Character Selection Sequence
A rectangular green cursor winked against the black. I could see it, then…I blinked, a pair of eyes in the nothing. Eyes need a face, and I was a nose and cheeks and chin and forehead and gasping mouth. I convulsed with coughing, convulsed with a body that I hadn’t one moment and had the next.
The cursor flickered, glowing but revealing nothing in the dark. I reached out, and I had a hand, untried fingers stretching towards the cursor. Warmth tingled through my palm and up my arm to fill my chest, and when I touched the cursor it tickled, a tongue of flame wriggling between my fingers. But it did not illuminate my body. There was only a blackness where my hand should be. As an experiment, I curled my fingers around the cursor and with my darkness, snuffed it out.
Heat exploded through my body and flung me, a whole body, back. Now I was green, pulsing and reeling and slamming into in a circle of white light. Dizzy, sick with the shock of it, I lifted myself to my hands and knees and slowly became aware of a white cloak hugging my frame. The hood sunk over my forehead, obscuring my view of the four other circles of light orbiting mine.
The first flashed as a figure entered it, great ebony sleeves of sleek feather wings folded by her sides. Proud but slight, the figure narrowed cool, slanted eyes at me over a yellow beak that bent where her nose and mouth would have been, had she been properly humanoid. Black feathers prickled from her pale scalp, from a severe widow’s peak to a point at the back of her head. She shone in the spotlight. Her red robes, her black sash, her talons—all seemed the source of the light, rather than recipients.
“What are you?” I had a voice, and I tried it. The bird-girl spread her arms and with them her wings.
“I am Swift,” she said, and bowed. But her eyes were mine, and so was her voice.
From the shadows glided another figure, her skin blueberry blue, glittering with gem-like scales that accentuated her cheeks and her chin and her waist, covering her massive, midnight blue tail. She must have been six feet long, with a heart-shaped face and slits for nostrils. An indigo sash wrapped around her chest and tied at the back to trail elegantly in her wake. Between her fingers stretched webbing, and her slick, dark hair slid through the air as if through water. She smiled with mischief, winking at me with one of my own hazel eyes.
“A mermaid?” I asked.
“One of the Merfolk,” she said, “and what are you?”
I turned to the third spotlight. The girl there wore a leaf green tunic with a V-neck laced loosely together with tanned strips of leather and puffed sleeves. A belt hung about her waist and to her legs clung black leggings above her petite leather moccasins.
“Are you human?” I searched for something, pointed ears, fangs, but she seemed just as I might have been, if I had a solid Halloween and a cupful of poise. Even her hair was secured in a ponytail, though loose strands also dangled down either side of her face.
The girl shook her head at my question and folded her hands against her. Around her, the air shimmered until she glowed with the warm light, like sunlight sifting through to the forest floor. It expanded and enveloped her, shrinking and dissipating and resolving into a fiery orange and cool white. Where the girl had been crouched a fox, its eyes bright with intelligence.
“We are a Gnosian,” it said.
“Both of you?” I drew my cloak closer. The fox spoke, but the words squirmed against my mind, cold and wet to the touch.
“Within the space for one, there are two. We are separate, yet a single entity. And together, we are strong.”
Shivering, I faced the final spotlight. It remained empty longer than the rest, and then the last figure emerged from the nothingness. For a moment, she adjusted her black leather breastplate, fidgeting with the guards on her arms and legs. And then she glanced up at me.
“Well?” she asked. “Which one do you choose?”
Under her light armor, she wore a fitted indigo tunic that ended mid-thigh in the front and came to a point level with her knees in the back. Black slacks clung to her legs, and on her feet were tall, worn leather boots. All she needed was a sword, and she would pass for a warrior. As I watched her, she widened her stance and clasped her hands behind her back.
“I am a Human,” she said, as if she thought it might help. As if the body she wore had never been really human before she inhabited it. Then, what am I?
“If you choose me, the sky will be yours.” The Swift cut in. “No creature will match your speed, and no obstacle will stand long against your intelligence. We are the heralds, the guardians, the soldiers, the prophets. Join the Swifts and explore a world the other races are forbidden.”
I opened my mouth, but from the next spotlight came a ringing laugh.
“The Cloud Country is nothing next to the vast kingdoms of the Merfolk. Choose me, and the dearest treasures of the world will be at your fingertips—you need only reach out and take them. Embrace magical aptitude, artistic talent, graceful power. Explore the most treacherous realm in the world, and defeat great monsters. Take your place with us and become a legend, a creature of fate.”
“Or a slave to destiny.” The Gnosian had returned to her humanoid form, her dark eyes glinting. “Become a Gnosian and you will answer to no one. Though you would wander the world without a realm to call your own, with the right abilities, you could travel anywhere. Only the strongest survive our initiation, but the price of freedom is discipline, and a trained Gnosian is the strongest creature in the world. Choose me, and your fate is your own. Choose me, and you will never fight alone.” She glowed green as she spoke, and I knew her words were the fox’s as well.
“But then you might choose me,” the Human grinned, “and be nothing other than yourself. Without help, you could not survive a visit to the Cloud Country or the Coral Kingdoms. You would either be burdened by your fate or have none. Rather than earning skills, all you have to do is learn them. Each capability depends on your competence. To use magic, you would have to tame the world with your very willpower. If you choose me, nothing will come easy, but everything you gain would be your own.”
I did a slow spin, taking in each of them once more. Red, blue, green, indigo, the prism of my person competing for dominance.
I stopped at the mermaid. She smiled, sharp teeth flashing.
“I have always wanted a destiny,” I said, “something grand and dangerous. But I’m sorry, I can’t choose you. I already have a mission.”
I turned to the Swift, who narrowed her eyes.
“Swifts serve others, but my purpose is to serve myself. It would be a betrayal of your race to choose you.”
“And you cannot choose me?” asked the Gnosian as I faced her.
“I might not be the strongest, and I must survive no matter what. I can’t risk the training.”
“But you can risk me.”
The Human smirked as I turned to her. “But, like I said, nothing will come without struggle. Why take the most difficult path?”
“If it’s willpower, I can manage that,” I said.
“As you say,” and she approached, extending her hand and locking her fingers around the collar of my cloak. With a yank, she ripped it from over my head and I stood across from her, eye-to-eye her exact reflection.
“Welcome, Human,” she said. “What do you wish to be called?”
“Welcome, Dai. You have now completed the Character Selection Sequence. You will be sent to your hometown of Glastridge. There, you will begin the Introduction Tutorial, meet your in-game resources, and choose your Class. The world will then be yours to experience as you wish. Enjoy your time here, it is a game, after all!”
The Human held out her hand and I shook it, but at her touch the white light vanished. I gasped, flailing, plummeting through the nothingness until I jolted still. Blades of grass teased the tip of my nose and the aroma of dirt, sweet, ordinary, dark soil flooded my nostrils. I hovered a moment longer, but then the spell broke and I hit the ground.