Once upon a time, Maya and I had spent hours on avatar design. This time around, I didn't waste more than a few minutes on the luxury. I left the facial structure as is - it was important Maya recognise me. At the same time, I wanted to make life difficult for her captors. So, I made the avatar's skin several shades darker and the hair black, no different from Maya's. I reset the height to match mine in reality. Adjusting to the difference had always been disorienting when transitioning, but I'd stuck to it in the Beast Hunter Realm's for vanity's sake.
When I tried to progress to race selection, the system skipped to Ancestry. I went back and forth several times, but I failed to find what I was looking for.
"System, take me to race selection," I said.
"Intemus lore only features humanity. There are no other races."
Disappointed, I perused the ancestries. Avatar models in different outfits stood in front of me. Pausing in front of one displayed their name, a small description, and the bonuses and penalties that came with them. The names were mostly tied to topography, and it caused me concern.
"Will my selection limit me to my ancestral birthplace?"
"No," the robotic voice answered. "However, your heritage will determine how others view you. You may not start in hostile territory. You will be advised to start where your people are most welcome. Planting your avatar in a war zone or contested territory is allowed but unadvised."
"Interesting," I mumbled to myself. There were too many to choose from. There were purebreds and mixed parentage. I didn't have time to browse the entire list. "System, filter ancestries with bonuses in at least two of the following skill groups marksmanship, sneaking, crafting and trading."
The selection shrank from over a hundred to two dozen. Still too much.
"Eliminate anyone, not on positive terms with the Golden Scales guild."
"Invalid search parameters," the system announced.
"Fine. Scan for settlements where the Golden Scales guild has an outpost and then eliminate all ancestries that have a negative reputation in the said settlement."
"Negative reputation includes dislike. Hostility is much further down the spectrum. You will be excluding ancestries that have skill bonuses in three or more of your listed skills."
"Just do what I say," I said, ignoring the warning. Eddie claimed social status was vital to merchant guilds. I didn't want to waste time trying to improve my reputation. The cyber plains were home to digitised folk and the cyber born. They were as real as Maya and I, and real people were slow to change their mind. "I need ancestries that are welcome wherever the Golden Scales are."
"Confirmed." The system too much longer than I thought it would. One by one, the options decreased till there were four left. "Your parameters were impossible. Someone will always find a reason to hate another. The following are disliked by only five per cent of the population in all settlements featuring a Golden Scales outpost."
Dunesmen: Several thousands of years of walking the sands and practising guerilla warfare has made your kind lightfooted and used to the shadows. Resources being scarce, many will go against the law to get what they need.
- Stealth, Marksmanship, Thieving, and Acrobatic skills gain experience at a higher rate.
- High chance of birth with Void or Shaping Attunement.
- Viewed suspiciously in non-desert settlements, but held in high regard by all mercenaries.
- Experience penalties with Heavy Armour and Heavy Weapon skills.
Mountainfolk: Your people live in a harsh environment but love it. They don't like moving far from their birthplace or mingling with outsiders. However, the steep slopes have made them nimble, and their isolation has taught them the importance of providing for themselves.
- Gathering, Marksmanship, Traversal and Taming skills gain experience at a higher rate.
- High chance of birth with Thermomancy or Essence Attunement.
- Viewed as primitive folk in non-mountainous settlements and larger cities, but easily trusted.
- Experience penalties with offensive spells and Weapon skills (except Simple Weapons)
Plainsmen: Your ancestors were people of the land. They preferred nurturing it and domesticating its dwellers as opposed to conquesting for territory. Like them, you love people, creation, trade and hunting.
- Crafting, Gathering, Trading, Marksmanship and Taming skills gain experience at a higher rate.
- High chance of birth with Dominion or Essence Attunement.
- Loved by all but excluded from military and mercenary forces.
- Experience penalties with all offensive spells and Melee Combat Skills.
Channelsmen: Your ancestors were born on islands off the mainland but didn't let them become isolated. They navigated rough and calm waters for the sake of trade, exploration, and knowledge. You were born to learn, create and make money.
- Crafting, Trading, Navigating, and Arcane skills gain experience at a higher rate.
- High chance of birth with Thermomancy or Primal Attunement.
- Liked by most but often mistaken as Imperialists.
- Experience penalties with all melee Martial and Exotic Weapon and Gathering skills.
I eliminated Dunesmen straight away. Though thieving sounded like a fun route to take, I didn't want to risk the societal negative. Mountainfolk were next to go. I imagined Traversal skills included sneaking, but the lack of Crafting bonus and the risk of being considered stupid was a negative.
"Select Plainsmen," I said.
My avatar's complexion smoothed and what had been naturally dark skin, now looked more tanned. He looked like me but more relaxed than I'd ever been. From appearance alone, he was likeable. I could see myself becoming a prosperous merchant as him.
"What's this?" I asked when the next selection process started. My avatar and I stood shoulder to shoulder in a room lined with countless spheres. There words in varying scripts engraved on their surface.
"This is where you build your avatar's backstory. The traits you select will modify your bonuses and penalties. Some may handicap you in some respect while giving you a supreme advantage elsewhere."
"How many do I get?"
"Six," the system answered. "You pick three, then I pick three."
