There was a great shaking.
Shook from a sudden dream involving placing fourth in the Dragon Games, Crimson shot her head up. The other dragons around her seemed to be awake, too; but it was hard to see in the dim light.
The walls are falling, Crimson realized, watching the walls on both ends of the Half tumble. The dragon on the other side were too far away to make out in the darkness. Then the third wall, the one in the middle, fell. Sunlight began to stream in as the roofs gave way, retracting back into the building.
It's the same room I raced Wocky in, but without the obstacles, realized Crimson. The Colosseum, now without any walls except the outer ones, looked a lot like the smaller colloseum she had seen on her Breeder's park.
She turned to the new dragons. They all looked weathered, in a way, much like the dragons in her Half. The Sapphire Dragon that was gliding gracefully above the crowd was an exception; Flurry was as well, zipping around the arena as fast as he could. Crimson failed to find Blossom in the crowd, despite her constant searching. Dragons are going to get eliminated, she reminded herself.
"So! You're still in the game," said Flurry, who had suddenly appeared next to her. Crimson sighed. "You know, none of the dragons I used to know are still here," Flurry continued. "Basically just you and Striker."
"Striker?" Crimson asked, her curiousity aroused. She knew it was no use to stay silent with Flurry.
"Big lightning dragon. Kinda scary, if you ask me. Met him in the third round, when he was transferred to my quadrant. Heard that he beat Ava this time."
"Ava?" Crimson found herself asking.
"You know, that Opal Dragon who placed seventh in the first round?" Crimson shook her head. "Agh, you're hopeless," Flurry muttered, flying away. Crimson let out a sigh of relief. Sometimes it seems like every other dragon can't stop talking.
Her thoughts turned to Spectra's words in the match last time. The last few rounds are an extreme, cutthroat challenge. If you get hurt, you go on and on and on! Crimson felt like screaming. You can't win. Even if you do win, you live with the guilt that you caused a dragon to die, and hurt a bunch of other dragons. It's absolutely horrible. The only way out is to lose…like Spectra did.
As Crimson thought, she heard a gentle wailing noise. She turned to see a pale baby Flower Dragon curled up in a corner, crying. Instinctively, Crimson went over to see what was wrong.
"What's wrong?" she whispered to it. The Flower Dragon's eyes moved at her, and the gaze in them was truly heartbroken.
"You wouldn't understand," it said quietly. "Go away."
"I would," Crimson said honestly. "I'm one of the only dragons in these Games who cares for their competitors. I'll probably lose because of it." Why did I say that? Crimson wondered. I should go away. This dragon could be my next match!
"How would you feel," began the dragon, "if you were hatched, turned to adulthood in a matter of seconds, put in a fountain so you would be helpless and look cuter, and then abused your whole life? If you were bred for Games, and losing would mean absolute torture, but going on means torture as well? How would you feel to be trained to be so emotionless that they would make you kill your own parent? You will never understand! Nobody will ever understand!"
Shock reeled through Crimson's body.
"That's appaling!" she exclaimed. "What kind of evil breeder would do that?"
"One who wanted to win," sniffled the Flower Dragon. "He just picked the wrong dragon."
"You have to win," Crimson said gently. "Then your breeder will respect you."
"You don't know him," snapped the Flower Dragon. "He would take the prize and then shut down the whole park, and then live a life of luxury his whole life. He would just leave the dragons there to rot."
"You can't win, can you?" Crimson realized. "You either get tortured because of losing, you go on really far but don't win and get tortured doubly, or you win and starve to death with the deaths of hundreds of dragons on your hands."
"That's about right," the Flower Dragon cried. "I'm trying to place fourth. That way I won't have to deal with my Breeder." She broke into tears once more.
"Wimp," called out a dragon from behind them. Anger surged through Crimson. That jerk! Left wordless, she spun around and lunged at the dragon. It was the same Sapphire she had seen when the walls fell.
"You…" she growled.
"Whoa, whoa," said the Sapphire Dragon. He seemed amused. "What do we have here?"
"Me, and a dragon with no heart," Crimson screeched. She couldn't think beyond the insults she was screaming in her head at the Sapphire.
"No heart? What's with you?" he asked.
"You have no idea of the impossible, evil situation that dragon is in," Crimson barked.
