Not Like Them (Peregrine x ChanceRP)

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Peregrine, Apr 27, 2014.

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  1. This far away from the Walls of an Elite community it couldn't even really be called a town. No, it was too small for that. Even village would have been flattering. All the same, it was a small group of humanity that had managed to survive, isolated from most of society, long enough for their walls to become sturdy. It would have to do.

    Sir approached the village openly, doing nothing to try and conceal his six foot frame and the massive military pack that rode on his hips. His shoulders were back and relaxed, his hands swung openly by his side. Everything about him spoke of a simple traveler, someone aiming to do no harm. At the same time, there was little he could do to appear harmless. No one who traveled alone through these lands was to be ignored. Even those who traveled within the relative security of a group were to be watched warily, for without some means of defending themselves any traveler would be easy picking for the roaming hordes of infected.

    Despite his relaxed appearance, Sir was hardly calm. He focused on everything around him with the kind of attention that could only be born from having to fight every day for your own survival. Mostly, he studied the guards who stood watch on the perimeter fence. Even from this distance he could see the barrels in their hand. Should they choose to open fire he would have only a split second to react. Most likely they would not lead with such aggressive action. Ammunition of any sort was precious, not to be wasted on someone who could be chased away by other means. But there was no telling who these people were, not when they where this far from the last bastions of what could even remotely be called polite society. No one was foolish enough to try and ply an illegal trade right under the noses of the Elite. They might trade around an Elite city, but anything else was far too reckless. That meant that the only places they could do their work was in the wilderness. Even most thieves and drug lords wouldn’t waste the ammo, but you never knew when someone was going to get an itchy finger. If, for whatever reason, they thought that Sir was here on a mission from an Elite city, they wouldn’t hesitate to try and dispose of him. After all, he was only a stranger.

    When he got a little closer, however, Sir realized that this community was hardly the base of any malignant operation. For one thing, the guards up on the wall had only just noticed him. The young man who had apparently overlooked him three times suddenly let out a shout and pulled his weapon, pointing it at Sir. There was a sudden buzz of activity, the sound of loitering people racing away for safety. That alone would have been enough to tell him that this was just a group of people, desperately trying to survive after having fled from the abuse around the outskirts of an Elite community. But, two steps later, any trace of doubt was erased from his mind. In his hand, the young guard clutched at the grip of an illegal Elite grade gun. If Sir were to head to the nearest Elite City, he could report the presence of those guns, and almost certainly earn a handsome reward. A group of soldiers would be sent out to recollect the guns, and remind everyone what it meant to break the rules. Any organized group might have the weapons, but they would never be foolish or trusting enough to reveal it to someone who was still free enough to turn tail and flee.

    But the Elite guns did two things for Sir. First, they explained how such a small group had been able to survive alone for so long. Second, they made it far more certain that Sir would be able to get what he needed, and perhaps more, from the place.

    Normally, Sir would have been just as happy to pass over a place like this. Most of them were either too small to have anything worth trading, or too hostile for it to be worth it to draw close. But Sir had been roaming for just over two months now, supplementing his food supply whenever possible, but never staying in one place for any longer than the time it would take him to rest. If he didn’t resupply soon he would have to make a more permanent camp. And that would mean competing with any local infected for whatever limited food supply was in the area. It was far better to initiate trade with anyone who had the supplies. His fingers brushed lightly against one of his hidden pockets, where rested a carefully packaged lump. The little electric “gems” that resided within the infected brains was one of the most valued pieces of currency since the last of the petroleum products were used up only a few years after the infected began to rule the world. And the reason Sir roamed the world, unguarded and unprotected, was to collect those little gems. Most communities were more than willing to trade with him, considering that almost all of the luxury items, lights, stoves, heaters, and the like were powered by the infected gems. But the other thing that was powered by the gems was the Elite guns; the guns that this community relied on to stay alive. They would need gems. How long they had been out here, how many infected had dared to challenge their walls, and how skilled their people were at extracting the gems intact, would determine exactly how badly they needed them.

    By the time he made it up to the gate a small group of young soldiers had swarmed, speaking rather loudly, debating what to do. On the one hand, he was a stranger, and they didn’t know what he wanted. He was traveling alone, and was brave enough to walk up even though he had certainly seen the armed guards. On the other hand, he was clearly an old man. His cropped hair and wild beard was heavily stained with salt and pepper, and his face was worn, wrinkled, and scarred from hardship. And to these young fools, that meant he was less dangerous than their youthful vitality, not more dangerous due to his clear ability to survive anything that life flung at him. Even though they knew he was there, Sir was still willing to bet that he could render them all dead or unconscious before they managed to hit him.

    But that wasn’t why he was here. Better to point out their stupidity now, before someone actually took advantage of it. Sir interrupted their arguing, his voice firm and mild, and though no one would have said he was shouting, all of the men could hear him clearly.

    “If I had friends with me,” Sir began, and all of the young men turned to look at him, “they would be climbing over the back wall right now, while I drew your attention. By the time all of you decided what to do with me, they would have raided your supply shed and retreated back over the wall.

    “At the same time, any sniper that was back in those woods could probably take out at least three of you before you had the chance to drop below the wall and out of range.” He certainly had their attention now. Two of them immediately turned to look towards the back wall after Sir’s first sentence, and one nearly jumped out of his skin at the word ‘sniper.’

    Without you guarding them, even a Common infected could get over these walls, and I doubt you would notice until the screams began. Even a single Flyer could drop from on high and take out all of you, and then proceed to take out at least two other guards on watch before an alarm would be raised.”

    Drawn by the squabbling of his juniors and the sound of Sir’s voice, someone semi-competent was finally drawn over to the wall. He heard the tail end of Sir’s reprimand, and quickly concluded it with one of his own. “The stranger is quite right. Why did you all leave your posts? Surely one of you with a gun...” the fierce scowl that suddenly crossed the man’s face, and the looks of shame on the rest of the guard made it clear that they had forgotten their instructions by drawing their weapons. One of the guards even tried to put the weapon away, as though that could undo the damage. But that only brought the full wrath of their superior down on him, who turned and bellowed “Get back to your posts!” When the rest did not move fast enough, he barked out a final “All of you!” and the young men scampered off, ashamed.

    “Who are you, stranger?” There was a touch of respect in this man’s eyes. The young guards had looked at Sir and seen an old man. This man looked at him and saw a survivor.

    “Sir.”

    “What should we call you?”

    But he was still bloated by his pride, apparently. Nothing about this man marked him as Sir’s superior. There was nothing he could do to earn a title of respect. “You may call me Sir.”

    “What do you want, old man?” Apparently that comment didn’t sit well with the man. His hand dropped unconsciously to the weapon strapped to his waist, and the mild respect vanished. Such a shame he was in no real position to object.

    "I was going to trade for supplies, but perhaps I should travel to the Elites instead? Maybe trade for something a little extra as well?”

    It was almost amusing to watch the cockiness drain from his face as he remembered the information the young men had unwittingly revealed to this stranger. He gaped briefly like a fish out of water, before his teeth snapped together with an audible click. “My apologies... Sir.” The title slid off of his tongue like a mouthful of slime, but it was a start. “What were you hoping to trade for?”

    Sir’s hand reached lightly into one of those hidden pockets, pulling out a small bundle. He unwrapped it carefully, before holding it up to the light. On the wall, the man let out a gasp of surprise and greed. “Is that what I think it is?” Sir nodded, rolling the small, sky blue gem between his fingers lightly. “That must have come from a ten year old flyer. How did you get it?”

    Now he had them. “The same way you get all of these. I ripped it from its fragile skull.”

    “What did you want to trade for, Sir?” And this time, the title of respect fell easily and smoothly from his lips.

    “I’ll trade you this, along with two common gems. In exchange, I want supplies. And I want two of your guns.”

    Desire and possessiveness warred across his face. Apparently they really needed those gems. “Those guns ensure our survival. What would we do if the horde attacked?”

    “I’ll give you three common gems.” Sir replied, before throwing off in an apparently offhand manner “And I’ll kill the local horde. That should give you a couple of months before a new one moves in. More than enough time to prepare.”

    The man gaped at Sir as though he was insane, completely thrown off by Sir’s serious, casual tone. “But... how do I know you’d do it?”

    “I’ll do it first. What proof would you like?”

    The guard was silent for a moment. “The gem. The gem from the Climber that leads the group.”

    “Very well,” Sir replied. Of course, he had three climber gems in his possession right now. It wouldn’t take much to fool the man. But Sir didn’t back out on an agreement. And this would be a good chance to gather more gems before heading to the nearest Elite city. If the group was led by a climber then it was almost certain that the horde was small. A climber, even an old climber, could only hold so many infected together.

    It had been a long time since he had held the barrel of an Elite gun in his fingers.




    The funny thing about infected was, except for the Flyers, they were all too human in one respect. They never remembered to look up. They never thought that something would dare come at them from above. The Climber was indeed the ringleader of the group, the one holding the rest of them together. The infected did not naturally form groups. It took a strong one to hold the lesser ones together, to keep them from scrounging off on their own, and make sure that they brought back enough food to care for the young that the horde would be raising. The young. They were still too weak in form to fight anything off on their own. Easiest way he had found to gather together a handful of gems for trading.

    Before he could find the nest, though, he had to take care of the Climber. But the last thing he had expected to see when he found the horde was to have them be on the hunt. A grin spread slowly over his face. That was another weakness. The infected were oblivious to everything around them when they had the scent of some juicy prey in their nose. All he had to do was wait for them to gather together around their prey.

    The trees were dense enough that it was easiest for him to flit along above them, only a few trees behind the path of the Climber himself. There was no doubt that they were on the hunt, and whatever it was they smelled, it had to be good. Sir was falling behind, the Climber swinging from branch to branch with an agility foreign to anything that could still call itself human. But Sir kept pace behind, watching the the Climber stare down at its running prey. And then he saw it too, and swore silently to himself. The prey was a human. No wonder they had been so excited.

    But nothing had changed, really. Sir positioned himself carefully above the Climber, which had leaped suddenly to the ground. He had to get the Climber out of the way first. His hand reached up blindly, locking on to one of the many ropes that hung from his pack. His thumb ran across it, briefly feeling the texture of the weave, before switching to the next rope. It took one more try before he found the right one. He tugged on this one, and it uncoiled neatly into his hands. He took careful aim, grabbing the rope at a point that would be just long enough to reach down to the Climber. One fluid throw later and the Climber was lassoed, and Sir was jumping backwards out of the tree, using the Climber’s own weight to slow his fall. It was left hanging from the tree, writhing wildly, but Sir used the stake that he had previously attached to his boot to lock the rope into the ground. The thing wouldn’t move until he was ready to deal with it. Maybe it would break its own neck for him, if the thing continued to writhe like that.

    The other infected didn’t know what had happened. They weren’t smart enough for that. Their leader was god, and could jump backwards to the top of a tall tree if it so felt like it. But the sudden crack of the Climber’s neck snapping was enough to give them pause. Then the homemade smoke bomb was in Sir’s hand, and he threw it towards the group around the young boy. The flash was blinding, but Sir’s back was already turned. Normally he wouldn’t have used the limited explosive powder in such a circumstance, but he did not have the time to hesitate right now. It may be the only thing that would save the boy’s life.

    The rest of the infected had turned to look at the sudden explosion, completely bewildered about where the noise had come from. One of them howled, an ugly, guttural noise, and lunged away from the smoke bomb. It singled itself out to be the first to die, with one of Sir’s knives embedded in its neck and severing the still-pumping carotid artery. The thing didn’t have a chance to scream.

    The remaining infected were huddling, trying to fall back on the routines beat into them by the now deceased Climber. Strength together. Sir let out a dark chuckle. He had already used one explosive, and it was too much of a temptation to resist. The nail bomb flew into their midst, embedding itself in one of the infected’s chest, before exploding and sending a shower of shrapnel in a five foot radius.

    The few who survived were easy pickings. He only let one go, one heavily bleeding infected who would run back to the nest where a stockpile of food waited, longing only to heal and survive. Leading him right to the nested young.

    But the thing would take time to find its way back, flailing through the woods as it was. For now, he had to salvage as many of the supplies that he had used as possible, and root all the gems out of the corpses’ craniums.
     
  2. Away from the safety of the walls the world was a completely different place. Rolling hills of lush green surrounded by tall oak forest painted a deceptive picture of safety but all who ventured out here knew they could never let their guard down. The infected owned these lands and they could smell visitors a mile away. One false move and you'd be dead.


    Evan walked alongside the donkey drawn cart doing his best to hide his modest presence. From the moment they'd left an unsettling feeling had settled in the bottom of his stomach. That was two days ago and no matter what the adults might say it wasn't going away. His hand was sore from clutching the grip of his knife and his heart couldn't take much more of the stress.

    “Positions!” yelled a gruff voice at the front of the convoy.

    Evan looked up to see several of the horrors running right at them. They appeared almost human but they ran like wild animals. The first of the men snarled angrily as he bounded towards the nearest guards, scars covered his body but it was his sharp teeth that had the boy off guard. A loud bang and the man's head snapped backwards, his suddenly lifeless body crashed to a stop no more than ten feet from the startled young teen.

    The second man charging at them didn't react to the death of the other, he saw nothing but the prey he'd singled out. With teeth thrashing he leaped with inhuman strength to cover the last fifteen feet but like the first a bullet cut him short and he crashed to the ground in an undignified heap. Three more gunshots stung Evan's ears before it was over.

    “Check your weapons fast. We need to get moving.”

    “Stay alert.”

    Evan wasn't sure how much more of this he could take. He watched uselessly as the men around him inspected their weapons for wear and tear. The firearms they held were crude and showed their age, if the guns stopped working they'd all be dead.

    “Let me see it.” Evan heard his father and spun around to see the man reaching for one of the weapons. The young guard handed over his rifle and wiped his dirty hands on his torn cargo pants.

    “We'll have to fix it later. See if you can find something else.”

    Evan stumbled aside as the guard peered into the convoy's supply cart. They were running out of weapons much faster than any of them would like to admit but there was nothing they could do about it.

    “There's nothing left.”

    “Just stay near the cart. We have to keep moving.”

    The convey began moving again, this time at a faster pace to put some distance between them and any other infected that heard the gunshots. Evan kept silent as he jogged alongside the donkey drawn cart. He couldn't keep up with all the adults. His legs were sore but he kept his mouth shut, if he slowed everyone down they'd all die. Given the number of times they'd been attacked it was a miracle that hadn't happened yet. The world away from the walls was far worse than he imagined.

    “Calm down son.”

    Evan yelped in surprise when he noticed a giant man jogging alongside him. Harrison was the leader of their group and he had the stature to make it known.

    “We'll be okay, keep your head up and stay strong. No one here is going to die.”

    Evan stayed silent when the man nodded reassuringly. Harrison scared him almost as much as the infected that kept attacking them. He had a friendly smile but all Evan could see was the raw fury hidden barely hidden just below the surface. Every single time the infected found them Harrison made sure he killed at least one of them, he'd even killed one with his bare hands. If Evan could sleep the giant man would be a thing of nightmares.



    The asphalt road beneath their feet reached across the entire country. Old maps were hard to come by but those that did exist were perfectly accurate. Evan had one in his pocket. Navigating wasn't something he'd done before but with few other ways to make himself useful he'd jumped at the chance to hold onto the second map. He knew where they were going and the occasional metal road sign helped him keep track of their position on the paper. They still had a long way to go and that was assuming there was still a city where they were headed.

    The road led the convoy into a forest. With no one to keep the trees at bay over the last few decades the once wide road was now almost lost between the oak trees. Evan shuddered as the sun overhead was blocked out by the thick oak canopy, he'd never been in a forest before but even he knew it was far too quiet. There were no animals nor a breeze to shake the trees. The only sound was their footsteps on the layer of dead leaves underfoot.

    Evan shot his father a worried glance but the man didn't notice him. Like everyone else his eyes were on their surroundings, watching and waiting for any signs of trouble. A flicker in the trees startled the boy but as soon as he turned his head it was gone. Everywhere he looked he felt he could see shapes moving just beyond the overgrown bushes but no one else was seeing it. Then he saw it, a figure dart between two trees. He let out an audible gasp but covered his mouth, if he made any loud noises he'd have half a dozen guns pointed right at him.

    Evan left his place by the side of the cart and quickly caught up to his father.

    “Hey,” he whispered harshly. “I think I saw something.”

    Seeing the fearful look in Evan's eyes the man stopped in his tracks and lifted his hand to signal the others. Doubt wasn't something they could afford in a place like this.

    “Over there.”

    The group scanned the area but whatever he'd seen was no longer there.

    “Keep you're eyes open.” Harrison instructed from the front as he signaled for them to continue.

    Evan slunk back to his position, he knew what he'd seen but...

    Maybe it was just an animal? If it were an infected it would have come running at them already. That's just how they were. All of the infected they'd seen had only one goal, to reach them as fast as possible. They possessed no sense of danger, no real concern for their safety.

    A heavy boot on in the leaves to his right made Evan tense. One of the guards had raised his rifle and aimed between the trees. Had he seen something too? This time Evan distinctively heard the sound of bounding footsteps just out of sight but after a few seconds the forest was silent once again.

    Why had they come here? Escaping didn't seem like such a good idea any more. Something was out there and it wasn't just his imagination. It was stalking them, waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack.

    It came just a few minutes later. Without warning several infected erupted from the bushes on the side of the road. Evan jumped backwards instinctively as they bore down on the group. The closest guard fired a single shot before one of the beasts knocked him to the ground. He managed a muffled cry before the crazed man wrapped a hand around his neck. Evan yelled when another gunshot rang out, more infected were attacking from the other side of the road.

    “No you don't!” Harrison lunged at the nearest infected which had already pinned another of the guards. He brought his rifle down on the attacker's face. Evan heard the crack and saw blood but the infected was far from done. It jumped to it's feet and lunged at their leader. The momentum of it's attack dislodged the rifle from Harrison's grasp. It tumbled away leaving the giant man with his empty fists to fight.

    A loud shriek made Evan spin. There was blood everywhere. Another gunshot stung his ears before several more infected appeared. The boy's eyes darted around for help but in just moments the guards had been overwhelmed. The people he was only just beginning to recognize were being killed right in front of him.

    Satisfied it's victim was dead one of the infected looked up and chose it's next target. Evan. Blood dripped from it's twisted grin as it cocked it's head to the side and sized him up. Terror shot down the boy's spine but there was nowhere to run. His hand shook as he lifted his knife defensively, it felt little more than a stick in his hand in the face of the infected. The beast licked it's lips mockingly and jumped forward with a hungry smile.

    A crack in the forest broke his attacker's focus. Evan glanced over it's shoulder as it spun on the spot and saw what looked like more infected through the trees. He had to run, he had to leave while the blood soaked man was distracted. Another loud crack and this time Evan saw something flying towards him. The small object landed a few feet away and exploded in a cloud of thick black smoke. He instinctively covered his mouth with his free hand and backed up until his back was against the cart. The cart! It was his only chance. Evan didn't hesitate to hide, he moved like lightning and concealed himself beneath the worn cover that protected their broken weapons.

    All he could do was listen. The yells of the guards had turned into painful cries while the infected revelled in their success. He couldn't help them, only pray that they could run away. Then a familiar cry reached his ears, his father was still out there. The sound the man made pierced his heart through the black cloud that surrounded them. Evan choked back a sob but the attack was far from over.

    Another explosion rocked the cart, unlike the first this one was met with shrieks from the infected. Someone was still alive. The shrieks continued as Evan listened, he didn't dare peek from his hiding spot but he could tell something was happening. The infected had suddenly become desperate. Were they retreating? A few moments passed before Evan heard the distinctive sound of an injured infected running back into the forest.

    Was he safe? The forest had fallen silent once again leaving him alone in the cart. He dared peek his head from under the cover but he immediately wished he hadn't.
     
  3. For as much trouble as it had been causing that group of people, the horde was not that big. Except for the Climber, every member was Common, and they could not have been together for very long, or else the Climber would certainly have spawned a few more of his type. Sir wouldn’t know for certain until he let the Climber fall from its hanging spot in the tree, but in all likelihood the thing would not even be six years old. By the time he had arrived, almost every member of the caravan had been slaughtered, and those who had survived might not be making it very far before they too succumbed to infection. Briefly he wondered about the young boy he had seen, the one whose life might have been spared by his smoke bomb, but he dismissed the thought with relative ease. The kid was not his responsibility, and he wanted nothing to do with another child.

    The infected were scattered around the clearing, but at least the corpses had the decency to stay in one piece for the most part. It was a bother to have to try and reassemble the infected as he looted through their corpses to make sure that he hadn’t missed a gem. He would leave the humans who had fallen be, for the most part. He would probably search them for any supplies, but this would be their final resting spot. It was better than being in the belly of an infected.

    It was doubtful that anyone, infected or human, was going to show up and try and interrupt his scavenging, but pragmatism insisted that he start with the most important. Common gems never had as much power in them as the other types, but age always ripened them well. There wouldn’t be an infected over ten years here, or else it might have challenged the Climber for supremacy, but judging from the mutations on some of them, a couple of them might come close. He settled next to the infected who had taken his throwing knife to the neck, and wrenched out the blade. There was a new chip in the edge of the blade where it had struck against the infected’s vertebrae. He ran his thumb lightly over the chip, nodding slightly. It wouldn’t be too much of a challenge to remove the notch.

    He wiped the blade off on a tattered bit of cloth hanging from his pack, before sheathing it in the fitting slot in the side of his pack. Then he took the long blade strapped to his waist, and squatted down next to the corpse, driving the smooth metal hilt into the infected’s head and shattering the skull.

    Once more his thought drifted back to the boy. If anyone had survived, hopefully they would take this time to get as far away as possible. Hordes tended to stay out of each other’s territory, so the extermination of this group would most likely mean that they would have a couple of days of safe travel. The little community Sir had passed through was in easy walking distance. if they brought whatever supplies they had on them, maybe they would be able to find a temporary home there. Of course, that was dependent upon the fact that anyone was still alive. But none of that truly concerned him. He hadn’t destroyed the horde to save their lives, all he had wanted was the valuable gems lodged in the center of the infected brains, and the guns that were waiting for him in exchange. The mild electricity the gems put out was one of the few ways the devolved human society still had to keep things running. It was ironic, how the human race so hated these monsters, and yet a crystallized part of their brain was one of the most valued currencies.

    He used the tip of the knife to fish out the fragments of fractured skull. When the opening was large enough to admit his hand, Sir cleaned the large knife and traded it for a small, sharp switchblade that had been resting in his pocket. He sliced open the brain, and carefully extracted the amber gem from within the grey tissue, not even touching it with the blade once, which would have marred the gem and severely reduced its value. He flicked it gently, and felt a small jolt arc through his fingers. Four years. The infected was barely fully grown. No wonder it had run out on its own.

    He wrapped the gem carefully in a soft but dirty cloth, and slid it into a second pocket, along with the other common gems he carried. It had to be preserved until he could trade it for something of real value.
     
  4. A cold chill shot through Evan as he took in the destruction. The bodies of the guards lay strewn around the cart. The boy gagged and looked away from the worst injures and that's when his eyes fell on his father. He wanted to go and help, he wanted to save him. But what if there were more of them? Not a single body was moving, the infected lay dead among the guards indiscriminately. It quickly became clear that neither side had won.

    Evan apprehensively climbed out of the cart. There were no infected left so he darted to where his father lay face down by the edge of the road. Evan gathered all of his strength and rolled the man over. He had to be alive, he just had to be. The man's eyes were closed and his chest wasn't moving. A large bloody hole in his neck was the reason.

    “Dad.” he whispered. More tears were welling up in his eyes but he couldn't be helpless here. He carefully placed his hand's on his father's chest and pressed down just as he'd been taught.

    “One, two, three,” he quietly counted each compression as he wracked his panicked brain for what else he was supposed to do. Why was this happening? Why had the infected ambushed them? The infected weren't supposed to be smart, they were supposed to run in straight lines across open fields.

    “Twelve, thirteen, fourteen,” still there wasn't any response. The more he pressed down the more hopeless he knew it was. There was too much blood. He grit his teeth and increased the pace, pushing down harder with each count as if his will would help.

    “Forty one, forty two, forty three.” It wasn't enough.

    Evan collapsed onto his father's motionless body choking back his desperation. The thoughts in his mind blurred together but one was clear. Useless.


