Vivi & The All-Lands Tournament- Event 02
It's a nice day for a race
Last time: Vivi and Rary completed registration for the All-Lands Tournament, and met some old friends while also encountering some potential rivals.
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Event 02- The Air Race
Rary took the lead while Vivi read the map, but in the end she didn't need it. True to its name, the Cloud Tower was the tallest structure around, easily visible from anywhere on the competition grounds. Constructed from three shining pillars with an elliptical platform on top, it was already crowded with creatures and handlers. Rary tried to barrel up the ramp, but Vivi pointed out he would start off too tired to fly. After a long and agonizing elevator ride, they burst onto the platform, ushered by the amused staff to a starting position.
"Welcome racers!" The announcer was a tall, energetic woman with the green and yellow uniform of the staff, though hers was cut as a dress and also spotless. Her light brown hair was pinned up to avoid the constantly shifting breeze, as measured by the multiple short pennants atop the platform. "My name is Nell, and I'll be in charge of this event. The object of the course is to fly through and around each obstacle and make it back to this platform as quickly as possible…"
Vivi tried her best to listen, while also strapping the goggles to Rary's head without pinching his short feathers. It was a complicated mess of cord, wire and binder clips, something that only she could have come up with. "Don't worry, you're going to do fine. Just remember all of your training with Professor Owlbert and the others at the Grand Griflik Academy."
"Grr…okay," Rary said, moving his eyes around to see the course while keeping his head still. Suspended high above the rolling waves of the ocean were wide metal rings, engraved and inlaid with green stones. The whirring of the propellors that kept them aloft were audible even from the high platform, reminding Rary of the annoying cicadas back home. Annoying, yet tasty.
"This course is a little different," Nell was saying, "than what you may remember from previous years. Each ring is still a target, you must fly through each one in sequence. But pay attention to the lights!" She gestured grandly behind her, and the bright lights around the nearest ring flared a brilliant green. "Green means go, as usual."
Vivi heard excited barking from the spectator seats, and saw a young boy with messy hair and a red and white shirt, surrounded by dogs, patting a dark gray one on the head.
"But, if the signal changes, be sure to obey!" The green lights turned yellow clockwise around the ring, in the space of a few seconds. When they had all changed, they flipped again to a glaring red. "If a ring is red, you must go around rather than through it. You will lose points for going through a red ring, and if you fly through three, you'll be disqualified." She paused to allow a handler with dark brown skin and a long red dress to relay these instructions to her creature, an orange winged jaguar who apparently only understood Spanish. "All the other standard rules apply. Remain on course, no assistance from handlers other than via radio or communication spells. No intentional shoving or contact between racers…"
"Oh boy," Rary gulped.
Vivi attached the flyie-talkie to his head strap system and turned it on, making sure the battery meter was still high. "Don't worry about the rings. Just one wing flap after the other, right?"
"Heh, right. One feather next to the other," he sang, "it makes friends with its brother, flap each wing and sing all spring…" He closed his eyes, shaking his feathered head to clear his worry and make sure the straps were tight enough.
Rary looked down the line of other competitors to see who and what he was up against. There was a large eagle next to him, about his size but without his lion half, so, about half his size, really; a sleek, blue-scaled dragon; a hippogriff with green and brown feathers; that winged horse who was behind them in line, his name started with an 'H,' didn't it? There was even a quadrupedal robot that had folded up into a kind of airplane, and at the far end, a monkey with a flashing light on its head strapped to a clunky jetpack. Rary breathed out relief. At least he wasn't near the crimson phoenix, whose neighbors were giving him a wide berth in case he got too eager.
Vivi had stepped back to the line of other boys and girls to cheer on their creatures. Rary saw Clara and Amur behind her, the tiger giving him an encouraging wink and the girl clapping and shouting, "Go, Rary!"
Vivi herself wasn't cheering, appearing to have her usual calm focus, in reality trying to block out all the noise of the crowd. She raised the radio receiver. "Come in Rary, can you hear me?"
Loud and clear!
"Great, the voice switch is still working after that drop down the hill."
Good thing too, I can't push a button while I'm flying, can I?
"All right, racers!" Nell shouted over the noise. "It's time to kick off this heat. On the signal…" She held up a small round pistol, aiming it in the air. "Ready…set…fly!" She pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. After hitting the side of the gun and trying again (but not looking into the barrel), she signaled to another staff member for help.
