“Help me pull him onboard; I want that trident,” I yell, adding that last bit to throw the chief froggo off, just in case. It’s not even a lie, I really do want that trident.
I pull hard on his tongue, forcing the chief a couple of inches closer to our barge. The cut between my ribs hurts like a bitch, but I’m quite used to accepting and ignoring pain. Unfortunately, the chief isn’t.
His eyes narrow and his toothless mouth goes from a pained grimace to a crooked smile, before an arc of lightning travels up his tongue.
Son of a—
Pain erupts as my muscles all clench simultaneously. I want to say I hold on through sheer tenacity, but I honestly couldn’t let go if I wanted to, the pressure I’m now involuntarily applying forcing my nails deeper into his tongue.
It ends as abruptly as it started, and his tongue slips from my numb fingers as I collapse backwards. Soft hands catch me, prevent me from slamming my head on the deck, and keep me propped up enough to allow me to watch as the bastard's tongue retracts.
However, just before the slimy appendage can slip off the boat, Jacob dives onto it, abandoning his sword and shield to use his nails to grasp it, much like I did.
An arrow shoots past me, but the chief raises his trident and it bounces off, causing a lingering tone to ring out. Damnit, you lucky bastard!
The chief sends another pulse of lightning down his tongue, but it looks weak; he’s out of Qi!
Jacob grunts and tenses a little when it hits, but shrugs it off, and pulls on the tongue.
The chief rears back, kicking out his long floppy legs towards us as he pulls back harder, and almost drags Jacob over the edge with his bloody tongue. Kaitlynn dives over me from where she was holding me steady and grabs Jacob’s legs.
I’m starting to get some feeling in my limbs again, so I catch myself on my elbows and keep watching. Next to me, Dave curses and shoots another arrow. This time, it pierces the Chief’s shoulder, causing him to croak angrily around his stretched-out tongue.
Jacob scrambles up, braces his feet up against the low edge around the deck, and pulls on the chief’s tongue once more, assisted by Kaitlynn. He’s pulled a little closer.
Feeling returns to my limbs, and I shakily get up to help them.
As I stand up, the roaring behind us hits me at full intensity, and I turn towards it, wide-eyed.
We’re at the edge of the Hydrumfall.
Beyond it, I don’t find the lower plain of forest I was expecting, but an enormous stone basin, as if we’re about to drop into an enormous granite sink.
I freeze. A multitude of thoughts run through my mind as the barge drifts ever forward. Ultimately, I realize what I need to do.
“Hold on,” I shout at the others as I pull Alec out of the cabin. “Don’t let that bastard slip away!”
And they don’t. As the barge starts tipping over the edge, the chief shrieks horribly as his tongue is pulled taut. Thankfully, Jacob and Kaitlynn manage to hold on despite practically hanging from the tongue at this point, until the chief leaves the water and is almost catapulted over the edge with us.
I kick off from the barge, hard, my spear in one hand, pulling along Alec with the other.
I find myself in mid-air, above a massive, Hydrumfall-fed whirlpool. As the ground and Hydrum are suddenly far beneath me, gravity weakens considerably. For a moment, I think we may just float to the other side, but then the rush of Aether past me picks up.
I want to look at the others, but Alec is screaming and flailing in panic, “WHAT'S GOING ON?!”
“All right listen up—stop flailing!” I shout back, releasing him for a moment in order to slap him in the face mid-air.
It’s okay; he’s clinging on to me for dear life anyway.
Either way, it works. Alec stops flailing.
“We’re about to fall into a whirlpool,” I shout over the streaming Aether, “so I need you to take in as much Aether as you can and prepare to hit the Hydrum!”
He whimpers, and I take a moment to glance around and take stock.
Dave is falling below me, separated from the barge which is going down even faster, pulled along by the Hydrumfall’s pressure and gravity.
Above me, Jacob, Kaitlynn and the chief are also free-falling. It looks like the blue bastard has finally retrieved his tongue. His gaze turns to mine and he smiles cruelly as I pick up speed, moving farther away instead of closer.
I look down, at the now rapidly approaching, swirling Hydrum. Frig.
“All right, Alec, time to breathe in,” I shout. “We hit the Hydrum in ten, nine...” I trail off, continuing the count in my head as I start inhaling too.
