The Winner's Crown

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Chapter 15

If more than one man were to survive the competition, the Royal family would add more stages to it. It has happened once before. Not in my lifetime, but years ago. There was a man named Jack and another, Lucas. Jack was a green and Lucas was an orange. Both of them won the final competition, but only one could survive. So in order to make up for this major inconvenience, the king of that age made a fourth stage. Jack won and Lucas died. Simple. That is what they must have thought.

And once you win the competition, the Royal family has stated that you will live the life of a pink for all eternity. No one knows where they go for sure. But that is probably because we are of a lower class than the people that actually do know what happens to them after they receive the elixir.

“Lydia!” My brother says from the ground and my eyes wander back to him, focusing on his eyes. For the first time in his life, he looks afraid. But more for me than for himself. And I know in a heartbeat that he will willingly sacrifice himself for me in this final stage of the competition.

Around us another round of gunshots is fired into the air, and suddenly the darkness that used to surround us is gone. We can see everything again, and for a second the light is all too much for me to handle. We seem to be trapped in a bubble made of glass. It reflects the light in every which way, blinding my eyes and I which so much that I had a hand to shield them with.

All around us the crowd goes wild, and I realize that we must be in a stadium of some kind. It is bigger than the training stadium Desmond showed me days ago, this one towering all around us, and we are in our bubble lining one side of it while the crowd claps and cheers from the seats in the audience.

My eyes finally adjust to the brightness and I focus my sight on what is inside the arena. Three more bubbles line the other corners of the massive stadium-like building. And inside, I can just make out the images of Vivian, Clara, and Louisa. They are tied up just like me, with their dresses just the same. And three men lay on the ground in the same attire Kenneth is in. They look tired and bruised, and one is bleeding from his head, a deadly wound and I find myself wondering how he’s survived this long with that gash.

“I want blood!” I hear someone scream from the audience, and an alarm sounds off in my brain. How could people be such savages? Wanting to see other’s blood spill. How much more of an animal could you be. But that is the wrong expression. You see, animals have a reason to kill, to want blood. But people, we have everything we could ever need, or at least the upper classes do. So why do they need to see blood? Why do they have that urge for it to spill? To see someone be killed and die is such a terror. I know this because I have seen many things in my life, death being one of them.

Once there was a time when my brothers Harvey and Wright were outside on my usual apple tree. Harvey pushed Wright and he went falling down the tree. I was only four when that happened, and yet I remember it so clearly since there was so much blood. But instead of finding it intriguing and wanting more to bleed from it, I can only think of the terror I felt from seeing such a horrible sight. I remember my mother helping Wright up as he cried, and Harvey climbed down the tree ashamed of what he’d done. He hadn’t meant to hurt his younger brother, but we all knew that.

Kenneth propels his legs out from underneath him, wiggling himself to where I sit at the center of the bubble. I can hear some people laughing as they see this, and I wish that I could hold a blade against their throats. I wouldn’t kill them, but I’d just show them what it feels like to be so close to death. That would put them in their place.

“Instead of fighting, we should make peace with words.” My mother’s words come back to me, and I regret my thoughts of violence instantly.

The sound of people talking and screaming in the crowds is suddenly gone all at once, and in the distance I can see the King step forward to announce the competition one last time. Sitting to his right is his wife, Sara, Venus, and Richard. And to his left is Desmond and Carolyn. Desmond has his hand on Carolyn’s leg and he whispers something in her ear. She just looks straight ahead, giving no indication or emotion to what he is telling her. I look away from them, some kind of new emotion stirring up in my chest and it feels like I am being drowned in a lake by which the strong feeling takes me.

“We are here today, to watch the final part of the competition. The temptation.” The crowd goes flying wildly again with their words until the king hold up his hands, silencing them so he may speak.

“The temptation is the last stage before the winner is crowned. And to win the temptation you must choose between two things. The competitors will figure out what that means soon enough. And in the meantime, I will explain what will happen during this stage.” The king goes on.

I close my eyes tightly, trying to tune him out, but I can’t. I need to hear what he is saying. This is too important to miss.

