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. Their survival thus far was surely only due to a large stockpile of illegal Elite-grade weapons. Of which at least seventy five percent had to now be aimed directly at his head. Honestly, it was a miracle that they had even survived this long. The idiot guards hadn't even noticed as he walked in through their mediocre gates, right under their noses which were apparently blocked by weapons too big for them to handle. Perhaps they relied more upon their noses than they did upon their eyes, expecting the stench of the infected to alert them to an incoming hoard. When someone had finally noticed the stranger among their midst the kid had raised the alarm, sending the guards scampering towards him, and surrounding him in an oblong circle, guns trained on his head. Apparently they had also never been trained how to fight a lone person, because had even a single one of them gotten an itchy trigger finger it would have probably meant the downfall of at least five of their own number. And that was only if he did nothing to help the rest along! For, if the bullet didn't hit him, and he would do everything in his power to make sure it didn't, it would have to strike one of the people across the way, and, if their slow feet could manage to dodge, it would hit one of the surrounding townsfolk who had gathered into their own little ring to watch the big, bad, military men threaten the strange old man. All these young, strapping boys carrying around enough firepower to blow a thirty year old Hulker to kingdom come, surrounding an old man that they hadn't even the sense to notice wander into their town. The whole scene was so ridiculous that he had to laugh. And so he did, ignoring the mutters and evil looks of the boys carrying men's guns. If a pack of infected had shown up then, they would likely have been able to overrun the whole town before these dunderheads even noticed something was amiss. Finally, one of the younger recruits got tired of his maniac laughter, and fired a round into the dirt by his feet. The massive bang echoed around the whole village and the recruit jumped a foot into the air, casting shifty eyed glances at the rest of his comrades. Apparently he had never fired a gun in the middle of a silent village, for some reason. This kid would certainly get a talking to later, if the faces of the rest of the men were anything to judge by. Rule number one of survival: Never waste supplies. Especially ammunition. No matter the circumstances. But, if nothing else, the kid's apt gunshot did stop the sound of his laughter. Now he was laughing too hard to make a noise. The kid was blushing as red as a beet, and was surreptitiously pushed out of the circle by the two to either side of him. But he was not too busy laughing to notice when the circle parted, and someone who finally might deserve to be called a man approached, gun smoothly leveled at him. The man kept one eye on him, but called out to the rest of the people who had formed the ring. “Well? Why are you all standing here. He doesn’t look contagious, at least not yet. How many men do you have on the walls right now? Do you know that there isn’t a horde coming at this very moment?” Everyone lowered their heads in shame, and began to walk away, but the new guard leveled his gaze on two of the older, calmer men who had been a part of his circle of honor. “You two, stay. Three guns will be sufficient for anything.” Not true, but beside the point at the moment. “How did you get into this town?” This was the first time that anyone had actually tried to speak to him. He straightened up, letting the beggar attitude fall off his shoulders, and the giant pack strung across his shoulders suddenly seemed to weigh as much as a feather. “Your boys don’t know how to look properly.” He matched the guard note for note in calm assurance. But only his eyes said that he wasn’t bluffing. “I walked in through the front gate.” Of course, their inability to see wasn’t really that surprising. No one ever looked at him, in his worn clothes, with hacked off grey hair and a stubble beard, and actually saw him. They saw an old man, someone who must have survived the years by pure luck, and was now only waiting for death to claim him. No, it wasn’t even certain that they saw that. Perhaps they only saw a rock, rolling along the countryside, for he could provide no more use to the community than the scattered rocks, and deserved just as much attention. It came in handy to know how to wrap yourself in that particular cloak, but there were only certain moments when it was right to use. This wasn’t one of them anymore. As little as the captain may like his words, he didn't try and doubt or question them. Instead the man circled around slightly, forcing him to either turn his back to one of the three gunmen, or only be able to see the captain out of the corner of his eye. Now, here was a man who knew how to play. Perhaps he did deserve the title. “Who are you, stranger?” The captain called. “Sir,” “What should we call you?” The captain seemed to think he was senile. As though he would ever call an uppity bastard like him ‘sir’. “You may call me Sir.” The captain’s lips folded back in disgust, and his gun, which had been dropping slowly down as he talked, quickly leveled back off. “What do you want, old man?” Ah, so it was time for a little show and tell, was it? Time to let them know exactly who they were dealing with. He took a faltering step forward, letting all the pride in his shoulders slip away as suddenly as it had come. They were so willing to forget it, forget the promise