• hcmills

Chapter 149: Some say love

I return to my body with a start to find Kaitlynn hovering over me, looking worried.


Whoops.


“Oh thank goodness,” she says with a sigh, before smiling. “Just another one of your, ehm, episodes. You had me worried there for a moment.”


I don’t answer as I stare up at her, mesmerised.


I really have been an idiot, haven’t I?


She frowns at my lack of reaction. “Emma? Are you—hmmph!”


Her words are lost as I push myself up towards her, and claim her mouth with mine.


She collapses on top of me, and we make out like there’s no tomorrow, which in this place, there might not be.


And yet I’ve been wasting time, evading, and rationalising, and doing everything but what I should’ve: Worshipping this ray of sunshine, this singular bright spot I found in this endless parade of misery and struggle.


“I, ehm,” I start, breaking our kiss for a moment.


She looks down at me, licking her lips. “Yeah?” she asks, her voice husky.


“I really like you.”


Her answering smile is radiant.


It feels good. Almost as good as the weight dropping off my chest.



After we finally make it off the bed, we each grab our largest Focus Crystal and start working hard on cycling between Qi and our respective subtype energies, converting and reconverting with as much focus as we can muster in between stolen kisses.


To be honest, despite my best efforts, I find my focus lacking. My mind keeps—naturally—coming back to Kaitlynn. However, it’s not just fluttery feelings that keep causing my thoughts to stray.


There’s a pit of unrest in my stomach that keeps me on edge. I try my best to ignore it and be productive, but it’s not going great.


Eventually, Suri can no longer take it. [Since when are you incapable of sitting still?]


I groan softly, so as not to distract Kaitlynn, who’s sitting close by, frowning with her eyes shut. ‘Is it that obvious I can’t concentrate?’


[Well, let’s see. The longest you’ve sat still in the past hour was about 0.3109 seconds, and you sighed approximately 6412 times.]


My eye twitches. ‘Those are the numbers you’re going with, yeah?’


[I find hyperbole to be, at times, quite effective in painting a clear picture.]


‘Good for you.’


[So?]


I sigh. ‘Something’s bugging me, not even sure what exactly, but it’s ruining my focus.’


[I see. Might I suggest some introspection?] Suri chimes in the driest tone imaginable. [I know you prefer to stuff your emotions away—and I applaud your ability to do so when the heat is on—but perhaps at times like these, actually engaging your emotions might prove more fruitful.]


I blink. ‘Wow. That was... very insightful. Is that really something I do?’


[Obviously. Anyway, either try to sort out your feelings or suppress them better, because your current progress is so abysmal, you’re practically regressing.]


I roll my eye, but give up on cycling my energies.


So. What exactly am I feeling and why?



It takes me an embarrassing amount of time to identify the exact emotion I’m experiencing.


It’s guilt. Specifically, I feel bad about everything I put Kaitlynn through due to my own confusion. What’s worse, even if I’ve starting to accept my feelings more, we still haven’t properly discussed anything about us yet, and I can tell she’s still on tenterhooks, waiting for the other shoe to drop.


Can’t exactly be good for her concentration either.


Working out what I want to say to her takes even more time, but it’s time well spent.


Guess Suri was right. No surprises there.


By the time lunchtime rolls around, I’ve just about worked up the necessary courage.


I walk over to Kaitlynn and disturb her Meditation by booping her on the nose.


She scrunches it up, but smiles at me as she reaches out a hand.


I pull her to her feet and she follows through, leaning in for a quick kiss. Innocently batting her eyelashes after she pulls away.


I can’t help but smile. “You’re incorrigible.”


“You like it,” Kaitlynn answers with a shrug before she leans in for another kiss. This time I gently block her approach with a finger, as I want to get this out before I lose my nerve.


“I, ehm, wanted to apologise.”


The way Kaitlynn freezes at the words does nothing to assuage my guilt.


“For how I’ve treated you before,” I clarify. “I just... I’d like to try and explain?”


She nods mutely, and I lead her to the loveseat.


