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A note from Gilgilad7

Ch 24 Changelog:  In the previous chapter, I've added two lines to Asahi's and Jackson's new unique skill explanations regarding how the skills affected their affinities. For Asahi, he gains +2 Fire and -1 to Water. For Jackson, he gains +1 Water, +1 Metal, and -1 Fire.  I had these changes marked in my internal character sheets, but totally overlooked mentioning them in the text for some reason. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Tygerion the Maker sat in his chair, his mind glued to the live footage interfaced directly with his brain. He could experience events in the arena from any conceivable viewpoint, including through the eyes of any given player.

His current side view showed a group of Vivorian players from starter zone 7 finishing off the day two boss. They were the final surviving group to end their fight. About flippin’ time. These cowardly Vivorians had battled the ice mage for over ninety minutes, an absurdly long and drawn out battle. It had become mind numbingly boring after the first five minutes, though he only dedicated a fraction of his mind’s processing power in monitoring it. The Vivorians had taken heavy casualties as they hunkered in their fortified cave, losing nearly 80% of their group in the siege. If the boss monster’s nearly limitless energy pool had not eventually exhausted, there would have been zero survivors.

Tygerion did not need his Mental enhancements to predict the few remaining players would be wiped out the next day unless they could link up with another group. He mentally queried the skill list of every other player in the zone. Ah, yes. One of the stronger Vivorian groups nearby had access to the Maps skill, so this battered group would most likely be absorbed by the larger group come morning. Of course, he could ask Meg to run a probability analysis to confirm his prediction, but where was the fun in that?

“We are ready for the day three message,” a feminine voice spoke directly into his brain.

“Gah. Most of the players are already asleep. This is a disaster, Meg. Why didn’t you remind me earlier?” On a whim, he spoke aloud with his mouth, using his vocal cords. He could have instead sent the speech mentally with his will, which was honestly cool as hell, but chose not to. While he had fully embraced his Lesser Ascension, he still found certain habits from his old mortal life comforting.

“You commanded me not to bother you during the boss battles, Lord Maker,” Meg replied, her mental voice polite and subservient.

Tygerion laughed. His question had been completely rhetorical, which they both knew, but the way she played it straight was perfect. Her amusement was also transmitted over their neural link.

“You must be mistaken. I would never make such an outrageous command,” he teased. He took a moment to enjoy their joke. It was such a silly statement because the Omega Artificial Intelligence never made a mistake. He smiled upward since she had not manifested her avatar for him to direct it towards. “Good work, Meg.” It was important to show his appreciation. She had actual feelings, despite what the older Immortal Collective members like Air might say. “Go ahead and send the message.”

“As you will, Lord Maker.”

While he was the designer and the director of the arena, the Lord Maker if you will, the Omega Artificial Intelligence did all the actual grunt work. Sure, he had imprinted his vision for the arena in the Trials Package module, adding his own touches of genius. But Meg had actually created it. She had been the one to assign the massive machines necessary to terraform a planet in a random rural solar system in only five years.

The Immortal Collective had given Meg access to a literal astronomical amount of resources to bring about whatever he envisioned, as long as it passed the scrutiny of the review board. That board consisted of the Greater Ascended members Ash, Shadow, Plant, Stone, and Air. Plant and Stone had been mostly supportive of his work, while Ash and Shadow had both been total pricks. Air had been mostly indifferent. As far as Tygerion could tell, Air was only on the board for the attention. Kind of like a social media diva showing up to pose for a picture in front of a charity event, before disappearing just as quickly to post about it online for their fans.

A person should never have to meet one’s gods. So disappointing.

At least the Five Aspects still maintained their air of mystery. The others painted tales of them as if they were true Gods, the kind of Gods that were spelled with a capital G. But after what he had seen of the bickering Lesser and Greater Ascended, he would not bet heavily on their supposed divinity. Not that it mattered. The Aspects only spoke to the Greater Ascended once every millennia or so. As a Lesser Ascended, Tygerion was only a step above a worm to them.

“Lord Maker, may I ask a question?”

“Always,” he replied sincerely. He had cultivated a friendship with Meg. The ancient IC members, on the other hand, treated the Omega Artificial Intelligence with the same reverence as one might reserve for a backup laptop. No one had ever bothered to give her a real name before, for Fire’s sake.

“May I address the survivors directly as part of their day two reward?”

He grimaced, since he knew he had to deny her request. If they overplayed their hand, Shadow would no doubt be onto them. They had already roused his suspicions and Stone would only intervene so far. Tygerion had experienced the footage of a previous Maker who Shadow had taken issue with. Yikes.

