Lotian, City of Light
Irah and the others fade away, the rainbow colored waves a goodbye at Dix while she disappears. The scenery transforms, tall wooden walls rise five meters up, a wooden floor forms under their feet and two long feast tables appear, dividing the hall in three. Lastly, a small stone kitchen with a humongous oven forms from thin air at the opposite end from where the three are standing.
A woman with three heads appears inside the stone kitchen, long hair moving wildly as if wind was blowing in many different directions at the same time and black as a piece of the night itself, with a wave of her hand, the wounds on Franklin’s body disappear and his clothes return to their previous state.
“Welcome to my kitchen, i hope you kids are hungry.” The woman says.
None of the three reply, choosing instead to wait in silence as the trial proceeds, the woman waves her hands, two wood golems form from the ground. One with a woman's body and wearing a maid outfit, the other with a male body and wearing a butler outfit, none with any facial features.
The two golems walk to the sides of two seats, one at each table, opposite to one another, with a gesture, the two heads separate from the woman, forming two more bodies identical to the first one, hair settling down. The two, each grab an apron from under the kitchen’s counter.
“Now, let me explain the trial,” the woman puts her hand on the counter and leans forward, “two of you will eat, the other will just watch. I’ll be the one preparing the food for you, the one that eats the least loses. Do you all understand it?”
The three nod in unison.
“Good, now choose who will be participating.”
They look at each other, Dix is the first one to say something.
“Honestly, i’m starving right now, so i'll be participating.” She sits by the golem maid’s side.
“This is weird.” Orim says to Franklin while looking around the massive hall.
“What? This place?” Franklin inquired, “It’s just a dining hall, created from nothing granted, but just a dining hall.”
“Not that,” Orim says, annoyed, “i failed my trial, most of it, yet here i am. Mine was linked to yours, and i assume that Dix’s was also.”
“Maybe mine was the only one that counted?”
“It is a possibility.”
“Which of you two boys is going to participate in my trial?” The woman at the counter asks them.
They exchange looks.
“You go, maybe this time you can complete your trial.” Franklin says, a mocking smirk on his face.
Orim frowns at him, but offers no further conversation, instead he sits himself on the butler golem’s side.
“Alright, let’s get started,” the woman says, the other two start a fire in the oven behind and begin to shop vegetables and meat into small pieces, “for this contest, each of you will be eating the same food, when one of you is unable to finish a plate, the other one will be declared the winner.”
“Then what?” Orim raises his hand while questioning, “what happens to the loser?”
“The loser will die.” The woman replies with a calm and casual voice.
Franklin threatens to advance on the woman, but more golems manifest from the ground, grabbing him from behind, siting him in a chair and holding him there while covering his mouth.
Dix's eyes wide and for a moment she almost crosses stares with Orim, but she moves her head before that can happen. This is bad, i didn’t expect one of us to die in these trials, maybe Franklin, but not us, but there might be a way to progress, Orim’s mind races towards a conclusion, before the trial begins for real. A plate slides across each table and stops right in front of them, a large piece of meat, almost as large as the plate itself, cooked to perfection with a portion of fat that melts and shines golden on their eyes sits in front of them.
The butler and the maid hand each a fork and knife, Orim begins to eat, i don’t need to rush this, she didn’t give us any time limit, maybe--, he sticks the fork, which pierces the meat without any resistance, a buttery aroma rises up from the smoky mist released when Orim cuts it with the knife, the scent alone is almost enough for him to see the whole history of this single piece of meat, maybe i can work up a plan during the next plate.
Each piece soft as a cloud, melting away inside his mouth, the juices from the melted fat mixed with the strong taste of the meat, what is this? Doesn’t seem to have been seasoned, but also doesn’t taste like any other thing i have ever eaten, Orim thinks while chewing, lost in the rich flavor.
Soon the dream ends, the fork and knife trust downward, but only hit a hard plate when they arrive, Orim then realizes that he had his eyes closed the whole time. As he slowly opens them, he looks across the hall to the other table, three plates now piled up by Dix’s side, while she devours the contents of a fourth one, one of the woman cooking madly trying to keep up with the girl, the one responsible for Orim resting on her elbow with a bored look in her eyes directed toward him, shit, i lost myself for a moment, he thinks while the second plate slides in his direction while the butler puts the first one to the side.
A simple bowl of vegetables displays itself for him, he can see green on green on green, arranged in a way that looks like he is staring down at a forest from the ceiling, did it have to be salad? Orim complains in his mind. Upon taking the first bite, he tastes what he can only guess is the flavor of nature itself, all the tranquility of a gentle warm breeze moving between the trees hits him like a thunderbolt and then he loses himself in that orderly chaos.
