Alan regained consciousness in his Home, devoid of furniture. He checked his message log:
|You have died! Current respawn point: Error.|
|Due to the nature of your death, no memories lost.|
|As you died within an Academy non-combat zone your items were gathered and are available for pickup at an Administration Center.|
|Level loss: 30 levels. You are now level 508. All credits lost. 30 ability points lost.|
|Skill proficiencies have decreased.|
|All stats permanently decreased by 30.|
|Another Game of Assassins: Failed.|
|Respawn reconstruction: 12 hours remaining.|
What the hell, Alan sent to Eve. She didn’t respond.
A hand appeared mid-air. Cerberus.
“What’s going on?” Alan asked.
“You died,” Cerberus said.
“What killed me? Where is my respawn point? Why is there a respawn timer?” Alan asked.
“Unknown. Here. Moving data takes time.”
The hand tapped an invisible surface. “Must everything be spelled out? Whoever targeted you in the Game of Assassins assassinated you. I set my capsule as your respawn point. The Administrators don’t acknowledge Revenant respawn points. As your levels increase you will gain a respawn timer that grows longer as you level up and become more powerful, especially because of your hacker upgrades.
Standard Administrator capsules do not recognize or acknowledge hacker abilities or augments, thus you’ll find it takes twice as long to revive in one of their capsules. They might question you regarding the unrecognized modifications too. I’d try to avoid such confrontation.”
“You didn’t tell me any of this,” Alan said. “And you can just set my respawn point?”
“You didn’t ask, or check,” Cerberus said. “Revenant capsules are unregulated, their owners can customize them as they like. I personally like to manage the players who respawn here. You should be thankful, your death losses would be greater if you had some other capsule set as your respawn point.”
“Why?” Alan asked. “Shouldn’t respawning be as simple as restoring the last moment you were alive, a simple brain scan?”
“You think that the Game is capable of sending signals to your brain, halfway across a galaxy or further, and then back to the network of servers? No computer network, no matter how fast, would be able to do that simultaneously for the number of players the Game contains. You are in the Game, Alan: your mind, your soul, your very being. When you log back out you return to your mortal shell but until that point your body is empty. You, the being that is here right now, is part of the Game.”
Alan took half a step back. He recalled the Chief Administrator’s words, that the Game was an out of body experience, that his reality would change. He’d dismissed them as rambling nonsense, but now…
“Wait, does that mean that when I die, I actually die?” Alan asked. “Am I simply a copy of myself, reconstructed with the same memories?”
“Enough questions,” Cerberus said. ” I highly doubt the Game deletes your existence and starts it anew, but you are not ready for the answers you seek nor do I have them. The great geniuses of the Institution have wasted lifetimes on similar existential nonsense and have been unable to reach a conclusion.”
“I thought the Revenants were all about the spread of information,” Alan said.
“Information that people deserve,” Cerberus said. “Do you think everyone should possess information capable of destroying the universe or driving them insane?”
Alan took a deep breath. “I want to find answers. I want to be ready for them. I want to join the Revenants.”
|Faction Change! Title Established.
You are now an initiate of the Revenants, granted the title Revenant Initiate. This is a hidden title and faction. Only players you designate will see the title and faction.
As a faction member, your Faction Standings will be influenced, and your actions will influence your faction’s reputation as well as your own.
|Faction Bonus! 10% Discount for all Open Revenant transactions.|
|Faction Bonus! Increased experience gain while in Open Revenant space.|
|Faction Bonus! Increased attack damage while in Open Revenant space.|
|Faction Bonus! Allowed to travel to freely within Open Revenant space.|
|Faction Bonus! Allowed to interact with many Revenant-only establishments.|
|Faction Bonus! Increased performance from Revenant equipment.|
“Good.” There was a momentary shimmer in the air and then Cerberus appeared. He looked like an Administrator in the flesh, with the exact same bone structure and facial features, except entirely biological. To Alan it was like seeing a statue brought to life.
“Are you an Administrator?” Alan asked.
