From the blog

Advent Letter: Year 6, Letter #3

Note: This is my third letter of Advent 2022, but part 23 of me and my brother’s Advent Letters project. For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on past letters, go to my Advent Letters page to see them all.

“These racing gloves are amazing! And check out these goggles!” Brian put the racing goggles on and threw a wink at his brothers.

“Yeah, but the scarves are a bit over the top,” Jer replied.

It was the morning of the Great Race, and the brothers were at the starting line with Tanuke and their pit crew of gnomes. To their left was a rocky mountain. Straight ahead was a horizon disappearing into a rainbow. To their right was the glittering sea. And behind them were towering stands slowly filling with all manner of Fae.

Some gnomes put the bridles on the cameleopard, wyvern, and heraldic dolphin. Others tinkered on the chariot. Tanuke, meanwhile, was giving the boys final instructions.

“The chariot handles like a dream, but you have to be firm when commanding your beast—authoritative, but not tyrannical, if you get my meaning.”

Matt did not get his meaning, but nodded anyway. Whatever else it was, the chariot was beautiful. Pure sparkling white, and trimmed in gold lattice and rigged with wheels so thin and polished they looked like they could float over track.

The gnomes hitched the cameleopard to the chariot. Strapping and strong, it pawed the ground and puffed its nostrils.

“By the way,” Matt said to Tanuke. “Can you watch our weapons while we’re racing? They’re gifts from Santa, and very—”

Tanuke silenced him. “Why in Faerie would you leave your weapons behind?”

“They’d just be extra weight…”

Tanuke looked at Matt like he had pixies crawling out of his ears. “Anything goes in a chariot race. Look at your competitors.”

The Mellemas looked up as the other teams arrived at the starting line: a menagerie of toothed and scaled and muscled Fae nightmares. There were a dozen teams in all—trolls, goblins, harpies, and elves with orange eyes and grey skin. Each team was decked in full battle gear, carrying everything from clubs to maces to shields to javelins. And each racer glared contempt at the Mellema brothers.

Three dog-headed walked past the gnomes, growling as they went.

“Those are the drivers who abandoned us,” Tanuke explained. “Paid off by the snake people.”

Just then, the most terrifying chariot of all rolled to the starting line. It was driven by a snake monster with three heads growing from a green-scaled body. The snakes’ two arms were clawed and hard, and three tails took the place of feet. The snakes’ tongues shot out at the Mellemas, their yellow eyes narrowed to slits.”

“Prepare for destruction, humans,” the snakes, raspy and venomous, all spoke at once. “It was folly for the gnomes to send you to your doom.”

Tanuke took a half-step back, gathering the Mellemas and lowering his voice. “Keep a close eye on them. They’re from the snake people who stole our lands. They’ll do anything to keep you from winning.”

An elven herald blew a silver trumpet, and all the racers piled into their chariots. If Matt hadn’t been actively afraid for his life, he would have marvelled at the sight: twelve giraffes in a line, each preparing to pull a band of armored monsters into battle.

“Remember,” the herald proclaimed. “For the first round, you must climb the rocky hill, pluck a chromolugent flower, and bring it back. Only then can you proceed to the second round.”

Brian nodded, adjusting his racing goggles before grabbing the reins. Jer and Matt set their feet and clung to the sides of the chariot.

The horn blew, and the world became a jostle of chaos.

The brother’s cameleopard leapt into an early leady. That helped the brothers dodge the early clubs and spears swung at them by the other racers. At least, at first.

“Behind you!” Jer shouted. Matt turned just in time to block a javelin with his enchanted shield. Then he blocked an arrow and a throwing star.

“Jer, you have to fire back!” Matt yelled.

Jer hesitated, and Matt understood why. It seemed wrong to shoot an arrow at someone just to win a race. A hail of javelins, which Matt could barely block, was their answer. If they didn’t fight back, they’d never make it out alive. So Jer, choking back the dust from the storm of cameleopard hooves, notched an enchanted arrow and fired. As always, it went exactly where he aimed—the spokes of a harpy chariot, which sent it careening on its side. A second arrow cut the trolls’ reins in two.

Brian, meanwhile, urged the cameleopard toward a controlled speed as they approached the winding path up the mountain. The cameleopard, though, was so keen on going top speed that it overshot the turn. By the time Brian got them turned back around, they had fallen into fourth.

Brian soon caught up with a goblin chariot ahead of them. But the path was along a sheer drop, and was barely wide enough to pass. Brian stuck out his tongue as he steered into position along the outside edge.

When the brothers came level with the goblin chariot, the goblins’ reaction was swift and fierce. Matt knocked a spear thrust away with his shield, and clove the spear with his sword. Jer tried to get a shot off, but they were too close to aim. The goblin driver, meanwhile, tried to run Brian over the path. Brian pulled the reins with all his might, but his chariot inched closer to the ledge. In final desperation, Brian let go of the reins and grabbed his war hammer, which grew to the size of the chariot. He swung down at the goblin chariot, which smashed into bits as the goblins leaped out.

Brian reached back for the reins and only barely pulled them back in time to keep their chariot from soaring over the side.

When the Mellemas made it to the top of the mountain, only two teams were ahead of them. But both teams were trolls with giant clubs.

The flowers themselves were a special Faerie color called chromolugent. Depending on the light and the angle, it could be any color of the rainbow. Matt was mesmerized by the flowers. Jer had to grab him by the arm to get him out of the chariot to pluck one. Two trolls stepped between the brothers and the flowers, crooked teeth smiling and clubs dragging the ground.

Jer fired an arrow into one trolls knee, while Matt blocked a club swing from the other. Brian came up behind with his giant war hammer, clearing the field with one swing. Matt plucked a flower and shouted for his brothers to run back to the chariot.

The brothers left the trolls behind and started back down the hill in first place. But the half dozen teams still in the race were hot on their heels. Matt kept his shield poised, and Jer fired arrow after arrow. Brian, meanwhile, laughed hysterically at the joy of the race, his cameleopard careening down the rocky path.

But as they approached the final turn, their cameleopard did something truly reckless. Ignoring Brian’s commands, it leapt over the curve, sailing the chariot through the air before landing with a bone-shaking crash.

The chariot veered off the track, tipping from one wheel to the other. By the time Brian finally corrected the chariot and got it back on the track, they had fallen to the back of the pack. They finished the lap in sixth place.

The brothers had no time to pity themselves. It was now the wyvern round: Jer had to fly the chariot toward the horizon to gather a goblet full of rainbow. The gnome pit crew removed the cameleopard with dazzling speed before attaching the wyvern. The creature flapped its leathery wings and shot smoke from its nostrils as its scarlet eyes scanned the clouds.

“All set,” the pit crew shouted. “Hold on tight. And mind the fire from the other wyverns.”

Matt held the side of the chariot harder than he’d held anything in his entire life. Jer whipped the reins, and the brothers were soon airborne in a swirling rush of wind. Because their pit stop was so fast, the brothers vaulted into lead pack.

As Jer steered the wyerns toward the rainbow, Matt realized their mistake. Each of the wyverns could breath fire, and the fire went about ten yards before dispipating. That meant all the teams kept distances from each other of well more than ten yards.

With those distances, Matt’s sword was useless. At one point, Brian grew his hammer to twenty yards and swung it at another team. The swing connected, sending the harpy chariot lurching to the side. But the shift in weight nearly toppled Jer over, and he barked at Brian to stop.

What the boys needed were Jer’s arrows. But merely keeping the wyverns on course required all of Jer’s attention. He couldn’t let go for even a fraction of a second.

As they approached the rainbow, wyvern flames burst around them. Although Jer tried to stay out of range, Matt still had to shield them from the fire. Matt’s face blistered in the heat, and he worried that even his enchanted shield would become too hot to hold.

Only four of the six chariots survived the volleys of wyvern fire. And every chariot had to slow down as they prepared to pass by the rainbow. Matt held the goblet, and extended as far as he dared to fill it up with rainbow. As he did, a goblin team swung a sword at Matt’s hand. Brian blocked the sword with his war hammer, and Jer’s wyvern scorched the goblin chariot.

Matt held the rainbow, shimmering and sparkling, in his outstretched goblet and secured a lid on top. Jer urged his wyvern back to the finish line. There were now only three teams remaining: the Mellemas, the dog-faced racers, and the three-headed snake racer.

The brothers’ wyvern surpassed the three-headed snake’s wyvern, and was approaching the dog-faced wyvern. As Jer prepared to pass, the dog-faced wyvern jostled his wyvern. Now this race had seen massive amounts of intentional josting, ramming, and fire-spewing. This maneuver by the dog-faced wyvern, however, seemed a genuine accident. Jer tried steering his wyvern away from the confrontation.

But Jer’s wyvern ignored him, lunging sideways toward the other wyvern with such rage that the chariot was about to topple upside-down. Brian and Matt clung to the chariot and the rainbow goblet. Jer yelled at his wyvern, finally wrestling them back into place. But by the time he did, the brothers had fallen into last place.

Matt stewed about this as Jer urged his wyvern on. All three brothers, Matt realized, had done the same things when picking their creatures. They chose the biggest and fastest, and didn’t care if the creature was reckless or wrathful. Matt thought of the big fast dolphin which he had chosen. Then about the experienced dolphin which he’d ignored.

He was so lost in thought it was almost a surprise when the chariot bounced back to earth. The gnome pit crew had already removed the wyvern, and was pushing the chariot toward the dolphin, which was swimming circles in the sea.

“Stop!” Matt shouted. “I want the experienced dolphin instead.”

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