1 Going out with a Bang

"Well, looks like this is the end of the line..." mused a man with long, oily brown hair, sun-kissed skin, numerous scars, and light stubble adorning a rugged, battle-weary face. Blood pooled beneath him at an alarming rate, but he still managed a smile as he enjoyed one final cigarette, courtesy of the men surrounding him with guns.

"No final acts of heroism?" asked one of the gunmen, glaring at the man with an ice-cold glimmer in his eyes.

"Nah, I'm done..." replied the man. "You can only step on her toes so many times before death refuses to keep dancing with you. In my current state, I can't even control my bowels, much less give one final hurrah..."

Punctuating his statement, the man pulled the spent cigarette from his mouth, extinguishing it in the blood pooling beneath him as he mused, "See you in Hell, gentlemen..."

Before the men could respond, an explosion ripped through the corpse-littered compound, the final resting place of some of the world's greatest assassins and mercenaries. The scarred man had rigged it to explode the moment his heart stopped, so while he couldn't escape his fate, he didn't go silently into the darkness...




"Wow. I usually condemn cowards that resort to self-immolation and explosives to take out their enemies, but that was pretty badass," said a woman with pale, lavender-tinged white hair, matching eyes, and skin so fair it could be called luminous. Her ensemble resembled some kind of priestess outfit, but her most striking feature was the strange triangular halo hovering over her head as she tossed a piece of fluffy white popcorn into her mouth.

Staring at the peculiar woman, seated in what looked like a gaming chair as she watched the final moments of his life play out on a floating, semi-transparent screen, the scarred man jokingly remarked, "If I had known someone was watching, I would have made things more cinematic."

"Unlikely," said the peculiar woman, waving away the display and leaning across her somewhat messy desk as she revealed, "The humans of your world are coded to willfully disregard the possibility that all your actions are being observed and judged. Most of you acknowledge the existence of a higher power, but if you structured your existence within the bounds of such knowledge, you wouldn't have the illusion of freedom necessary to ere and develop wisdom."

"So, what, you're some kind of god?" asked the scarred man, eyeing the halo above the woman's head.

"It would be more accurate to call me an Auditor," said the woman. "The Gods of your world violated the clause against direct interference a few too many times, so you've been self-governing for the past few millennia. Lucky you."

"How so?" asked the man.

Instead of answering solely with words, the lavender-haired Auidtor waved her hand, causing a large, semi-transparent display to appear before the man as she explained, "Generally speaking, departed souls that aren't immediately recycled end up in an afterlife prepared by their governing deities. Since there are no gods to regulate this cycle in your world, you fall under the System of Karmic Exchange. Explained in a way you can understand, you can use the Karma you acquired in your previous life to influence your next incarnation."

Staring at the innumerable options listed before him, including things like being born into a wealthy family, having good fortune, or possessing blue eyes, the scarred man perked up as he asked, "Is there an option to keep my memories...?"

"There is," replied the Auditor. At the same time, the display before the man scrolled down rapidly, highlighting the option 'Reincarnation' with a base price of 100,000 Karma. When pressed, however, several additional options popped up, increasing or decreasing the cost based on whether or not he toggled certain detriments or perks. For example, reincarnating in his original world increased the price to more than ten million in a single go.

Looking down at the amount of Karma he had, 108,492, the man was about to ask how the number was calculated when the screen changed, showing him a list of 'achievements' he had accumulated throughout his life. Notably, he gained 10,000 points for graduating from college but lost more than a thousand for having sex before marriage. There was also a darkened option that would have rewarded him 50,000 Karma for finding his soul mate, causing him to frown deeply.

"The human heart is fickle," said the Auditor. "You may have believed the woman you married to be your soul mate, but had remained together for more than six months before her death, your feelings for her would have waned with time. Your actual soul mate was that barista who you couldn't get out of your mind, even though she only served you coffee on a single occasion."

Knowing exactly who the Auditor was referring to, a wry smile developed across the face of the scarred man. It had been years since his encounter with the pixie-haired barista, but she would invariably enter his thoughts whenever he found himself reminiscing about the days before he became a mercenary...

"Hindsight's twenty-twenty..." muttered the man, smiling sardonically as he scrolled through his various accomplishments, fuck ups, and wasted opportunities. In the end, however, he closed out of the screen, returning to the seemingly endless list of options that would shape his next life.

"Any recommendations?" asked the scarred man. "I'm kind of attached to my memories, so I'd rather not give them up."

"Of course," replied the Auditor. "If you Reincarnate to a world you have no prior knowledge of, particularly one where your knowledge would be useless, the cost diminishes considerably. Becoming a rock, tree, beast, or inanimate object is another option, but the most straightforward would be to enter a world filled with Reincarnators. However, as you specifically asked for my recommendation, I would advise against the latter. You lack the strength to survive more than a few years in such a world, and that's if you're unfortunate. The lucky ones die immediately..."

