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Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2125793
So the world ended. Big whoop.
[Introduction] Bombs. Wars. Chemicals. Big ass meteors.

Somehow or another, the world as you know it ended.

That's when our world started.

This is what happens after.

*Nuclear*~~~~~~*Nuclear*


Here's what you need to know to survive. I'll put pictures to make it easy. After that? I'm not here to hold your hand.

*People* Rule #1: There's safety in numbers*
*Unless you end up with a bunch of psychos. There are a lot of messed up people out there. The eat your liver for breakfast kind, and the use you as target practice kind, to name a few...

*Person* Rule #2: Never trust anyone. Everyone has their own agenda -- you included. Does that contradict with rule #1? I don't care. Safety in number still works as long as you keep one eye open when you sleep.

*Buckle* Rule #3: Never, ever, run out of bullets. If it's between bullets and food, take the bullets. You can always kill something with it later.

*Gavel* Rule #4: There is no law. Not like the kind you remember. Unless you find a settlement with even the most basic infrastructure, don't expect anyone to come running to your aid if someone screws you over. So watch your back.

*Medical* Rule #5: Medicine is rare, disease is rampant, and there are lots of people ready to fill you with holes just because. So try not to get yourself killed.

*Radioactive* Rule #6: There are places with nasty radioactive "leftovers" that you don't wanna hang around. Luckily, most of them are marked, but if you're smart, you'll remember to keep extra batteries for your geiger counter.

*FairyR* Rule #7: Speaking of radioactivity, it's produced some weird crap. The kind that wants to rip your throat out. Hint: They come out at night.

*BeakerB* Rule #8: And speaking of weird crap, some believe that there are scientists out there still poking their noses in things that should really be left alone (you think they'd have learned their lesson by now). If you meet someone with a lab coat that's still clean after hundreds of years of dust storms, proceed with caution.

*Poison* Rule #9: Don't touch the dead. Because these days, sometimes they don't stay dead... if you catch my drift. Remember that disease I mentioned? You don't want to catch it.

*Idea* Rule #10: Use your brain. In this world, nothing comes easy anymore. But if you're smart... you just might make it.

Keep those in mind and you might last more than a day. Good luck.

*Nuclear*~~~~~~*Nuclear*


Campfire Rules

*Bullet* *Man**Woman* Your first addition will be a bio. Format to come.
*Bullet* *Busy* You have three (3) days to post.
*Bullet* *No* Please refrain from graphic violence, language, or sex.
*Bullet* *Type**Wand* Have fun.
Name: Cody Rey

Age: 24

Appearance: Korean-American (*not that Korea or America exist anymore...), Cody is rather slight in build. Black hair, and dark eyes that sometimes seem to have a little olive green in them.

He's got scratches and scars associated with coming into contact with things at accelerated speeds -- something that sometimes happens when you're jumping, climbing, and running everywhere like you're Spiderman (*not that Spiderman exists anymore...) -- aka, freerunning.

Primary Offensive Tactics: Speed. He’s honestly not especially skilled in combat but being fast means sometimes you get in a lucky shot before they know what hit them.

A regular MacGyver, he can turn almost anything into a trap or patch something up.

Primary Defensive Tactics: Also speed. Can’t kill what you can’t catch. In addition he’s abnormally limber (think contortionist/double jointed, pop your own arm out of its socket kinda thing) and can fit into small places. He’s also very stealthy.

Apparel: Black canvas jacket, navy hoodie, red and white baseball tee, dark jeans, dirty black converse high tops, black belt with pockets, black and silver fingerless gloves, denim “Pepsi” baseball hat.

Equipment: Black backpack, scrounged and crafted tools for tinkering, Swiss Army knife, magnesium fire starter, orange rope and carabiners, flashlight, fishing line, three days rations, water canteen, bandages, pens and chalk for drawing, deck of cards (almost complete), a die, stuffed pink kangaroo, blanket, assorted junk.

Weapons: Metallic blue cap gun modified for real use (short range but can be loaded with a variety of ammunition), standard police officer issued Glock, rusty trench knife.

Personality: While stealthy and wary of new situations and surroundings, he’s also got this curiosity kick that can sometimes put him danger. He’s a bit of a magpie as well and is attracted to junk most other people would ignore.

Despite everything he’s been through, he’s still too trusting. He may have his own opinion, but if the right person in the right situation stands up real big and exerts their authority, he’ll probably back down.

The world may be over, but that doesn't mean you can’t still have fun!

History: Cody was born in a mining settlement, and expected to fall in line. But he was a little too flighty, a little too ADD — and he was always using his stealth and agility to poke his nose into places it didn't belong… like into the Foreman’s office. Essentially the “sheriff”, the Foreman ran the town.

Everyone seemed pretty okay with it, too. But Cody knew something was up.

Turns out the Foreman was siphoning money from the trade that passed through the already literally dirt poor town. And Cody was gonna prove it, too — except he trusted the wrong guy.

They dropped him down so deep an empty mine shaft they figured he was as good as dead.

Two days in the dark went past until he finally found a way to climb out. His parents had already left town — at least he hoped that’s what had happened to them.

Since then he’s been on his own, making a living by salvaging the remains of the old world to survive in this one.

… moderately successful.

Notes: Years of breathing in the dust of coal mines has left him with some asthma and occasional shortness of breath. Worsened in colder weather.
Name: Zaire “Z”Corvin

Age: 27

Appearance: Silver, long hair kept in a tight ponytail reveals a thin, charming face. His honey coloured skin coloring matches his stoic hazel brown eyes, that watch impatiently over the lands they've fought for so long. Due to being caught by a clan of outsiders at a young age, fire has marred his back, many who see it says it resembles wings. Zaire has an athletic muscular build from trying to survive in the world he lives in today.

Primary Offensive Tactics: Speed and strength. He is skilled in hand to hand combat, and archery taught to him by his mentor. He is never far from either his compound bow or knife.

As an Engineer, there is nearly nothing he can’t fix or weaponize.

Primary Defensive Tactics: Hand to hand combat. He has dedicated his life to never being in a situation where he is left powerless and at another will. So, with this in mind, he has kept a strict ritual of Martial Arts training.

Apparel: With the world being what it is today, he typically wears a combination of clothing, but mostly whatever he can get his hands on that looks durable. At the moment, he has dark cargo jeans, grey t-shirt, and over that a dark blue jean hooded jacket; followed with his black motorcycle boots he earned in a wrestling match.

Equipment: He has a few backpacks, but his favorite is black with “Wolf” stitched on the inside. A gift he received from his mentor Jacob Corvin. In it he carries the bare essentials in case he finds a good place to loot. A couple knives, wire, a small length of rope, dried meat, water bottle, sewing kit(Never know when clothing rips and needs repair, lol). Last, but not least, Destiny.

Weapons: Compound Bow, Wrench-Axe - while most missions call for something long range when he needs to get into the trenches and fight he uses his trusty light weight two foot long combat wrench that he modified with an axe head he lovingly calls “Destiny”

Personality: Zaire has been through much in his life that makes has given him trust issues, yet he will often give everyone he meets a chance to prove they are worth his trust. While willing to be the shoulder to lean on, he tends to keep to himself which more often than not make people want to be around him more, lol. Zaire can be standoffish, but will stand up for those that can’t or won’t stand up for themselves.

History: Zaire was found wrapped in a torn blanket on the brink of freezing to death by Jacob Corvin. Jacob took him home to a cave he had fashioned with a more modern set up. Jacob stayed at this cave with his wife Bethany, and together they raised Zaire as their own. As a youth Zaire was most often a trouble maker, thinking he knew what was best, so he would get himself in situations that made Jacob have to come to his rescue. While learning all that Jacob taught him, he felt as if he was a burden that Jacob and Bethany took pity on and despite them constantly telling Zaire this wasn’t the case, Zaire didn’t believe it until he was out scavenging a town and ran into a group of Outsiders. They captured Zaire and tortured him, then thinking he would make a tasty meal with the thought to cook him alive. Jacob saved him, but not before Z was scarred on his back in what looks to be wings made by the burning wood they had him on. From that day on, Zaire learned all he could from Jacob; becoming skilled in many areas. Bethany taught him much as well, including, but not limited to sewing with some crocheting as a way to pass the time.

