CHAPTER 2: WELCOME TO THE GAME
A/N: Apologies to all the readers who have already gone through Chapter 2, but I've decided to change it up a bit. I was reading through what I had already written and I found that I didn't like the system I had created, and so I was going to change it up a bit. This chapter and the one to come will reflect this 'new' system I'm using. Not much has changed in the internal character development, but there are major differences in the Gaming and the Plot sections of this story. I do hope you all enjoy it.
TL;DR: If you're an old reader, at least read the second part of the chapter, starting from the end of the character creation/tutorial.
I groaned, my eyelids fluttering open slowly as I took in the sight before me. I lay still, waiting for my other senses - smell, touch, taste and hearing - to gradually return to my body. The first thing I noticed was the bright, open sky, and the sun glaring down on my person.
Wearily, I closed my eyes and tried to take count of my current situation. I was lying down on something soft, and a fresh breeze was hitting my skin, carrying the scent of honeysuckle. My surroundings were also quiet, with only the soft rustling of trees disturbing my rest. A gentle warmth lay over my body, most likely the sunlight. I was most likely in a forest clearing, of all places. All in all, it was an idyllic clump of sensations.
I sighed and sat up stiffly, still trying to force my eyes open for what must've been the hundredth time in a minute. It was a real shame I was so utterly convinced I wasn't dreaming because I really could've done without the raging headache currently pounding behind my temple.
Though, if it wasn't for the headache, I might've mistaken the soft surface beneath me for a bed, and my headache for a side-effect from simply waking up abruptly.
But no, I was pretty sure I was wide awake.
Of course, the bright, glowing words in front of me didn't leave much room for argument.
Welcome to the Game!
Current Server: Planet Earth!
General world knowledge has been retained from your past mortal experience. All personal memories and emotions have been wiped to ensure an easy, flawless transition.
"What the fuck?" I groaned, still a bit out of it. "Why am I staring at a screen? What does welcome to the game mean? And who the fuck took my memories? Who gave them the right to do that!?" I tried to stand up, cursing all the while, my mind now fully awake and racing furiously to process the sight before me; a giant, floating, blue holographic text-box of doom.
Suddenly, another box pinged! into existence. I swiped away the old one to glare at the newcomer. My eyes went wide at the words before me.
Forces beyond your comprehension.
I glared at the screen a bit longer, unrelenting, until a follow-up message appeared which answered my last question regarding—
Besides, rights are a mortal concept.
"Well, that's just fantastic, innit?" I muttered sarcastically. The nearly-sentient screen ignored my snark, choosing instead to ping up another mockingly cheerful notification.
Now that the introductions have finished, please proceed onto the character creation screen.
I stared at the screen in horror.
"Character? What the fuck does that mean?"
Why is it telling me to create a character…?
No, wait. Hold up. Hold the fuck up.
Why was this system greeting me into a game, to begin with? And what did it mean by 'a mortal concept'?
I was pretty sure by now that this wasn't a regular occurrence with the recently deceased.
You are, of course, correct. Now, onto your character creation.
"Is this some kind of game?" I said, half-joking, half-pleading for answers. Fully freaked out, though.
'Fucking pricks,' I cursed inwardly, though if the system could read my thoughts, it didn't show any reaction to it. Instead, the same message returned, though this time it carried significantly more weight to it:
Please fill in the following blanks with your desired information. Remember! All of your choices will have some degree of impact in the future.
"Great," I mutter. "That didn't sound reassuring at all. Now, let me see just what insanity is being thrown at me this time?"
Section 1. Choose Your Pantheon
Hint: As a player of the game, you are now inherently connected to the supernatural and the divine. Because of this, you must further define what type of divinity you have a connection to. Please, select one of the available pantheons.
I blinked once. Okay, so this was happening? I blinked again for good measure. The screen remained there, mockingly, as if rubbing it in that yes, this is happening. I sighed and tried to review what I knew about the pantheons above. The system did say that I had retained general world knowledge, but it seemed that only applied to the bits I learned while living. Shame.
