• H.C. Mills

Chapter 88: Synergistic management solutions

The rain of wood comes to an end, and I find myself pinned down, but still breathing. In a way, the beam that bounced off my shoulder helped, because it’s standing upright, and keeping much of the weight off me.

I still curse it, because my right shoulder is in agony, and I can’t move my right arm. A brief focus on my flows of Lavi tells me it’s probably not broken, just dislocated.

Not an unusual injury among gymnasts, though it’s never happened to me personally. I know how to help someone pop it back in as well, but I can’t exactly do that to myself right now.

Instead, with my left arm, I stuff a piece of wood into my mouth, and bite down on it as I attempt to deadlift myself against the weight of the wood on top of me.

With two arms, I might’ve succeeded, but even with Boost Physical, one isn’t enough to get it to budge.

I hear a yelp in the distance, followed almost immediately by a heavy thump. Was that Alec? Shit, I need to get out of here, and quick!

Time for a new plan. I rack my brain for a second, then exhale.

A breath balloon forms around me in no time, lifting the creaking pile of wood a couple of vital inches.

[Oh, you’re still awake? Impressive.]

Ignoring Suri, I glance around frantically. In the darkness beneath the mass of wood, light filtering in from outside to my right stands out. There’s an opening there, wide enough for me to pass through, but not high enough.

It’ll have to do.

I fumble for my Focus Crystal with my left hand and pour in 10 Onkh of Qi when I find it.

[Perhaps playing dead for a while would be a better strategy at this point. I don’t think you’re in any shape to continue fighting right now, Emma.]

I spit out the piece of wood and chuckle. It comes out breathier and raspier than I had intended. “That’s cute, Suri. Thanks for the concern, but I’m fine.”

I punctuate the sentence by turning the Qi inside my Focus Crystal into Spatial Energy. Using Distort Space, I form a boundary around myself and flatten it.

I must look a sight, as I come crawling out of the narrow gap my breath balloon opened up, flat as roadkill.

I get up shakily, allowing both my breath balloon and the boundary to pop, and take in the situation.

Alec groans as he flops down out of the partly smashed-in wall of a hut, the scratches on his face already closing up. Was he flung into that wall? Damn, good thing these huts are flimsy...

A froggo jumps out to attack Alec as he lies there defencelessly, but Dave accurately picks him off. Another froggo shoots a dart at Dave from somewhere, which he only barely ducks.

More importantly, about 40 feet away, Kaitlynn is facing off against Frogzilla.

My blood freezes in its tracks as he hefts his log up high and starts to bring it down.

Kaitlynn doesn’t give an inch, however. She unleashes a stream of Astreum, not from her medium-sized Focus Crystal, but from her mouth. The swing goes wide as the combination of the force of her breath and the Astreum’s speed actually manages to knock Frogzilla off his feet.

The sight of Kaitlynn—blue hair whipping around her face—basically breathing fire and knocking over a monstrous amphibian is seared into my retina, only in part because of how bright it was and the shock of heat that accompanied it.

For a second, I believe my crawling out was pointless, and she’ll take him down herself. Then her face goes ashen, and she coughs up a mouthful of black sludge.

Frogzilla gets up with some scorch-marks on his armour, but otherwise unfazed. Kaitlynn begins to back up.


I grab my right wrist with my left hand, lift it in front of me, and pull straight forward.

No time to be subtle.

The pain is nearly too much to bear, but the relief when my shoulder pops back in is immense. I release my wrist, and my right arm falls down limply again, but the pain is much less and I can feel a tingling in my fingers again.

Good enough.

Since my spear is still buried somewhere, I grab part of a wooden beam from the pile I just crawled out of. As Frogzilla once again hefts his log, I use Decrease Inertia, and chuck it as hard as I can with my left arm.

“Hey circus freak,” I shout, right before the piece of wood smashes to bits against Frogzilla’s shoulder, who turns to face me with an angry grunt. “Yeah you. I’m not done with you yet.”

Kaitlynn looks over as well, relief and hope lighting up her face.

It stings a little, because I’ve already made up the balance. This thing shrugged off Kaitlynn’s strongest attack ever, Dave’s arrows look like tiny needles sticking out of its flesh, Alec seems down for the count, and I’ve lost my spear. We’re not winning this fight.

