Void, nothingness, emptiness was all his five senses allowed him to feel. His mind felt dizzy as images of a once-familiar past fell apart pieces after pieces. His last thoughts went to a certain war fought in a world he couldn't recall and a foe so powerful that even a god would doubt his chance of victory. The last part left him shivering in fear until he also forgot about it.
Then something echoed like water droplets in a covered space and called out to him.
"Don't be afraid, and come back to us my love."
The voice coated him with a gentle blanket of warmth and calmed his agitated spirit. The man, who did not dare open his eyes until now, gathered his courage to take a glimpse at what laid beyond the curtain of darkness.
"Where am I?"
A scenery of black, grey, and orange filled his vision. The floor, ceiling, and walls carved out of grey marble reflected the lights of candles hanging on a golden chandelier. Pillars surrounded a central place, forming an enormous circle. The gaps in between those structures led to areas where the light was close to nonexistent. Right at the center of it all stood an altar with ten candles.
His body rested on the cold grey floor, next to the structure. It almost looked like he was an offering to a god. After seeing this area, anybody with common sense would have tried to escape. However, he was too confused to even care about the gloomy but somewhat graceful aspect of this place. What he wanted the most were answers.
"Welcome to the Yggdrasil Sanctuaire, Fallen." a soothing voice called from the side.
A woman, dressed in a medieval black nun attire with a dark veil covering her face, presented the Fallen with her gloved hand. The nun's appearance, despite being out of a horror movie, did not frighten him. Unsure of what to do, he took the hand, and like a parent teaching a baby how to walk, she pulled him up.
"Where am I? And... who are you," he asked.
"As I said, you are in the Yggdrasil's Sanctuaire or Sanctuaire for short. It is a place between life and death, connecting every worlds in existence. And, I am its Guardian."
The Fallen's gaze set up upon the marble floor, ceiling, and pillars as if looking for a meaning to all this until he inspected his hands.
His entire body lacked flesh and skin. The confusion grew stronger as the realization that he was a skeleton struck him.
"Ow Fallen..." She sighed. "Fallen, you're dead but also alive. The divine tree gave your soul back to you, but your life wasn't."
"Because... it judged that you died unfairly, without fulfilling the destiny of your star. Thus, you've been given another chance."
The Fallen stared at her, patiently waiting for the next part.
"Clear the Yggdrasil's Dungeon's 10 floors. At the end of this path, you will find your life, a wish, and a way to go back to your world."
Not alive, but not dead? Dungeon? 10 floors? The destiny of his star? His world? So many questions popped up at once that if he still had a brain, it would probably have been boiling by now.
"So... how do I access this dungeon?"
The Guardian smiled under her veil. Wasn't this Fallen peculiar? Compared to the others she had met long ago, he kept his calm in the face of the unknown.
"Eager to begin I see. Very well. To enter the first floor of this dungeon, you must touch the kindle alit on the altar. It will teleport you to another one on the first floor. The same goes if you want to come back to Sanctuaire."
It sounded awkward since he would have to burn himself on a candle fire to teleport. He thought it was a stupid way to activate the mechanism.
"But beware, death hides in every corner of the dungeon. Even though you resurrect every time you die, it's not enough of an excuse to keep dying. So..."
His mind had a second awakening as a shout pushed its way out of his bony mouth, which made the nun jump from surprise.
"You must be joking!" he said.
She waved her gloved hand in front of his skull like he was some ignorant brat.
"I have never been more serious. You can indeed return from the dead a thousand times and more. But beware of the consequences: for each death, you will lose a part of your sanity. If it reaches the bottom, you will err this dungeon for eternity as an insane monster."
Losing ones' sanity sounded harmless at first, but the idea of eternally roaming this place as a brainless life form didn't appeal to him.
"However, in exchange for soul points or sp for short, I can ease the curse but cannot heal it."
The skeleton nodded. This information was important since it meant he would have to come to Sanctuaire from time to time to heal his insanity. Though he'd preferred to avoid dying.
"How do I collect sp?"
"Just kill the floors' inhabitants, and you will absorb their souls. The souls you consume will convert into sp according to their grades. The better the grade, the higher the sp."
Stealing souls wasn't an honorable act, but survival came first.
"Does it allow me to do anything else?"
"Plenty. For example, you can improve your four basic stats at the altar by sacrificing soul points."
With each answer, he kept learning new pieces of information he stored in his now almost empty data bank. He tried to learn as much as he could in order to find a meaning to all this chaos, but also a way out of it.
She sighed. Did she tire of his questioning?
"Basic stats are strength, endurance, mana, and agility."
He nodded, with a glint of interest shining in his eyes' sockets. Growing stronger was appealing to almost anybody. However, the Fallen just noticed that the more he heard her voice, the more it reminded him of the one in the void.
With his mind in shambles, the Fallen tried to cling to anything that could keep it from falling apart. Even the sound of a voice would do. Therefore, it wasn't wrong to say that he kept asking questions to keep the Guardian talking.
"Fallen, before you ask another question, I must warn you: information has a price. The answers I gave were basic ones, but most of all, free. So please come to me with sp in the future. However, small talk is free, hehehe."
Her beautiful laugh eased his worries, but what followed worsened them.
"Now, as the saying goes: practice is the best teacher," she said, inviting him to begin his journey.
His brainless skull felt foggy. Questions collided in his head, creating explosions so chaotic his cogitation fell apart. A simple kindle alit on the altar next to him, flickering in the greyness of the Sanctuaire, represented his only hope. Strangely, it seemed to call out to the Fallen. He stretched out his hand toward it, like a moth attracted to a flame, but was interrupted.
"AH! One more thing. The dungeon floors will completely reset once you pray to the altar, go back to Sanctuaire, or die. Well, apart from certain... details. This means monsters, souls, places, and even time itself will reset inside the floor. Simply put, it would be as if nothing happened. That information is a freebie."
For a moment, he felt like she winked at him behind her veil. They had just met, so it was impossible... but he gladly accepted the thought, for it was balm for his wounded mind.
"I bid you good luck, and may your star guide your path Fallen."
He nodded towards her and touched the kindle's flame. A warm light surrounded him and rapidly closed on the skeleton, devouring his existence.