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olopi

[IC] Gone Hawking

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Woodsman exhaled. "All right. Okay." He put the hatchet up and drew his bow, now that they were somewhere they couldn't be immediately rushed. He took to the high ground, which in this case meant nimbly scrambling up one of the nearest semi-intact stumps. "You c'n fly. Get up there and look. If things did this, they left a trail y'can see." The alternative was that they were right there and in hiding, just like a particularly sneaky pack of Ferals, but that was what the crossbow was for. Besides, their target hadn't shown any particular inclination for that sort of stealthy hunting 

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Jann di das requested, standing back up by doing a cartwheel and immediately taking to the sky. He kept his movements slow enough to not create much noise, something he considered important at the moment. He rose up, coming to a halt quite a distance above the ground, and making sure that nothing in the surrounding area escaped his attention.

 

After a long 30 seconds, Jann slowly returned, coming to a stop nearby Riley, and giving his report. “Many small tracks, similar to this one, leading in all directions. One significant big one, coming from north. Not leading anywhere, and no tracks this big, may be the site of combat.”

 

“Hiding somewhere. Underground, likely. Will clear out some trees. “

 

Jann did as he’d announced, dropping back onto the ground, and, without making any noise whatsoever, picking up some of the smaller tree trunks and lifting them slightly. It didn’t take him long to return back to Riley’s position. “One covering a hole, quite large. May be something below. “

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"Okay." Woodsman supposed that flying with Jann would give him more speed, but he was more interested in what he knew - a slow, deliberate advance towards the enemy's stronghold. So he did that, picking his way through the forest and the trail Jann had discovered, his drawn bow slowing his pace but still an important part of his plan of not getting torn to pieces by monsters today. He followed Jann's directions, looking to get a glimpse of the hole in question himself. "Fire?" he inquired of Jann. "Down the hole, chase them out. Smoke'll show other holes too." 

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The path towards where Jann pointed out wasn’t far, a minute’s walk at best. The terrain was rough, not just wild, but also broken in various ways. To most people that would’ve been a problem, but to Riley it really, really wasn’t. The trunk was a bit outside of the clearing, there were some actual trees that could be used for a height advantage, or for cover.

 

Jann stepped next to it, and waited for Riley to take his position. The hole was just about visible if one looked for it, not something that was easily found. “Fire, yes. Will lift it, be ready to shoot. And ready for what comes after.” He pushed both of his hands together, meeting them in the middle, then balled both of them into fists. And with that done, he grabbed onto the trunk, clearly a large one, and lifted it up fully, showing that a fair chunk of roots, most above ground, one or two still with dirt attached, also still were part of the trunk.

 

And below, the hole was visible. Probably large enough for a sufficiently skinny person to crawl through, even.

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Woodsman studied the hole for a moment, weighing his hero training against his Woodsman training. The logical thing to do would be to fire his most explosive arrow down the hole and blow up those sons-of-bitches, but what if they were sentient? What if this was just a poorly misunderstood First Contact? What if they ate a human next time? He stepped back, his bow raised, and as Jann watched, he replaced the bolt loaded into his crossbow with a bigger, fatter one that looked a little bit like the rockets that he'd seen humans fire off on holidays. 

 

"Three, two, one-" Woodsman mouthed before firing, the bolt igniting as it went, bouncing off the tree trunk Jann still held, and now flying straight down into the hole beneath their feet. 

 

"FLY!" Riley yelled, the shout almost startling even to his own ears, as he ducked for cover behind another fallen tree. Five...four...

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Jann responded quickly, dropping the trunk next to him onto the ground, causing a bit of a thump, and then taking to the air, clearing quite the distance straight upwards. He continued to rise, his attention turned downwards, even if he was shielding his eyes.

 

And then, boom. The actual explosion wasn’t too loud, muted by earth. But then, the ground collapsed, whatever structure had been holding it up before obviously destroyed by the explosion. The collapsed ground, a few feet deeper than the area surrounding it, seemed to be the only thing that happened. Once the dust settled, Riley dared to take a look, and he saw a creature, about the size of a badger.

 

More of a carcass now, truth be told. It looked similar to the bunny from earlier, it’s hide not what it usually was. And it was similarly dinged up, barely recognizable as an animal in the first place. It was next to a few rocks, all looking just like it’s layer of armor. That seemed to be all, as Jann slowly descended.

