Liz blinked awake and felt hands holding her as the pavement tried to punch her in the face. Pavement shouldn’t do that. Bad pavement. The hands were much nicer than the pavement, she thought to herself. At least, she tried to think, but her smart bucket wasn’t working so well right now. She was so exhausted her tired was tired. She tried to remember what she was doing a second ago as she attempted to focus on the blob in front of her.
Bob and Etta were on either side of her, holding her steady, as Liz slowly regained control of her senses. Her eyes darted to the System Interface and she noted a few changes.
There were more stars. She liked stars. Stars were a good thing.
“Liz! Liz! Are you ok?” someone was yelling at her. Why were people yelling at her. She finished her chores, like, way long ago. They should be yelling at Mark. Mark was always getting into trouble. She looked around a bit aimlessly for awhile wondering why the nice people were holding her arms when her smart bucket finally restarted regular function.
“Holy crap nuts!” Liz exclaimed as the corpse of beak bear suddenly filled her vision. The thing looked even more horrific up close, like someone replaced the front of a bear with an eagle’s beak and slapped some feathers haphazardly all over it. The only thing more impressive than the wrongness of the creature was the fact she could see a giant hole where her arrowed entered the beak. It had to be six inches in diameter, and she was pretty damn sure her arrows weren’t that big. It had to be something with the system, and she probably had gained those new Abilities and Stats from whatever she did.
Bob and Etta helped her to her feet and she staggered back to the carriage. “I’m okay, sorta, I hurt a lot, but I think I can stand.” she said, stumbling into the carriage and almost falling over.
“Ok, maybe I can sit.” she admitted to herself as she was helped up. She felt like someone had shoved her entire body through a meat grinder and then smashed a sledge hammer into her skull a few times to make everything squish through. She managed to sit upright, but only because the carriage had a reasonably good seat back she could lean into.
Not wanting to stick around any longer, Bob flicked the reins again to get the carriage rolling. Etta sat in the back with Liz to make sure she didn't accidentally fall out, and Liz appreciated the gesture. She was pretty sure she would be okay for the next two blocks, but she didn’t fancy falling out of the carriage again.
Thankfully, the Hipporaffe stayed away as they pulled up to the driveway of the house. She saw that the minivan and hybrid had been shoved out of the garage, and positioned to make a little barricade on either side of the driveway. Her mom and everyone else must have been busy while they were out. Almost as if she knew Liz was thinking about her, Mom ran out and waved the group towards the fenced-in area to the side of the house.
“Oh my love, are you ok, you look like you were hit by a truck!” she said, jumping up into the carriage next to Liz. “And good to see you’re safe Etta, you too Bob” she barely acknowledged the Carlson’s, but they understood her attention was on her daughter.
“She sure was something. I thought we were goners there for a bit, but she shot an arrow all the way through the thing that was chasing us and saved our bacon.” an awed Bob replied.
“Where are Jason and Mark? I heard a roar and tried to see what was going on, but you were down the hill. Are they okay?” Mary barely registered what Bob has said and was completely focused on her daughter and the safety of her family.
“They pulled away the bigger thing that was chasing us. They were on horses and moving fast though. From the screams it was making earlier, it sounded like they managed to hurt it pretty bad. I think they must have went around a different route. Dad would probably be paranoid about heading straight home.” Liz looked back to see if she was wrong, hoping against all odds that they would just pop up over the hill and wave. “If they aren’t back in ten, we’ll go looking for them.” Liz stated fiercely.
“Before that, we’ll get you inside and recovered some, you look a mess.” her mom helped her out of the carriage. “Bob and Etta, can you deal with the horses? We’ve not seen anything come into the pen but I imagine we’ll want to keep the horses in the garage if possible.”
“House good! Biscuit sleep before closing house again.” Biscuit said tiredly.
“No problem Biscuit, that will be fine.” Liz said nonchalantly, as if a talking unicorn horse creature was the most normal thing in the world. She couldn’t quite manage to keep from giggling after seeing her mom’s face though. “Ok, so I should probably let you know what’s happened so far” she relented and started detailing what had happened on their trip.
