Chapter 1: Awake and Lost
I woke with a start. Then I started coughing. I hunched over in bed as a lung tried to violently exit my body. Once the coughing finally stopped, I leaned over to spit the phlegm into my bedside waste bin. It was only when I heard the phlegm splat on something hard instead of the crinkle of an old plastic shopping bag that I realized I wasn't in my room.
'The fuck. Why am I in a stone room, in a bed made of wooden posts, with… are those furs and quilts? Is that straw beneath my bed?'
I looked around the quarter circle shaped room. Walls of grey plaster chipped and faded by age stared back at me. Besides the bed, the room consisted of a small square window in the wall, through which a salt breeze blew, a bedside table with a rough clay pitcher, and a worn wooden bowl.
I was painfully thirsty, my muscles ached, my stomach at once demanded food and rebelled against the idea. I tried to make sense of where I was.
'The last thing I remember… I was...' Then it hit me. 'I was falling off the bridge into the lake after dodging that deer or whatever. Am I... Dead?' I would love to say I calmly assessed the situation. If anyone ever asks, I'll swear I dealt with it with poise and stoicism.
The reality is I collapsed back into the bed and fell apart. Once I finally pulled myself together I tried to think things through.
'Stop panicking and retrace your steps. I got my car serviced and was heading home from Bismark.'
So far so good. I remembered getting my car tuned up. Once the service was complete I headed home.
'It started snowing and flu symptoms were getting worse, so I stopped at a gas station. I needed to get something to help me make it the last hour home and I need to use the bathroom. Speaking of.' I dragged myself out of the strange bed to try to find a restroom.
I shivered as my bare feet hit the cold stone. I looked around but didn't see my shoes anywhere. I continued on barefoot, making a note to keep watch for my shoes and socks.
'Then it was over the bridge, the swerve for the… let's go with moose. Moose sounds best for why I dodged. Then… Then it was over the edge, into the water,' I swallowed thickly as I remembered what happened. 'Into the embrace of icy death, but I'm not dead.'
I stumbled to the door, wincing as I felt the chafing caused by sleeping in wet clothing. The door opened to a dim hallway with another worn wood door across from me. Torches burned lowly in sconces. To the left was a partially open door, and to the right the hallway turned ninety degrees. "If I were a bathroom, where would I be?"
Since the door was open, I went left in search of the bathroom. I pulled the door open and stepped out to an even more impossible sight.
To my right, waves crashed against a rocky beach. To my left was a five, maybe six-story tall triangular stone keep. Ahead was a tower, looking back over my shoulder I saw I'd just exited a tower, and there was another in front of me and one to my left, all at least as tall as the keep
Slate-roofed buildings butted up against the inside of the wall I was standing on. The ground on the inside looked like hard packed dirt.
"What the fuck?" I breathed. I was so stunned it took a second before I saw the bodies in the courtyard. A few were strewn by one of the buildings that might have been a forge. Others were at the door to the keep.
I would have kept staring, but the demands of my body broke my stupor. Accepting, for the moment, that I was apparently in a medieval castle filled with a number of corpses I gave up on a bathroom. I shuffled over to the outside edge of the wall, noting it had both crenelations and matriculations.
"Well, that's convenient." I thought.
With my most pressing need taken care of, I tried to take stock and build a basic plan of survival action, assuming I was still alive, not in a coma or dreaming everything and still waiting to wake up to go to Bismark to get my car serviced.
'Water, food, shelter, fire, clothing, tools, other people.' I listed to myself a few times to make sure it was set in my mind. The raw feeling in my throat spurned my onwards to find water. 'The room I was in can probably serve as my shelter. I guess I need to check the other doors in there and find the stairs down to the ground level.'
With a slow bow-legged gait, I returned to my room and took stock. I peeled off my jeans. My smartphone was gone, having been sitting in the center cup holder of my car, but my wallet was still in my pocket. The money was ruined, but the cards might come in handy for something, and the few coins were at least unique. I took off the rest of my clothes and checked myself over. Aside from some salt and the red chafing I was okay physically aside from my illness.
I checked the clay pitcher. There was some kind of liquid inside. I pour a bit into the wooden bowl. It came out slightly pink so I gave it a sniff. It smelled faintly of alcohol. I dipped my finger in it and pressed it against my lips to get a taste.
'Wine? Really weak wine? I guess it would at least be free of any microbes. It is something until I can find water. And fire I to boil it. Which means I probably need some kind of pot too.'
I took a careful sip of the wine from the bowl and set it down. I wanted to down it quickly to sate my thirst but the taste and fear it might have something else kept me from more. A moment later my stomach rebelled against it. I rushed to the window and vomited. Some of the vomit made it out the window, but more just laid on the stone and dripped back into the room. After a few minutes of dry heaving, I wiped my mouth with covers from the bed.
"Yuck. No more of that. Well, this room is ruined unless there is nowhere else to sleep."
I looked for other clothes but didn't find any. With great reluctance, I pulled my pants back on and went exploring.
The tower I was in held nothing of immediate value until I got to the first floor. There I found barrels of preserved meat, jars of pickled plants, jams, other preserved food, and a few barrels of wine. "Okay, that is food found. The tower works for shelter if I can't find somewhere else. Now I need water, fire, and friends. Let's keep exploring." I muttered.
I stepped outside and was dry heaving as the stench of death hit me. While up on the wall, the sea breeze protected me from the smell. At ground level, the corpses produced a horrible miasma. I stumbled back into the tower and closed the door.
