Lotian, City of Light
Dix runs towards the edge of the stone platform, ready to jump inside the maze, the long hallway that stands in front of her disappears and in it’s place comes a wall. She stops herself at the edge then jumps back to safety, but not before taking a quick glimpse at the water ground hundreds of meters below.
“That won’t do,” The woman with rainbow colored hair says while sitting atop the part of the shifting maze that is closest to the platform, “that’s the third time you tried to get inside.”
Dix gets up, walks back to give herself a running distance, once again she sprints to the maze, the wall disappears along with the woman, only empty air remaining on the space where a part should be. Dix stops, feet sliding on the ground, but she manages to stop herself from falling.
“Why did you slow down?” The woman asks when the sidewall of a room appears and she is sitting on top of it.
“I didn’t want to fall to my death.” Dix replies.
“But you slowed down before the shift even happened, it was almost like you were expecting to fall.” The woman says, after another shift happens and she is still sitting on top of the next piece.
“You made them so that they can sense my approach.” Dix says, the woman twitches her head and the pieces change. The woman is still atop the next one.
“What do you mean?”
“They shift fas--” Dix stops herself when the piece disappears along with the woman.
“Sorry, what was it that you were saying?” The woman asks upon reappearing.
“They shift faster when i come closer.” Dix says, bitterness and frustration in her voice.
The woman crosses her arms, seeming to be in deep thought, then opening a wide grin, “haven’t thought about doing it like that, maybe next time.”
Dix readies herself once again, runs fast towards the maze, but stops herself when the piece changes to a platform but slightly higher than the others. Overlooking the entire structure, she notices that the heights where the pieces stand are not regular as she was assuming they were, some of them stood really low others really high, dozens of meters separated the highest from the lowest. And the maze was absolutely gigantic, hundreds of pieces constantly shifting with each other só fast that she couldn’t even perceive what was happening. Only the golden light of the bell was a constant.
“It’s impossible, i can’t do it...”
“Are you sure?” The woman appears besides Dix and motions her head to the air mirror that shows Franklin dodging the attacks of the skeletal beast, “he looks like he really needs the help.”
“Why not give it another go?” The woman says, a small flustered tone slipping into her voice.
“I… i can’t do it, i’ll just kill myself trying.” Dix says, looking at her own feet with a defeated expression on her face.
“I’ll give him a sword if you do it, a really powerful one. That beast will stand no chance against him.” The woman flexes her arm to demonstrate strength.
Dix stops, and takes a long glance at the maze, examining it, searching for a pattern.
“One more time, with all you got.”
Dix looks at the air mirror with Franklin dodging the attacks, searching, not in the image, but in herself. She nods and runs once again, without slowing down this time and jumps from the platform’s edge.
“Shouldn’t you give me any clues?”
“Why?” Irah asks, an amused grin on his face.
“I mean, one in three chances it’s not bad, but shouldn’t this be a trial?”
“It is, i’m testing your luck.”
Orim releases an annoyed grunt, “Fine.”
He stood still, eyeing the three doors in front with a thoughtful expression.
“Better hurry up!” Irah says in a playful tone.
Orim rolled his eyes and gave no reply, if you’re not going to give me any clues, at least i’ll make you wait, he thought bitterly. For a long while Orim stood there, observing carefully the featureless doors, Irah cleared his throat.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” He pointed toward the air mirror that showed Franklin fighting a defensive battle.
Orim grunted once again, i suppose i owe him a small debt. He approached the third door from left to right and pushed it. The door opened as easily as the wind dodges a still rock and Orim went through, coming out on the other side in the same spot he was before, Irah waiting for him.
“Wrong!” The man in stone armor said.
“You are, i said it.”
raising an arm to the side, Irah manifested the mirror once again.
Franklin rolled on the ground, the large bone hand slammed hard where he was previously, cracking the stone. The floor regenerates as soon as the hand is removed and a fast swipe from the creature’s other hand forces Franklin to block the attack, which sends him flying only to come to an abrupt stop and fall face first in the sand.
