The Hero Slayers

A litRPG adventure comedy

The Hero Slayers is currently available to read on Royal Road, with advanced chapters exclusively on Patreon

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When cunning thief Styk is killed by a Player, a stolen artifact gives him a second chance — so long as he accepts a starting back at level zero.

No longer able to rely on any of his old skills, Styk will need to level up quickly if he’s going to fulfil his new purpose: revenge on the Player that killed him. And if he’s going to survive long enough to regain his strength, he’ll need new friends.

A chance encounter sets Styk on a dangerous path with an unpredictable new team — a team whispered about in taverns, feared by children and adults alike, and named for their most heinous of crimes: the Hero Slayers.

It’s just a shame that they’re not quite what the legends make them out to be.

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1.1 “What A Waste Of A Perfectly Good Town”

Like all great stories, it begins with a slaughter. 

I take no joy in starting at this point—it hardly sets the tone for events still to come—but it’s where my journey truly began. To gloss over it would be to remove a core part of my being, would be to remove the very motivation that set me upon this path. What do you want me to do, lie about it?

So we’ll start with the slaughter, yes, but… bear with me.

I was in attendance at a dinner party. The people were merry, singing songs and trading anecdotes, and our host—the much renowned Collector of Plainside, who brought much tourism and wealth to this small coastal town—had plenty to do with that. She was truly generous, both with her food and her company, and for that reason I wished I wasn’t here to rob her.

Raising a goblet, I locked eyes with the host at the far end of the ornate table, across towering candlesticks, and I celebrated her with a silent toast—one that she received with a raised goblet of her own, and a smile that existed not just in her mouth, but in her purple irises. Perhaps, in another world, I was here under my own name, and we might celebrate one another in more intimate ways.

The merriment couldn’t only be explained by the generosity of the Collector, however. The bottles of wine placed intermittently around the table had been supplied by myself, brewed by my very hand using an ability I’d only recently found value in.

Brewing — Level 18

Floral Notes (Brewing) — Disguise the strength of your vine-based creations by nurturing and bringing forth the underlying floral notes present in the fruit.

Looking around at the other guests, at their glazed eyes and hearing their slurred words, I swirled the—still entirely full—goblet in my hand. It was funny how even the most seemingly useless ability choices could prove invaluable in the right situation—the tricky part was manipulating yourself into that situation. But a forged invitation handed over, a fake name given, and a crate of homemade wines had done just that. Once the guests were drunk enough, I could slip off into the basement, where the Collector keeps her—

‘You’re not d-drinking,’ the man at my left said, managing to communicate more with the stench of his breath than with his words.

‘I assure you, sir, I am,’ I replied.

‘You’re not! I been…’ He paused, put a hand to his face, and hiccuped. ‘Been watching you. You know, I been to parties before—’

‘Yes, I’m quite sure that you have.’

‘—where someone wasn’t drinking that which he brought, and it was because it was poisoned. Is your wine poisoned, sir?’

I forced a smile to my face. It was, of course, but not in the way that this man was jokingly suggesting. It would not cause their flesh to rot away, or their minds to dissolve, or whatever manner of creative and cruel inflictions alchemists were investing these days. It would only make them very, very drunk.

‘I assure you, sir,’ I said again, ‘I wouldn’t know how to do so. I’m a simple…’ I paused, forgetting my cover story just for a moment, ‘merchant, and have no time for developing skills such as…’

I trailed off when I realised that the man’s feigned accusation had drawn some attention. Two elven women sat opposite had turned to face me, and were notably no longer drinking.

‘Be that as it may,’ one of the women said. ‘It would not do for us to consume such a gift without its creator partaking. You would not force such ill manners onto us, would you? Poison, or no?’

The tone of the woman’s voice was harsh enough that more guests, still, turned their attention to me—when all I wanted was the distinct lack of attention. Only one action would swiftly divert their attentions away, and it would make the job… slightly more difficult.

The woman raised her own wine-filled goblet, beckoning me to drink.

With a polite smile, I did so, taking a perhaps needlessly large gulp before placing the goblet back down atop the table. My Stamina bar drained before my eyes, a good quarter or so depleted just from that amount of wine. It really was strong stuff, though perhaps my underinvestment in Dexterity—the stat that governed my Stamina reserves—was partially to blame. My other two power bars, Health and Mana, were—thankfully—unaffected. I hadn’t overdone it too much on the wine, then.