'Maybe stick to the walls for now.' I thought. 'Never going to blame a DF dwarf for going insane because of miasma again. Assuming I can ever play video games again.' Since the outside was a no-go at the moment, and I was less than enthusiastic about climbing the stairs while sick and chaffed, I did a quick inventory of the food, and a bit of careful tasting.
There wasn't anything amazing, but nothing made me want to vomit like the wine earlier had. Eventually the need to know more about where I was won out over my aversion to pain.
I went up the stairs and out onto the wall. I walked down the wall in both directions trying to gain access to the other towers. Unfortunately, the doors were barred and I had to walk all the way back in both cases.
'Is it better to have made that trip four times, or should I have expected the second tower to be the same as the first one I visited.' I thought, slumped against a barrel of wine.
All I gained was seeing a gatehouse for the castle, though I couldn't tell if it was open or closed, and a few wisps of smoke rising from down the road that meandered out from the gatehouse. It seemed people were alive somewhere around here.
With the high road closed to me, I braved the courtyard again. I started with the keep, but it was sealed tight. The bodies near the entrance had beat their fists bloody trying to get in if the state of their hands and the red smears where anything to go by.
My guess about a forge proved true. There was plenty of iron and the means to work it laying around, but no people aside from the aproned corpses nearby. The fires were nearly out, but it was a source of heat. I decided to make it my base since fire was going to be critical to boiling water.
A bit more searching led to a few barrels of water, some charcoal, and a bronze pot. I filled the pot with water, brought it and the charcoal back to the forge, and coxed it back to life. I started some water boiling.
Searching for the basic needs had kept me busy, but now I was left to consider my situation as I waited for the water to boil.
Item 1: I was in a castle of some kind
Item 2: The bodies had all been dressed like something out of a fantasy movie.
Item 3: I was currently in a forge
Item 4: I had drowned. Pretty sure on that one.
It seemed the most insane possibility, but the only thing I could think of was that I had been transported to another world at the moment of death. That or I was dreaming in a coma, but I didn't think that would bring with it the joys of chafing and the flu. `I know there is that phrase about the impossible being the case if all other possibilities have been removed, but am I really suffering Isekaitis?'
I snorted at the thought of a Mother's Basement anime PSA coming true, but decided to try and remember it. If nothing else it was a good laugh. After maybe I would try and remember the harem PSA.
'Alright, let's assume I really have caught the epidemic sweeping the nation and pulling tens or hundreds of thousands of good hard working Americans to other worlds. If I really do have Isekaitis, which strand is it: A, B, C, or D.'
I quickly reviewed what I could remember of the youtube video in my head. 'Chances are it isn't A or B unless I turn into a young girl or start meeting others. So am I 'that guy' or complete fucked?'
'Well if I am 'that guy' or completely fucked because this is a deconstruction, where am I?'
The bodies in the courtyard looked to be servants and guards. I hadn't gotten into any of the other towers, so who knows if there was someone there hiding from whatever had killed the others.
A harsh sneeze interrupted by my musings and I wiped my snot covered hand on the stump below the anvil.
'I am definitely in some kind of castle and every corpse so far has looked fairly human.'
I considering possible video games based on what I played. After all, if I had caught Isekaitis, chances were it took me somewhere I knew about, right? Right?
Zelda, Skyrim, Dragon Age, all seemed possible and not total hellholes, depending on when in the timeline I was. Warcraft or any number of other fantasy video games I played would be a toss-up. Then I considered books. Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Sword of Truth, all probably a bad place to wind up.
"Of course, the worst would probably be Westeros or Warhammer," I muttered as the water started to boil. "Then again, maybe this is somewhere on Pern and I'll get to play with dragons only to die when the Thread falls."
As the boiling water started to steam, I pulled the pot off the coals using a pair of tongs that were lying nearby. I waited for the water to cool then took a little sip directly from the pot. It stayed down and slowly I drank the whole thing.
Feeling better, I hobbled out of the forge, holding my nose, and looked around again. 'Leaving those bodies lying about can't be good. If there is anyone else still alive they seem to have fortified themselves in the keep and up in the other towers for protection, but what killed these people?'
I steeled myself, cursed my chafing, and walked over to the nearest body with a bow-legged gait. I coughed and gagged at the scent of piss, feces, and slowly setting in decay that wafted off the face-down body in mail and leather. I pushed it over using my feet, cursing that I was barefoot and resolving to find something to wear.
There was no blood but the body was covered in vomit and dried mucus. 'Is there some kind of plague sweeping the world I just entered.'
I started coughing again and spit the phlegm out onto the ground beside me and away from the body. As it hit the ground, I had a horrible thought.
'What if it is the flu? Thanks to patient zero, your's truly.'
I fell back and away from the body. 'That can't be right. Disease is never a problem in world jumping stories. Sure they might be more interesting if it was, but you never see Columbian exchange problems happen. Gate didn't have it. Hell, Re:Zero didn't have it and that was case D if ever there was.'
I took a few gulping breaths and started coughing violently.
'So it is some other disease that just happened to show up at the same exact time? What does that look like the Blight to you? Greyscale? Camp Fever?'
I fled from the body and back into the forge. I slumped against the wall, my legs spread in front of me. 'If it was the flu I just introduced, how bad has it been. The flu can kill in hours, right? It killed millions in what was it... 1917 or 1918 maybe.'
It took a few minutes to get the worry and panic under control. Then I started laughing. "Well, wherever I am, things have changed. I wonder if it is just the castle or if the disease has spread beyond it. At least it wasn't smallpox, right? God above, could you imagine."
I kept talking to myself. It quickly went from trying to calm myself down to waging imaginary wars in all the different worlds I found myself in, to different random moments with the cast of characters from serious to played for laughs and ended with my falling asleep in the corner of the forge.