“Haah…” Enkhjargal sighs to herself, grinning ear to ear after the sweat she broke in her latest fencing session with you, sipping from a water bottle emblazoned with the logo of the Moonlight Fencing Club. “Just when I think I’m starting to get the hang of things with you, you just get better and better…maybe you really are psychic after all, Cibele!”
You blush, still not used to the compliments. “I mean, I’m not, but…”
But you might still be cheating a little.
Your Dexterity has increased by 1!
(…well, okay, you are psychic. Just not in the way she thinks!)
You’ve been able to spend some time with Enks more properly tonight. She’s…a surprisingly humble and down to earth person for someone of her skill, you think, and she continues to think very highly of you. Being called a ‘genius’ or a ‘psychic’ by a real genius takes a lot to get used to!
You’re still not quite sure how to deal with her touchy-feeliness, though…even like this she’s leaning against you. She’ll shake your hand, hug you, even get her cheek close to yours sometimes – although that one she doesn’t seem to intend. It’s too much, bad thoughts!
“Halt!” you hear from the other end of the room with the younger students. Even from this distance, you instantly know what it is that’s happening; you can just imagine the look on Calvina’s face, having seen it more times than you can count. “Your stance is too wide. Any opponent paying any attention at all can exploit that. If you keep this up, you’ll never be ready for competition!”
“I know, I know!” the poor student says, panting from the effort trying to keep up with Calvina. “But, I’m trying my best…”
“Then try better than your best,” Calvina says firmly. It’s not quite crossing the line or anything, but…she’s still a very strict teacher, especially to the younger students.
“Sigh…Calvina’s still the same, isn’t she?” says Enks, fanning herself with her hand and shaking her head.
“She’s been like this as long as I’ve known her. It took me ages for her to really respect me, you know?” And even then…maybe she doesn’t as much as you’d hope, if her thoughts are any indication.
“Calvina believes in pushing herself past her limits in everything. And I’ve always loved that about her, you know? It’s where she imposes it on others that I feel she could do better.”
“I mean…it worked for me.” You shrug – you know that the students here expect to be pushed. You definitely did. “And there’s no one I respect more than her, really, when it comes to her skill and dedication. Present company excepted, I mean!”
“You say that, but…” Enks downs some more water, furrowing her brow as she looks at Calvina correcting the student’s stance. “I’ve always believed it’s better to let students learn at their own pace, in the ways they see best. Rigid learning has its own problems, too. I get that sword sports are different than other martial arts, but…what’s that quote? About the highest technique?”
“Oh! ‘To have no technique’,” you say, very familiar. “But it’s different when it’s a competition with such rigid rules, right? At the very least, you need to know what other people are going to do…that quote doesn’t make as much sense in this context.”
“I guess you do have a point,” says Enks. “Even so, Calvina can’t expect everyone to see things in the same way she does. I’ve always considered the highest order of my training to be passion – to truly enjoy what I do! Ever since I started training, that’s been my goal.”
…yeah, you don’t need to read any minds to figure out why there’s tension between these two. Or what it is that might make Calvina a bit reluctant. Calvina’s desire for dedication and discipline is admirable, to you at least…but Enks doesn’t do things her way. And yet, in their respective fields, Enks is far and away superior…
You really can see why Calvina wouldn’t want to teach her personally. Calvina’s worked so hard, but to fall short, against someone who dislikes her teaching style? Even Calvina is human, right? (Little as you’ve seen that side of her.)
“What about you?” Enks asks, turning and smiling to you. “What do you think is most important in your training? Dedication, or passion?”
…that is a good question.
It’s not like you’re a very diligent or dedicated person – you know that. Your school performance proves it. You can’t even say you excel at your hobbies; you’re not great at video games, certainly not enough to be a pro. Fencing is the thing you’ve kept up the most and the longest. And you’re still not great at it, not really. But, even so…
it’s something you love, right?
Being able to show Calvina you’re improving, knowing she’s proud of you, knowing that you’re doing something right…if you can make her smile, even a little bit, then all the work you’ve put in is worth it. Your senpai is more than just a shallow crush, right?
And you think, somehow, with your new insights you can grasp that it’s that way for Calvina, too. And the other students. If you could make her smile…
“I think you’re looking at this the wrong way, Enks,” you say. “I think the most important part of training is love!“
Enks blinks, looking right into your eyes. “…love?”
“Yes, love! You have to genuinely love what you’re doing to truly excel at it, right? From love stems both passion and dedication, discipline and enthusiasm.” The words come so much more easily now, thanks to your new abilities; you’re capable of grasping more. “And from there, you balance that love against your responsibility. Both you and Calvina love what you do, even if you show it in different ways. That’s why you’re both so good at it! Without that love, you’d never have come as far as you do.”
“I see…maybe I was thinking about this all wrong, then.” Enks closes her eyes, and nods in thought. “You’ve given me a lot to think about, Cibele, thank you.”
You hope so, at least! If you could mend Calvina and Enks’ friendship, or relationship, or whatever it is, you think you’d be really happy.
“…I see the two of you are enjoying each other’s company.”
The rest of the students are shuffling off to put their gear back in storage, while Calvina looks at the two of you on the bench, letting down her hair in a single motion. Just as cool as ever…god, she’s pretty. She’s the spitting image of a knight…and if Calvina is a knight, perhaps Enks is a ronin of sorts? The dedicated knight who serves her liege, and the wandering freespirited ronin…what a romance that would be –
wait, no, don’t write fanfic of your friends, Cibby!
“I’m glad you’ve recovered nicely from your accident, Cibele.” Calvina smiles warmly at you, and you feel so happy to be acknowledged. “You’re in top form. Hell, if I didn’t know any better I’d say the accident did you more good than harm.”
You laugh, and shrug it off. Even Calvina can tell…that’s neat, but maybe kind of dangerous. And if Calvina wants to get closer to you, then…
No, bad thoughts! Let it happen naturally, if there’s anything! (Even if it might be nice to see Calvina – no, bad thoughts!)
“My compliments to her teacher,” Enks says, and Calvina sort of…looks aside, avoiding her friend’s gaze.
“…thanks,” she mutters, doing her best to sound sincere.
“But, I was thinking. It’s been a while since you and I hung out properly, Calvina. I was thinking maybe the three of us should get lunch this weekend? I’ll give you my mobile, Cibele.”
“Oh, I’d love to!” you say. Spending more time with knightly cuties? Awesome!
…wait, those two are awkward, maybe this isn’t the best idea…
Regardless, Calvina agrees, albeit reluctantly. You did just say you wanted to mend their friendship; this could be the perfect opportunity! “Very well. It’s been a while since I met Cibele outside class too; I think I can afford some extra calories from pizza this week.”
“That’s great! I can’t wait,” Enks says, and she immediately hugs your side.
“H-hey!” T-too cute, too much! More of this touchy-feeliness?!
“…right. About that. Enkhjargal won’t be here next week, so you can just attend your usual class,” Calvina says. “We can confirm the weekend timing by mobile.”
“I’ve got a competition, so I’ll be at the Murakumo Kendo Club all week training,” Enks explains. “So I’ll see you on the weekend!”
“Sure thing!” you confirm, flashing a peace sign. Well, that’s okay. It gives you more time to stake out other grinding opportunities if you have a break from training Enks. “I need to use Saturday to finish up my homework, so I’ll see you two Sunday~”
(Yeah, a lunch date will all work out fine, and you can help them reconcile…)
It’s…kind of amazing how your enhanced Dexterity feels.
You know intellectually that your mental skills have increased, but it’s something you can’t quite grasp because you’re inside your own head all the time. The only way you can really tell is by external reactions, especially Milia and Stella’s. The big impact internally comes from your skills, which are unlocked as they increase.
But with Dexterity…
You’ve been practicing a bit as you travel from the Capital University to the train station, as brutalist concrete gives way to modern steel and glass. Balancing on sidewalks and railings, delicately leaping to and fro…
Bit by bit you get more confident, starting to go into proper freerunning. It’s something you’ve dabbled with over the years, parkour, but you’ve never quite got the hang of it. But now, you’re doing moves you’ve seen only in video pretty much like nothing!
You’re getting quite a few looks, but…you don’t mind. It’s nice to be noticed. To be the brilliant Cibele you’ve always wanted to be.
When you really overextend, you do stumble, but you’re able to recover with the grace of a cat. You think you even see people filming you!
…maybe it’s a good idea to keep track of whether you show up on viral videos? You’re sure whatever’s going to happen, other people are going to develop powers of their own – if nothing else, that’s the only reason you can think of for future-past-you to need to fudge the timeline up in the first place. If you can keep track of ‘amazing’ feats like yours…
Showing off is a bit of a risk. But not a huge one at this stage. Just…something to remember, that you might not want to do anything blatantly impossible once you develop such a capability.
Regardless, right now, you just feel too good to care. Sometimes it’s good to just enjoy life, you know?
Once you’re on the train, though, you open up your skill trees again. You’ve got a point to use, right?
Telepathy Skill Points: 1
Being forced to spend it in Telepathy is a bit of a blessing – none of the three available skills to you, in the branches, are Bad Thoughts enough to worry about at the moment. In fact, there’s really no need to agonize over it. The opening skills for the Clairvoyance and Override branches, Danger Sense and Reality Yank, are pretty weak. The former’s a ‘spider sense’ sort of deal, which isn’t useful when you’re not expecting to be in danger; the latter is telekinesis, which is awesome, but also really weak. You can’t even use it while being observed, what a ripoff! How are you supposed to win the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge now?!
Thought Delver, on the other hand?
Mentalism T1: Thought Delver. An evolution of Thought Skimmer. You may start to dive into thoughts more deeply, to get the sense of a person’s wishes and desires. The more time you spend with a person, the better you know a person, and the more the person trusts you, the easier it is to Delve and the longer you can Delve before having to stop.
Spending too much time reading a mind may cause them to detect it; they won’t understand what happened, but they’ll know something is wrong and will reflexively put up mental defenses until they feel safe. Repeated failures may connect this odd feeling with you. However, you always know when you reach this limit, and may always disconnect before you reach it.
Warning: extended Delving, Delving into certain minds, or Delving into intense emotions may have unforeseen side effects. (Experience, trust, and increased Adaptability will decrease the chance and severity thereof.)
Requires Thought Skimmer.
Your Thought Skimmer, your telepathy, has been super useful! And amazing, and wonderful, and maybe a tiny bit unethical but not much compared to the rest! But you feel like there’s so much you still don’t understand, as if the surface thoughts you can reach right now are only a fraction of what you need to truly understand someone else. Especially Korri…
It’s a terrifying power. Understanding a person so completely isn’t something to take lightly, and the fact that there’s a warning attached does worry you a bit. But, you’re the one who was going on about Newtypes and contolism and such the other day, so maybe, just maybe…
It’s time to touch the demon inside you once again.
You push the golden tile, an icon of an eye within the silhouette of a human head, and it lights up white alongside the gold. Dreams of red, gold, and green once again…the power that future-past-you created burrowing deep within you, beyond the reach of darkness. Your mind pulses, for a moment, and you feel a heat and a glow from yourself as you take this ownerless power as your own.
There’s something so pleasurable about it. It’s such a stronger sensation than before…!
You can feel something rapturous inside you, writhing within your mind, your soul…as if this power was always meant for you. I-it really is a dangerous feeling! You really don’t think you’re the best person to hold this kind of power – let alone the future-past-you that seemingly had so little regard for how she used it – but it feels good to hold it within your hands…
Ah. That’s right. Future-past-you has more to say!
You’ve gotten so much use out of Thought Skimmer by now, haven’t you? Just like me. This is the natural extension of that! It’s no replacement for Cold Reading – the two skills have very different aims. You’ll get used to the differences in time, past-future-me!
For the moment…have you met Milia de L’Impératrice yet? The Empress of Verwest~ She holds some very interesting secrets in her mind, that you should use this skill to discover when you get the chance!
Cold Reading…that’s your T1 Psychology skill. You’re briefly confused by the statement, before you realize that even the innermost thoughts of a person may be an imperfect picture. So Cold Reading is a good pick for later, then – good to know! Future-past-you is being kinda useful –
Wait, wait wait. She mentioned Milia? By name?
Alright, you’ve got enhanced brain power in all three stats now. Consider – why might Milia de L’Impératrice be involved?
First thought: a connection to the Sunset Corporation. This is the logical explanation, as the possibility the Sunset Corporation was involved in this power, or the event of the old world that necessitated resetting this twisted game, is rather high given their importance in the city’s economy and scientific development. Milia’s family are shareholders, after all…
but the problem with that is, there’s quite a lot of de L’Impératrices around. Milia is just one of them, and she hasn’t even graduated sixth form yet. The likelihood of her knowing some kind of dark secret about the company is extremely low. Unless they experimented on her directly, which while something you can’t rule out is still not something you have any evidence of right now.
The first thought that comes to mind is purely emotional – in your ‘ghost’, as the Lost Girls of the Electric City might say. The feeling that tugged at you when you saw Rita Sternbach – a magnetism. A similar, if less intense feeling comes to mind when you think of Irma Suikkari; of all the people in the city of Southern Sun, you so easily found them. And then…
It’s a simple question, really. What made you turn left instead of right?
The decision made sense to you at the time, but you’re far more attracted to the mysterious Li Xiao-Yin than Milia. Milia’s got the curves, true, but Xiao-Yin has plenty of charisma of her own. Marq even encouraged you to chase her earlier!
One thing that isn’t mysterious is a devoted club the equal of Milia’s entourage. The loyalty of the Literature Club would’ve taught you as much as, if not more than, the Debate Club…so why turn left?
Simple: you felt, somehow, meeting Milia was more important than meeting Xiao-Yin, and you chose to put what little courage you had toward her.
There’s forty million people in the city, and countless even just in the districts you visit regularly…are you being drawn to people you knew in your past? If you had future-past-you mentioning Rita or Irma, or even Enks, it’d be a lot spookier…so for now it’s another ‘in your ghost’ thing. Better to try not to rely on magical thinking, but…
One thing you can’t deny now is, future-past-you had a run-in with the Empress of her own. Her comments imply she created the Gamer System somehow, so on that assumption, she might’ve had a different power originally? It’s a bit specious, but if you make that assumption, the run-in is unlikely to have been something she chose.
(It’s simply not possible that you entered a relationship with Milia of your own free will, naturally. No matter how attractive she might be, her personality…you’d have to do a lot of altering! You wouldn’t put it past future-past-you, but still!)
(Even if she’s a little hot, maybe…)
Thus, your third thought returns to the connection you share – Yi Seul-ki.
Could it be that you were in a relationship of some kind with her? Or that something inside Milia’s mind might help you understand Seul-ki better, and get you that relationship? It might be a bit unethical, sure, but compared to what else you did, teacher-student is a bit of a drop in the bucket. You’re starting to wonder, if it’s so bad…
W-wait, you just told yourself to watch your back! Don’t start jumping into things like that just because your teacher is super sexy!
Either way, if future-past-you is saying the information lies in Milia’s mind, then it should be something Seul-ki wouldn’t tell you on her own – and that it’s easier to get the information from Milia than Seul-ki. (You’re not sure how your Thought Delver works yet, so testing it on Seul-ki is out of the question!)
Just what was Seul-ki to Milia, anyway? What could make Milia so jealous of you, besides a romantic crush, that Seul-ki could and would never return?
(…you think. The kind of gaze Seul-ki lays upon you, has she given it to someone else? Does she show it to her something-like-a-girlfriend Ms. Seong?)
(And how would you feel, if behind that gaze, she held a desire for you?)
Telepathy Branch: Mentalism
Mentalism T2: Voyeur. Your mind reading is now able to affect multiple targets, and also targets outside of line of sight. You may Delve into the thoughts of a small group in conversation, or Skim a large group for their general mood. In addition, you may also listen to conversations remotely by reading off the senses of the participants, in addition to Skimming or Delving.
Requires Thought Delver.
Mentalism T3: Future Sight. You now continually passively read the minds of those around you unconsciously. Using this sense, you gain a general idea of the mood in the general area (a neighborhood or district, effectively), and whether anyone in the area has ill designs on you. You immediately know if anyone you know, ally or enemy, is in the area. You can extend your Skim, Delve, or Voyeur to anyone specific you detect in the area at-will, regardless of whether you’d be able to normally.
If you have Time Dilation (Clairvoyance T2), your time dilation is triggered if you detect someone with ill intent toward you, allowing you to use one of your Telepathy skills against them in response regardless of distance.
Requires Voyeur and Danger Sense (Clairvoyance T1).