Authors: Ashlei D. Hawley
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
Something weighs me down as we leave, and it isn’t the Matrix ensemble. It seems my patience has been worn away with my great age, and the uncomfortable thought festers in my mind, demanding my attention. It’s become harder and harder for me to pull my focus from something I want to figure out as the centuries pass. I want answers at once, but none are forthcoming.
We leave the complex as breathless shadows. Our presence is not betrayed by any sound, even a heartbeat. Now isn’t the time for me to be distracted. I will the frustrating thoughts away and focus on Ramses moving beside me.
It’s only been three years since we’ve moved together, but the night feels so much more alive now that he’s come back to me. He sprints forward, finding the surest, quietest path through the dark. I follow him unerringly. Every footfall is a guiding beacon to my sensitive hearing. He knows the best way, and I know my best way is to follow him.
He stops us both with a soft touch on the back of my hand. As though our attunement to each other has reignited a psychic link damaged by distance, I’d already been slowing when he reached out. We stop as one body. I look in the direction he gestures and shudder.
There are Rippers everywhere. Sector eight is overrun. Every inch of cracked pavement, dead grass, and fading tarmac is covered with rotting, growling bodies. They were once human, once workers or patrons of this commercial stretch. Now they’re worse than animals. Ghouls and monsters, they haunt and stalk this place as mindless predators.
They haven’t seen us yet and I know without us talking about it that Ramses wants us to find a way around. I know I’m not keen on having another Ripper encounter so soon after my last one.
Ramses gestures to the left and I nod. I’ll continue to defer to his lead unless he does something foolish, which I’ve never known Ramses to do. We’ll go around and find a better way.
When we turn, I see shapes off in the distance. They look almost as though they came from the compound, but I can’t see that being true. No one else had a reason to go out after us. They’re probably Rippers from one of the nearby Sectors that got around behind us. Nonetheless, I’m nervous. The feeling in my gut hasn’t subsided.
I nudge Ramses as he’s about to take off again and point back toward where we came from. We communicate silently, through a series of looks, nods, head shakes, and shrugs. He doesn’t know where they came from or what they are, and neither do I. They move like Rippers, so they must be Rippers we didn’t see when we left the compound. I’ll have to tell Seth when we get back that we have to return some of our members to patrol. If we get a big enough group of them on our walls, our barricades won’t hold.
Ramses tips his head, a question in his radiant blue eyes. Are we going or not? I nod, and he starts to run again.
I know he slows his pace for me and I appreciate that he remembers my sometimes frustrating lack of speed. Did I expect him to forget something like that in three short years? I guess I was sort of afraid he would.
When we stop next, we stand beside the communications tower we’ve been sent to work on. Ramses opens his mouth to say something, maybe discuss the plan, but I pull him to me before he can talk. There are tears in my eyes; they end up on his jacket. I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m just so happy he’s back and I can touch him again that I can’t think straight.
He wraps his thick arms around me and I’ve never felt more secure. I can feel the warmth he radiates, hear the purr of breath in his chest. We might not need to breathe, but our bodies still follow the patterns inherent to the flesh.
Even though we’re technically undead, immortal creatures of darkness, no one has ever felt more alive to me than Ramses. His thrumming energy is a stream of life I feel I can dip my hands into and pull out clean water to purge the darkness from my soul. Even in the night, with Rippers around and confusion in my mind, my heart is safe and protected as long as Ramses is here.
He pulls away and brushes his hands over my hair. The embrace only lasted a moment, but it feels like we’ve had days to reconnect and recharge each other. His only-for-me smile pulls his wide lips from his bright teeth before he leans forward for a kiss.
I don’t know if I ever kissed him like I’d die without him before we were separated. I don’t remember the urgency of his fangs digging against my lower lip as he presses himself with such burning need into my arms. Were we always so desperate for each other? Did his hands always cruise down the curve of my spine, sending lightning along the skin before he crushed his strong fingers against my ass to pull me closer?
It’s like we’re new to each other; like we haven’t known and loved one another for hundreds of years. The separation may have been the best thing to ever happen to us. I also think it could have been the most dangerous thing that could have happened. Like we needed to be more desperate for each other.
“Don’t be a distraction, now,” he murmurs against my mouth as we break apart.
I feel silly for letting us get so carried away. Here we are, surrounded by ravenous freaks who are at their strongest right now. The night is their time, no matter how much I want to take it back from them.
I regain a healthy dose of caution as I stand lookout. Rippers wander all around us. I can hear them running into the remnants of their crumbled society. They snarl at each other as they pass by one another, nothing more than hungry, angry ghosts in the night without prey to stimulate them.
Ramses works on the door. Though he sighs in frustration at the necessity of it, he breaks the lock with as little noise as possible. I know he wanted to keep the mechanism intact in case we need to use the place for shelter during the coming day, but we’re on a timeframe. If we can get this done within the next hour, we can be back home and sharing my bed before the sun is a threat to us.
“In or out?” he asks under his breath. The barest whisper is all I need to hear him. I think over his question for a few seconds and then answer.
“In, but I’ll stay on the first floor.”
If Rippers find out we’re here, we’re stronger together. I don’t want to be outside while Ramses plays distraction for me to get away. He nods and moves inside, heading for the staircase I can see in the back. He’ll go up to the top of the tower and try to make the repairs from there.
I close the door and stand near it. There is a small, double-paned window I can look out to check whether or not any Rippers have been alerted to our presence. So far, we seem to be without company.
I pace around. I stretch and adjust my clothing. As each second passes by me, it leaves droplets of nerves condensing into sweat on my skin. Something still feels wrong, and the feeling is getting worse as the night progresses.
A chair which looks comfortable enough for a few minutes of wheeling about the room beckons me. I sit and let my thoughts play out. I’ve felt something off since Seth gave us our assignment. As distracted as I’ve been since Ramses’ return, I still know that something’s up.
I almost snap my fingers when it clicks in my head. Spinning around in the chair, I make sure to glance out the small window every now and again as I go through it slowly in my head.
Seth and Ramses have always had a respectful and earnest relationship. I’ve never heard our elder speak to Ramses the way he did tonight. It was almost like he wanted us gone. I also get the feeling he wanted us mad, distracted, and confused so we didn’t feel the need to go back anytime soon.
Ramses returns before I even get all the way through my musing. He brushes the back of his hand against my creased forehead and asks, “What’s got you bothered, sugar?”
“Your father,” I begin as I stand. No Rippers have detected our presence. Why haven’t we done this before, I wonder. Surely there was at least one person besides Kaiser or Ramses who could have repaired the issue.
Ramses repacks his tools and makes sure his bag sits snugly against his broad back. He flicks his sapphire eyes back to me and nods.
“What about him?”
I push flyaway hair from my face and frown toward the door we’ll soon be exiting. “He seemed off tonight. More than off. He seemed like he was forcing us out, right? I’ve never heard him talk to you like that.”
Ramses shrugs with one shoulder and stares out into the darkness with me. He nudges the toe of one shoe against the heel of his other. It’s one of his characteristic moves for when he’s nervous or uncomfortable about something.
“Say what you’re thinking,” I urge. It’s something I’ve had to insist upon many times throughout our centuries of life together.
He sends a quick grin my way. “What, you don’t know what’s on my mind?” he asks. Though we both keep our voices so low they’re almost nonexistent in the small room, I can hear the teasing in his tone.
I lower my eyebrows and glare at him a little. “Come on, Ramses.”
He sighs and pushes his big hands into his pockets.
“Yeah, there was something different about him. I thought it might have been because I didn’t tell him I was coming back.”
I move the few steps that separate us so I’m standing right beside him. I take one of his hands out of its pocket and kiss the warm skin below his knuckles. His tone tells me he’s upset.
“You think he was angry at you and that was it?”
“I did, until we got here. Working up there, I was thinking. You’re right, he wasn’t acting normal. I think my gut instinct about this safe zone was correct. This is my best lead on who in our ranks manufactured the virus, and he sent me away on a child’s play mission as soon as I started questioning my prime suspect.”
My eyes widen and I hope the conclusion I’ve come to is one Ramses has already thought of. Well, sort of. I don’t want it to be something either of us has to consider, but it’s there.
“Oh, God, Ramses. Do you think Seth knows something about who did this?”
Ramses’ mouth is a grim line on his tan face. I hate to see him look so unhappy at the prospect of his father’s involvement.
“I don’t think my father is that kind of man, I really don’t. But…we can’t discount the possibility. The fact is, he sent us away and behaved suspiciously. He wouldn’t even entertain the idea of one of our kind orchestrating the production and release of the Grissom virus. I’ve seen it, Sreya. I’ve seen the studies and I believe what I say when I tell you our blood, our disease was used to create this monstrosity. And he wouldn’t even listen.”
He shakes his head and I wrap my arms around his waist for a quick hug. It has to be difficult on him after so many centuries of having his father be a stalwart supporter, devoted teacher, and trusted friend. The Seth we saw back at the compound could have been practically a stranger for how he acted toward Ramses.
“Whatever he knows or doesn’t, we have to figure it out,” I say as I pull myself away from him after one last squeeze. “So let’s get back there.”
We slip out of the communications tower. Ramses is able to lock the door with a padlock he found in a desk drawer. He’s already pocketed one of the keys and slipped the other one into my pack. The tower is as secure as we can make it for the moment, and our lines of communication have been bolstered slightly. There are three more towers to make repairs at, but both Ramses and I feel we need to get back to the safe zone. It isn’t even a question.
We begin to run back. This time, I stop Ramses with a hand on his arm. While scanning the darkness, my eyes light upon two familiar figures. I know they’re the two Rippers I was confused about earlier, the ones that seemed to come from the direction of the safe zone.
Ramses points to them to let me know he sees them, too. I draw a short blade from my belt. Ramses follows my lead and removes two throwing axes from the holster on his thigh. We’re not going toward those two unprepared. They give me a bad vibe, and I’m not one to discount instinct, especially in Ripper territory.
Because they’re right on our path back toward the safe zone, we’re going right through the two Rippers. If they don’t notice us, we’ll slip by them without a fight. Something tells me, however, that we’ve been noticed the whole time we’ve been out tonight.
I hear running feet and know Ramses hears them, too. He stops moving forward and turns toward the potential threat. I go back to back with him and look into the night for the second set of running feet.
They charge at us, not caring at all that we’ve made them by the sound of their frantic, fast-moving footfalls. Bloody slaver coats their bared fangs and wide open mouths. Their lips are stretched so thin they turn white even against their pale, bloodless skin. I’m almost in a state of shock to see two vampires charging at us like feral monsters, but my body doesn’t give into shock as easily as my mind.
The one that leaps at me is a female vampire I know from guard duty. She misses pizza parlors and expensive tea shops from the old world. Now, it seems like she’s missing that and most of her personality. My short blade wouldn’t do much against her if this was a fair fight and she used her considerable skill and intelligence to place her strikes. However, she comes at me with no regard for her own safety.