I hear a shout.
I poof my bow and arrow into my hands, purely from instinct, and turn around to see what the commotion is all about.
In the middle of this dark arcade, lit only with the flashing lights of the video games around us, I see a man.
Just one man. Not holding any weapons, not moving towards anyone or attacking or doing anything threatening.
And yet, he is screaming out in the middle of the room, and he is staring straight at me.
His skin is pale, almost deathly, and his outfit is entirely black, a robe with a hood pulled halfway over his balding head.
Delta, who is off to the side watching the display for a photo booth game, notices the man and starts to slowly approach him from behind. She knows just as well as me what situation this could develop into.
I didn’t tell them about the secret agents. I didn’t tell them about my adventures on Mystix as a ghost. This could be related to either one of those things, or it could be related to neither. But I am glad that Delta’s immediate instinct is to help me, because this man is very dangerous. Maybe.
Before he can make any move, I activate my [Skill Check] Destiny Card and use it to check the variables around me:
Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.
Whew, I really need a rest with how fast my Life Points have been draining the past day.
But I can’t worry about that now.
All across my HUD, variables begin popping up. I can see the percent change of danger per second in every single item around me.
The arcade machine behind me, 0.05% chance per second of electrocution.
The turned-off ceiling light above me, 1.07% chance per second of crashing down on my head.
Moreover, while Delta’s friendship meter towards me is currently at a 20% rating, there is also a 20% chance if she takes another step too quickly she will trip and fall and bust open her head due to the slick, recently washed floor.
If I fire my bow right now with both hands, I have a 99.9% chance of hitting the robed man in the face and killing him instantly, assuming he is a normal human of normal ability. And it sinks only to a 92.4% chance if I fire my bow and arrow with only one hand. But the variables show that he is not normal. His strength is 40% below average. His intelligence is 96% below his normal rate due to... something. His current BPM is just... 37?!
He has a 49% chance of death per second. He needs to go to a hospital immediately. And yet he is here, screaming at me at the top of his lungs at precisely 95 decibels.
With all these variables at my disposal, I make my move.
I shout back: “Get away, you dastardly fiend!”
This startles the man. He stops screaming. His stare loses all focus and he begins to look blankly in my direction, but not directly at me. It is as if the thing he is looking at is... nothing at all.
“I mean no harm,” the man says. “I... merely come with a warning.”
Delta, seeing an opening but not able to sense the lack of danger coming from this sickly old man, now runs to my side. “Eryk,” is all she says.
“Don’t worry,” I whisper. Then I ask the man, “What is your warning?”
“You have entered Paso Robles. You must leave before it is too late,” he says.
“Paso Robles... is not a place for travelers,” he says. “Wine Country... is a lie.” He looks up and opens his mouth like he is gasping for air. “Wine country...”
He collapses on the ground.
Delta and I rush over to him as fast as we can to check on him, but as we quickly find from the moment I check his pulse... He’s already dead.
I look at Delta. I shake my head. She bites her lip in acknowledgment.
Moments later, timed almost perfectly for effect, a familiar white-suited, thinly bearded man enters the arcade and greets us. Pablo Rosas of Paso Robles.
“Oh, hello you three. How are you do—Old Man Jenkins! What happened?!”
He rushes over to the old man whose name is apparently Jenkins and grasps him in his arms. “The wisest old man in all of Paso Robles. What could have ever happened to him... Noooo....” His cries feel genuine, and yet from my still-in-effect [Skill Check] power, I can see that his words carry just a 15% honesty rating.
Delta senses it too. We both get back up and step back from him as fast as we can. He doesn’t seem to notice anything, though. He is still very concerned with all his energy on the dead man in his arms. He even starts to cry.
We look at each other. Delta begins mouthing words, and I suddenly wish to an immense degree that I had not discarded that [Super Hearing] card. But I will try to read her lips and then communicate with my own:
Delta: Do you see this?
Me: Yes, I do.
Delta: He told us not [...] Paso Robles.
Me: What do we do?
Delta: I don’t know. What do you think?
Me: Wait, where is Francis?
Delta: Where is what?
Delta: Francis? Oh!
Delta: I don’t know. Wasn’t he with... you?
Me: No. I was playing video games.
Delta: You stupid [...]
Delta: I said, you stupid moron. Why did you lose Francis?
Delta: What do we do with him?
Me: Him? Pablo?
Delta: Yes the [...] front of us.
Me: I don’t know. Run away?
Delta: Good idea.
Me: Wait, why don’t we just use our phones for this? I have a phone now.
I pick up my phone and point to it. She sighs and presses her hand against her forehead.
All of that mouthing gone completely to waste...
I send my message, typing the best I can on this tiny keyboard:
Me: What do we do now, run away?
Delta: lets go hurry
Me: Okay. Understood. Let us find Francis and disembark posthaste.
Delta: pls dont talk like that.
Okay, we get ready to leave when suddenly—
Pablo Rosas stands up and looks at us. “Where are you going?” he asks.
“Um, we’re just trying to find our friend Francis,” Delta says. “He seems to have gotten lost.”
“What? No, no, that won’t do,” he says. "Let’s go find him and we can continue our fun adventures together.” Pablo’s smile is a lot less cheery than usual.
“What about that old man? What will happen with him?”
“Well, the paramedics are on their way,” Pablo says. Even though... None of us ever called the police or anyone. “Maybe he’ll pull through after all,” he adds, even though the man is clearly dead.
Before we can do anything, Francis himself enters the arcade again and, without a hint of happiness on his face, says to us, “C’mon, let’s go. I’m not feeling too well anymore.”
“What?” Pablo seems surprised. “But Francis, you have barely explored the wonders of Paso Robles so far. Aren’t you a little curious about the rest of our fine town?”
“No, sorry, I’m a little under the weather.” He’s nearly glaring at the man right now. “Eryk, Francis, let’s go back to the hotel, okay?”
“Yeah, it’s been a long day today,” Delta says. “Better not spoil the whole trip on the first day.”
Pablo’s confusion seemingly goes away. “Oh, yes, of course. We’ll just... do some more stuff tomorrow! I’ll pick you up bright and early. Have a nice evening.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Thank you and whatever.”
We take a bus back to the hotel instead of taking a ride from Pablo. But even once we are clear and away from him, Francis still seems peculiarly upset.
What is wrong with my dear friend?