“Why were you attacking him without me?” Nikko complained inside the Parlor. I was on the floor of his room between stacks of magazines and cooking utensils, my head aching from the ghosts of a terrible wound. Memories of my bloody demon hands flashed across my vision, and then I remembered everything that had happened. “Hello?” Nikko asked.
I walked out of the back room to find Lorelai sitting on a chair, her body hidden behind a counter. Nikko was trying to talk to her, but it was as if his words were getting lost in the air between them. Suddenly, she turned to meet my eyes, then she placed her hands on the chair and pushed her body vertical. Her hands traveled from chair to countertop to further down the countertop. When she came free of the obstruction, I saw the bloody stump where one of her legs used to be. We stared at each other for a long while, Nikko barking silently in the background. Without a word, she limped forward. I grabbed her hand then lead her to the bed where she stayed for weeks.
The days passed without notice, jumbling together in a gray haze that never went away. Nikko explained his betrayal with earnest detail. He told me how he and his best friend Greg had grown up together. He explained how they fell in love. He explained how Greg was married to a woman and he explained why he was okay with it. Nikko lived a sad life, and Greg was the secret that got him through. Nikko said that after he left the life of crime, he started his own business. He knew he would never be a millionaire, but deep down he counted himself among the blessed. He was just happy he didn't die young, like the majority of the kids he grew up with. He had done some terrible things, so when he and Greg could only sneak away to see each other every month or so, Nikko wasn’t upset. He said that he wanted Greg to be happy and if that meant being with his wife and only seeing each other in secret, then that was probably more than he deserved. Nikko said that the day he left Lorelai and me, he was looking for more information about Greg’s family. He wanted to know if they were alive and if he could, in some way, help them, as a favor to his best friend and secret lover. He said he wouldn’t have told them about their affair, in fact, he said I was the first person he ever told. But he did say he wanted to protect them because that was what Greg would have wanted.
I listened to Nikko’s story, but when I should have been surprised, I wasn’t. When I would I have been disgusted; I wasn’t. I merely took it all in, unsure of where all the information was going and not caring to find out. No part of the story could move me, not even when Nikko described the moments when we killed his secret lover, together, as a party. Greg was the first Scrounger I killed with my Katana in the Parlor. I had slashed at it and stabbed it more times than was necessary. Nikko described the moment when I chopped Greg’s head off, and it fell onto his own. He said that he merely stood up and wiped the gore from his face, spit out the blood, and greeted the world as a zombie.
“I am dead inside,” he finished.
“Me too,” I replied, and it was true.
I used my days to think about life. Sometimes I wondered what I did to deserve it all, but even that didn’t make me feel particularly sorry for myself. There was just nothing left inside me that could be bothered. Even the Demons that survived the battle with Ragnaros had abandoned us. Leader Demon had happily died an honorable death that allowed us to escape Ragnaros, but without his command, Snarky Demon was able to manipulate the others into breaking our contract and leaving this world. I didn’t blame them. I wanted to go too.
It wasn’t until Lorelai started refusing the food I offered her that something began to stir inside me. It made me angry that she would give up after everything we had been through. It made me mad that she would give up at all! That anger was allowed to grow and fester inside me until one day I let it loose. I reeled on her with unfair accusations. I yelled and screamed at her crippled body as if her being weak was a reflection of my weakness. When she finally opened up to me, her words broke me almost as much as when I looked for Pommy and remembered, in fresh horror, that he would never be there again.
“I was finally free, Milton,” she whispered, “I could finally be my own person and fly where I wanted to fly. When I was jumping from building to building before the Eagles came, Milton, that was the happiest I have ever been in my life. Apocalypse or not.” Then she pointed down to her missing leg, “and then Ragnaros clipped my wings.”
The anger I felt toward her melted away and was replaced with guilt. I would have let it consume me, but instead, I found comfort in it. Comfort in being able to feel again. Even guilt and sadness was better than feeling nothing at all.
