Cole was becoming more and more unsure of himself. He’d sat in place for over an hour, wasting time that could have been spent gaining more distance from Felix. What if, because of him, the group from earlier caught up and attacked them again? It’d surely be much harder for Lucy to fight with all of them attacking at once. The confidence Lucy exuded was the only thing giving Cole any form of comfort.
“Now,” Lucy said, “How do we proceed?”
Who knows, Cole thought to himself. IQ had said the train would arrive soon, but there was no way of knowing when soon would be. Since Lucy and Iggy had been ‘frozen,’ how would they have gotten on the train?
“Well?” Lucy asked.
“You’re asking me?” Cole replied.
“The magic keeping Iggy and I frozen in time isn’t affecting you, so…” Lucy trailed off, gesturing towards him.
“I think you have too much faith in me.”
“You’ll have to take charge at some point, Cole. I can’t teach someone who doesn’t have the desire to learn.”
“You’ll teach me?” Cole asked, surprised by Lucy’s pivot in the conversation.
“We’ll see.” Lucy challenged, leaning back in her seat.
Hell yeah! Cole’s mind immediately went from being full of doubt to filled with focus. He hadn’t thought an opportunity to prove himself would come so soon, but he was determined to convince Lucy he was worth training.
“Ok,” Cole replied, calming his excitement. All he knew was that IQ had told Iggy to press a button and wait but hadn’t mentioned that button to Lucy and him. “I guess I’ll ask Iggy some more questions.”
Cole turned back to Iggy, his eyes still squinted at Cole. To Cole, the conversation he and Iggy had was a simple misunderstanding. Now that he had Lucy backing him up, it may be easier to reach a consensus on the issue at hand. Taking his time, Cole placed his hand on Iggy’s shoulder. Oddly, Iggy remained frozen.
“Huh,” Cole said.
His initial hypothesis was wrong, but it may not have been too far off. Cole turned back to Lucy, and she gave him a short nod, signaling that she’d remained unfrozen. The thought of pressing the button while Iggy was frozen crossed Cole’s mind, but rushing to a decision was unwise at best. The first thing Cole wanted to do was check for more inconsistencies between what IQ had told them.
“I think I’ve got a plan.” Cole said, turning back to Lucy, “but, before that, we should see if you can wake him up.”
“Good idea,” Lucy said, nodding her head approvingly. It seemed she had wholeheartedly believed Cole would simply press the button and hope for the best.
“Wait.” Cole said, realizing something, “do you think we can get off the bench?”
“Well,” Lucy replied, “I don’t think I can.”
“I wasn’t frozen when I got on the bench, so either there’s someone controlling things nearby or moving off the bench is what triggers it. The last thing I remember before you touching me was adjusting my seat, so it could easily be either one.”
“Well, there’s one way to find out,” Cole said.
Cole sat up on the bench and began to rise from his seat. As he got up, Lucy let her hand slip back down his arm, making sure to not break contact. Cole could feel Lucy’s loose grip around his wrist. The moment his legs moved away from the bench, that grip became that of a statue. Even though Cole and Lucy were still touching, Cole turned back to see Lucy staring up at him, not moving a muscle.
“This doesn’t even make sense now.” Cole thought out loud, “Why wouldn’t I be frozen?”
Cole moved his left leg back to the bench, returning Lucy’s grip to normal. Immediately after, Lucy looked around.
“That’s odd.” She stated.
“Yeah,” Cole replied.
“It’s a weird sensation,” Lucy continued, “it looked like you used some kind of trick to make yourself shift slightly.”
“Huh.” Cole said, “I thought it was weird that you were frozen, and I wasn’t.”
“That too.” Lucy agreed, “What next?”
“Well,” Cole pondered, peeling Lucy’s hand off his wrist, “let’s see what happens when I’m touching no one.”
Lucy didn’t appear opposed to this idea and moved her hand off Cole’s. A few seconds passed with nothing of note happened. Lucy and Cole were still visibly unfrozen.
“Ok,” Cole said, taking a moment to think over what had happened so far, “I’m going to try to wake up Iggy again.”
“Alright. Don’t take too long… I may get bored.” Lucy joked.
Cole let out a short chuckle before taking a seat back on the bench. He turned his head back to Iggy, placing his hand on Iggy’s shoulder. Immediately reanimated, Iggy’s eyes went from squinting to wide open, quickly snapping to Cole’s new location.
“Whoa,” Iggy said, putting his hands up in front of him, “how’d you do that?”
“Magic,” Cole said, “I think.”
“That’s some pretty spooky magic.” Iggy replied with a smirk, “I didn’t mean to put you in a panic or anything. I just wasn’t sure if you were one of those ‘facilitators’ or not.”
“Facilitators?” Cole asked.
“Yeah, you know, the people who help run this joint. Most of them are pretty normal and help you along throughout the various trials. You know, like that Sensei guy. I heard that some of them, though, are mixed in with the rest of us, weeding out anyone too weak or kill-happy.”
“Is that so?”
