What is the difference between a hallucination and a delusion? Since this perverted peeping podium (ha, alliteration) took my clothes, I couldn’t exactly look it up. Still, I could only imagine that being able to feel my hand on the oddly warm, black marble-like podium, as well as the cool, white marble-like floor beneath my bare feet was not a good sign of my mental health.
It didn’t help that I was staring at a floating box that was labeling itself as the “Incarnator Menu,” after having a friggin’ podium judge my entire life. It also didn’t help that the longer I was here, the more I was starting to worry that this actually was the afterlife.
It just felt so real.
But I don’t want to think about that now, so I guess I will take a look at this menu.
Points Balance: 273 points
Strength: 0 (+)
Endurance: 0 (+)
Vitality: 0 (+)
Agility: 0 (+)
Dexterity: 0 (+)
Perception: 0 (+)
Acuity: 0 (+)
Willpower: 0 (+)
Charisma: 0 (+)
Magic: 0 (+)
Luck: 0 (+)
[Arts] [Communications] [Defense] [General] [Intelligence]
[Magic] [Relationships] [Vitals]
[Life Records] [Ability List] [Achievement List]”
“Well,” I let my breath out, noting that I can feel the air in my lungs and throat but that the room seemed to be sealed entirely. “I can guess what the stats mean, but I would rather not. A little help, Podi?”
Another screen appeared after I asked, which made me feel a little better about having just given a podium - of all things - a name. If it worked, it worked right? I took a look at the floating box, muttering under my breath as I read it; the silence in this room was getting to me.
“Strength means amount of physical strength, isn’t that a tautology? I don’t mind though, it was obvious enough to merit it. Endurance, affects how long you can perform physical actions or resist the environment. Again, pretty obvious I suppose. Seems like it would overlap with Vitals though, as that improved health and lifespan…”
Agility improved speed and reaction time, Dexterity improved fine motor control - which seemed like it wasn’t really important compared to the others - Perception improved your senses, Acuity improved how fast you thought, and Willpower improved, well, willpower. The next three stats were a bit more complex than the ones before.
“Charisma affects interpersonal relations and physical beauty, how would that even work? Beauty is subjective, so how would someone become objectively more beautiful?” I wondered aloud, rather hoping that Podi would give me an answer of some kind. No such luck though, so I just shrugged and moved on.
“Magic improves your affinity with magic of all kinds, as well as your mana pool and mana regeneration rate. Sounds like that would be great, if magic existed. I am still waiting on my Hogwarts letter Podi, and every year that passed I lost a little more hope. If you can get me a wand, an owl, and a way into Ravenclaw, I might even forgive you for the peeping. Maybe.”
The final stat, Luck, supposedly improved “the myriad paths of Destiny,” whatever the fuck that meant. After that, there was a brief note that stats purchased in the Incarnator Menu are added to your total stats at birth and that the average human had a score of one hundred in each category. Although that could apparently vary wildly depending on genetics and other factors.
The last line told me that I could purchase one stat point for ten Incarnator Points.
“Alright, thanks for the information,” I said, and the help screen disappeared, making me slightly more suspicious that Podi was actually intelligent and listening to me. Of course, I immediately dismissed that thought because I don’t want to think this could be real. “Let me take a look at that ability menu then. I might as well go through it as it is listed and start with Arts.”
There were not many options, but considering I didn’t remember seeing many ‘additional options unlocked’ for Arts, I had not really expected all that many either. It was a quick read.
