• hcmills

Chapter 158: Predecessor? I hardly know her!

[The predecessors are the ones who were here first. A species indigenous to this Realm, known as the Peilor. They are the ones who created the technology to redirect the void-shifts, the Personal Guide Systems, and this entire facility. The society you have been deemed fit to enter is theirs.]


I swallow some rising bile and fight to maintain my composure. “That’s... that’s what you meant by predecessors?!”


[What did you think I meant?]


“Well...”


[You thought I meant humans who had arrived before you? How would they ever have had time to create all of this?]


I close my mouth again, as I have no rebuttal.


Frankly though, I’m positive she wilfully misled me in this regard. I mean, considering objective meaning, there should’ve been no misunderstanding. No, the meaning in Suri’s words is always carefully limited to just what she wants to express, which of course, she claims is just about preserving energy.


Moreover, though objective meaning may sound a lot like objective truth, it is far from it. Expressing a lie is just as easy.


A chill runs through me as it hits me that Suri essentially confirmed that I’m in a facility created and run entirely by an alien species, with unclear objectives. “So, the Peilor, what are they like?”


[They are... prideful,] Suri chimes diplomatically. [They care a lot about status. Combat prowess is the quickest way to earn their respect. Feats of intellect, artistry, and skill are also valued, but the bar to impress is high.]


“I see. And what do they look like?”


[That, I’m afraid, is still classified. But you’ll find out soon enough.]


I frown slightly. Why would that still be classified? Weird.


“Right. And... what, exactly, is their purpose with all of this? I mean, yes, I know, to help us survive, but, surely there would have been more... efficient methods of doing so?”


[Well, the Peilor society isn’t a large one,] Suri chimes, almost apologetically. [The sudden influx of immigrants from the void-shifts threatened to overwhelm their capacity as hosts, so they created this facility to weed out the humans with pitiful odds of survival, and offer those with decent odds the tools they’d need.]


Mmm. Immigration policy driving the decision to cull our numbers to something manageable, perhaps even mind-controllable... it would explain their careless attitude to human lives.


“All right, so... forfeiting immediately will grant me a lovely function as a custodian,” I start slowly. “What other jobs are available?”


[Oh, you wouldn’t necessarily be a custodian,] Suri chimes. [I was simply being caustic in my attempt to impress unto you the importance of station. Peilor Society is very rigid and hierarchical and offers very few chances for upward mobility.]


“Noted. So what will placing higher get me?”


[Well, you’ve currently earned a place at the bottom tier of Peilor Society, the Solith tier.]


“So, dirt basically, right?”


[Indeed. If you manage to make it through the first two rounds, however, you will be raised to the Flawed tier.]


That would be sixteen humans, then. “Doesn’t really sound much better,” I remark.


[It is,] Suri insists. [The Flawed are what you would consider middle-class. That status would grant you a lot more freedom and respect. Now, if you defeat your opponents in the third and fourth rounds, you will make it to the Pellucid tier.]


“Trippy.”


[You would be doing really well for yourself making it there,] Suri chimes, ignoring me. [The Pellucid are high-society, wealthy and well-connected. Finally, however, if you manage to win the tournament, you will ascend to the Lustrous tier.]


There’s a wistful note in Suri’s voice that gives me pause. “Now that sounds more like it.”


[I couldn’t agree more, Emma,] Suri chimes. [The Lustrous are nobility. They each have a place on the Council of Stars; that means they have an actual say on Peilinor, and can get the ear of the Queen. If that’s something you want, I’d suggest you start training.]


Interesting. So they have a highly stratified monarchy of some kind. Moreover, Suri makes it sounds like the Peilor are going to let us join their society as equals—depending on how well we do in the tournament.


I guess I could see this clusterfrig of an immigration policy being the result of compromise, perhaps the queen trying to appease rival factions in this Council of Stars or something. There’s really just one problem I have with this story: I still don’t buy the void-shifts being accidental.


And if they aren’t, that begs the question of why we were brought here, and what these Peilor really want from us.


I don’t really like any of the options I come up with. Especially taking into account that we’ve all been fitted with eye-crystals connected to AI’s capable of at least some form of mind control.


A thought hits me. “Hey, Suri, you said the tournament’s for eight batches, right?”


[Correct.]


“But there’s definitely been more than eight void-shifts already. I’m pretty sure there were at least twelve before ours, so what gives?”


[I’m afraid the facility wasn’t quite ready back then, therefore the batches before the ones participating in this tournament ended up in quite... unenviable positions.]


I swallow. “Are you saying they all died?”


[If I recall correctly, the first batch landed in a nest of marama, and the second one on Big Bortha’s surface. You do the math.]


What math would that even be? Am I supposed to multiply with zero to get the number of survivors?


Anyway, I can’t really tell if this is a reasonable story. If the void-shifts were performed on purpose, she might be lying through her teeth—or not know any better. On the other hand, they might’ve just had some issues... calibrating.


It’s not like they’d care.


I sink into thought, mulling over all the new information, trying to puzzle it all together.


“So, the Peilor will consider the winner of this tournament to pretty much be mankind’s representative, correct?”


[Indeed.]


Hmm. I’m not sure if I’d be mankind’s best representative...


[In case you’re thinking of throwing any fights due to some mistaken notion that someone else should have that role, don’t,] Suri warns.


I startle, worried for a second that Suri’s reading my mind somehow, even though I’m pretty sure she can’t casually do such a thing, not without mind-melding with me at least. “Why?”


[It was a struggle for the more progressive factions to get these kind of promised status allotments in the first place,] Suri explains. [If their opposition gets even a whiff of half-hearted fighting and diplomatic negotiations, they will take that chance to, at best, have all involved participants demoted to the Solith tier. If you want your people to have any chance of respect, do me a favour and make sure you give it your all to win.]


My jaw sets. Well, I wasn’t really intending to throw any fights anyway. I owe it to Alec to give it my all, to get the Blue Dragons in the best position possible in this crazy Realm.


However, I’m also definitely going to continue trying to get back to the Realm of Imagination so I can improve my Mental Fortitude, or find some other way to protect my mind, because I still don’t trust these bastards.


“You’re right,” I say with a determined nod. “If I want to win against that much competition, I better give this preparation my all. 20 Trial Points a day for twenty-four days... so that’s a total of 480 Trial Points before the tournament?”


[Indeed. Generous, isn’t it?]


I suppress the urge to roll my eye. “Quite. What am I even going to spend all of that on?”


[Excellent question. But first, how about I give you the grand tour?]



I have to give it to the Peilor, the preparation ‘suite,’ as Suri proclaims it, is well-equipped. The first room Suri shows me is full of practice dummies and targets, the next one full of strange exercise machines, even including a treadmill that appears to be built into the floor.


Strangely enough, the next room features only a wall-covering mirror. I guess this’ll be useful to check my form for martial marts, or, you know, practice for a dance recital.


Then there’s a very spacious, almost arena-like room with a high ceiling and a large pool of Hydrum on one side. I’m guessing it’s meant for the practice of high-speed manoeuvres, including but not limited to powerful leaps and flight.


Finally, there’s a bathroom, equipped with a toilet, sink, shower, and a real friggin’ bath.


I’ll be seeing you later!


Next, we go over my options for spending Trial Points. This time, I’m actually allowed to see the options that are out of my direct price range, I suppose so I can decide to save up for them by waiting a few days.


First of all, there’s the option to purchase better equipment.


There’s suits of heavy armour—platemail, by the description of it—and medium armour, described as a kind of flexibly-jointed mesh.


I guess if you want your armour to be One, chainmail isn’t going to cut it.


Anyway, these armours come in two flavours, Greysteel and Darksteel, with the latter being more expensive.


