Book 1: Childhood's End.
Confirming with her armlet the arrival of another ‘fresh’ person, Rita Stronoff finished her drink in one go and stood up. Watcher’s room, where she rested until a moment ago was rather small, but that was to be expected. The Tower in which Rita served was one of the smallest on the continent, having only 3 arrival chambers.
After rinsing the mug in a sink, Rita opened a safe. Inside the safe were two books that looked rather old and heavy. ‘I wonder if Natasha and Khrille haven’t returned yet or already left again.’ She was curious since only one set of books were in the safe.
She took them out, laying a folded brown cloak on top. Before leaving the Watcher’s room, Rita checked her appearance in a large wall mirror. There was a not that young, but still quite attractive woman little under thirty. A recently cut to a shoulder-length hair bothered her a little. ‘Shouldn’t have cut it that much, I guess.’ She adjusted her shirt collar and left the room.
On her way to the guards’ room, she wondered who would be her next ‘freshman’. Rita served in this tower for 9 years and there were only two emergency arrivals, but both were imprinted in her memory. She thoughtfully touched her chest where one of these emergencies had left an ugly scar.
‘I hope this freshman will be a good person.’
A brown-cloaked person lay on a thin mattress in a brightly lit oval room. This place was spacious and almost empty, with only the said mattress and a brown table on the opposite side of the room. A woman stood behind the said table, waiting for the cloaked person to wake up.
There was a big metal-plated door behind the woman, guarded by two armored soldiers with relaxed faces. The walls of the room were peculiar as well, for similar-looking as if manufactured metal tablets were covering the walls almost from top to bottom. There were tens, maybe even hundreds of these tablets all over the place.
The cloaked person began to move. ‘What happened? Where am I? Where is Kanbara-san?’ These questions belonged to Orihara Satoru.
Satoru's body was numb, so he felt absolutely nothing. It took him some to finally get back on his feet that were trembling like craze. ‘Damn, why is it so hard to move my body? I can barely stand still. It’s like I’m drunk or something.’
It took Satoru another minute to ascertain his surroundings. He noted strange tablets that covered the walls. ‘Am I dreaming? Though I was never able to have a lucid dream, maybe that’s it?’ His eyes focused on a woman at the far end of the room.
'I wish we weren't forced to cover their heads with hoods as it's so hard to get when they are looking at us. But rules are rules.' Rita made sure that the guest was looking in her direction; she smiled and began gesturing. Her expression was stiff and wary, but none the less she ideally repeated the same gesture again and again. 'Come closer, come closer. It's easy, please, understand it!'
Satoru slowly moved towards the girl on trembling legs. It felt as if his entire body did not belong to him, which was quite scary, to say the least.
'It’s either some kind of nightmare, or I’m a unicorn princess.' His internal critic kicked in. It was his other self, free from the shackles of fear and moral. The voice was not another personality but his own unfiltered train of thoughts. The internal critic lived his life inside Satoru's head and helped him overcome uncomfortable parts of the real world.
'It’s hard to move. I can’t even feel my body. And the silence is killing me!' Panic slowly made its way into Satoru's mind, filling it with chaotic thoughts.
When he was a few meters away from the table, Rita motioned him to stop. Now Satoru had a chance to take a good look at her.
A woman of the same height, a bit younger than him. A short red curly hair, green eyes. She wore formal attire — a white blouse, a dark-blue vest with deep cleavage to emphasize her chest, a dark-blue feet long skirt.
‘I wonder if it’s a D-cup, or even E?’ Satoru’s attention was quickly grabbed by an obvious spot.
Meanwhile, Rita changed her gesture once again. First, she pointed down to the table. There were two big books and a tablet similar to those hanging on the walls.
‘I’m no linguist, but I can’t even recognize letters on that tablet, huh.’
A few seconds later, Rita gestured to the tablet, slowly raised and pointed at her eyes, and then made a gesture towards the walls. ‘That’s the hardest part. Please, understand it!’ She thought nervously. It was a critical moment in her job, the hardest and the trickiest one.
