The next five days pass in a blur of activity. Kaitlynn manages to strike down a Trigot on the second day, Dave and Alec obtain only the carcass on the third, but then somehow luck out and hunt one on the fourth!
All right, it’s not all luck. Dave spent quite some time building spear-slinging contraptions that Alec had come up with; Alec himself was too busy making armour. As far as I understand, Dave glued rails for his spears to the top of low branch close to one of the spawn points, and had slack vines connected to them somehow. To fire a spear, he’d drop a large rock that was tied into the vine. After falling as far as it could, the rock would pull the vine taut, launching the spear in the process.
The firing mechanism was rather slow, but he made up for it in volume. By the fourth day, they had an array of six spear-slingers, all aimed around the hollow tree stump that served as a spawn point, which Dave could activate by pulling a single vine.
Someone complained about it to the council, but they said they’d allow it, as long as we were careful not to hit anyone and held hunting permits.
Either way, we now only need one more Minor Lavi Crystal, and Alec is all but done making the last of our shiny blue armour. He had some trouble with ‘tanning’ the leather, but he managed to work it out, with some help from Kaitlynn and Sarge. It seems the process managed to increase the leather’s Toughness, from the original 31 to a respectable 36.
The armour consists of separate pieces that cover different parts of the body, like our upper and lower legs and arms. This makes it a little hard to put on, with all the small straps you have to tie to fasten it, but the fit is really good, and the gaps left near the joints are quite small. The cuirass fits quite snugly, and with how stiff it is, can be a little restrictive to my movements, but nothing too bad. Finally, he made us all coifs, to protect our heads. He didn’t make us gloves or boots, unfortunately, saying he lacked ‘both time and skill’.
As for me, well... I’ve steadily been going further and further into the glade. I haven’t been anywhere near the centre yet though. I’m being careful, okay? As a result, my Toxic Energy Tolerance hasn’t improved much, as I’m careful not to take in much over my tolerance limit.
Honestly, I spend most of my time clearing out Toxic Energy in preparation of going back in there. First, Dave helps me purify any Toxic Energy over my limit, then I eat one of my daily ration of two Blue Angels, and proceed to spend a whole lot of time meditating and breathing really deeply high up in a tree—the Aether is least toxic up here, so it helps me get rid of more Toxic Energy.
The fact that it gives me a gorgeous view of the night sky—and the occasional meteor impacting on the protective grid—during the Twin Star’s inactive phase, is just a bonus.
All this breathing and meditating is good practice too; my Lavi absorption from Aether has gone up to 12 Onkh per minute, though the Deep Breathing skill hasn’t changed yet, of course. I’ve also been practicing shutting off my senses one at a time during meditation, and I think I’m getting better at it, but it’s hard to tell. And not unimportantly, my Max Lavi is growing steadily.
Other than that, I’ve taken to bringing home flowers for Kaitlynn. For her collection, I mean.
I personally don’t pay a lot of attention to the effects of the plants I gather; I just skim the appraisal of plants I don’t recognize for the name and if there are any unfamiliar effects listed below, before deciding to unearth it or move on. I’m on a tight schedule, and there are way too many different plants, most of which don’t have any interesting properties.
Some do, however, in which case Kaitlynn asks me to keep an eye out for them. I found this pretty cool root for example, that kind of looks like a glowing pink beet, that has restorative properties. It’s called a Heartbeet. I shit you not.
Of course, the stingy bastards who built this place made those pretty rare, so I only found the one so far.
I also collect the Fire-Blossoms we use to light our stove, though not too many, seeing how they could spontaneously combust if dropped or smacked into something.
Perhaps my most interesting find however—if not the most useful—was the ‘Carriage of Dreams’: a hot pink, yellow dotted mushroom I just brought back.
Kaitlynn is studying its appraisal results now, with a bemused smile. “Emma, what did you bring this back for?”
I shrug. “Because it looks cool and has a kick-ass name.” I mean, duh. “Why?”
“The appraisal says it’s hallucinogenic.”
A hallucinogenic mushroom... a ‘shroom’? I grin at her. “Sweet, wanna go trip balls later?” I half-joke.
[That’s a terrible idea, Emma. That kind of mushroom forms a dreamscape of its own. It would be very easy for you to get lost in there and never find your way back, and even I wouldn’t be able to help you.]
Damn. Even the drugs are dangerous in this realm.
Well, you know what I mean.
“All right party pooper, I’ll leave the shrooms alone,” I grumble. “Suri says, it’s dangerous,” I elaborate for Kailynn’s sake.
She shakes her head fondly, and puts the shroom with her collection. “Who knows, maybe we’ll find a use for it,” she says with a wink.
“Like feeding it to Alec as a prank?” I ask hopefully.