"Relax. We're in these games together, remember?" He grinned. "The name's Fafnir. You could know me as the dragon who had the most amount of bets back a few rounds ago. And the dragon that hasn't come close to losing once." Crimson shook her head. Now this is a dragon I want to beat, she thought.
"Crimson," she finally replied. "The one who will eat you alive."
"I look forward to that," smiled Fafnir. "Oh, yes-" There was a loud sound, and suddenly a floating pedestal came drifting down from the sky, hovering above them. Crimson watched several dragons get out of the way in case it crashed. They're really underestimating magic, she thought.
"Welcome to the final 128," called an announcer. This was one Crimson had never heard before. "We have sold 1.5 million tickets to see this round and onwards, through both magic and through seeing it live. In comparison, last round had 45,000 tickets. These rounds are when the story of The Dragon Games gets strong. Each dragon with his or her own inspiration, his or her own background, his or her own talents. Yet only three will get medals. And one will have its life, its name, everything it has ever owned taken away from it."
"This is really where the Dragon Games get fierce. There are just few enough dragons left so that the spectators can get to know each and every one of them. Watch them fall, and watch them succeed. The final and best part of the epic Dragon Games begins right now, and right here!" There was deafening applause from the crowd. Apparently even the wizards on the platform couldn't stand it, because they set up a big sound barrier to drown it out. Crimson's ears rung.
"Each dragon, as is custom, gets an introduction next round. You will hear each of them speak via the translator, and you will learn things you never knew. Now, however, let's hear the top 10 favorites!" Another announcer stepped in.
"Fafnir, the Sapphire Dragon; Blaze, the Blue Fire Dragon; Clang, the Malachite Dragon; Flurry, the Snow Dragon; Flutter, the Butterfly Dragon; Icy, the Lichen Dragon; Dusty, the Moss Dragon; Steve, the Air Dragon; Bouncer, the Mountain Dragon, and Crackle, the Bone Dragon!" Fafnir circled in the air, and Crimson felt a tear gathering in her eye. They didn't call me…does that mean I'm destined to lose? And that jerk Fafnir is destined to win?
"This next round will be another new addition to the Dragon Games. It is an extremely popular game among wizards and dragons alike, but unique in the fact that it requires four or more players per game. We've turned the ante up; this round will have all 128 dragons competing in the Dragon Games at once!" What?
"The game is Endurance!" shouted another wizard. The audience went up again, and another sound barrier was setup. Fafnir whistled beside her.
"Now that's a fun game," Fafnir murmured. "All those ball games were boring."
"What's Endurance?" Crimson piped, hating how ignorant she sounded. She didn't want to give Fafnir any reason to feel superior to her.
"You'll see," Fafnir replied. "I have a feeling you'll hate it. With this many players it'll all be team-based, and I doubt you have any friends except that crybaby of a Flower Dragon." Crimson started to speak, but Fafnir stopped her. "Am I right, or am I wrong?"
"Wrong in multiple ways," she growled. Meanwhile, the audience had finally stopped with the insane applause.
"Endurance is a game that is usually played with one layer, or occasionally two. We will be doing a three-layer game, although that could potentially take a long time. All the more fun, then!" The audience went at it again. Crimson sighed. Do they ever get tired of clapping?
"Three layers? What wimps," called a Moss Dragon. "At home all we did was one layer."
"Oh, please," Fafnir muttered under his breath. "I'd bet you that dragon'll be using all three." Crimson wanted to ask what layers were, but she didn't think Fafnir was a good dragon to ask. She looked around for Flurry, but he wasn't on her side of the pedestal.
"To play Endurance, flightless dragons will be given a speed boost to compensate for their inability to fly." Can this guy just get on with it already? "Dragons will also be given pain reducers to prevent abuse of physical pain." This struck alarms in Crimson's head. Pain reducers? Abuse of physical pain? Fafnir was right. I hate this game already.
"Dragons with a significant disability in elemental breath will also get a magical boost." That explains it. This game must involve attacking with elemental breath. She shuddered. I could roast a Plant Dragon alive! "The game is played with all dragons on the top layer. Dragons fight to open up holes in the layer's 64x64 grid. Then the goal is to make other dragons fall in. Once a dragon falls in a hole, he or she cannot go back up and must go on the next layer's 64x64 grid. If you fall off the third layer, you are eliminated. The game continues until only sixty-four dragons remain."
