On the cliff’s face, a long trail of students traveled along the narrow road and down into the depths of the dark canyon. They pooled at the bottom, where two thick and tall wooden pole, three times as tall as any student, with large dark, blue rock crystals on top, illuminated a vast radius at either side of them. The ground was grey and had the feel of compact dirt, the particles on top like a thin wispy sand.
But even with the vast lights above, the surroundings before them was black, a shifting darkness as if a predator lurked just beyond the reaches of crystal light.
Prospective students conversed, the noise getting louder and louder as more joined the group at the bottom of the cliff. Delias was among them. He stood right in the middle of the group, not yet coming onto the grey ground.
There was never a person more scared of death than Delias. Especially now that he had a new body, a new chance to get home and fix things and reach new heights. So Delias was definitely not going to open himself to an attack at the edges or even from below. Can never be too careful. In a trial that not even half would survive, Delias was taking no chances.. Let the braver ones be my buffer and get eaten first.
“What’s that?” As Delias was thinking this, a student pointed out and shouted, his loud voice eclipsing the numerous murmurs of the crowd.
Delias could not see the guy who shouted amongst the averati, but he had no need to in order for him to understand what he was referring to. Silently, in the middle of the illuminated radius, a mound rose from the ground, the whisky grey like dirt shifting to finally reveal a broken totem, the figurehead gone. The thick dark wood rose like a silent specter. As it reached twenty meters high, it finally stopped. Embedded crystals all lit up on the surface of the totem.
No one spoke. No one moved. They just watched the crystals pulse a dim light. Damn it. I have a bad feeling about this. And at that Delias swiftly bore through the crowd to get closer to the front. If it was any other time, Delias would have kept himself in the middle, not leaving it for anything in order to maintain his averati buffer, but if his thoughts were correct, he would have a hell of a time if he just stayed there.
As Delias was almost near the front, a student broke from the pack and headed closer to the totem. Damn it. Not enough time. In this section I will likely be run over. Delias hurried. He no longer cared that he was shoving people. Grunts and curses passed him by as he drew closer to the front. But getting through two thousand, five hundred people quickly was a hard thing to do.
The student that had reached the totem pulled out a knife and his bag and dug at the crystal until one popped out. Crystal after crystal dropped into his bag until he had ten. This Damn idiot! Trying to get me killed! The student then took one of the crystals in his hand. As soon as the crystal touched his skin, its dim light grew two meters out with him in the center; and in a few moments that student walked into the looming darkness. The light glowed as he walked further in, illuminating part of his path. The crowd watched him until he reached far in the distant darkness, only to disappear from sight.
By then the silent crowd was not so silent anymore. “Those crystals are for us to light the way!” Someone said.
“But there is clearly not enough.” Another voiced out. They saw that the guy had taken ten crystals of what looked like a few thousand. That meant not everyone would be able to get one. And that was not including the fact that at least a thousand crystals were too high for any of them to reach; at least that was the case for the weaker ones who had no skills or power to reach them. But which really strong student who managed to reach the totem first would go out of their way to get crystals when there were crystals right in front of them? For the other students? As far as everyone was concerned everyone was a rival. Though the guy at the podium said nothing of it, some of the managers had hinted at prizes for the leading few who managed to reach the campus first.
More and more students broke from their fear and took a few crystals. Delias had been one of them, taking about twenty. He had finally reached the front part of the crowd and sighed with relief when after watching that previous student take crystals the whole crowd had yet to rush over, only a few ten at a time. Just my luck. Their too cautious. He focused on the back of the totem where no one but those right next to him could see. He had no need for people to target him once they realized that there was no more left. Even if there were five thousand crystals for five thousand students. With each one taking more than one, how could there be enough? And who would just take one? In a trial of survival it was better to be safe than sorry.
Whoa they’re heavy, Delias realized. The crystals were small, about the size of half his palm, but they were incredibly dense. Individually, they were not a problem, but ten? Twenty? And carrying all of them for a month?
“Damn it! They’re taking too many!” Someone from the crowd called out.
Delias looked over, a good hundred meters to where the majority of the crowd was still clumped together.
“ At this rate there will be none left for those in the back!” Another voiced out.
The ones who yelled ran out of the crowd and headed towards the totem, towards Delias. And like a broken dam, the hesitant students began to run towards the totem as well. Some realizing of how many crystals would be lost to them if they were the last to go up ran harder. Now people were getting trampled.
Delias saw this and stopped digging crystals out. He had accumulated over twenty already and stored them in the brown leather bag he had gotten from the room he woke up in. He had been careful of not touching any of the crystals with his hands so that he did not activate them since, from the interaction with the last student, they seemed to turn on just from touch. He flipped the cover, closing the bag and ran off into the dark. Best not get caught up in that.
