Normally Mark was against riding the bus. Between biking the couple miles to school and hopping into a cramped and noisy vehicle filled he chose the first options almost every time. It was pretty amazing how much this view changed in the last 48 hours. Now, being able to ride in something that was powered by gas suddenly became awesome. The fact that the bus was modified for apocalypse conditions also helped add to the cool factor. Mark kept eyes on the passing scenery in case he needed to defend the bus, but it wasn’t really needed. That crow’s nest on top really helped with getting lines of sights on things and Liz and his dad didn’t let anything get close.
Getting to the elementary school was super boring. Mark was getting antsy and thought they were just wasting time until he saw the smiles of all the people as they drove in. This was important too. As his dad and Reggie exited the bus they were peppered with questions. His dad raised his hands in submission and started into the tale of the bus with Reggie. Having already heard this story, Mark wandered off to play with some of the younger kids. Tag and other games were a lot cooler when you basically had super powers, Mark thought as he hung upside down from a basketball hoop. Sure, Liz had a small and growing army of creatures at her beck and call, but he could do fun stuff with his movement abilities.
A bunch of people came out to help unload the bus and they soon finished unloading the meat. Saying some goodbyes and promising to return with more supplies they headed to the high school. Mark started to get nervous. Memories of the last time echoed in his head and he racked his brain trying to figure out how to deal with the situation. He didn't understand why his dad was seemingly cool with everything. I mean, Mark knew it was bad to kill other people, but wasn't what the sheriff was doing worse? Mind control seemed like a really bad thing and the sheriff needed to be stopped.
Mark’s contemplations were interrupted before he had time to really think anything through. His dad called out from the crow's nest and Reggie slowed the bus down a few blocks out from the school. Traveling by horse for a day really put into perspective how fast a motorized vehicle actually moved.
"Ok all, this is how this is going to work. I apparently have some resistances to this mind control stuff, and we just don't know enough about it to risk anyone else getting close. I'm going to go up and figure out how to get them this meat, and then we'll be on our way to check other potential locations for survivors. We will not be trying to sneak in or anything such thing. Right?"
His dad was looking directly at him when he said this and Mark forced out a nod.
Without another word his dad hopped down from the bus and walked towards the school. The simple act was made badass by the fact that he pretty much jumped down from the roof of the bus without a care in the world. Whatever bonuses his dad got to his physical attributes made him crazy tough.
Liz had climbed down and took a seat next to Mark. He and Lance had exited the bus to stretch their legs a bit while they waited. They all searched the nearby jungle for signs of life but everything seemed pretty quiet.
"So, what happened in there?" a curious Liz prodded. They had gotten some of the story but there were a lot of blanks and Mark admitted he was pretty interested himself. Lance turned to them both and started talking.
“Well, it was totally cool that you got me a weapon, and when you told us about all the abilities and things you had we decided that we needed to go see what we could do. After we were relieved of guard duty we chatted with Casey and Ellen some, getting the skinny on all the stuff you told them, and also the mana core thing. So after we chat for a bit about it we make a plan to go out and see what we can do. We teamed up and took out a few of those lemur things. It was a little dicey at first, but with four of us to cover each other we managed to get some decent strategies going. I unlocked a skill with the knife, and Mike was a champ with the bat. Casey and Ellen turned out to be really good with running distraction on the things too. Like, crazy gymnastic stuff. So we were totally getting good with stuff and then we met up with George’s group. Seemed liked they had the same idea and they had been collecting extra mana cores and stuff. It was really awesome there for awhile. We went around the block and totally cleaned up before the mana storm hit. Only problem was when we headed back into the school. Sheriff apparently didn’t appreciate all of us going out, having weapons, and now with new all these badass skills. He kinda lost it for a moment. Then he went all creepy, ordered us to surrender our weapons, and told us to go into one of the classrooms.”
Lance paused for a moment here, lost in thought.
"You know, at the time it seemed like the most natural thing ever, and there's still a part of me that's wanting to agree with the sheriff, which is totally creepy, because there wasn't really anything he said that I'd ever think was a good idea under normal conditions. But the way he said it man. It was like, totally sensical. Like nothing else other than that mattered. It was creeptastic. You know?"
Mark nodded in definitive agreement. Creeptastic barely covered the feeling.
"Yeah, I know, right? So there we were, giving up our weapons and agreeing to lock ourselves up in a classroom when the mana storm hit. I swear, if the sheriff didn't immediately order us to go to the gym and help defend it we would have just wanted around until we found a room to hole up in. That would have sucked. So, in anycase, there was like this crazy shower of stars and stuff but that wasn't the scary part. The school was pretty well protected and the deputies and sheriff took care of all the incoming crap. The scary part was after, when the monkeys came."
"Weren't they apes? I mean, I think monkeys have prehensile tails."
"Dude, seriously, just go with it. Monkeys sounds way better than apes. So like I was saying, all the monkeys start climbing into window and stuff and then things get really crazy. We're holed up in the gym, and keeping the doors shut while sheriff creepo and his gang try to keep the building secure, but they're eventually flanked and the things just start pouring in. Some dropped into the gym."
"Did anyone get hurt? Did anyone die?"
"Dude, like, right in the middle of the story. And yes, people got hurt, but thankfully no one died. Those potions you guys dropped off were amazing. Also, we had the away team led by George and me and Mike kicking ass in there. We knocked out all the monkeys that got in in no time flat. It was totally insane."
Mark's interest in the story faded at this point. Liz still seemed interested, and asked questions about how the monkeys - apes really - fought, but after learning everyone had made it out ok Mark had lost interest. What he really wanted to do was figure out what was going on now, and if George was still okay.
"What happened after? I get it, you kicked ape butt for awhile, but how did you end up trapped in that house?" Liz asked curiously.
Lance looked a little uncomfortable as he continued. "Well, as I said before, it was really crazy and everything’s kinda a haze. There were apes, and sheriff jerkface was still like ‘Go to your room’ and some of us did, but George was like ‘that’s stupid’ and I kinda bolted cause screw mind control. But, before that..."
Mark had been losing focus and had completely tuned Lance out at this point. He decided his time was better spent doing something more productive. What he really needed was a way to get into the school without being seen. Maybe if he could do that his dad would relent some and let him check things out. With that in mind, Mark began experimenting.
His first idea was to use his sneakiness to try and disappear. He tried to get the feeling he had when he snuck away before, but something felt off. He realized that it was really hard to just disappear pretty quick. Thinking it over that made sense. He was accepting of the fact that regardless of how game-like things were feeling, most of the stuff he learned about physics were still relevant. He imagined bending light all around you was a pretty difficult thing and he couldn’t quite imagine being able to do that. If that were the case, he’d need another method of sneaking around.
Thinking back to various shows he had watched in the past it didn’t take long for Mark to hone in on a method that made sense. He knew there was a lot of water vapor in the air, and fog was pretty hard to see through. He palmed a mana core and started to pull some energy from it and tried to focus on the water in the air.
"Right Mark?" Lance asked and turned to face him.
Mark nodded. "Uh, sure!"
"You're not listening to anything he's saying, are you?" Liz rolled her eyes at Mark's obliviousness. "But to answer for him, yes, abilities seem to be easier to develop when you're in pretty high stress situations. At least that's been my observation so far."
"Cool! I was wondering, but practicing solo seemed to be really hard. I finally made some progress when I was totally pumped up with adrenaline when I was fighting those things. Like, things just clicked, you know?"
Mark nodded. He had pretty much heard "Blah blah blah, clicked, blah blah" but Lance seemed really excited about it so he probably could use the encouragement. In the meantime Mark had extended his senses into the air around him and he felt like he was getting somewhere.
"Dude, are you smoking something?"
"I thought I just saw some smoke come out of your mouth..."
Liz and Lance started at Mark, who was not really paying attention to them. Mark clearly was not smoking something though and Lance continued but kept an eye on him as he continued his tale.
"Yeah, so, I got Knife Skills ability, and it's been helping me aim and stuff. Like, you know the heads up stuff from AA online? When I focus enough I can totally see critical spots on things and that makes it so much easier to take things out."
"That's really cool. Also, yeah, AA online seems to be a pretty common theme. Did you notice that the notices are all similar to that too?" Liz turned to Mark excitedly.
"Mark, what about your abilities, you have a ton. Are you using images or are you... Wait. Is there smoke coming out of your ears? What are you doing?"
"Uh, no? What's up?" Mark said, blinking a bit and feeling like he was really close to figuring something out with this stealth thing. The only problem was that it felt like something was pushing him away from a solution. He couldn't quite figure it out but the last piece of the puzzle to what he was trying to accomplish was so close he could taste it. There was just one thing missing.
The door to the bus swung open and the sudden motion caused the kids to glance over. Reggie stepped out and was about to say something when he looked with a curious face towards the kids. "Wasn't Mark out here with you guys? Where did the fog come from?"
"Mark! Oh my god you better be here because I will beat you bloody if you ran off again!" Liz was not amused. Mark was though.
Ability Gained - Stealth : Misty Retreat
Rock on! Eat that Liz! Mark had flexed a bunch of his new magic muscles to pull this one off. It had taken a lot but once the mist had gotten going he suddenly was able to use it to launch himself to a new place. It wasn't really disappearing, but it was pretty damn close. It was like falling step, but a little different.
"It's okay! I'm right here!" Mark stood up from behind the bus. The little bit of mist that was around Liz and Lance had already dissipated and everyone was still looking for him around the area. "That's so cool! I can disappear now! Isn't that awesome!"
"If only you could have figured that out years ago." Liz muttered under her breath.
"Nothing Mark. Cool deal. So what's this one called?"
"Misty Retreat! It's part of my Stealth ability, not my Chi."
"I didn't know you had a stealth ability. How did you get a stealth ability?" Liz looked accusingly at Mark.
"Uh, wait, let me show you!" Quick! Distraction needed! Mark really didn't want to try and explain that he picked up Stealth by more or less sneaking away and maybe stealing some stuff.
He pulled his mana around and felt the mist start to form. He then felt the resistance that he had before and for whatever reason, he couldn't get the step away thing to work.
"Dude, you look constipated. Are you ok?" Lance asked in a concerned voice.
"No. Yes. I mean. I had this. It worked just a second ago. I even got a real Ability thingy from it too. Dunno what's wrong."
"What's wrong with what?" His dad asked as he rounded the corner.
"Dad! Dad! I figured out a new thing so I can totally go into the school and check on people now. Check this out! I can disappear!"
Mark redoubled his effort on trying to active his ability, but other than a really awkward grunting noise followed by a little bit of mist poofing out from his body nothing much happened.
"Did you just mist fart?" Liz asked, eyebrow raised.
Mark ignored the jibe because he finally figured it out. "Wait! I got it. I can disappear, I know I can, but you all need to not look at me! I can vanish as long as no one is looking at me! So, just... Look! A distraction!" Mark pointed away from himself to a nearby tree.
Slowly, looking very confused, everyone turned their eyes to where he was pointing.
"Okay Mark, we did the thing, but. Oh jesus, he actually did disappear." His dad looked around alarmed at the sudden development.
Mark, for his part, felt like a giant weight was released when everyone's eyes had turned away, and he instantly was able to blink away to a nearby spot. It was a set of trees about ten feet away and it felt like he just flowed to the place. The really cool bit was that the mist that had formed didn't get disturbed by his passing at all, adding to the confusing effect of the ability.
He stepped out of his hiding place and everyone jumped in alarm. "See! I told you! It felt really weird when people were looking at me but as soon as I was all clear it was easy! I mean, it still takes up a ton of mana and stuff, but it's totally the best awesome skill for sneaking into the place! I should check it out now."
"Look Mark, that is really cool and all, but I just got done talking with the sheriff. He didn't try anything untoward, just asked us to leave the meat here and he’d send folks to get it. He was really worried about us trying something, and I don’t want to push him into doing something stupid, so we’re going to play nice for now.”
“Did you ask about George? About the other people he was locking up?”
“I did mention that we had a few folks who left. He seemed upset at that but said we could keep the troublemakers. He said George had apologized and was back helping out, so I’m assuming they worked through their issues.”
“Dad! You can’t believe that! He’s obviously mind controlling everyone there! He’s evil!”
“Marcus Randall, what I believe is not for you to tell me. Quite frankly, I have spent many years working with Arthur and am more than capable of judging whether or not he’s lying. We may have different ideas on what people should do, but he is not evil man. We’re going to give him space, and let things calm down. I’m not going to jeopardize our relationship at this point because you’re feeling uncomfortable. George said himself he wanted to stay before the sheriff was showing any abilities. Trust your friend if nothing else.
Mark cast his eyes down and sighed. George probably would have agreed to help, it was like him, but he really wanted to make sure everyone was ok. He knew better than to push for it now, though, so he went to help unload the meat. He stayed silent as the last bundles were placed in the heap. Mark looked back towards the school as they drove away. He knew something was off. He just had to figure out a way to get his dad to listen.