I smile at her and send, <Grab Alec and get out of here. I’ll keep it busy.>

And with that, I flip Frogzilla off, giving my raised middle finger the meaning off ‘I hope your mother gets glorbed in the face.’

Which doesn’t really make sense, but whatever.

Kaitlynn’s eyes widen and her mouth opens, but whatever she tries to communicate gets lost in Frogzilla’s rage-filled roar.

He charges towards me and swings his log with a previously absent fury.

Which is good, because it makes this attack a lot more predictable than the previous one.

I activate the 5 Onkh of Qi I already stored inside my Focus Crystal. A spiral of Inertial Energy bursts out. I kick off against the sand right as Frogzilla accelerates his log with another flash of yellow light, and flip back through the Aether. A wave of pressure whips my hair into my face as the log passes beneath me.

I land in a crouch on the roof of the hut behind me, clutching my right shoulder.

I don’t mind the pain, too much. It helps me stay focused. Mostly because it pisses me off.

I don’t care how big you are, you’re not bringing me down.

“Wow, that was like a mile off,” I shout at him, before quickly taking a running leap.

Thanks to the close proximity of the huts—and Boost Physical—I make the jump to the next roof even without Decrease Inertia.

I land on the roof of another hut right before Frogzilla’s log smashes through the one I was just standing on.

It didn’t use its Skill this time... is it running out of Qi or just trying to lure me into a false sense of security? Either way, I better keep it busy.

“Do you care about property damage at all?” I yell at him. “What kind of chief are you?!”

Frogzilla once again raises his log with a roar. I take another running leap.

However, this time the swing doesn’t come. Instead, one of Frogzilla’s eyes lights up orange. When I’m in mid-aether between two huts, a beam suddenly burst forth out of it.

I crash onto the roof I was flying towards curled up into a protective little ball, delirious with pain. The taste of blood alerts me that I’ve bitten on something, but I barely register it over the burning on the side of my chest, right below my left armpit, where the beam instantly vaporized a hole into my armour and charred the flesh beneath.

I blink the world back into focus in time to see Frogzilla raise his log overhead with a sickening grin.

A massive bolt of lightning crashes into his back, and Frogzilla goes down, convulsing all over.

I shakily get up and catch Alec’s grin. He’s leaning heavily on Kaitlynn’s shoulder, but the trident stretched out in front of him is steady as a house.

<Thanks, now get out of here!> I send.

Because, even though lightning seems a lot more effective than Astreum, Frogzilla is already getting up again, the last shudders quickly fading away.

“Is that all you’ve got?” I shout at it, starting to sound hoarse. “My grandmother had a glare worse than that!”

She really did, in a way. Not a pleasant woman.

However, Frogzilla ignores my taunt this time, turning instead to the source of this most recent trauma.


“Seriously, what did they feed you as a kid, that you turned into a walking hill?” I try as he starts lumbering towards Alec and Kaitlynn. He flat out ignores me.

Damnit, of course he’s proud of his size. He probably became chief by sheer virtue of being the biggest and strongest!

“Your tribemates probably think it’s all muscle,” I continue, trying another tack. “But I can tell from how slow you’re swinging that tiny stick, that it’s mostly flab. You’re just an ugly, walking mountain of blubber, aren’t you?”

This time, he stops in his tracks. When he turns back around, I’m ready.

I kick up one of the sheaths of bark that make up the roof, right before he unleashes a truly deadly glare at me. The sheath spontaneously bursts into flames over the whole length when the beam hits it, then falls down and begins catching the roof on fire.

Looks like I hit a nerve this time. Fat-shaming it is.

I jump onto a different roof, clutching another piece of bark as a shield with my left arm, as my right one still dangles powerlessly for now. “Have you considered liposuction for those back-boobs? Cause I would if I were you!”

Frogzilla turns fully towards me and begins lumbering my way, lifting his log and picking up speed along the way. He looks really pissed.

Uh oh.

Right as Frogzilla begins to bring his log down, I jump towards another roof, holding my piece of bark in between us in case this is another feint.

It is. However, not like last time.

Right before the log hits the roof I just vacated, a flash of yellow erupts from his Focus Crystal.

The log changes direction under a 90-degree angle.

Son of a—

It hits me in mid-Aether.

Perhaps the only thing that saves my spine from snapping, is the fact that I turn the breath balloon on my back into an airbag at the last second. Despite that, the impact knocks the Aether out of my lungs, and me out of the park. Or well, the village.

