From mingling gacha, isekai, and TSF.
Notice: This installment of TSF Series was originally written on 10/25/2019 and has since been re-edited. Typographical errors and grammatical mistakes have been corrected, certain sections have been rewritten, and minor aspects of the story have been altered.
You know what’s hot? Isekai manga, novels, and anime. You know what I just spent a couple of weeks indulging in? Gacha games. You know what I like and cannot get enough of because my brain is messed up like that? TSF! Now, there are several series that meshes isekai and TSF concepts together, such as Samayoeru Tensei-sha-tachi no Revival Game, or The Saga of Tanya the Evil, but I could not think of anything that did all three, and I thought that was just terrible. So after going through a number of mobile gacha games, and drawing inspiration from Dragalia Lost in particular, I wound up with a gacha isekai TSF story that mingled all three. And I did it without any of that nasty sex, violence, or miscellaneous horrors that I so often gravitate towards.
TSF Series #004-1: Gacha My Soul for an SSR Waifu
I felt my heart sink to my stomach as an error message appeared on my tablet, its words were jumbled with arbitrary jargon, but the message was clear. My credit card was declined for my latest purchase of $80 worth of in-game currency, as I had reached my credit limit of $5,000. A limit I wasn’t even a tenth of the way to when I checked my balance earlier this week before I decided to splurge on Ventures of Radiant: Extreme. A mobile RPG that had steadily become a global sensation over these past few months and grossed hundreds of millions since launch. When I first downloaded it, I wondered how a free game like this could ever hope to make such a profit, and now that I had spent over $4,000 on the title, I suddenly understood why.
It wasn’t that the game was predatory about its monetization, as it nestled the purchase options behind several menus, and gave players a steady amount of free in-game currency over time. If anything, it was generous, but not enough to satiate my desires. My desires for one specific character who I truly and dearly wanted. A character who immediately earned a place in my upper echelon of waifus with her design alone and rose to the very top with her personality.
Her name was Isadore Ivalliance, a water-element lance user that, in addition to being an S+ tier powerhouse, was everything I ever wanted in a waifu. A bubbly and motherly character with a tragic backstory that she hides behind the kindness she expresses to those around her, and especially her chosen partner. A brown-skinned woman with silver hair and an outfit that, while form-fitting, left enough to the imagination to prevent her design from just being boring. She was a character highlighted throughout the main story of the game as a main character, the love interest of the protagonist, but regrettably, she was not one of the freebies given to all new players, being instead locked behind a gacha paywall.
Normally the odds of obtaining her were fairly slim, but her appearance rate was recently boosted to 0.5% as part of a recent showcase. Naturally, with a number that high, it should have only been a matter of time until I managed to snag her, right? Evidentially not, as my character roster showed, being flushed with rare characters, but not the one character I truly wanted.
It would have been one thing if I had snagged her after spending all that money on this game, but no. Instead, I had placed myself in an immense amount of debt that I would struggle to make back, and all I have to show for it is a bunch of materials in my phone game. Regret, self-loathing, and thoughts of suicide danced throughout my mind as I blankly stared at the wall in my darkened apartment, my LED clock stating that it was already 3:20 in the morning, meaning that not only did I ruin myself financially, but I would need to get to work in the morning on 4 hours of sleep at best.
As I wallowed in the melancholy of my moronic actions, I glared down at my tablet and noticed that the payment error message had been replaced with another, one matching Ventures of Radiant: Extreme’s aesthetics and menu design. The message read: “Acquire the Venturer of your choice for 1 Soul!” with buttons below that read “Accept” and “Decline.” I had never heard of such a feature, or any in-game item called a “Soul,” but I was too tired and distraught to recognize the serious implications this message represented. With a sigh, I planted my thumb on the accept button, causing my screen to turn white before my tablet sent a jolt throughout my arm.
