Finally! Only 66 hours, 33 minutes, and 15 seconds left to go until the lock was gone! 3,993 minutes!
We all shared one giant bed, which would have taken some getting used to if I hadn’t started there as a baby, and just never left. It was somewhat terrifying at first, not wanting mom or dad to roll over in the night and squash me like a bug, but somehow, I survived. I took a deep breath in, smelling the wonderful sea breeze. I leapt out of bed, disturbing mom, as I raced to get ready. Dad was working at night, so he wasn’t around to be disturbed. I ran out the door, only for 24-year-old mom to groggily yell at me.
“Elaine! Get out of those filthy clothes, and into something nice! It’s System Day!”
I sheepishly slinked back into the bedroom, and looked down at my beige-colored bamboo tunic. A grease stain, a few dirt stains, and was that yesterday’s lunch…?
Embarrassing. The emotion washed through me, hot and raw. I felt it only the way a kid could, and I had one of those ever-rarer flashes of insight, of remembrance.
I’d been reborn, as a baby. I’d grown up a bit, but I had the body of a kid. The physical mind of a kid. I’d been treated like a kid.
The conclusion was inevitable. I thought like a kid. A kid, with a boatload of extra memories rattling around, most of which I couldn’t use or process in any meaningful way. The more “adult flashes” of remembrance and self-centering were getting rarer and rarer as I aged.
I’d somewhat accepted it. New life! New me!
I changed to a fresh tunic. Bamboo was a nice material to wear. It was light and cool, and as the weather was getting really warm in the early summer, it was the perfect material to wear. I wasn’t a fan of the color of undyed bamboo – I much preferred wool white – but there was no beating how it felt or what it did for the heat.
I sighed as I put away the dirty tunic. I would have to wash it later, and that was a chore and a half, needing to go down to the river that cut the town in half. Mom- I found out her name was Julia, just Julia – would come down with me and do the rest of the laundry, but I was already being made to look after myself. Childhood being a carefree time with no responsibilities, bah humph. Who said that!? I want a refund!
Still, System Day! I was bouncing off the walls with happiness. Turns out, everyone had a system, not just me! System Day was when kids who were just about to unlock their class went to the temple, and we would get told all about the System, how it worked, and had a chance to ask for advice and help. Mom and dad – turns out his name was Marcus Elainus Cato, for some reason he had a long and fancy name – would also be telling me things and giving their own advice and opinion on the matter, but the temple asked for, and got, first dibs on telling kids what was going on.
System Day happened every week, and only once in your life. Only kids that were about to unlock their system could attend. It was a milestone in everyone’s life, marking the end of childhood (HA! Like I wasn’t already pressed into chore service), and the start of “real” life, of getting classes and levels generally starting an apprenticeship, or working. They started the hard labor young here!
With that being said, I had already managed to gain a few stats on my own. Some were clearly obtained from my own effort – I got some points in Speed for playing and running around with Lyra – and others just seemed to happen while growing up, like a point in Strength and Vitality. Each time I leveled up, I could feel it, a power bubbling up inside and washing over me. With how low my stats were, I distinctly noticed each and every stat point. I pulled them up to see how I’d done since I got started here.
[Free Stats: 0]
[Mana Regeneration: 2]
[Magic Power: 2]
[Magic Control: 2]
After having gotten my fresh clean clothes on, I bounced over to the kitchen. It was like a furnace here – between the heat and the clay oven, it was deeply unpleasant to be here. We never quite let the fire in the oven die, but generally left it as embers. It was more work to restart the fire from scratch, than it was to work in a too-hot kitchen. I darted in, quickly scanning around to see what we had to eat. Bread, some sort of dried meat, various vegetables, a large dried fish, some fruits. Wait – was that a mango!? Eyes wide, I reached out to grab it, and sprinted back out of the kitchen – I didn’t want to stay in there any longer than needed, it was already boiling. I went over to the table with its too-high not-chairs, and climbed up onto the cozy patient recliner, placing the mango in front of me. We had a knife on the table, and while I knew it was dangerous to use the knife – I had been told in no uncertain terms not to use it without mom or dad around – I knew I was good enough, and nothing was keeping me from the juicy deliciousness contained within.
I carefully lined up the knife facing away from me, as I was taught, and tried to slice in. The blade just skidded over the skin of the mango, ending up wildly flailing away from me. I barely kept my grip on the knife, although the mango slipped. Even with system-enhanced strength I wasn’t getting through it that easily. I narrowed my eyes at the mango, wondering if its vitality had been enhanced by the system as well. There was no other reason possible I would fail.
