Chapter 138: Footloose
I stare owlishly at the blackened stump where my foot used to be.
[Well, that could’ve gone better,] Suri chimes with a sigh.
“That was my favourite foot...”
[Right. Emma, do me a favour and get out of here before that marama gets back.]
With effort, I tear my gaze away from my lost limb, ignoring the panic bubbling up inside me as I hoist myself onto my remaining foot. “And then what?” I grunt, my voice hoarse with tension.
[Well, you’ve still got time, even with one foot, making it up the mountain—]
“I believe I made myself clear on this subject, Suri,” I bite out.
It remains quiet for a moment. [Then you better think fast, dear.]
I take a deep, shuddering breath and close my eyes. The image of my blackened, detached foot haunts my mind’s eye. With an effort of will, I forcibly banish it. Suri’s not wrong. Laser-nope will be back soon enough, I’m sure. I have to think of something.
He’s just so fast, his reaction time is ridiculous. He must have crazy Agility, and those six skittering legs... I can’t keep up on two, let alone on one.
I can’t outmanoeuvre it. I’ll have to outsmart it.
I glance around the cavern, and my eyes fall on the ceiling.
By the time Laser-nope returns, I’m carefully hidden.
All there is to see for him is my spear, standing upright in the gravel.
Naturally, he skitters over. When he’s right in front of it, he stops. He creeps closer, his attention caught by the drawing I made in front of the spear. It’s a middle finger, given the meaning of ‘look up, dickwad.’
Thanks to objective meaning, even a creature like Laser-nope will understand the first part, at least. And naturally, there’s no way he’d be able to resist looking.
And as he looks up, he finds me, standing upside down on the ceiling on one foot, with a huge grin on my face.
His reaction is as fast as it is predictable. He fires his beam of violet Radiation, straight up.
It passes right through the likeness of myself I conjured and hits the layer of Boreum above. The thin layer of Boreum that’s holding up a big Radioactive rock at the bottom of a pit.
Laser-nope realises his mistake near instantaneously, but this time, it’s too late.
Because as the slanted one-way mirror I conjured up against the pillar of Boreum fades away, it reveals me, standing ready. And this time, I was able to take my time to prepare my swirl of Positive Inertial Energy. Drawing on what I learned in my Skilldream for Inertia Manipulation level 2, I push my swirl out, away from myself.
I’m still not great at this, and for a moment it threatens to collapse. I grit my teeth as I barely pull it back together, and my clumsy attempt finds its mark.
Laser-nope attempts to scramble away, but thanks to my field his legs skitter in slow-motion. And once the rock enters my field, there’s no stopping it.
It slams down on Laser-nope like a comet, squishing his front half and smashing a crater into the gravel. The force behind the impact sends a visible tremor through the ground, which causes me to stumble and fall on my ass.
For a moment, I fear the cavern will collapse, but then it grows quiet.
The first thing I do is check out my foot. I turned off Regenerate earlier, in the faint hope that I might be able to reconnect my foot now, but one glance at the blackened flesh and jagged white bone sticking out of the custom trigot leather boot Alec made, tells me it’s not coming back on. It’d take a higher level of Regenerate than I have to fix that mess—probably level 3—and by the time I gain that, I can just grow a new foot from scratch.
With a sigh, I allow Regenerate to do its job and restore the skin on my stump to a light-purple lustre.
I look away, unable to watch as I pull the detached flesh out of my boot. Once it drops, I inspect the inside. Satisfied that it’s empty, I store the boot in my backpack. Let’s just hope I’ll be able to make use of that again soon...
I crawl over to the crater containing Laser-nope’s remains, looking for the promised opportunity. I haven’t been away that long, I don’t think, but the fire must’ve burned out by now. Which means Kaitlynn will have started moving towards the mountain, Cold wind ripping at her cloak of breaths, while she fights to remain warm by making sparing use of her Qi...
Unfortunately, visual inspection of the carcass doesn’t offer me much of a clue. Laser-nope has a pretty sleek, streamlined body, with no obvious place to carry anything around.
Using my spear as a crutch, I get up and start hopping around the cavern, looking for a hidden treasure of some kind. Shit, where is it?! There has to be something, I followed Suri’s hints to the letter, yet it’s all Boreum and gravel down here.
I let out a frustrated sigh. How the hell was Laser-nope surviving here anyway? I mean, it had Hydrum, sure, but what did it eat?
My eye falls on the network of tunnels through the Boreum. Wait, do some of those lead up to the surface? Actually, come to think of it, it did come running when I hit the wall, so it must have had Tremorsense... it probably hunted on top of the glacier then. Maybe there was more prey for the little guy before they dumped a buttload of radio-active rocks on its glacier.
No wonder my attempt at Charming it failed so easily. It was probably starving.
Of course, even if it had food and water, living in this glacier, the real question is, how did it stay warm...
I stop in my tracks. Laser-nope was clearly a Yang creature, probably of the Radiation subtype, yet it somehow survived in these glacial conditions without any obvious external source of Heat, which means...
It must have an internal source!
Excitedly, I hop back over to the pit I made.
A spike of fear runs through me when I rediscover its half-crushed state. Shit, I hope I didn’t break what I came here for, whatever it may be.
I kneel down next to the carcass and lay a hand on it. It’s warm! I knew it!
I take out one of Kaitlynn’s knives and start cutting through the hard exoskeleton. It’s hard work, but I make steady progress.
Once I open it up, I’m surprised to find what look like roots tangled up in its insides. Following my instincts, I start prying them loose and pulling on them.
I’m getting some kind of weird violet slime everywhere, but I don’t care. It doesn’t seem to be radioactive, at least. Plus it’s still kinda warm.
