• H.C. Mills

Chapter 52: Big Spender

Once I’m done ‘training’ Alec, we turn to the final topic Kaitlynn asked about: Trial Four. I had great hopes that her Personal Guide System, who was supposedly rather a chattermouth, might let slip a little too much, but no such luck.

“I confirmed we’ll be going in together, at least,” Kaitlynn says. “All he would say about the environment was that it’d be, ‘Hot and humid.’”

“Some kind of jungle perhaps then, still,” Dave muses. “At least we won’t have to acclimatise too much.”

I nod. We can use every advantage we get.

Now that we’ve covered all of the topics we prepared questions about, the discussion naturally turns to purchases.

There’re two main things we need to buy: Skilldreams and better equipment.

It seems like the 20 Trial Points we received from completing Hub Two are actually meant for the latter, as weapons and simple sets of armour alike cost 10 Trial Points apiece. Well, some weapons come in sets as well, but that’s beside the point.

We already have armour and weapons, but these are better.

Particularly the weapons. Even my favourite spear, made from a semi-straight branch and topped with a pointed, relatively sharp shard of stone, seems woefully inadequate in comparison with the—admittedly oddly hostile—description of the spear in the equipment shopping window.

Am I being paranoid here, or is Suri taking liberties with the description to mess with me?

On second thought, she definitely is.

Anyway, there were no spears of other materials listed yet, but I have a feeling there might be later on, when I reach their strength requirements. Unfortunately, my allotted time for questions was over by the point I was checking this out, so I’ll have to save it for later.

The armours are similarly impressive. There are full-body covering leather armours made from a single, uninterrupted hide, knotted together with strips of its own leather, and intricate stone armours, made from interlocking pieces. The latter boosts a much higher Toughness—60, compared to the leathers’ 40—but it comes with a strength requirement none of us can currently match.

All in all, we decide we’ll be purchasing weapons, but no new armour yet. Our current armour, while a bitch to put on and take off, shouldn’t be too inferior with its Toughness of 36.

The question is of course, what kind of extra options those 10 Trial Points per person open up.

Therefore, Dave takes out a piece of bark and a sharp piece of rock on a small stick, and starts asking us how many Trial Points we have and where we got them.

“Personally,” Dave says, “I came into Hub Two with 11 Trial Points to my name. I received 22 for, ehm, defeating Wesley, and with the 20 for completing Hub Two I now have 53 Trial Points.”

I smile wryly. He certainly ‘defeated’ the shit out of Wesley’s skull. God, I hate this place.

Kaitlynn pipes up, “I came in with 6 Trial points, so I now have 26.”

“I managed to save up 47 Trial Points before entering Hub 2,” Jacob sighs. “So I’m at 67 now.”

“I’ve got 74!” Alec exclaims proudly. “Came in with 44, nabbed 8 from John, 2 from Boris, and then received the last 20 here of course.”

He turns to me, smiling cockily. I smirk. “I’ve got more.”

His face freezes in confusion for a split second, and then falls. “Ah shiiit! I forgot about the 50 points you received for beating that damn challenge!”

I nod. “That, the 20 Points I came in with, combined with the Luke’s generous donation of 24 Trial points and the final 20, puts me at 114.”

Kaitlynn shakes her head, smiling at me. Jacob lets out a low whistle.

Dave clears his throat. “Let’s talk Skilldreams.”

Alec shuts his gaping mouth and perks up. “All right, so I’m definitely going for Lightning Manipulation; it’s a medium-grade attack type Skill using Electric Energy—obviously—and it just sounds way too badass!”

My eye twitches. “I hope that last part wasn’t your main criteria in picking this skill.”

Alec flinches. “Ehm, no? A-anyway, I was thinking of purchasing a hammer to go with that, ehm, just, seems like a good combo... for some reason.”

Right. And my fists are getting itchy again, for some reason.

I rub my temple with a sigh, take a deep breath, and let it go. If cosplaying Thor will inspire Alec to work harder, then it might not be the worst thing.

