Chapter One: Arrival

I walked out into the crosswalk, drawing stares from other pedestrians. It wasn't surprising that I was gaining so much attention; I had just come from a fantasy convention, and I was dressed the part. When designing my costume, I had tried to make it as simple and easy to wear as I could, but the red-and-black outfit was still definitively "fantasy game" garb. At my side was a wooden sword (which for some reason had been allowed despite not being foam, probably because there were genuine sword lessons at the convention). Also attached to my belt was a large coin purse, half-filled with leftover plastic tokens about the size of golden dollar coins that had been used as currency at the con. In both hands were bags full of the stuff I had purchased.

I was lost in thought, and I didn't see the car coming. The driver somehow didn't see me either, and barreled down the road toward me. The pain was the worst I'd ever felt, but it only lasted for a brief instant, and then all my senses were swallowed in the void.

Day 1: Where am I?

I opened my eyes to find myself standing in the middle of a cobblestone street, the carriage driver of the horse-drawn contraption headed for me at a steady pace yelling at me to move. I quickly moved to the side of the road and let him pass. Blinking, I looked all around me, trying to figure out what was going on. I had just been hit by a car, right? So where was I, and why was I completely fine?

My surroundings practically screamed "fantasy world." From the apparent level of technology to the complete anachronisms to the elves and beastfolk walking down around the city to the clothing styles to the architecture, it all seemed perfectly fit for a fantasy game setting. I even spotted a robed man casting magic, runes and sigils appearing in the air as he moved his hand and spoke. I quickly looked down at myself. My bags of goods were gone, and a quick once-over determined that my wallet, keys, and cell phone were missing as well, but I was wearing the same clothes and still had the wooden sword by my side. I reached a hand into my coin purse and felt metal instead of plastic. I grabbed a token and pulled it out.

Instead of the plastic token that I was expecting, I found myself looking at a similarly sized silver coin. I quickly checked through my coin purse. All the tokens had transformed into metal coins. There were a few copper, a handful of silver, and a couple gold – this seemed to match with my fifty cent tokens, my two dollar tokens, and my five dollar tokens respectively. I scratched my head. What was going on?

Shrugging, I set off down the side of the street. I was feeling a bit hungry, so when I spotted the fruit vendor stand I made straight for it. The man running the stand was a gruff-looking bearded man in a black outfit. Next to him was a little girl, maybe eight years old, who was smiling and waving at the passers-by; she was probably his daughter given the identical black hair and tanned complexion. I stopped in front of the stand. I didn't recognize the fruit. It looked kind of like an apple-sized strawberry with a peach-like skin. Fantasy fruit. Might as well roll with it.

"Welcome, my good customer," the vendor said. "If you're feeling peckish, why don't you buy a crimberry? Sweet, succulent, juicy, and filling! Only two yind apiece!"

"I think I will," I said, quickly guessing that yind was the name of the currency and that unless there were more denominations than what I had in my purse, the copper coins were probably one yind. I pulled out two copper coins and handed them to him. His expression brightened slightly, but not enough for me to think I'd accidentally handed him more than he asked for. I reached out and picked up one of the crimberries and bit into it. It was very good; the flesh was something of a cross between strawberry and peach in consistency, but the flavor was similar to a strawberry with just a hint of apple.

"Mm. Very good," I said with a smile, wiping the juice away that had drippled down my cheek. The girl smiled brightly at me.

"Thank you for your patronage. I'm glad you approve."

"Did you grow these?"

"I did. I have a crimberry orchard outside the city, over near Voynage. If you don't mind my asking, where are you from? Your accent is unusual."

Crap. How do I answer this question? I guess the answer is...

"Not sure. I've got amnesia. Don't even remember my name. I just found myself here in the city a little while ago with no memory of how I got here or where I came from." I took another bite, relishing the taste of the fruit. "All I've got is my sword and my money. I don't even know if I know how to use the sword; it's only wood, after all, so maybe I don't."

"Am...nesia?" the little girl asked. "What's that?"

"It means he can't remember anything," the vendor explained. He turned back to me. "That's terrible. If you stop by the Adventurers' Guild, there's sure to be somebody that could look into things for you. They're located over by the tower." He pointed into the distance at a tower that rose high above the other buildings.

"Adventurer's Guild?" I asked.

"They handle all sorts of requests, from deliveries to mercenary work to monster slaying. Sometimes they do investigations, too. Even if no one knows you, you could post a request and someone would look into figuring out who you are. And if you wanted, you could join the guild. There's a fee to join, but it's only twenty-five yind, I think."

"Thank you. Here, I'll buy another crimberry in appreciation." I handed him two of my remaining three copper coins and picked up another fruit. "Your daughter is adorable, by the way."

"Thank you, mister!" she said as I turned to leave.

I continued to make my way through the city, using the tower as my landmark. After what seemed like forever but was probably only thirty minutes to an hour (without my cellphone I had no way to check the time) I finally found the guild building. It was four stories tall and an entire block wide. I knew I was in the right place because a sign reading "Adventurers' Guild" was posted out front. The doors were the sort that swung open freely without need for a handle, so I pushed my way through into the building.

It was very spacious. The ceiling was about eighteen feet up, and the room was wide open, taking up almost the entire building's width and depth. There were several counters and a very large notice board in the middle of the room. People of varying ages (from teens to forties) and races (humans, elves, and beastfolk) were milling about. I headed for the counter directly across from the entrance. A young elf woman with metallic golden hair and sparkling emerald eyes greeted me from the other side of the counter.

"Hello! Welcome to the AG HQ! What can I do for you?"

"Hello. I have amnesia, and was told that I could post a request for someone to look into it here? Also, I'm interested in joining the guild." Why not, right? Go with the flow and all that. It's not like I really expect anyone to figure out my identity for me when I don't really have amnesia and come from a different world.

