Kenzie blew an errant wisp of frizzy auburn hair out of her face as she once again opened the Ladder system. It had almost become a compulsion over the last two weeks since the new function was enabled.

“Browsing for a husband again?” a teasing voice came from behind, as another girl moved up to the fire and sat down. It was Lyla who came back with some dinner in her hands. It was a few cans of various vegetables and fruits, and somehow she had even scored some canned beef.

“Whatever,” Mackenzie answered with a roll of her eyes. She stared at the familiar alias for a few more seconds before she reluctantly closed the window and turned to her friend.

Lyla had been by Kenzie’s side since everything turned crazy. Kenzie was just sitting at home playing with her phone when she suddenly found herself in a square in a medieval town with hundreds of others. When reality set in that this was not a dream, she soon realized she didn’t recognize a single person. Zac or dad wasn’t there with her, leaving her vulnerable and scared.

It was shortly after she met Lyla, another scared and confused 19-year-old. It was by sticking together they survived that hell that the System and fairies called a tutorial, and in a sense they were returned as reborn people like the fairies promised.

But they soon realized that just because they had been returned in one piece, all wasn’t well. They were placed in a town called Kingsbury, which actually was a chaotic hodge-podge of 4 different cities mixed together into a cauldron of conflicting interests and goals.

During the month of their absence all order collapsed and chaos reigned supreme. Roving gangs of thugs terrorized their blocks, and rape and murder were just commonplace events. It didn’t even take an hour after returning before a group of men accosted her.

Luckily the tutorial had truly reforged her. A scenario that would have petrified her in the old world was only a small annoyance now. With a few quick attacks the group of thugs lay on the ground with her not even taking damage. The thugs of Kingsbury just stayed in the safety of the town preying on other people, and likely weren’t even level 5.

After the returnees appeared, it only took a few days for a new order to be enforced on the town. A few of the stronger cultivators allied and started a bloody cleansing, and soon held the population in an iron grip. There was no government, no vote, only forced obedience. The leaders named themselves the Kingsbury Council and set themselves up as kings.

Mackenzie and Lyla followed Ruth, a 48 year old lady who they got to know a bit in the tutorial. She had been a cleaning lady before the integration, but now she held command over a large district, subduing any discontent with surprising brutality. Ruth was harsh, but she was the best of the bunch. None of those who stood out were saints, as they had all bathed in blood during the tutorial to get their current strength.

It was actually due to one of the other councilors that Mackenzie and Lyla decided to volunteer to scout out the undead problem that was spreading. They needed to get away from the town, and hopefully gain some strength while away. Harold was an insatiable old goat, and he already considered himself an emperor and had started amassing women for his harem. Some of them were willing to get the protection of a powerhouse as food was running scarce and monsters were roaming the outskirts of the town, but most reportedly were unwilling captives. There was a lot of discontent about his conduct but Harold was possibly the most powerful cultivator in Kingsbury, and even Ruth didn’t dare to confront him outright.

Of course, Harold was a joke compared to the people on the Ladder, like a fly compared to giants. Especially her brother, the Super Brother-Man…

With a thundering swing Billy crushed the skull of the rat-like monster, grey smelly goop splashing all around. It was one of the last of their kind and he could finally catch his breath with deep guffaws. The whole field around him were filled with big holes from his mighty thwonking.

The new world was good. Before, everything had been confusing and complicated. People had given Billy stinky eye all the time for no reason. But no one looked down on Billy now. Not even papa, not after the thwonk on his head set him straight.

Billy didn’t understand why so many didn’t like the new world. It was so simple. Hit things on the head and they gave you money and made you stronger. But people hid behind the walls and cried instead of going out thwonking. People were the idiots, not Billy.

“Good work great chief! You are so strong. The name Billy is surely known around the world by now!” a voice came from up on the wall.

It was Nigel. Nigel was smart but dumb. He was smart because he understood Billy was a good chief. He was dumb because he didn’t thwonk monsters with Billy, and instead stayed on the wall.

“I bet not even the Super Brother-Man is a match for you and your club Billy! See how those large rats got destroyed!” Nigel continued, even waving the flag of the town, Billyville.

When Billy heard the compliment is back straightened a bit further and the bulging muscles on his huge frame swelled, but he soon shrunk back a bit.

“Super Brother-Man is probably super-strong, he has thwonked a lot more than Billy. But Billy is going to catch up, there are still many rats to bash,” he said with the type of modesty that mama always said a gentleman should have. He really missed mama, but she was gone when Billy came back from the funny town with the mini-people. Nigel said that she had died, but Billy knew no monster would dare hurt such an angel.

Billy really wondered who the Super Brother-Man was. It was a great name, and caused Billy to regret the one he chose, Thwonkin’ Billy. He really wanted to see who could swing a club the best. Having another smart friend to bash rats with would be great.