“No, I am a Teacher,” Cerberus said, smiling. The gesture looked a bit off on his face.
“A teacher? A teacher of what?”
“Not of what, but whom. If you want answers, you must provide payment. It’s too soon to discuss Revenant matters. You are now a trial member, I will give you an initiation quest when your training at the Academy is complete.
I am busy, but if you wish to master hacking contact me to complete your training. It will take two months and 15000 C, 3000 ability points.”
“What am I supposed to do as I wait here? And where do I get 3000 ability points?”
“I do not know or care. The capsule has the standard Arcade and Market connection. Goodbye.” Cerberus vanished, leaving behind blank white space.
“How am I supposed to access the Arcade or Market?” Alan asked aloud. Two screens appeared:
|Do you wish to connect to the Arcade?|
Shifting scenes of futuristic battle played forth on the screen, fantastic displays of light and destruction.
|Do you wish to connect to the Market?|
Displays of wealth flashed on the screen, stacks of rare metals and platinum marks. Exotic goods, weapons, armor and crystals adorned the side.
Eve? Alan sent. It felt as though there was a weak response, but it was unintelligible. She was likely being reconstructed along with the rest of Alan’s hacking abilities. With nothing else to do, Alan connected to the Arcade.
With a swipe of his blade Alan slew the dragon. His followers cheered him on as they began collecting the dragon’s hoard of gold. The captured princess smiled at Alan, beckoning him closer. Smiling, Alan began walking towards her.
What are you doing? A familiar voice sounded in his head.
Eve? Well, I’m just continuing the campaign that I started in the RPG before I entered the Game. It’s a thousand times better when you’re the character.
You should be studying or resting, there are 85 days and 8 hours left until our term is finished! Remember that we must master two skills and acquire 8 more rogue commendations before the term limit, the sooner the better, so that we can explore the treasure planet Volta. It’s estimated that a player earns 10 platinum marks for each day they spend there!
Alright, I will rest, just let me finish this quest, Alan sent.
He reached out to embrace the princess. A message appeared:
|Adult content costs an additional 5000 credits! Pay now and experience your every desire.|
With a sigh, Alan shook his head and exited the Arcade. There were millions of games to play and experiences to be had, but most included a price tag. He had thought that the RPG game was better, but it seemed as though the fees were simply lying in wait.
Alan could easily see himself getting addicted to a game in the Arcade, or one of the movie-like experiences which you could dictate and change to your liking, but the nagging feeling that nothing was actually happening, nothing was really being accomplished stuck with him. He’d stick to the main Game for now.
Waking up, Alan saw that his reconstruction timer was done. There were 85 days left. As soon as he exited the capsule, emerging from Cerberus’s Obstacle Course in Aenigma, he was barraged with messages from Sidestep and Aurora; apparently you couldn’t receive or send in-game messages while you were “dead.”
Aurora: Where are you?
Sidestep: Are you coming? Aurora is starting to pace, never a good sign.
Aurora: Where are you?
Aurora: Word of your assassination reached me. Sorry, but we’ll be replacing you on the team. I’ll update you with any information, the Red Tyrant is searching the town with their guards, but they haven’t turned up anything.
Sidestep: Got 3rd in the tourney. Doubt you could have done anything, we were defeated by a freaking Predecessor in the semifinals; didn’t even realize they went to the Academy, apparently there’s one in every other class. My speed and Aurora’s ice did nothing; our third, Apollo, did less than you, and you were dead.
Aurora: Kitana achieved 4th with Ace and Thiago, she said you’re familiar with them. The unlikely duo of S and Luna got 2nd, I swear they teamed up just to spite me. The Predecessor, Seeker, won the tournament. I hear that the same assassin that killed you took a shot at S after the tourney, but S managed to dodge it; everyone in the assassin’s game was on high alert after you died.
Alan: Thanks for the update. I didn’t notice a Predecessor among our classmates, when did they arrive? And who’s Apollo?
