Chapter 146: Tell me somethin', girl
My eye tracks Kaitlynn’s lightning-fast descent as best it can, right up to the point where she hits the surface of the shallow pool of Hydrum.
The resulting splash blocks my view for a second or two.
Then, before I can lay eye on her again, I am enveloped in thick Spatial Energy.
I appear on the landing spot in the cavern. A single look at the gory mess before me tells me more than I needed to know about Spider-Troll’s state.
It seems he landed with his back on a small outcrop of crystal, and I’m not sure what it says about how he was made, but the ape-like torso is no longer attached to the spider-like lower body.
[Hah! Who’s laughing now, you turbid bunch of defectoids!] Suri chimes.
I only half-register her words as I spin towards the shallow pool, hope blossoming in my heart at the thought that it was Spider-Troll’s death that got me summoned and not—
Kaitlynn is floating face down.
In my haste to reach her, I forget I’m missing a foot, and nearly plant myself on my face. I catch myself on my hands, however, and scramble to the nearby pool.
I jump in without a second thought, clumsily hop-wading through the waist-deep Hydrum until I can reach for her with shaking hands.
I lift her upper body out of the Hydrum. Her head falls limply against my shoulder. “Kait?! Wake up!”
I carry her out as fast as I can manage and lay her down beside the pool.
Tears well up in my eye as I get my first look at her face. Blood runs grotesquely down her angelic features. It takes me a moment to track the source to a nasty gash on her forehead.
It always looks worse than it is, I tell myself as I scramble to press my finger into her neck.
My digit pushes into her soft flesh, and for a moment, the narrow point of contact becomes the entirety of existence, my whole being hanging in the balance.
Then I feel it. A pulse. Faint, but clear.
Her heart is still beating. I sob with relief.
However, she’s not breathing.
For a moment, I rack my mind trying to recall how to give the kiss of life. Then I realise I literally have better control over my breath than anyone on Earth could ever manage.
I press my lips to hers and pour as much Lavi as I can in the Aether I force into her lungs.
Her chest expands, then deflates as I use my Aether to push out some of the Hydrum in her lungs to make room. It comes bubbling up and spills over the corners of her mouth.
I mean, we can breathe Hydrum too, of course, but it’s just not as efficient, as it doesn’t compress as well.
I lean back in and keep going. In, out. In, out.
Suddenly, she’s sputtering and hacking up Hydrum on her own.
I back up and watch wide-eyed as she coughs up at least another pint of Hydrum, then blinks groggily.
“Ouch...” she rasps.
“You idiot,” I manage to bring out, smiling through my tears. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I—” she’s interrupted by another coughing fit, pain flashing over her face. “Okay, I may have broken some ribs.”
“Shit, can Regenerate fix that?”
Kaitlynn looks to the side for a moment, as if listening to someone, then relaxes a bit. “Apparently my ribs are just bruised,” she says before a pulse travels through her Lavi flows to activate Regenerate. “However, I did break my left clavicle. Kai says it should heal just fine, though, no obstructions to my Lavi Flows.”
I sigh in relief and wipe some blood off her forehead before it flows down to her eye. The gash is visible closing already.
“So, does this mean I did it?” Kaitlynn asks. “Did I... kill it?”
I snort, having switched to stroking her hair. I’m still hovering inches from her face, feeling far too comfortable in our little bubble to leave. “Actually, you made it worse.”
I nod. “Oh yeah. You broke him in half, so then there were two of them. I had to fight Spider and Troll separately, it was terrible.”
Her lips curl up as her chest convulses silently. “Damnit, Emma,” she hisses. “Don’t make me laugh, it hurts!”
I shake my head fondly. Serves her right for making me worry. But, no, that’s not fair, is it?
“You’re right. I’m sorry. That’s no way to treat my hero.” It’s a loaded apology, and by the glimmer in Kaitlynn’s eye, she senses it. Always so much sharper emotionally than me. I’m, like, three years her senior, but at times like these it feels almost like it’s the opposite.
“Please,” she says softly, shakily. “I’ve lost count of how many times you’ve saved me. It’s the least I could do.”
