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

The room’s a lot narrower than the preparation rooms I’m used to, probably because they had to fit five of them in parallel. It does still come with its own sanitary facilities, which is nice.

 

I carefully lower myself down on 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 maybe there is more to Toughness than I thought.

 

I can’t get side-tracked, 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, 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 two Strength, two Toughness and two Agility, and an increase in the maximum amount of Lavi and Qi the body can contain.

 

But... “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 thing—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 teasingly.

 

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, ok, 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 up with that much Toxic Energy in their system before. Nor has any other human developed Charm—an already very 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 was 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. “How strong of an effect would you say this has on my friends?”

 

[Right now? Pretty much none.]

 

I blink. Oh. Well that’s good then.

 

[First of all, Charm is counteracted by Mental Fortitude,] Suri explains, [so a Charm of three 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, what was all the secrecy about? I mean, it sounds like I can safely tell them about it without them feeling too weird about me.”

 

[Tell them about it? Whyever would you do that?] Suri chimes flabbergasted.

 

...

 

“What do you mean why?” I ask bemusedly. “Did you miss that whole discussion earlier? Keeping secrets hurts trust and feelings. 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.”

 

[Oh geeze, you humans and your feelings,] Suri gripes. [Honestly, you gain a power you can develop into an ability to manipulate people, and you want to go tell them about it!]

 

“I don’t need to manipulate them, Suri, they’re my friends!” I shoot back.

 

[Really? You trust them with your life? All of them?]

 

An image of Jacob, an unknown factor, flashes into my mind unbidden. I swallow.

 

[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.

 

[Telling your friends about it would alert them to your potential use of it on them,] she says sternly. [Charm works much better on unwitting subjects. 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 more useful 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 like?”

 

[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, hmm? 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 wanting to tell 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.]

 

A record... that reminds me. This wasn’t on my list of questions, but I should be good for time. “Speaking of records, why did the reward I got for breaking the temple’s speed record feel so much more official than the one I got for ‘shattering’ the record of most Toxic Energy Tolerance after Trial one? I mean, I didn’t even get a notification for that one, and the reward also felt rather... improvised.”

 

[Ah, you noticed. Yes, well, the amount of Toxic Energy Tolerance after Trial 1 actually used to be an official record, with a similar reward to the temple run speed record—50 Trial Points and a low-grade Strength power-up—but that practice was halted a while before you broke the record.]

 

“What the hell, why?!”

 

[The reward was considered a waste of resources; the record grew so high that participants that actually broke it, were generally too weakened by the Toxic Energy to make it through the second trial, even with the power-up. You really crawled through the eye of the needle there, Emma.]

 

“...Any chance I can get the reward retroactively, now that I’ve survived?”

 

[No can do. I requested the chance to instruct you on how to make it through the second trial as a replacement reward, remember?]

 

Rats. All right, no time to waste on pointless questions.

 

“So, concerning Meditation Level 3, am I on the right track?”

 

[Well, yes and no. Directly manipulating the flow of Lavi is a good way to experiment with shutting off your senses, but in the end you have to get a feeling for it, and reach the right state of mind. 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 of 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 practicing this later.

 

Now for the big one. I pull out the Stardrop, Minor Lavi Crystal and Small Yin 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?”

 

[Well... this information generally isn’t revealed until later, since it normally isn’t relevant yet, but 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 hate you Suri! But I’m still on the clock.

 

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

 

[If you reach that point, the nature of your being changes. The energy previously only tolerated by your body starts integrating with it, meaning you start being able to manipulate a little. Only at 100% tolerance will you be able to manipulate it as smoothly as your Lavi and Qi.]

 

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

 

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

 

“... So if I reach 50% Tolerance, Toxic Energy also becomes a part of me?”

 

[In a sense.]

 

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 possibly 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 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; you first have to live that long.]

 

Makes sense. Well, I’m all out of prepared questions, so I think it’s about time.

 

Time to take a look at the additions to the Skilldream Shopping Window.

 

 

Author's note: 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills