Chapter 26: Even batman wears one, technically

I prop myself up on one elbow, and continue our conversation more seriously, “Anyway, I wanted to thank you too, for the Blue Angel. Probably saved my life.”

 

Kaitlynn sits up and crosses her arms over her knees, making her look all small and vulnerable. “You, ehm, hovered at the brink of death for a little while, after we ran out of juice. It was... not fun. I can tell you mean a lot to the boys.”

 

Damn, look at her... with that angelic little face, those sad eyes and her skirt riding up ever so—whoa, okay, not going there. I mean, the boys must go crazy over her. I’d be jealous, if it weren’t for the fact that we’re all going to die anyway.

 

She’s looking at me funny. Right! I’m supposed to respond. With words.

 

“Ehm, well, to be honest, we hardly know one another...” I hesitate, seeing her frown. “But I guess you get attached quickly, during a calamity like this.”

 

Her frown clears up and she nods happily. Much better. It kinda rings true anyway; I’d be sad if they hadn’t made it, although some of that’d be for selfish reasons.

 

What I care about for sure, is settling debts. That’s one thing my mother managed to hammer into my stubborn head at least: ‘We may lack money, young lady, but not integrity!’

 

I clear my throat. “Hey, listen, I actually still have some unspent Trial Points. I’m not sure if there’s a system in place for this kind of thing, but maybe I can reimburse you for the ones you spent on that Blue Angel?”

 

“Oh, I didn’t buy it, actually, I still had it left over from Trial One, so...” she shrugs. “I’m just glad I had it. And besides, you saved me first, you know,” she finishes, adding a wink.

 

Hold up.

 

I push myself up into a seated position, and lean toward her. “What do you mean, from Tri—did, do Blue Angels grow in Trial One?!”

 

She covers my mouth with her hand, giggling again. Right, my volume was kinda rising there by the end.

 

Satisfied that I’ll be quiet, she removes her hand again.

 

“Among other things, yes. Is it really that surprising? I mean, there were a ton of things growing in Trial One,” she frowns cutely at me. “Didn’t you go exploring around the oasis? I mean, they even taught us how to appraise things before the Trial, so I just kind of thought that was the whole point of the trial; to familiarize you with the local plants, and how they can kill you or help you survive.”

 

“... Right. Yeah, that makes sense.”

 

Wow. I’m an idiot.

 

She’s staring at me.

 

“Yesterday, when you said you spent all of your time training your Toxic Energy Tolerance, you weren’t... bluffing?”

 

I sheepishly scratch my neck. “Well, I mean, I may have exaggerated the effects of my training a little, but the bit about my training process was pretty accurate.”

 

“You... how high is your Toxic Energy tolerance then, if you don’t mind my asking?”

 

“Right now? Nearing 25%.”

 

Her mouth drops open. “T-t-twenty five percent?! Agh, shut up Kai!”

 

Ehm... Kai?

 

I must look rather weirded out, because she blushes and launches into an explanation. “Sorry, my AI guy—that’s what I call him, Kai-The-AI-Guy—was freaking out a little. He can be rather talkative, so sometimes I need to shut him up. But wow, 25% is... insane.”

 

Huh, so her—what was it called again? Personal Guide System? Anyway, her AI is a guy and apparently rather a chatterbox. Interesting.

 

“I am pretty proud of it,” I admit, “but I still almost died from Toxic Energy poisoning yesterday.”

 

“Well, who asked you to gargle the sap of a Moonshade Flower?” she teases.

 

“Meathead did,” I deadpan. “Or well, he dared me, but that’s like, almost even worse. I mean, after that, I just had to, right?”

 

She’s covering her mouth with a hand, her shoulders moving with silent laughter. Guess I broke my promise.

 

“Did you just... call him Meathead?” she asks between laughter spasms. “I mean, the term fits, but it’s just so... objectifying; men are more than a piece of meat, you know?” she mock scolds me.

 

“Yeah, he was definitely smarter than advertised,” I say, nodding agreeably. “Like, if I’d bought a nice steak, and it gave me this much lip, I’d take it back to the pimp. Cause that’s not what I’m paying for, if you know what I mean.”

 

I decide to give her a little break to dry her tears. “So... what is your Toxic Energy tolerance, if you don’t mind my asking?”

