• hcmills

Chapter 193: Soon may the Wellerman come

Author's note:

Good news: I managed to get the whole retcon done in time for today! ^^


It mainly affects Chapter 189 and I would definitely recommend a reread of that one, because it's gotten way longer.


The start of Chapter 190 also has some changes, and for the rest it's relatively minor.


Oh, I also took this opportunity to add a short section to Chapter 188. That, I'll post here, so you don't have to go looking for it.


Enjoy!


New section Chapter 188:

“Now these, I’ll be wanting back,” Akir warns me. “And that also goes for... this.”


He lifts up a tentacle and, turning it over, reveals a small brass item that flips open.


I blink at it. “A compass? Ooh, that could come in handy with navigating.”


“I doubt it,” Akir grunts. “This is a moral compass.”


I stare blankly at him. “A what now?”


“It was a gift from Mirta,” Akir continues softly, ignoring me.


Reading the melancholy off his face, I take in the item with new eyes.


It’s a little brass box with a glass window at the front, that would easily fit the palm of my hand. Beneath the glass there’s a needle pointing up towards a little tag that reads ‘Good.’ Below, there’s a tag that reads ‘Bad.’


“She gave it to me to aid in my rehabilitation,” Akir explains unprompted. “Back when I first got it, the needle swung wildly back and forth, reaching almost all the way to Bad. It took a long time before it finally stabilised entirely on Good.”


“How does it work?” I ask curiously.


Akir shrugs. “I haven’t the foggiest, to be honest. All I know, is that climbing up through Realm after Realm is a bloody process, which will eat away at your sanity and your sense of self. You won’t be able to prevent that entirely—especially if you’re in a hurry—but hopefully this will help tell you how bad your condition is, might help prevent you from going off the rails entirely.”


I swallow and, with newfound reverence, take a careful hold of the offered item.


“Thank...” I trail off when Akir’s suction cups don’t immediately release it, leaving us hovering in a kind of awkward limbo. Finally, reluctantly, he lets go.


“Thank you,” I tell him sincerely, fighting not to let the muscles next to my eye twitch as I carefully flip it shut and place it in my pocket.


He clears his throat. “Look, I don’t care much for the trident, but... the other stuff, I’d rather you return someday. So you better not die down there, you hear me?”


No longer able to contain myself, I step forward to give him a hug.


And that's it! Enjoy today's chapter! ^^



The whirlpool sweeps us round and round, causing Kirri’s hull to creak and vibrate. Howling winds—which rotate even faster than the water—whip through my hair and spray droplets into my face as I cling onto the railing with a white-knuckled-and-tentacled grip and stare down into the toothy abyss.


A strange sense of pressure comes from below, causing me to instinctively shrink back. It’s like being stared at by a superior being, a predator.


Though it’s weak in comparison, the sensation reminds me of being near Goddess, which pretty much confirms my suspicions.


The maw I’m staring at belongs to the master of this Realm.


I’m face to face with the Apex.


As I rack my mind for a course of action, slowly but inexorably, we spiral down into the spinning, watery funnel, every round-trip taking a little shorter as the circle we travel becomes smaller and smaller.


Frankly, it seems like the only reason we haven’t been swallowed yet is that we don’t appear to be the Apex’s primary target.


I watch wide-eyed as a bloated jellyfish, a massive bushel of seaweed, and a school of fish—desperately flapping their wings—come soaring by, pulled down by the powerful suction in the middle of the spinning winds and water.


If I don’t do something now, we’ll be swallowed in seconds. And there’s only one thing I can think of.


Right now, steering is useless, because we’re moving with the water. If I want to get us out of here, we’ll have to speed up!


Tendrils of Devouring Energy spread out to help stabilise me as I cross over to take a firm grip on the steering wheel.


“Don’t worry, Kirri,” I shout over the hubbub. “Just follow my instructions and we’ll be just fine!”


