The Exiled Prince - Chapter 20: Stalemate
“When the time comes, do not act rashly. Your survival solely depends on you now. So you must consider all of your options first and proceed with our plan cautiously. Otherwise, only death awaits you.”
Sitting in an empty cafeteria within the castle’s premises, Dimitri recalled the Headmaster’s last words while holding on to an antique-looking watch the old man had just given him after their talk. He couldn’t help but ponder on his looming punishment. Afterall, the ball was already in his court. Whether he lives or dies, it’s all up to him now.
“How can I get out of this mess?” Dimitri thought ruefully, ignoring the tray of processed food on the table. At this moment, he truly felt like being thrust into a stranger’s life, facing the consequences of someone else’s mistakes while his own life was at stake.
“Escaping now is not even an option.” Dimitri sighed and placed the watch on his left wrist, realizing how small of a frog he was in this huge well he felt trapped in. “That would surely hasten my death. I would only be digging my own grave without my knowing it.”
Dimitri absentmindedly started eating at a slow pace, still thinking about all the information he had just learned. The Headmaster’s words still lingered in his thoughts while he contemplated on every shocking detail of their long conversation. But what surprised him the most was the fact that he was really powerless to do anything about it right now.
“I’ll probably die in no time if I act recklessly!” Dimitri immediately lost his appetite with the mere thought of dying, putting down his pair of chopsticks on the tray. He stood up, grabbed his food tray, and walked towards the exit, forcefully disposing his barely touched meal in the trash bin on his way out.
“This world is just too small for me to fully escape their grasp.”
Just as Dimitri entered the strangely familiar training hall, Armand who was sitting on the ground suddenly threw a small box at him. The act of catching the box immediately disrupted Dimitri’s train of thought. All his concerns vanished in an instant.
Ignoring Armand’s menacing glare, Dimitri effortlessly caught the box with one hand, his eyes scanning the new space. This training hall, he observed, was obviously smaller than the previous training hall he had been to. Various equipment and gear scattered throughout the entire hall made the space look cramped and chaotic.
Holding on to the nondescript box, Dimitri eyed Armand warily. “What’s this?”
“Just put them on.” Armand stood up and began to jump around the small platform, stretching his arms and legs from time to time. “And hurry up! We don’t have that much time.”
“Why?” Seeing Armand’s fierce demeanor, Dimitri started to unpack the lightweight box. He had already figured out what the other man wanted to do. Pulling a pouch from the box, Dimitri unhurriedly scoured through its contents. He found one pair of shorts and several rolled bandages tightly cramped within it.
“Let’s see how much you have improved this time!” Armand temporarily stopped stretching and pointed at the rack of gear on one side. “And put one of those protective suits on as well.”
“I don’t want to break your fragile bones unintentionally.”
Dimitri sighed and shook his head without bothering to look at all the gear he could use. “No, this should be fine.”
“Suit yourself!” With a smug face, Armand merely shrugged and proceeded to stretch nonchalantly. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“Again!” Armand demanded, breathing heavily.
“Are you sure?” Wiping the blood off his nose, Dimitri stared at the ceiling, enduring the excruciating pain all over his body. “I doubt that you can still hold on for much longer.”
Both men were lying on the ground, close to each other, completely disheveled. Their faces were covered with blood. Cuts and bruises could be seen all over their bodies. Their shorts and the bandages wrapped around their hands were all stained red.
“Aren’t we in the same boat?” Armand countered and got up slowly, still panting really hard. “I’m counting on you to fall first the next time.”
“In your dreams!” Dimitri chuckled, seeing Armand in a similar rumpled state. He then faced the ground and pushed himself up with extreme difficulty, wiping the remnants of blood from his hand on his shorts. “You couldn’t even defeat someone who could barely fight, much more so someone who had only lost his memory.”
“Says someone whose face has been beaten to a pulp!” Armand sneered, instantly shifting to a fighting stance. “Your face is mostly black and blue. I can hardly recognize you right now!”
“Look in the mirror yourself!” Dimitri smiled painfully, positioning both fists in front of his chest, his body leaning sideways, his right foot behind his left. “You’re all talk, no action!”
Both men were certainly on the brink of exhaustion, focused on defense, waiting for the other to attack. When one moved, the other reacted, moving synchronously, keeping their distance over two arms length away from each other. They knew that their fight could end mere seconds after the first strike.
It appeared as though both men were stuck in a deadly dance, keeping the same distance between them for a long time. Neither man advanced nor retreated. The situation seemed to be a stalemate.
“Come on!” Armand urged, his expression oozing with arrogance. “Hit me with all you’ve got!”
“I can sense fear from you!” Dimitri taunted. “Why? Are you afraid?”
“Isn’t it the other way around?” Armand rolled his eyes and raised a finger.
“Then, why are you not attacking?” Dimitri grinned, his tone dripping with mockery. “Afraid to be knocked out with just one kick?”
“Bite me!” Armand jeered condescendingly, his movements clearly taunting the other. “How are your legs so far? Still trembling from all that pain?”
“Why don’t you test them yourself?” Without warning, Dimitri kicked Armand squarely in the face.
Armand, however, saw through Dimitri’s intention right away. He quickly dodged the incoming kick while trying to punch Dimitri straight in the gut with his right fist.
But before any of their strikes could land on their targets, a semi-transparent barrier appeared in between them, knocking both men to the ground.
The fight instantly came to a standstill with both men lying on the ground. When Dimitri’s foot hit the barrier, he felt like he was electrocuted. Similarly, Armand also felt like he was electrocuted when his fist hit the barrier.
The electric shock sapped whatever strength they had left. It rendered them both immobile, too tired to move any further.
For a moment, the training hall became eerily quiet. Only the sound of heavy breathing could be heard. Until a familiar yet authoritative male voice broke the silence...
“Halt! You need to stop fighting right this very moment!”
With great difficulty, both men turned to the source of the sound only to see Mikhail, wearing his usual butler uniform sans the spectacles, hovering just outside the platform.
“The Headmaster requires your presence!” Mikhail said matter-of-factly, oblivious to the significance of his words.
“The emissary has arrived!”