“What is it? What’s wrong?” Hanali asked.
A tall, leafy green, lady with rose petals for a head smiled back at them. “Hello, you two,” she said.
Evalieh’s body trembled with a chill, and he dove behind Hanali. “Wh-what is that?”
“You mean, Sherral?” Hanali asked.
“Sh-she’s not human is she?!”
Hanali pulled Evalieh forward and had him look at the other clans. “Look, there are more than just humans here—we call them a Hyborie. They’re like an animalistic-human hybrid that sports traits from their parent race.” He shook his head and rubbed his face. Then, he turned Evalieh’s gaze to the Sun Clan, where cats, wolves, foxes, rabbits, and fish stood as people.
Evalieh jerked his eyes around and ruffled his hair. He took a seat and rubbed his face as he tried to rationalize the situation. He felt like he was losing his mind and that the nightmare was getting worse. How could a group of Hybories slipp past him so easily? He was usually so confident in spotting something odd, but this shattered his ego and made him uneasy.
Hanali wrapped his arm around Evalieh and patted him on the shoulder. “It’ll be alright, Evalieh—sorry about the confusion. We forget that only humans live on the mainland.” Hanali looked out and smiled at the crowd of people. “As long as you’re here, the Sun Clan and others welcome everyone and appreciate their differences.” He winked at Evalieh. “Don’t be afraid to learn from others—it’s worth the experience.”
Evalieh looked up at the flower lady and she returned his gaze with a giggle. “You’re exciting!” she said.
Evalieh reared back with a deep gasp. He could have sworn his soul escaped. “Is—is she a monster?” He was too afraid to move and instead shifted his eyes onto Hanali, hoping he had an answer.
Hanali shook his head in disappointment.
Sherral clasped her fuzzy leaf hands into Evalieh’s. She winked and blew him a kiss, forcing him to dodge the imaginative kiss as if it were an arrow after his head.
Trying to flee, Evalieh leaned back into Hanali, smushing him into the seat.
Hanali grabbed ahold of Evalieh and sat him upright. “You’ll be fine.”
Evalieh looked down at his hands and pulled out his mother’s broach. He thought about the many times he failed to understand something, and his mother always said he’d be fine. His lip quivered and he looked up at Sherral. He gave her a slight smile and decided he’d give this a chance, reassuring that he’d be okay.
A gong echoed across the colosseum, and everyone turned their heads towards the center. Evalieh felt out of place and did the same. It felt a little robotic and reminded him of his home, but he wanted to see what was going on. Moments later, Mishavlo made her way to the center and Evalieh gave a sigh of relief.
“My mother is smiling from ear to ear. I bet she told the other leaders about you,” Hanali said.
Evalieh groaned and slumped down in his seat, hoping to hide from any embarrassment. He pulled his antennas down and covered his head. Remembering he’s no longer human himself, he felt a tinge of guilt and questioned his behavior towards Sherral.
With her booming voice, Mishavlo rallied everyone into a cheer, except for the Shaman Clan who ignored her. Behind Mishavlo, came veiled attendants from each of the clan’s gates. They carried a flaming torch, each burning in the clan’s color. “Be it the fire of a warrior’s spirit or the frigid meticulous nature of the moon—today stars a new year for the island.” Mishavlo held her hand behind her back and pointed her sword at the members in each section. “This year is special, as custom dictates, we will decide which clan will rule the island. Through challenges of wit or strength, the triumphant clan will rule,” she said. Then, she stepped out of the way.
The flames were placed on the platform in a circle and illuminated the area in a rainbow. Mishavlo stepped forward, pulled her sword out, and spun around, slicing all the flames at once. As if they were ignited, the flames grew larger and more brilliant.
Evalieh felt a strange tug at his body when the flames grew larger. It was as if a vacuum of wind was pulling him forward. A grieving sweat came over him and pains from his episode rose through his veins, making him feel heavy. He gripped the seat with all his strength and braced his feet against the floor.
A large man plopped down beside Hanali. “Can’t wait to swap into the Warrior Clan—I wanna duel their leader!” He made a fist and cheered, catching Evalieh’s attention.
Hanali slumped over and sighed.
