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olopi

[IC] Gone Hawking

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Thursday, April 13th, 2017

 

Claremont Academy, Bayview, Freedom City

 

12:31 PM

 

 

 

Some of Claremont’s students fit in better than others. There were some who almost entirely disappeared, who didn’t get much attention from anybody beyond their direct circle. There were some that were (in)famous around the entire school grounds. And there were some who, simply through their appearance, stood out.

 

 

Jann Fa-Re was one of the latter. And even if he hadn’t sported feathers for hair, and huge wings on his back, there’d be a fair share of school-wide attention on him. Rumours, gossip, stuff only said behind his back. He was out on the grass training at almost any time, during all kinds of weather (some rumours about him doing it a 4 AM during a snow storm had been spreading around the school earlier this year). Added onto that the fact he had scars all across his body (and added more seemingly by the week), and his general friend circle, and most people didn’t quite know what to think of him.

 

 

And more rumours started brewing, when during the lunch period, he approached another one of the teens known all around the campus. Riley Smith.

 

 

“Hey. Heard you are the most skilled hunter here, correct?”

 

Edited by olopi

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Woodsman raised his head from his book and stared up at the Avian - and thought of rending teeth and claws - avian shrieks and blood in the air - and thought of another boy with wings and a claws - and the words and the blows. There was a reason why he hadn't approached the other student before now. Jann was a good eight inches taller than him, towering over the wiry teen, who as usual was in a darkly-patterned camo hoodie and jeans perfect for urban stealth. 

 

"Yeah?" he said shortly, staring up at Jann as he waited for the other boy to finish speaking. 

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The avian pulled a tablet out of his gym bag, which also seemed to contain all his books, and … a knife, judging by the looks. He flicked it on, clicked a few things, and turned it around, putting it down on the table.

 

It wasn’t exactly a nice sight. An animal’s corpse. It wasn’t directly obvious from the angle of the first picture, but it probably was a deer. The nasty thing about it was the fact parts of the skin had been ripped off, and a chunk of flesh, in what appeared to be one of the shoulders, was missing. The next shot confirmed it was a deer, and also showed some nasty scratches on its neck. Far larger than anything native in these parts.

 

Third picture, a different deer corpse. This time, the scratches went down the entire torso, with various bits of flesh sticking out. And, while the cuts were quite deep, there seemed to be something beyond dried blood where they’d met with the rest of the torso. Jann left the tablet where it was, and then turned to Riley.

 

“Not done by anything usually in this region, correct? Some assistance would be good, don’t know this well. “

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"Could be bear," Woodsman opined as he studied the pictures, flipping through the device's images with his finger while missing the physical reality of homemade Polaroids. "Have to come up a long way for it, though." With a professional's eye, he studied the deer's corpse without a trace of the hesitation that many of Jann's peers might have shown. "Mebbe shapeshifter. Heard they like to play like that." He tapped the deer's haunch where it had torn away at the joint. "Big bear, or shapeshifted freak. Tore the damn thing off." He looked up at Jann and shrugged, handing the pictures back. This was the most fascinating thing he'd seen all day, but he wasn't about to cop to that. "You gotta crew backin' you up?" 

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Jann wasn’t particularly emotive. It was one of the main things people learned about him, either through gossip or dealing with him. And the gossip certainly didn’t lie. He took the tablet back into his hands and stored it in his bag once more, then addressed Riley’s question.

 

“No back-up. Big Prey. Probably smart. Not something that needs the skillset of any of the others. Needs that of an experienced hunter. There are not many I know of here. “

 

“Shapeshifter? The ones who change skin and body, correct? Could be, yes. Does not explain the style of attack. Makes more sense than animals, yes. Would be a different kind of prey, not one to be hunted. Correct? I do not fully understand the limits of what counts as what. “

 

“Either way, would finally be a challenging hunt. Not allowed to leave Claremont on my own at the moment and do not know the area, could use your support. “

 

 

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"All right," said Riley. "I'm with you. Let's go out tomorrow afternoon," he suggested. "Give me time to get my gear ready." There was no point in tiring the both of them out when they had class the next day, not for something that was eating deer. At least, that's how it starts. He took out his phone and slowly paged his way through Google to a map of Wharton State Forest. "I'll meet you out at the park ranger's station, then we'll go from there." That way he'd have a place to chain his bike while they scouted - and he wouldn't be shadowed by a raptor the whole way across town. Jann wasn't the first Avian he'd ever met. 

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“Thank you. I will be there in time, and bring appropriate equipment. This may turn into a longer hunt if things do not go great. Will message you if anything comes up.“

 

And with that said, Jann turned away and disappeared, as quickly as he’d appeared in the first place. The rest of the day was uneventful, even if Riley did get a few looks by some of the people that had issues with Jann.

 

The next day

Wharton State Forest

 

As soon as Riley had chained up his bike, Jann dropped from a nearby tree, and walked up to him. The Avian looked a lot different than the day before. On his back, a large quiver, holding what appeared to be javelins, and a rather large amount of them even. Oh his hip, attached to a belt, a more classical quiver, holding arrows. A variety of pockets all around his waist, at least two knives. On his torso, a metallic armour of sorts, covering most of his torso, as well as a darker, seemingly thinner material running down both his arms.

 

His pants were a plain gray, somewhat tight, but loose enough to not give away whatever he hid under them. (And judging by his get-up, it was at least something). In his hand, he held a backpack, in a green-tone grey. Probably a hiking backpack, judging by the amount of pockets that were visible.

 

And of course, his face, blue and red lines running down from his front towards his chin. As he approached Riley, one of his hands went into his backpack, seemingly searching for something.

 

“Good to see you are here. Have only arrived recently, not had time to scout yet. “

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Woodsman nodded in approval at Bird of Arms's choice of attire. The wiry teen was himself dressed in a green and brown poncho that seemed to blend in almost perfectly with Wharton's colors, the Claremont uniform underneath colored to match. He had his crossbow fastened over his back, strap across one muscular shoulder, and on his waist hung a single well-polished hatchet that looked suitable for chopping wood - and other things. Jann could see gear underneath the poncho, tools and other things on the belt, but it was hard to make out while Riley was still dressed. "Right. Let's see th' kill spot first - go from there." 

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As he listened to Riley speak, Jann pulled out a large piece of fabric, in a similar green to his backpack, out of the latter. Once he slipped into it, it became more obvious that it was what could loosely be called a shirt, fitted to adjust both to Jann’s physique and his equipment, managing to conceal the metal fairly well.

 

“Okay. Is some distance in that direction. “ He pointed his arm westwards, taking some time to find the exact position. “Will take some time to travel there. Can walk, or can carry you there. Should be able to.”

 

 

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Woodsman stopped dead on his way towards the woods. "No." He didn't look at Jann as he spoke, instead continuing again into the forest. He followed Jann's directions as they went but didn't seem like a big talker himself. With bow in hand and costume on, he fell back into familiar habits, automatically taking cover behind the biggest trees as they went in a regular pattern that kept the two boys moving in a slow, delberate stutterstep towards their destination in a way that would make it hard for anyone to follow their tracks. Riley's breathing was slow and regular as he went, his pupils round as he disappeared into Woodsman, a man perfectly at home in the forest. 

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Jann didn’t further reply to Riley’s statement, instead leading the way, with only a few words for clarifying directions, embracing the silence himself. He moved with precision and finesse, almost floating along the ground with light steps, occasionally turning his head to either side. There were some clouds up in the sky, but it was still bright enough for visibility to not be affected, at least in the parts of the forest the two currently were in, where it wasn’t too dense.

 

It took perhaps 15 minutes, and there were no incidents on the way. The corpse still was where it had been found originally, and even if it had decayed a bit since the time of the photo, it was still recognizable. The area wasn’t particularly densely wooded either, a tree every 10 to 15 feet, a fair amount of sunlight still shining through.

 

“Told people to leave it. May have some more recent tracks here, but might find something. “

 

And with that, Jann began to work. He crouched down, and carefully treaded forwards, his eyes peeled to the ground.   

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Woodsman didn't speak as he went about his work, walking back and forth around the deer kill with a slow, deliberate stride that didn't raise more than a slight noise from the brush even when he needed to push through it. He crouched several times, studying a particular item or two closely, and once or twice got almost nose-close to the dirt near the edge of the animal trail and right down the center of it. After that came studying the corpse, a slow, deliberate process he carried out without the dramatics of Jann's usual human classmates, again getting close to the body and even prying some bits of meat away with his pocketknife. When it looked like Jann was done, he walked over to join the birdman, his own face impassive. "Man came that way," he said, pointing towards the ranger station. "Prolly who found it." Pointing a different way, back towards the forest, he said, "somethin' else came that way." He showed Jann the marks on the ground, unlike any bear or wolf print he'd ever seen, the strange jagged rectangle that approached the kill then moved away. "You smell it?" he inquired of Bird-at-Arms. "No dog tracks, no bear, no wolf - not a damn thing's been at the deer even long as it's been here. Maggots the only thing. 'Cept this stuff, which I think came from whatever did it. Looks burnt - maybe poison." 

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Jann had, while Riley was doing his thing, taken to the sky. He’d flown upwards, above the treetops, and then also spent some time on the branches surrounding the area, perhaps trying to get a better look at the entire area. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. Only when Riley called him back down he returned, listening closely to what his ally had to say.

