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Joe's never been so glad that he'd found enough wool to make a bed. Mind you, it's normally rather difficult to make a bed early on, unless you know where to find sheep, so he's normally pretty glad to make his first one. Setting his spawn's important business, after all. But it's just a bit more important now, given the general deadliness of everything that's happening, and that he's rather lost track of how many times he's respawned, and frankly, if his flower forest is this dangerous, he doesn't even want to think about how dangerous the nether probably is right now. He may have stocked the respawn egg well, but the nether tends to reflect the overworld in weird ways, and he doesn't really want to risk it, you know?

He's hiding in a cave he's dug like it's his first night in Minecraft. There's a single torch lighting the wall, because that's all he's managed to salvage that he can spare at the moment. It's a tiny box. There's a bed in it, and two chests, and it's really not all that nice-looking but given the whole situation he's not that worried about nice-looking.

He checks his tools. The wooden pickaxe isn't as good as he'd like, and neither is the sword, and armor is just straight-out until he manages to either salvage his other things or go mining without dying horrifically in the process, but it's probably fine at this point to go making another attempt.

He turns to the door he'd made and checks out the window. It's still dark, but it's been dark all the time, so that's okay. Or, well, not okay, but you know, in a grand, comparative sense of the word okay, it's something approaching it. Everything is very much not okay.

He takes a deep breath. He steps out the door, holding a torch in one hand and his sword in the other. The air is dusty and stale. The sky is black and empty. He hears something that sounds like it's definitely, definitely a creeper, and, oh no, hate that, he yelps and dodges backwards. "No, no, no, no..."

The side of his dirt cave is blown up. Joe stares at it for a moment.

"Oh, come on!" he says. "That just feels unsporting."

The universe, of course, does not respond to his pleas. He's going to be spawn camped, he thinks. He wasn't ready. He wasn't ready for another attempt at all . There's nothing he can do about it now. He takes one of his very limited torches and he continues heading down the path, trying to watch for creepers as he goes. It's not a very long path, at least. He's started getting pretty good at making it down the path, at least in part by placing about one torch down at a time. It's making the path marginally safer. He needs more saplings before he can do what he needs to next, which is put walls around the path, and—

Oh, that's a lot of skeletons.

"Noe," he says. "Now, if I were not smart, I would run right past those skeletons to see if I can get this torch to where I need it to go. However, I may not be a smart man, but I am a practical one, and I don't have armor. So instead, what I'm gonna do is go around the skeletons. And maybe no more of them will spawn, and I will be able to, in a short while here, make it further down the path towards the forest in a straight line instead of circumlocuting around constantly." And then, carefully, he steps off of the path he's been making to go around the skeletons. "Maybe if I'm lucky they won't even notice me. I'm not gonna... walk right near them. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a fool."

He falls silent. He moves through the darkness, his torch his only guide. Of course, the skeletons and zombies can probably see him through the darkness, they've always been able to, but he's better at moving like a shadow than they might think. He is going to make it from where he is now to where he's going, no question about that.

He's going to do it. He's... ah. They have absolutely spotted him.

He starts sprinting. He doesn't have any important equipment on him, he just needs to get a torch down. He just needs to get it down there it is the next step on his path he slams it into the ground and an arrow pierces through his side. He makes a pained yelp and falls, hands clutched against the wound, Now, he thinks, this is normally the part where either he manages to get himself out of this, or the part where.

He looks up. Or the part where he's increasingly surrounded.

He sighs. It's a pained sound, given the gaping arrow wound in his side, but he's positively full of pained sounds most days, so that's nothing new.

"Just do it quickly," he says, and the monsters descend.

He wakes up at his spawn point. A zombie is staring at him through the hole the creeper left. His side still aches. He balances onto his feet. The zombie starts moving towards him.

"You know, I really thought my lifetime of death loops was finally gonna be behind me," he says, and he raises his fists in hopes he'll be able to punch the zombie to death instead of inevitably getting gnawed on until he dies or whatever it is this zombie will do, he doesn't know, he's not the zombie expert. Has he mentioned he hates creepers? It's going to take so long to fix the hole, and there's no daytime to kill the monsters, and, great, there's the zombie. He braces himself. He wakes up back at his spawn. He'll do enough damage eventually. He braces himself. He wakes up back at his spawn. He braces himself and claws at the zombie's chest. He wakes up back at his spawn. He braces himself wakes up braces himself wakes up braces himself wakes up braces—

Alright. So. Zombie's dead. A lot of zombies are dead. Also, arguably, a lot of Joes, but that's the sort of existential thinking Joe tries not to do when he's already stressed. He doesn't mind existentialism, really. It's something he indulges in quite frequently, actually. It's more that there are times and places, and when he still sort of feels the bites from a bunch of really unnecessary and avoidable deaths, that's the sort of thing he probably shouldn't be thinking about that hard.

He's patched up his hole again. He once again doesn't really have tools? Or wood. He really, really needs to get saplings, and preferably get them inside of his cave so he can start harvesting trees safely. Getting trees is always the miserable first step.

Well, he could search the wreckage of his inn again, he thinks, but the once he'd done that was bad enough. Waking up after the worst sound he'd heard in his life (and he's heard a lot of sounds, he has to say), sitting up in grey-and-orange rubble, dust covering his hands, seeing a sky empty of important things like "the moon" or "stars" or "light", and then nearly immediately getting killed by skeletons hadn't been his idea of a Friday night. Or a Saturday night. Or any night at all.

He'd been justifiably rather confused, after that. He's normally pretty good about remembering where he's fallen asleep, and he'd fallen asleep in his room in the Drawn and Courtier. Waking up staring at an unfamiliar sky, covered in dust and barely breathing—now, that hadn't made much sense, just like the noise, or the shaking. But given that mobs had started spawning, and were more vicious than Joe remembered by far, he'd scrambled to try to grab everything he had.

The scaffolding had been a bad call, he thinks, but he hadn't realized enough to grab practical things. He should have grabbed something like iron, too, but that had all been stored in the smithy, and he's pretty sure that got wrecked worse than the inn when the moon fell.

Which, you know, he hasn't really processed that yet? He'd really been thinking it was some weird server thing Doc had done, but best he can tell, the moon fell, or the world shook, or both, actually, because everything is wrecked and dusty and downright dangerous. Frustratingly so—he knows he's torch-spammed this area, but no, the world has to end and wreck all of his torches.

Anyway, it had taken all of two respawns for Joe to manage to lose all of his armor, and things really snowballed from there. He really hadn't been being careful enough, because he hadn't processed it, you know? Hermitcraft was kind of a safe place, or supposed to be. Sure, they had mobs, like any other server, and sure, all kinds of dangerous, probably ill-advised things happen. But Hermitcraft was a safe place. Hermitcraft wasn't the kind of place where rubble and a missing moon and a strange supernatural chill would destroy or make unreachable most of your storage while you steadily realized that, oh yeah, your best friend had been working on the castle when it collapsed, and you haven't heard from her yet.

That sort of thing doesn't happen here, typically.

But here he is.

In a hole he's dug in the ground, trying to figure out how he's going to get saplings. If he can get those, there are so many skeletons that he's probably set on the bone thing. Then he'll have plenty enough wood to start properly making tools. He doesn't really want to strip mine, because he doesn't have torches to light the mines behind him, but he does kinda need to try to get coal. Charcoal if he can make the trees. This may not be a rodeo, but it's also not his first one. He's done this kind of thing before.

And he thinks he knows how he can figure out where Cleo is. The two of them can figure out what they're doing with the end of the world after that.

So he has plans! The problem's more the execution? He needs to fortify his temporary base, too, because if creepers keep killing him, he thinks he'll lose it, just a little bit, and if creepers make it so he gets in another ugly death loop, well, he can handle those but they're frustrating! He doesn't like dying repeatedly at all!

So many things to do, so few resources to do it with. Well, he's worked with worse. He still has some wood left in his chest. The path has torches on it now. He's almost to the point he can get to the forest. From there, all he's got to do is cut down a tree without losing saplings. Then he can bring the saplings to a safe place. And from there, his goal of getting to the castle would be particularly achievable.

He's still working himself into the mindset of everything being more precious. The chest he'd managed to build helped. It's full of the limited resources he does still have on hand. He has so many things to do, though! So many things, and so little things to do it with.

He's tired, and his throat hurts, and everything hurts, really. Plus, Joe is really, really cold. Flower forests are not cold biomes, but the lack of light from the sky—now, that's cold. So maybe, considering everything, he ought to think about the possibility of getting himself warmer clothes. That's on the bottom of his priority list though.

(He is going to get killed by mobs and hunger several times over before he freezes to death, after all.)

Trees. Wood is valuable, he knows, so trees first, then he can worry about anything else. He wishes he'd been able to save his armor, or his tools, but sometimes, life gives you lemons. And the lemons are just. Absolutely awful lemons. There's no making lemonade out of the lemons. So you go, wow, this is terrible! I have all of these lemons! And you figure out how to work around the lemons, by like, putting them in boxes, or using them as things to carve for Halloween, or as projectiles, or something like that. And, well, the metaphor is getting away from him. The point's more that the moon broke, and that's really bad, and it's sort of hard to look at the bright side of things when it's not bright, so he's just... not.

He's running out of torches to light the path to the forest, though. That's a really big problem he's not like, super prepared to solve.

Maybe the mad dash will be worth it. Once he has saplings, he'll have blocks, and he can't rely on letting creepers blow things up to get him blocks forever.

He lies back against his bed in the dirt hole he's dug. He thinks the room smells awfully like dirt. Someone should get on that. He's tired of things smelling like dirt.

Alright, his new plan is plan mad dash. His torch is in his chest. It's the only torch he has left. He can't afford to lose it when he inevitably dies in this purely Sisyphean effort to get from a hole in the ground he'd dug and put a bed in to the forest. He's just here, constantly pushing boulders up hills. Well, no, not boulders in his case. It's more like he's pushing increasingly large numbers of skeletons. If he could move further away there probably wouldn't be as many spawning. They're attracted to players when they spawn, you know. Which, thinking about it, Joe thinks it's possible that none of that is really the point, and...

He has things to do. Like run in a mostly-straight line to the dark oak forest and break all the leaves. He has made himself a wooden hoe for this explicit purpose. It's sort of a risky use of wood? But hoes break leaves fastest, see, and what Joe really needs is to get a sapling to drop as quickly as possible, so risky use of wood it would be. He's frankly terrified that he'll die, a zombie will pick it up, and then he'll have to like, beat a zombie to death with one of his remaining food items (a cheesecake Cleo had given him, that she'd gotten from Beef, apparently). And like, listen, y'all, he doesn't want to beat a zombie to death again. He'd just gotten done with that, over and over again. There are still bite wounds, bruises, and cuts on his knuckles, because respawn is nasty and fickle with which injuries it heals, especially if it's happened frequently in quick succession.

...maybe he should practice before he does the run with the wooden hoe, he thinks, and he puts the hoe back in the chest. Besides, he can probably get saplings just tearing through leaves with his hands. Probably. He hasn't really tested that before, but that's more for people like Tango, or Doc, who know things about how the world works. Joe's all about the mystery in life.

He takes a deep breath. This time, before stepping out his door, he pushes aside some of the dirt blocks on the front of his house, ready to put them back the moment he hears or sees a creeper. Luckily enough for him, he doesn't! Hear or see a creeper, he means! Which means he isn't about to be immediately blown up!

A skeleton fires an arrow through the hole and Joe quickly covers it up again. There are, however, those. Luckily, most mobs are kinda dumb, and will forget he's there when they no longer see him. Cleo has object permanence. What is it about hostile mobs that makes it so they don't? Perhaps they simply do not have the intelligence or skill that Cleo does? It can't be some inherent trait of zombies and skeletons and the like, because if Cleo hadn't had object permanence, Joe would think he'd know that by now. It's a useful trait for the time being, though. gives him an idea.

He pulls what blocks he's salvaged out of his chest and pauses. No. No, this should be a dry run. He can't afford to go about losing blocks. There are too many mobs, and he has too little armor, and it's too much of a risk to take items that will be vitally important in the future right now. He puts the blocks back. Alright. He's got his fists, and that's about it, and he's sure the dark forest is full of mobs, so...

He slams the door open. Before the skeletons, or zombies, or creepers, or spiders, or whatever else can go about catching their wits, Joe is on his way, bolting down the path to try to reach the forest. He yelps as a spider jumps at him and ducks it. He'd forgotten, somehow, that spiders even could jump? Who taught spiders to jump, anyway? Like, doesn't that seem like it's just a bit much?

It's only about a four hundred meters from his house to the forest. It is the longest four hundred meter sprint Joe will ever do in his life, and he doesn't even make it all the way, because spiders can also occasionally be invisible, and one bites him, for some reason.

(Well, it's a hostile mob, that's the reason, but still.)

He manages to kick it off of him, but he's hobbling a little bit when he makes it to the forest. Behind him are like, four different zombies? "You know, I'm really hating the new spawn rates," Joe says breathlessly. "Really seems kinda unfair to players just starting out, especially given the lack of daytime, and all. I feel like the mob cap should somehow be spread out more than this, you know?"

He says it like the universe is listening. Unfortunately, the sun doesn't rise, just as it hasn't been for days, so the universe clearly has no plans on removing some of the mobs that have filled this horrendous, unforgiving mob cap. Shoot, he really wants to get these saplings first-try, too...

Oh, he has an idea. He grabs the nearest tree and starts climbing it. The spiders can follow him, but Joe happens to know that zombies, unlike spiders, cannot jump. Neither can creepers, typically, although from Joe's understanding Doc's an exception. He scrambles up into the branches of the tree just in time for a creeper to explode beneath him, causing him to hit his head on one of the branches. He reels for a moment. Alright. This is fine. This is...

Another creeper explodes. Joe loses his grip. "No, no no no no," he says, and then he hits the ground with a horrible, sharp crack, and he respawns, still-dizzy, in his base.

"...trial and error," he says. "Now, most of the mobs that were chasing me, those mobs are going to be over there in the forest. So if I'm quick and run to a different part of the forest now... I think I have some idea of what I'm doing with this now, don't I?"

He pauses.

"Kinda wish I'd thought of that before I ran to the closest part of the forest, but sometimes you've got to break a few eggs to make a bad decision. That isn't what I was trying to say but I said it, so we're going with it now."

He slams the door open again, belatedly realizing he forgot to check for creepers. No time to care about that, though, he's gotta sprint! He looks at another, slightly less-close part of the forest, and he bolts as fast as he can. He's running out of breath and energy, though. Respawn doesn't give him enough energy to really recover from a proper sprint. That doesn't matter nearly as much, though, as the general sense that... yes, his plan succeeded! He is now in a part of the forest with fewer mobs, because all the mobs had killed him the first time around. And sure, he still hears zombies, and creepers, and skeletons, and everything else as he climbs the tree, but generally, he's succeeded.

Now, time to start breaking leaves, before he gets himself into more trouble than he's already gotten himself into.

Stripping leaves from the dark oak doesn't go well, though. He's pretty sure he should be getting saplings, but his luck is apparently just terrible. He's got an apple, which is nice, because he doesn't actually have that much food? But an apple isn't the thing that will let him grow more trees, which makes it not nearly as ideal as the no dark oak saplings he's managed to get so far. Plus, breaking the leaves with his fists is slow, and he hears a clicking hiss and looks behind him and just barely manages to punch an invisible spider in the face.

He watches it fall off the tree. "Aren't you only supposed to be invisible on full moons? We don't have one of those," he says, but then he realizes that's not the only spider, and that he's once again surrounded, and that he has absolutely no saplings and no idea how he'll get down if he does get any saplings, anyway.

"...may as well cut my losses," he says, and he jumps.

Unfortunately, it's more the mobs than the fall that gets him this time, which makes it far less of a quick and efficient respawn than he'd like, but sometimes that's just how life goes, isn't it?

From inside, he breathes. Okay, this is good, though! This is fine. Everything is fine. He needs to find a way to get down from the trees without getting surrounded, but everything is fine. Oh, right, and he made that wooden hoe, which if he's too scared to use in case he loses it, but will become useless by virtue of its total lack of use. What he needs to do is think this through. So, Joe thinks. Alright. New plan: he tries to guide as many mobs as he can as far away as he can. He lets them kill him (a thing that he is not looking forward to, let him say). Then, he runs to the forest, uses the hoe to break the leaves, and carries his precious saplings back.

For a Joe plan, it's honestly not a bad one? And, well, he's Joe, so he really can't come up with much better. Unfortunately, all of his plans will be Joe Hills plans. He's not capable of making Cleo plans, or Keralis plans, or Xisuma plans. Not that he'd want to make Xisuma plans, mind you. Xisuma plans would probably be worse than Joe plans. So he should be thankful! Thankful that he is making Joe Hills plans and not Xisuma plans!

You know, it's also possible that he's in a bit of pain, what with the getting killed repeatedly. His neck hurts like heck. He has the sneaking, terrible suspicion that the last spider bite he got there has decided it won't heal on respawn. So that's going to be really fun to deal with! More things that are fine!

He puts all of his items away. Alright. Time to execute his plan. No time like the present, right? He barely checks outside his door as he pushes it open.

There's another creeper.

"NOPE!" he yelps, slamming the door shut again. Thankfully, the creeper doesn't seem to have noticed him. Alright. He really, really doesn't feel like getting blown up and having to rebuild the cave again. Honestly, he's tired of being blown up. He just wants to... Alright. Alright. If he runs fast enough past it, maybe it won't blow up his house?

Alright. He opens the door again and sprints. He hears the hiss. He feels a horrendous burning. He wakes up in bed. His ears are ringing, and the ringing isn't going away. His neck really, really hurts now. He should probably slow down. The respawns are healing less and less. He just needs the saplings kinda quickly, y'know? The sooner he gets them... He winces as he stands up.

"It's almost like the odds are stacked against me or something," he mumbles, and then he looks outside the door again. At least the crater is in front of his house this time, instead of in it. He can... run around it. Probably? He'll fill it in later.

He presses the door open. There's no creeper this time. He sprints away from his house, just in case, and then shouts. "HEY! MOBS OF VARIOUS KINDS! I AM GOING TO RUN IN THIS DIRECTION UNPROTECTED, AND YOU SHOULD PROBABLY TRY TO KILL ME. IT WOULD BE QUITE FUN OF YOU."

He starts running again. The mobs follow him. He keeps running as long as he can manage, as far from the forest as he can manage. He's overwhelmed. He respawns. He leans over the side of the bed and shudders, but he doesn't have time to be in pain! Pain doesn't particularly care about what he has time for, of course, and he sort of wants to start crying, but he doesn't have time for that, either! He grabs his wooden hoe, and he runs to the forest. He just needs the saplings. He just needs the saplings. He just... he starts breaking the leaves. Please, please let his diversion have worked. Please—

"Yes," he says, softly, as a sapling drops. As two saplings drop. As three whole saplings drop! "I'm just going to cut my losses, and head back to the garden! Or, not cut my losses! The opposite of that! Cut my victories, which is far better than cutting my losses!"

He has to be more careful on the way back. His legs and his body and his arms and his neck are burning in unfamiliar ways, or at least, ways that have been unfamiliar for years. But he should run. He should get back to his house as quickly as possible. He should make it... he should... that's a skeleton. He doesn't want to die to another skeleton. He thinks he's developing a hatred of skeletons.

He makes it back into his hole in the wall. He slumps against the dirt.

"I have three saplings to plant now, which means I can sleep now, I think," he says. "I am. So tired. I'm just gonna pass out now."

He does.

He doesn't leave again until he's sure his tree farm is self-sustaining. Typically, dark oak trees will drop at least one dark oak sapling. However, sometimes it's possible to get trees that don't have proper drops, and Joe just doesn't have time for that kind of nonsense while he's not looking. So, he waits, and once he has more saplings than he knows where to plant, and charcoal, and wooden planks, he realizes he'd sort of wasted his torches before, trying to get to the forest. He should know better than wasting torches. Now, though! Now he can try to line the outside of his base with torches to prevent spawning while he tries to go mining.

He has aches everywhere, from that early loop of deaths. The spider bite on his neck has swelled up. There's a nasty burn on his side. There's some kind of zombie bite in one of his thighs—not enough to turn him into a zombie, as he is intimately familiar with the limits of that, but definitely necrotic enough to be like, painful and bad. He's dizzy, and occasionally doesn't see quite straight. He'll heal eventually. His trees are even giving him apples as food sources, so he'll definitely heal eventually. It's just that it all hurts quite a bit.

But if his respawn is a mess, he thinks, he can only imagine what the other hermits are at this point. Literally! He can only imagine it! Because he's realized he's lost his communicator!

It probably, he thinks distantly, got destroyed in the original collapse. If not then, it could have easily gotten lost in the past, uh, twenty? Thirty-ish deaths? Maybe he's exaggerating? But even if the thing isn't supposed to get lost on death, is meant to respawn with him, he's been dying a lot. Wires could have easily gotten crossed.

He can literally only guess what the other hermits are up to. His only other sign as to what might be happening is that he knows where Cleo was meant to have been: working on the windows of the now very collapsed castle. She could be anywhere, really! But Joe doesn't think she is, unfortunately, because he'd like to think they would have tried to find each other, and the castle is dark, and.

He's maybe just a little worried. But it's fine. He's worried all the time! That's one of his personality traits.

He needs to get up and start mining, but honestly, he's worried the earthquakes will start up again? They haven't been, after the moon had crashed, but if they do, the tunnels are going to be pretty dangerous. He's managed to mine the minimum stone, and... maybe it's worth trying to go underground again, but if there's another quake...

Joe weighs how much he likes dying to mobs (not at all) against how much he'd like dying to something like suffocation, should the mines collapse (even less).

He'll take the more familiar death loop, if he's taking a death loop anyway. Mobs, and terrible decision making—those are things Joe dies to all the time! He doesn't have to worry especially much about dying to things he normally does, he can deal with that! He just needs... more rest. So his respawns stop being nearly so awful?

There's only but so much they can do.

He works on building stone tools for the time being. He needs a lot of pickaxes, probably. If he's going to be making them from mostly stone, he needs... well, now, this is convincing him that he may want to go mining after all? Just... carefully. He really, really doesn't want to hit any of his old tunnels. That would be a disaster. The odds those hadn't caved in are tiny. It's a shame, because he'd worked really hard on the railway in that mine. It was the nicest-looking mine system around for a while there. And all his poor waxed exposed cut copper stairs! That had taken obnoxiously long to collect for the bit! What is he supposed to do about those, huh?

Well, what he's supposed to do, if he goes mining, is avoid the now-likely unstable old tunnels of his old mine. Which is why, originally, he wasn't meant to be mining at all. But the sheer quantity of stone pickaxes he'd need to pick through the rubble of the castle... He's realizing more and more that he needs iron. But maybe he'll get lucky. Maybe he'll get to the castle and find a sign Cleo is fine, and his suspicions are not well-founded. Maybe it'll even turn out to go well!

He should build his safe path to the castle first, he decides, then check, then go mining. Technically, he thinks, this wastes time, and risks more, since he won't have armor and since he'll have to keep on doubling back if he waits to mine until later. But he has no sense of direction, and he certainly has no sense of direction underground. If he goes mining, he'll mine himself into a cave-in.

He just. It's bad, but he doesn't want to do any of it. He hurts, and he's tired, and there's so much to do.

He starts collecting wooden planks anyway, though, because if Joe Hills is good at anything, it's continuing to march on when he's at the end of his rope. That is, Joe thinks, the Joe Hills Difference! But like. The sad one. The difference that's not fun. The ability to keep going when he's already so exhausted, and will only get worse.