"Do you hate it?" teased Fafnir. Crimson glared at him.
"I hate every part except the part where I cause you to be eliminated."
"Think you can beat a fan favorite? I didn't hear you in the top ten, Crim-"
"The dragons will be given fifteen minutes to forge alliances," said the announcer annoyingly. "After those fifteen minutes, each dragon will go into its own pod and receive the proper enhancements. Dragons gaining new abilities will have the chance to practice them for one half of an hour. After that, the game will begin." Forge alliances. Flurry immediately came to mind. He was in the top ten. He's the closest thing I have to a friend.
Crimson realized that her actions to avoid making friends was coming back to haunt her. I never expected a team-based game. She sighed. I guess I should be grateful for that fog dragon-what was her name? Skyla?-to introduce me to Cucoo, who introduced me to Flurry. Or else I'd have to team with the Flower, or…no. I would never think about allying with Fafnir.
"Crimson!" gasped Flurry, zooming over in half a second. "Team?"
"Don't have a choice, do I?" she grinned. "Unless I plan on losing."
"That's the spirit! Striker, this is Crimson. Crimson, Striker." Crimson glanced at the gargantuan Lightning Dragon beside her. He stared at her. Crimson shuddered; his eyes seemed to be gazing deep into her soul. She stared, paralyzed by some strange sensation, and then turned. Lightning dragons and their staring contests. Ugh.
"Anyone else?" Striker said gruffly. Flurry shook his head.
"Of all of my friends, you two are the only ones who have made it here."
"Flurry?" asked Crimson. Flurry nodded in her direction.
"I have a particular Sapphire Dragon I need you to deal with," she smiled. "I think we'll all enjoy putting him down." Flurry snorted.
"You mean Fafnir? Good luck with that. That dragon's the fan favorite! He claims to have won his last match in eighteen seconds, and iceball before that in forty-three. He's an arrogant one, alright, but I doubt that we'll be able to knock him down."
"The great Flurry can't beat a dragon?" teased Crimson. "What's happened?" Flurry sighed.
"Listen, Crimson. I may be the greatest dragon in existence, but I know my limits. That Fafnir has made a team out of almost every dragon in the top ten but me. If we make one move to get him, we're going to be struck down faster than you can say a single thing."
"So what if he goes for us?" Crimson insisted. "We'll have to fight."
"I'm the fastest dragon in the Games," bragged Flurry. "Nobody could catch me."
"The speed-boosted land dragons could," Striker butted in. Flurry looked hurt.
"You doubt me?" he asked in disbelief. "I thought you wouldn't. Not after-"
"Your time is up!" said the announcer. The walls of the Colosseum opened up into 128 small doors. Each one read the name of a dragon, followed by the species and breeder. Crimson circled around, looking for her name. She found Striker's quickly, and then she noticed hers. Crimson, Panlong Dragon, Sparkvine, it read. She got in, and the door glided shut. Sleep came suddenly and unexpectedly.
Crimson woke up to an obnoxiously loud sound. She jumped, and saw herself on a flashing, colorful grid. Obnoxious, blaring music was playing in the background. A clear wall was separating her from the rest of the dragons in the Games. She seemed to be on one of the squares on the edges.
"The game of Endurance will begin in thirty seconds," said a strange, clearly female voice. "Please prepare to get into your alliances now. Finding teammates is recommended. There is a ceiling ten feet above the grid. Bumping into it will hurt you and knock you downward. Please be aware of that. The game will begin in ten seconds. Five. Four. Three. Get ready! Go." The clear walls went down. Flurry shot out, plainly visible. He shot snowflakes into the air, showing Crimson where to go. However, a fireball quickly destroyed the snowflakes.
As Crimson went towards the location of where she had last seen Flurry's snowflakes, she noticed a large screen on the side of the arena. It currently read:
FIRST LAYER: 127 DRAGON(S)
SECOND LAYER: 1 DRAGON(S)
THIRD LAYER: 0 DRAGON(S)
ELIMINATED: 0 DRAGON(S)
Pandemonium broke out around her. An Equinox Dragon twisted and turned and suddenly rammed into her, knocking her back. Fafnir whizzed past her. Snowflakes and chunks of rock alike slammed into her tail. Crimson kept going towards where she thought Flurry was.
