Second Chance Savior
First there was a squeal.
Then some expletives.
Then a crash.
Then cold silence.
Then something blew up.
Jack found himself standing in a spotlight that shone from some source out of sight above him. Outside of the circle of illumination was nothing. Well, not fully nothing, but more an impermeable inky blackness that defied any attempt his eyes made to see into it. The last thing he could remember was traveling down the interstate towards DragonCon with Matt and Scotty.
And now, for some reason, he was here.
He looked all around himself for some clue, when a small, hunched man with a wrinkled face and an incredibly elaborate white beard appeared with a poof in the circle in front of him. He couldn’t have been more than two or three feet tall, and wore what looked like a bathrobe. The little man hovered in the air at eye level for a long moment, seeming to size Jack up.
Jack opened his mouth to say something, but before he could get a word out, the little man spoke.
“Great news, kid… You’re dead!” He said. His low, raspy voice reminded Jack of his grandfather back when he used to smoke.
Jack looked at the little man blankly.
“Uh, I’m sorry… what do you mean I’m ‘dead’?” He asked.
The little man shrugged.
“You’re dead. Deceased. No longer living. Shuffled off this mortal coil. You know the thing where they stick you in the ground or throw you in a furnace? You’re that.” He said. When Jack continued to give him no response, he sighed and added, “Welcome to the afterlife, kid.”
Jack knew all of the words coming out of the little man’s mouth, but for some reason his brain couldn’t seem to make sense of them in the combination he was hearing them in. He couldn’t be dead, because first of all, there was no afterlife. Second of all, if there WAS an afterlife, it certainly wouldn’t be this… whatever this was.
But then, how did he end up here? And just where WAS here, anyways? That of course completely ignored that somehow a little man in a bathrobe was floating in front of him. Lacking any other way of understanding it, he decided that this surely had to be some sort of elaborate prank.
“Alright. You can stop messing with me now. I know this is a joke. Where are the hidden cameras?” Jack said, looking around.
The little man cocked his head in confusion.
“You seriously think this is a joke?”
“Of course. Though I gotta give you credit, the whole thing is pretty convincing. You almost had me going for a second there. Alright Matt and Scotty, you guys can come out now.”
“Yeah, no, they’re dead too. Died the same time as you, actually.” The old man said. When he saw the lack of comprehension on Jack’s face, he rubbed his eyes in frustration. “Okay look, you know what? Here. Let me show you.”
He swatted the air beside him with the back of his hand. Something akin to an old projection screen poofed into the air beside him.
Jack watched a video as a black Jeep rolled down the interstate. It looked like police chase footage from a helicopter, only minus the twenty pursuit vehicles. It was Matt’s Jeep, easily identifiable by the wall of bumper stickers that covered the entire rear end of the vehicle. As Jack watched, the vehicle approached a large bridge that crossed over a gorge. Without warning, a large deer dove out of the patch of woods on the right, bounding at top speed to cross the road before the SUV got there. The Jeep jerked to avoid the animal, and in doing so lost control and screeched clear off the road, blew through the perfunctory guardrail beside the bridge, and careened headlong into the ravine beneath it. It slammed into the sloping cliffside a few dozen feet down with a crunch, and proceeded to crumple into a twisted metal heap as it tumbled down and down the ravine wall. Jack flinched at every impact, and winced as it finally came to rest on the ravine floor with a resounding thud. He turned to the old man to say something. Then the car exploded. Jack watched a close-up slo-mo shot of his head being launched out of the fireball. It tumbled across the ground and the camera followed it until it came to a stop. As if to really drive the point home, it proceeded to zoom in on his mangled face and hold the shot in freeze frame for several seconds until the recording screen winked out of existence.
“Uh, I, uhhh…. What?” Jack finally managed to stammer out. He suddenly felt very ill.
“Like I said. Deadorino. So, you got a name, kid?”
“Nice to meet ya, Jack!” The old man said, extending his hand with a broad smile. “My name’s Frumpkin Snozcumber, but most people these days just call me ‘God’.”