He'll start building his tunnel. He'll make it to the castle, and talk to Cleo, and then he'll just... figure it out from there.

The tunnel goes well at first.

It is very, very slow-going. He has a stone sword again now, and the ability to fight off mobs, but he like, doesn't want to? Not if they're going to kill him again? Fighting is very unnecessary.

So he builds slowly. He builds the barrier, and then waits. He puts up more wooden planks, then waits. It also, incidentally, makes a really ugly tunnel? Like, oh man, Joe doesn't actually want this tunnel in his castle courtyard. Unfortunately, the apparent end of the world doesn't particularly care for important principles like "aesthetics", so Joe has no choice but to bow to the whims of not wanting to die. The tunnel stays ugly and made almost entirely out of dark oak planks. It remains windowless, as dark oak trap doors unfortunately aren't designed with gaps, and Joe can't afford to leave any gaps some enterprising monster might find a way to slide on through. It's lit with charcoal torches and a prayer. He spams them a bit more frequently than necessary, but even when well-lit, the dark oak is so, well, dark that Joe needs the torches to follow it.

He keeps going until his foot hits the first of the ruined dripstone and sandstone, and then he stops. It's not an awful walk between the two places, but the tunnel is rather long, and Joe's heart is rather fragile. He doesn't really want to open this door and find out the truth, you know? Or, well, less open a door, more step back out into the... not light, the total lack of day-night cycle after the moon's collision with the world and/or strange, broken quality is, in fact, the true problem here. The tunnel is lighter than outside. Step outside, then. He doesn't want to step outside.

He doesn't want confirmation, but he needs it.

After a cursory glance to make sure there aren't mobs nearby, he steps out onto the rubble of Castle Hohenzollern.

It's sort of heartbreaking to look at. Cleo and Joe had spent months building it, only for it all to be destroyed in an instance. Cream sandstone, dripstone, and wood lies in splinters and chunks, torn at odd angles. There's a spire stuck in the ground. Disconcertingly, some of the road seems to almost be intact, precariously balanced on supports that should, by all rights, no longer be standing. The biggest tower has fallen in on the rest of the rubble, leaving a massive blackstone disaster in the middle of the ruins.

Joe has to take it in for a moment. "Well, I guess that was the last time I'd move the walls," he says, "on account of there not being walls anymore and all." It's a little less comforting and funny to say that out loud than he thought it would be. He'd sort of assumed that by joking about it, he would have personally come to understand what had happened. Ill-placed humor may be an underappreciated coping mechanism, but it's a personal favorite of Joe's. It's just that, like, it feels particularly ill-placed when he's looking at something he poured his whole life, heart, and soul into. He's used to his life falling apart occasionally! That's why he has friends around! To catch him! It's just that having such a handy, well-placed, devastating visual metaphor for how his life had recently come to a crashing halt is sort of a lot. It paralyses him in place, just a little bit.

"I... you know, I have to say, I'm not really sure how we're coming back from this one. Probably just going to start over, aren't we? It's just... dangit, I never got to finish it. The walls still weren't quite right. And I mean. I guess that's obvious, given the generally collapsed state of them, but I guess I just..."

He breathes in. He breathes out.

"This is fine. I'm fine, everything is fine," he says, which is typically a decent indicator that he is not, and it is not. "It's fine. This is recoverable! Somehow, I'm sure. I mean, I recover from... we're here looking for Cleo, anyway. Gotta... hold on, gotta go put my stuff away."

One march down the tunnel and back, and he's put all his wooden planks away. Unfortunately, coming back doesn't make the castle look less completely demolished. It just makes it all look sadder, actually, as he now steps out onto the stone and rubble with no gear, keeping an eye out for the suspiciously non-present mobs. Behind him is a dinky, three-high wooden tunnel, meant to be protecting him on the way too and from a base he carved into the side of a wooden hill. The wood represented days of work and frequent respawns. Compared to the grandeur of the rubble, it makes the sheer effort he'd taken to do what he's done so far feel insignificant. He'd managed something so much bigger, once.

With Cleo, is the thing, he thinks. He normally didn't go building things that big without someone else to help. Like Cleo. So it's important to do what he came here for.

He walks across the rubble. "CLEO? HEY, CLEO?" He's not sure he expects it to work? He's sort of hoping it doesn't. If it doesn't work, that means that Cleo's safe somewhere else. Moon falling didn't trap her in a tomb of the two of their own devising. It means he just has to hunt down the many shulkers he knows this place is full of. It just means he's recovering lost items and his dignity, not his friend.

He's not super hopeful, but he never knows. There's always decent odds she's not here. He's just gotta keep the glass half full! "CLEO? I'VE BEEN MAKING CHANGES UNASKED TO THE FLOOR PLANS AGAIN!"

No answer yet. If she's trapped and such, Joe's not sure she will be able to answer. He starts slowly climbing his way towards the center. Distantly, he hears spider clicks, and he hears zombie growls, but not the kind Cleo makes, which means they aren't the kind that Joe actually wants to be hearing. Doesn't want to be hearing? He doesn't know himself. "CLEO-"

"Joe?" he hears distantly, and, oh no.

"CLEO!" he says again, trying not to panic, because he knew, he definitely knew, but he'd been hoping, just... He scrambles across the rubble. His foot slips. "CLEO—" he says again, and his head hits something sharp, and he wakes up in bed with a horrific migraine and the ghost of feeling his skull split in two. He stands up, dizzy, and sits back down again. He breathes in through his nose several times, stands up, and runs to get to Cleo again.  By the time he makes it back to the castle, he's thrown up twice, he's so dizzy, but that doesn't matter, he's just got to figure out where Cleo is, exactly, and get there.

He scrambles back up onto the rubble. He starts trying to shout again when he hears Cleo shout again, and then, a little more carefully, tries to navigate himself across the rubble. He makes it to where he can understand her again.

"Cleo?" he says.

"Joe!" she says. "Boy, I never thought I'd be this glad to hear you."

"I feel like I should probably be offended," Joe says, "but I totally agree. I never thought I'd be this glad to hear me either." He hears a wheezing laugh that devolves into a cough. "Are you alright down there?"

"Well, gee, Joe, I don't know, do you want to guess?"

"Well, judging by your tone, which is very sarcastic for someone talking to a man who just built a tunnel specifically to get here, I'd say that you're doing badly. Do you need help?"

"Yes, Joe, I need help."

Joe pauses. "What kind? Some will require me prepare more than others. As brilliant as I am, I don't have the ability to know instantly everything you might need."

There's a silence. Joe realizes all at once that, for as long as Joe's been scrambling for trees and dying to creepers, Cleo's been...

"I'm sorry," he adds, very quietly. "I'll go as fast as I can. Faster than I've ever gone before, ideally."

"That's pretty fast," Cleo says.

"Oh, for sure," Joe says.

"...I can't move my legs, Joe. I'm pretty sure they're crushed badly enough that they've been... I don't think respawn will heal them very quick, Joe, and I can take more of a beating than most, given I'm already dead."

"Right," Joe says. "Right. This is..."

"This is fine," agrees Cleo. "Just absolutely peachy."

Joe makes a mildly hysterical noise. He thinks that it's probably not fair of him to be the hysterical one. Cleo, who has had far more time to be hysterical, should probably be hysterical. Then again, she isn't prone to the same level of hysteria as Joe is, and besides, she's had her time to panic about her legs. She's been here much longer than Joe has, after all. So Joe just needs to breathe too. He doesn't even have rubble on top of him!

This is far more anxiety-inducing than the death loops, he thinks.

"Alright, alright. I should probably get a pickaxe then, huh? And health potions, and..."

"Joe, get me out before the health potions."

"Right! Right," Joe says.

"I've been talking to the others, and..."

"Your communicator works?" Joe says, momentarily baffled. "I lost mine, so I figured they might just all be broken, but no! Apparently I'm just unlucky! Which, honestly, I should have guessed, given my general state of luck and all, but I had sort of been hoping the universe had not had it out for me. Not that I mind the occasional universal grudge, but..."

"Joe? Focus. I've been talking to the others, and right now, no one can get here easily. I thought you might have lost it when you didn't answer. A lot of people seem to not have theirs, either." Cleo pauses. "Since I'm stuck anyway, I've been trying to coordinate. Which kind of sucks, since I can't move myself? But I'm making myself useful."

"Oh," says Joe. "I've mostly been dying a lot."

More of that wheezing laughter that leads into coughs. It's probably pretty dusty down there, Joe thinks. There also probably isn't much air. "Well, you've always done you, haven't you, Joe?"

"That's me," Joe agrees. "That's me. I'll be back with actual pickaxes and more torches. It's actually like, super lucky I haven't been killed by a mob yet. Wait. If I brought a creeper over here—"

"I'm pretty sure this would just fall in on me worse, Joe."

"Right. I'm not risking that. Do you know where your spawn was set?"

"Somewhere in this castle," Cleo says, "so you understand my reluctance to try that."

"Also your legs. Right! I'll be back, don't you worry. I am an expert in getting into places I shouldn't be able to, you know."

"Oh, I know," Cleo says. "You've always been good at doing things you aren't meant to."

Joe pauses. He gets up to go. He really will need pickaxes if he wants to remove the sandstone and deepslate that's pinning Cleo safely at all, and torches to light the general area to prevent creeper accidents now that the mobs can see him. He'll probably want plenty of blocks, so that it's a safer path from where Cleo is to his tunnel. He'll want...

"I don't want to leave you here," he says.

"...I don't want you to either," Cleo says.

"If I stay here I'm being selfish and making you stay stuck for longer, though," he says.

"I know," Cleo says, and for the first time all conversation, she just sounds miserable. "If it makes you feel better, honestly, we're pretty well off compared to some of the hermits I've been talking to."

"Surprisingly, it—"

A skeleton he hadn't noticed fires at him. The arrow goes through his stomach. He staggers up, his hand on the wound, while Cleo makes a concerned noise. Time's up. "I'll be back," he manages to say, before promptly falling on another piece of unstable rubble and respawning again .

He really hopes Cleo hadn't been able to hear that? That had just been embarrassing. Jeez. If he's going to die repeatedly, he'd at least like fewer of the deaths to be stupid. Especially in front of Cleo! She won't let him live it down! Dying by tripping over his own castle. To think, he's been alive for how many years? He's been doing this for how long?

He has to get... pickaxes. Pickaxes. Maybe he should go mining after all. He doesn't want to, though.

(At least Cleo has people to talk to, he thinks. That will have to be enough for the time being, until he can make it a bit safer to go get her.)

Well, he could go strip mining, and normally he's patient enough for it, but frankly, what happens instead is this: he digs more and more little holes into the floor, mining out stone for pickaxes, while waiting for more trees to grow, bone-mealing the ones he can. The excess wood he turns into wooden pickaxes, until he can carry full inventories full of nothing but pickaxes and his own prayers. He figures that's probably good enough for the time being, isn't it?

He heads back to the castle and starts slowly lighting up the sandstone, building walls as he goes. It is, perhaps, not the safest. When it had been just him, scrambling across rubble, that had been bad enough, but now he's trying to build barricades onto the rubble. The first time the whole world seems to shift under him, he momentarily thinks the earthquakes are back until he falls, hits his head, and has enough time to bleed out to realize that: ah. No, it's not an earthquake. It's just that, unlike the hard, easy earth, the castle isn't the most stable of ground.

This does make him wonder how he's going to help Cleo. He's not exactly qualified for the average rescue operation? He's, like, just a guy? Certainly, the guy who will conquer death and all that, but just a dude? He's no rescue specialist or anything, he's just here.

Then again, Cleo's apparently helping the others from her communicator, and she's just here, too. In fact, she's like, very just here. She can't really be anywhere else. If Cleo can be helping all of the other hermits at once, Joe can probably help just this one hermit.

