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[5E IC] The Further Adventures of James and Illeana

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Tecumseh

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« on: (18:33:17/01-20-16) »
12:01 PM Sunday, May 12th, 2075 - Sioux Nation

James stands in the middle of an empty field of green spring grasses. He blinks and squints in the intense sunlight until his cybereyes adjust to the glare. The Winnebago is parked on the side of a dusty, unpaved road leading through the field.

It's the Great Plains. This piece used to be called Kansas, but now it's the very eastern edge of the Sioux Nation. Highway 70 is 3 or 4 klicks south, and the UCAS border is not far down the road to the east. But all James can see now is dirt and grass and an ocean of blue sky. That and Illeana frolicking in the sun and the grass like a gazelle. She bends down every few meters to closely examine some of what's growing.

"What are we doing here?" James asks, knowing that Illeana's enhanced hearing won't have any problem picking it up over the sound of the wind.

"We're killing time while Sam crosses the border on foot!" she calls back. "He's got one of my spirits providing cover. So far, so good!"

"No, no, I remember all that. I mean what are we doing here?" James asks again, indicating the empty field in the middle of nowhere.

"Oh. Well I am looking for ingredients for Little Smoke. You can usually sell it for a grand or more! It's an alchemical preparation that requires three units of natural herbal refined grasses from the Great Plains. You are staying out of the way and keeping an eye out for predators."

"Predators?" James asks, looking around at the void. "Like what?"

"Like cockatrices,"
Illeana answers, straightening up and coming near him. Given the private moment, she's chosen to appear as her natural self. James knows that she has her mask on underneath the spell, mostly because she always has it on unless they are sleeping, showering, or making out. She's wearing some simple form-fitting body armor and has her sword across her back.

"Cockatrices?" James asks, a bit incredulously. He knows a fair bit about Parazoology and knows that cockatrices are not from around here. "They're native to grassland and scrubland in western Europe."

"Exactly right," Illeana says, stepping in close to him and putting a hand on his chest. "They're an invasive species here. Most of the farm work is done by drones so they're not as much of a threat to metahumans, but the locals still get agitated if they lose some cattle or bison. I know cockatrices are tall but they like to sneak up through the grass."

"Wiz," James says, looking around for giant carnivorous chickens. The wind rustles the waist-high grass, which should nicely disguise the movements of anything sneaking up through the grass with the intention of eating you.

"Something smells funny over there," Katsina says, pointing north-northwest. "Just stay alive for an hour or two and then we can..." She giggles a bit, running her fingers suggestively through James' hair. "... take advantage of Sam's absence," she says.

She slaps him on the butt. "And if you bag one, bring it back with you. Might be good for reagents itself. Should taste like chicken too, right?"

With that, she turns and returns to her task, leaving James to stare at her backside as she bends over to inspect strands of grass one-by-one.

rednblack

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« Reply #1 on: (13:07:48/01-21-16) »
James takes a moment to enjoy the view of Illeana's backside, wondering a little absently about how much of her is affected by the physical mask.  Ever since a few months back when he confessed to liking his women a little "thick," she's seemed more curvaceous than before, no doubt from her ever-present desire to be helpful.  But it was hard to be sure.  Since he regained consciousness back in the van, since as far back as he can remember, he's seen Illeana under some form of magic more often than not.  Even when she was herself, she was some version of herself laid over her mask.  It was enough to be jealous of Sam's astral vision.  That would mean in some way, at least, he could see her as she was through her aura.  Unless, that was masked too; he was fairly certain she could do that.  No, Illeana, Mask, Katsina, she was the ineffable.   At least he'd never get bored.

"Wiz," James says again, though this time without the whiff of sarcasm.  He looks to the northwest, the great expanse of nothingness, and adds, "Well, alright, ma, I'm gonna go see if I can rustle us up some dinner.  I'll be making a wide circle, so keep your eyes out too, ok?"

"Mm,hmm," Katsina replies, sifting blades of grass through her fingers. 

James unhooks the ballistic mask from his belt and places it over his face before pulling the hood of his chameleon suit over that, and activating its sensor suite.  "I'll be just over yonder," he whispers into his subvocal mic as he begins heading west, as much to test their comms as to say anything.  When Illeana answers that the backwoods type doesn't suit him, he smiles.  She's tolerated the beard well enough, but the ma and pa Kettle act seems to grate a bit.

