As Liz snuck out of the gym Mark asked, “So how are Casey and Ellen doing?”
Moving towards Mark’s homeroom, which was coincidentally the first stop on their little monster extermination trip, Liz thought about it for a moment before answering.
“They’re ok, but everyone seems really scared. When I think about what we’ve been through in the past few hours it’s hard to blame them. The only thing I’m worried about is when I compared notes with them it seemed like they haven’t really unlocked anything. Considering some of the things out there, I think getting an ability will be pretty key to surviving long term. I gave them a mana core each so they can try and practice mana manipulation and maybe gain an ability.”
“Oh crap! I should have given George one too! We have to hurry and finish up so I can do that before he goes out again!”
Liz rolled her eyes at Mark’s outburst. It amazed her that Mark was able to get anything done with as much as his mind jumped around, but she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised anymore. As they turned down towards Mark’s homeroom they saw a hastily erected barricade. It was just a few desks with two kids she didn’t recognize sitting on them. The waves of boredom coming off of the duo were so strong that Liz wondered if they had somehow gotten an ability to project emotion.
“Hey, I know you. You’re the Survival Kids right?” One of the kids turns to face them, brightening at the fact that he now had something to do. The happy smile was somewhat at odds with the emo look he was going for. He pushed his black dyed hair from his eyes as he stood. He glanced over at the weapons Liz and Mark were carrying and then looked down at the broom handle in his hands.
“Man, where did you get those weapons? I thought all the good stuff was given to the patrol groups. They just shoved us here with a stick and said to sound an alarm if the monsters in the classes broke out. Fat lot of good a stick will do against one of those snakes.”
“I’m Liz, by the way, and this is Mark. We generally prefer that to ‘Survival Kids’. We came from our place, and, you know, we have lots of weapons there. But now that you mention it, take this, we have some spares.” Liz handed emo kid a knife which he took and handled with exaggerated reverence.
“Thanks, I appreciate it, and I’m Lance, and Quiet McPreppyFace over there is Mike.”
Mike had a baseball bat leaning against his leg and lived up to Lance’s impromptu nickname. He shrugged and lifted his hands indicating he wanted nothing to do with the conversation.
Lance hefted the knife in his hands getting a feel for its weight. “It’s nice to have something sharp. Sheriff Jerkwad took all the real weapons and only doles them out to a select group of people. This area’s considered ‘low threat’ but that’s just because they aren’t the ones sitting here waiting to get eaten.” he said, clearly angry at the situation.
“Sounds rough. What do you know about what’s going on around here?”
Liz and Lance compared notes for a bit Mark looked around impatiently. Lance’s eyes bugged out as she described some of the monsters wandering around and how they managed to kill some of the larger ones. He seemed a little shaken up upon learning how bad things were.
“In anycase, we’ve been having pretty good success out there clearing monsters, figured we could give you a hand here, unless of course you want to wait and see if you get eaten.”
Lance considered his options for a moment and then overdramatically lifted his hand to his ear. “Oh, wow, I heard something over there, I better make sure it’s safe. Hey Preppy McNoSpeak, can you come cover me while I go check it out real quick?” Lance asked as he walked around the corner from the makeshift barricade.
Mike rolled his eyes but got up and followed Lance. Apparently he didn’t like the idea of being the first line of bait in the event of a monster breakout either. Not wasting any time, Liz passed the desks and Mark followed behind. She was glad they were able to share out more information as well as finish their chore without interference. She hoped the kids wouldn’t get into too much trouble over their intrusion.
As they approached the room where the monsters were trapped she thought a little bit about how much had happened today. She was amazed by how much she had changed in such a short amount of time. It felt like a lifetime ago, but just this morning she was freaking out over Fuuzers and a bear-thing almost killed her. Now the fuzzy little things posed zero threat to her and almost seemed cute. Shrugging off the errant thoughts she stopped in front of the first classroom on their list and drew her bow.