Kirri whines back, but her swinging boom seems to stabilise a little.


The first thing I do, is pull back on the lever signalling the use of Kirri’s wings.


The white, spread-out limbs Kirri is currently using to keep her balance quiver, but don’t immediately draw back in.


“We need to rely on your sail here, just trust me!”


Finally, Kirri folds her wings up, which immediately causes the ship to start swaying more.


Firmly anchored on the deck, I pay it no heed, and instead fully engage the lever for the throttle.


Kirri’s boom sweeps to the side, and her sail unfolds fully, catching the harshly rotating winds.


“That’s it girl!” I call out as we accelerate, leaving a frothy wake behind as we start to go round faster than the water.


I keep a firm grip on the steering wheel as I start to angle our path slightly upward. I can feel Kirri try to steer up further, but I steer back, keeping her on the steadily upward spiralling trajectory.


Slow and steady wins the race!


Well, slow in the vertical direction, at least.


More and more flying sea creatures pass us by, until the stream seems to dwindle.


All of a sudden, the maw closes. The winds settle down, and the spinning water begins to slow.


Kirri slowly rises as the whirlpool loses power and dissolves, until we’re finally left on the calm inner surface of this massive air bubble.


I blow out a breath, brushing some stray strands of hair from my face with shaking fingers, cold sweat still on my back.


I have to kill that before I can leave this Realm? Goddess help me...


Technically, forcing it to submit and transfer its Apex would also work, but that seems like a very unrealistic goal.


Only after we’ve put quite some distance between us and the spot where the whirlpool appeared, do I pull back on Kirri’s throttle and bring her to a halt.


Looking up, I can tell that despite sucking down what looked like a market’s worth of fish, the Apex has hardly made a dent in the bubble’s population.


Is this its usual feeding ground? Actually, that might explain this weird setup...


It seems the Apex indeed shifted this Realm to its advantage. Thanks to gravity exerted by the water, the food flying around up there is safe from the other predators, but not from the Apex.


Perhaps it even formed the bubble specifically to confine its food, so that it could feed from any direction, at any time.


Scary stuff.


Still shaken from the close call, I stay up on Kirri’s deck and keep a look out while my Devouring Energy sneaks back down below deck to resume filling up my Espir Pool by draining the Extant wood pulp.


Nothing interesting happens, however, and I slowly start to calm down again.


Finally, after quite some time, my Espir Pool feels full.


I eagerly turn my attention inward to do a full count.


169, 170, 171...


172 motes!


Frankly, the level of growth exceeds my expectations. A flare of burning pain from deep in my spiritform is quick to remind me of the consequences of my Core’s rapid expansion.


Right. I really do need to get back in there before I start hunting again... I am not losing myself a third time!


I’m understandably hesitant to tune out again after the sudden crisis earlier, but...


Kirri’s been here for quite some time, and she hasn’t been eaten yet. Also, the Apex just fed, so I bet it will take a while before it returns.


Just to be safe though, I wind a tendril around the steering wheel and instruct Kirri to spin it if anything happens.


The pain of a tendril getting ripped off ought to be enough to pull me out of my trance.


Satisfied with my precautions, I climb below deck, and sit down cross-legged once more.


This is going to take a while... Better get to it.



I have no idea how much time passes exactly, but eventually, my avatar shines only a bright bluish-white.


That’s not to say all the variously coloured constructs of Essence have stopped attacking it, but it should be able to hold its own for now, while it continues purifying those by itself.


One of the first things I do after my consciousness returns to my spiritform, is check my Moral Compass, now properly attached around my neck with an Extant piece of thin rope I brought along and cut to size using Akir’s Imagium axe.


I’m quite relieved to find the needle swinging a lot slower and less far.


Akir said something about it allowing me to check how bad my condition is... I think I have a better idea of what that means now—it’s clearly related to the corruption of my avatar. I guess I better keep a close eye on it, but for now, I seem to have things under control.