Vivi looked around. "Should I offer to scream? That'd get people's attention for sure."
Clara, Amur, and the radio in Vivi's hand all yelled: "No!"
Nell raised her replacement pistol. "Let's try that again. Ready, set, fly!"
Confetti erupted from the gun as the racers each leaped or launched themselves from the platform as needed. Rary felt the air lap at his feathers and lick at his fur as he jumped off, his wide brown wings catching the current at once. After flapping furiously to gain altitude, he noticed other creatures were ahead of him already, including the white streak of Halcyon's tail.
Keep flying, came Vivi's reassuring voice in his ear. You can make up the distance with one good dive.
"Rary!" he answered as he pulled his wings together, gaining on the leaders quickly.
Back at the platform, Vivi lowered her gray-green spyglass and turned to Clara. "He's a little nervous."
Clara smiled back from under her hat. "Don't you mean you're a little nervous?"
"You have every reason to be nervous!" said the shrill voice beside them. Marguerite had stalked up to the other two girls, tall and proper as ever. "My Halcyon is unmatched at air racing. He's won the last five local competitions." The wind shifted, the pennants flipping in the opposite directions. She touched a pink jewel on her necklace. "Wind is blowing from the south-southwest at approximately two knots."
"Understood," the jewel answered in Halcyon's voice, pulsing with every syllable.
She returned her delicately manicured hands to her muff. "As I was saying, you have stiff competition today."
Clara put her hands on her hips. "Has he won this competition?"
The two-knot wind tugged at Marguerite's blonde curls. "Well, no…not yet."
"Exactly." Clara smirked. "Not yet."
Rary dipped and swerved, heading into the first ring just behind Halcyon, all the lights still mercifully green. The next ring was visible to the right, and fairly close. After correcting his course, Rary flapped to catch up.
Rary, look out!
He barely had time to pull in his wings before the squealing roar caught up to him. The siren monkey's jetpack had failed, sending him careening into the other racers before spiraling into the sea himself. Boats were already on the way, so Rary looked up and flew on. The eagle and the winged jaguar had lost altitude, but the phoenix dove under them and flared, giving each a current of warm air to right themselves. Rary barely heard the cheers and applause from the handlers on the platform.
Heading into the second ring, Rary was just behind Halcyon and the jetbot, so he could see the winged horse's tactic of listing slowly toward his opponent to trigger its proximity sensors, then changing altitude and almost ramming into it. Miss Nell had said that intentional contact was illegal, but that wouldn't stop "accidental" bumps, especially from someone like that.
Watch the light!
Sure enough, the ring had nearly finished its yellow countdown. Rary's eyes went wide under his goggles and he closed one wing to veer off sharply. The jetbot did a barrel roll to the other side, while Halcyon was so busy smirking that he didn't notice the pink jewel around his own neck squawking a warning, and he flew right through the now-red ring.
"Argh! No!" Marguerite wailed, stamping her pretty boot on the platform, nearly dropping her rose-gold opera glasses. "I said 'turn,' not 'burn'!" she yelled into her gem, then noticed the other girls still beside her. "I mean…no…way he'll let that slow him down!"
Clara gave Vivi a knowing smile, but the bandanna-clad girl was too focused on the race to pay much attention to anything else, including Marguerite's antics.
A helpful sign hovering in midair instructed Rary to make a sharp left turn, so he did, calling out "thank you, sign!" as he zoomed past it. The next ring was farther out to sea, in the path of the bright mid-day sun. Grateful for the goggles, Rary kept his focus, paying attention to each of his limbs, all six of them, unless he included his tail, which was seven total, but then did that make him a septapod, but no because he had only four feet, so then—
Angry neighing broke his 'concentration'. Halcyon was directly in front of him; when Rary drifted left, the horse did so too, like he had eyes in his tail instead of just his head. He flapped his brown wings to catch up, but Halcyon's bright white feathers were just out of reach.
She's got a radio too, Vivi explained. Well, it's not a radio, it's a magical thingamajig, but it works the same and she—
A sudden crosswind blew both racers off course. Halcyon lost altitude and panicked, while Rary drew all seven of his limbs together, becoming a spiraling missile that shot past Halcyon and into the lead.
Clara raised her fist in triumph while Amur flicked his tail behind him. "Rary's in the lead!" she called, lowering her black and orange binoculars. Vivi breathed a sigh of relief while Marguerite continued to huff, her knuckles turning white around the handle of her opera glasses. Vivi raised an eyebrow at her, wondering why she was still standing near them. She turned back to the race and adjusted her spyglass.
