Chapter 5: A Bug in the System
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(Author's Note: This one might be a little rougher than the last ones. I can't find if this is the edited version or not. BWHAHAA! So if you find anything that looks funky, go ahead and speak up.)

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Chapter 5: A Bug in the System

Mark squinted as the soft light of morning streamed through the cave entrance. He leaned his head up against the cold cave wall and slowly closed his eyes and gave a heavy sigh. His eyes suddenly opened at the sound of the young girl not far away quietly whimpering in her sleep. He stood with stiff movements and slowly walked to her side, frowning slightly as he watched Merry toss in her sleep. Mark slowly bent down and sat on his haunches, his eyes softening slightly as he reached out to gently pat the small girl’s head.

As he did so, Merry’s hand shot out as quick as lightning, her small delicate fingers latching onto Mark’s rough weathered right hand. Mark was shocked to find that despite the fiery fever that raged in her head, the young girl’s hands were as cold as death.

His eyes showed a struggle as he debated whether to pull the young girl off or not, but as he watched Merry begin to shiver and groan in her sleep, his frown deepened. Mark gave a resigned sigh and gave the young girl’s hand a gentle squeeze, before slowly sitting down beside her.

A few moments passed before Merry stopped her shivering and shortly after, her cries stopped as well, her breathing easing into a soft gentle rhythm. Mark reached over and laid his free hand on the girl’s forehead; His lips turned up slightly as he felt the fever loosen its grip slightly.

His right hand still trapped in the girl’s grip he looked over his shoulder towards Alex, only to find the young man passed out on his bedding; He’d just spent most of the night treating Merry’s wounds it was not surprising to be so tired. Mark figured he'd have to stand watch then.

Mark shook his head slightly in resignation, before turning his thoughts inward and towards the meeting with the Stranger just a few short hours ago. He had to admit, he did not understand most of what the Stranger had said, but from what he had he knew that he did not like it.

He’d spent all his life following the orders of others; a soldier did not think, he only went where he was sent and did what he was told. And despite all of his struggles to change that fate the only thing that resulted was being thrown away, tossed out like a broken tool.

Mark’s back bent forward as though a heavy weight pressed on his shoulder and his thoughts grew darker. As he brooded on his predicament, there was a sudden chime in his head, and a mechanical voice spoke in neutral voice,

SYSTEM TUTORIAL PROGRAM INITIATED, WOULD HOST LIKE TO CONTINUE?

Mark sat in silent shock for a moment before straightening his back and staring at the simple YES/NO window that had popped into his vision. He’d been so overwhelmed with the young girl’s condition that he’d forgotten about the Stranger’s other “Gift”. While he was reluctant to use anything that man gave him, Mark was not stupid; He recognized that his greatest weakness at the moment was a lack of knowledge.

He knew that if he wasn’t going to just hide out in this cave for the rest of his life He needed to understand where he was. Mark stared at the options in deep contemplation, before ultimately selecting YES.

CONFIRMED, ASSIGNING SYSTEM ASSISTANT TO HOST. PLEASE STAND BY.

As the cold mechanical voice sounded in his head, the small Window flashed once before disappearing. Mark watched in amazement as the morning sunlight began to swirl around the cave, slowly condensing into a small pool In front of him, like water being drawn into a drain. The small pool of light flickered for a moment, before finally stabilizing into a ball of pure light, the size of a Tennis ball.

Mark stretched out his free hand and gently poked the little ball of Light, feeling a soft give like it was made of cotton. It quivered slightly like gelatin before returning to its original shape and gave a high pitched hum as if in aggravation. Mark gave a small smirk as he reached out and again poked the little ball of light with his free hand, shoving it a little farther away this time.

The little ball of Light flew a few feet away, before stopping in midair and reversing its direction, before quickly flying in Marks direction. It stopped slightly before his face and quivered angrily as if it was trying to tell Mark something. Mark’s smirk only grew larger as he reached up once more. The ball of Light, seeing Mark’s action, backed away hastily. It stopped a few feet out of his reach and began to quiver and hum even louder, before beginning to fly around the cave as if looking for something.

The little ball of Light suddenly stopped near a patch of hanging vines in the front of the Cave. It gave a reluctant hum before it dashed into the vines. The Vines began to shake and stir for a moment before something flew out of it at high speeds, followed shortly by the small ball of Light. The small ball of light quickly dashed towards the flying creature, like a Hawk hunting its prey; the two’s extremely high speeds and quick turns prevented Mark from catching a glimpse of the creature's form.

