The darkness surrounding Chlo was a lead weight, heavy and thick. It existed only through her hazey awareness, blurry and unreal. She pushed back against it with a groan, trying to force her lethargic muscles to respond. She blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision and gain a sense of her surroundings. After a moment or two, she rose to a sitting position. Now wide awake, she rubbed furiously at her eyes. It was still dark; she could make out nothing but the solid floor beneath her.
She tried to call out, but her voice broke in the middle. She hastily cleared her throat and gathered herself to try again. “Hello?” her words seeped into the blackness, swallowed whole by unresponsive silence. Her throat tightened, and she forced herself to inhale and exhale fully with each breath.
Still battling against her muddled senses, her thoughts screamed in a panicked rush. Am I awake? Dreaming? Where is this place? How did I get here….. And where did I come from? This thought gave her pause, and her head listed slightly to the side as she began to realize that she simply didn’t know. Her heart began to pound. She didn’t know…. anything, really.
But… if there’s a way in, there must be a way out…. Slowly, feeling her way carefully with her toes, she stretched out her legs and pushed herself up to a standing position. She held her arms out to either side, and cautiously slid her foot forward. Gauging each step in the same way, she made gradual progress until her fingertips bumped something solid. She brushed her hands over the surface, creating the picture of a wall in her mind. Trailing her fingertips along it, she worked her way around until she counted four corners - a room, about the size of a large office. After another trip around, her hand passed over a switch slightly above head level.
She flicked it up, and cringed back from the fluorescent white light that flooded through the space. She blinked several times and waited for her eyes to adjust before turning to take a proper look at the room. The walls were smooth and white, with no indication of a door, closed or otherwise. Besides her, the room was entirely empty. Frowning, she studied the ceiling, and ventured to call out again, louder this time.
It wasn't that Liselot had no confidence in easing herself through the game. It was quite the opposite as she had all the confidence unlike most of her colleagues in the lab. It was just that the redhead regarded herself an observer, preferring to stay behind and take notes instead of having to involve herself. However, as she had pulled the shortest straw of them all she was sent in, along with another randomly selected citizen to keep company.
She had woken up in darkness, as expected and remained still for a little while to wait for the pressure to leave her body. Why Louis insisted on the invisible chain to be placed upon them was beyond her. She knew that there was hardly anything in the room that they could attack or hurt. Counting her heartbeats the female felt the weight disappearing and then got up. The room was still dark as she stood, turning to the left and taking three firm steps into the same direction. Brushing over the wall she quickly found the switch, smirking at herself as she could hear her co-workers groan at how there was no fun in her.
'Too bad. I'm not here for fun.' came the somewhat bitter thought. The light flickered on and the ginger remained still, waiting for a sign.
"Hello?" came an uncertain voice and Liselot cocked a brow. The signal came sooner than she had expected. Which sounded promising, but the cryptologist had learnt never to take the appearances immediately as they appeared themselves to be.
"Hi," Liselot started, blinking at how awkward this sounded and scraped her throat. "Hey, yes, I'm here," she quickly followed up counting six steps to reach the wall at the other side of the room. "Do you know where we are?" she tried hard to sound confused, but the edge in her voice and the tone made it sound more like an inquiry to the well-being of the other.
She knew that somewhere on the wall --exactly one and a half step away to the right and a little above her head-- was a switch that would collapse the wall between them, but Liselot wasn't about to tell her partner. It was supposed to be a test and this was as much an experiment as all the other runs before.
Chlo glanced quickly around the room a second time at the sound of a feminine voice responding to her greeting. Her brow furrowed as she studied the space and listened harder, trying to pinpoint exactly where the sound was coming from. It was muffled slightly, originating from somewhere on the other side of the wall. There was a beat of silence until she realized that she had yet to answer the question.
“No, I don’t,” She replied, her voice more sure and steady. She hesitated, scrutinizing the wall. Knowing that she wasn’t alone served to eliminate some of the eerie atmosphere created by the quiet of the place, but the implication that her companion was as dumbfounded by the situation as herself proved a mild disappointment. So much for a quick and easy answer - although somehow, she didn’t feel much bothered by that.
