The Hunters Trail Part six

“There stood the wolf in the winter wind
An awesome, fearful sight
There stood the wolf in the winter wind
Illuminated in cold moonlight

There stood the wolf in the winter wind
Full of fearsome might
There stood the wolf in the winter wind
King of the winter night.”

~ T. Vallie
Darius sat quietly listening to the people gathered in the basement for a last minute discussion. That was, in his opinion drifting off course. He was ready to get on with it, Toffler had given them far more time to prepare than he would have expected and personally did not want to sit here wasting a minute of it listening to pointless talk about what might happen after the fight.

At least the bulk of the Possum’s men and the rest of the people were hard at working on defenses while this meeting was going on.

“…I don’t know. If they were going to leave this area I think they would have done it before now.” Gill said looking around at the men and women sitting around the table in what Gill liked to call his command bunker, in reality it was the basement of his old farm house. “besides why would they head any further West than the Mississippi river. This area is rich in resources and supplies. If nothing else the Brotherhood would probably stop at the Mississippi and live well just from looting the old abandoned towns and cities along the river. Which means they would still be a threat to us here.”

Lovett frustrated repeatedly trying to explain his belief in Tofflers possible actions if driven away with heavy causalities, turned his head to look at Darius. “What do you think?”

The truth was Darius was far more informed about conditions in this part of the country than either Lovett or Gill. The reality was the Brotherhood had no real choice but to head west, whether they were defeated tonight or not.

The Mississippi River alliance dominated the river from the mouth of the Gulf all the way to an independent community in Minneapolis. The Alliance had spent the last nine years locating and organizing communities and groups of survivors along the banks of the River using their boats to carry trade between them.

Their main base in Memphis easily had the largest population, Six thousand, in this part of the country. There was no way that the Alliance would allow a group like Tofflers Brotherhood, to hang out or settle along the river.

Even if Toffler and his group could hide from the alliance, Cal Simms legion had been aggressively patrolling for a hundred miles around their base in Nashville cleaning out Raiders and making deals with the few communities they had discovered.

A deal wasn’t all that hard to make, since the communities quickly found out the reason the Legion was sweeping the area’s was to secure I-40 so that the Zone’s convoys could travel unmolested and the Zones train restoration teams could examine and replace sections of track extending the reach of the rail network they had established.

Once word reached Simms about the Brotherhood and their activities, the Legion would do every thing in their power to find and wipe them out. No one wanted a psychotic religious group next door that thought that killing of the neighbors was a great welcome to the neighborhood gift.
To the North, the Zones pathfinders had discovered two large organized Communities, one in Evansville Kentucky and the other in Fort Wayne Indiana, neither of which would be very happy to find a group of blood thirsty religious types who wanted to destroy pretty much everything, in their area.

The smaller group of survivors just to the north that had been staying in and around the Mammoth Caves as of a few years ago and they probably wouldn’t be real receptive to the Brotherhood either.

With the Safe Zone behind them the Brotherhood was left only with only one option, West, where the populations had always been lower than here in the East and after the undead had killed pretty much every one huge areas of the country were now nothing more than crumbling, unpopulated ruins that nature was reclaiming.

Of course there were the old outposts and stations that Kronnen had established on his march east, but Darius suspected many of them had been quick, and happy, to go their own way once word reached them that the Warlord had been killed and his army scattered.

But not all of them will have, Darius thought, somewhere in the west there will be a few of those stations and outposts that will welcome the Brotherhood in the name of Kronnen. Not that there is a thing I can do about it.

“I agree with Lovett,” Darius said realizing Gill and his people were waiting for a response. He quickly outlined the reasons then added “I think, if they get their butts kicked here, they will head west and cross the mississippi as fast as they can instead of trying for a second attack.” he gazed calmly at Gill. “But I also think the first thing you need after this fight, is to send a messenger to Nashville to speak with Cal Simms. Tell him what happened here and that I suggested the Zone send some help while you and the Zone hammer out a trade deal at the very least.” He suddenly smiled “and send along a small bag of coffee, Cal is not quite as addicted to Coffee as Jared Stone, but as bribes go, you couldn’t find anything better.”
“All that’s well and good” Raymond, one of Gills people, said giving a impressive Gallic frown. “But how does that help us now. We still have to win the fight and apparently Toffler and some of his men are real soldiers.”

“We fight smart and don’t give up” Lovett said as he drummed the bandaged fingers of his left hand on the table top. “Toffler is at a disadvantage,” He stated ignoring the looks of disbelief. “he was trained to fight in modern warfare, but more and more has had to turn to old style melee weapon combat as ammunition and modern equipment grew harder to find and replace. Trust me when I say he is learning as he goes along.
That lack of munitions and equipment is one of the reasons he has been heading away from the Zone because they do have ammunition, equipment, fuel, aircraft and even a limited number of armored vehicles. To date the majority of the groups he has attacked have been even worseoff supply wise than his own group.

But this place is different, you have set defense’s, fire arms and ammunition, even if its on the short side and of course the IED’s. That mine field you’ve set up is the equalizer and the weak points in your defense are covered pretty well too. .” He turned to look behind him at Darius. “You supposed to be good with explosives, what do you think.”

“I am good at setting off explosives,” Darius replied with a shrug. “my knowledge of making them consists of shoving powder, nails and junk into a pipe.” Of course his knowledge was a little better than that, and much of that thanks to Ori McBride who had spent some time Expanding Darius limited knowledge in making crude bombs and the best way to place and detonate them. “but from what I’ve seen of the set up, it’s a good one.

The problem is that Toffler has to know that there are mines out there, since the early raids by the first chapter of the Brotherhood in the area had to have told him. what he can do with that knowledge I have no idea, it probably want help him much but it might even encourage him to call off the attack. Not that I think that’s what he will do.”

Lovett gazed at him for another moment, dabbing at a oozing wound on his face with a stained handkerchief, then nodded curtly. “unless he has found a mine sweeper somewhere, he is really left with two choices, Running his people through it and soak up the damage till he can close or head west and leave us alone.” He said turning back to Gills peoples. “but with Izzy here, he wont do that.”

“But they have guns right, they could just sit in the tree line and snipe us.” Lili said. The others nodded their heads in agreement.

“They could if they had night vision.” Lovett corrected. “Remember the lights around the Farm house and the other buildings will be off for the first half of the battle, so they will have a hard time picking out targets to snipe at. oh they might get lucky in the dark. But They have the same problem all of us, well almost all of us have,” He said, waving a hand towards Darius. “ limited supplies of ammo. So they cant waste a lot of bullets hoping for a lucky shot, and trust me, unless they are natural shots, or have kept up their skills, aiming for muzzle flashes to kill your targets is mostly luck.”

“okay, since no one has any new suggestions to improve our chances, I think I can call this meeting.” Gill said starting to rise. The others rose as well they all had plenty left to do and hopefully the time to get it done in.

Travis heaved the last sandbag into position and stepped back to study the sandbag wall they had built long the interior wall of the metal building. The supplies inside the structure were important and Gill had been adamant about trying to protect it as much as possible.

The sand bag wall was only four foot high and ran the length of all four walls with the only break where the normal sized door was placed.

“I hate this” he grumbled.

“Why?” Anne asked as she sat on a bucket and kicked her long, and rather shapely legs out in front of her. Travis gazed at them for a moment, then force his eyes up to her face which was just as nice as those long legs.

“Its like the kids table. Darius’s way of keeping us safe.” Travis stated.

“That’s probably part of his thinking” Anne agreed. “But we are also guarding the horses, “ she said gesturing towards the horses that took up the back half of the building.

That it was only half the horses that Darius and Travis collected was obvious and neither of them had to guess what the missing horses would be used for. Every advantage that could be found was going to be used in defense of the facility.

“big deal.” Travis muttered.

“do you really want to fight that badly?” She asked quietly. He knew she was personally brave and did not flinch at doing what needed to be done, so Travis didn’t mistake the sentiment behind the question.

“No, I want to fight because Darius is, no Lee and the others too, are my friends. I don’t like hiding in here when I could be guarding their backs. Sharing the risks with them.” Travis said as he squatted and leaned his back against a beam.

“They know that Travis,” She said quietly. “Trust me, Lee doesn’t think of you as a kid and neither does Darius. And no one thinks you’re a coward.”

“Really?” Travis said sarcastically then waved away the comment with a frown. “I know why Darius wants me here. But it doesn’t make me happy.” He said finally. “at least you’re here too.”

She gave him a wide smile and patted the ground beside the bucket she sat on. “then why don’t you sit here beside me and show me how much you enjoy my company while we have a chance.”

He hesitated, an image of Ursula flashing through his mind. but somewhere over the weeks he had been on the road, what he had believed was love had faded to mere embers of the passion that had burned in him. Anne was nothing like Ursula, she was as pretty in her own way as Ursula and lets be honest here, you have spent far more time with Anne than you ever did with Ursula. All that time with Ursula combined probably didn’t equal more than an hour and a half in nine years, most of that in one day, Travis thought.

Anne who had gone out of her way to spend time with him. Who had listened as he talked about his dreams for the future. She understood his drive to become more than just a survivor. The kid with the big pistol who had survived his parents deaths and the undead. She had been compassionate with his pain, gentle and understanding when he talked of his fears during the long nights they had been on watch together.

Anne who was so much tougher and braver than Ursula. Anne who would work with him to gather and train horses, no matter the conditions of the lifestyle.

With out realizing he had moved, he found himself beside Anne who gave him an impish smile. I really do like her, he thought then smiled as he realized that Darius had, had more than one reason to stick him in here.

“well are you going to kiss me, or something or do I have to force myself on you” She demanded with a throaty laugh. Travis reached for her, his nerves singing, and his life changed.
Darius slowly assembled the components in front of him, hoping that the homemade grenades would work or at least not blow up in his hands. Gill had burned power to have their machine shop cut the lengths of pipe needed, the cut ends had been threaded and the outer surface of each six inch pipe length had been scored for fragmentation. It was the best they could manage in the time they had been given.

He looked around the former dining room at the men and women who were assembling more grenades and pipe bombs. Overall they wouldn’t end up with a lot of either weapon. But even the small number they had made, would go along way to evening the odds against the Brotherhood.

His gaze settled on Rhaine for a moment. the girl stood to one side watching as the others worked. Silent as usual but intently focused on what was going on around her.
He at least knew why Rhaine was treated so special, he thought as he turned his attention back to his work.

They had been discussing how best to use the last of the homemade gun powder that Gill and his people had stored, the general agreement had been pipe bombs. The problem with pipe bombs as Darius and Lovett had pointed out, was that if they were going to be thrown they had to have a long lit fuse so as not to blow up the person throwing it.

Darius had remembered something that Ori McBride had told him about once, a simple detonator that was nothing more than a tube with a handle. A plunger attached to the base of the handle sealed the tube trapping the air inside. that was pretty much the extent of his knowledge. He had no clue how big the device would have to be, or how to rig up a chemical timer for the detonator to set off.

Gill had frowned then, to Darius surprise, turned to Rhaine and asked her if she had read anything that sounded remotely like the detonator and the timer.

Rhaine had stood there for a moment her eyes half closed rocking slightly from side to side then began to tell Gill exactly what was required to make the detonator. No not tell him, Darius corrected himself. She had recited from memory the entire three pages, including the page numbers, of a basic science and project book that she had read that contained the knowledge.
Darius had stood there in total surprise, staring at the girl then turned a questioning look at Gill who shrugged slightly.

“its her gift, she remembers everything she sees, hears and reads.” He had paused then repeated almost sadly. “Everything.”

It had taken a moment to figure out what Gill had meant and then like a sledge hammer it hit him. Unlike himself and others, the events of the Day and the horrors that had followed had dimmed. Its intensity thinned to something like a ghost of itself.

Oh the emotions were still there, the bits and pieces of memories that the brain had retained but most of it was nothing more than vague disturbing thoughts that barely resembled the sick fear that had filled the survivors. But not for Rhaine, No for her every moment of the horrors she had witnessed were crystal clear in her memories. Never to be forgotten, never fading with time into a dull pain that could be dealt with. She spent every moment of every day able to see clearly in her mind the death of the world she had lived in..
Gill had further explained that once they had figured out Rhaines gift, they had collected every worthwhile book they could when they had been looting the towns around the mountain, giving them to her to read. She was their insurance policy in case the books that contained all that knowledge were ever lost or destroyed.

God not able to forget a thing would drive me insane, he thought as he inserted the four inch long tube of the detonator chamber and the plunger into the pipe then slid the T handle through the hole in the cap to attach the plunger to the handle. With a twist he screwed the cap on and the grenade was theoretically ready for use.

It will probably blow my arm off, Darius decided.

“Are you sure that is going to work” Lee asked as he eyed the finished grenade. “I mean come on the only thing in that tube is a wad of gun cotton.”

Darius nodded slowly trying to appear confident. Ori knew how to make bombs and had sounded confident that it would. So Darius was willing to risk McBride being right. “It will work” Darius assured him. “pushing the handle down compresses the air. The air heats up as its compressed and finally ignites the cotton at the base of the tube, the cotton sets off the chemical timer and five seconds later, the whole thing explodes.”

“A chemical timer, made as rapidly as possible by people who have never made explosives before, out of ad hoc materials under the direction of Teen aged girl who was reciting a formula she had read. Sorry if that doesn’t inspire me to massive amounts of confidence.” Lee said keeping his voice low.

“And?” Darius asked. “Killed by your own grenade or killed by Tofflers men your just as dead either way.”

“you my friend are such an optimist.” Lee said dryly as he screwed the cap on the normal style pipe bombs he had been assembling. “you know for such a tactical genius I am surprised that Toffler has given us more hours to prepare.”

“true, but face it, we’ve only managed to make twelve more IED’s and get them planted. Twenty pipe bombs, we can’t have more than twenty grenades made and a big sand bag position set up on and around the porch for the defense.” Darius pointed out as he placed the newly made grenade in a pouch. “ that and the nasty little surprise along the north fence line.” He added.

Lee winced at that, no one had particularly like the idea. For one it would use a lot of power, two it was a nasty way to kill people assuming that it worked of course. But it was the only way they had come up with that gave them a chance of holding off an attack from that side.

Lee wondered if Toffler knew that the Gill and his people had discovered that was where scouts had been slipping over the fence before previous raids. It was actually the most direct and open route to the most important section of the Farm and a logical place to enter. Since Gill and his people hadn’t cleared the encroaching forest as far back from the fence there as they had in other places.

Toffler probably had considered the idea, which might explain why he was attacking on the far side, the gate side. Not like Toffler is going to sit down and his explain his reasons to me, so let it go. Lee told himself as he placed the pipe bomb in a small bag with the others he had assembled.

The rest of the small group were finishing up the grenades and pipe bombs they had been on working on. Once they were finished, they all would be heading to their fighting positions. After that, there was going to be only waiting followed by violence.
“Momma I’m cold” Abbi stated shivering violently in the darkness.

“Maggie we have to keep moving” Paul said urgently, casting a look back the way they had come. He knew that is was all to likely some of the Brotherhood had escaped the poisoned food and Hooch he had left for them and would be in hot pursuit of the escapees.

“I wont to go back to Uncle Toffler” Abbi said petulantly but there was a hard crystal edge to her words.

Maggie, she savored the name, it felt so damn good to have a name again. “we can’t Ami” she said softly. As the joy at having a name faded once more as she looked into the cloying darkness that surrounded them. It was out there, she knew it. she could feel it. That thing with the hat, was striding through the woods with an odd ungainly gait its too long arms swinging at its side. If they didn’t keep moving quickly it would catch up.

I just want to be free of it, free of the nightmare. She thought. if she just left Ami here, it might be satisfied with the girl and leave Maggie alone for ever. As much as she feared her daughter, feared what the girl was. She couldn’t quite let her self just abandon the girl. A part of her, deep inside, whispered that if she could just love the girl it might drive the evil out of her.

“I WANT TO GO HOME” Ami shouted petulantly.
Paul already worried that some of the Brotherhood might be on their back trail, had no patience for the delay. But he as much as any one knew the stories, the whispers about what happened to those who angered this girl. Normally he wouldn’t have given them any credence but here in the darkness, with lightening rippling across the horizon. He felt the cold hand of fear on his spine and his mind kept conjuring dark shapes that lurked in the shadows.
I should have left her like I had planned, he thought. But it hadn’t happened because he wanted to believe that this little girl wasn’t what Toffler and his nut cases thought. She wasn’t touched by the Dark, she was just a normal, if twisted little girl.

“Abbi we have to keep moving or the bad men will catch us.” He said keeping all his worry and fear from his voice.

“you’re the bad man. You want to take me from He who walks with the dead” The girl said with an odd timbre to her voice. “He wont let you. He is coming to take me home”

There was threat and a promise in her words and Paul found himself taking a step back, before he could stop himself.

No its not possible, he told himself. But the dead had risen and walked the earth and you know damn good and well that no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, something dark and foul had stalked the world during those years.

“Take me home Momma or he will punish you.” The girl pleaded sounding her age.

How much of this was brain washing, Paul asked himself. Did she believe this because that’s all she had been taught since her birth. She was the chosen of he who walks with the dead.

What he wasn’t so sure about was who exactly He who walks with the dead was supposed to be. The majority believed it was Kronnen but Paul had been to close to the powers that be in the Brotherhood and spent far more time with Maggie and the girl and had started to believe that He who walks with the dead was

“he will strip the flesh from your bones mother, he will eat you alive.” the girl said in a sing song voice. “just take me home and he will be happy again.”

Jesus, Paul thought staring at the girl who was little more than a shadow in the darkness. whether she was just aping the words she had heard so often or really believed it didn’t matter. Paul knew what it would do to Maggie. The mentally damaged woman was barely hanging onto sanity and only some of the time at that. She was so terrified of He who walks with the dead that she spent most of her time in a fugue state to escape.

“Don’t make him kill you, don’t leave me alone.” Abbi pleaded.

We have to keep moving Paul thought. That’s what Abbii was doing, trying to keep us in one place, slow us down so the others can catch us and if that happens, they will make sure I take a long time dying.

Even worse, they will probably just kill Maggie, they don’t really need her to control the girl and after this they wont trust her around her daughter. All my damn fault, he told himself. “I might be able to convince them that I forced Maggie to come with me so I could take Abbi. If I can that will save her, but nothing is going to save me. Not after poisoning their dinner and killing so many of them, taking Abbi and betraying the faith.” He knew there was only one thing he could do to save the situation and god help him he didn’t want to do it.

Maggies thoughts whirled like a firestorm, images of a bowler hat wearing thing stalking them through the woods. Kronnen’s face leering down at her as he raped her, his cloudy dead, soulless eyes fixed on her own brown eyes. She felt her sense of self retreating before the onslaught of fear.

Abbi wasn’t normal, she knew that. then out of no where she remembered something from her past life. she had once dreamed of having a daughter of her own. She remembered all the things she had wanted to share with a daughter and do for a daughter. A name flickered there at the edge of her mind, tantalizingly beyond reach.

Abbi wasn’t even her daughter, oh of the flesh certainly but she was her fathers daughter in spirit and right down to the dead soulless eyes. Izzy, kind, gentle, Izzy was hers. Fragments of thought snapped into place at that realization. Lovett had tried to bring her back to herself, tried to get her to leave with him. He had believed that she could save herself by being with Izzy. But fear of the Thing in the hat and her own shattered mind had sent her spiraling back into nothingness to escape having to deal with making a decision.
“your nothing slut, your mind died with your world. You were a vessel to carry his seed. Nothing more.” A familiar cold voice hissed. It came from everywhere and no where, like a cold wind out of the stygian darkness of her mind.
Her eyes darted from side to side searching the shadows that lay thick under the trees, her heart hammering in her chest ready to burst. She felt the void at the center of her mind opening ready for her to slide down into it once more to escape the horror that had haunted her for a decade now. “you blame Kronnen, but I was the one that broke you, molded you into a brood mare. You are one of my greatest works but its over now. I will have such a grand time erasing the canvas, one strip of flesh at a time.” the laugh that followed as cold as the abyss between the stars.

Not real, its not real she told herself. mental fingers digging in to keep from sliding into the darkness that beckoned her. it would be so easy, just let go and the terror and confusion would end once more.
Paul heard Maggie moan and even in the darkness could see she stood rigidly hands clenched at her sides as she stared at Abbi who wouldn’t stop demanding to go home.
You didn’t make me, Maggie shouted silently into the cavern of her mind where the darkness swirled and pulsed like something alive.

