Uhh, Reincarnation Goddess? You Forgot to Give Me the System

Month: March 2021

Beginning of an Era – Chapter 10

Remember when I said it would hit me later that everyone I used to know on Earth would now think I was dead? As I lay in Rikaine Lin Rain’s unfamiliar bed, struggling to fall asleep amid fears of an uncertain future and dread at what might lurk in Era’s darkness, it became later.

My life on Earth was over. And not just in the literal way. Everyone I used to know—all my friends, as few as they may have been; all my coworkers; my family—I would never see any of them again. Dana would never pay me back that $15 she still owed me from a year ago. My work buddy Rajan would never again have to deal with my incessant whining about the management at Ubliquo. Hell, I would never find out if they made another good Star Wars movie! I was dead, and there was no going back.

Oh god, my parents. Their only daughter was dead to them and I had no way to tell them otherwise. And after everything else they had been through… I couldn’t put them through that—except I was. And I would be every day for the rest of both of their lives.

It was torture. I mean, you know I rag on myself all the time. (And for good reason: I suck.) (Haha, see what I did there?) But this was a kind of mental torment I wasn’t used to. This was real. This was deep. It wasn’t just something I could get over the same way I got over everything else, by closing myself off and treating life as one big joke. This was something that would require extensive therapeutic intervention and processing

Were therapists even a thing that existed on Era? Ugh.

I hated that I was starting life over again at square one. I hated that I needed to open Rikaine’s bedroom’s curtains because I didn’t even know whether I should be afraid of the dark on this planet. I hated that I was in a world where everyone’s personal stats were magically and accurately quantified, except for mine. Maybe Bohriam had 10 STR, or maybe he had 100 STR, but what did I have? Not even zero STR—my stats were a big fat NULL in the great cosmic database of life. I was a gaping void, a glitch in the Matrix. Stat-less, Class-less, System-less in a world that wouldn’t know what to do with me.

What was I thinking earlier, thinking that I could use my knowledge of Earth plus Era plus Seriphen’s realm to decipher the secrets of the greater multiverse? How could I decipher jack shit about the multiverse if I couldn’t even figure out my place on Era? It’s not like my software development knowledge would be any help here—Era didn’t have computers. (That was one thing I did make sure to ask Bohriam when we were on our way to Gostrey.)

No computers, no internet. And I thought I might be able to cultivate science on Era and bring them to greater technological heights? I didn’t even know how transistors worked! What was I going to do, dedicate the next decade of my life to inventing them based solely on the fact that I know things named ‘transistors’ are possible? No. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine dedicating myself to anything. Even sleep seemed too daunting.

Unsupervised in this fantasy world stranger’s house, I didn’t even want to snoop through their belongings and furniture. I could have answered so many questions for myself if I had done a little bit of exploring when I got here—did Era have refrigerators? Air conditioning? Any kind of electrical tech? Instead I explored myself straight into the bedroom, and straight into bed, where I lay wide awake ever since.

At least Era had beds. Not as comfy as Earth mattresses, but still. At least Era had fucking beds.

When Elder Hammond and I first arrived at Rikaine’s house, we had to wait outside for a few minutes for Bohriam to reach the watchtower and tell Rikaine about me, so Rikaine could use magic to remote unlock her door—or to deactivate the wards on her house, or whatever she technically did. God, people used magic to lock their doors here. I wouldn’t even be able to lock my own doors on Era.

I turned my head to the side and looked through Rikaine’s bedroom’s window, out into the open night. Two of the moons I had seen earlier were visible through the small pane. They had traveled a good amount over the last couple hours, arcing over large swaths of sky just like good ol’ Luna used to do. I wormed my way up the mattress a couple inches, so I could look at a slightly different angle of the sky. The third moon was still there, hot on the trail of the two moons it had been leading earlier in the night.

This bothered me. A lot.