As we get closer to the whirlpool however, gravity increases and my prediction is skewed. I yell out ‘one,’ when I actually hit ‘three’ in my mind. Should be enough warning for Alec to close his mouth. I hope.
I tense up my core muscles and hit the Hydrum feet first. The shock travels through me before I am wrenched along by the swirl and lose grip on Alec.
The Hydrum isn’t really cold or warm on my skin, it’s just... wet. The clothes I wear beneath my armour are immediately soaked, dragging uncomfortably against my skin as I swirl around and instinctively attempt to swim up to breach the surface. Even though I’m used to looking underwater when I swim, I can hardly distinguish up from down, let alone control where I’m going in this maelstrom.
Good thing I’m skilled at Breath Control.
As I go round and round and down, the pressure on my ears increases, but it doesn’t hurt like I would expect. I’m not sure whether to attribute that to the difference in how gravity works, or my improved Toughness.
After swirling down for several tens of seconds, I end up in calmer Hydrum. I look around to get my bearings and find that I’m slowly sinking towards what seems to be a kind of drain: a huge metal grating clamped into a hole in the bottom of this giant basin.
The hexagonal holes in the grating look big enough to stick an arm or leg through, but not big enough to pass through myself. Except for the big, equally hexagonal hole in the centre of the grating, water swirling down into dark depths below. Yikes.
I start looking around frantically, to see if there’re any less ominous, less ‘end-of-the-line’ feeling paths to take.
I don’t find any.
Damnit, I had hoped the river would flow on after the Hydrumfall, that we hadn’t missed the ‘end’ when we dropped, and that this is why it said we wouldn’t reach it ‘on foot’... but it looks like I was just deluding myself.
Is this it then? Is this how I die, sucked into the drain at the bottom of a huge sink?
Damnit! Stupid chief, with his stupid bloody trident! Ugh, no, I can’t really blame anyone but myself here, can I? This is my own stupi—
A familiar sound—if warbled by the Hydrum—of stone grinding on stone, interrupts my self-recrimination. My head snaps around, and I see a small stone door on one side of the grate grind open.
Wait... of course! This giant sink is ‘the end of the river’! Those friggin’ bastards!
It isn’t just the one door that’s opening actually; there’s several, spread out evenly around the grating.
Four, to be precise. My heart sinks as I look at the fifth door, in the corner of what should have been a pentagon but is now a trapezoid. So that’s what it means to be ‘disqualified’.
But the chief dropped with us! Filled with new purpose, I turn my gaze up, just in time to avoid being smacked in the head by Jacob’s shield, as it sinks down beside me.
In fact, there’s all kinds of things drifting down; arrows, jicca nuts, pieces of a shattered barge, Jacob...
Shit, is he unconscious?! There’s red murk in the water next to him as well, but it might just be from a shallow wound from the fighting before.
I’m currently drifting down somewhat to the side, near the first door to open, but he’s sinking down dead-centre, heading straight for the hole in the grate.
Cursing mentally, I start swimming up but find myself hovering around the same height while I slowly drift towards below where he’s sinking. Soon enough, he has drifted down to my level, but I haven’t reached him yet. Instead of swimming up, I am now swimming straight towards him. However, perhaps due to a flow of Hydrum, he is going down faster than I, so I end up having to swim down after him a before I finally reach him.
The dark hole beneath us is awfully close now, and I can practically feel it sucking us in. Pulling on Jacob’s ankle with one hand, I swim to the side as fast as I can.
As his head disappears into the hole, I manage to touch a knee down on the outer edge of the hole. I almost sigh in relief as I grab hold of a metal bar with my free hand, but manage to hold my Aether in. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the urge to breathe out, despite all the practice I’ve had since coming here.
Meanwhile, Jacob is nearly all the way into the hole, and the suction is pulling down on him hard. Thankfully, Boost Physical’s second mode is still active, so with some effort, I manage to pull him out.
With an arm securely around his waist, I walk over the grating towards the closest door. It’s hard going with the drag of the Hydrum, and the way my feet are being sucked down, but doable, for me.
Looking down on Jacob’s unconscious face, for a split second, I wonder if I should give him mouth-to-mouth before pushing him through. However, if entering the preparation room isn’t enough to save him, then a bit of extra Aether isn’t going to help either.