“then who are you slut, tell me your name?” its laughter echoed through her very being. “You don’t have one. Your nothing but what I made you. You’re a house pet, a sex toy. You began with me and will end at my whim.”

No, she whimpered as she slid a little closer to the void. She dug in fighting to keep her mind intact. You are not real.

“I am coming slut, and when I catch you I will indulge myself like I did before the world died. You will die screaming with out a name.”

I have a name, she cried out fighting the storm of memories some real some false all fragments and circling her like shards of glass that cut bloody ribbons in her mind.

“What, you think your name is Maggie. I gave that name to another once long ago. your man there, gave you that name because he lusted after another cow named Maggie and hopes to replace her with you. You have no name, unless I give you one. Brood mare, Kronnen’s whore.”

She screamed in denial, all she had to do to end this was to let the void take her and maybe this time she would never come back. just drift in the darkness, formless, nameless. No past and no future. It was easy all she had to do was let go and fall.
Paul’s eyes widened and something with a thousand fingers scuttled down his spine as Maggie screamed. That scream was full of horror, despair and damnation. It ripped its way out of her throat and shattered the night. Abbi laughed, the little bitch actually laughed and began to caper around her mother like some demented gnome enjoying its games. Chanting “take me home, take me home”

Fury surged forcing away his fear and indecision, for the first time he really believed. Not in the crap Toffler peddled, but in evil. Real evil and its source was that thing that looked like a little girl. His hand closed on the butt of his pistol, he slowly drew it but held it at his side. He was certain that if he did anything to break this moment Maggie would never recover.
“you have a name” a voice gentle as a lover whispered cutting through the chaos in her mind. She grasped blindly towards the presence praying this wasn’t another of its tricks.

She knew that voice, frustration filled her as she realized she couldn’t remember who it belonged too. Then out of her shattered memories a face, handsome in a normal sort of way A strong face with gentle caring eyes. Another memory rose in her mind breaking the surface of the darkness in swirls of nameless color, she was wearing a gorgeous dress sitting at a table in La Petite, a restaurant, a man on one knee holding something that flashed with glory as he smiled up at her. Jim, his name was Jim and he had proposed to her that night.
“What is your name” The thing with the hat bellowed. If it hoped to distract her, so that memory would slip away it was wrong. She clung to the memory, embraced it. Jim, the man she had loved. “That’s it honey, your almost there just another step.” Jims voice told her..

“shut up, she’s my whore.” The things voice thundered trying to drive out Jims presence..

She felt a hand take hers in the darkness. Warmth, love filled her and sanity, always elusive in her shattered mind grew stronger. The voice of the thing thundered through her mind stirring the chaos, trying to force her back into the darkness. She hung on to that hand, imaginary or not.

That hand was the life line that kept her from falling back into the void and giving up and as she struggled she saw something shining in the gloom. It glowed like a star with a gentle white light that pushed back the darkness. It was her last chance, she didn’t know how she knew it but it was true. “that’s it Baby take it” Jim whispered, she reached for it, it was her past and her future. Her fingers closed and the light flowed through her, over her washing away the darkness that held her mind prisoner and there in its heart was the truth.

“Rachael”She whispered. “Rachael Wolcott” she shouted into the darkness of her mind. “MY name you bastard is Rachael Wolcott.” She shouted into the night. The fragments of her memory slammed together, and something changed..

“NO!” Abbi shouted leaping at her mother, who had sunk to her knees. The girls hands were hooked like claws.

Paul reached out and slapped the girl from the air, a small knife flew from her hand as she crashed to the ground her lips split from the pistol in his hand.

“He will kill you both” Abbi snarled as she rolled over into a crouch. Unseen by paul she grasped the knife again.

“Shut up” Paul thundered. “Maggie are you okay?” he asked his voice softer.

“Better than I have been in years” She replied. Her voice sounded different. Haunted maybe but lighter than it had been.

“kill you, kill you, kill you.” Abbi chanted scuttling from side to side taunting Paul.

“Shut the hell up” Paul said threateningly. He wanted to ask Her what had happened.

“eat you alive” Abbi sang

He turned his head towards Maggi… Rachael he corrected himself to ask her a question. Distracted for a critical second, Abbi launched her self at him. He sensed the danger and turned. But it was to late, the little girl slammed into him, the knife in one small hand stabbing repeatedly.

“NO!” Rachael screamed as she rushed forward and yanked Abbi off Paul and literally threw her to one side. The small girl smashed into a tree and fell bonelessly to the ground.

Paul collapsed to his knees, trying to stem the flow of blood with one hand. “get out of here, before they get here.” he said his voice thick with pain.

“I’m not leaving you” She said stubbornly. “just hang on while I check on Abbi. She’s still my daughter no matter what else she may be.”

Paul sagged to his knees, dropping his pistol so he could use his other hand to check his wounds while Rachael moved off into the darkness and then light speared out of the trees sweeping across the area then swung back centering on Paul.
Mines as area denial devices couldn’t be beaten, Lovett thought as he gazed out into darkness. Mines how ever had a few draw backs, the first being was that you had to space them far enough apart that the detonation of one didn’t set off all the others around it, staring a chain reaction. That while spectacular and no doubt scary as hell for the attackers, was a really novel and stupid way to disarm your own defenses. The Second point was they only worked if the attackers lost the will to advance through them.

The third and really important factor was if the commander of the other side was willing to sacrifice men, all he had to do was bunch them up and send them straight across the field to clear a path.

And Toffler, fueled by his bastardized religion wouldn’t hesitate to do just that, and his men would be more than willing to die for the cause. At least initially they would be, Lovett thought. But the plan if successful will hit them so hard and from so many directions their morale will crumble. We will put a boot so far up their butts, they will not stop running till they reach the Pacific he vowed silently.

“it wont be long now” Possum said softly.

“No it wont” Lovett agreed as he readied his weapon and welcomed the ever present fear of combat like a long lost lover. Let this be the last battle and I will be happy, Lovett thought.

Around him, the men with bows and cross bows got into position stacking extra bolts and arrows close at hand. With their greater supply of ammunition they would be doing the lions share of the work tonight allowing the men and women with firearms to conserve their limited ammo till the enemy was close enough.
The mountain loomed behind James Wallace and his forty men, as they crouched in the woods eyeing the fence line of the Farm they had come to destroy. Lights burned brightly on the other side of the fence illuminating a garden that ran the length of the fence and stretched almost thirty yards across. Beyond the garden was a line of trees and beyond the trees he could see the curved roof’s of a line of green houses.
He eyed the small cement building that sat in the middle of the field wondering what might be inside it. Guess we will find out, he told himself as he scanned the area for any sign of people. For a group that had to know they were about to be attacked they were pretty sloppy.

The possibility of an ambush was high, he decided, not that it would deter him from attacking and burning those green houses to the ground.

He felt a slight pang about destroying them having grown up on a farm and knew the hard work that went in to growing food and the value they represented not just to the Brotherhood but every one else. Despite his misgivings, the word was clear, the things of the dead world had to be cleansed. We can only do what is mortally possible; the rest is in Gods hand.

The raiders drifted silently forward, flitting shadows in the darkness totally unaware of the cameras that watched them cross the short distance between the trees and the fence.

As they reached the fence a sprinkler system engaged, sprinkler heads rose from the ground and began to spray a fine mist of water over the already saturated earth. Wallace was one of the first over the fence, swearing silently at the mist that soaked through his clothes making the already cool night, chilly.

The ground squelched with every step as the mud sucked at his boots. They were over watering their crops he thought with a mental shake of his head, quickly pushing away the discomfort that he felt again for having to destroy this place.

Part of him wanted to dance in the sprinklers and revel in the electric lights, his imagination painted pictures of a world still intact, where all he had to do was head down the mountain and he would find a town, where restaurants were still open, Stores full of clothes and food waited with doors open. Vehicles still rolled along and people still laughed and made plans for a future that had never died.
Enough of that, he told himself angrily, his faith was shakier than he had thought if the mere sight of lights and green houses could make him long for the evils of the dead world.

He waved his two scouts forward then crouched waiting as his full team came over the fence and assembled on the already soaked ground. He turned towards the small building, that would be their first target. He suspected it was the pump house and might even hold a generator or a battery pack. What ever it was, it would be destroyed.

“Here they come” Aishani said as she watched the fifty men stream forward, from the make shift security center in the basement of the farmhouse. The raiders were heading towards the pump house as predicted.

“are we ready?” Lili asked feeling sick at what she was about to order.

“as ready as we can be” Aishana replied her voice soft. “the sprinklers have been cycling on and off for the last two hours, its not going to get much wetter” She said as she reached for the red capped toggle switch.

“Wait!” Lili said as she gently pushed Aishanis hand away from the toggle switch . “this was my idea, so its my responsibility” Lili said. Aishani didn’t deserve the nightmares that were sure to come with flipping that switch. Lili hated what was going to happen but she was not going to let some one else pay the price she desperately wanted to avoid herself. She closed her eyes and flipped the switch.
The lights dimmed, sparks spat from the fence and electricity danced between wet corn stalks as the bare line buried in the mud and connected to the fence was fed power. The men were caught in the mud and mist from the sprinklers, the voltage wasn’t as high as most people would have thought though it was bad enough. But it was the amperage pouring through the line that was the real killer and it rampaged through human flesh and organs.

The jerking twitching bodies danced wildly like mindless string puppets, mouths locked open in silent screams, fingers hooked into claws, Muscles contracted and locked, in some cases so violently that bones were broken. And then the power was shut down and what had been living breathing men seconds before collapsed into the mud and dead plants.
* * *

0345

The lights around the farmhouse flashed once then went out plunging the area into darkness. The defenders tensed at the signal, eyes peering out into the darkness trying to spot any movement at the tree line.

It was silent, except for the occasional rumble of distant thunder and the sighing of the night wind across the field. “steady, keep a sharp eye out, they will keep hidden as long as possible” Lovett whispered to possum, who passed the message to the man next to him. Quickly the message spread through the defenders.
Possum crouched behind the sand bag wall, trying not to think about what was about to happen. Of course there was an amusing side to this as well, Never in his wildest dreams would any of them have thought they would be fighting along side the Hunter. Their personal boogy man for over a decade.

It had all started so simply, track the Hunter, put a bullet in his skull, leave no witness’s and then come home. That had been the plan, and yes Dutch had expected him to make his own decisions and would accept Possum leaving the hunter alive if there was no danger to The Crew by doing so.
But now, he thought, thinks had been turned upside down starting with the Brotherhoods attack on the camp, then being rescued by the fallen. Meeting Izzy and hearing Lovetts story had changed everything for Him and his men. In part, Possum decided, because they all saw what could have been their own futures in the ravaged flesh of those of the Fallen who were infected. Maybe Toffler had it right in a way, but the disease wasn’t the mark of the Chosen of God, it was the Mark of Cain or better yet the sign of the beast.

How much courage had it taken for Lovett and the other fallen to see past their condition, their beliefs knowing that they would be hunted for the rest of their lives just to save one innocent little girl.

Possum would never have claimed to be an overly sensitive guy, or much for emotionalism either. But just as he had come to view Porters town as his home and actually found he gave a damn about the people who lived there. He found that he gave a damn about saving Izzy. Why, he couldn’t really put into words but what ever it was it felt right, and his men felt the same way and none of them would ever see themselves in quite the same old way after this. The taint that had clung to them since Kronnen was a thing of the past.

Toffler slithered through the high grass, feeling a surge of pride at the silence of his men as they crept closer and closer to their target. He was a little worried about the lights being out, it could mean the enemy had night vision, or maybe they always turned off the lights around the farmhouse. What ever the reason, the rest of the facility behind the house was still lit.

What mattered was that any number of men could be hiding in the darkness of that porch or around the building, crouched down beside brush and piles of salvage. Every foot Tofflers men covered with out discovery only increased their odds of being able to swarm over the defenders and take the house.
He could only hope that the IEDs that had been reported around the farm house were few in numbers, his brothers wouldn’t hesitate to charge through them, but if to many died. Well even the stoutest heart can quail before a huge number of dead, Toffler thought. our god is with us, it is his will we are about.
They were almost to the poles that marked the edge of the mine field, at least that was the assumption based on the reports from the first chapter to have stumbled across this place. I should have brought them with us instead of leaving them there to guard the base and Abbi. They might have been able to recall things that had been forgotten in earlier talks as they saw the place again.
War never changes as the saying went, and neither does Private Murphy who always shows up to screw with one side or another. One moment the night was still, just the sound of wind through the leaves and a flash of lightening that flickered crazily across the clouds above the mountain.

The man once known as Donny Williams, crawled slowly and steadily through the weeds. Grinning crazily with excitement, after tonight he was going to be offered the water of god and become one of the chosen.

He knew it was gods will, he had been called. He would feel the warm blood of his enemies on his hands and drip from his knives, he would rape, kill and maim for that was all the defilers deserved. Those who stood against the will of the God of the undead would die this night, cleansed by Brotherhood and the girl would be taken from the Fallen and sent to God so that the new world could be born and all this would be over as paradise was finally mans at long last.

He was still grinning, his mind filled with bloody, sick fantasies when his elbow came down on something metallic and round, He had just a second to hear a metal sounding click and then the night was torn apart along with Donny in a fountain of flame and shrieking bits of scrap metal and broken glass.
The Defenders, even though expecting it, jerked in surprise at the sudden explosion. But their surprise did not stop them from reacting.

Dave Walters, winced as the man in front of him vanished in a second explosion, bits and pieces of his brother covered him from head to toe. It only fed his fury, a fury that barely held the fear in check, as more IEDs went off on each side and ahead of him and more of the Brotherhood died, torn apart by the foul weapons of the Dead world.

He almost slid to a stop as a explosion sent a stone garden gnome hurtling through the air like a cannon ball, it took off a mans head before hitting the ground and skipping several times ripping away two other men’s legs before coming to a rest in a crater left by a mine.

The explosions echoed back off the mountain, a man made thunder that could be heard for miles. Dave charged, his face congealed into a mask of rage and terror. He lurched suddenly as pain erupted from his chest, he looked down and in the light of another explosion saw a feathered shaft sticking out of his chest. a second shaft appeared beside the first like magic, and as his mind finally figured out what he was looking at. He tumbled to the ground and lay still

“NOW” Lovett yelled over the explosions, as the last line of mines erupted wiping away another ten of the Brotherhood. The rest of the mass of crazies came on, unaware they were about to pass completely out of the mine field. But once they figured it out they would spread out and try to envelop the defenders on the porch.

At his Order, switches were thrown and blinding 800,000 candela’s of light erupted into the faces of the Brotherhood from two sources. Those that were looking directly into the lights were blinded, some permanently as their retinas were damaged. Others, if given the chance, might recover in time. The rest were dazzled, their night vision wiped away and were unable to see anything ahead of them other than the blinding white glare.
Some clutching at their now blind eyes and crying out in shock and panic staggered out of the lane their dead had cleared in the field and fell victim to more IEDs.

Those two beams of lights speared out into the night for almost thirty five miles. Glowing bars of light that amazed any one who happened to be outside and looking up. Light reflected off the mountain making it appear to glow.
“Fire” Lovett shouted and as one, twenty two firearms opened up on the enemy who couldn’t see past the light to pinpoint the muzzle flashes for effective return fire.

The rifle fire marched through the blind and staggering ranks of the Brotherhood. Some threw down their weapons and turned away trying to escape. But those were few in number the rest came on, driven by the Voice of Toffler who was shouting out what passed for holy verses for the twisted religion they had concocted.

“God wills it Brothers and sisters, for this world is the world of the Undead. Gods victory is assured for the Fallen are at long last with in our reach and we shall recover the child whose death is promised to bring The paradise that waits.”

“yea though I walk the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for I am the baddast mother fucker in the Valley.” Leo Horowitz, Sergeant first class of the old Nevada guard yelled back in defiance. His fellow Fallen cheered him on.
Lee had watched the Brotherhood rush the minefield, almost unable to believe that men could waste their lives like that. God what the hell is wrong with these people. He sent a lug nut winging out into the night, reloaded his sling and got it spinning again flinching at the explosions as the IED’s went off in ones, twos and threes.

It wouldn’t take the Brotherhood long to start shooting at the searchlights, God knew where Gill had gotten them. so the defenders had to take ruthless advantage of the enemies blindness while they could.

All of them are insane, he decided listening to Lovetts Fallen yelling back insults and altered, usually profane, religious verses.

Adam was darting from position to position, shooting at the enemy. Never standing still long enough to become a target. Of course at his height the enemy would have to look hard to really spot him. Adam apparently enjoyed the humor of the moment because he was singing his own version of the short people song. Which was going over well with others, many of whom laughed despite the do or die situation.

I swear if I live through this I will never fight in another battle, especially with insane people on either side, Lee vowed as sent another lug nut sailing into the mass of men. At least their using the old mass charge tactic that presents a lot of targets. What was that saying in the movies… hell the military might actually have used it too. “target rich environment.”

Lovett could hear Toffler screaming at his men to keep advancing. Urging them to shoot out the search lights.

thirty men, maybe forty max had just been wiped away by the mines, another twenty were down from the lights and its not near enough Lovett thought as the mass of men surged forward again, and the first enemy shots rang out targeting the Searchlights.

Its almost time to hit them again, he thought barely able to suppress the pain of his ravaged body. The Hunter had better be in position, or this will be for nothing.

“What the hell” Toffler yelled in surprise as something smashed in the forehead of the man beside him. The Chosen one crumbled to the ground a look of surprise on his face. Toffler squinted into the light trying to find a target, but he couldn’t see past the glare.
Lee slipped another lug nut into his sling and begin to spin it once more. Before the dead, the oh so educated, fire arm loving folks had sneered at slings. Believing wrongly that a sling had a very short range and not enough power to do any real damage unless you were up close, but kill a man, they had laughed.

In the hands of an expert, and Lee had been proficient before the dead and was damn sure an expert after a decade of using one in the years that had followed the collapse of the dead. He was good enough he could get a range of almost 400 meters and still have enough force behind the bullet to drop a man.

oh sure slings had draw backs, slower rate of fire, cant be used in brush or close quarters but out here, he had room to get it up to speed and it was deadly. He sighted his target and released. The lug shot forward with a crack and his target went down his forehead caved in. Lee was already reloading before the body hit the ground.
Lili sick to her stomach had made sure that no more of the enemy were moving on the north side before scooping up her rifle and rushing upstairs to help with the defense of the farm house.

Standing at the window in her child hood bedroom watching the tide of howling savages swarm forward she tried to wrap her mind around the insanity. There was no way she would call them men, they were diseased animals who wanted to destroy everything she and the others had fought to preserve.

She wasn’t proud of the hate that surged through her veins. She refused to feel bad about it either. The Brother hood would kill every one here for no other reason than they had survived the dead and used technology.

She had doubted Lovetts story about how bad these people were, but now seeing the madness out there in the night she knew what would happen if they got inside the farmhouse and reached the girl.

For the first time she believed in evil, real evil and felt a strange satisfaction that her dad had been right all along, The enemy might not be vampires or werewolves, or even ghouls. But they were still servants of the Darkness that had almost destroyed the world. Now if only her dad would get the hell inside instead of laying the porch roof sniping at the horde at gates.
Possum peered down his sights, ready to open fire. then looked up towards the roof of the porch as music Began to play. He vaguely remembered the sax heavy, rocking song from an eighties movie. A vampire movie, the lost, or lost something.

Yeah I believe too, Possum muttered to the singer, as he ejected the spent magazine from his rifle and replaced it. Cant do this for to long, I don’t have the ammunition. Even if the Runner I sent to Dutch before we came down here to talk to the hunter broke all records, he still wont be in Porters town for another day, and near death at that, even using the bicycles we recovered from Connors dead. So even if Dutch sends help they will arrive way to damn late.

And Dutch sending help was problematic at best, Connor if he survived to return to Porters town and many of the others would scream bloody murder at hearing that Possum and his men were actually working with the Hunter. Not something I expected to happen either but there it is and I cant say I regret it even now.

This is the fight we should have had back when Kronnen was alive and on his rampage, none of this would have happened if we had pulled up our big boy pants and killed the psychopath and his true believers back then.

Yeah like my momma always said, bravery and clarity seems simple looking back.

He slammed his new magazine into his weapon and took aim once more. The Enemy was just about to break out of the mine field and then it was going to get really nasty.

Gill had started the music playing then went back to cautiously sniping the unholy asshats, spawns of satan, diseased sons of whores… he chuckled as he took aim. He could go on like that all night. he stroked the trigger and was pretty sure he had killed his target. He shifted his aim, settling his sights on a man who had just burst out of the IED field, even though he didn’t know it yet.

