Stepping outside Mike felt the cool air against his skin.
Feeling chilly, he looked down and saw the front of his shirt was sticking to his body. It was wet through with greenish colored goblin blood. Sighing he slipped it off and used the relatively clean back side to wipe his hands and face like it was a towel.
Looking at the messy wad his shirt had become, he considered throwing it away. After a long indecisive moment, he tossed it into his ring instead.
It was the apocalypse. Who knew when he’d find another shirt big enough for his frame, to replace it. Washing the one he already had was the safer bet.
He pulled a new shirt from the ring and put it on.
Suddenly Mike laughed. The bitterness he was feeling was palpable.
He forced himself to remember the desperation in the swordsman’s eyes as he guarded the steps. He made himself relive the moment the man asked him to “protect them.for him,” only to discover they were alll already dead. He couldn’t afford to forget this new reality.
This new world was cruel.
And worse, he was powerless against its cruelty.
Ending the system?
What a joke.
Even if he only wanted to end the system in the city, focusing on saving the people he knew, it was beyond his reach.For the moment anyway.
Old man Wilson had gone in with fifty men and women, elites past level thirty.
Only three of them survived. Winning cost them forty seven lives.
Worse than the statistics was the fact Wilson called the “beta test” monolith an obelisk. Meaning it had been much smaller than the one in the city.
Mike had to assume bigger meant stronger. There was a chance that wasn’t true.
After almost a week in the system, he’d learned his lessons; Murphy’s law ruled now. Only an idiot counted on good luck.
He lacked the strength to even think about conquering the monolith.
He wasn’t even level ten. His current group consisted of three people.
They were on the road to pick up more. But, even if everyone had survived, and that wasn’t guaranteed, he could count on less a dozen total. Some of those were essentially noncombatants too. And the kicker, his level eight was most likely the highest in the lot.
Thinking of his level, Mike realized he hadn’t distributed his attribute points yet.
He pulled up his status.
Without hesitation he distributed them into Quickness.
|Name: Mike Tanner – Race: Half Orc
Occupation: Monk – Level: 8
Purse: 270 Credits
STR: 5.0 / QUI: 4.6 / BOD: 5.7 / SPI: 4.2 [AP: 0.0]
It was unreasonable to think that being a half second faster to the room or to Gregory would have saved anyone. Mike knew that in his head. He just couldn’t convince his heart.
He never wanted to be late again.
The feeling would fade. When it did, Quickness still wouldn’t be a wasted attribute. Raising it was not a bad thing, impulsive reasoning or not.
Hearing a noise behind him, Mike whirled around, ax spinning into his hand only to see Radio and Nikki coming out of the hotel building. Radio seemed a little paler than he had going in, much of his remaining innocence was undoubtedly lost.
By the time they defeated the system Mike figured they’d be so familiar with death it would feel like an old friend. The thought almost physically pained him.
But what was the alternative?
To just lay down and die?
He couldn’t hide behind Wilson’s walls, pretending the world was still okay, either.
Someone had to be on the front lines, or no one would be alive in six months.
He knew he wasn’t a hero. All he was, was stubborn.
Hopefully that was good enough.
If he was lucky, he might even become a hero in time.
Originally he hadn’t thought he was cut out for being a leader. He’d given in to that. It wasn’t too far fetched that he’d give in and become a hero too.
He’d never be the white knight rushing off to save everyone.
That was a fairy tale. He’d never be that selfless.
Sure he’d investigate a scream, if he could help he would. That wasn’t the same thing as selflessly rushing into danger the moment some called out for help. The odds mattered to Mike. He wasn’t about to risk himself in a situation that looked like it couldn’t be won, at least not for strangers.
Maybe that meant he really couldn’t become a hero. Mike preferred to think of it as practicality though. What good was a hero who got himself killed fighting something he couldn’t beat to save a bunch of kids?
Kids might tug at the heart strings. If it ever really came to it, leaving them behind would definitely put a sour taste in Mike’s mouth. But looking at it like an equation, saving some kids, at the sacrifice of a competent player, was a negative net gain.
“Did you report in about the thing in the basement?” Mike asked Radio.
Radio, didn’t seem to hear him, until Nikki shook his shoulder. Then looking up he answered.
“Yes. I spoke to the Boss directly, he said he’d move everything up from the lowest sub basement floor and start patrols to make sure nothing slips by us.”
Radio paused for a second before meeting Mike’s eyes.
“He swore when I told him what happened. Do you think he knows what it was?”
Mike shrugged. Wilson had seen the system before. He might have seen a monster that tunneled up from below. It wasn’t impossible. He didn’t actually know what the old vampire had been through during the system. He wasn’t very forthcoming.
Nikki answered for him. Speaking soothingly as she squeezed Radio’s shoulder.
“I’m sure he does, and I’m sure he knows how to take care of it.”
Mike didn’t know that he agreed. He didn’t see any point to starting a fight though so he left it alone. If Nikki wanted to coddle the kid that was fine by him. Provided they both listened when he gave an order, and kept themselves alive, he didn’t care what they did.
“We ready to head out?” Nikki asked him and Mike nodded, walking toward the truck. Halfway there he paused and taking a deep breath he turned around.
“We need to look for drops,” He said.
It was almost imperceptable, but Mike noticed Nikki froze before consenting. None of them wanted to stick around any longer than they had to.
In the end the order proved to not have been worth giving. They found a handful of system crap that Mike stuffed in his ring, but none of it was really useful. Just a couple goblin daggers, some rope, and a book on goblin culture that interested Mike, but to which he attached no urgency.
Finally done, Mike headed back to the truck.
Pausing before he hopped into the back he cleared his throat to get Nikki and Radio’s attention, and said, “Radio, when we get going, call the base and make sure we know where we’re headed.”
As Radio nodded Mike turned his head to look at Nikki and added, “I’ll be meditating again, you’re in charge of making decisions. If you need just yell. I want you to get us to the other group as quickly as possible.”
Nikki nodded, and Mike climbed into the truck, made his way to the back and sat down with his back against the metal of the cab. A few deep breaths later he was once again in his void state, circulating his qi flow.
The faster he raised his level of cultivation the better. There were still plenty of things out there he couldn’t beat yet. Even the goblins and zombie type monsters were still mildly dangerous in numbers.
Mike estimated it would be at least a month to his next break through, possibly longer. But when it came he should instantly double in power.
In the mean time he would level up when he wasn’t meditating. If he wasn’t wrong, level ten should bring some sort of reward or maybe class skill further increasing his strength.
* * *
“HQ says the satellite imagery puts them at the same location as when we headed out.” Radio said to Nikki.
Nikki seemed to think for a minute.
“Ask HQ when the last lime they noticed movement from them was, then.”
Radio cocked his head and his eyes seemed to zone out for a few minutes. Blinking a few times he came back to himself with a groan as he rubbed his temples.
“You okay?” Nikki asked, and he gave a weak smile.
“It just takes a lot out of me to use my skill repeatedly over a long distance.”
“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know. But since you asked my question already, what did they say?”
Radio’s smile disappeared, “HQ said they haven’t moved in a little over two days.”
Mike, was still meditating, but he could still hear every word they said. Shaking himself conscious again, he turned his head and spoke into the cab through the rectangular window between them.
“They said they haven’t moved in two days? You’re sure of that?”
That meant they hadn’t moved since he was still locked up.
The Boss should have told him something might be up.
Then again, maybe he didn’t know. The compound likely required a lot of administration type work. It wasn’t impossible he was just too busy to know something like that.
He might even have considered it was Mike’s job as leader of the field team to ask questions and get answers.
Either way the fact they hadn’t moved bugged him.
It was either a very good thing. Like they’d found Jessica’s family and felt safe where they were.
Or it was a very bad thing. Like there was some dangerous monster, or other reason, they couldn’t leave.
There might be a third explanation, but Mike didn’t have any idea what it might be.
Thinking on his feet he asked through the window, “How far out are we from their location now?”
Radio didn’t need to think, he answered instantly, like he’d been anticipating the question.
“We’ll be there in less than ten minutes unless something happens.”
“Okay. Nikki, when we’re about two minutes out, pull over. I’ll get out there and try to scout out the situation. You/ll be in charge again here. Prioritize your safety, even if it means leaving me on my own.” Mike said, his voice full of all the command he could muster. It wasn’t much and Nikki seemed to want to argue the point.
Trying to answer he doubts he added, “We don’t know why they aren’t moving. There could be something really dangerous in the area. You’re no good to anyone dead.”
“Neither are you,” Nikki muttered, but then speaking clearer, like she hadn’t just argued with him, she said, “I understand. We’ll stay out of trouble. So you stay safe too, Mike.”
Mike gave a reassuringly over-the-top smile and a dorky thumbs up that made Nikki laugh. It was only a few minutes later that he realized he’d undercut any authority he might have built with his little attempt to lighten the mood.
Sighing he decided to pretend it had been a morale building exercise and write it off. Trying to be the strong silent leader type was a lot harder than he’d assumed it would be. Most of the problem lay with the fact that while he was used to being quiet, it was because he hadn’t had many friends to talk with.
He was actually a bit of a loudmouthed dork. Of course he was only that way with people he was comfortable with, but how was he supposed to lead if he let himself slip into his old habits?
Maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe he was just over thinking things. Mike was lost in his doubts again when the truck shuddered to a stop, the air brakes sounding.
Nikki looked back through the hole and said, “They should be in the sporting goods department of a shopping center a few blocks over. The satellite could be a little off, but they are definitely in the shopping center itself.”
Mike knew exactly where she was talking about.
It was a little mini-mall type building with three floors and a dozen or so different stores. The largest of the stores, taking up as much space as the rest combined, was a discount chain branch store, with several departments, including a rather large sporting goods section.
He’d been there a few times, not to the sporting goods department, but to the shopping mall itself. There was a hobby game store there. It carried quite a few interesting things, including older, more obscure computer and console games. Mike liked to stop in there every once in a while and see what was new in stock.
He almost always made a side trip into the discount chain store for groceries while he was there. So he knew exactly what she was talking about.
Leaving Nikki and Radio with his repeated instructions and a whispered, “good luck,” Mike hopped down from the truck and started off at a liesurely jog.
His pace was just slow enough to let him kill a few zombies along the way. Keeping his eye out for any drops, he made good time, and soon found himself crouched in some bushes in the park across the street from the little shipping center.
Outside the front Mike could see there was a mini siege going on.
Goblins, like the ones back at the hotel, were everywhere. They carpeted the area, enough of them that even if he’d been enraged, he wouldn’t have wanted to blindly charge through them.
Just counting the visible ones, there were over three hundred, and considering they’d thought there was only thirty the last time it was highly likely there were several times that many hiding in the area.
The news wasn’t all bad though. Mike could see visible signs of a resistance in the shopping center. A least ten men patrolled the roof and he counted another twenty or so at the windows on the second and third floors. It seemed that quite a few people had been holed up inside when the goblins arrived, and together they’d put up a credible defense.
Mike hoped that meant Jessica was okay. Either way, he wasn’t getting in by blindly charging from the front.
Moving as quietly as he knew how, Mike extracted himself through the park and back to where Nikki and Radio were waiting with the truck.
He needed to make a real plan, and some serious back up, if he was going to save the people under siege from the goblins.
Mike just prayed he could organize it all in time.
With the numbers he’d seen around the place, it was only a matter of time before they found a way inside.
The defense had presumably lasted two days already. Surely it could hold together for another couple of hours.
Here we go again I guess. I don’t really know if I fixed anything. I really didn’t spend enough time on it if I’m honest. Even if I had, I’m not so sure I’m a good enough writer yet for it to have mattered. Not self deprecating, or looking for pity, just being honest again. The chapters are longer at least.
We’ve had several donations recently. I want to say thank you to the donators. I appreciate it. If any of you guys want me to name names and give credit just email me and I’ll be happy to do so. Speaking frankly it was a big surprise anybody wanted to donate while I wasn’t putting out chapters. It was a big motivator too.
Author : The Steve