• hcmills

Chapter 130: To sleep, perchance to dream

Kaitlynn is lying sprawled on the couch in the living room when I enter.


“Oh my god, at last!” she gripes as she sits up. “Seriously, how long do your five minutes of questions take?”


I raise a brow at her. “Ehm, about five minutes, usually?”


“Well, clearly you’re doing something wrong,” she retorts with a teasing glint in her eye. “Because I’ve been here for ages.


“I’m sure you have,” I retort, narrowing my eyes at her. “Say, what’s that on your stomach?”


She blinks and looks down. “What? I don’t see anything...”


“Oh, nevermind,” I say as I stroll over. “It was just some payback!


She squeals as I pounce and start tickling her, but it quickly dissolves into laughter.


She cries uncle soon enough, and I back off, satisfied.


Then I catch a glimpse of her flush face and the way her chest rapidly rises and falls, and suddenly I feel thoroughly unsatisfied.


Shit, what did I get myself into?


“So, should we talk Skilldreams?” Kaitlynn asks, pulling me out of my reverie.


Right, Skilldreams, we’re—


My eyes widen as it hits me that I’ll be entering the Realm of Imagination under supervision for the first time in a long while. More importantly, for the first time since I’ve been heading in independently.


What if we run into Raindrop? I have to warn her not to approach me, or she might give away that I’m going there on purpose!


All this flashes through my mind in an instant. “Ehm, actually,” I stammer, racking my mind for an excuse, “I... wanted to focus on practising dry first, so to speak.”


Kaitlynn cocks her head to the side, a questioning look in her eye.


“I want to try and get the second level of Lavi Font,” I blurt out. “Ehm, Suri told me I could probably get it, now that I’m level 3.”


Kaitlynn nods slowly, still looking weirdly at me, but I can’t give anything away, not with her eye-crystal likely trained right at me.


“Okay,” she says, then perks up. “Ooh, I still need to practise Regeneration anyway; I really want to gain that before the Trial, and I think I can still do it without a Skilldream. If you’ll be awake to help me, all the better.”


I hum in understanding. Now that we’re without Dave’s healing capabilities, Regeneration definitely belongs at the top of Kaitlynn priority list. Half a Skilldream would cost 38 Trial Points, so it would be great if she could get it without needing one, and with her memories of Alec’s mural and my help, that should be doable.


“Perfect,” I say, suppressing a relieved sigh. “Let’s eat something first though.”


A few zirots later, we get to work.


I put the idea of entering the Realm of Imagination out of my head for now; I’ll have to find an opportunity to enter it at some point, but with the dregs of Espir I have right now, I’m not confident I’ll manage, so I focus on the second level of Lavi Font.


The first level of Lavi Font—which I have active at all times—transforms a single flow of Lavi into a spiral. The Lavi is compressed at the centre, and upon decompression, somehow multiplies.


The second level adds a second flow into the spiral. Unfortunately, at the time I took a Skilldream for it, I was unable to produce the level of Lavi compression required to force this into a stable configuration. According to Suri, however, that should change now that my Lavi Pool has increased so much.


I sit down cross-legged on the living room floor, take in a deep breath, and turn my attention inward.


Since the Skilldream was such a long time ago, it takes me some time to figure out the exact details of the second level. Specifically, what Lavi Flows to grab and how to merge them into a spiral.


Still, soon enough, I’ve figured out the start and am slowly curving together a spiral. However, as the flows near the centre and their curves grow sharper, I once again lose control and my spiral collapses.


Unperturbed, I try again.



A few hours later, I fall onto my back with a groan.


Still, despite my aching, stiff muscles and the sweat rolling down my brow, I grin with satisfaction.

Suri was right. With my Lavi Flows fuller, it felt like I could somehow exert more force on the stuff.


That’s not to say it was easy, but the results speak for themselves.


‘Can I see my Lavi Flows window, please?’ I send along my optic nerve, so as not to disturb Kaitlynn, who’s sitting nearby, a frown marring her angelic features.

From 1.5 Onkh at one flow, to 3 Onkh at two flows. Looks like the Skill scales linearly with the number of flows, at least so far. Pretty sweet.


The only problem is, I’m now down one reason to stall taking a Skilldream.


Damnit, how am I going to pull this off? Can I take the risk of going in without warning her? The Realm of Imagination is a pretty big place, so the odds off running into Raindrop are actually pretty slim.


My brows draw together minutely. Except... I’ve been using my connection to that whistle I gave Raindrop to enter the Realm. Would she be able to sense me entering the Realm through that? If she does, she’d definitely hone in on the connection and come flying straight at me to ask me to play with her. Last time, Suri just sent her packing, but if Raindrop betrays our familiarity...


I wave the window away, get up, and make my way over to where Kaitlynn’s sitting cross-legged on the couch, trying to think of a non-suspicious way to inform Kaitlynn of my plight.


One advantage I have in this living room compared to the ones we’re used to, is that the couch is smaller. A lot smaller. In fact, it’s almost a loveseat.


Perhaps sensing my approach, Kaitlynn lets out a sigh, and opens her eyes. “Ugh.”


I smile emphatically. “Still no luck? Scoot over.”


She does, and I flop down next to her, finding to my surprise that the couch is actually somewhat comfortable.


Gotta love the perks of high Toughness. Maybe someday even this floor will feel like a mattress.


I’d almost consider focusing my training on increasing it some more. Yeah right. What am I, a masochist?


Kaitlynn shakes her head. “I feel like I’m on the edge, but I’m just—”


She interrupts herself with a yawn. Right, I forced myself to sleep during the day to regain Espir so I could Charm Mark, but Kaitlynn was probably up the whole time...


