PREVIOUSLY: Cecil steps up to the plate, and Wind goes nuts. Now, it’s time for the Physical Challenge to kick off!
[For all four teams, the dark swordsman does the exact same thing.
He leads the way back into the room of illusions, but rather than white walls, the outside world lies in wait. A white brick castle looms at the end of a road covered in bristly briars and flanked by dense woods.]
Onyx: Rescue the princess from that tower.
[With that said, he turns and leaves in one fluid movement.]
Banality Man: Hmm… There are some woods and stuff in the way, but I don’t care. I’m going to straight to the castle.
[Banality Man attempts to use his strength to punch straight through the woods and briars.]
Prince Shun: Ah… Thank you.
[He looked around at his surroundings, taking in the sight of the briars blocking off the road.]
Prince Shun: Well, that poses a definite problem. I wonder if it is possible to cut them down with a sword? They did say we would be able to equip ourselves with whatever we find, though… Could that be a hint alluding to weaponry being hidden somewhere within the forest? Or perhaps the tower itself?
[Still eying the briar thicket uncertainly, he set off into the woods in search for objects to aid in his quest.]
Prince Shun: (I suppose what Zheng would do is to set everything on fire. I must admit that it is perhaps the most straightforward solution, but it will be difficult to control the outcome. The tower looks as though it would survive, but as for myself…)
[Despite his own objections, he gathered suitable looking dry wood and plant material, as though he could think of no other solution but Zheng’s reckless go-to. As he moved through the forest, he took in account of the wind strength — lacking and weak, which was to his favour, as well as the humidity — quite damp, which was also to his favour, fortunately. Occasionally, he also bent down to pluck a familiar looking herb or two, stashing them in the sleeves and linings of his robes for later use.
He eyed the ground of the forest carefully, taking in the patches where the vegetation grew more vibrant and lush. Following a trail of insects, plant life, and the occasional animal tracks, he quickly found his way to a stream, where he placed the wood and plants on a dry rock.
First, he removed the two decorative sashes on his outfit, and created a makeshift waterskin out of the thicker yellow one, filling it with water and setting it aside. He then slowly lowered himself down into the stream, soaking every inch of his robes, as well as his hair. The second crimson sash, too, was drenched in the water.]
Prince Shun: (With that taken care of, the next step is to procure a weapon. They may have some sort of weapon cache in the tower itself, but it is better not to leave this up to a possibility.)
[He scoured the woods, sizing up pieces of wood and gently bending the suitable-looking pieces or having a closer look at the texture. Finally, he settled on a piece that seemed to be an appropriate height, with a good mix of flexibility and sturdiness.
He cast another fruitless glance over the surrounding woods, as if hoping just a little bit to spot a discarded dagger, or even better, a sword. Spotting nothing else of interest, he gripped the staff with resolution, bringing it over to the stream. The staff was, too, splashed with water — enough to keep it a good amount of damp, but not enough to make it useless.
He bent down to pick several brightly coloured berries and herbs. He placed these on a rock, rather than stowing them in his robes, and proceeded to slowly mash it all into a paste with a second rock. The ends of the wooden staff were then carefully dredged through the mixture. Though he got none of the dubious looking paste on his hands, he rinsed them in the stream all the same.]
Prince Shun: (It would have been best to be able to find a bladed weapon, or at least carve a pointed end for the staff… As it stands now, though, poison will have to suffice should I encounter any hostiles during this challenge.)
[The two ends of the crimson sash were tied onto the staff, and used to secure the homely looking weapon onto his back.
Finally, using the dry plant life and wood he had collected, he started a small fire, and lit a piece of wood to use as a torch. The bottom half of the torch was, too, dipped in the stream, and the rest of the main fire was put out. Dripping with water from head to toe, and armed with an improvised weapon and a torch, he set off to the thicket that blocked off the tower.]
[Cecil looks like he’s about to faint. The last time he was in a forest as dense as this one was when he met his friends, Bianca and Ettore. He remembers their near-death experiences and gulps.]
Cecil: There… p-probably aren’t any hunters in there. Right? Right. D-definitely not the ones from my world, anyway… sigh.
[He takes a few deep breaths and fiddles with the ends of his scarf. Once he’s feeling calmer, he starts on his way through the woods.]
[Princess Charming shakes her head and grunts. She then mutters under her breath so quietly that even she cannot make out her words.]
Princess Charming: Well, how… helpful.
[She scrutinizes the tower, or what she can see of it through the region’s tall flora, vainly attempting to gauge the distance between them by sight alone. She estimates that it should take only a couple hours to reach the tower, and exhales a sigh of relief.]
Princess Charming: Hmm… Really, though, I wonder if Zel’s fears had any truth to them — perhaps dragons await my visit, eager to be tamed.
[The princess can’t help but giggle at the thought.]
