• hcmills

Chapter 145: This is gospel

The blood rushes to my pounding head as I watch Spider-Troll scurry after my retreating, conjured marama.


Hopeless. This is hopeless.


How the hell are we supposed to defeat a hybrid gorilla-spider the size of a car, that can Regenerate?


In a flash, I remember Big Bortha’s deathray and Suri’s reaction to the appearance of this creature.


Perhaps we’re not meant to survive. These friggin’ bastards.


I hold my useless spear in a white-knuckled grip, as my mind races.


<Shit, shit, SHIT!> Kaitlynn practically shouts in her pod. <It’s so much bigger and stronger than us, and now it can Regenerate? What the hell are we supposed to do?!>


Several scenarios flash through my mind. Trying to get a shrunken spear inside of its mouth and expanding it. Turning the shallow pool of Hydrum into acid and somehow throwing it in.


Useless. It’s all useless, because it’s just too big. Even if I succeeded at the former, it would probably just yank my spear out and Regenerate the wound. Unless I got really lucky and hit something vital, like its heart, but I don’t even know in what part of its body that is! As for the latter, there’s no way I can generate enough Toxic Energy in a short time to dissolve something of its size.


“The only way to kill it is with a single, devastating blow,” I conclude grimly.


I don’t see any suitable holes or other narrow spaces I could expand with Distort Space and lure it into either, so the trick I pulled on the big Plessie in Hub Three wouldn’t work. I have a feeling this thing is a little too smart to fall for it anyway...


Which leaves Positive Inertial Energy as my only move. However, getting in close range would be suicidal considering my current speed and manoeuvrability, and the chamber is almost suspiciously empty of loose rocks or really anything I could drop on it.


Maybe it’s not that we’re not meant to survive. Maybe it’s that we’re not both meant to survive.


Because, when it comes down to it, the only thing I have to throw at it... is myself.


A bleak premonition fills my mind. I’m running out of Qi, and Kaitlynn knows, which means if I get swapped out without first landing a significant blow, she’ll... She’ll fight to the death.


Only when her corpse hits the ground, will I be swapped in, still powerless and out of Qi, and just end up following her.


I can’t save myself, but I can save her.


My heart clenches as fear washes over me. I’ve been reckless in the past, but it was always with the goal of survival.


This is the first time I’m considering something actually tantamount to suicide.


If I do this, if I... die, will there be anything left of me afterwards? Or will I just Fade?


I swallow, my heart beating a mile a minute. In the background, I can hear Kaitlynn say something, but it’s as though her voice comes through a wall, muffled and incoherent.


Still, the sound soothes me. It reminds me of dark nights and whispered conversations. Of her smile when we lock eyes. Her warm lips.


A warm, heavy feeling washes over me, overshadowing my fear. A lump forms in my throat, and my eye begins to water, but I smile through the tears.


Shit. I’m really doing this, aren’t I?


I look down at Spider-Troll, still chasing my slippery marama, and shake my head. Well, if I’m doing this, I’m doing it right. Dropping myself on it would almost certainly break my Skill. No, I need to get it up high somewhere, then drop down with it, so that it lands first.


It’s a real shame I don’t have Inertia Manipulation level 2. A dual field that covered me with Negative and Spider-Troll with Positive Inertial Energy would have allowed me to resolve this and live. As it is, I have little hope of being able to break my own fall inside a field of Positive Inertial Energy.


Without a second thought, I send the marama scurrying backwards up a huge slanted pillar of crystal that diagonally crosses the cavern and reaches almost to the very ceiling. For a moment, it seems like Spider-Troll can’t find purchase on the crystal’s smooth surface, but then it sprays on webbing and continues the chase.


I begin moving into position. All I have to do is slam into it hard enough to push it off, then drop my Spatial Boundary, activate a field of Positive Inertial Energy, and stick with it until we’re both as flat as a pancake.


All I have to do is die... what else is new, right?


<Emma? Emma, what are you doing?>


“I... I’m sorry, Kait. It’s the only thing I can think of.”


<Wait, what? What is?! Emma!>


My lower lip wobbles as it hits me this is goodbye. “It’ll be all right,” I bring out hoarsely as Spider-Troll makes its way up the crystal. “You’ll make it through the Ninth Trial without me, and meet up with the rest. You’ll be fine.”


<You... you asshole!> Kaitlynn wails. <You promised! You weren’t even crossing your fingers this time!>


Guess I wasn’t as subtle as I thought. Whoops. “Tell the boys I love them,” I rasp. “Though, not as much as I lo—”


<NO!> Kaitlynn’s voice explodes inside my head. <No, you don’t get to say that, not like this! No, listen to me, Emma. I’ve got a plan, I can kill it! Without dying.>


This gives me pause, but only for a moment. “Kait... if I don’t do this now—”


<And if you do you’ll die, you IDIOT!> she yells. <Look, I need you to trust me. You promised, remember? I would be taking the lead in this fight, you’d be the support. And I’m going to need your support—in this Trial and after—but I promise I can do it and survive. We can survive.>


A silence falls after her impassioned plea, and I can feel myself waver.


<Emma...> Kaitlynn speaks nervously. <Will you please trust me?>


Spider-Troll is halfway to the top, leaving my marama less and less room to pretend to dodge. I have to make a decision.


I bite my lip as my gaze trails over my spear, my useless stump, over friggin’ Spider-Troll. Finally, I decide to do the hard thing, the scary thing, even though it’s the last thing I want to do.


I take a shuddering breath, steel my conviction, and ask: “What would you need from me?”



Kaitlynn has me clear the webs around the pillar, even as my marama continues leading Spider-Troll up. As we have little time before it reaches the top, she doesn’t inform me of the specifics of her plan.


My heart beats in my throat, but I try to suppress the abject fear knotting up my stomach at whatever Kaitlynn’s has in mind.


<Will your conjuring last after you leave?> Kaitlynn asks suddenly.


“I-I don’t know,” I stammer as I slice through another web. “Maybe?”


<That’s okay,> Kaitlynn says quickly. <I’ll make it work even if it doesn’t. In fact, that’s enough. You can switch out now.>


I hesitate.


<Emma, I swear, I’ve got this,> she exhorts, before continuing, softer. <Please. For me.>


I never could say no to her.


I take a deep breath, and force myself to say it. “Switch.”


My boundary of Spatial Energy is ripped apart by the portal that swallows me, not that I’m paying much attention to it. I’m focused on the connection to my marama. I feel it stretch thin as I’m yanked away, and I desperately pour in more Espir to keep it intact.


I touch down in my pod feeling, if anything, more anxious.


My heart leaps as I see Kaitlynn on the screen, glancing up as she sprints away from the landing platform.


The image shifts to another point of view, providing an overview from somewhere on the ceiling, that shows Spider-Troll chasing my thankfully intact marama to the top of the pillar of crystal. Meanwhile, Kaitlynn moves underneath until she finds a spot on the other side of the pillar, opposite from the entrance platform, that she apparently deems suitable.


<Now, don’t be alarmed,> Kaitlynn mutters, pointing her spear straight at it. <I have every intention of surviving this. Just... wish me luck.>


“What? Kaitlynn—”


My eyes widen as she breathes out a stream of Astreum that defies logic. Instead of expanding and shooting forth, it circles her body, covering her in a cloak of swirling, bright orange Astreum.


She’s combining Breath Control level 2 with Astreum Manipulation!


She crouches down, and then... launches herself.


Literally. The Astreum swirling around her expands down, blasting into the ground as she lifts off like a friggin’ rocket.


Spider-Troll twitches, and I reflexively have my marama shoot another violet beam right past its head. The gaudy displays are really draining my Espir, but it’s not going to matter much longer.


Except Kaitlynn’s not actually rising all that fast or steady, so I’m not sure—


A flash of yellow erupts from somewhere beneath the orange cloak, and Kaitlynn jerks upward. The Astreum stays connected to the ground, now pushing her up at far greater speed.


Oh.


She’s... she’s overshooting, she’s going to hit the ceiling! I open my mouth to warn her when she’s halfway up, but then there’s a second flash of yellow, and holy shit she’s going fast!


The second use of Increase Momentum did its job though, Kaitlynn corrected her trajectory forward, and she’s now on a collision course with Spider-Troll.


Spider-Troll turns its head towards her at the last moment, but it’s too little too late.


I may or may not scream as the giant ball of Astreum that contains Kaitlynn slams into the creature.


Spider-Troll is still much larger and heavier, so for a moment I fear she’s just going to break her neck on its abs without moving it an inch. However, her spear hits its flesh first, followed by her cloak, and the combination of Kaitlynn’s momentum and the cloaks pushing force proves enough to shove it off the crystal.


They enter freefall together, Spider-Troll beneath Kaitlynn, connected to her only through her spear.


Kaitlynn’s cloak of Astreum naturally loses contact with the ground now that’s she’s careened over the pillar of crystal, but it still covers her so I can’t see her condition.


For a moment I fear the worst. Then her cloak erupts once more, expanding up until it blasts against the ceiling.


This time, gravity and rocket propulsion work in sync as Kaitlynn and Spider-Troll go sailing down.


Spider-Troll’s eight eyes widen simultaneously, and it tries to shoot a web.


A flash of yellow erupts, further accelerating them down, causing the webbing to narrowly miss the pillar of crystal.


This time, I scream for sure, as Kaitlynn rockets down to the ground, spear still embedded in Spider-Troll’s flesh, protected only by a swirling cloak of Astreum, which could never be enough to break the impact that’s about to—


At the last moment, there’s another flash of yellow, and Kaitlynn jerks off to the side, releasing her spear.


A split second later, they both crash.



Author's note:

The second book is almost here! I expect to publish it somewhere next week. ^^

I almost managed my goal of pushing it out in six months, but alas. (That would've been last Tuesday ^^)


For you guys, this means the following:

If you want to do any rereading, do it soon! (Or wait for the book and buy it/read it on KU ;) ) And if you want your name in the back of the book, the time to become a Patron is now!

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Moreover, there's a bonus chapter, Chapter 149B, that just became available to even the lowest tier of Patrons!

(I won't specify the contents, for the sake of spoilers, but I will say that it won't be made publicly available anytime soon.)


Anyway, whether you are willing and able to support me or not, thanks for reading! ^^

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