Chapter 61: Freefall
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Chris kept on circling down the tower vine, spiraling toward its base.

It was a good thing he had decided to move. A shriveled leaf fell past him, dust streaming from its trailing edge like the tail of a comet. It raced down below, but was gone in a cloud of particles on the breeze before it hit the ground.

More leaves began to fall. Chris kept on going, mindful of the leaves yellowing beneath him. They still had a ways to go before they went into their death-plunge from the withering vine, but it definitely wasn’t a nice prospect.

Always above, keeping pace, the gryphon wheeled lazily, snatching meters away from between them as it approached closer and closer.

Slightly more collected as he continued to run, Chris reached for his hammer, still holding the rope in his hand as he reached.

His weapon wasn’t there. His pack was still present, but it felt deflated, nowhere near to its original fullness. Stuff must have fallen out.

He continued reaching, and felt something sharp and metal.

The grapple. By some infernal providence it had landed on his pack, prongs first, slipping down and tearing two large rents in his pack.

Chris felt for the rope at its base. There it was. Still attached.

He let the rope in his hand drop, feeling dumb. Even if he let it go, it would remain attached.

However… he had a great idea.

He was pretty sure he had a concussion. But the acknowledgement that he had a concussion meant that the concussion wasn’t too bad. Right?

He looped the rope around the stem of the tower vine and rappelled off a leaf. Yeah, this was definitely a good idea. He was descending faster than he could jogging. Honestly, before he was just going in circles, now he was going down at quite a clip.

He saw the gryphon suddenly swoop toward the exposed rope. Okay, problem with the plan.

Still, easily fixable. He touched down on the nearest leaf, pulling the rope free and letting it snake down and… was that the ballista there?

He didn’t mind if he did.

He stepped forward, leaned in to pick it up, then was jerked backward as the rope pulled taut on him.

Bad idea. Note to self, keep ahold of the rope to prevent catastrophic climbing accidents. He reeled the loose cord in, then picked up the ballista. His hand was getting rather full weren’t they.

And he should really turn his stone arm back to normal. Or…

Tiny hands!

They were the heroes he needed. He focused on his arm and was disappointed when the flesh on his stump of an arm blobbed and rippled uncertainly before returning to normal. Okay, so they weren’t the heroes he deserved then. He’d get tiny hands eventually.

Well, he definitely couldn’t descend by rope, while holding the ballista. He was concussed, not stupid, unlike tiny hands, holding onto two things at once would be unwise. Now, if he had a machine gun so he could descend like a badass, that would be more wise… and cool.

Okay, what else was cool? He eased the ballista into his pack, it was too big and bulky to fall out through the hole near the bottom. Perfect. What next?

He could begin rappelling down again. Yeah, that would be fine hopefully, even if it didn’t seem like as good an idea as before. Eh, he’d give it a go… but… what if…

He tied a knot in the end of the rope, forming a large loop, as he continued down and around the leaves. Then he pulled free the grapple and tied a knot near the end—he didn’t trust the grapple to stay secured in his pack for long. He slid his stump of an arm toward the rope between the second knot and the grapple, then let his Slime envelop it. Soon the rope was lodged firmly inside his arm. He turned the vital parts to stone and swung the grappling hook around like some mad pirate fisherman.

Oh yes, he was the coolest man alive. God damn.

He had a grapple arm. The leaves all stretched out the same distance. They were harder than a priest in an orphanage, and he had a. God. Damn. Grapple. Arm.

He looped the rope around a leaf for health and safety purposes. Then he let himself drop, caught himself with his grapple arm, freed the loop of rope above, settled it over another leaf below, and repeated the process.

Going was slow initially, but soon he was descending at an impressive pace. Sometimes his safety loop wouldn’t catch, but it wasn’t too terrible. Catching himself with the grapple was a bit daunting and jarring, but the speed of descent was worth it.

That speed of descent had freed him from the uncertainty of being near the top of the tower vine if it began to wither, but it also meant that the gryphon, Varok, was no longer plagued by falling leaves.

Emboldened by the clear skies, Varok swooped closer, aiming to jab with its spear. Chris just let himself fall one leaf farther. Varok was unable to turn or dive sharply enough, so it was forced to make another pass.

The next time, the asshole avian just cut at Chris’ safety loop, shearing it in two. Well, that was a dick move.

Chris let himself drop again, but he suddenly noticed that Varok had turned sharply upward, using its momentum to ascend up in an arcing curve, before entering into a steep dive right above.

Chris swung to the side, and the Varok shrieked. More than noise, more than sound, in an instant the gryphon’s skill overwhelmed him. Muscles seized, and Slime failed to react in time.

The grapple slid on the edge of the leaf, and, deprived of his safety loop, Chris fell away from the tower vine. Varok followed him down, vindictive triumph glowing in its hungry gaze as its enemy succumbed to freefall and gravity.

Chris regained control of his body a moment later, but he was already too far away. The first thing he did with his newfound freedom of movement was swear. Then he realized he still had options.

He cast out his arm like a fishing rod and the grapple shot forward as the knot suddenly sank through his partially jellified arm, then out the other side.

Chris swung with his grapple again, resolidifying his arm and using the greater length to catch ahold of the edge of a leaf as he fell. Then his arm jerked taut as friction took hold again, this time, he’d added a bit more give into the hole in his arm and the sudden change in momentum wasn’t enough to dislocate his shoulder. At least, he didn’t think so. [Pain Resistance] was still up and running.

He’d gained more clarity, enough to recognize what he was doing for what it was: the world’s smartest stupid way of traveling. Still, he decided to swing with it. Varok hadn’t properly noticed yet, and the damn bird-lion-thing didn’t notice up until Chris suddenly slammed into it with his Beastblade held in his marginally less cool arm.

The chainmail around Varok’s belly tore, and a blue glow began to materialize around the armor, but it was too late. Chris had learned from last time that his Dao clashed with Varok’s, and his Beastblade was thick with Suppression and [Sunder]. Suppression poured into the pesky gryphon.

Varok twitched and stiffened, then plummeted in an uncontrolled spiral as its body locked on it, refusing to obey commands. Varok fell.

“Fuck you, birdbrain!”

Chris’ sideways swing slowed, most of his momentum was robbed by his aerial impact with the gryphon, but he was still going sideways too fast, he’d just end up flying in the opposite direction.

He winced as he waited for the inevitable, he could already feel the grapple slowly beginning to scrape against the leaf far above, and then he thought back to his idea of machine guns while swinging on the grapple.

He lobbed his Beastblade away at full strength and slowly he began to spin in around the center of the tower vine. The black smoke of his Beast Soul Weapon’s return streamed into him, and no sooner did it do so, than Chris resummoned it and lobbed it away like a female baby in China during the years of One Child Policy.

Once more, twice more, three times.

Soon he was spinning around the tower vine like a ribbon around a maypole.

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