Fields of Elysium Chapter 16-17


FIELDS OF ELYSIUM SAMPLE CHAPTERS
THE STORY OF THE ECMENTURE GAMES

16

Triumph

On the south side of the island, a canal allowed boats and yachts to enter the circular bay. As our altitude lowered, I could see uniquely designed ships harbored in the gently swelling sea. One of them looked like a floating tropical beach resort. Some were golden ships with canopies whose white satin fabric flapped in the wind. At the east bay were beached dozens of ancient timber vessels, with bright yellow tents set up on the decks. The entire bay seemed to be given over to people coming from various cultures, bringing their own traditions.
Gliding over the anchored boats, we neared the mainland. Other Araneavis soared high in the sky around us, arriving at the scene of the games. Weston must have seen me go speechless because he allowed me to look without talking.
There was a belt of tropical forest vegetation behind the white sandy beach, ringing around a flatland. I was expecting hills and mountains, but as far as I could see the land was level.
Weston wasn’t exaggerating the number of fans earlier. Three parking garages, in the shape of a beehive and about hundred-stories high, were behind the stadium. The landing platforms were dotted with colorful Araneavis and still more were arriving, like bees flying into their hives.
Enclosed inside the oval stadium was a twelve-lane racetrack, running along one half of the oval, while on the other half, a dozen poles in different heights, topped by huge loops, were erected and were organized in zigzag formation.
And there it was, beyond the loops, the giant golden dragon. I couldn’t see the ruby eyes from this far away, but the spectacular monument sparkling in the diamond sunshine was spellbinding. 
“First we will meet the others, then I’ll take you to our family tower.”
“Your family is here?”
“Just my mother and the twins. Father almost never makes it.”
We landed on a fenced area at the start line, designated for the competitors. I recognized Victor’s Ducati at once and my eyes began searching for him automatically.
“I’ll look for the boys. Stay here. I’ll be back soon.”
I nodded in feigned agreement, but as soon as Weston left, I stepped out of the Araneavi and craned my neck to scan the area. Soon I spotted Victor, dressed in armor like a Spartan soldier, stroking his winged horse’s head. It wasn’t pearl white as I imagined after listening to Weston’s description. It was black as night.
I neared Victor stealthily, holding my breath. His golden hair was loose and uncombed and had two braided strands on both side of his face. His brow was creased in deep thought. His strong arms were free and glistened with moisture. His thick leather cuirass was embellished with simple details. His knee-high boots were the same walnut color as his armor, and decorated with bronze buckles.
“Are you going to war?” I called to him.
He lifted his head to allow his brilliant eyes to find me. My toes tingled in my boots and my ears were ringing. Get away from him, I warned myself. Just resist the itch to be near him and run away as fast and as far as you can.
Then his forehead smoothed out, his eyelids lowered, and the left side of his mouth changed into an expression that melted my heart.
“This is the standard uniform of the games,” he said softly, his voice resonant and heart stopping.
“So you play, too?”
He nodded.
“Have you ever won?”
“Never,” he said, unconcerned.
“Why not? You are a fantastic archer and pilot.”
“I still have to learn to fight for what’s important to me,” he said. I was lost in his blue eyes, and then he licked his bottom lip and turned away.
There was not enough air in my lungs to respond.
I gulped.
“I failed to follow through on my promise,” Victor said casually, adjusting the harness on his Diporax.
“What promise?” I asked, unable to dig up anything about a promise from my mind.
“To take you back to the village.”
“Can we go after the games?”
“There will be a ball. Aren’t you going with Weston?”
“I think I can easily skip the dance. I’m not dressed for it anyway,” I said, rocking back on my heels and looking down on my attire.
“In that case I’ll come and look for you as soon as I can,” he promised, running a brush over the mane of that magnificent animal, his face displaying unmistakable delight.
“Until then.” I waved, my wrist slightly bent and fingers open.
