• hcmills

Chapter 173: The shell game

The next morning, I lounge in my room, happy to stay far from Avalan for as long as possible.

Over breakfast, I mainly ponder what the final arena is going to be like. I mean, the last one was Big Bortha’s surface, how are they going to top that?

A more pertinent question, perhaps, is if it’s going to work in my opponent’s favour again...

Well, there’s no way to know in advance.

As much as I’d like to keep avoiding Avalan however, I refuse to give him the satisfaction of thinking I’m scared. So eventually, I steel myself, and make my way over to the pod.

The Final Hub is eerily quiet.

Avalan hangs nearby, his arms folded behind his head, waiting for me.

Because of course he is.

His face lights up with a grin the moment he spots me, and he immediately starts floating my way, without moving a muscle. “Well, well, and here I was starting to get worried you might not show at all. Don’t you know it’s rude to keep people waiting?”

Ugh. Time for another pissing contest. I suppress a sigh, and fold my arms over my chest. “Don’t you know only losers show up early to a party? Let me guess: you were a nerd in high school. Did you get bullied a lot, or just a little?”

I was too, but he doesn’t need to know that.

A twitch in Avalan’s cheek shows I’ve hit a nerve. “Oh, but the real party hasn’t gotten started yet. I’m looking forward to that.”

“Cool story. I’m going to go catch some rays now, if you don’t mind,” I say, kicking my tail to move past him towards the oasis on the desert island, already done with this shit.

He doesn’t try to bar my way, but he doesn’t relent either, floating after me with that insufferable smirk on his face. “Aww, leaving so soon? I hope it wasn’t anything I...”

He trails off, a constipated look flashing over his face at getting interrupted by his AI.

I know he’s getting interrupted, because Suri speaks up at the very same time.

[It’s time,] she chimes seriously.

I frown. “Really? I thought we had some—”

[Please head to the Boreum island on the other side of the Hub.]

I blink. “Ehm, why?”

[Just go,] Suri chimes, sounding terse.

I’m a little weirded out, but follow her instruction to head for that direction. Avalan, shoots me one last grin, and waves at me, before heading for one of the islands on the Twinstar’s side of the Hub.

I don’t wave back.

Tension builds inside of me as I make my over and touch down on the Boreum islands, but Suri isn’t satisfied, guiding me towards a specific spot.

Looking across the Hub, I spot Avalan standing on the disc across from mine, a little dot in the distance that appears to be looking in my direction.

My accelerated heartbeat floods Adrenaline through my veins as something begins to dawn on me. “Suri, is this—”

[The Final Round commences now,] Suri chimes sharply. [Good luck, Emma!]

Before I can reply, the disc I’m standing on—and all the others in the Hub—bursts into pieces.

Oh shit. This is the final arena!

Before my eye—and below my feet—the disc-shaped islands fly apart.

I quickly kick off to put some distance between myself and the Boreum shattering into razor-sharp fragments of varying sizes.

A large rock that I dimly recognise as being part of the stands comes toward me with deceptive speed and I quickly swim out of the way.

I draw my spear and form my Boreum armour as I take stock of the situation.

The outward momentum of the materials making up the discs disappears far faster than I expected, but a pressure on my hastily formed Spatial Boundary informs me why.

Shit, gravity fields!

Rotating gravity fields, by the looks of it, as the six discs swiftly transform into six deadly whirlpools of rubble.

Is this... Avalan’s doing?

I quickly dismiss the thought. Even if he’d had the capability to pull of something this big—which I doubt—there’s no way he’d have been allowed to know this’d be the arena in advance. No, this has the Peilor written all over it.

Honestly, the energy required to put all of this into motion alone is insane. I mean, it doesn’t even make sense for the rubble to stay in motion; the Aether should slow everything down. Someone went to a lot of effort to set all of this up.

Still, this is... less than ideal. Lots of rubble—and even active gravity fields—for Avalan to play with.

Well, whatever. I’m used to adversity. The environment may seem favourable to Avalan at first glance, I’m sure I can make use of it as well.

I idly dodge a Boreum statue that comes sailing by, as my mind works and my eye wanders around the arena.

In the distance, Avalan starts moving towards me, right around the time I find what I’m looking for.

Yup. That’ll do.

I swish my tail and move away from the swirling Boreum beneath me towards the maelstrom of rock next to it that used to be another floating disc, and dive in.

Avalan takes his sweet time, building a collection of sharp objects on his way over.

He really should’ve rushed over.

When he finally arrives, I rise from the maelstrom to meet him, clad in purple Boreum and wielding a magenta crystal spear.

“Are you ready to party?!” he demands loudly with a stupid grin on his face, in what I surmise is his professional DJ voice.

He pouts a little when I do nothing but level my spear at him. “So that’s how it’s going to be? Boooring!”

I wait for a passing rock to approach, then quickly kick off it to the side, and Warp.

My tunnel ends fifteen feet to his right—that’s as close as I can get with the interference of his Gravity field eroding my Spatial Boundary—and I pop out at a nice speed.

