The sun was just rising over the horizon as it lit up the side of the Chorus Mountain Range that overlooked a vast wilderness. The world was quiet and what few animals could be found so high up in the peaks were still buried in their dens until the sun’s warmth came out to play. Those animals would be remiss to avoid pointing out that the sudden breaking of the worldly calm by a naked screaming man, on a Wednesday morning no less, was extremely rude, if they knew what a Wednesday was. Whether the animals had an understanding of how days of the week work is unclear, but for them, the days of the week would have vastly different nomenclature.
A spirit floated past the mountain, considering some of these points as it watched the man come into being before seeing a much stronger force approaching and making itself scarce.
Ash felt every nerve in his body light up like he had been doused in kerosene and lit on fire. It felt like individual needles were being heated up and none-too-gently plunged into every single nerve ending in his body. When the pain finally stopped, his mouth was locked in a now-silent scream as his body went ice cold. After several minutes, he was finally able to roll himself onto his side and push himself into a kneeling position, his head feeling foggy and confused.
He looked down at his naked body and sighed. “Naked, confused, and alone in an empty room; wish I could say this was a first.”
He looked around the room in which he found himself and noticed that it was made fully out of stone. It was a large, open room encased in a dome made from the same stone as the rest of the room. On one side of the room was elevated seating that surrounded and looked down on a simple floor. Ash turned his body slightly to see behind him when he felt a cold breeze and noticed the wall behind him opened up to a beautiful blue sky, interrupted only by marble pillars that reached to the ceiling.
Ash pushed himself to his feet and took a few hesitant steps, his balance faltering slightly on the first couple, before making his way to the opening. He leaned against one of the pillars, taking in a view he had never seen before. A forest went for miles before thinning out to grasslands, and he didn’t see signs of civilization anywhere. Not trusting the state of the infrastructure, Ash didn’t make his way to the edge to look down, but he could tell he was quite a ways up. Turning back to the room, he continued his inspection of his surroundings. No sounds or signs of people beyond the construction of the room itself, so he started carefully making his way around to inspect.
On the far end of the room, he found a doorway that lead further into the mountain. The hallway beyond was large; it was at least a hundred meters long and several wide, but he could see other dilapidated doorways branching off from the sides. At the far end of the hallway was a gilded door that looked as new as the day it was crafted, and it seemed to call to him.
“That’s not at all suspicious,” Ash said out loud. “No Ash, nothing to worry about, just a siren door beckoning you into the unknown. Just another… Monday?” He scratched his head in confusion and swore. “What they hell, they shaved my head? … And my eyebrows! That’s just cruel.” Looking down at his body again, his mind more clear than earlier, it occurred to him that something was very off. “That cold air isn’t doing me any favors. Wait, what the hell?” He thrust his arms out in front of him. “Where are my tattoos? I… but… so many hours and dollars… Oh, now I’m upset.” His fleshy and not-at-all weird eyebrows creased in anger as he started silently making his way down the hallway, looking for whomever was responsible.
He checked each room as he passed by, but most of them were either completely empty, or filled with decayed furniture. One of the rooms contained the remnants of a library that he intended to return to for a more thorough check, while another appeared to be an old armory of sorts. There were a few rusted sword and scattered spear heads, but nothing seamed to be usable until he found what amounted to no more than a fancy walking stick hidden in the back. It was a polished wood staff that ended in a gnarled knot of wood, but it was suspiciously sturdy considering everything else he’d seen in the stone building so far.
“Welp, gift horses and all that,” Ash muttered to himself as he poked and prodded at the wood. “Maybe the people who drugged me and dropped me off here left it behind.”
With some sort of weapon in his hand, Ash felt more comfortable approaching the gilded door. Still very apprehensive, but with limited other options he didn’t see another way to go besides out the side of the mountain. He placed his ear up against the door, but didn’t hear any movement or voices coming from the other side. The sense of constant invitation pulled on him, begging him forward, but his cultivated survival instincts hinted at caution. When he was convinced that no one was on the other side, he pushed the door open, surprised by the ease at which at swung clear, despite the state of the rest of the building. Staff at the ready, he entered the room and swiftly checked the surroundings.
Empty. Of people, anyways. At the center of the room was an intricately carved statue of black marble. The statue depicted an angelic looking woman, with six wings and flowing robe. Her face was carved into a simple smile, but the eyes seemed to bore into his soul. Situated equidistant from each other, the statue was encircle by twelve podiums made from the same black marble. Similar to the room in which he had awoken, the far wall was open to the world beyond it, letting in a small amount of light. It seemed he was on the opposite side of the mountain now, so the morning sun wasn’t able to reach this room.
Ash walked up to the statue and, leaning on his staff, studied the masterful artistry. He was not a small man and he still barely came up to her waist as the statue towered over him. Suddenly, the lines in the marble blinked out of existence and the mineral seemed to darken to the point of nothingness. He was no longer looking at a statue, but a glimpse of an infinite void of black. The change startled him so much he lost his balance on the staff and almost fell head first into the expanding chasm of emptiness. Before he could, the darkness regressed on itself and two hands placed themselves gently on his shoulders to steady him.
The sudden tactile sensation made him flinch back, but a sense of ease and welcome seemed to cascade into him. When Ash steadied himself, he looked to see that the statue had been replaced by the real thing. Though not as towering, the woman he looked at was still more than a foot taller than him, her six wings comprised of the same nothingness-black void that he had almost fallen into. Her skin was smooth and glossy, comprised of the polished marble the statue had been made from, yet her touch didn’t feel like it was made from stone, instead it was soft and warm on his bare shoulders.
Suddenly very aware that he was still naked, Ash shuffled back a few paces and attempted to cover himself with his hands and staff. The woman in front of him giggled slightly at his modesty, her laugh like the sound of chimes but with something darker hidden behind it. She glided towards him, her wings tucking back behind her but her feet barely touching the ground. She reached out towards him and he flinched back, but didn’t even attempt to fight.
“So, is this how I die, then? Naked and insane? Can’t say I’m all that surprised.” He mused to himself as the marble hand reached out and tapped him lightly on the chest. As she did, a robe popped into existence around him, leaving him clothed and considerably warmer in the cold mountain air.
“No, little fleshling,” the woman laughed again, her voice warm and friendly. “I just brought you here, why would I want to harm you?”
“So you’re the one who kidnapped me? You’re very impressive with your literal statuesque beauty and terrifying wings, what do you need from me?”
“I don’t need anything from you. At least, nothing that you won’t already do without intervention. I brought you here because you died and it presented an opportunity.”
“Wait, what? I died?” Ash’s head began to spin. He was still a little dizzy from earlier and this onslaught of information was making him woozy.
“Oh yes, Ashley Melodious” she said happily. “Quite violently, too. Don’t worry if you can’t remember, death has a way of being traumatic and the soul works diligently to forget about it. But, if you stick around long enough, you’ll eventually remember.”
He cringed at the use of his full name. “Please, just Ash. It’s a family name and my parents thought they were being kind. Kids are not kind, however.”
She stood there staring down at him for a moment while he tried to get his head around things. He was about to ask her a question when she interrupted him.
“Just a moment, this new body looks ridiculous without hair.” She floated up to him again and gently brushed her fingers across his eyebrows and scalp before floating back a few paces to give him an assessing look. “Better.” She said with a smile.
Ash reached up and touched his face and head; his eyebrows and hair had grown back, but with little grooming effort considered so it was already unwieldy.
“Um, thanks. I don’t suppose you can give me back my ink as well?” Ash asked hopefully.
“No, sorry. Your body was very much destroyed, and ink is not a part of the regrowth process.”
“Well, I guess I can’t complain too much. Did I really die?” Ash asked, he still felt like he was being tricked into something, despite the mythical being standing in front of him. Maybe he was hit really hard in the head.
“Afraid so. That is why I was able to bring you here.”
“And where is here? Appalachia?” Sarcasm leaking into his voice despite the giant floating acid trip in front of him.
“Suffice it to say, we are worlds away from your home. In a different universe, in fact.”
“A different universe? Who and what are you?” Ash really didn’t like confronting his agnostic beliefs so vehemently, but looking at the seven-and-a-half-foot tall woman made from living marble pressed on his sense of belief more than a little. “I feel ridiculous asking, but are you an angel?”
“I am not an angel. But you could call me a transcendant being of sorts.” Her response was considered, without any hint of mockery or jest.
“You’re a god?” Despite his eyes, he couldn’t help but feel skeptical.
“I am what I am, power with a conscience. There are many transcendant beings, each with their own nature and motives. Your untimely demise just so happened to fit in my timeframe.”
“You brought my soul to a different world because it suited your timeline?”
“Let’s just say that my motives are vast and expanding. There are events happening on this world that have far reaching implications. Your presence here, should you avoid a second untimely demise, might impact those events in a less destructive direction.” The statuesque woman shrugged, which felt like an odd gesture from a deific being.
“You expect me to save the world?” Ash voice rose half an octave at the implication.
“Oh hardly,” she laughed in reply. “I wouldn’t be so crass as to leave the fate of a planet to a single tourist. Predestination might not be a thing, but your personality and experiences provide a limited amount of predictability. Placing you on this planet opens potential pathways to prosperity. If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out and other pieces will pick up the slack.”
“And if I don’t want to help you out, will you kill me?” Ash asked, his grip tightening on his staff.
“Someone isn’t paying attention. Whether or not you agree to help me specifically, being who you are out in the world will potentially progress my goals, at the very least you are unlikely to harm them. I want nothing more from you than for you to be alive on this planet.”
