As Leowynn and I entertained ourselves in one of the sitting rooms of the citadel, I was able to watch the world below. I could see the forces that began to shift and gather at my summons. Already, millions of beings were moving, more and more passing through the gates to arrive at Earth.
When they got there, they all seemed to somehow already know where to go, taking one of the elven gates to the heroc continent. That’s where the true army seemed to be gathering. And… it’s also where I saw Tsubaki waiting for them.
Tsubaki stood calmly upon a raised platform, watching the people moving in, one group at a time. She knew that it would take a few days for the first batch of recruits to finish arriving, but time was in short supply. This was only one of the meeting locations, with her avatars in seven other places nearby, each one crowded to capacity.
“Listen up!” She shouted, her voice amplified to reach the horizon. After focusing for a moment, an illusory image of herself appeared, far larger and able to clearly be seen by everyone that had gathered. Similarly, seven other Tsubaki images could be seen just beyond the horizon, rising up like tall mountains.
“You have all answered the Keeper’s call. And for this, I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I respect anyone willing to lay down their lives for this cause. But right now, that is not enough! Right now, you are all too weak! If he sent you to the enemy world at this time, you would be slaughtered by the inhabitants.”
“Sure, you might be able to take one down with you. Some of you may even be able to take down ten, or twenty. But for every one of you, you can expect there to be a thousand enemies. If you want to survive long enough to return home, you will need to be strong enough not to fall when swarmed by the enemy. That’s where I come in. I’m going to train you. I’m going to teach you tactics and techniques the will help you survive.”
“For these six months, the Keeper has left all of you in my care. Now, everyone! Divide yourselves into four groups!” With a wave of Tsubaki’s hand, the land shifted. Four wide platforms emerged, one on either side of her. “To my left, I want anyone who specializes in martial combat. To my right, anyone who is a proficient healer. At my back, those who are focused on stealth and speed. And in front of me, I want the casters.”
Naturally, the platforms were not big enough to hold everyone. Tsubaki was good, but she wasn’t that good. Instead, they were simply guidelines on where people should stand. However, she was pleased to see the druids from the crowd acting of their own volition. Whenever a platform was filled to capacity, it was suddenly expanded, further and further until the horizon was just a sea of faces.
“Good.” Tsubaki nodded, having to wait several hours while people shifted to get into position, and having to help a few decide where the specialty lie. “Those that stand with you all share a similar skill to your own. But you will not be focusing on training with them. I would ask everyone to remain still for a while, while I go through and assign team numbers. These will be the teams that you live and train with for the rest of your lives. However short or long they may be.”
After saying that, Tsubaki’s brow narrowed in focus. Her body began to blur as she moved rapidly through the mages in front of her. She was burning her own power to enhance her speed to its absolute limit, knowing that there were too many people to take this any slower. Every time she passed by someone, a searing brand was left on their chest with a number, and their health bar appeared above their head.
Like this, her progress could be measured by seeing how many people were still ‘uninjured’. Even with her speed, it took her two full hours to get through only the mages. Then next came the warriors… and the healers… then finally the rogues. Of the four groups, there were significantly less rogues, with healers coming in a close second, so those two were able to be ‘processed’ a lot sooner.
By the time Tsubaki was done, the sun was setting over the horizon. With that same blur of motion, she appeared on her own platform once again. Her face was visibly exhausted, the energy she was emitting notably weaker than it had been previously. Even the illusory image that she was maintaining looked less solid.
“I have now marked everyone here with a team number.” She said with a tired tone. “For now, you are all dismissed to set up camps for the night. At dawn, I want everyone here, organized by their team. Anyone who is displeased by their team may leave.”
And with that, the eight images of Tsubaki vanished. Her avatars erupted into multicolor wisps of energy and rushed into the sky. She would need to rest as well, to recover her energies that she had spent handling the selection process.
Like that, the days once again began to pass. However, soon I noticed that Tsubaki was not the only one handling their training. At one point, both Bihena and Keliope had arrived among the camps, coaching them through several drills. She seemed thankful for the help, as it was really difficult to manage… oh lord, that was a lot of people.
Each camp held twenty million recruits. Seeing that number, even I ended up sending a silent thanks to the two goddesses for choosing to assist her with their training. However, that was not the only thing happening in the world.
They may have lost a significant amount of customers to this latest revelation, but Darkflame Technologies was still moving according to schedule. Roughly two weeks after the armies began to amass, it was finally time to release Vision Expanse unto the world. There was an excitement mixed within the tension of the world, both anxious about the upcoming fight, and the release of a new product.