 

And then, a screech so loud all around them, birds left their trees. So shrill, it hurts everybody’s ears. And the rocks moved, surrounded by some strange red light. And before anybody had a chance to do anything, pillars of fire rose around it. Perhaps a dozen feet in height, a few in width. Not enough to hit Jann, but enough to cause a circle of rapidly expanding fire burning its way through the underbrush, and towards the trees.

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Woodsman worked his bow and fired, his face expressionless, lodging a bolt in the middle of the rock monster. He'd used up his big explosive bolt before, gambling that the rockfall would destroy anything lurking down beneath the forest, a calculation that might be about to get them all killed. "Jann!" he called, zig-zagging to break up his course and avoid retaliation, "it can't see or smell you! You hit it while I work on the fire! Gonna kill a whole lot of people if it gets outta control!" He retreated quickly but steadily, walking in a quick, steady pace until he found his shelter - a depression in the ground that might be his only protection if the forest fire really did blaze out of control. Kneeling down, he cracked open his toolkit and his crossbow, and got to work as if he had all the time in the world. 

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Jann responded, loud yet without any emotion behind it. He very clearly was only communicating to show that he’d heard what had been said.

 

Acknowledged!”

 

Up in the air, Jann held his javelin in hand, as smoke began to rise around him. He seemed to be aiming, adjusting his weapon’s position by inches, holding it with both hands, a stabbing position. He found his position, strengthened his grasp, and then dived. He accelerated with his wings, bracing for an impact, heading directly at his enemy, breaking through the smoke forming.

 

There was a loud impact, as the javelin broke through layers of rock. The creature’s fist. And then, there was an even louder impact, as it flung away Jann with little effort, him soon afterwards connecting with a tree not far behind Riley and dropping to the ground motionless.

 

The creature didn’t pursue him. It remained where it had been. However, it was easy to notice it was doing something, as the fire began to spread faster. Riley could probably still outrun it, but at this rate it would be  close …

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Woodsman's lips moved in a sudden, stifled obscenity. His ally and his air support was unconscious - he was the only one left fighting in a forest catching on fire and confronted with an extremely large, formidable-looking monster. With the kind of speed that came when you practiced, over and over again, in your room or in the field, until you could get it right the first time and save the shaking hands for later when the fight was done, he strapped his crossbow to his back and ran for Jann's side. He took in the scene quickly as he scooped the other boy up in his arms, realized there was no seperating Jann from his equipment in the field which was dumb as _hell_ so there was only one thing to do. 

 

Scooping up the Avian warrior in a fireman's carry, acutely conscious of how incredibly careful you had to be when moving potential head injury victims, he ran as fast as he could away from the flames and towards cover! 

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Jann was surprisingly light. Much lighter than anybody of his build should have any right to be. Which was good, since it made him easier to carry. Something that wasn’t quite as easy as usual, thanks to his wings. But Riley knew what to do, and managed to get him into a good and safe position without too much hassle.

 

Running away was easy. Riley was used to uneven ground, which helped. And it really didn’t feel like he was carrying a person. He managed to outrun the fire fairly well, even if it spread much faster than it had any right to. And then, a sudden jolt, as Jann’s backpack propelled forwards. Riley’s grip was stronger, it didn’t break. Which was both a good thing, as it meant that Jann didn’t get slammed into any nearby trees, and a bad thing, as it meant that instead, it took the two teens to the ground.

 

The fire continued to catch up, now almost at his heels,  but Riley knew from before that it was only a short distance towards a small river, which apparently included a small hard-to-access cave, if what Jann had mentioned was correct.

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Riley was eight years old again, reciting the words along with the other students in the underground classroom. There was a battle going on overhead - automatic gunfire, explosions, and screaming, and the lights flickered with every low concussion - but their teacher was keeping them calm by having them recite one of the Words of their community - the last words of Lady Liberty, the last superhero. 

 

Run! Save yourselves!

 

-

 

Woodsman came closer in that moment to dropping Jann and running than he ever would have admitted. But instead he didn't, staggering to his feet and running as fast as he could, straight for the river. He stared at the river, flashing back to a childhood where the oceans were full of things that hungered for the flesh of men, and where when there were pools, he flinched from showing the body so unlike his soul. 

