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The ground was a lot harder than he thought it would be. Good thing the landing was over almost as soon as it began. And hey! His thoughts were still inside of his head. So that was good news.

But he couldn’t move. His eyes were locked forward at the blue expanse above, and at a rather expansive box of text. The whole thing was concerning, but the box was static. Whereas before it was typing lines of text at him, now it was still. He looked the whole thing over. He was not in his comfort zone.

Unknown Entity detected!

We see you!

Initializing mana integration…

Adult <Species: Human> detected!

Welcome to Veird!

Beginning adult <Human> registration.

Scanning…

Unauthorized metaphysical influences discarded.

No innate magical traits discovered.

No historical magical influences discovered.

No desire for magic discovered.

ERROR.

Higher priority requested.

Higher priority obtained.

Reorienting scan…

No approved influences detected!

Warning! As a <Species: Human>, registration is required to use magic!

Warning! Major physical damage detected!

Warning! You are far below 0 HP!

Warning! You are dying!

Sorry! We are not able to support your life choices at this time!

Consult your local priest or registrar for further assistance.

YOU ARE BARRED FROM MAGIC.

Registration paused. Returning to basic interface.

ERROR! Catastrophic physical damage!

A child’s assistance <Species: Human>: Casting <Greater Treat Wounds>.

You are at 1 HP. You have stabilized.

A child’s assistance <Species: Human>: <The closest registrar has been contacted.>

<Your location is known. Someone is on their way!>

Erick read the whole thing again and again. Eventually, a vague idea of what was happening took hold. He was obviously not on Earth anymore. Or maybe he was dead. Or maybe something else was happening. As his thoughts drifted away from the message, it began to fade. In moments, the blue sky stood unobstructed.

Another message flashed into view.

Special action!

You have survived a near-death experience!

+1 point!

The second message came and went. Somewhere between the two blue boxes he could feel his fingers. He could wiggle his toes. He rolled over—

Fuck no. Not rolling over. Too much pain.

He tilted his head.

Jane was there. She was sitting up, her back to him. She was bloody, but she moved well enough as she looked around, propped up on one arm, the other cradled out of view. She flinched. She crashed back to the dusty brown ground. A thin cloud rolled away from her landing.

She screamed out, raw pain in her voice, “DAD!”

Erick whispered, “I’m here, Jane.”

Immediate, racking hard sobs shook through Jane’s body. She cried out to the sky. If she could cry like that, she was probably okay. A sudden tension relaxed inside Erick. Tears welled, cutting partially clean lines through the blood and dust on his face.

Erick said, “So. That happened.”

Jane’s sob turned into a laugh. Erick laughed with her, but stopped as a twinge spiked through his chest. He groan-coughed. Jane lurched up at his strangled sound, twisting to see him straight on. He waved at her.

Hello.”

She laughed again. “You look like shit, Dad.”

Yes,” He agreed. “There’s probably some shit somewhere in this mess.” He coughed. He moved his hands around. He lifted his leg a fraction of an inch. “How the fuck did we survive? How am I not paralyzed everywhere?”

Jane rose to her feet, unsteady. She said, “We can think about that after we get to safety. Take a look around. Looks like a desert, but not like any I’ve ever seen.” She stumbled over to Erick, offering her hand. “Come on.”

I don’t think I should be moved—”

She crumpled to her knees next to him, poking him.

Ow. What—”

I’m testing for broken bones.”

Erick eyed her, giving Jane his best impression of an unimpressed person.

She poked harder, this time with a white glow on her fingers.

Ow!”

Healed for 5 HP!

Ow?” Erick tried to sit up. He didn’t get far. He would have fallen back, but Jane’s hands were there to hold him steady and upright. “What was that?”

I got a point for a special action and spent it on the only healing spell I could. Lesser Rejuvenation.”

Erick stared at her. “What?”

Jane poked him again with another glowing white finger. He healed for 5HP again, but this time the words were more a feeling, not actual words. No blue boxes this time. He felt a lot better. His breath didn’t catch, his bones didn’t ache. Well. Didn’t ache as bad.

The description says that the spell will transform into Rejuvenation once I matriculate, but I’m not really sure what that means. Probably has to do with this ‘children’s assistance’ thing. You got a point too, didn’t you? For surviving a near death experience.”

“… What?”

Dad.” She shook her head. “Look around. You’re going to have to think faster than this. We’re in a survival situation and it would be best if we take everything at face value. Including those blue screens.”

You got those screens, too? I thought I was hallucinating.”

We’re not hallucinating. We’re not dead. This isn’t Earth.”

Erick looked around. The horizon in all directions was a hazy line of mirages, flickering in the rising heat. Over there, maybe a thousand feet away, were the remains of the car, burning, streaming black smoke into the still sky.

But mostly he focused on the crystals. The largest ones were ten feet tall. Prismatic white, they dotted the brown dirt landscape, countless smaller but no less impressive crystal spikes crowding the main spire. They reminded Erick of desert succulents, but impossibly large and crystal. Maybe they were natural? Smaller crystal succulents crowded the larger ones, but none of the growths took up more space than a minivan. None of the ‘plants’ were within 500 feet of another ‘plant’. Erick would have had to be very unlucky to land on one of those. That would have killed him for sure, even with these ‘child assistance’ messages, whatever they were.

