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The elven worldview is an old man’s philosophy. If you feel you have no future, it makes sense to live only for today.

  • Excerpt from “The Path of The Longstrider”



4 Milliseconds Later (Highgarden Time) - Chisel - Widdershins Rainforest Delta

“What about this?” Reed holds up a glowing piece of bark.

“It’s pretty glowy.” I pause, think. “Sure, throw it in the brew bag.”

Reed chucks it in our sorcerous sac of fermentation and distillation. It should add a bit of magical zing to our brew. Or maybe just the flavor of rotting bark. I’m down with either.

My name’s Chisel. Just a simple hill dwarf trying his best to stop the apocalypse. Reed’s a stout heart halfling, a hell of a fighter, and my best fucking friend. We came to Highgarden to protect the Burning Man, but we don’t spend much time here. Through good luck or bad, we were assigned to The High Mobility Brigade.

Turns out there’s more to the apocalypse than the last battle. That’s cool. Wherever you wanna fight, Dame Astra’s Fast Movers will oblige.

That said, we’re not moving too fast right now.

“Are these mushrooms hallucinogenic or poisonous? Actually, I don’t care.” Reed throws them in the brew bag.

We’re having an unusual moment of downtime in Highgarden as we wait for our next orders. It’s a rare opportunity to fill our brew bag with powerful components. A small three headed snake lunges at my ankle. I flatten it and toss it in the bag. Fuck yeah.

We mash in a couple kilos of weird shit before Dame Astra arrives. Snap to attention as she trots up. She gives her horn a negligent wave, and we relax.

Dame Astra is the most intimidating unicorn I’ve ever seen. Big, beautiful, and battle scarred. Grim death in a fight. Also a brilliant, humble, and reluctant warrior. She’s an excellent commander.

“Morning Gentlemen. Your orders are to capture Copycat, an orc woman last seen on Lighthome, and deliver her to Wreckworld.”

We nod. Okee-dokee. That’s a weird fucking mission, but we’ve done weirder. At least it sounds easy and low stakes.

“You’re thinking this sounds easy and low stakes. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Fuck.

Dame Astra nods. “We’ve finally hammered out an agreement with Wrecker. His battle mages will support us, at the Last Battle and in the lower realms, in exchange for an extensive list of concessions. Most of the concessions are simple. Expensive, painful, and unsettling - but technically uncomplicated.

“Unfortunately, this Copycat has remained elusive. She’s a stubborn detail that could sour an already bad deal, and fuck the entire war effort. High Command is done fucking around. They want our best agents to pick her up.”

I nod. “So, we’ll be supporting them?”

“No, you are them.”

Reed and I share a panicked look. That can’t be right.

“It’s true. You guys have succeeded on every mission.”

“Barely.” Reed grunts. We’ve had ugly, ugly, missions.

“Still counts.” Dame Astra snorts. “There’s no points for style at the apocalypse.”

Reed nods glumly, looks longingly at the brew bag. I could use a drink myself. Probably should wait until Dame Astra leaves.

“Whatever.” says Astra. “Anyway - fate of the world, don’t fuck up, we need it done yesterday, all the usual shit. Also, expect some opposition. Wrecker put a bounty on the orc, and I bet he’s got the other side looking for her too. Slimy prick. I’d like to poke a new hole in him, but we need those fucking battle mages, so do your thing. Any questions?”

“What’d she do?” asks Reed. Good question. I would have thought of it later.

“Lots of stuff.” Astra psychically calls forth a large tome. It thuds menacingly before us. “Basically she tore the arsehole out of Wreckworld.”

“Fucks sake? Is that her rap sheet?” I ask.

Astra shakes her head. “It’s an incident report. One time event.”

Reed is impressed. “Busy girl.”

I pick up the report. Leaf through it. “Holy fuck. She did all this in two days? She’s gonna kick our ass.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Astra snorts. “Okay, probably. But the Wreckworld Pretorians got a piece of her. She’s definitely had a hard reset. Also, I got you some help.”

