During the 21st century, what looked to be a long-period comet reentered the Solar System. Early observations suggested that it was not quite what it appeared to be, but then, oddities were commonplace. Probes were launched to investigate the interloper, but little attention was paid during the intervening months.
The excited chatter of the artificial sapience guiding the first probe caught Earth's attention - the first high-resolution images made it clear that this object was not natural. It was immense, however, some three hundred kilometers in diameter. It was once a much larger craft, but time - and war, from the look of it - had taken its toll.
Almost overnight, Earth's entire social, political and religious dynamic was transformed.
Compared to the technology they were investigating, humanity's manned investigation was laughably slow, and primitive. The owners of the relic they were exploring were nearly a billion years dead, however, and most of the vessel's defenses had long since corroded into impotence.
That is not to say that there were not casualties. Some would say that the entirety of the human race was a casualty.
The Anima Strain
The Relic had many wonders, but two of them in particular stood out. The first of these to have an impact on humanity was eventually termed the Anima Strain. A virus with an extradimensional component, it returned with the surviving explorers and transformed humanity.
Millions died. Over a billion were immune, or managed to render themselves so - or at least they believed such at the time. The overwhelmingly vast majority of humanity grew acclimated to the virus, transforming them in subtle and minor ways. People were a bit faster, a bit stronger, a bit more cunning, but still human.
Some reacted more strongly than others. It tended to affect those with the least amounts of genetic engineering the strongest - those who had remained 'true' to the human form. It did not discriminate against wide-scale changes, however - many who were effectively immortal were still effected, and as that man-made creation spread throughout the process, the Anima Strain itself seemed to adapt.
Most of these more powerful types - while impressive, were at best curiosities. They changed things, sure, and they were definitely gifted individuals - but, if that were all that the Anima strain had done, then Earth would not have changed so.
A few - initially less than a dozen - were transformed well beyond the others, however. Called the Chosen, these humans held levels of personal power that would shake the foundations of the world.
The strength of a person's Anima is a very clearly defined trait. It exists in levels, much the same way that a photon's energy is an integral multiple of a set quantity, or an electric charge is of an integral strength. Unlike electromagnetism, however, power does not increase linearly with
-: Hidden Nearly a sixth of all sapient beings do not return any signature whatsoever. Called the Hidden, they have a much easier time living up to their sobriquet.
0: Unthinking Anything capable of self-reflection, linguistic development and complex goal construction was in some way affected by the Anima Strain. Any other complex entity returns a signature, but it is effectively negligible.
1: Normal Most humans, and nearly every animal and AI with an Anima rating is assigned a 1. Making up two-thirds of humanity, they are the typical masses, outside of those with significant genetic enhancements.
2: Awakened These individuals possess limited psychic aptitude. They have a small amount of precognition and have limited telepathic abilities. They make up nearly a seventh of the human population themselves, making this a small feat.
3: Talented About two percent of humanity reaches this level. They are far more powerful than their awakened counterparts, possessing more extensive precognition and telepathic abilities.
4: Gifted One in sixteen Talented reach this level.
5: Exceptional Less than one in forty Gifted individuals attain this level.
6: Supernal Fewer than one in a hundred Exceptional individuals reach this point.
7: Chosen There are few indicators of whether or not a person is capable of reaching this level - eventually, struck by an epiphany that is unique to each one, they just 'become'. Thus