I suppose I might have dreamed while I was unconscious, but if I did I do not remember what about. After jumping through the chronostream, I was met only with darkness for a timeless moment before I rejoined the waking world. I took mental bearing before I tried to open my eyes. Something was securing my arms, but they felt loose enough to be ineffective. I could feel my robes and my sabretache pressing against my body, but they were burdensome and misplaced. I quickly reached out to my powers and felt nothing. A rapidly growing sense of urgency forced me to throw the shades of my eyes wide out; I quickly wished I hadn’t.
Eight mechanical arms were looming imperiously above me with various surgical utensils. The angle was just right that it seemed as if they were indeed grasping, and only moments away from striking me. I quickly pulled my arms out from the over-sized straps and rolled over the edge of the cold, metallic surface I was laying on; probably an operating table. I fell a bit farther than I thought I would and landed in a heap; my clothes bundling around my ankles.
“It would appear my smallest testing subject has awoken. You are even smaller than the last than the last time you visited me, Brevan. Though I suppose, as you always say, ’you’re just a child.’” GLaDOS. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess the combined shock of being back within her mechanical clutches after surviving certain death was a little much. Out of the dinner pan and into the oven, I guess.
My apparent shock was enough to earn me another quip from the mechanical monster. “I am sure you had no wish to see me again so soon, or ever again for that matter, but I have the most interesting test planned for someone of your diminished stature,” she had spoken two lines and I was already tired of her games.
“And what does that test involve? Me overloading you with my magic again?” I nearly stopped mid-sentence; my voice sounded off for some reason.
She paused briefly before replying. “Empty threats avail you nothing, Brevan. Now, please gather up your things and enter the testing chamber. Your friends are already halfway completed with their own trials. You wouldn’t want to miss all the fun, would you?”
“Right, like it matters. You’ll keep testing them against their will until they figure out a way to bust out of here again.” If a machine could chuckle, GLaDOS came close.
“Dear Brevan, I have learned a few things while you were off trotting scenic Sigmar’s countryside. For example, mortals are more willing to jump through hoops for you if given the proper incentives. Your friends all willingly choose to enter my testing facility for the reward I promised them.”
“What could you possibly give them besides a headache?”
“Nothing quite so sarcastic; I agreed to turn them back into adults.”
“Turn them back into adults? What’s that supposed to … oh,” Suddenly, everything was making sense. The displaced robes and bags, the too-small restraints, the drop distance I had endured from the table, my voice. I closed my eyes, and for the second time that day, I begrudgingly opened them, inspecting myself. My once snug robe draped over me like a blanket; my sabretache was nearly half my size. My wrists were tiny and I barely had wisps of hair on my feet. I felt my chest; it was as fresh as a babe’s. I quickly decided I didn’t need to see anything else.
“Of course, the deal extends to you too, Brevan. Complete my test and I’ll gladly serve you your own batch of the serum to restore you to normal.
“And I’ll be allowed to just walk out of here?” I suspiciously questioned.
If I could have seen her face, I’d have bet she was sneering right now. “As they say, we will cross that bridge when we come upon it.” Great, she wasn’t giving me an answer. Still, I realized that it would be better for me to amuse her and return to my full power; if I was young, there was a good chance that I had never grown into my powers yet, which also meant that I was as helpless as any other child in this situation. I rolled up my robes and folded them into my sabetache; they were too large and would only inhibit my mobility. My pants were also useless, but my shirt fit my shoulders acceptably well, though the garment was now long enough to look more like a hand-me-down nightshirt. I was reminded of wearing my father’s old clothing in such a manner when I was young.
“Excellent choice, Brevan. This is so exciting. We’re going to learn so many interesting things today! It is surprisingly difficult to acquire young mortals for such tests.”
“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” I replied bitterly, tying my belt around my waste as to secure my shirt’s position a bit better. I stepped out of my pants and folded them up into my sabetache. I looked through my possessions, taking anything I could along with me. I slung a small pouch form my belt and tucked away what few wands I had into it; I may have had no spells at my disposal, but the wands would provide me with a measure of protection.
I left the sabetache on the ground, sure that GLaDOS would hold onto my possessions; after all, she wanted me to participate, did she not? A section of the room’s wall folded away into the ceiling, revealing itself to be a door. I walked into the dark room as the door slammed behind me. I wasn’t left in the dark, so to speak, for every long, as lava began pouring into the chamber from vents located high above in the ceiling. The faint illumination from the lava revealed a complex set of lily pad-like tiers that floated among the magma.
I was still trying to figure out what to do when a second door opened up quite a distance away at the other end of the room. Pulling out one of my wands, I quickly enchanted myself with protection from the heat of the lava, proceeding to make my way across the lily pads.
“You always have had an admirable sense of confidence. Not indifferent from a child who is among likeminded friends. But, how long will it last, Brevan? You are all alone, and only a child.” I jumped the first few gaps before the lava could get to high, but it became clear that the lava was quickly rising; it was now high enough that some of the molten substance crept onto the lily pad when my weight wasn’t properly balanced. I quickly realized that the heat was a non-issue; if I fell in, my wand would surely provide little protection.
“Damn, this is always what Jewel was good at,” I cursed as a small globe of lava landed on my shirt, searing my skin and burning a hole through my sleeve before I was able to brush it off. The magma quickly hardened, leaving me with a scab-like protrusion of rock on my arm. Just what I needed; more weight.
After a few more jumps, I noticed a pattern of increasing sizes in the gaps. Already I was getting close to the longest jump I was physically able to perform and I still had a long way to go.
“You are doing well, but I feel I must extrapolate on what I said before. When I said you were alone, I meant to imply that your friends have failed this test as well, and when you fall into the lava, you’ll actually be melted down into a hybrid goop of friends; sort of like an ever-burning soup. Understandable of someone with such a feeble, frail intellect."
