• H.C. Mills

Chapter 92: Titanic Tip and Daring Dash

The corner of Hub Three closest to our island is—supposedly—home to a familiar creature, from which we should be able to harvest Toxic Energy Crystals.

Plessies. Or ‘dirak’ as they’re apparently actually called.

Considering the results of my first tempering, I probably don’t actually need any additional Minor Toxic Crystals. Though I’m not keen on trying to hunt anything big enough to have grown a Major Crystal with just Kaitlynn, we decide to go check out the situation at least, since it’s nearby.

I just hope the Major Toxic Crystals don’t only grow on plessies the size of Momma Plessie, ‘cause I really don’t want to try and hunt one of those.

If we do ever make it back to Earth, there’s at least one thing I’ll miss, and that’s rushing through the Hydrum. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of stretching my tail like this. With the feedback I get from the Lavi in my exhales, I can actually feel the Hydrum flow past it.

Of course, I still have to hold back a little so Kaitlynn can keep up. Though she’s getting better at maintaining her tail while she swims, it’s still a relatively small and flimsy thing made of only a single exhale that can’t really take the full force of her kick if she tries to go too fast.

Still, her swim speed is far greater than it would have been without it, so we make good progress. Soon enough, when we surface to get our bearings, we find ourselves getting pretty close to the corner of the imposing Hub walls. The Hydrum here is a lot cooler than we’re used to.

In the distance, we spot our first magenta plessie.

By now, we’re in an area beyond the ring of small islands. There’s only a landmass up ahead in the corner, and a smattering of rocky outcrops that jut out of the Hydrum.

We climb onto one of those outcrops to hide from sight a little and get a better view.

Conditions are clear—as always—so we can see quite a distance. There are a lot of plessies around, and as we were told, they come in three different sizes. None of those come close to Momma-Plessie-size, thankfully.

There’s the roughly horse-sized plessies that I know from Hub Two, a hippo-sized model which features a row of spikes on its back, and, in the distance, one that appears to be have a neck as long as a giraffe’s, and a body as big as an elephant’s.

The hippo-sized plessies with the spikes each have a Minor Toxic Crystal in their forehead, so unless I’m mistaken, the elephant-sized ones should similarly sport a Major Toxic Crystal.

Ugh. Well, I’m sure we’ll figure something out.

I shake my head and whisper to Kaitlynn, ‘Let’s get outta here.’

She nods, and we dive off the rocks into the Hydrum.

We head South-West—on the map, anyway—to the most western corner. As we do, the Cold in the Hydrum becomes more and more noticeable. There isn’t anything swimming around here, but under-Hydrum, on the sandy bottom of this body of Hydrum, are a bunch of broken, abandoned shells in varying sizes.

Hermit crabs. Right, this is the Cold Energy section.

Suri showed me a warning about the Undercooled Status Effect a while ago, when the Cold in my body went over my Tolerance Limit, but I didn’t pay it much attention. I still don’t feel too affected, but Kaitlynn’s lips are starting to turn blue, and she shivers as she swims besides me.

I frown. ‘Status Window please.’

7 Onkh over my limit for Cold? That’s more than I expected. And Kaitlynn is definitely worse off than I, considering her small frame and the fact that she’s Yang. Well, it seems like my Toxic Energy Tolerance at least went up a little after my tempering, due to the excess Toxic Energy still in my system at the time, so that’s nice.

I hesitate for a moment, then lead Kaitlynn to another rocky outcrop to get her out of the cool Hydrum for a bit. She shoots me a grateful look as I help her up.

The Aether up here is kind of cool as well, but it doesn’t seem to contain as much Cold Energy as the Hydrum, so Kaitlynn quickly perks up a little under my watchful gaze.

She catches my eye and lightly blushes before looking away.

I clear my throat, trying to think of something to say, when her eyes widen. “Emma, look,” she exclaims, pointing in the distance.

I turn to where she’s indicating and spot two fellow survivors on the edge of the rocky mainland that covers most of this corner, fighting a hermit crab that seems to be one size smaller than Snibby.

Hunting for Minor Cold Crystals, then?

One of them is a slightly chubby guy and the other appears to be a woman with rather short hair. The guy is in the back; a red flash emanates from his Focus Crystal and I hear the distant yet tell-tale metallic sound of a Shockwave produced with Wave Manipulation. The hermit crab visibly shudders and freezes for a moment in response, before regaining its movement.

Meanwhile, the woman is in the front, wielding a large greysteel staff to excellent effect. I watch as she deflects the swipe from a claw, and uses her staff’s new momentum to bring it around into an overhead slam. My eyebrows perk up when, at the last moment, a flash of pink erupts from one of her hands, and the staff smashes through the tough shell as if it were made of papier-mâché.

Was that Increase Inertia? Damn, I need to learn how to do that.

A second blow crushes the crab’s now exposed head. I can practically feel the satisfying crunch, even though I can’t actually hear the blow, since sound doesn’t travel very far in this Realm. Other than the sound produced by Wave Manipulation earlier, we actually can’t hear a peep from the fight at this distance. The woman then pulls a crystal knife from her boot, and proceeds to pry loose what looks like a Minor Cold Crystal.

