• hcmills

Chapter 179: Glorious food

As Goddess disappears, so does the last of the pressure holding me in place, and I immediately collapse to my knees.


Akir floats over, and gently guides me to stumble over to a barstool, concern in his big black eyes. “You’re starting to look awfully faint, here, drink this.”


One of his tentacles puts down a glass of some kind of multi-coloured drink and shoves it in my direction.


“Thanks,” I mumble. The first sip results in an explosion of taste in my mouth, but more importantly, it replenishes my Espir, which has an immediate effect on my energy levels and mental faculties.


“Oh, this is good!” I say, perking up a little.


Akir grunts. “It’s pure Extant fruit juice. If this doesn’t keep you from Fading, nothing will.”


He looks on in silence as I chug the remaining contents of the glass.


“Thank you,” I tell him earnestly as he pours me a refill. “And I don’t just mean for the drink; you really had my back just now, even after learning what I did...”


Akir moves his tentacles in a shrug-like motion. “You explained what happened and I believe you. It’s a tragedy but, from what I understand, so were your circumstances. Either way, what’s done is done. Let’s speak no more of it.”


“Well, your faith in me means a lot, so thank you.”


Akir grunts and averts his gaze, colouring a slightly more vibrant shade of purple. “What did I just say?” He sighs and glances at me. “Look, don’t paint me like some kind of saint. I’m in no position to judge, trust me. Now let’s please move on to more pressing topics, like the continuation of your existence.”


Though that last remark certainly piqued my interest, Akir is not wrong. The clock is ticking.


I glance down at my drink. “Let me guess, your supply of this stuff is limited?”


“Severely,” he grunts with a terse nod. “I usually only add a bit to my drinks. Giving it to you pure like this, my stores will run out quite soon.”


I let out a sigh. “Out of the frying pan, into the fire... All right, what are my options?”


Akir hovers in front of me as I drink, his tentacles wrestling with each other, as his eyes flit from my drink to the jagged end of my chain. “I’m not sure,” he confesses softly. “We could look at ways to slow down your thought processes, but with the amount of Espir you generate...”


“It would leave me with the intellect of a snail,” I conclude.


Akir shakes his head. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I know some pretty smart snails.”


Despite myself, I snort. His eyes crinkle up in what I by now recognise as a smile.


I draw in a deep breath, and face him more seriously. “Akir, Goddess granted me asylum, right? Doesn’t that mean I’m allowed to know certain things I wasn’t before? Because now would be the time to tell me about where Espir comes from, and how I can increase the amount I generate.”


Akir frowns. “Asylum isn’t the same as citizenship; it’s more of a probationary period leading into citizenship, upon good behaviour.”


“Great, so I just need exactly what I don’t have,” I mutter. “Bloody time.”


“However,” Akir continues, a sly glint in his eyes, “I suppose you can’t really be considered a Visitor from Material Realmspace anymore, so technically, those restrictions shouldn’t apply.”


I grin. “You’re the best. Tell me everything.”


His eyelids pull together and he squints at me through the resulting horizontal slit. “You better hope I don’t get in trouble for this, young lady.”


I flutter my eyes at him. “Pretty please?”


“Fine,” he relents, acting like he wasn’t going to tell me anyway. “Last time, I told you the size of your Espir Pool is connected to the amount of Espir you generate. However, the more precise explanation would be that both are connected to the size of your Core.”


“Ah! Goddess mentioned that I’d damaged the Core of...” I trail off.


Akir grunts. “That would explain why it was too late to do anything. Every sentient creature has a Core at the heart of their spiritform. It is the seat of consciousness, and if it falls apart or runs out of Espir, that’s it. You Fade.”


I frown. “Every sentient creature has one? How come I never noticed?”


“Even in a Realm as peaceful as this, only an idiot would have his Core out in the open,” Akir says with a shrug. “You must’ve generated quite a bit of force to break through the spiritform of a sentient creature of this Realm... As for sensing your own, that’s always a little tricky at first. Yours being as small as it is wouldn’t make that any easier.”


“But I do have one, then!” I exclaim. “And if I can grow it large enough—to the point it produces more Espir than my thought processes use up—I could survive here... indefinitely?”


Akir nods.


“So... wait, is having a Core the prerequisite for something to be Extant?”


Akir snorts. “Of course not. Not everything that is Extant has a mind.”


I glance at the Extant glass containing my juice, and produce an Imagined copy with wave of my hand. “Then what, exactly, is the difference between these two glasses?”


Akir stretches out a purple tentacle to point at my Imagined glass. “This glass is a part of you, trying to Imagine what it’s like to be a glass.” His tentacle shifts. “Whereas this glass is made of Espir that believes it’s a glass. Imagining something takes active mental effort, and therefore the Espir doing it will eventually run out. Believing something doesn’t, therefore the Espir making up the Extant glass will maintain its form until it’s convinced otherwise.”


I stare at the glasses, trying to wrap my mind around this concept. “How... why can’t I Imagine a glass that believes it’s a glass?”


“Can you convince yourself you’re a glass?”


I pause, mid-sip. “Ehm, probably not?”


Akir shrugs. “Then your Espir is going to have a hard time believing otherwise.”


“Ah. Right, because the Espir is still a part of me...” Having said that, I draw on my connection to two motes of my Espir trying to be a glass, and gently pull them back in. One of them wavers and blinks out of existence, but in doing so, it seems to give the other the push it needs to returns.


Huh.


My gaze falls on the little toy boat in a bottle on the nearby shelf. “Then, why do Imagined objects last longer when people pay attention to them?”


“Because when we pay such an object attention—or at the very least acknowledge its existence—we accept that it is what it’s Imagining to be,” Akir explains. “Doing so, we join in the fantasy, and unconsciously share the cognitive load to uphold it. That effect is stronger the more powerful one’s Core is. On the other hand, if one actively denies an Imagined object’s fantasy, the Espir holding it together would actually fall apart faster.”


Enthralling as I find all of this information, I’m still no closer to finding a way to survive.


I take another sip. “Okay, then what about the difference between digestible Extant stuff like this juice, and indigestible Extant stuff like, well, this glass, the bar it’s on, and the very air around us?”


“Simple,” Akir says with a shrug. “It either believes it’s digestible, or it doesn’t.”


Of course it does.


“Right. And Extant stuff that believes it’s digestible—like this fruit juice,” I say, indicating my by now half-empty glass, “can not only refill my Espir Pool, but also help my Core grow?”


“Yes. However, to produce the amount of digestible Extant materials you’d need to consume to get to the point you’d be self-sustaining...” He shakes his head. “Just producing enough to keep you going at your current rate of Espir expense would be a challenge. I think the most efficient way might actually be to start our own orchard. But even waiting for the first harvest would take a very long time, and barring any other sources of Espir, we’d have to keep you in a state of near-complete stillness at the Pond of Silence until it were ready.”


“When you say ‘very long,’ ” I start apprehensively, “what would that equate to in the Yin-Yang Realm?”


Akir is quiet for a moment. “The relativity of time-perception in the Spiritual Realm always makes these things hard to estimate. I think the amount of time that would pass in Material Realmspace would be somewhere between a long time and a very long time.”


The words are laden with meaning, which my mind automatically translates to more meaningful terms, which tells me the first harvest would be ready somewhere between a couple of decades and about three centuries from now.


“That long?!” I exclaim, wide-eyed. “Everyone I know may be dead and gone by then, and that’s just the first harvest! Isn’t there someone with an orchard we could, I don’t know persuade to part with it somehow?”


Akir lets out a helpless sigh. “There’s only a handful of orchards, and individually they’re all too small for your needs. They generally cater to bakers and breweries; I get most of my juice from fruit trees people keep in their yards. There are some other types of Extant food available, but there just isn’t much of a demand for it in general, as nobody here relies on food to survive. Most people who grow and produce it just enjoy the challenge. Essentially, I don’t think there’s any single person who could provide what you need—aside from Goddess, of course—and persuading half the town to give you all the Extant food they grow from now on, well...”


Groaning, I close my eyes. “Okay, okay... Let’s think outside the box. Like you said, there’s other kinds of food, so it doesn’t have to be fruit, I just need to be capable of digesting it.” I frown. “Actually, could I turn into a cow and eat grass or something? Grass isn’t sentient, right?”


“Most of it isn’t,” Akir confirms. “And the grass that is would let you know. However, do you think you can you make convince yourself you’re a cow, well enough to fool the grass?”


I glance down for a moment, then deflate. “Probably not.”


Akir nods. “Good. Changing your identity to such an extent would not be without consequences.”


“So I just need to find something I believe I can digest, which in turn believes it’s digestible and that I can digest it, and isn’t sentient.”


“That about sums it up,” Akir says, as he refills my glass. “And I have about three more bottles of this stuff, for you to figure it out. If you can’t, I say we head to the Pond of Silence to... clear your mind, while I work on a solution.”


I reach out to grasp the tentacle holding the bottle before he can pull it back. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve actually touched Akir. His skin has an odd rough texture, and none of the sliminess I half-expected. Instead it’s warm. Soothing.


“Thank you,” I tell him earnestly. “For everything. I—”


My words fail me, as an Imaginary lump blocks my Imaginary throat.


His tentacle wavers, then hesitantly strokes the back of my hand and pulls out of my grasp. He coughs, and turns around to rummage needlessly with some bottles and glasses. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve just got a soft spot for pathetic strays who wander into my bar; it’s a personal flaw I’m working on.”


I just shake my head fondly. “Maybe you should get some help with that. I’m afraid you may be backsliding.”


Akir chuckles softly.


I take another sip, feeling my Espir burn as I focus the full force of my attention to the problem.


Something I can eat, which others can’t, or of which there is enough that it doesn’t run out. Let’s see, what things have I come across in this Realm?


I go over the different places I’ve Visited, looking for any kind of clue.


Lightning snakes? Would probably kill me instantly. Also, definitely sentient, right? It basically needs to be inanimate. Could I will myself to believe the clouds are made of cotton candy? Useless unless the clouds believe it too, I suppose...


I sit up straight. “Wait, what about water? I mean, I drink water all the time in the real world!”


“And do you break that down into smaller stuff that provides you with energy?” Akir asks dryly.


I deflate. “No...”


“Indigestible,” Akir concludes. “Good thing too, or this whole Realm would be a desert by now.”


I continue to sip at my glass and ponder, burning through Espir at a frightening rate. Ideas flit through my mind and I dismiss them one by one.


I blink, and return the last train of thought I abandoned to the rails running through my head.


This... seems like a maybe?



Author's note:

The Whispering Crystals, Book 3: Unimagined Adventures, is now available on Amazon and KU! ^^


I made a lot of edits to this book, so if you do have KU or would like to support me by buying a copy, I can certainly recommend a (re)read ;)


You can find it here: https://books2read.com/whisperingcrystals3


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