“Wait, Trish did what?” Mike asked Emma who’d caught up to him after they got to the base.
He was on his way to see Wilson but it wasn’t like he couldn’t talk to her on the way. Besides he was curious about a lot of things she knew. Like the question he’d just asked a moment ago, “Where was Trisha?”
“She said she had things she needed to check on. After she got to level five her ice manipulation skill got an upgrade. She decided it was enough of an upgrade she could strike out on her own.”
Emma looked up at Mike and cocking her head to the side she smiled mischievously, “Don’t tell me you’re all sad she didn’t say goodbye before she left?”
Mike grunted noncommittally.
He was a bit hurt honestly.
They hadn’t know each other for long. He really hadn’t know how to take her flirting with him. But it wasn’t like he hadn’t liked her, or her flirting for that matter.
More than being unsure how he felt about her though, he was worried for her. She was alone in the city. Even the internet’s Chuck Norris, the most bad ass of all bad asses past, present or future, wouldn’t be guaranteed to be safe on his own out there.
Mike couldn’t put any of that into words that weren’t lame sounding or creepy. So he settled for not saying anything.
Emma nudged him with her elbow. Still smiling she put her hands behind her back. Skipping to his front, she turned around to walk backwards, and looked up into his eyes.
The mischievous smile was still there as she said, “But I thought you had Jessica already. Don’t tell me you’re one of those guys who wants a harem?”
Mike’s new physiology seemed to make blushing less noticeable. He was quite grateful for that as soon as she asked her question. Without the otherwise useless adaptation, he’d have flushed bright crimson.
Scowling, he pretended to be annoyed as he said, “I don’t “Have” anybody. I might like Jessica a little, but I have no idea if she feels the same way. And there was nothing like that between me and Trisha. I’m just worried for a friend.”
His words trailed off as he mumbled denials about any harem plan he might or might not have in the works.
“I think the lady doth protest too much,” Emma said with a smirk.
Snorting Mike shot back.
“Doth protest? I thought you were like ten, where did you learn crap like that?”
“I’m fourteen thank you very much.”
“Really?!” Mike knew he’d stepped in it the minute it came out of his mouth.
Emma huffed and her cheeks puffed up cutely as she said, “Yes really, dill-weed.”
Mouthing Dill-weed with more than a little amusement Mike apologized. He wanted to point out that she looked much younger, but it wasn’t like she couldn’t look in a mirror. She was obviously self conscious about being a “loli.”
In consideration of her feelings he dropped that entire line of defense. Hurting her wouldn’t win him the argument. He’d just be an ass.
Seeing his apology was legitimate, and noting his tactful retreat from the entire subject, Emma let it drop. Her smirk came back as she said, “You may not “Have” Jessica yet. But you could if you wanted.”
Before he could stop it from coming out, or scold her for sounding like a pervy old man again, Mike let slip with a, “Seriously?” his interest more than a little peaked.
‘Yes. You’re pretty dense aren’t you? She’s been flirting with you since the moment I met you guys. Once you left, you were like one of the only things she talked about. Believe me I’m not wrong on this.”
Mike couldn’t stop the smile from spreading on his face.
Emma snorted, “You look like an idiot when you smile,” she said, and he shoved her playfully.
It was weird. Somehow Emma felt like his kid sister or something. They’d only known each other a few days. Objectively speaking they were almost strangers.
He didn’t have a real little sister to compare his feelings to, but their bond was abnormally strong. It was even more impressive directly compared to the length of time they’d known each other.
His dad had remarried right after he left them. Technically he had two half siblings, a little brother and sister. It wasn’t the same. He’d only even met them like three times, all of them extremely awkward. There hadn’t been any magical bonds or deep loving family connection there. Family was about more than blood.
Maybe it was surviving together that forged his bonds with Emma, maybe it was just fate. Either way he was just glad she was around.
Turning the last corner before the big double doors into Wilson’s board room like office, Mike grunted his greetings to Jessica and her dad, the big lion man as they stepped out into the hall.
“We didn’t get a chance to talk much earlier,” he said, as he walked up to Mike and extended his hand, “I wanted to thank you for going out of your way to help me and mine. That boss of yours sure wouldn’t have.”
Mike saw Jessica smiling encouragement at his from behind and to the lion mans side. In light of that he curbed a half dozen different openers he could have used.
He didn’t argue the semantics of his relationship with Wilson. They were partners not boss and employee. He didn’t use crushing force on the mans furry palm despite the lions obvious attempts to do just that to him. He didn’t even ask any of the thousand questions that sprang to his mind about the Man’s bloodline. Instead he just gave a half smile and grunted a, “you’re welcome.”
Jessica, as if she had been able to read his thoughts on his face, mouthed a “thank you” with another smile. Mike felt his own smile grow genuine.
Breaking eye contact with her he looked up at the lion man. Seeing him looking down at him like a predator Mike’s orcish instincts to punch him in the nose and establish dominance sprang up.
He quashed the feeling as thoroughly as he could. He had been flirting with the man’s daughter in front of him. He wasn’t being challenged. He didn’t need to fight. The man was just defending his family.
“What are your plans from here?” Mike managed to get the question out before things turned awkward.
“I’m leaving the refugees and men with families here. Then I’m taking the rest of my people and heading out.”
Mike didn’t know what to say. The lion man was going to dump his burdens and run? That was kind of a dick move. He pressed the furry for answers. If he was staying connected to the base his plans were fine. He needed clarification.
“No. This place is fairly safe. But I don’t like it here. At the same time I can’t guarantee my people’s safety so I’m thinking of them when I leave them here.”
Mike found himself growing angry. He held his temper in check through force of will. A higher level player might have felt his killing intent slowly growing as he spoke.
“So you’re just going to drop a bunch of helpless people off here and run off with everyone that could help defend them? What kind of bullshit is that?”
He could hear Jessica and Emma both gasp at his words. He was clearly picking a fight now. A needless fight against someone who was arguably an ally, and indisputably the father of a friend.
‘Watch yourself kid. Don’t get the wrong idea here. I’m grateful you helped rescue my people. I owe you for that. But I don’t owe your boss or this base. And I don’t take well to little punks mouthing off to me.”
Somewhere in the back of Mike’s mind he wondered at the lion man’s whole attitude. It didn’t make sense for a normal person to act like he was acting. It was almost animalistic. Maybe he’d been a gangster? Had the city even had gangs before?
Mike didn’t know. He didn’t really care. All he really knew was the base wasn’t invincible.
If the lion wanted to stay in the field, searching for survivors, that was one thing. But running off to do his own thing after increasing the mouths to feed without increasing the men who could protect those mouths… It rubbed Mike the wrong way.
Put simply, if anyone was going to survive this apocalyptic scenario, everyone who survived needed to stick together. There might be exceptions out there. Mike would honestly rather let some people die, like rapists, and people who tried to take advantage of others under pretenses of helping them, using the new world as an excuse.
But the lion man fit neither category. He was a great asset. And he wanted to walk away just like that? Mike wasn’t having it.
“You don’t take well to punks mouthing off to you? Well I don’t take well to cowards that cut and run. You have a responsibility to those people of yours. But you’re not only going to abandon them, you’re going to take away all the men and women who could help defend them too? I get that you don’t like that old vampire bastard,” Mike pointed aggressively toward’s Wilson’s office, “That’s not a free card to drop your burdens on him and run away. You’re acting like a kid. Shit just got real. The world is different. People don’t get to just do whatever they want to anymore.”
Mike didn’t know when but at some point in his tirade he’d stepped forward into the lion’s personal bubble. He’d even jabbed his finger into his chest to emphasize his last few points. His entire rant was a bit hypocritical too, which only made it worse.
Jessica’s dad began to laugh. It was a terrifying primal sound, and it contained not only amusement but clear aggression and derision.
“Ah look at the little man trying to tell me what to do,” The lion said with a growl, “does he have the stones to try and make me though.”
Mike clenched his jaw. His orc blood was surging. He wanted nothing more than to start swinging. He was reasonably certain he could take the lion in a fair fight. Even if he couldn’t there was more at stake here than his pride or a few broken bones. If he backed down, he felt like he’d keep backing down. Like somehow who he was before, and who he was now had come to some sort of crossroads. He was being forced to choose a path.
The non-confrontational pacifist or the way too aggressive warrior? On some level Mike knew it was all childish. Unfortunately, that didn’t matter. Strength and attitude did now. If he appealed to the lion man’s age and standing, to act like an adult then he’d already given in on some level. He couldn’t back down an inch. Even if it meant fighting Jessica’s dad.
Looking off to the side he mouthed, “I’m sorry,” to Jessica, even as he pushed Emma gently to the side of the hallway. Then looking back to the furry he retreated a single step to fall into a fighting stance. Unable to resist, he held his hand up and gave the kung fu movie’s traditional, “come at me bro,” motion.
Even though his blood was boiling, the rational part of Mike’s brain was on overdrive. He knew he was being an idiot. He also knew his choices were limited. If he wanted the lion man’s respect in the future he needed to fight now, even if he lost.
Either the lion’s bloodline had changed him, or he’d always been a big kid in a grown up’s body, it didn’t matter. He clearly only respected strength.
That was probably half the reason he wanted to leave the base anyway. Wilson was stronger than him and he didn’t like it.
Actually loosing a challenge to Mike was different though. It wouldn’t matter that he was weaker than Mike at that point, because the act of losing would keep him bound to the base. He couldn’t retreat at that point without looking like he was running away and losing the respect of his men.
