*WARNING! Violence ahead, read at your own risk*
The humvee lurches as we drive over the decrepit, empty road. I keep my gaze wandering, never settling on one spot for too long. You never know what can suddenly appear in these dark times.
As if hearing my thoughts, just ahead a revenant stumbles out from the parking lot of an abandoned convenience store. A bullet implants itself between it’s ghost white eyes before it registers us approaching. It slumps, unmoving as I lift the barrel towards the sky. A grunt echoes from my left, and I turn to see Daniel nod. “Nice shot.” Is all he says, and I nod in reply. My leg dangles from the vehicle as we continue past the store.
We know there’s no use stopping there since Daniel and I emptied it a week ago. The store ahead was most likely no better, but we don’t have a choice now. Hunters may be lurking about in such a big store, but we were now out of food at the campsite, and the garden was not yet ready to harvest. Before I can think on it more, another revenant appears, a friend in tow. I growl, feeling pressure starting to build in my mind. Suddenly, one of the undead stiffens. It’s eyes change from off white to electric blue. Out of nowhere, it turns on its acquaintance and begins tearing it apart, limb for limb. I reach down between the frame of the vehicle and the seat I was in. My hand wraps around a leather hilt, and I lift a large machete. Just as we drive past the ‘feast’, I lean out and slice the head of the attacker clean off.
I carefully pull myself back into the vehicle, and wipe blood from the blade. I hear Daniel make a gag noise. “Never get used to the smell….” I barely hold back a laugh. “Well, be glad I don’t get injured easily anymore.” He grows quiet at that, and I realize what I had reminded him of. ‘Way to go, Aria. Ruin the mood.’ I huff, and sit back. “Sorry… I didn’t mean-”
“No… No it’s not.”
We stay quiet as we near the larger store. The sign was only a few letters now, the rest destroyed on the ground or stolen. Slight indignation crawls up my spine. ‘Who steals a Shirebrook Sister’s sign letter?’
Then again, who in their right mind would approve of genetic testing on the deceased to bring them back as weapons of mass destruction?
As the engine dies, I step out quietly. On autopilot, I head to the now open tailgate and sling on a large forest green backpack. My hand slides to my hip, where a suppressed handgun was, then it double checks the grenades on my other hip. Two round, one slender. My gaze swivels to Daniel, who locks eyes with me. He nods, and I return the gesture.
Then, we bolt towards the entrance.
The run was easy for me, despite the body armor and rifle in my hands. Daniel was holding out well, but he was taking deep breaths by the time we made it in the store. Together, we switch on lights, but we still say nothing. He motions that he will be heading to the right, and I should take the left. “Grab what you can, stash and flash.” I only nod and disappear into the dark abyss. My light darts over empty shelves, moldy produce, and empty fridges. I start to feel anger rise when I suddenly spot a shelf with a few canned goods on it. I silently praise God and move to the shelf. I raise my hand to grab one, when I feel my blood run colder than it already was.
A fishing wire glints in the light. It was leading from the can to the back of the shelf, and vanishing into the wall. A growl threatens to slip from my throat, but I hold it back and check the other cans. A few more were rigged as well, but others were safe. After carefully marking them with red sharpie, I stash them into the pack and move carefully around to the other aisle. As I suspected, multiple grenades were strung up, pins ready to be pulled if one of the cans were moved. I let out an odd whistle, and Daniel is next to me in a minute. He lets out a low growl, and I nod.
“Hunters. We need to move.”
He says nothing, but nods. We carefully retrace my path out of the store, and let out a breath neither of us knew we were holding. Cautiously, we return to our army grade vehicle and give in a once over. When we are satisfied that it will not explode the moment we turn the nob, we set off from the store with partially full bags of food. On our voyage home, I keep the revenants and undead off our trail, taking them out one by one with a single .22 to the noggin. Thankfully, that movie troupe was not just for entertainment purposes.
A large revenant appears, bulky and mostly in one piece. He meant trouble, and I raise the rifle once more. I lock on, sights set on the unibrow that grazed his eyes. My finger slowly starts to pull the trigger.
Abruptly, searing pain slams against the back of my eyes. I nearly drop the gun, my left hand lifting to hold my head. Daniel shouts my name, and I shake the pain away as best as possible. ‘Wasn’t expecting him to return so soon…’ I regain my sights as we drive closer to the large undead, and let loose the round. The monster crashes to the ground with a sickening thud. Pulling my leg and rifle back in, I find myself leaning forward and planting my head in my hands.
“He’s back, isn’t he?”
I don’t reply at first. We weren’t ready for this. I hadn’t learned to control this infection enough to beat him… but I was alone last time… I lift my head. My gaze meets Daniel’s. I can’t ask for his help. His wife and kids back home need him more than they need me. This fight may very well be my last…
“Don’t even think about doing this alone!”
I smirk, and simply nod. ‘Stubborn mule…’
“Alright, but don’t you dare try to do something stupid if-”
“I know, I know! Now climb to the back! I brought the ‘new toy’ in case somethin’ like this happened!”
My eyes widen, and I turn to spot the large rectangular case hidden beneath a strapped down tarp. A smile crosses my face, but it wasn’t one of joy, but of sorrow. My eyes fall on Daniel again, and I softly speak. “Be careful…” His only show of hearing me is a nod, and I scurry to the back. As I do, I take a quick peek over the back of the humvee, and suddenly wish I hadn’t.
Nearly thirty revenants were pursuing us, bright blue eyes glowing. They were snarling and rushing after us at a rate that shouldn’t be possible with mangled legs. I lift my gaze, and glare further back, at a small dot on the horizon. It stood at the top of the hill, nearly two miles from us now, but it’s bright electric eyes were unmistakable.
It was him.
I snarl and rip the case from under the tarp, undoing the locks in record time. Lifting the lid, I reveal the ‘new toy’.
A .50 caliber BMG rifle, rigged with API.
Armor piercing incendiary.
With ease, I lift it with one hand and open the bolt. I slap the first round into it and slam the bolt home. Raising my leg to rest my elbow on, I move my head against the cheek weld on the stock. I can see the reflection of my own blue eyes glaring back as I stare through the sight. He was still standing at the top of the hill, but with the fancy scope, I could see every detail of him. His unnatural eyes glowing in the dying light. Right arm holds crackles of the same color, while the left is missing. Tattered jeans were the only clothing he wore.
No hesitation is in me as I pull the trigger. The recoil barely affects me, and I am quick to load another round as I see him move.
I had missed.
A growl grows in me, and I find him once more, but much closer. He was now just behind his undead army. I suck in a breath and feel my mind strain. Four undead abruptly turn on their brethren, and begin attacking them viciously. I struggle to keep my sanity in check as I search for Aranite once more. Now he was in the middle of his slowly thinning pack, and I release the next round. It skims his shoulder, and I see the ‘I’ of the API round slightly kick in as smoke rises from the wound. His growl echoes in my mind, and I tense up.
‘No! Don’t freeze now! Snap out of it!’
I shake myself free of the trance, and open the bolt once more. The closer he got, the easier it would be to relieve him of his head. However, that also meant more room for error and danger should I miss. I knew he wouldn’t make the same mistake again, so I fake putting a round into the weapon. Instead, I load a blank and fire the moment his head comes into view.
As suspected, he drops from the sight of the scope, and I quickly stand. My gaze lifts to the sky, where his body was blocking out the last of the sunlight. My hand was already drawing the Volquartsen Scorpion from the holster. I let off a round a moment too late, as he was faster than I anticipated. It plants itself harmlessly in his side, only causing him mild discomfort.
He crashes down on top of me, and I grunt when my spine slams against the metal roof support. A screech is released from my lips as he bites down on my shoulder. His claw like nails dig into my side for grip, and I struggle to fight back. The gun had fallen from my hand, and I couldn’t bite back. Instead, I reach into my pocket and whip out my knife. With lightning speed, I slam it several times into his neck and shoulder. This successfully makes him release my shoulder to howl in pain.
I drop the knife and wrap both hands around his neck. Fingers press against pressure points, and his nails slide from my side. I whirl around to throw him off, and at first I think I have succeeded…
Until I hear the ‘shink’ of a pin being pulled from a grenade.
With seconds to react, I rip it from my hip and lob it behind the vehicle. It detonates close enough to push me back against the railings. Before I can fully recover, hands grip my shoulders and wrench me from the security of the vehicle.
My back cracks against the ground, and inertia keeps me rolling for a moment. As I slow to a stop, I roll one more time as a fist crashes into the spot I had been in only a moment before. I spring to my feet and duck as a revenant dives at me. Another tries to slice a piece from my arm, and I ram my fist through its chest. Ripping it out, I shout as one bites down on my already eaten shoulder. My grip on its throat crushes it, and I swing it around to knock a few more on coming undead away. When released, it takes out three more undead with the force behind their friend’s flying body.
