Not to change a winning day, Ryan redid everything like last time. He arrived at Renesco's place, waited for Ghoul to get in, then smashed the Psycho with his Plymouth from behind.
However, as he opened the trunk to grab his baseball bat and finish the job, the courier felt a pang of guilt. Could he live with such laziness? Beating an old bag of bones the exact same way, over and over again? Wasn’t there a way to give this moment a little more dignity and friendliness?
To add a little novelty, Ryan grabbed his shotgun instead. He waltzed toward Ghoul and shot him in the left knee before he could even realize what was going on. The undead bastard almost collapsed, but managed to hang on to the counter.
“Hey, are you alright?” the courier asked his favorite target practice companion. “You don’t look alright.”
“You shot me!” the Psycho snarled, half-surprised, half-angered. “You shot me in the leg!”
“Do you need to go to the hospital?“ Ryan asked with kindness, reloading the shotgun.
“I’m going to—” Ryan shot Ghoul in the other knee, making him collapse to the ground screaming. “You bastard!”
“And now you do!”
The courier had the feeling they were going to do this routine a lot.
After shooting Ghoul everywhere it mattered—and even places where it didn’t—Ryan paid off Renesco and the Private Security, before diverging from the previous loop.
Having learned his lesson from last time, Ryan chose another hotel, one where he hopefully shouldn’t have his room firebombed; a place away from the main districts. He drove south, towards the Plebeian district, and he could already see the reason for the name; as soon as he left the strip and tourist areas, the architecture changed. Casinos and nightclubs vanished, replaced with three-story apartment buildings clustered together and narrow alleys. Small markets and cafes gave off a tantalizing smell of food.
Eventually, Ryan reached the Arab district, which he recognized by the billboard ads—most written in Arab and Turkish, although he caught a little Spanish here and there. He drove by a perfect replica of the synagogue of Turin—Ryan had visited the original, although he had needed a hazmat suit to survive the trip through the irradiated city—standing next to a mosque. Both buildings were slightly derelict, showing how little Dynamis and other corporations cared about maintaining religious sites.
However, the site that caught his attention was a hill at the south, which seemed to be the city’s highest natural point. An enormous estate stood atop it, roughly the size of the Vatican, but whose architecture was clearly inspired by antiquity work; it included an oversized, multiple-floor Roman villa, fountains, a private park, and even a smaller replica of the Greek pantheon. Clearly, whoever lived there had a huge god complex.
Why the obsession with marble columns though? Why did nobody ever add obelisks, for diversity?
And strangely, nothing was built around that estate for kilometers, and only one way led to the summit, the hill being surrounded by a fortified fence and security forces. Curious. Ryan had a good idea who inhabited those halls, and so decided to stay as far away from it as possible.
Yes, there were a few people against whom Ryan didn’t dare to test his immortality against, at least not yet. Especially now that he had a lead on Len after so many fruitless years.
His hotel was… a lot dirtier than the previous one. The owner had traded security cameras for cockroaches in the walls, and Ryan’s bed smelled of Bliss, that mushroom drug everyone consumed nowadays. Someone even drew a dick graffiti in the shower, alongside a number to call a prostitute.
Ryan did the sensible thing.
He called, out of curiosity.
“Yeah?” a male voice answered.
Ryan glanced at the graffiti, then ended the call without a word, chuckling to himself. Some things never changed.
The next morning, like in the previous loop, Ryan did science in his underwear. This time, though, he focused more on reinforcing Fisty, to prevent the ice trick that allowed Ghoul to jam it in their last encounter. The courier couldn’t have his weapons underperform while beating up an old bone yeller.
He also did Dynanet research about sightings of submarines and bathyspheres in the local gulf but found nothing. He did learn that the old island of Ischia, the one he had seen while driving on the coast, was a toxic ruin since Mechron bombed it; unlike other areas, corporations never bothered to renovate it.
The Augusti had to send those crates somewhere, and there must have been a reason why they used Genius-made submarines rather than boats. Maybe it was to send supplies to the island? He couldn’t prove it, but Ryan had a good feeling about it.
A knock on his window interrupted his research, like the sight of a familiar winged heroine.
Ryan replayed the same conversation as last time, except on the third floor rather than the tenth. Wyvern seemed a little more nervous than in the last loop, though. Maybe it was the closeness to the mountain estate?
Also, Ryan noticed the locals had emptied the street below his bedroom when Wyvern showed up. They didn’t seem to like Il-Migliore around here.
“You say the Meta will break out Ghoul today, with the complicity of corrupt Private Security guards?” Wyvern frowned. “How do you know that?”
“You don’t ask a magician to reveal his tricks,” Ryan protested. “I’m just saying, you should probably escort the creepy undead yourself.”
“From what I heard, even if they break him out, he won’t run far. The medics said he had more bullets than intact bones in his body.” Wyvern marked a short pause, focusing on her earplug. “Looks like you were right. The Meta are ambushing Ghoul’s transport convoy as we speak, in broad daylight.”
Oh, so that's why she left in a hurry before? She clearly hadn't been fast enough last loop, maybe this time would do the trick?
“Before you go save the world and save me a miniboss battle later,” Ryan pointed in the direction of the hill, and the estate on it, “what is the name of this beautiful and not at all suspicious Roman-themed park?”
“Officially? Hillside. Unofficially?” Wyvern sighed. “Mount Augustus.”
He even plagiarized Mount Olympus but renamed it after himself. It should have been called Mount Narcissus.
“Take care,” Wyvern told Ryan after giving him a business card, before flying off without a sound. Ryan looked her vanish at high-speed, wondering if she would make it this time.
Anyway, in spite of that little divergence, he didn’t have to worry. He just had to wait for Vulcan’s call and everything would be back on track. Since he was close to Augusti territory, no doubt they would contact him again in short order.
The call would come any second now.
Any second now.
The sound of a distant explosion startled Ryan, who opened the window. He noticed a pillar of smoke reaching up to the skies, somewhat in the direction where Wyvern flew.