"Oh my. Well, I can process the request for you and sign you up to join us at the same time. What do you remember?"

"Not much. I just found myself in the city earlier today with no memory of who I am or how I got here. I don't even know where here is. I've been making educated guesses about things since. For example, I don't know the currency, but since I have some coins, I've been guessing."

"Oh dear. Well, I'm afraid that with only your appearance to go on we're not likely to be able to help with the memory problem, but I'll put up the request anyway. Smile!"

She lifted up what seemed to be a camera and took my picture with a flash. "I'll use the image for both the request and your card. To join, the fee is twenty-five yind. Oh, right, you said you don't remember currency. Well, one yind is a copper coin like this." She placed a copper coin like mine on the counter. "Silver yand are worth ten yind." She set a silver coin next to it. "And gold yald are worth one hundred yind." A gold coin completed the set.

"Then..." I pulled out three silver coins and handed them to her. "So I get back five yind, right?"

"That's right! Give me one moment." She fiddled with a magic machine behind the counter for a minute, then handed me a card. It had my picture on it and the letter E, followed by "RP 0." The instant I touched it, another line of text appeared on it. It read, "Level 5: EXP 15%."

I stared at it for a moment. This was like a game, wasn't it? I asked her about the last line.

"My, you really do have amnesia, don't you? That's your level. Level five is average for a young adult your age who has lived a fairly normal, non-adventurous life. To rank up from adventurer rank E, which is the beginner rank, you must be at least level ten and have completed enough requests to gain one hundred rank points, which is what the RP stands for. Harder requests not only have higher rewards, but they also result in more rank points."

Very game-like. "How does one gain experience to level up?"

"Most people gain experience just through living, training, and studying, but killing monsters is the fastest and most dangerous way. It's how adventurers are able to be such higher level than the general populace."

"How do the ranks compare to levels?"

"E rank adventurers have no level restrictions. D rank adventurers must be at least level ten. C rank must be at least level twenty. B rank: thirty-five. A rank: fifty. S rank are special; there's no level requirement. The majority of adventurers are D and C rank."

She looked at my card. "Curious. It didn't write your name."

"Is it supposed to?"

"Yes. You said you don't remember your name, right? Maybe you should make one up for the time being."

I considered it. "All right." There was a name I had in mind. "How about Zenith? It feels right."

The moment I said that, the name Zenith appeared next to my picture on the card. I looked at it in satisfaction. If I was going to be stuck in a fantasy world, at least I could go by a name of my own choosing. I looked back to the receptionist.

"So, where would you recommend as an inn? I'm obviously going to need a place to stay."

"Not far from here there's an inn called the Swallow's Nest. It's not too expensive, but it's secure and comfortable. It's one yald per night. That's a hundred yind, if you remember. There are cheaper inns and more expensive ones, but that's the one I'd recommend for best balance of cost and comfort. The price includes a single evening meal."

"Thank you, miss..."

"Everlight. My name is Everlight." She smiled. "Welcome to Tradrat, Zenith. I hope your stay in our city is fruitful and that you are able to recover your memories. If you'd like, since you're a member now, you can go over to the request board and take a look. All requests have a recommended ranking. You'll see things like 'Single E' or 'Party C.' If it's labeled single, it's recommended for an individual of that ranking. If it's labeled party, it's recommended for a group of four of that ranking."

"Thank you, miss Everlight. You've been an incredible help. One more thing – the card can read my level and experience, but is there any way for me to examine myself?"

The fact that this world had the game-like level-and-experience system in addition to the questing-for-rank-points system had gotten my mind in the mindset of the Japanese novels I'd read about people being summoned or reincarnated in other worlds. In those, there was often a skill called "observe," "analyze," or "appraisal" that would let you see stats and info about people and items. If such a thing existed here, I'd be remiss not to try to take advantage of it.

Everlight cocked her head and looked at me quizzically. "I'm not sure what you mean," she said. "The card will update as you gain experience, so you can rely on that."

Ah, well. I guess not. "Never mind. I think I'll check out the board."

I walked over to the board and started searching. I reached out my hand toward simple courier mission, ranked Single E, to deliver a package between the city of Tradrat and a town called Ridzor. My hand collided with another. I turned to look and saw that I had just touched hands with a young elf woman with long shining copper hair and gem-like amethyst eyes. She smiled at me.

"Sorry," she said. "I was just going to take that... didn't realize you were going for it, too."

"That's all right. I only just registered, and I have amnesia – I was thinking that an easy travel job to get more accustomed to my surroundings would be good."

The young woman's eyes widened. "You have amnesia? That's terrible! I hope you recover!" She stuck out her hand. "My name's Rozenskye. I'm a new adventurer myself. I've only been on two missions so far."

"I'm going by Zenith," I said, shaking her hand. "Say, how about we both take the mission together? We'll split the reward (and points, I guess), and get to have company on the road. I'm not sure where the destination is anyway; I was planning to ask Everlight."

"Ridzor's about a full day's travel on foot from the city gates. Adventurers and merchants do a fair amount of couriering. I was thinking of getting my feet wet with this job." She smiled. "Sure, why not? Traveling with a companion is far less boring than going alone."

I let her take the request from the notice board and the two of us handed it over to Everlight, informing her of our intention to complete the quest together. She informed us that we would split the reward and rank points evenly, and we agreed.

"Say, do you live in the city?"

Rozenskye nodded. "I do. Would you like a tour? It's still early afternoon, after all."

Come to think of it, it was early afternoon. The time of day didn't match up with the time of day it had been when I was hit by the car. Not that I should have expected it to. Unless I was having a coma dream, I was in a different world. The time of day was the least of the differences.

"Sure!" I said enthusiastically, smiling. "I need to get accustomed to my surroundings anyway. Lead the way! As we walk, you can tell me about the city, the country, heck, even about the world, since I don't remember anything about that either."

"All right then, Zenith! I'll run you by the important places and the landmarks first. That should take most of the rest of the day. Then I'll show you a good restaurant for dinner. Sound good?"

"Sounds great!"

And thus I embarked on the first date I'd been on since I graduated from high school two years ago. A pretty elf girl of my age had asked me out. There's a sentence I never thought I'd say. It's not like I play dating sims.

It was a very enjoyable outing. She showed me where the city bank was located, and explained that not only could you store money there but valuable items as well. Apparently their magical defenses were top notch and they had never in their hundred year history ever been robbed. The tower that had been used as a landmark was apparently the local Mages' Guild headquarters. There were apparently a number of mages who belonged to both that guild and ours, so they didn't compete. The Mages' Guild was more for research and sharing of resources as well as instructing newer mages rather than completing missions like the Adventurers' Guild. Rozenskye pointed out several inns and explained the pros and cons of each one, agreeing with Everlight that the Swallow's Nest was one of the best for its pricing. There was the constabulary headquarters. Then the entertainment district, which included an art house and a theater. The shopping district had an enormous selection of shops, both street-side and buildings. The residential areas were roughly divided into the wealthy, the moderately well-off, the average, and the hard-pressed, but there was apparently next to no actual homelessness and even the poorest section didn't really look like a slum to me.

The restaurant she took me to was amazing. It was very expensive: each of us paid a yald. I'd been doing some estimations after talking to her, and I think a yind is about fifty cents, making the silver yand, which is ten yind, five dollars, and the gold yald, which is ten yind, fifty bucks. Apparently the restaurant she took me to is one of the more expensive ones, but not the most expensive. There was an assortment of meats and vegetables cooked to perfection using spices I didn't know of. Both of us had a very large serving, but we managed to eat everything. I was in food heaven.

She walked me to the Sparrow's Nest and we arrived just as the sun was setting. She bid me farewell and promised to meet me at the guild HQ tomorrow two hours before noon. I entered the building and walked up to the counter. Behind it was a young beastfolk man; he had grey hair and wolf ears on his head and I could see his wolf tail behind him, but other than that he looked human until he smiled, revealing very pointy teeth. His eyes were a sticky-looking amber color.

"Welcome, stranger," he greeted. "This is the Swallow's Nest, best inn in Tradrat. If you'd like a room for the night, it's one yald."

"Here you are, sir," I said, handing him a gold coin. "I'd like a room."

"Very well." He reached behind himself and grabbed a key off the wall. "Thank you for choosing our establishment." He handed me the key. "Room 2C, on the second floor. Do remember to be considerate of your fellows when staying awake and not make too much noise. The walls are thick, but they aren't completely sound-proof."

I thanked him, then climbed the stairs to the second floor. I found my room, unlocked the door, and entered. It was fairly small, but larger than I would have expected given my location. It was made up of two adjoined rooms: a bedroom with a box-spring bed, a desk and chair, and a small bedside table with a magic crystal lamp; and a bathroom with a shower-and-bath and flush toilet. I'd already confirmed it at the restaurant, but this world had indoor plumbing! At least in the city, anyway.

I unslung the satchel that I had bought earlier that day to keep my toiletries, first aid supplies, and notebook/sketch pad and pencil, all of which I had purchased that day. I set it on the desk and pulled out my notebook. I sat down and began to write.

Day One

My name is Zenith, and these will be my memoires. I awoke today in the middle of the city of Tradrat. I have no memories of this world, so I am learning everything as I go. I joined the Adventurers' Guild and met an elf girl named Rozenskye, who showed me around the city and taught me a lot. Tomorrow I will embark on a simple courier quest to the town of Ridzor with her.

In this country, which is called Magisheil, there are a number of cities, towns, and villages scattered about. Each city is more or less autonomous, though they share the same laws and cultural norms. The towns are also autonomous, but they have an allegiance to the nearest city. Villages are isolated and are mostly ignored by the larger settlements. All settlements are nominally loyal to the Royal Crown, but in practice, apart from a portion of the city revenue going to the Crown and nobles being able to be conscripted into the Royal Army, there isn't any real relationship except within the capital of Elmad. The biggest connections between settlements are actually the guilds, which span the entire country.

The currency of the land is known as yind and is divided into three denominations: copper yind, silver yand (10 yind), and gold yald (10 yand/100 yind). Most exchanges are done in yind and yand, with only high-priced transactions using yald.

There are three primary races of people in Magisheil. The first, and most populous, are the humans. Second are the elves, which can be divided into the light elves and the dark elves. Light elves are far more common than dark elves. There seems to be some difference in their sensory ability, but other than that the two sub-races are identical except for coloration. Third are the beastfolk, who all have animal ears and tails, as well as some physical traits of the animals whose ears and tail they have. There are all sorts, from wolves and foxes to tigers and raccoons. Elves and beastfolk are very common, together making up about fifty percent of the population in cities, though the distribution is different in towns and villages.

I learned a little about the culture and history of this world. Apparently we're in a period of peace right now, so the only people who regularly practice fighting skills are mercenaries, royal guards, and adventurers. Monsters are apparently rather common outside of settlements, but they tend to avoid the roads, so the main threat to travelers is banditry. Bandits are usually taken care of by adventurers relatively quickly, however, so they aren't a big concern.

Speaking of monsters, they run the gamut from nearly harmless and even tamable to absolutely deadly even to experienced adventurers, depending on species and location. Killing monsters is the easiest way to level up, but it's also risky. I'm only level 5, which is apparently average for a noncombatant young adult. I'm not sure what the range is for noncombatant adults in general, but I think it's below level 10. Basic adventurers (not rank beginners like me) are expected to be from level 10 to 20, and skilled ones are from 20-35. Elites are 35-50 and super elites are 50+. Apparently there's even a rank above that, but you have to be specially recognized for it.

