• hcmills

Chapter 180: I believe

“Say, Akir, you know that hollowed-out tree with the floating mushrooms?” I ask.


He glances up at me. “Those mushrooms are sentient, Emma. You’re not allowed to eat them.”


I roll my eyes. “No, duh... That’s not what I was thinking. Those mushrooms, they’re actually digesting the wood of that hollowed-out tree, right? And if I understand how this works correctly, that means that wood is digestible?”


Akir gives me a weird look. “Yes, it’s digestible... eat a lot of wood back in Material Realmspace, did you?”


Wait, was that a sex joke? Nah... couldn’t have been.


“I did not,” I reply curtly, just in case. “However, I learned how to use Toxic Energy in the Yin-Yang Realm by studying the way those very mushrooms consume the wood through their tendrils. Eventually, I even became what’s called the Toxic subtype, which means that Toxic Energy became a part of me. So I’m thinking, maybe I could reverse engineer a way to consume the wood based on that connection...”


Akir listens to my explanation with a thoughtful expression on his face.


“So?” I ask eagerly. “Do you believe it could work?”


Akir shrugs. “Doesn’t really matter what I believe. Only thing that matters is if you believe it. So, do you?”


I consider this for a moment. A grin spreads over my face.


Akir’s eye-slits crinkle up happily. “Well then, what are we waiting for?”



The fallen, hollow tree deep in the darker reaches of the upside-down forest is just as big as I remember.


Akir lights up as we enter it, strange patterns of fluorescent lights coming from his wriggly flesh.


I’m greeted by the familiar sight of alabaster mushrooms that shiver, light up in pinks and blues, and take off by undulating their caps.


However, my interest lies not with them this time. Instead, my focus is on the pulpy wood they just vacated.


Please, let this work.


I find a nice dry patch of wood and sit down cross-legged. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath, and start cutting off my various senses to focus on the Espir within myself, as I’ve done many times before.


Twenty-five motes. Ought to be enough for now.


Next, I expand my senses into my surroundings, to see what other things are made of in terms of Espir—something I haven’t done that often, perhaps less than I should have.


The first thing I sense is Akir, because holy shit that is some densely packed Espir!


There’s definitely Espir in this wood as well, however, and it’s digestible as expected. Whether I can digest it feels... very questionable. But that’s not going to deter me. Even if I don’t fully believe I can do this right now, I’m 100% convinced I can learn to do it.


And so I start Imagining my spiritform as containing Toxic Energy like my body did in the Yin-Yang Realm. Unfortunately, this is harder than it would seem.


First of all, changing my spiritform is nothing like conjuring something outside of it. The spiritform is a conceptualisation of the self, meaning it’s tied to one’s self-image, rather than one’s Imagination. Still, I’m very used to Toxic Energy being a part of me, so it shouldn’t be this difficult.


Ugh, it’s almost like... like this very Realm rejects the concept of Yin and Yang.


I blink. That... might actually be it, right? Well, it’s not like I need actual Toxic Energy anyway.


Once I let go of the idea of replicating the Yin-natured Toxic Energy exactly, I soon find myself able to form little slivers of magenta energy that flow through my spiritform. And after a while of that, I have enough that I can start trying to wrangle them into forming a single, large tendril...



Forging my own path is hard work, and I have to drink an alarming amount of fruit juice to sustain my labour.


I’m pretty sure Akir is down to the last bottle—I’ve been trying not to keep trackand I still haven’t quite managed to form a tendril yet.


The problem is, forming this kind of large structure is not something Toxic Energy would be keen to do, so I’ve been having a hard time believing my Toxic Energy-derived stuff would. Basically, I’ve been pushing the concept farther and farther away from its starting point, trying to impart my energy with more of the hungry nature of Toxic Energy, while getting rid of its selfish, uncooperative attitude.


Honestly, it hardly seems like Toxic Energy at this point. It’s really become more something like... Devouring Energy.


A shiver passes through my current attempt at a tendril, and all of a sudden, it stabilises.


I’m so surprised, I nearly let my concentration waver.


What the hell just—is it... because I gave it a new name?


Of course! Seeing it as derived from Toxic Energy was holding me back! I’ve long pushed it towards something new, something unique, it just needed a new identity!


Devouring Energy. Now this, I can work with.


Excited, I start forming more of it, growing the tendril out through my coccyx into the wood beneath me.


Penetrating the wood is quite easy, and my tendril is soon a foot deep, but when I try to start consuming the wood, I hit upon resistance.


