The reunion patrol never happened. That next morning during breakfast Wilson sent someone to fetch him.
After an extended debate, in which Wilson highlighted the difficulties of Mike’s current party, Mike agreed to let them train.
Troy would study magic and allow everyone to clear zombies with his skeletons till level ten.
After they had distributed attributes and spent credits from achieving the landmark of level ten, they could once more go back in the field. In the mean time they would train.
Bringing the new plan to his team only Nikki seemed to have a problem with it. The elf was of the opinion every second she wasn’t out in the field people were dying. Mike agreed to a certain extent, but the relief on everyone else’s faces decided him.
He knew he was weird for finding this new world exciting. It was actually kind of sick, thousands of people had died and more were dying every minute. How could he reconcile himself with liking this new world?
It was a complicated argument he had with himself from time to time. He didn’t like the new world. He liked that he suddenly had such a clear path in life. It felt good to suddenly be competent.
On the contrary, everyone’s relief at getting a few more days of safety was significantly more normal. Nikki herself didn’t want to be outside the walls. She just had too strong a sense of responsibility.
Mike talked her down and made arrangements for everyone.
Troy would study and run power leveling groups. Jessica and Nikki would both run a recruitment drive among the refugees in addition to getting to level ten.
Jessica was turning into a walking weapon platform over time and was quite useful against weak enemies with large numbers. She’d just continue on that theme.
Nikki was less effective at dealing damage but she could snipe with her bow and had invested some skill into using blades at close range. Her real ability had come in more in recently as she began to add stealth and agility type skills to her build. She was developing nicely into a scout type role.
That left Radio and Emma.
Radio was useless. Actually without the satellite he was worse than useless. He also didn’t get along with the team much.
Mike could understand his trust issues. Wilson had his sister held hostage so he would use his abilities. That kind of thing would mess a guy up. But Mike wasn’t comfortable carrying him along like baggage.
A quick talk with Radio and a longer talk with Wilson and he did the kid a favor; he got him a desk job. He’d still have to power level and maybe he would turn into a competent warrior but Mike didn’t think so and even if he did, spreading around the talent would help everyone survive in the end.
Emma was the only remaining question mark. Her abilities could develop into something formidable. But they also didn’t compensate for her being a weak little girl. Changing her leveling up to focus on her ability to protect herself meant neglecting her pet based skills and limiting that entire skill tree’s effectiveness.
If she was a grown man an ugly woman, or had a terrible attitude Mike knew he’d probably force her to kepp making her pets stronger. Emma was none of those things. She was the cute little sister he’d never had. So he came to different conclusion.
Emma was now a Jack of all trades. In addition to leveling up she would take magic lessons from Troy, stealth lessons from Nikki, carry a crossbow and wear futuristic survival armor under her street clothes. It was a lot of investment in the kid just so she could save her credits on pet based skills.
Mike knew she was worth it. Even if she wasn’t, he didn’t want to see her die in front of him. He wasn’t sure he could make it through the trauma.
Settling everyone’s roles, Mike took a recovered motorcycle from the garage, loaded it with a saddle bag full of basic supplies, splurged on a nice set of umbreakable shades and a bulletproof vintage looking leather jacket from the vending machine. Then he grabbed a non-system shotgun from the base armory. He looked like the lead in a bad 90s action movie, and he loved it.
His personal mission was to track down Amy. If they could get her back on the team they’d have a healer. If they couldn’t maybe Jessica and Nikki would find a likely replacement among the refugees. But one thing was for certain, they needed a healer.
As he rode out of the garage, the motor roaring, everyone waved. Only little Emma seemed to have any doubt that he might return but gripping Jessica’s arm tight she barely held back her tears.
Honestly just watching her nearly turned him around. Amy was practically a stranger, and if Wilson’s old intelligence was accurate she’d run into a group of malicious players. That kind of thing could be infinitely more dangerous than the systems monsters.
Mike didn’t let himself. Amy might not be as important as he’d made her out to be in his meeting with Wilson. But it was important that he gain levels. More than just gaining levels though he needed to fight as Mich as possible. His current foundation was good, but his experience, not the arbitrary value given to defeated enemies but his actual “I lived that moment,” experience was lacking. He’d never been a fighter before the end. He had some serious catching up to do.
