“What the hell is your problem? Lance has been helping us, which seems a lot more useful than being locked up by you!” Liz shouted back at Henry. Some part of her brain realized there was probably more going on but it was quickly overwhelmed by her strong dislike Henry.
“Typical Randall response! Can’t think past yourselves at all! We’ve been busy helping keep a school full of people alive while you’ve been cultivating criminals!” Henry snapped back.
Voices continued to rise and Liz continued escalating with Henry as the deputies and sheriff readied their weapons. As things were coming to a head a sole voice of reason rang clear.
“OH MY GOD YOU ARE ALL ACTING LIKE KIDS.” Everyone stared at Mark as if he had grown a second head. Liz in particular checked herself. She couldn’t remember the last time Mark had admonished her for being immature about something and actually had a point. The realization that he was actually right shocked her silent.
“We have a manastorm coming, and things trying to kill us, and all you can do is yell at each other? We haven’t seen any of you for a week and the first thing you do is accuse us? After we’ve been bringing you supplies and food and healing potions and trying everything to keep as many people safe as possible? What’s the matter with you!” Mark continued to dig into everyone.
“I’ve been worried sick about everyone in the school. My friends are there. My best friend is there! George’s mom is with us and thought you were holding him hostage because you wouldn’t let anyone talk to him!”
“Well, your father was the one who didn’t want me talking to people, he had…” the sheriff started.
“I DON’T CARE! You two are the worst! You just yell at each other every time we visit! I just want to make sure my friends are ok and you can’t get over yourselves enough to act like normal people in the middle of a world ending apocalypse! And I’m going to yell at my dad when I get back too because he was a stupid head about this as well. He made us run a stupid obstacle course just because he couldn’t ask you a normal question like a normal person. I am so sick of both of you right now I can’t even.”
In the stunned silence that followed a lot of barely perceptible nods were given. Everyone around the situation had known that the animosity between the two community leaders was ridiculous, but few had been willing to call the forceful men on it.
“So here we are now, trying to prevent some catastrophe that we don’t really understand, and all you can do is yell at each other. I haven’t even gotten to catch up with George. Why didn’t you tell us you were going to organize a visit?”
“Your dad never gave me a chance. In fairness, I never gave him a chance either. There’s a lot of baggage between us, you realize.” The sheriff said more timidly than expected.
Mark’s fierce stare shamed the entire group. They had been rearing for conflict, but Mark’s outburst had thrown ice water on their desire to continue. The only person who was moving was Lance, who had been slinking around the group and was now behind Mark.
The sheriff continued, “You have a lot of good points there Mark. I admit, your father and I shouldn’t be the main communication channel going forward, but that doesn’t change the fact that the boy behind you stabbed my son, and is a danger to the community. He tricked George into helping him and then must have conned the other students into escaping, and he needs to be tried for those crimes. He’ll get a fair trial as soon as we get all this sorted out.”
Liz had recovered from her shock by this point and had managed to calm herself. Looking at Henry she noticed that there was blood oozing out of his shoulder. Considering the fact that they had been sending over healing potions, that meant he had refused taking one.
“Why are you even still bleeding? We’ve sent over a ton of healing potions.” She noted aloud.
“It wasn’t needed. It's mostly superficial, and only gives me an issue if I do something strenuous with it. I’m not on regular patrol. The healing potions should be saved for people who are on the front lines. I can help people organize with one arm fine.” Henry said puffing up his chest. He wore his wound like a badge. Liz reluctantly gave him a few props for saving the healing potions for people who were in more dire need. He lost them all by puffing himself up like a hamster though.
“You are all crazy, and I’m not going to sit in a cell again. I’m not. I can’t. I wanted to apologize to George, but I did that, so I’m out of here.” Lance said in a panicked voice.
Liz looked over to where Lance was and her eyes widened as she saw the knife in his hand.
“Lance, don’t do anything stupid. We can work this out, just put down the knife.” She said as calmly as she could.
“Sorry, I wanted to help, but I can’t go back to the school. Sheriff mindscrew is not getting back in my head.” Before anyone could react, Lance slapped one of the silencing charms Mike had made onto his head and got ready to run. Mark stood in front of him trying to get the situation back under control.
“Lance, chill, what the heck. We were about to get everything sorted.” He tried to calm him down as he moved to cut off Lance’s escape route.
Mike held his ear, noting that the charm would prevent any sound from reaching Lance and that things were probably going to go south in a moment unless someone intervened. Also, there was a good chance that the mana storm hitting would leave them all in an exposed situation unless they made adequate plans to fortify the area. Maybe everyone should be focusing on those things as soon as Lance was dealt with. Also, they really should all deal with Lance soon because he clearly was freaking out and was literally no longer capable of listening to reason.
Liz was a bit confused at the rush of information and wondered again at what abilities Mike actually had. He listed Sound Arts on his census, but she was pretty sure he had something else going on. Her thoughts were interrupted when Lance made a lunge at Mark.
Lance was panicked, scared, and thrust into a world way outside his understanding. Liz could give him some slack for that. She absolutely had zero slack to give to someone who tried to stab someone in her family though. Even so, she couldn’t bring herself to shoot Lance. It was one thing to fire at nameless thugs who were threatening you, but was completely different when the person who you needed to shut down had been working with you for a week and was turning into a friend. Liz gritted her teeth trying to force her body to react but Mark moved before she could do anything.
Lance was totally freaking out, but Mark knew there just wasn’t any time for it. Trying to keep things chill, he went over to try and talk some sense to Lance. In response, Lance jerked his hand up in a clumsy attack. Somewhere in Mark’s mind registered the fact that he had a knife, and years of drilling burst out into action. From an outside perspective, it looked like Mark was lazily moving towards Lance and touched his arm lightly. In reality, it was an incredibly efficient movement that Mark had an uncanny talent for. The reason no one messed with Mark was forcefully demonstrated as the seemingly innocuous grab turned into a brutal throw in the blink of an eye.