Damn it, i did it again, is the first thing that comes to Orim’s mind once he finishes the bowl of vegetables and the haze in his mind clears. Dix is already on the fifth plate when his third one comes, i must resist the flavor, he thinks as he sees the plate with something that looks like a cake, but with no topping over it.
Although delicious, in it’s surprise flavors inside, that showed themselves as Orim took each bite, the cake actually did a very good job of filling his stomach. Looking up, he sees Dix already halfway through the sixth meal, how can she eat so much? He says it in his mind.
The fourth plate slides in, a vivid red soup so spicy that almost made Orim’s soul run away from his body, his whole body went red and he began to sweat profusely, tears streaming from his eyes and down to the table, i can’t, i… can’t, i…, he looks up once again at Dix, still on the same meal, her rhythm seeming to have slowed down, i don’t want to die, he steels his resolve and keeps eating.
Orim pushes the food inside, new found determination giving strength to his teeth, opening space in his stomach and endurance to his jaw muscles. Dix barely makes his way to the seventh plate, the steel mage chews his way to her, the fifth barely representing a challenge, throat and tongue numbed to the taste and texture of the food thanks to the spice helps him not get dragged into the flavor’s haze, he reaches the sixth plate.
Before she finishes, Dix puts her knife and fork down on the table and pushes the seventh plate away. Orim looks up at her then back down to the meal, this is my chance, i have to catch up, barely chewing the food, he swallows large pieces with haste to profit on momentum rather than hunger.
He begins the seventh, eating without even noticing what he is actually tasting, if he should chew or it has little importance now. Then, it comes, that’s it, the realization.
Orim stops eating, puts the knife and fork down and pushes the plate away from him.
“I can’t eat anymore.” He says.
Looking toward the woman with night hair, Orim notices a look of utter disbelief.
“You can still keep going, why did you stop?” She asks him.
“Because i can’t eat anymore.”
“You clearly can keep eating!!!”
The room gets darker, shadows grow longer and the three remember the creature they faced a few days ago, Orim motions to his plate, but manages to resist the urge to resume eating.
“I… i told you… i can’t keep eating.” He says.
“I told you that you can.” She says, words stabbing him like sharp icicles.
“I already gave up, the contest is finished.”
The woman’s glare alternates between Dix and Orim, and she remains silent for a long moment, the tension begins to rise up in the room as the light dims more and more with every passing moment, even Franklin becomes motionless.
“Very well,” The woman finally says, “wait here while i call Raziah for the final trial.”
The golems and the three women disappear, light comes back to the hall, their legs lose strength and they slump down in the chairs.
“Are both of you all alright?” Franklin asks.
“I’m about to barf.” Orim replies, putting his hand on his mouth.
“Sorry Orim,” Dix says, “i didn’t even notice that loophole, i just lost myself in the food.”
“You must have been really hungry.” Franklin says, looking around absentmindedly.
Dix simply nods without diverting her eyes from the ground.
“Is there any leftovers? I’m actually quite hungry myself.” Franklin continues while standing up and approaching the tables.
“FINALLY, THE TIME HAS ARRIVED!!!” A thundering voice comes from their surroundings, piercing through the barriers of their minds, “AS THE GRAINS OF SAND FALL ON THE GLASS, MARKING THE PASSAGE OF EACH TAK, OUR FATED ENCOUNTER DRAWS NEAR. EVERY SINGLE DECISION IN YOUR LIVES LEAD YOU ALL TO THIS SINGLE POINT IN TIME!!!”
The space on the hall shatters in a trillion tiny shards of reality, and slowly begin to reassemble themselves in a different order, guided by the hand of something much grander than the three. Dix stands atop of a tower with ten thousand steps leading up to it, six blazing stars overflowing with radiance and power surrounding her.
“AND NOW!!!” A colossal figure wearing a long robe made of black flame appears in front of Dix, towering over her, “ONLY TWO OF YOU MAY LEAVE!!!”
The humanoid figure opens both arms wide to each side, and in each of it’s hands manifests a cage, inside the one on the left is Orim, in the right there’s Franklin, floating spears surround them both, impeding their movements.
“WHO OF THESE TWO SHALL WALK AWAY BY YOUR SIDE CARRYING OUR BLESSING? AND WHO SHALL SUFFER AN EXCRUCIATING DEATH WHILE CURSING YOUR NAME? THAT IS YOUR TRIAL!!!”