Princess Charming: I sure hope so!
[The small laughter evolves into cackles, and she thanks the heavens that nobody is with her now –]
Princess Charming: Oh. Oh, oh, oh no.
[She skids to a stop, remembering that she has an audience to cater to. They must be watching her right now, scrutinizing her every action and speech. She feels the heat rise to her cheeks, suddenly self-conscious about even the tiniest of her gestures, the most innocent of her words… and, of course, her cackles.
Brushing stray hairs away from her face, Princess Charming takes steady, slow breaths. She wonders if she should elevate herself the way she does back in her castle — her home — when she finds herself surrounded by people she needs to sway. Such would be most prudent, of course, and yet…]
Princess Charming: (How will they fault me for a thing? I’ll no doubt leave the tower on the back of the dragon with the princess in my arms, after all.)
[She continues her trek through the yellows and reds of the terrain, and the grin that returns to her face is so wide it consumes her face. She feels a strange sense of deja vu, particularly at her own words regarding the potential to see dragons. Her lips curve down into the slightest of frowns before she shrugs the thought off to focus on the path once more.]
[Even as she puts on a brave face, Paige needs to force herself to head through the door to the room of illusions. However, she reminds herself that a certain someone needs her, and any fears she has subside.
But once she’s inside, rather than white walls, the outside world lies in wait. A white brick castle looms at the end of a road covered with thick briars and flanked by a dense forest.]
Paige: Guess dropping me off at the front gate was too much to ask for.
[She approaches the briar infested path and touches one of the vines. Even with light fingers, she manages to prick herself on the thorns.]
Paige: Geez, it wouldn’t kill you royal folks to hire a gardener.
[She steps into the forest and finds the closest tree with low hanging branches fit for climbing. She scales it all the way to the top and takes a peek over the horizon. She sighs at the distance between her and the castle.]
Paige: That’s a bit further away than I thought.
[It’s impossible to see any pathway through the trees while the briar stretches the entire length of the road leading to the castle. She shakes her head and carefully climbs back down again.]
Paige: I guess I could find a way around the overgrown rose bush, but there are days I get lost on the way to the grocery store. I don’t know how much luck I’ll have navigating through this mess.
[She returns to the start of the road again and crosses her arms, considering her options. She could burn it.]
Paige: Except I don’t know how to light a fire and keep it burning.
[She could hack her way through.]
Paige: Too bad I don’t have anything sharp. So that leaves…
[She gets down on one knee and tilts her head to see there’s some space underneath the briar.]
Paige: Not the smartest solution, but I don’t have many options.
[She’d finished an athletic challenge once that involved crawling underneath barbed wire. This was kind of similar, although it would certainly be a tight fit.]
Paige: Well, no use wasting any more daylight; let’s get this over with.
[She takes off her t-shirt, so she wouldn’t have to worry about it catching on any thorns and so she had something to wrap around her hand, in case she needed to move any particularly obstructive vines out of her path.]
Paige: I’m glad I went with the sports bra today. Hopefully, this won’t be too painful.
[She lowers herself down to the point that her abdomen is almost touching the ground below. Using her elbows and knees, she drags herself along under the brush. As she slowly crawls through, there are few times when thorns get stuck to her back or legs.]
Paige: Ow! Darn it, I’m going to rip this stupid—
[She stops her temper from rising any further by biting her tongue. Thrashing around in here like an angry wildebeest would not be great idea. Instead, she removes the caught thorn from her skin and presses forward again.]
Paige: Maybe I should’ve bit the bullet and gone through the forest.
[She uses her covered hand to push a troublesome branch out of her way.]
[Prince Shun set the thicket on fire ever so carefully — as Zheng would say, a “small, harmless little fire”. Each small section was set ablaze with the torch, then put out with some water from the “skin” as he went on his way, occasionally covering his face with a wet sleeve if it got a bit too smoky. Though it took longer than setting the entire blockade on fire at once, it was more controlled, and thus more to the prince’s liking.
After a good amount of time, he had finally reached the tower entrance. Taking in a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped in.
His eyes took in the well-stocked armoury that lay before him with a bit of surprise. He had not expected it to be this simple to acquire a weapon.]
Prince Shun: Ah, perhaps I was a little over-prepared.
[He shrugged this off easily, though, and glanced over the array of weapons on the walls and tables. His eyes narrowed in confusion as they fell upon some utterly foreign pieces — he’d never been one for weaponry, but seeing artifacts so far beyond his knowledge wasn’t something that happened often.]
Prince Shun: (I suppose we are in a completely foreign world, not just land…)
[He picked up pieces of unfamiliar weaponry, looking them over, but then quickly set them back down, coming to the realisation that this was not the time. Instead, he scoured the armoury for weapons he was familiar with — weapons he had training with. His gaze first landed on a pair of short swords, about the length of his forearm. He removed them from the wall, and examined them closely. Pulling them out of the scabbard, he had a long look at the single-edged blade. Finding it to be sufficient, he studied the guard, which had a protective hilt that extended out to a point, presumably to be used to hook or block an enemy’s sword.]
