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Derrick woke easily from a dreamless sleep, a smooth transition from the bliss of unconsciousness to full body pain and a feeling of weakness that felt unfamiliar to him. Everywhere hurt and he couldn't shake the feeling that he was forgetting something important or that something was missing.

The grimacing User found himself laying down on an improvised cot, really just towels on a cement floor. One of many wounded Users resting in a windowless room, probably a basement. A few weak lights gave off just enough light for someone to walk around without stepping on the casualties. Sitting up caused all kinds of aches and pains to shoot through him.

Instinctively he tried to summon auril to heal and energize himself. His auril flared, only to fizzle out painfully. Derrick winced as his vision blurred for a second and he had to catch himself with an arm. The wounded User pressed a finger into each of his eyes, causing pain and leaving tiny droplets of blood on them.

Shit, bleeding eyes was a terrible habit to get into. He needed to get his auril back so that he didn't get brain damage from... what had happened again? Had he overused his auril. No, he was pretty sure that wasn't a thing. He was past the point where he could hurt himself with auril by accident. That left something the Lurker had done to him? Had it turned his auril against him? Petty revenge for his refusing to die?

Concerned, he tried to summon auril from his auril heart once more. Again, the world blurred and this time he leaned over, gagging uncontrollably. Thanks to his willpower, he managed to notice that it didn't feel like there was anything wrong with his auril itself. The problem was something was interfering with it. Something had spread through his entire body but was concentrated in his head. When his auril tried to move through him in helpful patterns it was being disturbed and spent by this other power.

Manna? But why would raw manna react like that? Ughh, there was that sensation again. A worrying confusion without a reason he could pin down. Paranoia, wild and targetless. Or maybe not. The wounded User ran through what he remembered of the fight.

The important part must be the end. When he'd broken the Luker's manna control technique with manna. How had he done that again? He remembered raw manna not working and then he.... did something else. Something beautiful. The most important thing he'd ever done.

...

...

What the fuck was that? Derrick had spent a lot of time in his head, so he immediately recognized a thought that had no place in it. He shivered, not liking where this was going. That wasn't a strange voice in his head, it had been his own reaction to something he barely remembered.

Memory loss. Strange thoughts. His mind was being messed with. Suddenly feeling cold he rubbed his arms and felt raised lines on them. Cuts and bruises. Some obviously and disturbingly not from the fight with the Lurker.

OK, this was getting super creepy now. He had missed it in the low light but someone had carved a... a... doughnut into his flesh while he'd been unconscious. Two rings, one inside the other, with squiggles between them. It was very poorly drawn, whatever the hell it was supposed to be or mean.

Thinking back to his sore eyes and the blood, he ran his palm over his face and discovered another art project there. This one circling his upper left cheek, going right over his eye and just missing his nose.

The same eye immediately found the tool that had butchered his face. A bloody knife just laying on the ground beside him. He felt his stomach drop. It was his knife, a System knife. You couldn't use a System weapon to hurt its owner. The only things that had the power to do that probably had much better things to do with their time than to carve obscure patterns onto his skin while he was sleeping.

Ok, calm down. So, he was having a little trouble with auril and was cutting weird shapes into himself in his sleep. On the bright side, no one seemed to have seen him do it. He'd be restrained if that was the case.

No. No getting distracted. He needed his auril back yesterday. He concentrated on his Manna Core and felt that yes, it was active, and a trickle of power was in fact leaking out. That was not how raw manna worked, it took a conscious effort to bring it into reality. I didn't leak. All attempts to plug the leak failed, there was just no way to affect whatever the stuff was. His mind just slid right over it and his Core didn't seem to be able to shut itself down.

Ok. Ok, so it wasn't raw manna. What was it? He strained his mind to remember anything about weird manna he might have come in contact with. He sat in a poorly lit basement, feeling his injuries throb a he tried to remember his fight against the Lurker. Idly he ran his fingers over the new injuries, feeling the shape of them. He ran a finger over a pattern, circling it. Derrick the Red frowned in concentration, something was coming to him. Something about a wheel and a maze. A hungry crown and a labyrinth of twisted memories.

Oh! The Canvas.

Ah! Feral Artisans.

