• hcmills

Chapter 181: Up

Though I’m finally taking in enough Espir to offset my base consumption, I still find myself yawning after listening to some more of Akir’s stories. Mainly about the shenanigans of drunken patrons.


“You should get some rest,” Akir says gently.


“No thanks,” I reply, mid-yawn. “I’d much rather not turn into an actual fungus.”


Akir shakes his head. “You’ll be fine. You’re taking in plenty of Espir to maintain yourself while resting now. Besides, I’m here.”


I’m still reluctant, but another yawn followed by a wave of drowsiness cuts off my attempt to reply.


“Fine,” I slur. “I’ll just take a little nap, then. It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do anyway, I’m pretty darn stuck here...”


Practically the moment I close my eyes, all sensation fades, leaving behind only pleasant, restful oblivion.



Interestingly, my sleep in the Realm of Imagination is dreamless, and awakening from it is much like steadily emerging from a warm, dark bath. I suppose it makes sense though; dreaming would cost Espir, thus pretty much negating the whole purpose of resting.


Even as I slowly become aware of Akir muttering something nearby, of the musty smell of decomposing wood, and the sensation of my tendrils sucking the energy out of Imaginary dead plant-matter, I keep my eyes closed.


I’m pretty sure my Espir Pool has grown a little during this whole process. It should be full right now, so I could probably count the motes in my spiritform to figure out by how much...


I turn my focus inward, and start counting. It’s a little harder than usual, as my spiritform is far more spread out, with at least half of it currently in the shape of Devouring Energy, but I manage to get what I think is an accurate count.


Thirty-four motes... pretty sure that’s two up from my last total back in the Yin-Yang Realm. Well, it’s something.


There’s something weird about my spiritform, though. It takes me a moment to realise what.


My tendrils used to spread out in every direction below me, but that’s no longer the case. They now go straight down for a bit, and only then diverge sideways.


Moreover, my legs have been moved so I’m no longer sitting cross-legged, but with my lower legs hanging down instead.


What the hell?


Things simultaneously become a lot clearer and more confusing when I open my eyes.


I’m still inside the hollowed-out tree, but instead of being stuck on the floor, I’m now seated on a throne-like chair, which appears to have grown out of a large circular disc of Extant wood with a guardrail lining the outer edge. Ropes attached to the guardrail lead up to a mass of huge, undulating mushrooms above me, which appear to be keeping the whole thing afloat.


“Akir?!” I call out in bewilderment.


“Ah, you’re up,” he rumbles from somewhere beside me.


I twist my neck around to find him floating up and over the guardrail, where a couple of his tentacles quickly tie off a rope attached to another struggling mushroom.


“Yeah... ehm, what’s going on?”


He shrugs, accommodatingly moving in front of me so I can stop craning my neck. “I figured just because you’re a fungus now, doesn’t mean you have to be stuck here, so I made you some transportation.”


“Wha—you did all of this? How? Shit, how long was I asleep for?!”


“Not that long; it’s honestly not that big of a deal,” Akir says with a shrug. “I just cut a disc out of the wood beneath you, willed it to form a chair and a bit of railing, then Imagined some ropes and started wrangling mushrooms.”


Glancing back, I indeed spot a circular depression in the thick wood of the hollowed-out log, already filling up with various smaller mushrooms, who are happily draining the ‘fresh’ wood revealed beneath. “But, isn’t Extant stuff incredibly hard to manipulate? That’s what Raindrop told me...”


Akir grunts. “I’m not some youngling like Raindrop, you know? As for the cutting, I went and grabbed some Extant tools for that first.”


Akir extends one of his tentacles to an absurd length as he reaches for a nearby bag, and briefly draws out a massive saw, that should by no means fit inside.


“Anyway, we can look into a more permanent solution later,” he continues, sheathing the saw again in the far-too-small bag. “For now, I feel like you could use a change of scenery.”


“Oh, definitely,” I agree whole-heartedly, more than happy at the prospect of leaving the damp, musty hollow log.


My enthusiasm dims a bit when I notice an issue. “Ehm, how exactly were you planning to fit this whole thing through there?” I ask, pointing at the small hole in the side of the trunk we came in through.


Akir’s eyes give his equivalent of a smile. “I wasn’t.”


Without saying another word, he flies off to said hole, and out of the hollow tree.


Seeing him disappear, for a brief moment, I consider this was all an elaborate prank.


Moments later, however, the entire log begins to tremble, causing mushrooms to get stirred up all over, detaching and flying around to bathe the entire log in a swirl of blues and pinks.


Then, the log starts to tilt, one end grating over stone as it steadily rises, until at last, there is no more stone.


For the second time since my arrival in this Realm, the massive, monstrous eye of a kraken peers down on me.


“Holy shit,” I whisper.


Did Akir just lift the whole damn thing? How strong is he, exactly?!


Whether it’s from the light pouring in from above, or the ominous giant staring down at them, the mushrooms are whipped into a frenzy, undulating with all their might, and the ones carrying my new vessel are no exception.


The ropes creak and sway as they fly up, the platform I’m on careening after them. A massive tentacle reaching down to provide some gentle guidance is the only thing that prevents my vessel from smacking into the sides of the hollow log.


And suddenly, we’re up and out. A single tentacle curls around the ropes, bringing us to an abrupt halt.


I gape at the massive bulk of Akir’s body as he gently puts the hollow log back down, this time keeping the open end of the hollow log unobstructed, presumably so the stream of mushrooms who panicked and fled can find their way back inside more easily.


