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This is a work of fiction; the names, characters, incidents, and places are the product of the author’s thoughts and imagination. Therefore, any resemblance or any similarity to actual people, either living or dead, environments, or events is coincidental.
Text copyright © 2020 by Safa Shaqsy
Deep in the forest, Odis and his family lived in their small wooden house for seventeen years. He was born as the last male heir to the family. The other three boys joined the army in order to protect the Kingdom. They called it a job of dignity and respect as Odis remembered. Their mother, Rady, trained her boys to fight in battles, just in case they entered The Gallants or joined the army. Every parent felt the same about their boys. The mothers were shamed when they gave birth to girls instead; a boy is the golden ticket for the life of luxury and magic. Only one boy can win it all: power, magic and the hand of princess Lazin.
Odis had made some breakfast for his ill mother during the harsh winter.
The kitchen smelled of fresh eggs and herbal tea; his mother love chamomile tea to soothe her worries. She sat on a wooden chair in the small kitchen where they had a couch, and a dining table he and his brother made. They couldn’t afford the luxury life the royalty had.
For all of their lives, they had a shortage of food and water. All of the people in the village suffered. They had to light up their own fire every winter, without the help of maids to keep them warm. They accepted their poor life long ago, but his mother’s illness made Odis consider participating in The Gallants.
His mother shivered while he poured some tea into her wooden cup, then she sniffed it just to enjoy the short-lived hot tea. Since the harsh winters, any tea they make doesn’t stay hot for long. She looked up at Odis who was the most obedient child she had and smiled.
“God bless you, Odis,” she said.
Odis looked down at her and kissed her wrinkled forehead. “God does not exist, mother,” he said.
“You don’t have to believe to receive miracles,” she said. “God sends you miracles to help you believe.”
“What miracles?” he asked with annoyance. “If we had some miracle, we would get more money for your illness, mother.”
He cleaned the table with a damp cloth and sat beside her as he met her brown eyes. She was getting older, and her dark skin was wrinkled on the side of her eyes. He gripped on the cloth too hard and gritted his teeth as tears ran down his cheeks. His mother rested her palm on his hand and brushed her other hand over his afro hair.
“I know you’re still angry at your father for leaving us when you were so young, but you can’t stay mad at him forever,” she said.
He licked his lips and shook his head. “He left when we needed him the most,” he said.
“He left… when it was time,” she whispered. “You might not understand this right now, but soon you will.”
She got up from her chair with her cup and went to the sink to rinse it. Odis sat there for a while as he contemplated how his mother let his father leave without a word. He pictured how he would meet him in the forest one day and run after him to punch him in the face. It is one of his nightmares when he sleeps at night. He couldn’t see his father’s face, because he hadn’t seen him before; he left when he was only a baby.
Odis got up and left the cloth on the kitchen counter. He watched his mother as she watered the plants and left the eggs to get cold. He knew she was thinking about his father, but she wouldn’t tell him so.
“Mother, I will get the money for your illness,” he said, “Even if it is by entering The Gallants.”
She stopped watering the plants and turned to face him. She placed her hand on his shoulder and pursed her lips.
“Your brothers would be proud,” she said, “And so am I.”
“No, they would be jealous that I’m getting this opportunity,” he said, and snickered. “They would probably punch me too.”
She smiled. “Then it’s time to get ready, because the first of January is on the way.”
“I will get ready for the new year entry then,” he said, “I have two days left.”
His mothers’ eyes widened, and her grip tightened on his shoulder. “Odis, the entry day is tomorrow.”
The next morning, Odis’s mother ironed his best cloth. It was a brown shirt that she bought for him, a fancy one, just for special occasions. It was dusty and worn out. It’s all they had with the money Rady collected for months, to surprise him with for his birthday.
Odis wore the shirt and waited for his mother to dust it off with her hands. Her wrinkled hands were weak and cold, but it was their tradition for good luck.
“It’s time,” she murmured.
Her face looked tired from the sleepless nights, as she thought about the danger her youngest son might be in. Odis wouldn’t let her have doubt. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity which he had to take for the sake of everyone he loved.
“I will make sure I get the prize, mother,” he said, “I promise.”
She smiled, “I know. Take care, my son. May god guide and protect you.”
He looked down to avoid rolling eyes. Rady brought Odis’s chin up, forcing him to look at her. She handed her necklace, which had a circle with two swords, to Odis.As the necklace landed in his palm, she kissed his forehead. “Keep this with you,” she said.
He nodded and headed to the exit. The day had just started as the birds chirped on the trees. Odis walked away from home, as his chest tightened, and his muscles tensed. The center of the village was a few miles away. There were other boys leaving their homes. He heard parents cry loudly as they said goodbye to their sons. After walking for a few miles, the crowd of boys gathered at the center. They stood before the big gate that separated them and the castle, where the princess lived.
