As the first volley of fire landed, Mark couldn’t help but grin. They had been beaten, chased, and knocked around all day, but now the tables were turned. The glowing knife flew true and sliced through the neck of one of the apes, and sensing an opportunity he maintained his connection with the knife. With a quick mental flick he was able to lodge it into the head of the monster standing next to his first target. He was starting to get the hang of this.
His sister’s shot was similarly impressive, and a three inch across hole appeared in another beast’s chest. Liz quickled nocked another arrow and began charing it similarly. While her attacks took a bit longer than Mark’s to setup, they were significantly deadlier. Liz also noted that she could control the amount of force she put into her shots. It was pretty comfortable at her current level, but Liz felt she would be lucky if she could pull of another four shots.
The alpha strike was deadly and took the golden apes totally by surprise. The only issue was that the knife and arrowed moved noticeably faster than Jason’s shot. The immediate reaction of the creatures caused the ape Jason had targeted to move, putting him out of the line of the attack. Jason saw his arrow fly off into the distance. Annoyed but determined, he quickly drew bead on another Ape and managed to down one with his next shot.
While an impressive feat of archery, it paled in comparison to the effect Liz had on her next shot. Basically, one moment there was an ape, with a head, and the next, there was an ape without a head. Like Mark, she seemed to be getting a grip on her Ability pretty quickly. The last remaining ape was the larger one and Mark decided to try something new. He drew his katana and attempted to infuse it as he did his knives. This time he changed the feel of the energy so it wasn’t as much a coating, as revolving around the blade. He was rewarded when a glow quickly formed around the sword and a notice popped up telling him he just unlocked a new Ability.
He nodded to himself at his accomplishment, and rushed out to meet the alpha ape. His sword’s aura had continued to expand as he pushed more Chi into the blade. This is so cool, Mark though, as his katana looked like it was on fire. He could hear his dad shouting behind him but he had already committed to the strike and slashed at the massive ape. The air vibrated around the glow of his blade, and Mark ducked inside the beasts swing and made a quick slash. His attack connected and the air that was once attempting to smash him instead went flying off in another direction. Mark staggered, suddenly tired from the expenditure, but feeling hyped about his ability to use his power in a variety of ways. A message flashed up.
Warning! Magic Pool Critical Levels!
That would explain the dizziness, Mark thought. He probably should have been paying more attention to his surroundings than the notification though, because the alpha ape was not dead, just angry. Ignoring its missing limb, it roared and struck at Mark with its other arm. Mark felt a few things crack in his chest as he was catapulted into the air from the massive force of the blow. His armor helped distribute the impact a little, but he still felt like he was hit by a car. He traveled close to ten feet in the air, hitting the back fence of the baseball diamond and collapsed to the floor.
Jason was right there behind Mark with his sword drawn when it had all happened. Mark’s agility, augmented by whatever forces were at play, allowed him to reach the alpha just a moment before he did. Jason, however, hadn’t let his guard down. With cold rage and precision he stabbed his longsword into the side of the injured ape, hitting it’s heart, and stopping it dead. He took a moment to confirm the thing was down for good and then quickly rushed over to Mark’s side. His haste was such that he didn’t even bother to retrieve his sword or open the notification that had just popped up. As his dad arrived by his side, Mark coughed and groaned in pain.
“Are you okay? Look at me, focus. Can you hear me?” Jason was checking Mark over for injuries.
“Hey, maybe you can get the first aid skill now that someone else got hurt for a change?” Mark said helpfully between groans.
His dad was not amused and his face darkened as he stopped his inspection. “Marcus James Randall. You will get your head out of the clouds and resume thinking, or you will not leave the house again. You are better than this. If you stupidly sneak off again, or think you’re invincible because of some random abilities the System gave you, you are clearly not fit to survive out here.”
Mark couldn’t look him in the eyes. He knew he was being reckless, but everything seemed so different now. In the back of his head, he knew he was thinking that this really was a game, that he would just respawn if he got killed, or his dad would cover him in a worst case scenario. He coughed again and pain spread throughout his body. He realized his dad wouldn’t be able to save him every time. In fact, no one would be able to save him from himself if he kept doing these things. A giant golden horned ape almost killed him because he thought his new power could do anything. He took a deep breath and allowed himself to realize how stupid and dangerous it was, and how he had pulled everyone out of position. It wasn’t just himself that could get killed. If he continued to screw around, everyone else would be put at risk too. He sniffed loudly, fighting back tears. He was in more than one type of pain as it all sank in.