My throat closes up as I stare into her eye, still half on top of her. Leaning in isn’t a decision so much as an irrepressible urge, a dam breaking.
Despite the surging feelings inside of me I still haven’t properly catalogued, I take my time and kiss her gently.
It feels... honest. Probably more honest than any time I’ve kissed her since the very first.
Her lips are sticky with blood and Hydrum, but I couldn’t care less.
I’m broken from my reverie when she moans into my mouth.
I pull back.
She looks kinda dazed, but also like she’s kicking herself for having made a noise. “Emma...”
I press a finger to her lips, shaking my head. “I’m... I’m not ready to talk about this. My head is still a mess. I’ve hardly had time to think, and I’ll just end up putting my foot in my mouth. But... I think I’m getting there.”
She stares at me, wide-eyed. “Ehm, yeah! Sure! I mean... take your time. Whatever you need.”
I duck my head down, avoiding her curious gaze, and clear my throat. “You, ehm, you wanna get out of here?”
She nods wordlessly and I help her get up.
The gory mess she made of Spider-Troll is met with nothing but a sneer. “Good riddance.”
I hum in concurrence. We hobble over, supporting each other, so she can pull her spear out. I scan the two halves of the bloody carcass for loot.
I mean, Kaitlynn even went to the trouble of splitting it open, saving me a lot of work.
Unfortunately, I don’t spot anything interesting, not until I lift my head and my eye falls on a previously hidden tunnel in a distant wall.
We set off together. If we cling a little tighter to each other than is strictly necessary, and my thumb rubs circles on her hip, well, those aren’t crimes.
Hopping and limping, we leave this Goddess-forsaken Trial behind.
A door slams down behind us as we step into the tunnel, dimly lit by crystals melded into the ceiling.
A split second later, a window pops up in front of me.
“Ooh, I got a bonus for the killing blow,” Kaitlynn says.
“Oh yeah? How much?”
“20 points. Did you get anything extra?”
I shake my head. “Nah. But I didn’t spend any last time, so I’m not even sure how many Trial Points I’m up to.”
We head on to the point where the tunnel ends in a wall with two doors. My arm tightens around Kaitlynn’s waist. “Suri, if we’re actually getting split up this time, so help me—”
I let out a breath. “Good.”
Kaitlynn gives me one last squeeze and a smile, then lets go of me. “See you in five minutes.”
Straightening, she moves to her own door, limp almost gone.
With a sigh, I hop through my own.
I sit down on my bed, thoughts of Kaitlynn whirling through my mind. For the moment, I can’t seem to get a grip on the chaos of conflicting emotions, so I take a deep breath and focus on a less scary subject of thought.
“I can’t believe we won that.”
[Ditto. But well done.]
I shake my head. “Seriously, what happened in there? When Spider-Troll came out, you called him, what was it, ‘some bullshit’? What was that all about?”
[Yes, well. I was presented with some info about what you would be facing, but I had yet to see it. Its stats were bad enough, when I saw the complete picture... Let’s just say someone went overboard on their assigned task. I’m glad you made it out okay.]
Someone went overboard? Seriously?
“What kind of facility are they running here?” I grumble. “I thought this place was run with strict rules and supervision.”
[Are you suggesting large organisations in the Entropic Realm are not constantly bungling everything up?]
I open my mouth to deny this reflexively, then snap it shut. After my experiences with the rampant incompetence among university administration, customer services, and various government institutes, I pretty much concluded tightly run organisations are like unicorns.
That was also the point at which those grand conspiracy theories people circulate lost all their credibility with me. Like among every ten people involved in a secret there’s not going to be at least one idiot who replies to all on the wrong e-mail and screws everything up.
“All right, touché.”
However, there’s one more thing that’s bothering me.
“I just find it a little suspicious that we’re first almost killed by that impact on Big Bortha and then made to face a nearly impossible opponent. Suri, is someone trying to get us killed?”
Book Two is out now! ^^
You can buy it here: https://books2read.com/whisperingcrystals2