Category: Arc 4 – The Paso Robles Incident (Page 1 of 4)

Special: A Train-Bound Life (Feat. Delta)

Delta is tired.

So very, very tired.

So then, why is she unable to sleep?

Francis and Eryk over on the other side of the seats are resting away happily, their heads leaned on each other. It is adorable enough that Delta has trouble not shipping them together, as much as she hates the idea of it.

They went through all the same horrible things as her. So why is she still wide awake?

She rubs her eyes and decides to get up from her seat.

It’s the middle of the morning now. Seven or eight by the looks of the light and the growing number of passengers boarding with each new stop.

It seems everyone’s headed to Los Angeles these days. Some for very different reasons than others…

Delta was kidnapped today. She was tortured by a Chamber of Commerce Cult run by a middle aged wine mom. And for some reason, that barely even makes an impression on her current worries.

Her worries are much more on the present moment.

No, she doesn’t regret the trip, not yet. It is true that Delta only went along with all of this insanity because she wanted to spend more time with Francis before their adult lives inevitably got in the way of their friendship together, and somewhat because Eryk, for as idiotic as he is, is actually something of a cool guy once you get to know him.

Delta will never, ever say that out loud. She will carry that thought to her grave and beyond. She does not believe in ghosts or anything remotely like that, but even if she did somehow respawn in a new form, she would make a pact with herself never to reveal that she made a compliment towards Eryk Solbourne.

One last trip with her oldest friend and her newest, um, companion. After that, she’s back to her career in marketing and back to domestic life with her dear wife.

A domestic life that includes…

Having a baby…

She looks back at Eryk and… Oh my God, that mouth on him.

She knows, deep down inside, that he wasn’t joking when he said what he did. She knows he genuinely thinks she is pregnant. And with his ridiculous card-based superpowers, who knows, maybe he’s actually right.

Somehow… What the hell is going on with her? Of course she’s not pregnant. Lesbians, at least the ones who are cisgender and married to another cisgender woman, have a zero percent chance of conceiving a baby by accident. It’s not some sort of miniscule possibility. It isn’t a case of the Chicago Bears winning the World Series. It isn’t even the case of the Undertaker losing in WrestleMania (don’t ask why Delta knows about these things). This is zero percent. 0.0000%.

Absolutely ridiculous to even think that Eryk would be saying anything other than a fanciful fabrication from his overactive imagination. He probably thinks that Delta’s cell phone counts as a sentient being. He probably doesn’t even know how to make a baby.

Yep. That’s what Delta is going with right now.

Damn, she needs a drink…

Delta goes a few train cars up to where the bar is located. It’s empty, being seven in the morning and all, but there’s still a self-serve station for whatever reason. And it gives her exactly the peace and quiet she needs to reflect on everything.

She goes over to the self-serve station, takes a long look at it, and wonders what drink she should try. Whiskey, rum, gin…

And then…

She realizes she’s holding her hands to her abdomen and groans to herself. That stupid Solbourne and his infectious ideas.

Delta sits down at the bar, but doesn’t take a drink. It’s for the best, anyway. Getting drunk the middle of the morning when you had just been knocked out and kidnapped less than a day prior is probably not a solid idea to begin with.


So much sighing this morning.

Suddenly, Delta’s phone vibrates.

Thanks to having to leave Paso Robles in such a hurry, Delta no longer has any clothes, any toiletries, any of her vibrators, anything but what’s on her person at this exact moment. Just her current outfit, her wallet, and her phone. Not even a charger, and this thing’s already down to 60% battery.

She would turn the thing off to conserve, but she sees the text message she just received—

And her heart goes cold.

No, this is not another message from Julie. She’s already exchanged a few texts with her since the Paso Robles incident, mostly to reassure her that everything is okay and to blatantly lie about her past two days.

This message is from…


“Hey. Heard you might be stopping by soon. I await the arrival of my bethrothed! ;)”


Just… ugh.

Why in the hell are they actually headed to Los Angeles?

Francis surely knows what is going to happen. Taylor, his quite stupid younger sister, is going to take over everything completely and cause an infinite amount of drama. Delta knows it. Eryk probably knows it and he doesn’t even know who Taylor is.

And even after all these years, she can’t get over the fact that she was Delta’s “first kiss,” as if that means anything. Delta was nine years old! Taylor was six! This woman, one of the most aggressively heterosexual women that Delta has ever met, refuses to let that go and thinks it’s actually funny.

It’s… not. Delta does not find it funny. Though Julie sort of does for some reason. She thinks it’s because Delta had annoying siblings too. Delta was just an only child all her life, unless you count living with Francis and the Bacalls in high school.

Delta deletes Taylor’s message. She’ll deal with that when it actually comes. It would probably be wise to tell Francis about this, too, but he has had a lot on his mind lately, so… Probably not.

Of course, Delta has just as much on her mind, too. That’s why she’s here at the bar at seven in the morning, drinking a paper cup of water and thinking about the absolute certainty that she is not pregnant. What a life she’s living right now…

…Maybe she should do something drastic and just reinvent herself. Bring back the gothic lolita look, maybe. She wouldn’t want to give off a bad impression and attract a bunch of straight boys, but she also really does want to attract a bunch of straight boys and lead them on. It’s a tough quandry.

Reinvent herself mid-adventure and come back to Julie as a brand-new woman? Sounds pretty good.

With that sudden clarity in mind, she finishes up in the bar and goes back to her seat. She falls asleep almost immediately.

Chapter 74: War in the Pocket 2: Electric Boogaloo


Rare, Miss M, and Malia are circled around in a formation, holding up their weapons—a staff, a dragonsword, and a bow and arrow—to an enemy shrouded in darkness.