Odis looked at his competitors and gripped onto the necklace hard to leave a scar in his palm. The tension was clear on the other boys’ faces. They waited for the whistle to tell them when to follow the guards that gathered at the gate. The guards had all sort of weapons with them to protect the gate.
The guy beside him had soft, black hair and small eyes. He leaned his head closer to Odis and chuckled.
“What a show, heh?” he said.
Odis looked to the other side to ignore his comment. He didn’t want to socialize with the other guys, but he insisted and extended his hand for him to shake.
“My name is Dram,” he said as he shook Odis’s hand.
“Odis,” he said.
“You look tense,” Dram teased. “You know the secret is to let go. Imagine the water running through your body, Ommm.”
Odis felt annoyed by Dram’s social personality, and a bit worried that his naivety will result in his murder. The Gallant wasn’t for the weak. It gulped anyone who had a seed of fear in his heart. It wasn’t a place to surrender either. Surrendering was punishable by death with fire that surrounded the castle. Anyone who wants out, will immediately burn to ashes.
The whistle blower started, and the gate opened slowly to reveal the big castle far away in a steep mountain. The guards yelled at the boys to march forward on the road, careful not to touch the fire that shielded the road on both sides.
Odis wore his mother’s necklace and gripped it while he murmured to himself. “What in sweet hell is this?”
Dram looked at him, and smirked. “Sweet hell it is,” he said. “But what makes the princess fear us when she has all the magical powers we don’t possess?”
Odis pursued his lips at the thought. Dram was right, even though he wouldn’t stay quiet. He shook his head and licked his dry lips.
“I don’t know. Maybe she likes to spark fear in our hearts,” Odis said.
“Or maybe, there is something else that we don’t know for sure,” Dram suspected.
“Unlikely,” Odis argued. “It has been like this for decades. The Royals keep the power and magic.”
Dram nodded. “I’m disappointed in you,” he said.
“Why?” Odis asked.
“I thought you knew better, he said,” You look like someone who knows a lot more than you’re letting on.”
Odis snorted. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“Okay,” Dram said.
As they approached the castle walls and the big gate that separated the Kingdom, the guards knocked on the gate. A second gate was opened by the guards inside.
Odis saw the tall colorful towers, and the green land with many animals. People were well dressed, and their faces showed signs of a good life. The castle had other walls that protected the princess who lived there. He saw her at the window staring right back at them. She had fair skin, long black hair and a crown that was filled with different colorful gemstones.
The boys behind him whistled when they saw the princess.
“Hey, princess!” one of the boys said and got hit by the guards with sticks.
Another guard who looked grand and good looking, stepped in front of the boys. He had many badges on his formal shirt. He looked like a general, and had silver colored hair, and a black beard.
“Welcome, future Gallants!” He said, “My name is Ory, and I will guide you through the competition from now on. Let’s make one thing very clear. No one talks to the princess or ever says her name again.”
He walked closer to the boys and looked down at his expensive shoes.
“Anyone who disobeys will face death,” he said, “Welcome to the Gallants.”
Ory entered The Zone where contestants live, and get fed with multivitamins to stay strong and healthy for The Gallants. The building has a high technology security systems, and cameras on every corner of the room. The rooms were bright Odis noticed the big flashlights on the ceiling. The rooms were warm; it made the sweat on his neck prickle. He wasn’t a fan of warm weather, and whenever the summer came, he usually stayed in the river taking a long bath to cool his body. He still heard the river run over the rocks, and the whispers of birds above the trees. He missed home right when he entered The Zone, and felt claustrophobic for the first time in his life. He was ever a free boy, who ran over the meadows.
“And here, you can sleep. Every one of you have a separate bed,” Ory explained as he walked in the boy’s shared bedroom, and then he entered the bathroom without any separated doors. Odis felt embarrassed when he saw that he had to expose his body to a bunch of strangers. After all, he didn’t have the best body, nor he had the face of a soldier. His brother Jaby who was the closest brother he had in age, and personality. They always spent their evening hunting rabbits in the forests with their spears that they made together. He was the one encouraging, and training Odis to be a powerful hunter in case he entered The Gallants.
“And here you clean yourselves,” Ory continued, “I don’t want to hear any complains about the lack of walls. You get what you get.”
One blond boy raised his hand in hesitation. “Can we walk around The Zone without supervision?” He asked.
“You may, but you must never be near the castle,” He said, “Now get dressed, and go to the food court to get your lunch, and rest well, because tomorrow is the Testing day.” He left the room after his last words lingered in the boys’ minds.
