Chapter 22. Part 2.

This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!

Gobin cleared his throat and continued. “There is a strenuous procedure by which a dog becomes a Courageous Dane. It consists of many tests of courage, agility, and strength. It is through these tests that you will prove yourselves worthy of trust. As these are special circumstances we will alter the tests slightly. You must pick different members of your group to undergo each of these tests, and we will do the same to match you. No single member may compete in more than one challenge. Without further ado, let’s look at the first test.”

Gobin turned around and barked something in Great Dane language and when he did the field changed. A defined course, or track, rose from the ground and most of the mounds receded back down into it. There were sections of the track that had spikes poking up from the floor, one section with large hammers swinging across the trail, and a few sections that randomly burst into flame, along with other oddly shaped obstacles scattered over it.

“This first test is what you might call a classic test of speed, agility, and courage. The goal is simple. The first contestant to make it through this course unharmed wins. You will be running side by side, and any means necessary are allowed to inhibit your opponent’s progress. Teams, please make your selections now.”

We looked at each other. The Courageous Danes had obviously already decided who their contestant would be because one of them stood up like Gobin and strolled down to stand next to his leader. He was muscular and toned. He had a scar running the length of his snout up to the corner of his eye, and the eye it touched was red while the other was a normal black. Tufts of fur were missing from his coat which was anything but sleek. He looked menacing. Chak spoke.

“I believe our best contestants in these challenges will be Thrump, Brew, Shishu, and myself.”

“Agreed,” said Thrump. “This particular challenge seems pretty straightforward. Pointy things, fiery things, crushing things. Nothing too serious. What do you think Shish ole buddy? You up for it?” Thrump smiled knowingly and looked at Shishu, who kept a straight face, nodded, and stood up slowly. He then jumped down to stand next to Gobin, achieving quite a bit of height in the process.

“Just to be clear. You can’t do that during the race. Both contestants must pass through all of the obstacles, not fly over them,” said Gobin looking at Shishu and his dog in turn.

“Of course,” said Shishu.

The dog just growled.

“Very well then, as long as we’re clear. Take your marks.”

The other dog and Shishu stood at the starting line that had risen from the ground with the rest of the track.

“Get set.”

I felt something cold envelop my hand. It was as if I had plunged it into a bucket of ice water. I looked down and saw the Agnoscian Orb attached to the end of my arm, held there by Chak, concealed from view in the mouth of the backpack. To the casual observer it would look as if I had my hand in the backpack, not the Agnoscian Orb.

The two contestants crouched at the line, but did so extremely slowly. The dog went back onto all fours and Shishu merely locked his elbows to his side ready to begin running. It became apparent that they were moving in slow motion.

“Go!” shouted Gobin. The word took a full ten seconds to exit his mouth and I suddenly understood what was happening and why. The Agnoscian Orb was slowing down my perception of the succession of events so that I could see them all and watch the race while still knowing what was happening.

The necessity of this became apparent when there was a loud bang and I realized that it was both of the contestants breaking the sound barrier. They were moving so quickly in real time that I would hardly be able to see them if it weren’t being slowed down for me by the Agnoscian Orb.

Another thing that became apparent was that these dogs weren’t anything like the hounds I had known in Athens. These Courageous Danes had abilities far beyond those of any dog on earth. Shishu and the dog were moving so quickly that even in my slowed down perception of the race they were moving fast.

They both started off fairly even. The dog made one attempt to bite at Shishu’s hand, but he had gone incorporeal just in time to avoid being snatched. They were huffing and puffing against the strain of the race and approached the first obstacle completely neck and neck. It was the swinging hammers. Neither one was thrown off balance by this obstacle and they both timed the swings so perfectly that it hardly took any time at all before they were on the other side of them, though it looked like Shishu came out with a slight lead.

They then ran to the second obstacle, the fire plane. This was when the first mistake was made. Unfortunately, Shishu timed it wrong and singed one foot. The dog was in the middle of the plane when the fire burst went off and leapt up into the air just a split second before Shishu did. They both exited the plane and Shishu was obviously favoring one leg over the other. The Dog landed off balance from his amazing leap and took a few steps to regain his composure, but the injury Shishu had sustained gave the dog a slight edge. He was four or five paces ahead of Shishu as they darted toward the next obstacle.

The loop-the-loop they had to race through was clearly no match for either of them as they stayed an identical distance apart the entire time that they ran vertically up the track, upside down, and down the other side. It wasn’t until they reached the hurdles that Shishu began to retake his opponent. The dog’s four legs repeatedly tripped him up and he couldn’t get the distance of his paces right in-between hurdles, which caused him to constantly slow down before each jump.  Shishu on the other hand took the hurdles three at a time. It was quite impressive to see him soar over the barriers as if it were nothing to be held. He came out at the hairpin turn at the end of the hurdles a good two or three seconds in front of the dog, at least in my perception of time.

