After handing Brandan the knife, Mike took a closer look at the two werewolves prowling around the second floor lobby.
He hadn’t really “examined” them before. The cop had turned so fast and then they’d been running. He’d more or less been caught up in everyone else’s pace.
Now looking closer, he reaffirmed that they didn’t quite look like wolves. Their coloring was off, a patchwork of browns, blacks, and greys. They were also noticeably thicker, especially in the snouts.
Mike thought they looked more like rottweilers than wolves. Not that it made them any less dangerous.
Watching them he noticed neither of them checked on the third were-rottweiler. It was if they didn’t care if he was alive or dead. He wasn’t their problem.
The more he observed their reactions to each other, the more he was sure. They weren’t a team, or a pack. The way they kept a distance between themselves and one eye always on the other monster, made it clear there was no mutual trust or understanding there.
In fact they didn’t seem to be working together in any meaningful way at all. It was more like they had coincidentally shown up at the same new restaurant. If the staff suddenly came out and said there wasn’t enough food for both of them, they’d happily eliminate the competition.
Mike wasn’t sure how to use the information. He just knew it was probably important.
Looking Brandan in the eyes he said, “Don’t throw it until I’m done shopping,” he nodded at the knife in the younger man’s hands, “they don’t seem to be together but they may take offense at us killing one of them. I want to be as prepared as possible in case it turns into a fight.”
Then thinking for a second he added, “When it is time to throw the knife, stay calm, and follow my lead. If you miss, don’t worry about it, I’ll still make sure you get to be a player,” he paused and blew out the air in his lungs. Trying to smile encouragingly, “look, all I’m really saying here is don’t do anything stupid. We don’t need you to be a hero. If you miss, you miss.”
Brandan nodded, hefting his new knife in his hands with a half smile, that made Mike sigh. The kid would do what the kid would do. He’d tried to keep him from making any stupid mistakes his conscience was clear.
Getting back into the shop, Mike opened the section for skills. He was specifically looking for a trump card.
Browsing with no specific strategy in mind, Mike grunted and looking over at Jessica said, “Hey, how much were those grenades you bought and what were they called specifically.”
Nikki was still using their vending machine so Jessica wasn’t distracted. She answered him instantly, “They were [Fragmentation Orbs] and they cost a hundred credits each. I thought they were worth it for situations like the troll.”
“Totally worth it,” Mike agreed, then nodding in the direction of the wolves, “think we can get these guys with a couple of those?”
“I doubt it, they don’t go off until they hit. These guys seem kind of agile. We’d probably miss them and hit behind them or something. Blowing up the floor won’t necessarily do us any good.”
Agreeing with that Mike asked, “How many credits do you have left?”
“I have about five hundred. It’s just enough for one of the first tier enhancements to my bloodline [Superior Soldier]. I guess I’m going to take one of them. Once I realized it would be all cybernetic I was a bit reluctant, that’s why I took the grenades last time not an upgrade…”
“But now I’m thinking, so what if I get a little bit chromed, at least I’ll have a better shot at staying alive.”
He’d looked at his own bloodline enhancements and hadn’t been impressed.
Mostly they were abilities that would allow him to be better as a solo player. He was in a group now. His priorities were different. Going berserk in battle might lead to him hurting an ally, and being immune to infection in his wounds wasn’t really worth the credits when he had people who could help wash his wounds out or even heal him.
“Any of them get us out of this mess?” He asked.
Jessica laughed, shaking her head, “I thought you were doing the whole fearless leader thing? It doesn’t work if you go around saying things like that.”
Mike just grunted again as he turned back to the screen.
He couldn’t decide on anything.
Armor was out because he couldn’t wear it.
A ranged weapon was out for the same reason he’d never gotten one previously. His aim sucked.
For close range weapons he already had the war ax +1. There wasn’t much need to upgrade.
The skills list was overwhelming, and without knowing what he was looking for, he could spend hours with no progress at all.
With his tiger stance, a weapon skill wasn’t really necessary. In fact it was actually a bit limiting, unless he planned to take the skill all the way to perfection, purposefully limiting himself to a sword, spear, or ax.
Mike preferred versatility.
Finally on a whim, Mike opened the cultivation section of the skills menu.
His tiger stance could be improved but at no level did it have anything to do with qi. His breeze step on the other hand, while passive, could also be active if qi was applied while he was consciously using it.
Taking a cultivation method was something he’d have to do anyway eventually. If he took it now, he would get a slight instant boost to his qi, just enough to make breeze step’s active stage useful. It wouldn’t be for long. If he was really unlucky, he might only get in one strike.
If Jessica and the others could take down one wolf man, one strike was all he needed.
Deciding on a strategy Mike committed to the idea.
He weeded out all the cultivation methods below one thousand credits. Seeing the upper end methods cost ten thousand credits, it felt a bit like he was selling himself short, so to not be distracted he also eliminated all methods that cost more than a thousand as well.
The list was still quite long.
Looking through en endless series of descriptions of things like [Ten Thousand Widow’s Heroic Breathing], [Thunder Serpent Branching Path] and [Bronze Temple Body], Mike began to see a pattern.
There were endless differences, but they all could be split into three categories; immortal path, demon path, and sage path.
Immortal path methods focused on the Spirit, lending themselves to qi magics, ranged combat, and the creation of items like flying swords.
