Chapter 195: One branch, then to another
The suction generated by Schlorpy’s maw together with the tree’s weight and speed combine to exceed my expectations.
I’d estimate Schlorpy to be about 1.5 times the length of the tree, yet nearly the whole thing disappears into his greedy gullet before it comes to a halt, with only the tip barely sticking out.
The suction immediately disappears. The whirlpool still spins, however, allowing me to maintain my laser focus on Schlorpy’s open maw, as I wait for what comes next.
As expected, a deep rumbling erupts as Schlorpy tries to hack up the unwelcome intrusion.
A plethora of flying sea creatures erupt upward.
I dimly recognise some of my one hundred and forty-three fish among the ones flying back up, making me feel a little better about their role in my plan.
My main focus lies on the tip of the tree, however. As Schlorpy tries to hack and cough it out with great booming, gurgling sounds, it first starts rising a little. But that progress quickly grinds to a halt, as the many sharp barbs on the tree dig deeper into his flesh.
Now for the hard part.
I give Kirri’s steering wheel a sharp turn. She complies, heading straight down into the frothing abyss.
“Good girl!” I shout over the roar of the already slowing whirlpool. “Hold steady now!”
Even as I give that order, I’m already moving towards the ship’s prow, stretching out tendrils of Devouring Energy both to maintain my footing, and to reach back and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel.
The whirlpool continues to lose momentum as we careen down, and the water around Schlorpy’s maw starts to rise.
It’s now or never.
“Wait for me, Kirri!” I shout, winding additional tendrils around the tools on my back as I accelerate my steps. “I promise I’ll be back soon!”
Arriving at the prow, I put one foot up on the railing, and push off. The tendrils holding me steady all detach and retract, though not before the one clinging to the steering wheel whips it aside.
Behind me, Kirri takes a sharp turn, letting out a keening wail as I soar the remaining distance down and disappear into Schlorpy’s mouth.
Holding my trident in one hand, I stretch out the other towards a sharpened branch passing me by.
Several tendrils erupt from my palm, latching onto the branch and slowing me down enough to safely land on another, which is partially embedded in Schlorpy’s spongy, dark-blue spiritflesh.
For some reason, however, I have to scramble to hang on!
It takes me a second to reorient myself, but then I realise gravity is somehow reversed in here, and it’s trying to lift me up and out of Schlorpy’s maw!
Well, guess I’m climbing the rest of the way.
With a thought, I once again dissolve my legs into a mass of tendrils of Devouring Energy, and start making my way up my sharpened tree, into the depths of Schlorpy’s interior.
A booming noise from Schlorpy’s depths is the only warning I get before the walls of dark blue spiritflesh around me contract as strange undulations pass through them. A rush of hot fish breath follows, rushing past me and bringing with it a deluge of bluish goop that rains down on me.
Did Schlorpy just cough on me?
Actually, I’m not sure I can call that a cough... I don’t think Schlorpy necessarily has lungs, or if he does, maybe they’re integrated with his stomach somehow.
Spiritbody anatomy is weird.
Said the girl who just split her lower half into a mass of purple-glowing tentacles made of pure energy. Oh well.
Burning pain alerts me even before I hear my spiritform starts to hiss where the goop touches it.
That bastard is trying to digest me!
Thinking quickly, I conjure up a super soaker, and use it to blast the worst of the revolting stuff off of me.
Unfortunately, the surface of the tree is also covered in what I surmise is the equivalent of stomach acid now, and while it doesn’t seem to be dissolving, I don’t have time to go washing everything either.
Either way, this is well within the limits of the kind of resistance I expected and can handle.
There’s no way I’m turning back now.
Mote after mote of Espir winks out as my tendrils of Devouring Energy grasp the wet bark but I continue hoisting myself further up. At least the slipperiness of the blue goop doesn’t hinder my tentacles too badly, thanks to the suction cups, but I’ve still got no time to lose.
Because when it comes to raw amounts of Espir, I’m never going to beat Schlorpy. He’s the Apex for a reason, and with my stagnated growth, it would take me ages to catch up to him in terms of Essence density. Therefore, a battle of attrition is never going to be in my favour.
However, Schlorpy has a fatal weakness: his size.
If he shrank himself down to my size, the density of Espir in his spiritform would be much higher than mine, and he would therefore be far stronger. If he then managed to restrain me or something, I’d pretty much be done for.
But he’s not my size. Far from it, in fact.
Schlorpy probably doesn’t consider anything in this Realm a threat, which is why he’s made himself swell up like a balloon, so he can eat as much as possible.
Therefore, the concentration of Espir in his spiritflesh is actually quite low. That’s something I’ve gotten quite good at sensing, which is important, because it’s how I plan to find his Core.
During my many hunts, I’ve long noticed that the closer you get to the Core, the greater the concentration of Espir becomes in a spiritbody. While the gradient isn’t as clear in a body as huge as Schlorpy’s, it’s still enough for me to know to keep going.
It’s not until I’m about halfway up the tree that I find a local maximum of Espir concentration.
There’s a sharp branch already digging in at around the right height, which provides me with a convenient place to stand.
I don’t even bother reaching back, just holding out my hand as I have one of my tendrils draw forth Akir’s axe from where it rests next to my trident behind my back. He might not like my intended use for the tool too much, but desperate times, yadda yadda yadda.
