• H.C. Mills

Chapter 50: The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference

The hexagonal room I find myself in is a little smaller than the preparation rooms I’m used to. Probably because they had to fit five of them in parallel. It does still come with all the usual features, including sanitary facilities, which is nice.

I carefully lower myself down onto the bed and am surprised to discover that it actually gives a little. Did I become heavier when I levelled up? I did grow about two inches. Or perhaps there is more to Toughness than I thought.

I can’t get sidetracked, however. “Can I start my five minutes please?”

[Done. Go ahead.]

The first topic I question Suri about is levelling up. She explains that it’s a kind of remodelling of the body. The flesh is strengthened, the bones, ligaments and skin are restructured, and the nerves are made more efficient. Furthermore, the meridians are widened, allowing controlled energies to move through the body more easily. Altogether, this leads to a flat increase of 2 Strength, 2 Toughness and 2 Agility, and an increase in the maximum amount of Lavi and Qi the body can contain.

There’s still something I don’t understand about it, however. “Why did our Resting Lavi Consumption increase from levelling?”

I checked with the others and it wasn’t just me. I’m just glad it wasn’t the result of me ruining my body by levelling up with a ton of Toxic Energy.

[The human body is inherently, pathetically weak,] Suri explains helpfully. [Levelling helps you overcome those limitations by—amongst other things—improving Lavi circulation. This has the effect of slightly increasing your Resting Lavi Consumption, but it’s more than worth it.]

I frown. “I guess so. Can I assume it will continue to increase as I level further?”

[That’s classified, but you can assume whatever you like,] Suri chimes.

Gee, thanks. I stick my tongue out at myself in the full-length mirror, ‘assuming’ Suri can see.

[Moving on: Critically, levelling up raises the base capabilities of your body, without affecting the amount of training required to further raise your stats.]

Ooh, okay, that does sound pretty good. I was worried it was only like a training shortcut, which might not be worth permanently increasing our Resting Lavi Consumption in the long run, but if it works like that, we’ll ultimately be able to reach greater heights.

[Of course, your levelling process was a little special. I can safely state no human has survived levelling to Level 2 with that much Toxic Energy in their system before. Nor has any other human developed Charm—an already rare stat on its own—at a mere Level 2.]

Actually, that was going to be my next question. “Right, are you finally going to tell me what the Charm stat does and what all the secrecy is about?”

[Charm is a very interesting stat. Just having it will attract living beings towards you and make them more open to suggestion. It makes your friends like you more and perhaps even your enemies go soft on you.]

It makes my friends... like me more? There’s a twisting in my stomach as I try to wrap my mind around that thought. Is that why Suri warned me not to tell them about it?

“Oh man,” I groan, feeling a headache coming on. “How strong of an effect would you say this has on my friends?”

[Right now? Pretty much none.]

I narrow my eyes. “And when they’re in the room with me?”

[The same.]

I blink. “Oh. Well, that’s good then.”

[First of all, Charm is counteracted by Mental Fortitude,] Suri explains, [so a Charm of 3 doesn’t amount to much. Second of all, the passive effect of Charm isn’t that pronounced. Charm is more of an active stat than a passive one—like Strength, and unlike Toughness. If you develop your Charm further in the future, I should be able to provide you with some instruction on how to ‘activate’ it, so to speak.]

“I see.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “Well, if that’s the case, why can’t I tell them?”

[Whyever would you?] Suri chimes, flabbergasted.

“What do you mean why?” I ask bemusedly. “We’re a team! We’ll function better if we all show our hand. I only haven’t told them about it yet because you asked me not to, and because I didn’t know what I’d be telling them about. I mean, how am I supposed to use this ability around them if I can’t tell them about it?”

[Use a technique for manipulation around them? Oh, Emma, do you truly not see where the value of Charm lies?]

A sick feeling burgeons in my stomach. “I am not using it on them, Suri, they’re my friends!”

[Really? So you trust them with your life? All of them?]

An image of Jacob flashes through my mind unbidden. I swallow. He seems all right, but... we barely know him.

[You trust them to make the right decisions, all the time?]

Alec’s grinning face appears before my mind’s eye. I shake my head as if to clear the images, but Suri isn’t done yet.

[Charm works much better on unwitting subjects,] she adds. [If you tell them, and wind up needing to use it on them in the future, it’ll be too late to regret it.]

“I... I don’t know, Suri. Don’t you think it’d be better to share this with them, so we can cooperate better?” I plead. “You know, figure out a way to use it on people we don’t care for?”

[I suppose you could try to use it like that,] Suri chimes reluctantly. [But why don’t you do me a favour, and hold off on telling them for a little longer. I mean, it’s not like your Charm is strong enough to really accomplish anything yet, or like you’re able to use it. You can decide about telling them or not when you are. Who knows what the future will bring, after all? You might change your mind about using it on them.]

Well, what she’s saying about it not being functional yet does make sense. “Fine, I’ll keep it to myself for now.”

[Good. Now, your next question?]

Oh, right. “Ehm, okay, why do I have Charm?”

