Chapter 26 - Blowing in the wind


A note from rykov00

Plus side, we're making great progress on chapters so I think we'll be able to come out of July pretty much done with the story. I'm going to apologize in advance because this will be very 1st drafty, as getting 50k words for me required abandoning a lot of my efforts on detail. But, the other benefit for you readers will be that we'll be able to speed up the rate of published chapters after that. Or maybe I'll just start on book two. Decisions decisions.

In anycase enjoy! And if you know of a way to easily fix and edit table formats, please let me know. I tried editing it in the WYSIWYG editor and it didn't seem to care when I changed things around.

Mark wanted a wolf. Or maybe an eagle. Really, any pet would do, but he knew it was unlikely. He had a ton of other abilities anyway. Also, no matter how much he tried to follow Liz’s instructions he wasn’t able to unlock Animal Taming. Heck, he didn’t even feel like he was close to Animal Taming. Plus, trying make new abilities after that whole stabilization thing was really hard. Sucking energy from mana stones didn’t have the kick it used to. On the plus side, pushing around his mana internally seemed to be a lot easier, and that meant he could probably figure more cool stuff with Chi or his existing ability set.

With that in mind he started porting around everywhere and trying out all his abilities as he helped people out that morning. He also snuck around a lot to try and get a better feel for Stealth. It was kinda fun since whenever he popped beside someone they would jump up and make a funny yelping sound but eventually his dad sent him to scout out a corner away from people. Mark figured everyone was probably not thrilled as he was with the whole Stealth thing because that was literally what his dad asked him to do. Whatever, he could still work on stuff alone.

A couple minutes passed and things were going pretty well when his dad gave a sharp whistle. Everyone started to round up around the front door where he was waving them in. His mom, Haley, and Jocelyn came out the front door and the workers who were in the yard all circled round to see what was up. His dad stood in the semi-circle and nodded to everyone as they quieted down around him.

"Ok folks. We survived a day, and that's great, but I think we all realize we’re just getting started here. At least, I certainly plan on being here many more days and I hope you do too. Also, we also are not alone and I for one am not going to abandon folks who might need our help. Bob and Etta mentioned their ferrier is a couple miles up north. Apparently she’s also a blacksmith. I can't tell you how nice having someone who can work metal would be to have in an environment like this. On top of that we met pockets of folks who banded together, and I want to do what we can to help. I’m willing to protect me and mine, but that doesn’t mean leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. We were always focused on building a strong community, and that hasn’t changed even with this apocalypse. I'd like for you to stick around and help me grow it, and I understand if you don’t want to stay, or have other ideas, but if you want to stick with us you’re welcome to it.”

His dad looked around. Everyone in the group stood and nodded. It hadn’t been long, but we’d been through a lot together, and most people were perfectly willing to stick it out with the Apocalypse King. Seeing no dissenters, his Mom actually stepped forward.

"I’m glad. I think we’ll be much safer together, and also we’ll be better off the more we know about what is going on. You all know I’ve been doing everything I can to make sense of this and we got some pretty big notices yesterday about what was happening. If you haven’t already developed an ability, the good news is that the stabilization effect seems to make that a lot easier. We’ve worked out a few methods to help you find something you can do. If you have an ability, it’s a lot less stressful to activate it, so you should try to get a feel for what you can do. The only real disadvantage is that if you have an existing ability, it’s really difficult to create the pathways to develop additional ones. You should probably focus on what you’ve already managed to unlock. I can help you figure some of this stuff out, just come chat with me later."

Mark congratulated himself on his awesome observation skills. "I knew it."

Mark realized that maybe he said that last bit a little too loud as everyone took a moment to stare at him. "Uh, well, it's just I wasn't able to figure out totally new stuff and it was way easy before."

