That Time I Gambled My Soul in a Gacha Game and Got Sent to Another World – The Christmas Special Sequel
This is a direct sequel to TSF Series #004-1: Gacha My Soul For An SSR Waifu. It is essential to read TSF Series #004-1: Gacha My Soul For An SSR Waifu in order to understand the characters, events, and concepts featured in TSF Series #004-2: It’s a VoRE Christmas.
TSF Series #004-2: It’s a VoRE Christmas
Winter had already swept over the kingdom of Radiata, casting its once lush fields of greenery in sheets of white as plants shed their leaves and animals nestled away for the ensuing cold. In some lands, this was a time of worry and concern, but for a land as rich with mana as Radiata, that was not the case. From the young to the old, the poor to the wealthy, all were basking in joy, as FrostFes was almost among them. A time of merriment, feasting, and celebration aplenty. Where gifts were exchanged and families band together under a single roof.
This was true within nearly every home in this expansive land, but nowhere was it more pronounced than at Radiata Castle. A melting pot of individuals from across all lands, unified by bonds forged in battle, and dedicated to defending the world from myriad threats. Kuroni, Shadlings, the Tribe of Khalooner, and many more. But all had fallen weak and silent as of late, allowing these brave Venturers to sit back, relax, and rejoice in the festivities.
Its halls were booming with life as children frolicked, friends shared hearty laughs, people shuffled about with sacks or crates of unknown contents, and others shared in song, their voices echoing throughout the expansive dining hall. There are hundreds of tales within this castle that could be told, but our story today takes us away from the outward hoopla and into the kitchen nestled away beyond the dining hall.
In the aftermath of dinner, the castle kitchen typically remained quiet and unintended. But with festivities approaching rapidly, many were using this opportunity to prepare last-minute gifts. Cookies were being baked for the children and child-like, exotic candies were being made for those who missed their homeland, and elaborate dishes were being prepared for loved ones. It was definitely the latter for our protagonist tonight, Isadore Ivalliance. A kind and loving woman who was favored among her people, and a valiant warrior. One who played a pivotal role in preventing the Kuroni’s attempted resurrection months prior by joining in arms with her husband, Zyrus, both nearly sacrificing themselves for the good of their people.
However, such gallant bouts of bravery were far from her mind as Isadore leaned into the oven, using her knitted mitts to grab the cake she prepared. It was a large, rich dessert of a thick yet moist consistency. And it was the only way she could think of to convey the affection she had for Zyrus more than any words or purchased goods. After all, how does one impress a royal with anything more than their devotion?
She smiled as she inhaled the chocolatey aroma of a hard night’s work, and after affixing it onto a glass plate, she grabbed a tube of frosting, eager to put the finishing touches on her present. A smile appeared across her brown and beauteous face before she adjusted the hair net that contained her silver strands.
She uncapped the tube and squeezed from the bottom while spreading it throughout the cake. Yet, as she released the creamy substance from its container, she noticed something was a touch odd about its color and consistency. It looked brighter and more saturated than it should have and possessed an almost translucent quality to it. Curious, she brought her index finger to the substance and licked it casually… only for her face to contort with disgust as it touched her tongue.
Her eyes locked with the ‘frosting’ she eagerly placed onto the cake and saw it move, jiggling about as it emitted a vile aroma. Before Isadore could do more than react with shock and horror, the substance expanded itself over the entire body of the cake and began vibrating and swishing about, consuming the cake it enveloped.
Isadore’s calm expression burst into fury as she brought her hand to a nearby knife, which she used to stab the cake, and the creature covering it. The viscous being squirmed after she struck it with such might before vanishing in a puff of smoke. Leaving behind a foul odor, and a half-consumed cake coated in an unwanted brown goop.
“NOOOOOOO!!!” Isadore cried, her voice echoing through the entire kitchen.
As Isadore looked down at her destroyed dessert, she wished to indulge in her sorrow, but even as this emotion filled her being, her eyes remained dry. For she lost the ability to bear tears long ago, after facing unspeakable atrocities. But in her current joyous life, such a setback was devastating.
As her emotions broiled, she scraped her cake into a food waste bin nearby, and as she did so, she heard the pitter-patter of small footsteps approached her. With a scowl still on her face, Isadore looked down and locked eyes with Zollie.
Zollie was a young girl who joined the Venturers after the loss of her parents and quickly took to many of the adults around her, finding family and kinship anew. She was a talented magi and took to new skills with the utmost proficiency, proving herself to be capable of combat, even if many, including Isadore, worried about bringing one no older than 12, along with them as they travel and battle across the lands. From the eyes of a casual onlooker, she was a girl of fair skin with short brown hair, dressed in pinkish red robes along with a large typical magi hat that belonged to her late father. She was not a girl of an intimidating stature, being rather short, even for her age, and frail in the constitution. But her spirit and mana reserves allowed her to take on foes that even hardened warriors twice her age would struggle with.
“Hey, Isa, is everything alright?” Zollie asked in a shy tone.
“No! Things are horrible! I was baking a cake for Zyrus and when I went to affix frosting on it, a GooPoo escaped from the tube, ruining my present!”
Zollie’s expression soured as she saw Isadore in such a state, unsure how she could comfort this woman old enough to have mothered her. But as the gears of her mind turned and churned, a new voice echoed behind the pair.
“Eh, a GooPoo? How in the Hells did something like that get into the kitchen?”
Isadore and Zollie then turned their heads and were met with Pattilicia, or rather Patti. A 170-year-old Usagian. A long-lived race that thrived amidst nature and possessed a deep connection to animals, along with a pair of large ears that stuck out from the top of their heads, granting them exceptional awareness of their surroundings. She had joined with the Venturers following the destruction of her home forest by the daemonic Duke of Zil half a year prior.
In that time, she had learned to open up to those around her and adopt a more varied understanding of the world by mingling with other races and people of differing worldviews. However, she still thrived in more naturalistic locales and was on standby for any quest that would send this jaunty crew through deep or enigmatic forests and dungeons. Whether it be to hunt, forage, or wage war, she was always in her element there and proved to be an invaluable asset, earning her great favor among many, including Isadore.
As for her appearance, she was a limber woman who, in human years, was no older than 25. Her physique was lean, her curves were small, her hair was a deep purple that fluttered down to her mid-back, and as per the recent string of cold that befell the center and south of Radiata, she was dressed far warmer than usual. Trading in her usual tight and light attire that left her midriff, biceps, and legs exposed in favor of warm leggings, boots, and a jacket wrapped tightly around her person, so as to not compromise her mobility amid combat.
“I probably should tell Solange about this,” Pattilicia remarked. “She’s bound to flip a switch if she hears that a Goo got into her pantry. Even if it was, uh, packaged first.”
“No, do not bother telling her of this incident,” Isadore said in a crestfallen tone. “The frosting was something I purchased myself, and it appears I was viciously lied to by one merchant.”
“So, you were making a cake then? I’m guessing it was for Zyrus?” Zollie asked with widened eyes.
“Yes, though if he were so inclined, and he undoubtedly would be, he was certain to share it with all of you… unfortunately, it was tainted by a being of feces and nobody can eat it anymore.” Isadore replied with a sigh.
“Aw. Can’t you just ask Solange for more ingredients? I’m sure she’d be willing to help out with that.”
“Zollie, I wish it were that simple, but I had prepared a truly decadent cake for my beloved, and I fear we lack supplies of the same quality. I could make him a consolation present, but Forstfes comes around only once a year, and this is the first one we are spending as husband and wife.”
“And we can’t just buy it since all the shops are strapped because of FrostFes, right?” Zollie inquired.
“Unfortunately so, and all merchants are bound to be at home with their families for the holiday.”
“Heh. You girls do know that there are ways to get something without buying it, right?” Patti said with a sneer.
“Are you suggesting… stealing?!” Zollie gasped.
“What? No. Of course not! I’m saying that if you tell me what you need, I might be able to suss out where we can find it. If you are desperate enough for a late-night grotto raid!”
Isadore crossed her arms and tapped her foot as she deliberated this decision, glancing at the wall clock in the kitchen as it struck past 19:00.
“Well, if you’re sure that we can find what we’re looking for…”
“C’mon Isa, you’ve seen the hauls I’ve been able to get just by heading down to the old quarry. If there’s even a scrap of what you’re looking for in this country, my ears will find it.”
“I still don’t get that. How you can find things with your ears,” Zollie asked, thinking aloud.
“It’s just my gift, small fry. You’ve got your magicks, while I’ve got my dexterity and scavenger skills.”
“Well, if the two of you are so insistent— and so long as we are back before Zollie’s bedtime— then I suppose we should head out as soon as possible. You both grab your winter gear. I’ll clean up my mess and try to rid the kitchen of such a deplorable odor.”
“Okey doke! I’ll make sure to pack my booties!”
“I’m always ready to head out. But if you wouldn’t mind telling me what exactly we need—”
Isadore then thrust a piece of scrap parchment into Patti’s palm. A list of ingredients she used to prepare the sullied cake. Some were common and essential, the sort that could be easily replaced, while others caused Patti’s eyes to widen. Cocoa beans from a distant jungle, nuts native to another continent, and eggs of such renown they are only found at a single farm in the entire nation.
“You really went all out with this thing, ya know?” Patti said as Isadore frantically washed her tainted plate and pan.
Upon releasing a sigh, Patti began to concentrate deeply, causing her long purple rabbit-like ears to twitch, flicker about, and rotate erratically. It was an unnerving sight, like an insect wiggling about their fluffy antennae to perceive the world around them. Yet after much sporadic movement, her ears shot upright and Patti nearly jumped.
“Yo! I’ve got it! I found a one-stop-shop for all your cake making needs!”
“Truly? You were able to find everything?!” Isadore said as she finished rinsing her pan.
“You bet your tuchus I was! Meet me by the Glimmer Rock and we’ll head to the southwest. It’ll be a bit of a trek, but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes with this fast travel dealio!”
As Patti dashed out of the kitchen, Isadore followed suit, stopping by Zollie’s room to grab the small magi into her arms, as she knew it would be faster than letting the child waddle about in her baggy snow pants and one-size-too-large boots.
Before the clock could creep past 19:15, the trio was at their first destination. A chamber of fine marble and stone that housed a massive gem. One of immense magical power that allowed the stone to defy gravity by floating above the ground, and generated a rainbow-hued radiance. The three looked at the stone with a degree of casualness before stretching their hands out to it, brushing their fingers against the surface. The Glimmer Rock released a burst of radiance from this simple touch, enveloping the bodies of Isadore, Zollie, and Patti in an aura of light.
Enriched by the power of this profound relic, the three then found themselves moving upwards, passing through the crystal ceilings of this chamber and into the night’s sky. They continued their ascension into the night’s sky, rising higher and higher until they narrowly brushed against the scant clouds filling this clear night sky. From this apex, the trinity of lights then shot themselves to the southwest, traveling faster than any horse or fiend.
As they soared, they looked down at this land. The forests and plains coated in a sheet of white, undisturbed by wandering animals or fiends. The lakes and ponds frozen solid into glass-like panes that unevenly reflected the light of the moon and stars above. The townships scattered across the plains, filled with homes dressed with festive decor of a vibrant blue and striking green and illuminated as citizens burned logs within their homes, keeping them and their loved ones warm on this cold night.
Eventually, the sights of civilization petered away, and the three found themselves flying above the unkempt wilds before reaching their final destination. A snow-swept quarry. A remnant of a civilization lost to the ages that held many mysteries in its interwoven catacombs. A locale that practically sang honeyed promises to adventurers and archeologists alike, yet it was a den of danger and disorientation, whose layout and contents changed upon each visit. Still, for those with the determination and skill to explore it fully, there were great rewards to be had, which was precisely what Isadore desired.
Upon marking their landing spot, the trio then shot themselves straight down into the outskirts of the quarry. A forceful wave boomed upon their landing, casting the snow away and shattering both ice and stone beneath their feet. The light around their bodies absorbed the force and damage of this impact, but left their bodies shortly thereafter, leaving them without a light as they overlooked this dark pit of stone.
“Ugh. traveling like that always makes me super queasy,” Zollie said as she rubbed her tummy.
“Yeah, same here,” Patti said with an uneven voice. “But it’s either this, riding a horse for a hundred kilometers, or trying our luck at a more conventional magical portal. And I’m NOT risking another portal again. Not after we flooded that cave by opening a gateway to the goldarn ocean.”
“I will admit that Glimmer Flight is jarring the first few times, but after a few dozen tries, you girls should get used to it.”
“If you say so, Isa… Now then, which grotto will give us what we want! Ears, don’t fail me now!”
As Patti made her declaration, her tall ears became erratic yet again, turning and circling forward as they sought the precise location of Isadore’s ingredients. As their position stabilized, aimed at the bottom of the deep pit before them, Patti dug into the satchel of holding around her waist, where she produced three 2-star wooden shields picked up as enemy drops. Taking one for herself and handing the other two to her allies, Patti then used a shield as a makeshift snowboard, using it to effortlessly slide down the snow and ice that covered the rocky hole before her. After exchanging glances of concern, Isadore and Zolllie soon followed, jumping on their gifted shields as they descended to the bottom of the quarry and into one of the numerous grottos it held.
As they passed the entrance, the three soon found themselves in a frozen dungeon illuminated by a scattering of green and red crystals, and one that was naturally home to no shortage of fiends. Upon seeing this predictable opposition, the party of three drew their weapons and made short work of them. Isadore charged up strikes to shatter the bodies of golems before her. Patti loosed a volley of arrows to slaughter the dire wolves as they rushed onwards. While Zollie summoned a flurry of lightning, firing it at the vast quantities of Goopers that oozed from the cracks in the rock face their bodies frying as the conductive electricity baked and boiled their bodies.
It was all routine for them, just another day of hunting for monsters, and with their accrued might and the pristine quality of their 6-star weapons, they moved unrestrained, cleaving through waves and waves of enemies as they went deeper into the cave. The snow departed, yet the temperature grew ever colder and the radiant gems grew less and less common. All until, after many battles and few spoils of value beyond generic monster parts, the party finally reached a large room with a predictably eerie atmosphere. All three immediately noticed the quiet and clear signs of a boss encounter, but that did not stop them from dashing onwards, with Patti shouting to the three that their goal was near while her ears vibrated intensely.
Yet before they could delve deeper to explore a collection of curious sacks placed on the opposite end of the room, a tuft of smoke appeared in the center of the arena, revealing a Mondo Kuroni. A humanoid fiend no less than 5 meters in height, wielding a spiked club easily dwarfed the party standing before them. It was a creature the Venturers of Radiant had battled many times in the past, but this one was a touch different.
The being’s body was a vibrant crimson, their body was thick and throbbing with muscle, and their face was a disgruntled mesh of features, with a large horn sticking out from their forehead. However, this Kuroni was far better fed than their brethren, with their face bearing a long willowy white beard and their body possessing a prominent belly to it, making its movements sluggish, but giving it greater cushion and health points. The Kuroni looked at the trio before slamming their club onto the ground and letting out a laugh that echoed throughout the chamber.
