Chapter 127: Non-trivial pursuit
A shudder goes through Elizabeth. Her jets sputter for a moment but then regain their smooth flow.
The Lightning Witch hovers about 30 feet above us, looking every bit like Storm with the arcs crackling between her fingers and her white hair billowing in the wind. Well, Storm with a spear and a crystal for an eye. “Found you,” she sing-songs.
“Oh god,” Mark whimpers as she fires another bolt from her spear, this time hitting Elizabeth on the left wing.
Elizabeth’s jets on that side sputter and stop, causing her to suddenly and swiftly bank left.
I grip on for dear life, my mind whirling for a countermeasure.
Above us, the Lightning Witch waves a hand, and a round patch of light-blue vapour appears in her flight path. A blue flash passes through it and turns the centre into a smooth solid, that appears to reflect light.
Is that Boreum? What is she—
Dominique twists in the Aether and hits the vertical platform with her feet. Unexpectedly, it remains in place as she kicks off and changes directions to the left to follow us.
Wait what? But nothing is supporting it, so how did it stop her? More importantly, how is she flying at all?!
The next bolt crashes into Elizabeth’s right wing. Her last jets turn off and her nose tilts down as she careens limply towards the Hydrum.
“Elizabeth, pull up!” I shout.
Elizabeth tilts her nose up, and I produce a spiral of pink energy right before the moment of impact, turning her landing into the most anticlimactic belly-flop of all time.
With our footing stabilized, everyone gets up practically at the same time.
Well everyone except Mark, who’s currently cowering, and losing serious points with me. His eyes widen almost comically as Kaitlynn unleashes a mighty gout of Astreum that rockets up to Dominique’s position.
The Lightning Bitch’s eyes widen, but she manages to quickly produce another platform of Boreum beneath her.
The gout of Astreum breaks around it, melting it almost instantly, but protecting Dominique from the brunt of it.
Still, it paves the way for Dave’s beam of sickly green Radiation and Jacob’s roar, that causes the very Aether to ripple as it flies up.
Dominique’s face turns sour under the onslaught, but her rebuttal is as swift as it is brutal.
A bolt of lightning leaves her spear, then splits, and splits twice more on its way down.
At least eight bolts hit us simultaneously. Alec and I weather it with a grunt, as does Jacob after a moment, thanks to his Power-Up, but the rest go down in a twitching heap of limbs.
Elizabeth lets out a groan, shudders, then dives, taking away the solid surface beneath us and thus plunging us all into the Hydrum.
I quickly form my tail and grab Kaitlynn and Mark, dragging them deeper in the hope the Hydrum will shield us from further bolts. A quick glance shows me Alec is pulling along Dave and Jacob has grabbed Loudmouth.
Unfortunately, Dominique is persistent. And cruel.
She singles out Dave—probably because his attack scared her the most just now—and manages to hit him under-Hydrum not once, but consistently. The lack of a refraction index in this Realm is working against us here; aiming at targets below the surface like this would be much harder in the Entropic Realm.
Then again, so would flying and shooting lightning bolts.
Alec swims over Dave for protection, but the Lightning Bitch actually curves her bolt underneath him to hit Dave again!
Elizabeth is tilting slightly to one side, but still sticking close to us, so I make a snap decision.
<Everyone who can’t handle the bolts, hide under Elizabeth!> I send twice, first to one half of the group, then the other. Hang in there, girl. We’re gonna need your help a bit longer.
Dave is dragged under just in time, still twitching. I don’t even want to know how little Lavi he has left.
Only Jacob, Alec, and I remain above Elizabeth, hoping to draw Dominique’s ire. She’s relentless, however, and begins raining down bolts on Elizabeth.
Shit, she must be eating pearls like candy!
I swim down next to Elizabeth and swing a tether at Mark. <How long can Dominique keep this up?> I send. <And how is she flying?!>
It takes a moment, but Mark notices me and manages to reach back. <She can keep it up forever; she has like, a bag full of pearls, and I have no idea how she’s flying, she wouldn’t tell us! Oh god, we’re all going to die!>
Ugh, another dead-end. At least Mark has Telepathy, that’s a small mark in the plus column. Heh.
I frown. Wait, how’d Dominique find us in the first—
I mentally facepalm. <Mark, sweetie,> I send, sending a sliver of Charm along the line. <I need you to remove Dominique from your friend list. Could you do that for me please?>
<Oh! Ehm, sure,> he sends back.
I glance at Elizabeth, who’s shuddering all over. She’s taking the hits like a champ, but even her considerable pool of Lavi has to run out at some point. A plan begins to form in my mind.
I whip out a tether to Dave next and ask him if he can reach everyone with Telepathy. He confirms, and I ask him to relay.
<Guys, I have an idea, but I need Elizabeth, and I need her to be able to actually move,> I send. <Jacob, could you block Dominique’s bolts with Vibration Energy somehow so Dave can Purify her?>
<He can try,> Dave relays his answer. <Jacob says he can’t react fast enough to stop an individual bolt, so he’d have to spread his vibrations out. He’s got a decent number of Yang Qi Pearls, but they’ll run out really fast at that level of output. Oh, Kaitlynn says she finally understands the purpose of the standing wave that embodies the second level of Wave Manipulation, but none of us have that.>
<Tell him to do it,> I send. Not like Vibration Energy is going to be good for much else here.
Above Elizabeth, Jacob raises his Focus Crystal, and the Hydrum between him and the surface begins to distort with Vibrations. The next bolt to pass through the Hydrum visibly shrinks and eventually fizzles out before reaching Elizabeth.
