Not Like Them (Peregrine x Munchkin)

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Peregrine, Jun 16, 2015.

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  1. The apocalypse began with the appearance of a virus. Like HIV, it is something that can enter a cell and alter DNA, making it impossible to get rid of. The worst part, however, was that it also causes physical and mental mutations within the person, creating the "infected". These infected were reduced to little more than beasts, driven by primal need. They could no longer be considered human. The virus was quick to mutate, causing different forms of infected. These are Normals, a fairly average human, perhaps with a few small mutations, and the most common form of infected; Runners, the second most common, who have developed strong legs and sharp claws, designed to be able to cover very large distances at a massive top running speed, think Olympic runners, except even more extreme; Climbers, which are shaped rather like monkeys, with strong arms, except these are able to scale even perfectly vertical surfaces, so long as there is any small crack upon which their fingers can get purchase, like some of the extreme rock climbers; Hulkers, which are overly muscular and almost always massive in size that are capable of lifting phenomenal loads, and are very hard to kill; Diggers, which are small, hunched, and rather mole-like, and are capable of digging through anything but solid rock at a high rate of speed; Swimmers, which are amphibian like, slow on land but quick in water; and Fliers, which are rather like bats, except they can travel slowly on land rather like wyverns. The mutations in the infections are due to the fact that, unlike zombies, the Infected can still breed. The gestation period is about six months, and by the fourth year the babies are large and strong enough to join the rest of the horde in hunting for food. The Infected don't naturally gather, but a stronger willed Infected can keep the group together and working together. But a horde is necessary to raise any young. A horde in this case does not imply a massive conglomeration, but is rather the substitute for "pack," or "clan." Anyone born from an infected is, naturally, also infected.

    Because the virus is bound to a human cell, it cannot be passed through the air. Even though it can be exhaled, there is not enough living matter in the air for a person to become infected. However, any moderately sized transfer of bodily fluids from an infected to a human would result in infection. Bites would result in infection, but also any large transfer of blood. If infected blood gets on a small, open wound it would not necessarily result in infection because the body does have some natural defenses. However, a large wound, like a gunshot wound or a knife cut, that got more than a few drops of infected blood in it would result in infection.

    When a human becomes infected, the change will not be immediate. As soon as the virus is firmly lodged in the body the virus starts a crystallization in the brain, that affects a person's ability to use logic, but more strongly it affects any ability to feel sympathy or empathy for anyone else. This "gem" will continue to grow the longer a person is infected, making the affliction more noticeable. This will be accompanied by some slow, physical changes as well. Almost all newly infected humans are Normal zombies, with some rare exceptions if the person is infected by one of the other types.

    Because this gem in essence kills the host, who can survive with a rock in their brain, the gem is made of an unstable substance that releases electricity whenever disturbed. This powers the host's brain just as it would if the host was still alive, and, even though the crystal deteriorates when used, as long as the host is alive the gem will continue to grow.

    The human population, faced with an onslaught whose early states could not be detected and the fact that the infected had a fast reproduction rate, were eventually overwhelmed. Those who had the resources at the beginning of the Apocalypse, the money and influence of the old world, built massive, double walled communities that became the only truly safe places left in the world. These Elite communities now hold almost all of the resources in the world, but only those who are considered Elite, those born into the community, or those who possess valuable talents that would benefit the community, are allowed to remain safe in the walls over night. Work passes will be offered for the day for anyone who works inside of the walls, yet anyone caught in the city after sunset who doesn't belong there will be removed from inside and have permission to enter revoked temporarily, permanently, or may even be executed. yet the Elite military offers some protection to the surrounding areas, so communities build up around the wall, primarily those who are able to receive the work passes, yet anyone else who does not have a home stays near as well. Rebellions against the Elite communities happen on occasion, but the rebellions are quickly squashed by the military, who are the only ones who can legally posses the Elite-grade weapons. The death toll is high, and it does not even make a dent on the people who live inside the walls.

    Many years after the Apocalypse began, when the reserves of oil and gas were almost completely gone, a genius scientist found a way to harness the latent electricity in the gems that could be extracted from the infected brains. These gems could be used to power machinery, but would slowly crumble away as the electricity was used. Now, almost everything is powered by the Infected gems and they are one of the most valued forms of currency, aside from ammunition and other essential supplies. Extracting the gems from the inside of an Infected skull without damaging it is a great skill, as even the smallest nick on its surface will greatly reduce the lifespan of the gem. This makes undamaged gems even more valuable, as they are more limited.