“[Arts] Abilities Tab:
[Rhymer]: This ability makes it far easier to find rhymes in any language! (25 points)
[Relaxing Read]: When reading a book for entertainment, your stress falls away. (25 points)
[Fanciful Speech]: When attempting to speak artfully, you will find it much easier to do! (30 points)
[Stories are Life]: When reading a book for entertainment you require 25% less food and water, as well as become tired 25% slower! *Warning! This ability can only be used for entertainment purposes. Reading an entertainment book for the purpose of reducing consumption or sleep will result in this skill failing to activate!* (100 points)
[Heroic Reading]: Reading an inspiring story improves one stat by up to 10% and for as much as five days. The amount of stat growth and the duration of the buff depend on the quality and length of the story. (250 points)
[Never Stop Reading]: Vastly improves your ability to multitask while reading. Allows you to have multiple parallel thoughts, so long as one of those is devoted to reading an entertainment related book. (500 points)
[Arts Librarian 1]: Allows you to create a copy of any entertainment or arts book you can see. Costs mana to use; mana cost is dependent on distance, book length, and material. (500 points)”
A few of those sounded interesting, but they also seemed really limited. The most interesting ones were worth more than the entire value of my life apparently. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. On one hand, I would have said that human life was priceless. On the other hand, I might have considered performing human sacrifice for the ability to read and navigate my life at the same time.
Not anyone who is good, of course, but I wouldn’t have minded tossing the mugger upon Podi to use as an altar. It obviously doesn’t work like that though. Aw well, next tab.
“[Communications] Abilities Tab:
[First Kiss]: Your first kiss in each life is improved. (10 points)
[Better First Impression]: If you were going to give a good first impression upon meeting someone for the first time, your impression will be even better than before! (25 points)
[Name To A Face]: If you know a person’s name, you are able to recall their name if you look at their face. (50 points)
[Chastity Is A Virtue]: You gain the ability to consciously control your level of arousal. (50 points)
[First Words]: When you are born into a world, you learn to understand your first language in that world much faster! (50 points)
[Second Words]: When learning a new language past your first, you learn the language more quickly! (100 points)
[Sexual Prowess: Oral]: Improves your ability to perform oral sex. (100 points)
[Bureaucracy Navigation]: When interacting with government bureaucracy, your words and submissions will often be given a higher priority than normal! (200 points)”
“So, what, like I’d get my tax return back faster?” I raised an eyebrow skeptically, and then had an unpleasant thought. “Or if I called the police, would they prioritze my call over people who might actually have more important issues? That seems dangerous, although considering I called the police because I was shot to death…”
I also tried to avoid wondering what the [First Words] option meant by, “born into a new world.” I would really prefer this to be a hallucination or delusion Podi, and I completely ignored the romance parts. Shouldn’t they be in the Relationship tab anyway?
“[Technology Intuition]: You have an instinctive understanding of how to operate simple to moderately complex technology. (250 points)”
“And what does that even mean?” I complain out loud, “what counts as ‘simple’ or ‘moderate’ technology? Are we talking a lever, a car, a phone, or a friggin’ space shuttle!?”
Next up is the Defense tab, which is thankfully short.
“[Defense] Abilities Tab:
[Dangersense]: Have a chance to instinctively know if you are in danger or if an action will cause you to be in danger. This chance is greatly affected by your Perception, Acuity, and Luck. (500 points)”
Only one option, and an expensive one at that. It looks like it would be useful - for someone else. Admittedly, it would have helped a little bit ago, however overall my life has been danger free. I would like to keep it that way too.
“Let’s open the General tab then, although I don’t remember unlocking it. I suppose I didn’t have to?”
“[General] Abilities Tab:
[Incarnator Construction]: When in the Incarnation Chamber, you gain the ability to manipulate the space and create any kind of structure you can imagine. (1000 points)
[Incarnator Furniture]: When in the Incarnation Chamber, you gain the ability to create any furniture you can imagine. (1000 points)
[Incarnator Clothes]: When in the Incarnation Chamber, you gain the ability to create any clothes you can imagine. (1000 points)”
So my life isn’t even worth a set of clothes. If this is a hallucination or delusion of some kind, I am going to go find a psychiatrist when I wake up, because I must obviously have some serious issues. The other abilities seemed nice too; having a chair to sit on instead of having to stand here with my hand on the podium would be good. So would having something other than an empty white room to look at.
