I have determined our plans, Alan sent Eve the next morning.
Oh? Eve replied.
We will try to gather as many abilities as we can in as short a period as possible, except this time you will try to teach me the ability, not simply show me how it is done, Alan sent. Along with the stat bonuses that we’ll gain there might even be one or two skills I can master in a few months. And if I can’t, who cares? The abilities will come in handy.
Very well, but we should concentrate on all abilities, not only combat oriented ones, Eve sent. Luckily stats cannot fall below 1, but you should try to raise your Charisma as quickly as possible. I believe a number of our troubles have been a result of your low Charisma.
Troubles? What troubles? Alan asked.
The exorbitant prices exacted on us to pay for lessons, for one, Eve sent. I thought it odd all the teachers were charging for lessons, but that’s because they were private, one on one lessons. All group lessons are free and open to anyone, but no one mentioned this to you until yesterday. I also believe you would have been charged far less if your Charisma was at a decent level.
Alright, sure, so no one told me about that. What’s your point? Alan asked.
You have no friends or allies that you can call upon here, no one is willing to give you information regarding your assassin because no one wants to talk to you, Eve sent.
Wait, hang on a second, I have friends, Alan sent. And no one had any information!
You have acquaintances, people’s whose goals align with yours, Eve sent. And there is always more information, but a key stat aligned with information gathering is Charisma, which you do not possess. This is likely a result of your loner status.
I didn’t see a class on making friends on the schedule, Alan replied.
No, but there will be people who you know who you can get to know better at the group lessons, Eve replied. And if you know no one then reach out. Meet new people.
Really, you’re telling me to make friends? That’s your advice on how to get better at the Game? Alan asked.
Based upon my understanding you cannot approach friendship with this mercenary attitude, Eve replied. I have been querying multiple Institute AI and they all agree that as it seems to be defined within a cultural setting as a mutual relationship.
Great, Alan thought to himself, my AI is better at making friends than I am.
On Eve’s behest he went over to an Administrative Center and dumped the 45 ability points he could only spend on stats into Charisma, bringing it up to 46. Then he went off to class.
I still think this is a dumb idea, Alan sent. He approached a group of about 50 students, waiting outside by an air landing strip on the planet Terra, having teleported to the nearby Jungle Base Administration Center. Jungle surrounded the place, hence the name; Alan could almost imagine he was back on Earth, just in a rainforest somewhere.
Based upon my research a competitive training environment is highly conducive to making friends.
Research? What research?
The visual training aids that helped inform me about culture-
The anime I made you watch?
Yes, but I have also verified this fact with others.
People tend to make friends at school and boot camp. Go out and do it.
Alan approached the rifle training class, looking for anyone familiar.
“Hey, Alan, whassup?”
By the time Alan turned around, Sidestep was already at his side.
“Hi, I’m here for the training class,” Alan said.
“What a coincidence, I’m here for the exact same reason, almost as if it was a daily scheduled activity,” Sidestep said.
Say ‘Nice one, dude!’ and slap him on the back, Eve sent.
“Yeah, I’ve been training and haven’t had time to get out much,” Alan said instead.
“But you’ve been out to the Hunting Grounds before?”
“No, I haven’t. Why?”
Sidestep stared at Alan. “Dude it’s the best place to farm in the Academy, free shit for days, and you’ve never been? Have you been hiding under a rock?”
“No, I just didn’t realize, something like that should be online,” Alan said.
Sidestep shook his head. “You haven’t taken the free weekly crafting resources either, have you?”
“I’m planning on doing that today,” Alan said. He was going to a seminar on customizing gear later.
“Good, otherwise I’d be worried that you were just spending all your time in your bunk,” Sidestep said. “The ladies here are fine, but not that fine.” He waved at a group of female Ælven in power armor. They menaced their weapons at him.
There was a loud noise overhead as a large helicopter jet hybrid approached the landing strip. It landed a few seconds later; it was too loud to talk. A person covered in deep jungle green power armor carrying a similarly colored rifle stepped out of the vehicle.
“Everyone it’s time to head out, you know the drill. Today we’re hunting Razor Puffballs. Don’t let their names fool you, these creature’s hairs have the range and strength of a fully automatic weapon. They’re small, but move fast, making them ideal for target practice.