Trying hard not to let my feet get tangled up, I walked back to the Araneavi, aware that Victor was probably still watching me.
Then all of a sudden I spun around and yelled back at him, “You will win today. Because I believe in you.” Awed at my own words, I hurried away, leaving Victor no chance to respond.
I nervously alternated between cracking my knuckles and biting my nails when Weston – changed into an outfit similar to Victor’s, save that Weston wore gold, not leather – plopped back into his seat next to me in the Araneavi.
“So how do you like it?” He gestured along his upper body.
“Unbelievable,” I said beaming, and I glanced back at Victor, who was lifting off on his Diporax, away from us.
“Ann is already at the tower waiting for you,” Weston said, navigating our way out of the parking lot.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her,” I said, forcing myself to keep my attention on Weston, instead of checking Victor out again. It was shocking how hard it was to strain my muscles to obey.
Next to every hooped pole stood a tower with individual booths. The biggest and fanciest one was by the dragon’s head and that was where we landed.
“Welcome to the prime seats of the games.” Weston invited me down the hallway, his arm pointing the way. Here everything was clean and seemed expensive. The lustrous stone flooring was magnificent. Oil paintings and mirrors hung from the walls and the doors were made of gold with finely detailed carvings. The inside of the Jenkins family booth was inlaid with gems and precious metals, giving off a sparkling glow to the room.  
Annabella was sitting in the deep-purple velvet sofa playing a memory card game with the twins, while Mrs. Jenkins measured the level of a clear liquid in her glass. She evidently found it insufficient, so she topped it off over and over again, until, satisfied, she turned her attention to us.
“Oh, Dolly, how nice to see you again,” she greeted in her dispassionate voice. Her brownish red hair spilled over her back in flawless spirals. A crystal tiara was secured to the top of her head and it matched those worn by the twins.
“Mother, her name is Molly,” Weston grumbled.
“Why must you always correct me, boy?” she complained, arching an eyebrow and taking another sip.
“You look absolutely stunning, Mrs. Jenkins.” I complimented her form-fitting white and gold woolen dress, saving the moment.
“Oh, aren’t you sweet?” she babbled and chucked my chin. “We are the cheering team for my precious boy. We must look like a winning team, don’t we?” She winked at Weston, who just rubbed his forehead in irritation.
“I must go back,” he told me, displeasure insinuating itself into his voice. “Are you going to be okay here?”
“Of course I will. Your mom is so nice. Besides, Ann is here.”
“I’ll come for you before the awards ceremony.”
“Sounds great.”
I waited till the door slammed behind Weston and took my place next to Ann.
“Weston will battle to impress you today,” she said, looking at me with so much sweetness, even though those words must have tormented her heart.
“Every novelty lasts just so long. Now I happen to be it, but he’ll get over me soon enough. You’ll see.”
“If you say so.” She managed another sweet but stricken smile.
“Are you my brother’s girlfriend?” one of the twins asked, pulling on my sweater.
“No, we’re just friends,” I retorted, in a hurry to escape the awkward moment. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Tirzah and that’s Mira and we are both princesses.” She worked her oversized, sparkling blue eyes on me. The twins had very light blonde hair cut in a straight line under their ears. Their bangs were straight as well, framing their adorable faces, perfected by full lips and those enormous eyes.
“Who are you going to cheer for?” asked Mira.
“Well, I only know two of the competitors so my hope goes out for both.”
“We love Victor Sorren, but don’t tell Weston, okay,” Tirzah whispered into my ear between her cupped hands. “I’ll marry him tomorrow.”
“No. You said I can marry him tomorrow, because you marry him today,” Mira whined, knitting her brows.
Tirzah rolled her eyes, then accepted Mira’s terms.
I let out an amused chuckle in reaction to the lovely little girls.
“I think you both have chosen well, princesses.”
Tirzah bowed her head. “Thank you, Miss Molly.”
“So how old are you two?”
