• hcmills

Chapter 142: Defying gravity

The method of moving around I came up with is as easy as breathing. Literally.

It feels all too natural to form a mermaid’s tail of Aether using Breath Control and swim around in the sky like I’ve been doing in the Realm of Imagination. Except here my legs don’t actually turn into a mermaid’s tail. Instead, I have a green glowing outline of Lavi surrounding my legs, connected by thin green strands to several orbs of Lavi spread throughout my tail that I use to increase my control.

Of course, a tail made of Aether isn’t quite the same as one made of Hydrum, either. For one, it’s much bigger. But that’s good, because Aether offers far less resistance to my tail than Hydrum, even with the size increase.

That’s why moving around like this is still very different from swimming in Hydrum, as there is much less drag force. I have to either catch myself on something or turn around and ‘swim’ in the opposite direction to come to a halt.

Deploying a field of Negative Inertial Energy together with my Spatial Boundary would help me make the most of the little drag force there is. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy.

The few times I try, I lose focus on the Spatial Boundary to the point it collapses, dropping me on my ass and wasting precious Qi. Maybe someday I’ll be able to pull it off, once I’ve got better control over my boundaries.

As it is, I more or less have to drift to get around corners. Still, lack of manoeuvrability aside, it’s a great improvement to my mobility and with a little practise, I’m making laps around the room.

Of course, using Breath Control to form a tail like this means I have to give up the protective cape of breaths I usually keep on my back, so I’m flying without a safety net. But it’s totally worth it.

I can’t wait to try this out in the open air. That’s gonna be awesome.

First we need to win this fight, however.

After spending some time flying around, focused on my Spatial Boundary as I maintain my tail like an afterthought, I finally land next to Kaitlynn and allow both to dissipate. “You ready to try throwing under the influence of my Skill?”

She nods and gets ready to toss her throwing knife while I form a field of Negative Inertial Energy over her.

A flash of yellow erupts from her Focus Crystal. Her arm snaps down in a jerky motion, and the knife turns into a distorted blur. There’s a loud crunch as it hits the wall behind the dummy.

I raise my arm to shield my eye from the hail of gravel punched out of the wall. Thankfully, my still-active swirl of Negative Inertial Energy turns the impact of the potentially harmful shrapnel into little more than tickling butterfly kisses.

I frown at the sight revealed after the dust settles. Unlike the wall, the dummy is... fine. A glance at the hole in the wall tells me I’ll have to use Distort Space to get the knife out. But that’s for later concern. More importantly, the hole is way to the right of the dummy.

Well, to be honest, it was probably too much to expect Kaitlynn to hit her first throw under these circumstances.

“Try again.”

However, the next knife embeds itself in the floor, and the one after that in the ceiling.

Boosting the momentum of the light blades doesn’t cost Kaitlynn a whole lot of energy, so it’s my Qi regeneration that turns out to be the bottleneck for our practice. Mostly because, aside from maintaining a Negative Inertia field, I also regularly need to use Distort Space to dig Kaitlynn’s knives out of the various holes they’ve made in the wall, floor, and ceiling.

Still, even with the regular breaks we need to take, I would have expected more progress after an hour of practice.

Or like, any, ’cause out of about fifty throws at full power, not a single one even grazed the target dummy. While Kaitlynn can hit her throws if combined with Increase Momentum or Negative Inertial Energy, she can’t do it with both. I’m guessing the speedy flicking motion of her wrist with which Kaitlynn throws her knives is already too fast by itself to function properly under these conditions of extreme acceleration.

Or at least, with her current Agility. She’d probably need like 20+ to pull it off, I’m not sure.

Having run out of knives again, Kaitlynn clenches her fists and tries to stare a hole in the damned dummy. I put a hand on her shoulder and let out a sigh. “This isn’t working. Let’s take a break and think things through.”

She nods stiffly, before practically stomping towards the couch.

I gingerly go about removing the knives from the holes they carved into the stone, giving her some time to cool down.

By the time I’ve produced enough Qi to free the last one, Kaitlynn is slumped down on the couch.

“Hey, cheer up,” I say soothingly. “It’s okay.”

Kaitlynn shakes her head. “It’s not.”

I kneel down in front of the couch—it’s weird, without my foot—and put a hand on her knee. “Kait...”

She sits up. “It’s not!” she repeats, with more fire in her voice. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that you can fly—it’s incredible—but you can’t fight. Not like before.”

I frown. “Look, don’t count me out just yet, I can—”

“And I’m scared,” Kaitlynn confesses, suddenly tearing up. “I’m scared because I know that you’re going to try anyway. I’m scared that you’re going to go and sacrifice yourself in some kind of suicide attack, and leave me all alone.”

It feels like the Aether is sucked out of my lungs.

Kaitlynn bites her lip, reaching out to stroke my hair back and cradle my face between her hands. “Emma, you regained some mobility, but you’re not back in tiptop shape. I need you to accept that I’ll be taking the lead in this battle, and that you’ll be support. Can you do that for me?”

