“We’re gonna play a little game called Twenty Questions,” I said.
Bohriam pushed himself onto his knees. He still looked like he was in pretty miserable condition, hands covered in dirt and his forehead bump already starting to swell, but at least his breathing was mostly back to normal. Deep and rejuvenating, rather than the ghastly shallow horror show it was a few minutes earlier. Maybe he had superhuman healing speeds after all?
He looked up at me with a mixture of stupor and unparalleled awe. “You… I’ve waited so long to meet you. I have so many questions.”
“Nope,” I said immediately. “I have more. You’re gonna have to wait your turn.” I was done being on the defensive, reacting to events as they unfolded around me instead of having any active say in my destiny. (Which, as of my brief conversation with Seriphen, I was glaringly aware that destiny was a thing that existed, and furthermore, it was a thing that I apparently had.) It was time for me to go on the offensive, to become proactive, to take the reins on this runaway train before it steamrolled me back to the netherworld. And I wasn’t going to budge a single inch on that.
“Can I at least ask your name?” Bohriam said.
… Okay. Maybe I could budge a single centimeter. “Okay, yeah. My name is Ashleigh Kyriakides. You can call me Ash.” I’d have said that’s what all my friends call me, but by now I realized all my old friends thought I was dead. Oof. That was going to hit me later. “And you already introduced yourself as Bohriam, right?”
He nodded. “Bohriam Sen Kahl, from the Kahl branch of the Sen family line. But you can call me Boh.”
A weirdly informative answer. But hey, we were already on a first name basis, so I wasn’t about to argue with the results. “Okay then, Boh. First question: Magic. It’s real?”
He glanced side to side, like it was the dumbest question he never expected and he wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting pranked. “Uhh… Yeah?”
Hoo boy, progress! “Alrighty then. Next question: How the hell are you speaking English? How do I understand anything you’re saying?”
Bohriam eyed me suspiciously. “Funny; I was going to ask how you were speaking Beleric if you’re supposed to be from another world.”
Oh hell no. That was a path of cosmic wonkery I wasn’t prepared to nosedive into just yet. “So you heard what I said to the soldier knights, huh? The… What’d they call themselves, the Gray Guard?”
Bohriam nodded. “That’s why I saved you. It’s my Stone-rank Personal Quest to save someone from another world, so when I heard what you said to Grennick, I… You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you.”
My face must have glazed over into the same look I used to get when I would try to explain my job to my parents. “What gave it away?”
“The fact that you didn’t interrupt me right away with another question,” Bohriam said. “You seem like you would be an interrupter.”
“Hey,” I rebuked. And then I smiled. “You’re a real perceptive one. I like you.”
“Thanks, I hope.”
“Anyway, next question: What’s the name of this planet, anyway? Uh, by ‘planet’ I mean ‘world,’ if you don’t know what a planet is.”
“I’m not an idiot—I know what a planet is. And in Beleric, its name is Era.”
“‘Era’ like, the period of time?”
Again, Bohriam looked at me like I was asking a trick question. “… Yes?”
Well, that was one inconsequential mystery I could cross off the list for all time. Yeah, I know that not knowing the name of the planet probably wouldn’t have done me any harm in the long run—it’s not like my old life ever hinged on me knowing I was on ‘Earth’—but it was a real weight off my shoulders to be able to pin a name to the hunk of rock I was standing on. A massive, pointless placebo effect, but an effect nonetheless. Era. I was on Era.
Also, it was nice to know that these people knew what planets were. Maybe I wouldn’t have to reinvent all of modern science for them. “Okay… Cool. I’m from Earth, by the way.”
“‘Earth’ like, the element? The thing that rocks are made of?”
… Way to get ahead of yourself, Ash.
“I don’t think you’re playing the game right, by the way,” Bohriam said.
“You said we’re playing Twenty Questions, right? Unless you’re a really weird kind of lateral thinking telepath, I don’t see how the questions you’re asking are going to help you figure out what I’m thinking of.”
“… You know the game Twenty Questions?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t I?”
Because it’s from my world, you culture-appropriating jackass. There was zero reasonable explanation for why both Earth and Era would have, of all things, a stupid parlor game in common. It was nearly as ridiculous as us both speaking the same langua—
“Say, Bohriam, you wouldn’t happen to know how old the Beleric language is, would you? Like, how many generations of your ancestors you would have been able to hold a conversation with before you couldn’t understand most of what they were saying?”
“That’s a very weird question,” Bohriam said. “But I happen to have spent a lot of time reading history books, so I happen to know that the answer to this question is about four hundred years. Before that, the scrolls look like another language entirely.” He beamed like he’d been waiting his entire life for that knowledge to finally make itself useful, and now that it had, he was on top of the world. Boy could I relate.
Four hundred years. About the same age as Earth’s modern English. “Of course! The collective psychic subconscious!”
Era’s Beleric and Earth’s English were the same because they had both evolved within the last few hundred years, when our collective psychic subconsciouses were more in tune with the greater multiverse. Era didn’t steal Beleric from Earth, and Earth didn’t steal English from Era—they both probably stole it from some other world that had it for thousands more years.
It made a disgusting bit of sense. English was a hodgepodge of vocabulary from other languages and rules from other grammars. Maybe all those instances of linguistic adaptation and evolution were just instances of English inching its way closer to being Multiversal English, one ungainly word at a time.
And there was no reason to think English was special in that regard—maybe the same was true for other “young” languages on Earth. Heck, maybe it was true for a lot of random things on Earth, if the Twenty Questions example was anything to go by. In fact…
Maybe the invention of role-playing games on Earth in their entirety was just our first glimpse through the cosmic looking glass, at the real shape of the many worlds outside our own boring event horizon.
This was a monumental discovery, and it needed to be given a name befitting of its importance. Since I still lacked a way to write things down, for now I had to settle for engraving it in my mindscape:
HYPOTHESIS #1: The newer and bigger something is in Earth’s cultural zeitgeist, the more likely it is to also exist on Era.
I gazed upon the sentence etched into my mind’s eye with nothing short of absolute pride. This was the discovery of a lifetime. Sure, it was only my first guess at an explanation for all this bullshit, and I was probably getting ahead of myself yet again, and there was a chance I was completely off the mark, but I didn’t care. This was me at my best, figuring out elegant solutions to impossible problems. This was a win, and I was going to savor it.
“… Are you okay?” Boh asked. “You’ve been kind of vaguely staring into the trees and smiling for a couple minutes now.”
“Yeah, Boh, I’m great.” I was still smiling, still vaguely staring at a distant point in the canopy of the forest. “I just had an incredible realization about the universe.”
“Oh, okay. Cool. Because the Gray Guard is just a minute or two from catching up to us.” He pointed behind me. “And I could really use some backup in this fight.”
“What?!” I turned around. In the distance, at the edge of my line of sight, one of the soldier knights from before was stealthily creeping toward us—and then he realized we knew he was there, and he started running full steam ahead.
“Make that half a minute,” Boh said casually. He held out his arm and a sword manifested itself in his hand, static electricity crackling on the full length of its blade. “Please tell me you’re at least an Iron-rank. If you can’t carry this fight by yourself, I might lose the confidence I’m pretending to have.”
I stared at the soldier knight, unable to avert my eyes. “Um, I don’t know what an Iron-rank is, so I’m probably not.”
“Wait, you’re serious?”
“Does Earth not have…”
“Earth does not have.”
Bohriam looked at the stampeding soldier, then back to me, then back to the soldier. “Wow, um, okay then.”
“How do you feel about some more running?”