As I sat in the waiting room of the Sakhmet Hospital with my owner, I was worried. A friend of mine was badly hurt, and to make matters worse, I had been the one who hurt her.
To be fair, though, we had been facing each other in a Sakhmet Arena and Battledome League (SABL) fight, so one of us was going to be hurt no matter which way the battle went. But that didn't make me feel any less guilty about it.
Dwelling on my current situation would only make me feel worse, so I began to think back on what had led to this moment...
Two or so years ago, I joined the SABL, becoming the first Royal Girl Uni to ever fight in the Sakhmet league. While I wouldn't call myself extraordinary, I began to rise through the ranks fairly fast thanks to a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the excellent guidance of my owner, an adult human male named BG, and the support of my Guardian Light Faerie, Kouren.
After one victory, I was leaving the arena when a very young spotted Uni filly ran up to me. She introduced herself as Culroy, and said that I was her inspiration and hero. She also asked me to sign her arena voucher. I did so, thinking that I'd probably never see her again.
But to my surprise, about a week later Culroy and her owner, a young human girl named Eva, showed up at our Neohome. BG invited them in, and the four of us got to talking. Eva said that Culroy had persuaded her to let her join the SABL when she was old enough, and she wanted advice and training tips from me and my owner. From that initial visit, Culroy and I quickly became friends, and she came over a couple times a week to train with me.
Several months went by, and finally Culroy was able to enter the SABL. Her first few fights were all losses, but she kept her head held high and continued to train both with me and with Eva. When she finally won a tournament, I couldn't tell who was more proud: me, BG, Eva, or Culroy.
From there, Culroy began a meteoric rise through the ranks, much like I was doing. She would never catch up to me, as I was in the elite ranks now, but she rose fast. We went from friends to friendly rivals, competing to see who got better scores in our respective battles. She began to come over to train less and less, though we remained in touch and always attended each other's SABL matches.
Having a rival was nothing new to SABL battlers. But what was different about me and Culroy was that she was ranked much lower than I was, while most rivalry pairs were within a few ranks of each other. This lent itself to special exhibition matches called "Rival Brawls," where rivals clashed in fights that didn't affect their SABL rankings. I figured that Culroy and I would never be invited to a Rival Brawl...
But one day, we were.
Culroy showed up one day with a letter from the SABL directors. She and I had been selected to participate in the next Rival Brawl. Since we were not well-matched, the directors had placed a handicap on me to even the playing field. I would not be allowed to use my magic in the fight.
I'm very well-trained in Light Magic, thanks to Kouren's many blessings. But I don't rely on it exclusively; I'm deadly up close and personal with an opponent. This wasn't a terrible handicap, but it did mean that I couldn't use my magic to heal myself mid-battle. I'd have to avoid taking too many heavy hits from Culroy's own magic, which spanned the Earth and Air disciplines.
When the big day came, Culroy and I wished each other the best of luck before heading to the gates of the arena. I wasn't worried; I knew I could take the spotted Uni. But I'd be testing a new strategy in the process, so the stakes were a bit higher. And I'd have to be more evasive than usual.
The fight began, and I went straight for my opponent. Culroy responded by trying to snare my legs with grasping vines, but so long as I kept moving, she couldn't catch me. Once I was almost in melee range, she used her Air magic to whip up a small tornado that caught me off-guard and threw me backwards. After that rude awakening, I began to pay much more attention to her magical cues, dodging everything she threw at me as I closed in. Seeing that her magic wasn't working, Culroy began to panic, and turned to flee. I chased her around and around the arena for a good five minutes. She periodically turned to throw a spell at me, but I'd dodge and keep up the pressure.
Finally, Culroy knew that she couldn't escape. It was time to get serious. She stopped running and turned to face me. We stared at each other for a moment before the real fight began. Ears back, teeth bared, we went at each other horn and hoof. Culroy turned out to be a very effective scrapper, which both surprised and pleased me. She kept going for my throat, but since I was bigger than her, I could push her away. At one point, she tried to punch me with one front hoof, and the two of us rose onto our hind legs, locking horns and lashing out with our forelegs. We were both taking hits, but due to my superior stats and training, I wasn't as badly affected as my opponent was.
