I turned to my side and started the arduous process of standing up. It had gotten easier as of late, but it was by no means a trifle. As I completed stage four, the final step where your legs are straight up, and you are working on bringing your head up along with them, I received my first headbutt. It landed square on my back. My arms flew from the impact, and I hollered in pain. Luckily, I was too massive to fall. For that to happen, Franco would have to take me out at the knees as the other Scroungers had.
A damage notification told me that the headbutt hit me for around 50 hit points. It hurt, a lot, but at least I knew that Franco wasn’t capable of anything more dangerous. Entirely on my feet, I turned around, just in time to take another veiny forehead to the nose. My face erupted in blood, but I kept moving.
One more attack. Get the Katana before number two or your fucked, I thought to myself, always my number one cheerleader, after Grandma and Goldrin, of course.
I got sight of my Katana but didn’t have the opportunity to grab it. Franco was in my face like a persistent middle school bully, except much more massive and without any arms. It was everything I could do not to be belly bumped into the house behind me. Then I realized, if there was one thing I had over Franco, besides superior intellect and style, it was a belly. I waiting for Franco to bump me and follow up with a headbutt like he had been doing, then I dodged left. I didn’t use my Matrix ability. His large head was easy to avoid now that I knew to expect it.
I curled my body in slightly before letting my stomach in all its glory explode outward with an energetic, “Pahhhhh!”
Franco stumbled backward, like any other middle school bully that wasn’t expecting any physical repercussions for his actions, and fell to the ground. I seized the opportunity to grab my Katana and look around. A notification popped into view. I quickly dismissed it.
“Fuck,” I said as my eyes fell upon Lorelai. She was leaning over Nikko’s body. I yelled to Goldrin, who had been nervously pacing around me in large circles, to heal Nikko. Then I looked back down to the big dumb Scrounger that didn’t know when to die. He was currently on his stomach and digging his face into the grass as his feet tried to walk up. If I would have given him another minute or two, I was sure he would have figured out how to stand up that way. My Katana whirled. Large Franco became two smaller Fracos at the waist. I waved away his death notification, the preceding level up one, and ran over to my party.
“Is he okay?” I asked Lorelai as I fell to my knees beside Nikko. His skin was pale and mottled with red and purple. Thin cuts covered his body like he had just fought his way through a mile of pricker bushes and then realized he had forgotten his wallet.
“I don’t know!” Lorelai said, voice full of that desperate feeling you get when you know something needs to be done, but you don’t know what so you fidget around trying to stay busy.
I inspected him.
Nikko - Level 47 human - Level 4 Survivor
Max Health - 540
Inspect level 1
Vampiric Light 2
It gave me no other information other than the fact that I could see all of his abilities. That wouldn’t help Nikko come back to life though, if he was dead.
Goldrin whimpered and licked Nikko’s face and some of his cuts began to heal. We sat there for a long time, utterly helpless, hoping that Goldrin’s weak Lick Lick Whimper skill would be enough to treat him.
After what felt like an eternity, Nikko coughed, covering Goldrin in a splattering of internal blood. My companion looked surprised but didn’t stop until Nikko weakly shoved him away.
“Get off me you dirty mut,” He complained.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I saved your fucking lives that’s what. You can thank me later," he pitifully rolled to his side, "Let’s go home.”
Lilly and I each wrapped one of Nikko’s arms over our shoulders and escorted him to the Parlor. We laid him down on his mattress, where he promptly fell asleep. We closed the door at his request, after much arguing on whether it was a good idea or not, then took seats in the main room.
“Think he will be alright?” I asked.
Lorelai sighed, “Yea. I think that asshole will outlive all of us.”
I laughed, “You're probably right.”
She motioned to my bag. I pulled out some food and tossed her a container. We sat in silence, the only sounds in the entire world being Nikko’s snoring, my perpetually heavy breathing, and the occasional sloppy wet sound of a dog licking himself off in a corner somewhere. I mentally asked the notifications that I had dismissed earlier to reappear.
You have learned a new skill - Knock Down!
That would be my belly bump ability. Definitely useful. Why is it a skill though? I thought as I chomped down on Grandma’s gluten-free, no carb, spaghetti. I wasn’t sure how such a meal could be carb free, or what carbs were to begin with, but with how much my Grandma ate the stuff I figured it would taste good. It didn’t.
Knock Down - On success, your enemies will be stunned and unable to get up or attack from the ground for 4 seconds.
Oh, I said to myself, so if I successfully knock down a trained ninja he will suddenly forget how to do that cool front flip-stand up thing they do? Then after four seconds he will remember and get up like usual?
