Like all the others, my brother wore a mask to shroud his face. It was fashioned to look like a knight's helmet, partly in tribute to the fighters of old, and partly because it revealed none of his face. The solid copper coloured plate was settled from the top of his hood, to down below his chin. The only holes were slits for his eyes and a thin sliver that had been cut for his nose and mouth. Only his opponent would know who they were fighting, if they knew of him at all.
The brilliant red of his hooded tunic swamped him and had been turned up at the elbows to avoid getting in the way of his spell-work, to reveal yet another clue to his identity. Three straight arrows were tattooed across his left forearm in grey, pointed towards his lithely flowing hands. We'd gotten them together on my eighteenth birthday. In combat those hands moved like music, twisting with his incantations and spreading open where his magic flared brightly. My brother was the best fighter there was. He was the Knight. That was the only name that the 100 knew him by.
Ordinarily, only the top 100 most powerful witches and warlocks took part in the arena fights. My brother was the sole exception. We'd trained day and night together, to perfect the spinning movements and flips my brother was executing. The other magicians used only their magic to fight with. They stood in place dutifully and cast with only the merest of gestures. My brother and I used our bodies.
He dodged a fire based spell, curving his spine to arch around it, dancing lithely over to the blonde warlock he faced, heedless of the look of absolute fury his opponent showed him. The Knight sent back one or two short bursts of fire magic in return, twisting the flames he cast with his hands and urging them towards the other competitor. From my place in the stands I shifted restlessly, tucking and untucking my legs beneath me as another spell hurtled towards him in the form of a bunch of thorny vines. The vines grew up his right leg, twisting and constricting until they drew blood and tore at his dark brown skinny jeans. He sent a controlled burst of fire to burn them away, but in doing so left himself open for the golden masked opponent's attack.
It was going to be close, I thought, biting my nails furiously. This opponent was not just anyone. Lord Drake Fortier of the Hidden Court favoured fire magic just as much as my brother, and was brilliant at it. Unlike Harry and me, whose magic focused on a razor edge of control, the lord favoured power. Each of his spells packed more than ten times the punch than any one spell the Knight could cast. To compensate, Harry had to narrow his approach down, controlling the magic into a smaller shape to give it more focus.
The man took a step back. Yes, I thought. The match was almost ours. My brother had moved almost all the way across the dusty stone of the arena and was just out of touching range. His final move was almost always physical. He detested the need for burns and cuts of magic when there were far simpler ways to knock an opponent to the ground. His opponents rarely ever bruised in the slightest, and he allowed them to fight him over and over outside the arena if they declared a rematch.
This was his final match before the tournament, I thought as I bit my lip anxiously. The 100 had told him he could take part in the highly selective contest if he won this last match against Lord Fortier.
The time dragged on, and for almost an hour Harry didn't move any closer to his goal and that worried me. My brother's sense of nobility did not extend to the other witches and warlocks in the Hidden Court. Lord Fortier could and would do him harm, receiving no penalty as the fight had been fair. Sensing that the close range wouldn't help him anymore, my brother took a slow step back onto his right foot, making it look as though he had his full weight on it when I knew full well he hadn't. It seemed to fool Lord Fortier though, as the man gave a small but triumphant smile and stepped forward again.
The match was over in a heartbeat. As soon as his enemy had stepped forward, my brother had swung his leg round in an almost impossible move and crashed it into Lord Fortier's skull. Ouch, I thought, from my place in the stands. My bother must have truly found him a challenging opponent to be so forceful. Lord Fortier dropped to the ground, disoriented. My brother had won the match.
I cheered along with the small crowd that always gathered to watch Harry play, though he was by no means classed as a professional until he entered the tournament. Lord Fortier had a startlingly small turn out. The only people I couldn't see cheering were those assisting him on the arena ground below, and one pale woman sitting in the stands opposite - who I believed to be Lady Clara, his mother. At the time I didn't ask myself why she sat alone in the stands, rather than in a personal windowed box like the other VIP's. Instead, I simply stood and cheered with the small band of renegade spectators around me.
Harry's entrance into the tournament was the first step in a revolution. He'd always dreamed of making the tournament fairer for all, where people could be judged on skill alone and not simply how powerful they could become. Since no one else had even considered such a battle of wills with the 100, Harry would be the first non-initiate to take part.
I took the stone steps down from the arena stands two at a time, skipping and catching the metal hand-rail to steady myself. Desperate, I almost ran towards the changing room my brother occupied. It was on the opposite side of the warehouse the arena was situated in, underneath more stacked rows of seats, never filled, save for the tournament. I smiled to myself with glee. The seats would be packed full this year of people screaming for my brother, the Knight, and the revolution he led.
I had almost reached the door to my brothers changing room when I ran head first into someone. The scent of warm cranberries and leather wafted up to me as strong arms caught me around the shoulders, keeping me from completely toppling over. Still feeling slightly dizzy and too happy to care, I shot the man a grin through my bangs.
"Sorry!" I beamed.
Running onwards, not sparing a backward glance at the man I'd run into, I knocked twice quickly on the wooden door and was called in.
I flung my arms round my still-masked brother and he hugged me back, excitement strung him up like a coil and there was a spring in him that I'd missed over the hours of gruelling training we'd done together.
"Jamie," He drew me back to look at me through the slits of his helmet. "I've done it, Jamie!" he told me, swinging my arms from side to side with his in excitement. "After me the wave will break." he said, excitement radiating from him. "Other people will be able to join the tournament and the arena games! We'll be unstoppable when you join."
I smiled back at him where he stood, proud, confident and happy.
"Come on then," I said, grabbing his rucksack and the bright red sleeve of his fighting tunic and dragging him over to the door. He tripped over the laces of his back Sketchers and caught himself on the wall.
"Give me two minutes to get my shoe on properly! Christ woman," Harry grumbled.
I laughed and spun giddily in place.
"I'll wait for you outside," I said, jingling my car keys in one hand as I turned to walk through the door, shutting it quietly behind me. Back to reality now, I thought. Once Harry and I ventured outside the warehouse the arena was in, we were straight back into the world that knew nothing of witches or warlocks or tournaments.
Lifting my face from where I'd been smiling stupidly at my shoes, I looked up into a pair of startling green eyes. My mouth opened and closed again like a fish and I fumbled my way through a curtsey to Lord Fortier.
"Hello," I said, because it was the only thing that came to mind.
It seemed to have been the right thing however, as the corner of his mouth lifted towards a smile as he looked back to me. He was taller than I'd assumed from my vantage point in the stands, and wore a tan coloured leather fighting tunic with long forest green sleeves. His mask had an intricate golden design that covered only the left hand side of his face, crisscrossing in a way that reminded me of a crown.
"Hello," he replied. "You didn't seem so concerned with formalities earlier." When he spoke his voice was low and soft.
"Er…" I mumbled incoherently, trying desperately to find two brain cells to rub together in front of a man that was almost classed as royalty to magical kind.
He sighed, defeated. "Don't worry about it. You smiled at me and I thought…" He raked a hand down his half covered face. "Don't worry about it."
"Um, okay?" I said, uncertain as to where he was going. "Well done in the match today." I told him, brain finally functioning normally. "It was very close."
The door beside me banged open and my brother tromped out, as graceful as a bull in a china shop. Sometimes I really had trouble conceiving any way that my brother could move like he did in the arena. His clumsiness was legendary.
"Jamie." Harry grabbed me. "Were you waiting long?"
Lord Fortier's jaw set hard as he saw my brother's mask. Deciding that it probably wasn't wise to parade around when the Lord may or may not be a sore loser, I tore Harry away from the spine crushing hug he held me in.
"Get in the car, idiot," I called, chucking him the keys. He waved back at me, completely unconcerned, as I turned back to Lord Fortier.
He coughed twice into a balled fist before regaining his composure.
"Sorry about him," I told Lord Fortier sincerely. "He's a twat and doesn't realize it." I bit down on my lip. That was less than polite and again, not really something I should be talking to a Lord about.
It didn't seem to faze him though as a glint reappeared in his eyes. An eye-smiler, I concluded. He was someone that smiled with their eyes more than their lips.
"Its fine," he brushed off the encounter. "I'm Drake."
"I know who you are," I not-so-smartly replied, before really crunching down on my lip again, this time with my teeth. God girl, get a grip.
"I'm assuming you're Jamie," he continued.
Oh crap, he knows my name. Fuck.
A long blonde eyebrow rose when I didn't reply, my lip still caught mercilessly between my teeth to prevent more outbreaks of stupidity.
"That's what the Knight called you," he explained, waving his hands in front of himself defensively. "I am not a stalker."
I snorted back a laugh and the temptation to reply with some not-too-witty-retort.
"I believe you," I told him. "I've actually got to go now," I said, not taking my eyes from him but pointing lamely in the direction my brother had gone. "I owe him a ride."
"See you around then."
"Yeah, see you," I mumbled as I slipped away towards the exit of the warehouse, not looking back at him.
That was weird. Why the bloody hell would he want to speak to me?
I pushed down the handle on the fire escape door and made my way outside, pacing along the pavement that ran outside the corrugated iron warehouse, my hands tucked safely in my dark blue hoodie, protecting me from the late-December chill. Walking the short distance to the car park, I watched my breath create steamy trails in front of my face as I puffed out experimentally into the frosty cold. Tonight was a good night, I thought.
That was before I heard the gun shot and the good night I'd been having turned sour.
At the sound of the shot, my eyes blew wide. I could hear my heart thumping in my ears as the adrenaline kicked through me. The sharp clap had come from the car-park. My pace picked up and I started running, the sides of my hoodie flapping against me. My hands slipped from the warmth of my baggy pockets and ran with me.
My throat was dry long before I reached the car. My dark green VW beetle stared back at me in the darkness, the silhouette of my brother's hood and mask sat in the passenger seat. I breathed a sigh of relief. You never know when these things will happen to you, I thought. I was thankful that he was still there.
I walked over to the passenger side door, intent on closing it before the wind blew it off its hinges. Harry was slumped in the seat with one hand pressed tightly to his abdomen. He took small gasping breaths that I could hear echoing inside the helmet. He reached his other hand slowly up to knock the mask down.
"Jaime," he gasped, his face pale compared to the bright red of his tunic. "Jamie, I've been shot."
He pulled his hand away from his stomach to reveal a slightly darker patch of fabric around a small tear. It didn't look bad, I thought, shock keeping me numb to what was happening. Harry was not as fortunate as tears rolled down his cheeks and trickled to his chin.
"I think I'm dying." He gurgled when he spoke and coughed wetly.
"No, you won't die. Buckle up and I'll take you to hospital." I gritted my teeth as I slammed his car door, not waiting for a reply. Running around as fast as I could, I jumped into the front seat, reversing almost before my door was shut.
We sped down Newmarket road, heading for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the nearest place with any chance of helping him. The ten minute journey took less than five. I pushed my foot to the ground, undertaking and overtaking in a last ditch effort to just get there quicker. The car lurched when I turned and Harry was looking paler than ever. He'd closed his eyes and was resting back on the leather headrest behind him.
"Harry," I called. "Harry, wake up." I glanced across to his huddled form. He was not rousing. "Harry," I cried once more, before turning to the wheel again and driving hard over a speed bump in the entrance to the hospital, not stopping until I'd driven us right to the door.
Car horns blared as I parked there, but I didn't care. Wrenching the lightly rusted door open, I swept round to my brother's side, kneeling next to him. I called his name a few more times and slapped him hard on the cheeks before he finally woke enough to speak to me.
"Jaime," he smiled, though his tears didn't lessen. "Take my tunic, Jamie."
"No, come on." I tried to haul him up but without any help from him it was useless. "Come on, we need to get you to the hospital!" I cried.
"Not till you take my tunic, Jamie," he told me, still smiling sadly. "I can't fight in the tournament anymore."
"I know you can't fight in that fucking tournament now but can we please just get a move on and get you in there?" I almost screeched, hurriedly taking the baggy red tunic from him and helping him up, now in just his grey under-shirt and brown skinny jeans. At first, his legs buckled beneath him and I had to really heave to keep him upright. The large patch of blood was more obvious on the grey, spreading rapidly and showing me just how much of the precious liquid he'd lost.
Giving one more heave, I all but dragged him through the automatic doors and into the hospital. The response we got was fast, no doubt about it. The large dark-skinned woman behind the reception desk had worry in her face as she spoke quickly into her desk phone. I was with Harry for a brief few minutes more before doctors and nurses swarmed him, lifting him gently onto a stretcher and wheeling him away from me with only a few words of explanation between them.
The receptionist nurse slipped down from her office chair and out from behind the panels of glass, through a light beech wood door on the right. She strode up to me from where I watched the place my brother used to be, a blank expression on my face. A warm hand rested gently on my back as she showed me to a waiting room.
In the blue washed room, plush seats were set in rows and around the walls. The nurse, whose name I learnt was Nessa, chatted to me in a gentle voice from the seat beside me, having handed her post over to another nurse in the hallway. Nessa was nice to me, stroking my back and humming her words in a warm way. I didn't reply much, too concerned for my brother, but it didn't seem to faze her.
The time ticked along slowly and I was glad for her company. I watched her pull her dark frizzy hair over her shoulder, asking me how I got mine to curl so neatly. It was her idle chit-chat that stopped Harry's severe condition from bringing me to tears and I was incredibly grateful for that. I really did not want to get emotional here, where a large family sat on the chairs opposite, discussing when they thought their granddad would be back.
Soon, one of the doctors that had taken my brother came in, face downcast. Nessa took my hands in hers. They were soft and warm and her palms were a light coffee colour. When they squeezed mine gently, I looked up into the face of the doctor that stood before us, regret in his gaze.
"I'm sorry," he started, but I didn't hear the rest. It merged together in my brain. Your brother has passed away… We need you to sign here… It is deeply regrettable… He is happier now… Gone to a better place… Just some details for the police…
After the doctor had gone away, Nessa turned to me.
"Do you need anything, honey?" she asked. "Can I get you a tea? Coffee?"
I shook my head no and mutely collected my deep blue hoodie, slipping it on over my shoulders, and ventured out into the cold December air once more. When I got into my car again, even though it was pitch black outside, I could still see the deep red outline of blood on the passenger seat.
I shivered, staring up at the monochrome interior of the car, tears pricking in my eyes. When I finally broke down and cried, I was sat in the freezing cold of the car, wrapped up in my brothers red tunic, hiccupping as the tears came unbidden. I don't think I'd ever felt so alone.