Billy was right about the rats. There were so many of them and some help would be nice. He had tried counting them but he got a headache from it. They all came from that grey weird shining light in the distance. Nigel called it an incursion, but Billy preferred to call it a ratlight since it created rats and was a light.

Nigel always told him that the thing needed to be closed for some quest, but Billy didn’t care about any of that. He needed no reason for thwonking rats. It felt good, it gave money and made Billy stronger.

Billy was truly in heaven.

She moved through the forest, a flittering shadow between the trees. Any unsuspecting beast that came within a few meters were bisected into pieces by a quick flash.

Thea was days from any back-up or civilization, but it was out here in the wilderness that she felt most at home. No politics and intrigue, only survival. She had hoped that the integration would make the world simpler, but it was anything but the truth.

The Marshall-clan went into overdrive the moment Earth was integrated, ever hungry for empowering the family. She was tired of it and had essentially become a nomad, fiercely battling in the wilderness non-stop since she came back. The pixies had called her a once-in-a-millennia genius, but she didn’t care about any of that. She relished the feeling of balancing on the edge of life and death, pushing the limits of her power even further.

Still, she was shocked when she saw the Ladder. Her tireless effort and fortuitous encounters seemed almost like a joke in front of that man. She thought herself the true elite of Earth, as no one in her tutorial town even came close to her accomplishments. It only took her a week of grinding after the tutorial was over before she attained her class, and it was of the Rare-rarity, something that was almost impossible to get.

Yet she barely maintained the third spot on the ladder. She had even pushed herself beyond what she thought was possible in order to catch up, refusing to lose to someone with such a stupid moniker. But no matter what she did he steadily increased the distance between them. Who the hell was the Super Brother-Man?

She sighed and opened up her quest panel and stared at her newly acquired mission. Completing it might be her only option to pass that monster, but was it worth it?

Order was crumbling. Thomas Fischer sat on the short-side of the large table and quietly stared at the troubled faces in the meeting room.

“What about recruitment?” Thomas said with a sigh.

“80 Returnees, or cultivators as they call themselves, have signed up to the special government task force the last week,” a bespectacled middle-aged lady answered. “Unfortunately, most of them are in the lower tier who barely came out of the so-called tutorial in one piece. The stronger ones have largely stayed ambivalent, adopting a wait-and-see response.”

“We need to get tougher! People are running around playing super-heroes. Or even worse, super-villains. We need to round them up. If they don’t want to join and register, they need to be locked up!” a robust scarred man shouted while thumping emphatically at the table. It was Hank, the representative of the army.

Thomas was somewhat inclined to agree with him, but not really due to safety. The more powerful of these cultivators were setting themselves up as local lords, completely ignoring the government. If this was allowed to continue, then Earth’s countries would just become a memory.

“What about the rankers? Have we located any of them?” Thomas probed. Getting the support of a few of the rankers would hopefully once again legitimize the government in the eyes of the population, and rebuilding work could begin in earnest.

“Why bother with them? The training program for the elite forces of the army are coming along well, and there are cultivator servicemen who have reported for duty leading them. Soon we will have an army adapted to this so-called System. It is better to rely on patriotic soldiers than some war-lords who can betray us at moment’s notice,” Hank interjected.

“What’s the average level so far among the trainees?” Julia asked, breaking her hour-long silence. She was the newly appointed liaison with the unaffiliated cultivators, and one of the four cultivators herself in the meeting.

“The average level is 19, and we already have two people who have gained their classes,” Hank answered proudly.

“How can you compare some fodder to the rankers? Any one of them is probably able to decimate your army in a minute.” Julia said dismissively and turned back to Thomas.

“We have located 5 of the rankers so far. Rank 34, 58, 63 and 94 on the level ladder. We have also located Rank 87 and 99 on the wealth ladder. Rank 87 is as you know the same individual as rank 34 on the Power Ladder.

“There are also about a dozen individuals who used their real name that we have identified with some certainty. Most notable is Thea Marshall of the Marshall-family, who is ranked 3rd on the level ranking. Unfortunately we do not know where these people are located at the moment, with the effects of the reshuffling still being mapped out.”

“Any word on ‘Super Brother-Man’ or ‘Salvation’?” Thomas asked. Thea Marshall would be a good get for the government, but the Marshall clan likely had their own plans in this new world order. And he didn’t want to wage war against that ancient family when there were both the incursions and the new natives to worry about, so he could only turn his eyes toward the other two top rankers. Of course, neither of them seemed to be quite sane from their choice of pseudonyms, but one couldn’t be picky after the apocalypse.

The hesitant look in Julia’s eye was all the answer Thomas needed as he sighed.

“Next on the docket is the situation with our new… neighbors… to the west.”

A note from TheFirstDefier

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