• hcmills

Chapter 191: Welcome to Gainsville

Pre-chapter note:

I decided to post this week's chapter a day early, because I'm going to be quite busy tomorrow with last-minute preparations for Comic Con, including but not limited to picking up the banner I had made and driving to the con to set up my stand. ^^


Enjoy!



I take one last, nervous look around before I dare to close my eyes for a moment so I can focus on my next action.


First, I need something to distract the camouflaged creature. Though I’m loath to spend any of my precious Espir, I can’t afford to be indecisive right now.


With a thought, I use three motes of Espir to conjure up a school of fish and send them swarming forth as a single mass. They’d probably make a better distraction if I could get them to split up and move individually, but that would require far more mental effort.


I watch, tense with anticipation, as they approach the location of the camouflaged creature. As they pass over, for a moment, nothing happens, and I begin to worry I’ve spent my Espir for nothing.


Can it somehow tell they’re fake? I suppose that wouldn’t be too hard for a creature capable of sensing Espir, but things down here aren’t supposed to be too smart, right?


Suddenly, the creature shoots up in a whirl of limbs that sends up a cloud of sand. It lunges for my school of fish, but a quick mental exertion sends them rushing forward.


Thankfully, the creature responds exactly as I’d hoped and chases after them.


Only when it leaves the cloud of sand, can I tell it’s a largely transparent squid-like creature with an entire mess of tentacles—like, at least twenty—which it uses to propel itself forward.


I don’t waste another second. With a sweep of my tail, I leave my hiding place and start to approach low over the seabed, cautious but fast.


The cloud of sand whipped up by the giant squid now obscures Akir’s trident, but I’m not sticking around for it to settle down. I swim straight for where I’m sure it ought to be without a moment’s hesitation.


Pretty sure, anyway.


Squinting, I enter the murky water, my arms spread wide to increase my chances of bumping into the upright weapon.


With the sand blocking my vision in every direction, it’s very hard to tell how far I’ve moved into the cloud.


I grow increasingly nervous as I continue floating forward at reasonable speed without hitting anything.


Finally, right when I start to consider turning back, something solid smacks into my left wrist. I immediately scramble to grab hold of it, and as I pull myself closer, recognise the off-white shaft of Akir’s trident.


About a third of its shaft is still buried in the sand, which offers a surprising amount of resistance as I yank on it. Only after I pull on it with both hands, does it finally come free.


However, when I’m about to turn around, my prize in hand, a sudden rush of water blows the sand around me away.


This leaves me face to face with no fewer than seven angrily squinted eye-slits, all belonging to a single, giant squid-thing.


Oh shit.


It must’ve caught up to my distraction, as I was no longer controlling them directly, and noticed their lack of substance. Perhaps I should’ve spent more Espir to give my conjuration some limited cognition after all, but it’s too late now!


And besides, now that I have my weapon back... it’s time to stop running.


Several tentacles shoot towards me. A kick of my tail sends me up and out of their path. Passing by, I lash out at the nearest one.


One of my trident’s tines pierces the soft transparent flesh, sinking in as if it were made of butter. The tentacle I struck jerks back, but the rest keep coming.


I swim up and over Squinty the squid-thing, trying to catch it off-guard with my aggression, and get close to its main body from above.


However, its many eyes track me as I do, and rather than spinning to try to continue facing me, tentacles rear up from behind it.


Frowning, I lash out at a tentacle making a grab for my tail and back off a bit.


Before I left, Akir showed me the ‘proper’ way to use his trident. It was quite a marvel, seeing how he wielded it, almost more like a dance than a martial demonstration.


His tentacles whirled, feinting strikes before the one clutching his trident whipped forward to make a lightning-fast stab, or sideways to swing around in a sweeping arc, only to be pulled back immediately after hitting the target so the dance could continue.


Unfortunately, arms aren’t quite as suited to such motions. Of course, my arms aren’t physical here, they’re spiritual, so I could try and make myself believe they’re flexible and stretchable like Elastigirl’s, and use them to make similar whipping motions, but, well...


My belief in the inflexibility of bones and elbow joints has so far proven quite firm.


Squinty watches my slight retreat unblinking and immediately follows, spreading its tentacles wide.


Cursing internally, I turn around and try to gain some more distance. Predictably, Squinty gives chase.


Its tentacles don’t seem as strong as I feared, but there’s too many of them and they’re too long. I can’t afford a battle of attrition, I need a decisive strike...


I really hadn’t anticipated needing to fight underwater like this. The plan was for me to be hunting off Kirri’s back, throwing my trident at small prey and reeling it back in with a rope or some—


I blink, as an idea hits me.


I make several sharp turns in a row to throw Squinty off, then quickly turn around, and hurl my trident as hard as I can manage.


Several of Squinty’s eyes track the projectile’s trajectory as it threatens to... miss it entirely.


Right as it’s about to pass the creature by, however, I use the long tendril of Devouring Energy sprouting from my palm—still attached to the shaft where I just held the trident—to emulate Akir’s style and whip it aside towards my foe.


The sudden change in direction catches Squinty off-guard, and the trident buries itself deeply into its main body, the right-most tine smashing straight into one of its eyes.


Nice.


I have to admit, I had originally never envisioned this application of my Devouring Energy, but after I used it to hang off Kirri’s railing in a moment of panic, it’s like my mind has accepted it can be used for so much more.


After all, it’s a part of my spiritform. It’s a kind of energy, sure, but it’s no more or less corporeal than my arms. So why shouldn’t I be able to use it as a flexible, extendable muscle?


A quick flex of my Devouring Energy dislodges the trident and returns it to my palm as Squinty writhes in pain.