Aurora: They were in one of the previous classes. A new term starts every 30-35 days; there are generally three batches of combat students in the Academy system at once. If you’re studying at the Institute you’re here for however long your program lasts, but can’t visit Volta unless you manage some monumental accomplishment. Apollo’s a cousin that was on a randomized team, no one worth remembering.
Alan went to the capsule room on Aenigma, and transported to the Administrative Center on the warrior planet. After collecting his armor, damaged from the headshot that had killed him, he proceeded to the coliseum. A guard approached him.
“The Red Tyrant demands your presence, Alan.”
Following the guard, Alan found the Red Tyrant, standing in the center of the coliseum, holding a goblet of dark red liquid the size of Alan’s head. A handful of attendants surrounded the Predecessor, guards holding an assortment of weapons. The coliseum environment was currently set to a dirt pit.
The Red Tyrant turned to look down at Alan; Alan had to stop himself from taking half a step back. He tried to meet the Predecessor’s gaze as calmly as he could.
“I must apologize for the transgression, I thought my realm safe,” the Red Tyrant said. “Find whoever besmirched my name and killed you, bring them justice.”
A quest appeared:
|Justice is Served:
Find and kill your assassin. The Red Tyrant gives you permission to kill the assassin while near the Coliseum, permission to perform violence while in other areas must be sought from the area’s leader.
Partial Reward (for finding the assassin): 1 Warrior Commendation.
Full Reward (for killing the assassin): 5 Warrior Commendations. 5 platinum marks.
“I was under your protection?” Alan asked.
“Yes, this is my domain, my tournament. It is I who required your presence here but failed to keep you safe. I apologize for this mistake, and demand that whoever besmirched my name be found. Here, remove your armor and give it to the guard, I will pay for its repair. You are free to question anyone here to discover the identity of your killer.”
“Um, thank you,” Alan said. He began taking off his damaged power armor, handing it over to a guard.
“You have also missed out on the benefits of the tournament, losing time and levels. How might I be of aid?” the Red Tyrant asked.
“Actually, is there a sniper trainer that might train me? They could also be helpful in tracking down my killer, especially if there are a limited number of trainers,” Alan said.
“Yes, there is a single sniper trainer, a so-called warrior by the name of Deadshot; he may provide a fruitful lead. But I find that ranged weapons are inferior objects, perfect for women and cowards. You should not waste your time studying such drivel. Come, I will train you in a true weapon.” The Red Tyrant drained the rest of its goblet, tossing it aside, and began looking over the weapons the guards were holding.
“Um, thank you, but that really isn’t necessary,” Alan began. The Red Tyrant silenced him with a raise of their hand.
“Here, these should do nicely.” Twin laser swords were tossed to Alan, who caught them with Eve’s help. He examined the weapons:
|Crimson Blades (Rank B+):
Standard short swords of the Crimson Guard. When activated the powerful crimson laser field that is the Crimson Guard’s namesake is capable of decimating any shield. With these weapons the Haxlard elite are a force to be reckoned with, a single unit capable of breaking through any shielded defense. The technology that powers these weapons is a secret to all but the most revered Ultihaxlard craftsmen.
Regular Damage: 150-200. Laser damage: 1500-2000.
500 Energy. 5 Energy/sec used while laser is activated, 25 Energy/min regen.
(Bonus Ability: Shield Destruction. Deals 10% of a shield’s total energy in damage no matter how powerful the shield. Only usable when all weapon’s recommended abilities have been met. 250 energy cost.)
200/200 Durability. Energy Melee Weapons (Basic) and Sword Fighting (Basic) required.
Energy Melee Weapons (Intermediate), Energy Efficiency (Intermediate), Enhanced Control (Intermediate), Enhanced Movements (Intermediate), Sword Fighting (Advanced), Crimson Guard Reputation: Friendly recommended.
Damn, Alan sent Eve, Two swings of these swords would kill me. The Modified Revenant Scout Power Armor I’m wearing only has 2000 energy.
