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A Lady In The Lion's Den

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"Very good, class! You've been learning well and improving yourselves consistently!"

Lessons in swordsmanship had just concluded for the day at the Duelists Society. Catarina Claes looked at the ladies she had been teaching swordsmanship and was satisfied with what she saw. When they'd begun, many didn't even know how to properly hold a sword. But now they had become fairly competent beginners in the art of swordsmanship. In particular, two of her pupils, Eddy Sugar and Bernie Langstaff, had shown themselves to have natural talent, and she was going to recommend they move to intermediate-level lessons after she concluded class.

The gathered ladies faced Catarina and gave her a sword salute. "Thank you for your dedication, class!" said Catarina. "Thank you for your guidance, Mistress Claes!" her class answered. As the class began to disperse, Robert Sheringham, the Duelists Society President, walked into the room. He had a wide smile on his face as he walked towards Catarina.

"Good evening, President!" Catarina greeted him. "What brings you here right now?"

"Lady Catarina, you just got a letter from the Royal Sorcier Duelist Association!" exclaimed the Society President. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I think you’ll like what you read!"

Catarina took the envelope. She noted that the envelope had gold trim, and was sealed by the Seal of the Royal Sorcier Duelist Association. She broke the seal and took out the letter. She then began reading it.

Miss Catarina Claes,

We hope this letter reaches you and you are doing well.

As you may be aware, one of the grandest events during Kingdom Week is the Young Lions Tournament. It is a tournament for duelists 18 years of age and younger to compete in an effort to become that year's Young Lion duelist. This is the 115th iteration of the Tournament, the longest-running young duelists event in all of Sorcier.

It is with great pleasure that we are formally inviting you to compete in this year's Young Lions Tournament. Word of your prowess as a duelist has reached us, and after much consideration, the Tournament Committee has decided that you are worthy of an invitation directly into the Tournament. This means you will not have to enter qualifying rounds and will be among the 64 competitors this year.

If you wish to accept this invitation, please reply back with a letter to the Tournament Committee indicating your acceptance.

We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you competing in this year's Young Lions Tournament.

Catarina immediately got excited after she finished reading the letter. She had heard the Duelists Society had been recommending she be invited, but did not expect it to actually happen. Just as she finished reading, Eddy spoke up.

"Mistress, what does the letter say?"

"I got an invitation to the Young Lions Tournament!" Catarina exclaimed. "I got picked to go directly into the competition!"

"Are you going to accept?" asked Bernie.

"Of course I'm going to accept the invite! Why wouldn't I?"

Upon hearing this, Catarina's pupils cheered and applauded. Their Mistress was going to be representing lady duelists in the Young Lions Tournament. President Sheringham then walked up to Catarina and shook her hand. "Congratulations, Lady Catarina! You'll be joining Adam Hargrove in representing the Duelists Society in the Young Lions Tournament!"

"I'm pleasantly surprised I got an invitation!" said Catarina. "I know you'd been putting my name out there, but I wasn't expecting it!"

"The Tournament Committee is always looking for lady duelists to compete" replied President Sheringham. "Not many enter though, and they limit direct invites to no more than 16. What you've demonstrated since the Open Entry Tournament has been extremely impressive, and I'm glad the Tournament Committee has decided to recognize that!"

The thrill of being invited had not yet left Catarina's mind. After receiving congratulations from her class and other members of the Duelists Society, she quickly left and headed to the Student Council Room, where she would share the news with her close friends.

 


 

Catarina burst into the Student Council Room, wide-eyed and excited over her invitation to the Young Lions Tournament. Her friends were startled by her sudden bursting in. For as much decorum as she lacked, even she knew to politely knock on the door to be allowed into the room.

"Everyone! You won't believe what just happened!"

"What, you bursting in here all of a sudden?" Alan snorted. "I think we can all believe that!"

Upon hearing those words, Catarina's mood went from ecstatic to apologetic. "Oh my! I'm so sorry! I got excited and caught up in the moment!"

Keith gave a resigned smile. "That's just like you Sister. But don't worry, it's not often you do this."

"So what happened?" asked Sophia.

"I just got a letter from the Royal Sorcier Duelist Association! They invited me to compete in the Young Lions Tournament!"

Upon hearing this news, Catarina's friends became excited. Mary immediately got up out of her seat and grabbed Catarina into a tight hug. "Congratulations, Lady Catarina! This is wonderful news!"

"Mary, calm down" said Alan. "It's not like she's won it or anything. She's just going to be competing in it."

"Well, from what I've heard, it's not often that a lady gets to the main tournament" Mary beamed. "The fact that Lady Catarina's going to be in it is amazing in and of itself!"

Geordo smiled and shook his head. That was just like Mary, to shower Catarina with praise any moment she could.

Maria then spoke up. "You’re the third person we’ve heard that’s gotten an invitation!"

"Third?" asked Catarina.

Geordo pulled out the same style of envelope with the same seal. "I got invited to compete too!"

"Oh! Well of course you would Prince Geordo!" declared Catarina. "You are a brilliant duelist yourself!"

Alan then pulled out the same envelope. "I got an invite as well. I guess winning the Open Entry Tournament was enough of an accomplishment to get me an invite."

"Don't sell yourself short Alan" replied Geordo. "You're an excellent duelist as well."

Sophia then spoke up. "So, have you decided on who your standard bearer and sword bearer will be?"

"What? Standard bearer? Sword bearer? What do you mean?" asked Catarina.

"This is a very formal event," explained Geordo. "During introductions each day, and for matches during the elimination portion, you'll have a standard bearer carrying your house's coat of arms, and a sword bearer following you. There's a lot of ceremony involved."

"Oh! I had no idea!"

"Of course you didn't," muttered Alan.

"Well, in that case, I think I've got the perfect people in mind!" said Catarina. Mary, Sophia, and Maria all turned to Catarina, starry-eyed and hopeful.

"I'll have Eddy as my standard bearer and Bernie as my sword bearer!"

The three girls deflated upon hearing Catarina say that, disappointed that none of them were chosen. Seeing this, Catarina had an answer for them. "Eddy and Bernie have been really progressing as duelists. I'd like to reward them for being my best students, and I think this is a good way of going about it!"

It was then that Maria spoke up. "That's actually a fair point. You have been praising them, and having them with you for the event would be a good way of going about it."

"Can we still help you dress and style your hair?" asked Sophia. "We still want to help you any way we can!"

"I don't think that'll be a problem," replied Catarina. The three girls' faces lit up upon hearing that from Catarina.

Just then, Keith spoke up. "This all sounds great, but what do you think Mother's reaction is going to be when she hears you've entered the tournament?"

Catarina felt a chill run inside her. "Oh no! I hadn't thought of that! She probably won't like it at all!"

"I'm not surprised," sighed Keith. "And yes, she probably won't be happy about it."

"Well, she may not like it, but I think she'd understand" interrupted Geordo. "Getting an invite is a high honor for this event, and turning it down would be considered very impolite. I would think your mother would understand the circumstances."

"Let's hope that's the case" replied Keith.

Alan then walked over to Geordo and whispered to him. "Should we tell them?"

"No, I think it'll be fun when they find out" Geordo whispered back.

 


 

Catarina began preparing for the Young Lions Tournament the very next day. The Duelists Society, wanting to give her as much time as possible, had other instructors take over the lessons for her class of lady duelists. Catarina began using her spare time sparring with various members of the Society, as well as Keith, who would join for sessions.

Things had been progressing well, though she soon noticed that her feint-and-lunge attack would be easily countered and result in a touch being landed on her. Soon, even Eddy and Bernie were able to anticipate the move and counter it. Seeing it countered so easily even by her pupils was frustrating. Finally, after one such session in which Eddy countered it every time she went for it, she decided to ask her about it.

"Eddy, you've been able to counter my feint and lunge easily and effectively. How are you doing it? There must be some sort of tell."

"Well, I notice that when you go for it, you stick your left arm out and flick your wrist. That telegraphs it each time" Eddy explained.

"Maybe you should omit that move" added Bernie. "It's a dead giveaway each time because of the tell."

"Maybe, but it's been such an effective move for me ever since I learned it" replied Catarina. "It took me a lot of effort to get it down pat, and I'd hate to be without it because it opens so much of my offense. I can fight without it, but having it makes things much easier for me."

She thought about it, and then came up with a solution. "I guess the only way to get rid of that tell is to condition myself to not give it. I'd like you two to help me with that. Whenever I'm sparring, if you see me hold my arm out and flick my wrist, I want you to shout 'No!. If you do that enough, I should begin getting it into my head not to do it."

"I think that's a great idea Mistress Claes!" declared Bernie. "Conditioning yourself like that should work."

"Maybe it'll be even more effective if we shout it in as shrill and annoying a manner as possible!" added Eddy.

"Really? Let me hear you two do that."

Eddy and Bernie looked at each other, and then turned to Catarina and shouted "NO!" in the most grating manner possible. Catarina flinched and winced upon hearing that. "I think you're onto something!"

Just then, Keith arrived. "Sister, I'm ready to spar with you!"

"Keith! Let me just warn you in advance that Eddy and Bernie have figured out that I tell one of my signature moves" Catarina began warning Keith. "They're going to shout out 'No!' whenever I do it. Please bear with them, because it might be grating on your ears. It certainly is on mine!"

Keith and Catarina began sparring, and as they sparred, when Catarina gave the tell, Eddy and Bernie shouted "NO!". The shrillness of their voices caused Keith to drop his practice sword. Catarina saw this and couldn't help but snicker. Seeing Keith look startled was just adorable. Keith smiled and said "I'll just have to condition myself as well!"

