• H.C. Mills

Chapter 3: Lavi en rose

A GENTLE TINGLE emanating from the right side of my face slowly drags me from what feels like the deepest sleep I’ve ever experienced.

I open my eyes, groggy and unfocused, and blearily take in my surroundings.

I’m in a small room with the floor, ceiling, and all six walls made of familiar, smooth grey stone.

The room is illuminated by a multitude of faceted crystals in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes melded into the roof.

I push myself to sit upright, and take in the rest. There’s an actual bed in one of the six corners, with an unfamiliar backpack lying on top of it. There’s a small alcove in one of the walls, a full-length mirror in another, and finally, a single door in a third.

I can’t help but stare at the carving on the door for a moment, because it’s creeping me out. It’s a rather crude and abstract piece that depicts something that could be a man in mid-stride... if he were physically handicapped and had at least two knees in his right leg.

Yeesh. That’s not exactly comforting. What the hell is this carving supposed to convey?

I take a deep breath and freeze for a moment when it burns going down my windpipe. The sensation quickly fades again, and I continue breathing, carefully.

If it was going to kill me, I guess I’d be dead already. Like—

The image of Josh’s slack, lifeless face appears before my mind’s eye, and with a rush, the reality of the situation I’m in clears away the remaining fog of sleep.

Tears pool in my eyes, blurring part of my vision, as memories of what happened resurface unbidden. Everyone coughing, clutching at their throats. The smells of vomit, blood, and other things. The dude slamming into Josh, followed by me pushing him onto a little kid—

I manage to get to my knees and crawl to one of the corners before I start retching. However, despite my stomach’s best efforts, nothing comes out.

Looks like I’m running on empty. How long was I out for?

When my dry heaving subsides, I slump down against the wall and close my eyes.

I was supposed to pick up the twins... No, they’ll be fine. Their instructors will call Mom. Oh god, Mom, she’ll go mental.

I ball my hands into fists and open my eyes.

Wallowing won’t get me anywhere. I’m still alive, there are walls and doors and even a bed here, which means civilization, of some kind. Time to get off my ass and find out what I’m working with.

I take a deliberately shallow breath and push myself up to my feet.

Except I kind of overshoot the mark and land on my hands and knees.

That was weird.

I get up carefully, feeling strangely light on my feet, and wipe away my tears.

For some reason, only my left cheek is wet.

I frown and move a hand up to my right eye. My eyelid reflexively flutters close as my fingers approach, but when I press against it, I can immediately tell something is wrong.

My right eye is hard as a rock.

Oh god.

I quickly move to the mirror, almost tripping over my own feet as I adjust to how light my body feels.

I step in front of it, and my mind goes blank.

My right eye is... gone. Or more like, it’s been replaced. Replaced with a perfectly round, smooth, and opaque cyan crystal.

It’s objectively beautiful, but, well, SO WAS MY FRIGGIN’ EYE!

Oh god, what the hell is going on here? Am I a subject of, like, alien experiments now?! Wait.

I close my left—my remaining—hazel eye, and—

How the hell am I still looking at my reflection?!

I hold my hand in front of the crystal in my right eye socket and move it closer and then farther away.

At least it has good resolution. Seems like I could count the grooves on my fingers from an arm’s length away if I wanted to.

Hesitantly, I reach my index finger out to the crystal. It’s smooth, hard, and surprisingly cool to the touch. Also, even with my finger on the surface, its image is still sharp.

How the hell does this thing work? Is there a tiny camera inside? But even if there was, the material isn’t transparent enough to—

[Please state your name,] a slightly robotic, female-sounding voice chimes out of nowhere.

“Mother of god!” I yell as I jump nearly a foot in the air.

[That seems unlikely,] the voice answers. [Your name, please. A first name will suffice.]

“I-I’m Emma.”

[Name registration complete. Please remain calm and pay close attention while I explain your circumstances, Emma.]

I turn on the spot, my eyes darting around the room, as I look for the source of the eerie voice. However, despite my efforts, I can’t get a sense of where it’s coming from as it continues to speak.

[My name is Suri. I’m an artificial intelligence assigned to serve as your Personal Guide System and accompany you through your training.]

“My training? Training in what?” I blurt out.

