XX. Baggage

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"The next and final battle of today's events will be... fire Gifted Owen Sweeney... versus nature Gifted Melany Topal!" Danford announced.
"Melany?" Jace perked up at the mention of her name.
"Yeah, she entered, as far as I knew," Kai replied.
Lena didn't respond, she just looked out as Melany and her opponent stepped out into the center of the arena.

They faced off, not saying a word to one another.
"You have twenty minutes," Danford declared, "Begin!"
Almost immediately after the word was said, Owen's arms ignited with flames, a cocky look on his face.

He then thrusted his arms forward, flames spewing forward.
Melany simply raised an arm, and a massive leaf rose up from the sand, blocking the fire.
The fire slowly burned away at the leaf, but Melany kept feeding energy to it to keep it up.
She then thrusted her free hand forward, and clenched her fist.
Vines grew up from the ground around Owen's feet, and tied his feet down.
Owen struggled against them, not seeing the leaf shield dissipating.
Melany then ran forward and swiftly kicked him in the ribs, allowing the vines to release him right as she did.

Owen fell back and tumbled head over heels before finally landing on his stomach, grunting.
He hardly had a moment to recuperate, for he had to roll out of the way as Melany stomped down on where his back was.
He rolled until he got back up, throwing a few fireballs to keep her at bay.
One completely missed Melany and she simply stepped to the side to avoid the other, both hitting the wall underneath the audience, leaving scorch marks.

She then raised both her arms up, and focused.
Crawling up out of the ground, came a creature made of various plant matter, with the head of a venus flytrap. It snapped viciously as it crawled up, with long, bladed fingers. Owen stepped back, intimidated, as the creature fully emerged from the sand.

"She can do that?!" Aria exclaimed, astonished.
"Well, yeah," Dai said, "All Gifted can create creatures to fight for them, but it takes intense focus."
"Cool," Luke nodded.

The creature snapped its mouth, and charged towards Owen, swiping at him with his fingers. Owen dodged skillfully, the creature tearing through his shirt on the final swipe, though.

He fell back, stunned. The creature didn't get to his skin, but his shirt was a wreck.
"Seriously?!" he shouted.
The creature stood over him, snarling.
Owen looked up at it, annoyed. He then felt a vine wrap around his upper arm, and it yanked him to the side.

Melany swung him around before letting the vine whip go, Owen tumbling across the sand yet again.
He came to a stop on his stomach, groaning as the whip dissipated by wilting.

Melany snapped her fingers, and her creature wilted away as well. She stepped over to Owen, and planted her foot on his back.
The crowd counted to seven, and once the seven seconds had passed, the crowd erupted in cheers.
"Melany Topal wins!" Danford announced.

"Wow," Kai said, impressed, "She's good."
"Yeah," Raina agreed, "Not bad."
"The whip thing she did," Luke pointed out, "Hunter did the same thing. Did they train together?"
"She trained him," Lena replied bluntly, "Taught him everything she knew."
The others looked over at her, surprised.

"Thank you for coming today, everyone!" Danford continued, "We will continue tomorrow with the second event, and more battles! Participants, you shall now return to campus."

As the crowd disembarked, so did the competitors. They left their dugouts and made for the line of carts by the small forest.
As they left, Lena caught sight of Hunter, who was glaring them down.
She looked away, not wanting to make eye contact. Aria had slowed her pace to walk alongside her.

"Lena," she said, "May I ask you something that... may be a bit personal?"
Lena hesitated, "Sure."
"How long, exactly, have you known Melany and Hunter?" Aria asked, "I mean, I know you told me you had a rocky history with Hunter, but..."
Lena waited to reply until she and Aria were at the back of the group. Jace glanced back at them before looking back ahead.

Lena sighed.
"I was adopted by Melany's dad as a kid," she said, "Melany was the only friend I had for... a while."
Aria looked sympathetically at her friend, "What happened?"
"She and I went to the same middle school," Lena explained, "There, we met... him."
Lena paused, beginning to feel emotional, but she kept her composure.
"She just... began hanging around him more," Lena continued, "I never understood, and I still don't understand, what she saw in him. He was a jerk, the classic school bully, but he took an interest in us. Then, a few months before we came to New Haven..."
Aria paused, remembering what Lena told her the day she came back crying.

"He asked you to be his girlfriend, didn't he?" Aria asked.
"Yes," Lena uttered quietly, "And for a moment... I thought I liked him. He and I hung out a few times too, so... I thought, maybe... but I said no..."
Lena paused, getting choked up. She and Aria stopped walking, the shorter girl holding onto her comfortingly.
Lena wiped her eyes before tears could form.
"Then... Melany told me he asked her the same thing," she said, "He was an asshole, but she seemed so happy, I didn't have the heart to tell her he asked me the same thing, only the day before."
Aria just looked at her, listening intently.
"When I got here, I felt alone like I did before, and I can't stand it anymore," Lena said.
"You're not alone," Aria replied, giving a warm smile, "You have us now."
Lena looked at the brunette, tears in her eyes.

"Is... that true?" another voice asked.
Lena and Aria slowly turned around, to see Melany standing behind them, a hurt expression on her face.

"Lena... is that true?" she asked again.
Lena just stared at her, then shook her head indignantly, and hurried off to join the others.

Aria and Melany watched her go, worried. The nature Gifted looked to the water Gifted with pleading eyes.
Aria looked at her with pity.
"I'd say it's true," Aria said simply, and she hurried off to join the others.

Melany just watched them go, feeling betrayed.

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