Chapter 153: kicking off the race one-legged
A Kaitlynn’s cue, I form a pink spiral of Negative Inertial Energy around me and kick off the wall behind me, all while maintaining my Spatial Boundary.
It took a lot of practice to get to the point I can do this reliably, but it’s paying dividends now.
I shoot off over the bottomless pit like an arrow released from a bow, exhaling as I go to begin forming my glowing green tail.
Meanwhile, Kaitlynn angles the stream of Astreum at the wall behind her and increases her output.
She takes off like a rocket, right behind me. I’m not worried about leaving her behind; in mid-Aether, she can accelerate much faster than I.
Hovering, on the other hand, is not something her propulsion method is suited for, which is why we really couldn’t stick around much longer.
And I’m not just talking about the difficulty of maintaining balance with jet propulsion. Maintaining my zero gravity Boundary simply costs far less Spatial Energy than Kaitlynn’s propulsion jet costs Heat. Even with the Heat production from her Energy Power-Up and the conversion cycle, she’d still run out after ten minutes or so. Faster when she’s jetting around like this.
Still, she’s got plenty in the tank to reach the other side of this room. Flying together would be more fuel-efficient, but it would also decrease our manoeuvrability. Moreover, it would have been far less intimidating.
Below us, everyone but Mark starts running at the same time.
Glancing back, I get a glimpse of Dominique expression. She looks furious.
Come on, chase us!
The last thing I want is for her to start harassing our friends as they try to cross.
Thankfully, my provocation was successful. She kicks off one of her discs of Boreum and launches herself after us.
Then she lifts her spear and fires a bolt of lightning that curves after Kaitlynn.
Of course, Kaitlynn sees it coming a mile off. The Focus Crystal at her wrist flashes red and a well-timed wave of Vibration Energy blasts out to interfere. Weakened and slowed, the lightning misses her and veers into a distant wall.
Dominique swears. I glance back again, and my eyes widen.
A giant pair of shiny blue wings sprout from her back, seemingly made of a mixture of solid and vapour-like Boreum. She flaps them, speeding up.
Shit, she’s faster than I thought! Still, I doubt it’ll be enough for her to catch up like this.
Below us, it’s a madhouse. Most people barely pay attention to the obstacles. Jacob takes an early lead, leaping from platform to platform with flashes of yellow without ever slowing down.
Surprisingly, Alec appears to be the second-fastest, even though he’s using the various obstacles to get across. His speed really is impressive, and might very well have something to do with the arcs of lightning coming off his limbs. Right, he was going to take Boost Reflexes! And was that Decrease Inertia? Not bad!
Dave’s trailing after him, doing much the same, albeit less handily.
Onni and Lily take a different approach. Onni forms a slithering path of Boreum, connecting platform to platform.
Steve and Calyx, who started out using the obstacles as well, quickly copy their method, with Calyx forming a second path of Boreum, albeit with more straight angles and fewer curves.
Meanwhile, clearly aware that her lightning won’t do much to me, Dominique continues dogging Kaitlynn with bolts.
Kait’s managed to deflect them all thus far however, and she’s not taking it lying down either. In response, she sweeps her propulsion jet over Dominique.
Unfortunately, the Lightning Bitch manages to block it by sacrificing one of her floating discs, and shoots another bolt.
Damn, if Dominique keeps this up, Kait’s going to run out of Qi!
Dominique’s reserves can’t be endless either, of course, but she definitely came in with a lot of Electric Energy stored, while Kaitlynn has to directly spend Qi to form Vibration Energy.
Narrowing my eyes, I make a mid-Aether U-turn. This kind of rapid change in direction is something I never could have pulled off before, but under the effect of Negative Inertial Energy, it becomes possible.
Dominique sneers as she sees me coming, but doesn’t relent. In fact, her next lightning bolt is extra thick.
It breaks right through Kaitlynn’s counter and smashes into her. Kaitlynn seizes up, her cloak of Astreum fading as her jet sputters out.
Thankfully, gravity is pretty weak over this enormous pit, so she only slowly starts to drop as she careens on to the other side.
With a sweep of my tail I abandon my charge and dive down after her, kicking as hard as I can to catch up.
But Dominique isn’t done. She launches one of her discs of Boreum into my path. For a split second, I just think she has terrible aim as it’s about to pass harmlessly in front of me. However, the moment it’s in my path, tendrils of Boreum vapour suddenly anchor it in the Aether.
