• hcmills

Chapter 132: Hello darkness my old friend

Finished with our discussion, Kaitlynn and I adjourn to our rooms to each take half a Skilldream for Reconversion, in the hope that we have enough experience with manipulating our respective energies to gain the Skill extensions with just that.

There’s little use in discussing what to spend the rest of our Trial Points on before we know if it’ll be enough, or if a second half Skilldream will be required.

This’ll be the first time I’ll be taking a Skilldream since I’ve started travelling there myself. I’m a little nervous I’ll give away just how familiar I’ve gotten with the Realm of Imagination in the meantime.

Note to self, don’t refer to it as the Realm of Imagination. It’s a Dreamscape, nothing more.

[So, I take it you wish to purchase half a Reconversion Skilldream for 25 Trial Points?] Suri chimes as I lie down.

I let out a deep breath, still my thoughts, and close my eyes. “Yup.”

[Then here I come, don’t resist.]

The familiar tingle of Suri establishing a connection erupts behind my eye-crystal. I can feel the dregs of my Espir stir in response.

For the first time, I feel like I might actually be able to resist a little if I tried, but I don’t, and the world fades away.

When I come to, I’m sitting cross-legged on an unfamiliar, silent pond. I hold my breath, instinctively afraid to disturb the silence that bears down on me in an oppressive manner. It reminds me of how silence in a library can feel, thick and cloying, untouchable.

I look around wide-eyed.

Everything here is utterly, unnaturally still. Not a single ripple disturbs the pond’s surface, and there’s not even a hint of a breeze. Not even the slightest motion dares mar the perfect picture in front of me.

Long willow branches reach toward the centre of the pond, as if there’s something there they yearn to reach, but never will. I even spot some fish below the surface and a few birds among the willow branches. They too, move nary a muscle.

Then my eyes fall on a strange spot in the centre of the pond where colour also seems to fade away.

What is that?

My eyes stare unceasingly at the spot as I try to figure out—

With a start, I realise where I am. It’s a place Raindrop has told me about, The Silent Oasis. It’s supposed to be a kind of art exhibition made long ago. As I recall, she got stuck looking at it for a long time, which was ‘not fun’.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I forcibly tear my gaze away, and get to my feet.

[Oh? Curious,] Suri’s silky voice remarks behind me.

I freeze, but quickly turn around, lest it becomes permanent. “What is?” I ask, my tongue thick and uncooperative as I dredge my words out into the silence.

Suri has taken her usual compelling female shape Suri, but I can no longer think of her as a ‘goddess,’ not after having met Goddess. She exudes nowhere near the same level of majesty, of raw power. Which is, frankly, a relief.

[That you are able to break the spell and get up under your own power. Tell me, have you ever conjured a Dreamscape like this?]

I blink. She’s wondering if I’ve been here before! “I don’t think so, but, maybe? Like I’ve told you before, I don’t really remember them.”

I definitely haven’t been here before, but if that’s a more comfortable explanation to Suri, I’ll gladly let her believe I may have.

I surreptitiously study her, and find there’s a kind of tether connecting Suri and me, like a transparent tube, through which foreign Espir leaves her, and enters my form.

That must be how she keeps me from Fading during a Skilldream. Is this like the metaphysical manifestation of the mindmeld? No, I don’t feel her presence in my head right now, so it should be something different. Thank Goddess.

[Hmm. Well, it saves me the hassle of getting you to snap out of your trance, at least.]

A quick glance confirms that the chain connecting me to my own body also still exists. I resist the irrational urge to yank it to test if I can leave the Skilldream autonomously.

“So, what... did you conjure this Dreamscape for?” I ask instead.

I hope she didn’t catch that pause; I was about to ask, ‘what did you bring me here for.’

Suri studies me for a moment longer, and I try hard not to betray my discomfort.

She can’t read my mind, right? Hmm. I did just think of Goddess, and I shouldn’t be able to discuss her with Suri. Is that proof?

[I conjured it to help you improve your understanding of the true nature of Yin, and to give you a feeling for what it would be like to turn Toxic Energy into Yin Qi.]

It’s interesting how the Realm of Imagination can be used to teach concepts that technically aren’t a part of this Realm. Guess that’s the power of Imagination.

[Observe the pond,] Suri commands, and I turn around to do so. [Do you remember the Fifth Law of Being?]

“Yang is motion, Yin is still,” I recite softly. “I think I’m getting the idea of this Dreamscape’s purpose.” I frown. “However, Yin Qi isn’t quite like this; it does move, like through my body toward the Focus Crystal.”

[You’re not wrong,] Suri calmly states from closer behind me than I’d expected. [This Dreamscape is a bit more extreme in nature than what is required, but it helps with the demonstration. Observe.]

I turn around to find her indicating a patch of mushrooms. Before I can ask what I’m meant to see, Suri lights up with an unearthly glow.

[Come,] she commands, and the mushrooms obey.

They uproot themselves, and start undulating their way over like jellyfish.

Right, I remember these! Suri used them to illustrate the workings of Toxic Energy when I first learned Infuse. More importantly, she just used Charm! I forgot I’d seen her do that in Dreamscapes before... I haven’t seen any native beings use it, so I never considered I might be able to use that here.

My Charm experiments will have to wait, however.

Purple tendrils hang beneath the floating Jellyshroom. Once, they served as inspiration for how Toxic Energy behaves, burrowing into stuff, consuming from within. I can’t help but shudder a little at how they writhe.

As the Jellyshrooms approach the Silent Oasis however, those writhing motions begin to slow, until finally, the Jellyshrooms as a whole come to a complete stop, hanging in mid-air.

[Come,] Suri says again, but this time it’s directed at me. [Let’s go take a closer look.]

Despite the fact that I just spent two and a half hours in the Realm of Imagination, my Espir Pool is full when I wake up. I don’t even really need to glance at my Status Bar for things like that anymore; I have a pretty good sense of how full my pools are at any given time.

Of course, it doesn’t last long, as Suri immediately starts nagging at me until I mostly empty my pool. I’ll probably take at least one more Skilldream before the Trial starts anyway.

Another peculiar thing is that my memories from my Skilldream seem less vague than usual--though still not half as clear as when I visit the place under my own power. It probably has something to do either with my increased familiarity with Espir and the Realm of Imagination, or with the size of my Espir Pool. I’d rather not ask Suri about this phenomenon, as she already appears to be... on edge, for some reason.

It’s not that she’s acting any different—I mean, she’s being quiet, but that’s usually the case—I just get the feeling somehow that she’s observing me more closely than usual.

Anyway, I quickly settle down to practice, filling my Focus Crystal with Toxic Energy for a change, and trying to act as normal as possible. Thanks to my relatively clear memories it only takes like half an hour of intense, introspective focus before this window pops up in front of me.

Kaitlynn is sitting on the couch of the living room when I enter, still practising, so I busy myself with meal prep. Eventually, she lets out a huff and comes over with a face like a thundercloud.

“Ugh, why is this so hard?” she complains. “I’m supposed to turn Heat into pure motion; isn’t Heat already practically pure motion?!”

I click my tongue as I try and fail to arrange the pieces of firewood in something resembling a tipi. “Well, that’s true in the Entropic Realm—Heat is really just random motion of tiny particles there—but it may be different here.”

Kaitlynn cocks her head sideways. “Different how?”

I let out a sigh and lean back as my tipi once again collapses. Kaitlynn waves me aside with a snort and takes over, stacking the wood into a log cabin like structure with deft motions.

I can’t help but stare at her nimble fingers for a bit before I remember her question. “Ehm, well it seems to me like energies here have a little more... personality, than in the Entropic Realm. Meanwhile Qi is more of a blank slate.”

That’s the conclusion I had drawn earlier anyway, and it seemed to have some truth to it, as I gained the Skill soon after.

Kaitlynn’s motions slow as she finishes up, until finally, she touches one of the logs at the bottom, and ignites it with her finger. She silently watches how the flames spread from log to log, then suddenly jumps up and wordlessly moves to the couch.

I shrug and continue making our dinner of shellfish and edible under-Hydrum plants. I’m no Alec, but it’ll be edible, at least.

Kaitlynn practically bounces off the walls when she succeeds roughly twenty minutes later, though she manages to contain herself and keeps her lips at a respectable distance from my skin.

I try very hard not to be disappointed by this.

After dinner, I once again ask Suri for the time.

[14 hours, 47 minutes, and 58 seconds remain.]

Plenty of time for a second Skilldream, so we once again retreat to our respective rooms. Our sleep schedules are going to get weird again, I can tell, but it’s a negligible cost for what the Skilldreams can provide.

Especially this one, as I fully intend to gain the second level of Inertia Manipulation, which will allow me to shape and direct my spirals of Inertial Energy much better.

And so, while Kaitlynn pays only 20 Trial Points for half a Skilldream about Heat Vision level 3, I shell out a cool 60 for half a Skilldream of Inertia Manipulation level 2, and settle in for a six-hour Skilldream.

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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