Though… to my surprise, there were not as many people pre-ordering copies as I had expected. Less than one percent of the total population chose to reserve a copy for themselves. Nevertheless, that left quite a lot of players. Myself included among them. This was something that Sarah made, and my own deities chose for us, so naturally I had to give it a try.
“Welcome in, Dale.” Vivi spoke gently, my body hovering in a black void. She was the only other creature present, her silver body standing before me.
“Hey, Vivi.” I looked down at my own hands, feeling rather odd how I could see the misshapen polygons that seemed to conflict with reality. Even though I could still feel it as my normal body. “Special treatment for the Keeper, or run out of fairies to help people with creation?”
“Special treatment.” She nodded her head to confirm. “I try to be here for any deity that I am aware of. Now, shall we begin?” When I signalled her to continue, she began to lead me through the character creation process.
Choosing my body was easy enough, as I went with my own default. However, when it came to choosing my starter skill… That was a significantly harder decision. I had already watched how much Aurivy struggled in the initial phase of the game due to not possessing a combat skill of her own.
Even if I didn’t plan to play this game religiously, I did want to be able to log in and have fun with it now and then. It was a new culture of my world for me to explore, to watch develop, and one that I could even actively take part in.
“The four starting cities are going to be incredibly crowded.” I mused out loud. Even with so few players, that was still one percent of the total population of four worlds. No matter how big the cities were, they would be packed. “So I shouldn’t pick a production skill or anything that would rely on me staying within the city.”
Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. “Vivi, is there chakra in this world?”
“Chakra exists, yes.” She confirmed easily. “It is a basic energy combination. However, it is a second rank skill, meaning that you are unable to choose it as a starting ability. If I may make a suggestion, do you wish to pursue that path?” When I nodded my head, she presented me with a skill window.
This skill allows you to use special inks while drawing on a talisman or scroll to create numerous magical effects. Recipes for the inks, and designs can be either unlocked manually, through leveling the skill, or purchased from a trainer.
Looking at the skill, I felt my brows knitting together. Certainly, I had seen the ninjas of Earth wielding talismans. But, if Vivi was suggesting it, I was sure that there had to be more to this. “Can I ask why this is so closely related to chakra?”
“Certainly.” With a smile, she began to explain. “Magical ink is capable of being enhanced with chakra, empowering the effects of any talisman or scroll you craft. Given your status, I do not expect you to be able to spend as much time in the game as most people, meaning that a less active role will be more fitting for you at the early stages. However, these items have many combat properties as well, and will allow you to play an active role when you choose to do so.”
I gave a small nod at that. “I imagine I’ll need to learn ki as well, if I want to make chakra eventually?”
“That is correct. However, the process of acquiring the Ki Control skill is considerably easier than that of Inscription, so I chose this to suggest for your starting ability.”
Again, another nod. “It’s possible to learn skills manually, right? I know Sarah said that there were systems for that in some of her other games.”
“You are correct. EverLasting uses the same skill proficiency system in all of her games, to my knowledge. She once told me that it made things easier to keep track of.”
“Alright.” I let out a long sigh, looking down at the window. “Before I finalize this decision… what patterns will I know to start with? For scrolls and talismans, I mean.”
Vivi brought her hand up to gently grasp her chin, sinking into thought. “According to the records, you will begin play with the Firebolt scroll pattern, and the Embertouch talisman. For magical ink, you will get the common rank Ember ink, used in both patterns.”
So I would be able to have combat options, at least. “And… how hard is it to make this ink?”
“The ingredients of the ink are common, and can be found even within the walls of the town. Petals of a sunscorch flower, water, a touch of pepper, and three drops of blood make a full vial. At base market price, you can purchase the ingredients for three copper coins. The ink itself can be sold back to a merchant for the same price.”
“Guessing that means that a scroll would sell significantly better, if I’m able to complete it properly.” I theorized, earning a brief nod from Vivi. “Well, I’m no artist… so I guess we’ll be seeing how the system assistance works here.” With that, I decided to choose the Inscription skill.
If worst comes to worst, I either remake my character, or have one of the admin deities swap out my skill with something else. But for now, it was time to get in the game. Or… at least that’s what I thought, before noticing that I wasn’t going anywhere. “Is there something else?” I had already told her when creating my body that I wanted a random spawn city, not caring which one I ended up in.
“Character name.” She nodded her head. “I skipped this step with Aurivy and Tsubaki, as they were the only two characters within the game in its ‘beta’ period. However, it is now a required step for all characters to have a name associated with them. In instances where names are shared, a fairy will store a number attached to the name to use for identification purposes.”
“Ah. Right.” Well, that seemed obvious now that I looked back at it. “Just call me… Tebor. It’s been a long while since I used that name.”