“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!” I scream as I wake up within my soul.
I twitch on the simulated forest floor as pain overwhelms my entire being. I reach up and try to strangle myself and slam my head upon the ground, trying desperately to stop the pain in any way possible.
The forest around me is bubbling and shifting as it absorbs large whisps of experience that are floating throughout my soul.
The ground cracks, shatters, and mends itself countless times over.
“Make it stop!” I scream at the top of my lungs, tears clouding my eyes.
Overhead, I watch the stary night sky itself crack and disintegrate, leaving a vast emptiness of white behind instead of the night sky I’m used to.
The moons hang in the vast emptiness, undeterred by everything shifting around them. Most of the moons start to shift off into the distance out of sight, but two familiar moons remain above me.
I know what happens next, “Yessss, get me out of here!”
I shift onto my back and lay spread out, looking up at the eyes, forming overhead.
“Please, let me leave!” I wine.
The two eyes stare down at me, but nothing happens. I focus on the eyes overhead, trying to block out the pain, but it isn't working.
I barely notice when the irises of the eyes start to glow. A ball of white flames drips out of one of the eyes, while a ball of black flames comes out of the other. The flames cascade out of the eyes into the void, making it look like they’re crying fire.
I hope the flames will land on my soul and burn everything away, releasing me from this torment. The two flames fall together and even circle one another in an intricate dance that I can’t appreciate with my current state of mind.
The flames drift through the white void in my direction. Considering they came from the giant eyes, I thought the balls of fire would be massive in size, but as they get closer to me, I see they’re both only ten feet in diameter.
I watch as the flames touch the ground a few feet from me. I expect an explosion, but nothing happens.
I roll over and start crawling towards the flames, screaming insults as I go. "Why can't you ever do what I want you too!? Always watching me struggle, always getting in my way. Screw the two of you and let me die!"
“You dare speak to us like that, insect!” The white ball of fire erupts in light, and a powerful ethereal voice resonates throughout my soul. Brief flashes of memories of my birth fill my head as the voice yells at me.
I can't move as my body becomes limp to the floor, and an unbelievable pressure descends over my entire soul.
“Sister, really? You feel the need to expend your power over this creature?” A cold voice that draws up memories of my death follows the second, and it is no less powerful. Darkness clashes against the light, messing with my vision.
“It cursed us as we appeared. Punishment must be administered." The pain from my growing soul becomes even worse with every word from the disembodied voice, causing my mind to reel in torment.
“Sister, you’re always quick to anger like brother Aptis. It’s in pain, and like all animals, it is lashing out. If you heal it, its attitude will surely change.” The voice of death sounds oddly caring during my torment.
Twitching on the ground, I’m able to sift myself and set my eyes on the two balls of flames in time to watch them shift into avatars of light and darkness. Much like the soul eater, they don't have any features, but I get the distinct feeling they’re female.
“Fine,” the avatar of light says in a displeased manner. She reaches down to my souls' surface, and once her hands of light touch the ground, the world stops trembling. All the remaining lingering experience is sucked into my soul at an incredible speed, and my soul mends itself in the blink of an eye.
With one movement of her hand, the avatar of light washes away all the pain I was feeling, and my mind once again becomes clear.
“There, now we should be able to converse with it on some level.” The voice of death sounds pleased.
With the pain gone like it was never there, I’m able to comprehend what I see fully—an avatar of light, brimming with life, and an avatar of darkness that radiates death. I have no doubts about who these two are.
I struggle to move under the pressure emanating from the two goddesses, but I manage to make it onto my knees none the less. “Greetings to Goddess Ilia and Goddess Ebeon,” I bow my head and politely greet the two gods.
“So, know that it isn’t in pain; it finally recognizes our greatness.” I tremble, listening to the goddess of life speak.
“Do you still wish to kill it, sister?” The avatar of black flames asks her fellow goddess. When the god of death mentions killing me, I’m assaulted by hundreds of visions of ways I could die.
Every instinct tells me to stay silent, but if I don't say something now, I’m sure one of these goddesses will kill me.
"I am deeply sorry for offending you, goddesses. This lowly one wasn't in their right mind and offered insult to you. I beg for your forgiveness, though this creature is not deserving.” I beg for my life, trembling with every word.
I don't dare to look up at the avatars directly, but I can feel their powerful gazes on me.
“Look at how it trembles, sister.” Ilia turns to Ebeon. This is not how I imagined the goddess of life from my mother’s stories.
I feel the pressure emanating from the avatar of black flames surround me and completely cover me. “Let’s get this over with. I don’t wish to waste more energy on this mortal.” I want to run away from the goddess, but her pressure holds me in place.
"As you wish, sister." The avatar of withe flames looks at her sister and then back towards me. “Rejoice, for I have deemed you too insignificant to kill. May you further enjoy life.” It’s hard for me not to grimace as the goddess of life starts to laugh at me.