Suddenly the night dimmed as one of the search lights spat sparks its lense shattered from gun fire and went out. The remaining light was more than bright enough to give the defenders plenty of light while blinding the enemy. But it wouldn’t last long, not long at all Gill thought.

Gill had half hoped some or all of the Brotherhood would burst into flames at the touch of the light, proving they were undead or something else supernatural but no such luck. He braced his rifle and began to fire, slowly picking his targets with care, taking his time and conserving his ammunition.

Ricky Peters, lay in the grass behind the low sandbag wall hidden in the weeds of the field a mere forty yards from the Porch. He and the other ten men of Possums team heard the shriek of a whistle and rose into position.

He and his friends were about to attract a lot of attention and none of it would be good. “Shoot the shit out of them” He said as he laid his rifle across the top of the sand bags. They had just enough ammo to be a real nuisance and then it was going to be down to clubs and knifes if this didn’t work.
“fire from the right flank,” a Brother yelled out in warning. Tofflers head snapped around eyes wide with surprise. His vision was still dazzled from the Search light and even picking out muzzle flashes was hard to do. how many damn guns and how much ammunition do they have. He had expected no more than ten firearms and a few rounds each.

That had pretty much been the norm of other places they had raided over the last few years. Was it possible these people were in contact with the Zone already? That would explain it. And if that were the case, then they might have a radio and called for help. Which would come from Nashville, and that meant that the foreign legion asshole and his men would be on their way. He tried not to think about the fact they might have planes and helicopters to make their trip even shorter, or artillery or…

Stop it! he told himself, upset that his faith seemed so weak. You don’t know that they are in contact, and even if they are. Your men are almost at the farm house it will be over here long before the Legion can reach this place. The zone is not the old US with tons of ammo, fuel and well trained men. It just seems that way.

“Second platoon, to the right flank” Toffler yelled, knowing the order would be passed. And it would send more of his men into that damn Mine field but they had to stop who ever that was out there before his flank was rolled up exposing the core of his Chapter to a vicious cross fire.

“Take that Farm house” He bellowed, it was their only chance really, break out and over run the building. He whooped as the last search light went out. If he could get the bulk of his men out of the gap in the field and into the yard beyond they could spread out, presenting fewer bunched targets.

His men loped forward, many waving swords, axes, and even clubs. His riflemen, who had waited in the rear raced through the gap in the mine field coming up fast and adding suppressing fire to the mix. A major waste of ammo but if they could over run the defenders it wouldn’t matter.
Gill had already shot down five of the enemy as a group of thirty pulled ahead of the rest and raced for the farm house.

He settled his sights trying not to let the fear he felt over whelm him. He never knew that the muzzle flash from each shot he had fired had pinpointed him and finally drew a response. The shooter not interested in trying to play Sniper, just hosed the porch roof where Gill lay, pouring through his ammunition like water through a sieve . Gill managed to get off his last shot before he died, his killer died a second later as a lug nut crushed his forehead.

“They broke through” Some one commented with that flat calm tone of a man trying hard not to panic. The defenders had already taken a lot of causalities. Thankfully most were walking wounded, but there were still to many corpses scattered along the porch.

“Sure did” Lovett agreed. The majority of the mob was maybe forty feet behind this group so the end was near one way or another. It was time, and if the Hunter wasn’t ready, well it had been a good run. He only hoped he lived long enough to spit in Tofflers eye.

“Pipe Bombs” Lovett yelled his voice ready to pack it in. Instantly the men who survived on the porch ducked down, pulled the strings that armed the pipe bombs that Darius had shown them how to make, then throw them over the sand bag walls into the yard beyond. Some fell short, blowing holes in the mown lawn, but most landed amongst the enemy.

The enemy died in ones and twos as the bombs detonated, but there were not enough of the things to make a big difference. In another minute, the enemy would be coming over the sandbags. Around him the men with no ammunition or no fire arms drew what ever hand weapons they carried. thankful that in the darkness the men on either side of them couldn’t see the sick fear that flickered in their eyes.
* * *

Darius sat his saddle, the Nokota shifting impatiently under him. He gazed off into the darkness thankful that it was dark out here so that no one could see his face or more accurately see the play of apprehension, fear and as shameful as it might be, the anticipation on his face.

He had spent almost a decade since the dead trying to leave the Hunter behind. and yet here I am, he thought bitterly. What were the odds really that I would end up here aligned with one group of former Warlord soldiers standing against another group of the Warlords men. He had listened to Jared Stone talk about fate a few times and like Jared he believed a man forged his own fate, so why in the hell am I doing this to myself.

He ground his teeth in anger then forced himself to relax. Why indeed? He asked himself. Was it Izzy or his growing friendship with many of the people who called the Farm home that had planted him squarely in the path of Toffler and his rabid moron’s.

Enough, he told himself as he drew a deep breath of night air, savoring the smell of Dew, cedar and damp earth.
In the distance, he could hear the explosions start as Tofflers men hit the mine field. His face stilled, his lips thinned. He embraced the hunter once more, the nervous jitters faded away as the cold patient silence of a predator filled him.

“Time to move out” He whispered to the others his voice cold and flat. “keep low in the saddle and let your horses pick their path.”

He glanced to the north and bared his teeth in something like a smile as he saw the glow of the lights on the north side of the facility dim, then flicker for almost a minute then return to their normal brightness. “I wonder how many of the crap bags they just got.” He whispered as he got his horse moving. The lights around the Farm house and The steel building were still out, so he had time to work his way around and into position.

One thing is for sure, Lovett is one mean and crafty SOB, Darius thought. I bet being electrocuted wasn’t on the Brother hoods list of ways to die tonight. To bad for them.
There’s room for two up here” Anne said as Travis poked his head up into the snipers nest inside the steeple like structure on the roof of the metal building.

As he clambered up into the space, she slid open the louvered window cover and lifted her rifle to her shoulder. “No one said we couldn’t shoot that bad guys if we got the chance” she said calmly.

“Guess not,” Travis said quietly. “He was right” He said, thinking of Darius suddenly. “I love you Anne”

“About time you figured it out Dork,” she laughed softly as she leaned over till their heads bumped. She kissed him on the cheek. “Now lets see what we can do to help our friends out.”

Izzy huddled on Greens lap, his thick arms wrapped around her as he talked softly to her trying to reassure her. Dalton stood nearby watching silently, then walked over to a trunk. He opened it and rummaged around for a moment before pulling out a ratty looking, musty smelling Teddy bear that had seen better days. He lovingly ran a finger over its face then wiped away a tear.

It had been his, his mother had given it to him as a present. It was the only thing he had left of his family. Now he had the horses, he would become a cowboy and cowboys had a code, that’s what all the books said.

There was another explosion outside, the lights dimmed and dust fell from the ceiling. Izzy cried out in fear.

“Here” Dalton said striding over to Izzy. “his name is Andy, he was my friend. You can have him if you want. My momma gave him to me back when I was a kid.”

Izzy shifted around, her eyes falling on the teddy Bear. She had never had a toy, or a doll but she had seen pictures in old magazines. “take him, you can talk to him when your worried or scared.” He told her

A small hand tentatively reached out and closed around the soft plush toy. Dalton smiled hugely as the girl hugged the bear to her chest.
* * *

Toffler smiled savagely as a small group of his men against all odds had reached the Porch of the farmhouse. It was all over but the screaming, he told himself as the blood lust rose in his heart. Death to the Defilers, God was with them!

“Lovett, I am coming for you” He bellowed, his vision finally starting to return. “You will die knowing you betrayed the God and this is the end he has chosen for you.”
“I really hate him” Possum gasped, as he fired point blank into the face of a man with what the Brotherhood called the Mark of God. To Possum it was just disgusting.

The ravaged face vanished, wiped away by the bullet that took the mans life. The stench of rotting flesh that rolled off the newly dead corpse almost made him gag. As bad as the damned Undead, the thought was fleeting he was to busy trying to keep the next man from getting over the wall.

Lee hurled his first throwing axe, knocking a man back over the wall, then threw his second and final throwing axe. As he reached for the old confederate artillery short sword he wore, a third man sprang up onto the sandbags, a knife in each hand.

Lee’s eyes widened as time seemed to slow to a crawl, his hands mere inches from his weapon and moving slowly as if through molasses.

A shot gun boomed, and his attacker died in a welter of gore as the shot ripped open his abdomen. “You know, there are times being a little person comes in handy, like now when you tall people are so busying looking for each other to kill” Adam called out as he shifted the barrel of his shotgun up and slightly to the left and fired straight into the surprised face of another Religious fruit cake coming over the sandbags.

The battle was a disaster, Toffler had made to many assumptions and few of them had turned out to be close to accurate. The Farm had more IED’s and more ammo than he had expected. He had lost close to fifty men just from IED’s, twenty more from the gunfire and the first wave of men to reach the sandbagged porch had been cut down with contemptuous ease.
Now as the bulk of his men crossed the trampled bloody grass between the mine field and the house, he knew that this was it. If the defender still had enough men, explosives and ammunition his men were toast. They would fail the god and that was inconceivable.

Toffler raced along beside his Aide de camp close to the middle of his force, his breathing harsh, his legs and sides ached and the ever present pain from the Mark of God had swelled threatening to overwhelm him.

The searchlight that had lit the area like day light blinding any one that looked into it, went out suddenly. The abrupt shift from light to dark left he and his men night blind for a moment. And in a fight to the death a moment can make all the difference.
“Grenades out” Lovett shouted grinning evilly as the enemy shouted in alarm. It was the last pipe bombs they had, so this had better do some serious damage.

Twenty men, knelt pulled the fuse cords of their weapons and almost in unison rose and threw their make shift weapons out into the solid mass of the enemy.

“Fire in the Hole” Some one shouted.
Toffler threw himself to the ground, covering his head as the pipe bombs arced up then down, down into the throng of men.

Unlike real grenades, which had a five meter kill radius. The pipe bombs had a much smaller kill range, but its shrapnel could range out almost 20 meters, ripping and tearing human bodies. Those closest to the detonation point, were mangled and would die long before any help could have reached them, those further out suffered a variety of wounds, few were killed outright but crippling was acceptable to the defenders.
Toffler picked himself back up, and swore as he saw his Aide De camp sprawled there on the ground, his face a red ruin where shrapnel had struck. The man was still alive but only for now. there was no way he would ever recover from such a wound.. He turned his gaze back to the Farm house, his eyes glittering with icy hatred.

Noah, had never really been involved in pitched battles like this one. Even the rescue of the Hunter had been nothing like this. He thought as they rode through the woods swinging around behind the enemy.

The plan was working, He thought. the threat of being flanked had split the Brother hoods forces, and only a handful of their limited number of riflemen were still focused on the farm house and its defenders. The rest were focusing on pinning down and killing the flanking element. All of the flanking unit were Possums men, who would have thought that they would have teamed up with the Hunter of all people. The world was definitely a strange place.

Strange, yes. But stupid to, I mean six men on horseback using a tactic from a damn movie. Okay yes it was a cool movie, but it was still a movie.

“get ready” Darius hissed in the cold, dispassionate voice of the Hunter. Noah checked his rifle by touch, feeling a cold hand grip his heart as his stomach began its little dance. The edge of the woods that ringed the pastures, and the Farm was just up ahead. He could die in the next few minutes if the plan didn’t work.

Darius had better be in position, Lee thought as he sent a lug nut flying into the skull of man. They were too close now, he thought as tucked the sling in his belt for the second time and drew the old confederate artillery short sword for the second time tonight..

This was going to be the last charge, no matter what happened. The entire force of Raiders had made it past the IEDs now, massed and racing to rush over the defenders.
The lights around the farmhouse blazed to life, and the raiders whose eyes had finally adjust to the darkness again, faltered in their charge as the sudden eruption of light dazzled them for a few long seconds

The Defenders who had known it was coming, took vicious advantage of that moment,
To his left Lee heard Adams shot gun firing, to his right Lovetts M-4 rocked, burning through a precious magazine of ammuntion as he fired quick controlled bursts into the mob and then the mob reached the raised porch with its sand bag wall.

A man lunged up, hurtling over the wall like an Olympian. Lee drove the short sword he held into the mans chest. Holding back the rising gorge, Lee wrenched his weapon free of the dying man and hacked down on the arm of a man who was trying to climb over the wall. Blood sprayed, and the man it was attached to screamed and fell back to the ground.

He didn’t have time to think about it, another man infected with the ‘Mark of God’, was half over the wall. God they are fast, Lee thought as he hacked like a mad man.

The Fallen were fighting like the famed Persian immortals, as they ran out of ammo they stood their ground with hand weapons refusing to give an inch of ground to the enemy.
They knew they were going to die and accepted it, theirs had been a long wait for the final battle that was, they hoped, being fought here and now. So they stood and died in the name of a man they respected and out of love for one lonely and scared little girl.

Lee could respect that, even if he wished no one had to pay the price they were paying. But civility and peaceful resolutions were mostly a thing of the past.

“Grenades” Lovett shouted at last. Windows up stairs opened and the ends of six PVC pipes emerged. With a burping sound that only the people firing the potato guns could hear, six canisters flew out into the night to fall across the back half of the mob that was starting to curl around the farm house.

Lee could smell smoke, at least a couple of the Brother hood under cover of the mob had gotten Molotov cocktails lit and threw them at the house. Flaming fuel flowed down the walls spewing inky black smoke. Thankfully, they were prepared for that, and as long as the old fire extinguishers lasted the fires could be put out.
There were too many men, he thought as he stuck his sword in the floor of the porch and drew the two cap and ball pistols he wore. If he was going to die he was going to take as many with him as possible. And then there were to many of the enemy coming over the sand bags for him to waste time thinking about anything but killing.

Smoke rose into the night across the back of the mob where the semi mobile wounded had gathered to be treated by what passed for a medic in their chapter. It stunk like sulfur and made their eyes tear up but that was the extent of it.

“Hold steady” The medic called out as some of the wounded started trying to crawl away. “aint nothing but smoke.” he ignored the slowly growing number of men that raced past in their haste to escape the fight that was going badly for the brotherhood.
The Defenders had to have overshot, The medic thought. they must have been hoping the smoke would confuse things enough they could escape the attack. But it had landed to far back to help them and aint that just to damn bad for the heretics. He grinned as he pulled out a bone saw, “you lie quiet, while I cut this thing off.” He said smiling. He loved his job.

He lifted the saw then stopped, puzzled as he felt the ground rumble. “What the hell?” he said as he looked up. A shadow, impossibly huge moved towards him, the smoke curling around it and streaming off the large shape in tatters.

His eyes widened at the sight of what had to be a demon, as three more appeared to the sides of the first he finally realized what he was looking at. and then the smoke lit up and the heavy 45 70 slug slammed into his upper left chest shattering bone and tearing muscle driving him to the ground. He knew he had to stop the flow of blood, but that choice was taken away from him as a hoof that looked the size of a dinner plate slammed down in the center of his chest as the Horse galloped over him.
Darius might have been raised in the saddle, but he hadn’t been raised in the old west which meant that his accuracy while shooting from horseback sucked. Not that he had ever been a sharp shooter in the first place and the Nokato was no fan of gun fire from its back made it even harder.

But he was close enough to his targets that most of those issues were negated. Deep down, under the cold silence of his purpose and his hard won iron control, he felt sick at what he was doing.

At least the only wounded I am killing are the ones who fight back, he told himself. Not that it made any real difference to how he felt. Another target fleeing the fighting presented itself and he wasted no time in putting it down.
Toffler didn’t realize at first that there was gun fire behind him, thinking instead it was from the porch where the dwindling defenders fought grimly on taking to many of his Brothers with them into death. All to many of those with out the mark were slipping away, returning to the rear to escape the furious defense of the farm house
But then he noted a current in the mob, a current of men that flowed around and past the fighting. Men who were fleeing something from behind them.
He whirled around and saw riders darting in and out of the wall of smoke that he had dismissed earlier. A rider, wearing a cowboy hat, and firing a rifle had to be the hunter. Even from here, Toffler could see the determination and courage in the way the man sat his saddle. The Hunters face was mostly in shadow under the brim of his hat. But Toffler could see the grim, hating line of the mans mouth.

Toffler raised his rifle and fired, the round missed the Hunter striking instead the Mans horse on its right front shoulder. It screamed and reared, but the hunter stayed in the saddle and got the horse moving back into the smoke as Toffler fired again and missed.
Toffler bellowed for men to turn and face the new threat, and a few did. But the fear that had sent men fleeing from the hunter was sweeping through his force and second by second more men were turning to run, scattering in every direction. some found themselves back in the mine field, the uncleared section of mine fields. More explosions rocked the night.
He wanted to be furious, but he couldn’t blame them. To many had died tonight, there had been to many surprises, to many shocks and their faith was faltering. It had been years since Toffler had fought a serious battle, he had grown soft over the years of raids and sneak attacks.

He had been overconfident, and had forgotten to carry God before him and now The God had withdrawn his favor and the girl would remain out of his hands for who knew how long till the Chapter had reclaimed gods Favor.

It was over Toffler knew, with out divine favor to carry them through, the only thing left was to save as many of his Brothers as possible. He grabbed the man nearest him, “Spread the word, we fall back through the gap.”

“But sir the men on the north side”

“if they had lived, we would be able to see the fires from here. Some how they were killed” Toffler stated. It would be foolish to even attempt to fight past the farm house to link up with men that were in all likely hood already dead and he had no intention of tossing good money after bade.

Some of his men would refuse to retreat, he knew that and accepted the losses. But they would act as a rear guard and distraction while he got as many men as possible out of here.
The man nodded quickly, his bearded face white with fear turned and dashed off to spread the order. No doubt he was one of the men who wouldn’t mind retreating. Toffler thought as the man practically sped away. There was no real humor in the thought, not there amidst the ruin of all he had sought.
Darius calmed his horse and got him moving back towards the farmhouse, where the battle had reached a crescendo. He rode out of the clinging smoke that was slowly dissipating, ignoring the crushed and mangled corpses that lay scattered across the once nice looking lawn. His leg throbbed from the earlier wound, and the newest wound wasn’t helping him.
Noah ode at Darius’s side with a wide manic grin of a man who wanted to believe this was nothing more than a dream. The younger man’s rifle was empty and he had switched to the Medieval style mace he carried. The good news was brotherhood was running, Darius saw. not all of them but the panic was spreading.

The bulk of the men were heading back through the gap in the make shift minefield, some throwing away their weapons hoping that the defenders would let them live. They gave the horsemen as wide a birth as possible, the will to fight had fled. Darius chose to ignore them as long as they were not threat and galloped towards the fighting that still swirled around the farm house. Some of the Attackers had actually forced a breach and gotten onto the porch.

Noah saw Lee grappling with a burly half naked raider who was trying to push a knife into the Lees chest.

He slammed his heels into the horse like he had seen in the movies and the horse lunged forward almost throwing him from the saddle as it wove through the retreating raiders.

Terrified he grabbed for the saddle horn to keep his seat. He never saw the Chosen, who hearing the sudden eruption of noise as the horse approached, swung around rifle in hand. Old training snapped the rifle into position, his finger settled and stroked the trigger sending two, three round, bursts at the charging horse.

The horse screamed in pain, it reared and spun throwing Noah from the saddle, but not before the rest of the bullets struck Noah in the lower left leg, the thigh and abdomen. He hit the ground, breath exploding from his lungs and lay still.

“Just get me there fast” Darius whispered to the horse as he put his heels to flanks. “and I promise you can rest for a while.” Darius didn’t trust his own aim to try and shoot the man, he was just as likely to miss or hit Lee than hit his target. He slammed the rifle into the boot and grabbed at his rope.

Toffler saw the Hunter and stopped. All thoughts of escape flowing away. He wanted the Hunter dead. This man, this hunter had haunted his people, hunted them like they were animals. Worse the Hunter had stood against Gods plan.

Toffler lifted his rifle he took aim as the Hunter riding hell bent for leather headed towards the fighting still raging on the porch of the old house. The man was swinging a loop of rope like some idiot from a movie. Toffler laid in his sights, steadied his breathing and squeezed the trigger.

“son of Bitch” he snarled as the weapon clicked empty. Toffler hurled the useless weapon away and drew the pistol he still carried. a shot rang out as he lifted the pistol and one of the men running past him fell to the ground screaming in pain.