    The Apocalypse began 42 years ago, and life has settled into patterns. People exist within their communities, distrustful of strangers, and everyone does what they need to do to survive. The Elites live inside their walls, secure in their weaponry and machinery to keep them safe, while the rest of the world suffers.

    Sir is a grizzled old man, an expert at survival. One of the few people left in the world who does not exist inside a community he roams eternally, quick to obliterate anything that blocks his path, be it human or infected. But his heart is cold and lost, broken by events in his past which he does not wish to remember.

    Beatrice is an innocent. Sir arrived just in time to accidentally save Beatrice's life, and she realized that the best chances of survival lay with this man. Sir will resist the presence of his new companion with all of his being at first, but slowly his heart will remember how to love and care for someone else. Subject to Sir's strict daily routines, Beatrice will become hardened, body and mind, until he can too learn how to not only survive, but thrive alone in a world that rejects any intruders.

    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.


    “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. Obviously he had decided Sir was still in a position to escape, and that was not something he could risk. “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 anyone gets these.”

    “What did you want to trade for, Sir?” This time, the title of respect fell easily and smoothly, and probably unconsciously 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.
    #1 Peregrine, Jun 16, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2015
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  2. Beatrice tapped her booted foot on the ground impatiently. She looked down at a large-facedwatch on her wrist. It was dusty, and old. There was a crack in the face, and dirt had made it's way inside, fogging the face. None of the hands were moving. There was a date set also in the bottom right corner of the watch face. It was missing a number, leaving a small square hole behind. Her wrist was skinny, and the cuff was too big for her arm, but she seemed determined to wear it. The round watch face kept sliding around so she had to move the face each time she looked down at her wrist, which was every few minutes. Herboots were similar--they looked slightly too big for her, but she wore several layers of socks, some going partway up her calves, some around her ankles, all different colors, none matching. This insured that her feet wouldn't be slipping about inside these too-big shoes. A pair of short, dirty green cargo shorts left her slender legs exposed. Her skin was fair, but sun-bathed--the fairer side of tan. Her knees and thighs were flushed pink from exposure and heat. She wore a tattered white tank top, which used to be a short-sleeve shirt, but the sleeves had been torn off. The white had faded to an off-white yellow. Her thin shoulders were slightly bent from the weight of a canvas ruck sack. Her hair was short, black and slightly fluffy from lack of grooming, and the amount of times she idly ran her fingers through it. Her bangs were straight across her forehead--or they usually were, at this point they were parted and sticking out at odd angles from the amount of times she ran the back of her hand over her sweaty forehead.

    She knew it wasn't nearly time for the caravan's departure, but she'd been so excited about leaving that she'd come to the meeting spot several hours before the time of departure. She settled down on a wooden crate and sighed impatiently, letting her feet dangle over the edge, the heels of her boots banging against the hollow crate. She reached back and shoved a hand into the side pocket of her backpack, withdrawing a slightly crumpled and wrinkled pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She opened the lid, peering inside. There was a good half-pack left. She took one of the cigarettes, and stuck it between her lips, putting the pack back into the bag. She sat there, with it dangling out of her mouth for a few moments, turning the silver lighter over in her hands.

    It had been quite an effort getting the caravan to let her travel with them. At the moment she didn't even know what was next for her, she just didn't want to be here anymore. She was eager to leave--so eager, in fact, she barely got any sleep from the excitement. This was like a field-trip, or permanent vacation in her eyes. She was hoping some of the caravaners would eventually take her on and teach her how to trade and scavenge and all that adventure-y stuff. She'd never been outside these walls before, and she was eager, and slightly frightened to see what lay beyond them.

    She heard footsteps, and immediately shoved the unlit cigarette and lighter back into the side pocket of her backpack. She didn't know the caravaner's that well, but wasn't quite sure how they would like a thirteen year old smoking. They had barely excepted her, and she wasn't ready to start testing grounds to see how far she could go before they kicked her out of their little group. When she looked up, she saw a tall, red-haired woman looking down at her. Beatrice immediately recognized her as the woman who had taken enough pity on Beatrice to take her in. The woman's name was Molly.

