After just escaping from the trapped tunnel, Melody came face to face with a powerful bat-like creature inside the following cavern.
From what she had been able to make out before she lost sight of the monster it was large, at least three times her own size. Its body was shrouded in a darkness that seemed to cover it like a fog, making its dispersement into the hidden roof above impossible to track. The darkness inside the room is also much worse. The light that forms from her conjured water barely lights up her face, let alone her surroundings. The unknown space around her inflicted a feeling of claustrophobia. Steadying herself Melody draws on her strength to conjure another double-sided whip, feeling its presence constantly draining what little energy she holds. Keeping her eyes straight she reaches down and brings out the stamina potion, quickly downing it.
Her strength comes back quickly, flowing into her as if she had eaten and rested for a whole day. Brimming with a body no longer exhausted, Melody felt more sure at facing the monster. As her mind relaxes slightly at the thought, the creature pounces on her from behind. Melody tenses up as she twists around, feeling its claws scrape against her back as her water whip raises itself and pierces toward the bat. However it merely hits air as the bat fades away, disappearing into the darkness. This time Melody catches it, its body shifting into an incorporeal form as it merges with the darkness itself.
Melody draws out some more water and disperses it into a far-reaching mist, but as it enters the darkness her connection with it quickly cuts, and the mist dissipates to nothing. Her eyes narrowing she conjures a few water needles around her and waits, her eyes keeping watch as her mind turns over in thought. Her wound burns slightly along her back, but she feels nothing else happening to it, so Melody ignores the pain for now. After discarding a few plans, Melody settles on a rather daring one. She takes a step forward, feeling the shifting nature of the darkness around her as the light travels with her.
Then suddenly Melody dashes, the light above her blinking out of existence. As the place turns pitch black her senses heighten and she sends more water out, only in a rapidly expanding arc around her. Sure enough, not far in front of her the arc bends around a foreign object. Though she can’t see Melody’s eyes instantly turn toward that location and her whip uncoils itself around her, striking directly at that location. A piercing shriek is heard as it pierces the darkness. The light above her head snaps itself back on, revealing an area of rapidly thinning shroud as the bat is forced to reveal itself.
As the whip recedes a wound drips from its body. Instead of it being blood seeping out, only a pitch black substance like murky oil falls to the ground and disperses. As the whip recedes the water needles around her converge together and the single remaining one strikes out, piercing itself through one of the bats wings. It lets out another shriek as its body tilts to one side, rapidly falling under its now unbalanced weight until it slams to the ground. Melody quickly closes in as her whip strikes forward again but this time the bat rolls its other wing around its body and attempts to fade back into the darkness.
Melody doesn’t give it a chance as she pounces on it herself, her body clambering on top of it. Its claws attempt to reach her but water appears between them every time, softening its strike until it passes by her harmlessly. At the same time her whip digs into its skin in a round loop, slowly constricting its body. Drawing the defensive water back Melody dashes under another attack and then slams it down onto where the whip struck into its body. The water quickly enters and then compresses before exploding out in a shocking fashion, blowing up a larger part of its body.
The explosion also throws Melody off and sends her crashing to the ground. Ignoring the fall she focuses her eyes and wills the whip to hold fast, its compression growing stronger as the bat shrieks and shakes in fear and pain. Melody then slams against the ground, making sure not to let her exposed back fall against the ground. Her bones rattle and her body groans in protest as it gets a jarring shock, a new pain filling it. Melody simply lays there on her side as she hears the bats cries soften, its body thrashes less and less until it lies there still. A small stream of energy enters her at its death.
Melody feels beyond exhausted, even after having consumed that stamina potion. The battle took a lot out of her. She could have used less of her water to fight, and saved some energy, but it was never good to hold back against an enemy. Sister Merri made sure to drill that into her. Rolling over onto her back Melody splays herself out as she stares at the ceiling. She’d felt it before, but she felt it even more now. Somehow she…enjoyed this. Not the danger. Not even the reward. That sense of adventure she had chased in those books, of not know what will come next but daring anyway, she was now experiencing it.
It truly excited her. Still, there were people she cared about. People she had to be there for. She couldn’t be reckless. Monsters. Now such fearsome traps. Melody can’t help but wonder what’s next? But either way, what’s next comes after a rest. Picking up her exhausted body Melody does a thorough check of the room but fails to find anything else. She rests herself on her side, settling against one of the walls. As she does so she conjures some water and uses it as a mirror, checking where the damage is.