“Notes say two hell lemurs in here. I’ll keep em off you while you shoot them down?” Mark asked as he stretched a little, wincing in pain.
“You sure you’ll be okay with your ribs?”
“Yeah, good enough. That meditation I was doing on the way in did wonders. You should try it. I actually got an Ability from it. But hopefully these things will be easy and I won’t have to move around much.”
Liz nodded and nocked an arrow. Mark moved the chair that had propped the door shut and quickly pulled the door open. Two ugly things with huge ears and runny eyes turned their heads to face them. They were squat creatures, and did resemble lemurs to some extent, but were quite hideous to look at. Before the things could react, two feathered shafts blossomed from their chests like little flowers and they fell over dead.
“Well, that was anti-climatic,” muttered Mark. “You always had a thing for the bow sis, but that was ridiculous.”
Liz could only shrug. The System obviously had been helping her along. Every time she made a shot it became just a little bit easier to draw the bow and find her target. The rate of improvement was tangible and it scared her a little. It also felt a little bit awesome. She kept that feeling in check though, as it wouldn’t do to rush into things like Mark. Someone had to keep their head.
“You can get the next room if you want, you know, just for practice.”
“Sure, I got that notice for my new sword thingy and want to make sure I can use it again if I have to.”
Liz did a quick pass on the bodies for mana cores, harvested the glowing green stones, and then they both moved on.
The remaining rooms were all down the hall went equally as easy. They traded off turns with Mark getting in some sword work while Liz practiced some machete in addition to her bow. Neither of them said much, but it was clear that these random spawns were nowhere near as tough as some of the other things they fought. Even the snake, as terrifyingly large as it was, moved so slowly as to be laughably easy to defeat. It’s hard scales resisted a few chops but as soon as Mark activated his <Severing Blade> it cut the thing like a plasma torch through a tub of cheap margarine. This was the last creature on the list and they took a little extra time to harvest its tough skin, thinking it would come in handy later.
As they were finishing up they heard footsteps rushing towards them. Not knowing what to expect, Liz readied her bow and Mark crouched with his sword. Their wait ended with two kids bursting into the room with panicked looks on their faces and baseball bats in hand.
“Jesus! It’s you two! I should have know! What the hell are you thinking?” shouted a red faced teen.
“Oh hey Henry, we’re just finishing up here.” Mark calmly replied.
Henry Douglass was the son of Arthur Douglass, the current sheriff of Mountain Lake. He was the spitting image of his father and ascribed to the many of the same philosophies. He was student council president and a stickler for following the rules. Between their parents’ feuds and contradictory views on authority they had never gotten along very well.
“Yeah, someone had to clean up this mess since no one else seemed to be doing it.” Liz commented rudely. Mark and Henry didn’t get along, but Henry and Liz were fire and gunpowder. Henry had strong ideas on how girls should behave and Liz didn’t give two whits about any of them. She packed away the still bloody snake skin and walked right past the shocked boys.
“All done here.” Liz said as she motioned for Mark to follow her.
“Er, sure,” he said falling behind his sister. “Sorry bout the mess Franklin,” he mumbled as he passed by the Vice-President. Franklin was almost always at Henry’s side, and worked tirelessly to soothe the ruffled feathers the forceful class president always seemed to generate. Mark had gotten to know him pretty well since he often ended up on the wrong side of one of Henry’s disciplinary rants.
“You’re both coming with me to see my father. We have to decide what to do about you for breaking the rules and endangering everyone else.” Henry shouted at them as he rushed to catch up to the brisk pace that Liz had set.
“Fine, we’re heading that way anyway.” Liz said through thin lips. As they approached the main entryway she saw Dad was ministering to an injured girl. She was on a stretcher and looked pale, but was responsive and chatting with her friends who were clustered around her. George was also there standing with a very fit looking group of boys and girls who were doing some last minute checks before heading out again. As Liz walked into the lobby Henry raised his voice behind her.
