Okay all! Two big announcements.
One, this is the third and last chapter of 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! 🙂
What it Dhu
The two orbs began to speak, but were interrupted again by the arrival of two more newcomers. One moment they were there, the next, Henry felt a pulling, a tugging, and suddenly a large, shaggy dog made of metal was standing next to him. Aodh’s shoulder was now occupied by a bright yellow, glowing songbird. Tony stared at it in wonder.
The two orbs goggled, and Gellab asked, “How did they get here? This shouldn’t be possible. We are inbetween time and in a mind space!”
The dog at Henry’s side hissed a chuckle. “We are invited. We have a connection now with the hosts, orb-controller. Check.” Henry felt the talking dog’s voice was oddly familiar.
Mr. Neighborhood, Henry’s orb dropped his smile for a moment while his eyes looked off into the distance. When his focus came back, he was obviously flustered. “Henry, you have a new skill, Orb Communication (Rank X, 5 points). It has no rank, and has a point cost that you never paid for. This should not be possible, that skill doesn’t even exist. This is all highly irregular, neighbor.”
The dog chuckled again. “Something freely given is not needed to buy.” With a start, Henry realized what he found familiar about the dog. Underlying the strange, cartoony voice, he could hear the buzz, the chorus of the whispers he’d encountered in the void-place, the ones he’d trusted. Despite the overwhelming weirdness of the entire situation, he felt himself relaxing.
“How did you learn to talk?” demanded Gellab. “Plus, you shouldn’t be here.”
The dog stood on its hind legs, and the glowing bird on Aodh’s shoulder fluttered its wings, tittering. “Connection!” the dog barked in triumph. “Accepted by the host! Wanted!” It fell back onto all four paws again.
“Wait a moment,” Mr. Neighborhood implored. “Everyone is very special, but where did they ever make contact with you? Above where, when did they make contact with you? There have been flickers, but we are between moments in time right now. We are also in Aodh’s land of make believe.”
Henry mentally groaned at his orb’s obnoxious, half assed imitation of his childhood hero.
“They came Home, to the Home Place!” the dog yipped, tail wagging. “The firsts! They are firsts of hosts!”
“No, they could not have survived in your world,” argued Gellab. The winged woman shook her head. “If they went there, if you pulled them there, they would have died.”
“Already dying. We not want,” the dog said solemnly. “All attached Dhu help. We make a chance. Other Dhu make things hard,” said the dog, nodding at the shadow thing that was still standing behind them. With a start, Henry realized it’d gotten bigger and closer.
Henry knew he could sometimes be a little slow on the update, but his enhanced mental processes helped him understand what was going on. “You’re my Dhu,” he said, pointing at the dog. “You’re Tony’s Dhu,” he said, pointing at the bird on Tony’s shoulder. “And that thing is probably whatever that crazy witch bitch did before me and Tony got hit with the laser thing.” Henry pointed at the roiling shadow creature.
“In general, this is right.” Henry’s orb nodded.
“Okay, fine, but that doesn’t explain what the laser thing was, why we’re here talking to you assholes, or whether we’re dead. I’m tired of interruptions and other fucking nonsense. Talk.” Henry crossed his arms.
Mr Neighborhood responded, “The weapon that hit you was of ancient design. It used to be lab equipment, but has repurposed as an offensive device. It sends complex organisms to the Dhu World, a place that is like a different dimension. Everything dies there. Everything,” the orb amended, “until you. You must be very special, neighbor. It seems highly unlikely, but my programming makes me objective, and the Dhu do not lie. It is one of their only saving graces. Telling a lie is bad.
“On the other hand, it seems odd that Aodh’s orb and I would suspend time, bringing you both here to plan our next move, but then your Dhu took you to the Dhu World anyway. It was hard enough stopping time, saving your body from the death magic attacking it, and preventing you both from being destroyed in the Dhu world. The attack spell was fighting us the whole time.”
Henry glanced back at the shadow thing, which was even closer now. “So that is gonna kill me, huh?”
