CHAPTER NINETEEN (draft)

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CHAPTER 19

Now that we've sworn the Oath of Loyalty to Atlantida and are Citizens, the choir sings a hymn that I've never heard before, and the language seems to be Classical Atlanteo. This could be the National Anthem. Do they even have such things in this culture?

Yes, they do.

I see everyone in the audience rise from their seats, the Category judges on stage with us also rise, and perfect silence falls as the hymn echoes in grand harmony over the Khemetareon.

"Amrevet-Ra, Impero Atlantida! Eos, dea, niktos, im saret-i-xerera!"

If I understand correctly, this translates as:

"Love Divine! Imperial Atlantida! Morning, day, night, my wisdom and glory!"

Even the Imperator stands, with Aeson alongside him, listening in solemnity. Somehow, I sense Aeson's gaze upon me, caressing me across the expanse. I can just imagine his thoughts: You did it, Gwen, im amrevu. It's almost over, hang in there.

Glancing at the other Champions standing on both sides of me, I see their faces full of emotion. Even the most secretive, stoic ones, like Hedj Kukkait. . . . Kokayi and Kateb have tears in their eyes. Brie looks shell-shocked. No one salutes or makes any other gesture. They merely stare ahead, straight-backed and proud like soldiers.

When it is over, the crowd roars again, and everyone sits down.

Only we, Champions who are now Citizens, remain standing.

Miramis Opu, the Priest of the Grail, now speaks: "Champions! The Common Earnings Grail holds a very generous sum for you this year! The divided winnings, to be deposited in your personal credit accounts tonight, are over ten million iretar for each of the Top Ten! You may spend every single iret in any manner you desire, at any institution or venue. No doors will ever be closed to you!"

The audience roars in excitement.

"Furthermore," the priest continues, "as always, your personal needs, wishes, and desires—within the realm of possibility—will be accommodated, as soon as you make your requests through the official Games channels."

More thunderous noise.

"In conclusion—you have achieved the highest honors, earned your glory and your rest! Now you may depart the arena, Champions of the eternal Games of the Atlantis Grail! There is no beginning and there will be no end! However, only a Ghost remains of this year's Games, until next Green Season! The Games are Forever!"

"The Games are Forever!" the audience responds.

Moments later, we descend the dais, waving to the screaming crowds, while triumphant music plays, and follow the Priest of the Grail across the arena toward the exit.

* * *

Aeson meets me in the crowded outer lobby where I stand with my teammates and other Champions, all of us holding our Grail trophies, as we wait for our friends and loved ones, members of our entourages, or rides home.

I'm still stunned, still disbelieving. Nothing seems real, only a clamor of strange events piling on top of each other. "Where are Chihar and Lolu?" I keep mumbling, even as Kateb and Brie and Kokayi laugh and exchange joyful banter.

"Relax, Lark!" Brie nudges me on the arm. "There he is, your Royal Loverboy. And talking about loverboys—" she waves to the tall, sharply-dressed figure of Logan Sangre, whose familiar handsome face and super-black hair I recognize at once from across the lobby as he makes his way toward us.

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