Chapter Three

“Are you alright?” Mesmer asked Septi quietly. They were standing just outside the arena, talking. It was ten minutes until Septi was to face Steppe in battle, and her fears were back. Septi answered Mesmer’s question with a sharp nod thinking that if she tried to speak she would throw up. Mesmer gently rubbed her on the back gently, and sighed quietly. Shy of lies she had nothing more to say, which worried Septi more than Mesmer’s usual chatter. Just then, Raram ran up, breathless.
“Steppe wants you to battle him now,” she gasped, terror and persperation on her face. “He wants to fight you now!” She was shaking, and tears were quickly joining the sweat on her face.
“What?” Mesmer stared at her in shock, disbelief on her face. “But Steppe said seven!” The initial shock on Mesmer’s face was now slowly being replaced with an indignance of the highest degree.
“But he changed it!” Raram said, frantically looking from Septi to Mesmer and back again.
“That may be,” Septi said, her lips quivering slightly. “But I refuse to go into the arena until the set time, which is seven. He will not tell me what to do! He’s lost that right. He lost it when he killed Angel and Danae.” A single tear ran down Septi’s marble pale cheek. Mesmer and Raram were both staring at her, eyes wide.
“You’re defying Steppe?” Mesmer whispered, her dark face going pale.
“According to some of his milder rules he should be setting the date of my execution already,” Septi said dryly. “Mes, do you really think it matters? He’s going to kill me any way you look at it.”
“Not neccesarily,” Raram said, calming down a bit. “If you win, he won’t be in any condition to do anything to you.” Septi laughed, a haunted, bitter sound that echoed in the hallway.
If I win,” she said, stressing the ‘if’. “If I win, then our problems will be over. However, chances of me winning aren’t very high now, are they?”
“Is that the kind of attitude to have about this fight?” Mes asked reproachfully.
“Yeah,” Raram said, looking at Septi. “It’s hard to have faith in the outcome we hope for if the champion doesnt have faith in it.”
“Look, I’m sorry to bring you guys down, but maybe there’s nothing to have hope in.” Mesmer slapped Septi gently across the face.
“Snap out of it,” Mes said, a little angrilly. You will win. You have to.” Septi looked at her, and laughed at the fierce look on Mes’s face.
“Alright, alright,” she said with a little sigh. “I’ll do my best. I’ll try.”
“Trying isn’t good enough,” Mes said. “You must succeed.”
“Mesmer’s right, Septi,” Raram said quietly. “There are no ‘if’s or ‘but’s involved in the matter. You have to, for us all.”
“Nothing like adding to the pressure,” Septi said sarcastically.
“Sorry,” Mes said, looking at her anxiously. “Septi, you what’s at stake. you just can’t lose. And Raram, shouldn’t you have taken Septi’s message to Steppe?”
“No,” Septi said. “Leave him wondering. Besides, I only have two more minutes till the time set this morning.” Mesmer shrugged, and an intense silence fell.
“Septi, it’s time,” someone said in a hoarse whisper. Septi whipped around, then relaxed when she saw Oracle.
“Alright,” she said, surprisingly calm. “Mes, Raram, like I said before, if I die, tell Jade that I’m sorry.” Taking a deep breath she stepped into the training room arena.
When she entered the arena she stopped, staring at her opponent. The rest of the room fell away, leaving only her and Steppe. The light in the room was a flourescent white, and it made Steppe’s horribly scarred face look even more terrifying. In the time it took for her to take this in, Steppe stood without a single movement.
“You’re late,” he said stonily.
“I’m on time, Steppe,” Septi said bodly, her voice ringing out, loud and clear. “The time we set this morning was seven. I got here at seven, am I not? I am through bowing to your every whim.” She drew her dirk from her thigh high boots. “This will be the end, Steppe! You are not my commander any longer!” Septi threw the dirk hard as she finished the last sentence, aiming for Steppe’s head, but knowing that Steppe would defend himself. He didn’t dissapoint her, either, raising an arm plated in metal, blocking the dirk, which dented and scratched the metal as it fell to the ground.