Right,” he said. “Not Earth. Survival is the goal."

Yeah.” Jane rose to her feet, bringing him up with her. “Not Earth. Probably ‘Veird’.”

I’m not convinced we’re not dead.”

Don’t jinx us. That could still happen. Especially with you singing at the Darkness.” She suddenly shouted, “What the fuck was that, anyway!”

I panicked. You know me.”

A stranger’s voice said, “Good show. The strange language and the part about the Darkness really helped to bring it all together.”

Erick and Jane watched as a humanoid person stepped onto the ground several yards away. His skin was purple. Horns poked out of his black hair. His clothes were well-made Renaissance Faire shtick, all black leather and white cloth accented in gold. The man stared at them. They stared at him. Then Jane stepped in front of Erick.

He said, “But I don’t believe anything about you.”

Erick whispered, “I would really like it if everyone calmed down.”

The man said, “I would like that as well, but then you people pull this shit, and I have to waste resources to respond to a child in need. Explain yourself.”

Jane yelled, “Who are—”

The man lifted his finger and pointed at the smoking ruins of the car. A thin ball of black and white shot from the man, instantly impacting the car and exploding into white that morphed to yellow, then orange, as it blossomed into a bright red inferno. Heat washed over the desert. The car was still there, but it was even blacker now. It had stopped smoking. Everything flammable must have burned away.

Who am I? Really?” The purple man said, “I changed my mind.” For the first time, Erick noticed that the man’s words did not match his mouth, like there was some sort of automatic translation happening. “We’re not doing this. I don’t care how you tricked the Script into considering you children and I won’t be a part of your Quiet War. What I am going to do is point you in the direction of the nearest appropriate settlement. But first! A forced matriculation.” The man tapped the air in front of him.

Words appeared.

Welcome to adulthood, Erick Flatt!

Congratulations!

Experience gain unlocked!

Here is your current Status!

The first screen vanished. Another appeared.

Erick Flatt

Human, age 48

Level 0, Class: None

Exp: 0/100

Class: -/-

Points: 1

HP

11/80

150 per day

MP

160/160

170 per day

Strength

8

+0

[8]

Vitality

15

+0

[15]

Willpower

16

+0

[16]

Focus

17

+0

[17]

The screen began to fade. Erick focused on it, and it came back.

That way.” The man pointed toward the horizon over Erick and Jane’s shoulders. “About two days.” He glanced at the burned out car. He frowned. In a flourish of white and black shadows, two canteens dumped onto the ground in front of him. “Tell your superiors to quit this plot. This is your first and only warning: Messing with the Script is a serious offense.”

He vanished in a glitter of white and black.

Another box appeared.

Registrar Quest Accepted!

FIND THE SETTLEMENT

Mandatory Quest

No reward

Jane swiped her hand through the air. Erick did the same, aiming for the box. The box moved out of his vision at his touch, but it was not solid. He felt nothing as he touched the screen.

Jane said, “Quests!”

Erick watched her, trying to figure out what she was doing. She was obviously using the blue boxes, but how? He wasn’t bad with computers, but he was no gamer like his daughter.

Status! Hud! That doesn’t work. Hmm. Overlay! Nope. UI! Nope. Menu! Ah ha!”

Did you notice that that guy’s mouth did not line up with his words?”

Yeah,” Jane said, swiping at the air. “Probably a translation spell.”

You’re really rolling with this, aren’t you?”

She smiled. “Yeah. I might be— OH!” She jolted, then pointed to the remains of the car, in the distance. “You have a point! Put it in Mend. We might be able to salvage some stuff if we hurry!”

At that, he had to laugh. “How the fuck would I do that?”

She said, “Say or think this really hard: Menu. Abilities. Search for Spell: Mend. 'Status' works, too. It's a multi-input system, or whatever you would call that.”

Menu. Abilities. Search for Spell: Mend

A series of blue boxes burst then collapsed, except for the last one that stayed open.

[Mend 1], instant, touch, 10 mana

Touch a small non-magical, non-complicated object and restore it to its prime.

Purchase [Mend 1] for 1 point? Yes/No

What the hell? Why not.

Yes.

A tiny idea shifted in Erick’s mind. And then he looked down at his torn and disgusting shirt.

[Mend].”

Fabric shifted, holes mended. Creation from nothing, but maybe not nothing. Something else shifted as Erick cast the spell. Something inside of him was calmer, now. Like there was less of some essential thing. But his shirt was whole.

Jane laughed, loud and happy. Then she poked him with a glowing finger, saying, “[Rejuvenation].” Then she looked up, a flash of worry across her face. She glanced at the canteens sitting on the ground over where the man came and went. “Stay here. I’ll get those. don’t muddy the path between here and there because I have no idea where anything is and I want to keep this track clean, to point us in the direction of the settlement.”

