Chapter 114: Breaking Free
With her inertial mass decreased, Elizabeth’s jets launch her like a bullet. The only reason Kaitlynn and I can cling on is that our own inertial mass is lowered as well.
I quickly turn my Skill off again, before Elizabeth accelerates us beyond saving. As it is, we already have more than enough speed to streak over the mass of froggos like a fighter jet made of biceps.
Apart from the time Jacob launched me with Increase Momentum during our duel, I’ve never moved this fast. This time, it lasts a bit longer, so I can actually experience what it’s like.
To my surprise, instead of buffeting me and sucking the breath out of my mouth, the Aether just kind of brushes my skin and whistles gently in my ear. It doesn’t seem to be doing much to slow us down either, as if it’s too thin to exert any real force on us, despite the ridiculous speed we’re travelling at.
And it is pretty ridiculous. By the time we reach the highest point of our flightpath and begin descending, we’re already over the nearest medium-sized island and heading for the large central island behind it.
The castle on top of a hill looms up in the distance, and for a brief moment, I fear I’ve made a big mistake in heading straight out of the corner. Thankfully, however, gravity is much weaker this high up, and it soon becomes apparent that our trajectory is set to carry us over the castle’s walls and past the central tower, if not by much.
As we approach it, it becomes obvious that the castle is made of the same smooth grey stone as the walls of the Hub. Clearly not Hoig-made.
Several Hoig guards man the walls. Or frog them, I guess. They begin croaking excitedly as we approach, but we’re going far too fast for them to do much about it.
As we rocket past the central tower, however, I spot a large figure on a balcony, whose hands seem to crackle with electricity. The next thing I know there’s a bright flash, immediately followed by a deafening crack.
Kaitlynn flinches against me, and I feel a shudder pass through Elizabeth, but I can’t tell if we’ve been hit.
In fact, I can’t tell much of anything, as my eye is very much—though hopefully temporary—blinded. Which is going to be a big problem for our landing!
‘Shit! Suri, I can’t see!’ I call out to her in a panic. ‘I need you to help me time—’
[Emma, one of your eyes has literally been replaced by an all-seeing crystal.]
I crack open my right eye-lid and am relieved to find Elizabeth’s skin looking unmarred by lightning. It would appear we moved too fast for whoever took that pot-shot at us. Though considering the effect it had on my vision, it must’ve passed eerily close to our faces.
Up ahead is another medium-island, but with the rate at which we’re currently dropping, we’re going to hit a patch of clear Hydrum still well in front of it.
I charge my Focus Crystal and wait for the right moment to produce another pink spiral.
The impact still isn’t pleasant. It’s a weird, uncomfortable feeling to be decelerated so much in such a short time, but with our inertial mass reduced again, at least we aren’t squished to a paste.
We do get thrown off Elizabeth this time. By the time I breach the surface, Kaitlynn is already up there, laughing heartily. Relieved to see her in one piece—and to see at all, with my slowly recovering left eye—I join in.
Unperturbed by our little adventure, Elizabeth graciously gives us a ride back to our island. I try to relay to her that I’d like her to stay nearby, as I’m worried about her safety after that massive raid. The Hydrum may be a bit cooler here, as we’re technically on the Yin side of the Hub, but she should produce enough Heat to keep warm.
I’m not entirely convinced she’s understood by the time she swims away from where she dropped us off, but she at least doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave.
Watching her linger leaves me with a warm feeling in my chest, as I set off to get started on my painting of Decrease Inertia for Alec.
Time passes quickly as our days in Hub Three near their end, and we spend nearly all of our time training.
With the help of Alec’s masterpiece, it only takes me two days to gain Regeneration. Dave takes a bit longer, but succeeds as well. Unfortunately, Kaitlynn and Jacob still need Meditation level 3, though Jacob has at least manages to catch up to Kaitlynn by gaining Meditation level 2 while tempering.
After that, I obtain a sample of plessie spit in something that can actually hold it—a cup Alec carves for me out of a hollowed-out plessie femur—and start studying the Acid Purpose in the hope of levelling up Infuse.
It’s slow going, mostly because I combine the training with that of controlling the Toxic Energy in my body. Using that to Infuse things is actually pretty straightforward, but inducing Purpose is not. I only realise my mistake after I finally succeed in giving part of my stored Toxic Energy the Addling Purpose. Well, technically Kaitlynn realises my mistake, when she finds me drunk off my ass on my own Toxic Energy.
It’s a good thing I wasn’t experimenting with the Acid Purpose.
Anyway, with a little more practise I manage to induce Purpose in my Toxic Energy at the point where it leaves my body.
When my stores of Toxic Energy run low, I switch to using Qi to try and gain the Acid Purpose, and find that the process goes rather smoothly all of a sudden. I level up Infuse and even improve my Qi to Toxic Energy conversion rate in the process.
Seems like all of this practice with Toxic Energy is paying dividends.
Meanwhile, Alec takes his sweet time working on his new art piece for me, so despite all of my training I actually manage to finish the one for him first. I’m not as artistic as Alec, so I sketched it out on a flat piece of rock using this Realm’s equivalent of charcoal. I actually decide to split it into two separate pieces, for convenience, the first being a drawing of a bouncy ball being hit with a bat that’s meant to convey the sensation behind Negative Inertial Energy, and the second simply a spiral that hopefully conveys how to manipulate the energy to actually perform the Skill.
