Chapter 5: Friends don't let friends skip leg day

 

Author's note: 
From this chapter onward, there will occasionally be tables included in the story. If you are reading this on a device with a small screen they may be hard to read. In that case, I would suggest continuing to read this story here on RoyalRoad, where I'm also posting it. 

 

 

When I come to, there’s the distinct tang of copper in my mouth, but no pain.

 

I open my eyes a sliver, one soft and squishy, the other hard and smooth.

 

“I’m... still alive?” I mumble.

 

[Correct. Your breath halted for quite some time, as a result of which, your Lavi dropped to near zero. Luckily for you, the preparation rooms are fitted with a Crystal of Lavi, which barely kept you alive, and a Crystal of Restoration, which helped you heal.]

 

I look up at the crystals in the ceiling. I thought they were only light fixtures, but now that Suri mentions it... among the various crystals in the ceiling, there are two that stand out as they are larger and brighter. Closing my left eye, I can see thin beams of Lavi coming off the green one. The other one is pink and gives off similarly pink rays of energy. That should be the crystal of restoration.

 

“Lucky?” I grumble. “I nearly died because I... took a deep breath.”

 

I sit up.

 

“Like you told me to! What the hell Suri, were you trying to get me killed?”

 

[Causing your death is not one of my goals.]

 

“Then what are your goals?”

 

[At your current level of information privileges, that information is classified.]

 

“... guess my five minutes are up, huh.”

 

[Yes.]

 

“But I can still ask basic questions?”

 

[Questions of a practical nature will be answered.]

 

“Alright... You said my Lavi ‘dropped to near zero,’ does that mean you are keeping track, numerically?”

 

[Correct. If you wish to observe the stats your current level of information privileges allow, say ‘Open Status Window.’]

 

“Alright... open status window.”

 

A window pops up in my view, like an augmented reality application in my friggin' eye.

 

 

I try closing my eyes one by one. As I expected, it’s a function of my new right eye.

 

“Wow you weren’t kidding... it’s like a video game up in here. Alright, so I’ve got Lavi, which is like a health bar... what does that O behind it mean?”

 

[It’s short for ‘Onkh,’ which is a unit of energy commonly used in this realm.]

 

“I see. Then there’s... strength, toughness and agility?

 

[Indeed. Strength is your ability to apply physical force, toughness an index of how difficult your flesh is to deform, and agility is a measure of the speed and precision of your movements. An average human female who has just arrived scores around 8 on strength and toughness, 10 on agility.]

 

“Guess I should’ve hit the gym before coming here...” I mumble.

 

[Indeed. Though your agility is relatively high, could you tell me why?]

 

“I was a gymnast for a very long time.” Huh, that was the first time Suri asked me a question... is she collecting data? “Anyway, are those stats like averages for all of my muscles? What about those guys who only train upper body strength, with the skinny legs?”

 

[These stats are accurate measurements of your physical and mental abilities. Since you are one, they apply to you as a whole.]

 

“Okay, but... can I raise my strength stat if I train all my muscles evenly?”

 

[No, you can raise your strength stat by pushing yourself beyond your limits, in order to improve your ability to apply physical force, as a whole.]

 

“Man, it’s hard to wrap my mind around this... Speaking of, you mentioned mental stats?”

 

[MF stands for Mental Fortitude, which is a measure of how well your mind can intrinsically resist outside influence. Willpower is a measure of your perseverance, your ability to keep going when things get tough. They average around 10 for newly arrived humans.]

 

“I see... got another practical question for you: is there a toilet here?”

 

In lieu of an answer, I hear a click, and a door swings open next to the mirror, still covered in blood and gore. Behind it, I find a simple bathroom, with a toilet and sink, and a kind of primitive, grey toilet paper...

 

Walking over, I am reminded that I still feel much lighter. Did my strength stat raise after I entered the door? No... Suri said 8 was average...

 

“Suri, can you tell me why I’ve felt so much lighter after I first walked through that door?”

 

[At your current level of information privileges, that information is classified.]

 

Figures.

 

I first turn on the tap in the sink. That looks like water all right. I stick my hand in the stream. It behaves... weirdly. It’s heavier than I expected, and it clings to my hand just a little too much.