However, as I approach further, a powerful wave of Gravity washes over me, enough to actually seep through my boundary and decelerate me, make it feel like I swam into jelly. I lash out with my spear anyway, but one of the tentacle-like, chitinous appendages on his back makes a wild swing and blocks it.

He laughs. “Fine, let’s play!”

An oppressive force bears down on my Spatial Boundary. It doesn’t try to push or pull me anywhere, nor does it need to.

Instead, it causes the cloud of sharp bits swirling around Avalan to converge toward me.

Despite the gravitational interference, I manage to Warp to a nearby floating object, kick off it, and Warp again.

As the fight continues, the gravity pushing and pulling around Avalan continually eats away at my Spatial Boundary. At the same time, my spread-out Warp boundary seems to interfere with his ability to maintain objects in a stable orbit around him, and of course, his ability to jerk me around like a puppet.

However, it soon becomes clear to me that with the rate my Spatial Energy is draining, the situation is rapidly becoming untenable.

So I telegraph a big swing of my spear.

Avalan takes the bait. This time, when I Warp into range, his Gravity doesn’t try to push me away, but pulls me towards him.

I pop my boundary and let it.

I fly at him even faster than he expected, but the big swing was still too obviously wound up, and two of his tentacles form a cross and block it. A third makes a grab for my leg, and a fourth stabs his crystal sword towards my stomach.

It pierces through the Boreum scales, and out splashes... Hydrum.

Avalan stares at the clear liquid in confusion. “What the hell—”

He pushes off with his tentacles at the last second, which is the only thing that saves him from getting stabbed in the head by my crystal trident from above.

He quickly backs up, looking wide-eyed at my second appearance, similarly decked out in a full suit of purple Boreum armour, and only distinguished by the different crystal weapon.

Incredulous, he glances back at the first me that appeared before him.

What little he can see from my faces beneath the armour winks at him, then I use my control over the Hydrum in the suit to suck the bit that leaked out back in.

I shift my crystal trident, casually spinning it between my fingers, and helpfully tell him, “It’s from the heated springs that used to be on this island.”

In fact, that Hydrum is the reason I headed here. The first floating ball of Hydrum was still kinda hot when I found it, which slowed me down, but it was worth my time.

I was mostly just glad it had stuck together so well during the disintegration of the island. If it had dispersed into droplets, I never would have gotten anywhere.

Anyway, this is my ultimate clone-technique. The Boreum armour provides structural integrity and protection for the Lavi powering the construct, the Hydrum provides mass, and the Espir forms a limited, autonomous mind that I direct from afar to pilot the suit of armour, and portray a simple dark silhouette.

The only thing it can’t do, is store and replenish Qi. I’ll figure that part out someday, I’m sure.

Avalan looks back and forth between the two instances of me in awe and excitement. “How in the world are you—”

He nearly reacts fast enough to deflect the blow from the Darksteel spear coming in from behind, aimed for his neck. Due to the swift response of his extra limbs, however, it only cuts into his shoulder and doesn’t do as much damage as I’d hoped.

The spear is wielded by a third figure clad in Boreum, which a swift counter slash of his crystal sword reveals to be another clone. It being a clone, means that—as I’m not physically holding the spear myself—only a little bit of Acidic Toxic Energy makes its way into his wound.

He still hisses as he forcibly pushes the spear-wielding clone away.

“All right, now I’m getting pissed,” he intones darkly, even as a Focus Crystal in his armour lights up pink and begins Restoring him.

Suddenly, two of his extra limbs appear above his shoulders, each grasping a large Focus Crystal, and two beams of Necrotising Radiation burst forth from them, right at me. Well, the me that wields the crystal trident and just spoke to him.

I Warp.

The fight changes, Avalan doggedly chasing after me, using a combination of Radiation beams and flung objects, big and small to put pressure on me.

His Gravity weighs down on my Spatial Boundary harder than ever, constricting how far it can spread and thereby limiting the range of my Warp.

“It’s a nice little trick,” Avalan sneers as he hounds me, blocking the assaults from my two clones without too much hassle. “But it doesn’t work very well if all your copies wield different weapons, dumbass!”

I stop moving after narrowly dodging another rock, and smirk. “Say Avalan, have you ever played the shell game?”

He also stops, cocking his head sideways. “You realise the shells have to be identical for that to work, right?”

I grin, then let go of my crystal trident, and Warp.

In fact, all three of me let go of their weapon and Warp. Then they grab their new weapon.

Avalan blinks, his head swivelling left, then right. Then he actually laughs again, like a madman. “Good!” he cheers. “I was worried this was going to be too easy. Now, let me see what you can really do!”

He picks one of the other two Boreum-clad figures—seemingly at random—and attacks.

Oh, Avalan. You clearly lack experience playing the shell game.

This is going to be fun.

Author's note:

Poor Avalan, he's got no idea what's coming ^^

If you can't wait to find out either, you can always support me on Patreon! :p

$10 tier reads up to 11 chapters ahead, but even the $5 tier7 chapters aheadis well into book five by now ^^

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