Then, maintaining his grip on the ropes, Akir starts shrinking down at the speed of a deflating balloon.


He finally lets go of the ropes only when he’s reached his regular size, and floats down towards me.


“Not what you were expecting, eh?” he asks with a snort, clearly enjoying the incredulous expression on my face. “You younglings are always so cocky; maybe this’ll teach you to respect your elders!”


Dimly, I realise again how weak my spiritform feels right now due to being spread out in tendrils beneath me. Growing bigger doesn’t make you stronger. It might actually make you weaker, as it reduces the Espir density inside your spiritform. Which means...


Akir has always been capable of ripping me apart like wet paper. Most likely, he’s just one of many here who could.


It’s a sobering thought, and for the first time, I actively appreciate that Goddess has such strict rules about harming other sentient creatures.


Anyway, I have to say, it’s nice to be outside again. Heck, it’s nice to at last be fully out of crisis mode; having a view is really just a bonus.


Despite the massive improvement in my circumstances, however, I don’t feel relaxed in the slightest. Now that I’ve got some room to think and feel, the horror of what happened to me—to us—hits me again, all at once.


My jaw clenches as I stare at the lightning serpents roaring in the distant clouds.


Those bastards, treating us like glorified livestock. Worse, treating our struggles and deaths like entertainment!


Anger boils hotly inside of me at the thought of my friends walking around with plastic smiles on their faces, mindless hosts, obeying their Peilors’ every whim.


“So, what would you like to do next?” Akir asks, snapping me out of my dark thoughts


I take a deep breath, and try to bring my focus back to what I can do in the short term. As much as I want to reclaim my body and save my friends, I’m nowhere near ready for such a mission. After all, in my current form, I can still only barely survive here.


However, Akir has shown me how much more power there is to be achieved in this Realm. If I had that kind of strength, I bet I could wipe the floor with Suri. And to reach that goal, sticking with absorbing the Espir from this wood is my best—heck, my only—bet for now.


I’ll probably need to figure out a way to consume it faster or something, though, or I fear growing strong enough may take an awfully long time... For now, however, that can wait. I just resolved my latest crisis, and there’s still someone in this Realm I definitely owe a visit too.


“I want to go to Cloudspire, to visit Raindrop.”


Akir nods. “All right. Go ahead.”


I stare at him for a couple of seconds. “What do you mean, go ahead?”


“I mean go ahead. Direct your vessel to Cloudspire.”


“How?!”


He shrugs. “I know how I’d do it, but you’ll have to find your own way. I’m not going to play your driver forever.”


I consider my options for a moment. Finally, I turn my gaze upwards and present the mass of undulating mushrooms my most Charming smile...



While it’s very nice to be mobile again, Charming such a large mass of beings takes a lot out of me, and Akir soon convinces me to take another nap along the way.


By the time he wakes me, we’re just below Cloudspire.


“This is going to be... interesting,” he grunts.


Looking up at the hanging spires, I get what he means. While my pretty flying mushrooms are very enthusiastic about fulfilling my requests, they’re not yet very coordinated.


“Oh crap,” I mutter under my breath. “WATCH OUT!”


My mushrooms swarm upwards, nearly sending my vessel careening into a familiar manatee wearing a top hat, but he nimbly dodges out of the way, never ceasing to blow bubbles out of his pipe.


There are several more near-misses on our way up to Raindrop’s floor, until finally, Akir is forced to step in and grab the ropes, lest we crash into a nearby spire.


The undulating mushrooms strain on their ropes for a bit, but Akir doesn’t give them an inch as he personally lifts my vessel the last of the distance to the balcony surrounding Raindrop’s room.


The moment we draw level, slimy purple appendages suddenly grow from said balcony and firmly grasp my vessel, keeping it in place.


I blink at them, needing a moment to process that Akir decided that Imaginary tentacles growing out of a balcony was an appropriate way to anchor my vessel.


My mushrooms undulate around confusedly, before setting down on nearby wood.


“Hey, none of that now,” Akir snaps at them. “You lot can settle down on the vessel, nothing else!”


Somehow, they seem to understand. Well, most of them. Akir personally flies over to detach the few who don’t immediately let go off the walls and balconies around.


The mushrooms quickly gravitate towards and attach to my vessel, their tendrils shrinking back whenever they accidentally hit my Devouring Energy.


Part of me isn’t too keen on them eating my food, but I know rationally that it’s fine. Their tendrils and appetites are tiny compared to mine, as they are simple, self-sustaining creatures, who only consume so they can slowly grow their Cores and perhaps one day become sapient.


“We’ll need to train them a bit better before you can fly solo,” Akir decides after he’s finished wrangling my mushrooms. “They can’t do much on their own, but that Extant wooden platform of yours could do some real damage if it hit the wrong thing. Anyway, come on, I do believe she’s home.”


I withdraw my Devouring Energy and get up, stretching out my stiff legs as I unsteadily step onto the balcony.


I know my legs are Imaginary and they can’t really fall asleep or whatever, but it still feels that way. I guess I have a hard time believing they’d feel fine after I sat for so long.


Finally, with some trepidation, I make my way over to the circular hole in the wall, that serves as the entrance to Raindrop’s nest.


Raindrop stood up for me when the incident happened, but does she still feel as charitable about it now, having had some time to process what I did, and what damage I caused?



Author's note:

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