Theodora Plays to Win (With Cheat Codes)
“What will you choose?”
“What are you asking?”
“Will you continue?”
“Do you wish to restart?” The girl’s face remained expressionless as she spoke.
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you wish to start a new game?” The space flickered for a moment. This all felt familiar somehow and it made me want to scream. That expressionless face felt so familiar it was like I was looking at my own and this show that had been put on for my sake was like a dream I once had and yet I’d have remembered a dream so fantastical and heartbreaking.
“Do you wish to start a new game?” she repeated.
“You keep asking me the same thing and I don’t understand. What are you offering?”
“They are not the same thing.” The girl’s eyebrow creased sharply.
“I’ve never played games. I never had the opportunity to play games. I was always excluded or too sick to play.”
“Did you want to play?”
It’s a fact as far as I’m concerned that no one want to be excluded; no matter how much they hate the game being played or the people playing the game, they still want to be included, I wanted to be included. My family wasn’t kind but I still wouldn’t have minded a tea party in the yard, hide and seek around the village. It never would have happened as things were, but deep down I wished that we could put our differences aside and just be healthy, playful kids.
“Do you want to play?”
“At one time I would have.”
“And what about now?” I’m pretty sure I’m dead, so that a bit difficult. As far as I knew there were no second chances. This…whatever-she-is probably isn’t offering to bring me back to life. I’m not the trusting person I used to be. There may have been another life where that was true, where I was open and kind and trusting, but that’s not me, not that I believe in second lives. We all just fade away to dust in the end. I doubt any of this is real, so, “What’s the point?”
“Does living have a point?”
My life didn’t really have a point, looking back. The experiences I had were insignificant and did nothing for anyone. It’s thought that as long as one person remembers you or you made an impact on at least one person then that’s enough. Who’s that enough for? I’m greedy and bad tempered, I probably made an impact on a lot of people in that village and that family, but it wasn’t exactly positive. I think the quality of the impact should be taken into account. I digress, “It depends on who’s life we’re talking about.”
“My life is not in question here.”
I looked at the girl before me and at the set beyond, “What was all that about then?”
“It’s said that a soul scarred by trauma will seek out the same trauma. You and her share the same soul and were shaped by similar trauma.”
Her. The person speaking through the girl was not the girl herself. It was kind of obvious considering she sounds like an adult woman while still being about 6 years old. I’m pretty sure this is a hallucination I’m having while dying, this is so strange. I might as well ask. “Who are you?”
“You can refer to me as an adjudicator, who I am and what my role is are tangential. You are the focus right now.”
“This is a weird dream to be having before death.”
“You passed away some time ago, Theo.”
“Oh.” It could still be a dream, I’ve had quite a few instances where my fever started to overtake me and I’d see weird visions. Bessos would appear a lot and one or twice I’d seen Callum. Callum. I won’t see Callum again. He seemed lonely in those woods. He probably didn’t have a lot of friends since he smelled.
“That doesn’t have to be the end of it, Theo.”
“But I’m currently dead.”
“You are currently not alive. Your body is no longer functioning, I suppose is a more specific way of putting it.”
“So, I’m dead.”
“You are here, not there; this is… I guess you might call it a back-up server.”
“And that is…”
“It’s unimportant. I cannot reveal the details of your circumstances, unfortunately. However, there are variable in play which have given rise to an opportunity for you to return.”
“I can be revived.” This was seeming less and less like a passing dream before I faded to nothing.
“Yes and no. The specifics are unimportant to the topic at hand.”
The girl’s face suddenly unfroze and she passed the “fourth wall,” transforming as she moved. She now wore a strange pinstriped jacket and pants. Her blonde hair which had been a mess was now straight and she now towered over me. The couch turned around and followed her, transforming into a tall black leather chair. She took a seat and motioned for me to sit down in front of her. She fussed with her hair for a second, pushing it over her right shoulder. I (somewhat) unwillingly took a seat on my knees in front of her. The Adjudicator clasped her hands in front of her, resting them on her thighs.
“That’s quite the transformation.”
“Thank you. You have three minutes to decide if you would like to continue the game or not.” She smiled.