“You will be limited to 10 kills. If you need help or advice, send me, Hunter2, a message. Otherwise you’re on your own. Get back to the jet in five hours, by 13:00, or we’ll leave without you. Also remember we scan combat logs to see where there might be room for improvement, and to make sure you do not kill any creatures that we are not targeting. The Academy takes care to breed the creatures in the Hunting Grounds in the right numbers.”
As they stepped aboard the jet Sidestep whispered to Alan, “They also do it to make sure no one takes out any of the other students. Aurora would be here, but I hear the assassins game is coming to the final few players; she’s not going anywhere out in the open at this point.”
“Does anyone know who the sniper that took me out is?” Alan asked.
“Nope,” Sidestep said. “They should be one of the finalists, why?”
“Nothing,” Alan said. He had decided spending too much time on the quest was a bad idea; there were wiser things he could be spending his time doing.
Alan missed. A lot.
The puffballs were small, which was part of the problem.
The other problem was that he couldn’t aim without Eve.
“Alan, you suck! You haven’t hit a single shot the entire morning, what are you doing?” Sidestep called out. He was using his sidestep skill, which Eve now said was a variation of the Blink ability, to chase down puffballs and shoot them point blank.
“I told you, I’m trying to do this ability-less; I’ve been overly dependent on one in particular.” Alan fired another burst at a puffball, then dived behind a tree as it shot of a spray of small metal spikes back at him.
“You need to use that skill bro, we need to start heading back or we’ll be late. I had to make the trek back once and it took me half a day, a total buzzkill. It’d probably take you two days, maybe three.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Alan said as he looked out from behind the tree. He took a razor sharp spike to the face, halving his shield energy.
Fine, I give up. Eve, help me.
Are you sure? Eve asked.
Yes. A familiar stream of information returned to Alan, tracking the six different puffballs in the area as well their intended movements.
He fired a blast at one puffball, turned, and shot another.
He activated his armor’s advanced invisibility, climbed up a tree, then with a quick slice of his blades swept away the brush that was blocking his vision. From the top of the tree he took out the four remaining puffballs in quick succession.
A message appeared:
“Hey, that was my kill!” Sidestep said.
“I thought someone said something about hurrying up. Anyways I’m sure we’ll catch more on the way.”
“Sure but what about-” Sidestep paused, taking a look around. “You took all of them out, just like that?”
“Yes, let’s get moving,” Alan said. He climbed down and checked the puffballs for loot, unfortunately there wasn’t much, they were simply good for a bit of XP.
“It took me all morning to get eight kills and you get five in one go? That’s so unfair.”
Alan smiled. “Six, actually.”
Sidestep sighed. “Well, at least now I don’t feel so bad about losing to you in the duel. You obviously have aim hacks which counteract my abilities perfectly; it’s no surprise I lost.”
“Tell yourself whatever you want, you still lost,” Alan said.
“That time. We’ll see about the next.”
“Sure,” Alan said as he shot two puffballs that Eve had detected. “I’m up to eight kills now too.”
“What? How did you even see those?” Sidestep asked as he blinked over to the two corpses, hidden behind a bit of brush.
“Well, I can see how your ability might take the fun and skill out of the Game, but I’ve always thought you should take what you get and run with it. Don’t let anyone else tell you what to do. If you had an idea, develop it; if you have a dream, chase it,” Sidestep said. He looked off in the distance, scanning for additional enemies.
“Oh, and why’s that?” Alan asked.
“Well it might surprise you, the cultural savant, but I wasn’t always part of the top brass, associating with the Ælven royalty and whatnot,” Sidestep said.
“I never would have guessed,” Alan said.
Sidestep stepped right next to Alan. “Yea, well, I was good. Good enough to have dreams, good enough to think that I could make it to the top. But not the best.”
Sidestep raised his right arm, glowing green veins of energy pulsed through tubes in his power armor. “So I took a risk. A procedure. It could have ruined me, destroyed my psionic power or whatever. The process, the process hurt. I earned my place here, I laid everything on the line just to be here. So don’t you hold back; the guild might not care, you might not care, but I will.”
“What are you trying to say?” Alan took a half step back.
