While the Golden Shard of Awakening certainly garnered his attention, it was the fruit softly illuminated with violet energy that his focus was centred on. Even just gazing at it forced him to restrain himself from mindlessly sprinting toward it, the strange power he felt within beckoning the entirety of his body to come and consume it without hesitance.
And somewhere, hidden deep inside the powerful emissions it radiated, Brock felt a truth. It was a far cry from what he had experienced from the echoes, but it still seemed to hold some secret faucet of the universe, silently attempting to persuade him over with the promise of its impartment.
He managed to hold himself back, albeit with great reluctance, and instead switched his gaze to follow the lines of the shoddy bridge that connected the island in the centre to the rest of the land around it. Judging by the gap of about five or so meters between the small plateau and the surroundings, Brock determined the bridge as the only reliable way to access the payload resting atop it.
Even though it was slowly being eroded by the latent power residing in the blood.
Briefly, Brock considered whether it’d be a better idea to just leave this place behind and continue on his journey, but he quickly dashed those thoughts with a cup of mental cold water. He couldn’t be entirely sure, but he felt almost certain that the fruit would be of immense benefit to him. And benefits were exactly what he needed right now.
It’s now or later, remember that Brocky boy…
Gritting his teeth, he began to creep around the rubble and head toward the island, keeping his eyes on his surroundings in case of an ambush from some opportunistic beast. It took a little while, as well as a few detours down the rubble to dodge pools of blood caught in between the rocks, but he finally arrived at the main roadblock; the blood rapids.
Akin to a furious stream, blood flowed out from the car-sized hole in the beast’s body and smacked against the rubble. It roared down the side of the mound and made its way into the crater that housed the island. If he was to reach the quickly eroding bridge sitting on the other side of the area, he’d need to pass the stream of blood beforehand. He would have gone the other way, but the rubble was too steep, and it looked too unstable for him to climb over anyway.
Plus, he was all but certain the bridge would collapse during the extended time it’d take to go around. Idly, as he considered the body of water, he wondered how a being could have so much blood.
Judging the person wide rapid as it splashed against the rubble and hastily whittled away the rocks into smoothened shells of their former appearance with his eyes, Brock immediately discarded the notion of jumping over. While he was confident of clearing even twice that distance if he had a good run-up, even before he had his boosted Stats, Brock found the mountainous environment too rocky and unreliable to get a decent landing on.
Glancing at a grouping of looser chunks further down the mound, Brock wiped at his eyes to dispel the tears obscuring his sight, and began to make his way toward them, a plan slowly formulating in his mind.
A minute or so later, Brock heaved one of the three rocks he’d gathered into the stream, shielding his face as it crashed right in the centre of it and splashed droplets of blood in all directions, some even landing near Brock himself.
He felt pressed for time as he watched the river of violet blood hastily begin to tear through the rock, and immediately heaved the other rock into the stream, ending up only a few steps away from the edge of the opposite side. He finally threw his last rock but grimaced as it slammed into the stream and continued down the hillside, disappearing as it plopped into the purple ocean.
Taking a deep breath, Brock used the small space he was granted for a miniature run-up and leapt onto the rock in the centre of the blood rapids, landing in a crouch and desperately trying to balance himself as it wobbled along with him. Luckily, he steadied himself and quietly hopped onto the next rock, before finally crossing over to the other side.
Unfortunately, there had been some holes burnt into his pants from stray droplets, the edges smouldering softly with a fiery purple energy, but he had made it across nonetheless, something he was very thankful for. Even if it had cost him a small portion of his style.
With no time to waste, Brock scaled the ruinous hillside and made his way toward the bridge, barely avoiding tumbling down into the quickly forming lake as he stepped on a loose piece of stone and almost fell down with it. It only took a minute or so as Brock sped across the distance with little care for subtlety, sending more than his fair share of rocks splashing into the bottom of the caustic fluid.
Down here, standing right at the edge of the pooling liquid, Brock noticed that the crater itself was only about halfway filled, though that was quickly changing. Up this close to such a large amount of the stuff, Brock felt the ambient energy biting at his face, heating his skin to a painful degree. He tucked his face into the remains of his buttoned shirt, and placed a foot onto the bridge delicately, easing a bit of weight onto it and breathing out in relief as it didn’t immediately collapse and kill him.
That’s always a good sign.
Building up his courage and hyping himself up, Brock hesitantly stepped onto the thin strip of concrete, grimacing as he felt it shudder beneath him. Closing his eyes and whispering for himself to go to his ‘happy place’, Brock began the gut-wrenching task of walking across, every groan and shake the bridge underwent sending jolts of icy panic travelling up his spine.
It wasn’t until he was a little over halfway that the bridge began to experience some troubles, with chunks of the remaining support sloughing off loudly and crumbling into the violet ocean. Brock only managed to take one more step before the whole thing began to shake uncontrollably.
Finally, as the bridge started to bend and fall apart, Brock shed all pretences of delicacy and sprinted the remaining distance to the island, the bridge breaking off into sizable pieces as he went, erasing his only path back. He quickly found himself standing on the timed safety of the island, and he watched numbly as the bridge leaned sideways and splashed into the bloody waters.
Brock ran a hand through his hair and licked his drying lips.