"That's actually really observant of you Mark," his mom continued. "Regardless, there's still a lot to do. I have a decent supply of healing potions and the materials I need to make them are pretty plentiful. For reference, it's a mixture of modern pharmaceuticals with mana drawn in from yellow cores and a little extra magic to put it all together. Just so no one gets any ideas, limited experiments I've done with cores contacting human cells have been pretty scary. Do not eat those things. They have highly mutagenic properties." She gestured over to Liz and everyone made way as she and her giant wolf friend stepped forward. She started talking about some of the stuff she figured out and also about the tamed wolf so no one would freak out about it.

As everyone came up to speed and asked questions around the new information Mark started to grow bored again. Given, it didn't take much, but there were so many things to do. He was worried all over again about George. Between the craziness of last night and the sheriff being somewhat on edge he wanted to go and check on the high school as soon as possible. He glanced over to Haley and saw a similar look of concern. Not able to contain himself he raised his hand in the hopes of attracting some attention. The jumping up and down probably drew some to him too. His dad motioned to him.

"Yes Mark? What's up?"

"Dad, can we just split up and go? I want to make sure people are safe. We can talk about stuff later, right?"

His dad gave a deep sigh. "This is important info kiddo, but yeah. On a certain level you're right. Mary, you keep figuring out what you can while we run do a check on folks? Also, Bob and Etta, you still wanted to check on your blacksmith friend right? We'll probably be best off splitting up again. It's been really quiet lately and I think this is our best bet to find things before the monsters get out and about. I think that wave of wolves did a pretty good job of clearing everything out, but who knows what new madness is out there."

"I want to check the school. I can go really fast, even without a horse. My Falling Step thing is pretty awesome."

"That may be true, but I think we'll be better off taking the spare horses. After all, it wouldn't do for you to spend all your mana on moving around and then have nothing else in case of an emergency, right?"

Mark glanced down at his feet. He hadn't really thought that through, but knew his dad had a point.

"With that being said, our other heavy hitter is Liz. Are you up for going with Bob to pick up their blacksmith friend? Matt and Etta will be your backup."

Etta stepped up to continue. "Her name is Margaret, and she's about five miles north of us. It will be the longest trip we've done so far, but it's right along Garrison. No side streets and a straight shot the entire way. We'll need the carriage in case Margaret wants to come back with us. Not for her, for her anvil. I can't imagine her willing to give it up.”

Bob stood next to Etta and added, “She's a tough gal, and if anyone was going to be ready for something like this it would be her. Well, other than Jason" Bob smiled at his dad.

Liz thought about it for a moment and nodded. "Yeah, I got this. I'm pretty comfortable with what I can do with the bow now. Let's make sure everything is set on the carriage." She walked off with Bob to get the carriage ready while his dad stepped forward again.

"We'll wrap up here in a bit Mark, go ahead and get the horses ready and I'll join you in a sec. I want to go over some last things here on what we should be doing to shore up our defenses."

Mark gave a thumbs up and headed over the the garage. The doors were open and Biscuit was chilling with the other horses.

"Oh, hey Biscuit, how is everyone after last night?"

"Biscuit good now! Last night was scary. Scary doggies! Scary doggies can't catch Biscuit though! Probably could catch and eat horsies. That would be sad for horsies."

"Uh, yeah. So, good thing everyone is fine right?" Mark stood there in awkward silence for a bit. He wasn't great at small talk to begin with and he really didn't have any ideas on what you should talk about with a unicorn. Shaking his head, he just proceeded to get the horses ready.

"Time for another trips guys." Patting the horses to calm them he proceeded to get them saddled up. The smell of blood was thick in the air causing them to be a bit skittish. Hopefully there wouldn’t be many more mornings like this.

Saddled up and ready to go he led the horses out to the yard. His dad was conversing with Bob. As Mark approached Bob grabbed the gelding’s reins and went to hitch up the carriage. His Dad mounted up and motioned for Mark to do the same. Liz was standing next to them waiting for the carriage to pull around and had her arm in a half hug. She looked nervous.

His Dad trotted over to Liz and leaned down to pat her shoulder.

