Astonished by the sudden appearance of a small stone building in this seemingly endless desert, I stop in my tracks, and try to wipe the sand from my left eye.
“Suri... am I hallucinating? Pinch me.”
[You know very well I can’t, Emma.]
I come up on the building and find it’s like the top of a square tower, sticking out of the sand. The wall I’m facing is blank, so I walk around, heart pounding.
Instead of the ugly carving of a human I’m expecting, I find a large, incomplete Yin-Yang symbol. Where normally the black dot in the white half would be, there is a hole.
Too easy. I insert the Yin Focus Crystal.
For a second, nothing happens. Then the symbol starts revolving, the two halves of the symbol split and rumble apart, revealing a doorway to a spiralling slide down. As the stone grinds to a halt, the Yin Focus Crystal drops out again, right in front of my feet.
I pick it up and stick it in my pocket.
I hesitate for the briefest moment, before deciding to end the trial right here and now.
It’s not like there’s any point to further training my Heat Toleranceat this rate.
Also, more importantly: screw this desert.
I sit down at the top of the slide and push off. As I whoosh down into the dark, I hear the stone grinding shut again behind me.
I must say, not a bad slide. Perhaps a bit monotonous.
At the end, I am dumped unceremoniously onto the bed in the preparation room. As the opening of the slide on this end grinds shut, the following message pops up.
Wow, I actually finished a Trial quickly enough to receive bonus points for once! I bet the time limit is different for the different trials though... 10 hours for the first two trials would hardly be a challenge.
I stand up and rub my sore keister. Man, that bed is hard.
It’s not the most pressing issue however: while it’s much cooler here, I am still uncomfortably hot. I head for the sink in the toilet, the wall clicking open with a soft push, and splash myself with water from the sink.
“Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a cold shower.”
To my surprise, I hear another click.
I turn off the tap and walk back into the prep room to stare at the newly revealed door. Behind it, I find what looks like a fully equipped shower.
“...Was this also a feature in past preparation rooms?”
[Yes. You never asked.]
You’re saying it’s my own fault? Then why do you sound so defensive, Suri?
“We are going to have words later,” I threaten. Though I fear my frantic undressing undercuts the intimidation factor.
About an hour later, I flop down on the rock-hard bed, reborn.
Also, naked, because I washed my clothes in the sink, and they are drying right now on the floor. I didn’t pack any extra, silly me. Perhaps there are people monitoring my every action, but right now I couldn’t give a damn if I tried.
When I stepped under that shower and the cold spray turned to steam on my skin, it was like crawling out of a womb of burning sands, like a phoenix rising. Except a phoenix is a bird, so they would come out of an egg, not a wom—you know what, never mind.
Point is, I feel much better. As soon as I got rid of all the excess heat in my body, I became myself again.
But I’m also dead tired, so I decide I’ve earned myself some actual sleep, and close my eyes.
According to Suri, I wake about three hours later.
The excess Heat has left my body, as expected, but what’s this? I have Qi?
There’s even an affinity listed for me, I’m ‘Yin’, as I suppose could be expected after the Trial just now. So is Toxic Energy apparently, though Heat is Yang in nature... interesting. Definitely adding this to my list of questions. Speaking off.
“Can I start my five minutes?”
[Your timer is now running. Ask away.]
“All right, tell me a little more about the Twin Star.”
[The Twin Star is a Yin-Yang Star, specifically a Lightning-Fire Star, which phases between active and inactive in a cycle lasting approximately 17 hours and 13 minutes. The inactive phase typically lasts for about 6 hours and 34 minutes, during which the two halves combine into a single, dark whole. Get it? A dark ‘whole’.]
“Great humour, Suri, I give it a 5 out of 7.”
[Thank you. The Twin Star is predominantly Yang, which is the reason its light has a heating effect.]
“Hold up... am I understanding you correctly that there is light in this dimension, which cools things?”
[Indeed. The Yin half of the Twin Star—that’s the blue star—radiates a cooling light, but the Yang half’s heating light overpowers its effect.]
“Wow, okay... ehm, about Yin and Yang, I’ve heard of this concept in my own dimension, but I always thought it was spiritual nonsense... can I take this to mean they were actually onto something?”
[No, they weren’t. Let me put it this way: the principles of Yin and Yang don’t apply to the Entropic Realm.]
“So the idea, the concept of Yin and Yang originates from this Realm, but wound up in the Entropic Realm somehow?” I sit up straight, my heart pounding. “Does that mean... there may be a way home after all?”
[... You bring up an interesting point. Maybe.]
Maybe. Maybe is good enough, for now.
“Next question, let’s see... Is there a correlation between my affinity and the difference in how quick I build up tolerances to certain energies?”
[Of course. But don’t expect to be so talented for every type of Yin, nor so untalented for every type of Yang energy; your relationships with Toxic Energy and Heat are both rather extreme.]
“All right, so this energy I felt, during the third trial, that powered the focus crystal, is that Qi?”
“And I have a capacity for 8 Onkh?”
“Is that good?”
[It’s a little below average, I’m afraid.]
“Fine. Tell me a little more about Qi.”
[Yin and Yang are the most primal essences of this realm; Qi, their purest form, is therefore also the most potent energy. All the other energies are derived from them and can therefore also be made from them.]
“Then, what about Lavi, is that also made from Yin or Yang Qi?”
[Yes, but Lavi is a rather unique case. It can only be created by a perfectly balanced combination of Yin and Yang Qi, like life can only be created by the combination of Yin and Yang essences.]
“Like man and woman.”
[Not exactly. Your realm’s division into the male and female genders is similar in that it can create life, but the humans who come here quickly develop either a Yin or Yang affinity, seemingly with no correlation to their gender. In fact, Yang affinities seem more common among humans in general.]
“I see... Suri, do you have an affinity?”
[Of course; the second law of being states: ‘All are Yin or Yang’. That goes even for artificial intelligences like me.]
“So, what is your affinity?”
[Yin of course, otherwise how could I have been paired up with you.]
So, my affinity was probably already known prior to this trial... They really like to keep us in the dark.
“What’s the third law of being?”
[All are quantified.]
“Is that about the stats?”
[Among other things, yes. It’s about things like energy and properties being discrete: separated into clear steps.]
“I see, what’s the fourth law?”
[I’m sorry, that is currently outside the allowed scope of questions.]
Interesting. I wonder why?
“Suri, is it possible for you to remind me about this once it is allowed?”
[Clever. And yes, I will let you know once that happens.]
“All right then, tell me about the next trial.”
[Next, you will be entering Hub Two. The conditions you need to meet in order to leave it, will be revealed once you enter. Now, living circumstances in Hub Two are a little—]
“Hub Two? Hold up, are you saying... when I walk through that door, there’s going to be other humans? Possibly including my friends?”
Good thing I just discovered the shower.