Alright. The system did say I would be 'playing' on Planet Earth, but I wasn't too confident in this whole thing maintaining any semblance of normalcy to what I knew Planet Earth to be like, so I needed to make an informed decision.
Biblical. I do know that I was raised under Christian teachings in my past life as a child, and the system has allowed me to keep knowledge of those lessons, meaning that I'm probably very well equipped to deal with anything that might be thrown at me from that... pantheon? It's not even a - never mind.
Disregarding the warped classifications… while it would be a safe option, I don't resonate with it too much. I feel the need to do something different.
Shinto. Celtic. I knew next to nothing about the Shinto pantheon, and only recall a smattering of references to the Celts, so that left the others to choose from.
Egyptian. I mulled it over silently, before shaking my head. No, it didn't sound like a good idea. I only knew a few names and myths, and none of them enough to help me in any capacity. And considering the game warned me my choice would be important in the future, I want to make sure to pick the best option, especially if I am later going to be tested on my knowledge.
Norse would be slightly easier to manage, though I disliked the idea of how little information there existed about some of the myths. It was probably best if I put that one to the side. That, and considering most of the cool stuff happened either outside of Midgard or after you died… yeah, no. If I was getting a second chance, I wanted to spend my time alive and on Earth, thank you very much.
Roman. I mean, yeah, kinda? They were cool, in some ways, but also kinda lame and too boring. Too strict with the whole respect and authority. Not to mention they were kind of a knock-off of another Pantheon. And Latin? I knew a good amount of Spanish and Portuguese growing up, but I doubt I'd be able to work with Latin. No, that was a pass.
So, that left… Greek.
Huh. Yeah, I guess. That worked. I knew that one the best, at least. Even though a lot of the stuff they did in the myths were disgusting and cruel, they weren't all evil. I knew what things to avoid, too. Mostly. Yeah, Greek sounded like the best option right now. Now, how do I do this?
I reached out with my finger and tentatively selected the Greek Pantheon option.
Congratulations! Excellent Choice! Amazing! Now, onto the next section.
Section 2: Race.
Hint: "Race is a descriptor used to describe the various sapient species that exist on Earth. As a player, you may choose to become one of these creatures when creating your character. You may also encounter them throughout the world as other players."
Please select one of the available Greek races:
I sighed, rubbing my temple vigorously. "What... what the fuck?"
Okay, I thought. I can get through this. It's just a videogame. I've played plenty of videogames before. Easy.
Granted, I don't remember playing them, but I know that I have. So, I just have to treat it like one of those.
Now, the options could easily be categorized into 'Human', 'Not-Quite-Human' and 'Clearly-Not-Human'.
Honestly, it was a bit of an easy choice here. I didn't want to be a Cyclops or a Harpy because that never ends well. If other players exist in this world - and I assume they do from the system's hints - then becoming a monster from Greek mythology is not the way to go. I do want to live my life in relative comfort, and not get hunted just for showing my mug around. That would fucking suck. Now, because of that, other options like Centaur and Satyr are also out of the picture. I just can't imagine living in the middle of a city with half of my person looking like an animal. That wouldn't be comfortable in any sense of the word.
So that leaves it between Human, Nymph and Demigod.
Now, I know the logical choice would be to go 'Human' because I'm already used to it, but this is a game, right? A human's bound to be weak - weaker than anything else out there. Plus, there's also the fact that I've already lived one life as a human. I should be trying something new. So I disregarded that.
After careful consideration, I disregarded Nymph too. I wasn't too sure on how Greek Nymphs lived, and I didn't want to spend my entire existence tethered to a single body of water or a tree just because of an uncertain choice.
That left me with Demigod.
Either way, from what I can gather, the Demigod option should allow me to at least resemble a human, but still, have the inherent strength and abilities required to survive in a world filled with monsters. At least, that's what being a Demigod usually means. So, it seems like the best choice.