Prince Shun: (The metal seems to be of a fine grade, and the blade is sharpened perfectly. It should do.)
[He sheathed the swords again, stowing them away into the sleeves of his robes.]
Prince Shun: (Those are best suited for close combat. I should also select a larger weapon, for fighting at range.)
[He adjusted the strap that held his shoddy excuse for a weapon to his back, realising it wouldn’t do against anything in this armoury. His eyes ran over the room, settling on a bladed polearm, leaning against the wall. The styling of the weapon was wildly different to the polearms of his country, but the basics were there.]
Prince Shun: (It’s certainly got range, and I do have a decent amount of training with the polearms back home, but…)
[Setting the polearm back up against the wall, he picked up a double-edged straight sword from one of the tables. Casting his gaze back and forth between the sword and the polearm, he eventually returned the sword to its place on the table and picked up the polearm once again.]
Prince Shun: (On second thought, while the sword would be the more traditional choice, I have already brought two short swords with me. Perhaps the polearm would be better.)
[Having selected his two weapons, he proceeded to remove the staff from his back. Remembering Zheng’s snarky comment about him tripping over his robes, Shun proceeded to fold up his robes so that they no longer trailed on the ground after him, and tied the two sashes in such a way that his alterations would stay.]
Prince Shun: (Though this staff is useless now, perhaps some of my earlier efforts could still be salvaged.)
[He retrieved the short swords and unsheathed them, running the blades along the ends of the staff — where the poison he had concocted earlier was still wet, and easily transferrable. Once the blades were coated with enough of the mixture, they were sheathed and hidden back into his sleeves. The polearm, too, was treated with what was left of the poison.]
Prince Shun: (With the poison diluted like this, it may no longer be as potent as to cause irreparable damage, but it should be enough to temporarily immobilize any hostiles, or at least slow them down.)
[Having scraped off every last bit of the mixture from the makeshift weapon, he cast it aside. Armed with his chosen weapons, he walked up to the red door at the far end of the wall.]
Prince Shun: (Well, I certainly hope it is enough.)
[He took a deep breath before he hesitantly pushed the door open.]
[The first hour of Princess Charming’s foray towards the tower ends up deliberate and slow as she takes her time to sift through the grass and rub the warm, damp soil, wondering if the hosts buried weapons in the ground. Her efforts prove fruitless, but she continues to persevere. At the same time, she freezes at the smallest sounds and eagerly seeks out potential threats with her darting eyes, only to be disappointed yet again by the serenity of the field.
Eventually, Princess Charming grunts and jumps up into a standing position. She claps the dirt from her hands, then pats her dress as clean as she can manage.]
Princess Charming: You know what? This isn’t working.
[Her body feels sore all over from the long duration of kneeling and crouching, so she rests for a few minutes to stretch out her muscles. She carefully scrutinizes her surroundings one last time before focusing her gaze on the tower beyond her.]
Princess Charming: I need neither a weapon nor armor, and while potions, food, or whatever I may find here may prove useful, I’m sure I won’t die without their help.
[She sighs, fully believing that if she didn’t waste so much time defending herself against nonexistent threats, she’d have saved the princess by now. She shakes her head, resolute not to waste any more time. Perhaps enemies are hiding further down the field, but so be it. She’s sure she can defeat them even if they caught her off guard. While there’s a good chance she’s wrong, she doesn’t want to worry about the details until she absolutely has to.
Beads of sweat have pooled on her forehead, and her hair sticks in unflattering clumps to her face. She knows too well that her current countenance is by no means befitting of a soon-to-be-queen. Normally, she wouldn’t care — she’s not on an adventure to look pretty — but she briefly wonders how her parents feel about their sole child muddying themselves on broadcast. She shrugs the thought away and beams.]
Princess Charming: (What matters is the end result, not the process… as long as the process is fun. Really, I need to stop worrying about the details. I’m sure my parents will only shower me with the compliments I deserve when I emerge victorious.)
[Two hours later, Banality Man reaches the castle.]
Banality Man: Aha! You thought you could stand in my way, briars. But you were no match for fists! I may be bleeding profusely with brambles stuck in nearly every square inch of my body, but I’ll be darned if I let some stupid plants interrupt my progress.
Banality Man: Hmm… there sure are a lot of weapons in this room. But who needs weapons when you have fists like mine? I’m not going to waste any time in this room—there’s a princess in trouble!
[He goes on to the next room.]
[After an unexpectedly peaceful walk through the woods, Cecil exits and is faced with the entrance to the white brick castle. He steels himself, taking a deep breath, opens the door to the castle and steps inside.]