“There doesn’t seem to really be anything in here. I don’t suppose you see a door of any kind on your side?” she asked, still examining the wall for even the slightest crack or seam that might indicate a way out. Frowning slightly, she tipped her head back to look up a bit higher. When her examination led her back to the lightswitch with nothing to show for it, she gave it a few flicks on and off. It might have been her mind playing tricks, but she thought after the second time turning the lights back on, something above her head whirred and clicked.
She looked up at the ceiling, but it didn’t appear that anything had changed. Hm. Probably just imagined the noise…. As her gaze lowered from the ceiling, she noticed something she hadn’t before - another switch not far from the first, just above head height. “Aha,” she murmured quietly. “I wonder what this one does….” She reached to push it up with her thumb, and waited.
Biting back a laugh Liselot peered at the key just above her head. Whoever was at the other side was as clueless as they needed as she dutifully responded to the question.
“No, no there is nothing here,” Liselot played her part perfectly, taking a few steps away from the wall as she crossed her arms. At the other side she heard her partner switching on and off the power, amusing her greatly as she quietly shook her head. “That clicking sounds promising,” she called over the wall, hoping to encourage her to try something else but to switch off her light, which she did need to progress.
However, not long had the tease passed her lips or the walls slided out of the way smoothly. Blinking, genuinely surprised how fast she had cleared this Liselot quickly played it off.
“Wow, how did you do that?” she asked, pretending that she herself had been so busy looking for the switch.
Much time they didn’t get, as the room darkened and the walls flickered, turning into a screen as a voice started to speak. Frowning a little Liselot made a mental note how little time there was for introductions before the sequence was started, arms crossing again in thoughtfulness and defiance.
‘Welcome to The Game, a prototype simulator created ---’
The redhead drowned out the monotone voice, knowing full well what it said and what it explained. Training them,selecting them, blablabla. She had no interest in listening to the explanations and goals of their presence here as she had heard it all before, being part of the team that had developed it.
Keeping herself quiet in respect to her partner the female ordered her thoughts as she thought of what they were going to expect next and how she could stand by as passively as she could, to just observe the woman next to her.
’Next up is... ‘
‘State your name and choose your weapon.’
Startled from her thoughts Liselot looked up at the screen again, not having expected that the explanation was over so soon. Or perhaps she had been in thoughts that long? Alas, in front of her the screens flashed an array of weapons that they could choose from, none of them all firearms, but all of them obvious in their use. Next to the weapons display was attached with their stats shown, their strength, accuracy and so on. Just like in a real game. And to level it out dual wields were all properly scaled so that they wouldn’t outscale the rest, as tempting as they seemed.
“At least we will be able to update ourselves later,” Liselot scoffed as she stared hard at the screen. All of them were useful in later stages, but the ginger couldn’t recommend one for herself. She wasn’t looking for usefulness, after all.
The lights flickered and the room darkened as a screen took over the walls. Chlo tensed, ready to react to a threat - but none presented itself. As the message played out, she listened and glanced at it from time to time, but rather than affording it her full attention, she moved cautiously around the room, inspecting it for differences to the one she had just come from. Nothing appeared immediately obvious, although she did wonder briefly if she may have missed something in the dim light.
“State your name and choose your weapon,” The automated voice from the wall screen ordered. Chlo turned from her examination of the room to scowl at it. She strode across the room to the weapons display and stood before it with her arms crossed, taking a careful look at the available options. “Chlo Lanton,” she stated matter of factly. Shouldn’t they know that already? Lazy.
After a minute or two examining the different weapons and their stats, she forgot entirely about selecting one. There was something off about the numbers, something…. Something like a pattern. Eyes darting back and forth across the screen, she began murmuring quietly to herself under her breath, talking through it almost as if she were dictating notes.
“Hm. What do you make of that?” She asked, gesturing at the numbers. She wasn’t sure yet what it meant, and having Redhead take a second look would give her more time to think. And, it just might tell her a bit about the person she was dealing with; better to know now if she would be better off alone, or if this chick had enough of a brain in her skull to carry her own weight.
She took half a step back and looked at the numbers again. And it clicked. The numbers formed a cypher - a remarkably simple one. They could’ve made that a little less obvious, really…. While she waited to see if Redhead would catch on, she pieced the words together in her head.
