Chapter 6: The Race

When the gates swung open, Alech felt his horse lunge forward and start running. All the other riders were shouting at their horses and digging their boots into their heaving sides. Alech did the same, urging on his steed. Suddenly, two opponents closed in front of him, so he could not pass. There were no lanes on this track, so Alech grabbed onto the hairy mane in front of him and tried to direct the horse around the living barrier.
"No steering eh Ohner?" Alech said to himself. "COME ON! MOVE!" he shouted to his horse. An extra burst of speed almost made him fly off as they passed the other two. A sharp pain burst from a spot on his left arm, which made him shout and look over. The rider nearest to him had a horsewhip, and instead of using it on his horse, he was beating all who were in his way with it. "Hey!" he shouted. So they had to fight to win did they? Alright, I'll give them a fight, Alech thought.
When his opponent pulled back his arm to lose another attack, Alech made sure he was ready. He felt the wind of the oncoming stick and leather as he reached up to catch it. He did and he wrenched the thing out of the surprised racer's grip. Alech snapped it in two and threw it to the blurring ground. All other riders fell behind as a fist came from no where and almost collided with Alech's face. The momentum from the swing came close to unsaddling the other man, but he was a good rider. Everything happened in slow motion as the boot of an opponent smashed into Alech's barley protected and sandaled foot. Pain exploded in his mind as he felt his bones crunch. Alech screamed and snarled at his attacker. His horse gave a startled jolt when Alech's foot was forced into its side, and spooked with his yelling. It skidded to a halt and reared on its hind legs.
"No! Move move move!" Alech cried in pain and in panic. He kicked with his good leg and tried to move the other feebly. The horse finally decided that now was not the time to spook, and it bolted once more in the race. Luckily, only three horses had passed him, as all the others were engaged in their own battles. Two of the riders in from of him came side to side, fists and feet flying. Amazedly, they were now half way around the track, but Alech was sure they must have been farther than that. He urged his horse around the fighting opponents and came close behind the first one to pass him. It was the young man who commented at him before those gates swung open, the one riding the black mare. He made to pass this one too, his stallion clearly faster than the mare. But just as Alech was all most past him, the mare speeded up, so they were neck and neck. The mare's rider turned to face Alech.
"You alright kid? You sure look like you're in pain." Alech nodded to him, although with difficulty. The pain sliced through his consciousness like the sharpest knife. "You're foot's been bleeding like mad, looks like Jhard spiked his boots, the dirty cheater." The man talked as if they were not in a race at all, more of that they were on some simple joy ride, commenting on someone's bad racing tactics. "Let me get the bastard back for you." And with that, the mare darted next to Jhard, or whatever his name was. Jhard pulled back a clenched fist, but at the moment he swung, the other man ducked, and then grabbed on the Jhard's flailing arms and pulled. He came right off his horse and landed in a puff of dust. Jhard cursed loudly and crawled out of the way of the oncoming horses. The small silvery gelding he was riding noticed that he was bearing a burden no more and left, heading for the circular patch of grass on the inside of the track, where it stopped and grazed happily. The rider of the black mare leaned forward and seemed to whisper in its cocked ear. In a few moments later, Alech's bay stallion and the black mare were neck and neck once more. "There you go mate! He won't be bothering you now he knows Ryder's on you're side." He looked up, realizing that the finish line was not too far away. "Oops, got to go win me another race!" He tapped the mare's bobbing head as if trying to get its attention. "Alright Ebony, time to show these people how fast you really are," he paused before adding, "Again."
The crowd let out a roar that Alech was worried might loosen the ceiling of the cavern as the black mare and Ryder streaked across the finish line, leaving Alech coughing in the dust, as he came in second.
A circle formed around Ryder as they all shouted with glee. Alech took his horse over on the outskirts of the bustling and chattering crowd, not knowing where to go next.
"Hey! Move along now! Get out of my way, that's my jockey over there," came the gruff but high voice of Ohner. He came up on Alech's right side. "Wow, I didn't expect you to even make the top three lad! Lost me horse you did! Lost me a horse and found me loads of money, enough to buy two more maybe!"
"But I didn't win," Alech said confused. Everything was becoming confused as he felt dizzy. What's going on? He thought. Alech felt his body start to sway, although he wasn't sure if he was or not.
"That doesn't mean I didn't get any money off of you. First time to the races is it? Hey, you don't look to good. Why are you so pale? What's that dripping on the ground? HEY!" Alech was barley aware of Ohner shouting as he found himself on complete darkness, the smell of dirt filling his nostrils.


