A dim white glow comes from a small crystal in the ceiling. As it builds in intensity, I find myself in a short hallway between two doors.
I take a deliberately shallow breath and push myself up to my feet.
Except... I kind of overshoot the mark, and land on my butt.
Is it just me or have I suddenly become noticeably lighter?
I get up carefully and wobble over to the next door. It grinds open slowly as I approach.
I try to make out what’s in the room behind it, but without any more glowing crystals, I see very little.
Oh well, not like I have a choice.
The slam of the second door closing behind me still startles me, even though I saw it coming.
Only now do crystals in varying colours start to glow overhead, to reveal a rather spartan room.
There’s a small alcove in the wall to the right, its surface at table-height. There’s the door I came through, a door leading onwards, and finally... an actual friggin’ bed in the corner!
Does that mean this place is human-built after all? Then what is its purpose?
And why didn’t the lights come on until after I entered? Is it a kind of power play? Are they trying to rub in the fact that I have no choice but to walk the path they’ve laid out for me? Perhaps I’m overthinking this...
I hear a shunk, followed by a hiss, and look up to find a vent has opened in the ceiling.
When I come to, the right side of my face is throbbing something fierce. I must have landed poorly.
Groaning, I sit up. I seem to be in the same room still, but have inexplicably moved to its centre. There’s also a new feature, conveniently placed right in front of me: a full-length mirror. I stare at it.
My right eye... it’s... gone. Or more like, it’s been replaced. Replaced with a perfectly round, opaque cyan crystal.
It’s objectively beautiful, but, well... SO WAS MY FRIGGIN’ EYE!
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, move it closer and then further away and wow does this thing have a good resolution. 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, I can still see it, sharply.
How the hell does this thing work? Is there a tiny camera inside? But even if there is, the material isn’t transparent enough to—
[Hello.] A slightly robotic, female voice chimes in my head.
[Oh. Please don’t be alarmed. My name is Suri and I am your Personal Guide System, sent to accompany you through your training.]
“T... Training?” I stutter.
[This facility and I were constructed by your predecessors, to help teach those who are void-shifted into this realm to survive. You can consider it a kind of training camp.]
“Well... gosh, how thoughtful... One little question, WHERE THE HELL IS MY RIGHT EYE?!”
[Replacing it is a necessary procedure; the Radiation Processing Crystal will help you see the true nature of this realm.]
“Oh, I’m getting a clear picture all right...” I grumble.
[Life in this realm is harsh, resources to help you are available, but limited, so you will have to earn them by performing well in the trials.]
“You’re telling me... my performance is going to be rated? To determine if I’m... worthy of being helped to survive?!”
[It has been determined that those who perform badly in the trials have little chance of survival outside. Providing them with scarce resources to assist their precarious survival would therefore be counterproductive.]
“I’m gonna be sick...”
[For the next 5 minutes, I will answer any questions you might have, within reason.]
My eyes widen. “Wait, what?”
[You get a period of 5 minutes to ask que—]
“No, yeah, I got it! Shut up and let me think.”
I hate whoever designed this place. I hate whoev—no, focus. I was already convinced my death was inevitable, so a survival training centre... this could’ve been worse.
I lick my dry lips. “Alright, first question: where are my... ‘predecessors,’ the people who built this place?”
[Elsewhere. They will monitor your progress and performance remotely.]
That is... creepy and weird. Also, sounds like the answers I’m getting in these five minutes are still pretty limited.
“You mentioned void-shifting into this realm; what realm is this?”
[This is the Realm of Crystals.]
That’s more like it. Not that 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 back?”
[That is... unknown.]
My shoulders droop. Of course, things couldn’t be easy for once. I mentally shake myself; can’t afford to waste this opportunity in self-pity.
“So, what’s the difference between our realms?”
[The fundamental laws of existence here are of a higher order.]
“Ehm... Translate that to simple English please?”
[The laws of physics you are familiar with do not apply. In this Realm, we have laws of being.]
“Holy... All right, tell me about the laws of being.”
[The first law: All are one.]
[What in your world might be considered both as a single being or as a cluster of entities, such as the cells making up a body, in this realm can only be considered a single entity. As one.]
“Is that something like: ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’?”
[No, more something like: The whole is the whole; the parts are simply part of it.]
“Ohkaaaay... I’ll take your word for it. What’s the second law? No, wait, how much time do I have left?”
[2 minutes and 57 seconds]
“Oh shoot, all right... What killed the people back there?”
[The humans in Hub One died from a lack of Lavi.]
“What the hell is Lavi?!”
[It is life force. In the Entropic Realm, many lifeforms rely on the intake of oxygen for their survival. This realm however, contains no such thing. Here, you are ‘one,’ and in order to remain ‘alive,’ you require Lavi, as produced by some of the native plants and creatures. Take a look around you; your new eye should be able to pick up some specks of green. That, is 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 noticed, far more detail on the walls. And also, there are small flecks radiating a greenish light floating in the air. Lots of ‘em too...
“Wow... So why am I alive, and not they?”
[You breathed and you adapted. Your body fought off the toxins in the Aether, took in Lavi and used it to replace oxygen as a source of energy.]
“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 just gonna call it air.
“So, the burning in my lungs, that’s the toxins?”
[Correct. The toxins are actually also a form of energy, visible as purplish specks.]
I feel the urge to look, but there’s no time.
“Geeze, alright, ehm... how do I survive the trials?”
[The scope of your question is too large. Would you like a piece of general survival advice, or specific advice for the First Trial?]
“The first trial.”
[The easiest way to survive the First Trial is to learn how to breathe properly, and thereby avoid dying from the Toxic Energy exuded by the Moonshade Flower.]
“So, are those flowers also the source of the toxins that killed everybody?”
[Yes and no.]
[The toxic energy in the Aether is produced by different creatures and beings, but it is all the same kind.]
“So... there’s no difference between toxins produced by one type plant and another?”
[Correct. There is only one kind of Toxic Energy; the question is only what purpose it is given.]
“That’s... what did you mean by ‘breathe properly?’”
[It’s very simple. Breathe in...]
Are you joking? No? Fine then. I breathe in.
I keep going, and... to my surprise, the inflow of air remains steady. It’s like my lungs have no maximum capacity... Are the laws of physics truly useless here?
Lost in wonder and amazement, I foolishly keep inhaling. Then the burn kicks in.
I finally stop inhaling and close my mouth. The skin on my chest is taut and swollen, like I’m a well-pumped tire. And my lungs... are on fire.
I try with all my might to stave off the inevitable, but all too soon I lose control.
And cough... with the force of a jet-engine.
I’m launched backwards, lifted off my feet, as a spray of blood and lung tissue hits the mirror in front of me. My head hits the wall behind me with a resounding crack and once again, I black out.
The laws of physics are overrated anyway, amirite?
At least, my students seem to think so.