I hoped that dying wouldn’t be as painful as I expected, but not much had gone my way recently.
The wind blasting against my face as I rushed to meet the pavement below. I had no idea why I was falling, and my mind was filled with panic, as if fear was a tidal wave drowning out my memories.
The cause didn’t matter much when the end result was a fall I could never live through.
But, a moment before I reached the ground, time froze. Well, to be more accurate it slowed to a crawl. I could still tell that I was moving closer to the solid slabs beneath me, and the hope that my apparent lack of speed would save me felt like a silly dream.
“Welcome. You have been chosen to journey to a new world. Please confirm if you agree with the transfer.”
Either I had gone insane, or this was divine intervention of the highest degree. To be fair, it didn’t really matter much which it was, given my current circumstances. Without a moment of hesitation, I opened my mouth to answer.
“Thank you. Please be aware, memory loss and disorientation are common following the initial transfer.”
Time returned to normal as the voice gave me a polite warning, after which my body crashed into the ground with a sickening thump.
At least, that is what I imagined would happen.
Instead, I stumbled forward and fell to my knees. My fall shocked the crowd of people around me, most of which jumped out of the way in shock. I winced at the pain in my knees before realising what had just happened.
I was alive, at least from what I could tell.
“Oh my god, you’re here.” A woman dashed out of the crowd and pulled me to my feet. She stared into my eyes for a moment before she pulled me into a rough hug. “What happened? Where are we?”
Her words reminded me of our situation. I had been picked up an inch from the end of my fall, but why had the others been transferred here as well. Had something happened to them?
Try as I might, I couldn’t recall anything. I remembered the fall, but nothing before it. The fact we had all arrived together in this place didn’t bode well. The walls reached into the distance above our head. After a certain point their smooth, cream-coloured surfaces were lost as they melded into the twinkling sky.
It was as though this room had taken a cut of space, and we were staring up into its vast expanse. After a moment of distraction, I pulled my gaze away from the distant lights and looked back to my friend.
“I don’t know. Did you agree to a transfer too?”
“Oh, a strong will. How interesting.” A woman’s voice echoed out over the crowd, silencing their babble in a split second. We all looked up to the speaker hovering above us as she floated down with a faint smile.
“Who’re you? Why did you bring us here?” A man shouted up from the crowd. Though I didn’t feel much towards the others around me, this one voice set my teeth on edge. I was about to respond before my friend pulled on my sleeve.
“Not here. Please.”
I pulled back the retort with great difficulty as the goddess waved the rest of the group into silence. The man’s shout had been like a spark on kindling as it set off a barrage of questions and demands from the others.
“You agreed to the transfer. The other option was to end your lives on your initial world.” The goddess held up a hand, which cut off the questions her response had raised. “To put it simply, we saved your lives. Everyone here agreed to the conditions.”
Conditions? What conditions? I shook my head and tried to sort through my memories. I remembered her offering the transfer and mentioning the memory loss and disorientation, but nothing about conditions.
“Past that, I can explain further when we finish the transfer. This place is only a temporary housing for your souls before you begin your new lives.” She glanced away for a second before she looked back to us. “We will arrive on the tenth day of the tenth month of the three thousandth year of the new world, which will leave us with a month to prepare.”
The crowd was silenced by her statement. Her tone didn’t brook any argument, though it still retained the same ethereal quality. It was as though we had just been lectured at by a god.
“We agreed, but can you give us some details?” I asked after a few awkward seconds had passed. The rest of the group spread out from me, as though they expected a harsh rebuke to my rude question and didn’t want to be involved. The only person who didn’t abandon me was my friend, though she did give me a glare as I finished my question.
“Your new home is a planet of many wonders. You will gain strength far faster than those native to its lands, but you can’t let that go to your heads.” The goddess’ smile didn’t waver as she answered my question. “You will gain levels, which you can see as a physical counter for your progression. When you reach a certain number, you will be given a test, which will enhance your skills.”
“Levels? Like a game?” I folded my arms with a frown. “Are you telling me that we can all select classes, get magic and become heroes?”
“That is an accurate summary.” The goddess seemed happy at my analysis.
“Why?” I asked another question, which rewarded me with a swift elbow in the ribs. I ignored my friend as I continued. “Is there something specific that needs our help in this new world? Why do you need so many people for it? Can’t they sort it out themselves without our help?”
“I cannot answer those questions, as I do not know myself as of yet. After you have selected your weapons and completed the final transfer, more details will be provided.” The goddess shook her head and glanced down at the floor. “You are safe from injuries in this place, nothing which exists here can harm you. The next point of transfer will be within a town under our supervision, so we will keep you safe until you feel ready to venture forth.”