Delias had no friends or acquaintances to wait for. In fact he had some enemies. He was sure that those kids from the city at the eastern border were here. They had, after all, been chosen by Elder Lu, so they should be in the crowd. And though in the end they had come out on top, cheating him by pushing their gold onto him, he still hurt their pride and gave them no face.
As Delias went into the dark, he took a crystal out. The surface was cool to the touch, and as soon as he had it in his fingers, a light purple light burst forth, leaving few paces around him lit, but nothing else. The only thing that kept him going forward, giving him a point of reference, was the distant echoing raucous behind him. Forward!
After what seemed like half an hour, Delias stopped. He was breathing hard, and he was sore from where the bag strap dug into his shoulder. He had rushed on, hoping none of the crowd at the edge decided to follow him and steal his crystals instead of fighting through the crowd to get them. Such a thing was definitely not inconceivable as it would have been the first thing he himself would have done if he had been strong enough. Better hunt the loner than moving through a raging crowd.
But that was then. Now was now. Delias was not sure of himself. Do I just continue straight? He had tackled one problem, but there was now another. Where do I go. Going straight was indeed a possibility. If he did, he could end up on the other side of the cliff. But was it supposed to be that easy? He had overheard students talking about the seniors that they knew. How they had warned them that of how dangerous the trials were without divulging any details. Well, except for one. The shortest time for anybody to finish the trial was one month.
When Delias was on top, he could see the cliff on the other side of the canyon. That was their destination. It was not to follow along the canyon to who knew where, but to cross the width of it. Such a thing wouldn’t take anyone a month, even if they just leisurely walked the entire way, and yet, somehow that was the shortest recorded time it took a student. If it had been one person saying this then Delias would not have paid any heed. But it had been more than one. A lot more. That made him worry. Why am I getting trapped in all this. It feels like I have been dumped in a river and there is no way to stop the rapids until I come out to sea!
Delias shook his head and sighed. He wasn’t going to put too much thought on it. He could not go back regardless. He had no information or friends to rely on. All he could do was go forward. And that is exactly what he did. For hours he ran, only taking a few minutes of rest in between. Damn. Who thought it was a good idea to bring along all these heavy glowing rocks? It’s that first guy, putting thoughts in my head. One was enough! If he didn’t take so many, I wouldn’t of thought of taking more!
Delias panted as he took another rest. He uttered curse after curse. Cursing everything from the dirt beneath his boot to the other piece of dirt not underneath his boot.
And that’s when it happened.
The light went out.
His crystal, and source of light, died! What the hell?! Delias stilled. If he turned or shifted his feet he would lose his bearing and then he might end up running endlessly along with the canyon or end up turned back around. The first situation was a literal death sentence as he would end up lost. While the second was dangerous because even if it was the case where if he went back to where he once was, he could just turn around and run straight again knowing that he’ll eventually hit the other side, the fact remained that he would have to face the thousands of other students behind him. Only if each crystal lasts for just a few hours, then how would I last a month in this place?
Delias took out another crystal. The dim light brightened as it touched his palm.
As soon as the light came again, a screech rang in his ears. Delias winced. He looked at where the sound came from.
Standing a few paces from him, just beyond his crystal light was a small and dark figure. Its black eyes gleamed from the light.
Delias yelped as he took a step back. But then he froze.
Hundreds of black eyes popped up all around him, surrounding him. Dark, small figures staying just out of the range of his crystal light, footsteps so silent it made him shiver. Their long nails dug into the dirt from their three-toed feet; their short lizard like tails swished slid along the ground as they moved.
Delias swayed his arm, shifting the light back and forth. The crowd of little beasts with thick black hides moved. They screeched and yelped as they backed up further. Delias’s heart went into his throat. His eyes shifted to the crystal in his hand. This thing. It does way more than light the way. It was then that Delias heard the screams. It was not one or two, but multiple people screaming.
“It’s eating me!”
“I don’t want to die.”
“I give up. Get me out!”
Tens of voices echoed out. Their lights must have gone out too. Must of only had one or didn’t take out another in time. So unless you can kill thousands of them in the dark, you’re dead without it! What the hell? A cold sweat beaded and dripped down his back. Their steps are so quiet. If I was a second late, those silent creepers would have killed me!! Delias took a deep breath and calmed himself down. He walked forward, the light moving with him. The little beasts moved away wherever the light touched.
Delias moved faster and faster until he was running again. It seemed no matter how fast he ran, the beasts managed to out of the light’s range. Good. And with that, Delias continued on with the trial.