Episode 26: Fire Fall
"Hi guys," Dedrick (centaur) said to the final three. "It’s like old times, huh? Like I never left."
"Except now you’re the announcer," Ranzkin (gnome) said.
"Yes. You may have noticed Kailen the Fairy was taken in the night by the will of the island."
"Voted off, you mean," William (werewolf) said.
"Umm… yes." Dedrick absently stomped a hoof in the dewy morning grass. "Is everyone ready for an exciting game?"
William groaned. "Yes! Get on with it already."
Dedrick frowned. "Paige doesn’t look too ready."
Paige (zombie) looked up at Dedrick, "What?"
"This is her one hour of human form," Ranzkin said. I gave her something for the pain of her broken arm and hydra bite. She’s as here as she’s going to be."
"Okay, I guess. Your last challenge dealt with elements of water, today’s game will have fire. It’s called Fire Fall. The first person to traverse the blazing labyrinth and recover the fist sized golden pearl wins the game, but be careful of falling flaming feathers, as phoenix/hawk hybrids will be recording the event from above."
"Sounds simple enough," William said. "Where’s the maze? I don’t see any smoke."
Ash colored puffs suddenly rose in the western sky from. Trails of sparks followed the paths of circling birds beyond the wood.
"Looks like they just lit it," Ranzkin said. "Lets call a truce until we find the entrance."
"Deal," William said. They left Dedrick behind and walked through the wood to a wall of fire. "How do we get in?"
"There." Ranzkin pointed to a low gap in the wall.
William bent down and peered into the flames. "Are you sure?"
Ranzkin shrugged. She disappeared into the hole.
William waited a moment before plunging in after her. Fire loomed on all sides and a path of ash lead deeper into the inferno.
The last to crawl into the inferno, Paige moved slowly on her knees while coughing. Tears poured from her irritated eyes as she clutched her broken arm to her chest.
The herbal mixture Ranzkin gave her dulled her pain, the raw ache that came from living again as well as the bruised and broken parts, but it also blanked out her mind, slowing her thoughts. She should be afraid of entering such a deadly place with a compromised reaction time, but the drug-induced calmness overrode any such feeling.
Paige knew she was in last place. She wouldn’t win through speed and had to rely on the old zombie stronghold- tenacity. She wasn’t exactly optimistic but she wasn’t giving up either.
Fire glowed more brightly around a bend. As she peered around the flames, she found more than expected. Lava snakes wriggled in the path. Small piles of ash burnt like red coals and trailed thin wisps of smoke near where they had bitten. She didn’t see any charred corpses, werewolf or gnome size.
Crawling forward, she looked for a path through the deadly serpents. They slithered and hissed as she neared them, obviously upset. At least Paige thought so. Ranzkin would know, but Paige hadn’t kept up with her friend and it wouldn’t have been right to ask her to stay behind, hindering both their chances at beating William.
A snake struck the ground near her knee. Sparks of ash rose and fell with a snap of life. Paige scooted backward more quickly than she’d been moving and fell into a sitting position. The impact joggled her arm, sending a bright wave of pain shooting through her body, blinding out the discomfort of the small burn near her knee. Sweat dripped into her eyes as the snakes settled.
When the pain receded into dull throbs, she knew she couldn’t do it. Even if she could manage to get through the snakes without becoming a living torch, she couldn’t navigate the labyrinth in her frail and painful human state.
Ranzkin had taken extra time through the frazzled lava snakes after William had irritated them. She’d hoped Paige would’ve caught up because the zombie didn’t have the animal charm. Ranzkin didn’t hold out much hope that Paige could traverse the labyrinth, much less win the competition, but at least she wouldn’t hurt so much.
As an afterthought, Ranzkin grabbed up the calmest lava snake and wrapped it around her waist like a glowing belt. She didn’t worry about needing a light source with the fire walls, but the little fellow might come in handy, even if the maze was all the same element. Perhaps his movement could distract something and help her slide by unseen.
Several forks in the path distracted her thoughts and she reminded herself to focus on the game. She memorized her route and only had to turn back from a dead end once. The path widened as she approached a large depression in the ash. Had an explosion left that mark?
The edges of the ring were too close to the fire walls to circle around it and the hole was too wide to jump across. Ranzkin hesitated as she looked over the lip. She felt uneasy, though the snake seemed undisturbed.
Something leaped toward her from behind. With nowhere to hide, she turned to face the new threat. The lava snake slid its head up to her shoulder hissing at the newcomer. A large yellow-brown, shaggy wolf charged at her and she ducked as it sprang high. She watched the beast arc over the pit and realized it must be William.
The ground rumbled and Ranzkin fell to her knees. A giant ant lion shot out of the depression, grabbing the air as William passed. The trembling earth spent Ranzkin over the edge and turned the beast’s attention on her. While she dodged a slice from its massive jaws, the lava snake had other ideas. It was fed up with all of the shaking and sprang off Ranzkin, biting the ant lion and catching it on fire.
As the fire roared louder and the heat increased from hot to unbearable, Ranzkin scrambled out of the hole back to where she’d started. The lava snake was gone, probably retreating back into the earth, and the giant ant lion lay half out of its trap, dead, burning and blocking the path.
William didn’t stop for anything, afraid that he’d get scared if he gave himself too much time to think. So far, his strategy had worked, getting him past lava snakes, ant lion and other traps. He misjudged the descent of a falling phoenix feather that singed his shoulder and rolled just in case he’d caught on fire.
The clouds opened and rain fell, cold and steady. The walls hissed as smoke mixed with steam. He felt like he could breathe again though it was harder than ever to see ahead. He kept his head to the ground and kept going, refusing to think about what the rain might mean, that maybe one of the others had won the game.
Somewhere to the left, he’d spotted a large, carved rock on a hill and decided to take his chances with the smoldering walls. He leapt through the smoke and kept moving. His paws burned on hot coals and cooled in ashy puddles as he sprinted toward his goal. He slowed near the rock, taking in deep breaths and smelling horse nearby. Climbing the slippery rock was a struggle, but he made it to the top. He didn’t find a better view to mark his way but rather, he found Dedrick hovering over the golden pearl.
"Congratulations," the centaur said. "You’ve won the challenge."
William howled and transformed back into a man. He knelt on all fours, panting from the exertion of the change.
"You get to pick who will come with you to the end," Dedrick said.
William stood. "What?"
"You can pick either Paige or Ranzkin to stay with you on the island. The other will be sacrificed and go home."
"How long do I have to decide?"
Dedrick stomped a hoof. "You have to decide now."
William rubbed his eyes, wishing he could sleep on it. Which contestant would give him the best chance of winning? Which one had the largest following of viewers? He had no way to know. "Paige. She will stay with me and Ranzkin will go."
William won the final competition and has chosen to keep Paige on the island. Ranzkin has been sacrificed! With two contestants left, one last elimination round will decide the ultimate winner of the show. You, the viewers will choose their fate.
This vote is different from the others. Do NOT vote for the contestant you want to be sacrificed, rather vote for who you wish to win the game. Who will it be? Vote for either William the Werewolf or Paige the Zombie to WIN THE GAME!
Writer for Soldak