Fatefall - 41

Fatefall - 41

A Chapter by A.L.
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Poppy

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Chapter 41 - Poppy

No one deserves to lose the one they love most in the world…not even the Fates.

Poppy’s first impression of the arena: loud. 

Fear fluttered in her gut, unexpected. She’d never really minded crowds before, but now with her Grace and possibly her future on the line, she practically trembled with anticipation. 

“It’s essentially a gladiator battle,” Evangeline had explained when she’d returned to escort the team to the arena. She reiterated the rules, as though she didn’t expect the team to follow them. No killing, no weapons, and a time limit.

Poppy would be lying if she claimed not to be worried. She trusted in her Grace and hand-to-hand combat to allow her to survive the trial, but unfortunately the Tournament was a team sport. Nakoa might be able to handle herself, especially with the bitter fury radiating off of her. Jett’s aptitude with his Grace would give him a slight advantage. Only Sage worried Poppy, as he couldn’t fight and had no Grace to protect him.

Which left Adrian, and quite frankly, Poppy didn’t know what to think about him. 

Guilt twisted in her chest. She felt bad for letting him down, but she couldn’t control what her heart did---or didn’t, rather---feel.

Evangeline checked her watch impatiently, drawing Poppy back to the present.

Her teammates’ pulses pounded in her ears, Sage’s by far the loudest. Adrenaline boosted her Grace’s strength, allowing her to sense Hunter and his team at the far side of the arena, beyond the cheering crowds. 

“We’ve got this,” Jett said, more to himself than anyone else. Poppy ignored him.

She ran over the various strategies her team had discussed a final time. They’d try to match up with the opponent of the same Grace and take them down as quickly as possible. The first to finish their opponent would assist Sage in defeating his. Should the pairings not work, Sage would go for the Graced of Void, as their power would have no effect on him. The rest of them would take out the remainder of the competitors, though Poppy selfishly pleaded for her friends to leave Hunter for her. 

She intended to make good on her threat from the first trial. 

There were probably better strategies, but Adrian had shot most of the ideas down. Nakoa had offered to use her Grace to stop time; Adrian had decided that it would be too risky if the other Graced of Time discovered what was happening. Poppy had suggested that she use her Grace to give all of her opponents heart attacks; Adrian argued that they could die. It was a never ending battle.

“The gates should open within the next few minutes,” Evangeline announced. “I’ll be waiting back here for you, regardless of the outcome.” She offered a small smile. “Good luck.” She then backed out of the room, the gate swinging closed behind her to block any hopes Poppy and her team might have of retreat.

It seemed odd to be back in the preparation rooms under the stadium from the qualifiers. All of the seating perched about ten feet above the ground, escalated by stone pillars underneath the foundation. There were eight different preparation areas, as the arena could be used not only for Tournaments but also sports competitions and other major events. Poppy’s team had been placed in the room to the farthest north while Hunter’s team lurked in the southernmost room. A metal gate separated the room from the arena itself, ready to open at a moment’s notice. 

A fanfare of horns sounded in the distance, startling her. 

The gate gave a low creak and began to swing open on rusty hinges. Poppy shared a glance with her teammates, feeling their steely resolve as if it were her own, before rushing out through the tiny opening. 

Her eyes immediately locked with Hunter’s across the arena. He wore a mask obscuring the upper half of his face, but she recognized his straw-colored hair and confident gait. 

She immediately threw her Grace towards him, sensing his blood as it pumped through his veins and his heart as it pounded in his chest. Hunter’s eyes widened in surprise, but his grimace quickly disappeared and Poppy felt his Grace slithering up her arms, leaching into her lungs and starving her of air.

Smart. She hadn’t even considered the lungs.

In an act of desperation, she flung her Grace towards the muscles in Hunter’s legs, dumping him onto the dusty dirt floor of the arena. 

He flicked his hand and blood trickled from her nose as a headache bloomed behind her eyes. She leapt for him and together they tumbled back to the ground, punching and spitting. 

The adrenaline and the simplicity of the fight let the rest of the world fall away. Suddenly, she wasn’t in the arena but she was back in Aecheral, beating up the boys that had called Bryony names behind her back. 

One moment she was straddling Hunter’s waist, her feet pinning his wrists to the ground as she pummeled him with her fists and the next he brought his knees up, wrenching her off of him. He managed to land a few good hits before Poppy’s Grace reacted.

