First, all white.
Then it fades into gray, then black.
And it goes white once again.
But a figure stands before me.
A pink figure. As bright as my hair, its eyes as glowing as mine.
A pink figure that looks like some sort of mechanical dwarven contraption, with a cube-shaped head with a blank black slab where its face should be.
I’m dead, aren’t I? Yes, that’s right. I was hit by a carriage trying to save those children, and now I’m in a Hell. Which one, though, I’m still not quite sure.
The blank black slab flickers, with shiny pink lights glowing in the shape of eyes and a mouth. This figure has seemingly grown a face out of nowhere.
“Mmmmm....” the figure groans with a strange, unnatural voice, one I can hardly even describe. Muffled like a golem’s, but vibrant like a human’s. It sounds like a strange creature waking from a deep slumber.
The figure’s glowing eyes look me up and down. Then I hear the voice again, deep and broad: “Huh? I ain’t pencil anyone in for today. Go home...”
“Excuse me. What’s happening here?” I ask.
The scene around me, stark white in all directions, seems to broaden at the edges, expanding into an even more endless blank land. The figure, without moving, gets further and further away, until they are but a blip.
“Go home. I’m sleepy today.”
“Is this a Hell?” I ask. “Is this the punishment that The Goddess has handed down?”
Suddenly, the figure and their bright pink eyes appear again right in front of me. “Oh, you died? I thought you were... OHHHHHH, I see.”
The figure slaps themself on the head. “D’oh. I’m a right moron sometimes. You must be... Let me pull up the data... Ah, you’re Eryk Solbourne. You went and died, didn’t you?”
“I believe so.”
“Well, that was silly. Hit by a carriage? What kind of hero dies like that?”
“I’m... only a D-Rank hero. I’m nothing special.”
The figure tilts their head to the side. “...Remind me which world you come from?”
“We call the world Mystix, in my land. I come from North Spire, a valley filled with massive rock formations that are good for farming. My people are isolated and distinct, because of our pink hair and—”
“Ah, yeah, y’all are the Chosen Ones of Mystix. That’s the one with the Destiny Cards or all that malarkey? Oh yeah, you got yourself six cards on you now. Neat.”
“I’m sorry if I sound rude,” I say, “but could I ask you who you are?”
“Oh, I’m being mighty rude, ain’t I? My name is The Goddess. You can call me The Goddess.”
“The Goddess? That’s you?”
“Who else’d it be? The white space around us?”
“Well, I just thought that The Goddess would be, um...”
“I thought The Goddess was a woman. Hence the name...”
The Goddess raises both fists in a threatening motion. “Hey, now! I’m just as woman as woman gets!”
“Oh, I thought from your voice...”
“Tread carefully, Eryk.”
Foolishly, I add, “And your body isn’t exactly curvaceous or anything.”
“I’m fixing to wear you out! I’m a robot! I have the default settings!”
I have absolutely no clue what she is trying to tell me, but I apologize to The Goddess and she moves on. Whatever in the Hells is a robot? She never explains it.
“Oh, bless your heart,” The Goddess says to me. “I didn’t even know you was coming to visit me today. You caught me all off-guard and such. Sorry about that.”
“That’s fine, but why am I here? What is this?”
She laughs, her voice still strange and unpleasant to me. “I’m fixing to decide the fate of one Eryk Solbourne, that’s what this is.”
“My fate? Which Hell I will be sorted into?”
“Oh, no, sweetie pie. All y’all get reincarnated after you die. Hells ain’t a thing.”
“So my entire belief system about the afterlife is a lie.”
“Might could be. What was your belief system in, uh, Mystwhat’sit?”
“All beings on Mystix are taught that the world is divided into six planes of existence, each of them ruled by The Goddess and each with its own specific purpose. Our world is the fifth plane, the highest order before the heavens, and when we die, we go to the fourth, where each person is sorted into a Hell that is befitting of the path we took in our lives. Our Destinies are ours to control, but we also must follow the Heart of the Cards. And when we accept the system into our body we—”
“You’ve done gone and bored me. I can’t handle this. Just listen. Y’all die, then y’all go to a new life in a new world where y’all can get more powerful and hopefully a bit wiser too. If you was strong, you go to a world to help you learn stuffs. If you was smart, you go to a world to help you get stronger. All depends on what you wanted and what you needed.”
“So the Hells were just different worlds all along...”
“Uh, maybe. I don’t know.”
“So what world will I go to? Will I be able to rank up to become an S-Rank Hero? It’s been my dream ever since North Spire was attacked by—”
“Oh, yeah, you’re one of them Chosen People. Pink hair and pink eyes. Means you have a different path. Guess that’s why I gotta handle you myself. A touch odd, but that’s alright. So, tell me, you wanna work as an angel?”
“An... angel? What’s an angel?”
“Fly around with wings and all that, help me out, be a messenger to the heathens below, organize my files? Like a secretary with magic. Not real fun, but that’s what Chosen Peoples are supposed to do.”