[Ah, a conundrum indeed. It’s obviously related to your high exposure to Toxic Energy—Charm is connected to Toxic Energy in a way, which is why it is only seen among the Yin, and even then very rarely—but how and when it arises as an integral part of a being in the form of the Charm stat, is as of yet unknown. It might be that it existed inside of you in the form of latent ability somehow.]

I frown. “Wait, only the Yin can develop Charm? That seems oddly unbalanced for this Realm.”

[Hoh, how unexpectedly philosophical of you,] Suri chimes amusedly.

Pssh, I can be philosophical. I’m just a little busy surviving right now, thank you very much.

[You’re not wrong. It would be unbalanced, except the Yang can develop a similar stat called ‘Radiance,’ equally rare, and also never before seen in such a low-level human. It’s a shame you gaining the Charm stat didn’t break any officially kept record.]

“All right, moving on. Concerning Meditation level 3, am I on the right track?”

[Well, yes and no. Meditation level 3 definitely has something to do with manipulating the flow of Lavi to your senses, but in the end, you have to get a feeling for it. Meditation is not like Boost Physical; you won’t learn how to do it properly if you always do it intellectually, manually. It has to become instinct, like your breathing. Also, you are right to beware cutting off the Lavi Flow to one of your senses entirely; that could seriously damage your body.]

Mmm, okay. I’ll have to work on that some more then. “What about the next level of Breath Control?”

[The second level concerns controlling your breath for longer after it has left your body. Right now, you lose control of your breath roughly a second after it leaves your body. Your goal should be to create a field of controlled Aether around yourself, by maintaining control over previous exhales as you continue breathing.]

Wow, that sounds hard! But also potentially very useful. I’m definitely practising this later.

Now for the big one. I pull out the Stardrop, Minor Lavi Crystal and Yin Qi Pearl that I saved. “Suri, what would happen if I were to take these again?”

[Well, the previous remodelling of your body to Level 2 is complete, therefore it wouldn’t affect your primary physical stats. Reaching Level 3 will take more than this. However, it would still increase your Maxi Lavi and Qi more than simply eating the pearl and crystal would.]

Damn, I’d hoped for more, but it makes sense. However, I’m not done yet. “What if I ingest a lot of Toxic Energy first, and used it to further raise my Toxic Energy Tolerance, would that gain me some worthwhile benefit? Or am I already a freak of nature, and is raising it further pretty pointless?”

[Hmm. This information generally isn’t revealed until later, since it normally isn’t relevant yet, but I suppose it isn’t classified per se,] Suri chimes thoughtfully. [Very well, I’ll tell you. There is a qualitative change in your body when you reach 50% Tolerance of an energy type, which is necessary to unlock certain Skills.]

I sit up straight. A warm glow suffuses my being. I blink back tears of joy. My suffering may have actually been worth it.

“Suri, I love you.”

[Oh dear, I always hate it when that happens. Usually it takes longer too. I consider you a good friend, Emma, but no more than that.]

“I didn’t mean it like that!” I protest vehemently.

Ugh! I take it back, I hate you, Suri! But I’m still on the clock.

“Can you tell me what changes when I reach 50% Tolerance?”

[If your Tolerance reaches that level, the nature of your being changes. The energy previously only tolerated by your body becomes a part of it, meaning you start being able to manipulate it, though not as smoothly as your Lavi and Qi.]

“That’s awesome! Why is it that Lavi and Qi are easier to manipulate, though?”

[That’s because they are truly part of your being. You are alive, therefore your Lavi is One with you. You are Yin, therefore your Yin Qi is One with you.]

“And if I reach 50% Tolerance, Toxic Energy also becomes One with me,” I conclude.

[Only at 100% Tolerance will it truly be One with you. If you reach that point, you’ll be able to manipulate it as smoothly as your Lavi and Qi.]

That’s kinda freaky. But it also sounds super handy.

“Do you think I should go for it?” I ask excitedly. “Take a big gulp from my bottle of Moonshade Sap and try to reach 50% Tolerance so I can get those special Skills?”

[What? No, are you mad? You barely survived increasing your Tolerance from about 25 to 36% last time. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it gets exponentially harder to raise as your Tolerance increases; what makes you think you could survive raising it from 36 to 50% in a single go?]

Damn. There goes my master plan. I pull my knees up to my chest despondently.

[To be honest, even if you could reach it now, it wouldn’t be of much use yet. Most of the Skills you’d unlock have other Skills as prerequisites, or other requirements. The Skills you would unlock are support type Skills, which currently aren’t worth your Trial Points, as you are sorely lacking offensive Qi-based Skills.]

“I see. Then, should I save these for later, use them for the last push to reach 50% Tolerance in the future, or should I use them during my stay here for the extra Qi and Lavi?”

[Use them here. There will be other ways to raise your Toxic Energy Tolerance in the future. First you have to live that long.]

Makes sense. Well, I’m all out of prepared questions, so I think it’s about time I took a look at the additions to the Skilldream Shopping Window.

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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