[He’s a little startled to see a large variety of weapons, of different kinds, shapes and sizes, hung up on the walls of the room. The second thing he sees is a red door, seemingly prominent on the far wall. He notices a pair of spiked knuckle dusters, similar to the ones he used to practice with long ago. Cecil puts them on. He looks closely at the spikes – they look sharper than he was expecting from this kinda thing. He throws a few punches as practice, and decides to finally move on. He opens the red door and climbs the staircase behind it…]
[From that point on, her journey is brisk and carefree. Princess Charming sprints across the field for what seems like forever until she finally reaches the tower entrance. She bends down to clutch her knees, and she swallows for air. She yearns for an ice-cold drink, but she sees no pool of water near her, so she sighs and fans herself with her hands until her heart rate calms down.
Princess Charming frowns, suddenly suspicious now that the euphoria from the run has dissipated. Why is nobody guarding the tower? Why has the trip here been so easy? She understands that the quest is a game show simulation in which nobody is meant to be seriously injured, but even so, she’d expected it to be much more of a challenge. Taking a few hesitant steps backwards, she cranes up her neck, but she can see no princess. She returns her gaze to the large doors directly in front of her. There doesn’t seem to be any traps. A strange feeling gnaws at her stomach at the simplicity. Despite the aching feeling that she’s doing something wrong, she swings open the doors and makes her way in.
Bright light blinds her; she ducks into a defensive stance. The light flickers then dims, however, and Princess Charming realizes they’re only ubiquitous lamplights. She exhales, releasing a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, as she relaxes her position.
The path is relatively linear, and the princess soon comes across an armory. She groans and rolls her eyes, once again chastising herself for spending so much time outside to look for weapons. How was she to know the game masters would have made everything so straightforward? She circumambulates the room, comparing the weapons in an attempt to successfully discern which will benefit her most.
Biting her lip, she thinks back to her weapons classes back home. While Princess Charming has always been agile, strength has never been her forte, and she’s never cared enough to change that about herself. She’s always had magic at her beck-and-call, after all. Her past negligence now limits the range of weapons she can choose. She tries to lift an ornate sword, only to grunt and drop it immediately. She lifts a medium-sized sword adjacent to it, this time succeeding, but it’s far too heavy to swing, much less aim.
She paces around some more, curiously surveying each and every weapon. She’s unable to use most of them, but they fascinate her nonetheless. She skids to a sudden stop in front of a chain whip, giggling like a child.]
Princess Charming: Well, a whip would certainly be fun to work with… but I don’t know how practical it is in this case.
[She resumes her walk to look at more weapons, but her eyes remain glued to the whip. It is only when she bumps into a wall from her lack of awareness that she laughs and decides to take the weapon after all. Barring small daggers, the whip must certainly be the lightest tool in the room, and while the idea of using a whip on a foe feels more comical than lethal, Princess Charming is determined to make the most out of it.
She steps towards a large set of doors that is larger and more elaborately decorated than any she has come across yet. Her eyes are filled with an eager glint, all unease gone from the moment she spotted the weapon in her hands. She slings the weapon over her shoulder, then thrusts open the doors.]
[The briar seems almost never ending and Paige needs to take a break or two during the journey. It seems like an eternity before she spots the white bricks of the castle more clearly.]
[She crawls out the other side and gives a disdainful glare towards the briar she’d just maneuvered through while plucking some stray thorns stuck in her flesh. She stretches her limbs and slips her shirt back over her head.]
Paige: Alright, what’s behind door number one?
[She doesn’t hesitate in entering the castle, and she finds herself in a room full of weapons of every size and type.]
Paige: Oh, real funny. You could’ve let me choose a weapon before I spent the last two hours crawling through that nightmare.
[She shakes her head. At least they’re decent enough to give her a way to defend herself outside of her fists. She isn’t sure where to start when it comes to picking a weapon of choice until she sees the collection of scythes on the far wall.]
Paige: Ooo, now these are interesting.
[She picks a smaller one off the wall. She twirls it around and takes a few practice swings with it. It isn’t the first time she’s handled bladed weapons, but she’s never dealt with something this big.]
Paige: If you look at it sideways, it’s kind of like a hockey stick.
[After careful consideration, she straps a dagger to her waist, in case she found the scythe to be too much to handle. When she looks for the exit, she spots a single red door at the other end of the room.]
Paige: I’m not sure how trusting I am of brightly colored doors, but I don’t have much choice, do I?
[She steps up and cautiously opens the door to find a winding staircase leading up on the other side.]
Paige: Seems harmless enough.
[She carries her scythe in one hand as she begins ascending the stairs, still watching for any possible traps along the way.]
The final stage of the Physical Challenge looms near. Who will survive and who will bite the dust?