It takes everything I have not to bite back with a snarky remark. "I am eternally grateful goddesses, but if you'll permit me to ask, why have you come to see me?"
Ilia continues to laugh at me. "You think we wanted to meet you. You think highly of yourself, mortal."
“I meant no offense,” I quickly reply.
I try to appease them again, but Ilia cuts me off. “These are merely projections of our will. Every mortal creature meets with a god when they unlock a mythic skill.”
"Mythic Skill?" I repeat, not understanding what she's saying.
If a faceless being could frown, I’m sure the avatar of light would be doing just that. “Have you mortals changed the name again?”
“I don’t know what you…”
“It’s fine,” she cuts me off again. “I’ll just check your memories,” she casually states.
"What!" I immediately panic, but the two avatars pay me no mind.
Ilia points her hand at the ground, and tendrils of white flames extend into my soul. Mental Resistance doesn't even activate as I feel her shuffling through my head. I grit my teeth as not to cry out in pain and risk insulting the gods again.
The goddess quickly retracts her flames, leaving me feeling exposed all over.
“Oh! Sister, look at this!” The goddess of light excitedly offers her hand to the avatar of darkness.
The two avatars momentarily lock hands, and the forest around me quickly ages, dies, and regrows in an instant. After the trees fully regrow, my soul feels lighter, and the empty feeling from sacrificing my Vitality is gone.
Did they just!?
The avatars separate, and the feeling vanishes. Neither seems to notice or care that they healed a part of me, I thought I lost.
“Most intriguing, you remember being touched by death,” Ebeon’s avatar turns towards me. “I assumed your young form and large soul was because of antiaging magic, but you’ve experienced another life and death.” Ebeon’s words make me feel like I’m drowning.
They've seen my past life. This is my best chance to gain some answers, but either of these two could kill me with a thought if I overstep myself.
“For a mortal to experience two chances at life, you’re quite lucky,” Ilia says in a sing-song voice that doesn’t make me feel very lucky. Each time she speaks to me, it's belittling, but her voice brings with it a feeling of euphoria and life.
If I'm going to ask these two, anything, I’ll need to lay it on thick.
“If I may be permitted, can I ask such great beings as yourselves, do you know why I have memories of my past life?” I hold my breath, hoping they answer a question I’ve been pondering for 15 years.
I can feel Ebeon’s avatar focusing on me despite it not having any facial features while Ilia’s avatar raises a hand to its face like it is trying to stifle a giggle. “You wish to know for what great meaning you were chosen for?” Ilia’s avatar slowly walks over to me.
We’re already quite close, but every inch she gets closer to me, I feel smaller, until I feel like an ant waiting to be stepped on.
I’m still sitting on my knees when the avatar of white flames stops directly in front of me. She reaches out with her hand and caresses my cheek. I know this body is just a representation of my conciseness, but when she touches me, the world around me starts to fade away, and I can only focus on the avatar before me and the touch of her hand on my face.
I’m overcome by the divinity radiating off of the goddess and hang on every word she says. “You seek the same answers all mortals do. Why were you given life? Why were you chosen to remember your past self? It is quite simple, really.”
The faceless head of white flames leans down over me. “Luck,” she emphasizes.
Whatever spell she has over me is broken as a million emotions flutter through me. The goddess retracts her hand, and I'm once again in the clearing of my soul. "What you mortals call life is a never-ending stream of souls. When you die, your soul enters the River of Rebirth that connects all worlds, planes, and realms together. Time is meaningless in the River of Rebirth, and souls collide with each other until all memories fade away."
“But, how does that apply to me?” I can’t help but ask.
The longer I'm around the avatars, the more I can feel their shifting expressions despite their lack of features. The sense of displeasure I feel from Ilia causes me to bow my head in penitence.
“You would be wise not to interrupt me again,” the dark words from the goddess of light sends a tremor through my body. I hastily nod my head and keep my eyes cast down. “The River of Rebirth functions in the void between space and time. But, despite existing since the beginning of everything, it isn't perfect. Sometimes cracks appear in the river, and souls are dragged into oblivion, where they wander until they become nothingness. That's what happened to your soul."
"Judging by your memories, you entered the River of Rebirth and immediately were dragged into oblivion. But soon after an equally unprobeable thing happened, your soul escaped oblivion, bypassing your time in the river. Your soul must have exited close to this world, and you were reborn with your memories. Thus, I call you lucky. The chances of your soul entering and exiting oblivion so quickly after your death are close to 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This is the first time I’ve seen such a thing.”
I get the feeling she’s trying to belittle me, but I can’t help but smile.
"That's curious; tell me, mortal, why do you smile upon hearing my answer? Those who've asked similar questions in the past are insulted by the knowledge I give and are usually infuriated. I just told you your life is meaningless; why does that make you happy?" Ilia’s powerful presence drills into me, pushing back against the hold Ebeon has over me.