“You’ll be fine sweetie. You’re are so strong, and you’ll be fine against anything we’ve seen out there. In the off chance you do find something new and terrifying, don’t be afraid to hole up somewhere and we’ll come for you. This is a targeted mission and you’re in charge of safety. I’ve told everyone it’s your call to tough it out or abandon the mission. I trust you.”

“Okay. This is straight up and down Garrison and we cut and run if we see anything that spooks us. I can do this. We’ll be fine.”

“We can hold off on this trip and wait to all go together if you need, but you know how important time is. That being said, we can do this with everyone along if you want.”

“No, Jocelyn barely made it to Mom in time. If we had taken an hour or two detour I’m not sure she would have survived. We need to be able to send out more than one group at a time, and I have to admit, I’m pretty badass.” Liz smirked.

Mark couldn’t tell how much of the bravado Liz was exuding was a bluff and how much was honesty, but he had to grudgingly admit she had a point. Other than their Dad, she was probably the best suited to protect a group from incoming monsters. Mark liked to think he could do it, but he understood that sometimes his ‘jump first ask why later’ approach might not be suited to an rescue mission.

"Be safe out there Sis. Don't fall off the carriage.”

"Yeah yeah. You be safe out there too. Try not fall out of any trees.”

Mark and Liz both smiled at the jokes and enjoyed the light teasing. Sometimes reverting to old behaviors was just comforting. His dad tapped his horse on the sides to get moving and Mark followed behind at a trot. They were going to check on folks and drop of some potions his mom had made for everyone. Soon the house was behind them and Mark guided his horse side by side to his dad.

“Dad do you think everyone’s ok? What if they’re injured? Do you think they’ll want to come back to our place for the long term? Is Liz going to be alright?”

“Mark, my dear child. We have gone less than a hundred feet from our house and you are already freaking out. If you do this the entire trip, well, no. You won’t do this the entire trip. Relax. People will be fine. We have potions if they’re not. We can fit a lot of people in our yard and with Eddie we can build shelters quick. And Liz is one of the most capable people I know, plus she can shoot magical guided arrows that can punch through multiple giant mutant wolves in a single shot, so yes, she will be fine.”

“Ok, you’re right. I’m just getting a little jittery.”

“Try to focus on something else. There has to be something of interest that can help you calm down.”

System Notification

User Information Enabled

System Notification

User Interaction Enabled

Distraction found! The startled look on his dad’s face indicated he also had seen the message.

“Dad! I can open up all the menus! This is awesome!” Without hesitation Mark navigated the menus to look at his Stats.




















Sub Stats












He tried using the interface to get more details on what the stats and sub-stats meant, but he kept on getting strange messages about help files not found. Still, this was amazing. After he looked at his different stat pools little bars persisted and he had readings on how much of each he had left. He wasn’t sure how it interacted with skills and abilities but he was looking forward playing around with it. His mom must be having a field day. He could finally figure out how much mana or whatever it took to use his abilities. He got a knife out and was about to infuse it when his dad interrupted him.

“Mark, I know you’re excited about this, but let’s at least get to the school first before you go blowing anything up. We’ll have time to figure this stuff out later, and plus, I can’t seem to get any details on anything.”

“Yeah, that’s a bummer, but it’s still awesome to know my Stats and Sub-Stats, and abilities levels, and Skill levels, and level levels!”

“That’s cool son, and we’ll compare notes in a bit, but lets just get to the elementary school first. Keep a lookout for things that might try to jump us.”

Fortunately for Mark, that would only be a few minutes. He did a quick scan of the area. Nothing seemed to be moving around and it was oddly quiet. Mark wondered if the wolf wave had taken out the local fauna, but on the same token, he wondered where the wolves had ended up. I guess he’d probably better keep his eyes open just in case. His eyes, and User Sheet open. That should probably be fine.





Advancement Points




Not being able to click on Advancement Points or Class was probably the most frustrating thing Mark had experienced in his thirteen years of life. He started trying a bunch of different things to activate either area but he didn’t even get an error message.