Finally, after about an hour, Keith and Catarina had ended the session. Keith was able to get used to the shrill "No!" shouted by Eddy and Bernie, and Catarina was starting to learn not to give the tell. Eddy and Bernie saw that indeed, when she didn't give the tell, her feint-and-lunge was an effective move.

"Well, there's work to do, but it's a start!" said Catarina. "Thank you both for your help today!"

"It's our pleasure Mistress Claes!" Eddy and Bernie declared simultaneously.

As Catarina and Keith walked back to the dorms, she noticed him holding his head.

"Keith, are you okay?"

"Well, their 'No!' shout might not startle me anymore, but it still gives me a headache" replied Keith.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't intend for you to get a headache!"

"No, it's fine. I'm sure I'll be acclimated to it with time."

After walking Catarina back to her dorm, Keith said his goodbyes and left for the gentlemen's dorm. Catarina walked to her room and found Anne waiting for her.

"Good evening, Lady Catarina. How did your sparring go?"

"It went well!" exclaimed Catarina. "Eddy and Bernie identified a tell for one of my moves, and they're helping me stop giving it."

"Good, I'm glad to hear," replied Anne.

Catarina then walked towards her desk and found an envelope on it. She looked at it and realized it was from her mother.

"Oh no" Catarina thought. "She knows I'm in the tournament. This won't be good."

Catarina broke the seal on the envelope and opened it. She pulled out the letter, and began reading it.

Catarina,

I understand things have been going well for you at school. Your academic performance has managed to improve despite the fact that you are now participating in the Duelists Society. I am grateful that Keith has been able to keep you focused on your studies with the additional activities you now have.

Catarina was relieved that at least the letter started out well. It wasn't a written lecture yet.

I will say I was surprised when I found out that you had entered into the Young Lions Tournament. When I discovered this, you can imagine I was not happy about it, since that would take time away from your studies.

"Oh no" thought Catarina. "Here it comes!"

However, I was then corrected, and I found out that you did not enter into the Tournament, but were invited to it. I am aware that being invited is a much different circumstance than entering, and that turning down an invitation would be a social faux pas that, while minor, nonetheless is desirable to avoid.

Wait, what?

In light of this development, I have no objections to you participating in the Young Lions Tournament. The only thing I ask is that you be on your best behavior for it.

Well, this was easier than she envisioned.

I am looking forward to you and Keith coming home for Kingdom Week. It will be good to see both of you again. In the meantime, please continue to put your best efforts towards your schoolwork.

With Love,

Mother

Catarina blinked in disbelief. She had expected to be verbally chewed out. Instead, her mother, while not happy about that development, at least did not object. Catarina considered herself lucky that her mother was not upset at her being in the Tournament. She decided to just count her blessings and look forward to going home for a week.

 




Today was going to be a busy Saturday for Catarina. The first half of the day would be spent at the Royal Sorcier Duelist Association's headquarters. There, a tour of the building as well as a luncheon for the invited duelists would be held. Afterwards, she would be meeting up with Mary, Sophia, and Maria to pick out a new duelist dress for herself.

After waking up and having a quick breakfast, Catarina walked to the front gate of the Academy of Magic. There, she saw Prince Geordo waiting for her.

"Good morning Catarina! Looking forward to visiting the Association Headquarters?"

"Yes I am, Prince Geordo!" exclaimed Catarina. Changing the subject, she then said "So I heard that they sent out the maximum 16 invites this year."

"Yes, and there's going to be some other noted duelists there," replied Geordo. "I've heard the two to watch out for are Eric Steen and Benjamin Galloway. They're considered a notch above the others."

"This entire tournament is going to consist of the best of the best!" answered Catarina. "I'm honored at the invite, but I'm hoping I didn't get it just because I'm a lady and because the Duelists Society lobbied for me. Right now my goal is to live up to the invite."

"Catarina, I have no doubts you'll live up to it" assured Geordo. "You always sell yourself short, but you're a very talented duelist. You've regularly beaten the Duelists Society's top members, and though you haven't beaten me in a competitive match yet, you've given me trouble every time we've fought."

Just then, a carriage rolled up to the gates. Catarina walked up and got into the carriage. She looked back as she got in and noticed Geordo seemingly scanning the area.

"Prince Geordo? What are you waiting for?"

"I'm assuming my brother will be riding along with us. Just wondering what's taking him so long."

"Well no, he won't be," answered Catarina. "I got a carriage only for me and you. Alan said he would go his own way."

Upon hearing this, Geordo's eyes lit up. In a manner unbefitting a prince, he ran to the carriage and quickly boarded it. After closing the door, he went to the opening where he could see the coachman. He pulled out some gold coins and whispered to the coachman "Please take the long route!" He handed the coins to the coachman, who looked at them and replied "As you wish, Your Highness." He then sat down beside Catarina and mentally rejoiced at what had happened.

"It's just me and her in the carriage! I can't believe it! I managed to get precious time alone with my beloved again!"

He then shifted over to sit closer beside Catarina. Catarina noticed this, but unsure of why Geordo was doing so, said nothing about it. She instead spoke about the upcoming visit.

"I'm eager to tour the Headquarters!"

"So am I!" declared Geordo, who then thought "But there's no reason we can't take our time getting there."

 

It turned out the long route was a bit too long, as Catarina and Geordo had arrived late to the Duelist Association Headquarters. Catarina and Geordo looked outside the window and saw the other invited duelists, Alan among them, as well as several officials from the Duelist Association looking at them, waiting for their arrival. Geordo stepped out of the carriage first, after which he helped Catarina out. They walked up to the gathered group. Catarina was about to apologize for their lateness, thinking that somehow she hadn't known what time it was, when Geordo then spoke up.

"Apologies for our lateness. I'd lost track of the time and kept Catarina and the rest of you waiting."

Catarina then whispered, "Prince Geordo, why are you....."

"Just go with it," Geordo whispered back.

Catarina kept her mouth shut and waited for someone else to speak up. Finally, the Association Grandmaster spoke up.

"Now that we're all here.....The Royal Sorcier Duelist Association wishes to welcome all of you, our invited participants, to the Duelist Association Headquarters! We will be starting off with a tour of the building, after which there will be a luncheon. This is meant to be an informal gathering of you, our invited participants, so please relax! Before we begin the tour, we're going to give you time to greet and chat with each other, so please, introduce yourselves to each other!"

The invitees did as the Association Grandmaster asked and began socializing. Catarina went to each invitee to shake their hand and chat with them. At one point during the socializing, she heard a few duelists talk about the upcoming Tournament.

"So, who, besides yourself, do you feel has the best chance of winning the Tournament?"

"I'd say Prince Geordo or Adam Hargrove. Prince Geordo's said to be incredibly talented, and I've heard a lot of praise directed your way, Master Hargrove."

"You might think I’m biased, but I think Lady Catarina Claes has a shot to win it" she heard Master Hargrove say. "She is very talented and a difficult opponent for anyone. I should know! She's beaten me several times!"

"Really?"

"Yeah, her fighting style, she moves with the most efficiency you can, and she’s able to read the situation as well as anyone. Though she does have a tell for one of her most effective attacks. If she figures that out and stops giving it, I think she's got a real shot!"

Catarina smirked. That problem was being worked out, and soon she'd be able to spring it on her opponents without warning. She was also honored at Master Hargrove's praise of her and rating of her chances. He was widely recognized as the Duelists Society's top duelist, and the fact that he gave a wide berth of respect to her carried a lot of weight.

Just then, the Association Grandmaster spoke up.

"Okay, we are ready to begin the tour! As you know, this year is the 115th iteration of the Young Lions Tournament. We have had 113 different Young Lions, as well as a Young Lioness. You will be competing with 48 other qualifiers to take home the title of Young Lion, or as may be the case this year, Young Lioness, as well as the Young Lions Cup!"

Catarina frowned upon hearing that there'd been a Young Lioness. She hadn't known that there was already a lady that had won the tournament. She was looking forward to possibly being the first to do it.

With that, the Association Grandmaster then began leading the invitees through the Association Headquarters, showing them their facilities and the museum, as well as the Young Lions Cup they'd commissioned for that year. They then got to the Hall of Young Lions. The Association Grandmaster then explained to them the purpose of the Hall:

"Every year, an artist paints a portrait of that year's Tournament winner, and it is placed here in the Hall, along with a plaque describing their run through the Tournament. One of you with us today may possibly have their portrait placed here to immortalize you as a winner. We're going to give you time to browse the Hall. When lunch is ready, we will make an announcement."

Catarina began browsing the various portraits of the previous winners and taking in what the plaques said about the portrait's subject. As she browsed, she came up to the portrait of the winner of the 92nd Young Lions Tournament. It was this portrait that was of the one lady that had previously won. Off to the side, Alan got Geordo's attention, and they watched to see what Catarina's reaction would be.

Catarina saw the young lady in the portrait wearing a black dress with embroidered pink rose blooms. Her brown hair was cut in a short bob and adorned with a pink ribbon. She was holding out her Young Lions Cup in her right hand, and her face had a confident, almost cocky smile on it. Something about the lady in this portrait looked familiar, she thought. She inspected it closely, and then came to a startling realization about the portrait's subject.

"Mother?!"

 


 

Catarina had passed the luncheon at the Duelist Association Headquarters in a haze. The discovery that her mother, Miri Diana Claes, had won the tournament was a startling revelation. She had always known her mother to be a typical noblewoman. The fact that she'd practiced sword fighting at one time was something she had never expected. Geordo and Alan were rather amused at her reaction, figuring it would be a shock to her.