“You pathetic fool,” Steppe said, sounding bored, as he gradually approached her. Septi stood stiffly, a dagger handle pressed against her sweaty, gloved palm. Tensly, she noticed that each of Steppe’s fingers had a sharp needle tapering from the tip. She felt her breath catch, and only when her world started to spin did she she force herself to breath again.
‘Now is not the time,’ she thought, angry at herself. Aloud she said quietly, “I’d rather be a fool than a tyrant!” The crowd, which had gathered without her noticing, gasped.
“Is she crazy?” someone whispered, his voice echoing in the otherwise silent room.
“But she’s got it right,” someone else whispered. “Steppe has been a tyrant for many a year now.”
“I’ll kill you next,” Steppe promised the speaker, sparing only a half glance at the crowd. He drew a large hammer with metal caps, a blade on one end of it, from his belt and flipped it over his hand as he approached, hiis steps quickening. Septi breathed in deeply, trying to ready herself for the fast moves she would have to make.
Steppe was now inches away, his hammer drawn back and ready to strike. Septi lunged with her daggers out. She body slammed him, making him stagger back. Taking advantage of the momentum, she drove her daggers into his steel shoulders and flipped over his head, barely avoiding his hammer. Her one dagger slipped, scraping a fine shaving off of Steppe’s armor, leaving a dent and causing sparks to fly. She spun and punch him in the neck, her fists still clenched around the weapons.
It was all Septi could do to keep from moaning in pain as her knuckles glanced off a solid steel neck. As Steppe whipped around, Septi shifted into a little green snake and slitered around his leg. She opened and unhinged her jaw, revealing fangs. She drew back and struck once, twice, three times, then fell off, having failed at that attempt as well.
‘Steppe’s entirely metal,’ she thought, quickly returning to human form. Then she noticed something, while she hurridly retreated. ‘His eyes and mouth aren’t metal. If I can cut his throat from the inside out-‘ that was as far as she got. Steppe threw his hammer at her head and she ducked, narrowly avoiding decapitation. She dropped to the ground and rolled in a somersault, kicking his legs out from under him.
He fell heavily as she returned to her feet. She pounced on him, daggers back in her hands. She blocked his attacks with her daggers and slipped closer toward him, working her way to his face. Slipping one of her daggers out of the block she had held it in, she stabbed him in the eye. Blood oozed out, and she flung herself off as he let out a bellow and snatched at her.
He caught her legs as she dove away, and brought the needle like tips down the back of her claves. She let out a shriek of pain and outrage as her vision was replaced by a blinding bloody light and a rush of pain beyond all imagination. Swearing terribly in French, she twisted free and examined the damage. In several places Steppes claws had actually scraped the bone, and he had torn all of the muscles, shredded a few nerves, and pierced quite a few blood vessles.
Shifting to a hawk, Septi took off, her lags dangling uselessly beneath her. Blood splattered on the floor, both from Septi and Steppe, and in addition to that several other body fluids (sweat, mainly) had joined it to make the floor slick. Steppe attempted to stand up a couple of times, falling repeatedly, his perception extremely off.
When Steppe had finally figure out how to stand, Septi swept in and jabbed at his other eye with her beak.She felt a grim satisfaction as she felt her hard beak sink in and the blood gush out.
“You little tramp!” Steppe yelled at her, pain distorting his voice and making it go up a couple of pitches. He made a blind grab for her, as blood poured down his face. She easily dodged, landing and returning to human form, being extremely careful not to land on her legs.
“My, my,” she said, her voice taunting. “What’s this, then? You dislike the pain you caused others? Surely that’s not what I’m hearing!”
“Shut up, you b****!” he growled, falling to his knees and covering his bloodied face with even bloodier fingers. “You’ve blinded me. What good am I now? Kill me.” With that he let the metal plating turn back into skin. Septi rose, allowing  gasp of pain to escape from her lips. She approached slowly, hesitant and unsure of why Steppe had surrendered so fast.
