Okay all! Two big announcements.
One, this is the second of 3 chapters from book 3 I will be posting on my site. When book 3 comes out, I will be forced to remove all my free chapters from the website. I really apologize for this, but I don’t see any other choice.
/That said/ If you want to follow along with the story, make sure you check out my Patreon!
Also, there is a HUGE LitRPG give away being hosted by Jason Cipriano! Check it out here: The Give Away
Apologies for the editing in these first few chapters. I was getting back into the swing of things when I wrote them. Otherwise, enjoy! 🙂
The winged woman pursed her lips and placed her hands on her hips. The motion did interesting things to her chainmail covered…assets. Henry felt like his thoughts were still kind of slow. How in the world was he being distracted by tits while existing in such a weird situation? Seriously, what was happening? His thoughts actually even felt a little different than usual. “Where are we?” he asked.
Henry’s orb answered, “This is a memory of Aodh’s, and part of his mind space. Orb controllers like myself generally don’t work together like this, but the situation is…highly irregular.” The tall man seemed apologetic.
“You know this place?” Henry asked Tony.
Aodh thought for a moment, his expression confused. “Actually, yeah. I used to come here when I was a kid to play adventurer, usually when I was hiding from Vitaliya. Who are these people?” The young man pointed at the two strange people.
Henry sighed. “The tall man is how my orb appears when it needs to talk to me. I’m assuming the woman is your orb.”
“Just so!” replied the woman. “I can not interact as well as this one,” she said gesturing at the other orb. “Most of my resources are focused on my process.”
“Wait, you’re my orb? Why do you look like…” Aodh frowned before pointing. “You’re Gellab Gettafs Smith, the legendary adventurer! Wait, you look exactly how I imagined you when I read all those old books!”
“Call me Gelly, sweetie.” The woman smiled.
“Well, that explains the bullshit armor. Puberty imagination,” muttered Henry.
“What?” The young man turned to the beautiful winged woman again and asked, “What is going on? Can you help us out, madam? It’s an honor to meet a famous Adom adventurer like you.”
“You’re talking to your imagination, kid,” growled Henry. “These things are just our orbs, but I bet we can get some answers out of them. But before we figure out what the fuck is going on or what the fuck this is,” he snapped, pointing at the black streamers coming off his back, “let’s ask something simple. You, Tony’s orb, what the hell does the kid’s orb actually do?”
The female orb, Gelly, replied, “Oh, so short tempered!” She asked the other orb, “How is he still alive? With that personality, he should definitely be dead by now.” The tall, male orb shrugged and the scantily clad woman frowned at Henry. “I’m a theoretical probability orb, one of the most rare orbs ever created. I am the latest version.”
“What does that mean?” asked Aodh. “I’ve tried everything, but I can’t do any magic or anything else.”
“My function is actually quite complex,” said the blue skinned woman. “I take the safety and wishes of my host into account, and based on the strength of his feelings, I allocate power towards nudging possibilities or mutable events. I make an advantageous outcome more probable.”
“Wait, wha–” began Aodh.
Henry held a hand up. “She’s a fucking luck orb,” he said. “That makes no sense, though! Tony hasn’t been lucky! I mean, he’s here with me, whatever this is. I sort of remember some danger. The memories are slowly coming back but they’re still fuzzy.”
“Ah, that is not true, Aodh is not unlucky,” the woman answered. “He found a high quality bronze dagger lying in the dirt when he was wishing for an attractive weapon like everyone else had.” Aodh blushed. The woman continued, “He has managed to keep distance from his cousin, and he also managed to avoid three near-certain brushes with death during your battle before arriving here.”
“Wait, I would have died without your help?” asked Aodh, his voice breaking.
“Undoubtably. Through my assistance, you are already incredibly powerful, even at your low rank.” The woman smiled. “I was happy to help.”
“Okay, that’s all well and good but–” Henry’s words were cut off suddenly when the entire world transitioned to night. His vision and thought processes felt interrupted, scrambled as the the darkness surrounding him got deeper.
For a time, he just existed. None of his senses worked. His thoughts moved differently too. The Asian man’s mind felt like it was pushed up against a rough wall. There was pressure forcing him forward, but he had nowhere to go. It hurt, but the pain wasn’t physical. Even if his mind had been working correctly, he would have been hard pressed to describe the feeling.
The core of the sensation was losing himself. He felt like he was dying. Actually, worse than dying. It felt like something deep inside of him, his very being was being worn away. It felt like he was losing his soul.
Henry’s mind moved glacially slow, but he focused every bit of his will on a single thought: Fuck this.
The stubborn man pushed forward, pounding against the obstacle before him. It hurt, it hurt terribly. It felt like the very fabric of his existence was being ripped to shreds, and he was desperately trying to find a gap to escape. He didn’t stop, didn’t give in.
Eventually, he found something, something different. He felt a small breach in the barrier holding him back, a weakness. Henry pushed with everything he had, all his memories, his personality, his thoughts, and desires. He pushed with every bit of himself that he could, and without warning, the overwhelming darkness around him shattered, motes of light exploding outwards, disappearing into the distance.
