14 Leveling Up

The animal's body toppled over from the force of me pulling my dagger out of it, and blood spilled out of its now open wound. I turned around and opened my eyes, not wanting to see the scene.

And then, suddenly, the animal's carcass lit up, before exploding into billions of small triangular shards of light. These shards then flew into my body, and my eyes widened in surprise at this unexpected feeling. It was like... power surging through my veins.

However, it only lasted a brief moment. A hologram then appeared in front of me, and I smiled upon reading what it said, despite the gruesome scene I had produced just now.

[Level Up!]

[Lv. 1 -> 2.]

[You received 10 SP and 1 AP.]

The hologram disappeared soon after, and I immediately opened up my System. I was met with the default page, Profile. On the left side of the hologram was an avatar of myself, while on the right side of it was a list of the six different stats we could level up. Currently, it read:

[STR: 1]

[AGI: 0]

[INT: 0]

[DEX: 0]

[MAG: 0]

[LUC: 0]

"Wait...my strength stat is at 1? How?" I wondered aloud.

[That has something to do with your physical body being in this Reality Plane as well, unlike other players.] A.R.X.A. answered out of the blue.

A miniature hologram displaying her robot-like face appeared to the right of the main hologram - my System.

"What? What do you mean?" I asked.

[Tell me, human. When you work out, what happens?]

"Uh... I get physically stronger and grow muscles?"

[Precisely. Fighting that sickleboar just now could also be considered a form of working out, since your physical body is in this world. Your status as a player does not interfere with that. Therefore, your STR stat gained one point without you spending any SP.]

"Ah... I see what you mean. But in that case, shouldn't I have gotten a point for my dexterity stat as well, since I used that dagger to kill the sickleboar?"

[No. That simple dagger of yours does not require any dexterity to wield. What makes you think it will give you DEX stat points in return?]

"Right... by the way, you mentioned SP earlier. What are those?"

[You should have gotten 10 SP from leveling up, correct?]

I nodded, and she continued.

[SP stands for 'Stat Points'. They are used to power up any stat of your choosing. Powering up stats only requires 1 SP each as of where you are right now. However, the cost will increase as you power up further.]

"I see," I murmured thoughtfully. "Do you have any recommendations as to which stats are the best?"

[Every person has their own style of fighting. I cannot give you any specific recommendations. However, if needed, I can explain each of the six stats and what they do in this reality plane.]

"Aren't these 'stats' really just a makeshift concept you came up with to make this place seem even more like a video game than it already is?" I asked. "I mean, if I'm not wrong, players are able to check these stats for the natives of this reality plane - in other words, the NPCs - too, correct?"

A.R.X.A. nodded briskly. [Indeed. They are simply a way of roughly gauging one's strength, be it 'player' or 'NPC'. In other words, 'people from the Earthen reality plane' and 'people from the Ascension reality plane'.]

I sighed. "Isn't this kind of unfair though? People from my reality plane, who possess the status of 'player', can just power themselves up through spending stat points - and when they do, you will grant them the stat they chose to power up, from behind the scenes.

"But what about the NPCs - the people born in this Reality Plane?" I continued. "They have to train diligently and put in enormous amounts of time and effort to power themselves up even by just a little bit."

[What does that matter to me? This is all just an experiment to me. I do not care if one category of variables holds a significant advantage over another, as long as this makes it believable to the 'players' that this place is a video game, nothing more.]

"And these 'players' from my old world... in the eyes of the natives of Ascentia, they will be seen as heroes who can level up with ease and respawn infinitely, huh?"

[Correct. That is the plot of 'Ascension: Online'.]

"So? Who's the final boss?"

[There is no final boss. The players' ultimate goal will be to 'Ascend' as well - the same as you.]

"Wait, what? Hold on, that makes no sense. What's their motive to do so?" I asked, shocked by A.R.X.A.'s sudden revelation of this information.

[Is that important to you?]

"Well, no, not really, but..."

[Well, I suppose it does not matter. I will tell you, even though this is useless information. The canon storyline I created is as follows: the players' are told that after 'Ascending', they can enjoy everything one would want in life - riches, fame, glory, power - whatever it is, Ascension can and will deliver.]