I unceremoniously shove him towards the opening, and it sucks him in before the door slams shut.
That’s one. Let’s hope the others are conscious.
I look up to find a battle raging above me. The chief is circling Dave, Alec and Kaitlynn, who’ve pulled together. Dave is holding him at bay by threatening him with his bow. His quiver may be empty, but he’s got one arrow nocked, and two more in his hand.
As I watch, Kaitlynn attempts to charge up a shot, but instead of firing towards the chief, the orange glow hangs around her hand, and she pulls it out in shock and pain, accidentally releasing some bubbles of Aether from her nose.
The orange Hydrum quickly disperses, and Kaitlynn cradles her hand painfully.
The chief somehow cackles, and lunges for her. Dave shoots. The arrow whizzes right past the chief’s face, forcing him to back off.
Two arrows left. Shit.
I look around frantically and spot one of Kaitlynn’s knives nearby, sinking towards the grate. I kick off from the stone next to the closed door and swim towards it.
I reach it right as it passes through the grating, sticking my hand through after it to grasp it, even as my chest gets sucked against it.
I get up on the grating, successfully procured knife in hand, right as the others land on the grating on the opposite side of the hole.
Kaitlynn lands first, quickly moving to intercept Alec before he hits the grating. Dave almost stumbles on his landing, but quickly regains his footing and trains his bow back on the chief, who is treading Hydrum above them at a safe height, his back towards me.
I start towards them over the grating stealthily, circling the hole to end up behind the chief hopefully unnoticed.
The chief cackles falsely, easily maintaining his position hovering above the grating with casual kicks from his long, webbed feet.
“Silly puppets, still trying to help your friend,” he warbles, somehow understandably.
I catch a hint of amethyst from his palm as he shows it off towards Dave and Kaitlynn.
“And so what if you get this back? Are you really better off?” he cackles again. “Silly silly silly!”
<Emma,> Dave’s says in my head without even a glance in my direction. <This may be our last chance. In about five seconds, I’m going to shoot my final two arrows. If I somehow land a hit, make sure you catch that damn crystal.>
The chief suddenly turns furious again, wildly gesturing with his trident as I sneak closer to beneath him. “YOU’RE NOT WORTHY TO SERVE THE GODS! NOT WORTHY TO BE CHOSEN! I SHOULD JUST SKEWER ALL OF YOU RIGHT N—”
Dave shoots, but the chief is more prepared than he seemed, and quickly ducks out of the way. Dave immediately nocks, draws and shoots his second arrow.
The chief swings his trident, somehow moving the Hydrum in front of him, thus sending the arrow off course.
He cackles wildly. Damnit!
Fine then. Time to do what I came prepared to do. A Hail Mary.
I sink slightly through my knees, before kicking off the grating as hard as I can. The chief turns to me wide-eyed, but smirks as he sees my ineffectual jump.
That’s when I blow all of the Aether stored in my lungs out in twin jets from my nostrils, and rocket up towards him.
His smirk vanishes, and he kicks at me as I suddenly near him, trying to push me away. I grab onto his ankle with my free hand and plunge the knife I’m holding into his calf.
My lungs are truly empty now, which means my Lavi is dropping awfully fast with Boost Physical still active.
It’ll have to be enough.
The chief howls in pain, and releases a jolt of lightning, but it’s nothing like the last; weak. I shudder once and pull myself up. I sink the sharp nails of my left hand higher into his slippery flesh before pulling out the knife and plunging it into his thigh.
The chief tries to pry me off with his trident, but I’m too close for him to effectively use it and too strong to be forced to let go. My left hand grips higher, onto his other thigh, and my knife plunges into his stomach. Twice. Thrice.
Blue goop pervades the Hydrum, and suddenly he goes very still. I can’t help but look up into his hateful eyes. He sneers at me and croaks, “Ignorant... fools.”
As a final insult, before his eyes roll back, the bastard spreads his arms and tosses his trident and Alec’s eye-crystal in opposite directions.
I never thought I could hate an amphibian this much.
I took some time to figure out what was wrong with and fix the buttons today; sorry for taking so long to get around to it. ^^
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Shortlist of the most important benefits of the most-likely-to-be-relevant tiers:
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