    As he lay there time seemed to go away, terrifying truths began to dawn on him but a weak sound brought the boy back to reality. He snapped up and glanced around but he couldn't see where it had come from. Infected. They'd come back to finish him off. Without hesitating Evan reached for his father's rifle where it lay just a few feet from him. Evan knew how to use it and if there were any infected left they were going to pay.

    The young teen held his breath and listened for the sound. It was coming from somewhere on the other side of the cart but he wasn't quite sure what it was. Using the cart as cover Evan approached. If it was an infected they were going to get a taste of their own medicine, they would pay for what they did.

    With the rifle raised in front of him and his finger loosely wrapped around the trigger Evan peered over and found his target. Forty feet away a man crouched beside a dead infected.
     
  5. In the world Sir inhabited, it was death to not pay attention. Awareness was the only thing that would keep you from being caught in a situation from which you could not escape. This caravan had not been aware enough, and they had wound up dead on the ground. Reliable history told him that an infected horde would contain all of the infected in the nearby area, and when they were hunting they would bring the whole group along. There should be no other infected in the area except for the one he had let go, any infants that the horde had managed to birth, and, if the Climber was smart enough, a single nursemaid to look after the infants. But history was not the present, and “should have beens” never accounted for reality. So, even though he worked on the infected with attentiveness and efficiency, he was not to be surprised.

    He crouched over the second infected when he heard the sound of something moving over towards him from the other side of the wagon. Sir tensed, switching his grip on the blade in his hand and preparing to fight. The knife wasn’t ideal for throwing, but it would stall whatever was drawing in on him long enough for him to get a more conventional weapon than the short, fine blade.

    And then he was eye-to-eye with a young boy. Sir blinked, hazel eyes briefly trapped within the boy’s own, before he noticed the weapon aimed at him. In an instant his eyes went hard. He had given this boy a chance to get away, had even used some of his limited explosive material to give the boy a fighting chance at his own survival. If he did try and shoot Sir, there would be no mercy.

    Are you going to shoot me? his eyes seemed to dare. The boy only had a few seconds to make his decision. Already Sir was preparing to throw the knife in one blinding flash. It would hit the boy in the shoulder, causing his hand to go limp and the muzzle of the gun to fall. That was more of a chance than Sir gave to most people who confronted him.
     
  6. Evan met the man's eyes, tension turned to surprise. He wasn't infected. Evan hesitated but after a few moments he lowered his rifle. Only then did a single question reach the front of his startled mind. Why was another human all the way out here? The stranger's glare was almost as bad the infected but it didn't carry the same malice.

    “Uh...” Evan began but he couldn't put words together.
     
  7. As soon as the boy lowered the gun, Sir returned to his work. He twirled the blade around his fingers unconsciously, getting it back into the correct position for digging through the infected's brain. He returned quickly to his work, interrupted only briefly when a confused noise slipped from between the boy's lips. Sir paused only briefly in his motion, before returning to his task. The boy was not his concern, he had already decided that. But a brief moment of something mixed between concern and pity was enough to get him to look up briefly, and take in the boy's face.

    He went back to work almost as quickly, disgust curling his lip. He knew the look on the boy's face; had seen it countless times before in his journeys. The boy wanted to know about Sir, wanted to know where he had come from, where he was going, what he was doing, how he had managed to destroy the group of infected with such relative ease. He had faced those questions many times before, most of those times in situations very similar to this one.

    Well, Sir had no plans of answering the boy's questions. He knew from experience that questions that started with "Who are you?" quickly changed into "Can I go with you?" All of those people had been forced to learn, either the easy way or the hard way, that, no, they could not go with him. The boy would learn that soon enough as well.
     
  8. The stranger was ignoring him. Evan watched as the man pulled out a knife and went back to what he was doing. Even from a distance Evan saw the tip of the knife disappear into the dead man's skull. The sound of bone cracking and flesh giving way carried on the now eerily quiet forest breeze. He knew what the stranger was doing but until now he'd never seen it done before. He was harvesting the crystal growth caused by the infection. Dad had explained it to him many times...


    Too many bodies lay on the road. Still none of them had moved but now Evan noticed something he hadn't noticed before. Everyone's wounds had come from the infected while most of the infected hadn't been killed by their guns. Instead the dead infected carried other injuries. Knives, shrapnel, one of the them even had a gaping hole in his chest. Their weapons couldn't do that which meant someone else had killed them.


    Evan glanced warily at the stranger again. Could one man really kill so many infected? Why would anyone follow them all the way out here? If he was sent to kill them for deserting the Elite then why was he all alone? It didn't make any sense. The infected had done his job but he'd killed them before they could finish. Evan tensed at the idea. He gripped the rifle tightly by his side and asked the man a question.


    “Why did you save me?”
     
  9. He was getting close to the gem and he knew it. Every infected had the gem in the same place, but it was still an art to properly extract it from the brain. One slip of the finger and the metal knife would come into contact with the gem, which would mar it and severely lower its value. There were very few people in this world, even among those who spent their life hunting for infected gems, who could extract the gem perfectly every time, removing every trace of tissue without marring the gem. Sir was one of those people. But he still had to slow down when he got close. Even a matter of days could change the size of a gem, and there were very few, subtle tells that would reveal exactly where he needed to stop cutting. But a few moments later and he had finished the process, extracting another one of the amber gems. He repeated the same process he had on the first one, carefully wiping it clean with a soft rag, and then storing it with the other gems of its type and age.

    He was about to get up and move onto the next body when the boy spoke again. Sir hadn’t forgotten about him, but he had certainly hoped that their nonexistent conversation would be over before it even began. But people never had that kind of sense.

    “I didn’t,” Sir replied shortly, settling down to the side of the next infected. Rinse and repeat.
     
  10. He didn't? Then who threw the smoke bomb? If it wasn't the man then there must be someone else here. A rustling in the trees behind him made Evan snap around. Nothing. Was he hearing things? Last time he'd heard a noise it it had been the infected. Were they still out there or was someone else watching them? Evan's grip on the rifle was making his knuckles turn white but he didn't notice, he wasn't going to let anyone else sneak up on him.

