“Milton!” Nikko yelled, his face so close to mine that I could smell his breath. It hit me like a gust of air that had been stuck in a refrigerator without power for weeks and was finally let out. To his credit though, that was just, 'General Apocolypse Smell' anyway. It snapped me awake and helped me remember I wasn’t back at school, all at once.
“What,” I asked from the floor where I had fallen asleep.
“It is time to go out and train again, get ready,” He replied, throwing a bottle of water on my chest before walking over to Lorelai. She was curled up in a ball on the other side of the room, using a pile of magazines for a pillow again.
“Lorelai!” He yelled, causing her to jump and throw out her hands in reflex. One of them caught him across the cheek. He walked away, grumbling the entire time, and parked himself by his tattoo gear, where he began picking up various supplies and putting them on shiny metal trays like a bariatric surgeon preparing for a gastric bypass procedure.
I stood up, realized that I still felt like I got headbutted to death, and immediately found a chair to sit in. I rolled my neck around, eliciting a few satisfying cracks and brought up the rest of my notifications.
You have leveled up! Please choose an ability!
Available abilities are based on your fighting style and attributes. Please select one. This option cannot be undone.
Inspect Level 3 - Uncovers an additional ability of inspectable creatures.
Knock Down 2 - On success, your enemies will be stunned and unable to get up or attack from the ground for 4 seconds. Reduced cooldown.
Hustle Trap - Build a trap with any available supplies to ensnare, damage, misdirect or slightly inconvenience your enemies.
Well, I might not like it, but my class IS listed as a Hunter, I thought as I reluctantly chose the trap skill. Ideas of spiked pits, great bear traps, hidden trip wires, and nooses tied to bent trees flooded my mind all at once. My skin tickled with anticipation and even a little hope. Hope that I found the secret ingredient to the formula of life, my real life. If I could make enough of these traps, I would surely be able to get back to it.
“BBbzzzzzZZ,” A sound intruded into my eardrum, causing my shoulders to shrug to my ears.
“Wha-” I managed to say as I turned around, half scared for my life. Nikko was standing behind my chair, waving his tattoo gun around. The sight of him did not calm my nerves.
“Time to finally get your shield, buddy,” he said with a smile.
“Okay,” I said out loud. Internally, I thought, Only because you are our healer and I know your secret...
Getting the tattoo wasn’t as bad as I initially thought it was going to be. It still wasn’t something I could see myself getting if the whole apocalypse thing wasn’t going on, but hey, to each their own. The pain was a walk in the park compared to the pain of being the party's tank. I would take the soft buzzing off a needle over the violent bites, scratches, and smotherings from a horde of Scroungers any day. Plus, the blue shield that coated my body whenever I tried to stab myself with my Katana was remarkable.
“Cool!” Lorelai said as she gazed upon Nikko’s handy work. “What does it mean?”
“Uhh,” I said as I tried to glance around my back to where the tattoo was. “I don’t know; I haven't seen it yet.”
“He didn’t ask you what you wanted either did he?” she asked.
“I don’t decide what it is,” Nikko replied rather pleasantly. His sudden shift in mood set me on edge. “I keep the needle inked up and place it on someone's skin. My Inscription ability takes care of the rest.”
“Shit,” I said, standing up and side-shuffling over to a mirror. I was more than a little afraid that Nikko's, ‘Inscription’ skill decided to grant me another penis, or at least a drawing of one. On the back of my right shoulder was a smattering of black ink and red blood. I wiped it away with a gore cloth and revealed the letters, ‘BFF.’
“Okay…” I said as I stood up and slowly backed away from my first ever trap. It lay on the street where we thought we could lead some Scroungers and glistened in the moonlight. I had no idea what it would do, but it looked like it would definitely do something. I studied it with a creator’s love and noticed a cigarette butt next to it. Without thinking, I picked it up and put it in my pocket, to be thrown away later.
“And that thing is going to help us fight?” asked Nikko. “Why is there a scooter in there?”
I nodded, “Yes. I think so. I just used everything I had in my bag to make it.”
He continued to study the Scroungers down the road aways and said, "Hustle Trap. Makes sense." before giving Lorelai a nod.
She nodded back, and a second later, she was gone. I looked up just in time to see the orange glow of her sneakers skating across the night sky. Human screams marked her landing, and as the magical orange light faded, a red one came alive. She managed to punch two Scroungers to death before running back to us.
“Don’t get near it!” I yelled from a bush on the side of the road as Lorelai rocketed past my trap.
Twelve Scroungers followed after her. Some of them looked fit and would have probably caught her if they weren’t prone to the occasional hop. It was as if they were instinctively trying to jump out of their borrowed skin.
