Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_jdzzfoo wrote

Psychohistorical Crisis by Donald Kingsbury

Good Reads ratings: 276

this is a "re-imagining of the world of Isaac Aismov's Foundation series set after the establishment of the Second Empire" from Wikipedia, which is not recognised as canon by the estate, nor intended to be one. with that said, and a warning that the vocabulary is WAY the hell out there and requires you to either eat a dictionary or use context clues every three paragraphs, this is a fantastic read.

quick rundown of the plot: math has gotten to the point that people can use it to predict the future of populations (psychohistory), and after this was used to limit a dark age from 10,000 years down to a mere 1,000 the galaxy has entered a second empire just like the first one. surely this won't have any negative repurcussions? enter the protagonist Eron Osa, a pscholar (psychohistorian that uses data of the past to predict the future) who was sentenced for a crime he can't remember because his computer brain with the crime recorded on it has been taken from him and has basically been reduced to a toddler since he used the machine instead of his wet brain for 90% of his life. the story follows him as he learns to use his feeble human gray matter in tandem with a much less impressive computer than the old one he had as a pscholar, and piece together what the hell he did to deserve getting it taken away.

it's been a few years since i read it, but i remember being blown away by how well the universe and various worlds were described, the cultures Eron wades through on his journey. it focuses much less on the mystery of his crime than the synopsis would have you think, but the answer is eventually brought to light. most of the fun came from trying to figure out what any of the giant words meant, since i was in high school and had never heard of things like psychohistory before this book, and i still haven't had the opportunity to read Foundation ungortunately. a great standalone book all the same.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_jd09l44 wrote

I share a smile with my protégé as they bounce through the door of my home, ready to soak up another lesson in swordplay and bits of wisdom like the sponge of knowledge they were, no doubt about it. I couldn't have chosen a better successor.

Something must have shown on my face, they slowly stop smiling and come to a stop at my kitchen table. "Master? Is something wrong?"

"Depends on how you look at it." I stand and begin walking into the training room. Creaky floorboards and peeling wallpaper line the cramped hallway, as usual my student has to follow behind me. I think of when she was small enough to walk beside me in this hall as I continue, "Today will be your last lesson. It is the same lesson which made me a Master, and when you are ready you'll teach it to some bright eyed student as well."

"What lesson?" Ah, there is a hint of fear in her tone as I open the training room. The wood panel floor is polished with sweat and blood, sanded by countless feet sliding across it in duels. You can smell the age of the leather and plaster, the dust of the stone, but an open window freshens things up. I gaze upon the hundreds of weapons lined up on one side of the room; polearms, swords, clubs, staffs, anything a martial artist could ever wield, and each one worth more than the shabby home they were stored in. "Master?"

"Select your favorite weapon," I order instead of answering, "the one you are most comfortable and skilled with." I take up a longsword and walk to the center of the small arena, soaking in the room for what I know to be the last time. My student takes up a claymore, as I knew she would, and before she can ask again I raise my hand to gently stop her words. "I will explain now, but first: how old do you think I am?"

"40, 43 at most?" she guesses, and I bark out a laugh.

"HA! 43 at most! You are far too kind..." as her's has, now my smile slips away. "Child, I am old, no two ways about it. I have not bothered to keep track exactly, but I am well on my way to 100 years old if I am not already. I have dedicated the entirety of it to learning combat and then teaching it to you. I would like to think I was successful."

She tries to smile at me. "You are a great teacher, Master. I could throw a rock in this room and hit a weapon I know how to wield."

"You could, but martial prowess is not all of life," I say, brow furrowed. "That is what I worry about these days. Not if you are a good fighter, but a balanced warrior. If I helped to sculpt a proper young lady at the same time I was teaching a successor. I cannot measure how well you will live, but I can measure your skill with that blade." I quit staring into the distance and focus on her worried eyes, let the silence hang for a moment.

"... Today, I will die, and you will kill me." Only several years of training stop her from dropping her sword, and even still it is a close thing.

"W-What?!" she breathes out, quiet with shock.

"It is my final lesson, as I said, the same one my Master gave me." I pointed to her sword. "You'll notice that blade is no longer dulled for training, it is as ready to take life as you are."

"I'm not going to kill you! Are you insane?!" I smiled, remembering when I said exactly that to my own Master. She began to shake, sword rattling in her grip. I walked close to give her a hug, shushing her hyperventilation as I pat her back.