After the luncheon, Catarina left to go to the tailor. She was seen off by Geordo and took the carriage to the tailor shop. When she got there, Mary, Sophia, and Maria were all there waiting for her. The three girls walked up to her and noticed that she seemed to be stunned over something.

"Lady Catarina, is something wrong?" asked Maria.

Jumping to the only logical conclusion she could muster up, Mary looked into Catarina's eyes. "I found out from Prince Alan that you would be alone in a carriage with Prince Geordo. Did he do anything to you while you rode there?"

Catarina snapped out of her stunned daze and quickly answered. "What? No, nothing happened! Prince Geordo and I just rode to the Duelist Association Headquarters and spoke about the Young Lions Tournament. Though it took longer than I thought to get there."

"Then why did you have that stunned look on your face?" asked Sophia.

"Because I found out something shocking."

The three girls braced themselves.

"My mother once entered the Tournament. And she won!"

The three girls heard the words from Catarina's mouth and had not expected that answer. They didn’t know exactly how to react to that news.

“What?!”

"Yeah, my mother was a previous winner of the Young Lions Tournament. The only Young Lioness in the Tournament's history!"

This ended up being a revelation to the other girls. "I never would've suspected your mother had practiced sword fighting" a surprised Sophia remarked.

"Does she still practice it now?" asked Maria.

"I don't know," answered Catarina. "I didn't know before today that she'd practiced it at all, much less won the Young Lions Tournament."

Wanting to get to the reason they were all there, Mary jumped into the conversation. "Lady Catarina! Let's go inside and help you pick out a dress!"

The girls entered the tailor shop and explained what they were there for. They were led to a section of the shop with various duelist dresses. Catarina and the girls went through the rack and browsed the dresses that were available. Mary, Sophia, and Maria each picked out dresses in Catarina's usual colors of blue and white. But when they showed them to Catarina, she would shake her head. The fact that her mother had won the Young Lions Tournament was something she wanted to pay tribute to as a fellow lady duelist.

It was then that Catarina noticed a dress that was similar to the one she saw her mother wearing in the portrait. It was a white dress with embroidered red rose blooms. She took the dress and showed it to the girls.

"This is what I want to wear!"

Mary frowned upon seeing this. Red-and-white were Geordo's colors, and the significance of Catarina picking out a dress in those colors was not lost on her. Mary gathered her courage and asked, "Lady Catarina, why do you want to wear a dress in Prince Geordo's colors?"

Hearing this, Catarina replied "Well, it's not going to be in his colors. I'm going to ask it to be made colored black and have the roses be pink. The dress my mother wore in the portrait was just like this one in those colors, and I want to match that."

Sophia blinked. "Black with pink? That's a very unusual color combination."

"It is" admitted Catarina. "But I think it can work!"

Catarina took the dress to the clerk and placed her order, telling them about the color combination she wanted. After being told it would be finished in five days, the girls then left the store and returned to the Academy of Magic.



Five days later, after classes, Catarina and the girls returned to the tailor shop. An assistant got the dress and brought it out for Catarina. She showed the dress to her friends, who then voiced their opinions.

"It'll certainly make you stand out!" said Maria.

"Do you mean that in a good way or a bad way?" asked Catarina.

"Well, why don't you try it on? We'll be able to judge!"

With that, Catarina took the dress to the back and began changing. As she did, the three girls began talking with each other.

"That's an odd choice. But she says her mother wore something like it" said Mary.

"I do like her reasoning for wanting to do so though, to pay tribute to Duchess Claes. It's why Lady Abigail in The Sword Saint books wears green and white, to honor her late mother!" exclaimed Sophia.

"Her heart's in the right place for sure" admitted Maria. "Let's just hope it looks good on her."

Just then, Catarina called out to them. "So, what do you think?"

The three girls turned around and looked at Catarina. The dress, against their expectations, worked! While her previous duelist dresses had made her look beautiful, this dress made her look cute. Very cute.

Mary was about to squeal out in delight, but at the last second, she covered her mouth with her hands while her face reddened. Sophia and Maria both blushed at the sight of Catarina in the dress. They were doing all they could to hold back from rushing her and squeezing her in a tight hug. Noticing Mary's reaction, Catarina asked "Does it look bad?"

Mary took a few moments to compose herself and then had her response. "No! It looks great! It makes you look really, really cute !" Catarina blushed at Mary's compliment. Being called cute was something she never thought would've been possible with her villainess face.

Maria then spoke up. "Lady Catarina, I agree with Lady Mary! It makes you stand out even more!"

"In a good way?" asked Catarina.

"Yes! It's adorable!" declared Sophia.

Taking their word for it, Catarina brought the dress to the clerk to pay for it. Mary then came up to Catarina while she was paying for it. "Lady Catarina, you should order a second copy of the dress!"

"Eh? What for?"

"There's the Young Lions Ball after the Tournament, and from what Prince Alan told me, duelists usually attend wearing their duelist outfits. If you have a second one, you'll be able to change into it after the Tournament!"

"Oh! That's a good idea! Thanks Mary!"

Catarina placed the order for a second dress with the clerk, and after settling up her first purchase, her and her friends headed back to the Academy. As they left, Sophia brought up the subject of the Tournament.

"So what do you think your chances are?" asked Sophia.

"I heard Master Hargrove praising my ability while we were there and saying I had a chance to win" Catarina answered. "I'm going to be aiming to win it. This'll be a difficult tournament, since it's the best of the best. But I'm going to give it my all!"

"We'll be there for you Lady Catarina!" declared Maria. "We'll be there to cheer you on to victory!"

 


 

Over the next several weeks, Catarina practiced her swordsmanship and prepared for the tournament. Her efforts to beat out the tell for her feint and lunge bore fruit, and when all was said and done, she had gotten it into her to stop giving the tell. Now having the move at her disposal with no chance of giving it away, she was feeling confident going into the Young Lions Tournament. The second copy of her duelist dress was finished, and also helped Eddy and Bernie pick out black-and-pink dresses they would be wearing to serve as her standard bearer and sword bearer respectively.

The day before Kingdom Week began, after classes let out for the day, Catarina and Keith boarded a carriage and headed home, to Claes Manor. In two days, the Young Lions Tournament would begin, and Catarina would begin on her quest to win the Young Lions Cup. She liked to think she had a shot at it, but she knew it would take a lot of effort, skill, and some luck as well. Hopefully she would get to face Prince Geordo again, as well as Prince Alan. She wanted to see if she could now actually win a fight against Prince Geordo, and Prince Alan had wanted to face off against her in the Open Entry Tournament. Maybe this time he'd get the chance.

The carriage arrived at Claes Manor in the evening. Catarina and Keith disembarked from the carriage and walked up to their parents, who had been waiting for them. After exchanging greetings and embraces, Duke Luigi spoke up.

"I'm excited about the Young Lions Tournament! I'm looking forward to seeing you fighting in it, Catarina!"

"I've been practicing hard for it! Keith's done a lot to get me prepared for it as well!" exclaimed Catarina.

"Well, I'm just glad that Keith has also made sure to keep tabs on your academic performance" added Miri Diana. "I'm glad you've been able to maintain your improved grades while you've been getting ready for it."

Afterwards, everyone went inside and had their first family dinner in the past few months. As they dined, Catarina spoke up to ask her mother a question. "Mother, why did you never tell me you were a winner of the Young Lions Tournament?"

Miri Diana looked at Catarina. She knew the question was coming and had an answer for it. "The way I feel about it is rather complicated."

Catarina looked at her mother with confusion. "What do you mean? I would think winning the Young Lions Tournament would've been a fond memory of yours!"

Miri Diana sighed upon hearing that. "Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of the accomplishment. But I'm not proud of how I ended up in that situation."

"How you ended up in the situation?" asked Keith.

"Well, as you know, your father and I got engaged at a much older age. I did not get proposals like most young ladies did for.....various reasons."

"Various reasons? Like what?" inquired Catarina.

"Reasons I'll tell you about at another time" Miri Diana answered quickly. "But because of that, my father had me learn sword fighting because he reasoned that since I did not have a fiancé to protect me, I would need to protect myself. I took to it and eventually got an invitation to the Young Lions Tournament, which as you obviously know I won. I enjoyed the experience, but it's one I wish I never would've had to have gone through in the first place."

"Dear, you shouldn't really let that get you down," said Luigi. "Things worked out in the end, didn't they?"

"Yes, they did," admitted Miri Diana. "But still, it's a reminder of my rather complicated childhood and adolescence. I'd rather not think about it too much."

After they finished dinner, Catarina spoke up again. "Everyone, I'd like to show you something. Anne, could you please come with me?"

"Certainly, Milady" replied Anne. With that, Catarina and Anne headed off to her room.

Several minutes later, Catarina returned, wearing the black with pink rose blooms duelist dress she had made for the Tournament. Keith blushed upon seeing his sister in the dress. Her father remarked "You look lovely in that dress, honey! It suits you!"

Catarina then turned to Miri Diana. "Mother, what do you think?"

Miri Diana took in the fact that her daughter was wearing almost the same dress she wore when she competed in the tournament. "It looks nice on you. Are you wearing it because I wore it?"

"Yes!" Catarina declared excitedly. "I thought you looked cute wearing it! I also wanted to honor the fact that you're the only Young Lioness in the Tournament's history!"

Hearing those words gave Miri Diana pause. Being called cute was something she wished someone would've told her at the Young Lions Tournament 23 years ago.