I reach out and gingerly press my finger against the blue floating screen, careful not to select the other options by mistake - I don't know if I can go back and change anything, so mistakes are not allowed.
Excellent Choice! Now, choose your divine parent! This essentially functions as a 'Sub-Race'.
My eye twitched and I nearly choked as I read the text box hovering in front of me before I reminded myself that this was all a 'game'. But still, it was letting me choose? I was still holding on to the hope that this was all just a dream, though I knew my subconscious could never dream up something this insane on its own.
Meekly, I swiped aside the mockingly bright notification to find the select page.
Random Select (The system chooses who your godly parent is, but all locked choices are now unlocked and available. Warning! These options are locked so that the universe can remain intact. Selecting this option may cause deviance in the natural order.)
Well, shit. I had no idea what was going on.
"What natural order?" I asked, already dreading the answer.
Thankfully, a screen pinged! up. It turns out the system could be helpful. Sometimes. (Not really)
Planet Earth is teeming with divine intervention that mimics mortality, though most of it is invisible to human eyes. However, just as the mortals have laws, the gods also have rules and regulations they must follow. Some of the above options are directly against the current natural order, meaning selecting them might cause unnecessary problems.
You might think this dismissable but remember: this world is very much real, and not fictional at all. While other people might not be players, they are still alive. Even though everything looks like a game to you, this is only an interface to ease you into the situation. You can very much get hurt, and there is a high probability of painful death in your future.
Well, that officially sucked. It did. A lot.
"Why am I here? Why me?" I muttered, still reeling at the fact that I was getting a straight answer for once.
You have been thrown into another world and your eyes have been opened, player. Much is at stake, and we worry that the efforts already put in place by this world's beings won't be enough to combat the trials ahead.
Now, choose your future, young player, but remember that even if this looks like a game, it is still your second chance at life; very likely your last chance, too. Trust us, it will be very hard to get another one. Make us proud, player.
This system looked like it wasn't a construct at all. It looked like it was getting progressively more human over time. I scrutinized the language the message was written with. It seemed almost personal. A warning, perhaps? Whatever it was, it looked like whoever was behind the system wasn't alone. "We" and "us" cemented that fact very clearly in my brain.
Well, if that was the case - the fate of the entire world being hoisted on my shoulders - then I needed to pull out the big guns, right? And that meant choosing my divine parents carefully.
I had to analyse my situation very carefully.
If I compared my situation to that of the myths, then I had to be careful about my choices, because picking certain parents would paint a huge target on my back, even If the power boost alone would be worth it.
Selecting one of the elder gods was the best choice if I wanted to succeed. Of the ones available, that meant either Aphrodite, who was the daughter of Uranus, or Demeter, one of the Kronides. Even though I've never heard (or read) of her children doing much, Demeter was a secure choice power-wise (I didn't want to go through with Aphrodite, to be honest).
But… there was that random option, and it opened up another few avenues.
I could end up with Poseidon, Zeus or Hades as a father, and while that would probably attract an absurd amount of monsters to me (if I was following the right source material), I would be able to get better involved in the fate of the world, considering I'd probably be the choice for a couple of prophecies. The only problem would be their wives, who would undoubtedly not like me. And that was very bad. I did not need Hera on my ass just for being born.
On the other hand, if any of the other locked optionsIts, Hera or Hestia - were chosen, then the firstborn rule would be in place, and that was something absurdly powerful. The firstborn of any deity was bound to be powerful, considering it was one of the base rules of divine inheritance.
Adding to the fact that I would be at least their first demigod (in Hera's case) that probably warranted a power boost. If not, then I was the first child ever, and that was big news.
Concluding, I shrugged. 'Why not,' I thought. 'Even if there's deviance in the natural order caused by my birth, I know enough to get by.'
All in all, the Random Select opened up some pretty good options, and it wasn't like it wouldn't be obvious whose child I was until after a year or two of observation. After all, I'd be drawn to or excel at something related to my parent's domains, right? I rolled my shoulders in preparation and pressed the randomizer extraordinaire with gusto.
