Weekend is over, back to the story!
Chapter 10 - CONTINUED
The Runner stepped back through the doorway but, as she crossed the threshold, she found herself transported to a totally different room.
The stone cubicle she found herself standing alone in was five meters in length, breadth, and height. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all uniformly composed of grey brick and lacked any kind of distinguishing features.
Angel was just about to ask what was going on when Sensei’s disembodied voice sounded in the cubicle.
‘The next test is for you to demonstrate your ability to find doors in data-walls and pass through. Of course, penetrating a fortress is often a risky business that is done against the clock, so let’s make the conditions a little more… interesting.’
As the voice faded into silence, rows of holes opened up in the four walls and two-foot-long metal spikes sprang out. At the same time, a small hole appeared in the centre of the floor and began to slowly expand out into what would eventually become a dark, bottomless pit. As if this wasn’t enough, the walls began to grind closer together and Angel realised that if she didn’t act quickly she would meet an unpleasant impaling.
Time to get out of here, she thought as she activated a detection program. Her avatar’s eyes shone with a golden light and she scanned the four walls looking for a hidden exit. There was nothing. She frowned slightly wondering if this was some kind of trick and that there was, in fact, no way out. A thought occurred and she looked up at the ceiling a few meters above.
Sure enough, the shimmering outline of a door revealed itself to Angel’s illuminated eyes. It was out of reach but that wasn’t a problem for her. She gave a quick mental command and her beautiful white, feathered wings burst from the back of her Gi top. With a couple of powerful beats of the wings Angel was hovering above the pit that was expanding below her. She took a quick look at the approaching spikes then returned her attention to the hidden doorway on the ceiling.
The locking mechanism consisted of a sliding block puzzle made up of the actual bricks in the roof. Angel grinned to herself. She did these kinds of puzzles for fun. Her avatar cracked its virtual knuckles and dexterously began to shift the bricks in sliding patterns. Her arms gathered speed until they were a blur and the bricks flowed like water.
Moments later there was an audible clicking sound and the blocks froze. The bricks that comprised the hidden section in the roof fell upwards and the portal out of the room appeared, leading out to the open blue sky of the mountaintop. Angel smiled as she saw that the intended lethal spikes were still nowhere near her, then surged upwards to freedom with a single flap of her wings.
Soaring high into the crisp mountain air, the winged avatar looked down to see the temple roof and courtyard below. The Demon program’s emergence hole had disappeared and all trace of her battle had vanished. There was also no sign of the cell that she had just escaped. Sensei obviously liked to keep a tidy domain.
She floated gracefully down to the courtyard. As she touched down on the snow-covered ground she folded her wings back in and they vanished, ready to be summoned again when necessary. Sensei was nowhere in sight so she assumed he must be back in the dojo waiting for her.
When the double-doors swung open again Angel saw that the white-haired man was indeed there and was standing next to a black Doberman Pincher. The dog was wagging its stump of a tail as he affectionately scratched behind its ears. He looked up as the girl entered.
‘You handled the second test well. Perhaps you will prove to be an asset to Shona after all,’ Sensei said as he petted the dog.
It seemed like a back-handed compliment to Angel. ‘Er, thanks. I think. Nice dog,’ she said as she gestured towards the panting animal.
‘Yes,’ agreed Sensei. ‘His name is Inu. You like him?’
‘Sure, he’s cute.’
Inu locked his eyes on Angel and seemed to resent being described as “cute”.
‘Careful,’ warned Sensei. ‘You’ll hurt his feelings. He’s very image conscious.’
Angel rolled her eyes. ‘Okay, sorry. So what’s with the pooch? Part of test number three, right?’
‘Indeed. So far you’ve demonstrated your ability at combat and intrusion. The last trial is a test of evasion. When you turn around again you will see a forest. On the ground before you will be a small package. You have only to get the package through the torii gate at the other end of the forest before Inu here catches you.’ Sensei smiled.
‘So Inu is a Bloodhound program?’ asked Angel as she gave the dog an appraising look.
‘Not exactly…’ As Sensei’s voice trailed off he stopped petting Inu and stepped away. The dog fixed its eyes on Angel once again but this time it began to growl a deep-throated snarl that rumbled from it as its lips curled back into a snarl that revealed teeth that looked viciously sharp. The Doberman’s eyes suddenly burst into flame and smoke began to curl from its nostrils. Slaver that dripped from its snarling lips ignited and fell like molten lava onto to wooden dojo floor where it bubbled and spat.
Angel instantly recognised what was looking at her. ‘A Hellhound program? Are you fucking serious? Is that thing fully functional?’ There was the slightest hint of panic in the avatar’s voice.
Sensei smirked. ‘Ordinarily Inu would be tamed down a bit but, seeing as you performed so well in the first two tests, I thought it would make things more interesting if I gave him his full capabilities.’
‘So if that fucker catches me…’
‘I wouldn’t antagonise him further with such language if I were you, but yes, if he catches you the result will most likely be a bit more severe than you simply failing the last test. Oh, and I want you to know this is all my idea, so if you survive to speak to Shona again please don’t blame her. Are you ready?’
Anger flushed through Angel as she realised things had suddenly become a lot more serious than she had anticipated, but she quickly calmed herself as she knew that such emotions were only ever a hindrance in The Sphere. She needed to be completely in control to deal with the virtual fur coat-razorblade that was glaring at her, intent on ripping out her frontal lobes.