"Who knows Sister?" asked Keith. "You might join Mother in that exclusive club!"

"And we'll be sure to be there to support you and cheer you on!" added Luigi.

Catarina, Keith, and Luigi then began talking amongst themselves about the Tournament and what they were looking forward to. Miri Diana then thought to herself about the experience and her difficulty coming to terms with it now. "I haven't been able to set foot in that stadium for almost 20 years." she thought to herself. "I just hope that Catarina can make a good impression, unlike me when I competed."

 


 

The first day of the Young Lions Tournament had finally arrived. Catarina got up early and put on her sparring clothes for the trip to the Duelist Association Headquarters to check in and also find what group she'd been drawn into. The group stage would be held at various venues across Sorcier City, while the elimination portion would be held at the Royal Stadium.

After arriving at the Duelist Association Headquarters, she checked in. Catarina went to the match board to see what group she'd been drawn into. She'd ended up in Group F, and as she looked at the other names drawn into it, noticed Prince Geordo had been drawn into it as well. She was thrilled at the fact that she'd be facing Geordo in the group stage, as she would be able to gauge how much she had improved. After getting the location for the Group F venue, she headed back to her carriage to travel there.

After arriving at the venue, she found Mary, Sophia, Maria, Keith, and Nicol waiting for her. The girls were wearing pink-and-black dresses to show support for Catarina. Keith had a pink-and-black rose boutonnière pinned to his jacket lapel.

"Everyone! I'm touched that you're willing to show your support for me like that!"

The three girls smiled at Catarina. "We're going to support you however we can!" answered Maria. "Why wouldn't we?"

"I'm always going to be here to support you, Sister!" declared Keith.

"I'm going to be cheering you and Geordo on to make it to the elimination rounds" added Nicol.

Catarina then had a question. "Are Mother and Father going to be here?"

"Most likely not" replied Nicol. "Most nobles have other obligations during Kingdom Week, and usually the first two days of the Young Lions Tournament are for those that are really interested or have a person to cheer for."

"I see. That makes sense" declared Catarina. She then turned to the girls. "So have you figured out how you're going to dress me up?"

"Yes, we have!" exclaimed Sophia. "With the dress you're wearing, we felt that something along simpler lines would do for this."

"Oh? What does that mean?" asked Catarina.

"You'll have to wait and see!" replied Mary.

After saying her goodbyes to Keith and Nicol, the girls and Anne headed to the dressing rooms for the venue. As the only lady in the group, Catarina and her friends had free reign over the ladies' dressing room. They found Eddy and Bernie waiting for them, who would also be changing there.

After helping Eddy and Bernie put on their dresses, which were black-and-pink like Catarina's, the girls and Anne helped Catarina put on her dress and armor. Afterwards, they sat her down in a chair, upon which Mary began brushing Catarina's hair straight. After brushing it, Sophia gathered it into a ponytail, to which Maria tied tightly with a pink ribbon bow. Mary finished the look by placing a black rose decoration in her hair on the right side of her head. Catarina got up and looked in the mirror. She sort of did look cute like that. The other girls blushed at Catarina's appearance.

"Milady, that dress truly does suit you" remarked Anne.

"Thank you Anne! I'm glad you approve!"

"Mistress Catarina, we'd better head to the waiting area!" Eddy and Bernie interrupted.

Catarina turned to her friends and Anne. "I'm going to be heading to the waiting area with Eddy and Bernie now. You find your seats. I'll be looking for you in the crowd!"

"Good luck Lady Catarina!" the girls wished Catarina. Afterwards, the girls and Anne walked towards the seats, while Catarina, Eddy, and Bernie walked towards the waiting area. Bernie then had a question for Catarina. "Are you nervous, Mistress?"

"I am, yes," admitted Catarina. "But I'm sure it'll be fine once things get going!"

64 duelists would be competing in the Young Lions Tournament. There would be eight groups of eight, with four matches today and three tomorrow, followed up by the elimination portion the day after. The winner and runner-up from each group would advance to the elimination portion. Matches would be three rounds in the group stage, going to five rounds in the elimination portion. One could win either by landing more touches on the opponent, or disarming them completely. Rounds would last three minutes In the event a match was tied after the mandated number of rounds, an untimed sudden death round would be held, where the first to three touches would be declared the winner.

Prior to the matches, each competitor was introduced to the crowd, which had a good number of people in it due to the fact that Prince Geordo was in this group. As Catarina walked out to the ring for her introduction, led by Eddy as her standard bearer and followed by her sword bearer Bernie, she was pleased at the positive reception she got. She thought she heard the girls and Keith calling out to her.

Catarina was in action immediately, kicking off the Group F action with another duelist named George Warner. Catarina and Master Warner greeted each other with sword salutes in the center of the ring. The match judge went over the rules of the match with the two of them, after which they then got into position. The judge then called out "BEGIN!", and the match went underway.

After gauging her opponent, Catarina got to work. She used her quick footwork to nimbly dodge his attacks and counter-attack to score touches. Her feint-and-lunge did a good amount of work as well, opening up her offense and allowing her to press.

Finally, after three rounds, the match was over. Catarina had won decisively. After she was announced as the winner, she raised her sword to acknowledge the crowd, to which the crowd cheered. She then shook hands with Master Warner.

"Good match! It was a pleasure to fight you!"

"I'd heard some people talk about how good you are!" replied Master Warner. "You turned out to be better than they were saying! Good luck the rest of the way!"

Catarina walked off and went up to Eddy and Bernie, who would be serving as a set of eyes for anything they spotted in-between rounds and after the match. "Mistress Claes, that was a very decisive win!" said Eddy.

"I should mention, I noticed that you did give your feint-and-lunge tell once during the match" said Bernie. "Thankfully Master Warner didn't recognize it, but you know there's competitors here that will!"

"Bernie, thank you! I've just got to keep in mind not to do it. I've almost broken the habit, but I do need a reminder every now and then!"

The Tournament had started off well for Catarina. She waited to the side as the matches progressed.

 


 

Catarina's final match for the day was approaching. She'd won the next two matches and sat with a 3-0 record. When the match pairings went up, Catarina checked and saw she would be facing Prince Geordo to end the first day. She was thrilled that the match was coming sooner rather than later.

Finally, it was time for the match. Catarina and Geordo walked to the center of the ring and gave each other sword salutes. Catarina then spoke to Prince Geordo.

"Don't disappoint me, Prince Geordo. I want you at your absolute best!"

"Catarina, you needn't worry. I will not hold back."

They then got into position, to which the judge called out "BEGIN!"

For two rounds, Geordo pressed the attack, but Catarina was able to limit him to only two touches. Near the end of the second round, Catarina took advantage of a miscue by Geordo to land a touch. When the third round began, Geordo went for a swing which Catarina anticipated and parried, using the opening to land a touch and tie the match. She then sat back and tried to defend. However, Geordo was able to break through, and landed two more touches in quick succession. With time running out, Catarina decided to press the attack. She was able to land an additional touch, but then the match judge called time.

The match was over, and Geordo had bested her. The two of them sword saluted each other, after which Geordo gave Catarina a hug. "Good match, Catarina! Again, that was a difficult match for me. You defend very well!"

"Thank you Prince Geordo! I'm disappointed though. I thought I was going to pull it off, but not today, I guess."

"Well, you're still in a good spot. You're 3-1. Win your three matches tomorrow, and you'll make the elimination portion!" Switching topics, he then said "After they wrap things up for the day, meet me by the main entrance."

With that, Geordo let go of the hug, and the two of them walked off. Catarina walked up to Eddy and Bernie. "So close, Mistress Claes!" said Bernie.

"Thank you. So did you notice anything while I was fighting Geordo?"

"No, not really" replied Eddy. "You didn't give any noticeable tells, but I didn't notice anything in particular about Geordo that seemed off."

"I know at one time switching stances would give him trouble" Catarina recalled. "But he's worked on it since, and has gotten rid of that weakness."

"Well, all you can really do is just get ready for tomorrow!" declared Bernie. "Just come here ready to win your matches!"

Finally, the first day of the Young Lions Tournament wrapped up. Catarina said her goodbyes to Eddy and Bernie, and left the Royal Stadium for the day. Right outside the front gate, she ran into all of her friends and Anne.

"Lady Catarina, you did well!" exclaimed Maria. "You've again become one of the stories of the Tournament!"

"Really?" asked Catarina. "I'm amazed that people are that invested in me."

"You're the only lady in this tournament, and you're good at dueling," replied Nicol. "Based on what I've seen and heard, your cheering section will be larger tomorrow."

"I should mention, I heard a few girls say your dress looks cute and that they want to get one like it themselves!" added Sophia.

"I must say" commented Mary, "Even though you lost, I was impressed with your fight against Geordo, particularly how much you were able to hold off his advances!" After giving that comment, Mary noticed the glare Geordo shot at her. The fact that she was able to get him to react to her barb was a victory in and of itself.

"Thanks Mary! I was thinking of trying to press the attack, but Geordo's so skilled that he might've just driven me off."

"Not like that would be an issue either" snickered Keith. Geordo's glare then shot towards Keith. Revelling in the fact that his needling succeeded, he mentally laughed about the situation. "She still doesn't get it. But she wouldn't be her if she did!"

Everyone said their goodbyes and then headed home. As Catarina rode back with her brother and Anne, she thought about her performance. If she won her three matches tomorrow, she'd be through to the elimination portion.

She had to get there. She wanted her mother to see her competing in the Tournament, in an effort to become the second Young Lioness. She was more driven than ever.