After about fifty meters straight west, James turns to his right, and begins to make his way north, northwest.  He figures thirty or so meters at that course before he begins to hook east, northeast will put him just to the west of whatever Katsina was smelling, and hopefully at the overgrown chicken's backs.  He unslings his rifle, and walks carefully, rolling his feet to the instep as he advances.  On the one hand, sneaking through dry grass is an object lesson is futility, as it crunches underfoot no matter how gently he walks, unless he slows himself to a snail's crawl, but on the other hand, with the wind blowing the way it is, hearing anything coming would be difficult.  He switches to his thermo vision to see if there are any dense hot pockets of life, and keeps Illeana is his field of vision, as she periodically bobs up to move half a meter over or so at a time in her search for, what did she say it was?  Little smoke?
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Tecumseh

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« Reply #2 on: (18:37:20/01-21-16) »
James reflects on what he knows about cockatrices. He knows they look like giant chickens and, in theory, shouldn't be too hard to spot. They are yellow, with a bright red comb on their head, plus long blue legs and a long blue tail. These should all be relatively easy to see given the verdant green background of swaying grass.

He also remembers that they usually hunt in groups and, most importantly, that their tails can paralyze a full-grown metahuman. Once their prey is immobilized, they go to work with their talons and their sharp beaks. Ares occasionally used them to guard sensitive areas, but James is reasonably sure he wasn't on guard duty much. He feels more like a seek-and-destroy operative, which aligns nicely with his current task.

Illeana looks up from what she's doing and cracks up at James' load out. It's clear that she thinks it's overkill. He can practically hear her thinking, A chameleon suit and a ballistics mask? An assault rifle?! Whatever. Illeana's healing factor could probably outpace any damage the cockatrices could do, so of course she wouldn't worry about them. James didn't have the same luxury and needed to take reasonable precautions.

Illeana shakes her head and returns to her work. James sets off on his circular route, reflecting over the last few months.

They had just been in Denver a few days ago, reuniting with Team Blue at the appointed time and place three months after their original separation. True to their word, Team Blue had gone to Fun City in the CAS, then to the Caribbean League so that Doc could research their shared condition. Doc hadn't found much that he didn't already know, other than their condition had been given a name by the scientific community: CFD. In the meantime the effects of CFD continued to develop. Doc and Ohanzee seemed relatively stable, but Chino had continued his regression into a childlike state. Privately, Doc guessed that Chino's emotional age was no more than 5 or 6 years old at this point. A child in a man's body, truly, and not just any man's body but one that could kick down doors like a locomotive. There had been private conferences of what to do about Chino but few obvious answers. Doc swore to keep working on a cure, while reluctantly conceding that he didn't know if a "cure" would wipe out what little was left of Chino's maturity. After all, there is no guarantee that the nanites would be replaced by adult thinking; it is entirely possible that Chino would have a blank slate again, and would be starting over from infancy.

James reflected on his own personality changes. Of course he still felt like himself, but there had been developments. How much was he recovering his previous self and how much was he blazing new terrain, he didn't know. He did feel a renewed dedication to his augmentations. They comforted him, and he felt the need to get the most out of them as possible. With Doc's assistance, James had disabled the safety limits and overclocked the performance of his arms and legs. That felt good; that felt powerful, comfortable. James had a sense that he was approaching some sort of nirvana, of stretching out to reach a singularity where man and machine were blended to perfection. Hadn't his Ares files said that he showed remarkable compatibility with cyberware? He had the strength and grace of a god, and it was hard not to feel like he might be some sort of evolutionary step forward for mankind.

Part of this thinking might have been a natural reaction to the amount of time Illeana and Sam have been spending together. The three months between visits to Denver were filled with a 4,000km road trip - Sioux Nation, Salish-Shidhe Council, skirting Tir Tairngire and PCC on the way back to Denver - mostly spent in rural areas where Sam wouldn't be unduly tempted by the local populace until he learned to control his hunger. Illeana, helpful as ever, was exceedingly patient in guiding Sam through the first steps of his newly Awakened, Infected life. But that also meant that James was the third wheel more often than not. He had no real concerns about any funny business between Illeana and Sam - Sam, after all, was not only hideous but also acidic - but he couldn't help but feel like he was unable to contribute to Sam's apprenticeship in any meaningful way.

