Chapter 10, Part 3

The arena in the Mekoval clanhouse was somewhat inappropriately named. It was nothing like the huge arena near the center of the city where gladiator contests and mefutal matches were held. It was, instead, merely the largest room in the clanhouse. Nor was it used simply for challenge duels. It was also used a classroom sometimes, sometimes as a training room, and most commonly it was used as the clan mess hall. And yet, the challenges held such a key place in the mythology of how Clan Mekoval thought of itself that it was referred to as the arena, regardless of how little it was actually used for that purpose.

Despite her mood, Alessandra couldn’t help grinning as she walked into the room, trailed by Halidasa. Finally, she was going to get her revenge. It actually made her want to giggle that Torea, Mikaelo and Halidasa were so worried about her. Oh, if only they knew. She could almost feel the power coursing through her veins. Bezzum was going to try and toy with her, but she was the one who was going to end up toying with him. It was enough to make her want to howl with glee!

The center of the room was cleared for the challenge, with all the tables pushed up against the walls. Every member of the clan was already there, at least all those who weren’t currently out on jobs. She received a variety of looks from the people in the room. A number of them simply looked surprised that she was there. Quite a few looked rather pleased at the thought that (as they saw it) she was about to be destroyed by Bezzum. Only a very few looked like they were worried on her behalf.

She would win them over, she knew that. Once they saw how powerful she’d become, they would know that she was worthy of being Clan Master. After all, once she killed Bezzum, she would be Clan Master, and no one would dare challenge her once they saw how strong she was. She caught the eye of a few people who had expectant looks on their faces and gave them a wink, and laughed at the confusion they displayed. They really thought she was going to lose, and they couldn’t imagine how she could be so confident. Well, they would learn.

She took her place on one end of the cleared-out space, and watched Bezzum approach from the other direction. He directed a nasty grin at her as he entered, which she returned with another wink. His grin became even nastier in response, but Alessandra was certain that there was a hint of doubt in his expression. He knew how strong he was, how skilled. He knew that under normal circumstances there was no one in the clan who was nearly good enough to best him. His confidence wasn’t arrogance. He really was as good as he thought he was. So for Alessandra to be as confident as she was, it had to be eating at him a little. Or so she assumed.

Vegora strode forward out of the crowd and took his place at the center of the circle, with Alessandra and Bezzum on either end. He looked at Bezzum and nodded, and then he looked at Alessandra. He gazed at her impassively for a moment, and then he shook his head and turned to the crowd.

“Gathered members of Clan Mekoval,” he intoned, “we are here to witness a challenge to the leadership of Clan Master Bezzum by Clan Member Alessandra. This is a battle to the death, and the winner will take his or her place as the Clan Master of Clan Mekoval. At my mark, the challenge will begin.” Vegora stepped out of the circle, back into the edge of the crowd, raised his hand, and then brought it down quickly and yelled, “Begin!”

As soon as he did so, both Alessandra and Bezzum drew their daggers and began circling each other. Bezzum had a predatory gleam in his eyes and a feral grin on his face. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, chiela,” he hissed, barely audible over the roar of the watching crowd.

“If I’d known you had a death wish, I would have indulged you sooner,” Alessandra shot back. She tried to smile sweetly at him, but she was pretty sure the look on her face was just as fierce as Bezzum’s. He snarled at her in response, and then lunged at her.

Like a serpent, Alessandra dodged out of the way. Bezzum blinked in surprise, but recovered quickly and was immediately back on the attack. Once again, Alessandra slipped away from the bite of his blades, but he was relentless. Again and again he attacked, and again and again he failed to make any contact with her body. Finally, in frustration, he lunged at her again, and when she danced out of his way again, he slipped and fell on his face. Leaping up again, he snarled at her in frustration, and this time, the smile she gave him in response was indeed perfectly sweet and innocent.

“What happened to you?” he rasped.

“I learned a few things while I was in exile,” she said with an innocent shrug, and then it was her turn to attack.

Her blades flashed like lightning, and no matter how hard Bezzum tried to dodge or parry, every time her daggers lashed out, they drew blood. After a few minutes of this, Alessandra drew back to admire her handiwork. Bezzum was covered from head to toe in little cuts, and the floor of the arena was wet with his blood. With a howl of rage and frustration, Bezzum leaped at her again, and Alessandra very nonchalantly stepped out of his way, leaving him to sprawl on his face on the floor.

“How are you doing this!” Bezzum roared, as he sprang to his feet again.

“My little secret,” Alessandra said with a wink. “You know, it’s almost a shame this is a fight to the death. I would love to watch you beg for mercy right now. But I think it’s time to put an end to this little game.” Faster than a human eye could follow, she lunged forward and plunged one of her daggers into his gut. Bezzum’s eyes widened in pain and shock, and Alessandra grinned. “Enjoy the last few seconds of your life, chiela,” she said, and then with her other dagger she slit his throat.

To be continued…

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