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We strive to be the best, so we can accomplish our goal. But eventually, we change our goal to be the best.

  • The Bees of The Apocalypse

 

2 Years Later (Helhome Time) - Turbulent Waters - Pillar of Power

We’re soaring silently over the megacity that is Helhome. High enough that the lights below twinkle like the stars overhead, giving me the dissonant sensation that we’re floating through space itself. It’s very cool, and I decide to write a song about it if I survive.

“We’re almost there.” says Ziva.

“Great.” I lie.

A few of the twinkling lights ahead resolve into a huge, sharp tower. The Pillar of Power for the Disputed Territory, currently lit up in the colors of the Tiger Gang. The destination of our very stupid and definitely doomed raid that I am in no way excited to be part of.

My companion is a gnome witch named Ziva. She was chosen for this mission because she’s stealthy, dangerous, and so completely insane that getting her mind wiped could only make her a better person.

My name’s Turbulent Waters, but most people call me Bubbles. I’m a lynx-kin, part time musician, and full time desperate person. I was chosen for this mission because I’m light, quiet, and so terrible at everything I won’t be missed.

We’re riding double on the world’s smallest skycycle, on our way to rob the Tiger Gang. Word is they’ve got a secret vault full of sacred texts hidden in plain sight on top of the Pillar of Power. That’s a stupid place to hide treasure, but it’s also a stupid place for us to try to sneak into, so maybe it is smart. Anyway, somebody’s stupid, and we’re on our way to find out if it’s us.

Ziva feathers the cycle onto the peak of the Pillar. The top is a 30 foot square pad, with an obelisk in the center. It’s a relatively large space, but it’s windy, and there’s no guardrails, and I don’t like it. We’re so high up, I can’t even hear the monster war that makes up the street level social life of Helhome.

We sneak over to the obelisk. I’m not sure why we’re sneaking - there’s no one up here and the wind is loud as fuck. But we’re deep in Disputed Territory and sneaking feels more natural. Once we get to the obelisk, Ziva gently prys off a panel. Behind it is a vault door. Ziva and I look at each other in shock.

“Holy shit!” Ziva whispers.

“I know!” I hiss back.

“Can you get it open?”

I nod and square on the vault door. I’m probably lying - I can do a little magic with my djembe drum, but nothing really appropriate for breaking into vaults. That said, I’ve come this far, may as well try something. Maybe it will pop open if I jiggle the handle.

I jiggle the handle and the vault door pops open. I’m happily astonished until I take a firebolt to the chest.

“Suprise Mother Fuckers!” A goblin in scalemail jumps out of the vault, blasting firebolts out of a heavy metal wand.

“Crap.” Ziva rolls back and slips onto the tiny skycycle. She throttles it up to give herself some breathing room. I roll on the roof until my fur goes out. Dang it. This is not good.

I recognize the goblin as Bronze. A trap maker and gun hand for the Tiger Gang. He’s a tough customer.

“Hey Bronze, nice trap. Very crafty.” shouts Ziva. “Also, how long have you been in there? We’ve been planning this raid for weeks.”

“A while. Longer than I’d hoped.” admits Bronze. “Land the bike, or I’ll blast your friend.”

Ziva smiles wickedly. If I was here with any other member of my gang, I’d expect them to leave me. Unfortunately, I’m here with Ziva. Who is definitely going to bomb this roof with me on it.

I scooch back as the bombs start dropping. Bronze looks surprised for a second, then starts dodging and blasting back. I edge towards the edge of the Pillar. There’s gotta be another way down.

“Eat this! Eat this! Eat this!” yells Ziva as she drops bombs. “Eat - oh wait, don’t eat that. That was my lunch. Toss that back up!”

“No chance!” shouts Bronze. “I’m totally eating it!”

“GAAH!!!” Ziva dumps handfuls of spell bombs. “DIE! DIE! DIE!”

They seem to be entertaining each other. I wonder how Bronze got up here? I peer down, scanning for a ladder, or an elevator, or anything. What I see coming up fills me with dread. A jet black skycar rises on a mantle of darkness. It’s the glamorous limousine hearse of Tiger Gang’s number one enforcer.