“I’m sorry Dad. I know. This has all been getting to my head. I’ll cool off. I promise. I want to be here to help, not to screw things up.” He genuinely felt terrible about it, and knew he had to do better.
Jason just nodded and continued to apply what little first aid he could as Liz started pulling cores from the creatures. Mark did what he always did when he noticed his brain was starting to lose it’s ability to regulate his body. He started to meditate.
Seeing him stable, Jason went over to help Liz who had already started harvesting cores from the apes. As he want over the alpha to retrieve his sword, he also harvested the horn and its fangs. The fact that the creature was able to toss Mark as far as it did meant it had to be denser than a normal earth creature. Mary would want samples of the things to help figure out what was going on, and Jason hoped she could come up with some counters to the things.
As the grisly harvest continued, Mark focused on his center, and soon he felt much calmer and at peace. He had meditated more than his dad or sister, mostly because his dad made him do it whenever he started to act a bit crazy. That was another way of saying Mark had been forced to meditate a several times a day. Maybe that extra practice was why he got a notification right then.
Ability Gained - Meditation
While he didn’t know exactly what the Ability did, he had a pretty good idea. He felt the Chi inside him circulating better and realized how useful this would be. He’d have to talk to everyone to see if anyone else could unlock it.
After a quick collection, they returned to the carriage to find a nervous Bob and Sam. They sighed in relief when as they saw everyone make it back and Sam immediately rushed to Mark’s side as she noticed he was injured. After explaining what happened she hopped back onto the carriage and extended her hand “Mark, you should ride with us in the carriage. Its smoother than a horse and those broken ribs will do better without jarring around so much.”
Mark nodded weakly and climbed into place. The meditation was helping him block out the pain but he wasn’t sure if he could keep it up while riding. They tied the free horse the to carriage and everyone got ready to resume the trip. Within a few moments they were off. Mark focused on his meditation while Liz and Jason scanned the jungle for signs of danger..
It was only one more mile to the school, and knowing this they picked up the pace. The wide road was clear enough for now, but Jason had a nagging concern building in the back of his head. If things continued growing at this rate the road would be impassable in a few days. Green Mountain grew larger in their view as they got closer and every now and then the crystal would shine brightly.
Deep in his meditative state, Mark’s eyes were closed, but if they were open he would have been able to tell each pulse corresponded to a sudden burst of mana around him. Mark could swear he heard things start to grow with every pulse as well. There didn’t seem to be anything to do about it for now, so Mark just concentrated on trying to find his inner peace and matching his breathing to the pulses as much as he could.
The rest of the trip passed without event, and while they could see the occasional shadow of movement from the new jungle, nothing seemed inclined to attack them. A few minutes later they pulled out from the sub-division and the school suddenly came into view. Jason and Liz saw a few figures on the roof and waved to them.
“Hey there survivors! We’ve closed off most entrances, if you want to get into the school, you have to go to the front!” they cried.
“Thanks! We’ll head over there now!” Bob called back, steering the carriage towards the front. Mark, hearing the voices, snapped out of his meditation feeling much better. His chest still hurt, but he could breath now without too much pain. He wondered if meditation sped up his healing rate too.
As the carriage came around front it was all Mark’s mind began racing. Fortunately, his meditation session had helped give him a little bit more impulse control, which he was exercising heavily. It was all he could do to stop from jumping out of the carriage and rushing to the front. An amusing thought hit him as they rounded the corner.
“Wow, I just realized how late we are. Must be a new record.”
Liz turned her head to face Mark. “I think the teachers will cut us some slack today.”
“Oh crap! We totally could have picked up my Freshman project on the way in!”
“I really wish that still mattered, but we have other things to worry about now.”
Jason’s somber tone brought them all back to the present. They all were quiet as they hoped for a time when something like homework would actually be worth worrying about again.