Chapter 1. Death game.

I found myself standing in the middle of a bustling medieval city. Cobblestone streets stretched in every direction, with vibrant stalls displaying everything from fresh produce to intricate jewelry. The air was filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread mixed with the distant clang of a blacksmith’s hammer. People in tunics and dresses passed by, chatting animatedly, their conversations a cacophony of unfamiliar accents and languages.

The overwhelming sights and sounds momentarily dazed me. I was in the 21st century just moments ago, and now, the medieval setting felt like a jump back in time. Memories of my recent death flashed before my eyes, making my head spin. Was this the afterlife? Some sort of limbo?

Yet, despite the whirlwind of emotions and memories, a strange calmness enveloped me. The body I now inhabited, the voice body, didn’t seem to react to stress or anxiety like mine. It was eerily serene, even as my mind raced.

“So, where are we headed?” I managed to ask out loud, my voice steady, belying the storm of confusion inside me.

In my mind, the strange voice, the true owner of this body, replied, ‘Just trust me,’ its soothing and unnerving tone.

I took a deep breath to calm my racing heart and align with this body’s natural calmness. “Okay, but I need to know. Why did you bring me here?”

A soft chuckle echoed inside my head. ‘An old man handed me a magical parchment. It had instructions for summoning and its after-effects. Seemed straightforward.’

“You can’t be serious! Did you trust a random old man’s instructions? Is that why I’m… here?” The weight of my situation pressed down on me, but this body physiology kept my outward demeanor calm.

He sighed internally, ‘It was not a random man, but I concede, it does sound naive. But that proves how desperate I am. You will meet that old man someday.’

I frowned, trying to make sense of everything. “So, you’ve cast a spell you can’t undo?”

Look, I can reverse it. That’s what the parchment claimed. Do you see that dog over there?’ I followed his prompt and noticed a golden retriever, its tail wagging gently, eyes observing us with innocent curiosity.

“Yes, I see the dog. What about it?” I voiced my confusion.

‘Go pet it,’ He instructed mentally.

Feeling an invisible force guiding me, I approached the dog. It wagged its tail more vigorously, seemingly recognizing me or the presence within me. I reached out, my fingers brushing against its soft fur.

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“Who’s a good boy?” I whispered, my fingers brushing against its soft coat.

As I continued to pet the dog, in the background, I faintly heard the voice murmuring some weird words. The world around me began to blur and warp. A rush of sensations overwhelmed me: the ground felt closer, sounds became sharper, and a primal instinct surged within.

Suddenly, I was no longer observing the world as a human. Fragmented thoughts rushed through my mind: ‘Hunger, need food,’ ‘Human, wants to pet,’ ‘Exciting.’ The complexities of human cognition faded, replaced by a dog’s direct, instinct-driven thoughts.

A vague sense of familiarity pulled at me, a gentle voice calling out, “Hey there, pup.” It felt comforting like a beacon guiding me back.

Gradually, the sensations began to recede, and I found myself in my body, the world returning to its familiar state.

I took a moment, trying to process what had just happened. “Did I just… feel what it’s like to be a dog?”

“Yes… It was more than just a connection; you were truly in the dog’s form. Using the spell, I can transfer your essence to another living being, albeit temporarily,” the voice clarified.

A wave of emotions crashed over me. My heart rate quickened, and I felt a warmth spreading across my face. The sensation of being in the dog’s body lingered, disorienting and unsettling. The unexpected shift and Alexander’s nonchalance ignited anger within me.

“Why would you do that without telling me? Do you have any idea how weird that was?” I snapped, trying to keep my voice steady but failing.

The voice’s mental tone held a hint of defensiveness. ‘I needed to test the spell, and I thought it would be easier for you to handle a simple creature’s mind first.’

“That’s not the point,” I retorted, clenching my fists in frustration. “You can’t just use me as your guinea pig without my consent. I have a right to know what’s happening to me.”

There was a pause, and I could sense a shift in the voice’s demeanor from defensive to apologetic. ‘Fine. Apologies..’

I took a deep breath, my chest rising and falling rapidly, trying to calm my frayed nerves. “Just… keep me in the loop, okay? No more surprises.”

‘Agreed,’ the voice responded, his tone sincere.

I think this guy is autistic or something.

What does autistic mean?’ he asked inside my head with evident curiosity.

‘Stop reading my mind!’ I said to him.

Taking a deep breath and trying to shift my focus, I began observing our surroundings. The city was bustling with activity. Stalls lined the streets, with vendors peddling their wares. People moved with a purposeful stride, their physiques notably lean and fit, a stark contrast to the sedentary lifestyles of the 21st century. I noticed a gathering around a public orator eloquently delivering a passionate speech to an engrossed crowd.

Amidst these observations, I told Alexander, “It’s fascinating how everyone seems so… active and engaged. And the public speaking! It’s like an open forum for ideas.”

Alexander’s voice held a hint of genuine curiosity, ‘Are you still upset with me? Anyway, Your world sounds so different from this. What’s it like?’

I paused for a moment, reflecting on the stark contrast. “It’s… lonely, in a way. Even with crowds everywhere, there’s a sense of isolation.”

“Something has been bothering me; I can’t keep referring to you as ‘voice’ or ‘him.’ What should I call you?”

‘Call us Alexander. Considering your disdain for your former life, I thought you might appreciate a clean slate here.’

His words hit close to home, but he had a point. ‘I can’t deny it,’ I conceded, surprised by my newfound coolness. ‘There’s a peculiar calm I can’t explain.’

Alexander chuckled, ‘That’s all me. I’ve always been steady, and my physiology influences you.’

I sighed, shifting the topic. ‘Alright, where are we going next?’

‘Just a bit further; trust me on this one.’

As we continued, our conversation lightened. Before long, a grand mansion reminiscent of medieval architecture loomed before us. Its tall stone walls were adorned with intricate carvings and ornate gargoyles perched on the corners. Large wooden gates reinforced with iron, guarded the entrance. The mansion was surrounded by well-manicured gardens, with a cobblestone pathway leading to the main door.

‘We’re here,’ Alexander announced.

I stared in awe at the luxurious structure before me. ‘Whose place is this?’

Instead of answering, Alexander urged, ‘Now, shout, “Anthony, come out here, you little s***!” It’s our secret code. Do it as loudly as you can.’

I hesitated for a split second, but then, driven by an impulse I couldn’t quite understand, I complied. My shout echoed, drawing the attention of nearby onlookers.

‘Nicely done,’ Alexander remarked with a hint of amusement. ‘Just wait; he’ll be out in a moment.’

I waited, a mix of curiosity and apprehension accumulating within me.

The tense silence remained for several minutes, wrapping around me like a thick fog. To Alexander, however, it appeared to be of no consequence.

‘Here he comes,’ Alexander whispered internally as a young man emerged from the mansion. He looked no older than 18.

“Ah, if it isn’t Alexander, the imbecile,” the boy sneered with a smirk.

Prompted by Alexander, I retorted, “Enough with the antics. I’m here to challenge you.”

Anthony’s playful smirk vanished, replaced by a piercing glare. I couldn’t help but wonder: Are we about to engage in some intense showdown?

“You want a confrontation, Alex? Very well. Step inside, but remember: if anything happens to you, it’s on your head,” Anthony replied, nodding to a maid who swiftly moved to open the grand gates.

Alex, are we going to duel? I don’t even know the basics of fighting!’

‘Just follow my lead. It’s not magic science,’ Alexander responded nonchalantly.

Fantastic. I’m walking straight into a beatdown. And seriously, how rich is this Anthony? And who on earth is Alexander anyway?

We strolled through a stunning garden bursting with vibrant flowers and lush greenery. Off to one side, a striking woman was engrossed in a book, seated gracefully on the lawn, seemingly oblivious to our presence.

Suddenly, Anthony halted. We stood on a vast open field, and in the distance, something resembling a basketball hoop stood about thirty meters away.

Upon reaching the yard, Anthony commanded, “Jane, fetch the equipment.”

My heart raced. Equipment? Were we going to duel with swords? But to my surprise, a maid approached and handed each of us a ball.

“A ball?” My voice dripped with bewilderment.

“Exactly, a ball. Don’t say you’ve forgotten our legendary matches?” Anthony said with a playful smirk.

Alexander’s laughter echoed in my mind, finding the situation hilariously absurd against the backdrop of the lush gardens. Birds chirped nearby, contrasting sharply with our tense game.

‘You’re an ass,’ I mentally shot back at Alex, the voice in my head. “Oh, come on, it was too good to pass up,” he chuckled.

Anthony, his black hair catching the afternoon sunlight, raised an eyebrow. His imposing figure seemed even more grandeur against the backdrop of the sprawling medieval mansion. “You’re different today. And, surprisingly, not ogling my maid, Maria. That’s not like you.”

Great, so Alexander’s got a reputation? Is he some sort of womanizer?

Alexander chose to sidestep my thoughts. ‘Focus. Here’s the game: You aim for that makeshift basket about 20 meters away. It’s an elevated net, —crafted from coarse rope and sturdy wood. If you miss or overshoot, there’s a penalty,’ he explained, but his tone hinted at something more profound. I looked at the basket; it seemed so out of place in such a monarchical setting.

“Let’s kick things off with Jade as our referee!” Anthony declared with a hint of delight, motioning to a tall woman with a mean face, her blonde hair tied up in a tight bun.

His throw was nothing short of impeccable. On the other hand, Mine shifted off course, hindered by the slight gust of wind that rustled the trees around us.

“Point goes to me,” Anthony said, smirking triumphantly, his pale face contrasting sharply with his dark attire. “Prepare for your penalty.”

I braced myself, hoping for something as light as a few push-ups amidst the freshly mown grass. But instead, a swift punch from Anthony caught me off guard, landing squarely in my stomach. The sharp pain left me winded. The garden’s serene beauty did nothing to dull the blow.

“Ooof. So that’s the punishment,” I gasped, clutching my abdomen, feeling the soft fabric of my tunic dampen from sweat.

Anthony raised an eyebrow, his blue eyes shimmering with mischief. “You’ve taken these hits before. Why the surprise?”

‘Listen, I’ll only assist with defense, not offense. Think defensively, and I’ll back you up,’ Alexander advised, his voice calm amidst my internal turmoil.

Great, defensive moves while I’m getting beaten to a pulp amidst the intoxicating scent of blooming roses.

As we continued the game, my luck turned. I sent the ball sailing into the rustic net more than once. However, exhaustion started to gnaw at me; every movement became a struggle, and every breath felt like it was filtered through the dense, fragrant air of the garden.

A thought crossed my mind amidst the floral backdrop and the gentle buzz of distant bees.

‘You knew this would happen, didn’t you? Easy for you since you’re not the one getting physically battered,’ I mentally snapped at Alexander, glancing down at my bruised stomach, the once bright fabric of my attire now tainted.

Alexander’s voice, echoing internally, had a different quality – like the distant toll of a church bell. ‘You caught on. I needed to see your mental endurance. We can’t risk getting caught unprepared or getting killed in a true challenge.’

I could feel the weight of his words. ‘Just a heads up next time,’ I replied, my eyes drifting to the ornate carvings of the mansion’s stone walls, wondering about the challenges that lay within.

Drawing in a deep breath, the crisp aroma of freshly cut grass filling my lungs, I began to strategize. ‘Okay, here’s the plan. The moment he swings, we tighten the abs together. It’ll still hurt, but maybe, just maybe, if we’re synchronized, we can throw him off.’

Anthony’s voice, laced with arrogance, brought me back to the present. “I’m about to take this game, Alex!” He positioned himself, the setting sun casting a long shadow, making his tall figure appear even more daunting.

Taking my stance, I tried for the net once more but missed, the ball sailing past, its flight accompanied by the distant chirping of evening birds. Typical.

As Anthony’s fist came flying, the world seemed to slow. The vibrant colors of the garden blurred, and I could see every detail of his clenched hand, every twitch of his muscles.

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‘Ready, Alex?’

‘Ready!’

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