Breathing heavily, Evalieh tried to muster his words together. “Does it bother you that he wants to swap clans?” Evalieh asked.
“It does. Without our god, what do we have to offer?”
Evalieh clenched his jaw, feeling as if his insides were boiling with something to say. “And here you were preaching to me about value.”
“In these few hours, I’ve seen more happy faces than I’ve saw in my whole life. What more could you ask for?” For a moment, Evalieh paused and wondered if he was qualified to say anything. He rolled his eyes, chuckled, and elbowed Hanali. “Kind of reminds me of home—nothing to offer, but I was happy—for the most part.”
Mishavlo stomped her golden heels and shushed the crowds. The waters around the island platform started to bubble and rise into tropical fish and neon jellyfish. They swam around the area and collided into a glittering mist. Everyone except the Shaman Clan gasped with awe. Then, the misty droplets around Mishavlo gathered and cascaded into a fishy humanoid, sporting shimmering fins and scales that looked like flowing fabrics. “Ah ha, mates, I—King Sardine know how to put on a show,” he said.
Next, a glowing wolf glyph appeared before the two leaders and red flames danced around it. Fireworks went off and a great rift sliced through the air. “I can put on a better show than any smelly fish,” came a man’s voice. The Warrior Clan’s leader burst through the rift and proudly posed with his chest out. “Tsarval. Leader of the pack. Let my pelts speak for themselves,” he said.
The ground beneath them emerged with a rumbling mound that sprouted billowing vines. A tall curvy figure bloomed into a beautiful lotus lady. She delicately walked around while flowers sprouted in her footsteps. “I am Lady Floressa,” she said.
At that moment, white bats swooped in from every crevice within the colosseum, frightening the crowd. The bats gathered before Mishavlo and kissed her hand, one after the other as they combined into a man covered in black lace. He stood nearly as tall as her and his skin was as white as his draping hair. “Lord Alderic, at your service,” he said.
A column of light suddenly engulfed the leaders. Evalieh sprang from his seat, he was in awe and fear. A single Hyborie butterfly came fluttering down on stain glass wings. She was quiet and hid her face beneath a veil. She was dressed in long white silks and gave off an otherworldly appearance when she stretched out her six arms.
All the light in the colosseum went dark and all the stars went out, as if someone covered it with a blanket. Evalieh couldn’t see his own hands and quickly sat down. He held onto his seat, feeling his chest being tugged on. Lightning thundered overhead, frightening everyone into cries until a bolt struck at the leader’s feet. Gasps escaped when the light faded in, revealing the Shaman Clan’s leader as he rose from the shadowy scorch marks. Standing nearly as tall as Mishavlo, he was shrouded beneath a thick black cloak and a thorny jeweled mask. Beside him, appeared two cloaked figures bound in chains and straightjackets. Mishavlo clenched her stomach and grumbled at the leader’s audacity.
Hanali grabbed ahold of Evalieh’s arm and leaned forward, his face was red with anger.
Not wanting to be left alone, Evalieh pulled him back before Hanali could jump away.
“Sorry,” Hanali said. He sat back down and the two awaited the shaman’s introduction.
Keeping silent, the shaman leader shuffled beside Lady Floressa and yanked on the two chains, pulling the figures close. Mishavlo snarled and stomped her heels, grabbing everyone’s attention. She kept a sharp eye on the shaman leader as the other leaders gathered around her. One by one, she called for the new clan members to gather and come up to the platform.
Hanali tapped Evalieh on the shoulder and held a gold encrusted vial in his face. “You’ll need this to hold your flame.” Hanali clasped the vial onto a necklace and tied it around Evalieh’s neck before he could be stopped.
Evalieh felt his heart pound and the tugging in his chest grow stronger. He held up the necklace and looked back at Hanali, who urged him on with a smiling nod. Evalieh twitched his mouth back and forth, hoping Hanali would say something. Feeling alone, he took a deep breath and scurried alongside the other new members. He stumbled over the member’s feet and spun around, landing in a woman’s lap. He leaped up, blushing at everyone’s staring eyes. “Sorry!”
