Authors: Ashlei D. Hawley
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
My first blade slash opens her stomach up. Blood bursts forth to patter against the dry ground. She doesn’t even notice the strike. Instead, she howls and charges at me again. Between the noise and the scent of blood, other Rippers have been alerted to our presence.
Ramses struggles against his opponent. Even though he’s already torn an arm off, the male vampire comes at him undeterred. Ramses holds him back with one strong hand under the other male’s chin. The crazed vampire snaps at him, his fangs clicking together inches from Ramses’ face.
The female vampire lunges again and I bring my short sword around in a horizontal arc. The blade whistles past my own body before it bites into her neck above her shoulder. The weapon isn’t powerful enough to take the head in one slice, so I have to strike again. We need to get this finished. More Rippers are heading our way.
Ramses has taken off the head of his assailant. I don’t even know how he managed, but his weapons are free of blood and gore. He flicks blood from his hands and my eyes widen. Sometimes I forget the incredible strength of my kin.
Our gazes meet as the two bodies collapse on the ground. These were vampires from our compound, people who were safe as far as we knew when we left hours ago. Something is definitely wrong in our home.
There are Rippers in our line of sight now. They know we’re here and they aren’t about to let the unexpected meal get away.
Ramses appears torn. He looks toward the safe zone and back to the Rippers who’ve begun to surround us. Either way he sends me or what he tells me to do, there’s going to be danger. Better just to stick together, I know, than separate. We’ll be stronger if we fight together.
“They aren’t worth it,” he finally decides of the Rippers fast approaching us. “Head back to the safe zone, but don’t let anyone see you coming.”
We run and this time, Ramses follows me. I’m used to being at a disadvantage because of my speed. I use the terrain to benefit me. I know that even in the dark, Rippers have a harder time climbing up things, jumping, and using their finer motor functions.
We jump and climb up the walls of short, stout buildings and run across the roofs until we can jump to another, and then another. When we have to make it back to the street, we run around and above Rippers instead of through them. Anything that can be used to get higher than them or avoid their grasp is a preferred option over the street. Abandoned vehicles, trashcans, piles of rubble, and crumbling buildings become safe zones for seconds at a time. Whenever a Ripper reaches for us, we’ve already catapulted ourselves to the next stationary sanctuary, out of their grasp by milliseconds and centimeters.
When we make it back to the safe zone, even Ramses looks exhausted. I’ve never seen a run drain him and wonder if it’s possible the stress is getting to him, as well.
Dread makes my body heavier than the exhaustion I feel as I realize the gates are open. The gates are open! How is that even possible? We were only gone a short while, but it seems as though our safe zone has gone to Hell in that time.
We barge inside and take control of the unmanned security tower. Closing the gates is fairly easy, because I have authorizations from Seth and access to all security codes devoted to memory. They thunder shut and lock before the tide of Rippers crashing behind us meet with the barrier. They’re going to break through it if we give them enough time, but we have to take each problem as they come. The Rippers outside are an issue for another minute. We have to focus on whatever threat is currently within the walls.
Ramses and I look at each other and neither of us like what has to be said.
“We need to split up.” I force the words from my mouth first, hoping it will lessen the amount of fighting Ramses will do within his own mind about the risk versus the need. “I have to go for the gates,” I continue. “Chances are, someone opened them all. You need to go find your father and figure this mess out. We need to help the people here, or get them out if that’s our only option.”
Ramses pulls me to him and we cling together. I can’t lose him now, after feeling lost without him for so long. I can’t lose him, so I convince myself I won’t.
“Be safe, my wind and rain,” I whisper against his chest. I hear a warm rumble of appreciation move through him at my use of the old nickname. It’s been a century or more since we used them. It seems to me the time is right to use them once more.
“Don’t leave me, my sea and shore.”
With a quick kiss, we separate. He heads for the inner area of the safe zone. I race for the second security tower. As predicted, all of the gates have been opened. We’re exposed to the Rippers in their time of greatest strength. Not only that, but a literal army of them has followed us home. If I can’t get these gates closed, we’re going to be entirely screwed.
One more security tower regains its integrity. I dash away from the controls, intent on the next threat to neutralize. There are two more compromised towers I need to deal with before I can reunite with Ramses and help him with whatever he’s found. I worry momentarily for Seth, and then feel a moment of genuine fear that he’s set us up. If it’s the Pharaoh who’s responsible for all of this, our already fragile world will take a ghastly hit to its stability.
Rippers have already made it through the last set of open gates. No one from the safe zone is outside the compound, so I shut and lock the gates, anyway. I’ve trapped a platoon of them in here with me, but they aren’t threatening anyone except me right now.
They see me on the tower and move toward my location in a flurry of shrieks, teeth, and reaching hands. I can’t possibly take thirty of them on my own, but I don’t need to. All I have to do is reach the compound without getting torn to shreds. Once inside, I can lock and barricade the doors to keep them out. Then, once we’ve reestablished control of the safe zone, all I have to do is find some of the others to form a squad to deal with the Ripper threat on the outside.
This plan all hinges on my ability to get through the group right in front of me. My odds don’t overwhelm me with their greatness, but my choices are limited to run and get inside or stand here and die.
The first Ripper is on me when I start my dash forward. I lash one booted foot out, connecting solidly with the creature’s left knee. The important joint shatters under the impact and the Ripper collapses in front of a group of its fellows.
They’re pissed and snarling. They move with much better coordination during the night, but the Ripper I downed is still a hindrance for the ones that try to get at me. A couple of them trip over their fallen comrade and I sprint through the opening created.
