Authors: Yamila Abraham
One girl began undressing and the rest followed.
Lenora managed to find a set of clothes near her size.
The black and red long-sleeve shirt was snug with silky free-moving fabric.
The black pants were loose enough to resemble a long-hemmed dress.
She started at the sound of her own name.
One of the robots rolled forward.
“You’re the first contestant.
The rest of you will wait here.”
Vivian shot her a panicked look.
“I thought we all got to go together.”
Lenora realized she’d assumed this also.
She’d also expected some time to decompress from the trip before the actual games.
Her muscles had grown taut from sitting so long.
“Don’t get discouraged.
Half of this is mental—remember that.
And the first game is always the easiest.
That’s just how these things go.”
Vivian chewed her lower lip.
Kick ass, alright?”
The younger woman began biting her cuticle.
Two robots led her to a wide corridor that opened through a brightly lit dome at the end.
She exited the corridor into a massive arena.
The polished floor stretched out a quarter mile in all directions.
Surrounding it were thousands of vacant tiered seats climbing high toward the rounded ceiling.
The silence in the huge space was harrowing to Lenora.
Why the massive venue when there was no audience?
The robots led her to an area to the side that was cordoned off with silver crushed velvet curtains.
They stopped next to it.
Lenora looked at the cylinder head beside her.
“Proceed into the curtain,” the robot said.
Lenora took a deep breath, thrust the curtains open, and strode through.
Now there was an audience, but only three hundred or so Dak-Hiliah noblemen and servants were scattered over hundreds of seats.
She quickly lost interest in them and looked at the behemoth structure before her.
A multi-tiered pyramid, like an Aztec temple except it was composed of smooth white material, stretched upwards to come against the curve of the domed ceiling.
Lenora scanned each tier with wide darting eyes.
A door opened from behind the highest tier and a Dak-Hiliah man emerged.
He wore a the typical tight woven costume of his race, but had a long draping black cape attached to armor exaggerating his shoulder horns.
His auburn hair was covered by a net of jewels.
The Dak-Hiliah greeting boomed through molded speakers on either side of him.
“I am Danfet, organizer of the very first Bride Games.
How wonderful it is that so many of my noble brothers have turned out to witness this thrilling event.
Turn your eyes to the human Lenora Winquist.
She shall have the honor of competing in the first session of this game for she is the betrothed to the viceroy of this great world, Lord Lysanter.”
The audience members clapped by thudding decorated scepters against the floor.
Lenora clenched her jaw.
The Hell with this.
The tiers looked to be a little less than twice her height each.
She ran towards the side where the audience barrier came against the bottom tier, hoisted herself onto that, and then scrambled to the second level.
Danfet looked down at her aghast.
“Wait now, my dear!
You don’t know what the objective is.
You don’t even know what you’re trying to outrun!”
As if on cue, an alarm sounded three chirps and then a door opened on the back wall of the bottom tier.
A robot with extendable pinchers zoomed out.
The cylinder on its head was blinking red.
Lenora looked around for a means to keep climbing.
There was what looked like a white couch cushion.
When she tried to lift it she realized it was a stone that weighed close to her own body weight.
She dropped onto her buttocks and used her legs to push the stone up onto its side.
The alarm sounded again.
Lenora rose and took several steps back and then leapt onto the block.
She managed to claw her fingers onto the level above and then swing up her other elbow.
The robot whizzed out of a door hidden beside the boulders.
An extendable arm reached for her ankle and missed.
She could feel the gush of air it made as it lunged for her.
The members of the audience rose to their feet.
Lenora heard a few shocked hollers, but blocked them out.
On this tier there didn’t seem to be anything she could use to boost her up.
“Well!” Danfet said while dabbing his brow.
“I suppose I better get on with the rules before she gets up here.”
There was a smattering of laughter around her.
She noticed that the robots on the lower tiers had retreated back into their doors.
The chirping alarm for her current tier went off.
“This game is simple enough.
In fact I think you’ve figured it out already!
First you must reach the top before the robots catch you.”
A robot rolled out of a hidden sliding door several feet from her.
She dropped back down to the level below her and stood balanced on the rim of the boulder.
A few in the crowd made stunned noises at her unusual tactic.
Look up here, my dear,” Danfet said.
She scowled but looked up once the robot rolled out of the way.
Two Dornovonians were rolling out a life-sized black metal statue of a female Dak-Hiliah.
Danfet caressed its cheek.
“To win you must touch the statue of Tian-Za, our ruling goddess through the personage of the druid in the holiest—“
Lenora stopped listening.
The robot was rolling back and forth over a short span above her.
Movement caught her eye on the far end of the tier.
A chain with links large enough to be footholds had just been tossed over.
Lenora wet her lips.
Now she knew how she could get up to the third tier, but she still had to get past the damned robot.
The boulders beneath her were too heavy to turn into a weapon.
She looked at the audience on either side of her.
Their seating areas were too far to leap to.
Then the robots
caught her eye.
The model hunting her didn’t look much different from her clunky guards.
They all rolled on eight ball casters that could move them in any direction.
Lenora fixed on the mirrored silver ball in the corner.
“I should mention that these games are timed, my dear,” Danfet said.
His voice jarred her.
“Shut up!” she said in the Dak-Hiliah language.
Looks like Lord Lysanter will have his hands full with this one!”
The audience laughed.
“I shall leave you to it, my dear.
May the odds be…really good for you…and so fourth.”
She heard his exiting footfalls.
Lenora took off her shirt and whipped it up around the robot’s caster.
She hopped up to catch the hem and then clenched both ends in her fists and yanked.
The robot didn’t budge.
Her hope of tipping it over was dashed, but then she realized it was no longer pacing.
She could see its casters trembling as it struggled to roll.
Lenora climbed down from the boulder.
She used her legs to push it to the end of the tier closest to the chain and out of the robot’s reach.
Her leg muscles ached, and sweat dripped down the middle of her back to soak her bra.
The boulder tipped over before she got it in place.
She forced herself to stand it back up without taking a break.
Her calf cramped when she climbed up.
It took two tries to get back onto the third tier.
She heard a loud snap and suddenly the robot was moving for her again.
She scaled the wall before her, taking the footholds two at a time.
The robot extended its pinchers for her only a half-second too late.
Once on the fourth tier she felt like collapsing.
She could hear cheering and the thudding of scepters.
Some of her enemies were rooting for her?
It’s a distraction.
The alarm started its rhythmic chirps again.
There wasn’t anything for her to climb on this tier either, but she spotted a post on the edge of the tier above her.
This was in line with the chain she’d climbed.
She dragged it up and flung it toward the post.
It whipped around it but didn’t catch.
A door slid open twenty feet from her and the robot popped out.
She threw the chain again.
It was no use.
She would need to get one of the footholds to fall right over the post in order to secure it.
The robot was extending its arms for her.
Lenora swung the chain at its cylinder head.
It smashed in an explosion of blue vapor and glass.
The robot didn’t stop rolling but as it moved it tipped forward and crashed its boxy chest to the floor.
She could hear that its casters were still whirring.
The rest of the thing looked dead.
Lenora climbed onto its back while carrying the chain.
By standing on the tip of her toes she was able to hook the post with a link of the chain.
It became taut and secure for her to climb it.
She let her butt connect with the body of the robot.
Her chest was heaving and sweat had dripped into her eyes.
“Tut, tut, my dear,” Danfet’s voice came out of the speakers.
“Remember that you’re timed.
You’ve only a few minutes left.”
Go to Hell.
The robot alarm would go off moments after she actually set foot on the tier.
She climbed two thirds of the way up the chain and scanned the perimeter from there.
Someone in the audience called her brilliant.
This was the last level she had to get past before she’d climb up to the statue.
There was a two-foot-high white cube next to the outline of the doorway where the robot would come out.
If she was about a foot taller she could have used the block to scramble up.
The thing was useless to her.
Not even adrenaline could make her jump as high as she needed.
Her arms already felt like they were going to fall out of their sockets, and then she had to escape the robot, too.
She could get its caster stuck again using her pants, but what was the point if she didn’t see a way up?
It would eventually break the fabric and catch her.
The door slid open on the top level.
Lenora expected Danfet to stride into view, but this was a different Dak-Hiliah.
He wore the same armored costume that Elentinus always wore.
Lenora met his auburn eyes.
He must be a nobleman, like Elentinus.
Maybe he was
This thought put a lump in her throat.
She swallowed while keeping her eyes locked with his.
The man went to the edge of the tier, crouched down, and lowered his arm.
If she took his hand she could make it.
You’ve got to be kidding me!
It had to be a trick.
She looked around desperately for another answer.
Maybe drag up one of the blocks from the second tier?
It’s too heavy and there’s not enough time.