Well, my hand is getting tired, so I'll stop here.

Zenith

Night 1: Dream Trainer?

"Zenith..."

I opened my eyes. I was standing in the middle of a purple void. Despite the fact that I had undressed to go to bed, I was fully clothed once more. I looked around for the source of the voice that had called my name.

"Zenith..."

I turned around to find myself face to face with... myself? At least, it looked like me, right down to the outfit. The other me was staring straight at me.

"What the? Who are you? Is this a dream?"

"Zenith, level five. Average physical and spiritual attributes for level five." After saying this, he drew his wooden sword. "Skill Training. Objective: grant swordsmanship skill level one."

I drew my sword. "So you're some kind of dream trainer like from a Chinese Xianxia novel? First it's Japanese Isekai, now it's Chinese Xianxia. What exactly is going on?"

He moved toward me and swung his sword horizontally. I dodged backwards out of the way, then stepped forward and mimicked him. He blocked my swing with his own blade then thrust forward, hitting me in the chest. I stumbled backwards.

The training went on for what felt like an eternity, and I picked up skills from him with far greater speed than should have been possible. Eventually, he put away his sword and bowed.

"Skill Training compete. Zenith: skill rank: swordsmanship level one obtained. Physical attributes slightly increased."

I woke up.

Day 2: So these are monsters?

Rozenskye and I accepted the package to be delivered when we arrived at AG HQ (I discovered it was common to abbreviate guilds by their initials, such as AG or MG) and headed out. It took about an hour to reach city limits from HQ, and then our journey began. We stopped and ate our prepared lunches at about two o'clock by my rough estimate, and then we continued on our way. It was around four when we found the road blocked by a bunch of gelatinous blobs. They were each roughly the size of a beach ball and there were fifteen of them. They were translucent and came in several different colors.

"So... what are those?"

"They're called slimes, and they're one of the least threatening monsters. They eat practically anything. They reproduce really quickly, though, so it's always a good idea to exterminate any you come across. We could simply detour around them, but... well, if we have the ability to fight them and let them live, it would be kind of irresponsible, wouldn't it?"

With that, Rozenskye clapped her hands together. I had noticed earlier and asked her about the peculiar gloves she was wearing. They were thin but durable, with magic circles sewn into the backs. Apparently she was a mage, which meant that she was capable of casting magic. Without the ability to see her stats, I couldn't guess at how skilled she was until I saw her in action. Given that she was a new adventurer taking on E-rank quests, I figured she was probably not that powerful.

"As soon as we get within range, I'm going to attack them," she said. "You're a swordsman, right? Even if you're just a beginner, since they're slimes, you should be able to provide the frontline support."

"Gotcha."

As soon as we were within fifty feet of the slimes, Rozenskye stopped and held out her hands, muttering under her breath. Characters and sigils appeared in the air around them, and then she shouted out, "Fireball!" and a ball of red-and-yellow flame of similar size to the slimes shot out from her palms. It slammed into one of the slimes and the blob caught on fire, burning and melting into a pile of goo. The other slimes seemed to take notice, and they began sliding/rolling toward us at a slow walking pace.

Rozenskye immediately started muttering again, preparing to cast another fireball. I drew my wooden sword and dashed forward, quickly closing the distance with the slimes in a few seconds. Several of them jumped into the air toward me in and attempt to slam into me, and I swung my sword in a nearly horizontal slash as I had been taught last night. The wood cut right through the three slimes that had lunged at me, and they fell to the ground, slowly reforming their shape. I stabbed down at the center slime and it burst open, splattering into goo. Then I quickly retreated, avoiding the lunges from a couple more slimes as I backpedaled to avoid being swarmed. As I did, another fireball shot past me and killed a slime. Circling around, I baited another batch of slimes into jumping at me and slashed them out of the air. This time, I didn't have time to finish any of them off before another slime jumped at me. I bisected it with a vertical slash, causing it to splash on the ground.

The battle was heart-pounding since it was my first, but in all honesty it wasn't that difficult. The sheer number of slimes was the only challenging factor. Mostly I ran circles around the slimes, slashing them out of the air when they attacked me, while Rozenskye sniped the undamaged ones from afar. When the battle was finished, we regrouped and I checked my guild card. The level value was the same, but the EXP percentage had gone up. It now read "Level 5: EXP 40%." I had no idea how the experience was split between the two of us – did it have to do with who dealt the finishing blow or was it evenly split? Either way, given that it took until age twenty to reach Level 5: EXP 15%, an increase of 25% for a single battle was pretty big, especially since all we fought were measly little slimes.

"So, we did pretty well, I thought," I said.

"We did. You did most of the work, though. I'm not very skilled with magic yet; I can use basic elemental magic strike attacks and a little utility magic, but nothing too powerful. I'd have been overwhelmed if you hadn't been there to keep them occupied."

"Well, I guess we'd better get going, then, unless there's some value to slime goop or something."

She laughed. It was a very pretty sound. "No, no value to slime goop. Let's get going."

"So I've been wondering," I said as we started on our way again, "what level are you?"

"Just level six. What about you?"

"Level five. I'm a total newbie, I guess."

"Both of us are. We're just starting our adventures, right? Maybe we can form a party together and get stronger together."

I laughed. "Sounds good to me. We're off to a good start, yeah?"

"I suppose we are."

It was mid-evening by the time we arrived at the destination town of Ridzor. The two bear beastkin guarding the gate let us in and we immediately headed for the town's inn. It was seven yand per room, so we got two rooms and settled in for the night. I was pleased to find that the town had indoor plumbing as well. Anachronisms ahoy!