“They are six, but enough talking. The game just started.” Mrs. Jenkins grumbled, refilling her drink.
“They just turned five last month,” Ann whispered.
Mrs. Jenkins waved her hand at us. “Come, hurry or we’ll miss the start.”
And just as she uttered the last word the bell rang and twelve contestants in similar styles but different color warrior outfits took off. 
Our seats were too far away to recognize faces, but just when I was concentrating with narrowed eyes to find Victor among the group, a light, buzzing noise sounded.
The entire left side of the lavishly-appointed room was replaced by a mini bar with platters loaded with appetizing finger foods and carved fruit creations. In front of the right wall, white and blank just like in Weston’s room, a curtain opened up, and mini cameras rolled into place. The three dimensional projection was about to start; I had no doubt about it. And although I was aware of how lifelike the images were going to be, when the contestants appeared to be galloping next to me in their full length, the pressure on my chest from the amazing experience was intense. I reached out to touch Victor’s face, which was incredibly clear and sharp. I could enter into his feelings and even experience his determination with my heart racing.
He gazed forward starkly, a burnished bronze helmet covering most of his head; even his nose was protected. His slightly open mouth made his lips look even fuller. I could hear his panting. His every breath squeezed at my heart, and my excitement for him filled my tear ducts to overflowing. I wanted him to win…. 
It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t alone in the room. Taking in Mrs. Jenkins’ dumbfounded gaping, I pulled my arm back.
“They look so real. I had to touch them,” I said, blushing, and stepped back just enough to feel less tempted to interact with the projection again.
“Just wait until they reach the part to let the arrows fly. It will all happen in front of our eyes.” Ann smiled, putting the memory cards away. The twins were glued to the window, blowing their breaths and drawing hearts into the mist. Mrs. Jenkins started picking through the snacks, taking small bites and tossing them back onto the platters with a disappointed expression. I returned my attention to the games, still jittery from the cheering crowd of thousands seating on the bleachers down below.
The end of the racing track was dangerously close and Weston was leading the field. A dark-skinned boy in red breastplate and helmet was second while Victor claimed third place. Behind them were two boys, one in green and one in blue, pushing each other. Then the green-armored contestant’s Diporax opened its right wing and tripped the blue-armored boy’s. His satisfied smirk soon vanished when Roger, Weston’s muscular friend, in shiny silver armor, passed him, with a girl racing next to him, shoulder to shoulder, her straight white hair fluttering behind her helmet. Her armor was white and she wore a golden arm bracelet while matching gold chandelier earrings waved as the wind caught in the fine ball chains. She was absolutely stunning. My attention centered on her flaming red irises and the three crimson stars painted under her left eye. I was so captivated by her appearance that I almost missed Victor’s Diporax opening its wings and lifting into the air with enormous power.
Suddenly the angle of the projection shifted and my eyes jumped over to Weston, gliding through the first loop and the next. Mrs. Jenkins was fiddling with the control panel.
By the fifth loop Victor secured his position at second with Weston still in the lead. Unwillingly my eyes dropped back to watch the girl. Even though she wasn’t the only female in the group, her character magnetized me. She flew with the first cluster of combatants, in elegant style, fiercely but beautifully.
I couldn’t stop staring at her.
Secretly I was rooting for her to win even though I knew nothing about her. Abruptly a girl with the eyes of a viper aggressively shoved her out of the seventh loop. As she fought to retain her balance, her face radiated disappointment; however, she took her disqualification with grace. I suspected that the girl who committed the blatant foul was a motley and not a pure Arkanian. All of a sudden, I found it hard to control my surging anger and thirst for revenge as I watched the white-haired girl break into tears while the viper girl continued forward with a devilish smirk. I got so caught up with the girls’ private battle that Ann had to nudge me to look out the giant window and watch the boys take their shots at the dragon.
