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Chapter 10

 

“Allie!”

Blood spurted like an angry torrent from the gunshot wound in her left side, just below the ribs. Her face had taken a terrifying tinge of gray, which told me she was losing blood fast.

“Why didn’t you say anything? We should have treated your wound right away!”

Allie could only manage a thin smile in my direction. It was an apology.

“Dammit Allie, I don’t need you to say sorry. I need you to stay with me!”

She was bleeding out. At this pace, she’d be gone in minutes! I needed to stop the bleeding no matter what.

I tore my backpack off and retrieved the first aid kit. Tearing open a roll of QuikClot hemostatic bandages, I took a deep breath and grit my teeth for what must be done.

Dealing with dangerous edged weapons all the time, I had learned how to use these lifesaving bandages in the past, but my hands were shaking now that her very life might depend on how well I recalled those lessons.

“This is going to hurt. Hang on, baby girl.”

Steeling myself, I used my finger to push the bandage into the gunshot cavity. Allie groaned but she clenched her jaw in order not to cry out. With trembling hands, I ruthlessly kept shoving the roll of bandage as deep as I could. It’s impossible to describe how sickening it was to feel her soft flesh giving way and the blood gushing out of her wound as I continued to insert as much of the clotting bandage as I could.

It couldn’t be helped. The bandage’s clotting agent had to come into direct contact with every severed blood vessel if my Allie was to have a chance.

“Just a little more Allie. Please hang on, baby. Almost done..”

I continued to coo to Allie as more of the bandage went inside the wound, telling myself over and over that I was just pushing some stuffing inside a hole and not allowing myself to really stop and think about what I was actually doing.

Then suddenly, it was done. There was no room anymore. I quickly tied the bandage around her midsection, then looked up to her face with my my heart drumming in my ears.

Allie’s eyes were closed, but she was still breathing. She must have passed out from the pain somewhere in the middle of the process. I refused to even consider the other possibility: that I had been too late and she had already lost too much blood.

Even as I sat there gulping in big breaths, I could hear shouts coming in the direction of the shop we had just left. I knew that if the positions had been reversed, I would have done exactly the same thing, but I still found myself resenting her selfishness.

“How dare you risk your precious life just for my safety? I’d rather face down all these terrorists with just a couple knives than risk losing you,” I whispered, brushing a lock of hair away from Allie’s face.

“Oh, really? Now, that’s a very interesting proposition indeed.”

I whirled around, instinctively drawing the machete in my hand to face the new threat. I was like a cornered animal wound up in the most primal instinct to survive.

Charon clapped a few times with a delighted expression on his face. “My, those reflexes will serve you very well indeed for your very first challenge, Kaizer Lee.”

For one wild moment, I almost gave in to the near-irresistible urge to rush forward and take my shot at slicing my machete clean through this smug bastard’s face. Only the fact that Allie lay helpless at my feet stayed my blade. My whole body shook with the sheer violence of the hatred I felt for the demon in front of me.

“Hmm, I’d thought you simply didn’t have the heart required to overcome the trial. I would have given Alexia Fox much greater odds - now, that’s a born champion. Sadly, she allowed you to hold her back.”

“Don’t you talk about her!” I growled.

Charon lifted a hand to forestall my protest. “Why, I only speak the truth. Had you not been holding her back the whole time, she might have ten or even fifteen mana orbs by now. She would have definitely earned her first skill orb.”

Glancing down at Allie’s pale features, I couldn’t help but wonder if Charon was right. Had I been holding her back this entire time? Was this all my fault?

“Come now, Kaizer Lee. This is not the time to wallow in guilt and self-pity. Truly, your mentality leaves a lot to be desired. If only Thomas Price or Jake Chang had been the third challenger to find the hidden challenge,” Charon lamented with a heavy sigh.

“Hidden challenge?” I stared at Charon, barely daring to breathe while my precious hope began to blossom in my chest.

“Indeed. At first I’d intended to let you watch your beloved bleed to death over the next 662 seconds, but your words just now have changed my mind. After all, whether by design or mere chance, you did stumble into the hidden mission, and it might make for a more entertaining spectacle.”

“What do I get for completing the hidden challenge? Can it help my Allie?”

Charon looked over at me with a dissatisfied twist to his mouth, but I didn’t so much as flinch. If he wanted to strike me down, so be it. There was only one thing I cared about right now.

