Tidbits from Gary

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Endgame, part 2

"The Endgame"
a short story
Gary Baker, April 2013
(part 2 of 3)

“Phase two,” the echoing voice came again, “begin in: three...”

Juskra turned to face the open room and the way he’d just come.


He flexed his fingers and light once again appeared at his fingertips... but this time it wasn’t orange and it wasn’t warm. Eyes wide in shock, Juskra looked to the yellow-green points hovering at the very ends to each and every one of his fingers.

“No shit,” he breathed.

The energy of the light pulsed happily within him, amounting to a greater sense of power hiding just under his nails, coursing through his veins, peering from his eyes. No one had ever seen this happen in all of history. Not one soul had ever seen the orange light change like this.

“What does this mean?” Juskra choked out.

He jumped, having forgotten about the countdown.
His heart raced with anxiety. What did this new development mean to the course? How would it affect his pre-planned actions? Resolving to test his most-sure fail-safe, Juskra waved his right palm over his left forearm to create the shielding again... but nothing came. No energy held true to guard his body from harm.

Eyes wide, Juskra choked in his fear. This time he had no idea how to use the energy. “Oh, god,” he whispered with near-surreal unease.

The sound seemed demonic this time, Juskra was sure of it. Having saved the energy that much must have set off one of the judges into an angry tirade to have him killed at the first challenge of this next course.

Suddenly he opened his eyes, unsure if he had ever closed them in the first place, and found himself standing in a vast wilderness environment. Trees as tall as skyscrapers loomed like the legs of giants in a crowded subway, bushes grew over everything, and the overpowering scent of petrichor coated the whole place like sweat on a beast of the Saharan desert.

Worried that there was still some trick to timing this, Juskra sped straight into the leafy fray toward his assumed end. In minutes he found himself surrounded by an endless arena of green: from chest high and up loomed darker foliage sprouting from branches large and small, while his bare feet meshed with dark brown mulch and soil as soft as a splintered cloud.

He looked in every direction, suddenly lost in this miniature world of wonder. The full-on depth of how real the branches felt as they had scraped his arms on his way in, the way that the lower leaves in the jungle mess had caressed him like lovers long-gone with a similar burn... it almost seemed as though each time he faced the arena ‘course’ he’d really been teleported to another part of the actual world.

Now it was just a matter of staying alive again.

One thing skittered across Juskra’s mind as he fought for control, fought to regain his sense of direction: the arenas were timed. The power slowly bled out, used up in keeping him alive in this ethereal world while he attempted to complete the tasks at hand. The fact that he had no idea how to use the power, thus also declaring him unable to gauge it’s reserve levels by default, had but a single mammoth hold on his worries.

He spun around once more, trying to find something familiar, something that would have caught his eye as he’d come in, and found only a blur of green and earthen colors. His heart raced as he reached out, darting in one direction for a few paces and turned back to see if it looked familiar, then back and again in another direction. After several more attempts Juskra found himself growing weak, his resolve dissolving into fear as it all looked the same.

This time he would not make it.

He couldn’t allow himself to give up, yet he fell to his knees as if in slow motion while his mind became overwhelmed with fatigue. For what felt like a lifetime he knelt there in the mulch before his arms slacked and hit the ground as well. The light of the orbs on his fingertips had been fading ever since he’d started this challenge and meant he had either been using it blindly and without realizing how he’d done it, or that the reserves had been depleted specifically for this challenge to test him. Perhaps it meant that when they fully depleted themselves the test was over -- if he reached the end in time he’d have completed the task as required, yet if not... well better things could happen to him in another life.

As his hands touched the mulch, however, he suddenly felt raw, his heart jolted and his mind cleared. The jungle shuddered, leaves stirred and some on their final moments in the canopy shook off and drifted down while weak branches clattered through others until they hit the floor with a hushed clamor.

The orbs at his fingertips gleamed bright, just then, strobing like fireworks in the night until Juskra began to feel the power, until he began to actually sense a reserve being filled within him.

Only one thing came to mind by this drastic twist of fate: the power was feeding.

Curious, Juskra leaned forward on his knees and removed his fingers from the soil, feeling the stark surreality of being closed off from something he’d become dependent on. So he reached forward and slammed his whole hands as deep into the soils as he could, fingers outstretched like prongs, and again the world around him shuddered violently.

The power raged through him as it regained itself. He sensed a desire to move again, and then the startling clarity brought on by the power reaching a sated end. With some hesitation Juskra stood to revise his thoughts of the world around him again. He waved his palms over his heels again to place the shielding disks... only to fail once more.

To him the power felt useless.

So he reached out to grasp it again, letting the orbs regain their composure on his fingertips, much like he had for the last form of the energy, and noticed a slight alteration of the orb coloration. His fingers most forward were darker, while the orbs of light on his small fingers shone a slight yellow-green.

He pulled his hands back in front of himself to study this, only to watch as they grew darker and darker the closer he brought them to his face. Curious, he brought them out again, this time straight ahead, and found no color change. Spinning about, he visibly found the orbs altering their colors from dark forest green to a bright yellow and back the the dark green again.

But what did it mean?

Then it dawned on him to try the same with both arms out to either side. This time he watched as one hit the yellow, then the other in that same direction while the first went dark, then reversed and kept doing much the same.

“It’s a compass!” He exclaimed aloud.

So he brought his arms back around until he surely faced the brightest yellow tones and began forward. After seeing the colors stay unaltered as he walked the path, Juskra grit his teeth and started jogging, then running, avoiding fallen trees and the occasional boulder, until at last he reached a clearing. The platform lay just ahead and he sprinted onto it without any expected hindrance.

Then came the monotonous echo once more, “Phase two: complete.”

Juskra turned to see that he now stood an a new platform not far from his last place of origin, merely ninety degrees from the phase two start. He turned further to face the jungle one last time and watched as the trees vanished, then the bushes and shrubs, and finally revealed a sudden deep canyon... directly in line with what his original path would have been.

Had he not gotten lost he would surely have dropped to his death without even realizing what had gone wrong.

Despite the feeling of fullness with the power, once again Juskra let the orbs flicker out with the twitch of his wrists, and the whole scene faded back to the dark Colosseum again. He didn’t want to waste the energy when he didn’t need it.

The thought that the power was alive rang back to him again, and lit a smile on his face. He had recharged the power, and for that it seemed to have chosen to show him the way.

Again the loud voice rang out from high above, where the gods must surely be sitting forward on their divans with curious wonder at how far Juskra had gotten. “Phase three,” the voice echoed in the gloomy slate-grey darkness, “will begin in three...”

Juskra nodded to himself and relaxed. He had this covered. He may not know how to use the power, but he sure as hell knew what it would do for him if he just trusted it to guide him.


He flexed his fingers and let the orbs relight on his fingertips... this time in a deep azure blue. With a smile, Juskra knew the powerful energy within him had approved of his abilities, despite the fact that he hadn’t known giving up would have done what it had.


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