He was floating in space, the dark place he had been before he transitioned to Tony’s old memory. Pinpricks of light slowly moved in random patterns. Flashes of memories came and went. An enormous pressure settled on Henry’s spirit, but with the same dogged determination he had grasped onto before, he pushed back.
He kept pushing until the pressure abated, and he suddenly felt a deep sense of peace that tickled parts of his mind, parts of himself that he’d never even felt before. He tried to close his eyes, but realized he couldn’t. He wasn’t seeing with his eyes. The thought as bizarre, but the feeling of the strange place made the fact unimportant.
Henry felt a faint presence and realized it was Tony. The farm boy turned adventurer was failing, his life ebbing away. Henry thought, Can’t let that happen. He reached for the young man, stretching the new part of himself he had never felt before. The sensation was like fumbling around the dark for something small, but eventually, he made contact with Tony.
As soon as his will touched the Ludan teen, Tony grasped the lifeline of Henry’s consciousness and began pulling himself out of the pressure he’d been in. The closer he got to Henry, the stronger his life force felt. Eventually, after what seemed to take ages, after incredibly effort felt through their connection, Aodh reached Henry’s position.
He couldn’t see anything, the view of the deep darkness, moving lights, and distant flashes of color remained unchanged. However, Henry could feel Tony’s existence. He also heard the boy’s Irish accented voice in his head whispering, “What is this?”
Henry tried to speak, but nothing happened. It was like his mind worked, but the body it was usually connected to was out for vacation. He mentally narrowed his eyes, and tried thinking his question. He projected, “Are you okay, Tony?” in the general “direction” he thought the kid was.
“Ouch, don’t yell so loud!” Tony complained. “What is going on? Where did those orbs go?”
Henry focused on thinking a little softer. It was weird for him. Actually, everything about the situation was weird, even for someone who’d spent a few months on Ludus. “I don’t know. Those lights in the distance seem to be getting closer, though.”
Henry paused for a moment. The fog over his mind from before was completely gone. He could remember everything. In fact, his memory actually felt much sharper than usual. His mind seemed to be moving faster than it usually did, too. It felt like his thoughts didn’t have any resistance.
He warily watched the lights approaching and pushed at Tony. “Hey, what was that!” the boy mentally shouted at Henry.
“Nothing, probably your imagination. I can remember everything. Can you?”
“Yes,” Aodh said mentally, his “voice” somber. “Are we dead?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Henry. “This isn’t oblivion, it’s not what I thought hell would be like, and it damn sure isn’t paradise. I see no golden gates, Valhalla, dozens of virgins, nothing.”
“Virgins?” Tony asked, his mental voice curious.
“Yeah, of course you’d be asking that. I saw that blue skinned hottie earlier. You have a very active imagination, kid.”
“Uh, it made sense at the time.” Aodh sounded embarrassed.
“Whatever. She’s hot and seems nice. There are worse fantasies young dudes can have. The lights are almost here, look sharp.”
The lights approached slowly, spinning and casting brighter flashes at each other. At first, Henry had thought they were all moving together, but he noticed that a large group seemed to be blocking something. Something dark.
As the lights got closer, Henry began to hear whispers around the edges of his mind. He tentatively thought a question at Aodh, “Can you hear that?”
“Sort of,” said Tony, sounding scared. “It’s like hearing a bunch of people whispering in the next room. Like they’re facing away from me.”
Henry paused. He said, “I think they’re whispering at me.” The lights grew nearer, and the whispering didn’t get any louder, but seemed more focused.
When the lights were even closer, Henry began to hear individual voices speaking in concert. Well, a few groups of them. They weren’t saying anything in any language he understood, but he could grasp the meaning all the same.
One group was warm, welcoming. This group’s colors were hard, sharp. Another group was curious, determined. This group’s colors were soft and whimsical. The last, a group he couldn’t see, was dark, insidious. Its collective voice made him feel a chill in his soul, and it seemed the other lights were pushing it back.
What the hell? Henry thought. One time when he’d gotten out of the Army and just started taking some college classes, Henry had gotten really, really drunk at a party and a pretty girl had convinced him to drop acid. Measuring that experience against the one he found himself in was was like comparing a candle to the sun.
When the lights stopped moving, they began to orbit around Tony and himself. Henry focused on the voices. Despite the strangeness of the entire situation, the first two groups of lights didn’t scare him. They somehow felt familiar. Even the third, dark group he couldn’t see didn’t particularly terrify him. It almost felt like a snake, a viper. It was dangerous, but the harm it could cause didn’t feel personal.
Eventually, Henry felt his mind shift, his thoughts slightly turning to better understand the voices. The dark group’s whispers didn’t make a lot of sense. Death, destruction, rot, it just repeated some of the same ideas over and over.
The second group, the light colored, curious group was mumbling offers of friendship, ideas of solidarity. Henry heard, “Friend? Friend? Friend?” repeated under everything else the group said, almost like a baseline.
The first group he’d heard, the rigid group, was the most interesting and the most comforting. Companion. Protection. Power. Honor. Henry felt his spirit, the very stuff that made up who ne was in this place resonating with it. The voices whispered, Let us help.
