We all watch with rapt attention as Dave takes his first tentative bite of the transparent, lightning laced mushroom, and our vigilance is rewarded.
His eyes widen comically as his face distorts and his whole body starts trembling uncontrollably. He falls down, and the very moment his butt hits the ground, his long ponytail explodes into ball of frizz.
As we laugh and make fun of him, I can almost feel glad I’m not the one eating it.
Dave valiantly ploughs on, chewing with trembling jaws despite our mocking. Even after finishing his meal, he remains seated until, eventually, his hands stop shaking.
Dave blinks and stares at his hands in amazement, repeatedly clenching and unclenching them. He grabs a handful of pebbles from the ground next to his sturdy hiking boots and gets up.
I do my best impression of a fish when Dave starts juggling five of them.
No-one makes a peep until he finishes, catching them all again and nodding in satisfaction.
Alec turns to me, smacking his lips. “Emma... you got any more of those?”
I raise a brow at him. “I thought you didn’t like worms?”
Dave laughs heartily. “I learnt how to do that a long time ago, Alec... I just wanted to feel the difference between an Agi of eight and an Agi of ten.”
“Ten?!” Kaitlynn squeaks, “Dave, that’s great!” She turns to me, eyes full of wonder.
I awkwardly turn back to Dave and pretend to study him for changes.
Now that I’m looking at him however, I think I can actually see the worms! Small flickers of light race up and down particular paths along his arm. I guess those are nerve bundles? I wonder what his spine looks like right now...
“Oh man, you really are infested,” I say, half-fascinated, half-horrified. “So, what’s it like living with worms, Dave? Itchy?”
Dave shakes his head in wonder. “Amazing. My hand-eye coordination just reached a new level... It’s like my arms react quicker and more precisely to what I want them to do. Five balls used to be a real challenge, now I feel like I could do seven.”
Mmm, perhaps I should try adding juggling to our training schedule for Agi... but let’s save that for later.
I nod resolutely. “Good. Take some time to get ready, make sure there’s no aftereffects.”
Dave shakes his head. “Rose says there won’t be. I’m ready.”
Ignoring Suri, I walk up to give him a hug, which quickly turns into another group affair.
Solemnly, we watch as the final member of our little clique enters the temple.
Dave takes his time, but eventually exits decked out in a sheepish smile and a bunch of bruises.
We all cheer once more. Guess we all get to suffer a little a little longer.
But at least now we suffer together.
Anyway, we’ve all got pearls now, now we ‘just’ need to procure enough Minor Lavi Crystals and Stardrop Flowers.
We thank Lily for her help and bid her goodbye as we head back to camp. She looks after me kinda oddly but doesn’t say anything.
Kaitlynn is less restrained. As soon as we’re out of hearing range of the little village around the temple, she asks, “Emma... where did you get that power-up item for Dave?”
Dave and Alec look up in interest.
Of course, I was prepared for this question.
I shake my head. “It was the craziest thing. When I reached the end of the temple, I got a notification that I was the 1000th contestant to survive!”
I sneak a glance at my rapt audience; they seem to be buying it. Hehe, suckers.
Of course, what kind of saleswoman would I be if I stopped selling now? “Next thing I know, confetti bursts from the ceiling, and this weird, happy-yet-kinda-creepy song starts playing over what I assume are hidden speakers. And this announcer like voice is booming over it, going: COOOOOOOOONGRATULATIOOOOONS!”
Kaitlynn smacks my shoulder, laughing, “Shut up!”
I frown at her, trying very hard to maintain my poker face. “Damn, what gave me away?”
“You—ugh—what part of that was supposed to be believable?!”
“Hmmm... all right, would you believe it was one of the objects that got shot at me in the final room, and I just snatched it out of the air as it passed by?”
“Well now I wouldn’t!” she yells at me, mock-angry. “Though I can totally see the people who made this place do that... how evil would that be? If they just had all kinds of valuable items shooting by behind us while we’re in there...”
