Chapter 12

Ætherglow #237

There’s no escape, you realize, so the only strategy left is endurance. You focus everything you have on holding out against this intensifying cycle of suffering. You can’t tell how long it has been. You can’t grasp a frame of reference on anything.

Eventually you realize your latest mistake--hyperfocusing on endurance left your defenses more vulnerable. She’s deep in your head now. You can almost grasp the structure of the sensory feedback loop--it tightens around you. She’s pulled herself out of it, and the concept meant to entrap her now coils itself tight around you. You can’t move. You can’t think. You can’t make it stop.

????-??-?? ??:??:?? 明子 > it’s over, Aydan. you’re fully incapacitated.

????-??-?? ??:??:?? Aydan > fine just make it stop!

She releases you. Your tactile input falls back to its normal state. The world of light and sound all rushes back to you. You’re lying on a branch, looking up at the stars, the bright stars, they almost seem to be moving about in the æther above.

“Looks like you’ll be visiting my colony next break,” Akiko says, back to communicating through raw semantic impression.

“Oh well. I wanted to see it anyway...”

“However...” She reaches down to offer you a hand to get up, a symbolic gesture here where there is no up or down. But you take it anyway, to feel a good texture again, the unthinkably soft avatar of Akiko.

“If you still wanted to go on a non-murder type of date...there are a lot of places I could take you on AtaraChiba.” She pulls you back up to her level. “No duel required...”

“Of course! I’d like that...” you say. With your empathic channel still open, you feel the joy and anticipation in her reaction. It feels so warm.

“Damn, Akiko, you’re strong,” you say. “I didn’t stand a chance.”

“A year of training is a long time at our age,” she says. “But you did well, that was a lot of fun, thanks!”

“Yeah I could tell you were having fun, while I was scrambling to stay just outside of danger the whole time.”

“That was a very interesting strategy you had with the textures. You also didn’t give up easily, even when it was hopeless. I think you’re strong too, Aydan.”

The glow from the stars shines brighter. You look up beyond Akiko and see one of them drifting through the sky, falling down, gliding like a falling leaf in the colony’s atmosphere.

“What’s up with these stars anyway?” you say.

“Stars?” she says.

Something’s changed in the texture of the local æther. You feel cold. Your vision tracks the falling star as it tumbles down. Just below it, a bright flash tears open a gateway in the æther, and a black shadow emerges.

Its form unfurls--two glowing feathery wings of pale starlight stretch out, and in between, a figure floats, wrapped in a cloak of black visual distortion. All you can make out is the lemniscate sign on their chest. You’ve seen this somewhere before...

In the interloper’s hand, their shadow stretches into an arc and solidifies--a longbow, tall as they are. The wayward star drifts right to them, as if falling into a gravity well. They reach out and grasp it. Touching it to their bowstring, they draw it back, and it stretches into a linear arrow, enveloped with an aura of shifting color. It aims directly at you.

“Akiko, watch out!” You direct her attention behind her.

The star arrow flies.

What will you do?

1) Evade!: 0 (0.0%)
2) Extend my shield to defend us and defend the tree also: 5 (55.55%)
3) Deploy Synth’s reflective shield: 3 (33.33%)
4) Deploy ÆON’s mystery program: 1 (11.11%)
Expired 8 months ago (2023-09-01 07:55:58)