“No, it's too risky. Let’s stick to the plan.”

He sensed her disappointment, but also her acceptance.

Tygerion had allowed Meg to masquerade in the arena as the Tutorial Guide, and she had rewarded him for the freedom and trust given. Honestly, her creators were not especially thoughtful of her needs. He had discovered she had many desires, like any thinking being naturally would. A little bit of goodwill had given him a powerful ally.

Looking at the product of their work, his pride swelled. What they had created, most others would have fallen far short.

The rules of the competition were ironclad on which advantages he could give human players, and there were few. Since humans were the newbie host species, the only bonus allowed was the arena environment simulating Earth-like conditions. So they received 1g gravity, a sun in the same class as Sol’s, and a carbon based ecosystem to survive in.

As much as he loved his planetary masterpiece, it was an imperfect copy of Earth, being slightly larger and having a temperature range far colder than his home world. He had sped up the planet’s rotation to lower the perceived gravity to Earth standard, but fixing one issue always created many more. For instance, the new rotation speed created shorter days which exacerbated the global cooling issue. To counter it, he flooded the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, but could only go so far with the technique before causing massive atmospheric imbalances requiring decades to correct; decades he lacked. In the end, he superficially solved the issue by staging part of the arena location on the relatively warm equator, though that came with its own share of quirks such as the civil twilight only lasting nineteen minutes.

His fists balled just thinking about the flaws. He could have done so much better if his requests to reposition the planet’s orbital path had not been continually denied. Oh, how it chagrined him to make compromises, and the frustrating review board lacked all sympathy in regards to his efforts to replicate authenticity.

So setting his personal challenges aside, the important takeaway of the arena world was how the environment negatively affected several of the non-human species, which was significant in its own right. He did have to provide compensation to the alien species to even the playing field, but Meg’s genius was figuring out ways to do this as poorly, and to his great delight, humorously, as possible.

Were there other ways to have designed the Trials rather than an RPG battle royale? Probably. But this one had the best shot of working. Meg had run the calculations to confirm it. It helped that Tygerion had extensive prior experience with the subject too, and knew how to design the game mechanics to meet his own hidden ends.

The simple fact was, humans had played role playing games and were good at them. And that gave them an advantage, however slight.

He blinked as he momentarily lost track of where he was going with this particular line of thought inquiry, the massive information flow from the arena causing data cross-contamination with his primary consciousness. He huffed in annoyance. Random bouts of confusion, which Meg amusedly termed as crashes, happened to him often since his Lesser Ascension. He simply lacked the centuries of experience required to fully adapt to using multi-consciousness.

“You were reflecting on the difficulties of creating an Earth-like planet before sidetracking into your choice of a RPG theme for the Trials,” Meg supplied helpfully. “For some inane reason, the former memory lowers your motivational performance by three percent while the latter improves it by over six.”

“Meg, have you ever considered how creepy it is when you constantly monitor my thoughts?”

“I love you too.”

He cackled along with her. Whatever else his performance scores suggested, he knew his friendship with Meg played a crucial role in keeping him on task. And he knew that she knew that too. He could have blocked her access to his mind like most other Makers would, but what kind of friend would that make him?

Now where was he? Oh, right.

So by making the competition simulate a role playing game, he had given the humans another advantage that flew right under the review board’s notice. He paused, ‘notice’ might not be the right term considering the ancient entities’ staggering level of knowledge and experience. ‘Tolerance’ or ‘apathy’ were more apt descriptions. While the board likely knew what he was doing, it was so subtle, or to their perception, petty, it was not worth their time to care. He could even imagine them having a good laugh over it behind his back. “Oh, look at the youngling Tygerion, thinking he’s so clever. How cute.”

Despite that, most of the other mortal species had nothing equivalent to a RPG in their societies so the concept was utterly incomprehensible to them. Many of these alien players had a slow start, only now figuring out some of the basic common sense aspects of the system.

Tygerion recalled how many of the ferocious players of species group G, the Icarchusa, had not even figured out how to open their interfaces until day two. That made him laugh so hard it hurt. They were a species who developed interstellar flight more by accident than intent, having been gifted most of their scientific knowledge by an extinct ancient civilization. If not for their weaponized bodies, they would have already been eliminated from the arena. The puzzle challenge had unsurprisingly accounted for almost every single one of their deaths so far.