Yes, the armor’s lack in defense is likely what got us one-shot by the sniper. But the stealth capabilities more than make up for it. We should however remain stealthed at all times from now on; I originally did not wish to offend anyone’s sensibilities, and thought we would have been able to evade an attack in time.
Alan looked up at the Red Tyrant. “Thank you for these swords, but I don’t have the abilities to wield them.”
The Red Tyrant smiled. “And who said I was giving them to you?” It walked over to Alan, towering over him. “All weapons must be earned.”
A massive black two-handed long sword the size of Alan appeared in the Red Tyrant’s hand, immediately absorbing the surrounding light and red glow of the Crimson Blades. It had a guard with two small spikes jutting out of it, parrying hooks like a Zweihander sword. It was a soulsteel blade, worth as much as a small fleet of starships.
Alan activated hypercognition.
With a mad gleam in their eye the Red Tyrant swung at Alan, who narrowly dodged the blow. The sword sliced through the air and then through the ground of the coliseum. Alan knew the Predecessor was holding back, or he’d never have been able to react to the blow in time. He weaved through the next series of attacks, trying to back up and get as far away from the Predecessor as he could.
It was hopeless. Each time he took a step back the Predecessor appeared beside him, swinging its massive sword. The Red Tyrant roared, “What are you doing? Are you a dog or a warrior? Fight me. Your reach is far less than mine, you should want to get close to me.”
Alan swung a blade at the Predecessor as he dodged the next attack. He barely scratched the surface of the Red Tyrant’s skin.
“Hah! That tickles. When you strike you have to mean it, want it. Where is your ferocity?” Red Tyrant raised its sword above its head, telegraphing an obvious overhead swing. Alan darted to the side. The sword swung downward with a massive arc, splitting the earth itself, causing Alan to stumble to the side.
Using hypercognition to plan out his next steps, Alan regained his balance, activated the laser fields of the Crimson Blades and stabbed forwards with all his might, letting out a guttural yell as he did so.
The blades thrust forward, stabbing through the Predecessor, and then stopped about a centimeter later. It felt like hitting a wall. With a backhand swing the Red Tyrant knocked Alan to the floor, snapping him out of hypercognition mode.
“Eh, good enough.”
Two messages appeared:
|Managing to go head to head with a fearsome Predecessor, demonstrating sword mastery, you have gained two new abilities, Energy Melee Weapons (Basic) and Sword Fighting (basic).|
|+10 Agility +25 Strength|
I demonstrated sword mastery? Alan thought to himself.
The moves I set that you followed were quite masterful, Eve replied. Alan recalled the fight, he had barely recognized that he was following one of Eve’s outlines, like he knew what she would command and thus did it. Almost as though he could access her thoughts.
“Why am I even here again? I can leave when I want,” a voice called out, near the entrance of the arena. Alan looked up to see another Predecessor, taller than him, but only by about a foot and a half. They wore a black suit, a mesh of dark fabric.
The Red Tyrant looked at them. “Breaker, you and all the other children that come here rely too heavily on your natural gifts. Your performance in the tournament was embarrassing, to be of my blood and so weak… you nearly lost in the semifinals, to a group of Ælven.”
“I was playing with them, like you and your games. None of them could have hurt me, it’s not like anyone has a blade of soulsteel lying around.”
Except I do, Alan thought to himself, wondering who this was.
It is one of the Red Tyrant’s clansmen, of its blood, Eve replied.
Why it, not he or she? How do you know that? Alan asked.
From the Academy’s database I have learned Predecessors are gender fluid. I gained this information from their conversation, you should pay more attention to people’s words.
They change genders over time?
Yes and no, Eve sent. At the time of mating the stronger Predecessor is deemed ‘male’, the weaker ‘female’, but any Predecessor may play either role, it simply depends on who overpowers who. They have evolved so that the physical traits of the ‘male’ are more likely to be passed down to the child, while the ‘female’ gives birth and passes down other traits. Predecessors do not think of parents in the traditional sense you think of them, and instead have blood relatives, traced through a lineage of ‘males.’