“The start of the temptation will be set to a clock with the countdown of five minutes. In those five minutes, if the competitors can escape their bubbles, they have won the elixir!” The king pauses for applause. “But if they don’t get out within the set amount of time, there will be a special fate provided to each individual person. In Thomas’s bubble, if he does not escape in time, it will fill completely with water. With Luke’s, it will be set on fire. Ethan’s will be gunshots. And Kenneth’s...Kenneth’s is special everyone. If he does not escape in time, the bubble will be completely blown up!” The audience screeches their delight at the news, but I look at Kenneth quickly.

His face is away from mine, and I can tell that he doesn’t want me to see his emotion. He is scared too but he doesn’t want me to know. I stare my eyes back up at the king and am surprised to see him looking straight back at me. But with that, I spit at the ground hoping he see’s the gesture. I can tell he has when he turns away just as fast as he’d stood up.

He sit’s by Desmond, and I can’t help but stare at the prince that I thought had a good heart. His eyes never meet mine though, he is too busy looking anywhere but me. Shame is not a good look on the future king I decide swiftly. The king’s face lights up as he remembers something he’d forgotten to say. Standing up he continues his speech and the people grow quiet once more.

“Let the competition begin! And without further ado, it would be my delight if everyone could start the countdown with me.” Everyone laughs, playing along with him as they count down the time starting at five minutes and working their way down until we are taken inevitably to out deaths. I frantically search the bubble for anything that could be of any use at all, but find nothing.

“Kenneth! Please! We can get out of this, you and me. But only if we work together.” I say in a panic, but he does not turn around. And then I see what he is doing, he has a stone in his hand and he is using it to cut his restraints. I smile, admiring his intelligence. And then I realize something else. If I want to survive this too, survive this with Kenneth, I need to work my way out of here too. The king has said that to win the temptation you must choose between two things. And I have figured out exactly what that means.

It is between Kenneth or me. If he chooses to help me out of here, he will die, but if he abandons me to free himself, I will be the one to die. But I have a plan. I assume that if we get out of our restraints at the exact same time, and one of us doesn't have to help the other (which is wasting precious time to get free) we will both survive. The only reason why it is called the temptation, is because we are tempted to leave each other to die in order to save ourselves. Because when one of us breaks free, we need to help the other. But what if we get out at the same time? That is what I am suggesting.

And with that, I rock back and forth on my chair, letting the crowd swirl only into a sea of faces and beautiful colorful outfits. I sway from side to side, trying to force the chair down. I have seen this before with one of my brothers. We were having food one night when Sterling rocked his chair back and forth so hard that it broke into a thousand pieces on the kitchen floor. It took forever to clean too, and my mom was angry at him for weeks after.

My memory and my action of moving the chair send me sprawled out on the ground, and the wood breaks into small pieces on the ground, just like what happened with Sterling. Now I am on the ground, but free of the rope that tied me to the chair. I only need to undo the knots roped around my hands. It isn't particularly easy, but I've worked with ropes enough on the farm to know how to truly undo a really tight knot. I don't pull hard, only softly tugging it in order to break free without it tightening against me.

"Are you almost done?" I look at Kenneth as I continue undoing the ties of my hands. I can see that he hasn't made too much progress and I curse out loud, knowing this will not work if he doesn't get out at just about the same amount of time as it took me to escape.

From my wrists I notice that the arms of the chairs, or at least part of them, came off with the crash and I use them to cut through my restraints. They come off quickly, and I breathe a sigh of relief as the pain subsides. I didn't even feel the burning until it came off, but now I can't seem to get the sensation out of my mind.

I turn around, striding to Kenneth and with two great saw's of the broken chair arms still strung on my wrists with the broken rope pieces, he is freed with both his hands and legs now untied. He gets up off the ground as fast as he can. It looks as if he wants so much to hold me close against him, but we both know we don't have the time. From outside our bubble, I can hear the crowd still chanting the amount of time we have left and my eyes widen as I hear the countdown.

"Five." I take Kenneth's hand, running to the door.

"Four." I push my weight against it, but it doesn't open.

"Three." Kenneth pushes me gently aside, now pounding his weight into the door, it opens and he takes my hand.

"Two." Kenneth makes it outside but my dress catches onto the side of the door.

"One." My brother pulls me by the waist and my dress rips at the side. I fly through the air landing on his chest and we both roll away from the bubble just in time, as it explodes right in front of our eyes.

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