How the hell am I going to do this? I mean, I highly doubt I can just walk over to the colorful chicken and bonk it over the head.
There was almost zero chance I would be able to sneak up on it. The bird had an almost 180-degree view of its surroundings from its nest, and there wasn't a single branch close to it that I could stand on. So no matter how I thought about it, I would need to use Air Walk to get close to it unless I wanted to scale the tree like a cliff face and leave myself exposed.
Taking the long way around, I loop around the tree the bird is nested in and sneakily approach it from the other side, then I get to climbing. I could use Air Walk to get to the top of the tree faster, but I didn't want to accidentally catch the bird's attention. Plus, I needed to save my mana for the fight to come, I had already used a bit of it during my scuffle with the dino-rhino, and I was going to need the rest of it if I wanted to match a bird in the air.
Climbing the tree takes time and is shittier than I imagined, mainly because of all the bird crap all over the place. The lowest branches on the tree are practically dyed white due to all the bird excrement strewn across them. I also catch sight of bones scattered inside and outside the bird droppings and wedged in branches. Whatever type of bird I was closing in on, one thing was sure; it wasn't a vegetarian.
It took me twenty minutes to climb up the tree, making sure I did everything to stay directly behind the bird's nest and out of sight. But now that I was up here, I was again reminded that I lacked any semblance of a plan.
I didn't want to rush in as I did with the dino-rhino, but I couldn't think of any other way. Now that I was using it in a real-world situation, I realized my fitting style wasn’t one for subtlety. I needed to hit hard and fast, with no room for hesitation. However, that didn’t mean I couldn’t include a bit of stealth here and there.
Peaking around the tree, I glance at where approximately the bird’s nest is. I can’t see the opening from this angle, but that’s not what I’m looking for. There aren’t any branches around the opening leading to the bird’s nest, but there is one that sticks out far above it. If I go higher and walk along that branch, I could drop down to the bird’s nest below.
Smiling and patting myself on the back, I congratulate myself for thinking ahead for a change.
I climb higher and higher until the ferns and other foliage on the ground look like grass by comparison. “I’m really high up,” I mumble to myself as I look down below at the distant ground. I had to be at least 350 feet in the air. I'm not sure how that equates to the tallest trees on Earth, but I'm guessing it's close, and I'm not even at the top of the tree. Just eyeballing it, the tree went up another 100-150 feet or so.
“Marvel at the trees later, Aaliyah,” I tell myself, realizing I was getting distracted by my surroundings.
The tree limb I spotted above the bird's nest was stretching out in front of me. It was over two feet wide and thicker than some of the trees around our village. Yet, despite its size, I carefully inch myself onto the branch and walk out maybe 40 feet.
From my new position, I could peek over the side below me and directly see into the magic-beast’s lair and the creature within it. Now that I was closer, I could see the red bird in all its glory. It looked like a bird of paradise, like the actual birds, not the plants that share the same name. It had red feathers on most of its body, except on its wings, where black feathers clashed with the red and gave the illusion its wings were catching fire.
The magic-beast bird had long tail feathers stretching behind its body, but its talons and beak were what grabbed my attention. Its beak stretched out into a point that looked sharper than any rapier I’ve seen, and its talons looked capable of cutting through steel.
All that would’ve been manageable to deal with if the bird was smaller, but the monster in front of me wasn’t the size of an owl or hawk. It was the size of a horse!
It stood almost 9 feet tall, perched on the edge of its nest, and probably had a wingspan many times that size.
Swallowing a nervous lump in my throat, I tried to look behind the large avian to see if it had any eggs or babies with it.
To my luck, or maybe unluckily, the humongous bird was alone. So there went my only excuse for leaving it alone. But who knows, maybe it’ll be like the dino-rhinos and will want to escape when it sees me coming.
Pulling back from the edge of the branch, I stop watching the colossal bird and take a deep breath. Then, swinging my hammer off my back, I was ready to make my move.
“Fast and hard, fast and hard,” I repeat to myself, trying to physic myself up. “Ha, that’s what she said!” One terrible joke later, and I feel my nerves begin to settle. I switch my stance and ready myself to jump off the branch I was perched on. I was going to freefall down to the bird's nest and hopefully catch it off guard.
