After resting up for a bit, I take my shoes from my backpack and stare at them. The blood on the left one has almost dried. Almost. You know what? I can probably use the extra grip my bare feet provide.
Having made up my mind, I summarily stuff my shoes back in and sling the pack over my shoulder. I take one last look down, before light-footedly walking through the doorway.
A down-angled hallway leads to the next challenge: a 20-foot down, 10-foot wide, 30-foot long pit, with exactly nothing above it. However, the walls do go all the way up on both sides...
I see. I have to do a wall run while jumping from one wall to the other.
If I’d come across this two hours ago, I’d have found it hard to swallow, but now...
I check the straps on my backpack and wipe any potential moisture off my feet and hands. Let’s do this.
I activate Boost Physical and angle myself into the left wall. I run along the wall for a few paces and jump to prevent gaining downward momentum. Two steps, another jump. And again. And again.
I still gain downward momentum near the end, forcing me to jump back and forth with every step, but it no longer matters, because I am close enough to push forward with a final jump, and grab onto the ledge with both arms.
I climb onto the platform and look back in satisfaction. Only now do I notice that this pit doesn’t have any handholds... If you fall down, you’d have to use the jumping back-and-forth technique to get up.
Pssh, only 20 feet up? That’s child’s play.
Onto the next challenge, which is a rope swing into a bar swing.
I guess mixing and matching is the new thing.
My prediction is right, because after I ace this challenge, I find myself facing an extremely long pit with several tiny platforms on poles, and various means to cross.
Wall runs with jumps into bar swings, rope swings into wall runs, etc etc. The pit actually continues underneath the walls I’m supposed to run on and the ropes are too short to reach from down in the pit, to make sure I can’t cheat by climbing up farther on.
Challenging, to say the least, and yet I’m filled with an odd excitement. Because... if they’re stepping it up to this extent, this may very well be the final challenge!
There were some hairy moments, but I made it through without falling, and now I’m up against the next challenge.
It’s another handholds on the ceiling type of challenge... with two bar swings in between. Who comes up with these things? At least the ceiling is only about 15 feet high again...
I sigh and start climbing the wall to my right. Everything’s smooth sailing until I hit the first bar. It hangs about three feet below the ceiling, just out of reach from the final handhold.
I start swinging from the handholds I’m grasping, making sure to keep using Boost Physical. I release and manage to get one hand on the bar, and then the other too.
It’s a weird feeling; because of the extra three feet between me and the ceiling, gravity is a bit stronger now that I’m hanging from the bar. I’ll have to take the difference in account for my next move.
I need to get to the next handholds, which are about 6 feet away, and I need to grasp them and hold on mid-jump.
Remind me to never complain about Suri’s advice again; I’d have been dead three times over in this challenge without Boost Physical.
Though to be honest, this is still easier than it would’ve been on Earth, thanks to the different workings of gravity. If I had still been in the shape of my days as a gymnast, and not full of toxic energy, I would’ve managed just fine.
I swing on the bar, trying to get just the right amount of speed, and release at the right moment.
At the apex of my jump I grasp for the handholds, but I seem to have overestimated the effect of the diminished gravity. My fingertips scrape the bottom of the handhold and I go plunging down.
Thankfully my landing gets full marks. I’ve had plenty of practice today.
I kind of want to try again right away, but I need to wait for my Lavi to recover a little, so I sit down shaking out my fingers to get some blood flowing.
I’m at the second bar, for the third time now. The distance between this bar and the handholds on either side is slightly larger, more like seven feet.
The first two times I came short, the last time I overshot my mark, but this time, I’m going to get it right. I can feel it; I’m in the zone.
I’m swinging. I squeeze all I can out of Boost Physical and pull hard on the bar, right before I release. I learned to do that to get the extra height I need. Last time I overdid it and came out too high. It gave me plenty of time to grasp the handholds, but my downward momentum pulled me off.
This time my trajectory is just right, the handhold heading straight for my hands.