Anyway, time to bite the bullet - I guess I have to be careful about saying that anymore - and read through the Intelligence tab. This is going to be a long one…
“[Intelligence] Abilities Tab:
[Steady Writing]: Your writing is always legible. (10 points)
[Steady Reading]: You find it much easier to read otherwise illegible writing. (10 points)
[Wealth Counter]: In a world with a system, your menu has an extra option displaying how much money you have on you. This skill is not effective in worlds without a system. (10 points)
[Minor Analysis: Life]: When using an ‘analyze’ type skill on a living target, you gain extra information. This skills effectiveness increases with Perception and Acuity. (25 points)
[Minor Analysis: Chemical]: When using an ‘analyze’ type skill on a physical target, you gain extra information about its chemical composition. This skills effectiveness increases with Perception and Acuity. (25 points)
[Fast Thought: Simple Math]: When performing simple math, your Acuity is doubled! (25 points)
[Speak Easy]: When speaking a language, you always instinctively know correct grammar and pronunciation. (25 points)
[Read Easy]: When reading language with unclear grammar, you instinctively know what the author meant. (25 points)
[Healthy Thoughts]: Basic health practices are more effective. (25 points)
[Safe Library: Minor]: Any book you own is 10% harder to damage! (25 points)
[Knowledge Is Life]: When reading a book for an educational purpose, you require 25% less food and water, as well as become tired 25% slower! *Warning! This ability can only be used for educational purposes. Reading an educational book for the purpose of reducing consumption or sleep will result in this skill failing to activate!* (100 points)
[Fast Thought: Algebra]: When performing algebra, your Acuity is doubled! (100 points)
[Money Is Life]: When working on finances, you require up to 10% less food and water, as well as become tired 10% slower! This effectiveness of this skill is dependent on the complexity of the finances involved, as well as your Vitality and Acuity stats. *Warning! This ability can only be used when working with finances. Performing financial work for the purpose of reducing consumption or sleep will result in this skill failing to activate!* (100 points)
[Fast Thought: Geometry]: When performing geometry, your Acuity is doubled! (200 points)
[Practical Physics]: You gain a minor bonus to all actions. Bonuses decrease as the complexity and danger of the action increases, but increase with your Perception and Acuity. (200 points)
[Fast Thought: Reading]: When reading, your Acuity is doubled! (200 points)
[Fast Thought: Trigonometry]: When performing trigonometry, your Acuity is doubled! (200 points)
[One Language To Another]: When you are trying to learn a new language, it is much easier to learn if it is related to a language you already know. (250 points)
[Fast Thought: Calculus]: When performing calculus, your Acuity is doubled! (300 points)
[Road To Self Improvement]: Reading a new book has a chance to randomly increase a stat by one! *Warning! Point totals reset on death and do not carry over to new lives!* (500 points)
[Fast Thought: Finances]: When performing work on finances, your Acuity is increased up to double. Bonus is dependent on your understanding of the finances, as well as your Luck stat. (500 points)
[Fast Thought: Physics]: When performing work in physics, your Acuity is increased up to double. Bonus is dependent on your understanding of the physics involved. (500 points)
[Great Luck: Wealth]: After you are born you gain a bonus to your Luck that is applied when you are dealing with money. This bonus can be up to double your Luck. (750 points)
[Perfect Memory: Math]: You are able to remember all mathematical knowledge you have ever learned. (1000 points)
[Fast Thought: Governance]: When performing work in government, your Acuity is increased up to double. Bonus is dependent on your understanding of all involved factors and the complexity of those factors. (2500 points)
[Money For Blood]: You gain the ability to spend your money to recover your Health. The amount of Health you regain is dependent on the value of the currency spent. Currency spent in this manner is destroyed. (2500 points)”
“Wow Podi, that is a long list of things I can’t afford,” I comment and let out a low whistle. “I’ll admit that ‘Fast Thought: Governance’ doesn’t make me mad about how little my life is worth at least. Knowing that it would cost my life three times over to not mix up sine and cosine is kind of depressing.”