In hindsight I shouldn’t have responded; she was fishing for a response, trying to get in my head. I see that now, but at he time, overcome with stress and anxiety, I couldn’t resist.
“I caught your meaning but have already decided you were lying so ignored it. If you want to get under my skin you will have to show me some proof.” She chuckled again, a dark, emotionless chuckle. Emotionless laughter; until I met GLaDOS, I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
“You will have it soon enough,” her uncaring voice sent chills racing down my back; a feat that should have been impossible when I was inches away from being burned to death. In truth, I was getting worried that I would soon be unable to make the gaps. It seemed hardly fair that I had to make the same jumps as those of my companions. Even as children, their jumps would be what I could have barely mustered as an adult. But then, I was just a child.
“Poor Brevan, is test number one too hot for you to handle? But that’s a good lesson to learn at your age; life isn’t fair. Why else would I expect you to bridge such large gaps with absolutely no tolerance for error of any kind? My calculations indicate a 97.3512% chance that you will fail this test and die an agonizing feat; roughly a 45% increase from the chances I had calculated for your friends. However, testing all scientific variables fairly is seldom fair for the participants. Such is the irony of science.”
“What about the percentage chance that you keep your mouth shout?” I thought to myself, I was too focused on my next jump. Despite the power of my wand’s magic, sweat was clinging to my face and the soles of my feet; the room’s heat was quickly surpassing the limits of magic. I cursed my luck for not bringing the shoes I wore when disguising myself as a human boy along with me. I knew I needed to quicken my pace, move faster across the room. I was barely halfway there. The heat was overwhelming though; it was burning away what little strength I had in my body. The lily pads were growing smaller by the minute as more and more of them melted away into the fire.
I hurried along, darting from platform to platform until two things stopped me in my tracks. First, the lava seemed to have finally bested me; the next gap was so far away, it seemed to be simply impassible by someone of my size and physical ability. That wasn’t the worst of it, however. There was what appeared to be a halfling-sized skeleton clutching the edges of the next platform, its torso spread across the floor, the lower half of its body clearly melted away. The humanoid was wearing some type of plate armor, but it wasn’t until its skeletal hands, which were presumably keeping the corpse attached to the platform, melted away that I got a good look at the person in question. The person wasn’t a halfling at all; it was, very clearly, a young human; barely a boy.
And its helm was shaped in the visage of Set.
“He was so close, too. They all were. But none of them made it past here.”
It was Zerrik. Surely, that body belonged to Zerrik. Why was I so horrified? Why was I said? They were big folk; they didn’t, they couldn’t really care about me or my goals. They were a mismatched band of ruffians, searching for whatever tablescraps of treasure I threw at them. Weren’t they? I had barely known Zerrik, or Jewel or Omar or Shuriel, for that matter. Perhaps I was simply depressed because of the simple fact that if Zerrik, regardless of how small he was, couldn’t make this jump, then I had no chance. Or was there something more?
My anger at GLaDOS, at the man in yellow, at everything that had happened to me so far swelled up like a bursting volcano. I screamed at GLaDOS, "Take your snide comments and your gods’ damned experiments and shove it all up your arse!” At the time, I thought I was making a statement. I wouldn’t be pushed around; I was still strong and in charge of my fate. All that jazz. However, looking back at my situation, I was on the greener side of puberty, trapped in the middle of a room of molten lava, unarmed, without magical power aside from several wands, and on top of that, my voice sounded high-pitched and girlish.
GLaDOS seemed thrilled, rather then intimidated. “That’s the spirit! In all of our time together, you have never struck out in such a manner!” Still invigorated from my bravado, I paced back and forth, fledgling ideas hatching in my head, but none were good enough to attempt. The heat of the ground was an annoyance for now, so I decided to bide my time, trying not to do anything rash. After several minutes of thinking I was again interrupted by GLaDOS.
“What kind of thoughts are swirling in that little skull of yours? Are you being tormented by your mortality? Is your fate sinking in? Maybe before it melts away, I’ll crack that little cranium open and see for myself.”
“What’s the point of this damn experiment if we all just die?! What data will you have gathered?!"
“I have access to your brain patterns. Every little thought your insignificant mind thinks pulses like a streak of lightning through the sky; across your brain and to your arms, your legs, even your heart. It is no matter to you, but in this chamber, I am studying the mind before experiencing certain death. What emotions do you feel? Do you sink back into the primitive ways of your ancestors? Does logic leave you and do you brashly cause your own death. It has been a revealing study so far, and you have played your role flawlessly. But you have mulled long enough. It is time for the final phase of my study. Death awaits you, my little subject,” and as GLaDOS finished her soliloquy, lava began surging into the room even faster, surging towards where I was located. I had very little time left.
GLaDOS must have been ecstatic; primal fear surged into my mind, enveloping my every thought. I couldn’t think clearly, I couldn’t think of a plan. All I could think about was that I was going to die a horrible, fiery death. Alone. I gave in. I was brash. Unwilling to simply wait to be burned alive. I jumped. Directly towards where Zerrik had died. I closed my eyes; at least if I hit the plunge, I would burn alive quickly. I would be half-burned and half-gone, as Zerrik was.
Unexpectedly, my feet hit something cool and solid. My eyes still closed, I ran forward. I don’t know what happened. I ran into the threshold of the next room. It was plain and white.
Laughing and cursing together, I praised my continued life. “You whore!” was all I could muster and I kept moving through plain white halls until I found a hole in the wall. It was like a slide; a one-way apparatus to take me somewhere else. Having no other options available I went in, having matured much this day despite appearances.