“Son of a Bitch” Dutch snapped angrily as he glared at Connor. Connor, who was exhausted, his clothes were filthy and torn from his flight away from the Hunter, knelt in the dirt before Dutch. He was wounded, badly Dutch hoped. The wounds had been bandaged using old rags found along the trail.
“I told you to leave the Hunter alone. I was dealing with the problem. But NOOOOooo you moron, you just had to run after the man.” Dutch snarled. “I know why you went, I am not an idiot. But what you don’t seem to get is, he is the one man we can not afford to take a shot at and not kill. Or did what happened to Kronnen not give you a big enough clue. You piss off the Hunter and he pisses on your grave.”
Dutch turned away from the almost certainly crippled Connor and angrily paced the porch. “Did you know that while you were off screwing us over, two men passed through Porters town asking after Darius Zane McAllister, Friends of his according to them.” he stated flatly. “I wonder if he will come back here alone, which would be bad enough but if he has friends with him it will only get worse.” Connor at least understood that this was a rhetorical question and remained silent.
I should shoot him right now. But of course that will cause more problems, Dutch decided, Even know that idiot has friends and supporters. At least Connor got some of his supporters killed during the cluster fuck, that’s something to be thankful for. But if I don’t do something to punish him for breaking orders then that weakens me and gives him more power.
The bastard has really put me in a bad spot all the way around. I need options, he thought. Best option get the hell out of town. Worst option get the hell out of town. We have a good thing going here, he told himself turning to glare at the wounded, hopefully dying Connor.
He had no idea how badly Connor might have screwed up Possums plan. Possums message asking for reinforcements had only told mentioned lights on a mountain and the Hunter having linked up with another group. He hoped the two men that had been looking for the Hunter had been part of that group because if not, then there was another group of people that might be the hunters friends in the area and it was getting awfully damn crowded in this part of the world.
He paid no attention to the men that had gathered in the yard. All of them waited to see what Dutch was going to do, some were on his side of course, some were on Connors and more than half of them probably didn’t give a damn one way or another.
Well there were other ways of dealing with Conner than just shooting the idiot. Dutch thought with a cold smile. “Connor I gave you a order, I told you to leave the Hunter alone not only did you not leave the Hunter alone, you talked other men into breaking away and going after the Hunter with you. I can’t let that stand Connor. You know the rules and you broke them.”
Connor stared at him in shock; he had believed that Dutch would do nothing because Dutch had to know that he couldn’t touch Connor with out risking fracturing the group. The angry murmurs that swept through the small crowd of onlookers didn’t seem to bother Dutch in the least either. Connor felt a icicle of fear slither down his spine.
Dutch turned to face the gang, “shut it all of you. You know the damn rules and you damn well know what Kronnen would have done if Connor had pulled this stunt.” He paused letting that sink in. One of their biggest complaints was that Dutch was to damn nice. Kronnen they liked to say knew how to deal with those who served him and those that failed the Warlord had paid for their failure in blood and pain.
“So every one of you that misses the good old days of Kronnen keep that firmly in mind, you keep asking for it but want to bitch when you get it.” he eyed them coldly. A few actually looked away. “Or do any of you feel froggy enough to challenge me for Leadership. Hell just ask me for it I will give it to you, I am sick and damn tired of working my ass off to secure us a home, a real place to live with out worrying about being driven out or attacked by old enemies. But if that really bothers you, speak up. Come on now is your chance.” The silence lingered, finally with a snort of disgust he turned back to Connor.
“I should shoot your ass, finish what the Hunter started. Instead your going in the box and I promise you if the Hunter comes calling because of you, I will hand you over no matter what else happens.” He turned away gesturing to two of his men. The Box was just a metal box that had once been used to transport animals. A short man might be comfortable inside, but any one over five foot was not going to enjoy his stay. “Put him in the box, if he resists put a bullet in his brain. If his buddies interfere put a bullet in his brain. I am done with this asshole and his attempts to take over.” With out another word he headed for the house shoulder blades itching as he waited for a bullet in the back.
Turner Farm, Kentucky.
The best laid plans, Lili thought as she stood on the porch watching the three strangers. They had declined to enter the house, suspicious, which was smart of them. Well smart if they intend to give us problems, she thought and she was pretty sure that Darius and Lee had both spotted the Sniper posted in the faux steeple atop the metal barn. If nothing else they knew it was a logical place to post a sniper.
Darius seemed totally unconcerned, she thought watching the cowboy as he stood there with his face lifted towards the sky, eyes closed and half smiling as if enjoying the wind and sun on his face. She had to admit she found him attractive, he had a nice smile and the kind of solid build that she had always liked and exuded a confidence and dependability that was as much a turn on, as his body.
Lee, the man in buckskins squatted in the grass beside his horse. Watching her more often than not. He reminded her of an old western actor that had been popular in the seventies and eighties. She didn’t remember the mans name, Like Lee the actor had, had the most distinctive voice in Hollywood at the time.
Noah was the youngest of the three and like most every one else left in the world had that lean, athletic build from years of hard work. He was almost the most impatient of the three.
“While we wait, why don’t you tell us about the ‘infected’ and what this place really is” Lee said breaking the silence.
“I don’t really have much more to add to what I have already told you about the infected” she said. “they showed up maybe two years after the dead stopped moving. They usually move around at night, occasionally one or two are seen during the day.” she said. “they aren’t mindless like the undead. though some seem pretty damn stupid at times. It’s the healthy looking ones that worry us the most. They could pose as visitors to get inside and clear the way for their friends.”
“so what was the point with the mail box and all the crosses and stuff?” Noah asked before she could continue. “I mean that’s pretty crazy and all.”
She sighed, her dad was a smart man but the walking dead and really changed him and having to explain his paranoia and obsession with the new reality, with strangers just seemed wrong somehow. “He isn’t crazy,” she said defensively.
“Noah” Darius said quietly as the younger man started to reply.
“You have to understand, he has always been a logical and orderly person. But the Dead, well once we realized that the so called infected back then were really dead, not just sick. But were real corpses that had become animated in some impossible manner, he became paranoid that all the old legends might be true. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, what ever. Its hard to argue against it, when the dead really did get up and start killing people.” she said.
She didn’t understand the sudden look that Noah and Lee exchanged but she could almost feel the attitude of the younger man soften. “now the people we call infected are truly infected with something. Maybe more than one thing but they are alive.
My dad has it in his mind that they are just part of what ever brought the dead back and that they might be servants of the more advanced undead who have to be out there right now, Like Vampires.
Like I said Henry can tell you more than I. But one thing that’s important is that not all of them look diseased. Several times we have seen normal looking people with the infected. Which is what inspired my dad to start the mailbox test.”