"Do not cry," I told her softly, though she did anyway. "I know exactly how painful it feels to be in your shoes, but you must know what it feels like to take life. To feel the weight of a sword for the first time all over again and realize it was heavier than you could have ever imagined. If you are to take any lives throughout your journey, I will not allow the first to be taken in anger and stain you."

"But why does it have to be you?! I have so much more to learn from you! Everything you know will be gone!" She stared at me with a pleading look. I nodded.

"I have taught you the basics and essentials, everything else is experience and knowledge. From this point I would only be a guide, and not a very good one."

"Better a bad guide than none!" She shouts.

"Then I have taught you nothing," I say quietly. I begin walking around her slowly, footsteps scuffing on the aged wood. "I would rather you say that you abandon the sword and all of my teachings before you say that again. Do you think I am heartless, mad, cruel? I thought those same things of my Master, but I found out just how crucial this lesson was later. I learned that death was a last resort in all conflicts, a sad reality when words no longer sufficed. I also found that death can be a mercy, even when we do not want it to be." I held up my sword and looked my reflection in his tired eyes as I stopped in front of my student. "The sword must never be brandished with a clouded mind or ill intent. It is polished and thus a mirror; our actions are reflected back at us, and we will always look back in time and see the ones we have killed in its surface. If you are to regret taking any lives, let mine be the first, last, and only one."

With a sniffle and a steadying breath, my student regained her firm posture. She was grieving like I was already dead. "You're the greatest person I've ever known. I will regret your death more than any other." My smile returned as we took our stances, boots shuffling on rosy wooden planks soaked with blood older than either of us.

"I know, my protégé. I give my blessing on the world you will make for yourself, starting from this humble place. But enough talk; let us start your story and end mine."


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_jcx9onn wrote

Various dignitaries kept watch over the gathering to make sure things went peacefully, a think tank of two different species' first meeting. Several translators were nearby to ensure multiple interpretations were available at any time to limit misunderstanding, a brilliant idea from one of the human interns, as difficult as it is to find humans fluent in all seven Faytrang languages.

The scientists were discussing the different approach to discovering the secrets of the universe they'd both taken, a gaggle of military leaders puffed up their chests in front of each other to show how tough they were (funny how that of all things was one of the first similarities between our cultures), and a few representatives of a couple religious orders were hovering around the two buffet spreads, sampling what cuisine they safely could while recounting the stories and beliefs of their people. One of the Faytrang priests must've gotten bored, because a shout of terrified outrage blew up from near where the engineers had flocked.

"YOU DID WHAT TO CROSS THE GAP OF SPACE?!" was the closest human translators could say had been shouted, sounding like a mix of a kookaburra and thunder. The next one was much easier: "THEY HAVE ENSLAVED FIRE!"

What nobody at the conference had realized before this point was that "fire" had one definition for humans, but Faytrang had several, and besides the shared one they were all of religious significance equivalent to God. It was quickly apparent that something wasn't translating properly, and the dignitaries were struggling to keep everyone calm while things were explained.

"Fire is the creator! The Carer, the Warmer, the Father and Mother, the Beacon!" The priest who said this looked torn between throwing himself out the window and strangling the humans nearest his six clawed hands. "Fire is NOT A TOOL! Fire is... it's sacred!"

One of the engineers was quoted after the meeting as saying, "It was like we told them we'd knocked out God and chained him to a hamster wheel to power our ships because it was easier than bending space, which we kinda did, I guess."

The conference was saved from devolving into a fistfight (which would have been lost badly by the humans) by one of the human priests teaming up with a historian to explain how important fire was to humans in a slightly different way, and being extra careful to exclude the word "tool" or mention of anything close to it from the entire speech.

"Fire was the reason humans became what we are today," the historian began. "You call fire the Carer, the Beacon, the Warmer. For us, fire began as a danger on our world, spreading through forests and plains of grass as unstoppable death. Light striking down from the sky was a source of fire, and our ancestors likely attributed it to the wrath of a god they couldn't comprehend. When the fire passed, however, the things that burned nourished the soil and gave life back to the devastated areas."

The next part was tricky to word, because the Faytrang had only made mention of starting fires for warmth and worship. An archaeologist stepped in with a nervous gulp. "So much as we can tell, because in this time writing did not exist, ancient humans treated fire similarly to the Faytrang, as a powerful entity which gave light and heat. They had learned fear first, and so were wary of being near fire. But they knew that the animals around them feared it more, and tried to learn how they could gain the favor of fire, how to survive with fire.

"They learned that animals burned in the fire were easier to eat and did not give parasites," he continued. "They learned how to burn the plains regularly to lure in their prey with fresh grass. They learned how fire could help them become more than a somewhat intelligent animal. We were less reverential of fire, perhaps, but we respect it just as much for what it has done for us."

"To make no mention of the stories where fire has helped man, or been a way to speak with God," a priest interjected. "I can only speak on the religion I myself have studied and believe, but fire universally appears in every culture that is at least somewhat divine and ancient. Our legends tell how fire has helped man slay monsters, protected us while escaping from grave danger, and taken sacrifices of animals and grain to our gods. Fire is not as revered to us, but do not mistake that we mean disrespect to it."

Just when things were beginning to calm down and conversation was picking back up, one of the Faytrang priests spotted a security guard using a lighter for his cigarette and lost his shit, quickly followed by the rest of the delegation. This is how the war started.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_jaqks3o wrote

I stood stunned as I read the note, and nevously looked over to the dark armor that now held the shine of polished steel instead of 3D printed plastic, and the ridiculously huge sword that leaned against the wall behind it. Somehow it hadn't crushed the wall or the floor it rested on, thank god. The armor was what concerned me the most. Did I want to know what my darkest thoughts really were? I didn't have a goal worth literally tearing myself apart for, but I was dangerously, morbidly curious.

The helmet was in the shape of a skull, before Guts had put it on for the first time. Would it turn into a wolf again, or something else? I didn't necessarily have to do anything strenuous, I could just put it on and sit down. It would turn back into harmless decoration in a few hours anyway, I would only have this one chance to know what it felt like to wear. My curiosity won.

Piece by piece I put on the armor, leather belts snug against my underclothes. Piece by piece, I felt sensation vanish from my body parts. It was like my limbs had vanished even though I was looking at them. The sore back I didn't know I'd been dealing with suddenly didn't hurt, and I sharply reminded myself that it was still there. The gauntlets were next, and then I took a moment to stare into the eyeholes of the skull-like helmet. Everything below my neck was numb, this was the last piece. My heartbeat pounded in my ears as I put the helmet on.

I walked up to the mirror on my closet door. The armor fit like a glove, why wouldn't it? I'd never looked scarier. A voice like wind hissing through grass and whistling through broken glass laughed in my ear, and I frantically looke around for the source.

"Why so jumpy? It's only you here. What, scared of your own shadow?" the voice taunted. I reached for the hemet, voices were NOT a good sign. "Running away? How predictable." I stopped. "Thaaaat's it. I'll only be here for a few hours anyway, right? We can get to know each other before then. Go ahead, ask those burning questions rattling away in your head."

"Fine." I took my hands away from the helmet and sat down. "I know you're some primal part of my psyche, the id if we go by Nietzsche's model."

"Spot on; I'm the lizard brain, the bedrock, the survival instinct, that last little bit of caveman we all push down," the voice agreed. "Surprisingly little divides the common man from a beast. Two missed meals and 24 hours are all that seperate us from the animals."

"If that's the case, it's no wonder why Guts was so dangerous in this thing," I thought aloud. "A life like his, where he shoved down all of the unpleasant things in his life, which was A LOT, and it all ended up where you're sitting."

"Mmhm," it hummed in agreement. "You may not be a Guts, but you shoved some garbage down here too. How about we take a trip down memory lane?" My eyes widened.

"Don't." I said quickly, holding my head in my hands. "Don't say another word."

"So quick to run away at every turn." It sounded like it pitied me, I could easily imagine a shaking head. "It's just your memories, your own history, your thoughts... especially your thoughts. What better therapy could you hope for than speaking directly to the garbage man in your head?" I was silent. I couldn't feel my pulse, but I could tell it was hammering at a mile a minute. Either I face this now or I prove this voice right and keep running away... I covered my eyes with my hands.

"Tell me what I put there." I said quietly. The voice chuckled.

"Heh heh heh, not much by any metric, but enough to bring so much shame to you. Let's get started!"

It listed off every thought I'd ever berated myself for even having. Guilty pleasures I hid behind locked doors, secrets I kept from even close friends, thoughts I had about the people around me, lies I told myself so many times I believed them. I had to constantly remind myself to not use any strength or risk breaking bones and tearing muscle with strength beyond what my body was built for. A few minutes later it ran out of things to say and I sighed in relief.

