Liz started shouting out commands as the sounds of the apes grew louder and louder.
“Mark, you’re in front! Lance cover his back! Elly you get Jocelyn safe and bolt if you need, I’m mid range. Mike, you do you!”
Everyone jumped to their assigned positions in front of the entrance and prepared for the worst. The sounds of the apes kept on growing like a like a horrible howling train in a tunnel. The building pressure was released as multiple apes dashed out of the hallway and charged directly at Mark.
“We got incoming!”
Mark readied his katana, blue energy dancing along it’s blade and stared down the darkened entrance. Everyone was so focused on the opening that they completely missed the four apes that jumped from hidden openings above it.
“Mark!” Liz cried in alarm as the large creatures descended on him. The sudden attack left him unbalanced but he managed to stay upright. Liz was horrified as the creatures started taking large bites out of Mark’s arms until she realized that the apes were coming up empty. Mark’s shield flashed violet as their maws came down and they seemed utterly confused as their jaws bounced against the barrier. Score one for having a tank.
There was no time for relief as five more apes rushed past Mark towards the main group. Lance’s eyes widened in terror as he realized he was the next line of defense but Mike sprang into action before they got close. He silently tossed a folded sheet of paper that he had been scribbling on for the past few minutes and all five apes were caught in a strange distorted space that formed around the note. A loud bell-like gong sounded, and while it was loud enough to make Liz wince, the apes were devastated. The beasts fell to the floor clutching their ears buying the party some time to react.
Everything happened at once. Lance took advantage of the opening and a precise strike tore open the throat of one of the distracted beasts. Elly and Biscuit flanked Jocelyn and with a strange popping noise they appeared twenty feet away. Their job was to keep Jocelyn safe and they were taking no chances. Liz took the opportunity to headshot two apes that were busy trying to eat Mark.
Mark took advantage of his sudden lack of apes by executing a trick he picked up during the giant beak bear incident. He grabbed onto an ape who was chomping down on him, Falling Stepped straight up, and the confused ape could be heard flying away into the air. When his power pulled him down Mark bisected the last Ape that had been attacking him and was now completely free of apes. Liz couldn’t help but be impressed at the quick thinking her brother just displayed, and also somewhat annoyed. Liz knew that she should just be glad he learned a good way of dealing with a grappling enemy, but she didn’t appreciate being the test case for his new vicious attack skill.
The stunned apes were starting to recover but Liz didn’t feel like giving them the chance. Two more of her arrows penetrated the heads of the stumbling apes and they fell dead. Mike continued his impressive showing as he slapped piece of paper onto another ape. A low thrumming could be heard and Liz almost lost her lunch when she saw gooey grey matter leaking out of the unfortunate ape’s ears. She definitely need to get more information on what Mike could do after this. She knew he had been working on some stuff but he was officially crossing into ridiculously powerful territory, and that would have been good to know earlier.
With only one ape remaining, Lance tried to finish it off but the beast had recovered sufficiently to avoid his slash. Lance panicked after his missed attacked and stumbled backwards. He barely avoided the claws of the thing, but the momentum of his dodge caused him to fall over. The ape, sensing weakness in it’s prey, leap onto Lance who screamed as he saw a toothy maw head towards him. He continued screaming as that maw continued past him. The entire head of the creature maintained a pretty good forward velocity even though it was no longer attached to a body. Mark had cleanly decapitated the creature and ended the fight.
Mike walked over to Lance to help him up. It was oddly clear to everyone Mike was saying with his raised eyebrow, “You ok man? You can stop screaming. We totally won.” Lance finally managed to get himself back under control and took the offered hand and dusted himself off. It was a little late to try and play it cool but Lance was trying his best.
“Did you see that? We totally kicked their butts!” Mark raised a fist in victory. “And my armor was totally the best ARRGGGHHHHHHHHH” Mark screamed as the ape he previously had tossed upwards suddenly and violent crashed into the ground right next to him turning into a bloody twitching pile.
“Oh. Forgot about that one.” He said weakly, fist still in the air.
The events took less than a minute but the rush of adrenaline persisted with the group. Most of the teenagers hadn’t seen anything remotely this intense in their patrols. The response of the apes was way more than they had seen from general mobs.
“Good news is that my armor is pretty awesome though, right?” Mark said as he dispelled his shell and summoned a new one. A few trace cracks had appeared where the apes had gnawed on him and he figured getting everything as strong as possible would be a good plan.
After reforming his armor Mark was a little at a loss. The group clearly looked troubled but he wasn’t sure what to say. Heck, he didn’t even know what to do next. Liz had moved over to Jocelyn and Elly to help them gather their courage leaving Lance and Mike milling about. Rather than over think it, he turned to Lance who looked like he was about to faint and probably could use a pep talk.
“So that was intense, a bit more than I expected. You going to make it?”
“Yeah, I have to chat with George, I. Well, it’s complicated.” Lance opened his mouth as if to continue but ended up just closing it instead. He turned to look down the hill and started mumbling to himself.
Mark was more than a little curious about what was eating at Lance. The troubled teen had started to scratch nervously at his arm in addition to his mumbling and it was starting to freak Mark out a bit. Those weren’t the signs you wanted from a teammate about to dive into a potentially dangerous situation. He turned to Mike and while he wasn’t expecting much figured it could hurt to ask.
“Do you know what’s up with Lance? He’s pretty freaked. He doesn’t really seem like he wants to be out here. You know why he wanted to come out with us so badly? And do you know what’s up with him and the George thing? Did something happen?”
Mike lifted up four fingers. He shook his head no two times, each time putting down a finger. For the last two items he just shrugged, indicating that there was no doubt something that happened but he wasn’t really sure about the details, just that there was something troubling to Lance and seemed to be causing a lot of stress with him over the past few days. It probably had something to do with the circumstances of them having to leave the school, as Mike was pretty sure there was more to the story there that Lance wasn’t really saying.
“How the heck did you just do that? Like, you shrugged. How. You know, I don’t even care. Thanks for clueing me in. I guess we’ll just have to find out when George gets here.”
The next few minutes were tense and Liz organized them into a new formation. With the help of a few powershots and a couple explosive charms, they created a much better fighting area for themselves with some cover for their ranged fighters and some better funneling for towards the entrance. Being able to pick up and move giant plants using Elly’s anti-gravity powers was really helpful in this and Mark was pretty impressed with what they were able to pull off in a short amount of time.
Lance had been pretty unresponsive during their set up, only speaking in one word sentences and then immediately resuming his vigil towards the trailhead unless someone was actively directing him. Whatever was eating at him was pretty severe.
“He’s coming! He’s on the way! I see him at the trailhead!” Lance shouted, alerting everyone to the development. Liz frowned as he shouted, immediately turning to the entrance to the crystal watching for another rush of apes. Thankfully the structure was quiet but things were still not calm.
Mark could see that George and his crew of jocks were running at a fairly breakneck pace. Faster than any normal people should be running just to catch up. As he noticed their frantic glances backwards he pieced together what was going on.
“Liz! I think they’re being chased. I’m going to go help them!” he shouted as he starting hopping down the mountain. Before he could hear his sister tell him to stop he was already most of the way down. It was really a lot easier to jump down a mountain than up it, Mark thought to himself as he careened down the slope at a breakneck pace.
“George!” He shouted, as he slowly stood coming out of a pretty decent three point hero landing. The rest of the jock crew stood mouths gaping at the feat. George was the first to recover.
“Dude! Nice moves, but we still gotta book it, Sheriff and crew weren’t happy about my plan but I figured we could sort it out at the top and stuff. Thanks for the note!” George started his jog again and the rest of the crew recovered behind him. Six familiar faces from the football team waved to Mark. They were armed with clubs and kitted up various pieces of football armor. Mark happily waved back. More front line tanks were much appreciated.
“No problem man! You’re mom is totally freaking out by the way, you should come visit her.” Mark replied, easily keeping pace with the crew.
“Yeah, we had a convoy planned for a bunch of folks to head out tomorrow, but it was complicated getting all the schedules set.”
Mark was instantly confused. This didn’t fit at all with the picture that Lance was painting. “Huh, that’s strange. From what Lance was saying I wouldn’t think he’d let you out. Also, the meetings with my dad were always pretty rough.”
“Oh jeez, yeah. We always lined up and watched those two go at it during the drops. It was pretty funny. The sheriff really doesn’t seem to like your dad much.”
“Huh.” Mark’s brain was going a million miles a minute. This didn’t fit his picture of what was going on at all, but he’d take George’s word on the topic any day. Unless he was being mind controlled. But that didn’t make sense either, because he probably wouldn’t have escaped to help if that were the case. Not knowing how to go about it subtly, Mark decided to go with his tried and true strategy of blurting out everything in his head. “Lance painted a pretty bad picture of what was going on. I’d been thinking you were all mind controlled zombies all doing the sheriff’s bidding from what he said.”
“Wait, that jerk ended up at your place and said that? Man, I’m going to so punch that dude in the face.”
Mark was having difficulty processing everything as they approached the entrance to the crystal.
“George! The sheriff is almost here! We have to get into the dungeon now!” A frantic Lance called out.
“What are you talking about dude? And what’s this about mind control stuff? You’re the only jerkface he ever really used that crap on.”
“Look, I’ll explain later, I just didn’t think the sheriff would be here. Can we talk after we deal with this first?”
“I think we should talk about this now. Also, sheriff’s pretty much here.”
Huffing in great breaths, the sheriff, a few of his deputies, and his son, Henry, walked up to the entrance. Henry sported a sling and a dot of red had started to appear around his shoulder.
“You!” Henry said as he looked at Lance. “I should have known you’d be sheltering a criminal.” Looking over at Liz with scorn in his voice.
‘Why can’t anything ever be easy?’ Mark thought to himself as he sighed.