James wanted to do some sightseeing on his own but the Sioux Nation was hostile to Anglos. Illeana could make him look like a native, but James didn't have the SIN nor any of the language skills to complete the deception. Illeana picked up languages easily - part of her magic, she explained - and even got James to teach her some Japanese and Spanish during a couple of the afternoons they had to themselves while Sam was off sulking somewhere. Salish-Shidhe had been much more welcoming, and very pretty too. The lakes in the mountains dredged up hazy memories of James' childhood that may or may not have been real. Maybe they were dreams, or scenes from a trid. Chances are he would never know for certain, but he still felt a certain affinity for the terrain. He had spent weeks hunting and fishing while Illeana was off with her pupil.

A flash of blue and red returns James to the present, where he recalls that he should be trying not to get eaten. Up ahead, a hundred yards or more, he spies a handful of red combs and blue tails that suggest that Illeana's nose was onto something. The cockatrices' heads are small though, and hitting them at this distance would require a bullseye. James sneaks forward, hoping that being downwind will preserve his stealth. His chameleon suit can't stop him from crunching through the grass though, and suddenly the cockatrices are spooked and disappear.

He can't help but be impressed that they're nimble enough to hunch down and run underneath the cover of the grass. Mechanically, he's not even sure how that works, since their legs must be as long as his, and it's not like they can flatten themselves on their bellies like a metahuman. James reaches the point where the small brood had been hiding and sees tracks leading off to the east. He does his best to follow.

rednblack

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« Reply #3 on: (10:53:20/01-22-16) »
At the spot where James had seen the cockatrices before they got spooked, he bends down to look for tracks.  Parting the tall grass he sees the ground is too dry to leave prints, but he is able to find some scat, still gooey and fresh.  More helpful are the bends in the grass where the cockatrices took off to the east.  Only five of them by his count, and nothing here seems to contradict that.  James regards the unslung Alpha in his hands.  No sport in this.  Unless. . .  He hunkers down, his field of vision just above the grass line, and scans the horizon.  Anything else that could have spooked them?  Not convinced, he re-slings the assault rifle, and stretches out his arms and legs.  Now going in with this perfect blend of man and machine, there was almost sport in that.

"Five targets spotted and lost," he whispers into his subvocal mic.  "They seem to be circling around."

If possible, he'd like to get to the whole brood in one go, but that will mean quiet and slow.  Once he's put eyes on them, James is fairly certain he could give chase, and outrun any that didn't seem up for the fight, but he'd sacrifice a chance at the others by doing so as soon as they scattered.  No, it'd be better if he could ambush them, but where to set an ambush in a never-ending field?  James continues to track their movement, following the narrow path through the grass as it begins to bend back around, writing a haiku in his head as he walks.

Not aluminum
I'm cordite under my skin
Fused and ready

He likes the play on "fused," but it doesn't seem right altogether.  He saves the text on his working folder, and diverges sharply from the tracks as they continue their bend.  Continuing with them was just asking to be converged upon at his rear, and the real challenge here wasn't the shot, or the punch, or the garrote, but controlling the terrain, keeping the birds off balance and unsure about his location.  If they were like other birds, chances were that they couldn't smell at all, or very well at the least, so mostly he had to be worried about his own marks on the grass and his visual imprint. 

He switches back to thermo as he walks, looking for little dobs of heat above the sea of blue.     
« Last Edit: (11:02:27/01-23-16) by rednblack »
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Tecumseh

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« Reply #4 on: (17:16:23/01-22-16) »
James finds the scat and wonders if he made the birds drek themselves. There's a slight vibration in the ground that he can't quite identify. The birds' heavy footfalls somewhere nearby? Some train in the distance?

The bends in the grass are easy for an experienced tracker to follow, so he does. The five seem to have split up. Animals don't often give up their safety in numbers, which leads James to wonder if they're not actually running away.

Descended from dinosaurs, he thinks. Remember, they look like chickens but they are descended from dinosaurs.

There's a flash of blue that crosses his vision ahead of him in the grass. He stops and raises his weapon, just in case there's a second or third one following that he might be able to tag.

"Hey," Illeana says.

James looks up, then realizes that the voice didn't come over the micro-transceiver. Instead, it's the voice of Illeana in his head, the mysterious one that warns him of danger and gives him suggestions during fights.

"Check your six," she says.

