RDC(R&D): Mass Ablaze

*Chapter Forty*


Gunfire, Screams, and Pain quickly turns to agony, then there’s more Gunfire, as Death moves swiftly…

Then there’s the sudden hunger..

Gunfire, Screams, Pain, Death, Hunger..

More gunfire, more screams, more pain, more death, more hunger..

That was the reality of life now, with a whole new nightmare emerging everyday, I wonder when it would end, or if such a thing were even possible at this point. I would rather have been dead than to face this, as fate had proven herself to be of the cruelest nature, and something I had done must have spurned her.

Husk had barely moved me out of the way in time, as Wolf lunged to tear into my throat with his once brilliant white teeth, now stained with blood. As I hit the ground there was more gunfire, as the merc fought to keep the gargantuan mutant at bay.

A Mutant.. but those eyes.

I couldn’t rationalize it, no matter how hard I tried to come to terms, and regardless of the truth I was seeing with my very OWN eyes, a truth that was unmistakably real, it was I who refused to believe what was right in front of me.

“Loki!! Wake up! Run get Caiden and Sera, NOW!” Husk screamed at me, and I could hear the emotion in his voice, he was as angry and frightened as I was. “I shot that gigantic son of a bitch in the face and he ran off, but Wolf disappeared before I could take care of him..”

I looked at him in shock, God no, Wolf was still out here somewhere as one those things, wandering this barren earth like a lost soul, wandering around like..

“Dammit, we just can’t catch a fucking break, can we?” Husk complained, and looking to the cabin I could see why, there were three Risen that must have tracked us from the trail banging at the doors.

The mercenary handed me his spare dagger, and the one he was brandishing had such a long blade, I’d almost call it a hatchet. I wasn’t ready when he let out a loud whistle, the piercing sound immediately drew their attention, the one closest to me was the first to bolt into a full throttle sprint. The others weren’t far behind him, and the three of them seem to form naturally into a triangle, showing clear signs of pack mentality often seen in canines. Surprisingly the one in the back was the first to pounce, launching himself with such strength, he cleared the six or seven yards between us with ease.

I went to slash at him but he dodged low, and slid to knock my legs from under me as another tackled my torso, the odd angle flipped me three hundred sixty degrees before I hit the ground, the momentum from his body causing use to roll a bit when we crash landed. I moved my face just as his chomping jaws made to tear at my cheek, his saliva dripped onto my forehead and slid down to my chin, making me cry out in disgust. He seem to recognize that I held a weapon in my hand, with the focus he displayed by restraining that hand the most, I started to panic from the extra effort it was taking to escape.

I used my free hand to push our faces apart, and a huge black boot swung past my face to connect with the risen’s head. Husk pulled me to my feet and positioned us till we were back to back, while the one he had kicked recovered quickly, to join the other two as they circled us in a ring of death.

“When were you gonna mention these bastards were getting smarter?”

“If figured you guys had to see for yourself, you all already think I’m crazy..” I replied, before dodging a swift swipe of one of their hands, I was prepared to retaliate but that seem to be its plan, I could see it was testing me. “They think this shit is a game, before they only took pleasure in the flesh, but now it seems they enjoy the hunt.”

As soon as the words passed my lips, the circle had gotten smaller as they advanced upon us, I stabbed as hard as I could into the skull of the one in front of me. It got stuck, but I was able to kick the one to my left, before he could grab hold of the merc. Husk was dicing away at their limbs, crippling them to the ground, he let out a cry as he savagely chopped them to pieces.

Madness had consumed him, but it was only a matter of time before it happened, He had just lost his best friend so I couldn’t fault him for losing it, we were all losing ourselves one way or another. He was crying, I could tell even with the blood splattered across his face, I felt the wetness upon my cheeks and realized I was crying too. All I could think of was the Wolf and that monster out there, it hurt my heart to even think of them, and I felt such a fury down deep into my soul.

“Husk, you gotta calm down, we need you in this if we’re all gonna make it..” I said, trying to get him back on track, it must have worked, because he took a few full breaths to regain his composure.

When he finally turned to face my direction his dark doe eyes grew wide in shock, no, he wasn’t looking at me, it was something behind me. Just as I felt its breath upon the back of my neck, the roar of gunfire nearly perforated my eardrum. I immediately felt the heavy weight of a body as it crumpled down my back and slide to the ground, my eyes quickly glanced toward the house, where the gunfire came from, to see Caiden there with a smoking rifle, still looking at me through the sights.

When I looked down to the risen that had met its true death and my weak knees fell out from under me, I couldn’t help but to break down all over again, as I cradle the Wolf’s body in my arms. I wailed and shed tears till my throat went dry with thirst, but I refused to let go of him. There was a guilt, that seem to manifest itself as a eviscerating pain deep in my gut, and a heavy tide of dizziness was the only thing that could get it to stop.

I felt someone’s arms wrap around me, and pry my fingers from his body, even in near unconsciousness I seem unwilling to let him go. That’s when I was hoisted up like a child, and cradled in the strong arms of Caiden, he tried to wipe the tears away but they just continued to fall. Husk stayed behind to bury the body, while I was taken inside, the look on everyone’s face was pure terror.

The strongest of us was dead, our leader, we probably would’ve never made it this far without him, and he was the only voice of reason among us.

“Wolf is gone.. Something got to him, something big.” Caiden informed them, he looked down to me, with the saddest eyes. “Husk is outside burying the body now.. He was going to bite Loki, so I had to take the shot.”

“He would have wanted you to..” Sera said, trying to keep him from blaming himself, as she wrapped my nude form in a blanket.

“She’s right.. He would have never wanted to cause me any harm, no matter what. So don’t you dare feel guilty.” I told him, but his normally turquoise eyes looked dark and murky. “All of this is my fault, there no one to blame but me.. Something is after me, one of the mutants, he’s been tracking us since.. Gosh, probably since Indiana. He’s had a taste of my blood and has become obsessed, he snuck up on us while we were in the heat of the moment and took out Wolf, before I even knew what was going on..”

“Oh dear god, the poor man.. if only he had stayed away from such a notorious black widow.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, turning to Karishma, who had the nerve to roll her eyes. “I’ll have you know, your fuckin precious virus has continue to mutate, even the weakest among them has evolved exponentially! We won’t stand a chance if they become more sentient than the pack of wild predators they are now. That’s what you’ve contributed to world, you’ve damned us all to hell with your sick science experiment, you worthless twit!”

“What do you know? From what I understand you didn’t even finish your residency.. You’re just another substandard undereducated Black American statistic. Your input on such matters are inept and irrelevant.”

The sound of her being slapped, echo in the room for a moment, and it wasn’t even me who popped her, Granny had beat me to it, the old woman had moved fast as lightning.

“Don’t any of you put another hand on her again, I’m in charge here, so I’m telling you for the last time.” Warned the Hispanic merc, his face getting red when everyone ignored him, and all hell started to break loose.

As the fighting and bickering progressed, the group had somehow split into two opposing sides, with the missing link between us, the foundation of our stability had crumbled to nothingness. I stood defiantly staring down the mercenary, clearly not willing to be intimidated by the likes of him. His comrade on the other hand was standing to my left, silent, but clearly with an uncompromising opinion of his own. On my right was Sera, and next to her was Kahlil, the boy was barely able to stand up right but his loyalty was unwavering, even if his good leg threaten to buckle beneath him. Granny and Patience stared down Jerry and Karishma, looking like two Rottweilers, waiting for the word to attack.

There were two surprises, I was in shock to see Tzar standing next to Bloodhound, not even able to look me in the face as he stood against me. The other oddity was Caiden’s indecisiveness, or should I say feigned neutrality, the bastard ALWAYS had an opinion.

“Look you guys, we have to look at the things we can agree on..” Caiden tried to reason, and truthfully he may have been the only one thinking rationally at this point. “One, We need to work together in order to survive, two, we need to get the fuck out of this house ASAP, and three, we kill that mutant motherfucker that’s stalking Loki and we get revenge for Wolf!”

“There is one problem with that plan..” I said, causing all eyes to fall on me, like they expected me to be hiding information all along.

“And what could that be?” He asked.

“That creature, the one stalking me.. he has your brothers eyes.”

The steep hills were ten times harder to scale in the dark, and for some reason we didn’t move as fast as we were before, the lack of sleep was in full effect. No one spoke to each other for the longest time, which might have been for the best, it seem anything could set one of us off like a bomb. Late in the afternoon, we stopped for a hour break, and I wondered if my blistered feet would heal themselves from all this walking.

I was taken aback when Husk grabbed my hand, he pulled me to the side, away from everyone else. Once we were alone, he gave me instructions to close my eyes and turn around. I tried not to tense when I felt his arms wrap around my shoulders, but then I later thought about how foolish I was being, once I felt the weight of the dog tags around my neck. I waited till he finish clasping the chain before I opened my eyes, successfully blinking back the tears as I read the inscribed name, Wolfen J. Timberland.

“I felt like you should have it, hopefully it’ll bring you luck.”

“I’m starting to feel like the lucky ones are the people that get to leave this world early, the ones dead and gone.. These times are no place for decent folk, he was too good for what’s left of this world.” I replied, as we made our way back to the group, where everyone was gathering their things to return to our trek.

Sera gave me a sad smile when she saw the dog tags around my neck, I did my best not to make the one I returned look similarly depressing, but it was a vain attempt. Someone grabbed my hand again, and I looked to my left to see Granny, she held our fingers locked in a tight grip and I was thankful for her giving me a little bit of her strength. Patience was just behind us, humming an odd tune, but Granny turned to give the young girl a look, causing her to immediately stop and pout.

“Aww, I was enjoying the tune..” Kahlil said, as he struggle with his arm around Sera, they were able to keep the modest pace we had set. “It was taking my mind off of things..”

“Well then it’s even more imperative that she stop, because we all need to be sharp.” I replied, looking out into the woods that surround us on all sides, the sun was setting soon and the darkness would leave us nearly blind.

“A shame to make the poor girl stop, her talents are exquisite.” Karishma muttered as she paused to scribble in that damn book, and it was only then that I noticed the two birds flittering around Patience. “And I’d say I’m not the only one who agrees..”

A dark sparrow and a pale blue nightingale flew circles around the crown of Patience’s afro puffed head, before flying off into the towering trees above. The forest seemed alive around us with sounds of the wildlife, the animals and insects seem to react to her call. It made me nervous, and I looked at the young girl with a new fear, fear for her, and what it could mean for us, what it would mean for the future. She was something different, and I don’t think it’s in the same way as I am, she’s something far more complex.

“We have to stop soon, we’ve been moving for nearly thirteen hours, besides that bullshit measly ten minute stop to eat something..” Husk mentioned to Caiden, and Bloodhound just frowned in annoyance.

“We only have about fifteen miles to go, if we keep pushing through the night up over the mountain range, we’ll get there before sunrise.” The hispanic merc replied, even though it was clear he wasn’t the one being asked.

“We’ll be DEAD before sunrise if we don’t stop to rest, you forget we have two amputees, a ten year old, and an elderly woman with us..” I said, trying to rationalize with him, even though I was just as anxious to get to their home base as he was, at this point.

“Maybe this is exactly what we need to trim the extra fat, we have our mission, we have our priorities. You already said there’s something after you, and that the virus is evolving, it’s imperative we keep moving!” He argued, striking a tone I knew would set me off if we continued down that route.

“It won’t kill us to stop for fifteen minutes or so, we could use the rest, Hound.” Caiden finally broke in with his opinion, saving us from a potential meltdown we all saw coming.

This further infuriated the mercenary, who assumed, that given his title as second in command, his ascension into leadership would be a seamless transition. Without the Wolf, the group dynamic swayed heavily democratic in the way we made decisions, and he was having adverse reactions to the power shift. He stormed off and my pathetic cousin chased after him, I watched as Tzar got him to stop about six yards away, and tried to talk him down. I missed Wolf more and more each passing minute, it had never occurred to me how much of a stabilizing influence he was on us all.

I tossed my bag down on a nearby log, and tried to rest my feet, Granny made her way over and brought me a can of soup and a bottle of water. With Tzar preoccupied by his spoiled brat of a boyfriend, the food lacked its usual pizazz, and it would have almost been hard to swallow had I not been so ravenous. She looked tired, and for the first time in a long time, she had a weariness in her eyes.

“Do you think it’s really him?” She asked softly, and I knew who she was talking about, but I didn’t really know how to answer her. “I can’t imagine him trapped like that.. He was a good boy, one who made allot of wrong choices, but he wasn’t a monster; that just isn’t him.”

“I don’t know Gran, I just don’t know..”

There was yelling all of a sudden, I looked up just in time to see Jerry running our way, his eyes were wide as saucers and his glasses were crooked on his face, but he didn’t care. I thought it was a joke until he went bolting past us, even Karishma. There was gunfire just past the trees, and I immediately notice Husk and Caiden were missing. Tzar and Bloodhound had stopped their conversation to look our way and confirm we heard the same thing. I told Sera to get Kahlil ready to move, and Granny instinctively grab hold to Patience, dragging her in the direction Jerry went running. Bloodhound gave Balthazar one of his guns, kissed him hard on the mouth and told him to run.

There was more gunfire, in rapid succession, like they were fighting a war. Bloodhound and I ran through the dense thicket, towards the sound, but it felt like we couldn’t move fast enough. The Hispanic merc was the first the clear the trees, and I followed about three seconds after, suddenly crashing into his back. I hit the floor but not hard enough to hurt much, I stood to my feet and dusted the dirt off angrily, as he stood there staring in shock. I followed his gaze, and I’d bet my face matched his expression when I laid my eyes upon an army of death.

“There has to be hundreds of them.. maybe a thousand.” He remarked, astounded by a swelling of fear he rarely ever felt.

I could barely get myself to breath, as the last rays of sunlight dipped beyond the horizon, it left us with the shadows of a thousand dead souls climbing the steep hills we had just traverse. Husk and Caiden held the fastest of them off, but it was barely worth the time it was buying us, we needed to run now.

“Come on, we don’t have the bullets for this shit!” I screamed at Caiden, as I grab hold of Husk’s arm, pulling him up from his crouching position.

“We can’t outrun them forever, we got to do something about them while we can!” He replied, looking around us like a plan would fall from thin air.

I told Bloodhound to catch up with the group, and for once he didn’t argue, glad to have an excuse to high tail it. I felt the urge to make a run for it myself, but Caiden was right, the risen would catch up to us eventually. Their hunger was incessant, constant, and never ending, they had the overwhelming will to eat to keep them going, while we would inevitably fatigue.

In my peripheral, I saw Husk toss something to Caiden, it appeared to be a small gas tank, I found myself looking on in confusion because they couldn’t be doing what it looked like they were about to do. These were adults with fully functional mental capacities, even though with Caiden there was a wide berth for argument sometimes, times like these.

“Please tell me you’re not about to set a goddamn fire?! That’s the most asinine thing you could have come up with! Look at all this dry brush around us, we’ll be scorched along with them!”

“Look you’re overreacting, it rained recently, you can tell from the soil. I’m just gonna light these two trees, it’ll be fine.. remember you’re field is medicine, not engineering or even firefighting for christ sake.” He replied, ignoring my warning like the stubborn bull he was, he turned back to look at me with that infectious snide grin of his. “How about you let the men handle this princess..”

I was going to snap at him, but I stopped in my tracks when he started pouring the gasoline in a trail leading away from the two trees, heading in my direction. Husk was next to me, and my eyes immediately focused on the book of matches in his hand, I didn’t stick around to see him spark the first one, but I heard it behind me as I ran for the hills. Caiden yelped in surprise, as they ran from the the engulfing flames, twenty seconds hadn’t pass before I smelt the smoke and felt the heat.

As I had warned, the fire quickly spread out of control, searing its way up the path behind us, fueled by the faintest of updrafts. Husk had to pull me out of the way of a falling tree, it landed so close, I had to shake off burning debris that rain down in its wake. When we manage to gain some distance from the fire, I could see the clearing just ahead, maybe fifty yards away, so the three of us made a mad dash through the only opening amongst the dense trees.

“Loki, this way!” Screamed Sera from the other side of the field, as her and Granny waved their arms to get our attention, panic could be seen on their faces, even from such a distance.

We continued to run, but once we got about halfway I noticed how the tall grass was so dry it crunched beneath our feet like straw hay. My stomach dropped, as instinct urged me to turn and look just as the fire spread from the woods to the grass with little effort, turning the field of wheat grass into a lake of fire. The swift fiery tide of flame moved exponentially faster but it wasn’t the only threat to our lives, there was something that caught my eye to the right of us, yet I could barely catch a glimpse before it hit me with the force of a speeding train.

My body crashed to the ground and slid through the dirt, I went to push myself up but I could only scream in agony, my bones felt like they were shattered and fragmented to pieces. I could see the fire approaching fast, but instead of it overtaking me, it spread around, creating a wall of flames. I cried out for help, I cried out for God, but neither gave me an answer, I was all alone.

No, I wasn’t.. there was him.

The mutant walked through the fire like Jesus on the water, ignoring the burn and sizzle of his flesh, like the pain meant nothing. I could barely stand the heat, trapped on my small island of dirt, but here he was, bathing in agony like it was a luxurious bubbling bath. He cleared the fire, and I could see his flesh begin to mend immediately, I saw him visibly shiver like the regrowth of muscle and skin was a pleasurable process, I was almost jealous, until I met the monsters eyes. No, those weren’t the eyes of a monster..

They were HIS eyes.

He let out a roar, it pierced me to my soul, it made me shiver till my bones rattled, and my heart beat could be felt in my throat. When he continued towards me, I screamed as loud as I could, hoping that someone, anyone, could hear my screams other than him. The creature roared once more, but this time gunfire was the reply, I craned my neck to see Husk and Caiden let loose a barrage of bullets into the creature’s back. While the blond moved to tend to me, the Mercenary let loose another clip to distract the mutant.

“Caiden.. It’s him, it’s him!” I cried, as he lifted me in his arms, and wiped the blood, dirt, and tears from my face. “He’s come back to haunt me, I think I’m losing my mind!”

“No, it’s not him anymore, that’s impossible, that’s not my brother..”

He was cut off by a horrific scream, one that erupted from Husk’s throat as the creature grab hold of both his arms. I could hear the bones in his arms crack, as he was literally being torn in half, that’s when the mutant roared again but it sounded like pain this time. Husk dropped to the floor, still alive, but in a world of pain as he struggle to his feet.

The beast was thrashing back and forth, flailing around like something was on its back. That’s when we saw Granny, she had the Wolf’s dagger imbedded deep into the crown of its spinal cord, and she refused to let go until she twisted it as deep as she could. Caiden screamed out for her, setting me down softly before running to her aid. Husk fought through his pain, and was able to carry me from the fires reach, and suddenly Sera was there on my other side. When we were far enough from the smoke to breath clearly, I looked back for Caiden and Gail, tears falling silently down my cheeks as I watched and waited.

There was another massive roar, it was terrifying, like something out of my worst nightmare. But suddenly, two figures appeared in the smoke, hacking and coughing as they ran, once they got closer I could see the blond and silver of their hair.

Let’s get the fuck out of here dammit! The fire is spreading up the mountainside..” Caiden yelled, as we all started to pick up the pace.

“If it spreads to the other side before we get there, we’ll be trapped..” Husk warned, as we climbed higher, and the hills got steeper.

The compound was supposed to be just over this hilly mountain range, the now retired site of old coal mines that had long been shut down and abandon for renewable energies that were more efficient, Wolf had mentioned a cave that cut straight through to the other side, but only he knew of the fast way across. We were at such a loss without him, almost wandering around like lost lambs that stray from the Shepard.

Eventually we found the others at the next plateau, Buster ran up to us barking fiercely because he smelled smoke, and possibly something else, all over us. Patience was standing next to Tzar, who was giving Kahlil something stable to balance off of. Bloodhound waved us toward a break in the mountain, there was a rail track that lead into one of the old mining grounds.

“This map says there’s a way to go through to the other side, you just have to trip the switch on the third fork.. The cars are small, but we can connect them.”

“We don’t know the state of the track.. Some of these mines haven’t been maintained for nearly a century.” Sera cautioned, and I felt just as wary, the merc just sighed angrily in response.

We put it to a vote, and three quarters of the group chose to take the mines. Sera, Granny, and I were the only ones to vote for an alternative option, so we were quickly overridden. The small mine carts could only fit three or four of us at a time, I got in with Caiden and Granny, while Sera and Husk took Kahlil, Patience, and Buster in their cart. Bloodhound, Tzar, Jerry, and Dr. Jhedav decided to ride in the lead car, I didn’t protest because the merc apparently knew the map the best.

As we pulled off, I was starting to get second thoughts about this plan, and I couldn’t hold in the scream when we made an immediate ninety degree death drop into the depths of the dark passage.


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