I raise my head and smile at the bewildered avatar. "I mean no disrespect goddess; it's just nice knowing nothing is interfering with my life. I wasn't brought here to save the world or cause some great change. You say my life is meaningless, but that means I can decide it's meaning. All trials and tribulations I face are mine to deal with. Knowing how insignificant I am is a blessing, so I thank you."
“What a strange mortal,” I can tell Ilia is looking down on me, but for once, I don't care.
"Sister, we're using up a lot of energy; we need to finish what we came for," Ebeon reminds her sister.
The pressure from Ilia lessens as she turns her head and looks over her shoulder. "Yes, yes, I remember, dear sister. The knowledge I pulled from this mortal's mind was interesting, is all."
I can feel the pressure of her nonexistent gaze as she focuses back on me. "The reason the two of us are here is that you unlocked a tier 6 skill."
I did?! Thankfully, I manage to hold my tongue this time.
"Tier 6 skills work off of principles we gods command over. The skill you unlocked is a rare one that falls under both mine and my sister's domain. It's been 3,419 years since the last person obtained it, and after you slew him, you inherited the skill.”
I feel my blood run cold. That thing I killed was once a humanoid!?
I need to ask a question, but I can't interrupt her again, so I raise one of my hands like I'm back in school. If she has my memories, I'm sure she knows what the gesture means.
“Speak, mortal,” Ilia commands me.
"Pardon the interruption, but does that mean I'll turn into the monster I killed?" I try to use my manners, but I can't ask the question fast enough.
“Why do you think we sent our avatars to you in the first place?” Ilia berates me for what she thinks is a stupid question. "Using tier 6 skills mobilize the very laws we command, and of course, they have drawbacks when used by mortals. The Soul Devourer skill you obtained is no different.”
Soul Devourer, oh shit! Based on what Ilia has told me and the name, I think I know what it does.
“Using the skill, you can absorb souls of the nearly departed for their experience and life force if you so choose. But, at a price. Sister, would you like to take over?"
I watch with a growing sense of fear as the avatar of Ebeon walks up to me and joins her sister. Just her standing in front of me feels like a blade is hanging over my neck.
“The job of managing the souls of this world belongs to my sister and me. Those who feed off of souls may never die, but each soul they absorb will twist them. If you experience death after partaking in souls, it will be true death. Your soul will dissipate and never enter the River of Rebirth. That is the fate of those who hold the skill Soul Devourer.” Ebon explains in a warning tone.
I once again slowly raise my hand, hoping I'll have my question answered.
When neither goddess says anything after I hold my hand up for a long time, I decide that might be Ebeon’s go-ahead to ask my question.
“Great and powerful goddesses, I mean no disrespect, but is it possible for you to take the skill back?” I hesitantly ask.
I feel the emotions coming off of the avatars start to shift to incomprehension. "You wish to give up your skill. Why?" Ebeon asks in what sounds like disbelief. “You could live many times your own life. Even the longest of lived mortal races crave such a skill.”
I softly shake my head. “I do wish to live a long life, but not at the cost of turning into a monster. I’d rather live my life and enter the River of Rebirth when my time comes.” I honestly reply to the goddess of death. Though her aura is more off-putting, I, for some reason, find her more comfortable to deal with than Ilia.
"Then, it all depends on your greed," Ilia tells me, and I can imagine a smile forming on her faceless avatar.
Ebeon must understand my confused look because she explains. "The skills primary use is to absorb the experience that would normally dissipate into the surroundings. Your predecessor started only using the skill for such but eventually started devouring his victims' whole souls to extend his lifespan beyond normal mortals. If you only use the skill to gather experience, you won't turn into a monster, and you'll be able to enter the River of Rebirth."
"That's if you don't give in to the temptation fist. Not many mortals give up on life when it's so retally available." The self-righteous aura coming off of Ilia is stifling, so I try to ignore her politely.
If Ebeon is to be believed, the skill itself won’t harm me if I don’t use it to its full potential.
The memories of before I was dragged into my soul surface in my mind, and I'm reminded of how crazed I was when I first obtained the skill. Can I handle the temptation?
“So, what will it be?” Ilia doesn’t give me much time to think over my options before demanding an answer.
I glance at the avatar of Ebeon, but other than a deathly calmness radiating off of her, I can't sense anything else.
Do I take the double-bladed sword, useful in the right hands, but one misstep and I'll harm myself?
I grit my teeth and steady my nerves. “I’ll keep the skill,” I proclaim.
“That’s a wise choice,” Ilia says in a musical voice that sets me on edge. “We don’t have the power to remove a skill from a mortal in this state. If we acknowledged your request, we would’ve had to kill you.”