[Survival. This facility and I were both made by your predecessors, to help those who are void-shifted into this Realm grow strong enough to survive.]

Okay. Okay, I can work with this.

There are apparently people who’ve managed to survive in this place, even to the point that they were able to build this place and program an AI, and it doesn’t sound like they’re intent on doing weird experiments on me, so not the worst-case scenario.

“Great. One little question, WHERE THE HELL IS MY RIGHT EYE?!”

[Replacing it was a necessary procedure,] Suri chimes. [The Radiation Processing Crystal will help you adapt to this Realm faster, by allowing you to see things you otherwise couldn’t. Moreover, it serves as a transceiver for information I send you.]

I blink. “Hold up, are you saying I’m hearing you through this, eye-crystal?”

[Correct. My voice is directly transmitted to your mind through your optic nerve.]

“I’m pretty sure biology doesn’t work that way, lady.”

[Life in this Realm can be quite harsh,] Suri continues, straight up ignoring me. [Resources to help Trial participants grow stronger are available, but their quantities are limited, so you will have to earn them by doing well in the Trials.]

Trials? I don’t like the sound of that.

“Do you mean my performance is going to be rated to determine, what, whether my survival is worth investing in?”

[It has been determined that those who cannot even survive the Trials have little chance of making it outside. Providing them with the scarce resources available to boost their precarious odds would, therefore, be counterproductive.]

Survive the Trials? You have got to be f—”

[I’m sure you have many questions,] Suri chimes, cutting me off. [However, I’m only authorised to answer a limited amount. Therefore, you will have five minutes to ask as much as you like, and I will answer as best I’m allowed.]

My eyes widen. “Wait, what?”

[Starting now, you have five minutes to ask que—]

“No, yeah, I got it—shit, ehm, let me think.”

I take a deep breath, ignoring the slight burn in my lungs, and try to calm down. Should I just start asking questions? No, I need to prioritise my topics first. Quality over quantity.

After thinking it over for a few seconds, I realise I just don’t know enough to pick any specific topics. Instead, I resolve to first try and get a better grip on the overall situation, and then ask about the Trials in more detail.

“All right, first question: what is this room I’m in?”

[This is the preparation room for the First Trial, on Trial Track 11. Its purpose is to give you a chance to prepare yourself mentally and physically before you leave through that door and enter the First Trial.]

Wow, okay. So the only exit leads to the First Trial. How’d they get me in here? No, I need to focus on the big picture.

“You said we were void-shifted into this Realm; who is responsible for that and why did they bring us here?”

[No-one. The void-shifts are a naturally occurring phenomenon.]

I blink. “Then, how come we landed directly in this facility? I mean, that open space where we landed is part of it, right?”

[Correct. Hub One was constructed to serve as a landing spot for void-shifts, and no expenses were spared in developing the technology that redirects void-shifts to end up there. Without it, you might have ended up anywhere.]

Hmm. A convenient story. “Couldn’t they have focused on technology that stops the void-shifts from occurring altogether?”

[Void-shifts are still barely understood. Without knowing what originates them, it would be very difficult to stop their occurrence.]

But redirecting them from anywhere to a particular spot is, apparently, quite doable. I’m not sure if I believe this.

Still, I better move on with my questions, because I doubt I’m going to get a more satisfying answer out of Suri on the topic.

“What Realm is this, exactly?”

[The Realm of Crystals.]

Great. Not like I know what that means or anything. “And the Realm I’m from, would be...?”

[The Entropic Realm.]

“Is there,” I swallow. “Is there a way to go back?”

[Attempts so far have proved unsuccessful.]

My shoulders droop. Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy. I mentally shake myself; no time for a pity-party.

The Entropic Realm... they named our universe after entropy? That’s something to do with order turning to chaos and the eventual heat-death of the universe, right? Maybe I should be taking notes.

I reflexively pat my pockets for my cell phone, but it’s gone of course. Actually, my pockets appear to be empty of all their previous contents. Not that I’d have much use for my keys and wallet anyway. Ugh,I’ll just have to trust my memory.

“Okay, ehm, what’s the main difference between our Realms?”

[The fundamental laws of existence of this Realm are of a higher order.]

“Could you translate that to simple English, please?”