For the first time in my life though, my nights were dreamless. Not even my imagination was lively enough to provide a distraction anymore. I woke up every day and had to re-hear the sound of my companion's neck snapping. I re-felt the pain of my head smashing open after Ragnaros punched me. I re-listened to Nikko’s pleas for me to go home after he tried to stop it all from happening in the first place. All of it quickly became too much to bear.
I stormed out of the Parlor door. No one called after me. The door didn’t jingle. Deadly monsters filled the night, and for that I was grateful. I turned the corner and stalked down my street with reckless determination. My body leaned forward, and I let it pull me into more dangerous territory. I reached the end of my street without even sparing a passing glance at my apartment complex. The road split two ways. On my right were more apartment complexes. On my left, the neighborhood continued with large houses, many of them unknown to me. I could only hope that one of them contained what I was looking for.
Stopping only to bloody my blade, I found what I was looking for in what I guessed was an hour. The area I was now in was unfamiliar to me, yet the way the house creaked to my right wasn’t. Then, the sound of a thousand lead balls hitting wood. The roof cracked and split and the house fell in on itself. As the dust from dozens of families that must have lived in the old house at one point or another settled, an Avalanche remained. I inspected him.
Avalanche- Level 13
Max Health Points - 911
Ability One - Lieutenants Shout
I charged the skinless abomination as it struggled to untangle itself from the wreckage. One of its legs stepped forward and onto the street just as I reached it. Activating my Knock Down ability, my stomach impacted the leg with a loud grunt. I braced the hilt of my Katana against my stomach and pointed it outward for when the leg inevitable swung back to kick me. It never did.
You have dealt a critical hit!
Avalanche attempted to put weight on the leg, but I could easily see that his ankle was broken. White bones poked into the polluted air, with no skin to conceal them. The beast growled under his cowl and tugged on his chains. I seized the moment and began to slice and stab his other leg. He batted at me with his free hand, but the attack was slow and easy to see coming. I leveraged my growing strength and agility to dodge them with ease. He tugged at his chains again, and this time they came free. A cacophony of lead balls smashing into wood and pavement mingled with the heavy jingle of metal chain. I took the macabre music as a signal to run away, not wanting to waste my Matrix ability. My legs carried me effortlessly past house after house. When I no longer felt the tingle of eminent pain on my back, I turned. The street was dead quiet, apart from the sound of metal dragging against the road. Multi-family homes surrounded me on each side. Some of the windows were boarded up, but I was relatively sure they were that way before the rainbow letters came. The sky was the same dull gray it had been since the night I buried Grandma, who knows how long ago. The moon could be seen just ahead above the road, marked only by a slightly brighter section of gray. Some of the more lifeless clouds reached to the earth and floated just above the small dirt lawns to my left and right. They didn’t dare float into the street though. That was reserved for me, and the beast that slowly limped after me.
I threw my backpack to the ground and began to pull items out of it. A bottle of Gorilla Glue, a packet of Morning Glory seeds, Miracle Grow, and some fertilizer all came together to build my trap. When I was finished, I ran again. When Avalanche finally caught up to my trap, he stopped and titled his cowl towards it.
“Oh?” I said, intrigued. Avalanche separated a single chain from his giant fist-full. He pulled it free of the rest and dangled it high above the trap, lowering it slowly. When the lead ball at the end came within activation range, the trap sprung. The morning Glory Seeds cracked and grew hungry vines. They reached into the air, growing faster than naturally possible, even with miracle grow, and attached themselves to Avalanche’s hanging probe. They twisted up it, hungry to consume more of the chain. As the vines reached the beast's bloody hands, he dropped it all. My trap disappeared. An intelligent AND deadly monster. Perfect.
You may be thinking that I was facetious in my thoughts, but I wasn’t. That Avalanche was deadly and intelligent, and that suited me perfectly.
