I stand in the middle of two lanes of highway space. Behind me are Francis and Delta next to the wreckage of an upside-down car. Buddy stands at the other side of the road, in front of a vehicle known apparently as a “hummer.”

My sword is in my hands. And with all my might, I charge.

Unlike the other battles I have gotten into, Buddy does not run away at the mere sight of my strength. Instead, he pumps his fists and snarls.

I lower my sword into a jabbing position. I close in on Buddy and—

Whomp. He punches me so hard in the face I fall to the ground. My grip on my sword disappears and my weapon goes flying away. It lands in the middle of the highway, too far to reach even if I make a run for it.

[-280 LP.]

[11,999/15,000 LP.]

Ow. Owie ouch ow. I’ve tasted bone hurting juice that felt better than that punch. Who is this man that he can punch this hard?

“You’re looking at four years in the Air National Guard, kid,” said Buddy. “Two tours in Moldova.”

Buddy is a military veteran. One with combat experience and everything And I’m just a D-Rank [Adventurer] with too big of an ego on his shoulders.

How can I avenge my friends, myself, if I go down in just one punch?

Well, I won’t go down. That’s how I’ll do it. Other than the going down that just happened, of course.

With a shove of my feet, I kick Buddy’s shins in. He screams out in pain and reels backwards, giving me time to get back into a standing position. He throws another punch, but this time I have enough time to dodge.

Hmm… the sword is still behind me in the highway.

Could I reach it in time? Could I get back my trusted weapon that could end this fight in one well-timed slash?

Well—My answer is given to me almost immediately.

A giant eighteen-wheeled vehicle with a large box on its back zooms by on the highway and runs over the sword. When I see it again, the hilt is broken and the blade is bent.

The Goddess has been extremely generous today. But she has not given me unfair advantages, and that impresses me even more. What an amazing woman, letting me become the hero I was meant to be without letting my coast by on my life’s minimal successes up to this point.

Reaching the top of the food chain, becoming an S-Rank [Adventurer,] finding true love and starting a dynasty of powerful heroes… All of that will be a struggle. Such a struggle I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve always wanted.

I turn back to Buddy and shove him with the best of my strength.

Ding! [+1 DP.]

Oh hey, a Destiny Point. That’s excellent!

However, my shove does nothing.

He weighs far too much, and all of it in muscle, so he barely budges. He returns it with another slug, but this time I absorb the blow as best I can and stay standing.

[-157 LP.]

[11,753/15,000 LP.]

I… “absorb the blow.”

Yes, that’s right…

I can absorb his blows. Quite literally, in fact!

It’s a rank 5 skill card, and one that should be used only in the most dire of circumstances, but honestly I think this might qualify as such a situation. If I don’t defeat Buddy, he will haunt the rest of the world for years to come, causing car crashes and needless deaths. He is a tyrant that must be toppled.

I activate my [Absorb] skill!

A swirl of energy forms around me. My eyes turn green.

Absorb: Rank 5. A healing attack that drains LP from the target. Must have direct contact. Cost: 0 LP.

[-0 LP.]

The next time I touch Buddy, it sends a shock through his system—literally. I hold him down, sapping his life energy away.

I can feel the energy coursing through my body just as it leaves his.

[+10 LP.]

[+44 LP.]

{+27 LP.]

Buddy looks at me in sheer terror. And, despite my heroic tendencies, right now I feel nothing but happiness at this fear. Should I be guilty for this? Perhaps. But for now, I don’t feel it at all.

[+11 LP.]

[+37 LP.]

[+101 LP.]

“Help… me…” Buddy mutters.

“Don’t help him!” Delta shouts from the other side of the highway. “Kill him!”

“Don’t actually kill him, but make him suffer a lot!” adds Francis.

I can feel his muscles starting to drain. Holding him down is becoming easier and easier. And soon…

I let go.

[+345 LP.]

Back at full health—15,000/15,000 LP. Buddy lays there kneeling, barely conscious, his oversized body now shrunken down to that of a sickly teenager.

“How you you like that, Buddy?” I ask. “Now how do you feel?”

“This… this is…” Buddy doesn’t finish. He collapses on the ground, unconscious.

Ding! [+1 DP.]

He’ll be okay, assuming a do-gooder passes by to help him. I, however, am no do-gooder.

I cross the highway—glancing sadly at my broken sword as I walk by—and reach my two friends. We are victorious.

Francis raises his hand into the air. “Good job, Eryk!” he shouts.

His hand is still in the air, held high as if he may slap me at any moment.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

He lowers his hand. “Oh, yeah, right. You probably don’t have high-fives where you come from.”

“You did good,” Delta says. That’s the only compliment she gives me.

“I’m back to full health, I now have 25 Destiny Points, and I’m with my two new friends. Everything has gone exactly as I’ve planned.”

“Yeah! That’s great, Eryk. Now that you have 25 Destiny Points, you can level-up, right?”

“Yes, anytime I want.”

“So we’ve got a lot of time to plan how to get you to keep leveling up. And that’s exactly what we’re gonna do.”

“Good to hear it.” I survey the highway around us and add, “However, I must inquire how it is we are to get home.”

Delta physically cringes.

“We’ll, uh, figure it out,” Francis says.

I certainly hope he is right.