• hcmills

Chapter 164: The only man who could ever teach me

Time seems to stand still for an indeterminable moment, as I mentally prepare to see Jacob’s head burst open like a ripe watermelon.


However, Rowan waits, patiently, until Jacob drops back to the sand, and clearly mouths the words, ‘I forfeit.’


The First Crystal nods and pulls his arm back, and I can breathe again.


The screen shows one last shot of the mournful look on Jacob’s face, before they’re both teleported out and the screen goes black.


Kaitlynn slumps against me in relief. “Holy shit. For a second there I thought...”


“I know,” I tell her softly. “He’s fine. It sucks that he didn’t make it, but we’ll be reunited soon enough.”


Probably, I tack on mentally.


“We should be thankful Rowan showed such restraint,” Dave adds sombrely.


Rationally, I agree. Yet somehow, I don’t feel all that grateful when I see Rowan fly by with a stupid grin on his face to join a friend of his with a matching fluffy tail.


Stupid Crystals—Kaitlynn excluded, of course—I’ll show them!


The final battle on the last active screen ends climactically, when a woman in Darksteel plate armour crushes her opponent's knee with her Darksteel Warhammer. Well, technically it ends when he surrenders, in tears from the pain, but whatever.


The next four match-ups are announced nigh-immediately. None of us are up, but there are some familiar names: Calyx and Dominique.


I don’t recognise the name of Dominique’s opponent, but Calyx’s is awfully familiar.


Johnson, the Sixth Crystal.


I frown. I’m not too happy with Calyx right now, since they first tried to get Dave to drop into an abyss, and then wound up taking the second-to-last door, which led to Alec deciding to stay behind. But I’d still rather not see them get murdered by that maniac with his crystal knife.


Calyx can handle themself, though. They’ll be all right. Probably.


I impatiently shift in my seat as the fights get underway. Dominique’s opponent looks like a feathery-haired hippie. She’s either of the Heat or Radiation subtype, judging by the psychedelic glowing birds and butterflies swarming from her long sleeves.


The complex movements of her creations suggest they have a mind of their own, leading me to wonder if she’s somehow managed to integrate Espir into them as well, which would be impressive.


However, her technique, fancy as it is, falters in the face of raw power, which Dominique has in spades.


Fine nets of Boreum bar the way for all but the smallest of fluttering creatures, and bolts of lightning rain down mercilessly from above.


The feathery-haired woman puts up a good effort of dodging, forming psychedelic wings on her back with colours shifting in hypnotic patterns, but it’s ultimately in vain.


A few good hits with awfully thick bolts of lightning leave the poor woman shaking and frostbitten, and she surrenders.


Calyx’s battle, however, is still going.


I’ve had my suspicions for a while, due to the bulky shape of the Sixth Crystal’s robes, but the current camera angle tells me he’s definitely wearing armour beneath the white-and-yellow cloth. That, or the chitinous deformities he’s sporting are more extensive than I’d expect.


He lifts his arms and smiles at Calyx. My eyebrows rise. I can’t tell what he’s saying of course, but I can tell what he’s doing.


That pulling sensation is unmistakable. He’s using Charm. Well, I’ll be damned.


Probably a Toxic subtype as well then, considering the correlation I’ve noticed in the past between increases in Toxic Energy Tolerance and the Charm stat.


Of course, Calyx is Yin, so it probably won’t affect them too—


I blink and look closer as Calyx lowers their new Darksteel staff and takes a small step towards the strangely hypnotic preacher.


Father Johnson smiles, looking positively divine. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear there was a halo hovering behind his head.


Wait, his eye-crystal’s yellow, and that light… this isn’t Charm, it’s Radiance, the Yang equivalent!


Huh. The feeling it invokes in me is really oddly similar—yet different—to Charm.


Hold on... Charm is something you can also use in the Realm of Imagination, however, there’s no Yin or Yang there. That would mean anyone can use it there, including people who are Yang here. Perhaps Charm and Radiance are actually the same there, and it’s just the nature of this Realm that twists it into two sides of the same coin…


Either way, it appears to be quite effective on Calyx. They stumble closer over the beach like a possessed person.


The screen changes point of view, the new angle showing the preacher secretly reaching for the white crystal dagger sheathed behind his back.


Oh, shit!


Loath as I am to see what I expect to come next, I still can’t tear my eye off the screen as Calyx slowly nears Father Johnson. It’s like watching a train wreck...


However, when Calyx comes within five feet of her foe, the dopey expression suddenly disappears from their face and their Focus Crystal lights up. A swirling dual field of Inertial Energy envelops both of them, and Calyx swings their Darksteel staff.


Hah, Calyx was faking it, nice! Also, that’s Inertia Manipulation level 2, not bad...


A flash of yellow erupts from the preacher’s Focus Crystal, but under the effects of the Positive Inertial Energy covering him, it’s not enough for him to dodge the snake-like strike.


Calyx’s staff smashes into his ribcage. The armour beneath his robes visibly dents before he’s sent flying out the field of Positive Energy.


Father Johnson sails out over the Hydrum and lands with a big splash.


Calyx runs after him with a determined look on their face. A construction of Boreum shaped like a surfboard with something hanging beneath it forms on the edge of the Hydrum, and they leap on, using their staff for balance.


More Boreum encircles Calyx’s feet, binding them to the board before it speeds up, propelled by unknown means.


A Boreum propeller? No, getting Boreum to move that fast would be exhausting... Ooh, I bet it’s a kind of pump-system, pulling in Hydrum from the front and expelling it to the back!


The way Calyx ploughs through the waves suggests they have quite a bit of experience moving like this, so it’s probably a technique they developed back in Hub Three. It’s probably not as convenient under-Hydrum as my mermaid’s tail, but damn if it doesn’t look cool...


Maybe I could ask them to teach me someday... Well, they’ll have to survive this battle first.


I’m shaken from my reverie when the preacher rises from the Hydrum until he almost appears to be standing on it, looking sternly at Calyx’s approach. The Focus Crystal hanging from his neck switches from a Restorative pink to the angry red of Vibration Energy. He opens his mouth, and though I can’t be quite sure, appears to start singing.


Calyx grimaces and loses some speed as they attempt to cover their ears. A few seconds later however, they straighten up, and as their hand pulls away there are small pieces of Boreum plugging up their ears.


Smart!


Then Father Johnson fires a blinding flash of Radiation from his dagger.


He leaps from his position with a flash of yellow from his wrist, and heads straight for Calyx.


A sharp turn sends Calyx out of his path, and turns a potentially fatal thrust into a glancing blow that leaves a thin cut on Calyx’s shoulder.


The fight continues. Calyx forms a kind of thin Boreum sunglasses to protect themself from the worst of the blinding rays, and uses sharp, high-speed turns to try and close the distance and whack him again.


Meanwhile, Father Johnson takes a more defensive role, trying to stay away and whittle Calyx down with beams of Radiation and what I assume are high notes.


I’m very curious as to how he’s nearly walking on Hydrum. I have a suspicion he’s using at least a Gravity Skill for that little trick, which the length of his jumps seems to corroborate.


In fact, that might even be all there is to it... which makes the whole ‘walking on Hydrum’ routine feel kinda lame.


Either way, his tactic of leading them in circles seems to be working, as Calyx becomes increasingly harried-looking.


But then, something changes. This time, when Father Johnson leaps back, it’s into a snare of Boreum, which hangs over the Hydrum and solidifies around his waist the moment he hits it.


He reacts instantly, lashing out with his dagger to break the Boreum, but it’s too little, too late.


Calyx closes the distance with a mighty leap off their surfboard, covers them both in another dual field of Inertial Energy, and smashes their staff on his head with an overhead strike.


Father Johnson’s head cracks open like a raw egg, and I immediately look away.


When I dare to squint through my fingers, the screen has already gone black.


“That was... ruthless,” Dave comments.


“At least he kinda had it coming,” Kaitlynn says with a small voice.


I nod silently, deciding to keep my first thought on the matter—good riddance—to myself.


“It was a good fight,” Dave concludes. “They both had some frightening moves.”


“You’d expect that much at least, from a Crystal,” Kaitlynn says with a shrug. “Calyx surprised me though.”


“Crystal or not, he still lost. Maybe you guys aren’t all that after all,” I suggest teasingly.


She blows me a raspberry. As I debate taking that as a challenge, Dave clears his throat. “Looks like you’re up, Kaitlynn.”


I turn back to the screen and indeed find Kaitlynn listed among the next matches. Looks like Dave and I are both in the final set.


A chill unexpectedly crawls up my spine. I’m still pretty confident about Kaitlynn’s chances, but seeing a Crystal get his head split open is a good reminder of the danger in these fights.


“Right,” Kaitlynn says, determination in her voice as she rises to her feet. “Wish me luck.”


Dave does, but I’ve got other plans. I get up and pull her into a soft kiss. “Be safe,” I whisper instead, with her warm breath still on my lips.


A flush works its way up her neck all the way to the tips of her ears. “You too,” she mumbles before drawing herself up, and clearing her throat. “Now just sit back, relax, and watch me wipe the floor with this sucker like a proper Crystal.” She winks at me, then blasts away, using lances of Astreum from her feet to launch herself off the conical stand.


“Show off,” I mutter. But I can’t quite contain my proud grin as she forms wings of swirling Astreum and uses them to shoot towards the nearest portal.


“Takes one to know one,” Dave remarks dryly.


I snort and give his shoulder a shove.


Then I sit back down and turn my attention to the screen, waiting for it to light up.


I swear, if this guy actually manages to beat her, and hurts her in the process, I’m not waiting for any match to kick his ass.



Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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