She was already walking over to the canteens before Erick could suggest otherwise. Part of him was worried that the canteens might be trapped, but what did he know about anything? He can apparently cast magic now by just saying a few words. One word, actually.

He focused on his shoes.

[Mend].

The left shoe was a bit torn up from the mile fall through the sky, as most things would be. Now it was back to storebought perfection. You know. Except for all the blood on and inside the shoe. He did the same for his right shoe.

He breathed in and out the desert air, feeling a bit lightheaded.

Status!

Ah. That’s why he was feeling lightheaded.

Erick Flatt

Human, age 48

Level 0, Class: None

Exp: 30/100

Class: -/-

Points: 0

HP

24/80

150 per day

MP

130/160

170 per day

Strength

8

+0

[8]

Vitality

15

+0

[15]

Willpower

16

+0

[16]

Focus

17

+0

[17]

Dammit, Dad.” Jane demanded his attention, so the status window vanished. Jane was looking at his feet. “Don’t go wasting mana. We don’t know how much we’re going to need. You see those regen rates, yeah? This is not a world of free magic.”

All I have is [Mend], and I need to use it to level, right? My experience went up 30, so far. So stand still. I’m going to do your shoes, too.”

She sighed, then nodded. Erick leaned down and touched her shoes, quickly spending 20 MP. Now he was woozy. But only a bit. Jane looked concerned, but that was her normal facial expression.

How much MP do you have?”

It’s at 110 out of 160.” He smiled, “But I’m at fifty out of a hundred exp for level 1.”

Yeah. Looks like the base level raises based upon how much MP you spend. Probably works the same for spent HP but that seems like a monumentally bad trade off. Though if this is how weak you get from MP loss, maybe my thinking is wrong.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “[Rejuvenation].”

13 HP that time.” He felt A LOT better, now. “What changed?”

No longer a child, apparently. [Rejuvenation]." She poked him with a healing finger again. "Look up the spell sometime, but don’t buy it. [Rejuvenation]." And another poke. "We got other things to worry about and we might need an attack spell. I’ve already got my eye on a few prudent buys. Come on.” She started walking toward the burned out car. “Let’s see if anything is left.” She started walking slow, but then suddenly shouted out in glee as she sprinted forward to pluck a half-buried black square from the dirt. “My phone! And it’s not broken! Fuck yea!”

Phone retrieved, she practically skipped toward the car.

Erick smiled. If she was happy, then he was happy.

Then he remembered his phone. He still felt the familiar weight in his right pocket, but it was not in a familiar shape. He reached in, gingerly, and pulled out a fractured hunk of plastic and glass.

[Mend]?

The plastic barely shifted.

Fuck.

but the plastic did shift!

Status: Mend.

[Mend 1], instant, touch, 10 mana

Touch a small non-magical, non-complicated object and restore it to its prime.

Exp: 60/100

I guess it’s only Mend 1. I shouldn’t expect that much from it.

Dad!” Jane was already at the remains of the car. “Hurry up.”

He jogged to catch up. She was already pulling burned debris out from the twisted hunk of hot metal. A blackened book. A crispy blanket. Erick moved to the other side of what used to be a car and pulled out what he could, careful of the glass and the larger, sharper bits of debris. He didn’t get far before he had to stop.

Something in the trunk caught fire again.

Fuck!” Jane pulled back from growing heat. “Damn...”

Erick managed to grab a large hunting knife out of the glove box before he had to get away. It was warped, the hilt smashed. It wasn’t the same knife as before. How many of these did she have?

[Mend].

The knife unwarped, the hilt straightened.

Jane yelled an expletive at the sky as black smoke billowed upward, once again. Erick joined her on her side of the bonfire. She was clutching the charcoal’d book and a scrap of fabric. She saw the knife in his hands and smiled.

Good. You found it.”

He handed it to her. “This isn’t the other one. What happened to that?”

I have no idea. It’s probably out here somewhere. I was hoping for the larger one, but I’m glad you found any at all.” She looked up at the bright sky. “It’s going to get cold around here at night.” She looked toward the nearest crystal succulent. “I don’t know if those burn, or if we should even try. Something tells me it would be a bad idea to cut them.”

I still don’t understand how you’re so comfortable at this.”

I'm not comfortable at all. But this is survival, and I’ve done that before.” She slapped him on the shoulder, saying, “I don’t understand how you started singing at the Darkness! What the fuck was up with that!”

He smiled. “I panicked. But it worked out, didn’t it?”

I wouldn’t call this ‘working out’.” She swung an arm out, pointing at everything, as she started walking away from the car. “But it’s better than a dragon’s stomach.”

He caught up to her. “That wasn’t really a dragon, was it?”

Hell yes that was a dragon.” She squeezed the remains of the book and blanket against her chest. Erick couldn’t make out the words on the front cover, but that was clearly a dragon underneath the soot. She whispered, “And it was magnificent.”

Erick almost laughed. That dragon was certainly something. He wouldn’t call it magnificent, though. Pants shittingly terrifying, was more apt.

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Arcs

Bio: The writer of Ar'Kendrithyst! If you want to support the story, there's either patreon, or https://ko-fi.com/arcs33454

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