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I wake up and notice the room is mostly empty. It’s just me on a couch and nothing else. I go to the kitchen, and it’s empty too. What the fuck? I open the fridge; it is empty too. That’s a bit much for burglars, right?

“You’re awake, good. We’re moving into a bigger apartment. You don’t need to couch-surf, and Podlihob is going to move in with us instead of just using a guest room.” Rhynn stands in the open door to the apartment.

“Sounds awesome. Is there breakfast?”

My stomach is an empty hole. I don’t think I ate dinner last night.

“Yeah, we have it in the new apartment. Let me grab the couch.” He walks up to the couch and it vanishes. Inventories are super handy!

We go up a couple of floors and enter another apartment. This one is enormous! It’s like a house.

“This place is a little bit of an upgrade, isn’t it?” I ask Rhynn.

“It’s the penthouse. We have the roof, too.” Rhynn grins. “Nothing but the best for me and my boys.”

“Sounds expensive.” A penthouse is a big deal, right?

“It’s not. I own the building, and the previous tenants moved out about a month ago.” Rhynn owns an apartment building and a restaurant? My man is loaded.

“There’s bagels and coffee in the kitchen. I’m going to mess with the living room to see how I want the furniture arranged.”

In the kitchen, I see a long kitchen island with a box on it labeled BAGELFEST. In the corner by a large window is a round table with a few chairs. A little stand is covered in coffee mugs next to a coffee pot. I make my coffee and grab a bagel from the box. I sit at the table and stare out the window at the city and the traffic flying past. I am on my second bagel, trying to remember what happened yesterday. I think we went to train. And we were training for… The arena! That’s right, I remember we ate at a kobold restaurant, and then we went to train so we can fight in the arena. And when we went to train… I took a shower? This is annoying. Why won’t my brain work the way I want it to?

“How you doing, bud?” Podlihob is standing at the table, holding a cup of coffee. “I got something for you.” He hands me a small box.

I open it up, and inside is a white ribbon.

“Thank you?” I inspect it, and see it is: Angel Ribbon: Provides wearer immunity to status effects.

“Tie that on somewhere it won’t come off easily. The ribbon will extend as much as you need, so under your clothes around your waist is a good spot.” Podlihob takes a long drink of coffee.

“Sure thing.” I face the window and open my robe, tying the ribbon around my waist like he recommended. My head was hurting! I didn’t even register the pain until it stopped. Wow.

“What happened yesterday? I can’t remember it too well.”

Podlihob looks away from me.

“You had a concussion. This item should help with that. We’re going on a dungeon run to see about getting you some extra gear, and hopefully a few levels. That ribbon and the extra levels should take care of any lingering effects from the concussion, and hopefully prevent you having any issues in the future.”

Rhynn walks in and asks Podlihob,

“Did you tell your cousin what we’re doing?”

“Yeah, we’re good to go. He’s working on our paperwork as an arena team and a PMC. He wanted to get into being a sports agent in the past, so he’s pretty excited about the opportunity.”

“Great. We’ve got you a room here, Zav, but it’s empty at the moment. You’re getting all the money for this run since Podlihob and I both have plenty of cash. We’ll use the money from this for three things: new gear for you, furnishings for your bedroom, and to deposit into your bank account to show immigration you’re making money.” Rhynn reaches into a pocket and then tosses a couple of items on the table in front of me.

“Here’s a phone and a wallet. Gadlihob set up a bank account for you, and you can deposit money directly to it with the wallet. I got you a phone, it’s a basic model.” Rhynn walks me through how to use the phone, shows me my phone number, shows me how to call and text contacts. So far, Rhynn, Podlihob, and Gadlihob are my only contacts.

We finish eating and our coffee. Up on the roof, we board Rhynn’s car and take off.

“I thought I wasn’t supposed to leave the area?” I ask.

“This place is still part of Diversity. It’s too rough for the Special Needs Farming Units to handle, and has an instancing option, so we can create our own version of the dungeon where we don’t have to worry about anyone else intruding.” Podlihob fiddles with his phone while telling me all of this.

“So what is this dungeon like?”

Give me a tutorial, I need to ready myself mentally for this place.

“Full of snake-people. They have plenty of casters, so we should be able to get you some extra gear from them, and they drop a lot of money and vendor loot. There’s a couple of areas with a ton of insect monsters we can kill quickly to try powerleveling you. Oh yeah, we need to form a party. You got leadership, Rhynn?”

“Yeah. We’re out of city limits, so I’ve got auto-pilot going.” After a second, a little window appears in front of me. I am invited to a party, how exciting! I hope it is a fancy-dress party, haha! I join the party, and a new window appears. I see Rhynn and Podlihob listed in this window, along with HP bars.

“We should be there in a little bit. I’m going to message your phone with a map and basic rundown on the dungeon. Go through that on the way there to get up to speed.” Rhynn leans back in his seat, cracks a window, and lights a cigarette.

My phone vibrates slightly, and I see multiple messages from Rhynn. This dungeon is a sprawling labyrinth, and sections have numbers listed with symbols scattered through. Skulls with crossbones denote especially powerful monsters, three skulls are sections with lots of monsters to kill for experience, and treasure chests are exactly that, some sort of treasure cache. Another message includes notes for the dungeon, including places we need to be careful of traps, where a tank does something and everyone else waits, and puzzles with solutions.

“We have a tank? I want to be the gunner.” I might as well let them know now I am interested in shooting the big guns.

My friends both rest a hand on their faces.

“That’s not the kind of tank we’re talking about. A tank is a person with a lot of HP who keeps the enemies focused on them. I’m the tank in our group.” Rhynn shakes his head as he tells me this.

“Just keep reading, and if there’s anything you don’t understand right now, it’s okay. We’ll be giving you directions when we get in there. Just remember to be careful of the traps.”

We continue on, with Rhynn turning on some music for us to relax with on the way there. The music is a lady singing a song with a guitar accompaniment. It’s fairly pleasant, and I decide to turn on my meditation skill after reading through all the notes Rhynn sent me.

My consciousness is untethered from reality. Thoughts come and go, and I recognize them, but do not focus on them. My lack of memories from the previous night comes up several times, and each time I let that anxiety go. That thought occurs less frequently, until finally I am an ocean of stillness in a dark cave. My thoughts are as insignificant as drops of water, briefly disturbing the ocean when they fall, yet the ocean remains.

“We’re here.” Podlihob rouses me with a shake on my shoulder.

“Were you sleeping?”

“No, I was using my meditation skill. It makes me feel better about things.” The car fills with the smell of nature.

“Sounds like a handy skill to have. Now it’s time for us to get to work.” Podlihob gives me a little smile, and we step out of the vehicle and into a forest clearing. The trees around us are dark gray, with knots and whirls in the trunks suggesting tortured faces. At one end of the clearing is a rock outcropping with a dark cave entrance.

Rhynn steps up to the cave opening after returning his car to his inventory and fiddles around in front of himself before turning to us and saying

“We’re all ready. Let’s lay the smack down.”

And in we go.

1 Comment

  1. zavyyn

    just popping out for a mate with the pints


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