I wrote in my journal and then went to sleep.

Night 2: More training?

I once again found myself in the purple void, facing my other self. I greeted my dream trainer with a wave.

"So are we sword training again tonight?" I asked flippantly.

"Zenith, level five. High end of average physical and average spiritual attributes for level five. Skill training. Objective: grant unarmed combat skill level one." He stepped into a fighting stance without drawing his sword, raising his hands."

It was another long, painful, and exhausting night.

Day 3: It's called an emergency mission?

"Morning, sleepyhead," my new best friend greeted me cheerfully when I stumbled down to the common area of the inn at around nine thirty. She had apparently taken the time to style her copper hair this morning instead of leaving it down; one side was in a vertical braid and the other was looped around and tied around her braid in a way that defied physics, making me think she used magic on it. It was an unusual style that I had never seen before, even in illustrations.

"Morning, Rose," I said, yawning. "I can call you that, right?"

She grinned. "Sure! I don't mind at all. The inn serves breakfast, but of course they charge, so..."

"I'm hungry, so I'm eating. I notice you're already doing that."

She took a bite out of a roll. "It's pretty good stuff. Anyway, I figure we can make the delivery as soon as we're done eating. Then we can either head back immediately or we can hang around for a while. The guild has a small office in town, so that's where we head to get directions to the house for delivery. It's also where we get confirmation of completing the request and we can see if there's another one we can take."

"Works for me."

We ate breakfast together, chatting comfortably. Day three and I was already starting to get used to life in this new world. I was pretty worn out after traveling all day yesterday, but I think my stamina and strength were considerably improved upon arrival into this world to match the average for the people who live here rather than the average back home. I think a large part of the reason I was adjusting so well was my companion. Rozenskye was a very pretty, very friendly, very smart girl. I'm a guy, what can I say? I like spending time in the company of attractive, nice, and intelligent girls.

Delivering the package didn't take too long, since the house where we were supposed to take it wasn't very far from the guild office and the guild office wasn't very far from the inn. We returned to the guild office and looked at the posting board. I almost laughed out loud when I saw there was a "gather medicinal herbs in the forest" request. Perfectly game-like. Apparently there was a small forest a couple hours walk from the town that had a number of useful plants.

We were eating lunch at the local restaurant (having not yet decided on a quest) when a middle-aged man burst into the establishment. "Are there any adventurers here?!" he cried out frantically. I raised my hand slowly while chewing.

"Please, you've got to help us! It's an emergency! Goblins are attacking! There's a goblin fire mage burning down the gate!"

Rozenskye abandoned her meal and stood up.

"Come on, Zenith! It's an emergency mission!"

I got up as well, reluctant to leave my food but understanding the seriousness of the situation. I wasn't sure what "emergency mission" meant, but perhaps we'd get AG rank points for defending the town.

By the time we got to the gate, it was a smoldering wreckage. There were several men and women fighting against the four-foot-tall gangly green-skinned humanoids that had invaded the town. The two gate guards were down; I couldn't tell if they were dead or just unconscious from a distance. The defenders numbered a half-dozen with proper weapons and that number again with makeshift ones, but they were outnumbered three to one by the goblins, even discounting the nearly a dozen dead ones. It looked like they had been fighting for a few minutes already. At the back of the goblin army was one dressed slightly differently shooting fireballs at random into the throng, usually missing entirely but sometimes hitting both defenders and allies.

I drew my wooden sword and charged. Rose began muttering under her breath, starting to cast some offensive spell. About the time I reached the nearest goblin, I saw a short, jagged spear made of ice shoot by, launched by my companion, and impale one of the goblins in the chest. I dodged a slash from the goblin's short sword and countered with my own wooden weapon, bashing it in the temple. It staggered but did not drop. I bashed it again, then again, and finally it collapsed. Then I saw the attack coming from my side and blocked with my sword before bringing up my foot and slamming it into the attacking goblin's chest. It lurched backward and tripped, falling on its back.

I crouched to the ground and picked up the short sword of the first goblin I had downed, dropping my wooden weapon. I slit its throat and then got back to my feet. I blinked. In the time I had been near the ground, I had been surrounded by four goblins who had (patiently?) waited for me to stand before attacking. I yelped in pain as I received glancing blows from two of them despite my attempts to evade. I slashed wildly, overestimating my reach with the stubby sword and failing to do more than irritate my opponents. One of them suddenly went down, struck through by another ice spear. The others turned to look for the source of the attack and I lunged, stabbing one of them through the throat. Blood washed over my hand.

I backhanded another of the goblins with a closed fist, staggering it, then felt warmth and pain as the remaining goblin stabbed me in the side. I pulled my sword back and swung, sharp blade colliding with its skull. Then I turned and blocked an attack from the now-recovered other goblin. With a left straight I punched it squarely in the nose. It dropped its weapon and clutched its face, and I took the opportunity to slay it with my sword.

Then I collapsed from the pain. Blood flowed out of my wounds, especially the most recent one in my side, and I could hardly think. Adrenaline had kept me going until I had finished off the goblins threatening me, but now that I wasn't in immediate danger I couldn't think for the pain. I squeezed my eyes shut. Was I going to die? I'd never felt such pain in my whole life. Well, except for when I was hit by the car, but that didn't last very long.

The next thing I was aware of was being hastily bandaged by Rose, who seemed to be using magic to speed the process. I wasn't sure exactly how long it took, but apparently the battle was still going, because she told me to "wait here" and began casting another ice spear. I opened my eyes.

"What a bunch of amateurs!"

I turned my head to look at the newcomers, a pair of youths perhaps a year or two younger than me. One of them was lightly armored and had a long steel sword in his hand. The other was wearing casual robes with glyphs on them. Both were wearing smirks. The mage raised one hand and chanted quietly while the swordsman casually strode past us.