James spins around. Sure enough, there's a cockatrice charging at him from behind, with the others closing in on him in a star pattern, each from a different direction. The cockatrice expands its yellow plumage in an effort to intimidate - its bright red comb standing straight up - and lets out an avian screech. Clever girl, he thinks to himself, readying his weapon.

rednblack

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« Reply #5 on: (16:24:02/01-24-16) »
This is exactly the kind of scenario James was trying to avoid.  Or was it?  If James had really wanted to get the drop on the cockatrices, wouldn't he have his rifle unslung?  Wouldn't he have pulled away from the tracks sooner? 

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 0.34 seconds>>
<<Target 2: Estimated Contact in 0.36 seconds>>
<<Target 3: Estimated Contact in 0.57 seconds>>
<<Target 4: Estimated Contact in 0.61 seconds>>
<<Target 5: Estimated Contact in 0.77 seconds>>


James rushes forward, angles to his right, meeting two of the birds in the middle.  He swings up with his cyber spur, catching some feathers at least, and wonders if he came up with anything more.  He was so fast now, that sometimes he could peal away skin without realizing he'd even hit anything.  There was no question with the bird on his right.  As it reached its beak out toward his right hand, he opened his palm and smacked it across its ear canal, just above the jaw.  A static pop and fizzle emitted from Jame's shock hand, and the first of the five cockatrices went down.

James raises his left knee sharply as he turned to face his rear, just as one of the advancing birds nips at his ankles.  He turns in to his left, trying to stay on the outside of as many of them as possible, but what the cockatrices lacked in intelligence and raw strength they made up for in cunning and tactics.  Tactics?  How the hell do they know tactics?  He is moving in a circle now, blocking with his arms and legs, and once by grabbing the Alpha with his right hand and pulling up sharply, so that one of the birds only found purchase in the weapon's stock, as opposed to the "meat" of his thigh.  He's smiling now, at home with his body a blur of the best that man and technology, and magic could muster.  He wraps up a cockatrice's head as it reaches up with its maw, encircles it between his arms in a hold that is mechanically much more similar to a arm bar than a headlock, and with a sharp twist of his hips, sends the bird squawking and hurtling into one of its brood.  With the brief respite, James offers a question to Illeana besides the grunts and breathing noises of combat.

"Ground tremors?" 

While the one that James threw struggles to right itself, the other leaps at James high in the air, its tail lashing at his face and shoulders.
 James takes a step to the left, body-checking another bird preparing to strike, and avoids the worst of the jumping one's tail.  Expecting a counter-strike, James jams his cyber spur straight down, and extends his palm at the other as it lands, his shock hand crackling.
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Tecumseh

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« Reply #6 on: (01:16:09/01-25-16) »
Illeana is enjoying the afternoon. She enjoys being in the sun, which is something of a forbidden pleasure. Her quickened magic allows her to be outside and enjoy the warm rays as others do. They shine on her back as she slowly creeps forward through the field, centimeter by centimeter.

She has no difficulty in maintaining her focus while studying the wild grasses in front of her. She's good at tasks like this, and she wonders what she used to do that made her so accustomed to repetitious, monotonous work. Every so often she finds a strand of grass with the proper mana; she trims the grass blades gently with a small silver knife from her alchemical kit. A small but growing number are accumulating in a small leather pouch on her hip that she bought from some old Seminole woman at a rest stop on the side of a dusty highway during their road trip. The woman was a long way from her traditional homeland, but the Treaty of Denver had created some strange bedfellows. The Seminoles had ended up in the Sioux Nation, along with the Mohawks, the Lumbee, the Mahicans, the Oneida, and several other East Coast tribes.

"Ground tremors?" James asks subvocally.

Illeana breaks her concentration on her task to switch her attention to James' question.

"I feel them too. We're close to the border; it could be smugglers digging a tunnel between here and the UCAS."

Illeana looks up to study the terrain. There's a cold wind blowing out of the north, straight out of Athabaskan via Algonkian-Manitou. It mixes with the sun and a high pressure system moving north from the Gulf of Aztlan. The wind pushes the green grasses this way and that, rolling around her in undulated green waves.

"It is tornado season," she continues less certainly. "No other warning signs though. No dark green tint to the sky, or wall of clouds that looks like the edge of the earth. But the weather in Sioux Nation has been crazy ever since the Great Ghost Dance. Storms come out of nowhere."

She assenses the sky, suddenly concerned. Odds are good that she could survive a tornado, but a mana storm would be a nightmare. Anything that created a temporary background count could weaken her quickened magic and leave her vulnerable to the sun. But, no, there's nothing that she can see. Still, she retreats into the RV to reclaim one of her coats with sleeves, just in case. She comes back out and resumes her work, simultaneously disappointed and relieved not to be in the direct sun anymore.