“Trust me, there are quite a few people out there right now that would probably agree with your dad at this point. Seems like the walking dead, killed religion for many, gave religion to others and convinced all of us that the supernatural existed whether we liked it or not or even understood it.” Darius said with a shrug as he dug a piece of dried apple from a pocket and fed it to his horse. “I saw some damn strange things back then and since. I think every one did.”
Most people, he knew, were only to eager to put that time behind them and go back to trying to fit the world back into the box they preferred and get on with life. For Darius and many others that wasn’t really possible. The dreams had stopped, the dead no longer visited and no one saw Bowler hat any more. The only real danger from the past was the one eyed killer, the last of the Darks champions, at least according to a few people. Namely Jared, Darius thought
He started to ask her about the farm but remained quiet as he saw her father appear from behind the barn followed by nine other, well armed people. Lee had seen them as well and rose smoothly, ready to fight if need be. None of the weapons were pointed at Darius or his friends, but that could change in a skinny minute.
“Calm down and pull your panties from your butt crack” Gill called out as he got closer. Only a blind man could have missed the obvious tension that radiated from the Three men. “I ain’t aiming to start a fight unless you really want one. But like we both know trust is hard to come by these days.”
Lili had been watching Darius as her father and the others approached, and felta pang of uneasiness. Something about the man had changed, the friendly if distant likeability had vanished replaced by a cold purpose. A Ugly light had flickered like Lightening in his storm gray eyes and then like a switch had been thrown it vanished.
“True enough” Darius agreed with a nod. “But you did invite us up to your house, we could have just left.”
Gill came to a stop about ten feet in front of Darius, absently fingering the gold cross he wore around his neck. He nodded sharply to himself then motioned for the others to sling their weapons. Lili let out the breath she didn’t know she had been holding as the tension dropped.
“lets take a seat and talk a spell” Gill said as he climbed the steps to the wrap around porch.
Introductions were made and they settled in on the porch with every one being as polite as possible to avoid starting an unintentional fight.
It was an interesting mix of people and not their whole group, Darius thought, just a few little comments told him that there were others on the farm waiting to see if a fire fight started.
Raymond Labrea, Lili, Aishani Charkrabati, and Richard Newsome were Botanists. Hector Chavez and Floyd Gaines had been technicians who maintained the green power systems at the Farm.
Roy Flemming, Henry Mears, and Tyler Moore had been vacationers in the area who had ended up at the farm just as the world collapsed around them. it was the silent dark haired girl named Rhaine that that made Darius curious. Aside from her name no one offered anything about her personally why she present or her purpose on the farm.
Rhaine sat on the floor beside Aishani watching Darius and his friends intently. There were plenty of ways to describe the twenty something girl, Darius thought, all of them boiled down to two words, good looking. Judging by the slack mouthed drooling that Noah displayed every time he looked towards her he completely agreed with Darius’s thoughts on the matter.
Like everywhere else he had been they asked for news, any news about the wider world and seemed more than excited hearing about the Safe Zone.
Darius allowed himself to relax a little, as Lili and Raymond Lebrea answered questions about the Farm and its operation. Gill had been the one that had spent years collecting solar lights, garden gnomes, crosses and other things to defend against the supernatural.
Gill, who as it turned out had a Masters of Science in Agriculture and a Bachelors of Science in Horticulture, had managed to wrangle Grants to fund a joint research Project with the USDA, dedicated to finding new ways to grow cash crops outside their zones.
Part of that research had focused on alternative energy to test the viability of powering Hydroponics farming systems using alternative energy sources. Lili and three other Botanists were probably safe, if not any mad science schemes they might be developing would involve man eating plants instead of killer robots, weaponized undead or bio weapons. Darius had no doubts about being able to out run a killer a shrub if he had to.
“I have always been fascinated by Cowboys” Aishani said during a moment of silence as every one else paused to think of new questions to ask or tell of things they didn’t mind revealing. She had a beautiful voice and the accent made her sound exotic. He could have taken her comment as a come on, but it wasn’t and he knew it. “when I was younger I heard many stories about Cowboys and enjoyed the movies much.”
Darius chuckled good naturedly. Many women had a thing for Cowboys, or rather the romantic, and usually wrong Hollywood image of Cowboys. “there are cowboys and there are cowboys.” He said smiling at her. She was attractive, he thought amused at himself. “a real cowboy, works hard, for poor pay in good weather and bad pretty much all year round. The second type of Cowboy, rode the Rodeo circuit, for poor pay unless you won, in mostly good weather, part of the year. the third type of cowboy is hat rich and cattle poor.” He said. She frowned as she mentally tried to translate his comment into something that resembled coherent English.
“when I was a kid I worked the family ranch, we had old school cowboys working our stock. They were a different breed of men, I can tell you. I hope some of them are still alive and riding the range.” He said, his voice dropping at the last. “there was a poem one of them told me once, I only remember part of it. but it really says it all about real cowboys.
‘Just give me country big and wide
With benchland, hills and breaks,
With coulees, cactus, buttes and range,
With creeks, and mountain lakes,
Until I cross the Great Divide,
Then, God, forgive each sin
And turn me loose on my cayuse
But please don’t fence me in.’ ”
Aishani smiled at him, surprised and clearly delighted at the poem and Darius found he really liked what he saw in her liquid brown eyes. A man could drown in those eyes, he thought and for a heartbeat it was if they were alone on the porch.
“He can sing and play the guitar to.” Noah said his voice breaking the connection Darius felt with Aishani. The Farm folks hadn’t expected to hear anyone quoting poetry, especially after the apocalypse, Darius thought, well spend half a day with Jared. The man claims he barely remembers the stuff and yet tosses off quotes from Coolidge, Poe and dozens of others I’ve never even heard of. Darius tore his gaze away from Aishani, a little confused about what he might be, no was feeling. Its called being horny, he told himself. That he was lying to himself he refused to admit.
“do all cowboys recite poetry?” she asked.
“Some do, more than you might expect to be honest. Though not all the poems are good, or fit for women or kids.” Darius said.
“So lets get down to brass tacks here” Gill broke in, having been pretty quiet for most of the conversation. “what do you people want here?”
“Daddy” Lili protested.
“Don’t start with me Lili, these three are strangers and quoting poetry don’t mean we can trust them. So lets get this out of the way now instead of later.” Gill said locking eyes with Darius.
“Want? Maybe a little trading but that’s pretty much it.” Darius replied.
“We only came to check the place out because of the stories, you have no clue how excited people get hearing about electric lights and possible Government facilities that might be working to bring power and society back to the country or where there might be stockpiles of Medicine and other things that people need.”
“and now that you’ve found out about the Farm, what are your plans?” Gill asked.
“My plans are to link back with my people, drive our horses and cattle back home and then become a horse trader.” Darius replied. “between trade with the River folk, the zone and who ever wants horses, we will do all right.” Of course, all that would take place after he dealt with Dutch and his people. The Hunter had one more ride before it was over.
He glanced at Aishani and found himself wondering if she would enjoy building a new town on the site of old Thebes, creating a new society. And what about Bekka? he asked himself. He had no answer, but that had been part of the problem for a while now.
Lets ask myself what Aishani or any other women would think about all the men you killed on the hunt. I kind of doubt that they would be lining up to date and marrying you if they knew.
He knew he had running from himself, hoping to bury the hunter by becoming a Rancher forging a new life and a new identity. He had been so close, all Dutch and his people had, had to do was leave him alone. Instead there had been Thunder, flame and death and he’d had to become the Hunter again.
I guess it says something about my sanity that I think of the Hunter in third person most of the time.
He suddenly realized he had been staring at Aishani and that Gill had asked him a question. “..Sorry what was that I missed it.” Darius said annoyed at how distracted he had been, sitting here with people he didn’t know and by extension didn’t trust and yet let himself become distracted by a nice body and good looks. So much for being some legendary bad ass, he thought, maybe there is some hope for me yet.
“I asked if you trust this safe zone?”
“I trust the man and his friends who lead it.” Darius replied. “I trust them with my life.” He stated with total conviction.
“Why?” Gill asked. Darius considered the question for a moment then told them a very abbreviated version of the how Jared and his friends had saved so many people leading them to Sullivan and the war with Kronnen, leaving out the majority of his own involvement. He expounding on Kronnen and what the warlord had been doing and the Zones actions in countering the warlord, risking their lives to save other groups of survivors and finally the Battle in DC and the show down with Kronnen in the old senate chambers.
There was silence when he finished. The survivors here at the farm had been sheltered from the worst of the things that had happened out in the wider world. In some ways they still had an old world mindset so the barbarism and savagery of Kronnen’s quest for power was all the more shocking to them.
Darius watched their reactions as they processed the story, and admitted to himself that they were probably decent people. Maybe too decent, they didn’t have the hardness in them that most survivors had developed. Not that they wouldn’t kill us in a heartbeat if they thought we were a threat, they would just feel really bad about it as they cleaned up the mess.
“Well its been nice chatting,” Darius said rising to his feet. “we have places to go and people to see.” In a way it was a challenge and a test. If Gill and his people were going to play hard ball and try to keep Darius and his friends from leaving, for what ever reason. Darius wanted to be the one to kick off the fight when he was ready for it. They were taken by surprise at his abrupt announcement he saw.
“How do we know that you wont go back down the mountain and tell others about us.”
“Because I don’t need to tell any one about you, the word has been spreading for years now thanks to all those lights that can be seen for miles” Darius said calmly. No one had lunged for a weapon so far, so he was willing to take that as a good sign. “at some point some one is going to get organized and bring a force up here to look things over. My advice, send a message to the Zone and ask to meet with them. In fact ask to talk to Jared Stone or Ori McBryde. If you are interested in striking a deal with them, I know they will send help if you need it.”
Most likely Cal Simms and his legion, Darius though. He didn’t much like the man, but he also couldn’t saw anything bad about him either. Simms was a Hard ass, fair, but hard and had rubbed Darius the wrong way the four times they had been around each other.
Gill sat there watching Darius for a long moment then nodded once, “why don’t you and your friends come on back tomorrow morning. I might have something to show you, Some thing you might really like.” It was either a trap or an olive branch, and Darius really wanted to believe it was an Olive branch.
The Brotherhoods Enclave 1815hrs.
The last of the Brothers who would be attacking the interlopers had left, leaving Toffler alone in the torch lit room. Orange light flickered and danced on the old damp, mold covered walls a fitting atmosphere for the scarred misshapen man who sat on a rickety old chair staring off into the past.
Toffler idly ran a hand over the deep ragged indention on his arm, where the Hand of God had stripped away the flesh in a pain filled cleansing of his body and soul. bone gleamed whitely through the holes in his face. Old Doc Molson had claimed it was the Flesh eating bacteria but he had been wrong. It had been the touch of God, anointing his champions who would serve in the place of the undead.
For a moment his lip less mouth twisted angrily as he thought of the few who had chosen to stand against God, like himself they had been touched. But anointed or not they had chosen like Satan himself to stand against the will of God. The Fallen had stolen the avatar of the old world and had one by one fallen over the years either to Gods hand or the Brotherhood till now only his former friend and betrayer Lovett remained.
Lovett, Tanner, Johnson, Villajro, Proctor all old friends, then enemies. For a moment his mind swept back to that final day. When the world had stood poised to change. The battle that had raged around the old Capitol building.
He could hear the screams and explosions, smell the smoke of burning vehicles and human flesh and above the smell of the undead as the horde had finally swept down on the capitol building there at the end. He might hate Jared Stone and the Hunter but they had put up a hell of a fight. If only they had not chosen the wrong side.
“I saw him again this morning” a woman said, her voice edged with madness. Toffler looked up and saw Kronnen’s broodmare, the vessel that had carried the children of his Leader and Prophet. Beside her, a slender girl of nine, who had the eyes of the dead.
The ‘he’ the brood mare spoke of was a dead man, ghost that only she could see. Toffler had never believed her stories of the thing in the bowler hat that had guided Kronnen it was and could only be a product of her insanity. But the Brotherhood embraced the stories regardless of her mental state. Toffler might be a true believer in Kronnen’s vision but the demented thing in her addled nightmares had no place in his own beliefs. His people how ever embraced it so he remained silent on the topic.
“And what did the Dark Angel tell you?” he asked using the name most of the brothers called her vision, knowing that despite his disbelief he would pass on what she had to say.
“Just one word” she said falling silent for a moment her eyes filled with terror as she shivered from head to toe. Her fear had nothing to do with that one word, Toffler knew. She might be mad and channel the spirit of a dead man, but that dead man terrified her.
“and the word?”
“Hunter” she said after a second.
Toffler felt his blood go cold, if there was a name that inspired fear in the survivors of Kronnen’s Army it was the Hunter. It wasn’t possible, the Hunter is on the East coast and besides this is coming from a mad woman who talks to dead serial killers. “I see” Toffler said sounding calm. Which he certainly didn’t feel.
“You doubt in him” she said her voice taking on an odd timbre. “But you will see. For he has walked with the dead and he and the dead are one. As the Brotherhood is one with the dead. You will kneel before her and you will serve him.” She half chanted. Normally Toffler would have thought she was referring to Kronnen, but not this time Toffler thought, as he darted a look towards the little girl, who gazed silently back him. There was something almost adult in that gaze. Those cloudy dead looking eyes gave her features a sinister cast.
