Bohriam and I set out at a much less strenuous pace in the direction he claimed was north. Curiously, planet Era appeared to rotate in the opposite direction as Earth—the sun was setting in the east instead of the west. (And yes, I did make sure with Bohriam that the Beleric terms for north/south/east/west all meant the same directions as in English. Although, I guess there was still the simple possibility that my new buddy Boh was actually just a moron. Hmm.)
During the silence that ensued, I put some more thought into my predicament. I was in a world with a System, and I had the feeling that everyone on the planet was enrolled in that System—everyone except me. I was a lowly human in a world full of gods and wizards and monsters the likes of which I couldn’t imagine.
Or at least, until proven otherwise, that’s what I was going to assume this world was full of. I hadn’t played many RPGs or read many LitRPGs back on Earth. I was more of a science fiction and puzzle game gal, to be honest. I bet you never would have guessed that, right?
So, here I was, a literal statistical anomaly in a world where people had literal stats. So far, I had heard references to STR, AGI, MAG, and ATT. Strength, Agility, Magic, and… Attack? Or maybe it was something like Attention—Bohriam had mentioned the ATT stat in the context of skill with magic, and it was a common enough trope back on Earth that fantasy magic required hella concentration.
Four stats so far, with who knew how many more to go. And then there were the Classes, and the Ranks, and who knew how many more components this System had. Okay, literally everyone else on the planet knew, but I was having fun so far trying to figure out all the blanks on my own. It was a good way to pass the time while my aspiring hero guided me silently through the wilderness.
“I think it’s my turn to ask questions, by the way,” Bohriam announced. “You said before that I would have to wait until later.” He looked up into the sky, pointing to an empty spot where the sun was about an hour ago. He dragged his finger exaggeratedly in an arc until it was pointing at the sun. “Well, it’s later.”
Ugh, I really didn’t want to answer all of Boh’s random wacky Earth questions. I had so many other things to do with my brain right now instead. But… “Ugh, you’re right, I did say that. So… Ask away, I guess. But don’t get too personal—I really don’t like talking about myself.”
I’m a very private person by default, unlike the typical stereotype of a young adult American woman. I even consider it a point of pride that nobody knows the “real me,” not even my parents. And I don’t mean in that edgy emo way—I just like keeping my business to myself. Although, my therapist would say that’s why I don’t have any friends.
(That’s a joke. But if I did have a therapist, I bet they would say that.)
Bohriam’s face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. “Okay, first question. Are you really from another world?”
… In retrospect, I don’t know why I was worried about personal privacy.
“Yes, I am. Is that really so hard to believe?” Maybe I was being hard on him. It’s not like anyone on Earth believed in other worlds that harbored human life. A few hours ago, I would have been just as incredulous.
“Yes, it is,” Bohriam said. “I’ve been the laughingstock of my village for years for thinking other worlds existed. Other worlds with other people. People who might know as little about Era as we know about them. But… they had to exist. Otherwise my Personal Quest would have been a joke, just like everyone said.”
I blinked in surprise. “Oh yeah, you mentioned something before about a Stone Quest or something… What’s that all about?”
Bohriam smirked at me. “Nope; you’re gonna have to wait until it’s your turn again.”
Damn. He was becoming more powerful every second. My own snark-tongue had better watch its pompous ass.
While trying to dissociate from the accidental thought of tongues in asses, Bohriam hit me with his next set of questions. “Anyway, you said your world doesn’t have the Seven Sevens System? And it doesn’t have magic? Like, at all?”
I shrugged. “Nope. On Earth, magic is just a thing that exists in stories and fairy tales. A long time ago, we used to call anything we didn’t understand ‘magic,’ but then we got pretty good at figuring out how the world really works. Physics, gravity, biology, all that jazz.”
“Oh, so you do have magic; you just call it by its academic names and stuff. The aetheric field, gravitational plane manipulation, Rank-Alchemy Theory.”
“Wrong, wrong, and wrong. My world doesn’t have any of that. And we don’t have the Seven Sevens System to begin with, so none of us have Stats or Ranks or whatever else the System gives you. All we have is our bodies and our brains.” I was very pleased though to hear that Era had some form of academic science already. If I was lucky, I might be able to find a university to hole up in while I learned everything I needed in order to survive here.
Bohriam looked at me curiously. “So what things did your people used to call ‘magic’ that they don’t anymore?”
“Mostly things like… You know how lightning bolts can come from the sky during a bad storm? Ancient humans were all like, ‘What are these mystical beams that strike from the heavens? Must be magic, I guess.’ But now we know that it’s actually just from energy building up in the clouds and such.”