‘It looks exactly like a flight attendants’ safety instruction on the plane.’ Satoru was side-tracked by a flashback when the girl slowly repeated the same series of gestures — tablet, eyes, walls. ‘Do I need to take a look around?’ He finally understood her instruction. “Geez, why can’t you talk? Stupid dream. And now what? When I’d turn around, you’ll shapeshift into a giant monster and eat me?’
Even inside a dream, he didn't want to cause a ruckus, so Satoru sighed inwardly and silently went to the nearest wall. When he turned and moved away, Rita quietly exhaled. ‘Yay, another step — success!’
Satoru came closer to the wall and now had a chance to take a better look at the tablets that covered everything. ‘Well, they look the same. I can even see something like a serial number on each tablet.’ He scratched his head through the hood musingly, ‘but what the hell are these scribbles?’
He glanced over several of them but could not discern anything at all. Some tablets contained letters, of that he was sure, but others? ‘Is this some kind of Rorschach test?’ Dumbfounded, he looked back at the table girl, who just smiled awkwardly, then nodded and pointed to the wall again.
‘Guess I have to look for something? A clue of some sort? I hate those escape room games and I always sucked at Cluedo’.
Satoru had no other choice, so he kept looking; tablet after tablet, one row after another. More than ten minutes passed, and with each passing minute, he felt even more irritated by the whole situation. ‘My body feels like I'm a stuffed bear. These stupid tablets are making no sense, too. What’s going on?! Please, wake me up already!’
And then it happened. The first tablet at the top of the column was vaguely familiar, as well as the second one. ‘This is French, I’m sure. I remember those letters and even words from my auntie’s postcards from the time when she was in Paris.’ English, German, and Chinese followed and, finally, he saw the text in Japanese.
EVERYTHING IS ALRIGHT
POINT AT THE TABLET AND COME TO ME
I WILL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING
A cold sweat struck Satoru. ‘Something is not right here. Is this even a dream?’ He pinched himself painfully on the leg, but he didn't wake up. ‘What the fuck? Is this for real?’ Panic crawled inside his already shaky body, making it extremely hard to turn around. His willpower underwent a strict test when he forced his hand up and pointed at the cursed tablet. What other choice did he have?
‘Whew, he succeeded somehow. Hope it’s his native language and not something he barely knows.’ Rita gestured him to come back. She then skimmed through her notepad, finding the number of the tablet there, and opened the first book on the corresponding page. It contained a basic level of information, but she already knew what was written there, that was how often they got arrivals from this world. ‘Hooray, it’s Earth. Nothing dangerous! And even Japan, a land of calmness and shyness, as they say. Jackpot!’ Rita’s nervousness slowly drained away, and she was able to smile genuinely.
When Satoru approached the table, Rita gestured him to stop there. She then put her left hand on the open book and pointed at Satoru with her right.
‘What is she doing, huh?’ He thought right before the girl opened her mouth and spoke quickly:
“%$&@#~ [email protected]ചű৻ ▣ಎ#%$!”
Surprise from an unknown language quickly flew away, replaced by a more shocking occurrence. A small green circle appeared at the tip of her finger. The next moment a bigger green circle appeared under Satoru’s feet. After hovering around for a second, it suddenly flew upwards right through his body and disappeared.
‘What. Was. That. Just. Now!?’ It was like Satoru’s mind was hit by a truck. It was hard to focus and process the situation. As if to finish him, the girl spoke again:
“Do you understand me? If you do, please, nod. Just nod is enough.” After saying all this, Rita had another, pleading thought. ‘Please, just don’t faint! Keep it together!’
As the truck was not enough, now Satoru’s mind was hit by a train. ‘Oh, don’t be a pussy, it all looks kind of fun.’ His internal critic declared. ‘Let’s just assume it’s a dream and play along for now.’ After calming down a little Satoru nodded.
