The room fell silent, and no one moved. Jasper watched Lance toss his mask up and down. After a while, Lance broke the silence. “Okay, I’ll talk it you won’t. I became king five years ago after winning the last competition. Neither of you, I assumed, watched it. Even if you did, I looked different, so you wouldn’t have noticed me. It was dreadfully boring. The tests were boring and too easy. They didn’t test anything. No one learned anything. No one took it seriously. I knew I had to make a change. It took so long, but it was worth it. I wasn’t alone. My knights helped me build the game. The first round was lackluster. It was simple but was moving in the right direction. Then it hit me. I needed to take it up a notch. I announced for the games to continue. I hadn’t found my replacement. Until I saw your application.”
“It wasn’t anything special,” Jasper said. “Why me?”
“Because when I put the name to the face or, in this case, face to number, I took a gamble. I told you how to survive the first game. I watched the whole thing. You took control of the situation and led your group to the finish line. Eh, except for that one guy. The wire grid was one of my favorite executions. Plus, I didn’t like the way he talked to you. The second game was a real head-turner, in my opinion. I had gotten your girlfriend’s help on that one. She told me what happened that day when your mother passed. I wanted to truly test your pain. So I got in the box. And before you ask, yes, I could’ve died. I instructed Rose not to save me if you failed. I trusted you completely. Glad I did. You did have me worried for a second,” Lance laughed. “I knew you had it under control.”
“You *******. So, mine was the same?” Franklin asked.
“Oh, yeah. The fire. The theme for the second game was past trauma. I had you pick a partner because most of your trauma was shared with another person. That really helped me see the player’s pain. Joshua’s was very gross. He gave you guys the PG version of his story. It was something like how he almost killed his father’s staff member. He didn’t just give the man eye damage. He hospitalized the guy for two months. He has permanent eye and brain damage. He can barely talk. If it’s any consolation, I’m proud of both of you. That’s why I want to extend an offer to you as well, Franklin. I want you to be one of Jasper’s knights. I’ll let him decide which one.”
“You can shove that offer up your ass. You’re asking me to go along with this ********. With all this murder. You’re more ****** up than I realized,” Franklin said, clenching his arm.
“You don’t look so good. What happened to Jessie?” Lance asked, tilting his head from side to side. “I doubt he just let you go.”
Franklin’s face twisted into a look of regret.
“Kettle,” Lance said. “Don’t you dare sit here and talk down to me about killing. I know most of that blood on your shirt isn’t yours. So how did you do it? Clearly, he shot you a few times, but what really happened?”
“Franklin didn’t kill anyone. He probably just kicked the **** out of that psycho. Tell him, Frank,” Jasper said.
“I’ll tell it. He broke Jessie’s arm and took his gun. Fired twice in the chest and once in the head. After cleaning himself up, he came back here. I’m leaving out some details. I saw the whole thing in my mask.” Lance turned the mask around. “I can see all camera feeds in this thing. Made it myself. I’ve actually seen a lot of nasty little things with this. Didn’t know you had it in you, Franklin.”
“You killed him?” Jasper asked.
“It was him or me. He was fully ready to kill me. Jaz, you have to understand. I still haven’t found my sister yet. I can’t die here,” Franklin said through tears. “God, I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize. Jessie did the same thing to get his position. Wanna see how Josh is doing?” Lance tossed his mask towards them.
Franklin picked it up and held it to his face. He only had it on for a few seconds before throwing it at the wall in frustration. “That’s a lie. He can’t be…” Franklin said, shaking. “No.”
“It’s true. He’s not doing so good. Damon’s kind of a sadist. He’s been off on vacation, and this is his welcome bak gift—also, Josh’s interview. I want him to be the new Diamond Kight. If he does, I’ll let, what was her name, Jasmine! I’ll let Jasmine be Jasper’s Heart Knight. That just leaves Jason. Believe it or not, I was infuriated when you told me he was planning on letting you leave. I thought I was gonna lose it. Then I had an idea. I shouldn’t be the one to punish him. I let Rose do it. I did owe her a hunt.”
Jasper reached for the mask and put it on. The screen inside the mask changed, and an extremely wounded Josh sat against the wall. Knives stook out of him. He looked like a human pin cushion.
“Ten,” Damon said. “Where should eleven go? I’m not ready to end this yet. I’m impressed, eyepatch.”
Josh stayed silent. Jasper hoped it was because Josh refused to, not because he couldn’t. His breathing was ragged, and every time Josh moved, he looked like he was in tremendous pain.
“Okay, you don’t have to talk, but at least scream a little. Don’t be a bore,” Damon laughed as he stabbed Josh in the leg.
Jasper ripped the mask off and tossed it away. “Josh. He won’t last much longer. He lost a lot of blood. What can I do? He needs help,” Jasper thought.
Lance saw the uncertainty on Jasper’s face and grinned. “If you want to stop this, then all you have to do is agree to be king. I’ll make sure Josh is taken care of. You have my word. I’d hurry, though. Josh may be a strong guy, but even he has his limits.”
Jasper turned to Franklin. “What should I do?”
“I can’t tell you, man. This is on you,” Franklin said.
“Still can’t shake that fear, huh?” Lance asked, standing up. He crossed the room and stood above Jasper. “Come on, Jasper. Just say yes.”
Jasper stood up and looked him straight in the eyes. If this was indeed in his hands, then there’s one thing he needed to say. One thing that Josh would agree with.
“Well?” Lance asked. “Will you be my replacement?”
Jasper looked him dead in the eyes and said, “No.”
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