Jideh walked down into the cavern he needed to enter to progress further with the trials. In his fist was clenched a scrap of paper, which Jideh was preoccupied with thinking about. Scrawled messily on the page had been a single phrase; If you can push, then you can pull.
Jideh didn't know what to make of it when somebody had thrown it down onto the ground of his pit. He still couldn't understand what that meant now, as his next obstacle was fast approaching. Was it an allusion to his powers? It had to be. But then, how could whoever this person was have understood that Jideh always felt a pushing sensation in his guts when he used his power?
Jideh didn't spend too much more time pondering the implications because at that instant, his nose caught the scent of wisteria and his attention shifted. He could see light pouring through something soft and he walked forward, feeling the plants brush against his face gently. He entered into a bright and warm space bursting with life. Jideh might as well have died and gone to heaven, because he'd never seen so many flowers crammed into one space at one time. He found himself flitting from one bush to another, running his hands along one hanging vine or another velvety lichen. It took him fifteen minutes to pick out every single species dwelling along one side of the corridor.
When he reached the end of the hall, Jideh remembered that he was meant to be treating this as a challenge, and not a vacation. He gathered himself and looked into the next space, a clearing where the wall facing him as he entered was an evil looking gnarl of roots and thorned growths. Even the leaves, Jideh noted, were barbed and razor thin. The boy couldn't help but shudder. Even in his every day gardening activities, he sometimes handled a plant with sharp edges and points. He'd gotten a few bad cuts but usually it was due to his inattention. A bandage and an increased respect for the plant in question were usually the only outcomes. This time, however, Jideh's eyes locked onto the tiny crawlspace which positively bristled with edges and spikes, and felt one thing. Jideh was afraid.
His hands got sweaty, and his breathing hitched. In the deepest silence, a loud crumple crackle noise made Jideh jump. The paper. The advice. If you can push, then you can pull.
The beginnings of an idea sparked in Jideh's mind. He drew on his power, his own life-force, and then he could sense all the living things around him through that connection. The sensation was as always, a powerful hunger. He was surrounded by amply starving mouths to feed with his golden vitality, which burned gently in his stomach. If you can push...
That was what Jideh had always done. He'd given plants boosts, and little prodding bursts of energy, which always left him tired and hungry. It didn't take a genius to understand what exactly Jideh was doing when he used his elementalism. That connection to Flora, it allowed him to tap into plants in a deeply intimate way, and share more of himself with them than he thought possible. He added himself to the plants. That was what allowed him to mold them to his wishes, granted his vision to their form.Then you can pull!
Jideh felt a fundamental change and then he closed his eyes in a panic. It was too bright! ARGH! He couldn't see! Jideh tried to close his eyes again, and realized that they were
closed, and that it was still too bright! He let go of his elemental power and the blinding light faded. Jideh opened his eyes, and everything looked normal. He remembered a book he'd once seen on his parents' bookshelf that he had taken down to look at. It had been a book of optical illusions. There had been dozens upon dozens of pictures that depicted two images at the same time, where the image that the reader saw depended on their perspective. Remembering the softly glowing light that had filled his stomach from before Jideh had changed perspectives, he looked down and drew upon his connection once more. Though he still was left squinting from how bright everything else was, Jideh could stare into the dark abyss where his stomach and own body were. Abyssal only by contrast, Jideh's body actually emitted a glow that he could perceive, though only barely.
Jideh, in this newfound perspective, gingerly reached out to the plants around him. Three things happened in the space of an instant. Firstly, Jideh's surroundings went dark. Second, Jideh felt indescribably full to bursting. Thirdly, his eyes hurt to look at himself now even more than before. So he looked up, and perceived the wall of roots and thorns gleaming gently before him, while everything else was dark. Horrified, Jideh dropped the connection to Flora. It didn't have the intended effect. He was still utterly full. Jideh felt a desperate urge to evacuate his bowels, urinate, vomit, cry, sweat, do anything to rid himself of all the stuff that was suffocating him inwardly. He managed to pay attention to the actual surroundings and was further mortified to see every last plant in the room dead and withered. Even the ground itself seemed greyer somehow. Full of panic, and fear, and whatever it was that filled him with such discomfort, which Jideh knew deep down but didn't want to acknowledge, he ran. Jideh ran straight toward the crawl space, still thick with blades and spikes.
As he barrelled through the space, the pain seemed incredibly distant. Jideh didn't cry out, gasping though he was from the emotions churning inside him. He felt very wet, and things raked at his limbs, his face, and most every inch of his body. The crawlspace seemed to widen and grow larger as he continued until finally he pushed out of the dark and grim domain into a bright semicircular cavern where others appeared to be waiting. Jideh ignored them, collapsing down into a heap on the ground, finally appearing to have mostly expelled the... energy that he had taken.
A succession of gasps from those who were in the cavern gave Jideh cause to actually look at himself, so caught up in his mind had he been. He was covered from head to toe in blood. His own blood. Jideh raised a quivering arm to his face and watched in abject disbelief as the cuts that had been made with the razor tunnel were sealed up without leaving scars, and he noted a corresponding decrease in energy that seemed to encompass him. His entire body was being healed, gradually and measurably, back to a perfect standard of health. Jideh understood the broad strokes, now that he had time to breath and consider. He was a conduit it seemed, for the life energy of plants. He could take in energy of his own, and give it back to the plants themselves, allowing him to shape them as he saw fit, within limits. He could also take energy from plants, at an alarming rate, which he could then use himself. It was a terrible tool, a curse in fact. Jideh knew all too well just how little it took to upset an ecosystem. The smallest overlooked detail could spark a chain reaction which destroyed all semblance of equilibrium for life in an environment. And here was Jideh, the metaphorical "bull" in the "china shop" of the world, with a power that could do far worse than cause a small amount of imbalance.
