The big burly man pounds his feet against the marble floor with each step. A thunderous thud emanates from the ground like mini-shockwaves. The very Earth trembles.
He crunches his hands into balled-up fists the size of my head.
What a literal monster this man is.
And I’m supposed to fight him…
I take off my longcoat, and then my “I <3 San Francisco” t-shirt, leaving just an undershirt equipped for nothing more than protecting my clothes from sweat. Maximum speed and manuverability.
I’d check my Destiny Cards and my Life Points, but there’s hardly any point. Not enough time left.
The burly man steps up to me and cracks his knuckles. Then his neck. Then he squats and pops his knees as well. This man sure has a high quantity of popping in him.
King Bodhi wants me to fight him in exchange for free lodging and currency exchange. If I fail here, Delta and Francis could be in danger, and I’m more likely than not to end up dead.
This man is a monster unlike anything I have seen before, even the fearsome bear I once wrestled. He is an outright beast, with the size of an overgrown orc and the muscles of a a cave troll.
I take a deep breath…
In… and out.
I know what to do.
There’s only one shot at this. I don’t know how strong he is, or how fast he is. His presence alone makes me wonder that he far outmatches anything I’ve ever faced before, and I do not want to take any chances.
So now that he’s up to me, and he’s narrowed the range between us…
I make my strike!
One blow right to the chest.
It sends him flying through the air for approximately three seconds. He crashes onto the marble floor, cracking it as he skids along to an eventual stop.
[Total: 64 DP.]
That marks the end of the match after one blow. I guess I built up too much anticipation there, didn’t I?
Sitting at the throne of Santa Barbara Castle is a petite, short, young woman propping her head up with her elbow leaned against the arm of the chair. She has long, curly blonde hair just like all the other surfers here in the city, but a much smaller figure, as if she were a miniature version of the rest. But despite her small size, her presence looms large. Even slumped over, she boasts a a reach as wide as the throne room.
This is King Bodhi of Santa Barbara. The Lord of the Surf Clan and Protector of Extreme Sports.
And the curious but condescending look she throws my way is already putting me off balance to a certain extent.
I have never dealt with such an impressive ratio of size to intimidation from a human. From a beaver, perhaps, and maybe a dwarf when insulted about alcoholism stereotypes, but never from a fellow human being.
But King Bodhi… she strikes something within me. A sense of fearsomeness and exuding of power that I could only call nobility. Not a nobility by birth, but one of ruthless conquest.
I respect it.
“Well, well well,” the chirpy, high-pitched voice of King Bodhi begins. “So you’re the one who’s been injuring all my subjects.”
Delta and Francis, who are beside me, both look positively petrified. It might be the dozens of men surrounding the King who all have machine guns, but I like to think that they are in awe of this royal like me.
“Yes, I have dispatched with the foes who attempted to deceive and harm my friends and me,” I tell her, refusing to break eye contact, no matter how piercing her gaze may be. “I attempted to find you to contact you for assistance, and was immediately met with slurs like ‘shoobie’ and offenses such as wanton assaults on my well-being. It was not a pleasant experience, to say the least.”
She sighs. “We have discouraged our people as much as possible from using the term ‘shoobie’ to those who venture to Santa Barbara, but unfortunately the prejudices and xenophobia of our city will not be cured overnight. It may take some time. I wish to apologize for such a thing.”
“I accept your apology, and—”
“However, you were not kind of spirit or high of intelligence to have confronted my people in such an aggressive manner. Asking questions? Thinking you’re better than the locals? That’s the mark of… well, I have no other way to put it, but shoobie-ism. You’re a dirty shoobie.”
“What a dramatic reversal…”
“I have put many in the Old Government of Santa Barbara to the guillotine. I may put you three to the task as well. Your contempt of the locals is reminiscent of their contempt for anyone who they could not control. Their obsession with authority led to the oppression of the creative arts—skateboarding, graffiti, free running, improv documentary shoots, slam poetry, ska concerts—all the things that make our lifestyle here unique. Santa Barbaran Culture. They did not allow it like we wanted, and so we overthrew them and took them over. Now everything is better, and the only shoobies we get are the people who get stopped at the airport or train station.”
“I see… So we are essentially hostage tourists?”
“In a sense. But your freedom is much better here,” says King Bodhi. “The walls are open for spraypaint. The beaches are open at all hours. There is no law against filming people in public or private. Truly, there are no codified laws at all; I myself, King of Santa Barbara, dictate all final disputes.”
“The judge, jury, and prosecutor,” I mutter.
“You… you were close, but you got it wrong,” Francis also mutters. I have no idea what he is talking about.
