My July 4th in 88 words

I summarize my fourth of July in 88 words:

American Triple-T swim cap

*Happy Birthday America!

5:45 a.m. Bzzt! Bzzt! Snooze…Bzzt! Bzzt! Snooze…Up! Water. Gel. Running shoes. 6 miles with intervals. Home. Protein shake. Load bike. Drive to the lake. Wetsuit. Goggles. Jump. Sploosh! 1.2 mile swim. Pose. Click*. Strip wetsuit. Change into bike kit. Bike. 15 miles. Merna Tap. Hamburger. Bike. 8 miles. Retrieve CO2 cartridge. Scold. Kicks on 66. Beer. Bike. 11 miles. Lake Road Inn. Pop. Bike. 3 miles. Lake house. Beer. Chat. Home. Stretch. Shower. Nap. Dinner. Drive to party. Fireworks. Wine. Beer. Snacks. Home. Prep bike. Stage gear. Sleep.

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42

“Don’t Panic,” the world’s greatest relay team, rebranded itself as “42″ and headed north to take on the Rev3 Wisconsin Dells 70.3 relay. We were all eager for a repeat of the success we saw in Knoxville, Tennessee, and were approaching the race with a relaxed attitude. We figured if we each raced our portion to the best of our abilities, we wouldn’t have any trouble at least being contenders for the podium. Unfortunately even simple plans can become complicated.

Infinite improbability

Saturday night before the race we had a good dinner, hydrated plenty, stopped by the candy store for post-race gummy bears, (David and I went and grabbed a couple of drinks), and we all got to bed at a decent time…no problems here, right? Unfortunately Kelly has had problems with her back for years. I never appreciated the full extent of those problems until a coughing fit caused her to completely throw out her back.

She was in pain. A LOT of pain.

She took some medicine, tried to use a roller on her back, and did some basic stretching. We drove to the race course to set up our gear, hoping by then she would begin to feel better. She did not.

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

Don’t let the smile fool you. All was not well at that moment!

Excruciating pain was scrawled all over her face.  Dave and I were ready to consider other options including:

1. Jori Cooper, a friend who was spectating the race could fill in.

2. I could borrow some goggles and swim in run shorts (not ideal).

3. We could just not start the race.

Kelly had other ideas. She decided to do the practice swim and see how she felt. After gutting it out several hundred yards she swam back to shore. The pain from her back could be seen in each stroke. What she said when we pulled her out of the water surprised both Dave and I.

Kelly Ruiter Rev3 Wisconsin Dells

Kelly Ruiter on the practice swim trying to come to terms with her surroundings.

“I think I’d like to try it.”

I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled about the idea. In fact I gently tried to talk her out of it. But I also knew the only person who can tell Kelly Ruiter what to do is Kelly Ruiter. With that she lined up to start the swim, jumped in the water, and started working on the 1.2 miles ahead.

Anything that happens, happens

Bike transition at Rev3 Dells triathlon

Bike transition at Rev3 Dells triathlon

Dave and I stood around transition making final preparations to his bike, chatting with other racers, and calculating imaginary splits. Kelly had originally planned to do her swim in under 40 minutes, but had adjusted her anticipated time to 50 minutes, not including the additional time that would be needed to sprint up the long hill to transition. We watched the clock and also kept tabs on other relay teams, one of which took off the bike before us. Suddenly we glanced over and spotted a girl with spiky red hair waving her arms and running through the transition gate. She was way earlier than we expected.

“Holy crap, there she is!” I said, very surprised.

Dave snapped on his helmet and pulled his bike out of the rack while I ran over and ripped the timing chip off Kelly’s leg, wrapping it around Dave’s immediately after. With that he was off on a brutal bike course that features more climbing than the 112 miles of the IRONMAN Wisconsin bike course.

Kelly’s official time: 40:07…Geez!

She was in quite a bit of pain afterward, but she had that luxury. Against the odds she had made it through 1.2 miles and at a time many would be envious of. Great job.

Oh no, not again!

Dave had ridden the Rev3 Dells bike course before, so he knew what he was getting into. Unbeknownst to his competitors he had a few advantages.

1. This time he did not have to pace himself for a full 70.3.

2. There was a relay team in front of him he wanted to hunt down.

3. Dave has been royally rocking his bike races this year.

4. He is David Ford.

Steven Barcus and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells

A few seconds earlier I was lounging in the shade. Now, having just taken the timing chip, my mind was focused on running.

