Love on Gaia: Tanking 101

Tanking 101

Wading along the shoreline, the zombie broodmother scanned the beach with dead eyes. Her rotten bulk rippled as she walked, the deep folds of putrescent flesh spotted with twitching barnacles like macabre jewelry. In her wake was a long line of footprints, punctuated by the occasional carcass of some beach creature which hadn’t gotten out of the way quick enough.

Goonshine turned back to the group with her arm pointed at the massive zombie. “Are you sure that’s a good one to cut my teeth on?”

“Absolutely,” Elal replied.

Unsafecrayon nodded. “You got this.”

“Perfectly harmless!” Morganey said. “We used to ride them around like ponies, back on the old estate. Those were the days!”

Goonshine gave her a sidelong glance. “I can’t tell if you’re joking.”

“Course not! Of course, we had to put them all down when one of them bit a guest…”

A week ago, Goonshine had screwed up her courage, strode up to her cabal’s usual table at the Horned God, and asked to be put on the “tanking” roster. She’d felt indebted to everyone for taking her in, teaching her the ropes of the Secret World. The voice inside that insisted she was overreaching grew louder by the minute, but she fought it down. She was going to do this, to learn to be strong and give something back.

The League of Monster Slayers leadership—Unsafecrayon, Morganey, Elal and MukYanChon— sketched out a training regimen on a bar napkin, arguing and scratching things off; in the end they agreed to Elal’s plan. MukYanChon raised a glass of beer in a toast, and said he’d let the others handle training.

Then Goonshine was ushered by the others through the Ealdwic portal into the cloying heat of Agartha; a quick jump later, she found herself in the similarly cloying heat of Australia. Under Elal’s watchful eyes, she wrapped up her hands and pulverized an entire boulder with chaos magic, one punch at a time. Then, she carried the gravel in a wheelbarrow…over to Elal’s driveway.

“Is this like some kind of Karate Kid training, where you’re having me do mundane chores but like, at the end I’ll be able to wax on, wax off and wrestle a wendigo or something?” she asked.

“Er…something like that,” Elal said, leaning on his shovel. He made a minute adjustment to his collar. No matter the weather he always wore formal evening wear.

Goonshine dumped the gravel, and coughed at the blooming dust.

“Oh!” Elal gestured with his top hat. “Put some more there, you missed a spot.”

After the driveway was finished, Unsafecrayon and Morg came out of the twining branches of the nearby Agartha portal with some urgent news. There was a zombie outbreak off the coast of Florida, and the League was called in to help. Goonshine had happily thrown down the wheelbarrow and grabbed her weapons, ready for some action.

But now that she was faced with a putrid,eight-foot tall zombie mother, she wondered if she’d been too eager. Even from the relative safety of the wooden boardwalk, the monster looked a bit too big to handle.

A smaller normal human-sized zombie stumbled in the surf, right in the path of the mother’s blind eyes. It struggled to extricate itself from the sucking sand in the shoreline, but didn’t move in time. The mother reached down and lifted the zombie up with one arm and, without breaking stride, tore it in two, spraying the beach with decaying viscera.

“See? Perfectly safe,” Elal said.

Unsafecrayon threw an arm around Goonshine and took her aside. “Look, the League is thrilled that you’ve volunteered to do front-line work. Protecting others is a hard job! And this is a perfect test of all that training we’ve given you so far.”

“How was paving Elal’s driveway going to help me defeat…that?” Goonshine gestured at the mother.

“Pretend that big ol’ zombie lady is the boulder!” Morg said. “As you attack, your chaos magic will naturally build up into paradoxes. Twisting causality’s nipples, undoing damage before it happens, that kind of thing.”

“I know how chaos magic works.” Goonshine folded her arms.

“Focusing on the basics can help calm the nerves, ok? Look, 90% of tanking is in the mind, being confident and knowing in your bones whatever gets thrown at you, you’ll survive it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! So, be confident! Go get ‘em!”

“Okay,” Goonshine said, unlimbering her chaos focus. An eye-watering purple aura began following her movements, leaving searing green afterimages in the air. “Okay!”

“Yeah! You got this, Goon!” Unsafecrayon slapped her on the shoulders.

Goonshine let out a warcry and streaked off down the beach, kicking up sand as she ran.

The three watched her go from the boardwalk. Flashes of green and purple lit up the night as Goonshine laid into the zombie.

“Got a pretty good left hook, there, actually,” Morg said.

Elal leaned on the rusted metal railing. “Think we should’ve told her about the zombie mother’s special attack?”

From their perch they could see the zombie get both hands around Goonshine. She squirmed and kicked, trying to get free.

“Nah,” Unsafecrayon said. “Part of the training.”

Then the mother retched.

“Uh, guys?” Goonshine called from the shore.

Vomit poured out of the mother in a torrent, drenching Goonshine.

A wail of disgust carried over the sound of the crashing waves.

Unsafecrayon cupped her hands and shouted, “Doing great, Goon!”

“There’s a little shower and some towels up here when you’re done!” Morg said.

The trio watched the fight. They hooted with encouragement when Goonshine landed a hit, and gasped in sympathy when she was sent spinning ass over ankles with a meaty punch. When the zombie mother finally fell, spewing pus and blood from a hole in its chest, they clapped.

Covered head to toe in bodily fluids, arms held stiffly at her sides, Goonshine marched back toward the platform. Elal politely turned away as Morganey and Unsafecrayon helped strip off her gore-soaked clothes.

Ice cold water sprayed out of the beach shower like a pressure washer, but Goonshine welcomed it regardless.Three bars of soap later, she felt reasonably human again. The shower squeaked as she cranked the faucet closed. Wordlessly Morganey handed her a towel.

“That was,” Goonshine said, shivering as she wrapped herself, “possibly the single most disgusting experience of my life.”

“Told you, tanking is 90% mental. Taking the hits, yeah, but also getting covered in the worst crap imaginable,” Elal said without turning around.

“Had to fight off a literal shit golem, once,” Morganey said. “Just burnt all my clothes afterwards. Speaking of clothes…” She produced a fresh pair of blue jeans and a smart looking white top.

“Could have said something,” Goonshine grumbled as she slipped into the clothes. “Letting me fight all alone, like this was some kind of college hazing ritual.”

“Look, it’s like that old saw about the map not being the territory. The experience of taking the hits, of being the last one standing and to keep on going no matter what–”

“–also, fighting while a bunch of ingrates look on,” Elal said with a grin.

“All too familiar feeling, that,” Morganey continued. “But look; you did great.”

Unsafecrayon stepped forward, holding a hat in her outstretched arms. It was a red fez with some patches sewn into it: the top was a semi-circle that read “League of Monster Slayers,” with a “Fun - Friendly - Helpful” semi-circle on the bottom, surrounding a blue shield-shaped patch in the middle.

“Figuring you’re an official front-line fighter now, so you should get an official mark of office.” Unsafecrayon placed it on Goonshine’s head.

Goonshine sniffled, fighting back tears. “Oh, it’s wonderful!”

“Told you she’d make a good tank,” Morganey said.

“Never a doubt in my mind,” Elal replied. “Now, are you ready to take on a real challenge? Cause I got another driveway that could use paving—”

The sound of their laughter filtered into the night, lingering briefly over the crash of the waves even as the four of them slipped through the Agartha portal and back to home.

Thanks for reading!
This story featured characters from the League of Monster Slayers cabal. Thank you so much to my fellow slayers for letting me use their characters!
Theme: Philia
Character: Heather “Goonshine” Ramis

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