Adopting a wry smile, the scarred man stated, "I'd rather remain human. And just to be safe, I'd like to remain a guy."

Shrugging her shoulders, the Auditor replied, "There is also the option of becoming the champion or apostle of a god. You'd end up as their pawn, but you could have tremendous power and authority over other humans."

Shaking his head, the scarred man said, "As tempting as that sounds, I've never been into high fantasy or science fiction. Besides, I'm honestly tired of fighting. I will if I have to, but I'd prefer to take it easy this time. Maybe open a cafe or something..."

Bringing her finger to her chin, the Auditor hummed, "That's easier said than done. Retaining one's memories after death is a powerful advantage over others, so fate is bound to penalize you somehow. You could be born crippled, develop a chronic disease, lose your entire family in an accident, or be enslaved from birth. Either way, you're bound to experience at least 'some' suffering. The only way to avoid it or, more accurately, offset it is to form a contract with a higher power."

"Like you?" asked the scarred man.

Narrowing her abruptly crimson eyes, the Auditor licked her lips, her smile becoming uncannily wide as she mused, "Careful with your words, human. Most higher powers are not benevolent, regardless of their appearance or how they present themselves. I don't mind giving you a loan or providing you with my blessing, but depending on how you live, you could be stuck repaying me for the next ten-thousand years..."

"Any other options?" asked the scarred man, managing a smile despite the hair on his arms and the back of his neck standing on end.

Returning to normal, the Auditor replied, "Of course. The simplest option is to forsake your memories and choose a few options to stack the odds, however slightly, in your favor. However, if you're set on keeping them, I could...pull a few strings to make things interesting."

Though he had just been warned to be careful with his words, the scarred man replied, "Elaborate."

"Let me choose the world you'll be sent to, and I can guarantee you won't face any major tragedies before you mature," said the Auditor. "Other than being orphaned, of course."

Shrugging his shoulders, the scarred man replied, "So long as you don't throw me to some fantasy world, I don't mind letting you choose. As for being orphaned, it is what it is. I didn't have anyone I could call a parent in this world, so I can do without them in the next."

"Then go ahead and choose your other settings," said the Auditor. "Time doesn't flow in this space, so take as much as you need. After all, there's no changing your mind once you leave."

Nodding his head, the scarred man asked, "Got an extra seat? This might take a while."

Snapping her fingers, the Auditor created a hard, inflexible wooden chair for the scarred man to sit in. He was tempted to ask why she didn't give him one like hers, but rather than wasting time with idle chatter, he took a seat and spent what felt like days picking and choosing what he believed to be the most beneficial settings. This included investing 20,000 Karma toward skipping his early childhood, elementary, and middle school days, but he didn't consider it a waste as experiencing infancy and adolescence as an adult would have been a nightmare...




"Class is not for sleeping, Yamada-kun," asserted the stern voice of a woman, followed by a light smack, presumably from the spine of a book.


Raising his head, a young man with messy brown hair and distinctive, amber-brown eyes stared blankly at the face of a petite, bespectacled woman with short brown hair and matching eyes. Contrasting her stern voice, the woman had delicate and kind features, but what confused the youth was the fact she resembled a character from a cartoon, albeit with more detail.

Before he could fully organize his thoughts, the youth responded, "Sorry, Ochi-san." in flawless Japanese, almost as though he had been speaking it his entire life.

Furrowing her brows, Ochi, full name Ochi Misato, asked, "What did I tell you about calling me Ochi-san? It's Ochi-sensei. Seeeenseeeei~!"

Instead of responding to the woman, the youth found himself habitually scanning his surroundings. Like the woman in front of him, everyone else in the class had a cartoonish appearance. Some even had ridiculous hair colors like bright orange.

Earning a concerned look from his teacher, the youth followed his cursory scan with an inspection of his hands, finding that they, too, possessed a distinctly cartoony quality.

"Are you okay, Yamada-kun? If you feel unwell, I can have someone guide you to the Nurse's office."

Though it was a good opportunity to gather his thoughts, Yamada, full name Ohta Yamada, replied, "That won't be necessary. I'm just a bit tired, that's all."

"Well, if you say so..." said Ochi, opening the book in her hand to continue her lesson, walking around the classroom as she cited a few passages in somewhat broken English. In her wake, Ohta immediately closed his eyes, this time sitting upright to avoid attracting attention as he organized his thoughts.

Fortunately, though he was a little confused at first, Ohta, translating to Eyes of the Almighty God, quickly discovered that he had an entire set of memories, beginning from around the time he was in Kindergarten. They were hazy and somewhat fragmented, like memories often were, but they felt familiar.

Furrowing his brows slightly, Ohta opened his eyes, shifting his gaze to the girl seated next to him to ensure she wasn't paying attention to him before turning to his open textbook, notebook, and pencil. There were a few 'abnormalities' within his memories, so he extended the fingers of his right hand toward his pencil, tensing slightly as a blue light surrounded it, followed by it automatically moving into his hand...

("Well, shit...")




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