Jack numbly shook the little man’s hand, and Frumpkin continued.
“So, you may be wondering why you’re here. Well, that’s because it’s time for you to decide how you’re going to spend your afterlife.”
He swatted the air beside him again, and the projector was replaced by a whiteboard. On it was written, in big, bold, black letters:
AN ETERNITY OF PERPETUAL BLISS
START OVER IN A NEW LIFE AS A FANTASY HERO
“So, you can pick one of these two options. Most people, they take the eternity of perpetual bliss. Me, I personally think that’s the better of the two options, but hey, what do I know, right?”
Jack could barely wrap his head around what was happening. He was DEAD? But… no. That couldn’t be right! ...Could it?
“Option number two, I reincarnate you in a world not unlike fantasy stories from your world where magic and dragons and other ‘imaginary’ stuff actually exists. In this one, you get to try and be the hero who saves it from certain destruction, or something like that. You wanna start your new life with magical powers? You got it. A harem of beautiful women? Sure. Ridiculous good looks and a legendary sword that lets you fly? We can do that too.”
As Frumpkin named each thing, the whiteboard flipped over and over, depicting a smiling stick figure of Jack with each of the things he was describing.
“This version has a little bit of a catch though. There will be another person from your world in it. A rival, so to speak. They will be playing the role of villain to your heroic self, and their goal is simple- they have to either kill you, destroy the planet, or defeat and enslave every major political power on it. They get their own set of advantages too, same as you. You, as the hero, will have to permanently stop this villain from completing one of these actions. How you do that is up to you.
Good news is, if you manage to defeat them and succeed in saving the world, you get to take on my role for that world forever. You become ‘God’, so to speak. Bad news is, if you die in that world, you cease to exist. Poof. No everlasting bliss for you.”
He gestured to the whiteboard with a wave of his hand, and looked at Jack with a grin.
“So, what’ll it be, kid?”
Jack stared blankly at the board. After a few moments, Frumpkin cleared his throat loudly. When that didn’t elicit the desired response either, he sighed loudly and threw his hands into the air.
“So, you gonna pick, or what? I’ve got a backlog of souls to get through and you are really not helping me catch up here.”
“Yeah, sorry, I’m just… this is a lot to take in.” Jack said, sighing heavily. “For one thing, I hadn’t really planned on dying this young. Or a virgin, either.”
Frumpkin made a sound that sounded like a stifled laugh, before clearing his throat.
“Ehh, give it two weeks in whatever you pick, and you’ll forget you were ever feeling like this.” He said, stretching lazily.
Jack looked back at the board, chewing the inside of his cheek in thought. One was guaranteed happiness forever. That was pretty much what everyone who wanted to go to heaven wished for, wasn’t it? But what did that actually mean? Would he just be sitting around being happy around other people with nothing else to do but be happy? That sounded… really boring.
The second choice, however, was what fascinated him. If he picked this one he’d have somehow fallen ass-backwards into the greatest wish he’d ever had. After all, hadn’t he spent countless hours reading fantasy novels and playing RPGs and watching anime to have this exact experience in his imagination? If he chose this route, it would be REAL. He could slay horrible monsters, wield great and terrible powers, and bed beautiful damsels. Oh my god. How awesome would THAT be?
Wait. Pump the brakes there, Jacky boy. What if it doesn’t work like that? It’d be just his luck that he’d pick option number two, only to get teleported to another world as an out-of-shape loser and immediately get incinerated by a dragon or something. That wasn’t going to work. He needed to know for sure what he’d be getting himself into before he just leapt for it.
Jack looked over at Frumpkin, who was currently dipping a tea bag into a steaming tea cup. Seeing Jack look at him, the old man tossed the teabag over his shoulder, where it disappeared somewhere outside the spotlight with a soft splat.
“So, if I pick option 2, do I just start with anything I want power and equipment wise, or what? How does that work?” Jack asked.
Frumpkin took a sip of his tea, and shook his head.