"So much clutter all aired out at last. Like I said, not much." I nodded. It was painful, but hearing the truth often was, and I could move forward from here. I looked in the mirror again, and did a double take. The helmet had changed from a skull to a face. My face, molded in dark steel. Every bump and tiny scar looked hammered with care into the metal. "You faced your own demons, allowed yourself to hear the truth. Now the inside matches the outside. Now you don't hide behind masks and armor. It's there for everyone to see."

I didn't know if I would be able to tell other people the truth like I had myself, but I could try. It was right: no more masks.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_ja706oj wrote

the prompt was about kids in the afterlife, you signed up for a heartbreak by reading these stories. also yes, it was foul, and i made myself sad too.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_ja6yqi6 wrote

"Heroes!" The booming voice of the titan of a man with glowing eyes seated on a golden throne startled us awake. "I have summoned you here to ask that you save the world I watch over. The laws that bind gods are strict, and I may not lay a finger upon it to enact my will. Thus, I have selected five souls from a different world to act as champions! Souls that would find the task an exhilirating adventure. Rest assured, you shall be greatly rewarded for your hard work, and as a "starting bonus" as I believe you might call it, you may each select the vessel of your souls in this world."

He really couldn't have picked a more eager group. The five of us were about to start a DnD campaign for crying out loud, this was 200 times better than a tabletop game. The other four discussed the repurcussions and implications, then got down to what bodies they wanted. I already knew.

"We are ready," said Roger, our defacto leader since he was a great DM and knew how to wrangle us into an effective team. "When do we start?"

"Right now! Prepare yourselves, and good luck!" The god smiled as golden light and a deafening chime slowly built around us. The adventure ahead of us was going to rock, but I was straining to hold myself back from cackling at the looks on their faces when they saw what I picked. The light and sound faded away, revealing a gorgeous view of rolling hills, forest, mountains, and a city not too far away, all of it beneath a clear blue sky.

Roger was now an elf in grand robes with a fancy looking staff, tall and strong while maintaining that otherworldly grace the tree huggers were known for.

Tracy had picked an orc dressed in pelts that looked like they were skinned from dangerous beasts, two large hatchets on her richly muscled hips that looked like they could split skulls with ease, the weapons and the hips. She did always want to have an amazon physique, guess she saw her chance and took it.

Gus turned himself into a lizardfolk that was even taller than Tracy, but looked like he weighed 1/3rd of what she did. He was a huge fan of dextrous, fast paced characters, and this fit the bill if the ridiculous amount of daggers I could see strapped to his body (and the many I couldn't see but just KNEW he had) were anything to go by, not to mention the rapier.

Amy had become a human cleric in clean white robes with a mace on her belt, a fan of simple builds that helped everyone. Definitely the mom of the party, and our permanent healer.

"Steven... what the hell is that?" Gus hissed out a sigh, knowing how much I liked to come up with wacky homebrew characters. His exasperated reaction made everyone look over to see what bull I'd come up with this time. They all groaned and face palmed.

My huge mouth was pulled up into a savage smile as I began chuckling at them, then flat out guffawing. The base was a giant snake of at least 50 foot length, but everything else was unmistakably dragon. A majestic crown of horns, a glowing belly full of fire, the beautiful armor of deep red scales, and six spanning wings that would take some getting used to but would eventually let me become the master of the blue sky overhead.

"FEAR ME, PUNY MORTALS! TREMBLE AT MY PASSING!" I bellowed with a shit eating grin. I spread my wings wide enough to overshadow the hill we were standing on (laying in my case) and roared into the air to announce my power.

"You jackass!" Roger said. He was fully used to my antics and attempts to shoehorn weird shit into his games. "How do you expect to fit in anywhere, or enter dungeons?! Your fat ass couldn't fit in a barn, let alone a narrow fortress hallway!"

"YOUR WHINING ANGERS ME, ELF," I leered at the mage, showing off my mouth full of very pointy teeth. He was unimpressed. "WORRY NOT; I SHALL DESTROY OUR FOES WHEREVER THEY MAY HIDE. PLUS, YOU ONLY HAVE TO SPLIT THE LOOT FOUR WAYS NOW."

"You're so stupid it hurts, it causes me physical pain." Amy sighed, "That said, having a death wyrm on our side is a tactical bonus we can't ignore, and he's right about the loot. We can also have him carry our gear for us." My eyes narrowed

"I AM NOT A PACK MULE, YOU WILL NOT TREAT ME AS SUCH." Tracy waved off my complaining.

