Trials: Part Fifteen

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Vanessa woke up feeling cold. Wherever she was, it was dark, and the floor was hard and uneven. She pulled herself to her feet, and conjured a disc. The light wasn’t much, about as bright as a glowstick, but she could see within about a foot of the disc, which was a notable improvement.

“Who’s there?” Someone asked. Vanessa nearly dropped the disc. It was definitely a woman, and it sounded like Ashley. Her voice was shaky.

“Ashley?”

“Vanessa is that you?” She heard some scraping, followed by footsteps from the same direction as the voice.

“Hey, I have light, let me come to you.” Vanessa conjured another disc and slowly floated it towards the voice. “Grab it when it gets to you.”

The disc floated for a few seconds, before someone grabbed it. They pulled the disc close to them, revealing their face. It was Ashley.

Vanessa sighed with relief, and made her way over. She conjured two discs to float by her feet and illuminate the ground. Once she was near enough, Ashley wrapped her arms around her. Vanessa could sense fear radiating from her, and hugged her a little tighter.

“Ashley, do you know where we are?”

She took a shaky breath and sighed. “We’re in the pit. It’s a network of tunnels, all stemming from this room. One tunnel leads to freedom, some lead to dead ends, some lead to the prison, and some lead to… Death. Nobody has ever made it out before…”

“Alright… It’s gonna be alright, we’ll find our way out.” Vanessa thought for a moment. Based on what she knew about Takeo, he’d want people to have some small chance, or else it wouldn’t be a fun game for him. If they were supposed to have any chance, they’d need a flashlight. “Do you have any kind of light?”

“No…”

“Alright, that’s fine.” Vanessa pulled away, but Ashley still clung tight.

“Wait, don’t leave me!”

Vanessa thought for a moment. “Alright, I’ll stay by you, but I need you to let me go, so I can see if we have any supplies in this room.”

Ashley slowly released her, and Vanessa sat down next to her. She conjured as large of a disc as she could, ending up with one a couple of feet wide, and slowly floated it across the cave floor. It was very uneven with lots of rocks sticking up. They didn’t stand a chance without a light.

“So nobody has ever made it out?” Vanessa asked, keeping her eye on the disc.

“No.”

“How do they get us here?”

“I don’t know… I just woke up a few minutes ago and I thought I was alone.”

“We were both asleep, so we had to be brought here… You said some of the tunnels lead back to the prison, and it wouldn’t be much of a game if there was just a quick way into this area… Whoever brought us here had to have a map, or at least know the way. Then again we’ve been asleep, so that wouldn’t work… They’d be long gone.”

By this time the disc had gone all the way around the edge of the cave. It was a pretty large cave, large enough to accommodate about twenty tunnels coming off from the sides. Vanessa moved the disc towards the center of the room, and sure enough, there was some kind of black tube. It had to be a flashlight. Vanessa moved to get up, but felt Ashley grab her arm.

“Wait!”

“Ashley, do you see that in the center of the room? I think it’s a flashlight. I’m gonna go grab it. Then we’ll work out a plan. I’ll come right back here.” Vanessa smiled, and Ashley released her arm.

Vanessa conjured two more discs to light the floor as she walked, and made her way to the center, being careful to avoid anything that might trip her. A fall on this floor would be bad. She picked up the object, and held a disc to it. Sure enough, it was a flashlight. She found the switch and turned it on. The room was filled with white light, and the sudden change blinded Vanessa for a second. Once she regained her vision, she did a quick scan to make sure they were alone, and that they hadn’t missed any other supplies they’d been given. There was nothing else. Vanessa sighed and made her way back over to Ashley, sitting back down by her side.

“So, this is all we’ve got. I’m guessing the challenge is supposed to be avoiding dehydration. I think that takes about three days to set in, but we don’t want to cut it that close if we can.” She flipped off the flashlight, and felt Ashley jump next to her.

“What’d you turn off the light for?” She sounded panicked.

Vanessa pulled her in next to her, and conjured a disc to illuminate them. “Hey it’s alright. We need to save the battery, we don’t know how long it has left. I guess that could be another part of the challenge…”

Ashley let out a quiet sob. “How are we gonna make it out of here?”

“Hey, I’ve made it out of worse situations that this. Besides, we have superpowers! We can do this! What happened to the Ashley who told me everything is gonna be okay when I got tossed into your cell?”

“I just can’t do it anymore! I’ve had to reassure everyone for so long… I had to keep telling them it was gonna be okay, even though nothing was okay! We were stuck in a prison with no way out, and now we’re gonna die in a cave!” She sobbed a little louder now, and leaned into Vanessa’s side.

