• hcmills

Chapter 134: Baby it's cold outside

Since there’s still about ten minutes before we absolutely have to enter the Trial, I take some time to study the unnatural phenomenon before us.

From behind the stand-alone stone ring, the portal looks like a pretty solid boundary of Spatial Energy—big surprise there—yet looking at it from the front, it provides the illusion that there’s a tunnel stretching out to infinity.

Though that may not actually be an illusion; I can’t entirely figure out how this portal works. It feels kind of like the outer ring contains more space than it should, like it’s bunched up the way it gets around an area where I use Distort Space to expand things, but way more intense.

It feels like the portal may be 2D space turned into 3D space, or something like that...

“Do you think it’s safe?” Kaitlynn asks.

I can’t help but snort. “I’d say, worst case scenario we end up in another Realm where we’re forced to undergo a series of deadly Trials. Oh, wait...”

She cracks a smile.

I take a deep breath and reach out to grab her hand and give it a reassuring squeeze. “Let’s do this.”

Not like we have much of a choice, really.

She squeezes back, and we step in together.

The moment my foot enters the portal, I feel something akin to a suction force pulling on it, and in the blink of an eye, I’m fully inside. The first thing I notice after I enter the portal is how cool it is inside.

Woah, déjà vu.

This time, I have an explanation ready, however. Spatial Energy, being Yin, is naturally quite cool, and in such high density, that becomes very noticeable.

I don’t have much time to study the sensation, however, as after what feels like a split second, Kaitlynn and I are already hanging in a seemingly endless expanse of blue sky, lit by an enormous blue moon.

Then gravity kicks in and forces us to land on the hard surface I thought was above us.

“Ow,” I croak, as I remain lying for a moment.

Unlike last time I got portalled, the Cold doesn’t disappear after I arrive. As I reorient myself, I realise the light coming from the blue moon that takes up nearly 10% of the sky doesn’t seem to warm me up, but rather cools me down.

I sigh. “Suri, what is that?”

[That is the Frost Star affectionately known as Big Bortha.]

“Of course it is,” I mumble. “Wait, a star? Really? But it has all those craters on the surface and stuff...”

[Star and moon are kind of meaningless distinctions in a Realm where heavenly bodies hang still and don’t orbit each other, don’t you think?]

I’m not sure I entirely agree with that, but before I can say as much, Kaitlynn’s face appears above me. “Whatcha doin’, slowpoke? We’re in a Trial, remember?”

Right. I quickly sit up and take in our surroundings.

We’ve been dumped on the lightly sloped surface of an enormous glacier, pockmarked with holes and crevices. At the bottom of the slope, an imposing, almost impossibly steep mountain rises up to tower over us.

As soon as I’m on my feet, a window pops up in front of me.

Risk begets opportunity... I like the sound of that.

I gaze up at the distant mountaintop. At some places, the rock seems to form a sheer cliff. Back on Earth, this would no doubt take a highly experienced climber.

However, in a Realm like this, where gravity is wonky and people slowly gain what can only be called superpowers, it shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.

Makes me wonder what else they have in store for us.

“Shall we get moving?” Kaitlynn asks, hopping from one foot to the other. “I’d like to get off this ice; it’s freezing out here.”

Right, that can’t be too pleasant for someone of the Heat subtype. Personally—thanks to my Cold Tolerance—I hardly feel the bite of the frost in the air, though I can still tell it’s there. In fact, I actually feel a kind of warm tingle on the inside.

I frown as an uneasy feeling springs forth in the back of my mind. I push it away, hoping I’m wrong. “You’re right, let’s get going.”

We set off towards the mountain, carefully picking our way over the glacier, using our spears to test the ice in front of us.

However, contrary to my expectations, the ice we’re walking on, though smooth, does not appear to be slippery in the slightest. I know that even in the Entropic Realm—ehm, back home, I mean—ice will lose its slipperiness once brought to a very low temperature, but I wouldn’t expect things to work similarly here.

Another thing I find odd is the wisps of what appears to be vapour that slowly drift over the surface.

Why would there be vapour on a glacier? Moreover, I thought we’d established there was no such thing as Hydrum vapour in this Realm...

Odd as they are, the wisps simply waft away as we pass through them.

My attention soon turns to the mysterious, almost perfectly hemispherical pits that appear in the glacier from time to time. As we’re unsure of their origin, we’ve avoided them so far, but we’ve come close enough to a few to look down into them.

They seem to have all formed around large blocks of stone that look like meteors, which makes me rather anxious.

I peer up, trying to make out if there’s a protective grid over this place as there usually is, glancing down occasionally to check my footing. I don’t see anything, but it could just be higher up...

A sudden crackling sound makes my heart lurch into my throat. I stumble to a halt and turn towards the noise only to find Kaitlynn flailing to keep her balance, one of her feet stuck in a hole of sorts.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one distracted.

I snort and wait for her to pull her foot loose, but by the look on her face as she holds her leg, she clearly can’t.

On closer inspection, her foot appears encased in solid ice.

I blink in confusion. “Kait, what did you do?”

“I don’t know!” she wails. “Last time I looked down, there was just a bit of vapour there!” She whacks the ice next to her foot with the butt of her spear, but it hardly leaves a dent on the solid surface.

In fact, the spear may be ever so slightly bent...

Damn. That stuff has high Toughness!

I frown. There’s no trace of any vapour around her foot. As far as I can tell, the ice she’s stuck in smoothly and seamlessly connects to the rest of the glacier. “Are you sure...” I trail off as she furrows her brows in concentration, and an orange glow begins to radiate from her foot beneath the ice.

After a few seconds, the ice encapsulating her foot melts seemingly into nothing, and she quickly steps away. I lean over to peer into the empty hole her foot left behind. Then I see a wisp of bluish glowing vapour float down and settle into it.

My eyes widen as I realise our mistake. “Shit, this isn’t ice! Hydrum doesn’t freeze, Aether does! This entire glacier is made of solid Boreum. You must’ve stepped into a puddle of Boreum vapour and triggered its solidification!”

Kaitlynn pales. “We’re standing on nothing but Aether?”

“Don’t worry; it’s solid.” Very solid, apparently. “And I doubt it’s melting anytime soon,” I add, glancing up at Big Bortha, “but let’s keep moving regardless, and beware any more puddles.”

“Yes, lets; thawing myself out just now took quite a bit of Heat...”

Right, imagine if that had happened to a duo with no means to produce Heat. Though I suppose other Yang energies could’ve weakened it as well. Actually, Distort Space was also an option. Maybe I’m overthinking this.

Then again, this Trial is supposed to be personalised to us somehow.

The next time we come across one of the large pits with a meteor at the bottom, I can’t help but stop and stare.

“Something wrong?” Kaitlynn asks.

“There’s something off about those rocks,” I mutter. “If this is just a meteor that smashed a hole, why isn’t this a pool of Boreum vapour?”

“Huh, that is weird.” Kaitlynn’s eye lights up with an orange glow. “Ooh, they’re kind of warm! D’you think the holes formed ’cause they evaporated the Boreum around them?”

I frown. “If they produce enough Heat to melt holes that size, wouldn’t they just sink straight down? I’ve seen cracks in the Boreum that go down way deeper than these holes. But the holes are too smooth and perfectly circular for impact craters so that theory doesn’t hold up either. You know what? I’m going to check this one out from up close, I don’t want to be caught off-guard again later.”

Kaitlynn worries her bottom lip. “Okay, just be careful.”

Descending into the pit is easy enough on the oddly smooth-yet-rough Boreum surface. Getting out might be harder, but with Inertia Manipulation, I’m not worried.

I bet I could jump 60 feet if I really put my mind to it, and that’s without adding Breath Control into the mix. The third level of that Skill is currently at the top of my ‘to gain’ list, but I need to stay focused on the Trial for now.

I stop my descent before I’m even a quarter of the way down, ’cause the way the warm tingle in my bones turns into a burning sensation confirms my suspicion, even before I notice the minute, sickly green rays coming off the deadly grey clump.

There’s Radiation here, and the source is these rocks.

That’s why the hole it lies in has such a regular shape; the Yin Boreum was melted away by interaction with the Yang Radiation.

Cold and Radiation, the exact opposites of our respective subtypes... Crap. So that’s what Suri meant by ‘personalised.’

Kaitlynn wraps her arms even tighter around herself after I explain my hypothesis that the radio-active rocks were added to this place to provide the right circumstances for a Trial for the two of us, hence why haven’t melted shafts to the bottom of the glacier yet.

“Seriously?” Kaitlynn complains as we continue walking. “What was the point of us learning Reconversion if they’re going to be sapping our energy reserves like this?!”

I click my tongue. “You’re right. It doesn’t seem like that Skill extension will be useful here at all. And they took all of our pearls and energy crystals too... Bastards.”

“If you’re right, Alec and Dave will be facing... Vibration and Toxic Energy? That sounds pretty bad...”

I shrug. “They’ll be fine. Alec has excellent Toxic Energy Tolerance, and Dave has Purify.”

“Well what about Jacob and Mark? They’re both Yang, and they’d be facing... Cold and Electric Energy? That doesn’t seem fair!”

“Jacob has a Power-Up to protect him from Electric Energy, and his Hoig Skinsuit is insulating. As for Mark... Well, we need to focus on ourselves; you’re shivering.”

I look Kaitlynn over in concern. I can’t even offer to hold her for warmth, because my body has stored a ton of Cold already, though no more than my Tolerance Limit.

“I’m fine,” she says. “Well, I mean; I’m out of stored Heat, but I’ve got plenty of Qi left to keep the Cold from exceeding my Tolerance Limit too much.”

“You’re already down to your Qi?” I ask in alarm.

She nods. “The Heat in my body attracts the Cold. It’s seeping in much slower now that I’m out of Heat. Some shade from Big Bortha would be nice though...”

I reflexively glance up at the giant Froststar, wondering again at how weird it is to have light that cools things.

[Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,] Suri suddenly chimes.

“What?” I ask out loud. “What’s—”

A flash of blue comes off the side of Big Bortha as something major impacts its surface on the side, sending out what I now realise is tons of Boreum.

I stop dead in my tracks, gaping as cracks spread out across the Star’s surface, letting out bright blue light from beneath.

“Holy shit...” Kaitlynn mumbles.

I frown as one of the cracks heads for the centre of Big Bortha from our point of view. Is that going to be a prob—

[Emma, watch out!]

Author's note:

I had a bit of a crazy idea, and—as I'm wont to do—I've decided to run with it.

I'm turning the backstory of Nix—my character on Rules as Fun—into a short novel. I'll have to see how much time I can find to work on it of course, as I'm ploughing ahead with the editing of Book 2 full steam (The cover is starting to look amazing!) but I am pretty excited about it, because I love this character.

And of course, I'm planning to serialize that as well. I probably won't be posting it on this website though, as that would be a lot of work to try and integrate, but I'll post a link to where you can read it on RR when it comes out ;)

(And I'll never let it get in the way of my regularly scheduled chapters, it'll just be extra) If you want to know why I love this character so much, just click the link below :p

Rules as Fun, Dreidan Episode 1: The Lord Killed Twice

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