Soon enough, I manage to pull out the entire tangle of roots, and attached to it, I find an orange glowing seed the size of a marble, with Heat radiating off it.
Perfect! Gross, but perfect. I’m coming, Kaitlynn, hold on...
As I move around the cave, I find that with my Strength, hopping on one leg continuously is actually quite doable. Frankly, it’s only adjusting to my new balance that trips me up and necessitates the use of my spear to keep from faceplanting.
Still, I don’t exactly have time to waste, so after taking a few practice hops, I use Negative Inertial Energy to launch myself out of the hole Laser-nope blasted in the roof of the cavern.
This time, I keep my field of Negative Inertial Energy active after I land, and leap again as soon as I get my bearings.
No sense in conserving Qi now. I’ll never catch up to Kaitlynn hobbling on one leg.
I can’t leap quite as high as before, using only one leg—and moving in large forward arcs besides—but I get enough height to orient myself to the major landmarks, like the mountain, the large crack in the glacier that lead to Laser-nope’s cave, and the big meteor crater.
I have this sneaking suspicion all of a sudden that some kind of Cold-subtype creature can be found in said crater with an internal source of Toxic Energy that helps it survive the no doubt prodigious amounts of Radiation around there.
My sense of direction has always been quite good, and with my aerial view, it doesn’t take me long to locate the spot I left Kaitlynn.
The tell-tale dark Solith that remains of the logs marking the spot on the light-blue Boreum helps a lot.
I land next to it and frantically look for something like footsteps, but of course, the rock-hard Boreum features no such things.
I can only hope she headed straight for the mountain like I told her to.
I start up another field of Negative Inertial Energy, ignoring my dwindling Qi reserves.
I’ll eat into my Toxic Energy reserves with Reconversion if I have to, Radiation be damned. I have to catch up to her.
Several leaps later, I at last spot a familiar silhouette climbing a distant ridge.
“KAITLYNN!” I yell. A futile effort, as sound hardly travels in this Realm even in warm Aether, let alone in raging winds full of Cold. Yin, after all, governs the domain of stillness.
Thankfully, after two more huge leaps, I finally catch up.
In fact, I kind of overshoot the mark, nearly faceplanting on the top of the ridge in my haste to turn around mid-Aether. “Oof... hey, Kait.”
Kaitlynn trudges up the ridge with her arms folded around her chest for a moment longer. Then her head shoots up, an unbelieving look on her face.
My grin threatens to break my face in half. “I’m back,” I say, my voice hoarse with emotion.
Kaitlynn lets out a strangled cry and nearly trips as she rushes the final few steps. I barely have time to hold out my arms before she barrels into me.
“Oof!” Normally, I would have caught her and stayed upright, but as I’m balancing on one foot, we topple over.
Kaitlynn’s too out of it to realise something’s off about me it seems, and simply hugs me like a vice while she bawls her eye out. “I-I thought you weren’t coming bahahahaaack!”
“Shhh, it’s okay,” I coo. “I’m here. I’ve got you.”
I pull her tight to my chest and rock her gently until her sobbing subsides, before I gently push her up into a straddling position. Because no matter how good it feels, I know our hug isn’t warming her. “I’ve got something for you.”
I hold up my hand and unclench my fist, showing her the precious seed I obtained, and have been clutching for dear life ever since.
She blinks down at it and looks up with questions in her eye.
A brief look at the appraisal window is all it takes to convince Kaitlynn to accept my frankly creepy offering. I anxiously look on as she puts it in her mouth with shaking fingers, all while still straddling me.
“Is it working?” I blurt out immediately.
She shoots me a flat look, then swallows.
I smile sheepishly. “Well, is it?”
Kaitlynn closes her eyes with a frown and puts a hand on her belly.
To be fair, my worry isn’t unfounded. Back in the days, after the first Trial, Suri told me not to buy a Strength Power-Up as the Toxic Energy in my system would kill it before it could become One with me. Still, since the whole point of this Power-Up in this setting is to produce Heat to fight off Cold, I’d hope that Kaitlynn being over her Tolerance Limit shouldn’t—
Kaitlynn smiles. “Well, it’s doing something in there... and I do believe I’m getting less Cold.”
I sigh in relief, sagging down bonelessly beneath her.
She opens her eyes and looks down on me with the gentlest smile. “Thank you, Emma.”
Her angelic face framed by her blue hair and the starry sky causes my heart to swell, beating almost painfully in my chest. She’s alive. She’s not going to freeze to death.
It’s too much. I push up in a rush and smash my lips into hers. She lets out a surprised squeak, but then melts into me almost immediately.
Her hands come up to cradle my face, and I slow down.
The kiss that started almost aggressive in its desperation, turns tender, as if I was looking for confirmation that she’s really here, really alive, and upon receiving that, am filled with wonder at that small miracle.
After a few minutes or so—during which Kaitlynn’s hands steadily grow warmer and steadier—we break our lip lock.
She blushes and ducks her head, leaning her forehead against mine. “So... I thought we weren’t doing that anymore?”
I let out a breath, still shaky with adrenalin. “I don’t know anymore. I almost lost you... Earth, the future; it all seems so far away and insignificant in comparison.”
After a short moment, she nods and leans down for another short kiss.
“We should”—I start when she lets up, only to get interrupted by her lips—“probably—mmph—get—mmph—moving, though.”
She pulls back with a sigh, relenting her assault. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
She gets up and blinks down at me. “What happened to your shoulder? Your armour is all...” I can read the exact moment she notices off her face. “Emma, your foot! What happened?!”
I smile wanly and hold out a hand for her to help me to my foot. “C’mon, I’ll tell you as we walk.”
I had a more serious title for this chapter first, which probably fit the atmosphere better. But I couldn't resist ^^
Anyway, thanks for reading! ^^
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