After my memorable visit with the golden throne, Nikko and I discovered another mimic. It guarded a golden toilette in a large department store on the other side of our soon-to-be fortress. Luckily, this mimic didn’t take the shape of ordinary, everyday objects; only people that were close to us. It ensured that we had to look at our friends in the eyes as we killed them, again and again. But hey, that was better than getting my ass chewed on by a seemingly normal chair right?
The object hidden within the mimic’s golden treasure chest, if you could call it that, was a steel helm with a magical effect of reduced concussions. I thought that was the entire point of metal helms to begin with, so after Nikko said no thanks, I tossed it into my bag.
We were currently on our way up from the first floor of the mall, our bags filled to the metaphorical brim with looted gear and trap components, when we came across a group of survivors arguing outside the Mattress Firm. They stopped talking as soon as we rounded the escalator and came into view within ten feet of them. It was immediately clear that Nikko’s new area of effect ability from his robe was extremely discomforting to those that didn’t have a magic necklace that constantly healed them; which was essentially, everyone but me. As I looked on their pained and confused expressions, panic pulsed through my body. What if Nikko’s rotting effect is considered an attack on the alliance?
When no rainbow letters came to tell me I had unwittingly declared war on the people building my fortress, I let out a sigh of relief. And that was the only sound I made as I walked over to the survivors. I joined their silent huddle, along with Nikko, and stood there, looking everyone in the eye in turns. The growing silence eventually became so awkward that even I was tempted to break it, but I didn’t. I was fully aware of the image they held for me in their heads. The sigh, the silent stare, the fact that I was probably insane, and my dragon. If these two survivors were arguing over anything important, they would tell me out of sheer fear. And just as I began to think they had all bore holes directly through their shoes, and that thier blank stares were now trying to drill into the floor, one of them spoke up.
“It’s the Mattress Firm,” a man in brand new clothes from the local GAP said, “I claimed it before we even moved down into the second floor, but now he is trying to move in.”
“You already have a store to live in!” a fit man in his late twenties yelled.
The well-dressed man laughed, “Hey, it’s not my fault you can’t adapt to the times.” At his last words, the man shot me a questioning glare, trying to gauge how I would react. I left my face purposefully blank and turned my head to the younger gentleman.
He took the hint and spoke up, “What does that even mean? Even if you claimed the Mattress Firm, which you didn’t, it wouldn’t magically make you CEO of the company. Or wait, that’s what you want isn’t it?” The man gave a knowing smile and began ranting about how they should be using the Apocalypse to fix what is wrong with the world and not just continue with all our bad habits from the past. I was planning on dying soon, so I tuned him out and instead, inspected him.
Hemtail Clinton - Level 28 Human - Level 4 Barbarian
Max Health = 192
Ability One = Berserker’s Rage
I was careful not to react to the information as I read it. When I finished, I inspected the man dressed in new clothing. He wore a pair of tan slacks and a blue button up still creased from the way it was folded inside the store it came from. It was an odd outfit for someone to choose, especially when he essentially owned all the clothes in the entire store. Personally, I would have tried out an entirely new style knowing that it wouldn’t cost any money. I certainly would have chosen something more comfortable, at the very least.
Rick Blican - Level 43 Human - Level 2
Max Health = 156
“Hey kid,” Rick said after stifling an unnatural cough, “Of course I am looking out for Numero Uno. Don’t be mad at me because you just realized everyone would need a mattress to sleep on.” He gave another condescending laugh, followed by another fit of coughing.
“So you admit it?” Hemtail coughed, “You just want this store so you can use the Mattresses to trade, ON TOP OF YOUR ENTIRE STORE OF CLOTHING!?”
It took every ounce of my willpower to stop the argument before Hemtail could unleash his Berserker’s Rage. I wanted to see it so bad, but I wanted this group of survivors to stay alive more. At least long enough for me to use them as bullet shields for Raggy. As I held my hand up to silence them, a wicked idea spawned in my brain. Actually, it was probably less evil than using my alliance members as bullet shields, but either way, they would still probably die. I shelved the plan for later. “You,” I said, pointing to the well-dressed Rick, “You can have the Mattress Firm.” Then I pointed to Hemtail as he struggled to control his outrage over the injustice, “And you can come with me.”