The bones in Hunter’s right hand snapped simultaneously and the cry he unleashed nearly shook the arena.

Poppy took her chance, clenching her fists. Hunter dropped like a stone, the brain shutting down as he sank into unconsciousness. It almost feels too easy…too anticlimactic. Pride washed over her and momentary exhaustion began to seep in until Hunter’s form began to shift. The blonde haired turned brown and gradually became shorter.

Realizing she’d been duped, Poppy wiped at her nose. No blood. It had all been an illusion. None of the “Graced effects” she’d felt had been real at all, only conjurations of this man’s imagination. A true pity. Now she’d get to knock Hunter out again. 

She surveyed the arena, searching for Hunter.

Nakoa appeared to be fighting the Graced of Void because the pair was embraced in a dance of sorts. Meanwhile, Jett and Sage had teamed up on the Graced of Soul and Time. A dozen images of Sage flickered in and out of sight and while the two other competitors searched for Poppy’s teammates, Jett suddenly appeared behind them and kicked them both to the ground. She grinned to herself.

Of course, that meant Hunter had chosen to fight none other than Adrian.

Poppy swallowed her annoyance and ran to assist Adrian. 

“Nice of you to join the party,” Hunter drawled as Poppy approached, not even sparing her a second glance.

She clenched her fist again, attempting to squeeze off his airway but Hunter responded by sending a bout of dizziness over her. Poppy growled. He couldn’t just wave her off like she was just a minor annoyance.

“Poppy!” Suddenly Adrian was pulling her back to her feet. Poppy shoved him off with a snarl. 

“I’m fine,” she said. 

Hunter laughed. “Are you sure about that?” Her heart gave a stutter as Hunter’s Grace wrapped around it and tugged.

Poppy lunged at him, tackling him to the ground. Where they touched, boils sprang to life across Hunter’s skin. He gave a yelp of surprise and Poppy used the momentary advantage to press down on his airways again.

Something cracked in her chest and Poppy let out a cry of anguish.

Fractured rib, her mind told her, thoughts blurred with the pain. Fates, Hunter deserved to die. Too bad the Tournament rules didn’t allow for that. 

He managed to shove her off and Poppy rolled to the ground. She sprang to her feet a moment later, only to watch as Adrian threw his arms around Hunter’s neck. They toppled to the ground.

Before Poppy had a chance to react, Adrian stumbled backwards clutching his head. Panic flashed through Poppy’s mind, hot and suffocating. It made her reckless. 

She threw herself at Hunter but he caught her wrist, flipping her over his shoulder. Poppy twisted in midair, managing to land on one knee although the impact rattled her bones. 

Her Grace shot for Hunter’s ankle in an attempt to snap the bone just as Hunter’s Grace threatened to burst her eardrums. Their Graces recoiled simultaneously. Poppy stumbled back, dizzy.

Hunter recovered first and barrelled towards her, slamming her into one of the stone pillars holding up the arena seats. 

Fear raced up her spine as black spots formed in her vision. The pressure of Hunter’s elbow on her windpipe made it hard to breathe. She could feel herself sliding into unconsciousness. Out of the corner of her vision, she caught Adrian hoisting himself to his feet, though his legs trembled. 

Once Hunter finishes with me, Adrian will be his next target, Poppy realized.

She kicked Hunter in the gut and he loosened his grip on her enough that she could wrench herself free. Once again, Hunter lunged for her.

Their fight became one of calculated punches, kicks, and Graced counters. Numbness sank into her bones. She didn’t know how much time had passed, couldn’t feel the exhaustion that crept over her. Eventually, she noticed that Adrian had left to assist Nakoa in her fight, but the thought was gone in a moment when she returned her attention to her own fight. 

Overall, Hunter was stronger, better trained, and had far superior endurance. 

But he didn’t have a family waiting for him an ocean away. His only chance at ever seeing his loved ones again didn’t ride on this victory.

Admittedly, she probably had luck to thank for Hunter’s defeat. 

His well-timed punch to her chest sent her backwards to the ground. When he opened his mouth to gloat, Poppy took her chance. Her Grace rose inside of her, a tsunami that couldn’t be stopped. It drowned out the sounds of the arena and filled her nose with the scent of blood. 

