Book II - Chapter 1

 

Chapter 1

 

Memory is a funny concept.

The longer time lapses, the farther away from an actual event, the less I can recall. Everything starts to fade.

I really do mean everything.

Had a whole life before this mess, you know? An entire stretch, from birth to death, back when I was human.

Arms…

Legs…

Internet…

You name it.

Long time ago, now. Or at least, I feel like it was.

Being human…

You know what’s strange? I can barely even remember how it felt. Things like the day-to-day, the mundane, what life was like.

It’s all foggy and misted over.

Is that weird?

I feel like it is.

I mean, I remember some things. Things like…

Opposable thumbs!

Oh my GOD, those were convenient.

A tail just isn’t the same, you know?

Maybe you don’t.

Doesn’t matter.

Existence is a tricky concept, I guess.

Where was I going with this?

Being human.

That’s right.

It feels like a really long time ago. Yet, for some reason, the memory my death is still crystal clear.

Pain.

First and foremost, I remember the pain- but I remember what came after it, too.

The long dark.

Falling into the unfamiliar. Descending, as if thrown overboard with heavy weights: pressure all around me.

Deeper…

Deeper still…

Then, gone. Just like that.

Simple, right?

Waking up in pitch black, unable to see even the slightest detail.

To be honest, process was a lot like this.

At first, there’s nothing.

Just you, alone. Waiting, in the dark. Thinking your thoughts.

Just waiting.

Then? Before you even realize it, you’re back.

So…

Am I dead?

There’s a question.

If you die once, and get reincarnated… what happens when you die again? I’ve never really thought much about this.

I was a human, once upon a time.

Then, I was a snake… so, what’s next?

Maybe a barnacle, or something?

Or sort of bacteria?

Man, that would suck.

Ug.

No… thankfully, I don’t think I’m any of those.

Bacteria probably don’t get the urge to shed their skin, or wriggle, for that matter.

Pretty sure I’m still a snake.

“Sssss.”

Ah, confirmed.

Still some sort of serpent.

So, the question to circle back to, is if I’m dead- currently.

Tough one.

Technically, I think some votes might have to logically say “yes.”

If you die, you’re dead… right? Isn’t that how it works?

I mean, I died when I was a human. Beyond any reasonable doubt, I remember being shot, collapsing… the long and somewhat-humiliating process of lying there…

So, I’ve already died, regardless of whether I died again.

So, I’m dead.

Am I double dead?

No, that’s stupid. You can’t be dead, and then dead again. You can either be one or the other… unless you’re a ghost.

Woah.

Am I a ghost? A ghost in a snake’s body? Have I been looking at this all wrong?

“SSSSSS-“

Woah, woah, woah… chill. Relax.

Tiny Snake God loves you. Gotta take a deep breath, get your head on straight, flick your tongue a bit…

There.

No, just swallowed some dirt with that.

Ghosts can’t eat dirt… probably.

I don’t think I’m currently dead.

Not double dead, either, because that’s not a thing. No, I’m either in the sandy version of snake-afterlife, or I’m lying in a pile of dirt.

So, let’s think about this for a moment.

What’s the last thing I remember, before being here.

Where here happens to be…

I was in…

The forest.

That’s right.

Great Forest party with the elves. Okay, so far so good.

Drank too much, was a terrible life-choice. Yup, yup…

Party with the elves turned into a blood ritual, complete with sacrifices. First monsters, a frog, then the Chief brought out humans…

It’s all muddled.

I remember the humans were there.

That Chief wanted to use them for something, and I told him not to.

Then, the Swordsman came and started killing everyone…

What the hell happened after that?

Magic couldn’t get us out.

Us?

I remember trying to escape something, but we were trapped.

Us… we…

Who is we?

Seems like a pretty darn important detail, right?

And…

No, I really have no clue.

Wow.

You know, I suddenly feel as though I just had a terrible nightmare.

That’s what this is.

Not very helpful, but you know what those are like, right?

It’s not something tangible, really. I can’t hold onto what happened, but I can still feel it. Like an aftertaste of the dreamscape: this uncomfortable shade of dread, just lingering, echoing…

Echoing…

Really, the only solution is to wait it out.

Bit by bit, breath by breath.

Slowly, surely…

Gradual decline, as the waking mind takes over.

There.

It’s almost gone.

Bit by bit…

Like nothing ever happened.

Phew.

Alright, so: I’m not a barnacle, still a snake… next question.

Where am I?

This is sand, isn’t it.

All around me, it’s warm, but not too warm: soil has wrapped me up. Snuggly wrapped…

I kind of like this.

Comfy.

If I had to place a guess, I think I’m buried in the ground.

Yes, that’s exactly what this feels like. Wrapped up in sand.

Safe.

Friendly.

I like this, I do.

Buried in warm dirt…

Unable to see anything but… dirt…

Can I move?

Uh…

No.

Okay, so, not really able to move.

Hmm.

You know, being buried in dirt, deep enough that I can’t see or move.

Can I wriggle?

I can wriggle.

Wriggling.

Wriggling?

It’s not working.

This is probably not such a great thing.

I’m wriggling more aggressively!

Wriggling! Help me!

HELP!

Panic is setting in!

I’m trapped! Help me Tiny Snake God!

Help-

“-SSSSS”

Oh.

Hey, I’m out.

That was easy.

I don’t know what I had myself all worried for.

I’m in some sort of hole, but there’s a sky overhead. Some sloped walls all around me, circular.

All that wriggling and… ah.

Hindsight is calling to me: I could have just used magic.

[Earth Sculpting] basically exists to solve this sort problem. Magic intended for moving and molding dirt and stone, that would have made more sense.

Like “this.”

… “this?”

… like “this?’

Well… huh.

Earth magic isn’t working?

I don’t think I’ve ever had this problem before.

Okay then.

Don’t freak out or anything, just stay calm and consult the greedy magical jerk. It’ll all work out.

Just stay calm, and [Voice of Gaia] on.

[Voice of Gaia] tell me my status.

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

Uh… what?

[Voice of Gaia] what’s my status?

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

… That’s different.

[Voice of G-

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

Woah- okay! Okay!

Holy.

Calm down.

Man, that’s super weird.

I can feel my magic, in reserve. Pretty sure that spell should cost mana, but my reservoir didn’t really dip much. Just a little, then… nothing.

Which is strange.

Far as spells go, [Voice of Gaia] normally doesn’t hesitate to take as much as it can. So, this is quite a bit about this is outside the norm.

I mean, here I am, sitting in a hole in the ground, and I don’t even remember how I got here.

Last I checked, I remember we were on a big tree stump…

We, again.

Who the heck is “we?”

You know, actually? What was I doing before all of this?

I seriously can’t place it.

Falling?

That’s the answer my mind is jumping to, but that doesn’t make much sense. Why would I be falling? I certainly don’t remember climbing anything.

I don’t remember anything at all.

It’s this messy jumble of random events.

Can I backtrack?

The blood ritual?

I mean, there was something that happened… didn’t it? Something went wrong.

There was too much blood and…

Boom?

Seriously?

Boom?

That’s what my mind jumps to?

Why the heck do I feel like I was falling?

A result of the nightmare, confusing me?

Ug.

I can’t remember.

The more I try, the more it disappears: like grabbing smoke, there’s nothing left.

First [Earth Sculpting] and now [Voice of Gaia] are on the fritz.

Magic isn’t cooperating.

A side effect of whatever went down after the ritual went bo- combusted?

What the hell.

Come on magic! Work!

Tiny Snake Staircase out of this stupid hole in the ground!

Please?

Ssssss?

Shit.

Okay, so all that effort and, what?

Some dirt is spinning.

That’s… something, I guess, but not what I was trying to do.

Maybe I’m just frazzled.

Something big happened before all this, I might have some weird status attribute I can’t see.

That’s happened before. Not quite like this, but still.

Not impossible.

[Voice of Gaia] would tell me, but I guess it must be impacted too.

Reasonable explanation. No need to stress, just wait it out. Keep testing things in the meantime.

This is okay.

Don’t panic, stay rational.

Are my other spells working?

Super small [Leviathan Breath] test attack?

Green flame, puff of smoke.

Okay, good. That works.

[Heal] check?

I… think?

Pretty sure that worked.

Not really hurt, but I’m sure I felt that go off.

That’s two, alright. So…

Water magic?

Uh… Hmm.

No water around here. I guess I could try to draw some out of the ground but it looks pretty dry.

…yeah, I’ll come back to that one.

Okay.

In summary, some of my magic is on the fritz, but not all.

Got it.

Problem, yes: but not the immediate sort.

Much more pressing, I still don’t know where I am.

Hole in the ground doesn’t really give me a great view, but I can see the sky.

No clouds, dusty scents… wind…

Interesting.

No trees up there, which isn’t what I was expecting. The Great Forest had trees…

Trees, and it was also surprisingly lacking in dirt.

Considering I appear to still be mostly buried in that very substance, I should probably call that unusual.

Okay. So, that’s weird too.

Noted.

What else?

I smelled dusty, but it also smells a bit like… charcoal?

Like burning… stuff. Metal maybe? No, that’s not quite right.

My [Leviathan Breath] isn’t the source of this, it’s coming from the dirt. This sand is weird.

Up the walls, there are places that look as if the soil was melted. Weird crystalline patterns, digging in here… and there…

Could I always see this well? I feel like the longer I’m focusing, the farther in I’m looking.

Like I’m able to tune in way further than I should.

Bizarre.

Did I [Level Up] when I was out? I don’t see any snake skins, but maybe they got buried?

Or burned?

If I leveled up, did that give me some skill points or something?

Hey, [Voice of Gaia] tell me…

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

Oh, yeah.

You’re not working right now.

That’s fine, it just means I need to… to…

Wait.

Oh.

I don’t know how to get to the menus.

It only ever opened after I leveled up. Without [Voice of Gaia] there’s no other way back to it.

Wow.

This is weird. Uncomfortably weird.

Okay.

Okay: the best thing I can do right now is not freak out.

If I level up again, maybe it will open. That was how it worked, way back at the start of this, right? Just level up, and it opens briefly. I can use it then.

No problem.

Then again, I’m way higher leveled now. Advancing further is going to be a serious challenge, and my magic isn’t working right.

How the hell am I supposed to fight monsters strong enough to prompt another level up if my best magics aren’t working? Fire doesn’t solve everything, I need some sort of defense-

No.

No panicking, this is okay.

Fire is still operation, we’ve got our main weapon online. We can still heal, which is a painful sort of defense- even without earth magic. No [Voice of Gaia] is going to make things difficult, but… ah.

[Spirit Attendants] respond, over.

“…”

[Spirit Attendant #1] do you read, over?

“…”

Shit.

Okay.

No panicking.

Don’t freak out.

This is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is-

“Great One?”

Holy S-

-SSSSSS!”