I take a deep breath and push my hands into my lap to stop them from shaking. She takes my hands into her own and pulls them into her lap.


I smile gratefully. Here goes nothing. “So. I told you I liked you, yesterday, but I’m guessing that wasn’t news to you.”


“Would you like me to respond to that?” she asks with a smirk.


I send her a half-hearted glare. “No. And shush, this is hard for me.”


Kaitlynn lifts one hand and mimes zipping her lips shut, locking them, and tossing the key over her shoulder.


Seems a bit excessive, but sure.


“Anyway,” I continue. “Clearly, I’ve felt this way about you a while, but I guess I was pretty hung up about what it said about me, that I felt that way, about figuring out why I liked you. And while I was so focused on myself, I kinda left you hanging.”


Kaitlynn looks down at her lap and nods slightly.


Shit.


I gently lift her chin and look her in the eye. “I’m really sorry about that.”


She bites her bottom lip, then shrugs. “It’s okay. You were in a weird place. We’re all in a weird place, actually.”


I nod slowly. “Maybe. But it’s no excuse for how I treated you. You deserve better.”


A delightful flush crawls up her neck and towards her cheeks. She clears her throat. “You’re forgiven. And if we’re beating ourselves up anyway, I didn’t exactly communicate fantastically either. I mean, instead of you know, talking to you, I ended up drunkenly outing you to Dave.”


“Which I made way too big a deal of, I probably didn’t really give off ‘please have a heartfelt talk with me’ vibes either...”


She shakes her head firmly. “No, this isn’t on you. I think I was just scared, because... well, the last time I confessed to my best friend that I was in love with her, didn’t end so well.”


Did she just imply she’s in love with me?


I swallow thickly as a swell of courage rises within me “I see. Well, consider yourself forgiven too. Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is... I’m starting to think the why doesn’t matter at all. And that all that matters, is that I like you.”


I take a deep breath, mentally preparing for the next bit.


“And I don’t want to waste any more time, as we might have very little. So, I want to do this right. Make this official.”


Her eyes widen.


“Kaitlynn... will you be my girlfriend?”


The word feels weird leaving my lips, like a foreign concept, yet it also feels right. I actually want this.


And judging by the excited squeal I’m met with, so does Kaitlynn.


She climbs onto my lap, straddling my thighs as she starts kissing my face, exclaiming ‘Yes!’ in between kisses as she does.


Laughing, I grab her face between my hands and guide her lips down properly towards mine.


I feel lighter than I have in a long time. And I’ve been flying!



We eat lunch whilst grinning at each other like idiots, bumping hips and stealing bites from each other’s food, even though we’re both eating zirot fruits.


Afterwards, when I sit down to train, I can finally concentrate.


I start by focusing most of my attention on my conversion rate, taking it Onkh by Onkh as I immerse myself in the visualisation of purple tendrils that seek to invade and devour from within.


Over the course of two hours, I create enough Toxic Energy to kill an entire Hub of newcomers, quickly reconverting my Toxic Energy to Qi whenever I get too close to my Tolerance Limit.


Unfortunately, I still don’t make a lot of progress. I had a feeling that might be the case...


The problem is, I’ve been making Toxic Energy like this for a long time, and the process has gotten pretty much ingrained. Doing it over and over might still refine my technique a little, but I’m not going to make any breakthroughs like this.


I need fresh inspiration.


Since I’m currently lacking that, I instead switch to focusing on reconversion, for which my last Skilldream was a lot more recent.


Again, I try to slow the process down, taking it Onkh by Onkh. I quickly realise, however, that I can’t take a single Onkh of Toxic Energy and turn it into Qi. It’s not until I take 9 Onkh together that I succeed, forming exactly one Onkh of Qi.


Interesting...


In a way, this should make practising reconversion easier. I can just take 8 Onkh of Toxic Energy, and keep trying till I manage to form it into a single Onkh of Qi. In practice, I’ll probably still use 9 Onkh quite often, just so I can experience and study successful reconversions.


My mind travels back to the silent pond I Visited with Suri, the feeling of Stillness I use to form Yin Qi, and I get to work.