Alech came to after what seemed like centuries in darkness. The first thing he saw was, of course, the ceiling, but after groaning and rolling over, he saw Tareq looking paler than the sheets and watching Alech.
"I thought you would never wake up!" he said, apparently overwhelmed with mixed emotions.
"Ow," Alech replied dully. His left foot was letting of enormous blasts of pain, making everything swirl in front of him. "Tareq, it's only my foot, of course I was going to wake up."
"But you have no idea how much blood you lost. It was everywhere," the last sentence added a sick look to his face and his voice wavered. "You're lucky you even get to keep your foot! You should have seen Jhard's face when we were carrying you away."
"What, was he angry I survived?"
"No, it was the exact opposite. He was absolutely shocked. He always was a bit of an idiot; he had no idea someone spiked his boots."
At that moment, the door opened as a familiar man entered the room. Ryder was almost as pale as Tareq. He took the other chair next to Tareq's, and took of his hat, which wouldn't be out of place in an old western movie in Alech's home world.
"Glad to see you are okay, you had me worried there kid. I found out who spiked Jhard's boots, it was that old crone that sold Jhard that horse; it seems he bet a hell of a lot of money on the idiot, and expected him to win," Ryder paused, "He didn't expect me to be there though," he added with a small laugh. He continued to smile as he said, "bet that's the last time you ever race with sandals on, eh kid? Not that boots would really make much of a difference with those damned spikes; but still, might have saved a few of those broken bones. I still find myself wondering how Luc did it; saving your foot and all," he finished with shaking his head.
"Where is Luc anyway? I haven't seen him since yesterday," Alech asked.
Tareq shrugged. "Who knows? Disappearing, and then reappearing, only to disappear again. You're lucky you got to keep your foot, while I was lucky to keep my head."
"He was angry you took me to the races?"
"No, he was angry that I forgot to take your boots. He seemed to know that you were going to go. Luc's a funny bloke. I've known him for a few years yet I can never completely understand him. He must be the Wizard of Mystery. He also seemed to expect you to get injured too. He was here waiting for you." It was odd indeed. This statement only added to the plethora of questions breaking Olympic records on his thought track. There was a nock on the door as another person wanted to see Alec, and was asking permission for entrance. Since Ryder was still standing next to the door, he opened it to reveal a shaken Ohner and a hysteric Jhard.
Ohner's dark expression disappeared into relief when he saw Alech. "Glad to see you're okay kid," he sighed out over Jhard's sobbing apology. It took a few minutes to assure Jhard that it wasn't a lasting injury, and that is wasn't going to cost Alech his life.
When he was racing, Jhard was a tough-as-leather rider that did anything within the rule book to salvage a top three placement, but out of the saddle, he was just an overgrown child. The quote of "Don't judge a book by its cover" was true, although it was hard when the cover changed, Alech decided. Jhard might be a difficult person to get to know. Among the racing inquiries in his mind, he decided to pick a question to ask.
"Where am I?" It was a simple enough question, one the group of men was probably prepared for.
"Where else would you be but the Cavern Clinic? If you weren't hurt so bad you would be in the main room, and then you wouldn't really need to ask. There's about one or three private rooms other than this one, for the people that got more than just the average broken bone or black eye," Tareq explained, "I've never been in one of these rooms before. I don't think either of us has."
"I have!" Jhard piped up, all the tears forgotten. "Remember when they thought I broke my neck?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that," Ohner stated, waving an impatient hand, "anyway, now that you're up I might as well give you your share of the winnings.most of it anyway. Can't give you the horse here now can I?" He tossed Alech a bag of coins that jingled when they landed in his lap. It was twice the size and weight of the bag that he owned already, and he had a feeling it was full of the coins he learned about earlier. "Well, I best get going, it's getting late." Ohner walked out of the room, with Jhard nodding and whimpering more apologies while following him.
"Well, I have to agree kid. Get better soon. It would be interesting to see you on the track again; this time with proper footwear. Maybe we'll run into each other tomorrow."
"Sheesh, you'd think that they would have some easy-to-find-crutches or something in this place; we got to leave too, now that you're up. The medics here said you didn't have a concussion, so you're free to go.if you can."
Five minutes later Alech was hobbling home on wooden crutches and a splinted foot. He half wanted to walk a little slower, just incase he might make it to sunset, so he could have a chance of talking to Dysis, but he didn't want to meet the unspeakable horrors of the night that the towns people promised where waiting in the shadows.