This week’s writing prompt – Write a short passage that ends with: In that moment, fully committed to helping each other, they raised a glass to their new adventure.
The culann competition
Alan Wilyhame left his home that morning knowing he’d return a changed man. He’d come back to the city only for the competition and the small hovel his parents had prepared for him already felt like home.
Could he find the strength to leave again if he lost?
He’d been dubbed ‘Wily the lucky’ before he left the city a decade ago, even though he had been born to peasants. His father was the assistant of the blacksmith, his mother a mere servant in the emperor’s castle.
as A kid, he’d grown running wild in the emperor’s home with the emperor’s niece and Robin Dotho, the eldest of the
Archduke’s son. They had been inseparable then, and he’d even received some of his warrior’s trainings from the best. Later when his option had been either leave or risk his family getting tossed to the streets, he’d asked none other then Linus himself to sponsor his training somewhere else. He’d been granted apprenticeship amidst the Monara tribe, to be trained by the best of the warriors.
Yes, considering his peasant’s status, Wily was lucky.
Wily could hear the roar of the crowd from two miles away. His heart thumped as hard as his steps, his adrenaline spiked as he moved nearer to the arena.
As expected, the arena was full to capacity, the competition one that happened only once every decade.
He scanned the crowd once, noting the location of all high ranking people present, cataloguing their position even as he moved.
He nodded to two of the competitors, both wearing gleaming armors with no dents or scratches. But he knew if they were both here today to compete, the gleaming armor only meant they had enough money and power to discard whatever battle worn clothes they didn’t want.
Every warrior in the empire was welcomed to compete, though only the best made to this level. And he was lucky, Wily supposed, that he had been trained by the best.
He passed one more competitor and automatically began to nod – and froze when he recognized the dark eyes and dark hair, worn loose about broad shoulders.
Robin Dotho, the boy he hadn’t seen for over a decade.
Their eyes met and held for a brief instant, then Dotho inclined his head once in acknowledgement. Immediately Wily searched the arena, and sure enough, there she was, seated beside her uncle, the emperor.
Wily looked back at Robin, but he had resumed his warm up. Had he recognized him from the scrawny boy he had once been?
Out of the forty five contestants who had arrived on the first day, only seven had made to this final test of endurance. Seven doors stood behind each contestant, each leading to a different dimension. The obstacles had been prepared by the best of the best sorcerers in the empire, tailored to every individual’s weakness and expertise.
the moment The horn blew, Wily turned and placed a hand on the cold knob of the door. To the wildly cheering spectators, the dimensional portal looked like a normal door, standing in the middle of an arena, nothing in front of it, nothing behind it.
Wily glanced a few doors down, found Robin already stepping through. He glanced back to where Porscha sat, her eyes focused entirely on Robin, a huge white tiger seated beside her.
The horn blew again, and with a deep breath, Wily opened the door and stepped inside. At first he thought his door was malfunctioning, because all he did was cross the threshold. He was still in the arena.
But the moment the door closed behind him, everything disappeared.
It was snowing. Everything was white. Everywhere he looked, snow fell in sheets.
How could this be it? He wondered, beginning to warm himself. He was an elemental, what the witches of Monara liked to call a fire mage.
He warmed himself enough that the snow melted before touching him, that his steps left wet footprints behind.
The sound of the wind was loud, a harsh symphony above his hammering heart.
There should have been a threat here, something that would test his endurance. Instead . . . This was all there was.
But Wily was no fool, and so he unsheathed his sword – a gift from Linus – scanning everything, even if everything was nothing more than snow.
His steps crunched and hissed, The wind howled with impatience and fury. He was wet, but at least he was warm.
About fifteen minutes later Wily began to wonder if this was really it. Were they testing how long he could ward off the cold?
The thought had just crossed his mind when he sensed motion. He ducked and rolled, jumped to his feet and searched.
Something was moving. It was white, covered with snow, blending smoothly with the background. If he didn’t keep focused, he would miss it. If he focused too hard, it would blend with the background.
Then the thing sprang up – closer than Wily thought – gleaming white teeth and claws bared, eyes as white as everything else. Wily had a scant of a second to dodge, bringing his sword horizontal against the . . . Snow beast. It changed course mid-motion, avoiding the sharper edge of the blade, falling on all fours and turning to face Wily in one swift motion.
Clever, Wily thought before the beast was on him again.
He dodged, parried and kicked with his boot, feeling the bite of sharp claws on flesh when the beast caught his leg. He pulled against the pain – a mistake – and stood, sword in hand.
When it came again, wily aimed for the bloody claws, his sword arm zinging with the shock of the impact.
The howl of the beast was like that of the wind, furious and loud. A trickle of pale pink began gushing from the wound on the beast’s foreleg, and Wily centered himself.
When it came again, Wily aimed above the pink, felt the bite of claws go through armor and into his shoulder, even as he felt his sword connect. Both beast and man jumped away, one bleeding pink, the other bright red. He’d caught the beast on the massive shoulder, and noticed the creature kept upright, balancing on his hind legs.
They circled each other, both wounded, both trying to find a way to attack and avoid further injuries.
Tilting his head to the side, Wily stopped, the beast mimicking.
He waited, and when the beast charged, Wily brought a column of flame to the left, dodged to the right. As he’d hoped, the beast followed the flame, exposing its back. It realized its mistake fast, tried to correct, but Wily’s sword was already coming down upon the neck.
The moment the blade went through, the ground opened up and Wily began to fall. He had the sense of rocks, darkness and – and something sharp approaching, and without any way to stop the fall, Wily pushed with his feet and hands, aiming away. He landed with a painful jar on his wounded shoulder, just a breath away from a dozen sharp spikes embedded on the ground.
He’d known some of the contestants never made home from this final test, but Wily had always assumed they had been too stubborn and prideful to use the amulet that would forfeit the competition and send them back to the arena safe. It had never occurred to him that some of them might not have had the time to break the amulet and make that choice.
Wily stood slowly, his legs shaking – either from the fall or the loss of blood. Or the close call, he thought as he scanned the area surrounding him.
If he’d pushed to the other side, he’d have fallen on a scatter of nails, their tips obscured by something dark. Wily knelt by it, examined the tips without touching them. A dark green substance covered the nails, darker around the tips. There was a faint smell of something pungent wafting from it.
Poison, no doubt, though none he could name.
He’d been lucky, he realized as he stood. Above, there were no traces of the white landscape or the snow, the sky was as dark as sin.
Was he in a large chamber or another world –night time?
Wily sidestepped the spikes and no sooner had he taken a step forward then he heard a loud swoosh. He ducked and rolled, hoping to God he didn’t land in a ditch full of spikes or poisoned nails.
He saw the giant lance that passed by him, felt the faint breeze it produced. He stayed where he was for a moment more, and sure enough, the lance returned, the trajectory shorter this time.
It moved back and forth, like a pendulum for a few minutes, until it finally stopped. Wily stood then, more careful now, and studied the lance pendulum. There was nothing holding it suspended a few inches above the ground.
It was sorcery.
Wily looked back at the spikes, the nails and lance. No wonder those who made through the competition without breaking the amulet were raised to a higher rank and so sought after – spoken so highly about.
The culann warriors, they were called.
There hadn’t been a winner in five decades, and four before that. In fact, Linus had been the only man to come through the competition in the past century.
Wily became aware of a chittering, a tingling sensation, and then a small prick on his leg. When he glanced down, he realized he was covered with ants, and hurriedly he began dusting himself off. Another sting, then another, then a few hundred together.
He yelped, jumped from one foot to another, the impact causing the gashes on his legs to ache and burn something fierce. He undressed in record time, noticing every inch of his body was covered with ants . . . No, not ants, he realized. Miniature scorpions.
Panicking, Wily heated himself so fast, so hard; his body went up in a blaze.
The scent of scorched scorpion filled the air, but once Wily tampered down, there was no longer anything crawling over his body. However, his body was dotted with reddish bumps that itched and burned when he did.
He had to get out of there.
After killing a few tiny scorpions hidden in his armor, Wily dressed quickly, determined to get this competition over with. With the amulet ready in one hand, his sword in the other, Wily began carefully moving forward, his eyes and ears attent to every sound, every small shadow.
He heard as well as felt the tremors that shook the ground beneath him. He searched, back and forth, front and back for a few tense seconds before he saw the slight motion of something approaching to his left. Fast, it was so fast.
Wily didn’t pause to think, he turned to the right and ran, dodging and jumping obstacles as he went: a dark puddle of something that moved; a spike that flew out of nowhere, straight at his middle, a hole full of hissing snakes.
The rumble became deafening, like one continuous bolt of thunder, and Wily had to look, had to see what kind of herd was after him.
And it was no herd, but a multitude of rocks.
And it was almost upon him. Ahead, there was no place to go. He’d be buried in no time, unable to breathe or move.
Amulet still gripped in one hand, Wily promised himself he’d break it with his first misstep and turned, meeting the avalanche head on. He jumped on the first rock, climbing the avalanche even as it fell. He’d barely touch a rock before he was jumping on the next and the next and the next, all the while the amulet clutched in his hand, ready to take him back to the arena.