A second passed.
I blacked out.
Groggily, when I came to, I was - again - lying down on the grass surface in the middle of the serene forest clearing, with only a large floating blue screen for company. But this time, it carried the cheery note of a task's completion. I groaned and forced my eyes to look at the 'loading screen' in front of me.
Selecting a parent…
Godly parent selected! Now
Now, please continue onto Section 3.
Section 3: Description.
Please enter your preferred biographical and physical information (when allowed) while we analyse and prepare the rest of your character sheet.
I rolled my eyes at the screen, even though I was currently nursing another headache from waking up. As for my name…
I decided to leave it blank. I didn't remember anything important about my past life, so that venue was out. I also didn't want to pick some famous Greek name like Achilles or Heracles in the off chance that I upset some deities through 'favouritism' or something petty like that. This way, I could honestly say I didn't choose my name, even though they had power. Maybe the fact that I left it blank was symbolic, in a manner. I was starting with a blank slate.
I snorted, shaking my head. If I didn't like the name, I could always get it changed later. I nodded, swiping the screen in front of me to the side, signalling to the system that I wanted a random choice.
I furrowed my eyebrows at all the locked options before reaching the only one I could edit;
At least, I think I am.
I shrugged, filling the prompt in with the correct symbol.
Personality Traits: [LOCKED]
"Wait!" I call, holding my hands up at the screen pleadingly. "Is that it? Why don't I get to choose anything else?"
Normally, a player would get the chance to define much more: physical features; dispositions; personality traits and more. Fortunately, the divine power you inherited forcibly selects most of these traits for you.
"Fortunately!?" I croak out, staring at personality traits. "I'm getting brainwashed!?"
Of course. Now, refer to your finalized character page. Your stats have already been distributed optimally.
I swiped away the notification and stared at the new and (hopefully improved) me.
Name: James Herth.
Level 1 [0/100]
[HP] - 33/33
[STR] - 18
[CON] - 14
[DEX] - 9
[INT] - 7
[WIS] - 12
[CHA] - 14
[LUK] - 4
Stat Points - 0
Ability Points - 0
Money - 0$ / 0D
Hint: To bring this page up again simply say "Character".
'Alright,' I assured myself. 'You can do this.' I took another look at the screen in front of me. It looked just like any other regular RPG character screen. I could work with this. No biggie.
It listed my name, gender and age - which I ignored, for now, because I didn't want to understand how that worked.
HP was my health points, which was a little obvious, and it was followed by all the six basic stats any RPG character has, though it looked like they were randomly rolled. I also had Luck, for some reason, even though it wasn't really common in games. I guess demigods needed extra luck?
I also found it a little weird that I didn't have any 'mana' points, but I didn't dwell on it too much. There had to be another way to access magic, right? After all, I was about to be thrust into a world of deities, demons, and other divine nuisances.
I gulped and drew in a deep breath. I could do this.
I ignored my name for the most part - it didn't sound too bad, though something felt strange about it. Like it was supposed to mean something. I shrugged the feeling off and refocused on the screen in front of me, which was already fading away slightly.
I turned to look at the new message.
Additionally, use the "Biography" command to bring up the page where your full biographical information is displayed, along with other bits.
The command "Abilities", on the other hand, brings up the page where your abilities are displayed.
I shrugged. Why not?
This page is inaccessible in the tutorial.
"Why did you prompt me, then?"
Stop whining, player.
I sighed. This system was going to be the death of me. No privacy. "Abilities."
Battle-born [MAX]: Your supernatural alertness and keen sense help keep you ready for and alive during battle. As a result, you have been diagnosed by mortals with ADHD.
Grecian [MAX]: Your brain has been "hard-wired" for reading divine Ancient Greek instead of mortal languages. As a result, you have been diagnosed by mortals with Dyslexia.
Linguist [Lv 4]: You can speak English, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek fluently, having learned English, Spanish and Portuguese in your past life, and knowing Greek naturally because of being a Greek demigod.
