A/N: let’s get this action chapter going shall we? Not much to say in this note other than the fact that there will be blood and gore vividly described very, very soon.
“Take care out there bonehead.” Alisha said to Daniel, giving him a hug.
A question sparked in my mind. It was something I noticed last night. Alisha and Daniel had grown quite close on our journey here together. Going out for supplies together, having lengthy conversations. It made me wonder what they were at times.
“I didn’t know you two were a thing.” I assumed boldly, flustering them both as I eyed them with amusement.
“Uhh. I don’t know. If you don’t want that I can back off.” Daniel rambled.
“Not sure. But he’s cool.” My sister answered breezily.
“Oh, I think it’s a good thing. Keeps your mind off of all of this.” I said, gesturing around as we were all about to split off into groups to sweep the property.
Darren and Jonas stayed up all night talking. Eventually, I ended up sleeping on the couch in the living room for some silence and isolation.
“Ready to go?” Jonas said, running out of the house.
“What took you?” Alisha questioned, waving her goodbyes to Daniel who’d be with Jerry and Oscar while Donna and Ellis stayed back here.
“The kid didn’t want me to leave.” Jonas smiled.
Jonas had seemed to fully commit to being in little Darren’s life. They were practically joined at the hip in the short time they’d known one another. I kept my distance as I didn’t feel like a good influence.
“Such a father.” Alisha smiled, humor twinkling in her eyes.
“Bambi has called me daddy a few times.” Jonas said suddenly, catching me off guard.
“No bedroom talk in front of family.” I said sternly, recovering.
“How cute.” Alisha remarked, shuddering a bit as she hopped onto a horse as we’d be taking them out today.
“Had to do it to ya since you were torturing poor Danny and Ali.” He cooed, climbing atop his horse.
When it was known that horses would be our transportation today, I requested Night again. It was something about her that drew me to her.
“I never knew you could ride a horse Jonas.” I remarked.
“This is my first time ever being on one. I’m just wingin’ it Bambi.” He shrugged, the horse walking off as Night followed behind.
“I wish I could take risks like that and be totally okay.” I sighed, pulling out my map of the property.
Daniel’s group was going northeast. While we were going northwest of the house. It was unfamiliar territory for me; then again I hadn’t explored much of it since being here as I holed up in a cottage. We’d stop at the community dining hall and check in with people before branching out and checking on some of the other families near the northern borders, meeting with the others all while taking down any infected roaming around. Jonas urged his horse into a gallop, forcing me and Alisha to follow suit as he took off ahead of us with a wild and gleeful shout.
We all lucked out with our horses as Jonas wasn’t leaving his shotgun behind. Donna had informed us that our group’s horses were the more experienced, having been subjected to various situations. At the pace we were galloping at, a giant covered structure of sorts came into sight quickly; a small section of stables there as well. We came to a stop as I dismounted while Night was still in motion at a trot. I hadn’t bothered catching her reigns as she could pretty much seem to read my mind. She and the other horses went off to the stables under the shade of the beaming sun.
“New faces!” An older man announced when we came into sight.
“Here on behalf of the Doddsons to check up on things.” I explained, cutting off Jonas as he could be quite crass; even when he was trying to be nice.
“Ahh, you’re Danny boy’s friends?” The man asked, proving they were all just as close-knit as Daniel had explained while we were out on the road.
“That’d be us.” I smiled.
“Thanks for getting him back here safe.” The man thanked, getting murmurs of agreement from onlookers.
“So how are things?” Alisha asked, getting to the point as I hadn’t naturally gotten there.
“Well, there are some infected out there. We were going to wait for the patrol before heading back before dinner since my wife is here and she isn’t well to travel near them.” The man explained, his gaze a little sad.
“We got em’. You’ll be able to leave soon.” Jonas said, assuring the wary man.
“Have any made it this close to a safe zone?” I asked, an image of fenced off areas marked safe coming to mind.
“A few slipped past, which is why I have my sons and daughters here to help watch out. We old heads have done our part.” He chuckled.
Literally in that instant, I heard a gunshot followed by a wave of screams. My eyes instantly locked onto the source; a mountain lion. And in addition to that, there were five infected. Jonas looked ready to dump off shots with his shotgun. Me and Alisha were up. I had my bow and she somehow made a slingshot work once she got here.
“Let’s get them.” I said, taking an arrow from my quiver as Alisha readied her slingshot.
Jabbing the arrow into the torso of an infected mountain lion turned on me with a ferocious hiss. All the while, the infected I had hooked on my weaponized arrow was grasping for me. With a mighty heave, I jerked the arrow up and yanked it from the infected, a nasty spray of blood narrowly missing me. Quickly I impaled the infected man with the bloodied arrow through the skull. Freed, the mountain lion was stalking closer and closer, a wild look in the normally calculated predator’s eyes. Before it could leap on me, a metal pellet shot through it’s skull with deadly accuracy. I looked back, seeing Jonas coral all the terrified children, shooting me a look telling me it was okay while me and Alisha faced off against the rest of the infected with a few other people. My ability to reload arrows was getting faster as I got more and more used to this bow. I was able to put down the majority of them before they made it too close to people while Alisha crippled them with shots from her slingshot.
Just as that broke out we managed to silence it. We’d need to head out and kill anymore infected wandering around. Alisha called me and Jonas over as she inspected the cougar she’d shot.
“Its species hopping pretty rapidly.” She remarked, nudging the big cat over with her foot.
“What’s that ’spose to mean?” A little girl asked.
“It’s gone from infecting humans and mice exclusively to infecting a big cat.” She grimaced.
“So animals aren’t safe either?” I questioned.
“Likely not anymore.” She huffed.
“You all should be able to head back home soon. We’ll talk with Donna and Jerry about the infected.” Alisha soothed.
“There’s more of em’ out here now. And we don’t know how they’re getting so deep into the property.” A woman spoke up, sounding worried.
“We’ll figure it out.” I attempted, trying to calm down the crowd here.
But as usual, my energy for being gentle with others was already running out. Having not fully and healthily addressing my acquired traumas was catch up to me. I was more irritable and antsy if I wasn’t devoid of emotion. For the greater good, I chanted repeatedly within the confines of my skull.
“There’s another team out as well. We’ll clear them up and look for where they’re coming from.” I added a bit louder, so everyone could hear me.
My promise was enough to calm these people down a bit as their murmurs and clamoring seemed to die. I looked to Alisha and Jonas, truly having run out of steam for social interaction.
“We gotta get goin’ peeps.” Jonas sighed, waving his farewells as he just turned to leave.
Alisha and Jonas went back to the horses while I collected the two arrows I shot. The one I used to fend off the infected physically snapped under the stress I put in under so it was useless. I had a surplus of about ten remaining arrows if the two I’d shot earlier were still flight worthy. Yanking them out of my now dead targets. Arrow one had the tip of the arrow chipped off. Other than that it was still in good shape. It might not penetrate as well or make for a messy shot. The other was pretty much flawless. Returning them to their place in my back quiver, I began dragging the bodies much to the annoyance of my still injured shoulder. I couldn’t just leave these bodies around as there were children present.
Jonas was in a rush to get this over with to probably get back to Darren. But I understood things had to be done a certain way for the minds of others. I managed to get the two out of the courtyard of the dining area, out of sight.
“Nah boy. I’ll get em’. You take your sharpshooting out in the desert for the rest of them.” A man insisted as I was about to collect the next.
“Make sure you wash your hands after and don’t touch your face after touching them.” I instructed carefully.
“I gotcha.” He chortled, shooing me off.
I did as he said, hurrying off over to the horses where Jonas and Alisha sat mounted in wait for me.
“What took you?” Alisha asked curiously, collecting her hair into a high ponytail.
“Had to collect my arrows and drag away the bodies.” I reasoned, climbing atop my mount.
They looked at me as if I’d grown another head before sharing a smile.
“What?” I asked curiously.
“You’re thinkin’ of others. We’re just happy you’re gettin’ better.” Jonas shrugged, his smile growing to flash his gold-plated canines.
“As I’ve said before. I hit a wall. I’m not made of glass though.” I mused.
“And besides. There are young children there. It’s enough they had to see us slaughter what were essentially people.” I reasoned, Alisha’s smile turning into a bit of laughter.
“And he’s back.” She teased, clicking her tongue and prompting her horse to move.
I would have argued that I was never gone so to speak. But in actuality I had been gone, my head in the clouds as I let negativity take hold. I followed them as we began our journey into the wilderness. For once I was able to appreciate the beauty of all this land. The sky a perfect shade of blue. The sun was bright and high in the sky. Suddenly Jonas who was leading the charge came to a sudden halt, me and Alisha’s horses coming to a stop a tad clumsily across the sandy terrain.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Some target practice for you.” He proposed, handing me back the binoculars.
I urged Night to stand beside Jonas’ horse to get a better view. Looking out I instantly saw what Jonas was talking about. A group of eight infected standing idle in the scorching plains. They were far out; about 120 meters away to take a wild guess. It’d be a near-impossible shot with my bow’s draw weight at the moment. And the weight now was already hard to draw back with my shoulder being busted. Luckily I could adjust the weight pretty quickly. If we ran at them it might spook the horses off and we’d be stranded. The wind was coming from behind us and blowing at them. Suddenly a cold shiver ran through me.
“Help!” A shrill voice shrieked from the distance, coming from their group, spooking the horses and having them move from hoof to hoof. I calmed down Night hopping off of her.
Alisha asked for the binoculars to get a look at them from where she sat perched atop her palomino mare.
“Lurkers. Weird to see them in this kind of environment not running for shade. Sprouting fungi so tonight might be their final night.” Alisha elaborated.
“Can you make the shot from here?” She asked.
“If I adjust the draw weight. But I might have to shoot with my left with a weight that high since my shooting arm is busted.” I explained.
“Do you have your tool bag?” I asked, turning to Jonas, he reached down into saddlebags his saddle had, producing a familiar bag.
Slipping off of Night’s back I sat down on a nearby boulder as this would take some time and effort. Jonas and Alisha joined me, Alisha on the lookout.
“What are you settin’ it to?” He asked curiously as he held onto my sword and quiver.
“Taking it from 45 to 70. The maximum.” I huffed as tinkering with this aspect of the bow was tedious.
“Overkill?” He asked.
“They say 60 pounds is enough to drop anything on this continent. I’m going a step further to be safe.” I explained, finishing up the first adjustment.
“Can you do it accurately?” He asked, firing off another worried question.
“It will take me a while. I can’t hold back 70 pounds for long. So to hang onto them and then get a good shot from this far will be fatiguing. I’ll need breaks.” I elaborated, finishing up.
“Lurkers during the day won’t notice others around them dying. You’ll have time.” Alisha chipped in.
“And in addition to that, this might ruin my arrows on impact. So I’ll need to make each one land.” I huffed, getting up and feeling the pressure build.
“A lurker needs pumping blood to nourish the fungi. Just aim for the heart or to make them bleed out.” Alisha soothed, giving me a pat on the shoulder.
Heaving a heavy breath, I stepped forward, surveying the shrubbery and wind. We were uphill of them, meaning I’d be shooting down a slight slope. It made shots interesting. The wind changed a bit as it got closer to them, seeming to blow eastward right before them. I couldn’t tell exactly how fast. Switching over to my left, I felt odd. Everything about trying to make a right-handed bow work left-handed felt wrong; it was. I chickened out, deciding to just bite down on the pain and use my right arm.
Raising my bow, I heaved one final breath, preparing for the pain and the effort of drawing back 70 pounds. Inhaling I drew back, my arm straining under the weight. I just managed to line up the shot right before my arm failed, releasing the arrow and my breath. It was as if time slowed as it traveled right for the furthest out. I scored a hit, as the body dropped instantly. I was too far away to tell where I hit as they almost looked too small from here. Just from that one shot, I was winded.
“Okay, that’s harder than expected.” I groaned, flexing my shoulder as I tried to prep the muscle for even more exertion.
“A direct hit from this range. I’m impressed Bambi.” Jonas remarked.
“I never knew you were such a good shot. I should have come to your archery practice more often.” Alisha chuckled, adding to the flames of encouragement.
Reaching into my back quiver, I prepared myself for yet another shot with my chipped arrow. I’d rather have a perfect arrow in a pinch than have a flawed one be my last. Notching it, I inhaled and drew it back, my bicep quivering already. Lining up the shot my release was a tad smoother this time. I couldn’t see if I hit my mark as I was clutching at my shoulder. Recovering from the pain of firing yet another arrow I looked up to see their numbers had dropped by one more. There were two standing right next to one another. Getting the binoculars from Alisha I inspected them. If I lined up the shot from the right angle, I might be able to get it to pierce both of them, saving an arrow.
Walking around, I found that angle, prepping my next arrow. Preparing, I almost lost my resolve as I didn’t want to feel pain again. The greater good, I chanted. Jonas was no good with a bow. And Alisha didn’t have the strength to draw it back at this weight. Drawing back, I fired quickly, aiming for the chest roughly. Luckily for us, it sailed straight through both of them, the bodies dropping.
“Four more.” I huffed, crouching down to rest.
The pain was tiring me almost as much as the exertion.
“You okay?” Jonas asked, crouching beside me.
“This is one of the hardest things I’ve done. I feel like it’s going to rip my arm off with the arrow.” I panted, collecting myself as I stood up again.
“Alisha be my eyes for this one.” I instructed, prepping my next arrow.
Narrowing my eyes I tried locking onto my target first before firing for a quicker release. Picking out the next one I was aiming for, I drew back on an inhale, firing when I felt confident a mere second later. My heart dropped when the body didn’t drop, a small puff of dust indicating the arrow had struck the ground.
“You grazed its neck. Maybe an artery with all the blood. It will bleed out.” Alisha explained.
I walked closer to her, picking out my next with her. Diving right back in with little to no break I had wanted to rip the band-aid off. Drawing back, I released once my sight landed on the walking corpse. The body dropped seemingly the moment the arrow could be heard whistling through the air.
“Right through the sternum.” She said, as we moved to pick off the remaining infected.
The process was slow and painful as I had to take a few breaks for the last. I was down to two arrows, meaning our range was all but gone when it came to silence. My body was reeling as my shoulder ached.
“No more bow for you for a while. We need to move on.” Jonas said, give me a congratulatory pat on the back.
Catching my breath, I returned my bow to my shoulder before climbing atop Night’s back. We set back off into the desert, sun beating down on us as I let Night take the lead as she seemed to know where we were headed. I took this time of rest to bring down the draw weight of my bow. Night following the path brought us up to another gate, a sizable house on the land within the confines of wooden fencing. The gate was one like the gate of the Doddsons. I rode up to the gate, hopping off of Night.
There was a button that read call. Pressing it there was a beep, followed by a male voice.
“Here for the check-in?” The guy asked.
“Yep, here on behalf of the Doddsons.
“Make sure you tell Daniel I want him to come over and get his ass kicked in smash bros.” The guy chuckled, the gate opening.
We made our way inside and by the time we made it to the front porch, a guy that shared some of Daniel’s traits that had a baby in his arms.
“Ahh, Danny isn’t in company?” The man asked as we drew nearer.
“He’s on the northwestern patrol.” I explained, going to shrug and my shoulder reminding me of the abuse I subjected it to.
“You must be his friends. When he was over here the other day he wouldn’t shut up about you guys.” He smiled.
“Well I’m Issac, this is Alisha, and this is Jonas.” I explained, introducing everyone.
“Jericho. I’m Danny’s cousin or older brother if you ask me.” He smiled.
“Ella here.” A woman greeted as she slipped past Jericho.
“I’m not sure how pregnancy works exactly but you need to be resting.” Alisha fretted, seeming to have already met these people.
Had she and Daniel come here while I was out on my own? I felt so out of the loop.
“How are things here?” I Alisha asked.
Jericho shared a look with Ella who took the baby from his arms, cooing to the particularly cranky child.
“Bein’ this far out is getting more and more dangerous. I don’t want to leave the second family house though.” Jericho began, looking worried and stressed, his bright demeanor melting away.
“The river border doesn’t stop ’em from getting in?” Jonas asked.
“They’re comin’ ’round or something. But I’ve been having to kill more and more every night. One got behind the fences and spooked the horses in the middle of the night.” He sighed.
“Why not come to the other main house? Until we figure out how they’re getting so far onto the property.” I proposed.
“Me and Ella are packing up to do that. I can’t keep my baby out here and it’s not safe for her.” He explained.
“Well, we won’t keep you guys long. Hurry up with the patrol before it gets dark. We’ll be heading to the main house first thing in the morning.” He smiled, returning to his happiness.
“Can I ask ya a favor?” Jonas asked, turning to Jericho.
“Shoot brother.” He replied, making me feel a little on edge for some reason.
“Can Issac stay here? Until me and Alisha meet with the others and head back this way?” Jonas asked, a cold shock running through me as I processed what he said.
“What for?” I asked, slightly insulted.
Ella seemed to want no part of it as she slipped into the house.
“You’re hurt. I don’t want one of ‘em gettin’ hold of you.” Jonas countered.
“Well, I don’t want to get in between. But you can stay if you want. I won’t make ya.” Jericho shrugged.
“I’ll be going with them. I’m not made of glass. My shoulder just hurts.” I huffed, simmering down.
Jonas seemed a little peeved at my stubborn ways. If only he knew why I didn’t want to leave his side now of all times. Infected were lurking around pretty much everywhere on the property. And I don’t think I could handle losing him emotionally. I’d want to be there to protect him if he needed protecting. His macho complex could be irksome, to say the least. But I understood his reasoning.
“Well, it’s decided.” Jericho smiled.
“I think three of us out there is better than two.” Alisha offered.
“And tell Ella to get some rest. She literally just had a whole baby a few days ago.” Alisha tacked on.
“Is there such a thing as half a baby?” Jericho joked, leaving Alisha with an amused chuckle.
We bid our farewells, Jonas seeming to sulk at the prospect of me being in company. When we’d got back to the horses I was fed up.
“Alisha. I’m sorry in advance but I’m about to get sappy.” I warned, getting a funny look from her.
“I’m here because I want to protect you and look after you just as much as you want to look after me.” I began gripping Jonas by his collar, pulling him close to me.
“Now you can take it or leave it but I’ll be here.” I piled on, my heart racing in my chest as I did something that sealed the deal on what we were.
Hopping up I placed a quick kiss on his lips. Sure we’d had sex a few nights ago. But we always sealed our relationship with a kiss. I’ve had his. He just hadn’t had mine. So now it was official.
“Now let’s go shall we? We have a lot of ground to cover before nightfall.” I commanded, ignoring the pain in my shoulder as I climbed atop Night.
“Oh hell yeah he’s back.” Jonas called, Alisha shooting me a smile before mouthing a ‘You go bro’.
We took off into the desert with newfound purpose; well at least me. Our eyes surveyed the land, seeing a scarce amount of life. It was the occasional animal. But no infected so far. We cut further west as we were on a crest overlooking land that stretched to the east. Our route had only one stop when it came to people that called the property home, most of the other families living on the east side of the property. The roaring of the falls could be heard as we struck out across the dune we were on top of. The something caught my eye, a massive gathering of infected milling around the falls, some at the top of the cliff, others near the shore of the falls.
“Found our answer.” I gasped, having never seen so many together.
“The waterfall is saving us.” Alisha reasoned.
“But what happens if something loud grabs their attention.” Jonas proposed.
Reaching for my handheld radio, I signaled for the others, waiting for a response. Moments later they returned my call.
“What’s up? Over.” Daniel asked.
“We have a situation on the northwestern border, near the falls.” I replied, ditching the formalities.
“Oh shit what’s going on?” Daniel asked, hearing the urgency in my voice.
“It’s a hoard of infected. More than I’ve ever seen. They’re drawn to the sound the falls are making.” I replied.
“How many?” Jerry asked, taking over Daniel’s radio.
“Roughly over a thousand.” I winced, confronted with something I wished I hadn’t seen.
“That many infected already?” Daniel huffed, seeming to be in a state of disbelief.
“I have a plan already.” Alisha said, sounding unmoved.
I looked back at her with a questioning look. Though she had her eyes trained on the hoard about 500 meters away.
“Alisha says she has a plan.” I replied over the radio.
“Let’s hear it?” Daniel asked instantly, sounding relieved.
“I’ll explain when we meet at the last point.” Alisha said, taking the radio from me.
It seemed our peace was luck. And the reason for the infected making it so far into the property without a cause was answered. Saved by the falls. Had they not been there, we’d be dealing with something that could wipe out all life on this land in an instant should it spread.
A/N: A sealed fate. Those who are observant will have realized what I went through the effort of elaborately setting up. Don’t be blinded my loves! I like to tease remember. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this chapter. Things are just starting to get even more interesting.