“So not only did I die, but I was teleported to another universe and asked to save a planet I’ve never been to or heard of before?”
“A little over-simplified, but that is correct.”
Ash sighed. “Sure, why not. If I’m going crazy, I might as well lean into it.”
“That’s the spirit.” Her tinkling laugh resounded at her own joke. “And to assist you in your endeavors, I will provide you with two gifts.”
The twelve podiums that encircled the dais that formerly held the marble statue all lit up with a spectrum of different colors. In the faint dawn light, they were bright enough to make Ash shield his eyes. When the light dimmed back to normal, each of the podiums held an object that hadn’t previously been there.
“Surrounding us are various magical items that will assist you in this world. Each one offers a strength that, if leveraged properly, can help you go from basic survival to domineering potential. I will allow you to choose one and only one.”
“Did you say ‘magical items’?” Ash asked, skeptically.
“A goddess stands in front of you, do you doubt magic?” The goddess asked, her laugh chiming out.
“Ah, I suppose that’s a fair point. Assuming I’m not sitting in a padded cell somewhere.”
“You are not.”
“Great,” Ash grumbled.
“Indeed,” she smiled. “So choose wisely, the strongest weapon in untrained hands can be a disaster. This world is dangerous, so play to your strengths.”
She once more floated over to him and tapped him in the forehead. A cascade of images flooded through his mind of wondrous and monstrous things; the images passed so quickly he was left with only the feelings of fear and wonder, and a sense of expectation. She stepped back from him again as his mind cleared, gesturing to the items still shimmering slightly around them.
Ash sighed, “I’m still pretty sure I’ve gone insane,” he muttered to himself, “Mondays, am I right?”
“Technically, Monday doesn’t exist on this planet. And if your days of the week did exist, it’d be Wednesday,” the goddess stated matter-of-factly.
Ash just stared at her for a second, before ignoring it and moving on. “Well, Wednesday is as good a day to go insane as any other.” Walking around the podiums, he saw various weapons, a crown, a coin, a series of what looked like farm equipment, and even a giant brass globe. After the sensation of fear he had felt, the sword or bow seemed like good choices while the sickle gave off a putrid feeling. Giving it a few practice swings, he was about to say screw it and take the sword when the final item caught his eye.
He walked over to the last podium and looked at what seemed to be a polished slab of crystal. Upon inspection, it had the slight facial features of a masque and he picked it up for a closer look. When he touched the masque, an inky blackness began to form in the center of the crystal, flowing outwards and turning into an opaque obsidian. When the darkness reached the edges of the masque, motes of silver began flickering into existence in the depths of the blackness as wisps of violet in varying shades ribboned their way throughout until it eventually looked like he was holding a nebula in his hands, the silver continuing to flicker in and out as the purple mist creeped slowly around. As he held it, it felt like a part of him somehow, calling to him in the same way the room had called to him from the hallway.
“I choose this one,” Ash said, his eyes still locked on the masque, his voice holding a tone of deference.
“A wise choice,” the woman said, her stony face smiling. “And for a choice of wisdom, your second gift will compliment.” Her six wings unfolded from behind her, an empty void springing out from inside her, and speared into Ash’s body from every direction. In the black emptiness that made up her wings, something seemed to stir and flow through, a sensation of awe and power, merging into Ash’s body and lighting him up with the same pain he’d felt upon waking in this world.
As every muscle in his body clenched in pain, he feared he’d end up cracking the crystal masque in his hand. However, through the blinding pain, he saw the masque not crack but melt. The inky blackness of the masque and the swirling nebula seeped out of the crystal and up his arms, flowing over his face and threatening to suffocate him. The masque resolidified, covering his face entirely, but somehow still allowing him to see and breath without issue. Sure, his breath was coming in ragged gasps as his body was wracked with electrifying jolts of pain, but otherwise unaffected.
After a few moments, the woman stepped back, the void wings retracting from Ash’s body, as the pain continued to crackle through every nerve ending in his body. “You will face a lot of pain and difficulty here, but you have the strength to survive I think.”
“Pain…” Ash choked out roughly, “is something… I’m familiar with.”
The melody of her laugh eased the tension in his body. “I believe you will do very well here.” With that, she floated back to her dais and returned to a simple, if beautifully carved, statue.
“She… never even gave… me her name. Rude,” he coughed out.
As sudden as the pain had started, it stopped and a renewed sensation spread through his body. He was about to push himself back to his feet as a screen popped into his vision and caused him to jerk in surprise.
[You have received Transcendant’s Blessing]
[Transcendant’s Blessing has granted you the Interface ability.]
[Infinity Masque has been bonded to your soul.]
[Infinity Masque affects your class status.]
[You have gained the class Court Jester]
[You have gained the ability Sleight of Hand]
[You have gained the ability Magician’s Coat]