• hcmills

Chapter 172: Someone kill the DJ

Caught in a fine-meshed web of Boreum—and plummeting towards a deep ravine in a freezing star made of the stuff—I raise a brow at Dominique. “You didn’t really think this trick would work on me twice, did you?”

It’s not a bluff. After she caught me in the Ninth Trial, learning how to escape from a situation like this was one of my top priorities.

At first, I’d hoped to get the second level of Warp, which would allow me to form a tunnel around myself and Warp directly into an area not contained within my Spatial Boundary. After some discussion with Suri, however, I concluded I wasn’t likely to succeed in gaining that with just half a Skilldream, and that I had better uses for my hard-earned Trial Points.

If I’d been a Crystal though... Well, no matter.

Instead, I did the next-best thing, and practised really hard on shrinking down the exterior diameter of my Warp-tunnels as far as possible, so I can use my tunnels to slip through really small spaces.

This net of Boreum is nowhere near fine-meshed enough to hold me; it has holes big enough for a cat to squeeze through. I can slip through a square-inch gap.

Dominique’s grin barely gets a chance to falter before I pop out above her, and swipe at her with my spear.

Once again, her own spatial boundary prevents me from popping out too close, providing her crucial time to react.

At least we’ve matched speeds again, so I activate Boost Physical’s second mode and start hammering on her defences, heedless of the additional Lavi I’m burning.

Dominique fights back with her spear, wings, lightning, and point-blank shots of her eye-laser. I dodge the worst of it by Warping around her, and let my armour tank the rest.

It’s not easy to break through each other’s defences in zero G; it’s a lot harder to put force behind your swing without solid surfaces and gravity. At least one of those we’re about to get, however.

Solid Boreum rushes past us on both sides as we fly into the large crack marring Big Bortha’s pockmarked face.

Dominique’s wings scrape one of the cliffs, but she pushes off. I Warp to the other wall, and kick off towards her.

As the temperature around us drops further—and our respective Agilities with it—our fight heats up.

Blows start landing, Boreum cracks, and blood is spilled.

Lightning lances through me several times, and Dreamcloud Energy finds its way into Dominique as we bounce off the Boreum around us, losing downward speed along the way, but still travelling inexorably deeper into Big Bortha’s bowels.

[Emma, you’re getting too Cold; much more of this and you’ll lose the ability to move,] Suri chimes. [Do me a favour and finish her already!]

I grit my teeth, and shake myself from my Cold-induced stupor.

She’s right. This isn’t the time to hold back tricks...

Dominique comes in swinging, Electric Energy crackling along her Darksteel spear. I Warp out of the way.

Dominique turns toward me, a manic look on her face, and finds me... blowing a bubble.

It’s a bubble made of Boreum vapour, with a compressed breath on the inside. This particular technique is one I stole from Junior the hermit crab back in the Sixth Trial, though mine comes with a twist.

First however, I do exactly like him, solidifying the outer shell before I smack it towards my prey.

Dominique is already rushing in again with her spear crackling, unheeding or uncaring of my attack.

Normally, she’d be right to ignore it, as the flying shards of Boreum it should have sent out wouldn’t do much to her armoured shape.

However, this one doesn’t burst into shards. Instead, it bursts into a fine Boreum powder which blankets the area around her, instantly reducing visibility to near zero.

Dominique lets out an annoyed scream, and flaps her wings. The aether swirls and she comes bursting out of the cloud of fine, snow-like powder, mere seconds later.

My crystal trident comes down towards her, but the angle isn’t great. Dominique spots the opportunity, and allows it to crash into her wing, while she stabs her electrified spear through my armour, right where my stomach would be.

Except it’s not, because while she was unable to see me, I Warped out of my armour.

I will the conjured image of myself inside the empty armour reacts like it’s in pain, even while I use my Breath Control on the Aether inside the armour to move its ‘limbs’ so they clamp down onto Dominique.

Only then do I kick off from my position on the cliff wall above her and Warp down to behind her. This time, I make sure to avoid any strands of Boreum vapour, and successfully sink my crystal spear through the Boreum encasing her and into her back.

I hear a shocked intake of breath as my blade pierces her flesh, right beneath the right shoulder blade.

With her Electric Energy flowing unfettered into my empty armour, my Dreamcloud Energy has free reign.

She manages to turn her head and lay eye on me, her expression bewildered.

“Looks like I win,” I intone.

This one’s for you, Kait.

Dominique grits her teeth, and tries to lift an arm. Pain lances over her face as I twist my spear.

“Fine,” she spits out through clenched jaws. “You better kick that little creep’s ass, or I’ll be very disappointed.”

I nod, my whole body still taut with tension and Cold.

She tries to inhale, but the movement is interrupted when she suddenly and violently coughs up blood.

I pull out my spear, and back up a bit.

Dominique shoots me a lingering look, as she wipes the blood from her lips. “I forfeit,” she finally rasps.

As below us the bottom of the ravine approaches, Spatial Energy envelops us both.

Thankfully, the Peilor are so kind as to teleport all my weapons back with me. As I strap my crystal spear and trident back in, I take in the front wall.

To my surprise, there’s only one screen playing. That the rerun of my and Dominique’s battle hasn’t started yet, seems to indicate that Miss Nakamura’s fight with Avalan is still ongoing.

Like us, they’re fighting above Big Bortha’s surface. For a moment I consider what the Peilor might’ve done if the fights had gotten intermixed somehow. However, considering Big Bortha’s size and how Cold it was near her, that scenario was probably never even feasible.

Anyway, Miss Nakamura clearly has excellent control over her Kinetic Energy Skills, which allow her to move around above Big Bortha even without footing.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Avalan uses his gravitational fields to push her away, keeping her at a distance as he bombards her with Radiation.

They both look haggard and hypothermic, but there’s a grim line on Miss Nakamura’s face, and a grin on Avalan’s.

I move to the stands and keep watching, fists clenched.

Come on, one slip up, you little prick! There’s no doubt in my mind that Miss Nakamura will turn him into a pretzel if she can just get her hands on him, extra limbs on his back or not.

However, Miss Nakamura’s energy appears to be flagging. She hangs on valiantly, but the Radiation and the Cold are clearly taking their toll.

Avalan’s grin grows, his sword glittering in Big Bortha’s cooling rays as one of his extra limbs flourishes it exaggeratedly.

Suddenly, Miss Nakamura launches herself forward, flipping over and leading the attack with her legs, seemingly trying to catch Avalan’s scrawny little neck between her glorious thighs.

I jump to my feet, alone in the stands. “That’s it, pop the little fucker’s head off like a cork!”

Unfortunately, it’s not meant to be. Despite a moment of panic, Avalan dodges nimbly and even manages to slash her on the back with his sword as she passes. With droplets of blood detaching and floating off into space, Miss Nakamura sighs, then forfeits. The screen goes black.

I groan out loud, sinking back into the stands as both screens flicker to life again, now replaying the semi-finals. Ugh. Just great.

I’m not much in the mood to watch, having seen nothing new in the portion of their fight I watched, so I kick off the stands and make for the portal rings.

Of course, Avalan intercepts me on the way, coming to stop right in front of me, laughter dancing in his eye.

I suppress a sigh, folding my arms over each other and sizing him up. It wouldn’t look great if I just avoided him. The Peilor value strength, and all that.

“Congratulations!” Avalan exclaims cheerily. “You made it to second place, not bad, not bad!”

I roll my eye. “Really? You realise I finished my match faster than you did yours, right?”

His grin widens. “Ah, so you did. Well, I guess it’s always been a bad habit of mine, that urge to play with my prey.”

I snort. “Sure. Sorry, what was your stage name again, DJ Whiskers?”

“What do you think happens to those who die here?” he suddenly asks, cocking his head aside and staring at me intensely. “I’ve been wondering.”

“How curious are you? ’Cause I don’t mind helping you find out,” I fire back.

Avalan throws his head back and laughs. “I like you,” he says, stopping abruptly. “It would almost be a shame to kill you.”

I shake my head, more annoyed than anything. “What exactly are you trying to accomplish here? Trying to get in my head? Get me to forfeit? You might as well stop wasting your time; I’m going to kick your ass tomorrow regardless.”

“Oh no no no,” he says, tutting. “Getting you to forfeit is the last thing I want, trust me.”

I raise a brow at him. “You expect me to believe that? You’re telling me the brutal, unnecessary killing in earlier rounds was not an intimidation tactic but just something you did for fun? Yeah, I’m not buying it.”

He smiles slyly. “Why can’t it be both?”

I shrug. “No reason, I suppose. Sounds to me like you’re just avoiding the question, though. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow, what you’re really made of.”

I move past him with a kick of my tail, having had enough of the stellar conversation.

Avalan’s laughter chases me all the way to the portal ring.

Sick bastard.

Back in my crib, I practice my Skills and moves almost on autopilot, thoughts whirling to my mind all the while.

Tomorrow it ends, one way or another, and I’ll find out what’s waiting for us at the end of this friggin’ rainbow.

And my biggest worry isn’t DJ Nyan Cat. It’s what comes after that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences with mind control. One thing I’ve clearly concluded is that it’s not the same as Charm. Yet, there are clear similarities. They both require Espir, for example.

I really should’ve realised that sooner. I mean, Goddess demonstrated her capability quite clearly, and since she’s purely a being of the Realm of Imagination, mind control can’t have much to do with Lavi and Qi, which don’t even exist there.

Moreover, I already knew Charm requires Espir, and properly defending against mind control requires Espir, so it makes sense that mind control itself also requires Espir somehow.

Something about this niggles at my mind, but I can’t quite figure it out. It feel like I’m still missing a final piece of the puzzle somewhere...

That night, after I’ve thoroughly exhausted myself, I once again trigger the mental barrage by attempting to enter the Realm of Imagination.

As the memories wash over me, I continue my efforts of trying to figure out how to use Espir against it. I try blocking the memories, altering them, and even drowning them out with my own conjured memories.

Unfortunately, none of my methods are very successful, and I once again fail to push through. However, as the grief overwhelms me and I start to cry, I feel a by now familiar sensation of a mental pressure loosening. I’m pretty sure I just gained a point of Mental Fortitude, though Suri remains silent on the matter.

I can only hope it’ll be enough, should the need to defend my mind arise.

Author's note:

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