My tendrils swoop out and plunge into Schlorpy’s flesh, sucking out Espir and turning the spongy material a bleak grey before I take my first swing.
A shudder passes through Schlorpy’s flesh as I start cutting my way towards his hopefully nearby Core.
Suddenly, I feel a presence gather around me, like a giant staring down at me.
I can feel the weight of Schlorpy’s attention on me, his fury, trying to freeze me in place.
However, he’s not that much stronger than me!
I pour some Espir into the corner of my mind that’s like stalwart mountains, activating my Mental Fortitude, and easily push through the resistance to continue swinging my axe.
The walls around me undulate and contract, seeming to try and squeeze or swallow me, but the complete Extant tree I lodged inside of him does its job. More blue digestive goop comes flying, splattering all over me, but I ignore it to continue hacking away at his flesh like a madwoman.
It burns like hell, but my spiritform is small and dense with Espir; I’m not so easily digested.
Now that Schlorpy is aware of my presence, and likely my goal, I don’t dare to delay for a second. The tree might give me some wiggle room inside of him, but this is still the Apex.
I can feel Schlorpy’s attention ebb away when suddenly, gravity reverses, attempting to pull me deeper rather than push me out. Thankfully, the tree is already firmly embedded in Schlorpy’s flesh, and my tendrils remain firmly wrapped around the tree.
However, a roar comes from Schlorpy’s open maw as, with the reversal of gravity, water comes flooding in.
I actually have to stop swinging for a moment when it reaches me and tries to sweep me along. The tree creaks and groans, but remains stuck.
As the flow calms down, I resume hacking, my next swing ripping free another layer of grey, desiccated spiritflesh, which my tendril quickly flings away.
My efforts are not in vain. Bit by bit, a triangular tunnel is taking shape, deeper into Schlorpy’s interior.
However, a glance down at Schlorpy’s maw causes my hackles to rise.
Several of Schlorpy’s thick tentacles come winding around the tree trunk behind me, touching around as if clumsily searching for something.
Thinking quickly, I hack away another thick layer of flesh, and leap off the tree, moving fully inside the tunnel.
For the first time since entering, I fully let go of the tree, relying on my various tendrils boring into Schlorpy’s flesh for grip instead.
And not a moment too soon.
Behind me, Schlorpy’s questing tentacles pass by. Not finding anything, they instead take a firm hold of the tree, and, as gravity reverses once more, start to pull.
The tree is very sturdy, but as I’ve previously found, due to his size, Schlorpy’s spiritflesh is relatively weak.
With awful tearing sounds, the tree starts to move, scraping and cutting through his flesh along the way.
Shit, he’s getting desperate!
I resume cutting his flesh with renewed determination.
As the tree finally clears Schlorpy’s gullet, I can feel Schlorpy’s attention falling back on me. Suddenly, several tentacles sprout from the cut flesh around me, grabbing onto my axe and arms.
I react on pure instinct, developed through a long period of hunting. Tendrils of Devouring Energy sprout where I’m being held, wrapping around the offending appendages, and start strangling and draining them.
Considering how much denser the Espir in my spiritform is, he realistically shouldn’t stand a chance, but the tentacles coming from his flesh continue multiplying, and they’re tougher than I expected.
Of course, I am pretty close to his Core. What’s more, he may be concentrating his Espir towards me!
As I’m fighting to free my limbs, however, things get worse.
The walls of flesh around me start coming towards me. No, actually, they’re shrinking towards me!
With the tree removed, Schlorpy is trying to catch me by shrinking down to a smaller size!
This sounds like a pretty smart move, but truth be told... it’s a very risky decision on his part.
While the increased Espir density of his flesh makes it harder for me to cut, his shrinkage also inevitably brings his Core closer to me!
Staring intensely at the shrinking wall of flesh in front of me, I’m feeling quite certain.
I’m almost there.
If Schlorpy had been a little smarter, he might’ve been capable of moving his Core around inside his spiritflesh, but as I’d hoped and counted on, he doesn’t appear aware enough of his Core’s existence to try such a thing.
I, on the other hand, am very aware of his Core’s existence, and I’m convinced I can feel it pulsing behind a quickly condensing wall of spiritflesh.
The tentacles restraining my arms grow grey and brittle as they’re devoured by my tendrils, and with a sudden surge of Espir-fed Willpower, I manage to tear free of them. At the same time, I decisively let go of my axe and take a crouched step back in the narrowing tunnel.
Before Schlorpy can renew his grasp on me, I reach for my trident and, closing my eyes, rely on my hunting instinct to guide it.
Akir’s weapon plunges into the flesh in front of me with full force, the sharp tines poking through like it’s made of tofu.
The silky kind.
The middle tine hits something hard and heavy, and a shudder passes through Schlorpy as his tentacles freeze.
Hindered by the still thick layer of flesh, the blow was softened too much for it to do real damage, but I’m not done yet.
I launch stab after stab through the increasingly tattered flesh, each accurately hitting Schlorpy’s Core and causing it paralysing pain.
Finally, with a sound not unlike a window shattering, the Core’s shell gives way.
Thanks for reading! ^^