There was a brief celebration when Jason and Mark got back with hugs and shouts of joy. Information was exchanged and a full report on the nearby school was given. Liz was relieved at their successful escape from the giant beak bear.
“They surprised the hell out of us when a few of the kids rushed out to meet us, but honestly it probably was for the best. If nothing else, they learned that they needed to have a better watch on the doors. We helped them get organized and make some plans for how to protect the entrances. End all be all, the kids were safe, and most of the parents were there. Some construction materials for the new building had been delivered too, so they had a ton of stuff to reinforce the place with. Everyone was busy getting whatever construction done that they could. We left them with Mark’s crossbow, a few more knives, and my spear, just in case. They have enough food from the cafeteria to last them awhile, too, so they should be fine until we can go back and support them.”
The mood lightened further with Jason’s good news. It was encouraging to hear that pockets of people were managing to keep things together and it made everyone more hopeful that the High School was in similarly good shape. After the updates people started filtering back to the tasks they were doing before and getting ready to go out again.
Liz and Mark stepped inside and started to compare notes on their new abilities. They tried to find common elements in their approaches, but they didn’t seem to have anything in common. Liz activated hers through focus and intense concentration while Mark described an almost polar opposite process of opening his mind to a connection with everything. Mary had been listening in and asked some follow up questions and the group discussed it for a bit longer. At the end, they had to admit they just didn’t have enough information to come to any meaningful conclusions.
“That’s ok, it will give us something to research when you are all out checking on the High School.” Mary said. “In the meantime, take these”, she passed two mana cores to each of the group that was heading out. Jason, Mark, Sam, Bob, and Liz took a moment away from prepping their gear in the foyer to pocket the colorful stones. “If nothing else, they seem like they could be useful in a pinch.”
Liz made a quick check on the time
Mana Storm (Class X) Approaching
Shelter in place.
“We better get going,” she noted, “Time flies when you have an apocalypse.”
Quick hugs were given and garage doors were opened. Sam and Bob walked the gelding to get re-hitched to the carriage. Biscuit had fallen asleep and Elly, who had been standing by to tend to his every need, stood to help the final preparations. The other horses were given some water and oats while Jason and Mark got ready to mount up once more. It was hard to say goodbye, and they milled about the driveway for a moment after the carriage pulled up. In the back of their minds, everyone knew this could be the last time they saw each other. Jason was the first to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Folks, I’m not going to say everything will be fine, but we’re going to continue to try and do what we can to help the survivors out there. We all know how dangerous it is, but if we abandon our friends and family we’re not going to have anything left worth surviving for.”
Solemn nods followed his brief speech and Haley stepped forward to give a last hug to Mark. “Thank you so much for checking on George. I know I’m asking a lot, but I am just so grateful that you’re willing to do this.” On that positive note, the group headed out at a trot.
Jason had restocked his arsenal and had another spear at the ready. It wasn’t quite a lance, but the extra reach combined with the horse’s momentum make for a potent attack. Mark was kitted out with a double bandolier of throwing knives as well as his crossbow. Bob was driving and Sam was next to him in the driver’s bench with a hooligan bar in hand. Liz had resumed her perch at the rear of the carriage and had an arrowed nocked at the ready. Mark trotted up behind her and pulled the carriages cover up a bit to provide some additional backing for Liz.
“You know, so you don’t fall off again and get stepped on by some monster.” Mark helpfully provided with a wry grin, as he finished making his modifications. The sudden hit to his arm caused him to yelp in pain and surprise. Liz’s grudgingly gave in that it was a good idea, but he didn’t have to be so smug about it. That was her job.
With everything set they made good time, quickly passing the point Mark and Liz had made it to on their earlier aborted trip to school. Few things challenged their path, but every now and then they would encounter a group of Fuuzers. Jason would motion for the group to slow down and just knock them aside in most cases. When there were more than could be safely shoved aside, Liz would take a few shots. She was able to dispatch them with almost comical ease and her dad mopped up anything that got close to the carriage. Aside from taking a few moments to move the bodies off the road and retrieve arrows, they didn’t stop to harvest the corpses. Their time table was ticking down and they had no way of knowing how bad things would be as they got closer to the school.
Nothing stood long against their caravan of death. Liz was particularly surprised at how easily they took a pair of six legged bear-things out. It seemed like forever ago now, but she remembered how much a single one of those had terrified her just this morning. One shot from her, a stab from her dad, and a well placed shot from Mark and they were down for the count.
Continuing west towards the school they finally came to another major street. The scenery had been shifting pretty dramatically, and while the area they had just left was having an explosion of coniferous trees and aspen, this area was going in a different direction. As they crested a hill they saw Green Mountain off in the distance. Ironically, Green Mountain usually was a brown lump sticking up right before the foothills of the Rockies, but now, it was truly living up to it’s name. The entire mountain was a solid wall of green with plants so large they could clearly see some of the massive leaves from miles away. At the peak, they saw what looked like a giant crystal atop an enormous plant. The colossal tangle of vines was on an entirely different level of huge even from the surround mega flora.
“That can’t be good. Also, totally jungle biome” Mark commented while Liz narrowed her eyes at him. He really wasn’t giving up on this game thing. Before she could reply, two people started waving and heading towards them. Her dad quickly dismounted and motioned for everyone to stop.
“Hello there!” Jason called out to the two people who were moving towards them at a brisk walk. “Good to see some folks out and about! We’re trying to get to the high school, but don’t know much about what’s been going on around here. Can you tell us how you’re doing and anything you know about the area?”
As the two men stopped to catch their breath they looked harried but unharmed. They both had a classic office worker builds. Their shirts were untucked and they were sweating profusely in the newly humid area. They were huffing for breath as the stopped pulling their wheeled luggage behind them and leaned on to their knees to recover. They introduced themselves after catching their breath.
The shorter mousey looking one spoke first “I’m Frank.”
“And I’m David, and you can’t go that way,” the older and taller of the two said. “A bunch of monkeys or something are in the park on the corner, we could hear them howling when we tried to get some supplies out of a nearby house. We decided to pack it in and head back. We’re holed up in the church up the street, about twenty of us. We’re doing runs along this block to check for people and supplies. It has been mostly quiet, but any further in and things get dicey.”
“Hmm, If we can’t go south around the park, we can’t get to Green Hill Drive, and that’s the fastest way to the High School.” Jason pondered aloud. “I guess we could cut through the side streets to get there.”
Frank looked over at the carriage and shook his head. “All the inner streets a clogged with those damned jungle vines. These plants have been growing by the minute since those crystals fell. I don’t think anything wheeled would be able to get through those streets now. You’d have to go all the way up north to Alameda. That should be wide enough to get your carriage through.”
Jason paused to consider this new information. He started asking the men more questions and collected details on how they were preparing for the coming mana storm. He also pumped them for more information on monsters that were spawning in the area beyond the monkeys they claimed to have heard. During the course of the conversation Jason handed over a survival knife to the duo and dived into a few more question about road conditions to see what else he could glean.
Liz knew the area fairly well, and figured that the detour the office guys suggested would cost them another hour at the least, possibly two depending on the road conditions. Their current route would put them there in half the time. As everyone contemplated their options Liz started to get an odd feeling. She slowly looked around and recognized the source of her discomfort.
“Uh. Dad? Where did Mark go?”
Jason looked around, closed his eyes, and moved his hands up to massage his temples. The conversation suddenly stopped as everyone caught up with what was going on. Liz stood by nervously waiting for them to plan out their next steps as her dad proceeded to slowly and methodically go through every variation of the F-word she had ever heard plus a few ones that were new to her.