 


 

Day two of the Young Lions Tournament started out much like the first. She woke up early to get to the Group F venue, was dressed by the girls and Anne, and went through introductions. Three matches would be held today. If she could win them all, she would be through to the Round of 16.

She looked for her friends and family amongst the crowd, and was able to spot them. Nicol ended up being correct, as she noticed people around her family and friends either wearing black and pink or waving black-and-pink banners. She was flattered at the attention she was getting for participating.

Just then, she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Geordo, there to give her a pep talk.

"Catarina, promise me you'll win these next three matches. I want to see you in the elimination portion of the tournament, and I want a rematch against you!"

Catarina smiled at Geordo's works. "Thank you Prince Geordo! I'm going to do what I can to make it, though I understand one of my opponents, Eric Steen, is really difficult to fight. He's undefeated like you are."

"Well, he won't be for long, after you and I topple him" declared Geordo.

The two then separated and got to the business of fighting in their matches. Catarina's first two matches went well. She decisively outpointed her opponent in the first match, and in the second, she had a close fight until the third round, when she was able to put away her opponent and win decisively. She was now 5-1. All that remained between her and the Round of 16 was Eric Steen.

Finally, it came time for her match with Master Steen. The stakes couldn't have been higher. He was 5-1 as well, and the winner of their match would move on to the Round of 16. The two of them walked to the ring and greeted each other with sword salutes. After hearing the instructions from the match judge, they got into position. After setting, the judge called out "BEGIN!"

The first round began, and it did not go well for Catarina. Master Steen was a skilled duelist, and he defended against her ably. Twice, he was able to counter attacks to score a touch. Near the end of the round, he was able to land another touch, and the round ended with Catarina trailing him three touches to none.

During the rest period, Catarina spoke to Eddy and Bernie. "Did either of you notice anything?" she asked them. "No, we didn't notice anything, Mistress Claes" her pupils answered with disappointment. She had nothing to go off of, and would have to figure it out somehow in the second round.

The second round began, and it started off better. Catarina was finally able to land a touch, and midway through the round, she landed another one. But Master Steen was able to recover, and landed two touches on Catarina. The round ended, and Catarina was back in the same position she was in at the start of the round. She had only one more round to go. Either she would need a furious comeback, or she would somehow have to disarm Master Steen. As she considered her options during the rest period, Eddy came up to her. "Mistress! I noticed this round that Master Steen seems to have a habit of adjusting his grip on his sword fairly often. Perhaps you could try and attack during those brief moments he does so!"

Taking this in, Catarina decided that if she was to win, she would have to do so. "Eddy, thank you! I'm going to have to figure out something. I'll try and keep watch of his hands!"

Finally, it was the third round. Now or never. Either she would win, or her tournament would be over. In the first minute, she approached cautiously, prodding him into making a move and trying to draw attacks from him. He was content to sit back and defend his lead, just needing to stay ahead in touches. Then, in the second minute, Catarina spotted it. She saw Master Steen briefly loosen his grip on his sword. Knowing there would never be another chance, she took it. She attacked suddenly, catching Master Steen off-guard. A combination of strikes followed, and on the last one, her swing managed to knock his sword out of his hand.

Catarina had done it! She disarmed Master Steen to win the match and make it to the Round of 16! Her family and friends, as well as her admirers in the crowd, roared loudly when the sword flew out of Master Steen's hand. Master Steen looked at Catarina, then dropped his head and began shaking it. She approached him cautiously and offered her hand, saying "Good match!"

Master Steen then looked up at her and said "One of your attendants must've spotted something about me to have you go for that attack."

"Yes, they did" admitted Catarina, not knowing where he was going.

But then Master Steen smiled at her. "That was only half of it. The other half was to make me pay for it, and you did just that. Great match!" The two then shook hands, and Master Steen raised Catarina's hand to the roar of the crowd. "Well, I was not planning on having my Young Lions Tournament end so suddenly. But it now is. Good luck the rest of the way!"

With that, Catarina exited the ring. Her ticket was now punched. After watching the concluding matches, she met up with Geordo.

"Congratulations Catarina! You're in the elimination portion now!" said Geordo. "Beating Eric Steen is no easy task!"

"Eddy told me after the second round that he has a bad habit of adjusting his grip. I caught him trying to do so and managed to attack at the right time to disarm him."

"That was very impressive!" Geordo praised Catarina. "And now you're going to be fighting it out for the Young Lions Cup!"

She then turned to the subject of his performances. "How did you do?"

"Undefeated" answered Geordo. "I can't get drawn against you in the Round of 16 because we're from the same group, but after that, we could face each other again."

The two of them exited the Group F venue and went to the main gate. There, Catarina's friends and brother were waiting for her.

Mary threw herself at Catarina and hugged her tightly. "Lady Catarina! Congratulations on making it to the elimination portion!"

"Thank you Mary! I'm looking forward to tomorrow!"

"We were all holding our breath when you fell behind Master Steen," said Sophia. "We were all so relieved when you managed to disarm him!"

"Win it for us Catarina, but also win it for yourself!" added Maria.

"Sister, I want to let you know that we'll all be sitting in our family's box at the Royal Stadium. Just find the one that has our family's crest on it, and you'll see us there!" said Keith.

"All of you?" asked Catarina.

"Yes" replied Nicol. "Duke Claes graciously offered us seats in the box. We all wanted to be together to cheer you on!"

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow!" declared Catarina. "I can't wait for it!"

"Well, get some sleep first" Geordo advised her. "Tomorrow will be gueling. You need all the rest you can get."

With that, everyone said their goodbyes for the day and headed to their respective homes. As Catarina rode back with Keith and Anne, she was looking forward to the elimination portion, and seeing her parents there. She had been determined to make it to the elimination portion, and had accomplished it after almost not making it.

She was going to make them all proud of her. Especially her mother.

 


 

Catarina awoke the next morning and got ready. Today was the day, the elimination portion of the Young Lions Tournament. She had managed to qualify for it, and now was competing to become only the second Young Lioness in the Tournament's history after her mother. The day went like the other two days prior: wake up, travel to the venue, which was now the Royal Stadium, have the girls and Anne dress her, Eddy, and Bernie, and get ready for introductions.

The introductions came. Catarina waited to hear her name called. Finally, the Tournament's Master of Ceremonies introduced her.

"Our next competitor is the runner-up of Group F. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Lady Catarina Claes!"

Catarina walked out of the tunnel, led by Eddy bearing her standard and Bernie bearing her sword. As she walked out, she heard the crowd roar in approval. She walked out to their cheers and eventually got to the center of the ring. As she looked at the crowd and began raising her sword to the four corners of the stadium, she saw a good number of young ladies wearing pink-and-black, as well as young gentlemen waving pink-and-black banners. She then spotted the House Claes box and saw her family and friends, except one.

Catarina was not able to see her mother among them. She looked again, but did not find her. This got Catarina down, as she'd really wanted her mother to see her there. She tried her best to not let it visibly affect her as she walked out of the ring.

After walking off to the side of the ring, she watched as the other introductions played out. Prince Geordo had gotten a loud reception, as did Prince Alan. Finally, with introductions done, the 16 remaining competitors dispersed and headed to the waiting area.

As she waited, Geordo and Alan walked up to her. "Catarina, congratulations on making it this far!" said Alan. "Hopefully I'll get to face both you and Geordo today!"

"Yeah, I hope so too" murmured Catarina.

Noticing the tone of her voice, Geordo inquired "Catarina, is something wrong?"

"I checked the House Claes box, but I didn't see Mother there. I wanted to see her there, because I wanted her to see me fight. It's not often I get a chance to make Mother proud" Catarina mourned.

Geordo heard this and was confused. "Are you sure? When I got here, I saw your mother and father arriving. I'm certain your mother is present."

"Really?" asked Catarina. "Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough. Next time I'm out, I'll check again!"

With that, Catarina walked off to check the match board. After she left, Alan spoke up. "I saw the House Claes box, and I didn't see Duchess Claes in there. You weren't lying to her, were you?"

"No! I really saw Duchess Claes arrive with Duke Claes!" Geordo responded defensively. "I wouldn't say something like that unless I'd actually seen it myself!"

This gave Alan pause. "Then why is she not with…..oh, right!"

 


 

Catarina went and checked the match board to see who she would be facing. To her disappointment, Alan would not be her opponent. Instead, her opponent was Benjamin Galloway. She'd heard him talked about in high regard, and figured it would be a tough match. But then again, at this point, every match she would have would be tough.

Finally, it was time for her match with Master Galloway. She was led to the ring by Eddy and followed by Bernie as her and Master Galloway were introduced. The two sword-saluted each other, and then received instruction from the referee. Finally, the two got into position, and after setting, the referee called out "BEGIN!"

The match started off fiercely, with both pressing the attack and trying to score touches. Catarina would attack, only to be fended off by Master Galloway, but when Master Galloway took the initiative, Catarina would brush his attacks aside. The first round ended in a stalemate, with neither having scored a touch.

The second round, Catarina went for her feint-and-lunge, which Master Galloway fell for, allowing Catarina to score a touch. Master Galloway attempted to respond in kind, but an awkward swing was parried aside and allowed Catarina to score a second touch. The two battled it out, and when the round ended, Catarina was ahead.

The next two rounds had Master Galloway scoring a touch to begin the third round, but Catarina quickly scored one in return, and in the middle of the fourth round, she scored another. Master Galloway switched to a more counter-defensive stance. Recognizing the switch, she allowed Master Galloway the initiative. Finally, in the fifth round, realizing he was behind and needed at least three touches, Master Galloway was forced to commit to the attack. His attacks, while fierce, were defended against by Catarina, and she managed to land two more touches. Late in the fifth round, Master Galloway got a touch, but it was all for naught.