Stopping just outside of arms reach, she drew her remaining dirk. In a swift, fluid motion she threw it. It didn’t sink into Steppe’s chest, however. It simply bounced off and fell to the ground, a metalic clatter echoing in the arena. He quickly picked it up, then stood.
He approached where Septi had thrown it from, then changed diection as she started to edge away. However she didn’t move fast enough. Steppe approahced and punched her between the eyes. She crumpled as she fell to the ground, unconious. Steppe raised his head to the crowd, and help up the arm with the dirk.
“I win. Imprison her, the d***ed w**** that she is,” he said, his voice completely void of emotion. With that, he felt his way out of the arena. As soon as he was out Mesmer, Raram, and Oracle rushed down to Septi’s still form.
“Oh, come on,” Mesmer frantically whimpered, frantically searching Septi’s wrist for a pulse. She relaxed slightly as she found one, and grabbed both of Septi’s wrists. Raram stood off to the side and grabbed a foam pad from the stack that was shoved against the wall.
“Put her on this,” she said, kneeling beside Septi. Oracle and Mesmer bodily lifted her, and Raram shoved the pad under “She’ll need stitches for those legs.” Raram stood, and took one end of the pad. Mesmer took the other end, and together they carried Septi out of the arena. Oracle took off to find the doctor for the VI4C, and the girls took Septi to the prison cell. Carefully they laid her down, then as gently as possible, they removed her boots. They then attempted to roll up her pant legs, and got them most of the way up by the time Oracle came with the doctor.
Mesmer rose from where she was kneeling beside Septi, and faced the doctor. Placing her hands on her hips, she demanded, “help her, Dr. Hamilton.” The man nodded and knelt beside Septi. He quickly checked her pupils and heart rate. Then, as he examined the cuts on her legs, he cringed.
“This’ll be a hard one to do,” he murmured under his breath, fingering the torn skin. Mesmer and Raram exchanged worried glances.
“What’ll be a hard one to do?” Mes asked hesitantly.
“Her legs are so badly damaged, I don’t know if I’ll be able to give her back the full use of her legs. She could very well be paralyzed. And the worst thing is, when we have the chance to find out, it’ll be too late to try to correct any surgery or healing that I preform.” Raram stifled a gasp.
“At least she’s alive,” Oracle said darkly. “Had anyone else tried that, they would have died, surely.”
“But Septi!” Raram said, looking at her friend sadly. “Septi could very well be paralyzed! She’ll do a nutty when she finds out!”
“Nothing’s certain,” Mesmer said firmly. “She does have a  chance, doesn’t she, Dr. H?” the doctor nodded sharply.
“A very slim chance,” he said, looking up at them. “I’ll do what I can. Since Steppe drove away my Guinavere…” he looked around nervously. Oracle coughed slightly to break the awkward silence.
“Very well, Dr. Hamilton. I’ll leave you to it. Good night, ladies,” Oracle said, slipping out of the cell.
“I should go, too.  Take good care of her, doctor,” Raram said, following Oracle out the door. Mesmer shut the door behind Raram, and sat down in the corner.
“I’ll stay here, if you don’t mind,” she said, tucking her knees under her chin.
“That’s fine by me,” Dr. Hamilton waved a hand airily, turning his attention back to Septi. “Just don’t talk.” Mesmer sat silently, watching his every move. He placed a hand on each of Septi’s legs and bit his lips as energy and strength poured from him and into Septi. The shredded nerves reformed, as did the torn muscles and the pierced blood vessels.
Just as the skin grew over the wounds, Dr. Hamilton passed out. Mesmer gasped, and hastily crawled to his side. She slapped his cool cheeks several times and sighed irritably. When the doctor came around, with the aid of a cool glass of water splashed on his face, he looked first at Mesmer, then at Septi.
“Did I do it? Is she healed?” he asked feebly.
“Yes, her legs seem to be as good as new,” Mes said, helping him sit up.
“I didn’t think I had enough strength to do it,” he whispered. Mes offered him a second glass of water that she had brought. He took the glass greatfully, and sipped. “It takes so much out of me to heal like that.” He leaned over Septi’s legs, and examined them with the hands of a professional doctor.