Knowing that the course had some brutal hills, Dave anticipated finishing his leg in just under three hours. Kelly, Jori, and I made plans to run back to the hotel and return to transition in more than enough time for Dave to pass the chip to me. Everything proceeded as planned. When I returned to transition I stretched, tried to get pumped for the run, and then sat down on the ground underneath a tent. No point in me baking in the sun and getting dehydrated yet.

I was in the middle of taking a gel, anticipating that Dave would be returning in around 10 minutes, when I heard someone yell, “Barcus!” It didn’t register with me at first. The second time I heard my name yelled I suddenly realized that it was Jori calling out, and the only reason she would be doing that was if…

I sprang up from the ground and dashed to the bike rack as Jori hollered, “He’s coming.” I turned to see Dave barreling into transition, screeching to a halt in front of me. I grabbed the chip from his ankle, wrapped it around mine, and sprinted out of transition.

Racing hard hurts! Dave catches his breath after making the handoff. Sometimes you keep it together only as long as you need to.

Racing hard hurts! Dave catches his breath after making the handoff. Sometimes you keep it together only as long as you need to.

Don’t panic

Dave did a great job. With a bike time of 2:51:22, he had not only caught the relay team in front of us, but also created a nice lead. During the first few miles I scanned incoming bikers for the other team’s number. I was at mile 1.7 when I saw their rider headed toward transition.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “It’s my race to lose now. Get on it!”

The Dells course was hot and hilly. Still I kept on it, pushing it up the hills reasonably and letting gravity do its work on the descents. It was grueling, and the entire time I was keeping an eye out for other relay runners. Kelly had a great swim despite her back and Dave had an awesome bike. I really didn’t want to be the one to blow this.

I kept moving and eventually saw the finish chute. I was worn out and felt a bit like a zombie after all of those hills, but I managed some energy when David and Kelly met me in the finish chute. We all ran across together, putting another relay in the books.

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

42 crosses the finish line!

Steve’s run time: 1:40:57

I’m pretty happy with me time for all of the hills and heat. I’ll take it.

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

BONUS PIC: Speaking of “sometimes holding it together only as long as you have to,” I gave in to exhaustion immediately after crossing the line. Sometimes racing isn’t pretty.

Team relay time: 5:14:46.746

Steve Barcus, Kelly Ruiter, and David Ford at Rev3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon

Podium shot!

Our finish time earned us a spot on the podium once again. There may have been some hiccups (or coughs) along the way, but we all did the best we could and were able to enjoy doing it. Walking away with hardware is great, but at the end of the day it is just icing on the cake.

Next up for our team…I don’t know. I guess we should start working on that.

 

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Return to Madison

Last Monday saw me returning to the Ironman Wisconsin bike course for a couple of loops. This ride was not on my training schedule, and I hadn’t ridden more than around 45 miles this year, but I figured, why not? I was already in the area visiting family. I saw it as a good chance to get out and get some good hill training in.

Ironman Wisconsin bike course

Rolling hills, sweeping landscapes, and idyllic weather made this a great ride!

I had a beautiful day for the ride, so I took it easy, actually enjoying some of the scenery. It is easy to forget to do that when training, especially on an Ironman course. You get so wrapped up in cadences, heart rates, watts, and miles per hour that sometimes you miss the sweeping landscape right in front of you.

The ride was relatively uneventful until 60 miles in, almost exactly halfway through the second loop. Riding along I suddenly heard the dreaded, “PSSSSSSSSSSSSH!!!!” sound erupting from my back tire.

“Well, by golly it looks like I am fortunate enough to have an opportunity to practice changing a tire,” I said, not at all angry or cursing the pebble, nail, or other item that had interrupted my ride.

Kestrel Talon at Fireman's Park in Verona

My faithful steed served me well. Fireman’s Park in Verona works as a great staging point to ride the loop.

A while later, and with hands black from grease and oil, I continued my ride. I was faced with a choice as I was halfway through the loop: Go back or finish the loop. Going back was technically the better choice since it would have taken me through two towns, and avoided the three infamous hills of the course and Stagecoach Road. (Fun fact: Stagecoach Road gets its name due to the fact that the last time any work was done on it was when stagecoaches traveled on it.)

I chose to continue. As I said, I wanted to ride the hills. Fortunately fate did not punish me for riding without a spare tube and CO2 cartridge. I made it back to Verona at 77 miles and cranked out 3 more to make it an even 80. Truth be told I would have loved to do the extra 20 to make it a century ride, but I decided I had tempted fate enough by riding the hard part of the course without any repair tools or support.

All in all a good day. I plan to make it back up to Madison again this summer and get a 100 miler in. Plus, Madison is a great town and I wouldn’t mind taking my time on the trip. I’ll probably make the local Pedaling for Kicks a big ride, so I have options.

Rev3 Dells relay next weekend. Check back for a race recap!

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Mostly Harmless

Last fall, myself, along with Kelly Ruiter and David Ford, who you may remember from my wildly popular Sufferlandria/Dante’s Inferno crossover blogs, sat at J. Gumbo, toying with an idea. The idea was to form a relay team and sweep the Rev3 relay circuit, beginning in Knoxville. Kelly would swim. David would bike. And I would run. Thus our training began.

David Ford, Kelly Ruiter, David Quinn, and Steve Barcus

Our travel group featured (from left to right) David Ford, Kelly Ruiter, David Quinn, and Steve Barcus

Before we knew it, winter had passed along with “spring” (I’m using that term loosely) and we made our way down to Knoxville. We picked up another racer for the 9-hour drive and made it to the race site. Our team name was “Mostly Harmless,” paying homage to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy novels. We signed in, check out the expo, enjoyed some local restaurants, watched a robot throw around a beach ball in the science village, and passed the time. Yet all the while our minds were on Sunday…Race Day!

Into the Drink

Kelly Ruiter

Kelly Ruiter waits for the swim start at Rev3 Knoxville.

Kelly was anxious about the swim. She didn’t have a lot of open water experience and 1.2 miles is a big distance. Fortunately the swim is wet suit legal, and is mostly downstream. I didn’t tell her before the race, but I was thrilled she was doing the swim. Because if she hadn’t, I probably would’ve had to, and last year the water was frigid. Am I implying that I am not tough enough to handle some freezing water? Yes. That’s exactly what I am saying.

Kelly fought off her nerves and suited up early. David and I walked her down to the dock for her wave’s 7:25 a.m. start. Luckily the water wasn’t as cold this year and she was able to get comfortable quickly. A few seconds later we lost her in the pod of pink caps bobbing up and down in the river. After a few minutes, the air horn sounded and her swim began.

Kelly Ruiter waits in the Tennessee River

We lost Kelly in the group of pink caps. I am pretty sure she is one of the people waving.

Dave and I walked back to transition so he could begin preparing his bike for his event. He tweaked his bike, mused over lenses of various tints and colors for his sunglasses, and set up his nutrition. I mostly stared at the clock and watched the river, playing the waiting game.

After around 39 minutes, we saw a streak with red hair running toward transition. After some quick cheers, Dave readied his bike and stuck out his foot for the timing chip. Kelly sprinted to where we were set up. I grabbed the chip off her ankle, wrapped it around Dave’s, and without a word he took of on his bike.

Kelly’s official time: 39:30  AWESOME!

If You’re Having Fun, You’re not Pedaling Hard Enough

By Dave’s own estimation, it would take him at least 2 hours and 45 minutes to ride the 56 mile bike course through the hilly Tennessee countryside. Kelly and I used the time to go back to the hotel, pack some of our things, get cleaned up, and have something to eat. I collected my nutrition and then we went to the expo area where we watched the first of the pros cross the finish line and make victory speeches. After that it was back to transition to begin the waiting game…again.

The area we were set up in is where all relay teams are stationed. This means that you can try to size up the competition (in triathlon you can’t really do this based on physical appearances) and also keep an eye out for when their team members begin and end. We had some good conversation with the runner for another relay team. While Kelly and I fully expected Dave to come back before her biker, we were wrong. Out of the blue her teammate showed up, exchanged the chip, and took off running. Dang.

This was actually kind of fun because then we knew there was at least one team in front of us. Believe it or not a little pressure and some friendly competition can make a race all the more enjoyable. From the second she started running, we started counting the minutes.

One.

Two.

Still not a big deal.

Three.

Four.

C’mon Dave.

Five…

She has a decent lead now.

Six.

Anticipation building.

Seven.

Eig–DAVE!

Dave came flying in on his bike and came to a halt in front of us. This time it was Kelly who ripped the chip off of Dave’s leg and then fixed it onto my ankle. My turn!

Dave’s official time: 2:50:34 An impressive time, especially considering that he was realistically projecting just under 3 hours for the 56 miles. Fantastic!

Selective memory

My run started at a fast pace due to a combination of excitement and knowing that there was a team I needed to catch. My pace fluctuated between 6 min/miles and 7:30 min/miles. I did not have to wait too long though. At mile 1.8 I passed the other runner.

Still, with 11.3 miles to go, there wasn’t time to assume it was over. I settled into an approximate 7:30 pace and continued running like the other teams were right on my heels.

I would like to say the rest of the run was smooth and uneventful. Unfortunately I learned that I suffer from very selective memory. One of the things I tell friends and family who don’t race is that while you deal with a lot of pain, exhaustion, and discomfort, you block it soon after finishing the race. You bask in the glory of your accomplishment and focus on the good moments. And there are good moments, even if those moments sometimes only revolve around being done! It seems I had blocked the Knoxville run course from my memory. I had remembered the course as mostly flat with one short, steep hill, and two kind of long, but gradual, hills.

Not even close.

This course was very hilly and had a lot of twists and turns. I am fairly confident that there are roller coasters based on the terrain of the run course. My memory returned to me after mile 3.1, when things start getting tough. Crud.

Nonetheless, it didn’t change my plan: Go out and run 13.1 miles as quickly as I could. So that’s what I did. I followed the twists and turns, reaching the summit of one hill after another, until finally I was at the home stretch. Together the team ran across the finish line. As soon as I crossed I immediately began reblocking out how strenuous and exhausting the Rev3 Knoxville running course is. Because that’s just what you do!

Steve’s official time: 1:40:19  Not as fast as my Lincoln Half Marathon time, but given that the Knoxville course is significantly more challenging than the  Springfield course, I’m grateful for how it went.

Podium

We did it! Mostly Harmless set out to take a podium spot at Rev3 Knoxville and did just that. For our accomplishment we each received Powerbars, Powergels, 1st place pint glasses, and interlocking award medals. Tired and victorious we set out on the 9-hour journey home.

Kelly Ruiter, Steven Barcus, and David Ford accept the first-place relay team awards at Rev3 Knoxville.

Mostly Harmless indeed!

Final relay time with transitions: 5:12:49… YESSSSSSSSSSSS!

In the end we were glad there was healthy competition for us at the race. It is great teams can motivate each other, and it always helps knowing that you either have to chase someone down or someone is chasing you down! Next up for the team is Rev3 Dells. Same people, but we might even change the name. Perhaps we’ll go as 42 or the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters. Stay tuned to find out!

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Back in action (with the bling to prove it)

Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon finisher medal

Traditionally the finisher medal for the race is a giant penny, but in honor of the 50th anniversary, they did something special. So AWESOME!

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.~Abraham Lincoln

Last you heard from me I had fought through the 9-day Tour of Sufferlandria workout and and was a little better and a little worse for it. So what have I been doing these past two months? A lot! I just figured I’d spare you all reading posts along the lines of blah blah blah indoor training blah blah blah winter sucks blah blah trainer rides blah treadmill…

So let’s get to the interesting stuff. On April 5 I made my way back to Springfield, Illinois, for my first race of the year–the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon! Originally I was going to sit this one out since I knew I was spending the week before at a conference in New Orleans that would not see me return until 10:30 p.m. the night before, but then I saw the hardware for it and had to have it.

So with only six hours of sleep; minimal training the week before; and a diet that consisted mostly of gumbo, jambalaya, and fried chicken, I made my way to the start line of a scenic but hilly course.

The race ends in sight of the historic capitol building and features spot on Abe and Mary Lincoln impersonators. (Photo courtesy runabe.srcc.net)

The race ends in sight of the historic capitol building and features spot on Abe and Mary Lincoln impersonators. Abe kicks the race off with one of my favorite quotes. (Photo courtesy runabe.srcc.net)

As you likely gleaned between the “blahs” at the beginning of this post, I have been working to get my running game back, and that work paid off. I managed to finish the race in 1:36:59–a new PR!

Some perspective: that time saw me finishing 96/1,946 overall and 15/111 in my age group.

I’ll take it! I am sure that if I get a little sleep, some proper meals, and find a flatter course that I might be able to shave another minute or two off that time in the next month or so.

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle…time for me to get hustling!

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Steven’s Inferno: Finale

CharonGet up! breathe with the soul, for it is brave in every battle, and will always win, unless the heavy body be its grave.~Inferno

Read Part 2

He triumphed.

The priest was treacherous. The generous offer of rest afforded to The Crowned One was but a strategy to make his pain all the more cutting and all the more deep. Nonetheless he continued on. Revolution by revolution, bead of sweat after bead of sweat.

Past the seventh and eighth.

The keepers of the seventh and eighth did too challenge The Crowned One. Angels,  The Hunted, Blender–they appeared as false gods. But he was not fooled. He cast from their thrones, but at a great price. His muscles ached, his mind grew foggy, his eyes became heavy, and the weight of the burden he had undertaken drew down on him as the world weighs down on Atlas.

They found him.

On the eighth day, in the eighth circle did the Beloved Friend and the Bright-Headed One find The Crowned One. Beloved Friend’s wisdom rang true and together they drove the Blender from their path. Their spirits combined moved time itself forward at a hurried pace, though nothing could be done to rid themselves of the anguish, misery, and fatigue they had borne upon themselves.

They arrived at the ninth.

Well met, Friend. More than a week of toil has brought us to where we stand. Our blood, sweat, and tears have stained the Earth, but none hath been able to halt our advance. Now at last in this ominous place, where the air chokes the lungs and the sky strangles even light from the sun, we will end this. I will summon the keeper of the ninth that we may cast aside our burdens. Pray tell me where is The Bright-Headed One? Now that we have joined as comrades I would not begin without her at our side.

He answered with remorse.

The Bright-Headed One has gone from our reach, Crowned One. Death has taken her from me. Yet grieve not for her. Surely she finds peace in the halls of Hades tending the great beasts Cerberus, Fenrir, and Nismo. A brave heart may enter Sufferlandria, but only a strong heart might journey to its depths.

He noticed.

I too hope that she may she find the respite guarding the heralds of Hell, Ragnarok, and Ratchet. But what of you? I stare at you now Friend and it is as if you are in this place and not in the same instance. What devilry has been worked upon you?

He was with him in spirit.

Fear not Crowned One. It is as you say that though I am here with you, I am also not. I stand beside you on the edge of the ninth circle of Sufferlandria, yet two different roads did we travel to arrive here. You the long unforgiving path, and I one that is no less forgiving, but shorter nonetheless. We have talked much now. The time has arrived to be done with this story.

His voice boomed.

I, the Crowned One summon you forth, keeper of the ninth. Come and lay your challenge at my feet. Before the sun sets this day you will bow to me, as has every other master of Sufferlandria.

The Ferryman came forth.

So a fool has come to the ninth circle of Sufferlandria? I am called the Violator, as is this place. I was your beginning and I will proclaim your end.

He readied himself.

You are not the ninth, Ferryman. You dwelt upon the edge of Sufferlandria. What is the meaning of this?

The Ferryman cackled.

You are blind, Crowned One. It was the deepest circles of Sufferlandria that called you forth. They and I are one in the same. Had you known me for that which I am when we first met, naught would have changed. Still we would have found ourselves in this place, on this day, with the whole of creation to bare witness. Now. COME AT ME!

He rode.

He rode hard.

He rode harder than he ever had before.

He bested the ninth!

Impossible! Sixty-four times I have come at you, and sixty-four times you have bested me. All that I am I used to break you. But only now do I see you cannot be broken.

The Crowned One stood in the very center of Sufferlandria.

I stand here in a place of honor, Ferryman. A high price have I paid for this moment. Yet having come to this place I am humbled. It is as you said. No reward awaits me. Pain was all I found. Yet I will leave here humbled and glad for the memories, however dark and distorted they might be.

The nine masters appeared before him. The Ferryman spoke.

You will leave here with no reward, but you will not go away with nothing. Leave this place and carry with you our respect–the respect of Sufferlandria!

The nine bowed low to The Crowned One. He did not gloat. He did not revel in the moment. For in having won the respect of the nine, they too had won his. He offered a low bow, then mounted the Talon of the Kestrel, and continued his journey in search of challenges, both wonderful and terrible.

END

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Steven’s Inferno: Part 2

the fifth circle

Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope—Ye Who Enter Here.~Inferno

(View part 1)


Circle 3 concluded

The Crowned One faced the child.

You are truly of hell, Revolver. That one so small should cause so much pain–it cuts to the core of my soul, yet you leave no scar. Fifteen times you have come at me, and fifteen times I have repelled you. You are bested.

The child wept.

You stand short of breath and robbed of strength, while I lay here broken. Do not leave me vanquished. I beg mercy.

He remained unmoved.

Do not weep as a child. You are the Revolver. My journey to the final circle of Sufferlandria  continues. I have received no mercy from you and your brethren thus far. None shall you receive from me.

