Chapter 150: Happy together
I wake feeling languid and achy in all the right places. The weight of Kaitlynn’s limbs draped over me and the smoothness of her warm skin renders me acutely aware of how unclothed we both still are.
Last night was... something else.
But no matter how much I want to stay in this warm cocoon of fuzzy feelings, we’re still in the middle of a series of deadly Trials, and I have important matters to attend to.
And so, I once more focus on the red string I Imagine connects me to the whistle around Raindrop’s neck, and follow it into the Realm of Imagination.
I catch Raindrop at home for once, and after a few minutes spent explaining, describing, and convincing her that I don’t have time to play, I manage to convey what I’m looking for.
She leads me out of Hangspire and towards the upside-down forest. The trees get progressively bigger and gnarlier and our surroundings darker as we fly deeper and deeper into the forest, but Raindrop doesn’t seem too worried about it, so I try not to be either.
When it becomes so dark that I can hardly dodge the roots, Raindrop Imagines some floating balls of light that swirl around her like they have a mind of their own.
Well, they probably do, limited as those minds may be.
Eventually, Raindrop stops by a large, fallen tree. Giggling, she gestures towards a hole in the side.
I hesitate for only a moment before I fly in with a kick of my tail.
It’s pitch dark inside, but only for a moment. As soon as Raindrop enters with her balls of light, she sets off a chain reaction.
Alabaster pillars shiver and light up in blues and pinks all around us. The giant mushrooms then proceed to undulate their caps and pull free from the pulpy wood they’re consuming, and float off like enormous jellyfish.
I smile at the familiar sight, then beckon one of the smaller mushrooms, a ‘capling’ as Suri called it. “Come,” I bid it, like I had seen her do what feels like a lifetime ago when I took my Skilldream for Infuse.
Raindrop squawks in surprise. “Eh-ma, you know how to Charm?”
I blink. “Eh, yeah.” Right, I’ve never tried that in the Realm of Imagination before. So there’s no Yin and Yang here, but there is Charm? Interesting.
I quickly refocus on what I’m doing, as it took us quite a while to get here, and using Charm also drains my Espir.
The capling obediently comes undulating over and settles down into the wood.
I crouch down next to it and watch as purple tendrils sneak out into the wood, looking to consume.
After a moment, I wave my hand in an attempt to turn the wood transparent, so I can see better. Nothing happens.
I turn to Raindrop. “Hey, ehm...”
She giggles, and waves her hand. “You have to will it to happen, silly. The wood is Extant, so you’ve gotta give it a little oomph.”
I turn back and the wood right below me has become clear as glass.
I settle down to watch the purple tendrils boring into the wood.
Who needs Skilldreams!
In the days that follow, Kaitlynn and I fall into an easy rhythm. Train, eat, sleep, repeat.
All right, there’s some other stuff we do as well besides sleep during the times we designate as night. And morning. And sometimes the afternoon.
What can I say? We’ve got a lot of time to make up for.
That’s not to say that’s all we do. More than once we stay up for hours just... talking. About anything really. Dearly missed family and friends. Shows we watched and music we listened to, once upon a time. Despite the seeming heaviness of discussing all we’ve left behind, our conversations are anything but. Instead, they’re full of laughter, and fond remembrance.
At one point, Kaitlynn even fills me in about the mating habits of the Hoig—despite my frequent protests.
I feel freed. It’s as if nothing has to remain unspoken, now. Though, neither of us has used those three words yet. Even so, the sentiment is clearly expressed in every touch, every lingering look. It’s enough.
Even if the words are on the tip of my tongue sometimes, and I find myself unable to say them, it’s enough.
As distracted as we may be in our downtime, we make up for it with intense, enthusiastic motivation when we train. Somehow, working hard for your survival comes easier when life’s worth living.
Not that the next Trial sounds all that dangerous. Though I’m sure it will be, in some unforeseen way.
Since Kaitlynn doesn’t have private access to things like the hollow trees and the silent pond, she takes a Skilldream for Astreum Manipulation level 3, which not only teaches her how to create and fire compressed balls of Astreum, but also helps her make significant gains in her conversion and reconversion rates.
My self-education on that front goes pretty well too. It’s not as effective as actual Skilldreams, since I’m lacking a teacher, but hey, it’s free! And I can take them pretty much every day since Suri has stopped getting on my ass about it.
I bet she’s realised how much I’m benefitting from them these days. I try to hide it a little of course, make my progress seem natural, but I can’t really take my time, since we don’t know how long this peace will last.
Anyway, all this means I’ve got Trial Points to spare, so I splurge on a full Skilldream for Regeneration level 2, as I want to be assured I’ll get it and not waste too much time.
It sets me back a cool 80 Trial Points, leaving me with only 53, which I’m saving for now. The rest of my time is best spent improving my conversion and reconversion rates.
And so, time passes quickly.
“Say aah,” Kaitlynn singsongs, a teasing glint in her eye as she sits sideways on my lap and attempts to feed me a birberry.
I keep my lips pressed into a firm line and shake my head. It’s clearly unripe. Those are extra sour.