Odis went to his closet and took out the outfit he was supposed to wear the next day. It had lots of brown blades on the shoulders for protection, and had two belts, one brown and one golden. The boots had golden blades. He found a brown mage with some gemstones inside. He spun it with his hands like a cheerleader.
The boys did the same; they all had the same outfits, same mage with some gemstones. Dram came up to Odis, and patted on his back. Odis turned around to see the same guy who he met at the gates. He sighed.
“Hey, Odis, it’s me Dram,” He said with a cheerful voice.
“I know you,” Odis said.
“Of course, we’re buddies!” Dram said.
Odis couldn’t disagree more. He never had any friends before, and liked his privacy more than meeting new people. If he would stay single for the rest of his life, he would. Dram wouldn’t understand why Odis likes to be alone, and explaining it would waste so much time, so he just played along.
“Yeah, sure,” Odis said. He walked out of the room to the food court. He noticed how fast Dram walked behind him. Then he matched his footsteps, side by side.
“My dad thinks I’m annoying, and my sisters think I’m a big failure to the family,” He said.
“Why are you telling me this?” Odis asked.
“Because my mother died few years ago, and she always wanted one of her boys to participate in The Gallants. She tried to have more boys, because I was weak. But she had my sister instead,” Dram explained, “I want my family to be proud of me.”
Odis looked the other way, and felt a bit of guilt for constantly ignoring Dram. He licked his lips, and saw the boys behind them as they followed them to the food court. Odis shook his head, and smiled.
“Is that a smile?” Dram asked.
“You bit it is!” Odis replied.
Dram chuckled. “Glad that I cracked the code,” He said.
They reached the food court, and went to the queue where they serve food. Odis and Dram picked up a tray, plates and cutlery. The servers handed food to each boy, and they went to sit in a round table by the corner that’s near the big window. Odis and Dram sat down, and started eating their food as they watched people in brown coats pass by the big garden The Zone had. Odis tried not to think about how his mother was doing without him, since his brothers are at the borders protecting the kingdom. He used to always cook food, and clean at home. He wondered what his mother was doing at the exact time he was sitting in the food court.
“Thinking about your family?” Dram asked as he nibbled his salad with a fork.
“Just my mother, and older brothers,” Odis answered, and then he resumed to watching Dram eat the full salad under a minute, and glared at him.
“I need my daily vitamins,” Dram pointed out. “I’m sorry for whatever happened to your father, Odis.”
“He didn’t die, but it’s similar. He just walked away when I was a little boy,” He explained.
Dram looked at Odis with admiration, maybe petty. He chomped his salad, and burped. Then split the bread with his hands. He sniffed the fresh bread, and smiled.
“You’re strange,” Odis said.
The loud noise of the alarm woke the boys in their rooms. It was midnight, and suddenly the boys woke up with nothing but boxers on. They all clasped their ears to muffle the sound of the alarm but it wasn’t successful. Odis woke up from his bed, and stood by his bed as his watched the boys run around in their underwear. He covered his ears, and heard one of the boys shout.
“What the hell is going on?” The blond guy, Ira shouted.
Odis looked at his new friend, Dram who collapsed on the floor as he covered his ears, and screamed. Everyone was freaking out of their minds in the room. Then the alarm stopped, and Odis saw Ory step in the room as calm as a dove with his white suit. He walked in the room, and looked at every boy there. They stared at him as he examined them with his eyes.
“Pathetic,” He said, “Young men who fear a tiny alarm. You’re all Gallant potentials, and yet you started to disappoint me.”
“A tiny alarm?” A boy argued. “It almost pierced out ear drums!”
“Silence!” Ory yelled. “Bend down and do fifty push up, now!”
“But…” The boy trailed off.
“Now!” Ory ordered.
The boy, who had no muscles, started doing pushups on the floor as he heaved loudly with every push. He was small and fragile, and everyone in the room watched him get punished. Odis looked down as he saw Ory point at each boy as he turns around.
“Gentlemen, whenever you disobey, you’re out of the test forever,” He explained. “Obey or you face the consequences.”
Odis swallowed his spit, and maintained eye contact with Ory. Ory looked back at Odis, and smirked. “The reason I woke you up at this time is to do a run outside, where it’s hot and dry. Anyone who thinks isn’t able to do it, leave now,” He said. “Anyone who objects will be punished. Now get dressed, and meet me at the outside. You have five minutes, if you get late, you will be punished. Can I hear a yes, sir?”
“Yes, sir!” The boys said.
Ory walked out of the room, and left the boys to dress up for the training. Odis took his outfit from the cupboard and wore every piece separately as he is supposed to do. Dram was by his side that looked at him the whole time.
“Sometimes, I wonder if I made the right decision,” Dram said. “I started missing my family, even though they were mean to me.”
Odis looked at Dram as he got dressed. Odis didn’t say a word, because he also missed his mother who he left back home. He remembered when she used to trim her own hair every month. She would shave his hair frequently when she had time. He missed how she treated him as a kid who never grew up in her eyes as a mother. He missed how he cooked breakfast for her every day, and how she kept watering their plants.
When Odis dressed up, and the other boys did too, they went outside the shared bedroom to the big hallway. They walked together in a big group, and went outside. There were huge training equipment outside, and Ory stood by the door with his hands behind his back. He examined the boys’ outfits and if they wore the outfits correctly.
“Line up!” He shouted.
The boys lined up in a straight line as they faced Ory. Ory walked to each boy, and examined their posture. He saw one boy struggle to stand properly.
“Jason, do fifty pushups!” Ory shouted at him.
“But why?” Jason asked.
“Now it’s a hundred pushups!” Ory shouted.
Jason hesitated before he went down on his belly on the ground and started doing the pushups. All the boys stared at him while he was being punished. Ory went to Jason, and lay his foot on Jason’s back to add pressure on his pushups. Odis felt like saying something, but he couldn’t, because he would be punished too. He knew Ory would take advantage of the boys since they desperately need to enter The Gallants. Ory took his foot of Jason’s back.
“Since you’re all new to this, you will be dismissed for now. Go back to bed, and in the morning, we will meet again.” Ory excused. “Move along.”
Ory left the boys, and Jason collapsed on his belly on the dirty ground. One of the boys picked him up and helped him stand on his feet as he moaned. Odis watched all the madness with silence.
“His crazy,” Dram said.
Odis and the rest of the boys went back to their rooms, and collapsed on their beds. They had to sleep for a couple more hours before they meet up with Ory again.
Odis woke up with the sound of the alarm again. He removed the blanket from his body, and walked to Dram who was awake sitting on his bed. He rested his hand on Dram’s shoulder, and beckoned for him to follow him. The alarm stopped, and they both went to the shared bathroom to brush their teeth. Odis took his tooth brush, and brushed his teeth on their shared big sink that had a big mirror in the center. Odis looked at his tired eyes with dark circles. He hasn’t slept well since he got there. They heard a voice on the speaker inside the room.
“Please, get ready in ten minutes,” Ory ordered from the big speakers. “If you’re late, you will be punished. Everyone should be at the door by then.”
The speaker stopped, and the boys ran to the shower. They opened the showers, and Odis felt the water sprinkle on his hair and body. He grabbed the soap, and rubbed his skin swiftly so he won’t get late. He managed to shower in five minutes. He had five more minutes to get dressed and be at the door with the other potentials. He grabbed the towel, and wrapped around his waist, and went to his closet. He took the outfit and wore it in three minutes. He made sure to take his mage as well with him. He saw Dram follow him at to the door, when the door opened; the other boys were already lined up. Ory was dressed in black suit, and as he entered the room, he scanned every boy with his eyes.
“Not as impressive, but you managed to get up and get ready in time,” Ory said. “Follow me to the medical exams room.”
Ory walked in the hallway, and passed different doors with his ID. Odis saw that every employee there had different ID cards they used to enter different rooms in The Zone. Was The Zone a place for experiments? Odis’s heart beat fast in his chest as he followed the instructions. Ory stopped at one door, he swiped his card on the door handle, and it slid open. The testing room was huge with different labs, and computers. Odis saw a female with curly hair, light brown skin, and plump lips. She smiled at the boys when they saw her with her note tablet, and a pen.
“Good morning, potentials,” She said. “My name is Zara, and I will be your nurse during these tests. Would you follow me, please?”
Odis followed her, and smelt her sweet perfume. He wondered why his heart beat so fast when she talked, and walked in front of him. He followed her whenever she went to. The testing room wasn’t far away from the computer room. There was a cubical glass room with a comfortable leather chair inside, and some lab test equipment. Zara went inside with her note pad, and called each of the boys’ names. After she called one boy’s name, he entered the cubical and sat on the chair. She opened an antiseptic, and wiped on his skin on his arm. She took a small bag and tore it apart. It had a needle inside, and then she injected the needle inside his arm, and pulled some blood. Later she put the blood inside a bottle, and wrote his name on it. She placed the bottle on the counter, and called Odis’s name after that. Odis entered the cubical, and sat on the chair. While she put the antiseptic to his arm skin, Odis looked away before she injected the needle.
“Afraid of needles?” Zara asked.
He groaned when she injected him with the needle for a minute. He focused his attention on the forests where he swam on the river by his house. He liked the cool water cooling his skin of from the summer heat, and the smell of leaves, and flowers that lingered in the air. When she was done, he opened his eyes, and looked at her. She had the eyes of a deer, full of innocence and wisdom.
“Nice to meet you, Odis,” She said.
“Nice to meet you too, Zara,” Odis said, and lingered on her voice when she said his name.
He left the cubical room, and stood beside Dram. Dram nudged him with his elbow, and snickered.
“Oh, love birds,” Dram teased.
“Stop it, Dram,” Odis argued.
At the training area, the boys gathered around to watch Ory perform his combat skills to the boys. Odis watched Ory perform with admiration, and curiosity. He noticed every move carefully as he stood silently with the other boys. Dram was next to him as his jaw dropped when he saw Ory’s impressive moves, and grinned. Ory stopped performing looked at each boy.
“Now, I will choose one boy to compete with me. Who’s going to volunteer?” He asked, and walked past each boy who stood in a perfect line. His hands were crossed on his back, and walked past the boys twice before he stopped by Jason. Odis wondered what he had with Jason to pick on him so much. The guys snickered when Ory stood face to face with Jason.
“Jason, you’re first,” Ory called, and beckoned him to follow him to the arena. He got ready to fight, and wave with his hands in the air as Jason covered his face with his fists. They moved around the arena with their fists over their faces. Ory started punching with his fist towards Jason’s face. Jason dodged the punch, and giggled as he tried to punch Ory. Ory smirked and hid his face behind his fists again.
“Follow my eyes, and try to punch me on the face,” Ory instructed.
Jason aimed his fist to Ory’s face, but he dodged it fast. Then Ory pushed Jason’s arm to the side, and pushed his back that made Jason trip and fall to the ground. Jason’s face crashed on the ground, and he screamed when he saw his nose bleed. He screamed in anger, and tried to punch Ory’s face again, but he dodged it.
“You see, potentials. Never use your emotions in your fights or you guarantee your loss,” Ory said. “Always think clearly during a fight.”
Then Ory pushed Jason to the ground again. Jason covered his bleeding nose with his hands, and turned to look at Ory who was above him. Ory offered his hand to Jason, and pulled him as he got up from the ground.
“Well done, Jason,” Ory said.
Jason went to stand in the line again as he clutched his bleeding nose. Odis stared at Jason as he suffered in pain while following Ory’s commands. Odis thought it wasn’t right to leave Jason bleeding and in pain, and that he needed to see a doctor about his bruises. He finally took the courage to talk, but it was risky.
“Ory, I think Jason needs to go to Zara to treat his bruises. He’s in pain,” Odis said.
All the boys looked at him in shock after he talked to Ory. It wasn’t right to talk to Ory or disobey him in any sort of way. But Odis had to try as Jason was suffering and he did look like he was about to pass out. Ory walked to Odis and looked him in the face as Odis felt his breathing on his face. Odis tried to steady his breathing to not look weak in front of him.
“Fine,” Ory said, and walked away from Odis. “Jason can go inside and get treated. He can join us in another class.”
Jason turned around, walked to the door, and went inside. Ory looked at Odis again, but this time he looked determined to get Odis in trouble. He walked around the arena, and looked at the other boys.
“Odis, it’s your turn,” Ory called, and got ready with his fists covering his face.
Odis entered the arena, and covered his face with his fists as well as they walked around the arena facing each other. Odis waited for Ory to punch, but he didn’t. He remembered the days he fought with his older brothers in the forest away from his house. They always fought for silly reason, and that was what made Odis good with boys’ fights. But he knew that his older brothers were much better than him in those fights. Dula, Jaby and Tari would fight together for something, and Odis would try to stop them and get in fights with them all. It was painful to get punched in the face and belly, but that’s for him being nosy.
Ory felt impatient, and waited for Odis to punch first. He tried to punch Odis, but he dodged the punch by seconds. Odis stepped back, and went away from Ory for a few seconds. Ory looked confused to face a boy that knows how to fight. Odis tried to punch Ory’s shoulder, and he succeeded. He felt the pain in his fist after he hit Ory’s shoulder. Ory groaned and covered his shoulder with his hand, and stared at Odis. Then Odis punched his face that made Ory slump on the ground as he moaned with pain. Odis felt bad after he punched Ory’s face, but it was necessary. Ory got up with his bleeding mouth, and waved at Odis to stop.
“That’s enough for today, everyone is dismissed!” Ory said.
The boys whispered among themselves, and went inside The Zone again. Odis saw Ory touch his bleeding mouth, and looked at his hand that was covered with blood. He locked eyes with Odis, and nodded.
“Good job,” He said.