I swallow. “I... I killed Laser-nope without my foot, you know.”

“Yes, by being smart,” she retorts. “Because you needed to survive for me. I still need you to do that. I still need you. Okay?”

I stare at her in silence for a long moment. “Okay,” I say finally, my voice hoarse. “Okay. I promise.”

For once, I don’t think to cross my fingers behind my back.

She takes a deep breath, as she wipes the tears off her left cheek. “Thank you. All right, let’s try and come up with some other attack, because I don’t think I have time to learn how to properly throw your spear.”

“Yeah, that seems unlikely,” I agree, handing her back her knives as I take a seat next to her, pressed close by the lack of space on this loveseat of a couch. “It took Jacob a long time to get anywhere close to accurate while accelerating his spear in my Negative Inertial Energy field.”

She huffs out a breath and angrily tosses a knife at the dummy from her seated position. It nails the poor thing right in the head.

“Well, your aim’s definitely not the issue,” I mutter.

“Not like this, no,” she mutters, “but that’s not going to be enough to kill a serious enemy.” Suddenly, her brows climb up on her face. “You know what, I think we’re going about this all wrong. Remind me, how exactly did you kill Laser-nope?”

“Ready?” I ask, floating in place near the ceiling.

Kaitlynn raises a thumb.

I take a deep breath, then flex my tail and swoop down next to the dummy. Bracing against it with my hands, I bring myself to a stop.

Without wasting a second, I allow my Spatial Boundary and tail to fizzle and produce a field of Positive Inertial Energy over the dummy. “Now!”

Kaitlynn throws three knives in rapid succession. Under the influence of my field, they rip through the dummy’s head, chest, and groin respectively. Then they each leave out the back of my field and proceed to clang harmlessly against the wall.

Kaitlynn definitely had the right idea. It may not provide the same level of spectacle as the other method, but it’s just as deadly and far more controlled.

I shift my field into Negative Inertial Energy and use it to hop back to safety in a single leap, bumping into a wall harmlessly under the effects of the field.

A split second later, our successful manoeuvre turns out to have been the last straw for this particular dummy, which literally splits down the middle and falls down in two halves.

“Frig yeah!” I cheer.

Kaitlynn cracks her neck. “Hmm. Do you have enough Qi for another try on the other dummy?”

A few hops bring me near her. “Kait, seriously, we’ve trained enough. We’re ready. You’re ready.”

She twists her mouth to the side. “My second throw was off a little though... I can’t afford to accidentally hit you. I still don’t like how close you have to get to pull this off.”

I grab her hands. “We’ve got the timing down and you haven’t missed a single throw. Seriously, it’s going to be fine. There’s no way we’re facing something tough enough to withstand this.” I release one of her hands to gesture at the eviscerated remains of the dummy.

Kaitlynn finally relaxes her stance and allows a weary smile. “I guess you’re right.”

“Ya damn right I am. All we need now is food and rest, so let’s make dinner and get some damn sleep.”

She smiles and uses the hand still grasped in mine to steady me as I hop along. “Okay. Let’s.”

We sleep for real this time. No point in wasting Trial Points on a Skilldream if you don’t have time to practise afterwards.

Suri wakes me half an hour before the mandatory start of the Trial. We get ready in tense silence.

Finally, the moment is there, and we face the door leading onward.

Not wanting to waste any Qi prematurely, I’m hopping around on one leg, using my spear for balance. I take a deep breath, but as I’m about to hop forward, Kaitlynn moves into my personal space, grabs me by the neck, and pulls me into a searing kiss.

After it ends, she leans her forehead against mine for a second, then pulls away to look me dead in the eye. “Don’t die out there, you hear me?”

I nod, still a little shaken from the sudden, almost aggressive display of affection. “Ditto.”

She smiles, her head held high and looking every bit like a warrior as she stands before. “Trust me. I wasn’t planning on it.” She turns to face the door. “Begin Trial!”

It grinds open.

Unexpectedly, there’s only a small hexagonal room beyond the door, much like the one we stepped out of. There don’t seem to be any exits leading onwards either. In fact, the room is empty except for two large stone features shaped roughly like eggs.

Kaitlynn steps through the opening and after a moment, I hop in after her.

She’s holding her head up high, and her shoulders are relaxed. She looks confident, ready to face whatever they’re about to throw at us, and it’s doing... things to me. All in all, it’s a world of difference compared to the tension and fear she displayed yesterday, and it makes me feel like we’re going to be just fine.

That feeling lasts about until the following window pops up.

Author's note:

Fun fact: Wicked is my all-time favourite musical. ^^ My favourite song from Wicked isn't Defying Gravity, however, it's For Good. If you're unfamiliar, do yourself a favour and give it a listen.

Love Wicked too? Hate it? Come tell me on Discord. ^^

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