My companion growled defiantly next to me, facing the monstrous creature that threatened to flatten us. The rumbling sound coming deep from within Goldrin got lower and lower in pitch until it shook my very bones, resulting in my skin breaking out in goosebumps. Suddenly, Goldrin’s mostly white fur exploded from his body.
I winced from the pain of the last attack I endured. Everything in me wanted to take a rest. The only thing keeping me conscious was the fact that my lifelong pet was still in danger. Even though I was useless, I couldn’t bear passing out or dying if he wasn’t safe. When the cloud of dispelled fur slowly dissipated, I discovered that he wasn’t the one that needed protecting.
“BOOOORRRRRK!” Goldrin barked in his skinless form.
Oh, shiiit! He doesn’t have any skin either! You’re fucked Avalanche!, would have been my thoughts if they weren’t too preoccupied with the idea of death.
Goldrin growled again, so deep that the vibrations flowed through his exposed muscles like a shockwave. His slimy red surface shimmered like it was from another dimension. As each pulse of force coursed through him, he grew.
Avalanche tugged on the chains in his hand. The spiked balls on the ends formed up on the road behind him. My geriatric companion completed his Bork Bork Growl skill and transformed into something that looked more like it should be Avalanche’s pet than my own. The man-shaped monster in front of me flexed his chain-arm. The canine-shaped beast in front of me pounced. Goldrin, or what I genuinely hoped was still Goldrin, attached himself to Avalanche’s throat. He tugged at the creature’s jugular and neck tendons, using nothing but his considerable weight as leverage and never bothering to stop growling. Avalanche dropped the chains in his hand and clawed desperately at his choker, but Goldrin's jaw was already locked. Blood began to poor and splatter like a broken sewage pipe. It formed a lake below the two grappling monsters and grew towards me. I was sure that my body couldn’t process anything other than the pain I was feeling, but I was wrong. A gentle breeze blew across the lake of gore and over my body. The hair on my exposed forearms waved peacefully, ignorant of the horrors that the breeze carried. When it reached my nose, I gagged, moments before everything went dark.
Constitution Check Failed.
Constitution Check Failed.
My eyelids slowly opened, but immediately slammed shut again due to the bright light in my vision. Thoughts of Goldrin and Avalanche formed in my head. I tried to open my eyes again, but the view was blinding. Panic grew as I painstakingly waited for my eyes to adapt.
You have leveled up! Please choose an ability!
“Okay,” I said as I did my best to make out my surroundings through the colorful neon words. I was in my small studio apartment. Goldrin was curled up on the foot of my bed. I sighed relief, mostly because I was safe for the moment and a little because Goldrin’s fur was back. I would much rather have to deal with his hair in my bed than whatever would be left over from his skinless monster form.
Available abilities are based on your fighting style and attributes. Please select one. This option cannot be undone.
The Matrix - Become a blur of speed that can dodge any strike for 5 seconds.
Burning Katana - Your Katana burns anyone that tries to take it from you and wield it.
Detect Traps - Nearby traps will be highlighted more often.
I chose the Matrix skill for obvious reasons. Chief among them being that getting hurt, hurt. I had zero desire to get mauled by anything ever again, especially Avalanche’s many spiked leaden balls. As if the memory of the pain was back to haunt me, I winced and reflexively covered the mangled areas of my body. Somehow, I was almost entirely healed. The only wound on my body that was left being a half inch hole in my calf. I sat up to check it out. The movement of my bulk shook the bed, causing Goldrin to wake up. He licked my wound twice before whimpering and curling back up into a ball. When I looked back at it, it was gone. The only thing that proved it all wasn’t a figment of my imagination was my torn and tattered clothes.
Your pet has learned a new skill - Lick Lick Whimper!
“Well, I guess we don’t have to wait to find out what that skill does,” I told Goldrin with a smile as I scratched behind his ear, “Thanks bud. I don’t suppose you could tell me what happened? How did we get here?”
Goldrin regarded me curiously for a moment as if to say, “I turned into a giant skinless monster to slay your enemies with nothing but my teeth AND I can miraculously heal your wounds, but you just wish I could talk instead?”
“Okay, okay,” I said, “Sorry I asked…”
Goldrin laid his head back down, and I threw my feet over the bed. Empty energy drink cans knocked around noisily as I shuffled to my dresser. On top of it, along with my little knife collection and a picture of my mother, stood my Fedora. I grabbed the image and kissed it, then my Fedora. I twirled it around on my fat finger like I had done a million times in the local shopping mall after particularly excellent sessions of Dance Dance Revolution, and placed it on my head.
Item Received - Hero's Fedora
My Fedora was always the epitome of style and sophistication, as any enlightened gentlesir would tell you. It always made me feel good to wear it. This time though, something was off. I still felt like a could walk up to a crowd of pretty girls and say something without getting slapped, but I also felt something else. I couldn’t place my finger on it. I would have checked myself out in the mirror, but I didn’t have a single one in my apartment, so I settled for asking Goldrin how I looked. He simply looked at me, then my hat, and then went back to sleep. He didn’t bark or growl though, so I took it as a compliment.
Side Quest Completed! Find your Fedora. Experience Gained.
That’s it? I thought, I came all this way just for some experience points?
I let out a long sigh and did what I always did when I was stressed, defeated, or in this case, scared of going back to Lorelai without a magical Fedora that would solve all of our problems. Opening the fridge door, I scooped out an armful of food. I couldn’t see what I was grabbing, but it didn’t usually matter, I would eat it all anyway. I shuffled over to my battle station and dropped all the food onto my desk. I removed my backpack and fished around inside it for my regular flashlight. Goosebumps broke out all over my skin and shivers traveled down my back. I wasn’t sure if my hand found the flashlight or the flashlight found my hand, but either way, I eagerly removed it. Flicking the switch, I illuminated my food, on a marvelous quest to open the various containers and packages as quickly as possible.
“Okay,” I told myself through a mouthful of something cheesy, “What to do, what... to do….”
I took another fistful of food from the Tupperware container and tossed it into my mouth before pointing a single, cheesy finger up into the air, “First of all,” I said before bending over and opening the mini-fridge under my desk. I pulled out two energy drinks and put them on my desk, “Two for me…” I said, “and the rest also for me, but for later.” I dumped the rest of the energy drinks into my backpack. They didn’t cling around, which was good. I didn’t want them to explode when I opened them up in a few hours, but it still caused shivers to travel down my back again.
Ugh, that's weird, I thought as I shook the odd feeling away and zipped up my bag. I leaned back in my custom gaming chair and finished off the food before grabbing another container. It was salty, with a hint of cream.
“Mmm salted beef and cream cheese, my favorite,” I said, laying back and digesting all my stress. I felt my nerves calm and my mind clear. I was aware that eating my problems away wasn’t going to help me stop failing my strength and endurance checks, but I had a plan for that.
Could I return to the Parlor now? I don’t have anything different, besides my Fedora. Well, Goldrin has some cool skills now. Oh, I have my Matrix ability. I wonder how that works? I pondered in a quickly flowing stream of consciousness that mirrored the speed of the stream of food flowing into my stomach. I should probably save some of this for my party… What does Lorelai eat? Probably fish or something weird. Nikko probably eats anything he could get his hands on. People probably. No, I need something awesome before I return to them.
Pushing my monitor back and grabbing a notepad and pen, I began to brainstorm a plan of action.
Lift a lot of weights and get stronger
Chug my energy drinks
Visit grandma’s grave?
Find something useful to bring back to the Parlor
Or get really strong before going back
Avenge my Grandma and bring honor to her name
Find out what the fuck is going on. Stop it from going on
Can it stop?
Is this my life, forever?
I shook out the cramps building in my hand and leaned back in my chair again. The act of writing never came easy, mostly because my hands were so large and the pens were so tiny. When I wrote, I always felt like my fingers where a group of Ogres trying to wield a Fairy wand, it was as frustrating as it was inefficient. Ogres shouldn’t try to use magic at all since they are so good at physical things, just like me.
Oh, that reminds me, I thought in a moment of Eureka.
I swiveled around in my chair and faced the darkness of my room. I could hear Goldrin snoring on the bed in the corner. I reached for my flashlight, but it turned out not to be necessary. The thing I was looking for glimmered in the darkness, just enough to get my attention and make me think I imagined it.
I stood up and walked over the far corner of my room, adjacent to my super powered companion. Under a pile of empty cans and Tupperware, I found the weights my Gram gave me five years ago on a birthday. I told her I just wanted some monthly credits for my gaming subscription, but she got me these instead. It wasn’t until I almost passed out lifting the weights to make her happy did she reveal that she got me the credits I wanted as well.
“Phew,” I said as I put the dumbells back onto the floor, happy I didn’t have a clock to tell me how long I worked out for. If I had to guess though, it was AT LEAST 72 hours. My biceps were so tight I felt like a gorilla as I walked over to my battle station. I grabbed an energy drink off my desk and cracked it open. I couldn’t lift it up to my mouth, so I had to do one of those awkward lean-back-and-shrug-your-shoulders type of movements to get a taste of the beverage of life.
Agility Check Failed - You have fallen.
“Damn,” I said from the floor.
“Bork?” Goldrin’s voice asked from the darkness.
“I am fine,’ I said, “I just fell. Uh, from working out so hard. That’s all."
Rolling over to my stomach, I decided to attempt one of the cruelest and most complicated of exercise movements, reserved solely for like of; Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and other manly men. The first six inches of my pushup was easy, and for a moment I began to think I was one such legend, but then my stomach came into the picture, and I had to try and lift that off the ground as well.
Strength Check Failed.
It turned out to be an impossible maneuver. There was a reason only the fittest percent of the human population was able to do it. I settled for doing a few pushups with my stomach on the ground and stood up rather proud of myself. I didn’t even have to put my hand on my knee when I stood up.
“Okay, making some good progress,” I told myself, “still a long way to go though.”
I looked around the room again, as if it would show me a way to increase my agility.
Grandma was pretty agile, I thought, what did she do? Pilates?
Side Quest Received! Find your Grandma’s pilate gear.
I nodded my head determinedly and chugged another energy drink. Tossing it to the side, I narrowed my eyes and summoned my loyal companion, “Come Goldrin, we have another important quest to complete.”