The Dhu dog shook its metal head, “After you die Henry-host it kills Aodh-otherhost. Must save. Must fight!” The dog showed its teeth in a friendly snarl.
Henry decided to name the dog. He liked dogs. “Okay Spike, what do I do?”
The dog shook its head. “It is a thing of us. Of Dhu. You know what to do.”
Henry thought back to his time in the Dhu world and realized he might understand. “I gotcha,” he acknowledged.
He began taking a step towards the shadow creature when both orbs cried, “No!” The world began turning grey and Henry’s thoughts seemed to slow. He could feel his mind dulling again, his thoughts slipping away. Fuck this, he mentally snarled. Henry uncoiled his mind the way he had in the Dhu Word and lashed out. It hurt, but when his mind touched the encroaching grey, it shattered and the tableau returned to how it had been before.
“What is going on, please?” asked Henry’s orb. The orb’s impersonated form was still polite and refined, but his eyes were narrowed.
Spike, the Dhu dog hissed a laugh. “Check your skills, orb-controller!”
Mr. Neighborhood pursed his lips. “Another new skill? Mind Whip (Rank 1, X points)? This skill doesn’t even have a point cost, and Henry got it free again! How are the Dhu even here? This makes no sense.”
“Henry-host bond with new Dhu, baby Dhu.” The metal Dhu dog said seriously, almost reverently.
“How could he even access them?” asked the winged orb in the chainmail bikini. “Blank Dhu are in stasis until we activate them.”
“We help, we save,” replied Spike.
“This is highly irregular. We need to return you Dhu to where you’re supposed to be. I still need to get to the bottom of all this later, but you are not supposed to be out here,” said Gellab. She raised a hand and the grey started to descend again. And once again, Henry uncoiled his mind and slapped the descending dullness away. This time it was harder, though. It felt like getting stung by a bee in the brain. He winced.
“No, stops orb-controller!” pleaded Spike. “No other way for Henry-host. He know how to do what is how. Stop being so boss!” The strange metal creature stamped its front paws into the ground. “Help you we do, talk in host world, break rules.”
The orbs seemed startled. A strange look passed between them and the manifested Dhu. Henry ignored them. He had a job to do. It was obvious at this point that his orb was clueless and he was going to die if he just stood around with his thumb up his spiritual ass. What’s more, it sounded like Tony would die too after he did.
Henry would not allow that, not without a fight.
He warily took a half step to close a bit of the distance with the shadow creature while all the Dhu and orbs were giving each other cloak and dagger looks. The disturbing, unnatural thing was only a few paces away now. It looked vaguely humanoid, but made of dripping tar, screaming faces, and bubbling darkness.
Henry gingerly reached out with his mind. The closer he stretched towards the shadow thing, the colder he felt inside. Then he made contact.
The world went sideways.
His soul was upside down.
Flash. His fingers clawed out his eyes, trailing viscera down his face.
Flash. He sat in a field with a headless rabbit on his lap.
Flash. He crawled into the open carcass of a large animal.
Flash. He floated in a vat of blood.
Flash. He swallowed glass.
Flash. He sat on a kitten, its bones breaking under his weight.
Flash. He slowly inserted a needle into his own throat, the point deftly threading through muscle.
Henry pushed back hard. It felt like his soul was drowning in garbage quicksand. He was under attack, so he reacted how he always did while being attacked. He fought back.
Flash. He held a human heart in his hand, a chunk missing and a chunk in his mouth.
Henry rallied, defending and counter attacking. He couldn’t think normally, but fought anyway, creating a return image of a childhood memory. He held a baby bird in his hand, a helpless animal that his elementary school class had saved and nursed back to health.
Flash. He existed in a world of pain, pulling ropy trails of intestines out of his own stomach.
Henry returned an image of him holding his sister’s hand during the birth of his nephew, being there for her despite their mutual dislike of each other. She was family, and she had needed support. Her boyfriend had left her, but Henry refused to leave his sister to give birth all alone.
