"En Garde, ready? Fence!" The referee shouted, bringing his hands together.
Ethan rushed forward, surprisingly quick for his size, and Caleb advanced as if he planned to meet him in the middle of the platform. The brunette saw him sink down, a motion he had noted in the last match as preceding an attack for the larger fencer.
The prodigy scrambled backwards as Bradford lunged towards him, the blade rushing past Caleb's mask, so close he could hear it whistle through the air as he reached out and tapped the black haired boy on the shoulder. They stayed frozen like that for a second after the buzzer went off and the ref called out Caleb's point. Caleb finally stood and walked calmly back to his starting line, rapping his blade three times on the ground so quickly that the noise blended into one sound.
Alec watched with wide eyes.
"Wow…" He whispered, Danni sharing the same, awestruck expression. "Ethan doesn't stand a chance!"
"Don't be so sure," Alec's sister replied, leaning back on the bed, her hands supporting her. "Caleb is getting tired and the more points he takes, the angrier Ethan's gonna get. He is eventually going to step up his game and become more strategic."
"Caleb can outsmart that guy!"
"Ethan's really strong though…"
Alec glared at Danni.
"Why are you doubting Caleb's soon-to-be-victory? Whose side are you on?"
"Obviously Caleb's! I'm just stating the facts," the blonde girl muttered as she pointed at the TV, Ethan's face flashing across the screen. "You can see the determination in his eyes. There's fire there and he is NOT going to be happy to see Caleb take more than a couple of points. Caleb needs to be careful or he's going to get himself hurt…"
The crowd was uncannily silent, as if they sensed the intense tension between the two boys as they prepared for the next point. The ref started them and they both rushed forward again. Ethan was slower this time, watching Caleb, searching for any clue as to his plan of attack as he advanced. The larger boy came a little too close...
Caleb flipped his blade as if to attack the boy's open flank and, as he had predicted, the larger fencer quickly moved to block him. With a lightning quick disengage, Caleb circled his blade under the boy's guard and around to hit him on the arm.
Caleb smiled to himself as he turned around and returned to his line, the ref calling out his second point. Another touch went by with lightning fast speed before Caleb was confident in his imminent victory.
His opponent seemed agitated; obviously losing wasn't a regular thing for him. Caleb followed the boy's gaze to a blonde girl watching him in the reserved stands. She smiled to Bradford and shouted out something Caleb couldn't quite hear. When Ethan settled back into position a new gleam was in his eye that made the prodigy nervous.
They came together and Caleb was overwhelmed by the speed of the larger boy. The brunette moved to block the blow that was falling towards his mask and the clang from the contact of their swords echoed down Caleb's arm all the way to his chest, which tightened sickeningly as the blade was forced from his fingers. His thumb was bent back painfully until Caleb's entire wrist failed and he felt Ethan's blade fall onto his head so hard that the slender fencer stumbled backwards, landing heavily on the ground, his eyes wide as his sabre clattered to the floor.
The larger fencer smiled wickedly, his teeth gleaming in contrast to his chocolate skin as he curtly turned and waited for Caleb at his line. The brown-eyed prodigy picked himself up, letting his blade hang from the wire going into his jacket as he cracked his knuckles and rolled out the soreness in his thumb. Caleb kicked at the end of his blade and it hopped into his waiting hand as he prayed that nobody could see his slight trembling.
"Damn it," Alec murmured to himself. "Come on, Caleb, what are you doing?!"
"Told you." Danni said, glancing at her brother smugly.
"Shut up!" Alec smacked Danni's shoulder and she winced, rubbing her arm and glaring at him.
"Just cheer Caleb on," Alec hissed. "Don't even question it. Caleb. Will. Win."
"I'm not questioning anything," Danni said. "Just kind of, working this around in my head. I'm trying to think of what Caleb's going to do now that Ethan has upped his game. He can try to out-strategize him but I have a feeling Ethan's strength is going to overpower that."
"What do you know? You're just a fencer-in-training."
"I know more than you." Danni grimaced. "And it's just common sense."
Alec crossed his arms, glaring at the screen.
"Caleb will win…." He muttered under his breath.
The score was three to one and Caleb managed to sneak in two points between the painful beatings he was getting along his arms, always seconds after he had already taken a point. The larger fencer rolled his neck and smiled at the blonde girl cheering him on.
