1. The Tale of King Reggie
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  In the city of Lluthcaster, capital of the Valenloft kingdom, stood a great stone castle. Built from the first slabs of granite cheaply quarried from the nearby mountain, the structure was incredibly unsightly. However, a quick application of lime plaster and paint on the inside walls made it much more bearable. That’s not to say King Reginald, first of his line as king and commander of Valenloft by the grace of the god Allivaine, didn’t try to have the outside of the castle plastered as well. The construction foreman who was first assigned to the task warned King Reginald of the problems associated with the order and was promptly executed, as the King’s word is supreme and to reject his wisdom is blasphemy. The second foreman, the original’s assistant, was of a much brighter mind in that he accepted the King’s request without question. Regrettably, the first foreman’s warnings rang true, as it was the rainy season in Lluthcaster and the near-omnipresent water prevented the plaster from drying properly. Combined with exposure to the elements, the final result was of a hideous quality, much like the temper of the King, who had the second foreman executed as well.


  It was around this time that the crown prince realized that if this were to continue, there would be no more able minded foremen left! Who would then be able to construct a proper mansion for his harem? The local nobility had a very similar idea, regarding the King and not the harem mind you, and assisted the crown prince in taking the throne. “All glory to King Reginald II! May his reign be forever more!” they all exclaimed. “Please don’t kill me!” each of them later begged, as King Reginald II had them executed for their traitorous actions against the previous king. The King could not be blamed however, not just because assigning him blame is an act of blasphemy, but because a united nobility capable of having the King assassinated is not one that can be trusted, especially when you yourself are the new King!


  King Reginald II reigned relatively long thanks to the good head on his shoulders, but his one weakness was women. All it took was one princess he had brought to his harem from a nearby conquered kingdom to stab him through the heart, as well as other places. Perhaps her declaration of love to the King after he killed her beloved family in front of her was a bad omen, but none of the King’s soldiers present would be the ones to tell him that. And thus, the reign of King Reginald II ended with a stab to his most love-filled organ.


  King Reginald III, the present ruler, inherited his father’s level-headed demeanor and cunning mind, without his penchant for chasing women. Under his rule, the kingdom grew richer but faced new threats in their war against the Krikkit empire. Terrible monsters, the King described them as, requiring great sacrifice to fight against for the good of the Valenloft Kingdom! In response, the King demanded the kingdom’s records be scoured for an ancient ritual most blessed and divine. A ritual brought forth by the All-Seeing Oracle centuries ago, who hailed from the empire the Valenloft kingdom broke off from two generations before. The ritual was found, and the scribe having done so was rewarded handsomely, much to the displeasure of his peers. After much setup, the ritual itself was ready to be conducted. It came with a warning however, to only be used in the most dire of circumstances, when the risk of extinction loomed over humanity or the entire world itself. Of course, King Reginald III saw that his world was very much under great threat, and thus authorized its usage. This ritual was made to do something beyond what he was using it for, so it should only be that much more effective!


  On the most auspicious day as directed by the ritual’s documents, the King was seated on his marble throne, overlooking the members of his court preparing the finishing touches. Sages of Allivaine wandered about the ritual floor, making sure everything was in place. Magical paints, powdered gemstones, and gold inlays were scattered about the onyx-black summoning circle. It was time. The head sage shouted at the others to clear the circle, and his disciples quickly ran to its outer edges. He began the chant which the others added their own voices to. The sacred words echoed off the plaster walls of the throne room, filling it with a language only once before spoken in living memory. The summoning circle and runes inscribed within glowed with the rhythm of the chanting, completing the sacrosanct image detailed in the ancient documents. As the sages reached a crescendo, the previous glow erupted into a blinding flash. As the light faded and everyone’s vision returned, a group of young men and women appeared within the onyx ring.


  Each of these newcomers wore clothing incredibly different from the others in the room, not simply because the others consisted of robed sages and a wizard, armored guards standing watch in the corners, and the King cloaked in regal garb. The newcomers were dressed in t-shirts, sweaters, and jeans. What could be considered casual wear to them was much different from the brown linens most of the peasant folk in the surrounding town had on their backs. Definitely, these young folk weren’t from around there.


  King Reginald III stood. He cleared his throat and split his focus between the gravitas he wished to put in his voice and remembering the speech he wrote earlier that day. [We Love the King] [Commanding Presence] [Voice of Divine Mandate]. The King thought through the phrases with practiced effort, activating his divinely granted abilities. The crowd of newcomers, originally confused by their sudden shift in scenery, all turned to look at the King and his majesty.