    The stranger on the other hand didn't seem to care at all about the idea of being ambushed. He worked silently, not even looking up as he searched for the tiny gem the infected unknowingly carried around inside it's head. The man didn't even have a gun. How could he be so calm after everything that had happened? The bodies that surrounded them didn't seem to bother him at all and he hadn't tried to help a single one of them after the attack.

    When the silence between them grew too much Evan asked another question, this time a little more firmly. “Why did you follow us out here?”
     
  11. Sir snorted, shaking his head slightly in amusement. An unevenly chopped lock of grey hair fell in front of his face, and he pushed it irritably back from his face with his forearm, one of the only spots left on his arm that was not coated in blood, bowel, or brain. The kid was certainly self-absorbed. Then again, if Sir could even remember being his age, that was the standard way for boys to view life. Everything was about them, and if it wasn't then it should be.

    "I didn't," Sir repeated, growing tired of the frequent interruptions. Then again, he was no more inclined to give a proper explanation. Maybe he would just ignore the kid? The knife was drawing close to the gem again, and he focused intently on his hands, making tiny, careful cuts as he drew steadily closer to the point where he would be able to extract it and add it to the collection.

    He glanced briefly around the clearing. There were still five infected scattered around the clearing, and that didn't include the Climber still hanging limply from the tree, neck broken and hands clawed. It was probably a good thing he had come along when he did. If it had been left alone for another year or two there would have been many other Climbers, and one of the more powerful infected might have decided it was worthwhile to take over. Then the little community with the elite guns would probably have been worn away, ammunition and charge used up faster than it could be replaced. and Sir's fight would have been a lot more protracted, and would have made a much larger dent in his limited supplies.
     
  12. Evan took a sharp breath and considered verbally assaulting the man but he decided against such an outburst due to the ever rustling trees that surrounded them. The stranger was treating the whole situation as if nothing was wrong. The boy silently fumed as the man continued digging into the head of the next infected with his blood coated knife.

    Everyone was dead. His dad was dead, Harrison was dead, even the guards with years of experience against the infected had been killed. There was no one left but him and the tight lipped stranger. Evan dropped and let himself slide down the side of the cart. He couldn't see through his fresh tears and right now he couldn't care. It was done, the journey had already reached it's end and now there was no hope of ever making it back. He didn't want to cry but helplessness overwhelmed him.
     
  13. He carefully removed the gem on the point of the knife, before grabbing it with the cloth and adding it to the collection. Maybe he would trade some of these gems for additional supplies, ones that weren't part of the promise with the head of the guard. Then again, it was doubtful that the community really had that many supplies to spare. Sir simply detested the need to go to the elite communities. They were always wiling to trade, more than willing, but there was no place in the world where Sir was able to command so little respect. The Elites saw everyone who didn't live within their walls as inferior, even if those people were the reason they could keep living their lives of comfort. Sir couldn't avoid the Elite communities for the rest of his life, there were too few supplies in the world, and too many of them were within those walls for that, but if he could postpone the visit by a couple of months he would.

    Sir always chose to collect his own supplies before the gems, because gems were ultimately meaningless in the wilderness. But he still believed in efficeincy, so he had looted the gems from the ones who had taken the brunt of his attacks. But now, the only one left who had tied up any of his supplies was the Climber, dangling from the tree. Sir moved over quickly, unstaking the Climber and lowering him to the ground. He removed the rope, carefully recoiled it, and hung it back up on his pack, before bending down to the climber. This was the gem that the villagers had wanted as proof that the horde was dead.

    Somewhere in there, Sir wasn't quite sure where, the boy had started crying. Deep inside of sir there was a faint vibration of pity, but it was something that he had taught himself to ignore. All the same, the boy seemed so caught up in his own grief that he wasn't even paying any attention. The way things were going now, he would sit there until he starved, or by some random chance, a passerby came and put him out of his misery.

    "Look," Sir finally said, getting remarkably tired of the whole situation. "There is a village about three miles southeast of here. All of the local infected are now dead," or they would be soon enough that it didn't make any difference. "So as long as you don't get lost you'll make it there just fine."
     
  14. Evan had never felt so helpless. That was coming from someone who'd spent his whole life living in fear outside the walls of a community that pretended he didn't exist. Every day they survived back there was a small miracle, the infected were everywhere, always lurking just out of sight. Just like they were now.


    The boy coughed loudly as he struggled to collect himself, sniffing back the tears as he wiped his eyes. The stranger still didn't care, his voice was completely free of emotion as he shared the information. He hadn't looked twice at the bodies of the dead people this whole time nor had he tried to help any of them. He could have saved them but he didn't. Why didn't he care?


    Emotions overwhelming concern for his own safety Evan met the stranger's eyes. “You're just like the people inside the walls,” he spat.
     
  15. "Believe what you will," Sir replied blandly. He had faced much worse insults than the accusations of an overly emotional teenage boy, and if that was enough to get him riled up, he was hardly going to survive the next time a group of adrenalin pumped thugs tried to corner him in an abandoned city and steal everything he possessed. "Either you can get moving, or you can sit there and cry until you die if dehydration. Your choice."

    The more evolutionarily advanced the infected was the harder it becomes to extract the gem without damaging it. Many people, familiar with extracting gems from Common infected, would try and remove their first new type of gem, and wind up breaking it into pieces. It was an experience Sir himself had faced, back when he was young. Now, however, he barely even noticed a difference between Climber and Common. The Hulkers and the Flyers, they were the tricky ones. The ones with the most value, but also the most tricky. That was part of the reason the guard had gone all slobber-faced over the Flyer gem Sir had shown him. A Flyer gem would last four times as long as a Common gem. Climbers were nothing much, all things considered. They had a stronger grip and a bit more muscle, but they were still as easy to kill as any monkey.
     
  16. The boy bit his lip. He wasn't sure what he was expecting from the stranger but this wasn't a surprise. Everything about him was like someone who lived inside the walls, he was someone who thought he was above everyone else just because they didn't live on the right side of the wall. When he was done here he'd go back to his safe cosy home and pretend like none of this had ever happened.

    Evan scooped up the rifle and found his feet. Unlike the barely interested stranger he couldn't just forget. Once again he found himself looking around but nothing had changed. Everyone still lay where they had fallen to the ambush. Blood stained everything red and the longer he stayed the more likely other infected would show up to clean up the mess. If they came there was nothing he could do about it.

