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Different Kinds of Heroes

Michael W. Cho lives in Tempe, Arizona, where he plays Spanish guitar for his day job. He has publications in Terraform, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press among others. In his work, Michael focuses on bleeding-edge topics such as politics, futurism, and flesh-eating monsters.

The lizard, Lunnie, clung with tiny claws to Bron's ham-like shoulder.
"Heroes and their plot armor!" she meeped indignantly.
"Plot armor?" With great daring, Bron had snuck into the lich's dungeon, seeking its magical crown, and was now squeezed into a niche off the main dungeon corridor. Skeletal warriors carrying wicked scimitars and outrageously large halberds clattered by.
"It's when the hero can't die because it would ruin the story," whispered Lunnie, hoping to cut the topic short.
Bron's open-mouthed gape of confusion slowly transformed into a cheesy grin. "So that's how it works? Thanks, little buddy!"
He stepped into the passage in his wide-shouldered glory, but the undead patrol, their joints popping loud as a string of firecrackers, didn't notice. Even the elite rear-guard with twin morningstars missed him as they disappeared down the corridor.
Bron patted Lunnie on the head with one finger, making her squirm.
"You were right! I am the hero!"
"Just be careful!" hissed Lunnie.
"Nah, I got this," said Bron. "Plot armor!"
Bron seized a torch from a claw-shaped sconce and strode down the middle of the passage, heedless of creepy doors whispering blasphemous revelations or ghastly promises. A normal person would have investigated each one, poking spears into the cobwebs, making sure rotting heaps in the corners weren't animate.
A normal person didn't have plot armor.
At the end of the corridor, Bron charged right at the five-legged bear-creature guarding the lich's inner sanctum, avoiding its claws through sheer luck, its fangs scraping his helmet harmlessly, and the spike of his two-handed battle-axe finding its navel, its one vulnerable point. It exploded in a gush of viscera.
"Lunnie, this is great! I can't lose!" Bron charged into the decadently appointed final chamber, surprising its hollow-eyed inhabitant, an undead sorcerer wearing rotted crimson robes and a tarnished crown.
Rainbows of magic coruscated as the lich pointed its scepter at Bron. Brilliant lightning and gouts of flame inundated the barbarian hero. Yet he strode out of the inferno unharmed, face blackened by soot, his grin huge and white.
"Lich King, authorial convenience laughs at your spells!"
With one mighty blow of his battle-axe, the Lich King's skull skittered across the floor, and the ancient evil collapsed, vanquished at last. Muttering nastily, Lunnie slunk out of Bron's armpit, having barely escaped being incinerated.
"Be careful, oaf!" said Lunnie.
"Heroes don't need to be careful, buddy. You taught me that."
Bron grabbed the crown and retraced his steps to the surface. He thought of the princess, waiting under a white-and-gold pavilion, ready to grant him her favor. Soon he'd have her hand in marriage, half the kingdom, and finally get a little bit of that civilized loving.
The only annoyance was the crown, which was getting heavy. His powerful fingers were tired. By the time he'd reached the top dungeon level, his shoulder felt ready to fall off. When Bron glanced down, he was horrified to see a tracery of black veins running up his forearm, his hand black and shriveled as if blasted by frostbite.
Lunnie yelped and scampered to the other shoulder. Bron tried to fling the cursed crown away, but it was stuck fast.
"I can't get it off! It's rotting my arm from the inside out!"
"It's the Curse of the Lich, Bron," said Lunnie. "There's--there's only one way to survive...."
Their eyes met, and Bron nodded solemnly. Taking a deep breath, he raised up his battle-axe. He uttered a prayer to the harsh gods of his people. Then he brought it down and rid himself of the curse.
A man in rags stumbled along the dusty road. When the royal caravan passed, he knelt and bowed his face, both because it was the law and because he was ashamed to be seen by the princess. A one-armed warrior had few prospects, and fewer friends.
"You said I had plot armor," Bron grumbled, once they were gone. "You said I was the hero."
"I guess you've never heard of a tragic hero," said Lunnie.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

Author Comments

This story was inspired by the unlikely survivorship of annointed Game of Thrones characters. In a world where death lurks in every jeweled goblet and behind every genteel smile, how does one manage to elude being torn to by pieces by one's countless enemies? It can be managed only by the invisible yet invulnerable plot armor. With this prized accouterment, one may fling oneself into deadly battle with little fear of personal consequences. Neither undead kings nor fire-breathing wyverns nor hordes of extras pose much challenge to someone with plot armor.

- Michael W Cho
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