“What the hells?”

“Shit!” Miss M shouts. “Not this again!”

“You know,” I say, “I really wish we could better understand the link between my spirit and the dragonsword. The fact that we continue to be mixed up when it comes to the ethereal nature of the inventory system is quite strange to—Oh, what is that?”

A gigantic spider-like creature approaches our circle, and all three of my teammaates tense up. Every step the monster takes shakes the ground.

And then, two more appear from different sides.

“Is there any way I could—”


“—help with anything?” I ask.

We are now in a large conference room. A seven-foot-tall human person dressed in chrome armor leads a presentation.

Or, rather, they were leading a presentation up until the moment I appeared.

“This is what we mean,” Miss M says. “This is why we have to reach North Spire immediately.”

The armored person gulps. “North Spire…” they begin. “You can’t be serious. This, this thing… Surely if the New Slayers got their hands on it…”

“That is irrelevant,” Rare says, “because that will absolutely not happen.”

“The New Slayers are not to be trifled with,” the armored person says. “I beg you to reconsider. We are having enough trouble with the Beaver Empire as it is. Why would we make an obvious sacrifice to our forces in the way of engaging a foe that is not currently—”

Malia slams her fist on the table. “This isn’t about your geopolitical bullshit. This is about saving Mystix from the ultimate threat.”

They back away. “Do with our forces what you please. You proved your worth in the Battle of West Timor.”

“Damn right we did,” says Miss M.

“Um, may I intrude and ask what is going on here?” I raise my ghostly hand. Nobody responds, though. All of them except for the clearly freaked out armored person ignore me as if I do not exist.

“I really hate this,” I add. “You are always doing this to me! Leaving me in the dark about everything, having me run around like a blind man searching for some answer to a puzzle, when I don’t even have the first clue of the nature of my task to begin with! It’s a real drag on my spirit, and I can’t fathom why you continue—”


“—to make me confused about every—”

“Shut up, Eryk,” says Rare.

Now, the three of them are standing before a large wall made of stone and with spikes at the top.

“No, I won’t shut up,” I say. “Stop bullying me around or we won’t fix the special plan or whatever because I’m going to wake up and go back to Earth and you will have to be content to wait on me to come back. Because if I am so important, then you have to let me have some say in this.”

Rare sighs. “Eryk, this ‘Earth’ of yours isn’t real,” they say. “It is merely a fabrication of your sleeping mind. On the other side of this wall is North Spire, and then soon the catacombs where your comatose body has been laying for the past century or more, protected from the perils of life and aging.”

“A fabrication…”

They nod, slowly and deliberately as if they are making an effort to shield my feelings from shattering. “Whatever The Goddess did to you, it is not some sort of fancy reincarnation. You are not living as a powerful being on another world. Miss M told me all about your supposed adventures, and I can say with certainty that you are simply having fanciful fits of fantasy. You are a powerful being on this world, and your entire life as an [Adventurer] has been a lie created by none other than yourself.”

“You’re telling me that… What? I cannot bring myself to understand your words.”

“I want to tell you the truth so that you don’t feel betrayed once we reach your body, Eryk,” they say. “You are not a ghost. You are not living in a world without elves or beavers. What you are experiencing right now is something called ‘paramnesia.’ Your inability to separate fantasy from reality is the reason that you are unable to unlock your true powers… and it seems The Goddess has gone out of her way to make sure that you never did so.”

“But wait… The Goddess couldn’t have—it’s not possible.”

“You are just a pawn in a larger game, Eryk Solbourne. But you are the most powerful pawn the entire game possesses.”

“Like a top-tier character in Royals of Foreign Legends,” I say. “Francis told me all about it.”

“There is no Francis,” Rare says. “But soon you shall understand just how important you really are. You will be given a chance to remember all you have forgotten. And you will help us bring down the terror of The Goddess once and for all.”

I… I’m too baffled to figure out how to respond to anything they are saying right now.

“All we have to do is get through eight hundred thousand New Slayers soldiers,” Miss M says. “And if I die, Eryk’s ghost dies with me.”

“Well then, let us get started,” Rare says.

“Got it, boss.”



—examine my surroundings once more, and the three companions I have are now bloodied and bruised. Malia in particular looks like she has gone through absolute hell. A two hundred year old woman in battle is not likely to end up very well, after all.

We are in the deep catacombs of the North Spire. I have never been in a place like this before. Buried graves and tombs and hidden treasure from so many eons past that some of it probably predates the first-ever S-Rank Hero.

Miss M’s glowing fiery hair (a new sight from her that is probably a sign that she has regained a large portion of her original powers as a demon queen) gives a faint glow to this pit, but everything else is shrouded in darkness. My friends on Mystix sure do enjoy living their lives in dark caverns sometimes.

“And here we shall find your body,” Rare says. “According to my records, it was stored… here.” They point and a hidden door opens all on its own.

And we enter the Tomb of Eryk Solbourne.

Chapter 73: A Rare Occassion

It is a weird feeling, being particles of dust floating around in the air.

Even in a world where I am a ghost, a spirit left behind after my body evaporated into dust, it baffles me to an immense degree to fathom the fact that I am no longer a cohesive being in any form. My spirit exists in tiny dots all across this blank white room. After a while, perhaps, my particles will settle on the floor and I may reform back into more of a being, but it does not look to be anytime in the near future.

I am very much wondering why my sibling Rare did that.

Or why they are here inside this vault-like room sealed up and hidden away so well that, apparently, it took Miss M eighty years to open it.

“Why did you blast him…” Miss M whines. “I just got him here and you’re already getting violent.”