Odis nodded, and followed the boys inside. He took his mage with him that he left on the wall, and entered inside the hallway. The boys started patting on his back, and whistled. Dram came to Odis, and patted on his shoulder.
“You did it. You defeated the monster,” Dram said.
Odis opened his eyes when he heard the bell of the alarm in their shared bedroom. He woke up and saw his friends wake up too. The alarm was too loud, and he covered his ears with his hands. He realized he had to wake up before Ory came to their bedroom to see them struggling with getting up. Odis got up, and scrumbled on his feet and ran to the bathroom. Him, along with the other boys brushed their teeth at the big mirror. Odis saw how he had bags under his eyes as they barely slept all night. He was thinking about his mother who he left behind, and his three brothers. After he brushed his teeth, he took his clothes off, and took a quick shower. The instructor gave them ten minutes to get ready or otherwise they face consiquences. After he took a shower, he went to his locker, and took the outfit and dressed infront of the other boys. No one was looking as they were all busy getting ready. They had two minutes left until Ory came into their room. Odis heard footsteps coming towards their room, and took his mage in his right hand. The gems on the mage glowed, and looked dark. There has to be a way to activate the gems, Odis wondered. He was about to find out when Ory came to train them again.
The door slid open, and Ory came inside and checked every boy who lined up in front of him. He wore a black suit, and held a mage too. He looked at the boys, one by one and focused on Odis.
“Good morning, potentials. I see you’re dressed up in time,” He said, “Follow me gentlement.”
Odis and boys followed Or down the hallway, and went outside again on the field. It was a sunny day. This time there was a weird creature who stood in the center of the field. It had four eyes, fur, four legs and horns. Ory walked to the creature and petted its body, like it was his pet.
“Today, we’re going to learn how to control an animal in the wild. Boko will be our pet today as you can see,” Ory explained and gestured towards Boko the pet.
Ory clicked his tongue and Boko sat down on the grassy ground. Ory climbed on the ladder made of rope that was on Boko’s back, and sat on the saddle chair. He grabbed the rope and instructed Boko to move in the field. Boko followed his instructions and got up on his four feet, and roared. His roare was the heaviest one Odis ever heard in his life. He had seen many creatures but none were this big and scary. Odis exhaled and stepped back when Boko moved towards the boys. They also backed away when Boko moved towards them. Two of them ran away.
“What the heck is that?” Dram asked while he grabbed Odis’s hand.
Odis looked at his hand over his and pulled his hand away from him. Odis felt awkward from Dram’s touch.
“I don’t know,” Odis answered.
Ory smiled as he rode Boko’s back. “Boys, as you can see, you will be face to face with different creatures in The Gallant, and you need to be prepared,” He explained. “You have to master the art of whispering to animals, just like how I do with Boko. If you fail, you die.”
Boko came closer to the boys again, and they backed away. Odis stayed and watched the creature come closer to him. Odis extended his hand to the creature, and breathed deeply as Boko’s head came closer to his hand. Odis stepped forward a few steps, and touched Boko’s furry head. It smelt of raw fish. Odis felt its fur in his hand, and sighed.
“Hey, you aren’t so bad after all,” Odis whispered to Boko. It exhaled and Odis felt its fishy breath on his hand and face.
“Unbelieveable,” Ory said. “Odis is mastering the art of whispering. Have you ever dealt with creatures before?”
“Yes, when I was in the forest looking for food, but not this big,” Odis said, and rubbed Boko’s gaint face.
“Remarkable, Odis,” Ory said with astonishment.
Ory clicked his tongue, and the creature sat down again. Ory stepped down from the ladder, and gastured to Boko for Odis to climb. Odis hesitated a second, then walked to the creature. He climbed the ladder, and sat on the saddle chair. He looked down at the boys, and how they were staring at him, wide eyed as he handled the creature.
“Yes!” Dram shouted at him. “Show them who’s boss!”
Boko was oversensitive, and raored. It shook its head, and got up from the ground. It walked away from Ory and the boys as Odis swayed on its back. Odis stomach dropped, and Ory clicked with his tongue to stop Boko, but it didn’t listen to him. It roared and ran away with Odis on it’s back. It was a few meters away from the building, and then Odis screamed.
“Stop!” Odis shouted, “Take me back to the field right now!”
Boko stopped on it’s tracks and turned around on its feet and it walked back to the field. Odis heard how the boys clapped when he came back. They whisteled and shouted at him as he came back with Boko. It sat on the ground, and allowed Odis to step down from the ladder.
When Odis was back, Dram patted on his shoulder.
“Well done, Odis,” Ory said, and clapped with the boys. “Now this is a representation of the correct way to handle a situation like this. Boys, take notes.”