But the rocks slowed, and although Wily began feeling the adrenaline of triumph, he didn’t stop, didn’t slacken his pace.
Soon he was atop the quiet rocks, his breathing harsh in his ears, the tinkling of small pebbles coming as if from very far away.
He looked around him, a smile slowly breaking over his face, until he was whooping with laughter and triumph.
An hour later, Wily came upon a small opening to his left and hesitated. After the avalanche he’d evaded a multitude of scorpions – each the size of a foot, a herd of carnivorous bats and a horned monster that laughed like a sick hyena.
He was bruised and hurt and exhausted beyond belief. Even his wounds had wounds.
He traced a thumb over the facet of the amulet that he still held in one slimy hand and studied the opening. He was sure he’d find something nasty on the other side, and he wasn’t sure if he was up to par with it.
He could break the amulet now and go back to the arena – forfeit the competition. He recalled all the horrors he’d been through since he stepped into that door and shook his head. Not without trying, he told himself and ducked into the cave.
The moment he stepped into the large chamber, his heart sank. Three giant creatures with spiked backs and tentacles turned to glare at him at the same time. Beyond them was a wooden door similar to the one he had stepped through in the arena. The only difference was the symbol of the culann hound boldly emblazoned on the dark wood.
The chamber was lit with small torches, the ceiling a mess of uneven rocks that jutted like upside down overgrown mushrooms. The ground was made of hard packed earth, the air thick with the scent of mold.
The three giants began moving toward him, their steps reverberating through the ground. The tentacles on their sides moved up and down, like excited individuals jumping at a joyful event.
Wily sheathed his sword and conjured a thin stream of flame. It dropped like a coil to the ground, and Wily heard one of the creature’s chuckle, a sound that rumbled off the walls.
He pulled and pulled on his reserve, gritting his teeth when the process became painful, and when he deemed it enough, he raised his hand high and began making a circling motion, the fire now a lasso of flames.
When Wily charged, the creatures paused, watching him with curious uncertainty. He veered off to the right and the creature on the right moved to the side, the tentacles still jumping up and down.
When wily thought he was close enough to the wall, he through the lasso at one of the upside down mushrooms, feeling a frisson of fear when he thought the lasso would come up short. But the flames caught and coiled around the rock, holding taught against the base. He jumped, running a few yards horizontally on the uneven wall, high enough that he was eye level with the creatures.
When he jumped back on the ground, he was only a few yards away from the door. Without breaking his pace he kept running toward it, hearing one of the creatures cry in outrage, followed by the thumps of running steps approaching.
Wily reached the door well ahead of the creatures, but there was no handle he could use to open it, and with a cry of frustration Wily thumped at the hound’s head, again and again. But the door didn’t open.
Turning, he pressed against the door, his heart a wild beat, his breathing fast. He drew his sword, ready to fight – or break the amulet.
He’d been so close, he thought as the closest giant reached for him.
That’s when the door gave and Wily fell through, butt down on the arena’s ground.
Alan Wilyhame sat beside the emperor on the seat of honor. He’d been patted and praised like a hero who’d won a battle single handedly. On the other side of the emperor sat Robin Dotho, the only other contestant to make out of the arena. No one else had come out, either through the door or by the amulet.
Wily shook hands with high ranking officials and socialites, and even Dotho’s mother, the archduchess who had been the cause of the friend’s separation grudgingly shook his hand.
They ate and celebrated until the dark hours of the night, and before dispensing, the emperor called both man to the side and announced their first assignment: to investigate a disturbance deep in the forbidden lands.
The agreement was on Wily’s tongue when Porscha appeared out of nowhere and interrupted.
“If the two do not think you can work as a team,” She began in a moderate tone, “I am sure my uncle the emperor can assign something else?” She aimed the end at the emperor, and taken aback, he assessed the situation.
Wily glanced sideways at Dotho, regret filling his heart. He’d known he’d hurt his friends with his abrupt departure, but he fully believed he’d had no choice at the time.
Straightening, he told himself if he had this time with Dotho without the archduchess to interrupt, he could bring his friend around – to at least understand, if not forgive.
“I can work as a team if he has no problem.”
Dotho stared at him for a long time, his black eyes unfathomable. Wily began to wonder if Dotho was going to refuse when he inclined his head in agreement.
“I can work as a team.”
“Excellent.” The emperor clapped. “let’s cheer to the new adventure to come.”
The two old friends looked at each other and accepted the drinks Porscha passed around.
In that moment, fully committed to helping each other, they raised a glass to their new adventure.