Nikko and I sat in our new room situated between the stairwell to the roof and the escalator to the food court. It was about as prime real estate as any, besides the large department stores at each end of the mall. Those have been off-limits to the survivors by decree of the evil overlord, me, until today. In fact, Hemtail was the first survivor granted ownership of the luxury property. Both department stores were the only two locations you could go from the first floor to the second, besides the food court which was in the center of the fortress. I had plans to lock down every stairwell except one, and our Barbarian would guard that in his new, much larger, department store home. Hemtail accepted my offer graciously. I told him that he shouldn't thank me, but it was clear he thought I was acting magnanimous. I wasn't.
“So let me get this straight,” Nikko said from on top the bean bag he looted earlier in the day. I sat in one of those black leather massaging chairs. It didn’t work, but it was still comfortable, and if I shifted my weight just right I could even work out some of the kinks in my back manually. “You want to invite Raggy to the fortress?”
“I want to make him come here, yes.” I said, rubbing my back against the chair like a bear would rub up against a tree to scratch an itch, “We will make it so there is only one entrance into the fortress. Then Raggy will have to walk to the other end of the mall to get to Hemtail’s department store, were the only stairwell to the second floor will be. If he makes it that far, he will have to walk across the entire second floor, go around the food court that we will have blocked off, and circle back around to make it to this room and gain access to the roof, where we will be with the Drade. I will have traps, and of course the alliance members, stationed every-”
“So you are building an elaborate and dangerous maze for him to walk,” Nikko said, interrupting my evil genius-ness. He leaned forward and poked the small fire we had going with a brand new hockey stick, “and if he makes it through, he will fight us.”
I nodded, “Exactly. The plan relies on two assumptions. One is that Raggy won’t be able to break through Ben’s black metal and take a shortcut. And two, we have to be able to declare war on the alliance, without them ganging up on us.”
“My shields,” Nikko said, picking up on my thought process as he pulled a bit of his robe that twisted underneath his body. Susan’s robe consisted of a grey wool that seemed constantly dirty. On closer inspection, I couldn’t spot any stains or tears, but the idea of it being dirty remained. The effect it gave off was repulsive and nauseating, and even though I wore the Necklace of Healing, it didn’t mean I was immune to all the consequences of being close to Nikko. My health stayed at the same level, but I was still likely to cough now and then. Instead of the two items canceling each other out and me feeling normal, I felt more like I was sick, but on really good painkillers.
“Yes,” I gave a slow nod, “While Ben completes the fortress, we need to find you some more tattoo ink and a way to harvest skin…”
Nikko matched my slow nod, his face illuminated by the firelight on a backdrop of near pitch blackness. In fact, the only way you could tell the walls of our small temporary room where even there, was by the small purple flecks inside it. If they weren’t there, the black metal would absorb all the light it came across, making moving around the fortress near impossible. Maybe we will snuff out all the torches when the time comes.
“Any idea where we can get the ink?” I asked.
“Yea. There should be a Walmart nearby. They don’t have the good stuff, but it will be fine for my Inscriptions. ”
“Then that will be tomorrow’s mission,” I said, leaning back into my massage chair and closing my eyes. “Maybe we will find more treasure filled toilettes too.”
Walmart was busy considering the weather, and the fact that most of the population was undead. Scroungers drove around on battery-powered scooters, honking at each other, putting things into their baskets and then putting them back down in different isles. Light seeped in through a hole in the roof, bits of cement and rubble falling inside and bouncing off cheap shevling or carboard boxes with the appropriate ding or dong.
“Well,” Nikko said in an amused tone, “At least the Scroungers scared away any potential looters.”
I sighed, “Yea, but it is going to a bitch to find anything in here.”
“Better get started then.”
“Yea, one second,” I said, holding out a hand to stop Nikko, “I leveled up and need to choose a new ability.” Nikko laughed, pushed through my outstretched arm, and walked off. I shook my head in mocked concern, then summoned the rainbow letters.
You have leveled up! Please choose an ability!
Inspect Level 3 - Uncovers an additional ability of inspectable creatures.