“Splendid! Now I will ask you a number of questions. You might find them strange but please, reply by nodding or shaking your head. I would not understand other replies yet.”
“And why is that?” Satoru asked, a bit irritated by this strange statement. His throat was so dry that he sounded like a millennium-old hag.
“I’m sorry, but I do not understand your language. Right now, only you can understand me.” It was another tricky part that Rita had to overcome quickly. “I will ask questions, and you will either nod or shake your head, okay?” Satoru nodded, visibly confused.
“Do you remember your name?” Nod.
“Do you remember your age?” Nod.
“Do you remember where you are from?” Another nod.
“Are you familiar with the concept of being transported to another world?” He was about to nod, but then the meaning of the phrase reached him.
Satoru’s mind went blank. Fragments of his thoughts moved chaotically in his empty head, clashing with a loud noise and causing echo. When he was about to dive into a full-panic mode, his mind resisted again, ‘Now-now-now. Sounds fun! I like this dream of your more and more.’
As instruction said, Rita handed him a glass of water. “It’s water. Simple, clear cold water. It will help you calm down a bit.”
After taking a sip, he nodded.
“Good, good.” Rita braced herself, preparing for the hardest part. “It pains me to say this, but I have to. As you are standing here and now, it is clear that you died in your own world. While it is a tragic event, don’t worry, you are alive and kicking right now, and a whole new life awaits you here in Lazra!” She quickly shot out the whole phrase to prevent another panic attack from her guest.
‘Well, that makes sense.’ Satoru calmly thought. As his job required his mind was quite flexible and open to new things. ‘I mean if this all is real… Wasn’t I hit by a truck? Damn you Mirai with your foreshadowing!’ A concerning thought returned to his head. ‘I wonder how is Mirai? Is she alive?’
“Now I will explain some basic principles.” Rita recited a perfectly memorized paragraph. “First. We do not possess a method to send you back.” She paused, but Satoru just calmly waited for her to continue.
“Second. You have only one life, if you die here, that’s it.”
‘Yes, people die if they are killed.’ Satoru remembered a famous quote and chuckled.
“Third. Your appearance has changed, as well as your age. Later you’ll be able to take a closer look.” Satoru nodded. “Now I will cast another spell and we will finally be able to communicate!” This was a happy moment for Rita, too.
She opened the second book. After going to a specific page, she placed her left hand on this page and pointed her right at Satoru again.
“Tomecraft: EaJa Lazra speech!”
Another green circle appeared beneath Satoru. This time, however, it didn’t disappear immediately but continued to spin.
‘I wonder what this skill system looks like.’ While waiting for the circle to disappear, Satoru dived deeper into his beloved theorycrafting. ‘Was this her skill? Or did it come from the book? If so, can I use it?’ Deep in his thought, he finally took off his hood scratch his head. ‘Hmm, looks like I have a long hair. Oh, well, doesn’t matter. Back on topic, if this was a skill, how are they being taught? By book or scroll? Or by reciting a phrase? Or maybe there is a special trainer who will teach you after a suitable fee?’
When it became clear that Satoru was very deep in thought, Rita decided to interject.
“I’m sorry, are you alright?” After not getting an answer, she tried again. “I’m sorry, miss, is everything okay?” Still no answer.
“Miss, should I call a Healer?” Anxiety appeared on Rita’s face. “Lady, how are you? What’s wrong?”
‘Who is she talking to?’ Satoru wondered and looked around, but there was nobody else in the room.
“Miss? Do you need a Healer? Miss?”
Realizing that she was talking to him, Satoru was struck by a bizarre idea. He pulled his hands out from under the cloak. They were white, thin and tender hands. Checking for the second time his long brown hair, he finally made an obvious move. Pulling off the edge of his cloak, he stared at two neat breasts.
‘A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.’ His calm critic supplied in an absent tone, and they both passed out from the shock.