The ball of light slowly began to catch up with the flying creature before finally striking it, sending it crashing into the ground nearby. Mark, having watched the entire confrontation in silence, was able to make out the shape of the flying creature. There laying near the back wall was a massive beetle.

Mark could only stare at the creature in shock; it was huge, slightly bigger than the Titan Beetles on Earth but its shape and bulk were closer to that of a Rhinoceros Beetle. Its Shell was a vibrant dark green and it glistened in the morning light in a way that would put any gem to shame. The most striking feature of the beetle, however, was the huge “horn” on its head; easily 4-5 inch long, Mark could tell from a glance that it was hard as iron and insanely sharp, like a small dagger growing from the beetle’s head.

Mark found himself breaking out in cold sweat as he thought about that “horn” and the speed at which the Beetle had been flying. He did not know what this thing was, but he instantly knew that it was dangerous. Very dangerous. Mark watched as the beetle gave a slight jerk and righted itself, standing on its thin legs and turning around in circles as if looking for something.

The Beetle’s tiny eyes fell on Mark and it gave an aggravated clicking sound as though to vent its frustrations. Mark’s eyes went wide as he saw the jewel like shell raise up and the beetle spread its wings, its thorax raising in the air as it wings began to beat and the beetle readied itself to charge.

The beetle never got the chance, however; the moment before it launched itself at Mark, the small ball of Light slammed into the beetle, sending it tumbling a few feet away. Mark raised an eyebrow as he watched the small ball of Light and the strange beetle roll around on the ground, the beetle desperately trying to separate itself while the ball of Light slowly began to surround it. The little ball of Light wrapped around the beetle like an amoeba devouring its prey and beetle’s struggle began to weaken, before finally ceasing altogether.

The ball of light finally enveloped the beetle entirely and began to pulse slowly up and down, as if breathing. With each rise and fall, the ball of light seemed to shrink tighter and tighter around the beetle’s form, before dissolving into its body entirely. After a moment, all that was left was the motionless body of the beetle.

Mark watched on with bated breath, when suddenly the small beetle gave a jerk, its body twitching several times. Mark looked around in a panic, searching for anything he could use as a shield or weapon when a tiny high pitched yawn reached his ears.

Mark’s eyes went wide in shock as he looked over and saw something strange. Where the beetle should have been, now stood a small “person”, only slightly bigger than the Beetle, pushing itself up from its knees. The small person looked around the cave in a daze, its eye’s slightly dreary as though just waking from a dream, before landing on Mark. The small person stared in silence at Mark for a moment before its eyes went wide in anger and it jumped into the air, the large green shell on its back opening wide as the thin wings gave a light hum. The small person flew towards Mark face at a speed he could barely follow, though even if he could Mark was in such shock that he had not even reacted.

“You! You, You, YOU! Where do you think you get off poking this Young Lady?!”

As the small person spoke, it thrust out its small hand and poked Mark in nose several times, each time moving slightly closer. This close, Mark could finally the small person’s face. He could only stare in silence as he looked at the small person in front of his eyes; although her face was bright red in anger and her cheeks were puffed out with air, he could still make out the profile of a young girl, no more than 11-12 years old.

Her face was striking but not overly so, more cute than beautiful. Her snow white skin stood in stark contrast to her long black hair that reached slightly past her shoulders. Her eyes, though round in anger at the moment, where a vibrant emerald. On her body, she wore a jet black set of leather Armor like one might see in a medieval reenactment; the chest, arms, legs and other places plated on top with a bright green metallic substance that glistened in the light.

Though currently raised as thin transparent wings beat rapidly in flight, her back was covered in a huge Green shell, apparently made of the same stuff as the plating on her Armor. Strapped to one side of the shell, was a long Naginata tipped with the Beetle’s Horn. Though to Mark, this blade would have been nothing more than a Fruit Knife, he could not help but shiver as it gave off a cold light in the morning sun.

The tiny Girl, frustrated at Mark’s inattention, dropped her arms to her side before huffing and bending forward to stare him in the eye, her own still cold with anger as she spoke,

“Well?!”

Mark, blinking in surprise, shook his head as if to dispel an illusion. He looked back at the tiny girl flying in front of his nose, the shock and fear in his eyes replaced by confusion. He tilted his head and lifted his free hand out as if to poke her and spoke with a low voice,

“What are you?”

Mark felt a sting from his finger as a sudden flash of light swept past him, before he yelped and quickly pulled his finger back. He looked down at his finger but saw no visible wound until a thin line of red slowly formed. The tiny flying girl looked at Mark with cold eyes before speaking in a neutral tone,

“I told you. Do not think you can touch me, Human”.