“I must say, though,” I say, though I doubt I should. “You are a young woman, but your title is King. I wish to ask how such a thing came to pass.”
The guards and armed soldiers tense up at this and a few even move to the grips of their rifles. King Bodhi stands up and glares at me. “Queens are icky and gross,” she says. “Kings are the cool dudes. Which one would I pick in a situation like that?”
Francis unwisely chimes in. “Well, there are some gender neutral terms for ruler that—”
“Silence!” she chirps. “I should guillotine you for your insolence! Except that you’re, like, totally the best streamer in the world. Bac Nation!” Her ferocity dissipates in an instant.
Francis grows a grin from ear to ear. “Yep, that’s me. Francis Bacall, the awesome streamer who is becoming kinda rich and famous, especially after that sponsorship deal with Dollar Shave Club I’m getting soon. But it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone yet.”
King Bodhi puts a finger over her mouth. “Your secret’s safe with me. I’ll keep my word. And, since I’m quite fond of you, I won’t execute you.”
She looks at me again. “And you… Well, I would kill you for your awful pink hair, but I know that you three are quite the heroes, with what you accomplished in Paso Robles. You helped foster a revolution the likes of which California has not seen since Santa Barbara completed its takeover last year.”
“Yes. Hero is something you can describe all three of us with.”
“So then, what is it you truly wish to speak to me about, other than thanking me dearly for sparing your lives?”
“Well, I wish to request lodging, an opportunity to exchange for local currency, and leniency when it comes to our private affairs.” I poof out my bag from my inventory and take out the three bars of gold in my possession. “Will this do?”
King Bodhi’s eyes pop, but she remains standing and regal. “Y-yes, this will certainly do as far as finances go. And as far as lodging, you may stay here in the palace in our Executive Very Important Dude Suite, at no charge of course. You are our honored guests.”
“Oh, that sounds great! I would love—”
“Or, rather,” she interrupts, “You will be our honored guests if you, Eryk Solbourne, can prove your reputation correct by defeating one of my greatest challengers.”
“Defeat another surfer?” I ask. “Okay, sure.”
A few stomps later, and the ground starts shaking.
Out of a back room comes one of Santa Barbara’s greatest challengers…
“So, what might your name be?” I ask the blonde, curly haired shirtless, shoeless man leading us down the streets of Santa Barbara.
It feels like we have been walking through the beach and the streets for so long now. Maybe even weeks. Is this going to be like Paso Robles all over again, where something so innocent and fun will be so lengthy and filled with violence that it feels like two days are stretched into months?
Most likely, yes.
So I want to break the ice with this young man who may very well come to serve as one of our closest allies, or one of our fiercest foes, in case we need to have an interesting and tragic understanding of his personality and past, just like we did with Pablo Rosas, that leather wearing warrior.
“My name’s Matt,” the man says. “Matt Schroeder.”
Behind me, Delta scoffs. I do not know why.
Francis, as usual, is more busy with using his phone than actually interacting with the world around him. One day I suspect that his undoing will come from accidentally walking into a precarious hole or even being hoisted away by an oversized eagle. He will not see his fate until it is too late, due to his obsession with all things mobile.
“So, Matt, what brings you here to the beautiful Santa Barbara?” I ask.
“Brings me? Bruh, I’m like, from here? I’m born and raised here?”
“Oh, of course. I imagine that a large percent of the people here must be natives, considering the universality of curly blonde hair and surf culture. It is a lot like North Spire in that way, as my people have many physical commonalities as well.”
“Listen,” Matt says. “I don’t care about your shoobie shit. I’m just scared of getting pummeled by your fists, so I’m taking you to the King. King Bodhi that is.”
“What does shoobie mean? I have never heard the word before.”
He rolls his eyes. “Only a shoobie would say such shoobie-like things.”
“I feel scorned. I very much wish I was not scorned…”
“Now you know how it feels to be a Californian,” Delta says from behind me.
“I see, I see… Matt, I must ask. What are your hobbies and interests? Is surfing the primary fuel for your spirit of life, or do you have more to yourself?”
He turns back to me and glares. “You speak as if surfing is not The Path. But it is. We live for the waves. Right now here on Earth, we’re just riding on the currents of modern society, like, man. And the Great Macking… Well, that’s what comes after we take our boards past the beyond, over the edge of the Earth.”
“Edge of the… Huh?”
“Actually, don’t explain it to him,” Delta says. “I think Eryk’s head would explode if he tried to comprehend flat earthers.”
“I am beginning to wonder if Delta might be correct… But, um, besides surfing?”
“I like me some rollerblades. Parkour sometimes. A little moto here and there. Improv documentary shoots. Whatever’s extreme. Only the most extreme sports ever.”
