Prologue: First Time Log-In Cool CG Action Trailer!
In Medias Res
“Class Change! Sorcerer! Fireball!”
Near-spherical, the spell came into being within the demons’ midst with a gesture and a near-sociopathic laugh. The air was filled with the strange, syrupy-sweet scent of demon blood, which now possessed a disturbing, caramel-like tinge. Arm upraised from the casting, the child with pale hair smiled widely, letting out another laugh. “Fireball!”
Fire flew again.
With the word, sparks of light danced for a moment at a clear spot, spinning and growing denser and more numerous until finally an elephant stood there, tusks perfectly white and gleaming. With a trumpet blast from its trunk, it charged into the fray, ignoring teeth and claws as it slammed into the demons with its much greater bulk, goring and trampling underfoot. Face pale with fear, little brunette gestured wildly at the air again. “Summon!”
A second elephant joined the first in its rampage.
“Liz, weapon!” the dark-haired girl cried.
“Same!” the blond boy called.
The blonde snapped out her hand. “Juan, mats!”
A flicker in the air, and a length of wood and an ingot of steel were in her hands. Her own hands danced in strange gestures, and in a cloud of light wood and metal were gone, replaced by a long, finely crafted spear, it’s point long and sharp and shining. With a toss, the weapon flew through the air into the dark-haired girl’s hands. Another flicker, and another length of wood, another ingot. Another cloud of light, another spear. Another toss.
The spears flashed, drew back and flashed again, quickly coating in pale pink demon blood. Again and again the spears stabbed, each movement true and sure. Though the girl’s hands were surer, smoother, more practiced, the boy’s moved with strength and determination, punching clean through bodies with disproportionate strength.
They fought on, and demons died.
Chapter 01: Character Creation
A month after he’d been abducted while attending an anime convention, Juan Peso lay in bed eating a chocolate peanut butter cup and stared towards the ceiling.
Once upon a time he had been, as the cliché went, a perfectly ordinary high school student, of the sort you could find anywhere, traveling abroad with his parents on a family vacation. In stories, usually of the kind read by self-same ordinary high school student types, that usually meant ‘main character’. Unless they were in a vampire romance novel, in which case it meant ‘victim’, ‘food’ or ‘background nobody’. Possibly all three.
At this point, he was fairly certain he wasn’t in a vampire romance novel, so he was safe on that score.
Idly, he reached off to one side. When his hand came back, it was holding another chocolate peanut butter cup wrapped in gold foil. Not even bothering to look at it, he unwrapped the foil with an easy, practiced motion, rolling the foil into a ball and throwing with a flick over the edge of the bed to his left. There was a crinkling sound as it fell on the pile of foil he’d already thrown there. The paper cup followed as he popped the chocolate peanut butter cup into his mouth and chewed.
Most people probably wouldn’t use the word ‘abducted’ to describe his situation. They’d probably have gone with ‘Chosen One’ or ‘Fated Savior’ or ‘Something Destined’ or ‘Legendary Magic Knights’. ‘Summoned Hero From Another World’ was also fairly popular. ‘Trapped in Another World’ would have been closer in his opinion although it reeked of descriptive inadequacy, as if they’d gotten stuck inside the mall after closing time. These are the sort of people who’d never been kidnapped, had never given the inherent horror of the ascribed scenario any thought, and obviously hadn’t been keeping up with the deconstructive interpretations.
Locally they used ‘Sent By The Gods’, or ‘Godsent’, which pretty much tells you everything you needed to know about what they thought of the matter. Juan still hadn’t gotten a handle on how corrupt established religious authority was around here.
As to the locality…
Finishing the chocolate peanut butter cup, he sighed and levered himself upright on the bed, reaching over to the side and pulling a golden goblet towards him. It was filled with ice water, with a couple of ice cubes floating in it. Washing it all down, he negligently tossed the goblet, ice and all, in the same general direction as the foil wrapper. There was a ringing clatter as it fell on top of the many, many goblets that had gone that way previously. Sighing, he lay back down, reaching over to the side for a silvery tablet. By now he’d already read most of the ebooks he liked at least once and was about halfway through the stock he’d liked the description and gotten but had never actually read, which was considerable. A month with, when you got right down to it, nothing to do and no reason to look for any could push you to great extremes of boredom. The clock along the top of the tablet read that it was eight in the evening. His wristwatch said it was closer to midnight. The midmorning sun outside his arched stone window said both were lying. As far as he could make out, this place seemed to have a day that was somewhere between 23 and 23 and a half hours long, if that day he’d timed the sunset was any indicator.
