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 “Well done.” the Indian man said as he looked them over without any apparent concern over their violent entry. “Levels?”

“Err, sorry?” spoke Derrick

“What levels are you both?” the man asked politely as the looked them over with obvious interest. “And don't worry about the door, it wasn't mine anyway.”

“1.4” said both Bruce and Derrick at the same time. Apparently Bruce had been busy. The stranger nodded his head as if there was some deep meaning to their answer.

“Almost halfway to the first bottleneck! How strong are you compared to before you became a fighter,” he asked.

Derrick stared at the man in silence, trying to pick a question to ask first. Meanwhile, a look of deadly seriousness fell across Bruce's face.

“A general increase of strength by a factor of 1.6, that's effected by several System created supplements I designed. If you have a phone, I can text you a comprehensive level by level breakdown of the changes.”

“That would be wonderful,” the stranger said with almost childlike enthusiasm before quickly calming down and sighing deeply. “Users seem to be changing so quickly. Much quicker than I thought possible. A good thing I suppose. We have already lost too many noble souls to the challenge we now face.”

He turned to Derrick and squinted at him through his glasses.

“There seems to be something special about your body,” he said with obvious interest.

“Your going to have to be more specific, Mr?” answered Derrick, best to start simple.

“Oh my. My apologies, how rude of me. How odd I must have sounded. My name is Aarav.” The Indian man babbled with mild horror. “The Support System has granted me the role of Student. Ha! Sixty years old and still a student!”

Aarav let out a gentle laugh before continuing.

“My Role is to learn and teach. Once it sent me with some fighters to investigate the site of a Injection. That was fascinating! These glasses I'm wearing, they let me see some extraordinary things, like how you have such a wonderful glow to you.”

Aarav stoped and stared at Derrick for a second, before continuing in a distracted tone.

“A simple thing for the most part, but with subtle patterns to it that almost seem to avoid my gaze... and at the heart of it a... a... steadily flickering spark of some kind?”

Derrick felt a spike of jealousy as he looked over this mild mannered man. Exterminator, Worker, Driver, Fighter, Guard, Supporter, Administrator; these were the roles he had heard of. Pupil seemed to be a role of an entirely different sort. One that interacted more closely with the System than mere fodder such as himself. One that would lead to something greater than mere soldiery.

He felt a wild and uncomfortable sensation rise within himself. A deep jealousy. What did this old man have that made him so special?

Didn't matter, being outclassed by others was nothing new to him. He pushed the feeling down and moved on.

“You mentioned something about a bottleneck?” Derrick asked. He wasn't going to just give away his secrets, even if he didn't really understand what the man was talking about.

“Yes!” the man said and nodded emphatically. “You know that you can unlock new Roles with traits, titles and proficiencies?”

Both Derick and Bruce nodded. This was among the very few facts the System had revealed to them. Not that they'd ever heard of anyone accomplishing this.

“Hmmm. How to explain this? Every full integer level is capped until you unlock a Role to advance to. The Roles humanity has now will only take them to level 1.9. If they have completed sufficient prerequisites, then at level 1.9 they can choose a new role and then level up to 2.9. Every rank is, of course, harder to unlock. Understand? Good!”

“Why does no one know this?” asked Bruce with a furrowed brow. Derrick shared the other man's puzzlement, It seemed like the kind of thing the System should have just explained to them.

“It is the task of my Role to explain these things to the city. Alas! I was perhaps too forthright and have spent the last while imprisoned in this room for my sins. Humanity's propensity to hoard knowledge is alive and well, even in the face of extinction. Sadly the will behind the System seems to loathe to interfere in what it considers 'human culture' and has allowed my purpose to go unfulfilled. I do hope that the same is not happening in other places.”

What kind of bastard was withholding the rules of... Oh, of course.

“By a dark skinned woman about this high,” Derrick said with his hand at throat height. “Extremely condescending and mildly prudish?”

He could guess the master plan here. Keep everyone ignorant of how things worked. Gather the Users together, like at say a party. Then, either inform them all of the rules and earn their gratitude, or more likely and ambitious, use the party to scout out the most easy controlled of the Users and give them the secrets. Ensuring that the Users most loyal to you had an advantage over the others.

