January 30, 1CR
I took a deep breath to steady myself as I walked out of the well-lit refugee sector and onto the dark and snowy road. Distracted, I took no notice of the woman who had followed me until she finally said, “Leaving already huh?”
I jumped and bit back a curse before my face broke into a smile. It wasn’t often that someone could sneak up on me, and in my line of work, being caught off guard usually meant death. Forcing myself to relax again, I decided to choose my next words carefully.
“Have you decided to come and stop me? You know that I can’t stay. I just have too many people relying on me.”
She laughed lightly as I turned to face her, “Honestly I was hoping you would decide to stay on your own. We both know that nothing I say will make you change your mind. You’re going to do as you please, after all, you always have.” Her hair blew lightly in the breeze, but I couldn’t make out her face in the dark of the night. Realizing I wasn’t going to respond, she finally continued, “Why is it that you always try to leave without saying goodbye?”
I frowned as I caught on to her plan. The bag she carried looked full to bursting, and the glint of the dagger at her hip did not seem to be decorative. She had come to follow me to the colony, counting on the fact that I wouldn’t leave her behind once she had left the refugee sector. My foolish sister had always tried to shield me from the world. In better days, I would have humored her, but I had to be responsible for so many, and I couldn’t be seen relying on anyone else.
“I suppose that there is nothing I can say to stop you either?” at her nod I continued, “You should know, out here you need to leave your old life behind. In these forsaken lands your past means nothing.” I paused and then continued, “Now is your only chance to turn back. No one will think anything less of you if you do.”
Despite my inability to see her face, I suspected that my sister was frustrated with what I was saying. My suspicions were shortly confirmed by her emphatic reply, “I’m prepared for this! You can’t leave me behind again; I’ve already talked to mom and dad and they are totally fine with me leaving. Besides, you need your family too.”
“Fine, just know that I warned you. You are probably going to have to pick a new name. Mine is Caius Marius, or sometimes Lord Marius or Master Marius.” I laughed, “It isn’t my choice, but it is what I am called.”
“Master? Seems like someone has a rather high opinion of himself. I certainly won’t be calling you that.” She walked past me, and as I caught up to her, I marveled at her strength of heart. Exasperated as I was at my sister, I was very touched that she would be willing to leave the rest of our family behind for my sake. Our parents and our older sister had survived along with her husband and our nephew. Having every member of our family still alive was a rarity these days. Even so I had always preferred not to think about them; it would only have made me lonelier.
We continued in silence for quite some time and had passed the ruins of many of the suburbs that had surrounded the city. The dawn had turned the sky pink, and my sister was starting to move more slowly by the time we reached the roadblock that had been constructed of cars piled across the road, three deep and four wide across eight lanes. This more than anything else had forced me into forming the collective of survivors that I liked to refer to as the Colony.
My sister’s eyes went wide at the sight. “What is this?”
“As best we can tell, some monsters put this roadblock up to keep us from using cars, pretty effective too.”
“I thought the monsters were all dumb beasts.” Her concern was obvious. How could anyone hope to fight monsters who can create that structure without using tools?
“Well, most of them are, like the hellhounds or amphisbaena. Those are just creatures who have mutated and filled the area. The Fallen ones are pretty dumb too, usually. Unfortunately, some of them are not. We call them Hivelords or Queens, depending on gender. Not only are they intelligent, they are able to control their hive and organize the underlings to accomplish tasks like this. This area actually has a number of subservient Hivelords and one central Queen, who has killed most of her other rivals.”
My sister began to yawn and, seeing how tired she was, I made a beeline for a nearby thicket of trees just off the highway. Finding ourselves isolated from our surroundings, but for the tiny entrance I had made with my knife, I said, “we can rest here so you can get some sleep.” The thin canopy of branches had kept out much of the snow, but I laid down my coat. “You should get some sleep if you want. I’m going to start a fire and cook some food.”
“Wait, but what about you? You must have been up for at least as long as I have. I can take first watch.”
“I have not and will not sleep until I have returned to the colony.” I laughed mirthlessly, “Besides, as soon as you are fit to continue, we need to keep moving. The day might not be as dangerous as the night, but some unsavory things may still hunt for us.”
Thankfully my sister relented and laid down on my coat. I got a small fire going from the small, dry bushes that surrounded the copse and watched the sunrise through the branches. After about two hours of fitful sleep, my sister finally sat up. She blinked at me tiredly, and I could see that all she wanted was to go back to sleep.
“I’ll cook us a little breakfast, okay?” I said, “We are going to need to pack up pretty soon; I don’t trust it here.”
She mumbled something I couldn’t hear in response, and the smell of cooking eggs and frying bacon filled the clearing as I held the pan I had prepared over the fire. We were mostly done eating the modest breakfast when a scream echoed loudly through the surrounding area. The scream was unmistakably that of a young woman’s. My hand instinctively shot for my bow, and I nocked an arrow on reflex before hesitating. Only five arrows left; I had to make them count. When a second scream rang out through the clearing, my sister jumped to her feet and drew her dagger. Without waiting for me, she burst out of the thicket, causing snow to obscure my vision. As she went, I heard her yell, “We have to help her!”
Reckless. I ran out behind her and launched my arrow right over her left shoulder. The roaring of the Fallen One made it clear that the arrow had found its mark. Dropping the bow and grabbing the machete I had in lieu of anything better, I quickly ran to the convulsing Fallen and put a clean chop into the back of its neck. With its nerves severed, the beast finally lay still at my feet. Its partner, a larger fellow, backed off immediately and ran into the shelter of a nearby building. Recognizing the now weeping female figure before me, I kneeled down, “Lilia? What are you doing out here?”
No answer. I sighed as I hoisted Lilia into my arms. My sister had grabbed my bow and held it awkwardly. She had hardly been the kind to go hunting before the Fall, and I doubted she could hit the broadside of a car at point blank range, but I doubted she could carry the still shaking Lilia for a good ten miles, so I said nothing. She looked at Lilia with obvious interest and finally gave into her natural curiosity, “So, do you know this girl?”
I carefully gauged my sister’s expression and cautiously responded to her query, “She’s one of my colonists. She and I live in the same part of the building, so I know her pretty well by now. Of course, there are only about two hundred or so of us, and I know pretty much everybody.” Lilia also always seemed to be found injured when I went out of the colony. Fortunately, it looked as though her wounds were less physical than mental.
“Why do I feel like you are trying to hide something?” When I kept silent, she continued, “Well, whatever; what I really want to know is what those things were! I mean, they looked almost like normal humans, but the way they acted seemed more like beasts than animals.”
“We call those poor souls the Fallen Ones. That is why the government organized a refugee sector to get everyone out of the disaster zone, the other monsters can be dealt with fairly easily. At the moment we aren’t really sure what causes them to act that way, but it seems to be some kind of virus, since it can spread if their blood mixes with yours. I guess we would call them zombies? Only they can still be killed if you remove the brain from the rest of its nervous system.” I gestured to the prone form of the beast with my feet. “They eat almost anything living, and they have very remarkable regenerative qualities. They keep the refugee sector quarantined from the rest of the population because they aren’t entirely sure if there can be any carriers.”
My sister stayed silent after this, and I knew she was thinking about the cruelty of all the refugees being left to fend for themselves. Once the infected area or the refugee sector were entered, there was no leaving, and no access to the outside. The government seemed to want everything kept quiet, though we were not sure why.
“Enough of these gloomy thoughts; have you thought up a name yet?”
“Well, being that I am your sister, and currently unmarried, I suppose I will have to live with that ridiculous last name. Marius, was it?” I shrugged in response. “Well then I guess my name will have to be Latin as well. What about Minerva?”
I simply laughed at her. She looked puzzled until I responded, “I don’t know if the name Minerva suits you. I mean, you aren’t exactly a goddess of wisdom. How about Julia? Much less grandiose, don’t you think?”
Her eyes flashed dangerously as she attempted her most venomous glare, but even so, a smile had spread across her lips. I was fairly pleased myself, it had been lonely with no one to talk to, as everyone treated me with far too much respect. One of the only two people who were the exception to this rule suddenly appeared on the horizon, along with a familiarly energetic figure that I guessed would be his personal secretary.
My friend, the hunter who called himself Wilhelm Patten, had become one of my closest lieutenants. His skill with a bow was poor, but he was good with his usual blade, though I currently wielded it, and he and I had known each other before the Fall occurred. Usually, he talked with me on an even level, but as he approached, I could see some amount of caution in his eyes. This was just as well, I was furious at him anyways. Having left him in charge, I had hoped he would have followed my lead at blocking Lilia’s request to go on a scavenging mission at every turn.
“Wilhelm, would you care to explain why you allowed Ms. Fairview to go on a mission?” My voice had gone fairly flat, but my eyes would give away my frustrations easily. My sister finally noticed him. She knew him from before as well, but today she looked between us with alarm. More likely than not, she couldn’t remember the last time Patten and I had gotten into a fight.
Finally, Barius, Patten’s assistant and a hunter whose ability to read social situations was almost laughable, decided to chime in, “My most esteemed Lord Marius, I hope that this day has found you well? It has been far too long since last you were in the colony. May I carry her for you, sir? It would probably be easier for you if I did.”
“Barius, go break down their camp in those trees, and stop asking questions.” Patten snapped at him. Turning to me with an inscrutable expression, Patten finally decided to answer my question. “I apologize, my lord, but it is difficult to keep her in the colony, as you well know. I would have stopped her if I could have, but by the time I discovered her intentions, it was far too late.” His expression became troubled at his own words, and I could see he was telling the truth.
I relaxed a bit, because I knew that Lilia was essentially uncontrollable, and allowed Patten and Barius to maneuver my sister behind me. With the hunters on either side, we set off for an easy day’s travel towards the colony.