In physics, there’s a concept known as the three-body problem. It basically states that if you have three gravitationally bound objects—like three stars, or three planets, or three moons—then the math to solve their trajectories is hard as fuck. Two objects? Easy peasy; Isaac Newton’s got our back. But as soon as you add a third? Utter, inescapable chaos. To the point that eventually, billions of years of orbits down the line, you’re probably going to get a cataclysmic collision unless the bodies started their orbits in just the right way.

So how the fuck did Era, a planet that was probably billions of years old just like Earth, have three big, close moons in its sky?

Those motherfuckers should have crashed into each other eons ago and left a big nasty asteroid belt around the planet. Except clearly, they hadn’t. They were just continuing to mind their own business, despite all the laws of physics that said this kind of system shouldn’t be possible.

I could understand if it were just three solitary bodies out in the wilderness of galactic space, far from any intervening sources of chaos—but these pieces of shit were natural satellites, all tangled up with the orbit of Era itself around the yellow star at the center of the system. Even if the moons had miraculously stable orbits on their own, they didn’t exist in a vacuum. (Well, you know what I mean.) Tides, planetary alignments, all sorts of things should have thrown that stability out of whack.

So, what the fuck was the explanation for this? Obviously one of my assumptions about reality was wrong, but which one? I could think of a couple possibilities off the top of my head:

1) They weren’t natural satellites—they were man-made, or magic-made, or alien-made to have perfectly unnatural orbits.

2) The laws of physics were slightly different in this universe. That sounded like a fun possibility to explore later on.

3) I was still dead, and none of this was real. Not as fun. Let’s ignore that one.

4) This entire reality was actually a computer simulation, and I had discovered the one place where the programmers skimped on the details.

5) The moons in the system were part of the System. There were actually seven moons, and the other four were just hiding.

When I thought of that fifth possibility, I broke down into manic restless laughter. This kind of system shouldn’t be possible, my ass. I knew nothing about Era’s System. Who was I to say what should or shouldn’t be possible?

Someone with a cosmic fucking destiny, that’s who.

It wasn’t fair that I had a second chance at life and almost everyone else wouldn’t. Of all the people on Earth, what were the odds that anyone else I used to know were also among Seriphen’s “lucky few?” Out of all the billions, probably trillions, of people in the multiverse? It was a sick joke. Why me? I was just some schmuck from New Jersey. Why did I deserve reincarnation when my parents, my brother, my friends, everyone I used to know would probably get nothing more than oblivion?

Immortality was possible. Seriphen had shown me that. Yet, the gods of the greater multiverse had seen fit to hoard it for themselves and their lucky few. It wasn’t just cruel—it was evil. Seriphen and the rest of her pantheon had the ability to end Death itself by giving reincarnation to everyone. By not doing so, they were complicit in the deaths of countless sentient beings.

As I lay in Rikaine Lin Rain’s unfamiliar bed, I made a vow: if I ever found a way out of this world, if I ever found a way back into Seriphen’s realm—whether by death or magic or something even more esoteric—I would do everything in my power to end her monopoly on reincarnation. To make sure no death ever had to be final. To make sure no one would ever have to go through what my parents had gone through again.

I was never much of a religious type, but that night I prayed. I prayed to Seriphen that I was wrong about her actions as Goddess of Reincarnation, that there was something I was missing about how souls in the greater multiverse truly worked. I prayed that she would give me the System she failed to give me when sending me to Era. I prayed that she would tell my parents I was still alive, even if they didn’t believe her. I prayed that she was on my side, because I couldn’t handle being alone anymore.

I never got an answer—at some point between the tears and the self-loathing, I finally fell asleep.

Characters: Ash

Beginning of an Era – Chapter 9

As Bohriam mournfully filled Elder Hammond in on the slaughter of Gostrey’s entire fighting force, I went to town on that plate of food Andreon had brought me. Apparently, it wasn’t rude in this world to chow my face off while taking part (from the sidelines) in a serious conversation. Seriphen was wrong—I hadn’t been reincarnated in another world; I died and went straight to heaven.

“And for the rest of the battle I pretended I was already dead,” Bohriam said, bitterly turning away from Elder Hammond’s non-judging eyes. “Exactly as Jonakan ordered me to do.”

Oof. That had to be a real teabag to the self-esteem. I made a mental note to never make fun of Bohriam for being weaker than your average bear—and then I realized that might be the treatment I was in for on this planet, if I couldn’t find a way to fend for myself soon enough. Gulp.

Hammond nodded acceptingly. “You did your duty to Gostrey, Bohriam Sen Kahl. You survived so that someone could warn us of the danger we face. There is no shame in that.” He spoke slowly, enunciating each word with an air of wisdom that really made me buy into the whole Elder title schtick. (Plus, he was being nice to my boy Boh. After what I had seen from the rest of the Fay family, I had to give him credit for that.)

“Except I almost didn’t,” Bohriam said, passing me a sidelong glance.

Hammond followed Bohriam’s line of sight straight to me, currently stuffing my face with the last of the bread. “Uh, hi,” I said through the mouthful.

The elder smiled amiably at me. “So how did you enter the picture?”

I swallowed the last of my meal. For a world without Earth’s agricultural engineering, those were some bomb-ass veggies. Heck, maybe Era had taste-amplifying magic. I’d have to ask at some point. “Well, this might be a little hard to explain, but… I’m actually from another world, except I died, but then in the afterlife the Goddess of Reincarnation told me I was going to be reincarnated—and then I was, here. I woke up in the middle of—well, the aftermath of—the battle, and then the Gray Guard was going to kill me, but Bohriam jumped up and pulled me out before they could. And then we ran for a while, walked for a while, ran for a while more, T-posed for a while, and now I’m here.” Huh, that wasn’t so hard to explain after all. Once I got started, it actually kind of all flowed out effortlessly. Why can’t I always be that good at explaining things?

The runes on the surface of Elder Hammond’s left eye stopped glowing green—wait, when had they even started glowing? Wait, there were runes on his eye??

Hammond breathed in, then let out a heavy sigh. “I believe you,” he said. “Or rather, I believe that you believe you are telling the truth—and that’s good enough for me.”

God damn it. Fuckin’ truth-Sharingan up in this bitch. That was something I would have to worry about too? Oh well. At least I didn’t have to ask about telepathy anymore. One question down, seven hundred seventy seven more to go.

“She’s telling the truth?” Bohriam said, expression lighting up again like a kid on his birthday.

“Hey!” I said. “I thought you already trusted me!”

“I do,” Bohriam said, flustered. “But I trust Elder Hammond even more.”

Well, I couldn’t argue with that. Dude was Dumbledore with a built-in lie detector.

“She is,” Hammond answered. “Congratulations, Bohriam. You’ve finally found what you’ve been waiting for.”

And there was my opening. “Yeah, about that… What’s the deal there? Bohriam mentioned something about some kind of prophecy?” If I was going to have some kind of cosmic destiny, it was high time I got proactive in figuring out what it was. Or at least preparing myself for what it might be.

Elder Hammond blinked in surprise. “Huh. In all my years, I’ve never thought of Personal Quests as a form of prophecy—but I suppose in this case, it may have been true. A Personal Quest is never meant to be impossible.” Now he was looking at Boh. “No matter how incredible it may seem.”

Bohriam looked like he was about to stammer out some self-defensive comeback, but I beat him to speaking. “What’s a Personal Quest?”

Hammond looked back at me with one of those expressions of bewilderment that I was so used to invoking, his mouth slightly agape and tilted to the side. His eye glowed another truth-detection pulse at me. “You’re kidding.”

“That’s the thing,” Bohriam said. “Ash is from another world… A world without the Seven Sevens.”