I swim over to Elizabeth’s face as Dave’s crystal lights up white, and gently scratch her head. <Hey sweetie. I need you to do something for me...>
My heart is pounding when Elizabeth bursts through the surface and begins jetting up as fast as she can.
Dominique quirks a brow at me in surprise, then aims her spear at me with a cocky smirk, lightning crackling at the tip.
However, I have no intention of waiting for her to make a move.
Before she can fire a bolt, I produce a personal-sized spiral of Negative Inertial Energy, and leap.
Her eyes go wide as I suddenly soar up right at her.
Negative Inertial Energy may not allow me to fly, as it doesn’t affect the pull of gravity, but you can’t beat it when it comes to instant acceleration.
Dominique produces one of those Boreum platforms and leaps off to change direction, but my spiral is still active, and I redirect with a jet of Aether from my lips.
Unfortunately, this is not something I have a lot of practice with, so I end up overcorrecting and shooting by right in front of her.
Up this high, the pull of gravity is a lot weaker, and suddenly I can see the Hub’s protective hexagonal energy grid approach me very rapidly.
That’s not good.
I manage to twist just in time, so the cape of breaths I unthinkingly formed on the way hits the grid first.
For some reason I seem to slow down rapidly at the last second as I approach it, but due to my prodigious speed, my cape of breaths still impacts the grid with some force.
I’m not sure what it’s made of, but I hear a scary sizzling and crackling behind my back as my cape deforms along the grid’s surface.
Then it pops, and the pressurized Aether inside comes rushing out all at once, launching me down at high speed, as I’m still operating my spiral.
A few minor corrections with jets of Aether see me heading right for Dominique at breakneck speed.
She raises a hand and produces an extra-large platform of Boreum above her. This time, I can see how it works: the solid part—that currently reflects an image of me plummeting straight at it—transitions into a wide web of opaque Boreum-vapour tendrils at its edges, that seem to anchor it in the Aether somehow.
A partial solidification... Very clever, but that’s not going to save you now!
I stick my crystal spear out as far in front of me as I can without it leaving the area containing my spiral.
This is going to hurt.
Right before the impact, I switch to Positive Inertial Energy. My spear smashes into the Boreum and shatters it. Razor-sharp shards of Boreum fly everywhere, and I immediately switch back to Negative Inertial Energy, before I’m ripped to shreds or cave my skull in on Dominique’s horns or something.
Instead, I crash into her like a gentle breeze.
We spin through the Aether in a tangle of limbs. She tries to shock me into letting go, but I shrug it off. I drop my spear as it’s useless at this range and release my spiral of Negative inertial Energy so I’m harder to push away. I punch, kick, and even claw at her as best I can while simultaneously trying to Infuse her with Toxic Energy whenever I hit bare skin.
She shrieks when my claws rake her face, leaving behind lines of magenta, and in retaliation releases a far more powerful jolt of Electric Energy, strong enough to overcome my Tolerance.
Spasms go through my body, and I am powerless to stop her this time as she kicks me away.
Gravity makes an abrupt reappearance as soon as we’re separated—though I hadn’t really noticed its absence—and I begin to plummet.
Shit, she got me! Must’ve been building up Electric Energy to pull that off. Ah damnit, I should’ve tried to grab that bag of pearls Mark mentioned... Now what are we going to do?
I twist around as soon as I regain control of my body, and find myself already near the surface of the Hydrum.
I rack my brain for a new plan, even as I form another spiral of Negative Inertial Energy and slip in with hardly a splash.
However, what I find beneath me surprises me. Instead of the usual crystal clear Hydrum, there’s an enormous under-Hydrum cloud of sand, with only Alec and Jacob floating above it, wearing matching big grins.
<Check it out!> Alec sends, pointing excitedly at the figurative smokescreen. <Let’s see that bitch try and hit Dave now!>
I blink, then allow a matching grin to break out on my face.
Turns out, Dave came up with the idea of whipping up some under-Hydrum cover, to make it impossible for Dominique to keep targeting them. And despite Alec’s use of the term ‘we,’ it was actually Kaitlynn and Jacob who disturbed the sand at the bottom with Shockwaves of Vibration Energy—which Dave helped Amplify—and created a cloud large enough to hide even Elizabeth.
Now it’s a question of waiting for Dominique to give up. Their cover is too large for her to get anywhere with shots in the dark. It may be that she could use something like Electroception to locate them, but I’m positive she’d need to enter the Hydrum to do that, and, well, we’d tear her apart if she tried.
Of course, just waiting would be boring. Instead, I swim up to the surface and begin to lazily float on my back, arms folded beneath my head. Dominique hovers about 30 feet above the surface, glaring down at me.
“You have some nerve,” she hisses down at me.
I shrug. “I’ve heard that before. Honestly, it’s not hard to achieve if you’ve got nothing to lose.”
She huffs. “You may have won today, but you’ll come to regret crossing me. Mark my words.”
“That’s great,” I drawl disinterestedly. “Say, can you really afford to be hanging around here while your remaining teammates are being overrun by froggos?”
She snorts. “They’ll be fine.” Still, her eye darts back to their island for a moment, before she seems to come to a decision.
She points her spear at me, and I can’t help but flinch a little as I half expect a bolt to come down. Judging by her smile, she notices. Damnit.
“Don’t think this is over. I’ll be seeing you, Emma.”
And with a flourish of her hand, she produces another Boreum platform, kicks off, and floats away into the distance.
Does this mean we actually did it?
Happy new year, everyone!
Let's hope 2021 is less of a shitshow ^^