Chapter 119: Morning glory
A dull boom in the distance wakes me with a start. Kaitlynn mumbles unintelligibly next to me, always a heavy sleeper.
My heart soars at the sight of her, pushing the sound that woke me out of my sleepy mind for a moment.
Nothing happened, thankfully, as my state of dress confirms. Kaitlynn pretty much cried herself to sleep in my arms last night, which was at the same time terrible and wonderful.
A slight tremor shakes the hut, reminding me of what woke me.
Alarmed, I get up and stumble out of the hut into the dark. Kaitlynn groggily calls out after me, but then the Twinstar rises, momentarily blinding me.
When my vision clears up, I’m stunned by what I see in the distance.
The main tower of the castle on the central island is collapsing. My mind races as I watch it crumble down.
“Hey, everyone!” I shout. “Wake up and get your asses over here!”
Kaitlynn, Dave, and Alec show up in mere minutes, leaving me impatiently waiting on Jacob.
Seriously, where is that guy?
Predictably, Alec is the first to crack. “Seriously Emma, what’s so important that you start shouting for us to assemble at the literal butt-crack of dawn?”
“First of all,” I respond, “that is the worst misuse of the word literal I’ve literally ever heard. And the reason I assembled you, is obviously that.”
I indicate the castle in the distance, which now has a cloud of sand or something hanging over it, which slightly obscures the view.
Alec frowns. “A dust cloud? Well, whoop de doo.”
Dave, thankfully, is made of brighter stuff. “Wait, where’s the main tower?”
“It collapsed,” I state. “I’m thinking this is the best opportunity we’re going to get to launch an assault, which is why I need Jacob to HURRY HIS ASS UP! Seriously, how is he still not up, after all this commotion? Does he sleep in the forest or something?”
Kaitlynn frowns. “No, Jacob sleeps right there, normally,” she says, pointing at a very nearby hut.
I blink and stalk towards it to peek inside. It’s empty.
I glance back at the dustcloud. A horrible suspicion begins to form in the back of my mind.
“Suri, could you show me the map of Hub Three please?”
Suri obliges, and my stomach drops when I see the little indicator marked ‘Jacob’ smack dab in the middle of the central island.
“You’ve got to be—Suri, call Jacob!”
The rest crowds around me with worried expressions as I anxiously wait for the call to establish.
<Hey—umf—Emma,> Jacob voice sounds in my head.
“Jacob, what the hell is going on!” I practically shout. “Are you all right?”
<Eh, I’ve been better. Managed to arrest our fall with Decrease Momentum before we hit the tree, but we still took quite a tumble through the branches.>
He sounds calm enough, and from the occasional grunt that punctuates his speech and the progress of his indicator on my map, I can tell that he’s up and moving, at least. Of course, I still have a ton of questions.
“We? Who’s with you? And what fall?”
<Oh, I’ve got Loudmouth here. He’s a little... unconscious. And it wasn’t so much a fall as a leap. I kinda had to launch us out of the tower with Increase Momentum before it collapsed.>
“What were you doing in the tower in the first place?!”
<Getting a crystal for Dave, of course,> he states, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. <Loudmouth’s plan, actually—oh, shit, hold on.>
<Who there?> a froggo croaks on the other end of the line. <Show self!>
My eyes widen. Crap, a patrol must’ve found him! Come on, Jacob, take him out before—
<Aack, no hurt me!> a strangely familiar voice croaks back. <Me Tinyhead, this Friend Loudmouth, we super-normal Hoig!>
Tinyhead? Who the hell is that?
<You funny looking Hoig... What wrong with your Friend?> the first Hoig asks.
<Ehm, he really thirsty, so me bringing him to Hydrum. To drink.>
<Ah. Okay then. If see any suspicious characters, let us know, kay?>
I listen to the rustling sounds that follow the conversation, filled with confusion.
<Man, I should’ve thought of doing that earlier,> Jacob mumbles.
“That was you?!”
<Yes—look, the details can wait. I should be able to make it off the island just fine, I think, but I could use a lift or at least an escort from the beach. Could you pick us up?>
“Ehm, sure, we’ll be there,” I answer before he hangs up.
What the hell?
