Timothy found himself in a rectangular room with no visible entrances or exits, and to his great relief Frank was to his immediate right, holding a two handed longsword with surprising ease. Before Timothy could say anything, his gaze was drawn to the dishevelled old man sitting in the center of the room, a small, curved blade gently kept on a mat next to him.
"To gain access to the Labyrinth of Endless Wealth, you must land one successful blow upon me," said the old man, his ancient voice echoing in the closed room, as he wearily got up and picked his blade up.
"Who are you?"
"Timothy Quill, I am but a memory of one who once roamed the multiverse. A vestige if you may, wishing to impart one last bit of knowledge."
"How is that even possible?" Tim questioned, flabbergasted, but then followed, "Wait, never mind. I guess it doesn't matter."
"What do you wish to attain power?" the old man asked, and without any further warning started running towards Tim with speed that shouldn't have been possible for someone his age.
Frank, having prepared for this outcome, stepped in front of Tim and let his longsword burst out in a sideward sweep, maximising the area he could cover with his attack. The old man stopped his momentum right outside the sweep's arc, waiting for it to go past him with unnatural judgement and reaction time. Frank's eyes widened as he saw the old man masterfully evade his sweep, but having already invested momentum into the attack he was helpless to retaliate.
The old man lunged forward aiming for Frank's abdomen, but just at that moment Timothy shoved him aside with everything he had. Frank and Tim both went careening sideways, while the old man remained rooted to the spot.
Frank took a few seconds to reorient himself and hurriedly got back up to his feet, staring at the old man viciously. Tim, sprawled sideways on the floor also decided to do the same thing, but it took much more effort than it should. He got up to an odd sight- The old man remained at the same position he'd lunged at Frank from, but there was no weapon in his hand. And Frank was staring at him with a pale expression....
Suddenly a feeling of uneasiness washed over Timothy, and he slowly angled his gaze downward, as if terrified by what he'd see. Sure enough, the same short curved blade the old man was using was lodged in his abdomen, and Tim only had the time to say one last 'Fuck' before everything went dark.
Tim woke up to the exact same surroundings, Frank to his side heavily panting, and the old man situated in the same place as before.
"You have failed."
"Fuck," spat out Frank. "In my career, I've had many unique experiences that I'd say that almost all humans would never encounter. But dying and coming back to life is a first, I'll give you that."
"You have ninety-nine attempts left. If you forfeit, you will be teleported back to Earth. This is a safe trial, you cannot die in this room."
"We..." Tim said, but stopped and gave Frank a glance. Dying was terrifying, he was still rattled from the inside and doing all he could to stop his jittery hands, but not being able to see Anya again was even more terrifying. If it had to be so, it would not be for lack of effort. But not everyone was as delusional as him, if Frank couldn't continue Tim would accept that outcome.
"Continue," said Frank, breaking out into a grin. "There's training under simulated high pressure scenarios and hoo boy, then there's this. Doing this a hundred more times and I doubt there's gonna be much that can crack me from here on."
"The road to cultivation is filled with deception and betrayals, life-long friendships and the bond of sect-brothers and sisters. On this path, who is the one person you cannot lie to?" The old man asked as he slowly made his way towards Tim and Frank, perhaps giving them some time to rest and regroup.
Tim and Frank discussed their plans in light whispers, but the old man paid them no heed, slowly making his way towards them. Once done, Tim decided to answer the man in hopes that he'd give them more time to plan. "Family. You don't lie to family."
"Believe yourself to be a noble man despite the horrors you commit under the name of the Dao and you are noble man. Believe yourself to be a heinous sinner, a stain on the mortal fabric of the multiverse, and you are a heinous sinner. Belief is more important than we think, in our lives, both immortal and mortal we lie to obscure the truth, lie to protect someone from the truth, lie to preserve the truth. But the one person we cannot lie to is ourselves, lie about the very reason we covet power. For that is no different than shattering one's immortal path," the old man concluded, and with that he broke into another sprint.
This time they knew what they were up against, and Frank was not a man to repeat his mistakes. He charged forward, longsword held upward, trying to catch his opponent off guard. He had the advantage in reach, but this time he didn't exploit it and waited for the old man to swing.
As soon as the old man came within striking range of Frank, he slashed with his curved blade. Frank, with every ounce of focus and concentration prepared to parry, but the slash was treacherously slow. Mid swing, however, the slash metamorphised into a perfect stab, rapidly increasing in speed and then pulling back just as fast, causing Frank's counter to only meet air.
Tim charged at the old man from behind, as he was waiting for the perfect time to ambush him from behind. But as if he had eyes in the back of his head, he sidestepped Tim's grab, pivoted on one foot and stabbed his sword in Tim's gut. A searing wave of pain engulfed him, unlike last time where the adrenaline rush had shielded him from it, and Tim howled in agony. Tears pouring out of his eyes, his right hand exploded in a burst of momentum straight for the man's sword arm. He only had to immobilize him for a few seconds and Frank would do the rest.
Tim felt a light gust of wind, and the only thing he could grab onto was the sword's hilt.
"NO!" he screamed, but he had lost too much blood and could only involuntarily fall backwards.
"FINISH HIM FRANK, HE'S UNARMED!" was the last thing he could yell out before losing consciousness.