“Lys Vecchi,” Liselot lied easily as the screen displayed her name. “Double ‘c’,” she corrected and edits were made. A cynical smile spread over her face, apparently used to the constant mistakes made in the spelling of her name. Which was true, when it was still Cracchiollo.
A silence fell between them as the cryptologist let Chlo make her observations and judgements. A few moments and then a question. Lowering her head Liselot hid a smile before flicking her head back up again, expression nonchalant and uncaring.
“Stats and probably something hidden, say what do you know of this place?” Liselot shrugged in response, wondering how much of the Game had been explained to the participants and how dumb she could act. This first room should be fairly easy and Liselot was fine playing the dumb beauty of the game, but the act was tiring after a while. She had to prepare for how long she had to pretend.
“Anyway, I will take the crossbow,” reaching out to the weapon the ginger went for the only long-distance weapon in the arsenal, the rest being a limited selection of blunt weapons. “I’m not a great shot, but an even worse swinger,” she smiled to her partner as the crossbow appeared in her hands and disappeared on the screen. No configuration was needed, the bow adjusted to her height immediately and a handful of arrows appeared in a bag.
“Jack squat,” Chlo replied emphatically, shrugging at the question, “But I have a feeling figuring that out is going to be part of the fun.” A half hearted smirk briefly turned her lips upward before being chased away by a furrowed brow. “Hm.” Casting a quick, regretful look at the crossbow, she reached out to hover one hand above a metal plated quarterstaff, while the other deftly typed in the cypher code. As the weapon vanished from the screen and materialized in her hand, she entered the final digit.
A low mechanical hum began emanating from the floor, followed by a click. Her eyes lowered, scanning the tiles for any indication of a change, but nothing appeared to be obvious. “Wonder if that was a trap, or something,” she murmured to herself, “Sure didn’t open anything.” Frowning, she looked back up at Lys, gesturing at the crossbow with one hand. “Stay in front of me, then; I’d rather not get shot if you haven’t got great aim. And try not to run out of bolts; no telling when we’ll have a chance to get more.”
Done with Redhead for the present, she began making her way around the perimeter of the room, lightly tapping her weapon on the floor and against the walls. At the wall opposite where the screen had appeared, she halted and tapped again. “Aha. There you are.” She took a step back and tilted her head upward, examining the wall with narrowed eyes. After a few moments, she dropped down into a crouch, and began running her fingertips lightly along the floor. A foot or so to the right, her fingers sank into a small crevice, and she heaved upward, lifting a narrow section of the wall garage door style.
With the door open, she took a half step to the side, head tilted. “Huh. Cool.” Glancing back at Lys almost as an afterthought, she gestures with her free hand at the narrow, dim corridor beyond. “After you.”
Chlo’s answer told Liselot one thing: the intern hadn’t been doing his job. Fine, but annoying, since she had been the one who had given him the task. A simple task and the male didn’t execute it. No wonder the male had been avoiding her all week leading up to this.
However, the lack of an introduction didn’t phase Chlo who seemed even excited to discover this new place and situation. Admirable, as the ginger had been confident she would be stuck with a bundle of nerves that wouldn’t last the unknown.
So far her new partner had managed to impress the cryptologist. Unlocking each key with surprising ease and speed. When the training corridor opened Liselot couldn’t help but smirk a little when she was let through first. “You’re quite good at this.” Cocking up a brow the redhead stepped towards the dimly lit hall, grasping her bow a little tighter before stepping in.
“One might almost think you’re the source of the situation,” the female joked with a wink.
As soon as Chlo followed Liselot into the hall the door leading to the start closed up, cubes upon cubes building and appearing onto each other until it sealed itself into the same dark hue that surrounded them. The only way left was in front of them, where a light in the end promised another bright room.
“Let’s go,” the ginger said as she took a step forward. Hidden all across the walls and the floor traps were laid out, the patterns all memorised. Impossible to avoid, or to predict as the patterns laid itself out at random, to avoid predictions and sharing. Not that it mattered anything right now.
Triggering the first trap a sound rushed towards them. Pushing herself against the left wall she felt the arrow fly past the back of her head with an inch before the hall went silent once more.
“I’m at a disadvantage here, it seems,” the female chuckled, gesturing at the narrow hall and her bow in hand. “I don’t think I like the front anymore,” she followed, though her reasons for wanting Chlo at the front wasn’t what she made it sound it to be.