I would speak, but apparently I am not currently able to do so.

“I know what you must be thinking,” Rare tells me. “I’ve grown out my hair.”

Once again, I can’t respond to them. I don’t know why in the world they are making witty comments like that to me.

Their hair is much longer, though. And their skin has faded with the passing of time. No longer are they my kid sibling who went off to war with my brother Vince. They are refined and almost regal in a sense, sporting fashionable robes and sharp eyes.

Wait a minute… it’s been eighty-four years since I last saw Malia. Which means it’s been, well, eighty-four years since I died. That means Rare should be well over a hundred years old… right? Then why do they look, well, not ancient? Old sure, but their hair is still a light white-pink and their spirit is still youthful enough that they can easily cast a high level magic spell without blinking.

A North Spiran through and through with that level of power… but North Spirans are just like any other normal human when it comes to aging. That means… Rare has some sort of powers beyond what I can even dream of. Perhaps it has something to do with them being in this room, this realm, this whatever it may be?

“You are correct,” Rare says. “My powers have grown immensely as I trained here in this room. I can even read your mind. Or, rather, I can sense your aura. And that aura is what allows me to understand what you are thinking at any given time.”

Please. Why are they talking to me like this when I am unable to say anything…

“And I guess I should explain some other things, to shed more light and context,” they continue. “For instance, what this place is. I imagine that Miss M has neglected to inform you of much of anything. That is the most likely outcome of trusting someone as careless as her with a task as important as delivering my brother to me, but I foresaw it anyway.”

Miss M gives a hmph and folds her arms.

“This room is known as the Usurper’s Hall,” Rare says. “It is a place designed in all respects to mimic the setting and status effects of The Goddess’s own place of residence. It is a forgery meant to train one’s powers in the harshest and loneliest conditions possible. Every hour that passes in this room is like two weeks out in the real world. But your body feels all of that pain and strength of those two weeks all at once.”

Malia asks, “Shouldn’t we be leaving this room soon, then?”

“No need,” they say. “While the door is open, the effects are minimized. We should not feel much of any time difference so long as we do not make a day of it. Also, I believe Eryk is utilizing this room to his advantage, it seems.”

I have trouble momentarily figuring out what Rare means by that, until I look at myself again. The particles of dust that my ghostly form was transfigured into have already begun to reform. The outline of my non-body is already formed and assembling itself automatically. I can feel the magical energies coursing through me.

“Rare…” I can use my voice again, and finally I am able to say what I wish. “Rare, I missed you so much.”

They lower their head. They do not respond.

“So are we starting this plan or not?” Miss M asks. “I want to become a demon queen again. I miss my suit and tie and medium-sized breasts.”

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head,” Rare says. “You will have your power renewed soon enough. For this ‘ghost’ of my brother is exactly what I needed. We can finally awaken Eryk Solbourne once and for all.”

“No! If you wake him up, he’ll just disappear again and go back to Earth.”

“He’ll… what?”

“Rare, I was killed,” I say. “But The Goddess reincarnated me on a new planet. One with no system. No creatures other than humans and sometimes bears. My ghost here is the true anomaly here.”

They growl. “The Goddess… Her tyranny knows no bounds. She must have known what we were planning and made a move to curtail things as best as she could.”

“So we must act quickly,” Malia says. “No more waiting around for eighty years.”

“My training here in the Usurper’s Hall has given me incredible abilities, Rare says. “But it is still nothing compared to Eryk’s power once he wakes up. And I don’t mean some fake body on a different planet. I mean the true, real Eryk Solbourne, who lays hidden deep within North Spire even at this very moment.”

Malia gulps. “Rare, you can’t tell him—no, please… You told us to keep this from him. We did our best, but if you keep talking…”

“Silence,” they say. “Eryk, let’s go see your real body. The one that has been asleep in the Hero’s Chamber for one hundred years. Miss M, you know what to do. I will teleport us out once we are ready.”

“You got it, boss,” Miss M says.

I try to figure out what anyone is saying but—

I’m poofed into Miss M’s inventory once again.

Chapter 72: I’m Dreaming Again

…I’m back in the dream.

Back on Mystix.

Back in my ghostly body.

Back in the cave, where two figures stand in front of me.

One is Miss M, hair short and height now perilously tall for someone I always knew as a pudgy runt.

The other…

The other…

“Hiya,” is all I can say.

It’s Malia, standing here before me just as I always knew her. Gorgeous in every way, radiating with her elven energy…


She’s also…

Kind of old looking now.

Her hair is gray. Her face is covered in wrinkles. She’s grown shorter over the years, and the fire in her spirit has faded more than a little bit.

Miss M looks down and refuses to make eye contact with me. She knows exactly how I am feeling right now, so she doesn’t need to say anything.

“Hello, Eryk,” Malia says. Her voice is now deeper and more crackly than it ever was before.

Even elves age, it seems like. I may be the first human to have ever lived the lifespan to see an elf age all the way into elder times.

“So, how long has it been?” I ask.

“Eighty-four years,” she answers. “It’s been eighty-four years.”

“And you still came for me.”

She nods slowly. “I came for my duty to you.”

“Your love, you mean.” I walk up to her and put my hand on her cheek—wait that doesn’t work because I’m a ghost. Damn.

Malia shakes her head. “Not for love, Eryk,” she says. “For duty. Truly, for duty.”

Miss M folds her arms. “We’ve been hiding something from you,” she says. “And it is the exact reason that I brought you here on my journey.”

“An eight-decade journey…”

“Yeah. It’s a bit of a big deal,” she says. “In fact… Let’s go down that hallway and take a look.”

We finally go together. After all these days (in my eyes), I’m finally going to discover what it is.

But at what cost?

Malia is now an elderly woman at nearly two hundred years of age. Miss M has had much of her demon queen powers restored. I’m a ghost with no physical form. So much has changed between us, and we don’t even have Borguk or Thalia by our side.

“Wait a minute…” I begin.

“Borguk and Thalia have long since passed away,” says Malia, knowing exactly what I was going to ask before I even opened my spectral mouth.

“Do they have ghosts, too?”

She shakes her head. “Eryk Solbourne, you’re a complete mystery, and you should know that. Nobody knows why you’re a ghost. Well… Not nobody.”

In front of us lies a massive door with red carpeting poking out from underneath. A grand hall lies before us, I can tell.

Miss M poofs out three items from her inventory. One is the trusty dragon sword that she kept accidentally mixing me up with during her solo adventures. Another is the Lost Book of the Four Trinities, and the third is the Yellowstone Rune. I hardly know a thing about any of these, but they seem important.

First, Miss M places the Yellowstone Rune into a slot on the door. Then she does the same with the sword. Lastly, she opens up the Lost Book of the Four Trinities and recites something in a demon tongue, something I can’t even begin to decipher.

Soon, the door activates many symbols and begins to shudder and shake. The whole room vibrates, though I cannot feel any of it. Malia and Miss M hold onto each other to keep balance.

The door opens.

We enter.

There is indeed a red carpet on the floor, rolled out like it is here to welcome us in as heroes. But that’s all there is.

Quite literally, there is nothing in the room but this carpet. Everything else is blank and white. Pure white.


[+1 DP.]

[57 DP.]

It’s almost like…

The Goddess’s room…?

Wait a minute, that’s—

“We’re here,” Miss M says to the figure who has suddenly appeared before us. “We brought him as soon as he was ready, just like you asked. But, as you can see, we’ve run into some major issues. Like, he died.”

“Death is nothing for a man like Eryk Solbourne,” the figure says. “I should know. He’s my brother, after all.”

This aged, white-haired person is none other than Rare Solbourne, my long-lost sibling.

I reach out my ghostly hand to greet them with as much a hug as I can give—but they blast me with a powerful spell—

My form dissipates into dust.

Chapter 71: The 5:55

We are forced to stop the car and get out when the road in downtown Paso Robles is completely blocked up. Barricaded up by wreckage and overturned vehicles.

The downtown, just like the winery we left minutes ago, is ablaze.

“This can’t be right,” Francis says. “How did the fire…”

“It’s not the same fire,” Delta says.

“So then… What… is going on?”

Downtown Paso Robles, a place we visited just half a day ago, is burning to the ground before our very eyes. The mall where I received my very first phone will no longer exist in a matter of hours.

Who could have done this? My first guess is to, like Francis, blame Clone Eryk and not myself, but there is no possible way the fire has spread so many miles already.

It must truly be something, or someone else.

Francis shrugs. “I mean, California has a lot of wildfires, but…”

Then we see it. A group of ten or twenty people banded together, each wearing makeshift helmets with colored cloths wrapped around their necks. They hold up weapons and chant something I can’t quite make out at the moment.

“Hello!” I shout. “Who might you fellows be?”

They stop their chant and immediately charge at us in unison. One young man holds a pitchfork and the others have various axes and anime swords.

“Wait, stop! We mean no harm, unless that is you are allied with Karen! Then we definitely do mean harm!”

They all stop, also in unsion. One young man with a hunting rifle greets us. “You are against Karen as well?” he asks.

“Yes, we are,” I say. “Let us introduce ourselves. We are Team Systemless, a group of explorers from the land of San Francisco. We stumbled upon Paso Robles in our journeys, and we were recently held captive by Karen and her cult of wine loving mothers.”

“Then the rumors were true,” he mutters, half to himself. “They really are moving onto Phase Three of their plan. The time is right, then. We were in the right.”

“In the right?” Delta asks. “Please don’t tell me you are the ones who…”

“We are the Paso Robles Liberation Army!” the young man shouts.

“Libre Paso!” those behind him shout in unison.

So there was an entire rebellion movement underneath the surface that we had no idea about. All along, the rebels were here, ready to strike. And our efforts in the winery were the spark that lit the fire that will destroy the Wine Order.

“I am Miguel Santiago,” he says, “And Karen’s cult tortured me for two weeks. Kidnapped my family, all because I didn’t meet the olive oil quota for the year.”

“All they want is to keep their power,” someone else says. “But we won’t let them take control!”

“Yes,” Miguel says. “We heard that the winery burned down, so we took to the streets and joined in the battle. Karen’s top lieutenants have been arrested, and we will soon take full control of the city.”

“Finally, democracy in our time,” someone in the back says.

I nod. “All of this sounds tremendous,” I tell them. “I am proud of you for your excellent work in all of this.”

“And will you stay to help the transition away from the cult dictatorship? To help pick up the pieces after the ashes have cooled?” Miguel asks.

I shake my head. “We must depart as soon as we can. We have aided in your battle as best as we were able. Do you know if the hotel…”

Miguel shakes his head. “Fighting is too fierce there. If you are not a combatant, you must leave, now.”

I look at Francis and Delta. And we nod together, solemnly. “Thank you, Paso Robles Liberation Army. I hope you see happiness in your lifetimes.”

We run as fast as we can before the warfare continues, cultists fighting rebels and explosions going off in the distance.

We rush to the Amtrak station and arrive just in time to buy tickets for the 5:55. The very first train of the morning, headed south down to Los Angeles and beyond.

