“This game’s winner is... ERYK SOLBOURNE!”
If I had a theme song, it would be being played right now. Unfortunately, I do not have one, so instead the song “Fireworks” by a woman named Katy Perry plays over the town speakers.
King Bodhi, hair drenched and covered in sand, crawls onto the beach and coughs up saltwater. She refuses to look up to meet my gaze, or even the gaze of her own subjects.
I understand the feeling. It’s called shame.
For now, I should feel the nectar of victory, but looking at this young girl who has just lost everything, I almost feel jealous. And I can’t possibly think of why.
And... I’m stuck on it. I can’t get it out of my head that I wasn’t supposed to win, that I was supposed to fail here, somehow.
But I never fail. I’m Eryk Solbourne, the overpowered monstrosity of a man who hasn’t lost a fight in as long as the beavers have been at peace. So why, deep in my heart, do I feel so wrong about all of this?
Mentally, I slap myself in the face and move on. I did a good thing and should be proud of it. Francis and Delta are safe, and my quest to become an S-Rank Hero can continue. Everything I learned last night on Mystix... it was no matter. No relevance. Not for the time being.
And the crowd cheers upraciously.
I like seeing that quite a lot. The hallmark of a C-Rank [Adventurer] is a whole five thousand Life Points higher than D-Rank. That’s several days longer to live without leveling up, and a new safety net if I ever truly face a difficult battle, perhaps another with those dastardly gun weapons.
20,000 Life Points, and now a man (blonde, curly hair, surfboard under his armpit) approaches me with a gleaming piece of metal in his hands.
I can’t make it out for the glare from the sun above, but—
Wait a second...
“Eryk Solbourne,” the announcer announces. “You have won the Surf-Off. The wager has been decided, and you will now be given the Crown of the Kingdom!”
I... I had completely forgotten.
The entire kingdom was at stake.
The man pushes me by the shoulders and forces me to kneel on one knee. The entire crowd goes silent.
Finally, light, sullen foosteps through the sand arrive in my ears, and soon enough I hear the teenage woman speak: “You have defeated me. And thus I renounce my title. I am no longer King Bodhi, Lord of the Surf. I am simply Abby Faulkner, the surf ronin without a home. I deserve none, for I have failed.”
“You will always be welcome in Santa Barbara, Abby Faulkner,” I say automatically, as if my conquering instincts are already kicking in. Perhaps my old self was a more benevolent leader than my reputation in the Slayers would have many believe.
Then I feel it—
Cold metal against the top of my head.
It fits perfectly.
The surfer dude speaks, “We now crown you King Solbourne, Wielder of the Xtreme, Keeper of the Revolutionary Santa Barbara.”
There are more celebrations and proclamations, but I mostly put them out of my mind. I’m King Solbourne now, and I guess that’s something. No Destiny Points, interestingly enough, so it isn’t of huge concern.
I stand up and turn to Abby Faulkner, who seems to almost cower in my presence. A woman who almost seemed invincible just two days ago is now begging for mercy at my feet. I try not to think about the implications of this and instead give her a friendly smile.
“So, Abby, how does it feel to be a commoner?” I ask.
“Horrible,” she answers.
I thought we’d trade some casual banter while all the parading and celebrating was going on. Perhaps not.
“Well then,” I say, “Now that this is all over, I don’t suppose you could return Francis to me so we can return to our long journey?”
“What do you mean?” Abby asks.
“You kidnapped him this morning to heighten the suspense and put me on edge, did you not?”
“I did not.”
“I have no idea where Francis is, King Solbourne.”
“So... Who DID kidnap him, then?”