He needs to stop dying though, he thinks dizzily as he places planks. He's pretty sure there are starting to be permanent black spots in his vision? Which, like, is normally a bad sign. There are plenty of things Joe doesn't want to see these days. There are also plenty of black spots these days. But the kind that are in his eyes and don't go away, those aren't a particularly good kind of black spot. Those are the kind that almost certainly are happening because he keeps hitting his head instead of getting anything useful done.

Oh, he's getting mad at himself. He's probably, maybe, a little bit stressed out? He should stop that.

He goes back to lighting a path and building his tunnel to where he'd heard Cleo, knowing that there's almost certainly no way he'll be able to build enough stable walls to actually do it. He's proven right the first time a spider climbs into his tunnel and he can't actually escape it, as well as the third time the castle rubble shifts in a concerning way because Joe's put too much weight on it. He manages to stab the spider to death, because he's not so bad at combat that he does nothing but die, especially now that he can actually be prepared again. He's not too busy doing other things, he has actual weaponry... He's doing better.

(And besides, dying isn't that bad of an obstacle, anyway)

The main problem is that, after he finally decides that he can't afford to try to build the walls, on account of that nearly killing him several times, he has to walk out back into the open. He's going to have the torches, of course, but monsters aren't afraid of the light, regardless of what Joe might hope, and whatever things are said about being afraid of the dark. They just can't spawn in the light. Also, it's harder to trip. But really, besides that, there's no reason to be putting down torches! He could just go straight into...

He starts lighting the castle. As he does, he calls out some things to Cleo. She is, despite being stuck, apparently busy. Having a working communicator and not being in danger of immediately dying apparently makes it so she can be very valuable talking to the other hermits after... whatever had happened. The thing that had happened. The moon.

Here's what Cleo and Joe put together, from what Cleo's gotten, along with from Doc—

("Neither he nor Ren are doing well with the moon being gone. Ren especially."

"Oh yeah. That sounds, uh..."

"They're working on it.)


("His canyon can't be fun to be staying in."

"Apparently it's actually very defensible?")


("Oh, no, doesn't he live by himself?"

"He does, yes. His lab's apparently interesting right now, but he's relatively safe, comparatively."

"Oh, that's good.")

—and Welsknight.

("He was apparently in the Evil Emporium. He's keeping an eye on X, thank god."

"Is that everyone accounted for, then?"

"We have at least eyes on everyone, except the swamp dwellers. Which, of course, since they live next to spawn, is a little concerning."

"You know, for all the death loop I'm in, I think I'm glad I'm not at the egg again then."

"Oh, agreed.")

The moon broke. Joe sort of knew this. It had been getting big, and there had been earthquakes, and now the moon is gone, and everything has fallen apart, and Joe woke up in rubble, so like, if the moon hadn't broken, he would have been very surprised. The moon breaking had been anticipated. It broke, pretty much everything else broke. The hermits are, largely, at their collections of bases. Some of them are likely isolated, although there are enough working communicators they're in communication. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone is in a situation equivalent or as bad as Joe and Cleo's. Lots of death loops. Some hermits (those with mob instincts or lunar connections) were also... doing badly.

Well, frankly, given the death loops, they were all doing badly. Something is loose in Boatem. Ren is losing it, and Doc is taking the brunt of it. The swamp is apparently a no-go. Xisuma is not awake. No one is able to travel to meet each other yet. And Cleo is trying to coordinate, to get them all in one place, but the fact of the matter is that it's hard to do when they all have their own problems, and they're all uncertain which way is up, and it's dark, and pretty much all of them have lost all of their resources, and...

And Joe's marched through death loops before. He's used to stubbornly continuing to live. So is Cleo, for that matter. If the world hadn't nerfed her by putting her under a building, Joe thinks, she would have already gathered everyone.

Joe starts making plans as she picks up the wooden and stone pickaxes to start freeing Cleo. There are things he'll need to do. There are things they'll both need to do.

But first...

It's slow going. He digs some stone. He asks Cleo how it feels. He digs some more. He feels it out. He puts wood in place to make sure it doesn't collapse further.  He's starting to get into a rhythm, even if he starts breaking pickaxes every twenty minutes. And it's nice being able to talk to Cleo again! Now it's not just Joe in a hopeless situation— it's both of them in a hopeless situation! And really, if there are two hopeless people together, doesn't that add up to... just as much hopelessness, but a friendlier hopelessness. The kind that approaches hope.

He's also getting better at fighting mobs without armor again? He gets attacked by a zombie halfway through making a safe escape tunnel for Cleo and he beats it relatively easily. He hasn't done this in a while, but now that he is? It's almost fun!


There's one problem.

He hears the hiss of a creeper and shouts for Cleo's sake. He throws his sword at it with abandon, hoping it doesn't explode. He wakes up in bed and he's having trouble seeing. He breathes in. He. Uh. Should go check on Cleo. Yes. He goes to check. Thankfully, the creeper doesn't seem to have dropped anything on her.

A zombie approaches him. He's too slow, after the creeper explosion, to prevent that death, so he loses all the pickaxes he'd picked up. He wakes up in bed. He'll just make new pickaxes, maybe. Yeah.

He needs a nap.

He falls asleep.

It takes almost fifty pickaxes, and Joe doesn't count the deaths. He's willing to count the things that mean progress, but he doesn't particularly want to count his failures. Counting his failures—that way lies the path to madness. But that doesn't matter! Because, see, almost fifty pickaxes in—thirty stone pickaxes and sixteen wooden ones to be exact—he has a hole in the rubble that he's managed to put up well enough that he thinks, maybe, it's safe to...

He puts up a torch and crawls through the rubble into Cleo's pocket of air.

"Well, Cleo, I don't want to make fun of your house, but it smells kind of bad," Joe says cheerfully.

"It's probably the rotting flesh," agrees Cleo.

"Here's a pickaxe. We can both get your legs out."

"Alright," agrees Cleo, and Joe does not leave until Cleo is free. The only times he turns around are when a baby zombie makes it through the tunnel, and he decides to kill it, and when a spider also tries something, so he kills that one too. There won't be getting past to Cleo, who's more vulnerable than him at the moment. Which, weird feeling, normally as a zombie Cleo's a lot less vulnerable than him, and also a lot more willing to generally kill things. But she is. She is much more vulnerable right now. So, while Cleo works on freeing herself with the picks he's brought, Joe guards the tunnel and helps, alternately.

It's, like, really not his strong suit, but it's also not not his strong suit, so he can do that for now.

"Joe, I'm out. I'm gonna need a hand, buddy."

"Now, Cleo, I can't take those off as easily as you," Joe says, carefully picking her up. She feels lighter than normal. Joe's stomach feels empty in a way that doesn't make sense, given all the apples he's managed to be eating. "I can, however, carry you to my humble hole in the wall, where you can click a bed and we can try to fix those legs? I mean, not that I'm some kind of leg expert. I'd say I'm not that at all? But, you know," he says, starting to walk, "it's possible that a clean respawn will help fix it! I don't know! I don't know a lot of things!"

"You sure don't, Joe," Cleo says fondly. "You sure don't."

"Right. So, obviously," he says, carrying her carefully into the moonless night, terrified another creeper will approach and ruin things for both of them, and desperate for things to be alright, this time, "I'm the best option. Anyone who says they know everything is lying. That's why I don't trust experts until I've made sure they say they don't know things. Those are the real experts, Cleo."

"What does that even mean?" Cleo says, as Joe starts walking down the wooden tunnel. It's still possible a mob sneaked in while he wasn't looking, but...

"I don't know," Joe says firmly. Cleo laughs. They make it to his house, which is still mostly just a cave in the ground, decorated by tree growing areas, haphazard chests, and multiple patchwork places Joe's fixed creeper explosions, accidents, and mob attacks. It is, perhaps, not the safest of locations, except it has a door, and lighting, and is definitely far safer than where Cleo was and where Joe was before. They probably won't get spawn camped in it. Except that one time Joe did, but really, who's even counting?

He'd only found enough wool for one bed. The sheep had all probably died when the moon broke. That seems like the kind of thing that would typically kill sheep? Like, don't quote Joe on that, but given that it was the kind of thing that had killed him repeatedly, and he'd like to think he's better at survival than the average sheep by at least a little bit, it's probably the sort of thing that kills sheep.

Cleo, Joe knows, definitely needs that bed far, far more than he does. Which he doesn't mind! Really, that's to be expected! He, in fact, expects it, putting Cleo down on it. He watches her practically melt. "Oh. Okay. We're safe here?"

"About as safe as I can get us," Joe says.

"We'll make more plans in the morning," Cleo says.

"I mean, the sun isn't rising, so I'm not sure morning is the right word. When you wake up, maybe."

"Don't be pedantic," mumbles Cleo, and then she's out. Joe watches her there. Carefully, he pulls his one blanket over her, and he checks around his house for better food she can have to help heal in the morning. He thinks, and, as kindly as possible, takes her communicator out of her pocket. He quickly scrawls a message to the other hermits that Cleo's somewhere safer, and then he sits, back against the door, just in case something decides to try to get in overnight and hurt them both after the effort it had taken to get this far.

Cleo is safe, and alive. (Or, well, undead. But she's not gone.) The other hermits are safe, and various degrees of alive, but there's no proof any of them have vanished. Most likely, none of the others are permanently gone at all. They're just like Cleo, or Joe: trapped somewhere they're having trouble getting out of by themselves.

Luckily, Joe is fairly experienced in defying death. He starts making plans. He's rescued Cleo, and honestly, he's pretty used to the death loop at this point. He hadn't wanted to nether travel yet, but he probably will need healing potions soon, and potions mean blazes. Joe hates fighting hostile mobs? Because, like, they kill him a lot? But needs must. He doesn't really want to find out what the nether is like, but like, it probably can't be THAT MUCH worse than the overworld, given his current death statistics.

Actually, he should look at his communicator, once they get to X and get him to replace it. His death statistics are probably a little crazy right now.

Everyone's are though, to be fair.

He leans against the door, and he watches Cleo, and he waits in case something goes wrong, and for one more night (or day, or period of time, given the lack of sun to be able to tell), he doesn't sleep at all.

In the morning Cleo asks him who they're rescuing first.

Well, no, first she makes fun of him for not crawling into bed with her. Joe points out that, reasonably, that bed is too small for two people, and if he'd kicked Cleo's legs, Cleo would have stolen his kneecaps. Cleo says that he may have a point there, she would have stolen his kneecaps if he'd hurt her worse overnight, but still, they've been worse places together. He'd said that yes, but someone should probably, generally, keep watch Cleo, it's sensible to have a night watch during the apocalypse, and given that he's the one who can currently wield a sword, to everyone's detriment, it should probably be him? Cleo had groaned and said that yeah, he has a point, she hates it when he does that. He'd declared victory. She'd insisted he sleep anyway. He'd declared that he'd sleep when he was dead, or maybe when there wasn't anything left to do, two states of being that are unfortunately closely related. She'd...

Well, it had been a long conversation, alright? It had been a while since they'd both been somewhere they could talk! And, like, they'd talked while Joe was digging Cleo out, but that hadn't really been safe. Joe would be periodically interrupted by mobs, or by dropping a rock on his foot or something, and the conversation would stop. This time, there's no reason for the conversation to stop at all. They can just... keep talking, so they do, making fun of each other for their decisions, and had it not been the apocalypse, the sun would have gotten high in the sky before either of them had stopped.

Alas, it is the apocalypse, so not only does the sun not rise, but the conversation must eventually turn to what they're doing next. The question becomes: what's the plan for who they're rescuing first?

"I mean, I don't have what you could call 'a plan', exactly. Or what you could call 'a plan' generally. You could say that, generally, I don't have 'a plan', really, I have a series of vague ideas and impressions. This shouldn't be that surprising for you."

"It's not," agrees Cleo, "I just figured you weren't going to, you know, stick around here and make a safe bunker or something."

"I could," Joe says, with no plans to.

"No, you couldn't," says Cleo.

