Back when I died, I didn’t go to heaven. Naturally once I was dead and saw no sign of either angels or pearly gates, I found myself sweating.
I hadn’t been a bad man; I was nice to the elderly, paid my taxes on time, was generally courteous and polite to most people I met. I even gave to charity on occasion.
But I hadn’t been a good man either… with various flaws of character that… I will not be mentioned here.
For I feel that those flaws have been spoken about enough in various court mandated counselling sessions, that track from my somewhat unfortunate childhood, to my relatively more healthy but still far from perfect, late-adolescence
Thus it was to my great relief when I didn’t find myself seeing horned red men and lakes of fire either.
Instead, I found myself in a place of black. A realm that was cold like the deepest sea. A place lit by a massive pale red moon that hung low enough that it almost felt like I could reach up and touch it.
My only company in that place was myself.
By that, I don’t mean I was alone. No, on the contrary there was a great multitude present, enough to populate a large country.
A great multitude of “me’s”
An army of me’s all wearing different sorts of cosplay. Dressed in all manners of uniforms and gear. Armed with many, many, painful looking various tools and accoutrements.
Row after row, man after man, they gathered. All of them bearing the same awkward height, dark brown skin and shaggy, nigh-uncombable hair.
Even the ones that “weren’t” human, still managed to look like me. It was uncanny. Whether dog, or cat, or fish, or betentacled hill-sized jellyfish creature, they all were still very clearly me.
Maybe it was something the exhausted, dead fish, look they all had in their eyes.
In any case. Before I could even start to ask what was going on, they set upon me.
Those first five hundred years in the real world were extended to five hundred thousand years in the place of black and cold.
I suffered, quite miserably through all of it. Getting poked and prodded and diced and minced. I’d never considered myself the self-loathing sort but I have to say I was beaten quite thoroughly. If I didn’t hate myself, I certainly hate “me” now.
Sometimes they’d use magic. Burning me. Freezing me. Shocking me. Making me explode.
Occasionally various versions of smoke monster-me and jellyfish squid-me would take turns forcing feeding themselves to me. Forcing their way into all my orifices. All my orifices.
Other times I would be buried in molten metal or drown in acid.
These weren’t even the worst of my experiences in that place. I shall be kind to both of us and spare you those…
All the same it amounted to a not inconsiderable amount of pain and mental duress.
The worst times would be when no one touched me and I was simply left alone beneath a moonless sky to relive everything and the loss of my life and world, in the darkness.
It was only sometime near the beginning of the six hundredth year that one of my alternate selves would even bother trying to explain what was happening.
“Why?!” I moaned, for the millionth time.
“… To toughen you up… you great numpty.” said a camouflage uniformed me. Speaking for the first time in a subjective eternity.
“….. What?!” I said, dully breathing. My breath labored and ragged. My body aching from all the new bullet holes the army sergeant-me had shot into me.
“Status?” said the other me.
“What?” said I.
“Use the [Status] spell.” said the other. Speaking the word in what I recognized as part of the runic tongue of modern magic, except different.
A new twist on the odd bits of harmless, puzzling magic that many children on Agartha learned to use by age five and grew bored with by the time they were six.
I used the spell, hoping that it would stop the other me from continuing to hurt me.
I’d never been able to use much magic before, in the old world, in Agartha, but somehow here, in that bleak darkness, it worked.
A window appeared, its bare bones diagnostic aesthetic looking like an internet pop up on a very shady site.
|Race:||N / A|
|Affinities:||Time, Light, Life|
|Abilities:||Ruin & Restoration, Auto Recovery|
|Vice:||Lust, Wrath, Greed|
It was a menu both like and unlike, what one would see in a game. Looking at it, I couldn’t help thinking of the games I’d play on the weekends when my girlfriend and I didn’t have anything planned.
Or whenever she got mad at me again, for either being too distant, or for not listening about…. something or the other… and I was left to my own devices.
I found myself feeling unsatisfied by the teasing resemblance. There were some stats that were present and others that were missing or turned strange.
Unsure what to make of it, I looked to my doppelgänger for answers.
“Um… what is this?”
“Proof that you’re not ready yet. You’re close but not quite there yet.” said the other me.
“Ready? Ready for what? What are you talking about?” said I.
“Ready for the waking world. This dream will soon end and when it is over the world will be very different from how you remember it. How “we” remembered it..” said the other me.
I had no clue what “I” was talking about, I was still mostly just talking for the sake of keeping him from shooting me some more.
Unfortunately this plan would be foiled. As the window faded from my view he resumed shooting me.
When the drill sergeant was done shooting, out came a knight to hack me into pieces. When the knight was done, out came a mad scientist type with a metal gorilla to mash me into putty. When the scientist was done the outcome a living tree to fill me with ivy and more unpleasant memories.
I begged and pleaded and howled, lamenting my fate. Then finally for the second time I got an answer.
“Will you shut the hell up already?! Who the hell do you think we’re doing this for?” snapped a gloomy-me that was all skin and bone. Scourging me with a ghastly black whip.
“Huh?! What do you mean? Why are you doing this?!”
Till then, I had been a normal man, who’d led a normal life. As such I held no strong grudges, and no enemies who would or could arrange to torment me in the afterlife.
(Assuming I’d ever believed for a second that such a thing would be possible of course…)
“Do you seriously not remember?” said skeleton-me.
“He probably doesn’t. It wouldn’t be too strange if that was the case.” said a me who walked in with a rust metal trapezoid for a head and a great knife in his massive arms.
“What do you mean?” said Skeleton-me.
“This version of us hasn’t finished initializing yet. He isn’t connected to the network. He doesn’t even have access to the archive yet.” said metalhead-me.
“Oh, wait so you mean he’s still only seeing time with mundy eyes?” said skeleton-me.
“Yes, he can only see forwards and backwards, not the sides or angles, or the possibilities.”
“Really!? Cor… No wonder, his future-self told us to break him in. He’ll definitely get eaten at this rate.” said skeleton-me.
“True.” said Metalhead-me.
As I was currently experiencing some of the worst pain I’d ever felt in both my life and afterlife by mashed into pieces and then forced to heal. Pulled apart and then smushed back together like clay. It shouldn’t be too unreasonably to believe I did a terrible job of following along with their conversation.
I sort of zoned out for a century or two. I’d scream a bit, pass out a bit. Soil myself then lapse into consciousness. Then someone with my face would wake me up again and the cycle would be restarted anew.
It was only near the of things when I’d finally get answers, and like most true maturations, it would dawn on me when I’d least expect it. The answers coming to me, bit by bit, till finally one day I suddenly opened a purpled, swollen eye and realized that I knew what was happening.
Looking in the corner of the bleak, black room, standing out of the light of the pale red moon, was yet another me. But this me was well more “me” than the others were. Dressed like I dressed. Looking just slightly older.
Our eyes met as whichever me that was currently torturing me shouted that I should check my status again.
I complied and as I saw my renewed status I understood. I understood everything.
|Affinities:||Time, Space, Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Metal, Light, Darkness, Life, Illusion|
|Abilities:||Ruin & Restoration, Greater Auto Recovery(Passive), Impermanence & Eternity, Mercurial Flesh(Passive), Indomitable Physique(Passive), All-
Consuming(Passive), TPO (Passive), Ambrosial Tongue (Passive)
|Vice:||Lust, Wrath, Greed|
My race was changed, a very, very distant part of me was disappointed to see that I was apparently not human any more. Though considering all that I’d gone through, it was to be expected that my nature would change.
They’d beaten “talent” into me. Drastically increasing my ability to increase my attainments with each level.
As for what attainments were, they were the simplification of all the traditional stats in a game. Body was all the physical traits. Mind was mental traits, plus magic. Soul was magic, plus luck and charisma.
The system of spells, that created the status menu couldn’t just boil down a person to numbers. The numbers would fluctuate too much, changing with time, health, wakefulness and myriad other conditions.
Attainments covered all the expected ranges and potentials of an individual and then went a step further by allowing easy, magically modulated growth through use of the leveling system.
A gift that had apparently been bestowed to the surviving people of Agartha shortly after the world was purged by the nuclear fires.
Each point of talent invested in one of the categories of attainment meant a level’s worth of growth for that category.
The attainment system was a privilege given to immortals. I wasn’t entirely certain why they were getting special treatment. The most I could gather, was that it was it important that immortals be strong.
My omniscience was picking up something about the undying portion of the population being responsible for folding the sky. Acting as pillars, or anchors to keep the world from falling apart and being consumed by rampant magics.
According to, “the archive”, for regular folk, talent just decided one’s growth per level. In my case that meant each level of growth from me brought a thirty-five percent increase in my capabilities.
Along with the loss of my humanity, and the increase in my talent I’d gained a title, partially-omniscient. A title that meant exactly what it sounded like and was the cause for my sudden understanding.
I wasn’t all knowing but I was all learning, the breadth of my knowledge ever expanding, growing with each minute and each second of every day. The base of my knowledge honing itself like a self-sharpening blade.
Rather than relying on what I saw with my eyes, or heard with my ears, my mind pulled knowledge from the ether. Using the akashic stream, the background recordings of all of existence, in much the same way a younger me used to use to the internet.
It was like my brain was a beleaguered phd student, working on its thesis on the grand totality of everything. As in everything under the sun, or should I say, the moon.
Besides my new learnedness there was a whole bunch of new abilities and traits. Besides simply being tough, or indomitable, my flesh was now extremely adaptable. Anything that hurt me once, wouldn’t get to do do so twice.
My magical affinities went up, encompassing all the elements including that of dreams and illusions. I had a bunch of new tricks up my sleeves, an ability to destroy, and an ability to create. An ability to ruin and an ability to recover.
Beyond the magic, there were practical abilities that I’d picked. Plain skills.
My torturers…I mean, my trainers, didn’t always one-sidedly assault me. Sometimes they let me fight back. Sometimes they let me run. Sometimes they let me hide.
They always got me in the end, but I got good at running and fighting and hiding.
This whole hellish experience had been for a purpose. It had been done with the intent of making me stronger.
I knew this. I knew it as sure as I knew that in a few years, I’d string several of my alternates in the multi-verse into the task of whipping my current self into shape.
Right now I was in much too much pain to actually appreciate it, but there was a streak of cold, discomfort that ran through my core as I realized that it was all very necessary.
As much as I hated to admit it, in the waking world, oppurtunities like this would scarce. Managing to attain even one ability or special trait, would require a stroke of unbelievable luck. Meaning in a certain sense all this pain was actually my good fortune. An opportunity someone who was either very desperate or very stupid would kill for.
And sad as I was to say it, I or at least the future me, had probably felt and been and exactly that desperate and stupid.
I would soon be returning to the world of the living, but the Agartha I’d be returning to would be one that was filled with all sorts of monsters, devils and undying dangers.
A world full of beings and personalities that could and would go out of their way to ensnare a vulnerable young immortal like myself.
If I wanted a chance at having anything even remotely resembling a normal, peaceful, life, all the suffering I’d gone through during this my first respawn, had had to happen.
I’d need to get stronger if I didn’t want to get a game over right off the cuff.
The improvement the other “me’s” had made was still far from enough to ensure my safety. All it was a very, very good start.
I’d need more strength to continue living, and to keep from being tossed about in the stormy world above. And knowing both my present and future-selves, if I could cheat to make that strength superlative I would certainly do so.