"You turn into a giant beast, you get to carry our shit while we deal with yours. We always try to find some kind of positive to your shenanigans, Steven. This time: pack mule." I groaned, a sound that shook the earth.



Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_ja3tqzv wrote

Mortals think I offer games as a kind of last request. The reason varies: last requests on their end, some misunderstanding that winning will return them to life, or even something as simple as boredom on my part. You may ask how my job could be boring, but that's easy to answer. I have to handle every soul one by one, and time shuffles itself like a deck of cards so that even if two mortals die at exactly the same time they still arrive on my doorstep in order and alone. As soon as I finish preparing and sending off one soul, the next comes through. Thus, the job ends up feeling the same, and I get bored.

Thankfully human games have gotten better over the years, more complex. I've played dice with pirates and Roman militants, cards with western gunslingers and French revolutionaries, chess with countless nobles. Long forgotten games dug up by archaeologists are always a fun classic, and they get so excited to finally learn the rules of ancient board games nobody (frustratingly) ever bothered to write down the rules for. In the most recent age, electronic games with screens and buttons of all shapes and sizes have become popular.

I've been challenged on arcade cabinets that feature fighting tournaments and street racing, console games with both story and mindless fun, and computer games featuring strategy and an unfathomably massive library of mods for every game those inventive programmers can get their hands on.

The most recent soul is another painfully young one, and my ancient heart aches even after guiding so many of them. I offer a comforting smile to the child as I kneel down to get eye-to-eye with him.

"Welcome, child," I start, bowing my head as my smooth baritone voice gently rumbles the ground. Singers frequently challenged me as well and I'd yet to disappoint. "This is a crossroads for the soul, and I am a humble guide. Take as long as you need to get your feet under yourself and be ready to move on. If you would like, we may play a game of your choosing before such a time comes to pass."

"Guess that answers if the surgery went alright or not," the boy said, smiling sadly at me. "There's no way to go back? They'll all be so sad now." I raised my head to look at him.

"Where you tread from this place is not up to me, but none may return whence they came. I am sorry, but one wish of many I cannot grant is to return the life you have lost." The boy thought on this for a moment.

"... Then, could I play a game with you? I had a Minecraft world I was working on, but I never got to finish it." My smile was much easier to wear at this, and I chuckled.

"It would be my pleasure. Let us play and build for a while. Would you prefer with mods or without?" Fate has a funny way of being cruel to the undeserving, but i try my best to make up for it after she takes her due. That boys laughter warmed the walls of my home more than any fire could ever hope to as we dug and built for hours. I hope the path he walks after leaving will be a pleasant one.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_j9tmzui wrote

Despite what many think of the abyss, that unlimited nothing below the world and all thought, I do not fear it. Friedrich Nietzsche is often quoted with that famous saying: "...if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." I asked why such a thing was so terrible. Isn't an abyss simply a lack of everything but yourself? If anything it is a mirror, an echo chamber. At least, that is what I thought. I did look into the abyss, but it did not stop at gazing into me. It reached out with open arms and embraced me.

At the time I had been going through a lot of things: dying grandparents, parents finalizing their divorce, moving into an unfamiliar city to find work. I could tell I was stressed and unhappy, but what was i supposed to do except bear it? A friend espoused the wonders of meditation to me, so I tried it one weekend without any expectations.

That's how I found myself here, tired eyes decorated with bags looking into nothing, and a pair of arms darker than night holding me tenderly. I stood there, if you can call it standing without a floor, for a minute or two, allowing this small comfort to be. Then I realized how long it had been since I had gotten a simple hug. Three years, four? I couldn't tell, but decided it had been too long.

I sighed as my shoulders fell a little bit, making me wonder how long they'd been held up without my knowing. In fact I began to notice my whole body beginning to unwind. How had I not realized how tense I was? The arms rubbed up and down over my spine, gently swaying my body from side to side. I felt every ounce of strain leave me as though some unseen rain had washed it away.

Perhaps it really was raining, I felt water drip from my chin. A thumb gloved in twilight velvet traced from my chin to my eyes, swiping away the water. Oh, I'd begun crying without noticing it apparently. Maybe I had been worse off than I thought, if this was all it took to break the dam. The void simply pat my back, telling me without words that it was alright. I tried to hold back at first, but when I felt no judgement in this moment of vulnerability my attempts to rebuild a wall I didn't remember constructing ended up breaking it down even further.