“You know my host then,” Aarav said. “Yet, I don't think your any ally of hers. Your entry to my room would have been far less spectacular if so.”

“We met briefly,” answered Derrick. “She didn't seem interested in being friends. There was a... scuffle.”

“Regretful, Inevitable though I suppose.” sighed Aaarav, causing Bruce to nod along.

AaseyE duHKakke mUla.” the older man continued in what Derrick presumed was Hindi. 

“The glow your glasses see, it's Auril Energy,” Derrick interjected, he was eager to keep the conversation on track. He explained how he had gotten it and what he knew about it.

No point in lying or hiding it. He got a odd sense of danger from this man. Not physical danger but something more like a opportunity. This is important, Derrick's instincts told him. It wasn't any superhuman or Auril force that told him this, just a regular human gut feeling.

The older man listened eagerly and asked a series of questions about what his two guests had been up to since the Scourges arrived. They both chose to answer. Derrick was hoping to earn the answer to a few more questions of his own.

“Thank you so much!” Aarav replied sincerely, once they had narrated their last two days. “Allow me a chance to repay you for your knowledge. My Role has gifted me with a Manna Core. Though, sadly I have received no title for it. ”

The Indian man held his hand out with the palm up. Derrick watched fascinated as a spark of light filled the air above his palm with a white glow before flickering out.

“It is a borrowed power.” the older User explained. “Projected energy offered by the System to its worthy Users through alien means. With the right tools or technique, I'm sure one can accomplish simply miraculous things with it! Sadly, its effects seem minor without an appropriate focus. Though I have used it to charge some System devices and once to light a candle.”

“Heavy stuff,” said Bruce thoughtfully.

Derrick couldn't tear his gaze away from where the ghostly glow had been. It was the most impressive thing he'd seen since the System arrived. Sure, he could heal faster and punch harder, but this was the first example of science so advanced it was indistinguishable from magic he'd seen. Real alien power in the palm of a User's hand. That brief sparkle was the glow of hope. He wanted it.

He needed to figure out how to get Manna. He'd already run into Users with weapons that could use it, so it couldn't be that hard to unlock if so many weapons used it.

Perhaps the Support System wasn't just being a dick when it refused to give out real sci fi weapons. If Manna was the equivelent of batteries to the System, he had the sneaking suspicion that it would be necessary to unlock manna before he could use any of the System's real weaponry.

“Any idea how a Fighter would unlock it?”

“Sorry, no. I know nothing about how one would unlock it without the Student role.” said the older man with a sincere pout. “For all I know, at a certain level, it's unlocked for any Role.”

Figures. Earning more titles seemed like the only thing he could do. Perhaps a higher ranked role? Again, he could only aim for more titles for that. He doubted he could easily upgrade his proficiencies at this point.

The Indian gentleman frowned.

“I feel like I owe you more answers,” he said.

Derrick considered this. There were many questions he could ask this exceptional User, the answers to which could be the difference between life and death. He knew what he needed to ask and it was...

“What is the System,” pondered Bruce, stealing a chair and adopting the classic thinker's pose.

Fuck, that was a much better question than his. Derrick instantly forgot what he was going to ask and listened intently.

“Ah! What a insightful question. Right to the heart of the matter!” the older man responded with traces of wonder in his voice. “I can't begin to answer that question fully of course. From what I've learned, no living creatures remembers. Well, except maybe some of the Scourges. If they even bothered to remember. At its simplest, it is a construct. A series of rules and processes with massive resources and infrastructure behind it.”

Aarav visibly gathered his thoughts before continuing. He was taking the question very seriously.

“To understand the intricacies of the System, you need to understand at least the basics of the Scourges. The last few days have taught us that the universe is a very dangerous place. It is competitive and unforgiving,” he slowly replied. “What people have yet to understand is how old it is. The challenges we face now have existed and spread for countless millennia, if not longer. No corner of the galaxy is untouched by the Scourges. What mortal species can compete against creatures that have fought and spread since the stars were young? Empires and grand alliances rise and fall in their shadow. Mortal existence and strength is nothing against their eternal hunger and patience. They are older than history and rule worlds beyond counting. They desire nothing but to spread, survive and conquer without mercy.”

At that dire pronouncement, Aarav pouted and once again gathered his thoughts.

“To fight them, it takes a force just as timeless and untiring as they are.” he continued. “So the System was born, created millennia ago to match the Scourges by channelling the will and resources of numerous sapient species. A rigid and independent force that could draw strength from sentient life and yet operate on the same time-scale as the Scourges do. Growing in strength by saving worlds and adding them to its supporters, it transcends the cycles of growth and ruin that rule mortal life. Offering them the power to compete both psychologically and technologically, to fight back, in return for a commitment to save other worlds in turn. Allowing sapient species to transcend their petty foibles and fight back against the monsters that rule the universe. A force for universal harmony and a path to transcend the boundaries and weaknesses that plague the citizens of the cosmos. ”

Aarav shrugged.

“That's the official story anyway. Take it with a grain of salt I suppose, the truth is always more complicated than story.”

“That was pretty complicated,” said a skeptical Bruce. Derrick agreed. That was a lot to take in all of a sudden.

He tried to take this info dump and frame it in a way that he could understand, it was all kind of overwhelming. It was hard to insert an existence as small as himself into a scene that large.

“Anymore questions?” asked Aarav.

“Actually, were looking for someone. Goes by Blake. Probably a prisoner?” said Derrick after a few seconds of contemplation. He'd love to contemplate the mysteries of the universe and his place in it, but the longer they took to find him, the more time Greta had to throw obstacles in their way. He'd had enough of that already.

“Oh, you're in the right place then.” said Aarav, matter of fact. “They're probably in one of these rooms, I noticed they lock from the outside. Very inconvenient for me. Good luck.”

They asked if the Indoan wanted to come with them but he just smiled and shook his head. The two would be rescuers gave their goodbyes and moved on.

Moving to the next room that  his Auril pulse had told him was occupied, Bruce once again easily annihilated the door. This time they got a very different greeting as Bruce made his entrance.

“Oh, fuck. There's no redheaded friend is there?” exclaimed Blake. Cringing, he tried in vain to shield himself from falling pieces of door. He failed because his four limbs were tied to bed posts and he was naked.

Derrick instantly shielded his eyes and stepped behind Bruce. That was probably why Blake didn't seem to recognize him. Bruce however charged into the room and to the foot of the bed.

“I'll tell you whatever you want to know!” exclaimed Blake in a panic as helplessly he watched the larger man approach.

“Good,” said Bruce with a heavy nod. “Where is Blake Demnol!”

“What?” asked a very confused Blake Demnol.

“Where is Blake Demnol!”

“... Right here?”

A long second as Bruce considered the bound man in front of him.

“Perfect,” said Bruce and dramatically clenched his fist. “Mission complete.”

A finger left his fist and pointed at Blake.

“You're safe now little man,” Bruce said with a satisfied grin.

Derrick relished in watching a stunned Blake consider the last few seconds of his life with extreme bewilderment.

“What is going on?” The blond User asked carefully. “Who are you?”

As funny as this was, this seemed like a good time for Derick to interrupt.

“It's a good thing you kept an eye open.” said Derrick with a cocked eyebrow. “Someone might have caught you with your pants down.”

The bound User's eyes took in the sight of his ally. For a second, obvious relief showed, it was quickly replaced with annoyance however.

“Fuck you. You're a terrible wingman.” returned a naked and bound Blake, recovering his normal attitude with admirable quickness. Who let a little thing like being tied naked and helpless in front of strangers stop them from being cocky? Not Blake. “Untie me so we can get the hell out of here.”

Blake was bound by defectively weak looking silk cloth. It was easy enough to untie him but the cloth resisted even Bruce's attempts to rip them. Some System material? Did someone actually spend the points to request super tough bondage gear? He considered stealing them but someone would eventually ask why he even had something like that. That was not a conversation he wanted to have.

Once free, Blake quickly rushed to dress himself and still wearing just boxers and a shirt, checked the hallway.

“When I get my hands on those...” Blake started before words seemed to fail him. “This was low. So very very low. Fuck this political shit.”

“Political shit?” asked Derrick with morbid curiosity. From his few minutes talking to Greta, she seemed to have some kind of grudge against Blake's family. As well as ambitions that he didn't really understand and frankly wouldn't be interest in at all, if she hadn't inserted herself in his life in such an annoying fashion.

Derrick could hear Blake's teeth grind together.

“She has to think I'm some kind of political rival. My fucking family used to be VIPs in this city. Apparently they all died in this hotel... good. I was being groomed to be some kind of heir until I fucked up and Kate...”

Blake stopped and considered the last word he'd said. Many different expressions moved across his face until it finally settled on anger. Derrick could relate.

“I want my sword,” Blake said slowly and calmly.

“I'd rather not escalate this,” stated Derrick with iron certainty. “I'm for sure not going to start a bloody melee. Me and Bruce here, managed to fight our way here past a dozen minions but knives were never drawn. I think Greta or whoever she works for, is trying to keep this controlled, which is in our favour as well. Fancy space sword or not, all it takes is one gunshot to the head to put us down.”

Blake hesitated for only a second before sighing and nodding.

“We can't just run,” The blond man said with uncharacteristic seriousness. “They won't stop and we can't fight them and the Scourges at the same time. They'll find a way to stab us in the back. ”

We? A part of Derrick rebelled from Blake's familiarity. He'd never been a team player before. That same part of himself told him to walk away. I was a stupid part of himself though. It was far too late for that. Even if we wanted too, he simply wasn't strong enough to survive on his own. The first Vanguard level foe would slap him down.

He didn't want too either. Life had gotten horrible and messy. Part of that mess was how it had tied him to others in ways that the clean and safe life before the Scourges had never managed. He was not sure he liked it but he had to admit it was true.

“I will not surrender the dance floor so easily,” added Bruce and squinted menacingly. “Its like, mine by right of conquest.”

“Who are you again?” asked Blake.

“Bruce,” supplied the large User and offered the smaller man his hand. They shook and seemed to reach some understanding.

“He's an ally from my first mission,” Derrick informed.

“I like how he thinks,” said Blake. “This Greta person, set up this whole scene to play up her name and establish her brand. We should steal her thunder, go back and make it clear that this is our party now.”

Derrick was not an expert on parties, that didn't sound like how parties worked to him though. He said so.

“Maybe they don't,” said Blake as he fixed his hair. “I'll tell you how I work though. When I am lied too and cheated, I do not slink away into the fucking night. Maybe they are willing to shoot me for whatever bullshit they are pulling here. They'd better be, because nothing less than that is going to stop me from going out there, getting a drink and having a good time.”

Blake turned and looked at Derrick.

“Thank you for sav... helping me.” He said with more genuine warmth than Derrick thought he was capable of. “Leave, if you need to, but this not something I'm going to run away from.”

Unfortunately, it seemed like this was important to Blake. Derrick considered his options and found they were all pretty shit. Either he abandoned Blake, potentially destroying the trust between not only him and Blake but Kate as well or he risked his life in some kind of ill conceived pissing contest with a determined woman of unknown but not insignificant resources.

His thoughts were interrupted as they passed the room that Aarav had been in. It was empty. Interesting. Greta was going to be mad at them. Madder anyway.

Meh, he was still, far more scared of facing the Scourges without Blake and Kate than he was of Greta.

“Fine,” Derrick said. “But you owe me.”

“Of course,” stated the Blonde User and the three of them returned to the hotel's restaurant.

Immediately upon returning to the bar, much to Blake's amusement, Derrick exchanged fist bumps with a drunken biker. He would have been much happier about that if Bruce wasn't immediately mobbed by attractive women.

The larger man soon had them laughing and hanging off his arms as he flexed with superhuman strength.

Derrick took a second to reflect on the unfairness of life. People were so so shallow. Just because he wasn't a muscular giant and his face was covered in cuts and scars, he didn't get any appreciation. Weren't some woman into that?

Watching both Derrick ad Bruce, Blake just snorted and made his way to the bar. The bar area seemed safe enough. An Auril pulse told him that no one lurked in any nearby rooms, ready to pounce on them. So, he sat a seat away from Blake and grabbed a couple beers. It seemed safe but he wasn't letting Blake out of his sight, he decided to amuse himself by drinking, watching Blake strike out and fooling around with Auril.

He noted that it seemed to take around two minutes to replenish enough Auril Energy to send out a pulse. He experimented with his implant to see if he it had a way to measure Auril. It was easy enough to bring up general notification. 

Name: Derrick

Show Title: Auril Pioneer

Role: Fighter

Level: 1.4

Titles: Ambitious, Emergency Activation, Scrappy, Counteragent, Auril Pioneer

Traits: Curative Blood (D) (Defensive)

Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)

Basic Combat Drug Package (F) (Offensive)

Crude Quantum Awareness (F) (Survival)

Successful USS combat missions: 2 (Currently on Mission)

USS Points: 374

He concentrated on feeling Auril energy while contacting the System Implant. What if he...

Proficiencies

Advanced Melee

Has Advanced skills with melee weapons. Capable of holding his own against multiple human level opponents.

Basic Scouting

Has Basic skills in battlefield awareness and scouting.

Basic Handguns

Has basic skills with handguns. Probably not going to shoot himself or his allies.

Basic Auril Energy

Has Basic skills with Auril Energy. Can feel and crudely manipulate it.


Nope. That just brought up proficiencies. He wasn't discouraged, he was a programmer and the System was a machine. He would just throw technical commands at it until something worked.

Request Received: Enigma values added to profile.

And done. Wonderful. He wondered what it meant by Enigmas. Did the System not actually understand these forces? He brought his profile back up.

Name: Derrick

Show Title: Auril Pioneer

Role: Fighter

Level: 1.4

Titles: Ambitious, Emergency Activation, Scrappy, Counteragent, Auril Pioneer

Traits: Curative Blood (D) (Defensive)

Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)

Basic Combat Drug Package (F) (Offensive)

Crude Quantum Awareness (F) (Survival)

Auril Capacity: 7.2

Auril Style: None

Active Auril Skills: None

USS Manna Pool: 0

USS Manna Skills: None

Successful USS combat missions: 2 (Currently on Mission)

USS Points: 374


Derrick took a second to bask in his new profile. Sure, he didn't have a single trait over D rank and no skills or whatever a Auril Style was. What he did have though was four traits and room for growth.

Just knowing that there were Auril Skills and Styles was great, he was definitely going to be experimenting with those. On that note, he brought up the description for his Auril Heart.

 

Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)

An organ that greatly increases the amount of Auril energy in the Users body and allows limited control over it.

Unfocused Auril energy increases vitality of Users and allows the use of Auril Battery devices.

 

So, not a lot to go one but some hints there. The trait desridption mentioned unfocused energy so maybe he needed to control and focus it to create a style? Perhaps his Auril Pulser could be helpful, was it possible to learn to use Auril Pulse as a skill and not through the item? Other than that, the only Auril ability he'd even heard of was using it to stun on contact. That seemed both more dangerous and harder to practice.

Hey, so stand still and I'm going to randomly shove alien energy into you, hoping so stun you. Tell me if your heart stops beating OK?

Derrick found his thoughts interrupted as someone sat down on the seat next to him.

He slid a beer in that direction.

“As promised,” he said and nodded at the middle aged biker woman he'd met mid bar fight.

“You looked like the kind of kid that keeps his word,” The raven haired user said. “Drink up, I'll bet you've had a long day.”

“Who hasn't?” asked Derrick, ignoring the kid comment and taking a long drink. “I'm Derrick by the way and I'm pretty sure I owe you a bigger favour than a few beers.”

Better to get in front of the whole kid thing.

“Meg,” she replied and flashed her pointed teeth. “And don't worry about it. I didn't really do it for you. Got a romantic soul I do. Who doesn't love a good underdog comes out on top story?”

“About that,” Derrick mused and decided he had nothing to lose my spreading his knowledge. “Since you helped me out, there are some things you should probably know.”

 

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A note from Mirrored

Alternate Title: In which a wizard shows up and explains everything. 

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Mirrored

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