Leaning over the side again, I confirm my target's position only….
“Where is it?!” The bird was gone!
Just then, directly behind me, I feel a mass of mana enter my perceivable range.
It was coming in fast, and I had no time to look behind me, let alone react, so I tucked and rolled off the branch. As I’m somersaulting through the air, I see two sets of talons cut through the space I was just occupying.
My heart threatened to burst out of my chest as the bird I was secretly targeting soared over me, utterly silent.
I could see it flapping its wings and feel the wind pressure it created by doing so, but even though I was less than ten feet away from it, the bird didn’t make a sound as it flew through the air.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion as I made eye contact with the silent bird. Its eyes were the size of dinner plates and were a deep amber, with a circular pupil as black as the void; there was surprise there. It hadn’t expected me to dodge its sneak attack.
At that moment, I threw out all notions of retreating or escaping. This wasn't an animal defending its home or family, it was a predator, and it saw me as prey.
Ignoring the fact that I let my target get the drop on me, something I’m sure Tabitha is going to give me hell about later, I ready myself for a fight to the death.
Using Air Walk, I stabilize myself mid-roll and take a proper stance, never taking my eyes off the silent beast circling me in the air.
It was frightening to watch the bird as it flew around me. The bird’s wings were even bigger than I expected, each one clocking in at 27 feet, giving the beast an absolutely ridiculous 54-foot wingspan. I'd be admiring its majesty if it currently wasn't trying to eat me.
Launching myself forward, I try to close the distance between us, testing to see how it reacts. But rather than fleeing when seeing me rushing it, the bird angles towards me rather than trying to keep its distance. I am ready to swing my hammer in case the beast gives me an opening, but it does something I didn't expect as it nears striking distance.
The giant bird of paradise folds in its wings and does a half-barrel roll. Then, it shoots at me like a silent rocket, with its talons stretched out.
I try to Flash Step out of the way of the bird’s outstretched claws, but the bird was hiding a pair of long legs under its plumage and had a surprisingly long reach. It only needed to outstretch its talons to nick my armor. The foot-long razorblades on its feet easily shred through Mana Skin. Thankfully my skill does its job and buys me a fraction of a second to angle myself, so the attack brushes up against my breastplate and not my gambeson. My new armor eats the attack, with only a few sparks and a line across my front to show for it.
I didn't have time to swing my hammer in a counterattack fully, but I wasn't going to waste an opportunity when the bird was this close to me. So, I drive the bunt of my hammer into the bird’s side with both hands. It might not be the same as an attack with my hammer's head, but it still does the trick.
The bird’s beak opens, and it lets out a silent scream. Then, with a single flap of its wings, it knocks me back and retreats. I worry it might be trying to flee for a second, but my worries are quickly proven unfounded when the colossal bird continues to circle me.
This thing is fast; faster than me. At least judging by its reaction to getting hit, it doesn’t have the same defenses as the dino-rhino. If I could get off one good hit, I might be able to bring it down. But I need to hurry, though; maneuvering in the air eats up a lot of mana, and at this rate, I'll only be able to stay airborne for ten more minutes or so.
Thankfully, the bird doesn’t look like it intends to wait around. Using Air Walk again, I dodge another divebomb attack, only this time I’m aware of the bird’s range. I’m still on the defensive, but that’s fine. I’m used to fighting Tabitha, who attacks consecutively, meaning if I want to win, I'll need to do what I usually do; dodge as best I can and wait for an opening.
The bird continues to try and pluck me out of the air, but after its previous two strikes, I better understand how it moves. And as soon as the bird tucks in its wings, I’m already Flash Stepping away.
"Stupid bird, this will be easy if you keep using the same attack!” I grin as I track the bird’s trajectory as it dives at me.
But then, before I have time to use Flash Step again, a wall of feathers slams into me. Mana Threads isn’t strong enough to anchor me in place, and I'm sent spiraling into the trunk of a nearby tree. As the bird was diving past me, it opened its massive wings and swatted me with them.