Suddenly, a lightning bolt zapped, hitting her directly on the head. Crimson fell to the ground and the tiles below her vanished. It took all of her energy not to fall through. Striker came to her side, followed by Flurry.
"This is chaos!" he said above the music and roar of the fightning dragons. A Butterfly Dragon drifted serenely past them. Striker shot a lightning bolt at it but it reflected, causing a large crackle. Immediately, a team of five dragons shot to their location. Crimson dodged and twisted as they went into an all-out attack. She launched a blue fireball at a particular Scorch Dragon that seemed eerily familiar. The Scorch fell to the second level. A Firefly behind it cried out in anguish and lunged at Crimson. She parried its vicious bites with her tail, soon sending it too to the second level.
She glanced at the screen.
FIRST LAYER: 51 DRAGON(S)
SECOND LAYER: 64 DRAGON(S)
THIRD LAYER: 11 DRAGON(S)
ELIMINATED: 2 DRAGON(S)
It was a mistake. She was hit by an unexpected leaf; and suddenly a stunning Tree Dragon was on top of her, thrusting her towards the grid. Crimson shot a blue fireball and spun around, regaining the air. Striker had knocked the Tree away. Crimson nodded gratefully.
Out of nowhere came a lone Bone Dragon, lunging at them. Crimson dodged, but the attack was a feint; a chunk of Earth struck Striker. Striker fought back with lightning, and Flurry turned to see Fafnir approaching. An ambush? Crimson turned to the Bone Dragon, helping Striker by striking it down. It hurriedly fluttered away as something blue knocked Striker to the second level.
Crimson turned to see Fafnir and Flurry fighting head to head. An Air Dragon and Malachite Dragon were trying to sneak up on Flurry. Crimson lunged at them protectively. The Malachite slammed its metal-embedded tail into her and Crimson roared in pain. She struck the Air Dragon down, and then turned to the Malachite. They fought for a while, but a fireball struck Crimson in the back from behind. She fell onto a tile, and managed to glimpse the Bone Dragon and Air Dragon, both still in, behind her. She screamed as she fell onto the second level.
FIRST LAYER: 15 DRAGON(S)
SECOND LAYER: 56 DRAGON(S)
THIRD LAYER: 27 DRAGON(S)
ELIMINATED: 30 DRAGON(S)
She turned her attention back to the game. Flurry was shaking his head beside her.
"Told you," he called. "We're no match. If I hadn't raced, and beat, that Fafnir earlier, I'd have a much better team right now."
"We'll still make it to the third-" A snowball to her head swatted her down, and she roared and lunged at the Ice Dragon that had attacked her. It had no chance, and fell in a heap of blue fire. She grinned. Flurry, however, was struggling with the Bone Dragon from before. She came to assist him, slamming it to the ground. It snarled angrily as it went to the third level.
"We make a good team," Flurry noticed. Crimson saw a Poison Dragon approaching out of the corner of her eye, and turned around. Flurry noticed it first, and a snowflake flew through the air. The Poison laughed and deflected it. Crimson went next, alternating Elemental Breaths with Flurry. The Poison quickly gave up.
The obnoxious music sounded quieter down at this level, and, momentarily met with peace, Crimson turned to the screen.
FIRST LAYER: 2 DRAGON(S)
SECOND LAYER: 24 DRAGON(S)
THIRD LAYER: 49 DRAGON(S)
ELIMINATED: 53 DRAGON(S)
"The game will be over soon," Crimson told Flurry. "Good thing."
"Wonder what happened to Striker," Flurry said absentmindedly. "I'm sure the third layer is much worse than this one." Crimson saw Fafnir fall to the ground from the first layer. He screamed something at the ceiling, and Crimson laughed. Fafnir noticed, and lunged at her. Crimson dodged and spun, but Fafnir changed directions at the last second and swatted Flurry to the third level. Angry, Crimson lunged at him. He thrust his horns into her, and pain once again seared into her body.
"Sixty-four dragons have been eliminated. This game will be terminated in ten seconds. Nine…Eight…" Fafnir continued burrowing into Crimson's skin. She screamed. "Four…Three…Two…" Crimson, timing her move exactly, shot a blue fireball as soon as the announcer said one. It seared into his face, blasting him backwards. Crimson laughed, and suddenly the music abruptly stopped. Everything went dark. And then the magic put her into sleep.