Don't relax yet, Rary. You still have a long way to go. Plus, you got some company.
Rary didn't need to turn his head to hear the whirring engine of the jetbot and the screech of the black eagle right behind him. The next ring was just ahead, but thankfully all three streaked through while only half the lights were yellow.
That bag of ginger candy was doing its job, Rary barely felt tired as he sped on, mostly gliding but also flapping his wings when he needed altitude. The eagle was fast, but she looked like she was tiring, her great pinions drooping lower with every flap. The robot wouldn't tire, but its fuel tank was also only so big, and Rary prayed it wouldn't last much longer. Then he felt bad for praying for someone else to lose, so he withdrew the prayer and instead asked for everyone to have fun.
The next two rings were close together, the one in front green and the one behind solid red. Rary considered diving under and coming back up, and the hesitation on his face must have been visible from the platform, since Vivi said: Bank right, you'll be closer to the next rings that way.
Griffons and eagles were good at that kind of twisting flight, especially since Rary's bird side was eagle too, so they both made it through gracefully. Airplanes lacked such tight control, so the jetbot took the penalty rather than risk losing lift and ending up on the wall.
Another challenge presented itself: the following ring was smaller than the ones before and had propellers on three sides. The top set kept it aloft, the set on either side sent it drifting to the left, then to the right, with an anchor down to the water which snapped taught every time it reached the end. On top of that, it was solid green. He had to get through it, somehow.
If he slowed down to correct his course, the others would catch up and maybe even pass him entirely. If he kept going, he might miss the ring completely. Rary screeched: decisions were hard!
The ring drifted right. Rary pointed toward it, straight on and steady, and then…
It sailed to the left. He tried to correct, banking sharply, but it was too late. His talons scraped the metal on the outer edge. The three racers behind him passed through no problem.
You did your best, came Vivi's reassuring voice at once.
Vivi frowned at Marguerite's gloating smirk and Clara's retaliatory glare. "You only missed one ring, not the finish line."
Yeah, like that time I went flying with the Owl Parliament and got so lost you had to send both of the dragons to find me!
Marguerite gave a conceited giggle while Vivi turned down the volume of her receiver.
Clara pushed up the brim of her pink hat. "Why don't you find someone else to bother?"
"Hm? Oh, but the view from here is so much better." She raised up her rosy glasses to illustrate. "A much better vantage point to see my victory."
"That's funny," Vivi said. "You don't look like you can fly."
Marguerite hesitated for just a moment. "I meant Halcyon's victory, of course."
Vivi rolled her eyes in the exact way her mother told her not to, then prayed for forgiveness right away. Next time, she would remember. But there was a race going on, so that was pretty important.
Rary needed to talk himself through the next steps, and his favorite person to do that with was already there. "Alright, one down, but I'm still in the lead. Or, I think I am. Maybe someone's so far ahead that I can't see them. But wouldn't Vivi know that and tell me? Anyway, where's the next ring? Is that it over there? But it's red, did I already go through that one? Oh gosh, now I can't keep track. Butter my feathers and call me a corncob! No, that's definitely the next ring, since I—gak!"
A sudden current buffeted him to the side, and a sprawling black shape swooped past in a rush. After righting himself, Rary squawked with astonishment at the racer who had suddenly overtaken him, not only because it had done that, but also because it was an ebony-feathered griffon.
Rary glided up alongside the newcomer, just behind his left wing. "Hey, hi! My name's Rary! It's great to see another griffon out here! What Land are you from?"
The next ring was fast approaching, and the black griffon flapped a burst of speed to clear it easily. As it tacked around, a persistent voice came from below.
"Not much for conversation? That's okay, I like to stay focused during races too. Hey, are you registered for the battle pavilion? Maybe we could—"
Rary didn't get to finish his sentence, as the black griffon surged ahead, leaving him to converse with his tail fur.
Back at the platform, the mood was far from cordial. Nell kept her eye glued to her long telescope as she talked, leaning on the tripod for support. "Well, it looks like we have something of an upset! The current leader Braveheart has been overtaken by back-row favorite Sable!"
Vivi looked around them, her hand up above her eyes to stop the glare. "Who's his handler? I don't remember seeing them earlier."