Satisfied, the two women resumed their shrill conversation, and the man at my right passed out onto the table. I was forced suddenly to blink the table back into focus as the two women opposite continued their loud conversation.

‘She did say there would be a Player in attendance.’

‘And such would be a rare honour indeed, to have such hero dine with us! Yet where are They?’

‘Has the Collector ever given us reason to doubt her, dear cousin? I do believe…’

Gods, I’m already drunk, I mumbled aloud, then prayed a silent prayer to Dionysus, willing that He sober me up some. The act was fruitless, though—I would need to raid my host’s collection… in this state.

‘Excuse me,’ I said to nobody in particular, then stood from my seat at the table, swaying. Blinking my cloudy vision back into focus, I made for the bathroom, resisting the urge to gulp as I passed between two of the Collector’s guards at the doorway of the feasting hall.

Thankfully, their heads didn’t turn to follow me; they thought me not a threat in my current, alcohol-fuelled state, just as I’d planned. Of course, I hadn’t expected to actually be drunk, but that was the hand I’d been dealt.

I strolled slowly, casually, down the long corridor towards the bathroom, but as I reached the door, I didn’t enter. Instead, I continued onwards, to the door at the end of the hallway, where my sources had reported that the entrance to the basement was located.

Stepping inside, I took one last look at the—thankfully empty—corridor behind me, and closed the door gently, doing my best to disguise the creaking. Unfortunately, my Stealth tree investment had never yielded the option for abilities that dealt with creaky doors; you wouldn’t believe how often this was an issue in my line of work. Why can’t people oil their door hinges? Won’t someone think of the thieves!

Slowly, I pressed on, down a winding stone staircase, until I came to a grand cellar, lit by flickers candles, filled with loot the likes of which I’d rarely seen before. My every instinct was to hoard all the valuable items I could find, but I forced myself to concentrate; I was here for one object, and only one.

I scoured display case after display case—necklaces and blades and glowing stones each with power and abilities of which most could only dream. Some were so high in level requirement that my Identification skill couldn’t even tell me what they did, and that only made me want them more. To my drink-addled mind, they were almost worth gambling with whatever traps the Collector had surely laid down here.

And then, I saw it. Against the far wall, surrounded by gold and jewels and ornamental blades—the artifact. It was just as my client had described: an octahedron—yes, I’d had to ask what that was, too—of pure silver, seven of its eight sides polished to perfection, the last inlaid with an emerald larger than any I’d set my eyes upon before. Even if it didn’t have any power, the raw material itself would sell for quite the price.

I crouched by the artifact, making sure not to touch it, and I identified it. You know, just to make sure I wasn’t being distracted by a fake—it’d been known to happen.

Identification — Level 29

Advanced Identification (Identification) — Discover more detailed attributes for a particular object or person, and basic attributes for higher level objects and persons. Ability scales with [WIS] + [INT].

My skill check passed, and the item’s name appeared before me. The Sisyphus Artifact, it read. Power: [unknown]. Charges remaining: (1 / 7). This was it, then. I had it. Weeks of hard work and planning had finally got me to this point, and all I had to do was reach out and—

I stopped my hand in mid-air, remembering myself. That wine had made a fool of me, had made me throw all my usual expertise out the window. Before I picked up this item, I had to, of course…

Stealth — Level 43

Identify Traps (Stealth) — Search for traps in area limited to eyesight range. Scales with [WIS].

By itself, I’d learned, this Identify Traps ability wasn’t all that. Only when you scaled up your Wisdom stat did it start to work reliably, which was why I’d never invested much in my Dexterity—when the choice was there, Wisdom was the base stat I’d invested in. Not just Traps scaled up based on Wisdom, either; many of the abilities relevant to my… job were related to this stat, or at least the ones I’d selected out of my lists of options.

Stealth — +80xp

Activating this ability did, indeed, identify a trap. The artifact was sitting atop a hex rune; surely nothing that the Collector had created herself, being that she had a social class, rather than a magic class. This would have been a contractor’s doing.

I’d lucked out. Not a week ago, I’d had a lovely conversation at knifepoint with the most renowned magic-based trapper in all of the Eastern Tundras, based on information that this was the Collector’s method of choice They’d revealed to me—after, admittedly, an impressive amount of “convincing”—that they built themselves a backdoor into all their hexes, in case they ever need to deactivate them. To do so, all one must speak was a simple code word, though no doubt they have changed this phrase for all traps crafted since their little conversation.

I leant close to the artifact, to speak this code. ‘Mihi templus—’ I stopped, finding myself slurring and stumbling over the words. Damn wine! ‘Mihi tempus v-venit. Venit.’ Nothing. I sighed, and tried once more. ‘Mihi tempus venit!’

A turquoise glow illuminated the otherwise candlelight dungeon for just a moment as the hex faded away, and in my excitement I threw my hands into the air…

…and knocked a vase from a pedestal.

Before I could think to react, it collided with the stone floor with an almighty crash, sending fragments of ceramic skittering into all corners of the dark room. I cringed, paused, and waited for sign of movement upstairs. Maybe it wouldn’t come, I thought. Maybe the guards were distracted with the dinner guests. Maybe—

‘Who’s down there?’ someone shouted from the top of the stairs—from the top of my only way out.

‘Erm…’ came the involuntary reaction from my mouth.

Thinking quickly, or at least as quickly as I could what with my mind in its current drunken state, I grabbed the artifact and shoved it into my jacket pocket, then dived for cover.

In the shadowed corner of the room I hid, clutching a thin steel dagger that had served me oh-so well in the last few years, since I’d got the level to effectively wield it. It would need to serve me well again, now.

The two guards entered the basement quietly, their footsteps soft on the stone floor. From my corner of the room, I could see swords glinting in the candlelight—they would have reach, so I would need to rely on my agility. No matter; it had served me well before.

As the pair of guards reached the shattered pottery—no small curses uttered at the sight—I took advantage of the shadows to scutter along the perimeter of the room. With any luck, I could slip up the stairs without alerting—

I tripped on an uneven tile, tumbling to the ground with an ‘oomph,’ followed by a ‘hmm.’

Two glimmering blades turned towards me as I scrambled back to my feet. I met the eyes of the orc guard, and then both pairs in turn glanced at the exit.

‘Hulm,’ the orc said to the other guard, nodding him towards the stairs.

I and the human guard both bolted for the door, and in normal circumstances I would’ve put good money on me making it to the exit long before him, but with this strong wine in my system…

We arrived at the stairs at the same time, a blade coming down to block my path—one that I instinctively reacted to with a raised dagger of my own. A metallic cling rang out as metal hit metal, and I staggered backwards at the force of the hit.

Stumbling, I fell backwards into a display case, causing the guard to freeze for a moment, his eyes wide with fear—would his employer be about to lose a few more items from her collection?

Seizing the opportunity of the man’s hesitation, I swung forward with my right fist, knocking the guard squarely in the temple. With just this one hit, he collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

Guard (Level 25) defeated!

Knifework — +10xp

Bareknuckle — +15xp

Bareknuckle increased to level 14!

Base Points gained +1 VIT, +1 DEX, +1 STR, +3 Free Points (VIT/DEX/STR)

‘Huh,’ I muttered.

At my right, the orc guard growled, beginning to pace angrily towards me.

‘Right. Yes,’ I said, minimising the notification. ‘Time for that later.’

I steadied myself and raised my dagger, ready to strike quickly before the orc could swing his blade. For once, this went according to plan, and my dagger met the guard’s hand as he swung, causing his to cry with pain and drop the sword to the ground with another almighty clatter. Hopefully all this noise won’t attract too much attention…

But even barehanded, the orc’s innate race boons meant that he would put up quite a fight—especially against a weapon as short-ranged as a dagger.

I slashed at the orcish guard’s swinging arms, flailing the tip of my blade near-blindly in an attempt to defend myself. But the orc had both height and strength on his side, and soon I found myself pacing backwards, losing ground with every—

I crashed to the floor hard, the stone knocking the wind from my lungs before I’d even known what’d hit me. The orc towering over me, I looked around for something… anything that might get me out of this mess. I saw only one thing that might just work.

‘I’m too drunk for this,’ I garbled as I lashed out with my right foot for a nearby pedestal. With one sharp kick, the unit was toppling, and the great collection of enchanted glassware was toppling to the ground.

‘You little—’ the guard started, but cut himself off instead to prevent as many of the collected items as possible from shattering on the ground. He held out the front of his tunic into a makeshift bag, and I didn’t stop to find out just how successful this strategy was.

Instead, I staggered to my feet, colliding with another pedestal in the process and causing the armour thereon to fall to the ground too—though at least this was surely less fragile than glassware.

I dunno, though, I’ve had some particularly terrible Light Armour in the past…

I hurried for the door, hopping clumsily over the other—unconscious—guard’s body, and stretched my left leg out to begin my bounding up to the ground floor… and to freedom.

But it was only at this point, somehow, that the real trouble began.

An almighty boom echoed around the underground chamber, reflecting an incredible release of power coming from somewhere above. Against my better judgement, I paused at the bottom of the stairwell and turned to face the orc guard.

Screams, ear-pinching and heart-rending, erupted above.

The guard stood, empty tunic in hand, hundreds of shards of glassware on the floor around him, and his eyes grew wide. Both the guard and I gulped, and in that moment we both understood that we were allies, not enemies, in whatever battle brew above.

We charged up the stairs to find a world aflame.

Half of the Collector’s manor was missing, as though disintegrated from reality itself by the fire that still raged around it. I could see the rest of the town of Plainside from the top of the stairs—being that the wall that had once divided me from it was now gone. At the bottom of the gentle hill, this town had suffered no less than the Collector; its buildings were aflame, its people were screaming, fleeing, or dead.

Nothing could have sobered me more.

Fresh screams pierced my right ear and I spun my head to the source of the noise. A young girl, clutching a stuffed toy, stood facing a mahogany dinner table that was engulfed by flame, those who had been sat at it only half out of their seats before the destruction could end them.

And there, through the flames, I saw three figures. Though only silhouettes to me, I could see that one was a burly orc, clutching a great battleaxe. Another was a blade-wielding tiefling, her wispy tail twisting and turning like the flames themselves, her eyes glowing a horrifying red. And in the centre, ahead of them, was a human clutching no weapon at all.

These three did not scream, nor did they panic. They only strode silently, almost floating, towards me, the guard, and the young girl. I knew, deep down, that this trio were the source of the destruction, even before I identified their apparent leader.

Level 72 Pyroknight

Race: Human

*System Note: Player

At my side, the orc guard gasped. He too had identified the man ahead of us, it seemed, and I knew this for one simple reason. The guard hadn’t gasped at the sight of the destruction of his employer’s home, nor at the screams and cries of the pyroknight’s victims. He had gasped only later, and there was only one thing in Alterra more surprising than a massacre of such scale: that a Player might be behind it.

‘No,’ the orc mumbled. ‘No, no, I… It can’t…’

In front of us, the young girl turned, and she gazed at me with wide, distinctively purple eyes. ‘Where’s my mummy?’ she asked.

Before I could answer—though I do not know what my answer could’ve been, considering that the seat at the head of the table was still occupied by unmoving host—a voice boomed from the flames.

The Player.

‘Where is it?’ he demanded, and with the raise of his hand a great sword formed of flame darted for my throat.

I couldn’t have moved to avoid it, not in the state of shock I was in, but its creator stopped it an inch away from piercing skin. The heat still licked at my neck.

‘I…’ was all the words I could muster.

‘The artifact,’ he said. ‘Where is it?’

Of course, I knew in that moment exactly what the Player meant. My every instinct was to hand it over, to beg for mercy, that he might save my life if nobody else’s. I knew that all I needed to do was to reach into my coat pocket and pull the Sisyphus Artifact out, but… then I caught sight again of the wide purple eyes of the newly orphaned daughter of the Collector.

And a rage erupted inside my heart of an intensity to rival the flames around me.

‘To Tartarus with you,’ I spat.

The Player stepped out of the flames, and a snarl twisted its way onto his face. ‘I see,’ he said. With the raise of his hand, a pillar of fire formed ahead of him, and not a moment later was it hurtling towards the three of us—thief, guard, orphan.

I had just Dexterity enough to both dive out of the attack’s way and to grab the young girl as I did so. We fell hard towards the ground, and I heard a bone snap beneath me. It wasn’t, I soon realised, any of mine.

At my left, the orc guard was engulfed in his entirety by the vicious flames, and his scream lasted little more than a second before there was no life left to feel terror.

I grabbed at the wailing young girl, grabbing her by the shoulders as she cradled her arm. ‘You must…’

‘But he was a Player,’ the girl cried. ‘He’s supposed to help us.’

‘Listen, you need—’

‘He’s supposed to be—’

‘Listen!’ I snapped, shaking the girl hard. ‘You must run.’

‘I don’t—’

‘Run!’ I roared, and I threw the Collector’s daughter through a gap in the crumbling wall of her home. Only once I saw that she was following my instruction did I turn to face our attackers, and buy this innocent seconds more in order that she might escape.

I stood, reaching into my pocket not for the artifact, but for the throwing knives I kept back for tight spots. After all, where I seemed to be going, I wouldn’t need them.

With a glance at the current location of the trio, as well as at one of the last remaining pillars ahead of me, I activated a Knifework ability that I’d only used once before.

Ricochet (Knifework) — Throw blades at hard surface for half your Stamina power to ricochet. Thrown blades retain 70% of speed with each bounce. Damage dealt scales with [DEX].

It was a last ditch effort.

The three blades soared through the air, bouncing off the side of the pillar with a metallic clink, then flew towards my targets. I thought, if this plan failed, that the flames might melt the knives, or one of the Player’s two bodyguards might protect them. But the truth was worse. Each of the three blades hit true, landing in the Player’s torso.

The failure was simply that he didn’t care.

The Player only glanced down at the knives protruding from his chest, furrowed his brow, and then cast a spell with the telltale white hue of a healing enchantment. Each of my three throwing knives hit the tiles below with another—far more pathetic, to my ear—clink.

‘You’ll have to do better than that,’ the Player said.

Silently agreeing, I took a deep breath, then stepped out in sight of the enemy.

‘You’ll never find it. The artifact you wanted? It’s far from—’ I started.

‘He has it,’ spoke the tiefling from the cover of the flames, her eyes glowing brighter.

‘Ah,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ agreed the Player. ‘“Ah” is right.’

I swallowed, forcing myself to stand firm. If this was how I went out—trying the save the life of an innocent young girl—I was fine with that. I could’ve died doing something far less noble, perhaps springing a deadly trap or being beaten by guards. Maybe even rotting in a jail cell. It hadn’t occurred to me, ever, that I might actually die doing something good. I took some comfort in that as I opened my mouth to taunt the man in front of me. ‘If you want it, you’ll have to—’

Fire engulfed me.

Pain. Searing, at first, and then… nothing. Nothing that I could feel, at least. My vision faded fast, but my hearing… that remained longer. Long enough to hear the trio step closer, looming over me.

‘Him?’ the Player asked. ‘He’s a petty crook.’

Lightfinger class, boss,’ the orc corrected him.

I felt something grow cold at my side. Cold?

‘Innuendo, Lev. It means he’s a thief.’

A notification popped up in front of me, but there wasn’t enough life left within me to read it. I swallowed, in vain hope of understanding it, but found myself choking.

‘Where?’

‘Inside his coat pocket,’ the other bodyguard said.

Someone rolled me over, and I felt the cold sensation abruptly end. Instead, the heat returned, growing stronger once more with every passing moment.

A shout. From the Player. Not one of words, but of frustration.

‘What is it, boss?’ the orc asked.

‘It’s… spent.’ He spat the last word.

No. That… wasn’t true. I remembered. One charge left, of seven. That’s what it’d said.

‘We’ll find another.’

‘There is only one,’ the Player replied.

‘Another way. No artifact. Another way to get what you seek.’

With that, three sets of footsteps began to pace away, fading into the distance, leaving me to die on the tiled floor of a burning manor.

As my life force drained from me, I found one last rush of energy within me, and with it, I brought up the notification that was waiting for me.

HP Depleted

Sisyphus Artifact Activated

Charges Remaining: (0 / 7)

Respawning at Level 1 …

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