It's Shiny Time!
The trial promised by the palace containing the sacred gemstone Elissa is after seems to have been a fluke - Elissa gets to the gemstone easily. Getting out of the palace, however...
"Your worth shall be tested," Anyi read aloud, peering up at the giant inscription. "But, uh... how? I don't understand. It just feels like a normal place. Why would someone build this big thing in the Dreamlands?"
Nimue looked up from the small circular device she'd found. "It's possible the gemstone itself did this, as part of the magic inside it. Hides itself in the Dimension of Dreams and builds this palace around itself. A means of protecting itself. Harder to get to, and if you know the heroine who will one day cross these halls will have a dreamer with her, you can make it a little harder."
Sariel sat impatiently by the entrance, arms folded. Beside her, Nanya was a small but perfect mirror. "I thought we were going to have a fight," Sariel complained, a pout on her face. "I wanted to kill something and not get in trouble for it."
"It's weird," Elissa murmured half to herself, finishing her inspection of the first room of the palace. "There are traps hidden in the walls and floors here. But there are no mechanisms connected to them. Like they just... forgot to hook them up."
"Just be careful," Nimue warned. "Things here could follow dream logic - and this isn't our dream. It's the gemstone's." She handed Elissa the circular device - two small needles pointed in different directions, but they rotated as Elissa turned in place. "Look - I think it's a compass of some kind."
Elissa hummed to herself, turning the device over in her hands. "Yeah... you're right. This smaller one seems to point us to the exit... and that bigger one seems to lead further in. This must be how the gemstone leads us to itself. Anyi, you navigate. I'll go ahead, looking for any traps. Maybe they remembered to connect some of the later ones."
"Got it!" Anyi took the compass from Elissa, holding it up. "Thataway! Through... the only door we didn't come in from."
The enormous palace's layout was seemingly intentionally confusing, but with the help of the compass, it wasn't too tough to navigate. The rooms were just... bizarre. A chessboard with pieces nearly as tall as Sariel. A winding spiral staircase with narrow stairs. A narrow bridge over rushing waters that seemed to be hundreds of feet below. A massive dining room, its table laden with delicious-looking food, the seats filled with empty suits of armor. A giant room with nothing but a ten-foot-tall statue of Sarenrae, a scimitar raised in the air, and entrances and exits in every direction. A gallery with roped-off exhibits that was a maze in its own right.
And at the end of it all...
"Wow," Nanya breathed. "It's pretty."
The tiny gemstone hovered in the center of a fountain that seemed to be spraying pure light. Its facets sparkled and glinted as it twisted gently there, as if suspended by an invisible string.
"Not a single fight," Sariel whined. "We came all this way and nothing even attacked us once."
Elissa held up a hand. "Let me check everything. There must be a mechanism somewhere here. This is definitely a trap, isn't it?"
But there wasn't. The palace had plenty of defenses, but not a single one of them seemed to work.
"Maybe the artisan who created this for Sarenrae just didn't test that it worked," Anyi suggested.
"I wouldn't complain about it," Nimue said, a light-hearted smile on her face. "If the only test of your worth here is your ability to navigate with a compass telling you where to go, maybe they're saving the really hard tests for later."
Elissa frowned. "I don't like things that are too good to be true, though."
"This is the palace of a great Good goddess," Anyi murmured. "Perhaps she trusts you."
Taking this as good enough explanation, Elissa leaned into the fountain, reaching up for the gemstone. As she took it, the fountain dried up, its purpose served.
And as it did, the sound of mechanisms elsewhere in the palace grinding into motion added sudden sound to the stillness...
And a persistent ticking rose from somewhere in the room.
"Whoah," Anyi said, holding up the compass - the ticking's source. "The compass needles are going crazy. Look." The larger needle was spinning counterclockwise at a frightening rate, and the smaller needle was following suit at a much slower speed.
Nimue peered at the compass. "Wait... that's not a compass. That's a stopwatch. And it's... counting down..."
The quintet of young women exchanged glances for barely a moment.
Then Elissa grabbed Anyi's arm with her free hand, storming out of the room at top speed. "We have to get out of here now!"
"I think I figured out what the test is!" the angelkin whimpered. "Oh, I hate running..."
Nanya trailed behind Nimue as the latter sprinted ahead of her. "Can't you just wake us up out of this, Nimue?"
"We're not dreaming, Nanya!" Nimue said between panting breaths. "Our bodies are really here - and if we don't step it up, they're going to be left here, too!"
"I told you this place was littered with traps!" Elissa slid under the rope surrounding one of the gallery portraits, cutting across the corner of the room. Behind her, Anyi rolled through, hopping back to her feet and continuing her run. "They're all going off now! Be careful!"
"Easy for you to say!" Nanya complained, ducking under the ropes behind the others. She was already developing a stitch in her side. "Like I know where the traps are!"
Elissa skidded to a halt and glanced around, looking around the empty room at the multitude of exits. "Were we even here?"
"There, that's the door we came in through! Though there was a giant statue... of..." Anyi turned, dread pooling in her stomach. She looked up at the enormous Sarenrae statue, now animate and lifting its scimitar for a strike. "Hey Sariel, I think you're gonna get that fight after all!"
"No time for that!" Elissa yelled, yanking Anyi out of the path of the giant stone scimitar and lurching back into a sprint in the direction Anyi had pointed. "Run!"
"First there's nothing to fight, then there's a proper enemy and you won't let me fight it!" Sariel complained, scooping up her tiny charge and draping her on her back. Her long legs covered more than enough ground to make up the difference between herself and Nimue in a matter of seconds, and she snatched up the smaller girl by her shirt, carrying her under her arm like a football. "Honestly, you're no fun at all!"
"No, I'm not!" Elissa growled. Sure enough, the suits of armor were now all awake, clearing their seats and drawing their weapons... "Follow my lead!"
She vaulted up onto the table with one hand, sliding into a massive container of jelly. Tossing one of the plates into the stream of jelly, she hopped onto it, sliding across the table at a speed that made the armors' helmets spin around.
Sariel snorted, shaking her head as she watched Anyi wobble to maintain her balance. "Hell to the no!" Still, even she wasn't going to try to fight now - she leapt up onto the table, jumping swinging swords and ducking flung plates. "Showoff!"
Behind her, the enormous Sarenrae statue had broken through the door to the dining room and was gaining on the trio of runners.
"You do what I do, you learn to do what works! Anyi, how much time is left?" Elissa demanded.
"About half of the time is gone already!" Anyi called, urgency in her voice. "Oh gods, the bridge is going to be falling apart, isn't it?"
Sure enough, the planks fell away as Elissa leapt across in enormous bounds, leaving fragmented footholds for Anyi to hop across. She wobbled on the last step, nearly plunging to her death below - but for the force of one angel and her two charges slamming into her back and sending her sprawling into the top landing of the stairs. Sariel had simply leapt the gap like it was nothing.
"Sorry! No time to waste!" Sariel said with just a hint of smugness, taking off ahead of Anyi and dashing down the narrow stairs. Nanya blew a raspberry over her shoulder.
"Remind me to give you a proper punishment when we get out of here," Anyi grumbled, hauling herself to her feet and hopping on the spiral staircase's railing. Behind her, she could see the statue of Sarenrae fall face-first into the gap and then hoist itself out. "Still being chased!"
Elissa was already at the bottom, ready to grab hold of Anyi when she arrived and tug her along. "We're gonna be fine!"
The statue crashed down inches away from them, having skipped the stairs altogether.
"Scratch that! We're gonna have some trouble!" Elissa ran for the chessboard, hopping up on the pawns' heads and leaping across the chasm the rest of the board had become before swinging around the queen to land on the other side. "Sariel, tell me you and the others are ahead!"
"Bad news, boss!" Sariel grunted. She was indeed in the entrance hall, running her heart out - but she was making little progress. "It's like running through molasses here!"
Nimue closed her eyes, focusing her power. "We're so close... We can't lose now..."
"Time's almost up!" Anyi yelled frantically as Elissa, too, fell victim to the motionless dream-run Sariel was doing. The statue smashed through the door, scimitar raised. "Nimue, if you're going to do something, please do it now!"
Nimue reached for the dream's core. This wasn't her dream, but she could mess with it a little bit... She started pulling apart threads, cutting through them. It wasn't the most elegant solution, but it would do! "Got it! Elissa, run!"
Her legs finally obeying her again, Elissa dove for the exit, sliding out into the light...
The quintet were deposited on a grassy hill beside a stream, breathless and scuffed up from their trial but none the worse for wear.
They sat together, catching their breath for a long moment.
"If they're all like that, you can count me out," Anyi mumbled, letting her face fall into the grass.
"I had fun after all," Sariel said cheerfully. She seemed not to have been bothered by their ordeal in the slightest. "What a thrill!"
Elissa held up the interlinked bracelets around her wrist, gazing up at the first of the prophesied jewels... now hers. "Thanks, everyone."
"You're not welcome," Nanya moaned, laying on her back. "I've never run that much..."
"You didn't even run for most of it," Sariel teased.
"I'm sure they all won't be like that," Nimue joked. "After all... that was only the first trial~"