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A note from Doctor Zero

It's my birthday.  Have a birthday chapter.  I'm gonna try weekly updates from now on.  Hopefully that will work.

The real trap of Helhome is that you’re always becoming. If you ever thought that you were good enough, you could just leave.

  • Excerpt from “The Path of The Longstrider”

 

1 Second Later (Helhome Time) - Copycat - Rooftop Overlooking A Battle

My mouth is a pit of rot and ruin. A no man’s land where both sides lost and everyone died. My blood is vile and empty. Probably flammable. My brain shriveled and weak, capable of only pain.

Goddamn, I’m hungover.

Why do I do this to myself? After Gianthome, I thought I’d never drink again. Winter was an arctic torment that actively tried to take our lives, but when I woke up there, I actually felt pretty good. What does that say about me? That I feel worse when I’m having a good time, than when I’m dying of exposure?

“Hey, buddy.” Presto pokes me and passes a joint. “Rise and shine.”

I peer at the joint suspiciously. Is this kill or cure? I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m ready for either.

I smoke myself back to life. At least enough to take lemonade and a mushroom sandwich. As I metabolize that, I get a bit curious about the battle sounds around me. Aye, fuck it. I guess I’m feeling good enough to get stabbed.

Presto and Bubbles are at the edge of the roof, spying down at a rather furious fight. Furious by Helhome standards, which is saying something. This realm is 90% fight. I slink over to take a peek. Man, they are really going at it.

“Please explain the plan to me again.”

“Sure!” enthuses Bubbles. “Step one was to talk tough and make lots of enemies. We did that at the bars last night.”

“Did we?” I don’t recall. Sounds like us.

“Yep! Presto did the talking, you mostly made enemies. It was glorious.”

“Glad to help the team. What was step two?”

“We lie about getting allies from multiple gangs and having an awesome base. Then they all come to kill us, but when they see each other, they assume that’s us, because we said we had recruits from every gang, so they all fight each other.”

I shake my head ruefully. “That will never work. And yet, I appear to be looking at it.”

Another dozen skycars crash into the building opposite us. Thousands of Helhome’s elites clash with sword and spell. The battle has spilled into the street, displacing the realm’s usual ambient slaughter. Even mindless monsters know enough to flee this shitshow.

“Okay, what’s step three?”

“Uhh…” Bubbles shrugs. “Everyone dies?”

I glare at him. Does he know why we’re here?

“Yep.” Presto smokes slowly. “Everyone dies, or most people die, or whatever. Then we can slip in and grab Cy.”

I frown. “What if Cy dies?”

“First of all, he probably won’t.” Presto sniffs. “Look at these fucking casuals. Cy’s gonna rip through them. But if he does, he’ll probably die angry, and we can still pick him up around here.”

“He’ll lose his memory.”

“He already lost his memory. Who gives a shit?”

Presto has a point. But I’m still confused. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to just approach Cy?”

The old gnome shakes his head. “People don’t leave Helhome when they’re winning. Or when they’re losing but think they can win. Sometimes you have to help people to rock bottom before they realize they’re insane. Also, you agreed to this plan last night.”

“Did I?” I don’t recall. Sounds like me.

We smoke and watch the battle. I notice some of my enemies.

“Is that Iggy? And Wreckworld Wizards?”

“Looks like.” says Presto. “That’s good. They make Cy angry.”

“He won’t remember them.”

“Meh. They’ll give him new reasons to get angry.”

A huge snowy owl ghosts past the battle, dropping a wee gnomic ninja through the side of the building.

“Oh shit.” Presto rolls off the roof.

“Fuck. Fuckity fuck.” I jump after him.

We hit the street hard. Limp towards the battle.

“We fucked up!” I bark. If the Silence kills Cy, who knows where he’ll end up?

“I know!” Presto snarls. “Let’s get in there!”

“What are you doing!” yells Bubbles from the roof. “We agreed not to die!”

“We’re not gonna die!” We hobble furiously towards certain death. “We’re gonna kill everybody else!”

“Actually, how should we die?” I mumble to Presto, because we’re probably are going to die. “Do we want to be angry, so we come back here? Or is it better to die scared, and regroup someplace sane?”

“Neither.” Presto brooms a few street fighters away with short shock. “Don’t die. If things go to shit, deflate your ego, and meet me in Darkhome.”

“Right. Cool.” Hope I updated my sacred text last night.

We try to weave our way through the street fight, but get bogged down near the stairs up to the main battle. No one is seriously targeting us, there’s just too many bodies to get through. I wish these guys would hurry up and kill each other. Our plan didn’t involve us fighting this many of them.

Presto growls and my ears pop, but before he can take drastic action, the top of the building is blown off in a fiery explosion. I look up, expecting to see Cy or the local talent, but instead there’s a humongous crimson dragon head smirking down at me.

“Oh shit.” Presto and I dive away as Big Red horks a huge glob of blue fire down at us. Our speed and runic vests spare us most of the blast, but it’s still very fucking hot. I don’t like it.