Mark could feel his blood run cold as he looked at the tiny Naginata she held in her Hands. She was fast. Stupidly fast. Mark had specialized in hand-to-hand combat while in the military, and while he would not go so far as to say he was the best, he had absolute confidence in his eyes. Yet he’d barely been able to see her movement, otherwise, he’d have lost the finger entirely. Mark had no doubt in his mind that the blade would have passed through his bone like it was air, the blade was that sharp.

The tiny flying girl placed her weapon back on her shell, before crossing her arms and looking down nose at Mark, before sneering in a proud voice,

“But since you ask Human, This Young Lady will tell you! Rejoice, for you stand in the presence of The Great Manifestation of Nature! The Queen of Earth and Wind! Master of the Land! The Great Magi Spirit, Tsutsuji!”

Mark stared in silence at the young girl who called herself Tsutsuji, as a light wind blew through the cave entrance, kicking up a bit of dust, before grabbing his stomach then bending over and letting out a light laugh, not being able to hold it in any longer.

“Hahahahhahahaha”

The tiny girl, Tsutsuji, looked down at Mark in a rage, her face growing redder in a combination of embarrassment and anger, as she yelled in a high pitched voice,

“What? Why are you laughing at this Great One?! Do you not know who I am! You should be in Reverence! REVERENCE!”

Mark barely managed to calm himself down, as he looked up at Tsutsuji with a slight smile. He did not know who or what a Magi Spirit was, but Tsutsuji was the name of a flower from Earth. A Subspecies of the Azalea which meant temperance and fragility in the language of flowers, the Tsutsuji also held the meaning of patient and modesty. Maybe who ever had named the little girl has wished that she would grow into these same Virtues. Or maybe they just had a taste for irony. Mark did not care either way, but he had to admit, the little girl did not seem as nearly as threatening as she had just a moment ago. He looked up at Tsutsuji with a slight smirk before speaking in a questioning voice,

“Ok little bug Tsutsuji, where did you come from? Why are you here now?”

Tsutsuji’s face went another shade darker as a vein started to throb on her head. She suddenly drew her Naginata again and began to swing it wildly at Mark’s face. Mark was able to easily dodge each swing with a grin; though Tsutsuji was blindingly fast, her small size coupled with her blind rage causing her to drop all pretense of technique, made it as dangerous as if she were swinging a twig. Tsutsuji in her rage, billowed out as she swung again and again

“B-bug!? Bug! Whose fault do you think it is that I am stuck in this Vessel! If you had let me be, I could have taken my time, but NoOoOoO! You just had to go and touch this Young Lady with your grubby fingers!”

Mark simply gave a chuckle as he dodged each swing. Mark’s eyes suddenly flashed as Tsutsuji began to tire, then with a quick hand he grabbed at her feet and pull her down a few inches. Tsutsuji caught off guard, gave a squeal and stopped swinging as she was pulled down. Mark took the opening and plucked small Naginata from her hands, hanging the young girl upside down by her feet. Mark raised the tiny girl to eye level while spinning the small Naginata around his fingers like a knife, and gave her a mocking grin. Tsutsuji could only flail her arms and wings helplessly as she dangled by her feet, then with tears welling up in her eyes, she spoke in a soft pleading voice.

“S-stop! Give it back, give it back now! Where do you get off attacking this Young Lady like this!?”

Mark simply looked down and spoke in a haughty voice,

“Now, what makes you think someone in your position should be making demands? Besides, I distinctly remember you attacking me first.”

Mark’s grin widened as Tsutsuji’s face blush and she turned her head away as if to say ‘I don’t know what you are talking about’. Mark leaned closer to the girl’s face, their noses almost touching as he spoke in a flat serious voice, the grin wiped from his face,

“I’ll ask you one more time. Who are you, and where did you come from”.

Tsutsuji gulped down as the tiny Naginata in Mark’s hand stopped spinning and pointed straight at the young girl’s throat.

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A short while later, Mark sat with his legs and arms crossed as he stared down at the tiny girl in front of him. Tsutsuji sat there in a practiced seiza position silently looking at the ground, not wanting to meet Mark’s eyes. Mark could not help but close his eyes and gently rub his temples. According to the girl, she was a “Spirit of the Magi”, a fundamental force of Nature in this world. In simple terms, she was a “Will” born from the collective intentions of the Magi. Specifically, she was a subspecies of Magi Spirit call a “Guide”. Guides acted as the voice of the Magi, directing and instructing other beings on the Magi’s will.