Oh no you don’t. I’ve gotten this far, there’s no stopping me now. I can, and will consume you, stupid dead tree!


Whether it’s because the wood has been worn down by aeons of being consumed by similar tendrils, or just my sheer stubbornness breaking its resolve, the wood eventually gives in.


A trickle of Espir starts entering my spiritform through the tendril, and begins to coalesce into a fresh mote inside.


Yes!


My eyes open, and I shoot Akir a grin. “I’m doing it!”


Akir eyes crinkle into his equivalent of a smile, before he glances down at my tendrils in concern. “That’s not going to be enough, though...”


I eye the last bottle in his tentacle, and find it has less than a third left.


Yikes.


I crack my neck and take another big sip from my half-full glass. “Guess this is going to be a battle of resources then.”


It’s me against you, tree. Let’s see who wins this.


I close my eyes again, and start splitting an offshoot from the tendril...



Some time later, I’ve completely lost track of my surroundings. All I know is the Espir coming in through my tendrils isn’t enough, so I’m splitting them, sending them deeper, and growing more.


Espir comes in, transforms into Devouring Energy, and becomes part of the steadily growing network of tendrils beneath me, which by now reaches at least as deep below the surface as I rise above it.


However, something is bothering me, pushing against me somewhere up near the top of my being. Vibrations travel through me, meaningless at first. I’m loath to spend Espir doing anything but forming more tendrils, but the annoying sensations don’t stop, so I gradually pull some Espir deeper into my being, and try to form an understanding of what’s going on.


“—on, Emma, I brought you something,” a familiar voice grunts.


My light-receptacles blink open, and groggily take in the purple thing floating in front of me. It’s holding out a tendril of some kind, with a multi-coloured object in it.


It takes a long moment for my mind to pick up and recognise the mouth-watering scent coming off it. Espir!


My food-intake-receptacle opens and clumsily tries to grab it. The purple tendril helpfully pushes it forward, allowing me to take a bite.


Espir rushes into me, and I’m suddenly awake.


“Woah, headrush,” I say, blinking. “Hey Akir. What’s up?”


He lets out a relieved sigh. “We ran out of juice and you were still going. Your intake was slowly picking up, but I feared you were losing yourself, so I went out to look for some fruit. I got lucky, managed to grab a couple. Eat up.”


Don’t have to tell me twice!


There’s a strange resistance as I lift up my arm to accept the fruit from his tentacle, like it’s tearing free from something sticky.


Munching on another bite I glance down, and find my body looking kind of... melted in on itself.


Yuck!


I’m struck by a dizzying wave of body dysmorphia, followed by a powerful urge to snap my spiritform’s shape back to what it should be. However, I manage to suppress the urge, worried that I’ll dislodge or tear some tendrils of Devouring Energy in the process, and instead restore my shape slowly and carefully.


Honestly though, I needn’t have worried.


Holy shit, I’ve been busy!


The veritable root that connects to the base of my spine is now as thick as my forearm, and splits into about sixty separate tendrils, some of which go as deep into the wood as twice my height.


In hindsight, this makes sense. The mushrooms don’t need nearly as much Espir as I do to maintain themselves, because they’re dumb as heck.


I feel like I’m actually already taking in close to the amount I need, it’s just that I had no Espir to spare for much more than maintaining my existence and growing out my network further, which is why I ended up in that weird, almost vegetative state.


Looks like I’m going to be consuming a lot of this wood. Oh well, there appears to be plenty left. The mushrooms seem to hardly have made a dent since the last time I was here.


Even after I eat the whole fruit, my body feels really weak for some reason. It takes me a moment to realise that it’s because my spiritform has gotten much less dense, as I’ve grown it out so much with the added tendrils.


And I’m not even done yet... I hope I don’t hit some kind of expansion limit before I’m able to absorb Espir fast enough to sustain myself.


Well, all I can do at this point is keep going.


I accept the rest of the fruit from Akir, and start funnelling the additional Espir I get from eating them into quickly spreading my network of tendrils farther in every direction. I save some Espir for my mind, however, as I’m still traumatised by the molten shape of my body earlier.


All right, I’m exaggerating a little, but it was still friggin’ weird.


Anyway, the downside to not trancing quickly becomes clear.


“Akir, I’m boooored.”


“What do you want me to do about it?” he grunts. “Haven’t I done enough?”


By now, I know Akir well enough to recognise his fake annoyance for the mere front it is. He just likes to grumble and pretend things are all very bothersome for some reason, even if he doesn’t really mind.


“Ooh, you could tell me a story! Come on, you’re always asking for stories, you should really tell one for a change.”


