• hcmills

Chapter 174: Me, myself, and Irene

Avalan is proving to be a tough nut to crack. Even under assault from three sides, very little passes through his defences.


Then again, he does have four extra limbs.


Every time he manages to strike a counter on one of my clones, spilling Hydrum, I make sure to Warp and switch weapons.


As the fight rages on, however, the fight begins to wear on the integrity of my clones.


It’s not the cloud of sharp objects or his crystal sword that’s the problem, really. I’ve stored plenty of Cold in the Hydrum, so there’s enough to keep restoring the Boreum Armour for a long time.


No, the problem’s that, despite the Toxic Energy I Infused into my Boreum armours, his constant use of beams of Radiation Energy is starting to eat away the Lavi that powers my clones, making them slower and weaker.


The bigger problem, however, is still that—with all the Warping through his Gravitational field—the spatial boundaries around them are rapidly wearing thin.


And then Avalan produces a particularly powerful Gravity well.


My stomach flips as it forms directly between the three of me, catching me off-guard, and turns out to be strong enough to actually rip the worn spatial boundaries apart.


My attempt to Warp away fizzles out, and all three of me are sucked in, only to smash together in the centre.


Twin beams of Purposeless, high-intensity Radiation hit the spinning mess of Boreum and Hydrum, before the Gravity reverses and pushes it all back outward, revealing... three weapons.


Of course, I watch the whole mess from behind the big chunk of rock down in the maelstrom I’m currently hiding behind.


Avalan clearly lacks experience with the shell game; anyone as familiar with charlatans and lowlifes as me knows the only way to win is not to play. After all, any truly experienced player will know how to use a little sleight of hand to ensure that the ball is either under all three, or none of the shells.


The truth is, Avalan has been fighting nothing but clones from the beginning, while I Warped around, hiding behind large pieces of rubble as I collected.


I’d hoped they’d last a little longer, but I guess this is good enough. I’m too low on Espir now to produce more of them, unfortunately; autonomy is expensive.


Well, I’ve got most of it, anyway, and I don’t like the way this vortex is gradually speeding up...


“Are we playing hide and go seek now?” Avalan yells, turning around on the spot. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”


“Nah, I’m done with that,” I reply, standing tall on my creation as it comes around the particularly large piece of rubble I built it behind. “How about a thumb war?”


Below my feet—my actual, flesh and blood feet, this time, I promise—is about a swimming pool’s worth of Acidic Hydrum shaped like a massive dodecapus, except this time it’s covered in glittering, magenta Boreum scales, which matches my armour.


The reason I’m not inside it this time, is, well... I wouldn’t be able to see shit.


For the first time since I’ve met him, Avalan’s smile drops entirely.


“Fair warning though,” I continue, stretching out my arm into a Warp tunnel and pulling it back out holding my crystal spear. “I’ve been known to cheat.”


Avalan doesn’t mince words, for a change. A wave of Gravity sends a barrage of rubble down towards me and my creation, even as he starts to back up.


The rubble he directs towards me is mostly shattered, sharp-edged pieces of rock, most no larger than a fist, but ranging up to the size of a refrigerator.


My dodecapus pushes off hard with most of its tentacles, using the rest to shield me and catch some of the larger rocks.


I deflect a stray projectile that makes it past with a casual flick of my spear.


Honestly, with my armour on, there’s not much need for the shielding. It’s just that I fused the soles of my Boreum boots with the outer shell of my creation, so that I would actually be able to stand on it without a decent source of gravity.


I can detach them easily enough, of course, or I wouldn’t have fused them.


The initial burst of speed has gotten my creation quite a bit closer to Avalan, but he’s quickly gaining speed away from me, and starting to look smug about it as he gravity-slings more rocks around himself towards me.


I bide my time, patient, until he fires a particularly large one.


When it’s just about to reach me, I stretch out the strongest Spatial Boundary I’ve ever made. Pushing it up against Avalan’s gravity field is much like swimming upstream, but I’m not trying to reach him. Instead, I move around him.


The look on his face when the huge boulder about to slam into me disappears into thin Aether is gold. The moment it crashes into him from behind, is priceless.


Though his gravity field and prosthetic limbs shield him from the worst of it, the impact at least robs him of his remaining momentum.


I immediately send my tentacles crashing towards him.


His repelling gravity field slows my tentacles down at the final approach, however, and he slips out of their grasp like a bar of soap under the shower.