“Can it save her or not,” I growled once again, fearless.

After a while, a grin slowly spread across Charon’s face. “I see. Interesting. It seems that while you bring out the worst in Alexia Fox, she has the complete opposite effect on you. With eyes like those, you might actually be worthy of challenging the trials. Though, it also means you’re doomed to fail in the end.”

I gnashed my teeth to prevent myself from speaking, clenching both fists at my sides as I waited.

“I reward courage, though take care not to let it turn into recklessness.”

Charon then inclined his head toward the shop’s window. Beyond, he could see the brightly lit sign that read, “Charon’s Candy Land.”

“There lies your only hope to save Alexia Fox. Though as you are now, it is beyond your means.”

Before I could ask what he meant by that, Charon suddenly lifted his head and his eyes went vacant for a moment.

“Oh, my. It seems a delightful little spectacle is taking place elsewhere. Mmm. I simply cannot miss this,” Charon said, running his tongue over his lips with a sadistic sneer on his face. Then he turned his attention back to me. “Your words from earlier, I have generously decided to grant you the opportunity to prove them. Listen well to your special challenge.”

Charon’s eyes began to burn with a devilish fire as he bared his teeth at me in a horrifying grin. I could hear his voice inside my head, bringing with it a splitting headache that threatened to burst my skull.

“Slay 10 terrorists using nothing but your blades. You must complete this task before your beloved falls. Triumph in this task, and you shall receive the power to save her.”

By the time the world stopped spinning around me and I could take my bearings once more, Charon was gone. Only Alexia and I were left in this dimly lit shop.

Had I imagined it all?

I activated my orb marking.

 

Orb User Tier F

Orb User Level: 0

Mana Orbs: 5

Skill Orbs: 0

Special Orbs: 0

Orb Keeper Charon’s Trial of the Ark - Stage 1 is in progress.

Users 46/100

Current Objective: Survive until help arrives.

 

Hidden Challenge - Tier C

Slay ISIS terrorists with bladed weapons: 0/10 9m 53s

Reward: Mana orb x10, Skill Orb x1.

 

Blood was singing in my ears as I looked down at the blade in my hands.

10 terrorists in 10 minutes. That meant I had to find and kill at least one terrorist every minute if I wanted to save my Allie.

“Allie, hold on. I’ll save you, no matter the cost.”

I tried my best to fight down the urge to run out like a maniac and rush at the first terrorist I saw while flailing my arms like a monkey. That would be one quick way to get shot down like a dog.

So instead, I forced myself to be patient. After laying Allie down in a secluded corner of the shop, I put down my backpack. I needed stealth and speed, not firepower. I still kept my shotgun slung across my back just in case of an emergency. As for shells, thankfully the system had not taken away my leather shotgun shell belt upon transfer, only the shells. The 18 shells I had refilled it with earlier would have to do in a pinch - I had no time to load any more. I also took the flashlight, a handful of glowsticks, and the map.

Finally, I took Allie’s knife and tucked it into my boot. Now I had the machete and two knives at my belt, and one more in my boot.

Then I moved to the front of the shop and peeked through the window. I could see at least two dozen terrorists walking away from me, in the direction of the crafts shop we had just come from.

Several lined up beside the store, taking up positions while the rest continued forward, occasionally pausing to place a few shots into each of the corpses lining the corridor. There were a lot of those, so they took their time.

Even as I watched, one of the bodies suddenly jumped to his feet and took off running while screaming, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot!”

He barely made it 5 steps before five different terrorists gunned him down.

I noted that they left the shops with intact windows like this yogurt shop alone, focusing on the ones with smashed windows or unlocked doors.

A chill went down my back as I understood their thinking. They didn’t need to find every last survivor. They simply wanted to produce as many casualties as possible within the given window of opportunity, which was getting smaller and smaller with each passing second.

That brought an unwelcome reminder that I myself was under a deadly time crunch. Already, at least 45 seconds would have passed. I forced myself to calm down. I wouldn’t be able to do any good if I got myself killed.

The shopping mall’s brightly lit hallways offered no cover. It would be suicide to step out there right now. I needed to pick them off alone, or at least in small groups.

I turned my gaze upon the small group of men entering the crafts shop, and I nodded to myself. That smaller group of 7 would be my prey.

I climbed on top of one of the freezers and quickly lifted one of the ceiling panels. Climbing back above the ceiling, I turned the flashlight on and rushed across the beams as quickly as I dared. Though I was more familiar with the way now, it still took me nearly 2 minutes to get back to the hole above the crafts shop. To my relief, there were still no signs of anyone climbing up. Seeing all their dead comrades on the floor must have slowed down their advance considerably.

I had already turned off my flashlight when the light from the hole at the crafts shop allowed me enough light to find my way. Retrieving one of the glowsticks, I cracked it and threw it as far as I could to the opposite way from which I had come.

It landed with a dull thud, and I heard voices reacting to the sound. I slinked back into the shadows and waited, hand upon the hilt of my machete.

The first terrorist adventurous enough to poke his head up did so very hesitantly, and for good reason. Still, when he saw the light in the distance, he quickly whispered something to the people below. After a brief discussion, I heard one set of footsteps rushing away while the first man climbed up.

Still, I waited. I needed to be patient. If I got myself killed here, no one could save Allie. I checked my mark.

 

Orb User Tier F

Orb User Level: 0

Mana Orbs: 5

Skill Orbs: 0

Special Orbs: 0

Orb Keeper Charon’s Trial of the Ark - Stage 1 is in progress.

Users 44/100

Current Objective: Survive until help arrives.

 

Hidden Challenge - Tier C

Slay ISIS terrorists with bladed weapons: 0/10 6m 45s

Reward: Mana orb x10, Skill Orb x1.



Shit, under 7 minutes left and I still hadn’t made any progress.

I forced myself to sit still while I watched four men climb up through the hole. They squinted in the darkness, nervously pointing their guns in the direction of the light from the glowstick. After all, that’s where the sound had come from.

I watched them negotiate the tricky footing of the beams as they moved toward the glowstick. Unfortunately for them, there were no lights available up here, only cobwebs and darkness. They were forced to slowly trudge forward while kicking down the ceiling panels in order to let the light from the stores below filter through.

One man took point to smash down a ceiling panel while the other two covered him. It would be slow progress, but we had already taken out 5 of their comrades, so I doubted they were feeling very adventurous.

As for me, I was feeling rather suicidal right now. I had already watched them for what felt like an eternity. I couldn’t wait any longer. I poked two shotgun shells out of my belt and flung one in the direction of the light right as they smashed their third panel.

All three men flinched and scrambled to point their guns in the direction of the noise. I flicked another shell into the darkness with my left hand while I wielded my machete on my right. I had chosen this particular stretch of the ceiling because there were only two long, narrow beams that ran parallel to each other. The terrorists were forced to move in a single line, opening their legs wide to place one foot on each beam. It was difficult for them to turn in such a position, and nearly impossible to move with any speed.

Me, I was one of the best fencers in the world. I could rush forward with sword in hand across a 3-inch wide ledge nearly as fast as most people could sprint. Dashing across a 5-inch wide beam was a piece of cake.

The only warning the terrorist at the rear of the line had were three muffled footsteps that rang out within a 1-second interval. Then I was upon him, swinging my machete cleanly through the back of his neck. Against an unmoving target, there was simply no way for me to miss.

The blade bit into the back of his spine, crunching through bone and exiting the other way. The man didn’t even let out a sound. He just convulsed as his spine was severed, dead on his feet.

I shoved him aside with my left hand, my eyes already on my next victim’s back. He only managed a half-turn, a puzzled expression on his face even as my machete chopped into the side of his neck with a wet thunk.

That last minute turn made me miss. It was only by a single inch, but it was enough for my blade to bite too deeply into his neck. He was still dead, but instead of severing the spine at the back of the neck, I’d cut deeply into the flesh on the side of his neck. That meant that instead of flopping to the floor bonelessly, he took both hands to the hideous wound in his neck and screamed like a stuck pig.

I grasped his shoulder with my left hand, pushing him off the beam while I pulled my machete free. I could feel its edge scraping against his neck joints as my second victim was sent flailing away.

By now, the rest of the group knew they were under attack. The next guy in line almost managed to bring his rifle up in time, but almost simply didn’t cut it when you’re facing my blade. Instead of going for a cut, this time I propelled myself forward in a lunge, dashing past his rifle and driving the point of my machete into his stomach.

A machete wasn’t designed for stabbing, but with this kind of momentum, it did just fine. The blade punctured his flesh just beneath his collarbone and continued forward until the point scraped against bone, then stopped.

I’d hit the spine.

The violence of my rush had taken my victim off his feet. I encouraged this by driving my shoulder into his chest, using his body as a shield as I barrelled into the last terrorist still standing. I crashed into him and sent him reeling back, buying precious time.

Keeping my eyes on the last terrorist, I placed my foot against the chest of the dying man at my feet and kicked him off my blade. He tumbled sideways and crashed through the ceiling panel, falling to the store below.

The last surviving terrorist was still flailing his arms wildly at his sides, teetering on the beam’s edge. All the while, his terrified eyes were staring at me, begging for mercy. He opened his mouth and began saying something, but my heart was stone. My right arm became a blur of motion, and the machete sliced through his exposed neck in a single savage chop.

Blood sprayed out in a ghastly shower of red, gushing out in waves as the dying man’s heart furiously pumped to compensate for the sudden lack of pressure in his veins. The man’s eyes were still staring at me as he fell backward, crashing through a ceiling panel. He landed below with a sickening thud of broken flesh and bone.

I stood there panting for a moment, fresh blood rolling down my face. I could taste the salty copper taste of their death on my lips.

I didn’t care. Only one thought ran through my mind at that moment.

I moved my hand to my wrist.

 

Orb User Tier F

Orb User Level: 0

Mana Orbs: 5

Skill Orbs: 0

Special Orbs: 0

Orb Keeper Charon’s Trial of the Ark - Stage 1 is in progress.

Users 44/100

Current Objective: Survive until help arrives.

 

Hidden Challenge - Tier C

Slay ISIS terrorists with bladed weapons: 4/10 5m 13s

Reward: Mana orb x10, Skill Orb x1.

 

More.

I needed more blood.

I would drown the world in blood if it meant I could save my Allie.



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A note from chelanite

I must apologize to the reader who asked me how many chapters we'd spend in this trial. It looks like it'll take a few more chapters than expected, as I've decided to shorten each chapter slightly.

The next chapter will be out in 6 hours.

Thanks for reading.


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chelanite

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bluesbarr @bluesbarr ago

I don't mean to nitpick, but Allie hasn't really done that much and it was Kai that reacted first to every threatning situation while she kind of froze up. I'm guessing that due to his sickness the gods think he has less potiential than Allie, but I can't see how he was holding her back if anything it was the oposite!

Anyways, thanks for the chapter!

    chelanite
    Author

    chelanite @chelanite ago

    Not at all, I appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

    I view the matter differently, but that's because I get to internalize a lot of the characters' thoughts that aren't shown in the actual writing because of brevity issues. Basically, Alexia is a tough cookie who's particularly well suited to survive and thrive under eat-or-be-eaten situations. Even though she didn't fare too well the first time she actually had to shoot a person, she's resourceful and ruthless. She can analyze a situation and make an instant decision on the best course of action and act upon it - no matter whose toes she has to step on or what the collateral damage will be. She's the type of person who can sacrifice that one innocent to save 1000, because it's logically correct even if morally wrong. Her only blindspot is Kai, as she's completely different around him and with anything that involves him - they're the only times she allows her heart to overcome her reason.

    On the other hand, Kai is a bit of a pushover. He's not particularly ambitious nor ruthless. Without Alexia both inspiring him and driving him forward, he would be much more of a side character. That's not to say he can't be resourceful, strong, or brave. He can be all of those, but he seldom feels the need to display such qualities, nor is he naturally inclined to develop them. His two passions in life are Allie and swords, and anything other than that is just kind of meh.

    In the context of surviving an apocalyptic scenario, and from Charon's perspective, it only stands to reason that Kai would be considered inferior (in terms of attitude/mental aptitude, if not physically). Then again, due to the existence of different orbs, innate physical abilities (as in before using orbs) become rather insignificant, and inner qualities like strength of character, wisdom, and intelligence become more valuable.

    Basically, what Charon is implying here is that if not for Kai's bad influence, Alexia would have become one of the orb hunters, killing others (most of whom are bound to be killed by the trials anyhow) to obtain their orbs and powering herself up instead of letting them go to waste. However, because of Kai's presence, she doesn't act upon the most logical and efficient way to survive the trials. Now, as to whether Charon's right in his assumptions, that's to be seen. Even I as the author don't know the answer to that question for sure.

    I hope I didn't bore you with all that, but that's my take on the matter.