Landing in the void was strange. It wasn’t like a jump, but it still felt like I had left the ground. I felt like I was jumping off a diving board, the same wobbly awful uncertainness combined with an interdimensional trip. It was technically my second trip, but that first one barely counted, so this was my first real trip to the void. It looked…empty. It didn’t hurt this time like it had my first time, so that was good. And I wasn't with Jeans this time, which was also good.
Red snow covered the ground. It crunched under my feet as I took a few cautious steps. I didn’t feel cold, though. All around, a mushy, surrealist piece of art painted the sky.
“And welcome to the void!” Diast said. “We’re in an imagination node closely connected with our town, so I assume our dear Principal Pentaldtam’s block thing will be here. If not, we’re heading straight back.”
Oka nodded, obviously aware of the gravity of the trial we faced. Kalei, meanwhile, immediately whipped a snowball at my face. Because I had no blocking ability, it was a direct hit.
“AUUGH, it tastes like powdered vitamin!” I yelled. “And it smells like cheese…”
“Yeah, that’s the void for you,” Diast said. “Oh, and if you’d pull up your wrist thing and say ‘Benta’…”
We all held our arms out and said Benta. The list of tasks for my scholarship came up.
“You three are all on the Benta Scholarship, so we can get started right now.”
The list of my scholarship requirements popped up. I didn’t realize Oka and Kalei were on the same scholarship.
“You’ll have plenty of time to beat all the monsters on this thing, probably,” Diast said. “It’s the most common Cani scholarship, so it’s designed to ease you into the good ol’ void monster fighting we have to do. But we presumably/hopefully won’t be running into many here.”
“So if this is an imagination…node,” Kalei said. “Can we imagine anything, and it’ll just happen? Like if I imagine cash would I get money? Cuz Tyrant Rangers X is coming out soon and—”
“No, you can’t,” Diast said. “We’ll get into the material transfer rules of the void in class, but basically things brought from an imagination node of the void to back home don’t last too long, even if you find a perfect replica. We can get something like the principal’s art because it being from here won’t be noticeable by the time it kinda just fades away.”
“So where should we start looking?” I asked. “Everything around here looks very…not like anything.”
“It’s just up ahead, I’ll have to dig a bit to find it,” Diast said. “You three on the other hand, are staying here.”
There was a sort of vaguely field looking area past us that Diast pointed to. It was filled with something that looked like red-purple mud.
“Huh?” I asked. “Why?”
“You three will be paired together for a lot of void assignments, so this is your first lesson in teamwork.” Diast said. “I figure it’ll take me about half an hour to find it down here, but once I start rustling around in that multicolored mud down there, some void beasts are gonna show up.”
“Wait, what?” I asked. “Do we have to fight them?”
“Combat mode activate, Faleur, Ohri, Koridia,” Diast said. Admin password is uhhh, what is it this month…sunset 32.”
The cylinder things Diast gave us lit up and binged.
“Wait, wait! I’m not ready!” I said.
“Sure you are,” Diast said. “Just click that little button that popped up and your clickety clacking baton will click its way out. I’ll make sure you guys don’t die.”
Diast pressed the button on her device that she showed us, and a segmented handle quickly extended from the wristband, and a shovel formed at the end of it.
“Didn’t you bring your bloodsaber?” I asked Dr. Diast. I’d feel a lot safer if she did.
“Nah, just this multitool here,” Diast said and headed down. “Alright, scream if you’re dying! Like, for reals dying! Otherwise I have complete faith in you!”
I wished I could be down there digging in magic mud for the principal’s imaginations of his crappy art. But some heavy footsteps behind us told me that wasn’t going to happen.
“Sounds like a medium,” Oka said. “We could all check one off of our Benta list if we get it.”
“How are you this calm about this?” I asked. “I’m not ready to fight a thing!”
“Oh come on,” Kalei said. “Just pretend it’s Penteldtam’s art, but this time you get to break it out of revenge…for it being so breakable.”
“Very eloquent,” I said. “But I’ve never fought anything before…”
“It’s not so bad,” Oka said, clicking her hilt. A green hued baton formed from it. “I always like the sound the practice batons make when they roll out, it’s like ticktickticktick…”
Kalei clicked hers and a white baton came out.
“It sounds more like a deck of cards being flipped through,” Kalei said.
The footsteps were getting closer, but I couldn’t see what it was. Oka and Kalei being so relaxed about this made me more worried.
I nervously pressed the same button on mine, and suddenly felt a flare of pain in my nose. It took me a second to aim the baton away from my face, as it had clickety clacked right into my nose because I had stupidly turned the thing on while handle was pointed in the direction of me.
“Very graceful,” Kalei said.
“Whoa, Zeta, nosebleed alert,” Oka said.
“It might be a bit lip alert too, this is Zeta we’re talking about here,” Kalei said as I felt my nose. Yup, nosebleed. Terrific. Being a Cani meant my face bled a lot apparently. So now I had to fight and hold my nose at the same time. At least the baton was a nice lilac shade.
I heard roaring behind me and turned to see my first void monster. It was like a bear made out of tires, but also wrapped up in seafood and had pizza boxes for feet. It stared down at the three of us.
“Definitely a medium.” Oka said.
“Is…is this how they normally look?” I asked, making sure I had a firm clamp of my nose with my non-fighting hand.
“Void monsters are like snowflakes, no two look the same,” Oka said. “But they all die the same way by my hands.”
That was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard someone say before they charged a monster partially made of pizza boxes. Oka ran forward but was swatted to the side by the void monster before she could land a hit.
Kalei ran forward with her baton like she was going to joust the bear, but it leapt over her and she stumbled forward and fell into a big snow pile, which must have smelled great. Leaving me face to face with the monster, which looked way bigger and meaner than a medium level.
I thought I was gonna faint, but my legs held steady. With my left arm holding my nose, my right arm swung wildly. I felt a charge through my power blocker and saw little bits of electricity run up the baton. The sparkler sized sparks flickered towards the bear and hit it on where I think its nose would have been if it was a remotely normal thing. It sniffed a bit, then sneezed. Then it got really mad and promptly knocked me to the ground. It didn’t hurt as bad as it could since its feet were made of greasy cheesy cardboard, and I was landing on some sort of snow, but it still hurt.
It was at that moment I froze. I was pretty sure my fate was about to be the same as Penteldtam’s stupid box, a destroyed wreck crushed by something heavier than it.