What the fuck, I curse in my head. What is wrong with…
I immediately stop my train of thought as I slowly feel the pressure emitted by Ilia’s avatar start to turn sinister. Can they read my thoughts?!
I start to panic inside a little.
"We can't read your mind, but don't forget where we are, mortal. Your hidden emotions are as plain as day while we're here, and I can dive back into your memories if I wish to know what you were thinking about us. Keep thinking negative thoughts about me, and I'll help you remove your skill like you previously wished," the avatar of light threatens. The same kind of weight I felt from Ebon descends on me, sending me sprawled out on the ground.
“It’s time to go, sister. We’ve fulfilled our purpose.” Ebeon saves me from being crushed under her sister’s pressure by calling out to her.
“Fine, being confined in such a small soul is stifling anyways.”
The two avatars of flames start to hover and rise higher back to where the eyes are located in the sky. Damn it, I have so many more questions, but I don’t dare call out to the leaving deities.
Their pressure doesn't dissipate until they're quite far away from my soul. The night sky that usually envelops my soul slowly reforms, and I'm left looking up at the familiar two moons in the sky.
With the source of the pressure on my soul gone, I collapse into the fetal position on the ground. I don't know how long I stayed curled up, but I wait like that until my nerves calm down.
I try to process what just happened, but it all seems impossible to me.
I met not one but two gods, and they couldn’t care less about me. They looked at me like a child looks at a colorful bug. Thankful, they decided to leave me alone instead of squashing me or taking me home in a glass jar.
From facing the soul eater to meeting actual deities, my mind feels utterly taxed.
I can't sleep in my soul, but zoning out helps me a little to settle my mind.
Ever so slowly, I start to relax until I'm able to sit up.
Now that I'm slightly feeling better, I think I need to pull up my status page. When I feel a small chunk of my soul move to materialize my status page, I use Sense Soul, as usual, to make it more readable, but I can instantly feel a difference as I sort through the information.
Not only am I better at organizing the data, but I notice the vast amount of experience I gained.
LV: 72 Experience: 774,374/ 911,219
Status Points: 80
Meditation (LV78), Running (LV74), Blacksmithing (LV69), Hammer Skills (LV57), Axe Skills (LV55), Cleaning (LV51), Chanting (LV50), Mining (LV48), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV42), Cooking (LV39), Dagger Skills (LV31), Wood Carving (LV31), Acting (LV31), Sword Skills (LV31), Sewing (LV24), Pugilist Skills (LV4), Spear Skills (LV2)
Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV61), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV46), Hammer Arts (LV41), Axe Arts (LV36), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Lower Price (LV20), Increase Price (LV17), Steady Hands (LV16), Dagger Arts (LV12), Sword Arts (LV14), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV1),
Expel Mana (LV61), Mana Manipulation (LV58), Precise Strike (LV40), Double Strike (LV40), Weighted Strike (LV37), Flash Step (LV21), Contract (LV5)
Mental Resistance (LV53), Mana Skin (LV52), Inject Mana (LV52), Extract Mana (LV30), Magic Blacksmithing (LV25), Empowered Spell (LV7)
Sense Soul (LV37), Soul Manipulation (LV4)
Soul Devourer (LV2)
Increased Skill Levels
Blacksmithing (LV68-69) 6,850exp
Hammer Skills (LV56-57) 5,650exp
Chanting (LV49-50) 4,950exp
Trading (LV42) 2,100exp
Cooking (LV39) 1,950exp
Sword Skills (LV29-31) 4,500exp
Sense Mana (LV79) 7,900exp
Hammer Arts (LV41) 4,100exp
Sword Arts (LV12-14) 3,900exp
Steady Hands (LV11-16) 8,100exp
Expel Mana (LV61) 9,150exp
Mana Manipulation (LV56-58) 25,650exp
Precise Strike (LV38-40) 17,550exp
Double Strike (LV36-40) 28,500exp
Weighted Strike (LV28-37) 48,750exp
Flash Step (LV20-21) 6,150exp
Mana Skin (LV52) 13,000exp
Inject Mana (LV51-52) 25,750exp
Mental Resistance (LV49-53) 63,750exp
Extract Mana (LV29-30) 14,750exp
Magic Blacksmithing (LV21-25) 28,750exp
Empowered Spell (LV8-9) 4,250exp
Sense Soul (LV34-37) 71,000exp
Soul Manipulation (LV1-4) 5,000exp
Soul Devourer (LV1-2) 3,000exp
Skill Experience: 415,000exp
Crafting Experience: 131,944exp
Fighting Experience: 5,775,835exp
Total experience Gained: 6,322,779exp
“Oh, gods!” I scream out as I look at my updated status page.
I cringe as soon as I say the words and look up at the moons floating overhead in fear; I might be smited at any moment.
When my soul isn’t obliterated, I figure the peeping deities are truly gone.
The fear of the god's retaliation distracted me for a second, but I'm soon back to freaking out over my stats.