My neck also snaps back painfully, leaving me altogether unsure how many of the stars I’m seeing as I tumble through the Aether are actually real.

I dimly register Suri chiming at me to do something.

[—ease Inertia, quick, before you land!]

Unfortunately, I figure out what she’s saying only a split second away from a crash-landing on the beach.

Except, the crash doesn’t come. Instead, a flash of yellow erupts from somewhere nearby, and my body lurches to a sudden stop, with my nose inches from the beach. Then I drop down onto my face.

“Hello Emma,” a familiar voice says from beside me.

I dizzily stumble onto my feet, spitting out sand. When the world stops spinning, I find myself face to face with...


He smiles wryly. “Sorry about the faceplant, I was hoping to catch you, but I wasn’t quite fast enough.”

“Thanks anyway,” I say, carefully stretching out my back with a grunt and finding it sore but functional.

Good enough. I start hobbling back towards the village as fast as I dare.

“Ehm, you look like hell, by the way,” Jacob remarks as he jogs up beside me. “Getting your ass handed to you?”

“Big time,” I grunt.

“Then, are you sure you should be heading back in?”

[An excellent question, if you ask me. Why don’t you do me a fa—]

“Screw off, Suri!” I yell angrily. “Kait—my friends are still out there, with that thing!”

As if to punctuate my statement, a massive flare of Astreum lights up the night sky for a brief moment.

Kaitlynn used her breath attack again! Damnit, her lungs are going to burn to a crisp!

I curse and attempt to speed up. Jacob pales a little, possibly misinterpreting that flare just now as an enemy attack due to my reaction, but matches my new pace, nonetheless.

“What the hell are we up against?” he asks.

“Friggin’ Frogzilla,” I reply before his words catch up to me. I glance at his spear. “You came to help?”

He nods.

“Are you committed to doing so?”

He nods again, jaws clenched.

“Good,” I say. “In that case, we may still have a chance to take this sucker down. Stay close!”

Ignoring my groaning muscles and my dangling right arm, I break into a run back to the village.

Inside, I find Frogzilla chasing down Alec, who’s screaming at the top of his lungs.

Already up and running again? Man, I need to get me some of that Regeneration.

Then I spot Kaitlynn, lying down in the sand, motionless.

My blood freezes in my veins. Time crawls to a slow as I run over, and collapse on my knees in the sand beside her. I shake her, but she doesn’t respond. There’s a black froth dripping down one corner of her mouth.

Suddenly Dave is there too. His Focus Crystal shines a bright pink at her. He feels for her pulse, then turns to me and nods. ‘Go, I’ve got this,’ it says.

Jacob’s hand lands on my shoulder. “—ma. Emma! Alec’s in trouble!”

I wrench my gaze away from Kaitlynn’s face only by sheer force of will. Alec has tripped, it would seem, and Frogzilla is gaining on him.

Frogzilla’s smug smile fills me with rage, and suddenly I’m calm. Focused.

I get up and turn to Jacob. “Remember what happened during our duel?”

“You kicked my ass?”

“I mean the one you won,” I clarify, holding up my Focus Crystal and beginning to charge it to the brink with Qi.

“Oh. Oh!” he says, seemingly catching on.

“We’re only going to have one chance at this, so make it count. Once you see pink, fire at will.”

I turn back to where Frogzilla is about to pummel Alec into a meat paste.

“Hey lard-ass!” I yell with every bit of strength I have left in me. Frogzilla turns around with an almost incredulous look on his face, helpfully presenting his front as a nice big target. “Eat this!”

I activate Decrease Inertia with a full 10 Onkh of Qi, creating a bigger pink spiral than ever before. Almost immediately, a flash of yellow erupts from Jacob’s Focus Crystal, as he adds momentum to his now nearly inertia-less spear.

The effect exceeds my expectations.

Jacob’s spear disappears with a bang. When I turn to look at Frogzilla, he’s standing there, with his log still lifted as if frozen. There’s a hole in his armour, which leads to a hole in his chest. A hole in his chest, I can see through.

Green goop comes spilling out, and Frogzilla looks down at the wound, before toppling over backwards and landing with a loud thud.

“Holy shit,” Jacob whispers.

You can say that again.

Author's Note:

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