Twelve contestants emerge from a night full of death, only to find that their next trial involves traversing through the darkness of the mountain. Their only hope, an exit to the finish line to their final test. One by one, the contestants descended into the dark, with Beren the last to enter, instead leaping forward and diving straight below. The human warrior landed on top of the rocky floor, the drowned out echoes of movement cascaded along the walls – alone in the dark. 

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Beren stood silently in the dark cave floor, above him was the small pin-sized hole of the top of the well. It was quite a jump, but the warrior had learned how to slow his descent from his masters. In the darkness, the distant sounds of the other contestants echoed against the stony corridors ahead. Slowly, the warrior took small steps ahead, feeling the wet and grainy floor. This was the second trial. According to his masters, each trial was a measure used to test the contestants and prepare them for the final trial. The warrior had heard stories from his masters for years, learning of the sacred arts and lessons they had to teach. A true warrior had mastery of their mind, body, and soul; it was finally time to display some of that mastery.

In the dark, Beren folded his arms and had his hands meet in an intricate pattern over his chest. He focused on the ki within him, molding it the spiritual and mental energies along his body and pooling them into his eyes. In an instant, his eyes possess a soft yellow glow and for the first time, Beren could see through the darkness. Albeit, it was not perfectly clear, but it was enough to discern the outlines of the walls and hallways. Beren confidently traversed through the cave tunnels until reaching a large cavern with varying heights of stalagmite and stalactite. The sound of water droplets hitting small pools was clear, there was relative silence beyond this large opening. Everyone must be far ahead now or separated, he thought.

A distant scream alerted Beren and gave him pause. While attempting to discern the nature of the cries and relative distance, the warrior realized that the effort was fruitless given the harmonics of the cave tunnels. He decided to press forward, hoping that his journey would remain uneventful. There was a measure of faith necessary to traverse these caves, possibly one of the testing requirements of this trial. The tunnels would split and divide, shift upward and down again. Dozens of twists and turns, often times circling back to a point where Beren wasn’t even sure if was going the opposite direction to the exit. Just believe in path, the rest will come.

Eventually Beren heard the sound of footsteps coming from an adjacent tunnel once he reached a large cavern. A soft glow illuminated the room until a familiar figure emerged from the shadows. It was Mei Fong, wielding one of her flaming blades as a makeshift torch. The swordswoman looked at Beren surprised, but quickly became annoyed.

“It would seem our paths cross again,” Beren observed.

“Unfortunately,” Mei replied.

“Would you like to journey down the path ahead? We are going to the same place after all.”

Mei turned to him with a scowl. “Are you seriously that dense?”

Beren blinked several times and then shrugged his shoulders.

In her frustration, she marched toward the bewildered warrior. “Listen, I do not know what you plot, but we are adversaries here. We each are destined to traverse through this trial and those fortunate enough to make it will face each other in combat – to the death. I’ve grown weary of your constant games. Get out of my sight, or I’ll make you wish you disappeared.”

Beren raised his arms, he did not wish to confront the swordswoman in her rage. She was already a capable warrior; no need to antagonize her, he thought. As Beren was ready to take his leave, the cave shook as the sound of thunder came across the many tunnels. It was definitely a spell of some sort, someone was fighting in the dark. The ceiling shook and loosened several chunks of rock down on the pair. The both of them dodged the falling rocks, narrowly escaping without injury. Half of the cavern was covered in rubble, the pair of warriors stood from one of the tunnels and surveyed the layout. It was nearly impossible to take another path, there was no other way now. Mei Fong sighed and began journeying deeper into the tunnel, Beren followed close behind.

Several hours passed and the two found a large opening and were greeted by an underground lake with tall ceilings. As Mei’s flames began to illuminate the expansive cave, bits of crystal reflected along the top and looked like stars in the night sky. BeautifulMei thought. Beren walked over to the water’s edge and dipped his hand into the lake, it was cool to the touch and he tasted it. It was refreshing, untouched from the world and definitely needed after a long walk. The both of them took drinks by the lake before Beren unfolded a small parcel out of his bag and laying on the ground.

Mei looked at him puzzled, “what are you doing?”

“It’s getting late, it’s been hours since breakfast. Going to get some rest and forage for food later.” Beren said with a yawn.

Mei looked at him with disbelief, finally her patience was spent. “Are you serious? If you haven’t noticed, we are in the midst of a trial and you’re worried about sleeping and food?”

Her voice resounded along the cave walls, the lake rippled in the wake of her anger.

Beren looked at her simply, without contempt or bitterness. “Well, I doubt this trial is going to be done in a single swoop. The exit is supposedly miles away from where we started, it’s wasn’t meant to be done in a single day. Plus, we’re tired and need rest. Food and water are important things to consider on such ventures. I doubt many of the contestants packed water when making preparations. Plus it seems relatively safe here for the moment, so any rest is good for the body.”

Beren found himself some rock and used them as an incline to rest his body, it did not take long before he went soundly asleep. Mei looked at the odd warrior, trying to look past the underground lake, but the darkness prevented such an attempt. Fatigue began to weigh on her form, she had been walking for hours in the dark before finding Beren, it was comforting at least to find a familiar face that had no desire to wish ill. But at the same token, the draw to reach the end of the trial proved strong, she looked back at Beren’s unconscious form and sighed. She was defeated. Taking a seat just opposite of Beren, she lowered the light of her flaming blade and began to drift asleep while curled up against the rock.

As sleep fell upon them, a sinister shadow loomed not far from the lake’s edge. Lurking, stalking, and moving.

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