The four of us waste no time in putting on our armour and rushing into the Hydrum. I conjure up my manta whistle right off the coast and am pleased to find that Elizabeth indeed stuck around.
In the interest of speed, we still independently swim to the beach my map tells me Jacob is headed for.
When we’re almost there, however, we run into a an under-Hydrum patrol of four froggos. Their eyes go wide when they spot us, and they brandish their weapons. One of them starts to swim upward.
<Don’t let that one breach the surface!> Dave warns.
Thankfully, Elizabeth doesn’t really like froggos. She tolerates Loudmouth, since I introduced him, but I imagine this is more like her usual reaction to seeing them.
She sweeps over and cuts the one who was swimming up to shreds in the process with the dagger-like barbs on her tail.
We make quick work of the rest.
Still, lesson learned, we perform the rest of our approach with more caution.
Despite this, we make it to the beach before Jacob, so we wait for him to show up in tense silence.
I breathe a sigh of relief when he finally hops out of the treeline, with Loudmouth slung over his shoulder.
He spots us and breaks out into a huge grin. “Hey guys! Look what I’ve got!”
And that son of a gun holds up a Major Radiation Crystal.
Dave Restores Loudmouth on Elizabeth’s back even as we swim back. Meanwhile, Jacob regales us with the tale of his epic mission.
If I hadn’t seen the crystal and the collapsed tower myself, I honestly wouldn’t have believed him.
There’s still the mystery of Loudmouth’s missing chest wound, because Jacob swears he saw Loudmouth get impaled, but his skin shows nothing but some scratches and what I assume to be the froggo equivalent of bruises.
The thick green blood leaking out of Loudmouth’s earholes is a little more worrying, but hopefully it’s nothing Restore can’t fix.
Jacob himself also looks a little worse for the wear, with various black burn marks covering his thick green skin, but they slowly fade in the presence of Dave’s Restoring light. The only thing he gripes about really is the loss of his shield and sword.
Good thing he didn’t bring his spear too, I guess.
Anyway, it seems like I’d underestimated the terror that is the detonation of a Major Energy Crystal. If it hadn’t been Jacob’s exact affinity that blew up practically in his face, he definitely wouldn’t be standing.
I mean, even the bloody tower collapsed!
It’s a good thing Loudmouth is Yang, and was farther away from the explosion, or being unconscious and having ruptured eardrums would be the least of his worries.
I wonder if the Grand Chief made it or not... if he actually has the Electric subtype, then the Electric Energy inside his body may have shielded him from the blast. Of course, the collapse of the tower won’t have helped, but still, I’m not ready to count him out.
Well, it doesn’t seem likely that the Grand Chief would cause trouble for us in the short time left before we get out of this Hub anyway, but it’d be nice if Jacob could get a bonus for taking him down.
Though actually, Loudmouth would be the one who took him down... Man, that is weird.
The froggo in question begins to stir shortly before we reach our camp.
“Loudmouth!” Jacob calls out when Loudmouth’s eyes flutter open.
Loudmouth flinches at the sound. “Ah!” Loudmouth croaks, before flinching again and continuing at an uncharacteristically low volume. “No need to shout, Tinyhead. Loudmouth can hear you just fine.”
I raise a brow and whip a tether at Dave. <Did you just fix his hearing?>
Dave shrugs. <Could be. That or he’s still sore. More importantly though, Tinyhead?>
Jacob hugs Loudmouth, laughing, and it’s all very wholesome and yuckworthy.
Well, I suppose they earned their Hallmark moment. And then some.
Not for the first time, I feel a pang of guilt for the manipulation I’ve unleashed on Loudmouth, my unwitting Charm practice dummy. He’s more than that now though: he’s our friend, so I vow to stop practising my Charm on him. Not that there’s much time left for that anyway, but it’s the thought that counts.
Hearing Loudmouth’s side of the story is a hoot and a half. It seems like Jacob had left out some of the more embarrassing parts. He grumbles when Loudmouth brings them up, but ultimately laughs along.
The most interesting part is that Loudmouth seems to have learned Regenerate! It takes a little coaxing to convince Loudmouth to perform a demonstration, especially since I’ve decided not to use Charm anymore, but he quickly succumbs to the next best thing.
He closes his eyes and whimpers like a baby as I make a small incision in the palm of his webbed hand. It takes some fumbled attempts, but then he unequivocally proves that he can use the Skill.
This is very odd, as I sincerely doubt Loudmouth has ever Meditated in his life, while Meditate level 3 is supposed to be a prerequisite for this Skill.
Ultimately, we can’t do much more than speculate. It could be that Skills are only a human thing, it could be that they’re only for beings with eye-crystals, or it could be that the restriction is only for Skilldreams, and that it is possible for us to learn a Skill like this directly without the prerequisite.
I’m not sure how useful that would be though, as Regenerate still requires you to access the Lavi Flow that controls all of the sensory information relating to touch and proprioception, which is ostensibly the most complicated part of Meditation level 3 anyway. Still, there’s definitely something interesting going on here.
Unfortunately, we’re lacking in time to figure it out. The circumstances in this Hub have steadily been getting more extreme, and I don’t trust our little medium island to remain a safe haven for much longer. We need to get Dave levelled, get our sixth, and get out of here while we still can.
With any luck, this is our second-to-last day in Hub Three, so we need to make good use of the time we have left.
Especially since tomorrow is the day we split up into three groups—four if you count Loudmouth staying behind—and there’s no guarantees we’ll ever see each other again.
Alec truly outdoes himself with the feast he puts on. He spent half the day slaving over it, while he could have been studying my work on Decrease Inertia, but I’m willing to let it slide, just this once.
We all have plenty of salted fish and zirot fruit packed, but I’m still going to miss his cooking once we split.
After dinner, Dave and I go temper. I practise my Distort Space Skill in the shell, but the third dimension still eludes me, and I don’t manage any significant progress. To be fair, I’m not as focused as I could be.
Because Kaitlynn still hasn’t made a decision.
Dave successfully levels. His skin has taken on a deeper red hue, and his bull-like horns stick out at least 6 inches from the sides of his head. If they get much bigger, he’ll have to start turning sideways to pass through doors, which would be hilarious.
Loud cheers meet our return, loosened stoppers popping as our friends crowd around us, touching Dave’s horns and chatting happily. I gladly receive a skin of my personal zirot wine and take a hefty swig. The fruity nectar washes over my palate, the Addling Toxic Energy going straight to my head.
Mine isn’t like the swill the others are drinking; it’s about an order of magnitude stronger. Anything less won’t affect me in the slightest. Even though tomorrow’s a big day, I’m not too worried about the hangover. Experience has taught us that Restore can actually cure them.
Dave won’t be able to use the Radiation stored in his body for that just yet, but since we can all just cluster around his Focus Crystal, his Qi will more than suffice.
It’s interesting to see how quickly we’ve adapted to being Level 3—with the exception of Dave of course, since he just got there.
Now that I’ve gotten the hang of inducing Purpose in my Toxic Energy outside of my body, it’s child’s play for me to make zirot wine. I can just dip my finger and pour the Addling Toxic Energy inside. Meanwhile, Kaitlynn no longer uses fire blossoms to start a fire; she just grabs a piece of wood and pours in Heat until it ignites.
Jacob is still getting the hang of his relatively new affinity, but he’s already surprisingly good at manipulating his Vibration Energy to produce a variety of sounds and celebrity impressions. Particularly his Christopher Walken has us in tears.
Alec’s lightning is a little less useful. He tried making glass sculptures from sand at some point, but no matter how much Electric Energy he poured in, nothing happened.
Which, really, should have been obvious before he tried. Seriously, Electric Energy is Yin: it cools things.
Frankly, I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as melting in this Realm at all, or any transitions between states of matter. Even in the coolest corner of this Hub, I haven’t seen a hint of ice, nor have I seen a wisp of steam in the hottest one.
Actually, scratch that. Astreum and Boreum are definitely different states of matter for Aether. Though on the other hand, I’m not sure if Aether can really be considered matter.
Anyway, despite our walking hangover cure, I don’t think I’ll be getting that drunk tonight. Though the mood is festive after Jacob and Loudmouth’s big surprise this morning, the weight of tomorrow’s goodbye still hangs heavily over the group. It’s noticeable in the short lulls in conversation. In the small sad smiles exchanged at random intervals. It’s a bittersweet feeling, like a heavy blanket weighing down my heart. It wouldn’t hurt this bad if I didn’t love these losers so much.