 

I grab a bottle of water from my backpack and inspect it, pouring some onto my hand. It seems to have similar properties... Perhaps water just behaves differently in this dimension, no matter the origin.

 

Either way, I’m thirsty. I drink from both sources, to compare, and can’t taste or feel any difference between them. I guess that means the water source in Hub 1 should also be safe...

 

After doing my business, I flop down on the bed, and crack my head on the mattress.

 

What the hell? Is this thing made of wood?!

 

Swearing under my breath, I try to get comfortable, but... if you brought this pillow to a pillow-fight, people would straight up die. Even the fur-bedding is hard, its hairs poking me like needles.

 

With a sigh I stop shifting, trying to accept in my heart that I will likely never be comfortable, like ever again.

 

“So, Suri, what is this room, exactly?”

 

[This is the First Trial’s preparation room. Participants stay here for a while to prepare themselves. Food, drink and facilities are provided.]

 

“I see... how long am I allowed to stay here?”

 

[In keeping with the time you are familiar with, the time limit has been set to be nearly one ‘day’, or 23 hours and 50 minutes to be exact. 18 hours, 32 minutes and 13 seconds remain. But participants rarely wait that long.]

 

Free food, a toilet, no risk of death as long as you don’t breathe too deeply... I wouldn’t mind staying here for a while, despite the uncomfortable furniture. For a while I just lie there in silence, thinking over what I’d learned and pondering what I should be doing.

 

[You are an odd human,] Suri chimes unpromped.

 

“Gee, thanks. Why?”

 

[Most females cry shortly after realizing their eye has been replaced; though they ultimately always understand it was for the best. Actually, quite a few of the males do to. You seem oddly calm.]

 

“Let’s just say I’ve been through my share of shit. It numbs you.”

 

It also taught me that setbacks can make you stronger, and that you’ve only lost when you’ve given up. Though I’m not sure that still applies in this case... is there even a way back to Earth?

 

Well, if there is, I’m only going to get there one step at a time. So the question becomes, what should my first step be?

 

I frown. “Hey Suri, just hypothetically, what would happen if I try to stay in this room for longer than the afforded 24 hours?”

 

[You will receive a final warning. If you still fail to enter the Trial, the room will simply be fully sterilized in preparation for the next participant, as it would’ve been after you left.]

 

I shoot upright, all thoughts of leisurely spending some time here forgotten. Sterilized? Is she implying I will be killed if I don’t enter the trial? Survival training my ass, this is a death camp!

 

What exactly were the people who built this place thinking?!

 

My jaws clench and my forehead throbs with anger, but I suppress it. I am quite confident that throwing a fit isn’t going to get me anywhere. The people running this place might even... ‘disqualify’ me.

 

I have 18 hours to prepare for the first deadly trial.

 

“Say Suri... If I ask how many people make it through the first trial...”

 

[At your current level of information privileges, that information is classified.]

 

“Yeah, I figured you might say that.” I start taking a deep breath and stop myself just in time.

 

My eyes widen. The wheels in my head start turning.

 

“Suri... what was my Toxic Tolerance when I got to this realm?”

 

[At your current lev—]

 

“Got it. Just say ‘That’s classified’ from now on, please. I don’t need the whole spiel every time.”

 

[Very well.]

 

“Anyway, earlier you said I adapted, so I’m just going to assume that I raised it since I got here...”

 

I get up from the bed and sit down in a lotus position in the centre of the room.

 

I’m a little scared to try this... but if I don’t do it here, bathed in the radiation of a Lavi crystal, then I’ll never do it.

 

I take a deep breath. Not too deep... a controlled depth. I hold it for a little while, feeling the burn in my lungs, before releasing it.

 

Alright, I can do this.

 

I breathe in again, a little deeper.

 

I soon lose track of time and end up breathing for more than half an hour, before my stomach’s rumbling wakes me.

 

“Open status window,” I croak, my throat dry.

 

The window pops up, and there it is... 2.9% toxic energy tolerance.

 

That’s a 0.6% increase! Maybe I’m going to live after all.

 

 

Author's note:

You call that a pillow? THIS is a pillow.

 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills