• H.C. Mills

Chapter 30: We need a montage

The next morning—well, after we all sleep—I have Alec do a variety of other physical exercises, to make up for the singular program yesterday, in the hopes of raising his strength.

After a long and harsh work-out, interspersed with a lot of complaining from Alec and various means of ‘encouragement’ from me, he exclaims in joy.

After making him show me the pop-up window for confirmation, I take him back up the tree to his favourite branch. Despite the sweltering heat, I have him do pull-ups to his limit once. I yell at him encourage him for almost the entire second half, and to his entertaining confusion, he gets up to 27.

I was thinking about the third law of being, ‘All are quantified’, as I lay in bed last night, and this is some pretty strong evidence for the hypothesis I came up with: the stats aren’t just milestones on a gliding scale, they’re quantified! When Alec went from 9 Strength to 10, there was an immediate difference in the efficacy of his muscles.

Later that day, I have Dave confirm it after he raises his Strength from 10 to 11.

Then I had them arm-wrestle, and Dave won. Though that was mostly for fun.

But still, the laws of being in this realm really are crazy.

The next few days, we train.

First, I continue Alec’s Willpower conditioning by having him do the Toughness training Kaitlynn went through. As he trains, I practice my meditation. Suri told me I need to learn how to selectively numb my senses, so I cycle through them, trying to dim my senses one by one.

It’s difficult to progress in however, when you’re not really noticing any effect. Or worse, when you think you might feel something, but worry that it could be your imagination.

Basically, I’m stumped on how to progress with this skill.

At least, until I have a thought...

All skills are to do with energy manipulation, right? Meditation affects my resting consumption of Lavi, so it should in essence be a Lavi-manipulating skill, just like Boost Physical. And Deep Breathing as well, come to think of it.

Instead of aiming for the result the next level of this skill should achieve like I did before, maybe I could try looking into how the skill actually works on my current level!

It takes a while for my excitement to wane enough for me to enter a lucid trance. Once I do, I turn my gaze inward, like I learned how to do while practicing Boost Physical, and study the flows of Lavi in my body.

Well, this is certainly intriguing. It looks like meditation decreases my resting Lavi consumption by slowing down the Lavi flowing through my body.

Now that the Lavi is moving slower, I can also see the movement more clearly. It’s not just a steady flow, there’s a kind of pulse travelling through it. No, wait a minute... that’s my heartbeat!

Is my heart actually directing the flow of Lavi? Or just influencing it? Actually, my heartbeat is slower too, is that how meditation influences my Lavi, or is it more direct?

Damn, this is raising as many questions as it answers... I guess I’ll have to remember for my next round of questions. Actually, we should probably discuss and plan our questions together, so we don’t get overlapping information.

But that can wait; let’s see what I can figure out myself first.

I start experimenting, willing the Lavi flowing to specific sensory organs to slow down further. The effect isn’t immediate, but I do notice some differences. It’s hard to study while attempting to maintain such fine control, however. I’m also not entirely sure that this is the best way to do it, and I’m wary of damaging parts of my body by depriving them of Lavi.

I really need a room with a recovery crystal to properly test this out...

Aside from my fruitful experiments, the other highlight of the first day is getting to scare the shit out of Alec, as he tries to sneak away to take a break while I’m in trance. This inevitably leads to more whining and complaints, accusations of sadism and declarations of hate, but despite all that, I get him to keep going, and eventually raise both his Toughness and Willpower from 8 to 9.

As for Kaitlynn, I instruct her to start with practicing breathing and meditation, to recuperate her bruised and battered body from the Toughness training I made her go through.

After properly gaining those skills, she throws herself into Strength training, ultimately raising the stat from 8 to 9. Exercise has never been her thing she said, so she actually enjoyed this even less than tumbling down the tree-trunk over and over, but it did lead to her raising her Willpower to 12.

By the way, this time I have her take a break every hour or so, to shoot her Astreum Blast at an improvised target. It’s hard to train when you can only shoot once an hour, but that’s all the more reason to be diligent about it, I figure.

Meanwhile, Dave switches to training his Toughness. Partially because it’s convenient to be near me, for my treatment. The ten-minute breaks he takes to Purify me don’t seem to negatively affect his results, as he also manages to raise his toughness to 9.

His Willpower doesn’t rise however... I guess he doesn’t hate the exercises enough. That’s also fine; at least I don’t have to drag him through kicking and screaming like Alec.

Two days pass while we train, and as my treatment progresses, I finally get the okay from Kaitlynn to start training my Toughness. I’m still holding off on strength training until I can use Boost Physical to its full extent, so I throw myself into the toughness training vigorously, continuing even while they recuperate, and work on their breathing and meditation.

Soon I get the notification I’m waiting for.

