My Katana cut through the darkness of the back room of Panda Express in wild arcs. I pumped my legs, one after the other, never letting them stop or slow. I stepped over hard and organic objects alike as I screamed. My war cry was cleaner now, resembling something more feral and barbaric than when I first attempted it. This time, it came unconsciously, almost naturally, as if I was meant for such things.
Nikko held my regular flashlight and did his best to illuminate the remaining members of the foreign gang, but the small beam of light did nothing to uncover the truth of the violence unfolding around me. Other voices bounced off the walls of the small room, but they never reached my ears. My Katana pulled me in odd directions at times, as if it had eyes of its own and could see through the darkness and blood that filled the room. I slashed, and I yelled. I yelled, and I slashed. Eventually, the two actions became one, and I lost myself.
When the walls stopped yelling back at me, my chest heaved and I saw a bright light. It came from the doorway and shined right into my eyes, through them really. It peeked into my soul and put me on display for the world to judge. I felt naked and barren, as if every choice I made and every action I took during the Apocolypse was written down, listed with relevant facts, pros and cons, and given to a panel so they could discuss the finer points of my innocence or guilt. Luckily for me, my judge wasn’t a high-browed lawyer or self-professed do-gooder. It was Nikko.
“Quick and efficient,” Nikko said as he swept the room with the flashlight. “You could have been quieter, but overall, good work. Now let’s get the fuck out of this tiny ass room.” He turned and strolled out, mumbling something about a fat bull in a tiny Asian china cabinet as he went. The door closed behind him, and I was left there, standing in the middle of a pitch black room littered with leaking bodies. I realized then, that if they ever did make a movie about my heroic efforts, this scene was much more appropriate then what I imagined in my Grandma’s basement when I first found my Katana.
I found Nikko sitting on a table in the middle of the food court. His eyes looked somewhere far away as his hands worked to shovel beef and snow peas into his mouth. I sat down on a table directly across from him and waved the rainbow letters into existence so I could see what he was looking at.
You have defeated the шинэ монгол эзэнт гүрэн Gang! Please choose a Legendary Reward!
- A Traveling Merchant
- A Squad of Demon Guards
- A Useful Legendary Weapon or Piece of Armor
Squinting just enough to see past the rainbow letters, my eyes met Nikko’s. I could tell he wasn’t excited about the options available to us, and neither was I. Although we never talked about it, a small part of us held out hope that the rainbow letters would offer us a way to bring back Lorelai. Or Goldrin, or Gram, or shit, maybe even Greg. We had no such luck though, and a larger part of us knew that we wouldn’t, at least not in a world run by Ragnaros. Before we looked away, a silent agreement was made. We looked at each other, and we both knew we couldn’t afford to get our hopes up like that again. We both knew that we wanted nothing other than Ragnoros’s head. And we both knew that nothing would stop us from getting it. Those were the three truths our eyes told each other, and although the first of them was actually a lie, we did our best to believe in it.
A small shuffling sound from up high caught my attention. I looked around without moving my head and surveyed the room. There were more restaurants to my left, but none with illuminated neon signs that signalled a gang base. Opposite of the eateries was another large department store, and in front of that, an elevator. Shit, I thought, remembering that there was a floor above us.
I glanced to Nikko, and he gave me a wink, letting me know that he was aware of the noise from the floor above, and that he was also doing his best to avoid looking upward. I picked up my Katana and acted like I was washing the blood from it, but really, I was looking in its reflection. There was a slight blue glow coming from the upper floor and dark figures that stood in front of it. I counted them as they lurked above, nothing but a wooden railing keeping them from falling right on top of us.
Twenty three, I thought, far too many to kill, even if they are lower level than us.
I racked my brain for a plan. I was ready for a fight if it came to it, but I didn’t want to risk ending my journey before it reached its inevitable conclusion. I continued to sit and think, pretending to be unaware of the small army above me. Every second that they didn’t attack filled me with dread and confusion. The two emotions mixed in my stomach until they went sour and I couldn’t bear to sit anymore. I couldn’t bear the idea of them making the first move, and I couldn’t bear simply having to adapt to whatever they decided to do. So I acted first. I let my self-conscious mind take a back seat and handed my body over to intuition.
A wink to Nikko. A poke in the air. I took those simple actions without thought, yet with a lifetime of knowledge. The people above me were scared. I could almost smell the fear in the air. It pooled up on the second floor. It cascaded down the elevator, and it poured over the railing. They were terrified, waiting to see what happened next so they could decide how to react. I was happy that I wasn’t in their shoes for once, and when a purple portal ripped open the air above me, I couldn’t help but smile. Four demons fell from the portal, clambered to their feet, and surveyed their new world. They made confused sounds and muttered between themselves for a moment, just long enough for me to be sure that the people above me got a good look at them.
Snarky Demon met my eyes and let loose a succinctly frustrated sigh. He walked toward me, grumbling something about how they don’t work for contracts anymore and are free demons. I ignored him, at least until he got close. When he did, my hand shot out and gripped his wrist. His scales were hot metal in my hand. I squeezed them as hard as I could as I met the Demon’s confused eyes. His expression turned angry as I continued to squeeze, harder and harder. His scales gave way to my grip. I could feel warm blood flowing between them and my fingers. It dripped onto the floor.