Guide’s duties varied from Guide to Guide, but each was critical to the natural flow and order the world. Mark could not help but feel that if the other Guides were similar to the one in front of him, then this world’s average blood pressure must be very high.

Tsutsuji’s presently assigned duty was to act as Mark's instructor and assistant in the System tutorial, answering any questions and concerns that he may have. Mark let out a low moan thinking about the whole thing and began to genuinely regret selecting YES, as he nursed his growing headache.

Mark opened one eye as he looked down at the little Guide as she mumbled something under her breath, eyes still on the ground. He sighed heavily as he spoke to her in an impatient voice,

“What? What is it, speak up and stop mumbling.”

Tsutsuji looked up at Mark, though her eyes almost at tears as she looked away, unwilling to meet his eye, she spoke in a slightly louder voice,

“I-I have a message for y-you”

Quickly reaching into the space between her back and shell, she pulled out a ‘large’ white marble cube flecked with gold, about half the size of her head. She placed the cube on the ground, and it gave a slight shake before quickly breaking down into a fine glistening sand. The sand mixed with the surrounding stone and dirt as though it had a mind of its own, quickly forming into the shape of a person, roughly the size of Tsutsuji.

The Earthen person suddenly moved on its own, reaching out to tap the Air, as if fiddling with something that Mark could not see, then it spoke in a loud voice. Mark frowned deeply as he listened; the voice was instantly recognizable as the voice of the Stranger.

[“Hello? This thing working? Blasted contraption, why did I ever program these things in. Mark if you are seeing this message, then the Tutorial program has been activated and you’ve made contact with Tsutsuji. First off, let me apologize for her behavior. She can be a little fireball, so be careful not get burned”.]

Tsutsuji’s eyes went wide and her face turned cherry red as the earthen stranger spoke, and she called out small squeak,

“H-hey!”

The Earthen Stranger continued on with a wide grin.

[“First off, I wanted to explain a little about The System, what its purpose is, and the nature of this World. As you are already aware, this is not your World. Or rather, it is better to say this is what your World COULD have been. One pivoting point of this World is the existence called Magi. When the world was still young, it was very similar to your own. However, a long time ago a certain event led to the destruction of the Lesser King, what you call the “Moon”.

The Moon’s function in nature was not just to light up the Night sky, it played an important role in the natural order of the World. Its influence moved Land and Sea, called the Tides and the Wind. Its pull even affected the growth and direction that Life would take over the Eons. With its destruction and the splitting of the Skyshards, while the moon’s influence was not erased, it was greatly weakened. A Great Stone can support a Great burden, but when that Stone is broken into gravel, then that support is no longer stable.

With the weakening of the Moon’s influence, the World was thrown into chaos and destruction. There was a need to replace that lost influence, to bring Order back from Chaos. Thus, the Magi were born. The Magi, in terms you would understand, are something similar to Organic Nanobots; microscopic bio-machines designed to “mimic” the influence and power that was lost. Alone, a single Magi cannot do much, but just as the trillions of cells make up your body, the countless Magi scattered through the World have the power to influence and reshape reality.

Thus, they have become a cornerstone of the World, bringing order and become a fundamental law of Nature. You might ask yourself, ‘Ok, so what? What does that have to do with me?’ Well, it is first necessary to understand how the Magi work before you can understand the System. I am sure by now, you’ve noticed your new Ink? Yes?”….]

Mark’s eyes went wide at the Earthen Stranger’s words, and he quickly patted his chest and pulled on the top of his Shirt, looking down at the strange markings over his Heart. Mark’s furrowed his eyebrows as he lowered his arms and looked back at the Earthen Stranger. The Earthen Stranger simply continued on,

[…..“That Is call a ‘Sigil’. While not quite the same, you could liken it to a 'Genetic Super Computer'. Every intelligent, sentient organism in this World is born with a ‘Sigil’. They are an indispensable part of life. And most importantly, the Sigil authorizes one to give 'Commands' to the Magi. These 'commands' take many forms. Abilities, Mutations….Magic. They are all a result of the Magi’s power to shape the world. Of course, there are limitation and stipulations involved, we can’t have people simply changing the nature of the World on a whim.

First off, Magi require 'Power' to perform their functions. Magi in nature, draw their energy collectively, and because they are 'maintaining' the status quo, the energy required is minimal. If a Sigil gives a 'Command' to the Magi, however, it must first provide the energy needed. And the farther this command deviated from the established natural order, the greater the demand.
This energy takes the form of the Host’s Metabolic Power (MP), literally the chemical energy stored in your body. The greater the amount of energy stored, the greater the changes that can be made.