“Hey, don’t worry. I have a plan. We’re going to make it out of here okay.” She hugged her, and waited for the crying to subside.

After a few minutes, Ashley sat back up and wiped her eyes. “Okay then, what’s your plan?” She asked shakily.

“Alright, so just now, I counted about twenty tunnels. This is meant to make it look like we have less than a couple of days to find one tunnel. Our first limiting resource is probably the flashlight. I imagine that we’re not the first ones to be sent here though, so there must be other flashlights hidden around. Additionally, the tunnels to the prison wouldn’t be that bad, when the alternative is dying, and there’s always the chance that we run into the guards who dropped us off an we could jump them for a map or supplies. Now, do you have anything else on you?” Vanessa felt all of her own pockets, but came up with nothing.

“No…”

“That’s fine. I learned something about my power while I was here.” She conjured a disc in her hand. “Normally my discs disappear after a few hours, which isn’t great for a trail of breadcrumbs, but if I break it,” she broke the disc in two, “It stays for a lot longer. The one I had in my room hadn’t disappeared yet, so that should leave plenty of time to follow a trail.” She turned to Ashley. “So, I figure we have about a 25% chance on any given tunnel we take being a decent option, and if we have time to hit at least four tunnels, then we should find some kind of way out. Alright?”

Ashley took a deep breath, and smiled. “Alright!”

Vanessa helped Ashley to her feet, and flipped on the flashlight, making sure to look away this time. “Alright. Let’s get going.” Vanessa picked a tunnel, and ventured into it.

 


 

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Trials: Part Fourteen

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Adara led Paul by the hand through the monastery. It had been a long time since Paul was this excited about something. Today was the day his life was about to change. He wondered what the process would be like. Maybe they had some kind of special ritual, or a cure-all medicine.

After they walked for quite some time, Adara helped Paul sit down, and sat down across from him. “Now, what troubles you? I know that you did not tell me everything the last time I asked you, so now that we’re alone, please leave nothing out.”

Paul nodded. He was surprised that Adara knew how much information he was holding back, but then again, these were magic monks in a hidden monastery. He supposed they would be able to tell things like that. “Alright. My vision has been getting worse. I know I was already blind, but there’s degrees, ya know? I used to be able to tell the blobs apart, as different objects, but now they’re all blending together.”

“Yes, I understand. What else troubles you?”

“Well, to be honest, I’ve been having some pretty horrific visions.” Paul really didn’t want to relive them, but he figured if you go to the doctor, you should let them know about the issue so they can help fix it.

“Yes. What things are you seeing?”

“Well, I keep seeing my own death. Every time, it’s at the same place, and by the same hand, even though the people around change. I’m not really sure where it is, but it always ends with a shot to the chest.” Paul shuddered.

“What you see, are different things that may come to pass. If you are having visions of them, I have no doubt of that. Is that all that troubles you?”

“Well, yeah. Pretty much everything else stems from my visions of the future. It’s hard to look at someone the same when you’ve seen them kill you and your friends over and over again.”

“As far as what to do about the visions, that is a puzzle you will need to solve for yourself.” Adara stood up. “I hope, however, to give you greater control over these visions, so that you may better discern the correct response.”

“Alright, what do I need to do?”

“I want you to sit and meditate. Start with trying to induce a vision of a friend, then move to whatever the cosmos draws you to.” Adara began to walk away. “I will return in two hours, and you may update me on your progress.”

“Okay…?” Paul wasn’t expecting this to be what the monks told him to do. He did make a point of putting the most important problem out there first. He didn’t figure it would help any to complain, since they’d probably just tell him to trust them. He may as well give this a try, and they’ll probably get to that later. This was only the first day after all.

He took a deep breath and tried to focus. She told him to focus on a friend first, and there wasn’t much point in doing Anastasia since he could just see her whenever. He turned his mind to Vanessa. He’d been weird around her before he left, and she seemed to be taking it pretty hard. It was just difficult to be around her, after Jamal, and with his vision. He concentrated as hard as he could on Vanessa’s face. Adara wasn’t especially helpful in her instructions, but he figured he’d probably have to work this out himself.

Suddenly he was in a small room. It looked like a prison cell, and Vanessa was there with another girl. There was a commotion and someone was tugging the other girl. Paul couldn’t hear clearly what they were saying, but it looked like the girl was begging for help, and Vanessa was frozen. The man tugged the other girl out of the room.

Paul was now in a different place. It was some kind of prison yard, with rows of people sitting on the ground, watching some kind of spectacle. He looked towards whatever held their attention, and saw Vanessa fighting a teenager. The teenagers hands and feet shot out fire as he fought, but Vanessa kept blocking his blows. He saw the girl from a moment ago standing off to the side, watching in horror.

