• hcmills

Chapter 199: The dark I know well


Kirri and I hit the outer membrane of the dark Realm at high speed, however, the crash I expect doesn’t come.


Instead, passing through the barrier feels kind of like being plunged into an icy bath.


The chaos storm pulling and tearing at us falls away, replaced by total darkness and near-complete silence.


I wave my hand in front of my face, and can’t for the life of me tell if I actually see my fingers pass by or if it’s just my mind fooling me into thinking I see them, simply because I know they’re there.


The silence is oppressive. It pushes down on me, making me feel like I’m stuck in a very small space somehow. If it weren’t for the creaking of Kirri’s planks and the slight ruffling of the wind through the feather-like leaves covering her wings, I’d almost believe it.


Hold on, that’s not good!


I hurriedly feel around for the middle lever, and pull it back. After a moment, I can feel Kirri slow down to what I think is a complete stop.


And now we’re floating in complete darkness and silence. Great.


A shiver runs down my spine, and I swallow hard. Well, at least we didn’t crash into anything, and we’re not falling either.


Seems like this Realm doesn’t restrict flight. That’s something at least.


If only it wasn’t so bloody—


“Dark!” Kirri chirps at that moment.


I cringe as her voice echoes strangely around us.


“Shh, quiet, Kirri!” I whisper back.


My sentient vessel just had to learn how to talk right before we entered a creepily silent Realm. Just my luck.


“Dark!” Kirri insists, though at a lower volume. “I know,” I reply softly, my mouth folding strangely around the words, as I’m still getting used to having someone to speak to again. “I’ll see what I can do about that, okay? Please just be quiet; I don’t want to draw any attention.”


The only response I get is a slight creaking of Kirri’s mast, somewhere in front of me.


I let out a soft sigh, hold up a hand, and focus. After a moment, I feel a familiar weight drop in my palm.


Even though I can’t see it, I know there’s a perfect replica of my father’s flashlight in my hand.


Now, turning this thing on might, of course, also draw attention. On the other hand, if all the beings near here are adapted to the dark, they might not even notice the light, or otherwise be blinded by it.


More importantly, I really want to see what’s around me, so I’m willing to take the risk.


I push down the swell of nostalgia, and click on the on-button.


For a brief moment, I think I see a flicker of something, but then it’s gone again.


Rolling my eyes, I smack it against my other hand. Of course I had to conjure it as an exact replica.


However, even after giving it the customary treatment, the light remains off.


I frown. That should have worked... A bad feeling starts to form in the pit of my stomach.


I deconjure the flashlight, absorbing the Espir I put into it as an afterthought, and attempt to conjure a burning candle instead.


A waxy stick appears in my grip, but the darkness remains. I touch the wick. It’s cold.


So, this Realm prohibits any form of light. Great. And considering the attractive force that pulled me in here, breaking out isn’t going to be an option either. That means I need to figure out how to survive here, and quick.


If sight is out, I’ll have to rely on other senses...


With barely a thought, thick tendrils of Devouring Energy once more sprout from a variety of practical locations on my body and spread out above and around Kirri, feeling around randomly.


It honestly makes me a little uneasy, reaching into the dark like this. By now, I’ve realised the Devouring Energy is very much a part of my body, my spiritform. It’s actually quite tactile, and moreover, quite capable of feeling pain.


I mostly reach out to check for structures, but I also spread out my tendrils all around, in case anything comes floating over.


Lifeless stuff, that is. During my time spent in the Realm-which-shall-not-be-named—and especially in the desert Realm I just left—I developed a kind of sixth sense for the presence of hidden creatures. It took me a while to figure out it’s actually a sense for the Espir fluctuations produced by spiritforms.


I’m still not sure why no other being I’ve met seems to be capable of replicating the feat. They’re all far too easy to ambush—not that I rely on ambush tactics that much—but I figure it’s something I won’t come across until higher Realms, maybe.


Anyway, these fluctuations are only produced by living beings, not lifeless, Extant stuff, so if there are any strange objects floating around they could bump into us before I ever noticed.


Speaking of...


I stiffen and instinctively retract my tendrils a bit as one of them hits something almost straight above me. After a few seconds of nothing changing, I carefully spread them further, sending a few extra to whatever I just touched.


My tendrils touch upon a rough, cold surface, and after probing around a bit further, I come to the conclusion that it’s a rock of some sort. I try pulling on it, but it doesn’t give even the tiniest bit.


Not floating then, but part of some larger structure... Shit, it’s a good thing I made Kirri stop flying! If we’d flown a bit higher, we would’ve already hit this thing, without ever seeing it coming...


My tendrils continue upward, following the rough texture of the cone-shaped rock.


Kirri creaks softly, somehow affecting a scared tone in the sound.


“I know, Kirri,” I whisper back. “I don’t like it here either, but we’ll make it through, I promise.”


At least I won’t have to worry too much about Espir, now that I’ve reached a point of equilibrium between my production and consumption.


Of course, I still need to restore my Espir Pool from our journey through the Realmvoid just now, but I’ve been diligently draining Espir from the bags of Extant plant matter stored below deck the whole time, and I’m already back up to about 900 of my current maximum of 1526 mo—


Suddenly, something brushes a tendril on port side.


Something I instinctively know wasn’t there before.


Before I can react to the sensation, another follows.


