Nathan slowly opened his eyes.  Blacked out again?  The amount of time he spent unconscious was becoming kind of ridiculous. 

His stomach growled as he sat up.  He knew his body was literally famished; not figuratively as he typically used the word.  His muscles were malnourished and his head was dizzy.  He stood up on his jelly legs, leaning on the pedestal bowl for support while he took stock of the situation.

His eyes scanned the room, widening at the sight of a random table off to the side.  Where’d that come from?  It was one of those wooden picnic tables where the benches were bolted to the table frame.  Two oval shaped loaves of bread and some kind of brown paste in a ceramic bowl were sitting on top.  Nathan’s mouth salivated and his stomach made strange noises in anticipation.

Nathan jerked his head around checking for other changes.  There were none.  After a moment of worrying it might be poisoned and then dismissing the idea, he moved to the table.  The skill learning process was consuming his body alive and he needed calories, immediately.

He grabbed one of the bread loaves, taking a generous bite from the end.  Delicious.  He shoved the rest of the loaf into his mouth as fast as he could.  After he’d eaten over half, he sat on the bench and decided to try the brown paste.  He dipped the bread in it, scooping up a generous amount of the unknown substance.  It was probably the best thing he’d ever eaten.  It was nutty like peanut butter but tasted even better.

He glanced down at his wristband still glowing with a pending message.  Something else on the wristband caught his attention too.  A new green gemstone set into the band.  It was beautifully cut, and looked outrageously expensive.  An emerald or malachite maybe?  His vague knowledge of gemstones extended to the fact that they existed and not much else.  Maybe it was more exotic, alien in origin?  Given his captor’s level of technology, it could as easily be artificial with advanced technical functions for all he knew.

Setting his curiosity of the new stone aside, he braced himself for any unpleasant electrocutions or other fun surprises as he read his system message log.

[Congratulations, you have gained 5 NPs for your assimilation of the elemental Wood elixir.  You have unlocked your elemental affinities.]

[+3 Wood affinity.]

[+2 Fire affinity.]

[+2 Water affinity.]

[-1 Metal affinity.]

Nathan took a moment to process the message’s information.  The stat changes sounded awesome, but he didn’t know what they actually meant or how to use them.  He toggled over to his character sheet to see the new changes.

[Physical: 126]

[Mental: 115]

[Elemental Affinities: Wood 3 (Prime), Fire 2, Water 2, Earth 0, Metal -1]

[Nanite Points: 14]

[Skills: Language I, General Fitness I]

So his Prime element of Wood received the biggest boost of 3 affinity while the ally elements, Fire and Water, increased 2 each.  The enemy elements didn’t fare as well.  Earth remained at zero while Metal even went negative.  It was odd the two opposing elements changed differently though.  Metal destroys Wood so it made sense it went negative.  Maybe since inversely Wood dominated Earth it wasn’t penalized as much as the other?  It was his best guess for now.

He focused on the new Element Affinities line and an additional description appeared.

[Elemental Affinities refer to your body’s degree of connection to the five energies that make up the universe.  Every integer of positive affinity will grant 5% elemental resistance against that element’s harmful effects.  All Prime elements receive an additional -30% resistance penalty to their destructive opposite.]

Elemental resistance?  That could be useful.  So he had 15% resistance to Wood and 10% to Fire and Water.  That would probably reduce the damage he received from those elemental attacks.  Considering how scary Fire based attacks sounded, he was happy to have any resistance he could.  But what about his negative affinity to Metal?  -1 translated as 5% weakness.  Once he included the -30% penalty for being Wood’s destructive opposite, he had -35% resistance penalty.  Elemental Metal was his personal kryptonite.

Shifting his mind away from the negative, he instead focused on something to be excited about.  He had enough NPs to upgrade his General Fitness skill to level two.  He reread its full description to ensure he wasn’t missing anything vital.

[General Fitness I: (Gain +1 Physical.)]

[Upgrade requirements for level II: 10 NPs, Physical 110.]

He met all the requirements to upgrade.  He wasn’t sure what level two would deliver but it had to be good.  Perhaps another +1 to Physical?  Any small advancement increased his chances of survival.  He was done screwing around.  He would take every resource they gave him and shove them back down that Tygerion guy’s throat.  He owed Kean that much.

He laid back down on the ground since he somewhat expected horrible things from the upgrade procedure.  He then focused on the skill’s upgrade line until a Yes / No confirmation prompt appeared.  He mentally confirmed it.  

As soon as the prompt disappeared, the pain in his muscles began.  Even knowing it was going to happen, it still took his breath away.  His arms and fingers spasmed, and his legs cramped in a hundred different ways.  His jaw, neck, and every other place were shocked simultaneously.  He tried to scream but the part of his body that handled that was already doing its own thing.  It didn’t take long for him to go unconscious.


As his mental faculties came back online, Nathan couldn’t help but laugh.  If there was any doubt that he was a lab rat before, he honestly couldn’t argue with it now.  He knew his laugh sounded borderline manic but that was okay.  It somehow made him feel a little bit better.

Finally gaining control of himself, he sat up.  His stomach rumbled loudly and it caused another round of laughter to escape his lips.  If the Immortal Collective were watching him up in some big sports stadium, they must think him a madman.  He didn’t care.

He stood up to find his body felt… good.  Great, in fact.  His pounding headache was gone, as was the soreness in his hip and shoulder.  He was even thinking more clearly without the head injury.  He might just be the healthiest he’d been all day… as long as he didn’t count the gnawing hunger in his stomach and his apparent mental instability.  There was still another loaf of bread and more heavenly nutty paste which should take care of the former symptom at least.  The latter remained to be seen.

He devoured the remaining food.  The only downside to his glorious feast being his mouth becoming so dry he couldn’t swallow.  He would need to drink something soon.  The aliens hadn’t seen fit to provide any drinks along with the meal.  It was a subtle kind of cruelty… give a hungry man dry food to eat but nothing to wash it down.

He stared longingly at the bowl of slime water, the only liquid in the room.  Hadn’t drinking it given him a heart attack before?  His parched throat was a serious problem though.  He doubted he could beat the second challenge unless he hydrated somehow. 

The elixir had given him elemental affinities though.  Maybe drinking more would make him even stronger?  Stuff like that happened to the main character in portal fantasy anime all the time.  Yes, that’s right.  The idea gave him the final justification he needed to quench his thirst.

He went to the bowl and carefully sipped the green water.  He stepped back, examining himself for changes.  Nothing happened.  The water wasn’t even fizzing in his mouth.  That meant it probably wouldn’t kill him... probably.  But he wouldn’t be getting any stronger from it either.  His dreams of being overpowered shattered.  Unlike in anime, any competent game designer wouldn’t leave such an obvious mechanic for abuse. 

He removed his shirt bandage from his head and gingerly touched his forehead wound.  The gash had completely scabbed over, healing way more than it should have on its own.  Physical stat upgrades could be pretty awesome if you overlooked the horrific electrocution of his muscles and the passing out and such.  Having food and drink on hand made the aftereffects of skill learning much more manageable too.  

He pulled back on the dress shirt over his white undershirt.  It was wet with unmentionable fluids and featured a sour smell, but he didn’t want to leave it behind if he suddenly had to leave.  He had few possessions left in the world.

Still thinking of stat upgrades, Nathan opened up his interface to see what his harvest had reaped.

[General Fitness II: (Gain +2 Physical)]

[Upgrade requirements for level III: 100 NPs, Physical 121.]

He checked his current Physical stat, pleased to see it had increased from 126 to 128.  So he gained +2 Physical for level two even though he only gained +1 Physical at level one.  Level three cost a whopping 100 NPs so he had a whole lot of misery to suffer through before he could afford it.  Unsurprisingly, the rewards for higher level skills increased as did their upgrade requirements.

He flexed his muscles.  He could definitely tell a difference.  He hadn’t been sure with the +1 upgrade before, but he couldn’t help but notice the changes now.  His muscles were bigger, he felt less flabby around his stomach, his coordination was improved, and his vision was clearer.  He thought he might even be slightly taller too, but wasn’t sure if his imagination was just playing up to his fantasies.

While he was goofing off testing his body’s capabilities, a new door appeared on the wall.  It was time for the second challenge.  Having already experienced the consequences of dallying, Nathan resolved to meet the challenge head on.  But not before stripping every resource from the room first.

He rushed to scrape every crumb of bread from the table.  He then frantically licked the ceramic bowl of paste completely clean, not letting any amount of food go to waste.  He finished it off with another quick drink of elixir before approaching the new door.  He even carried the paste bowl with him... if it wasn't nailed down he figured it was as good as his.  Nothing would go to waste from now on.

He pulled on the opening ring and the door swung towards him on smooth hinges.  Hidden behind it was a large rectangular room.  The floor was patterned with gray square tiles each about a yard wide.  The room stretched fifty tiles to the far wall and was twenty wide, with a two story tall ceiling emphasizing the spacious look.  He stepped into the room, scanning around in all directions in case of traps.  Finding none obvious, he took a few more steps inside.

The floor began shaking.  It knocked him off-balance and the ceramic bowl flipped out of his hands.  In response, Nathan steadied himself by crouching down.  When the tremors ceased a few moments later, he glanced back to see the door he entered through was gone.  It seemed to be a theme of the prelims; earthquakes and teleporting doors.  He guessed Tygerion the Unoriginal didn’t like to mix things up too much.

He looked down, spying the bowl which now lay in a hundred pieces.  He sighed in frustration.  What had been the purpose of that shaking anyway?  It accomplished nothing except to destroy his bowl.  Wait, had that been the sole reason?  As unbelievable as it was, he wouldn't put it past the petty alien jerks.  

He studied the rest of the gymnasium sized room noting the absence of exits.  Ambient light shined evenly from circular disks set into the ceiling.  Engraved on the rock between them was a large design, the same symbol he’d seen earlier on the passageway door.  The phases of the Five Elements. 

The detail of the ceiling mural was more elaborate than on the door, with each of the five orbs actually colored to represent which element they represented.  The only other difference he noted were the single set of arrows displayed instead of the two.  Depicted were the outer set of arrows making one infinite circle which Asahi had described as the phases of generation cycle.  The crisscrossing destruction arrows were missing. 

As he marveled at the symbol’s beauty, movement in his periphery caught his eye.  Panels on the far wall suddenly shifted; lowering down to reveal five waist high alcoves behind them.  So Tygerion could do something different after all. 

He walked cautiously towards the wall, spotting a foot tall statue resting in each alcove, varying in color and shape.  The statues from left to right were of a green tree, a red flame, a yellow mountain, a silver sword, and a blue wave.  These icons obviously represented the Five Elements.

A musical chime sounded and he swiveled around to find its source.  A random floor tile close to the center of the room had a new red light outlining it.  He walked the twenty yards over to it and tried to determine its purpose.  After a few moments, the red light vanished.

A rumbling noise caused him to look up to find the ceiling slowly lowering towards him.  That’s not good.  The sound of hidden gears and rock grinding echoed through the chamber as the ceiling moved closer to the floor.  After several seconds of panicking, Nathan was relieved when the noise finally stopped, and the ceiling halted its descent.  He released a breath he hadn’t even known he was holding.  Of course the challenge had to have a squishy part, how could he have doubted the big T-Man?

The same musical chime rang out and the outline of the same tile glowed red again.  He knew he was in a puzzle challenge so he was expected to solve something puzzle-y.  He stepped onto the glowing tile and looked around but nothing obvious happened.  He jumped up and down, achieving a similar result.  He reached down and fingered the edges of the tile where the red light outlined.  Nothing.  After another few seconds, the glow vanished and the ceiling began its slow and loud journey towards him again.  It stopped not long after only having moved about three feet down.  

The message was clear.  If he didn’t do whatever he was supposed to, the ceiling would punish him.

Apparently just standing on the tile wasn’t the correct move.  The five statues in the alcoves had to be the key, they were the only objects in the room.  Unless they were red herrings to distract him?  No, he couldn’t waste time considering unlikely mind games either, he needed to act.  Sprinting over to the second alcove holding the red flame, he gingerly touched the statue.  It was surprisingly hot. 

The chime sounded again indicating it was go time.  He frantically pulled on the statue.  Ow!  He cursed as he let go of the statue and sucked at his fingers.  The stupid statue burnt his fingertips.  Did they take this piece of scrap straight out of an oven?  He could only imagine how hilarous it must be for immortals to watch the stupid human burn himself. 

Since the statue was outrageously hot, he would need to find a better way to carry it.  He unbuttoned his blue dress shirt and pulled it off.  He grabbed at the statue again using the shirt to cover his hands as he lifted it.  With statue in tow, he sprinted back towards the red square.  The statue was hot even through the fabric of his shirt and his burnt fingertips were in agony.  He would have hated to see what would have happened to his hands if he hadn’t just gained 10% Fire resistance.  Any small protection was better than none.  

Unfortunately, the glow disappeared from the tile before reaching it, and the dreaded ceiling began to lower another yard.  He’d missed his chance and would need to wait until the pattern reset.

Once the ceiling stopped its movement, the area was a lot less roomy.  He estimated after three more times of failing, he would have to keep his head ducked.  Probably four times and he would only be able to crawl on his knees.  A fifth and it would be game over.  

He impatiently waited for the red tile to glow again.  He wouldn’t be surprised if his fingertips were already blistering.  He set the hot statue on the ground to give them a break until it was time.

He soon heard the chime, followed by the tile turning red once again.  He carefully picked up the statue then confidently stepped onto the glowing tile.  Nothing happened.  He sat the statue down in the center of the red tile and looked around.  Still nothing.  He jumped off the tile leaving the statue sitting there by itself.  Nada.  The red glow faded and a rumble from above signaled the ceiling lowering again.  It didn’t work?  He grunted in annoyance. 

Once the ceiling came to rest, he knew he’d only have a short time before the tile would glow again.  A different statue maybe?  Without a better idea, he sprinted towards the wall with the alcoves.  Which statue though?  The tile was red and the red flame statue hadn’t done anything.

Think.  So what did he know about the elements?  He recalled his conversation with Asahi about the Five Elements symbol.  His train of thought led him to peer up at the larger version of the symbol on the now much lower ceiling.  He considered again the oddity of it only having one set of arrows instead of two.  Could that be it?  The depicted generation cycle was the clue? 

‘Wood feeds Fire’ he recalled from Asahi’s saying.  The symbol’s arrow pointing from the green orb to the red agreed with it.  He rushed to the far left alcove containing the green tree.  Remembering the blisters on his hand, he cautiously poked the statue.  It wasn’t hot like the other statue.  But it felt strangely real.  Alive.  The statue looked like stone, but he got an unnatural feeling it wasn’t a normal dead rock.  

The chime came again.  No more time to study, just get it to the tile.

He yanked on the tree but it didn’t budge.  It was attached to the bottom of the alcove.  He pulled harder, bracing his feet against the wall while he yanked backward.  His burned fingertips ripped painfully but the green statue wouldn’t move.  He glanced back at the red glowing tile as sweat ran down the side of his face.  He tried pushing the statue with similar results.  He yanked straight up and even tried pushing it downward.  It was stuck to its spot, rooted in place like an actual tree.

The rumbling began again and he looked up with dread.  The ceiling was becoming uncomfortably close.  One more failure and it would be touching his head.  He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his palm.  Okay, so he couldn’t grab the green statue.  What about the other statues?  He stepped back so he could get a look at the other three.

The yellow mountain statue was the closest.  Yellow statue for the red tile?   That would be two of the three primary colors he remembered from his art classes in high school.  He suspected that logic was a stretch at best though.  Not wanting to waste more time on the flimsy connection, he considered the next one.  

The silver sword representing Metal.  The sword was specifically a katana, the hilt being attached to a flat base and the curved blade angled upward.  The seemingly sharp blade glinted in the light.  Hmm, could he use it as a weapon?  He probably could but there was nothing to fight here.  No, not fightHe could use it to chop down that blasted tree!

The dreadfully melodic chime rang again.  He was beginning to hate that sound.  He grabbed the sword statue and ran.  He was pleased to see he could easily touch it without burning his hands or experiencing any other nasty surprises.  He arrived at the tree statue and aimed the sharp end towards the tree’s stone trunk.  Could he really cut it with another statue?  Guess he would find out. He reared back and chopped horizontally.

“Timber!” he yelled.  The silliness of it seemed appropriate somehow.  The sharp blade sliced cleanly through the trunk and the tree began tipping to the side.  He caught it, once again experiencing the sensation of life radiating from it.  

He dashed towards the red tile, tree in his left hand and sword statue in his right.  He just hoped that damaging the tree’s trunk hadn’t ruined solving the puzzle.  As he reached the glowing tile, he bent down to lay the tree on it.  But before contact was made, the red light disappeared and the ceiling rumbled in response in an all too familiar way.  He was too late again.  

Seriously?  He screamed at the stupid tree and barely restrained himself from drop kicking it.  He stood up straight, only to be further dismayed by having to hunch back down as the ceiling stopped at head bumping height.  This was going to be super annoying. 

He went ahead and laid the green tree on its side on the previously red glowing tile.  He would wait here and be ready for the next round.  He glanced down at the sword statue he was still holding, discovering it to be trembling.  And it wasn’t doing it on its own.  The situation was turning dire and he wasn’t even sure if his current theory of ‘Wood feeds Fire’ would even work.

Even worse, if the ceiling lowered again, it would cover up the two remaining statues still in their alcoves.  Then he would really be screwed.  Maybe he should go ahead and place the last two statues on the floor, just in case?

Too late.  The chime rang once again.  Whether he wanted it or not, it was showtime.  The tile glowed red and then pulsed once.  The green tree already lying on the tile burst into flames.  What the…?  He was filled with uncertainty, but at least it was doing something.  The red glowing light grew blindingly bright and Nathan reflexively averted his eyes.  When he looked back after the glow had died down, the red tile had turned green. 

Progress!  He threw his hands up in celebration, but regretted it immediately as he banged his hands on the low ceiling.  He just knew that was going to be annoying.

A second chime in a slightly higher octave sounded.  He swiveled around and spied a second tile closer to the alcoves glowing with a white light.  Not white exactly... silver.  He looked down at the silver sword statue in his hand.  No, he’d already tried using the same elements with the red statue on the red tile and it hadn’t worked.  He needed whatever element fueled Metal.  ‘Earth mothers Metal.’  It was a good thing he memorized Asahi’s helpful saying since the low ceiling height obstructed his view of the large symbol on it.

While hunched over, he ran as fast as he could to the yellow Earth statue alcove.  The statue was shaped like a three dimensional mountain range.  Pushing caution aside in favor of haste; he snatched at the statue and lifted.  The thing barely moved; it weighed a ton.  Okay, time to make use of his improved Physical stat.  He set his legs and strained as he lifted the statue out of the alcove using his entire body.

His arms were trembling but he managed to haul it out.  He wished again the ceiling was a little higher.  Not being able to straighten his back was the absolute worst.  Imitating a walking squat exercise as he lugged his mini-mountain, he hustled as fast as he could to the silver tile. 

He didn’t make it in time... of course.  The silver light disappeared and the ceiling rumbled once again in response.  

Oh God, the alcoves would be covered up!  The Water statue still sat in its alcove, and if it was blocked off by the ceiling, he was screwed.  He would essentially insta-fail the challenge, resulting in being crushed.

He dropped the Earth statue right where he stood.  The mountain cracked the tile as it impacted but he didn’t spare it a second glance.

He scrambled back towards the far right alcove, all too aware of the ceiling lowering down on him.  He scraped the top of his head twice in his mad dash but was barely aware.  He reached the alcove as the ceiling began covering the top of it.  He knew based on the ceiling’s previous movement, it wouldn’t stop until after the alcove was completely sealed off. 

He grabbed at the blue statue, noticing it was shaped like a crashing wave.  His hand became wet as it passed straight through the statue’s rock like material.  His hand became dry when he pulled it back out.  Was this really happening right now?

He put his hand directly in the middle of the statue and it became wet again.  He might as well have placed his hand in a bowl of water.  As much as he wanted to marvel at the bizarre sensation, the ceiling was continuing its descent.  He moved to grab at the statue’s base but there somehow wasn’t one.  Freaking magic Water statue.

The ceiling now covered half of the alcove. Nathan dropped to his knees to avoid knocking his head again.  If only the ceramic bowl he pillaged from the previous room hadn't been destroyed.  He could have transported the watery statue no problem.  Is that why they made him drop it?  Those jerks.  So what else could he use? 

He stripped off his white undershirt, wondering if he was wasting the last of his time.  He blindly plunged it into the remaining opening.  He scooped the statue in the shirt, and by some mad miracle, it stayed contained inside.  He pulled it out before the gap disappeared completely.

The statue had turned fluid inside the shirt yet he could still carry it.  Strangely, it didn’t leak or drip water.  He supposed the statue wasn’t actually real water, but what it was he had no idea.  It was probably the weirdest thing he’d seen today and that was saying a lot.  

The ceiling finally stopped when it reached the bottom of the alcove opening, just as he expected.  Unfortunately, this left Nathan in an awkward position on his hands and knees holding a rescued statue he didn’t even need right then.

Knowing the next failure would be the end of his adventure, Nathan crawled as fast as he could towards the abandoned yellow mountain statue.  He carried the shirt wrapped Water statue in his other hand since he didn’t want to have to crawl all the way back to the wall when he would eventually need it again.  Dropping the Water statue bundle by the Earth mountain, he did his best to pick up the heavy statue with his less than ideal posture.  It wasn’t easy.  He lost count of how many times he bumped his head while lugging… and mostly dragging… the yellow statue to the tile that would turn silver again.

The higher octave chime sounded and his heart pounded in response.  The tile illuminated in silver once more, only two yards in front of him.  His sweaty grip slipped on the mountain statue and it slammed back down to the floor.  He wiped his hands on his pants and lifted again.  His arms worked like marmalade and his back strained like it would break in half, but he gave it everything he had.  He crossed another tile putting him only a single yard away.  He tapped into his deepest reserves of strength, and found he was quickly approaching the bottom of the barrel. 

Half a yard to go.  Summoning everything he had left, he pushed the miniature mountain forward in the air, shoving it towards the silver tile.  It crashed down as he lost his grip, but it held enough momentum to cross the silver light.  The tile flashed in response.  

The intense light blinded him as he tried to shield his eyes.  When he opened them, his vision held a blurred silver afterimage.  But he didn’t care since the silver tile turned yellow, vaporizing the mountain statue in the process.  He breathed a sigh of relief.  Two down, three to go.

A new chime rang out, a higher pitch than even the last two.  He spun around and spotted a blue glow surrounding a tile about fifteen tiles behind him.  Water.  He racked his brain until he recalled the saying.  ‘Metal collects Water.’  He especially remembered this part of the saying since that one sounded the weirdest of the bunch.  How did Metal collecting Water make it stronger?  Was it a bucket?

He spotted the silver sword where he’d left it by the flame statue.  He half crawled and half scampered given the awkward ceiling height.  It was surprising how fast he could cover the distance when he didn’t have to lug a freaking mountain with him.  He noticed his fingertips were leaving a bloody trail wherever he placed them but he couldn’t waste a moment to do anything about it. 

He snatched the sword statue, accidentally slicing his hand on the sharp blade.  Ugh, he didn’t have time for this crap.  He fumbled it to the ground, and picked it up again with his other hand.  Without sparing a glance, he beelined straight for the blue tile.  The new wound added to the blood trail he was already leaving behind.  He kept scrambling to the tile knowing his time was almost up.  He was gaining other injuries everywhere as he continually banged his head on the ceiling and slammed his knees into the floor.  Not having the meager protection of a shirt on his body was also taking its toll on his back as he scraped flesh on rock.  

But it didn’t matter; he would freaking die if he didn’t get there in time.  

Once he was a tile away from the blue glow, he dived forward outstretching his hand with the sword.  He tapped it to the tile and he averted his eyes before the bright flash could sear his eyes.  

Once the light dimmed to be replaced by a silver glow, he looked around again.  In order to save some time, he dashed towards the red flame statue, gambling that it might be next.  He had fifty-fifty odds of being right.  A fourth chime sounded and Nathan observed a yellow glow to his left.  Yellow was Earth.  

He only had two statues left; blue Water and red Fire.  But which one strengthened Earth?  He was tired and battered which hindered him from thinking straight. 

He continued scrambling towards the red flame statue since he was already headed towards it.  Would Fire strengthen Earth?  How would that work?  He wasn’t sure.  He switched his train of thought to the other option.  What needed Water?  He recalled the saying since it impacted his Prime Element.  ‘Water nourishes Wood.’  So by process of elimination, he decided Fire must be for Earth. 

Oh, that’s right.  Something about Fire making ash for the Earth.  He arrived at his discarded blue dress shirt and used it to pick up the flame statue.  It radiated heat through the shirt as his blood soaked the fabric.  Worry about that later.  He scrambled towards the yellow glowing tile like his life depended on it.  Because it did.

Closing his eyes, he slammed the hot statue down into the yellow light.  He could see the new flare even through his eyelids.  When he opened them, the tile had turned red.  Wasting no time on celebration, he scrambled back to the remaining blue wave statue still wrapped in his white t-shirt.  Last one.  

He was becoming light headed.  Each time he put his weight on his hurt hand, a bloody smear would be left.  Was it bad it didn’t hurt anymore?  Just one last statue.  He could do one more and then rest.

He arrived at the statue as the fifth and highest pitched chime reverberated through the room.  He was pleased to be ahead of schedule for once by arriving at the statue before the chime.  That was until he noticed the green glow emanating from the furthest corner of the room.  That was at least forty yards away!  He wanted to give in to despair but didn’t even have time for that.  He grabbed the shirt wrapped Water statue and began crawling and clawing his way there, the low ceiling continually making his life wretched.  It was a mad desperate dash.  He flailed and kicked and wormed his way as fast as he could yet his strength continued to fade.

He was halfway, but still too far.  How much time was left?  He didn’t know, but it wasn’t much.  No way he would make it at this rate.  It outraged him to think he’d come so close to fail only now.  He kept crawling, but it was futile.  He had to do something else.  Something creative.  But he’d have only one shot.  The low ceiling would make it even more difficult.  

As he was about fifteen yards away, he swung the statue horizontally forward by the shirt and let go, letting it sail.  Nathan didn’t dare to breathe as he watched it travel; his life riding on the toss.  The blue liquidy statue flew through the air low enough to avoid the ceiling.  But it didn’t have enough arc, hitting on the ground several yards in front of the green tile.  Nathan nearly had a heart attack.  When it bounced and continued forward from the momentum, he dared to hope, his breathing fast and ragged.

The bundle kept rolling, slowing down more and more as it crossed each consecutive tile. Last one, come on. It finally came to rest... and there was no flash.  Nathan's heart seized up.  The statue was one excruciating inch from the tile.  He moaned, knowing he was going to die.

Then the bundle shifted once more, rolling forward the tiniest amount.  It crossed the corner of the final tile’s green outline.  A brilliant flash temporarily blinded him.  Nathan was so relieved he wasn’t even upset he forgot to avert his eyes.

Once the green light faded and turned blue, Nathan collapsed on his belly.  He laid, suffering in agony at the various pains and injuries he'd collected.

Then the ceiling began to shake.  What the…?  Why!? 

He rolled over while straining to see through his blurry vision.  The ceiling was going up instead of down.  Relief flooded him.  He watched wearily as the ceiling slowly returned to its starting position.

He was tired.  He would rest for a little while.  The lab rat had earned it.  He just hoped the alien experimenters would agree to the much needed reprieve.


About the author


  • United States
  • Aspiring Author

Bio: I love games in all forms.

Small sample of my favorites:
Boardgames - 7 Wonders, Agricola, Ticket to Ride, Dominion.
CRPGs: Wizardry VIII, Bard's Tale III, Final Fantasy VII, TES III Morrowind.
MMOs: World of Warcraft, Eve Online.
Shooters: Goldeneye, Halo, PUBG.
CCGs: Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Pokemon TCG.
RTS: Dune II, Red Alert, Warcraft II, Starcraft II.
4x Strategy: Alpha Centauri, Civilization III, Endless Legend, Age of Wonders III.
MOBAs: Vainglory.

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