Kuzari mentally braced himself for the journey through the portal. He imagined all sorts of possible reaction to being whisked away from Earth in soul form to wherever this 'battlefield' was. He just never imagined it to be so...boring.
He floated along next to the god Thetos as they went down the long endlessly dark corridor between worlds. Kuzari likely should have used this time to pester the god with questions. Get a better bearing on what he was expected to do or suss out the meaning of life. Instead, he took the silent and long journey to mentally come to terms with his situation. It still hasn't felt quite real that he was dead. Didn't feel real that he had killed someone. Taken a life. The disturbing part was that he found himself not bothered by the event as much as he thought he would. He expected to feel more for killing another human but he just didn't. Perhaps something was just wrong with him but Kuzari didn't know. He suspected that the Contract may have done something with this, made its signers more 'amenable' to the idea of murder before the reality of the situation could set in. Sending someone to fight and kill in some sort of holy war who was too squeamish to follow through would likely end poorly. Or maybe there had just been some sort of darkness within himself all along, never rearing its head till this fateful (literally) day. He had yet to sign the Contract when he killed Desmond after all. He didn't know, not without learning more about the Contract first. Kuzari decided to put the concern of his own lack of guilt out of mind for now. He had no one to justify his feelings to other than himself and he suspected he would soon have bigger issues to deal with.
It was Thetos who broke the silence first.
"My you are amusing my Kuzari. Normally others would be chatting ceaselessly to learn more about the war they signed up for or trying to learn secrets of the universe. It is normally a valuable opportunity." He said with amusement in his voice.
Kuzari half heatedly shrugged in response. "I'm supposed to be fighting on your behalf right? You have a vested interest in me succeeding in this whole thing. If there was something you thought I should know that would help me succeed you'd have just told me by now."
That and truthfully he didn't trust the god. Thetos had already undersold the ramifications of trading one's name away, something Kuzari didn't fully understand but he knew was bad. It's not like this Contract deal had really been a choice either. Thetos had all the power here, figuratively and literally. Kuzari was under no doubt the god only had his own best interest at heart, not Kuzari's.
"Quite correct there my Kuzari. There are limits as to the kind of information I'm allowed to tell you. Obviously, things like the meaning of life and such are off the table. There is only so much I can tell you about the Contract as well. Rules within rules that limit me. It was the only way they got us to agree to the whole thing. You've figured out the gist of it though, yes?"
"I imagine two gods duking it out is a bad thing for well everyone. Better to let two peons fight instead. Less collateral damage that way but the dispute gets resolved all the same."
"You've got the right of it my Kuzari. Same reason I can't just shower you in divine power, hand you magic swords willy nilly or whisper forbidden secrets that would unlock your full potential instantly. All of it would be cheating and violate the Contract. I get some wiggle room by choosing a suitable vessel for you to start off with first. Anything beyond that requires you to prove yourself in the war. Slay other Contracted champions, claim wells of divine power or souls in my name and so forth. Quite simple really. Do these things and the Contract will allow me to grant you some of the benefits I mentioned."
Wait. There were forbidden secrets that could unlock somebody's true potential instantly? What did that even mean?
And as he suspected he would have to find other people given the same deal he had been and kill them. Some of them may have been granted these boons as well. He noted that Thetos conveniently didn't mention any sort of end game. If there was a win condition of any sort to aim for, Thetos wasn't telling him. It was a daunting task and it seemed likely that he could find himself fighting for the rest of his second life until ultimately some other Contracted killed him in turn. Kuzari grimaced. Somehow he suspected that there wasn't going to be any second chances.
"I have other Contracted in the world we are going towards however my Kuzari. Seek them out, or rather they will seek you out. There is much you can learn from them about this conflict that I cannot tell you myself. Your life may very well depend on it. " Thetos continued.
Kuzari nodded in response. He still knew better than to bother attempting to ask any questions. Despite his paranoia over Thetos, he did agree that we would need to find others Contracted with the god. They could prove to be valuable sources of information about what was really going on.
Thetos abruptly came to a stop and so did Kuzari. He wasn't sure why as the only thing he could see was the same endless expanse of darkness.
"Ah, we've arrived, my Kuzari. And this is where we must part ways. I wish you the best of luck and I really hope the body doesn't fight back against your soul too badly. I'd hate to lose you during the transition."
The darkness and Thetos were gone. Instead, there was nothing but an endless blue. Kuzari gasped a deep breath of air, suddenly requiring oxygen for the first time in several hours. He was disoriented and the pain in his chest didn't match the pain going in his head.
He lurched forward, suddenly realizing he had been lying down for some reason. He tried to remember what was happening but his thoughts were sluggish and confused. He needed to escape further away before the city Ratcatchers found him. Wait no, he needed to find other Contracted. What the hell was a Contracted? That pain in his chest reminded him of being stabbed in the side. When did he get stabbed in the side? Didn't that bandit stab him in the chest? How was he still alive? He was alive cause Thetos brought him back obviously.
Kuzari held his head in agony. Two sets of memories waged war against each other. The biological memories of the host body trying to assert itself as the memories of the soul bent neurons to match its own record. He desperately tried to shove the pain to the back of his mind and figure out where he was. One thing was clear from the host memories, whoever owned this body before had been recently murdered and the killer could still be close by.