 

She scrunches up her nose, still chuckling. “Ugh, don’t laugh, okay? It’s 1.2%.”

 

Wow, that’s... less than what I got in Hub One.

 

“In my defence, I have a Yang affinity, so...” she shrugs.

 

Ah. That does explain a little. Hey, compared to my heat tolerance, it’s still friggin’ fantastic.

 

“Okay, I have another question you can feel free not to answer... What exactly was Meathead chasing you for anyway?”

 

The corner of her mouth twitches upwards, and she gives me a little glare. All right, all right, I’ll try to contain myself. I lift my hands in the universal sign for innocence, and she seems to accept it as my surrender.

 

She turns to rummage in her backpack, pulls out a golf ball-sized crystal with a potent green glow, and hands it to me without a care in the world.

 

“This. One of the three items needed to level up; a Minor Lavi Crystal.”

 

I let out a low whistle as I study it. It definitely contains a lot of Lavi, but although its glow is green, it isn’t radiating it.

 

“Appraise.”

 

 

What? They can also be used to increase Maximum Lavi capacity? This is good stuff!

 

“How’d you get it?” I ask before regretfully handing it back.

 

“Well,” she says, carefully replacing the crystal, “there are these hollow tree stumps spread out over Hub Two—five of them—and once a day some creature called a ‘Blue-Scaled Trigot’ emerges from one of them for about an hour, and people try to hunt it down, because it has a Minor Lavi Crystal lodged in its forehead.”

 

“Right, that thing you said you killed before; what’s it like?”

 

“Ehm, it’s roughly the shape and size of a Komodo Dragon, maybe a little smaller, but then much faster. It keeps jumping from tree to tree and crawling on the underside of branches and stuff like that,” she explains animatedly, with gestures and facial expressions to match what she’s saying. I’m staring again.

 

“At least it’s not hard to miss,” she continues, “since it’s blue. It doesn’t really get aggressive unless you corner it, but it does have some mean looking teeth. And horns. Three of ‘em.”

 

A blue, horned Komodo dragon, with a green glowing crystal in its forehead... I guess it’s not the craziest I’ve seen here so far.

 

“Anyway, Bruce and—that’s right, he has a name, you callous monster,” she says, light-heartedly shoving my shoulder. “Bruce and his flunkies try to monopolize the hunt, been doing it for days; they split up and each guard one of the stumps. When the Blue-Scaled Trigot appears, they signal each other and try to hunt it down together. Only yesterday, it came out of the stump I was watching over, and I took it down before they showed up.”

 

“By yourself?” I ask in surprise. “How?”

 

She smiles at me with a twinkle in her eye.

 

“You wanna see?”

 

 

The hut turns out to be perched somewhere high up in one of the humongous trees, as I more or less expected. Must’ve been quite a hassle to carry me all the way here though.

 

We walk over the thick branches until Kaitlynn decides that we’re far enough away that whatever she’s about to do won’t disturb the boys.

 

She takes a white Focus Crystal out of her fanny pack. I stare at it. The fanny pack, that is.

 

“What?” she asks defensively. “It’s practical, okay?”

 

“I’m sure it is.”

 

“It’s also safer against pickpockets.”

 

“I hear you.”

 

“And it’s not like I bought it myself, it was a gift from my mother.”

 

“These are all solid reasons.”

 

“I... You... Just shut up and watch!”

 

I barely manage to reel my smirk back in and watch as she, still flustered, lifts the crystal in front of her.

 

She narrows her eyes and... lets go of the crystal.

 

My body jerks from my instinctual urge to grab it before it falls and bounces off the branch, but against my expectations, the crystal floats in front of her hand and starts giving off an increasingly hot orange glow.

 

A perfectly spherical bubble of orange energy forms around it, growing in size and gaining in intensity.

 

When the build-up seems to reach a kind of climax, she lets loose a shout.

 

“Haah!”

 

The bubble converts into a beam. In a flash it strikes the trunk of a tree 40 feet away with a deafening boom and a flash of blistering heat.

 

A clearly scorched and damaged spot remains on the trunk’s surface.

 

I turn my wide-eyed gaze back to Kaitlynn, who flippantly sticks her crystal back in her fanny pack.

 

“Holy shit!”

 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills