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Derrick ended up staying at the gym for just over three hours, sparring and working on footwork while teaching other auril users how to optimize their meagre abilities.

He spent most of the time with Blake, who took way too much pleasure in proving he was still a better fighter than Derrick. He was free with tips and advice though, if only to drive home his own amazing skills as a teacher.

More than once, Derrick had to resist the urge to either storm off or punch him in his smug face. He managed to do neither though and as the hours passed, felt like he at least knew how to improve himself.

Only slightly less annoying, was teaching others about auril. He explained what he was capable of, plus the abilities the Spore Tyrants and Grey Legion had displayed. Trying to impress people with the limitless possibilities it offered.

He spent an annoyingly large amount of time convincing people that auril was useful. Most other Users seemed disappointed that it didn't provide a huge instant boost. Which, was fair, considering the constant danger they were in. Most of them were just trying to survive the week and weren't too impressed with long term gains.

Every time he managed to convince someone that it was worth investing time in, another ignorant neophyte auril user showed up to repeat the same damn questions.

Yes, he was that Derrick. Yes, auril was powerful and worth investing in. Yes, it would stop space fungus from making you its bitch. No, it wouldn't let you shoot eye beams or make you bulletproof. Yes, auril senses could be used to 'see' through walls. No, auril senses did not let you see through other people's clothing.

It became obvious that word had gotten out about his presence at the dojo. Someone was clearly using his fame from the Trial to draw in more Users to the dojo. It was also obvious from the guilty look on Dominic's face, exactly who the guilty party was.

He was a little jealous. It took balls to go from trying to murder someone one minute, to using them as a living advertisement for your business the next.

He went along with it. It was annoying but he was improving the quality of Users in the West Hills Enclave. If even a single auril User learned some tricks he could copy, it would be well worth the headache. It pissed him off, thinking about how he had to do the dangerous work of experimenting with auril energy. Let someone else narrowly avoid melting their bones. What was the System's deal? Why did it have to be so unhelpful.

Was he really the only User in the city that had a clue about how to use auril? Well, there was the serial killer. Maybe he should hunt that guy down, just to see what he could do. Derrick seriously considered it but decided against it. First, he was going to learn to use Manna and then the Trial should take precedence. He was still hoping to get some good rewards from that. He would need all the help he could get for what came next.

On that note, he talked to a couple of Users with scouting proficiency and got them to set up a sensor hub that tracked aurilin and would flag anyone with a higher than normal amount of the stuff. There, that should stop that lazy bastard of a murderer from killing any more auril users.

He would just have to go out and kill Scourges like Derrick had if he wanted Auril.

He called up the info he had on the Trial.

 

Mission Details

Trial of Predation (ITRS)

System Authority ITRS has announced a trial to earn his favour to those Users across the globe that meet his requirements.

This is a unique opportunity to earn rewards not available to most Users.

Objectives: Prove that Earthlings are not yet the bottom of the food chain. Find, defeat and scavenge the resources of advanced enemies.

Beacons representing the location of known targets will be provided.

Participating Users will be monitored.

The most successful Users will earn disciple status under ITRS. All participants that make a successful kill will earn rewards.

Participation Requirements: Lv 1.6 or above, Scrappy Title

Kills:

Grey Legion Vanguard x 2

Grey Legion Combat Drone

Illegal Probe


Nope, nothing new. Not even a clue as to when it ended. He was guessing at the end of the phase. When all the Fighters would be drafted into an expeditionary force. That gave him just today and tomorrow to make some more impressive kills. Hopefully, something simple like Vanguard and not some new horror.

It was nice that the Probe coun...

 

Universal Support System

Congratulations on successfully activating your Manna Core.

You have connected to a USS manna network. Manna capacity increased 10%.


... No new Titles huh. Oh, well. He brought up his profile.

 

User Profile

Name: Derrick

Show Title: Auril Pioneer II

Role: Fighter

Level: 1.8

Titles: Scrappy III, Emergency Activation II, Auril Pioneer II, Multi Killer, Fold Survivor, Auril Cultivator, Counteragent, Ambitious

Traits: Curative Blood © (Defensive)

Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)

Basic Manna Core (D) (Manna)

Combat Drug Package (E) (Offensive)

Quantum Awareness (D) (Survival)

Breathless (F) (Survival)

Auril Capacity: 13.9

Auril Style: Red Law (D)

Active Auril Skills: Regeneration

Pulse

Splintering Strike

Core Capacity: 7 (7.7)

Manna (Raw): 7 (7.7)

Manna Skills: None

Successful USS missions: 5

USS Points: 2


It gave him a warm glow inside, seeing the numbers and lists grow larger. All the expected changes were shown.

He took a second to examine his thoughts. Bonus, Manna didn't seem to influence his emotions. He felt the same as before the Core started working. Exactly the same. If Manna was available to him now, he had no idea how to use it yet.

Probably for the best, he'd most likely end up electrocuting himself or something. It was a good thing that Aarav had been recruited by Third Striker to be his teacher.

A quick exchange of text messages let him know that the Indian man was ready and willing to instruct him. He was given an address just a couple blocks away by a friendly message that ended with a smiley face emoji.

Before he left the System Station hub, he sold the probe. Gaining three more Manna capacity and seventy three points. The points must be because he'd already hit the Systems limit on how much manna he could have as a Fighter. That lent a lot of weight to his theory that the normal limit for auril was also ten and that his auril maximum would be sixteen thanks to the bonus from the Scrappy titles.

It also told him that the probe had been no light weight. There must have been a lot of Siviril packed into that unlucky orb. Who had sent it to Earth? What on Earth was worth that kind of investment?

It depressed him that he would probably never know. That the universe was simply so big and dangerous that he'd probably never uncover a fraction of its mysteries or history before it ground him to dust.

Well, time to go learn how to shoot lightning or whatever.


“Welcome! Welcome!” exclaimed a smiling Aarav as he grabbed Derrick with surprising speed and dragged him into a small apartment. “You're just in time! We just finished tea.”

“Oh? Who is..” started a startled Derrick, stopping his question when he was dragged through the short entrance way that smelled strongly of spices in under a second and spotted Anita sitting on the hardwood floor of the living room.

User Tag

Name: Anita Basak

Title: Relentless

Role: Fighter

Level: 1.6 (Capped)

 

The small female User's eyes looked at him for a single second before closing without a word. She appeared to be meditating and still kind of a bitch.

Very fit though. The Indian woman was wearing a yoga outfit that despite her slim build, she looked great in.

She clearly didn't think much of him. A few days ago that would have been insulting but weirdly he just found it kind of funny now. Like reacting to her slight was beneath him. Huh. It was like his fight with Dominic, it just didn't seem important enough for him to act on.

Was he in shock?

From the outside it might look like he was being nice. But that wasn't true, he just didn't care. With a flash of insight he knew that if it brought him closer to his goals, he would have broken every bone in Dominic's body as easily as he had forgiven him.

“If I'd known there was tea,” Derrick said with a small smile. “I would have been here sooner.”


 

Derrick had a cup of tea shoved into his hands by a surprisingly spry Aarav before they got down to the business of manna. He enjoyed it, it had been awhile since he'd had a cup. As soon as he was done, the cup was ripped from his hands and replaced by a grey pair of thick gloves of obvious System origin.

 

Manna Gauntlets

A pair of gloves that contain both Admantium and Esthisium. They are a simple focus that allows the gathering of Manna around the hands.

Has basic self repair and security features.

 

“A gift,” Aarav proclaimed with a flourish. “From Third Striker.”

Derrick examined the tough looking gloves for a second before shrugging and putting them on. They were a lot better than a wand anyway. He noticed a pair of thin fingerless gloves on Anita's hands, probably something similar.

“So these are better than the focuses and batteries I can buy?” asked Derrick as he slid them on. They of course fit perfectly.

“No,” replied Aarav. “Worse in every way really.”

“And that's good?”

“Indeed!” responded the master of manna, sounding just like a university prof. “Those are all incredibly efficient and effective tools. Refined through millennia of constant conflict. Any User with access to Manna can use them instantly and almost perfectly.”

“They do all the work for you,” Aarav finished. “They exist for good reason of course. If the System has an advantage over the Scourges, it is access to large amounts of raw manna and a wide variety of tools that use it. Wonderful things but you become dependent on them. The gauntlets are crude, they force Users to develop skill for themselves.”

“If they live that long,” Derrick added skeptically. He wanted something he could use right away. Honestly, he already had auril as a long term goal, what he needed was a quick boost of power, not another long term project.

They were free though. Might as well try them out. It wasn't as if he could afford a better tool right away anyway.

“That is the System's take,” Aarav admitted. “It is far more concerned with our survival as a species at the moment than the long term benefits of manna proficiency. That's why it does not encourage their widespread use yet.”

“Benefits like what?” asked an intrigued Derrick.

“Increased control over the effects produced by focuses, not more power, simply more malleability. Hmmmm. The ability to use some of the more difficult focuses or even to do without focuses. And last, but not least, there are rare abilities that require it, such as Fold Navigation.” stated Aarav before pausing for effect. “Increasing your manna proficiency decreases the risks and costs of FTL travel.”

That got Derrick's attention. The ability to travel to other planets? Sold. His obvious reaction caused Aaarav to smile at him. While, from the corner of his eye, Derrick saw Anita's lip curl into a sneer for a second.

“Which are... significant. ” continued Aarav, somewhat more subdued. “Still, one does need to dream, do they not my young friend?”

Derrick nodded thoughtfully. FTL travel, a distant dream. If nothing else, it would be great to be able to run away if the Scourges won and conquered the Earth. Not that he would likely survive that. It was worth seeing if he had talent for manna anyway.

“Alright, so where do we begin.” he asked as he held his gauntlets out in front of himself. Pointing them away from the room's other occupants.

“Just focus on the gloves, while repeating the idea of filling them with manna,” Aaarav said. “Your implant should do most of the work.”

Derrick did so, and felt an almost immediate result. The sensation of pulling something from somewhere very far but close at the same time.

New skill gained: Manna Sheathing

Wow, that was surprisingly easy. He waved his gauntlets around. Beyond a small shimmer in the air, like a heat illusion, nothing happened.

“What does this do?” he asked.

“For you?” Anita commented. “Nothing.”

Derrick raised an eyebrow at Aarav.

“Young miss Basak is correct. Sheathing is one of the most basic uses for manna. It provides protection against other manna techniques. Sort of like claiming ownership of something so that others can't manipulate it. There are skills and focuses able to set things on fire at a range for example.”

That didn't sound useless. In fact, while fighting opponents like the Feral Artisans it would be a life saver. He flashed back to when he was trying to grab the probe from the Artisan. Ah.

“I already have something for that,” he realized.

“Just so,” Aaarav affirmed approvingly. “In fact, your auril energy will make sheathing yourself both unnecessary and much more difficult.” he shrugged. “Auril will not protect anything that isn't alive however, so there is still some value in learning the technique. Making it more difficult for something to liquify the ground under your feet, for example. Or superheat the air around you.”

Was he likely to fight things like that? From what he'd seen, other than the Feral Artisans, the Scourges seemed to prefer more direct weapons. Flamethrowers and shotguns, spikes and spores, not using manna to imitate wizardry.

“I can use the gauntlets for something more practical than that, right?” he asked.

“Yes, of course.” replied Aarav. “I would have hardly called you over here to teach you that. Heavens no. I was merely starting with the most simple technique. Laying the foundation, as it were.”

The older man held one hand up and seemingly without effort, created a shimmering barrier a few inches from his open palm. It was a rectangular thing a few feet across, like a conjured pane of perfectly clean glass. After a second of staring, he flicked his eyes to the other man's hands. He wasn't wearing any gloves.

Aarav preempted his question.

“A trait.” the Pupil replied, his brown skin wrinkling slightly around his eyes as he smiled. “Go ahead and strike the shield.”

Derrick didn't need to be told twice. Tentatively at first, but quickly working his way up to full strength, he launched a few strikes at the shield. When he reached full strength Aarav rocked a bit backwards and the shield faded.

“The mind is strong but the flesh is still weak,” Aarav said, almost apologetically.

“You received some transfer of force,” Derrick was going to say, but Anita beat him to it. “But not all of it.”

“Yes, well spotted. For a cost in manna, you can create a shield that partially reduces the force striking it. Otherwise, the force applied to the shield is dispersed across your entire body.”

Huh, that would make even the basic version much better than carrying around an actual shield. Especially since it could be summoned at will and was weightless even when it did exist. He definitely wanted to learn to make one of those.

Aaarav explained the process to him and Anita. First you had to extend manna sheathing into the air, “claiming” the area where you wanted the shield to appear. This was what Anita had been working on when he arrived.

Derrick did not have a lot of luck right away. After half an hour of effort, getting the energy out of his gloves and into the air was easy enough. At least at a distance of a couple of inches. Probably. He couldn't tell if what he was feeling was even real, as it had no visible effect. He seemed unable to turn the energy he felt into a “claim”, it just kinda faded into nothing.

Perhaps, he needed to work his way through the entire process of this space magic. Meditation seemed to have helped Aninta, who was already creating a vague shimmering in front of her palm. Even if she had a head start, he wasn't going to let the smug woman have something else to be smug about.

He was going to beat her to the punch and form a shield. She would be so impressed that she might even talk to him in a neutral tone. Like zero condescension.

One does need to dream.

Honestly, it made him miss Kate. She at least gave backhanded compliments.

Bah, he was letting himself get distracted. Perhaps he should forget about the gloves for now. They were a useful tool but not the actual source of manna. That would be his core. He tried to feel that, to trace the manna to its source from the gloves.

It took him less than a minute to find out the power was coming out of his brain. He could feel a spot there, like a blinking light inside of himself that had weight and texture somehow. He turned his gaze inside himself.

Everything faded to darkness except that light. It beckoned him. Pulsing like a star in the night. It was a tunnel. A doorway. Going everywhere from nowhere.

He moved deeper into himself and towards the light. A small part of his mind entered the light. He found himself in an electric ocean. A place of pure potential. It was oddly calming, this electric blue emptiness.

No, not quite empty.

There were paths here, thousands. Paths to everywhere. And one familiar one. He could hear it. Hear the whispering behind the light. It was a hidden path, trapped behind a thousand false doors, but was still clear to someone who was invited. And Derrick the Red had been invited. He reached out...

Someone kicked him. Blinking, he awoke to Anita standing over him. She had just kicked him lightly on the shoulder.

“Not really the time for napping,” she said.

He blinked at her some more, confused. Had he been napping? Huh, he guess he must have been. How embarrassing. He looked around, noticing the sky was darker than it had been. The sun was well on its way to setting now. That meant he'd been out for at least two hours. Too bad, he thought he'd had something there for a second. He remembered feeling the manna.

Aarav was nowhere to be seen. He probably got bored with their training. He was about to defend himself, when he was interrupted by the System.

New Manna(9765A) gained.

 

Hmm? A new manna type? He opened his mouth but was interrupted again. This time by the tiniest of sensations. A feeling that barely existed at all. It was enough to drain the blood from his face. To launch him to his feet and prepare himself to run as his eyes scanned for threats.

Fuuuuuuuuck. This was bad.

He'd been scanned with auril. By a skilled pulse that made his use of auril look like random flailing. It had come from below, from a titan deep below the earth. For a second he and it were made aware of each other. For a single terrible second, he felt it react to his awareness of it. It surged and then disappeared. He didn't think it had lost track of him. It had countered Quantum Awareness in a single second.

“What is it?” asked a somewhat bemused Anita. “Have a bad dream?”

“Spore Tyrant,” he hissed. “We're under attack.”

“The System would...” she started.

Auril Signature verified as of Spore Tyrant origin

 

Universal Support System

Warning: The West Hills Enclave is threatened by severe Spore Tyrant Infection. All Users should prepare to resist biological infection and arm themselves.

More instructions to come. Good Luck

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Mirrored

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