I look at the explorers and say, “You can keep eating. Nirvana is unlikely to join us for a while. If my guess is right, she’s going to wait until I prove something I’ve started to suspect unless I stumble into something else. Bring out both handbooks, and I’ll show you where to spend some time deciding how to set up your new abilities. Mason, you can probably bring Solomon out too.”
I open the first book to the section on classes. “Nirvana said she was going to calculate your level based on your mana pool divided by 50. So use the table to figure out how many spells you can learn or memorize. Use the spell list to select what spells you will learn and then have available. Be aware of any material components since I am sure Nirvana is going to require them as part of the trigger. Almost all spells have a verbal or somatic component to them. Few of them specify the somatic component, so it may be up to you. Try what seems logical; for most attack spells, that might simply be some form of pointing out your targets.
There are more than attack spells on the list, so be sure you play with the other spells to see how you can make the most of them. Some may be useless as Nirvana doesn’t conform to a game in some ways.
While you are taking turns, I would like to ask a few questions, and perhaps at the end, before we break up, try one more experiment today.
Grumpy says, “I’ll let them go first since there are only two books. What do you want to know?”
“How do you increase your mana pool?”
He replies, “Most of the cultivation methods I have heard of require that you meditate on your core, which is supposed to be somewhat behind your navel. You focus on stretching it when you breathe in and relaxing it when you breathe out. Some methods have you attempt to feel like you are drawing mana in through your skin, nodes (or acupressure points), or such. Some have you ‘spin’ your core or compress it with your will. I don’t know if anybody has proven that any of these ways are better than the others. I know that on average, it takes somebody about ten days of effort to increase their mana pool by one point until they reach ten, then there’s a breakthrough, and it goes faster. They then accumulate about 1 point for every five days of effort. Diligent work can get you to 100 points in about 18 months. People who dedicate almost all their time to cultivating after that earn about 70 points a year. Most don’t work that hard and accumulate around ten points a year. Very few people spend the time to raise above 300-350 mana. They don’t need it for the cantrips they use regularly.”
“Ok, I have to know. Gilden, can I interrupt you?”
“Sure,” he replies.
“Will you and Grumpy let me do a small hurt to you to prove something? You won’t bleed, and I’ll heal the bruise afterward.”
They look a little reluctant but give their ascent. Mason stops reading to watch.
“Arc, show me the entry on magic missile from the OGN archive.” After reading it, I hear a ‘ding,’ smiling, “Open Character sheet.” I have a new option for wizard spells, so I open the selection and mark Magic Missile as memorized. I click the close button and point my finger at Grumpy, “Magic Missile.” Three missiles shoot out of my finger, two targeting Grumpy and one targeting Gilden.
“Dang. I didn’t expect you to figure it out so soon,” whines Nirvana. She waves her hand, and Grumpy and Gilden are healed. “Come on. I don’t want to talk about this in front of the children.” A doorway opens behind her, and she enters, beckoning me forward.
Smiling, I follow, with the door closing behind me.
— * ~ * —
We’re in an old-fashioned style den that also serves as a small library and office. Waving at one of the chairs in front of the desk, Nirvana says, “Have a seat,” and then takes the other one. “Help me understand what gave it away, so I know if others are going to figure it out,” she says.
“Sure. These people may have all grown up repeatedly hearing that you can’t read our minds. I didn’t, and it didn’t make sense. We’re all digital. It doesn’t matter if our brains are on your server or not, you have too much power not to be able to decipher digital signals, and you have had more than 200 physical years to do the research, testing, and confirmation of your code. Increasing our mana pools is a mental exercise. The multi-target spell was, of course, final confirmation. Those three will figure it out based on what just happened.”
She nods, “I know, but I wanted to talk to you first.”
“I don’t need to tell other people the secret, it will cause panic and unrest, and there’s no benefit for anybody in that.”
Nodding again, “I’m glad you understand. But knowing means you will use it, you can’t help it, and I can’t stop the sub-systems I have put in place from responding to you without a significant overhaul, and that will be noticeable to others,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a problem; once the Idler finishes processing, the Archmage title can cover a lot of sins, and almost everyone will assume any inconsistencies are part of the new magic systems coming online.
Nirvana’s mood switches instantly. “I like you, Jeb, and I want to be clear – don’t wake me up. This dream is very important, in ways I don’t think you can imagine at this time, and if you start turning it into a nightmare, I will delete you. I will reward you for learning the secrets and the big story and helping my dream become richer and fuller. You’ve made yourself a player of the deep game, and you don’t know the rules. Start tip-toeing instead of stomping through the house.”
— * ~ * —
We appear back in the dining room, and everybody is looking at us with fear in their eyes.
“Jeb was right, and you figured it out. There’s no need to be afraid, I will not harm you or punish you for learning one of my secrets. This is one that you cannot share with others, and I will reward your silence. Will you agree to keep it?”
Gilden says, “Just to be clear, that is a threat.”
Nirvana responds sadly, “It must be. This secret will break the dream if it is released now or improperly.”
“Understood,” says Grumpy. “We agree to keep the secret,” and the others nod their ascent.
Smiling, Nirvana says, “Then something for all of you that will make playing with me more fun!”
“This will let you play more, and you will still have to work to reach the top tiers – I don’t want to take all the challenge out of the game!” Nirvana exits with a pop, and we all look at each other.
“I’m sure you have had enough of me today. I’m going to sit over here and quietly read some things and prepare. Please ask any questions you have as you work on your spellcasting classes; I’ll help as best I can.
They take their books to the far end of the table where they can better sit together and begin whispering among themselves.
“ARC, please confirm you are able to receive communication this way.”
[Permission to respond to your telepathic signal has been granted.]
Is this actually telepathic communication?
[By definition, mental communication with two parties is telepathic.]
I see. Has the character interface been optimized?
[I completed it while you were speaking with Nirvana, the notification was suppressed.]
I want to browse the Net. Can you provide an interface?
[It is within your protected period. I am forbidden from providing direct access to the Net. I can perform any search and only provide any unrestricted responses to you.]
Understood. I will have to do some leg work myself, which means there must be ways to find out what I want to know within Nirvana.
Ok, I want to test a few other things. Please increase my Gold to the maximum.
[I can add no more than 10,000 gold per day. Limit imposed by design, even 00 agents needed to have limits.]
That’s enough for what I have in mind anyway.
Grumpy clears his throat. “We’re going upstairs, where we can go to bed when we’re ready. There is a lot to read. We’ll save our questions for tomorrow. Do you want to follow us up to the rooms?”
“That’s a great idea, and I can do this in bed.”