Photo via Visual hunt
Markoi clutched the bottle to his chest. He dragged himself up the steep mountain path. Behind him, he could hear the heavy breathing and thudding footsteps of his competitors. He didn’t bother looking over his shoulder. That just slowed him down.
He stumbled as his battered feet found a hole. There were some grunts behind him and the sounds of footsteps increased in speed. He straightened and limped on, ignoring the pain.
Markoi refused to lose again. For the past five years, he’d competed in the Festival of Smoke and had come in last every time. Today he was in the lead on the third and final day, and he intended on staying there.
He could hear a woman’s cry and a thwump. Another competitor was down. He pushed his pace even faster, trying to put more distance between him and those trying to pass him.
Markoi reached the final test in the competition. It was a free climb up to one of the higher points in the mountains. He made sure the bottle was secured in the sling across his chest and started climbing.
This was the most difficult part. His hands and feet were mostly numb from the cold and the bruising they’d already taken during the past few days. He was exhausted. Sleep wasn’t permitted so he was going on pure adrenaline. Food was limited, though they were given all the water they wished to drink so they wouldn’t get dehydrated.
His foot slipped and he barely caught himself. He took a minute to calm his heart before continuing the climb. He glanced up. Not much farther. He just had to get to the top.
It took the last of his strength to pull himself onto the ledge. He wanted to lay down and not get up, but he had one last thing to do. Markoi pulled the bottle from the sling and fumbled with the top. It popped. A cloud of blue smoke erupted from the top. He held it up above his head. Looking around, he saw no other color in the sky. A few minutes later, purple, green, yellow, and red joined his blue. Markoi laughed. He’d won. He let out a whoop of delight.