Toffler ducked down using a corpse for cover while trying to locate the shooter and spotted the corpse of one of his rifle man still clutching the M-4 he had been given. He ripped the weapon out of the dead mans hand and brought it up and into position.
Darius loosed his rope and it sailed out, almost picture perfect. Lee went limp falling to the ground as he saw what Darius was doing. His attacker grunted with malice, Lee’s fall took his chest out of the way of the knife but the blade still scored a deep bloody cut across his shoulder.

Lee’s attacker only had a second to smile in triumph as he lifted his knife to deliver a killing blow and then the loop fell around him. With a jerk Darius drew it tight and secured it as he turned his horse.

The loop tightened around the mans neck, his eyes bulged in terror as something cut into his neck cutting of his air, he dropped the knife frantic hands reaching for the rope but he was too late. He was snatched off his feet with a savage jerk and was dead from a broken neck before he hit the ground.

Darius wheeled his horse around, half tempted to scream Hi ho silver as the horse reared and gave an equine war cry before it lunged back towards the Fighting.

Pain flared as a bullet grazed his thigh, a second bullet hissed past his face. Spotting the muzzle flash out of the corner of his eye, he wheeled his horse around using his knees drawing his rifle at the same time.
Toffler fired four more shots missing the Hunter who had turned his horse and was now charging. He took a breath and settled his sights.

Darius fired twice, missing. Adjusting his aim, he settled into the rhythm of his horses movements. He fired again, a split second before Toffler. The heavy round knocked Toffler back and then the galloping horse drew even with Toffler, trampling the few remaining Brotherhood, who were too slow. Darius, dropping his rifle, threw himself from the saddle on top of Toffler taking the man to the ground.

The two men fought desperately, Toffler clubbed the Hunter upside the head with his rifle and twice in the ribs. Breaking a few judging from the sound. Then a rock solid hand ripped the rifle from his grasp and flung it out into the field.

Toffler already suffering from the pain and weakness of the Mark, staggered under the vicious beating. He fought back of course, but nothing he did seem to faze the hunter. A punch to the mans Jaw broke two of Toffler’s knuckles and rocked the Hunters head back, but that was it. A series of jabs to the Hunters flat hard stomach did nothing. But when the Hunters iron like fist slammed into Tofflers stomach, Toffler folded over the Hand his eyes bugging out as the wind was driven out of him. A bloody boot slammed him in the side of the head. Another punch stood him up on his tip toes.
A fist struck him in the mouth breaking off teeth and pulping his lips.

He found himself on the ground looking up into the cold gray eyes of the Hunter who reached down and grabbed him by the collar hauling him to his feet. there was no mercy in those eyes, no forgiveness just the death that had been long delayed.

He fumbled blindly at his belt as a fist smashed him the face again, he drew the knife he wore and stabbed upwards. Darius was no martial artists, like Jared Stone, no MMA fighter, he was a brawler with a high pain tolerance and good reflexes and better than average strength.. He saw the knife glittering in the light as it rose to gut him and did the only thing he could, He tossed Toffler away from him.

It was over, Toffler knew it. He hurt all over, the pain was almost unbearable and his limbs weren’t working correctly. He lay there staring up at the Hunter, hearing the battle winding down and knew that his people hadn’t just been defeated they had been shattered, they had failed their god and their God had abandoned them.

The Hunter bent down and picked his rifle up from the grass and jacked the lever back, chambering another round. They locked gazes as the rifle rose to the mans shoulder, in slow motion Toffler’s eyes finally moved to fix on the Hunters trigger finger. It flexed and moved pulling the trigger back. his entire world was centered around that work callused finger and the satin black trigger. When the trigger broke back his life would end and he found that really did want to live and it was far to late. A decade to late really.

The trigger hung there for years, and then the last half ounce of pressure finally pushed it past the point of no return and it snapped back and Toffler had one glimpse of fire and then nothing.

“I shouldn’t have wasted a bullet” Darius muttered as he sank to the ground surrounded by the dead and wounded.
* * *
Possum dragged himself up the sandbag wall as the enemy fled, lifted his rifle then saw the busted stock. “Damn I liked that rifle” he muttered letting it fall to the floor.

“Your going to bleed to death” A man in bloody buckskins said as he knelt beside Possum. Possum couldn’t remember the mans name, but he was a friend of the hunters.

“Guess that explains why I feel all woozy” Possum said after a moment.

“guess it does” Lee said ignoring the pains from his own wounds.
“Where’s your midget buddy” Possum asked slowly while Darius cut open his shirt and pant leg and began to clean his wounds.

“Ever watch the X- files” Lee asked as he probed the wounds for debris.

“Sometimes, Why?”

“Ever see the one about the little Indian guy on the squeaky cart that climbed inside peoples ass’s to control their bodies”

Possum laughed, it hurt to laugh but it also felt damn good. He was alive and that counted for a lot. His amusement faded once more as he looked around the porch at the drying blood. so many of the men who had followed him here, had died in the cause they had taken as their own. In a way he was proud of them for that, all of them himself included had risen above their old lives and above what they had become under Kronnen.

Dutch might not like it, hell Dutch might kill him for this but Possum would never feel shame for what had happened here or in the men who had followed him. . Lovett’s Fallen had been decimated, only six or seven still remained alive.

At least the bodies had been removed and would be buried tomorrow, The bodies of the Brotherhood would be burned no one felt any urge to offer them respect even in death.

In addition to Posum and Lovetts loses, Gill and three other of his people had died in the fighting and four more had been wounded. The Hunter was about as beat to hell as any man Possum had ever seen and Lee’s young friend… “hows your buddy” Possum asked aloud..

“Noah” Lee said. His lips tightening with pain for a moment. “Probably going to lose his leg and his left arm wont be good for much but at least he can keep it.” he said bitterly. “God knows I do not want to tell his sister. I have no idea how she is going to react.”

“at least he is going to live” Possum said as he wondered how he would deal with losing a limb and being crippled in this new world.

“Assuming no infections sets in because of his wounds or from the amputation.” Lee said flatly. “Assuming we have to amputate.”

“And the Hunter” Possum asked. both men glanced towards the field beyond the sandbags that blocked their view.

“about the same” Lee said turning to look towards the man who had become his friend. “About the same” he said almost whispering.

Darius stared off to the east, where the sun was finally rising. The stink of death hung close about him, like a lover no more like a Siamese twin, a part of him that could never be removed.

D.C had been worse, far worse of course. There the bodies had been knee deep in places and scattered over yards of the Capitol building grounds. Soldiers, friends, Enemies and the fallen undead mixed together in death and indignity. There might not be as many bodies here, but it was just as bad.

Darius stood there looking at the searing the image into his mind. This was the price he had to pay for his actions and he wanted to remember it so he would never consider killing to be the first and only solution. He didn’t feel any guilt about what had happened, there was no ambiguity about this fight. Not like some of the ones he had been involved with and he could be thankful that he had killed few of the Brotherhoods wound on the wild ride through their rear.

The surviving wounded, those that were mobile, had been allowed to flee. The few that remained would probably die of their wounds, since the leaders of the farm refused to waste the precious remaining medicines they had for men who had meant to kill them and destroy their home for no other reason than hate and religion. Darius couldn’t say he blamed them either.

Jared had it right, Some people thrived on chaos, on death. In the old world they had worn the mask of civilization but had dreamed of being able to do what they wanted, when they wanted and to hell with any one else. That had been Kronnen’s philosophy, though he had cloaked it in ‘Survival of the fittest, Only the strong had the right to rule.’

In a way Kronnen and people like him were right, if you weren’t strong enough to fight for your survival, for your right to live how you chose then you died.

I guess some day some wise man will write something profound about all of this, but I will be long dead by then. What matters now, is that this is the way world is now and if I want something better for Kate and the others, for the survivors here and all the other decent folks I’ve met along the trail then I cant sit back and whine and cry about how unfair life is.

A sudden wry smile flickered across his face, I all ways wanted to live like the cowboys in the movies when I was kid. I guess I got that wish answered.

The Departure
The Wagon and Van were loaded with supplies, the horses gathered and itching to get started and the entire population of Turner Farms had turned out to see them off. Dalton was already sitting in the saddle of his very own horse grinning like a idiot in the new clothes that Lili and Aishani had sewn for him. a dusty old cowboy hat he had scrounged pulled low on his head.

“You take care of him” Lili told Darius. Her tone made it clear that if something did happen to Dalton she would hunt him down and make him pay for what ever happened.

“I will do my best Lili, and when he comes back he will be able to take over training and caring for the horses you will be getting.” Darius promised as he saw Aishani, who stood off to one side watching. She gave Darius a restrained smile, but nothing else. They had said their goodbyes last night.

Lili saw where he was looking. “its better this way, you know” she said.

“I know” Darius said. Aishani hadn’t dealt well with the reality of who and what Darius was. She was still to much a daughter of the old world and Darius was what he had become, necessary or not, he was a killer and that was a hard thing for a woman like Aishani to accept.

“Maybe someday.” Lili said then paused with out finishing. They both knew that day would probably never come. “Anyway, you need to get on the road before Dalton leaves with out you.”

Darius glanced at the boy who was now shifting excitedly in the saddle of his very own horse. Darius had staked him an outfit like he had for Travis. I just hope that what he sees and experiences out there doesn’t kill that excitement and innocence. There just isn’t enough left in the world to waste.

Lili leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “Be careful out there” she said before she went and joined the small crowd.

Darius braced himself for the final bit of goodbyes as he strode over to Lovett and possum.

Lovett nodded politely, neither man was expecting a fond farewell from their former enemy.

“I wanted to say thank you for your help” Darius said, almost smiling at their surprise.

“I think we are the ones who should be thanking you.” Lovett replied.

Darius let that slide he had no interest in taking credit for what had happened during the attack a week ago.

“so what are you going to do now?” Darius asked.

“I don’t know” Lovett said turning to gaze at Izzy for a moment. He really is going to miss her, Darius thought wondering at the strength of character it must take to give up the one thing a man loved to keep it safe.

“so what do you want? Now that its over.” Darius asked. In a way he and Lovett both had the same problem they were haunted by their past.

It wasn’t really over, Lovett thought. Not while the remaining Brothers of Tofflers chapter were still out there.
But it’s over for me, my part is done at long last. He took comfort from that and as he looked at the younger man, who was marked just as surely by his past as Lovett he took an even greater comfort knowing that the Hunter would move heaven and earth to protect Izzy.

“World peace, my old life, a plastic surgeon.” Lovett joked. his mouth spreading into what might have been a grimace or a grin under the wrappings.

“You know in the beginning Kronnen wasn’t so bad.” He said suddenly. “ Harsh, maybe. But with all that we faced. The world dying around us, friends and family torn apart. We did what we thought was right but it wasn’t, not by a long shot. We stumbled and lost our way. We did things, ignored things that we would never have contemplated before the dead.” There was a melancholy air about the man and a sense of regret that hung around him like a clinging fog and despite years of hatred on Darius’s side he felt pity for the man. “I can’t say if I had known the truth then, that I would have acted differently. I pray I would have, but what might have been doesn’t matter. I have done my best to make amends in the present. But its never enough.”

They stood there in the morning sun, surrounded by people and animals and yet were alone. wrapped in shared regrets and a past that refused to fully release them.

“So why didn’t you leave him before D.C.?”

“And go where Hunter? We were just as trapped as all those people that thought bugging in was such a great idea and ended up surrounded by thousands of undead, with their food and water running out watching their friends and family dying along with them.

The truth is fear kept us there, Kronnen would have hunted us down and done worse than just kill us to make an example for the others who might be thinking about running and then there was you, and I don’t think we would have had a friendly chat back then and then finally there was Stone and his people.”
He fell silent, his eyes haunted as he gazed once more at Izzy.

“I failed, we all did. We should have suspected something was up when Kronnen made a point of saving every criminal he could find. but we were to far gone, to scared and the world was burning down around us.

Some of us knew a little of what was going on, we suspected a lot more. Even Proctor who was the closest to Kronnen didn’t know half of what the Warlord was doing and planning. And we pretended we were wrong to salve our own conscience and the worst part is we believed our own lies.” Lovett said. “we wanted to believe those lies because it kept us from having to face what we had become.”

Possum stood there listening silently giving no sign of how he felt about the conversation.

“I did the same thing” Darius said softly.

“Bull shit, you feel guilty because you’re a good man who did some very bad things for all the right reasons because to not do them would have been worse.” Lovett said forcefully. “Let me ask you, how many times did you attack us, how many of those attacks killed National guardsman?” Lovett paused and Darius nodded seeing the other mans point. Almost every time he had struck, the men he had faced had been the criminals, the scum, the low life’s whom Kronnen had welcomed with open arms and forged an army out of. Those were the men and yes some women who knew what Kronnen really stood for, and they knowingly and willingly embraced the evils of their Leader.

Not the Guard, the Guard had traveled with the main group or provided security and defense in the important settled rear areas. “Kronnen knew that if we, most of us at any rate, found out exactly what he was doing, not suspected, Knew, we would have turned against him or at the very least left him no matter the risks.

By D.C we believed we had no choice but to keep fighting, we were in too deep and at war with the Zone. We didn’t believe that Stone would even listen to any attempt at peace, not after all that happened. So we fought.

Three things changed the world and our choices, Kronnen dying, the dead falling over and the hideous number of deaths on both sides. We were all, both sides, sick of killing and dying by the end.”
“So now what?” Darius asked calmly after a long silent minute. No longer having to fight the urge to put a bullet in the other mans face. He had found that he almost liked Lovett, at the least he could respect him. But he was also wrong about Jared Stone. Jared would have listened and probably would have allowed the Guard to return home or might even have offered them a place in the zone.

But not me, no I was the one that would have pushed and kept pushing to kill each and every one of them. By that time he wasn’t even sure why he had kept Hunting the enemy. His sister and his friends, along with plenty of strangers had been freed from the camps.
For revenge?, He asked himself, Because they deserved it? out of Habit? He couldn’t say or maybe didn’t want to admit it even to himself, but he was a different man now.

“ Just what I asked you when we met, that you take Isabel with you and keep her safe from whats left of the Brotherhood.” Lovett said.

“And what about the rest of you?” Darius asked looking at the small knot of men behind Lovett. None of them were infected. Those men, the infected, had given their lives during the fight a week ago.

“Six of my men are still alive,” Lovett said. His voice dropped even lower. “six out of twenty men who only wanted to make up for what they had served.” He shook his head then dabbed at the blood that leaked out from the bandages and down his neck. “for myself I plan on returning home.” that last part was true up to a point, Lovett thought, but he wasn’t going to explain the truth or his reasons to the Hunter or the last of his men.

Darius stood there arms crossed over his chest gazing silently at Lovett as if he knew exactly what Lovett had planned.

“Do you ever regret what you did during the Dead years?” Lovett asked, though he knew the answer. He could see it there in those storm grey eyes.

“Every day” Darius admitted. “and I would do it all over again to save my friends and family.”

“The cost of doing the right thing can be high.” Lovett agreed. “I wish….” His voice trailed off and then he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, what’s done is done. Take the girl and keep her safe. The Brotherhood is shattered and will never attack you, not with your reputation and knowing that the Zone will step in and finish things if he does.”

Darius looked past Lovett at the pretty dark haired nine year old, with luminous brown eyes who clutched a battered old Teddy bear to her chest. The Daughter of Kronnen, a man he had hated. A man who had deserved that hate, and more. But a child, didn’t deserve to pay for the sins of her Father no matter what some idiots liked to say.

Green the former Sergeant who stood beside her a callused, scarred hand resting gently on the girls shoulder. Offering what little comfort a touch could bring in a situation she couldn’t control, or even understand. The hard-bitten, rough looking Sergeant, and the remaining men of Lovetts band loved that little girl. They had forged a bond over the years and become more than just her protectors they were her family.

Being a man means doing what you believe is right no matter the cost Darius, his grandfather had once told him. Even if that means losing myself and my life I guess, Darius thought as he watched the girl who clung tightly to the Sergeants hand. Some things are truly worth it.

He took a deep breath and nodded slowly his eyes locking with Lovett’s. “all right, but she goes with me on one condition?” Darius said.

“What condition?” Lovett asked cautiously, the price could be high indeed.

“That Sergeant Green there comes with her and any of your surviving men that want to come too. You folks have been out in the wilderness for too long.” A gentle wind rippled through the grass with a sigh. Lovett’s eyes grew suspiciously bright as he lifted a bandaged hand to wipe at them.

That was far more than Lovett had thought possible; this was the Hunter, a man who had been his enemy for slightly over a decade. “You have a deal” Lovett replied softly. “by god you have a deal.”

Darius flashed him a smile, then turned to Possum. “if you and your men are leaving with us you had better be ready we are pulling out in ten minutes.”

Things change, and not always remain the same, Lovett thought. I hope the rest of the world can change as much was we have. If it does who knows where it might lead us.
Lovett walked as far as the gate with the group, he settled himself on a rock and watched as the group passed out of his life. Izzy sitting behind the Hunter her face pressed against his back her slender arms wrapped tightly around the mans waist.

Lovett smiled and if that smile was a little sad and pained he could be excused. He waved as she looked back one final time. She lifted one small hand and waved back and he knew she was crying, hell he was crying himself. Izzy had come to mean so much to him, she had been his life the reason he had fought his own body for every minute of life that kept him with her. But his role was done now.

When they passed out of sight he groaned heavily the pain was almost crippling and the long years of fighting and negotiation with the Hunter had taking what energy he still had. Alone he got to his feet and made his way into the woods outside the farm. His energy began to fail at last and he stumbled through the woods and half crawled up the ridge determined to reach the overlook beside the cave he had been living in.

His men had argued about his staying behind, but there was no saving him. He was to far gone, even a Doctor with a hospital and modern medicine couldn’t have saved him at this point, he had done what he had set out to do, he had saved Izzy that was the only thing since the dead had destroyed his world that he could and would take pride in.

He only wished he and his men could have taken her sister from the Brotherhood as well. but all that was past him now. His fight was over and His men were going to be all right; at least they had a chance to live as normal a life as was still possible in this dead world. He had his regrets; though regret was a poor word for the emotions, he felt when he considered his failures.

He should have done more to save people, He should have controlled his fear, instead of letting it guide him into blindly following Kronnen’s message. There had been a saying back in the day, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, that was wrong the road to hell is paved with fear, fear of others, fear of the future, fear of change, of the unknown and the undead had been the tipping point that had almost destroyed them. .

I had a choice, he thought. Maybe that was the whole point then and now. And the truth is I chose poorly.

He stopped for a moment marshaling his fading strength as he leaned against an old tree. A fox appeared for a moment, it stared at him nose twitching. smelling the death that clung to him, wrapped around him like a shroud, and then it was gone vanishing into the brush.

He pushed himself upright, he wasn’t far from his destination now. He could almost see and hear his daughter, 12 years old and full of life, calling him forward as she ran ahead flashing him that impish grin. Her blue eyes twinkling with laughter. That vision was better than the shattered, torn apart wreck of a body he had found in her bedroom that haunted his dreams for years or that vision of Her dead mother, his wife, the love of his life, standing over her body, still eating. That memory, Nightmare, had been seared into his brain but now was only a shadow of the pain and loss he had felt. It no longer held power over him.

“if she gets there first your not going to live it down” his wife said, shooing him forward. He blinked not really surprised to see her. She dazzled him with a smile that made his heart ache. He stopped again and removed the bandages, letting them drop to the forest floor. He would face this with out hiding the marks of his failure. He staggered on, his energy almost gone and then somehow he was there, a cool wind blowing soft and soothingly over his open wounds and weeping sores.

He settled himself on a rock and gazed out over the valley below where trees swayed in the breeze, a hawk circled lazily looking for prey. He even saw a deer emerge and drink from the creek below. No the world wasn’t dead, it had been dormant and was finally waking up. The light had washed away the Darkness, sending it back into hiding. Maybe this time it would stay there.

Or maybe in another thousand years man would fall away from the light once more and the Dark would come again with death and destruction. But he had hope for the first time since the dead had risen and his world, his family had died. His daughters face floated up into his minds eye once more, smiling and happy. There was absolution in that smile, a forgiveness and love that reached deep into his soul.

Just one last thing to do, he thought watching as the sun slid lower, casting glorious beams of gold light up into a evening sky filled with deep vibrant colors of rose, gold, Deep reds, Glowing oranges, blues and and purples. It reminded him of an Opal and it was the last image he wanted. With tears of relief and joy tracking down his dirty cheeks he lifted his pistol. “Goodbye Izzy, I love you.” He said and pulled the trigger.

3 thoughts on “The Hunters Trail Part six

  1. I hate to see any of these stories end. That being said, you couldn’t have composed a more brilliant ending. Thank you.

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