Liz had her entire focus on the surrounding area as they made their way back to the house. Her hands blurred as she instantly reacted to approaching monsters. Her Dad and Mark were also keeping close watch on things but didn’t have much opportunity to contribute. The teens looked on with amazement as the street became littered with macabre pincushions as Liz strove to keep her promise to the group.
“Christ on a cracker girl, what the hell are you doing with those arrows. I swear to god that the thing curved around a tree to hit that bear looking thing.” Casey stated in awe.
Liz smiled, “We’ve been busy. Apparently, yesterday was a good time to be working things out. It gave us a bit of a head start on abilities. More ambient mana in the air or something. You’ll need to play some catchup, but I think you’ll be able to do figure out some of this stuff too.”
“Do you think we’ll really be able to do things like that?”
“I don’t see why not. Mom’s been working with everyone back at the house to figure out what they can do. As long as you have some skills to build on, you should be able to develop an ability or two pretty quickly.”
Casey processed this new information in silence. It was a lot to take in. Being able to develop super powers was kind of a big deal.
They made it back to the house in short order and they were greeted by cheers and applause from the camp. They new arrivals were stared at the sight of camp Randall slack jawed as they looked over the small city popping into existence. Liz couldn’t help but feel the same. Between the skills and abilities everyone had unlocked, their yard was pretty much unrecognizable from what it had been this morning. The makeshift camp ground now sported the wooden skeleton of new houses and concrete barriers lined the perimeter. Topping off the amazing transformation was the new fortress they had. The foundation next to the barn that was just a pit this morning was now looked like a military installation. Mom interrupted their gawking and led the kids away to give them a full check up. Liz promised Casey and Ellen she’d catch up with them later, but that they should definitely check in with Elly and her new friend first.
“Did she get a boyfriend?” Casey asked with curious eyes.
“Sorta, but better. I don’t want to ruin the surprise.” She smiled as they walked away. She contemplated following them around just to see the expression on their faces on meeting Biscuit but other things were attracting her attention. Like that awesome barbeque smell.
Following her nose she soon found her answer. A pit had been dug, coals had been set, and one of the refugees from the church was walking up and down tending to innumerable skewers holding giant portions of meat. As the woman walked up and down the rows Liz could see a faint glow surround the meat. She seemed to be doing something ability related to it, and whatever it was, it was doing wonders for the smell.
Over next to the meat line Liz spotted Mark. He had a smile plastered on, but Liz could tell that he was still pretty stressed out. His jerky motions were out of place on a kid who normally glided as he moved around. Liz went to help him with whatever he was doing and maybe see if she could help lighten the mood.
"Hey Mark, watcha doing?"
"This is like, the biggest pile of meat ever. This is crazy. There are literally tons of meat here. We could bury someone in meat. We could make meat hats and then make meat people to wear the meat hats and still have more meat. Would a person made of meat be like a meataquin? Like, a mannequin of meat?" Mark seemed really excited about this new idea and his jaw twisted in contemplation on how one properly referred to a human construct of meat. He seemed to relax a bit as he continued.
"Also, this will totally feed tons of people so that's awesome too. Tons of meat for tons of people sounds weird, but it's true. I bet the elementary school folks will be totally relieved, they were running low. We can make a difference with this stuff." Mark turned back to help the chef lady move around more skewers.
Liz was glad to see that Mark was putting on a brave face. She knew finding something to keep focused on was key. She just hoped they didn't have too many more curveballs to deal with for the next bit. She could use a little break as well. Taking in more of the scenery she noticed her pets were watching the cooking meat, drool openly running down their faces, and decided to intervene. She was pretty sure the cook might feel a little uncomfortable with a giant wolf and crow drooling at her. Even Barry could be annoying too, if smaller and cuter.
Liz poked and prodded Moonlight for a bit and determined she was still pretty badly injured. She made sure her bandages were clean any nothing new was damaged and scooted her back to the house. Barry obediently followed behind Moonlight. Her puppy had more than willingly submitted to the new pack structure and was comfortable being the omega beast of the pack. She didn't blame him. After all, when confronted with a wolf who’s mouth you could fit in and a crow that could pick you up and fly away, sometimes it's best not to make an issue of it. Somewhere in her head Liz was a little worried about what would happen if she suddenly lost control of her new pets, but that worry was drowned out by the voice going "I AM FRICKIN AWESOME."
