A Tale of the Past
As expected, my declaration got me an uncomprehending blink from Rosalind.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to question your linguistic capabilites, but maybe since you’re still unfamiliar, you might have made a mistake. When you said ‘another world’, did you really mean ‘another country’?”
I resisted the urge to laugh at Rosalind’s attempt to chalk my unbelievable proclamation up to an unfamiliarity with her language.
“No, no. I meant another ‘world’. Another…” I wanted to simplify things by saying that I came from another planet, but the language had no word for extraterrestrial bodies, apart from stars. It seemed that the people of this world had yet to turn their gazes beyond the confines of the sky. I decided to improvise. “In any case, another world. If we define the ‘world’ as all of these continents and every land mass on the map, as well as all the oceans and stars and skies, then I come from outside all these. My home is not of this world.”
“You come from… the stars?”
“Well, technically, no, but that’s one way to put it. I suppose. I actually come from a place that’s beyond the stars.”
“You’re a god.”
I choked. The sheer surprise at being called a god was one reason, but it also stemmed from a general revulsion towards divinity. Yingquan was sort of an exception, in that usually I could ignore her divine aspect due to how ungodlike she acted, but a good number of the gods had a high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou attitude which annoyed me. Of course, they were generally quite literally holier than me, what with being divine and all, but that was besides the point. Regardless, I hurried to correct her misunderstanding even as she began to jump off the bed and prostrate herself.
“No, no, I’m not a god. I’ve met them before, but I’m not a god.”
I caught Rosalind’s arm before she could finish bowing and pulled her back on the bed. She looked at me with fearful eyes, causing me to sigh. I quickly jumped off the bed and retrieved a notebook and pencil from the desk. I drew two circles, level with each other, and a line above both of them. Using this as a visual aid, I explained.
“This here is your world.” I pointed to the left circle. “This here is the world of the gods.” I pointed to the line. “This is my world.” I pointed to the other circle. “So no, I’m not one of the gods. I’m simply from another world that’s different from this one. I’m human, too. Just not a human from around here.”
At this, Rosalind clapped her hands together, exclaiming, “I see! You’re from another _____!”
She used an unfamiliar word. The fact that my gift was unable to immediately understand what it was indicated that it was not technically a part of the language – a made-up word, or a new word. I raised an inquisitive eyebrow, prompting her to explain.
“A world that’s similar to ours, yet different, where people live their lives in different ways. These worlds are as inaccessible as those of the gods, yet they are populated by people much like us. The Many Worlds Theory, as Ruth put it.”
I blinked, surprised. At this moment, the meaning of the word she’d used, as determined by explanation and context, appeared in my consciousness. The closest approximation was ‘plane’. Somehow, the people of the world had derived a theory about other planes of existence, before coming up with one about other planets. Furthermore, this was not mentioned in any of the books I had read, meaning that it was likely a recent theory. More pressingly, I heard an unfamiliar name.
“Ah, a family friend. She had been friends with my parents for years, and she started visiting me more frequently a while ago, after my parents passed away. If not for her, I think I would have wallowed in depression for a long time. She’s a merchant and a scholar, and she checks in from time to time. I’ll introduce her the next time she’s here. She’s published a few papers, and the one she was working on the last time she came by was the Many Worlds Theory.”
So it was a new, unpublished theory. That explained why I had been unable to initially conjure up a meaning for the word. I decided to set that tidbit aside and continued.
“Anyway, so we’ve established that I hail from a different wor- a different plane from yours. If you’ve accepted this, I can continue.”
Rosalind nodded, falling silent. That hurdle was a lot easier to cross than I expected, though I suspect I had this Ruth to thank for that. I continued.
“Well then, I’m just going to give a quick overview of my story. A ton of stuff happened to me in the interim, but I’m not going to try and compress ten years of experience into a single night’s tale. So for tonight, all you’re getting is a summary. Okay?”
She nodded again, her eyes alight with excitement. Clearly, the whole thing about me being from another world had only served to further amplify her interest.
“Well then… since we’ve established that I’m from a different plane, the next thing to clarify is that this isn’t the first plane I’ve visited, apart from my home; it’s the second. I could talk about my life on my home plane, but if we’re talking about my story, and how I came to be here, it has more to do with the other plane I’d visited.
When I was a younger girl – fourteen years old, to be exact – I was abruptly spirited away from my home plane. One moment I was walking along the street, enjoying a snack. The next, I found myself in an unfamiliar hall, surrounded by unfamiliar men, all in armor. I didn’t have time to be shocked. Mere moments after meeting them, I was told to pick up a sword and duel their leader; Emperor Xiefang. Somehow, when I picked it up, I found myself able to use it, and use it perfectly. I had never used a sword in my life, but it felt completely natural in my hands. I wielded it masterfully and defeated the Emperor in three strokes. Me, a girl of fourteen, who had never used a weapon in my life. My first time handling a sword, and I was able to handily disarm a seasoned warrior. I was surprised, of course, but I soon found out the source of my prowess.
As it happens, these men – the warlords of the Ershan Empire – had performed some sort of ritual, a ritual that had summoned me, had plucked me from my world and deposited me in theirs. A ritual that had given me a special power: the ability to instantly learn and master any weapon. For what purpose did they summon me? Based on the fact that my gift was limited to weapons, the answer should be obvious. I was summoned to fight in a war.
The Ershan Empire was at war with five other nations. Each nation had a patron deity, and each nation in turn performed a summoning ritual that called forth a hero from another plane, plucking others like myself from our native worlds, and depositing us in that plane. The object of the war was domination – the winning faction would hold dominion over the entire plane.
