Phantasmagoria

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The Fourth Level - The Scorpion Howitzer

''So when does the challenge start? I mean, the real challenge?'' I ask Amber, while I'm still swimming in the water.

''Quite an eager one, aren't you?'' Amber says with a smile. Eager? I just want to get this over and done with. If that means that I'm being eager, then so be it.

''You see that Never ova dere?'' Amber says as she points over to where the female military Never is hovering over the water with the howitzer in tow. I turn around to view the crazy woman again.

''Yeah, what about her?'' I ask her when I face her again.

''You 'ave to try and catch 'er while she shoots at you wit her Howitzer,'' Amber says. Sounds easy enough. But of course...

''Nothing's ever easy. What else is involved?'' I ask her directly. I don't want to play games any more. I think I'm getting quite exhausted mentally. But I'm in a game, so there's no use avoiding it.

I want to have another break already.

''Well, since you can't wait to start, you will 'ave to try an' catch 'er while swimmin' down de waterfall,'' Amber says happily. She points downwards with her hands to mirror the action of the waterfall.

''OK...anything else?'' I say to her. Having gotten used to this game, I'm leaving no stone unturned, so I need to know if any 'surprises' are going to come my way. Amber smiles slowly. I know that smile. Saya smiled like that.

''You mus' avoid da scorpions,'' Amber says as she leans closer to me. I look back to the Never, her hand stroking the golden howitzer as if it was her pet.

''That's going to be no easy feat,'' I mumble to myself. It's not going to be easy at all. I mean, the woman has a howitzer. It's a machine gun! It's going to be spitting out around 100 of those scorpions every minute! How am I supposed to avoid that whilst I'm swimming? I'm starting to get nervous as it dawns on me that this may actually be one of the hardest tasks I would ever have to do in this game. And I still have level 5 to go.

''If I were you, I would change into sometin' more...wet proof,'' Amber says to me. I look at my clothes, knowing that she's right. I won't be able to swim if these clothes are weighing me down.

''Hey, don't peek,'' I say to Amber before I wish my clothes away and put on a pair of Speedos and goggles. Amber keeps her eyes closed and then opens them slowly once I've finished.

''Great, now you're good to go,'' she says. I look around my surroundings, and then, out of nowhere, I see giant tubs of paint pots line the sky above me. I see them open up spontaneously and begin pouring its contents down towards the water. The area around me and Amber becomes filled with dripping paint in various colours of blues, pinks, purples, reds, oranges, greens and yellows. I anticipate whether the paint is going to change the water a different colour, but it doesn't. The paint is pouring in one continuous loop, dripping down endlessly. Amber smiles as I then hear Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' begin playing at an extremely loud volume around me.

''Now I'm good to go,'' Amber yells with a a big grin on her face as she dances to the music as she sits with her legs crossed.

Oh great, I have to deal with another music-loving level keeper. I was just getting used to the peace and quiet of death and destruction on Saya's level. I look around me to see if I've missed the countdown timer at all, but it is nowhere in sight. I also remember something else. Something that I've just noticed.

''Hey, I can't see the other participants,'' I say to Amber.

''Well, you know who decides dat, Mr Williams,'' she replies. Yes. I do know who decides that. But why hide them again? We already know who each other are.

''So can I start now?'' I ask Amber. I feel like I'm wasting time.

''Sure you can,'' Amber says as she closes her eyes and gets lost in the music. This must be one of the most care free level keepers I've ever met. I look around and still can't see no timer.

''Hey where's the-,'' I begin to ask.

''Look down,'' Amber interjects, her eyes still closed, as she she points downwards whilst still dancing as she sits. Mind reading as usual. She knows what I was going to ask.

''Down?'' I say as I look into the water. I can see something...green, but I can't make it out. I bury my head in the water to go in for a closer look. I can see the green object more closely. It's...green wording. And it says 'Begin Challenge Now!'

''Ahh!'' I gasp for air. I instantly turn around, and don't even wait for the Never to start shooting at me. I immediately begin to swim in a front crawl. I know I'm no Michael Phelps, but I imagine myself going as fast as him while I swim.

BFFT-BFFT-BFFT-BFFT-BFFT-BFFT-BFFT!

I can hear the muffled sound of the scorpion howitzer being used to attack me. Every time I come up for air, the Never seems to be getting further away. Every time I go under, I can see that I'm narrowly missing scorpions. I try to follow the direction of the Never-

''AAAAARGGHH!'' I yell aloud as I find myself falling.

Yet again.

I realise that I am going down a waterfall. My hands and arms are flailing around everywhere, but I get myself back into a diving position as I near the bottom of the waterfall. I just remembered Amber told me to swim down the 'waterfall'. I didn't realise I would come across it so quickly.

SPLASH!

I smack into the bottom of the waterfall. I swim quickly to the surface, and as I breathe for air, I see the Never already aiming the howitzer straight for my face.

''Oh cr-,'' I try to say before I quickly duck into the water and try to swim away from the multiple scorpions entering the water. I swim to the right, but a horde of scorpions are shot into the water. I scramble away from them just in time, but as I swim to the left, another bunch enter the water at high speed. I swim frantically away from all of them, and try to swim under the cover of the waterfall. I swim fast to it, but I sense that the Never has gotten closer to the base of the waterfall, as I can hear the sound of the howitzer getting quite near. This woman is not giving me a chance at all, is she?

''AACHH!'' I let out a sound under water. I can't hold my breath forever. I need to come up for air, other wise I'm going to drown...

Or do I really need to come up at all?

I imagine myself as being able to breathe under water, and I imagine having with the additional ability to amplify my hearing and sight. This should help me as I-

Argh!

I can hear the music too loudly now!

I cover my ears as I realise that amplifying my hearing in order to hear where the Never is has also made me hear Cyndi Lauper on full volume. Nothing you can do about it now, Nash. I just have to get through this challenge.

I look for the timer again, and look to the bottom of the water, since that was where I found it last.

'16 minutes left,' it reads once I find it. 16 minutes to survive this.

No.

16 minutes to catch the Never.

That is the objective.

And it is my prerogative.

I look to see where the Never has got to. I don't see any more scorpions being shot at me. Or hear anything for that matter.

Oh.

She's right above me.

Looking at me. With a smile on her face. And her howitzer looks like it's smiling too.

I quickly swim away, but she's hot on my tail. I'm the one who is supposed to be hunting her, not the other way round. I need to catch her some how.

How do I do it?

How?!

I swim frantically away from her. I just...swim. I see so many scorpions following me as I do. When is this going to e-

''Aaarghhhh!'' I scream as I come upon another waterfall. But I already came down one.

Was there another one...?

SPLASH!

I enter the bottom of the waterfall. Again. I come up from the water and see that Amber has joined my friend the Never. They hover down side by side a few metres above me.

''Welcome to the Cascade Continuum!'' Ambers announces with a smile as Cindy Lauper reverberates my eardrums.

Oh, man.

A continuum?!

Does that mean...it isn't going to end?


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