 

You better hope I can do this! he hissed to Jann before running along the bank as fast as he could, boots sliding and scraping against the pebbles on the banks, waiting until the last minute before he dived for the water. Can't outrun a forest fire. Better hope we can wait it out in there. 

 

 

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It was close. For the last stretch, Riley could feel the heat behind him. More than once, he had to dodge a falling branch, some getting far too close for comfort. But then, the River. It was not very deep, nor very wide. But he could already see where he had to dive, and it would not be far.

 

Swimming while carrying somebody wasn’t easy. Especially if both people were fully equipped, and one of them had wings. It took a lot more power than it would have in any other situation. And the water heated up above them. But then, Riley saw the entrance. It was narrow, it took some focus to get through it properly. Inside, a small cove. There was enough space around the water to sit down, and some cracks in the rocks that one could see through.

 

Some ashes and two empty glass bottles on the ground suggested that this place saw visitors occasionally. And taking a quick peek outside only showed one thing: Fire.

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Inside the cave, as far from the entrance as reasonably possible, Woodsman stayed low to the ground, laying the semi-conscious Jann alongside him. He hurt, hurt in ways he wasn't sure metahuman classmates ever did, his muscles burning and the skin of his back aching with what were probably thermal burns underneath his cotton jacket and poncho. He was silent as he cracked open his canteen and took three long swallows, the lukewarm tap water within Heaven to a throat scorched by smoke. Inside, though, Riley wasn't quiet at all - indulging himself in a string of vicious profanity before he crawled closer to Jann to make sure the other boy had water too. 

 

Fire's gonna be seen and people are gonna be called. And they're gonna say, Riley how the hell did you burn down the forest? 

 

He judged that conditions weren't actually dry enough for a real forest fire, especially not with Wharton's comparatively thin cover, and there weren't any nearby habitations that he was aware of. But this was still embarrassing. 

 

Plus we still might die. 

 

Flying out wasn't even an option, not with the way a forest fire's heat rose. Wonder how far back this thing goes. 

 

"Hey, wake up!" he hissed at Jann.

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Jann woke up fairly fast, only barely opening his eyes at first, something that would probably have gone unnoticed if Riley hadn’t been looking directly at him. Then, Jann sat up, pushing himself into a comfortable position, leaning against the wall.

 

“Thank you. “

 

He didn’t look particularly affected by the previous attack, and there wasn’t any visible blood. Still, the way he was sitting suggested his body hadn’t brushed it off completely.  “It was faster than last time. “

 

He looked at the water, then back at Riley. “Too much fire, then. Not good. Learned it will get stronger the more it burns. If not stopped, it will be too powerful. “ He moved to stand up, his body somewhat shaky, even if Jann was clearly working to supress that. “Cannot let it get stronger. “

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"Hold on there, flyboy," hissed Woodsman. "You just got head trauma out there and I just got my ass on fire." He made Jann hold still long enough to check his pupils with a penlight - and stopped himself to put on another pair of padded gloves. Taking the time to look gave him time to see that the fire outside wasn't quite as bad as he had feared. It was hot and smoky enough outside to make him desperately wish for something better than a wet handkerchief pressed to his face, but it wasn't turning into the inferno that might have killed them both. 

 

"Okay. You circle 'round and gets its attention, try and get it close t'us? We know we can 'ffect it. Just gotta get it somewhere where it's not surrounded by all that fire..." 

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The fire was still burning. And it still wasn’t an ordinary fire. It burned way too fast, what would’ve usually sustained a fire for hours was gone within minutes. Which was both good and bad. Good in that, by now, a lot of the area surrounding the cave had burned almost completely, some fires still scattered around, but the majority of the fire had pushed further outwards.

 

Bad in that it meant more and more of the forest was burning to the ground. Wharton was a large forest, but if this went on for much longer, it would be a not-insignificant amount of area lost. And somewhere, past the smoke, the creature was still walking around. Apparently empowered by what was happening?

 

Jann ripped off one of his shirt’s sleeves, and tied it around his face, in order to create at least some protection. “No time to waste.” Then, he jumped into the water once more, and began to swim back towards the outside. Riley followed. The water had heated up a bit, but swimming was easy enough. Outside, Jann was crouched on the ground, his partially white wings not exactly helping his cover.

 

“Lead the way, will follow on the ground”

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