“You don’t have the System?” Hammond asked. I shook my head. “No stats? Class? Magic?” I shook my head again, again, and again. “How is that possible?”

“Well, right before the reincarnation Goddess sent me here, she realized I wouldn’t be compatible with the System here because Earth—my original world—doesn’t have a System of its own.”

Still locked in a gaze of total astonishment, Hammond looked me up and down like he was seeing me for the very first time. “Remarkable… A Stone-rank at your age… No—not even Stone-rank. A No-rank… A Null-rank…”

Heh. Null-rank. I could vibe with that. “Is Stone the earliest rank?”

“Yes,” both Elder Hammond and Bohriam responded. They exchanged stares for a couple seconds. Bohriam turned away first, looking to the ground as forlornly as before.

Elder Hammond continued his explanation. “Everyone on Era is Stone-rank when they’re born. A blank slate of low stats, no experience, and all the potential in the world. But it is not until one’s teenage years—usually 15 or 16 or so—that a Stone receives their first Personal Quest from the System. Usually, it’s something simple to understand. Winning a difficult battle. Overcoming a personal fear. Sometimes, a Personal Quest will be a little more… esoteric. Gathering a certain set of Artifacts. Discovering a particular secret.”

“… Saving the life of someone from another world,” I said. Man. I knew Bohriam was supposed to be weak, but I had no idea that he was still at the baby stage. The same weight class as kids and teenagers—I mean, I was pretty sure Bohriam was still a teen, but at the far end of the teenage years. Not the middle, where all his peers were probably completing their own quests left and right. That couldn’t have been easy on his psyche.

Hammond nodded. “A Personal Quest is meant to challenge oneself, to incubate personal growth. It would go against the very nature of the System for a Personal Quest to be insurmountable. In fact, I had never heard of an ‘impossible’ Personal Quest until young Bohriam told me his own.” He turned to Boh, chuckling. “And even then, it seems it was just as possible as any other! All it required was a little bit of patience, and the courage not to give up hope.”

I couldn’t tell what Bohriam was feeling in that moment, as he stared intensely at the floor, scrubbing all hints of emotion from his face. Shame from having given up hope? Bashful pride from having not given up? Relief that he wouldn’t be the butt of Andreon’s conceited bullying anymore?

Or maybe it was still guilt from being the only survivor of the Gray Guard’s attack.

“Regardless,” Hammond said, turning back to me, “a Stone typically completes their Personal Quest within a year or so of receiving it. And when that happens… When the Stone finally proves himself worthy of the path of the System… He ascends to Iron-rank.”

“What’s Iron-rank?” I asked.

Elder Hammond sighed and smiled softly at me. “I can tell that you have many more questions, but I have many more duties—and there are only so many hours in the night. Let us retire now, and perhaps reconvene in the morning.”

“Wait! Um… What about me? Where should I go?” Suddenly I realized I was not only powerless on this world, but completely destitute as well—and that I had only managed to ignore it thus far because Bohriam had been guiding me every step of the way. But I was on the verge of losing that rock. Bohriam had a life here to get back to, and I had a life I needed to start. But how could I, with no food, no money, without even a place to sleep? Oh god, I didn’t even have a change of clothes!

Bohriam opened his mouth to speak, but closed it without saying anything. Maybe he was about to offer to let me stay at his place, then thought better of it. If so, I was glad I didn’t have to verbally turn him down. I was grateful to him for saving my life and all, but… We just met, dude. I don’t trust you that much yet. Although, in a weird way, him not actually making the offer made me trust him slightly more.

Elder Hammond considered my question for a couple seconds. “Hmm… Rikaine Lin Rain is on watchtower duty tonight. Her house is available, and not too far from here. I can take you, if you’d like.”

I nodded. An empty house was just what I needed right now. Peace and quiet and space to think and get my bearings without having to worry about the person in the next room being able to snap my head off by snapping their fingers.