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« Reply #7 on: (14:21:38/01-25-16) »
Again, James' shock hand makes contact, sending the bird to the ground with a low warble.  He misses with the Cyber Spur, though.  Hmm, may need to run a diagnostics when I get back, he wonders absently as he adjusts his stance to face the cockatrice on his left.  He provides more of a target this way, but he also has more options for attack and defense.  The cockatrice, already cowering and tucked into itself in order to dodge his last attack makes an easy target for his next swipe, and James cuts its head free from the bird's neck with a quick swipe.  Better.

As Illeana discusses the possibility of tornadoes, James can hear her simultaneously in his right ear, feel her breath as she warns, "Your right, James, your right."  He dips his shoulder and spins away, the tail from the last standing cockatrice passing harmlessly in front of his face.  Then he sees the bird he had thrown, finding its feet unsteadily and beginning to run away through the grass.  He lunges forward with another swipe at the closest cockatrice's throat, and feels his hydraulic jacks pumping as he begins to give chase.

He whispers breathlessly into his subvocal mic, "Free spirits?"
« Last Edit: (11:34:29/01-26-16) by rednblack »
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« Reply #8 on: (15:01:00/01-25-16) »
Illeana is still a bit tense about free spirits. She recoils involuntarily when James raises the possibility. She's fairly certain that Rozkhi's spirit won't be coming back, but enough time has elapsed for the spirits of Ohanzee, Doc Hack, and B13 to be back in this world and looking for revenge.

"It could be earth spirits underground, sure, but that wouldn't be my first guess. Projecting through Gaia is like swimming through syrup. It's slow and disgusting and you feel like you're going to drown the whole while. A spirit might do it if it were commanded to, but I can't imagine a free spirit doing it voluntarily."

She shudders a bit and gags over her own memories of projecting through the Earth. Astral projection is precious to her - she needs Awakened drugs and/or bound greater spirits with the Gateway power to accomplish it - so she would never spend that precious time burrowing underground unless it was absolutely necessary.

She goes back to her work, feeling less settled now with tornadoes, mana storms, and free spirits dancing in her head.

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« Reply #9 on: (15:35:57/01-25-16) »
Leaving a cockatrice in a heap behind him, James sprints forward toward the last remaining bird.  It's a close race, but the cockatrice is slowed, favoring its right leg.  He closes the distance, and the bird ducks into the grass.  He closes again, and the bird tries the same maneuver, but James leaps into the air, coming down on top of the beast, driving his cyber spur into the space between its wings.  The cockatrice twitches for a few moments, and James places his right hand on the base of its tail, keeping the dangerous bits away until it stops moving.

After that, he brings his bird back to the others and lays them out in a line.  Putting his feet on either wing, he pulls up on their legs, stripping the legs and breasts away.  Next, he field-dresses each as best he can.  He's had some experience here lately, but his movements are still awkward and would probably elicit a chuckle or two from a seasoned hunter.  He saves the tails and the heads, figuring that they may be useful for Illeana, and keeps a close ear to the ground for any further tremors. 

"I'm all finished up here.  Bagged five.  A few are pre-cooked."

He returns to find Illeana still going through the grass, hoping the cockatrice's entrails weren't of any importance.  He drops the birds at his feet, peels the hood from his chameleon suit back and takes off his ballistic mask, clipping it back to his belt. 

"How's Sam?"
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« Reply #10 on: (18:13:52/01-25-16) »
"Oh, goodie, the tails!" Illeana says, diverting her attention from the grasses - which all look the same to James - to the bright blue tails. She uses the small silver knife from her alchemy kit to carefully sever the tails. "Hahaha, they tickle," she says. James is unsure if she's referring to the texture or their paralyzing touch. It would be just like her to laugh off harm that would be mortal to other men.

She turns around suddenly and swishes a tail through the air like a rapier. "En garde!" she says, advancing on James. A playful fencing match ensues, although the result is largely a stalemate. She's good, of course, but really has no chance of tagging James with a hit unless she cheats and uses Mana Bind, or Levitates him just off the ground so that he can't dodge. She, in turn, is almost as slippery as he is. Today - as these things usually did - eventually degenerates into a wrestling match, with the two of them rolling around in the grass and laughing. Naturally he is far better wrestler than she is, but she is unnervingly strong and can often overpower him, especially if she's eaten recently.