"I know how to make safe bunkers! Like, theoretically at least! Maybe not as well as, say, Mumbo, or anyone who knows how redstone works, but—"

"Oh, that's not the problem," Cleo says. "The problem is that you're the kind of person who built an inn for the other hermits before you built yourself a house. You definitely, definitely aren't staying here, and I'm definitely, definitely not letting you go by yourself."

Joe pauses. "That was practicality. We needed somewhere for them to stay if they came to help. And a place to stay ourselves in castle town."

"And yet, the lack of starter house," Cleo says, and Joe's mildly embarrassed to realize how deeply fond she sounds. It's not that he dislikes fondness. He thinks he displays a remarkable amount of fondness himself from time to time. He just doesn't know what to do with compliments? And, besides.

"I don't know. I say I can be pretty selfish."

"Sure, Joe."

"You know, I'm being made fun of by my best friend right now, and it's really my own fault for being best friends with you, but I feel like I'm not being appreciated properly for who I really am."

"Entirely your own fault," agrees Cleo.

"I did think we'd either get Zedaph or Hypno and Xb first, though. That, or maybe Beef—have we heard from Beef?"

"We have. Only once, it was mostly incomprehensible, our best guess is that whatever the alien thing that's going on has made him, you know, a little loopy? But he's with Wels."

"Cool, cool. Then Horse Head Farms is closest. We should probably, like, build a safe path there. I've been building these little wooden tunnels, and those are nice and all, but it's going to take like, literal weeks to get enough wood to keep doing that? So I was thinking short walls, a lot of torches, and a bit of a prayer. Once there are four of us most hostile mobs will probably be easier to fight."

"You going to stop to, you know, mine for iron first?" Cleo asks. She's maneuvered herself to be sitting up. Her legs do still look very bad, Joe thinks. It will take a while for them to heal enough to be fast on her feet, and she said she wanted to come with him. Of course, now that Joe's rescued Cleo, he doesn't want to take too long getting everyone else connected. Then again...

"We probably should do some mining and building first. I don't think I have room for... how many of us are there now? Twenty-seven? Yeah, I don't think I have space for that many people in here, even if I really, really try."

"Probably not. It would be funny if you did, though."

"It would be funny."

He looks over his cave. "Is it more important to have enough space for everyone again, or is it more important to get to them? Cleo, you're the one with a communicator, right? How deadly would leaving everyone be long enough to figure out how to get enough space be?"

"Not too bad? I mean, lots of them are still death looping, but I'm assuming that if you're building another inn, you're going to death loop too. Same if you get to them. I'm going to as well. It's going to be awful until we get this place better lit. To get this place better lit, we're going to have to go mining. If we go mining it's going to take longer. Really, Joe, we should just... bite the bullet and admit it might take a bit to get to them? I don't really want to leave them either. But..."

Joe considers his inventory, still half-full of stone and wooden pickaxes, and how long it had taken him to do things like, say, get saplings. Or rescue Cleo. Or rescue himself.

"Yeah, okay," he says. "I need to think about hotel designs. Not like, pretty ones. Pretty isn't important. But space concerns. And how are we going to get enough beds? I haven't been able to find any sheep! Sheep are important to beds!"

Cleo shrugs. "We could always go get Zedaph first. As usual, he somehow has far more sheep than any one person needs."


He looks around. He looks at Cleo. "We need to get working, then. Oh, um, I guess I... have to go mining. Are you alright here or..."

"I'm fine, Joe. Better than I was before. Go ahead."

Joe doesn't leave. Frankly, for an extrovert, he spends plenty of time by himself? It's more that he's still concerned, and he knows Cleo can take care of herself and all, but... Even if Cleo can take care of herself better than Joe can take care of himself, or her, or anyone really, she had just been badly injured, and Joe had just nearly... He's not sure. Lost her? Unlikely, she's undead and a zombie, and if he hadn't been around, she would have figured something else out eventually. He does have to go mining, though, because he can't be wasting time. He has so much to do. They have so much to do. They...

Oh, wait. "If you have time, can you design the hotel? We can talk about the designs after I go mining," he says, and Cleo shrugs.

"Yeah, sure, I can do that," she says.

"I'll be back," Joe promises.

"Of course?" says Cleo, and Joe finishes swallowing as much anxiety as he can, and he goes to start mining.

The next few days are mining days. Cleo's still working on healing, to her annoyance, so she's forced to resign herself to making their living space more generally livable. Joe feels a bit bad, but not as bad as he could. His head really hurts, still, and if his head hurts, he can't imagine what Cleo's feels like. That must be like, six times as awful!

At first, Joe makes very, very small pokey holes. He's still really worried, see, about the idea of doing a full-scale mining, especially because the first time he mines a tunnel, it nearly falls on him, which isn't good? Clearly, gravity has decided to work far more practically recently, which does make strip mining a bit difficult. He manages to adapt without getting buried alive, though, which really, isn't that all anyone can ask for in life?

It doesn't take long for Joe to accidentally break into what must be an old mineshaft. The walls seem pretty unstable, which is, you know, never a great sign? Joe looks nervously. Now, see, he has managed to avoid being in that many cave-ins, but it's probably awfully good Cleo can't be doing this right now, given the likelihood this whole thing collapses. Somehow Joe feels like Cleo probably would not appreciate that right now, you know? Either way, he probably shouldn't keep on trying to dig through the walls of the unstable tunnels. He has a decent amount of raw iron. He could always just turn around, even if it's not enough for the trip he's gone on.

He stares down the tunnel. It might connect up with the rest of the mine, though. Joe had a lot of chests in that mine. Of course, most of the stuff in those chests had either been moved or was like, super not useful. He probably still has a lot of stone in the chests, because he hadn't needed stone for the castles? All the stone and storage he hadn't moved to the smithy, or to the castle storage. Oh, and he might still have things like spare pickaxes, or minecart track, or...

"...well now, that there's an idea," he says. "Minecart track isn't something I'd thought of, but mobs don't like the stuff, and we'll probably want to travel long ways in the overworld. We could just walk. But we could also travel with style. And with a bit of safety, since mobs really, really don't like that stuff. That's a thought. I wonder what Cleo will think."

To tell the truth, it's not even the Minecart rails. It's that he's tired of seeing the same walls and the same carefully-lit mining tunnels. If he sees different carefully-lit mining tunnels—the ones he'd made before—he thinks he'd be happier? He's a zoo animal who needs enrichment.

He tells Cleo this.

"If you need enrichment, what do you think I need?" she says. She's surrounded by notes. She's been working on what the most effective way to house a lot of hermits would be. Truth is that, practically, they should probably do it at spawn, they've determined. They did sort of already know that? Even if Joe and Cleo had discussed building the place where they were, to be prepared the moment they rescued the others, the truth of the matter is that the others would spawn at spawn, and building housing at spawn would spare them having to make nearly as many beds. Even if a lack of beds in a hotel is pretty uncomfortable. So they should probably hunt down sheep.

"Well, I don't know Cleo, I'm not a mind reader," Joe says promptly.

"Joe," Cleo says.

"Cleo!" Joe says.

"Do you really, really want to go exploring your old mineshafts?"


"Then I'm going to go try to hunt down some sheep." Joe opens his mouth. Joe closes it. He knows better than to suggest Cleo shouldn't. It's like, super not his place to say what Cleo can or can't do? At the same time, it clearly still hurts her to walk too much, and... "If you're worried about me, Joe, how's your head? You haven't been able to walk in a straight line all week either."

"...I really can't argue with that."

"No, you can't. You should really know better by now than to think you could win an argument with me."

"I didn't even start," Joe says. "That's how much better I know by now!"

The two of them look at each other. Joe would argue that he should be the one hunting down sheep, but he hates hostile mobs? And Cleo definitely should be underground even less than she should be out fighting things? So, ultimately, between the two of them, Joe should go explore the old mineshafts, and Cleo should try to hunt down sheep. Joe dumps all the coal he has into a chest and looks up at Cleo, resigned. "I've got enough torches for me, but like, you should do lighting while you're outside too? The better the torch spam outside, the safer hunting sheep should be, probably. Unless the sheep are really far away. In which case lighting nearby stuff won't help much."

"I'll light things up. Don't worry. I'll even spam the torches exactly as much as you like."

"I know you're making fun of me! But thank you."

They go over their plans for their build at spawn together. Cleo has convinced him to sleep in the bed with her now. It's as terrible as Joe expected. Normally, at least one of them has been shoved off of the bed by the end of the night, and the odds they share the blanket in a remotely fair way are zero. It is, however, better than sleeping on the floor, somehow, but they really, absolutely need another bed, and they need more sheep, and Joe needs to explore.

The exploration day starts with Cleo leaving before Joe's fully awake. He knows she did it to make him a little less concerned. It's still a little frustrating, so Joe decides to ignore the frustration to go back to his old tunnels.

It's funny. It's been too long since the start of the season for Joe to have strong memories of these particular tunnels. He hasn't had to go strip mining in a while? He makes enough diamonds from the flower shop that he can normally buy materials. When he does have to mine, he does, but dyes are a pretty popular purchase.

Or, well, they were.

Man. Their flower forest probably isn't even good for getting flowers from anymore by now. Even if people were buying, Joe doesn't think they can sell anymore! Now, that just feels like a shame. They'd put in so much effort to find a flower forest when they moved to this season, and now...

No, focus. His old tunnels. The point is that he doesn't have to mine often enough to know these. However, when he gets to the end of them. The end of them.

The walls tremble, almost breathing around him. That's mildly terrifying, as is the cold. It feels cold here, like it's closer to something than it should be. And the walls... the walls have amethyst in them, and there are tracks beneath his feet. This tunnel, Joe knows, or at least, he had at one point. It's the main tunnel of his mines. Of course, normally he sees the tunnel a bit differently, given that he's normally in a minecart and all when he's in this tunnel, speeding on down to his geode and spider farm.

Now, the tunnel feels hostile. Joe shouldn't be here. He's stayed in lots of hostile places he shouldn't, though, so he keeps on going anyway.

His feet echo oddly against the stone floor. He starts using his pick to mine up the rails. He probably won't come back here. It makes for slow going down the tunnel. He has to stop every few minutes to pull up more rails for the materials, and is filling his inventory with them, and honestly it's probably not a great use of time? But he's committed now! He's picking up the rails, and he doesn't really hear anything other than the strange creaking of the walls as he does. He's super glad he's not, like, digging the walls right now. That would definitely kill him, the walls would definitely collapse in, and he'd be dead.

He really doesn't like that they're breathing, though. It's not that he's biased against walls that breathe. In fact, rooms in general should breathe a little. That's a rule about interior decorating! The problem is that they don't normally breathe around him, and he maybe hasn't seen enough people who breathe lately to be used to it. Maybe the breathing walls just want to say hi, and he should say hi to them!

"Hello," he says, as he picks up rails from the ground. He then immediately feels a little silly. He feels silly a lot of the time but he definitely feels sillier now. The walls aren't going to answer. They're just going to keep on groaning, the way only walls that are bending and breathing do. He's really cold. He hasn't been this cold in a while.

He reaches his spider spawner. Wait. Ender chest. He'd forgotten, he has an ender chest here! He stops picking up rails and instead starts jogging. He doesn't have silk touch to pick it up, but he might have things inside the ender chest he needs! Traversing these old tunnels had been an excellent idea!

He hears clicking and realizes that the glass of the spider spawner is broken in exactly that moment.

"Oh, nope, nope, not worth it!" he says, and he starts running. He swears the walls start breathing harder. Where did he come in? Where's his branch mine? He needs to get there, there are spiders behind him—

The walls start rumbling. "No no no no," he says. "No, this is not ideal, you stop that, I said hello to you—"

He sees the branch mine. He ducks into it and turns around. The spiders continue chasing him and, without much else of a choice, he starts trying to fight them. Not going back there again. Nope. Nope. The rumbling gets louder. He needs to go. Don't the spiders have a sense of self-preservation? He needs to go!

Something falls and his vision goes black. He wakes up in bed and he still can't see anything properly. It's too bright, though, and he closes his eyes again, and covers his head, and unintentionally whines.

"Cleo is gonna kill me," he says, and it comes out oddly slurred. He's hit his limit.

Cleo doesn't kill him, probably because that would make his head hurt worse. That's good, because he still can't see straight. She is mad at him, though, especially after he'd been so concerned about her hurting herself. He gets yelled at quite a lot for daring to go and get himself hurt after acting like she would. And getting crushed to death?

"...I don't have a communicator," he says.

"Your deaths still show up!" Cleo says, partway through her rant, and. Oh.

"How many did you see?" he asks. "I mean, you don't have to tell me. But—"

"I didn't count," Cleo says. "In the beginning yours were all mixed up with everyone else's."

"Oh," Joe says, because he's not sure what else to say to the confirmation of something he'd already known. The confirmation that he wasn't the only one death looping in the earlier days.

"And now?"

"They stand out more, now. Everyone's dying a little less often. Everyone properly has their things, now, or, well, not their things, but shelter, in some cases." She pauses. "You died a lot, Joe. If my legs are bad because they were crushed for too long, you've got injuries because you just. Kept. Respawning!"

Joe wants to try to argue, but Cleo has informed him that she had not died once while lighting up the area outside their base and starting the hunt for the sheep. She hadn't found any yet. She'd turned around when she'd seen Joe get crushed to death. This only makes Joe feel worse. They really needed that sheep, and Joe had gotten in the way of it.

"I lost us our wool," he says. "Oh, joy. Let me add that to all the equipment I'd brought down to the mineshafts, and my rails, and... and the... ender chest." He frowns to himself. He's having trouble talking. That's not normally a Joe Hills problem. Normally, his head is full of words, and his mouth is full of ways to say them. Now, though, he's struggling to figure out how to explain why it's very bad that he lost all of those things. The words don't pull themselves from his mouth, even if he thinks them very hard.

"Don't you dare," Cleo says. "I'm mad at you because you died, not because of... Ugh, really Joe? I'm not meant to be comforting you. I'm meant to be yelling at you for being an idiot."

"You can do both," Joe says.

"You're slurring your words," mutters Cleo.

"Oh good," Joe says, now intimately aware of how dumb he sounds.

"You're going to get sleep and I'm going to hunt down sheep again," Cleo says. Joe wants to tell her that he'd prefer she didn't? Because if he's asleep, he can't help her if she gets hurt? And he can't sleep yet. He still has so much to do. He can't sleep while he still has people to help, and things to do, and problems to work though. He needs to stay awake. He needs to stay awake and help out. He... oh, Cleo is looking at him.

"Joe, you have head damage. You're going to stay here and rest, or I'm going to make you."

"Right away! I'll rest right away," he says.

"Let me help you this time," Cleo says. "You did enough. Until your head gets better, okay?"

"Okay," Joe says. "I'm gonna be grumpy about it."

"Wouldn't expect anything less."

To Joe's frustration, resting does actually help, and Cleo is much better than he is at keeping herself alive than Joe would have been. She still hasn't found any sheep, which is a problem, because they do need at least two of those. However, the fact remains that she has only died, like, once over the past few days, and in a way that didn't end with her stuck in bed so much as just very annoyed. (It had been an enderman. She looked at it. She then was no longer looking at it. These things happen.)

Stuck inside the house, forced to focus on how badly his head has gotten messed up by his bad respawns, Joe is being forced to confront the fact that, huh, he really doesn't take care of himself sometimes, does he? He does his best! He's not normally this bad! But looking at anything bright hurts really badly? And he'd just been ignoring it? Ignoring it so much that he didn't notice that it had been hurting him? And like, that's probably not a good thing. The high pain tolerance, or at least, willingness to ignore pain, that's probably fine, but if it means he doesn't notice that he needs to stop...

He doesn't want to have stopped. While Cleo hunts down sheep, Joe starts making armor and swords from the iron he'd managed to mine. He doesn't have the minecart tracks, but if they have iron armor, they'll be much better off than they could have been. Joe's spent like, entire seasons in iron armor before! They'll die so much less. It's a little hard, when the noise also makes his head hurt, but Joe's determined to do something helpful.

It's the end of the world, or after that, or something. He can't afford to be dead weight. (He doesn't say this out loud, but he gets the sense Cleo hears him say it anyway, from her increasingly aggressive efforts to get him to rest more.)

He also digs out the sides of the cave more, and goes back to his and Cleo's plans to make the spawn egg into a hotel. He can't do math at the moment, but he sketches out rooms.

And then, one day, he turns to Cleo and says, "Okay, so like, my head is definitely better, right?"

Cleo squints at him before sighing. "It's probably at least as good as my legs at this point. So not better, but better. Alright. When I manage to get sheep, we can use that armor of yours and try to get to spawn, I guess, to build the safehouse. And then we hunt down... who we going for first?"

"I'm thinking Zedaph? He sounds like he's not in a terribly dangerous situation, sure, but compared to the others, he's alone."

"Zedaph," agrees Cleo. "Yeah that makes sense. We go hunt down Zedaph. Well, come on then, show me what you've done with the armor."

It takes two more days for Cleo to find two sheep. Wheat, thankfully, takes even less time to find, thanks to the fact that Joe still somehow has more bone meal than he knows what to do with and the fact that just about every bit of tall grass out there drops seeds at some point. Breeding the sheep is therefore also way easier than finding them. When there's another baby little sheep, and the two white sheep are baa-ing, and they're fenced in and ready, Joe realizes suddenly that the two of them have come quite a long ways, haven't they? They're ready for the nether. It's going to suck, and Joe really doesn't want to have to go through the nether, but they're breeding sheep, and their cave is full of wheat and trees, too.

"We're doing pretty good," Joe says, finally. "For all my head's still a little dizzy and you're still limping, in here you could almost forget that the moon broke outside!"

"Yeah," says Cleo. "You could."

They plan for the nether.

It takes five minutes for Joe to die the first time in the nether. In his defense, wither skeletons didn't used to spawn in basalt deltas. He thinks he can be forgiven for not really being prepared for the withering effect, or the mild panic on Cleo's face as he sighs, slices the thing's head off with his sword, and hopes the withering does not, in fact, fully take him out. Unfortunately, it does, and Joe finds himself sprawled out in the bed, still shivering from the cold necrosis of the withering effect.

All in all, it goes exactly as well as he'd thought entering the nether would, really.

The next time in the nether, they actually have enough time to think. Unfortunately, it looks as though the nether has somehow been nearly completely reset. Occasionally, in certain areas, Joe thinks he sees the ruins of the tunnel network, but mostly, the nether sits as an empty field, filled with things like wither skeletons, and magma cubes, and ghasts, and zombie pigmen.

Weirdly, Joe doesn't see any piglins anywhere? Which like, odd, this is clearly the new nether and not the old one, that's why there's all the basalt and impossible-to-navigate lava pockets. But no, for some reason there are no piglins. Not an awful thing, since neither he nor Cleo really have gold armor! But it is a weird one, Joe thinks. A very, very weird thing indeed.

Joe stares at the ruined nether tunnels and scoffs with offense. "We spent months on those," he complains. "And it was mostly you, me, and Xisuma, too! Linking up the nether was hard business! Totally unfair of the universe, undoing all of our good, clean, hard work. The nether doesn't even have a moon, you know!"

"That it doesn't," says Cleo, and then neither of them say much while they take down a pair of magma cubes. Joe would banter more, but honestly, he's out of banter in combat. They're only wearing iron armor, and it's iron armor that's going to grow thin in the heat and danger of the nether. They don't really have the mental space to afford bantering, even if Joe would love to come up with some absolutely wonderful lines about the dangers of the fight they're facing, and the magma-ness of the cubes, and the horrific screeching above them that the ghasts make. Head injuries that Cleo wants him to actually worry about, he thinks, are an absolute pain, making it far too hard for him to make the japes and jokes he is otherwise known for.

It takes about three excursions to the nether for them to figure out that figuring out which ruined portals went where may be harder than braving the overworld. True, the mobs are somewhat less frequent in the nether, a blessing since the wither skeletons seem to have unfortunately learned how to leave the nether fortresses. However, the fact of the matter is that their old tunnels and navigational cues are mostly destroyed, and as dangerous as the overworld is, at least there generally isn't lava everywhere for them to fall in and die?

The thing is, though. If they can make it by nether. If they can find it in them to traverse the terrible hell and build a path from their place to spawn. It would make life much, much easier for everyone involved. Not just Joe and Cleo! For everyone! Because they could start spoking out from spawn to find the others, and the others could start traveling from where they are to find spawn! That's the advantage of having a nether portal at spawn—it's easy to find.

Still, after the second time Joe dies to the same magma cube, he's beginning to think that his and Cleo's certainty that they should travel to spawn through the nether had been a little bit misplaced.

"I'm just saying, the 7 block division may not be worth being able to travel, like, without being totally lost? I really don't know where the right portal is, and if we portal somewhere hostile... I mean, we don't have diamond picks, our obsidian is like, super limited by the amount we're able to make using buckets, and we can't do that in the nether anyway, and..." Joe flips through their plans. "I think we really do need to, like, get diamonds? A diamond pick? I thought the portals would be completed, or we could trade piglins for obsidian, but there aren't any piglins, and maybe the overworld is better, and..."

"Yeeeaaaaah," Cleo says. "Yeah, there are lots of problems we're having that we didn't think through, aren't there?"

"All kinds," agrees Joe. "This happens a lot? I'll come up with a great idea and that idea will turn out to have teeth, so I have to get the idea a dentist. And then it turns out the dentist says oh, your idea has cavities, and I'm like, let's fill the cavities, and the dentist will be like, well we don't have enough obsidian for that do we? So then I have to go get a pickaxe that can mine obsidian, and then it just spirals."

Cleo wheezes. "Oh yeah," she says, after she gets her breath back. "That's a thing dentists tell me all the time, right after wondering how I still have teeth in the first place."

"You don't get extra teeth, generally, so you should take care of them," Joe agrees.

"Especially if they require obsidian for a portal to the nether. That takes real work," Cleo says. "Although, you never know. I think I might be growing my fourth set of teeth in."

"I didn't know you were on your third!"

"Funny how life works like that. Besides, I think I counted wrong. It's hard to tell on account of the obsidian."

Joe starts laughing too, high and relieved and, frankly, vastly annoyed. But he's laughing, delighted, along with annoyed and concerned. He can be all of that at once, in fact. He's just feeling a collection of emotions in general.

Some of them are joy, though.

It's just the two of them, and they are dying, rather repeatedly. They are still trying to avoid it. Cleo makes Joe be more careful, and Joe won't let Cleo hurt herself, but. But! Cleo has a communicator, and the other hermits are building their own solutions. And they're together, which, frankly, is better than the last time the world tried to kill Joe Hills and repeatedly succeeded.

"You know, if my teeth were made of obsidian, do you think I could eat diamonds? I know Scar talks about licking them, and like, I've tried that, and they mostly just taste like rock. But if I had obsidian teeth, do you think I could crunch them? I could gain a better understanding of our more vex-y friends, that way," Joe says, and it's a distraction from the problem (that being that they have yet another blocker before they cat get to the others). But it's nice, joking like this, and neither he nor Cleo ultimately mind, especially given that Cleo immediately answers—

"Diamonds break obsidian, Joe. I don't think you'd be able to eat the diamonds once you got your obsidian fillings, or... Why are you like this? Why am I going along with this? Joe, what were we talking about again?"

"Fixing nether portals," Joe says promptly.

"Like teeth. Got it. Got it."

They stare at the broken plans and sigh. "Feature creep," Joe says. "My absolute least favorite thing!"

"Mood," Cleo says, and they redirect from the nether for the time being in order to hunt down some diamonds. They may have dug out most of this area before the moon fell, but there are always more diamonds to find, and determination runs through them both.  They're so close. Joe can feel it. They're close to... to doing something important, Joe thinks. To being worthwhile, to protecting his friends, to everything that's important. To helping their friends.