“Excellent,” Hammond said. “Bohriam, go to the watchtower and update Rikaine on the situation. Make sure if she does have to go home before dawn, she knows not to disturb her guest.”

“Yes sir,” Bohriam said.

This was it—I was leaving my rock behind. My first night alone in Gostrey, in Beleria, on Era, in a universe far from anywhere I knew as home. The chill of night seeped its first probing tendrils into me and I couldn’t help but wonder: was that the last warmth I would feel for a while?

Bohriam hadn’t left yet. “Um. I’ll see you in the morning, Ash. Sleep well.”

As Hammond led me into the moonlit townscape, I nursed a small smile. No. No, it was not.

Characters: Ash, Bohriam, Elder Hammond

Beginning of an Era – Chapter 8

Sollimer escorted us to a wooden pavilion on the side of the lake, where we were supposed to wait until he returned with Elder Hammond. He patted Bohriam sympathetically on the shoulder. “I know it’s been a hard day, but… It’s almost over. I’ll be back soon with Hammond and then we can figure this all out.”

“Thanks, Solly,” Bohriam said through a pained smile. “Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without you. Best Master I never had.”

“If there’s anything I can do, or get for you… Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

Yes to both,” I said, unable to hide how emphatically thrilled I was by the prospect of filling this famished stomach. Seriously, I hadn’t eaten since this morning on Earth, and I was pretty sure that the single Wild Berry Pop-Tart I had for breakfast hadn’t come with my body when Seriphen remade it on Era. I was quite possibly the emptiest a human could ever be, digestively speaking.

Sollimer looked at me with a sneer. “I don’t know what kind of sick joke you think you’re pulling here, but fuck off. Bohriam’s been through enough already.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Bohriam interrupted. “A meal for Ash sounds great,” he said, completely disregarding Sollimer’s tone. “As for me… I don’t think I’m hungry right now. I leveled up earlier today.”

Sollimer forced a small smile. “Well hey, there’s some good news.” He patted Bohriam on the shoulder again. “All right. I’ll be back soon.” Then he left at a brisk walking pace.

The nerve of that guy! What the hell was his problem with me? I would have worked myself into more of an outrage at Sollimer’s blatant rudeness, but instead I was more relieved and excited that the Beleric language contained the F-word. Thank god, the people of this planet would be able to understand me when I cursed up a storm! I know it was a silly thing to be happy about, but as a wise asshole once said: “Well hey, there’s some good news.” Gotta take your wins where you can get ‘em.

As we waited for Solly’s return, Bohriam gazed out over the lake, deep in thought. Or maybe not thinking at all—it’s not like I could read his mind. (Although, he did mention telepathy earlier, so maybe reading minds was a thing that was possible within the Seven Sevens System. I’d have to ask later.)

It was getting dark now, but the dearth of sunlight never quite hit the town like I expected. Every few minutes, another light would illuminate on the side of a building, or on the ceiling of the pavilion, or on the ground on the edge of a street. They weren’t electric light bulbs like on Earth—each ‘street lamp’ was an egg-shaped stone that gave off a faint glow somewhere between pink and red.

It didn’t seem like such faint light sources should be able to light up the town so well, but apparently they did. I started thinking magic might be behind it, until… I looked up at the night and saw a sky full of stars and moons. Three moons, each of them about half the size of Earth’s solitary Luna, and spread out over a wider range of sky—and each of them reflecting a good amount of sunlight from the other side of the world.

Okay. So maybe the egg-light phos-lamps were more for decoration than illumination.

“Well if it isn’t Bohriam the Brave, come to regale us with tales of his heroics,” a smarmy voice said.

Three people had walked into the pavilion, all men around Bohriam’s age, and all of them carrying such smug grins that I wanted to punch them in the face on sight. Their leader, the one who had spoken, had a white weasel perched atop his shoulder—and the weasel had a smile that made it look just as pompous as the others. The two lackeys on either side behind him chuckled at his apparent joke.