Strength Check Passed.
“Milton, what are-” he began, but his words cut short when I stood up, raised him into the air by his wrist, and whipped his body to the floor. He melted into a pool of blood on impact, but just like Leader Demon before me, I still held onto the insubordinate piece of shit, even in his liquid form. A gasp or two was heard from the floor above me, but I yelled over them so no one had to admit that they had been discovered. I wanted them to stay. I wanted them to watch.
“ABOUT,” I yelled, “FACE!”
The three other demons saluted me, then showed me their backs as one. I gripped the slimy strand of thick blood in my hand and whipped it up, into the hole in the second floor that overlooked the food court. The pool of blood that was Snarky Demon shot into the air; then I violently pulled it back down. A loud snapping noise echoed through the empty mall just as my blood whip caught fire above me. As I dealt out reprimands to the squad of demon guards, lesser men discussed what they were going to do about the crazed, fedora wearing brute below them.
The General Contractor Gang would like to offer you an alliance. Agree to an alliance? Yes or No.
I selected the Yes option, this time not bothering to poke at the air. I tossed my flame whip to the ground and let Snarky Demon coalesce into his normal form. He didn’t have anything important to say as he walked over to his companions and toed the line. Nikko continued to sit nonchalantly on his table, picking at his teeth with a toothpick he must have grabbed from Panda Express. If I didn’t know him so well, I would have colored him un-impressed or bored, but I could tell that deep down he wanted to smile, he was just very good at hiding it. It occurred to me then that Nikko was the perfect partner to pull such stunts with. His relaxed and calm demeanor as I whipped a platoon of demons must have done more to unnerve our new alliance members than the demons themselves.
I raised one arm, sans my Katana, and pointed a finger to the elevator to my right. I held it there, without looking up, until my new alliance members got the point. They murmured in hushed tones, but eventually, they all shuffled down to the food court one by one. They clumped together at the bottom of the elevator, unsure of were to go. I walked toward them, leaving Nikko at his table to pick his teeth and be mysterious. My squad of demons fell in step behind me, and when I came within spitting distance of the crowd, I requested to speak to their leader. One man stood a head taller than the others. After the group shared a moment of angry glances, they parted to make way for the poor dude. He wore denim pants and a large flannel shirt that would have hid his beer belly had it not been tucked in. Around his waist was a leather tool belt. The man carried a hammer in his hand when he walked toward me. As he got close, I could see that his face was weathered from the elements, making him seem older than he was likely to be.
“I am Ben,” the man started as he sheathed his hammer and gave me a slight bow. I welcomed the show of deference, mostly because I hadn’t met another man with a stomach that could rival my own, and I wasn’t eager to see them collide. Still, though, this man knew when he was out of his element, and acted accordingly. Had we been on a construction site, I would be the one sheathing my tool of choice and bowing to him. “The Master Builder,” he finished.
I laughed. It was probably rude, and it didn’t help the whole badass vibe I had going, but I couldn’t help it. “Master builder?” I asked, my voice probably coming across as mocking. “Like from the Lego movie?” I tried to compose myself after those last words, but it was a moot point. I laughed, and I laughed some more. The entire scene went on much longer than was comfortable, but what was even more uncomfortable, was the fact that they let me do it. They stood there, all twenty-something of them huddled together, and let me belittle and mock them. The louder I laughed, the more they fidgeted, so I laughed as loud as I could, just to watch them squirm as much as they could.
“Sir,” Ben said as the insanity within me ran its course, “we do not want any trouble. We actually came to thank you for getting rid of the Panda Express Gang. They have been sabotaging our building plans and slowly picking us off one by one.”
“Them?” I asked, tossing a thumb over my shoulder.
I nodded, “Ah I see.” I looked him dead in the eyes, through them really. “You must be even weaker than I thought then.”At my words, the crowd behind Ben began to moan and complain. Their leader was a spitting image of myself as far as body type went, but when I backed him into that corner, he was no bigger than a mouse. Damn, I thought, too bad Avalanche isn’t nearby. Then they would be really shitting themselves. I waved my hands, as if to erase my last words right from the air where they still lingered, unchallenged, “It is no matter. I am strong enough for all of us. And if I’m not, he most certainly is,” I pointed to Nikko. The tattooed parlor owner turned his head away from us to spit out his toothpick. He watched it fly through the air, and he watched it land. He took his time, and when he was ready, he slowly turned his head in our direction. He looked at the crowd and then a deranged smile began to grow on his face. It started as a small movement of his ears. Then his cheeks twitched slightly and pulled upward. His lips parted, slowly, revealing the fact that his toothpick was just for show. He smiled at the room. His eyes were wild, and his teeth still filled with partially chewed meat. I shuddered, “Ehh,” I said, waving everyone’s gaze back to me. They reluctantly tore their attention away from the creature I called Nikko, then I leaned closer and whispered, “Honestly, he creeps me out sometimes too.”