Following the trail of spilled oil from the attack site led the heroes to a small dirt road leading off the highway. Rosalie and Conrad’s keen eyes noticed disturbed dirt in the middle of the path, and a quick inspection turned up an improvised explosive device whose components Rasheed recognized as standard operating procedure for the IRA. A length of piano wire strung at neck-height in some nearby trees reinforced the idea that someone didn’t want to be followed.
The group disarmed the IED and took their humvee into the woods, slow and steady. Eventually, the dirt road intersected a small trail, which in turn emptied onto a worn-down country road that ended at a fence and gate. The gate was tripwired to an early-warning device that Rosalie disarmed. The group then continued on foot, soon noticing an acrid stink in the air that Governor Byrne recognized from his days as a police officer: the smell of cooking methamphetamines.
They stalked through the cold underbrush, arriving at a car graveyard, filled with junked automobiles, laid out behind a crumbling old country house. Nearby, a trailer gave off vapors and gases as meth was being made within. As they watched, a red-haired man came out of the trailer; before Conrad could take him out with a quick sniper shot, a young boy with a dog came around the house to hug him.
The heroes could make out some of the dialogue at a distance, and they realized that the killers were a family who had survived together through the apocalypse by preying on other survivors. Governor Byrne decided to approach the man openly while the others remained hidden. A tense dialogue ensued, with the man giving his name as Alec Connelly and demanding that Governor Byrne get off his property. Alec told his son to go back into the house, and Conrad soon saw another gun poke out of an upper-story window to take a bead on the governor.
The standoff lasted until Alec’s patience ran out, then a gunfight ensued. The barely-seen sniper took a shot at the governor, but was dropped by Conrad in turn. The governor grappled with Alec, and Doris ran to the house, only to be laid low by a shotgun blast from a teenaged boy. Doris laid there, struggling against both the pain and the emerging beast within her until Rasheed snuck up on the boy and disarmed him. The younger son came out of hiding, blasting with a pistol, only to be dropped in his tracks by Rosalie and her stungun.
Inside the house, Brad was coming to help Rasheed, but was somewhat stunned by the vast amount of supplies within. Fortunately, he wasn’t distracted enough to avoid seeing a teenage girl with a rifle coming up behind Rasheed. Brad disarmed her, only to find himself being pushed back by an insane unarmed assault. He lost his patience and clubbed her unconscious with the rifle butt, just as Rasheed was heading upstairs. Governor Byrne took out Alec and the dog, then came to help the recovering Doris bring down the oldest boy.
Upstairs, Rasheed found a woman laying dead with a bullet in her skull. He mourned the loss of life—until he realized that he couldn’t hear her in the Deadspeak. She wasn’t dead yet! He laid hands on her and called on his hoodoo powers to restore her, only to have her attack him as soon as she woke up. She fought like a wildcat, sure that the intruders were there to steal her family’s supplies, rape her and her daughter, and then kill them all.
Governor Byrne came upstairs to explain the truth of the matter: that they were scouts for a survivor community and were just following up on finding a group of dead travelers. The woman, Miranda Connelly, admitted to killing the travelers for their supplies, but she insisted that anyone would have done the same in her shoes. Governor Byrne retorted that others had made different, better choices—and Miranda coldly told him that she had seen those “better” choices end up with whole families dead. She would kill anyone she had to in order to keep her children alive.
As they talked, Miranda started to realize that the heroes were indeed representatives from a large community. She offered that she and her husband would submit to any punishment they wanted as long as they took her children back to safety. Rasheed was torn; on the one hand, the Connellys were killers, but on the other they were a family trying to stay together and stay alive. He went out to the unconscious Alec and used his powers to revive the man, figuring that any discussion about his fate had to include him.
Brad complained that Rasheed was using up all his hoodoo on criminals while he himself was still suffering in pain. While everyone else was occupied, Brad spent his time quietly looting the Connellys’ medical and food supplies, on account of “pain and suffering.” Doris took some basic medical treatment before going out to pacify the Connellys’ dog, a massive beast named Magnus. Ever since she had begun changing from the zombie plague, it seemed that animals were more in tune with her than ever, unlike the walking dead, who seemed to repulse them.
Conrad was somewhat relieved to not have to execute anyone on his first outing with a group he was rapidly coming to regard as dangerously idealistic. To keep himself busy, he scouted the area, finding a zombie caught up on the Connelly family fence—and more closing in behind it. Knowing that their moans and gunshots would both draw more, he opted to quickly put down all the present ones and deal with whatever came in the future.
Governor Byrne interviewed the Connellys, eventually getting out that Alec had been a teenaged gang member back in Northern Ireland during “the unpleasantness.” When the British government had reached a ceasefire agreement with the IRA in the mid-90s, Alec was going to have been handed over as part of a concession, but instead was sent to America to live with distant relatives. He drifted back into crime, eventually becoming a minor drug supplier, and married a woman with as spotty a criminal record as his own. While Alec and Miranda were criminals without a doubt, they had used all of their significant resourcefulness and ruthlessness to protect their three children—Finn, Flora, and Mitchell.
A long discussion between the governor and the Connelly family was had, at the end of which Governor Byrne decided that he couldn’t judge people for trying to survive—only for rejecting civilization when it was offered. If they came with the group to Allentown, here and now, he would officially pardon anything they had previously done in the name of survival. The only condition was that they would stop making meth; Alec agreed to burn down the trailer himself if the governor would take his children to safety.
The group decided to rest until light before making for Allentown. Rosalie and Rasheed busied themselves rebuilding one of the cars in the Connelly auto graveyard, since the hummer wouldn’t carry everyone. The Connellys packed as many supplies as possible, and watches were set. Unfortunately, well before midnight, the moaning of the walking dead became clearer. Deciding that they would rather abandon some of their supplies than risk being swarmed, everyone packed into the vehicles and got moving.
In the dark and cold, it was far too easy for the Connellys’ car to go off the road and get stuck in the mud. While everyone prepared themselves for a battle, spotlights came up in the woods! Help had arrived! As zombies were picked off by gunfire, Doris heard a familiar voice exhorting them to get back on the road and make for the highway. Their savior was none other than Mary Mathis, little sister of crazed prophet Elijah Mathis. She clearly hadn’t recognized the group, and her dialogue indicated that they had been looking for survivors in the area already when they stumbled onto the Connellys.
With the delay provided by Mary’s faithful, the survivors got the car back onto the road and took off, but not before Doris thanked Mary for her help. Suddenly realizing who she had been aiding, Mary seemed shocked and surprised, but wasn’t able to do anything about it before the heroes and their new guests took off into the night.
Back at Allentown, the Connellys were taken into the usual quarantine with no mention of their past or how they had come to be in the heroes’ care. Alec swore that he and his family would work to help their new community, but only time would tell how well that promise would be kept.
As the snow drifted in, the heroes realized that the mass of zombies around Allentown was only growing. Soon, if they didn’t take the fight to the enemy, they would be left facing a horde of unimaginable proportions, just waiting for the rivers to freeze over. Much discussion was had about the next step. Conrad started up a program to begin training Allentown’s survivors how to use their weapons and fight together, while Governor Byrne began outlining strategy to Samantha Lee and her assistants.
Some suggested making for Mount Weather to see if any remnants of the government could be found, while others thought an alliance with Mary Mathis and her faithful would be possible in the current circumstances. The idea of working with the Horsemen against the zombies was proposed, but not taken especially seriously; the Red King was simply too fearsome a figure to consider an alliance with.
Winter had come, and with it an air of desperation…