The Focus Crystals in his additional limbs light up violet with Necrotising Radiation, and I quickly Warp onto a nearby tentacle.


In reply, I will the tip of the tentacle I’m now on to point straight at him and open up, then I make the whole thing contract.


A high-velocity jet of bubble-gum-pink, highly Acidic Hydrum bursts forth at point-blank range.


For the first time since the start of this tournament, his gravity field isn’t enough. Though most of the acid is deflected, part of it actually manages to reach him.


Avalan howls in pain, and when I next catch a glimpse of his face, it’s half-gone.


The skin and eyebrow on the upper left side of his face have been burned clean off. In fact, I can see his cheekbone jutting out a bit, and what remains of his eye is a half-molten mess. The area around his eye-crystal seems almost suspiciously unharmed, however.


“You bitch!” he howls. “You know, I was actually considering sparing you, but you’re going to pay for that!”


In lieu of a reply, one of my tentacles hurls a piece of debris in a seemingly random direction. It then enters a Warp-tunnel, and promptly appears on Avalan’s other side, as close as I can get it and travelling at high speed.


However, the intensity of his gravitational field appears to have increased, for it deflects around him and gets directed back towards me.


Avalan manages to regain some distance, and the fight devolves into the equivalent of a brawl between a monstrous space dodecapus and an earth elemental or something.


Avalan hurls giant rocks, which I direct my creation to catch and hurl back, Warping them under tricky angles. I try spraying more Acid through a Warp-tunnel as well, but nothing seems capable of reaching him anymore, as the intensity of the repelling gravity around him has reached an incredible level.


“First I’m going destroy that thing you’re riding, and then you!” he snarls. “Don’t even think about forfeiting before I’m through with you!”


My heart beats in my throat as I consider my options. I’d really hoped to maybe corner him against one of the Hub’s walls, but unfortunately, we’re slowly getting closer to a pair of accelerating vortices, which gives Avalan more and more ammunition to hurl, and my dodecapus is slowly being overwhelmed.


More and more debris makes it past the tentacles and smashes into the thick protective Boreum of my dodecapus. Cracks are continuously being repaired, but if this turns into a battle of attrition, I know I won’t come out on top.


Well then, here goes nothing.


I grit my teeth and muster my complete focus.


So far, I’ve mostly been practising making my Warp tunnels really small, so I could avoid stuff. Thankfully, Spatial Energy is very flexible, and doing the opposite is actually quite similar.


My entire dodecapus vanishes into the largest Warp tunnel I’ve ever produced, and pops out as close to Avalan as I can get it. All twelve tentacles snap forward in an attempt to engulf him.


This time, he doesn’t manage to slip away. I pull on all the strength the Lavi in the highly Acidic Hydrum has, and crunch the tentacles down.


Incredibly, I can tell a pocket of space manages to survive in their midst.


Flabbergasted, I shift a few tentacles to produce a tiny window.


Through it, Avalan’s half-digested face grins back at me, safely hidden behind a familiar, hexagonal grid of yellow light.


What the hell? It’s like a... a miniature version of the protective grid!


“Ah the look on your face as you realise the futility of your struggle,” he croons. “That’s what I live for.”


I quirk an eyebrow at him. “The look on my face? That’s pretty ironic, coming from you right now.”


He sneers. “I’ll be pretty again soon enough, as for you; there’ll be no way to recognise your corpse!”


Unbelievable...


I shake my head, disgusted. “You really think there’ll be a future for you on Peilinor after all this? I recognise the Peilor respect strength and all that, but I’m sure even they’d draw the line at some level of ‘murderous lunatic.’ ”


Avalan laughs. “Have you really not figured it out yet, Emma? We’re not here in some bullshit immigration program. We’re nothing but the entertainment!”


I blink at him. “You believe the Peilor brought us here to entertain, and you still chose to slaughter everyone in your way?”


“What can I say? I’m a born entertainer,” he replies smugly. “And if we only have value as long as we’re entertaining, then I’m going to entertain the hell out of them!”


A muscle next to my eye twitches. “I get it now. You’re nothing but a sycophant.”


“Oh, get off your high horse,” he scoffs, his face distorting in pain for a moment as his brows attempt to furrow. “You act like your path here wasn’t paved in blood when we both know it was!”


Guess he managed to get some stuff out of Dominique after all...


