... As we continued on past a scorched highway sign, I could barely make out the words 'Welcome to Shrewsbury' before we took in the devastated area of Greater Worcester.
"Damn," I whispered under my breath.
It was apparent that the wildlife on earth had begun to mutate. The worrying aspect was the fact that these mutations were wholly unlinked to the game of Holy Arc Online, and likely many of the monsters we'd end up facing in the future will be unknowns to both Kevin and I. Granted, the system is still the same, so I doubt the differences will be dramatic, but regardless, it presents its own dangerous problem.
As we neared our turnoff from the Turnpike into Shrewsbury, the extent of the damage was surreal. The rising sun only served to highlight the destruction caused by the Demon's descent. It was this scene that turned my thoughts back to Boston. What was it like back there? We left before things became terrible... I thought. Considering the destruction here in the Worcester area I could only imagine what Boston may look like now. With the Demon Champion having apparently made his way towards Boston, it would seem that they may be establishing their presence in the area before any further advances. While this certainly posed problems for the future, for now, we would welcome the respite. The best we could do would be to find my brother and my family and somehow prepare ourselves for that eventuality.
As we progressed through Shrewsbury, it was apparent just how much damage was done. All around us the trees were burnt husks, which extended for at least several miles around the highway before they must have suddenly petered off. To my glee, I noticed that there were a few drops of rain falling onto the windshield, slowly washing away the soot that had gathered onto it.
As we neared the partly burned Shrewsbury shopping mall, with its burned up Staples and Stop and Shop, we turned off of the Turnpike onto Grafton st, we began to meander through the neighborhoods. There were dead everywhere, as well as the wreckages of cars. It got to the point where I turned away from the carnage to look forward in front of us and concentrate on keeping an eye out for any dangers.
It was then that Rachel and Jackson began to stir. The soldier in the back seat was still completely out, however, with Rachel and Jackson's awakening, so too came their questions.
"A-Are we in Shrewsbury?" Rachel groggily asked as she began to look out the window.
I nodded back at her, "Yep, we should be getting to Alex's place in just a few minutes."
As we neared the intersection of Main st. where the town library was, the air noticeably cooled, until there was a chill in the air. Upon seeing my breath I could tell something was wrong. If that wasn't a sign enough, there was a noticeable line ahead of us where the fire spread appeared to come to a complete stop.
"What the hell..?" Kevin said, as he began to shiver while driving the Humvee. "Wait.. What's that?"
"What's what?" both Rachel and I asked in return, as both of us and Jackson followed Kevin's gaze, it became apparent what had caught his attention.
Ahead of us, nearing the intersection was the silhouette of a man. He looked disheveled, but after a few moments of our stares, his head turned towards us, and what we saw gave all four of us noticeable chills.
Staring right back at us were glowing blue eyes, and it was immediately clear that it was another undead, similar to the one that we had encountered the other day when the rifts had initially opened up.
Just as it caught sight of our approach, the reanimated corpse opened up its mouth to an impossibly wide degree, and then it screeched.
It was more like an extremely loud groan, however, we could clearly hear it, and as soon as the noise reverberated throughout our surroundings, I saw movement all around us. More undead began to stream from the surrounding buildings, that were still, surprisingly intact. It became clear rather quickly that we had just entered a Mana Zone, and if the chill in the air around us was any indicator it clearly possessed a frost archetype.
In Holy Arc Online, Mana Zones had the characteristic of acting as a surface dungeon. The undead brought back a vague memory, of when I had last visited Alex nearly half a year ago. I regretted not visiting them more often, but I was frequently caught up in my own projects or schoolwork in general. I knew there was a cemetery quite close to their house, and the evidence of such only made the reality more apparent. It was a bitter-sweet realization, as the mana zone had effectively halted the spread of the fires with the consequence of extreme cold. The Demons hadn't made it this far into Shrewsbury that much was clear. Likely believing that the Mana Zone would handle any survivors for them.
The good news about this though was that the Mana Zone was young, not even able to form a leyline. It was hardly even a day old, so the undead that were spawned would hardly do much damage, at least to somebody of my attribute strengths. In fact, it may even pose a blessing in disguise as they would be perfect for grinding, as long as the hordes were kept manageable.
Undead, while doable to fight individually, they became much more difficult when they swarmed. If we were able to capitalize on it, then we could possibly use the mana zone to our advantage, grinding against them would help dramatically when it came to increasing experience gains at the lower levels, plus their supply of mana stones would be incredibly useful when it came to making items in the future if we managed to begin magic-crafting that is. One could hope though, I mentally shrugged.
For now, though, their presence would pose a problem for reaching Alex. Driving right next to the cemetery was a sure as hell way to bring out hundreds of the dead against us, and quite frankly I didn't want them to be spoiling our reunion.
"Kevin, stop the car and turn around, going through will pose a much larger problem than I am willing to deal with right now," I said as I looked at Kevin who had already slowed the Humvee to crawl.
Kevin, seemingly in complete agreement smiled, "Yes sir!" he exclaimed jokingly.
I smiled. At least he's keeping his jovial personality intact.
As Kevin deftly turned around the car, it was apparent that it was the right decision as soon as I looked behind us. There were already several dozen of the undead swarming onto the street, and likely nearly a hundred more that would soon join them. Leaving was undeniably for the best.
As we went back down the road about a half-mile, we turned left down a side street that would eventually take us a fair distance around the cemetery before circling back above it near Alex's house. While the detour took us nearly fifteen minutes, we only ever saw any more undead in the distance, and never got close enough to catch their attention.
Circling around it was clear that we were moving through the border of what would be considered the Mana Zone and the area scorched by the fires. As we finished circling around, we hit the turn back onto the street adjacent to Prospect Park. It was interesting to see how the Mana Zone had also ended up acting as a barrier to the fires spreading beyond it, and so the park was largely untouched, even if part of it was still likely situated within the zone. Without much more of interest happening, and as I continued to direct Kevin, we pulled into Alex's driveway. The first thing that I noticed were the two undead present, their forms gave me a slight scare, but I quickly deduced that they were nobody I knew, and examining Alex's house, I saw the windows had been boarded up, and there were no signs of any type of forced entry.
I motioned for Kevin to stop the car about thirty feet up the driveway before the Undead noticed us. I'd rather not grant them another chance to alert our presence to more undead. Their screams could pull in more of them from up to a mile away.
As Kevin came to a stop, I whispered, "Stay here guys, I'm going to go out there and make sure there isn't anything else besides the two corpses."
Rachel looked at me worryingly, "Thomas..-"
"Rachel," I stopped her before she could continue. "This isn't like what happened on the bridge, besides. I'm much stronger now. So don't worry." I reassured her as I climbed out of the car. Pulling my new sword out from where I had placed in next to the passenger seat, I gripped it with apparent confidence.
In all truth, I was still intimidated by what I needed to do, even though I knew I was much stronger than any low-leveled undead, so they shouldn't pose much of an issue. I quickly appraised my sword was again, as well as the unaware undead.
Name: Enchanted Fine Steel Blade
Info: A blade fashioned of fine steel. It has been enchanted with minor sharpness and toughness runes, increasing the attack and durability values. Most certainly a prized possession for any Tier 1 melee combatant.
Name: Reanimated Decomposing Corpse
Info: This corpse was laid to rest for a long-time before being reanimated.
The second corpse on the other hand was what concerned me even more, as its implications were quite disturbing.
Name: Reanimated Corpse
Info: This corpse was only recently laid to rest, and reanimated quickly thereafter.
I knew that quite frequently people who had died in the game would rise up, however never this quickly, I expected at the very least a week before we'd start seeing undead outside of Mana Zone's like this, however, this was much quicker than I imagined. The only likely conclusion was that the Mana Zone quickened the reanimation process, and more worryingly was the added strength that was provided. Luckily it was only level 1, but at higher levels, it could much a much more dangerous issue.
As of right now, it was still not a threat, to me at least. My most recent status increase made sure of that, especially after my recent attribute distribution.
Name: Thomas Parker [Genesis]
Tier 1 - [Juvenile High-Human Paragon] Level: 4 | Experience: 34.50 / 198.38
Titles: High-Human Paragon | Genesis
Health 204/204 ( +31 / hour )
Stamina 162/162 ( +27 / hour )
Mana 200/200 ( +31 / hour )
Free Attribute Points: 6
Appraisal - Level 2
Basic Sword Proficiency - Level 2
Basic Mana Manipulation - Level 1
Basic Elemental Affinity - Level 1
- Fire Elemental Affinity - Level 1
- Water Elemental Affinity - Level 1
- Earth Elemental Affinity - Level 1
- Air Elemental Affinity - Level 1
Leadership - Level 1
Paragon's Influence - Level 1
- Paragon's Tether
- Paragon's Charge
- Paragon's Bestowal
??? - Level 1
Free Skill Points: 3
With my newfound strength, I wanted to test it out, and there was no better subject than the undead that would likely threaten my family if left alone.
I quickly approached the undead, walking up the driveway into the front yard of Alex's house. The yard wasn't very large, most of it being occupied by the larger house itself. However, my brother had taken the time to plant some meandering trees and the occasional line of shrubbery. Not doing much to conceal my movement, I made my way forward, I wouldn't be giving them enough time to screech anyways. So, with a resolute determination, I wielded my enchanted blade. It was truly a fine sword, much better than likely most blacksmiths had created even in our world. Its enchanted nature definitely served the purpose of increasing its value.
When I was within a few feet of the first decomposing corpse, it finally began to turn around. It was already too late however as with one swing of my [Enchanted Fine Steel Blade] I felled it, the head coming to a roll several feet away. I was rewarded with a notification that I swiftly dismissed. The commotion was enough to alert the second undead though, as it too turned around, and upon noticing me began to sprint towards me.
"No yell, huh?" I muttered to the undead. "I wouldn't have it any other way anyhow."
As it neared me, I positioned myself for a swing. However, to my surprise, the undead made an effort to dodge the position of my swing as it evaded to the left. At my level though, I was able to quickly correct my swing and found myself slashing through the [Reanimated Corpse]'s waist.
The Undead, despite being quite dead, almost appeared to make a comical expression of being dazed. As the two halves fell to the ground, I could see the faint glow still present in the eyes of the undead. With only its upper torso remaining, it began to crawl slightly towards me, still intent on winning an impossible battle. I positioned myself as I quickly stepped to its side, and before it could even touch me, I thrust my blade down and through its skull. With a small flash, I saw the light fade from its eyes.
Despite the obvious difference in potential difficulty, the experience rewards were the same for common monsters.
Level 1 [Reanimated Decomposing Corpse] defeated.
10 experience points received.
44.50 / 198.38 experience points until Level 5
Level 1 [Reanimated Corpse] defeated.
10 experience points received.
54.50 / 198.38 experience points until Level 5
I'd take what I could get, however, and the ease by which I dispatched them was evident by the experience gain. I then knelt down and plucked the mana stone from its split skull.
Just as I finished my examination, I heard Kevin pull the Humvee forward and settle to a stop next to me. As he turned off the vehicle, they all climbed out, leaving Tucker inside.
Everyone looked quite disheveled, especially after such a rough night. Despite her messy and unkempt hair, Rachel still caught my eye. I couldn't help but at the very least feel grateful that the apocalypse had decided to happen while she was by my side. I would have worried much more had she been back on the West Coast. Luckily enough, however, everyone that I genuinely cared about was with me, and the excitement only increased as I anticipated my reunion with my family.
I made my way to the front door and tried it. Of course, it's locked, I realized.
After a few relatively quiet knocks we waited.
It took about a minute before any signs of life inside began to make themselves known. Looking down at my watch I realized it was just past 6:30 in the morning, so of course, they wouldn't exactly be up and about.
In the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a motion behind one of the barricaded-up windows, and a few moments later I heard shifting around inside before the sound of furniture moving.
"They must have really locked themselves up inside," I laughed along with the other three.
A quick glance around showed that everyone was pretty happy to at least see the end somewhat insight. Jackson on the other hand looked almost uncomfortable.
"Jackson," I called out. "What's wrong?"
He looked surprised at first, and then slightly ashamed as he noticed I had caught him. In fact, he had been fairly quiet ever since last night now that I thought about it. I'll have to check up with everyone to make sure they are all doing well after everything that's happened. After all, only Kevin and I have any real idea what's really been happening.
"I just... You know I'm grateful to ya'll right?" After I nodded, he continued. "It's just, I feel like I may end up being more of a bother than anything else. I followed you without realizing what would happen, and now that we're all here, I don't want to give off the impression that I'd be trying to freeload or anythin'," he finished.
I was quite surprised, and the look on my face showed as Jackson quickly became embarrassed. "Jackson," I said, "You're as part of our group as anyone else is, and of course you're welcomed with us. What kind of man would I be if I just up and turned you away? Don't ever feel like you['ll be a bother. As of right now, you'll likely be considered as much of a part of the family as anyone else." I said matter-of-factly. Even though he tried to hide it, I could tell that Jackson appreciated my affirmation of his value to the group. Glancing at Rachel, I could tell she approved of my remark by her smile.
Her smile brought a smile to my own face just as the movement behind the door finally ceased, and after the bolt slid off, the door opened and behind it, I could see the massive smile on my older, and larger brother's face. "Welcome home brother." Alex grinned, his bright countenance instantly lightening everyone's mood.
"How's it been, Alex?" I responded, "we've got a lot to talk about, don't we?"
Alex's grin only expanded, "I can't agree more."
It was then I noticed the several unknown faces behind him. A large African-American man, two younger Hispanic-looking guys, as well as the beaming face of my own Father. I only raised my brow quizzically at Alex in response to the new faces.
However, I couldn't be happier knowing that my family was safe and that finally there was some great news ahead of us. The next few days would prove crucial to our future.
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Bio: Just a little about myself, I am twenty-three years old, I have a bachelor's degree in Political Science, American Government & Pre-law with a minor in History. I am also planning on starting my second bachelor's degree here in the Fall and get a degree in Computer Science and eventually, a master's in Cybersecurity. I lived on the East Coast in Boston during my late teens and early twenties for three years, inspiring my decision to base the story in the New England area. Why am I writing Genesis though? Because I have a reading addiction. Which apparently has now led to a writing addiction.