“Extreme sports, huh? What about rollball?”
“Never heard of it.”
Delta chimes in. “Improv documentary shoots. Is that real?”
“Yeah, of course,” Matt says. “They added it to X Games a couple years back. You gotta film the most dangerous and extreme stuff in a limited time period, preferably while performing bunches of stunts. You capture real life. Real people. Extreme people.”
“You know, lady, you look like someone who’s got a lotta film in her. Wanna go back to my place after this and talk about the best in cinema? I could teach you all about Goodfellas.”
“Fella, that’s no good.”
“That’s a hella tight answer, and I respect it, but, like, could you, like, actually come? I wanna explain Pulp Fiction to some cool new dudette.”
“No. I don’t watch movies for edgy teenagers, especially not edgy teenagers who are 25 years old.”
He sulks and stops talking to us for the duration of our trek, except to briefly narrate certain items to us.
For one, we pass two gargantuan statues made of marble that are erected on either side of the road. Both are men on boards and on slopes, but with extremely different poses and emotions.
On the left is a statue to a man named Shaun White, a famous professional snowboarder. On the right is a statue to a man named Tony Hawk, a skateboarder so revered that Matt has to give a short prayer to him as we pass him by.
I hear Delta mutter something along the lines of, “…not even snow in Santa Barbara…”
When I finally see Santa Barbara Castle, my heart sinks into the netherrealms of tension. My trepidation increases threefold.
This place is massive—a grand palace of archaic brick design and many out of place pillars. King Bodhi must live here. And befitting to royalty, it has a contingent of fully armored (in under armour) knights that guard the building in all directions with their trusty surfboards (and machine guns).
The more I look at the castle, the more I realize…
Oh, hooray! Huzzah! I now have 63 Destiny Points in total. I am so happy that this castle counts as a new location discovered!
If only I were A Rank, I could probably unlock the permanent skill [Fast Travel,] which would allow me to transport myself to any location just by thinking about it in a special HUD-like way. I wonder if that would even allow me to return to Mystix with my body fully intact?
Well, anyway, the rumors of [Fast Travel] are just that; it is unsure whether even the most seasoned [Adventurer] can make use of something so complex.
But if I can… then I will surely return here one day in the future.
Matt leads us into Santa Barbara Castle.
We enter the throne room, adorned with shirtless men and bikini-wearing women and so, so many surfboards laying about. Before I even see the King, I bow my head to the ground in a form of respect, and mouth some Ancient Elven words of honor. These words would supposedly give me magic power if I were to recite them in the correct cantor and rhythm, but that is surely not what I want at the moment.
“It is most certainly a great honor to meet you, King Bodhi,” I say. “My name is Eryk Solbourne, and I wish for safe passage through your lands, as well as the exchange of currency and some form of lodging. I request all of this using only my reputation as my stake.”
Suddenly, a soft, shrill voice lets out a chirpy laughter.
I look up and at the throne.
King Bodhi is here.
But what I did not realize is… King Bodhi is actually a teenage girl?!
We three are “shoobies.” We are not welcome here in Santa Barbara, and the many blonde-haired, surfboard-carrying young men have expressed exactly this to us multiple times over our past hour walking along the beaches here.
There are so many people… And they’re all beautiful. But if they are all so beautiful on the outside, then why are they not beautiful on the inside? It is a quandary that I do not find will be easy to answer. It may in fact take the entirety of the humanities to research and discover the truth behind the ugliness inside of many a beautiful person.
I hate bullies. I hated the Slayers for what they did to North Spire, invading and subjugating it for no other reason than they wanted conquest and destruction. I hated that man Buddy who wrecked Delta’s car and then wanted an apology—that wreck is likely the sole reason we even came to Santa Barbara in the first place, as it ruined her car and forced us to take Amtrak the entire way (though it has been a very pleasant and comfortable experience except for the hijacking, I shall say!). Bullies ruin the world, and I want to end all of them.
And the King of bullies, this Bodhi that the surfer pirates speak so highly of… that is who we need to meet to be able to request lodging.
“After all, we’re heroes, are we not?” I speak aloud.
Delta and Francis turn to look at me with great curiosity.
“What I mean is, we were spared a robbery because of our great deeds in Paso Robles,” I say. “You say that we cannot exchange our gold or find solace here in Santa Babara, but surely our heroism cannot be overlooked. I think we should try!”
“Try, uh, what?” Francis asks.
“Try speaking with King Bodhi, of course,” I say. “I am sure we will be granted an audience if we ask. Kings are known to allow such things, at least on Mystix.”