Paul found himself back in the cell. It seemed to be the same vision from earlier. He wondered why he was back here. It wasn’t really typical for him to have the same vision twice so close, but he supposed he had never tried to induce it before. The scene was almost painful to watch, though. After the girl got hauled off, Paul was expecting to find himself somewhere else, but instead his hearing clicked in. It was like he was there. Vanessa ran over to throw up, and Paul bowed his head. It was natural that she’d feel bad after freezing up like that. He wished he could say something to her. Something about how she could make this right.

Vanessa looked around the cell, as though she had heard something, then fell back crying. Paul’s heart raced. He wondered if she’d heard him. He had to try again.

You’ll know what to do.

Vanessa looked around again, and called out, “How?!”

Paul was about to reply, when he found himself in a different place. He was in a bedroom, and there was a girl on the bed. She had short hair, and didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. He looked around the room and realized he saw some of his own things. His keyboard was here, as was his computer. He decided to try to say something again.

Can you hear me?

The girl sat up. “Yeah? Jude is that you?”

Paul thought that was strange. This had to be his room, since he saw his stuff, but this girl didn’t recognize his voice. Perhaps she just knew he was out of the house.

Paul saw Jude standing in the doorway. “Did you say something, Arte?”

Paul was about to say something again, but he found himself in a different place. This was a darker room. A man sat crosslegged on a white rug, with light shining down on him, also illuminating a bunch of notebooks. He had his eyes closed, and seemed to be meditating. Paul started to look at one of the notebooks when he heard a voice.

“Ah, you’re finally here.”

He looked around and saw nobody else in the room, and he didn’t see the man’s lips move.

Can you see me?

“Yes, Paul. I can see you, and I know who you are. I’m unsure when or where you are, so you may not know me. You will certainly make a worthy adversary.”

Paul gasped, and found himself back in the monastery.

 


 

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Trials: Part Thirteen

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Arte couldn’t resist collapsing into the bed. It had been ages since she had a bed that she could call her own. First she had been staying in hotels, then she moved to motels. Just before this, she had moved to couch-surfing, but had run out of good will with friends.

Ashley’s parents kicked her out the second they could. They didn’t outright stop associating with Ash, but they definitely didn’t approve of the relationship, as they had outright stated on numerous occasions. Since the apartment wasn’t in Arte’s name, as Ash made more money by a longshot, they were able to remove the stain on their legacy with ease. In one day, Arte had to move all of her things she wanted to keep into a storage unit, and move out.

She wasn’t reckless, so of course she had money saved, but it could only go so far. The payments on the storage unit were probably about to start not going through. It wasn’t like she could’ve kept that job for long anyways, living out of a hotel, but she knew Ash was still out there so she had to at least try to find her.

Arte’s own parents had stopped speaking to her entirely, once she had come out, and they were all happier for it. She realized what she was thinking about, and redirected.

She needed a job. She couldn’t get an engineering job, as she was still a semester short. Then the thought came to her mind, Jude had to make money somehow, so perhaps she could be a hero too. It was something that had come to mind, as it would with any actual human being granted superpowers. If it came to it, she could get another retail job or something of the sort. It was Ash that was the priority here, not her comfort.

She recalled the party that Ash had thrown for her when Arte had quit her last retail job. She had bought loads of party poppers and some cheap wine. They were still finding bits of confetti in the apartment for ages afterwards.

Arte found herself laughing. The laughter grew and grew, until it eventually began to turn to tears. She considered the idea that she was holding onto an impossible hope, based on the fact that they couldn’t find a body. That just meant she had been abducted, which could be even worse. She tried to banish the thought from her mind, but it kept coming back, with more details every time.

She heard a loud crack, and jumped. She saw the metal man from earlier, with a piece of the door in his hand, hanging from the still intact door knob. She quickly tried to hide her face, and wipe her tears.

He stared at her for a moment. “Why are you sad?”

Arte debated what to say for a moment. She didn’t just want to dump on him, so she decided on a brief version of events. “I’ve lost someone close to me, and I miss her.”

He moved towards her, and moved in to embrace her. She tensed up, but was surprised to find his touch was gentle. “I lost my best friend. It was sad. He said he had to go, and that I wouldn’t see him again. Maybe we could be friends, since we both lost our friends?”

Arte laughed. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

The man smiled from ear to ear. “Jude wanted me to tell you that dinner is ready.” He got up and almost ran out the door.

She looked around the room, in hopes of finding a mirror, but found none. She cleaned her face up as best as she could, and followed the man out of the room.

She returned to see Jude clearing three spots at the kitchen table. At each of the spots was a plate of chicken and macaroni, one of the plates having more than the other two. She took a seat and Jude gave her some water. The TV was playing in the background. It was a news piece about an upward trend in supernormal crime.

“Deven, turn off the TV and come have dinner with us!” Jude called into the den. He then turned to Arte. “So, Arte. Is the room fine?”

“Oh yeah, totally.” Arte nodded and stared down at her plate. “I was thinking about something, and I’m sorry if this is rude or forward or whatever but… How do you afford such a nice house? What do you do for money?”

Jude forced a smile. “Well, it’s a little complicated, but long story short I work for the government and they pay me a salary and let me live here. There’s even an equity plan if you can believe it…”

“So they pay you to do superhero stuff?”

Jude was silent for a moment, then sighed. “Well, it really looks like they’re paying me to not do superhero stuff…”

“Oh…” Arte looked down at her plate again. “Well, it’s just that I could really use a job, and that’s why I asked what you did. Do you think that they’d hire me?”

Jude laughed a little. “Well, not unless you have superpowers.” He looked up from his plate at her, and suddenly stopped eating. “Wait, do you have powers?”

Arte sighed, “Yup.” She got up from her seat and began to do some hand gestures. A light formed at her fingertip and she began to draw the frame of a square in midair. Once she was finished she grabbed it. It was hard and faintly warm. She tossed it over to Jude, who examined it for a moment before placing it on the table.

“Wow, wasn’t expecting that.” Jude nodded. “In that case, let me tell you a bit more about my job.” He got up from his seat and rolled up his pants leg, revealing his ankle monitor. “I’m basically on house arrest. I can ask permission to go anywhere, but I get the feeling they’d really rather I not. So I’ve basically been stuck in the house for the past two weeks. I wasn’t given too much of a choice about taking this ‘job’, really. They told me I was encouraged to recruit more supers, though, so if that’s something you feel like you could live with, then I guess you’re welcome to it.”

Arte’s jaw dropped a little. On the one hand, she really needed the money, and she doubted a part time job would cover it. On the other hand, this wasn’t exactly going to help her find Ash, given that she’d be stuck at home. Although, now that she thought about it, she had basically exhausted all the leads she had and turned to Jude’s blind friend. The government likely wouldn’t take kindly to a super, even one who didn’t get their powers from the light, living in their house intended for their superhero prisoners without an ankle monitor. Then again, she couldn’t risk a lead coming up and her not being able to explore it. She had to try to hide.

“I think, if it’s alright with you, I’ll just look for a regular job, and not be on house arrest.”

“Fine by me. We could use someone around here that can freely leave the house.” Jude smiled and took his seat again.

Arte followed suit and began eating. She immediately gathered that Jude was not exactly a great cook. The food was alright, but it was quite lackluster. Unfortunately, she also didn’t know how to cook, and she wasn’t gonna turn her nose up at a free meal.

 


 

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Trials: Part Twelve

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About a month had passed since Johan’s duel. Vanessa had grown to tolerate Ashley and her friends, but still tried her best to keep to herself. She had no particular love for Ashley, or her ‘healing to accrue favor’ gimmick, but it was helpful to have someone to talk to to stave off the madness. Additionally, she noted this morning, that the pieces of her broken disc had remained for all this time, despite the fact that her discs normally disappear after a few minutes of not being actively used.

Today, however, she had noticed something strange. Ashley was fine before assembly, but after assembly, where she wasn’t burned, she had a grotesque burn on her arm. This was peculiar because Ashley didn’t know the man being punished, to the best of her knowledge. In this month she hadn’t taken anyone’s burns away from them as far as Vanessa knew. She definitely had a bad feeling about this, so she elected to keep her distance the next day.

As Vanessa was reflecting on this, she heard her cell door click and squeak as it opened. The other guard barged into the cell. Vanessa’s heart was racing, but she remained silent and still. He grabbed Ashley and pulled up her sleeve, revealing the burn. The guard reached to his radio, and spoke into it.

“Jones here, you were right. The prisoner has the same burn on her arm.”

Takeo replied over the radio. “Bring her to me.”

Vanessa looked at Ashley, who seemed to have lost her calm demeanor. She scrambled away from the guard and towards Vanessa. “Help me!”

Vanessa froze. She felt light headed, and her mind raced. She couldn’t afford to start trouble, and whatever Ashley had gotten into was her own fault. She had to keep her head down if she was going to get out.

The guard looked at Vanessa with a twisted smile. “Well, are you gonna help her?” He laughed and began to move towards them.

“Jones quit being a dick, and get it over with.” Another guard appeared in the doorway. His name patch said ‘Gaines’.

“Yeah, yeah.” Jones replied, before dragging Ashley out of the cell.

As quickly as he had came, Vanessa was alone again. She looked down at the floor. In the scramble, Ashley had knocked Vanessa’s pillow to the floor. She shakily got to her feet, and bent over to pick it up, when she felt ill. She scrambled to the toilet and began to dry heave. She used to be a hero, someone people would look up to, and now she just let a girl go to her death because she helped someone, and Vanessa just sat and watched. She may not have always been a monster, but she had most certainly become one.

She heard Paul’s voice. “You can make this right.”

Her heart skipped a beat. She looked around the cell and saw no-one. She fell onto her back and tears began to stream down her face. She had finally lost it. She was hearing voices, and of all voices to hear, it was Paul’s.

“You’ll know what to do.”

“How!?” She called into her cell, knowing she wouldn’t receive an answer. She wiped her eyes and chuckled. Of course even the Paul in her head wouldn’t give her a straight answer. She stood to her feet, dusted herself off, and put her pillow back in place. According to Paul, she would know what to do, and when to do it. That or she’s snapped, so either way, she’d make this right.

She went through dinner in complete silence. She couldn’t bring herself to sit with her usual group, since she knew they’d ask questions. She had a feeling that Ashley would be brought out front during assembly. Paul had said she’d know what to do, but she still couldn’t figure it out.

Once dinner was over, the buzzer went off, and everyone began to shuffle to the yard. Once there, everyone sat in their usual places, and waited for Takeo to begin.

“Greetings, monsters.” He addressed the crowd.

“Greetings.” Everyone, now including Vanessa replied.

“Yesterday, I engaged in a duel, and I mercifully allowed the monster to continue living, with only moderate injuries.” He began to pace the stage. “Injuries hurt, yes, but they are a valuable teaching tool. If you do not feel the consequences of your actions, you will not learn from your mistakes.” He motioned to some guards standing off to the side. “One of you decided that you would take that monster’s injuries from him, thus denying him, and others, a valuable learning experience.”

Vanessa’s heart pounded, as they brought a girl with a bag over her head out front. She already knew who it was, but secretly hoped she was somehow wrong. She wasn’t.

“Monster, I’ve taken note of your for quite a while.” Takeo looked down at Ashley. “You have not directly defied me until now, so I have not taken action. I would like to teach you a lesson now. Doing charity for monsters will earn you nothing, as you are about to witness.” He then turned back towards the crowd. “Now, I am nothing if not fair, and I know this monster’s power is not in direct combat, but in healing. She has healed many of you, taking on the wounds herself. As such, I would like to offer any of you the opportunity to be her standin. You would duel me, in her place.”

The audience was silent. Vanessa looked around, and saw all of the people that Ashley had been friends with staring down at the ground. She couldn’t believe it. After all Ashley had done for them, they were about to damn her. She took a deep breath, and stood to her feet.

“I’ll do it.” She said, with as much confidence as she could muster.

“Ah, the cellmate.” Takeo smirked, and turned back to Ashley. “You’ve gotten lucky, but take note of the fact that only one of the countless monsters you’ve helped, cares to help you in your time of need.” He turned back to Vanessa. “Well, come forwards.”

The audience parted around Vanessa, as she began to walk forwards. She put herself between Takeo and Ashley, and the world went silent.

“Now, the terms of the duel are as follows: if I win, you both go to the pit. If you win, you both go free.” He smirked again. “As an added bonus for your heroism, if you win, I’ll tell you a secret about your father.”

Vanessa’s heart skipped a beat at the mention of her father. She took a deep breath, sighed, and nodded. She had to win this. “That works for me.”

Takeo took a fighting stance, and Vanessa followed suit. They were both still for a moment, then Vanessa made the first move. She hurled a disc, but Takeo sidestepped it. He then advanced, and began a flurry of flaming blows.

Vanessa managed to block punch after punch with a series of discs, but he was moving too fast. She had to do something now. She noticed him going in for a kick, and she sent a disc towards his other foot.

His foot began to slide, but he caught himself with his hand. Vanessa felt an impact at the back of her head, and everything went dark.

 


 

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I wish you all safety and courage to follow your convictions during these times. I talk more about current issues on my twitter, @CJAWorks, so if you want to hear more, please look there. I am not a POC so above all, please listen to them.

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Art Post!

Hey everyone, I did some art that I really like. It was a color palette challenge. Was limited to those four colors. The character (with copious creative liberties) was supposed to be Yuki Nagato, from Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and other spinoffs of that.