Energia, Web Novel

Chapter 22: A Simple Solution

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

“Excuse me?” Anna said politely but firmly as she approached the woman. “May I have a moment of your time?”

The woman didn’t respond. She leaned further back in her chair, casually strumming her fingers against her leg.

Japanese. Right. Anna almost slapped herself in the forehead. She reached into her pocket for her holo-phone. After repeating the sentence into the device, she held it out to the woman. Then, praying that she wouldn’t immediately walk away this time, she tapped the Shinobi on the shoulder.

She didn’t respond immediately. Rather, the Shinobi eased her chair back into its proper position. When she looked up at Anna, finally opening her eyes, a momentary expression of shock spread over her features. Her eyes darted from her to the blue holo-phone, quickly scanning over the text. “Hai?” the woman asked in a dry voice. Then, just as she did in the dorms, she turned her gaze down and away from Anna.

Good. Anna smiled. At least you’re not running this time. “I was hoping you could give me some advice.” She spoke, half to her and half into the holo-phone. “About the obstacle course.”

“Advice?” the woman echoed in rough English. She stared at Anna for a moment, her brow furrowed in thought. “Oh. You must be in basic training.” She shrugged, leaning back in her seat again. “Sure. I can spare a minute. You can put that away now.” She added, nodding at the holo-phone.

“Oh, uh, right.” Anna quickly pocketed the device, then sat down beside the Shinobi. She intended to slide her chair away, but she had already slid hers far enough to bump into the next seat over. Her eyes quickly darted to the exit, then back to Anna. Make it quick. “I heard you cleared it in a day. The obstacle course, I mean.”

“I did.” The shinobi nodded with a yawn.

“How?”

She shrugged. “I ran fast. I didn’t put much thought into it.” She pushed her seat away from the table with one boot, then stood up. “You’ll get it soon enough. Just keep at it. That is all the advice I can give you.”

“What? Hey, wait up!” Anna stood, but the Shinobi was already halfway across the dining hall. How was she moving so fast? “How’d you get over the wall?!”

“I told you already.” The Shinobi answered without looking back. Then, without another word, she was gone.

Anna cursed, biting her lip. So much for that. She sat back down, throwing all her weight into the chair. For a sheet of solid steel, it was surprisingly comfortable. She kicked her head back, letting her hair spill out over the side. You were fast, huh? Well, good for you!

“That didn’t seem to go well.” Lucas chuckled, walking up to the table. He had swiped a small square of chocolate cake from the corner and had already begun treating himself to it, scarfing it down in small bites.

“No. It didn’t.” Anna let out a long, deep sigh. “Some prodigy she turned out to be.”

Lucas laughed, taking a seat across from her. “Well, someone’s upset! What? Did you think she was gonna give you some hidden secret that would solve your problems?”

Anna felt heat rise in her cheeks. “O-of course not.” She lied, leaning back in the seat. “I just wanted some advice, that’s all.”

“Oh?” Lucas leaned in, resting his head on his hands. A mischievous smirk tugged at one corner of his lips. “And what kind of advice did you get?”

“None.” Anna growled bitterly. “’I was fast’, she said! As if that helps!”

“I don’t know. That might be more helpful than you think.”

“Really?” she shot him a glare. “How do you figure that?”

“If she beat it because she was fast enough, then you’ll need to get faster. No way around it.” He shrugged, finishing the rest of his cake. “No shortcuts here, missy. It’s either be fast enough or get fast enough.” He stood up and smiled at her as he adjusted his tie. “Not everyone can be a prodigy, Anna. Take your time. It’ll hurt, but you’ll clear the course eventually. Just try not to get too many bruises, okay?”

“So, what? I should be faster, but take it slower?”

“That about sums it up.” He chuckled. “Good luck. I get the feeling you’re gonna need it.” He made a quick trip to the table and came back with another portion of the cake, then slid it over to her. “Consider that food for thought.” Then, with a wink and a nod, he was gone, leaving Anna alone at the table.

She stared down at the cake with no appetite. “Be faster, huh?” she whispered to herself. What a bunch of crap.

******

Describing Anna’s next meeting with the wall as ‘brutal’ wouldn’t do it justice. As soon as she and the other recruits gathered back in the training hall, where the obstacle course still stood all set up, she volunteered immediately to go first. Then, as if she had stepped back in time, she repeated her first attempt almost exactly. This time, however, she showed enough self-restraint to avoid being dragged back to the dorms. Between clenched teeth, she admitted that she gave up and stomped back into line with the others.

Still, she was determined not to let her defeat go to waste. Sitting cross-legged and resting her head on her hands, Anna stared hard at each member of the new recruits as they attempted the obstacle course. Maybe one of them could see something in the puzzle that she couldn’t. She knew she couldn’t ask them for it; they’d only try to throw her off the scent. Watching them in action was her only option.

