The large wave caused by Momma Plessie raising her head nearly throws me off the lily pad I’m standing on, but I manage to keep my balance with the bamboo rod.
For a split second I stare at the house-sized head of the monster.
It stares back. Then it opens its cave-like maw.
I ditch my trusty rod and dive into the Hydrum, away from the beast.
However, the deluge of acid I was expecting doesn’t come; instead the surface tension is broken by a jet of Hydrum, that sends me tumbling head over heels until I wash up on shore.
I jump up, spit out some Hydrum and waste no time running off into the vegetation. Somehow, I came out of that mostly unhurt, but a glance over my shoulder tells me Momma isn’t done.
Which is why I change directions as soon as I believe I’m out of sight.
And not a moment too soon, because a strip of land behind me is suddenly blasted with purple acid.
In the time-honoured tradition of small mammals trying to evade a much larger predator, I instinctively drop and play dead.
When the smoke and the sizzling clears, I brave a glance behind me. What I find, chills me to the bone.
There’s a strip of land stretching from the pond to further into the Glade than I can see, where all the vegetation, and most of the top layer of soil has been… annihilated, leaving nothing but an empty furrow. I can’t even tell if it’s been melted or simply blasted away, but I fear the former.
I stay where I am, holding very, very still. I try to peer through the vegetation, but despite the size of Momma Plessie, I can’t see her, and I’m not hearing much either.
Now I’m faced with a dilemma… I can keep lying here, and prevent being blasted with a torrent of Hydrum and/or a deluge of acid, or I can make a run for it, before I build up even more Toxic Energy.
I can already feel my body weakening, and I still have to get started on the way back.
After another minute of silence, I make my decision, and get up.
And behind me, hovering over the strip of melted land, I find the head of Momma Plessie.
The eye on this side of her head, the only one I can see, turns towards me.
I bolt like a cheetah on steroids.
Despite my armour protecting me from the brunt of the acid, I return to the hut covered in acid burns. Frankly, I wouldn’t be standing here without it. Heck, I’m barely standing as it is, with all the Toxic Energy in my system.
Alec screams like a girl when he sees me. Heh. I must look a sight… I think part of my nose is missing even.
Dave blanches, but keeps his cool. Immediately guiding me to stumble over to the bed.
“Christ Emma,” he mutters as he starts purifying me. “What happened to you? And why didn’t you message us for help?”
Huh. Right. I could’ve done that after I left the Glade…
“Guess I wasn’t thinking straight,” I croak out weakly. “Status window.”
Good. As long as I have some food in my stomach, this much isn’t enough to kill me.
I weakly pull on the armour covering my chest, and Alec promptly starts helping me take it off, careful not to stare too much at my face. Beneath it, over my belly, he finds the remains of my backpack, that I stuffed there for safekeeping while it rained acid. Apart from some holes, and losing one of the straps, it’s actually pretty okay.
“Want me to fix this for you?” he asks.
“Later,” I croak. “Check out the contents.”
The look on his face when he pulls out the first slimy, glittering drop is priceless. Too bad smiling hurts my cracked, burned lips.
Alec’s expression changes once he appraises it. “Emma… is this?”
I nod. Ouch. “That’s right boys, I found them.”
Excitedly, he pulls out the others. “And you got four of them?! That’s great!”
“Yeah… Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a little nap.”
“Emma, what happened?” Dave asks as my eyelids flutter closed.
“…I got greedy.”
When I come to, the Twin Star has entered its inactive state, and Dave is purifying me with a worried look on his face.
There’s a notification floating in my vision:
I groan and sit up, feeling marginally better.
I wave away the grim message. “How long was I out?”
“A couple of hours,” Dave answers. His voice sounds tense. “We decided to wait with levelling up until you were awake at least.”
I look around. Alec’s in another corner, fixing my backpack. He smiles at me, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. That’s everybody in the room.
I swallow heavily. “Where’s Kaitlynn?”
“We… can’t get a hold of her.”
“Wha—” in my haste to speak, I accidentally inhale some spittle and fly into a violent coughing fit.
“She was supposed to be back before ‘nightfall’,” Dave continues grimly. “With the state Hub Two is in right now, I can’t help but fear the worst.”
Frig! What does he mean, the worst? Wait… I’m pretty sure the previous announcement said 48 participants remained, and the last one said 41. If only five people can enter a door, doesn’t that mean two people died?!
Dave correctly interprets my panicked gaze. “Rose assures me the fact that she’s still listed as my friend means she’s still alive; the fact that she’s not answering simply means, she’s…”
“Incapacitated,” I fill in the blank. “But we can see where she is on the map, right? Why didn’t you go—”
Dave raises a brow at me. Right… Dave couldn’t leave me here untreated, let alone unconscious, so then Alec would have to go out on his own, on a potentially dangerous rescue mission. Not the brightest idea.
Suri interrupts me before I can utter another desperate question.
[You have an incoming friend request from a ‘Bruce’.]
Wait... I shoot upright, ignoring the pain it causes me.
“Frig. Yes, I accept.”
[Friend request accepted,] Suri chimes. [You have an incoming call from Bruce, would you like to—]
For a second, it’s silent in my head. Dave looks at me in confusion.
“Bruce. To what do I owe this pleasure?” I ask curtly, dreading the answer.
<I think you already know, Emma.>
<We have Kaitlynn. I hear you’re pretty fond of her. If you want her back alive and well, you will deliver five Stardrop Flowers to where we’re holding her, before the Twin Stars enter their next inactive phase.>
“Five Stardrop Flowers?” I ask caustically, racking my brain for some kind of plan. “You’re delusional, they don’t exactly grow on trees, you know?”
<Well, I’m sure your position as the council’s official Stardrop Flower acquirer isn’t just for show. You’ve been at it for what, a week? Honestly, if you haven’t found them yet by now, you’re just not trying hard enough. Maybe this deadline will help with that.>
“Not trying hard enough? Are you friggin’ kidding me?!” I swallow the rest of what I was about to say, nearly biting my tongue in the process; can’t let him know I already have the Stardrops, or he might change the timeframe for delivery.
The painful truth is, he’s right in a way. If I had gone deeper sooner, and had reached the Stardrops first, this mess may have been avoided altogether.
<This is the deal; take it or leave it.>
“…Fine.” Not like you’re giving me a lot of choice.
<Then I’ll look forward to your arrival. Oh, and don’t even think of involving the council; I have friends on the inside, and if I catch word of any of that crap, you can consider your friend dead.>
He hangs up.
[Bruce has removed you from his friend list.]
F. M. L.
You may be interested to hear that I've added a new, never-before-seen table to Chapter 9: The Skilldream Shopping Window! ^^
Fair warning though: it only features a few skills you haven't heard of yet, as Emma didn't have have access to Qi yet in Chapter 9.
So go check that out if you're interested, but before you do, don't forget to hit that big green button and vote! ^^
Thanks for reading!