My eyes narrow as I smell an opportunity. “Kait, how long have you been awake? Did you get any sleep before we went to snatch Mark last night?”


“I had a powernap before I went to temper,” Kaitlynn says with a shrug and another yawn. “It’s fine; I’ll sleep during the Skilldream. Could you—”


I interrupt her by putting a hand on her shoulder. “Kait, you need to rest. No wonder you’re not getting the Skill. Come on, let’s at least have a nap together, then I’ll help you try again.”


Did that sound sincere enough? Goddess I hope it did.


Kaitlynn blinks at my hand on her shoulder, and I give it a squeeze. She flushes a little. “Together? Well, if you insist,” she murmurs.


Yes! I mentally pump my fist. Feels kinda like I’m deceiving her, though... Well, having a nap won’t hurt her either way.


In the end, I decide to explain by surreptitiously tapping on her back as I snuggle up behind her.


‘There’s a second reason I needed this nap. I need to visit the Realm of Imagination before I take a Skilldream, so I can warn...’ my tapping trails off, as I still can’t discuss Raindrop with anyone not from the Realm of Imagination. ‘...a friend.’ Apparently, that’s neutral enough.


Kaitlynn tenses for a moment, then reaches back and squeezes my hand. ‘Okay. Be careful.’


I settle in behind her, enjoying the warmth radiating of her body, and quickly drift off.



After what feels like a short nap, I manage to find my way to Raindrop’s room in the Realm of Imagination, despite still not having filled up on Espir.


There’s just one problem. Raindrop isn’t here.


Confused, I follow the connection to the little bird-whistle I made for her, only to find it lying in the large nest that dominates the centre of the circular room.


I grab it and walk out onto the balcony. Hangspire is bustling like always, but Raindrop is nowhere in sight. I call out her name for a few times, but all I get for my troubles is the confused stares from a pair of creatures that look like crosses between a porcupine and a snake and what sounds like the equivalent of laughter from a large crab dancing something reminiscent of the Charleston.


Great. Now what?


I check inside myself and find I’m at twelve motes, only about a third of my usual reserves.


Crap.


I quickly form a tail and swim off into the city.



My first stop is naturally the Timid Trident. Raindrop isn’t there, unfortunately. Not that I really expected her to be. It seems to be a slow period anyway, as the place is nearly empty.


Akir looks up at me from behind the bar, where he’s polishing. “Oh, it’s you.”


“Yeah, hey,” I answer quickly. “Have you seen—”


I cut myself off as Akir stiffens and his purple skin begins to redden.


“Ehm, I mean... I’m looking for my friend, Raindrop,” I try again, careful not to word anything as a question, per Akir’s rules. “I was wondering if you’d seen her.”


He glares at me for that last bit, but it’s technically not a question. “No. Haven’t seen her.”


“Shit, all right, ehm, I need a drink. Make it a White Russian, please. But I have no time to tell a story. Oh, and it has to be virgin, no alcohol!”


Akir somehow snorts and folds two of his tentacles across his... torso, I guess. “I know what virgin means. And this ain’t a lost and found, nor a charity. No story, no drink.”


I roll my eyes. “Oh, cut the crap, Akir. I know you’re not as tough as you pretend to be and I know you like me—”


“Do not,” Akir grumbles.


“—so help a girl out,” I stubbornly continue. “Please,” I add after a moment of awkward silence.


He eyes me warily, then sighs. “Explain. Because I literally can’t Imagine an emergency that can be resolved by a virgin White Russian.”


“I need to find Raindrop so I can warn her, but I’m low on Espir. Last time, I was able to extend my Visit when I was drinking here. I need to you to help me extend it again, so I can look for her.”


Akir’s eyes continue to stare at me, unreadable, even as he starts pulling bottles out from under the bar. “What is it you need to warn her about?”


“I need to warn her not to come see me the next time I Visit, as I’ll be... supervised.”


He blinks slowly. “Ah,” he says, in a tone that makes me wonder how much he actually knows. “Very well, but if that’s the case, a virgin white Russian—ugh, just the idea—isn’t going to cut it.”


I frown. “Why... I mean, tell me why it wouldn’t, please.”


“You don’t seriously expect me to keep a stock of bovine milk, do you?”


I blink. “I... thought you just Imagined these drinks, so I don’t see—”


He lets out a long-suffering sigh. “She thinks she can just absorb Espir from other people’s Imaginations... The only reason you can absorb some Espir from my drinks is that I make them from as many Extant ingredients as I can, like these fruit juices.”


Extant? “I... wasn’t aware there’s a difference,” I say slowly, trying hard not to let a questioning tone enter my words. “I thought everything here was Imaginary.”


“How do you not know basic stuff like this by now?” Akir complains as he pours a liberal amount of said fruit juices into a huge cocktails glass, where they begin to take on a layered structure of colours. I count at least eleven. “You’re here. Tell me, are you Imaginary? Am I?”


I stare at him in stunned silence.


“You know what, don’t answer that,” he continues. “The answer is no. Anything that can sustain its own existence in this Realm is not Imaginary, but Extant. Like this Rainbow Paradise. Well, most of it.” With a flick of his tentacle he adds a novelty straw and a tiny umbrella, then presents it with a flourish. “Now take it and go ask around about your friend.”


Ask around? That... is a much better idea than just flying around willy-nilly like I planned.


I stammer out a thanks as I grab it, then rush for the exit. It’s not until I’m almost through the door that it hits me. “Hey!” I call out as I spin on my heel. “You asked me a question!”


The skin around his eyes crinkles in what might very well be his equivalent of a smile. “You told me to cut the crap, didn’t you? Now go!”



Author's note:

The first episode of the new Dreidan campaign of Rules as Fun is now on YouTube!


Watch it here! ^^

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©2018 by H.C. Mills