Chapter 22 - The Final Countdown


A note from rykov00

The storm is coming, but not quite here yet <img src=

Thanks for the feedback to everyone who commented. It's helpful to see. In the latest chapters I've taken some more time to flesh out some of the side characters but ultimately, this story is going to focus on Mark and Liz. Maybe, if there were some event that would force them to separate and take different paths we'd get to know other groups better. Who knows what could happen in an apocalypse.

Please keep ratings, reviews, and comments coming! They are the fuel that we use to power our word output machine that brings you additional chapters.

Mark listened attentively to Liz as she went over everything she learned from Mom. He tried to focus but he eventually got distracted and started poking his ribs a few times just to confirm that the potion actually worked. His mom was so cool.

“Mark! Are you even listening? This is important stuff. Like, literally, your life could depend on it.”

“Yeah, gotcha, stones draw mana and stuff and things. Mom rocks. I mean, it’s cool Dad got gun abilities but Mom hasn’t even been grinding XP with us and she already figured out all this cool stuff.”

“We don’t know that there is XP. That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Oh, like all the sense the rest of the day has been making?”

Liz shrugged. Touche.

Mark moved to try a bigger stretch but he looked over to Barry and a thought occurred to him.

“You figured out how to get Barry to do stuff, didn’t you. You look way too happy to just have gotten info from mom.”

Liz just had her ‘I rock more than you’ smile plastered on her face. He learned her large collection of smiles over the years and this was one of his least favorite ones. He totally needed to figure something cool out to get back at her. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was when he managed to pull off something that she couldn’t. He actually had a way to do this now too.

“Lets go grab some more stones! I want to see what Mom thinks I should grab to help with abilities!”

Mark rushed downstairs and after a quick conversation with his mom he had a new collection of glowing green mana cores. She took a little extra time to poke and prod him and was cleared as healthy too.

“Go out and figure stuff out then, and let me know what you manage to learn.”

“Thanks Mom! You rock!”

He rushed outside and glanced over to the timer to see how much time he had left.

System Warning

Mana Storm (Class X) Approaching

Suggested Actions

Shelter in place.

Estimated Arrival


That seemed like enough time to at get the basics in at least one more cool thing.

Periodic bangs could be heard as his dad was running around clearing the immediate area. He ran over to the sounds to check in. As they came into sight he waved to let them know he was in the fenced in yard and they waved back. His dad always wanted to know where people were if he was out shooting and Mark didn’t feel troubled in the least to make sure he followed that particular rule.

Glancing around, everyone else was making last minute preparations as well. Eddie was going around chopping down trees near the house to try and get more visibility. Sam was helping cure the leather and repairing the armor as best she could with her sewing skills, and Elly was sticking like glue to Biscuit who was prancing around and getting some exercise in the fenced in yard. Bob and Etta were storing the carriage sorting supplies in the barn where it was stored. He even saw that Haley had broken out of her depression and was busy inside clearing the areas near windows to give good firing lines and let people run around if needed. He didn’t see Jocelyn though. She must have laid down to rest. Mark figured the potion may knit wounds but replacing lost blood sounded unlikely and she’d probably need more time to recover..

Being surrounded by all the hard work helped motivate Mark as well. He couldn’t just sit around and do nothing. He’d take the remaining time and figure out something new with his abilities. Something that would help no matter what this mana storm threw at them. He wasn’t sure what to go for though.

“I could try another attack thing, but I already have two methods, and it kinda seems like overkill,” he mused aloud. He looked over his options in his head. The things that would be most useful would be some sort of healing or protection thing, but that seemed like it would fit more into his meditation than his Chi. Sitting down and meditating during a fight didn’t sound like a great idea. No, he needed something to help with the immediate future. Something that would help keep him alive.

He reached for his Chi and let the sensation of it flowing through his body spread. He thought about what he had done so far with the ability and how it worked. He activated his Infused Strike Ability on a throwing knife and tried to figure out exactly what it was doing. He could feel all around the knife as he spread his power throughout it. He then tried to change the aura to the Severing Blade. The Chi started to spin around the blade, and it almost felt like it was operating like a chainsaw. He thought about everything he had done that day and realised he had done one more thing. He attempted to infuse his blade with the explosive energy that he used with the pepper spray and cell phone. This time, he focused his efforts to not just infuse, but have the energy to sit still and wait for his command to explode outward.

A few moments of concentration were rewarded when he felt the blade start to vibrate. Grinning at his success, Mark threw the blade to the ground and backed off a bit. The blade vibrated and made a horrible bell like noise, and then stood still. Mark walked back over to check out what had happened and saw a slight crack on the solid metal blade.

“Bleh, that sucks. I wonder what went wrong,” picking up and examining the blade gave him a few clues. It seemed like the energy had tried to explode out, but the metal wasn’t exactly a good material to explode. Mark thought about what might work better when he had a sudden insight.

“If it works for ninjas,” he mused.

Running inside he grabbed a bunch of sheets of paper, cut them into strips, and went back outside. If the energy couldn’t escape from metal, maybe it needed something that would be consumed in the reaction. He infused the paper with the same amount of mana, and pressed it firmly against the blade. He willed the paper to stay attached to the knife and slowly he could feel something trying to react. Realizing he might need some extra omph to pull this off, he grabbed a green mana core from his pocket and continued to focus. He soon felt a familiar pull and the stone grew dim as the paper stuck to the blade. Mark also attempted to maintain the connection with the paper, like he did with his Infused Strikes, and was rewarded when he felt a thread of Chi connect.

Grinning like a madman, he toss the knife and it stuck to the ground. It felt like he had a tiny thread attached to the paper that was keeping it all wrapped up. He backed up a few more feet, and pulled thread, undoing the binding and was rewarded by a pretty impressive blast.

“Woo hoo!”

His dad and Matt quickly rushed over to the crater site that Mark had just formed. His dad had a look of concern on his face and after verifying Mark was okay put on a stern face.

“What in blue blazes just happened?”

“I did the thing! With the paper, and I just made it explodey!”

“Mark. Words. Slow down and use them.”

“I made paper Explosive Charms! It’s a new ability I have now. I just got a notice. They’re magically delicious!” Mark used his best Irish brogue on his last sentence to help convey his excitement.

His dad’s stern face cracked a little bit and a smile started to seep through.

“Ok, that was pretty good. Now show me again how this works.”

Core Notification

Ability Gained - Chi: Explosive Charm

Liz was going to be so jealous.


Liz was annoyed. Mark was learning Abilities with his Chi incredibly fast, and it was just like him. He never worked hard for things and it drove her crazy when he succeeded. It happened with the crossbow as well. She worked crazy hard for three years to get her accuracy up with her bow then he just waltzed in with that stupid thing and was almost as good as her in no time. I mean, the damned thing was less accurate than her bow to begin with but he just kept on getting better and better.

She harrumphed and took in a deep breath. She knew how to meditate too, and while it didn’t unlock an Ability for her she knew she needed to relax. Mark had his way of doing things and she had hers. She took several deep breaths and focused. She never practiced meditation as much as Mark, mostly because she always viewed it as a punishment, but she needed a clear head and she knew it worked. She settled into a steady rhythm with her breath, centered herself, and opened her eyes.

Core Notification

Skill Gained - Meditation

That was a good start. Mark may be able to improvise and luck his way to success, but she was always better at focusing on the task at hand, and that is just what she planned on doing. It was time to get down to business.

In the past few battles she noticed how effective Mark’s Infused Strikes were. Being able to change the direction of his knives in flight had given him a huge boost both in dealing with agile creatures as well as being able to hit multiple things in one shot. If the monsters all conveniently lined up for her, she might be able to hit multiple ones with her Power Shot, but she wanted some more flexibility. She was going to pull off the same thing with arrows.

She focused her intent on her arrow, and pulled back her bow. Instead of pushing for the abilities of her Power Shot, she tried to picture directing the arrow. She loosed it and was incredibly disappointed at the result. The damn arrow was moving too fast and as soon as it left her bow her connection to it was lost. She tried a power shot at her lowest power and tried to tell the difference.

The shot knocked a hole and stopped as it went halfway through the tree. It was an impressive amount of damage, but after charging it, she felt no connection whatsoever to it. Something different was going on here and she just didn’t understand it. She kept at it though, experimenting with trying to gently shove it in different directions, but nothing resonated. She started growing in frustration again, particularly at the inability to do something that Mark had taken to so naturally. It was just like him!

“That is just like him, and he’s Mark.” Clueing into the error of her attempts she contemplated her bow. She thought about her own methods and way of doing things. She didn’t react on the fly to things. She didn’t randomly try stuff and hope it worked. She focused, she practiced, and she got what she wanted. Right now she wanted her arrow to follow a path that no arrow should be able to travel. She didn’t care if physics was against her, and she didn’t care if Mark could do it on the fly. The arrow was going to do what she wanted it to and that was it.

Aiming straight at the tree, but picturing a new path in her mind, she let fly the next arrow. It was almost imperceptible, but Liz had sharp eyes and knew exactly where the shot should have landed, and it was at least three inches off. She was onto something and she could feel it in her bones.

She tried to focus on creating a path, but the energies she was directing were resisting her. Remembering what Mom had said about mana cores, she took one out and tried to pull from the stone. She felt a trickle starting which soon became a flood. Mana poured into her and she focused on bending it to her will. A path for the arrow flashed to life in her mind. She pictured an arcing path to a tree directly behind the tree she had previously shot. The stones dimmed as she drew her path and as she focused she could see a guide forming. Seeing the line connect to her intended target, she released the arrow.

This time she hit the jackpot. The arrow flew from the bow and immediately started along the path she had drawn in her mind. Like a train on a track, it followed the silvery path in an impossible arc and flew gracefully around the tree to impact the previously hidden target.

Liz allowed herself a brief fist pump. She had done it, and she had done it her way. She felt drained but elated and took a few moments to meditate again. After she felt replenished, she readied another path. This time it formed almost instantly, and the shot she fired zig zagged around several trees and landed with a thud into her intended target.

Core Notification

Ability Gained - Archery Arts: Pathing Shot

An explosion sounded from where Mark was trying things and Liz knew in her bones he must have figured out a new Ability. Looking back at the arrow sticking out of the tree she thought about her own ability. She felt some elation at her success but she knew it still wasn’t enough. One arrow, even following a path, just wasn’t that deadly to the monsters she knew were out there. She decided to take it one step further. If her next idea worked she’d definitely have a leg up.

She took an arrow from her quiver, and pumped it almost to her maximum levels with Power Shot. Then she proceeded to lock in a path, taking it through three different trees. The draw on her mana was painful and she knew if she tried this again she’d definitely get a low mana warning, but she smiled as the path she desired quickly formed in front of her. She released her breath along with her arrow and three saplings blew apart and collapsed from the force of her impact. It took a lot more mana than either ability alone but the results were worth it.

“Now we’re talking.” Liz didn’t need anything to line up for her anymore. She’d line them up herself.


Before Mark got very far into his explanation he heard the sound of something crashing across the yard.

“That’s where Liz went to practice!” He quickly started to run towards the sounds and Jason and Matt followed behind him. He quickly found a smiling Liz sitting and meditating. Looking out over the field he stared slack jawed as he noticed the the shattered trunks of the saplings that had been destroy.

“Did you do that?”

Liz opened her eyes, smiled, and nodded.

“Got a new Ability called Pathing Shot. Lets me trace a path on where I want the arrow to go. Like this!”

Lightning quick she drew her bow and the arrow she shot twirled overhead and came back down right next to her feet.

“Awesome! But check this out!” he toss an Explosive Charm on his knife and threw it into a cluster of trees. Liz didn’t seem impressed as it thunked into a trunk.

“And?” she question him with an eyebrow raised.

Mark just smiled and lifted his hand with his fingers ready to snap. The tree he hit and another nearby were blasted down when he completed the motion. It was doubly rewarding, because not only did the effect leave an impressive crater in the ground - he may have overcharged it a bit and felt a tad woozy - but it was totally worth it from the look on Liz’s face.

“Hmm, that’s almost as effective as when I combine my Pathing with Power Shot,” she commented trying to back down from her previous look of amazement.

Mark frowned. He had totally expected to win this round but he had to admit the combo power Liz had was really hard to top. Not one to be outdone, Mark did what he always did when presented with a situation he wanted to change. He proceeded to make stuff up.

“Well, check this out!” Mark grabbed another mana core from his pocket and focused on pulling the energy. Unfortunately, he didn’t really know where he was going with this, but as the energy flowed into his body he decided to try something new. Since he could move around his knife when it was infused with Chi, why not himself? He looked up to a larger tree and picked out a branch roughly twenty feet up. Completely winging it, he tried flinging his body onto the branch.

He suddenly flew up to the branch and landed, barely keeping his balance and quickly grabbing onto the trunk to prevent from falling.

“Hah! See, I can like, jump step thing!”

“You totally just made that up right now. You don’t even have a name from the System saying it’s a real ability!”

Mark scrunched his face in annoyance. She was right, the System did come up with better names. He was so close to having more cool powers than Liz though and a little thing like it not actually being true wasn’t going to stop him.

“Mark! Get down from there! You’re going to get hurt!” His dad cried out waving his arms.

“I got this! It’s totally an ability, see!” Mark channeled his power in the same way and picked another branch across the way. It was a little over ten feet and he figured if he did it once it would be no problem to do it again. This time he focused even more energy and in an excited leap he flew towards the branch.

Then he flew over the branch, and over the tree, and after going about forty feet into the air he realized he maybe had overdone it. He probably should have been more worried as he began descending back towards the earth, but he had an odd sense of peace. Even as he heard Liz and his dad shouting in the background, he was comforted by one fact.

Core Notification

Ability Gained - Chi: Falling Step

“I totally have cooler Abilities now.” he muttered as the ground quickly approached.

A note from rykov00

I tried to flesh out the relationship between Mark and Liz out some more here. I'd like to think it believable and in line with the rest of the story. How do you like their back and forth?

Please let me know in comments!

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