A thousand small shadows moved across my face. I activated my Matrix ability and my body twisted and rolled to dodge the spiked balls falling around me. I smiled at the beast, but I couldn’t tell if he was smiling back under his cowl. Then I found myself on my back. Avalache had pulled the chains that laid all around me back to him. I rolled over and popped up to my feet. The beast was lining his chains up behind him for another attack. I activated my bait ability and cringed as my pores expanded. A cloud of yellow coated my entire field of vision. I waited inside it, my heart beating loudly in my chest, hoping and wishing that a Scrounger would be the first thing to break into my small yellow world. All of a sudden, my wish came true, and a Scrounger was in my face. It was the only time I could say I was happy to see one of the creatures. I let it take me to the ground and smother me. It clawed and scratched at me, but the pain was lesser than getting hit by spiked lead. I felt more weight land on me and welcomed it with an open embrace. I made sure a Scrounger concealed every single part of me. I let them tear and bite me as I waited for lead balls to fall. The pile of people on me got heavier for a second; then it didn’t move as much. I activated my Knock Down ability, and my portly stomach exploded outward. Scroungers, dead and alive, bounced off me and into the air. Some of them landed all the way on the lawns to my right, and some to my left. I rolled over and stood up. So Avalanche couldn’t trip me again, I dashed free of the chains at my feet and through his legs. A Scrounger approached me. My Katana flashed in the hazy moonlight and the very tip of it slit the things throat, just as it stepped within reach. I turned my attention back to the main threat. It was struggling to turn around with one bum ankle.
Now, this was the part I was worried about. One, I had been working out a lot, and could even do a pushup, but I had no idea if I was strong enough to jump onto the beast. And even if I was, I had no idea if I could pull myself up it. Two, the rainbow letters had told me that my class was a hunter. That was known. What was unknown was how to capture a new companion now that Goldrin was dead. Admittedly, I wasn’t going off of much here, but I didn’t care. At the moment, the price for failure didn’t seem like such a bad thing. If anything, death felt like a neutral option to me, maybe even the better one.
I leapt. To my relief, my heavy body left the ground. I shot forward more than I shot upward, but I was still able to slam my weapon hilt deep into the back of the beast. It stumbled forward at the impact of both my body and the pointy weapon I carried. I tried to latch onto anything I could grab, but my free hand met only with the slick surface of raw tissue and the occasional scrap of black cloth that turned to dust at the slightest pull. I was in danger of falling as the hand holding onto my Katana slowly slipped, but Avalanche fell first. I found myself lying parallel to the road on the creatures open back. It tried to stand up, causing me to rock and almost slide off. I dug my fingers into flesh. Then I did the same with my feet, kicking foot holes between the creature’s ribs. By the time Avalanche stood, I was already sitting on his shoulders.
Congratulations! You have received a pet - Semi Intelligent Avalanche!
As I sat on top of the lumbering beast, I wasn’t filled with wonder. I didn’t gasp over the fact that I could see for miles and I wasn’t proud of myself. Instead, I was bitter and angry. Bitter that the only way to avenge Goldrin was to replace him, and angry for more reasons than could be listed. I pointed in the direction of Nikko’s Parlor and my companion set off. He decided to take a straight path, crashing into houses with his body and tearing up everything behind him with his chains. It was slow going, especially for a mount that was as tall as the houses it destroyed. I took off my Necklace of Healing. It elongated in my hands until it resembled an entire length of rope. I draped it around my Semi Intelligent Companion. As his ankle healed, he picked up the pace. When we got to the Parlor, the chains that dragged behind us were filled with mailboxes, portions of chain fences, termite damaged lumber and even an extremely upset Scrounger.
“Down,” I commanded. Avalanche grabbed me with one hand and set me gently to the ground. I walked behind him, tossed a few mailboxes out of his chain, and drove my Katana into the mouth of the tangled Scrounger. The abomination screamed as it died. The noise was music to my ears. I yearned to hear Ragnaros do the same.