It was strange seeing such a movement impairing ability being available in real life, but I wasn’t going to fight it. If there was one thing I understood it was game mechanics. If anything, I was excited about them. I spent my whole life guessing how people would react in social situations or worse, in bullying situations. Game mechanics made life easy to understand and gave me one less thing to think about. I chomped on the grass spaghetti with increased vigor, until I remembered my Bait ability.
That ability was exciting too, I thought mid-chew, until I saw the game mechanic happen. The Scroungers weren’t just magically attracted, no, that would be too easy. Monsters and magic all around me, but all my pores have to open up so I can release some stupid yellow Scrounger pheromone...
The memory of my Bait ability caused my skin to prickle, but I shook it off. Bait activated on me, so theoretically, the Knockdown ability wouldn’t. Whatever magic that caused my enemy to forget how to stand, wouldn’t be my problem.
The complexities of my current situation weighed on me until I let out a long sigh. Lorelai asked me if everything was okay through a mouthful of salted beef and cheese.
“Yea,” I said, “Just thinking about the rainbow letters.”
“Me too,” she said, leaning forward in her chair and putting away her Tupperware, “I think I am getting the hang of it all. Tell me if I am right…” She plucked her teeth with her tongue and thought for a second, “Okay, have you inspected Nikko lately?”
“Did you see his vampiric healing ability?”
I nodded again.
“Well, vampires like to suck blood right, to heal themselves or something? What if he heals us, but it hurts him in the process. Like a reverse vampire. Kind of?” She said, slightly trailing off at the end.
I nodded, but this time only after thinking for a second and agreeing that her hypothesis could be possible.
“AND,” She said, finding her excitement once more, “Nikko didn’t even get attacked in the fight. Or at least not that I saw. I guess it is possible that something attacked him in the split second I wasn’t looking, but I am pretty sure that didn’t happen. Besides, I haven’t seen any Scroungers attack in a way that leaves you with a bunch of scratches.”
I pointed to the flaps of inscribed skin hanging around the building, “Well, besides Brittnie, she was a scratcher. But I think you are right. He doesn’t heal us. He gives us his health, which he has a ton of…”
I nodded one last time and reached for my wallet. I rifled around for something I never thought I was ever going to get the opportunity to use. Past my folded up character sheet, a business card from the local Gamestop, and my Grandma’s picture was the thing. I got it around the same time all the kids my age were obsessed with manliness and revoking each other's masculinity if they did something girly. I handed it to her, and she read it aloud.
“Harken thee! You have been accepted into the ranks of the learned, the wise, and the stylish. For wherever you now go, you will find safety in our ranks. You will find kindness, sympathy, freely flowing fountains of Mountain Dew, and an extra pair of D20s. Welcome!”
She looked at me, confused.
“Turn it over,” I prodded with a grin.
“Nerd Card?” she asked before realization dawned. She rolled her eyes and put it in her pocket with a smile. I fell in love a little bit more.
“Yahooooooo!” I yelled from on top of my level 200 epic flying mount. It took countless hours of raiding the end-game dungeon to find it. And even when I did, the loot distribution system gave it to someone else, so I had to go back and do it all again. In the end, though, I succeeded. I was the owner of some seriously legendary loot and riding it was just as legendary as it sounded.
At least it was until my mount went against my command and plummeted downward. Mountain ranges and vast grasslands dispersed with level 10 monster camps became a blur as we spun to the ground. I yelled out for my mount. I even tugged on the dragon's ears, but it ignored my commands. We crashed into land at bone braking speed.
After the impact, I checked my health bar. It was gone. I looked around frantically as if that was going to help the dust clear around me faster. I called out for my mount, but my prized possession never came.
“Well...” an annoyed voice rang through my head. I was in a classroom, my sixth-grade math classroom to be exact. I was sitting in the back like I always did because my teachers made me. They never said as much, but I knew it was because I was too fat for the other kids to see around. The chair, specially designed for people like me, had the name of my D&D party engraved into it. All the kids were busy looking at me.
I cleared my throat and was surprised at the high pitched voice that came out, “Ummm… what was the question again?”
Nicole, my nazi of a teacher, was wearing a regal set of plate armor. I looked at her curiously as she talked, trying to remember what dungeon dropped that type of armor. Then she was naked, and I looked at her with even more curiosity.
“Well….” Nicole said, back in her usual conservative shirt and pants.
“Sorry, I… Couldn’t hear you.”
Her patience with me broke, as it usually did, “Get your head out of the clouds, Milton. We are all paying attention here. Everyone except you, Milton. Do you think you could stop wasting our time and…”
I dropped my chin as far as it would go and focused on the letters, “BFFs” that I had scribbled into the desk. The boy from across my Grandma’s house, our DND warrior, wanted to name our group something else, but we all decided that Battle Furious Fiends was what summarized us best.
“Milton! Do you hear me!” echoed in my background, “Milton! Milton!”