[Many of the laws of physics you are familiar with do not apply here, or work differently, as they are trumped by our Laws of Being.]

My mind goes blank for a moment. That... would explain our phones blowing up, I suppose.

“All right, tell me about the Laws of Being.”

[The First Law is: ‘All are One.’]

“And what does that mean, concretely?”

[Well, take yourself for example. Back on Earth you considered yourself to be a single entity, ‘you,’ correct?]

“Well, sure, wh—”

[However, you were anything but. You were a complex structure consisting of trillions of cells that made up what ‘you’ considered ‘your body.’ But now that you’re in this Realm, you actually are a single entity. You are One.]

I blink and try to wrap my mind around it. “Are you saying my body is no longer made up of individual cells?”

[The only individual left is you. Your body is still made up of different sections with different functions, but they are all still One with you.]

That... might explain how I’m hearing through my optic nerve. If she’s telling the truth. “Ohkaaaay, I’ll take your word for it. What’s the second law? No, wait, how much time do I have left?”

[3 minutes and 21 seconds.]

Shoot. Gotta prioritise.

“All right... What happened in that open space we arrived in? Why was everyone coughing?”

[When you arrived in Hub One, your body was forced to adapt to living off Lavi.]

“Lavi? What’s that?”

[The closest thing to a synonym in your language would be ‘lifeforce.’ In the Entropic Realm, many lifeforms like yourself rely on the intake of oxygen to burn complex carbohydrates formed by photosynthesis for their survival. This Realm, however, contains none of those things. Here, you are One, and to remain alive, you require Lavi, which is produced by some of the native plants, crystals, and creatures. Take a look around you; your new eye should be able to pick up some specks of green. Those specks are Lavi.]

I close my left eye and squint. I hadn’t noticed before, but my crystal eye really does pick up different things. It’s like there’s way more colour here than I had noticed, far more detail on the walls. Also, there are small flecks radiating a greenish light floating in the air. Lots of ’em, in fact.

“Incredible,” I murmur. “That stuff is what’s keeping me alive?”

[Indeed. Your lungs adapted to take it in from the Aether and managed to resist the Toxic Energy, and thus you were able to survive Hub One.]

Josh’s lifeless eyes flash in front of my mind’s eye, but I quickly push the image away. I have to focus on my own survival, for now.

I frown. “Aether... that’s just, like, an archaic word for air, right?”

[No. Air is a specific mixture of gases present on Earth. Aether is not a mixture; it is Aether. It is nearly everywhere in this Realm, and acts as a medium for energies to pass through.]

Right. I’m probably just gonna keep calling it air.

“So, the burning in my lungs, that’s the Toxic Lavi?”

[Toxic Energy,] Suri corrects. [Allow me to clarify something: Lavi and Toxic Energy are as different as they are incompatible. Toxic Energy is just one of many forms of energy in this Realm, while Lavi, as the principal component of all life, is in a class of its own. That said, your Radiation Processing Crystal will similarly make Toxic Energy visible to you as purple specks.]

I ignore the urge to look. “How much time do I have left?”

[2 minutes and 34 seconds.]

Right, better start asking questions about the Trials soon.

“Okay. You said I’m on Trial Track 11. How many Trial Tracks are there, and how many participants?”

[There are 12 parallel tracks, and at the start of the Trials there were 289 participants.]

My blood runs cold. “Wait, 289? Weren’t there like 3000 people who got portalled with me? Wha-what happened to the rest?”

[3621, to be precise. The rest perished in Hub One, as they were unable to adapt.]

Holy shit!

I clench my hands into fists and close my eyes for a second. More than 3000 people dead... but not all of them just because they were unable to adapt. How many got trampled like Josh? How many more could have been saved?

Then again, how safe am I, really?

I open my eyes again. “Suri, you said I’m on Track 11. Is there any significance to the number? Is there some kind of ranking?”

[No. All tracks are equal.]

I relax a little. 11th out of 12 didn’t exactly sound too great.

[Starting order, however, is determined based on a ranking.]

I blink. “What position am I starting in?”

[You are number 19 in your track, number 227 overall.]

My jaw drops. “What the hell? Based on what?!”

[Viability of survival in the First Trial.]

Author's note:

Want to continue reading? You can find the rest of this novel right here:


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