My rapidly approaching reflection looks just as surprised as I feel.
My first instinct is to try and swerve around it, but I forcibly suppress it. Experience has taught me that Boreum vapour is the real danger, as it can flash freeze in an instant.
Gritting my teeth, I prepare to disregard the risk and use Positive Inertial Energy to smash through the disc with my spear.
However, right when I deploy my field, a beam of Astreum shoots up from below and evaporates a large hole in the disc.
I immediately shift my Inertial Energy to its Negative variant and capitalise on the opportunity to speed up and dive through the hole.
On the other side, I catch Dave’s smile as he lowers his hand.
I grin back, then swoop down and catch Kaitlynn right above a platform. However, I have too much downward speed, so I’m forced to flip us around and allow my tail to disperse so I can land on my foot.
My Negative Inertial Energy and Strength combine to turn the landing into only a light exertion. Some of the Electric Energy still coursing through Kaitlynn enters my body, but I shrug it right off. Still under the effect of my zero-g Spatial Boundary, I kick off again before I lose my footing.
“Thanks,” Kaitlynn mutters through some final aftershocks, as I reform my tail.
I just turn to glare at Dominique as she flies past, practically cackling. “Nice catch! I’ll be going on ahead.”
“Ugh, that bitch!” Kaitlynn spits out. “Screw it, let’s switch to flight mode B and catch up.”
“Sure, let me just—”
The sound of a dull thud triggers some age-old instinct within me, and I turn in time to see Dave swing back on a rope swing, clearly having smacked into the wall of Boreum in front of him.
For a moment I suspect revenge from Dominique, but the Boreum doesn’t hang by itself in the Aether. In fact, it’s part of the bridge Calyx and Steve are running over. They cut him off on purpose!
As I watch, Dave slips down a few inches, clearly dazed from the impact. Shit!
“Son of a bitch,” Kaitlynn mutters, wriggling out of my arms. A new cloak of Astreum forms around her even as she starts to drop, and then she’s rocketing towards him to help out.
Dave loses his grip before she can reach him, however.
My heart clenches as he starts to fall, but suddenly Alec’s there, swinging in from the side on another rope and grabbing him by the wrist.
Well I’ll be damned. Go Alec!
Calyx frowns in their direction. They start to turn and lift a hand.
Yeah, that’s not happening.
I take my crystal spear out from the loops on my back, and swoop down.
“Watch out!” Steve warns Calyx as I come barrelling in.
They both dive out of the way as I sweep past. Tch.
I circle their position threateningly. “Playing dirty, are we?”
Calyx gets up and spreads their hands. Several spikes of Boreum form around them, hovering in the Aether. “I’d really rather not get into it with you, Emma, but I will if I have to. Are you sure you’ve got time to concern yourself over here?” they say, their eye flicking towards Dominique’s disappearing figure.
I narrow my eyes at them, preparing to shrink my boundary to dodge. “I’ll make time, for my friends.”
But then Alec calls out. “Guys we’ve got this! Go defeat that Lightning Bitch!”
I glance over to where he’s helping Dave cross another obstacle under Kaitlynn’s hovering watch. She turns towards me, looking torn.
“Shit,” Calyx curses, then their bridge stretches out forward, attempting to cut them off again.
“Oh hell no!” Kaitlynn shouts. Her eye lights up, then spews out a beam of orange that cuts straight through the floating bridge, halting its progress.
Then she swings her beam around for a second pass through the bridge behind Steve and Calyx.
Calyx’s eyes widen as their bridge starts to collapse, and they quickly start forming new supports to keep it from disappearing into the abyss below.
“That was awesome!” Alec exclaims, touching down on the next platform and turning to assists Dave’s landing. “Now get your butts out of here!”
I share a glance with Kaitlynn. She nods, determined, then turns around and rockets off.
I turn back one last time to give Calyx the universal hand signal for ‘I’m watching you,’ then fly off with a swish of my tail.
Thanks for reading! ^^
In case you're interested, the paperback version of The Whispering Crystal, Book Two: Unusual Enemies, is now available! You can find it here: https://books2read.com/whisperingcrystals2
It took me quite a bit longer than planned to release it, because other things kept getting in the way (mostly editing, it's always editing...) but that's life, and it's here now ^^