There was a long moment of silence. Then Bohriam said, “No offense, but people from Earth sound kind of stupid.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying my entire life.”
“On that note,” Bohriam said, “earlier you told Grennick that you died on Earth and were reincarnated here. Is that true?”
“Yes, it’s true that I said it, and yes, what I said is true.” Honestly, I still didn’t quite know how to feel about that. Of course I was glad to still be alive—that much should go without saying. But I mean, the fact that an afterlife existed for me and not necessarily for everyone else. Seriphen did say I was one of the “lucky few” who get to be reborn… I don’t know. It just seemed kind of unfair.
“How did you die?” Bohriam asked.
My face reddened and I looked off to the side. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh, um, sorry,” Bohriam said. “A different question, then. If Earth doesn’t have stats, how do you tell when you’re getting stronger? Or faster?”
“By keeping track from one month to the next how much weight you’re able to lift, or how quickly you can run a certain distance.”
“That seems awfully boring.”
“It is. People on Earth don’t really keep track of how strong or fast they are, unless they’re professional athletes.”
It was getting late in the day. The eastern sun looked like it was about an hour away from setting. The sky in that direction was a crisp baby blue with hints of sunset salmon and orange. I wondered briefly if we would have to camp out in this forest, or if Boh’s town would be just through the next thicket of trees.
After a few more minutes of trivial Earth questions, we came upon a river cutting through the forest and blocking our path. It wasn’t strong—it flowed like a gentle stream, with zero turbulence or foam. But it was wide, at least 25 or 30 feet from one side to the other, and I really didn’t feel like going for a swim.
“Please tell me there’s a bridge somewhere nearby.” If there wasn’t, my next request was going to be Please throw me to the other side.
“Oh, I guess you don’t have waterhoppers on Earth either.”
“If it’s the water-elemental form of the insect known as the grasshopper, then no, we do not.”
“Nothing like that,” Boh said. He started scanning the shoreline on our side of the river. “Let’s see… Aha, there.” He pointed at something half buried in the dirt near the water. I followed him over to it.
It was a circular metal disc about as wide as a Frisbee, and about half a centimeter thick. Bohriam plucked it out of the ground and wiped off a layer of dirt and dust, revealing a polished smooth surface. “Oh, good, there’s more than one.” He pointed again. I followed his finger to a second and third disc wedged into the ground. Following his command, I grabbed one of them.
The discs looked the same on either side: perfectly flat and smooth. They didn’t look like they would glide very far like an actual Frisbee, but if thrown at the right angle, they looked like they’d do great at skipping on the water. “So how do these work?” I asked. “Do we throw them to the other side of the river, and then they magically teleport us to where they landed?”
Bohriam shook his head. “Just follow my lead.”
He placed his waterhopper on the edge of the river, halfway into the water, and I did the same. Then he manifested his kickass lightning sword again, revved it up (or gently poured some mana into it, I don’t know) until it had a good aura of static about it, and then he touched the tip of the sword to each waterhopper disc, one after the other.
The discs became infused with electrical energy and rose up a couple centimeters from the ground like we were in full-on maglev territory. Bohriam casually stepped onto his disc, and it supported his weight effortlessly without sinking back down.
There was a time in my life when such a display would have blown my mind the fuck open. Dude just used a sword as a battery for a magic levitating trash can lid. But I have only so much capacity to be surprised, and I had already hit my limit for the day. So when Bohriam said “Hop on,” I just rolled with it and hopped onto my waterhopper, mentally adding waterhoppers to my List of Things to Think “What the Fuck” About Later. It was a pretty long list already.
But then Bohriam T-posed and began piloting his disc around by leaning forward like on a Segway. Limit broken.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked.
Bohriam tilted his arms to turn back around to me. “You need to hold your arms up like this to move it. Basic waterhopper Artifacts read your posture and intent to know how to move.”
“Seriously?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or be dumbfounded. Inventing an entirely new emotion was starting to look like a good option, too.
“Well, with these models, yeah. If you’re a racer you can get one with the posture safety-lock turned off, but for amateurs like us, it’s just easier this way. Come on, Gostrey is only a few minutes downstream.” He arm-tilted his way back around, and I realized it looked like he was pretending to be an airplane, and my reaction to waterhoppers instantly fell squarely on the laugh side.
But you know what? I was a stranger in a strange land. Whatever customs and culture I knew clearly did not apply here. If this was an acceptable mode of transportation for these people, I could roll with it. I bit back on my laughter and raised my arms like Bohriam. I willed myself forward, and the waterhopper brought me out onto the water.
And lo, I followed my T-posing savior down the River Styx, standing atop my magic levitating telepathic trash can lid.