  “Great Heroes,” the King began. “You have been summoned to this land from E...Arth to rid it of a great and terrible threat! The forces of evil beleaguer our blessed lands and threaten our ways of life with extinction! This ritual has blessed you all with a great potential to grow and become powerful. Please, use that power to save us!”


  The young men and women in the circle mumbled to themselves in even more surprise.


  “Woah, just like the light novels!” exclaimed one.


  “What do you think we get to fight? Monsters? Demons?” asked another.


  “I wonder if we get to use magic,” pondered a third.


  “I want to go home!” cried a very young boy.


  The rest of the newcomers turned to face him. He was no older than 8 or 9 years old, a child amongst the rest of the group in their late teens and early twenties.


  “The quest I give you is great, and it is your duty as heroes to fulfil it,” began the King again. His words drew back everyone’s gazes, and silenced the boy’s tears. “Do you not care for the kingdom and all who live within?”


  Everyone was silent, without even a murmur. One of the young men in the group, Kai Freeman, recognized the scenario. He hoped he was wrong, but he was almost certain he pinned down the King’s nature in his mind.


  The boy took a tough breath through the artificially heavy atmosphere and repeated himself. “I want to go home!” The words resonated through the throne room, with much more force and emotion than the chanting.


  “That wasn’t a question. You will fight for the kingdom!” shouted the King. He turned to the wizard next to him and casually whispered instructions to them. “Have the guards move that child to the dungeons once the ritual is complete. We don’t need him demotivating the others. Now, should I teach him a lesson while he’s down there, or just leave him to starve?”


  As if called by those very words, a new portal opened in the throne room at the very back. Then a second, and a third. Soon, over half a dozen blue, swirling gaps in reality opened up around the perimeter of the throne room.


  “Is this part of the ritual?” asked the King.


  Before anyone could reply, dozens of figures exited the portals in marching formation, all armed and armored in what looked like thick cotton armor and sulfur yellow-colored spears. As they poured out, a man in the front shouted, “This is the Terran Defense Force! You stand accused of abusing Earther Summoning Rituals! Stand down and you will be spared!”


  Of course, what kind of King would simply take such a threat against him? Whoever these hooligans were, with their superior portal magic that bypassed all of the castle and town’s anti-teleportation wards, had no business arresting him like some common criminal. King Reginald was much cooler-headed than his grandfather, but an insult of this caliber definitely deserved the death sentence.


  “Guards, attack!” the King shouted.


  What followed could only be described as a one-sided fight. The fabric of the attacking soldiers’ armor absorbed blows from maces and swords alike as if they were a child’s blows, and their spears corroded through the guards’ plate armor as if they were white-hot knives applied to soft flesh. At least, that was what the King thought to himself, one whose hobbies included picking fights with the children in pillaged towns and torturing prisoners. A more sensible peasant of the kingdom would have compared the respective blows to slapping a two-ton bull and getting subsequently gored, not that any of the people from Earth present would have considered such a comparison themselves. Nope, just mundane similes about punching brick walls and cutting butter with a hot knife.


  The exchange lasted for no longer than a minute, with the guards outnumbered, outgunned, and outmatched. They were all either dead or with their hands up in surrender by the end of it. The soldier who originally announced their intent began to approach the King at a casual pace.


  “King Reginald III, I think I’ll just call you Reggie whether or not you mind,” he began.


  And as soon as he had begun, he was interrupted by a fireball thrown from the court wizard standing beside Reggie. All that was there to announce the attack was an instant of crackling, and then a basketball-sized orb of fire collided with his midsection and plumed gouts of orange flame in all directions from the impact spot. He didn’t so much as flinch.


  “Nice trick there, with that firebolt,” he said in reply. “Bigger than average, but I won’t call it a fireball since I’m not standing in a flaming crater right now. Honestly, why is fire always everyone’s go-to spell? I mean, it’s so generic and easy to counter when you expect it! That’s why we’re all wearing heatscar spider silk armor. The stuff is perfect against fire and blunt force weapons, they just slide right off! But that’s what due diligence gets you, an easier time. Now let me show you something even cooler.” He lifted a hand and snapped a finger. The air around the court wizard grew light, something missing from it. In fact, that very absence drew out the same stuff from the wizard through diffusion, making her remove the hood on her robe and begin panting.


  “What did you do?” asked the court wizard between her pants.


  “That there’s a null magic spell. It should be possible for wizards such as yourself to cast it, if the teaching of magic wasn’t constantly undermined. You’re just dealing with a magic vacuum, you’ll be fine. Now as for you, Reggie…”


  The soldier removed his visor to reveal another young man of slightly mixed ancestry. His black hair and slightly almond-shaped eyes were complemented by the near-vertical scar running down his left cheek and somewhat sharp cheekbones. While the newly summoned had eyes of wonder and bewilderment, his were similar to the very granite that made up the walls; cold and hard.


  “All it took was a petty border war for you to start summoning Earthers. It wasn’t enough for you to draft your peasants who aren’t gaining anything from this but you had to press gang people who aren’t even your own citizens. Even children! I would say I’m shocked, but that’s part and parcel for a King in a Gilded World. It’s been a while since I’ve been deployed to a Noblebright World, but it’s rarely as bad there as it is in worlds like this one. It honestly gets tiring policing over the worst of humanity, if you all can still be considered the same as the rest of us.”


  The King was speechless. Though he took no insult sitting down, he knew not to let his anger get the better of him, and who knew how many more tricks these strangers had up their surprisingly sturdy sleeves?


  The man turned to the people still standing within the onyx summoning ring. “Ladies and Gentlemen of Earth, my name is Artyom Choi,” he started. “This piece of human feces, Reggie, decided to kidnap you all to fight in a stupid war that he started over a little bit of farmland.”


  The young child who had asked to go home pulled on the sleeve of a young lady next to him and asked for the meaning of feces. Her reply made him giggle.


  “On behalf of the Terran Otherworldly Advocacy League that I represent, I apologize for the terrible inconvenience. Whenever abuses of Earther summoning rituals like this occur, we try to assist the victims and prevent those abuses from happening again. Fortunately, it appears that the summoning ritual you are all standing on hasn’t quite cooled down yet, and it may be possible to send you back. All we need is…”


  “Found it!” shouted one of the other soldiers, grabbing a sheaf of yellowed papers from the head sage. “It’s definitely rune magic, only level 5 degradation to boot!”


  Artyom whistled in admiration, that was a rare find. When the multiverse was created, Runes were the letters of the language that bound physical space and magic. They could be used for various forms of spellcraft, usually for enchanting or rituals, but were limited in the nature of their use and spread. They weren’t simply letters, like in an everyday written language. You couldn’t just accidentally scribble the symbol for a rune without previous knowledge and expect it to cast a spell. The knowledge of the rune itself is what held power, and this knowledge could be spread by writing down the rune after seeing it yourself. However, a transcribed rune would have less potency than the one it was learned from. This was known as levels of degradation. Thus, the closer to the source of runes you learned from, the more powerful the magic. Nobody Artyom knew had ever seen the original runes, and the lowest level of degradation he knew of was with Odin of Norse mythology, who by the League’s estimates based on his mythological feats witnessed level 2 or 3 runes when hanging on the tree Yggdrasil. Throughout the multiverse, many religions and mythologies had their stories ring true. Norse was just one of them, but there was also Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, and surprisingly enough even some Abrahamic. Just like all of the myths making up the multiverse, rune magic was only one of the many. Artyom had encountered plenty of magic systems during his time with the League. Raw magic and Boon magic were much more common, the former of which he was using to nullify the court mage’s spells right now.


  “Alright, I’ve got it!” shouted the soldier with the papers. “Just give me the signal and I’ll send everyone back.”


  “Hold on, first the souvenirs!” exclaimed Artyom, only half-forcing himself into a more cheerful mood. “Just so all of you don’t think you’re going crazy after you’ve gone home, we’re going to give each of you a little pin to hold onto, like a little souvenir for your journey. In case if something like this ever happens again, it’ll let us know about it and we’ll be able to check up on you to make sure everything is above board.”


  With some expert tosses, Artyom quickly distributed a gleaming metal pin to everyone in the summoning ring. It had some splotches of color, as well as the initials T.O.A.L. Once he was done, he turned back to the soldier with the papers.


  “Alright Abhi, you can send them back now!”


  “Hold on,” said one of the young men in the circle. He had jet black hair, dark-colored skin, and a look of someone who has been through too much. Kai Freeman. “I don’t want to go back home, there’s nothing for me there.”