He rose from the chair, and took a step towards them only to stop as the broodmare, her name long forgotten, laughed. It was a mad jagged sound and a memory from his distant past floated to the surface of his mind. The mad are conduits for the devil, his Aunt had said one evening as they watched a movie. His aunt had believed deeply in the False religion of the Dead world and had probably been just as surprised as many others that the world had not died in fire as her religion had promised but drowned under the putrid flesh of the dead.
That the brood mare had been touched by evil was a given, but she had been anointed and saved to be used as the vessel that had born the last hope of Gods will. He thought watching the Brood mare for a moment but she had subsided into her usual slow, almost mindless state. The Girl smiled pleasantly at her mother, then turned to look at Toffler again. Her smile this time was cold under calculating eyes that did not belong on a child of any age.
He found himself shivering again, and said a silent prayer both for the brotherhoods victory and more to the point for himself.
Possums camp 1900hrs.
Possum sat on a log with his back to the fire, gazing out into the darkness. the rest of the men, those not on guard duty, were gathered around the fire talking about the trip here and the things they had seen along the way.
“I tell you they were wolves” one man was saying. Since the man in question had been born and raised in Pheonix before the dead. Possum doubted he knew the difference between a wolf and a dog, but the huge pack he claimed to have seen could mean trouble. Possibly worse trouble than the tracks Possum had discovered outside the camp.
Two barefoot men had circled the camp during the day, keeping well back and out of sight and to Possums mind that meant they were scouting and the only reason they might have to scout was to attack.
I’ve posted guards, set a few booby traps and done about all I can do, or make these idiots do, Possum told himself. At least they listened when I explained what I had found. I should have told them it was the Hunter and they would have cut down trees and built a ten foot high wall around the camp in less then five minutes so they could safely crap their pants before he arrived.
“what’s wrong with you Possum?” Pullman asked. Pullman was brighter than some, but not by a long shot. Possum had often suspected that just starting a truck would have been a taxing intellectual exercise for Pullman.
“Aside from the fact that some one was scouting out our camp, the Hunter is on this mountain and pissed off and Chet over there swears he saw the largest wolf pack in history ten miles from here, nothings wrong its all right as rain, peachy keen.” Possum replied sarcastically.
“I think he saw dogs” Pullman offered helpfully.
“and you don’t think a few hundred hungry dogs might be a little dangerous.”
I swear I will shoot Dutch for sticking me with this crew, starting with his nuts. Two bullets in each one, then maybe a bamboo sliver up his Johnson and that’s before I get started on my revenge.
He tuned out Pullmans stuttering response, they might be loyal and good men to have at your back in a fight, smart they are not.
He rose to his feet keeping his back to the fire so as not to screw up his night vision. “Keep the noise down and try to stay alert. I am going to scout the area.” Possum said striding into the woods.
Once he was into the dark shrouded woods, he felt a little better. The sooner he had a made a decision and got this over with the better. He was tired of being out here, he hadn’t realized till this trip that Porters Town had become home for him and he wanted to get home as soon as possible. It was an odd feeling, having a home, after so many years of not having much of anything but the Gang.
lets face it, you’re not wanting to lock horns with the Hunter that is just pure stupidity. However, after Conner and his fucked up ambush, you might not have a choice either.
He ghosted through the woods, only a small portion of his mind worrying over the job he had been given, the rest was focused on the forested mountain side around him.
SNAP the sound was loud and sharp in the night. Possum stopped cold, slowly squatting as he strained to hear even the slightest noise that might tell him who or what was nearby. There was no cry of alarm from the sentries around the camp, which was no indication of anything as far as possum was concerned.
It was quiet out there, a little to quiet, he realized, all the normal night insect and animals had fallen quiet. Oh damn, he thought easing the pistol he carried out of its holster and placing his back against a tree, while searching the darkness for threats. Time ticked past, but slowly he noted other signs, A rustle of leaves, that might have been natural, if there had been a breeze. the smell of a crushed herb as some one or something stepped down.
Every instinct that he had developed during the years of the Dead was screaming at him in warning. There were at least four out there, and one was close to him. So close that he could almost feel the temperature difference from the body heat and smell old stale sweat and the unforgettable smell of blood.
Three feet or so, and I don’t think he knows I am here, Possum thought, he might be wrong but that wasn’t going to change things. I have to warn the camp, he decided and with out further thought Jabbed his pistol out ahead of him. It struck something that yielded slightly, like human flesh and pulled the trigger.
Pullman surged to his feet as one, then another gunshot boomed out of the forest followed by a long keening scream of agony. None of them had much ammo for their rifles and pistols, but that was okay by Pullman he was a knife and machete man himself. He pulled the razor sharp machete he wore and then the sentrys were shouting and firing. He whirled around hearing someone crashing through the woods behind him. his night vision was screwed up from staring at the fire, and by the time he could see more than shapes, a shirtless, pale chested figure was leaping out of the woods, he blinked in shock seeing the open wounds. Then the figure slammed into him, the never forgotten smell of rot and blood, shook Pullman to the core as he struggled with the man, who growled and snarled at him one hand holding his machete arm in an iron grip. The last straw for Pullman was the man opening his mouth and biting Pullman on the side of the neck tearing a bloody strip away.
“ZOMBIE” he shrieked, “The Dead are back” he screamed as a second gobbet of bloody meat was ripped from his neck and then finally he got his arm free from that iron grip and smashed his machete into the things head. “OH god, I got bit, I got bit.” He wailed as gunshots and screams rang out around the camp. Then another of the attackers leaped on him from out of the Darkness. one hand grasped his hair, pulling his head back, the other hand drew a razor sharp knife across Pullmans throat finishing the job the first attacker had started. As he collapsed to the ground, eyes wide with shock, he saw the face of his killer. an unmarked face, a face he remembered from another time and then death claimed him.
Possum crashed through the woods heading back to camp. This wasn’t the hunter that was for damn sure and that had to have been Pullman screaming about zombies. That wasn’t possible was it. they were dead. Who ever they were they had swept over his sentries and into the camp in record time.
The fighting up ahead was intense, and from the sound of it his men were finally rallying. The one thing that was certain was there was not going to be an attack on the farm or the hunter, not after this.
Possum burst into the camp and the first thing he saw was a hugly disfigured man, driving a knife into Carl Mendelssohn’s chest over and over. Possum fired at almost point blank range, the heavy caliber pistol round took the top of the mans head off.
Ten of his men were clustered together fighting desperately to stay alive, but others were scattered around the camp, struggling with one, two or three attackers at a time. Bloody knifes flashed in the firelight, gunshots rang out.
Possum skidded to a stop staring in shock as a wide shouldered man with gaping, oozing wounds covering his bare back turned and Possum saw the face, the unmarked face. “Lane” the named slipped from his lips. Pete Lane had been Tofflers Platoon sergeant and personal driver, he had been one of the few National Guardsmen that Possum had known in Kronnen’s army.
Lane gazed at him, hesitating, then lunged at Possum, knife raised high. Possum stumbled backwards, firing rapidly at the man he had once known. How he had gotten here, and what had happened to him were questions to consider once Possum was safely away from this disaster.
Possum rolled to one side, losing his pistol as Lane crashed into the ground. leaving a bloody smear. Groaning in pain, Lane tried to push himself upright, bright blood frothed at his lips. I hit him, Possum thought as he saw several more of the attackers heading towards him in a crouch, darting from side to side as they advanced on him.
Gill stepped out onto the porch of his house, looking up the mountain where the sound of gunfire rumbled like distant thunder. “what the hell is going on?” Henry asked as the majority of the people on the farm came outside to look.
“I think some one else is getting a visit from the infected tonight” Gill said.
“you think it’s the people who were here today”
“No they are camped down towards town.” Gill replied as he fingered the cross that hung around his neck.
“Look at that” some one said as a flare burst to life over the side of the mountain, and the gun fire that had been tapering off, rose in pitch and volume again.
what ever was happening up there, could be bad news for the farm Gill thought. “lets get back inside. Make sure all the windows and doors are secured and covered. When who ever gets down fighting up there, they might head this way. if we have to we retreat to the basement.” Gill said motioning at the door.
Darius groaned as he climbed out of his sleeping bag, he ached all over. I really should have spent a few more days recovering before I went up there, he told himself. Lee was already starting breakfast he noticed as he climbed out from under the wagon.
“morning sunshine” Lee said after Darius returned from the woods.
“morning” Darius said as he sat on a log beside the fire and pulled on clean socks. Clean being a relative term these days.
“Morning” Travis called out as he exited the wagon followed shortly by Anna. He blushed seeing the smile that spread across Darius face but said nothing that might get Darius making comments or jokes. Dirty old man is what he is, Travis told himself then snorted a laugh. Anna kissed him on the cheek then headed to the van to change clothes.
“I’m thinking some one should be saying Good morning” Lee said with a grin.
“a very good morning” Darius added.
“Its not like that” Travis protested.
“Sure its not, a young lonely guy in the middle of no where surrounded by old hairy men and one lovely female.”
“I am not old or hairy” Noah protested. “tiny tot over there is, but I am not”
“Tiny tot? do not make me share your ED problem with the world… errr. Well guess I cant hold that over you any more.” Adam called out as he emerged from his sleeping bag and stretched.
“Don’t look at me Travis, you’re the one that made friends with them to save me.” Darius said as he accepted a cup of steaming hot, fake coffee from Lee. “I would kill for even instant coffee at this point.” He muttered then took a sip, wincing at the assault on his taste buds.
While Lee got breakfast cooked, Darius cleaned up, checked over the horses and fed them. giving himself time to think things over. After today he was going to get back on the road to link up with Quent and the others. He had been gone for far to long and knew they had were probably worried about him. Hell they were probably already looking for him if he knew Quent and his sister.
Truth be told, he was ready to get back so he and his people could get started on building their new town in Thebes. This whole trip started as a way to clear my mind and hopefully put the Hunter to rest, that didn’t work out so well. he thought ruefully as he fed a Palomino a piece of dried sweet potato. The horse snorted and rubbed its head against him as it chewed.
He smiled and rubbed the side of its head for a moment. a flood of images from his childhood rushing through his mind. at least some of my old life will go on, Travis is learning a lot and will pass it on to his kids, and others will learn. One day there will be a new breed of cowboys and country folk. They wont remember or know anything about the world I grew up in, but at least some of it will live on.
He continued to pet the horse as he heard Travis walking up behind him. “Need something?”
“Just some one to talk to for a moment” Travis said as he moved to so he could look Darius in the face.
Darius didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what Travis was wanting to talk about. The kid had set out on this job with the goal of gaining skills and wealth to Marry the girl of his Dreams back in Porters Town and now he was finding out he like Anna as well.
Travis stood there silently for a moment then finally spoke. “I just need to figure out what to do. I mean I love Ursula, but…”
“it’s the age old question Travis, who do you love? You’ve known Ursula your entire life, well at least since you were a little kid. But ask yourself how well do you really know her and then how well do you really know Anna.”
Travis and Anna had spent hours every evening talking quietly, or taking walks around the edge of camp and apparently hooking up too, Darius thought smothering a smile. Just from what Travis had told him about Ursula, the boy had never spent all that much time talking to her despite how long they had known each other.
“what would you do?” Travis asked.
Good question, Darius thought. one I am still trying to answer.
“well my grandfather once said, ‘There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence.’ Which is about right.” Darius commented.
“what?” Travis asked puzzled, “I need advice about women,”
Darius chuckled for a moment. “do you like this life?” Darius asked instead. “the traveling, rounding up horses, working with them. Running a ranch, will require a lot of time in the saddle. A lot of time tracking herds and cutting out the best horses. Driving stock to customers and towns.”
Travis nodded, He had the bug which Darius had known. Travis had taken to this life like a duck to water and would one day be a hell of a rancher. “then ask yourself what kind of woman would approve of and share the life you lead. Not change you, not demand you live her way but accept and want to share the life you lead. Would she be happy staying at the house, or happy riding beside you.”
“it sucks Travis but only you can figure this one out. My experience with women was built in a different world and a different time. When most men came home from work every day, and the majority of the ones that traveled were usually gone no more than a week and could call home anytime they wanted or send emails, write letters. That’s not this world, you could be gone for months at a time. you could wake up one morning and have to track down strays and be gone for three days and no way to let the wife know you want be back for dinner that night. Its not going to be easy on a relationship.”
Travis nodded slowly as he considered that then frowned. “but how do I know if I am really in love.”
First I became the Hunter, then rescuer and all around good guy, now I’m supposed to become Dr. Phil. What did I do wrong in life to have to deal with this, Darius wondered, as he smiled.
“that’s a hard one, because its generally different for every guy and woman. But a rule of thumb is when she isn’t with you do you think about her constantly. Is she the first thing you thing of in the morning and the last thing before you sleep and later on when the passion no longer burns as bright does is she the one thing that makes your day better just by thinking about her.”
“That doesn’t help?” Travis said morosely. Darius smiled again. from the Camp he heard Lee calling his name.