A large claw mark is scraped across her upper back, creating multiple sharp gashes through her dress. Melody’s suit is an inheritance for elemental wielders from her race, coming from a time where magic still prospered. Even then these magical suits could be considered exceptional. They flow along the body like a second skin, merging with the body underneath. She can change parts of it at will to create the design of different clothing to suit her purposes, including texture and shape. Melody has her own preferences though and generally keeps herself covered with a one-piece dress.
The colour of the dress is a deep, ruby red, offsetting her emerald green eyes and matching hair. It flows down to just a bit above her knees, the dresses hem at the bottom spreading outward a little to allow for a full range of movement. Along her sleeves are designs of flowing water dancing around in lively swirls, which was once used to indicate Melody’s status. For Melody, it helps remind her of home.
Even as her thoughts drift the gashes slowly mend themselves, quickly thinning as each moment passes until finally it closes. Feeling a bit safer Melody closes her eyes, only letting herself drift off to sleep after she conjures a veil of water around herself. The sleep is fitful as her dreams flow and an old memory is recalled.
The final light went out. Melody’s eyes snap open as she hears that final click, her breath catching in anticipation. She waits. One minute passes. Two. She tries for a third only to lose patience. Throwing her blanket off Melody jumps out of her bed and silently pads toward the window. Using the excuse of wanting fresh air she had been able to have it stay open today with just enough room to squeeze through. Sure enough as she wiggles her way through, it’s a tight fit but she still makes it.
With a soft grunt Melody falls the short distance and gently rolls along the ground with her momentum, keeping the sound to a minimum. As she gets back onto her feet she waits a moment but hears no movement. Her eyes dart around as they take in the sights. She had heard of the many strange buildings spoken of in historical texts, but her people had never lived that way. Her people form their home by shaping the trees around them into a single, giant platform, covered from the weather by an overarching dome. The platform is then weaved and reshaped to build out individual areas and rooms eventually forming a huge community centre. It is not known if this type of living shaped their culture, or if it is there culture that led to this type of living, but her people have always been a very communal one. Always thinking of each other, and always giving of what they have.
Fascination aside, Melody has something to do. Her eyes turn away and quietly tread down one of the wooden pathways. Without people to inhabit she finds it rather gloomy, and rather lonely. One path after another flows along until Melody finally reaches the end, a naturally shaped arch in the dome that leads outside of her home. Something she has never seen. As her feet step under that arch, a hint of hesitation finally flickers across her eyes. But curiosity and desire quickly daunts it and she presses forward, passing over that threshold.
The first thing she sees is dirt. She had seen quite a bit in her life, though never so much at once. The way it crinkled around her feet amused her. But it is where it ends that she is drawn to. The dirt, or rather ground, suddenly cuts off at a rounded edge. Half walking half running it doesn’t take her long to reach the edge, a mere mile or two. As her feet step before that edge, shock and wonder fill her widened eyes as she stares at the clouds that flow along silently in her vision.
As her eyes are cast down a grand sky is all she can see, the image of what lay beneath it so far away it only appears as a far-off speck. “We’re on an island.” Melody cannot help but whispers in wonder, all of those stories and all of those texts she had read culminating into a sense of disbelief, but also joy. “A floating island.”
“Yes,” a voice answers behind her, causing her body to whip around. Seeing herself face to face with Sister Merri she cannot help but feel a bit of guilt, but that is quickly ruffled away as Merri’s amused eyes pass over hers and a gentle hand rubs her head. “Little girl, we are not blind nor deaf. We just felt it was time. Your sixteenth birthday has since passed and you have started to grow up already.”
“Why keep it a secret?” Melody cannot help but wonder. Sister Merri’s eyes dim a little at the words. The two stay silent for a moment, but eventually Merri answers.
“It is different when one doesn’t know, but once they do everyone develops a yearning.” Merri casts her eyes outward, a hint of that same yearning in her own eyes. “What is out there in the world? What is below? Reading history is not the same as experiencing it. No-one likes to be trapped.” Melancholy fills Merri as she rips her gaze away, her eyes returning to their home, their people. “But we are not safe below. There are so few of us left. Only here, in a place none can find anymore, can we rest.” Tears spill down her cheeks, both sad and happy ones mixed together. “Perhaps one day things can change.”
Melody woke up a little groggy, the memory still fresh in her mind. It had been a long time since she seen home and her yearning for it brought out many memories to reminisce. That one was a little special to her as it was the day they started to fully trust she could handle herself, giving her some of that freedom she had desired. Rubbing her eyes Melody gives her body a stretch and picks herself up. She moves to where the bat creature lays dead and, after confirming there is nothing else near it, moves beyond it to another tunnel.