This hadn’t been a result of faulty timekeeping devices of haphazard time setting on his part. It was a natural consequence of having suddenly been summoned to another world against his will and without his knowledge.
Summoned to another world. It was a familiar concept, having been a prominent part of the anime of his childhood, the pulpy fantasy literature of his pre-pubescence, and the translated light novels of his current adolescence, among other things. Where the magical, yet struggling kingdom or even just a lone wizard or other comely female main character for some reason thought it was a good idea to just reach into another world, have a random rummage around, and yank back the first person that came to hand, believing said random person for some reason would be able to accomplish something far more motivated and desperate local people hadn’t been able to against a seemingly hopeless and insurmountable problem. The phrase ‘Demon Lord’ tended to show up a lot in such works. So did ‘The End Of The World’.
As with all right thinking people, even the ones who wrote really bad self-insert fanfics, Juan had always put this down to being just another stock fiction scenario, somewhere far above ‘a highly brief and non-mutating, gender-specific plague has killed all the males in an isolated jungle village and we need you, male main character, to get all the surviving women pregnant to continue our people’ and somewhere slightly below ‘giant robots, saving the world with’. Juan no longer had the luxury to do that now. It had gone from stock fiction scenario to being the synopsis of his day to day life.
The summoning package usually came with magical powers of some sort, which had fortunately been the case in this instance. Many stories tended to be particularly harsh, just dropping the poor summoned everyman hero into the mess with nothing but the clothes on his back, with the only saving grace being a love interest in convenient narrative range, with even odds of them being the ‘comically abusive’ sort. Such things tended to rely on the main character being… well, the main character… to get him to the other end of the book or TV season alive. It was a very bad omen for him that off the top of his head, the only stories (not counting print media, of which he’d only become a purveyor of relatively recently) in the last two decades where the summoned heroes had actually be successful in saving the world could be counted on one hand, involving a trio that had needed to murder the very person who had summoned them, and a track and field athlete who’d mainly provided moral support and ominous prophecies.
If pressed, Juan would not have been able to give a coherent narrative of the events of his arrival. A short, non-informative summary would have been his speed. All he really remembered was the cold, as if he were suddenly several hundred kilometers closer to the poles, and him dressed for a California July. There had been the panicked cries of a little girl calling out in fear. Seven dead bodies, all in their own pools of blood. The indignant protests and demands that, had he been watching the scene on TV, would have had him calling the people making them clueless idiots due to die within the next ten minutes to show how dangerous the situation was.
There had been the sounds of violence, and he had a distinct memory of a little girl tanned skin, Asian features and blonde hair that looked real violently attacking a much taller, metal-armored figure. They’d eventually had to tie the little girl up, since she’d eventually drawn blood (her own) and had knocked two people to the ground and seemed to be trying to grab their own knives so she could stab them. There had been the regal woman with green hair who’d several times tried to begin what sounded like a conciliatory and informative speech only to be interrupted by demands and, in one instance, the little girl slamming both feet hard into someone’s kneecap. He vividly recalled the woman making an ‘oh, I give up, let’s get a move on’ gesture though, foreign and unfamiliar as it was. It had the same air of annoyed resignation.
The journey that followed was a blur of darkness, a really hard, really uncomfortable, really bumpy surface that he bounced and smacked into a lot, and intense, uncomfortable cold. There had been a blanket that smelled intensely of some kind of unfamiliar animal, and he had a distinct recollection of wondering if it was getting shit on him.
It was around that point Juan’s recollections became clearer and more vivid, though given the darkness, there hadn’t been much to see. He knew now that they’d been taken into a walled city, but at the time, the walls had merely been more darkness. There had been too little light to see buildings, and what he’d seen had reminded him of the overcrowded shanty towns back home. Though he knew now that the wood and stone buildings he’d passed had significantly better construction quality and hygiene, at the time he’d wondered if he’d been dragged to Mexico (which was probably cruel to the Mexicans, who no doubt knew about cement).
He’d been pulled out of what he’d later see was a wagon, and hadn’t been roughly manhandled. He’d later concede his treatment his treatment had been gentle but firm. They’d stood him on some sort of stone paving, before bright lights and a cold wind. He remembered feeling grateful someone had gotten him another, thicker blanket, one that didn’t stink. There’d been a guy with a beard. In hindsight, it was a bit reassuring that no one from Game of Thrones immediately came to mind on the sight of him. The explanation he gave for why they were here was, in his considered opinion, a horrible and cliché-ridden plot. Desperate kingdom, rare and powerful magic, invocation of unfamiliar gods of the plural and local variety, ‘you’re our only hope’, etcetera and so on. There were some weird nouns too, but since Juan had a lousy memory for those he promptly forgot them until the next time someone brought them up.
In short, the setting was like something out of a low-action, high-pun 1980’s fantasy novel, and his personal circumstances were something out of a bad self-insert fanfic. Possibly of the sort written by idiots who believed themselves divinely inspired and able to divide by zero.
Apparently, it was a shared sentiment, since the violent little girl swore at the bearded guy and threatened him.
He’d since learned her name was Chloe, and she was rather nice company once pacified with chocolate.
He’d also later learn the bearded guy was named Selash and was the king. It had probably been mentioned the first time around, but given how cold it was, it wasn’t surprising it missed his notice. That and his lifelong problems with remembering names.
There was a polite but perfunctory knock before the door rattled heavily, then swung open, and a tall, pale, dark-haired person made their way in. Sigmund Lien was the kind of person that Juan found vaguely annoying. He had an optimistic, accepting, get-up-and-go personality that seemed terminally unable to take the hint he should get up and go away, leaving the lazy people to their own devices. The kind of person described as ‘a people person’ and was annoyingly solicitous to the point they couldn’t seem to get the hint when you gave monosyllabic answers, trying to draw it out into a conversation. He was also old. Like, had a real job, paid taxes old. Probably almost thirty.
The cold draft from the hallway outside which blew foil and waxed paper all over the floor and under furniture matched the downturn of Juan’s mood at this sudden intrusion. He shivered at the sudden drop in temperature. “Close the damned door, you’re letting all the heat out!” Juan snapped reflexively. In truth, between the braziers at the corners and the small stove under the bed the room was sort of toasty, but he felt like complaining.
“Sorry,” Sigmund said conscientiously enough that Juan immediately felt bad for being unreasonable. He didn’t close the door right away though. “But can you watch Alicia? I’m going to train with Megan.”
A little girl stepped nervously into the room, even though this wasn’t the first time she’d been there. Alicia Cruz was small, kinda chubby, was ten years old but looked eight, and might be a very nice person. Might, because so far she’d been too busy crying and being scared, which Juan thought was a perfectly reasonable reaction to being abducted, but it was starting to wear a little thin. She was always cold too, and was even now bundled up in a heavy blanket, a substantial portion of which dragged on the floor behind her. Sigmund finally shut the door, and Alicia soon began extricating herself from the blanket as the heat began to build up again.
“As long as she picks up after herself,” Juan said, looking pointedly at the blanket. Alicia guiltily began folding it neatly.
Sigmund looked significantly at the sizable pile of golden goblets, the just as sizable though smaller pile of foil and waxed paper, the pile of aluminum cans of various beverages, a stack of dead tablets and a couple of large, empty kettles. “You won’t even notice anything,” Sigmund said blandly.
“Oh, ha-ha,” Juan said. “Elizabeth’s getting all the metal stuff for raw materials, so it’s fine. It’s not like there’s any point in cleaning up after myself. The maids will take care of it.”
“There’s no reason to make it harder for them,” Sigmund said.
“Their government abducted us and we can no longer go back home,” Juan said, pointedly lying back down again. “Compared to that, picking stuff off the floor is easy.”
“So you should be able to clean up around here,” Sigmund said pointedly.
“Don’t want to,” Juan said. “It’s the principle of the thing. They brought me here, they deal with everything that comes from that. Anyway, don’t you have to be somewhere for a girl to beat you up?”
Sigmund sighed disapprovingly, but took the hint and left.
When the door had shut again and the air warmed up, Juan pushed himself off the bed. “Can you sit on the bed Alicia, I’m going to sweep,” he asked gently. First rule of dealing with enthusiastic personalities: never let them see you working. It gave them strange ideas of getting you to work on command, instead of only when it was absolutely necessary. Weirdoes.
Taking out his broom, he gathered the foil and wax paper together, trying not to get too much dirt on them and separated them into piles, and gathered the stray aluminum cans and goblets that had bounced off haphazardly. He put them all into sacks by type to be send to Megan’s workshop later.
Looking around the now-neater room, he nodded in satisfaction, and glanced at the bed. Juan glanced down at his stomach and gave it an experimental pat. He sighed and grabbed the heavy coat slung over one of the room’s chairs. “I’m going for a walk, Alicia. Do you want to stay here? I’ll leave you some chocolate to eat.”
The alacrity in which she scrambled off them bed and wrapped her blanket around herself answered that question. Juan offered her his hand. Her grip was small, tight and slightly desperate. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze. He wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this. He was a bit distant from his cousins her age, and wasn’t sure if her silence was her natural personality or stemming from the trauma of her kidnapping.
They left the room, and Juan instantly felt his face was turning to ice. Outside his room, the castle was freezing. There was no snow or icicles or condensation anywhere, but it sure felt like it. It was as if someone had set an air conditioner as low as it would go and pointed it at his face. He felt Alicia’s hand shivering as she used her free arm to pull the blanket over her head.
The moment they were out of the room one of the maids, a green-haired girl who looked about his age, rushed in to clean. They’d all been assigned one, separate from the three guards each who followed them around wherever they went. The three that presumably made up Alicia’s bodyguard team was standing with his. They were all fit, serious-looking men and women in dark uniforms, armed with short swords, a baton of some kind of wood painted blue (or maybe it was blue wood, he wasn’t willing to bet on anything) and light breastplates. They all followed silently after the two of them.
The kingdom of Feyai that had abducted– sorry, ‘summoned’– sorry, ‘begged the gods to send’– them was apparently very far south on whatever planet they were on (they’d managed to confirm they’d ended up on a classically spherical world rather than, say, a gigantic artificial ring around a star, or the more commonly known disc on the back of some elephants on the back of a giant turtle sailing through the stars), which was why it was as so cold. Between the tall, perpetually snow-capped mountains, the system of wide valleys and the near-constant northern wind (which he’d heard was actually quite warm, and the subject of much poetry, or the local equivalent thereof), it was a wonder anyone would want to live there voluntarily. They did though, and apparently made their living either farming or mining from the local mountains, of which there were plenty. They were so plentiful, in fact, it was safer to describe the area as all mountain with a few livable dips in the ground.
It was truly a foreign land and, more importantly, a foreign land that Juan had no idea what to expect from, since he’d never seen it on TV, and what he’d read mostly came from fiction, which was a stupid thing to make assumptions from. For one thing, everyone here seemed capable of magic. While the means that had abducted them and brought him here was apparently some form of divine intervention from the local pantheon, and thus an extreme example, most of the maids he’d seen seemed capable of very basic magic. He’d seen them easily light lamps and candles and fires with a thought and a short string of murmured words and some not even that. Of course, when he’d tried saying them, absolutely nothing happened. Maybe he was saying it wrong. They seemed amused and exasperated every time he had to ask one of them to light the braziers and lamps in his room, so he’d had to get better at gauging if they were going to run out and refilling hem himself.
For another, the animals were very strange. They had nothing like horses, and he hadn’t seen anything resembling a dog or cat, or even a rat– which was a good thing, but still. Even back home you saw rats sometimes. There were plenty of birds though. Well, Juan thought of them as birds, but between the long tails, the bent-forward bodies, and the uncanny resemblance they had to velociraptors, saw-like teeth included, he had to wonder if there weren’t any horses because they’d all been eaten. They were all huge too. The smallest was the size of a German Shepherd and was apparently domesticated, the largest about the size of the horses that weren’t there and used for pretty much the same thing. None seemed capable of flight.
He’d just sort of glanced and nodded along when he saw those. So they had animals he’d never seen before. Of course they did, duh.
Right now they were in Castle… eh, he was blanking on the name right now, but it was the castle in Feyai’s capital city. And it was a seriously big, definitely non-Disney castle. It was the kind built for sieges and wars and general human unpleasantness, with the aim of surviving them and dancing on the corpses of those who hadn’t. Or possibly eating them, if they got desperate enough. The place was huge, built on a larger scale that the castles back home he’d seen pictures of. It was bigger than the Mall of Asia. It made the walls of Intramuros look like child-lock gates. It looked like the love child of Helms Deep and a hydroelectric dam. Its stone walls looked like they’d give modern penetrating explosive shells a hard time.
Juan had asked why the walls were so huge, since they seemed completely overkill for keeping armies out. He’d been told they were like that to allow them to last against magical bombardment.
That had driven him to bed for a day, staring at internal visions of men who could throw around the equivalent of atomic bombs with a thought.
So far he’d seen a large stable of dinosaur birds, several gardens that were clearly for food and not decoration, four barracks of soldiers, and a small town’s worth of support industries and workers, not to be confused with the city right outside. Oh, and people. Lots and lots of people. Many of whom had green or blue hair.
He’d learned to ignore their staring. Apparently, black hair was very rare around here.
There was a parade ground outside the soldiers barracks. Or a training field, or a drill square, or gym class, whatever it was called. Juan wasn’t up on the terminology. It was a wide, packed dirt space that had been compressed enough to not turn into mud no matter how much it rained, which tended to happen with great, freezing frequency in Feyai, usually in the afternoons and evenings. He and Alicia stood on one of the elevated walks that looked out over it, where, in addition to several professional soldiers drilling and practicing, a teenaged girl and a skinny office worker were apparently making fools of themselves.
