Level: 3 (14/30)
Word Count: 2,205
Location: Edge of the Blue - Atlantis Temple
Sephiroth listened to the challenge's rules and specifications intently, while pointedly ignoring the others there with her, beyond the most momentary of glances of course. Some might consider it unwise not to examine one's own opposition, but the former SOLDIER knew that these creatures were no match for her. As for the game itself, it seemed to provide just the difficulty she was looking for, and she quickly set her mind toward the making of a plan in the seconds following the snail's signal for them to begin. First she would collect ten chests, the ones simply lying about followed by those locked behind puzzles, as the former would be snapped up rather quickly by the other participants. After that would come the frogs, as she would've naturally made it to the bottom of the tank by this point in her search for chests. To ensure that these water moose
didn't hinder her progress however, she would also tie her bag around her wrist upon retrieving her final chest, then deal with sending the frogs back up while deftly avoiding the grasping appendages of those hole-bound creatures.
Finally, when all was said and done, she would descend into the hole itself to claim the waiting Sand Dollars. One would do, which meant she didn't have to spend too much time fumbling around down there. Additionally, since there was no mention of whether or not the use of magic was prohibited, Sephiroth figured she could use a few spells to clear out any interfering moose while she was there. They weren't other divers after all, and thus didn't fall under the non-interference rule the snail had just mentioned. Granted, there might still be consequences for such an act, so Sephiroth decided it would be best to use such powers sparingly to avoid arousing suspicion. In any case her plan was made, and Sephiroth herself on her way into the tank, as she secured her mask and leapt in head first without so much as a care in the world.
Checking briefly to ensure she still had her bag, she did, Sephiroth swiftly kicked her way down towards the bottom. Her body, while shorter and considerably less muscular, was still more than capable of performing in an adequate manner. Physically speaking anyway. This advantage was only bolstered thanks to the detachment of her rigging a few minutes before starting the game, which she'd left in the changing room from before. Making her way down and to the left, Sephiroth began her collection of chests, the first five of which came fairly easy as they were just lying about on or under ledges, though a few had been snatched up here and there by some of the other participants. The most annoying of which proved to be the redhead, who kept giving her flirty winks every time their paths crossed, before swimming away with yet another chest. At length however, the first five had been collected, which only left another five for the taking. These were a tad more difficult than the ones that had come before though, given the fact they were locked behind puzzles. Simple puzzles as far as she was concerned, but puzzles nonetheless, and time consuming ones at that.
A bad thing as it turned out, for the longer she and the others spent on these inane puzzles, the more frogs got dragged away by those accursed water moose. At last, however, she'd gotten the final chest she'd needed. Tucking it into her bag, she quickly tied it shut before fastening it securely to her wrist. From here she swam further down, passing through a few air bubbles on the way just to be sure she had enough, and began her collecting of frogs. A task that was much harder than she originally thought, as when she wasn't focused on the moose they would charge her at high speed, forcing her to dodge lest she be knocked aside or lose air. The other divers swooping in to take advantage of this also didn't help, as a few of them like the annoying redhead managed to float their three frogs, while Sephiroth herself was still stuck trying to get her first. After a few more tries and tactical retreats back to air back to air bubbles, Sephiroth had managed to nab two, sending them back up before quickly snatching a third.
All that left was the Sand Dollars lurking in the darkness of the hole below, and for a moment Sephiroth considered simply leaving with what she already had, for between the frogs and chests she had more than enough to pass the challenge. But passing was not what she came here for. Victory on the other hand, was, and she could not achieve that without the treasures housed in the abyss below. So, diving downwards, she made her way past the moose and into the hole. Having eliminated more than a few of them by leading them into the air bubbles floating about, the impact of which saw them rupture into ribbons like popped balloons. More than a few of the other guests were disturbed by this it seemed, as they quickly retreated back to the surface, kicking furiously to put as much distance between themselves and the rising crimson mist. The only one who remained was the infuriating redhead she'd run into so many times before, although he too only made it so far before the surviving moose had stolen too much of his air, forcing him to return to the surface. Moving down further, Sephiroth passed through the hole, and for a moment floated in sheer darkness.
Then her eyes adjusted, and to her surprise she found herself in a space far, far larger than the pool above. It extended as far as the column of light allowed her to see, a murky void interspersed with thin pillars that branched in odd ways, coated in places by softly waving fronds. That they were plants was obvious; that they were actually trees took a moment to discern. Beneath the pool lay an entire flooded forest, surreal in its placement, its stygian recesses indiscernible. In the bizarre abyss she could make out more moose in copious quantities, as well as unsettling polyps
stuck to the trees in varying stages of growth. It was the same in every direction she looked save one--straight down. A ways down there was some sort of brownish mass, and it was from there that the oxygen bubbles rose.
Glancing at the moose briefly, Sephiroth made her way deeper into the forest, partially curious as to what the strange brown mass beneath her was but mostly focused on examining the floor for any sign of these Sand Dollars she was after. Noticing her descent, more than a few of the moose charged, some hitting and others missing as she managed to swim out of the way fast enough to avoid being struck. Summoning up discs of darkness in either hand, she sent them spiralling towards the creatures, not really expecting them to hit. Rather she hoped they would serve to ward off the annoying things long enough for her to finish her search, which thankfully seemed to be coming to an end. For as she moved deeper into the forest, she spotted an odd circular object lying on the rocky ground below. Many as a matter of fact, although this was the nearest one. Unfortunately for her, however, it also happened to be right next to the ominous brown mass currently expelling large quantities of air into the water. Deciding it was far too late for her to turn back now, Sephiroth swam down to the mass, taking in a few air bubbles along the way.
As she drew near she realized that the discolored splotch she witnessed from above wasn’t just sediment, but a gnarly heap of organic matter. She could see a number of moose both with and without heads, though those without looked a lot more like brown jellyfish, and worse still she could see the detached heads and realize what they were for the first time--the bodies of drowned frogs. At the center of it all
lay an ovoid membrane, anchored to the earth with segmented limbs, inside of which bubbled the very oxygen that the guests all breathed, released through the mouths of the frogs fused to its body. And all around this central body were scattered the Sand Dollars, seldom disturbed.
Suppressing her disgust at the sight, Sephiroth did her best to avoid the moose that loitered near the bottom, even going so far as to blast some of them with spheres of darkness and shadow in an attempt to keep them at bay. Moving in as quickly as she could, she picked one of the dollars up, which looked quite similar to a coin, just larger and more misshapen. Clenching it tightly in her palm, she turned round and began to ascend, kicking her way towards the hole above even as the shadowy forms of moose passed in front of and beyond it, not to mention circle menacingly on all sides.
It took a lot of doing, a good deal of her remaining air, and a lot of careful avoidance, but at last she emerged back into the cylinder proper with her victory in tow. Surfacing a few minutes later, she climbed over the edge and untied her bag. Dropping the assumed Sand Dollar inside, she handed it off to the snail before removing her mask and taking her place next to the other participants. Each of whom were eagerly awaiting the results. While she didn't feel in the mood for chitchat at the moment, especially given what she’d seen below, it appeared as though one of the other contestants did. If she had been hoping that someone other than the redhead would be taking the stage, she ended up disappointed.
“Aw, no need to sell yourself short,” he was telling the bald man. “I’ve seen you run the lily course, sailing over the water with those kicks of yours. You’re better than loads of people who can
see could ever hope to be.”
His friend gave a polite laugh and sipped his coconut. “Ah, you give me too much credit. All I want while here is to relax, just like anyone else. There is no meaning in takin these diversions too seriously.”
The redhead shrugged. “Hey, fair enough. Now…” Like a beauty-seeking missile he locked right onto Sephiroth’s dripping-wet form. He sauntered over and offered her a fresh towel. “You, are something else. First then you show up like, whoa
, then you show us all up diving all the way to the bottom. I was so dazzled I couldn’t do anything but watch, heheh.” He wore a good-natured smile, showing off his own charms as much as he could. “Anything interesting down there?”
Sephiroth took the towel from him with a blank stare.“A lot of moose, dead frogs, and some sort of brownish flesh mass.”
She ran the towel across her hair quickly, before dabbing the water from her face.“Oh, and sand dollars I suppose. A lot of them as a matter of fact.”
Her lips curled upward into the slightest of smirks.”It’s a shame you couldn’t find any.”
Unfortunately, her attitude only seemed to interest him more, as he got a trace of insight into her character. He did not seem disturbed by his report. Beneath his sunglasses there was a hardness to his eyes alongside the twinkle, rather like diamonds, forged under pressure. “Oh? Perhaps. Although, I think I got just about everything I need.” He winked, then extended his hand. “Sylvain’s the name. Might I ask for yours?”
Sephiroth draped the towel over her shoulders, having dried off for the most part in the meantime.
“Sephiroth,” she said, though she did not take his outstretched hand, opting to cross her arms over her chest and regard him with a cold stare instead.
Her admirer took the hint and casually pulled his hand away to adjust his hair. “Fascinating.” His gaze drifted to the snail, who’d just finished tallying up everyone’s scores and gotten back onto his pedestal. “Well, Sephiroth. I hope to see more of you going forward.”
The snail attendant cleared his throat. “Aaaalrighty! Everyone did well, and it was actually very close, but there’s only one first place. Our winner is the lady in red!” He singled out Sephiroth with a flourish, and held up his stamp with his other hand. “Gather up and I’ll stamp you off. Thank you all for playing.”
After he finished, the quiet man with white hair took off at a leisurely pace, while the bald man went the other direction. A few new guests arrived, so the last two paired off to find something else to do. “I swear, if you’re scoring low on purpose just to hang around and chat up the girls…” the blonde girl warned, but as ever Sylvain seemed quite at ease.
Sephiroth made her way over to the snail, handing him her card as she did so. After getting it stamped she strode off, once again in search of something else to do.