Are the gods even real?
White snow drifts lazily down towards the ground, falling from the clearing sky of an unusually warm winter’s day. The end of the season seems to have arrived.
Song-birds swoop through the air, chasing after each other and whistling, bringing with their chirps the first hint of a spring, which may yet come in a day not far from today.
However, despite their brief bursts of song, in contrast with only a few minutes ago, the world remains hauntingly silent. Now that the last man has fallen on the battlefield, which is littered with the corpses of some hundred odd people, now that the brutal skirmish has finally come to an end, some vague, abstract goal having been achieved — the world is quiet.
A small, blue bird lands on his breastplate. It tilts its head, scooting around for a moment on its twiggy legs. The animal pecks at his chest and then flies off, returning to its swarm.
The paladin, Isaiah, lays there, somewhat ironically impaled on the blade of the second to last man, who now lies dead next to himself.
His chest heaves, constrained in place by the thin sword, that is pushing in through his breastplate. The blade restricts the movements of his torso and, with each and every failed breath, his body moves up and down along its keen edge.
The fight for the territory has been won, but at the cost of many great things.
— The most expensive price of this nonsense is that the eyes of every person on this battlefield might not ever see what a wonderful spring this year would have brought.
It is something very simple.
Isaiah feels his eyes growing dark. His last breath leaves him.
The gods, who he had sworn his life to, had done little to prevent the tragedy of this battle and they had done nothing to spare him from its reaping; just as they had done little to prevent him from walking the life path, which had brought him here, to where he now lies.
So what was the point of his lifelong, zealous faith, exactly?
Everything that he has ever known, learned, felt, sensed and experienced becomes void.
One might not be able to say for how long Isaiah sleeps, exactly. His soul drifts through the emptiness as a non-thing, as some vaguely human shaped entity, for a very long time.
But it is perhaps fair to assume that during this period, many springs come and go in reality. They leave together with just as many winters and many, many, many more generations of men and women.
A long time has passed.
The thing floats through the darkness, holding onto itself as it drifts through the light-less ocean, as it has done forever, as far as it 'knows'.
It isn’t awake.
It simply floats there, vaguely aware of the faintest whisper of its own existence, but not ever being aware enough to ever get close to waking up.
It is loud. It is bright.
The entity slowly opens its eyes, disturbed from its rest from the first thing of substance that has ever happened to it.
What is this?
So many things happen all at once.
It realizes, for the first time, that it is in a state, which is different from the state that it had always been in.
— It is awake.
Its eyes scan the darkness. It has eyes. It knows what eyes are. This is also new.
It looks up towards the menu, the text filled window that had appeared before itself.
- Reincarnation? A new life? What does that mean?
It moves, trying to figure out if it can even do so. It swings its arms, realizing that it has arms. It kicks its legs, realizing that it has legs.
It opens its mouth, realizing that it has a mouth.
Thick, oozy water rushes into its throat, muffling the odd sounds that it tries to make. The sounds aren’t akin to words of any coherent fashion. They’re just similar to the babbling gibberish of a child.
Everything goes white.
A long time has passed.
The female blackbird scoots along the ground of the forest, running in quick, short, striding bursts.
She stops, looking down at the ground and then picking out a fat, juicy worm that has foolishly dared to brave the topsoil in her presence.
Another of its own kind, a male blackbird, sees this and swoops down to the ground, trying to steal it. But the female bird quickly flies away, landing on a branch. She gulps down her prize as fast as she can, looking down at the other.
Defeated, the male scoots away, heading towards a bush that is ripe with red berries. The forest is a very bountiful place.
The blackbird lifts her head. It is spring and it is time for her to build a nest. She doesn’t know in coherent thoughts that she has to do this. She just sort of knows.
She flies up to the top of the tree, looking for a good spot.
She spots a strong branch, with some shelter from the elements atop its thick base, nested on the strong tree. The blackbird scoots towards it, jumping a few branches over.
Another female arrives at the same time and they look at each other for a tense moment, before immediately falling into a very violent tussle.
Competition is fierce amongst females for the best spots.
She is stronger. She has always been a good fighter.
The other female retreats, flying away before she suffers any very serious injuries.
The blackbird, pleased, sets to work on making a nest.
This is a beautiful branch. It is very high up. It is sheltered. It has a strong foundation and a good view of the landscape and of any potential predators or mates. It has all of the good qualities that a good home needs.
She starts building her nest.
A few days have passed.
A courtship display arrives at her home. The female blackbird holds perfectly still.
A male blackbird stands on the ground. He bows his head and begins scooting around across the ground in short bursts, singing a low-toned, choking song.
Never moving an inch, she watches him closely for any mistakes.
— However, it is a perfect dance.
Pleased, she lifts her head and tail.
The rest proceeds as nature intends.
More time has passed.
“POOK-POOK-POOK!” squeaks the black-bird, letting out an alarm cry, as a strange thing walks through the forest, stepping onto the ground beneath her tree. “POOK-POOK-POOK!” she cries, turning her head and lowering her body down over her clutch of spotted, beige to light-blue eggs.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” protests a high toned voice. “I’m sorry~!”
The blackbird looks down at the odd predators. They are large and gangly and have two limbs on their bottom halves and two limbs on their top halves. She recognizes them as creatures from outside of the forest.
“‘Sorry’ doesn’t cut it!” yells the larger one, indistinct in gender. It holds the smaller one by her ear and drags her along. The large one points up towards the tree with a long, slender limb. “Look at him! He’s a bird!”
“I was just following guidelines,” replies the female. Her short, very colorful strands of hair dangle downward. “They said that he was supposed to be a blackbird this time around!” she argues. “Please! I hate it down here!” she explains, looking at the world around herself.
The other one tugs harder on her ear and pulls her head down lower to the ground. She cries in pain. “You’re going to stay here and fix this!” it commands.
“We can’t fix it,” she argues, on the edge of tears. “Look, he’s already made a nest and eggs. Just give it a few years and he’ll die and come back and we can do it th- IOW!” She flails, trying to get free. But the larger one, neither distinctly male or female, does not let her go.
“Malfi,” commands the big one, losing its patience. “My followers get rewarded for their faith. Being a bird isn’t a reward.”
“Okay, okay!” she relents. “I’ll uh… I know!” She grabs a rock from the ground. “Let’s just kill him now, then he’ll respawn again and we can IAAAAAH-!” She turns sideways, almost losing her balance from the force of the hand yanking her along.
The bigger one glares down towards her. “I’ll tear your ear right off, Malfi,” it warns. “You’re replaceable.” It leans down towards her. “Fix. This.” The entity narrows its eyes. “- Now.”
She thinks for a moment. “Okay,” she says, holding out her hands. “Okay.” The big one lets go of her and she immediately starts rubbing her sore ear. “Why don’t we give him a monster-blessing?” she offers. The taller one glares at her and she backs off, lifting her hands. “- It doesn’t have to be a bad thing!” she quickly explains. “But without a full reincarnation, there’s only so much that I can do within the system. There are rules to this stuff.”
“Malfi,” starts the big one in a very stern tone, seemingly not pleased.
“- We’ll change it around though!” she throws in, before she gets punished for whatever transgression she had just put into the world. “He’s a bird, so we’ll just pump magic into him until he turns into a monster. But we’ll use the holy attribute to do it!” she says, lifting a finger. “That way, it still works within the rules of the system, but he won’t be some horrible, drooling cretin!” finishes Malfi, flinching and covering her head, as if preparing to be struck.
It is quiet for a moment, except for the repeated alarm-song of the female blackbird, warning its still absent partner of the danger nearby. He is out collecting food for them.
The large one glares at her and turns away, not saying anything.
Malfi opens an eye, warily. “…So, it’s a good idea?” she asks, with a tender hope in her eyes.
The big one looks over its shoulder towards her. “It will have to do,” it says in annoyed reluctance.
She sighs in relief, lifting her hands and looks at the bird, that is sitting up on the branch. The bird looks down at her, continuing to squeak, feverishly guarding its treasured home and eggs.
In an odd moment of random thought, the blackbird notices that the woman’s red ear looks like a big berry.
A strange glow encapsulates her digits and the bird continues to chirp, wondering when her mate will return from gathering berries and worms?
“Hold still -” says Malfi, narrowing her eyes.
The blackbird continues to chirp, determined to protect its nest to the end.
“This isn’t what you promised me, Malfi!”
“Ow! Ow!” she yelps. “- I couldn’t help it!” argues Malfi, lowering her body to move in sync with her ear that is being twisted around. “The stupid guy got all defensive about his nest and it made the magic weir - OW!”
“A dungeon-core?!” asks the god. “This is a disaster! I wanted you to give him some normal powers!”
There is a rustling noise. Something stirs.
“We have to go! He’s waking up!” says Malfi, sounding happy about having a chance to escape the situation.
The creature, sitting at the base of a tree, opens its eyes.
It looks around itself, examining the forest, that it finds itself inside of.
It knows what a forest is.
It is green and beautiful and feels oddly familiar in a way that it can’t explain, simply because it doesn’t really know how to explain anything. Sunshine streams in generous rays down lazily through the thick, verdant crowns above itself.
Birds sing. The wind blows. It is calm.
The entity blinks.
Some odd things appear, rather suddenly.
The entity tilts its head, trying to understand what life is. Everything is a blur. Everything is jumbled. It exists. It thinks. It…
— It turns its head, looking at a bush. The bush is covered in thick, red, little orbs.
It remembers berries.
Quickly, it awkwardly stumbles over towards them and reaches for the berries with its strangely formed, gangly arms and hands. Walking is an awkward proposition, as its legs feel unusual to walk on. Its arms move unusually, as the wings that it is used to having, are larger than it remembers them being.
It looks down at itself, expecting to see feathers on its body, but there aren’t any. It has smooth skin, which is almost blindingly pale.
The creature turns its head, looking at the source of the new noise. It comes from above the spot, where it had just woken up. A small blackbird sits in a nest, high up on a branch and it sings a pretty song.
The winged half-monstrosity eats the berries, roughly smearing them onto its face in an uncoordinated mess of an attempt, as a huge jumble of memories of vague things return to it and blend together into something not entirely coherent.
“I…sai…ah,” it mutters, berry juice and flesh dripping out of its mouth and onto its body.