Clara turned as well. "A mysterious black-feathered griffon? Probably them." She pointed to a young boy standing by himself, wrapped in a hooded cloak, only his large yellow eyes visible like shining suns in his face.
"Hm, yes," Marguerite contributed. "The handler from Shadeland. I believe his name is Ebris. They say his skin is sensitive to sunlight, so he wears the cloak, and so are his eyes, which explain the reflective glasses."
Clara looked like she wanted to say something in retort, but she stopped herself. Vivi didn't say anything, since she was trying to figure out what it might mean. Rary had called the creature near him a griffon, and so did Clara. She raised her spyglass again to triple check before relaying the new info to Rary. That thing was definitely not a griffon, but she just told Rary his name.
Rary twisted and wheeled to get a lead on the black griffon, but he was just too fast. Every time he wanted to be somewhere, Sable was right in the way. He was almost too distracted to notice the next red ring and slip around it carefully. Rary took the left, while Sable took the right, and they converged on the other side, brown and white meeting black and gray.
Rary tried a different tactic, flapping madly to gain altitude. Sable looked over his shoulder and found no pursuers, so he relaxed, letting himself glide, only to find an excited griffon barreling down on him from above. Both creatures flapped to stay upright, but now it was down to the nose. Literally, Rary wished his beak was a little longer so it could cross the finish line first. Maybe if he stuck out his tongue?
"Hello there, you two!" came a haughty, whinnying voice from behind. Rary didn't look back to see Halcyon on their tails. "Don't be so confident yet, we all still have to get through that!"
As soon as he spoke, the clouds thinned and Rary saw exactly what he meant. A complicated arrangement of rings, first through, then around, then he would have to spin upwards and dive down through the next one. It made his head hurt just to look at it, much less think of how to pass successfully. But he wouldn't be doing it alone.
Streaks of black, brown, and white all soared into the final obstacles. Rary cleared the first one, Sable nearly missed the next. Halcyon bumbled through another red ring, and Rary nearly disqualified himself through two reds that had been green a moment ago. He lost track of Sable, his opponent was somewhere ahead, and Vivi hadn't told him he was out of the race yet, so there was still hope, but look out, that ring was turning red!
Vivi and Clara waited on the platform, the mass of clouds still obscuring the cluster of rings from their perspective. Marguerite still stood nearby, but she wasn't saying anything, so that was okay. Ebris had been eerily silent the whole time, but all the handlers and spectators cheered when the three leaders burst from the cloud bank, bearing directly back to the start.
A bright red ribbon was suspended between two tiny floating platforms, Rary barreled toward it with all the strength he had. He saw Sable right beside him, but didn't worry, since not only did he have to hit the ribbon, he also had to…
Rary crossed the finish line and sailed to land near Vivi and Sapphire. He almost did that, but his back paws slipped on the metal surface, collapsing in a heap nearby. Vivi, Clara, and Amur ran to him while Ebris and Marguerite received their creatures much more gracefully.
"And we have our finishers!" Nell announced. "We will be reviewing the cameras from the ribbon and tallying points, so please be patient while we determine our winner!"
Clara reached the pile of griffon first, trying to untangle him by picking up a wing. She strained valiantly, but could barely move it. Vivi arrived next and hoisted one of his legs up nearly over her head, flipping Rary onto his stomach.
"A fantastic flight, young Rary," Amur was saying, as the girls got him straightened out. He helped by giving the griffon a shove from behind to get him back on his feet. "Quality effort, no matter the outcome, am I correct?"
"Thanks…Amur," Rary said, still out of breath. "I did my best…and that's all I can do, right?"
Clara smiled and ruffled his head feathers. "So true, right Vivi?" She turned to the other girl. "Vivi? Are you okay?"
Vivi was staring off into space, which wasn't odd, but the look of concern on her face was. "Uh, yeah." She turned away from Ebris and Sable, only a few people had gathered around them, compared to the larger draw around Halcyon. She put her arms around Rary's neck and gave him a squeeze. "Good job, Rary."
Rary rubbed the side of his head against Vivi. "Aw, thanks!" Vivi took off his headgear while the speaker system came to life again.
"Thank you all for your patience," Nell said. "This was certainly an exciting race, but we finally have our winner. In third place, with twenty-one points, is…" She took a long breath to prolong the suspense.
Marguerite looked fit to burst, but Halcyon nudged her with his muzzle when the earnest applause started. She put on a practiced smile, waving gracefully while Vivi, Clara, and the others clapped. Amur roared while Rary gave a little crow.