Several hours later, I feel like I’ve made progress, as my reconversion at 9 Onkh goes much smoother now, but I still haven’t succeeded at pulling together 8 Onkh of Toxic Energy into a complete Onkh of Qi, so I decide to give up for now.


Beside me, Kaitlynn is still at it, so I go prepare dinner. Not that there’s too much I can do yet without Kaitlynn, as she’s our only remaining source of Astreum.


Twenty minutes later or so, she bounds up excitedly and pulls me into a kiss. “I got my reconversion rate down to 18 to 1!”


My brows rise. “Very nice! I’m not quite at the next level yet.”


She nods. “Well, you have to make bigger steps in one go, right? I mean, one Onkh of difference for you is like two for me. Anyway, shall I get cooking?”


Kaitlynn heats the shallow bowl-shaped rock I filled with Hydrum and cockles as we discuss the training process.


Kaitlynn focused on reconversion because she had only just improved her conversion rate, which makes sense to me.


Improvement of our reconversion rates might prove tricky. After thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that the little progress I experienced was due to me improving my ability to compress my Toxic Energy rather than a refinement of my concept of Stillness.


Kaitlynn ponders it for a moment and agrees that the change in her reconversion rate is more the result of sheer pig-headedness than a shift in understanding.


Training like this is only going to get us so far; we’re definitely going to need Skilldreams.


On the other hand, Suri has been getting pretty lax about my Visits...


For now, however, I have other things on my mind. As the evening progresses, a kind of tense anticipation arises.


Neither of us has said anything, but, well... we were already getting pretty hot and heavy before. And now we’re official. And alone.


Basically, nothing is holding us back anymore, except for nerves.


I startle when Kaitlynn grabs my hand and pulls it into her lap. She smiles at my expression. “What’s going on up there?” she asks, gently rapping her fist on my forehead. “You’re being all... quiet and stiff.”


Shit, I’m doing it again. I clear my throat, but it still feels kinda constricted. “I was just... thinking about tonight?”


She blinks. “Oh?”


I can feel the blood rising to my cheeks.


Kaitlynn’s pupil widens and she sucks in a breath as she connects the dots. “Oh.


I swallow. “Yeah.”


Kaitlynn's tongue darts out to wet her lower lip, before she speaks, her tone a lot lower than before. “We don’t... have to do anything, you know?”


I study her for a moment and something settles inside me. What am I getting so worked up about? “I know,” I say, squaring my shoulders. “But I want to.”


And I lean in to connect our lips.



Author's note:

So. I've hinted at it before, but there exists a Bonus Chapter on Patreon, which I numbered 149B.


Yes, it is smut. However, I will not be posting it here.


Now, before you grab your pitchforks and torches, allow me a moment to explain.


As you may know, up to about a year ago, I still taught highschool physics and chemistry. Some of my students at the time expressed interest in my writing, and started following this webnovel.


As you can imagine, I'm a little uncomfortable publicly posting material some of them are still legally too young to read. ^^'


Someday, when Book Four is out on Amazon, I will probably make it publicly available, somewhere. For now, I've decided to keep it paywalled on my Patreon, which explicitly states you need to be 18+ to subscribe.


So, to be clear, this is not about the money. Which is why I've decided to relaunch my $1 tier, to make the bonus material as cheap and accessible as possible to all adults who wish to read it. My current tier structure for reading ahead is now thus:

  • Level 0 Con-goers read 2 chapters ahead for $1 a month.

  • Level 1 Arrivals read 4 chapters ahead for $2 a month.

  • Level 2 Participants read 7 chapters ahead for $5 a month.

  • Level 3 Contestants read 11 chapters ahead for $10 a month.

(Yes, that's right, Level 3 is one more chapter ahead these days!)


And of course, Level 0 come with its own Discord role as well. ^^


So, if you want to read the Bonus Chapter and at least two chapters ahead, click here and become a Patron!


Alternatively, if you prefer to wait for it to become public, I would recommend going to my website and signing up for my mailing list. ^^


Thanks for reading!

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