being invited to stay in the castle. He could picture Nakoa’s disinterest and Sage’s boredom just as easily as he could see Jett’s awe and Poppy’s…probably disgust, actually. 

Thinking about Poppy and her rejection stung Adrian. He wasn’t mad at her---he couldn’t be. After all, he’d been the one to foist his feelings upon her. So why did it hurt so much? He shoved the thought aside, deciding not to deal with it until absolutely necessary. For now, he could focus on more pressing matters.

“Why bother to poison the blade if they wanted to stab me in the heart anyway?” he mused. 

“Insurance?” his mother suggested.

“Or was the heart not the target all along,” Adrian wondered aloud. “I mean, the would-be assassin revealed their weapon before they were even close to me, relatively speaking. There was ample opportunity for them to be caught before they even managed to stab me.”

His mother shrugged. “I can bring it up with the investigators if it eases your mind.”

Adrian nodded. “And another thing…why didn’t you and father just tell me you knew I was competing?”

“It was amusing.”

The answer came from Adrian’s father, who had slipped into the room without notice. Aida stood behind him, smirking. How long had they been standing there? The thought unnerved Adrian. He didn’t like the idea of people sneaking up on him so easily.

“Your mother and I had a bet going,” the king continued, joining the queen at Adrian’s bedside. “She thought you’d come clean before the first Trial. I thought you’d give up after the second and quit the Tournament altogether.”

“And to think I did all that work hiding his whereabouts for nothing,” Aida grumbled. 

“I appreciate your effort, however weak it may have been,” Adrian said, grinning when Aida threw up her hands in exasperation. He turned to his parents. “So, what gave it away?”

His father laughed. “Besides you conveniently disappearing during the Qualifiers, the banquet, and both of the Trials? Or the fact that I saw right through your disguise when I met your team? It was a clever illusion.”

Adrian’s cheeks burned. He’d completely forgotten about that incident, and now when he thought about it, he could recognize his mistakes. Being claimed as Aida’s champion, his opponent at the Qualifiers threatening to expose him, Sophie recognizing him during the second Trial---for anyone bothering to pay close enough attention, the clues were obvious. 

“On the topic of secrets,” his father continued with a meaningful look in the queen’s direction, “I believe there is something that we should discuss. It concerns Asher.”

Adrian’s heart skipped a beat. All of the color drained from Aida’s face and the queen worried her lip with her teeth. Adrian knew they’d all been foolishly wishing this conversation would never come to pass. They’d pushed this off for far too long, and now they had to deal with the consequences. 

King Hector’s voice was soft, yet still threatening when he spoke. “Did any of you ever plan to tell me that my son was dead?”

Adrian winced. He couldn’t meet his father’s gaze. In his mind, he’d pictured himself taking the blame for this decision and defending his choices. In reality, he wanted to pull his blankets over his head and let his mother and sister suffer under the king’s wrath. 

“None of you?” the king asked, disgust lacing his words with barbs. “You intended to keep my own son’s death a secret from me?”

“We were going to tell you eventually,” Adrian’s mother insisted. “Hector, darling, you have to understand--”

“Oh, trust me, I understand perfectly. My own flesh and blood saw it fit to ‘protect’ me from the truth. Fates, I understand the desire to protect those I love too. But can you imagine my pain when I discovered that my son was dead and my entire family had already grieved without me?” He scoffed. “I figured it out not even two days after Asher died. I went to his room in hopes of catching him before his lessons, and I’m sure you can picture my shock to discover his belongings already gathered up and packed away.” 

“Hector--” the queen began, only cutting off when the king interlocked their fingers, his eyes filled with tears. 

“I appreciate your love for me and your desire to protect me---and the kingdom,” King Hector whispered. “But hiding my son’s death from me and forcing me to grieve alone is not the answer to that.”

“Why didn’t you tell us you knew?” Adrian asked. 

His father bowed his head. “At first, I’ll confess that it was pettiness. I thought that I could prove to all of you that I wouldn’t let Asher’s death break me and that I didn’t need your protection. I quickly realized that using his death as a means to prove my own strength was in truth making a mockery of it.”

Aida laid a hand on her father’s shoulder and Adrian wished he wasn’t bedridden so he could join his family. 

“I wanted to honor Asher properly,” the king admitted at last. “And I didn’t want to allow myself to grieve until his murderers were properly caught and punished.”

Adrian sighed, deciding that it was probably time to come clean about his investigations too. “About that…” He quickly summarized his theories as to who had killed Asher and who was sabotaging the Tournament. He briefly mentioned his suspicions of his father, which were taken in stride. 

The investigations and theories, of course, led to more discussion. Adrian ended up recounting most of his experiences from the Qualifiers and the Trials. His father---having just met Adrian’s teammates---added unhelpful commentary while his mother posed questions as to the motives and personalities of the team. Aida, too, joined in the interrogation, although her questions were more focused on a certain member of the team.

Questions which Adrian avoided because…no. He wasn’t having a conversation about his feelings with his sister.

Surprisingly, it felt nice to get everything off his chest. Aida had known most of the information already, but coming clean to his parents eliminated most of Adrian’s worrying. 

His parents shared some of the details regarding the action that Adrian had missed at the castle. It mainly concerned his mother’s staged “fits”, meant to draw attention onto her rather than her noticeably absent children. It wasn’t the perfect solution, as now everyone in the royal court assumed the queen was sick. As far as the rest of the world was aware, she took medicines to manage her mood swings.

As they spoke, exhaustion pressed down on Adrian until he found himself dozing off in the middle of one of his father’s stories. 

“I see Adrian’s already bored,” Aida noted, her tone mocking.

Adrian didn’t have the energy to retort, so he stuck out his tongue. Unfortunately, his parents didn’t find it very amusing.

“Adrian needs rest,” the queen decided with a sigh. “He’s had quite the ordeal.”

“I don’t need to sleep any longer--” he began to protest, but his mother cut him off with a wave of her hand. He felt his pulse begin to slow and his mind grew fuzzy once again.

He didn’t even have time to curse the Grace of Life before darkness stole him away.


The sand shifted beneath his feet, nearly spilling him to the ground. He caught his balance only for a blade to fly towards his face and he had to duck to avoid it. The sudden movement sent the sand sliding again and Adrian dropped to the ground. His opponent took the advantage and lunged forward. He didn’t have time to think as a blade pierced his chest and blinding pain overwhelmed him. He could feel the life draining from him like the grains of sand in an hourglass. Death settled upon him, blinking with his silver eyes and squeezing the air out of Adrian’s lungs--

Adrian startled awake, his breaths coming in uneven pants and his heart pounding away like a dozen drummers in a parade. His wounded side gave a dull throb, but the pain was tolerable---at least compared to his dream. 

He’d been having occasional nightmares ever since the end of the second Trial. Most of the time, he relived the odd lapse in time from the fight with the false Fate. His memories of the incident were fuzzy. He could distinctly recall the false Fate stabbing him in the heart, but somehow he’d managed to live and the false Fate had ended up dead. He’d assumed it was a byproduct of Nakoa’s Grace---she must have reversed time somehow---but technically Adrian’s Grace should have nullified Nakoa’s. 

In other words, Adrian should have been dead. Not that he was complaining or anything, but it was starting to feel like his Grace wasn’t as strong as he liked to believe. First Poppy had been able to slip by it---as had his mother---and then Nakoa somehow overrode his Grace altogether. Not to mention his Grace weakening due to his injury…

He shoved the thought away in the darkest corner of his mind, determined not to think about it any longer.

His room was coated in shadows, the sky outside his windows as black as tar. He started to calculate how many hours he’d spent unconscious, but decided better of it. He didn't want to know how many hours he’d spent useless while his parents continued the investigations concerning Asher’s death--

Yet when Adrian threw off his blankets, wincing slightly as his side cried out, a gust of cold wind sent him scrambling for the covers once more. Who in the world had left his windows open in the middle of winter--

A figure perched on the sill of the far window, barely silhouetted against the dark sky. The curtains drifted serenely around them, giving them a ghostly appearance.

Adrian’s first thought: the would-be assassins had come back to finish the job.

His second: why would an assassin not make the attempt on his life before he woke up?

His mind flashed back to what his father had said about his teammates and how he’d allowed them to reside at the castle until the commencement of the third and final Trial. 

“Poppy?” he whispered, praying it was her and then scolding himself for thinking that way. 

She hopped off the window sill and slowly approached Adrian’s bed. Her expression was unreadable with her face masked in the shadows of the night. Adrian wished he could glimpse just a hint of what thoughts churned in her mind. 

“Did you know you talk a lot in your sleep?” Her tone was light and teasing, but her posture was stiff and tense. Was…was she nervous

Adrian crossed his arms, glad to find that someone had replaced his bandages, as well as his shirt. “Nakoa says you snore.”

Poppy scoffed. “We both know that’s a lie.” And it was, but Adrian couldn’t think of anything better to say. Poppy plopped down on the edge of his bed, falling silent. 

“So,” Adrian pressed, eager to avoid the awkward quiet, “how are you finding your rooms?”

Poppy snorted. “My rooms are fine---and I appreciate your mother’s attempts to make me feel at home, but the Aecherian servants were a bit of a slap in the face. I’ll head back to the apartment tomorrow, as long as your father deems it safe.”

“What about the others?”

“Nakoa plans to make a quick trip to her village tomorrow morning,” Poppy explained. “The third Trial will take place in a week from today, so Nakoa wanted to return Moose to her family, just in case…” Her voice trailed away and Adrian didn’t need her to finish the sentence to understand what she meant. “She’ll be back soon enough though, although I do suspect her visit also may relate to Ansel’s disappearance. As for Jett and Sage, Jett complained about the rooms he was given enough times that he ended up in the Aecherian delegates’ suite. Sage is right next door to him.”

Adrian nodded to himself, absentmindedly tucking the information away. “Have you heard any news on our sponsor or the investigations or Koda or…anything, really?”

Poppy filled Adrian in on the information he’d missed. Evangeline---Jett’s friend---would be standing in as sponsor. Investigations weren’t going well, as none of the suspects from the Fete were found guilty and they had no leads on Koda’s disappearance. It was like they were back to square one, and the thought wasn’t exactly encouraging.

“How are you?” Poppy asked when she finished recounting the events of the past day. 

It was Adrian’s turn to scoff. “Asks the girl who’s been perched on my window sill for Fates-know-how-long.”

Poppy seemed offended by that. “Only an hour or two, actually. But you’re avoiding the question.”
Adrian rolled his eyes, knowing she couldn’t see it. “I’m fine, Poppy. A bit sore, but considering I was stabbed less than a day ago, I think I’m doing pretty well. I’m assuming that’s not what you’re here for, though.”

There was a moment of hesitation. For a second, Adrian wondered if she’d actually got up and left. 

But then came Poppy’s voice again, quiet and more vulnerable than Adrian had ever heard before. “You’re right, I’m not here to check on you or give you a summary of my day. It’s just…I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said, y’know, right before you almost died and all that.”

It was a weak attempt at a joke and neither of them laughed. Adrian could barely breathe with his heart pounding so furiously. 

“And?” he whispered, his voice sounding too high.

“You are such an incredible person, Adrian, but I don’t…I don’t love you. Not like you love me.”

Oh. The words shouldn’t have hurt as much as they did.

“Is it about the whole forgiveness thing?” he couldn’t help but ask. “Cause I wouldn’t blame you if it was. I’ve said some pretty horrible stuff and--”

“It’s not about forgiveness,” Poppy interjected. “I do forgive you, Adrian. But I don’t love you. And even if I did, there’s so much craziness happening around us that I don’t know if we could ever truly be happy. I’m trying to get back to my family and my home while you’re trying to defend yours. We’re bound to leave each other eventually, it’s just a matter of time.”

Everything she said made sense, but it tore into Adrian’s heart and ripped it to shreds.

“I understand,” he whispered, his voice colder than he meant it to.

Poppy must’ve sensed the harshness too. “I’m sorry,” she quickly added, and Adrian imagined she was probably blushing. 

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Poppy. But if you don’t mind, I think I’d like some time to myself…and I’m sure you’ll understand.”

“Of course,” Poppy agreed a little too quickly. She practically leapt from the bed and hurried towards the balcony door---which explained how she’d gotten into his rooms. “Goodnight, Adrian. I hope you feel better tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Poppy,” he mumbled back, sinking back into his pillows. 

Forget the wound in his side, he wasn’t sure that his heart would ever recover.



© 2022 A.L.


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Added on December 4, 2022
Last Updated on December 4, 2022
Tags: adventure, Grace, Fates, Fate, teen, ya, fantasy, fiction, magic, tournament, game, competition, enemies to lovers, young adult, assassin, thief, royalty, prince, priestess, death, survival, noble


Author

A.L.
A.L.

About
When I was eleven, my cousins and I sat down and decided we want to write a fifty book long series that would become an instant bestseller. Obviously, that hasn't happened yet (and I doubt it will) bu.. more..

Writing
Fatefall - 1 Fatefall - 1

A Chapter by A.L.