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Don’t touch me.

  • Duke

 

3 Weeks Later (Winter Time) - Copycat - The Great Eastern Ice Shelf

“The things you said were very hurtful.” says Presto.

“They were all calculated lies.” I reply. “Designed to move you from missing your son, to finding him. Except the part about you being a disgrace. That was true. How could you have smoked all the dope? We were in Gianthome - everything was dope! Couldn’t you have saved some?”

Presto looks glum. “Sorry. I thought we’d fill up the bag before we left.”

I grunt. That may have been my bad. I didn’t want anymore drugs after being stranded in Gianthome. Three weeks of forced sobriety have given me ample opportunity to regret that puritanical impulse.

“Well, I forgive you.” I reassure my guilt stricken buddy. “Tell me again how we’re getting the fuck out of here?”

We’ve scaled another ice ridge, and are looking down at Winter’s hateful beauty. Shining, jagged, ice mountains as far as the eye can see. They are so pure, so crystal clear, you can peer through them to the ocean miles below, where glowing, technicolor, leviathans cavort and play with endless glee.

A frozen wind that never stills. A piercing sun that never sets. A window to warmth and joy you can never reach. It’s the only place I’ve ever got a sunburn and frostbite at the same time. A big, stupid ocean covered by a desert of ice. I fucking hate it.

Mind you, I think everyone hates it, cause we’re the only ones here. Unless you count the bones. Millions and billions of bones, clogging the valleys betwixt the mountains of ice. A realm’s worth of death, a world done in as an open grave.

Without the runes of coziness sewn into our vests, we’d be dead too. Dead or porting out of here, brain damage be damned. Even with Maple’s protection we’re suffering badly.

Nothing lives on the surface of Winter. Nothing but us. For a little while, anyway.

“We climb the biggest mountain we can see.” intones Presto. “Fill ourselves with the desire for more power. That’s how we get to Helhome.” He shrugs. “Or we die really angry. That works too.”

“Right.” I scan the horizon. Pick an arguable candidate for biggest mountain. Fuck, it’s far away. “There. Let’s get to it.”

“Tally-ho.” mumbles Presto, as we climb down our inferior mountain to tackle a much more arduous ascent.

The climb down is somehow worse than the climb up. How is that possible? Maybe I’m just more emotionally drained. Ugh. Doesn’t bode well for the next climb.

Presto chatters about Helhome to take our minds of Winter, and our gruelling sobriety.

“Helhome is the biggest realm by a wide margin. Bigger than all the others put together, with a correspondingly huge population. It’s also the farthest from the Bridge, so time moves extremely slow. One second on the Bridge is a couple million years in Helhome. We’ve been moving pretty slow here and in Gianthome, but even so, Cy will have spent years or decades in Helhome.”

Presto sighs, continues. “Owing to it’s slowness, from an outside perspective, things in Helhome change very quickly. You can leave there for a short time and come back to different technology, different cultures, even different geology.

“Why are so many people there?” We’ve reached the shallower slopes of Mount Inferior, and have a bit of easy travel before we hit a boneyard.

“I guess Helhome’s a bit of a trap.” muses Presto. “There’s a tactical advantage to moving slower than your enemies. It’s a good place to plan and get strong, while they’re virtually standing still. But you invariably make more enemies in Helhome, so now you can’t leave or you’re the one standing still. Also, if you die angry you often end up back in Helhome, only dumber and not knowing why you came in the first place. Those two things working against you make leaving Helhome a nightmare.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. That’s why our mission has to be a tactical strike. Get in. Get Cy. Get out. No time for partying, or making friends, or goofing off.”

“Got it.” I nod. “All business. How do we find him?” We’re at the boneyard. I study it with distaste before setting crunchily across.

“Well, as mercurial as Helhome is, some things never change. The place will be rife by rival factions, constantly at war with one another. Everyone else will either be mindless monsters clinging to the edge of society or political prisoners. We’ll find Cy among the prisoners. I can’t see him swearing fealty to some gang - he’s not a joiner. Or descending to mindlessness. Also, being imprisoned would explain why he never found us.”

“Okay.” I notice some potential flaws with Presto’s assumptions, but crossing a boneyard of the hopeless dead with a dangerously depressed father isn’t the time to bring them up. I’ll make a note in my sacred text that Cy may need some memory help.

“So, the plan’s a prison break.”

“Eventually. We’ll need information first. Which means we’ll need informants. Which means we’ll need people working for us.”

“Well dang. I left my fortune in Gianthome.”

Presto shakes his head. “Gold’s no good in Helhome. The only currency they respect is power. If we look like a big deal, people will fall all over themselves to work for us.”

“Cool. Luckily I am a big deal.” I pause in thought. Try to unpack everything Presto just told me. “So, the plan is to prove we’re a powerful threat, quickly, without making enemies or putting ourselves in danger?”

“The first part of the plan, yes.”

“Right. This should work out great.” I huff and rub my arms. “Holy fuck I’m cold.”

Presto looks longingly at his bag of holding. “We could warm up in the bag?”

“Fuck your bag and fuck you.”

Presto nods glumly. “That’s fair.” He reaches into the bag and pulls out two steaming mugs. “Hot cocoa? It’s the last of it.”

We take a quick cocoa break. I marvel at the amount of bones beneath us. Where did they all come from?

“I found Duke here.” says Presto. “Well, not right here, but in a place just like this. I helped him a little. He wasn’t always doing so great.”

I nod thoughtfully. Pause thoughtfully. Reflect on the giant pile of bones I am standing on. “Are you saying all of these bones are like Duke? Like they could get up and stab people?”

Presto shrugs. “I guess. If they wanted to.”

I nod. “Time to go.” I walk on as softly as possible.

After an indeterminable amount of endless daylight, we finally reach the base of Big Mountain. Yeesh, it’s steep. I tie a rope around Presto and start climbing. It’s for his safety, but probably just means I’ll take him with me when I yeet.

The climb is long, dangerous, and unpleasant, but I get a burst of energy near the top, practically dragging Presto to the summit.

The peak is a large concave bowl, filled with large, black bones flickering and oozing with eldritch energies.

“Oh no, look at that.” mutters Presto.

“What are they?”

“Hmm. Oh, those are just dragon bones.” Presto points to the horizon. “I was looking at that.”

From our new vantage point we can see a truly colossal ice mountain piercing the heavens.

It's easy to tell that it's many times larger than this mountain, even though it's far, far, in the distance.

“Mother fucker.” I see a multi-colored leviathan smiling up at me from miles below. “There better not be a bigger mountain behind that one.”

 

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A note from Doctor Zero

Duke’s sacred text is a crisp, white, hardcover book. It was given to him by Presto. It is blank.


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About the author

Doctor Zero

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

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