Superhuman Health [Lv 1]: You are exceptionally healthy. You've never been ill, suffered from poor hygiene or been bedridden. You have a 5% chance of negating the effects of disease or poison.
Superhuman Durability [Lv 1]: You can take a greater beating than most, and any injury thought to be fatal is but a flesh wound to you. As a result, previously mortal wounds only reduce you to 1 hit point instead.
Superhuman Strength [Lv 1]: You are considerably stronger than most, and can carry great weights and quickly move around while encumbered. As a result, your Strength score increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.
Superhuman Endurance [Lv 1] You are naturally acclimated to high altitudes and extreme environments. Your Constitution score increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.
Superhuman Composition [Lv 1] You can endure a limited amount of additional godly energy within your body. Permits for the consumption of small amounts of ambrosia and nectar. Allows you to receive one additional godly blessing without danger of combustion. Your hit points maximum increases by 10, and it increases by 2 every time you gain a level.
Superhuman Reflexes [Lv 1]: You can dodge incoming projectiles at short distances and deflect blows from supernaturally quick beings. Your Dexterity score increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.
Superhuman Agility [Lv 1]: You can leap large distances, dodge sashes while in armour, and climb up trees in a matter of seconds. Your Agility score increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.
Magic Resistance [Lv 1]: Your strength of will is enough to turn the tides against most magical effects. You have an advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws against magic.
Clear-sighted [MAX]: You can see through the Mist.
Divine Connection [MAX]: Your connection to the divine is strong. You are attuned to divinity at an inherent level. You can sense and differentiate divine power. Creatures with divine connections can sense you are a demigod.
I stared in wonder at the genuinely broken abilities I had. 'Linguist' by itself was already insanely overpowered, and it was the only one I had somewhat earned. The other abilities that existed because of my divine heritage; they only sweetened the deal.
Again, it seemed like a genuinely simple interface. Nothing I couldn't handle.
Then again, if the interface was simple, most likely, the game itself was complex as all hell. Good thinking, that.
You will start the game with the following equipment:
A longsword and a heavy shield
A worn-down shirt and baggy trousers.
A backpack, a bedroll, a mess kit, a tinderbox, 10 torches, 10 days of rations, and a waterskin. The pack also has 50 feet of hempen rope strapped to the side of it.
Warning! Please use the command "Inventory" to add or remove any unequipped items from within your Inventory.
"Alright, cool," I said, noticing that I was getting starter gear. That probably wasn't good though. If I needed so much even at the start of the game, then I was bound to have to stockpile items later on.
I was about to swipe the interface off when the system notified me again. This time, I could only stare in horror at the screen before me.
This is the end of the tutorial and character creation.
Wait, what? What kind of shitty-ass tutorial was this? I got to make, like, two choices and learned how to access a couple of screens, but that's it! I glared at the notification. And don't even get me started on the character creation! I got to choose my name, but that's it? This was fucking bogus.
In a moment you will arrive in your new world. Remember to have fun and relax! It's just a video game… right?
I groaned. This thing was self-aware. And that… that did not bode well for me. At all.
"Fuck!" was the first thing that came out of my mouth as soon as I regained consciousness. "Why the fuck do I keep passing out!"
I sat up, groaning, before looking around. I was in a wide, open clearing of about twenty-five feet in length. The edges of the forest clearing were strangely neat, leading me to believe that this was either a readily-maintained camping site or a magical clearing and that I had been placed here by the system on purpose. I stood up, allowing myself to soak in the sunlight - noon, by the looks of it - before walking around the clearing idly.
It was not long after that the scent of honeysuckle hit me, and I realised that I was in the same damn clearing as last time, and the time before that.
"Ugh," I groaned. "Just great. What do I do now?"
To be honest, I was very much lost. Sure, I knew where north, east, south and west were, but that didn't help me much if I didn't have some clue of where I was.
With that in mind, I strolled over to the edge of the clearing, wondering if the forest would provide some clue - some sense of familiarity in vegetation, at least.
