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“You’re such a dick,” Taylor says. “I can’t believe I helped you out.”

This is the very first thing said to Clone Eryk as he enters Taylor Bacall’s mansion at nine at night, without having told a single person where he was going.

He, Francis, and Delta were supposed to go on a trip yesterday, but of course he bailed on account of his stunt work job, and then the copious partying he did after. Today, he did the same thing but didn’t even bother to go back here first; after all, he spent the night in a lovely lady’s bedroom.

Los Angeles is amazing. What beauty there is to be had in this concrete-filled wonderland of gray and brown, the two best colors in the whole palette.

Still, the people in this city can sometimes be unbearable, like Taylor here.

“I’m talking to you,” Taylor shouts. “You can’t just stay in my house and treat me like this. Dickery will get you kicked out. Then you’ll see how you like it in L.A. when you have to pay rent!”

He does not heed Taylor’s words at all. She was manipulated by Master Keitou and the South African Secret Service into getting Eryk into the system-training fold, and now she thinks she owns him. Favors aren’t worth anything in this world, honey, Clone Eryk thinks to himself. It’s a cutthroat world and the only person you need to look out for is you yourself.

Clone Eryk, though not exactly the same as the original, still possesses shade of that other self. He remembers his horrifying discoveries about his true origins, and the way that practically every party around him has done nothing but manipulate him this entire time.

He used to be something special, Clone Eryk realizes. He was the leader of the Slayers, a mighty figure known only as Amaranth. A world conquerer feared by all on Mystix. Then, somehow, he was subdued and given a new path as a lowly [Adventurer] to somehow keep him weak in power and soft in personality until he grew too attached to those cretins in Team Fanghook.

Then, when deemed convenient, all that facade fell away. Eryk was killed, obviously by someone looking for revenge or success, because no speeding carriage could simply appear out of nowhere and be able to kill Eryk Solbourne. Never. He was and is far too strong for that.

And ever since then, he has been treated like a pawn in a game of chess. Rare Solbourne, his dear sibling, cares only about using him to destroy The Goddess and the whole Destiny Deck System. The Demon Queen Mestopholees, his once-valued ally, cares only about using him to take over Mystix and cement her power once more.

Even here on Earth, the situation is the same. Delta and Francis only agreed to this trip of theirs because they wanted time to bond before their families and careers separated them. All of it is the same as on Mystix. Eryk’s own goals, Eryk’s own ambitions, come secondary to everything else.

The original Eryk is too caring and compassionate. That is why he was deposed as Amaranth, why he became friends with people who want to use him, why he keeps around this fat boy who has a brooding crush on him. Clone Eryk, on the other hand, sees the truth. Now that he has been in Los Angeles for a long time, he realizes exactly what needs to be done: He must become the Amaranth of Earth.

Yes, that sounds like an amazing idea to his ears. He will build an army, take down the entire United States Government, and then he will rule this whole world as its protector. He has the power, the charisma, and most importantly the strength necessary for it. All he has to do is figure out a way to extend his natural five-day lifespan, and he will be absolutely unstoppable.

First, Hollywood. Then, America. Then, the world.

After that...

Rare and Mestopholees seem content to control Mystix in their own ways. But Clone Eryk remembers The Goddess and her constant mistakes. He knows he can use her just as everyone wishes to use him. And he knows there are many, many worlds out there.

Yes...

The worlds are just brimming with opportunity for him. Clone Eryk cannot wait to get started!

But first, he still must conquer Hollywood, so let him do that first.

He walks through the Bacall house without taking his shoes off, and of course tracks mud through the carpets. But Victoria and Taylor Bacall are so rich that they have butlers already cleaning everything up behind him, so he cares very little about any of that. What is a mess but an opportunity for someone lower in status?

Then, outside the door to his and Francis’s bedroom, he hears two voices talking, that of his supposed Earth friends. Delta is currently saying something to Francis as Francis weeps quietly.

“It’s alright,” she says. “You can be a meme.”

“It’s not the meme, bro,” he says. “It’s all the comments asking if I’m okay. Everyone sees right through me, and I can’t just complain about parasocial relationships or whatever because I know it’s all true.”

Ah, yes. Clone Eryk recalls the news earlier today from his phone. The Dungeon Core Saga press conference occurred, and Francis was brought on to be a surprise guest to help promote their new mobile game, Dungeon Core Saga Tactics II. But Francis acted so erratically, essentially an emotional meltdown in front of millions of viewers, that he became an internet meme just in the last few hours.

All because he hasn’t been able to accept that Clone Eryk is different from the weak man he used to know. Clone Eryk has an actual life goal, and he isn’t letting this kind of thing slow him down.

“Well, you can just take a break,” Delta tells him. “After Julie gets down to L.A. tomorrow in the new car she’s buying, we’ll just hang out for a few days and relax. No more adventure shit, no more of that awful pink guy—or, you know. Sorry.”

Francis whines but says nothing.

“I’m still not sure how I’m going to tell her about the mystery baby,” she says. “Not even close to sure.”

“Yeah, I have it easy compared to you,” Francis says. “All I have to do is stream Dungeon Core Saga Tactics II and make fun of myself a few times and let it pass over. You... Well, you’re gonna have a kid.”

“Yeah. I guess I am. I’m sort of, uh, excited about it. But also terrified in every way imaginable.”

Both of them giggle like schoolgirls for a moment.

“Well, at least we’ll always be together,” Delta says. “Right?”

Francis doesn’t answer with anything.

And then Clone Eryk decides that this is his cue to enter the room.

Two fiercely angry pairs of eyeballs shooting out at him.

“You.” Delta scowls at him.

Francis diverts his stare after just a moment, but then it comes back with a fiery passion.

“I’m just here to get my shit, geez,” Clone Eryk says. “I’m going out tonight.”

“It’s already nine,” Delta says. “Where have you even been all day?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “Got a big party up in Beverly Hills tonight. Willis and Shepherd will both be there. First time that’s happened in forever. Can’t miss it.”

That’s when Francis jumps up and explodes into Clone Eryk’s face. “You aren’t going to mess with me anymore, alright?” He starts gesturing madly. “I’ve had it up to here, and here, and here! Stop lying about this Hollywood stuff and tell us what’s really going on. Stop pretending all the time.”

“What are you talking about, bro?” Clone Eryk asks. “I’m just getting gig after gig. What’s it to you?”

“Argh, you’re insufferable. How did you get so insufferable so quickly? Or were you always this way and I just never noticed before because I—Agh, it doesn’t matter. Everyone was right about you.”

“I was right, you mean,” Delta says.

“Well, you two don’t care about me,” Clone Eryk says. “Why should I care about you?”

Clone Eryk grabs his bag from the bunk bed and leaves the room, but unfortunately Francis continues to follow him out and yells at him the whole way back to the front door.

“Don’t leave us, Eryk!” Francis shouts. “Just tell me what’s wrong and we can help you. Please!”

Clone Eryk is so caught off-guard by these words that he stops suddenly.

What the hell is he talking about? “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t pretend you’re all alright, you jerk,” Francis says, his voice lowered a bit now that the two are close together in the hallway. “You can’t just pretend we aren’t linked together anymore after what happened. After we...”

“Wha?”

“You might be hiding your power from me, but I can still hear you sometimes. You keep saying, ‘Help me.’ Even right now, I can hear it faint and distant, like you’re a million miles away. You’re right here trying to suppress your pain, and I just don’t understand why. It’s like you’re trying to hurt me worse by hiding your true self. What do you need? Why do you keep lying to me?”

Clone Eryk genuinely has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

“I don’t see what your point is. My [Uber] is already waiting on me, bro. Speed it up.”

“You’ve ruined my life, Eryk! And if you walk out that door without telling me what all your ‘Help me’ pleas mean, I’ll never forgive you. I’ll hate you for the rest of time.”

“Get over your stupid crush on me, Francis,” Clone Eryk says. “It’s just holding me back. The real me that is.”

Francis gasps reflexively, and stops following Clone Eryk as he enters the foyer. Finally, that stupid boy is done.

That is, until the stupid girl comes out. Taylor still stands here, hands on her hips, yelling at him.

“You are not treating my big brother like that!” she screams. “I may be a bitch, but you’re a dickwad beyond anything else I’ve ever seen. You’re going to take back everything you’ve said, or else—“

He ignores her and leaves the house. Time to meet Willis and Shepherd and network with the greatest of the greats.

Clone Eryk takes one look up into the sky and sees the sky’s glitter shining down on the great city of Los Angeles. The moon lighting up everything around him, somehow even brighter than the daytime. Then he hums a catchy pop tune all the way to his [Uber.] Whatever his destiny was supposed to be before, he doesn’t care about it anymore. He wants to party and conquer.

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Thedude3445

Bio: I like to watch movies.

Avatar art by Mikayla Buan. https://twitter.com/mikayla_buan

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