Confusion became horror as he was hit by a wave of memories harder than either the Lurker or the Bleeding Tooth Behemoth had managed to hit him. One second, he was ignorant of the Canvas and the things he'd seen there, the next, he remembered everything. Every second of it and every last detail. What felt like months of time just appearing in his head.

“Motherfucker,” Derrick swore at the dark.

“Shut up,” came a reply from the dark. “People are trying to sleep here.”

“Sorry,” murmured Derrick. As bad as his problems were, these people had earned their rest. He waited a second in silence and then got back to his evil energy problems.

Careful and quiet consideration of his problem suggested two solutions. The first, overpower the Canvas manna...

“System, update the name of manna type 9765A to Canvas,” he whispered forcefully. Hopefully that would help him remember his encounter with that other reality and get rid of his need to carve pictographs into his skin to do so.

A second later, the System announced that it had done so. A good start, he'd have to think up some other reminders. Like setting an alarm clock that woke him up by yelling about the horrors that lived between dimensions and how he had a leaky hole to their playground in his head. Or maybe just start writing a diary. That seemed a more practical solution.

Anyway, the first method to get rid of his little problem was to overpower the manna with a wave of auril. If he couldn't manage it alone, he would recruit someone else to help. Once the auril had cleared out the Canvas manna, it shouldn't matter if the leak stayed, the auril should hold it back in the same way the manna was stopping his auril. This was backed up by the fact that he'd only managed to use the Canvas manna when the Lurker had blasted away his auril. Trying that would be no fun and would weaken his auril a bit, even if it worked.

The second method was to try and fix the leak by delving into the Canvas with his mind. Dangerous and unpredictable but his only shot at a perfect solution.

He was going to try the first one.

After three such efforts, he succeeded. It took all his concentration, every scrap of aurilin in him and left a pool of vomit beside him, but it worked. No one even complained about the sound of him retching. Derrick let himself fall back into a resting position, his auril once more threading through him and healing his injuries instead of whatever horrible things the Canvas manna had been doing to him.

It was unstable though, more so than normal. Also, the Canvas manna was still pushing at him, trying to get out of his Core and spread through his body's manna network and costing him auril in the process. Where the two powers met, they seemed to burn each other, occasionally sending shivers through his auril. Not quite the permanent solution he was hoping for.

Still there was good news. No one had stolen from him this time and what seemed like a dozen notifications were hovering in his mind's eye.

Due to his experience with passing out, one of the first things he did was check his pockets for conspicuously absent valuables. He'd bartered for a few tiny auril hearts and they were where he'd left them. In the pockets of his gear, which was right next to him. All that was missing was his phone but considering the tiny shards of glass in the pocket he'd been keeping that in, he had a good guess as to why that was gone. Oh, and the Sentry's head was missing, although he was somewhat glad that he hadn't woken to find that staring at him, his waking had been bad enough. Satisfied, he turned his attention to the notifications that were incessantly hovering on the edge of his vision.

Universal Support System

New Titles Unlocked: Resilient II

You have reached Level 1.9!

You have reached the Level Cap. Level is locked for 24.3 hours to prevent damage from excessive modification. Level Is locked until a Role is selected. You may browse available Roles.

The Trial of Predation has finished. You have finished 4th.

Mission Complete

+670 points for successfully defending base

+375 points for earning the Force Adept Title

+150 points and new trait (F) for earning the Resilient II Title

+150 points for earning Multikiller II Title

+500 points for earning the Trail Blazer Title

+400 points and a trait upgrade (F) for earning the Predator Title. Contact ITRS for more details.

Titles Earned:

Force Adept: User is competent in manipulating kinetic energy using raw manna. Can apply raw manna to a problem quickly, accurately and in a variety of different ways.

Resilient II: User has displayed uncommon toughness and resilience for their level.

Multikiller II: Kill five Scourge enemies in undertwenty seconds without using disposable tools. 

Trail Blazer: User is amongst the first native Users of Earth to reach level 1.9 (2/8). Trailblazers will receive modified Roles and their choices will shape the Roles available to their species.

Predator: Came 4th in the Trial of Predation.

Lurker of Loving Purpose:

A Grey Legion Veteran. A dangerous entity that excels in stealth and the manipulation of auril and manna both. It has displayed the ability to move through the fold.

Last seen using personal Injection to flee the WestHills Enclave.

If it is my place to lurk unseen, weave flesh and mirror tyranny, I accept these roles gleefully. The Thrones must break, we must have Salvation

 

What started as near euphoria turned to despair as he read the last section. All of that and the Lurker was still alive. He supposed it would be too easy if Third Striker had been the one to end that monster. He was pretty sure the voice he'd heard as he fell unconscious had been the Mwin Hybrid's. Also, apparently the Lurker could teleport. Which was basically what personal Injection translated to.

Maybe he should see what was going on above? No. Fuck it. No worries for him. He'd earned his rest and was going to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

While it might be pennies to Crusaders and other veterans of the System, he was relatively rich. A quick glance at his profile told him that he was now sitting on two thousand six hundred and thirty six USSP.

And that was only the second best of his rewards. He felt the earlier euphoria returning as he contemplated finally becoming something other than a fighter. He was going to just lay here and use auril to speed up the countdown between him and levelling into his new role. A special Role no less, upgraded or at least customized for him.

Well, no point in putting it off, let's see what the System was offering its Trailblazer.

Available Roles (2.0)

Brute

A Role for those who best serve on the front lines of battle, holding the line and punishing the enemy at knife range. As the User levels, they will change to fit their Role with bones and muscles toughening beyond average, as well as an increase in size. Earns levels by completing combat missions.

+7 Aurilin Maximum +7 Siviril Maximum

Unlocks the Interior Mesh (E) trait.

 

Requirements:

Auril Heart and Manna Core/Hub

A Rank D+ survival or defensive trait.

Advanced Melee Weapon Proficiency

Multi-Killer and Resilient or Force Adept titles

Scavenger

A Role for those concerned with survival and the gathering of resources. Allows access to production oriented System devices, allowing the User to produce their own tools and weapons. Exempt from conscription. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness, as well as a small boost to normal senses. Earns levels by gathering rare resources and on scouting missions.

+5 Aurilin Maximum +9 Siviril Maximum

Unlocks the Forge Organ (E) Trait.

 

Requirements:

Manna Core

Two Survival Traits, one Rank D+

Advanced Scouting Proficiency

Squire

(Third Striker)

 

A Role for those who have proven their worth to a Crusader. Exempt from conscription. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness, as well as a small boost to normal senses and reflexes. Earns levels by learning from their master and helping them with their missions. This Role leads into a Crusader Role.

+6 Aurilin Maximum +10 Siviril Maximum

Unlocks the Squire's Manna Core (D) Trait

 

Requirements:

Manna Core

Valor

Sensitive

A Role for those rare Users that have a talent for the more delicate uses of auril. This role is as influential off the battlefield as on it and helps the challenged worlds discover the secrets of aurilin. Exempt from conscription. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness. Earns levels by exploring auril, scouting missions and support missions.

+10 Aurilin Maximum +5 Siviril Maximum

Unlocks the Auril Undermind (D) Trait

 

Requirements:

Auril Heart

Two Auril traits

Advanced Auril Proficiency

Auril Cultivator Title

Hunter

A Role for Users that have displayed a wide array of talents and a ruthless drive to fight organic Scourges, either alone and in small groups. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness, as well as a small boost to normal senses and reflexes. Earns Levels through combat, assassination and scouting missions.

+10 Aurilin Maximum +7 Siviril Maximum

Unlocks Heartless (E) Trait

 

Requirements:

Auril Heart and Manna Core

One Survival, Offensive and Defensive Trait, one Rank D+

Advanced Auril, Scouting and Melee Weapon Proficiency

Three titles earned through killing. (Scrappy, Multi-killer, Counter-agent)


That was more options than he'd thought he'd have. A very wide variety too, if a little basic. Apparently he was not only the second fastest leveller on the planet but pretty damn good at collecting achievements too. He was willing to bet whoever had reached level one point nine before him didn't have half these options.

