• hcmills

Chapter 147: Take a hint

“Suri?” I prompt. “Do I need to be worried?”

[No,] she chimes eventually. [If someone were trying to sabotage you the way you suggest, they missed their window of opportunity. The next Trial is a little different. I don’t expect any interference.]

She doesn’t actually say anything about whether I might be right or not. That’s... disconcerting.

“All right, tell me about the next Trial, then.”

[The next Trial is a race, of sorts.]

My brows shoot up. “A race? Against whom?”

[All contestants who passed the Eighth Trial.]

“All... does that mean we have to wait for them to get here?”

[Indeed. You should have a few days to prepare.]

“That’s great!” I start, but then I grimace. “Ehm, please tell me we’ll get more than a ten-minute warning this time.”

[You will. A twenty-four-hour countdown for the race will be announced as soon as all participants are in place.]

“Good. And, ehm, what exactly is the purpose of the race? Is there like a reward?”

[Of sorts. Suffice it to say, the better you do in the race, the better you will fare in the Final Hub.]

Final Hub. I like the sound of that.

I mull the news over for a bit. On the one foot, a race sounds rather terrible. On the other, if I have several days to prepare, and—wait, how many Trial Points do I have?

“Status Window please.”

So I’ve got several days and 133 Trial Points.

“Hey Suri, what do you think: Should I focus on getting Regeneration to level 3 to get my foot back, or should I go all-in on improving my flying?”

[That’s a tough one.]

“That’s why I asked.”

[Long-term, you will want your foot back, of course,] Suri chimes, ignoring me. [However, for this race... it will depend on whether you can be Qi-efficient enough. You’ll have to improve your conversion and reconversion rates and the like for your method of flight to truly be useful.]

That was a more elaborate answer than I expected. Especially since it seems to imply something about what kind of race this is going to be: a long one, rather than a sprint.

But then the question becomes, is improving my efficiency alone going to be enough?

Still, Suri seems to think it’s my best odds for winning the race...

Either way, I guess I’ve got some time to consider my options before I spend any points.

Unfortunately, with my immediate questions answered, I can’t keep my mind from turning back to the elephant in the room.


I was about to sacrifice myself for her. My mind was made up, and she talked me down from the ledge. I’m... pretty sure I love her. It’s a thought that sends butterflies crashing through my stomach, but also elicits a vague dread.

I just really need to talk to someone, but who? I don’t think it’s fair to talk to Kaitlynn about this. I guess there’s Suri, but, no, she would be useless.

Worse, she’d just low-key make fun of me. The bitch.

Guess it’ll have to wait.

I get to my foot to leave the room again and lift my hand to wave away my Status Window, when Suri unexpectedly interrupts.

[Oh? No further questions?]

I freeze in mid-motion.

Suri never prompts me to ask more questions. And she was being oddly talkative with that last answer... Shit, did I miss another hint?

I frown, mulling over what she said, seeing if anything jumps out.

I’m pretty sure she stressed Qi-Efficiency, but I don’t see how that tells me anything. She also mentioned my reconversion rate. That’s a little odd, right? Doesn’t seem like the most relevant thing. Increasing it would only lead to a very small increase to my effective—hold on.

I go over my listed stats again.

My Qi to Toxic Energy conversion rate is up to 1 to 7, and my reconversion rate is 9 to 1...

An idea starts to brew in the back of my mind.

“Suri... what exactly are the limits of my conversion and reconversion rates for Toxic Energy?”

[Why, what an excellent question, Emma,] Suri chimes.

Despite my excitement, my stomach still lurches when I spot Kaitlynn waiting for me on the loveseat.

She smiles shyly at me, brushing some hair behind her perky little ear as I start hopping over.

Goddess, I have it bad.

Thankfully, I’m excited enough about my discovery to not be awkward right now. “Kaitlynn! Quick, what’s your conversion rate from Qi to Heat?”

She blinks. “Ehm, it went up to 1 Onkh of Qi to 13 Onkh of Heat, why?”