The match ended, with Catarina the victor. Catarina and Master Galloway shook hands, during which he offered some compliments.

"I'd heard some people say you were a dark horse to win this tournament. I see why now! Congratulations, and good luck the rest of the way!" He then raised Catarina's hand to the cheers of the crowd. "Thank you, Master Galloway! I appreciate the kind words!"

After the match, Catarina walked off and stayed nearby to watch the remaining matches. As expected, Geordo and Alan won their matches, and after everything played out, the Quarterfinals was set.

In the Quarterfinals, Catarina ended up being drawn against a familiar foe: Byron Whitney. After the introductions, Catarina and Master Whitney gave each other sword salutes. Catarina then noticed that Master Whitney seemed nervous and unsteady. She and Master Whitney got into position, after which the match judge called out "BEGIN!"

Master Whitney's normally fierce swings and attacks were awkward, and he seemed worried about something. Catarina, not knowing why this was the case, nonetheless took advantage of his nervousness and scored several touches on him. After the first round, Catarina was clearly ahead. As she had her rest period, she asked Eddy and Bernie "What's going on with Master Whitney? It seems like he's seen a ghost or something."

Bernie then said "Look who's watching just outside." Catarina looked, and saw Prince Geordo watching Master Whitney intently. Ever since Master Whitney's public contrition due to the incident at the Summer's Eve Ball, he had done like Prince Geordo asked and avoided Catarina. However, Catarina remembered that Prince Geordo's demand was that Whitney not interact with her "unless it could not be avoided". Clearly this was such a situation. Didn't Master Whitney realize that?

The second round began, and Master Whitney's form was in even worse shape. He was unsteady and clumsy with his attacks, and Catarina was able to score two more touches. Finally, late in the round, another unsteady swing allowed Catarina to parry the attack and disarm him to end the bout quickly. She was through to the Semifinals.

Catarina approached Master Whitney and offered her hand. "I know what Prince Geordo said, but I would think this is a situation where avoiding me isn't possible. I'm sorry about him watching off to the side." Master Whitney accepted her hand and weakly shook it. "No, it's not a problem! Good match and good luck!" Master Whitney then let go and left the ring quickly. His fear of Prince Geordo had clearly overridden his desire for victory.

Afterwards, Catarina walked outside the ring and approached Geordo. "Prince Geordo, was it really necessary to watch like that? I think your doing so ruined his concentration."

"I just wanted to make sure he remembered to do what I'd asked him to do," said Geordo.

"Is that really all?" asked Catarina.

"Yes" Geordo answered.

Something about that seemed off, but Catarina decided not to press further on it. She then stood outside the ring to watch the rest of the Quarterfinal matches.

 


 

It was time for the Semifinals. Catarina would be facing Master Adam Hargrove in this round, and if she won, either Geordo or Alan would be waiting for her. As it stood, her match against Master Hargrove would be the first of the two Semifinal matches.

Catarina was introduced first. As she walked out, led by Eddy and followed by Bernie, she heard the roar of the crowd, who were now firmly behind her and pushing for her to become only the second Young Lioness in the Tournament's history. After she got to the center of the ring, she raised her sword to the four corners of the Royal Stadium, each section roaring enthusiastically. She again spotted the House Claes box, and saw her friends, Anne, Keith, and Father cheering for her.

But her mother was not there. The person she wanted to be there the most was still nowhere to be seen.

As it was, she quickly got that out of her mind and got down to business for the match at hand. Her and Master Hargrove met at the center and gave each other sword salutes. Master Hargrove then spoke up. "Lady Claes, it's a pleasure to face you again!"

"Likewise, Master Hargrove!"

The two got into position and waited for the match judge's command. Finally, the match judge called out "BEGIN!"

The first round went well for Catarina. She scored two touches using her feint-and-lunge, and Master Hargrove, having gotten used to her tell for that move, was caught off-guard when it wasn't given.

The second round was decisively one in Master Hargrove's favor. Realizing he couldn't rely on her telling her moves, he shifted his focus to trying to outmaneuver her. He was able to score two touches on her, and before the round ended, landed an additional touch to take the lead.

Round three was better for Catarina, but not the way she would've wanted. The two of them clashed, not giving ground, nor taking much. They fought hard, trying to break through the other's defenses, but it was a stalemate. At the end of the third round, Master Hargrove was ahead three touches to two.

As she walked off for the rest period, she walked up to Eddy and Bernie. "Have you two noticed anything?"

"No, we haven't," conceded Eddy. "Master Hargrove is good at not giving tells. But he knows you're not giving them either."

"Alright, I suppose that means I've got to figure a way then."

The fourth round began, and Master Hargrove used quick hand and footwork to get Catarina to leave herself open and score a touch. He then went for a hard swing, but Catarina, having seen the swing before, knew this was an opportunity for her. She parried the swing hard, and Master Hargrove was thrown off-balance so badly that she was able to score two touches in quick succession. The match was now level. She noticed the look on his face, one of disappointment at himself that he allowed her that opportunity. He tried to settle back and hold off her attacks, but she went back to her feint-and-lunge and scored another touch. Catarina was back in the lead.

Finally, the fifth round came. Master Hargrove tried a quick swing, but Catarina was able to dodge it and counter to score a touch. Master Hargrove was slightly shaken by this, but quickly regained his composure and went back to pressing the attack. He again went for a hard swing, but she parried it and scored a touch. Not knowing how much time was left in the round, she settled back and tried to defend her lead. However, Master Hargrove twice was able to trick her into thinking he was open, and used the opportunities to score two touches. With time running out, Master Hargrove pressed the attack, desperate to land another touch. However, Catarina defended ably, and when the match judge called "TIME!", she knew the result.

Sure enough, the match had ended with Catarina victorious. Her and Master Hargrove gave each other sword salutes, and shook hands. "You had me scared at the end Master Hargrove!"

"You got that tell for your feint-and-lunge out of you. Congratulations!"

She was about to leave, when Master Hargrove said, "The match between Prince Alan and Prince Geordo looks to potentially be a really entertaining fight!"

"Why do you say that?"

"I just saw the looks on their faces. Both of them really want to face you!"

Catarina smiled. "I’ve got to see this!”

 


 

It was time for the Finals. After the fierce Semifinals match between Prince Geordo and Prince Alan, as well as the third place match between Prince Alan and Master Hargrove, all that was standing in between Catarina and the title of Young Lioness was Prince Geordo. She would be getting her rematch after all. Though she was sympathetic to Alan when he saw the disappointed look on his face after Geordo managed to inch out a win against him, she had come close in their previous match and relished the chance to face him again.

As she stood outside the ring, waiting for her introduction, she thought about how much hard work, effort, and willpower had gone into getting her this far to the precipice of dueling immortality. She was thankful for her brother sparring with her, for the support of the Duelists Society back at school, for her friends to be there cheering for her, for her father to be here today.....

Then she remembered. She still hadn't seen her mother anywhere. She was starting to feel down about not seeing her. Eddy and Bernie noticed this, and Bernie asked Catarina, "What's wrong, Mistress Claes?"

Catarina sighed. "I was looking forward to Mother being here. But I've checked the House Claes box twice and haven't seen her. I really wanted her to see me compete today."

"Are you sure about that?" asked Eddy.

"Yeah, I haven't seen her at all."

Eddy and Bernie had no idea what to say. Eventually, Eddy advised her "Well, try not to dwell on it. You've got Prince Geordo as the only thing stopping you from being Young Lioness!"

With that, Catarina put the fact that her mother was seemingly absent out of her mind. She then heard the Master of Ceremonies begin the introductions.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now time for the Finals of the 115th Young Lions Tournament!"

The crowd roared at the announcement. After allowing the applause to die down, the Master of Ceremonies continued.

"Introducing the first Finalist, Lady Catarina Claes!"

With that, Catarina began walking to the ring, with Eddy leading the way and bearing her standard, while Bernie followed bearing her sword. The crowd roared and cheered wildly as she made her way to the center of the ring. Finally, she arrived there, and took her sword from Bernie. She raised it to the four corners of the stadium, soaking in the adoration as the clear crowd favorite. When she turned to the corner where the House Claes box was, she intentionally did not look up at it, not wanting to see her mother absent.

After her introduction, she stepped aside. The Master of Ceremonies then announced "Introducing our second Finalist, Prince Geordo Stuart!"

The crowd roared heavily for Geordo as well, and like Catarina, he took his sword from his sword bearer and raised it to the four corners of the stadium. He then stepped off to the side, and he and Catarina waited for the match judge to call them over.

Finally, the judge called them over. Catarina and Geordo gave each other sword salutes, and then turned to the judge. "Alright, this is the Finals. You know the rules, just follow them, and fight hard."

Catarina turned to Geordo. "You hear that Prince Geordo?"

Geordo smiled. "You won't need to motivate me!"

With that, the judge then ordered them "Take your positions."

Geordo and Catarina got into position and waited for the command. Finally, after a delay to build up tension, the judge called out "BEGIN!" The crowd cheered wildly, as the two circled each other and got the match underway.

The first round was very much a cautious feeling-out process between the two. They knew each other's strengths and weaknesses, and had faced each other previously. Geordo made the first move, trying a quick advance, but Catarina held him off. She in turn tried to go for a quick swing combination, but Geordo blocked them with ease. The rest of the round ended without any touches being scored, as both Catarina and Geordo decided to approach cautiously.