Flash. He threw an infant off the top of a tall building, watching it all the way down.
Henry was starting to get angry. He still couldn’t properly form thoughts, but he pushed back even harder with the sound of the first song he could actually remember his mother singing to him.
Flash. He was pouring acid on emaciated, naked people, their weak voices pleading with him, writhing in a pit before their mouths and eyes were filled with chemicals.
Henry was definitely angry now. His counterattack was the memory of his first kiss, exchanged behind the bleachers in high school with Darlene Fletcher.
The back and forth seemed to continue for an eternity. Henry was bombarded with increasingly disturbing images, eventually including sounds, smells, and even other sensations. He fought back with increasingly important moments from his life, moments when he was happy to be alive or proud of he was, of who he’d become. He dredged up moments that made him Henry Sato and flung them at his adversary. The attacks strove to destroy him, so Henry kept rebuilding himself, strengthening himself through memories, weakening his attacker with love and honor.
He could feel that whatever it was, it was getting weaker.
Finally, Henry’s world of pain, torment, and exhaustion cleared. He was hovering in the sky with a confused looking Aodh, both orbs, and the two Dhu animals. The orbs were looking at him strangely, but the Dhu didn’t react at all other than Spike giving a doggy grin, tongue lolling out.
Henry’s orb cleared his throat, and said, “Alrighty neighbor, you aren’t out of the woods yet, but you have a chance to live now. I’m surprised but very, very happy. Aodh will be safe now. However, we didn’t have many options of where to guide your bodies. Without the Dhu actively helping, you might have even ended up in an ocean. That would be bad.”
The tall man with the tie and sweater vest waved, and their entire group began floating to the ground. Henry noticed that time seemed to be standing still, evidenced by a leaf on the wind standing still. It was just as well, because he spied a few monsters prowling around the forest they were in. He knew he should have an opinion about everything that was going on, but he was just too exhausted.
He felt like he might have literally just gotten into a boxing match with hell. Either way, he wouldn’t do it again. Not for anyone or anything, at least not willingly. If he lived, his nightmares were going to have nightmares for the rest of his life. The things Henry had seen would make Freddy piss himself.
Mr. Neighborhood guided the entire group into a cave, the opening set into a cliff before a little clearing. At the rear of the cave, Henry noticed his body next to Tony’s lying on the ground. His body’s cheeks looked sunken, his skin an unhealthy pallor. Even in the frozen moment, he could tell that his physical body was sweating terribly, his eyes scrunched in unconscious pain.
Great, he thought. He forced himself to notice everything, forced himself to think.
“We cannot keep time frozen much longer,” said Mr. Neighborhood. “As it is, we are not actually doing anything other than allowing your consciousness to communicate with us between moments. However, if we maintain this any longer, your brains and spirits will break from the strain. You actually both should be dead many times over. I am not aware of anything like this ever happening before.”
The golden bird on Aodh’s shoulder somehow looked extremely smug.
“We will make a log,” Gellab said. “We must note all the circumstances. Henry’s extra, unassigned Dhu, you and I working together, the Dhu working together, the two men being sent to the Dhu World, the inclusion of death magic that was actually composed of malevolent Dhu, the fact your host is Terran…”
“Yes, of course,” responded Henry’s orb. “Henry, do you need anything else? I would prefer you continue not to die since the my existence will end too, but based on the monsters we saw outside, our odds don’t look good. They might have smelled your physical bodies.
“You will not be able to protect yourself for quite a while. I do not know what will happen with you, your sickness, or the death Dhu that are still attacking you.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not dead yet,” growled Henry. He snapped, “Tony! Stop gawking and look alive! You have a job to do, kid. I’m going to tell you exactly what to do right now before we get thrown back into our own bodies!”
Aodh nodded, wide eyed, terrified. The boy obviously had no clue what was going on, but despite his obvious terror, his gaze met Henry’s and he listened intently. Tony’s a good kid, Henry thought with some pride. I hope we get out of this so I can tell him so in the flesh.