Astra sends out a psychic pulse, and a warrior erupts from the ground before us. Bright green skin, pale blond hair, and curves. Obviously a dryad, but she also has the crested helm, breastplate, kilt, and spear of a Wreckworld battle mage. She’s impressive, but I’m not impressed.

“We’ve tried this before.” I shake my head. “Battle mages can’t keep up with us.”

Reed and I are fast movers. In general, our magic is unreliable and crummy, but we’re pretty fucking good at the long stride. Realm shifting is our specialty. Any decent battle mage should be able to torch us, but we’ve leveraged our mobility into the odd win. That said, we haven’t had a lot of luck with passengers. They always end up as mind blanked sociopaths.

“Noted.” says Astra. “But Ladyfinger was specifically chosen to accompany you. Her dryad constitution protects her from all plant toxins. She should be able to handle your battle brew. Use it to teleport the way you do."

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have put that weird snake in.

Astra sighs. “Just give it a try. If there's any complications I'm sure you can handle it.”

Meaning: if she freaks out, stab her and run.

I nod. “Will do.”

Astra looks pained for a moment, huffs, then gives herself a shake. When she finally speaks, it’s with confidence. “You guys are our best. You‘re awesome. One little mission, then we double our army, trounce the Eaters, win the apocolypse, and go the fuck home. I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need it. Go make history, boys.”

She nods once, and fades out.

Reed, Ladyfinger, and I look at each other awkwardly. I’m not sure what they’re thinking, but that pep talk made me very nervous. When we lose the apocalypse, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my fault.

“So… should we get to know each other? Do some team building exercises? Trust falls?”

Ladyfinger looks at me coldly. “Every minute in Highgarden is two hours in Lighthome.”

I frown, nod. “Yeah, we should get going.”

Reed shoves a huge puffball into the brew bag, gives it a shake, and takes a deep draught. I take a hefty slug and pass it to Ladyfinger.

She looks in the bag suspiciously. “Is this a drug? Or poison?”

“Yes.” says Reed.

Ladyfinger scowls, but takes a deep drink. Fucking battlemages. Anything for the mission.

“What now?” she asks.

“We have a few minutes until it kicks in. It’s a good time to update our sacred texts.”

Reed and I fumble out our books. I take a look at the last entry.

If you are reading this you have lost your memory. It will come back. Until it does:

  • Do the most good for the most people.
  • Try to stop the apocalypse.
  • Try harder.

Sincerely Chisel (that’s us, baby)

I add two more lines:

  • You’re looking for an orc named Copycat (to stop the apocalypse).
  • The grumpy dryad may be an ally. Possible frenemy.

As I finish my sacred text, Reed starts to bop and groove. I suddenly feel very heavy, then very light. Oh yeah, this is when the magic happens.

Ladyfinger looks jittery, spooked. “You guys fight like this?”

“Oh shit!” snaps Reed. “We should bring our weapons!”

He hustles across the clearing, hustles back with our gear. Underhands an axe at me.

Ladyfinger looks critically at Reed’s weapon. “Is that a stick with a sword tied to the end?”

“It’s called a glaive. But yes, that’s essentially what it is.”

“Why?”

Reed shrugs. “I’m shorter than most Eaters. It was either this or stilts.”

Time slows. Or I do. The magical land of Highgarden looks a lot more magical. I see a billion points of pulsating energy. Dang. That’s not going to work.

“What you got?” I ask Reed.

He dives and rolls. “Angry Mammoths!”

Useless. I turn to Ladyfinger. She’s freaking out and slapping herself all over. “What’s up?”

“Spiders! Spiders everywhere!”

“Nice.” I’m impressed. “Lean into that feeling. I guess you’re leading.”

Look out Lighthome. Here comes The Fast Movers.

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Doctor Zero

Bio: Hi! I like reading and writing sci-fi and fantasy.

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