He took the turn expertly and smiled at the dog as they passed each other. The dog tried to make another snap at him as he passed, but Shishu was ready for it and dodged the attack well. The return track to the finish line was a straight shot with one obstacle in the middle of it. It was a spider jump alley. A large tank of water appeared where the track was and two walls were suspended over the water. The contestants had to jump in-between the suspended walls and push against the walls with their arms and legs to jump along down the alley, repeatedly catching themselves between the walls. It’s a difficult obstacle that we had trained with in the Athenian army.

This particularly difficult obstacle was even more so for both contestants as Shishu had wispy hands and feet that gave him little traction with which to stabilize himself, and the dog had padded paws instead of hands to push with. Given the grace with which both contestants had maneuvered all of the other obstacles, both looked quite inept as they jumped their way down the alley, and the dog gained a bit of his distance back, having practiced this obstacle before. However, it was to no avail as Shishu emerged on the other end of the spider jump three paces ahead of his opponent, and crossed the finish line victorious.

As soon as he finished the race, the cold feeling left my hand and I saw Chak packing the Agnoscian Orb back into the backpack. Time resumed at its regular rate and our group crowded around Shishu, patting him on the back and cheering raucously.

Gobin was genuinely surprised that Shishu had bested his dog, and he barked some sobering words in the Great Dane language at his defeated companion.

The aftermath of the race finally settled and we returned to our seats in the stands. Gobin resumed his place in the front.

“The intruders have passed the first test, surprisingly,” he said with a growl. “The first test was to assess your speed and agility. This next test is one of pure strength, and a classic game as well. It’s time for Tug-of-War.” When Gobin said Tug-of-War all the Courageous Danes let out howls and whoops of approval. Chak and Thrump looked at each other, confused. Did they really mean Tug-of-War or was it some sort of inside joke or metaphor?

Gobin barked some orders out into the field and the track disappeared, being replaced by a long chain laid from end to end in-between two white lines painted on the grass underneath it and a heavy metal ball in the center.

“One on one. Classic rules. Whoever gets the ball over their own starting line wins.”

So he did mean Tug-of-War. Chak and Thrump shrugged.

“Do you want to take it, or should I?” asked Thrump.

“Why don’t you go ahead? I think you could out pull any of these dogs,” replied Chak.

Thrump walked down the stands toward the chain. He stopped to talk to Gobin before proceeding to his starting position.

“Are you sure you want to do this? I mean… it’s Tug-of-War. Isn’t that a bit, childish?”

“There is nothing puppyish about the art of Tug-of-War. It is a time-honored tradition among the Courageous Danes and you will respect it thusly. Are we clear?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. I – uh – didn’t realize,” said Thrump.

With that, he took his place on one end. One of the Courageous Danes stood on his hind legs and strolled casually to the other end. His demeanor was completely the opposite of his predecessor. His face was unblemished and perfectly proportioned and he walked with an air of easygoing confidence. He smiled serenely at Thrump when he reached his starting line and went back down to all fours.

“Ready,” said Gobin in a booming announcer voice.

Thrump looked like he thought this whole thing was a little ridiculous, but reached down and grasped the chain in both hands. The dog grabbed the end of the chain in his mouth.

“Set,” shouted Gobin.

Thrump planted his feet firmly, as did the dog on the other end.

“Go!” yelled Gobin.

Nothing could have prepared Thrump for the initial vicious pull that the dog gave. It was so forceful that Thrump fell forward onto his stomach, his shoulders nearly being pulled out of their sockets. He was careering through the grass toward the dog’s starting line, rather like a water-skier who has lost his footing. But Thrump acted quickly. He twirled his feet back underneath him, and just like a water skier standing up on his skis, he planted his heels in the ground and came to a screeching halt keeping the metal ball about five feet in front of the dog’s starting line.

This sudden stop meant that it was the dog’s turn to lose his balance. He fell forward, headfirst into the ground when the chain stopped giving way to his mighty pulls. As soon as he did, Thrump wrapped the chain around his arm and whipped it upward. The dog hardly knew what was happening and his cool confidence turned to terror when his feet left the ground and he was sent upward in an arch over Thrump as the chain fully extended into the air. There was a horrible crunch when the dog hit the ground on the far end, his legs slightly mangled as he lay in a heap, twitching on the other side of Thrump’s starting line.

The cheers from the Courageous Danes had stopped at this point. Thrump smiled at them all, dropped the chain and walked calmly back to his seat. Gobin was obviously lost for words. When he found his voice again, he announced to the crowd, “Well, that was quick. Although he didn’t tug as much as fling, the Umbili did achieve the goal of getting the marker across his line. So – uh – I guess they passed that test as well.” There was an awkward silence following this statement and then Gobin added on, “Could someone go check on Verro and make sure he’s all right?”

Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 23. Part 1.”