 

“Tracks lead towards the area most filled with trees. The target, probably.“

 

The Avian followed Riley towards the tracks, treading carefully as to not disturb any of them. Once he got there, he got on the ground, looking at them from the closest distance he could.

 

“Correct, have not seen any wildlife. Entire area is abandoned. This … not natural. Could be many things, but is not a creature. Shape looks like  … cow-foot, but is not. Edges, bumps. Think metal or rock.  

 

He got up again after a few seconds, looking towards where Riley had indicated the tracks were leading. “So, follow the tracks? “

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"Yeah." Woodsman had his bow out now and was moving with intent, crouching low and moving in a zig-zag pattern as he followed the tracks, never quite keeping on a straight path as he wandered back and forth towards their target. Keep moving, keep your distance, don't leave a track yourself that anyone, or anything, coming behind you can use to track you. It had been drilled into Riley's head since before he'd been a teenager. He supposed he should have been a better conversationalist with Jann, but the bird boy didn't seem like he appreciated a lot of chatter either. Images ran through Riley's head as he went - birds chattering in the trees, flocks of ravens and starlings watching the Woodsmen in the Forest Primeval, the Ferals lurking behind it all. He had to stop for a moment, blink hard, then press on. Not too much further now. 

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Jann didn’t strike up any conversation either. He prowled along too, doing his best to match with Riley’s pace. He couldn’t quite keep up, but his movements remained as smooth as ever.  The two continued onwards for about five minutes, managing to cover a fair distance. The trees got denser, less sunlight managed to pierce the cover of leaves. Still, this wasn’t the part Jann had indicated just yet.

 

Suddenly, he stopped in the middle of a step. Riley could hear it too. So far, everything had been fairly silent. But now, something had moved, close-by. A few branches cracking underneath its feet. The plantlife wasn’t too active in the middle of April, so there wasn’t much more to it. But whatever it was, it was approaching. Prowling, like the two teens.

 

The Avian had already taken to the air, pointing to a tree near to Riley, while he himself ascended towards a branch nearby. Even when he moved his wings, Riley couldn’t hear anything. Just a few things cracking under the weight of whatever was approaching.

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Woodsman worked his bow and fired, shooting a bolt up past Jann's head connected to a tough bit of line that he used to make the fastest ascent Jann had ever seen from a non-powered human. Woodsman moved up the tree like he'd been born there, heading for branches weak enough that the weight of a large predator like a bear wouldn't hold them, and within seconds had found a sniper's perch adequate to take aim at whatever was approaching them through the brush. He too was silent, the blood rushing in his ears, echoes of other forests and other monsters in his mind, his eyes focused on his coming target with laser-like intensity. 

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The two teens waited, in complete silence. Jann had drawn a javelin, holding it ready to either pierce or throw. Everything was quiet around them, as even the birds in the distance got more quiet. Did it just feel that way, or did it actually happen? The only sound was the cracking of branches. It was close now. Whatever it was, it was big. Large crunches.  The closer it came, the two teens could even feel minor vibrations shaking the tree they were on. It was nothing major, but it was there.

 

It approached, as a bush began to shake. This was it. What stepped out of the bush was unexpected. A rabbit. It had gotten through the bush, ripping a few of its branches down, and not continued to slowly walk forward. And unless Riley was completely misjudging the situation, it appeared that it was, in fact, the source of the sounds, and the vibration, as it’s movements corresponded perfectly.

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With a silent *thunk* Riley shot the first shot. The bolt hit its mark, striking the rabbit’s spine. However, what followed wasn’t exactly the common thing. It sounded as if the bolt had hit something much harder, something like concrete. The rabbit immediately looked upwards, to where the bolt had come from. And even though both the teens were relocating, it still managed to see both of them.

 

A shriek filled the forest, somehow high-pitched, yet also low pitched and guttural, switching between the two. Parts of the brown fur seemed to simply burn away, as below them, a layer of dark red appeared, it’s texture like rock.

 

Jann yelled out almost immediately upon seeing it, sounding, perhaps, even a bit distressed.

 

“Fought similar before. Do not get close!”

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Jann did not hesitate. As soon as the bunny had reacted, he’d already dropped off the branch he’d been on, jumping over to a different tree. He had to stay moving, so he pushed himself off immediately upon landing, and while in mid-air, turned around and threw the javelin he’d previously drawn. And before he could see where it’d landed, he already grabbed onto the nearest branch with one arm, grabbing the next weapon with his other one. He circled it, staying above its reach, moving from tree to tree, occasionally using his wings to cover a larger distance.