Pain.


With what feels like multiple incisions from sharp objects, my connection to part of the affected tendril is abruptly cut off.


My heart leaps into my throat, and my tendrils once more reflexively retract, including the one that now feels noticeably shorter.


Did something just bite me?! More importantly, did a living thing just manage to get within thirty feet of me without me ever hearing or sensing it?


What might it have bitten if I hadn’t spread out my tendrils?


Even as I hold my breath, I still can’t hear it now, or sense anything in the oppressive darkness.


Primal rage bubbles up inside of me, drowning out the fear as my hunter’s instincts kick in, screaming that if there’s something there it’s either prey or predator, and either way the appropriate response is the same.


I lean into the empowering fury, comforted by its familiar, soothing burn. My thick tendrils of Devouring Energy whip out so fast, I’m not sure if the action followed the thought, or the thought followed the action. Then again, is there really a need for a difference between thought and action in Spiritual Realmspace? Either way, my tendrils flick at the previous point of contact from varying angles, in an attempt to tangle this sneaky biter up.


They hit their mark, but closer to me than expected, now only about twenty feet away.


As my tendrils wrap around the large airborne creature, I get the impression of something soft and furry, yet thrumming with strength.


That shape, maybe some kind of moth?


It’s a brief impression, for the creature flaps its huge wings with an audible whoosh, and with that motion, rips my restraining tendrils to shreds.


Shit that hurts!


This thing is way too strong!


Cold sweat breaks out on my back, and I’m instantly snapped out of my fury.


Thinking quickly, I slam my useless eyes shut and focus on sensing the Espir around me, something I usually only do to locate my prey’s Core by following the gradient of Espir density in its spiritform.


Kirri’s familiar presence immediately stands out. Her Espir is spread out throughout the wood, and still quite a bit more plentiful than mine. Meanwhile, from above me, I get a sense of a collection of large spikes hanging down from a ceiling of some kind.


Damnit, I should’ve thought of doing this sooner!


In my defence, I’ve never needed to use this sense to navigate before.


As for the flying creature, I manage to get only a muffled, dim impression of something hungry and insidious, as it slowly hovers closer.


That confirms it: it’s somehow hiding its presence!


I can’t really figure out how, as I don’t really know how my Espir sense works...


I’d love to continue beating myself up for not investigating this phenomenon better back in the Realm of Imagination, but I’ve got no time for shenanigans.


While the creature seems to have backed off for a moment after my last attack, the vague sense I get from it tells me it’s silently floating closer now again, and has nearly reached Kirri’s railing.


My hunter’s instincts go into overdrive, as I’m on the precipice of survival’s most vital decision.


Fight or flight.


A split second later, I push Kirri’s throttle, and she shoots off into the unknown.


Alarmed at the speed with which we’re rushing through the dark, I pour all of my focus into trying to sense Espir ahead of us.


I can feel the blood drain from my face as the presence of a massive vertical structure shows up before us.


I yank the steering wheel to the right. Kirri banks hard, barely managing to avoid colliding with what I suspect is probably a pillar of some sort.


Behind us, I can now hear a deep, rhythmic whooshing. With the failure of its stealthy approach, the creature has clearly moved on to a direct chase.


However, I refuse to believe it can keep up with Kirri’s full speed.


The real question is whether I can keep up with Kirri’s full speed.


Gritting my teeth, I push Kirri’s throttle forward.


As she speeds up, I stretch my senses to the limit, trying to sense as far ahead as I can.


While I manage to push my awareness another twenty feet or so forward, things at that distance feel like blurry masses at best.


Moreover, it’s giving me a terrible case of tunnel vision, and aside from what’s directly ahead, I have no sense of what’s around us.


Still, it’s working. The moment I sense anything, I yank the wheel and I alternatingly turn either left or right until there’s only free space ahead of us.


Soon enough, I can no longer hear the rhythmic beating behind us, and I’m left to wonder if I’ve genuinely lost it yet.


Suddenly, I become aware of just about the last thing I expected.


Light.


Alerted by the red haze passing through my eyelids, I blink open my eyes. A warm, inviting yellow light twinkles in the distance.


I’m hit by an immediate impulse to steer towards it, finally free myself of this horrible dark, but just as I’m about to turn the wheel, a thought occurs.


I swallow thickly, and though it pains my heart, I decisively steer away from the light.


I’d rather face the dark than whatever’s capable of making light in a Realm that as far as I can tell forbids its existence.


A few turns later, I’ve completely lost sight of it.


By now, I’m positive I’ve lost the moth, so when another pillar-shaped thing appears in front of us, I turn left and ease up on the throttle, deciding to move around it and go look for a nice hiding spot somewhere.


Unexpectedly, Kirri reacts to my slight pull on the throttle by braking at full speed, and I’m flung forward, my tendrils of Devouring Energy only barely keeping me on board.


“Kirri! What the—” I fall silent as Kirri vibrates back and forth, beating her wings.


She didn’t brake at all. Kirri’s stuck.



Author's note:

Got visited by a stomach bug last Sunday. 0/5 would not recommend. 😒

As a result, I didn't get as much done this week as I'd planned, but progress towards the publication of Book Four was still made. It'll probably be out in like two weeks, though I know better by now than to try and make any guarantees. ;)


Anyway, thanks for reading! ^^


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

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