When the first Scrounger was thirty paces from my trap, the Razor scooter at the center of it shimmered. The collection of screwdrivers and duct tape I used to fix it upright fell away and hit the asphalt with a soft clang. As they fell, the individual matches taped to them struck sanding paper and exploded. The flames grew and joined together, fueled by something more combustible than potassium chlorate. Smoke billowed and began to fill the street. When it cleared, my razor scooter stood menacingly, six feet taller than usual. The Scroungers shrugged the surreal sight off and continued to run past. My Scooter trap shimmered again, then completed a quick 360-degree turn and disappeared like it was never there at all. Yet, Scroungers all around the world, or at least I liked to imagine, learned to fear Razors that day.
“Holy shit…” Nikko said as he appeared from behind a fence across the street from me, “It did help…” He walked off the curb and began kicking the mass of leg-less Scroungers that littered the street. They all wreathed in pain and frustration until Nikko’s boot provided them release.
Lorelai ran back over. Panting and with a confused expression, she asked, “What happened?”
“Milton’s fucking trap happened, that’s what!” Nikko exclaimed.
Lorelai looked at me, causing me to flush, and Nikko’s hand patted my back moments later.
I had no idea it would do that… I thought.
“You just saved us a bunch of time! Think you can do it again?” Nikko asked. I was pretty sure I couldn’t, at least not without finding another scooter first, so I told him as much. His excitement seemed to die down a tad, something I was comfortable with, but in general, he didn't care. “Not a problem, we will find you some more materials. Let’s go home and plan a supply run. I want to always have a few traps available.”
When we returned to the Tattoo Parlor, Nikko excused himself to his room. The banging of pots and pans, as well as the occasional magazine stack falling, could be heard through his door with the shoddy, ‘Employees Only’ sign. Lorelai and I took seats. She raised her nose at me. I nodded at the signal and pulled out some food for her.
She swallowed her new favorite meal of salted beef and cheese with effort and said, “It’s a Passport…" She took another bite and swallowed. “My shield tattoo. At first, I had no idea what it meant, but I had a lot of time to think about it.” she said with a shrug, “Before all this happened I was in college. Not because I wanted to, but because my parents expected it. I always wanted to travel the world, meet new people, and be spontaneous, but I could never build up the courage. So as I dedicated my life to studying, the thought of traveling after I finally graduated got me through. Without it, I would have given up. It was my shield then, and I guess it is still.”
I followed up quickly and asked the first thing that came to mind - that way she couldn't ask about mine, “Did you study interior decorating?”
She laughed, spitting out some cheese in the process, “Gods, no.” She wiped her mouth. “My parents would have disowned me if I did. I am studying psychology.”
“So you have already profiled me then?”
She laughed again, “No. You are an open book as far as I am concerned. There would be no challenge in doing that, no offense.”
Lorelai leaned toward me and whispered, “I am trying to profile Nikko though.” She looked at his door. The sound of a television smashing to the ground echoed from behind it, followed by cursing. “I just can’t figure him out. Like, at first I thought he was just a homicidal maniac. Easy. But then we discovered that he willingly sacrifices his own life to heal us. Not only that, but giving tattoos seems to make him extremely happy. Serene almost. Its like he is an murderous gang-banger with a passion for art. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“And what about me?” I asked, “Am I really not that interesting?”
She sat back and smiled, “I didn’t say 'you were not interesting.' I said you were an open book. You are easy to understand. You have a passion for video games and wear it with pride. You are clearly sheltered, no offense. But you are coming out of it. You care about stupid little things like cleaning up litter, even though the world has gone to shit. I find it endearing.”
“I guess I will take endearing over interesting,” I said as I grabbed my work out gear from my bag. I laid my thigh master at my feet and began to fumble around with the dumbells, trying to figure out a way to work out the muscles in the back of my arms, just in case.
Lorelai swallowed another bite of salted beef and cheese and cleared her throat, “Lean over the chair and prop yourself up with one arm. Swing the other arm back while holding a dumbbell. That will work out your Tricep if that was what you are trying to do…”
“My Tricep is in the back of my arm?” I inquired. She nodded. “Thanks," I said.
Lorelai allowed me some quiet time, which was probably only a minute or two, while I completed my intense new routine. Then she asked me if I leveled up after our most recent fight. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and nodded. She rubbed her hands together greedily.
“Good, I finally get to meet your Grandma!”
“Yea,” I said, reaching out and grabbing the Thigh Master and putting it between my legs, “I guess you do…” I squeezed, and just like every other time, my Grandma appeared cross-legged on the floor with a puff of purple makeup dust that covered the Parlor. The next few moments spiraled out of control faster than I could handle. Lorelai screeched in excitement. Goldrin lazily waddled over. Grandma asked me if I finally found a nice girl to settle down with. Lorelai giggled. Nikko came out of his room looking crazed and holding a large paper map. Grandma looked at him. Then said, “Nikko! Long time no see, Pal!”