Isadore, Zollie, and Patti shared looks with one another, nodding their heads before rushing forward with their weapons drawn, beginning the fight with a flurry of blows. Isadore leaped high into the air and rammed her spear into the eye of the beast. Patti shot at the thick hand bracing the club in an attempt to weaken the monster’s grip. While Zollie aimed a freeze spell at the creature’s feet, locking them in place.
The Mondo Kuroni howled as they braced the impact, green blood oozing from their form, but they were seemingly no match for this veteran team, who avoided his telegraphed and glacially paced strikes, moving to his blind spot before unleashing a second wave of attacks onto his bare backside. As arrows, magicks, and piercing strikes reduced the back of the Kuroni into a bloody pulp, the howls it unleashed were only greater, eventually inspiring the creature to flee the moment the ice thawed, but as they wobbled out of the cave, Isadore charged the mana resonating through her body and dashed forward with her lance outward. Her body entered the back of the Kuroni and exited the front, while the fiend, overkilled from this critical blow, burst into a cloud of smoke upon impact, leaving behind a pile of spoils in its wake.
“Easy peasy, extra breezy!” Zollie shouted gleefully as she ran towards Isadore.
“Truly,” Isadore replied. “When in groups, the Kuroni are a formidable threat. But on their own, they are naught but a 30 second clear.”
“Yeah, yeah. With where we’re at, we’ve got nothing to worry about. If there was, I would have gotten a fourth person for this party, y’know? Anyway my ears are-a-ringing, so let’s raid this fatso’s pantry.”
From that decree, the three then began exploring the veritable treasure trove amassed by the fallen Mondo Kuroni, pilfering through the sacks and crates to find ingredients of all types, values, and sizes. Common potatoes, finely salted rare meats, jars of pickled vegetables, an icebox of frozen fruits, and a number of exotic spices from distant nations. Yet these were all consolation prizes next to what they were truly after, and following a minute of digging and scrounging, Isadore held in her hands what she was looking for. The cocoa beans, eggs, nuts, and other accouterments to make her cake the best damn cake she possibly could.
“Hooray~!” Isadore shouted, her voice booming throughout the cavern.
“What can I say? My ears have never led me astray. No need to thank me, just… let me get my pick of the rest of the goodies and we’re even.”
“Well, even if there is no need, thank you very much for helping out Isa, Miss Patti,” Zolli said with a wholesome grin.
“I asked you to drop the ‘Miss’ schtick, kid. I may be ‘old’ but I’m not… Ah, screw it. Nevermind, squirt. I think I’m starting to like the name, anyway.”
“Alright you two, make sure you grab what you can and let me know when you’re ready to head back to the castle.”
“So, we’re just done? Because I’m sure we’ll find more stuff if we go in a bit deeper. Besides, this only took us, what, half an hour?”
“Well, if you say so,” Isa said reluctantly. “But no more than a few floors. The cake must be baked before morning… and Zollie needs to get a good night’s sleep.”
“It’s okay, Isa. I can keep on going. I’m not going to be able to get much sleep tonight anyway Tehe!”
“Still… we’re stopping at the next boss, alright?”
“Alrighteroonie!” Patti and Zollie said in unison.
After voicing their agreement, the trio ventured deeper into the grotto innards, fighting more and more waves of common mobs of fiends while walking through the frigid catacombs, their hearts warmed by the constant battles and the bursting energy of their skills. It was all a routine activity for them, one where their bodies almost moved automatically and foes fell with ease.
However, as they were traveling down the halls and taking a sharp turn, Isadore’s boots caught against a rock and she began to fall to the corner between the icy wall and the stone floor. It would only be a minor blow for someone as strong as her. However, her body did not collide with either surface. Instead, she… fell through the world.
Beyond what they could perceive as the walls, floors, and ceiling of the dungeon was a land not of stone, but of a dull grey nothingness. A matterless void wherein the halls and rooms she had explored and was venturing towards were hanging through mechanisms beyond her comprehension. The moment she realized this was the same moment she realized that this was all getting further away. She was freefalling through the void with no way to defy the power of gravity, unable to do anything more than stare at her allies as their expressions became imperceptible and the expansive caverns overhead were reduced to a distant speck.
She was horrified, baffled, and completely divorced from her element as she saw the impossible become possible, but as these daunting seconds gave way to minutes and Isadore became terrified that this was a truly bottomless void, her feet landed gently on a surface. This outcome left her stunned, for she managed to fall several kilometers without taking any damage or sustaining any injuries. Yet, here she was. Standing on a surface devoid of color, temperature, texture, or identifiable matter and looking out at an endless grey abyss, unable to even see the grotto she came from.
“Can I warp away from this place? If not… is this it? Is this where I… die?”
As she thought such things, a floating white square appeared amidst the darkness. A flat surface, and one that contained text written in a foreign language. The characters and words were familiar to Isadore, yet she could not recall when she had learned this tongue, or what region it hailed from. She could read it, but the meaning of the message was lost on her.