I don’t understand, but this doesn’t sound like I’m going to be getting any stronger. All this because I’m a “chosen person?” This is not at all what I want. What in the Hells is The Goddess trying to pull? I start to back up and figure out how to get out of here, or if I even can.
But I’m dead. Where do I have to go, anyway?
She notices me trying to escape her grasp and shakes her head. “Not possible. Sorry. It’s a right sorry path, but that’s what y’all are for. It’s in your heart of cards or whatever. Be my angel.”
“I... I can’t! I need to become stronger. I need to become an S-Rank Hero.”
“What does that even mean?”
The Goddess shrugs. “I created y’all for a reason. To live a fulfilling life of boring nothingness so you can prepare for a new life helping me out with the multiverse. Ain’t so hard to understand, right? Or maybe it was, if you were a dumb yahoo out in the sticks.”
“Multiverse...?” I shake off the terminology she keeps throwing around to try and confuse me and focus myself. “No. I don’t want any part of your help. I want to be reborn in a new world where I can become a hero and get strong enough to prove myself. I need to be the strongest!”
“Because that’s what I want to achieve!”
“Fair enough. Okay. I’ll do it.”
“No! You don’t understand. It’s been my—Okay? Oh. Well, uh, thanks.”
“Yeah, sure. I created your entire race for the sole purpose of helping me, but it ain’t like a single one of y’all’s ever accepted my offer. Not once.” Her glowing smile turns into a deep frown. “So you wanna be stronger? The strongest? Let me find a world in need...”
She waves her fingers around and a large array of images pop up around us, showing dozens, maybe even a hundred different worlds. I see armies of orcs and humans doing battle. A group of women standing before a multi-colored orb. A young human fighting more strange “robots,” the human with a bored expression on their face. A snowy mountain with bug-like creatures attacking an elf and his companion. Giant cylindrical structures dotting an empty planet. Floating sky ships with armored werewolves pursuing a large flying creature. Any one of these I could end up in. Any one of these could be my new home.
Wow. For all my life, I thought that Mystix was my ultimate home. A place where the system controlled all except the fate of our Destinies. Now I know it’s just one small part in a vast stream of a “multiverse.” Whatever this could be, I don’t know if I want to know more. But I definitely want to become stronger.
“Ah, here’s one that might be a good fit,” The Goddess says, finally.
“A world for me?”
“Yes. Desgination-XJ55-C, as I call it. It too has a system, one you might find interesting. I designed it myself, after all. It’s a world filled with huge monsters known as kaiju. The various smaller races coexist with them, but their lives are often threatened, so they live in towering caravans of moving cities that walk the planet. The only way to truly win is, of course, to destroy the kaiju before they consume all the resources on the planet and wipe out all life. But the only way to do that is for the strongest heroes to band together, level up, and take them down.”
“That sounds amazing,” I say. “But will all of my progress on Mystix be reset? Will it carry over?”
“Designation-XJ55-C has a completely different system, so yes, you’d be back at Rank One or whatever it is you call it.”
“Okay. ‘Rank F.’ Either way, this new world operates on the laws of conservation on a more strict level. All magic is pooled in a finite resource, except for in the kaiju, who are the only ones who create new magic, but they also destroy more than they create, lately. The humans and kells and gorgons all have to level up to get stronger, but as each person dies, the total amount of magic available is lost forever, unless you kill or capture a kaiju. So yeah.”
“Can I go?”
“Yep. I’m fixing to send you there right now. I wanna get back to sleeping.”
My heart races. “I’m so nervous. I’ve never been reborn before.”
“Sure you have. You just don’t remember it.”
“Wait—I’ll lose my memories? So nothing I did in my previous life mattered at all? So I won’t be able to continue my path to becoming the strongest?”
The Goddess stares at me for a good ten, fifteen seconds in silence. She waves her fingers again, and then the images around us disappear. In its place, a magical portal, swirling with blue energy, forms beside us.
“You drive a hard bargain, Eryk Solbourne,” The Goddess says. “But you know what? I like you. I’ll give you a trigger to unlock your memories again once you reach a certain level. You’ll remember this conversation and suddenly the rest of your life will change. All I have to do is seal them away with a press of this button.”
She points in the air, poking some invisible switch, and then her face disappears for a moment.
Her face reappears and now looks significantly more panicked. “Shiiiiiiiit!” Shit! Shit! Shit! That’s not the right one!”
“I forgot how to switch the world portals! How do I even do that? Agh, curse my stupid memory!”
“No, no no no... The portal’s going to close automatically in like thirty seconds. Eryk, you have to enter or else you’ll be stuck in this room with me for like, six years. Hurry!”
“No time to explain! I messed up and everything’s going to go to shit. Plan’s changed.”
Without any further warning, she shoves me into the portal.
The room of white is replaced by flashing blue and black going faster than I could have ever imagined.
I’m about to be reborn.
But... I have a very bad feeling about what’s coming next.
And that feeling is confirmed about eight seconds later when I appear on the other side of the portal— surrounded by hundreds of people on all sides.
And most of them are holding weapons.