As if an inaudible accord had been reached, the rest of the leaders of Orders stood. Naffur turned and began sprinting out of their courtyard. But very quickly, panic rose in his chest as he realized he wasn’t sure where Mareen’s party would be. Fumbling, he produced the invitation and skidded to a stop.
He heard the screams of other people and then the soft rush of air as other leaders whipped past Naffur at speeds he couldn’t follow.
There was a crash from behind him, from the meeting place of the Orders. This was swiftly followed by a hideous shriek and a flash of warmth that Naffur felt on his back 50 meters away. When he shivered, it was not from the cold, but from feeling profoundly out of his depth.
With trembling hands, Naffur did his best to ignore the rising tide of noises around him and look down at the invitation. It was handwritten, which Naffur hadn’t noticed before. ‘I hope to see you there <3’ was at the bottom, written by Mareen.
Naffur went pale. What did that mean?!?!
There was a soft ripping noise which forced Naffur to look up. In front of him, there was a semi-opaque tear in the air that crackled with energy.
A strange fish creature with tentacles stepped out of the portal. Its mouth oozed with gore and its limbs seemed to twitch as it menacingly stepped forward and looked around.
Congratulations! Your Skill The Devil’s Luck for Entrances (L) has reached Level 29!
The slimy tentacle creature came out of the portal with its back to Naffur. It cackled gleefully, even as Naffur smashed it in the back of the head with an Intrepid Hammer, earning him Levels in Intrepid Hammer and Cheap Shot.
Stunned, the thing fell to its knees and twisted around. The tentacles flailed wildly, and Naffur jerked his head back to avoid the attack. The tentacles missed by quite a distance, but some of the goo that was dripping from the creature sprayed outwards and landed upon Naffur’s Ghosthound mask.
Very quickly, the mask became to smoke and sizzle as the goo ate through it. Horrified, Naffur scrambled backward even further. Shit, he was going to need to get a new mask soon-
No, more important than that, had he really just punched that acidic thing?!?
Looking at his hand, Naffur was relieved to see that his flesh wasn’t bubbling away. But his heart thumped painfully as the monster seemed to recover from his earlier strike and stood tall in front of him.
A hand reached out and squeezed the monster’s head until it burst in an explosion of gore.
“Careful. These are stronger than you,” Neveah said, wagging her finger at Naffur.
“You need to be careful too!” Naffur shouted. “There is ooze on that think that can disintegrate flesh!”
Instantly, Neveah’s face contorted in horror. She raised her left hand, which was still dribbling in the ooze and brain matter of the tentacle monster. For several seconds they both looked at her hand. Nothing seemed to be happening. Neveah glanced back over at Naffur, seeming to ask with her eyes whether he was sure about what he had said. Helplessly, he shrugged.
With a pitiful sigh, Nevaeh crouched and rubbed the gore off on the ground. Instantly, that area of grass began to smoke and wither. The effect spread in a one-meter area, creating a small zone of death. Naffur paled as he realized that there was a similar halo of annihilation around the body of the monster.
“Such a close call. Thank god…” Neveah said in a hollow voice. Naffur was annoyed, but could only helplessly look at the bits of blood still on Neveah’s hand that didn’t seem capable of doing anything to her.
Shaking his head, Naffur decided to ignore Neveah’s inexplicable strength. Instead, he looked again at the invitation. FOr all that Neveah was almost mocking him and his worries, it had served as a way to calm him down. With his mind cooled off a bit, Naffur was able to organize his thoughts much more efficiently.
“Okay, it’s this way.” Naffur finally said, and the group of two began to run. Or rather, Naffur began to run, and Neveah seemed to skip effortlessly to keep up.
The interaction with the tentacle monster had been brief, but it did seem like that monster had been part of a large wave of monster attacks. All around there were yells of battle and fear. As Naffur rushed past unrelated courtyards and gazebos, he saw plasma pistols and exosuits abound, fighting against various strange animal and fish beings.
Then there was a scream that cut across it all. Naffur’s heart hammered in his chest with such force that it felt like his body was going to burst. In his fit of desperation, he yelled. “Mareen!”
Instantly he veered to the left and lengthened his stride. From the screen, he knew which opening in the tall bushes he should aim for. But the responding shout stopped him dead.
Uh… Naffur’s walked a few steps forward, almost tentative. Could he just rush in there now…? If she found out about his secret identity-
“Don’t come, it’s dangerous! Run away!”
Naffur winced. Not that she didn’t mean well, but yelling ‘Don’t come!’ felt a bit like a rejection.
Why did I fucking buy a flower crown?!?
Lost in his strange reflections, Naffur jumped when it seemed like a hammer was dropped beyond the hedges, causing the ground to shake. Mareen screamed again.
Galvanized by the scream, Naffur’s entire body seemed to hum. But no sooner had he resolved himself to dash the fifteen meters forward and go through the opening in the hedge than he felt Neveah’s hands in his armpits.
“Right now you are not Naffur,” She whispered. “Fly, Knight-Errant Ducis. Take a step and the rest will follow.”
As if she were pushing a child on a swing, Neveah gently pressed forward. Naffur was launched into the air as if he was shot out of a cannon. The pressure from the wind took him by surprise so much that he flinched and blinked wildly. But even as he arced up over the hedge, he realized that he had underestimated the strength of his body; the Stat points he had used over the past few weeks was more than enough to give him the ability to do this.
A blurry image resolved himself as he careened through the air and focused on the condition of the courtyard below. There was a large ape with teal skin and four arms that had left deep impressions in the ground in the shape of fists. The monster’s arms were as thick as tree trunks, with corded muscle that was visible even through a thick layer of fur.
In fact, there were two apes, one in the corner lumbering out of the portal and another slowly advancing toward Mareen.
For a second, Naffur’s gaze hitched on Mareen. She was wearing a long green backless dress and holding a plasma pistol aloft in front of her body. She wasn’t aiming, but simply holding it, as though it would ward off the approaching violence. Scattered around her was a fractured cake and brightly colored chairs that were overturned.
Naffur’s eyes narrowed. “Intrepid….”
The ape monster twisted around as he descended. Naffur thought briefly that it was incredible that Neveah had thrown him perfectly to hit the ape, but that those was lost as adrenaline filled his body. “HAMMERRRR!!”
The first hit knocked the ape in the tremble and it stumbled away. Naffur was about one half of the size of the ape, so his body rebounded harmlessly as he crashed into his shoulder. With a grace that Naffur didn’t know he possessed, he landed on his feet and raised his hands again. Clenching his fingers together, Naffur through punch after punch.
“Intrepid Hammer! Intrepid Hammer! Intrepid Hammer! Intrepid Hammer! Intrepid Hammer!” Again and again, Naffur threw punches against the ape creature. Each time, notifications ticked up that he had gained one, or two, or five Levels in the Skill. Very soon his arms were trembling from the strain of supporting the attacks, But his vision had narrowed to just the ape.
Even the reverberations of the ape’s moans and the feeling of bones shattering under his touch did little to alleviate the feeling of rage that filled him.
Once again, Neveah’s hands brought him out of it, seizing his wrist. The ape was on the ground, its breathing labored. “Perhaps it is better that I handle this.”
Naffur looked up, his breathing labored. Mareen was looking at him with watery eyes, a hand raised to cover her mouth. Nafur turned and ran away.