"I see... I suppose that is a tempting offer. It's also a classic video game cliché."

The way A.R.X.A. planned out all of this was truly impressive. She made it so that the players' goal, Ascension, aligned with the NPCs' interests, which was to witness someone Ascend for the first time in all of history.

That way, even though the 'NPCs' here in Ascentia were not really programmed, virtual characters, they would still seem that way because they are supporting the players on their quest for Ascension.

It was truly magnificent, showing off the powers of a supercomputer that controlled the multiverse.

[Was that all you wanted to know?]

"Ah, no... you still haven't explained the six different stats," I hurriedly said, not letting my impressed expression show.

[Very well.] A.R.X.A. paused briefly, before resuming.

[Firstly, STR represents strength. Physical strength, to be particular. It has to do with your melee attack power, the weapons you can wield, your stamina, and your defense.]

[AGI represents agility. This stat controls your speed, flexibility, reflexes, reaction speed, and overall movement capabilities.]

[INT represents intelligence. it determines how quickly you can use skills, and also has other miscellaneous uses that are not very important to you are right now.]

"Skills?" I asked.

[I will get to that later.] A.R.X.A. quickly replied, before resuming her explanation of the six stats

[DEX represents dexterity. It controls the weapons you can wield just like STR does, but in a different manner, though that is not too important to you right now. It also raises your defense against mental or psychological attacks and improves your focus as well.]

[Focus in battle is very important, as it allows you to spot openings and weaknesses that other people may not. In addition, a high DEX stat provides higher accuracy and better aim when it comes to ranged weapons.]

[Next is MAG, which stands for magic. This stat determines your magic power, but since you currently do not know any hidden arts, this stat is useless to you for now. Finally, the last stat is LUC, which represents luck. This one is straightforward - it controls how lucky you are in terms of item drops and such.]

"Huh..." I murmured as I listened to her explanation patiently.

[That is all. Any questions?]

I shook my head. "Nope. I do want to hear about the 'skills' you mentioned earlier though..."

[Very well. Skills are abilities you can learn, then use, to help you whether it is for combat or simply utility.] A.R.X.A. explained.

[To learn a skill, you must spend AP - ability points. Some skills require other skills to be already learned, and some more advanced skills cost more AP to learn than others.]

"I have 1 AP right now from leveling up. What should I use it on?"

[That is something you can figure out yourself. I will not provide an answer.]

Sighing, I switched to the skills tab on the hologram, which had only unlocked recently. It was pulsating with light slightly, meaning that my System wanted me to check it out. I complied, and the hologram displayed what looked to be a complicated ability tree of all the different skills I could learn.

From here, I could see that there were three main paths of skills, separate from one another - they were labeled Assassin, Knight, and Support respectively. Below these three main branches of skills, there were a few separate skills that were categorized under the label 'Basic'. Five, in particular.

"So...I should get these basic skills first, I'm assuming," I muttered to myself. I decided to click on one to see what it did. Tapping on the one in the center, a prompt appeared, display the skill's name and description.

[Name: Looter]

[Category: Basic]

[Type: Passive]

[Description: Enables loot drops from slaying enemies.]

"Wait... this skill... so you're saying without this skill, I won't get any item drops from enemies I kill?" I asked A.R.X.A.

[Correct.] She replied.

"Well then, I'm obviously going to get this. It's too useful not to," I said, then quickly clicked the 'Learn' button below the skill's description.

Another prompt appeared:

[Are you sure you wish to spend 1 AP to learn 'Looter'?]

I clicked on 'Yes'.

A.R.X.A. then spoke, after the purchase was made.

[A wise decision. 'Looter' should be the first skill everyone learns. It is undoubtedly the most valuable basic skill out of the five.]

Looks like I managed to make A.R.X.A. happy with my decision. As happy as an AI can be, anyway. Score.

In the end, I decided to spend 4 SP on my STR stat to bring it up to 5, since that seemed like a good thing to do. I conserved the remaining 6 SP, since I hadn't decided what stat to spend them on yet.

Once I used SP, it was irreversible, after all. Better to be careful than sorry.

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