“No.”


“Come oooon. Please?”


Akir lets out a long-suffering sigh. “Fine. If it’ll shut you up.”


He remains quiet for a bit.


“Well?”


“I’m thinking,” he grunts.


Silence stretches out between us, until he at last opens his mouth. “All right, you remember that Sloan guy?”


“Eh...” I squint, racking my brain for a moment. “Oh, yeah! That guy that was Visiting the Realm of Imagination, cleaning your shop when I... ehm, when I came crashing in and caused him to quit.”


Akir nods. “That’s the one, but this is the story of how I met him. Well, it’s not much of a story, really, but it’s still the most interesting thing that happened to me in a long while. Before you showed up, anyway.”


He shoots me a glare, but I just smirk in response, patiently waiting for him to continue.


Akir takes a deep breath. “So, there I was, polishing glasses in a lull and a portal opens up in the middle of my bar.”


My brows rise. “Like the one that appeared when he left?”


Akir squints his eye-slits at me. “Did you want me to tell you, or what?”


I roll my eyes. “Just answer the question, please.”


“Yes,” he replies curtly. “Just like that. Anyway, so this Sloan guy steps out. He takes one look around, then asks for a job.”


He pauses, looking at me expectantly.


“So?” I ask, when nothing else is forthcoming.


“That’s weird, Emma,” Akir explains, exasperated. “We don’t really have jobs here; people just do whatever they like. We don’t even have money.”


“Huh. Wait, how do you even know what money is then?”


Akir turns his eyes skyward for a moment. “Please. You humans aren’t the only beings who invented the concept of currency. And I’m a lot older than you probably think. Anyway, I looked him over, asked him what he could do. He pondered that for a moment, then sighed and said, ‘Clean.’ So, I gave him a mop, Imagined some dust and whatnot, and told him to have at it.”


I gape at him. “So, you made him do pointless chores, without pay?!”


Akir shrugs. “He wanted something to do, didn’t he?”


I narrow my eyes at him. “I’m pretty sure I remember you telling me he just showed up and started cleaning.”


“I was annoyed at you,” Akir grunts. “You’d just cost me my best employee.”


“He was your only employee!”


“That just makes it worse.”


“You—”


“Anyway,” Akir says, cutting me off. “I did feed him some drinks—non-alcoholic, as he was on the job—but he didn’t really seem to be at risk of Fading. Actually, he didn’t seem to be expending much Espir in general; it was kinda weird.”


I stare at Akir.


“What?” he asks.


“Well, did you never ask him why?!”


“Didn’t want to be rude. Besides, at the time, I wasn’t very interested.”


A muscle twitches in my cheek. “Aargh! Did you just hang around with the guy in your bar, not talking?”


Akir shrugs. “His stories weren’t that interesting, so I stopped asking. They were mostly about other jobs he’d had where he was cleaning. His life sounded really boring.”


“Unbelievable,” I mutter, shaking my head.


We talk some more, Akir mostly tells stories about weird drinks and customers he’s had to serve in the past. Meanwhile, my network expands, and with it, my influx of Espir grows steadily.


By the time I’ve finished the last of the fruit, I unfortunately do seem to have hit a kind of limit of how far I can stretch out my spiritform, as forming more Devouring Energy is becoming increasingly difficult.


Well, at least I seem to finally be taking in enough to offset my basic Espir consumption.


“Congratulations,” Akir retorts dryly when I inform him of this. “You’ve successfully transformed into a fungus, somehow. I must say, for a being from Material Realmspace, you’re quite imaginative.”


“Thanks,” I drawl. “However, I think you’ll find you’re quite mistaken.”


With a flex of my will, I draw my Devouring Energy back inside myself. My spiritform immediately feels a lot more solid as I get to my feet. “See? Not a fungus.”


Akir just stares at me for a while, expectant.


Rolling my eyes, I sit back down, and quickly send my Devouring Energy back out as tendrils. “Fine, I’m an overgrown mould, stuck here absorbing nutrients to survive. Happy?”


“Well, at least I can rest assured you won’t be getting into any more trouble,” Akir muses. “That’s something.”


“Har har.”


Akir chuckles. “Yes, Emma,” he finally admits. “I’m happy you succeeded.”


“Yeah,” I say with a sigh. “Me too.”



Author's note:

Check out what my girlfriend made! ^^

It's her very first enamel pin! ^^ You can buy it here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/1134987762/mola-mola-fluffy-pancakes-glitter-enamel


And if you're interested in her future creations you can follow her @fluffycthulhu


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