Caleb felt himself grimace despite himself, his eyes travelling to his reserved seating, occupied by Delacruz and a reporter. The brunette looked away as he bent down, determined to take his sixth point but his blade was knocked out of his hand as Bradford forced through his parry to hit him solidly on the arm.
With a growl Caleb snatched his blade up again, rubbing his arm. Ethan was consistent, Caleb would give him that much credit, always managing to hit the exact same spot on Caleb's arms or torso or shoulders. The brunette lost another point then gained one only to lose the next as the bout dragged on.
"Seven to four." The ref announced. "EnGarde, ready? Fence!"
Caleb rushed forward and saw Ethan move as to hit his mask, instead of parrying this time the brunette twisted his upper body to the side, reaching out as he did so and tapping the large boy's shoulder as a sharp pain exploded just above his kneecap. He didn't have to look to know that Ethan's miss, which had been heavy so it could force through Caleb's block, had fallen onto his left leg. Caleb nearly choked on the pain, but managed to stand and walk coolly back to his line as the ref announced his point.
He looked to the ref expectantly, waiting for him to call the one minute 8-point break, and found himself the target of every eye in the room. Startled he realized they weren't looking at him but his knee and he followed their gazes to where a bright red stain was blossoming on the clean white material of his knickers.
Alec watched in horror at the blood seeping through Caleb's pants, gritting his teeth and his hands clenching into fists.
"I'm going there." He seethed, standing up from the bed.
"Wait!" Danni grabbed his arm, her hands clasping around the blonde's long-sleeved shirt as Alec glared at her. "You really think that's a good idea?"
"He hurt Caleb!"
"It happens! Whoever said fencing wasn't a brutal sport?"
"I'm going there," Alec said more sternly, ripping his arm from Danni's grip.
"Yeah? And what're you gonna do?"
"Exactly." Danni rolled her eyes. "Sit back down and watch."
Deep breaths... Deep... In, out... In... Out... Caleb winced again as the medic pushed the tight end of his pant leg past the injury. It's just a little cut, nothing serious... It wasn't deep. The blades used for sabre fencing weren't all that sharp... sure you could run someone through if you used enough force and they had only a thin shirt on but the fact that Ethan's cut had been forceful enough to draw blood said a lot about the boy's strength, which meant if the injury wasn't more than a bruise then it was probably serious...
Caleb hissed as the medic at his knees prodded his leg with a gloved hand. The pain had him seeing bits of red in the corners of his vision and he clenched his fists on the edge of the seat.
"Does that hurt?" The man asked.
It hurt like hell but Caleb knew if he told the man the truth they'd pull him out of the tournament and he had too much at stake to allow that to happen.
"Just like a new bruise does..." He muttered. The man frowned but nodded just the same, wrapping Caleb's leg in a bandage before pulling his pants back down.
"Don't push it." He ordered. Caleb looked away, blinking back the tears that were choking his voice.
The brunette pushed himself up with his arms and did his best to walk up the stairs to the strip without limping. He went to his line and nodded to the ref before pulling down his mask and bending into an en garde position that favored his front leg. It was clear by the look on Ethan's face that he viewed the whole ordeal as a sign of Caleb's weakness and Caleb was determined to prove him wrong.
Ethan rushed forward when they started, not allowing Caleb any handicaps out of pity and the brunette tried to take a step back. His leg almost gave out as he did but he managed to catch himself by slapping his other foot into the floor. The result was a very unbalanced position and Caleb bent over backwards to dodge the swing to the side of his head. Somehow, through all the practice that had been drilled into him, his arm remembered to repost and Caleb flicked his wrist to hit the underside of the large fencer's arm. The prodigy ended up on the ground, held up by his right leg and his left arm in an odd combination of a crouch and a lunge. He got up without any use of his left leg and dragged himself the few inches back to his en garde line.
They went at it again. This time when Ethan was close enough Caleb tried to lunge forward to hit him. His back leg buckled and he landed on one knee on the ground, before he could even think to block Ethan's attack the boy had smashed his blade onto Caleb's mask. He grimaced as he pushed himself up, muttering to himself.
"C'mon!" Caleb urged himself. "You're already winning! It's nine to five, you just need six more points and the trophy's yours... don't waste all that training. It's too valuable. It cost you Alec and if you lose now you'll have lost him for nothing!" Caleb clenched his teeth as he bent into his position. Just that simple motion was shooting pain through his leg. Fine. If his leg didn't want to cooperate he wouldn't use it. He could beat Ethan with just blade work.
Ethan came at him again and smiled when he saw Caleb wasn't moving. He stopped just short of the boy's reach, knowing that he'd have to lunge to hit him and he obviously couldn't do that on his injured leg. Caleb grimaced as he realized Ethan's plan and then, with perfect balance, straightened his good leg. Leaning forward so his injured limb was extended behind him, he reached out and tapped the surface of Ethan's mask. The pose was ridiculous and Caleb felt like he should be on a stage surrounded by girls in frilly pink skirts but it had gotten him a point closer to victory. He could swallow his pride for that.
While Ethan was stalking back over to his line, Caleb turned to Delacruz and opened his palm, displaying his fingers as a message. 5 to go...
"You alright there?" Danni asked as Alec rubbed his hands together nervously, his foot tapping the floor in an anxious rhythm.
"Yeah, yeah," He replied, quickly. "I'm fine; just pissed at the Ethan guy degrading Caleb like that. He's such an ignorant, dumbass! Ugh!"
"That about sums it up," Danni sighed. "Don't worry. What comes around goes around."
"Yeah, well when Caleb wins, I can't WAIT to see the dude's face! It'll be hysterical!"
Ethan came at Caleb hard and managed to power through all his attempts of blocking him until the score was 11 to 10. The brunette was panting from the relentlessness of the large fencer's strategy and with his feet confined to their spot on the en garde line it was too easy for Ethan to pin his movements. They went at it again and again and Caleb found his frustration fueling his blade and managed to hold his own against his powerful opponent until they were both panting heavily on their lines with the score 13 to 13.
Caleb wanted to collapse and rip off his leg. His vision sparkled red on the edges from the constant stabbing throb of his injury and his knee felt like it was on fire. The ref started them again and somehow Caleb managed to whip his blade onto Ethan's wrist. Everything had become a blur, secondary to the pain. They went again and Ethan took another point.
Damn it! I just need one more! Caleb shook his head, trying to clear it. He needed to catch Ethan off guard somehow... surprise him... do something he'd never expect. Caleb smiled as he formed a plan.
He'd promised himself at the beginning of the tournament that if he won he'd go see Alec and apologize. He was so close now! Just this one last point and he had a plan to catch Ethan off his guard.
"Ready? Fence!" When Ethan rushed forward Caleb saw it in slow motion. The crowd disappeared and all sounds faded to nothing. Just him and Ethan. The large fencer drew closer and Caleb grit his teeth as he waited for him to come near enough to enact his plan. It seemed like decades before the boy was within range even though in reality it was only seconds. He saw Ethan raise his arm to strike and in a swift fluid motion Caleb bent both his legs and pushed off the ground. Ethan missed him by millimeters as Caleb flew backwards in the air and with a twist of his good leg, brought his blade down upon the boys mask.
The world seemed to catch up again now and Caleb fell backwards, landing on both his legs. The injured knee gave out and he fell hard on his back but even that couldn't dampen his smug smile.
"YES!" Alec jumped off the bed, pumping his fist into the air and bouncing excitedly, then pointing an accusing finger at Danni. "I TOLD YOU! I WAS RIGHT!"
"Yeah," Danni smiled, but glanced at the screen. "But Alec…"
"What?" Alec looked up at the TV, his eyes widening as the camera zoomed in on Caleb lying in the middle of the strip, medics surrounding the injured fencer.
"What are y—"
"I have to go…" Alec sighed. "I can't sit around here and do nothing."
Danni nodded in understanding and turned off the television.
"I'm getting him back," Alec said with determination, walking out of the room.
"Caleb you need to go to the hospital." The medic said as he examined the brunette's knee again. Caleb's eyes widened as he pulled off his glove, sitting up on the platform.
"What?! NO! I can't there's somewhere I need to go. I promised!"
"Caleb someone has to look at this it could be serious!" The man argued.
"Well look at it then! But I'm not going to the hospital! I have to talk to... someone..."
"Caleb!" Delacruz snapped at him. "Don't be a fool! This has to be checked out. I'm calling an ambulance."
"NO!" Caleb shouted, kicking away the medic at his feet and trying to stand. The moment he moved his knee however his eyes rolled back into his head and his body crumpled as everything was silenced beneath a black wave of pain.