Secondly, the 'Commands' that can be given are pre-constructed; whether it be through a 'Skill' or a 'Spell', The Magi will only follow preset 'programs' recorded in the Sigil. Don’t be discouraged though, there are as many different programs in existence as there are stars in the Sky. It’s simply a matter of discovering them. This is simply to prevent those who do not know better from tinkering in matters they cannot understand, think of it as a fail-safe.

Now, the System is a very ‘Special’ program that I’ve created just for you and others like you, to help you *coughandthereaderscough* better assimilate to this new world. If anything, you can think of the System as this world’s very own ‘Internet’; it is a program that Links together every Sigil and Magi into one huge interconnected network. This allows you to pull out information that you would otherwise not even know you don’t know. By the way, it is also the reason you are able to communicate with the people of this World, your Sigil automatically translates the words spoken in your head and sends the meaning of the words you speak through the System and to the other parties Sigil, translating for them as well.

That being said, however, the System is not almighty. Just like the Internet of Earth does not have everything, certain information will not be available to you. Specifically, anything that is not in the ‘database’, the collective Sigil information storage, as well as personal information that the Person is not willing to provide, such as their bank pin or body measurements. Though if this information is publicly open or something that can be inferred, you may get lucky. Certain Skills may also allow you to catch a glimpse at this personal information, however, these are an exception to the rule.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about your own Sigil. As a human of Earth, you were not born with a Sigil, so think of this one as another gift. The name of your Sigil is 'Survivor'. While it is not unique, it is still very special. It embodies my desire for you to grow and survive in this new world, to bring change and stir things up. In its most basic form, you can think of it as a 'healing factor'; any damage that you take will cause your body to rapidly recover and at the same time become stronger than it was before.
There are other functions and secrets to it as well, but where would the fun be if I told you all that from the get-go? For now, you simply need to do what you wish and go where your feet take you. Be warned though, while you are now much harder to kill than you were before, you are not immortal; losing a limb or two is fine, but serious damage will still debilitate you for some time, and any attack that could kill you instantly will not be recoverable. Survivor also follows the laws of the Magi, if you run out of energy you will be no harder to kill than any other normal man.
Remember Mark, I’ll be watching you. Make things interesting for me, if you can”]

With a smile and a wave of the hand, the Earthen Stranger collapsed back into a pile of sand. Mark looked down at the pile and sighed deeply, his mind going over the information again and again. Tsutsuji gave a sigh herself, as she stood and brushed off the dust on her legs, then with a quiet voice, still not willing to look Mark in the eye, she said,

“W-well now that, that is over, do you have questions or…..”

Before Tsutsuji could finish her words, however, the little pile of sand sprang back to form, and the Earthen Stranger spoke again.

[“Oh! That reminds me! I have one more thing to mention. I am afraid that I’m going to have to put Tsutsuji on probation for a little while. She’s been warned before to curve her temper. I’d like to ask Mark to watch after her for a bit until other arrangements can be made. Take care of her well, and sorry for the trouble!”]

The two stared in shock at the Earthen Stranger, as he simply held his palms together and made a slight bow to Mark, before snapping his fingers. Tsutsuji gave a small squeak as a tiny grain of light flew out of her chest and towards Mark, passing through his clothes and hitting the Sigil on his chest. Mark’s eyes widened in surprise as he felt the Sigil grow slightly warm and pulse with light under his clothes. He was suddenly aware of some form of link between Himself and the tiny Guide girl; while it could not be called reading her mind exactly, it was as if he was infinitely aware of her, able to perceive her intentions and her emotions; her confusion and anger and fear and doubt all wrapped in one.

Tsutsuji as well seemed to become aware of the connection, and as she stared at Mark with wide eyes, she turned to the Earthen Stranger and pleaded as tears began to well up,

“Wait! Please, Master No! Anyone but Him!”

Mark spoke at the same time,

“Wait a moment, I never agreed to th…”

The Earthen Stranger started to quiver as he hastily spoke,

[“Whoops, went over time. Sorry, this is just a Recording, I can’t answer you. Well, have a good day!!”]

Before collapsing again into a pile of sand. Tsutsuji, in shock, fell to her knees, both palms on the cold stone ground as she gave out a loud cry,

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

Mark too cursed out at the pile of sand,

“Wait, don’t just pretend like you are a recording! Come back here you Son of a ------!”

Mark’s mouth slammed shut of its own volition before he could utter the last word, leaving the only sounds in the cave the flowing of the small stream, the snoring of the two who’s slept through the commotion and gentle sobbing of a tiny girl as she lay in a puddle of tears.

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