“Father! These two broke into the closed off areas and opened all the rooms with the monsters in them!”
“We opened them and KILLED THE MONSTERS!” Liz shouted back.
“You endangered everyone! What if they escaped into the school! That’s how Jocelyn was injured!” Henry countered as he pointed to the girl on the stretcher.
“They were basic spawns! The frikin lemurs went down in one hit and a toddler could have outrun that snake!” Liz spat back.
“You could have gotten hurt!” Henry said with some actual concern in his voice. “You need to stop doing all this stupid stuff or you’re going to get killed! It’s dangerous out there!” He reached out to grab Liz’s arm and tried to get her to face him.
The first lesson that every boy should learn is that you should never grab a girl without consent. When said girl has a paranoid survivalist for a father who provided his daughter years of intensive combat training, a good portion of which was to deal with pushy boys, there are some very specific consequences to not having learned that lesson. Henry experienced this very forcibly as his attempted grab turned into an armbar that sent him slamming head first into the lockers.
“I am out there saving people’s lives AND I AM DANGEROUS.” Liz roared back at Henry.
“Woah, ok, I think we’re done here.” Jason said hurriedly as he rushed to separate the teens.
“Control your insane daughter! You deranged lunatics need to get out of here right now. We’re safer with the monsters than with you!” Sheriff Douglas shouted as he jumped to check on his son and Liz released her hold.
Glancing over his shoulder but still making sure to stand between the kids Jason spoke with a dangerous tone in his voice. “Let’s just settle down here, Arthur. As I see it, your son made a grab for my daughter and she had every right to stop that. She’s perfectly capable of controlling herself and doesn’t need my help for that. It's your boy who needs to learn some restraint.”
Mark had stealthily snuck over to George and handed him some cores during the fracas and gave a quick explanation of their use. Seeing the situation had paused he attempted to defuse some of the tension.
“Ok then! Jocelyn let's get you to the doctor shall we go Dad please?” Mark tumbled over his words in an effort to get them out before someone else added to the volatile situation. The panic in Mark’s voice caused Jason to take a calming breath. He eased off his staring contest with the sheriff and redirected his attention to the girl on the stretcher.
“We’ll make sure you’re safe and get some treatment for that bite.” He said as he walked over to Jocelyn. “Liz, give me a hand with this. Mark, get the door.”
Liz had the good sense to look embarrassed as she went over to grab the stretcher. She realized how off the rails she had been and was peeved at herself for losing control. The stress of the day combined with her long standing issues with Henry had boiled up at a pretty inopportune moment. While she knew that was still no excuse something about Henry always creeped her out and kept her on edge. The patrol group followed them out the door as Liz exited the tense situation with as much dignity as she could manage.
They navigated the debris field and loaded up Jocelyn into the carriage with only a few bumps along the way. After checking that everything was secure the patrol group turned to leave but Dad held up a hand to stop them.
“Here, you’ll need these. The kids and I have enough to make it back home fine, but you’re way under equipped for some of the things out here.” he said, handing over an arsenal of weapons. He passed up everything on his person except for his longsword and the useless handgun at his side. The team thanked him profusely and headed out decently armed for the first time.
Liz looked over at her dad as he patted his holstered weapon. When they had started out she asked him why he had brought his Glock since he couldn’t fire the thing, and he had given a surprisingly sentimental reason. It was a polymer frame and he just couldn’t bear the thought of it rotting to pieces. It served him well through many a competition and deserved better.
Their work at the school done, the group got the carriage moving. Liz glanced back at the school, and waved to the lookouts on the roof as they pulled out of sight. She then checked her interface to see how they were doing on time.
Mana Storm (Class X) Approaching
Shelter in place.
Even though she really didn’t like Henry, she hoped the Sheriff could keep him and the rest of the students safe. Close to a thousand human lives depended on it. Pushing aside her dark thoughts she readied her bow and returned her focus to the lives in her own care. It was time to go home.