Levels weren’t everything. Bloodlines and skills skewed things sometimes and talent also had its role. Basically the more experiences he could survive through the better he’d be able to take care of his team when he got back.
Using his new passive scan as he roared down the down town streets angling toward the residential district and eventually suburbia, Mike looked for things to fight.
Zombies weren’t any help. Goblins were a little better, but not much. What he needed were monsters like the gorilla spider or the creepy bugmen from the sewers. Strong opponents he couldn’t kill with his eyes closed.
It didn’t take long to find what he was looking for. His motorcycle wasn’t exactly quiet. It attracted a lot of attention. That was kind of the point though, Mike wanted to fight.
The first takers were a pack of weredogs like the ones that had killed the kid Brandan. There were five of them, loping down the street in full mandog form. Four small sleek betas like the ones he’d fought previously, and a fifth half again their size. Considering them from the perspective of werewolves and wolves in general, Mike placed as their alpha.
As he picked them up on his rear-view mirror, following his trail, he smiled. Letting off the throttle he rolled to a stop. Kicking out the stand he hopped off his bike, and cocked his shotgun in movie bad-ass tradition, a nonchalant one-handed pump.
His actions seemed to confuse the bargain bin werewolves as the alpha barked something bringing his pack to a cautious stop.
Nobody had ever turned around to fight them. Not anyone travelling alone anyway. Everybody ran in terror. Most of their kills were effortless from behind tackles or hamstrings and them a quick ripping of the jugular.
Mike was clearly waiting for them. More than just waiting, he seemed eager, like he couldn’t wait to get to it.
Taking its position as the boss seriously the alpha barked orders and the four betas spread out into a half moon to encircle him and cut off any last second retreat.
Mike just raised an eyebrow at the alpha as if to say “you done yet? Let’s get this started.”
Despite being bigger with claws, fangs and a pack, Mike’s attitude shook the great Dane looking leader of the weredogs. After a moment the big bastard shrugged it off as paranoia. He’d killed dozens of armed humans already, what was one more? Throwing back his snout he howled, giving the signal to charge.
In the same moment the Dogmen attacked Mike burst into motion.
He fired twice *bang* *bang* the shit tearing into the chest LD th accuracy into the chest of the dogman on the far left. Jerking from the impacts the monster went down, hurt not dead, but out of the fight for the moment. In the seconds it took to drop the first dog the remaining four closed the gap.
Letting of the shotgun it dropped to hang around his waist by the straps. Mike opened his ghost phase transformation in the next instant.
Taking one step to the right under wind dance He send a knife hand into the chest of the dogman on the far right, piercing its heart. Spitting a mouthful of blood, it collapsed with a spasm, dead instantly.
In moments the fight had gone from five on one to three on one.
The remaining two betas never slowed. Their alpha wasn’t kind. Failure meant not just death but likely torture too. It was better to face Mike’s apparent strength than to back down and face the alpha’s wrath later.
Mike didn’t give them a chance to change their minds. Blurring into motion again he sent a chopping kick to his right shattering a beta’s shin bone.
Without slowing he delivered a claw hand into the second beta’s throat. Grabbing its adam’s apple Mike ripped outwards in a shower of blood. The last two betas were down for the moment.
In the same instant the Alpha slammed into his chest dragging him to the ground.
Rolling around Mike felt warm blood on his chest and arms as the bestial man-thing flailed its clawed hands at him. Keeping himself small and blocking as best he could with his forearms he looked for leverage to reverse his position.
With the alpha controlling his chest there was little he could do offensively and time was ticking. He’d only killed one beta, every second he took to bring down the alpha was a second the betas were recovering.
Finally one of his feet caught a purchase on the alpha’s hip. Kicking out he managed to separate the space in between them.
Rolling the alpha’s retaliatory swipe just missed him, cleaving lines in the asphalt instead.
Mike regained his feet and backpedaled a few paces, opening the distance between them.
Watching him, with a wary eye the alpha *wuffed* heavily a few times in anger, but it didn’t immediately charge him again.
Unable to help himself, Mike smiled again.
This was a fight. He could actually feel the danger.
Truthfully, drawing his ax, or any other weapon really, and he’d have made short work of the pack. But Mike had purposely discarded that approach. He benefited little from easy kills. Only by having to work at it did he slowly integrate the combat styles he’d learned from the vending machine more completely into practical use.
Holding up his hand, Mike motioned for the alpha to come at him.
The alpha, intelligent to understand it was being mocked, roared as it dropped down on all fours before lunging towards him.
Pivoting on a dime, Mike drove his elbow into the weredog’s snout.
Crying out in pain didn’t keep the alpha from adjusting his charge. Slamming into Mike taking them back to the ground.
Mike was moving before his back hit and taking the alpha’s back he proceeded to land blow after blow on its struggling back. Eventually his demon transformation powered blows proved too much and with a loud cracking sound, audible for several hundred feet, its back broke.
Using his black talon like nails to slit now helplessly paralyzed alpha’s throat, Mike stood.
Expecting to see three nearly healed betas gathering their courage to attack him, he was a little taken aback to find all three of the wounded monsters already finished off. Standing a few feet away, watching him with an amused look, was a middle aged man in high tech looking armor.
The man was good looking, with a surprisingly groomed appearance. It wasn’t impossible to buy everything needed to maintain appearances from the system. But so far Mike hadn’t met many people who seemed to prioritize more than wiping the sweat off after a long day. Showers and shaves were a once a week type luxury, and even then only if a safe place could be found.
Not that the apocalypse had happened so long ago that anything was normal yet. But in Mike’s experience, so far, most people were too worried about surviving the next few days to look in a mirror. The fact this guy was so neat and tidy that his armor seemed polished, said something. There was no way he was alone, he was definitely part of a group.
“Hello stranger,” the man said, after giving Mike a chance to take him in, “that was a mighty interesting fight.”
Shrugging Mike said, “I guess.”
“So now I think you probably already figured it out, but I represent the local powers that be in this area.”
“Good. So you won’t be surprised when I tell you there is a toll for passing through our territory.”
Mike grunted at that. It wasn’t surprising that someone would start something like taking tolls etc. Humans were opportunistic creatures. Not surprising didn’t mean he liked the idea, if everyone wasn’t working together then the chances of beating the monolith in the future and freeing the city from the system steadily decreased.
To that end, Mike was willing to play along. No sense starting off on a hostile foot with another group he knew nothing about. Wilson’s preparations had been quite thorough, but they were far from invincible. As a company he’d found it easy to stockpile necessities like food, gas, and ammunition.
It had been significantly harder to recruit personnel to become competent players once the system went live. There were too many factors involved for a simple personality profile to be enough. He’d compromised with rent a soldier types in his security team. So far they hadn’t proved to be as effective as wildcards like Mike himself, and Jessica’s dad.
“What’s the toll?” Mike asked, trying to sound open to the idea, but only managing to sound annoyed.
“Let’s start with everything.”
“I said, let’s start with everything you have.”
Mike felt the rage building as he realized this guy wasn’t here to negotiate anything with him. This was a robbery. Depending on how well they knew the system he might really end up with nothing left if he didn’t fight. He’d taken a saddlebag to throw people off. They’d see the supplies and wouldn’t wonder about a storage space type item.
The iron suited man had specifically gestured towards Mike’s ring as he said half, indicating he recognized it.
Recognizing a storage ring was itself a scary thought. That meant he’d seen one. They were not cheap items, even the smallest of them would be several thousand credits. Only someone who felt safe would “waste” credits on non combat items that expensive.
Sensing he had no real choice but to make an enemy, Mike growled in the back of his throat as he dropped into a combat stance.
“And if I say no,” he asked, hoping there was still a chance he didn’t have to fight.
The man just laughed and without so much as an answer he raised his right arm. A glowing light on upper side of the man’s armored forearm was the only warning Mike had before heavy stream of energy pulsed out, striking him in the chest, cartwheeling him backwards and directly knocking him out.
Before everything went black, Mike’d couldn’t help mocking himself, some hero I turned out to be…
Sorry. I meant this to come out sooner. I have no excuse. Hero was delayed because I didn’t want to completely neglect SWRPG.
As a side note, this was written on my phone. The convenience of doing it this way is probably the only reason this chapter got released honestly. Sorry about probable errors. I didn’t look over this for flow either. This is basically unedited. I may make some changes tomorrow.
Author : The Steve