Michael retreated from the gorge with his new companion, retracing his steps back towards the river. He thought briefly about taking one of the wolves with him for a meal, but it seemed like a bad idea with his new companion still pausing every few steps to look back for the rest of her pack.
Glancing up he saw that the sun was still quite low on the horizon. The battle with the poachers may have felt like it took a few hours, but it seemed less than a half hour had actually passed. Kari followed close by, stopping occasionally to sniff at something, but never getting too far away.
He glanced over at her as she chased some small critter through the ferns. She was a beautiful specimen. About five feet long from tip to tail, and gorgeous red fur. Her tail hung heavy behind her, but everytime she caught him staring it wagged slowly, even as her tongue lolled out past her long teeth. Her paws were a lot larger than he thought they needed to be for her legs, and her nails were stubby. Her eyes were a bright jade, almost glowing as they caught and reflected the morning light.
His inspection prompted the game menu.
Red wolves are extremely rare and adaptable creatures. They are smaller than their grey or black cousins, but make up for it with clever ambush tactics. Cunning and swift, they hunt alone or in small packs, taking down prey far larger than themselves. It is not unheard of for a single alpha to take down a large elk for its mates.
Michael studied the description, his face cracked in a wide smile. This was an awesome development. Not only did he now have an additional weapon in his arsenal, but stats meant he could upgrade her to become stronger.
‘This is so cool. I wonder how much she would cost to upgrade?’ He mused. He quickly tapped on her constitution trait. She was hurt, so it was a great opportunity to see if upgrading her stats would affect her overall health.
Do you want to upgrade Kari’s Constitution?
Yes / No
Michael froze in his tracks. Kari sensed something had changed and came over to him. She stopped and stared at him as he stared off into space, tilting her head to the side as if she was trying to figure him out.
‘Hold the fucking phone.’ His fingers flew through the menus as he double checked his own stats. ‘Its cheaper to upgrade her than it is me! Oh this is gonna be a game changer. FINALLY something in this game is going my way.’
Michael had never pictured himself as a hunter type player before, but honestly he had never given it a real shot. In LinkWorld he had always played a healer/caster type because it was an easy and versatile system. In Iona though, with pain receptors turned all the way to max, he needed a way to reduce the likelihood of getting catching a fireball to the face. Having a wolf chewing on your ass was a great distraction tool.
Michael considered his options, pacing back and forth as his mind spun at a hundred miles an hour. His new companion’s head followed him from side to side, watching the crazy man at work. It would have been comical if he had been paying attention.
‘It’s ten soul power to upgrade the wolf’s base stats, instead of the twenty five for mine. That means I can upgrade her three times for my one. Or five times for my two. If I upgrade her stats, we could probably hunt more, which means more sp, which means more upgrades for both of us. If she gets hurt hunting, I can heal her which levels my Magic skill…’
Michael clapped his hands together and faced Kari as she stared at him, her tongue lolled out and head tilted.
“Hang on to your fur kid. We’re gonna make you a star,” he said with a huge grin.
Michael called up her stats again and immediately pumped 50sp into her, and mentally smacked the “Yes” button. Kari yipped, and shyed as she changed. Her spine and legs elongated, even as her chest grew deeper. She was larger now, and even her fur looked thicker. She spun around in a circle, as if she could see herself, and promptly tripped as her steps took her further than she was used to. She let out a happy yelp, and ran over to Michael and nuzzled his leg. He wasn’t sure how much she understood of what just happened, but it was clear that she knew he was responsible.
He pulled up her stats one last time, just to double check.
Michael rubbed his hands together and mentally congratulated himself.
‘Behold the cleverness of me!’
With the math out of the way and his new companion upgraded, he set off again towards the river as he contemplated how to go about using his new friend.
They reached the river and turned north to continue following it upstream. Michael couldn’t wait to reach the town. This game was brand new and he had already “invented” a couple spells, but he was desperate for a real trainer. Anyone to give him a heads up about how to get stronger. Or even an overarching plot. Sandbox games were all well and good, but the story was what really made a game pop.
Kari and Michael walked another mile or so when suddenly the wolf let out a quiet huff and dropped her belly to the ground. He crouched to follow her and checked the direction she was pointing. He stared off into the forest, but no matter how he strained his eyes he couldn’t see anything in the green backdrop of moss and ferns.
“You see something girl?”
Kari huffed, and took a tentative couple steps forward. Whatever it was, she was eager to get a piece of it. Michael took an arrow from the quiver at his waist and knocked it to his bow.
“Alright girl. Go get it!”
Kari took off, racing quietly through the trees and vanishing in the underbrush. Her red fur blending in surprisingly well. Michael drew his bow and aimed into the general direction she had disappeared, in case she flushed out some sort of bird.
The forest was quiet and still. His arm began to shake from the strain of holding his draw, and the only thing he could hear was the rushing water of the river, and his own breathing. Seconds stretched on. Nearly a minute had passed by, when his eyes caught movement.
He swung his aim over and sighted down the arrow. A grey mist rushed out of the underbrush and sunk into his chest. A quick glance at his soul power, and he saw that it had gone up by ten. He slowly relaxed his bow, as he saw Kari bounding back. She weaved her way through the brush and emerged dragging an animal about half her size.
“Wow. Way to go! It’s only been an hour and you’re already showing me up.” Michael pet her head as she dropped the carcass at his feet. She leaned into the pet and whined happily, as he found that magic spot behind her ears.
He showered her in affection, since it was clearly obvious that she enjoyed it, and he figured it was the easiest way to train her. Though he wasn’t sure how much training a video game wolf would need.
He bent down to inspect her prize, and a cold shiver of fear shot through him. It was a bear cub. He grabbed it and threw it over his shoulder, and spun on his heel turning to sprint up stream as fast as his legs could carry him.
Where there were bear cubs, there were bear momma’s not far behind. He had no desire to be anywhere near one of those when it found out her cub had just become lunch. Kari kept pace beside him, loping along easily even as he sucked wind like a bellows.
His legs burned after a few hundred yards, and his back began to scream from the thirty pound cub on his shoulder, but he didn’t dare stop. He sprinted over moss covered stones and dodged low hanging branches, as iron bands wrapped his chest and fire purged his veins.
He didn’t stop until black spots filled his vision and he was so exhausted that he didn’t care if the bear ate him anymore. He just wanted a full breath of air. So he collapsed like a sack full of grain.
Kari licked his face as he laid there, her bejeweled eyes wondering why he had grabbed her prize and sprinted off. It took a few minutes for Michael to finally catch his breath, but he finally relaxed and pet Kari, to let her know he was ok.
“Out of the entire forest, you had to pick a bear cub. Hopefully mom is far away, otherwise we’re going to be killed in our sleep” he told her gently. The wolf’s ear’s picked up and she tilted her head as if she was considering his position.
Michael sighed. There was no way she could understand him, but after two solid days with no friendly human contact it was nice to talk to someone again. Even if she had no idea what was going on.
Grunting, he rolled up to his knees and pulled his long arrowhead out of his quiver and got to the messy task of skinning the cub. He figured that having done this once would make the next time easier.
He was wrong. It took nearly a half hour to strip and gut the cub. Michael tossed Kari the heart, liver, lungs, and… parts as he cleaned the animal. She sat perched eagle eyed on his hands as he systematically cut out hunks and threw them to her, licking her chops as the giblets disappeared faster than any magicians trick. She made happy little yowling noises as she caught them midair and scarfed them down.
Once the carcass was stripped and shanks were roasting merrily away on the fire, Michael finally leaned back and took a breather. Kari took a few sniffs of a kebab, but right as Michael was about to yell at her, she turned and laid down next to him resting her head on his stomach.
Michael relaxed back into the soft earth in the shade of a large tree, listened to the crackling fire and slowly pet her ears. It wasn’t long before he started to doze. He was about to fall asleep for reals, when the smell of burning meat roused him. Thankfully he was able to snatch the kebabs before they were rendered inedible.
Quickly scarfing a few bites for himself, he stuffed the rest of the meal into his shirt for later. Forcing himself to his feet, he began stumbling back upstream. Michael was able to put a few more miles behind him before the sun set and he collapsed in a small outcove, not even bothering to light a fire. Kari curled up next to him, and they were both asleep in minutes.
The next few days for Michael were a blur of travel and hunting with Kari. She was a gift from Sara herself as far as he was concerned. She was constantly darting off into the woods and bringing back squirrels and raccoons. She was rapidly filling out the muscle in her new frame. Of course with all the new soul power coming to him for free, Michael was able to upgrade Kari twice more. Most of her stats were now in the high three’s from all that rapid fire hunting.
After two days of hard walking, Michael was able to see a large valley off in the horizon. A huge expanse of grassland ringed by mountains. The river he had been following for the last week was finally at its source; springing from the run off of several snowy caps.
Michael was rinsing out his shirt in the river, in attempt to dislodge some of the larger pieces of gore and dirt in the heat of the afternoon sun, when Kari suddenly started growling loudly. Abandoning his shirt to the rapid waters, he leaped for his bow just as a fully grown bear lumbered out of the nearby underbrush..
The thing was massive. He guessed it weighed in at over four hundred pounds. It meandered towards them unconcerned by the seven foot wolf growling and the hunter nocking his arrow. It closed to only a few yards from them and paused to sniff.
It must not have liked what it smelled because it reared up on its hind legs and let out a bellow that shook the trees. Michael could feel the lizard part of his brain that focused on survival, piss itself and hide. The bear’s teeth were easily longer than his fingers and its paws could easily serve a family sized pizza with room left over for onion rings.
Kari’s growling quieted as it became more and more obvious that there was no way to get out of this fight. She began strafing to the side of the bear, forcing it to turn its attention towards her. As soon as he thought he could get in a clean shot, Michael loosed with an Aimed Shot right at the base of the bears head. If he was lucky, he hoped he could get it right in the spine and end this fight quickly.
Luck, however, was a bitch. The bear either ducked at just the right time, or was such a high level that the aimed shot was mitigated. The arrow flew the couple yards between Michael and hit the bear in the back of the skull, stuck there like some sort of pathetic tribal flag on the mountain of doom.
The good thing was, now he had the bear’s full attention. Deciding survival was better than glory, Michael leaped straight back not even bothering to turn.
The river was rapid here but shallow. As his feet splashed into the raging water, he landed on slick, moss covered stones and fell. Hard. He felt something in his ankle pop, and his ribs felt like they had they had gone a few rounds with Dwayne Johnson, instead of just some river stone. But a quick glance at his status showed only health points lost. No breaks or anything. He caught his footing a few dozen yards downstream from where he landed, and looked back to see the bear was chasing Kari down river towards him.
Getting a solid footing, Michael loosed arrow after arrow at the bear. Every single one was an Aimed Shot. His arrows were finding purchase in its shoulders and haunches, one slammed deep into its jaw, but the bear wasn’t even slowing down.
Time running out, and the seriously pissed off bear getting closer. He decided to go for broke. Pulling out another arrow, he pulled it back to its maximum range, and activated Power Shot.
He loosed the arrow, which flew straight into the bear’s left shoulder and sunk deep, breaking the joint and shredding several important anatomical features. The bear dropped to the ground roaring in pain as the limb gave out under its bulk.
Kari took the opportunity to dart in behind it and start mauling at its neck, ripping chunks of fur and muscle out with her teeth. Bellowing in pain and rage, the bear rolled away from the wolf and smacked her with its one working claw.
Kari went flying into the river, crimson furrows opened on her side and yowling in agony. She splashed down somewhere in the middle of the rapids, and Michael lost sight of her as she went under.
“Kari!” he cried. He wanted to turn and look for her, but he forced his attention to stay on the situation. The bear stood up on its one good arm and heaved itself onto two feet. Its right arm dangled uselessly on its side. If Michael had enough time, chances were that blood loss would win this fight for him. Sadly, the bear was an impatient son of a bitch. It shuffled forward on its hind legs and reared its left paw back to remove Michael’s head from his shoulders.
Fumbling for the last arrow in his quiver, Michael drew back with every ounce of strength his fear induced muscles could muster, activating power shot one last time. The bow bent back double, the wood twisting and cracking under his grip. He forced more and more power into the bow, the light of Power Shot seeping up the arrow, to engulf the entire bow. When he had no more power to give, and the bear was nearly upon him, he loosed from point blank range.
As his fingers left the string and the bows natural curve righted itself, the force he had exerted under the strength of power shot, exploded. The power rebounded upon itself, winding its way through the cracks and fissures that he had neglected to mend; until their destructive energy could be contained no longer. With a small sonic boom and a flash of white light, the bow disintegrated. Splinters flew everywhere and burrowing deep into Michael’s hands and face.
The arrow flew true, and punched a fist sized hole straight into the bear’s chest, right where its heart should be. It should have dropped immediately, but no one informed the bear that it should be dead. Seeing that his weapon was destroyed, the bear dropped back to its one working arm, and hobbled as fast as it could to finish him off. Michael sighed and stood motionless, waiting for death.
A red blur streaked from the forest and slammed into the bear, knocking it off its feet in with its ferocity. It took Michael a second to make out Kari, as she bit, clawed, and chewed. The bear swiped at her with its meaty paw, but it was too slow to keep up with the enhanced wolf. She was a whirlwind of speed and fangs, darting under the bears blows, always just a hair's breadth ahead of it. Blood sprayed through the air, the bites she left getting larger each time as she targeted the same vulnerable spots over and over again.
The bear’s movements became sluggish, and its roars quieter. With one last snarl, Kari darted in, and tore its throat open to pour on the sand below. The bear finally slumped and lay there blinking up at Michael. For a second, he swore that it didn’t look angry, it just looked... sad.
Then it heaved one last sigh and its eyes clouded over.
The typical grey mist rose from the corpse of the mighty bear and sunk into Michael’s chest. He blew a huge breath from his lungs, dropping to the sand as exhaustion slammed into him. Hands shaking, he turned to Kari.
“You magnificent girl. You saved my life!” He cheered with a fist pump.
She glanced at him, and then collapsed into a boneless heap.
Michael scrambled over to her and checked. Her side was torn wide open. There were four long gashes that ripped her from stomach to throat. Her intestines were poking out next to her ribs, and there was very dark, almost black blood, pooling from just under her foreleg.
Michael wasn’t a vet but he new she was in bad shape. She needed healing, now. He quickly checked his soul power and was surprised to see it holding at 200. His last bump in magic must have doubled his storage capacity and the bear must have been worth a lot more. So much more, that he should be dead right now.
He inspected Kari.
Effects: Broken bones(-1/s), Internal bleeding(-1/s), Incapacitated(-1/s), Mortal wound(-2/s)
Your pet is incapacitated and dying, losing -5hp/sec until stabilized or dead.
Remove effect (cost 5sp)?
Yes / No?
Michael knew from experience that it was going to take most of his soul power to heal her health. Especially at the pathetic exchange rate. No he needed to remove the effects first. That cost him 15sp, but mortal wound wouldn’t go away.
Michael cursed at the game and its damn mechanics. He quickly called up his Healing Fog, and pushed the mist swirling around his hand towards her broken and limp form. Kari whined pathetically, her breaths tinged with a red foam.
‘Damnit! It’s not enough. Hold on. Last time I upgraded her, she went from half heath to completely full. I wonder if that would work again?’
Wasting no more time, Michael quickly activated her menu and crushed the upgrade button. Immediately, her health went from four to fifty but the mortal wound refused to disappear.
“Come on, come ON!” Michael dumped soul power into upgrades as fast as he could flick through the menus. Her health jumped up and kept rising, but the mortal wound just refused to go away.
Kari’s tongue lolled out of her mouth, and blood trickled from the corners of her eyes. Her breaths began to slow, as more and more red foam was coughed up in each breath. Michael knew he was running out of time. He smashed the upgrade button again.
Your pets stats have been maxed out.
“Oh no you fucking don’t!” Michael summoned Healing Fog again, but this time he focused on the energy in his hands. The fog seemed like a light mist as it wafted between his fingers. It was good for most things, but it wasn’t enough this time. He concentrated on the fog, willing it to condense, swirling into a ball of mist that spun rapidly in his palm. The mist thickened, and contracted in on itself, feeling less like mist and more like a spongy ball. The dim green light, grew brighter, as his soul power bar plummeted. Michael dumped a full 100 sp into the spell before it felt like it had stabilized and he pushed it into Kari.
The spell struck her chest, and resisted briefly. The ball shape, flexed around her chest as if resisting entry, until with gritted teeth, Michael forced the spell in.
Kari’s red fur began to glow green as the spell infused her flesh. Michael’s hand remained welded to her body, as it drew the last of his SP from him like a vacuum. He watched his last 20 points trickle away, and then watched as his health began to drop. It never even occurred to him to remove his hand from her.
His health fell, and his limbs began to tremble as his very life was used to fuel the spell. He grew weaker and weaker, but forced his hand to stay on her. She was glowing brightly now, casting a green shadow on the surrounding foliage, and even her eyes were like mini spotlights, shining brightly as they fixed on Michael’s face.
You have sacrificed yourself to save the life of your companion, giving your life energy to heal her rather than to let her die. Your actions have unlocked the Soul Bond ability. Soul Bond allows the owner to increase their pet’s strength by removing the stat cap restriction from them, but doubling the cost of investment.
Would you like to Soul Bond Kari?
Yes / No
Stared at the prompt floating above him, barely understanding a word. His health points were rapidly bottoming out, just 12/100 and falling. He only had a few seconds to decide. Quickly glancing at Kari, he saw that her Mortal Wound was still there even though her health was maxed out.
Gasping ragged breaths, Michael mentally shrugged and whispered, “Yes”.
The light encompassing Kari went off light a supernova, and his health points dropped immediately from 11 to 1/100. He collapsed face first into the sand as the last vestiges of his strength faded away. His eyes stung and watered, blinding spots dancing across his vision. It took a few seconds but his vision slowly returned.
You have bonded with: Kari
Bonds are powerful relationships, forged in times of strong emotion and joint purpose. Many beings in Iona can be bonded and will aid you in your quest. Your bonded can be augmented with your soul power and grow with you. Be careful. A bond, once created, can only end in death.
We few, we happy few. We band of brothers. For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.
Your bonded has learned a new skill: Lycanthropy
Activated Ability: Lycanthropy - When activated, Kari can shift her form between human and wolf. With enough practice, she can changed her shape to grow larger or smaller for short periods, and can even hold a specific shape indefinitely. Shifting takes a lot of energy, so plan accordingly.
Your wolf’s spirit has grown far beyond its normal shell. Kari can now alter her shape at will, and continue to grow with you. Congratulations!
You have created a new spell: Healing Touch
You gather healing energies in your hand that can immediately heal a target for a small amount upon contact.
Effects 10SP to remove single effect (bleeding, poison, etc). 20SP to remove Mortal Wound.
Cost: 2SP to restore 1HP, or 1HP to restore 2HP.
If your health drops to Zero during a heal, you will die.
Michael blinked away the prompts and looked over at Kari. He he expected to see his beautiful, heroic wolf. Instead, he saw a short woman curled up on the sand next to him. Her hair was a long, hanging halfway down her back, and the same shaggy red as her fur. Her skin was a golden tan that really stood out from her hair in intriguing ways. There were pink marks on her sides from where the bear’s claws had recently been healed.
Oh, and she was stark naked.
She was smaller than he had expected, especially considering she had been a seven foot long wolf just a minutes ago. Was was curled up on the ground so her exact height was hard to guess, but she couldn't have been more than five foot tall. Her toned stomach rippled with a six pack, muscle fibers cording and flexing with each breath, displaying power that belied her petite frame. Her breasts were magnificent. Her apple sized slopes sat high on her chest, reinforced by the muscle beneath and topped with lovely dark nipples that stood proudly upon her peaks. Her hips flared gracefully, making a small gap between her thighs where the carpet definitely matched the drapes, and her taught rounded ass was a perfect heart shape. Her legs looked longer than they should have been, wrapped tightly in powerful calves and bulging thigh muscles.
She may have been tiny, and obviously winded form the transformation, but she was built like a powerhouse with not an ounce of fat to be seen. Michael felt his own anatomy stir and take notice of her shape in approval, before he could quickly quash the rising thoughts. Her eyes popped open, long lids fluttering up and out of the way. Her jade eyes sought his and locked his gaze like a steel trap.
“Thank you, my alpha,” she said quietly. Then she promptly passed out.
Unconsciousness seemed like a great idea to Michael, so he followed her into sweet oblivion.