The thing she was referring to as a game seemed to be the life I had before my sudden and mostly expected death. Something about her referring to it as a game irritated me. It wasn’t like I was fond of anyone I’d left behind but it did trivialize everyone else’s lives and achievements. The people in my village were terrible to me but they worked hard for themselves and the people around them (who were not me), and I had to assume that not everyone in the world would have looked at me with the same hatred. There was one person who actually looked at me with something close to affection or at least worry for my wellbeing. I didn’t care whether I was going to die or not but I needed to stand up for that one person.
“It’s not a game! I have people who I care about.”
“One…or two, I guess.”
“Only one or two?”
“Does the number matter?”
“Sometimes. There are people who need a large support system and others who get by on their own. Which one are you? Do you feel fulfilled with just one or two?”
“I didn’t really know either of the that well. I don’t even know if I should count Edith since she’s the worst and we only kind of made up right before I died, but I can at least say I probably, definitely had one actual friend.”
“Were you his friend?”
“How would I know?” It’s impossible to know what’s going on in another person’s head or what their motivation could be, but he’d always take time when I was at my lowest to make attempts at cheering me up or keeping me company, at the very least.
“What if he hated you?”
“It wouldn’t matter, there tons of little bastards running around the village who hated me. They threw rocks, and food, and sticks, and called me names. Some of them weren’t even that little. But Callum never did anything with the intent to harm me, he was without a doubt the nicest person in the village. Even if he hated me, he hated me sweetly. It was leagues better than the way anyone else treated me.”
“Everyone harbors secrets. Some little, some big. Some they are just waiting to share with the right person, and some they barricade deep within their heart.”
The Adjudicator motioned for me to turn around. I did as she wanted, I stood up and turned around coming face to face with a monstrous being. A being with four thick white wings. It stood at about the same height as The Adjudicator and was a mess of plumage with two animalistic glowing, golden eyes near the top of it’s head. It held out a gloved hand and I took it without thought.
“I never hated you” A low resonant voice came out of nowhere. “I worried for you. It was my fault. Twice you died because of me. I will never be able to fully atone for that sin.”
“Who… who are you?”
“I think you know.” The Adjudication remarked.
“Callum.” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I didn’t think I’d be able to see him again.
“I let you die once and vowed to help you lead a happy second life, but once again…one again I…I…”
“You failed, that is the long and short of it.” The Adjudicator, once again, interrupted their reunion.
“You didn’t. All the choices I made were mine. Did you put me in that sickly body? Did you put me in that terrible household? Did you make it so I couldn’t use magic? Did you make the villagers harass me?”
“No. Could you have done anything to intervene?”
“It would have been difficult.”
“So, you did the best you could.”
“I could have done more.”
The Adjudicator stood up, “That’s what I have been waiting to hear. Even at the end of an immortal being’s life they still wish to have done more. Death leaves us empty. It’s only possible to feel full while we are living. In the end everyone, no matter how long lived had something else they needed to do.”
The Adjudicator answered for him, “It is unimportant.”
“Not to me.”
The Adjudicator’s smile brightened, “And last there is that. Not everyone is lucky enough to hear those words, not while they are alive nor after death.”
“I’ll do too, that’s my decision. Wherever he goes, I go.”
The adjudication steal a hungry glance at Callum, “It could be arranged. I’m feeling rather inspired today. In fact, it has been some millenia since I’ve paid a personal visit like this.”
Callum turns to the woman seemingly confused by her answer. “I’ve been wondering. Who are you? You’re not Reaper, and you’re not an angel…”
“Very astute, perhaps I’ll tell you one day.” She snaps and Callum disappears, “as for you, we are going to start a new game.” The Adjudicator forces me to my knees with a wave of her hands.
“What did you just do to him?”
“You wanted to play a game. Once upon a time you shut yourself off from the world. No one had time for you so why would you bother making time for them; as your story goes. Real connections were too much effort, nothing fell into place as easily as you wished, so you put effort into your games. When you died you had a single wish, to forego hardship, to forego having to face your own death and your own wasted potential and play a game. You died again and this time instead of making a hard choice you decided you wanted to go with whatever he wanted for you. You can say it’s because you love him and you want to be by his side to the end, but that’s not how I see it. You were just forcing another difficult decision on to him. He already felt guilty enough with how things ended the last two times; but, fine, I will allow you to give up responsibility for this decision; however, I will not let you take the easy way out. You will have to prove that you are worthy to stand side-by-side with that angel, and only then will accept your answer.
You are going to awaken where you died. Five feet to your left, next to a large stone, will be a jar with little silver marbles inside which I will be naming Angel Candies. They serve two important functions in this game. In the short term, I believe you will expire shortly after returning and these will remedy you illness and injuries. What they actually do wholistically is heal any and all injuries and illnesses, halt aging for one year, raise every stat to the individual’s limit, and facilitate instantaneous regeneration.
Amazing, right? There is a catch though, because otherwise I would not get any entertainment from it. Nothing is free, especially not power like this. It’s funny to think the Olympians were afraid of giving humans fire. Getting chained to a rock and feasted on by crows would have been getting off easy if he’d slipped them one of these. Ha!
So, the trade-off. The Angel Candies are made of real angel, Callum the angel, to be specific. Don not raise a fuss, he had it coming. This whole mess is his fault in the first place. This is his punishment. I have diminished his lifespan down to one-hundred years and as you will see once you awaken there are one-hundred candies. That means for every candy you eat his life span will be diminished by one. The effects of the candy, however, are not permanent they will diminish fairly quickly. It is distilled angel grace and the human body can only handle so much for so long.
One more thing, their effects are not coded to you specifically. Anyone who ingests them will benefit, and two will not double their effectiveness, at most it will bolster regeneration and healing.
Oh! I forgot, I miscounted, there are only twenty-one marbles in the jar. My hand slipped and they spilled across the continent. I can be so clumsy. I guess you’ll have to go find them. I’ll make an announcement about it shortly. When you’ve found as many of them as you can, find your way back to me with the jar. A couple more things to keep in mind for our game, this is an MMRPG so it will not just be you two in on the game and battles will be unavoidable. You may both commit any crimes you feel are justifiable to reach the goal, but I would advise you not test me. All life is sacred, I hold that sentiment close to my heart. I’ll be watching over both of you. Good luck and let the game begin!”
The entire time she talked I was unable to speak, and I felt a presence behind me. I wasn’t sure what the feeling was until she started talking about another person in the game. I couldn’t turn around or move at all to see what it was behind me. Finally, she announced the game’s start and I felt my ability to move return. No sooner had my movement returned that I suddenly fell through the floor and dropped to the continent below.
Theo woke with a start. She immediately began coughing and convulsing, the smell was awful, even worse than Callum’s. She felt so weak and her eyes were burning. She couldn’t muster the strength to stand and instead pulled herself toward the jar located exactly where The Adjudicator had said. Theo opens the lid and a golden sheet of paper falls to the ground.
“I only temporarily restarted your heart. You are still weak and dying. If you do not wish to die and still wish to be reunited with Callum some day, then please take one angel candy.”
Anger and frustration, and sorrow and grief wage war across Theo’s face. After a moment and a severe case of being suddenly being unable to breathe, she relents and downs one of the silver balls.
A glow ignites within her and a strength she’d never known before. Her messy brown hair explodes in a blaze of blinding white fire and her eyes shine gold through her blue aura.
The writing on the paper changes.
Theo crumpled the note. Tears fell from her eyes. Her eyes were wholly consumed in gold. She was locked into a memory that was not her own. She knew the memory was Callum’s but it wasn’t him in the memories. It was memories of another world far more fantastical than the one she knew. The memories slipped by in both a second and a lifetime and left her with nothing but warm emptiness.
She shook herself out of her daze.
“The less subtle effects should dissipate within the next 24hrs. You might also want to keep on the move and out of densely populated areas. That unchecked angel aura is likely to attract all sorts of nasty monsters, even during the day. Get to the next checkpoint and I’ll answer any one question you might have.”
Theo crumpled and chucked the note. Anger boiled in her belly and rampaged across her face. She stomped out the cave, lightly shaking the ground with each step. A howl rang out across the forest before her. Her golden, reptilian eyes narrowed. Her course forward was now set and a new mission was put before her. She would collect all the marbles, find her way back to The Adjudicator, save Callum, and beat the shit out of that blonde bitch. Theodora would play to win!
END OF PART ONE
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