"I gained eight levels," I say in between my heavy breathing. This isn't even my real body, and I feel like I'm hyperventilating.
Scanning my soul reveals, the total amount of experience I’ve gained since I was reborn has almost doubled. Killing the soul eater and absorbing a fraction of its experience was equivalent to me going from level 1 to level 63 all over again!
Usually, I would be freaking out about how much experience I got for making the general's arrow. Still, it's utterly incomparable to my skill level increases, and that's ignoring the experience I got from the soul eater.
But my level and experience aren't the only shocking thing.
Not only did Ilia heal the damage to my soul and Vitality, but whatever she did boosted my mental stats as well. I gained a few free stat points in Mind, Senses, and Clarity. Coupled with most of my skills rising multiple levels, especially those I used for forging the arrow and fighting the soul eater, my gains are so numerous that it's mindboggling.
Mental Resistance and Sense Soul alone accounts for 33% of the experience I gained from my skills, both jumping up five and four levels respectably.
I want to jump for joy, but my enthusiasm is blunted by my Heath, Mana, and Stamina values. Why are they all full? Did Ilia heal my physical body along with my mana as well?
Somehow, I doubt the goddess of life is that generous. Either something is wrong with my status page, or something happened to my body in the real world!
How long have I been in my soul!?
I leap to my feet and take off into the forest.
I need to get out of here now. Who knows how long my body has been unattended in the woods!
While I'm making my way to my sea of memories, I start to notice the subtle differences around me. The trees look more realistic, and I'm confident the forest has expanded a great deal. But even though everything looks more like the forest back home, I can better feel my skills and experience that make up my surroundings.
I glance at a tree I’m running past and see how it’s woven from different parts of my tier 1 and 2 skills.
At one point, I need to run around a tree, so I quickly round the trunk and push off with my hands to regain my speed. In the split-second, my hands pressed up against the tree, I felt it indent like it was made out of rubber and fling me forward.
“What the hell? What was that?” The only skill that’s worked in here is Sense Soul. Could this be from Soul Manipulation?
As I'm running, I stick my hands out and touch the trees I pass. If I focus, I can move and stretch the trees' parts like they're made of clay. I want to stop and experiment with my new skill, but I don't have time.
I keep running until I reach the rocky part of my soul, but I'm forced to slow down when I see what’s happened to the section of my soul that separates the forest from my sea of memories.
What was once an area covered in rocks and hills is now a mountain, towering into the sky.
I don’t have time for a leisurely hike.
I start sprinting up the mountain, making footholds for myself by manipulating the terrain underneath my feet using my new skill. As long as I focus, nothing in my soul can obstruct me.
As soon as I reach the ledge that leads to my memories, I dive over the cliff without a thought.
I sink into my memories, and I notice another change. I can see the general contents of the memories I'm floating past. Most are meaningless, but I spot a few memories from my previous life I wouldn't mind experiencing again.
No, I can’t do that right now. I dodge the memories that I’m about to sink into and head deeper into my soul.
"Come on, come on!" I look over my shoulder at the two moons hanging overhead.
After meeting the goddess, I think I’ve realized what the moons are. Neither of the deities knew of my existence, but they came into my soul through the eyes hidden inside the moons. Ilia said they control the laws governing the world, so the eyes must be a defense system, the two put in place to guard people's souls, including my own.
My skills counter the defense, but if I go deep enough, they grow stronger and eject me from my soul.
Like I hoped, as I move deeper into my soul, the moons quickly change their appearance and focus on me.
Typically when I'm forced into and out of my soul, it's instantaneous, but this time, I feel the eyes trying to eject me from my soul. I don't resist and let the two eyes do their job.
I feel my consciousness being pushed out of my soul and snap back into my body.
“SSSSSS,” I hiss through my teeth as I once again feel the sensations of my reel body. I’m not sore, but everything feels stiff.
I groan as I open my eyes.
Instead of being surrounded by trees in the forest, I'm wrapped in a rough blanket in someone's house. Well, at least that means someone found me.
Sense Mana flares to life as I scan my surroundings.
I quickly recognize where I am; I'm in Anastasia's clinic. The healer herself is resting in a chair nearby. Judging by the amount of mana in her body, she's almost tapped dry.
I try to call out to the resting woman, but I can only softly grunt because of my dry mouth.
I slowly move my right hand to the frame of the bed I'm on and start knocking. I practically have to smash the bedpost before Anastasia starts to rouse.
"What? The door is open; you don't have to keep knocking!” She yells with her eyes closed, thinking someone is at her front door.
I continue knocking until she growls and stands up in anger. Anastasia makes it halfway to her door before she realizes the knocking is coming from inside her house.
I'm the only patient here, so our eyes quickly meet.
"Oh, thank Ilia, you're awake!" I want to cringe when I hear her call out to a cerein goddess of life, but my body doesn't move as I want it to, making me feel like a fish out of water.