Her dietary habits haven't been as off-putting as James might have initially feared. Illeana had shown Sam and James a previously-unknown underworld of crooked morticians and funeral workers who - for a modest bribe - were willing to only put part of a body into the crematorium, donating the rest to a worthy cause such as theirs. Illeana got her fix from embalmers who, in the course of their work, needed to drain body fluids and replace them with embalming fluid. Her dinner was never "warm", so to speak - she compared it to never having a hot, cooked meal - but it kept her sustained, and at a cost no worse than what they spent on feeding James. And, being the kind, loving soul that she is, she has even been willing to go out with James on date nights. She orders something flavorful and enjoys it before excusing herself to discretely cough it back up. She assures him that she doesn't mind; that she enjoys being able to taste food and that it made the occasion special for her too.

Her need for Essence had been slightly more cumbersome. There were, of course, vampire groupies who were willing to fling themselves in front of the fangs in an insane desire for power or immortality. Illeana generally shied away from these desperate souls. Instead, she often worked with the terminally ill or those who were otherwise trying to die with dignity. The process required a strong emotional attachment, which she was often able to form with magic, and she had helped many people expire blissfully. Of course, she also indulged in the occasional vigilante streak, especially if her magic could see something wrong with the person's soul. And once or twice there had been bounty hunters looking to claim the substantial reward on her head, but she always knew of them far in advance and dispatching them was only a formality. She had drained these not so much out of anger but as a warning to others who might wish to follow.

The wrestling complete, James and Illeana lie in the grass and look up at the blue sky above. They pant a little and watch small clouds drift pass. "Umm, what was the question?" Illeana asks, laughing. "Oh, right, Sam. He's doing great. I gave him a handful of preparations to use just in case the spirit didn't seem to be providing enough cover." James knows which ones she's talking about: she has a spell to physically camouflage someone against the terrain. It's largely redundant with his chameleon suit so he rarely needs one, but they're nice to have for Sam and occasions where James needs to be concealed but wearing different armor.

"Speaking of which, that reminds me of what I'm doing out here," she says, rolling to her feet and resuming her search through the grass. "Little Smoke provides that same concealment. Plus, it also gives you the power to confuse your enemies. You can just addle their brains, like spirits can. Some critters can to, but I don't know the list as well as you do. I know wild minotaurs can. Anyway, the reason it's so valuable is that mundanes can use it too. The downside is that when it wears off it makes you completely weak willed an oblivious for several hours."

She continues to work. James closes his eyes and takes a nap in the spring sunshine, the grasses keeping the wind from giving him a chill. The ground vibrates gently, rocking him to sleep.

He sleeps well. He dreams that he's under a giant oak tree, next to a babbling brook that winds its way through a warm grassy field. James lies in a hammock suspended from the tree, swinging luxuriously while a harp and flute - Mozart? one of the pieces that Illeana likes? - plays in the background. Illeana is likely to thank for this, as she has magic that can craft dream sequences, including visuals, sounds, and emotions. He relaxes and enjoys the scene, feeling pleased with his afternoon of work. He smiles, knowing that Illeana must want him well-rested for later.
« Last Edit: (13:07:52/01-26-16) by Tecumseh »

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« Reply #11 on: (12:18:24/01-26-16) »
Ever since the attack in the woods, James has wondered about how long a paracritter's magic stayed in its body.  It was one of the first things he researched when Illeana had begun pointing him toward some introductory reading.  He'd had visions of himself in Alaska, clad in bandersnatch skins and a diving suit -- the latter as much for insulation as for keeping his meta scent in -- invisibly stalking the tundra and wrestling martichoras with his bare hands.  It was not to be, but he was taken with the romance of it.  Still, he had to wonder about those cockatrice tails. 

He gripped his own down far at the base, where some feathers still clung to the now drying blood.  He liked these contests of physical skill, and he liked more that he couldn't beat Illeana.  When her rapier tickled the end of his beard, he stamped his right foot and raised his palm, "touché!" he said, keeping the word to one syllable.  As she rushed forward and bowled him over, he wondered about why he didn't say, "tou·ché," but somehow he knew that the pronunciation was different for fencing judges.  These weird half-memories plagued James.  They always seemed pregnant with a meaning that likely just wasn't there. 