    "Ah," said the woman, looking down at Beatrice with a stiff smile, "Already here?"

    Beatrice gave a short nod, sliding off the crate and looking up at her. Molly was tall, slim, athletic. She had a backpack much larger and much more packed than Beatrice's. She had a few small weapons strapped to the belt around her waist. A few scars were lined along her arms and legs, signs of the adventures she had faced. Beatrice saw her as a kind of role-model. Ever since she'd laid eyes on her when she had nicked some food from their caravan, Beatrice was automatically interested. That's the kind of woman Beatrice wanted to be. Fiercely beautiful, tough, sly, witty.

    "Well, the others won't be long," she said, readjusting her own rucksack more securely on her back. She jerked her head in a silent command for Beatrice to follow. Beatrice was right on her heels and followed her as they began to walk along the sandy, dusty street. Normally, Beatrice would have been much more talkative, but she was very quiet at this point. She was shy enough around adults, especially these hard-assed looking ones. She noticed a small-ish gathering of individuals and recognized them as the other traders. Each of them had one or more highly packed bags. There were several hand-pulled wagons as well, a flea-bitten mule, who pulled a heavy-laden cart, and an old ruminating cow pulling a larger wagon, with a moth-eaten canvas over the edge, providing some shade within the wagon.

    The time was nearing midday, when the sun was nearing the top of the sky. Beatrice looked up, craning her neck and squinting, before shifting to stand shyly in Molly’s shadow. Beatrice could feel a few skeptical looks at her but tried not to make any eye contact. She fiddled with her broken watch, sliding it idly up and down her skinny arm.

    Molly turned back to gaze down at the shrinking Beatrice, “Get yourself inside the larger wagon. It’ll be cooler in there, and you can make sure everything tied down. Remember that knot I showed you yesterday? Make sure they’re tight, so none of our supplies falls out, alright?” she asked. Being given an official job made Beatrice perk up slightly and she shuffled over to the cow-pulled wagon and climbed up into it, sliding her bag sideways off her shoulders and placing it on one of the boxes. There were makeshift seats made from the crates of supplies. Several had animal skins overtop to soften the hard surface. Beatrice placed her ruck sack so it was nestled firmly between two heavy wooden carts. Thick ropes were being used to tie down the crates and boxes. Beatrice crawled over them to check the knots, tightening a few, and re-tying some of them.

    The wagon gave a great jolt, causing Beatrice’s stomach to lurch. But once they started moving, she was able to settle down toward the front of the wagon, sitting down on an animal skin atop one of the boxes. She peered out as the city’s gates opened and they set off into the wastes.

    Every half an hour or so, Beatrice would check the knots once more, making sure everything was in place. The movement would, from time to time, cause some knots to loosen, or put strain on the ropes, but she didn’t really have much work to do. Beatrice understood that Molly gave her a job to keep her occupied during the journey. About once an hour, Beatrice would hop out of the wagon and walk alongside to stretch her legs. The sun was bearing down on them as they traveled. When Beatrice’s legs would grow sore, she’d simply climb back up into the wagon and sip at a bottle of purified water. It was warm from sitting in the sun, but it was still better than no water at all. In fact, Beatrice wouldn’t remember the last time she had ice cold water.

    As the sun began to set, and the air around them grew cooler, the group came to a stop, and some of the caravaners began to set up camp. They had one or two tents to sleep in, but Beatrice was told she’d be sleeping in the wagon. There was a small area on the floor that was free of crates. The crates towered around her, and while part of her was nervous a box would fall on her, the towers around her made her feel strangely safe. Molly gave her a few pieces of dried meat for dinner, and a tin of lukewarm canned soup. After a long afternoon of traveling, it tasted wonderful. Beatrice almost never ate salvaged food. She was used to stealing scraps of fresh food from venders in the city, but food was still food. And while the dried meat was unpleasantly salty, it filled her stomach enough to allow her to grow sleepy. Using her lumpy ruck sack as a pillow, she curled up on the floor of the wagon, and drifted off to sleep.

