Thrax went first and finished all three hurdles without a hiccup. Whether he was just that athletic and talented or not, the fact was that he finished it while making it look easy encouraged the other three to give it a try.
Julian and Chumo gave it a go and got up on the obstacle course, while Emery held back once more. The two got past the obstacle course's first part, however, didn't manage to get past the spinning traps and were knocked off to the ground on the second part. Emery tried to compare the three attempts just now and made a mental image of how he should attempt it.
He couldn't do it like Thrax; Emery was sure he didn't have the fast reaction Thrax had.
When Emery finished devising his plan, he wore the protective armor and got on the first platform. It didn't look high when he had watched his three friends running the course from below but it surely affected Emery's leg as it became noodly at the thought of falling, especially feet first. The protective armor also negated damage on the legs, right? He stomped his feet, trying to straighten it and get his mind off of it. That helped a little as well as trying not to look down, instead setting his eyes on the alternating platforms.
He ran and grabbed each one like a cat trying to do a wall jump. Making it to the rope, he swung himself with just enough force to get to the other side. Now he faced the tall wall that towered over him. There was no time limit and he needed to catch his breath. After lightly hopping, he placed one foot forward, one foot back and dashed with all the strength in his leg and reached for the high wall. Just an inch left and he would've reached it. He tried once more, and this time, he waved his arms at the moment he jumped and reached the corner of the wall with just the tip of his fingers on one hand.
It was slipping off but with gritted teeth he managed to grab with his dangling arm the edge and pulled himself up with his arms shaking terribly after. Emery crouched, that feeling of wanting to puke, blurring vision, heart pounding against the chest up to his ears, all he was too familiar with was starting again. He shook his head as if that would help his situation. Straightening his back, he was still gasping for air but at least his mind and vision was clearing again.
Emery made his way on the second part and the spinning mechanical wheels inside clicked and clanked. He so wanted to pick apart these things and learn how they work but this wasn't the time. These contraptions moved at a steady pace; as long as he could anticipate the right timing, he should be fine.
Focusing his ears on the cranking and the eyes on the bag strapped on the spinning wheel, he understood he had to aim for the gap before the next bag arrived. Emery got into position, watching closely. The gap appeared and he dashed, it seemed his years of study about architectural construction with the family scholar paid off. He counted the timing and step by step he managed to pass the second part of the gauntlet.
Finally he arrived at the third part. The hundreds of axes and blades swung, cutting the air around themselves. This time the sharp object in front of him made his heart beat faster, no normal 15-year-old kid wouldn't be worried seeing what was in front of him right now.
Emery took deep breaths and did the same thing he did in the second part.
"I can do this," he muttered to himself.
One step, three steps in, it was going well so far and his confidence boosted when suddenly…
An axe slammed Emery back to where he was standing. He rolled on the platform as he hit his head, almost falling 33 feet(10 meters) from the ground.
Without the protector, he would be cut in half, but even so the hit was heavy enough that he felt a little headache. He was somehow fortunate enough not to fall, but now the protector's function wore off, he was unsure what to do.
"Get down or you'll die!" Julian shouted on the ground.
"Kid! Ye don't have to push yerself!"
Emery heard the shouting coming from below, however, his mind still set on the hurdle in front of him. Whether it was because of the headache or his ignorance, he dulled his ears. His trembling feet reminded him of the time his father died in front of him. If he decided to walk away now, then he would still be the same boy that ran from his father's murderers. A version of him that he was starting to hate. A cowardly weak version of him.
For some reason, his father's words of not losing control kept running in his mind. What would happen if he didn't keep calm? He had made it this far by keeping collected. Maybe like Thrax, he had to be more aggressive to finish this obstacle course.
Unconsciously, he was gritting his teeth as the blood throughout his whole body boiled. The clanking became louder in his mind, and when a blade appeared, he shot forward and the spinning blade missed Emery by a hair's breadth, repeating the same maneuver every mechanism he had faced. His heart was racing, his awareness heightened. This was the first time he had felt like this. As if something inside him was unleashed.
The hundreds of axes and blades swung, cutting the air around themselves. One hit, for sure he would die. The sharpness of the weapon rang clearer in Emery's ear but the way it moved felt weird. It looked like they were moving slower than he remembered.
In the eyes of the others, they saw a crazy kid run without hesitation straight through the hundreds of weapons. As for Emery, however, he seemed to start losing himself. He moved reactively dodging and dashing at all the blades to swing in front of him.
Third obstacle complete. He managed to pass the gauntlet leaving his three friends and many others in awe. The weak looking mad kid passed through the gauntlet without the protective vest. Emery stood there outside the gauntlet unmoving
And then, darkness. Emery lost consciousness. Chumo was the first to arrive on the scene and checked Emery's breathing. The breath was hot, and when Chumo touched Emery's forehead, it felt like a fever was acting up.
Julian, Chumo and Thrax were preoccupied with Emery when the giant cube floating in the middle updated its ranking.
67. Thrax acolyte rank 2. Level 5
101. Emery acolyte rank 1. Level 3
At the end of the day, Emery didn't make the cut but unbeknownst to him, the slender combat magus took an interest in him.