We entered the temple together, and I looked around in awe. I wasn’t particularly religious - somewhat ironic, considering I’d met an actual god - but the temple was impressive, no matter how many times I saw it.

There were marble pillars, and in the middle of the entryway, a large diamond-shaped symbol, with a gemstone on each corner and one in the middle. Painted frescos lined the wall: What was probably Etalix, wrapped in mist. Herculix fighting some sort of large dinosaur. White Dove and Black Crow, the grim reapers from above. Army legions victorious over large insects. The famous run of Fulguris. The Sentinel Gideon, burning with the dark flames he was famous for. And many, many more, each probably with historical significance and martial victory that someone would probably be all too happy to tell me about if I asked. I didn’t ask.

I wanted to read about it! No books, just nice scrolls, and even then nobody had any ideas of teaching me how to read. I’d have to do it myself one day.

“Good morning.” A man with a pockmarked face, marking him as a survivor of any number of the poxes and plagues that went about regularly, greeted us. “Are you here for System Day?” He asked with exceeding politeness.

“Yes!” I responded as enthusiastically as I could, although not as loudly as possible. The temple was intimidating. At the same time, mom gave a much more reserved “Yes”. I glared at her with all the ferocity I could muster. It was my day. No stealing it!

“Third door on the left.” He gently told us.

With bold strides and butterflies bouncing in my belly, I entered the indicated room. There were three other kids in beige sitting on the floor in front of an older priestly-looking gentleman in a chair, and there were various implements scattered around the edge of the room. There was a bowl of water, a hammer, a rope, and dozens more little objects scattered all over. There was even a modest patch of dirt! At the back of the room, prominently displayed, was another one of those diamonds with 5 gems in it, but much smaller. I looked around puzzled as everyone’s attention came around to me.

“Hello there. I’m Sacerdus. What’s your name?”

I got a warm fuzzy feeling from the elderly priest standing at the front of the room. He was tall, in a long white robe with simple sandals on his feet. White hair, white beard, and it was clear he spent time in the sun, he practically radiated comfort, confidence, and relaxation. Heck, for all I knew, he literally was radiating all of those!

“I’m Elaine.” I fidgeted, eyes on the floor.

“Well Elaine, why don’t you sit down with everyone else? We’ll get started soon.”

I looked around, and saw Lyra! How did I miss her first-time round? Her somewhat tattered tunic made her stand out, the victim of one of her many fights. She clearly saw me as well, and jumped up to hug me!

“Lyra!” I exclaimed, completely forgetting where we were.

“Elaine!” Just as happily.

Ahem.” A cough came from Sacerdus. Mom was glaring murder at me. Oh gods I was going to get the spoon later.

Fortunately, I was spared further conversation as a boy wearing a green tunic and his father came in.

“Hello there. I’m Sacerdus. What’s your name?” Sacerdus said again, without any sign of impatience or annoyance.

The boy drew himself up to his full height, and with all the haughtiness he could muster responded with “Olympus Kerberos Titus.” I rolled my eyes to myself as he strutted forward, and plonked himself down in front of all of us. Um, hello? The remaining four of us are sitting in a line, who are you to sit in front of us all? Should I say something? But Sacerdus isn’t saying anything, he’s just keeping his happy smile on.

As I was debating what to do, Sacerdus preempted me by talking.

“Well! I’m glad to see everyone’s here. Just checking – everyone has less than seven days left on their timer? Raise your hand if you do!” He said as he raised his hand in demonstration.

64 hours and change left. Yup, that was me! Strange that he didn’t say it in hours, although nobody here seemed to use them. I raised my hand with everyone else.

“Good! Let’s begin. First, I’d like to say thank you to Kerberos’s father, Citizen Prasinos. He, and Citizen Arotro and Citizen Fyto together grow about three in ten crops that we eat here in Aquiliea.” He gestured to three men standing in the back in full purple robes.

The three citizens in the back nodded thanks at the acknowledgement.

Sacerdus turned around, and grabbed a scroll off of the altar.

“I’m going to start by something our history off of the something.

I was still learning words. Sue me, I was a kid, and hadn’t gotten exposed to everything yet. However, it was easy enough to figure new words out from context!

He unraveled the scroll, and started reading off of it. “It’s currently 4788 years post-creation. In the beginning, the five major gods created…” I completely missed everything else he said – at long last, I had the word for reading, and the word for scroll! It wasn’t a book, but I could now finally ask for reading lessons! Books would have to be involved, and then I could finally read again!

I hadn’t seen Lyra in ages (ok fine two days), and we spent some time putting our heads together, whispering frantically to get caught up.

“Did you get in trouble for the…?” I started. I didn’t need to finish the sentence; Lyra knew exactly what I was referring to. The latest Incident. The reason it had been two whole days since last seeing the other half of my soul.

“Nope!” She cheekily grinned.

“Lucky.” I muttered back. “You NEVER get in trouble for ANYTHING.”

Which was true. No matter how bad the situation, no matter what we got up to, it was one of the fundamental truths of the world that mom would punish me, and Lyra got away free.

“Any questions?” he asked. Shit. I had completely missed everything he said! This was System Day! I needed to focus! I did my best poker face, hoping that I hadn’t missed anything, and more importantly, mom hadn’t noticed me whispering with Lyra.

“Good. Moving on. We don’t know where the System comes from, but it’s what gives us classes and skills. It’s what lets us stay alive in this world. It’s the foundation of nearly everything we do, and we’d fall prey to the creatures outside of our borders without it. Even with it, we’re at risk. Everyone needs to do their part so humanity as a whole can survive, and maybe even beat the Formorians.”

Formorians. The villain of every story, the scourge seemingly lurking around every corner. The big monster, threatening to overrun us at any time.

I’d never seen one. When I was with dad I occasionally saw a bunch of new soldier recruits marching out of the city, and once in a while an old soldier came back. There was a war, but it wasn’t near us.

“Nearly everything has a System. Anything bigger than a bug has a system, although it seems like only humans and intelligent monsters get classes. As you’ve all noticed,” he chuckled “when you’re born, your System is locked. Humans all have the same timer, but it seems like monsters each get their own, different timer. Why this is, we don’t know, but we believe it’s to stop babies from killing themselves.” Sacerdus went from smiling to serious. “If you get nothing else out of System Day, just know that improperly using the System and allocating your traits can and will kill you. Each time you level up a physical trait, you lose some of your mana regeneration. If you allow your mana regeneration to dip below 0, you’ll start to burn mana just to stay alive. You’ll quickly hit 0 mana, and then your body will eat itself from the inside out. It’s not pretty. It’s not fun. It’s Very Bad.” He emphasized, talking to us like we were children.

Which we were. Fair enough.

Sacerdus repeated himself, along with dire warnings about allocating stats.

“Any questions?”

I looked over my stats.

[Free Stats: 0]

[Strength: 4]

[Dexterity: 6]

[Vitality: 3]

[Speed: 4]

[Mana: 2]

[Mana Regeneration:2]

[Magic Power: 2]

[Magic Control: 2]

I had nothing.

“Carrying on. There are two types of stats, broadly speaking. There are the stats you get and build yourself, the ‘natural’ stats. And the stats you get from classes and leveling, the ‘class’ stats. For the most part, you can’t control your natural stats, and they’ll only form a very minor portion of your stats. However, as a benefit, they don’t drain any mana. Otherwise very few of us would survive our System unlocking.”

I spent a moment daydreaming and thinking over what was said before realizing Sacerdus was talking again. Shit. I couldn’t miss this, not when lacking information could kill me it seemed. Stupid kid brain.

“… to recap, each point of mana regeneration gives you about 240 mana per day of regeneration. Each point you allocate to Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, or Speed will use about 24 mana per day worth of that regeneration.”

I mentally translated that to about 10 mana/hour gained per point and 1 mana/hour lost per physical stat.

“Let’s talk about the stat groupings.”

“We have the four physical stats – Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Speed. We then have the four magic stats – Mana, Mana Regen, Magic Power, and Magic Control. Any questions?”

Heads shaking.

“Next, we have the support stats and the direct stats. The direct stats directly help in fights, and the support stats simply help out.”

“The four direct stats are Strength, Dexterity, Magic Power, and Magic Control. As a result, the four support stats are Vitality, Speed, Mana, and Mana Regeneration. Any questions?” The distinction seemed fairly arbitrary to me, but whatever, I would roll with it.

“Good. Let’s talk about each individual stat now.”

“Strength. Strength is how strong you are, how much you can lift, how powerfully you can swing a sword, how far you can draw a bow. It’s both how high you can lift a hammer, and how many times you can lift a hammer. It’s power, it’s stamina, it’s strength.”

“Dexterity. Dexterity is how flexible you are, how gracefully you can move. Dexterity is the fine control over yourself, and over your movements. It’s how well you can etch pottery. It’s how accurate your arrow is. It’s how you balance as you walk. As it combines with Strength, it’s how accurately you hit the metal you’re forging, it’s how well-placed your blow against a Formorian is. Dexterity is grace. Dexterity is beauty.”

“Vitality. Vitality is how well-put together you are. It’s thick skin. It’s health. It’s living a long life. It’s staving off disease. It’s how well you perceive the world around you. Vitality is recovering from injuries, recovering from a punch, easily bearing a child.”

I frowned. It seemed more subtle than Strength or Dexterity. I guess that is why it was a support stat, and not a direct stat. Still, everything was useful. With great effort, I continued to pay attention.

“Lastly in the physical stats we have speed. Speed is how fast you run. Speed is how fast your blade is. Speed is how quick your reflexes are. Speed is reaction, speed is how quickly you can make food, speed is how fast you set up your stall.” Sacerdus looked at the boy on the far side of the line, opposite to me. “Speed is how fast you run away with a purse.” He looked guilty for some reason.

“Speed and Vitality need each other like Strength and Dexterity need each other, even though they oppose each other. You can get a ton of speed, but it’s useless without the perception granted by Vitality to keep up. In other words, if you had a ton of Speed but no Vitality, you literally wouldn’t be able to see yourself running.”

“Now we’ll talk about the four magic stats. The magic stats are how all of your skills work.”

“Mana. Mana is the fuel for your skills. Without enough mana, you can’t use the skill! Usually, you’ll be told how much a skill costs, and if you have enough mana, you can cast it! If you have lots and lots of mana, you can cast many many spells and skills at once! For every one point you put into mana, you get 10 points into your mana pool.”

Seemed straightforward.

“Mana regeneration is both how much mana you recover, and how the rest of your skills are fueled. Each point of mana regeneration gives you 240 mana per day of regeneration, and those points of mana per day of regeneration are how you fuel your physical skills. You can focus on physical stats, and use skills less often, or you can have fewer physical stats and be able to cast spells more often. However, you’re still limited by your mana pool for how many skills you can cast at once! Physical stats let you keep working for the entire day, but each activity isn’t as impressive as a skill.”

“If you have questions, ask your parents later.” Sacerdus smiled at us. “I know this is a lot, but take some time to think about it, and ask later. This is supposed to be an introduction – after all, your parents know much better than you or I do what you should do!”

“Magic power,” Sacerdus plowed on. “is how powerful skills can be, and how much mana a single skill can use. Many skills can use more mana the higher your magic power is. For example, the legion’s famous [Earthen Artillery] skill gets bigger the more mana you pour into it.”

Got it. More magic power = bigger fireballs. Really all that mattered.

“Lastly is Magic Control. This is how finely you can control your skills, how well you can weave them. If a sculptor wanted to use his [Fine Engraving] skill to make detailed work into a wall, he’d need a very high Magic Control level to make a fine, delicate pattern. For girls, a [Weave Lace] skill will get you finer and finer lace the higher your Magic Control skill is.”

I wasn’t going to spend my precious time and magic making lace. Although, thinking about it, maybe I could get a skill to help with my hair.

“To recap. Magic power is how powerful your skills can be. Magic control is how well you can control your skills. Mana controls your mana pool, and mana regen fuels it all”

“Now, to finish this all off, I need to let you know about trade-offs. For every 8 points in Magic Power you get, you’ll lose a point of Magic Control. For every 8 points of Magic Control you get, you’ll lose a point of Magic Power. The same is true for Strength and Dexterity. For every eight points of Strength, you’ll lose one of Dexterity, and vice-versa. This only applies to the ‘class’ stats – your ‘natural’ stats don’t change. Any questions?”

A flurry of questions erupted from the other kids, while I sat and pondered the System. It really did seem like you could be physical, and quite good at it, or magical, while weak physically. Could you do both? Would it be worse than either? How did I want to build my stats? If I wanted to be Elaine, the [Archmage], probably deep into the Magic stats. But did I want to focus on power, or control? Big mana pools, or good regen? Or could I have it all? Arghhh… I needed to know more. First reading. Then books. Then plotting. Then…. I swear I could feel steam coming out of my ears as I tried to digest everything I had just been given.

A note from Selkie

This is the only time I'm doing a mystery words being learnt by Elaine sequence. Every other time this happens, it'll happen off-screen, or pretend there's a quick exchange going on. Learning a new language isn't something I have the ability to write well - I just wanted to show that "Reading" "Books", and "Scrolls" aren't concepts she's managed to find before, since they're so rare.

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