we know what's up. back off.
It was slow-going, hiking to the safe zone. He took his time, picking his way into promising houses one by one, stopping by any store he passed in hopes it hadn't been picked bare. Better to get there alive than starve halfway there. The further he went, though, the closer he got, the barer the pickings were. There were places considerate people had left signs, pointing those who came after in the right direction or marking houses as emptied out. Other places spoke for themselves, the windows broken in and rooms hollowed out, some burned out or torn apart from the inside out by inhuman claws. In some of them, especially the ones torn apart, the shadows grew deep long before they should have, and he looked away before he could make out the splatters from the shadows.
A haunting sound filled the air, suddenly, somewhere between a human scream, torn metal, and a wolf's howl. He froze and looked over his shoulder. One was near? That close? He reached over his shoulder and grabbed his gun, pulling it to the ready. He had no training in shooting; he'd found the shotgun in someone's house. He knew just enough to put the bullet in the right way around and pull the trigger, and to know that it'd be all but meaningless against one of them. Those things. The once-humans. Sometimes the loud noise distracted them, or the blast knocked them back far enough he could escape. Sometimes it didn't.
His back ached. He rolled out his shoulders and cracked his neck. It was fine. It was fine. The thing was probably just getting ready to sleep, just sounding out its territory before it settled down. Nothing to worry about.
A loud noise startled him, and he jumped, clutching the gun closer. They were that close? It came again, and he jumped again, but this time he recognized it. That wasn't one of the things, that was gunfire. Other people? He ran forward. He hadn't seen people in weeks. In forever. People, there were people! There were--
There were people. His back ached harder than before, and he cracked his neck again, nervous, then swallowed, his mouth suddenly full of saliva. People. Could--could he? What if they-- no. He shook his head. He had to go meet them. What if they had food? What if--he barely dared to think it--what if they were from the safe zone? He ran forward, hands tightening on his gun. Saviors! His saviors, they'd come at last!
And what if they were bandits?
He slowed, then, hesitating. But--but even bandits were better than no one. Yes. It didn't matter. He ran forward again, hurrying towards the gunshots as yet more went off. He needed to find people. People!
He came around the corner and saw them, all clustered together, two of the creatures pacing around them. One was low, with short legs and a slithery way of moving--almost like a lizard. The other was taller, reminiscent of the one who'd come crashing through his window the first night, only with a broader head and thicker legs. As he watched, the slithery one lunged at the people. No! No, not this time! He raised his shotgun. It shook in his hands, the barrel bouncing all over the place. No! What if he hit the people? He sucked in a deep breath and tried to steady his arms. He had to aim. Line up the shot. Even his breathing.
He didn't have time.
He shot towards the creatures, jerking the barrel far enough away that he knew he wouldn't hit the people. By some twist of fate, the spray of pellets hit the thick-egged one in the flank. It staggered, stepping on the slithery one, which yanked its head back and bit it on the leg in retaliation. The two screeched at each other with those horrible not-quite-human voices, and he waved, trying to get the guys' attention. "Hey!" he called, except his voice was so rusty with disuse only a dry cough came out.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat][Montserrat [b “Gonna be a cold one tonight.”] With a long, drawn out exhale, he squats down with sword - still in pommel – lain across his shoulders. Muscles stretch, bones pop, shoulder aches. The latter originates from his subconscious. The scar that runs the length of his right arm a dark reminder of just what he and his team face each time they venture out from the safezone.
[+red “Think it'll be a quiet night Sir?”] The young man behind him, voice close to cracking with anticipation, looks over to the grizzled veteran before him. In his mind he finds humour in such a remark; a veteran? He has only been doing this two months. Yet the survival rate was just that low.
[b “Always hope for a quiet night Eps. But I think hope left the moment these things arrived.”] He turns from side to side and the motion brings several more satisfying clicks and pops. Pushing himself upright once more he steps back over toward the table where the younger male had been collating through supplies for the evening.[b “I'll finish packing up. Go make sure Theta and Kap are ready – tell them we leave in ten. I'll meet you by the southern gate.”] The young man salutes, unnecessarily, before turning and leaving in a quiet manner.
Packing and sealing away the two small backpacks took a minute, two tops. However he spent several moments in quiet solitude staring down at his hands. Scarred in multiple places and many still freshly stitched together. As he went to place the last water bottle inside the water inside shimmered and the bottle trembled in his right hand.
Often the involuntary movements are manageable and a quick flex of fingers calms his nerves. But now and again the tremors are violent, the spasms greater and thus harder to control. Placing the bottle quickly into the bag he wrings his hands as if to wash it of the disturbing tick.
Ten minutes later and he is handing off a bag to the young man, Epsilon. The names were chosen by the Overseers. If everyone went by a codename it was easier to forget them when they inevitably died. This was the fourth Epsilon. There was even less hope this teen would last his first week.
[b “Okay, we're heading south tonight. Down the Montague Highway, 'bout five miles. Got a tip that there's an old lady who stored a lot of shit over the years; typical granny syndrome. Tried to feed everyone even though no-one visits.”]
He is flicking through paperwork, auburn eyes picking out the main details. Pulling the young man to him, he uses him as a makeshift wall to tick off multiple check boxes. The government may be gone, but bureaucracy lived on strong. Flipping the pages back over he stuffs the pages into the mans bag and pats his back.
[+blue “Well, guess tonight she'll finally get a visitor.”] The other man in the quartet, Theta, grins at his own poor joke which only young Epsilon breaks a smile for. The others are quite immune to his puns, particularly Kappa, the brooding woman quite adept at her job whilst maintaining some semblance of respect for what they were doing.
[b “As ever, shut the fuck up Theta.”] His grin disappeared.[b “Also, same rules apply tonight as they do every night. Keep quiet. Keep alert. Theta watch the rear, Eps keep an eye on the rooftops, Kappa stick with me. Keep your guns drawn and ready at all times but for fuck sake, draw your damn Crit if one of those things is almost on your ass.”] Crit, short for Critical, the name given to the edged blades all of them carried for the sole reason that they could kill these creatures as if it were a Critical in a video game. Crude, but it stuck well with the youngsters in his command.[b “If I catch you toying with them again Theta I'm going to ram your Crit up your ass sideways. Come on.”]
He clicks his tongue, gesturing up to the man stood on the parapet above them. The gate was sturdy. Several inches of thick steel. And at twelve feet high it was nigh-on impossible to scale it's sheer fronting. With the go-ahead from the leader, the man on the gate began to draw back one of the doors, only partially of course, allowing the group out into the dying sunlight and into certain danger.
Light. Cold. The two hit him in sync, the transition from sleep to waking sudden, not subtle. Next was hunger, hunger that surged in his stomach and raged; he squeezed his eyes shut and waited, biting his lip, until it settled into a dull ache. Something he could deal with. It never went away these days, not entirely. He doubted it would ever again. Since the supermarkets had gone dark and their contents had begun to rot, since the scavengers who survived the days rampaged through them at night, there was little in the way of food around. There were days when he'd eaten grass, just to put something in his stomach. Rats looked downright palatable, and he longed for the day when he could get his hands on another one. Or a deer. He'd kill for deer.
He sat up, climbing slowly off the bed. It was a nice one, big and soft; most places had good sleeping, if only because no looter was going to drag away a whole mattress. His back ached despite everything, but his back always ached.
If he didn't think about it, it didn't hurt so bad.
This house was one of the ones that had survived almost unscathed; no one had been infected inside it. He'd even had to pick a lock to get in. But there was no food. Wherever the inhabitants were, they'd taken their food with them. Probably made a dash for the safe zone; everyone had. Him included. His eyes were drawn to a portrait; a man, a woman, two children, all of them smiling and laughing. Quietly, he looked at it, almost mesmerized by the happiness in the frame. He wondered if they had. If they'd made it.
He hoped they had.
Glass shattered, the windshield splintering, buckling in, a body flung into the car. Breaks squealing, an earth-shattering thud as they struck the lightpost. And screaming, someone was screaming, they were all screaming, the body strewn through the car, blood splattering his face, warm, blood that might be his, that tasted of salt and copper. The world slowed, rushing in and out of focus. He was still holding the steering wheel. Numbly, he let go, glanced back--and it moved, it had moved, the body collecting itself, healing itself, his friends fleeing the car as the body became no man but instead a monster, plated with armor and splattered with its own too-dark blood. It had almost reminded him of a dog, with a muzzle and four legs, though a sick dog, emaciated, bony plating layered at vital points, down its spine, over human skin pulled taut. And then it bit, straight through the seat in front of it, and blood, blood, [i blood--]
He blinked, coming back to himself, and backed away. His chest ached, and he shook his head, denying it. No. They'd made it. He believed in them, in those smiling people.
The sun was setting. It was time to move. The creatures were most active at day; some were active at night as well, but they were more sluggish then. Easier to outrun. He gathered up his gear, backpack settling heavily on his shoulders, canteen clunking against his hip. Once, they'd felt heavy. Now, he barely registered the weight, grooves worn in his shoulders where the straps settled. No food today. None to spare. He could go another day before he ate from his reserves, and perhaps today he'd get lucky. Find food. His stomach ached at the thought, and he pressed a hand to it. Better not to hope for food.
If he didn't think about it, it didn't hurt so bad.
Sucking water from the canteen, he checked his compass. That way. Onward, ever onward, towards the safe zone, in hopes that it still existed. He shoved his feet into his boots, pulled his hat on, and left the house, slipping out the back door and closing it behind him. The sun was still setting, but with any luck, the creatures would have settled in for the night. He hadn't seen any in the area yesterday--but he knew his luck. His back ached, and he grimaced. Yeah, he knew his luck. Never came out good.
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