After her turn came Tommy, who strode up to the wall with a confident smile. “This time for sure!” he shouted triumphantly, pounding his fists as he took a running stance. He was off in a flash, bearing down on the wall like a bear on a deer. But as soon as he leaped up, he was sent flying back down. He had tried to bear the hit, but it struck with enough force to boom like lightning upon impact. From how he writhed on the ground, gasping for breath, it must have been a poorly placed blow. Two attempts later, he backed down. “Thing hits harder than any of my brothers!” he laughed as he sat down, rubbing his bruises. “But it’s got nothing on my dad! Just watch, I’ll beat it sooner or later!”

Just what kind of childhood did you have? Anna wondered.

Eitan came next. His defeat was a swift and painful one. Almost as soon as he approached the wall, it sent him tumbling away and left him clutching his stomach. Still, he didn’t stop before taking a few more attempts. After a thorough beating, he stumbled his way over and sat beside Tommy, taking slow and painful breaths. Even still, his eyes were glimmering. “Such a fascinating obstacle…” he muttered to himself. “It’s almost like it knows where to aim! Actually, now that I think about it, it probably does! But how? Oh! Maybe it has human anatomy programmed into its targeting system! But how does it calculate for everyone’s different heights and body types?” he continued to mutter to himself like a kid in a candy store.

Anna scowled in his direction. Why couldn’t she get a read on him? One minute he was cold and quiet, the next he was like a little kid. What was his deal?

Cara and Sal got into an argument over which would go first, though it was clear that the Irishwoman was doing most of the actual fighting. Eventually, Sal relented, letting Cara go next. He didn’t sit back down, nor did he need to; not five minutes after their verbal bout, she was stumbling her way over to Anna and the others and the mountain was striding towards the wall. He rubbed his hands together, his expression going blank. Then, with a sudden roar, he charged the wall with such speed and force that Anna thought he was going to bust straight through it.

He didn’t. Not that he went down quickly; he withstood the wall’s onslaught of attacks like a buffalo on pain-killers, even when they struck with enough force to knock him off balance. For a moment, it seemed he would conquer the obstacle. But a full-power blow to the face managed to bring the towering giant down. Still, he did manage to smile as he made his way back to the others. “They definitely upped the difficulty since last time. Would I be in the wrong for wanting to punch whoever designed that wall?” he asked as he rubbed his cheek.

“Hope not,” Cara said, stretching her arms over her head. “Cause I really want to hit ‘em!”

“I less want to hit them,” Eitan added, “and more want to pick their brain! That device is a work of pure genius!”

“Oh yeah, it is.” Tommy nodded, a grim look on his face. “It’s evil genius at its finest!”

“All of you, shut up and watch.” Anna growled. “It’s his turn.”

When Alex stepped up to plate, everyone in the room fell quiet. He stretched both his arms and his legs, eyeing the wall with a blank face. Everyone stared at him, waiting to see what he’d do next. Anna leaned forward, forcing her eyes to stay open. She knew he was good; it was time to find out just how good he really was.

He was off like a bullet, moving with a speed that seemed almost inhuman. Anna struggled to keep up with him as he closed the gap between him and the wall, then just as quickly began his climb. The wall immediately flew into action, aiming a barrage of attacks at him from top to bottom. Anna braced herself for impact, waiting to see him go flying. Surely not even he could manage to-

Alex threw all of his weight to one side, narrowly avoiding the blow as it slid past his face. Then, before the arm could shrink back and vanish, he took a hold of it and propelled himself upwards. Another attack had already formed there, waiting for him before he arrived. Again, he threw himself to one side, practically swinging around the wall to dodge the blow. Then, with one final pull, he cleared the wall, avoiding another attack that spread over the whole surface of the wall.

She felt her jaw drop. How could he have done that?! There was no way he could swing like that without falling! Even if he could, he’d have to spend too much time recovering, then the wall would hit him! No one could recover in time! They’d have to be-

Fast. Anna froze. She didn’t pay any attention to the others’ cheers ringing out beside her. Nor did she pay any heed to Alex, who spun through the air violently as he tried to climb the rope. He was fast. That’s all there is to it. Just like she said.

The sudden urge to punch herself shook in her arm. How could she have been so stupid?! She may as well have looked directly into the sun and tried to argue that it wasn’t bright! Her lips curled into a tight line as she attempted to swallow her mingling pride and frustration.

If not for the loud thud that reverberated throughout the room, Anna wouldn’t have noticed Alex falling from the rope and slamming into the ground. Her gaze remained fixed upon the wall as her teeth bit deeply into her lower lip and her brow furrowed into a scowl. She knew the answer now. Knew that there really were no tricks to it. No easy passes.

“New recruits none!” Melcroft announced, practically cackling as Alex made his way back over the others. “Two points in favor of the obstacle course! Now, which of you wants to try and get your team onto the board next?”

Without even a moment of hesitation, Anna stood up and thrust her hand high into the air. If she had to get faster, she could think of no better way to do it. Even though her bruises were still sore and her muscles ached, she prepared once again to face the wall.

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