Cautiously she heads into the tunnel, this time making sure to check if there is anything strange or out of place in it. In the end Melody finds nothing of the sort, not even monsters as she heads down the criss-cross of pathways, every step sinking her just a little lower into the depths. It takes a long while for her to find another cavern. This one is a bit different from the others. As Melody enters she feels herself pass through some sort of intangible film, causing the water flowing around her to completely collapse and disperse. As she watches the water fade away she feels the water pout, as if their fun has been forcibly cut off. Melody can’t help but stifle a laugh at the thought, finding their nature rather comforting.
As Melody casts her eyes around the cavern the first thing she notices is how visible the room is, lit up by strange glowing lines engraved along the walls and floor, and possibly ceiling if she could see it. Which is the other thing. The cavern is huge. It’s at least three times the size compared to before. Up in the air, just as far as her eyes can reach, Melody spots a tiny platform. Ignoring that, right in front of her stands a large stele with some words written on them. The words hold no familiarity to Melody’s own language, but she can feel them shift and rearrange in her mind until a box forms with comprehended sentences.
|Aschille Steps [ Trial ]|
“Hmm.” Melody reads over the words. After hesitating for a moment she ends up placing her hand on the stele, sending ten of her essence into it. As she does the box dissipates and a new one takes its place.
|Achille Steps [ Trial ]|
Four steps up. Two steps down.
A trapped bird knows no flight nor caution.
All rules are foregone when up is down and down is up.
The eyes will take your breath, as your mind stills your movement.
As Melody finishes reading the words silently numerous circular platforms are raised around her, the myriad number building themselves upward to the platform above. Melody’s eyes widen at the sight. She turns around, only to find the exit has already disappeared. Activating the stele had shut her inside. Until the trial is finished, Melody assumes. With a heavy breath Melody turns back around, a mix of worry and curiosity filling her. “This is a bit stranger then the traps.” Melody mutters to herself, her eyes alighting on the first platform. Turning her eyes back to the words, she mutters them to herself over and over. After a little while she gives a little nod and turns back to the platforms. “Here goes nothing.” Melody lets out a tense breath. Her first foot lands itself on the platform, causing it to light up in a brilliant yellow as her eyes cast themselves upward to that central platform far above. At the same time the stele lights up as she steps on the platform.
“Four steps up, two down,” Melody whispers as she jumps to the next platform. All around her there are ones that are raised higher, and others that fall farther below. Another step up, and then one more. Casting her eyes to the side Melody then steps down to the side and down once more. This dance occurs a few more times as Melody makes some progress toward the central platform. She felt tempted to see what happens if she doesn’t follow what it says and takes another step, but ends up deciding not to risk it.
Melody freezes in place. She caught something in the corner of her eye as she went for another step. Her mind urges her to look at what it is but she forces herself to keep her eyes forward. At the same time a ghostly tone echoes around her. As the music seeps into her it chills her, slowing down her movement. Melody covers her ears but the music still pervades her. With a grunt Melody forces herself to move forward as she ignores the stiffness. She cannot stop here. However as she takes another step forward something appears in front of her.
It’s shaped like a straw scarecrow, only black as night with very real eyes. With slowed movement Melody is unable to avoid looking at it. Its eyes pierce into hers and Melody suddenly finds that she can’t breath, as if her breath is forever caught in her throat. Shock fills her mind as panic tries to set in. But in these dire circumstances Melody mind grows calmer, her thoughts turning at a faster rate. Her feet continue to step forward as she refuses to stop moving. Her mind goes over the words and tries to figure out where she went wrong, but with little time remaining it seems hopeless. Her movements slow further, her body slowly becoming asphyxiated.
Just as Melody gives up, preparing to throw herself off the platform, the world suddenly lurches around her. She finds herself able to draw a big gasp of air, her body regaining its fluidity as the world spins and Melody finds herself being thrown down to what she can only consider the ceiling. The cavern had reversed and without any footing she was flying downward, or rather up. Despite being prepared, the shock of what’s happening causes Melody to draw quick breaths as she spins her body around, her hands stretched out to grab one of the platforms. As she grips onto it the momentum jolts her, and she finds herself careening away again as she continues to fall.
She grabs onto another platform, her body groaning in pain as it’s forcefully ripped away again. This happens a third, and finally a fourth time until at the fifth attempt her body finally stills and her hands continue to hold the platform, swaying back and forth over its edge. Melody sighs with relief at finally stopping. However before she gets a chance to breath the world lurches again and spins around to straighten itself. As it does Melody takes hold of the platform and brings her body underneath it. As the platform spins the platform rights itself and Melody finds herself on top of it.