“Mark, I can see you looking at your sheet. You’re focusing right in front of your face.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Mark sighed as he closed the window and returned to scanning the area for threats.

They made it to the elementary school without incident and his dad did a whistle thing. After some shifting at the front door, a haggard but smiling principal came out to greet them. A quick conversation revealed that they had largely been untouched by the events of the night. They could, however benefit from some food, if it was available, as they were burning through their supplies quickly.

While his dad caught the principal up on everything that was going on, Mark took some time to try and show the kids some tricks. Really he was using it as an excuse to play around with his character sheet. One really helpful part was learning about what abilities and skills did to his pools.

Turns out that the only thing that seemed to impact his magic pool were Abilities. He played a quick game of tag with the kids in the gym to show off a little as well as test things out. His Falling Step served both purposes admirably. He also noticed that it drained stamina and a little of his mental pool in addition to his mana. He wondered if he should start calling it his magic pool instead, but that sounded lame. Moving on with his tests, a quick game of hide and seek showed his Sneak skill was almost all physical based with some influence. The last thing he tested out was hit points. He started a game of dodgeball and goaded the kicks to throw as hard as they could at him. Mark stood solid and as a colorful assortment of balls collided with his face and other bits. He kept a close look on all his pools, but apparently they were unrelated to physical damage, as they all were steady.

A few minutes of playing around made Mark realize a few things. He didn’t really want to admit it, because everything was easier if it was true, but overall this didn’t feel like a game. The screens were mostly just reporting things he already knew, rather than providing a new set of mechanics that he could exploit. As his physical pool depleted, he felt tired. His influence pool went down as he tried to get the kids to listen to him and also when they started to annoy him. His mental pool went down as he tried to focus his thoughts on multiple things at a time. These were all things he knew about himself from before, and quite frankly he was pretty good at figuring out when he was at the end of his rope for any of those things. Heck, he even figured out how to tell how low his mana was by feel before the bars.

Excusing himself from the kids he went outside to wait for his dad to finish. He contemplated everything for a moment and appreciated the quiet around him. ‘User’, his interface said. Not Character Sheet like in AAO. User was a pretty specific word. User implied that he was using the system, and not the other way around. He wondered if that was really true. Regardless, there was still the Magic stat, and he was pretty durn sure nothing like it was around before.

As his dad walked out and mounted up Mark mounted up.

“Everything good?”

“Yeah, a few minor injuries but nothing requiring a healing potion. I think most of the wolves around here got drawn to our house so things were pretty quite aside from the rain of random spawns. When we get some of the meat processed from today we’ll drag it over. I’m worried about the other places though so let’s pick up the pace.”

“Sounds like a plan. Also, what level are you?”

His dad did the nodding head thing he always did when accessing the menus. Mark thought it was funny but he knew his dad didn’t play AAO very much and it wouldn’t be very nice to point that out. “Level 8 right now, whatever that means.”

“Well, normally you’d get points or stuff to distribute as you level up. I couldn’t select anything with my points, but the thing before mentioned an Advancement System. That would be cool.”

“It would be nice, but in the meantime, let’s not get lazy. If you want to raise your ability in things there’s always good old fashioned working your butt off.”

“Yeah, in our copious free time.”

“We’ll get there son. We’ll get there. In the meantime, lets see how the church folks fared. You ready?”

Mark wasn’t, but if he kept moving, maybe that fact wouldn’t catch up to him.

“Sure. Let’s ride!”

A note from rykov00

Please comment, rate, or review!

Also, I'm curious, as the trickle of information has been coming it, does anyone have a theory on what the system is yet or how it got there? Would you like to have more information now about it? I'm trying to give hints but not give it all away at once, but if the rate of information is frustrating I can give a few more details here and there. Also let us know if you want more character sheet info. I don't like tossing it all in the chapter, but maybe I could just do a character sheet release if people want.

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