I clench my jaw. “I did what I had to do, to protect myself and my friends. I’m not ashamed of that. What I didn’t do, was throw away my dignity to please the ones who forced me to fight for my life. I’m not the one lying on my belly, like a dog, grovelling for a scrap from my masters.”


Of course, even as we talk, I’m intently studying the protective shielding which I can’t seem to penetrate. My tentacles can’t seem to get within five inches of it. The Toxic Energy leaking from them might have had more success, if it weren’t for the Purifying Radiation he’s bathed himself in.


I need to get inside of it, but Spatial Energy is like the last thing I’ll get through that shield!


Unfortunately, Spatial and Gravitational Energy seem to more repel and hinder, than degrade each other, so it seems unlikely I’ll be able to wear his shield down with that either.


Avalan’s grin turns into more of a grimace, his bared teeth grinding upon one another. “You’re going to regret saying that...”


“Aww, does the truth hurt?” I mock. “Too bad.”


“You’re dead. Dead!”


“Yeah? Well, I’d rather be dead than a pathetic waste of space who throws away his humanity for a chance to live like a slave.”


One of his Focus Crystals lights up, so I close the gap between the tentacles, and back away.


A dim violet shines through for a second, followed by an inarticulate scream of rage.


I shake my head. Okay, now how do I—


I stumble a little as gravity envelops my whole creation for a second, pulling it, before I fortify my Spatial Boundary again and the pull weakens.


I look up, and see we’re still slowly moving towards a spot in the distance where two vortices have begun to overlap.


My eyes widen. Not good.


Already, debris is colliding there with great force. If we reach it, my dodecapus will be ripped apart by impacts from both sides.


Even weakened, Avalan’s gravity is still clearly and deliberately accelerating us in that direction.


Shit! If I lose hold of him now, I’ll never catch him again! I have to find a way to break through that forcefield!


I dart around the knot of twisting tentacles and quietly open a window on Avalan’s other side, so I can resume studying the grid.


Thankfully, he doesn’t notice right away, too busy trying to squirm his way out.


I push the last of my available Espir into the rudimentary mind controlling my dodecapus, and trust it to hold him as I focus on my task.


Ugh, how does it even work?! Gravity is supposed to pull, not push! I’ve never faced or met anyone before who reached this level with Gravity... it might actually be an evolved Skill like Warp!


No wonder Kaitlynn never said anything about it, then.


I intently study the energy, until Avalan catches sight of me, and his Radiation forces me to leave again.


My heart pounds in my throat as I move to a spot on my dodecapus where I can keep an eye on the site of my creation’s imminent destruction.


I take a deep breath, forcibly trying to calm myself down as I prepare to do the scariest thing I’ve done during this whole battle.


I sit down cross-legged, and close my eyes.


Okay, so there’s clearly an important distinction here... first I thought it might just be that—since he can manipulate gravity—he was just flipping the vector of the force around, so to speak. But that wouldn’t result in something like this, a field that actively repels stuff from all sides.


I’m positive that’s what it is, because even Avalan seemed unable to get close to the grid on the inside, which I noticed due to the odd angles his tentacle limbs had to contort themselves in to manage to aim his Focus Crystal at me.


So there must be two types of Gravitational Energy; a kind of Positive and Negative, like with Inertia and Momentum.


Small pieces of debris start impacting the Boreum around me with increasing frequency as we drift ever-faster towards what I presume to be the Realm’s very first double asteroid belt sander.


[Emma... perhaps you should forfeit,] Suri chimes unexpectedly, sounding very pained to say it. [His defences are too advanced, this is a losing battle.]


“I’m not giving up just yet, Suri,” I reply, calmer than I feel.


Then I Warp into the centre of my dodecapus, keeping my eyes closed in an effort to maintain concentration. It’s not like I’d see much in here anyway, with all the Acid. Even with all my Toxic Energy Tolerance and control, I’m still forced to push the Acid out of the Hydrum around me a bit, so that it won’t start eating into my skin.


I spent a lot of Qi dosing all of the Hydrum I found, so the stuff really is lethal.


Okay, so there’s a second kind of Gravitational Energy, like the regular kind but inverted, I guess... how does that help me?


Wait... Inversion? That’s it!



Author's note:

Three more chapters till the end of Book Four, which coincidentally means Book Five starts on Christmas Eve ^^


Something extra to look forward to! ;)


Thanks for reading! ^^

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