Tears ran down my face without signs of stopping, my shoulders shook with my sobs. I allowed myself to acknowledge what I'd been pushing down. I missed my family, my dusty little town that I grew up in, my friends who I didn't talk to anymore. I missed my life before it became this scary thing I'd always heard about called "adulthood" that I hadn't realized would one day happen to me until it did. Through it all the abyss held me, and by this point I had wrapped my arms around whatever counted as its back as well. God, how tired I had been, still was.

As they always do my tears eventually dried up and I felt a little better after letting them out. My exhaustion had been replaced with a comfy tiredness, as though the abyss was some pickpocket who'd stolen my problems and left one of those little strawberry candies from my grandma's candy bowl in their place. I felt myself be swept off my feet in slow motion and rest upon a bed of moonlight; though, it must have been a new moon since I couldn't see the covers or pillows. Those arms were still wrapped firmly around me, and I drifted into a sleep deeper than any I'd slept before with the smallest of smiles brightening my face.

I woke up the next morning at peace. My problems still existed, but now felt much less heavy, easier to handle. My apartment, once so empty and dark, now felt inviting and lived-in, as if a friend was just in the other room. I didn't know what to call whatever had comforted me last night in my thanks, so I settled on a wordless feeling of gratitude and a smile with closed eyes in my quiet room. The phantom of warm arms encircled my chest again, a silent "you're welcome" from nothing.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_j9o0jgc wrote

Seeing out of billions of eyes was normal for me, though I somehow knew any other mind would snap under the strain. How would anyone else cope with so much pain? Experiencing death over an over, ending lives over and over? Where an arm that looked as though it had been mulched and glued back together with coagulating, lumpy blood was the barest annoyance hardly worth noticing except for the tactical disadvantage it represented, I experienced more and less than this gruesome injury daily without a twitch. I suppose I'd grown used to not focusing on one body, and using entire platoons of bodies like a stage of meticulously crafted finger puppets.

So why had the sight of a young woman, only seen from two eyes in a single head, stopped several billion hearts at once? How was it that a creature like myself could suddenly find every other view blurred, all objectives moot, each death meaningless, and for the first time ever feel as though i only had a single body. I'd conducted whole battles and micromanaged the precise movements of an entire army, but now found that a single pair of feet weighed several tons, and just one miniscule jaw could no longer close.

I'd seen that color of her gorgeous brown hair before; in fields gardened by artillery and churned by a thousand boots, in the ration bars that tasted ever so slightly sweet and fed a trillion stomachs. Speaking of which, what on earth was that sensation in this one? Was it an urge to vomit? Was I experiencing a heart attack? This uncomfortable fluttering was new, perhaps another thing brought on by this woman.

I had to say something, but what could I say? I'd only ever communicated orders and information with things that were not a part of my army. The finer points, or any points at all, of speaking with someone on friendly terms had been deemed unecessary. I would undoubtedly make a fool of myself, at worst even scare her off.

"Hello, can I help you?" As the non-cloned humans might say: fuck. She'd approached first. For an omnipotent commander to find itself ambushed, what shame!

"I'm not sure," I started, buying time for the brains of my legion to think of SOMETHING to say! Tactics, enemy movements, troop formations-THIS DOESN'T HELP! "I was sweeping the area for combatants when I saw you. Considering the lack of a gun and the fact you're not trying to kill me, I'd say you're a civilian. What are you doing this close to the fight?"

"Oh! You're one of those clone soldiers they talk about in the news!" she said, suddenly excited and curious. She shook herself. "I didn't answer your question, sorry. Yes, i'm a civilian. I'm here looking for something I lost in the evacuation, it's very important to me."

I raised an eyebrow, unknowingly doing the same across hundreds of other faces as I looked at the bombed out streets around us. "Lost here? That might take forever in this rubble, you'd be lucky to not be buried alive in the unstable concrete." Way to be charming Mr. Doom and Gloom. "Since I haven't seen anyone else here so far, I might be able to request some help finding what you're looking for."

"Would you really?! Thank you so much!" She said, smiling from ear to ear. An entire military suddenly found itself blushing at the sight. I couldn't decide which forest green eye to look into. She stuck out a hand to shake. "My name is Daisy, what's yours?" Oh hell, a name? Which one? The serial number of the clone she was speaking to? The name of the project that made me? How the fuck do i put a name for so many stupid assholes into one word? Maybe I'll make something up?

