Chapter 139: Ground control to Major Tom
I know I said walk, but it’s more ‘hop’ in my case. Still, we make good time across the Boreum with its weirdly good traction.
As we come up over another ridge in the glacier, I stare wistfully at the giant meteor crater now clearly visible to our right. There’s definitely a Toxic Energy Power-Up there. Combine that with reconversion and I would probably double my current Qi generation. If I had both of my feet...
But there’s no use considering ifs and butts. I might be able to hop at a decent rate, but I’m clearly nowhere near manoeuvrable enough for serious combat.
Frankly, Kaitlynn is in better shape to fight, as the Heat generated by the Bellyblaze combined with what she produces with her own Qi turned out enough to finally rid herself fully of the Cold invading her body.
Even that might not have been possible, however, if she hadn’t managed to gain Breath Control level 2 while trying to improve her protective cloak of breaths by the fire. I’d long explained to everyone how to condense Lavi into a ball in your mouth to improve control, but Kaitlynn’s the first to successfully replicate the feat.
I can see the balls of Lavi whirling around her. Her cloak—now made of about four simultaneously controlled breaths—is much thicker and stronger for it, and barely ripples in the howling winds.
To be honest, the difficulty in overcoming the Cold here seems ridiculous, which leads me to suspect that the event with Big Bortha earlier was something unplanned.
Or perhaps something even worse: deliberate sabotage. Suri’s frustrated reaction to the event was certainly suspect.
Anyway, Kaitlynn still hardly has Qi to spare, and unknown dangers await us ahead for sure, so I’m not about to ask her to check out an irradiated pit and possibly fight something on the level of Laser-nope just to get me a Power-Up that wouldn’t even solve my main issue right now.
The rising level of Radiation as we continue to approach the mountain is enough for us to contend with right now.
My stores of Toxic Energy have dwindled, exacerbating the Radiation’s effect on me, to the point where I have to start expending Qi to refill them so I can keep going. Which I’m sure is the whole point.
Still, we make it to the foot of the mountain without dipping into the negative net Lavi Flows.
The terrain changes from smooth hard Boreum to loose gravel and rocks, making it hard to navigate the initial slope on one foot. However, as we get higher, the gravity coming from below gradually falls away, making the incline feel less steep even as it actually sharpens, to the point that it eventually feels like we’re walking on level ground, staring straight ahead at Big Bortha’s scarred countenance.
Then again, what does ‘level ground’ even mean? That just means the pull of gravity comes from straight below, right? In that case, for all intents and purpose, this basically is level ground...
Just when I’m starting to relax a bit from the uneventfulness of the climb, Kaitlynn gasps.
I look up and find a belt of rocks and debris silently coming our way at what appears to be pretty high speed.
My eyes widen. “Ehm, Suri, there’s no forcefield here, is there?”
[No, so do me a favour and hop.]
She doesn’t need to tell me twice. However, before I even have a chance to start hopping, Kaitlynn sweeps me into a princess carry and starts running.
I blink up at her in surprise, but she keeps her eyes on the treacherous terrain before her feet. “Tell me which way to go!” she exclaims.
“Ehm—left, veer left!” I bring out in a rush, staring up at the approaching danger.
The first piece of debris hits the ground to our right, shards of shattered rock fly everywhere, followed by a rush of Aether.
Kaitlynn’s steps never falter, even when one cuts her cheek.
I fire off instructions as the debris begins to rain down.
“Go right. More. Wait! Okay, move forward, faster, FASTER!”
Kaitlynn sends up soaring forward with a flash of yellow. She stumbles a little on the landing but pulls through.
My heart beats in my throat as I desperately try to judge where the next impact will be. It doesn’t help that the mountain’s own gravity field pulls things off course. Most of the debris actually misses the mountain but still gets caught in its gravitational field and pulled into orbit before either landing or being flung off in a different direction, at times to spectacularly collide with incoming debris in mid-Aether.
Eventually, the shower of rock dissipates. Kaitlynn puts me back down, and I look around to discover she’s carried me from about halfway up the mountain to near the summit.
I’m not usually the ‘damsel in distress’ type, but I can’t deny a little flutter at this realisation.
Actually, perhaps it’s because I’m not used to being taken care of...
Either way, I look at Kaitlynn with newfound admiration as she recovers a bit from the strenuous exercise.
“Thank you,” I tell her.
She shrugs. “Figured I’d better... step up,” she says, glancing down.
I follow her gaze down to my stump and sigh.
After a moment of tense silence, Kaitlynn lets out a groan as she rolls her shoulder. “You’re too heavy,” she complains. “Must be all that extra muscle you sprouted. I actually gained a point in Strength hauling you up this mountain.”
Did I? My abs have grown more defined again…
“Pff, in that case, you should be thanking me,” I say as I playfully shove her. Or try, rather. My balance isn’t what it used to be, so I end up nearly falling over.
Kaitlynn quickly steps closer and reaches out to steady me with warm hands on my arm and shoulder. “Well, I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” she murmurs, lightly stroking my admittedly bicep with her thumb. “Just makes you harder to carry.”
I blink down at her, the mood shifting with our sudden closeness.
“Come on,” she says softly, her eye twinkling. “We should keep moving. Who knows what this place will throw at us next.”
I nod mutely, and we continue on our way.
If I happen to sneak the occasional glance at her, it’s only to see if she’s doing the same.
Gravity is sparse near the top of the mountain. It feels kinda like how walking on the moon looked in those old videos of the moon landing. Except I’m on one foot. Also, since gravity falls away so fast when you move away from solid mass, I fear I might actually float away if I jumped too high from here. I could probably get back easily enough with a few jets of Aether or something, but still.
Stepping onto the summit is an experience in and of itself. Up this high, the little gravity there is pulls mostly down, as that’s where the bulk of the mountain’s mass is, so in a way it’s the steepest part of the climb. It’s also the place where my hops are the lightest and the gravity shifts the fastest underneath, resulting in a rather unstable overall experience.
Up on the very top, there is another stone archway, wherein a portal springs to life as we approach.
A tension in my shoulders falls away when it does, and I share a happy smile with Kaitlynn.
Under different circumstances I might have suggested hanging around a little longer to train or something, but I’m bone-tired, there’s no shield protecting us from anything that floats our way, and I’ve had it with this blasted Cold.
So we clasp hands and hop into the portal together.
The spatial tunnel ends in a small hexagonal room. For a moment, time seems to stand still, as I hover in mid-Aether, expecting to be pulled down to my feet.
Then gravity rudely pulls me up to what I thought was the ceiling, and I once again end up sprawled on the ground.
I groan. “Would some pillows have been too much to ask for?”
[What doesn’t kill you makes you Tougher,] Suri quips.
Kaitlynn giggles, and helps me to my foot. “I guess where we came from must be upside down compared to here.”
I blink. Actually, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Like why there was a different sky there and everything... How far did that portal take us?
I sigh and shake my head, taking in our surroundings. The two doors in front of us make my heart stop for a second. “Ehm, Suri, will there be another shared living room beyond these?”
I let out a breath in relief and nod at Kaitlynn to relay that we’re good.
A smile blooms on her face, then her eye darts down to my dangling leg, and her face falls a bit again.
She bites her bottom lip, and I know it’s due to worry, but I can’t help it. With the stress of the Trial finally fading away, and the memory of Kaitlynn carrying me up a damn mountain, a new tension coils inside my stomach at the sight. Her tongue darts out to wet it afterwards, and heat pools low in my body.
A few seconds later, I blink, realising she asked me something. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
Kaitlynn stares at me curiously, a small smile tugging at her lips. “I asked if you’re gonna be all right, moving around without help and all that, but you seem to have other things on your mind.” Her eye flicks down to my lips.
My traitorous cheeks heat up without my permission. “Ehm yeah, I’ll be fine, I, eh...”
I trail off as Kaitlynn slowly leans in, her eye darting between mine and my lips. “You were saying?” she asks softly, reaching out with both hands, using one to steady my suddenly wobbly stance and one to gently cup my face.
“I, eh... I don’t... remem—”
Our lips touch and it’s electric like always. A warmth blooms in my chest, and I fold my arms around her to pull her closer.
By the time she relinquishes my lips, I still haven’t a clue what I was about to say.
“Guess I’ll see you in five minutes,” Kaitlynn says with a wink, before darting through her door, leaving me behind feeling a strange mix of fulfilment and frustration.
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