The gelding was unhitched and oats and water were set up in the garage. Mom had obviously been thinking longer term for the animals and Liz was glad to have a reliable person keeping things running at home. Elly raced down the stairs and enveloped Liz in a hug. They spent a few frenzied moments catching up until she noticed the unicorn. Liz swore she saw Elly’s eye’s double in size and started sparkling as she took in the sight of Biscuit. “Can I. Can I pet it?” Elly asked with awe in her voice.
“Biscuit like pets and brushes. You give brushes now for Biscuit girl human!” Biscuit replied. Not batting an eyelash, Elly proceeded to grab a brush from the grooming kit Bob had just hauled in and got to work. Liz was a little taken aback at the abrupt shift, but was pretty sure Elly was actively living out one of her lifelong dreams at the moment and decided to let her do her thing. She decided to check out what her mom had cooking up in the splash room.
She wasn’t quite prepared to the sight that greeted her. Her mom had continued modifications and it looked like a mad scientist's lab had been assembled. Glass beakers and clear cookware were bubbling and notes were taped over various things. Adjacent to the hodgepodge of science equipment were the butchered corpses of several creatures. She also saw a line of mana cores stored off to the side, away from electrical appliances but sorted by color and size.
Her mom entered the room, first aid kit in hand, and proceeded to fix up Liz as best as she could. Mary poked and prodded her all over, and while generally sore, nothing hurt particularly more than anything else. Sighing at the damage, her mom pulled out some advil and applied some disinfectant to Liz's scrapes.
Mary did her best to hide her concern, but she was a bit shocked at the shape Liz was in. She sincerely hoped that Jason and Mark were okay. She had faith her husband would get them back safe somehow. At the moment her focus needed to be on Liz. As she administered to her daughter, she felt like she could almost see past her skin and sense the bruising along her body. She knew there was nothing to be done for muscle soreness, but she tried as best she could to massage the troubled areas. Liz winced as she was touched but felt a warmth move through her body afterwards.
Liz was amazed at how much better she felt. “Thanks mom, I feel a lot better.”
“No worries love. I wish I could just do more,” her mom replied.
“No. Seriously. I feel a lot better. I don’t think it was just the ‘its the thought that counts’ type of thing. I think you might be doing something system related.”
Her mom pondered that for a moment. Anything was possible at this point and Mary would set about figuring out what her skills were evolving into. She also was determined to get to the bottom of what that little star next to her Ability display could be.
“Oh wow, is that a wolf pelt?” Liz exclaimed taking her mom out of her reverie.
“Yes, but I don’t know what to do with it next. I know your dad has chemicals around to treat leather, but I didn’t know what the steps were off-hand and figured I’d wait for you to come back.” Mark lifted the pelt to show its state.
“I got this” Liz said as she rushed up stairs, her remaining pain forgotten in her excitement. She waved ‘hi’ to Haley, Matt, and Eddie who were keeping watch on the second floor and rushed into the library. She quickly navigated to the crafts section, grabbed a book on tanning, and headed downstairs again. She dodged around her mom who was on her way up to store the Carlson’s supplies and a few minutes later an Ice Wolf hide was tanning in the washing machine. It smelled awful, but Liz knew that a decent set of armor could be the difference between life and death out there. She wasn’t going to pass up any chance at more protection for her or her family.
Liz glanced over at the interface to see how much time had elapsed.
Mana Storm (Class X) Approaching
Shelter in place.
A little more than the 10 minutes she set for herself were up, and that meant it was time to go out and see if she could find her dad and Mark. A look of grim determination settled on her face and she moved to gather up her equipment. Before she got very far an excited cry erupted from upstairs.
“Mark and Jason are riding in! They look ok!” Haley exclaimed in relief.
Everyone rushed out to greet the weary pair and the garage door was opened to let the horses in.
Before anyone could say anything Mark rushed over to Liz and exclaimed, “You won’t believe what I pulled off with my knife!”
“Try me.” a happy and slightly smug Liz smiled back.