Chains, Chapter Three: Finalists

Blake leads Kaiya through a graveyard near the outskirts of Lincastle. There are lots of headstones, too many for the amount of space in the cemetery. Kaiya looks at each of them with a silent respect.

"I take it you don't come here much," Blake states. He lays his axe over his shoulder.

"First time." Kaiya runs her fingers over an adjacent headstone. "I never knew there were so many people buried here."

"Oh, there aren't."

"What do you mean?"

Blake sweeps both arms outward. "Look around. Do you think this many bodies can be buried here? The only things here are the stones to keep up appearances. Most Lincastian residents have no clue there's no space for their loved ones."

"Who does know?"

"Prince Talon and the entire royal family. It's not hard to believe General Donovan knows, too, considering many soldiers were supposed to be buried here." Blake turns and keeps walking. "I got one more thing to show you."

Blake takes Kaiya to the edge of the cemetery. There's a mausoleum in between the gates where an exit would normally be.

"And who's this for?" Kaiya asks.

"Lincastle's first King and founder, Barthes Talon." Blake again faces Kaiya. "I've checked, and his actual body is in there."

"Is there a point, Blake?"

Blake scoffs. "I don't want to protect some asshole who's living comfortably so that when he eventually dies behind the safety of his marble halls that he can rest in peace in luxury, too."

"I heard hints of both petty jealousy and profound thoughtfulness," Kaiya jokes.

Blake laughs.

"Do you have a plan to fake your defeat?"

"Nope. Planning it only makes it look more obvious. And yeah, I know what you've been doing."

Kaiya is speechless.

"The best way to lose is to actually lose. Tomorrow's the final test and I've heard through the grapevine that it'll be a simple tournament. Me, you, Mallory, and Shav."

"Shav's not a warrior. The girl's only good at setting traps. The farther she is from combat, the better," Kaiya says with a bit of disgust.

"And what about Mallory? What's your take on her?" Blake asks.

"I can't be sure. She's definitely good with a whip. I think she's a decent archer..." Kaiya is caught off guard by Blake's outburst of laughter. "What?"

"Your information's out of date," he replies. "You'd know most of that was wrong if you ever showed up to group training anymore."

"Yeah, well, I prefer training alone."

"Would you like to know which of those points were wrong?" Blake juggles his eyebrows.

"Please."

"Let's talk over dinner." Blake walks past her.

Kaiya follows him. "Last time you said that you brought me to a graveyard."

"Wait til you see where I take you now." He winks at her.

In the War Room...

General Scott Donovan and a few other ranking officers are seated around a table. In the middle is a three dimensional hologram of the mountains outside of Lincastle. Lots of little red dots litter the mountains.

"OK, so Alivius' men are gathered right outside the southeast gate. That section is the only point where the mountains are taller than our wall. If they have enough archers, they could lay siege to our community before they even breach," Scott explains.

"We can't send our armies out there. Not only would they be outnumbered, but the inevitable loss would cripple the moral we gained for the citizens after capturing Alivius," says one of the officers.

"We need Alivius to call them off. They attack- we lose. We attack- we lose. There's no chance we'll survive, General," says another officer.

"So giving up is your plan?" Scott asks. "Morgan, organize our troops and tell them to prepare for battle. Tomorrow, after Prince Talon's personal guard has been decided, we'll meet in the auditorium across the hall and decide a plan of attack."

"But sir, shouldn't the meeting take precedence over that juvenile contest?" Morgan asks.

"It should, but I'm gonna see my little girl win that honor." Scott zips up his jacket. "Get it done, Morgan." Scott leaves.

"Honor? Yeah, right." Morgan huffs. "All he wants is his precious baby girl to keep her hands clean."

The next day, at the battle arena...

There's a round arena with ten foot tall copper walls that act as the base for the stands. An audience of judges, generals, and royalty are present, along with the parents of the four participants. An iron gate before the warriors rises and four hulking men carry in a cart with two logs. They stop and lower the cart.

The door swings open and out steps a young man in his early 20's. He's dressed in silks of bronze and vermillion. He has a scruffy face, shaggy brunette hair, fairly tall, and a silver chalice pendant is fastened to the left breast of his shirt.

He faces Kaiya, Blake, and two other girls.

"Welcome, finalists," greets Prince Talon. The crowd roars.

To Be Continued...