  “We could exclude you from the ritual,” stated Abhi, taking another look at the sheaf of papers in his hands. “You’d just need to step out of the ring.”


  “We could, but is being shanghaied any better than wherever you’re from? You sound American, so even joining the army would get you a much better way of life than whatever Reggie had planned for you.”


  “That’s enough!” shouted King Reginald. “First you insult my sages, but now you insult my army? I won’t stand for this...”


  A strong gust of air shoved Reggie back into his throne, and a spear of coalesced light pinned his robes to the seat.


  “You can sit down then. But please, shut the hell up,” asked Artyom. He complied. Artyom turned back to Kai, awaiting his anwer.


  “Well, maybe not here, but somewhere? I’ve seen a few anime about this happening, and it’s always a chance to build a new life for yourself. That’s what I need.”


  Artyom took a few seconds to take in what Kai had said. He took a deep breath, and put on a warm smile. “What you need, my friend, is therapy. I don’t really know your life story, but it’s always better to send more emotionally complete people to Worlds if we want to help other Earthers. It’ll take a bit before you’re ready.”


  Kai processed Artyom’s answer before his eyes began to widen. “You mean you want me to join you guys?”


  “Indeed I do. We’re always in need of more help, and any willing Earther is welcome. Of course for the rest of you,” said Artyom, turning to the others in the ring. “If you’d like to join, let me know. But it means giving up your current life and never being able to go home.” The young boy in the audience forcefully shook his head. The others didn’t say a thing.


  “If you’re hesitating, then it means the answer is no. And if you’re saying no, then it also means no. Don’t worry, you might end up getting spirited away like this again in the future, hopefully to a place much nicer than this with a way home. Those portalled once seem to have a knack for getting called again, that’s why we gave you those souvenirs. Well then, Abhi, would you kindly?”


  “Alright! You there who wanted to stay,” said Abhi, pointing at Kai. “Could you please exit the onyx summoning ring?”


  “It’s Kai. Kai Freeman,” he said, while walking out of the circle.


  Abhi began chanting, and the runes in the ring began to glow again.


  “Wait!” shouted a feminine voice from behind them. The court mage quickly walked down the steps of the dais where the throne was seated and made her way towards Artyom. “Your magic, it was beyond anything I’ve ever seen! Please, let me join you as well!”


  “What?!” shouted Reginald. “I’ve been insulted more than I have in my life, but treason is where I draw the line!”


  Artyom passed judging eyes over her pleading face, and then to Reggie who was as red as a tomato now as he wrestled with the light spear still pinning him to his throne.


  “Eh, not my problem,” Artyom concluded.


  The court mage’s eyes turned fearful. Her love of magic was what allowed her to rise through the ranks and become second to none in the kingdom, but her position of court mage wasn’t for any particular love of the king. It was just the easiest way to gain access to the kingdom’s archives and magical secrets. Thus was her motivation to take such a calculated risk, one that didn’t seem to pay off.


  “But surely you could use more help with your league?” she began to plead. She would be dead if this didn’t work, so what was the use of pride? “I’ve graduated at the top of my class at the mage’s guild, I’m the top magic user in the entire kingdom!”


  “That education isn’t any good if half of what they taught you is of no use. Unlike on Earth, a fancy diploma alone isn’t going to cut it. Besides, the call was for Earthers, since the organization is for helping other people from Earth.”


  The court mage’s expression fell even further. She had played her cards at the wrong time for just a chance at learning more. If only…


  “Actually, the R&D team could use her,” interrupted Abhi. “We haven’t fully documented all of the magic available in this world yet, and she could help with that. Not to mention possible tracking magic to find the other Earthers.”


  “Whatever, you can take her with you. But keep her magic nullified, I don’t trust her or anyone else in this place,” replied Artyom, glaring at Reggie and the surrendered guards.


  The court mage quickly rushed over to Abhi, ready to throw herself at his feet in gratitude. But instead, he simply asked her to walk slowly and began to make casual chit-chat with her. How powerful must they all be to act so casually when throwing around such power?


  Abhi continued reciting the chant and before long, a blinding flash engulfed the room.


  “Thank you!” came the voice of the young boy before they all disappeared, safely back home.


  The throne room was silent for a long time.


  “Well then,” said Artyom. “I’ll give you the tour of our headquarters.” He led Kai through one of the portals, on a brand new journey.