His legs begin to get swallowed by the sand, but before he has the chance to worry about it, the red beast lunges at him. Franklin jumps forward under it and back to the platform.
“You won’t clear this trial by dodging,” says the man in a tuxedo while sitting in a chair that floats upside down, his top hat mysteriously in place, “i shall warn you, that beast will never tire.”
“Thanks for the warning.” Franklin replies, sparing a quick glance at the man before turning his attention back toward the beast thrashing around in the soft sand.
“Oops, seems like one of your companions earned you a punishment.”
“A what?” He asks, confused, looking back once again.
Franklin looks just in time for him to see a second beast appear, this time green in color.
What was half a moment earlier a piece of a room, changed in an instant to a lone fragment of a wall, but that was exactly what Dix was expecting, she stretched out her arms and held firmly with her hands on the top of the wall.
“Good job,” the rainbow colored woman said, clapping as she did so, “now let’s keep going shall we?”
Perspective changed abruptly, now Dix was in another corner of the maze, multiple pieces all around her, she studied them, looking for an optimal path towards her goal, the light of it still shining on her. Another shift, this time a simple platform stands in front of her, without hesitation she jumps, landing with a roll.
In the corner of her eyes she can see the air mirror, another monster joining the fight against Franklin is shown to her. Another shift, she is surrounded by walls
“How am i supposed to progress once i’m inside?” Dix asks the woman standing in one of the walls, looking in the bell’s direction.
“That’s for you to figure out,” comes the answer, “though if you wanna give up, just say it out loud.”
A shift happens again, one of the walls changes to a short flight of stairs, the rainbow colored hair woman standing at the top of it, Dix dashes towards it and jumps. Another shift happens, she goes through a window and lands inside a bedroom, the woman is lying on the bed.
“You’re getting better at this.” The woman says.
Dix spares no time to reply and readily begins to move again.
“How am i supposed to know if i chose the right door?” Orim asks Irah.
“I’ll tell you.”
Orim watches Irah carefully, looking for any hints of a smile, a sign that he was tricking him, making fun of him. Irah clears his throat.
“Now, let’s proceed.”
Ten doors appear in front of both of them, Orim mouth gapes as they do so, his face turns toward the man in stone armor, who gives him a wide and childlike grin.
“Are you serious?” Orim said in disbelief.
Orim looked carefully at all the doors, searching every single piece of it, front, back, up and down, even trying to climb on top of one. But no, they were not different, not even an accidental imperfection.
“Only one of those doors is the right one? Or can there be more than one right answer?” Orim turns around and asks.
“There can be more than one.”
Let me see, Orim thinks, holding his chin in a pose of careful consideration, the first door that i opened didn’t earn me any punishment or boon, so i guess that one didn’t count. The previous one earned me a punishment, it was three doors and i chose the third or the first, depending on how you count it. Maybe it has to do with the number of doors, maybe if it is an odd number i have to choose an even numbered door. Alright, i have ten doors in front of me, só i should choose an odd numbered one, let’s test it.
Orim pushes the first door from left to right.
Franklin blocks the downward slam of the bone hand of the green beast, the ground gives away under his feet and his legs sink almost to his knees. The red beast hits him on the side, sending him skipping on the ground until the chain prevents him from going further, he tastes metal in his mouth and the warmth of blood, the grains of sand rubbing against his clothes and skin bring him back from the doors of unconsciousness. He gets up quickly, the beasts choosing to stay in the platform instead of chasing him down, are they holding their ground?
“Better get on the platform quickly.” The man in tuxedo says, floating in a chair above Franklin.
The ground starts to shake and the sand begins to rise, forming a small mount under Franklin, he immediately rushes back to the stone platform. A gigantic four sectioned mouth, enough to swallow Franklin whole, comes out of the sand, the large snake like body surrounded in armor like rings follows after and the beast sinks once again in the sand
“Seems like you are receiving another punishment,” The man in tuxedo says, floating above the red and green monsters, “i’ll not count that one towards your trial, just defeat these two.”
