• hcmills

Chapter 143: Tag, you're it

I can feel the colour drain from my face as I stare at the window. A tag-team battle? Shit!

So much for our combination attack. Good thing we didn’t go with the idea of Kaitlynn carrying me as well.

I numbly go over the rules, still reeling. “Okay, we’ve got five minutes,” I mumble. “Maybe we can come up with a strategy but... damnit, we need more information.”

In my distraction, I notice too late that Kaitlynn’s on the move.

My eyes widen as my attention is drawn through the transparent window to the sight of Kaitlynn about to step into one of the pods and I reach out a hand as if to grab her from across the room. “Wait, Kaitlynn!”

She turns around in front of it and looks at me with grim determination, even as parts of the pod begin to rotate, grinding open behind her. “Sorry, Emma, but I can’t let you lead the charge this time. You have to conserve your Qi, so I’m going in first.”

“But...” I allow my arm to drop. “Shit.”

She’s not wrong. It makes tactical sense for her to go first. But the way she went for it without discussing gives me an ominous feeling. “Fine. You’re right. However, if you get hurt, or you’re in a bind, you tag out, you hear me?”

She stares at me for a moment, and bites her lip, her eye darting away.

Damnit, Kaitlynn! You hypocrite!

“I mean it,” I press on, raising my brows. “I may have lost my foot, but I’m not disabled. I can friggin’ fly! More importantly, even if we can’t use our combination attack, tag-team battles come with upsides too. Like that we can get some breathing time, time to think, by tagging out. We have to take every advantage we can get.”

Finally, her pose relaxes a little, and she nods. “I will tag out if I need to. I promise.” Then she steps into her pod and wistfully stares at me as it closes over her face, suddenly looking far too much like a coffin for my taste.

Cursing, I hop to the other pod. It’s barely open when I wrestle my way in, having some trouble manoeuvring my spear to fit through the opening.

The pod grinds close, cutting off my view of the room.

For a moment, as I stand there in complete darkness, I fear I’ll never see Kaitlynn again. Then an image begins to form on the backwall of the pod.

It takes me a moment to parse what I’m looking at, but I soon recognise it as a 180-degree view from some point in the ceiling of a large cavern, with walls that appear to be made of hexagonal pillars of rock. Huge crystals stick out all over the place under odd angles—some cross all the way from one side of the cavern to the other—and glow with a soft white light that allows me to see.

I turn to find the projector, but there’s nothing but darkness behind me.

Wait a minute... I shutter my eyelid over my eye-crystal, and the image disappears.

[I can turn it off if you prefer,] Suri chimes dryly.

“What? No!”

I quickly open my eye again and the image reappears. Only now do I realise it’s not projected on the backwall at all, but actually floating in front of me like a pop-up window.

Is Suri showing me live footage of the battle arena? I wonder where she’s getting the feed from, because I haven’t spotted anything like a camera yet. Though the bastards who made this place have to be watching us somehow, I suppose.

My thoughts trail off as I spot a mop of blue hair moving around cautiously on the cavern floor.

“Kaitlynn!” I call out.

But of course, she can’t hear me.

[Would you like to request an auditory link?] Suri chimes suddenly.

My eyes widen. “Yes!”

[Requesting. Link established.]

“Kaitlynn!” I try again.

I see the little figure on the screen come to a halt. <Emma?>

“Hey you,” I say through a smile. “Suri’s showing me a feed from the arena inside my pod, so I can see you.”

<Ah! Neat.>

“Yeah. I’ll try not to distract—oh shit, behind you!”

Descending from a part of the ceiling outside of my view, is the stuff of nightmares. I can do little but gape and stare after delivering my warning.

The creature appears to be the result of the unholy union between a giant spider and an ape-like monster. Or more likely, it’s the result of a mad scientist stitching the upper half of the latter onto the former.

Basically, it’s a huge black spider with the torso of a troll sticking out where its face should have been. Also, for some reason, the head of the troll-half has eight beady black eyes. They stare hungrily at Kaitlynn, and the creature bares its far too sharp fangs at her as its spider-half lowers the whole thing down by a thick white thread.