We ran out of zirots and shellfish about five days into our seven-day stay here and decided to switch back to buying jicca nuts and birberries to save Trial Points.
I’m regretting that decision right now, as Kaitlynn giggles and presses the birberry against my lips hard enough to pop it.
I retaliate by tickling her. She squeals and squirms in my grip, until I’ve got her right where I want her, and press my sticky lips to hers.
She makes a show of resisting, but I lick my way inside until we exchange sour kisses with stupid big grins on our faces.
The moment is abruptly broken when a window pops up.
“Twelve participants?” Kaitlynn murmurs, her eye scanning the words before her.
“Yeah, more than I expected,” I say absentmindedly. “Only fourteen people could have left Hub Three, by my count...”
“More than you expected, huh?” Kaitlynn replies wryly. “Oh, how our standards have dropped. To think there were over 3000 people in Hub One, once upon a time.”
I shoot her a sad smile. “I know. But still, this is good news. At the very least, we can’t have lost Dave, Alec, and Jacob.”
She snorts at that. “You sure know how to give a positive spin on things.”
I narrow my eye at her. “I believe I’m beginning to rub off on you, and I’m not sure I like it.”
She smirks at me like the cat that got the canary. “That’s not the impression I got last—”
“Okay!” I interrupt, clapping my hands together as I feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. “As I was saying, it’s good news, but with a troubling connotation.”
“Our versions of the Seventh and Eighth Trials were definitely harder than average, or there’s no way so many people would have made it through.”
Kaitlynn is quiet at that for a moment. I’d shared this theory of mine with her before, and she’d seemed somewhat unwilling to believe it.
I get it. I’d really hoped it wasn’t true either, but the evidence speaks for itself. The only question is if it was accidental, or not.
I can’t stand the sight of the frown now creasing her forehead, however, so I lean in for a quick kiss.
It does the job as usual, and she hums happily into my mouth.
“Anyway, we’ve made great progress,” I continue. “I refuse to believe we won’t place well in this race, so let’s just focus on what we want to prioritise during these last twenty-four hours. Suri? Status Window, please.”
With my Qi to Toxic Energy conversion rate up to 1 to 9 and my reconversion rate down to 7 to 1, I am now capable of consistently producing my own Qi. Using the Major Yin Focus Crystal, I take about 14 onkh of Qi and turn it into 126 Onkh of Toxic Energy, which I can then turn back 18 Onkh of Qi.
Being able to produce 4 Onkh of Qi in only a few seconds is a real game-changer.
It took me about four days to get to the point where I started producing Qi, and after that, I started working on Distort Space. Thanks to my new source of Qi, I managed to make great strides, eventually even succeeding in using Negative Inertial Energy while maintaining a Spatial Boundary.
It’s still tricky, but I’m getting the hang of it. I even improved my conversion rate for Qi to Inertial Energy!
Kaitlynn can also produce her own Qi, though not quite as fast as I. Her conversion rate is up to 1 Onkh of Yang Qi to 17 Onkh of Heat, and her reconversion rate down to 15 to 1. Another factor that decreases her output is her Tolerance Limit for Heat, which is still quite a bit lower than mine for Toxic Energy. Still, it’s a huge improvement over passive generation.
And those new Astreum Bombs of her are frightening.
My Espir grew too with all my Visits, though I decided to cool it a little after I hit the point where my conversion and reconversion rates overlapped. Suri doesn’t even make me lose my Espir anymore in the morning. Now I’m thinking I should perhaps make use of that, and try something I’ve been meaning to for quite a while now...
Kaitlynn hums. “I think I’m going to give the eye-laser Skill another shot. How about you?”
I lick my lips, thinking quickly. “I’m... going to Meditate on Regeneration for a bit.”
Kaitlynn nods, an understanding expression flitting over her face before she leans in for a kiss. “I’m sure you’ll get your foot back soon,” she murmurs against my lips.
I feel a little bad for misleading her about my plans, but it’s a necessary evil.
With the end of the Trials looming, I’m getting pretty nervous about what’s next. We’ve still got very little information about what the world out there is like, and improving my Mental Fortitude to ward myself from manipulation and mind control is beginning to feel like a more and more pressing issue.
More than ever, I’m convinced the Realm of Imagination is the key to that. Even just staying there is good training for my Mental Fortitude, but after my talk with Akir, I’m positive I could speed it up, like by going to the pond of silence and trying to overcome the compulsion to be quiet.
I can’t help but snicker at the idea of going there only to conjure a drum kit and make a racket.
However, the longest I’ve managed to stay in the Realm of Imagination is like an hour. Well, an hour outside, time seems to move faster here, but there’s no real way to measure. Either way, I don’t have enough Espir to stay anywhere near long enough to really train like I want to, let alone experiment with ways to use Espir to actively ward of mind-influencing effects somehow. So whatever method I come up with, I’ll need a bigger Espir Pool, or a better way to replenish it.
Determined, I sit down on my bed to Meditate, and after an appropriately long time of idly studying the way Lavi is directed using Regeneration level 2, I shift my attention to a certain red thread and follow it into the Realm of Imagination.
Thanks for reading! ^^