Dix stands still, while the shadowy figure stares her down, Orim and Franklin look at each other, almost being able to read the other’s thoughts.
“I, how can you, how can i, i don’t.”
“BE QUICK GIRL, TIME MOVES WITH EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE, YOU ARE WASTING IT!!!” Despite the figure in front of her, the voice actually echoes inside Dix’s mind.
“Give me some time to thin--”
“NO!!!” A powerful scream silences her, although it felt just as powerful as the voices from when they arrived in this place, it didn’t bear the same pain when it was heard, “YOU WILL CHOOSE NOW, I DON’T WANT JUSTIFICATIONS OR PLEAS, FOR MERCY IS NOT IN THE DOMAIN OF MY GODHOOD!!!”
“It’s just that i...” the words stumble out of Dix’s mouth, losing all meaning once they reach the air.
“VERY WELL, IF YOU REFUSE TO DO THIS WILLINGLY, I SHALL FORCE YOUR HAND ON THIS MATTER. YOU HAVE THIRTY TAKS TO MAKE YOUR FINAL DECISION, IF YOU STILL INSIST ON NOT CLEARING YOUR TRIAL, YOU WILL WALK OUT OF THIS PLACE ALONE!!!”
Dix’s expression goes pale and she freezes, her eyes alternating between Orim and Franklin at a rapid rate, too fast to be forming any cohesive thoughts.
The voice brings her back to the reality of the moment, Dix opens her mouth, but words don’t come to her. Instead she falls on her knees, crying and sobbing, hiding her face in her hands.
“WAIT!!! YOU DON’T NEED TO CRY!!!” The thundering voice booms across the world in an apologetic tone.
“LOOK AT WHAT YOU DONE NOW Raziah!!!” A second voice interjects, similar to the one of the rainbow haired woman that oversaw Dix’s trial.
“I’M SORRY, IT WASN’T MY INTENTION, I JUST WANTED TO DO A DRAMATIC CONCLUSION!!!”
“VERY DRAMATIC, SO DRAMATIC IN FACT THERE'S EVEN PEOPLE CRYING OVER IT” The third voice sounded like Irah.
Dix stopped crying, raising her face to look at the scene unfolding in front of her, that despite all the arguing that devolved into a incomprehensible mass of words, what she saw remained largely unchanged, the only exception being the disappearance of the spears threatening Orim and Franklin.
“FINE!!!” Raziah’s voice booms, silencing the others, “I’M SORRY CHILD, I FRIGHTENED YOU OVER NOTHING.”
“So, this was all a big game then?” Franklin says, sitting in one of the chairs of the dinning hall from one of the earlier trials, a group of seven individuals also sitting opposite to him.
“Well… yes,” Raziah says, “you see, it gets quite lonely living with only us seven here, no one ever comes to visit, and our obligations forbid us from leaving.”
“And what about this trial of light?” Orim asks.
“Just something we invented so people would come visit us.” Irah explains.
“They said that no one ever comes back from the trial. We’ve been told that we should do it in order to talk to the old gods or something and appeal our case.” Franklin says.
“It’s been a while since anyone has come, so i don’t doubt that some stories like that have begun to spread around. But i don’t understand the connection to this thing about appealing your case.” Raziah says
“We committed a crime that we were unaware of, they found us half guilty.” Franklin explains.
“And what crime was that?” The rainbow haired woman asks.
“I can’t discuss it.”
Looks of realization spread around the men and women on the table opposite to the trio.
“Anyway,” the man in tuxedo said, clearing his throat, “the trial of light was never supposed to be used as a punishment, it was created so mortals and small gods could request boons from us. And i never heard of first time wanderers being punished for… you know.”
“So it was a set up to get us killed?” Orim concludes.
“Most likely.” Irah nods.
“And what about this boon?” Dix asks.
“I’ll grant you crossing rights for Rel Jorgun.” Raziah clarifies.
“Meaning?” Orim questions.
“Inside Rel Jorgun, space has little meaning, only maintaining itself consistent over short distances, so as long as you know where you want to go or who you want to find, the only thing you need to do is walk in between the trees and you will arrive at your destination. But you need the right privileges to do so.”
“Can we go in and out of Lotian with them?” Orim further investigates.
“I suppose you mean the lower adjacent realm. Yes, you can get out of every place our realms interject.”
“Last question,” Orim raises his hand while saying it, “will we lose the rights if we cross between these adjacent realms?”
Raziah shakes his head in denial, “no, these rights remain until we or a higher authority take them away from you.”
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