“You’ve met a king before?” Delta asks. “First you tell us you have fathered children. Now you’re telling us you know royalty.”
“Yes, of course, but there’s hundreds and hundreds of kings just in the continents I have been to. And that’s not counting the Goblin Kings or Demon Kings or Nomadic Lordesses. It’s not quite as special when there are so many.”
“That’s what they said about the new Royals of Foreign Lands content update…” Francis mutters.
“Listen, I want to rank up soon,” I say, “and so I want to know I have the Destiny Points available to safely do so. Therefore, we need to go faster. Francis, you are the one who talked about min-maxing, whatever that may mean. How do we min-max out of this situation?”
He shrugs. “I dunno. Talk to the King, I guess.”
“Very well, then.”
I step out further onto the beach, letting the thick, clean sand squish beneath my shoes, and proclaim to all the surfers and other denizens: “Hear me! I am Eryk Solbourne, and I am a shoobie,” I shout. Practically everyone in the area turns to listen. “I am a shoobie who has two shoobie friends, Francis Bacall and Delta Rafati. We three shoobies have a plea and a request: We are trapped in this town without currency and without shelter. But we are also the heroes who saved Paso Robles not yet one day ago. Therefore, we must seek an audience with King Bodhi at all costs. We must be granted an audience so we can bargain for our very lives!”
My voice echoes much louder than I ever expected.
Several surfer dudes show up, surfboards being held like blunt object weapons. “Nobody insults the beach like this,” one of them growls. “You don’t ruin the sanctity of our tranquility by shouting all of a sudden.”
“I mean you no harm,” I say, “but it would be quite wise not to attack me.” I let Francis and Delta get out of harm’s way, something we were unable to do earlier when it seemed like the whole city was onto us. Now, it is only seven young men (and one woman).
“Oh, yeah? Then why did you cramp our zen, bruh?”
“You’re gonna pay!”
“Oh dear,” I say. “Violence begets violence… Except when I do it first. Oh well.”
A few moments later and I have knocked each and every one of them out in a battle of fisticuffs and surfboards so monotonous it would hardly be worth describing in much detail, if at all.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
“Mercy on our souls…” one of them mumbles just before passing out.
“You coulda gone a little bit easier on them,” Francis says. After I glare at him, he adds, “But nice stat-getting. I heard a bunch of dings this time.”
“I’m still uncomfortable with others hearing my ding…”
After the field is cleared, one more surfer, nearly identical to the rest, approaches us with great hostility, but no sense of harm. He does not even carry a surfboard, surprisingly.
“Yes?” I greet the man.
He pushes back his glowing, golden curls and sighs. “So, like, I heard you wanted to see King Bodhi? And, like, I guess I can show you there?”
“That would be stupendous,” I exclaim. “Lead the way.”
“This totally isn’t a trap by the way,” he says. “I promise.”
He leads us further down the beach.
It’s a trap, and a dozen men (and two women) jump forth, attempting to attack and maim me at all costs.
I’m willing to have some fun.
I activate one of my newer cards, and target it towards the sand.
Geochange: Rank 2. Change the matter type of one 10-foot cube of land. Cost: 150 LP.
I change all of the sand below the surfers’ feet into ice.
They go slipping and sliding and become completely unable to fight.
Little did they realize, then, that I am a master ice skater thanks to my many winters in North Spire!
Some punches here, some kicks there, and even a few headbutts go by. In the end, these low-level foes go down just the same as everyone else.
Ding! (Repeated a lot)
[62 DP.] My new total is immense! Wow.
The one surfer who did not lead us into a trap still remains conscious. He wisely chose not to battle us directly.
“Ha…Ha…” he fake-laughs. “I guess I can, like, actually show you there for real?”
Apparently, this town is famous for its amazing beaches. It’s a resort in which hundreds of thousands of people live and thrive. It is one of the only southern-facing coastlines in this beautiful state of California, and thus has a unique outlook (haha, get it) on the ocean.
Delta already has a dreadful look on her face. She drips with sweat even minutes after we have stepped out of the train station. “I hate summer. I really hate summer.”
“It’s fine, you wuss,” says Francis. “You’ll be fine once you adjust.”
“Adjusting is for wusses. I will continue to hate the sun until one day it finally burns out and turns into a white dwarf and then shrivels up into nothingness.”
“I’m not sure you will live to see that day.”
“Oh, I will,” she says. “Trust me.”
“I see…” Francis rubs his hand against his chin inquisitively.
I’m not sure what they are talking about. It’s quite silly, whatever it is.
Wow, I love the design of the buildings here. The orange roofs and the white exteriors… It feels like a truly classical place, like one that has avoided the perils of modernity without sacrificing the advances that the passage of time has given us. It is a relic and a current item all at once.
From almost anywhere in the city, I can see the ocean, as well.
It’s quite beautiful. The Pacific Ocean. It has been a constant presence throughout our train rides, but to see it again in person for the first time since we left San Francisco reminds me of just how much I love the planet Earth.
Not that I didn’t love Mystix. In fact, I still love that place. But it is simply not the same.
We walk along the lovely beach front for a moment, biding our time as Francis looks up information regarding this city. I see travelers relaxing in chairs. I see street performers dance and sing away just to help others enjoy their day. I see a young toddler drop their ice cream cone and burst into tears within seconds.
“Oh, children,” I say. “How precious are those little ones of ours.”
Delta and Francis both shoot sharp glances in my direction. “Baby…”
“Tell us about your children,” they say in unison.
“Huh? What do you— OH! That! Of course. Silly me, I had nearly forgotten that you had been confused about my discussion of my offspring. Yes, of course. I have barely even mentioned that fact, I just now realize. The facts of my fatherhood.”
“You…’re a dad…” Francis grips his head with both hands as if he is experiencing some sort of dark revelation. “You have parenting skills… You had a child…”
“Not ‘a child,’ my dear friend Francis. I had four children, sired from three different women.”
“Wait, you went on adventures even with kids back at home?” Delta asks. “You’re one of those deadbeat dads who goes off on journeys to find himself while abandoning your own children?”
“Of course not,” I say. “I was the one who gave these children life, and I raised them in their infancy, but the Solbourne clan collectively raises them now, as do all children in our family. Even now, they are being raised by fathers who love and care for them.”
I failed to mention that eighty years have passed between the time that I died on Mystix and the time that “now” exists on Mystix, and all four of my children are elderly or passed away.
“So you North Spire people, basically, are a bunch of hippies living in a commune?” Delta asks.
“What is a hippie? If they are a race who frolic in nature and enjoy the finer side of life, then I would say that North Spirans are very much akin to them.”
“Mhm. You’re a hippie. Short hair and no beard, but still a hippie. It makes so much sense now…” Delta shakes her head.
“Delta, quit being rude to Eryk,” Francis says. “Listen, though. I’ve been looking on my phone about places to go and things to do in Santa Barbara. And, well…”
“Well?” I ask.
“Well, you know how we got stopped by those pirate dudes on the train and half the people on there got robbed?” he asks.
“I do recall it, quite vividly in fact.”
“That’s because Santa Barbara was taken over by a Surf Clan about a year ago. A high-powered gang of rufians staged a coup and toppled the existing city government. They seceded from the United States of America, and are now functioning as a de jure military dictatorship.”
“That is quite alarming. So we are now in a foreign nation?”
“Well, not one anyone recognizes officially, but kinda, yeah. The same money, the same language, the same people, just controlled by King Bodhi, the Duke of the Surfers.”
“So we gotta be kinda careful. Otherwise, we could—”
A burly, shirtless man bumps shoulders with Francis as he passes by, and the man immediately turns around and growls at him. His orange face scrunches up together and he shouts, “Get outta here, shoobie!”
He marches away, and Francis shakes his head. “You see what I mean?”
Now that he mentions it, there are in fact a great many of these surfer type men. They glide across the ocean waves in the distance, yes, but they also inhabit the beaches and the sidewalks in great number as well. Some of them wear no shirt, and some of them wear elaborate American Flag outfits. Almost all of them carry surf boards with them. Almost all of them are tan skinned and blonde-haired.
“So what shall we do?”
“Well, if we can pay the exorbitant markups on everything that this banana republic likes to place, we’ll be fine to survive,” he says. “The only problem…”
“We lost all our shit and we don’t have a place to stay,” Delta says.
“Oh, that is indeed a problem.” I think for a second about the predicament, but then a very easy solution presents itself. “Wait, why don’t we simply sell my gold bars to this King Bodhi? I’m sure that will go well.”
“…I mean, it’s not the worst idea in the world,” Francis says. “It might be close, but it’s not the worst. But real talk, do you think the ATMs will work with my bank here? I bet the credit cards won’t, so I’d need to withdraw a bunch of cash. But seeing as we’re in Santa Barbara…”
“I’m serious!” I shout. “We cannot simply stand by while tyranny reigns. We stopped the evil in Paso Robles, and we can do it again here in Santa Barbara!”
This time that I shout, many surfers nearby turn to look at us.
They do not look happy.
“Sounds like shoobies are out to play,” one says to another.
“We need to get out of here,” Francis says. “Quick.”
We leave with great haste, just as the dozen or more surfers begin to slowly advance towards us.