"I suppose you want me to strap you onto my back and carry you up?" Selene said to Emma.
For a long moment Emma stared at her partner like she was seriously considering it. "Well, you do have enhanced strength, my dear."
"Forget it! I was being sarcastic!"
"I guess you really don't want to win, do you?"
The two women put on their equipment in silence. The other players also prepared themselves. Except for Vegeta who pulled his partner, Son Goku, to the side.
"Look Kakarot, we don't have waste our time climbing. We can fly! We can beat these fools easily!"
"Come on Vegeta, the rules are we have to climb. We can't cheat."
"Would you stop being such a wuss for just one minute! We have an advantage and we should take it!"
"I know you used to be evil but you've reformed. We have to play by the rules. The humans have a saying which is full of truth. 'Winners never cheat and cheaters never win'."
"Bull crap!! Cheaters always win!"
"If you fly, then I'm forfeiting."
"You are such a wimp, Kakarot. Sometimes I really hate you."
Goku just smiled in response, satisfied that he was doing the right thing.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Oneida hoisted Master Yoda onto her back and prepared to start her ascent. "I haven't done any rock climbing in quite a while Yoda. This is going to be tough what with me carrying you. I still don't see why you had to eat those extra Twinkies last night."
"Energy food, they are. Strength, they will give."
"But you don't need any strength, Master Yoda. You're getting a free ride!"
"Worry not, you should. The Force is with us. Sustain us, it will. Make your burden lighter, it will."
"If you say so."
The teams started their climb. The first few miles were relatively easy as the base had a light grade. But as their altitude increased, so did the incline. Soon the racers had to use spikes and pitons to make their way up the icy vertical wall. After several hours, Jon, the Intergalactic Gladiator and his partner Private Hudson had managed to pull ahead.
"I'm telling you man, in the Colonial Marines they train us to fight in all environments," Hudson said, his breath forming puffy mists in the cold air.
Vegeta and Goku were following closely behind. Much further back were Emma and Selene with Oneida and Yoda bringing up the rear.
"Shall I improve our odds a bit?" Selene asked breathlessly to Emma. Those were the first words she had spoken to her partner in hours. All Emma could manage in response was a terse nod.
Selene looked back down at Oneida and gestured with her right hand. Rocks and pebbles began to come loose from the mountain side and fall down towards the young girl. A look of panic crossed her face as she saw the stones headed straight towards her.
Then the rocks suddenly stopped in mid-air. They hovered a moment, vibrating slightly as if caught in some kind of invisible tug of war. Then the rocks started hurtling back upwards until they pelted Selene. Unable to keep her grip, she slipped and fell. The rope connecting her to Emma caught her, but their combined weight was too much for the piton holding them. Both women came loose and started to plunge screaming down the mountain.
After about two miles of free fall, their descent suddenly slowed to a stop and then they too were hovering in mid-air.
"Let you fall, I will not," Yoda called. He held them in place while they hammered in new pitons and secured themselves to the wall. Now, of course, they were far behind everyone.
Exhausted, with muscles aching and hands bleeding, Jon and Hudson managed to reach the plateau upon which was set the main gate to the beautiful, ornate city of Attilan. They lay flat on their backs for a few moments, totally spent, before dragging themselves to their feet and stumbling over to Gaia, who stood with Black Bolt and Medusa before the entrance to the city.
"I great you, proud champion," Medusa said to the men. In two locks of her enormous flowing red hair, she held goblets. "These healing potions will restore your strength and energy."
As the two gratefully drunk, Vegeta and Goku came running over. Silently, Black Bolt handed Jon the next clue.
"Make your way through the Maze of Randac to the Golden Palace. There you must complete the Choning Gil. The last team to finish, will be eliminated."
Jon and Hudson, feeling renewed by the Inhuman drink, headed down the marked trail towards the maze. Vegeta and Goku soon followed. About an hour later, Oneida had reached the plateau. She gratefully drank the potion. As she and Yoda headed for the maze, Emma and Selene climbed over the edge of the mountain.
"You - you cheated!" Emma shrieked at Yoda.
The Jedi Master just shook his head. "Save your lives, I did."
"Our lives were only in danger because you threw rocks at us!"
"Want Xavier to telepathically scan our minds when we return, do you?"
At that, Emma bit her tongue. She and Selene gulped down their potions and headed for the maze.
The Maze of Randac was a huge patchwork of paths surrounded by stonewalls, each depicting various important moments in the 25,000 year history of the Inhumans. The roads had many dead-ends, winding lanes and forks - and only one exit. Jon and Vegeta's teams were still trying to find it when the others arrived.
The first team to successfully navigate their way through was Jon and Hudson. Vegeta and Goku would have made better progress but every time they hit a dead end, Vegeta would throw a tantrum, delaying their progress. Oneida and Yoda were the second to emerge, followed by Vegeta and Goku and finally Emma and Selene.
Jon and Hudson raced into the enormous Golden Palace. They found there a sign that said "The Amazing Mutant Race 2," under which was an arrow pointing down towards a question mark.
