Smile. Smile. Smile.
The high priestess raises the cup to his lips and he smiles. He drinks from the cup as if it brims with life-giving water, though he has to fight to choke down the bitter juices. This is an honor. He has been raised above his station. Today is- he listens to her voice. She says it with such conviction he can almost believe it.
“Today is your crowning achievement. You have been selected from a throng of indistinguishable warriors to serve. You alone have the tenacity, the courage, and the vigor to act rightly. You have been given the rarest of gifts: a purpose. Drink, and ready yourself.”
He drinks. He drinks enough of the foul drink that he wishes he would become sick and ruin her gown. It must have taken years to dye, sew, and cut every piece of fabric that went into this one day. He looks to his peers, stepping down from the dais slowly, with a final bow. They huddle together, quaking fearfully. There is nothing to fear, brothers, not for you, he thinks, but does not say. Their fear will serve them well. He touches the horn around his neck; a remnant of one of the fallen. There is a cheer from the crowd. It begins.
He circles the arena. Two guards bring in their arms a scrawny man, barely a day over sixteen, and toss him down. The man lands with a thump, and begins to rise slowly. He growls at this display. What cowardice. He ducks his head, tossing his horns. He wonders why the change. The previous duels were all among their kind, not with men. That was what the men of wealth wanted to see.
He turned around, flapping his wings. The crowd screamed, in equal parts fearful shock and ecstatic pleasure. He ignored them. The man cowered in one corner, clutching his hair. It was longer than most men, reaching down to his waist. The man also had an unusual distribution of fat. Instead of mostly in his abdomen, it was stored exclusively in the upper chest. He lacked confidence in the basic design (how did such men stay upright?), but it was hardly his place. And it was hardly the time. He clutches his own belly, shaking it and roaring. The audience, as usual, found this amusing. They were quite easily amused.
“Please,” said the young man, his eyes welling with tears.
“Mother said they wouldn’t, she said they only take boys. Please don’t kill me.”
He ignored the man’s pleas. He had always known what he would do. This was his one chance at fame. This was his one chance to make the men pay attention.
In one swift motion, he pressed his necklace into the center of his chest with all his might.
Weekly Writing Prompt #95: Sick, bitter, fight, smile, fame