As he ran several blocks past the Boardwalk, Greg began to enter a neighborhood that was as destitute as the Boardwalk was wealthy. The north part of the old ferry.
While he had heard of this place, he had never actually been here before, no one really having a business with the ferry anymore leaving the place to become abandoned by the general population of the city apart from those desperate enough for a roof over their heads to sleep in the decrepit buildings that lined the area.
That, and the Merchants.
The gang of homeless, drug dealers and assorted thugs that didn't fit in with the Empire or the ABB but wanted more legitimacy than any of the tiny street gangs that populated the city could provide had pounced on the place, quickly ensuring all knew that it was their territory.
As the Merchants tended to be scattered, rarely having too large a large group of them in one place, all this meant to Greg was that he was bound to find a few here.
Greg skidded to a stop near a bunch of half-demolished brownstones, a flickering orange light shining from outside of an alleyway catching his attention. As the yellow glow Creeping up against the wall, Greg slowly made his way around the building, creeping closer to the alley itself. As he reached the mouth of the alley, he poked his head in, blue eyes widening behind his mask as he spotted what exactly was making the flickering light.
A fire? Greg raised an eyebrow.
It actually was a fire. One that someone had lit inside of a tall metal trash can. It stood far from where Greg was, in the center of several alley paths, but just close enough that the light could reflect on this outer alley wall.
Before Greg could ask himself who could possibly have lit it, several figures stepped into view.
Eight of them, to be exact.
Even without being too close to them, Greg could tell they were Merchants and they, without a doubt, were Merchants. Compared to the normal homeless people you saw around Brockton Bay, and there were plenty, members of the Archer's Bridge Merchants had a particular style of hobo-chic that was very… distinct from most others.
Sparky told him something once, something he drew back up now. Homeless people don't like being dirty. They'd take better if they could. Merchants, though, those fucks love looking like trash.
"[Observe.]" The word fell from Greg's mouth almost instinctively, eight pop-ups appearing simultaneously in his field of vision, his mind somehow connecting the names to the bodies nearly half a block away.
Greg found himself smirking. "Easy as cake."
Greg's feet pounded against the concrete, garbage and random plastic bags flying through the air as he rushed past them. His legs moved on automatic as his neck swiveled from side to side, frantically searching the dreary alleyways north of the Boardwalk for an alternate path.
Just something he could use to get away.
Or at the very least, hide and recover all his health.
Seriously, where were all the waist-high fences, hiding spots or conveniently available handholds to climb buildings with? All Greg could think of, as he ran past another cutoff leading to a dead end, was that Brockton Bay needed to invest in better city planning.
Or a renovation.
Can you renovate a city? The idle thought passed through Greg's head as he continued running away from his attackers, waiting for the protein bar he just ingested to work him all the way back to full health.
[PowerBar™ Cookie Dough Protein Bar: +5 to HP every 5 seconds for 5 minutes]
"Fucking piece of shit!" "Skin the lil' fuck!" "Cut his dick off!" "Fuckin' catch the lil' faggot first!"
The sound of their angered shouts lit a fire under Greg and he kept moving, evading dumpsters and knocking over boxes to buy himself some much needed time.
Casting a glance behind him, he saw the glint of a long, sharp weapon and he gulped nervously before facing forward again, sweat beginning to form on his brow. How in the frick did this happen?
After observing all of the Merchants and noting that none of them were over Level 6 and their HP seemed low enough - considering only one of them had anything above 200 - that they wouldn't be much trouble, Greg had put together a simple yet kickass plan.
1. Surprise attack one of them with an [Angry Straight] for that sweet, sweet [Critical Hit].
2. Hit a few others while they were confused and send the rest running.
3. [Dash Straight] into them when they turn to run for more Crits.
4. Repeat Step 3 as needed.
In hindsight, maybe jumping a bunch of Merchants at once wasn't the best idea, after all. Although, he did use a surprise attack and surprise attacks were a pretty smart tactic to use, right? Of course, they are. That's like Strategy 101.
Surprise attacks were smart and a glowing yellow fist out of nowhere was kick-ass enough to ruin anyone's day. It was a simple plan.
Simple but effective.
And it was, actually. Well… kinda.
The first guy went down in a spectacular [Critical Hit]. So did the second, third and fourth Merchant in his sights, none of them prepared for a shining fist to the face.
Problem was, their buddies didn't run.
Second problem, they all had knives.
Third problem, one had a giant fucking machete.
Fourth and biggest fucking problem, they wouldn't give him a second to let his HP regen get back up.
Greg honestly hadn't expected they'd fight back and especially not that hard. I mean, he was a cape, right? They saw his fist go all glowy and everything! They were supposed to run!
This was a reversal of the natural order. He was the parahuman wolf on the hunt and they were the rabbits trying to survive his hunger. Rabbits weren't supposed to fight nature!
Or carry machetes.
Who even carries a freaking machete? Where would you hide that?
Well, he had an inventory to hide it but these guys didn't have that excuse.
Frankly, this whole situation wasn't his fault. It was the Merchants' fault for not doing what they were supposed to do.
"Motherf-" Greg let out a shout of pain as something hard slammed into the back of his hood-covered skull, the sound of glass raining onto the concrete behind him only confirming what he thought it was.
Stumbling forward, Greg caught himself before he wiped out into the garbage at his feet. He whipped around to face the four approaching thugs, a look of annoyance on his face.
Greg made a fist and dipped into a stance, yellow light already flashing into existence around his hand as he prepared himself.
"[Dash Straight!] [Raging Combo!]" In a flash of yellow, he dashed forward ten meters in a literal second, his outstretched fist flying towards the chest of the closest Merchant thug.
With an audible impact, Greg's fist hit home, and he buried punches into the Merchant's open chest, sending him flying back with one final hard strike. The unconscious thug slammed into one of his buddies, his friend catching him as he fell. Another Merchant, a bald black man wearing a shirt so dirty the original color was a mystery, swung at Greg.
From the corner of his eye, Greg caught the flash of metal and jerked to the side, barely avoiding a switchblade to the face as the man's arm passed over his shoulder.
His fist slammed into the side of the thug's jaw with a picture-perfect left hook, the strike staggering the man.
Greg made to press his advantage with a powerful [Angry Straight] only for the words to die on his lips with a cry of pain as something cut into the side of his arm.
|[Moderate Bleeding] Debuff applied
-5 HP every 5 seconds for the next minute.
Greg snapped his gaze to his side in time to see the Merchant with the machete about to swing his weapon again, trying his hardest to hack off his arm at the shoulder.
Whipping to the side, Greg backpedaled to avoid the bladed weapon coming down on him. "Fuckin' die!"
"Nuh-uh!" Ducking the weapon, Greg struck the machete man in his neck with a wild swing, sending him stumbling back. "You firs- Fuck!"
Greg's taunt was cut short as he took a hard punch to the chest from the Merchant he had staggered earlier with a hook to the jaw. The drug dealer had jumped back into the fight, already recovered and swinging wildly at Greg's chest.
"Shit!" A hand to his chest, Greg swung wildly as he stumbled back into the alley wall only to take another heavy hit to the side of the head, his blind spot continuing to bite him in the butt.
"Goddamnit!" The blonde whirled around with a heavy uppercut, catching the Merchant at his back on the chin. "[Inventory: Bat!]" In Greg's other hand, an aluminum bat appeared in a flash of blue. The Merchant's eyes widened.
The bat missed his target, the man's chest, and instead clipped his elbow. Despite that, the hit was solid, the crack of metal on bone audible.
"Aaaah!" The man visibly stumbled as he let out a scream, cradling his arm as he backpedaled. Greg took that as a cue to slam the bat hard into the side of his head before the Merchant could recover, sending him to the ground, his HP depleted.
Hearing movement behind him, Greg whipped back around, swinging the bat in a wide arc to dissuade anyone who would try to attack him from behind. Why isn't there a skill for Spidey-Sense or something?
The machete-wielding Merchant had been creeping up behind Greg, not expecting that he would take care of his friend so quickly and, by the wide-eyed-gaze he had as he stared at what was in Greg's hand, certainly not expecting Greg to pull out a bat out of literally nowhere. Next to him, the Merchant with the bald head and switchblade seemed to take a step back.
Under his mask, Greg couldn't hold back a grin as he stepped around the two thugs, both now obviously wary of him. "I'm gonna eat you rabbits like a hungry, hungry wolf."
Their cautious expressions only grew confused at Greg's non-sequitur, the one with the machete screwing up his face before replying, "What?"
Greg blinked as he realized he had said that out loud, his face reddening beneath the mask. "Sh-shut up! Nothing!" Eyes narrowing at the Merchant with the giant knife, Greg screamed out, "[Power Sprint!]"
Body flashing, Greg darted forward. He swung the bat out as hard as he could, slamming it into the thug's chest. The machete flew from his hand as the thug was launched back, the hit sending him into a pile of trash bags, knocking down the entire pile and sending him crashing up against a dumpster. Greg grinned. "That's what I call a grand slam!"
The bald Merchant didn't waste any time to appreciate Greg's humor, instead choosing to lunge with his switchblade. Greg's hand lashed out, the back of his wrist slamming into the thug's leading hand and sending him off-course.
[Moderate Bleeding] debuff removed.
The Merchant's lunge went wide, and Greg twisted, spinning to the side of the criminal and slamming the weapon into his ribs. "[Angry Straight!]"
The bat glowed blue, visibly flashing for an instant, as it slammed into the Merchant's side with an audible crack. Just like that, the last Merchant dropped to the ground.
Greg let out a tired huff as he stared at the four unmoving bodies around him, feeling the drain on his Will for running for so long and using multiple skills one after the other like that. Doesn't matter. Still won.
|First Blood II: Even Bloodier
7/15 Merchants defeated.
|+ 855 xp
+ Dangerous Machete
+ Cheap Switchblade x 2
+ Pack of Red Apple™ Cigarettes x 3
Abilities Level Up!
Parry Lvl Up!
Reflexes Lvl Up!
Disarm Lvl Up!
Resistance: Slashing Lvl Up!
Resistance: Piercing Lvl Up!
Skills Level Up!
Angry Straight Lvl Up!
Dash Straight Lvl Up!
Raging Combo Lvl Up!
Power Sprint Lvl Up!
New skill? Yes! Greg's face lit up with a wide grin behind the mask, shaking his upper body in something of a victory dance. After a moment, he suddenly froze. Wait, seven out of fifteen? But I knocked out eig-
Greg whipped around, glancing at the fallen Merchants around him. From each one, he noted the text above their heads.
Lv 4 Merchant Blade
Mike "Mickey" O'Connor
Lv 3 Merchant Blade
Lv 6 Merchant Hacker
Lv 5 Merchant Blade
Greg's eyes snapped to face the one with the 2/160 over his head. He seemed like all the rest, completely unconscious as his back hugged the graffitied dumpster propping his body up. Greg took a step forward in his direction and he saw the thug twitch, head visibly moving.
Blue eyes widened, and Greg gasped.
The thug scrambled into action as his head snapped up to face Greg, his breathing labored as the Merchant furiously pulled something from the pocket of his jeans.
It looked old, that was Greg's second thought, the mix of wood and metal easily visible in the guy's hands. Also, it stood out as being slightly bigger than what he expected a gun to be. A hand cannon more than a gun, really.
Before Greg could so much as even try to dodge, the shaky Merchant raised the revolver.
He didn't see it.
How could he? After all, it was a bullet.
A searing hot hunk of metal moving at Mach oh-my-god that could rip through car doors like scissors through paper.
He heard it, though.
A crack of thunder that made him flinch, the sound echoing off the alley walls as white smoke exploded outwards from the weapon.
Searing pain tore through him as the bullet ripped through his chest, the force of the shot causing him to stumble backwards, his legs suddenly unable to handle his weight, as the slug slammed into him.
|[Moderate Bleeding] Debuff applied
-5 hp every 5 seconds for the next minute.
He felt himself falling back, the world disappearing in front of him as the edges of his vision began to darken.
No. No. Noooo...
Greg Veder hit the floor, eyes shut and and unmoving.