She thought of Hunter attacking her in the hallway. Stealing her Grace in the first Trial. Threatening Adrian and Nakoa. Their feud had stretched long before that, too. He’d always been Griff’s favorite, and he couldn’t handle the idea that a little girl could also earn Griff’s attention. He’d made it quite clear to Poppy that she’d never be welcomed as an assassin. 

The memories looped through her mind as her Grace exploded from her chest and knocked Hunter to the ground. He let out a groan as the silvery light slipped under his skin and hovered there like hundreds of tiny fireflies. His body spasmed once more and then fell still. 

Her Grace assured her that his heart still beat and his lungs still drew breath, but Poppy wasn’t sure if he’d ever truly wake up again.

Surprisingly, her Grace thrummed inside of her as though it had just woken from a long nap. It fought off her weariness and kept her alert.

She glanced around the arena, expecting to find her friends struggling but instead they seemed to be holding their own fairly well. 

Sage and Jett were now pitted against a singular opponent, the other one lying unconscious a few feet away. Well, pitted was a strong word considering Jett had imprisoned the other man---most likely the Graced of Time, if Poppy had to guess---in a glass box, or at least the illusion of one. The walls of the cage squeezed together until the man passed out, probably from fear. Jett and Sage high-fived.

As for Adrian and Nakoa, they had the Graced of Void pinned to the ground. Adrian held the man’s hands behind his back. Nakoa took her time as she strode to the man and gave him a swift kick in the head, knocking him out.

An exhale of relief escaped Poppy’s lips. 

They’d won. They’d won. The idea was so unbelievable that Poppy could barely fathom it. Her legs threatened to collapse beneath her. 

She turned her gaze towards the box where the royal family would be seated for the event. Only King Hector was present, leaning on the railing of the balcony as he watched the arena. He seemed so tiny and far away.

The arena slowly fell into uneasy silence as no trumpet fanfare sounded. Poppy made her way to Adrian’s side, Jett and Sage following suit. They’d won, had they not?

Whispers erupted around the stadium, probably just as confused as Poppy and her team was. Once again, silence crept over the crowds as King Hector raised a singular fist in the air. A signal. He wanted to speak. 

“People of Xegalla,” he called out, his voice distant yet somehow booming. It was as though the arena amplified his voice. “I know many of you are probably confused, as at this point we would usually end the third trial and the Tournament would be over. However, this year---not just in the Tournament---has been filled with numerous new experiences. We’re making history as we speak.”

He paused, like that was a cause for celebration. Poppy rolled her eyes, unamused. 

The king continued anyway. “Some of these changes have been detrimental, specifically your missing friends and family. I assure you, however, that investigations are underway and we will find them soon. On the other hand, we’ve finally learned more about the nature of our Graces and it is possible that this information could lead us into a new era of prosperity. So where does that leave this Tournament?

“My team has been very strict in its rules to ensure the safety of the competitors as well as the performers that played roles in this Tournament. Unfortunately, both teams that you see before you today have violated these rules.”

What?” Poppy burst, her reaction mimicked by Adrian, Jett, and the crowd. 

The king raised his hand again. “One team was found to have possible relation to the assassination attempt made on my eldest son. The other team killed one of the performers in the second trial. None of those you see before you are innocent.”

Poppy’s breath caught in her throat. She had an idea of where the king was going with this…

“While the actions of the competitors during the Tournament are usually forgiven, the increased tension in Xegalla has led me to believe that we can have no exceptions to the law any longer. We allowed them to compete today knowing that regardless of whichever team ‘won’, the outcome would remain the same: there will only be one victor.”

No. Icy terror crept through Poppy’s veins.

King Hector’s next words were addressed to her and her team alone. “The same rules apply for this trial as they did before. Only when your opponents are unconscious or otherwise subdued can you win. The winner will receive 100,000 marks, which is double the normal prize money.” 

As if that made up for the fact that this new rule changed everything.

The crowd seemed to agree as they shouted insults and curses in the king’s direction. He ignored them, simply adopting a look of boredom as he held his hand high once more. 

“Did we offer the Fates mercy?” he asked once the crowd had simmered down again. “No, we didn’t, and that’s why we won. I am offering these competitors the chance at forgiveness, and it is up for them to take it. When we fought the Fates all those years ago, we faced betrayal just as these competitors will today from their own teammates. Think of it as symbolic. And, for the record, this was a decision made by all of the team in charge of organizing the Tournament of Fates. Now, let the final trial resume!”