It ponderously climbs on a cloud of menace until it’s level with the top of the Pillar. It’s roof retracts with a hiss, and a huge armored form leaps nimbly to the Pillar.

Darkstar has arrived.

“Hey Bubbles.” says the metallic death machine. “What’s up?”

“Not much. We’re just here robbing you.”

“Ha ha. Cool. I guess we should fight now?”

I look at the armored colossus. Once again my little drum magic seems inappropriate. “Can we not and just say you won?”

“Ya. That’s fine.” He posts up next to me. “Wow. They’re really going at it, eh?”

I nod. “Are you going to help out?”

“Na. I better not. Bronze was hiding in that vault for a month. I never hear the end when I step in his schemes.”

I nod and we watch the fireworks. I feel a lot safer watching the battle with Darkstar. Maybe I should switch gangs again.

The fight heats up until it gets cold. Like, really cold. I’m shivering in my fur, huffing misty clouds, when a crystalline prism of ice forms, shatters, and leaves two forms.

One is a beardless gnome swordsman, with the evil glint of insanity in his eyes. The other is a hulking orc, with a huge black club, dragonbone jewelry, and a mantle of hoarfrost.

The orc slowly takes in the scene, then growls. “Take us to your liquor!!

“Ha!” scoffs Bronze. “You can’t just port in and expect to meet our leader, or, actually, wait, did you say liquor?”

“Who cares?” snarls Ziva. “You can’t have our booze either! Give us your sacred texts or die!”

“Wrong answer.” The orc hurls her club at Ziva, smacking her out of the sky. She quickly twists and punts Bronze, kicking him over the edge as well.

“Whoops!” exclaims Darkstar. “I better take care of this. Wait here, Bubbles.”

He rockets towards the orc. An unstoppable engine of death that’s absolutely incinerated by a dozen thunderbolts before he moves ten steps.

I watch incredulously as Darkstar’s scorched helmet spins lazily off the edge.

Ho. Lee. Shit.

I snap my whiskey flask from my belt and underhand it to the gnome.

“Ha ha. Good man.” He drinks with one hand, fends off the orc with the other.

“Don’t hog it, you bastard!” There’s a minor scuffle as they kinda share my whisky.

After it’s drank, they refocus on me. “Have you got any dope?”

I shake my stash out of my drum. “Woo-Hoo!” cheers the orc. “You’re our new best friend! I fuckin love Helhome!”

They spark up. Slowly get curious about where they are. “Where the fuck are we?”

“Uhh, Helhome. The Disputed Territory. The Pillar of Power.”

“Huh. Cool.” says the gnome. “Last time I was here, it was just a huge monster fight. No city or flying cars or shit. I guess they did fix up the place.”

“Meh.” I prevaricate. “It’s still pretty monster fighty at the street level. Civilization is mostly a penthouse thing.”

“Still, it’s an improvement.” says the gnome. “Who’s in charge here?”

“Uh, nobody? It’s the Disputed Territory...”

“Fair enough.” The orc nods. “Who’d be in charge if someone was in charge?”

“Uhh, either Tiger Gang. Or anybody other than Tiger Gang.” They look at me sharply. “Tiger Gang is the most powerful, but every other gang has allied to destroy them, so they won’t be around much longer.”

“This is very important.” They stare at me with unnerving intensity. “Is the Tiger Gang run by a guy named Tiger?”

“No.” I say nervously. “I think they’re called that because they’re looking for a guy called Tiger?”

“Well, that’s not nothing.” says the orc. “Maybe we should join up. Are they recruiting?”

I shrug. “I dunno. They just lost a few members, so maybe. You can offer them your sacred texts and see what they say.”

The orc scowls. “Fuck that. Nobody’s getting my sacred text. Is every gang like that? Book stealing bastards?”

“Yeah. It’s a loyalty test.” I should know. I’ve been loyal to almost every gang in the city. “Also, they steal them if they can. Weakens their rivals. Or, they can poach members sometimes.”