“Great!” I say, flopping down on the loveseat next to her with a big grin. “And your reconversion rate?”

“19 to 1. Where are you going with—”

“You gotta pump those numbers up, those are rookie numbers.”

Kaitlynn narrows her eyes at me. “All right, now I know something’s wrong, ’cause you’re repeating Alec’s weird references.”

“What if I tell you your conversion rate can go up to double what it starts at, and your reconversion down to half?”

She frowns. “What? But that doesn’t make any sense. Then I could turn 1 Onkh of Qi into 20 Onkh of Heat, which I could reconvert to 2 Onkh of...”

Her eyes widen, as does my grin.

“Exactly. That’s what reconversion is truly for: you can cycle between Qi and your subtype energy, and actually produce more Qi. It’s kinda like how Lavi Font works, but with extra steps. Perhaps because Lavi is a more ‘complete’ energy as it contains both Yin and Yang, but that’s really just speculation on my part.”

Kaitlynn gapes at me like a fish.

“This isn’t the Entropic Realm, remember?” I remind her gently. “There’s no conservation of energy here. Anyway, I could theoretically convert 1 Onkh of Qi to 10 Onkh of Toxic Energy, and reconvert that 10 Onkh to 2 Onkh of Qi—doubling your Qi seems to be the limit for one cycle—but that’s the theoretical limit. That’s very hard to achieve, according to Suri. Luckily, we don’t need to achieve it to get a net positive.”

Kaitlynn sits up a little straighter, an excited glint in her eye. “So, if I could bring my Qi to Heat conversion rate to like 1 to 16, and bring my reconversion rate down to 15 to 1...” She shakes her head, trailing off. “It sounds amazing, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

I nod. “Yeah, but we’ve got time. And we can get Skilldreams for this stuff.”

We spend the rest of the day Meditating and cycling between our Qi and our respective energies. It seemed prudent to save our Trial Points for now, and see how far we can get without them first.

We’re out of firewood, so we have zirots and jicca nuts for lunch and dinner. It’s not great, but it’s filling.

Kaitlynn sends me these yearning looks sometimes during the day, which I pretend not to notice.

It’s a little harder to avoid her when we go to bed, however.

For some reason, I just kinda lie next to her in the dark, stiff as a board. After a minute or so of this, she sighs good-naturedly and turns towards me.

“Is this all right?” she asks as she snakes her arm around my waist and gingerly lays her head on my shoulder.

I tense up even more, if that’s even possible, but soon relax when nothing else happens.

Ugh, I seriously need to get a grip.

“You really scared me today,” she whispers.

I sling my arm around her and pull her a little closer. “That’s my line.”

She chuckles slowly. “I have to be honest, I wasn’t confident I would make it out alive.”

I tighten my grip and turn towards her. “Let’s stop thinking about that, please. Seriously, you were amazing.”

She looks up at me. “Yeah?”

I nod. “You were like Iron Man, flying up like that, or I guess more the Human Torch. Alec would be proud.”

I’m not sure which of us leans in first, or maybe I should say leans in more, but the only thing that seems relevant is that our lips touch.

That we’re still here. Alive.

Familiar heat pools down below as our hands begin to wander.

For a moment everything seems so clear and simple, but then Kaitlynn shifts against me and all of a sudden it’s too much, and I’m not sure if this is right or wrong, if I’m progressing or going down a slippery slope.

I stiffen. She slowly breaks the kiss and, biting her bottom lip, pulls back. “Sorry, I shouldn’t—”

“It’s not your fault, I just...” I trail off, distracted by her dark, storm-grey eye, with its widened pupil. “Maybe we should just... get some sleep,” I finish lamely.

She purses her lips. “Yeah. Of course.”

It takes quite a while for my heartbeat to slow down, and even longer before I drift off into fitful sleep.

Author's note:

Thanks to everyone who bought, rated, and reviewed my second book! ^^

It's doing pretty well so far, which is a hopeful sign for the viability of my continued career as an author ;)

I'm going to try and get the next one out within six months again, wish me luck! ^^

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