He stared at the ground for a brief moment puzzled by why all he saw was blue. He grasped at the color with his fingers and it felt coarse grainy. It was blue sand he realized. So blue in practically blended with the sky. It was a surreal experience. He felt the heat beat down on him and vague memories not his own told him he was in a desert. Vast dunes of blue sand rolled as far as he could see and he wondered what the sand could be made of to make such a striking color in such vast quantities.
He heard a strange rhythmic sound coming from behind him. Kuzari rolled over and lurched to his feet to face the noise, alert to potential danger. His movements still felt sluggish and strange to himself and weaker than he expected.
His alertness was well founded. There was a man covered in blue fabrics and wearing a shawl. No doubt to camouflage and blend in with the sand. He wielded a wicked looking curved dagger, dripping with fresh blood. The man's dark eyes were widened with shock. He exclaimed something in a language Kuzari didn't understand, which he now recognized as the rhythmic sound that grabbed his attention. At the man's feet was a brown satchel, assorted writing instruments spilling from its opening.
Kuzari experienced a brief mental flash of the man up close, dagger plunged deep into his chest mixed with a memory of fear and pain.
The bandit was in utter shock. He knew he killed the poor fool moments ago. Even if he hadn't, if he had somehow made a mistake, there was no way the kid could be back on his feet like that! He could still see the fresh blood seeped through the kid's brown shirt. What kind of idiot travels the desert in such visible clothing anyways? No matter, he would finish what he started.
The bandit screamed at Kuzari and lunged forward with the dagger. He was getting an annoying sense of deja vu as he scrambled backward trying to create some distance. He wasn't enclosed in an alleyway this time and could afford to back away and flee the other direction instead of stupidly charging a crazed maniac unarmed.
His eyes darted all around him searching for any hint of a weapon to defend himself with but the dunes appeared empty. He quickly patted himself down even as he started running away, hoping to find something stashed away on his person but he was unlucky in this regard as well.
The bandit gave chase, clearly not willing to give up quite so easily.
Panic began to set in for Kuzari. Not even five minutes into his second life and he was already facing being murdered again. Just his luck. It didn't help that the migraine hadn't gone away yet either. He needed something, anything at all to gain leverage and even the odds. What did he possibly have that would work? Seemingly nothing as far as he could tell.
He kept running away, trudging up the side of a dune, his pursuer mere feet away. He created the top of the dune and when he tried to head down the sand shifted and gave way. His balance completely lost, Kuzari found himself tumbling down the side of the dune. Blues swirled around his vision and he felt the coarse sand scrape against his skin.
Eventually, he came to a stop and jerked his head around trying to catch sight of the lone bandit once again. The opposing man was fast approaching, taking a smoother but slower path down the side of the dune, clearly more comfortable with the terrain than Kuzari was.
He needed something damnit. Anything at all. His body was weak and rapidly losing energy. He needed to keep running but knew he simply didn't have the stamina to outpace the madman.
The blue clothed man closed in and Kuzari reached deep in his mind, desperate for some piece of knowledge his host had that could save him.
Of course there was.
Strange confidence filled Kuzari as he raised his right hand. Mana raised from the depths of his core, flowing fresh through his bloodstream and into his capillaries within his fingers. It burst through the meridian in his hand coalesced into a ball. He mentally tweaked the composition, aligning it with the raw elemental power he desired. The ball shifted and rotated till it gained a red hue and burst into flame. Such twisting of raw mana had taken years of practice to even achieve this simplest expression of magic. This singular moment of desperation almost made Magni's cruel teachings worth it. Almost. He willed the small ball of fire forward to engulf his target. He felt the expenditure take its toll on his reserves in an instant, almost depleting his reserves.
But the results were magnificent.
The bandit screamed in fear and then in pain, never realizing his target had been a mage all along. The fireball was small but flesh seared easily. It struck him in the chest and ate through his clothes like nothing. The skin on his chest blistered radiated intense pain. He dropped the dagger instantly and began clawing at his clothes, desperate to remove the burning garments.
The memory faded back into the recesses of Kuzari's mind. He had no time to go over the sensation of accessing magic or puzzle over the fleeting recollection of whoever this Magni was. Instead, he seized the opportunity that presented itself before the bandit could finish snuffing out the receding flames.
Kuzari charged forward and grabbed the dropped dagger, grubbing the handle until his knuckles showed white. The bandit was only dimly aware of Kuzari's presence as the dagger was plunged deep into his belly. The bandit screamed even louder this time.
Kuzari rammed his shoulder into the man to knock him over, hands still firmly wrapped around the blades handle. They tumbled over and Kuzari shifted on too of the man, pinning him down between his thighs. He yanked the blade out of the man's stomach and decisively drove it home into the man's eye socket.
The man's body shook from the last second firing of neurons before growing still. Kuzari was panting hard from the exhaustion and adrenaline and let his arms drop to his side. The smell of sweat and burnt flesh filling his nostrils.
He had killed again, this time managing to not die in the process.
However, the only thought running through Kuzari's mind was magic.
He cast magic.