Chapter 103: The fisher becomes the fished

The maw in front of me extends, becoming impossibly wider, and I am sucked in with a sudden rush of Hydrum.

 

The jaws snap shut around my legs, still partway out. Several of those nasty looking teeth sink through my armour into the tender flesh of my calves. My mouth opens in a silent scream and my tail immediately falls apart.

 

My mind reels, and it’s only a split-second later that I finally understand that I just got snapped up by a giant anglerfish, that used Radiation with some kind of mesmerizing Purpose to lure me in. A rush of Hydrum around my bare feet tells me it’s moving, probably trying to flee from Dave now that it’s got its prey.

 

Before I have a chance to do anything about it, the lining of the stomach lights up. The slight burn in my bones turns into an inferno. Shit, more Radiation, and this isn’t the mesmerizing kind!

 

Panicked and grimacing with pain, I glance at my Status Bar.

Holy shit, that’s a lot of Radiation!

 

My mind races as I go over my options. Wait, I’m still holding my spear!

 

I get a firm grip on the shaft, and drive it up. The action causes the pain in my calves to flare with searing intensity, but I clench my jaws and fight through it.

 

My spear cuts through the stomach with a satisfying rip. The creature jolts in response but doesn’t release me. In fact, the stomach lining brightens, and it feels like the Radiation picks up a notch.

 

[For Starmother’s sake, Emma, use your Toxic Energy!] Suri chimes.

 

I blink. Of course! Think you can eat me? Sucks to be you; I’m like the worst thing you could’ve swallowed!

 

I pour Qi into my Focus Crystal and start continuously turning it into Toxic Energy. Using my spear as a conduit, I pour it into its flesh as fast as I can.

 

Let’s see who dies first, bastard!

 

It doesn’t immediately react, and I anxiously watch as my Qi and Lavi Pools drain.

 

I flinch back when an arrow pierces through the stomach, appearing inches from my head. Oof, be careful, Dave!

 

I continue to force my Toxic Energy into the bastard’s flesh, even as my life is literally being burned out of me. I anxiously watch the numbers on my Status Bar drop lower and lower by the second.

 

Damnit, when is this thing going to die already?! Come on, there’s gotta be something I can do... argh, I should have taken one of the emergency Minor Lavi Crystals when we left the rest behind!

 

[Emma, the Toxic Energy Crystal is destabilizing!]

 

My eyes go wide at her words. Only now do I realise that while my heart is beating a mile a minute, there’s something pulsing even faster on top of my chest.

 

Swearing internally, I fish the rapidly pulsing Crystal out of my armour. I can feel the frequency of the flashes of Cold accelerate in my hand.

 

Panicked, I almost fumble it. No, wait, this isn’t bad luck: this is an opportunity!

 

Thinking quickly, I grab Dave’s arrow with my free hand and yank it fully into the stomach. Then I stick the crystal as deep into the hole left behind as I can, before yanking back my hand.

 

Ignoring the pain in my calves, I curl up into a ball.

 

A moment later, a dull thump rattles my bones, followed by a flash of magenta and searing pain as several freezing shards of crystal pierce my armour and embed themselves into my flesh.

 

I blink and open my eyes just in time to see the top half of the fish disintegrate into a swirl of purple flakes that quickly wash away, revealing the open Hydrum behind it.

 

I meet Dave’s incredulous gaze with a smile.

 

[Well done, Emma,] Suri chimes.

 

 

The relief in Dave’s mental voice is palpable when I confirm I’m not in any real danger of dying. It takes him a while to pry the dead bastards jaws open, despite the creature’s flesh continuing to decay from all the Toxic Energy from Infuse and the detonated crystal.

 

All I can do is I grit my teeth, Meditate, and bear it.

 

Most of the teeth stuck in my calves end up staying there as the bastard’s jaws come apart. Dave asks if he should remove them and Restore me, but I tell him to just get me the hell out of there, as the radiation is too strong, and I’m still slowly losing Lavi. Pulling out the teeth would exacerbate the bleeding, and I don’t have that much Lavi left.

 

The small bits of crystal that penetrated my armour and skin slowly absorb into my body in the form of Toxic Energy. They leave behind small bleeding holes, but also replenish some of my stores of Toxic Energy which protect me from the Radiation around here, so it kind of cancels out.

 

Some of the shards reached Dave as well, but not with enough force to penetrate his armour. He has a few purple-tinted holes in his face, but the Radiation around here should take care of any excess Toxic Energy in his system even as we swim back.

 

Of course, we don’t leave until after Dave retrieves his arrows and cuts the Radiation Crystal out of the anglerfish’s fishing rod.

 

I can’t exactly use my mermaid’s tail like this, so Dave has to drag me out to the small island where the rest is waiting. The Radiation quickly lessens as we leave the Hub’s corner, enough to turn my net Lavi flow positive, but not as much as I’d expected.

 

In fact, I’m still suffering from Radiation even as Dave lifts me up out of the Hydrum and carries me bridal style onto the beach.

 

I groan as Dave puts me down in the warm, white sand. Kaitlynn kneels down next to me and grasps my hand, her face pale. Well, paler than usual.

 

“What happened?!” she asks, as Dave begins to study the large, translucent teeth sticking out of the tops and bottoms of my calves. 

 

Jacob, Loudmouth, and Alec crowd around me as well, looking worried.

 

I lick my dry lips. “Eh, nothing much. Got eaten by a fish, blew it up from the inside—”

 

They all wince sympathetically at my pained hiss as Dave pulls out one of the teeth. Though Kaitlynn’s wince may have more to do with me nearly crushing her hand in my grasp.

 

“Sorry,” Dave says. “Ehm, you may want to Meditate for a bit.”

 

“Gee, thanks for the warning,” I drawl at him.

 

Not a bad idea, though.

 

Too tired and sore to attempt any kind of lucid trance, I just allow myself to slip under.

 

 

“Emma? Wake up, sweetie.”

 

Kaitlynn’s voice gently brings me out of my trance, and for a moment I lose myself in her storm-grey eye.

 

Then I realize the others are still crowded around me, and I try to sit up. However, pain wracks my calves, and I immediately give up.

 

I frown at Dave. “Are you going to Restore me, or what?”

 

He hesitates. “Your wounds are leaking Radiation. I fear the teeth may have left some kind of residue behind in there, but I don’t see anything. I tried washing them out with some Hydrum, but it didn’t really help. I fear if I close the wounds up now, they may remain Radioactive.”

 

My frown deepens. “Well, shit. Now what?”

 

He scratches the back of his neck. “I was thinking we could use something with Toxic Energy in it, to neutralize the Radiation.”

 

I nod. “Good idea. What, though? I mean, my Toxic Energy Tolerance is pretty awesome, but it still doesn’t sound like a great idea to pour Moonshade Sap into my open wounds.”

 

He smiles wryly. “Yeah, let’s not do that. I was thinking maybe we could dilute it?”

 

Loudmouth frowns. “How you going to do that?”

 

Dave blinks at the loud froggo. “Mix it with Hydrum and, well, stir?”

 

Loudmouth emphatically shakes his head. “No work. No mix.”

 

I purse my lips. “Loudmouth’s probably right. Toxic Energy and Hydrum don’t go well together. I could Infuse Aether with Toxic Energy and try that?”

 

Dave shrugs helplessly. “I guess? I’m not sure if that’ll be concentrated enough to be effective, but it can’t hurt to try.”

 

“Ugh, if only we’d brought some mead,” I complain.

 

Alec snorts. “Getting drunk isn’t going to help, Emma.”

 

“I meant to clean out my wound with, you idiot,” I snap. “Mead has Toxic Energy with a mild, non-lethal Purpose that’s already Infused into a liquid. It’s basically perfect.”

 

Jacob’s head shoots up, his eyes shining. “Say no more, I got you covered.”

 

 

I’m placed in the kayak, and rowed and pulled back to our camp, where Jacob pulls a bottle of mead out of his bag with a triumphant flourish. “I figured I might experience a need to get drunk again at some point,” he gives by way of explanation. “I’m glad I’ve resisted thus far.”

 

Kaitlynn soaks a rag with the stuff and starts carefully cleaning out my wounds. I quickly dim my ‘body-sense,’ but otherwise remain attentive, until Dave confirms it’s working.

 

“Great,” I say with a sigh. “Please don’t wake me until my wounds are fully Restored this time. Oh, and try not to use up all of the booze; I’d love to study that Purpose...”

 

 

Kaitlynn brings me out of my deep trance just before dinner. Thankfully, my legs look and feel as good as new, though Alec’s gonna need some time to fix up my armour.

 

There’s some new holes in the slacks I wear beneath those as well, but I couldn't care less.

 

What does bother me, is that as a result of the high dose of Radiation, my Lavi Pool actually took damage, and decreased from 117 to 111.

 

Definitely not cool.

 

Kaitlynn keeps hovering and fussing over me, even after I assert her that I’m genuinely fine now and even plan to take my turn tempering tonight. I guess knowing something isn’t the same as believing it.

 

Well, it’s not like I don’t like the attention.

 

Loudmouth joins us for dinner. He seems very happy with his newfound friends. I doubt I really need to apply much Charm to him anymore, which is nice, since I really want to get back to the Realm of Imagination soon.

 

Of course, we can’t fully trust him yet, so we telepathically discuss what to do about tonight, and come to the decision that Dave and Alec will construct a simple bar over the door to Loudmouth’s hut, so he’ll be locked inside.

 

It’s kind of sad how easy it is for me to convince him that it’s to protect him from the hermit crabs.

 

On the Yang end, it’s Jacob’s turn in the oyster tonight, so we head down into the cave together.

 

I still shiver with disgust when I get into the shell, but soon I’m shivering for a different reason. I pay the Cold little heed, trusting Suri to let me know when I have to get out, and focus on trying to form Positive Inertial Energy instead.

 

 

When Suri tells me to get out, I open the shell with clumsy fingers and pain wracking my whole body. I barely manage to climb out, but the surrounding Hydrum quickly thaws me out.

 

As soon as I make it onto land, a pop-up appears.

 

 

Sweet!

 

However, Suri isn’t done yet.

 

 

Huh. Interesting.

 

“Say, Suri, since it didn’t happen automatically, can I assume there are upsides and downsides to this decision?”

 

[Naturally. Combining the Skills into One will force you to treat and practise them as a single Skill. This will improve how well you can combine the use of Negative and Positive Inertial Energy, but it will also make it harder to level the Skill. Also, Inertia Manipulation is a top-grade Skill, so taking Skilldreams for it will be more expensive than for either of the separate Skills.]

 

“But perhaps not as expensive as taking Skilldreams for both,” I mutter.

 

[Perhaps.]

 

A thought niggles in the back of my mind. I frown and glance around to see if Jacob’s out yet, but his shell is still closed. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can make out a faint whine coming out of it. Probably a side product of the Vibration Energy. I guess it makes sense that I’d be forced to leave sooner, since my body can’t handle a lot of Cold yet.

 

I’ll have to ask Suri instead. “Why haven’t I heard about this before? I mean, Jacob gained both the Increase and Decrease Momentum Skills, can’t those be combined as well?”

 

[They can, but his Skills are at different levels.]

 

Ah, that’s true. His Increase Momentum Skill should be at level 2 and Decrease Momentum still at level 1.

 

“All right, what do you reckon I should do?”

 

[Combine them. It’d be a waste of your talent if you didn’t.]

 

“Well, I like your confidence. Fine. Combine them for me please.”

 

[Will do, initiating mind-meld.]

 

Oh, shit!

 

 Author's note:

 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills