By Alicia Steen
Gathyra. Year After Shadow 2093.
“Have fun, boys,” King Json tells his sons as he leaves with a wave and an uncanny grin. The three princes stand staring at the obstacle course in front of them, each hesitant to take the first step.
“He could have any number of traps planned for us,” Parkr says. “Anyone feel like testing them out?”
“Not particularly,” Mykl replies.
“What’s up with all the flags?” James asks. The course before them is made of mostly wood with some scattered stone structures and rope nets. But on every post, at every angle and height, are red flags of every shape and size imaginable. They flutter in the slight summer breeze, casting shadows all over the course.
“Well, staring at it isn’t going to help any. Dad’s a pro at hiding spells.” Mykl stretches his limbs. “There’s only two things we can know for sure at this point.”
“Dad designed the course to be extremely difficult but not impossible for us to complete,” Parkr names.
“Dad built this for us to conquer together,” James finishes. “Fight together, win together.”
“Here goes nothing,” Parkr adds, and with that the three run for the first obstacle and jump it in perfect synchronization. And are promptly sent flying in the direct opposite direction. Straight into the ground.
“What was that?” James exclaims as he gets up.
“That’s my question,” Mykl replies. He accepts James’ offered hand and stands to his feet.
“Not sure,” Parkr says, already on his feet. The other two groan.
“If Parkr doesn’t know, this will be a long afternoon.” Mykl stares at the first obstacle, a simple three logs bound together with a tall pole holding a small red flag.
“Why don’t you jump it while Parkr watches?” James suggests to Mykl.
“Why me?” Mykl asks, eying James.
“You’re the one who likes to take hits,” James says simply.
Mykl gives James a look, but accepts the logic. “Fine, but you’re coming too. You need to learn how to take a hit.”
James rolls his eyes, and the two tackle the logs with the same result. James turns to look at Parkr, who has eyes half open in deep concentration. James stands up. “Once again, it seems.”
Mykl nods, and three tries later, Parkr himself vaults over them and the logs, landing on the other side safely. Mykl’s expression brightens. “It’s the flags. We have to avoid their shadows.”
Parkr nods. “It’s the flags.”
“This will still be a long afternoon,” James comments as he dusts himself off.
“But now we know how to beat it,” Mykl says with triumphant smile.
Room of Reflection: Royal Estate, Gathyra. Year After Shadow 2100.
“It took us two weeks, but we ran that course until we mastered it,” James says, breaking the quiet. He walks into the room and sits beside Parkr on the bench. “Dad trained us to overcome any obstacle no matter what or how long it took.”
“Failure is an option, but giving up is not,” Parkr recalls one of their father’s many sayings.
“Life changes, but character stays with you,” James finishes. “I never quite understood back then the connection between the crazy things dad would have us do and the lectures he would always give.”
Parkr nods. “Until our third year in school. That year we went on our first mission together.”
James stares at the blackened sword in front of them. “I wonder if Mykl remembers. Our first adventure.”