[The Second Trial consists of an obstacle course, with increasingly difficult and dangerous challenges.]
“Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad...”
I mean, it sounds horrible and deadly, but no worse than the previous challenge. I have some confidence in my skills as a former gymnast, after all.
[I’m afraid it’s worse news than you think. 7 Strength is already on the low end for the next trial. It is impossible with 5.]
Oh no... my body is still weakened! And I no longer have access to detoxifying light... Damnit, I need to control my greed better!
[But thanks to your high Toxic Energy Tolerance, you earned a lot of TP, which means you still have a chance.]
Just a chance? Fine. It’ll have to do.
“All right, so what should I get, a Strength power-up?”
[No. You need to take the Skilldream for Boost Physical.]
“...Well, I like your confidence.”
[It’s a perfect skill for a crazy person like you.]
“Gee, thanks... but didn’t you say that skill strengthens me at the cost of Lavi? Cause I don’t exactly have a lot to spare right now.”
[Yes, that will make it a little challenging, but you have no other options.]
Well, frig. “So how does it work, is it a skill that helps me control my muscles better so I can pull out the maximum potential, or something like that?”
[No. Although a skill like that also exists, you do not meet the requirements to learn it.]
Interesting. “Why not?”
[The skills in the system all involve some form of energy manipulation and you lack the required energy.]
“So, there’s actually a lot more skills available, but you’re only presenting me with the ‘Lavi-based’ ones, as that is the only type energy I currently have?”
“I see. Wait, no, I’m confused, how does a physical skill like ‘Deep Breathing’ work based on Lavi Manipulation?”
[The ‘Skill’ part of Deep Breathing relies on taking control over the Lavi in the Aether you inhale, so you can absorb more of it.]
“I see... and Boost Physical?”
[Boost Physical is a skill that burns Lavi to push your body beyond its limits, temporarily boosting your stats.]
“A skill that burns... Suri, that sounds super dangerous! Also, if it’s about raising my Strength, wouldn’t buying a low-grade Strength power-up be better?”
[Well, a low-grade power-up would help, but it’s not a good long-term investment. You see, you can only have one power-up merged with you, so if you make it far enough, you’ll undoubtedly end up switching it out for another eventually. Your body would first need to be cleansed of your previous power-up as well, which costs extra.]
“But at least the effect would be permanent until then,” I counter, “unlike Boost Physical, which—if I understand correctly—only strengthens me temporarily, while I’m literally burning up my life force.”
[Which you will constantly monitor on your status bar,] Suri chimes soothingly. [The effect of the power-ups you can afford is also lesser compared to the stat boost provided by Boost Physical, which boosts Strength and Agility.]
Damn, Suri’s really pushing this hard; she’s normally never this forthcoming.
[Furthermore, going beyond your limits with Boost Physical is actually an excellent way to train for the purpose of raising your stats. As for the extra Lavi consumption, you’ll have to take frequent breaks, but at least you have a decent Lavi intake thanks to your Deep Breathing skill, which should help compensate that drawback. It would have been better if you had detoxified a little further of course.]
“Right,” I agree absentmindedly. Hell, if I’d done that, I wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.
[So, would you like to purchase a 5-hour Boost Physical Skilldream for 50 Trial Points?]
[Good choice. Now lie back and relax; don’t fight it.]
“Oh? Are we going right n—”
I feel my left eye roll up as a cool prickle invades my right optic nerve. Don’t fight it, she says, like I cou—
I find myself inside a forest of blue trees, with roots reaching high into the milky, starry purple sky, standing on a pink-dotted mushroom the size of a car at the edge of a lily pond.
And it somehow makes perfect sense to me.
[Focus, Emma; don’t get lost in the fantasy.]
I turn about 720 degrees and end up facing a barely clothed Goddess.
Flawless white skin, hair as black as the night, curves to die for, and a pair of familiar, cyan eyes, staring knowingly at me. It’s like she walked right out of an otaku’s wet dream.
“Suri?” I ask, my pair of regular eyes nearly popping out of their sockets.
The Goddess nods. [This form was suggested by previous participants. Is it a problem?]
That explains. I swallow thickly. “No! It’s... it’s fine. Where are we?”
[This is a Dreamscape; it’s where I will be training you. Not here though, follow me.] Her voice sounds less metallic here, silkier. Mesmerizing.
She floats off over the pond, and I quickly clamber down the mushroom. The ground is littered in grey spears, which I immediately realize are pine-needles, growing from the blue tree branches on the ground.
I take off after my Goddess, not even realizing when I run onto the pond. The surface holds me, but dips wherever I stand and is slippery as a professional car salesman. I soon fall, breaking the surface with my face.
Beneath, I find fish in colours I’ve never heard of and shapes I’ve never imagined. I want to dive deeper, explore...
