• hcmills

Chapter 135: The fractured but whole

The shockwave comes seemingly out of nowhere, accompanied by a sharp pain in my ears as I’m hit by the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.

I stumble back and find empty space beneath my foot that I could’ve sworn wasn’t there, seconds ago.

My other foot finds solid Boreum behind me, preventing me from landing on my ass, and I glance down to find that I’ve stepped into a crack.

The sharp pain in my ears fades into a dull ache and a loud ringing.

[Emma, you need to move!] Suri warns frantically inside my head, the only thing I can hear over the damn ringing.

I try to step out of the crack, but the Boreum shifts and tightens around my ankle.

Oh. Shit.

I look back up at the bright blue light that spills from the cracks spreading over Big-Bortha. A terrible feeling washes over me as the crack I’m tracing approaches Big Bortha’s centre above us.

Time seems to slow as my eye flickers down to a distant point on the glacier’s surface, where a 100-foot-wide beam of blue light approaches us, like the attack of an orbital laser cannon from a friggin’ Bond movie.

Only one thought rings through my mind.

There’s no way Kaitlynn survives getting hit by that.

I spin as far as I can with my foot stuck and find her beside me, massaging her bleeding ears as she looks up with a pale face. I grab her by the shoulders even as my Focus Crystal charges.

She looks at me in surprise, a question half-formed on her lips, but there’s no time.

It’s not like I would be able to hear her anyway.

I trigger Boost Physical’s first mode with a yank on a Lavi Flow and simultaneously activate Inertia Manipulation. Negative Inertial energy surrounds us, and the moment the rush of Strength from Boost Physical hits my muscles, I push, my foot anchoring me in place as I do so.

Kaitlynn’s eye widens as she goes flying backwards. Thankfully, the stretch of glacier behind her is mostly flat, so with a bit of luck she’ll just skid for a while and be totally fine.

I hope.

I don’t get to see, because the next instant, I’m engulfed in freezing blue light.

This time I definitely feel the Cold, as it bites through my armour near-instantly. My field of Inertial Energies fizzles out, so I cover my numb face with my arms and blindly attempt to take a step, forgetting that my foot is stuck.

Actually, I can’t even move my knee. Something hard encases my legs, rapidly creeping upward. In a flash, it covers my hips, then my waist, until finally, I’m completely engulfed.

The blue light filtering through my eyelids dims and disappears. All I can hear is the ringing in my ears, and all I can feel is the Cold and the beat of my heart.

Boreum. The light turned the Aether around me into solid Boreum. I-I can’t breathe!

[Unbelievable,] Suri chimes. [Couldn’t you prioritise your own survival for once?]

I ignore her and activate Regenerate. As the incessant ringing in my ears begins to fade, my mind feels like it clears up.

Inertia Manipulation can’t help since I can’t move. Distort Space won’t get me out either, unless I suddenly learn how to teleport. I could try to shrink myself a little, but the Boreum is flush against my skin, and I can’t even see, so I’m not sure what would happen if I tried. I might just shrink the Boreum around me along, or I might end up shrinking my flesh away from my skin.

My heartbeat stutters, and I’m light-headed with the need to breathe. My Lavi’s dropping... Makes sense. I’m probably way over my Tolerance Limit for Cold, and I can’t even breathe.

It feels like an eternity passes, my thoughts slowly turning sluggish. Then, an orange glow suddenly blooms up in front of me, shining through my eyelids.

[Well, at least you’re not the only idiot here,] Suri chimes.

The Boreum covering my face disappears before I have time to process what Suri means, and I inhale with a gasp, sweet Aether filling my lungs. I blink open my eye to find Kaitlynn’s crying face in front of me in a tunnel of Boreum.

“Emma!” she bawls, her voice still sounding odd in my half-regenerated ears. “You’re alive! Don’t worry, I’ll thaw you out!”

“T-thanks,” I bring out through chattering teeth. It’s a little hard to speak with my chest obstructed by the Boreum, but I mostly control Aether through the Lavi inside anyway. “Just a t-thin layer is enough; I’ll w-widen it.”

Kaitlynn nods frantically—apparently also healed enough to hear and understand me—takes a deep breath, and starts blowing warm Aether into my face.

Only now do I notice the orange glowing Focus Crystal clutched to her throat. Her exhale swirls around my head, following the contours of my body and neatly evaporating a slim space between me and the Boreum.

I wait patiently for her warm breath to find its way to my feet. Only when my boots are cleared, do I activate Distort Space and widen the space I’m in so I can crawl out, my limbs hardly shaking by now.

Kaitlynn pulls me into her arms as soon as I stumble to my feet, and hides her face in the crook of my neck.

After a moment, I fold my arms around her back. “Thank you, Kait.”

Kaitlynn shakes her head, her nose rubbing against my clavicle. “You idiot,” Kaitlynn whispers in my neck. “Pushing me away like that... what if I hadn’t been able to find you?”

I smile wryly. “I wasn’t really thinking about that.”

She sniffs and hugs me tighter.

