[Shifting of geography has begun! For your own saftey, please avoid contact with the glowing lines.]

From my porch, I saw a thousand glowing blue lines light up the evening sky. Well, maybe a thousand was the wrong term, but there were a lot of them. They were all perfectly straight, and seemed to exist at clean angles to each other. I did a quick check, and was pleased to note that none of them seemed to be over my apartment building itself.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the city and trees and sunset around me were gone. Above my head, stars twinkled, the twilight just fading away to nothing. Around my building, I saw the parking lot went out about half of its former length, before ending in dark, sloping sand dunes. There were still a few towering trees that had been part of my apartment complex when we were moved, but the scent of vibrant, lively air had changed into something much dryer.

Then all the lights went out, as the electricity ran down.

[Shifting stage one has completed! Stage two will become open in 47:00 hours. Enjoy your new home!]

"A desert, eh?" I spoke aloud. "Well, that's not too bad. I wonder if anything else landed nearby?" Standing up from my deck, and noticing that the air around me had gotten a lot colder all of a sudden, I went back inside. As I was about to close the sliding glass door, I heard screaming from downstairs.

Well fuck. As awkward as I felt just walking up to someone else's door and asking if I could help at all, I think I'd feel a hell of a lot worse if I just did nothing. As I walked over to the door and my shoes, though, the new system governing my world decided I needed some more distractions.

[Assessment Ongoing! Your potential is measured.
Achievement gained : The Practice of War. You have tested your grand strategy, and emerged victorious.
Stat improved as reward: Strength +4
Stat unlocked as reward: Cunning. Know your foe. Cunning rated at 3.
Stat improved as reward: Cunning +4
Skill set unlocked as reward: Strategy. The weight of the world is measured in units and morale.
Skill unlocked as reward: Strategy - Wargames. The tactics of fiction train the tactics of reality.
Rank unlocked : Netrunner, 456,111 / 17,215,016.
Rank reward : Top 50%. You have distinguised yourself from the crowd.
Stat unlocked : Control. Sharpen your mind. Control set to 3.
Rank reward : Top 10%. You have set yourself on the path of the champion.
Skill unlocked : Bluff. Fool the world.]

"All of this is very interesting, thank you." I told the window in front of me as I fumbled into my shoes. "Especially the fact that apparantly my gaming habits have unlocked whole new stats. But I need to go make sure everyone is alright, so if you could just move, that would be great." The window obliged me, almost sheepishly, as it drifted to the corner of my vision. I'd call it up again and check later to make sure it wasn't anything I really needed to worry about.

[Pool Improved : Calm +1]

Another scream from downstairs. I yanked the door open, feeling the cold desert air brush into my apartment with a bit of sand. Ignoring the tempature for now, I tromped downstairs, feet landing heavily on the wooden steps to my apartment. Outside, it was bizarre to see the sidewalk, still looking normal as ever, suddenly cut to sand and a few scraggly bushes. The light from the moon and stars was brighter than I'd expected, and my eyes were quickly starting to adjust to...

[Ability unlocked : Low-Light Vision]

The shapes of the dunes and plants suddenly came into clear focus, the lack of light doing nothing to stop me from easily seeing through the dark. It made it a lot easier to navigate the sidewalk, with all its cracks and small ridges caused by the roots of trees growing under it, and to make my way to the door of the apartment below mine.

[Ability improved : Low-Light Vision +1]

I hadn't heard anyone yelling in a while, so I knocked. It seemed only polite, after all.

[Skill set unlocked : Etiquitte
Etiquitte slots available : 0/4]

Shrugging off the new alert, I listened for anyone moving around inside. Knocking again, I strained my ears to try to hear the source of the problem, or for any sign of whoever had been screaming. I heard someone in there moving around, but clearly not coming to the door.

[Skill unlocked : Observation - Listening
Skill improved : Observation +1]

"Hello? Ma'am?" I called out. "Do you need any help? I heard screaming!" I shouted through the closed door. Reaching out, I tried the handle, and to my surprise, found it unlocked. "Ma'am?" I said as I stepped over the threshold. Looking around, I could make out shapes in the apartment, though it was pretty dark in here now. The light from outside didn't filter in too well, and it went well beyond the limits of my new ability to clearly see everything.

[Ability improved : Low-Light Vision +1
Stat improved : Perception +1]

Moving through the apartment of my neighbor, I started to hear soft, rapid breathing from the living room. It sounded like it was coming from behind the couch. "Hello? I'm not here to hurt you or anything, I just want to help if I can. Are you alright?" I asked the dark room, now slightly more visible.

[Pool improved : Kindness +1]

"It's still here..." A small, terrified voice said from behind the couch. Well, at least I knew there was someone here now.