A pop-up window appears, blocking the sight of my right eye, which happens to be my dominant one. Even though it’s been replaced by a crystal, that apparently hasn’t changed. Go figure.
Somehow, relying on instinct, I still grasp the handholds, and manage to hold on tight as I swing from them, to and fro, until I lose my momentum.
Well, I can’t say I’m not happy, but...
“Suri, could you try to find a better timing for those things from now on?” I ask irritably.
[Sorry Emma, the notification was set to automatic. I’ll keep an eye on it in the future.]
Aww, she sounds sorry... I can’t stay angry. Perhaps because I’m kind of whooping and cheering inside because I grew stronger.
Or actually, let’s face it, because I’m a nutcase who likes the idea of having raised a ‘stat’, despite the fact that I’m in constant mortal danger.
I finish climbing to the platform and shake out my fingers again.
The doorway leads to another staircase down, which leads to... a very, very high room.
It’s like the inside of a hundred-feet tower. Going up, there are all kinds of things like bars, ropes, platforms in the corners... And way up near the top, there’s a balcony. I don’t even have to see it to know there’s going be a stone door up there, with another fugly humanoid carved into it, looking all kinds of miserable. This place has ‘final challenge’ written all over it.
I look at the start of the course; a quarter-pipe shaped wall, going 15 feet up. Looks like I’m supposed to run up it, and then launch myself backwards onto the first bar-swing.
This is not going to be easy.
I was wrong. It was quite easy. All right, there were a few close calls, like when I hung from a bar by the fingertips of my left hand, but all in all, it was far more do-able than I had expected.
Well, thanks to Boost Physical and my increased Str stat, I can get up to 10 Str, the average Str of a human male, which is a lot for my small frame, so that definitely helped, but I feel the most important reason was that as I climbed higher, gravity started becoming noticeably less. My airtime increased upon jumps, and my landings became gentler; way up here, it feels like it may be decreased by at least a third!
As I swung myself up onto the balcony, the stone door, complete with ugly carving, rumbled open.
I sit on the ledge and look down. I can hardly believe I actually made it through this trial. Looking back though, it wasn’t even all that bad.
Except for the part where I broke my leg, that sucked.
Apart from that... it was actually kind of fun. Or maybe not fun but... thrilling. Made me feel alive. And I guess I hadn’t realized how much I missed gymnastics.
I look at the open doorway over my shoulder and ask: “Time?”
[14 hours, 21 minutes and 56 seconds left.]
That’s still quite a lot...
“Open status window.”
It seems the detoxification of my body has slowed down further. My Toxic Energy tolerance isn’t rising much either, probably because the concentration in my body has gotten so low. Do I really have to poison myself again if I want it to rise? Well, that’s for later concern.
If I have some extra time... might as well train.
My breathing, that is.
I said this trial was thrilling, not that I’m suicidal; if you think I’m going back down to practice death-defying stunts, you’re out of your mind.
No, I want to live and the Lavi I take in with my breathing skill is my most important lifeline. And with the low toxic energy concentration in the air here, I won’t build up any extra.
What was it Suri said about the third level? Right, I have to direct my exhales farther away... Maybe I can practice in a lucid trance... not sure how that would affect the results of my training, but it would allow me to further reduce my Lavi consumption, so I can force more Lavi into my body and hopefully increase my max Lavi.
I move away from the ledge, sit down in a lotus position and snack on some jicca nuts.
I stop mid-chew, frowning in confusion. Do jicca nuts grow softer with age? Because normally they’d kinda hurt my teeth...
Or maybe... my teeth grew harder when I raised my toughness?
Does that mean I may one day be able to actually sleep comfortably on the preparation room beds, if I get beaten up enough?
I shake my head, deciding to shelve this question for later.
“I’m going to train. Wake me 10 minutes before the end of the Trial?”
I close my eyes and start periodically, painfully pinching my own skin. No, I am not becoming a masochist; entering a lucid trance is hard, all right?!
Still, under my expert ministrations, my breath soon starts coming deeper and slower, my exhales more and more forceful.
Whatever comes next, I’m going to face it as well prepared as I can.