The enormous, detailed dragonhead was at my right with its ruby eyes spilling stars around from the sunshine. Weston reached for his arrow, holding his golden bow steadily in his hand. He straightened up, aimed, and I stopped breathing. The golden arrow hit the spot next to the left eye and spun toward the ground without even touching the stone.
Ann gasped. I could sense her body tense and vibrate from her nervousness.
“Poor boy, he never could make that shot,” Mrs. Jenkins complained from the bar, shredding green leaves into her drink.
“But he is by far the fastest rider, so he’s safe,” Annabella sighed.
Hot on Weston’s heels came Victor, getting ready to take his chance. His jaw tightened and his biceps flexed as he bent the bow, holding the tip of his arrow steadily. As I watched him without blinking, his lips moved.
“For you, Molly,” he mouthed and let the arrow slice through the air. It penetrated the exact center of the right eye, shattering the ruby gemstone into a million pieces that sprinkled out like red pixie dust. He turned his head toward the camera, but from watching the projected image it seemed as though he was looking straight into my eyes. He winked with a smile that brought the world to a stop around me. Ann’s high-pitched whooping restarted my heart.
“That was amazing!” Annabella shouted, grabbing my hands and leaping up and down with me. “I have never seen anyone do that.”
 “That woodlander boy did it. Oh, those sad eyes! What was his name? It’s on the tip of my tongue. Ben or Laam or something like that.” Mrs. Jenkins returned to her drink, giving up guessing.
“Kamm?” I wondered out loud, picturing him riding in his black cape.
“Oh, yeah! He was outstanding. He won almost every game and hardly missed a shot. Too bad that he turned too old to play,” Ann chimed in.
“Aging. It’s a curse on everyone,” Mrs. Jenkins observed and took another sip of her drink.
“Look! They are back on ground.” Ann tapped my shoulder and I caught the moment of Victor’s Diporax folding its wings to its side and, with frothing mouth and heavy panting, bringing Victor neck and neck with Weston.
Weston shot a perplexed glance at Victor, but Victor kept his sight glued to the finish line.
Could it be possible that he really dedicated his shot to me? Did I only read his lips for what I wanted to hear? Maybe I was imagining things again. Wouldn’t be the first time. Still there was a strange sensation buzzing through me. Victor was racing for me and he was determined to win.
I could hear my heart throbbing as I watched the last few hundred yards disappear in front of them. Puffing and huffing, the animals’ noses were lined up, moving in perfect synchronization. The tension increased in the booth; the air was electric. My fingers grew numb from my nails digging ferociously into my palms.
“Do it,” I whispered through clamped teeth. At that very moment Victor leaned forward and whispered into his Diporax’s ear. It closed its eyes for a fraction, then shot out in a way that seemed almost impossible, and Diporax and rider darted across the finish line, winning by a head length.










17

Crossroads


Averting my eyes from Weston’s family, I drew in a long breath and tilted my head backwards, letting a smile light up my face. Victor not only won the race, but hit the target and brought the house down. The stadium thundered with the cheering crowd’s shouts of jubilation. I had never been so happy for anyone’s triumph as I was for Victor’s. My whole insides were elated and dancing with joy. But the atmosphere wasn’t victorious in the booth, and I had to concentrate hard not to allow Weston’s mother to rob me of my happiness.
“That was something new,” Mrs. Jenkins remarked disdainfully and slipped her arms into her blazer.
“Oh, Weston will be mad, mad, mad,” Ann said anxiously, helping the twins into their coats, and she started after Mrs. Jenkins.
“Where are you going?” I asked, suppressing a grin only by sheer will power.
“You are coming with us. We have reserve seats in the front row to watch the ceremony. This was the final game so the award ceremony will be starting soon,” Ann said, her eyes telling the story of her worry.
 “Weston told me to wait for him here. Won’t he be looking for me?”
“He’ll be at the podium, right in front of us. I doubt he could miss you there.”
