Chapter 20: With great talent, comes great responsibility

Time for a final check; I fill up all my empty bottles with water from the sink and count my jicca nuts. The waterskin I bought is nice and thick. It contains at least two litres and slings comfortably over my shoulder.

 

“Open status window.”

 

 

I’m finally rid of that bloody status effect! I feel much better too. Also, nice to see my max Lavi climb steadily, though it’s still below the average starting value of 50.

 

It will have to do, because time’s up. Here goes nothing.

 

“Begin trial.”

 

The door rumbles open.

 

I walk through into... a small stone room. The door slams shut behind me.

 

In the middle of the mostly bare room stands a pedestal holding two golf ball-sized, octahedral crystals; one black and one white. At the back of a room is a ladder, going up into a square hole in the ceiling.

 

 

The crystal that resonates huh...

 

I pick up the white crystal first. It’s warm to the touch, comfortable, but I’m not getting much else from it. I put it back down and pick up the black crystal.

 

It vibrates the moment I touch it, sending strange tingles through my arm and up my spine. I guess this is the one I need... Unlike the white one, it is rather cool to the touch.

 

“Appraise.”

 

 

“Yin... Does that mean the other one is Yang?”

 

[Yes.]

 

“I see... And I suppose I can only take one?”

 

[Indeed; you won’t be able to leave the room with both. The other would be useless to you anyway.]

 

Interesting.

 

I stick the yin focus crystal in a front hip pocket, give the room one last sweeping glance, and climb the ladder.

 

 

I come up in a lifeless yellow desert.

 

As I step off the final rung, a kind of manhole cover grinds shut over the hole I came from.

 

It's the only visible bit of civilization around, but I'm too busy gaping at the night sky to even care.

 

It's like nothing I've ever seen, a multicoloured sea of stars, nebulae and streaking comets that takes my breath away. One comet is particularly beautiful, trailed by an icy tail as it slowly streaks across the sky, getting bigger and bigger...

 

And bigger...

 

"Suri... is it just me, or is that thing moving towards me?"

 

[It would appear so, Emma.]

 

I watch in horror as it expands in my view to the size of a truck, then a house, and finally a small mountain.

 

This is just... unfair.

 

"Suri... could you tell my parents I loved them?"

 

[And just how am I supposed to do that?]

 

I have no time to spare for a sarcastic comeback, because it's coming down a few hundred feet to my right, in three... two... I squint and brace for impact.

 

A wave of light spreads through what appears to be a dome-shaped hexagonal grid as the meteor slams into it and explodes into a million pieces. A massive boom followed by a wave of pressure rush past me after a short interval, my hair flapping in the screaming air.

 

Silence returns. I can hear my own heartbeat. Above the grid, the remaining meteor fragments float away, spinning at various speeds, seemingly unfettered by any kind of resistance or gravitational pull.

 

Suri is laughing at me.

 

"Rude," I mutter. “You couldn’t have told me about that protective grid?”

 

[I could have, but where would be the fun in that?]

 

Touché. But damn, that was scary!

 

Anyway, since I’m alive, let’s try to keep it that way. Suri wasn’t lying about there being little atmospheric Lavi here. Time to take stock.

 

I take one last, wistful look at the vast cosmos above me and say: “Open the Lavi flows window please.”

 

 

Lavi absorption from Aether is down by half but if it’s this much, I can handle it, even without my yams.

 

I close the window and start looking around for landmarks. However, no matter which way I look, I can’t see much farther than 30 feet ahead... there appears to be a cloud of dust, or I guess sand, about 15 feet high all around me.

 

I tilt my head back again, but there are no obvious constellations in the shape of an arrow or anything. Eh, it was worth a shot.

 

Expectantly, I take the Yin Focus Crystal out of my pocket.

 

It fails to do anything.

 

I try waving it around, pointing it in every direction I can think of, but it doesn’t react, not even the slightest vibration or flash of light or anything. Hell, I’d follow a smell if it emitted one at this point.

 

It doesn’t. I checked.

 

With a sigh I flop down in the sand on my back.

 

“Guess I’ll be searching with nothing but my spidey-sense,” I mutter.

 

I bring the crystal up to my face and examine it closely. After a little while, I close my eyes, gently sliding down into a meditative state, trying to sense something, anything, coming from this crystal.

 

I don’t. At least, not from the crystal. I’m sensing something... inside me. It’s the slightest vibration, the most minute pull. The briefest flash of cold, like snowflakes darting through my veins.

 

It’s coming from all over my body, randomly. No, wait... not entirely. It’s all moving in the same direction—towards the crystal!

 

This... should be a good thing, right? Even though having cold flakes—of energy, I think?—crawling beneath my skin is super creepy, I hold fast. The energy slowly crawls up my arm and pushes through my skin into the crystal. I can feel it growing cold. I open my eyes, and it’s dimly radiating a blue-ish light.

 

I wait for a while, as more of the energy slowly crawls up and in, but nothing else changes. Maybe the glow intensified a little, but I’m not sure.

 

I slowly sit up and start swivelling the crystal around. Maybe now that it’s ‘active’...

 

Wait—Yes! There!

 

As I hold it in a certain direction, the crystal reacts, with an ever so slight vibration and pull.

 

I scramble to my feet.

 

[Eh? You figured it out so quickly? Impressive.]

 

I smirk, waving the crystal around a bit more, trying to get a more accurate bearing. “What can I say, I’m just talented that way. And well, the meditation skill came in pretty handy.”

 

[Hmm yes, most participants don’t discover that skill until this trial.]

 

Makes sense. Who’s going to sit around, calmly breathing for hours, when their life’s on the line?

 

Idiots with a gaming addiction like me, that’s who.

 

It’s that way, I’m confident now. I try a full circle to see if the crystal reacts to any other direction, but it doesn’t. After I confirm my bearing one last time, the crystal’s glow fades. Seems like it ran out of juice. I don’t feel any more snowflakes beneath my skin either. I hope they’ll build up again or something, otherwise I’m probably pretty much screwed.

 

For now, I put the crystal back in my pocket, to avoid direct skin contact.

 

Pretty darn satisfied with myself, I set off, but before I even make it to ten steps, the world around me changes.

 

A flash of light blinds me, before a wave of heat washes over me. When my vision clears, I carefully look up, with my hands shielding my eyes.

 

“What the...? Where the hell did those come from?!”

 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills