We know the stories of the Heroes of the Advent: how Jason the Destroyer felled the Dark Titan and brought us to the Greater Age. The tale of Anna the Kind's creation of the Tree Bountiful. Boris the Belligerent’s breaking of the Green Tide. Sung Min the Prognosticator’s ride through the night to save New Boston. Francois the Flippant’s famous taunt of the Consumer that bought the forces of Destin their final minute. These tales and ninety-five more you have learned from your First Level.
These are not the stories of the Hundred Heroes. This is from the time before, of the souls that laid a sure foundation upon which the Heroes built. Tales of the Advent itself, but a tale for the bright day, as the dark shadow stalks it’s margins and the Bright Corridor has stolen all but their names.
Taryn Hollingshead, Seer of the First Gate.
I have seen the creation, the first day of Advent. A voice with power to shake the sky, whispered, “Begin.” It commanded, and creation obeyed. People collapsed, praying to the forgotten god. Others froze as the world they had known crumbled into memory. This is the story of Drew Michalik, one of those who stood.
“Begin.” The word echoed throughout his skull. The large room, that had previously been lit by dozens of monitor screens and lights, went completely black. An image appeared before Drew, staying in the same place as he turned his head. New words scrolled underneath the first set after a short delay.
Mana accumulators have reached initialization charge.
Dimensional split commencing.
Dimensional split complete.
Operational capacity in 200(+/-15) local days.
Drew blinked the messages away. Had he fallen asleep? The room was completely black. He waited several heartbeats for the emergency lights to come on, waiting for the numerous fail safes on the electronics in the room to kick on.
“Fuuuu.” It wasn’t the complete blackness that scared him though. It was the silence. The ventilation systems, uninterruptible power supplies, and fans had all stopped. The only sound to be heard was his too loud heartbeat. From the tests and drills, he knew it usually took about 2 or 3 seconds usually.
Six seconds, ten, then twenty passed.
“What the actual f…” His words cut off as another line of blue text appeared in front of him, his entire body going rigid as an electric surge swept through his frame.
Citizen scan commencing.
Citizen scan complete.
Citizen status: Healthy.
Pain Threshold: Intermediate.
Mana Receptivity: Intermediate.
Mana Discharge: Rare.
Mana Charge: Advanced.
Xatherite node potential: 73.
Xatherite node Balance: 24 Red, 13 Orange, 14 Yellow, 4 Green, 6 Blue, 2 Indigo, 3 Violet, and 7 White.
Xatherite node Structure: Constellation.
Xatherite node Links: 68.
As soon as the scan was complete, his body unlocked from it’s rigid state and he reflexively took a deep breath. “Well, that makes sense, whiskey tango foxtrot is going on?” He was 5 floors down in a bunker that apparently no longer had power, having video game style pop ups appear in his vision. “This is just a dream. I must have fallen asleep.” It didn’t sound like him, but he couldn’t think of any other realistic options. The building had enough backup power options to survive pretty much anything but a direct blast.
There hadn’t been an explosion, no ground shaking, and no loud noises. Well, minus that voice saying, “Begin.” He reached for the land line that was used for emergencies like this. Even an EMP shouldn’t affect that line. He knew before he picked it up that it wouldn’t work, but it was just something he had to try.
He slapped his cheek, “Wake up Dave.” Nothing changed. He slapped himself again, harder this time. “Wake up.”
Citizen geolocation acquired.
*** Warning: citizen is in near proximity to primary nexus. ***
Citizen is awarded an additional 5% (rounded down) of their total nodes in intermediate quality xatherite to assist in survival.
Citizen Compatibility tool initialization.
Citizen is awarded 7% (rounded down) of their total nodes in beginner grade xatherite as an initialization bonus.