After a couple minutes of boxing on our hind legs, we dropped back to all fours and locked horns again, shoving against each other. Again, I was stronger, so I began to push Culroy backwards, as much as she tried to stop me. Then, with our horns still locked together, she launched a very quick swipe with one front hoof. I yanked my head hard to the left to dodge, but as I did so, I felt pressure on my horn. Moments later, I heard a loud SNAP, and Culroy screamed before crashing to the ground and lying deathly still.
I backed away from Culroy to take stock of the situation. What I saw horrified me: her horn had broken off! Apparently, when I dodged her last swipe, I put enough pressure on her horn that it snapped. And now, since Uni horns are the source of a Uni's power, Culroy was helpless and greatly weakened. The fight was over, but this was probably the first time I had ever felt bad about winning.
BG and Eva hurried out to us. The girl was surprisingly calm about Culroy's injury. My owner picked up the unconscious spotted Uni and carried her off the field, while Eva and I followed. I was profusely apologizing to her, while she was constantly telling me that it was all right. But that only made me feel worse, and once BG noticed, he told Eva to let me be.
BG carried Culroy to the hospital, and one of the doctors took her and Eva into the recovery wing immediately.
Now BG and I were waiting to hear if Culroy would be OK. Uni horns take a few months to regrow after being shattered or broken, so the spotted Uni would be out of commission for quite some time.
BG was petting me, but I hardly noticed his doing so. I was too lost in my thoughts and worries. Then he spoke.
"Please, Urasina, relax," he urged me. "It was an accident. You've seen Uni horns break before, and both you and Culroy knew this could happen when you joined the SABL."
"But BG," I protested, "I broke her horn! You don't know how terrible it makes me feel, that I hurt a friend like that..."
My voice trailed off as the doctor returned and came over to us. To my extreme relief, he was smiling.
"Culroy will be OK," he said kindly, seeing how distraught I was. "We removed what was left of her horn so a new one will grow back as quickly as possible. She's a strong and healthy Uni, so it shouldn't take more than a month or two and she'll be back to normal."
"Can we go see her?" I asked.
"She's been asking to see you, so yes, follow me," the doctor replied.
BG and I did so, but I was still worried. What if Culroy was mad at me? What if our friendship was over? I didn't think she'd be that way, but you never know when dealing with a serious injury like this.
The doctor took us to one of the recovery rooms and stood aside to let us enter. Eva was sitting next to the bed, one hand on Culroy's neck. I looked my friend over, noticing that though she had a lot of bruises, she was mostly OK. Her horn was completely gone; all that remained was a white spot on her head where the stump had been cut away. But her eyes were open, and she was looking at me.
"Culroy, I'm so sorry..." I began, but she put one front hoof over my mouth, telling me to be quiet.
"It's not your fault, Urasina," she said, her voice hoarse because of how weak she was. "It's part of the life of a SABL Uni, that you might lose a horn here and there. It was my honor to finally face you, my friend and rival, in an actual SABL match. You're even better than I thought you were, and I learned a lot from you."
I felt like crying, I was so happy. I looked away to hide my tears, and saw BG putting something into one of the pockets of his slate-grey cloak.
"What's that, BG?" I asked.
He looked surprised, then pulled out the object. It was a gold medal, my prize for defeating Culroy in the Rival Brawl. When he came over to put it around my neck, I tried to push him away, but Culroy stopped me.
"You earned it," she told me. "I'll probably never be able to beat you one-on-one, but I can still enjoy your victory even if it cost me my horn. Don't feel bad, please. I'll recover, and maybe we'll fight each other again someday."
I nodded, blinking back tears, as BG hung the medal around my neck. I finally felt like I had earned it.
Author's note: Culroy and Eva are made up by me. Any resemblance to actual Neopets or owners is strictly coincidental.