I stumbled outside the building and spilled into the street, rage racking my body. The Depression Eagles circled high above the bridge in front of me. A dozen Scroungers lingered a few cars back the way we came but made no signs of attacking. My squad of demon guards was nowhere to be found, nor was Lorelai. I swung my backpack to the ground and began pulling out materials for a trap; a heavy spring, dozens of cans of spray paint, and a thick PVC pipe from the hardware store. I yanked it all together, just as a yelp reached my ears. It came from the empty ravine below the bridge. Sprinting over to the guardrail, I peered over. There was a man, dressed in a military uniform and camo face paint that came down to his beard. Human-sized cages surrounded him, along with three empty barrels. Fires burned within them, but the homeless people that once used them for warmth were all dead, viciously slaughtered, chopped into large chunks, and scattered. The man picked up a chunk of pure gore then pushed it through a grinder attached the end of a long table. A sausage came out the other end. He tied the sausage to a few others until he had a long chain, then he swung it over the metal scaffolding that supported the bridge. Handcuffs jingled on each of his wrists as he worked. My stomach emptied, then I finally caught sight of Goldrin. A rope tethered his neck to one of the table’s legs.
“Do it, boy,” I whispered. Goldrin caught a whiff of something strong in the air, then looked my way. I could see the worry in his eyes, but his expression hardened as his eyes met mine.
“BORK!” he yelled. “BORK!”
“Hey, keep it down you mut,” the man shouted.
Goldrin growled and shed his hair. He grew larger and larger until his tether snapped.
“Hey Asshole!” the man yelled, “You got hair in my breakfast. Polish sausage is my favorite, and you ruined it!” then he smacked Monster Goldrin with the back of his hand. My companion skittered across the cement ground like all his extra mass consisted of helium, instead of dense muscle. The man stalked forward, a reckless abandonment behind his eyes. His large hands wrapped around Goldrin’s throat and he hefted my protector off his skinless legs.
“N-” I started to yell as I stood, but something ran into me from behind. It bounced off my bulk and skittered to the ground.
Strength Check Passed - you have resisted a tackle from Nikko.
“That’s Ragnaros, you idiot,” Nikko said from the road. I loomed over him and spotted my fedora in his hands. “What are you doing here? GO home!” he pleaded.
“Fuck you Nikko,” I said as I hopped the guardrail. “DROP HIM NOW!” I ordered Raggy. The man moved his arm to the right slightly, just enough to see past the choking monstrosity in his hands and look at me.
“Heyyy Milton! You finally made it. Good job Sport!” he said with a hoarse voice. Then with a simple flick of his wrist, he snapped Goldrin’s neck. The sound of my companion’s life being snuffed out hit me like a hijacked plane to the stomach.
I fell to my knees as Raggy tossed Goldrin to the side like a finished apple. By the time he hit the ground, he was back to his old self, grey and small and everything that I needed in this world and the one before it. Fury flashed up my back like fire. This time I wasn’t going to ignore it. Instead, I fed it with thoughts of my Grandma and of Nikko’s betrayal. I stood.
Willpower Check Passed.
Raggy smiled and swirled his finger in the air. The Depression Eagles above him dove as one with a single, penetrating screech. I stood stalwart, meeting Raggy’s gaze much in the same way as all the bullies before him. Except for this time, I had no illusions over what I was doing. Raggy wasn’t going to be unnerved by my stare and walk away with a laugh to his friends. And I was okay with that.
I looked up. The Eagles had a wingspan longer than they had any right to. They cut through the air as they descended upon me from all angles. There must have been twenty of them, twisting downward like a backward tornado against the grey cloud sky. I heard a hollow thunk noise up on the road to my left. And another. My muscles twitched in anticipation and more rage than I thought any human body could contain. I could almost feel it bubble inside me and press against the inside of my skin. The feeling was so strong that it almost became physical, lashing out of my body like angry flames. Then, the first can of spray paint exploded like a firework above me. It painted the backward tornado and the Eagles inside it with a bright blue splash of color. Eagles screeched in pain as the fell prey to my trap. Raggy looked up, and this time I didn’t need my Katana to pull me into action. I shot forward, my weapon trailing behind me. I ran faster than I ever had before, faster than I ever saw anyone run, closing the distance between me and the man that killed my companion before he could even figure out how I stopped his minions.
To this day, I still had no memory of what happened in the few moments after I tackled Raggy to the ground. It was like being born. You know it happened because you are alive, but your memories of the day are a compilation of pictures and stories told by your parents. Lorelei would later recount that I turned into a monster. I think it is worth saying that I didn’t turn into a monster as my late companion could. It was more like there was always a monster hidden away inside me. I think that I didn’t remember because it was the monster’s memory and not mine.
I came to, straddling Raggy. My legs were wrapped around his torso as I sat on him. They were so cramped that I don’t think I could have gotten off if I wanted to. The man below me was laughing, his smile covered in blood that soaked into and matted his beard.
“More!” Raggy cried, “Get it all out! I know you are still angry inside!” I furrowed my brow at his words. My hands were so thoroughly covered in blood that for a second, I thought they were someone else's. A demon’s hands maybe, but not mine. Guilt gurgled in my stomach. Raggy finally stopped laughing, then he whispered, “Are you done?” His voice was ice shoved down the back of my shirt.
I stared down at him, confused and conflicted, for what seemed like an eternity. He looked different than the image I carried of him in my mind. A rustling from the road caught my attention. I turned to see Lorelai’s wide eyes; then a freight train hit me in the chest. My limbs shot forward as the central portion of my weight soared back through the air just feet above the concrete. A damage notification let me know that the wet smacking sound I heard when I hit the ground was my skull cracking.
“Demons! Fire at will!” A voice boomed from the bridge. I heard the whistle of black spikes rip through the air.
“Oh,” Raggy said in surprise. The distinct sound of a gun being loaded could be heard. “Are we doing this?” his voice was further away now. “Milton!” he called out from behind something. A spray of bullets was fired, causing my ears to ring. When they stopped, a metallic clicking of a changed magazine took their place, then he spoke again, “I am going to kill these fuckers, but I still want you to come back and visit when you can. No pressure. Come anytime.”
Lorelai’s shoes buzzed into power. I summoned all my strength to sit up. My fingers prodded the trinket around my neck as I pleaded it to heal me faster. My head ached as warm syrup left it and dribbled down my back in thick globs. I was awake just long enough to watch Raggy snatch Lorelai from the air. She thrashed around helplessly as Raggy held her upside down by the foot, like a simple doll. Then he sent the foot he was holding through the sausage grinder.