Anyway, purchasing those will set him back 60 TP, leaving him with 14 to save up.

Jacob speaks up next. “So, I was actually hoping to get the Skill Bruce got before Hub 2, but... it’s out of my price range.”

Right, Suri told me ‘Decrease Momentum’ is a high-grade skill costing 75 TP, just like Decrease Inertia.

“I haven’t figured out yet what I should take instead...” he mumbles glumly.

“Well, what would be your preferred fighting style,” Dave asks. “Front-line or ranged?”

“Definitely front-line,” Jacob says immediately. “I mean, I’m relatively strong and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. It seems to be more what this group still needs as well. That’s why, my second idea was getting Boost Physical, but...”

He glances at me and somehow I get what he means. “You don’t know Deep Breathing; you’re afraid of running out of Lavi during a battle. And your resting Lavi consumption went up when you levelled as well...”

He nods. “Exactly.”

Dave hums thoughtfully. “Well, for a front-line fighter, the Kinetic Energy type Skills do seem like the best option. Why don’t you just take the medium-grade Increase Momentum one instead?”

Jacob fidgets a little, his mouth twisting.

I manage to suppress my smirk. “There’s no need to feel inferior to Bruce, Jacob,” I tease him. “It’s not about the grade of the Skill you know; it’s how you use it.”

Kaitlynn snickers.

Red creeps up Jacob grey-tinted cheeks, and he rolls his eyes at me.

“Dude she’s right though,” Alec says, “and Increase Momentum sounds totally awesome! You’ll always be at the front-line in seconds; heck, you could turn yourself into a human battering ram!”

Jacob stops in his tracks, narrowing his eyes. “You know, I do believe I saw a shortsword and heavy shield combo pass by in the equipment shopping window.”

I purse my lips appreciatively. That’s... a scary strategy. I like it.

I guess Alec has his uses after all.

Jacob confirms his decision. He, too, will be spending 60 TP then, leaving him with 7.

I turn to Dave. “Your turn. So, I imagine you’re facing a bit of a dilemma. After all, you’re kind of our healer right now, and I get the feeling we might really need you to pick up the Restoration variant of that Radiate skill for the next Trial, except...”

Kaitlynn’s eyes widen. “Oh no, that would cost basically all of your Trial Points; you wouldn’t even have enough left to buy a weapon!”

Dave nods, frowning frustratedly.

I nod. “Exactly. Though to be honest, I wouldn’t be too keen on having you on the front lines in the first place.”

Dave shakes his head. “I was actually thinking of getting a bow. I didn’t pick the healer role randomly, you know? I was in an archery club in college, for several years.”

Of course you were, you perfect party-member you.

I purse my lips. “Well... that doesn’t really change what I was about to suggest actually. I’d like to purchase your weapon for you, so you can focus on getting Skilldreams.”

Dave opens his mouth, and closes it again.

“Well that’s an underwhelming response, aren’t you going to protest my generosity?” I half-joke.

Dave shakes his head. “It makes tactical sense. I’d do the same in your shoes.” He smiles wryly. “But still, thank you, of course. Looks like I’ll owe you another heavy favour, and I haven’t even repaid the power-up.”

I shrug. “I’m sure you’ll get plenty of chances, with your lovely new Restore skill. Speaking of which... I want to take a bit of a gamble. You see, there’s another skill I feel you could really use. Telepathy.”

Dave squints at me questioningly. “Okay...”

“I was thinking you could take half a Skilldream for the restoring variant of Radiate, for 25 Trial Points and see if you can gain it that way. That would leave you with enough Trial Points, to take a full Skilldream for Telepathy, as it only costs 25. With the social system disabled, telepathy might turn out crucial in our combat communication, and you’ll likely be in the best position to direct us, from the backlines. It’s also the only low-grade Lavi manipulation skill none of us has yet, and I’m hoping you’ll be able to teach us at some point.”