"I guess we have to search for whatever this Choning Gil is," said Jon. They decided to split up.
While they searched, the other teams arrived and chose the same course of action. Emma and Selene, the last to enter, saw Hudson run by on an elevated bridge in the giant open hall.
"I have an idea to get us an advantage," Emma announced with a mischievous glint in her eye. "You go look for whatever this thing is. I have a pigeon to pluck. Jon may have been able to resist my charms, but his partner won't."
"Wait a minute, you're going after that pathetic loser?" Selene asked in disbelief. "Surely he is beneath you?"
"What on earth are you talking about?" Emma replied indignantly. "Do you actually think that I would engage in any kind of daliance with that worm? Did you think that is what I was after with Jon? You can be such an idiot. Of course I would never go after a happily married man. I was merely using my natural talents to trap him, as I shall do with Hudson if you will just let me get to it."
"By all means," Selene said, waving her hands in the air.
As everyone searched the vast palace for some clue as to what a Choning Gil was, Emma hurried after Hudson. She caught up with him just past the Throne Room in the Royal Family's living quarters.
"Well hello, stranger!" she called out, a bright smile on her face.
"Oh, uh, hi."
"Any luck with your search?" As Emma spoke, she walked up next to Hudson and placed a hand on his bicep.
"Um, no, not really." Hudson's eyes ran up and down her curvy body. His heart beat started to quicken.
"I've been feeling really tense about this whole race thing," Emma said, leaning up against him. "I desperately need to do something to unwind or I think I might just go crazy."
"Uh, yeah. I know what you mean." Hudson licked his lips.
Emma brought her mouth up to his ear. "Maybe we can help each other," she whispered.
"Sounds good to me."
"Good. I tell you what, why don't you go in that room there. Take off all your clothes, and wait for me."
A big grin crossed Hudson's face. He started nodding. Without another word he hurried through the large ornate door with an 'L' carved into it. Emma walked up to the door and turned to her diamond form. She smashed off the knob, effectively sealing the door shut. With a laugh, she ran back to find Selene.
Oneida, still with Yoda on her back, bumped into Jon back at the entrance in the main hall.
"Do you have any idea what the heck this Choning thing is?" she asked Jon.
"Not a clue. How can they ask us to do something if we don't even know what it is? All they've told us is what's on that sign over there. An arrow pointing down and a question mark beneath it. It doesn't make any sense. The arrow just points down. Hmm, I guess it could be pointing down further than just the question mark."
At that they all looked down at the elaborate design inlaid into the floor. They quickly realized that it depicted an image of supplicants coming before the king on his throne. Each knelt at the sovereign's feet. Below the mural, in giant letters, were the words "Choning Gil."
"Holy crap!" Jon yelled.
He and Oneida burst in a run towards the throne room. Along the way they passed Emma and Selene who had managed to find one another. Seeing that the others were on to something, the women gave chase. Vegeta and Goku, up a level on an open stairwell, heard the running footsteps and decided to investigate.
Reaching the Throne Room, Jon saw Black Bolt seated on a magnificent gold chair, his wife Medusa at his side. Gaia and Fred were also there.
"Oh no!" shouted Jon. "Where the hell is Hudson?!"
"A moment wait," Yoda told Oneida. She looked visibly distressed as Emma and Selene raced past them up to the throne. Yoda wrinkled up his nose. "I see your friend, nearby he is. In a room, with a giant dog."
"A dog?" Jon asked bewildered. "Then maybe, just maybe, we still have a chance."
As Oneida turned towards the throne, Jon threw back his head and started making very loud barking sounds. He was indistinguishable from a real dog.
Around the corner and down the hall, in the room Hudson was trapped in, the Inhumans' giant dog, Lockjaw, heard the barking sounds. His short stubby tail started wagging. Suddenly filled with excitement, the huge behemoth charged through the door of his room, easily knocking it down and ran to the throne room. Hudson followed after him.
He arrived just in time to see Vegeta and Son Goku entering the room. Still following Jon's barks, Lockjaw crashed through them. The two warriors went flying. Hudson ran into the room and over to Jon, who quickly dragged him before the throne. Lockjaw looked around confused, wondering where his potential playmate had gone.
"Why aren't you wearing any clothes?" Jon asked Hudson as the two stepped before the throne.
"Uh, it's kind of a long story," he said sheepishly, unable to look at the smirking Emma standing nearby.
Vegeta and Goku charged into the room. They saw the others were already there.
"Damn!!" shouted Vegeta.
Gaia turned to them. "Boys, I'm sorry to tell you that as the last team to arrive, you have both been eliminated."
While his partner cursed and stomped on the floor, Son Goku held his head high. "It has been an honor to compete in your challenge. You have all been worthy opponents and I thank you for letting us participate."
Vegeta looked at Goku in disbelief. "When we get home, you are getting such a beating."
Gaia hurriedly coughed. "Emma and Selene, as the winners of this leg of the Amazing Mutant Race, you will be the first team to depart tomorrow."