“I’m saying don’t be a moron and not use some ability cause it isn’t fun, or isn’t fair,” Sidestep said. “The Game isn’t fair. You use everything you have, every advantage, and probably still fail. But you use it all, push it to the limit. Either you break, or it breaks, but it’s the only way you can reach the top. Sacrifices have to be made.”
“I don’t think you understand my predicament, exactly.” Alan began walking back to the jet.
“No, I don’t.” Sidestep stepped in front of Alan. “You might listen to me though. Aurora won’t, she was born privileged and will stay that way. She won’t ever know that desperation, that hunger to be the best; she was born knowing she was the best.”
Alan looked around. “Aren’t you her bodyguard? Should you be saying stuff like that about her?”
“Bodyguard? She’s the last person that needs a bodyguard. No, we’re at the top of our class in the guild, and my mentor knows Elissandra, so we were paired for missions. My mentor helped me with my own psionic abilities, he could help you too.”
“I don’t really use psionic abilities,” Alan said.
“Hey man, us Revenants need to stick together.”
Alan looked over at Sidestep, who stared back with a knowing grin.
“So you are one. You need to learn to lie better if you’re going to maneuver around in the Game safely.” A new title appeared above Sidestep’s head, Revenant Agent, then it disappeared. “I mean you’re traipsing around in the armor and everything.”
Activate hypercognition, Eve sent. Alan did so, but by the time it was activated Sidestep was beside him with a green blade at his neck.
“Hey man, I showed you mine,” Sidestep said.
Show the Revenant Initiate title for a second, Alan commanded Eve. Sidestep removed the blade from Alan’s neck.
We really need a shorter code phrase so I can activate hypercognition sooner, Alan sent.
You would not have been able to react in time anyways, Eve sent. You would not have been able to move your body in time, you would have simply seen the blow coming. It makes no difference as of now.
If you say so.
“Sorry, you never can be too careful,” Sidestep said.
“What would killing me accomplish? I would have revived knowing you were a Revenant,” Alan said.
“No, you wouldn’t have,” Sidestep said. “I don’t know who rigged it up, but if you kill someone that knows you’re a Revenant, and they learned in the previous day or so, they’ll forget the memory. It will be wiped clean. Well, they’ll still remember how they died, so you have to be subtle, but they’ll forget the Revenant part.”
“That’s convenient,” Alan said. “I never expected you’d also be part of the faction.”
“That’s part of the whole point,” Sidestep said. “Wait a second, you didn’t know about the memory wipe thing? Who invited you?”
Do we tell him? Alan sent Eve.
Before she responded, Sidestep said, “No, wait, don’t answer that. You were still an initiate, which means you know jack shit. I didn’t tell you anything, okay? Damn, I doubt you’d be able to help. I just assumed, given the armor that… Never mind. We should get back.”
“Help? Help with what?” Alan asked. “You can trust me.”
“Alright, it’s just a rumor, but my mentor mentioned a second treasure vault, other than the planet Volta, in the Academy System,” Sidestep said. “Except instead of items, it contains information. I’ve been searching everywhere, but haven’t found a single mention of a data vault. I thought you or your AI might be able to help.”
A new quest appeared:
Discover the entrance and fulfill the requirements to enter the Academy’s so-called Data Vault.
“I haven’t heard anything, but if I do find something I’ll let you know,” Alan said.
“Sure. We really do need to head back though.” Alan nodded, then began running back to the jet. He wondered what else Sidestep might know about the Revenants, what other secrets he might be hiding.
I suspect that his armor has an invisibility function, Eve sent.
Examining it further, comparing it to our own Revenant armor, there are a few similarities. Compounding this on Aurora’s rogue classification, I suspect the pair are trained to be assassins.
Really? Damn. Is there anyone that isn’t super shady?
Everyone has their secrets, I advise not trusting anyone but yourself.
Without further comment, Alan and Sidestep made it back to the jet. As Alan stepped aboard a message appeared:
[Demonstrating basic knowledge and ability, you have gained the skill Rifle Mastery (Basic).
+5 Agility +10 Perception.]
Alan said goodbye to Sidestep after they returned to the Terra Jungle Base Administrative Center. He grabbed a block of gel to eat, then teleported to the second lesson of the day.