The sun doesn't rise and they're so close, Joe thinks, to figuring out a new normal. That's what they're close to. Not stability, but...

They split up.

Cleo refuses to dig the long, thin tunnels of a proper strip mine. Joe thinks this is probably reasonable, considering how long she'd been trapped under rubble? So she's going caving for diamonds, which makes Joe anxious, personally. Their supplies, thanks to the trees, may not be limited again like they were in the early days, but caves are full of mobs. Some of those mobs are creepers. Worse, some of those mobs aren't mobs at all, but are actually lava pockets? And if creepers can make you lose all of your things, lava definitely can. No, caving is not for Joe, this time.

It's not that he doesn't like caving, either! He'd been thinking about suggesting ABBA caving! It's just that, like, enough skeletons have repeatedly killed him now? He's had enough of mobs for a lifetime? (Not that it will be enough for a lifetime, unfortunately. Joe knows many things are constant in life, and his own poor luck is unfortunately just one of those things.) So, he's going to strip mine, even if it's probably going to be a little disorganized and careful, and he's probably going to come across a cave and get greedy, and he's nothing if not a little self-aware?

They have a lot of caving ahead of them, Joe knows, so they should probably go ahead and get started. That's what Joe does, and what Cleo does, and they go down to mining again.

It doesn't take long for Joe to accidentally intersect an old mine again. He makes a nervous sound. The cave-in hadn't been nice, and there had been cave spiders everywhere by the old spawner. He really doesn't want to run across more escaped cave spiders? It's not his idea of a good time.

He uses dirt and cobblestone to cut off the old mineshafts, hiding it behind a wall. He stares to make sure it's shored up. He keeps going.

It's quiet and lonely and he's not a fan, but he's determined not to come back until he has at least three diamonds. Ideally more; three diamonds makes one pickaxe, and while they probably only need one, Joe has no way of knowing how many diamonds Cleo's found successfully? And like, more than that, they're probably going to continue dying a lot. Mobs are much more aggressive, and all that. They haven't opened their front door in ages, now that they don't have to, and like, they'll want extra diamond gear for when they do finally open the door again and all.

So. At least three more diamonds. Probably more.

He mines without incident right up until he gets his first four diamonds, at which point he turns around, because he knows when to quit while he's ahead, and finds out that the tunnel he'd tried to shore up earlier has collapsed behind him. He stares at the collapsed rock.

"Well now. Of course I don't notice this until after I got my diamonds. Now I absolutely have to get through there. I mean, before, I would have been like, well, I guess I'll die! But I really, really can't lose these diamonds." He stares at the cave-in. He's not totally certain how he's going to get from where he is back home, but he knows he really needs to, on account of the diamonds. Also, on account of the fact that he'd prefer not to have to die again.

It's time for some creativity. Now, the obvious answer is digging through or around. "Of course, if I was going about this the sensible way, I think I would go through the rubble. I do have a pickaxe left, and I could probably get through the rubble with that. Of course, rubble's hard to move, and would probably fall on me. Right same with going around it; if the roof fell once, it can fall again, even given my best planking skills." A pause. "If that is, indeed, what they're called."

He picks up his pickaxe, and looks around. "Now, my idea, however, is..."

He starts to block up. "There is nothing preventing me from going over the rubble," he says, to his audience of no one, and he starts stacking up. "Now, you might say— Joe, doesn't going over the rubble lead to the same problem as everything else? You're giving yourself more unstable ceiling to fall! To which I say, yes, I am, but this way, I would be doing it with far more style . And really, isn't that the important thing in life?" A pause. "That, and I wouldn't be digging out already unstable tunneling. I'd be digging out potentially newly unstable earth!"

He hikes up the side of the rubble. He digs through and around to the other side without incident. "See now? Take that, imaginary Cleo in my head," Joe says, before processing that—

"Why are all of my torches out?"

The walls creak like they're breathing again. Joe starts moving a little faster. "I've decided I'm not going underground like this ever again," he says. "Nope. Not doing it anymore. Moon broke mining too, apparently. The earth is moving." He stumbles forward in the dark. He hears zombie noises and pauses. Does he have his sword? Good, he still has his sword, because, oh boy, that's a lot of zombies. They'd had far too long in the dark to spawn, thanks to the moving cave walls eating his torches or something and all that. He plants his feet in his tunnel, holds out his sword, and waits for the monster hoard to come to him.

"I can't lose these diamonds," he mutters. "I can't lose these diamonds. I've just gotta get out further." He starts pressing forward. He finds that, now that he has gear, the monsters are easy to defeat! Wild, how the world works like that—actually being prepared now makes things easier! There are. An awful lot of monsters, though. And some of them are skeletons. And he hears a hiss and yelps and backs up to make sure the creeper blows up the other monsters, not just Joe, and the explosion hits Joe's arms with painful concussive force. But it's not enough to kill him, and it is enough to kill several of his enemies.

"You know, this almost feels like the world trying to undo all of our good effort to get back on our feet," Joe tells the air. "Unfortunately for it, I'm the sort of guy who conquers adversity. And cries about it! But mostly conquers it, I think, oh god, that's another creeper, wait, wait, wait—"

It's a miserable climb back out of the mines. But he makes it. He has the diamonds. He collapses onto his bed and dumps the diamonds into a chest, and he breathes through his nose and thinks: that cave had definitely, like, actively been trying to kill him. And, thinking about it, the mob population outside had sure acted hostile, too. And it isn't even the first time a cave has tried to kill him, given the breathing walls of that first caving expedition. The world is, for some reason, actively out to get him? Which, like, sure isn't a good thing, but...

He doesn't have a communicator. He doesn't know how Cleo is doing. Cleo is somewhere, caving instead of mining, and she's not back here, so she probably hasn't died yet? Probably? But if the cave had been out to get Joe, it might be out to get Cleo, too. They don't need that many diamonds. Joe might only have four but that's plenty for the bare minimum. Cleo doesn't need to get diamonds, technically. She can come back with nothing, and they'll be fine.

Until she gets back, Joe, now able to rest again and feeling a bit annoyed, decides to start trying to catalogue the ways the world has tried to kill him thus far today. Some of the ways include: the repeated death loop to the mobs outside earlier. The rubble Cleo had gotten caught under. He probably would have starved if he hadn't managed to steal those saplings? The lack of beds he could build. The way the caves seemed to be trying to eat him. The wither skeletons in the nether. Also, whatever had happened with the moon breaking? And the lack of daytime? And...

Alright, maybe he should write all of this down! In a list! And he can keep track of the ways the world is trying to kill him, he can complain accurately! And also maybe predict it, but mostly, complain accurately. Complaining accurately is important, after all. He's been doing his best to complain accurately since he woke up at what had to be just about the end of the world.

He's partway through writing when he hears an aborted swear as Cleo falls off the bed. Joe winces.

"My tunnels tried to kill me. I would’ve warned you, but."

"Yeaaahhh," says Cleo. "I noticed that. Ow. Well, that's a lot of stuff I'm never getting back. Do we have enough iron for backups of my armor?"

"Just barely."

"Good. I am never going underground again."

"Normally I'd say something about the importance of mining, but the way I see it, you probably have the right to decide you won't go underground again? I mean, out of everyone, you have a good reason," Joe says, and he fishes the four diamonds out of his chest and hands them to Cleo. "Besides, we have a diamond pickaxe between us now! And a shovel."

"Oh, we have a diamond shovel now. That definitely makes me feel better about dying. Thanks, Joe."

"No problem!"

Joe frowns though, while Cleo crafts up the pickaxe. "It is kind of bad if going underground is trying to kill us, and staying above ground is probably trying to kill us, and the nether is trying to kill us, though. I mean, we barely have any place that isn't trying to kill us, now! And the underground stole my torches! What if I go outside and all the torches you all put down, and all the ones I put down, are all gone? That means that if I open that door there could easily be a creeper right there. That happened to me earlier and it was terrible! And by earlier, I mean... probably several days ago, at least. A few weeks." Joe pauses. "You have a communicator, actually. You know how many days it's been. You can check the date. Have you checked the...?"

"Do you really want to know?" Cleo says, and she sounds very tired.

"...maybe I don't," Joe says. He could hear how long he's been running on survival and plans to rescue people, or he could just... not. He could accept this is a necessary way to live right now, and therefore not have to worry about things like how long he's been dealing with this, or how either horrifically short or horrifically long it's been since the world broke. He could just... not think about how long it's taken to start again when everything's been just a bit more hostile, or just not think about how normal the starting over now feels, since he hasn't had much time to think about anything else. "Like, it could be nice, but I don't think... I need to know? After we build the hotel, maybe tell me then? So I don't sound like a fool when we talk to the other Hermits."

"Okay, Joe," Cleo says. "Built the pickaxe. Now we just need obsidian."

Joe pauses.

"Hey Cleo I know you said you were never going underground again but the lava I got before was from—"

Cleo laughs, a little bitterly. "Do you really want to go caving?"

"Do you want to go outside?"

"Why are there never any good options," Cleo says. "I'm going to bed. Lava isn't fun."

"Yeah, yeah that's fair," Joe says. "I'll go to bed soon too? I'm just going to calculate our odds of dying horribly and painfully depending on which route we take to go get obsidian."

"It's fine. There's a lava lake somewhere. We'll be fine, Joe. We're almost there."

"This isn't okay," Joe says to Cleo. They decided to brave the overworld. Joe is more willing to go back to the thing that killed him a lot than Cleo is to go back to the thing that didn't kill her, but did horrifically trap her and maim her temporarily. Joe's pretty sure it's a reasonable tradeoff, but it's very hard to remember that when they're both back outside, and sure enough, the torches have largely died, and there are mobs everywhere, and they don't even know where a lava lake is so they can't build another wooden tunnel for the purpose of preventing mobs from getting to them? And now they're almost surrounded by creepers.

"It's fine," Cleo hisses.

"You never say that when it's actually fine! I never do either! We only ever say that when it's really, really not fine, actually. We should stop saying that, maybe."

"Joe, you aren't making it better."

"I'm just saying that there are like six creepers, right there. And I think the creepers aren't our friends, Cleo."

"No, they generally aren't."

The good news is that finding lava pools shouldn't be that hard. This area is the one they'd been building in for months. Unfortunately, this means that finding a lava lake will be much harder than it has any right to be, because the time it's been since they last explored the area, instead of building things on it. There are places that, vaguely, they both think there could be lava lakes? But there's no proof that there's one as near as either of them remember. The first place either of them checked, all that happened was that Joe and Cleo had fallen into an inconvenient hole and then had nearly gotten killed by like, the four zombies that were in the pit with them. Cleo had been really annoyed, and Joe had been annoyed too, although less annoyed than Cleo, given that he is not a zombie, and has no particular grudge with the idea that zombies nearly killed him, and—

None of that is relevant to their current situation (surrounded by creepers, attempting to find a space by the edge of the bay that might have a lava lake, Joe thinks, he's not sure, it's been a while). Cleo and Joe back closer to each other.

"A bow and arrow would have helped," Joe says.

"We have enough string."

"It's the feathers," Joe says.

"You could grow feathers," Cleo says.

"What?" Joe says.

"...oh god, you're rubbing off on me. Someone get me out of here," Cleo says.

"We're working on that," says Joe.

The odds that one of them gets blown up is annoyingly high. Joe's fought off plenty of creepers, though, so bring them on. He marches forward. He's wearing iron armor. If he's speedy about it and stays out of the radius—he can get three of them to stand near each other, and blow each other up, most likely. That would work well, he thinks. He hears Cleo behind him, and thinks she must be taking at least three. He gets them to chase him. He stands in the middle of them and hears them hiss. He runs. The creepers blow up, and he's slammed to the ground. He probably breaks his nose? He's definitely made it start bleeding.

