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A note from puddles4263

2/14

Congratulations! You have been connected to New Earth.

Congratulations! Your Zone 1 is the first Zone to connect to New Earth. As such, a random effect will be added to both of the Danger Zones that spawn near your Zone! In addition, all individuals who originated in Zone 1 will benefit from 2x experience and item find until the next Zone connects to New Earth.

Now that New Earth is slowly forming, you have come to realize that to truly continue growing, sources of energy are needed to give your people access to better Classes, as well as increase the speed at which you train. Addition energy will be given to your Zone by controlling Fate Stones. Your first Fate Stone is within your Raid Dungeon and automatically controlled by you. However, beware allowing neighboring Zones access to the Raid Dungeon, or they will steal that energy for themselves…

For your safety, you will be given a notification when you are moving into a named Danger Zone.

The Danger Zone the Black Caverns has received a Rare random effect! Demonic energy has been added to the Black Caverns. Warning, monsters in the Black Caverns have increased in power! However, controlling the Fate Stone of the Black Caverns generates double the amount of ambient energy as a normal Danger Zone.

The Danger Zone the Crystal Arena has received a Runic random effect. The body of an old god is buried beneath the Crystal Arena, causing unpredictable effects. It is impossible to determine how controlling the Fate Stone will benefit your Zone.

Hank, along with the rest of the squad, looked carefully at the messages they received the next morning, signaling that their Zone had proceeded to the next stage of this System. In his heart, Hank felt a hot rush of pride that theirs had been the first to reach here. He wasn’t sure of the details, but he believed at least 5 other nations on Earth had received word of the System’s arrival, just as they had.

Yet here they were, number one, both in numbering and in the finish.

But very quickly, Hank tempered those feelings down, settling down to wait. After all, this just meant that they had a small headstart. They couldn’t slack off now in the least, or other’s would catch up with them.

The rest of the group seemed to have more muted interactions. Ezekiel, Laurel, and Katie just began hypothesizing what was contained in the different named Danger Zones. Affina simply sipped her tea, content to wait calmly until they were called.

Hank shook his head, then went out on his own. For whatever reason, he felt set on fire by the announcement. Although he had been initially very lukewarm to the idea of leaving his town, there was a fire in his belly now, and it wasn’t the liquor.

That afternoon, he trained like he hadn’t in months, gaining 20 Skill Levels in 8 hours. Chest heaving, he returned home just in time to receive a call from Alan.

“Looks like the Danger Zones are just Dungeons that are on Earth, rather than in their own place with sped up time,” Alan said simply. “Ghost’s scanners indicate that the New Earth area we connected to extends at least 100 miles in every direction. No sign of humans so far, but there are the remains of cities. That’s gonna be a lot of ground to cover, but maybe we can recover some supplies.”

Hank said nothing, waiting for the other shoe to fall. He recognized this tone in his brother’s voice; the leader of the UHF had bad news.

“...still, we have suffered a few small setbacks.” Alan continued as if this were the most normal thing in the world. Which it was, but if it was just normal setbacks, Alan wouldn’t have managed it. “The monsters… are a bit stronger than we anticipated. Most of the monsters outside of our Zone are between 51-58. One of the 58 took 100 men, including three Tier 5 Citizens, to put it down. Two people died.”

Both men were silent at that, and the unspoken implicated; they hadn’t even reached a true Danger Zone yet, as far as they understood it.

“What does Ghost havta say?” Hank asked, already knowing the answer.

“Everyone involved agrees that this was something of a shock, after so many months of peace,” Alan responded, “But this is good. We needed to be reminded that this is a struggle for dominance, and humanity needs to focus to stay on top. We’ve had it easy lately, but we cannot relax. Not when another Zone could connect to New Earth any day.”

Hank rolled his eyes. How could another Zone compare with the preparations they had made…? But he said nothing. It was a pointless conversation.

After returning to the group and letting them know the news, Hank suggested they head to a nearby Dungeon to get a sense of each other’s style in the field. Everyone agreed. Inwardly, Hank was ecstatic that the punk kid had snuck off during the day at some time, and wasn’t there for this talk. So, as a group, they went to the Dungeon, their first true training together.

The Dungeon itself was Level 39, which was pretty impressive, as far as Dungeons went, but it wasn’t enough to challenge Hank. Very quickly, it became clear that the only one who was at a place where this was work was Laurel, but she wasn’t a direct fighter, to begin with. Most of the benefits she brought were assistance for non-combat matters.

It did, however, give Hank a clearer picture of their party. He was very clear on his own strengths and weaknesses. He didn’t use explosives or plasma to attack large amounts of enemies, nor did he have a railgun that could pierce any armor. However, he was confident that his Bullet Infusions could deal out a similar amount of damage, even if his ammo was limited. Besides that, he was precise and focused; very rarely did his attacks miss the mark.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel Ghosthound was much more like a long range, high damage type. His strange Pierce Skill was relatively inaccurate, by Hank’s standards, but it could rip a hole in most monsters and would knock back those it didn’t puncture. He also could produce Mana Grenades that destroyed quite a bit, when they went off.

Katie was their tank, as she had an exosuit similar to Mordecai’s. But where Mordecai’s had been a powersuit with some energysuit features, Katie’s was pure powersuit. Her legs, especially, were greatly enhanced, giving her the ability to leap across the battlefield to come to ally’s aid when it was necessary.

Affina Yu moved unpredictably, like a ghost. It was hard to believe that the woman was blind, with the way she shuffled rapidly from one foe to the other. She only used that wooden cane to fight, but as Hank watched, he could see how the entire thing was slowly surrounded by impossibly hard jade mid-fight, letting her brutalize the weaker monsters.

Laurel rounded them out, possessing a whole kit of mass buffs and debuffs that she demonstrated for them. When she received her Spirit Walker Class, Ghost had speculated that it had been a holdover of being 1/16th Cherokee, but Laurel had just shrugged. She didn’t put much stock in blood, but she wasn’t she about polishing her strange package of Skills into something highly desired in the entire Zone.

Although she hadn’t been promoted from Tier 3 to Tier 4 yet, many suspected it was only a matter of time.

After they finished, they came back and trained some more, before each going their separate ways to focus on their own pursuits. During that time, Hank retreated to his shack out behind his house and began working on Infusing more bullets before they had to leave. He had almost 50, but if the difficulty that Alan indicated was to be believed…

Of course, he could do this in the field. But there, an ambush would mean a ruined bullet, and an hour wasted. It was much safer to perform the operation here, the peace and quiet.

No sooner had he sat down, than there was a knock on the door.

“You ready to talk about things yet?” Laurel asked.

Hank wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted to talk about, but about 5 possibilities sprang to mind, and he wasn’t too keen on any of them. “No.”

“Alright.” There was the sound of departing footsteps. Then she turned and called over her shoulder, and Hank could easily imagine the teasing smile on her face as she spoke. “But I’m not above bribing you with sex if that makes it easier. Think about it.”

Hank shook his head. That woman was just… always surprisingly direct. So much so that Hank found himself taken aback more often than not.

But that was why he fell for her.

Humming to himself, Hank turned his attention to the Infusions. He did it all through the evening, and into the next day. It was only around lunchtime that he pulled himself out of the shack, pleased to have produced another 30 bullets. These were powerful ones too, some with variant effects, based on the materials used in the bullet.

Hank hadn’t realized it at first, but the process of flooding the bullet with Mana that he used reawakened part of the monster’s spirit if a monster part was used in the bullet. After he had discovered this, he had been constantly experimenting but the lack of true threat made the efforts somewhat muted.

But now, with a mysterious army of monsters on the horizon… Then Hank sighed. Well, not for a bit yet. He had time. No need to rush.

This was a bad habit of Hank’s. He needed to give himself some time, allowing him to settle into things. Generally, he leaped first and asked questions later, and that wouldn’t work here. Not with the monsters being so high Level.

A beeping noise caught Hank’s attention, and he looked down. His wrist communicator was receiving a call. He frowned. Only Alan ever called him, and that was mostly on his cell. If it was on the wrist communicator…

“What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential.” Alan began, his voice speaking of storms. “But it’s worse than we feared. Expedition 1 ran into a group of three monsters, all Level 65. Most of the plasma weapons couldn’t even hit them. We lost 30 soldiers. The worst of which… the only reason we killed the bastards was Eric Todd, the Demolitions Maniac, blew himself up, wounding two of them. A Tier 5 Citizen died today.”

Alan fell silent. Hank felt bile rising in the back of his throat and hung up. Did he really need to make it about the Tiers, right then…? What about the 30 other soldiers who had been torn apart by these monsters.

Level 65…

Hank’s eyes flashed, half nerves, have cocky adrenaline. He wondered what that looked like.

To his surprise, Hank received another call, around 14 hours later, again to his wrist communicator. Annoyed, he answered it.

“Up and at em, big bro,” Alan said, his voice grim. “You are on deck. We had reports starting about an hour ago that experience gains abruptly dropped off a cliff. It took a while to confirm, but Ghost’s long range scanner is up and running, and sensed something is amiss. But the real confirmation came from the Jade Prince: he said he sensed another Champion out there.”

Hank blinked. “It’s… it’s only been three days.” His team wasn’t ready. They barely knew each other. And he knew each of them, especially Ezekiel, was hiding something.

This time, Alan hung up on him.

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puddles4263

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