    Evan lowered his eyes, maybe people from the village could help him. Anyone would be better than his present company even if it meant he had to go there by himself.

    “Which way is southeast?” he muttered.
     
  17. The sound of the dropped rifle being grabbed again was enough for Sir to lift his head up from his work over the Climber. At this point, Sir didn't trust the boy not to decide that, somehow, this was all his fault, and his death would somehow make things better. Once more the knife unconsciously flipped in his hand. This time he was a lot further away from the boy, and it was going to be a lot harder to hit him with the knife, should he need to make the throw.

    But, in the end, the boy did nothing. He lowered the gun, but kept it firmly in hand. Sir could read him well enough to know that, at the moment, all he wanted to do was get away from the memories that were haunting this place. He was about to go back to his task when the boy spoke again. For the first time since he had attacked the infected, Sir actually looked surprised. "You left home without knowing how to tell which way is north?" Sir asked, completely incredulous. But the question was rhetorical; he didn't expect an answer. All he did instead was shake his head, and point a finger in the correct direction.

    "Figure out a way to tell now, or you'll end up walking in circles. Or, better yet, fish a compass off of one of them." He moved his left hand in a generally circuitous movement, somehow encompassing the entire field of fallen. The dead were dead. They no longer cared. Any ritual or ceremony was only for the sake of the living. It was a harsh lesson, but one that Sir had learned repeatedly over his life.
     
  18. Evan scowled, he wasn't an idiot and he didn't like being treated like one. Of course he knew how to read a compass, they just weren't easy to come by. Of the whole group their only compass had belonged to Harrison, the former leader. He'd insisted on keeping it safe but that wasn't really something he could do any more.

    The giant man lay on his back some distance away. His body was covered in wounds but most disturbing was what had happened to his face. Evan didn't want to go anywhere near him but as much as he hated it the stranger was right. He needed a compass or he was going to get lost.


    Evan approached carefully but his caution was ultimately unnecessary. One glance at the man and anyone could tell he'd never move again, virus or not. The boy clutched at his stomach with his free hand as he tried not to gag. He didn't want to stay here any longer, he just had to find the compass and leave. Evan crouched down and began his search keeping his eyes down and away from the man's face. Each coat pocket held something and it didn't take long to find what he needed, a small silver compass with a scratched display. Southeast was exactly where the man had pointed, off the road and into the trees.


    The stranger was no longer watching him, having returned to his work. Evan stared at him hopelessly for a moment before clutching the compass against his chest. He wanted the stranger's help but he knew he wasn't going to get it. The man didn't care and in all honesty trying to get it from him might end up getting him killed. If they never crossed paths again it might help him forget this all happened but that didn't seem very likely regardless.


    Goodbye, the boy mouthed not to the stranger but to bodies he had to leave behind. He didn't want to venture into the forest alone but anything was better than staying here for more infected to show up.
     
  19. Sir didn’t look up as the boy walked out of the clearing, a small silver compass clutched in his hands. He didn’t need to. The boy’s footsteps were more than enough to reveal his location. It was a good thing that there was nothing left in the area that would attack him, because he certainly wouldn’t be hard to track down. The small community was large enough that it would be hard for him to miss it, as long as he entered the large clearing that surrounded it, even if he was slightly off in his navigation, he would be able to find the safety of the walls with relative ease.

    With no more distractions to interrupt him, Sir fell quickly into gathering mode. He worked his way through the rest of the infected, efficiently fishing out the gems without marking them, before turning his attention to the scattered human corpses that littered the clearing. Most of the supplies they would have to offer wouldn’t be worth much. They had used up almost all of their ammunition in fighting the horde, and a quick glance was enough to tell him that the guns had been jury-rigged from a point of almost no return. Whoever had worked with them definitely knew his or her way around guns, as even Sir would have considered these guns unsalvageable. Then again, when you had nothing else to work with, you made do with what you had.

    He did find another small knife, and while the hinge was heavily rusted the blade itself was still in fairly good condition. He put it in his pack, to take a closer look at this evening. A blade that couldn’t easily open or close wasn’t as useful as the one in his pocket, but if he could reinforce the joint an eternally open blade was nearly as useful.

    The other thing he found was a pair of boots. The boots themselves were in poor condition, but, to his surprise, the laces looked practically new. Why someone would trade for laces at an Elite community Sir could not quite guess, but he was not about to turn down the opportunity for something other than carefully tanned deer hide to hold his own boots onto his feet. He quickly unlaced the boots, shoving the cords into his pack. That was another thing he would take care of this evening. Right now he didn’t have the time to waste. The infected would be drawing close to the nest soon, and, assuming there was one, the nursemaid would take the sight of the heavily damaged infected as a reason to move the young to some other nest.

    Infected were very good at straight lines, and, aside from the staggering from its injuries, the wounded infected Sir had let escape was no exception. It did not occur to them that there was any better route to where they wanted to go than a straight line to the destination. It might occur to some of the more clever ones that sometimes the shortest distance was not the fastest, but many would be inclined to go up the cliff that stood in their way, rather than a quarter mile to the left, where the cliff did not exist. Sir had once caught a Runner in that very situation.

    Therefore, he felt few qualms about dispatching the wounded infected as soon as he caught up to it. The thing put up a pitiful fight, but by that point the blood loss had grown to such a point that it could barely stand up on its own anymore. If the nest wasn’t less than five or so minutes away, the infected probably wouldn’t have made it back home anyways. He salvaged the gem, and then continued onwards, following the path the infected had laid out.

    It wasn’t hard to tell when he drew close to the nest. Infected were just clever enough to realize that their young was their weakest point. In an attempt to defend them, they built barriers of whatever was nearby to try and prevent any unwelcome visitors from getting curious. That was good for stopping most wild animals, which were no more clever than the infected themselves, but to a human it was an obvious sign that he was drawing close to the nest. Sir slowed down, placing his feet carefully on the littered forest floor. He walked the perimeter of the nest twice, locating the few entrance and exit points through the mess of branches and trunks. The Climber who had led this gang was smarter than Sir had given credit. The thing had actually created a slight maze with the branches. Not much, but enough so that Sir might get briefly tangled or distracted if he tried to get in.

    A few moments later, Sir heard shuffling from inside the nest. The Climber had left one nursemaid to care for the young. At least it wasn’t two, although from the other sounds he had heard at least one of the young was almost old enough to join the hunt.

    But the climber had forgotten one thing. It wasn’t the only one who could navigate the treetops. It took Sir one more loop of the barrier to identify the Climber’s point of entry into the nest. It didn’t want to block its own path into and out of the nest. Sir was perfectly happy to take advantage of that weakness. He climbed up into the branches quickly and as quietly as he could manage, before jumping through the branches to get to the center of the nest.

    From his vantage point, Sir took a moment to survey the situation and make a plan. Two of the young were old enough to pose a moderate challenge, while the rest were still just squirmers. And the nursemaid was pregnant. It was a good move in the sense that it wouldn’t have been able to join the hunt anyways, but a bad move because she could hardly fight well. Her belly was massive. She must be nearly to the end of her gestation period, and that would slow her down considerably. Sir drew three blades; the long machete he had been using to break open the infecteds’ skulls, and two throwing knives. He moved the sharp switchblade to a front pocket where he could easily grab it, and put two more throwing blades into the slots he had made for just such a purpose on the shoulder of his pack. His fingers reached lightly back into his pack until he found another strong rope. He checked the weave quickly, before pulling it most of the way out of the pack. On one end he had tied an old morningstar head. The thing was in bad shape, barely worthy of the supplies he had traded to get it, but it had been part of the trade, and he had made a use for it. Hopefully the thing wouldn’t shatter upon impact. Of course, it would be better if he did not need it, but he was not really willing to take the risk.

    He skirted carefully out onto an extended branch, moving forward until he reached the tipping point of the branch. One more step, and it was very likely it would break out from under his feet. And then he waited.

    The nest was not large enough for the infected to roam much, so it didn’t take long for one of the three to pass below him. He dropped down on the young infected, his feet slamming into its back and the machete plunging through its back and sliding into its heart. He got up quickly, pulling the blade out with him. Only an infected would be able to survive that, but even it would quickly spasm itself to death while trying to get up and fight. The two blades quickly left his hand, one each for the two remaining infected. That was enough to stop the other infant, but it wasn’t enough for the nursemaid. She raced towards him as quickly as she could manage, bent over by the weight of her stomach. There must have been at least three more infected in her belly. Sir danced around her easily, backing away. She turned too slowly, and another throwing knife planted itself in the back of her head. Sir winced slightly, hoping he hadn’t hit the gem, but dismissed the thought to finish her off with a final swing of the machete.

    He gathered the throwing knives quickly, but left the gems ungathered for the moment. The young were mostly defenseless, but some might be just old enough to catch him by surprise if he wasn’t careful, even if they weren’t large enough to roam the nest freely. But there was only one other group, three infants who bared their sharp little teeth at him, but whose necks easily snapped under his hand. Most likely it was the last batch from the nursemaid he had just killed.

    His final step before settling down to gather supplies was to stab repeatedly into the belly of the deceased nursemaid. It was quite possible that her young would be old enough to survive even with her dead. They would claw and chew their way out of her belly, and while they would likely starve before any help arrived, their plaintive cries might lure another horde here all the quicker. The gems in their heads were far too small to be worth salvaging, so he disposed of them quickly and messily.

    Now absolutely certain that there were no infected left in the area to disturb him, the vibrating tension in Sir’s shoulders vanished. He let out a quiet pack, and, for the first time, unstrapped his pack and allowed it to drop to the ground. He had to reorganize before he left the area, get everything back into the proper position. Just in case some brigands decided to try and jump him on his way back to the community.
     
  20. Evan's whole body trembled as he walked. Common sense was the only thing keeping him from breaking into a run but the smallest sound out there in the forest could probably change that. Never before had he ever been so alone, not ever the fear of their escape several nights ago compared to this. It was all on him, the safety net was lost, replaced by two frayed lifelines in the compass and his Dad's rifle.

    Of all the weapons on the convoy his Dad's rifle was probably the best. He'd built it years ago from the design of an old hunting rifle. Evan had watched it being made and had helped test it extensively. That's where his luck ended though, he'd never actually shot an infected before and it was only a matter of time before he was found.

    He had to get to the settlement the man had told him about and he had to get there as fast as possible. Evan put a foot down heavily and stopped, with that step he realized he was making too much noise. Dead leaves littered the ground underfoot and each step he took was giving him away. Tread carefully. That's what the adults would say. With the forest looming all around he truly understood what they meant. His boot were heavy but he wasn't, with a little concentration he'd be a lot harder to find.


    Evan stumbled into a clearing some time later, the forest gave way rather suddenly to a sprawling field which featured the smallest village he'd ever seen. The walls weren't high nor anything like what he was used to but that didn't matter. He ran towards it as fast as he could manage. The walls were patrolled and it didn't take long for him to be spotted.

    “Stop!” Yelled a voice from on the wall.

    Desperate but realizing his mistake Evan did as he was told and stopped about forty feet away. He dropped the rifle in front of him and put his hands in the air to prove he could be trusted, something he'd been taught countless times.

    The young man on the wall relaxed his aim as several others quickly joined him. It was apparent they weren't expecting visitors who didn't want to kill them as the men spoke hurriedly and with hushed voices for several moments. Evan knew better than to interrupt them, several weapons were pointed in his direction and these people were trained to protect their home.

    The discussion had drawn another guard, a man much older than the others. His frame dropped slightly when their eyes met.

    “Who are you?” the man called out, confusion lacing his voice. Never before had someone so young approached their walls.

    “I-I'm Evan.” his voice shook as he answered honestly. His mind was racing but his name was the best he could come up with, he had to get inside, to get somewhere safe.

    The man frowned, the wrinkles on his brow clear from his perch on top of the wall. He'd been expecting more of an answer but looking at the boy he understood. Blood soaked the front of his shirt and his tear streaked face desperate. It was a miracle he'd made it here.

    “Did anyone else survive?”

    “No.”

    The old man paused for a moment to consider the situation. The boy was genuine but had he been followed here by the infected? They could track his scent and movements from miles away and right now they didn't need any more distractions. The man spoke briefly to the guards around him who turned their weapons away.

    “Bring your weapon and approach the gate slowly. We can help you.”
     
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