“Back up a bit there,” Jacob says, “I’m with you on the potential importance of the Telepathy skill, but... half a Skilldream?”

It turns out I’m the only one who knows about half Skilldreams. I guess Suri wasn’t the only one reticent about divulging this information.

I explain the advantages and risks associated to everyone’s rapt attention, and take some time to gently dissuade Alec from trying anything funny and wasting his Trial Points.

Cowering behind Kaitlynn, he promises to purchase a full Skilldream for Lightning Manipulation.

Dave isn’t entirely convinced yet. “Should I really be taking such a risk with a skill this important?”

“I think you should,” I say firmly. “Here’s my reasoning: you already know the Radiate Skill, and have quite some experience using it; all this Skilldream has to accomplish is to get you used to creating this new purpose. And, you have a unique advantage in learning this Skill here.” I point at the unassuming pink Crystal of Restoration in the ceiling. “You have a reference.”

Dave looks up, and back at me. “That’s solid reasoning. I think I’ll be going with your suggestion.”

Sweet. If he succeeds, that is...

I turn to Kaitlynn, who smiles self-deprecatingly. Right, she has the lowest amount of Trial Points available out of all of us, only 26.

“Due to my limited funds, my choice is pretty easy,” Kaitlynn says with a shrug. “I’ll only be taking a weapon, and save the rest. I was thinking of the set of 10 long throwing knives; they can be either wielded or thrown, pretty versatile.”

Right, those would fit her role on the battlefield of medium-range DPSer—ehm, I mean, attacker.

However... “Actually, I’d like to extend the same offer to you.”

She perks up. “You mean...”

I nod. “I’ll purchase your weapon for you, so you can get a Skilldream. For example, half a Skilldream for the second level of Astreum Manipulation, if you think you can hack it by yourself.”

She deflates a little. “I... I’m not sure if I can. I haven’t been able to practice it that much, as it used to drain all of my Qi in a single shot.”

“In that case,” Dave says, “I have a suggestion. We’re kind of lacking in sensory skills so far. If we’re heading into a jungle type of environment, we might need to deal with camouflaged enemies. I think the Heat Vision skill would be a very sensible addition to Kaitlynn’s skillset, as it also uses the same energy type as Astreum Manipulation.”

“...Or that,” I say. “Let’s go with that.”

Kaitlynn tilts her head to the side cutely. “Will you still have enough Trial Points for your own purchases after all that?”

“Well,” I say, “three weapons—that’s including a proper spear for me—will put me back 30 TP, leaving me with 84. I actually only plan to spend 50 of that, currently, and save the rest to make a bigger purchase later, so... yeah, I’d say it’s plenty.”

“What are you intending to buy then?” Dave asks.

“Half a Skilldream for Boost Physical level 2—that’s 25 Trial Points—and the basic Infuse for another 25. If I get two Qi based skills right now I would permanently be lacking the Qi to properly train them, and all of my other skills I’d rather practice on my own than spend precious Trial Points on.”

Dave tilts his head. “Well, I agree about the two Qi skills being a waste, and it makes sense for you to wish to pursue Toxic Energy based skills, but are you sure you wouldn’t rather get something like Increase Inertia or Boreum Manipulation? I mean, how are you going to use Infuse in combat?”

I smile. “Well with Boost Physical level 2 and my spear I should be able to come a long way regardless, but I’m actually pretty confident I can work something out with Infuse. In fact, I already have some ideas...”

Author's note:

As you may have noticed, I've made some slight changes to my site, in response to feedback from a most helpful reader.

The first and most obvious change is probably that the buttons over and under the chapter now start in the grayed out disabled state. The other changes are mostly for faster navigation/load times on the mobile version of the site, which include the reintroduction of the Archives button, the fixing of the archive code, and the removal of the commenting box. That last one, I did under the assumption that the commenting system doesn't ever work on a mobile phone, for some reason. If there's anyone who's experienced differently, please let me know!

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