Cole turned back to Lucy, but, as expected, she’d become frozen when he woke up Iggy. Cole made a mental note to relay this information to her, in case she’d heard something similar.
“Yes sir,” Iggy replied.
“Well,” Cole said, turning back to Iggy, “I appreciate the info, Iggy. Thanks.”
“Anytime.” Iggy nodded.
Sitting back down, Cole began to think about how to proceed. It was now confirmed that only he and one other person could be ‘unfrozen’ on the bench at once. Cole could either wake Lucy back up and fill her in on the development or start asking Iggy more questions. Cole opted for the latter, deciding to not inform Iggy of how the time freeze worked.
“So Iggy,” Cole continued, “is there anything else IQ told you?”
“Not really.” Iggy replied, “All she said was to press the button a single time to call the train and that I'd be escorted to it when it arrives.”
“Escorted to it? By who?”
Iggy shrugged. The way Iggy worded what IQ said stuck out to Cole. IQ had told Lucy and him to wait for the train to be called and prepare to board when it arrived. For Iggy, she said to call the train and wait to be ‘escorted.’ It was a small distinction, one that Cole wouldn’t normally have picked out so easily. However, IQ not mentioning the button to Cole and Lucy led him to a swift conclusion.
Cole turned back to Lucy. Putting his hand on her shoulder, Lucy became reanimated. This time, nothing strange happened to Cole’s hand, resting firmly on her shoulder. To Cole, he felt as though he’d gained her trust. One step closer to learning magic, Cole eagerly conveyed his findings to Lucy.
“I think we’re supposed to take Iggy over to the track.” Cole said, pointing over to the other end of the room, “he said he’d be escorted to the train shortly after calling it. I think we’re the escorts.”
“Ok,” Lucy replied.
“Alright,” Cole said, “let’s start by trying to get off the bench again.”
Unlike last time, Cole didn’t break contact with Lucy. The two began to stand up slowly, their legs keeping contact with the bench. Lucy began to scan the room again, attempting to keep track of any changes that had, or may, occur when she was frozen.
“On three?” Cole asked.
“One,” Cole said, taking a deep breath, “Two… Three.”
Cole and Lucy both took a step forward. Before even looking at her, Cole could tell Lucy hadn’t been frozen by leaving the bench. His hand didn’t feel as though it was touching a rock, so his plan had, so far, been a success.
“Stage two.” Cole said, turning to Iggy, “let’s do this.”
Lucy swung to the other side of Cole, ensuring not to break contact with his hand. Moving closer, Cole adjusted to grab Iggy by his forearm and nodded at Lucy to do the same.
As soon as Lucy touched Iggy’s arm, Iggy began to move again, snapping his head between the two people who’d suddenly moved in front of him.
“Both of you this time!” Iggy exclaimed, “I swear I don’t have a lot of credits or anything, promise!”
“Huh?” Cole said, turning to Lucy.
Surprisingly, Lucy hadn’t been frozen when Iggy started moving again. Cole was glad. This meant he was on the right track, his plan had succeeded even further. All he had to do now was convince Iggy to go along with it.
“Iggy,” Cole said, “I think I figured out how to get the train here, and you don’t have to press the button again.”
“Oh?” Iggy asked hesitantly.
“Yeah. You and Lucy have been frozen in time throughout most of the trial, but I think I figured out what’s going on. After you pressed that button, you, along with whoever sits after you, are frozen until a third person comes. The third person then has to solve the puzzle by working with the other two people waiting for the train.”
Cole paused for a moment, gauging Iggy’s reaction while collecting the rest of his thoughts. While Iggy looked mildly confused, he seemed to be paying attention to what Cole had been saying. As long as he got the general gist of things, Cole felt that Iggy would be more than willing to play along.
“You had to call the train and wait for two people to escort you.” Cole continued, “Lucy and I had to wait for the train to be called, and then get ready to board. I think all that's left is for us three to walk over and wait for the train to arrive. Why else would IQ say it’s arriving ‘soon?’ I think she meant as soon as we figured out how to get it here.”
“Wow,” Iggy said.
Lucy also nodded her head in approval.
“Alright.” Iggy continued.
From the confused look on Iggy’s face, Cole felt he hadn’t given him much of a choice. Nonetheless, he proceeded with the plan. Lucy and Cole helped Iggy up. The three formed an odd-looking triangle while taking their first few steps away from the bench. When Iggy’s legs left the bench, nothing peculiar happened. The three were all seemingly normal as they moved further towards the perceived train stop.
Cole, Lucy, and Iggy managed to make it directly in front of the tunnel. The noise of their footsteps had stopped, and the three stood still. Cole checked over both Iggy and Lucy. They seemed to be doing fine and remained in contact.
Chooo. Almost as quickly as silence filled the room, a loud noise sounded off nearby. Cole could tell his plan had worked, as the sound he heard was all too familiar. Swinging his head around, Cole watched as a train quickly moved into the station. It had made little noise when arriving, giving them only the sound of the train’s horn to discern its approach.
“We did it!” Cole happily shouted.
As the train stopped directly in front of them, Cole noted that it was composed of only two cars. The car at the front was a small engine, having a short chimney that gave it a similar look to the trains Cole had seen before. The car at the back looked like a storage car, with a sliding door to match.
As the train came to a stop, a sharp whistle began to sound as the car door slid open. Cole, Lucy, and Iggy were near the head of the train, unable to see what was inside. Cole, still trying to remain in contact, leaned back. He couldn’t quite see in the train, but, at the very end of the car, he could see a bright, red number one.
“Dang,” Iggy said, squinting his eyes in the same direction as Cole.
“What?” Cole asked, looking back towards Iggy.
“This is train number one. IQ said to get on train number six.”
“There are more trains?” Cole asked, surprised Iggy hadn’t mentioned so earlier.
“She said it’d be here shortly,” Iggy replied, “I figured it’d be the first here.”
“Fair enough,” Cole admitted, not faulting Iggy for the assumption.
IQ had made no mention of any numbers for their train, but Cole would feel bad about leaving Iggy behind. He’d been a relatively friendly face proceeding such a hostile situation. Even so, there was no guarantee that the next train would come before the first one left. Following what IQ said had worked so far, making it hard for Cole to justify staying with Iggy.
“Welp,” Iggy said, pulling away from the two, “looks like this is where we part ways.”
Iggy paused for a moment after breaking contact with the two. Ensuring none of them were frozen, Iggy smiled and began to walk back towards the bench. Cole turned to Lucy, hoping she’d offer an idea for him. Unfortunately, Lucy was focused on the open train door. Following Iggy’s lead, Lucy broke contact with Cole and headed towards the storage cart’s entrance.
Well, at least he knows what to do when the next people show up. Cole thought to himself, trying to ease his mind.
“It was nice meeting you, Iggy,” Cole said.
“Thanks,” Iggy replied, taking his seat back on the bench, “likewise.”
Clunk. Lucy tapped the metal side of the car to get Cole’s attention. Apparently, Lucy was eager to forge ahead. Cole sighed, following her lead. As Cole got closer to the entrance of the car, he began to get a view of what was inside. Surprisingly luxurious, the cart contained a set of high-end seats, along with cabinets, refreshments, fruits, and a tiled floor. The flooring had a mixed checkered pattern with a variety of red hues. The walls and the ceiling, however, faded from a light maroon to completely black as the walls curved up to the cart’s rounded ceiling.
Lucy took the first step in, lifting herself up to enter the cart. Swinging her head left and right, Lucy examined the rest of the interior before turning to Cole. Lucy stretched her arm out to him, offering Cole a hand up. Accepting the offer, Cole reached for Lucy’s hand. Before they could connect, Lucy reached her hand out further, instead grabbing Cole’s forearm for a firmer grip. Cole did the same and put his right leg on the raised platform. Letting himself be pulled up, Cole took a step into the train.
Once the two were safely within the cart, the door began to close behind them. Cole turned back, catching a glimpse of Iggy before it shut fully. The train's horn sounded once again as the wheels began to turn.
Iggy watched as the train moved down the track, eventually fading from his view. The train made little noise and didn’t have any visible smoke coming from its chimney. This was no ordinary coal-powered train, after all.
Maybe I shouldn’t have spilled the beans on the Facilitators. Iggy thought to himself, crossing his right leg over his left. Facilitators played a big part in The Tower, their existence being one of its many well kept secrets.
“Ahh,” Iggy signed, leaning back and slouching down in his seat. Iggy closed his eyes, smiling to himself. No need to worry about what’s already been done.
“Your friends call you Iggy, huh?” IQ’s sarcastic voice rang out across the room.
“You’re ruining the moment,” Iggy replied, his eyes remaining closed, “we’ve got a few interesting newcomers this year. I’m excited to see how they fare.”
Iggy reached into his jacket, pulling out a familiar pocket watch. After clicking its button once, Iggy’s entire body began to shift, as if some kind of mirage was being lifted. Slowly, his body and clothes reverted to their original form. Sensei continued to smile as he thought over the events that had transpired over the last few hours.
“Hmm,” IQ hummed, “you seem quite happy.”
“What can I say? I like when things don’t go as I predict.”
“The kid cleared your impromptu floor awfully fast.” IQ stated. “Maybe we should make it harder.”
“Well, it’s meant for three separate adventurers, after all. Having Lucy and Cole enter at the same time gave them an advantage. Overall, I think this will be a good addition to the early set of trials. I say we keep it.”
“Duly noted,” IQ said, “but it does seem lacking when it comes to improving their magic.”
“Giving them a taste of such overwhelming magic was only meant to teach them the importance of teamwork and awareness. It’s the next part that’s really meant to test their mettle. I’m already curious to see how they’re doing.”
“Why don’t you come up here and watch with me, Iggy~,” IQ said mockingly.
“I was trying to play the part of a friendly stranger.” Sensei protested, “No need to be condescending.”
“If you say so.” IQ replied smugly, “You better get up here; you’ve only got a few minutes before the fun starts.”
“I’m on my way.”