"Well, that sucked," Cleo says, looking rather singed.

"Our armor is going to break," Joe says, as he eyes several skeletons warily. "At least that was easier with two of us. If that many creepers had surrounded me before—"


"I'm fine! This is fine!" he says, scrambling up.

It really is nicer, he thinks, when he wakes up in bed smelling like gunpowder and with his head and nose still aching, that Cleo respawns practically on top of him, and the two of them tumble to the floor next to each other. They had not even made it to the lava pool. An attempt had been made, though, to find the lava lake, and they'll try again, and again, because Joe never gives up (because he's too stubborn), and Cleo doesn't either (because she is full of spite), and really, out of all the hermits, they're the least likely to let the universe kill them, Joe thinks.

Like, they'll die a lot, but they won't stop.

"Are you sure I can't grow feathers?" Joe asks.

"I'm not responsible for things I say while stressed," Cleo responds. "We go out again?"

"Sure. At least we haven't tried to bring the pickaxe yet. That would be a real disaster, wouldn't it?"

"Oh, absolutely."

(Eventually, they stand, Joe mining obsidian, Cleo building temporary walls and fighting off mobs to prevent Joe from getting jumped while mining obsidian, and they mine up most of a lake. It takes many more tries than are worth going over in detail, just as Joe mining Cleo out of the castle had taken more tries than are worth going over in detail. What matters most is that, in the end, they could build two portals from scratch, and they had a portal already on their end, made using buckets of water and lava they'd collected while Joe hadn't been worried about going underground, and, ultimately, their tiny little base has enough supplies to leave it, at last. Eventually, they manage that.)

The second excursion to the nether—well, not the second at all. They'd done several excursions to the nether the first time they'd built their portal. It's likely better to call it their second set of excursions, maybe? Their second batch? Joe's not really sure, but it's not the first time they've been to the nether...

Well, that's all semantics, isn't it. The second excursion to the nether, it's a bit tricky. They're running low on iron. They hadn't managed to lose all of it last time they'd gone outside, but given that they can't go mining again, now that the mines seem to be trying to kill them, they can't easily get more, and they're down to about half a set of armor each. Worse, they like, absolutely cannot lose the obsidian they've collected so far. They could get more? But if they did, they'd probably lose even more of their iron, so it's far, far better for them to just not have to? That means not dying, though, and, that's not something Joe's like, very good at. Plus.

"We don't have enough for many portals. I mean, we could mine the portals on the other end, I guess, but we really don't have that much obsidian," Joe says, following Cleo, who is taking the lead on stabbing all the mobs they wander across. They're going to need to build a tunnel, Joe knows, at least in part because his old tunnel had been very effective, but also because going through the nether without tunnels, or at least some mobproof path, is sort of a pain? No one likes doing it, and they're going to have to do it a lot. The nether hub had originally all been in tunnels, too, so the fact it isn't now is a pain. The nether really is half-reset.

"X installed that plugin awhile ago. The one that measures nether coordinates."

"Did he? ...does it work?"

"I have no idea," says Cleo. She's shaking her communicator. "If it does, I haven't figured out how. I'm really not good at—can you watch my back while I try to meddle with the settings on the coordinates screen?"

"Yeah sure," Joe says, before screaming in a very reasonable way when a ghast fires a blast at him. He reflects it, it had just startled him! He grabs his beating heart while Cleo makes increasingly disgruntled mutters at the one communicator they have between the two of them. Joe would help! He would! He just doesn't have a communicator anymore, you know. It has nothing to do with his general inability to make anything called a "plugin" work, let alone some weird one that does math for them.

"Okay, do you remember spawn's coordinates!"

"Is that not zero, zero?"

"No, believe it or not, it's not. I think."

"Oh. Whoops. Yeah, I don't know then? I thought coordinates were measured from spawn."

"We can head towards zero, zero and then we'll probably be closer. I'm sure someone knows. Let me ask the others," Cleo says, typing something on her communicator. Joe has to grab her shirt to move her out of the way of one of the escaped wither skeletons before stabbing it himself. Neither of them want to get withered right now, not when they absolutely cannot afford the risk of death.

Cleo looks up. "One-fifty-two, One-sixty-eight. Which, according to this thingy Xisuma installed... Nineteen, twenty-one. Or whatever's closest, since there's still some portal wreckage around? We may be able to find the old portal."

"Right. You're gonna have to lead, though. I don't know coordinates by the look of netherrack. Or, you know, maybe I do. Maybe netherrack looks different depending on the coordinates. Maybe I'm reading the folds of this... this... What's netherrack made of, anyway? I think it's meat."

"You think it's what? "

"I mean, it's red, and it makes a slightly strange noise when you break or place it, and it's much more brittle than stone is, since you can basically instantly mine it, and—"

"You know what? No, I don't want to hear at all about what you think netherrack is. Especially not while we're walking on it, Joe? I don't want to think about the idea we're walking on... what, hardened meat?"

"Don't be rude, Cleo! Aren't you also meat?"

"...I mean, I guess? I'm a zombie, though, I'm not good meat. Oh, look out." Cleo turns and kicks a fire charge back at a ghast. Joe stares for a moment. He'd been aware, of course, that his friend is the coolest person he knows, it's just, like, he hadn't been expecting her to literally go about kicking fire charges? That seems like the kind of thing that's hard to do, and...

"Lead the way," Joe says, "and I'll stop talking about the meat bricks."

"Please," Cleo says, before pulling out her communicator and guiding Joe through the nether. It isn't the world's longest journey, but their base is pretty far from spawn compared to some of the others, so it's not a short trip either. Something in Joe's heart skips a beat when he sees the places where the sandstone of the old nether tunnels is left, when he sees what looks like it could have been a horse at one point lying on the bricks, when he sees... He's not going to think too hard about any of that, of course. He can be horrendously anxious about it if he wants, of course, but why would he want that? He's barely getting by on worrying about the other hermits, let alone worrying about all the things they'd once had being completely destroyed.

(He remembers the destroyed castle and he wonders what happens when a floating island falls when a lightning generator shatters when mountains collapse when towns are covered in rubble when a lab is crushed when a woodland palace crumbles when a mushroom falls when. When. He can only be anxious about but so many things at a time.)

A magma cube approaches them and Joe stabs it with great prejudice. It's unlike him, since he tries not to be prejudiced, normally, but he just really doesn't want to deal with magma cubes today, honestly. They split into more little ones, all of which he needs to stab too! So stabbing them with the most general stabbing energy possible is best for everyone. Except, Joe supposes, for the magma cubes, but really, that's on them for being magma cubes. That's how great prejudice works: it's their fault for being magma cubes, and he's really tired if his brain's decided this is a good bit to latch onto. It's probably good he hasn't said this out loud, Cleo would be making so much fun of him.

They're mostly quiet as they approach the closest portal to where they think they're going. When they get to the coordinates, there's ruined obsidian framing a few blocks left of where they think they ought to put the portal. A few blocks of it in the ground, and none anywhere else. Joe knows, intellectually, that he and Cleo are looking at spawn, but intellectually and factually are two different things, right? And this doesn't look like their spawn portal. Sure, it had taken weeks upon weeks for them to decorate the spawn portal originally, but...

"Do we light it now?"

"May as well check," Cleo says. "You've still got the obsidian, right Joe?"

"Man, wouldn't it be terrible if I'd lost it?"


"I have it," he says, and he starts placing it. Cleo shifts places to watch his back where he'd been watching hers before. He lights the portal. They step through.

It's dark. they are surrounded by wooden splinters. Joe hears a skeleton, and thinks: if they lose this set of armor, they really are out for the time being. And yet. He looks around. There's barely remnants of the village. There are no villagers. There are no signs of other hermits. There's no roof over their head.

Cleo steps out behind him and he hears her swallow before lunging forward to decapitate the skeleton Joe had seen. Joe keeps looking at the wreckage. The funniest thing is—

"The swamp. The swamp trees are still there, Cleo. The ones Cub and I planted. Those trees."

"...huh. So they are," Cleo says. Indeed, in front of them, while some of them have collapsed, most of the colorful, otherworldly trees only sway somewhat when there's a breeze. Those trees aren't natural, Joe thinks, like the dark oak forest, or like normal swamp trees. He and Cub had spent a long time on those trees. They'd spent a long time on the few tall bamboo stalks that still survived. They'd certainly spent a long time on those colorful trees, or the nether ones. The trees that don't exist unless a builder invents them; those trees. And sure, the time they'd spent had been a pittance compared to things like the castle, which was completely destroyed, but...

"The trees survived, Cleo," Joe says. "They survived. Something we made's still standing."

"Well, when you put it like that," murmurs Cleo, and she lets Joe look at the trees a while longer while she fights off the mobs on her own. Joe should probably help. He should probably say something else, too, since Cleo, she doesn't have any swamps full of custom trees to see still standing. He just can't bring himself to, for the moment, is all. Because the swamp is still standing. Of all the things. Of all the things.

"This area isn't safe without lighting. Jeez," Cleo says. She pauses. "Are you alright?"

"Can you tell Cub the swamp's still standing?"

"Yeah, I can do that. Don't worry. I will."

"Good, good. We should make the windows face this way, I think."

"Yeah, you know what, I agree."

Joe stares a moment longer, and then decides he still doesn't have time to feel things like this. The swamp is still standing. There are other things to get standing again too, and people to help, and so many things to do. Also, if he keeps standing here, he's definitely going to be killed. But in that moment...

"Now, let's get back before we die and lose our armor out here? And let the others know the spawn portal is lit, too! I mean, in case we don't have to go get them. Spawn isn't safe yet, but I mean, since the portal is lit, it's like, a little safer? Because they can get back from it? And..."

"It's step one," Cleo says.

"It's step one," Joe agrees, staring at the swamp one last time. "We're real close, Cleo. We're real close."

"Yeah," Cleo says.

"I lied before," Joe says, finally. "How long has it been?"

"'Bout a month, I think. I wasn't super conscious at first, so I'm not super clear on the date."

Joe looks at the swamp and nods. "You were under there like, a week and a half then. I'm..."

"Don't say it. We're both standing here now, aren't we?"

"We are."

He turns to Cleo, and he feels himself beaming. "And, you know what? We're gonna keep standing here, too. Come on Cleo, we have wooden planks to go make a tunnel with, and then a hotel, and then maybe the world. Hey, what if we built the moon?"

Cleo laughs. "You know, once we're all together, I bet we could build the moon, Joe. Good plan. We rebuild the moon. How hard could it be?"

"Give me your communicator," Joe says, and he asks Cubfan, and because he thought to ask Cleo first and because he's standing in front of the swamp, it doesn't hurt at all to see that terrible date flash in front of him, telling him approximately how long it's been since the end of the world. The world can end any day, but apparently, Joe and Cleo will be ready for it. More than that, it can have been as long as they want, and the swamp will still be standing. There will still be custom trees, and shoomlights, and memories, and they won't have been destroyed. The swamp's still standing. Everything else can stand again too.

Cub answers back: he'll meet them at spawn once they've built some kind of shelter. He has news. And, yes, some ideas on how to rebuild the moon if they need it.

The march back to their hole in a cliff feels lighter than Joe had ever thought it would.

The next day, they start building a safe tunnel around the spawn portal on the nether side and on the overworld side. Joe takes the nether while Cleo takes the overworld. They poke their heads through the portal to discuss rebuilding the moon, though. Joe's heart beats, and beats, and he doesn't die to the wither skeleton that tries to sneak up on him, so he figures he's doing pretty good in his moon-rebuilding efforts. At the end of the day, he sees the work Cleo's done.

The new hotel is shaped like a sun. Joe thinks it's fitting. Cleo does too. They put down two beds and start from another base once again. There's still so much work to do.

Nothing's going to keep them down, though, Joe says, and Cleo agrees.

The next morning, since they have space and beds, they finally go to get Zedaph. There's hugging and crying all around. And, what do you know? He has opinions on how to build the moon too.