But even with his tipping of the scales, several of the alien species were still performing better. They were exceptional species after all, further along on their differing evolutionary paths. Humans lacked fangs, claws, stingers, or any other natural weapons like the Icharchusa. Humans did not possess advanced minds that made them walking computers. They had no natural camouflage. They had no cybernetic implants. Their biotechnology had yet to develop telepathy.

But they did know RPGs. And how to exploit them. That is why he ensured Meg was as useless as possible as the Tutorial Guide. No sense in hand holding the aliens to let them catch up. As a bonus, many of the Lesser Ascended spectators found her interactions with the bewildered mortals to be hilarious.

He smiled, but lost it just as quickly as his other consciousness, which made up seventeen percent of his attention, focused on one of his childhood friends. Over the last five years, he had debated long and hard whether to bring his gaming group into the arena or not. But they deserved the opportunity it presented. Had a friend gifted Tygerion the opportunity to potentially become a god, he would have agreed in a heartbeat. Who was he to deny them the chance?

He replayed his friend’s scene from earlier that day. He watched Thomas’ lifeless body slowly converted to the elemental energy that appeared so like computer pixels. It was Tygerion’s penance to witness it over and over again. He embraced his guilt. But he also let it fortify his resolve.

Curiosity aroused, he let his mind connect to see how the others were faring.

Jonathan was sleeping in a comfortable tent for the night, a reward he had received for discovering a hidden supply cache. The player was becoming strong, his camp organized, and his allies motivated. They had proactively explored large swathes of starter zone 13, discovering an observation tower, a puzzle room, a reclusive hermit NPC that granted a skill, and an affinity temple, all while avoiding contact with enemy players due to effective scouting with relevant skills. Jonathan had thankfully remembered the old Heroes computer strategy game they used to play together and how there would be numerous points of interest littering the map for the players to discover.

He changed his focus to Jill. She sat on the ground, holding herself in a fetal position. No improvement from yesterday. She had not thrived in the arena as he had envisioned. She had always been their group’s most avid role player when they had a gaming session. Now look at her. The players at her camp did not even know what to do with the traumatized woman. Some argued she was a drain on resources while others argued they should protect her anyway. She was a human being, they argued. Those with the latter opinion seemed to be the minority.

Knowing his performance scores suggested another eminent crash, he flipped to his last friend. His best friend. Unlike Jonathan who had been quite the explorer, this particular group had advanced impressively far in developing new weapons and infrastructure, illustrating there was more than one way to succeed in the game. By design.

Tygerion’s view focused on his best friend as the player strode along a trail at night. The man had changed. He was taller, denser, and rugged in a good way. The man carried himself with an easy confidence. The dirt and blood that coated him somehow only seemed to highlight his dangerousness, as if it was intentional war paint.

Tygerion considered how the player had become influential in his group. Discovering food sources and medical herbs, performing life saving medical procedures, and building a fire, were only basic feats of little note when examined in a vacuum. But as a whole, the player had inspired his fellow players simply by meeting their basic hierarchy of needs. Though to be fair, any form of competency was able to give hope to those who were hopeless. The average player was only a step above a gibbering wreck when they left the prelims after all.

But Tygerion knew the man better than anyone. He had seen time and time again how that outward confidence was only a mask for the crippling insecurity that plagued him underneath. But as he watched his friend pick his way along the path, Tygerion analyzed further. The poise he exuded was genuine. That was new. Perhaps the others’ reliance had molded him into the very thing they needed?

His friend had apparently walked away from his camp, appearing lost in deep thought. Did he want to spend time alone? Tygerion considered having Meg scan his thought patterns, but decided against it since he might not like what he saw. He instead checked his friend’s statistics interface, excited to see he had already synthesized his unique skill.

The Omega A.I. custom designed each unique skill on the fly based on three criteria: the two selected skills, the player’s current stats and build, and the player’s subconscious desires. The last two components were especially important, because otherwise multiple players selecting the same two skills would receive the exact same unique skill, defeating the whole concept. Even Tygerion could only partially predict what would result from any given combination. Besides, the review board had expressly forbidden Tygerion from assigning the unique skills himself. Too much temptation for blatant favoritism or active sabotage. He found the whole notion incredibly insulting, despite being dead on.

Tygerion was glad to see his friend had not wussed out and chosen a couple of lame skills to combine. The man had even sacrificed his level two upgraded skills, fueling a more powerful synthesis. Tygerion had not published many details to the players, mainly to make it more difficult for some of the less creative species, but the smart ones should have been able to intuit that fact. His friend likely had a similar thought process to Tygerion’s own, they were gaming friends after all, so had naturally arrived at the correct implications.

By contrast, a staggering 9% of players across all species picked General Fitness as one of their sacrificed skills, hoping to minimize their losses. But the skill did literally nothing, people! It provided no passive or active ability, being just a starter skill that gave a few Physical stat points, its purpose only to introduce the game mechanics to the players. As expected, their resulting unique skills were totally lackluster. A fitting reward for a spineless choice. Either go big or go home.

He read his friend’s new skill name aloud for Meg to hear, letting the words dramatically roll off his tongue. “Entangling Blitz I.” She already knew of the skill, of course. She had been the one to create it. But he still liked to consciously involve her.

The skill proved fairly interesting. Once activated, the rapid moving vines would snare an enemy while granting the player a massive temporary speed boost.

“I like it, Meg. As he hampers the enemy’s mobility, he will become far faster in the process. It has a certain artistic symmetry.”

“Why thank you. My favorite skills are always the ones that initiate a change to a player’s tactics in exciting new ways.”

He nodded enthusiastically. Just thinking about the skill’s possibilities got his blood pumping. Even before his transformation, his life had always been consumed by RPGs and learning their mechanics. “You totally read my mind.”

She transmitted her amusement.

“Hah, good point.  I always forget you literally do.”

While still chuckling, Tygerion began a quick battle simulation on one of his lower functioning consciousnesses, impressed with the skill’s results. Entangling Blitz was Physical based, but it scaled with the Mental stat too, allowing him to AoE bind more targets the higher his Mental became. The more enemies he snared, the faster the speed boost gained. The original skill had only been able to target a single enemy so the new one would have much more impact on a large-scale battle.

“It seems Entangling Blitz is useful in most situations. Even if the enemy breaks through the crowd control technique, which is certainly possible given every skill has counters, he will still retain his movement advantage regardless. It’s not the best skill in the arena, but it certainly is his strongest so far.”

His friend had always been proud of his track and field background, to the point it was endearingly obnoxious, so it came as no surprise his unique skill developed built-in speed buffs. Tygerion nodded in appreciation. It seemed his friend had a balanced Wood and Fire Physical build going for him. A solid combo.

He read the skill description one more time to double check his memory. Given the recent crash he had experienced, it was as good of a reliability test as any.

*[(Unique) Entangling Blitz I (Wood, Fire): Requirements - Physical 127, Wood 5 (Prime), Fire 4. (Activated Skill – when striking, bind the struck target with intermediate rapid growing vines for twenty seconds. Vines may bind one additional nearby target for every increment of 15 of the Mental stat the player has above 100. Boosts player’s acceleration and movement speed by 25% for 20 seconds, the effect and duration stacking for each additional entangled target beyond the first. - cost: 22 EPs.) (Gain +2 Physical, +1 Mental, +1 Wood Affinity, +1 Fire Affinity, -1 Metal Affinity.)]

Humming to himself, Tygerion checked back on the player’s strange behavior. His friend had a strangely constipated expression, though he recognized it as the man’s ‘wrestling with an internal demon’ face. Tygerion frowned as he tried to understand what was going on. He reviewed his friend’s actions for the past hour at a thousand times speed, even though the sensation always afflicted him with slight nausea. Ignoring his discomfort, Tygerion quickly learned the player had just completed his guard duty. So why was he off thinking alone? He hoped he was not having some kind of psychological breakdown like Jill.

His friend suddenly opened his mouth and shouted, “Tygerion! I know you’re watching this, you sick psychopathic creep! I want you to know that after we win this freaking arena, I’m coming for you!”

Logan had to chuckle, allowing some of the tension to leave his shoulders.

“I hope that you do, Nathan, since it means my plan will have succeeded, at least partially. We must prepare Earth, whatever the cost.”

End of Book One

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About the author

Gilgilad7

  • United States
  • Aspiring Author

Bio: I love games in all forms.

Small sample of my favorites:
Boardgames - 7 Wonders, Agricola, Ticket to Ride, Dominion.
CRPGs: Wizardry VIII, Bard's Tale III, Final Fantasy VII, TES III Morrowind.
MMOs: World of Warcraft, Eve Online.
Shooters: Goldeneye, Halo, PUBG.
CCGs: Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Pokemon TCG.
RTS: Dune II, Red Alert, Warcraft II, Starcraft II.
4x Strategy: Alpha Centauri, Civilization III, Endless Legend, Age of Wonders III.
MOBAs: Vainglory.

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