“Elaine! What have I said about knives?” Mom stomped over from the bedroom door, murder in her eyes, wooden spoon in hand. That thing terrified me.
I was in so much trouble.
I bowed my head in shame, reciting “I’m never to use a knife without you or dad present.”
“Exactly. So why were you using a knife without me?” mom growled at me, tapping the end of the spoon into her other hand. Pat. Pat. Pat.
“I could use it just fine! I’m not a kid anymore, it’s System Day!” I complained.
“Clearly not. You almost cut yourself!” This wasn’t helping. Mom was getting madder.
“I’m sorry.” I apologized in that way only kids can, saying the words and not meaning a single one of them.
Mom walked over to the table, her glare softening, spoon relaxing, vanishing who knew where. Phewf, dodged. She took the knife and the mango, sat down and started carving it up with a fluid grace.
“Honestly Elaine, you’re going to be the death of me.” She smoothly handed me a chopped-off slice of mango, already scored and ready to eat. “You should just calm down and take things slowly. Play with some of the kids besides Lyra, the two of you’re like bottled lightning and twice as much trouble.”
Bah. Playing with others? No thank you. Lyra was enough. She was my partner-in-crime, practically my twin. We were even born on the same day! We were neighbors, and grew up together, sharing adventures and the inevitable punishment when we got caught. When it was time to go out and play, Lyra and I would get into mischief of all types. When we went to the park, I would rather run and jump and cartwheel and climb around and play in the mud, and was less interested in playing with kids. It was Lyra or bust, and I would like to think she felt similarly.
Oh, I had given playing with others a try now and then, but it just didn’t click. I couldn’t understand them, I didn’t get where they were coming from, and it just made me uncomfortable and stressed. Exactly the opposite of what playing was supposed to do. I’m guessing this was an effect of reincarnating with my memories intact. I was so lucky that for whatever reason I resonated with Lyra.
“Yes mom.” I said, much more obediently this time. No sense in making life harder for myself, and I was getting that tasty mango. Mmm mango. More of it was rapidly vanishing down the endless pit that was my mango-stomach (like a dessert stomach, but for mango. I was pretty sure my dessert stomach had turned into my mango stomach), and it was good.
It was also, sadly, finished. Mom had eaten most of it in the end. It was completely unfair. It was my mango, just because she was five times my size didn’t entitle her to that much of my tasty tasty mango.
A slightly more reasonable voice whispered in my ear that I was still a kid, and as a result, couldn’t complain too much, especially when she had clearly gotten it for me as a special treat for System Day. I ignored that voice with aplomb.
“Ok sweetie, now that you’re done, can you please wash up and prepare dad’s dinner? He should be home soon.”
Dad was a guard! He worked for the city, which is more to say he worked for the governor. He was currently working the nightshift on the western gates, which was on the side of town we lived on.
Speaking of town, we lived in Aquiliea. We were a coastal town, with the Nostrum sea to the north. The Athahurst River was a real monster, splitting the town diagonally in half. The nicer sections were on the more southern/western side, and the slightly poorer/smellier districts being on the north/eastern side. The ports were similarly split with the river – the western ports were for trade and cargo moving along the river or down the coast, and the eastern ports were used for fishing, clams and pearls, and the oh-so-valuable sea snails that were used to make dyes.
Speaking of dyes, I couldn’t wait for System Day to be over! I could start wearing dyed clothes! Some dyes were prohibitively expensive – Purple was worth more than its weight in gold, and deep red and blue were also far beyond the modest means of our family – but others might be more in reach, the greens and yellows, oranges and shades of teal. Other colors weren’t made locally, and were silly expensive as a result.
The dead fish guts, with the heat, the tanneries, the smiths, the dyeworks, and more, all in all made the part of town making the dyes and other work not a pleasant place to live, for all that it was prosperous.
I finished washing my face in the water bucket, and went back into the volcanic embrace of the kitchen. Gods it was hot in here. I looked around again, surveying the kitchen with an eye for “dad’s dinner”. I grabbed a bowl, ripped off a chunk from the bread, got a carrot, a chunk of cheese, and a strip of the dried meat. Stuck them all into the bowl, and escaped the fiery hell once again.
“Thank you, Elaine,” mom said, and I practically glowed from the praise. “Although, how did you get that cheese…?” she asked all too sweetly.
“Ripped it off with my hands! No knife!” I proudly declared.
“So…” she said, eyes narrowing, tone dangerous, tapping that dread spoon. “My cheese now has a big hole ripped in it from your dirty hands?”
There was NO WINNING!