It was all surprisingly complicated for being so simple and barbaric.
To his credit the lion didn’t scoff at him, or flinch from the fight. He clearly saw Mike as a worthy opponent, an actual threat, and he didn’t back down. Wilson was at least twenty levels stronger than him, it was understandable why he would retreat in the face of that power. Mike was only a handful of levels higher, if he was at all. His reactions made perfect sense.
Yowling like an actual lion, he brought his hands up, crossed in front of his chest and visibly retracted his claws. Mike nodded at the show of respect and fairness. It was unexpected, but appreciated.
A system box appeared in his mind.
|You have been challenged by Player Peter.
Do you accept his challenge?
Seeing his name,”Peter,” made Mike smile. He hadn’t even realized he didn’t know it. Calling him the lionman, or furry or whatever in his head had just seemed so natural.
Mike selected [Yes] without a second thought and the screen vanished.
Returning Mike’s nod with another yowling roar, “Peter” charged forward.
The motion was fast.
Faster than Mike had expected. It was also straightforward, guileless, almost naively so in Mike’s opinion.
Stepping to the side he launched a fist into the lion’s side that made him yelp. Following the blow he stepped in and delivered a second before his opponent could recover.
The furry turned on him with a feral cry, his fists flashing with a sudden flurry of straights, jabs and hooks. Clearly he’d learned boxing at some point in his life.
Blocking a flurry of boxing punches with his forearms Mike ducked and weaved trading the occasional jab or combo when he could work them in.
Warily they circled each other feeling one another out with the occasional exchanging of blows.
Neither man had the clear advantage. The furry was faster, with better reach and flexibility. Mike was stronger, and despite his age, he seemingly possessed the edge in skill.
Slowly it became clear to Mike that by using his breeze step or activating his ghost phase of demonic transformation, he would easily dominate the fight. But the image of Peter withdrawing his claws made him hesitant. It would be dishonorable to win that way. Mike knew that was a stupid thought, an old world thought, but he couldn’t give up on it unless his opponent did first.
Flashing out with a kick he saw the furry wince and he smirked as he planted his foot and pivoted an elbow into his off balance opponent’s opposite shoulder.
The lion roared at that, more in annoyance than actual pain. The longer the fight drug on the more at a disadvantage he felt. Mike was shorter but compact with great skill and instincts. As he slowly gained his enemies rhythm too he tore it apart with professional level skill, leaving the lion ever more on the defensive.
Refusing to go down like that, the furry gave into his inner beast. His aggression rose visibly as he abandoned any attempt to fight like a man. The only thing he could do was keep his claws withdrawn to keep the fight from escalating.
Mike felt the change before it came. Without hesitation he backed off, switching to defense once more as he dodged wild blows from strange angles. The sheer brutality of the beastman’s attacks limited his ability to counter them as he retreated.
And then he saw Emma from the corner of his eye. She was watching his fight with a pained expression on her face. Her hand over her mouth and tears at the corner of her eyes.
Suddenly the idea of honor, and fairness seemed ludicrous. How could he make her worry for him like that, when he could easily win the fight by using his abilities?
Breeze-stepping to the lion’s back he brought his fists together for a single overhead blow between the lion’s shoulder blades.
Driving him to the ground with the force of the blow, he grabbed his right arm and wrenched it behind him and then further upwards.
Peter yowled and squirmed but he couldn’t get loose.
“Do you give up? I’d rather not break your arm if I don’t have to,” Mike said, his tone flat, monotone, like he could care less.
Peter trashed a handful of times before he calmed down and with an almost canine whimper he conceded.
The series of screens that flashed in Mike’s mind was overwhelming, but ignoring them for the moment, he stood. Helping Peter up, he held out his hand for the furry to shake.
After a long awkward moment the lion muttered something about cheeky bastards. He took Mike’s hand and pumped it a few times, his face an unreadable scowling half-smile, Mike knew he’d never be able to duplicate.
With the fight temporarily taken care of, Mike turned his attention, inward, to the system announcements he had received.
Here you guys go, a new chapter. I plan to get another one out Wednesday too. We’ll see though. I am kind of terrible about keeping promises lately. I failed to get a backlog written over the spring break week like I’d been hoping. The week pretty much went exactly like I figured. Every time I could write, I suddenly had something less important that “couldn’t be ignored” come up.
A heads up. There may be inconsistencies with Mike’s backstory. I pulled up old notes, and I had three versions laid out. I chose one at random, but if I used his backstory in the past, I may have chosen differently this time. Also this chapter is a lot longer, which left me less chance to clean it up than I would have liked. Feel free to error spot for me. Pointing out awkward phrasing, misspellings, etc. It’s all appreciated.
Author : The Steve