 

The Javelin hit the bunny’s head. Not an easy feat by any means, as the spear’s tip was approximately as large as the thing it had hit. It did not stick, however, bouncing off of the layer of … whatever it was. Not that it didn’t have any effect, as the animal seemed to be staggered for just a moment, before turning its head again.

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Hrm. Force field. Woodsman stared at the monster and fired - the bolt striking a tree just a few inches above the rabbit's head. For a moment Jann thought Riley had missed until he saw the other boy counting down on his fingers. Three. Two. One. The subsequent blast wasn't large, as battles went, but it was big enough - a concussion that would have fractured a human's skull had it hit that close. Not only did the blast sweep over the rabbit - the wrist-thick tree Woodsman had shot proceeded to crash down on the animal too. No. Not an animal. Woodsman reloaded, thinking of bears that operated in packs, and wolves that were smart enough to take down the human with the flashlight before hitting the rest of the party. 

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Both the attacks seemed to have some effect, as the Bunny did not move at all, reeling from the previous attacks. Jann had realized this, touching down on a branch a fair distance removed from his enemy, and immediately turning on the spot.  He held the javelin in his hand, eyes locked onto whatever he was fighting.

 

He took his time, just a few seconds at most, to line up his shot. To anybody looking at him, it would look like he was completely frozen in place, not even breathing. And then, he released it, throwing the javelin with as much force as he could reasonably put behind it. It was fast, even for Riley’s trained eyes, and it hit it’s mark perfectly, striking right where the rabbit’s heart probably was.

 

The javelin stuck, even if it didn’t seem to do much in terms of damage, the rabbit barely being visibly affected.

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Woodsman fired again - and this time the arrow struck the rabbit right between its ribs! The bolt punched through flesh and bone and out the other side, producing an alarming SCREAM from the dying rabbit that a hunter like Jann was only too familiar with. For his part, as the bolt hit, Riley grinned - if that was a monster like he suspected, an arrow through the body wasn't going to do the trick. Something else would, though. 1 2 3 The internal fuse, triggered by the friction of being fired, hit the explosive core of the bolt and it exploded. It wasn't a powerful arrow as things went, in all honesty probably not much more powerful than the firecracker arrows that he used for holidays. 

 

But a bomb going off inside something the size of a rabbit doesn't need to be very big. With a flat bang the bunny exploded in a small cloud of gore, splattering the nearby trees and rocks with its guts. Hmming, Riley reloaded - just to be on the safe side. 

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When the bolt struck, Jann had just once more landed on a nearby branch, and was ready to attack once more, already having lifted his arm, aiming. And just as he was about to throw, his target exploded. He lowered the javelin, and dropped down, approaching what was left of the corpse, javelin still ready to strike.

 

“Effective. Not my way of hunting, prefer the more precise approach. Leaves more resources. Maybe a good idea with this, however. Last similar I saw was fairly dangerous. This one will not be, now. “

 

He grabbed a knife from his belt, and crouched down next to what remained of the rabbit’s body, after having made sure it didn’t move anymore. He seemed to study the body, probably figuring out which parts were still salvageable.

 

“Tracks do not fit. This one’s are smaller. Have more ahead of us…”

 

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Woodsman made a small sound - Riley did not appreciate being criticized for a lack of precision. "Could've shot it in the eye. Wasn't dyin'." Putting the dispute aside quickly at the news that there were more monsters out there, he studied the brush for a moment before putting his bow on his back and drawing the hatchet at his belt. He held it left-handed, not with the posture of a trained fighter like some Jann had seen but with the focused intent of a born hunter. Maybe Riley wasn't a graduate of some Nordic ax-fighting academy in the frozen North, but he still looked ready to kill something with the blade. "Yer on point."

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“Okay. Keep watch. Don’t know what lies ahead.”

 

After a few seconds, Jann had removed one of the rabbit’s legs, one of the few parts of its body that had only been partially mangled. Then, he got ready to trace its steps. Jann’s tracking technique wasn’t exactly what Riley had been used to. The Avian crawled along the ground on all fours, still holding both a javelin and his knife in one hand, the rabbit’s foot in the other.

 

And even though this clearly wasn’t his natural way of moving around, he had a certain finesse about him, not unlike that of a large feline predator. The tracks, fortunately enough, were easily readable. Even an unexperienced hunter could track them. So between the two of them, it was no issue, and they followed them. The direction was similar to where they’d been going already.

 

It was a few minutes more before anything notable happened. The tracks led into a small clearing, perhaps 20ft. wide at most. Not one that had been here just days ago, judging by the fact there were all sorts of toppled over, and broken, tree trunks scattered around. And from there on, it was impossible to find any further tracks.

 

“Just the beginning…”

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