Citizen Compatibility assessment concluded. Available xatherite:
Red – Fireball (Intermediate)
Red – Storm (Intermediate)
Red – Cone of Frost (Intermediate)
Red – Minor Dancing Sword (Common)
Red – Major Spark (Basic)
Orange – Major Refresh (Basic)
Yellow – Major Mana Guard (Basic)
Red – Minor Acid Dart (Primitive)
Citizen, please slot at least one node to continue.
What followed was a map that appeared to be a large grouping of constellations. From the earlier messages, Drew assumed it was his xatherite node structure. There were many small multi-colored constellations ranging from two to six nodes each. Some were connected by thick lines and others by smaller lines. He assumed the larger connections were the node links mentioned in the assessment. Most of the slots were dimmed. However, a point near the bottom was pulsing white and the nodes within 2 connections of it looked usable. In all, only four red nodes, two orange, and a yellow node looked to be available for immediate insertion.
“What’s going on?” Drew asked the darkness, his voice bordering on panic.
Warning: To facilitate an adequate survival rate, citizens will not drop xatherite for 100 days.
You have been selected to view the tutorial, you may view the tutorial prior to slotting a node.
“Okay, some answers.” He turned his head around to see if there wasn’t some small amount of light. “Well, I’m either crazy or it’s really happening… Either way, might as well get some information. Now, how do I start the tutorial?”
Saying that was enough to activate it, and the darkness around him changed, shifting from the absolute darkness to a deeper darkness, while simultaneously illuminating the nearest section, giving him the sense of vision. A moderately attractive woman appeared in front of him.
“Greetings, citizen. I am the artificial intelligence assigned as Earth-3’s Tutorial guide, you may call me Aevis. I am authorized to instruct you on basic system interface, xatherite, xatherite nodes, and your rights as a citizen of Earth-3 in a newly initialized system.”
“What’s going on?”
“Your system was claimed and settled by the Human Protectorate in galactic year 17,543. As such, mana accumulators and humankind were seeded on the third planet designated Earth in preparation for full citizenship integration when ambient mana reached a sufficient level to support full functionality. This is the third successful split in Earth spacetime, and as such, your dimension has been designated Earth-3. During the activation process known as Advent, Earth-3 will undergo a series of radical shifts to bring it more in line with Protectorate development standards. Did that answer your question?”
Drew’s mouth opened and closed a few times as he tried to parse everything that he’d just heard. “What’s the Human Protectorate?”
“Before I answer another question, you must affirm that I have adequately answered your previous question.”
“Why does that matter?” Drew asked walking towards Aevis who turned to keep him in front of her.
“Before I answer another question, you must affirm that I have adequately answered your previous question.” The image repeated.
“Fine, yes you did.” Drew growled.
“Very well, which of your questions would you like answered first? The Human Protectorate or why I cannot answer a second question until I have completely answered the previous question?”
“The Protectorate one, ignore the second question.” Drew sighed. This was worse than Alexa.
“I will ignore your second question. The Human Protectorate is a collection of humankind whose stated goal is the advancement and protection of Human life within the portions of what you know as the Milky Way, Andromeda, and Triangulum galaxies. The full scope of the Protectorate consists of more than eight thousand Earth-like planets across 23 dimensions. That is all the information I am authorized to divulge about the Protectorate at this time.”
Drew nodded his head trying to comprehend the just how big that made this Human Protectorate.
“Please respond with a verbal confirmation.” Aevis stated.
“Yes, that answered my question.” Drew sighed with some amount of exasperation. “What sort of changes will happen to Earth?”
“As a result of higher concentrations of mana, Earth-3’s natural flora and fauna will develop more aggressive tendencies. Additionally, excessively high concentrations of mana will spontaneously create additional organisms. These manaborn creatures will assist in the advancement for Earth-3 citizens by developing their combat capabilities. Additionally, mana constructs designed to train and test the citizenry of Earth-3 will be implemented. Does that answer your question?”
“Are you telling me that there are going to be monsters that you want us to fight?”
“That is an accurate interpretation of my response. Does that answer your question?”
“Before I answer another question, you must affirm that I have adequately answered your previous question.”