Furthermore, I’m pleasantly surprised to find my Espir Pool has grown further to 176 motes.


Well, that actually makes sense. Essence that isn’t busy fighting back is probably a lot more efficient at producing and controlling Espir, so as the purification of the alien Essence continues, my Espir Pool should continue to grow.


But not enough. I’d estimate that I could maybe break past 200 motes that way, and according to Akir I need to reach at least 6000.


Which means it’s time to go back to hunting.


I go back up to the deck, stretching out my stiff limbs, and walk up to the railing.


However, the moment I lean over the railing a bit to peer into the water, Kirri suddenly lets out a keening whine and tilts the other way, causing me to stumble back into her boom.


I blink as her sail wraps around me once more. “What? What is it, girl?”


The only answer I get is another whine, as Kirri tightens her grip on me.


It takes me a moment to realise what’s going on.


“You don’t want me to leave, do you?” I ask with a sigh.


There’s no response.


I can’t help but snort at the ridiculousness of this situation.


Captive of my own boat-bird... Well, there’s nothing for it.


“All right. If I promise not to leave, will you release me please?”


After a moment, Kirri’s sail unfurls from around me in a reluctant manner.


I walk over to the centre of the ship to pat her on the mast, and a shiver runs through the planks beneath my feet in response.


Hmm. If I’m not allowed to dive down, I’m going to need another way to hunt. Well, that might be a good idea regardless.


I look up thoughtfully at the plethora of prey flying overhead.


Can I find a way to help Kirri fly?

Something like a hot air balloon would probably do the trick, but without proper Extant materials to make it happen, fighting the gravity here would probably burn more Espir than I could regain from the hunt.


Well, if I can’t get to my prey, perhaps I can make my prey come to me.


I move to the prow of the ship, pulling forth my trident. Kirri creaks uneasily, but doesn’t hinder my movement.


Standing at the very front of the ship, I hide my trident behind me and aim up a beaming smile full of Charm. “Heeeere fishy fishy fishy!”


While my display draws some glances, none of the flying sea creatures fall for the bait.


After several fruitless attempts, I’m forced to throw in the towel.


Ugh. I guess creatures living in the lower Realms are too cautious to fall for this kind of thing. Perhaps there are even other predators using similar methods...


Okay. Charm seems like a dead end for now. What else have I got...


I could try scaring them with displays of light and sound, but I doubt anything I do will make them flee down.


Finally, I recall the way I originally, accidentally hunted a creature: by conjuring a catapult and using it to launch a bunch of Extant pebbles.


I guiltily stroke Kirri’s railing. Sorry about that, sweetie...


Still, something like that seems like my best bet.


Also, I have something much better than pebbles this time...


My eyes drop down to my beautiful trident with its barbed tines, and I smirk.



It takes some experimentation, but I eventually manage to conjure a functional ballista for my trident.


I considered a harpoon gun as well, but I don’t understand firearms well enough, and I’d rather not have this blow up in my face.


Literally.


Honestly, one of the hardest parts was properly attaching the thing to Kirri’s prow.


She did not appreciate the sensation of Imaginary glue leaking into her planks, I guess. It took some time to appease her, but I eventually got her to allow my comically oversized suction cups instead. That and some imaginary ropes to her railing ought to be enough to handle any recoil.


Thankfully, my trident didn’t protest as much when I glued one end of a rope firmly to its shaft.


Cranking the ballista up to full tension takes some effort, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.


After a few test and practice shots with conjured harpoons, I’m finally ready for the real thing.


Standing at the prow, I steer Kirri with verbal commands, something we also practised, though not as extensively.


“Ten degrees starboard,” I say, loading the words with meaning to make sure Kirri understands.


She shifts a little farther than I intended, but I simply crank a wheel to spin my ballista back to the left a bit, then another to point it further up.


Now!


With my prey—a large winged fish—perfectly aligned, I yank back the release handle.


My trident shoots off, whistling through the air until it hits with a dull thunk.


Yes!


Unfortunately, the hit wasn’t as dead-centre as I’d hoped, but a little lower down. I clearly didn’t hit the Core, for the creature spasms, then flaps its wings and takes off.


The wheel attached to the rope spins at high speed. I attempt to grab a hold of the handle, but it’s immediately ripped from my hands. Shit, my spiritform is still too weak!


After my last experience with sticking my Devouring Energy tendrils in a spinning wheel, I’m loath to try that again, so I can’t do much but helplessly wait until it runs out of rope.


The wheel blocks with a clang. For a moment, I fear the mechanism itself will fail and break off, but instead, the trident is ripped loose from the creature’s flesh.


I sigh in relief, then set to cranking the wheel to pull the weapon back to Kirri.


Well, that was a bust. How do I reel in prey that’s stronger than me?


Do I have to conjure a motor of some kind? Actually, could that even be stronger than me if it’s made of the same Espir as my spiritform?


Hmm. Maybe? However, even if that works somehow, I suspect the difference would have to be compensated by a greater Espir expenditure. Meaning we’re back to the same problem with helping Kirri to fly in this...


I blink. My eyes fall on Kirri’s steering wheel.


Hang on... That might actually work!



Trying to move my ballista to the back of the ship is an exercise in frustration since it’s so bloody cumbersome, so I ultimately decide to draw my Espir back in and reconjure the damn thing, despite the mental effort required to do so.


It’s probably the right call, because the sucker is big enough that the back of my ship feels rather cramped now. Heck, it’s almost flush against the steering wheel, but, well, that’s kind of the idea anyway.


It takes some effort to modify the ballista to accommodate what I want, and then some more to convey it to Kirri, but I ultimately manage to convince her we’re playing a fun new game.


“Fifteen degrees to port side!” I call out, already cranking the wheel to lift my ballista’s nose a bit higher.


As soon as we’re in position, I fire once more, this time missing my intended target, but hitting a ray-like creature behind it in the wing instead.


Works for me!


I immediately pull my new lever. The wheel attached to the rope is shoved forward. Instead of a single handle, it now has several sticking out, which fit neatly in between the steering wheel’s spokes, like a rudimentary clutch.


“Kirri, spin!” I order.


Kirri’s steering wheel starts to spin, and within moments, it pulls the rope taut. The wheel slams to a halt.


Up in the air, the ray is flapping its wings, desperately trying to get away, but the trident holds firm.


“You’ve got this, Kirri, keep spinning!” I yell enthusiastically.


Kirri lets out an excited whine, and the steering wheel starts spinning again, slow at first, then faster and faster.


The ray is slowly being pulled down until at last, it’s mere feet from the stern.


I lift my palms up and tendrils of Devouring Energy shoot out, restricting my prey and boring into its flesh.


It slowly weakens as I drain its spiritform, until Kirri and I together manage to pull it all the way on board.


I jump on top of it, holding it down as I wrench the trident loose. Finally, one of my questing tendrils finds the ray’s Core, and I make a stab for it.


My trident finds its mark. A big crack appears in the Core’s shell, and the ray immediately loses what little strength it had left.


Remembering what Goddess said about Kirri being able to absorb some of Essence out of my prey, I lift the ray up, treating my trident like a glorified pitchfork, and dump it down the hatch.


Tendrils of Devouring Energy sprout from my coccyx to quickly trail after it, and begin hungrily taking in some of the leaking Essence.


Feeling the burning sensation crawl up my tendrils to my Core, I let out a pleased sigh.


It’s the burn of progress. I’m no masochist, but, well...


I’m coming, Kait, just hold on...



Author's note:

Hope you like the retcon, and today's chapter. ^^


Let me know in the comments, or on Discord! :)


Book 1: Unnatural Laws

Book 2: Unusual Enemies

Book 3: Unimagined Adventures

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