Cian spawned in another room almost identical to the one in Holray. As soon as he hopped out of the pod, it rotated back into the wall and another took its place. The others around the room were doing the same – some kind of revolving spawn tube system? Other players were steadily hopping out, getting their starter packs, and exiting the chamber – probably all the others who had died across the city 12 hours before. It only gave him a choice between General and Survival for starter packs, so he picked General. He collected it, which was nothing but clothes, a knife, 100 credits, and five bandages.
He dressed quickly, then took the elevator with several others. He got some funny looks – out of all of them he was the scrawniest. It was eerily quiet – no one said anything, just getting their stuff and moving out as fast as possible. The elevator doors opened and he stepped out of the spawn chamber, coming out into the impressive city of Valcim. Skyscrapers towered overhead, and people were everywhere just standing around. All the advertising billboards were still off. There wasn’t any air traffic, and the people standing around seemed to be looking for something in the sky above. The huge, orange star was rising, and the sky was a bright yellow – but that wasn’t what everyone was looking at.
There was a battle going on high above the city, with flickers of light and movement visible from the huge weapons being fired back and forth. A few of the Pa’Ran ships were still flying over the horizon, but the city’s airspace seemed to be clear. The mall was nowhere in sight.
Cian asked around and quickly found out that the Pa’Ran event was still going strong, and the ships in orbit were reinforcements that were fighting against the Pa’Ran fleet. Players were talking about preparations to retake the city, and the quest rewards offered by the city were impressive.
Why hadn’t he gotten anything for fighting before? Did he miss a quest, somewhere? If he didn’t get the artifact, he wouldn’t have a thing to show for this whole fiasco.
Some of the higher level players were busy in orbit fighting from their ships, but Pa’Ran troops still filled the city. The drop ships each had a contingent of Pa’Ran troops, and had been raiding the whole planet nonstop for hours. Most of the players with ships had already left the system, with those remaining either hiding somewhere on the surface or bravely fighting in the fleet battle above the planet. The mall was a few blocks away past enemy lines, but in his current state that might as well be halfway across the city.
Cian couldn’t find a group to join for the trip, since he looked like a plague victim. He didn’t even know how his skills worked, and, as expected, he didn’t start with any obvious abilities or triggers for his skills. His skills sounded powerful, so he ducked into an alley to try to figure out how they worked. His other character didn’t even have Willpower listed. He looked at the description of Willpower and his skills.
Willpower – Represents remaining mental fortitude. Based on 10x Will. Regenerates at 1x Will per hour.
Mental Projection – The ability to project your mind as a physical force outside your body. May only exist outside of a body for a limited time, dependent upon Will and skill level. Requirements: 40 Wit, 40 Presence, 50 Will.
Mind over Body – The ability to transcend your body’s limits. Using mental abilities to push yourself to be faster and stronger than normally possible. Can be used to alter metabolism and regenerate wounds. Requirements: 30 Presence, 40 Will
Psi Defense – The ability to resist psionic interference. Can be used to block mental attacks, mind reading, and even technology that affects the mind. Requirements: 40 Will.
Psionics – The ability to perceive or alter the physical world with your mind. Can be used to affect physical objects, make mental attacks against others, and enhance perception by sensing things around you. Requirements: 30 Wit, 30 Presence.
Cian decided to try figuring out his skills, so he picked up a small piece of wood – something easily snapped in two by someone of average strength. He wedged it against the wall and a fence and tried to break it. He couldn’t. He tried willing his hand to break it, willing himself strong, willing his mind to move it – nothing seemed to work. After a bit, he gave up. There was no use trying until he found his artifact.
Cian walked back out and heard fighting in the distance in the direction they had said the mall was.
He slowly approached the noise, coming up on a line of players firing on a melee that was going on further down the street. Pa’Ran troops were moving in formation down the street, clashing with a line of players who were trying to hold them back. The players shooting into their lines were hitting the other players as much as the Pa’Ran.
Cian quietly slipped down a side street, trying to go around the fighting. One wrong move could get him killed, and if he died it would be another 12 hours to respawn – and even less chance that the artifact would still be there.
It took over an hour to get within sight of the mall. Cian had passed numerous player groups and Pa’Ran patrols. Miraculously, he had slipped past them all without alerting anyone to his presence. With the mall in sight, Cian was able to figure out about where he was and quickly found the right alley.
The problem was, there were already two people sitting in the alley. A tall, dark haired woman in heavy armor was sitting right on top of the debris that he had hid the artifact under. She sat with her helmet in her lap, an energy rifle in her hands, and a large bag slung over her shoulder. Her companion, a skinny bald man with lighter armor and a pair of bulky pistols on his hips, was leaned against the wall rubbing wound gel into a jagged hole in his arm. Two more bags lay at his feet, stuffed full of something.
A third player in full armor was a few feet away, face down with a hole blown through his back and several marks where his armor hadn’t been penetrated. It didn’t look like a wound caused by a Pa’Ran spear.
Cian quickly ducked out of sight behind some debris and listened.
“Hurry up dude. I want to finish looting this place and get out of here. We must have a few mil worth of gear now.” said the woman.
“I wouldn’t be hurt if you would have killed him faster. How does it take you so many shots to kill a man from behind? You missed half of them. Just walk up and get it done. Bam, back of the head.” answered the man, making a motion like holding a gun out and firing it.
“Quit your whining. Your the idiot who walked right out in front of him. It was supposed to be an ambush.” said the woman.
“I was distracting him so that you could get the job done!” said the man.
“Hey. We won. All the stuff he dropped is worth a few holes in you, right?” said the woman, a wicked grin on her face.
“Says the one with no holes in her and armor thick enough to have stopped the bullets.” said the man, grunting in annoyance.
An animal that looked like a cross between a cat and a lemur walked up to Cian, curling its long striped tail around his leg and making a mewing sound. Cian tried to shoo it away.
“Whatever. I’m done, let’s… is that a cat?” said the man.
Cian tried to quietly shoo the animal away, but it just hissed and drew even more attention to him.
The man jumped in front of Cian with both pistols drawn. “Boo! Hands up! Who are you?”
Cian froze, then slowly put his hands up. “Uhh… Cian? Hi?”
“What is it, dude?” said the woman casually as she came into view, “Ooh, a kitty thing. And a newbie. Hi kitty. Hi newb. What’s shakin’? Looking for loot?”
The lemur-cat strutted away.
The man kept his guns trained on Cian.
Cian looked at the two, his interface identifying them both as “Identity Masked” with a string of numbers instead of a name. “Um. Yeah, just trying to find some good stuff. Lot of dead high levels and all.”
“Empty your pockets!” demanded the man.
“Here kitty kitty!” demanded the woman, chasing after the retreating lemur-cat.
Cian dumped the contents of his cargo pants onto the ground in front of him and stepped back. Five bandages, a card for a hundred credits, and a knife.
The gunman grabbed the card and left the rest.
The woman walked back after having given up on the lemur-cat when it jumped through a hole in a wall.
“Whew, he is a newb. You really gonna rob someone fresh outta the pods?” asked the woman.
“Hey, I don’t pass up free money. What else you got man?” said the man, waving his pistols at Cian menacingly.
“That’s it, really, I just came here from the pods. Please don’t kill me. I just want to find some decent loot.” said Cian.
The man grunted.
“Don’t worry dude, you’re not worth the penalty points. If this idiot shoots you he won’t be able to shoot someone else later. You have no loot, someone else might. Logic. Let’s go, idiot.” said the woman.
“I could shoot him! If I wanted to! Bam, right between the eyes! One shot one kill!” bragged the man, pointing his pistols at Cian’s head.
“Why you aiming two pistols at him if you’re going for one shot one kill?” asked the woman, a smirk on her face.
The man paused, taken aback for a moment. “Well, maybe I want to double tap him! Bam, bam, two through the heart!”
“Come on, jackass. Leave the newbie alone. Grab our bags and lets get out of here.” said the woman.
The man grunted in annoyance.
“Uh, thanks.” said Cian.
“Hey, he thanked you for robbing him! How polite!” said the woman.
“Remember, don’t tell no one you saw us! We get ambushed on our way with this loot and we’ll hunt you down. There aint nowhere to hide from me kid. You got me?” threatened the man.
“Have a nice day Cian!” said the woman as she walked off.
The man walked backwards, following the woman while he glared at Cian. After a few steps he nearly tripped on a rock.
The woman slapped him in the shoulder. “Walk like normal, jackass.”
The man stopped to glare at her for a moment and mimed shooting her in the back, then rushed to catch up and follow her.
Cian gathered up his knife and bandages, sighing in relief. He walked over and sat on top of where he left the artifact and waited five minutes to make sure they were truly gone before he dug it out. It was still there.
Cian quickly slipped the artifact on, the interface popping up as soon as he did.
Initialize [Error:unspecified]? [Yes] [No]
Time for the moment of truth. [Yes].
Jolts of electricity shocked him as the device started up, quickly ramping up in intensity. He tried to remove it, but his muscles locked up from the electricity. There wasn’t even an off switch! He nearly passed out from the pain.
Soon, it was done, and he checked through the messages.
[Error:unspecified] initialization started.
Disabling [Error:unspecified] . . . Failed. Skipping.
Checking package compatibility . . . Confirmed.
Scanning . . .
Interface Error: Tampering detected in [Error:unspecified] swarm.
Correcting . . . Failed.
Connecting to remote storage . . .
Checking for firmware update . . . N/A.
Checking for [Error:unspecified] . . . N/A.