I shrugged and joined them in the hallway. Mrs. Jenkins walked in front, her blazer open and flapping in the breeze that came from the doorway held open by a man in a dark grey uniform. Ann escorted the twins but turned frequently to throw sideways glances back at me. As for me, I was still so excited about Victor’s win that I could barely manage my legs to slow down and not pass them all and run to Victor.
Parked on the platform – enclosed with glass walls – was Mrs. Jenkins oversized Araneavi. The man in uniform let the door close behind us and took his place inside as the chauffeur, I assumed. This Araneavi’s top was gold and the bottom white, the same egg-shape as all the others around, but a great deal longer. The inside was like a luxury apartment complete with soft white carpeting, projector, and mini bar. I sat down next to Ann and the twins on a white furry couch, facing the tinted glass that separated us from the pilot. Mrs. Jenkins threw herself on a wavy divan and gave the order to proceed. The white wall split in the middle along the entire length of the Araneavi and the top part lifted. That was similar to the way Weston’s operated, but here the windows displayed an interconnected image of a meadow with blooming flowers, vibrant waterfall, and lush green woods. I could hear the sound of the crashing water and the birds chirping.
Confined in a sickeningly happy atmosphere when I was so eager to see my champion, I missed the opportunity to witness what was happening on the ground. When the door opened and we emerged from our extravagant ride, Weston was inches away from Victor’s face. 
“You knew how important this winning was for me. How could you take it away from me?” Weston growled over the voices of the dispersing spectators. 
“I wasn’t aware of your personal privilege to win these games,” Victor countered, signing a photo that a young boy pushed into his hands.
“Nobody gets this good that fast. Have you been practicing secretly?” Weston asked, with his sneer scaring away the other fans that lined up for autographs from both of them. Then he cocked his head at security and one man snapped his fingers at other guards and together they pushed the people back from us.
“Has it ever occurred to you that I might not have given all I had before?” Victor replied, slightly shaking his head.
“Then why would you do so now?” Weston’s tone had now descended into despondency.
Victor sighed. “Maybe I just got tired of being the second all the time.”
“I wanted to win. I needed this victory,” Weston growled again, banging on his chest with his fist.
“Then perhaps you should just enter alone and not give anyone else the chance to shine,” Victor said, fighting to control his temper. I remembered that expression, his clenched jaw and narrowed eyes, more than I wanted to.
“This is all about your Sentinel membership again? Isn’t that it?”
“No,” Victor snapped, looking away annoyed. “I wanted to win for myself and for … for …” he trailed off.
“For what?” Weston demanded, striking fast and abruptly at Victor. Victor cocked his head to the side, and noticed me. His face changed color and his brow creased.
“Never mind. You can have my trophy,” Victor said, and he slammed his helmet to the ground and quit the scene.
“Yeah, that’s the solution. Just walk away from everything, like you always do. When will you face up to your problems?” Weston shouted after him, shifting on his legs, uncertain whether to chase after him. 
 For a second I entertained the thought of running after Victor myself, but being tightly wedged in between Annabella and the twins, heading slowly on the golden carpet along with the other guests toward the line of exclusive VIP chairs, made it impossible.
“Maybe you should go and talk to Weston,” I suggested to Ann as guilt washed over me. I wanted her to deal with Weston so I could slip away unnoticed.
“I don’t think he would want to see me now.” She hesitated, pulling on her fox-red hair, which was loosely braided with feathers and beads. I should have pushed it harder, but her sweet and innocent face choked my words. I blinked and sighed, and finally I turned to watch Victor disappear from view. 
I had no choice but allow my companions to lead me to our row where I sat down fidgeting and struggling to concentrate on the award ceremony. I tried to warm my hands on my lap. Despite the sunny weather they were cold, the result of nervousness from my not foreseeing the rest of my day.
Why did I always fall into such stupid and unpredictable situations? Were Victor and I still on to visit the village, or had Victor left again? If Weston refused to enter the wormhole, who would take me home? Even if I made it back to Griffith Park, I couldn’t call my dad in the middle of the night from the wilderness. I would be grounded for life.
I stared blankly at the projector that showed the highlights of the day’s races, startled only by the occasional waves of applause.
The golden carpet I walked on to get here changed color to match the outfit of the contestant whose name was called out. There must have been at least a hundred kids who participated, because the list never wanted to end. The contestants in each game were led up to the stage, their scores announced, then escorted behind the curtains.
When the last round of contestants was invited to the podium, I noticed Weston’s absence. Decked in their warrior outfits, they moved to the edge of the stand one by one, bowed to us, then lined up in front of the curtain. The people screamed with more or less fervor as their favorites or the less popular participants pocketed their ten seconds of fame. Sixth, the girl with the white hair, appeared and introduced herself. The same golden arm bracelets I had spotted during her race shone over her lean biceps, and her white armor glistened in the sun. A five-inch-wide gold belly-ring stretched over her bellybutton. Her nails were white as a dove and when she touched the crimson stars under her eye, she radiated an overwhelming sexiness and beauty. She bowed to the applause and the crowd erupted into a frenzy of whistling and screaming adulation. As if my troubles didn’t matter anymore, I gazed at the girl and released the breath I had been holding and stood up. I wished to honor her, if with nothing else but my support. I felt immune to what others might think about me. My hands rose high overhead and I clapped and yelled, “Bravo!” The majority of the crowd emulated my move, but I ignored them.
“Do you know her?” Ann rose and squinted at me.
“I don’t,” I confessed, laughing. “But somebody so spectacular deserves every bit of support she can get.”
“I never saw her here before. She must be new. The first albino in the games.”
“Bravo,” I called out to the girl again, and then something unexpected happened. She rolled her magical red eyes at me and winked. Then she removed her ring and tossed it to me. She waited until I caught the ring, bowed to me and stepped back to let a boy in green armor move to the front.
I slowly opened my fingers and let the sun light up the spectacular jewelry. Three gold lines were braided together, enclosing six circular rubies. I looked back at her in desperation, knowing that the ring must have cost a fortune. She was talking serenely with the contestant next to her. I stared at her, waiting for us to lock eyes, but she never glanced at me.
The second and third place finishers weren’t remunerated, only given honorable mention along with every contestant’s position. There could only be one champion. When the announcer called “Victor Sorren, our new record-breaking superstar,” the crowd erupted with applause once more,and thunderous fireworks broke out in the sky, dazzling my eyes. The crystal-covered deep blue curtains parted in the middle and Victor appeared on the stage, wearing his usual black trews, buckled boots, white shirt with black hood covering his head, and a half-zipped ocher leather jacket over it. He was so confident on the stage, like a supermodel, and I felt as if I was sitting in on a fashion show. The twins oohed and aahed next to me, and Tirzah poked me with her little elbow on the side. I smiled at her, shaking my head and feeling my skin flame up.
I knew exactly how they felt.
Victor received his trophy, a golden statue of the dragon with ruby eyes. He lifted it overhead and the crowd went crazy, while a lump crawled up to my neck and my chest tightened. How sublime it must be to be adored by thousands, and Victor looked like a god up there.
The presenter, dressed in a deep purple robe reminiscent of ancient Roman senators, remained next to Victor and energized the already hyped-up crowd. I was sitting in my chair anxiously, pressing my wet palms together on my lap.
I was extremely proud of Victor.
When the curtains came down, I looked at the ring in awe and rolled it around it around in my palm. Suddenly a familiar fragrance tickled my nostrils. Victor was standing in front of me, holding one of the twins in his arms, while the other one was eagerly tugging on his jacket.
“Congratulations,” I said, my cheeks heating up. He must have known that I saw him on the projection. 
He nodded with a strange light in his eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Did you see that?”
“What was I supposed to see?”
“The girl, the one with the white hair, gave this to me,” I said, holding out the ring.
“Probably she wanted to say thank you for the standing ovation.”
“I saw her being pushed out of the loop. I just felt bad for her.”
“She lives in Valdeblama, the Ruby Mountains,” Victor said, glancing back at her over his shoulders. “Wearing their ring is a great honor. The ruby eye of the dragon comes from their land. I guess I just helped them get a new order today,” he said, smiling charmingly, and he set Weston’s cute little sister back on the ground.
“May I?” He offered his palm for the ring and I dropped it in. He reached for my hand, turned it over, straightened out my middle finger, and slipped the ring on it.
It was a perfect fit.
I lifted my hand into the air, letting the gems break the sunlight and spill their crimson light over us. My bedazzled eyes soon moved back to Annabella, as her words, though a little bit late, sank in.
“Why did you call her albino?”
“Didn’t you notice her white hair and red eyes? Albinos are a rarity. That’s why the crowd adores her so much.”
“I don’t think that’s the only reason. She was marvelous up there and…” I said, but couldn’t finish. My ears picked up the voice of Weston.
“Thanks for helping with the twins,” Weston said to Ann and placed his arm over her shoulders. Ann blushed and shrank away, not from the weight but from the surprise, and that was more than obvious.
Mrs. Jenkins, who until now hadn’t even risen from her seat just continued watching the screen of some kind of device, stood up, and motioning the twins closer with her index finger, turned to Weston.
“I’m glad your father wasn’t here to see you lose. He would be very disappointed. Nonetheless, I found the games very interesting.” Mrs. Jenkins let her eyes linger on Victor, while Weston assumed an unfriendly stance with his legs apart and arms folded over his chest.
“Mother, I’m sorry I can’t be as perfect as my father. Maybe you should adopt Victor and disinherit me. He always seems to please you whatever he does,” Weston snapped bitterly, his face flushing with embarrassment.
She grinned at Victor in a way a mother at her age should never do, and grasped the girls’ wrists.
“Don’t tempt me,” she said evenly, and then her face broke into a bewitching laugh. “I was just teasing you, boy. You know that I love you more than anything.” she murmured at Weston childishly, pinched his chin, said good-bye and headed back to her ride with the twins in tow.
“Great! It’s not enough that you stole my victory but now you turned my mother against me as well,” Weston blurted out, shooting a scornful look at Victor.
“Don’t worry about your mother’s words. The alcohol was doing the talking, not her,” Victor said, slipping the hood over his head, his voice undemonstrative.
“So now you’re calling my mother a drunk?” Weston stepped forward, releasing his arm from Ann.
Victor clenched his jaw and took a deep breath through his nose. “I see there is no winning with you today, Weston. Are you ready to go, Molly?”
I didn’t have time to talk about my plans for the rest of the day with Weston. I kind of hoped to see him back in the booth after the games. I planned to insinuate my plans into his mind before the awards, when he was supposed to be feeling glorious and oblivious to everything but his own popularity. But that never happened. And now Weston turned pale and his incredulous eyes jumped back and forth between Victor and me. I knew I had to say something.
“You were right, Weston; this game was truly riveting. I will be eternally grateful to you for inviting me here.” I edged closer to him with my palms together in front of me. “You guys were both fantastic. This event will stay among my memories forever.”
“Are you going with Victor?” he asked vaguely, ignoring my praise.
“Yes,” I whispered, expecting a raging storm from Weston, the kind Victor used to unleash. Instead Weston closed himself off into his inner world. When he finally returned, his face was collected, though still severe.
“I see. You want to go with the winner. I thought differently of you,” Weston said frigidly, and his tone was like  two big slaps on my face. My plan to go with Victor had been prearranged. It had nothing to do with who won or who lost the games. I wished Weston would see that. See inside me and discern the truth in my heart. In that way everybody would have seen my intentions clearly. Explaining things now would just cause more mess. I had never been good with words.
“No, Weston. You misunderstand completely.”
“Oh, no. I understand it just right.” He draped his arm back around Ann’s shoulder, his chest bulged out.
“I have to go back to the Sesmar village and pay my respect to those who saved my life.”
Weston averted his eyes from me before I had finished the sentence, as if he wasn’t even listening to my explanation. He must have had a fixed idea in his head, whole and clear, and nothing was ever going to change that. Not even the truth. He appeared to be impervious to it all.
“You just want everything that’s mine, right, Victor? My mother, my trophy, and now you are taking my girl, too.” Weston growled again, his eyes scattering thunderbolts. “Here, take my clothes, why don’t you? Take my everything?”
“Weston, cool it. We’re your friends. We’re not against you,” I assured him, reaching for his face to calm him, but he abruptly moved away.
“I don’t need your pity,” he said with his lips curled downwards into an expression of disgust. It had been only a few days that Victor stopped hating me, and now I had earned Weston’s loathing. Was that a curse on me or just that my personality was toxic? Whatever its origin, unconsciously I inflicted chaos wherever I went. However, as much as it saddened me, I couldn’t afford to let the voices inside my head talk down to me. I couldn’t bear it.
“You see, that’s your problem, Weston. You can’t see further than your nose and don’t notice the people who actually love you and care about you,” I said, glancing back and forth between him and Ann. “With you everything is either a conspiracy or bad luck. Stop for a second and look around you. See us all for what we really are. We are your friends, not your enemies.”
He shifted his feet, struggling within himself.
“I can take you to the village, too,” he finally said in a low voice.
I blinked hard and long. “I already promised Victor to go with him,” I sighed.
“Fine!” he snapped, the spark of understanding gone once again from his eyes. “But don’t come and cry for me when he turns out to be a man who breaks your heart and leaves you in tears. He cared about nothing else in his entire life but revenge and to be a Sentinel. You think he will change for you? I highly doubt that.”
“That’s enough, Weston. Molly had nothing to do with what happened between us today, so don’t make her suffer. It’s not what you think it is. I’m only taking her to the village at her request. There is nothing personal about it.” Victor’s voice was even, betraying no emotion. I felt my chest cramp from hearing his words. Was he saying all those things just to placate Weston? Or did he really just care to execute my request by offering me his services and nothing more? I felt fire spreading in my throat, burning me with excruciating pain.
Ann enjoyed Weston’s unusual attention to her and refrained from joining in the conversation, for which I couldn’t blame her. But even she looked at me with sympathy after Victor’s speech.
“You don’t have to take me, Victor. I don’t want to trouble you,” I said resentfully and folded my coat over my arm.
“Aghh,” Victor let out a frustrated bellow and squeezed his temples with both hands. “Girls and friends and … and … now this situation.” He dropped his hands to his side and paced around nervously. “I promised you a ride to the village, but I’m not going to beg you. Are you coming or not?” he asked through his teeth.
I caught a glimpse of Weston’s smug grin and from that image or from a compelling desire within me, I don’t know, but against my will I agreed to go.
“Fine. But I’m going to see Ulka de Tino and only for that.”
“Good!” he snarled.
“Thank you for the ride then!” I snapped back.
“You’re welcome!” he grumbled again.
“Don’t mention it!”
“I won’t!” He roared the last words and started toward his Ducati.
I turned to say good-bye, but my right foot got stuck in the leg of my chair and I almost tripped over, hitting my right palm on the edge of the chair.
Ann helped me up. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said, trying to maintain my dignity and smoothing out my shirt. “I’ll see you later. And, Weston, thanks again. It was fabulous.” He was still amused at how the situation turned out and I was happy that we didn’t part with bitterness in our hearts. But I did feel humiliated.
During the flight Victor didn’t talk to me and I was glad because I planned not to respond anyway, just pretend not to hear what he was saying. My histrionics weren’t necessary but I was still in a huff when we landed on the platform at the Sesmar village. 

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