in his eyes, that one of the soldiers even stepped forwards as he tottered. He went down on a knee, watching out of the corner of his eye how long it took the men to readjust their weapons. This was going to be easy. The captain took a step forward, mirrored by his men, who watched the “old man” with wary eyes. But they had already forgotten. He was a rock again, and beneath their notice. But they had never truly seen him anyways. So be it. Men were easier than infected. The infected no longer judged based on appearance, only the huddled layers of movement in the muscles. Men... men saw what they wanted to when it came to other men. Sir was up and moving before they could even register that he had changed positions. “What the...?” the round discharged on empty ground, at the exact spot where Sir would have been if he hadn’t taken that exact hypothesis into consideration and changed directions in an instant. It was always a game, always a risk, but none played it better than him. And now he was right next to the man who had been trying to work his way directly behind Sir while the captain had been talking. Sir’s hand darted out, and now the playing field was level. The gun was in his hand, and it was leveled at the head of the guard who was locked in Sir’s other hand with a viselike grip. “Believe it or not,” Sir said calmly, “I didn’t want it to come to this. I came to resupply before heading back out again, but I could tell by the tone of your voice that there was no way you were going to give me a fair bargain.” He twisted his hand, and the man locked in his grip let out a yell. “But, now that the boot is on the other foot, perhaps we can get a chance to talk, yes, captain.” “...Yes,” he said begrudgingly. “I beg your pardon?” Another yell from the imprisoned guard. The townspeople were starting to circle again, but this time they were keeping their distance. There was a big difference between a small old man surrounded by a circle of guards, and a man with a gun in his hand. “Yes, Sir.” There was acid in his voice. He could only push them so much further. Time to switch tactics. “Now,” he said, and while everyone was distracted by the echo of his voice the hand that gripped his hostage darted out like a snake, changing from the wrist to the neck in the blink of an eye. “I am going to assume that the fact that this man’s life is in my hands is more important than the fact that there is a gun in my hands.” The gun clattered to the ground, and Sir’s hand reached into a hidden pocket in his pants. It came back out, holding a sky blue gem the size of a dime for all to see. And now, now he had their respect. He could see it in their eyes. The captain swore quietly, shocked. One of the soldiers crept closer, and let out a gasp. It was safe to let go of his hostage now. They weren’t going to hurt him. The hostage turned around, staring at the gem he had only been able to see out of the corner of his eye. “That must have come from a ten year old Flyer. How on earth did you get it?” “The same way you get all of these. I ripped it out of his fragile skull.” “What did you want to trade for, Sir?” This time, there was no hesitation in the captain’s voice, no stutter over the title of respect. He had won them over completely, at least for now. They still weren’t seeing him, only the gem, and the kind of man who should be holding it. But, it was closer. He hated having to deal with people. The sudden wave of infected spreading over the world right about forty years ago had brought out the bastard in everyone. They had to, or they wouldn’t survive. It had been the same with him, but that didn’t make him any more tolerant of peoples many stupidities. “I’ll get rid of the local horde that has been bothering you, and give you three Common gems. In exchange, you give me some supplies, and a couple of your guns.” It had been a long time since he had felt the smooth barrel of Elite weapons beneath his fingers. The funny thing about infected was, except for the Flyers, they were all too human. They never remembered to look up. They never thought that something would dare come at them from above. The villagers said that a Climber was 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. Ah, 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. But first, the Climber had to be taken care of. But the last thing he had expected to see when he found the horde was to have them be on the hunt. A wicked grin split 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. They were so oblivious. The trees were dense enough that it was the easiest thing in the world 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, and then switched to the next rope. It took one more try before he found the right one. He tugged on this one, and it uncoiled soundlessly 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 smoke bomb was in Sir’s hand, and he threw it towards the group around the girl. The flash was blinding, but Sir’s back was already turned. That would be enough to slow them down for a minute, and maybe even save the girl’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 towards 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. It was too much of a temptation to resist. The nail bomb flew into their midst, embedding itself in one of the infected’s heads before exploding like a cannon from heaven. The rest were easy pickings. He only let one go, one heavily bleeding infected who would run back to the nest and the likely stockpile of food, 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 the supplies that he had used, and root all the gems out of the corpse’s craniums.