My short blade goes through the eye of the next Ripper that lunges at me. I have to take a chunk of its skull with the blade when I tear it out in order to maintain my pace. With a furious cry, I shove the blade to its hilt in the chest of the next one that confronts me. Using all of my forward momentum and impressive strength, I use a two-handed grip on the blade’s handle and lift my enemy above my head. The blade tears free from its flesh and I’m moving again before the eviscerated form has even landed between me and the rest of the advancing horde.
The doors are open. Ramses left them propped wide. I slide inside with the growling Rippers hot on my steps. Turning, I slam the doors shut. A small cabinet to the left of the doorway has barricading supplies inside. It was Kaiser’s idea and I bless him for it as I throw the cabinet door open and drag heavy chains from within.
I wrap the chain through the door handles and secure it with a padlock. The click of the lock snapping into place is drowned out by the slamming of a multitude of hands on the door and furious howls of hunger. Those Rippers will definitely need dealing with, but there are more important things to attend to first.
I have to find Ramses. I need to figure out what happened.
I sprint toward the humans’ common wing. I trust Kaiser. He’s smart and resourceful and would have led everyone to the designated fallback zone if Rippers got inside the compound. The only thing that worries me is that I don’t think the compound fell from an outside threat. Whatever happened came from within.
My footsteps pound on the floor of the corridors. I run faster than I have before; straining my superior hearing to seek threats and allies alike within the twisting maze of the compound. I hear pounding noises, loud voices, crying, and fighting. I know I’m getting close.
As I guessed, a group of Rippers has been tearing at the door of the barricaded fallback zone in the human wing. Ramses is there, alone. He faces off against more than twenty of the creatures. My throat catches as I realize he’s been wounded. Blood drips from his arm, and from a tear in his cheek. Oblivious to the injuries, he fights on.
I throw myself at the closest Ripper and slam my short blade down to the hilt in its skull. Human strength would not have been able to remove the weapon from its flesh and bone scabbard, but I yank it out with little problem.
One down, at least nineteen to go.
“Ramses, move back!” I shout to him. He’s in the middle of a group of seven of them. If he lets them stay so close, one or more of them are going to land a lucky hit that will take him down.
Our eyes catch over the writhing, groaning wall of bodies between us. He looks tired, but relief sweeps through the vibrant blue of his eyes like an ocean wave. He trusts me. He doesn’t fear for me. He counts on me to help him gets us through this.
That trust is my strength as two of the Rippers decide to switch their focus. Now that there’s more food, their attention will be split between us.
Ramses is exhausted. There are more than a dozen bodies littering the hallway between us, and I know the fight has taken a lot of his strength. He can’t come to me. The most he can do is hold them off from himself until I can make my way to him.
I remove my axe from its holder on my back. My short blade is placed in my boot. The blood and brain matter on it squish against my sock.
Taking the handle of the axe in both hands, I make my first swing. One head is cleaning chopped, and the edge of the axe finds a home against the vertebrae of my next attacker. I remove the weapon and swing again, severing the hanging hand of the next Ripper as it trips over the body of one of its fallen.
I move closer to Ramses, who buries a throwing axe in the skull of the Ripper nearest him. He lets the body claim the weapon as it collapses. I lift my axe over my head and bring it down on the skull of another, splitting it from brow to collar with the powerful blow.
Three more Rippers are felled by my weapon as I move steadily forward. Like I’ve said before, I may not be able to run marathons, but hot damn can I fight.
Two Rippers come at me at once, but one of them falls face-first before it reaches me. I focus on the other and nod to Ramses, who dropped my previous attacker with the last of his throwing axes.
“I’m out,” he calls to me as he hefts up his sword. I want to ask where his gun went, but judging from the bodies scattered around, he either used up his bullets already or he lost the weapon in the fray.
Another four Rippers are taken out and I finally get close enough to Ramses. I lift my leg up for him and he takes my short blade from the boot. He slips it through his own belt as I swing my axe in a wide arc and take off the head of another Ripper. They were many to begin with, but their numbers are finally beginning to thin.
Between me and Ramses, the last of the group threatening our humans are dealt with. Neither of us receive further injury, but Ramses is dangerously exhausted now.
“Knock on the door and let Kaiser know it’s us,” I tell him as I give him a gentle push toward the fallback zone. “I’m going to check ahead, look into Dr. Geisel’s lab, and then I’ll be back. Lock the door up behind me.”
“I’m not going in there without you,” Ramses declares stubbornly. I figure it’s no use wasting the energy to argue.
“At least let me take the lead. You’re hurt pretty badly.”
He agrees with a nod and we jog toward Dr. Geisel’s lab area. I don’t hear anything moving in the corridors of the safe zone now. Not vampires, not Rippers, not humans. As far as I can tell, we’ve eradicated the threat and those in danger are all securely in the fallback zone. My heart lightens a bit even as dread begins to seep into me as we approach Dr. Geisel’s lab.
The cages are all open and empty. As I feared, all of the Rippers he’d been keeping within the compound were deliberately let loose. It couldn’t have happened accidentally.
“We really need to find Seth,” I tell Ramses.
The doctor is gone. The evidence of his leaving is the absence of both his presence and his most valued research items. His laptop computer is gone, along with the important file folders he always keeps near him. If I hadn’t trusted Ramses completely before, I’d be fully convinced now. Geisel has something to do with what happened here. He likely had something to do with the conception and release of the Ripper virus, as Ramses predicted. The bastard.
“He either went after Geisel or he stayed with the survivors,” I suggest as we turn from the lab. “Let’s check out the fallback area and regroup from there.”