Chapter 21: Living in the sunlight

Above me, in the middle of the sky, hangs a familiar pair of stars, one orange and one blue. They just...appeared there and started burning my skin.

 

[That’s just the Twin Star entering its active phase.]

 

“... The Twin Star?”

 

[Indeed.]

 

“All right.” It’s one. Sure, makes sense.

 

[Hoh? What a boring reaction.]

 

“Always happy to disappoint. Now, tell me what you may about this Twin Star.”

 

[The Twin Star has a cycle of about 17 hours, during which it is in an inactive state for about 6 and a half. The rest of the time, it shines as it does now. I suppose you could consider what just happened this realm’s equivalent of a ‘sunrise’, except that the Twin Star isn’t actually rising—or going anywhere for that matter—just starting to shine again.]

 

“So, ‘it’, doesn’t move at all?”

 

[Our relatively positions are stationary. I suppose you could consider it another effect of the short range of gravity in this Realm.]

 

Crazy.

 

“So... this place has a 17 hour-ish ‘day’ and a 6 and a half hour ‘night’?”

 

[That’s one way of putting it.]

 

Well... guess it’s not the worst thing about this place.

 

But that means about 10 and a half more hours of sunlight, and I’m already feeling hot under the collar.

 

I roll up the sleeves of my uniform and take a sip from a bottle of water, before setting off again. I simply continue in the direction my footprints were heading for; should be close enough for now. I’ll try getting my bearings again in 10 minutes. I already can’t wait to be out of this heat.

 

 

I. Hate. This. Desert.

 

I’m sweating like a pig and drinking like a middle-aged Brit in a pub that’s about to close to make up for it.

 

Ten minutes wasn’t enough for me to recharge even a quarter of the energy I originally had. I’m not even sure the crystal lit up at all from what I’d produced, so the second time, I waited for an hour. It was enough to get a signal, but still not like the first time. It did help me shift my heading a couple degrees.

 

In fact, I just got my bearing for the third time—been trekking for over 2 hours now—and very little has changed. It’s still hot, still zero visibility and there’s still the occasional meteor slamming violently into the grid.

 

One change would be that the terrain has become more difficult, turning into dunes that increasingly move up and down. This makes it harder to walk in a straight line, and to progress in general.

 

The other change, came in the form of this lovely message.

 

 

At that point, the effect had still been barely noticeable. But as hours rolled by, the heat inside me kept building.

 

“Open status window.”

 

 

From what I can tell, heat is relatively much less damaging than Toxic Energy, but combined with the low level of Lavi in the air, it’s beginning to get dangerous.

 

Guess I didn’t buy those Yams for nothing.

 

Frankly, low Lavi isn’t what I fear right now though, it’s one of those other status conditions: ‘Heatstroke’.

 

If I were to enter into a state of confusion and start wandering around aimlessly, not paying attention to my Status Bar, well... I’d be dead before the Twin Star enters its inactive state again.

Yeah, that’s a mouthful, I’m just gonna call that nightfall from now on.

 

Anyway, to prevent that, I took off my uniform’s top and wrapped it around my head for shade, leaving me in a tank top, rolled up slacks, and trusty sneakers.

 

What I’d really like to do right now... would be either to drench my body in water or enter a lucid trance. Under the circumstances, I dare to do neither.

 

I can only hope I reach the exit in time.

 

 

Six hours. I’ve been walking through this hell for six hours, and still no sign of an exit. I’ve discovered there might actually be something I hate more than the sand and heat. Boredom.

 

Obviously, I turn to Suri for relief.

 

“This heat is killing me... How about you throw me some shade, Suri?”

 

[You wish me to insult you? I’m not sure if I should. Sweating is quite thinning, and you could stand to lose a few pounds.]

 

“Oof, that’s cold, Suri. Unfortunately, metaphorical cold doesn’t seem to physically cool anything in this realm either... Eh, it was worth a shot.”

 

[Did you really think that would work? The laws in this realm may be odd to you, but it’s not like they were made up by a toddler, Emma.]

 

“Yeah, ehm, you can stop now, Suri. It’s not helping.”