The child was elated.

Then you have learned much in the first three circles, Crowned One. I have tested you and you have passed. Continue forth. The next circle awaits, though mercy does not.

Circle 4

She greeted him coldly.

Welcome Crowned One. You have made it to the fourth circle. I will be the one to test you, though you will surely find that Hell Hath No Fury

A voice rang out.

Halt!

They approached the Crowned One.

At last we have found you, Crowned One. I am Beloved Friend and this is my companion, Bright-Headed One. We too seek the ninth circle of Sufferlandria. Might we ride together as comrades in arms?

He responded.

Nay riders. Be gone with you. I have come this far of my own strength. I have no need for companions. I seek the center alone.

Beloved Friend contested.

There is no weakness in sharing the challenge with others. We too have come here of our own strength and have received our own shares of pain and misery. The suffering will not be lessened, nor can we lend one another strength. But it is the spirit we can sustain as one, and that cannot be done in solitude.

He relented.

You speak wisdom, Friend. I shall share my spirit with you, but not today. For now I continue on alone. But should you do what the keepers say is impossible and journey to the eighth circle, I will be there and will finish my quest alongside you and the Bright-Headed One.

They acquiesced.

Very well, Crowned One. Myself and Beloved Friend respect your answer and will await you in the eighth. However go forward with caution, especially when facing she, the keeper of the fourth. For I too can promise that Hell Hath No Fury–

The challenge began.

Enough of this! I, the keeper of the fourth circle, will not be ignored. Be there one or one hundred of you, I will not stand down. Come at me if you dare. Surviving will not be enough this time. Here you must overtake me.

The race began.

Circle 5 

Her fury was not enough.  The Crowned One made short work of her, though the brutal journey was beginning to take its toll. His body had become weary, his energy waned, and the worse was yet to come.

He did not waver.

I have come to this fifth circle and seek to challenge the keeper. Come forth if you think yourself almighty or remain in your shadows and allow me to pass unabated.

They came forward.

Did you hear that younger brother? That sounded like a command. It did older brother, indeed it did. Impolite. Yes younger brother. Though I would say insolent.

He questioned them.

I see only one in my presence, but hear the voices of two. Name yourself. I came to endure pain, not nonsense.

They took offense.

There he goes again older brother. He dares to command us?! So it would seem, younger brother. We will teach him manners.

The deformed twins revealed themselves.

I, the younger, am known as the Extra Shot, as is this place. I am the beginning. And I, the elder, am the Wretched, as is this place. I am the end. Alone we are weak, but together, we are strong. And we are always together.

He faced them.

Together you are ugly. And you are always together. Two against one?! Even your tactics are ugly, but no matter. You will fall just as the other four did.

Circle 6

The ride against the Extra Shot and the Wretched was indeed ugly. Though their strategy was underhanded, it was effective. Before the end of the ride the Crowned One’s limbs seared with indescribable anguish. Pride kept him moving forward. Patience kept his sanity. But Courage won the day. In time even the devious twins took a knee and he pressed forward, more than halfway through Sufferlandria.

A priest appeared.

Welcome weary traveler who has come so far. I give you my admiration at making it to this place. Would you not join me in a brief respite? Surely even you, though strong, could benefit from a small constitutional.

He declined.

Good priest I cannot rest. A demon dwells in this sixth circle and I will find no rest until it is purified. Pray thee tell me have you seen the keeper of this circle of Sufferlandria?

The priest extended his hand.

You speak to him now, sir. I do not lie, for I am honor bound to challenge you. This is A Very Dark Place. Sleep now. And when you awaken I will be glad to accept your challenge.

His suspicions were raised.

What game is this, priest? There is no respite in Sufferlandria, only pain, nor could I stop lest I bring shame upon myself to last the ages.

The priest smiled.

Well said. But I keep to my words, both as a priest and as the keeper of the sixth. There will be pain, but also you shall have rest. For every four minutes of pain, you shall have three minutes to gather yourself before I come at you again. Am I not generous?

It began.

Your words would sound generous but not for the warning in my heart. Do as you will, but I know that the currency of Sufferlandrians is treachery, not generosity. I know not what game you play, but I will not yield.

Is the priest A Very Dark Place as treacherous as the other keepers of Sufferlandria? Will The Crowned One reunite with Beloved Friend and The Bright-Headed One? And will his journal to the final circle end in triumph or tragedy? Find out in part three of Steven’s Inferno.

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