“Wreckworld bullshit.” snarls the orc. “Well, looks like we’re starting our own gang. I’m Copycat, this is Presto. Wanna join up?”

“Umm, maybe. I’m kind of crappy at most things.” I warn them.

“Great. You’ll fit right in.” says Presto breezily. He turns to Copycat. “Okay, are we clear on the plan?”

“Yes. Find more booze immediately.”

“Correct. How do we get down from here?”

As they look for a way down, I think about my predicament. I’m not keen to go back to my old gang - they’ve taken the view that I’m expendable. But joining a gang of three isn’t a lot of protection either. That said, they made short work of Darkstar. Never thought I’d see that. Maybe there’s a possibility here. Having powerful allies would be nice, as long as they’re not suicidal psychopaths.

“Hey, are you guys suicidal psychopaths?”

“Rarely. Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering what you expect of me, if I join your gang.”

They share a significant look. Copycat shrugs. “Tiger Gang is looking for a guy named Tiger? Well, we’re looking for a guy named Cyan.”

“You mean like Lord Cyan, head of the Tiger Gang?” I point to the obelisk. It’s a stylized dragon fist clutching a fireball. “Big, green, dragonman? Spies on people with bees, then lights them on fire?”

They share another significant look. “Well, that was easy. I thought you said he wouldn’t be in a gang?”

“I said he wouldn’t join a gang.” corrects Presto. “Never said he wouldn’t start one.”

Presto rubs his jaw, thinking furiously. “If he’s not trapped… And the head of a gang… And didn’t come looking for us… He may have forgotten us!”

He says it like it’s a big revelation, but Copycat is not shocked. “Yeah, I kinda figured. Shall we just go pick him up?”

“I dunno.” muses Presto. “To successfully complete this mission we will have to stay alive. Grabbing at Cy isn’t the best way to do that.”

“Umm…” I interject. “Can I stay alive too?”

“Yes, certainly. Let’s all stay alive.”

“Wow! Okay, if you want to destroy the Tiger Gang and stay alive doing it, I have a few ideas my last gang would never let me try.”

“Great.” says Copycat absentmindedly. She’s still looking for a way down. “Though we don’t exactly want to destroy Cy’s gang.”

“Meh. Close enough.” says Presto. “Beggers and choosers. Speaking of which, I guess we’re stealing this hearse.”

He hops in the skylimo, fiddles with the controls, finds the Tomestone stuck in the power cradle. It’s a dire relic of astounding power. Thousands have died trying to seperate it from Darkstar. The Tomestone’s new master prys it from the power cradle and tosses it overboard. Wow. I was not expecting that. Some random monster is about to get a serious power upgrade.

Before the skylimo can plummet, Presto draws a battered wooden sword and slams it into the cradle. The car rights itself, it’s dark cloud of menace burned off by an aura of electric mayhem.

Copycat hops in, finds a wine chiller. “Score!” She pops open a bottle, smiles at me. “Coming?”

I hesitate. They seem nice, and powerful, but also like they’re gonna die. Maybe not, if I help them. Or maybe I’m deluding myself.

Maybe they won’t even take me. “I don’t have a sacred text anymore.”

“That sucks.” Copycat pulls out a slim, battered, notebook. Tears it in half. Tosses me the back half. “There you go, buddy. You can start a new one.”

A squat skeleton has crawled out of Presto’s bag. He gives me a nod, and tunes up his dragonbone mandolin. I nod back. My eyes get misty. It blurs my vison of my new battered text, so I clutch it to my chest.

Fuck it. I get in.

I jot a few quick lines in my sacred text, while Presto gets the limo moving. Normal people try to stealth through Helhome, but this ride shines like lightning and growls like thunder. I let the djembe roar. Why not? I only play love songs, but I growl out the wildest one I know. The skeleton screeches along on his eldritch mandolin. Presto dives to street level, and scorches along just above head height. Windows are blown, and monsters thrown, in our hurricane wake. Copycat tears off her dragonbone jewelry, and guzzles wine, and throws bottles, or bones, or spells at anyone who takes a swipe at us.

And so it begins.

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Doctor Zero

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