Chlo murmured a soft curse, staring at the arrow and slowly shaking her head as she took half a step back. “I don’t like this hallway,” she muttered.
She narrowed her eyes at her companion, and folded her hands atop the staff, resting her chin on it. “Interesting thought, that I might be the source of this. Makes me wonder. Did I engineer some kind of death maze, have my memory erased, and then trap myself in said maze for my own amusement?” She shrugged. “Perhaps I did. That’d be wild.” She flashed a split second grin, then snatched up the staff and faced the hallway, her brow drawn in concentration as she sized up the narrow space.
“Right. I’m guessing there’s probably more traps in the walls, and some in the floor…. Maybe some in the ceiling, but seems less likely. I’m not a spider so that wouldn’t be an easy out anyway…. Hm.” Her gaze still fixed ahead, a slow glower began to spread across her face. Muttering incoherently to herself, she spun around, glanced at the arrow, tracing backward with her eyes to pick out where it had come from. Then, she dropped into a low crouch and ran her fingertips across the floor. She slowly stood back up, murmuring a quiet, “Hm. You might want to duck, or something.”
Considering that sufficient warning, she dropped her staff and rolled it forward with her foot, tracking it with her eyes until it stopped about halfway down the hall. As it came to rest, a red beam flashed from one side of the hall to the other directly above the rod, and remained there.
“Pretty. Probably not the sort of pretty thing you touch though, eh?” She smirked at Lys, and took a careful step forward, sticking to the path the staff had travelled until she reached it. Never taking her eyes off the beam, she slipped her foot underneath it and pushed the staff another couple of feet forward.
But as she did, there was a quiet thunk. The cubes came to life again, and the hallway began to shrink. Reacting instinctively she lunged forward, snatching up her staff and sprinting for the next room as fast as her muscles would move.
The brunette amused her. So Lys had decided. The sarcastic remarks, along with the loud musings. Chlo had no idea of the irony in the situation and Lys had no intention in revealing it any time soon, taking note that her partner was fortunately half a bit smarter than the general population. Good, for it meant that all Lys had to do was play the dumb beauty and that was no challenging role to play.
It was for that reason that she duck away, crouching as she went to find a spot near the walls, as per Chlo’s instructions, obediently taking in the orders given.
And this was where the fun started. With the walls coming together Lys and Chlo both instinctively started to move forward, but the path proved itself not to be an easy road. Blockades in the form of more lasers, blocks popping out from all sides, and arrows zooming past with such a precision that it was undoubtedly designed specifically to miss them by milliseconds all popped forward. It was a game of wits and reaction, racing against the time.
Despite all the knowledge Lys housed and the answers she had stored within her brain the codist was physically not prepared for what came. She knew full well that just near the end a particular sharp sequence was to follow. However, with the path she had already taken and the constant jumping and rolling the female was exhausted. She wasn’t made to be constantly on the move and while she had trained before volunteering for the test run Lys was only fit enough to pass for average.
The sequence required them to jump over the block that would pop up, then immediately roll past (or jump once more if the player had the jumping power over) the laser that would greet them, at last a stepping sequence that went left, right, right, left, middle made up by arrows, popping walls, and more lasers.
Lys had been most nervous about this particular sequence, having tried hard to preserve her strength and stay sharp. Though, in the end it didn’t matter as the sequence followed each other up in such a speed that the female at one point felt herself be burned by one of the lasers at the stepping sequence. Hissing she rolled out into the next room, which was once more another white room, where she clutched onto her smoking shoulder.
“Do we get healing pods?” she scoffed, though her face didn’t seem to be so amused with getting hurt, or feeling pain at all.
The path they came from closed up, the blocks merging into each other smoothly to form yet another white wall. However, long it didn’t stay white and pale as soon after a green meadow started to bloom underneath them, dying the ceiling blue like the sky as a giant tree with a pond formed near. The birds were singing and if they looked closely they would even be able to see little fairies hiding in the reed, spying on the newcomers that had suddenly entered their domain.
And while the water was as promising as it looked, fresh, clear, and above all, rejuvenating, they would have to fight if they wished to make use of the healing pond.