The second round began, and Geordo pressed the attack. Catarina switched to a defensive stance and began trying to repel his attacks, but Geordo, having improved his stance identification, recognized the switch and found gaps in Catarina's defenses. He managed to land two touches by making Catarina react to feints, and then late in the round, after goading Catarina into a hard swing that left her open, landed another touch.

After the round, she spoke to Eddy and Bernie. "Prince Geordo is relentless out there! What do I do now?"

"Well, I did notice he was glancing at your left arm a fair bit, Mistress Claes" answered Eddy.

Catarina took this in. "You think he's waiting for the feint-and-lunge tell?"

"I think so,” Bernie speculated. "You did say that it opens a lot of your offense. Try it and see what happens."

The third round began, and after the two of them circled each other, Catarina went for the feint-and-lunge. Eddy and Bernie's advice ended up being sound, as Geordo was caught off-guard by there being no tell. This allowed Catarina to score a touch, and, after Geordo tried to counter, Catarina landed another touch. Geordo quickly regained his composure and the two settled into a stalemate. Catarina was still behind, but had two rounds to go.

The fourth round came, and Catarina again went for the feint-and-lunge. She scored a touch, but she overcommitted, which allowed Geordo to get a touch back. She then went to a more offensive stance, and though she was able to force Geordo to defend, she could not break through. The round ended, and the next round would seemingly decide it all.

Finally, the fifth round began. The two cautiously circled each other, and Geordo tried a feint. Catarina saw through it, but in her haste, she stumbled, which allowed Geordo to land two touches on her. This was it. She was behind by a fair bit, and she didn't have much time. She switched stances again to a more offensive stance and pressed the attack. A quick series of slashes was rewarded with a touch for Catarina. Not knowing how much time was left, she switched to a defensive stance, to which Geordo went for heavy attacks. Finally, she saw a swing come from him which, if she needed to take a chance, now was it. She parried it, and Geordo was thrown off-balance. Taking the opportunity and throwing caution to the wind, she landed a two-touch combination. Geordo quickly recovered and went to pressing the attack, but the match judge then called out "TIME!"

That was it. Five rounds had passed. Catarina and Geordo waited for the result to be announced as the match judge reported to the Master of Ceremonies. After reporting, Catarina and Geordo noted with confusion that he was not calling them over. It was then the Master of Ceremonies made his announcement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, after five rounds, this match is TIED!"

A collective gasp, followed by loud murmuring, followed. Catarina and Geordo were stunned. The Master of Ceremonies then continued. "This means that this match will continue under SUDDEN DEATH RULES!" Upon that announcement, the crowd cheered, thrilled that sudden death was now in play.

After the announcement, the match judge called over Catarina and Geordo. The two of them walked over and stood before him, after which, the match judge began to give instructions. "Let me remind you of the sudden death rules. The sudden death round will be fought untimed. There will be no rest periods once it begins. It will end only after one competitor has scored three touches. You will have a two minute rest period now. I will call you when it is time to get ready."

Catarina and Geordo walked off to speak with their respective match aides. Eddy and Bernie then asked, "Mistress Claes, what's your plan?"

"Well, the way I see it, fortune favors the bold. I'm going to come out swinging. I'm going to begin in position with a defensive stance, then as soon as the round begins, switch to an offensive one and see how it goes."

Her two aides then nodded. "If that's what you feel will win you the match, then go for it!" advised Bernie.

"Wish me luck!"

After hearing the judge's command to meet in the center, Catarina got into a defensive stance, noticing Geordo getting into an offensive stance. After getting into position, the judge then asked both of them, "Are you ready?" The two of them nodded and then faced each other, to which the judge then called out "BEGIN!"

Catarina went through on her plan and switched immediately to an offensive stance, pressing the attack. The sudden switch caught Geordo off-guard, and Catarina scored a touch, to which the judge called "Touch!" Seeing Geordo thrown off by this, Catarina pressed further, and Geordo, not prepared for the sudden offensive onslaught sprung on him, left himself open, resulting in the judge calling out "Touch!" again for Catarina. Now down to his last touch, Geordo was forced to fight defensively, and Catarina pressed the attack. Soon however, she realized her attacks were not getting through, and then held off.

The two of them circled each other, with Catarina prodding while Geordo cautiously waited for an opening. Catarina, knowing Geordo would have to press at some point, sat back and waited. He eventually made his move, but Catarina defended ably and did not give up a touch. For over two minutes, they were at a stalemate. Then, Catarina noticed Geordo glancing at her left arm. This gave her an idea: if she could make him think what was coming, then that might give her the opening she needed. She stuck out her left arm and flicked her wrist, waiting for Geordo's reaction. To her delight, he took the bait and went to counter a feint-and-lunge that wasn’t coming. Seizing the opportunity, she made a final attack that landed. Upon that, the match judge called out "TOUCH! Stop the fight!"

Catarina froze in disbelief. She knew what she'd just accomplished, but her mind didn't want to believe it, demanding some sort of confirmation. The look Geordo was giving gave some, but she wanted to hear it before she reacted. Finally the judge walked over to her and raised her hand as the Master of Ceremonies made his announcement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the match is over! The winner of the 115th Young Lions Tournament, and this year's Tournament Champion, is Lady Catarina Claes!"

Euphoria washed over Catarina as the match judge raised her hand and the crowd cheered wildly. It was real. She had done it! She had defeated Prince Geordo and claimed the title of Young Lioness! The emotion of the moment hit her hard, and she fell to the ground onto her knees, burying her face in her palms as she began crying in joy over her win. After several moments, she uncovered her face, to which Eddy and Bernie then hug-tackled her to the ground, thrilled over their teacher's victory. After getting it out of their system, they got up and helped Catarina stand up.

Geordo then approached Catarina and gave her a sword salute. He then pulled her in for a tight hug as she continued crying joyfully over her win. "Congratulations Catarina! You did it! I'm so proud of you!" After hugging her for several seconds, he let go, to which she asked "Prince Geordo, you're not disappointed?" Geordo smiled and said, "I am somewhat. But you truly earned this, and you came up with a brilliant move to finish me. Besides, how can I not be happy when you're so happy?" Hearing this, Catarina hugged him and said "Thank you Prince Geordo!"

After letting go, Geordo raised Catarina's hand to the crowd, which prompted a loud roar. She was still in disbelief.

 


 

After things finally settled down, it was time for the awards ceremony.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, let us introduce our medalists! Coming in third place today, please give a round of applause for Prince Alan Stuart!'

Alan walked over to the Royal Sorcier Duelist Association Grandmaster, who took a bronze medal from a tray an assistant was holding. Alan bowed down and let the Association President place the medal around his neck. Alan then shook the Grandmaster's hand and raised his hand to acknowledge the crowd, who cheered loudly for him.

"Next is today's runner-up! Please give a round of applause for Prince Geordo Stuart!"

Geordo then walked over to the Grandmaster and accepted his silver medal. The Grandmaster placed it around Geordo's neck, and the two shook hands. He then raised his hand to acknowledge the crowd, who also cheered loudly for him.

"And finally, we have this year's champion! Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a round of applause for the champion, and only the second Young Lioness in the Tournament's history, Lady Catarina Claes!"

Catarina heard the crowd roar as she walked over to accept her medal. She bowed down her head, to which the Grandmaster placed the gold medal around her neck. She shook the Grandmaster's hand, to which he then said, "Congratulations, Miss Claes. Please, step over here. We're going to present the Young Lions Cup to you. We had someone ask to present it to you personally, and we decided to accommodate the request."

Catarina heard this and was curious. What was all this about a request to present her the Young Lions Cup? But she did as the Grandmaster asked and stepped over to where he directed. Then, the Master of Ceremonies made the announcement.

"And now at this time Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be presenting the Young Lions Cup to this year's champion! Presenting the Young Lions Cup is the winner of the 92nd Young Lions Tournament, and until today the only Young Lioness in the Tournament's history, Duchess Miri Diana Claes!"

As soon as the Master of Ceremonies finished, Catarina quickly looked over to the main entrance tunnel. There, she saw her mother walking out, wearing her duelist dress, and holding the Young Lions Cup in front of her. The sight caused Catarina to begin tearing up again. She had come to watch!

Catarina waited as Miri Diana walked up to her. She noticed the smile on her face as she walked forward. Finally, Miri Diana stopped in front of Catarina. After a short pause, she spoke up.

"It's yours! Take it!"

Catarina did as Miri Diana said and took hold of the Young Lions Cup. She looked at her, who continued to smile as she put her hand on Catarina’s cheek and then said, "Congratulations!" Catarina continued to tear up as she held the Cup in her hands. Finally, she turned to face the crowd and raised the Cup above her head to their enthusiastic cheers. She turned to face all four corners of the Royal Stadium, raising the Cup to their cheers. She then looked at the House Claes box and raised it up for them. She saw her father and Anne tearing up, Keith smiling broadly and applauding, Nicol with his devilish smile as he applauded, and Mary, Sophia, and Maria all cheering and applauding.

As she held up the Young Lions Cup, Geordo and Alan walked up behind her. Geordo looked at Alan. "You ready?"

"So just to be clear, I’m allowed to touch her?" teased Alan.

"Shut up Alan!” 