“Impressive,” I say. “We should go introduce—”

Kaitlynn gasps. “Oh no!”

I turn towards her with a frown. My jaw drops when I spot what’s she’s looking at.

A teeming mass of froggos seems to be having a competition of who can reach the land in this corner of the Hub first.

I swear internally. “A raid! I thought the council was supposed to warn us about those? Frig, we better get out of here.”

“They haven’t noticed yet!”

At first, I think she means the froggos, but then I follow Kaitlynn’s gaze back to the two survivors, who appear to be arguing about something, blissfully unaware.

Kaitlynn gets up and puts her hands next to her mouth, but I drag her back down. “Do not start yelling,” I hiss at her. “The sound wouldn’t reach them anyway.”

Kaitlynn turns to me with pleading eyes. “They’re going to get swarmed! We have to do something!”

Cursing internally, I turn back to them. Maybe a tether?

Hoping against hope, I whip out a tether as far as I ever have. It gets about halfway, and besides that is way off mark. I shake my head. “They’re way out of range for telepathy. We can’t use the social system either unless we know their names. There’s no way to reach them.”

“Screw it,” Kaitlynn says. “We can swim circles around those froggos; I’m going to warn them.”

And before I can stop her, she dives off the rocks.

For a split-second I watch in shock.

Ah, what the hell.

I activate the second mode of Boost Physical and dive in after her.

[Emma, there’s more than two hundred Hoig in that raid,] Suri warns me. [Do me a favour and turn around.]

I grit my teeth. ‘Sorry Suri. No can do.’

As soon as my tail is formed, I draw on its full potential, rocketing forward at a speed I’ve rarely demonstrated. I overtake Kaitlynn in seconds.

I get to the landmass easily before the froggos and put on the brakes just before I surface.

“Hey, idiots!” I yell up at them. “There’s a raid coming!” The two survivors glance over, and then behind me. The chubby guy pales and makes for the kayak.

The woman grabs him by the scruff of the neck. “Bob, no! We’ll be nowhere near fast enough in that thing; we need to hide!”

“Where?” he yells back, indicating the empty land around them with a sweeping motion.

Kaitlynn catches up as I nervously glance at the approaching mass of froggos. “There’s caves underhydrum,” she shouts up at them.

The woman looks over and appears to make a flash decision. She runs over and dives into the Hydrum. Bob follows suit, though he doesn’t so much dive as cannonball.

Kaitlynn and I dive down after them. I latch a tether onto Kaitlynn.

<Can we go now? Please?> I plead, eyeing the mass of advancing froggos who, by now, have spotted us and are heading right for us.

<They’re too slow,> Kaitlynn sends back. I glance from the froggos to Bob and the woman and realise she’s right.

Ugh. Fine. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I reform my tail with a huff and sweep out after them. I grab Bob by the armpits and start dragging him through the Hydrum towards a nearby cave-entrance. Kaitlynn sweeps past me to grab the woman up ahead and does the same.

For a moment, Bob freaks and tries to shake me. <Calm down!> I send. He freezes and glances up at me over his shoulder, then begins to cooperate by kicking his legs through the thick Hydrum.

It doesn’t help much, but it’s something. All in all, Bob and I move a little faster than Kaitlynn and the woman, so we soon catch up, at which point I slow down, unwilling to leave Kaitlynn behind.

Unfortunately, the froggos, unhindered by dead weights like Kaitlynn and I, are a little faster still.

Large darts zip by us through the Hydrum as we enter an under-Hydrum cave. A few hit my armour, but at this distance they lack the speed to penetrate it.

That won’t last long, however, considering how quickly they’re catching up.

Kaitlynn blindly sticks out a hand clutching a Focus Crystal behind her. A flash of red heralds the arrival of a Shockwave that slams into our pursuers.

Good. That should stall them a little. The woman glances over at Bob, and motions her head at him. He takes the hint—not hard, with objective meaning and all—and unleashes a similar Shockwave as soon as the froggos get close again.

He and Kaitlynn alternate shots, as we make our way through a maze of tunnels. My sense of direction, while usually quite on point, is soon lost.

Soon Bob stops firing, evidently out of Qi. Kaitlynn fires off two more shots, then also stops. In the quiet that follows, the sound of Hydrum rushing past webbed feet and hands, and weapons scraping over rock behind us, quickly becomes oppressive.

Shit. I glance behind me. There’s too many froggos to fight, especially in such close quarters, under-Hydrum. Plus, judging by the rabid look in their eyes, they’d just swarm us, with no care for their own lives.

Are these things on drugs or something? We better lose them and fast, or this was all for nothing; the way this is going we’ll end up having to abandon these two and swim for our own lives!

We get to a T-junction. To the right appears to be a dead-end, so I glance left.

My eyes meet a second wall of froggos. They spot us as well, and their eyes light up with the same madness I just saw behind us.

My blood runs cold and my stomach drops.

So much for swimming for our own lives. We’ve got nowhere to go... Is this how it ends?

Author's Note:

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