39: Scylla and Charybdis
All at once, a trio of spotlights separated Lance from his peers. Not one to shy away from attention, he greeted the audience’s cheers with a broad smile and a wave. Before he had chance to say anything, however, the spotlights swung away and began a wild dance of the arena.
“And with him a man cloaked in shadows, whose scowl can break a thousand hearts, it’s the Dark Crusader, Daaahntay Ooorpheus!”
Unwanted centre of attention, Dante hid behind his mop of tangled hair and scowled, holding his breath until the lights resumed their dance.
“And last, but by no means least, the wild, the dangerous, the funky Cowboy from Hell, Beeeroon Dark-a-diieeee!”
Despite all the danger they now faced, Dante had to stifle a snort of laughter. Bee-ron? Bee-ron Dark-a-die? Byron himself, who had until that moment lifted his chin as if in expectation of applause, pulled his hat down over his flustered face. “This,” he muttered, “is the most embarrassing day of my life.”
The embarrassment was, at least, short lived, as the spotlights swung again to focus on the balcony and Giovanni Veres. “And now, to introduce our gladiator, the man himself, the great keanu, the big cat of Bolventor, Kuuurshid Sultan!”
Giovanni Veres stepped aside as another figure moved into the spotlight. Though too distant for Dante to make out any details, he had no doubts that this was the man responsible for all their troubles. Byron could blame it on his housemate all he wanted, but, in the end, it was the Sultan who brought them here, the Sultan who chased Emily into hiding. Were Dante a true hero, were he an officer of Seelie, like his mother, he would have raced across the grey beach, thrown himself across the lake, and had the fiend’s head in his hands before he could even move a muscle.
At least, that was how it played out in his head. Reality, for all its oddities, still had rules.
The Sultan raised his hand to the cheering crowd. “I thank you all for coming,” he said. “For all your lives, you have looked to this tower with envious eyes, wishing for the day when you can enter its walls. Today, I have granted that wish. And what better way to welcome you all here than with one of our finest gladiators?”
Lights spun around the arena, a rainbow of shapes and colours that reminded Dante of the World’s End and its carefree crowds. Ahead of them, the lake began to churn.
“You know him as well as I do, and now you shall see him in the flesh! Presenting the first gatekeeper of this tournament, the monster of the deep, the all-consuming whirlpool … Chaaar-rib-adis!”
Fireworks flashed, the crowd cheered. Lance turned to Byron. “What’s a char-ribby-dis?” he asked.
With one final twirl, the spotlights settled, one by one, on the churning waters, where a maw of gaping, spear-like teeth rose, jagged rocks in a storm-swept sea. Then, with a splash so mighty Dante could feel flecks of water from the other side of the arena, a bulbous mass flipped out of the lake, eight tree-trunk tentacles following after it. Its throbbing, mottled body the size of a small truck and with bulbous yellow eyes gloating in the audience’s frenzy, the beast Dante had spied on screens across Bolventor emerged.
“That,” said Byron, “is Charybdis.”
I intentionally had Dante spy the name ‘Charybdis’ a couple of chapters ago so I wouldn’t have to keep spelling it phonetically.
And “great keanu” just … happened. Because.