Still, as the wine keeps flowing, the party eventually picks up, and Jacob starts to use his Vibration Energy to provide us with a variety of music, accompanied by Dave on his Amplified bow and Alec on, well, the caterwaul.
I dance with Kaitlynn, barefoot in the sand under the light of a million stars, none as bright or beautiful as her eye. I can’t look away, even as the world spins around it.
We end up stumbling into our hut some indeterminate amount of time later, laughing and hanging off one another.
I flop down on the strange bedding of dried weeds dramatically, and Kaitlynn collapses into a giggling heap next to me.
I roll over onto my side to look at her shaking profile. My hand reaches out on its own volition to brush an errant strand of hair out of her face. Kaitlynn rolls over to face me, and her giggle fades into a gentle, rueful smile.
The question that’s been burning on my lips all night finally bursts out. “Have you... decided?”
Kaitlynn pushes her palms into her eye and eye-crystal and groans.
I smile self-deprecatingly. “I take it that’s a no?”
Even I’m not sure if I mean no as in she hasn’t decided, or no as in she’s not coming with me.
Kaitlynn takes a deep breath and removes her palms to gaze at me intensely. She shuffles forward and rests her forehead against mine. I close my eyes, enjoying the Heat radiating off her skin onto mine.
“Here’s my problem,” Kaitlynn whispers. “It is torture, being this close to you, but not being able to kiss you. To be honest, I’m not sure if I can handle it for very long. So, ideally, I don’t really want to go with you, unless I get to kiss you.”
I groan. “That’s not”—fair—“a good idea, Kaitlynn, you know that.”
She’s quiet for a long moment. I open my eyes again to see her looking at me thoughtfully.
“I can tell this is hard for you too,” she says softly. “Why do you even want me to come with you?”
“So I can protect you,” I react immediately.
She pulls back, stretching languidly, and I immediately miss the contact. “I’m a big girl, Emma. Maybe I don’t need protection, anymore.”
“I know, I know,” I say with a sigh. “Honestly, your breath attack has gotten right scary. You’re more of a dragon than any of us.”
She grins toothily at me.
I swallow. “So... does that mean you’ll be going with Jacob?”
She worries her bottom lip, her eye flitting over the room for a moment.
“I don’t know yet,” she finally admits. “We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings, who we can get as a sixth. Are you really sure about this plan of Dave and yours? It’s pretty... extreme.”
I shrug. “I don’t see any better alternatives. At least it’s honest. And poetic, in a way.”
She nods. “Does it have to be you?” she adds in a small voice.
I smile. “I’m a big girl too, Kaitlynn. And I’ve been training for it for some time. I’ve got this. Now, let’s get some sleep.”
She relents and turns over, and I spoon her, trying not to be too obvious when I inhale the familiar scent of her hair.
Despite everything, I sleep like a baby, for once.
Harken and rejoice, for the long-awaited day is here! ^^
The Whispering Crystals, Book 1: Unnatural Laws is now officially for sale on Amazon. It comprises the (much-improved) first 48 chapters of I Am Going To Die.
Now, I've opted out of KDP select—even though it would probably get me significantly more money in at least the short term—as it requires exclusivity and I don't want to have to take down this webnovel. (And I also don't want to feed the beast that is Amazon any more than necessary)
That said, I do have to start making a living as an author if I want to keep writing, so I would really appreciate it if you pick up my e-book, especially as I'm now entering the game of sales rankings and Amazon ratings and reviews.
Basically, if you ever wanted to support me, now is the time. As a fledgling author, I can use all the help I can get. ^^'
That doesn't mean, however, that you should try and rate and review right this instant. Amazon's algorithms are like bloodhounds when it comes to searching for instances of fraud, so rule of thumb is to wait at least 72 hours after a purchase before you rate and/or review, or Amazon's algorithms will believe you haven't read it and are possibly a paid reviewer.
Don't worry, I'll post reminders once in a while, so you can review it at your leisure at some point in the coming weeks. ;)
Now, without further ado, here it is: