Episode 16: Capture the Flag

"With two of you at risk, Gorm (mage) and Haimes (scree), the viewers have spoken," Lorimer the Sorcerer announced to the contestants while short, leaf-wearing imps stood around him. "The player sacrificed is Haimes." The imps circled Haimes, poking him with spears to steer him into the trees. Lorimer nodded and returned his attention to the two teams. "This will be the last Team Challenge. It is called Capture the Flag.

"Before we begin, Tribe Depths, you must choose two among you who will not compete in today’s event."

"It should be Dedrick (centaur) and Ranzkin (gnome)," Christina (vampire) said. "Especially Dedrick. He’s always useless."

"We need Ranzkin in case there’s something small," Nessa (elf) argued. "I think it should be Dedrick and Paige (zombie)."

"Why Paige?" Dedrick asked.

"Between the two of us, I have more flexibility," Nessa said.

"I agree," Christina said. The others nodded and she turned to Lorimer. "We choose Dedrick and Paige."

Lorimer continued, "There are two bases, rock hills in the north and south. Each has a flag that must be defended while simultaneously, you try to capture the enemy’s flag and bring it back to your base. The first tribe to posses both flags at their base wins the competition. Tribe Depths’ base is in the north and Tribe Kivi’s base is in the south. Begin now!"

"But we don’t know where our bases are yet," Amber (unicorn) complained.

"Not now," Gorm said grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her after him.

Kailen (fairy) landed on Gorm’s shoulder and ducked beneath a branch. "What’s the plan."

"We find our base," Gorm said, "make sure it’s well defended. Then one of us stays behind while the other two go for Depths’ flag."

***

Nessa Carried Ranzkin and ran trying to keep up with Christina, hurtling rocks and logs. Panting hard, she stopped at the bottom of a pink granite hill.

DIARY CONFESSION – NESSA THE ELF

"Depths is doing well, and that makes me nervous. How can it be that two people have died from tribe Kivi? Other than that, we’ve been running neck to neck.

"Sometimes I wonder what William would think of the competitions. He’s good at playing these games... Which I actually didn’t like when it came to the Immunity Challenge. Suddenly we were enemies. It’ll happen to everyone before the game is done. I don’t blame him. If I was more like him, I’d definitely win this game!"

BACK TO THE SHOW

 

Christina inspected the orange flag tied onto a pole. "I don’t like this color. It’s easy to see through the trees." She removed the cloth and rubbed it in dirt before replacing it low on the pole. "I’ll stay and defend the flag. I don’t trust either of you to do it. And yet we don’t win if you don’t get Kivi’s flag."

"We’ll get it." Nessa turned to go still holding the gnome.

"Put me down," Ranzkin said. "You’re faster and might find Kivi’s base first. I’ll distract whoever stayed behind."

The elf complied. It would take time for Ranzkin to reach the enemy’s base and after Nessa found it, she circled looking for signs of a guard. "That’s odd," she whispered. Maybe they hadn’t found their base yet? She couldn’t pass up the chance and darted up the hill for the blue flag fluttering in the breeze.

A large wasp clung to the pole just above the cloth. It buzzed into the air as Nessa approached. She began untying the flag when the wasp dove, lighting first on her forehead, plunging its painful stinger into her flesh. It flew wildly away from her swatting hand, twisted in the air and found purchase for its stinger again, this time near her wrist.

Nessa backed away from the flag, still half on the pole. The wasp charged and she ducked, retreated down the hill. "Kailen." The fairy had shape-shifted again. Instead of leaving the base undefended as she first thought, it was guarded with stings instead of punches. Nessa backed into the trees wondering what to do now that the fairy knew her position. The stings throbbed. She smelled water nearby and headed for the river to make an ointment to lessen the pain.

***

Bears aren’t a social bunch, when it comes to non-bears, even if you wore a cute little conical hat. But that didn’t bother Ranzkin. She knew what they liked- a bit of honeycomb mixed with certain herbs. They could be very friendly for such a treat. Three black bears followed Ranzkin who rode on the back of a fourth. The gnome smiled. This was going to be the perfect distraction to allow Nessa a chance at Kivi’s flag. Ranzkin was coming with her own personal army.

At least until she spotted Gorm sneaking through the wood. Gorm who led her crashing into a snowy tree. Gorm who left her in a pit. Gorm whom she wanted very much to use to prove a point. He was close by and this time; so were the bears.

She hopped down to the forest floor. Wait here. The mage moved slowly as Ranzkin ran beneath tall brush with something gooey in her hand.

***

Gorm crept through the trees carrying a large walking stick. He wanted to get close quietly, zip in and out of Depths’ base and take the flag with none the wiser. They’d probably leave Ranzkin guarding their camp, and she was no match for him. A little water would incapacitate her if she got in the way.

A blur bounced in his peripheral vision as something sticky smacked his forehead. He swung his walking stick around like a weapon, slicing empty air. The thing scrambled up a small tree. It was the gnome.

"Hi Gorm. Like bears?"

He felt angry more than embarrassed. "You are not a bear."

Ranzkin smiled infuriatingly. "You shouldn’t have left me in that hole."

Four bears crashed through the thicket. They stopped smelling the air as one raised up on hind legs. They stared at the mage as he backed up. When they charged, Gorm bolted away from the bears and from Depths’ base.

***

COMMERCIAL BREAK

This has been brought to you by The Council in Avond Nuit.

Did you ever hear of dark elves before Kivi, crazy as a deer mouse in mating season, returned from traveling in the wilds and nearly dying as consequence?

It’s a lark to discuss it further. These supposed enemies, shadow destroyers, are merely a figment of a demented imagination. Kivi is to be pitied, not coddled. If he was still around, we’d lock him away in an institution where he can get the help he needs.

Ignore the rumors from the fringes. No group of lumens are standing up to defend us because there is nothing to defend us from. Please, go back to your regularly scheduled lives. There’s nothing to see here.

BACK TO THE SHOW

Kailen didn’t trust Nessa. Now that she knew his secret, she could find a way to squash him before he could drive her back with nasty stings. She could tell her teammates. His best defense was to follow her, see what she did next.

She stopped before a stream. Something was different here, some beach where only dirt should be. The elf hesitated to walk out on the sand, but slowly took a step. Her breath released in a gush and she laughed softly. Kailen moved closer.

Before Nessa got to the water, a shape rose up from the sand, forming a man. His mouth opened but no sound came other than shifting sand. Nessa froze. "What do you want?"

Kailen whispered to himself, "Dummy, you’re walking on him."

The sandman shook his head and extended a palm. Nessa seemed less afraid now. She started around the creature, but he moved to block her path from the water. "Vile thing," she muttered. She climbed on rocks that led down to the water. He tried to follow, but couldn’t hold his shape removed from the earth. The man crashed in a shower of sand between the heavy stones. Nessa didn’t trust the pile of sand still beside the rocks and climbed the rest of the way to the water along the uneven path.

Something big lunged from the water and wrapped around Nessa. She screamed as the anaconda pulled her into the river. Kailen buzzed overhead, unsure how to help. He flashed into his fairy form, but lost sight of the beast in the murky depths.

***

Christina laid a circle of twigs in a ring around the hill’s bottom. She wasn’t going to be surprised by anyone, except maybe Kailen. Even then she thought she’d hear his wings beat the air.

The forest groaned around her, like old wood bending in wind. Christina saw three points of green above a branch in front of her. Pixies. She had no time for food. "Scram, you!" She threw a rock and the green ladies scattered, disappearing from sight.

The groaning grew louder and was accompanied with a percussion of snapping branches. Leaves fell around her. She turned to see the tree behind her, an old oak, looming over her. She swallowed as roots ripped from the ground and swung like whips in the air.

Christina jumped back, avoiding a swinging branch only to get her foot caught in a twisting root. It raised high, dangling the vampire upside down. Christina grabbed at her foot, trying to free it when a broken branch stabbed through the air piercing her body. She cried out and grabbed the wood springing from her chest. Thick, black blood fell down her face and dripped from her hair to the soft earth.

She was scared even though she wouldn’t die. Her heart had been damaged long before this tree fell from its mother as a tiny seed. The groaning increased and Christina realized it was pulling her closer. She looked as the dark trunk approached. Bark fell away from a gapping hole. Christina thrashed, pulling herself along the jagged branch in her chest leaving a dark, gruesome trail along its skin. She was exhilarated to almost reach the end, even with so many vines clinging to her, her body would be free of the impalement.