ERROR CODE: 00WGG417
Please send a report to customer support and restart the Venturers of Radiant: Extreme App.
Beneath the message there was a rectangle that featured the words “send report” and while she did not know what this meant in this context, she nevertheless felt compelled to tap the rectangle, which emitted a blue light as it recognized her finger. The floating white surface then disappeared, only to reappear a moment later, this time bearing another message:
ERROR CODE: S5087
Data has been compromised. Invalid files detected.
Connecting to customer support…
Again, Isadore could read the characters before her, but could not understand the intention or purpose of these enigmatic foreign sentence-like word bundles. And what’s more, there was no way for her to interact with the display before her, which remained unresponsive to her touch of any gesture. Instead, a blue circle symbol was rotating beneath the text. And while she did not recognize such a symbol, something within her said that the answer to her burgeoning questions would come if she waited. And wait she did, gazing at the white square as the circle continued to spin, and spin, and spin. Until, after no less than 50 rotations, the white square disappeared once more, being replaced with another white square, this one with a collection of seemingly arbitrarily arranged symbols affixed at the bottom.
Before she could comprehend this display, however, a line of text appeared at the top, reading the following:
“Thank goodness, we finally found you! Please verify your identity so we can begin the extraction procedure!”
Isadore looked at this sentence with confusion, finding it more comprehensible than what she had previously seen, but not understanding its intent beyond asking for her identity. She looked at the display before her in more detail and realized she could create sentences using the array of characters at the bottom of the screen. She fiddled with this new interface, typing in inputs as they filled the lower middle of the screen, before pressing an arrow symbol to send her message to this unseen figure. Much like with this figure, her message appeared in the top section of this square, but it was aligned to the left instead of the right.
“My name is Isadore Ivalliance of Castle Radiata.”
“I know not where I am or what this interface is.”
Another message then, almost immediately, appeared on the screen.
“Please provide your player username or ID. If you do not understand what either of these things are, I should be able to figure them out by examining your altered character files.”
“I do not understand your words or terminology.”
“I simply wish to leave this void of grey and return to my home.”
“I am attempting to recover your user data right now. In the meantime, please define for me what you consider to be your ‘home.’ Do you consider it to be a castle in the land of Radiata and the world of Gaia, or are you from another world? Do you have memories of a life on Earth?”
Reading those words caused Isadore’s head to ache. She felt something deep within the recesses of her mind rush to the surface after having been sealed long ago. And even as these recollections emerged to her conscious mind, she fought against them, fearing and loathing what they would tell her. The truth of who she was.
“I… was once a man. A man on the planet Earth in the nation of America. One who lived a commoner’s life and lacked any exceptional abilities, yet had a strong fascination with the world of… technology? Electronics? He… played games… on his tele… phone. Games where you gambled… for cute girls? Yes, games known as… gacha games? And he was an enthusiast player and spender of… Venturers of Radiant: Extreme.”
“But then… that man lost his life. He was removed from his world and he became… me. He lost his life because he wanted to obtain the ability to see, or ‘play as’ me in this… role playing game. But instead of dying, he… became me. His name was… no. NO!”
“NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOO!!!”
“NO! I forgot for a reason! I do not want to remember who he was. This is all WRONG! These memories are a LIE! I AM Isadore! I have ALWAYS been Isadore! And I want to be none other than Isadore! I’m Isadore! I’m Isadore! I AM ISADORE!!!”
As Isadore steeled herself, she typed a response to the customer support representative, saying the following:
“I will not return to Earth! This is my home! I refuse to leave!”
“Based on my records, your personal data has been partially erased by your character data. This process has likely negatively affected your mental state.”
“I DO NOT CARE! I am happy as I am, and I do not want to go back to being him.”
“Please, you have a life, friends, and family. They assuredly miss you. Even if you live in this world, another Isadore will take your place.”
“To Hell with those people, and to Hell with another Isadore!”
“This is what I want! This is who I am!”
“I will not leave my allies, I will not leave my home, I will not leave my husband!”
“I will not go back to nothing!”
“You know, you don’t need to be so feisty about it. I swear, why does it always turn out like this? If I have your consent, I will erase the personal data of player ID 847 224 303, username: D.D. Sunshine.”
“Yes, destroy it all! I never want to return!”
“Your player data will be erased and you and your party will respawn at Castle Radiata. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Seconds after reading this final message, Isadore’s body froze in place. Her mind went on standby, and her body became unreceptive to any and all sensation. As she remained in this state, the very foundation of her mind was altered. As the customer support person said, any and all memories she had of her past life were being removed from her subconscious. Her knowledge of the English language, of the planet Earth, and every person who existed within her life, including her former male self. It was all gone. All erased. All deleted. Never to return.
She was now Isadore, and no one else.
As this mental reformatting process came to an end, Isadore was brought back to the castle, her body vanishing from the void and into the Glimmer Rock chamber, along with her allies, Patti and Zollie. Their bodies static and faces locked in the concerned expressions they wore after Isadore fell out of world and triggered the attention of the support staff.
Once all pieces were in place, time resumed and life returned to these figures, who unanimously shared in a moment of confusion as they got their bearings. With Zollie and Patti both being quick to discard their concerned looks in favor of vibrant smiles.
“Another day, another grotto cleared,” Patti said as she did a quick stretch.
“Well, we’re not done yet! We gotta help Isa with her cake!” Zollie exclaimed a bit too loudly.
As these two carried out their banter, Isadore prepared to join in, only to stop as she deliberated over a response, struck with an uncanny feeling she began to reconcile within her mind.
“Hold on, we defeated a Kuroni… then we went in deeper, but… what happened after that? Why can’t I remember? Did something happen? Let me check my inventory to make sure.”
As Isadore mused over this matter, she opened her satchel of infinite holding and browsed her items. She was quick to find the ingredients she needed for her cake, just as she recalled gathering them, but there was far more she found as she furthered her investigation. An excess of currency, and various other rare materials to enhance the might of her and her fellow Venturers. She could not remember where these rewards came from and assumed that they must have been the spoils earned when they went deeper into the grotto, as they had planned.
It made sense, but if so, then how did she forget the details? She could imagine what the encounter was like upon seeing these rewards, but it was almost as if something within her was… gone. She felt herself drifting away from the world around her as she dug deeper into this uncertainty, only to be pulled back to reality with a comment from Patti.
“Yo, Isa! You ready to get started on cake number two?”
“Oh, yes, certainly,” Isadore replied, her voice frazzled. “We must get it done before FrostFes after all!”
As she returned to the world before her, Isadore began doing what she set out to do, heading off to the now dark and isolated kitchen, where, as the clock struck 21:00, she began taking out her ingredients and preparing her recently washed dishes for another shot at baking a cake. Except this time she was not alone. While Isadore preoccupied herself with preparing the oven and drying off the freshly washed pans, Patti made quick work of measuring and sorting the ingredients, while Zollie put all the strength in her frail arms into churning and mixing the batter into a viscous dark fluid. Within mere minutes, the cake was already in the oven, baking and hardening.
“Alright girls, I think I’ve got it from here,” Isadore said, puffing out her chest.
“Aw, you’re sure? I can help you make the frosting!” Zollie volunteered.
“Sorry, but no,” Isadore continued, “I saw you trying to lick the spoon when you were done, and you are not allowed to have sweets after dinner, young lady!”
“But—But it’s FrostFes!”
“You can have plenty of sweets tomorrow. But for now, off to bed with you! Or else Grandmaster Frost won’t leave you a present under the tree.”
“Why wouldn’t he? I’ve been a very good girl this year!”
“Ah, ever the modest one, ain’tcha?” Patti chimed in. “You were good, but Grandmaster Frost cannot afford to get distracted by one eager child, and can only work his magic if all the children in the land are dreaming sweet dreams.”
“She’s right, you know. The winds of winter are slowed and weakened if there is not enough hope in the world, so do yourself and all the children of this nation a favor and get some sleep!”
“Well, when you put it like that… Okey doke! I’m going to bed now! I hope the cake turns out scrumdiddlyumptious!”
As Zollie fluttered out of the kitchen and towards her bed chambers, Patti soon followed, wishing Isadore a “g’d night” before leaving for some well-deserved rest. Isadore thanked the two for their aid as they left, before returning a bowl she swiftly began filling with milk, butter, crushed cocoa beans, and vanilla, whipping and mixing the ingredients until they meshed into a sweet fluffy mound, not too thick, not too thin, and just right from what she has come to understand as Zyrus’s palette.
With the proper cooking part done and nothing more to do than wait for the cake to bake and then cool, Isadore spent her downtime sitting down and reading through a curious novel that found its way into the communal library of Radiata castle.
It was a tale of a young magi woman who awoke in another world, one deprived of all magicks, mana, and any matter of fiends, yet contained great technologies from flying machines, horseless carriages, and horrific weapons arguably more destructive than even the mightiest dark lord in all the lands. It was a wild and fantastical concept, yet the more Isadore read, the more unnerved she got, finding something deeply… unpleasant about the reality this author was imagining, though she could not determine why.
Before Isadore could go beyond the second chapter, her final timer rang, calling her back to the oven, where she pulled out the cake, its body thick and moist, and its aroma enthralling. She gingerly pried the cake onto a ceramic plate before turning to the bowl of frosting, looking at it with suspicion as if the ingredients she personally whipped up could have transformed into something as foul as a GooPoo. Thankfully, as she deduced from a simple taste test, she was denied such misfortune, allowing her to breathe a sigh of relief before she took a knife into the bowl and lather the frosting over the cake, spreading it out gently and evenly until the entire surface was covered, and a small pool of frosting remained within the bowl. She looked at the bowl continuously, and the wheels of her mind spun once more.
“Should I save it for sometime later, or should I eat it now? …No, I should just pitch it. The amount is too small for more than a few mouthfuls, and it is far too late for sweets. Besides, it’s nearly 22:00. I am certain Zyrus is worried about my whereabouts by now. Oh, the burdens of baking sweets before bed is a mighty one… but at least I am content in knowing that the cake is done, and my present is secure. All I must do now is dress it with frozen berries.”
Isadore ventured deeper into the kitchen before reaching a room with a metal door. A room kept perpetually cold through the power of frost magi, allowing many foods to be preserved until the next harvest. It was a vast expansive room, but Isadore was quick to spy a collection of fruit, and within one bag, she found the delectable red berries she wished to top her cake with. Upon filling her hands with them, she returned to the kitchen with a smile on her face, ready to finalize her present and retire for the evening… only to stop as she saw a familiar tall and muscular blonde man standing in the middle of the kitchen, a perplexed look on his face.
It was Zyrus, dressed in his winter sleepwear, and as his amethyst eyes interlocked with Isadore’s, he rushed over to her and embraced her in a hug.
“Isadore! Where have you been?”
“I… I just had to help Zollie and Patti with something. It was nothing extraordinary. I was just about to retire to our room.”
“Truly? Then why, perchance, are you in the kitchen at this hour… does it perhaps have to do with that heavenly aroma I smell?” Zyrus said before freeing Isadore of his grip, looking at the cake behind her.
“I’m sorry, Zyrus. I wanted to make you something special for FrostFes, and have been spending all evening on a cake. I wanted to be done sooner, but the first one was ruined, and I did not have the needed supplies. I sought aid from Patti and Zollie to help me find the rare ingredients I needed, but that took up much of my evening. I just finished your cake and, before I could even apply the scarlet berries, let alone put the cake away, you came in.”
“Isadore… I truly don’t tell you that I love you as much as I should.”
“Huh? But the surprise— this was going to be my FrostFes present for you, but now… you’ve already seen it.”
“Isa, my sweet, the fact that you went through so much for me is far more than I would ever ask of you. You need not get me anything, for I already have the greatest gift of all. I have you, as my wife. You are the one who has saved my life countless times and helped me bring peace to this land. You are the one who I promised, in front of hundreds, to protect and love for as long as my body draws breath. You are the woman I see when I wake every morning, and the last face I see before I drift off into slumber. You do not need to prove anything to me, Isadore.”
“T-Thank you, darling. I… I feel the same way. I never want to leave you, but… I wanted to do something for you, and I figured this is something I knew you would appreciate.”
“Oh, and I very much do appreciate this gesture. You are an exceptional cook, and I can practically feel the love you put into this dessert radiating from it. However, it is too late for sweets. Please, cover it up for tomorrow, clean up, and I’ll meet you outside the kitchen. If I know your FrostFes present, it is only fair if I let you see mine.”
As Isadore finished adding the defrosting berries to the top of the cake, she covered it with a glass dome, leaving it on the table with the confidence that none in the castle would dare to touch such a thing without expressed permission. Especially on FrostFes. She then went about licking the frosting bowl clean, knowing that it would be a while before she went to bed given Zyrus’s mood, before rinsing and washing the cookware she used to prepare the cake, leaving everything to dry overnight.
With the clock already past 22:30, Isadore moved out of the kitchen where she immediately locked eyes with Zyrus, who wore a nervous look on his usually confident face as he presented Isadorewith a small white box. With restless anticipation, Isadore grabbed the box and opened up the lid, gasping as she saw what it contained. Inside was a ceramic figure, one of two people, a man and a woman sitting on a bench placed within a field of greenery and multicolored flowers. The man and woman, though given exaggerated proportions with tiny bodies and large heads, were identifiable through their hair, faces, and garments. The blonde man in dashing armor was Zyrus, while the silver-haired woman in a blue split dress was Isadore.
The craftsmanship of the figure, upon further inspection, was a touch amateurish, with uneven ends, a paint job with some splotches in it, and certain crevices where the finishing gloss was not applied. However, it was imperfections like these that only made Isadore’s heart swell, for she knew this was not the work of a professional sculptor, but Zyrus himself. He learned this skill and made a curio that could remain a part of their chambers forevermore. It was adorable; it was soulful; it represented the reverence Zyrus had for their relationship, and… it made her want to cry. But with no more tears left to shed, all she could do was mutter words of appreciation to Zyrus, who swiftly brought a finger to her lips.
“You don’t need to say thank you. The look in your eyes says it all. Come with me, my dear.”
I looked lazily at the flame before me. The sight of logs popping and cracking with subtle snaps as their bodies combusted, filling this room, and this entire castle, with a great warmth. It was a pleasant and affirming sight I grew to love early in life, where the embrace of a flame was the only way to stave off the hardships of winter. However, that was a long time ago, when I had none I could truly trust, and barely had the means to keep myself alive. Now, I had far more than I could have ever imagined. And, most importantly, I had him.
I leaned my head against Zyrus’s chest, his warmth emanating onto my face as we laid together, in the isolated lounge, wrapped in a thick hide blanket to keep our bodies warm this cold winter night. I felt as if I should say something to him, but with his breathing slowed and his eyes shuttered, I knew he was already asleep. But as for me, I remained awake. Heh. I guess this is the price I pay for eating sweets so late at night.
However, that was merely one reason I remained restless even as the night trailed on. The other was that of excitement. Of anticipation for what tomorrow would bring, of seeing everyone gather about in a day of presents and celebration. Of seeing the children giggle with glee, and seeing friends deepen their bonds over gifts. A day of anticipation and concern whether the dozens of gifts I had prepared prior would be received as uproariously as I had hoped.
I had a lot on my mind and even the comforting embrace that was my husband could not lull me into slumber, causing my eyes to remain open even as the clock above the fireplace ushered in a new day. Then, just as I felt I was finally nodding off and entering the realm of dreams, I felt a shiver rush over my person, a gust that fluttered my hair into my face and nearly put out the fire. I reflexively shut my eyes as it coated my person, and as I opened them, I saw something glimmering on the FrostFes tree. The already ornate structure with hundreds of fixtures adorned across it now shimmered even in the dark of the night. And beneath its pine leaves, the vast mound of presents had only grown in size.
It was a miraculous sight that defined common reason… but it was the magic of the season. A blessing from Grandmaster Frost. Something I had known happened after the fact, yet never had the privilege to witness with my very own eyes. My cheeks dimpled as I realized what had happened, with part of me wanting to wake up Zyrus to inform him of such a feat… only for my attention to be drawn elsewhere as, on top of my legs, I saw another present in an ornate and unwrapped box, with a tag bearing the name Isadore Ivalliance.
Curious, I gently lifted the lid to the box, and covered my mouth as I saw its contents. It was a Memoria Print, an image of the past captured using mana, and one that would grant the wielder any number of abilities. And the memory capture was… my past.
It was me from years ago, scrounging in the trenches as I escorted children away from their callous prison, my hand on the mouth of one child, and a look of horror and resentment in my eyes. It was a harsh memory of mind… but it had a happy ending and was a stepping point in my journey before… I wound up where I am today. It was a fine gift, one whose origins were undeniably mythical in nature, and one that I put back in its box after taking a moment to admire it, for I could do nothing with it until morning.
I gently placed the Print back into its box, but as I did so, I saw something else. A piece of parchment affixed to the bottom of the box. It was stark white, thin, cut with perfection, and the words on it looked not to be made by hand, with every repeated character being uniform and shockingly clear in their readability.
It read as follows:
Dear Isadore Ivalliance,
We here at Nigma Softworks would like to apologize for your current situation. Your personal player data has been erased per your instructions, and you will remain part of Venturers of Radiant: Extreme going forward. We hope that you enjoy your time in this world and the new life you have adopted as your own.
We thank you for your financial support during your short time playing, and to express our gratitude, in this box you will find a custom Memoria Print accessory that will grant lance users, such as yourself, an additional 40% skill damage.
The Venturers of Radiant: Extreme development team
I looked over the letter several times, failing to understand precisely what it was talking about, or why exactly this ‘development team’ was giving me a gift. However, the more I thought about the matter… the more I was convinced that this letter should not exist. It did not evoke memories, but rather a sensation. A sense of wrongness. A sense that the parchment in my palms should not exist. And with the open flame only a few meters away, I found myself compelled to cast it into the fire, burning the parchment into charcoal and ash within a matter of seconds.
As the parchment left this world, I felt a sense of satisfaction flow across my being, as if I had been freed from a grand burden. With a small shove, I moved my present from Grandmaster Frost onto a small table before me and began moving closer to Zyrus. As my head drifted into his lap, I knew that all was well in my life. Tomorrow would be a bright and joyous day, and the days that followed would be positively radiant.
Holidays, let alone holiday specials, are something I’m not particularly fond of, as it is taking something that should be evergreen and tying it to a specific annual event. But some months ago during one of my sporadic musings of concepts for this ongoing series, I happened across the title of “It’s a VoRE (Venturers of Radiant: Extreme) Christmas” and knew I had to make a story with that title come December.
So I spent a few days mapping out and writing a story that fit a general Christmas theme and ways to expand the story of Random #004: Gacha My Soul For An SSR Waifu. And in typical Natalie Neumann fashion, the story I came up with was set in a world without Christmas and did not feature any festively themed consumption of living creatures.
Instead, the story was more of a follow up on the identity death/rebirth seen in Random #004. A tribute to the light and fluffy stories and antics seen in Dragalia Lost, a game that heavily inspired Random #004. And a way for me to re-explore the ‘trapped in a video game’ elements I previously touched upon in Fan Fiction Funsies: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon – Rescue Team HOT MILK. While also being a way for me to expand upon the world and characters by creating two new supporting characters for Isadore to play off of, and what I call cosmetic lore, as I definitely did not plan any of this out during the outlining phase, and just made stuff up on the fly.
Overall, this story is a bit on the clunky side, but I think it ultimately works. Characters are introduced, personalities clash, things do ultimately happen, and previously referenced details from the original incarnation are followed up on and expanded, and I also laid the groundwork for a potential sequel. It’s nothing too grand or ambitious, just some goofy video game inspired nonsense with sprinkles of something greater for good measure.