21 Basic Training PT. 3
* 'You humans never cease to amaze me' *
"Hmmm," Bai Qi grunted.
* 'All this power at your fingertips.' *
* 'And you choose to waste it doing this.' *
* 'Sorting beads.' *
"It's training," Bai Qi shrugged. He continued to sort the beads diligently, having picked up the pace quite a bit, able to sort a bead or two a minute now. It had already been 3 days since he was dropped into this madness inducing task of training, and he felt like he was going insane.
* 'But sorting beads of all things.' *
Bai Qi shrugged.
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* 'I can see why he gave you this training' *
"Really?" Bai Qi asked, uninterested, not really paying attention. Everything was really just blurring together at this point.
* 'It is effective, for what it's supposed to do.' *
"Is it now?" he half-heartedly asked.
* 'But you'd get the same result if you threw humans in death cages.' *
"Would you now?"
* 'Oh yeah. Nothing's more effective at training than the impending sense of dying.' *
* 'Humans are getting soft.'
* 'Raised them like scorpions, back in my day. Pit a hundred against each other, pick out the 10 that survive till the end.' *
Minutes turned to hours, turned to the end of the day, as Bai Qi descended to a husk of his former self.
The meals also lost their allure. The break every few hours from the repetitive robotic movement would seem like a blessing at first, if not for the fact that it only served to remind Bai Qi that he could still think. The splash of color that the food provided in the brightly lit room devoid of color, spanning all 4 directions he could see.
Bai Qi had tried to walk away from the beads.
Tried it sometime after dinner the previous day.
At first he didn't move too far away, afraid of getting lost in a room that spanned outwards in all directions.
He blinked, and the baskets were by his feet again.
So he went out a bit further.
Turned away for a split second, and suddenly the baskets were next to him again.
Again and again, no matter how far he ran away from the basket, the bed, the empty table, as soon he turned back to look, it was as if he hadn't moved an inch.
Stuck in limbo.
After a dozen tries or so, he gave up, resuming the task of sorting the beads.
One by one.
One by one.
The thing came back sometime that day. The space in his head was filled with the same darkness and cold as before. It still spoke out, though Bai Qi was so brain dead by then that as it rambled on, Bai Qi just grunted from time to time, not having the energy to respond.
Meanwhile, it seemed Elder Mu was once again baffled regarding Bai Qi's progress.
"Xing," Mu said, looking at the slowly growing pile of marbles in each basket. "Seems like your training which was never meant to be finished on time, might actually be finished before this month is up."
Elder Xing nodded. "A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one."
"I'm going to lose the bet, aren't I?"
Xing grinned. "By a large margin, as it would seem now."
Elder Mu whistled through his teeth. "How many did he sort so far?"
"There's a counter," Elder Xing said, waving his hands, causing numbers to appear on screen next to the baskets.
"1260 sorted so far huh, that's about what 400 for each type?"
"More or less yeah."
"Well how many does he need to sort?"
"About a hundred or so each"
"A hundred? A hundred what?."
"Hundred thousand of each type."
"A hundred thousand thousand?"
"A hundred thousand." Elder Xing looked up to see Elder Mu staring at him. "It's just sorting into three categories.."
"Three hundred thousand in total??" Elder Mu scoffed. "Are you sure you didn't lose some of your own marbles in that pile over there? No wonder that apprentice went crazy, and none of them finished training."
Xing shrugged. "Mental fortitude is a skill all mages need to learn, and mind numbing tasks that train your conscience to better utilize ~ "
"Bullsh*t," Elder Mu said, interrupting Xing. "You're a sadist, aren't you? Feed off the pain of your students."
Elder Xing scowled. "Might I remind you the apprentice that did pass ended up being the strongest graduate by margins unseen of in years."
"An outlier," Elder Mu retorted. "Statistically he was an outlier. Every other apprentice went crazy in some way, and they shut you down because of that."
"Say what you will, but it's the training I'm giving Bai Qi."
"But a hundred thousand of each type?"
"Oh get over that already."
"Did you expect him to finish at all?"
"I figured he would finish before the end of next month, and that'd give us enough time to use whatever degree of control he did build up."
Elder Mu looked at the screen in front of him, Bai Qi diligently sorting, one by one. "He's gonna be finished before this month is done."
"Before next week actually."
Mu scoffed. "I know you have high expectations, but let's be a bit ration-"
"He sped up," Elder Xing interrupted. "My expectations are not baseless, you know."
"Sped up?" Mu asked stupefied. "What do you mean sped up?"
"I mean, he actually sped up," Elder Xing said, pointing to the screen. "I still don't believe it."
Bai Qi just had a breakthrough.
He was trying to listen to the thing while it rambled, as well as concentrating on the beads, one at a time, until he realized he could separate out his thoughts into different sides.
As if a room opened in his mind, and for a moment, he could finally open his eyes, like he was starved, a sense missing from him returned.
He stopped momentarily stunned by his thoughts, running in parallel.