“At least let me use my hands properly.”
“That will depend on your companion’s performance in his trial.”
The beasts once again rush towards Franklin and he puts himself in a defensive stance.
Dix stops right before she reaches the door, a vision of herself falling down slips into attention, the flat platform presented in front of her changes into a tall wall. Subsequently, the bedroom she is in trade places with another piece, the golden bell stands above Dix.
“You know that this is no time to hesitate right?” The rainbow haired woman says, looking up toward the goal.
“One of the visions distracted me.” Dix says, frustration seeping into her voice.
The woman offers no reproach nor advice, the mirror sitting in the corner of the room shows Franklin narrowly avoiding being eaten by a gigantic monster that comes out of the sand.
The surroundings shift.
“Concerned for him?” The woman asks, when Dix nods she continues, “Do you have feelings for him?” She says in a teasing manner.
An enormous heart shaped piece of stone appears behind Dix.
“WHAT!?” Dix makes a motion of turning her head towards the woman, then turns around to look in the opposite direction, “NO!”
“Then why are you flustered?”
Dix sighs, calming herself.
“Because you are assuming things about me. It’s just that... he fought on my behalf more than once, i owe him for that.”
“If you say so.” The rainbow haired woman waves her hand in a dismissive gesture, the heart shaped stone switches places with a set of stairs.
“Thank you.” Dix says without looking at the woman.
Dix runs once again begins to run.
Orim glares at Irah, arms crossed and feet taping on the water ground, a thousand doors standing in front of him.
“What?” Irah asks.
Orim refuses to talk.
“You’ll just stand there? Your friend is in danger, you know?”
“He is not my friend, i just got dragged into his troubles.”
“Did you, huh?”
“How am i supposed to make a choice? There’s what, two thousand doors? it’s impossible.”
“One thousand actually.” Irah corrects him with a smile.
“The odds are too slim to find the correct one, there has to be a logical solution.”
“Or maybe you are overthinking things, sometimes you just gotta go forward you know.”
Orim grunts and opens the middle door, they all disappear and Irah says.
“Another punishment incoming.” The man in tuxedo says to a bloody Franklin.
A third beast, blue in color joins the fight.
Her feet step carefully on the steps of the stair, her legs move fast on her way up, Dix leaps on to the next piece, a wall, which changes to a flat platform, she quickly readjust her approach, rolling on the ground to break the impact of the fall.
Paying no mind to the countless shifts in her surroundings, only the goal matters, Dix readjusts her path when the piece she is on switches places. The visions try to slip into her mind, but Dix pays them no mind, leaving those possibilities behind along with the pieces she jumps off of.
Her progress becomes visible, not only the light, but now the shape of the bell can be seen from where Dix stands. The shifts get faster, the pieces begin to change in average shape, getting trickier to deal with.
Dix jumps, standing on a single floating door frame, and jumps again when she feels the visions begin to catch up to her. A sharp turn puts her back in the right path, Dix’s vision is a blur, the wind drying away the sweat on her face, body reacting almost on it’s own with the movements she practiced her whole life. The mirror and the woman, always in the corner of her eye, watching and reminding her of why she is running.
She leaps over an obstacle in one of the platforms, worries of what’s next left in a corner of her mind, was this always so easy? She climbs a tall wall, jumps to and balances herself on top of a low wall with no ground to stand on, crossing a hallway that goes up then jumping to and sliding in one that goes down. While she is running through one set of broken stairs, she feels the shift happen just as she is about to jump, she steps carefully in a single piece of rock floating in the air, only half as large as her foot. Without stopping, she jumps again, holding on to a piece of roof that shifts into place, she pulls herself up and once again resumes her run.
Irah claps his hands and a million doors appear in the next instant, Orim, overwhelmed by the sight, takes a step back.
“This is the final section of the trial.”