“She’ll be alright not, won’t she?” Mes asked anxiously. The doctor nodded and Mesmer continued. “Then why did you say that she would probably wind up paralyzed?”
“Because, my dear, if I had passed out before the muscles reknit, she probably would have been,” he said, satisfied that Septi was, as Mesmer had said, “good as new”. “If I had not retained my conciousness as long as I did, the muscles would have had to reknit on their own. No telling what would have happened.” Mes looked at her friend.
“Should we bring her around?” she asked. Just then, Septi moaned.
“I think she’s coming around on her own,” Dr. Hamilton said with a shaky chuckle.
“What happened? Where am I?” Septi moaned, raising a hand to the bump on her forehead. “I lost, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did,” Mes said quietly. “But you did blind Steppe in both eyes. I don’t think I need to tell you where you are, do I?” Septi started to shake her head, then stopped, moaning.
“My legs!” she exclained quietly. “They’re not torn to shreds!”
“Dr. H fixed them,” Mes said.”Septi, I was so worried that Steppe would kill you!” She lunged, and hugged Septi tightly.
“Good to know someone loves me,” Septi murmered. As soon as Mes let go of her, she rolled down her pant legs and pulled her boots back on. “So, I’m gonna guess that I’m stuck here. Am I right?” Mesmer nodded sharply.
“Don’t count on it,” Dr. Hamilton whipsered. “I’ve been in contact with most of the loners. They’re planning to attack the VI4C. Steppe’ll want all his best fighters to defend the hideout. Septifiria, you are one of the best fighters the VI4C could ever have.” Septi blushed slightly.
“Merci beau coup (thank you very much),” Septi said, rubbing her temples. “Docteur, ma tete livre (doctor, my head pounds). Is there something that could be done to stop that?”
“Yes,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a small pill bottle. “Take one of these when needed. Once every eight hours if necessary.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,!” Septi gratefully took it. “I have a feeling that when Steppe is done inflicting tortures on me, I’ll need an even stronger pain killer.” Dr. H nodded and stood shakily.
“Good night, ladies,” he said politely, leaving the cell.
“Bonne nuit, et merci (good night and thanks),” Septi said, switching how she was sitting to a slightly more comfortable position. “Mes, you can go too, if you want.”
“It’s okay. I’d rather stay here. You were fabulous earlier.”
“Thanks,” Septi brushed a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “I don’t even know what happened half to time. I was on an adrenaline rush for almost all of it.” Mesmer laughed.
“Septi, I was so worried!” she said, a look of concern on her face. “You were so close to-” she hestitated, not wanting to say the word.
“I know,” Septi said seriously. “But I’m not dead. Small encouragement that is.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that there’s probably torture coming. The only reason Steppe didn’t kill me is because he must have some atrocity planned. That’s how he is.” Septi said all this in a very matter of fact tone of voice, making Mesmer flinch.
“Steppe is a monster,” Mes said hoarsly. “He’s killed so many… so many of our friends. He beat you. Is there any hope?”
“I survived, though,” Septi replied in a whisper. “He didn’t kill me. I’ll return, stronger than I am now.”
“Septi, are you stupid?” Mes exclaimed. “You’re going to fight him again. Are you stupid, or just insane?!”
“Neither, actually,” Septi said, watching Mesmer’s hysterics. “Please don’t give yourself a heart attack. I think the good doctor is really in no condition to take care of you, not after healing my legs.” Septi subconciously rubbed her calves.
“I’m not gonna give myself a heart attack!” Mesmer snarled. “Septi, you can’t do this!”
“Why not?” Septi demanded, switching her gaze to a spider in the corner. Her eyes followed it’s movements, as she listened to Mes.
“Because! You just can’t!” Mesmer exclaimed, absolutely shocked.
“Well, then, it’ll come as an encouragement to you that if what the doctor says is true, then I won’t have to. We might get lucky and have him killed in a fight.”
IF, Septi,” Mesmer said, biting her lip. “If. If, say, the loners attack. If there is a fight, then Steppe might be killed in it.” Septi looked back to Mesmer and sighed.