Knock Down 3 - This ability now has an even wider area of effect.
Detect Traps - Nearby traps will are highlighted more often.
Does no one else use traps, or am I just awful at spotting them? I wondered. Past the rainbow letters, I could see a small caravan of Scooter Scroungers riding after Nikko. He was merely walking down an aisle, but I could tell the chase was no less intense for the creatures. They hooted, hollered, coughed, and honked, leaning forward in their scooters at times as if that would make them faster. Nikko simply took his time browsing the isles, while slowly sucking the life out of the caravan behind him. I refocused my eyes and chose the improved Knock Down ability.
“I am going to check the bathroom,” I yelled, hands cupped to my mouth, “Then I will make my way to Sporting Goods.”
“Why?” Nikko’s voice rang out from somewhere, “You don’t play any sports.”
“Ha ha ha,” I said, mostly to myself, as I walked behind the registers and followed the sign for the restrooms. As suspected, the bathrooms here were slightly less welcoming than the ones in the expensive department stores at the mall. I kicked in each stall, and when I got to the last one, a sparkly golden throne greeted me. Knowing that it wouldn’t be unguarded, I turned to my left. Raggy was there.
“Oh fuck,” I grunted, charging. Without thinking, I activated my Knock Down ability before Raggy could load his rifle. Instead of my stomach exploding outward, I began to levitate just above the ground. All within the span of a second, my body curled in on itself, rumbled with power, then exploded outward like a violently blooming flower. Each of my limbs straightened, becoming rigid with the power flowing through them. Orange energy sparked off my right arm, blue from my left, and probably some other colors from my feet as well, but I couldn’t be sure. My world was a cacophony of metal paneling smashing against the tile, ceramic crumbling, and pressurized water shooting into the drop ceiling and pooling above it. One of the air dryers for your hands even managed to turn on momentarily. When my feet touched the ground, I saw Raggy on the floor. I pointed my Katana at him with one hand and my regular flashlight with the other. He was bleeding from his forehead and flat on his back. The broken handcuffs around each of his wrists jingled as he raised his hands to prod his wound. No, not to prod his wound. He was covering his eyes and crying.
“Jesus,” I scoffed, “What is this now?” Previously, the mimics never even made a sound.
“I…” Ragnaros stuttered, his beard quivering with unspoken truths, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to be there for you.”
The mimick’s words filled me with rage. I drove my Katana through the heart of Ragnaros’s camo shirt and twisted. Goldrin barked somewhere. Then the mimick disintegrated. Later on, I would decide that the only reason the mimic died so quickly was that it must have used all of its power to talk to me. That must have been the reason it only turned into one of my acquaintances, instead of many, before finally dying for good. I left the bathroom in a haze and made it halfway to the Sporting Goods section before I realized I had forgotten about the Mimick’s loot. Sighing and turning, I backtracked. Inside the golden water of the golden toilette was another bunch of soppy cloth or leather. I pulled it out and gave it a good twist to get most of the liquid out before opening it up.
Hero’s Trench Coat - Grants a minor boost to intelligence.
I hung the coat up on the far side of an aisle to dry and set out to clear Ragnaros’s cryptic words from my head. Fortunately for me, I knew just the thing that would do the trick; slaughtering Scroungers and getting more loot. I became a farmer, and human heads became my crop. My Katana and I roamed the store like a glacier; slow, steady, and stomping over anything unlucky enough to get in our way. We separated Scooter Scroungers from their heads, one after the other, with practiced ease. Their bodies continued until their scooters crashed into shelves, walls, and each other with disappointing collisions. They were like ragdolls strapped to toys on wheels. I needed more. I needed something worthy of my blade, and it was clear I wouldn’t find it in Walmart.
“I leveled up!” Nikko’s voice called out from the maze of shelves and cheap products as I left. I walked over the crosswalk and into the mostly abandoned parking lot.
“Avalanche,” I said, walking up to my slimy hulk of a creature, “Activate your Lieutenant’s Shout ability, now.”
The creature tilted his pink fleshy face at me; his cowl lost when we flew on the Drade for the first and only time. His hesitation gnawed at my insides, as did the fact that I was forced to look at his nakedness of both clothes and skin. Does he dare disobey me? He didn’t, but I think a less intelligent version of him would have. The creature looked up to the bland cloud-filled sky and let out a yell so commanding that my anger was replaced with respect. It was a roar to end all roars. It reverberated off of the empty motorhomes in the parking lot, off the walls of the store behind me, and into the neighborhoods beyond. The din of his shout petered out, and rumble took its place. It was the rumble of a dozen houses falling in on themselves. It was the rumble of a thousand lead balls hitting hardwood floors. The noise quickly became physical as the ground beneath me began to quake slightly, only enough to make me question it. Moments later, I was sure of it. Harder and harder the ground trembled, until my knees threatened to buckle. Then, I saw them. Across the parking lot, across the main road, Avalanches left their homes. They broke free of their prisons and stalked over to us.
“Stay here,” I commanded my pet as I walked to meet the lower ranked Avalanches. My Katana unsheathed, I crossed the parking lot with one thought in mind; to forcefully forget Ragnaros’s words once again.
The first Avalanche I met didn’t attack me. I looked up to its cowl and pointed back to the creature under my control, “He is your boss isn’t he? Your senior ranking officer, if you will?” The cowl continued to stare, “Take your cowl off,” I commanded. The creature obeyed, revealing a freshly skinned face, pieces of black fuzz from his cowl still sticking to the slimy tissue and exposed facial muscles like lint stuck on a scab. I tossed the cowl into my bag so I could give it to my pet later. “And your pants, come on now.” I waited impatiently as the creature awkwardly undressed. The anger bubbling inside me simmered down as I waited, but that fact just made me angrier, so there was no net loss in unpredictable emotions on my part. Other Avalanches joined us. The creature closest to me finished, and I tossed the rest of his outfit into my bag with trembling fingers.
Gathering all my anger and depression and insanity together, I packed it into an even tighter compartment, squeezed it until was too much to contain, then released it with a strike of my Katana. A gutteral roar escaped me, “AAAAAAAHHH!"
The top half of the naked Avalanche slide from his bottom half and toppled to the ground, his hands searching the air for something that would support him on his way down. I climbed onto his prone body and pointed an angry finger across the parking lot behind me. I yelled, “YOU STAY THERE!” My Semi-Intelligent Avalanche stopped half-running in my direction and paused to watch his subordinates die. They were not as intelligent as their commander, and when they saw me attack one of their brethren, they made the mistake of fighting back. The fire inside me burned anew. Spiked lead balls blotted out the sky, but they would find no organic material to land on. I pushed my burgeoning muscles to their absolute limit, then used pure emotion to push them further. Four large Avalanches fell to my fury before the other six of them could organize. They surrounded me, all of them wary, but none of them smart enough to flee. My chest heaved as I watched them box me in. Then, my feet came off the ground. I gathered everything I had left inside me, and my body curled in on itself. Sadness, helplessness, sorrow for those that I lost, the melancholy feeling I got when I looked forward to my bleak, video game filled life; I harnessed it all. And with a roar to rival all others, I exploded. Orange electricity shot from my right hand, and blue from my left. The air around me darkened momentarily and everything fell, including me. I dropped to my knees, staring at the pavement, my breath ragged and heavy. There was a small green vine forcing its way through a crack in the asphalt. I felt the creatures around me getting to their feet as I regarded the small, determined plant. I wondered why it didn’t give up. I wondered how, with so little prospects and things to look forward to, the plant kept pushing on, kept reaching for the sun that was no longer there. I stared at it for what felt like an eternity, the only thing in my mind being, how? How does it keep growing, when the whole world seems to be pushing it back down. Then it hit me. The plant didn’t care for the obstacles in its way. It didn’t care that it had to first force its way through a layer of concrete, when other plants just down the road flourished in lush, if not slightly polluted, soil. It had one goal, which was to live. I had one goal too, but mine was to kill. Mine was to kill Ragnaros, the orchestrator of all my problems.
“Enough,” I said, holding up a hand. The jingling of chains abated, and I left, leaving the creatures alone to do whatever they wanted. I tossed my Avalanche the clothes from my bag as I passed, “Get dressed ya slob... I love ya, but your birthday suit is worse than mine.”