"Pick all six for me, I'm in a rush."
"Request denied. The rules are set. You must pick three."
"I've wasted too long on avatar creation already!" I complained. However, the rules had to be obeyed. "You've got to help me narrow the selection down."
"Request granted," the system said, and the majority of the balls turned black. "Traits that don't pair well with your previous parameters have been dulled. Do note: due to the time dilation only two minutes have passed since synchronisation with the pod."
The first to grab my attention was Apprentice.
You're talented and hardworking enough to have found a master in your chosen craft. Experience gain in selected profession increased by 25%. Related skills will start at the Apprentice rank. Your master will be assigned randomly.
Several choices of profession drifted in front of me. It wasn't only related to crafting, but there were diplomatic and combat-related professions too. Apprentice Salesman was an amusing option, but I moved it to the rejected pile. Only alchemist, artificer and blacksmith remained by the time I was done eliminating the unsuitable options. Unsure how lucrative the first craft was in Intemus, I dismissed it. After some thought I decided, the second was bound to be too expensive to rank quickly, so I settled on blacksmithing.
The system was kind enough to darken more options when I locked in my choice. However, I was determined to get it all done, sticking to the shelves closest to me. The ball labelled 'Adopted' caught my attention.
Nurture is as important as nature. Brought up by a parent or parents of a different ancestry, you have assimilated their interests and nature. You will inherit two skill growth bonuses from your adopted parent. A fraction of their reputation bonuses and penalties will be added to yours as well.
"System, do I get to choose which skill bonuses I will inherit?"
"No. However, the ancestral skill bonuses do not stack. If your adopted parent is one of the Mountainfolk, you won't receive further bonuses in Gathering, Taming or Marksmanship. Only Traversal will be added to the bonuses. All weapon skill penalties will be added too."
"Excellent," I said. "Make my avatar a Channelsmen adopted by Plainsmen."
"Request completed," the system said, and the avatar's physique changed. The smooth complexion turned rough from its exposure to the sea, the shoulders grew more full and the arms longer. The skin was now more sunburnt than tanned.
"Lastly, is there any trait that reduces the likelihood of my Channelsmen being mistaken for an Imperialist. Or, increases his likability."
One of the formerly black balls lit up, and the rest dulled. It was labelled: Abandoned.
Sympathy isn't always a bad thing. While in the settlement you grew up in, you're liked by all, more so by those in your neighbourhood. After all, it takes a village to raise a child. However, your lack of birth papers may be a hindrance.
Combination effect with Adopted: You will inherit an extra skill and reputation bonus from your adoptive parents. However, all penalties are doubled.
Tip: Be sure to get a copy of your adoption certificate.
"It's perfect," I said, finalising my selection. I didn't have any use for Taming, but the guarantee of inheriting Marksmanship and Trade skill bonuses was worth more to me than the extra likability. "Now show me what you're picking."
"You may view my selections through your Codex once in Intemus."
"Fine. That means I get to start now?"
"No. Starting location and name selection are still left."
"What city is the Golden Scales headquarter in?" I asked.
"The cloud city of Nimbus," the system answered. The scenery changed once again. My avatar and I were now standing on a cloud looking at a cluster of floating islands. It looked like the city had been born on top of the flat rock face and then spilt over the sides. Buildings not only clung to the grey rock face but hung from it as well. The city's rim was one giant port. There were docked sky ships occupying most of it. I watched some depart and others waiting for a spot to tether. It was a wondrous sight.
The variety of vehicles left me wondering about the world's magic and crafting systems. Wooden rectangles were dangling from massive balloons, with propellers lashed to their sides. A good fraction of the ships looked no different from ones you'd see on the ocean but had horizontal sails in addition to the vertical one. Most intriguing of all were the complex aerodynamic structures with no visible propulsion. I guessed they used Arcanic means to stay afloat.
"I can't think of a more perfect city for a merchant's guild. What's the manufacturing and military scene like?"
"Nimbus runs on trade and manufacturing. There is a constabulary serving the council of guilds that run the city, but it doesn't have its own military. Instead, the guilds have their own defence force or employ mercenaries to defend the city from pirates and sky beasts. It serves as a transit hub too. A significant fraction of the population makes a living restocking ships on long voyages and catering to sailors and deckhands-"
"That's enough," I interrupted. "I don't need a breakdown of their economy. What happens next?"
"I select the final background traits to formulate your avatar's back story," the system explained. "And, you pick your avatar's name."
"Make your selection then, what are you waiting for?"
"It is done. I was waiting for you to confirm your starting location. What would you like to name your avatar?"
My now-dead avatar was named Rowan Parsons, while Maya's had been Madhu Maya - she'd adopted my late mother's last name. However, I needed something different for my new journey.
"Rowe Kross." Eddie employed the last name for professional reasons. Hicks wasn't threatening enough, and it tied us together.
"Your character background will judge your last name. You may only select the first."
"Fine," I said. Something inside me wanted to employ the 'kay' sound still. My avatar looked like he should have it in his name. "Let's go with Krowe then."
"Unconventional but suitable. Avatar creation is complete. Commencing dive in five. Four. Three. Two."
I didn't hear her finish her countdown before the world went black.