The landscape over her shoulder has changed. Small cracks and massive ridges of Boreum—like the one Kaitlynn dug me out of—criss-cross the glacier now. The tunnel Kaitlynn excavated to me is at least ten feet deep. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if the Boreum hadn’t been as transparent.

At least the slope seems quite gentle, so we shouldn’t have too much trouble walking up and over.

I glare angrily up at Big Bortha and find that she has a new set of scars across her face, where the cracks opened up. They appear to have been filled.

Good. Let’s hope they stay that way.

Kaitlynn takes a deep breath, let’s go of me, and wipes the tears off her left cheek. “All right, let’s get going before the next disaster hits.”

We reorient ourselves from the top of the ridge of Boreum, and set off towards the mountain once more. However, the ridges aren’t the only lingering effect of Big Bortha’s temper tantrum. The Aether has gotten markedly Colder. What’s more, a biting wind howls over the glacier, an eerie reminder of the violent event that just took place.

I’m not sure if that was my closest brush with death just now, but it’s up there in the top three for sure. If Kaitlynn had ended up flash-frozen in the Boreum next to me, that probably would’ve been game over.

And we’re not out of danger yet. While the Cold in my body seems to have stabilised at a level below my Tolerance Limit, Kaitlynn soon starts shivering violently. She keeps her Focus Crystal pressed to her throat, and I occasionally see it glow a dim orange as she inhales.

It’s clear that digging me out came at a cost. She was already out of Heat, and now she’s out of Qi.

That’s why Suri called her an idiot.

I glance back at the distant mountain and the treacherous landscape stretched out between us and it. Shit.

No matter how I try to come up with a way to help, I hit a dead-end. My energies all have a cooling effect on the account of them being Yin, and with all the Cold I’ve taken in, my body is about as warm as winter on Uranus.

I watch in concern as Kaitlynn breathes into her shaking hands. “How are you holding up? Still getting Colder?”

Kaitlynn nods stiffly. “My L-Lavi Flows are at n-net-zero.”

My stomach drops. That’s worse than I thought. “Crap. Maybe we can find some shelter from these winds...”

I trail off as I look around. The only disturbances in the landscape are the ridges, which would help jack shit, and the holes with radioactive rocks in them.

When I turn back, I find Kaitlynn has stopped moving.

I open my mouth, but before I can ask what’s up, Kaitlynn exhales in a way that feels purposeful. I don’t immediately realise what she’s doing, but my chest fills with warmth when I do.

She’s redirecting her exhales into a swirling vortex around herself, repurposing the technique she used to dig me out as a means to block the icy winds.

That’s my girl.

Combined with occasional injections of Heat from the Qi she generates into her breath, it should help keep most of the Cold out.

Her cloak isn’t perfect, as she’s still using Breath Control level 1, which doesn’t allow her to maintain control of her exhale for very long—let alone of multiple exhales like level 2—but it seems to be helping at least. Better than if I tried to do this for her, as my breath is just as chilly as the wind at this point.

I sigh in relief when she nods at me and starts moving again.

As we approach the mountain, the pits get closer together, and Radiation is soon noticeable everywhere, and yet the Cold continues to grow harsher. To make matters worse, the background Radiation is affecting the Lavi present in the Aether, bringing it down.

I only expend as much Qi as I generate to maintain my shrinking stores of Toxic Energy as the Radiation burns it away. It’s affecting my Lavi too, but with my excellent Cold Tolerance and the additional Lavi I generate with Lavi Font, I’m holding out for now.

Kaitlynn isn’t doing as well. She did use her final tempering for Radiation, but at 12.4%, her Tolerance doesn’t protect her very well, which exacerbates her problems with fighting off the Cold.

I watch with growing concern as her lips slowly turn as blue as her hair, and she has more and more trouble with stepping over the cracks, which are slowly filling up with wisps of Boreum fog.

“Are there any warm places in the distance we could go to?” I ask, hoping against hope.

She blinks, squints, and then her eye lights up orange. She looks around, then shakes her head. “The only t-thing I see is the r-rocks.”

For lack of a better idea, we trudge on through the frozen landscape.

I gnaw on my bottom lip, racking my mind for a way to help her. I could Infuse her with Dreamcloud Toxic Energy to shield her from the Radiation, but then she couldn’t turn her Qi into Heat, or even tell me how she’s doing. Addling might be a bit better, but then she’d be drunk, and she’s barely able to walk straight as it is!

Long minutes pass. I glance back periodically to see how she’s doing, which is the only reason I happen to see her stumble and start to pitch forward almost in slow-motion, face-forward, heading straight for the crack full of Boreum vapour I just stepped over.

I don’t think my heartbeat has ever accelerated that quickly.

I whirl around and brace my spear against her horizontally. She collapses against it, but manages to stay upright long enough that I can gently push her back.

She collapses on her side next to the crack.

“Kait? Kait!” I cry out, dropping my spear and hoisting her up by the shoulder.

She blinks at me at a glacial tempo. “Emma... I’m s-so c-cooold.”

“Okay, okay, don’t panic, you’re gonna be fine,” I ramble. “We’ll just need to get you warm.”

But how?

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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

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