Chapter 126: Marked for abduction
As soon as Onni and Lily disappear into the treeline, Jacob and I head for the hut Onni indicated.
He better have been telling the truth, or I’m going to be pissed.
Jacob takes up position outside, hawkishly checking the roofs every three seconds.
I doubt anyone else is hiding up there, but it’s a good habit nonetheless.
I creep up the stairs to the doorway. This one actually contains a door, kind of a rarity. Thankfully, it barely creaks as I gently push it open.
I’m greeted with the sight of Mark’s sleeping form. The blonde spikes from his Super Saiyan hairdo now interrupted by a pair of sharp horns which stick straight out.
Looks like Onni told us the truth. I let out a deep breath.
I then direct that breath—which is laced with Dreamcloud Energy—to settle around Mark’s gold-tinted face, so he breathes it in.
I give him a carefully controlled amount, as I only need him a little more susceptible to suggestions.
When I’m satisfied he’s taken it all in, I squat down next to him, connect to my Espir Pool and softly call out, “Mark? Could you wake for me, please?”
My voice, which sounds oddly sultry all of a sudden, does its job, and he begins to stir.
“Hey buddy,” I croon. “Would you look me in the eye, please? There you go, that’s it. Hi.”
He blinks, but seems incapable of pulling his gaze away. “Wha? What, ehm, are you—”
“Shhhh, it’s okay,” I say with a smile. “I’m here to help you.”
His voice rose a bit at the end there, but I think we’re good. Dominique’s hut is still a good 30 feet away and sound doesn’t carry too far in this Realm.
“You-you are?” he utters, thankfully matching my lower volume of speech.
“Uhuh. I hear how bad Dominique was treating you—she’s not nice, is she?”
“Dominique? Oh, she’s not so...” he trails off when I give him a full-force Charm pout. “She’s the worst, I hate her.”
Pff. This is too easy. I almost feel bad for him. Oh well.
I turn the grin that threatens to spread over my face into a smile instead, and he lets out what I can only describe as a whimper in response.
I clear my throat and nod sagely. “Exactly. She’s horrible. I, on the other hand, am super-nice. In fact, I came here just for you.”
Normally, I might have reached out to touch his arm or something at this point, but I decide to tone it down a little, lest he jizzes his pants or something.
“You see,” I continue, snapping my fingers to keep his attention on my eye as his gaze threatens to drop. “I’m here to offer you the opportunity to come leave the Hub with me, right now.”
He lights up. “You want me to come with you? Really?”
Oh, this poor kid. I really need to apologize for this, later.
“Really,” I say.
His face falls. “Oh, but Dominique wouldn’t like that.”
“Pssh, Dominique Schmominique,” I say. “By the time she wakes, we’ll be long gone through one of the doors, and there’ll be nothing she can do about it.”
He seems unconvinced. “She can be really scary,” he insists.
I lean in a little closer. “So can I, when I want to be.”
His brow furrows.
Hmm. Seems like Charm doesn’t exactly help me seem more intimidating.Guess I can’t have it both ways.
Worse, I can tell he’s starting to actually think about this proposal.
Can’t have that. Sorry boy, no thinking for you.
“Well, let’s not waste any time; what if she does wake up? If she’s as scary as you say, we best hurry!”
With that, I jump up and hold out my hand, looking at him expectantly.
He hesitates, glancing from my face to my hand and back.
“Come on!” I insist, hitting him with another wave of Charm. “I mean, you do want to come with me, right?”
“Of course,” he blurts out, grabbing my hand.
Hook, line, and sinker.
I lead him out of the hut, five, maybe six minutes later, as he needed time to don his black leather armour, strap on his sword and shield, and pile his things into his backpack.
Well, I say lead, but it’s practically drag, as I’ve once again grabbed his hand. It’s warm and a little sweaty, but I ignore it.
You’re not going anywhere, Mark.
Mark starts when he spots Jacob and reaches for his sword. Then he blinks. “Wait, Jacob?” he whispers. “You put on a Hoig skinsuit? Ew, man.”
Jacob rolls his eyes. “I did what I had to. Now follow me. And be quiet.”
Mark looks unsure for a moment about those orders but when I tug his hand with a smile, he follows without complaint.
Not a peep comes out of the village as we sneak onto the beach.
[You have an incoming call from Dave,] Suri suddenly chimes. [Would you like to pick up?]
My heart skips a beat as I stop in my tracks. “Yes, I’d like to pick up,” I say out loud, for Jacob’s benefit.
His head snaps around and a frown immediately shadows his features.
I hear the chime that I’ve come to recognize as the sound of a call connecting, however, I hear only an odd rushing noise from the other end.
Did he butt-dial me? No, how would that even work? Wait, he must still be under-Hydrum, that’s why he can’t speak. But then why would he—
Off the coast, Elizabeth bursts from the Hydrum, firing all jets. Several huddled figures are clearly visible on her back.
The rushing sound is replaced by coughing and spluttering as Dave presumably empties his lungs of Hydrum.
“Emma!” he finally calls out seconds later. “The Hoig followed us here! Run!”
His warning, though much appreciated, is of little use, as the first fully-geared, rabid-looking froggos emerge from the Hydrum even as he speaks. And it’s not just one or two, but dozens, stretched out over the entire beach.
I feel Mark’s hand try to wriggle out of my grasp, but I clamp down on it, and sharply pull him around. “Let’s go!” I yell.
We sprint back into the village amongst a hail of Toxic darts. Behind us, the chorus of excited croaks is momentarily drowned out by the sound of war horns.
They seem to announce the arrival of something...
I glance back, to see a humongous, one-armed froggo rise from the Hydrum. Its eyes zero in on us, full of hate.
“Kill the monkeys!” it croaks in a booming voice, easily drowning out the cacophony for a moment.
“Shit, the Grand Chief!” Jacob hisses. “This way, quick!”
I follow him without question, still dragging along a bewildered Mark. We duck behind a hut only seconds before a massive bolt of lightning crashes into it, and causes its front to violently disintegrate.
Jacob leads us on a frantic escape, taking seemingly random turns and even ducking underneath huts at times.
All of a sudden, we’re back in the centre of the village. Jacob realises his mistake, but it’s too late.
The Lightning Witch rushes out of the late chief’s hut in full gear and stops to take in the situation. A shudder goes through Mark when her eyes fall on him.
For a split-second, time seems to stand still.
Her eyes narrow dangerously. “Mark, darling, where do you think—”
A massive lightning bolt crashes into a nearby hut, effectively interrupting the moment.
Jacob takes off and I follow, sharply tugging on Mark’s hand.
He responds sluggishly at first, stumbling through a step or two. Then, it’s like a fire is lit beneath him, and he accelerates until he’s almost pulling me.
He’s whispering something under his breath. Confused, I squint and focus until I can barely make it out.
“—to kill me, she’s going to kill me, she’s—”
Sheesh. Well, at least he’s motivated now.
Only problem is that now there’s two sources of lightning bolts after us.
A flare of pain followed by the distinct sensation that my shoulder is suddenly cold to the bone, tells me a bolt—I’m guessing Dominique’s—struck my shoulder.
However, with my Electric Tolerance, the current that passes through me is ultimately not enough to cause much more than a stumble and a slight dip in my Lavi Bar.
Unfortunately, Dominique seems to realise this as well, as her next bolt targets Mark.
His body seizes, all of his muscles suddenly locked up, and he faceplants in the sand, dragging me down to my knees with him.
Cursing under my breath, I grab the armour at the back of his neck.
A glance from the corner of my eye tells me Dominique is approaching, lightning crackling off the tip of her spear. “Care to explain to me—”
Before she can respond, I produce a spiral of Negative Inertial Energy and jump onto a nearby hut, dragging Mark’s along for the ride like a ragdoll.
Hopping from hut to hut under the effects of a continuous spiral, I quickly reach the edge of the village where we catch up to Jacob.
I land lightly on my feet beside him and release Mark, who flops down on his hands and knees, but quickly scrambles up to keep moving alongside us.
I trust him to manage without my hand for a bit, choosing instead to draw my shiny crystal spear. Jacob has his own spear out already, and Mark is quick to copy us, drawing his sword and shield as we rush into the treeline.
I’m hit with an unpleasant sense of déjà vu when his sword starts to glow orange, which distracts me just enough for a froggo to almost get the drop on me.
Mark draws a crescent orange arc through the Aether, which shoots forward and smashes into the wayward froggo, sending it flying.
I shoot Mark a thankful smile, immediately feeling a little more positive about my Trial-partner-to-be.
That is an interesting application of Astreum... I thought it could only be manipulated into expanding, but that shape just now simply flew through the Aether intact. Could that be the third level of Astreum Manipulation?
There are fewer froggos here than on the beach, but it seems there was still quite a number that was sent the long way around to cut off potential escapees like us.
We cut through them like a hot knife through butter.
With Boost Physical active, I almost wouldn’t need Negative Inertial Energy to spear one, spin it around and launch it at a group of oncoming froggos like a rapidly dying projectile.
But the result is just so much more satisfying when I do use it.
We hack, slash, and burn our way through the forest until we reach a beach on the other side of the island.
Of course, it’s crowded with more friggin’ froggos.
Jacob holds up a hand signalling stop, and I do, grabbing Mark by the collar as he attempts to rush past me.
Jacob steps forward, takes in a deep breath, and proceeds to unleash a deafening screech.
I cringe in on myself, eyes widening as I see the Aether in front of him visibly distort. My Lavi Bar actually drops a bit, even though I’m behind him, but the effect on the froggos is even more profound. At least half of them is on the ground, convulsing and clamping their webbed paws over their earholes.
We rush through, knocking the few still standing out of the way with ease, and reach the Hydrum.
Mark slows down here, frowning. “Ehm, were you guys planning to just head into Hoig-infested Hydrum like this? ’Cause I have to say, I’m not the best swimmer...”
He trails off as I give him my most Charming smile and grab his hand. “You trust me, right?”
He nods fervently. “Of course I d-woah!”
I yank him into the surf with me, holding him firmly by the hand, and waste no time constructing my tail.
Froggos come at us left and right, but Jacob wards them off with noticeably weaker waves of Vibration Energy.
He must’ve burned through his saved-up stores with that big blast, meaning he’s draining his Qi Pool right now.
I gotta say, Toxic Energy has great versatility and killing power, but it’s lacking in utility in battle.
And by that, I mean you can’t blow stuff up or instantly incapacitate enemies with it.
I really need to invest in Boreum Manipulation at some point, I bet I could do amazing things with that stuff.
As I’m busy dragging Mark, Jacob is on defence detail. Having finally mastered mermaid swimming, he’s fast enough to do an adequate job, and I barely have to contend with much more than a stray dart.
Then, a large figure appears ahead.
I frown, then my eyes widen as I realise what I’m facing.
Shit, that’s gotta be one of the chiefs of the evacuated islands!
It comes barreling straight for me, wearing armour made of black shells and clutching a mean-looking scythe, of all things. It glows with a soft blue light that somehow tells me it’s very Cold.
Look at that, it’s the Green friggin’ Reaper.
A quick glance around tells me that unless we can take this thing down fast, we’re in deep shit. Froggos may be kind of clumsy and useless individually, if we get swarmed by the reinforcements coming in from all around, we’re still screwed.
I whip out two tethers. <Jacob, I’m going to need you to defend Mark for a bit while I take this thing on. Mark... hang in there.>
I let go of Mark’s hand and shoot forward.
I’d much rather fight this thing on land, where I can make better use of Inertia Manipulation but I’m left with little choice in the matter.
I’ll have to rely on Breath Control for mobility.
Unfortunately, this thing is quite spry for its size. I come swooping by to take a swipe at it, but it takes a horizontal swing right at me as if it were trying to hit a home run. I’m forced to abandon my own attack and hold my spear vertical to block it.
The blade of the scythe grinds against the shaft of my crystal spear, but I manage to stop it before it hits me. From this close, I can feel a chill radiating off the blade.
The engagement tells me the Green Reaper isn’t stronger than me, but definitely heavier, as I’ve now lost all forward momentum.
We pull our weapons back and begin trading blows. This isn’t how I usually fight under-Hydrum, but the Green Reaper isn’t giving me a chance to regain distance. It’s fine. I don’t have time for lengthy sweeping manoeuvres anyway.
I now use my tail not to move around but to stabilize myself in the Hydrum as I swing my weapon with great force through the Hydrum’s resistance.
Of course, I still have a trick or two up my sleeve.
I wait for a particularly wild swing to come along aimed at my upper torso, then suddenly shrink myself down with the Spatial Boundary I had prepared. The swing goes wide. I stab into its thigh and deliver a high dose of Toxic Energy.
My thus far silent opponent’s angry croak reverberates through the Hydrum, and it proceeds to double down on its assault.
Unfortunately, my Toxic Energy doesn’t affect it as much as I’d hoped. Soon, we’re both covered in cuts, mine glowing a light blue, and theirs a bright magenta.
Occasional ear-grating noises tell me Jacob is still fighting off the reinforcing froggos, hopefully still protecting Mark as well, but I don’t have the breathing room to check.
Shit, this is taking way too long! We’re going to end up swarmed by these friggin’—
Elizabeth crashes through the surface above us. Her deadly tail sweeps down and its dagger-like barbs lacerate the Green Reaper’s back.
I make use of the opportunity to rush in and stab my foe in the neck. I kick off from its shoulders and hurriedly reform my tail.
Elizabeth chases away a gaggle of froggos, snatching up Jacob and Mark in the process. I rush over and practically barrel into the group huddling on her back.
With everyone on board, Elizabeth leaps out of the Hydrum on her own accord and starts jetting away from the froggos.
I look around the rest of the group as her flight stabilizes, and let out a sigh of relief to find our little gang complete.
Six humans, and one friendly froggo.
I catch Kaitlynn’s eye, and she smiles happily at me, though it falters a little when Mark moves closer and shyly grabs my hand.
Then, out of the blue, a bolt of lightning hits Elizabeth from above.
Happy holidays, everyone! ^^
Please accept this chapter as my humble gift this year :)
Aside from gifts, I also come bearing news: The paperback is here! ^^
For now, it's only available on Amazon. In celebration, I also lowered the price of the e-book to $2.99! You can find them both via this handy link: www.books2read.com/whisperingcrystals1
P.S. For some reason, Amazon doesn't offer Print on Demand in all marketplaces. If you don't see it listed in your country's store, you''ll need to order it internationally, from one of these: US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/9083120112
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/9083120112 Germany: https://www.amazon.de/dp/9083120112 France: https://www.amazon.fr/dp/9083120112 Spain: https://www.amazon.es/dp/9083120112 Italy: https://www.amazon.it/dp/9083120112 Japan: https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/9083120112 Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/9083120112
P.P.S If you're trying to order internationally and the book is listed as 'out of stock,' that means Amazon's printing services in that country are a little overwhelmed with domestic orders, and they don't ship internationally for a while. Just try a different one ;)