Trials: Part Thirty One

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Vanessa, Ashley, and Darryl all sat by the fire. Darryl had prepared a stew out of some meat that he hunted, and some herbs he had found. While it wasn’t gourmet, it was much better than Ashley had expected. They ate carefully using some pieces of one of Vanessa’s disks as utensils. Having full stomachs now, everyone seemed to be in far better spirits. She was certainly thankful for that.

“So, Darryl, where are you from?” Ashley asked. He had something of an accent so she figured he had to be British or Australian.

“South Africa.” He nodded.

“Oh, wow.” She nodded. “Vanessa and I are both from Atlanta. Well, I was actually born in New York, but yeah.”

Vanessa shot Ashley a look, as she said that she was from Atlanta. She wasn’t quite sure what she did wrong, but she mouthed ‘sorry’.

“So how did you get your ‘training’, or whatever that guy was talking about?” Vanessa asked. “Were you in the military or something?

“I was in the military for a little, yeah. Then the British took a liking to me, so they took me to train for an ‘off the books strike team’. That was what they called it.” He scoffed. “I did that until they were done with us. I learned that off the books meant that when we had done our jobs, we didn’t get a pension or decent wages. So I had to do contract work. From there, you know the rest.”

“That’s awful what they did to you…” Ashley shook her head. “Do you have a family?”

“Well, I couldn’t tell you.” He looked down and shook his head. “I haven’t been home, or heard from my parents in over twenty years. I don’t have a wife and kids or anything, if that’s what you meant.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…” Ashley was quiet for a moment. It seemed like they were just digging up bad memories for him. Her parents always loved her, and she had always had them. Sure it was a little rocky when she came out, but they came around eventually.

“Well, you girls are young. What do you have waiting for you in Atlanta?”

Ashley winced a little, she’d been trying to avoid that topic. She figured she should stall as long as possible, and gestured to Vanessa.

Vanessa sighed, and looked over to the fire. “I’m not even sure what’s waiting for me… I stormed out, and said I was going to go ‘find myself’. My boyfriend broke up with me, and went on a vacation with another girl. It’s also kinda weird how many connections my dad has from this place, so I’m not even sure what’s going on with him.” She wiped her eye and looked back to them. “Yeah, I’m kind a mess.”

“Well, speaking from experience, if you’re not happy with how you left things, you should probably go fix them.” He shook his head. “My mother tried to stop me from leaving, and I said some awful things to her… I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, so don’t carry regrets with you.”

“Yeah. I know I should… I guess I have to get back first.” They all went silent again. “Well, what about you Ashley? You went quiet.”

Ashley wiped a tear from her eye. She really hadn’t wanted to think about this, so she felt like an idiot for bringing up the question. “Well, I guess I don’t know what’s waiting for me… I had a great girlfriend, but I’ve been gone for so long she’s probably found someone else. I’ve probably lost my job…” Ashley looked up and realized what she said. Her face went red, and her heart was racing.

She was trying not to say that. Arte had always told her she needed to be more careful who she outed herself to. Her heart raced and tears started flowing down her face. She heard Vanessa get up, and she tensed up. She felt an arm around her.

“Hey, it’s alright,” Vanessa said. “You’re an amazing person, I’m sure she wouldn’t give up so easily. If you’re worried about your job, I’m sure my dad can take care of it.”

She over at Darryl, and saw he hadn’t moved, and looked unfazed. “Do you guys not-” She sniffled, “Not care that I’m gay?”

“That doesn’t change anything as far as I’m concerned.” Vanessa hugged her.

She looked over at Darryl, and he looked mildly surprised. “Oh, me? I grew up in South Africa during apartheid. I travelled the world, and saw that we are all human. There is no sense in discriminating on things.”

Ashley leaned into Vanessa, and couldn’t help but laugh a little. She knew they were good people, so there was no need to worry after all. After a few minutes, she pulled herself up, and wiped off her face.

“I guess we should talk about what we do now, huh?” Vanessa said, looking off into the fire again.

“Well, we got lucky coming out by a river. If we follow it downstream, we should eventually find a city, or the ocean.” Darryl nodded.

“Yeah, but what about all the people still in the prison?” Ashley asked. She was glad to have made it out, but wasn’t ready to abandon the people in there.

“That’s a good point.” Darryl nodded.

“Well, but right now, nobody knows about it. So if we were to go in, and we were to fail, then nobody would get to go home.” Vanessa replied.

“Well, the thing about that is that since we escaped, and they won’t find our bodies in there, they will realize we have gotten away. After that they will have to move the prison. Depending on how fast we move, they might not have time to move everyone, but at least half of those people in there would have no chance then.” Darryl shook his head. “That’s if anyone survives Takeo’s wrath when they figure it out. I figure we have at least a couple of days before they figure out we’re gone.”

“He’s right…” Ashley shook her head. “We have to go back.”

“I think you two should go downstream. You’re young, and you have lives waiting for you back home.” Darryl looked off into the woods. “I’m old, and I have nobody waiting for my return. Not to mention your lack of combat training.”

“Well, actually, I have some combat experience. Not like you, of course, but I did a little bit of superhero work.”

“Well, that settles it.” Ashley got to her feet. “We’ll all go. That gives us the best odds.”

“Alright, well, I won’t turn down the help.” Darryl stood as well. “However, I’d suggest you go to sleep. I will take watch.”

“Wake me up to switch off with you at some point, Darryl.” Vanessa stood and looked around for a second. “So where are we sleeping?”

Darryl laughed. “Find a patch of dry ground that looks soft. Some people like leaves for cushion, I prefer dirt. Less pokey.”


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Trials: Part Thirty

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Arte sat on the concrete floor of Zoey’s unfinished basement. Her dad had said this would probably be the best place to train, since he wasn’t too worried about sweeping up salt from it. She was reading Jude’s notebook, but it honestly seemed like it was all common sense. She thought he had said he was a professional trainer for some rich guy’s daughter, so she assumed he would know what he was doing, but the instructions were more or less as follows:

First, see what she has already gotten down. Second, get her to be able to make a rock out of salt. Third, see if she can make the rock go faster than just throwing it. Fourth, see if she can make a salt sword? Maybe a wall of salt? If you run into any problems just think of it in a different way.

Arte sighed. She had honestly expected something more detailed. It looked like she was gonna need to start from scratch. Jude had some good goals. Ideally, if Zoey was gonna fight someone with potentially any power, she would need offensive melee and ranged capabilities, along with some form of defense. It might be a challenge to get all of that together in four days. She didn’t trust Paul’s statement that she didn’t even need training at all. She couldn’t believe that guy was going to be her last bet to find Ashley.

“Alright, Zoey. To start off, I want you to show me everything you’ve worked out so far.” She pulled out a pen to take notes.

“Alright. It’s not gonna be very impressive.” She gulped, and took a deep breath.

Zoey took a step back, and concentrated. A rock of salt began to form in her hand. After about thirty seconds, she had one the size of a baseball. She shifted her grip, and the whole thing fell into dust.

She sighed and hung her head. “Ta-da.”

“That wasn’t bad! It’s not like your powers came with an instruction manual.” Arte got to her feet. She felt bad for the girl, because Arte’s powers had, in fact, come with an instruction manual. “Can you do it again?”

Zoey nodded, and repeated the process. This time it stayed for a second before falling apart.

Arte nodded. According to Jude she needed to ‘think of it in a different way’, whatever that meant. She thought back to her chemistry classes. Salt, as a crystal, forms an intricate lattice, so it would naturally take time to construct. Zoey seemed to be taking her time and concentrating, so if it was going to be useful by Saturday, that had to be the wrong approach. She couldn’t believe Paul was giving them three days to do this.

“Alright… So when you try to make a larger crystal, it looks like you’re straining yourself. I think I have an idea.” She pulled out the notebook. “So when you want to draw a straight line, it’s usually best to just take one quick stroke, than to take your time and try to draw the perfect line. When you take too long, you end up with a squiggly line, instead of something almost straight. So it’s possible that your powers are like that. Why don’t you try loosening up, and doing it quickly?”

“Alright…” Zoey took a deep breath, and swung her arm, like she was pitching a softball. Something solid flew out of her hand, and made a crack as it hit the wall. It clattered to the floor, and broke into a few large pieces.

Arte picked one up and examined it. It was an opaque chunk of solid crystal. She tried to crush it with her hand, but it held up. Arte smiled with satisfaction. “Take a look at this.” She placed the crystal in Zoey’s hand.

“Alright! I did it!” She jumped up and down with excitement. “I’ve been trying so long! I didn’t think I’d ever figure it out! Thank you so much!” She wrapped her arms around Arte.

Arte was caught off guard, but reciprocated. “Hey, it’s you doing the work, I’m just over here talking.”

“Alright, what now?”

“Okay, so I want you to try to make something bigger. Like a wall big enough that you could hide behind it.”

“Gotcha…” Zoey crouched down, and put her hands on the ground. She sprang up to her feet, and two separate towers of crystal formed.

Arte was about to congratulate her, but noticed Zoey was starting to stumble back. She ran up behind her and caught her, as she began to fall back. “Are you okay?”

Zoey slowly looked up to Arte. Her face was red. “I’m fine, just a little light headed.”

“Alright, let’s call it there, and maybe we can get back to this tomorrow.”

“Okay.” She got to her feet, and took a couple of steps, before stumbling and being caught again.

“How about I carry you upstairs, okay?” Arte scooped Zoey up in her arms and made her way to the couch upstairs. She was nearing the edge of her stamina, but made it just fine. She gently laid her on the couch, and took a seat next to her.

Zoey regained consciousness, and started to sit up, but Arte stopped her.

“Hey, it’s alright. Just lay back down. I think your dad left, but I’ll stay with you.”

“Thanks.” Zoey yawned.

“I’m sorry, I think I pushed you too hard. We’ll keep it small next time.”

Arte waited by her for a few minutes, and she seemed to have largely recovered. She got up from the couch and went towards the kitchen. “Alright stay there, I’m going to make a couple of phone calls.”

First she called Zoey’s dad, but he didn’t pick up. She called him again, and after he didn’t pick up, she left a message.

“Hey, Mr. Rodriguez. This is Arte. I just wanted to let you know your daughter fainted while we were training, I think I pushed her too hard. She’s fine now, but I’ll stay with her until you get home.”

She then pulled out her notebook, and dialed the second number. It rang for a moment, then someone picked up.

“David Smith, who’s this?”

“Hi Mr. Smith, I’m a friend of Jude’s, and I’m helping him with this case. He wanted me to let you know we’d need a couple of favors…”


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Trials: Part Twenty Nine

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Vanessa climbed onto a large pink disc, and carefully floated upwards. She had to move around some to avoid trees, but before long she was above the treeline. She looked out and saw green trees as far as she could see. She had hoped there would be some kind of civilization, or that they’d at least be able to see the prison, but there was nothing. Not too far from her was a hole in the trees. She couldn’t quite make out what it was, but hoped it would be water or someone’s house. She took note of what direction it was in, and floated back down.

She saw Darryl and Ashley, waiting patiently on the ground.

“So, what did you see?” Darryl asked.

“There’s no cities or anything nearby, I can’t even see the prison from here.” She shook her head. “There’s something not too far from here. It might be water, or something.” She pointed in the direction of the clearing.

“Alright. Let’s go, then.” Darryl began to walk, but stopped in his tracks. “Can I have one of my knives? I want to mark a tree, so we can find the pit if we need to.”

Vanessa shook her head. “We’ll leave a trail, like we did throughout the cave.”

“I’m not sure about that, someone could follow us.” Darryl replied.