Now I just need to keep the upper hand, keep it on the back tentacle. So I conjure up a second trident in my left hand to serve as a decoy, and start whipping them forward in an alternating rhythm...



It takes quite a while, but after substantially wearing down Squinty’s spiritform, my trident eventually manages to penetrate deeper than ever before and hits something hard.


Squinty begins to shudder weakly and starts sinking down to the seabed, the tips of its tentacles turning even more transparent.


The sudden change in the flow of the battle momentarily throws me for a loop as I come out of a trance of sorts, but then my eyes light up, and I quickly dive towards it.


Its tentacles struggle weakly against me as I press both my palms to gaping wounds, and try to pierce its spiritform with my Devouring Energy.


It puts up more of a struggle than I like. Desperate as I am to reach its Core, I pour some of my little remaining Espir into the corner of my mind made of molten steel—my Willpower—and use it to empower my tendrils.


They shoot forward into Squinty, popping through the resistance like a sharp straw puncturing a juice box’s seal.


Following that analogy—which was actually pretty good, for a change—I immediately start drinking deeply of the Espir inside the Fading creature’s spiritform.


This would’ve been much harder before I’d fatally wounded it, and not just for the obvious reason. Most beings don’t like to think of themselves as being edible. Now that it’s dying, however, it instinctively understands it’s become a meal, like so many others have for it before.


However, even as I partake of its dense, nutritious Espir, which is rapidly filling my Espir Pool back to full, my tendrils continue questing until they find their goal.


Deep in the creature’s flesh, they stumble upon the main prize: a damaged Core, continually leaking Essence of Being.


I still don’t quite understand what that is or means, but I know I need it.


And so, I worm a tiny tendril into the crack, and attempt to drink directly from the source.


If Devouring Espir feels like drinking juice, taking in Essence is more like drinking... mercury. It’s incredibly dense, and behaves odd, seeming even less willing to cooperate. I have to really strain my Willpower, but I manage to suck up a trickle of it.


Tiny drops of it travel up through my tendril, burning like molten metal, until they eventually reach somewhere deep inside me.


By the time Squinty truly Fades, there’s a persistent burning sensation deep in my chest, which somehow results in a pounding headache as well.


Akir did warn me taking in another’s Essence is unpleasant, as it really is a creature’s Essence. My own Essence will need to wear it down and slowly convert it.


This is why it’s dangerous to take in too much, or too powerful Essence. If it manages to overpower my own, the being I tried to consume will end up consuming me from within.


However, I don’t have time to take this slow. It may hurt, but the results speak for themselves: my spiritform, which has been stuck at 37 motes for some time, currently contains 40.


Now that’s progress.


However, even as I marvel at my progress, one of the motes winks out.


Guess there’s no rest for the wicked.


I spot some movement in the distance. Squaring my shoulders, I set off in that direction, in search of more prey.



My hunt continues. Some prey proves too tough to swallow, forcing me to flee and hide or lead them into danger like before, but I manage to keep my Espir up. And with every successful hunt, my Espir Pool grows by a couple of motes.


At last I’m making progress, growing stronger again, and noticeably so. It’s exhilarating.


The pain of the alien Essence fighting back against its conversion fades slowly between hunts, but fast enough that I can keep going.


Slowly, I sink into a rhythm.


Devouring Energy pumps through my veins, throbbing as it grows in volume and hunger.


I whip my trident with ever-increasing speed and power, the motions of the different moves I’m developing with it becoming ingrained in spiritual muscle memory.


At some point, it all kind of turns into a blur.


I go through a cycle of hunger, followed by danger, then victory, and finally pain. As the pain fades, hunger once again takes over, and the hunt continues.


The cycle goes on and on, only broken by the truly hairy situations, where instinct takes over and sends me fleeing.


But even those become part of the blur eventually, the rhythm I continue sinking into, deeper and deeper and...



There’s something wrong with my current prey. Whatever it is, it tickles some long-asleep part of my mind, but not quite badly enough to wake it.


So I’m left in the dark about why my invincible stabby-stick can’t seem to penetrate fully through my prey’s strange armour.


Which wouldn’t be too bad, if that hadn’t led to it getting stuck.


I reach out with more of my tendrils, attempting to pull my stabby-stick free, when my prey suddenly begins to move, dragging me through the water in its wake.


A rigid fin suddenly smacks me in the head. I bare my teeth at it as it returns, and attempt to bite it, but my sharp incisors don’t even scratch its surface.


None of this has ever happened before, and yet there’s an odd sense of familiarity, which makes this all so much more confusing.


Annoyed as I am with this prey, my stabby-stick is currently stuck in its bottom, so there’s no way I’m letting go.


The many tendrils of Hunger that make up my lower half spread out and latch onto my prey’s armour, creeping upwards, above the water-line, to explore.


The breeze on my tendrils feels cool, and I’m momentarily stymied because of that sudden concept.


It isn’t until one of my probing, questing tendrils hits something soft and ticklish though, that a true change occurs.


The awake part of my mind questioningly sends the unknown sensation to the back, where the long-asleep part of my mind stirs.


Feathers? It replies sleepily. Why would there be feathers on a...


There’s an odd feeling for a moment, like a sudden drop, a freefall.


Consciousness that I hadn’t realised I was lacking rushes forth as I snap out of my long, long hunting trance at the thought, the wave of recognition, that fills me to the brim, threatening to spill.


KIRRI!



Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^


Book 1: Unnatural Laws Book 2: Unusual Enemies Book 3: Unimagined Adventures Discord/Mailing List/Patreon

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