Not that they were all decent options. Brute for example, was laughably unappealing. It was basically everything he'd been desperately hoping to avoid. Dangerous and unsophisticated. Oh, he'd played the part just recently, when he'd fought off the Grey Legion. But that had been what the situation demanded, who knew what the future would hold? If he fought on the front lines every battle, eventually something would get him. Things were still changing quickly and he wanted more versatility from a Role.

Squire had a very different problem. Firstly, it was seemingly more manna based and Third Striker himself had told him to aim for auril over manna. Secondly, he didn't want to become a Crusader. Either he wouldn't be able to become one until the world was safe, which could be centuries stuck at level two, or he would be forced to leave the planet and fight on some other challenged world. Neither was what he wanted. He should be able to get to level three at least, and while he wasn't humanity’s biggest fan, he felt like he could do the most good on Earth, for the most reward. A strong plus was that Third Striker seemed like his best bet for fixing the hole in his head.

Scavenger and Sensitive were harder to judge. On one hand, they apparently exempted him from being part of the mission to clear the countryside. On the other, they weren't combat focused classes. That should have been a good thing. And yet... it wasn't. He didn't like being constantly thrown into the thick of it but at the same time he liked being strong. The way the world was going, he felt like it was important to be mean enough to headbutt the monstrosities that got in his way. No one else was stepping up. Well, a few but honestly the human race needed every talented ass kicker it could get. If he moved to a more support focused Role, he felt like he'd be stuck on the sidelines during the next crisis and things would go downhill fast.

On a side note, it seemed like his choice to get a Manna Core had paid off. Both Scavenger and Squire required them. Squire because a Crusader needed them to aid in Injection to other worlds and Scavenger because of it seemed like a Role that operated alone and outside of the System's territory. A Manna Hub might have unlocked other options, but he was pretty sure these ones fit him better than any type of support manna-based Role.

That left Hunter, a Role that was both based around auril and combat focused. Not front-line warfare either, but a class that dealt with scouting and assassination. Survival as a Hunter would be far more dependent on skill than being a Brute. That was very appealing, not only from a survival perspective but from a personal one. It was definitely the front runner.

Part of him really wanted an intellectual Role. He wasn't just some bruiser; he was a trained professional programmer. No matter how good he got at saving the day, the people who would make the biggest difference were the creators, not the destroyers. The Lurker of Loving Purpose had been a monstrous creep but he wasn't wrong.

True victories belong not to soldiers, no matter how accomplished, it had said. No blade, however sharp, cuts the thrones that would grind us beneath them.

Derrick the Red repeated these words and felt they were true. He needed to affect the world with more than just his axes if he wanted to save the world, to win. And he did want to win. Even with all the pain and fear, the ache and the uncertainty, he burned to win. Even just the thought of it caused his auril to writhe in what seemed like joy. He'd been through a lot of horrible shit since the Scourges arrived and he was determined to get his pound of flesh for it. And more.

Did he need a support class for that though? A Scavenger joining the ranks of support Users wouldn't make that much of a difference and he seemed to be unlocking the mysteries of auril just fine without a class dedicated to it.

To add even more complications, it seemed like whatever Role he chose would become available to others or something. Which could have a huge effect on the war against the Scourges or none at all, he was just one of eight Trailblazers after all. Sensitive gave him a bad feeling because of all the trouble auril seemed to draw. The murdered auril Users and that time an 'Authority' had tried to kill him were still dangerous mysteries with auril at the centre of them.

Derrick made a note to ask Scynil about those. The centuries old Warden Crusader should have the answers and owed him a pretty big favor.

No point in thinking too hard about it though, even if he cut the time down with regeneration, he had hours before he could become level two. Hours he was totally going to spend relaxing and planning his next move. Things should be looking up in the local area, with the Grey Legion, Spore Tyrants and Feral Artisans having been beaten back.

Had their been other Scourges nearby? He couldn't remember. They should be able to press outwards into the countryside now. Users would need to be organized, equipped and trained. It would be a great idea to insert himself into whatever group was going to be making military decisions. Obviously not as a commander but perhaps as some sort of Scourge or auril expert? He had already been playing the part of teacher.

His peace of mind lasted just minutes. Soon enough, a scream and the sound of yelling floated down from above.

 

 

 

 

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Mirrored

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