• hcmills

Chapter 200: But he was still hungry

It takes me a moment to find my centre again, and shift out of tunnel-vision mode to try and sense closer around us.


When I do, I detect a faint presence stretching out around Kirri. It takes me a moment, but then the puzzle pieces fall into place.


A web! We got caught in a web!


Out of the fire and into the friggin’ pan.


“Calm down girl, stop struggling,” I tell Kirri in a whisper, suspecting she’s only making things worse.


Kirri finally stops beating her wings, growing completely, almost unnaturally still.


Silence surrounds us. Thankfully, I don’t hear the rhythmic whooshing anymore either, so I believe we’ve at least indeed lost our pursuer.


Still, I don’t dare to get complacent, because we’re really in a bind now.


Worst case scenario, I could temporarily abandon Kirri. After all, whatever caught her is very unlikely to be capable of—or interested in—damaging her physically. However, she’d be terribly distressed if I left, and I don’t know if I have the heart to do it. Especially now that’s she’s started talking...


Drawing on what I just learned, I narrow the scope of direction I’m sensing in, then try and rotate my awareness around the web like the revolving beam of a lighthouse sweeping across the sea.


It feels very unnatural to do this, kinda like trying to roll my eyes back into my head, but I somehow manage.


I realise belatedly that I could’ve just turned on the spot instead, but, well, there’s no innovation without experimentation.


Nothing shows up on the first few passes, then, suddenly a mass of Espir appears.


A chill runs up my spine as I fully focus my Espir sense on it, and try to make out its shape.


Unexpectedly, it’s not the giant spider-like creature I expected, but more something of a huge caterpillar, nearing the size of Kirri, slowly making its way across the web.


Hold on... the moth-like thing might be a later stage of development of this creature. Then this thing is probably quite a bit weaker!


The fact that it isn’t hiding its presence seems to confirm my hypothesis that it’s a less evolved being. It also helps me assess its strength.


Its Espir density is significantly higher than mine—I’d estimate it to have around 2000 motes—but as expected, not on the same level as the moth’s, which I suspect may have had as much as 2500.


More importantly, it’s a friggin’ caterpillar.


I’m done running, let’s do this!


With practised thoughts, I conjure a ballista at the back of Kirri’s deck.


I quickly load it with my trident, attach the rope, and proceed to the hardest step.


Aiming it.


After some careful adjustments, I’m quite certain I have my weapon pointing in the right direction, and yet I hesitate to fire.


I feel like it’s on target, but it’s difficult to be sure under the circumstances.


Sweat beads on my brow as my grip tightens on the lever that serves as a trigger.


I really don’t want to miss this shot. Not only would it allow the caterpillar to close the distance before I can reload, I’m also incredibly worried about the rope somehow getting cut. If my trident shoots off into the dark somewhere I’m never going to find it.


So I wait, patiently, as the car-sized caterpillar approaches, my target growing larger and clearer before me.


About fifty feet out... forty... thirty...


Suddenly it halts, and rears up.


My heart jumps up into my throat, and I immediately yank the lever, all hesitation forgotten.


Akir’s trident sails forth and hits its belly with a satisfying thump.


However, at the same time, a sticky spray splatters onto Kirri’s side and my right arm. I reflexively attempt to step back, only to find the webbing covering my arm has effectively tethered me to the nearby railing.


Shit!


I can sense my foe writhing in pain in the distance, which tells me I have a little time, so I quickly sprout tendrils of Devouring Energy from my back and direct them to the webbing on my arm.


However, when I try to drain the Espir from the webbing, I hit more resistance than I expect.


I frown. Though I’ve never tried to Devour webbing before, I don’t see it as anything but simple biomass, therefore it should be digesti—


No, wait, this stuff came from the caterpillar. it’s not Extant!


I can tell it’s not part of its spiritform like my tendrils either, but rather a conjuration like my rope! As Akir would put it, it’s made of Espir from the caterpillar that’s Imagining what it’s like to be webbing.


I can still Devour it, but if it’s actively resisting...


Actually, I don’t need to Devour it at all, I just need to get rid of it. Back in the Yin-Yang Realm, I had a pretty good method for that, but I’d need to do some careful experimenting before I try to make acid here.


Instead, I go for the simpler solution.


I conjure a machete in my free hand, and hack at the webbing.


At first, I’m not making as much headway as I’d like. Since this thing’s Espir density is higher than mine, its conjurations are sturdier as well.


But I have a secret weapon: the next best thing to an Extant tool.


I flood the corner of my mind made of molten steel with Espir, and activate my Willpower.


A rush of hot power floods through my limbs and into my machete.


With the next swing, I go straight through the webbing.


Nice!


Still, I can’t take this thing lightly. It’s the first opponent I’ve come across that conjures something entangling like this.


I’ve seen a defensive ink-cloud or two before in the previous Realm, but nothing like this.


If I really get caught up in those webs...


Straightening up, I quickly extend my senses again to take stock of the situation.


The very hungry caterpillar appears to have given up on dislodging my weapon and is now instead rapidly approaching again.


I quickly grab the rope attached to the trident, use my machete to cut off where it feeds into the ballista, and leap off the deck.


As soon as I’m airborne, I turn my legs into a mass of undulating tendrils.


Since gravity is optional in this Realm, it’s easy enough to stay afloat, so I quickly use the rope to yank myself forward.


The creature either detects me or—perhaps more likely—feels the tug on the trident buried in its belly, and suddenly stops moving.


Before it can do anything about it, though, my tendrils find purchase on its head, and I slam down my Will-powered machete.


It’s still not as effective as an Extant weapon like the axe would have been, but I have no time to grope around in the dark for that. Besides, all I really need is to make some inroads for my tendrils.


The caterpillar twists and shakes, trying to toss me off, but between the rope still in my hand and the tendrils wrapped around the sucker, it’s easy enough to cling on.


I am now officially rodeo riding a giant caterpillar. I wish there was someone here to witness, but well... even if there was, they wouldn’t see a thing.


As the caterpillar ineffectually tries to buck me off, I continue hacking with my machete, and start sending tendrils on Devouring Energy into the wounds my weapon leaves behind, to drain and weaken its spiritflesh.


My hungry tendrils squirm inside, following the increasing gradient of Espir density towards the Core.


I can tell it’s somewhere inside its head, which is why I landed here.


As my tendrils begin to hone in on it, however, the caterpillar grows frantic. All of a sudden, I’m swung to the side as it attempts to roll over and snare me in its web.


However, I was waiting for it to try that.


I immediately push off from the caterpillar, retracting all of my tendrils and conglomerating them into a mermaid’s tail.


A sweep of my tail sends me upwards compared to the web, until I’m right above the caterpillar, which is now lying on its back in the web.


Then, I firmly pull on the rope.


The trident comes loose. I fumble my first attempt at catching it in the dark, forcing me to chase after it, but soon enough I have it in hand, my machete abandoned.


Below me, the caterpillar rights itself, and rears up.


I sweep to the side, and not a moment too soon, as I feel a rush of air from its sticky spray passing me by.


That was close...


Without wasting another moment, I dive down towards its head, and plunge my trident inside.


I don’t immediately hit its Core, but I get pretty close.


After that, it becomes a battle of endurance. It tries to throw me off as my tendrils continue weakening its flesh and I work towards smashing its Core. Whenever it tries to roll over I quickly swim around through the air and wait for it to right itself, making sure not to give it another chance to shoot webs at me.


Despite its superior size and strength, it’s ultimately only a matter of time before it weakens enough, and I manage to strike its Core.


The caterpillar twitches and squirms as I greedily start to drain its Essence through the crack my trident made.


Soon, I feel the creature start to Fade at the edges.


However, that’s when something glides into my detection range.


I cautiously and slowly raise my trident towards it.


Driving off scavengers is something I’ve gotten quite used to, and usually a quick display of aggression is enough to get them to back off and wait for me to finish eating before they pounce on my leftovers.


Of course, since I’m not familiar with the creatures of this Realm, I may need to make a dash for it instead.


I’m confident the hungry caterpillar will be enough of a distraction to allow me to cut loose Kirri and get away if need be. Still, the thought sets my teeth on edge, a spike of irrational fury and possessiveness over my prey sweeping through me.


Well, not that irrational, I suppose. After all, this is my kill. Why shouldn’t I keep it?


I’m supposed to grow stronger, quickly, aren’t I?


I grip my trident a little tighter, preparing for a mighty kick of my tail.


However, before I can set anything into motion, the creature comes to a halt, flapping its wings, and—to my utter surprise—lets out a series of high-pitched, understandable squeaks. “Oh no, Cuddly, you poor thing!”



Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^


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