"Now, there's no need to announce the first place winner, because as soon as I declare the second, the other will be clear. So, the second place winner of this heat of the air race, with twenty-seven points is…"
Rary held his breath, so did Clara. Vivi crossed her fingers while Amur curled his tail and Sapphire shut her eyes.
The platform erupted into applause. Rary blinked for a moment, then pranced for joy. "That's me!"
Vivi stood by Rary to receive the congratulations and well wishes from the spectators, but she didn't remember what they said, or what she said in reply. Clara clapped her on the shoulder and drew a U-shape over her own mouth. Vivi tried her very best to smile, but it was hard, since she still wasn't sure what exactly had won first place in the competition.
Sapphire nuzzled her arm, and she looked down at her faeriedragon. She blinked her large golden eyes, then looked over at Sable and blew a dark purple bubble. In the light, it looked black.
The food court smelled bad, but then again nearly all food smelled bad to Vivi, so she had gotten pretty well used to it by now. She sat at the coated mesh table across from Clara, while Amur and Rary both tucked into a platter of roasted gazelle on the ground nearby. The tiger ripped off sizeable chunks and gnawed on them slowly, while the griffon picked off little morsels with his beak and nibbled them quickly.
"So," Clara said, disassembling her hamburger to apply condiments. "What did you think of that event?"
Vivi laid out a series of plastic sealed containers around the shiny medals that she had taken back out of her holder to admire. "It was pretty exciting. I'm just glad that everyone played fair, and no one got hurt."
"Are you disappointed about not getting first place?"
"Um…no, not really. We did our best, and that's what mattered most, right?"
"I think so," Clara agreed, squeezing the packet of mustard onto the patty. She opened a tub of ketchup to dip her French fries in, glancing around to make sure no seagulls were lurking. "So, what have you got today?"
Vivi popped open the lid on the containers in turn. "Olives, mashed pumpkin, fried peas, shredded chicken—"
"Yup, the drier the better. Oh, I need to take my enzyme, though." She dug through her haversack, made much easier by Sapphire sitting on the table nearby, quietly munching on a ripe mooth.
After an unsuccessful few moments, Rary swallowed his tidbit and looked up. "They're in the little pocket at the back."
"Oh, right." She retrieved the correct bottle and swallowed a pill straight, without a drink from her bright green water bottle. "Okay, I'm ready."
Vivi said Grace before the meal officially began. Clara took a bite of hamburger and a slice of tomato slipped out and onto her plate.
"Whoops. Oh well, I don't like tomato anyway, you can have it."
"It has mayonnaise on it."
"Right, I forgot. Oh, I brought that book you let me borrow. I'd get it out, but my hands are dirty."
"Thanks," Vivi said, eating an olive off of each of her fingers.
"Did you bring the third one? I'm dying to figure out how they get out of that jam at the end."
"Well, they probably just opened the jar, and then—" Clara's glare silenced the rest of the joke. "I forgot it. I'll bring it next time I come over."
Sapphire swallowed a bite of her mooth, a red, shriveled fruit that looked pretty unappetizing to the girls, but one of the little dragon's favorites. She gave a little burp, sending out three blue bubbles clustered together.
Vivi smiled at her smallest friend. Despite the food actually tasting pretty good for once, she couldn't help but feel a confusion in her guts, different from the one that was usually there.
"Congratulations on your win!" Vivi turned, expecting to see another well-wisher approaching her and Rary, but the girl with the yellow scarf wasn't looking in their direction. She was facing the Shadeland duo, both of whom were standing in the shadow of the nearest building.
"Thanks to you," Ebris said. His voice sounded quiet and far away, despite them not being that far from where Vivi sat.
"I've never met someone from Shadeland before," the girl continued. "Is it true that you all live underground?"
"No. Some, but not all."
Sable stood at Ebris' side, not saying anything, and not moving much either, not even the idle twitching of his tail like Rary did.
Rary looked up, a piece of meat still dangling from his beak. "Hey, there's Sable, I never got to congratulate him after the race. There were so many people around. And…now there are again."
A small crowd had gathered around the pair, eager to meet someone from such a distant and exotic land.
Vivi finished her spoonful of pumpkin mixed with sorghum syrup. "I'm sure we'll have a chance to talk to them later on. They're kind of hard to miss."
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