She was about to send Alana off to follow the rest of her pets when Mark suddenly popped into existence behind her.
"Liz! I hear something!" He shouted causing her nearly jump out of her skin."Dammit Mark! Don't just pop into thin air like that, you totally freaked me out!"
"But Liz, you have to send up Bird dude guy! I hear something strange."
"Mark, first off, it's Alana and she’s a she. Secondly, what are you hearing that is so damn important that you have to freak me out?" Liz was getting pretty annoyed, not the least bit because she had totally been scared out of her wits when Mark magicked himself behind her.
"I think I heard a school bus." Mark said in a dead serious tone.
Liz's annoyance instantly evaporated and she sent Alana up.
"You know, your eyes are totally creepy when you do that."
Liz ignored Mark, both because it was distracting to try and have your attention in two places at once, and also because she knew he was totally jealous. Alana shot up into the air effortlessly and Liz directed her to scout around. Sometimes it was hard to get her pets to do exactly what she wanted. It just took so much more effort, and mana, to direct them along a specific path. Alana and Moonlight were both smart enough to get a good idea of what she wanted with just a little gentle nudging though. Not quite the case with Barry. She loved her golden retriever, but he wasn't exactly the brightest tool in the shed.
As she was contemplating these differences Alana cawed to get Liz's attention. There was indeed a yellow school bus across the street. It had stopped in one of the side streets across the main north-south road and looked like it would be turning away from the house soon. The bus hesitated as if the driver wasn't sure what to do next.
"Mark! You were totally right. There’s a bus across Garrison, a little to the south! Go wave them down before they leave! They have a working bus!"
Mark excitedly dashed away using his Falling Step to great effect. He was getting really good that. Liz ran over to her parents to clue them in as to why Mark was dashing away yet again.
"Dad! Mom! Mark heard a bus and I was able to scout it out! Mark went to go wave them down." Liz waved her arms in the direction she had seen the bus.
Dad immediately ran in the direction she indicated. Liz wondered for a moment why he had a look of concern on his face, and then it hit her. Just because it was a bus, and probably being driven by people, it by no means meant that those people would be friendly. Liz cursed at herself for overlooking this. It was apocalypse survival 101. The scariest things out there were, more often than not, people.
Realizing her mistake, she also dashed over to where she had spotted the bus. Within moments she was beside Dad while Mark jumping up and down to get the driver’s attention. Mark was had such a big smile that Liz didn't have the heart to tell him about her latest concern. She glanced over to Dad and noticed he adopted a smile as well. Whatever was going to happen next was going to happen, so she might as well hope for the best.
"Ho the bus! It's good to see a car actually running on the road for a change!" Dad shouted to the stopped vehicle.
Shortly after a small african american man peeked his head out of the driver side window.
"Hey there! It's good to see some people out and about too! Do you have a place where I could park this thing?"
"You bet! We're right around the corner! I'm Jason Randall, by the by, nice to meet you!"
"Reggie! Reggie Nelson, and thank god. We were looking for you and I heard you lived around here. Me and my family are in the bus, and my wife, she read an article about your place that you built here in the paper. She said 'We need to find those Randall's they'll be setup fine'."
"Well, I hope you’re okay with what we have. It may not be much but we've tried to do what we can. Come on over and I’ll introduce you to the group."
Jason walked over and Liz and Mark followed behind. After parking in the driveway Reggie stepped out of the bus and his family followed behind. Reggie nervously introduced his wife and his two kids. The kids looked terrified and lost. They were both younger than Mark, but not by much. Thinking about it, it was really it was easy to forget that Mark was just thirteen sometimes. The last two days felt like they aged everyone by years.
The newest arrivals were soon greeted with cheers from the group. Reggie slowly started to warm up and everyone gathered close as he told his story. Reggie’s tale wasn’t all that interesting but he had everyone's complete attention as he spoke.
“I had an afternoon shift yesterday, so I was home with the kids when it all happened. Those strange caterpillar things started popping up and I knew things were sideways. I only knew how to drive a bus, but if I know anything, it’s that in the battle between bus and random thing on the road, my money’s on the bus any day. It made me desperate to get the thing running. I must have spent hours working on the engine, checking all the components, and trying everything I knew until suddenly it all just clicked. I got this thing called Driver as an ability, and that let me fire up the yellow beast. By then it was getting pretty late and I noticed the sound of the engine attracted some unwanted attention, so we decided to lay low for the night. My wife, Shanice, had read about you, like I said, and we decided we’d try and find you at first light. We didn’t know the exact address but we had a decent idea. Thank god we found you so soon too. I was running out of gas and I have a feeling most of the gas stations round here ain’t open.” Reggie finished his tale with a big smile.
“Well, glad to have you, and I think we can help you with that gas situation as well.
With Reggie’s story told, the mood was positively festive. Last night was a disaster, but today was bringing hope that things could get better. It was important for the new community and Liz was grateful to have some things to celebrate.
Focus immediately shifted from setting up camp to tricking out the bus. One group planned out modifications to let it carry cargo better, and also just be a bit more defensible. Dad and a few others went to figure out how to get the diesel out of the storage tanks without a pump. Liz and Mark join in the mod crew as it looked a lot more fun. They had a blast tearing out half the seats and coming up with plans to make the thing into a moving weapons platform.
This was aided greatly by Paul. He was a furniture maker who managed to pull of one of the most useful and impressive abilities in the camp. He had only figured it out recently, but it had already had a huge impact. Wood Manipulation was not only useful, it was really awesome to watch. It let him modify wood like clay, except better, because he could make it move on it’s own too. After consulting with the martial minded kids, the group rigged together a solid structure on the roof of the bus that would allow for a stable firing platform. Most importantly, it would let up to two people clip in if they had some harnesses and not fall off if the bus was swerving around. After the work was close to complete Liz ran inside to grab some climbing harnesses. She was not going to fall off of another vehicle if she had any say in it.
As Liz came back outside she saw everyone hard at work. It was amazing how well they coordinated and there was a general picnic feel to the whole thing. Only, at most picnics we would be playing lawn games instead of retrofitting a bus for the apocalypse. It didn’t seem to matter much to the kids though. They had found each other the way kids do when in a sea of adults and were running around playing some variant of tag with some hide and seek thrown in. Liz’s heart melted a bit as she saw them race off. It was nice to see them having some fun, they definitely could use the respite.
Unable to help herself, Liz started to wonder if they could develop any abilities by playing games. Had any of the kids already gotten an ability? Hiding seemed like a great thing for them to be able to develop if they could. Curiosity drove her to wander over to where Mom had taken the census.
It didn’t take her long to find the book in the lab that had information on people’s abilities and skills. Liz was impressed at what she read. Thirty four people, not counting their newest arrivals, now called the block their home. Aside from the tall martial artist, Lyon was his name, the church group had a nurse, a construction foreman, a high school senior, and some office workers. Just a few abilities with that group, but a decent set of skills. Hopefully the nurse could develop Healer, like Mom. Diane also came from that group. She was the cook who was working the meat, and had Magical Chef listed as an ability.
Margaret, the blacksmith, had already unlocked Metal Manipulation. Liz figured it would probably be pretty similar to Paul’s Wood Manipulation, except with metal. Looking further at the group she escorted back, Liz saw two people with gardening related skills and two who had Hunter. They would no doubt be incredibly useful in the coming months and weeks. Two younger kids were in that group as well, along with three office workers. Lastly they just got the four kids from school and the four people in the bus. Adding those up with the Carlson’s, Elly’s family, Jocelyn, and Eddie gave the community a wide range of skills. This could really work.
Curiosity satisfied, Liz went back to helping people with the camp and the next few hours were a refreshing change from the insanity of the past day. Even the church group, whom had arrived almost devoid of any joy, seemed to be caught up in the atmosphere of hope that had formed around the encampment. There was still the lingering sense of loss, but for the first time since the monsters appeared, there was also a sense that things could get better and they'd make it through this mess.
The break neck pace of the day started to give way to a more relaxed flow. The camp was setup with a reasonable defensive line and the bunker exterior was finished. The formidable structure could easily hold all the new arrivals and provided a strong sense of security for those outside. As things were winding down, Dad walked out into the middle of the field and called out to everyone.
"Hey Folks! Please gather round. A few things I think we need to go over.” He waited a moment as everyone stopped their chores and wandered over. “First of all, thank you all for helping contribute what you could to this effort. I know this has been a hellish couple of days, but I truly believe that we'll be able to get through this for the better if we can work together. To that end, we have mostly finished a bunker that can easily house everyone in the camping grounds, and with a bit of warning it shouldn't be hard to get everyone in there and to safety. We have plans, big plans, for later on, but we want to make sure everyone had a safe place as a priority.” There was a murmur of agreement. Getting a major protective structure up in the current environment wasn’t a hard sell.
“Now, you all know that we're not the only people out here. To be frank, sometimes people are the biggest problems of all in situations like this. To prevent that from happening here we're laying down some ground rules. It’s pretty basic stuff. Don't steal, don't abuse people, respect your neighbors, and for the love of god don’t kill anyone. On sharing, I want to be clear. Everyone is entitled to what they have brought with them, and if you want to share that, good on you. For the things we do together here, like the Meat Festival we just had, I expect all able bodied folks to help out. I also want to be clear that this is my land, and as such, I’m in charge of what happens on it. Consider me the mayor. If that doesn’t suit you, you can always find a different house and hole up by yourself."
Dad looked around at the crowd to see if there were any complaints. The dead silence that followed was not uncomfortable, but an acknowledgement of the community that this was all fine so far.
"We also are not going to abandon folks who need help. I know we can't save everyone, but where we can, we're going to do our best to make sure as many people make it through this as possible. We have two more communities we know of, one in the nearby elementary, and one in Mountain Lake high school. We're going to try and help get them food so that those kids don't starve to death. With Reggie and his generous offer to help with deliveries, we should be able to do this quickly and a hell of lot safer than just hauling things in the carriage. Eventually, I want to check the other schools in the area to see what shape they're in, and after we drop off this meat that's exactly what we'll do. We all still on the same page here?"
Looking around Liz saw faces that were determined and aligned. Nobody here seemed the least bit inclined to leave a bunch of kids to die, and heads were bobbing in agreement. Liz was proud of their little community. She could only hope that as they continued to encounter more people that the spirit of cooperation would persist.
"Alright then, anyone want to come along for this run? I'll be going, and Reggie of course, but we could use some more firepower." Dad looked meaningfully at Liz and Mark.
"Sure, I can cover us from the crow's nest that we built."
"I can ride inside, I'm better at closed spaces anyway." Mark chimed in.
"I really want to check on everyone at the high school, can I come too?" Liz glanced over at Lance. She was a bit surprised at his statement. She wasn't expecting him to step up after having just had such a harrowing experience, but she obviously had underestimated him.
"But maybe, you can ask for me how people are when you get there? If you don’t mind recent escapee and all.”
“That’s reasonable.” Liz agreed with his assessment.
“You want to come along too Mike?"
The quiet teenager shook his head and pointed over to the barriers that were being constructed around the fence. It seemed Mike had already committed to helping out elsewhere.
"I'd come, but there's just so much going on here. I want to make sure we get everyone settled as much as possible." Sam said. She had volunteered for many of the previous away missions, but she seemed to have her hands full at the moment. The people milled about for a moment but no one else stepped forward. Liz was annoyed at the lack of support for a moment but realized that people were simply busy. They had found a new home, and they all seemed determined to make it as safe as possible and had they had all taken on a bunch of jobs.
"It's okay Sam, we have a ton of firepower for this trip and I'm sure we'll be fine. Let’s load up and hopefully make this a quick."
With that, everyone resumed their work. A small crew stuck around to help load of up back of the bus. They were able to a good portion of the recently dried meat into the back, certainly more than would have fit in the carriage, and the bus seemed to hold up fine. Looking over at the remaining carcasess Liz was pretty overwhelmed. They had to have shoved a couple hundred pounds of meat into the bus and the supply in the yard didn’t look depleted at all. It made sense though. After all, the Ice Wolves weighed close to a ton each and god only knew how many of the things they had killed last night. Add that on top of all the Fuuzers and Nerflings that appeared and they would be set for a long time as far as protein was concerned.
The crew slapped the back of the bus to let Reggie know they were done. Reggie fired up the bus and the throaty purr of the large diesel engine roared to life.
“We’re good to go!”
Liz grabbed onto the newly constructed ladder and climbed to the top of the bus. Safety first, she clicked herself in with her harness. She was joined shortly thereafter by Dad who also clipped in. Liz stomped on the roof to let everyone know they were ready to head out. Mark and Lance, were already inside the bus, and with an excited shout from Mark they were on their way.