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About a month had passed since Johan’s duel. Vanessa had grown to tolerate Ashley and her friends, but still tried her best to keep to herself. She had no particular love for Ashley, or her ‘healing to accrue favor’ gimmick, but it was helpful to have someone to talk to to stave off the madness. Additionally, she noted this morning, that the pieces of her broken disc had remained for all this time, despite the fact that her discs normally disappear after a few minutes of not being actively used.
Today, however, she had noticed something strange. Ashley was fine before assembly, but after assembly, where she wasn’t burned, she had a grotesque burn on her arm. This was peculiar because Ashley didn’t know the man being punished, to the best of her knowledge. In this month she hadn’t taken anyone’s burns away from them as far as Vanessa knew. She definitely had a bad feeling about this, so she elected to keep her distance the next day.
As Vanessa was reflecting on this, she heard her cell door click and squeak as it opened. The other guard barged into the cell. Vanessa’s heart was racing, but she remained silent and still. He grabbed Ashley and pulled up her sleeve, revealing the burn. The guard reached to his radio, and spoke into it.
“Jones here, you were right. The prisoner has the same burn on her arm.”
Takeo replied over the radio. “Bring her to me.”
Vanessa looked at Ashley, who seemed to have lost her calm demeanor. She scrambled away from the guard and towards Vanessa. “Help me!”
Vanessa froze. She felt light headed, and her mind raced. She couldn’t afford to start trouble, and whatever Ashley had gotten into was her own fault. She had to keep her head down if she was going to get out.
The guard looked at Vanessa with a twisted smile. “Well, are you gonna help her?” He laughed and began to move towards them.
“Jones quit being a dick, and get it over with.” Another guard appeared in the doorway. His name patch said ‘Gaines’.
“Yeah, yeah.” Jones replied, before dragging Ashley out of the cell.
As quickly as he had came, Vanessa was alone again. She looked down at the floor. In the scramble, Ashley had knocked Vanessa’s pillow to the floor. She shakily got to her feet, and bent over to pick it up, when she felt ill. She scrambled to the toilet and began to dry heave. She used to be a hero, someone people would look up to, and now she just let a girl go to her death because she helped someone, and Vanessa just sat and watched. She may not have always been a monster, but she had most certainly become one.
She heard Paul’s voice. “You can make this right.”
Her heart skipped a beat. She looked around the cell and saw no-one. She fell onto her back and tears began to stream down her face. She had finally lost it. She was hearing voices, and of all voices to hear, it was Paul’s.
“You’ll know what to do.”
“How!?” She called into her cell, knowing she wouldn’t receive an answer. She wiped her eyes and chuckled. Of course even the Paul in her head wouldn’t give her a straight answer. She stood to her feet, dusted herself off, and put her pillow back in place. According to Paul, she would know what to do, and when to do it. That or she’s snapped, so either way, she’d make this right.
She went through dinner in complete silence. She couldn’t bring herself to sit with her usual group, since she knew they’d ask questions. She had a feeling that Ashley would be brought out front during assembly. Paul had said she’d know what to do, but she still couldn’t figure it out.
Once dinner was over, the buzzer went off, and everyone began to shuffle to the yard. Once there, everyone sat in their usual places, and waited for Takeo to begin.
“Greetings, monsters.” He addressed the crowd.
“Greetings.” Everyone, now including Vanessa replied.
“Yesterday, I engaged in a duel, and I mercifully allowed the monster to continue living, with only moderate injuries.” He began to pace the stage. “Injuries hurt, yes, but they are a valuable teaching tool. If you do not feel the consequences of your actions, you will not learn from your mistakes.” He motioned to some guards standing off to the side. “One of you decided that you would take that monster’s injuries from him, thus denying him, and others, a valuable learning experience.”
Vanessa’s heart pounded, as they brought a girl with a bag over her head out front. She already knew who it was, but secretly hoped she was somehow wrong. She wasn’t.
“Monster, I’ve taken note of your for quite a while.” Takeo looked down at Ashley. “You have not directly defied me until now, so I have not taken action. I would like to teach you a lesson now. Doing charity for monsters will earn you nothing, as you are about to witness.” He then turned back towards the crowd. “Now, I am nothing if not fair, and I know this monster’s power is not in direct combat, but in healing. She has healed many of you, taking on the wounds herself. As such, I would like to offer any of you the opportunity to be her standin. You would duel me, in her place.”
The audience was silent. Vanessa looked around, and saw all of the people that Ashley had been friends with staring down at the ground. She couldn’t believe it. After all Ashley had done for them, they were about to damn her. She took a deep breath, and stood to her feet.
“I’ll do it.” She said, with as much confidence as she could muster.
“Ah, the cellmate.” Takeo smirked, and turned back to Ashley. “You’ve gotten lucky, but take note of the fact that only one of the countless monsters you’ve helped, cares to help you in your time of need.” He turned back to Vanessa. “Well, come forwards.”
The audience parted around Vanessa, as she began to walk forwards. She put herself between Takeo and Ashley, and the world went silent.
“Now, the terms of the duel are as follows: if I win, you both go to the pit. If you win, you both go free.” He smirked again. “As an added bonus for your heroism, if you win, I’ll tell you a secret about your father.”
Vanessa’s heart skipped a beat at the mention of her father. She took a deep breath, sighed, and nodded. She had to win this. “That works for me.”
Takeo took a fighting stance, and Vanessa followed suit. They were both still for a moment, then Vanessa made the first move. She hurled a disc, but Takeo sidestepped it. He then advanced, and began a flurry of flaming blows.
Vanessa managed to block punch after punch with a series of discs, but he was moving too fast. She had to do something now. She noticed him going in for a kick, and she sent a disc towards his other foot.
His foot began to slide, but he caught himself with his hand. Vanessa felt an impact at the back of her head, and everything went dark.
I wish you all safety and courage to follow your convictions during these times. I talk more about current issues on my twitter, @CJAWorks, so if you want to hear more, please look there. I am not a POC so above all, please listen to them.
(Art credit: WordPress Free Photo Library)