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Book 1 – Chapter 5
2F – Evankell’s Hell
“Hey, Rachel. What’s – what’s this word?” Night curled up next to Rachel, squinting, trying to decipher a word on a scroll she had brought down with her today.
Rachel peered over his shoulder. “Fight.”
“Yeah.” Rachel bit her lip, forehead furrowed in concentration. “You know, like… remember that time you thought the ground was grey, and I thought it was brown?”
Night frowned. “Kind of.”
“That’s called fighting.”
“So… when I think one thing, and you think another thing, that’s fighting?”
“Sometimes.” Rachel yawned, apparently losing interest. “But not all the time.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well…” Night could tell Rachel was struggling. She often had these moments, he knew – when she had the answer but couldn’t explain it in a way he could understand. And every time it happened, he felt a little guiltier. Like he was letting her down.
“Think of it like this.” She said finally, after a few moments of silent deliberation. “You and I… we don’t think of the floor as the same color, right?”
“But that’s not really fighting, because we don’t care what the other person thinks. It doesn’t matter. We’re not angry.”
“But then… there are some… who do get angry about things.”
“Like the floor?”
Rachel laughed. It bounced off the rock walls with a very pleasant sound. “No, I don’t think so, Night. About… other stuff.”
It was Night’s turn to frown. “I don’t get it,” he said. “I don’t understand why people would… get angry about anything. Why do people get angry at each other, Rachel? I’ve known you for… for a long time, and I’m never angry at you.”
Rachel, who had been slowly pacing, sat down in front of him, cross-legged, like a parent would in front of a child. “Imagine how you would feel if someone, anyone, came up to me and punched me in the face, or insulted me, or made me cry. Can you imagine that?”
Night tried. A slow, bubbling feeling of rage started to fester from inside and his face started to turn red. “Yeah,” he said, and he really could imagine.
He slowly nodded. “I think I understand.” Night raised his head to look at Rachel in the eyes. “I’ll fight for you, Rachel.”
Rachel had also taught him about the Sun. A bright, yellow ball of light that burned a long, long distance away, hot enough to heat the entire Tower and that which gave it life.
Now, as Night slowly blinked his way back into consciousness, the first thing that he saw was the light from the Sun, peeking at him through a thick wave of grass that covered the ground.
Under him was the ground, but this wasn’t the ground he was used to in his cave. It wasn’t cold, or hard, or craggy; on the contrary, it was soft, loamy and warm to the touch. This was dirt, Night realized. It felt quite pleasant.
And, of course, there had been the announcement. That loud, booming, disembodied voice that had bid him – and who knows who else – welcome to the ‘Floor of Tests’.
As he slowly drew himself up – his joints were a little worse for the wear from his encounter with the Spirit-Fish – he discovered that he was still gripping tightly to the Black March with his right hand. The mysterious lady had disappeared; back into the sword, or into nothingness, he couldn’t tell.
Just to make sure, he whispered again to the Black March. “I need help,” he said. Nothing happened; the sword remained immobile.
It was just then, when Night had set the sword back down, that the disembodied voice sprang back to life. This time, it was accompanied by the squeal of static, and Night knew that someone was using a loudspeaker.
“Oof – sorry about that, folks,” the voice said. It was a playful male voice; and for Night, after a series of dark, brooding, mysterious figures, a welcome voice. It reminded him of Rachel.
“Well, anyways, welcome,” he continued. “Welcome to Evankhell’s Floor, although no one really calls it that, do they?” He laughed. “You all know it as the Floor of Tests, which is, honestly speaking, quite accurate.”
“If you need a little refresher, this is the place where all of you are tested to see if you have the right qualities to climb the Tower. Because it’s not a place for everyone, you see!”
Night slowly dusted himself off and stood up, still holding onto the Black March. Although the announcer’s tone never strayed from total, absolute friendliness, Night had the feeling that things were about to take a turn for the worse.
“Since it’s not a place for everyone, we’ve devised this little exam to see who will move up… and who will stay down,” the voice continued. Night thought back to what Headon said. For every floor you ascend, you will have to take a test.
“We’ll go over the complete rules later,” the announcer suddenly took a much more businesslike tone. “For now, let’s warm up a little, shall we? Just a simple, easy game to start us off. As of right now, there are 400 of you scattered around this world.”
Night looked around. This must be a very big place he had been teleported to; he couldn’t see nor hear anyone. Nothing but long grass, swaying in the breeze. Far, far away, he could spy a rocky outcropping. And, of course, above him, the blue sky with the Sun. Was Rachel among the 400? He hoped so.
“The rules are simple. Actually, there’s only one: get that number down to 200! By any means necessary!”
It took a few moments for the voice’s last words to sink in; his happiness was a stark contrast to what, Night gradually began to realize, was going to be a bloodbath.
“Well, good luck!” with that, the unseen megaphone shut off with a click.
Night held his breath, clutching his Black March tighter. He would’ve almost rather faced the Spirit-Fish again. He looked around, his eyes darting back and forth. He still seemed to be alone; or, at least, he couldn’t see anyone. His breath quickened and he slowly moved forward.
Night jumped; there was no doubt what had caused the anguished yell that had (fortunately) come from a distance. Still, he didn’t want to be the second in line. He took a step back…
Something whistled past his left ear. If he hadn’t taken that step, it would have gone straight through his head. Night quickly ducked for cover, praying that the long grass would hide him. A few feet away, embedded in the ground, was an arrow, still quivering from its rapid fall.
He had barely time to register this piece of information when another arrow struck the ground, sight unseen, barely audible. This one landed mere inches in front of his nose. He had to move, now.
Holding onto the sword, Night began to crawl, fully aware that the rustling grass was bound to attract attention. He had never felt so powerless. Where could he go? How could he fight? Him, who had never killed anyone, let alone thrown a punch?
He hoped Rachel was somewhere beyond this. He could not imagine her going through this same thing. Maybe she had… no. He would not allow that thought. He kept crawling. Another arrow, this time to his left. He chanced the briefest of looks, trying to spot his attacker.
There- far off in the distance- he saw a solitary figure. Several hundred feet away, to his right. The person was drawing another arrow, and had surely spotted his head by now. He was a goner this time, for sure. Night debated whether or not he should just make a run for it; he weighed the pros and cons for a split second before deciding to take the chance. He closed his eyes tightly and pushed himself off the ground, bracing himself for a piercing pain at any second. It never came, even after several seconds of running, and he opened his eyes – just in time to see the figure keel over and fall to the ground. There would be no more arrows.
But that wasn’t much relief, because he knew that whoever had killed his would-be attacker was now gunning for him, too.
He started running.
Somewhere else on the ground, much removed from Night’s current struggles, two people were standing still.
The shorter one had pale skin and shoulder-length blue hair. He carried a leather briefcase that was, at first glance, absolutely normal. He was dressed casually, but with an air of elegance; a navy handkerchief was tied around his forehead, draping down the left side of his face. He wore a white button-down with jeans.
The man he was facing resembled a demon; much taller, he sported four red, bulging arms, a horn, and razor spikes for teeth. He gnashed these teeth together, clearly frothing at the mouth for a battle.
The handkerchiefed man, on the other hand, maintained an aura of supreme nonchalance. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
The red demon snarled. “Whattt is itttt?” He yelled, spittle flying.
The man with the blue hair brushed a fleck of it off his arm, looking slightly annoyed. “Why are you trying to kill me? I haven’t done anything to wrong you, have I?”
The demon blinked, then resumed his gnashing. “What do you meannn?” He asked, letting loose a hoarse laugh. “Do you still not understand? There are the strong, and there are the weak! Those are the rules!”
“Hmmm.” The other side still maintained a nonchalant air, languidly smiling. “The rules of the competition… that’s how the ruled think, I suppose.”
“The ruled. Meaning you.”
“I AM NOT RULED!” The demon lifted up his enormous broadsword, glinting menacingly in the sunlight. It already dripped with the blood of many fallen enemies. With a magnificent roar, he brought it down on his opponent, meaning to slice him in half.
Instead, it hit with a solid thunk on the leather briefcase, which its owner had quickly moved to cover his head in what seemed like a fraction of a second.
The demon could do nothing but gape. “That… that briefcase…”
His enemy grinned measuredly. “My turn to talk,” he said, looking at his immobile opponent. The briefcase seemed to be perfectly fine; by all intents and purposes, it was an impenetrable shield. It had also apparently frozen the wielder of the sword currently stuck to the briefcase, as if by magic.
“From the moment I heard the rules of this competition, I intended to break it. There would be no shortage of dunces – like yourself – seeking to kill 200 people as fast as possible,” he said, adjusting his grip. “So while you fools would do that for me, I thought the opposite: I would make the remaining 200 into my allies. I am not ruled. I make the rules my own. That is the way of the ruler.”
“But you…” he unsheathed a hidden knife from his briefcase, barely bigger than a simple dagger. “You don’t seem to be worthy of even being ruled.”
A flash of light, a spurt of blood, and the demon fell to the ground with an air of finality.
The man with the handkerchief yawned, straightening it out on his head. “Now…” he walked off without a second glance at the demon lying prostrate at his feet, bleeding out. “Who else is out there?”
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