Huffing for air, I feel my grip on sanity start to loosen again as I command three of the revenants around me to fall into line by my side. They oblique and turn on their own, and I wrestle with the virus pumping in me, threatening to take over.
“Ah, Aria…. We meet again.”
‘Oh great, a cliche villain. So original…’
I withhold my chuckle as Aranite walks through the crowd. He stands before me, head slightly tilted up as if he was the one in charge. I hold back a snarl, and he snickers.
“You have been…. An entertaining challenge… None of those I infect have ever been able to cause this much damage…”
He gestures to his missing appendage, and I smirk.
“I’ll have you know, it was rather delicious when roasted over an open flame.”
His eyes narrow, but he attempts to keep his composure. “You figured out the secret I see.” I give him no satisfaction by replying, and he only nods.
“No matter. I am through with this game. I am giving you two options, and I know you’ll choose the one that benefits all in the end.”
It is my turn to narrow my eyes, and he devilishly smiles. His hand lifts to gesture behind me, and I turn slowly, one eye still able to see his frame. However, the sight I find myself gazing at steals my attention.
Daniel, my mentor and closest friend, was trapped atop the humvee, a pistol in hand. Undead were swarming in below, a few attempting to climb in and over the back of it. He was taking them out one by one, but I could only see one full mag left on his belt.
“Let me complete my mission, and I shall let him return to his family.”
My cold heart stops, and I find myself locking my eyes with Daniel’s as Aranite speaks this. The man tries to say something, but my mind was reeling. ‘He’s lying. He’ll never let him go… But what choice do I have?’
“Or, you have a time limit to fight me before he becomes revenant chowder.”
This makes me snarl, and I turn on him. The undead beside me echo the sound, and Aranite lifts his hands as if to seem innocent. “You have the choice to make… And a limited amount of time to make it.”
He was right, but I had a card up my sleeve. The gamble was large, and it could cause more harm than any of the other two options could…
But I was never one to take the easy road.
Aranite tilts his head, obviously confused. “No? You rather him join our ranks?”
I snarl at him again and take a step forward. Surprisingly, the monster before me steps back. Even his mindless soldiers mimic this movement. Pain is starting to gather in my mind, and a frail string holding my sanity up is fraying.
I have no choice...
Suddenly, the eyes of all the undead around us that were under Aranite’s control flash. Slowly, they begin to move. Aranite sees this, and his eyes widen in shock. I say nothing, only gasping for air and hunching over in pain. It was starting to become too much. There were only fifteen around me, but each held a grudge against this monster before us.
Said monster growls.
“You can’t control them all! They will consume you! You’ll never s-”
I let out an animalistic snarl and the revenants charge forward, interrupting the monologue. ‘I hate cliche villains…’ Is the last human thought that runs through my mind before...
A heartbeat reverberates in my ears.
My eyes widen. I feel my pupils shrink in the striking blue irises. My cold heart beats faster.
This wasn’t my heartbeat. This one was fresh. Alive. Human.
I could hear him yelling before my eyes meet his. The fear in his gaze seems to stir something within me.
‘This… all seems… familiar…’
I feel my legs move. I’m standing. I take a step.
My eyes are now gazing down the barrel of a gun.
‘No… no, no, nonono! Snap out of it! Stop!’
‘No! No, wake up! Fight it!’
“Aria! Don’t make me do this again, please!”
His cries finally break through to me, but the undead are nearing me now, having finished off the last of Aranite’s body. They could hear it as well. Their thoughts were my own, and I could no longer withhold them from fresh meat.
Just as I begin to snarl, it contorts into a screech of pain as the gun goes off. My cold heart struggles to beat as the bullet clean cuts through the center of it. The last thing my eyes see is Daniel shouting and the undead rushing away. Without my control over them, they return to their original hunting grounds, and I feel my cold blood begin to spill on the pavement below. Footsteps echo in my ears, and I crack open my eyes.
Daniel is crouched over me, but I can’t speak. Crimson mixed with cobalt blue was spilling from my lips at the moment, and my mind was still struggling to regain a mild touch of sanity. When I finally can form words, they make Daniel smile in relief.
“.... That sucked.”