“Are you hurting anywhere? I can’t use any more of my magic, but I have a weak potion from the headman if you need it?" Anastasia asks as she walks over to the side of my bed.
"Water," I gasp out.
“What?” Anastasia can’t hear me.
I grasp at my throat, hoping she understands.
“You can’t breathe!?” She panics and tries to pry my mouth open.
I shake my head back and forth before she can stick her fingers in my mouth.
She stops when I start to thrash. “What’s wrong?” Anastasia doesn’t understand what I want.
I quickly scan the room again and notice a jug of water on a table across the room. I slowly raise my hand in its direction until Anastasia follows where I’m pointing.
"Oh, water," she dashes across the room and pours me a cup. Anastasia brings the water over to me and helps me drink. I feel my body starting to respond more, but everything still feels heavy.
After I drink every drop of water she gives me; I manage to ask, "what happened?"
"The village broke out in a panic after your mother started asking everyone where you were. Arash and Hayk said they saw you running around the village, but you soon disappeared after they talked to you.” Anastasia explains.
I was right; the soul eater already had me in its grasp long before I saw its doll.
“Almost every hunter was sent out to find you, but at some point, your tracks became hard to follow. The hunters said they felt a giant rush of energy and found you unconscious in a place they swore they already checked. You were brought to me, but you weren't harmed as much as everybody thought. But for some reason, no matter what I did, you wouldn't wake up. That was five days ago.”
“Five days!?” I exclaim.
Anastasia nods her head. “I’ve been keeping you healthy with my magic.”
“I guess I owe you twice now,” I say in a self-deprecating voice.
"You don't owe me anything," Anastasia tells me. "I might not interact with many people, but I know everything you've done for the village. Almost everyone stopped by at one point, asking how you were. I had to kick everybody out, including your mother, after she refused to leave your side for a moment." Anastasia makes a sour face; I'm sure mother didn't go quietly.
“I should go grab your parents now that you’re awake. Are you ok by yourself for a little bit?”
"My body is a little stiff, but it's slowly getting better," I tell her.
"That's to be expected; stay in bed and try not to move too quickly. I’ll be right back.” Anastasia grabs a coat and leaves her house.
“Five days unconscious, and everybody came to see me,” I repeat to myself.
All hell is going to break loose once Anastasia gets to my parents' house. I quickly pull up a part of my status page and distribute my points; I need to be ready for the flood of people coming to see me.
LV: 72 Experience: 774,374/ 911,219
Status Points: 0
First, I put 28 points into Vitality and then 20 into Endurance, seeing how much I've come close to death recently. Then I put 15 points into Strength and 17 points into Dexterity to finish off my remaining Status Points.
My soul erupts in bright colors, nourishing my body. My limbs that just felt like they were made of lead feel light as feathers. My skin brightens as my Endurance rises by 25%, and my skin glows even more brightly with the extra Vitality.
I quickly become able to sit up as I start to feel better than ever.
Parts of my skin begin to flake and fall off onto my sheets, and the calluses on my hands start to soften. I want to cast magic to clean myself, but I can already hear villagers' voices coming closer.
I double-check my clothes to make sure I'm in decent shape. Mother must have brought me another pair of clothes because they're different than what I was wearing when I killed the soul eater.
I need to look presentable for the villagers. Everyone already knows I have a high level, and with all the rumors floating around about the people who disappeared, I need to assure them everything is ok.
I swing my legs over the side of my bed and carefully stand up. It's weird going from a body that doesn't want to respond to you to a faster and stronger body than you're used to.
I can hear more people gathering outside so let’s give them a show.
I make my way over to a spot where people will be able to see me once Anastasia’s door opens. Stretching, I tell myself, any minute now.
I’m bending over and touching my toes when I hear the door in front of me being flung open.
I look up and ignore the dozens of people watching me from behind my mother in the doorway.
"Sorry for worrying you, mom, but I'm all better now." I give mom a dazzling smile.
She rushes over to me and wraps me in a hug.
"Move out of the way! Let me through, or next time you're hurt, I won't heal you!" I hear Anastasia forcing her way through the crowd. "What are you doing up?" She yells at me when she finally makes it to her front door.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” I send Anastasia a look that says play along before shifting my gaze to the growing crowd outside.
Unlike with the water, this time, she catches on quick. "Fine, but I need you to stay here for a little longer. The rest of you, scram," Anastasia turns on the villagers outside.
Mother keeps me wrapped in a hug until father makes it here. Then they sandwich me with love.
Soon after, Camden arrives with Sarette and master.
Camden politely asks the remaining villagers who didn’t fear Anastasia’s wrath to disperse so we can have a private talk.
“You’re kicking me out of my own house!?” Anastasia shrieks at Camden when he asks her for some privacy.
