“I’m afraid my senses are too dulled, Darwin. I won’t be much good to you in the fight ahead,” Kitchens noted as the two of them exited the cave.
“Do we even know what we are fighting?” Darwin wondered, looking around at his surroundings.
“I’m afraid we do, and, even with your ability, I don’t think we’ll win. My reflexes and Speed stat are too slow now. I won’t be able to help you much,” Kitchens said, spreading his legs and entering a stance that Darwin hadn’t seen him do in battle before. It was like an old-fashioned samurai stance from the movies, except done by a cat guy with a tank top instead of the usual ornately armor-covered, mask-wearing samurai.
“Well, want to tell me who we’re fighting at least?” Darwin said, pulling out his two Burriza’s.
“We’re fighting our friends from the arena, but this time they brought the whole crew,” Kitchens said.
“How many?” Darwin thought, still not seeing any of them. How on earth can he spot them? Did he just recognize the poison they used?
“Eleven. Maybe more. I don’t know if they’ve recruited anyone since I left, but that poison back there was a nerve gas. It slowly ticks away at your Speed stat until you are unconscious. I have less than a minute or so left at most before I pass out, and until then I won’t be fast enough to take them on properly,” he said, closing his eyes and focusing on his blade. “This failure is mine: I should have noticed before the guards.”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll take care of it for you,” Darwin said, looking at the man. This may be it for me. Those ninjas weren’t tough, but if my Speed stat really is dropping, I’m a dead man. “Just get some rest when your minute hits.”
“I’ll see you in town when we respawn,” Kitchens said, planting his sword into the ground in front of him, leaning on it and then closing his eyes.
Darwin thought about running, leaving Kitchens, Kass and them to die at the hands of the unseen assailants, but he just couldn’t justify it. Sure, if they died, it was just a simple matter of respawning, whereas his death may be more . . . permanent, but just the thought of abandoning them left an awful taste in his mouth. They’re my friends. Don’t even think about it, Darwin said to himself as he stared around at the woods surrounding the entrance to the mine.
Then, after a good two or three minutes of waiting, one of the cat Ninjas, the one he had mutilated in the arena, popped out and took off her mask. “I must admit that I’m surprised to see you still standing. I thought surely if you breathed in the gas, you’d be out like a light by now.”
“I guess I’m lucky,” Darwin said. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do in this situation. As she was talking, more and more Felines popped out, each one in the same annoying black ninja outfit.
“I wouldn’t say that. Their deaths will be peaceful. Yours on the other hand . . .” She touched the place on her wrists where he had chopped off her hands in the arena. “Your death will not be.”
“That is still yet to be seen,” Darwin did his best at a snappy comeback. “You couldn’t beat me earlier, so what makes you think you can beat me here?”
“Oh, it’s my friends, and your lack thereof,” she laughed then pulled out her dagger and started etching it across her own body as she threatened and taunted Darwin. “You see, first, I’m going to tie you up and drag you away so your friends won’t find you. Then, I’m going to cut off your fingers. Then I’m going to cut off your hands. Then I’m going to draw this blade up and down your body until . . .”
Her taunts probably would have gone on for a while, but the hour mark hit and Hunger kicked in. His eyes flashed red, his hands moved on their own and he found himself charging at the vile woman with weapons out before he even fully realized what was happening to him.
“G-g-get him!” she yelled as she did her best to block the first sword. She did manage to stop it from being fatal, but he still had left a gash five inches deep in her shoulder, leaving her screaming on the ground and unable to lift the arm she needed to stop the second swing, the swing that would have killed her if not for her allies.
As soon as Darwin went for the final blow, three shuriken tore into his left arm, not crippling it, but sending enough pain up it to force him to twist and stop the fourth as he was pushed back from his prey. At that point, two ninjas who had been close by rushed at him with blades drawn. This is bad. I can’t stop them both, Darwin thought as he saw their speedy charge. Well, if I can’t stop you both, I’m taking one of you with me, he thought, pulling his swords up and parrying the ninja on the right with one blade while taking its head off with the second. It was a good, clean kill, but it came at a price. The other ninja, unchecked, had torn her weapon through his side. He couldn’t see his health bar but he knew it was down to 25 or 30% and dropping by the second from blood loss.
I . . . I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die! he screamed in his head. It was the first time he actually felt himself to be in mortal danger since he entered the world. Other fights had been difficult, and sometimes they felt like winning was going to be downright impossible, but he had never been seriously hurt. He hadn’t ever been gashed so badly his life bar was going to empty and cause him to perish. In a blind grasp to control the situation, he turned around as quickly as he could and pounced on the ninja who had just stabbed him. I don’t want to die . . . His mind was still screaming as he stabbed her with his sword. She hadn’t gone down without a fight, the blade still firmly protruding from his leg bore tribute to the penalty he had paid for attacking her.
“He . . . He’s weak! Get him!” the injured group leader screamed from the ground.
Two more of the ninjas started barreling towards him in an attack formation, the same charge pattern that had left him so weak, so crippled. I can’t stop them both. Stephanie, where are you, I c . . . Darwin was beginning to feel the life slip out of him. I can’t stop them . . . He pulled himself together, cleared his head. He didn’t have but a second before they hit, and he had no idea how to block them. As they came in reach though, he gave up on the concept altogether. If I have to die, you have to die too! he shouted at them in his mind, too weak and mentally drained from the wound to put voice to the words as he waited for the last minute and then lashed out at both of them with his swords. Success . . . he thought, seeing their bodies fall before him, but the feeling of joy from the kills was short lived. They had landed their marks too. His knees buckled then collapsed to the ground, and slowly he fell forward onto his face, the force driving the sword in his leg even deeper. Bye-bye . . . he muttered to himself as the world went dark.
Soul Devourer has been activated and consumed your 44 soul charges. You have been restored to full life and will have a +50% increase on all stat values for 220 seconds after the resurrection process is complete.
Due to having no soul charges remaining, you will awaken with Hunger active.
This effect may not occur more than once an hour.
Red flashed and pain surged throughout his body. He could feel the blade that had been stuck in his leg pushing itself out and his sides sealing themselves up. Every wound, even the shuriken-inflicted wounds he no longer noticed due to the searing pain of the stab wounds in his front, stung and hurt like he had pressed them against a hot stove as they healed. Worse than that though, worse than the burning stinging sensation that dug into each wound as it closed and made his mind wail in pain, was the pain in his head. He could feel the skin on two spots near his temples split open, tormenting him so much that he couldn’t help but let out a scream of agony.
When it finally ended, when the excruciating burning sensations were gone, he found himself standing upright, and he couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t that anything was funny–in fact the whole situation was on the opposite spectrum of funny–it was just the relief. The second he felt the absence of that fiery pain engulfing his body, the sensation of simply not being tormented by waves of agony felt like pure bliss. It felt so good, he couldn’t help but laugh.
“Wha . . . What are you?” one of the ninjas screamed, shaking him back to reality. The red didn’t fade. He was still being racked with the urge to feed even if the rest of the pain was gone. “What in the f–” She didn’t finish her sentence before Darwin had covered the distance between them and sliced her in half. She wasn’t alone, either: the two guys next to her fell in what felt like less than a second too.
They’re so slow, he thought. Their actions looked as if they were lagged and hampered, like their bodies were struggling to move underwater. They’re so slow. They’re so weak. He found himself annoyed with them. How did I die to them? How did they kill me with just this? he thought, cutting through the fourth one. It hadn’t even been ten seconds since his revival, and already their numbers had gone down from seven remaining to three.
The last two standing ninjas tried to split up, throwing shuriken one after the other at him while they ran backwards. When he closed in on one of them, the would-be escape artist tossed a smoke grenade onto the floor in front of him, likely expecting it to cover a retreat. Too slow, Darwin thought, cutting his legs out from under him and decapitating him before the body could touch the ground.
The final ninja, the one who had hit him with at least six ninja stars in the confrontation before his revival, started shaking before turning around and running at full speed. Darwin, still laughing from the lack of pain, threw one of his swords as hard as he could right into the back of her skull while she ran, leaving it sticking up and planted in her quickly fallen corpse like a flag.
He turned to the leader, pale and frozen on the ground, lying on her back where he had left her after their initial confrontation. “You . . . You almost killed me,” he said, still angry he had to go through all of it. She had bullied his friend, she had wanted to torture him and she had him thinking he was going to die. He couldn’t shake it, any of it. “You almost killed me,” he repeated, his laughter slowly coming back.
“Wh-what the he– . . . What the f– . . . What . . . you?” she couldn’t get a sentence out without stammering. Every attempt at speaking was cut short with a deep, ragged breath as she slowly started pushing herself backwards across the ground on her hands. “S-stop it! G-g-go away!”
“You said you wanted to cut off my fingers?” Darwin said, stepping on her hand as she kept trying to scoot away from him and then dragging the sword across the ground to slice her fingers off. “You said you wanted to then take off my hands after,” he said, finishing the job then cutting both the hands off at the wrist.
Darwin had difficulty hearing what he said next over her screams. “What was it you were going to do next? Drag the blade up and down my body?”
As Darwin did exactly as the cat ninja had threatened, a part of him knew it wasn’t right. This wasn’t how he normally behaved. Even in the arena, when he had dismembered her, he felt a little off. This was pushing that even further, but he couldn’t help himself. As much as it felt wrong, it also felt right. Like this was justice. Like she needed to understand the consequences of her actions, that the inability to die didn’t make her immune to due punishment. She needed to feel regret for even playing with the idea of crossing him.
“It . . . It wasn’t our idea!” the cat woman yelled as Darwin’s sword dug into her gut. “The King made us do it!” Darwin stopped, standing up.
“What?” he asked, pulling his sword out of her and taking a step back.
“It’s how we found you. We didn’t revive in time to follow you, but the King had a map. He said he knew we’d be after revenge and told us where to find you.” The Feline rushed every word as if she had to finish her sentence on a timer or she was going to die in real life. “He wanted us to make sure you killed the bandits and then kill you to get rid of the evidence. That’s why we poisoned the tunnel when we overheard you cooperating.”
“That . . . That freaking panda. I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him for this,” Darwin muttered contemptuously under his breath. He knew the panda had been using him, and he had perfectly surmised that he was sent to put down rebels who opposed his rule and not simple bandits, but he hadn’t anticipated for a moment that the King would dispose of him. Did he want to kill us too and then claim that he saved the villages despite their rebellious nature? he wondered, looking around. No, it doesn’t make sense. He could use us again for other rebellions if we did a good job here, so why is he trying to get rid of us?
“Please . . .” the cat lady begged below him. “Please . . . I’ve told you everything. Just finish it.”
Darwin crouched down over her and leaned in till his mouth touched her ear, and he said, “I’m sorry. Rest easy now,” as he finished the job with a quick stab to the heart. She had just been a pawn the same as him. She may have almost killed him, but a tool was something to be pitied, not punished the way he had punished her.
Standing back up and looking around at the havoc he had caused, he couldn’t help but feel a little proud, but still confused. After a few seconds, the light feeling, like his body didn’t weigh more than a feather, and the slow, molasses-like movements of the world around him faded. Everything returned back to normal–or at least almost normal. He still felt a bit lighter than usual, and things still seemed to move more slowly, but the feeling wasn’t anywhere on the same level as before.
Now what do I do? he thought, wondering how long the nerve gas would leave Kitchens and the rest unconscious. Since he wasn’t sure how long the gas would last, he decided to just go meet the boss himself. He didn’t want to leave everyone lying around, however, so he picked up Kitchens on his way in and threw him over his shoulder. Then he threw Kass over the other shoulder and did his best to try and carry Minx too. It wasn’t so much the weight but the positioning that was rather awkward, and he found himself wishing he could just put the sleeping people into his seemingly magical inventory. Failing in his attempt to try and carry them all, he finally just stacked all the unconscious people up against the wall where they had first noticed the smell, bringing them one at a time since trying to carry his friends all at once proved too much of a trial. Seriously, why can’t I just put them in my inventory until they wake up? he grumbled again as he propped Minx up next to Kitchens against the wall.
Then he waited. It was only around five minutes before the first archer, Louie, started to move again. “Ah, my head. Light . . . Why is there light? Who turned on the noise?” the archer grumbled, rubbing his forehead and holding his free hand up to block the light from one of the nearby torches.
“Shhh, shhh, the noise. Stop the noise,” Reginald said as he woke up second.
So they’re waking up in the order they went down, ey? Darwin noted as one by one the archers came to, each with what looked like an incredibly massive hangover. As they all started complaining about the noise, Darwin had an evil desire to bang two giant symbols together, but decided that even if he actually had the symbols to bang, no matter how amusing it was, Kass would probably kill him for it later.
“Wow, that smarts,” Kass said, waking up next. “Did not see that coming. Did we get pois–”
“Shhhhh shushie shushie shushie shushie!” Minx said, holding a finger to her mouth with both her eyes firmly squinted shut.
“Oka–” Kass tried to agree, but Minx cut her off again.
“SHUSHIE!” Minx snapped.
“Mmm . . . We didn’t die,” Kitchens said, following suit with the rest of them and avoiding even the smallest amount of torch light.
Darwin was almost tempted to snuff out the torches in an act of kindness, but years of experience told him that they needed to get used to it sooner rather than later. So games can make the player feel like he’s hung over. That’s interesting, Darwin noted. It wasn’t far enough outside of his realm of belief enough to shock him. Whatever developer came up with this game had, for some reason, decided to add a level of realism that he simply hadn’t ever thought could or would exist within a virtual world. Sure, the game was monitored and all, at least Darwin assumed it was, but there were scenes of downright torture that existed in this fun little video game that didn’t seem a reasonable addition to an otherwise enjoyable and entertaining experience.
“Came pretty close,” Darwin admitted, remembering the dreadful moment where he thought he had passed away. “Came very close. The Panda King had sent a group to assassinate us after we finished our job, and they started early when they saw we weren’t complying.”
“Mmm. Then I guess I owe you my tha–” Kitchens stopped mid-sentence, or rather he stopped talking as soon as his eyes managed to open. Sitting there on the floor, back leaned against the wall, he was staring at Darwin with squinted focus in silence.
“Yeah, thanks a lot Da–” Kass for some reason also went quiet as her eyes opened up.
Even the guards started staring at him, one by one, as their eyes started to function enough to look around. Darwin, not sure what was going on, looked at his bathrobe first. Covered in blood, but that’s expected after a fight. He then started checking his body parts to make sure everything was in place. Head, shoulders, knees . . . all my fingers are here. Is there something on my face? No, cheeks are smooth, I haven’t eaten anything but cookies lately. Is there a bit of cookie in my tooth? He started growing more and more self conscious.
“Mister, mister, why are you so horny?” Minx said after staring at him for a moment too, finally breaking the silence. “Why did you get horny when we all passed out?”
Horny? I’m not horny! Wait, is this like eighth grade again? Darwin thought, looking down to confirm his fears weren’t true.
“Not down there, mister. Up here. Like this,” Minx said, placing her hands against her head and pointing two fingers up like mini horns. “Rawwwrr, I can be horny too, mister.”
“What are you talking about, Minx?” Darwin said, reaching up to touch the spot on his head that she was touching on hers. Sure enough, there were what felt like horns. They weren’t particularly big, no more than a few inches, but they were, undeniably, sharp, pointy, horns. “What in the–”
“What? Mister didn’t notice he has horns? How do you get horns and not notice? Wait. Is this the drugs? Am I on the drugs? Do you guys see too? You guys see too, right?” Minx said, looking at everyone else.
“Yes, Minx, he is a horny deviant,” Kitchens agreed.
“Mmhmm, a very horny deviant indeed,” Kass repeated.
“That’s right. You got bona fide horns. Kind of makes you look like a demon with the red eyes and all,” Reginald chimed in. “You’re not going to eat our children while we sleep? I’ve heard that’s a thing, you know, demons eating good folks children while they sleep.”
“No, I don’t think he’s that type of demon,” Louie said, patting his friend on the back. “I mean, I reckon if he were that kind, one of us would be missing organs or something, and he’d be covered in . . . Wait, mister, you are covered in blood. Did you eat someone’s kids?”
Darwin rolled his eyes. “Not that I can remember,” he said, still doing his best to feel the horns on his head. “Anyways, can someone give me a mirror? I kind of want to see what the heck these things are.”
“Hey, don’t look at us,” Louie said. “It’s not like a bunch of guards in a filthy mine like this carry around mirrors to see how dashing we all look.”
“Especially not with these outfits,” the still nameless archer said. “Downright dreadful. If it wasn’t for the extra protection, I wouldn’t even use these sleeves for toilet paper.”
“Right? You think the Captain could spend just a little bit of money and spring for some proper dyes. The coloration on these filthy things makes it look like me mum pulled this right out of the compost bin to put it straight into a heaping pile of fertilizer.”
“Ladies,” Kass said, “I think you were going to take us to your boss before we were interrupted.”
“Oh, right. That we were,” Reginald said, standing up and brushing off his pants. “Let’s go. Follow us . . . and no funny business!”
“Don’t you think we’re past that by now?” Darwin asked, pretty sure that saving their lives from would-be ninja assailants definitely earned him less skepticism.
“Maybe . . . or maybe this is all part of your evil demon plan. No way to know,” he said, picking up a torch from one of the walls as they made their way deeper into the dungeon.
Well, at least there weren’t any Turtle-Wolves this time.