With his escape route gone, Brock was left drawing blanks as he considered his next plan of action, though with a gap of around five meters being his best chance of escape, it was a grim realisation that he didn’t have all that many options in the first place. Hurrying over and resting on his haunches, Brock carefully plucked the fruit, feeling a boundless vitality and insensible truth pulsing up his arm and invasively entering his body.
Allowing himself to indulge in the sensation of it all for only a moment, Brock quickly nestled the fruit gently in between his subs, offering it a softer surroundings just in case of an accident, and promptly scooped up the Shard, chucking it next to his knife on top of it all before he closed the flap.
Cursing loudly, Brock studied the length of the gap in comparison to the island of almost ten meters across and made a decision; the decision that he was going to see just how capable his Stats had truly made him and attempt to jump the gap. Either way, his fate was a tossup between falling into the blood lake or falling into the blood lake while standing on a rock. This or that, it was the same shit.
Hopping around on his feet and shaking his nerves out through his hands, Brock made his way to the very edge of the island and sized up the distance one final time, giving his cheek a few light slaps to get himself in the game.
“You can do this Brock.” He told himself, “It’s either you don’t make the distance and die, or you make it and live. Simple. Just like roulette. There’s a fifty-fifty chance.”
Or so he’d been told.
Gritting his teeth as he retreated and got into a start-up position, Brock counted down in his head from three, only faltering slightly when it reached one. The countdown hastily ended at ‘Go!’ and the office worker exploded into motion, zipping across the island at speeds he had only dreamed of prior to this moment.
In mere seconds, the edge of the island was almost upon him, and Brock heaved his arms forward as he leapt into the air, crossing the cavity with a perfect arc. Just kidding. It wasn’t perfect and he fell only a few centimetres short, barely managing to grasp onto a piece of rebar poking out from the shattered cement. Worriedly, he glanced at the ocean of purple under him as it continued to rise.
Brock grunted with exertion as he began to pull himself up to the edge, the tips of his shoes sizzling menacingly in the blood as they began to dip into the fluid. Bringing his other hand up and over, he seized his fingers into a crack in the foundation this section used to be and heaved himself up onto the concrete, sighing in relief as the danger was averted.
However, his eyes briefly widened in horror as his messenger’s bag caught on the rebar he’d been holding onto moments prior, the rusted clip holding the sash onto the bag snapping from the pressure. With a gaping mouth, Brock watched as the bag swung freely and the flap flew open, both his knife and the Shard of Awakening slipping out and plunging straight into the blood, crackling loudly in a storm of violet lightning as they began to break down.
Swearing aloud one last time, Brock’s arms flashed out and he grabbed the sash with two hands before the bag and its contents could join the sorrowful demise of his other items. A singular water bottle managed to fall out as he desperately yanked the storage item back toward him.
Panicking, he took the bag into his arms and searched it for his recently acquired fruit. Eventually though, his shoulders sagged in relief as his fingers dug out his mystical fruit, checking it to be intact and safe. With the tightness he’d packed all the subs and water in there, Brock wasn’t surprised it hadn’t so much as budged.
And though it was a great loss for him to lose his only weapon, it was an even greater boon for him to keep the fruit in his possession. Just looking at it he could feel the potential it held dormant within. He had no idea what effect it would have when eaten, but he knew it’d help him in some way or another. It had to.
Taking out a bottle of water and downing the entire thing in one go, Brock gasped and threw it aside as he crawled a distance away from the chasm, just in case it began to fall apart as the bridge did. Brock looked to the bright blue sky above him with a sigh, clouds drifting lazily in the expanse. During a time with so much change and unfamiliarity, he was more than glad that the sky had stayed the same.
Brock spared a moment to lament the loss of his recently acquired Shard, though it wasn’t truly genuine as not only was he uncertain if he could even use a second one - it'd be a bit strange to have three hearts after all - but he knew it also wouldn’t have provided him any boosts even if it had. He was already unable to level. I can't be more fucked at this point.
Nothing lost, nothing gained, in his opinion.
Quietly, Brock reached back into his pack and picked out the fruit he had risked his life to obtain. It was only the size of a golf ball and had a soft, almost plush outside despite the fact it felt firm within his grip, like an apple. Gently, it let off a violet glow in his hand, making it seem all the more enticing than it already was.
The stench of death was still utterly overwhelming, but by now Brock had gotten somewhat used to it, and the hushed whispers coming from the fruit overshadowed the smell by a large margin. They were invasive, speaking to him in words loud enough to hear yet quiet enough that no matter how hard he focused, he could never truly understand what they were trying to say.
It was a strange conundrum he felt as he gazed down at the purple food. While his body had calmed down significantly now that it could comfortably bathe in the presence of the fruit he held, it was still frantically urging him to devour it. And it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command.
Glancing around warily, Brock shrugged and brought the fruit up to his face, a rush of flavours exploding on his tongue even though it was yet to enter his mouth. It left his mouth watering in anticipation until he finally threw the fruit in and consumed it whole.
Raising a brow while he chewed it for a few seconds and swallowed, Brock groaned in utter disappointment as nothing happened. It was really tasty though, “Well. That was anticlima-”
He didn’t even get to finish his sentence as his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he passed out, collapsing backward onto the concrete.