The Manticores were finishing up the arena as Lardeth recovered. Arsha noticed that the inside of the circumference was lined with springs pointing inwards. A circular piece of material was then hooked up to the springs. “A trampoline?” asked Arsha. “I had one of those when I was a little girl. Went too high at one point and landed in a way that broke my leg.”
“Ouch!” winced Delselii.
“That would mean you lose this trial,” remarked Boltuk. The crowd then returned. The size of it somewhere between the first trial and the second. “We have seen these outsiders pass two of the six trials!” Boltuk called to the crowd. “They are physically and emotionally strong, but what of their agility?! How well can they dodge?! Will they be able to make good enough decisions and quick enough changes in direction?!”
“It’s a dodging trial?” asked Bashoon. “Let me in on that action! Goblins are only rivaled by halflings in our ability to make quick getaways!”
“Bashoon, wait!” hissed Delselii. “What if it’s something you can’t see?!”
“That’s where the ears come in.” Her ears flapped to back up her words.
“…Very well.” Delselii stepped back.
“Good luck, Lieutenant,” wished Arsha. Bashoon took off her shoes, then stepped into the ring.
“You believe your shoes will slow you down?” asked Boltuk.
“No, just don’t want to tear the trampoline,” replied Bashoon.
“…Very considerate.” Boltuk then turned to the crowd. “Bring forth the Casters!” Three Manticores then came out of the gates and took to the air surrounding the ring. “Dodge their magic blasts within a minute’s time!” he instructed Bashoon. “One hit and you fail the trial! Begin!” The Manticores fired on Bashoon, and she bounced upwards, dodging the blasts. One then fired near her, forcing her to twist out of the way in mid-air. Another one followed a milli-second later and she twisted out of the way again. There was a rapid-fire series of shots and Bashoon stayed ahead of them.
“10 seconds so far,” muttered Patrica.
“She’ll falter,” remarked Boltuk.
“You don’t know Goblins as well as I do,” retorted Arsha. “Heck, you don’t know Bashoon Barmek as well as I do. She takes any bit of adversity, and she makes the best out of the situation. Whenever she has a problem, she finds a solution.” The magic blasts soon became more erratic in their timing. Bashoon yelped as she twisted in the air, hoping to gain some speed.
“Half a minute remains,” remarked Boltuk. Another caster then joined the fray and fired.
“Oh, come on!” groaned Bashoon. With more shots added to the mix, she had to make decisions faster.
“I didn’t hear you summon another!” protested Arsha.
“I assure you, it’s part of the trial,” replied Boltuk. Bashoon kept leaping out of the way, but the added caster made things more difficult. Finally, they all prepared for a simultaneous shot. They were matching her movements and the blasts were getting bigger by the second! When Bashoon went into the air, they fired. There was only one choice, she dove OUT of the ring. She then looked to her team as the blasts hit each other and made a brilliant light. Her team then rushed up to her, leaving Falnii to continue her dream-weaving for Lardeth.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” she mumbled. “I felt like I had no choice! It was going to…!”
“With that done,” called Boltuk to the crowd, “all trials of Strength are passed!” Bashoon then looked at Boltuk.
“Wait, I won?! Bu-but I went outside the ring!”
“If the trial were still continuing, the casters would have targeted you regardless of whether or not you stepped out of the ring. The only way you could have lost is by being hit. I never said a ring-out would mean a loss. You could have run along the outside edge of the ring.”
“…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! YOU MEAN TO TELL ME I COULD HAVE USED THE WHOLE ARENA?!”
“Even the stands.” Bashoon fell to her knees, groaning at the whole thing.
“I made things way too hard for myself!”
“Seems that way. In any event, like I said, the trials of strength are over. We will rest as we prepare the remaining three trials.” The crowd departed and left the team to their devices.
“Awake,” Falnii said softly. Lardeth then yawned and stretched as if he slept through the night. He then looked around the arena.
“Did…did we…?” he asked.
“Bashoon won the last trial for us,” replied Arsha.
“Though, I made it harder on myself,” remarked Bashoon.
“Then why aren’t we at the next trial?” asked Lardeth.
“We’re gonna be waiting for them to set up the next stage,” answered Foresna.
“…My opponent. The one who jabbed me with her stinger. What happened to her?”
“She was dishonored after attacking you. If I were a betting boy, though, she’s probably run to Oyed to tell him the news.”
Foresna would have won that bet. Nedola made her way to Oyed’s chambers. She bowed before an altar. “Mighty Oyed, I have news that must be reported in spite of how bad they are.” A black mist came into the room and coalesced into Oyed.
“You may speak,” he directed.
“Realmfleet’s found the entrance. Their team passed two trials. I tried to kill one as you ordered, but they knocked me aside, gave my target the anti-venom, and shamed me.”
“Someone undid your work?! I ordered their deaths!”
“Boltuk disobeyed those orders.”
“The same.” Oyed gnashed his teeth.
“He was there when I gave the order publicly! He was supposed to kill them outright!” Oyed drew in a breath. “I need to think on how to salvage this. In the meantime, report to Dr. Borg to have that mark removed from your forehead. It doesn’t suit a loyal follower like you. Thank you for bringing this to my attention as quick as you could.”
“I live to serve you, My Lord.” Nedola then headed to the door. Oyed sat in a chair and steepled his fingers as he thought. “If we had the numbers,” muttered Nedola, “we could make an example of them.” She then left the room.
“That’s a frightening statement in and of itself,” Oyed mumbled to himself.