"What's still here? Do you need help?" I asked, stepping forwrad. But before she could answer, there was a rumbling sound from down the hallway. It evoked, in my mind, images of thousand-pound predators. Of nightmare creatures that shredded humans for lunch. Of things that I would never be able to deal with, no matter how many stat points I gained. I had to get out of here, I had to run, and I felt the fear stiffen my limbs and freeze my thoughts. But then, I remembered the small voice, and the woman trapped in this apartment. And I planted my feet, and refused to move.

[Resistance unlocked : Fear. Walk in darkness unafraid.]

Slightly more prepared to take action, I watched with still morbid horror as some... thing... padded out of the darkened hallway. It had four legs, and the sharp face of a feline. But its whiskers reached out six feet to either side, gripping at the wall and furniture all on their own. Its eyes glowed slightly with reflected moonlight, but its mouth dripped red embers that dissappated before hitting the floor. A calico pattern of shaggy fur covered its bulky frame.

Its claws were probably the size of my arm. And before I could do anything, it saw me, and started walking over to me, casually. The rumbling purr coming from its throat vibrated the air around me, and lit up my skin with a shivering energy. So, with no time to think of anything else, and no possible hope of ever running away, I turned to the one option I had in my newly granted arsenel. Reaching down to my reserve of sparkling magic, and drawing out out to cast the one spell I knew that might possibly do anything.

"Good kitty." I said with a brilliant smile. "Aren't you just a beautiful kitty?" I asked it as it started to circle my legs, its back coming up to my waist. Its ears perked up as I started talking to it, and the whole room felt more alive with the smile active. I knew I didn't have the Kindness reserve to keep it going for long, so I took advantage of it while I could. Reaching out, I ran a hand along its back, stroking its fur, and giving it some firm scratches around its ears. The purr changed pitch, and it settled down on its haunches in front of me. I knelt down to keep petting it, and it instantly leaned forward to run a rough tongue over my face, small firey sparks dripping off its tongue.

[Spell improved : Lorwyn's Smile +3
Pool improved : Kindness +2
Stat improved : Willpower +1
Skill set unlocked : Animal Husbandry. Find your companion.
Skill unlocked : Animal Husbandry - Cat. The owners of humanity.]

I didn't notice when my Kindness ran out, and the smile's spell ended. The cat didn't lash out, though. It just kept ramming its head into my chest, demanding more pets. "It's alright, you can come out now." I called softly over to the woman behind the couch. "Did you... um... own a cat?" I asked.

"Yes." She squeaked out, peeking over the edge of the couch.

[Ability improved : Low-Light Vision +1]

"Well, the good news is, they're a very good cat." I informed her. "The bad news is... you may need to get a much larger litter box." I rubbed at the cat's head. "Go say hi to your human." I told it, pushing it over toward the couch.

"No, wait, I don't...!" She started to say, but then the cat bounded over, and started licking at her face as well.

I walked over there myself, looking down at the young woman who had been hiding back here. "It's alright, he's actually friendly." I told her, as she started giving the cat small, nervous pets. "I think he's been leveling up more than I have. And I'm getting one literally every three minutes.

[Stat unlocked : Charisma. Show your charm. Charisma set to 4.]

"Like right there." I muttered. "Anyway. Sorry to break into your house. I heard the screaming, and I was worried." I told her. It sounded a bit weak now that I knew it was just a cat. But then I looked down at the cat; it was somehow easy to forget that it weighed about a million pounds of muscle and claws now.

"It's alright..." She told me quietly. "I didn't realize it was still him." She said, running her hands over the cat's head.

I nodded. "Well, I'm going to go back upstairs. If you need help with anything, feel free to come by later." I told her, and she nodded agreement. "Maybe we can get a barbeque together with everyone left in the complex, and see what we can do about long term survival."

[Skill improved : Planning +1]

Giving her a smile - a normal one this time - I left her and her cat to their renewed friendship. The thing looked like some kind of ancient beast from humanity's past, but at its heart, it seemed like all it wanted was cuddles from its favorite person.

[Skill improved : Etiquette +1]

For now, though, it was time to get back upstairs, and start seeing what random things around my apartment would give me superpowers before the monsters started appearing in another two hours. Still, though, I had a real grin on my face, and was remarkably upbeat as I tromped up the steps. I paused at the top to look out over the new desert around my home, drinking in the image of the sand and the small cactus I could now make out in the distance.

The end of the world had really decided to drop us in a crap place. But, I was confident that, no matter how little this new system cared about us as people, that those of us who were now in our little island of civilization in the sand would be able to meet anything that came our way.

[Philosophy unlocked : Nihilism. A world that doesn't care and people that do.
Philosophy improved : Optimism +1
Magic set unlocked : Sandshaping. The desert is your home.
Spell unlocked : Sandblast. The dunes are your weapon.
Sandshaping slots available : 1/2
Stat improved : Magic +1
Resource unlocked : Assistance. Help those who cannot help themselves. Assistance set to 1/1.
Path unlocked : Acolyte's Steps]

"I don't feel like nihilism should be rewarded that much, but I'll take it." I said to myself as I entered my home again.


Spoiler: Spoiler




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About the author


Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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