 

[Are you sure? I don’t mind trying a little longer.]

 

“Positive. Please stop.” Turns out I prefer being bored over being insulted. Who knew?

 

The only other relief for boredom I get, is using the crystal. I’ve gotten a little handier and can now stimulate the energy beneath my skin to quickly flow towards it.

 

Every time I check my directions however, I’m a little more off. I hope it’s because I’m getting closer, but I fear it’s because of the dunes throwing me off.

 

Seriously, these dunes are getting ridiculous. The only reason these weird, high-stretching shapes are possible must be that they have their own gravity fields. Some of them are huge, yet even when I climb those suckers, I still can’t see much from the top!

 

That’s due to the only thing I hate more than the heat here: the sand hanging in the air. Not only does it obscure my surroundings, it’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Even the light breeze blowing around doesn’t seem to do anything about it.

 

There’s some good news too, though. Thanks to regular checks, I noticed that the build-up of heat in my body was slowing down, and now appears to have reached an equilibrium.

 

“Status window.”

 

 

Since my net Lavi is now zero, I still haven’t needed to eat a yam. Go me.

 

But on the other hand... I already drank half of my water. I also don’t seem to have any talent for developing Heat Tolerance.

 

I only reached 0.2% in six... friggin’... hours.

 

What am I, an animated snowman? Am I supposed to start singing now?!

 

I better come across something, anything, soon.

 

 

The eighth hour just passed. I’ve taken to playing I Spy with Suri.

 

“All right... it’s this... brownish... goop,” I say, as I trudge around another pillar of sand, “that’s commonly found... on beaches.”

 

[Sand.]

 

“Kay.”

 

I can’t even see the tops of these pillars anymore... It’s like walking through a forest. At least the shade is nice, but the breeze has died down, so it’s not much cooler. I tried to climb one earlier, but the sand was too loose, it just crumbled beneath my fingers.

 

“It’s a... ehm... substance... made of tiny particles, of eroded rock.”

 

[Sand.]

 

“Kay. Man, Suri... you’re unbeatable...” I mumble. Talking is hard right now, because my mouth too, is sand.

 

[I’m getting a little worried about your sanity, Emma.]

 

“Ah Suri... once again, you are a day short and... a dollar late?”

 

[I see. Well, do me a favour and hang in there, Emma. Perhaps you should drink some more?]

 

I chuckle, but take another sip from my waterskin. Mmm, lukewarm Hydrum, my favourite. At least it flushes the sand from my mouth. For now.

 

“Don’t worry Suri, I’m not that far gone yet. Just havin’ a laugh.”

 

[Indeed. When did you last check your heading?]

 

I stumble to a halt. When did I last check? A wave of unrest clears some of the cobwebs in my head.

 

Mumbling to myself, I take out the crystal, and stimulate my energy into flowing towards it. It glows relatively brightly. Shit.

 

I hold it in front of me, and frown.

 

I... I’m getting nothing. Is it the heat bearing down on me? Is it because I can’t concentrate, or is it that the crystal broke, and I’m now flying blind, lost and delirious in my personal hell till—

 

[Try and keep a cool head Emma.]

 

Ah yes, good idea. I unplug the waterskin with my left hand and lift it overhead, liberally pouring the last bit of its contents on the uniform covering my head. Don’t worry, I still have about half a litre left in a bottle in my backpack. I think.

 

[Not exactly what I meant, but... well, perhaps it will help.]

 

I swivel the crystal to my left, trying to get my bearings.

 

Still nothing.

 

The right then. No... wait... yes! It’s there! The vibration’s quite strong too.

 

It could be because I saved up more energy. Or... maybe I’m getting close!

 

I stick the crystal back in my pocket, and take off with renewed vigour. Having to go around large pillars of sand makes it harder to keep heading in the right direction, but I try to counteract it by strafing. Yes, I know what that means; I’m a recovering game addict, we’ve discussed this.

 

Five minutes later, as I’m about to lose hope again, I spot a vague shadow to my right. As I head towards it, a small stone building looms up out of the ever-present cloud of airborne sand.

 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills