Mark wolfed down another stack of pancakes and pushed the limits of his cheek’s capacity. The variety of their breakfast spread wasn’t huge, but what was there was delicious. The chef lady, Diane, had somehow pulled together some type of breakfast sausage from the meat harvests and was sizzling them up along with the pancakes. Her cooking arts were highly entertaining and Mark was amazed by the amazing speed that Diane flipped sausage patties and pancakes.
The cooking device itself was pretty awesome too. It was like a short order cook surface except made to work well with a wood based fire. Mark got to watch Margaret piece it together using Metal Manipulation just moments before. It was pretty similar to Paul’s Wood Manipulation, but required the metal to be heated up. Seeing a tattooed lady smash a glowing rod of metal into shapes with her bare hands was really freaking cool to watch.
As he began the process of moving his food from his cheek stores to his stomach, Mark turned away from the breakfast spectacle to the camp. A few trips to the local hardware stores, combined with the camp occupants newfound abilities, resulted in the beginnings of a small town overnight. He saw his dad and sister sit down across the way and quickly swallowed the rest of his food as he ran over. He had things to say that were about ready to burst if he didn’t get them out.
“Dad! We have to come up with a name for our town and stuff otherwise someone will name it Camp Randall or something.”
“That’s a fine name Mark, I’ll talk it over with folks and we’ll see if we can make it official.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! We have to have a cool name! Camp Randall is lame!”
Seeing the determination in his dad’s eyes, Mark new he had already lost. He put his head in hands in defeat.
Recovering quickly, Mark looked over to Liz. At least he still had his cool ammo conservation ability. “Liz, you know how it’s easy to run out of knives? Well check this out!”
Activating his Yo-Yo ability, Mark launched a knife into a tree, made a quick motion, and the weapon sailed gracefully back into his hand. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Liz gave him one of her smug smiles. That didn’t bode well. She unslung her bow, held up two fingers, and a magical glowing arrow appear in her hand. Almost faster than he could follow, she shot the thing into the same spot where his dagger had hit and it disappeared into a pile of glowy sparks.
“That’s totally unfair! You’re cheating. Bows are OP!” Mark complained.
Liz just laughed at his overstated annoyance. “Well, I have to admit that great minds think alike. I was worried about running out of ammo too.”
Mark wasn’t really mad, especially after Liz’s piece offering of acknowledging the greatness of his idea. Still, it would have been cool to beat her to the punch on this.
“That’s great kids, I’m glad you’re working your abilities. I have a feeling they’ll be the difference in a lot of things going forward. You’ve seen that power density warning stuff, right?”
Mark and Liz nodded.
“Well, I’ve been thinking, and your mom agrees, we should work to take out creatures around us since they seem to only spawn in open areas. We don’t know what happens when density increases, but it probably isn’t good.”
“I bet its something like the wolf explosion. Maybe that’s what actually happened.” Liz suggested
“Probably not wrong, there. If that’s the worst of it, we could probably weather it out, but if a crystal explodes on us, those things might randomly spawn in our house. What we have right now isn’t a perfect system, but I’d rather keep it going if we can. So, we’re going to organize into hunting groups. I want you kids to be group one, and I’ll take everyone else along in group two. We’re just going to go across the street and I want to keep in visual contact as we do it. You think you two can handle that?”
“That’s a piece of cake! We’re totally gonna bag more monsters than you too!” Mark grinned.
“Well, it would be a little hard for you to keep up, but aren’t you worried about ammo?” Liz asked.
His dad smiled back knowingly. “You kids weren’t the only ones figuring out how to keep up ammo stores. I’m proud of you, by the way. Great minds truly do think alike.”
“Dammit! Everyone has magic ammo. This is so not cool. No one is allowed to copy my next ability.”
His dad patted him on the back. “We’re going to head out in ten. I’m going to try and let to greenhorns do most of the work this time out, so we’ll be going slow. Stay close, we still don’t know everything that’s out here, and we may need backup, okay?”
Mark agreed and began a check of his equipment. Liz called over her animal army and checked them out as well.
“You still aren’t looking too hot there Moonlight. You stay here and guard the house, k?”
Mark was annoyed all over again. Not only did his magic ammo ability get copied, he still couldn’t top the army of magic creatures thing Liz had going. Well, he was at least going to get the most kills on this hunting trip. He took some breaths to pump himself up and walked with purpose towards the other hunters.
Liz knew that look. That was the look Mark had when he was about to try something she would generally classify as stupid. The worst part about it was that if she pointed it out, it probably would guarantee that he’d do it. She thought through the options. He probably was feeling diminished by the fact that everyone had focused on developing some sort of ammo thing, so his next course would be to prove himself in some other way. Maybe it would be best to let him get it out of his system with this hunt. A part of Liz’s brain twitched at the thought of letting Mark get a higher kill count, but sometimes she had to be the level headed one. Well, almost all the time.
Even so, Mark would need to be careful out there. Liz decided to risk trying to talk him down a bit. “Mark, when we’re out there, we need to stick close to Dad’s group. I’ll cover you, so just take it nice and slow, ok?”
Mark snapped around and she could see how tense he was. As the words sank in, though, his face softened. “Yeah. You’re right. That’s a good plan. Yeah.”
Liz did everything in her power to not make a snide comment or other facial gesture that could ruin the moment, and simply walked over to where Dad was. A small voice was screaming at her. It took all of her considerable willpower not to blurt out what it was saying.
“OH MY GOD! HE CAN LEARN! THIS IS AMAZING PEOPLE!”
She was pretty sure that would ruin whatever forward progress she had just made.
She barely paid attention to Dad’s speech as he laid out the patrol pattern. Basically, we were just going to walk the trails in the two parks north of us. The bigger group would take the Hippograffe park, and Mark and I would take the longer windy road around the park across Garrison. We’d have more area to cover, but it was almost all wide open space so we should be able to see anything coming. Liz was pretty confident in her ability to take out anything that she could easy see at a distance so the plan made sense to her.
A couple of the guys in the other group seemed to be worried at the split, but Dad laughed at their concerns.
“Liz, could you please take out that tree over there? We haven’t been able to get to it and it restricts our view to the street a bit too much.”
Liz launched a Power Shot and the tree promptly fell over. Liz went to retrieve her arrow and when she got back no one seemed inclined to question her capabilities.
“Just so you know, the kiddos are probably packing the most firepower we have in all the camp, and I’m counting myself in that mix. This is part of why we’re going out to hunt. I want you all to focus on the abilities you’re developing and see what you can pull out. We saw a lot of horror that first day, and I don’t think anyone here wants to repeat that ever again. You’ll need to find your own strength to keep moving forward.”
Liz didn’t appreciate being used as a motivational goal, but she knew it was for a good cause. The attention from the assembled group was a little uncomfortable, but she met their eyes and tried to instill whatever motivation she could. She hoped she managed to pull it off, because she felt like everyone would need as much help as possible these next few days. Without further ado, Dad’s group headed off to work on their hunting while Liz and Mark moved to their own area and started a very nice stroll around the park.
A few minutes in and Mark had already started to complain. “This is boring. I almost feel bad about killing these things.”
Liz had to admit that it was akin to shooting fish in a barrel. The Fuuzers and Nerflings were not challenging at all, and quickly fell to their unpowered attacks. Every now and then, new and strange creatures could be spotted, but those mostly jumped away before we could make them out. They seemed to have much more awareness than the spawned monsters and it made Liz wonder if they were existing creatures that had mutated somehow. It made her wonder what other things were brewing the the parks and wooded areas of Mountain Lake.
Meanwhile, Mark had decided to increase the difficulty level of things by trying to do Falling Steps and then take things out while still in the air. It looked really cool, but Liz was a little concerned by his antics.
“Mark, save up your mana. We don’t know what’s out here.”
“It’s fine sis. I have like 2/3rd left. I have tons of mana, you know.”
Liz did know. She had discovered that unfortunate fact when they compared stats earlier. Her mental abilities displayed at 6 and were higher than any single stat of Mark’s, but he made up for it with his stupidly high Mana Manipulation levels and Magic stats. It also explained how he was able to develop a constant stream of insane abilities. Having reviewed the census, Liz knew he was actually the best at mana manipulation out of anyone in the camp. He probably didn’t know that, and certainly didn’t need to know, especially if the result was him showing off even more.
Still, Mark slowed his pace a bit and Liz knew he was really making an effort to be conscientious. She tried to enjoy the walk as they continued their circuit. This park had a playground that Liz and Mark had run rampant in many an afternoon. It was one of the first places they were allowed to go by themselves and was filled with good memories. Good memories, and now corpses of random monsters. An arrow sprouted from the head of a Nerfling as they made their way northwards towards the edge of the park. Liz walked over to retrieve it and checked the surroundings for signs of anything more dangerous. A small ditch ran along fence line separating the park from a set of houses and Mark was leaping across it, Yo-Yo knifing the hapless spawns as he went. Liz looked back over her shoulder and could just make out Dad and his crew. They were slowly but surely cutting their way through the other park, which had a lot more brush, which made finding the creatures a little more difficult. She bet Dad was doing his survival talk thing and training them on how to track stuff as they were going. She thought back to the hours of lectures she had endured and didn’t envy them that.
Turning back she saw Mark had started to pull a ahead and Liz decided to do a quick scout. She reached out to Alana who was hovering overhead and had her do a wider circuit. She started Eyes of the Beast and this time she tried to also keep some awareness of her own surroundings. She met with marginal success, and was able to at least keep walking on the path as her eyes transfered over to Alana. The path in front of her was barely visible and she quickly started getting a headache. Still, it better than nothing. Alana soared over the houses to the north and Liz could see how ridiculous Mark looked from a bird’s eye view. His hopping around was particularly strange looking from above. Alana sent her thoughts through the connection which caused Liz to giggle.
What is giant hoppy rabbit thing doing?
No, not giant rabbit thing, just Mark. He’s friendly, and hunting monsters.
Glancing around a bit more using Alana’s eyes her humor instantly faded and Liz stopped in her tracks.
“MARK! Get back now! Now!”
“Jeez Liz, don’t freak, I got these things.” He called back as a pair of Nerflings dodged away towards the houses. These were giving him some trouble as he was just using his Yo-Yo and they were dodging about. If he used his Infused Weapon he could take them out quickly, but he actually was trying to conserve energy as well as improve his regular aim.
“Mark! Dammit! No! Don’t go down there.” Liz drew her bow and started charging a full power shot.
“What’s the big. Oh.” Mark had stopped dead in his tracks as he rounded a corner and the thing Liz had seen reared it’s head.
“That’s where the Giant Beak Bear ended up then.” Mark whispered to himself.
The Beak Bear, noticing Mark with whatever senses it had, lifted it’s head a roared. Apparently it recognized him. Liz could relate to the response to Mark, but she felt she handled her frustrations much better. Liz immediately started to try and think of a way to slow the thing down.
Mark, for his part, didn’t waste any time in retreating. Kill counts and winning evaporated in the wake of the giant rampaging beast behind him. The thing looked decidedly unhappy and Mark wondered if it remembered that whole shoving a knife up it’s nose thing. Risking a quick look over his shoulder its beady eye bulged in rage and the thing roar again. That would be a ‘probably’ then.
The siding of the houses to either side of the beast was ripped to shreds at it raced towards Mark. An arrow flew in from above and hit it’s leg but it really just didn’t seem to care.
“Thanks Liz! But I don’t think it’s working! Just run!” Mark shouted hoping his sister could hear him. He heard the piercing shrill of her whistle blowing out an SOS in response. That was a good call, this was definitely an SOS moment. Mark wondered if his dad could get there quick enough to make a difference. The giant monster was moving really fast.
He knew he could probably out distance the thing, but he was worried about what would happen to Liz. He quickly came out from between the houses and saw Liz booking it. She raised he bow and fired again. Mark was impressed at how the arrow flew from the front of her bow only to arc around and hit the Beak Bear. That looked so weird. How was she even doing that? Mark didn’t have time to contemplate it further it as he Falling Stepped away. The thing was starting to get a decent head of steam going and each footfall shook the earth.
It was gaining too fast. Mark eyeballed it and Liz would be toast if that thing kept up the pace. After all, he knew from personal experience that the thing could actually go much faster. Making a snap decision Mark ported and threw an Explosive Charm into the eye of the creature. The thing turned it’s head to avoid the knife but winced at the explosion. Ultimately it was an ineffective strike as it barely slowed its pace. It turned to snap at Mark but he managed to activate his Falling Step again getting out of it’s way and landing near Liz.
“It’s gaining! I can’t injure it.”
“Try to hit it’s leg, I’m going to try and take it out with a fully charged power show. I think I can maybe do one more after that. Those looping arrows took more than I expected.”
Mark had a sinking feeling in his chest. Looking across the street he could see his dad in the distance, but he was really far away. He knew that his dad was an amazing shot, but that would be asking for a lot, especially since he was armed with his handguns, and not a sniper rifle. There had to be a way to buy some more time.
Liz did a really cool tumble thing to try and eek out as much forward distance as possible while still giving her a line for a shot. Her arrow was visible glowing as she released it. It’s path was heading directly to the Beak Bear’s eye. Her aim was true but the thing whipped it’s head at the arrow at the last moment, fouling it’s path. It still scored alone it’s face, ripping off a chunk of it’s beak and exposing some fleshy bits behind it. Mark noted the chink in it’s armor and moved to capitalize on the opening.
Liz had resumed running and Mark could hear cursing coming from her. That was also a bad sign. Liz usually didn’t get to cursing unless she was at the end of her rope herself. Mark knew he only had one more chance before the Beak Bear caught up with them and he didn’t even want to imagine what that thing would do once it did.
Pulling his mana reserves low he charged up another Explosive Charm. Attempting to get a good angle again, he tried the Falling Step trick and popped over to the injured side of the thing. With a smooth motion he released the explosive dagger towards the injured spot. The shot looked impressive, and Mark was getting really good at throwing, but the combination of fear, adrenaline, flying through the air, and having a several ton house size creature charging at him was just too much. The shot hit it’s body well below the opening Liz had made. It roared in annoyance but didn’t slow down all that much. Maybe he should have gone for the legs instead because now It was going to catch up with Liz.
Mark knew Liz was tough, but that thing’s beak would snap her in half. He couldn’t stop it, so he tried the only other thing he could think of. Not even having time to explain his plan, Mark flashed over to Liz and hoped it would be enough.
Liz was hosed. She knew it. She had enough juice for one, maybe two, more shots, but there was no way she would have time to charge up. Looking over her shoulder she could see Mark make a last ditch effort to kill the thing, but it looked like he just pissed it off more. In the distance she saw her dad sprinting all out. She smiled sadly. He would be annoyed at himself for not getting here sooner, even though it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. Barely a minute had passed. In that time Liz went from a leisurely stroll to about to be mauled by a giant Beak Bear. What a crazy world.
Liz braced herself, she’d try and dodge at the last minute, but she didn’t give herself very good odds of success. She imagined it would be like trying to dodge a wave in ocean, the damn thing was so big she didn’t think anything she did would matter. She turned to face her end and drew Mr. Fluffers. Maybe she could do a bit more damage before she went down. As she steeled herself she felt Mark grab her around her chest and she barely had time for a tiny yelp before she was suddenly airborne.
‘Nice one Mark!’ She thought. She could see the Beak Bear below her howl in rage at their escape. Liz was amazed at the speed Mark moved with the falling step. It looked impressive from a distance but being caught up in the momentum she could feel just how fast she was moving. He thoughts were interrupted as she felt Mark’s hands suddenly lose their grip and he accelerated towards the ground at the ridiculous speed his ability granted. ‘Dammit Mark!’ She revised her thought, as she glided through the air in a high arc.
Head can fly now? Alana inquired pulled up next to her as she hit the top of her parabolic arc.
Alana! Grab me and help me down! And no! Head cannot fly!”
Alana seemed a little spooked at the ferocity of the command but complied. She gently grabbed Liz around her outstretched arms and attempted to keep her aloft.
Head should learn. Flying is much better.
I’ll think about it, but for now just help me down.
Liz added a quick Please at the end of her last command. Pissing off Alana while 60 feet in the air might not be the best plan. Alana took it all in stride though, and while she couldn’t keep Liz airborne for long, the assisted glide was much preferred to falling sixty feet down to the ground, to be followed by a trip down the throat of a giant monster. Fortunately for her, the momentum of the glide carried her a good distance away and she finally had some more breathing room. She had one shot left, and she needed to make it count. She wasn’t confident on taking the thing out, so this time she’d make sure it wouldn’t be able to move so damn fast.
She began charging and shouted out. “Mark! I’m taking my last shot, then I’m empty. How are you holding up?”
“A few more Falling Steps, that’s it! But Dad’s almost here!”
Liz let the energy flow through her and took aim. The thing, annoyed at having lost its snack, had turned to the closest target, Mark. As it began it’s charge Liz hoped he was up for dodging the thing. She pulled back but before she could fire Mark blinked behind the creature and threw a knife to get it’s attention. The thing paused as it tried to orient itself to the new attack. Liz made the most of the opportunity Mark had created and launched her arrow into one of the kneecaps of the beast, causing it to collapse to the floor.
Before it could get up again, six percussive blasts signaled that Dad was finally in range. The hole that Liz had created in the beak exploded into gore as each of the bullets expertly found it’s mark. The ground shook as the Beak Bear collapsed to the ground unmoving.
For a few moments everything was quiet. The only thing Liz could hear was the adreneline fueled pounding of her own heart.
“Is it dead?” she asked to no one in particular.
Mark threw a knife into the creature’s butt to no reaction.
“Yup, seems dead.”
“Did you just poke it in the butt to check to see if it was alive.”
“Ya. Why not?”
Liz didn’t really have any comeback to that. It wasn’t really that bad an idea, and it certainly confirmed that the thing was beyond all mortal cares. She sighed as she let some of the tension drain from her body.
“Just wondering. Good job. On everything. Even the throwing me into the air and then dropping me.”
Mark looked a little embarrassed. “Yeah, the going down bit was a really weird with someone else. The direction changes really fast and you apparently didn’t the thing that my ability does to change direction.”
“No, it’s cool, really, that was good thinking, and probably saved my life. Even if Alana hadn’t caught me I’d rather have a broken leg than be eaten by a giant Beak Bear thing”
Mark just wandered over and gave her a hug. Dad soon piled in as well and the family took a moment to just appreciate being alive for a bit. The hug helped Liz recover a bit emotionally and when she felt well enough to speak again Dad looked her in the eyes.
“You going to be ok kiddo?”
“Yeah. I think I’m fine now. But next time you guys piss off a house sized monster, please don’t leave it wandering around the neighborhood.”
Yeah, she was going to be fine.