“Didn’t figure it would” Darius replied giving the younger man a lopsided grin. “My opinion Travis is you and Anna make a great couple.” He said as he headed over and started gathering Tack. “I think you already know who you love, it’s just hard to let go of the person you thought you loved.”
“what if she is smarter than I am.”
“Son, most women are smarter than men. They just generally let us think we have the brains just so we can prove how stupid we really are.” Darius replied laughing. “now give an old man a little help getting the horses saddled.”
“Old man my butt” Travis muttered.
“Okay middle aged and injured.”
Travis laughed as he gathered up tack and followed Darius over to the horses.
Possum, his arm in a sling stood looking around the wrecked camp. It looked even worse in the early morning light, he thought as wood smoke eddied around the bodies and ruined gear. He kept his attention focused on the destruction to keep from looking at the men who had arrived out of no where to help his people.
The world was truly turning upside down, he thought. First the Hunter shows up out of the blue, then we are attacked by.. Men, several of whom used to be part of Kronnen’s army only to be rescued at the last moment by more men who had served in Kronnen’s army. what are the damn odds in all that happening in the space of two months.
And they were men, he thought gazing at the corpses. Some of them did look as bad as the undead. their flesh ravaged by disease, or rather bacteria according to the story he had just heard.
He finally forced himself to turn and look at the horror that had been Gene Lovett former National Guard Officer and Captian in Kronnen’s army. the six remaining men with him, all looked normal, but some of Lovetts dead looked almost as bad as the men who had attacked Possums camp.
He still didn’t know what to think about Lovetts story, some of the survivors from DC had turned into religious fruitcakes who worshiped the undead as the instruments of Gods will in cleansing the world and how one little girl stood between them and their paradise on earth.
And the only thing that kept that little girl alive had been Lovett and his small band of former soldiers determined to save her and at the same time make up for all they had done or allowed to be done while serving Kronnen.
He looked at the little girl in question, Kronnen’s kid. Who would have believed it, well one of two of Kronnen’s kids.
“Its a lot to take in, I know” Lovett said, his words poorly formed thanks to the lack of lips.
“that’s one way to describe it” Possum said. “if you were initially infected years ago, how are so many of you left alive. I thought that shit was deadly.”
“all but two of us are dead from the original infection. Four died last night saving you. Only leaves me and Toffler now.” Lovett said. “I have no idea how we managed to live so long, but we have.”
“But what about them?” Possum asked jerking his head towards the dead scattered around the camp. Almost all of them were as badly disfigured as Lovett.
“The brotherhood carefully picks a select group for this… Privilege,” Lovett said gesturing at his face and body. There was no way to miss the disgust that dripped from that word. “It is the highest honor to become anointed, to become one with the undead, to walk straddling both worlds, the world of the dead and the world of man.” He fell silent for a moment then continued. “I know for a few years they sent their initiates on a pilgrimage to the pond where we first got infected.
Those who get infected are considered holy, knights in the cause. Those who don’t are told they must work harder cleansing the world of those who cling to the ways of the dead world, and that next time God might pick them to serve as his avatars of the undead in this world.”
“That’s insane” Possum stated.
“Yes it is” Lovett said. “I have heard that they started carrying several gallons of water from the pond, using it to incubate the bacteria because a new group controls the area around the pond now and has made it their mission in life to kill any of the brotherhood who try to use it.
Apparenty the Brotherhood now holds some elaborate ceremony once a year and then attempt to infect the initiates themselves. It seems to work,” Lovett said motioning towards the dead. “most of those were newly infected.”
Possum didn’t ask how Lovett could tell that, he really didn’t want to know.
“So how do the girls fit in. I mean they are both Kronnen’s so why not worship them both.”
“Did you ever hear the rumors about Kronnen’s eyes” Lovett asked.
“Yeah but it was bullshit.”
“no it wasn’t. there towards the end, I saw it for myself. He wore blue colored contacts, one of the contacts got knocked out and before he could hide it, I saw his eye. It was as cloudy and dead as those of the undead.
Well Abigail has the same eyes, while Izzy, Isabel that is looks completely normal. That was when Toffler went over the edge. He decided that Abigail represents the undead, the hand of god on earth sent to cleanse the wicked and unrightous who still hold to the old ways and the old world.
While Isabel represent the old world and all that stood against God. He believed, his entire sect believes that if Isabel is sacrificed then the world that was supposed to be born from the ashes of the old one will come into being. They even had a date to kill her, had it all arraigned like a big fucking party.
That’s when me and the boys finally had enough, we broke her out of the cage and killed any one that stood between us and escape. Since then Toffler and his band have been tracking us down, determined to kill the fallen, Me and my boys, and retake izzy so they an sacrifice her to her sister and dead father.”
“but its just so damn insane.” Possum protested.
“yeah and its almost over, Seven of are still alive not near enough to continue winning against Tofflers band of morons. And when we die, they get Izzy back and then she dies too.”
“so what are you going to do?” Possum asked. all he really wanted at this moment was to get the hell out of the area. Run back to Porters town and let the Hunter go then stay the hell out of this area for the rest of his life.
“We aren’t in this area by accident” Lovett replied then pointed down the mountain towards the farm. “I started looking for the Hunter a few months back, after one of my men heard a rumor in a settlement about the hunter passing through. He has stayed ahead of us thanks to the horses but I have kept on his trail. Then a couple of weeks ago, We find a man who had survived an attack on the hunter and find out that Dutch and his crew were in Porters town, and that you were out here tracking the hunter. Imagine my surprise.”
Possum really hoped that it had been Connor and that Lovett had killed the SOB, he didn’t ask how ever, he was still trying to figure out exactly what Lovett hoped to gain by following the Hunter. Finally he gave up with a mental shrug and said. “I’m not stupid, but I don’t get it. How does the Hunter fit into your plan?”
Lovett smiled, it was a pain filled rather horrible smile all things considered, Possum thought with a shudder.
“there are only two things I want to do before I die, and only one is important. I want Izzy safe and able to grow up, and I want Toffler and the Brotherhood destroyed. And I think the Hunter can make both of those things happen.” Lovett smiled seeing the look of pure surprise on Possums face. “I would love to see the look on Tofflers face at the end.”
Darius stretched as he put aside the shovel, the last three days had been interesting. Gill had seemed like a changed man when they had shown up on his doorstep the next morning. they had talked for most of the morning, and then eaten what had to be one of the best meals Darius had eaten since the undead. his mouth still watered at the thought of the Fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans and the greatest miracle he had ever experienced, Real damn coffee.
What ever they had done to grow food in those green houses it had damn sure worked. He thought. hearing bright laughter he looked around and smiled as he saw Anna laughing as Travis picked himself up after being thrown from a horse he was trying to break to the saddle. Lili and Gill had both insisted yesterday that they move their camp up here for a couple of days so that Gill and the others could look over the horses and the goods Darius and Lee had to trade.
Until they had moved the camp up here, Darius hadn’t known the level of trust that Gill and his people were extending. Not till a group of excited kids and several more adults he had never seen emerged to excitedly look at the horses.
The move also seemed to be good for Travis and Anna, both of them had taken to and befriend a Teen named Dalton who was, euphemistically referred to as, slow.
For the last three days, Travis had been letting Dalton help him feed and care for the horses. According to Lili this was the most involved that Dalton had ever been. She was also worried about how Dalton was going to react when Travis and the Horses left in a couple of days. From things Lili had said, they had found Dalton in the ruins of a small town a year after the dead had fallen over. Wearing ripped and torn footy Pj’s dragging a diaper bag filled with canned food and formula behind him he had been heading out of town to look for his parents.
But by and Large Adam and the horses were the most popular members of the group with both Kids and adults. Adam it seemed loved kids and had taken on it himself to entertain the kids, and interested adults by putting on shows using the skills he had learned in the circus.
He was, Darius admitted pretty good at Juggling, tightrope walking and gymnastic acts. Though his fire breathing was more than likely going to turn him into a human torch at some point. Adam often referred to it as his Pepsi sponsored Michael Jackson show.
Gill, now, Darius thought shaking his head as he watched the older man walk across the lawn to the metal building. The man can seem as nutty as a fruit cake one minute, then perfectly sane and logical the next. If it wasn’t for Lili and the others I might start to think it was an act.
I guess the end of the world can do that to some people. He thought as he finished covering the last mine he had helped make. He leaned on his shovel and watched Lee finish cleaning the ducks he had brought down earlier with that sling of his. I really need to learn how to use one of those.
“what do you think of this place” Lee asked with out looking up.
“Seems nice enough.” Darius replied.
“Yeah, but I am starting to wonder exactly what they are growing in those green houses”
“Well I figure, they are growing the corn, beans, lettuce and other things we have been eating.” Darius said.
“You don’t find it odd they haven’t shown us the inside of one of the green houses.”
“No, not really. do you think they might be growing pot and suspect us of being DEA agents”
“No smart ass” Lee said, though he did smile.
“Maybe they are fertilizing the soil using human remains?”
“are you going to keep mocking me?”
“maybe its kind of entertaining”
”I liked you better when you were the quiet stoic type, the quintessential frontiersman, with the heroic profile and eternal squint.”
Darius chuckled as he walked over and squatted beside Lee and drawing his knife. “pass me a bird and I’ll help”
“What do you think of the trade that Gill offered?” Lee asked a few minutes later.
“Not bad, but I am still waiting to find out what the mystery supply is that he swears we cant say no to.” Darius replied.
“I thought the chickens and the goats, were a cant say no to items. Maybe he is going to throw in Aishani” Lee said glancing side long at Darius to gauge his reaction. When Darius said nothing Lee pushed. “Don’t act like you don’t like her, I think just about every one in ten miles has noticed.”
“I do, but its not going to happen” Darius replied.
“Why not? she seems to like you too, shes smart, educated and good looking. The kind of woman that normally is bright enough to avoid guys like us.”
Darius was silent while he finished cleaning the duck. Lee waited patiently, he had gotten to know Darius pretty well and knew that the man was thinking over his response. Finally Darius placed the duck in the pan and began to clean the blood from his knife blade. “I like her, but there is a woman waiting for me to get back. I like Bekka a lot Lee, have since the day I met her and till I know if we have a future together I am not going to screw it by messing around on her.”
“must be one hell of a woman, to get you to pass up a sure thing.” Lee said with a shake of his head.
“speaking of a sure thing,” Lee said pointing with the knife he held. Aishani and Lili had come out on the porch of the old house and were now walking towards them. They had been closeted with Gill and the other leaders of the farm for most of the day, supposedly working out the final details of the trade. The list of things they wanted in trader were the usual mix, some ammo, leather, odds and ends really. a grab bag of items that had once been common. Including some lingerie that Lee had picked up somewhere, but it was the horses that Gill wanted and he was willing to spice up the deal to get what he wanted.
Darius rose to his feet as the two women reached them. “Maam” he said politely.
“we have finally reached a decision.” Lili said with out preamble.
“we have something to show you, Understand that we are taking a huge risk sharing this with you.” Aishani added.
“the mystery trade item” Lee asked.
“Yes” Lili said with a smile. “showing you will be much easier than lying to you about it.”
“if you would follow us” Aishani said.
They followed the two women past the Metal building that was used to store spare parts for the alternative energy systems and other equipment, and down the path that connected each Green house.
Chickens wandered around in the grass long the path, hunting food and Darius could hear the bleat of goats some where to the north of their position. Each Green house was about forty feet wide and hundred feet long. instead of clear glass, they were opaque. Two Large boxed fans were mounted to the front wall of each green house to provide air circulation. The fans turned slowly, with the occasional squeal of a worn belt or bearing.
“the system itself is pretty simple and self sufficient” Lili said as they came to a stop in front of Green house number four, where two men stood guard outside the door. “before the dead Hydroponics was poised to become the food supply system of the future. We were making plans on pushing for systems like these to be installed on the roofs of buildings in every major city and anywhere else we could get people to accept them. Dad estimated that if we could get a system like this installed on half the roof tops in Manhattan, they could grow 25 percent of the food the city needs. We could refine and improve the process to push yields upwards to 50 percent in five years time.” she said as she produced a key and inserted it into the lock.
Opening the door, a blast of warm air swept out of the door and over them.
Once inside, Darius looked around curiously at the long rows of Racks, each ten foot section of rack held five shelves stacked vertically holding six rectangular boxes two foot deep. A system of pipes much like a fire sprinkler system supplied misting water for the boxes on each shelf. Ultraviolet grow lights supplemented the natural light.
What was even more impressive, were the flat computer screens attached to each section that displayed date about the plants of each section, soil data, moisture content the whole shebang. Darius stared around in almost glassy eyed shock at the sight of almost forgotten technology. All the flashing, winking lights status lights on control boards, keyboards, the hum of electrical machinery.
Lee was the first to realize what the plants in those racks were. He looked almost comical as the realization stuck. “this is something I never expected to see in my life” he muttered almost in awe.
“okay I’ll bite what are they. I am guessing those aren’t weeds or shrubs” Darius said.
Aishani smiled at him then pulled a bag from a cabinet between two computer bays. She loosened the draw string then tilted the bag over a metal tray on a stand. Small brown, bean looking objects spilled out with a rattle noise. Darius stared at them then at the plants then back at the beans. “tell me those are what I think they are”
“Arabica and Canephora by name.” Lili said then smiled hugely. “ Otherwise known as Coffee.”
“oh man” Darius said, his mouth already watering.
“its hard to grow outside of its native environment, hard but not impossible” Aishanni said proudly.
“Do you have any idea….” Darius said then shook his head. “of course you know just how much this could be worth and how badly some people would want this.”
“Want it bad enough to attack us to seize the plants” Lili said. “that’s why its such a big deal to share this with you. Why we needed a unanimous vote on allowing you to see this. otherwise we would have just traded you a few pounds of bean and lied claiming we found it vacuum sealed in some house or something.”
Darius looked at Lee then nodded, “throw in say twenty pounds of bean, along with all the other things you’ve offered and the deal is done.”
Lili shook her head, “Ten pounds, plus the rest of our offer and one change to the deal”
“what Change?” Darius asked cautiously.
“its simple really, a trade deal between our groups. So let me lay out our thinking and the situation. We are taking a huge risk in showing you this.” Darius nodded in agreement. “but its not as huge a risk as you might think. First if you were tempted to take this for yourselves, you would not be able to operate the equipment or have the knowledge to keep the crops viable. We realize that you could threaten the kids or our friends to coerce us into working this for you, but then you risk a cup of poison coffee one fine morning. a simple thing really. I am not saying we believe you would, but you understand we have to consider the idea.” She said. Again Darius and Lee both agreed, only an idiot thought every one they met were just fine upstanding people in this day and age. “Secondly, you have as much or more to gain from the arraignment we are offering, for our part we need parts and gear to keep this placing running as well as other supplies that we do not have access to.
From what you have told us about this zone and your alliance with them you have access to much of what we need. And Coffee and some of the things we can provide will be worth their weight in gold both with the Zone and some of the other groups you have mentioned so you will be able to acquire things that you might not have been able to buy before. so acting as our middle men, will make you and your community wealthy, and with the parts and supplies that you can get for us, we can expand our facilities allowing us to grow more, increasing the amount we all have to trade. Because of this we decided that its worth the risk to bring you in on our secret. Whether you accept the Trade deal or not we will honor the original deal. But I think you are both smart enough to see the benefit in our groups working together.”
“so do we seal this deal with sex or a hand shake” Lee asked suddenly. Lili laughed aloud, Aishani looked offended for a moment then smiled herself realizing it was a joke, in bad taste in her opinion but a joke.
“I think I can agree to this for my people, but at some point I will insist that we send people here to help guard this place as well as help out around the farm in what ever capacity they might be needed.”
“I don’t know that my people will accept sharing the farm with another group.” Lili said.
“I am not proposing we share the farm, I am suggesting that I send you people that find building a town, an economy and a life on what amounts to the frontier is to hard. Might want to live some where more established with, pardon the term, an easier lifestyle. And I would seriously suggest that you people consider open up talks with the zone. I can act as the middle man in that, they will even be willing meet with you in Thebes, so you don’t have to worry about hosting complete strangers here at the farm.”
“Baby steps Darius, We are finally willing to stick our heads out into the real world a little bit by trusting you two. I’m sure that later on we might be willing to reach out to The zone once we know more about them. As far as security goes, I think we can accept a small number of your people to help defend this place if you personally will vouch for them. We will all have to trust each other more than we would usually if this is going to work.”
“Sounds good to me, so lets get down to hammering out a few details, I want twenty pounds of coffee for six horses.”
“Ten pounds and you will provide what ever gear we need for them as well as you or Travis will provide training in how to care for the horse, ride and train them.” Lili shot back.
“Please, My time and Travis’s is worth far more, I could get three hookers and a four goats in any two towns for what your wanting. fifteen pounds and you pay extra for the tack.”
“ twelve pounds and ….”
Darius smiled as the haggling commenced, this was the part he always enjoyed.
The Brotherhood of the Dead. 1300 hrs
Toffler stormed through the old building in a fury. Thirty, thirty of his brothers dead and all because of Lovett and the fallen who served him had come to the aid of the interlopers.
He stalked into the old auditorium, slamming the door behind him not even noticing the chunk of cement that fell from the ceiling. The Council of Brothers had met for three days, debating on the best way to proceed and now the entire first chapter of the Brotherhood was assembled to hear the verdict. He climbed up on onto the creaking stage and took a moment to look out over the assembly.
Three hundred brothers and twenty sisters were present there in the flickering candle light, most were unmarked by the hand of God. But they were just as eager to serve and hopefully earn the privilege of the Mark by destroying those who still worshiped the old world and its ways.
The anointed, the remaining twenty, were even more eager to smite their enemies knowing that the mark shortened their lives and they wanted to do the work of the God while they were able.
That was what made Lovett and the fallen so blasphemous. Like Toffler they had been marked and given incredibly long life spans to carry the Mark unlike the anointed who had followed. He was sure a doctor would be able to spout some old world nonsense to try and explain away the miracle.
He strode to the table where the five elders sat waiting for him, once they had been part of his command staff. The others had sadly been resistant to the message that God had given Toffler and had been killed as blasphemers. He regretted that, he had liked most of them of them but to stand against the will of God, who had sent the undead to cleanse the world and destroy all those who opposed him could not be tolerated and death was that price.
He stood before the table and nodded to each of the men who sat there then turned back to the assembly and lifted his arms. “Greet the dead Brothers and sisters, for he walks with the dead, He and the dead are one. And through him the Brotherhood are one with the dead. We serve him and his prophet Abigail.” The crowd repeated the ritual phrase with a fervor that might have surprised an outsider.
“He has sent us a message” Toffler said as the crowd fell silent again. “tonight we will purge a place of the old world, our enemies have gathered there waiting to be culled by the righteous fury of He who walks with the dead. The Fallen who seek to thwart his will by hiding Isabel from us and another, one that many of us in this room have long hated. Hated well before He touched us and guided us to our path.” He gazed out over the room again letting the tension build for a moment savoring the anger and the building hatred.
“He has spoken through her once more, to tell us that the Hunter waits below.” Toffler announced. Those brothers who had once been National Guardsmen, who had served Kronnen on the long trek who had finally felt the touch of God and swore to his cause, bayed wildly. Eager to strike down the man who had cost Kronnen his life and had thwarted Gods will delaying the new perfect world that God had sent the undead to usher in.
He smiled as they howled their hatred. “at sunset we go to serve our god and strike down the True enemies of our faith.” He threw his arms and head back basking in the undulating cries and shouts of passion, letting it sweep over and through him.