There was a long and shallow cut, very nasty and raggedly made by a thorned vine, which Jideh could tell would be the next to heal. Jideh stopped it from doing so, gripping the energy in his being, and withholding it from that injury. He was now very tattered and messy, but with only a bleeding arm to show for his troubles. That, and an entire garden of beauty utterly devastated by his incursion, at least. The thought embittered Jideh, and as he wrenched himself into the old perspective, he felt the energy he'd gathered slip through his fingers. It dissipated into the air, in a scent of those selfsame wisterias he had smelled at the beginning of this gauntlet. The ground around him started sprouting in tiny growths, though none got too far, because the Floric energies were too thinly dispersed, and Jideh was in no state to tend to them.
The boy mused, angrily, that even this had proven to be a "learning experience," because he now understood that the energy that he took, was his alone to make use of. Just as he could not recover the energy that he gave to the plants, so too was he incapable of returning to the plants that which he had wrested from them. Even though Jideh had long since digested the last of the food he had rushed to eat that morning, he still found something in his stomach to retch up, bent over the tiny seedlings of grass which were the only remnants of the life he had selfishly taken.
Freya's ploy worked, but only just. There were numerous heart-stopping instances where he foot could have slipped, or a vine could have held for one second less than it had, not to mention that she had never done any sort of activity of this nature before in her life. She was far from graceful, and failed to make any specific use of her powers, relying solely upon her own physical ability, and sheer recklessness to get her across the cliffside. Truly, she had only made it through unharmed by sheer dumb luck, as though the very gods she was thinking about before she performed her stunt had been watching over her.
Diana watched as the long, searing tongues of flame washed over the melting walls of the glacier. As she did so, great clouds of steam began to fill the cavern, rising up through the opening that peeked down into the cavern from high up above. Diana's careful approach was rewarded when her intense flames melted through the last thing layers of ice in that certain section of the glacier to what lay beyond. Diana would however, have to also be quick on her feet because upon weakening the ice sufficiently, it would burst forth with a river's worth of icy water which had been held back and was slowly collecting within the glacier for who knew how many years. The torrent poured down into the crevasse with a thunderous noise, and the glacier produced many more ominous cracks and creaking noises due to the increase in heat. If Diana managed to avoid being crushed underneath the unexpected deluge, she would be able to spot the tunnel that lay much lower down in the glacier, which while slippery and until recently filled with cold water, seemed to lead up towards the chamber where the exit hole lay. Diana, through her clever strategy, had uncovered an alternative exit.
Leanne's constructs served her well, bearing her over and around the prickly obstacles that would have given her pause before. Nothing burst forth from the curtain of darkness she set over the crawlspace, though the roots that formed the wall creaked ominously as the dark constructs dug into the bark. Climbing at an easy pace, it would take Leanne at most ten minutes to rise up into the ceiling of the cavern, where the space between the wall and the wood tightened, though not so much that she couldn't continue to make use of her method. However eventually, she would reach a kind of canopied ceiling, where a thicket of vines and leaves, all barbed and thorned, impeded further passage. At this height however, it would be clear that the tree, for it was an gigantic tree, rose into a different cavern. There were several openings and landings from which Leanne could enter the new cave, and press onward.
Through a mix of fear-fuelled energy and luck, Vera's leap took her into the bush-covered safety of the outcrop. She had just to recover her breath, and her peace of mind, before she could continue on to what lay ahead. Vera would retain a rather large bruise on her elbow and backside from her leap of faith, as reminders of her inelegant traversal of the cliffside.
There were several teachers who, when Kris nearly met with disaster, almost intervened. Nonetheless, they watched with apprehension as the Ice Princess made her brutally painful, bloody way up the side of the glacier. Kris' method was costly to her body, putting terrible amounts of pressure and torque on her wrists, not even accounting for the subzero chill. Nevertheless, the Ice Princess could scale the glacier wall effectively, and reach the exit, assuming the took the proper precautions to avoid making the glacier calve.
It would be clear to anybody watching that ShiZhen was a prodigy in the making. Her expert knowledge of chemistry could make up for almost any obstacle she faced in limitations regarding his elementalism. Her method to climb the glacier was almost foolproof, especially since her extra care in displacement of weight all but guaranteed that she would have no worries with calving the glacier by accident. However, there was one overwhelming problem with ShiZhen's plan. It was slow. Working as she did, even with the exertion it took to cling to an almost sheer surface while holding her own body weight wasn't enough. Her frequent pauses to allow the ice to freeze were totally counteracting the warmth her body generated through the exercise. She would need to devise a technique, some new idea, or at the very least speed up her technique or else risk the terrifying eventuality of freezing her own hands off.
The shivers would already have begun to set in as ShiZhen neared the top. The cold would affect her own motor control, and breathing, and ability to focus with clarity of mind. She would be just within arm's reach of the exit when the problems reached critical mass. Short of breath, violently shivering, and blue in the face while deathly white on her hands and feet, ShiZhen would so tantalizingly
close, but without some resolution...
She would be doomed to fall.
Milo's daring strategy took him through the crawlspace readily enough, and his mastery of Aether proved sufficient already for him to do that which a certain young Flora elementalist would have battled to do not long after. Thanks to the buffer afforded him by his connection to Aether, he hadn't actually received or given any of his energies up to the plants he'd desired to move. In fact, it was entirely possible his usage of Flora called upon the natural force in an entirely different manner. Whatever the case, the uniqueness of Milo's elemental connection did not save his calves, or his pants. Full of holes, and also stained with blood, Milo would have no problems standing up in the next chamber to survey his surroundings. He might just feel an uncomfortably draft rising a little too
high up his trousers.
(Description of next chamber forthcoming.)