• H.C. Mills

Chapter 14: Bad to the bone

[Emma, wake up!]

I come to abruptly. The first thing I see is a pop-up notification.

I steel my resolve to glance at my leg, see if it looks as bad as it feels. My stomach roils from the bloody mess, but I keep its contents inside. Barely.

I kind of wish I were still out, because my leg hurts like a motherf—

[Emma, you need to get moving, you have to reach the Crystal of Restoration by the entrance.]

“Of course... I get it now,” I mumble, hissing as I try to sit upright.

[What do you ‘get?’]

“The way this trial is designed to—hnnnggh—kill me. The farther I get, the harder it becomes to crawl back when I’m injured.”

[The trials are designed to increase in difficulty as you progress. Thankfully, you’re still close to the entrance.]


I stare in despair at the handholds going up the wall on the entrance’s side of the pit.

[Come on Emma, do me a favour and start climbing.]

I sigh but try to get on my... foot. The right one.

Hot, blinding pain shoots through my left calve as I move.


I flop back down, breathing heavily.

[Come on Emma, get up.]

“I’m trying Suri, but it hurts too much!”

[You must Emma, it’s your only chance to survive.]

“YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT?! Just... give me a minute.”

Tears run down my cheeks, but Suri is remorseless.

[Listen Emma, when you get to the wall, you can’t dawdle. Since you can only use one leg, you’re going to need to use Boost Physical. And if you don’t make it up in one go, you’d have to wait for your Lavi to restore... Unless you can hang from a wall for like half an hour, you’ll probably have to drop back down.]

“Oh shit...” I mumble.

That gives me 4 minutes to reach the top, at most... The thought of almost reaching the edge and having to drop back down for lack of strength, my left leg hitting the floor...

Just kill me now.

[We can still do this Emma.]

I smile through my tears. “We?”

[Yes. I am not giving up on you. I have grown rather fond of you, after all. Now do me a favour and get up. I know you can do it.]

“Oh god. All right then.”

I breathe like a woman in labour as I carefully raise myself up on my hands and onto my right foot.

Pain hits me like a freight train as my left foot lightly drags over the floor, but I squeeze my eyes shut and bear it.

Somehow, I’m standing. Blood trickles down my foot and into my sneakers. I can both see and feel the Lavi leaving my body.

Gritting my teeth, I take my first hop.

Sweat drips down my back when I grasp the first handhold. I am shivering, though I’m not sure why. I mean, I know why, just not sure if it’s the blood loss, the pain, or the adrenaline.

Anyway, here goes nothing.

I use Boost Physical. The pain is like a light tickle.

All right, it actually still hurts pretty damn badly, but it’s a breeze in comparison to the debilitating spikes coming from my leg.

I climb as fast as I can, alternating between moving my hands, and my leg. The pain is excruciating. With every little bump to my left leg, I feel my resolve draining.

[Keep going Emma, you’re nearly there!]

I know I would not even have made it this far without Suri’s encouragements. But I still doubt if it’s enough.

A few feet away from the edge, the exhaustion and the pain get to me, and my hand slips.

Panic surges through me and I grab another handhold. While doing so, I involuntarily kick out with my left leg, and hit the wall.

My vision goes white, but I somehow hold on, and fight through the pain. Perhaps it’s fear that keeps me sane; fear of the even worse pain that falling would result in.

When my vision clears, a pop-up message swims into it.

“Great, thanks,” I wheeze. But it actually does make me feel better.

You know what? Screw this. I’m not going to die here. This pain... is going to help me grow stronger. Like it did just now.

Maybe Suri is right about me...

Shivering, sweating, bleeding and grinning like a maniac, I finally reach the top, and roll onto it.

Was that really only 2 minutes? Good god.

And I still have two pits to cross... Down and up.

I crawl over to the doorway and use it to get upright. I hop, one-legged to the edge of the platform, and stare fixedly at the bar.

[What are you waiting for Emma? You need to slide down and start climbing, you can still make it!]

“Be honest Suri; you know that won’t work,” I sigh. “I’m bleeding too much; I can already feel my strength draining. If I have to wait an hour at the bottom of the third pit before I restore enough Lavi to make the climb... I’m going to become ‘Anaemic’, aren’t I? I can climb one more, but that’s it.”

[Then... are you giving up?] Suri sounds frustrated, like she’s agonizing over something.

“No. I just need to find a way to reach that bar, something to help me launch myself...” I trail off.

I just thought of something... crazy.

You know what? No. Crazy would be to resign myself to my death. To resign to never seeing my family again, my friends. Or at the very least, Dave and... shit, really can’t remember his name; Iron Man.

I really kind of miss those guys, even though we’d just met. Maybe I just miss human interaction. But this isn’t the time to think about that.

I turn around to stand with my back to the bar. I lower myself a little and crane my head around to estimate the distance one last time... before my craziest stunt yet.

I turn my head back to the front, facing away from the bar, tilt it down towards the ground and breathe in. And in. Deeper than I dare.

When the urge to cough strikes, I hop backwards with all my strength and let it happen.

Compressed air jets from my mouth, some blood and bits of tissue following. I am launched backwards, my throat on fire.

I twist my body around mid-jump, just in time to protect myself from smashing into the bar. Instead, I grab onto it with both arms and suddenly I’m just hanging there. I laugh, or try to, in between coughing up blood. Tears stream down my face, but these are tears of joy, of exhilaration.

I check the status bar.

Guess I hurt my lungs a little. Still, well worth it.

I start swinging, though it’s harder than last time, as I can only use one leg well.

It’s fine; I don’t need to swing full circles, I just need to make it to the platform...

Blood is flung from my leg with every swing, and I’m starting to get dizzy.

No time to waste, so I release, slightly before the apex of my forward swing, and land into a forward roll, my backpack only slightly hindering the execution. I somehow manage to prevent my left leg from hitting the floor at the end of the roll, but it still hurts terribly.

It doesn’t get much better in the next few minutes, as I slide down into the pit beneath the wall-run and climb up the other side by the skin of my teeth.

I’m up on the balcony beneath the handholds now, preparing for my final drop. I swing my legs over the edge, put my hands on it and lower myself down until I’m hanging. I take a deep breath and release.

I can’t remember the landing very well, but the pink light beckons me, calls my name. Or perhaps that’s Suri, things are a bit fuzzy now.

I slowly, carefully, crawl towards it, until I, at long last, collapse beneath it. The pain slowly fades away. The trickle of blood comes to a halt.

I lazily check my status bar.

Good... I made it. The world goes dark.

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