Wait, what? No, on second thought I don’t want to know anymore. Also, since when have you been accessing the Academy database for information? Alan sent.
Since our arrival, Eve sent.
Oh, well good job.
“This is not the time to be fooling around Breaker, I sense a great war brewing,” the Red Tyrant said.
“Ooooh, look at me, I’m the Red Tyrant the great war hero, aid me in finding the scumbag that defiled my sacred ground, the same ground that I can’t leave for another thousand years. There’s always another war, it doesn’t mean you have to fight in them,” Breaker said.
The Red Tyrant shook its head. “This one is different, I fear that the nature of the Game itself may change.”
Breaker glanced over at Alan. “And this is why you called me here?”
“No, no. I called you here to fight.” The Red Tyrant smiled.
“Who? Them?” Breaker pointed at Alan. “I doubt that it would be much of a battle.”
“Yes, well Alan here was supposed to have been part of the Ælven team that almost defeated you. I think they may have even beaten you with his help.”
“What? A human? They’re even weaker than the Ælves, though their comedy is mildly entertaining. You should watch the stunts they play, almost dying, risking actual death for a few credits. They’re heretics, one and all.” Breaker stared at Alan, who stared back. “He does have a certain presence. It’s faint, but there.”
“Yes, if I’m not mistaken he is now of an ancient blood I have not felt in many years. Don’t worry though Alan, I won’t pick your brain apart. Yet.
“Instead, let us play a game. Breaker, if you can disarm Alan before he slices you with either of his blades, I will give you a sliver of soulsteel. Alan, if you manage to even nick Breaker before he disarms you I will allow you to keep the Crimson Blades.”
Breaker lunged at Alan, almost reaching Alan before he managed to activate hypercognition. Alan barely managed to turn the blade in Breaker’s direction. Breaker simply turned his hands to grab from above, faster than Alan could move. Eve showed Breaker grabbing Alan’s actual arms, and calculated the one possible action that might give Alan a chance.
Breaker grabbed hold of Alan’s arms, and was about to pull when the Red Tyrant said, “Stop. You have lost.”
‘What?” Breaker exclaimed. The Predecessor looked down, and saw a tiny tear in its suit. Alan had activated the laser field and tossed both blades forwards, enough to cause the small tear.
“If you had simply snatched the blades out of his hand instead of trying to literally dis-arm him, you would have succeeded,” the Red Tyrant said. “No matter, I would have given you a miniscule sliver of soulsteel.”
Breaker rolled their eyes. “I’ll be in the Arcade.”
“No, you require greater training, discipline!” the Red Tyrant said.
Breaker exited the arena.
The Red Tyrant sighed, looking at Alan. “Teenagers, what can you do? You’d think they’d remove that, but no, it’s an important part of the developmental process… On to other matters, whose presence do I detect?”
Does the Academy have anything on what Predecessors are able to detect? Is this a test or a simple probe? Should I tell the truth? Alan asked Eve.
I am unsure of the answer to all these questions; I do not know the standing of the Lord of the Abyss. They were imprisoned, but it seems as though the Red Tyrant is also a prisoner of some sort.
Well you’re of surprising little help, Alan sent.
I was not designed for social communication, Eve fired back.
“What do you know of the Abyss Labyrinth?” Alan finally asked. The Red Tyrant had been helpful enough, and would likely be able to detect any lie he told.
“Yes, yes that would explain it,” the Red Tyrant said. “It seems I owe you yet another debt, this is a useful piece of information; it would be about that time.”
“About what time?” Alan asked.
“Nothing, nothing. It is of little concern to you, this is but one small piece of the puzzle, of the war that is to come. You may play a larger role than I thought. Is there something else I might help you with?”
Alan thought for a second, then said, “Can you teach me how to hide my presence?”
“Ah, now that is quite the demand. I, however, might not be the best teacher. Return to me after you have found your assassin or a month has passed and I will have arranged for a proper tutor. Now go, another tournament is about to start.”
Alan left the arena, determined to hunt his killer down.