Chapter 17:

Chapter 18: Hearts on Ice

Gathering


Luna heard the priest say “go” and then the door to her cube opened.


She ran out like a lightning bolt. First up was the snowfield and maze. It was about 25 meters in front of her. Approximately 15 seconds in, she was already running through snow that was about ankle deep. Then it became knee deep, and it was apparent that she needed to scale this snowy bluff in order to get up to the maze proper. Her speed was dropping. She stepped up to another point and lost her footing. Sliding down, she fell back about one meter.


Watching those around her doing the same thing, Luna put two and two together and fell back. Finding those who seemed to be making the most progress, she walked in their paths as they forged a walkway for her. Seeing that her plan was working, she hopped between two competitors that were neck and neck racing for the top. When the two people in front of her were near the top, she pulled their legs down and watched them slide down the mountain. With a smirk, she pulled herself up to the top. Without a second glance backwards, ran into the maze.


The walls of the maze were quite high. The snow and wind blasted into her face. The armor was cool, but still kept Luna warm enough to press onward. Not wanting to lose the first place position that was hers, she moved forward into the maze proper. A slowly descending path combined with wind and snow bit at her eyes was making it difficult to see what was happening.


Almost immediately, she was presented with two choices; right or left. She chose right. No logic was involved in this decision making, but it was worth a shot. Moving forward at a quick pace, she came upon another set of choices. This time, she chose left. Keeping a hand against the wall, she moved forward. It seemed sensible to keep a hand on the wall. It let her know when a wall ended and if she ever needed to backtrack, she just simply had to turn around. It also was an excellent reminder of her path because other senses were being battered by wind and snow. Moving through a few more twists and turns, she took yet another right and kept moving forward.


She felt a vibration in the wall jumped back immediately. An instant later a horn blew in the distance. The wind and the snow stopped immediately. The walls started to levitate up in front of her and she saw that another boy was running near her. He could not have been more than five meters away. She looked up trying to figure out where the walls were doing to be when she noticed a blur next to her. A girl had now shot out ahead of her instead of waiting to see what was going to happen with the walls. Luna watched this girl blindly running forward. Suddenly the walls stopped moving. They came crashing down. The girl tried to stop, but they were running on ice. Her momentum continued to make her slide forward. Screaming, her motion carried her to where a wall was crashing down, and in an instant she was gone in a bright flash of light.


Luna cooly noted what happened. She watched the wall slide into place in front of her and suddenly the wind and snow picked up again immediately. Luna realized that she had not seen where the exit was! She had been so focused on the walls that she had forgotten to look for the exit. She also realized that she had forgotten to see where the other racers are! She was so mad right now. Staring at the path in front of her, she chose right. Turning around a corner, she found a straight hallway and broke into a light jog. The wind was harsh and the snow was relentless, but it was better than walking. She refused to lose this round.


Running down the path for a bit, she reached another fork and decided to go left. Dead end. Gearing back towards the intersection, she saw another competitor and ignored him completely. Running into what would have been the right path from the earlier intersection, an echoed, “Hey! Wait up!” reached her ears, but she kept moving. Feeling the walls vibrate again, she was determined to seize this opportunity and check where she was heading in the maze.


The ice walls rose into the air and did their shuffle. Luna noted that she was very close to an edge. She was off center from the exit, but she was still fairly close. Suddenly the walls came crashing down a bit faster than anticipated, and she dived towards her left. Having avoided being crushed by the walls, she stood up.


A wall was in front of her. Another wall was behind her. There was another wall to her left, and there was another to her right.


Frantically retracing her actions, she came to realize that she was trapped in a box of ice walls. There was no way to scale them so she just had to wait. She sat there with a hand on the wall to feel the vibrations when they came. She waited and waited and waited. It felt like an eternity with nowhere to go.


It was cold. In fact, the less she moved, the colder she felt. Was the storm also getting stronger or was it just her? She started to pace within the ice box. Moving more and more, she felt warmth returning to her body. However, the storm was definitely heightening in power. After about her tenth lap in the box, the vibrations began. Luna suddenly realized that she had forgotten which wall was the one that faced the next maze! The walls rose up. All Luna could see was darkness and snow. “What is going on?” she yelled. Frustrated, she spun around. She caught sight of another competitor running ahead of her. There was the exit! It couldn’t have been more than about seven meters away! She ran forward and reached the end of the snow.


She slammed into something. Confused she got up. Nothing was there. The walls were still shuffling. So why was she unable to go forward? She touched the walls and realized magic must be in effect. She needed to go through the exit proper or she would not be able to proceed. She punched the wall and started to move, but at that moment, the walls began to come down. She backed up as a wall came down crashing where she was seconds ago.


She turned with a wall to her left. There was also a wall on her right. She spun around to face reverse of her original position and there was a path that turned sharply to her right. “Am I in luck?” she asked. “Is it really that simple?” Moving towards the turn, she took it. The right was followed by a sharp right and then another sharp left. Following the path and hoping that her instincts were right, the path curved again to the right. Luna’s sense of direction told her that the exit should be to her right.


The wall to her right continued for a bit, so she followed it. She came across a break in the path. There was a choice to go right, towards what she assumed was the exit, and a path forward that also went straight before veering to the right. Up to this point going right had proved her for the most part to be correct, so she took to the first right path. Moving down the path, she ran into a dead end.


Quelling her raising anger and taking a very deep breath, she turned around and found her way back to the split. Now the path that lay before her was straight ahead back into the maze and to her left. She could no longer take the right, formerly straight path anymore. “What is going on??” she questioned. She ran to her left which was the original path she had come from. She turned a corner and paused. A faint singing voice reached her ears. She couldn’t tell what language it was, but it was singing. She turned around and ran back to the intersection at full speed. The singing voice was getting louder and closer as she came back to the intersection.


The previous path was now open! Dashing forward on the straight path, she moved until it veered to the right again and there was the exit! She gladly stepped through it and felt the sunlight on her skin.


The sun on Nippo was small and fairly dull, so to bask in such a warm sunlight felt good. A voice now reached her ears, “Ladies and gentlemen, the fourth contestant has now stepped out of the ice maze! Hopefully she can catch up!”


“Catch up?” she said letting the words register in her mind. “What do you mean catch up?” She thought she was close to first place. She lowered her head and stared forward. Three people were running down the path in front of her towards the rose garden with one of them already entering. Soon, the second competitor entered as well. Fueled by irritation and anger, she raced forward to try and catch up.


As she got close, she realized that the path was split. The first competitor ran right while the other ran left. The third one went right as well. Luna paused at the entrance and tried to get a feel for anything; sounds, a voice, a draft, anything that could signal her which way to go. Unfortunately it came up nil and she stepped into the maze.


Gathering