Weeks went by, I cooled off, chilled out, found my zen. I decided not to focus on the more troubling implications of the fact that I lived in a world where an absolute nobody like me could suddenly find themselves in possession of enough firepower to have the nations of any proper world threatening to make sanctions.
Once my mood had readjusted itself and I found myself thinking clearly I realized that I’d be remiss to leave such an easily exploitable option for growth on the table. In the end I decided that for now at least, while it was still relatively easy to gather mana and level up, I’d use that route to quickly jack up my level.
Once my level was up in the hundreds where it’d be hard to level up even “if” I erased a city or two I’d go back to doing things the old fashion way. By then this method would more or less be useless anyway. The kind of beings and monsters I’d have to hunt to level up at that point, were beings that might well only be “emotionally” hurt, if their homes were firebombed.
Somehow despite my former distress over destroying one city, I found that my psyche could easily accept the idea of erasing dozens more.
It should have been puzzling, but it really wasn’t, somehow I doubted that my unease was over the destruction of the city. I even doubted that it had anything to do with my worry that I’d accidentally killed a few innocents.
Bafflingly I ended finding that I wasn’t all that worried about “That” particular issue. At some point while I was “sleeping it off” I’d had a nightmare where it turned out that I’d killed millions and was a bit unnerved to find that my primary response had been one embarrassment and annoyance.
I wasn’t repulsed in that dream so much as I’d been flustered. As if I’d been having a dream about coming into work in my pajamas. Or having to deal with a malfunctioning copy machine.
Of course knowing that my mental response to the prospect of massacre was the wrong one, led to me angsting a bit over why my emotional response was so off.
But I eventually got over “that” issue as well. Mostly by forgetting about it, or more specifically, mostly by forgetting to care.
Time passed and this time it “did” actually cure all that ailed me. By the end of my retreat into an inner world made of deep shadow, warped space and like so, so many comforters, I felt like a new man.
Well actually, I felt like a teenager with delusions of having been a middled aged man, who had delusions of having become a billion year old immortal, but actually that was pretty normal for me.
(That whole mind-body connection thing, is a killer.)
Today I went back to being a proper outer-student. Despite my weeks of absence the supervisor didn’t have much to say about it.
I guess that makes sense, we outer-students didn’t have classes and attendance was taken by the number of ,monster cores we collected during our work. My absence was its own punishment, I suppose, since it meant I’d probably fallen a bit in the school rankings.
I didn’t particularly mind that. The Silent Glenn School was next to an enchanted forest after all, read that: Haunted Forest, for the secular folk. There would be always be a little extra work for someone who needed extra credit and didn’t mind the hazard.
Today though, was just a regular day of watching the garden for me. We had our usual scuffle with the demon bugs. Today’s enemy, and if I was hearing it correctly, the enemy we’d been facing for the last few weeks, was ants.
Continuing in this school’s tradition of having to deal with monster-sized insects the ants were also monster sized, ranging from the usual human sized common ants, to the truck-size soliders.
Naturally they all came equipped with the typical ant-scale amplification of strength which meant it was pretty much over for whichever unlucky S.O.B. got caught by one.
While with all us technically being mages, and thus being able to fight at a distance using spells or magic items that shouldn’t have been too much of a problem, the situation had apparently been so dire that the creatures had been able to cut down the student body, by quite a margin. They even took Robbie.
Who is Robbie, you ask? I don’t know, but when Jack and the others in our class told me about it, I could see from their faces they were apparently all hit pretty hard by his passing, so I made sure to look similarly sad.
At the very least, knowing that the age range for us Outer-Class Students was twelve to twenty-five meant that I could feel safe in shaking my head and somberly commenting that, whoever this person was, he had passed too soon.
Had he been older than twenty-five he would have been expelled, sent out to help handle the school’s business in the secular.
In the end the school ended up having to send some inner-student seniors and a few students to deal with the ant problem. It turned out that things had been more dire than we thought and the ants had been built an underground which they were now cheekily trying to expand under the garden and the rest of the Campus City.
Thus the need to send in a few strong mages and a few storage-tanks filled with soul cleansing fire to deal with the issue and several others that the school had been holding off on using actual resources to handle.
What that meant for us outer-students, was that we were pretty much in the clear, the next few days would be a free day.
I currently sat in the cafeteria, my back to a wall, my head bathed in the warm light of a nearby window. In front of me there was a bowl of savory lamb and cabbage stew.
Across from me sat Jacky. Jack Hu, light tan skin, black hair, eyes that were bright with a good, if slightly twisted sense of humor.
There was a slightly Asian cast to his features. He had the look of a fat person who became a skinny person and then filled out some. His body leanly muscular. His face slightly chubby.
