“Totally called that we’re living in a game now!” Mark suddenly shouted.
“It’s a just screen, we’re still here, and dad getting bit by wolves was not a game, it was real Mark” Liz countered. In her heart of hearts she knew that Mark was probably right on some level, but admitting your younger brother was right about something didn’t really fit well into Liz’s world view.
While the warning continued to count down in the top left corner, three items appeared on the right side of Mark’s interface as well.
“Hey, anyone else seeing part of the character menu from AA?” Mark asked the room. The adults looked confused, most of them hadn’t played the new game and didn’t know what Mark was talking about. Elly and Liz, however, nodded as they had played Augmented Alterworld Online, or AA as it was called by it’s players. One of the first things you did in the AA tutorial was learn how to open menus with the EEG brain control interface. It wasn’t hard once you figured it out, as the latest systems were miles ahead of the first brain wave readers, but no matter how hard they concentrated, none of the kids were able to open up menus. “Huh, must be something that’s not enabled yet” Mark growled in frustration.
“Anyone else have a star next to thier new things in the right?” Jason asked. He and the other adults were busy poking their fingers at the places in their vision to no avail.
“Yeah, I have one next to Skills” Liz commented.
“Stats here” said their Dad
“I have an ability!” Mark exclaimed, excited about new his potential power.
However excited he was, there wasn’t any way he could learn more about what was going on. He figured his ability probably had to do with his playing around with the stone from before though, maybe even the pepper spray bomb he made. “Hey, we should call the glowy rocks Mana Cores now! It said Mana Wave! We have magic now!” Mark practically gushed.
“I know this may seem amazing, but we still have a group of kids to rescue, and there are still monsters out there hurting people. Lets not get too excited about something we know almost nothing about. We have work to do.” Jason said, pulling everyone back to the reality. Mark quickly quieted down and everyone doubled checked themselves and moved back towards the front door.
“Plan hasn’t changed, just the time table. This time, if we’re running close to this Mana Storm, we’ll find shelter, but we’ll do everything in our power to get back here in time.” Jason stated as he opened the front door.
“Take care of everyone out there.” Mary said as folks trickled out the door. “Come back to us safe”
Mark gave her a hug on the way out and they moved out towards the Carlson’s. The path they took hugged the south end of the property, coming up around the Fuuzer pond and back to the main street to the east. At some point, they’d have to deal with the Hipporaffe, but for now they would just work to avoid it.
Mark looked back at Sam who was keeping watch from the rear. Her eyes darted at every movement as she held a hooligan bar in a deathgrip. The three foot long bar of steel looked like what would happen if a crowbar had a baby with a pickaxe. It was part of all the deluxe survival kits her dad gifted the Johnson’s and was an incredibly versatile tool. If they needed to pry anything open, from a door to a wall, it could get the job done. Also, the spike had already proven it’s effectiveness in dispatching monsters.
Sam was keeping up pace well for now, but as she was not in the greatest shape, Mark wondered again why she decided to come along. Homeschooling and making costumes for plays didn’t exactly produce an amazing survival skill set. Mark knew just by looking that her husband, Matt, was in much better shape. Sam was a trooper. Even though her blonde hair was a tangled mess and her blue eyes looked tired, she had a fierce determination in them. In the end, Matt had insisted on staying to keep Elly safe while Sam insisted that they had to go out and help others. Mark was glad for the extra support regardless, and as long as she could keep up another set of hands would be welcome.
Bringing his focus back to the present, Mark went back to scanning the side streets. A few blocks passed without incident, but as they crested a hill, he heard some shouts. Looking down the street to his left he saw a man running towards them, waving his hands in the air. “HELP ME!” He shouted, and that’s when Mark saw a giant beaked creature charging behind him.
“Beak Bear on our 9” Mark cried, alerting the rest of the crew to the income threat. Crossbow at the ready, he quickly drew a bead and fired, hitting a fleshy bit of the creature that wasn’t just a beak. As the thing screeched in annoyance and he heard the twang of his sister’s bow and another arrow sprouted from the thing’s leg. Before the beast could even think about what to do next, a third arrow slammed into it’s body, and having had enough, it abruptly turned and fled back the direction it came.
The gasping man collapsed in front of Mark, “Thank god. Thank you so much, that thing broke into our house, and, my parents. It, it was horrible.” he sobbed, telling his story between gasps of air.
His dad walked over and put a hand on the young man’s shoulder to steady him. Mark gave his dad a piercing glance. He knew they were on a mission, but he didn’t think he could let this person just wander around without at least trying to help. His dad saw the look and simply nodded. “You’re going to be ok, son, but you need to make a choice here.” His dad said softly. “We’re on our way to pick up some horses and check on some friends. That means we’ll be wandering out here for a bit longer. You know the big house, looks like a fortress down the street?” the young man nodded. Our house was a pretty decent landmark in the area. “Well, we’re dug in there solid, and there’s food and shelter to be had there. You can come along with us, or you can head back to the house. Now, what’s your name son?”
“My names Eddie, and I want to help, I really do, but I need to get off the streets. I just can’t be out here right now.” the young man said quietly. Jason nodded to Sam, who put an arm around the 20 something man. “We’ll get you safe, just follow me. The way back is clear. Don’t worry about it.” she said in a soothing tone.
Jason pulled long knife from his leg holster, one of several he had on his person, and placed it in Eddie’s hand. “Sam here will guide you back to the house and this knife here will keep you safe. If something charges you, stick the pointy end in it, and that will make it not want to hang around.”
Eddie seemed to find some comfort in holding the weapon and managed to stand back up. Sam turned to face us, gripped our shoulders, and said “I need to get this young man back to the house. You three are the most capable people I know. You’ll be fine, but be careful out there.” she then headed off to lead Eddie back to the house.
As his dad turned back towards the Carlson’s, Mark finished reloading his crossbow and took a deep breath. Halfway there, he thought to himself. Glancing down the street where the beak bear came from, he just hoped the harder half was done with.