12 Chapter 11: A Snake Stalks the Pig at Nigh
The group became rather silent as they continued inspecting the boarder of the farm. The idea that Laura had put into all of their heads about Madalyn had brought the mood down and made the atmosphere tense. This was especially the case for Joshua since he was starting to get a clear picture of what might be going on. The first time he had met Madalyn she was freaking out running from one of the creatures inside the store. There was no calm or determined air about her. Looking back on it Joshua started to think that it must have been a facade.
Then the next thing that came to mind was the fact that even though she seemed like she was a desperate person trying to get help from her husband if you looked at it another way the whole scene changed. If Madalyn had been given a power and learned about the same things as Laura and Natalie then it was very doubtful that she needed help surviving one creature. In fact she would have probably tried to kill it to get experience and level up. If she went out of her way to avoid that then that meant she was out to do something more important than gain experience at that moment.
If you stopped thinking of her as a damsel in distress and pictured her as the calm person she was when fighting then it became obvious that she wasn't running from the creature, but instead was probably leading it somewhere. In all likely hood she was trying to get her husband killed. The pale complexion, the jittery disposition when around George, and the fact that she was wearing a long sleeve shirt during the start of summer were all signs that George wasn't only mentally abusing her with his words. The abuse had become physical somewhere along the way. Joshua didn't know if what he was thinking was true, but if so then her goal for coming back is probably to kill him, to make sure he doesn't survive this so called first phase. Either way she was a danger to everyone and he would have to keep an eye out for whatever she was up too.
"Well I was wondering about something else." Nathan's proclamation drew everyone's attention back on to him. "If this is supposed to be a game or well I suppose a phase as you call it, then what's the objective?"
"Well in gaming terms I guess you would call it a boss." Natalie replied while pointing a little fun at how Nathan kept trying to relate everything happening to games in some way. "There are supposed to be sources to the haze in every area. Depending on where the sources are located it can be larger or smaller. In a city it would be large enough to spread the haze through the entire area, meaning the source would be far stronger than a place like this town. When the very first source is destroyed then the first phase will end."
"Before you even go thinking it will be easier to kill the smaller ones you'd be wrong in our current situation." Laura said cutting Nathan off from what he was clearly about to say. "There are three things that we were made aware of about these bosses before we were allowed to decide whether we would join the first phase or not. First off in the early part of the first phase there will be no way to kill the boss at all. It will be invulnerable until it finishes growing to maturity."
"So no matter what we will be left in this mess until a boss spawns completely?" Nathan asked and got an affirmative nod from the two girls.
"Secondly although the bosses have different strengths depending on the size of the area it covers, the amount of people with abilities in the area are limited to the strength of the boss. So in a city there could be a hundred thousand ability users, but in a small town like this there is a max of ten. We seem to only have had four and one has already died." Laura explained.
"If that's the case then I assume there must be some kind of enormous increase in power for one monster to be able to handle a hundred thousand people while others can only handle ten." Joshua said.
"Level suppression is the reason." Natalie said which brought a whole new shine to Nathan's eyes.
"You mean like when a boss is like fifty levels higher and no matter what you do your attacks just deal zero. I can see that being a problem, but then can't you just level up enough to take it on?" Nathan said seeing the flaw in the idea that level suppression would have in being a deterrent in the long run.
"That would be the case if we didn't have a hard level cap for the first phase. The highest level we can reach is nine and who knows how long it will take to reach that at this rate." Laura replied completely destroying Nathan's idea in the process.
"The weakest boss, which would be a town sized boss, will be born at the level of twenty." Natalie filled them in on the odds they would have to go against.
"That doesn't sound too bad. An eleven level difference should be beatable right?" Joshua asked.
"By the way they put it I'm guessing it's a horrible difference." Nathan said as he looked at their expressions in response to Joshua's question.
"Every ten levels is the usual gap in level suppression. So there would be two gaps worth of level suppression between us." Laura said with a depressed sigh. "Although I can't say that levels are everything. For example a professional fighter would probably be strong enough stats wise to be considered in that second tier of levels. Probably somewhere between level ten through thirteenish if I had to guess based on Joshua here. The problem is level twenty is only the start of the creatures level and a level twenty facing someone nineteen and below would be an even bigger disparity between someone untrained in fighting trying take Josh down in a fist fight."
"Then there's the fact that it will have abilities of its own that have been strengthened two times over from our level. That just makes the odds even worse. If it's that tough for us just imagine how bad the level gap must be in a big city. Those things levels start at a hundred. If they even get close to it they will probably end up dead." Natalie said with a look of fear at the idea of being around something like that.
"Well we'll think about that later I guess, it's getting late and we all need to get some food and rest. Time to head back." Joshua said as he noticed that they had almost made a lap around the entire property as they got lost in their conversation. All along the way Joshua had taken notice that the fence was well taken care of, but he would like to add some wire at the top and bottom of it just encase those creatures found a way to get all the way there from the town.
"Alright, but are we telling anyone else? Laura and I can't tell people, but you could." Natalie asked. Laura also tensed up a bit at the question, she wasn't sure if she wanted more people to know about their powers.
"I don't think so for now. A lot of the people just got some hope back to survive this mess. I think burdening them with all this would only cause a lot of them to break down. I might point out some things such as people that vanished are probably still alive, but I'll keep your powers a secret." Joshua said causing both girls to let out a held breath. "Now let's go back I'm sure the others are starting to worry."
The group made their way back to the front of the farm. They could see a bunch of people starting to head back into the mansion. Somewhere along the way a few of the guys had gotten a couple large pots of stew going in the kitchen. When they got inside Thomas noticed them and waved them over. "Good you guys are back. We've found a few things around the place that could be of use. There's tons of food in the pantries, enough to serve several large groups of workers for months. There's also quite a few frozen meats in the walk in fridge. I guess it's to be expected on a large farm like this."
"What about tools and a generator?" Joshua asked.
"There are generators to keep things running if there ever was a power outage. With so much food in cold storage they probably would have lost a lot of money if that happened." Dave said as he walked up with his two brothers.
"Tools wise we've found several farming equipment." Devin said as he looked like he was half asleep and was going to pass out at any moment.
"The best we've found so far was this room full of nothing but hunting equipment. Everything from guns to bows, axes, spears, machetes, and anything else you could see someone hunting with from all the way back to when Indians probably owned this land. It was so cool." Dillon said with his usual cheerful smile.
"The only problem is none of the guns work. Not even mine." Thomas said as he patted his gun holster. "Vehicles don't seem to work either. When we tried to get any of the cars or hell even the tractors going in the garage none of them would work." Joshua glanced towards both Laura and Natalie, but both of them just shrugged as if to say they didn't know.
"Well that's alright, at least we can hold up here for a while. Let's just get something to eat then will have to decide on a watch schedule. It would be a horrible situation if we were attacked and there was no one to warn us ahead of time. Those things might be slow, but even they could catch us in our sleep." Joshua explained to the others. They all nodded in response before heading into kitchen to get some of the food that the Mayor was helping distribute.
While everyone was in line getting their portion of food Joshua stood to the side and looked over the people. Most of the men seemed to be farmers while there were also a few shop workers though they were a definite minority in the group. The only young people were those that Joshua had already met, most of the people were at least in their thirties.
Joshua took notice of Jacob in his bunch off to the side messing around, but staying out of trouble. He could tell by how they carried themselves that they probably would become a problem in the future if he didn't keep an eye on them. He noticed how Nathan stayed as far away from them as possible and was in the middle of talking to both Natalie and Laura about video games. It was fairly obvious to Joshua that he was trying to use games he knew about to relate to their current situation.
The last pair of people he took notice of was the Wright couple of George and Madalyn. George was still being standoffish to other people as his face was red and held a scowl of constant anger. He was clearly not pleased with something and would constantly rant in a voice that no one else could hear him towards his wife. Madalyn on the other hand looked tensed up and fidgety as she seemed to curl into herself. She seemed to be looking towards the floor as though she was afraid to look at anyone else, but on the rare occasion that she did allow Joshua to get a glimpse of her face he was surprised at what he saw.
There are times when your thoughts on a person force you to see them in a certain light. You grow up thinking your father is an amazing strong straight forward no nonsense person and that is how you see everything he does. You really like an actor and no matter how bad a movie is you will enjoy it because of his or her role in it. Maybe in Nathan's case it would be more along the lines of really loving a game company so much that you still buy their games even when they're hot garbage. In all of these cases your initial view drastically effects how you see everything else related to that entity.
In that moment of seeing Madalyn's face Joshua's preconceptions on what type of person she was started to completely fall apart. If you weren't paying attention to much her face would still look like someone who was a bundle of nerves and had a hard time talking to people, but her eyes told a different story. They were hollow, like looking into an empty void, completely expressionless. The only time they showed any type of emotion was when she would glance towards her husband. In those small moments in time her eyes turned cold. It was like watching a predator waiting for the right time to make its move. Side by side in that moment Joshua felt like he was watching a giant snake stalk a clueless pig.
The couple soon left with their food not bothering to say anything to anyone else. Joshua watched the two as they left the dining area and climbed the stairs up to a room to rest. For a moment Madalyn turned to look in his direction and gave him a nod with a slight smile, but that friendly atmosphere she had about her when they worked together back in town was gone.