Damn. That would be evil. They wouldn’t though... right?
Impatient, Kaitlynn switches to whining and pulling on my right vambrace, “Come ooon, what did you do, Emma?”
Ugh, pouting at me with your eye all big and puppy-like, that’s just not fair. Fine.
“I ehm... I made a dash for it and broke the speed record.”
A beat of silence follows.
“You WHAT?!” Kaitlynn shrieks, stopping in her tracks.
The boys and I wince at her volume, and I turn to face her. “Well, I thought I had a shot, thanks to Boost Physical and my relatively high stats, and I figured there might be a reward... so I went for it.”
Kaitlynn is visibly upset. “Might be...? Emma, how could you be so... so damn reckless!”
I shrug. “Look, I took a calculated risk... and it paid off. I got a power-up for Dave, and 50 Trial Points to boot. Maybe it was risky now, but it improved our chances going forward, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, but... ugh! I can’t believe you!” Kaitlynn stomps. Literally. Then she stalks off, heading up a nearby tree-trunk at a pretty high pace.
I stare after her, bemused.
Dave comes up behind me and claps me on the shoulder. “Looks like you’re sleeping on the couch tonight, Emma. Been there, done that. Just let her cool off a bit before you apologize and she’ll come around.”
And he walks on. Wait, apologize?
Alec comes to stand next to me, looking as confused as I feel. “What’s he on about?”
I shrug numbly. “Beats me.”
Back at the hut, Alec enthusiastically gets to work on his leatherworking project. Dave, meanwhile, decides to fashion us some spears, for the hunt. Kaitlynn loudly announces that she’s going to prepare some kind of glue for them to use from her collection of plants, all the while pointedly ignoring me.
And I, well, the next order of business for me would be to go check out ‘Moonshade Glade’, but I have this gnawing suspicion that just walking off to do something dangerous, might not be the best move right now.
So I decide to bite the bull by the horns, or something like that, and take a seat next to Kaitlynn.
“Look...” I start, softly, “I get it; I get that you worry. I straight up hated it when you were in that temple.”
I glance over to see if she’s listening. She hurriedly looks away, her eye looking a little red-rimmed.
I soldier on, not entirely sure clear yet where I’m going with this. “This place we’re in... these trials we’re facing... they’re all super-dangerous. They’re all deadly, one way or another. I just feel like playing it safe isn’t actually... safe. You know what I mean?”
She snorts. “And did that work for you during the first two trials?”
“No, not really,” I admit, “but it’s paying off now.”
She frowns, turning to face me a little so she can look at me.
“Thanks to my actions in the first two trials,” I continue, picking up steam a little as I go, “I now have a ridiculous Toxic Energy Tolerance, which might just be our ticket to getting the Stardrop Flowers. And thanks to needing Boost Physical in Trial 2 because I was so intoxicated, I managed to break the temple’s record, and got a power-up for Dave.”
Kaitlynn deflates with a sigh and leans into my shoulder.
“I understand why you did it, Emma, I just... don’t like it.”
“So... you’ll forgive me?” I ask carefully, even though I’m still not entirely sure why I would need to be forgiven; it just seems like less hassle to accept it.
“Fine,” Kaitlynn says. Hah, take that Dave, didn’t even need to apologize! “But I want you to promise me that you won’t take crazy risks like this just for the thrill of it; only when you have, like, a really good reason.”
Pssh, I’m not a thrill-seeker...
“I promise,” I say solemnly. I do cross my fingers behind my back though, just in case. I like to keep my options open.
Kind of a short chapter, sorry about that... not to worry however; I've actually taken the requests for longer chapters to heart, and they'll be getting longer and longer from here on out!
In fact, as some of you may have noticed, the chapters have already been increasing in length. Some of the latest chapters I've written however, have actually broken 3k words, making them more than twice the length of this chapter. ^^'
Anyway, thanks for reading; if you liked it, don't forget to vote!