His words were met by stunned, angry jeers.

Poppy turned to face her team, unsure of what reactions to expect. 

Nakoa’s lips were pressed together, as though she’d expected this outcome all along. Adrian had paled, his eyes narrowed on his father’s distant figure. Jett’s shoulders shook with barely restrained sobs. And Sage…he looked like he was on the verge of fainting.

Only one of them would walk out of this with their Grace intact. Only one of them could have the money.

“Poppy.” Adrian’s voice cut through the roar of the crowd, still soft enough that no one in the stands would be able to hear it. “This should be your victory. All of us have got what we came to this Tournament for---or, at least, we don’t need this victory to secure it.”

“My parents are free,” Jett said, as though he was agreeing with Adrian.

Poppy shook her head, unwilling to think that her teammates would willingly sacrifice their Graces for her. Her family’s faces seemed so close yet so far away. If she took this victory as her own, she would see them again. She could go back to Aecheral, rescue them, and return to Xegalla if she really wanted.

“Adrian offered me a position on the Golden Guard,” Nakoa added.

“And even if I don’t know my brother’s killer yet, I can solve the mystery with or without the money,” Adrian finished. He glanced at Sage expectantly.

But Sage’s eyes were filled with tears. “If they try to take my Grace and find that I don’t have one, what will happen?”

Fates, Poppy hadn’t considered that. There’d always been the possibility of losing, of course, but she’d never actually stopped to think about the consequences for anyone else.

“Imprisonment?” Adrian guessed. 

Sage shook his head. “My parents have been forging papers since I learned to walk. All of my records have false information. What’s the punishment for that?” He sighed. “I should’ve known it would come to this.” He ran a hand through his hair.

She winced, wishing he didn’t look so morose. Wishing that there was a way where all of them could win. 

“Sage’s charges will be doubled when they add on the stupid murder that all of us are being accused of now,” Jett said. “He could face exile, a lifetime imprisonment, or even an execution.”

“I’m the prince,” Adrian cut in. “I won’t let it come to that.”
“Your status doesn’t matter if you’re imprisoned too,” Poppy pointed out.

She wanted to see her family again---wanted it so badly that it hurt to think about. How many hours had she spent fantasizing about her glorious return to Aecheral? She wanted her father to ruffle her hair and her mother to sing her to sleep and Zinnia to read her stories and Bryony to fly kites in the street with her. She wanted to be held by them, to be with them. 

There was a chance that the king wouldn’t kill Sage. He’d be imprisoned, yes, but likely so what Jett, Nakoa, and maybe Adrian. Poppy wouldn’t have to face their disappointment if she knocked them out now.

But what if Sage was sentenced to hang…or worse? King Hector had turned ruthless and brutal in the wake of his son’s death. Who knew what he might try to pin on Sage?

Sage didn’t deserve that. 

But Poppy didn’t deserve what had happened to her either.

“Poppy?” Adrian again. She closed her eyes, wishing the arena weren’t so loud. “Poppy, we’re going to have to fight soon or my father will end the Tournament and all of us will lose.”

She waved her hand, unwilling to watch as Nakoa, Adrian, and Jett crumpled simultaneously like puppets with snapped strings. Sage’s eyes widened in shock and he took a step backwards. Poppy hated the terror in his eyes.

She’d seen that look too many times as an assassin. How many children had she orphaned? How many wives had she widowed? She claimed only to take horrible men, but who was she to judge? If she returned to Aecheral having possibly sacrificed one of her friend’s lives, she knew that she would never forgive herself.

She couldn’t fix what she’d already done. Those ghosts would never cease to haunt her.

But she had to trust that she would see her family again---whether in this life or the next. 

Poppy dropped to one knee, lowered her head and raised her fist just as the king had only minutes before. Her Grace detected the pounding of Sage’s pulse. He was afraid of her. Afraid of what she might do to him.

Poppy waited until the arena fell silent once more before murmuring the irrevocable words.

“I forfeit.”



© 2023 A.L.


Author's Note

A.L.
Writer's block hit hard...it took three weeks of a break to be able to even start the first in a series of "big scenes"

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Added on February 6, 2023
Last Updated on February 6, 2023
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..

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Fatefall - 1 Fatefall - 1

A Chapter by A.L.