I recoiled from the pain, dropped my tablet on the couch, and looked at it with concern. Not only for shocking me like that, but for the image displayed on the screen. It was rapidly fading away from pure whiteness into a swirling rainbow that rotated rapidly and had a distinct… depth to it. It was akin to looking at a 3D display, the sight of spiraling lights coming together and forming what I could only identify as a hole. I looked at this sight with concern, only to shake my head in response. It was too late, and I was too distraught to deal with technical issues like this. I just needed to turn my tablet off, go to bed, and pray that this is all just one horrible nightmare.
I brought my hand towards the tablet to put it into sleep mode… only to find my hand sinking below the confines of the screen, being sucked into impossible space by some unseen force that sucked at my right hand, and my arm along with it. I fought back against this unseen force, this vortex into my tablet, but as I struggled, the pull only grew stronger. Soon enough, my entire body condensed and contorted itself until every part of me, from head to toe, was sucked through a 25-by-17 centimeter frame and into a dizzying array of colors I found myself falling through.
I was struck with vertigo from the fall, nausea from the rainbow of shifting colors, a piercing headache from the ringing white noise that assaulted my ears, and wrapped in pain from a burning sensation that began to break out over my body. I was overwhelmed by these sensations, begged within the recesses of my mind for them to stop, and after some vague imperceptible amount of time, I was granted the gift of unconsciousness.
My mind moved slowly as I woke up, burdened from the overstimulation I had been subjected to earlier. But slowly and steadily, I began to piece together the world around me. Soft lights filled my vision, a comforting quiet graced my ears, and while my body was still waking up and granting me autonomy, I could tell I was covered in a great softness. I took a moment to appreciate these comforting sensations before raising my chest upwards in a long breath and examining my surroundings in more detail.
I was surrounded by stone walls, crafted with the utmost care, illuminated by white crystals that were bound to torch sticks, and bearing assorted decorations such as oil paintings of vivid landscapes and banners of white and violet. In front of me was a wooden door, along with several pieces of wooden furniture adorning the walls and open areas of what, upon further inspection, appeared to be a bedroom of sorts. From there, I looked further down at the softness that enveloped me and found myself wrapped in a comforter. Which was curious considering that it was the middle of August last I checked.
Part of me wanted to remain immersed in this warmth, but as my mind continued rebooting itself, I remembered why I was so inclined on going to bed. I had to get ready for work. A burst of panic was enough to inspire me to leap from the comfort of my sheets, but as I placed my two feet on the ground, I realized I had no idea where I actually was given the unfamiliar and antiquated locale I found myself in.
But before I could further investigate my surroundings, I was drawn in by something far more immediately pressing. A sheet of platinum blonde hair entered my vision, something starkly different from the short black hair I had all my life. I latched onto a lock with my hands, weaving my fingers through the well-maintained strands of silver, but as I did so I quickly realized that my fingers were not my own either. They seemed longer, more slender, had finely maintained nails, and were a discernible brown hue, unlike the pale skin tone I had known all my life.
Something was clearly wrong with this situation, and I looked for a definitive way to answer all questions pertaining to my person. I darted my head around the room once more and found a full-length mirror on one wall. I walked towards it, my body awkwardly shifting and bobbing as I did so, before capturing myself in the frame of the reflective glass, which bore a reflection that left me aghast.
The carefully styled shoulder-length silver hair, sapphire split dress, and assorted pieces of silver armor adorning the arms, legs, and torso, and dark fabrics coating the legs, all wrapped around the body of a curvaceous woman with a plentiful bosom, thick thighs, pronounced hips, and a dark complexion. It was plain as day who I was looking at in the mirror, the very same character who sent me into nearly $5,000 worth of debt, Isadore, standing before me. Her 2D design given flesh.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Her illustrated character art was brought seamlessly into the third dimension, but as I looked closer at her reflection, I took note of her more… inhuman traits. Her facial features were exaggerated, with large eyes, a small nose, a face devoid of any pores, veins, or blemishes. While the general look to her skin, her clothes, and… everything around her was given a sort of shading to it. It was like anime… made real!