Darkness filled her vision as her head disappeared into the trunk’s open maw. The bark shrieked as it crashed down on flesh and bone. The tree dropped and limbs swished back to their normal positions. Large roots dug into soil, but damage remained. Among the broken limbs and long, dying, slender roots, the vampire dangled upside down and unmoving. Black clotting masses stained with maroon fell from where once there’d been a head.

***

"Trick." Amber mumbled. She shivered, clutching her arms tightly around her chest. A body hung headless from a tree beside Depth’s abandoned camp. It wore Christina’s clothes. "Definitely a trick." Amber took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She transformed, limbs shifting, growing, neck and face elongating. Everything was easier when she was a unicorn.

DIARY CONFESSION – AMBER THE UNICORN

"I really want to win this competition. We have to win it. We’re down to three and Depths still has five players left. We won’t survive as a team without winning.

"Christina won’t make it easy. She’s really quite clever even if she’s a brutal killer. It’s going to be a challenge getting by her. To win, heck, even to survive, I can’t trust what I see when she’s involved."

BACK TO THE SHOW

She smelled the rotting blood, the scent drifting from the black aura around the corpse. Maybe it wasn’t a trick, maybe it was another of Christina’s hapless victims left to scare her away.

The unicorn dashed up the hill, not taking care along the loose stone. She was lucky not to break her ankle but her fear was too great to consider it. She ripped the orange cloth from the pole and galloped away with it hanging from her mouth.

The scent of water rang strong in her nostrils. She headed for the source but before she could ease her anxiety in its cleansing embrace, she came across five pixies circled around a distraught looking Kailen.

Amber closed her eyes and turned back into her girl body. "What are you doing? He is my friend."

One of the pixies whispered in her ear.

Amber’s eyes went wide. "You are attacking a giant snake basking in the sun on the river bank?"

"You have to see," Kailen said. "It’s important." He flew to Amber and the pixies didn’t stop him. He pulled her by a tendril of long hair. She gasped when she saw the anaconda on the far bank. "You attacked that? Are you insane?"

"Look, look!" Kailen fluttered about her. "It swallowed her. I couldn’t stop it. I saw and I couldn’t…"

"Wait," Amber said. "Swallowed who?" Christina’s name jumped into her mind as she looked at the lump in the snake’s skin. It had swallowed something people-sized.

"Nessa!" Kailen cried. "It ate Nessa." He glided to the ground, shoulders slumping. "Maybe you can do something."

"No."

"In unicorn form, I mean,"

"No."

"But you’re strong and big!" Kailen shouted.

She shook her head. "Even if I wasn’t terrified of snakes, I couldn’t help her."

Kailen lowered his face in his hands and sobbed.

Amber sat with Kailen awhile, brushing his hair with a finger. "Come on," She picked him up. "Let’s go back to our base. Find out what’s happening." Her hands cradled around his warm body. She had a moments worry that she was forgetting something, but lost the thought when she heard the snake slip into the water. She hurried away.

***

Ranzkin hadn’t seen anyone since Gorm. Kivi’s base was deserted when she took their flag. It was a quick trip back to Depths’ camp, but she didn’t recognize the place. It looked like a mini-hurricane hit one tree, and only one tree.

A headless body hung upside down from one of its limbs. Ranzkin warily approached and cried out when she realized it was Christina. She looked around for the missing head but found nothing. Torn between longing to save her undead teammate but afraid since Christina lost so much blood, Ranzkin worried she’d kill her to feed on the spot. It was a non-issue without the head.

The gnome crawled up the rock hill and saw the small scrap of their flag tied to the pole. It hardly seemed to matter with Christina dead. "Kivi must have already won."

She sat, head resting on her fists facing the body. She thought about trying to take it down but she’d need help with so many roots wrapped around it. "What happened?"

Something grunted behind her. She turned and saw one of the black bears. Smiling, she said, "Tired of chasing Gorm?" It had something in its mouth and placed it beside her, waiting for another treat. It was Tribe Depths’ flag.

After the bear left, Lorimer scrambled up the hill. "My God," He shaded his eyes with a hand. "Is that Christina?" When Ranzkin didn’t answer, he sat next to her. "You’ve won the challenge."

She sighed. "I’m beginning to loathe this island."

"Why’s that?" Lorimer asked.

"It brings out the worst in us and then it kills us." She shook her head. "Three dead."

"Four, actually."

Ranzkin whipped her head in his direction. "What?"

"Nessa too."

A tear ran down her cheek.

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