Retrying . . . Failed. Ignoring.
[Error:unspecified] levels optimal.
[Error:unspecified] initialization success with errors.
Notice: Device detected error in swarm. Interface may not function as expected.
Full [Error:unspecified] diagnostic is recommended.
See local [Error:unspecified] for more information.
His entire arm was numb and his hand felt like it had been burned. The device didn’t look any different. It… worked? Maybe?
Cian decided to give his powers another try. He found another small piece of wood. He focused on himself this time – thinking about the noodles that he had for arms and focusing on pushing them to do more. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, he snapped the wood in two – cutting his hand in the process. He had lost five health points, 10% of his health, from breaking a piece of wood. Looking at the wound intently, he thought “Heal!” … but nothing happened. Cian grumbled about how user unfriendly the game was, but kept trying. It wasn’t until he focused on sensing the wound itself that he got it, willing the blood to clot and the wounded skin to grow back together. The cut healed almost instantly, the skin regrowing before his eyes. Cian was impressed at his abilities so far, so he looked at his notifications.
Ability Learned! – Surpass Limits.
Surpass Limits – Add 20 (Wit/2, rounded down) to Strength, Agility, and/or Endurance. Cost 10(Wit/4, rounded down) Willpower + 10(Wit/4, rounded down) Willpower per attribute affected. Duration: 80 (Presence*2) seconds. Additional Endurance adds temporary Health and Stamina, which is used before normal Health and Stamina. Once temporary Endurance fades, take ¼ of lost temporary Health and Stamina as real Health and Stamina loss.
Ability Learned! – Mend.
Mend – Heal up to 40 (½ Wit + ½ Presence, rounded down) health. Cost 25 Willpower.
The buffs and healing ability he had discovered were impressive, so Cian tried to use his psionics skill. After a few minutes, all he had managed was shifting some sand around – though he wasn’t sure if that was him or the wind. It definitely wasn’t up to par with the Pa’Ran Boundless’ throwing whole groups of soldiers around. Maybe he needed more skill?
Cian switched to Mental Projection, spending a few minutes trying to project himself out of his body; but nothing seemed to work.
Before he found out anything else, Cian was interrupted by screaming and sounds of fighting from the street. Carefully peeking out of his alley, he saw a large Pa’Ran with a group of smaller Pa’Ran soldiers armed with spears and several bulky looking humans with blank expressions on their faces. The mind controlled players were holding down another player while the Pa’Ran was channeling some kind of silvery energy into her as she screamed. Before Cian could even think of doing anything, she took on the same blank expression as the others – getting up to join them.
Suddenly, twenty players – one of the groups Cian had tried to join outside the spawn area – came charging down the street. The leader yelled “Kill the bugs! Focus on the big one, the players will drop when its down!” The controlled players and Pa’Ran soldiers took up defensive positions around the big one, and the battle was on. Cian pulled out his knife – the only starting weapon he was given, looking for an opportunity to help.
Knife – A basic combat knife. Damage: 10 + ½ Strength + Agility. Durability: 100/100.
The battle wasn’t looking good for the players. The Pa’Ran soldiers were cutting them apart with their spears, and the controlled players were fighting like demons with no sense of pain or self preservation. The bigger Pa’Ran was backing toward the alley Cian was in to keep away from the players trying to kill it. Cian enhanced his strength and agility and stayed still until it was close, then leapt out and stabbed it in the back with far more grace and strength than he expected. It whipped around, the knife tearing from his grip, and focused on him – channeling the same energy into him as it had into the woman. It felt like a searing hot knife stabbing him in the forehead. It wasn’t the same mind controlling thing as before, it was focused purely on causing harm – some kind of mental attack! Thinking of his psi defense skill and acting on instinct, he willed a barrier in his mind. The pain ceased, but it took most of his focus to keep the attack at bay.
Not sure what else to do, Cian tried to replicate the bug’s own attack and send it back at it. He pushed as hard as he could. He wasn’t able to break through the Pa’Ran’s own defenses, but the distraction caused the mind controlled players to stop fighting and turned the tide of the fight. The remaining players rallied and started killing the Pa’Ran soldiers left and right.
Realizing its mistake, the big Pa’Ran stopped its attack and focused on the controlled players again.
Cian tried to push his mental attack, but a player brute in power armor got up and backhanded him across the alley.
Dazed and nearly dead, Cian focused on his head wound and willed it to heal. By the time he made it back to his feet, the mind controlled player was coming at him with a vicious looking axe. Cian panicked, running down the alley to a connecting alley.
The large player followed him to a dead end, raising the axe and approaching with the same blank look in his eyes.
Cian was cornered and without a weapon, so he focused on the only offense he had left – his mental attack. He focused the same energy he had used on the Pa’Ran before and pushed as hard as he could. A silvery tendril shot out of his hands and into the controlled player. This far from the Pa’Ran master, Cian was able to quickly overpower its control and knock him out. He checked these new mental abilities he had been using.
Ability learned! Neural Spike.
Neural Spike – Deal 40 (Wit) damage to opponents Willpower. Cost 4 (Wit/10, rounded down) Willpower.
Ability Learned! Warded Mind.
Warded Mind – Blocks mental attacks. Can block attacks up to 80 (Wit + Presence) Willpower damage. Cost is damage blocked divided by 20 (½ Presence), rounded down.
Cian examined the unconscious player and found that this big guy was level 85 and wearing expensive gear. The weapon was a high tech force axe capable of slicing through metal plate like it was butter. This guy could cut through those Pa’Ran soldiers with ease. He sat down next to the unconscious player, put his four fingers with the artifact on their head, and tried to make use of his Mental Projection ability to see if he could control the much stronger player. It felt like some kind of barrier was keeping him out, but he forced himself to keep trying. The artifact glowed, something seemed to SNAP, and when Cian opened his eyes he was seeing through the other player. He checked his Willpower and saw that he had used most of it. His other body was slumped on the ground, seemingly unconscious. The artifact was blackened at the fingertips and smoking.
Cian could still feel the link to his other body. The Pa’Ran had lost control when he was a distance away, so Cian used the puppet body to grab his body and carried it back toward the fight. Reinforcements had arrived on both sides, and the Pa’Ran with a knife in his back was still commanding the group of controlled players like a puppet master. Cian hid his body behind a trash can in the alley and rushed into the fight.
Using his Surpass Limits ability on this already powerful body was exhilarating. He cut down three Pa’Ran soldiers before they even realized he was there and quickly cornered the puppet master. It attacked with the same mental attack as before, but Cian was ready – blocking it out and swinging his axe. The bug’s head sailed off in an arc, and the dozen humans it was controlling dropped like their strings were cut. He pressed the advantage and was hacking down Pa’Ran after Pa’Ran, dodging their blows. Cian had done it! He was a powerful player capable of turning the tide of battle. Who knows what rewards he could get from this quest – his time as a lowly janitor was over!
So lost in his thoughts of self adoration, Cian didn’t notice the Pa’Ran backing into the alley. The same alley that his real body was propped up in. He realized his mistake when a searing pain erupted in his chest. Looking around, he spotted the Pa’Ran soldier standing over his real body – a spear thrust through his chest. He moved to stop it, things seemingly going in slow motion as he willed himself to move faster. The Pa’Ran drew back the spear and swung across, and his real body was decapitated.
Blinded by pain, Cian felt something pulling him from the body he still possessed. His vision swam, and all the colors became muted. Suddenly, he was floating away from the burly player’s body he had been using back toward his weak, mangled form. No! He didn’t want to make a new character! He wanted to keep the strong one, the artifact! They had probably already made a new character – if he could only get back to it, maybe the game would let him keep it! With every ounce of willpower Cian had left, he pushed back toward the other player’s body and blacked out.
Waking up, Cian looked around. He saw bodies of players and Pa’Ran scattered around. It looked like he had been there a while. Propping up on his elbow and looking down at his armored chest, he realized he had done it! He spotted his old character’s mangled corpse, thinking about the implications – did this mean you could trade characters in W&E? That revelation alone could be worth a fortune. Would the other player find out and want his character back?
Before Cian could go too far down that rabbit hole, a Pa’Ran spearhead bloomed out of his chest. He struggled to get away, but it was no use – a trio of soldiers had snuck up on him. Two more spears joined the first, and Cian found himself floating above the scene. Colors were dull and everything looked a bit different – like seeing the world through new eyes. It felt surreal, and Cian tried to access his interface – bringing up his character sheet.
|Total Experience: 16500/21000|
Ongoing Effects: [Error:unspecified],
Mental Projection (C): 22.1%
Mind over Body (C): 23.7%
Psi Defense (C): 15.5%
Psionics (C): 18.6%
He had gained some levels in the fighting, but all he had was mental attributes? And he lost his new skills – he had gained axe fighting and combat reflexes during the fight. His Willpower ticked down another point, and he felt like something was pulling at him. He decided to log out and see if he could find some info about this online and mentally tapped the log out button. His interface said “Logging out…” and he heard the familiar chime, but nothing else happened. Trying to log out again, this time he didn’t see or hear anything. Another Willpower point ticked off. The pulling was getting worse. He felt like he was coming apart.
Panicking, Cian tried to push himself back into a body – any body. He floated through several of the corpses – unable to find any kind of connection. His Willpower ticked down again – 6 now. A Pa’Ran soldier seemed to notice him, poking at him with its spear. It barely touched him and pain flooded his being as he lost 5 more Willpower. Cian desperately reached for the only connection he could feel nearby.
Everything went black.