“Run!” I advise, but Kaitlynn is way ahead of me.

She hightails it underneath a large overhanging crystal right as the creature lashes out with a hand-held strand of webbing. I hear a loud crack and a brief high-pitched whine over the auditory connection as the web-whip hits the spot Kaitlynn just occupied.

When the dust settles, it reveals a clear groove left behind in the hard rock.


‘Suri, what the hell is that?’ I convey over my optical nerve, so as not so distract Kaitlynn.

[Some bullshit, is what that is.]

I blink. ‘Excuse me?’

[Nevermind. It appears to be a kind of ape spider hybrid. Does that answer your question?] she chimes, sounding kind of miffed.

‘No! What—how is this thing even possible?’

[Ah yes, the wonders of evolution. Isn’t nature mysterious?]

Evolution my ass! And there’s nothing natural about this thing!

Suri clearly knows more than she’s saying, but she’s being tight-lipped as usual and I’m not picking up any obvious hints either. Since there doesn’t seem to be much point in asking further questions, I focus on the action on my screen instead.

Unfortunately, I can’t see much from this angle. However, as I’m about to complain, the image in front of me changes, and I’m suddenly getting a much better and closer view from the side.

My heart skips a beat at what it shows me.

Spider-Troll skitters after Kaitlynn over the uneven cavern floor and rears its arm back for another swing of its whip.

Kaitlynn jumps as she runs, barely clearing a crack of the whip that leaves another deep groove in the rock beneath her feet.

Unexpectedly, she turns in mid-Aether and, with a flash of yellow, hurls a glowing orange knife at the creature.

The projectile flies true, and—with a thud audible even over the auditory connection—sinks to the hilt in the creature’s leathery abs. However, it barely flinches. It just lets out an angry roar and keeps whipping without even bothering to pull it out.

Ugh, it’s too big! It’s going to take a lot more than that to bring it down...

Kaitlynn stops running. My eyes widen as the whip once more comes flying straight at her.

At the last moment, the whip disappears in a massive gout of Astreum that bursts out of Kaitlynn’s mouth, and proceeds to smash into Spider-Troll.

Spider-Troll is actually pushed back by the violent stream of super-Heated Aether. However, it quickly regains its grip with its eight spidery-legs. When the gout disappears, Spider-Troll unfortunately doesn’t look that much worse for the wear. Even its whip seems intact!

“Shit. Kaitlynn, get out of...”

I trail off as Kaitlynn, heedless of my words, steps forward, and with a flash of yellow, throws another knife. She hits the creature higher up on its chest this time, but it once again barely reacts.

Spider-troll lashes out with its whip.

I wince, but Kaitlynn sidesteps the attack like its nothing and throws another knife into its chest. And another.

For the first time, Spider-Troll’s face actually distorts a little, though whether in pain or in anger, I can’t tell. Then it roars again, reaches back, and pulls a second whip out of its ass. Or well, its spinneret, I hope.

It lashes out with both whips. Kaitlynn jumps to the side, evading one of them, and turns her shoulder into the other.

The high-pitched sound I hear every time the whip lands on something is louder than ever as it rips through the armour covering her upper arm like it’s papier-mâché. Worse, it actually sends her flying.

Kaitlynn skids over the uneven rock for a few paces before she hits a small hexagonal pillar of protruding rock with a solid thud.

I gape at the scene. Wait, was that Vibration Energy?

Of course. I should’ve known. It’s the only directly harmful energy type for which neither Kaitlynn nor I have a reasonable Tolerance, or other way to counteract it.

My point of view switches once more, giving me an excellent view of the advancing, hungry-looking creature.

“Kaitlynn! Shit, switch with me!”

Kaitlynn groans and shakily gets back to her feet.

“Damnit Kaitlynn, switch with me now!” I snap. “At least let me buy you some time to recover!”

Kaitlynn stares the creature down, gritting her teeth. My breath hitches as it once again rears back its arm.

The whip swings, Kaitlynn sighs.


Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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