When we finally board, we sit down on in our seats, relax our postures, and each let out a deep sigh.

Delta soon gives a frown. “I left a bomb-ass dress in my suitcase…”

“My PS5 was in there…” Francis adds.

“We can buy new clothes and consumer electronics,” I say. “What we cannot buy is more time to complete our journey. If we ran into serious harm back there… Well, let us be glad we didn’t.”

I only have [6,200/15,000 LP] left at the moment, but I won’t let them know about that now.

“Man, bro, Eryk, that was so cool what you did with the clone and all that,” says Francis. “You were like pow, bam, kboom, fireball! And you tricked them all into thinking Delta was pregnant just to mess with them? Genius!”

Delta glances at me but I try to avoid eye contact. Too tired to get into that, either.

In fact… I’m too tired to do much of anything at all…

I rest my head on Francis’s shoulder and fall asleep within the minute.

It is a peaceful sleep.

Chapter 70: The Tragic Life of one Pablo Rosas

“My life began so simple,” Pablo Rosas begins.

In the midst of a burning building whose fires are spreading across the great vineyards around it, this leather-clad man begins what is commonly known as a villain monologue.

I am quite unsure if I have the patience to listen to it. Seconds ago, we were fighting to the death. What has changed to make him shift into such a mode?

He sniffles softly, and continues. “I was born in Philadelphia. West Philadelphia, born and raised. With just my mother by my side, there was nothing else for me in life but going to school and trying to make ends meet in the depths of poverty.

“We were poor. So poor I drank water out of a pickle jar. We simply didn’t have any glasses of water after a certain young me shattered those we once had. My mother sent me to boarding school when I was eight, I thought, but the only thing I learned there was how to make pipes in a factory for nineteen cents an hour.

“When I became a teenager, I got in one little fight. My mother became extremely frightened and sent me to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Bel Air, here in California. It was a nice high school for the rich and wealthy, but it was not a place suited for me. I set off quickly to find myself somewhere better. I longed for romance and adventure. For conquest and glory.

“Had I grown up in the Middle Ages, I surely would have been like Matt Damon or Pedro Pascal in the hit movie The Great Wall. I would have traveled from Europe to China and had great journeys once I arrived there, though in real life I doubt those same alien monsters would have faced me.

“It was when I set off from Bel Air that I came across the city of Paso Robles, when I encountered Karen and her cult for the very first time. I had come to this city back when it was still only focused on its main industries of wine making, olive oil, hot springs, and white people. It was interesting, but it did not yet have the massive appeal that it would soon come to have with its many restaurants, and even a shopping mall. Paso Robles High School, for as noble as its Bearcat mascot was, did not have an impressive football record at that time.

“That all started to change… but only after I arrived. Because that was what sparked Karen to begin her plot to make Paso Robles great again. I was the first young person, the first outsider to step foot in the town in over three years, she told me. Whether or not this was true was irrelevant. She treated me like a king, and I took that opportunity to bask in my Pedro Pascal-esque glory, if only for a short time.

“But I soon realized this was a trap. I was being forced to stay in the city, to become its mascot of sorts. I would be the prototype of many to come, the secret warrior who would bring the rest of Paso Robles into greater spotlight at any cost. We would enhance our growth industries, we would attract outside investors, and most of all we would convince young people to move here more often.

“So there I was, now the enforcer and under captivity. What was I supposed to do except accept it? What could I do but embrace my newfound, coerced love for Paso Robles with all my heart and hope that some day, somewhere, I could…”

I tune out after this point. I realize that Pablo Rosas has no intention of ending his monologue anytime in the near future, and I get the signal from Eryk and Delta that we may have something to discuss.

“Yes?” I ask them.

“I think we can go,” Francis says.


He nods. “Like, I think we can just run and he won’t notice in time to catch up.”

“Is that honorable on Earth?” I ask. “Running from your opponent? It feels… craven, in a certain way.”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” he says.

“Let’s get out of here,” Delta says. “I really need to ask you about—Uh, nevermind.”

We both know what she’s referring to. That can most certainly wait.

“Well then, let’s leave,” I say.

We three run away from the vineyard and go as fast as we can to the parking lot, where Pablo Rosas’s car is parked and ready to steal.

About fifteen seconds after we bolt, Pablo Rosas finally realizes that we are gone.

“…fighting power. With just that many cups of olive oil a day, you can increase your strength by—Wait a minute, where’d you go?”

What a poor man.

What a sad individual. He seems like me, in a way. Brought to a new place, sucked up in a whole world he had no say in, and then becoming an incredibly strong warrior in the process… We could have been friends.

Instead, we are nothing more than minor opponents on the field of battle.

In the distance, I can hear him shouting. “Wait up! I just wanted you to know about my life! Guys!”

But we don’t turn around. We get in his car, Delta hotwires it, and we drive away from the flames as fast as we can.

By the time the embers fade out of view, I get a familiar sensation.


[+1 DP.]

Never in my life have I humiliated someone so badly it counted as a victory in battle.

I savor this moment with a devilish grin. One more step in the path to becoming an S-Rank Hero.

Chapter 69: Eryk Meets His Match

Pablo Rosas.

He was our tour guide to the great city of Paso Robles. Or so we thought he was. In actuality, he was a recruiter. An agent of Karen and her cult members who are dedicated to nothing more than taking Paso Robles to new heights. He wanted nothing more than to capture us and brainwash us until we, too, became dedicated citizens of this wretched town.

I once counted Pablo Rosas as an ally of sorts. A guide who could help me on my journey to becoming an S-Rank [Adventurer.] But instead he was a trickster who wished to see me trapped here forever.

Now, he is my only barrier to escaping this town.

Behind me is the winery, a great flame burning the building down. The fire has spread to the grape farm behind it, and soon it may spread even further. On an otherwise dark night, the burning orange glow illuminates the entire scene… and the man standing before me.

He wears a black leather outfit, light armor that has piercing spikes jutting out of it. Perfect for martial arts, and now that he has shed his normal clothing, I can see that his build is much more firm and muscly than I had ever realized before.

This is not a tour guide. This is an enforcer. Karen’s enforcer.

He wears a helmet that covers half of his head, in the shape of a roaring beast. I cannot tell if it’s a cat or a bear. Perhaps both…

“You shall pass,” Pablo Rosas says.

“You mean ‘shall not pass,’ right?” asks Delta. Oh, in this dramatic scene I almost forgot Delta and Eryk are still behind me and I have to protect them.

“No. You shall pass… into the afterlife!”

He flashsteps forward, teleporting faster than my eye can see until he is directly in front of me.

I cannot block. He is too close to even attempt it. I face his punch to the stomach with the best spirit I can.

[-100 LP.]

[7,301/15,000 LP.]

I counterattack by slamming my upper body against his. It hurts me as well, but it knocks him off balance and gives me an opportunity to make my next move—

I poof out of my inventory my pistol—

I turn the safety off and blast away, shooting three bullets point-blank at Pablo.

But for everything, he blocks all four shots, swatting them away with the power of his martial arts.

He is equivalent to a low-level C-Rank Hero at minimum. Even without the Destiny Deck system in his grasp. Pablo Rosas of Paso Robles is already nearly as strong as me, if not moreso.

He knocks the gun out of my hand and it goes skidding along the gravel parking lot, far out of reach. He is too skilled for me to match with a weapon I have not yet mastered.

I narrowly avoid a blow to the face and am spared the costly repairs that come with blemishes to my nearly perfectly complexion. I response, I attempt to trip this man who is far too close to me, but he completely dodges it, doing a frontflip over my head in response.

He bops my noggin on the way down.

[-1 LP.]

[7,298/15,000 LP.]

The moment he lands, we trade a volley of punches and kicks, too fast for the normal human eye to see, but just fast enough for us to keep up with each other.

“You’re good,” I say.

“I have a balanced diet of olive oil and wine,” he says. “The Paso Robles diet come to life.”

He nails me in the arm, outright disabling the entire limb for a few moments and costing me dozens of Life Poitns. He knows exactly what he is doing. Even the spikes in his armor, as small as they are, prevent me from getting close enough to make a decisive strike.

“You’ll pay for that,” I growl.

He growls back. “I’m a proud Bearcat, just as all citizens who attended Paso Robles High School are. And we Bearcats don’t go down without a real struggle!”

He swipes his claws at me, but the fact that he does not actually have any claws dampens any prospect of that working.

Still, this is one bearcat that refuses to give up. He launches another assault of punches at blinding speeds, ones that even [Blinding Rush] would not have given me. Olive oil truly is the substance of The Goddess if it can produce strength and agility such as this!

“Please give me some tips on dieting,” I say. “I very much wish to become more like you.”

“No, no you most certainly do not,” he replies as he continues to lay down hit after hit. I can barely keep up with blocking all of it. “I am not someone to emulate. In fact… My story is one of tragedy.”

He jumps up in the air to make a final blow against me, but I dodge it. He lands on the dirt and does a cartwheel and handstand.

“Tragedy?” Francis asks. “Pablo Rosas, do you have some kind of hidden tragic backstory? Is that why you’re wearing that gaudy leather costume now?”

Pablo Rosas leaps from his handstand, doing a few flips and then landing on his feet. “Yes, of course… I have the most tragic backstory of them all, Francis Bacall.”

He has another opportunity to charge and attack me, which would be increasingly dangerous seeing as I’m already down to [6,999/15,000 LP] and my hangover still has not set in, but he instead relents. He folds his arms and looks down at the ground. The orange fires behind us illuminate half of his head and half of his bearcat helmet.

“It’s a long story,” he says. “But you may want to hear it. You should sit down for this, actually… It is very heart wrenching. I dare not speak it except that this feels like exactly the right moment.”

I look back at Francis and Delta. Delta shrugs. Francis looks at me and whispers, “I think he’s about to do his villain origin story monolgue.”

“His… What?”

Francis shakes his head. “You have a lot to learn, my dear Eryk Solbourne. If you’re gonna become a hero, you’ve got to know all about villain monologues.”

“This… does not sound good, whatever it is.”

And at this, Pablo Rosas clears his throat.

His tragic backstory monologue begins, set to the backdrop of the burning winery.

Chapter 68: Another Day, Another Fire

It feels like these things always end with me running away, and me gaining lots of Destiny Points, and usually things ending up burning up in flames.

First it was the convention center where I first reincarnated so many days ago. Then it was the underground fighting circuit where we were pursued by the Persian Mob. Now it’s a winery in Paso Robles where I am drunk and battling middle aged cultists.

So many ridiculous fights. I almost think The Goddess intentionally sent me to Earth for her own amusement, watching me get into situations where I am put into life and death but everyone thinks it’s just this comical romp.

I’m genuinely in great danger right now! I am holding onto Delta and Francis’s hands and dashing forth with great speed.

Also I’m drunk and everything is basically a blur. I am trying extremely hard right now not to burst into a fit of laughter, because this is certainly not the time for funny moments. This is serious business!


Butt. I said butt.

Serious buttness.

I forget the point I was going on and I think it may be pointless to really think about it anymore. Wine does some interestingly terrible things to me when consumed in great excess.

This almost reminds me of the time I whooped Borguk’s ass in a drinking tournament and then went on to bar-hop across a small town known as Uchiha Statewood. I wrecked more stuff than I could ever really conceive of.

I shouldn’t wreck stuff now, probably.

That Clone Eryk who was really suck a jerk a few minutes ago is the source of a lot of my troubles right now. I’m dashing through a great fiery hall where grapes were once pressed, and all the flames were caused by him. I lost several precious items, such as that giant dinosaur tooth, thanks to his efforts in pulling my rucksack out and attacking cultists with whatever he found.

And worst of all, he used my Destiny Cards without asking!! Agh!

Now I don’t have the option to use [Fireball] if I ever need it. Why in The Goddess’s name would two clones have a linked Destiny Deck system? It’s not as if we have the exact same destiny, is it?

In my anger, I punch a cultist in the stomach and they go flying out the nearest window.

[+1 DP.]

Oh, by the way, I have 55 Destiny Points now, thanks to all of the people I have been beating up. It’s nice.

Violence is one of the most successful ways to cheer an [Adventurer] up when he’s feeling a bit blue.

“Eryk!” Francis shouts. “Where the hell are we going?”

“We’re getting out of this winery!” I shout back.

“We’re going the wrong way! This is even deeper into the building!”


Well, damn. I need to escape even faster, then, because I have led us down an incorrect path.

There is only one option, then…

Another Destiny Card.

[Blinding Rush!]


Blinding Rush: Rank 1. Doubles speed and agility. Cost: 215 LP.

There goes a lot of LP.

I’m down to just [7,412/15,000 LP] now. I’d better be careful. I mean… Careful is subjective, though.

In a flash of light I race forward, carrying my two companions through the fires and smouldering ash. The threats before us don’t stand a chance!

“Aaaaaaaah!” Francis screams.

“Aaaaaaaaah!” Delta screams.

“Ahahahahahahahaha!” I scream.

I burst through a wall, going too fast to let that physical barrier impede me, and more than that going to fast for it to even hurt me.

Finally, now that we are safe from the fire, I let go of my two friends and leave them to their devices for a second. I have work to do.

Karen herself is running away from the winery, I see. She’s sprinting at full speed towards her Nissan Rogue like she’s going to escape all of this unscathed.

You know what? I’m not sober enough to care! I run as fast as I can towards her vehicle, passing her and making her do a double take.

I poof out my bow and arrow from my inventory and, just to show off, I put my left hand behind my back.

Time to fire an arrow!

The shot rings out and the arrow pierces Karen’s car right in a critical weak point. It explodes in a ball of flames and pieces of metal shrapnel whiz by all sides of me. Miraculously, nobody is hurt whatsoever.

Karen begins to cry, and several of her fellow cultists gather around her to give their condolences and also sing the praises of Paso Robles and what it can still give to her.

My [Blinding Rush] skill wears off.

My drunkenness is starting to fade a little bit, too…

Well, maybe.

It’s hard to tell.

I go back to meet Francis and Delta, and th—

“Stop right there!”

In front of my friends is a man wearing a black leather suit and a helmet somewhat reminscent of a cat… or a bear, maybe.

It’s Pablo Rosas himself, now dressed up in his final form costume.

“You will pay for your crimes against Paso Robles,” says Pablo Rosas.

Chapter 67: Our Ultimate–Hic–Escape

“It’s time to duel!” the [Cloned] Eryk Solbourne, free from restraint, exclaims. He holds up a large bag filled with items from Mystix, a loot bag I had been saving to go through until after things slowed down a little.

And he’s pulling stuff out left and right! No, stop! He gets a fossilized dragon egg and pelts it at one of the hooded figures. It smashes into their stomach and knocks them over.

“Clone Eryk!” I shout. “Humans on Earth are very weak. You must—hic—be careful!”

He laughs at me. “I am very aware of all of that,” he says. “But I said it was time to duel, and therefore they were given ample time to prepare themselves for such an event as this. I will take no remorse on these fiends who aim to harm Delta and her growing child.”

Delta looks at me in abject horror. Luckily, the cult members holding her down have already run away from the scene of growing chaos. “I stopped understanding what the fuck is going on here.”

“Alas, I am not sure I could give an adequate explanation that you would deem acceptable,” I say. “All of this is growing quite ridiculous.”

“Yeah… I see that.”

My clone is in the middle of a gargantuan fight scene right now. This winery has descended into nothing but cult members battling this one man who is absolutely whooping their asses, as Francis would say. Of course, the three of us are still tied to our seats and Clone Eryk seems a little bit too focused on his battle to free us.

Luckily, my past fear of being caught if I struggle to break my restraints is gone now, I exert a great force, as much as I can, and— Pop! The steel cuffs around my hands snap in two. The ropes around my legs come after that, and when I stand up I dropkick the chair and crush it for good measure.

It feels so good to be mobile again.

I free Delta and Francis as well, though they both look far too dazed to be useful in a situation such as this.

“Stay here for now,” I say. “I’ll help my clone fend off these cultists.”

“Two Eryks…” Francis mutters. “I just… Wow…”

I am unsure if this means he is excited or just stunned. I perhaps should have told them more about my [Clone] skill, but I didn’t even think about it. My apologies, friends.

I join in and fight with my clone. We are pretty amazing right now. In fact, we are beating up cultists at a rate I’ve never even seen before. If it were not for the fact that Delta and Francis expressly forbids me (us?) from killing if we can help it, our foolhardy captors here would be certainly murdered by our pure strength.

Though, I am quite confused why Clone Eryk is pulling out a dinosaur tooth, two feet in length, from the rucksack and wielding it like a sword.

“I really wanted to wait for that,” I say to him as I punch a cultist and then elbow another. “I was going to show Francis and Delta the interesting things inside.”

“Oh well! It’s fun to spoil—hic—surprises!” He staggers around and nearly falls over on himself.

“Wait a minute, you’re drunk.”

“Hells yeah I am!”

“Oh… So [Clone] has an interesting side effect that reduces the user’s drunkenness and transmutes it into the clone. I see… Does that mean…”

“When five minutes are up, you’re gonna be hella wasted? Yeah!” Clone Eryk gives me a thumbs up.

Karen tries to come up behind us and bash a fold-up chair over our heads, but Clone Eryk jumps into the air, does a few spins, and lands on the other side. He flips over a table and cackles.

Francis mutters again in the distance. “Clone Eryk…”

When Karen drops the fold-up table, Clone Eryk advances with a dazed yet confident expression on his face. She backs up and cowers in terror. “Please don’t hurt me…”


He raises his hand and then a giant orb of flames appears.


“You are not supposed to say your skills out loud,” I inform.

He doesn’t hear me. He also doesn’t shoot the fireball anywhere near Karen; he accidentally launches it up and it hits the ceiling. The huge chandelier comes crashing down, and then flames erupt all over the room.

“My winery!” Karen cries out. “Noooooooooo!”

This is amazing, and also horrible.


Clone Eryk waves at me and then dissipates.

“See you Mystix Cowboy…”

And then it hits me all at once.

Now I’M the one who’s extremely drunk off wine.

Hoo boy…

Chapter 66: I’m Very Upset at the Fact that Beverages Don’t Give Destiny Points

“And how is it?” Karen asks.

Another gulp of stinging liquid comes barreling down my throat. I barely have the ability to swallow it at this point.

By my count… that is the fifth glass. Or sixth. I’m starting to lose track…

“I don’t know,” I say. “It just tastes like grapes. Mere grapes.”

“No!” she shouts, splashing a bucket of water over me. “You didn’t taste the cinnamon profile. You didn’t even get a hint of the gun smoke. You have failed once again.”

“Please…” I hear Francis moan beside me. “No more wine tasting… He can’t take this much alcohol at once! Why are you even making him drink a whole glass each time?”

Karen shakes her head. “You’ll be next soon. We must make sure that you are proper citizens of Paso Robles, or you will never help us make our city great again.”

My vision is starting to blur and I’m starting to get a little dizzy. This will have been the first time I have gotten drunk in months at this point, and I am not looking forward to what will come forth from this.

Actually, being drunk has some benefits. It slows pain, which can lead to less Life Points being lost during a fierce battle, and the overall rate of Life Point drain slows considerably as well. If a normal person loses about [-1 LP] per minute, then someone inebriated will lose about [-.60 LP] per minute.

However, the after-effects of that… are not very pretty.

Hangovers can be deadly. And I don’t mean simply because they are very annoying and hurtful to experience. They actually cause LP damage themselves, and unfortunately they raise the Life Point drain to almost [-3 LP] per minute for the first few hours after waking. If someone is not careful, and their Life Points meter is too low when they fall asleep drunk, they could actually be in a serious health risk once the hangover begins. Beings cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is the first law of thermodynamics, after all. For every drink I take, I will be giving my life force back in return, at least in some small way.

I… do not want this. I do not want to die from alcohol poisoning while under the captivity of a Paso Robles cult.

I will do everything I can to fight back the drunkenness.

Back on Mystix, I once outlasted Borguk in a drinking contest! An orc lost to me! Granted, he is a notable lightweight despite his great stature, but as long as I don’t tell people that, it comes off as very impressive.

So I will be victorious in this as well.

Pablo Rosas, somewhat sullen-looking still, looks down at me in my chair. “You have to try the wine better,” he says. “The only way to truly embrace this city is to give in. Just give in.”

“Never!” I shout.

“Then if you will not turn,” he says, “perhaps she will.” He points his index finger to Delta, who still has yet to be subjected to the wine tasting.

Karen rubs her fingers together. “Excellent idea…”

Oh no, Delta!

But I did the [Skill Check] card earlier today. I found out the truth about her. She can’t be drinking at a time like this. Or at any time at all, for that matter. This is a matter of life and death.

The hooded figures begin pouring a glass at the table in front of her. I have to stop this.

“No!” I shout. “You can’t give her a drink. She’s with child! You’ll harm her!”

The drink pouring stops, at least until Delta glares at me with the power of a thousand suns. “I’m WHAT?”

Perhaps this was not a good place to inform her of something like this, especially when she herself seems very unaware…

“Sounds like a lie to me,” Karen says. “Plus, you are legally allowed to drink when you’re pregnant. Trust me. We live in a free country.”

They… don’ stop. They keep pouring that glass, and another hooded figure holds Delta’s head to ready her to drink this.

“I hope you can guess the flavor profile,” Karen says.


I need to break these restraints…

But when I try, they notice. Two hooded figures hold me down and begin forcing me to drink my next glass as well.

You know, I actually do taste a bit of melon in this one. Maybe wine tasting isn’t such a worthless trial after all.

But that’s beside the point! I need to rescue Delta!

What will I do…

What will I do…

What will I—hic—do…


I activate my ultimate trump card, or should I say Destiny Card:


Clone: Rank 3. Make a clone for 5 minutes. Cost: 1000 LP.

[-1000 LP.]

[8,003/15,000 LP.]

Another Eryk Solbourne appears by my side. He gives a smirk and draws an unexpected weapon—the rucksack from my inventory.

“It’s time to duel!” he exclaims.

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