I reached the nearest possible sign: a medium-sized tree no larger than one hundred feet, that carried vertical cracks in its bark, shaped into irregular scaly plates that revealed rough dark brown bark patterns. The tree's leaves were ovate, long and broad with a thinly serrated margin, and the scraped branches gave off the scent of wintergreen.
I snapped my head around, looking frantically for the text-box that was sure to appear - I really could use the system's help right about now. I looked up to find it a little ways above my head, floating beside one of the branches of a neighbouring tree.
Before transporting you to this world, we decided to give you a very useful ability. Initially, like all of your inherent starting skills, it appeared on your screen as [LOCKED], but as you will find, discovering the existence of or using these abilities without prompting (for the first time) will fully unlock them for you. Now, we will offer no more additional help regarding abilities- this was only so you wouldn't be overwhelmed by the game mechanic.
I started at the text-box, reading it carefully before nodding. "Alright," I said. "I understand."
I paused, waiting.
"Are you going to reveal the ability or—?"
"Motherfucker," I swore, though I was also very excited to see what skill I had obtained.
Congratulations, player! You have now unlocked the ability 'Observe'!
Description: Observe is an ability used to find the target's information. Observe develops with continuous usage, but it's capabilities are restricted to targets within your level bracket. If the target's level is too high, then any observed information will simply appear as a (?). If the target does not have a level, then all information is available. This skill is a gift from the system, and it develops through continuous usage.
"Alright, then. Abilities," I called.
I scrolled down to find the newest ability.
Observe [Lvl 1]: It allows you to identify the targets' basic information. What this entails varies on the nature of the intended target - be it a player (name, race, gender, age, level) a monster, (name, species, gender, age, level) an item (attributes, descriptions, classifications) or an environmental object (general information).
"Huh." I stared at the screen for a little while more before calmly swiping my hand and dismissing it. I turned towards the tree I had been inspecting before and touched my hand on its bark. I didn't know if this skill had a range of some sort of targeting method, but I reasoned that this was enough to allow me to focus on one object. "Observe...?"
There was no obnoxious ping! this time, but instead a shimmering mist that seemed to appear out of nowhere. It lasted for but a few seconds, before seemingly compressing itself into readable words, forming a strange see-through text-box of a slightly milkier colour than the rest.
[Enviromental Object]: The black birch (Betula lenta) is a species of birch native to eastern North America, from southern Maine west to southernmost Ontario, and south in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia...
The info-box continued, detailing characteristics, uses, and ecological information, but I disregarded those. I didn't need them.
Grinning widely, I nodded to myself. Ok, so I had already narrowed down more or less where I was in the world. That meant that I had a plan, at least.
According to Observe, the black birch was native to the eastern side of North America - more specifically, the U.S.A.
Meaning, if I wanted to reach some sort of civilization and have a chance at surviving a week into my second life, I had better start moving east towards the ocean, before travelling up or down the coastline till I came across a town or a city.
I took in a deep breath, before looking upwards at the sun, which was already a little ways past noon. Positioning myself facing east, I began walking straight into the forest, already wondering just what lay in store for me inside.
I don't know why, but the walk through the forest didn't seem to take that long at all. I know that realistically, I must've walked a good twenty miles because my legs were killing me, but it felt like a five-minute trek. Of course, I knew that feeling was just my fucked-up perception of time because the sun had gone down quite a bit.
By quite a bit, I mean it was already sunset.
That, and apparently, I had long passed the period of 'comfortable travel', according to the system. A few minutes ago (possibly hours), a notification had pinged! up, notifying me that from that point on (until a period of rest), all the actions I performed that entailed the 'Constitution' skill would count as 'physical training', because I was forcing my body to work under 'extreme physical duress.' Apparently, in this messed-up game, all of the 'training' bonuses weren't instantly added. Unlike other methods of increasing my stats, I had to wait for a period of rest for them to be applied to my total.