The dragon chortles and dives into the building. The detonations and furious screams of battle are replaced by draconic laughter, loud chewing, and the wailing of panicked snacks. He’s emptying the building like a stoned gnome attacking a bowl of peanuts.

“Fuck! This guy again?” I complain.

“You know this dragon?” Presto asks sharply.

“He knows me.” I frown. “Why does everyone who knows me want to kill me?”

“I dunno.” Presto stares bleakly at the flaming wreck where a score of my enemies are laying siege on his beloved son. “You are pretty aggravating. How are we getting in there? These stairs are on blue fire.”

“There’s holes in the wall. Gotta be more stairs inside.”

We rush through the wall. The first floor is open and empty, with a few piles of rubble, and a few holes blown in the ceiling. There’s blood and fire raining through those openings, with the occasional body part or well chewed giant owl corpse.

“Fuck.” Presto shakes his head grimly at the sight of the dead bird.

“That’s good tho, right? Gotta slow her down a little.”

“That owl was her only friend.”

“Well, we didn’t kill it.”

Presto sighs. “I don’t think that’s gonna matter.”

We run to a set of stairs in the center of the building. As we approach, a tall, green dryad descends the steps. She has wild hair and a small white dress, but I recognize her sandals and spear as Wreckworld kit.

She posts up to defend the stairs, but Presto and I do not slow.

“Excuse us, lady. We got places to be.”

The dryad smirks, and melts into the floor. Presto and I share a quick shrug. That was easy.

Or it appeared to be. But when I take another step forward, a spear darts out of the floor to tear out my knee.

“GAH!!” I fall back with a loud POP! And then there were two angry orcish ladies staring suspiciously at the floor, wobbling slightly on mostly functional knees.

Presto scowls and takes another step towards the stairs anyways. Other me snatches him back just before a floor spear gores him. She sidearms him to me, and I hike him halfway up the stairs.

“Get started up there! We’re right behind ya!”

Presto nods and scampers up just as my foot gets chopped in half. Another pop and now there’s three limpy orcs. God damn. My healing powers are prodigious, but not perfect. That leg needs a break.

The three of us dance around, trying to get to the stairs, but it’s tricky. I don’t think she can see us. Can she hear our footsteps? Should we tip-toe? Other me gets brutally shanked. “ACK!! Right in the butthole!” She pops into four orcs.

I wince. “You okay?”

“I’m fine, but that was unnecessarily intimate. Buy me a drink first, lady.”

With six of us, we’re able to use the buddy system. The next time the spear flashes towards one of me, her buddy grabs it by the haft and yanks. It looks like a winning strategy until a mess of chaotic energy shrieks up the spear to blow wide holes in her head and torso. She melts away. Does not duplicate.

“Okay, I think we’re doing this wrong.”

“Agreed. Everybody scatter!”

We stop pussyfooting around and stomp off in all directions. I see a me get speared across the room, so I cut towards the stairs and rush up. I’m happy to be clear of the first floor, but that fades to dread as I burst into the second floor.

It’s pitch black and silent as the grave. I can’t see my hands in front of my face. I can’t hear my own footsteps. Nothing but the static from blinded eyes and the thunder of my heart in my ears. I’m not unconscious - I can still feel myself, the rubble under foot, the wind on my face - from the holes in the walls, or from dragon wings.

My hackles rise and my muscles tense. This room was supposed to be full of murderous enemies. I was prepared to face that, but not being able to see or hear them is freaking me out. Are they still here? Am I the only one blind and deaf? Are they all looking at me right now?

Ohhh, this sucks. Should’ve stayed in the butthole stabbin room.

I slowly move across the floor. Bark my shins a few times. There’s lots of rubble. And wind. Hissing around me. And rain? Just the occasional big drip. Stumbling and hissing and dripping. Is that the wind hissing? I can almost hear words. Telling me to be quiet, to move, to hide, to die with dignity. Or is it breathing? Hundreds of people breathing, panting, gasping. Or one huge person, hissing as they try not to giggle.

There’s a blood curdling scream to my left. I look over just as glob of blue fire momentarily illuminates a goblin disembowelling a Wreckworld Wizard. Both their skeletons briefly glow in festive blue light before melting. A torrent of magic missiles fly up towards the source of the dragonfire, as do a phalanx of chaos bolts until their firing position is blasted by an orange fireball. The offensive spells stop, and the magical shadows and silence dampen the area once more. I feel people rushing around me, from the air they disturb and the vibrations through the floor. Light fast people, heavy powerful people, groups rushing in formations both sloppy and disciplined. My ears ache as the air pressure drops and more thick drops of blood rain down on me.

O-kay. The gang’s all here. I pull my stabbin-people knife from my boot. If I bump into anyone who isn’t a gnome or a dragonman I gotta kill’em quiet.

Jeepers.

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About the author

Doctor Zero

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

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