t looked like a gigantic diving board overlooking a nonexistant swimming pool.
Hogan stood at the foot of a large spiral staircase, seemingly over 100 feet tall. At the top of the staircase was a large stone catwalk, looking to be barely three feet in width.
"At the end of that path is a box," Ilgaira said, describing the second task for Hogan to face. "To open that box, there is a ring attached to a thread hanging from the side of the box. In order to pass this test, you must reach that box and open it without straying from the path."
"And if I don't pass the test?" Hogan asked, half-knowing what the answer was going to be.
"If you fail the test, you will fall." Ilgaira smirked. "Obviously. You may begin whenever you are ready."
Hogan shook his head. "Something tells me I'm going to have a lot of fun with this one."
He walked towards the staircase, gripping the banister. Slowly, he began making his way up the steps. It took him several minutes to reach the top, and by the time he reached the walkway, his calves were already aching from exertion. He looked back down at Ilgaira, who hadn't moved. "How far away is the box?" Hogan shouted.
"A quarter of a mile," Ilgaira called back.
Hogan shuddered. There was a stiff breeze blowing from his right. His leather jacket shielded him from most of the wind, but it did cause his balance to waver somewhat. The sight of the ground some eight stories below didn't help. Still, determined to pass this challenge on his first attempt, he took the first wobbly steps towards the box, which was merely a brown speck in his field of vision.
After spending about a minute taking slow, deliberate steps down the catwalk, his confidence was starting to develop. This is probably just a test of nerves, Hogan thought. He wants to see if I'll crack under all the pressure. His steps became swifter, more pronouced. He didn't break into a jog, but he was soon walking down the path as if walking to school.
A gust of wind blew across the walkway. Hogan paused for a moment, bringing his arm up to guard his face. The wind slowed down a bit, and he continued on his way, his destination appearing closer and closer to him. Another gust came from the right, much stronger than the last. It caught Hogan in mid-step and nearly blew him over the edge. He came to realize that the test was going to be more than just about nerves.
Hogan continued walking, returning to his strategy of taking slower steps. He made it another 50 feet when a third gust came in, almost lifting him off the path completely. He ducked down, trying to make himself small to the wind. Another gust, one of hurricane strength, prompted Hogan to get down on his hands and knees and begin crawling.
He knew he wasn't going to be setting any speed records this way, but at least he would reach his goal eventually. Slowly but surely, Hogan shimmied his way down the pathway, looking down at the road to keep him pointed in the right direction. The gusts were becoming less and less prominent, but only because the predominant wind was speeding up. As the minutes passed, the wind continued to get fiercer and more violent. Hogan felt as if he was trying to make his way through a jet stream.
Hogan took another moment to stop, looking up the path to determine how much farther the box was. It turned out that he was less than 100 feet away from his goal. Energized, Hogan got back on his feet, trying to brace himself against the gale force wind.
Suddenly, the wind shifted direction and gusted from the left. This took Hogan totally by surprise and blew him off balance. He tumbled over the right side of the path, flailing his arms as if trying to grab a flagpole that wasn't going to materialize. His fall lasted only a second; it was abruptly ended when he slammed face up against the grassy terrain. The shockwave of his impact nearly blew out his eardrums.
There was a few seconds of silence, then a small groan came out from Hogan's mouth.
"Owwwwwwwww... that hurt."
Ilgaira ran over to Hogan's side. "Are you all right?"
Hogan moaned again. "Well, besides the fact that my back feels like it's been shattered in 13 places, I'm fine."
"This pain should go away in a moment. You should not be permanently harmed from that fall; A'nake is capable of dealing pain much more powerful than that."
Hogan blinked a few times. "Maybe this whole Ki'rath thing wasn't such a good idea." Still, he rolled to his side; there didn't seem to be any sort of damage to himself. He propped himself back up and got on his feet. "Well, I guess I can give this another shot tomorrow."
"But there is still plenty of daylight left, Hogan."
Hogan stopped. "You mean you want me to go up there again? Right now?"
Ilgaira nodded, continuing back to the starting area. "As with the first, each new attempt at this task will see you come closer to succeeding. However, I must suggest you not take things so slowly as you did before."
"What, you're saying I should just stand there and let the wind blow me off track every time?"
"Not stand, Hogan. Run." Hogan caught up to Ilgaira. "The Ki'rath must learn to remain on his feet even in situations where his equilibrium may be compromised."
"What, you mean I'm gonna be walking on the ceiling or something?"
After a short walk, they returned to the staircase. "You may begin again on the path when you are ready."
Hogan took a deep breath, then mounted the staircase again. When he reached the top, the breeze was again coming from his right. Taking Ilgaira's advice, he began to jog across the pathway. He was making good time until the wind whipped around him again, taking his feet out from under him and sending him off the pathway again. He landed on the ground like a sack of concrete.
His third attempt, Hogan started in an all-out dash. The wind surged, but in mere seconds, he had managed to get to his farthest point before the gale force winds swept him off the deck. He started to feel like Wile E. Coyote as he smacked into the ground again.
On his fourth try, Hogan was halfway across the catwalk in barely a second. He closed in on the box at the end of the path, but a 10 o'clock burst of wind blew him overboard just as he made a desperate swipe at the tiny gold ring located at the center of the box. He landed hard on the ground again, but jumped back to his feet with barely any delay.
He ran back to the base of the staircase, quite aware of the newly-gained speed he had built over the last half-hour. He knew that one more try was all it was going to take to pass this test.
He again sped across the walkway, the wind never having much of a chance to alter his balance. Hogan's left arm was outstretched, his index finger hooking the gold ring.
"I got it!" He shouted, giving the ring a quick tug backward.
The box appeared empty, but as the lid was opened, a monstrous gust ambushed Hogan, lifting his feet off the path. The miniscule thread had no strength of its own, and it snapped off almost immediately. Hogan screamed as he felt himself become completely enveloped in weightlessness. He clenched his eyes shut, waiting for gravity to take over.
After a few seconds, it became apparent to Hogan that he hadn't hit the ground. He opened his eyes a bit, his mind swimming in a sea of confusion. There he was, floating several feet above the path, the wind having died down. He hovered in one place, his heart hammering as the realization came to him.
"I... I'm flying..." he whispered aloud. "I'm flying! I'm flying!!!" Hogan cheered. Taking a cue from all the cartoons he had watched, he stretched his arms out, feeling some internal energy propelling him in the direction the arms were steering. He did loops, corkscrews, and nosedives, all at speeds that rivaled most jet planes. When he was over the euphoria of the situation, he made his way back down onto the soft, green grass at Ilgaira's side.
"You know, I'm really starting to like this whole Ki'rath thing."
"I am glad," Ilgaira replied. "As you can see, your second test is complete. Tomorrow, you shall face your third and final test before you can learn how to fight A'nake."
"Well, let's see. I've got superhuman strength and speed, I can take a beating, and now I can fly. What else is there, X-ray vision?"
Ilgaira snickered. "No. Trust."