Then She is in front of me, smiling.
[It’s fine; this place takes some getting used to. Here, I’ll help,] she says gently, lightly grasping onto my forearms.
The world around me blurs as I lose myself in her knowing eyes.
The world refocuses and we’re on a giant, lilac lily pad. Beside us, on one end of the pond, is a waterfloat. The light of twin moons reflects off the surface of the silently upwards flowing water.
[This place will do,] Suri says from behind me. [First: watch.]
She waves a hand at the waterfloat and it freezes in place, its surface forming a natural perfect mirror. Then she sticks her hand into the pond and pulls out a moose, who bleats annoyedly at having his meal of lobster interrupted.
[Shush,] Suri commands, and the beast freezes in place.
Another wave of her hand, and an image appears in the mirror. It portrays a series of glowing pathways, inside of the moose.
Its fur looks so soft though, and it’s not even wet! I really want to pet it...
[Stay grounded Emma,] Suri murmurs, snapping me back to ‘reality.’ [Now, watch carefully: this is the way Lavi normally flows through meridians.]
A flow of green flecks twirls through the pathways with childlike wonderment and pleasure. I try very hard to actually keep looking.
My efforts are rewarded.
[Now watch what needs to happen.]
The Lavi speeds up, barrelling through the moose in reckless ecstasy. I watch, my jaw unhinged, as the flow is suddenly reversed and flecks of Lavi collide, forming miniature galaxies which rapidly go through cycles of expansion and collapse, forming and reforming smaller every time, until all the energy has disappeared.
I pray to Suri, Goddess of horny anime fans, that my green friends end up in a better place, where the meridians are wide and the twirling is eternal.
“Ugh, it’s so difficult!” I complain. For some reason, everything around starts to get bigger. The Moose becomes a mountain of fur, the Lilly pad stretches out before me and Suri becomes ever greater.
[No need to feel small, Emma, you’re doing great,] Suri comforts me.
The shrinkage is reversed. I feel warm inside and my chest swells with pride. One cup size... two cup sizes...
[Not that great. Try and maintain a normal size please.]
I huff, returning to a normal shape. “Suri, how am I supposed to concentrate on learning anything in an environment like this?”
[I know it’s difficult but do me a favour and keep trying. Once you get used to this place, it can work miracles.]
Fine. I take a deep breath. I notice for the first time that the air here doesn’t burn my lungs. I quickly abandon the thought. I need to focus for Suri.
[Good. Then let’s try to recreate these processes inside your body.]
I carefully watch as my mirror image in the waterfloat turns translucent and meridians light up in my chest and limbs.
[Let’s start with the normal state...]
I wake up groggy and disoriented, to the following notification:
That’s good. I wave it away so I can look around... I’m in the preparation room. Nothing weird around me.
Blurry, vague memories flash through my mind. I groan.
“Did all of that really happen, or did we drop acid?”
Suri laughs. No, really. She laughs.
[Real is a relative term. We were in a Dreamscape.]
“So, it was all in my head or something?”
I guess that explains why my mental fortitude increased. Is it just me, or has Suri gotten a little looser? Perhaps the dreamscape affects her too...
“Do you enjoy skilldreams?” Whoops, that kinda slipped out...
[It’s... something I don’t get to experience often.]
“Well, as long as I survive, I’ll be sure to do it more often.”
[I hope you do.]
She’s warming up to me! All right, don’t push it Emma, gotta focus.
[You can stay in this preparation room for 24 hours, of which 18 hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds are left.]
Good, plenty of time left. Right, I was going to appraise some stuff!
I carefully take the wrapped package containing the Moonshade Flower out of my backpack.
“Ehm... Appraise moonshade flower. Please.”
Wow. Who writes these descriptions? It doesn’t really tell me anything new though... except that its ‘Not sold.’ I guess I’ll get the opportunity to buy things like these in the future, though not this particular plant.
I put the package back in and take out the blade of knifegrass. “Appraise,” I say, more confidently this time.
For some reason?! How am I supposed to cut them off, I only have the one blade! Isn’t this just Suri messing with me? Anyway, apparently, it’s called Bluesteel Grass... Nah, I like knifegrass better.
After that I appraise some random other stuff about the room, just trying to see if I’ll learn anything interesting.
For example, I learn that the mattress has a toughness of 14. No wonder it feels like concrete...
The toughness of the walls, however, is 63. I was very impressed by this, until I appraised the Crystal of Lavi.
Is that like, out of a 100? I mean, that’s crazy right? Anyway, I’ve played around more than enough. Let’s see what I’ve gained in my skilldream.
“Open status window.”
Wait, what? Where is boost physical?
This chapter is one of my personal favourites. ^^
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