The wrestling complete, James and Illeana lie in the grass and look up at the blue sky above. They pant a little and watch small clouds drift pass. "Umm, what was the question?" Illeana asks, laughing. "Oh, right, Sam. He's doing great. I gave him a handful of preparations to use just in case the spirit didn't seem to be providing enough cover." James knows which ones she's talking about: she has a spell to physically camouflage someone against the terrain. It's largely redundant with his chameleon suit so he rarely needs one, but they're nice to have for Sam and occasions where James needs to be concealed but wearing different armor.

James encircles his fingers around Illeana's and smiles up at the sky.  Reagent hunting, open skies, and this never-ending road trip, maybe these things were more important than the old James Case.  Besides, nobody has come looking.  When she stands, he protests a little.  "Don't stay gone long, Illeana," he stretches the name out luxuriously.  "I'll keep your spot warm."

While she goes back to sifting grass, he pulls his hood back up over his neck to keep away bugs, but keeps his face open to the sun as he begins to slip off into sleep.
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Tecumseh

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« Reply #12 on: (13:11:12/01-26-16) »
James wakes up with a jolt, the ground heaving underneath him. The shaking is worse. He looks around and sees Illeana, who is working double-time.

"I'm almost done," she says hurriedly. "I don't know what's going on but we can go soon." The ground lurches suddenly under James again.

The sun has dipped from its noontime peak. Checking his comm, James sees he was asleep for an hour. The cockatrices and their tails have been stowed away somewhere, probably in the RV.

There's a deep rumble in the ground that seems to be moving north. There's a pause, and then the ground explodes upward not far from where James downed the cockatrices. A giant armadillo - 14-meters long and 7,000 kilograms - lurches up from its underground tunnel and ravages the cockatrice entrails that James left behind. It has a shell like a battleship and claws over a meter long. It spins around, gobbling up blood and guts and rocks and dirt and grass until it smells something else. It points its massive snout south, directly at James and Illeana.

"Juggernaut!" James yells as the beast comes running at them.

rednblack

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« Reply #13 on: (11:36:33/01-27-16) »
James leaps up and grabs his Alpha.  "Now Illeana!  Put us airborne."

He begins sprinting in the opposite direction of the Juggernaut.  He thinks about his decision to deal with the cockatrices by hand.  If that thing had heard a gunshot, and come up earlier . . . He shudders.
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Tecumseh

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« Reply #14 on: (21:15:57/01-27-16) »
Illeana doesn't need to be told twice. She turns and runs.

James feels his hydraulic jacks pounding away with maximum force. The soft dirt gives way underfoot and robs him of some of his precious acceleration. He looks back and finds the juggernaut gaining at an alarming rate.

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 6.25 seconds>>

Illeana isn't as fast and is falling behind. James wonders if she could survive a swipe of those claws. He's seen trid footage of a juggernaut slicing an Ares Roadmaster into ribbons with a single swipe, so the prospect of either of them surviving a blow is minimal.

Illeana swings her hand in an upward motion, and flares with a brightness that James has come to associate with her magic. Suddenly, he is being lifted off the ground.

It would have been better if she had cast on herself first, James thinks. If she falls, this spells drops and then I fall too. But I doubt she's even capable of thinking of herself first.

Illeana gives a little jump and casts again. She slowly starts to rise above the flowing green grasses as the juggernaut continues to pursue her.

<<Target 1: Estimated Contact in 4.75 seconds>>

James knows that the contact time for Illeana must be even shorter since she's behind him and a couple meters below. She draws her sword and spins around. Perhaps in vain, but she seems determined not to go gentle into that good night. The timing isn't looking good though.

James lines up a shot on the juggernaut, wondering of he can slow it down, even if it's just a step. He tries to keep himself steady even though he doubts his formal training ever included precision shooting while levitating under duress. He switches breathing to his internal tanks to further steady his hands. The smartlink reticle hovers over the juggernaut's snout, which seems painful.

James mentally triggers a short burst. The armor-piercing rounds race to their target and punch into the juggernaut in rapid sequence. The beast rears back, furious, and swings at Illeana in its rage. She lifts her legs up - a gymnastics move called a candlestick that James knows too - desperately trying to avoid the 1-meter claws attached to the 3-meter legs attached to the 14-meter monster. James sees the tip of the claw nick her across the back of her thighs. There's a jet of blood but a surge of relief. A normal person might die if their femoral artery were clipped, but for Illeana it's just a minor inconvenience. The bleeding stops a second later as she growls and swings her sword back and forth menacingly.