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It is the third day of her training, and when Varanim opens her eyes, she's not sure if she's waking up, or dead. (...)

The room is lit in all red -- the Mask's orders, of course -- and she was suspended in midair by a series of thick black ropes -- again, his orders -- and there are what look like wild plasmic dogs growling hungrily on the floor beneath her -- which was definitely not part of the deal when she was strung up here yesterday.

Varanim "Try the left arm," Varanim advises them, a little deliriously. "It's made of bacon, I promise." She eyeballs the distance between herself and the dogs, and then rolls her head around for a better view of the room.

There are what look like a variety of serrated blades hung on the walls, and somewhere in the distance there's a faint outline of what looks like maybe it's a door. (...)

The first two days here had been spent with almost no contact with the Mask, with Varanim grumblingly performing menial tasks. And now she saw why, for arrayed in six baskets, also strung from the ceiling, were the fruits of her labor: the blood sausages, the folded-paper cranes, the polished stones --

and burning down, ready to snap the ropes at their appointed moments, are her thrice-dipped black-wax candles.

Varanim "And that's where honest work gets you," she informs the dogs after an unpleasant moment of contemplating the candle status. She then considers the ease of reaching the blood sausages.

It'd be a bit of a stretch, from a sitting position. Maybe if she was able to get up some momentum...?

Varanim considers it's a good thing she never was much for dignity, and starts swinging.

It takes a moment, and the motion gets the dogs below to yapping and jumping up -- though so far, she's just out of their reach -- but finally she's able to grab on to the edge of the basket containing the sausages.

Varanim With that cargo secured, Varanim sets her sights on one of the blades on the walls. While pursuing that goal, however, she devotes some thought to the larger purpose of this apparently arbitrary bit of inconvenience.

As long as she's still tied up, making it to any of the wall blades would be an impossibility -- but the first of Varanim's ropes is about to snap in approximately ten seconds, and then she could probably swing over to the one wall that's reasonably close to where she's been strung up.

Varanim waits about five seconds, pulls the edge of the sausage basket to make it spill some of its cargo, and then gets ready to swing!

The plasmic dogs dive for the meat and begin tearing it apart with an incredible ferocity as Varanim swings her way over and narrowly manages to lay a hand on one of the larger blades from the nearby wall.

Varanim settles her grip on the blade and re-inspects the state of the ropes, and also her proximity to the as-yet mysterious paper cranes and stones.

As Varanim looks, the rope holding the sausage basket snaps, and it looks like the the remaining rope holding her to the wall is next, maybe 10 seconds off -- after that, the paper cranes (maybe 15 seconds and 20 feet away) and the stones (45 seconds, 50 feet, and almost near the door) are left.

Varanim makes a face down at the dogs and decides to make a go at staying airborne instead of hacking at them, and accordingly she starts swinging to have momentum toward the paper cranes when the next rope snaps.

Varanim swings over at just the moment that the rope snaps, and finds herself careening wildly through the air. (...)

As she grows closer to the door, she sees that there's a bit of a problem: there's what looks like five rather large targets set up around it, all attached to a central lock, and then beyond the door -- which is, in fact, a barred cell door -- what looks like an open-shut lever.

Varanim "Oh, just wait till you visit MY rotting abomination castle, I will throw you SUCH a tea party," Varanim grimly promises her absent host. She makes for the polished stones, for purposes of lock opening.

Varanim grabs a crane from the basket just moments before it falls away, and then swings forward on a series of other, helpfully-placed ropes, until she's next to the basket of stones, with maybe 20 seconds remaining on the timer.

Varanim Tucking the crane behind her ear, Varanim grabs the stones and makes like she was throwing rocks at that neighbor kid she'd never liked.

Varanim starts chucking the rocks just about as fast as her arms will take them. Her aim is quite a bit more terrible than she expected, and as the rope is about to go she rapidly grabs as many of the remaining rocks as she can out of it. (...)

It takes her down to her last rock, but with her last one she strikes the final target, hears a loud "clang," and the lock falls away from the door -- which means now the only thing between her and freedom is the fact that the door still isn't open. (...)

The dogs are, if anything, even more angry now that they've had the taste of blood, and they're beginning to come perilously close to her on their leaps.

Varanim grunts disapprovingly, then wraps her legs more securely around her current rope and slashes her blade at another, intending to cut a length free and throw a loop at the taunting lever.

Varanim As she does, Varanim lets go of annoyance, fear, and all assorted aches and pains, releasing them as irrelevant to the single intersection of rope and target.

The loop falls around the lever with a satisfying thump -- at about the same moment that Varanim notices that some of the lower spots on the walls behind her have opened up slits that were previously invisible, and something that looks suspiciously like oil is flowing in -- towards the first candle, now just about burning at floor-level.

Varanim frowns as if to comment on the unending vexations of the universe and jerks hard on the rope.

The door swings open breezily, just as the room Varanim is hanging in by incredibly flammable ropes is catching fire. A hallway, maybe fifteen feet long before it bends off to the right, lies beyond it, without a rope in sight -- she'll have to hoof it for this part.

Varanim uses one last swing to land with a solid thump on the floor beyond the door, hoofing it along the hallway with energy and extending her senses to get some idea what lies ahead.

With both dogs and fire nipping at her heels, Varanim stretches her rapidly-wakening senses out to see what awaits her, and not too long before she reaches the end of the hallway, she gets her answer: a vast, steep dropoff, and maybe five hundred feet away, a tiny black-metal tower, peeking up from the ominous clouds below.

Varanim As she runs, Varanim thinks very swiftly of the pace of the advancing flames, the number of plasmic dogs, and the options therein, and finds them entirely disheartening. With a shrug, when she reaches the edge she makes--well, not a leap of faith, since she doesn't have any, but one of grim expediency.

Varanim falls, feels the air rushing past her body in the air, and the cool, brisk feeling is a pleasant change from the burning ghost hut from which she has just now emerged... but as she continues to fall -- quite some distance -- she starts to think that maybe she is forgetting something.

Varanim closes her eyes for a moment, apparently enjoying the rushing wind against her face--then she snaps alert again and reaches up to pluck the crane from behind her ear, where it will surely be blown away.

Looking at it now, in the brilliant light of day, Varanim can see that something seems to be written on the paper used to fold this crane.

Varanim "Typical," Varanim mutters before unfolding it enough to read.

 Did you do everything you wished to with your life?, the note reads.

Varanim With the wind ripping through her hair and terror fighting resignation in her gut, Varanim nicks her palm with one soulsteel fingertip and scribbles Not by half in bloody reply.

And with that, Varanim falls into the clouds.

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