Darksteel has a Toughness of 80, far superior to Greysteel’s 70, but it’s apparently also quite a bit heavier, which translates to higher Strength requirements; a whopping 18 for the full Darksteel suit, priced at a conservative 200 Trial Points.


I’m not sure yet if I want to buy anything like that. I mean, I could definitely use some better protection, but speed is a big factor in my combat style, and I don’t want to get slowed down.


Moreover, having just said goodbye to Alec—at least, to me it seems like barely an hour ago—I’d have a hard time letting go of the Blue Dragons’ signature battle garb.


There’s also Darksteel weapons, with similarly higher Strength requirements. No crystal ones though.


Finally, there’s bigger Focus Crystals, which might actually be my highest priority in terms of equipment. Frankly, between my Toxic crystal spear and Alec’s electric crystal trident, I’m covered in terms of weapons.


Aside from equipment, there’s the option of tempering, for 25 Trial Points a time. This is the only activity for which I’ll be allowed outside of the suite, apparently, as I’ll have to be teleported off-site for this.


I’m not looking forward to having to get into one of those oysters again, but the idea of getting to leave to another area and possibly see another human for a bit is tempting. I’m sure I’ll grow stir-crazy in here soon enough.


We’re not allowed to take consumables into battle, which I don’t mind too much. It only heightens the value of my conversion cycle, after all, though I expect a lot more participants to have those by the time the tournament rolls around.


Next I get to the various kinds of high- and top-grade Power-Ups.


A set of chitinous limbs that would attach to my spine and reach around from my back to the front comes with a price tag of 250 Trial Points, and the set of wings that apparently cancel out Gravity is the single most expensive item, at 300 Trial Points.


Well, I don’t really need those anyway.


Like Suri said, there isn’t a foot-replacing Power-Up, but there are leg-replacing Power-Ups. There’s also Power-Ups that envelop and take over the function of both legs. For a mere 200 Trial Points, I could permanently insert my legs in a strange creature and go through life as an actual mermaid. Or a snake-person. Or an octopus... thing.


I’m not sure how that last creature works, since tentacles are far more flexible than legs; the description is a little vague about it. I think it may actually digest your leg bones in the adaptation process?


So many thrilling options! Yet, I think I’ll stick to what I’ve got. I just need one more level of Regeneration to get my foot back, after all.


There’s some interesting options in the high-grade range as well. These are more affordable, ranging from 150 to 200 Trial Points, but well...


I’ve come this far relying on finding creative uses for my Skills, so I feel that should remain my focus.


Which brings me to my final option, Skilldreams, where I intend to spend most of my points.


The added benefit of getting more chances to Visit the Realm of Imagination—even if it is supervised—is a big plus.


I haven’t tried to enter the Realm of Imagination on my own yet and I dread what attempting to do so will be like, considering the punishment Goddess meted out. Still, I have to try. I wouldn’t know where else I could possibly secretly practice using Espir to defend myself from mind control like Akir suggested.


Moreover, even the other two measures I could take against mind control—increasing my mental Fortitude and the size of my Espir Pool—are far more achievable there than anywhere else.


Well, I have at least twenty-four days to figure something out. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.


Either way, between training to try and win the tournament—in hopes that the leverage it gives me might actually be worth something—and finding a way to get out from under the sword of Damocles that is mind control, I have my work cut out for me.


Since my body is still recovering, however, I decide to take it easy for now, and spend my time rehydrating and making plans.


I groan as I sink into the hot Hydrum of my bathtub. I fill my lungs with Hydrum, warming myself up from the inside, before releasing it again and breathing in some refreshing Aether.


I close my eyes and allow the Heat to work its magic on my muscles. My thoughts inevitably turn to my girlfriend.


Calling her that, even in my mind, has definitely not gotten old yet.


I’m coming, Kait. I refuse to believe you’ll be eliminated in the first round, so we’ll see each other soon. Just hold on.



Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^


Care to discuss this week's revelations? The place to be would be my Discord server ;)

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