Alan smirked that his teasing got that reaction from his brother. He then nodded at Geordo, and the two princes then hoisted Catarina onto their shoulders. After being startled at being lifted in the air, Catarina recovered and continued to hold her Young Lions Cup up high. Geordo and Alan then began carrying Catarina around for a victory lap. Miri Diana, Eddy, and Bernie followed behind, applauding as Geordo and Alan carried Catarina on their shoulders. She continued to hold the Cup above her head to the cheers and applause of the crowd. Finally, after finishing the victory lap, Geordo and Alan carried her out of the arena through the main entrance tunnel, with Miri Diana and Catarina’s star pupils following closely behind.

After they exited the arena, Alan and Geordo placed Catarina back on solid ground. After she was let down, Alan spoke up. “Congratulations, Catarina! That was an amazing Tournament you fought! Though I’m still waiting for a match in a competitive setting against you.” Geordo looked at Alan, who then inquired of his brother “What’s wrong with wanting to face off against my friend? All I’m asking for is to face her in a competition!” Catarina then looked over and saw her mother, still smiling and with an unmistakable look of pride. She handed the Young Lions Cup to Geordo and went to her mother. The two of them embraced, each thrilled over the result of the Tournament.

"Mother, I understand you have mixed feelings about your past participation and didn't necessarily want to watch today."

Miri Diana looked at her daughter with confusion. "What do you mean by that?"

"When I looked up at our family's box, I didn't see you there. I thought maybe you didn’t want to attend."

Miri Diana took in Catarina's words, and gave out a short laugh before she began to explain. "Catarina, as a former champion, if I attend the Young Lions Tournament, I am expected to sit with the other former champions in attendance. I was seated in their section for the whole event. Prior to the Finals, I left to change into my duelist dress in case you won, so that I could present you the Young Lions Cup."

Catarina was surprised by this. "I didn't know there was a section specifically for former champions!"

"Of course you didn't," Miri Diana sighed.

The revelation that her mother had been there the entire time lifted Catarina’s spirits. "Mother, thank you! I had no idea you would be presenting me the Young Lions Cup! And I’m sorry I thought you didn’t want to see me."

Miri Diana looked at her daughter. "Catarina, as uncomfortable as I might have been with my having been in the Tournament, that didn't mean I wouldn't be there to support you. Though I have regrets about the circumstances that led me to participate in the Tournament, I've come to realize it's a part of me and that I need to come to terms with it. Besides that, I was touched that you wore the dress you did to honor me. As much as we disagree, I am still your mother. I wish you didn't feel a need to learn sword fighting, but I understand it's a passion of yours, and at least it’s an acceptable pursuit."

After finishing their embrace, Miri Diana then spoke up again. "I must compliment you. You handled winning the Tournament far better than I did. When I won, I jumped around the arena floor and punched the air in triumph. You handled it with far more grace and dignity."

Just then, the group heard several voices calling out. "Lady Catarina!" "Sister!" "Catarina!"

Her friends and brother all came running towards her, while her father and Anne could be seen walking behind them. Catarina ran over to them and embraced each of them. They also came with gifts: pink-and-black roses from Mary, chocolate cupcakes and sugar cookies with pink frosting from Maria, black formal gloves for the Young Lions Ball from Sophia, and other various gifts colored pink and black. Her family and friends reveled in her triumph.

Eventually, it came time to get ready for the Young Lions Ball. Before she left, Geordo walked up to Catarina holding a small box.

"Catarina, I got these for you for the Young Lions Ball. I would like you to wear them for me!"

Catarina opened the box and found a pair of pink and black pearl drop earrings. Catarina looked at the gift and upon seeing it, hugged Geordo. "Thank you Geordo! I love these!"

"I thought they would be fitting for what you're wearing," Geordo answered.

After confirming everyone's attendance at the Young Lions Ball, Catarina left with Anne to go to the Royal Stadium's bathing area, so she could be cleaned up and get dressed in the clean copy of her duelist dress.

 


 

"Prince Geordo Stuart and this year's Young Lioness, Lady Catarina Claes!"

The gathered attendees at the Young Lions Ball turned to watch their entrance. Soft cries of admiration arose from the crowd, as this year's Tournament Champion walked in, arm locked with her fiancé. The two of them walked out to the center of the dance floor and got into position for the first dance. They were joined by Mary and Alan, Duke and Duchess Claes, and other attendees.

As the first waltz played, Geordo looked at Catarina. The earrings he'd gotten indeed were fitting for the dress she was wearing. As they danced, he spoke up.

"It was very clever of you to intentionally give that tell to get the final touch on me. I'd been looking for it the whole match, and when I saw it, I thought I had a chance."

"Eddy told me you were glancing at my left arm. When I saw you do so in the sudden death round, the idea came to me, and you took the bait!"

"Your victory was well-earned Catarina!"

After the dance finished, Geordo bowed to Catarina while she curtsied to him. They then walked off the dance floor, at which point they were approached by a group of young ladies and gentlemen, as well as some of their parents.

"Lady Claes, congratulations on your victory!"

"You fight with the fierceness of a lioness but the grace of a swan Lady Claes!"

"That was an amazing match you two fought!"

"Prince Geordo, given what my daughter has said about Lady Claes, as well as what I’ve seen, you're a very lucky man!"

Catarina and Geordo began interacting with the gathered admirers, chatting with them, answering their questions, and socializing in general. Off to the side, Duke Luigi and Duchess Miri Diana looked at their daughter interacting with the attendees.

"I'm impressed. Normally, she would've been shoving cakes into her mouth at the refreshments table by now. But she's actually behaving herself!"

"Darling, it might just be that Catarina needed time to grow into her role as a prince's fiancée" replied Luigi. "Do remember, it did take you time to grow into your role as a Duke's wife!"

Miri Diana gasped at her husband's words. "You really went there! But as much as I hate to admit it, it's true."

As more young ladies and gentlemen approached Catarina, Miri Diana remarked "I'll admit I'm envious of Catarina. Seeing all these young noblemen and noblewomen approach her, I didn't get that at the Young Lions Ball I attended. Though that was mostly my own doing I will admit. Still, I didn't have a single lady or gentleman approach me."

"Yes you did!" exclaimed Luigi.

Miri Diana looked at her husband. "What do you mean by that?"

Luigi looked almost offended at his wife's answer. "Don't tell me you've forgotten!"

Miri Diana racked her mind for what her husband was referring to. She could not come up with an answer. Finally, he decided to explain it to her.

"Remember how I said I was smitten with you when I first laid eyes on you? It was at the Young Lions Tournament you won! You were my opponent in the Round of 16, and you routed me. Partially because I underestimated you, and partially because I was in the haze of utter admiration of you! And then I danced with you at the Ball that night! A couple days later, I went to your father to ask him for your hand in marriage."

Miri Diana recalled this after Luigi told his story. "You're right! I can't believe I'd forgotten that was when we first met!" She then pulled her husband close to her. "I feel ashamed I'd forgotten."

"I don't blame you, Dear" Luigi assured his wife. "You'd been uncomfortable with the fact that you'd fought in it for so long, it's not a surprise you would've forgotten some things."

The Young Lions Ball went into the early morning. After the last dance, everyone began to head home. Catarina got into a carriage with her mother, and the two Tournament Champions began the ride home. After several minutes of silence, Miri Diana spoke up.

"Why can't you be like that more often?"

Catarina was confused at her mother's words. She was so used to hearing not to act a certain way that hearing the opposite bewildered her. Mistaking her daughter's bewilderment as exhaustion from the events of the day, Miri Diana smiled at her and changed topics.

"Congratulations again, Catarina!"

 


 

It had been overwhelming when Kingdom Week ended and Catarina had come back on campus at the Academy of Magic. She had previously been an object of admiration by the student body at large, but now it was readily visible even to her. She had been approached by numerous young ladies and gentlemen about her triumph at the Young Lions Cup. Her students at the Duelists Society began wearing black-and-pink in tribute to their teacher. Catarina was flattered at how much attention she was getting. Her brother, fiancé and her close friends were less than thrilled, and proceeded to redouble their efforts to monopolize her attention amongst themselves. While they all wanted to win her heart, they all agreed that for the time being, they needed to work together to have her around them every possible moment they could.

One day, after classes let out, Catarina returned to her dorm room. She found Anne waiting for her.

"Lady Catarina, a package arrived for you today."

Catarina saw the package leaned up against the wall. "Oh! This must be a copy of the portrait Mother commissioned!" She opened the package and found that indeed it was just that.

The portrait was of Catarina and her mother, her mother standing behind her and off to her right, with a hand on her shoulder. They were smiling broadly and wearing their duelist dresses. "It's wonderful, don't you think Anne?"

"Indeed, Milady. Your mother was especially excited to get that portrait done."

"Yes, though I think the artist again was being rather charitable with my looks. The person that's supposed to be me is way more beautiful than I actually am!"

Anne simply gave a knowing smile and shook her head. That was Catarina. One who underestimated everything about themselves. Catarina then proceeded to hang up the portrait in her room.

At that very moment at Claes Manor, Miri Diana was admiring a display she’d had some servants put up in the main hall. She saw her husband and called him over.

"Darling, doesn't it look wonderful?"

Luigi looked and saw what had been set up. There were three portraits hung up against the wall. On the left was Miri Diana's Young Lions Tournament winner's portrait. On the right was Catarina's winner's portrait. Between the two was the same portrait that Catarina had just received, of mother and daughter in their duelist dresses. Below the center portrait, a case held the Young Lions Cup that Miri Diana had won twenty-three years ago as well as the Young Lions Cup that Catarina had just won.

"Yes, it does look wonderful, Dearest!" remarked Luigi, as he held Miri Diana by his side.

At that very moment, both mother and daughter were admiring the portrait of them together. Both of them cherished the moment and the events that led to its creation.