This much obviously isn’t enough to raise my Willpower, but that’s fine. I shudder to imagine the kind of torture I’d need to push myself through to reach 15.

All in all, these are happy days. Torturous, but happy. I’m among friends and we’re surviving, no, living together. The food may be drab and unchanging, but we’re growing and optimistic.

Well, most of us. Alec is still having a hard time with the training.

“I’ve already raised my Willpower twice, Emma! Isn’t it enough already?” Alec whines on the third day, after I tell him to get off his lazy butt for a ‘special’ Strength training program.

“It’s still below average though, isn’t it?” I retort, standing over him expectantly.

“Well... yeah, but it’s much better... do I really need more?”

“Don’t your complaints prove that you do?” Kaitlynn teases from the other side of the hut, where she’s organizing her collection of plants. She even found a Blue Angel the other day, but we’re saving it for when my Toxic Energy drops below my tolerance limit. After all, Purify only works on energies surpassing the tolerance limit, so it’ll stop working soon.

Alec’s jaw drops. “That’s... that’s not fair! If I say I want to do it you’ll tell me to go ahead, but if I say I don’t want to, you’ll tell me I need it!”

“Hmm yes, it’s a catch 22,” Dave says thoughtfully as he collects the leaves we used as breakfast dishes for rinsing out by the stream. “Guess you have no choice then, huh?”

I chuckle. “It’s for your own good, Alec.”

“What are you, my mom?” he grumbles, rolling his eyes. “No actually, my mom wouldn’t put me through this crap, she cares—"

“That’s enough,” I say steely. “You want to know why I’m doing this? Fine.”

I crouch down next to him and wait for him to sullenly meet my gaze.

“When I told about my experiences in the trials... I may have made light of them a little bit. I stared death in the face several times, but the worst time, was when I broke my shinbone.”

A hush falls over the hut.

“You see, I broke it at the rope swing. And it wasn’t just broken; it was sticking out.”

Kaitlynn gasps, Dave sucks in a breath.

“At the rope swing?” Alec asks, befuddled, “but... how did you get back to the...”

“I had to climb two walls, hopping from hold to hold with my one good leg,” I’m gritting my teeth just thinking about it. “It was the most excruciating experience of my life, up to that point, and it would have remained so, if not for what I had to do after; push my bone back into my leg, barehanded, without any form of anaesthesia.”

Kaitlynn’s lifts a hand to her mouth with a shuddering breath, a tear glistens in the corner of her left eye. I guess the crystal one doesn’t have that function.

My own breathing is also becoming a little disorderly, which is rare since I’ve started training in Deep Breathing.

“Right during the climbing of the first wall, is where I raised my Willpower to 14. And that’s the only reason I pulled through, Alec; sheer willpower. That’s why I’m doing this. That’s why I need you to go through with this. You may have had a relatively smooth ride so far, but anything can happen in these trials, and I very much doubt anyone can reach the finish line with below average Willpower.”

Alec gets up, his eyes red-rimmed. “All right... Let’s get to it then.”

The time we go to bed ‘today’, coincides with the start of the Twin Star’s inactive phase, which is nice.

But I still have some trouble falling asleep; I always do. I lie in the dark, stare up at the ceiling, and listen to Dave snore on the other side of the hut.

Kaitlynn’s curled up close to me, on her own pile of leaves. The leaves have a toughness of 15, so even with our own increased toughness, they barely feel softer than the floor. Still, at least we can shape them to our body a little, spread the load.

Normally she’s out like a light, but tonight Kaitlynn turns to me.

“Hey, Emma?” she whispers.


“I just... wanted to thank you.”

I turn to face her.

“What for?”

She reaches out, and grabs hold of my hand, squeezing it. “Just for... you know, being here. For taking charge. You’ve given me hope.”

Well, shucks.

I smile in the dark. “I’m glad you’re here too. It’s good to be among friends.”

Kaitlynn nods. “I just fear we’re going to... get separated again. After Trial 4. I somehow made it through the first three, but I really can’t do this alone.”

Though she doesn’t say the words, I know her bigger fear. That one, or more, of us, don’t make it.

“We have the Social System now,” I whisper back. “With any luck, they’ll allow us to stay in contact during the trials. And I’m sure there’ll be another Hub for us to meet up again if we get separated. All of us.”

Kaitlynn nods silently, before tugging me into a hug. Her hair tickles my nose, but it smells nice. The only reason that’s possible, by the way, is that Kaitlynn managed to make some kind of rudimentary shampoo from her collection of plants.

Yeah, that must be why it smells so good.

We lay there for a bit, before separating.

It takes me a while to get to sleep.

If only these peaceful days could last forever.

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©2018 by H.C. Mills