The steel mage grits his teeth.
“You know what? If you are not going to give me any clues about it, i might as well choose anything.”
He steps up to the first door he puts his eyes on and pushes it. Once again, all of them disappear.
“Correct!” Irah says…
Without any wasted movements, Dix makes her way, dodging the now present obstacles, correcting the deviations on her way that happen from time to time. Time, such a thing is barely in her mind anymore, she just runs, ever forward toward her objective, no time to focus on minor inconveniences like time, visions, Franklin or falling to her death.
Individual steps of a stair make up a good portion of each individual piece of the maze, the golden light almost at reach, she steps in a small flat platform that shifts while she is on top of it. Feeling the light on her back, she turns around to correct her path, a sequence of steps ahead, right now she is close enough to to see the complex patterns engraved in the bell. Dix jumps from the platform to a solitary wall in front of her.
Her legs fail her and she is unable to put the necessary strength to reach the top safely, instead holding on to it with her arms. Slowly Dix begins to feel the exhaustion seep into her being, the long time running at full throttle, jumping with all her might, sharp turns and steep climbs, all the while with the press of death at her back.
Her arms begin to fail her, trembling with the effort of supporting her whole body, she tries to put her legs over the top of the wall, but she has already spent everything, the visions begin to catch up to her, showing her images of falling to her death. In her stomach she can feel the hunger of not having eaten anything since she woke up.
Desperation sneaks into her thoughts, the platforms that used to be so predictable a moment ago now shift madly making it impossible to follow their movements or understand the pattern. Dix’s arms get numb by the effort, she begins to slip down, to her side, the mirror shows Franklin fighting a defensive battle against the three beasts. She blinks away tears.
“I… I give up.”
“What is it now?” Franklin asks the man in tuxedo, “you’ll put five more of those for me to fight?” He dodges under one of the attacks, then jumps over when one of the monsters tries to bite him.
“Your friend won you a reward.”
“The other one.”
“He is not my friend.” Franklin remarks.
The chains binding his hands together shatter in an explosion of light, at the same time, the green beast grabs the chain in the middle and pulls him with all it’s might. Franklin rolls on the ground dodging the hand slam and quickly getting up to punch the beast square in the face.
The sound of the punch thunders and echoes across the sand and the creature gets sent flying across the sand, raising a cloud when it finally hits the ground. Franklin's hand throbs with pain, as if he just punched a mountain, before the green monster has any chance of getting back on the platform, the sand serpent swallows it whole, i can use that.
The blue beast jumps high in the air on top of Franklin, who dodges just in time, grabbing the creature by the arm and spinning it, forcing the red one to back away. Franklin executes an over the shoulder throw.
The monster hits the ground hard, creating a sand cloud, barely ten taks pass and the creature gets swallowed while it still tries to get itself back on it’s feet. Franklin roars to the red beast that now seems to be not as ferocious anymore, and runs up to it, dodging under a right arm swipe, for a third time he tries to grab the arm, but this time the creature was ready for it, jumping away then lunging forward with it’s left arm in a thrusting motion. Franklin grabs the chain binding his waist and jumps over the attack and wraps the chain over the monster’s neck.
His opponent thrashes on the ground trying to shake Franklin off, but holds tight to the chains, pulling them along with the beast’s head. Cracking sounds manifest themselves, if the chains are as unbreakable as i think they are, this must be coming from your neck, he thinks, a satisfied smile on his face.
The red monster screeches, and rolls on the ground, desperately trying to make Franklin release his grip on the chains, but he gives the creature no quarter. Franklin Pulls the chains with all his might, gritting his teeth at the struggle against his enemy, the screech changes to a cry of desperation. Then the chain explodes along with a loud sound of bone snapping.
The surroundings of Franklin, Orim and Dix change, and then they are side by side with one another, the rainbow haired woman, the man in tuxedo and the man in stone armor stand in front of him.
“Congratulations on completing the trial.” The man in tuxedo says, ”on to the next one.”
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