“You’re his favourite potential now, Odis,” Dram said.
“You said if we don’t handle the creatures well, we die. I thought no one will die in the gallant,” Odis said with clenched fists.
Ory looked down at his shoes. “Then work harder,” He said, “Class dismissed!”
Odis felt something was bizzar about the gallant, and he didn’t like it. He wanted everyone to return to their families in one piece. He had to find out what they were planning for them for the gallants.
Odis hears someone calling him while he was asleep at night. He saw the clock and it was ten at night past curfew time. Ory instructed them to sleep before nine at night and wake up by five in the morning everyday to practice on the field. It was a female voice he recognized so well. As if Zara was talking to him in his dreams. He woke up, and saw Zara by his side. He wondered what kind of trouble he would get into if he talked to Zara off hours, and if the cameras are recording them.
“Odis, wake up,” Zara whispered to Odis by his ear.
Odis wiped his eyes, and blinked at her. “What’s the matter?” He asked.
“I have to show you something, please follow me,” She said. She got up from his bed, and walked out of the room.
Odis got up slowly as to not wake the boys in the room, and followed her down the hallway. They walked side by side, and when they reached her office door, she wiped it on the security screen. The door slid open, and they entered inside her office. Screens on the wall behind her office table showed the security cameras in every corner. Odis saw every room, and every hallway on camera. Her office was probably the only office without cameras, because he couldn’t detect any cameras around. He had to be careful not to break the rules, or othewise he would be kicked out from the competition.
“You must be wondering why I brought you here, Odis,” She said. “You’re special, we monitor every boy in the competition and until now, you’re the only one who’s ahead in the game. Rich people are bidding on you, Odis.”
Odis didn’t like what he heard about the bidding. He never thought his life or death would result in someone getting money out of his misery. He didn’t like the rules either. Why was it necessary for someone to die in the competition?
“It’s life or death, why would they lie to us about The Gallants?” Odis asked.
Zara looked away at the screens. “One day, you will understand. For now I can tell you how the game started,” She said.
“Okay, then tell me,” Odis said.
Zara started pacing on the floor, and clasped her hands together. She turned to Odis, and bit her lower lips. “The competition started when the king and queen had a baby girl, and decided they weren’t going to let anyone marry their daughter when she grows up, except..” She explained. “They thought to create a competition for boys to enter and the one who survives, will get magic, power and marry the princess. They didn’t want a weak heir to marry the princess, so it was the only way.”
“And the princess agrees with this?” Odis asked.
“The princess thinks it’s practical, she’s wary of anyone who would use magic in the wrong way, and try to take over the kingdom. It has happened decades ago, and the royals won’t give anyone a chance to do that.” She explained.
Odis looked at the screens, and thought about how he played in the woods with his mother, and rode horses with his brothers. He always was the best with animals, and his brothers trained him how to be a strong man. His mother always said that the strongest men come from the muddiest place. She was right about it, Odis thought.
“Was it one of the rules for the competitors to die?” Odis asked in suspecion.
Zara shook her head. “No, the princess added this rule. It wasn’t in the original manual. She thought of getting competitors on camera would be fun,” She replied. “Listen Odis, I want you to be careful. The princess is not what she seems.”
For the first time Odis saw the sorrow in her eyes, begging him to stay safe in the competition. She held his hand, and looked him in the eyes. He felt safer when she held his hand, and that she was looking out for him.
“I will help you with the competition. Maybe show you how to get your own animal instructor that will provide you with knowledge and power,” She said.
“Animal instructor?” Odis asked.
“It’s a human who turned into an animal to guide the potentials in the competition. It’s a way to garauntee that you win this,” She explained.
“How do I get one?” Odis asked.
She walked to the screen, and saw one of her staff working in the lab. When she turned to Odis, she had a resemblance with his mother. Strong, and wise beyond her age. He liked how she was confident with what she said to him, and that she was going to help him win the gallant.
“Well, you have to meditate, and call for help from the animal kindgdom. You will soon get one that way,” She said.
“But isn’t it cheating?” Odis asked. “Won’t I get kicked from the competition?”
Her eyes widened, and pursed her lips. “Odis, listen to me, you have to follow what I tell you, and everything will be okay,” She said with quievering voice.
Odis doubted he would survive the competition, and even if he did, his friends won’t. He wished if he could get back in time, and not enter the gallant in the first place. Zara was getting close to him too soon, and he had not one promise to make, but two. One for his mother, and one for Zara. She held both his hands, and her eyes were full of tears. He stared back at her brown hazel eyes that were filled with wizdom, and fear. He would have to follow what she had to say to stay alive for two women in his life, and he would do it the next morning when he had the time after the training with Ory. Ory was strick instructor, and he had to keep this a secret until he finds an animal instructor.