"I do apologize, but I'm sure you understand." Camden may be using polite words, but his gaze is firm.
Anastasia flinches back and reluctantly agrees, sending Camden a venomous look as she walks out her own front door.
As soon as the six of us are alone, every pair of eyes turns on me. Everyone looks like they have a million questions, but no one wants to start.
It's finally Camden who breaks the ice. "You're looking radiant; I take it you leveled?"
I cast my eyes down, mentally deciding what I should tell everyone.
“We don’t have to do this now. We can talk about it after Aaliyah has a chance to go home.” Mother notices the awkward look on my face and steps in to defend me.
"If we must…" Camden is about to agree with mother, but I cough into my hands, signaling I have something to say.
“No, it’s ok,” I tell everyone in the room.
“Are you sure?” Mother asks me.
I nod my head at her before looking at Camden, “I’m guessing you want to ask me if it was the creature that’s been praying on the other villages.”
Camden's face quickly becomes serious, much like everyone else in the room.
“Everything that happened to you matched the reports from the other villages. Did you notice and chase after a magical creature on your run?” Camden asks.
I fold my arms in front of me and start nervously rubbing them. “I didn’t chase anything; I was lured out of the village.”
“How is that possible?” Camden questions me in disbelief.
“The creature was able to use mental manipulation. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I was deep in the woods.” Everyone pales as I explain how I encountered and fought the creature. I left out the part about it eating souls and how I tried sacrificing my Vitality to kill it. I also left out the fact that I unlocked a tier 6 skill and met two goddesses.
“How were you able to notice something was wrong?” Sarette asks me once I finish my story.
I calmly look at her and glance around the others in the room. "I can't say, "I tell everyone in a flat tone. Camden and Sarette look disappointed by my answer, but my parents and master look like they understand what happened.
It falls silent between us for a moment before I ask a question of my own, "I heard the hunters found me, was there anything unusual about where they found me?"
"That's what I was going to ask you," Camden answers me. "The spot the hunters found you has turned into a jungle over the last few days. I asked for it to be kept a secret, but all the hunters are curious."
“Really, a jungle?” I repeat, not sure how I’m supposed to answer him.
“How many levels did you gain?” Master Del asks, Stepping forward.
“Why does that matter?” Camden turns towards Del.
“There are stories Stone Kin tell their children, tails of great beasts who were slain in the past. When a high leveled creature or person dies, the life force they emit is so great everything spontaneously grows around the spot they collapse. I'm curious how many levels you gained for slaying such a beast?" By the time master is finished talking, everyone is staring at me again.
I clear my throat, "I gained eight levels; I'm level 72 now." Everyone, including master, sucks in a deep breath of air.
Mother is the first to recover and quickly asks me, “Is that why you’re all better?”
I nod my head, “I distributed my points after Anastasia left to get you. I’m stronger than ever,” I happily proclaim with a smile. I even show off the muscles on my arm for good measure, trying to distract everyone from how I almost died again.
“That’s impossible,” Camden has a hard time accepting the truth. “Killing a creature with such a level is unheard of!”
"I got lucky," I tell him, remembering my conversation with Ilia. "It couldn't move once I saw it, and it took everything I had along with sacrificing my sword to do any damage to the thing. It was pure luck I was able to counter the monster.” I try to laugh it off.
I look around the room and notice everybody is giving me worried looks. “Really, I’m fine,” I try to tell everyone.
"I think your mother is right; you should go home and rest," Camden tells me, everyone nods in approval.
“I said I’m fine. I need to get back to work with master.” I start walking towards the door until Master Del steps in front of me and puts his hand on my shoulder.
"Go home; you can come to see me tomorrow," Del's says with a concerned look on his face.
Mother walks up behind me and grabs my arm, giving me a pleading look. “Fine, I’ll go home,” I give in.
“I’ll take care of the villagers outside,” Camden walks past me and opens Anastasia’s front door. Mother leads me out after him without letting go of my arm.
"All right, everyone, make some room. Aaliyah is up, and she's going home with her family. Give her some space." Camden shouts at the crowd waiting outside.
I was prepared for there to be a small group waiting to see me, but damn, I think a third of the village is here. Mother continues to lead me forward, and the crowd respectfully parts for us. I look behind us and see dad following close by. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch master break through the crowd and head home.
Many people call out to me and try to ask me questions, but I ignore them and give a polite wave instead.
We don’t get a moment of peace until we're through our front door. Mother, father, and I are all standing together in the entryway, trying to change our shoes at once. I notice father is a little dirty, and mom's closes look a little tattered as well.
I doubt they've had an easy time the last five days. The least I can do is clean everyone. "Hey, mom, dad, hold still a minute."
I haven’t had a chance to show them this yet. I activate my cleaning spell and empower it so it will cover the three of us.
“Ahyt ls weem appiss!”