It was a surreal experience.
He looked at his hands.
At any time, you can feel what's on either hand, but you could only concentrate on one of the hands at a time. If you hold something, the texture is limited, you feel it's weight, it's temperature, and you can make a rough estimate of what you have in your hands.
Though now, he could feel every wrinkle in his palm, every flex of his fingers. Every speck of dust on his bumped against his skin, and he could feel the cool air around him, battering against his warm skin.
He turned his attention back to the beads, and tried to sort them, one in each hand, the beads cold to the touch, and after a few seconds, he knew instinctively.
Two earth beads. He was holding two earth beads.
He threw both beads into its respective basket, and turned to the pile of beads, that he barely felt had dented, though now the pile didn't seem as bad.
One in each hand, just rushing through, tuning everything out.
The thing's voice rambled on, though he could no longer hear it, it was as if he forgot everything except for the beads.
"He's going to crash," Elder Mu said. "He doesn't have enough stamina to keep that up."
"Yes he is." Elder Xing said, running his hand through his beard.
"Aren't you going to stop him?" Elder Mu asked, looking up from the screen.
"Nah, it'll be more interesting when he knocks out."
"You really are an asshat."
"You have the ability to stop him as well."
"Ah see, I never said I wasn't an asshat either."
"How many minutes do you think he'll last?"
"This is his first time branching his thoughts. 5 minutes tops."
Elder Xing looked over lazily and grinned. "Wanna bet on it?"
"F*cking asshat. What are we betting?"
Elder Xing laughed. "Double our previous bet if he lasts half an hour."
This time it was Elder Mu's turn to laugh. "You must think I'm an idiot."
Elder Xing grinned. "Don't need to think about it."
"F*ck you. If he lasts an hour, I'll double."
'An hour's too long. He doesn't have the reserves for that."
"It's about as likely as him getting to high Grade 5."
Elder Xing thought about it for a moment. "Triple it then, if he lasts an hour."
"Fine, but I'm moving my goalpost up. You owe double if he's crashes under 15 minutes, no bet if he lasts till 30, triple if he lasts over an hour."
'Yeah yeah, whatever," Xing said, waving his hands. "Just have the stuff ready when I win."
"If you win," Elder Mu. He waved his hand, causing a bowl of fruit to appear from the void and coming to rest in front of him.
"When I win," Elder Xing affirmed, grabbing some grapes off Mu's bowl.
Mu scowled. "When you lose, same to you."
Minutes passed, and Bai Qi kept up his frenzied pace, sorting beads, two, three at a time. Slowly the seconds ticked by, adding up.
Then 5 minutes turned to 10, and 10 turned into 15.
Bai Qi powered through. By this point, the thing had stopped talking, and that damned toothy grin was back, though Bai Qi was too focused to notice.
* 'Interesting,' it murmured to itself. 'This time, we might get further than before.'
Bai Qi continued to sort, steadily, with no signs of slowing down. Soon, he reached the 30 minute mark.
Elder Mu looked baffled.
"You old bastard," Elder Mu commented, not taking his eyes off the screen. "I swear one day this whole thing is gonna come around and bite you in the ass for playing me."
Elder Xing grinned. "It's not hard pulling a puppet's strings to make it dance at the palm of your hands."
Elder Mu fumed. He grabbed an apple from his plate, and started munching on it, in order to avoid talking to Xing.
"Hey, you haven't lost everything yet. You should hope he fails before the hour mark," Xing continued, grinning from ear to ear, not missing this chance to poke fun at Mu.
The 30 minutes turned into an hour, and Elder Xings grin only grew wider.
Elder Mu at this point wished he could creep down into his seat and disappear, hitting himself for accepting the bet.
"Hey now, remember what you said," Xing said suddenly. "Bai Qi lasting an hour was as likely as him reaching high Grade 5 now was it? Seems like you're gonna lose that too now. "
Mu continued to sulk, not bothering to respond.
"And you were worried about me spending too much on Bai Qi," he said, smirking. "Mu, it seems like you've spent more on him in a week than I will in an entire lifetime."
"Oy," Elder Mu said, finally snapping. "Shut up already, and get ready to pick him up when he crashes from stamina depletion."
The hour stretched into two, and then three, before finally at the start of the third hour of sorting at an accelerated pace, Bai Qi was starting to slow.
He couldn't think straight anymore, a damp layer was trapping his thoughts. His movements became sluggish, and though he instinctively continued to sort, he started to slow down significantly, and before he could realize, he slumped over.
In a flash, Elder Xing and Elder Mo were by his sides, propping him up before his head could hit the ground.
Elder Xing took out a potion, kept in a crystal container, with a dark purple cap. He popped the cap off, and poured the blood red liquid into Bai Qi's mouth, before laying him down on his bed.
"In all seriousness," Elder Mu said, in a low voice. "We need to talk about Bai Qi."
Elder Xing simply nodded. "Not now. After the two months, we'll discuss what happens next.
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