“Petit rayon de soleil (little ray or sunshine), aren’t you?” Septi asked innnocently. Mesmer threw her a filthy look.
“You know I don’t speak French,” Mes said irritably.
“Sorry,” Septi said, leaning back against the wall of the cell. Suddenly she sat bolt upright with a gasp. “Oh, gods.”
“What is it, Septi?”
“My classes at the college… I can’t just vanish!”
“Ah…” Mesmer stared at Septi thoughtfully. “Do you need me to bring you a cell phone or something?”
“Could you?”
“Sure,” Mes said, hesitantly.
“Alright,” Septi said, peaching into the pocket attached to her belt to get her keys. “My cell is in the console. Get it and come right back.”
“Yes, Septi,” Mesmer said, sounding slightly exasperated. She held out her hand and Septi hesitated a  second before dropping the key into it. “Be right back.”
“I’ll be here. I don’t exactly have much of a choice, do I?”
“Not exactly, no,” Mes said as she turned sharply on her heal and vaulted out of the cell. She raced through the hideout and out to the garage. Stopping beside Septi’s car, she fumbled with the key, then finally managed to unlock to car. Then she crawled in and flipped the console open.
Hastily grabbing the cell phone laying there, she swung out of the car, quickly shutting and locking the door. She vaulted back down to the cell, in her haste dropping the key. When she handed Septi the cell phone, then frantically searched her pockets for the key.
“Oh, gods, no,” she groaned.
“Where is my car key, Mes?” Septi asked, holding out her hand expectantly.
“That’s just the problem. I don’t know!”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” a pinch of venom entered Septi’s voice.
“It must have fallen out of my pocket!” Mesmer stopped digging in her pockets.
“Great,” Septi said with a sigh. “So I’ll have to pick the lock and hot wire my own car if I want to go anywhere… or even if I manage to escape.”
“Why don’t you have Danae make you another one?” Mes said without thinking. Then she clamped a hand over her mouth as a shadow crossed Septi’s face. “Oh my gods, I wasn’t thinking! I am so sorry!”
“It’s alright,” Septi said, looking up at Mes. There was a mixture of anger and sorrow burning in her eyes. “Or, rather, it will be.”
“Septi, don’t do anything rash, please?” Mesmer pleaded, staring at her worriedly. “Please, just-“
“Just what?” Septi asked, cutting Mesmer off. “Just act like he didn’t let my friend die, when he could have and should have prevented it?! Just act like he didn’t kill his former deputy?! Just act like he didn’t just shred my legs?! Although, to be fair, the doctor did a mereilleux (marvelous) job-” Septi’s voice trailed off as she stood and started to pace.
“Septi,” Mesmer said helplessly. Septi felt the her heart was going to burn up with a passionate anger, and knew that this was scaring Mes, to see her like this.
“Don’t ‘Septi’ me!” she snapper. “You said earlier that you agreed that he’s a murderer and a tyrant! Whose side are you on, mine or his?”
“Yours of course, but Septi please think. This is completely insane. You are in no shape to fight Steppe right now.”
“I’m not going to fight him now,” Septi said testily. “I’ll fight him again when I’m in better shape.”
“Which may never happen again!” Mesmer looked away, ashamed to feel tears in her eyes. “Septi, this is Steppe we are talking about. you are locked up. No telling what he’s going to do to you, or if you’ll live through it. And if you do live through it, what shape you’ll be in.”
“True,” Septi said, calming down at the sight of Mesmer’s tears. She ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “Mes, there has to be hope when all else is gone. And all else is gone for me.” Mes shrugged, and sighed as well.
“You know, it’s getting late,” Mesmer said. “I should be going.” Septi nodded and quickly hugged Mesmer.
“I won’t say that I’ll see you tomorrow,” Septi said quietly. “Because I don’t know how long I’ll live.” Mesmer stepped back, opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something, then clamped it shut and bolted out of Septi’s cell. Septi sighed again and laid down, feeling utterly torn and worn down.
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