My back is the first thing that makes contact with the tree, followed quickly by the back of my head. Everything goes blurry for a moment, and it’s only thanks to Sense Mana that I can tell the bird is taking the chance to fly straight for me.
My lungs are on fire, screaming at me to stop and take a breath, but I don’t have time for that. Pushing off the tree, I launch myself up and over the bird’s outstretched claws. I narrowly avoid being impaled, but the bird isn’t finished with its attack. Like a spear, the bird thrusts its beak at me.
I swing my hammer on pure instinct as the bird’s razor-thin beak tip is about to puncture my neck.
The bird sees my attack aiming at its head and thankfully pulls back at the last second. If it hadn’t, it would’ve killed me and I him. It would've been mutual destruction for both of us, and I think the bird realized that.
This bird was more intelligent than I was giving it credit for. Maybe that was why I was having such a hard time?
Maybe this bird was more like Tabitha than I previously thought?
They might not share the same stat spread or physique, but there was one thing Tabitha and the bird had in common. They both acted like they were untouchable.
The bird has been on the offensive ever since it snuck up on me, and I only get a second to gather my whits before it's charging me yet again.
Again and again, I’m forced to dance through the air as the ginormous bird does everything it can to pluck me out of the sky. Twice I think I have an opening to attack, and twice, the bird peels off at the last possible second.
The only good thing about all my dodging is that I get a close-up look at the magic-beast, and I think I see why it isn't making any sound. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to get a deep scan of the bird with Sense Mana, but with it being so close, I eventually noticed the thin layer of mana wrapped around it.
The barrier wasn’t like my Mana Skin skill, it was thinner than that, and it didn’t impede my strike when I connected earlier. It could be what’s helping the bird fly, but my money was on it having to do with sound dampening. That was an exciting discovery, but it didn't exactly help with my current situation.
Judging by how much mana I had left, I was down to 40%. I thought it would've made a mistake by now with how aggressive it is, but I'd yet to land a decent blow on it. It was too fast, and combined with my inexperience in fighting in the air, I spent all my time trying to dodge it as it attacked from every conceivable angle.
I needed to get close and stay close.
A crazy idea pops into my head. It would be dangerous, but the bird wouldn't stand a chance
if I pulled it off.
I re-holster my hammer to my back using Magic Threads as I continue to dodge its attacks. I was going to need both hands for this.
Strikes rain down on me from all directions, but I keep my cool, looking for the opening I need to execute my plan.
And then it happens.
After dodging for what felt like hours, I evade a particularly close strike from my opponent. Its talons came so close to grabbing me that there was less than an inch between us, but that was what I needed.
Instead of trying to gain some distance as I have been, I jump closer to the bird while it's so close to me. Arms outstretched, I channel a good deal of my remaining mana into my hands and form hundreds of threads of mana. I then dig my mana into the bird's mana barrier. My arms are nearly pulled out of their sockets as I latch onto the bird like a tic.
The bird immediately starts to freak out and tries to shake me off. Sadly for it, my Mana Threads had already glued me to its side, and with each second, I was anchoring more of myself to the bird. The bird's mana was actively fighting against me doing so, but the bird didn't have the same mana manipulation skills to combat my own. I also grab the birds’ feathers with both of my hands for good measure, further keeping me in place.
Wait for it….
The bird quickly realized it wasn’t going to be able to nock me off by doing what it was doing, so it took a more direct approach and tried to grab me with its beak.
Now was my chance; the bird needed to slow down to turn its head and peck at me. In doing so, I no longer feared being thrown off. Most of my body was connected to the bird's mana with Mana Threads, so holding on using only my left hand, my right grabbed my hammer.
As the bird went to pluck me, I one-handedly swung my hammer and clocked it upside its beak.
I couldn't kill it with a single blow, but my hit staggered the creature, and I wasn’t letting up. Activating Double Strike, my hammer blurs and delivers a second blow to the creature's exposed head.
The mana barrier surrounding the bird pops like a bubble, and I hear the sickening crunch as my hammer pulverizes the magic-beast’s skull.
And the next moment, I’m falling.