“Not exactly. Think of it like this- before you enter the world, I will grant you three perks of your choosing to get you started. Anytime you do something heroic, you can earn new perks, like new abilities, new items, new companions, and so on. Make sense?”
Jack nodded, feeling a little deflated, before he realized the possible implications.
“I get three perks? As in, I get three wishes for anything I want?” He asked.
“Well yeah, sorta. I mean, all of the typical genie limitations apply. You can’t wish someone dead, you can’t make anyone love you or pretty much any other mind control thing, you can’t wish for more wishes, that sort of stuff. Oh, and your wishes will be open to my interpretation and understanding when I grant them, so keep that in mind. But yeah, sure. Pretty much anything you want.” Frumpkin said, sipping his tea again.
“Fair enough.” Jack said.
So… three wishes. Not an amazing start, but at least he wouldn’t enter the new world completely defenseless. Good to know. If that was the case, then…
“Okay Frumpkin, give me option number two!” He said, holding up two fingers.
“Well, can’t say I’m surprised.”
He clapped his hands together, causing the teacup to vanish in a puff of smoke, before rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles.
“Alright kid, what’s your first wish?” He asked.
It only took Jack a few seconds to pick what he wanted first.
“I want to be a powerful magic user who can bend the world to my will!” He said with a grand flourish.
Frumpkin looked at him with a bored expression. “Tidecaller, Oathbinder, Fleshbender, Soulspeaker, or Nameweaver?”
Jack froze in mid-pose and looked at the man, before dropping his hands.
“Oh, so there’s classes? What system are they most like? I mean, would it be more like Dungeons and Dragons, or World of Warcraft, or, I mean are there spell lists for each one…?”
Frumpkin buried his face in his hand and groaned. “Oh god, I’m going to be here all day.” Hearing himself say this out loud, however, seemed to snap something inside him.
“You know what? It doesn’t matter. Your fault for not specifying.” He said, snapping his fingers.
As he did so, Jack felt a sudden surge of something rush through his body. It felt a bit like what he imagined being electrocuted would feel like, though it wasn’t painful or unpleasant. After a moment the feeling dissipated, leaving behind a faint glowy feeling in his chest that was difficult to explain.
“You can use magic now. Congratulations.” Frumpkin said flatly.
“Cool! ...Uh, how does it work?” Jack asked.
“Think of something you want to do. The spellword will appear in your head. Speak the word out loud, along with the proper gesture and voila, magic happens.” Frumpkin said.
Jack looked down at his hands. So he was magical now, huh? He didn’t really feel any different. He’d better give it a test run and see how it works. But what to do? After a moment, he envisioned taking flight and soaring through the air. That seemed an appropriate and easy place to start. As he did so, a massive surge of new information completely overwhelmed his mind. It wasn’t just one word but a torrent of them, filling and flooding the inside of his head with such intensity that he felt like it was going to explode. He tried to focus on his goal, but the pressure and disorientation made doing so all but impossible. Afraid something awful was going to happen if he didn’t react, he threw his hands out and shouted one of the words.
To his relief, the flood in his brain instantly vanished. To his surprise and horror, however, the instant it did, a massive jet of flames engulfed the air in front of him in a massive red-orange fireball. Panicking, he snatched his hands shut and the fire fizzled out, leaving a soot-blackened and very displeased looking Frumpkin floating in front of him.
“I’m sorry! That wasn’t supposed to happen! I was trying to fly, and the words just flooded my head, and I… I’m sorry.” Jack said, his face red.
Frumpkin glowered at him and coughed once, pointedly. He then snapped his fingers, and the soot on him dissolved.
“You were trying to fly? As a first spell?” Frumpkin looked amused. Or incredulous. Jack couldn’t really tell which.
“...Was that a stupid idea?” Jack asked.
“You crack me up, kid. I’ll give you a gold star for diving straight into the deep end. But maybe try and learn to doggy paddle in the kids pool first, alright?”
Jack looked down at his hands, then back up to Frumpkin.
“I don’t understand. You said there would be a single word that popped into my head, and all I had to do was say it out loud and the magic would happen. But there were thousands of them! It felt like I was going to lose my mind!”
Frumpkin picked a small piece of soot off his shoulder and flicked it into the darkness.
“I said the spellword would pop in your head. I never said it would be the only one. A lot of the challenge in being one is learning to strengthen your willpower and focus enough to clear out all of the unnecessary or incorrect words so you don’t get flooded out.”
“But I asked to be good at magic!” Jack said.
“No. You wished for, and I quote: ‘to be a powerful magic user who can bend the world to me will’. Which I gave you. You never specified that you wanted to have magic AND be skilled at using it. How was I supposed to know you also wanted that if you didn’t say so?” Frumpkin said, leaning back and resting his arms behind his head. “That’s your fault, not mine.”
“But, but that makes NO sense!” Jack protested. “Why would I NOT want to be good at using them if I’m wishing for them?”
“How am I supposed to know? You’re the one wishing, not me. I’m just here to give you what you ask for.” Frumpkin said.
Jack threw his hands up in the air.
“Great! Perfect! And just what the hell am I supposed to do with magical powers that I have no idea how to use correctly?” He asked.
“I dunno. Practice or something. Or use another wish to be good at it. Either way, not my problem.” He said.
Jack hung his head and rubbed his face with his hands in irritation. He hadn’t even made it past his first wish and things were already going completely tits-up. Instead of hitting the ground running with his new magic skills, he was now gonna have to probably stand in a field somewhere and try figure out how not to blow himself up. He stared at the ground. No use crying over spilled milk at this point. He still had two more wishes to go. Now what to wish for next? Great heroes were always great at fighting, and had cool magical weapons, so that had to be next. Frumpkin wanted specific? Well then, he’d give him specific.
“Alright Frumpkin, for my next wish, I want to be a skilled fighter with proficiency in all simple, martial, and exotic weapons, and an enchanted magical weapon that I am particularly adept at using!” Jack said, finding himself involuntarily striking another pose as he did so.
Frumpkin pinched the bridge of his nose.
“What is it with you and striking poses when you make a wish for something?”
Jack dropped his arms, embarrassed.
“I dunno… just, felt right, I guess. It’s what I’ve always seen characters in stories do when they’re in situations like this.” He said.
“Well stop it. It’s super awkward and you’re giving me a headache. Now hold still.”
Frumpkin rubbed his hands together rapidly, before placing them on Jack’s shoulders. Jack felt another surge pass through his body. This one was significantly less pleasant than last time, as it felt like every single muscle fiber in his body had been inflated like a balloon and then lit on fire. He crumpled into a heap and yelled several choice obscenities as his body felt like a flaming airbag. And then, as quickly as it came, the feeling vanished. As it did so, it left behind the strange sensation of being hyper-aware of every little movement he made and sensation he experienced. It was like his senses and body awareness had just gone into high definition. He couldn’t explain how, but he also felt a whole lot stronger. Looking down at the stained front of his Space Invaders tee shirt, however, told him that despite how he felt, he was still definitely out of shape and flabby looking. I probably should have wished to look jacked too. Oh well. Wait! I should have wished for armor as well! Shit!
“Hold out your hand.” Frumpkin said, interrupting his train of thought.
Jack extended his hand out in front of himself. As he did so, there was a flash. When the light faded, a long-handled axe with a wide, sweeping blade appeared in his hand. The blade was covered in ornate scrollwork carvings, and the weathered wooden handle was covered from about a third of the way down from the blade to the butt of the shaft with some kind of binding that looked like a mixture of leather and snakeskin.
“Whoa, cool!” Jack said, bringing the weapon closer and inspecting it.
He wasn’t expecting an axe, but the thing looked so cool he honestly didn’t care it wasn’t something else. He played around with it for a moment, feeling the weight in his hands. He could tell, regardless of the fact that he’d just wished for it, that the weapon he was holding was something special. Not only was it perfectly balanced as he swung it about, but there was this faint… hum inside it, like it was somehow ever so slightly alive. Holding it now, he felt invincible.
“I figured you’d appreciate that. It’s designed after a weapon from one of your video games.” Frumpkin said.
The little man yawned.
“The time’s getting long. What’s your last wish, kid?” He said.
Jack stopped short for a moment. He actually didn’t know the answer to that question. At this point, he had fighting skills and magic, but he had to be really careful about what he picked next. He didn’t have armor because he screwed up and forgot to mention it in his second wish. He was going to basically learn his magic from scratch since he didn’t specify wanting to have already mastered it. Those two things alone were both worth a wish by themselves, probably. But he was going to be heading into a new world with no money, no friends, no home, and no real idea where he was going to be or where he needed to go. Somehow his next wish had to cover as many of those as possible. And anything he wasn’t very specific about, or didn’t state exactly correctly was most definitely going to blow up in his face somehow. Frumpkin seemed all too eager to make sure that happened. But before he tried it, he had to know something first.
“Frumpkin, how big can I make a wish? Like, can I wish for a mansion filled with loyal servants and a personal guard retainer and a massive pile of money and a bunch of other things all in one wish?” He asked.
Frumpkin shook his head.
“You get to wish for one thing at a time. I let you have the weapon and the skills together because they all kinda fit together under the umbrella of ‘make me a great warrior’. So, no, you couldn’t get all of those things at once. You could pick one, or maybe lump a few under a common theme. But that’s it.” He said.
Jack frowned. That was definitely going to make this a lot harder. Money he could probably get questing. With that money he could probably buy shelter, and get a map or hire a guide. But even with all of those things, he still wouldn’t have any allies. BUT, if he wished for allies, then they would either already have all of those things and could share them with him or it would make getting them a whole lot easier. So, wishing for allies sounded like the right idea. But what kind…?
Frumpkin sighed loudly and rubbed his face.
“Alright kid, look- you’ve got thirty seconds to pick something, or you don’t get a third wish.” He said. As if to emphasize his point, a giant timer appeared in the air beside him and started counting down.
“Hey wait! I don’t know what to pick!” Jack protested again. Without looking at Jack, Frumpkin slowly lifted his hands and made a point of inserting his fingers into his ears.
Panicking, Jack started running through the list of his options. Merchants would have money and shelter but probably wouldn’t be able to fight. Soldiers and mercenaries would fight but probably lacked the other two. Someone important would give him connections but would be too busy to have any time for him.
The clock struck 10 seconds, then nine.
Somehow, he remembered the board when Frumpkin had been showing him options. Harem. A harem was an option, and a very fun one to think about. But it’s not practical! But what if he COULD make it practical? That would be the best of all worlds, right?
The countdown struck five, then four.
“Frumpkin! I want a harem of super hot girls to act as my companions! I want them to be skilled in combat and magic and other adventure stuff, and I want them to have a place they live so I have somewhere to stay!” He blurted out.
The timer in the air beside Frumpkin vanished, and the little man pulled his fingers out of his ears.
“You want a harem of talented, financially stable women for companions.” Frumpkin repeated back, then furrowed his brow and added “you do remember that the rules state I can’t make anyone like or love you, right? All I can do is give them an idea of who you are and where to meet you. The rest will be up to you.”
“Okaaay, if you say so.” Frumpkin said. He raised his fingers to snap, then furrowed his brow.
“Wait, did you say you wanted them to be hot? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Ridiculously hot, please. As hot as they are skilled.” He said.
Frumpkin squinted at Jack for a moment, then shrugged.
“Alright, you got it, kid. One harem of‘ridiculously hot’, skilled, and financially stable women coming up!”
He snapped his fingers, and a faint chime sounded somewhere out in the blackness behind him.
“You will spawn in your new world a couple miles from the farm where your new companions live. Once you arrive, all you will have to do is follow the path in front of you, and it will lead you right to them. They will know who you are and what you are, and will be expecting you.”
He raised his hand again.
“Good luck, kid! Catch ya on the flip side!”
And with the snap of Frumpkin’s fingers, the world around Jack dissolved into nothingness.
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