‘I’m ready,’ she said with determination as she turned to look back through the dojo entrance. Sensei had been right, where the courtyard had once been was now a dense forest. The tree tops were so closely packed that Angel guessed that the sky would be pretty much obscured once she entered and that flight would prove to be impossible.
On the ground just outside the double doors was a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with white string. The Runner guessed it was just a dummy package and didn’t really have anything significant in it. As she stepped out to pick it up Sensei spoke.
‘I’ll give you a few seconds to make it more sporting.’
Angel looked over her shoulder and smiled. ‘Don’t bother. I don’t need it.’
With the same sudden burst of speed she had exhibited when she had went to attack the giant red-skinned Oni, the pink-haired avatar dashed through the doorway and snatched up the parcel. The backwash of air from Angel’s acceleration once again caused Sensei’s kimono to flap and Inu’s ears to fold back.
‘Get her boy,’ whispered Sensei and Inu sprang forward with a molten-slaver growl.
In seconds Angel had covered the distance to the forest entrance. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the Hellhound rapidly approaching. Bringing a hand up before her face, she activated a Mirror program. An exact replica of her avatar appeared on either side of her and began to rapidly oscillate around the original before all three ran into the forest at different angles.
Inu didn’t even break stride as he approached the forest entrance. The Mirror program had thrown him off the initial track but he knew that all he had to do was kill one of them and the other image would vanish. Unless the one he caught proved to be the original. He couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into this Runner’s skull. “Cute”, indeed!
In nanoseconds the Hellhound chose a target and began pursuit. He sprinted through the forest, nimbly weaving through the trees and leaping over clumps of rocks and bushes. In mere moments he had the avatar in sight. Inu could tell that it was a doppelganger as it followed a set pattern of movements as it dashed through the forest. The Hellhound quickly calculated the pattern it followed and anticipated its next maneuver. With a deep growl it spat out a flaming fireball that streaked across the distance separating it from its quarry. Inu had read the doppelganger’s movements perfectly and the hell-bolt intercepted with pinpoint accuracy, immolating the avatar double in thick flame. The Mirror replica shrieked once then vanished in a cloud of ash. Across the forest, another scream sounded as the second double expired in unison. Inu sniffed the air once and locked onto the Runner’s trail before sprinting off with a snarl.
Angel heard the death-scream of her Mirror program as she fluidly moved through the trees like water flowing through rocks in a stream.
Shit! she thought. That was quick! She guessed that Inu had taken her “cute” comment to heart after all and was out for a little payback. Maybe it wouldn’t be able to reacquire her trail. She knew that was crap the moment the thought went through her head. In fact she was sure she could hear something approaching rapidly from her left.
Angel burst out into a clearing, pausing for only a moment to assess the situation before she dashed towards the other side as fast as she could. She had only taken a few steps when Inu sprinted into the clearing a little further up the tree line, letting out a bestial howl as it spied its prey. The Runner hesitated for only a moment before changing direction and running straight at the Hellhound.
The beast growled and spat a flaming lava ball at the approaching girl. It was slightly surprised when she leaped over it, somersaulting as she flew through the air. As Angel jumped, she summoned a Fetch program and threw the squeaky chew-toy at the flaming-jowled beast. The Hellhound caught the toy in mid-air and froze momentarily at the sudden loud squeak that it emitted. This momentary lag was enough for Angel to summon her Blade program as she landed and closed the distance to her tracker. Before Inu could recover, she sliced the beast in two with a clean strike causing the Doberman to howl and vanish in a cloud of black smoke.
The avatar casually jogged across the remainder of the clearing and re-entered the forest. The torii gate lay only a few minutes ahead and when Angel exited the densely packed trees she found Sensei waiting for her by the red gate. He stepped forward as she approached.
‘That wasn’t too bad… for a human,’ he said as he stood before the gateway.
‘So I’ve passed your tests then?’ Angel was still slightly annoyed at having a full-blown Hellhound program sent after her.
Sensei nodded. ‘Yes, you’ve passed. Shona will find you useful I think. Though I think it will take Inu a while to get over what you did to him. A tad harsh.’
‘You what? That bastard was ready to eat my head! Fair’s fair.’
‘Good point’ Sensei conceded. ‘So, we’re all done. I have to say that you’re the best that I’ve had through here in a very long time. I can see great things for you… Okay, so just step on through the gate and you’ll be automatically returned to your body.’ Sensei smiled a final time, folded his hands behind his back and walked off without giving Angel a second glance.
For a few moments the Runner watched the white-haired man stroll away then shook her head in mild disbelief at the whole series of events and walked through the red torii gate.
Hope you all had a good weekend.
Thank you for reading and for any comments.
Enchanted Forest by the almighty Stonemason
Dynamic Karate suit.
Oct 15, 2012 1:36:19 pmby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
Boy, she really does have her stuff together inside the Sphere. Hard to believe it's the same girl. Some intriguing programs and representations of them Alex. Sensei is quite the interesting program himself. Excellent work both in word and image :)
Dec 28, 2012 7:48:27 amby Cyberdene Homepage »
Damn, this is my first time running into one of your story like pieces. And you know me. I love to write just as much as you, its very exciting especially when you can draw a crowd of readers that are fascinated in not only your render but the written material that tells the story.
I have always wanted a forest like background, but I suck at rendering environments. When I first read through this I was looking at the render studying it a bit. I said "Damn I should team up with this guy!" That is why I love going through people's art album because if I like what I see? There is noway I'm going to leave that artistic piece without saying something about it. Your skills are incredibly exceptional.