    ~ ~ ~

    Beatrice wasn’t aware what time it was when she awoke, and at first she wasn’t sure what woke her up. It was dark, except for a few silvery streams of moonlight that came through the holes and gaps in the wagon’s covering. There was movement outside, and a scream, a scream that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Beatrice’s heart leapt into her throat and she lowered herself back down, shaking slightly as she listened hard. She heard shuddering grunts and moans around the wagon and her arms wraps tightly around herself. She’d seen them and heard them before, and there was no mistaking the ragged breathing. But she’d never been this close to them, she could hear them on the other side of the canvas, only fabric and crates separating her from them. The screams continued, before turning into a gurgling moan, and silence.

    She could feel her chest shuddering as she breathed, nearing hyperventilation. She pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to keep herself as silent as possible. Maybe they’d pass by the wagon without noticing her… but how would she get back? She had no idea where they were, or what direction the nearest settlement was. Maybe there were still some alive… but she couldn’t hear anything exceptthem. She plunged a shaking hand into her rucksack, pulling out an old weathered revolver. Her hands shook as she held it. There were only four bullets in the chamber, but she’d use it if she had to. She know how, but she’d never actually fired a gun before. She sat up slowly, her back against one of the crates, and peered towards the mouth of the wagon. She held the gun up with shaking hands, the barrel bobbing up and down, back and forth. She waited, as silent, terrified tears trickled down her cheeks. She bit on her trembling bottom lip as she waited.
  3. The hoard was small enough that it wasn't all that hard to find the territory they roamed on a regular basis. They circled around the small community, having apparently lost enough members to the elite guns that they were no longer interested in threatening the small community, and would turn instead to easier prey until their numbers swelled once more. If Sir has his way, their numbers would soon fall even further.

    It took him many hours to find a relatively recent set of tracks from the infected hoard, and by that point it was getting dark enough that he was prepared to settle in for the night and wait for the first light of morning to finish his hunt. While the infected came from humans, they were also mutated to nearly unrecognizable states. One of these features was that they were better suited to night travel than he was. What changed his mind was a sudden stillness in the forests, followed by panting, coughing bellows that tore through the trees in waves. Like the rest of the wildlife that had learned to live with the hunting infected, Sir froze, going as still as he could maintain. Only faint breaths an an occasional blink gave away the fact that he was not a part of the forest. Like everything else, he knew that noise. The leader of the hoard, a climber if the locals were to be believed, was calling away the various members of the group for a hunt.

    Having already set down his pack on the forest duff, Sir bent, scooping it up before securing the lower strap around his waist, to put the pressure on his hips. People who weren't as familiar with the ways of the infected would flee at such a call, but Sir knew better. When the infected were on a hunt they were oblivious to everything but the scent of their prey. If he could get close enough to them as they were taking down their prey, they might not even notice as one or two of their number began to fall. When they were feasting they would be even more incautious. Despite the risk of the dark, a hunt was simply too good of an opportunity to pass up.

    All the same, there were two times in the following hours as Sir tracked the silent stampede of the hoard that he nearly turned around, giving up for the evening in alarm at the behavior of the hoard. No one would even accuse the infected of being intelligent, but they were possessed of a sort of primal logic that guided all animals on the hunt. After a period of time, while Sir trailed far behind the hoard in fear of being chosen as their prey for the evening, all the usual rules seemed to be set aside in favor of a wild, erratic fervor. They bowled through the forest, furious and reckless, seeming unconcerned at the risk of disturbing their prey before they got close enough to ambush it. They moved so fast that Sir found himself falling so far behind that he might not catch up before they had finished eating their prey and set out for a return journey to the nest, let alone when they were attempting to actually complete the hunt. Despite that this hunt seemed to shatter all of the normal patterns with which he had become so familiar, there was something vaguely familiar about it, and whatever that familiarity was it set his nerves on edge.

    It wasn't until a sudden, sharp crack rang out through the forest, louder even than the sound of the Climber's howl, that Sir recognized the reason for his alarm. The only reason the infected ever behaved like this was when they caught the scent of their favorite prey; humans. The hoard had caught the scent of a group of people, and they had gotten close enough to attack. Sir almost halted once more, and even started to turn away before he hesitated. The gun that had gone off was a rifle, and while a single, well placed shot could stop an infected for good, anyone who wasn't familiar with the weapon would be more likely to simply enrage the thing, and make their death that much more painful. Judging from the furious shriek that followed, the person had not aimed correctly. Most likely, they were already dead. The whole caravan was most likely already dead, if they didn't even know that much. A part of him didn't want to see the inevitable slaughter.

    Cool efficiency kept him moving forward, slipping silently from shadow to shadow among the trees. If a normal hunt would distract the infected, a hunt for people would do even more to raise Sir's chances at eliminating the entire hoard in one go. The least he could do was ensure that all the infected that participated in their murder would be killed. Maybe that would help set their ghosts at ease. If nothing else, it might save Sir from a greater risk.

    He saw the silhouette of the wagon before he actually saw the infected. Sir slowed even further, stepping carefully across the ground so as to not make a sound. The motion had slowed, and the fearsome sound of flesh being ravaged was echoing through the clearing. Had they even managed to kill one? Surely no group would come out that unprepared. He paused at the edge of the trees, and looked out to the road. The light was dim through the canopy of leaves, but he got a quick count through the movement of shadow on shadow.

    It was indeed a small hoard, although it was more than the individual roamers that most caravans encountered. Other than the climber there were five common infected. All of them were happily feasting on the corpses of the caravanserai. As quietly as he could, Sir climbed up into the tree at the edge of the road. Once he was at the top he tossed the stone he had palmed, where it clattered against the gravel at the edge of the road. Six heads swung around, all blood and growls. There was a moment of stillness, before one of them got up to investigate. Sir took a deep breath, calming his heart. As soon as it got close enough the action would begin.

    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 infected. One fluid throw later and it was lassoed, and Sir was jumping backwards out of the tree, using its 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 it continued to writhe like that.

    The guttural cries of pain from the choking infected were enough to draw the rest of them away from their kills. One, which had finished with the rich parts of a small woman, drew back just as it was about to crawl into the covered wagon. They turned, staring up at the member of their group. Sir took full advantage of this delayed moment to hurry away from the base of the tree, ducking behind a trunk as the remaining five began to slowly move forward. The sharp crack of breaking bone rang out through the clearing, and the infected in the tree went still. A sharp noise slipped from between the Climber’s lips and, if it was possible, Sir went even more still. The Climber was his target. As the leader of the hoard, if he could take it out, the rest would fall easily. Commons were not clever beasts, even for infected.

    It sidled forward slowly, long limbs trailing on the ground, and Sir watched its vague silhouette, waiting for the perfect moment. Finally the monster stepped into a ray of moonlight, illuminating its brown, leathery hide and over-large eyes. In an instant a flash of silver slipped out from between the shadows, as the knife that had appeared in Sir’s hand was hurled across the clearing, striking hard against the Climber’s neck. It let out a shriek of pain, pulled out the knife with a sharp yank, before hurling itself in the direction Sir had thrown from, and from which he was now a good two or three trees. Had the creature actually stopped to tend to its wound it might have lived, but the increase of its heart rate and sudden motion sent cascades of black blood down its front. Before it even reached the tree line it staggered, and then fell over. One final whimper and it went still.

    Without the guidance of the Climber the rest of the hoard went into pandemonium. Two of them gathered together, only for one of them to be struck with a pebble, and its wild swinging disemboweled its neighbor. One fled for the treeline where it soon encountered the shadow of Sir as he moved to intercept it. With two left Sir strode forward, a machete in one hand and a short knife in the other. Finally faced with a target both infected threw themselves at him, not even bothering to glance at each other. He ducked under the blow as one swiped with long nails, using its own momentum to drive the short knife into its chest. The other he harried with machete blows until the small infected, looking to be only a year out of the nest, finally turned and fled, leaving a trail of black blood on the detritus. It would race back to the nest, where there was a stockpile of food which would allow it to heal. Unintentionally, it had also just led Sir to its own young. The gems from such young creatures weren’t worth much, but they were easy to collect. They were, after all, nearly harmless, which was why they were left in the nest.

    As soon as the clearing was still Sir pulled out a soft rag from inside a pocket, which looked to be made from an old shirt that had gotten partially soaked in blood, and carefully cleaned every drop of infected blood off himself. He was always careful to clean and bandage any cuts he got so they would heal quickly, but residual blood on him could ruin his efforts. He was not going to risk infection for something as simple as poor hygiene. That task completed he set about the clearing, looking for the thrown knife, and prepared to gather the gems from the infected with as much care as he could.
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  4. The front of the wagon creaked ominously as one of the infected started to climb inside. Beatrice’s hands shook. She couldn’t see it, but she could hear it. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks and splashed into her lap. Her breaths came out in short, soft shudders. She pressed a hand to her mouth to keep herself silent as her other hand held up the gun. Her arms started to ache from the effort of keeping her arms up and straight, and the barrel of the gun began to shake more violently. The shuffling stopped, and so did Beatrice’s breathing. After a moment or two, she listened as the monstrous creature started to shuffle elsewhere. She heard the crack ring through the forest. It made her jump. The rest of the struggle was unintelligible to Beatrice. Without seeing, she had no idea what was going on.

    Silence fell over the destroyed camp. She waited a few long minutes just to make sure everything was really quiet. It sounded like one of them had run off. She would have to come out sometime, and now seemed a good time. Her eyes were already adjusted to the dark, though she wouldn’t be able to see quite as well as some of the infected. She slowly started to struggle to her feet, pulling her bag up over her shoulders, keeping her gun pointed in front of her while she did so. She got her feet underneath her, and slowly rose, peering cautiously over a crate, and out of the mouth of the wagon.

    The wood at the front was stained with blood from where the infected had smeared its hands against the edge of the wagon. It glistened in the silver moonlight, red and glutinous. She rose so slowly, her upper leg muscles trembled from the effort. She stayed crouched as she stepped very quietly over a crate. The half-starved cow that had been pulling the wagon was on the ground a deep open wound in its side. It looked like an infected had started a feast, but hadn’t finished it off. The beast was dead. Her stomach churned at the sight of the cow’s open belly. She poked her head out of the wagon and looked around the rest of the camp. She saw one of the infected lying a few feet away, it’s throat open, and black, thick blood seeping into the ground.

    Her eyes then traveled over the rest of the camp, but she didn’t want to look too closely at the other bodies. She crouched down, sitting down at the edge of the wagon, slinging her feet over, before landing gently on the ground. Her thick-souled boots making a muffled thump on the ground. Her foot caught something and she stumbled, but regained her balance. She looked around wildly, and saw the pale white arm she had tripped over. Her heart beat loudly in her chest as her eyes followed the arm to the body, then to the face. It was Molly. But she wasn’t dead. Not yet. Her torso had been exposed and dug into. her throat nearly ripped out. Her eyes were already glazed over, staring up at the sky blankly. Her mouth opened and closed silently, like a fish out of water, near death, giving up on the struggle.

    A moment later, Molly’s movements stopped. The thick smell of blood and death pressed so firmly against Beatrice she pressed a hand to her mouth. She bent double, heaving what little supper she ate was emptied from her stomach. The sound of her vomiting soon turned into an audible sob. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, new tears streaming down her face. She started to shuffle backward, away from the nightmare in front of her and back toward the little solace that she had found in the wagon. At least there, she couldn't see anything. She stumbled, falling back, but the edge of the wagon kept her from falling. She gasped, startled, the rusty pistol slipping out of her hand and into a pool of Molly's blood. She covered her mouth again, not having the stomach to reach down and pick it back up.
    #4 Munchkin, Jul 11, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2015
  5. The entire hoard of infected had been quite young. Had he thought about it he would have been able to guess that, as an older group lead by a climber would have spawned at least one other of its kind, but at the time he had been busy with strategy and survival, and not so concerned about the age of the infected he was killing. What it meant now was that he wasn't going to be able to get as much for the gems. They continued to grow larger within the infected skull the longer the infected lived, and the larger the gem the more power it would be able to generate as it slowly crumbled away.

    In the end, though, it didn't really matter all that much. Gems were gems, and even a six or seven year old common gem could get him the necessary provisions for a couple of weeks. There was no reason for him to be turning up his nose at them.

    He settled next to one of the young common infected, and pulled out a chisel and punch, a short knife, and a pair of tweezers. Digging the gem out of an infected brain was delicate work. None of them ever formed in the same spot, and even a small nick would waste a lot of the electricity they contained, making them worth less. He used the punch to crack open the skull and the chisel to widen the hole, and then set in with the knife and tweezers, slowly working his way through the grey matter until he began to feel the faint hardening of the tissue that hinted he was getting close to the gem. From there he slowed further, his concentration absolute.

    It was shattered quite suddenly by the sound of something light landing on packed dirt. In an instant another throwing knife, nearly identical to the one that was laying next to the climber on the other side of the clearing, was in his hand. There shouldn't have been anything living in the area. Slowly he straightened from his crouch, prepared for a fight.

    What he found instead was a young girl doubled over next to the wagon, heaving out her guts at the sight of the people she had been traveling with, dead and littered all over the clearing. Miracle of miracles, someone had survived. They must have ignored her with all the other meat around, making her thin frame less valuable. If he hadn't shown up when he did, she would undoubtedly be dead.

    It was an odd bit of fortune, and one he wasn't entirely certain what to do with. Logic told him to ignore her, to blend back into the shadows and wait for her to leave, finish gathering his gems, and then strike out towards the nest at first light. All the infected in the area were gone, and if she continued to follow the road in the direction the caravan was heading it would lead her to a small community within a day or two. Maybe longer, as a small thing like her would travel slower, but she'd be able to make it.

    Yet still, for a reason he couldn't even begin to guess at, he held still, his looming frame silhouetted by the rays of moonlight. She had a gun, although from the way she held it , and ended up dropping it, she didn't seem to be at all familiar with it. It made sense, in a way. There was so little gunpowder ammunition left at this point that people rarely practiced. The only way to learn now was on an Elite gun, and those were hard to come by.

    He'd point her in the right direction, make sure she had sufficient supplies to get her the rest of the way, and then finish cleaning out the infected and loot the caravan himself, with plenty of time left for meditation and sleep before striking out at dawn.
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  6. Beatrice forced herself to look away from the gun, now splattered with blood. She feared she might get sick again, but she doubted anything would actually come up. Her stomach was already sore from lack of food, and now it was sore from her muscles contracting from her convulsion. She dragged the back of her hand across her mouth, swallowing dryly. She looked around, and back behind her into the mouth of the wagon behind her. Her throat felt so dry and sore, she needed water. There were at least three canteens in there. She turned around, shaky and weak. She used her hands to pull herself up, trying her hardest to avoid the blood that had spattered around the edge. She managed not to get her hands in it, but she slipped, and some of it smeared along her leg and knee. She gagged, covering her mouth, letting out an audible groan of disgust.

    Once inside she stumbled around, looking for some of the bags inside. She dug around a few before finally finding a canteen. She pulled it out, sitting up on one of the crates as she unscrewed the lid. She drank half of it in one go, pulling it back and panting for air. The water wasn't cold, but it was refreshing and enough to help her clear her head a bit. She shuddered, before starting to look around her. She could build up a kind of fort around the entrance, and sleep in the wagon overnight. When morning came she could use the light of the sun to guide her. Where? She didn't know. But she figured that if she followed the path in the same direction that they were going, she would eventually get somewhere. She knew there was a small community nearby, but she didn't know if they would take her in without the other caravaners. If she took some trading supplies she may be able to negotiate something with them. She buried her face in her hands, fear starting to creep around her once again. She had never dealt with the dead face to face, not even this time. Something or someone else had killed them, and she couldn't hear or see them. She pushed the canteen back inside her own rucksack, and started to fill it with some food and other essentials from the others' packs. She couldn't help but feel a little guilty for doing so, but her logic told her she would be a fool if she left the food and other good to spoil.

    She found another gun, also in poor condition, and pushed it into a pocket of her sac. Also a knife. It looked polished and sharp. Probably one of the more valuable things here. She didn't know much about survival, but she knew that she couldn't travel alone in the night like this, in an unfamiliar place, where man-eating corpses had just been. She had never been out in the wilderness like this. The uninhabited areas. But--if the traders took this route usually, it must be pretty safe right? Then again, they were just attacked. She chewed nervously on her bottom lip, shuffling uncomfortably on the crate. She looked down at the spot she had used for a bed earlier. She wasn't going to get any sleep tonight--but she couldn't leave either. She might as well just wait until morning. She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. She couldn't wait to get out of this place. The smell of death was overwhelming. She wanted to leave, and never come back.

    Once she packed everything away, and started to settle down, she heard a twig snap outside. She jumped, reaching into her bag to get the low quality firearm she had just discovered. She started to slowly make her way toward the entrance of the mouth of the wagon, before peeking out. She saw a silhouetted figure, kneeling beside one of the corpses. It was too still and calm to be one of them. But she couldn't be sure... she lifted the gun, pointing it at the shadow, "H-hello? Whose there!" she demanded.
    #6 Munchkin, Aug 25, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2015
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