The other prize for grabs was not one for the people, but for their patron gods. The six patron deities of the six factions were embroiled in a war of succession – a higher ranking deity had stepped down, and these six deities were thus left to vie for the position. At some point, they had come to a consensus to wage a war by proxy – the deities were forbidden from fighting each other outright, so instead they had a contest – each of them would grant their respective faction a hero, with otherworldly gifts. Whichever deity’s faction achieved complete dominion over the land would be awarded the title. And that was the event that served as the spark that began the ten-year long war that would become known as the War of the Six.
Each of the deities riled up their followers, calling them to arms in the name of their gods. The six nations already had strained ties, so this call to arms rapidly escalated into an all-out, six-way war. All of this, I learned from Yingquan – the goddess who had facilitated my summoning. She’s nice enough, but can get a little annoying.
Anyway, so I was thrown headfirst into this war, where suddenly I found myself the commander of an army, diving into battlefield after battlefield, killing people all around me. I almost died, myself, many times, but each time I emerged ultimately victorious. With every battle, word of my deeds spread, and I quickly became known to all – and in turn, feared by all. My enemies, if they were not accompanied by their own heroes, would retreat at the mere sight of me. My allies, seeing what I was capable of, either cowered in fear when I walked among them, or otherwise bowed respectfully. I ate my meals alone, because nobody was courageous enough to join me. I trained alone, because nobody was able to keep up with me. I stood alone, atop a mountain of felled enemies. It was… a lonely ten years. I did not particularly mind. My priority was winning the war. After all, Yingquan had promised to send me home if I could secure victory for her. The thought of returning drove me. It gave me strength, so the loneliness did not crush me.
Of course, I did make friends. I met several good people, made friends with them. We were comrades-in-arms. I had friends on the battlefield, who served as my lieutenants. I had friends back in court, advisors and commanders who were different from those who sought to manipulate me for their own gain. I did make friends. But I always kept a certain distance, because I knew I would one day have to leave them. And it’s a good thing I did. Many of my lieutenants died in battle, attempting to fight by my side. More than a few died shielding me from otherwise-fatal wounds. When I close my eyes and sleep, I can still see their dying faces, I can still hear their faded breaths. But I can’t distinguish them anymore. I see so many faces, hear so many voices, that they’ve blended into one big mass, and I can’t hope to separate them anymore.
In any case, the war lasted for ten years. Ten long, arduous years. It was trying on all of us, especially the six heroes. Many of them were like me. Ordinary people, displaced from our ordinary lives and forced to fight in the name of a god that we’d never heard of. One of them – Julian, the hero of Zyptheria – committed suicide four years in. He was the first to fall. Convenient, I suppose. He had a very troublesome gift.”
I recalled Julian’s bespectacled face as I spoke. He was from my world, a teacher by profession. His gift had been the ability to control the weather. And anyone who could control the weather could control the battlefield. He could make a dry plain muddy and wet with a single storm, rendering it hell to traverse. He could force a drought on an encamped position, dehydrating our soldiers and forcing a retreat. He would have easily won the war in less than a year if not for the fact that he was a man of excessively gentle disposition. He would never participate in attacks on enemy borders, only participating in defensive battles. For four years no enemy could gain any ground in Zyptherian lands. He took that time to convince his nation’s leaders to hold peaceful dialogues with other nations. When all five of the other nations summarily refused, he had committed suicide, causing myself – and the other heroes – to breathe collective sighs of relief.
Of course, I had been partly responsible for driving him to suicide, but Rosalind didn’t need to know that. She clearly had a good opinion of me, and I wanted to avoid ruining it as much as possible. I had no defence for my actions. It was wrong, and I would do it again. I continued speaking, omitting this detail.
“After he fell, Zyptheria quickly fell to the might of myself and my armies. We had attained the first victory of the war, and thus the fighting in all theatres intensified. Over the next six years, I faced each of the other heroes in battle numerous times. Sometimes I would emerge victorious and gain ground. Sometime I would be forced to retreat. Of the remaining four heroes, one of them was killed in battle, a battle in which I was not present. The other three were murdered by my own hand. Ten years after we had all arrived in this land, I finally killed the last hero in battle. I was twenty-four at the time. She was seventeen. I’ve… never been able to forget her face – and the look it bore as I stole her life. Rachel – that was her name. She was a cheerful, friendly girl. If we had met under different circumstances, I’m certain we would have been fast friends, even with the age gap. Unfortunately, that never happened.”
I fell silent as I recalled the young, lively necromancer who would always apologise to her soldiers when she raised them from the dead. I had never been able to forgive myself for ending that life – Of all the people I had killed over the course of the war, her death was probably the one I regretted the most. And yet I knew that, given the same situation and the same circumstances, I would do it again.
“Anyway, with the war won, I was returned home, my body reverted to the age I had been when I left. I returned to my ordinary life. I went to school, graduated, got a job, worked hard at it for time, got promoted. Anyone who saw me would never have guessed that I had been to another world and fought in a war for ten years. But that’s because they never saw me struggling to sleep at night. They never saw me getting out of a bed to sleep on the hard floor because I was more used to it. They never saw me screaming out and retching in the morning, remembering the faces of all the people who had died, by my own hand and in my name. I never told anyone, because they would never have believed me. I had no proof, after all. I never felt the need to tell anyone. Why would anyone care? Did it matter if nobody else knew? I lived out my life normally, falling into an everyday rhythm, and before I knew it, I was twenty-seven.
One day, ironically the same date as when I had been tossed into the War of the Six, I died. An unfortunate accident, nothing special. I found myself in a white room, where Yingquan appeared before me. She offered me the chance to live another life, in another plane. I accepted, and soon after I found myself in this plane, on the road, in the middle of a prolonged drought. I started walking along the road, and it eventually brought me here – which is when you found me. And that’s pretty much my story.”