Both my parents cringe when the spell I usually use expands well past my body and envelops all of us. Mother and father stare at their limbs as the white light covers their bodies, and many black flakes fall off the three of us. I guess I was pretty dirty myself from being unconscious for so long.
I kick off my shoes and dust the remaining black flakes off before walking over to our kitchen. Whatever magic Anastasia used to keep me healthy must not have included food because I can eat anything right now. I grab some jerky, two biscuits, some dried fruit, and stuff everything into my mouth.
"Tastes so good," I give a little moan as I turn back to face my parents. Both look sparkly clean now, but they both stand together, giving me looks of worry. "Is there something on my face?" I ask as I finish the food in my arms.
Mother walks over to me and pulls me into a hug. I can feel her trembling. I start rubbing her back, “Mom, I’m…”
“Stop saying that,” she snaps at me with tears in her eyes. "There is no way you can be fine; we almost lost you again."
I want to tell her the opposite to reassure her everything will be ok but now that I'm home, the dam breaks loose, and everything I've been through comes flooding out in the form of me sobbing. All the fear I felt facing the soul eater and the goddesses are too much to hold back. Mixed with all of that is the joy of finally being home and knowing it's over.
Father comes over and holds the two of us in his big arms, looking just as unsteady as mom.
I tried to stay strong for them and the village, but it's too much to take.
I release everything I’ve been holding back and cry with my parents.
Happy that I’m still alive.
Goddess Ebeon’s Point of View:
"Quite particular, isn't it, sister?” I mentally send a message to Ilia across our domains.
Peering through the barrier that separates our existence from the world below, we both watch the anomaly reunite with its family.
I instantly receive a reply. “It has been a while since I watched the mortals below. Apparently, I’m quite popular.” Her voice, followed by a long laugh, directly enters my mind. “They seem to think praying to me grants them a longer life, what foolish things.”
“Indeed, it appears most have forgotten our roles in our silence. Most prayers directed to me are filled with hate, hoping I bring vengeance on their behalf or asking me to spare someone; it is quite disappointing. Adversity in life is your domain, sister, one aspect I don’t wish to deal with.”
Ilia continues to laugh over our connection. “Sweet Ebeon, always trying to bring peace to mortal’s souls, yet always misunderstood by them. Even the anomaly feared you when you tried to defend it against my pressure.”
I don’t respond to her taunts, mealy sending a pulse of displeasure through our communication.
“I’m happy such a toy unlocked one of our skills,” the light coming off of Ilia’s nebula flares up with her excitement. Beings like us don't require such arcane things as bodies; we are pure energy.
“Does that mean you intend to watch it grow?” I ask my sister. “Your avatar had to hold itself back from killing it.”
“It was cursing everything that’s happened to it, to insult me like that. Life is meant to be challenging, to face adversity, and eventually loose. To struggle is a mortal's very purpose; that is the meaning of life." My sister starts to rant, so I decide to look closer at the anomaly's memories my avatar brought back. I know everything that's happened to the anomaly. Still, it's difficult for me to interpret a mortal's feelings and motivations, especially one who's previously lived in a different plane of existence.
Either way, I’ve never seen a mortal’s memories of experiencing death before. It chose to sacrifice itself for a friend, interesting.
“Now that you know about the anomaly, will you interfere with its fate?” I ask my sister, interrupting her speech on the joys of watching mortals suffer through their lives.
As a goddess of life, it is up to her how she harvests her divinity from the mortals below. I harvest my divinity through the release a soul obtains upon their death, which I use to help them on their way to the River of Rebirth. My sister chooses to draw her energy from the lives the mortals live and the obstacles they overcome or succumb to.
"There is no need for me to interfere with the anomaly. I've already checked its fate and how it interacts with those around it. The anomaly is destined to face adversity; I merely have to watch. What about you? Are you interested in it as well?"
"I am curious how it lives its life and how that life will end. I'll watch with you, sister, and prepare for the time I need to escort it to the River of Rebirth." Through our connection, I feel the joy emanating from my sister.
"Then let us watch the anomaly and see what happens. If it uses the skill it gained, you might miss out on your chance to help it.”
“She won’t use the skill like that,” I inform my sister.
“Oh, and how do you know that?” My sister challenges.
“Just a hunch,” I tell her. “Mortals have them all the time.”
"Then, like a mortal, you'd be wrong."
Instantly, our energies clash with one another as our wills battle over our connection. Storms of our divine power start to eat away at the barrier connecting us to the mortal world. We're forced to stop when our clashing power is about to harm the systems we have in place to govern the souls below, less we want to waste even more energy fixing them.
“Let’s watch and see who’s right,” my sister sends through our connection, confident she is right.
"Indeed, let's," I respond.
I once more turn my attention to the anomaly and watch how its consoled by its family. Mortals can be so very weak, but not this one.
Don't disappoint me, Aaliyah.