She smacks my shoulder. Tch, violent woman.
Later that evening, when I sit down upon a high branch to start my meditation, a question that’s been gnawing somewhere in the back of my mind pops forth.
“Hey Suri, I gotta say, for an entirely different dimension, there are a surprising amount of parallels between life here and on Earth. I mean, there’s grass, trees, flowers, weird lizards, and now even hallucinogenic mushrooms... what’s up with that?”
[It is suspected most life in this Realm originated in the Entropic Realm,] Suri chimes to my surprise.
Come again? “Do you mean other life forms were somehow void-shifted here long ago, and adapted?”
“Then, what life forms didn’t originate in this realm?”
Whoop, there it is. I sigh deeply, and after a few more ineffectual questions, enter a lucid trance to spend another night—my fifth since we ran the temple—high up in a tree.
The next ‘morning’, after I enter the Glade, I immediately power-walk through the colourful foliage, wasting no time appraising anything.
This is my first time wearing my new blue leather armour, and I must admit, it looks pretty damn cool. Even if it does chafe a little. I’m still wearing my uniform beneath it, for a little extra padding, but it doesn’t help much. Guess I should ask Alec for some adjustments after today.
It takes about 10 minutes to get to about as deep as I’ve ever been, at which point my Lavi is nearly exhausted, and I am forced to start breathing again.
I’m still seeing plants here that I’m quite sure I haven’t appraised before, but I decide to keep going. I’m getting a little antsy. I mean, we only need one more Minor Lavi Crystal, and yet I still haven’t caught as much as a glimpse of a Stardrop Flower... I feel I need to head a deeper. Just a little.
Somehow, the glade keeps getting more and more beautiful as I explore deeper. The plants keep getting larger, and the colours more vibrant. If it weren’t for the Toxic Energy pervading the Aether, this would be the loveliest field of flowers I’d ever witnessed. It might still be.
Take this one for example; a new flower I’ve just come across. It’s petals actually gleam like crystals, no, like mother of pearl, changing with the angle I view it at as it sways gently in the breeze. Back and forth, back and forth... gorgeous. As I get closer, I notice that even its stamen are cute; they have what look like little clouds at the end of them, giving off a mysterious purple glowing powder, that dances in the flurries of my exhale and—
I freeze mid-step. What am I doing? Was I about to... smell this flower? Why do I still kind of want to...
Swaying in indecision, I manage to lift a finger and point at it.
My eyes snap wide open, the rush of adrenalin like a cold bucket of water to my face.
Th—this flower nearly got me! I almost got done in... by a friggin’ plant! Motherf—
A snap beneath my foot draws my attention away from my internal monologue. I reflexively look down.
That... was a rib. In fact, the ground around this plant is littered in bones. Vines coming from the base of the Dreamcloud Flower slowly crawl about between them, as if looking for sustenance. Cursing loudly, I run out of the immediate area. The vines wave slowly as I pass, but otherwise make no efforts to stop me.
Outside the tiny graveyard, I wait for my heartbeat to slow down.
How in the hell did I not notice? ...No, that’s normal, I guess. It’s the plant’s doing. I suppose I have my Toxic Energy Tolerance to thank for the fact that I resisted it as much as I did.
Most of the bones surrounding the plant are small, looking like tiny critters and birds. The largest skeleton looks suspiciously like a Trigot, but the one closest to the flower, the one whose rib I stood on... is clearly human.
Shit. Guess this explains the people going missing in here... I better let the council know.
Also... “Suri, what the hell! Why didn’t you warn me?!”
[You didn’t ask.]
... Are you frig—
[Just kidding. No, the Dreamcloud Flower is considered a trap. I am naturally not allowed to warn you about those, as that would defeat the purpose of placing a trap.]
‘Naturally,’ she says... why are there even traps in the first place; isn’t this place deadly enough?! I could cry...
But my time is limited, so before that... let’s check out the skull of that Trigot. And is that a half-buried backpack?
The plant shouldn’t be able to trick me now that I’m aware of its goal, right? I decide to risk a quick venture back in the slaughterzone.
The Trigot is a dud; judging from how many vines still connect to its skull, the plant must have sucked it’s Minor Lavi Crystal dry.
The backpack, that I quickly nabbed and brought outside the plant’s sphere of influence, contains mostly junk. However, as I’m about to give up, I discover an unexpected prize in a small front pocket: a Yang Pearl!
Frig yes. Ooh, if Kaitlynn used this to upgrade her Qi-pool, then perhaps she’d have enough to fire off two shots in a row!
Why didn’t the plant eat it though? Is it... because it has a Yin affinity? Well anyway, its loss is my gain. Satisfied with my haul for the day, and wary of more dangerous surprises, I decide to head back.
And that’s when the following announcement pops up in front of me.
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