“Yes, it does. But why?”
“Your question is ambiguously worded, please clarify.”
“Why are there going to be monsters? Why do you want to improve our combat capabilities?”
“Both questions are interrelated. All dimensions of Earth have been designated as combat training facilities due to their high mana potential. As such, all citizens become de facto members of the Human Protectorates Naval forces. The monsters created have been deemed appropriate training systems. Does that answer your question?”
“Yes.” Drew answered out of habit, as he considered everything that he had just heard. He was already a member of the military, albeit only the U.S. Coast Guard, but he had switched from doing boardings to military intelligence after his picking a rate 18 months into his contract. He didn’t particularly like the idea of being shanghaied into some alien naval force.
“Your time inside the tutorial is limited, I suggest you go through the basic xatherite node tutorial prior to beginning your training.” Aevis interjected into Drew’s thoughtful silence. Apparently taking his silence as permission, she began.
“Xatherite is crystallized mana and comes in seven different colors. These xatherite crystals also come in nine different grades. Each color of xatherite focuses on a different type of active skill or spell. For example, the low grade red xatherite crystal Major Spark you were given will allow you summon a single damaging spell to deal lightning damage to a single foe, because Red is the color of attack xatherite. The color designations are as follows:” As she said this, a projection of the different colors of xatherite appeared next to her.
“You will note, in addition to the seven colored nodes, that there are also white nodes in your structure. These white nodes can accept any color of xatherite. Generally speaking, individuals are identified by the majority colors in their node structures. With low physical stats, but high mental stats and a major concentration of red nodes, you would be designated as a Red Mage or Assault Mage.”
“The major color of your nodes, it’s structure, and how many nodes you have are all directly related to your personality and capabilities as an individual. Your node structure and concentration are both higher than the mean for Earth-3, and it is recommend that you exercise discretion when communicating their values with your fellow citizens.”
“What was the average?” Drew interrupted the AI before it could continue.
“I am not authorized to divulge that information.” Aevis said before continuing with her lecture. The image of the starmap structure that made up Drew’s xatherite nodes appeared next to her.
“As you can see, you have a constellation-class structure, which means that your nodes are arranged in sub groups. You can only use a xatherite crystal after it has been inserted into a node. After you insert a crystal into a node, you must then attune to the crystal, which involves using the crystal in combat situations.”
“Once you have attuned to the crystal, you can begin the process of upgrading your crystals. Low grade crystals will upgrade through use, as excess mana crystallizes within the node, amplifying the power of the crystal.”
“What about higher grade xatherite?”
“Higher grade crystals will usually have additional requirements to upgrade them, but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.” Aevis responded before pointing to the pulsing white square at the bottom of the grid. “This is your origin. You may place a crystal into any node within two connections of the origin or any already inserted crystal.”
Four nodes next to the origin that were all linked by heavy lines began to glow. “This is a constellation. As you can see, it consists of two red, a yellow, and an orange node. By filling this constellation with attuned crystals, you will create linked skills. For example, if you were to place your Intermediate Grade Storm and your primative grade Minor Acid Dart xatherites in a constellation and attuned both of them, you would create the linked ability: Minor Acid Storm. The grade of the crystals in the linked ability will be averaged to determine the grade of the linked ability. However, not all xatherite combinations will create a linked ability.”
“What is the hierarchy of grades?” Drew asked, falling back into his old gaming habits.
“Xatherite grades are as follows: primitive, undeveloped, basic, common, intermediate, rare, advanced, master, and legendary. Those same grades are used for all equipment, statistics, and evaluations within the mana system.”
“How do I see what combinations will create linked abilities?”
“Only trial and error. It is also important to note that you cannot remove a placed crystal, you can only replace it destroying the original. Unfortunately, your time in the tutorial has elapsed. Humanity prevails.”
The last words Aevis said were in a different language, but he somehow knew that is what they meant. Humanity prevails. The question was, who do they prevail against?