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.