“I’m not sure about giving you a weapon, so this is our best bet. Nobody will follow us.” Vanessa led on to the clearing.

They walked for about thirty minutes, until they reached the clearing. The forest was overgrown here, and it was difficult for them to make their way through the brush. They finally arrived at a river. It was about twenty feet wide here, but seemed to narrow about a hundred feet upstream and downstream.

Darryl approached the water’s edge, and stared into it. After a moment, he dipped his finger in, and tasted it. After a moment he nodded, and smiled. “Fresh water, this is good. I will get a fire going.” He started to move, but paused, and turned to Vanessa. “Actually, before that, I want to know why you do not trust me. You read my mind, and saw my story was true. What do you want?”

“I don’t know…” Vanessa looked to Ashley. “What do you think?”

“He’s always been nice, but you’re the one who read his mind. Was he telling the truth?”

Vanessa looked off to the side. He was telling the truth, but she couldn’t stop thinking of all of the ways he could betray them. Especially if they let him have his stuff back. It was possible that this was all a trap set by Takeo. On the other hand, it sounded like he had some amount of survival skills, which she certainly didn’t have. They probably couldn’t make it without him.

“Alright, fine. You’re right. I trust you.” She nodded. She had to, or else they didn’t stand a chance.

“Alright. Good.” Darryl nodded. “I am going to get a fire going. Can you make anything besides a disc out of the pink stuff?”

“No…” She shook her head. She’d tried before, back in training with Jude, but they were never able to make any other shapes.

“When you break it, it turns to glass though, yes?”

“Well, I don’t know that it’s actually glass, but something like it, yeah.”

“Good. While I’m getting a fire going, I want you to see if water passes through it when it isn’t broken.”

“Okay?” Vanessa went up to the river, and made a disc. She dipped it in, and saw the water go around it. “Nope, water doesn’t pass through.” She called back to him.

“Great. Give me a few minutes.”

Darryl cleared off the dirt, and made a pile of dead pine needles, with a triangle of wood around it. He also made a decently large pile of sticks off to the side.

“Alright, give me a disc.” Darryl held out his hand, and Vanessa gave him one.

Darryl looked up into the sky, and held the disk over the pine needles. After a few moments, the pine needles began to smoke. Soon enough, he had a small fire going. He looked to Vanessa, “Alright, I need you to go cut some firewood using your powers. Pick any of the smaller trees and cut it so they won’t fall on you. Do it over there so they don’t fall on me either, I will call if I need you.” He turned to Ashley. “You help her, and bring me wood as she cuts it.”

After about an hour of work, Vanessa had cut a good stack of firewood. She was about to start on another tree, when she heard Darryl.

“Vanessa, come here! I need your help.”

“Coming!” She made her way back to camp, and saw that Darryl had a good sized fire going. It had been a bit since they came out of the cave, and she was starting to get really thirsty. “I appreciate the fire, but could we maybe get some water?”

“Well, first we have to purify it, since just drinking that,” he pointed to the river, “could kill you from dysentery.”

“Alright, how do we do that?”

“First make a disc that’s about two feet wide. Then I want you to hover it over the fire. I want to see if we can get it to melt into being a bowl.” Darryl stepped back from the fire.

Vanessa complied with his request, and hovered the disc over the fire. After a while, the center started to droop.

“Alright, now move it off of the fire…” Darryl moved out of the way. “Towards the river, but don’t put it in.”

A few minutes passed, and the disc drooped a little more, then stopped.

“Alright, now gently lower it in…”

Vanessa gently lowered it into the river. The water sizzled as it made contact, and eventually it was fully submerged. After a few moments, Vanessa levitated the disc out of the water, and back to shore.

“Great! We have a bowl!” Darryl smiled. “Now, we need to fill it up about halfway with water, and bring it to a boil.”

Vanessa groaned. She was so thirsty, but if this would get her water, she would do it. The sun was starting to get lower now, and by the time she had the water boiled and cooled, it was almost dark. They all drank up, and sat around the fire.


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