He was shorter than I was, but considering that I was already well into six feet after only turning fifteen, just like in my first life, I was assuming that most everyone else I met would be shorter than I was, and Jacky was probably of an average height, if not slightly taller.
He sat with a magazine in his hands, reclining on the bench with a look of lazy boredom.
The same look several others in our class were wearing. “They” were impatient to get back to work, they’d had fun not working for the first few days but now I could see a few were getting restless. They were outer-students, and did the work of outer-students, having lived doing so, for the last two years or so.
If one did a job long enough, it became part of you, part of who and what you were. Being left without, was like suddenly losing some aspect of ones self-definition.
I too would have also liked to get back to work, but for other reasons. I “needed” to work to get my point level up, lest my grades fall below the top twenty-five percentile for the class.
In my opinion the rest of the kids here just didn’t know the beauty of a boring day. The good sort of boring, the stable, non-tense kind, was period where no one was coming to get you, nothing was gunning for you or trying to eat your face.
Such moments were meant to be treasured, for levellers like ourselves, they were frightfully rare things in this world.
“So, bro.” said Jacky.
“Nh…” said I.
“What’s uh, new with you?”
“Mhm….Nothing?” said I.
“Really? No mysterious powers awakening? No interesting scars? No call of destiny? No mutations? Not even a low level VD?” said Jacky.
(The hell? Who the hell has VD these days? Aren’t there spells for that?)
“No….” said I. Wondering not for the first time why I became friends with this person who sitting across from me, wishing ill, and remembering that it was “him” who’d made friends with me. Declaring this at some point while I wasn’t in a state to pay any attention to anything.
“Tch…You boring motherfucker….” he said. Going back to his magazine, which seemed to be fifty percent softcore pornography and fifty percent bad Sorcery advice.
He sighed. Behind us there was some chatter as some girls walked and not just any girls either. The outer-class, inner-class and core or “elite” class, all had a few young ladies that were admired by its young men.
Unlike the core and inner-class idols, the outer-class idols were at least technically in reach for the dreamy eyed brats, so they were well favored, and fiercely fought over behind the scenes.
Jacky was no exception putting down his magazine for a second to stare before realizing that staring was a bad thing. Picking up the magazine and hiding behind it before he remembers exactly what kind of magazine it was. Sitting there, like an old school AI trapped in a logic loop, looking like a lost puppy.
I found it amusing to watch and pointedly ignored the possibility that I’d ever looked that stupid during my first life and first adolescence.
The girls came in and then they left. Then every boy and a few of the girls, all breathed a sigh of relief while wearing wistful looks on their faces.
Jacky turned to me, spinning around and placing both hands on the table.
“You saw that right? Please tell me you saw that?”
“Nh….Saw what? You…making an idiot of yourself?” said I.
The boy blushed.
“No not, that, you see that much every day, you goon. No I was talking about crazy Lisa Black looking right in my direction. What do you say? Do you think I have a shot?” said Jacky.
“I….have no opinion on the matter.” I said.
Sticking with the old by line. My body notwithstanding, as someone whose mental age was in the hundreds if not the hundreds of millions, I didn’t really take interest in the whole crazy.
In my eyes they were all kids and therefore were of zero interest or attraction to me. Plus this soup I was eating was actually pretty good, so I hadn’t really been looking at anything other than Jacky making an idiot of himself.
The boy moaned, the sound equal parts sexual frustration and normal exasperation at my lack of interest in most of the world around me.
Then he got over it, twenty seconds later when he read something in the magazine that got him excited.
“Hey, hey, check this out!” he said. Turning the periodical in my direction.
I looked at it, scanning its contents with my archive.
There was a little semen on this magazine, hidden amongst the creases and the corners of the pages, hidden beneath the usual oils that were included within the average human finger print.
Did Jacky know there was a little semen on this magazine? No…Probably not, the archive was saying that it wasn’t “his” semen. Just who did he borrow this from? Should I say something?
A thousand thoughts went through my head.
“What am I looking at?” was the one that came out through my mouth.
“Huh? Don’t you see it?” said Jacky.
“See what?” said I.
“The picture….the picture, they sent a probe into outer atmosphere to get a picture of the planet.”
I looked at the magazine and saw a sweeping landscape of vibrant, greens, reds and blues. I saw dark clouds that were actually floating islands. I saw deep seas made black by ominous bodies that lay beneath their depths.
Then it clicked.
“It’s not round.” said I.
Jacky smiled, flashing his slightly jagged edged, pearly whites.
“Right, now you’re getting it. It’s not round any more, or at least not perfectly round. It’s like an….”
“Like a huge egg.” I said.
Jacky snapped his fingers.
“Exactly. It’s like a huge egg. The magical and scientific communities have going nuts about this. For the last six hundred years, astronomers have been noticing that there was something wonky happen with the stars, something wonky happening with the planets. Now while we don’t have much proof about the first thing, we can finally be certain about the second one. Or at least you guys can be certain…”
I knew what he was talking about. It had been one of the things the future-me would rant about while he was beating me senseless.
The planet was expanding, it had been doing so for the last few thousand years and would continue doing so till it consumed most of this entire universe. It was something called the wonderland effect.
“So…uh, have ever heard of the Starter Towns, man.” said Jack. Looking slightly uncertain. Speaking with uncharacteristic softness.
I nodded and for some reason he looked surprised, then I remembered that that wasn’t what we “Agarthans” called them. We called them foreigner towns, or stranger settlements.
They were yet another thing the future-me would rant about. It seems as things settled down, and the system grew more stable, the various gods, angels, demons, spirits, fae, and celestials of the council of chaos and order had started looking to benefit from the situation.
What we had here, was a world with infinite real estate, a near infinite supply of magic and divine energy and an automatic means with which to process it.
Thus they were all given allotments. An allowance that permitted them to immigrate a number of beings from their own territories and dominions into this new world.
Some, mainly the gods, fae and the demons, would send their children, descendants, and followers over, as this was the perfect place to raise a force and hone a future generation of young immortals.
There were several gods using Agartha as a promised paradise for their warrior-worshippers. Turning it into a Valhalla of sorts.
Others, mainly the angels and the celestials, would drop in slices of different populations. People from alternate realities. Alternate earths and other places.
Usually it was from worlds that were about to go extinct. Saving a small percentage of the population of those worlds to stop their souls from being lost due to bureaucratic overflow.
The cosmic neutrality of Agartha and the general abundance of land made this world perfect place for settling people in, or hiding them from outer forces. The fact that this world was protected by a very powerful force of neutral “moderators” who’d been set in place to protect the system made it even more so.
As for what the Starter Towns were, they were what the people who monitored the system called the settlements set up for the outsiders.
Like the starter towns set up in online games, they were always relatively safe compared to the rest of the world. And were made up of a territory in which the people within could be acclimatized to both the system and their new reality.
There “were” some limits though, such as the number for how many new levellers could introduction in total and the number for how many new immortals could be made or brought in.
The protection for the starter towns only lasted so long as one stayed in the starter town and was beneath a certain level threshold.
Plus the number of strangers for the entire planet, could never exceed twenty percent of the native Agarthan population.
There were also some limits divine and earthly, that had been put in place to assure that Agartha stayed under Agarthan rule, for the protection of the system.
“Um…what about it?” I said. Trying not to give away exactly how much I knew.
Jacky looked around, looking slightly nervous.
“So, like, my Mom’s, mom, was from a starter town.”
“Huh? Really?” I was actually a bit interested.
“Yeah, she came over from this place called earth. Back then, everyone in the town, thought this world was like some big video game or something.”
“Huh… weird.” said I. Going back to my soup. Feeling that I might have gone too far with that “weird” bit.
I’d actually heard that this was common for several of the alternate earths and other earth-like civilizations. If the guardian angel forces of a world were too busy, or they’d foreseen the possibility of catastrophic loss of a population beyond acceptable margins. They’d install fail safes that immigrate a portion of the people to new bodies in alternate universes.
Alternate universe that would have been introduced beforehand as VR games to speed up the acclimatization process.
“So….” said Jacky.
“So what?” said I.
“Aren’t you gonna ask me about why I didn’t say anything?” said Jacky.
Exploitation of strangers was neither common nor uncommon. The system was fairly rigid about their integration and treatment within the world.
The same powers that be that kept them from being brought in within enough equipment and numbers to possibly take over the world also worked to keep the world’s denizens from taking too much advantage of the strangers in turn.
Which was why slaver bands and even slavery promoting nations that tried to prey on the starter towns tended to come to bad ends.
Still there were always intrigues and there were always tragedies and horrors taking place across this world at any time. Both for the denizens and the strangers. I knew this even without the future-me saying so because the archive was filled with last words, and screams for mercy.
Jacky rolled his eye.
“Whatever man…here I am pouring my heart out and you sitting there eating your soup.”
I shrugged. Idly wafting my hand to send some of the steam from the bowl his way.
“It’s good soup.” I said.
He gave me a flat stare and then he chuckled. Smiling as if whatever that odd bit of seriousness he’d worn before had just been an illusion.
“Motherfucker…Tch!..Now I’m hungry too dammit.” he said.
“Um…er…remember to wash your hands before you eat…”I called after him.
He just snorted.
“Yeah, whatever ‘Mom’.” he called back.