Lance was upside down so quickly he didn’t have time time to consider his poor life choices and blast of dust that wafted up from his impact zone spoke to the strength of the perfectly executed throw. Everyone was stunned at the sudden actions, and also the bizarre effects of the silence charm on the impact. A quick twist on Lance’s immobilized arm caused him to open his mouth in a silent scream and drop the knife he was holding. Everyone was trying to mentally catch up, but the surrealness of the situation was locking most people in place. Mike was the first to recover and he walked over to Lance. After slapping another note onto his forehead Lance’s grunts of pain were audible again.
“That wasn’t cool dude. Totally not cool. Like ‘everything you did that was cool before now sucks’ levels of uncool.” Mark said coldly. Mark actually didn’t mind that much about the attempted stabbing. He was more pissed off at the whole lying and framing the sheriff thing. The animosity he built up between the different groups was really annoying and could have cost lives.
Lance had tears leaking from his eyes but Mark couldn’t tell if there were from rage, frustration, or remorse. Maybe a combo of all three. “I wanted to help. I can help. The sheriff wouldn’t let me. He wanted me to be weak and I knew that would just mean I would get killed eventually by god knows what. I’m not going to live like that. I’m not going to be weak anymore. Never again.”
Obviously there was more going on here than Mark knew about, but aside from keeping him in an arm lock on the floor he wasn’t really sure about what to do next. Everyone looked around to see who would take the lead. Even the sheriff seemed a bit cowed by the whole situation and wasn’t speaking up. Mark decided he didn’t have anything to lose, so he went ahead with the plan that popped into his head.
“Ok. So Lance, you’re a jerk, and you aren’t welcome at our place anymore. I think I can say that pretty safely. We do have a rule about not stabbing other people. Sheriff, you’re also kinda being a jerk, but I guess less of one than I thought. You said you were going to make a jail or something?”
“Yes, until we can get the courts up and running or the National Guard comes in.”
“You know the Guard isn’t coming, right? You can’t be serious about that.” Mark countered.
The sheriff looked Mark in the eyes and slowly lifted a hand to his temple. He looked more tired in that moment than Mark had ever seen him before the the bags under his eyes seemed to darkened a few more shades as he continued. “Yes. I know Mark. I think it’s important to remind the folks at the school that there might be help on the way though. Although, I think it’s becoming less and less important as time goes on. You kids,” he said turning to George’s group. “I know you wanted to help, and I appreciate that, but this isn’t the way. Mark was right, we need to be working together now. If you can keep the ‘no National Guard’ thing under wraps for now I promise you we’ll figure out a better way to break to the news to folks. Probably alongside getting the trips to Camp Randall regular. Sad when I need a teenager to point that out to me. I swear your father drives me crazy.” he mumbled towards the end.
Mark saw a lot of nodding heads. It was just more evidence that the sheriff was trusted by the people at school and Mark was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with his creeper voice.
Mana Storm (Class B) Approaching
Clear till 10% capacity availability. If unavailable, please update stabilization crystals for additional levels of capacity.
The warning flashed into Mark’s view and served as a not so gentle reminder that stabbity teenage jerks were actually the least of their problems.
“We have to go in, Jocelyn needs to be at the admin panel before storm time because there’s no way we’re going to be able to clear stuff fast enough. I don’t think you should be running around either. An hour would be cutting it real close to get back to school.” Mark looked around trying to think of what to do next when George put a hand on his shoulder.
“We came here to help. We’ll do that. Lance, I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you,” George paused for a second in sudden thought. “Scratch that, I could probably throw you really far at this point. Still, there’s no way in hell you’re getting a knife around me, but I think we can at least untie you and you can chill while we wait for Mark and his crew to do what they need. We’ll figure out more later. Sound good sheriff?”
Sheriff Douglass paused to think for a moment. “We’ll stay here, fortify the position, and be ready to escort you back when you finish what you need. I’m not going to just let a bunch of those apes cluster around front here for when you come out. John, set up a fort, we’re going to defend this position. Also a stockade would be nice.”
The deputy the sheriff directed moved his hands around and the surrounding dirt rose up to from into rough walls enhancing the makeshift barricade the group has set up earlier. Apparently he had some sort of earth manipulation thing going on. Soon enough a small fort now stood outside the dungeon.
“We’ll wait for you here Mark, be careful in there.” The sheiff nodded to Mark and glanced meaningfully over at George. “What’s your plan son? Seems you went to a lot of effort to be here with your friend.”
“Totally going in with Mark, been awhile since we had a chance to hang out and they’re down a man now.” George said.
“Awesome! Good to have you along! Ok then, time to see what’s inside here, and maybe save the world.” Mark was oozing ethusiasm now that the current set of crisis had been dealt with. He was a little bummed about the whole Lance thing, but George being along went a long way towards making things better in his mind.
“Don’t be so dramatic, we’re just trying to fix some stuff and prevent things from getting worse around here.” Liz countered.
“Why you always gotta rag on Mark Liz? Lets save the world!” George hi-fived Mark and Liz rolled her eyes. Mark appreciated having some backup as well. Nothing left to say, Mike gestured over to the entrance to the dungeon suggesting that it was time to go in. He also raised his eyebrows to indicate that while saving the world was indeed over dramatic, the supposed effect of their actions would have widespread impacts and could dramatically improve the lives of many people across the globe. So, while not saving the world, it was certainly a big step forward in the development of humanities involvement with the system.
“How are you even doing that?” Mark was flabbergasted again by Mike’s strange communication style.
Mike just shrugged as they walked inside.