I sigh, and then tell Podi just to hit me with all the rest of the lists at once. I want to get this done, whatever it is. However, I perked up when I saw the next list to open, and then immediately became disappointed. If there isn’t any magic, why would mana regeneration matter anyway?
“[Magic] Abilities Tab:
[Mana Sink]: Your mana regeneration is massively increased! This skills effectiveness is dependent on your Vitality, Acuity, Willpower, Magic, and Luck stats, as well as your current Health and on the amount of mana in the environment and the percent of your total mana you have. The more mana in the environment, and the less mana you currently have, the greater this skills effect. (5000 points)
[Relationships] Abilities Tab:
[Gratitude in Death]: This skill massively and permanently increases the stats of a loved one who attempted to save your life if you die regardless. Stat improvement is dependent on your relationship, Charisma, and Luck stats. This skill also allows you to send a short message to the target of this skill from the Incarnator Menu after death. (100,000 points)
[Vitals] Abilities Tab:
[Improved Training]: The lower your physical stats are, the easier they are for you to raise! (100 points)”
I closed the Relationships tab quickly. I didn’t want to look at it. If this is some kind of fantasy brought about by my injured mind, then there is no reason for me to worry by reading it. If this is - God forbid - real, then the cost of being able to send a message back isn’t something I want to look at.
“So I can’t get clothes, I can’t afford most abilities, and the abilities I can purchase aren’t very interesting,” I sigh. “I’m not very impressed Podi. A small part of me almost hopes this isn’t all a dream, because I would hope my brain could do better than this!”
Honestly, the longer I was here, the more nervous I was feeling. I was shifting my weight from foot to foot, agitation running through me just under the surface. I had been hoping that I would just wake up part way through some of this, and I obviously hadn’t.
“So, how do I get out of here anyway?” I ask and a new screen appears.
“[Would you like to ReIncarnate? You will be unable to spend Incarnator Points while in a World.] [Yes]/[No]”
I hesitate, despite how uncomfortable I am starting to feel, I had a worse feeling about that option. I didn’t want to make it yet, so I chose no and went back to looking at my options. Should I just treat this like the novels my boyfriend likes? Well, I like them to, but it is easier just to pin the blame on him and it is funny to see his face when I do…
“Ok Podi, give me [First Words], [Better First Impression], and then split the rest of the points evenly between Vitality, Acuity, and Charisma- there is an extra point left over right? Add that one to Charisma.”
There wasn’t any fanfare, my Incarnator Points just dropped to eight, and my Vitality and Acuity went up to six, while my Charisma went up to seven. I hadn’t managed to put my choice off for long.
This isn’t real. My thoughts were blurring worse than they were when I was shot. This isn’t real. This isn’t real. It isn’t real!”
“Podi? Reincarnate me now.”
“[Beginning ReIncarnation. You currently are only allowed to ReIncarnate into worlds with a ‘system.’ World found. May your life be glorious, Incarnator.]”
The world went black. For a moment, for an eternity, I felt nothing. Then I felt warmth, pressure and suddenly there was bright light that blinded me and I was pulled into a woman’s hands. I tried to blink and rub my eyes, but my body would barely respond. I heard a voice, a worried woman.
My eyes clear enough that I can see the woman, and clear enough that I can look down on myself. The worried voices continue, but I can’t understand the language.
I am a baby, a newborn.
Oh God, this is real!
Grief overwhelms me and I can’t help but scream as I begin to cry. The midwife smiles and the worried voices are filled with relief as I am handed to a new woman who is laying in a bed. After all, a silent baby is a terrible sign, and the wailing they hear is a sign of healthy lungs.
My new mother rocks me in her arms as I cry. She doesn’t know I am grieving being unable to say goodbye to another mother. And a father. And an uncle. And a boy who loved me enough to risk his life for mine.
My new body is exhausted, my eyes - blurry with tears - are heavy. My new mother is singing a soft lullaby in an unknown language and rocking me slowly. I don’t want to be awake, I let sleep take me.
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