Demon path methods were brutal, focusing on strengthening the physical body. They were all about developing a close combatant. A successful demon path cultivator would be able to rip men apart with his bare hands, or even bear hands, since shape shifting was often a part of such methods.
Sage path methods fell somewhere in between. A successful sage was at once an alchemist, a demon tamer, and a martial artist. He lacked the magics of the immortal and the raw physicality of the demon, but was far from helpless.
It was actually impressive how much even the simplest cultivation method entailed.
Considering his bad aim, and low Spirit, Mike eliminated the immortal path methods from consideration.
After some debate he also got rid of the sage paths.
His personal preferences leaned toward the sage. Alchemy was interesting, as was raising demons, and the image of a monk daring about with incredible wushu that the various methods descriptions left him.
But survivability came first in his mind. He couldn’t justify putting his personal tastes first. Demon path methods offered the quickest route to becoming a powerful vanguard. If he survived long enough, he could learn alchemy or demon taming through studying books or directly purchasing skills. What mattered now was the short term, not the long.
Narrowing the list again and again, he finally settled on the demon path cultivation method [Six Phases Demonic Transformation]. Confirming his decision, a small globe of blood red energy appeared in front of him, hovering for a second before it shot into his dantian.
The energy flooded his qi paths, ripping open partially blocked meridians even as it shredded his pathways, crushed his bones, and tore apart his muscle.
He’d expected pain, but this far exceeded his anticipations. Even as Mike used the methods of the [Six Phases Demonic Transformation] to calm the energy rampaging through his body, he fell against Trisha, almost knocking her out of the circle.
With Brandan helping her they managed to prop him sitting against the machine, as he continued to jerk and moan, all his attentions directed inward.
The amount of time that Mike passed in such a state was not little. By the time he once more directed his consciousness outward, everyone had finished with the vending machines.
Jessica had made her bloodline decision.
Nikki had also searched the store. Surprisingly she’d taken a white wood bow and a quiver of golden arrows. Mike nodded towards it and Nikki seemed to blush as she said, “I used to go bow hunting with my dad when I was a kid. A-and well elves are good with bows right?”
Mike barked a laugh, then apologized.
If she was good with a bow, who was he to laugh at her for it? He was a half-orc monk, with an ax, and a new demon path cultivation technique. If anyone was weird it was him.
Standing Mike concentrated for a second. The irises of his eyes glowed red, even as his hands dryed out, turning leathery from the tips of his fingers to his wrists. His finger nails turned black, becoming pointed and thick like talons.
Turning so everyone could see him, Mike said simply, “I’ll take the one by the couches, you guys get the other one.” then looking specifically at Brandan he added, “you get the wounded one, then step back in the circle with Emma.”
Looking over at Emma he said, “You just stay put. Okay?”
She nodded her head, seemingly intimidated by his new look.
“Alright, let’s do this, I’ve only got two maybe three minutes before I’m completely out of juice. If we haven’t killed them by then…”
He let his words trail off on purpose for emphasis.
Everyone moved at the same time.
Mike, pushed his breeze step to the limits. From one step to the next he suddenly appeared in front of a startled wolfman.
Startled or not the wolf lashed out with its claws in a brutal forward swipe.
Even sped up, Mike had to dodge.
He wasn’t on the defensive for long, though, as he stepped around and into a vicious sweep of his ax that grazed the dogman’s side, causing him to yelp and clutch at the wound.
His enemy off balance he pursued.
His ax flashed twice and the wolfman’s left arm and ear both fell to the ground.
The monster, sensing he was outmatched, turned to run, and Mike laughed, surprising himself as he hurled his ax into its retreating back, lifting it off its feet and carrying it almost a yard further forward.
Flashing to the fallen wolfman’s side with another active use of the breeze step, Mike planted his foot on its back and wrenched his ax out. The proceeded to chop, once, twice, three times into its neck, severing the head.
Kicking the head away, he turned to see how everyone else was doing just in time to watch Brandan, still clutching his new knife in his fist, charging a leering wolfman.
Jessica and Nikki were both down.
Jessica was at least moving, struggling to get back on her feet.
Trisha was standing over Nikki’s body, the twelve blue beads of her bracelet weaving complex circles around her like a shield. Her hair was a mess around her face, covering her left eye. From the blood on her side, she’d been wounded too. How bad it was, Mike couldn’t tell from where he stood.
Swearing he flashed forward.
He was already too late.
The wolfman’s claws seemed almost gentle when they reached out, disemboweling the kid.
Mike’s speed made everything seem to be in slow motion as Jessica screamed, her left hand twisting funnily as it bent at the wrist, revealing a short barrel that discharged three green bars of energy. The lasers took the wolfman in the back, burning through his waist like paper, and cutting him in half.
It was too little too late.
Mike arrived just in time to cradle Brandan’s head in his lap for his final moments.
He hadn’t known the kid very well, but he’d promised to keep him safe.
It was starting to seem like that’s all he ever did.
I’ve had a massive headache the entire time I was writing. If I have a headache again tomorrow I won’t write. It was too much effort and pain. You have to remember that I’m naturally lazy. It’s easy to forget considering I’ve been giving you guys five chapters a week the last few weeks, but that fact never changed. Laziness is life.
Also this chapter is long. I didn’t have time to really give it the once over it needed, or the rewrite it deserved. So this is the original deal, with all the clutter intact. Basically the action is at the bottom. This really should have been two short chapters not one long one.
Author : The Steve