As I gawked at my reflection, taking it in for several seconds, I attempted to speak, only to hear Isadore’s voice reverberated through the air. Her Japanese voice.
“Oh my! Is that really me?”
I flinched as those words escaped my mouth, for many reasons, but chiefly how I phrased and worded my confusion, mimicking her established speech patterns, and letting out Isadore’s signature “ara-ara.” I knew it was indeed wrong, it was not something that I would have said before, yet as I waited for a sense of panic to wash throughout my person, I was instead left looking at my reflection with a degree of unprecedented calmness. I should not look, sound, or talk like this… yet, it didn’t feel wrong.
My body felt right, it felt normal, it did not feel as foreign and unfamiliar as I thought it did when I first recognized that something was different from what I had known for my entire existence up until now. As I looked back at my new reflection and moved about my arms and legs, I did so with a great degree of comfort. I began walking away from and towards the mirror, focusing on my reflection and how I was walking, shaking my hips slightly with each step as if I was adapting to decades of well-ingrained muscle memory. When I twirled around a strand of hair, I felt as if I had done so hundreds of times before, but I knew that I hadn’t… at least that’s what I told myself.
Curiosity about the true ramifications of this transformation rose within my mind, and I looked inward to answer the question of who I was. I had memories of a life back on Earth, in my home country, and as a male. I remembered trying out Ventures of Radiant: Extreme when an event was being held to draw in newcomers, getting figuratively sucked into it, before spending an absurd amount of money on the game and, in return, getting literally sucked into it. I could recollect large sections of this life of mine, yet the details were foggy and became more obscured as I began to prod and pry deeper and deeper. For every one thing I recalled, I forgot several more.
While I remembered that I was adept with technology and computers, I could feel my insights slipping away. I could not remember the faces of my parents or friends, I stopped thinking in the language I once knew and started thinking in the tongue I spoke for the first time moments ago. I felt that all of these things could be dismissed if I retained a grasp of the core defining feature of my identity. My name. I dug through the recesses of my mental faculties as far as I could to answer what should be a question I could answer solely based on impulse, and came away with nothing.
The only name I could take ownership of was that of Isadore Ivalliance. It sounded correct; it summarized my identity, and so did everything that came with it. I knew that I should reject these thoughts assaulting my mind, that out of principle I should remain resolute and dismiss whatever my brain, the brain of Isadore, was telling me. And I knew that I should avoid what, when described, sounded like a form of brainwashing, the death of one identity in favor of another. Instead, I found myself fighting against these urges and dismissing the identity I was rapidly forgetting as… worthless.
Isadore was a hero. She was raised in a callous environment as a weapon of death but broke free from those constraints through her force of will. She led a revolt to free her siblings and childhood friends from such an inhuman existence, all while redefining herself as a person. She had learned of love, learned to love, spread affection, kindness, and joy to those around her, and found a true love for herself. She was strong, brave, skilled, and also beautiful. Compared to her, what was the me that came before?
This other self of mine… what did he have to offer? He was an individual who was susceptible to a socially accepted cruelty, lost his way, and led a life that, based on what little I could recollect, was far less remarkable. As I thought back on him, I did not feel remorse for having lost something, but instead felt a sense of pity. An empathetic desire to help this unfortunate individual and show him all that was light and right, to stand against the forces of evil that plagued that world as a radiant spear of justice. Within these past few minutes, it became increasingly difficult to see me as him. I was not him. I was me. I was the woman who I saw in the mirror, whose memories were flooding my mind. I was Isadore Ivalliance.
As I had reached the end of this internal crisis, a sense of fatigue flowed throughout my being. I grabbed onto a nearby piece of furniture, clasping my long nails onto the wood and producing a familiar grunt. I shut my eyes and slowly raised my head before taking a deep breath and in turn looked back at myself in the mirror, momentarily forgetting what it was I was even doing here, before recalling the past few minutes in perfect clarity.
“Now that I have addressed that… surrealness, I should be off. I’m not sure how long I’ve been asleep, but I don’t want my darling to worry about me!”
Following that verbal decree, I latched my slender fingers around the door handle and opened it, revealing a figure standing in the doorframe. Zyrus, a man who I knew all too well, and whose mere presence instilled a calm throughout my being. He was the chosen prince of this kingdom, a brave and resolute figure, wise well beyond his years, and with a finely chiseled body befitting an individual of such esteem. His blonde hair, amethyst eyes, fair complexion, and exquisite regal armor were all sights I remembered seeing thousands of times before, but as he stood there, less than 20centimeters away from my person, I felt as if I was truly looking at him for the first time, almost ogling the tall and muscular figure before me. I remained in this stupor until Zyrus placed a hand on my back and leaned in close to my person, placing his head against mine and moving his mouth to my ear, softly saying, “I was worried about you.”
A current sparked through my brain as I registered those words, and quickly returned his hug with my own, linking my arms around Zyrus’s body and pushing our breastplates together in a light clang. He took a step back from my sudden burst of affection in order to regain his footing and looked down at me with a satisfied grin.
“I heard you fainted while training, Isa. You haven’t been working yourself too hard, have you?”
“No, darling! A lady such as myself must know her limits, and I make certain that I only surpass them when the time is right. There just is no point in working oneself up over nothing. But come to think of it, I’m not really sure why I would have fainted earlier today. Everything was going brilliantly, as per usual, and then I found myself in a spare bedroom. How strange.”
“Indeed… but so long as you’re feeling like yourself, there’s nothing to worry about. Come, Solange just finished making dinner, and I’m sure you’re famished after skipping lunch,” Zyrus said before giving a small chuckle.
“I’ll have you know that I used to spend weeks feeding on nothing but scraps and berries. I simply appreciate a hot meal cooked with love and dedication and hate for good food to go to waste,” I said with a playful huff, breaking away from Zyrus before flashing him a smile to show my appreciation.
“In that case, let’s not keep her waiting. I’m sure everybody will be happy to see you again.”
With that, we began walking side-by-side down the expansive halls of the castle before reaching the familiar sights and sounds of the dining hall. The room, illuminated by a crystal chandelier, was home to a large ornate table at the center, with a scattering of smaller tables cast-off to the sides, featuring chairs of all shapes and sizes, with occupants equally diverse. A range of friends, companions, and allies, of all species, backgrounds, colors, and creeds, gathered about, conversing with one another in lively discussions, enjoying a vast array of dishes that filled the hall with myriad decadent aromas.
As I stepped foot in this hall, I flinched for a moment. Something about these sights, sounds, and sensations caused my brain to skip a beat, as if I could not keep up with everything I perceived. It was almost as if I was uncomfortable with such rousing activity. Yet as I recalled the past few months, reminding myself that what I was seeing was nothing new, my sense of calm was re-established. As I entered this room with Zyrus, we were greeted with cheers from people whose faces I looked at fondly, memories and experiences flooding to the forefront of my consciousness as I locked eyes with them.
Joyous antics, pulse-pounding bouts of combat, heart-to-heart conversations made during our many travels, and standing up to adversity and animosity knowing that we would be able to overcome it all if we remained steadfast and put our faith in one another. I felt tears welling up behind my eyelids as these pleasant memories and powerful emotions returned to me, but I kept them at bay, as to not sour the mood of this dinner or stir confusion and concern in the friends that sat before me.
As I made idle conversation with them, assuring that I was as well as ever, Zyrus grabbed me by the hand and sat me at the end of the center table, where we sat side by side. Placed deliberately so that all within the hall could observe and acknowledge our relationship and closeness of both body and spirit as we dined together. Before looking at the meal that was presented before me, I cast my vision outward and saw the hall from a whole new angle, showing me nearly every one of my companions, from those I knew intimately, to others who were closer to acquaintances, though I had every intention of forging meaningful bonds with them when the opportunity presented itself to me. For if there was anything that Zyrus and us Venturers believed in, it was the power of bonds, unified goals, and the kinship he endeared us with.
However, as I looked at all of my companions, I was also met with other memories, that of ‘summoning’ these people, ‘raising their levels,’ ‘looking up their stats on a wiki,’ and ‘upgrading their skill trees’. Concepts that I understood, yet sounded alien as I reviewed them in my mind, finding no real-life equivalent for the ‘Everbryte’ that was used to summon them, the concept of a ‘microtransaction’, let alone things like ‘EXP’. I smiled as I thought about these concepts, how they must have abstracted the reality before me, gamifying it and making everything in it feel less tangible, special, or meaningful by reducing everything to numbers when the people before me were oh so much more.
Finding myself musing over irrelevant subjects, I shook my head softly and looked down at the hearty stew before me, no doubt made from the freshest ingredients harvested by Nylez. A cascade of flavor washed across my tongue as I took my first bite, and I turned to my darling to see my expression mirrored on his face. After sharing this moment, we began to eat in unison, relishing our meal together while feeling the need to say very little beyond small comments about assorted things that popped into our heads, or the behavior or our fellows. It was a special kind of closeness, where we had plenty to potentially say, but felt there was little need to do express things verbally, as we both could infer a great deal just by casually glancing back at each other throughout the meal.
While we attempted to restrain our appetites, we both finished our dishes expediently, clanking our silverware against the ceramic bowls, ending our meal around the same time as most others despite having arrived fashionably late to the festivities. Thanks were being offered for the meals and people were filtering out of the room, returning to their designated chambers, or to take care of assorted activities before parting for the evening. From an open window of this hall, I could see that night had already fallen, indicating that Zyrus and I were set to retire for the evening after gathering up our dishes and returning them to the kitchen, where young Fianan was already carefully scrubbing away all residue from the utensils, humming to herself and nodding at us before we caught Solange in the midst of cleaning her kitchen. We thanked her for the delicious meal personally, only for her to wave away the compliment, being ever the modest type.
Afterward, we wandered down the halls, which were still rife with life as people dispersed the halls, talking with those they passed by while returning to their rooms. Zyrus and I said our hellos, I eased a few of my concerned companions, all before reaching our destination, a balcony that looked out from the castle and onto the kingdom below and beyond. I looked outward and saw a scattering of facilities, dwellings, and altars of power, erected across a lively landmass bordered by lush farmlands and watchtowers, expanding well into the horizon. Above that laid the sky, flushed with stars and bearing the impeccable brightness provided by a full moon. However, there was one part of this gorgeous image that was sullied. A dark imposing structure several kilometers away, and hidden amongst the mountains. The dormant domain of the Kuronis, which we raided successfully a season ago.
We were convinced they were a non-threat, yet even with immense magical prowess possessed by Chlozo and her fellow magi, we were unable to banish this devilish den from our realm, let alone our skyline. The opposing forces have been quiet as of late, with only stray fiends popping up amongst the countryside and nothing that our appointed guards could not handle expediently. But that was no reason to lay back, grow fat, complacent, and dull over time, so we established universal training regimens to keep our minds and bodies sharp, ready for the next dastardly event that threatened our land. This past day, I fell ill and did not complete my regiment, but as I saw this potential threat erected in the distance, I clenched my fist, promising myself that I would surpass my own expectations as I trained tomorrow and achieve a new normal of excellence in my performance.
As I pondered such matters, my expression must have turned dour, as Zyrus turned to me and asked, “Isa, is everything alright?”
I was quickly pulled out of the bog of my own mind and turned my head to my beloved, shooting him a smile before my reply.
“Never better, my darling. I was just thinking about tomorrow’s training, and how I want to surpass my records.”
“Heh. And what happened to limiting oneself?”
“Limits are meant to be exceeded. I want to be the best I possibly can be, and if that requires a bit more drive and determination, then that’s what I’ll bring! Besides, there’s a difference between pushing yourself to do better bit by bit and pushing yourself until it hurts!”
Zyrus let out a small chuckle at my enthusiasm, before lacing his fingers between mine. I let out a quick breath as I felt the heat from our hands mingle, and looked at him with a reddened face.
“I admire your dedication, but the foundation of all success is built around a good night’s sleep. Come along now, my dear.”
My heart went doki doki as we held hands. This was normal, I told myself, knowing these words to be true based on the memories that filled my head, yet a sense of taboo accompanied it. A worry if what I was doing was truly right, a thought I pegged as a remnant of that other life of mine. I discarded this thought as soon as I identified it, reassuring myself of the joy I felt when I was fawned over by Zyrus, and the love I felt for him I held deep in my heart.
We left the balcony and made our way to our chamber, a deliberately simple dwelling that bore a large bed for the two of us. Without thinking, we changed out of our armors and shed down to our undergarments, still covering our bodies with a degree of modesty, and never becoming truly naked. As while we had indeed been intimate together many times in the past, we were content with simply being in each other’s company once we pulled away the sheets, and were placed side-by-side on our mattress. We looked inwards at one another, locking our eyes and sharing in mutual happiness before offering our other half a simple, yet loving, good night, both of us closing our eyes as we remained facing each other.
Zyrus was quick to fall into slumber, likely from physical fatigue and the mental energy he had to invest on my behalf earlier today. Whereas I found myself staying awake, struggling with the thoughts that periodically popped into my head throughout the evening. All of which gravitated around a singular question that persistently pecked away at my mind.
“Am I really Isadore?”
Her memories were as clear as could be, but I knew the manner of how I came to be into this world. How my consciousness originated from another world known as Earth, where I lived my life. And as I was doing that, another Isadore must have been living her life. What became of that other life I had abandoned? What became of the other Isadore? Was I a mere imposter? Were my feelings sincere and genuine? They felt real, they felt pure, but I knew their origins were from something or someone who altered my mind. I asked and asked, but I could do nothing to answer these questions. Instead, I found myself making a retort to them, questioning why any of this mattered next to what I was feeling. Happiness. I was happy with where I was, with my status, with those around me, and with my body.
Maybe my very existence was an unnatural one, and I was truly an imposter… but that did not change my feelings, the sensations that reverberated through my mind, and the feelings that fluttered amongst my heart. In the event that a disturbance was to be discovered, or that another Isadore appeared before me, it would be appropriate to engage in these quandaries further. But for now, I knew what I wanted. I had an identity I associated with and loved dearly, and I had people all around me whom I loved far more than anyone else I could recollect from my life in another world. I locked my fingers with Zyrus’s as I became tired from such mental deliberations and soon found myself drifting off to sleep. As I drifted into unconsciousness, my thoughts were those of hope of the bliss that awaits me the next day, and the day after that, and every day that remained in my life. The life of a hero. The life of a loving woman. The life of Isadore Ivalliance
I originally planned on this story being more extensive, long-winded, and generally cruel, emphasizing how mind-numbing and malicious gacha games could be. But as I was writing it, fleshing out the character of Isadore, drawing loads of inspiration from the character Mym from Dragalia Lost, and thinking about how to differentiate this story from my other works, I began gravitating towards a happier ending and wound up making something that could be considered a straightforward hope-filled TSF story, if not for the shades of identity death and gradual acceptance. It took me a while to find out what the flavor of this story, but once I reached the mirror scene, I recalled the short interactive flash story, Free Will by Ian Samson… which has been delisted, along with Samson’s back catalog… That is incredibly upsetting. Um, anyways, I took cues from that to build it into something. Something that, while different from my past work, was refreshing to write.
However, I was not content to just keep this idea a one-off, so I wrote a Christmas-themed sequel known as TSF Series #004-2: It’s a VoRE Christmas.