Soon after, Evalieh made it into the crowd where they gathered around the platform of flames. Feeling queasy, he clenched his stomach and grit his teeth. Others from all ages bumped into Evalieh, passing him by as he slowly stepped forward. He broke out into a hot sweat the closer he drew to the flames, making him tremble.
Someone bumped into Evalieh, spinning him around. “Sorry. Hi. Hello. Nice to meet you,” she said.
Then, he bumped into someone ahead of him. “Hi. Hello. Nice to meet you,” said a man.
Evalieh raised a brow and straightened up, realizing these new members moved somewhat mechanically and rigid. It reminded him of his training sessions back home where people were conditioned against artificial life to teach them how to behave. The line quickly moved, leaving Evalieh to his thoughts.
When it was his turn, Mishavlo cleared her throat, said his name, and opened her arms. He looked around and fidgeted, seeing how he was the only one left. The others had already rejoined their clan and he began to breath heavy.
“It’s okay,” Mishavlo said.
Evalieh rose onto the platform, feeling the heat radiate off the torches. The flames crackled and popped as their bright light consumed his form. He shielded his eyes and moved forward.
“They won’t hurt you,” Mishavlo said. She smiled and led him along the circle of flames.
Evalieh snapped his head back and forth, feeling the pressure from everyone’s gaze. He pulled his antennas down around his face and looked down. The shaman leader approached from behind and Mishavlo stepped between the two. Evalieh stepped back and looked up at the lady.
“It’s alright, take a piece of the flame, it won’t burn,” she said.
The shaman leader crept around Mishavlo. “I saw him. The crystal bloom’s murderer—what a glorious day for the shamans,” he said. Like a cloudy ghost, he passed through her body and reformed in front of Evalieh. “This island rejects you, doesn’t it? You think a flame will help you, boy? You do not belong, but you will become the shaman’s greatest ally.” He grabbed Evalieh by the wrist and shoved him into the torches, knocking them over.
Fearing he’d be burned, Evalieh cried out and ducked into a fetal position. The crowds screamed as the flames began to erupted. The shaman leader snapped his boney fingers, summoning shadowy hands and beasts to attack the crowds and leaders. Before Mishavlo could help, a pair of hands dragged her halfway into the abyss. Then, the shaman leader threw one of his cloaked figures into the fires with Evalieh.
A burning sensation rose within Evalieh’s chest, he flopped over and gasped, seeing the cloaked silhouette standing over him. Evalieh was paralyzed with fear as the figure flung open its cloak and drove its boney black hand into its chest. With a grunt, the figure pulled out a dripping black flame that had a heartbeat. With a rasp in its voice, the figure chuckled. “A heart for a heart—let darkness have its way and carve a path for a new day,” it said. Then, it shoved the flame into Evalieh’s chest.
Evalieh screamed, feeling his body burn with intense pain and heat. His body seized against his will and crystal butterfly wings protruded from his back. The other clan flames started to swirl around the two and dove into Evalieh’s chest. He writhed in pain and gasped for breath. Flashes of color crackled around him and he clawed at his chest, wanting to rip the pain out.
Through all the chaos and noise, a voice cut through the crowd. “Sunlight, adorn me!” A shimmering ball of light exploded across the colosseum, scattering the shadowy figures into dust. This light rocketed around the area, tackling almost every beast.
Mishavlo broke free and lunged at the shaman leader, piercing the purple jewel on his mask. He fell back and grabbed ahold of his two chained figures, before vanishing in the shadows.
“Brakierie!” Someone said. A sword of light hurtled towards the monsters like a boomerang. It circled Evalieh and the other leaders.
Sprouting bat wings, Lord Alderic sliced through the beasts until he caught up with Lady Floressa. He grabbed ahold of her leaves and flung her towards Evalieh. “Protect Mishavlo’s divine one!” he said.
Floressa took Evalieh into her arms and attempted to heal him with a pod of healing nectar she had in her petals.
Mishavlo broke free and kneeled before them, stroking Evalieh’s face. “It’s not enough.” She shook her head. “Get him to Hanali, they must flee to the Earth & Water Clan. The Great BayoBayo Tree can help,” she said. Then, she lifted her sword. “To war!”