The rest of the group was subdued, which confused me a little. Her answer didn’t really explain much, but I gave up on asking any further questions. There would be time for that later, once we weren’t in a ‘temporary housing’ area. Even the rude man had quietened down, though that was likely due to the few people around him who kept pulling him back as he tried to ask another question.
“You’re pushing your luck.”
I turned to the woman by my side. Due to the memory loss from our transfer, I couldn’t recall much more than the fact that I trusted her with my life. That was ironic, given the circumstances that had led to our arrival here. There was one other detail I managed to pull out, but it didn’t give me any pleasure as I recalled it.
In essence, I had killed her.
“I’m sorry.” It felt like a dagger had stabbed into my heart. The only reason she had been there, to begin with, was down to me. I had persuaded her to join us.
“Don’t worry about it.” She smiled and punched my shoulder. “This new world sounds fun. I bet I’ll level up faster than you. Wanna take me up on it?”
“Sure.” I smiled and glanced up at the goddess. As though she had sensed my gaze, the floating woman spoke once more.
“The transfer will now take place. Please, hold still.”
I gave my friend one final nod before I looked at the floor. It pulsed beneath our feet rhythmically. Each time it shone out, the light became stronger.
“Wait, what’s happening!?” The goddess shouted and moved towards me. I glanced up at her and opened my mouth to speak, but before I could do anything a pillar of light burst out of the ground and swallowed me whole.
I had to close my eyes to a slit, but I could still make out a long, white tunnel. Several faint streaks of light twisted and danced in front of me as they flew towards the end. Before I could collect my thoughts, several black threads burst out of the ground below me.
The thin strings looked weak, but as I crashed into them all my momentum was cut off in a moment. I was like a fly in a spiders web as I struggled against their ever-tightening grasp. My view tilted towards the floor of the tunnel as more threads rose up from below. The white surface pulsated and twisted beneath me for a moment before it broke apart to reveal a pitch-void. I knew that something had gone wrong, but I couldn’t fight the pull before it yanked me into its gaping maw.
The light vanished, replaced by a dim glow. It was as though I had been dumped at the bottom of a well, barely lit by the sunny day far above my head. Even the floor was pitch black. It was as though I had been dropped out in space. The fact there was a solid floor beneath my feet did little to ease the tension.
Don’t tell me… something went wrong?
Before I could gather my wits an aged voice rang out across the room.
“Ah, I caught one.”
My heart jumped in my chest as I span around and spotted who had spoken to me. It was an old man, his beard long and unkempt and his clothes were worn and dirty. The main thing that terrified me was how he had appeared. Until he spoke that sinister phrase, I hadn't sensed his presence at all.
“Who the hell are you!” I jumped back, afraid the man might make a move towards me.
“Interesting. That’s the first time I’ve been shouted at in years. How exhilarating.” The man grinned, or at least it looked like he did. His mouth was hidden by his overgrown beard to the extent he didn’t seem to have one.
I took a deep breath as I looked at the man. This had to be a test, right? The goddess had said we were safe, so there was no need to overreact. Maybe everyone was facing a similar situation, and we would meet up once it was complete.
“Sorry, can you explain what’s going on?” I asked. The man cocked his head to one side as he stared at me.
“Strong-willed. Usually I would appreciate that, but unfortunately, you aren’t what I require right now.” His beard ruffled outward as the man huffed to himself. “I guess I’ll have to make do.”
“Let’s see here.” The man reached out and grabbed my face. Despite the distance between us, his grubby hands easily caught me before he pulled me close. No matter how much I fought against him, the man's fingers clung onto my head like a vice.
“Shut up, I just need to check you over.” The man muttered as his fingers dug into my scalp. “Weak attributes, weak skills… is your only positive point your mental strength?”
The man tossed me back into the wall, his face twisted in disgust. I pushed myself towards him, my heart pounded in my ears as I stepped forward.
“You can’t do this. She told me we were safe. Where are they!?” My finger brushed the man's nose as I closed in on him.
“I can’t do this? You’re safe?” He repeated my words back at me. “You really trust her, don’t you?”
“I mean, I guess I do? She said that-” I stepped back as my flame of rage sputtered out. No matter who this was or what he did, it was prudent to be cautious.
“Safe? I guess you are. This is for your own good, so don’t blame me later.” The old man smiled as he pulled his arm back. Before I could react his fist shot forward and slammed into my chest.