They were wielding wooden practice swords, since it was obviously a bad idea to let them use anything else, and wore padded armor, which some of the soldiers watching seemed to think was childishly silly. After two weeks of actually being taught how to use a sword (Juan was a bit vague on when they had actually started), they had progressed to the ‘actually more of a danger to others than to themselves’ stage. Megan Goodspeed, dark-haired, athletic and self-admittedly nerdy, moved like she really knew what she was doing now, which might actually have been the case. Sigmund was slower and more awkward in his movement, but seemed to know what he was doing well enough. They were a long way from a showy Hollywood fight scene, or even a slightly farcical tokusatsu fight scene, though they were at least beyond a Saturday Night Live fight scene. They were definitely getting better, although it was a given that Megan would quickly outstrip Sigmund in skill.
As mentioned earlier, it was not uncommon for those summoned to another world to also magically gain some sort of strange and irregular power in the process. That uncommon event had happened, and was actually why they had been abducted. The seven of them hadn’t been abducted specifically. Any seven people would have done, since the process would have given them powers. They’d just been the ‘lucky’ ones.
Idly, Juan reached off to the side and drew out a few chocolate peanut butter cups. He handed some to Alicia, who accepted and began eating, heedless of getting chocolate on her blanket. Juan began doing the same, more carefully.
The two below were sparring to hone the powers they had received. Sigmund had been the first of them to realize his power, when a pop-up box had appeared in his line of sight during the ride in the dark to inform that said ‘Congratulations! You have leveled up! Your level is now lvl. 2! You have received 6 Ability Points!’. It had been a pop-up only he could see, and it had taken him a while to figure out how to get rid of it, by which time he’d apparently leveled up several times more.
Sigmund’s power was ‘Level Up’, which apparently restored his physical condition– he explicitly mentioned having an HP and MP bar– after he’d acquired enough experience points, or exp, to reach the next level, as well as awarded him ‘ability points’ to allocate for him to get stronger. There was apparently a passive gain of exp even when he did nothing, at a rate of 29 exp per minute. He also gained exp in combat, deadly or otherwise, hence his sparring with Megan. Between the sparing and the constant trickle of exp he was level 23 and rising. There didn’t seem to be a level cap on his abilities.
Megan’s power was ‘Skill Tree’, and was the reason she was progressing much faster than Sigmund when it came to learning how to fight. It apparently allowed her to learn skills at an absurdly fast rate. Everything she learned was represented by one or more ‘Skills’, divided between Passive and Active. Every time she did something that directly utilized the skill, she gained skill points that would level up the skill. As the skills increased in level, they unlocked other, related skills in an increasingly wide array of interconnected skills. This was why she was now so good at fighting. Her rising skill level directly manifested as increased competence.
As someone who had been trying to learn drawing and other skills for years and had barely progressed from ‘childishly laughable’ to ‘barely adequate’, Juan found this power to be monstrously unfair.
A little ways down the elevated walk, someone else was watching the two spar, surrounded by his own guards. Keith Kirche was a perfectly average-looking boy in his mid-teens, of the sort you could find anywhere. He was in fact so average it had taken Juan three weeks to remember his face, since he kept getting it confused with that of other people in the castle, despite the fact that green or blue hair was more common than brown. He was that ridiculously average.
Keith was watching the two intently, as if trying to commit their movement’s and actions to memory. It seemed a pointless gesture to Juan. The other boy’s power, ‘Album’, was very strange. It allowed him to show everything he had ever seen, heard or read (and some things he should have had absolutely no idea about, which was really creepy) as either a picture, a movie complete with audio, a sound bite or a screen of text and illustrations.
Keith glanced up and finally seemed to notice they were there. He made his way towards the two of them, his guards trailing behind. “I’m surprised Sig agreed to this,” Keith said. “He’s usually busy playing mother hen and trying to keep Chloe from killing someone.”
“I think he just wants to make sure Meg has someone to spar with who’ll hold back,” Juan said, reaching off to the side. “Chocolate?” he offered.
Keith accepted. “Thank God you had these on you,” he said. “Otherwise this world would not be worth living in.”
Juan, Alicia and Keith all nodded in agreement of this self-evident fact.
Juan leaned forward, resting his weight on the railing. “So, how badly is he making a fool of himself, do you think?”
Keith titled his head thoughtfully. “Well, if this was a training montage, the lyrics wouldn’t have reached the first ‘eye of the tiger’ yet.”
“Are we talking an extended montage using the full song or the kind that only does the first two verses and the chorus?” Juan asked.
“The first kind,” Keith said.