Henry mentally shrugged and reached out to the jagged, hard lights. His mind almost felt like it uncoiled and tentatively extended the same way he’d touched Aodh. When he made contact with the lights, he felt like he’d stuck his finger in a light socket. Pain racked his being and his entire existence became agony. Instead of nerve endings lighting up, in this strange place, he felt his memories flashing, the intensity trying to unravel his mind.
With the new connection, he heard the whispers, now voices, much more clearly. “Please hold on, Henry!” they begged. For some reason, he knew he could trust these lights. Instead of trying to reject the connection, Henry dug his metaphorical heels in and deepened his connection.
Now it felt like he had all his fingers stuck in light sockets, and some of his toes as well. The agony was overwhelming. Henry dimly heard Tony’s voice in his mind asking if everything was alright. The man from Earth ignored him and channeled every bit of his mind into keeping himself from flying apart. He thought about his mom, how much he loved her, and how much respect he had for her. He focused on how she and his dad had loved each other, on how her heart had broken when he’d died. Henry had just saved his mom from cancer. He refused to die before she did. He refused to leave her without a son, refused to go out without a fight, even if his grave would be on another world or whether he currently found himself.
Then he thought of Mareen, his sweet, pure-hearted wife. A woman from another world, another race, another background, another culture who somehow completed him, made him better than he could otherwise be. He knew he made her happy most of the time, and remembering her smile filled him with joy. Mareen was young, and her very youth just made who she was as a person even more amazing.
They’d been arguing before the battle with the zombies. Mareen wanted a child, and Henry hadn’t thought it was time yet. They were adventurers, after all. Their lives were dangerous. He decided if he survived and found his way back to her, he couldn’t deny her any longer. More importantly, he had to survive.
Henry would not leave Mareen all alone, he couldn’t break her heart. He had three choices. He could let the pain take him, let it carry him off to the distant darkness and pinpricks of light, he could reject the lights he was reaching out to, which he somehow knew would still result in his end, or he could endure.
I am me! He thought, shouting his words against the emptiness around him. Henry steeled himself, drawing even more deeply on his connection with the lights. Now the sensation was like all of his extremities were plugged into a hydroelectric dam, like he was riding several bolts of lighting all going different directions. He raged against oblivion, barely holding utter destruction at bay.
After what felt like an eternity of barely holding himself together, maintaining his personal identity amidst a torrent of power and pain, all the agony suddenly stopped. “Well done, Henry!” he heard a strange voice say in his mind. It still sounded like many whispers speaking in unison, but now he could understand it perfectly.
The voice continued, “Now reach out to the other group! You are amazing! We might be able to save you after all!”
Henry’s spirit felt dull after the fight he’d just had, but he knew with every fiber of his being that he could trust the voices. It was like he was hearing a part of himself. With a sense of fear, he gingerly reached out to the light, hopeful group of lights.
This time when he made contact, the sensation was completely different. Instead of pain, he just felt warmth. At first, the heat was uncomfortable, like standing too close to a bonfire. However, over time, the sensation abated and Henry heard a new voice, like the previous, hard edged precise voice, but with more personality now. “Excellent!” it praised. “We might all be able to survive!”
Henry felt exhausted in mind and spirit. With the new change that had taken place in his consciousness after making contact with the second group of lights, he could sense another group of lights oriented on Tony, lights that were golden and flickered in and out of existence. They whispered quiet, good natured laughter at him, and he noticed they extended trails of sparks at him, feeding him power.
He could also sense the group of dark, non-lights staying in place. Now he could hear that voice better too. It was saying, “Mission” over and over again.
He tried to formulate a thought towards the voice in his mind, directing his question to the lights with hard edges. “What now? What about the dark lights?”
“We don’t know,” the voices replied. “We are out of time too. If you remain in this place much longer, you will be lost to us. It was a risk to begin with, one that would not have been possible without the other host’s Dhu cooperating.”
Wait, what? Henry began, but the entire world around him began spinning, swirling wildly like he was caught in a universe was spiraling down a cosmic drain. Once again, his thoughts fractured.
Eternity seemed to pass. When Henry regained his senses again, he was standing in the field on Ludus again in Tony’s memory. The two orbs looked confused, and the darkness that had fallen before was receding as fast as it’d come before.
The dark streamers were still coming out of his back, and he saw them wildly waving around out of the corner of his eyes. Something had them agitated. He turned around to get a better look, and when he saw what was behind him, his eyes narrowed.
Tony fell to his knees, shaking wildly. “Henry, please. Please, we need to get out of this. I can’t do that again. I can’t be in that place.”
The two orbs began opening their mouths, but Henry held up a forestalling hand. His mind was sharp now. In fact, he felt stronger than he ever had in general. “I think we can ask your orb, her name Gellab, right? We can ask Gellab and Mr. Neighborhood over here some questions. I’d also like to know what is going on, and more specifically, what the fuck that is,” Henry said, pointing at the giant, enormous shadow standing a few yards behind him.
It seemed to be reaching for the lines of darkness coming from his back, and more worrying, the waving tendrils were all trying to reach the shadow too. Henry didn’t know what it meant, but he had a feeling it wasn’t good.