After that, I had simply soldiered on with the walking. I couldn't really feel the effect it was having on my body, so I doubted the part about 'extreme physical duress'. But I didn't complain.
I didn't know if it was the system messing with me, or I had just a really lucky starting point, but after a few more minutes of trudging through the forest, I heard a soft lull of conversation and the crackling of a fire. Ecstatic, I let out a holler of joy and sprinted through the forest, dashing between trunks, ducking under leaves and jumping over roots. For a brief moment, I ran alongside a creek, but the next I had leapt over it and sprinted onwards. The crackling of the fireplace grew louder in my ears, and I ran and ran and ran.
After a little while, the somewhat-dense forest gave away to a large, open field. In the distance, I could spot a strange grouping of cabins - twelve, in total - with a large hearth roaring in the middle. I kept on running, never stopping, until I reached the centre of the U formation created by the cabins, and stood in front of a large roaring fireplace almost twenty feet high.
Once I stopped, though, a huge wave of exhaustion hit me like a truck. I was so lethargic that I barely noticed the plethora of teenagers that had sprinted in alongside me, fully armoured and carrying weapons. I barely noticed the fact that they had encircled me, and that I was about to be attacked from behind. I barely noticed the centaur galloping down from the large townhouse in the distance.
I did notice the woman near the fireplace, though. She was side-sitting comfortably, not looking bothered at all by the heat those flames must've been giving off. It was a little strange, because I wasn't, either. I stumbled, approaching the fire wearily, my exhaustion pressing down on me and forcing me to my knees.
I fell, after a moment. My eight-year-old tiny frame couldn't take it, I guess. I sighed, though the actual breath never left my lips. I was much too tired for that.
As the ground approached me, I closed my eyes, fully expecting a mouthful of dirt and ash.
But it never came.
I was pretty sure that I was supposed to have collapsed onto the ground, but something held me up. Two warm, loving arms encircled my tiny figure and picked me up gently before I felt pressed against a warm body. The scent of wood smoke and burnt marshmallows filled my senses and I felt a burst of what must've been divine power - it was nurturing, loving, protecting, and it washed over me like piles of recently-heated blankets. I felt my body shiver blissfully from the feeling before it wracked painfully in a spasm and I let out a sob of pain, barely even noticing the soft ping! of the system.
Instantly, a soothing hand was there, rubbing circles around my back before reaching towards my hair and running slim fingers through it in a motherly, affectionate way. A few tears ran down my cheek at the touch. I didn't know how long, but I suspected it to be a very long time since I had been held like this, which made me wonder if I had a not-so-great childhood in my past life.
I felt whispered words of comfort tickle my ear and I straightened subconsciously.
"Everything will be alright now, little one. Do not fret, my child. I am here."
The voice sounded so natural and warm and soothing and perfect that my mind couldn't stop me from letting out a strangled gasp.
"Mom?" My voice quivered slightly, sounding like the child I undoubtedly was.
"Yes, little one. Do not worry, your mother is here," the voice said, and I felt the speck of hope which had been diminishing throughout the afternoon blossom and erupt throughout my entire being. I sighed, hugging his unknown figure who claimed to be my birth mother even tighter. I didn't ever want to let go. I burrowed my face even deeper into the crook of her neck, my eyes have remained shut ever since I had nearly collapsed on the floor not a minute ago.
After a little while of being held, I felt my mother - for who else could it be? - move across the floor and settle down on some sort of soft surface. A blanket, perhaps. She didn't put me down, though, simply adjusted me on her lap, and I felt her encompassing, protecting presence flutter around me, encasing me in warmth.
I heard muttering between my mother and an older, calm voice. It was deep, so I suspected it to be the voice of that centaur that had approached beforehand. The conversation finished, and I heard the deeper voice call out to the teenagers, but it was too distant for me to understand, even though I was right next to them; I was too tired to make out anything meaningful, and instead slipped into blissful sleep, where all my vision could make out was ever-encompassing darkness of my eyelid, and the faint heat from a burning campfire circled me.
"Sleep, little one. Sleep."
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