I moved my fringe out of my face. I was looking into a pool of water, and I could see the bottom. It was white, with a large snake painted on it. In the exact centre was a trapdoor. The place where I was standing made me very aware that I would be getting into that water to complete the challenge. It was a ledge that ran around the circular room roughly two meters away from the ceiling. It was only about two feet wide, and it was very slippery. Underneath this ledge, a kind of tape measure was painted onto the wall, telling me the water was exactly ten meters below me. And from the temperature of the room I could tell that it was absolutely freezing.
"You have landed on a snake's head," the computerised voice told me. "To move on to the next square you must go through the trapdoor. There are seven keys in this room. One of these keys fits the lock which keeps the trapdoor shut. The pool is six meters deep. You have fifteen minutes to find the right key and exit the room. The game starts once you enter the water."
I groaned. I hated swimming underwater. I hated the fact that I would have to not breathe, and I hated the pressure from all that liquid on top of me.
Moving my fringe out of my eyes again, I worked out that if I jumped, I would probably do myself some considerable damage. So I would have to dive in, and quite frankly, I was crap at diving. My hair always got in my face on the way down, I never actually managed a successful dive, and once I was in the water my hair weighed me down. But all the same, I wasn't going to get out of this room if I didn't dive.
Taking a deep breath, I did the best I could to keep my body straight and dove from the ledge. I was right, the water was so cold it made my head hurt. Breaking the surface felt more like plummeting head first onto an ice berg. Once I got over the coldness, I opened my eyes and looked around. I had landed close to the wall, and there was one key right next to me. I attempted to pull it off, but then noticed it was tied to a hook as my breath ran out so I swam to the top again.
Gasping for breath, I tried to think over the sound of my teeth chattering. If I didn't get out, I was likely to freeze to death before I drowned. I swore loudly.
The keys were tied to hooks. How helpful. Not only did I have to hold my breath for longer than I wanted to, make my muscles move even though they were frozen, while coping with brainfreeze and keeping eyes eyes open even though my eyeballs are about too fall out of their sockets, I also had to waste time undoing a freaking knot. And on top of that, it probably wouldn't even be the right key.
When I'd got my breath back, I tried to work out a plan. I could only hold my breath for two minutes tops. That meant there was no way I could get the key and unlock the door in the same breath. I would have to come up for air between. It took me roughly a minute to recover. If I ended up getting every other key before the right one, I would not finish in fifteen minutes. Timing was everything. I only had three tries, and that had been my first one.
"Ten minutes remaining." The voice urged in it's robot-like way.
I nodded to myself. I would have to get this right. One of the things I had thought was that when the trapdoor opened, all the water would drain from the room, and if I went with it, who knows how far I would be falling before I hit the ground. I would have to wait for the water to drain before I left the room.
Right. Another deep breath and I ducked under again. Now I knew where the key was, I could get to it in a matter of seconds. The knot was impossible, but I noticed that the hook wobbled slightly. Looking closer, I saw that it was screwed in. Unscrewing it proved easier than I thought.
Up for breath again, less time for recovery and then straight back under. I forced myself to the bottom, my eyes tight shut until the floor stopped me moving. I jammed the key into the lock, but it refused to turn. Damn!
Back to the surface just in time to hear the voice finish "-ve minutes remaining."
Five minutes. I was correct, this key had to be the right one or I had no chance.
I was about to duck back under when I noticed a glimmer above me. It was a key attached to a string dangling from the ledge. I recalled that the voice had said there were seven keys in the room. That didn't mean the were all underwater. There was no way I could reach this key - it was five meters above me - but something gave me the feeling that this was the one I needed. I searched for something that would help me reach it, but there was nothing. Then I noticed a large hook right above my head, and there was string tied to it. When I followed it back, I found it was the same string attached to the key.
The system was simple. I had to untie the string from the hook, and the key would drop. I reached up and grabbed the metal. It involved holding myself up with one hand and untying with the other, but I managed it and caught the key in time for the thirty second warning.
This key was gold, while the other had been silver, and engraved onto the side was the word trapdoor.
"Twenty seconds remaining."
No time to curse my stupidity, I pushed myself to get to the bottom of the pool in time, and slotted the key. It fit perfectly, and the door swung down. In my haste I had forgotten to wait for the water to drain, so it pulled me through with it and I went tumbling into the next room.