"Lightning Chain!"

Yellow lightning lanced out of the mage's hand and weaved through the battlefield, connecting to six different goblins, instantly frying them. A moment later, the swordsman practically danced between the fighters, each stroke felling a goblin. Another lightning chain and some more dancing later, and the battle was over.

Through the pain, I thought: So that's what real adventurers are like.

Some time later I was sitting on the side of my bed in the inn, grimacing as Rose applied some kind of healing balm to my two lesser injuries. She had a concerned expression as she finished and looked at the bandages on my side, which were red with blood.

"I'm not going to die or anything, am I?" I asked lightly.

"No, but you're not going to want to move around much for a while either. I want to apply the balm to your side, but I'm afraid if I undo the bandages it'll just make things worse. I'm not exactly a trained healer. I really don't know what I'm doing."

I gave her a pained smile. "I figured. Neither of us really have any experience at this whole adventuring thing. I charged headlong into combat and just got myself hurt. I think the slimes boosted my confidence a little higher than it should have been."

"You still managed to kill five goblins. That's not bad at all for a level five with no real combat experience. You're also not the only one that got hurt. All of the townsfolk that went to fight are injured, and several of the armed people weren't unscathed either. I'm just glad that nobody's dead. The gate guards are in pretty bad shape, far worse than you, but the town doctor is hopeful that they'll pull through. She's gonna come check up on you in a little while, but they're her priority right now."

I needed to keep talking to keep my mind off of the pain.

"So, do goblins normally gather in multi-score numbers to assault towns?"

She shook her head. "No, it's actually really unusual. They normally don't gather in groups of more than a half dozen or so and usually leave settlements alone. Despite being one of the above-animal intelligence monsters, they're normally considered to be among the weaker ones. Gathering in large numbers like this is really rare. We're fortunate that those D-ranks were here."

"Those guys were only D rank?"

Rose nodded. "Yeah, probably around level fifteen or so. Pretty strong, right? They're considered lower level adventurers. We're just normal folks trying to become adventurers. Quite a bit of a difference, huh?"

"No kidding. Say, I've been wondering: what's a skill?"

She gave me a quizzical look. "Like a skill, or a skill that has levels?"

"The latter. See..."

I told her about my dream trainer. She listened intently to my story, fascinated.

"Wow. You must have a Gift. Gifts are really rare. They're... special powers that defy common sense. I bet your lost memories are trying to resurface through your dream trainer, as you called it. It's slowly giving you back your skills."

"I dunno. Maybe. So what are skills, exactly?"

"Think of them as special talents. Normally you gain them through practice and increase them the same way. They're a way of measuring your ability to perform certain activities. Cooking might be a skill, or swordsmanship, or elemental magic, or blacksmithing. They increase independent of your level, but... you gain experience for increasing the levels of skills you possess, and it's easier to increase skill levels if you have a higher level, so seeing a master swordsman at level five wouldn't happen. Certain skills are more tied to your level than others – combat and magic, mostly. It's easier to be low level with high level mundane skills, like cooking, than with skills like magic or swordsmanship."

"I see. What exactly happens as you level up?"

"Eh... that's kind of complicated. Your physical and spiritual attributes increase. You become better able to mitigate and withstand damage. Your magical potential increases. I don't really know how to explain it."

So your stats go up, including HP and MP, as well as things like strength and agility. Got it. Combat skills apparently become easier to train the higher level you are as well. Okay, I think I'm beginning to make sense of this.

I pulled out my guild card. The rank points from the emergency mission had yet to be added, but my EXP value had increased again. It now read 90%. Wait. If the experience granted was based on how many enemies I killed, then that would mean goblins were worth four times the experience value of slimes, since I think I killed about ten slimes out of the fifteen there were and I got half as much EXP. Huh. And this kind of gain was at level five? Why didn't everyone fight monsters to level up?

I winced in pain. Oh, right. That.

Rose fetched me some kind of tea that was designed to knock me out so that I wouldn't have to keep worrying about the pain. She promised to take care of bringing the doctor to me when he was free, even if I was still asleep.

Night 3: What am I, a magic monk?

I stared at the other me. Seriously? Even when I'm in a drugged sleep he still appears? At least I'm not in pain in the dream world. What's he going to teach me this time?

"Zenith, level 5. Slightly above average physical and average spiritual attributes for level five. Skill training. Objective: grant chi healing skill level one."

I resisted the urge to face palm. Really? Chi healing? Now we're really laying on the mystical bullshit pretty heavily, aren't we? At least I don't have to fight him.

Wait. He's granting me a self-healing skill. Isn't that actually really convenient right now? I shouldn't be making fun, I should be happy.

I watched him sit down cross-legged and place his palms together in front of himself. He turned transparent and I could see lines inside him. Chi meridians or something, if I remembered my Asian fantasy stories rightly. A white force flowed through the lines, blinking as it reached certain areas of the body. Hmm. Maybe those were the meridians? I couldn't remember. Not like it mattered.

I mimicked his pose and focused on my body as I watched him. Eventually, I began feeling a flow inside myself and well and tried to guide it along the same pathways as him with my thoughts. I don't know how long I kept at it, but it felt like an eternity. Finally...

"Skill training complete. Zenith: Skill rank: Chi healing level one obtained. Spiritual attributes slightly increased."

Day Four: Shall I get my fortune told?

I woke to a knock on my door. Groaning, I pushed myself into a sitting position. Looking down, I noticed that my bandages had been changed and these new ones weren't soaked with blood. The doctor must have come by while I was asleep. Speaking of, how long was I out for? Was it still the same day, or had I slept through the day and night?

"Door's open," I said.

"No it isn't," I heard Rose's voice reply from the other side. "But I assume that means 'come in,' so I'm coming in."

She opened the door and walked over to the chair, which was still right beside the bed. Sitting down, she asked, "How are you feeling? Did sleeping away sixteen hours improve anything?"

"Sixteen... so it's early morning already. I feel like shit, frankly, but at least I'm well rested. I'm... a little better than yesterday. The pain is more of a throb and less of a stab. Oh, and I was visited by the dream trainer again. This time he taught me 'chi healing,' whatever that is."

Rose looked impressed. "That's not a very common skill. Are you going to try to use it today to accelerate your healing?"

I nodded. "That's the plan. You gonna stick around, or are you planning to head back?"

"We're party members," she said. "Even if it's not official yet. So I won't be heading back until you're ready to travel. I'm not going to twiddle my thumbs, though – I'm going to do that medicinal herb collection quest for the doctor. After all, she did a good job taking care of you yesterday, though you're probably better off for having been asleep during that."

"I see. Well, I hope you have a good time. I'll be focusing on healing and patiently await your return." I grinned. "Seriously though, don't worry about me. Having you as my friend is already more than I deserve."

She laughed. "Hey, I wouldn't stick around if I didn't like you, Mr. Amnesiac. You're a pretty interesting guy. It's nice, having a friend." She stood up. "Well, see you later, Zenith."

"Later, Rose."

Shortly after she left, it occurred to me that she had implied she didn't have any friends besides me. That seemed... bizarre. She was about my age, pretty, kind, funny, and smart. How was it even possible for her not to have friends? Maybe her family life was problematic or something? She did say she lived in the city, but she'd not told me anything about her home or family. I made a mental note to find out about her family situation.

I spent the next several hours practicing chi healing until my hunger got so great that I couldn't concentrate. I carefully got to my feet and made my way to the common area of the inn. Despite it being lunch time, the innkeeper was willing to serve me food (on the house, since I had sustained injury defending the town). My hunger sated, I returned to my room to focus on healing some more.

By mid-afternoon, my boredom had gotten so great that I resolved to go out into town, injury or no. To my surprise, I found the pain had gotten bearable enough that I could move about relatively freely, at least for short periods of time. I still had to be careful not to bend in certain ways, or twist my body sideways, but other than that I was feeling good enough to go out. The combination of whatever the doctor did and chi healing for seven hours had wrought a fairly large improvement in my condition.

As I wandered through town (slowly, so as not to upset my injury), I noticed that there were several out-of-towners moving about, mostly headed toward the town square. When I arrived to find out what the fuss was, I discovered a fortune-teller's tent set up there. I knew it was a fortune-teller's tent because A) it was a tent and B) it had a sign out front that said "divine your fortune." There was a small line of people in front. I patiently waited until the line had been served before entering into the tent.

The interior of the tent was dark, the tent's cloth entirely blocking out the sunlight, leaving the inside to be lit by glowing magic crystals with about the brightness of candles. A very old elf woman with metallic silver hair and sapphire eyes sat in a chair behind a table on which rested a crystal ball. I gingerly sat down opposite her.

"So," I said, "what's this going to cost me?"

The old crone smiled, her teeth somehow still perfect despite her age. "A bit of spiritual essence and a token of value," she said, her voice cracking. "Most people give me silver or gold for the token."

Spiritual essence? How did that work?

"It's simple," she said in response to my unasked question. "Place your hand in mine and let me work my magic."

I gave her a silver yand and offered my hand. She grasped it with a grip that seemed impossible for one so old, and I felt a sudden draining sensation that lasted for about a second. Then she let go and placed her hands on the crystal ball.

Everything went black.

[Zenith]
[Human: Level 5: EXP 90%]
[Physical Attributes: B-]
[Spiritual Attributes: C+]
[Skill: Swordsmanship Lv1]
[Skill: Unarmed Combat Lv1]
[Skill: Chi Healing Lv1]
[Gift: Dream Trainer]
[Gift: Save Point (Communal)]
[Gift: Skill Meld]
[Destiny: Death & Rebirth]

The tent reappeared, as did the woman. She was frowning at the orb.

"Hrm... your future is clouded. I see overlapping futures, multiple different mutually exclusive paths happening simultaneously. I see your death in many different ways, ending many of these paths, while others continue onward. It is almost as though you repeat the same days multiple times, sometimes dying and other times surviving. I have never seen this before."

"Wait a second. You didn't see that?"

She looked up at me abruptly. "See what?" she demanded intensely.

"The instant you touched the ball, everything disappeared and I saw... well, it was a description of me. Of my attributes and skills. It also listed three gifts and a destiny."

Her eyes narrowed. "What did the gifts and destiny say?"

"Dream Trainer, Save Point (Communal), Skill Meld, and Death & Rebirth."

"In all my long life, I have only twice before met someone with more than two gifts. Both times the person in question went on to accomplish great things. A destiny is more complicated; it's a distillation of your future into simple words. Death and rebirth, you said? Perhaps you truly do live more than once. That's a powerful destiny indeed. I won't pretend to know what your gifts are; gifts are unique to the person who has them. The fact that you have three is cause for you to examine your life carefully. You may become an important figure, or you could squander your opportunities and remain nothing more than a lesser adventurer. The choice is up to you."

Then the old woman stood up. I mimicked her, and it was a good thing I did, because not a moment later the tent and its contents, including the woman, completely vanished, leaving me standing in the town square, blinking against the sunlight. Had she just teleported away or something? What the heck?

Still thinking over the whole situation, I purchased a snack from a vendor for a couple yind and made my way to the AG office. The receptionist nodded at me.

"Here for your rank points and reward for the emergency mission?" he asked. I nodded. I handed over my card and he ran it through a magical machine that looked like a credit card reader before handing it back to me. I took a look at it. The rank points, which had increased by five after my first mission, now read twenty-five. Presumably the reason I only got twenty points was because I only played a minor role in completing the mission. I asked.

"That's right. There were four rank E adventurers and two rank D adventurers who participated in the mission. The rank E adventurers each got twenty points and the rank D adventurers each got sixty points for a total of two hundred points for the mission."

"So group missions divide rank points based on contribution if they aren't all in the same party?"

"Correct. The division is even if they're in the same party."

Then he handed over five yald. I practically went bug-eyed. That was the equivalent of a quarter grand right there. The delivery mission had only given me half a yald, since Rose and I split the reward. I suppose I shouldn't be so shocked; I'd been running through my reserves pretty quickly with the inn costs on top of the expenditures at the city. This put me back close to where I started. I mean, I'd spent close to five yald altogether so far, since the inn didn't charge us for last night.

"Thank you," I said. I paused. "Out of curiosity, how much does it cost to purchase a decent sword?"

"By decent, what exactly do you mean? There's a wide range of steel qualities. A really cheap, low quality steel sword might run you one or two yald, while a high quality steel sword might run you ten times that. And that's not including true masterwork weapons from famous smiths, which can be considerably more expensive, or magic weapons."

"So with a budget of a couple yald I might be able to purchase something here?"

"You should be able to. You're the one who only had a wooden sword and stole a one of those cheap, falling apart goblin swords in combat, right? The local blacksmith is recycling the goblins' weapons, so he might give you a discount on something better than the goblin weapons. He might send you on a request in exchange for the discount, though."

"So sometimes missions have non-monetary rewards?"

"Occasionally."

"Thanks for the tip. I'll be off."

It was around five o'clock by the time I reached the blacksmith's, thanks to my slow movement. I attempted to enter the smithy and found an invisible barrier blocking my progress.

"I'm busy! Unless you're a customer, go away!"

"I am a customer!" I called out.

"Then wait a bit!"

"A bit," as it turned out, was about fifteen minutes. A stocky dark-skinned man came out of the smithy to greet me.

"Arthur," he said, introducing himself.

"I'm Zenith, an adventurer. I'm in need of a sword. I don't really have much of a budget at the moment, though, so I'm hoping for something inexpensive. I'm willing to do a quest for you for a discount."

He raised his eyebrows. "Hm... well, in the forest with the herbs, there's a cave. In that cave are some ores of a metal called Safyrin. They're essential for making magic steel alloy. If you can bring me Safyrin ore, I'll sell you a sword on the cheap. Bring me enough Safryin, and I'll make you a magic sword and only charge you for a steel one. It's dangerous, though: the Safryin ore is fairly deep in the cave and guarded by monsters."

I grinned. "I accept that challenge."

"Good! Well, skedaddle, I'll deal with you when you bring the ores."

"Very well."

I headed back to the inn, paid for another night, ate a filling meal (free of charge), showered, then spent the evening using chi healing until I fell asleep.

Night Four: I thought I was a swordsman?

"Zenith, level five. Slightly above average physical and high end average spiritual attributes for level five. Skill training. Objective: grant – "

"Wait," I said. "Shouldn't I have some sort of say in how I progress? And furthermore, you keep mechanically talking about what you're going to train me in, but I don't even know what the options are. Can you actually hold a conversation?"

The other me paused. "Skill training options for tonight: fire magic skill level one, water magic skill level one, wind magic skill level one, earth magic skill level one. Collectively: elemental magic."

"Which one were you going to choose for me?"

"Earth magic."

"Why?"

"Ore collection."

Huh. "Oh. That's not a bad idea. Let's do that, then."

Day Five: What the heck is a temporal distortion?

When I went down to eat breakfast the next day, I came to a chilling realization: Rose hadn't returned. She should have been back before I ate supper yesterday, but I was preoccupied with other thoughts and it didn't register that something was wrong. However, now that she was still not back despite having been gone for twenty-four hours, I knew something had happened. What, exactly, I had no clue, but whatever it was couldn't be good.

Trying to calm myself, I focused on chi healing for about four hours, then ate lunch. My movements were much cleaner – I probably wouldn't be able to fight, but I was fit for travel, which was downright impressive since I'd only been injured a couple days ago. My lesser wounds were already completely gone.

After getting directions to the part of the forest where herb gathering usually took place, I stuck my wooden sword in my belt and set off. It took me a couple hours to reach the forest and about an hour of searching after that to find the natural herb garden. There was no sign of Rose. As I was looking around, I heard a stick snap. I spun around, wincing at the sudden movement. A robed swordsman stood there. He had crimson hair and his eyes literally glowed golden. He looked at me with disgust.

"Tch. Yet another intruder. Can't you fools just leave me alone? Why do you have to keep coming here? Are these stupid plants really worth that much to commoners?"

"Who the hell are you?" I demanded, sounding a lot more confident than I felt.

"What difference does that make? It's not as though you'll be returning with your sanity intact. You'll forget all about me soon enough."

He raised a hand and gestured. There was a feeling like I was being stretched in every direction and then snapping back like a rubber band.

"Resilient, aren't you? But you can't resist. I'll trap you in my temporal distortion, and by the time I let you go you'll be a gibbering wreck."

He gestured again, and this time I didn't snap back. The world went white.

Author's Notes: So this was originally going to be available for my Facebook friends, but Facebook is being stupid, so I'm posting it here. This is a story in the vein of Japanese Isekai novels/manga/anime, so if you don't like the genre, you won't like this story. Similarly, if you don't like stories having heavy video game elements, you won't like this story. At any rate, here's the first chapter. All characters, places, etc. in this story are (c) me, obviously. If you do happen to like it, leave a review! Positive feedback is always nice. I'm primarily writing this story for my own enjoyment, though, so if you think it's terrible, just be nice and don't tell me.