It’s nothing like his masterpiece, but it’s the best I can do on such short notice. Alec reacts enthusiastically to it at least, though I’m pretty sure it’s only over the idea of learning the Skill, and not my art.
He starts spending a lot of time studying it with a frown. A bit too much, even, since he still needs to finish his piece for me, so I sic Loudmouth on him again with threats of licking to get him back to work.
Seriously, by the time he finally finishes it, Kaitlynn has already gained Increase Momentum! Dave is still having some issues with the Skill, but he did manage to glean Wave Manipulation off Kaitlynn’s artwork.
As for Jacob... he’s ready to level up.
He comes out looking, well, still like a froggo, really, thanks to his extra layer of thick green skin. I wonder if his actual skin colour changed beneath it. Where do you go from grey? Greyer? What would that look like? Anyway, the only visible difference is the growth of the horns sticking out of his forehead, arranged in an upside-down triangle formation, that are now a good five inches long.
I prod his skin—ostensibly to see if it feels different, but really mostly to annoy him—and find to my surprise that there’s a kind of energy thrumming beneath.
Right, that must be his stored Vibration Energy leaking out.
After I share this insight, everyone else wants to prod him as well, of course. Jacob glares at me as he undergoes it, and I smirk in response, but then he suddenly gets a weird look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I just got Breath Control!” he exclaims, flabbergasted. “Completely out of nowhere!”
“Dude, that’s great!” Dave says.
“Yeah,” Jacob agrees with a frown, “but why now? Pseudo, did something change when I levelled up? Did they clean out my lungs perhaps?” He waits for a moment, then rolls his eyes. “I guess that’s a no.”
Things that change when you level...
Something in the back of my mind triggers. “Wait... Jacob, what is your Toughness right now?”
I apply my palm to my face with a groan. “Breath Control has a minimum Toughness requirement of 12. There was no way for you to gain it since you were at 11 before you levelled up.”
Jacob gapes like a fish, while Alec bursts into laughter. “Oh man, all you needed was a good beating, and instead you’re stuck looking like a froggo!”
“I’m really sorry,” I tell him. “I completely forgot about it!”
Dave frowns. “Wouldn’t the Skill have been marked red in his Skilldream Shopping—ah, of course, you didn’t have Respiration level 3 yet when we entered the Hub.”
Jacob finally starts to laugh as well, shaking his head ruefully. “Shit. No wonder it hurt when I trained... I probably should have told you that. I figured it was my own fault, with the smoking and whatnot, so I was kinda embarrassed.”
“Idiot,” Kaitlynn teases him fondly.
I frown. “Wait, why didn’t Pseudo say anything?”
Jacob is quiet for a second, then rolls his eyes again. “She says it’s a secret.”
I cock my head sideways. “What is, the Toughness requirement or the reason she didn’t tell you about it?”
He levels me with a dry look.
“She’s not going to answer that, is she?”
“Nope,” he says, really popping the p.
Not for the first time, I consider that I lucked out with Suri. I mean, I obviously still can’t trust her, but at least she seems to take my survival seriously.
Or is this thought part of some kind of conditioning she applied to me?
Alec interrupts my thoughts as he homes in on the sound Jacob just produced when he popped his p, which I guess sounded not unlike a snare drum. “Dude, you know how to beatbox?”
Jacob frowns. “No man, I’ve never...” he trails off. “Actually, let me try something.”
He starts producing various sounds with his mouth, that grow odder and odder. He begins with a kick drum and a hi-hat, then there’s the familiar waterdrop sound, followed by the call of a raven and a host of other sounds.
“Dude, I had no idea you could do that!” Alec gushes.
Jacob grins widely. “Neither did I. I’m actually using my Vibration Energy to produce most of these sounds.”
Hmm. Too bad Vibration is Yang, ’cause that could’ve worked well with my conjurings.
I frown. Actually, my conjurations can already produce sound on their own. But is that Vibration Energy, or only an illusion of hearing something? If what Suri said about Espir not being able to physically affect this Realm, it should be the latter. Maybe I can test this somehow...
“Man, it’s so much easier to manipulate now,” Jacob muses. “I’m gonna go take another look at those drawings Dave and Kaitlynn made for me...”
And he’s off to go learn Amplify and Wave Manipulation. I have no doubt he’ll succeed in short order, too.
Anyway, with Jacob at Level 3, Dave’s the last one who needs to level. After his tempering tonight, he should finally be past 45%, so all we need is a Major Radiation Crystal.
Ideally, I would like to gain at least one more point in Mental Fortitude from Dave’s Mesmerize Purpose, but I can sense it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
I still haven’t Visited the Realm of Imagination since that time I got drunk and Akir cut me off. Even that slightly longer Visit was still far too short to be any help with regards to Mental Fortitude. I’m kind of bummed out that I haven’t been able to go because I found the discovery that his drinks had helped me stay longer really exciting, but Suri was understandably freaked out over that particularly close brush with death, and has been extra vigilant during mornings, so I haven’t dared to pretend to be asleep.
If she finds out my Visits are on purpose, she’ll definitely do something about it. Probably mind control me into not going anymore. For now, I’ll have to abstain. Anyway, I’ve still got plenty to keep me busy in the Realm of Crystals.
Today, for example, we’re doing our last hunt.
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