Meathead and company stop in their tracks. He frowns. “Who are you?”
All eyes on me, just the way I like it. Joy.
A flash of inspiration prompts me to smirk at him and say: “Who do you think?”
Meathead clenches his jaw. “...You’re an enforcer, aren’t you?”
Too easy. That’s what you get for spending all your time in the gym, meat for brains.
“That’s right. Now how about you leave these people alone, so I don’t have to report anything back to the council. I really loathe paperwork, you know?”
He stares at me in silence. Shit, is he not buying it after all? Poker face, poker face pah pah poker f—stop that, Emma.
“That all you’re gonna do if I don’t leave, little girl?” he asks. “Report back? To whom? You’re the first council flunky I’ve heard of that made it this far. I think you’re bluffing; you’re alone.”
Shit. Is this the rare kind of meathead that goes to night school after a hard day in the gym? Where does he get the energy to make such long days?
Not expecting such an eloquent comeback, I am struck dumb for a little too long.
He smiles meanly. “Thought so. Never mind council-girl here lads, let’s get our prize.”
His minions still seem a little hesitant, but they follow him nonetheless. Even Emo-kid, though he seems most reluctant.
I get to my feet. “Not so fast!”
They look up again, annoyed, as I take plan B out of my bag.
B stands for bottle.
“You see this? It’s the sap from a Moonshade Flower that I plucked a little while ago... You want to know what happens when you don’t leave?”
I unscrew the cap, the rich aroma of Moonshade wafts forth.
“Keep walking and find out.”
A shocked silence descends. The minions are clearly frightened, but Meathead seems unconvinced.
“And how do I know that’s really Moonshade?”
A minion dressed in what looks like the remains of a Sherlock Holmes costume backs away slowly, saying, “Uh, boss, that’s definitely Moonshade.”
Heh, no shit, Sherlock.
He swallows heavily. “Just the scent is making me sick again.” He does look a little green around the gills. Poor little minion.
“All right, fine,” Meathead yells angrily. “Even if it is, she’s all the way over there. How’s she going to get it on us, huh, throw the bottle?”
Shit. He’s definitely smarter than he looks. Maybe’s he’s more like an educated person on steroids.
“I have my ways,” I say coolly.
Can I make that jump? Probably, however, I may be crazy, but I’m not mad, you know? If even one of them has the balls to try and hinder my landing...
“Yeah?” he says mockingly, “and what way is that? Did you happen to bring a squirt gun to your job at the hotdog stand?”
Ugh, this damn uniform. And no, but dammit, that’d be super handy right now...
Actually, that does give me an idea.
A really dumb, dangerous idea.
I breathe in deeply. You know, deeply. I grab on to the twig with my free hand and release a controlled burst of breath at them. Their hair and clothing flutters, and even Meathead looks shocked.
It may not be at the level of Breath Control, but I can do at least this much.
“You ever seen humans fire-breathing?” I ask casually. “My fellow enforcers nicknamed me ‘The Toxic Dragon Girl’.”
Shit. I hope that name doesn’t stick.
From the corner of my eye, I can see Iron Man clasp his hand in front of his mouth, no doubt trying to contain his laughter. Stop judging me! I’m improvising, okay?!
At least it has the effect I wanted. Meathead’s minions are now all slowly retreating, seeming painfully conscious that they’re in my ‘firing range’.
Not Meathead though... “You’re bluffing!” he says, pointing his finger at me redundantly. “You expect me to believe you’d put that stuff in your own mouth? You’d be just as dead as we’d be!”
Ugh! When is this guy going to back off already?
“Please,” I scoff, “I spent basically all of my time in Trial One going back and forth between the Moonshade flowers and the oasis, training my Toxic Energy Tolerance. I could bathe in this stuff.”
“Oh yeah?” Meathead asks, folding his arms in front of his chest. “Then what’s stopping you from using it on me now?”
Stop calling my bluffs! “Fine,” I snap, trying but perhaps failing to hide my frustration. “You brought this on yourself.”
With my most convincing, condescending snort, I pour some of the glowing liquid into the bottle’s cap. This much should be okay, right? I’ll just have to quickly wash my mouth afterwards or something...
[Emma? Be careful with that...]
Ah, there’s that sting in my nostrils. I’ve almost missed it. Almost. I lift the cap in a mock toast, staring Meathead down all the while.
[Emma, what are you doing? Emma, stop!]
Sorry, Suri, no can do. I take a deep breath, bring the cap to my lips and take the deadly liquid into my mouth.
Meathead’s minions go scrambling. Meanwhile my mouth is on fire, but I forcibly keep my face straight. It’s like the burn from a shot of absinthe, multiplied by five.
As I’m about to launch my mouth’s deadly payload at Meathead, the image of his lifeless corpse flashes in front of my mind’s eye. Frig! I can’t do it.
Instead, I aim at a door-sized leaf above him, and force a stream of Aether out between narrowed lips, my cheeks billowing out wildly with the pressure. A spray of Toxic droplets leaves my mouth, glowing bright purple in the canopy’s shade.
The spray hits the leaf, covering it. For a split second, nothing happens. Then the leaf flashes purple all at once and rapidly shrivels up.
Holy shit! I may have underestimated this stuff...
Meathead pales, his arms dropping from his chest as he moves back a few paces from the slowly spreading and thinning cloud of Toxic Energy.
I smirk at him, trying hard to keep my voice steady as I say: “Aww, leaving so soon? Would you like me to blow you a kiss goodbye, big guy?”
Meathead glances back at his minions, who are now scrambling away even farther, and clenches his jaw again. “No thanks. Let’s head back to the base, lads, I’ve had enough chick-crazy for today.”
Chick-crazy? Pfff, sexist much? My mouth may still be burning from the Moonshade sap I just had in there, but that’s on me, not my gender!
Oh man, I don’t feel so good...
I stiffly walk back to the main branch I was on, and somehow manage to stay upright as Meathead and crew move from tree to tree over the network of branches, fading into the distance. As soon as they’re out of sight, I shakily grab a bottle of water, and gargle and rinse several times. The water comes back less purple each time, and quickly becomes entirely clear. Now I’m just left with the ghost of its burn in my mouth.
Dave, Iron Man and the girl went the other way and are now on my branch. Iron Man is the first to reach me, his arms spread wide. I hope he forgot my name too, or this is going to be awkward.
“Emma, that was amazing! Thank you so—”
The bottle of water slips through my powerless fingers, and he reaches me just in time to catch me as I keel over.
Yup, awkward. Thankfully, I promptly pass out.
I wake on a hard surface, with a sweet liquid in my mouth. I groan, turning my head away from the source, cause I’m still nauseous.
The liquid persists in entering my mouth, so I lift up a hand to fend off the source, my fingers cold and shaky, my body aching all over.
“She’s coming to!” a female voice calls.
I groggily crack open an eyelid, to be met by a close-up view of a grey eye and a deep red crystal, surrounded by a head of blue hair.
Dave is on my other side, holding a crystal that shines a familiar, refreshing white light on me.
“Emma!” he exclaims. “You were growing colder and colder, we were so worried! Quick, drink up, then check your Lavi flows.”
I sit up a little and scoot back to rest my back against the wall, groaning as my head swims. I’m in... some kind of treehouse by the looks of it, laying on a bed of leaves that may as well have been made of wood, for how much comfort they provide.
Iron Man comes rushing in, looking relieved to see me alive, but unsure what to do. He nervously hovers by my feet.
When the world around me stabilizes a little again, I weakly accept the waterskin Kaitlynn was feeding me with. She looks a little younger than I, but not much, 21 maybe? Also, judging by the purple tint of my hand, I really screwed up this time. Not that I needed that visual cue at this point.
The drink tastes unfamiliar and very sweet; I can tell it’s full of Lavi. Kinda feels like I’m drinking some kind of high-sugar energy drink that’s will save my life at the cost of my teeth.
I hope dental plaque isn’t a thing in this dimension, because I didn’t exactly pack a toothbrush...
After obediently swallowing a few mouthfuls, I can feel my stomach rebel, so I hand it back.
“Open Lavi Flows Window,” I rasp.
Minus 16?! Jeeze, that stuff is potent!
Wait, how much Lavi do I have left? I check my status bar.
Frig. Also, why didn’t Dave ask me to check here in the first place? Ah, wait, the addition of the net Lavi flow was something I personally requested...
“And?” Dave asks worriedly.
Right, they can’t see it.
“Sixteen Onkh Lavi left, net intake... minus two,” I mumble.
So much for being The Toxic Dragon Girl.