Chapter 4

Crystal Trial, Part 1


When the light subsided they found themselves in an austere room made of tiled stone floors.  There was a massive crystal in the center, iridescent with soft green light.  It was the only source of light in the room.

Hector was there, too.  He didn’t hesitate for a moment.  He went over to the crystal and put his hand on it.  Michael watched him close his eyes and seem to concentrate, then he disappeared.

Michael was alone in the room.  That information alone broke him out of his daze.  He looked around.  There were walls, maybe, hidden in the shadows.  He was surprised just how dark it was.  He could see himself in the faint glow of the crystal’s light but little of the room around him.

He turned around, just to be sure.  Nothing but shadows.  He held out a hand as far as he dared, but his hand never met anything solid.  Was it not there, or was he too afraid to reach far enough?

He turned back toward the crystal.  Maybe he should…

“Hello, young master.  Please approach the crystal and accept your trial.” 

Michael stopped.  “Was that…the crystal?”  He hadn’t quite heard the voice, but it had kind of echoed in his head.  It didn’t sound like he’d always imagined it would, when he’d read about such things in stories.  It was louder, easier to mistake for a real sound.

“Yes, young master.  Place your hand upon the crystal and accept your trial.”  Michael eased forward.  There was something disconcerting about this room, this crystal, though he couldn’t explain exactly what.  There seemed to be some kind of pressure on him, making him feel skittish.  Still, he pushed forward and placed his hand on the crystal.

For a moment, nothing happened.  He started to think maybe he should close his eyes, clear his mind, focus on something.  Just as he started to, though, the room began to melt away from him and he found himself somewhere else.

Michael had always imagined that teleporting would feel strange.  Maybe it would make him nauseous, like a lot of movement sickness all at once.  Maybe it would feel like falling, like going down the first big hill on a roller coaster.  Instead, it didn’t feel like that all.  It felt more like sinking back into warm water until finally, you were gently put down somewhere else.

He pulled his head up out of the water.  There was an island.  It was not so far away, and the waves seemed to be pushing him inland, but he swam anyway.  He’d always been something of a swimmer, and even then the going was easy.  Surely this was part of the trial, no matter how strange it felt.

He came up on the white sand beach, his muscles burning.  He lay down on the sad and caught his breath.  He was more out of shape than he’d thought.  He wondered vaguely about the nature of this trial.  What was he doing here?  Was this simply an illusion, or more like a dream?  After a few moments his heart slowed and he picked himself back up.

He looked around the beach and up to the tree line, hoping to see something to indicate what he should do next.  He found it, tucked behind the rocks of a breaker.  There was a group of people, meandering about, looking through the wreckage that had washed up.  So it was some kind of shipwreck then.  Michael smirked.

When he reached the people they didn’t seem to react to him.  They were, he guessed, actors, meant only to facilitate his trial.  Maybe, though, they were something like changelings or spirits.  He knew a little bit about that from podcasts he used to listen to, though in this world they certainly wouldn’t be as dangerous.  At least, he hoped so.

“Hello, everyone,” he said.  He tried to make his voice sound a little deeper, more booming and imposing.  He wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like the right thing to do.  It didn’t help him, however.  The people didn’t really react right.  They each turned to him and spoke, one at a time.

“We are going to starve, we need some food.”

“What about a fire?  We should try to light a fire!”

“I’m hurt.  Help! I’m bleeding.”

“I think I saw something in the jungle!”

As soon as they said their lines they went back to doing what they were doing.  It was weird to see, but not exactly unsettling.  Though it was clear what he was supposed to do.  Solve each of these problems to progress.

“Okay,” he said, speaking aloud to help him think.  “We should help the injured first, that’s most important.  Then, we should build a fire, that seems second most important.  But, we want to avoid the jungle for now, so we can scavange the wreckage first, in case there are tools.  Then, we want to get food.  We can go the longest without food, so that makes sense to do last, plus it might be dangerous.  Hm, really interesting.  I wonder.”  He pointed to some of the people who hadn’t spoken.  “Go look through the wreckage for anything useful.  Food, water, medicine, even things we can use to start a fire.  Go!”  The stood there and for a moment he thought it wasn’t going to work.  Then, as if kicked, they all snapped to attention and went about to do the job he’d told them.

That was good.  Michael rubbed his hands.  He knelt b the man who had said he was injured.  There was a long gash on the side of his leg.  He’d want to wash it, maybe boil some water, but for now all he could do was try to stop the bleeding.  He looked down to his shirt.  There was a good length at the bottom and he thought he could tear off strips without looking too much shirt.  If they couldn’t get a fire lit it would be cold at night so he didn’t want to just throw away his shirt.  He tore a small section off and wrapped it like a bandage around the wound.  “Put pressure on this,” he said, and pushed the man’s hand against the wound.  Like the others, he obeyed.  He even seemed to glimmer some, in the light.

It took several moments, but eventually the others returned.  Michael had found a relatively large and clean section of driftwood, and he pulled it over.  He would use it like a table, so the others could lay out their spoils.

Amongst the salvage there was actually a good amount of useful materials.  They had found a large chest that they hadn’t opened, as well as what seemed to be a first aid kit and a good amount of dry, frayed rope.  They had also gathered up some of the driftwood.  There was even a striker, what Michael assumed was used to make sparks for a fire, though he wasn’t sure.

When they got the chest open they found mostly clothes.  It was obviously someone’s personal belongings, though no one claimed it.  There were two fortunate items within the box: a large silver knife and

If he commanded them to make a fire, would they be able to do it?  If he asked one of them to use the first aid kit, could they?  He certainly wasn’t an expert in either any of those activities, were they?  He shrugged.  Might as well give it a shot.

He spent the next half hour working, giving orders, and overseeing.  He was surprised to find that there seemed to be some quite able workers among the shipwrecked, though they still lacked personality.  By the late afternoon they had helped the injured, built a fire, and even secured some amount of defense.  Now, as the sun was starting to set, it was time to look for some food.

Michael looked up to the jungle, dark and teeming.  The shadows there grew longer as the sun began to set.  He guessed there would be a few hours of daylight left.  He looked at the long knife that he held in his hands.  He remembered what one of the others had said; there was something in that jungle.  Maybe it was just animals, curious to see these interlopers that had washed ashore.  Somehow, Michael didn’t think it would be that simple.

He walked among the survivors; gathering up those that he thought seemed strong, asking about expertise and weapons training.  They gave simple answers but he was able to get a small group, armed mostly with simple cudgels and crude spears.  He surveyed the ranks.  He had another decision to make.

This was part of a test, but he hadn’t talked to Hector about this, so he didn’t know: could he die?  If he could, it made sense for him to lead from the back or even stay behind.  If he couldn’t, it might make sense for him to charge headfirst into whatever danger the scenario could present.  Michael had never really been in a fight before, but maybe that didn’t matter.  Or, maybe the test was for him to know his skills and place, and to delegate appropriately.  In the end, he decided that it was best to work at support.  He gave the knife to one of the others, who he thought could wield it best.  It was a large man who seemed strong and stoic.  He didn’t seem to have a name or any personality, just like the others, but that was okay. 

When everyone seemed ready and those that would stay behind were set to tasks, Michael directed his little group away from the beach and up toward the jungle.