Bohriam sighed and looked away. “I don’t have time for this tonight, Andreon. I’m waiting for Elder Hammond.”

“Surely my grandfather wouldn’t object to some conversation between friends,” Andreon said. “Trading war stories? How many soldiers did you manage to slay on the battlefield today? Maybe you had a Personal Quest to kill them all yourself.”

The two lackeys broke into full laughter, and I had heard enough. I walked back over from the edge of the pavilion I had wandered off to. “Well if it isn’t Gostrey’s own Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle.”

“Ash, don’t,” Bohriam said, alarm creeping into his voice.

The leader of the bully trio gave me a quick top-to-bottom look-over. “And who are you supposed to be? The Stone’s new guardian?”

“Actually he’s mine,” I said. “He saved my life on the battlefield today.” It was technically 100% true; I didn’t need to tell them it didn’t happen during the battle. “If it wasn’t for Boh, the Gray Guard would have killed me just like they killed everyone else on that battlefield.”

“Ash…”

“What?” Andreon said.

“You heard me—Bohriam was the only person who was able to escape that battle alive, and he did it while rescuing me from certain death. I don’t know what your beef with him is, but the dude deserves a lot more respect than you’re giving him right now. He’s been through enough already.”

I felt a smug sense of satisfaction at being able to twist Sollimer’s words and use them in my favor (not to mention in Boh’s favor), but a tense silence fell over the entire pavilion, and I got the distinct feeling that I had said the exact worst thing.

Andreon turned away from me. “Bohriam, is this true?”

Still looking away, Bohriam slowly nodded.

Andreon picked Bohriam up by the collar of his armor and ran him into the wall. “My brother was in the Aegis!” Andreon snarled. “You let Jonakan die?!

Oh. Fuck. Well that would certainly qualify as a reason to have a beef with him.

Bohriam said nothing, did nothing, didn’t even struggle against Andreon’s furious grip. “I should kill you right now,” Andreon said. “You’ve been nothing but a useless waste ever since you got your Personal Quest. I should put you out of your misery before you get any more of us killed, you weak, pathetic—”

Andreon was cut off mid-vicious-monologue by a blast of red hot energy hitting him from the side, knocking him and Bohriam both to the ground.

I followed the beam of energy back to its source: an old man standing just outside the pavilion. He was bald with a short white beard, and holding a red staff. The head of the staff was covered in glowing white runes that were already fading into invisibility. Gostrey’s own Gandalf, I presume.

“That’s enough, Andreon,” the man said.

Andreon started pushing himself back to his feet. “Grandfather, I—”

Enough,” he repeated. “Our guest is right. Bohriam has been through enough for today. Do your duty and move on. That’s the Fay family way.”

The white weasel on Andreon’s shoulder leaned into his ear like it was whispering something. “… Yes, sir.” Grimacing, Andreon walked over to me and held out his hand palm-up. He manifested out from his inventory a plate full of food—bread and meat and some vegetables I probably wouldn’t recognize. “Here’s your meal, guest.” He placed the plate on the table next to us and nodded to his two lackeys. “Laster, Grimley, come on. Let’s leave the Stone and his maiden to their business.”

The triumvirate of shitheads left, and not a second too soon. I swear, if I ever had to put up with them again, I would punch Andreon square in the face.

Elder Hammond walked into the pavilion proper and offered Bohriam a hand up. “I’m sorry for my grandson’s behavior. Like most of us, he doesn’t handle grief very well.”

“It’s okay,” Bohriam said. “He… I’m used to it.”

Hammond nodded sadly. He tapped his staff against the ground once and it dematerialized into his inventory. He sat down next to Bohriam, across the table from me, and patted the bench beside him for Bohriam. “I hear we have much to discuss,” Hammond said. Then he looked at me curiously. “And not just about the Aegis.”

Characters: Ash, Bohriam, Sollimer, Andreon, Laster, Grimley, Elder Hammond

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