"I'm... Jake," I said, slowly reaching out to shake her hand and probably staring too much. "What are we looking for, Daisy?"

"It's a really old wooden chest, with a brass latch on the front," she said, spreading her hands wide to give an idea of the size. She moved her hands a lot when she talked, I noticed. "It's full of family heirlooms and photos from five generations in my family. It was too big and heavy to take during the evac, but it's too important to leave abandoned. I doubt even a bomb could have destroyed it, that thing was made sturdy."

A squadron of clones came around the corner, startling the both of us. I felt stupid a moment later, feeling like I'd jumped at my own shadow. "Oh wow," Daisy said, looking from one identical face to the next as they approached, "it's different from seeing clones on tv. I imagine it's pretty easy to get along?"

"Something like that," I said, catching myself from using every voice at once. "Where can we start looking?"

"My old apartment is only a couple blocks away, the chest can't have gone too far from there," she said, starting to walk. Her legs looked amazing in jeans, and her boots were sturdy but cute in their own way. "You know, I kind of feel like I'm on a treasure hunt!"

"What does that make me?" I asked. "The pirate captain leading his band of scurvy dogs to a buried chest?" A few clones chuckled at the same time Daisy giggled. Suddenly I had a new favorite sound.

"Maybe," she said teasingly. "Promise to keep me safe from all of these ruffians, Captain?" From firsthand experience, I could say with certainty that an artillery detonation in the face had less of a kick than her words.

"Maybe, but I think you're in good hands," I said, smiling as I followed her.


Jyx_The_Berzer_King t1_j99gzgq wrote

My brain had gone through a process when i came to this world. The shock of being hit by a truck (that old cliche from some very cheesy but decent fantasy anime) and finding out that isekai was actually REAL had forced a reboot on how i viewed reality.

First I froze in shock, only my eyes moving to look at the glowing mushrooms and curious fairies surrounding me in the forest I'd woken up in. Full deer in the headlights mode, my brain desperately trying to prevent my body from doing anything stupid while it reconciled with what was happening. After a few seconds I blinked a few times, then blinked really hard once more just to be sure it wasn't fake.

My sheer stupification in those moments before I'd started my adventure in this world had reached levels I had never experienced on Earth. Of all the things to inspire that exact same feeling in me a second time, a cheap sword in a blacksmith bargain bin would be at the bottom of the list. The language had been an absolute pain to learn in this place, but staring straight in my face was a language i thought I would never see again except for my journal. Plain English, "Made in China."

My party found me still frozen, staring at a trashy sword with (to them) some garbled nonsense stamped near the hilt. The questions in my own head were too loud for me to hear theirs. Had this sword been summoned? Did it fall through a wormhole? Was there, impossibly, another country named China in this world that made cheap stuff and used English? I ignored my party as i grabbed the sword and walked up to the smith to find answers.

"Where did this sword come from?" I asked, my voice sounding mildly curious instead of the whirlwind desperate for answers that it was.

"Ah, that's one of the apprentice swords." he said. "I dunno how it got into the bin over there since they aren't allowed to put 'em up for sale 'til they finish their apprenticeship. I'll take it off ya and put it with the rest in the forge."

"I don't want to buy it, I want to know about this mark," I said, pointing to the stamp. He looked closer at the sword, then looked at me with a cocked eyebrow.

"That mark doesn't mean anything unless you're a blacksmith, and it's more of a joke than anything else. Long time ago a legendary smith named Nii'naj Fortenite used that as a maker's mark, said it meant bad quality in his homeland and figured if his work broke he couldn't be blamed if the people who bought his weapons saw it was labelled as garbage. Sure enough, thousands of copycats made cheap replicas, so the mark became a sign of bad quality. Nowadays apprentices use it to show they're still learning the trade. Are you buying anything else?"

"No, I think I'm fine. You guys can keep browsing if you like, i'm going for a walk," I told my team, heading out the door and wondering what the hell was going on. Had that blacksmith really said that with a straight face? Maybe i was overreacting, some other reincarnator probably had a childish sense of humor. But as i walked by a potion stand that sold flasks of Pepis, I got the feeling it wasn't just one. Maybe I would leave my own insignificant and weird mark on this unknowing world later on as well, an inside joke that only people from my world would ever hope to get.

For now, i walked through the city that suddenly had a few more oddities about it than before I'd walked into the smithy, world view once again put on its head.