“Okay, I promise,” He said.
Odis woke up when the alarm went off again, and got up from his bed. He went to the bathroom to brush his teeth when he saw Dram beside him, looking at him. Dram saw Odis when he went out of the room last night, and came back later. They haven’t talked about it yet as Odis was hesitant to tell Dram what Zara told him. Did he really want him to know that they were probably going to die in The Gallant? Odis thought.
“What were you up to last night?” Dram asked Odis who was beside him by the sink.
“I met with Zara who told me about the origin of The Gallant,” Odis replied as he brushed his teeth.
Dram nodded his head. “What did she say?” He asked.
Odis shook his head, and spit the toothpaste in the sink. He thought it was wiser to not spread fear with the boys, but Dram was his closest friend he ever had in his life. He was the one who was by his side since day one, and he appreciated it. He began to realize that having a friend was not bad after all. Maybe Dram wasn’t going to leave him like his father did when he was a baby. He didn’t want Dram to die, and prefered to tell him about what Zara told him but they had less than ten minutes to get ready before Ory would come and realize that the boys weren’t ready.
“She told me that the king and queen who passed away actually made The Gallant competition to get a suitable husband for their daughter princess Lazin,” Odis whispered to Dram.
Dram nodded, and looked by his side so no one would hear them talking and wasting time. “But what does the princess think about all this?” Dram asked.
“She thinks it’s practical, and would guarantee her getting a husband who won’t abuse the power that was handed to him,” Odis replied. “But The
Gallant is not safe, we can all die. The competition will be recorded and everyone will watch us on TV.”
“That’s sick,” Dram said.
“She also said that I can meditate to get my new animal instructor,” Odis explained.
“Are you really going to do it?” Dram asked. “What if it’s not true?”
“Hey, stop talking, and get ready you morons!” one of the boys said, and smacked them with his towel on their heads.
“It’s the only way to find out,” Odis said before he jumped into shower. When he was done with the shower, he went to his closet and took out his outfit and mage. He wore the outfit in two minutes as Dram was beside him.
“Then you can tell me how to communicate with mine,” Dram said, and winked at him.
“Listen, I won’t let you die,” Odis said.
Dram patted on his shoulder, and pursed his lips. “I’m sure of that,” He said.
The door slid open, and Ory entered their room. He wore a white suit this time, and had his own white mage. “I see you’re ready in time, please follow me,” He said, and left the room.
The boys followed him to the field, and held their mages by their sides as Ory tapped his mage on the ground three times, and it made the gems glow.
“Good morning, potentials,” He said, “Today we’re going to learn how to activate a mage. As you can see, you have to tap the mage on the ground three times, and the gems will be activated. That’s your only way to have temporarily magic powers. Go ahead and activate yours.”
Odis tapped his mage three times, and it activated the gems. They were glowing so much it hurt his eyes. The other boys did the same.
“This is cool,” Dram said as he watched his gems glow.
“You can now use your magic powers, but only if it’s necessary and that’s when you’re in The Gallant trying to save yourselves.” He explained. “If you use it unethically, you will be punshed and kicked out.”
The boys gasped.
“Now that you understand the rules, let’s practice how you greet the princess when she visits us,” Ory said, and kneeled on the ground with a mage in his right hand. He beat the mage on the ground three times, and looked at the boys. “This is how you greet the princess, do not ever look into her eyes.”
“Why?” One boy asked.
“Because it’s the rules,” Ory said. “Now repeat what I just did, and it should be synchronized. I don’t want to see one boy mess it up. Now, line up in one queue, and do it at the same time.”
The boys lined up and held their mages in the right hand. They kneeled down, but it was messed up. One boy fell on his face and that made Ory sigh.
“No, do it again!” Ory shouted. “Get up, then kneel.”
The boys got up, and kneeled messing it up again. Odis looked at Ory when he kneeled down, and beat the mage three times on the ground. It wasn’t easy to master it in the second time, they had to practice more of it in the next sessions. Odis thought the practice was redicilous, and wasn’t necessary to greet the princess. But he had to follow the rules or he would he kicked out too.
Ory got up, and walked to the boys who were kneeling on the ground. They looked far away to the field, and paid attention to what Ory was saying.
“You have to listen to the rytheme. You kneel, then beat the mage on the grounds the same time your fellow potantial is doing.” Ory explained. “Feel the structure, let go of rigity.”
The boys followed what he said, and got up. They kneeled and beat their mages on the ground. This time it was close.
“Good, you’re making progress,” Ory said. “We will practice more of this next session, because we can expect the princess to visit us anytime.”