Bohriam and I ran until we reached the end of the field, and then we kept running straight into the forest—dodging tree trunks and bundles of foliage and never looking back. I was out of breath after the first minute. As a cubicle-dwelling programmer and occasional gamer girl, my body was not exactly in the peak of early 20s physical condition. But I was apparently miles ahead of Bohriam, gasping for breath in front of me like he was going to pass out at any second.
On the bright side, it turns out running for your life is a real boon for one’s energy reserves, so I was able to keep up with him without all of my lungs burning away to nothingness. Just 95% of them.
After a few minutes of full-speed sprinting, Bohriam came to a staggering stop in the middle of the forest, leaned over with his hands on his knees, and hyperventilated like there was no tomorrow.
I briefly considered making a joke that I don’t normally let men kidnap me to the middle of a secluded forest on the first date, but I decided against it. Partially because I didn’t want to give the wrong idea, and partially because I really needed to start working on my first impression skills.
(But mainly because I, too, was in desperate need of fresh oxygen now that we had stopped.)
Suddenly, a silvery-purplish aura rose up from the ground around Bohriam. He grinned through pained breaths of air. “Finally… It’s happening…” The aura grew until it encompassed his entire body, a translucent glow of pure magical energy. Then it faded away, along with Bohriam’s smile. “No… Just… Level up…”
And then his eyes lost focus and he fell unconscious, face-first into the ground.
Well okay then.
With my own breathing finally getting back under some semblance of control, I took a moment to evaluate my situation. I was lost in a mystery forest, on a planet I didn’t even know the name of, with a mysterious magical hero boy who said he had been waiting for me for years—which meant I was either part of a hilarious mistaken identity scenario, or I was the subject of a goddamn transdimensional prophecy. For my sake, I really hoped it was the former.
Creeping nervously closer, I examined the unconscious fantasyman.
Bohriam looked like he was about average height, or maybe a little less. His plain face was mostly smooth, only marred by the little bit of chin stubble that looked like it had grown since a recent shave. He had a messy mop of black hair and, although I couldn’t see them right now, vividly clear brown eyes.
He couldn’t have been more than eighteen, maybe nineteen years old—and yet, he was wearing the same silver armor as all the other dead bodies on that battlefield, complete with streaks of other people’s blood. I didn’t want to know what kind of world would thrust young people into vicious battle like that. Especially since Bohriam appeared to have just as much superhuman endurance as me—which was to say, he didn’t have any at all.
Or maybe he did now, since he mumbled something about leveling up right before he passed out. Could a single level up bring someone from standard-mundanity to super-humanity? I really had no way of knowing. Shit, I probably could have made a list of all the things I didn’t know about my new world order.
… Actually, that sounded like a great idea. Both for my own sanity and so I wouldn’t accidentally forget some trivial thing, like asking Bohriam after he wakes up why the hell the people on this planet speak English.
If you’re not a programmer, there’s something you should know about us: we love making lists. Lists and spreadsheets. Those things are our jam, the way sports bars and having friends are the jam of non-programmers. We write things down, we bookmark them, we file our thoughts away to save them for later. That’s our secret. If you’ve ever met a software engineer that you thought was smart because they knew a lot, you’ve been caught up in the lie. We’re not smart because we remember a lot; we’re smart because we write things down so we won’t have to remember them.
Oh, and I guess some of us are also smart because we like reading physics blogs in our spare time, but that’s beside the point.
Anyway, shortly after I decided to make my List of Important Things to Find Out, I realized I couldn’t, because I wasn’t reincarnated with a pencil or paper. It was the first time I had been without a writing instrument on my person in years, and I felt completely naked. It was traumatizing.
(I’m kidding… Mostly.)
So with the first item on my “pre-list list” becoming “find a way to write a list,” I finally had time to think.
I tried to remember the handful of D&D sessions I played with my older brother when I was a little kid. I doubt we even played by the rules (I wasn’t old enough to care about rules yet), but every little scrap of memory would help me. Or maybe I was barking up the wrong tree and this world’s rules would be completely different and my childhood memories would mislead me to a quick and gruesome death. It didn’t matter either way, because my memory bank came up blank. I’m sorry, Derek. I failed you again.
I took a wide look around the forest I was in. Thanks to the density of leafage, I couldn’t see much more than maybe a few hundred feet in any direction. Aha, that was something—these looked like deciduous trees, and the leafage was full green, so at least I knew which half of the year this part of the planet was in.
… Unless this was a magic forest. Oh god, I was really going to have to rebuild my knowledge base from the ground up, wasn’t I?
I continued scanning the horizon until I came across a grizzly bear in the distance. Oh shit. Deer in the headlights mode again. (I know, I had already been through much worse in the last hour, but you can’t just turn off those primal fear instincts.) I stared unmoving at the bear as it walked along in the distance, until it—oh god—turned its head toward me.
The bear looked me over for a few seconds, grunted, stood up on its hind legs, raised its right arm, and it flipped me off with its middle claw. Then it got back down and kept walking on its merry disgruntled way.
What the fuck. That bear just flipped me off! It looked straight at me and gave me the finger! There was no mistaking any of that series of movements. That bear just saw me and consciously, sentiently, rejected me.
The master-class absurdity-loving cynic in me started laughing. Of course I’d jump from letting down gods to letting down bears. It made as much sense as anything else in this wonderful sequel of a life so far. I laughed so hard that the bear started walking faster to get away from me, and that made me laugh even harder.
And then I shut up, because I realized those soldier knights might still be out there.
Behind me, Bohriam stirred on the ground. “What… Where am I?” He rubbed his forehead where he faceplanted into the ground. It looked like it was already bruising.
I turned around to face the freshly rested standard-human on the ground. Finally, my chance to get some answers. “Hey there, slugger,” I said. “I have some questions for ya. Try to keep up.”