Scrambling up Melody takes deep, heaving breaths as she looks around herself. She finds she is in a platform far above the central one, causing quite a bit of grief to Melody. “Four steps up, two down.” Melody mutters in frustration. As Melody goes to step up to the next platform, her breath catches again as she realises something. “What step was I on?” In the panic keeping track of such a thing had slipped her mind. A hint of hesitation flickers across Melody’s mind and her feet goes to pause.
Melody’s eyes narrow at the feeling and she forcefully sets her foot down, preparing to step onto the next platform as she tries to recall. As her foot is raised the details star to come back to her. Just before it settles down she remembers, this is already her fourth step. Her foot shifts and moves to the side, settling on a lower platform. Her mind feels strained as Melody maintains her focus, her mind trying to think of a way to counter that strange creature. As she does so the music returns, her feet stiffening as her body slows.
At the same time the strange scarecrow appears, its eyes once again stilling her breath. Her mind continues to turn over the words on the stele, working through a number of possibilities before realising what she’d missed. It didn’t much sound, but her mind. Realising that it’d convinced her that her movement was slowing, she quickly works on rejecting the notion. Almost immediately her movement returns to her, the strange music no longer having its effect. At the same time she twists her eyes from the scarecrow and steps onto the next platform. Melody takes a few deep breaths as her breathing returns, letting out a sigh of relief as she slowly continues to move upward.
The scarecrow continues to try to appear in her vision, the thing disappearing and appearing at will, but with her movement back to normal it isn’t able to hold her for long. As Melody continues to climb up she considers jumping down when it comes to the two steps down, but she second line gives her pause. ‘A trapped bird knows no flight’ may refer to just such a thing. She ends up foregoing the thought and continues to rail upward. Finally after some time the world lurches and spins around.
This time Melody is prepared and quickly grabs onto her ledges edge, assailing it as the cavern turns upside down and quickly righting herself. As she stands up she steps up, climbing upward as fast as she can. Melody makes it a chunk of the way to the central platform before the place spins again and Melody is forced to walk back upward, as slow as she can. Her tense mind tries to maintain its utmost focus as Melody continues to press onward, utilising each lurch of the cavern to get a bit closer to the central platform. But each time Melody’s mind strains further as the tension slowly builds up her mental exhaustion. The scarecrow’s presence eats at her, and forcing herself to ignore the chilling music wears her away as well.
It all ends up being too much. Her mind is unable to maintain its tension and relaxes for a moment in desperate relief. As it does it feels as if the music catches onto her weakness, its strength picking up as it assaults her mind. The scarecrow too appears in her vision, further causing her mind to panic as her breath catches. Her movements slow, further and further, until the music overwhelms her and her foot stills. A moment passes in that frozen silence. And then the platforms break away, turning to dust as they send Melody careening down to the ground. As her body picks up speed Melody instinctively tries to conjure water, a flicker of surprise cross her face as she realises she can feel the elemental water once again. Without further thought she conjures a large chunk of water, sending some downward while what remains flows over her body, doing its best to slow down her movement.
Finally Melody reaches the ground, a large pool of water merging under her to catch her. As her body hits the water it gives way, helping her body slow down until it eventually disperses, causing her to hit the ground with a thump and collapse into a heap. Her entire body groans once again in protest, having gone through two big ordeals in a single day. As Melody stares up into the air she cannot help but let out a laugh, a strange one that is both mocking and congratulatory. The central platform, along with the others, are gone. The stele too. The message is clear.
“I failed.” Melody stated, the fact sinking in. It didn’t hurt her as much as she thought it would. She was never that competitive. Melody just felt she could have done better. Been smarter. But in the end, she failed and that’s the end of it. “What a strange thing I encountered.” Melody looks around herself, noting the now completely empty cavern. The exit has appeared once again, with another tunnel leading further down. “What other mysteries are down here?” With a shake of her head, Melody picks up her protesting body and drags herself back to the tunnel from where she came from.
Her mind is completely exhausted from being strained for so long but she has no desire to rest here. After an uneventful journey through the winding tunnel Melody eventually makes it back to the cavern where Ryze is. As she drags her body over toward him, his eyes catch on hers. “Don’t ask.” Melody says, collapsing into a heap next to him, her head resting against him. “Let me rest.” Her eyes close soon after as her breathing settles into a steady rhythm. Raze looks at down at her for a moment, his eyes casting over her face, before he too closes his eyes and settles into a rest.