Chapter 25: The Rest of the Obstacle Course

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

Very hard, as it turns out.

Initially, the rope didn’t do much. But the moment Anna passed the halfway point, it went wild. It suddenly pulled her to one side with the strength of Scimmia, very nearly throwing her off. Before she could move again, the rope swung the other way, repeating the process all over again. It went back and forth, throwing her around as easily as a child would a doll.

Anna soon became sick from the constant swinging and extreme momentum. The sausage and eggs that she had for breakfast churned unhappily in her stomach and slowly crawled back up her throat. Her head spun as up became down, left became right, and her innards started making their way to the outside. The roar of air in her ears drowned out the sounds of jeers from the crowd below.

She continued her climb slowly and carefully, moving only in the brief windows when the rope’s momentum slowed. Bit by bit, she made her way towards the top. But with each bit of progress, the rope’s flailing became more intense. Even as her grip burned with the effort, Anna still found herself slipping. She wrapped her entire body around the rope, clinging to it like a small, frightened child. You beat Alex. She thought, gritting her teeth as she forced herself upwards. But you won’t beat me!

As she climbed, she recalled all that she had learned from watching Alex attempt this obstacle. Every time he passed the halfway point, the rope would change tactics, spinning around wildly rather than flailing back and forth. This was usually the point where he went flying and had to start again; it seemed that he either got sick or impatient. Either way, Anna was determined to avoid having the same problem.

Her progress was painfully slow. She clung tightly to rope with her whole body. The extreme momentum weakened her grip several times, nearly throwing her free as either her legs or arms fell loose. Before she could fall free, she managed to throw herself back and fix her grip.

By the time she finally reached the top, all of her senses had been turned upside down. Her legs and arms screamed with burning pain. It took all of her remaining strength to keep from vomiting on the platform. Below, she could hear the distant yells of encouragement from the crowd, but their words became meaningless sound by the time they reached her.

The sound of the swinging metal, however, was as clear as day.

After finally catching her breath, Anna climbed to her feet and faced her next obstacle. The pathway ahead was smooth and clean, lit only by a few lines of glowing blue lines of energy. Dozens of massive flat-headed hammers swung through the air in a smooth and powerful rhythm at chest level. As far as she could see, there was very little space between them.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding!” she growled to herself. So, this was the so-called ‘Path of Pain’. She silently vowed to murder whatever psychopath designed this obstacle course.

Stay calm. She breathed, carefully observing the pathway. The hammers swung back and forth like pendulums, but none of them were at matching pace with one another. There had to be some kind of trick to it, right? No. If there hadn’t been one before, why would there be now? She already knew the right answer. Be fast. With a deep breath, Anna charged through.

The first hammer was easy to dodge. It came at her slowly and she easily side-stepped it well before it would have made an impact. The second, on the other hand, came much more quickly, forcing her to quickly roll away. Unfortunately, this put her straight in the path of the third and fourth hammers, both of which nearly hit her head-on. She just managed to throw herself down and press against the floor. She kept moving, crawling forward as quickly as she could.

Unfortunately, in her desperation, she completely neglected to look where she was going. As she started to rise back to her feet to run, the fifth blow came swinging at her from the right. By the time she had noticed it, it had taken her head-on, throwing her off of the path.

Anna felt her body fall through the air. For a single, terrifying moment, she was completely weightless. Then her body seemed to weigh as much as a starship, dragging her towards the floor. It took all of her focus not to scream. Her head fell beneath the path as her hand reached up and…

She just managed to grab a hold of the ledge, halting her momentum in an instant. A loud gasp came from below, just barely managing to reach her ears. Despite her best efforts, Anna couldn’t help but shoot a glance beneath her. She knew she was high up, but she hadn’t realized just how far she had climbed. If she fell from this height, she’d be lucky to get away with a few broken bones. Was the person who designed this course a maniac? Luckily, despite the lingering burning in her hands, her grasp was firm. All she had to do was pull herself up and-

A loud click reverberated in her ear. The hammer that had just hit her stopped in place, looming over her like a deadly shadow. Anna froze. It wasn’t that long before, was it? Her heart froze in her chest as it fell again. She stared hard at it for what felt like an hour. No. It was definitely not there before.

With a shot of adrenaline, Anna managed to pull herself back up onto the path. Just as she rolled back onto solid ground, the hammer collided with the side, sending a powerful quake through the path. It moves. Anna thought bitterly. Of course it does. Her urge to murder the designer grew from a small fire to an inferno.

Another click extinguished the flames of her rage instantly. The weapon was shifting again, returning to its original position. Eager to avoid being made into a patty, Anna resumed her dash through the Path of Pain. In doing so, however, she put herself right in the path of the next swinging pendulum. She managed to dodge it by a hair, but she soon found herself stumbling down the course like a Cara on a Saturday night.

Near the end of the course, her foot took a sudden ride to the right, throwing her off balance. She fell flat on her chest, just missing being hit by the third-to-last obstacle. The feeling was well familiar to her; Melcroft had clearly neglected to mention that the floor would be overly-waxed before it came time for the slide. Something gave her the sense that she was chuckling to herself right now.

Above her, the remaining obstacles came to a stop. Loud clicking filled the air as each one grew a few centimeters longer. Anna tried to stand, but her feet slipped uselessly on the slick floor. Throwing the possibility of standing away, she started to quickly slide forward, using the slick floor to increase her momentum like a penguin. Behind her, the last obstacle of the Path of Pain swung down and ground against the floor with a loud shriek of metal on metal. Thankfully, no one would be able to see the bright red look of embarrassment on her face.

Her shirt was caked in wax, so much so that the black fabric had practically turned yellow. It would take many runs through the wash before it got back to its original color, and it would likely have shrunk down by several sizes before it was finally clean. She’d have to toss it out later. Normally, she’d be greatly upset by that. But at the moment, she was too relieved at having cleared the third obstacle to care. Besides, losing a plain black shirt wasn’t the worst loss in the world.

Confidence began to swell in her chest. She crawled back to her feet, careful not to lose her footing again. Her gaze ran over the slide spiraling downwards before her. Several black pillars jutted out from the surface of the curving slide. Get hit by one and start the whole course over again. Anna thought, recalling what Melcroft had told them during their first day. Shouldn’t be too hard.

It seemed that fate had different plans for her. As soon as she took one step forward, her boot slipped again. Her body came tumbling down again, falling over the lip and tumbling down the slide. She quickly lost control of her momentum, spiraling down in a mad, nauseating dash. Her sense of direction immediately vanished as her stomach, which had finally settled after her climb up the rope, turned unhappily within her.

Though she would later refuse to admit it, she only cleared the first few pillars by sheer luck. Her body had spun past them entirely, though she did come uncomfortably close on more than a few occasions; it felt as though her body was being guided along by an unseen force. She tried to straighten out and regain control but the effort was far greater than she had expected. First, she pressed her limbs hard against the slickened metal, slowing her momentum as much as she could while controlling her spinning. When her sense of direction returned, she discovered that she had at some point rolled over onto her back and was now plunging head-first down the spiraling ramp. Using her arms to pivot her body, she finally twisted her body into a proper angle that let her see what was coming ahead. All the while, luck kept her from colliding with any of the obstacles.

When she finally regained control, the rest of the slide somehow became even less manageable. She saw each pillar coming well ahead of time, but her body struggled to respond to her commands. It was only through chance that she sped past them rather than into them. It was a painful ride; her bare arms had been rubbed raw from the earlier strain and were only made worse with each strenuous and sudden movement. But in the end, when she finally reached the bottom, she was mostly unharmed.

The room was spinning rapidly around her, which did nothing to help with her nausea. The crowd was practically screaming now, yelling both jeers and words of encouragement that all blended together into near meaningless noise. Before her, the final obstacle, despite being the most simple of them all, loomed before her like the shadow of death. It’s just a balancing act. Anna told herself between deep breaths as she tried to keep her breakfast. She tried to stand up and move again, but her center of balance had been thrown so far that it had left the room.

With all the balance of one-legged dog, Anna slowly stumbled over to the metal plank. Despite being back on solid, non-waxed ground, her boots still slipped and squeaked with every step. Her confidence from before wavered as she took the first step onto the final obstacle. Relax. she told herself, trying not to panic. You can do this. Just take your time and-

She froze. Take your time? No, that wasn’t right. How could it be? That hasn’t been an option so far! This isn’t the easiest obstacle. Anna realized. They set it up to be the hardest! She paused, one foot resting uneasily on the final stretch. This wasn’t right. If she tried it like this, she’d definitely fall. There had to be another way!

I was fast. Hinata’s words echoed in her mind.

With a quick turn, Anna dashed back to the bottom of the slide, stumbling more than a few times. The crowd called out behind her in confusion, but she ignored them. She lined herself up with the plank as best she could from a distance. With how dizzy she was, she couldn’t be sure that she was angled properly. She only had one chance at this. If she missed, it would be over. It all hinged on this one move.

What else is new? Anna thought with a smile. Then, steeling her every nerve, she charged.

Her feet tried to slide beneath her and her body swayed left and right. But she always repositioned herself. Then, running as straight and fast as an arrow, she stepped onto the plank. She pushed one foot out, twisting it to point towards the gap. Then she kicked off with the other, sending herself sliding forward like a greasy bullet. She slid across the gap, fighting to keep her balance with every centimeter. Despite how far and quickly she slid, she still couldn’t feel the sole of her boot becoming any firmer.

It ended in the blink of an eye. Anna slid past the plank, flying back onto solid ground. Her momentum kept her going, carrying her all the way back to Melcroft, the trainees, and the crowd. For the first time, everyone had gone silent. They stared at her with awe as she finally came to a slow stop. She stood perfectly still, panting for breath and dripping with sweat and wax. Then, all at once, everyone erupted into cheers and applause.

Despite her victory, Anna couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. There was no doubt in her mind that she was about as far from being attractive as she could get at that moment. Her clothes were all ruined, her hair was a mess that clung tightly to her forehead and neck, and she had several painful bruises that still shone red on her pale skin. Still, blushing furiously, Anna smiled at the crowd and cried out in victory.

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