Notes: The burns on Zaire’s back left a burning sensation which bothers him occasionally making him roll his shoulders often done unconsciously.
Name: Saiah Arkai

Age: 21

Appearance: Porcelain skin and unsettling blue eyes so pale in some lights they might even appear white. Her black hair is long and wavy, worn rolled tightly into two buns on the back of her head, just behind and above her ears. She is slender with no real muscle about her giving her a soft, weak appearance. There are faint lines, often mistaken for scars, running from her wrists up to her shoulders. if one were to look at them, they would see a distinct, symmetrical geometric pattern. More of these marks can be found on her legs, back and chest.

Primary Offensive Tactics: Despite her weak appearance, Saiah is fast, graceful and skilled in hand to hand combat. She may not hit very hard, but she know just where to hit to put them down! When pushed to extremes, there is a power within her that can erupt...changing her...

Primary Defensive Tactics: Remember that power...yeah...also hand to hand combat. She also bites.

Apparel: She wears a form fitting suit beneath a long and tattered blue tunic shirt kept belted at the waist with a black utility belt riddled with small pouches. She is barefoot. Around her neck she wears what appears to be a collar with a small blinking blue light on it (maybe it's a tracking device?)

Equipment: She found a long stick that was probably the shaft of a rake or a shovel or something.

Weapons: The stick...

Personality: Quiet, curious, almost child-like at times, fearful of...well almost everything

History: No memory...

Notes: The collar she wears does not look like it can be removed as a seem cannot be seen. It is a thin bluish metal and has three lights on it. Most are dark except when activated. There is a blue light that is always blinking. There is also a green light (currently not lit) and a red light (the red light activates when she 'changes')
Cody yawned as he took in the wasteland around him.

In the morning, everything looked gray, contrasting with the coals that were quickly burning out.

He rubbed his cold hands together and breathed heat into them. His fingerless gloves were great for climbing, not so much keeping his fingers warm.

Zaire had headed out early after breakfast to scout around.

When would he back?

So BORED!

Cody threw his head back and let out an exasperated roar.

They had met almost two years ago now, a lifetime for someone as flighty and impulsive as he was. Honestly it was no mean feat to survive at all these days, let alone outside of the relative safety of any kind of settlement.

They'd both been surprised by a group of raiders, something Cody guessed to be a rarity for someone like Zaire -- he almost never seemed surprised -- and they'd both in turned surprised the raiders by escaping together.

Cody had never seen a fighter quite like Zaire. He was fast, strong, brutal. Honestly a better shot with a bow than Cody was with a gun.

Zaire seemed the type to be a lone wolf, but Cody was the type who could bring out emotions of pity and eventually fondness, if he was around the person long enough. Two years had just about done it.

Trusting people had in the past gotten Cody in a lot of trouble, and he was of the idea that it was the same case with Zaire -- if those wing shaped burns on his back had anything to say about it -- but they'd stuck together anyway.

They made a good team for the most part, making money by salvaging remnants of a world "before the end". Cody was quick and quiet -- at least while he was scouting -- and Zaire could always handle any opposition they might come up against.

Either with intimidation, persuasion... or an axe to the face.

Though Zaire wasn't too much older than him, Cody had inserted himself into the role of little brother. He'd follow him anywhere, honestly.

Why was he taking so long?

Cody adjusted his baseball hat and dug through his pack to find any kind of diversion. He shuffled through a stack of cards from mismatched decks he'd collected, tied with a rubber band.

He just needed a Jack of clubs, a three of hearts, a five of hearts, and a Queen of spades and he'd be set. For now it just made playing "Go Fish" a little more interesting.

If Cody was an animal he would likely have been a capuchin or some kind of fox. The monkey for it's agility and impish personality, and the fox for it's sharp sense of hearing and propensity for squeezing itself into tight places.

It was his fox-like ears that made him pause his shuffling.

Keeping low, Cody slowly raised his head above the pile of rocks they'd set themselves up against.

Nothing. But then --

Cody's eyes widened.

Over the horizon he could see what looked like a metal mirage. Except it wasn't the good type of mirage where you saw a table of good food and lots of pretty girls like the one he'd seen when he'd suffered from mild heatstroke.

It was a caravan of raiders. And it wasn't a mirage.

They were off a good ways yet, and they might just as likely change directions before they got any closer. In addition they were at least an hour off. But he didn't like it.

There was the crunching of pebbles behind him, but before he could move there came a powerful arm around his middle and a strong hand covering his mouth.

"I could have killed you twice by now," Zaire said.

But though his tone was serious and though Cody couldn't see his face, he felt like it might have been said with the slightest of smiles.

Cody pulled his baseball cap lower on his face as Zaire settled in beside him and checked out the raiders.

"You find anything?" Cody whispered, even though no one else was around to hear them.

"Yep," Zaire said, "An entire junkyard."

"Why don't you sound excited?" Cody ventured.

"Because that's probably where they're headed," Zaire motioned at the far off raiders.

"Oh..."
((Pst! Listen to this while you read! https://youtu.be/rG0Ws3YfONY?list=PLIrgg8GxctMLx73uxm-tDm_Dx1cY2UEH6 ))

         Her wrists were rubbed raw and bleeding. The rope they had used to bind them together was rough and abrasive and cut into her delicate skin as she trudged along behind cart she was tied to. Saiah was almost certain they would drag her if she collapsed. She kept her head down and kept her pace up, despite the soreness about her. Her bottom lip was split and her forearms were smeared with dried blood up to her elbows and it felt like every inch of her body had taken a beating.

         The caravan was filled with people, most of them were too concerned with their own needs to even look at her twice and those that did looked on her with fear in their eyes. She did not understand why they had not killed her. She had woken, bound hand and foot, with one man standing over her and dead lying all around. There was a hole where a memory should have been. Her hands were still stained with blood...

         The head of the caravan was a hard looking man covered in scars and tattoos with a shaved head and a pair of goggles that rested around his neck. They were calling him Ryker. Saiah could not tell if it was his title, a first name or perhaps his last, but it was the only name they called him. The other people in the caravan looked at him with a sort of fear and respect mixed together. He controlled everything that was done and issued every order. No one questioned the man, not even about her, even though Saiah had heard them muttering about her. Most wanted to kill her and called her a demon.

         As the caravan moved forward, she stumbled once, almost falling. She could hear a few behind her snicker a little. Saiah glanced over her shoulder and the snickering stopped. Saiah swallowed hard, confused and afraid. Everyone she was around was terrified of her. Even the vague memories she had when she was awake were ones of fearful looks and screams. She shivered and tried to force her mind to something else. She had tried to free her hands earlier to no avail, so instead of continuing down that useless venture, she turned her gaze on the surrounding lands.

         She thought she saw movement along the barren hills to the left of the caravan. They looked to be headed into some kind of junkyard. The people of the caravan seemed to be increasingly excited about it, to the point of almost forgetting about her. A few of the motorbikes from the back of the caravan roared past, making Saiah jump. The horses that pulled the cart threw their heads in protest, but the driver kept them under control. Saiah stumbled again, her foot catching on a rock and turned her attention fully back to walking, keeping her head down.

(( Hey guys! Everyone welcome our new wasteland wanderer, robynblake! She's currently "working with" the raiders.))

Name: Rory De Luca

Age: 19

Appearance: Rory is a big girl. She’s 5’10”, with a lean, toned upper body, curvy hips, and muscular legs. Brown complexion, hair long and black, eyes large and green, nose long and aquiline.

Primary Offensive Tactics: Brute strength. Rory’s size and stature gives her an advantage in most fights, but her weight slows her down. Her fighting form is rather erratic and clumsy. She tries to avoid physical fighting whenever possible. She is handy with various types of gun but not an expert marksman. She usually has someone else do the shooting for her.

Primary Defensive Tactics: Rory is good at manipulating people, particularly men, into protecting her. She is excellent at winning trust and betraying it. She is a good liar as well. Staying alive is her primary mode of operation so don’t be surprised if she sells you out or uses you as a meat shield to protect herself.

Apparel: Rory wears her hair in a french braid and usually dresses comfortably for ease of movement and travel. Her style of dress tends to be somewhat revealing which is not always conducive to her environment, but useful in some situations.

Equipment: Moped. Travel backpack. Sleeping bag. Canteen.

Weapons: Sawed off shotgun. Switchblades in the toes of her boots. Six inch knife sheathed on her right hip.

Personality: Rory can be summed up in five words: Rory looks out for Rory. Period. But let’s expand. First, we can say for certain that she is selfish. She has never done anything for anyone without expecting and eventually getting something in return. She is a master con and manipulator. Now let’s talk about the positives. A true survivor, Rory is resilient and stubborn. What she lacks in physical agility and prowess she makes up for in cunning. She is always thinking ahead, plotting her every action before executing it. She can be charming and is a great actor. She can be whoever she wants to anyone and can therefore get anyone to like her.

History: When Rory was thirteen, her father began using her as bait to steal from men they encountered on the road. He would offer them a night alone with his daughter in exchange for valuables such as credits, food, medicine, weapons or gasoline. When it came time for Rory to hold up her end of the bargain, they'd turn the tables, rob them, and leave them for dead. Then they'd be back on the road. They pulled this stunt when they needed to hundreds of times over the next four years until it caught up with them and Rory’s father was killed by a gang member seeking to avenge his friend. Rory would have been killed too, but she got away in time on her father’s moped. She continued to use the same scheme her father had concocted to get what she needed, but life is always easier when you have someone else to do the dirty work for you. She charmed a raider into letting her join his party and has been stringing him along for the greater part of a year now.
A line of men road bikes and marched throughout the smoky hills. Zaire was particularly disturbed by this group of raiders as they seemed to bear the symbol of the Outsiders group that gave Zaire the current scars on his back. He rolled his shoulders, feeling the all too familiar tingling on his back. Zaire gripped “Destiny” as she hung from the loop on his belt. He always managed to draw strength from her.

“So, what are we going to do about this?” Cody asked.

“Well, we need some of that stuff in the junkyard to sell for rations at the next outpost.” Zaire reasoned, keeping an eye on the raiders progress.

“Just when we thought we were far away enough,” Cody groaned.

As the caravan of raiders moved steadily closer, Zaire could see they had captives with them. People that weren’t in cages being pulled were walking with what looked to be held together with chains. He knew there was no doubt these people have to go through the same torture he suffered if not worse. He made a promise not to allow anyone else be treated like that. He made a promise to get the Outsiders back.

“We can’t let those raiders keep those people they have.” Zaire whispered, even though the Outsiders weren’t close enough to hear them yet.

“Yeah, well, it’s just the two of us, and I don’t think we can take all of them.” Cody responded, still looking at the on coming caravan.

“I’m glad you said that,” Zaire continued, with a hint of a smile. “Since you’re a little faster than I am. I’ll be providing a distraction, while you run down and free any and everyone you can.”

Cody stared wide eyed at Zaire for a good minute with his mouth open.

“You’re going to get me killed one of this days,” Cody complained.

“Nah, I got you bro. Trust me, all eyes will be on me.” Zaire assured, pulling a few balls from his backpack.

“What are those?” Cody asked.

“These are smoke bombs,” Zaire revealed

A big smile stretched across Cody’s face as he asked,” I get to blow stuff up?”

“Not exactly blow stuff up, but make it seem like it is more of us out there, yes.” Zaire corrected. All you have to do is light the end sticking out of the top, then once it is going for a couple of seconds, throw it in the middle of the caravan. He added.

Zaire hated to send him out there like that, but he knew it was the only way for them to succeed. It had been 2 years since they met, and while he was reluctant to trust Cody, over time he grew on him so much so he looks like him like his little brother. He doesn’t trust easily, but there is something about Cody that he could relate to.

Zaire held his hand out to Cody with the smoke balls in them and a lighter. Cody in turn grasped them.

“Come back safe,” Zaire told Cody.

“You got it,”Cody answered easily.

“When you see my signal, light and throw the smoke balls, then you’ve freed as many of those chained as you can. Once that is done double back to our last campsite. I’ll find you.” Zaire instructed.

“How will I know what your signal is?” Cody inquired, head cocked to the side.

“Trust me, you won’t be able to miss it,” Zaire assured.

~ ~ ~


Zaire watched as Cody disappeared into the brush on the side of the trail that Outsiders were coming down. With Cody safely in position, Zaire himself hefted his quiver onto his back filled with arrows he had made the day before. He readied his bow, and selected his first arrow.

The caravan finally made its way down the road, the pace was slow due to the captives they had walking in chains, the Outsiders on their motorcycles were just past Cody's hiding spot waiting for the rest to catch up. Zaire could tell there was some sort of commotion going on with one of the captives as the caravan came to a sudden stop. The woman looked like she was about to collapse from exhaustion. A single raider jumped down from one of the vehicles behind the captives.

From Zaire's vantage point he couldn't see the man's eyes, but he had tattered armor that consisted of bits of rusted car pieces along with torn rubber tires, the natural armor attire of nearly all the Outsiders. The Raider had a bald head seemed to be covered in tattoos and a pair of goggles on his head. He was yelling something Zaire couldn't make out, but what he could see was that the man was about to hit the girl.

Zaire nocked his arrow.

The man grabbed the woman by her collar with his left hand, his shoulder muscles seemed to flex preparing to deliver a serious blow to this young woman. As the Raider's hand closed into a fist and was brought down to strike the woman the arrow Zaire had nocked not a minute ago found itself in the Raider's arm, thus stopping the attack.

Time seemed to slow down to a crawl as a roar escaped the Raiders mouth. Zaire was already on the move. He had lit his own smoke balls and launched them easily into the midst of the Outsiders on the motorcycles. Before they knew what was happening, Zaire had knocked one out, while the others were sitting seemingly in a daze. Zaire didn't stop there though. He saw smoke coming from the middle, near the woman that was about to be attacked and close to the back of the caravan where the other biker Raiders were.

Zaire launched himself up and over a pair of bikers that began to react to the attack, by whipping out a pair of knives, jumping off their bike and advancing on Zaire. The first biker was large, had long dirty black hair flecked with bits of leaf, mud, and who knows what else. It hung about his face to the point where the man had to brush it back . This action only seemed to make him angrier if Zaire had to guess from his demeanor as he came at Zaire clumsily.

Zaire used that to his advantage by stepping toward him, and using his bow to hook the Raider's knife hand, twisting sharply hearing a satisfied snap, then sweeping low to take his feet from under him. Upon the successful spin, he continued his momentum by bringing his leg up and out toward the other biker trying to score a hit on him with his knife, but found Zaire's heavy boot connected to his mid section.

There were shouts from the other Raiders, not to mention some of the people that were in chains were now free and helping to fight back against the Raiders.

Good job, Cody, Zaire thought.

Zaire nocked three arrows and let them fly in quick succession toward of group of Raider's attempting to wrestle some of the freed captives trying to escape. Each arrow hit their mark easily. The Raiders were starting to rally, and with their sense of surprise over Zaire knew it was time to make a hasty exit.

Luckily there weren’t as many as Zaire and Cody initially thought.

After nocking another arrow, he light the end of this special one that had a smoke ball attached to it. Aiming for a group of the Raider’s that were advancing on his position he let the arrow loose. It sailed through the air like a thing of beauty. Zaire, however, didn’t wait for it to go off before he ran. He only hoped he had made enough of a distraction for Cody to get away.
         The caravan had exploded into chaos beginning with an arrow in Ryker's arm and followed by plumes of billowing smoke erupting around them. Without wind, the smoke billowed lazily and did not dissipate quickly. Ryker's attention turned fully to calling out orders. Saiah jumped as she heard gunfire nearby. She could have sworn she saw shapes moving in the billowing smoke. Suddenly there were hands on her wrist and she jumped and jerked in surprised. The young man before he shushed her as he slipped a knife between her wrists and cut the ropes that bound her. Saiah decided she liked him better than the raiders.

         Another of the captives launched himself at Ryker and a brawl broke out. As Saiah went to move out of the way, she stumbled and fell into the man who had freed her. He caught her with a grunt in surprise and they both nearly toppled over onto the ground. He pulled her to her feet and then all but dragged her away from the fighting, into the cover of the smoke and then beyond. She could feel that he wanted to help her where the raiders, all she had felt was fear and hatred. As they dashed into the junkyard, they ducked down into a massive, half rotted pipe and were quickly out of sight of the raiders. The man let go of her and they both leaned back against opposite sides of the wall of the pipe. He was coughing and wheezing a bit, trying to remain as quiet as possible. He pressed a hand to his chest and she could feel a momentary spike of panic in him.

         His breathing only seemed to be worsening and Saiah frowned in confusion as he was obviously beginning to struggle to pull in air. She did not understand what was wrong with him. She frowned and despite being tired and sore, she pushed herself up off the wall of the pipe and tapped at his chest. The man waved her off, pawing at his pockets, in search of something. Saiah frowned more and glanced back out toward the noise and the chaos that was slowly calming as the raiders were no longer in a state of surprise. She wanted to help him but was not sure how, but she felt that if she could just touch the affected area she could ease whatever was ailing him. Saiah pushed him back and slipped a hand under his shirt and flattened it over the center of his chest. She felt like she had been hit by lightning and a rush of energy flowed through her and into the man, then the entire world went black as she crumpled tot he ground.
A Non-Existent User
         Tapping the gas lightly so as not to pull too far ahead of the caravan, Rory steered her dilapidated moped with one hand while the other rested on the sawed off shotgun in her lap. She scanned the horizon lazily, expecting neither threat worth engaging nor camp worth raiding, simply looking because that was all there was to do. Rolling hills covered in dry brush came up to meet them on their left, a landmark that signaled they were getting close. The junkyard wasn’t far.

         Some small part of her felt bad for the captives, dragged along, forced to walk for miles. Aside from a few armed men who walked alongside the prisoners to keep them in line, the rest of the gang rode in the two horse-drawn carts the gang possessed or on motorbikes. They had only captured three people this time. They had one tall thin man, perpetually sunburnt, young enough and sturdy enough to be sold as a slave in exchange for weapons, another horse, or perhaps a new vehicle. Another shorter man, heftier and darker skinned, a raider from a rival gang, held for ransom for the time being but otherwise scheduled to be executed if his gang didn’t want him back. And finally there was the girl. She was thin. Her skin was translucently pale and covered in weird marks. Black hair, even blacker than Rory’s, too black for a white girl. She had a mysterious seamless metal band around her neck that no one could remove.

         Rory decided that if she had permission, she would kill the girl with the alien dog collar first. Her cold blue eyes creeped Rory out, and, despite her diminutive size and meek demeanor, Rory was certain she was dangerous. She saw what she was capable of. It was a couple of the Outsiders’ toughest thugs who had found the girl and not one of them could rightly give an account of what had actually occurred. All they knew is they were badly hurt, little Miss Blue Eyes was somehow responsible for their injuries, and the only reason they were able to subdue the freak was because she knocked out right after she went berserk. Demon Girl, they were calling her. Whatever abilities this demon girl possessed, she did not appear to understand much less know how to control them. Now would be the time to exterminate her, before she became a real threat. But Ryker insisted she was valuable.

         In her peripheral vision, Pax kept pace with Rory’s moped on his motorbike. These days, he didn’t let her out of his sight. The more she tried to distance herself from him, the more possessive he got. This wasn’t part of the plan. After her father was killed, Rory had tried surviving on her own and she learned very quickly how exhausting it was trying to watch your own back. She chose Pax to be her bodyguard by making him her “boyfriend.” He seemed an appropriate choice. Gang affiliated, skilled with weapons, a giant of a man with a threatening face and vile tattoos. But ever since she began traveling with him and his companions, she was starting to feel she had chosen wrong. For one thing, he was not the leader of the most feared raiding party this side of what used to be the United States, which was what he had initially led her to believe. He was the Outsider’s second in command, which was something, but a second in command boyfriend wasn’t going to give Rory the life she wanted. She wanted to be queen of the Outsiders, giving orders not taking them. She was gradually setting into a motion a plan to get rid of Pax and link up with Ryker, the true leader, but this could prove difficult. At this point, Pax was the closest thing Rory had ever seen to a man in love, if not a man obsessed, while Ryker...well...she couldn’t quite figure him out. To him, she appeared to be invisible.

         An air horn sounded over the rumble of motorbike engines. They were stopping. Again. Pax, Rory and the other motorists slowed down in unison, coming to a stop about twenty yards ahead of the caravan. Pax looked over his shoulder, annoyance apparent on his pink, unshaven face, and Rory followed his gaze. The demon girl must have tripped or something. Was the freak only pretending to be frail and weak? Stalling to make time for others like her to catch up with their group?

         Shane, the Outsiders’ designated jailor of sorts, a muscular man with a brown complexion like Rory’s, had reined in the horses and jumped down from his wagon to check on the prisoners he was dragging behind him. Pax dismounted and parked his bike, started walking toward the commotion. The demon girl had fallen again. Maybe Rory wouldn’t have to kill her after all. She might die from exhaustion before they even reached the junk yard. Rory got off her moped and tried to get a better look.

         There was a yell. Pax was the first to react. “What the trash?!” In a moment his rifle was unslung and readied. He spun around and began point wildly, looking for some unseen enemy. “Ambush!” he screamed. Several other men readied their weapons and began looking around. Rory was confused at first, but then she saw Ryker holding his arm, the slender shaft of an arrow protruding out of it.

         Before she could register what was happening, she was blind. The world was grey for a moment before the stinging met her eyes forcing them to slam shut. She coughed convulsively, choking on what she could only imagine was smoke. She heard shouting, coughing, gun fire. Shot gun still in hand, she broke into an aimless run, hoping to get out from under the cloud of whatever it was that was strangling her. She bumped into an Outsider, probably one of the motorists, also blinded. She and her gun were useless in this smog and worse, she was vulnerable. Terror gripped her chest as she waded through the other panicked bodies around her in the blackness, waiting for an arrow to pierce her neck.

         It seemed like several minutes passed before she could breathe again, signalling that it was safe to open her eyes. One of the carts was gone, the horses must have spooked and ran off, hopefully not too far. Ryker was shouting orders in spite of himself. Those who had recovered from the effects of the smoke bombs had formed a perimeter around the remaining cart, the one that had once dragged the prisoners. The prisoners. Where were they?

         Rory spotted the man from the rival gang, lying flat on his stomach, a bullet in his back. He had gotten several feet away from the caravan before he was shot dead. The would-be slave was still breathing, not yet dead from his gun wound, a growing red continent of blood forming on the front of his shirt. Rory watched Shane walk casually over to the bleeding man, cock his pistol, press it against his skull, and pull the trigger. Rory scanned the carnage in search of their third prisoner, the dark haired girl, but she was nowhere in sight.

~~~


“Are you okay?” Pax asked for the hundredth time. His flat brown eyes, usually dead, empty, showed sincere concern. He had developed this annoying habit of caring about her. Rory stepped out from under the heavily muscled arm he had draped over her sinewy shoulders.

“I’m fine. Listen. Ryker’s talking.”

“I have reason to believe our enemy retreated into those hills,” Ryker announced to the group who had gathered around him. This was the first time Rory had ever seen him actually wearing the goggles that usually hung around his neck. He must have had the wherewithal to slip them on when the first smoke bombs exploded. He pointed a tattoo-sleeved arm in the direction of the brush covered hillside to the west of them up ahead. His other arm hung limp in a sling, the bandaged wrapped around it soaked through with now dry blood. “They took nothing of value expect that mutant girl. Find her, and you’ll find the scumbags who attacked us. We’ll get our revenge Outsider style and take back what is ours. This just proves what I’ve been saying. That girl is valuable. Why else would they ambush us and steal her away? I want her back. I reckon she’ll fetch a high price with those mad scientists up north. So while the rest of us stay the course, I want to send two scouts out to scour that hillside until the enemy is dead and the girl is back in our custody.”

         Ryker looked expectantly at the group huddled around him. He wasn’t the only Outsider who had been injured. During the mayhem, one of the younger men, more boy than man, had panicked and began spraying bullets. He had hit two of their other men. One took a hit to the shoulder, the other lost an ear. Neither of them were fit to go for a scouting mission. Shane was silent and so were the others.

“Send me, Ryker!” It was Pax who volunteered. Rory glared at him. So eager to please. So pathetic. The second in command should be above scout’s work. Rory looked at Ryker, who seemed to deliberate with himself.

“Alright Pax. I know I can count on you,” Ryker said finally. He opened his mouth again like he was going to say more, but then he paused. Rory was startled when suddenly he looked her straight in the eye and continued, “And bring your girlfriend along with you. It’s about time she started pulling her weight.”

Rory fumed, but there was nothing she could say. She felt Pax’s big arm snake around her waist and pull her flush against his hard body.

“C’mon, babe. It’ll be fun.”

Well that had escalated quickly!

The "simple" rescue mission had taken a turn for the chaotic. No one could see through the smoke, which Cody knew had been the point of it in the first place, but he hadn't really counted on it turning on him too.

Idiot.

After the smoke bombs went off and Zaire had let some arrows loose, the entire scene had erupted into confusion and gunfire. Since Zaire rarely carried a gun, Cody knew that the spent shells he was slipping on must have belonged to the Raiders.

Indeed their adversaries were falling all around him and he realized that in their panic, they were accidentally shooting each other.

Through the thick smoke he spotted a combat knife pressed into the dirt inside a boot print -- someone had stepped on it. Quickly, he grabbed it for himself. He couldn't help it.

The captives were easy enough to find since being tied up they had either fallen to the ground in fear or were else just standing there like some kind of stunned animal. He numbered them at three and he freed them each in turn.

The first man immediately launched himself into the fray like a berserker. Clearly he'd suffered from hate and heatstroke.

The second man fled.

And then there was the girl. The girl with the porcelain skin and dark hair, just standing right in the middle of who knows how many lines of fire.

She jumped when he grabbed her by the wrist but he shushed her, and quickly cut her bonds. She all but fell on him, exhausted, and he almost had to completely drag her into an old water drain pipe.

It seemed safe enough there.

The exertion of pulling her with him and all the smoke he'd inhaled was beginning to catch up with him. Even though he knew he was supposed to make himself breathe slowly and steadily when he felt this, the fear that came with not getting enough air always made him panic.

"Breathe, breathe, breathe..." he repeated in his head as he searched every pocket for his inhaler.

The young woman tapped his chest and he swatted her away.

Oh jeez, what if he'd left it in his backpack?

What a way to go! Shot by raiders? No. Zap fried by radiation? Nope. Eaten by a mutated anything? Of course not. He'd die because he suffocated via bad air from smoke bombs he set off!

Jeez!

He froze in surprised when the young woman slipped her hand under his shirt and spread her fingers out on his chest. Despite the heat of the day her hands were cold.

Suddenly he felt as if he'd been shocked by something. Something that returned his heartbeat to an even rhythm and opened up his lungs somewhat.

Breathing still hurt, but at least he could breathe.

What the heck?

And then she passed out for real this time and he was barely able to catch her.

Great...

Cody couldn't help but cry out in fear and surprise when someone appeared at the entrance of the pipe. Then he let out a sigh of relief.

"Z..."

"This isn't time for hide and seek!" Zaire said as he glanced behind himself, "C'mon!"

Zaire helped Cody drag the girl out of the drain pipe and toward the hills where he said they'd be safe. Eventually Z just ended up carrying the girl because trying to drag her along unconscious was slowing them down.

It didn't look like she could have weighed much anyway.

There was still billowing smoke around the Raiders, luckily there hadn't been much of a breeze to blow it away, but the sounds of shouting and gunfire had ceased. Soon they would be pulling themselves together.

Cody could only wonder if they would just be satisfied that they had the whole junkyard to themselves or if they might be after revenge. He hoped it would be the first one.

They reached camp in good time, but stayed only long enough to gather their supplies and keep moving.

It felt like they walked forever, Z leading them higher and higher into the rocky hills.

Firstly because with the uneven and unstable rocks it would make it a hard time for the Raiders to try and bring any vehicles up with them, even a sturdy dirt bike.

Secondly, if anyone did come after them then the three would have the high ground, which -- in-between labored breaths -- Z explained could mean life or death in a combat situation.

Cody was always impressed with how strong Z was. They'd taken a few breaks and Cody had tried to carry the girl himself, but he never made it very far. So Z had done most of the work.

It was sunset when they finally stopped and made camp again.

Cody sunk down onto the ground like a wet noodle. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so utterly wiped out. And he hadn't even been doing the heavy lifting.

Zaire said they weren't a safe enough distance away to start a fire, and it soon became rather cold.

The girl occasionally moaned or said something unintelligible, but was still mostly unconscious. She seemed to have a naturally light complexion but looked pale too.

"Is she gonna be alright?" Cody asked.

Z glanced at her. He was crafting new arrows.

"I don't know," he said quietly.

Cody took a closer look at the girl.

As he did so, he saw these strange markings running up her arms. And her bloody wrists.

"Ugh," Cody spat, "What is wrong with these people?"

What had this girl -- or any of those captives for that matter -- done to deserve this?

"More than I hope you ever find out for yourself," Z said gravely.

Cody saw the girl shiver, so he threw his blanket over her and tucked it in around her like it was a sleeping bag.

Her face had been furrowed like she was having some sort of bad dream, but soon after the application of the blanket her features relaxed.

She was... pretty.

Struck by another thought, Cody lifted her head gently and slipped his prized pink kangaroo plush under head head for a pillow.

There.

Cody sat back and crossed his arms, his breath visible in front of him.

"Oh, hey Z --" Cody remembered the knife he'd snatched from the raiders, "I found this. Thought you might like it..."

Upon closer examination Cody could make out an "R" etched into the wooden handle, the blade showing signs of oxidation. Still, it was a handsome knife.

Cody had always been a magpie, and quite adept at giving well timed favors and gifts. First to get the person to like him, and then later because he liked them.

He offered the knife to Z with a smile and then bit his lip as he sat back, waiting for the reaction.
Zaire sat staring at the knife offered to him, and felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. He couldn't believe what he was seeing again after so long. The knife Cody was holding was a single piece of high carbon stainless steel 6 in. blade, with a hand craved wooden handle marred by the careless etching of an "R" on the side.

“Cody....thank you.” Zaire said breathlessly. He placed the arrow he had been working on in his quiver, then tentatively took the knife from Cody. Staring at the blade, and saw it had been mistreated, but nothing that couldn’t be reversed.

Cody smiled triumphantly.

“Yeah, I found this sticking in the ground on our way from the chaos,” Cody explained.

A flood of memories threatened to drown Zaire as he handled the knife. He almost didn’t hear the sound coming from below them.

He and Cody exchanged a look, as Zaire placed a finger to his lips to signal quiet. He then motioned for Cody to rouse the girl and for them to move to the north, further up the mountain.

There was a slight chill in the night air, but Zaire could clearly hear the group advancing on their position as he peaked over the cliff they were on.

He couldn’t make out what was being said, but saw there were about 5 to 6 people. Zaire looked back at Cody waking the girl with soft murmurs. He saw Cody put a finger on his lips when she saw him. It must have worked because she made no noise as she got to her feet albeit shakily.

“There’s a cave further north that leads to a tunnel to the other side.” Zaire whispered.

“Aren’t you coming with us?” Cody asked, a look of concern forming on his face.

“Yeah, just need to slow them down a bit, so we don’t get caught.” Zaire assured.

Cody nodded and ushered the girl through the bushes of their campsite, but stopped looking back at Zaire before following.

When Zaire saw Cody finally go through the bushes he nocked an arrow and prepared to take some of those men down that were below. Since he had the high ground, his arrows would be more effective.
}          Saiah began to follow the man who had saved her as he crammed the odd looking thing that had been under her head back into his pack, following his gaze back to the other. Her stomach was a mess of knots and everything seemed to hurt more. All she wanted to do was go back to sleep. On the bright side, no one seemed to be dead this time and she had no new blood on her. That was a good thing. She stepped on a rock and sucked her breath in through her teeth. She limped a little on the tender spot, but kept moving. The man glanced back at her and seemed to realize she was not wearing any shoes and frowned.

         The followed the barely visible trail up to the mouth of a fairly well hidden cave. The entrance was narrow and they had to squeeze into it once at a time. The man went first, and a moment later poked his head out and motioned for Saiah to follow him. The small, dark space at the entrance was almost comforting. It reminded her of a tank, dark and filled with water, totally devoid of sound. For a moment, Saiah closed her eyes as a portion of a memory came back. They always put her there after bad things happened. A light touch on her arm made her jump and her eyes flew open. The man apologized quietly and motioned for her to follow him as he turned on a flashlight that flickered a bit. He banged it on the heel of his palm and the light held steady. For a moment.

         "We're going to wait for Z in here," he said quietly as they walked further in. "He shouldn't be too far behind us." Saiah nodded quietly as he glanced back at her. "My name is Cody, by the way. Thanks for whatever you did back there at the pipe." Saiah nodded again and followed him in silence. He glanced back over his shoulder at her. "What's your name?"

         She opened her mouth to tell him, then clamped it shut. The last people she had told her name to ended up dead. She decided it would probably be better if she held her tongue and said as little as possible. Cody glanced back at her again, a bit expectantly. Saiah glanced away. "What is that?" He asked curiously, turning back to her, his eyes set on her neck, or rather, the collar around her neck. She shook her head, unsure herself what it was. All she knew, or remembered really, was that no one had been able to take it off of her yet. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that faint blue light blinking rhythmically in a slow, lazy pattern. It was as if it had batteries and they were beginning to run low on power.

         "Do you mind?" He asked reaching out toward the collar. Saiah shook her head again. Maybe he would be able to figure it out. Cody reached out and ran a finger around the collar, holding the flashlight close. He frowned in confusion as he inspected the collar. Saiah tilted her head to one side and watched him carefully, holding so still she might be mistaken for a statue. She could only sense curiosity tinged with something else...innocence perhaps...coming off of him. There was no fear of her in him. Then again, there had been no fear of her from the others either...not at first. The raider's had not feared her either. She had sensed all manner of unpleasant things from them and after she woke and found she had managed to kill all but two of the first group to find her, they were filled with something more. Hate and fear. Saiah shivered at the memory and Cody glanced up at her and drew his hand away. "Are you cold?" He asked and she shook her head and his eyes dropped back to the collar. "It's definitely tech," he said, "How did you get it on you?" Saiah shrugged and shook her head once more. He bit his lip and frowned again. "When we have more time, I'll try to get it off you if that's okay." Saiah nodded and they began walking once more.

         After walking the twisting tunnel for what had felt like an eternity, Cody stopped and took a seat with his back against the wall and motioned for Saiah to join him. As she did so he pulled out a canteen and took a drink and held it out to her. "It's clean." He assured her. Saiah took a small sip of the water and handed it back. They waited in an awkward silence for Z to catch up with them. It was not long before they heard extremely quiet footsteps approaching. Had it not been so quiet, they probably would not have heard them at all. Cody clicked off the flashlight as he quietly stood, reaching for a weapon. Saiah pushed herself up into a crouch, her heart thumping nervously.
A Non-Existent User
Rory trudged at a labored pace a few steps behind Pax, dodging branches and spider webs, her thick thighs rubbing together as she stepped over roots and rocks. When was the last time she had to travel on foot? She prayed her legs wouldn’t chafe too badly. The salvaged pair of jean shorts she wore didn’t provide much protection. You would think a diet of roasted coyote and raw cactus would slim a girl’s legs down, but not Rory’s. Her genetics kept her bottom heavy even when she starved. At five foot ten, she was not the tall slender model type. She wasn’t fat. Just...big.

Pax walked sure footedly up ahead, his head bent with intense focus as he tracked the targets. He was looking for signs. Snapped twigs. Trampled foliage. Footprints. Signs of someone being there. Every couple minutes or so they stopped and Pax deliberated on where to go next. Sometimes they would shift direction slightly. Sometimes they would just continue straight forward. There was a point when he was following some kind of animal and they had to backtrack until he picked up the trail again. He was certain they were following a human’s trail now, two people possible one more, but there was one glaring problem neither he nor Rory was talking about. Which two people were they following? They had heard of people living in these woods. Non-nomads. Bush dwellers. They mostly subsisted on the plants and animals with whom they shared their home. But there were rumors about what they did to strangers. Some said they had a taste for human meat.

They had been walking for hours. It had been morning when they first set out. The light was growing dim and in the shade of the trees it was becoming increasingly difficult to see. Rory followed Pax into a small clearing. To their left was a large rock face. A gaping crack just wide enough for a person to fit through yawned at Rory as she passed it. The air felt thinner now than when they had begun their journey. Rory looked west. Through a thinner patch of trees, the horizon could be seen in the distance, where an enormous red ball of fire sunk slowly into a bed of pink and orange waves. Sunset already? They had been walking all day. Rory halted and unslung her heavy travel pack, relieved to be free of its weight and realizing for the first time how sore her hamstrings were.

“I’m stopping!” she called out to Pax without looking at him. She sat down on a rock near the cave opening she’d seen in the rock face and began rummaging through her pack in search of a can of lima beans. “Sun is setting. We need to set up camp.”

Pax huffed a sigh and ambled over to her. He snatched the can of lima beans out of Rory’s hand before she could plunge her knife into the top. She looked up at him through narrowed eyes.

“Yes. The sun is setting. Which is exactly why we need to keep moving. We need to cover as much ground as possible in what little daylight is left. If it gets dark, we have flashlights to light our way.”

“They aren’t going to get far,” Rory retorted, “They’ve been walking just as long as we have. They have to stop eventually.”


“Right. And if we keep moving we might catch them…” He put a finger to his temple and winked at her. “...while they’re asleep.”

Rory rolled her eyes and went back to digging for her pack to look for another can of food.

“Rory, stop it. There’s at least another hour left of daylight. If we--”

“Pax,” Rory interrupted him. She pointed at a patch of dirt in front of her. Pax followed her finger. A collection of foot prints. Two sets of boots. One pair of bare feet. They led into the cave.

“You were saying?” Rory asked smugly. “Better get out your flashlight.”
Cody's heart had just about "thumped" right out of his chest when he heard someone coming down the passage way. He stood quickly, realizing after all that walking his legs felt somewhat wobbly.

The girl didn't stand but pulled herself into a readied crouch. Something about her movements reminded him of a cat.

The thought coming much too late, Cody had just drawn his modified cap gun when a hand that rounded the corner before the rest of a body caught his wrist so the gun was aiming up instead of at whoever it was.

But of course it was Z.

Cody breathed out in relief.

"Sometimes I wonder how you've made it this far at all," Z shook his head, exasperated, as he let Cody go.

"I guess I'm just lucky," Cody smiled innocently as he tucked the gun back into his jacket.

"Well I hope it rubs off," Z said in a low voice, "We're being followed."

"Aw man," Cody's shoulder slumped.

He was exhausted. Why were they after them anyway? They had the whole junkyard to themselves now.

At the news of pursuit the girl sort of whimpered.

"I guess you pissed them off," Cody said as he pulled his hat off to run his fingers through his sweaty hair.

"Don't you mean we?" Z raised an eyebrow, amused.

"Hey," Cody just held his hands up as if to back off from the accusation, "I didn't shoot anyone."

The sound of boots crunching gravel hit their ears all at once and Z pulled Saiah to her feet with one hand and grabbed Cody's arm with the other, dragging them with him.

"How many?" Cody whispered as he struggled to make the rest of him keep up with the arm that was being pulled forward.

"I spotted five or six in our general direction, but only two made it this far up in the hills."

The cave had led them into a concrete tunnel, one Z claimed would lead them right under the mountain and to the other side.

Z wouldn't let them use a light for fear of giving away their position, so they stumbled onward in the dark.

As they continued on the way became less straightforward and more cluttered, with big metal crates and equipment stacked here and there.

The girl was paler than pale at this point and soon she could go no further, and all but collapsed, only being held aloft by Z's grip on her arm.

Z and Cody helped her to the wall where she could balance against it, the two young men crouching behind a stack of crates.

Cody wondered what could be in all of these boxes.

"Now what?" Cody groaned.

Z just grabbed Destiny from his belt.

Uh oh...

Once again, in a sound almost as terrible as a war drum, they heard the Raiders down the tunnel, coming their way. And a light from around the corner.

Why did they get to use flashlights?

Z searched his backpack for something but came up empty.

"I don't have any more smoke bombs," he said, "So we'll just have to surprise them the good old fashioned way."

Cody was glad he wouldn't have to be worried about choking on smoke this time around, but he still didn't want to fight.

He'd never liked fighting, and he'd never been good at it. His modus operandi was to try not to get hit with anything and run, if possible.

The light down the hall flicked off.

The Raiders must have known they were close to their quarry.

Cody's mouth felt dry and he didn't realize he'd started to breathe quickly until Z put a hand on his shoulder to calm him.

"It's gonna be okay," Zaire said, giving him a wink, "Just keep down until I say so."

Cody just nodded, trying to keep his head straight.

As they waited for the Raiders to show themselves, they became aware of a different kind of sound.

A clicking, cracking, dripping sound.

It was coming from behind them, but the darkness was pitch black.

Clicking, like overgrown nails on a hard floor.

Cracking, like long bones underneath thin skin.

Dripping, like falling blood from something hanging from the ceiling.

Cody and Z exchanged wide-eyed, panicked glances.

Oh $&%#!

Just then the girl screamed, the highest most heart stopping scream he'd ever heard in his entire life.

She writhed on the floor, her hands over her ears as if something were trying to get in her head -- or maybe it was something trying to get out. Like she was sensing what was in the dark.

"Keep her quiet!" Z hissed as they both went to cover her mouth, but it was too late.

In front of them two Raiders, a man and a woman, had come around the corner with their guns at the ready, though the screaming had made them pause.

And behind them, the creatures in the dark lunged forward.

Z threw Cody to the ground and ducked as one of the thing crashed into the crate above them, smashing the box to pieces and sending the thing sprawling at the feet of the Raiders.

These were Takers, monsters out of the worst kind of nightmare.

Pale white from living in darkness, they were slimy and sinewy. Where they to stand they would settle at well over seven feet, but they stalked on all fours with their front talons dragging on the ground until they used them to impale their victims. Their jaws opened much farther than they should be able to, and their teeth were like needles.

No one was sure where they came from. Some thought it was a natural-unnatural evolution of some sort of ancient primate. Others believed that they had been created by science.

Either way, they were bad news.

BANG!

The Raider girl shot the Taker in the head.

But there were more...

The Raiders may have been out for their blood, but it would take all of them to survive this now.
It was chaos.

There just simply was no other word for it.

The woman from the group of Raiders shot one of the Takers which seemed to send the other Takers behind them into a frenzy. Zaire knew if he wanted Cody, the girl, and himself to get out alive he would have to go to work. And to work he went.

The takers that were behind them rushed in jumping on two of the Raiders that came to attack Zaire and his group. The woman that shot the first taker was facing another, using the shotgun she held more as a club than what it was intended for.

The remaining crates that were against the wall gave Cody and the girl enough cover to go unnoticed for the time being. Zaire made a mental note to learn what the girls name was if they made it out of this mess alive.

“Stay here and protect her,” Zaire instructed Cody with a nod in her direction.

Zaire noted Cody had a tight grip on his modified gun. Z knew that Cody wasn’t one for fighting, but with the world they lived in today, that just wasn’t going to be possible. He hoped that if he did most of the fighting it would minimize the amount Cody had to do.

The clicking and cracking of the Takers sent chills down Zaire’s spine, but with his mind made up Zaire gripped the handle of Destiny and went to work. The woman with the Raiders group was still struggling with the Taker Zaire saw her fighting before. The long sinewy, pale white, and slimy Taker was trying to impale the woman on its talons. Zaire jumped into action and swung Destiny at the body of the Taker catching it by surprise. It screamed (more like screeched) seemingly in pain.

Unfortunately, its attention was all on Zaire now.

The other Raider that came into the cave had another Taker on him. The woman called him Pax. It was too late for him as the Taker successfully impaled him and was in the process of enjoying its meal. Bile rose in Zaire’s throat as he thought what could potentially happen to Cody, the girl, and himself.

Zaire faced the Taker that was coming after him and lost track of the woman after she called this Pax persons name that had lost his life to the Taker that had attacked him. Zaire struck out with Destiny with an overhead strike that took off one of the talons. Another crashed into him from behind forcing him forward nearly impaled on the previous Taker. Z used the forward momentum to fall to the side while the Taker that pushed him was impaled on the one he was fighting.

“Z!” Cody yelled.

Zaire shot a look in Cody’s direction and saw there were Takers coming up on their position. Cody let loose with his modified gun. The Taker kept coming. Zaire got up and ran full speed and tackled the Taker smashing it into the wall with force. The impact of the Taker and Zaire both hitting the wall and crashing through it. Zaire was momentarily dazed but still heard more clicking and cracking from the rest of the Takers.

“Z, we have to go quick,” Cody Pleaded.

Zaire made it to his feet realizing the Taker slim was on his clothes and stunk something fierce, but the Taker itself wasn’t moving to his relief. He found himself in another cavern adjacent to the one they were in previously with cool air coming from an exit in the distance. The girl had been next to Cody with wild eyes looking anxious.

It was then he heard a scream and figured it was the woman from the Raiders group.

“You guys follow this tunnel to the exit and get away from here. I’ll go help the woman and bring her along, if possible.” Zaire explained.

“What?” Cody asked incredulous.

Zaire held up a hand, “I know, I know, but no one deserves to die to those things.” he said. Zaire gave his bow and arrows to Cody, along with his backpack.

Cody shook his head, grabbed the girls hand and they made their way down the tunnel.

Zaire went running back with Destiny firmly in his hands. He rounded a corner seeing the Raider woman unload on the Taker in front of her.

Bang
Bang
Bang


The Taker took the shots, and while was clearly having trouble coming toward her was still coming. Zaire heard others running up the tunnel, then heard more of the Takers coming from behind. Zaire jumped and came down hard with Destiny on the head of the Taker finishing the job the woman started after a few blows of Destiny.

“I don’t know your reason for working with those people, but if you want you can come with us,” Zaire offered.

The woman stood there seemingly contemplating her choices.

Zaire didn’t want for her answer. He turned back to the cave tunnel that led to the other way out of the cave to meet back up with Cody. He hoped she made the right choice and choose freedom instead of sticking with those Raiders that was just no way to live.
She could not think.

The hunger. The rage. The fear. The pain. She felt all of it and it was overwhelming. Those creatures had given off such chaos that it felt as if they had been within her skull clawing away at her brain. She allowed Cody to lead...or more like drag her down the tunnel. She felt sick and could only focus on her breathing and the repetitive impacts of her own feet against the ground. She wondered why she had not felt them sooner. Perhaps they had woken the creatures?

They reached the exit as the sun was beginning to slip beneath the horizon and stopped. It was only when they stopped moving that it occurred to her that all she felt was silence and a strong sense of worry emanating off of Cody. The worry made her anxious. He stared toward the entrance back into the tunnel, still clutching all of Z's things that had been shoved into his hands.

Saiah took a few steps back toward the cave and stopped as Cody grabbed her shoulder. She cocked her head to one side and waited...feeling as far as her sense would reach. She leaned forward a bit, her mouth dropping open just a little and she closed her eyes...focusing. That's when she felt it. The man's presence was stronger than Cody's, but not in an overbearing and frightening way. His fear was...present...but...controlled she guessed. It was not palpable like it had been for the dead raider...or startled fear like that of the woman or the tart fear of Cody that came from the taker's themselves. Those creatures, she opened her eyes and shivered, had been terrifying.

"He's coming," she said quietly. Cody frowned at her then turned his attention back to the cave.

A moment later, Z emerged from the cave, wiping the modified wrench...axe...thing...off. "Z!" Cody called out, relief flooding through him and easing the anxiety that had been slowly building in her. She relaxed and stood up straight.

"We need to put some distance between us and this cave," Z said firmly. "Just in case there are more." Cody nodded and glanced back toward the cave questioningly. Z followed his gaze and shrugged as walked over to Saiah. "She was alive when I killed the last one there." He turned his gaze back to Saiah, fixing her with those hazel eyes. "What do I call you?" he asked...or rather demanded. Saiah hesitated. She looked away but could still feel his eyes boring into her.

"Z, she'll tell us when she'd ready," Cody said.

"You can't trust someone that refuses to give a name," she half snapped back to Cody, tearing his gaze away from her long enough to give Cody a look of 'stay out of it.' She could feel his frustration and the struggle he was having to keep it from anger.

"I...can't," she said quietly. Though her voice had seemed barely a whisper, both of their heads snapped back to her at full attention as if she had shrieked at the top of her lungs. She cringed and took a step back.

"Why not?" Z asked, gently, the frustration easing and the hint of anger completely evaporating.

Her voice was barely a whisper now, so quiet they likely had to struggle to hear it. "People who know it die."

((anyone else want to pull her name after this addition feel free!))
A Non-Existent User
A primal shriek wracked Rory’s whole body as she cocked her sawed off shotgun. She could barely see without her flashlight, but her eyes were adjusting. She could make out their twisted, wrinkled, white bodies in the murky darkness. Bodies littered the floor. Some dead. Some immobilized.

She tried to aim for their heads. Her ears rang with each explosion of the shotgun. BANG! A body dropped. BANG! Another. BANG! The bullets tore through the skinny torso of one of the creatures. Black blood splurted from its wounds. It proceeded toward her. She cocked her gun again, took aim, but when she pulled the trigger, nothing happened. Panic struck her in the chest. Should she run? She had slowed it down, but it was blocking her only way out.

Suddenly it dropped to the ground. One of the young men stood over it's now lifeless body. He was the taller one, the one with the ponytail. He had smashed its head in with a large blunt object, some kind of axe.

Rory’s ears still rang, but she could hear her own heavy, ragged breathes. It didn’t even sound like it was coming from her. She wasn’t in her body. It was like she was operating it from afar. Pax. He didn’t deserve to die. Not like that. Slaughtered like prey.

She realized the young man was talking to her. Some of his silvery hair had fallen out of his ponytail. A strand lay across his blood speckled face, sprayed by the impact of his weapon connecting with the creature’s head. His shirt was covered in their noxious mucus. As was she. The smell of the slime burned her nostrils. She was hearing his voice, but she couldn’t register the words. All she caught was, “...come with us.” He stood there staring at her for a moment.

Rory looked down at her trembling hands, still gripping her shotgun. She couldn’t believe Pax was dead. He was annoying, but he wasn’t bad. He was kinda good. Now he was gone. He was nothing but minced meat now. When she looked up the silver haired man was gone.

For a moment her legs were frozen. She looked around for Pax’s body. She’d managed to kill the creature that killed him. It’s pale body lay beside Pax, or what was left of Pax. Rory took in too deep a breath. The stench of blood, of the creature’s putrid mucus, the gruesome sight, made her head spin. She bent over and retched on the cave floor, vomit splashing her boots.

Then she heard it. The clack of clawed feet echoed from the mouth of the biggest tunnel adjacent to where she stood. More were coming. Rory quickly dropped to her hands and knees. Frantically, she crawled around feeling for her pack in what dim light came from the cave exist. She found her pack, shouldered it, lept to her feet, almost slipped on blood, and ran toward the opening.

The cold air stung her eyes as she emerged from the cave. She ran straight ahead, occasionally looking over her shoulder as she ran. Not one of the creatures followed her out of the cave. She ran until she saw the others up ahead. They were stopped. Why were they stopped? Shouldn’t they put as much distance between them and those things as possible?


“Hey!” she screamed at them when she thought she was within hearshot. Startled, all three of their heads whipped around toward her. Maybe yelling wasn’t the smartest thing to do. She didn’t know how well those things could hear. Could they survive outside of that cave? Were they sensitive to light? And besides those things, what other dangers lurked in these woods?

“What are you guys doing?” she asked incredulously between gasps when she had finally caught up to them. She bent over, still trying to catch her breath. She leaned on her left knee with her left hand, right hand still grasping the gun. “We… need… to… go…”

“We?!” It was the Asian kid. He stood protectively between Rory and Demon Girl, who seemed to shrink in her presence. Demon Girl turned her ghostly blue eyes away. “You were trying to kill us!” He pointed at her shotgun.

Rory looked down at the firearm almost self consciously. Her plan had indeed been to kill the two men and take the girl. But...

“It doesn’t matter,” the taller silver haired young man retorted, “She helped fight the Takers off. Without her and her friend, we might have died. Besides, she’s no threat to us now in her condition.”

Rory was confused by this last statement. Condition? What condition?”

The shorter young man pointed at her upper arm, “Is that…?” Rory followed his gaze. Her left arm was soaked in blood. A gash had been opened just below her left deltoid.

“Yup,” the other taller man replied casually, “She’s been scratched.”

Rory’s head swim, her vision blurred. “Will I… will I… will I become one of… them?” It occurred suddenly that she was very cold. She was trembling. How much blood had she lost?

The two stared at her for a moment that felt like an eternity. Then both burst into laughter.

“Have you never heard of Takers before?” the Asian kid asked, “It’s not like vampires. You’ll be fine it’s just…”

“She’ll be fine if the infection doesn’t kill her,” the taller man interrupted, “We have to tend to that wound ASAP. But first…”

The edges of Rory’s vision began to blacken. A heaviness consumed her limbs. The gun slipped from her hand and she dropped to her knees. The darkness overtook her before her head hit the ground.
No matter how dire the situation, how close they'd been to becoming Taker chow, or how many bullets had missed by a hair, Z and Cody could always find something to laugh about.

The young Raider girl's expression had been priceless. Cody wondered how it was that she hadn't heard of Takers before. Then again, not a lot of people who came across them lived to tell about it, so maybe she just hadn't met the right people.

No, considering her previous company, it was almost certain that she hadn't met the right people.

Well, she had now.

Cody had been surprised when Zaire said she was coming with them, but it didn't last. That was just the kind of guy Z was. That's why they'd gotten into this mess in the first place, to rescue the quivering girl beside him.

And that's why they wouldn't be leaving this girl behind either.

He'd still been tickled by the like joke they'd played on her -- admittedly maybe not in the best taste -- when he saw an all too familiar far off look in her eyes before they'd rolled back into her head and she crumpled into the dirt.

Cody's shoulders went up to his ears and he winced.

Ouch...

"Well damn," Cody blinked, eyes wide.

Zaire sort of grimaced up at the sky and took in a deep breath, like, "why me?".

"We gotta get that wound patched," Zaire said, then glanced at their surroundings.

It had been night when they'd reached their camp after the raid on the... well, Raiders. Then they'd trekked up the hill towards the tunnel, slow going because of the uneven ascent itself and because they'd basically had to carry the previous captive up with them.

Then they'd slowly crawled through the tunnel until the Takers had shown up. Then they'd run.

Essentially, night had almost passed them by, and the sky was lightened at the bottom like it might be sunrise soon. And it was cold.

Zaire handed Cody the backpack and bow that he'd just only recently taken back so that he could kneel down tend to the girl.

Cody shifted the weight as he watched Z stop the bleeding on the girl's arm. Ugh this stuff was heavy!

Zaire couldn't easily carry both the girl and her sizable shotgun, so he looked between Cody and the other girl to decide who to give it to.

Cody was already carrying a lot, and the girl was carrying nothing but a stick she'd acquired... somewhere. Zaire looked like he was arguing with himself in his head over whether to give a gun to a possibly mentally not-all-there stranger, or to leave such a potentially valuable weapon behind.

In the end he pocketed all of the bullets and offered the girl the shotgun. She took it like one might carry a baby... and glanced down the barrel.

Z and Cody exchanged "oh, boy" glances. Yeah, taking the bullets out had been the right decision.

"Ready?" Z asked Cody and the ex-captive, both of whom nodded.

Zaire knelt down and scooped up the Raider girl in his arms, and they started walking.

When Cody turned to check on the pale girl he accidentally smacked her in the face with the tip of the bow. She made a surprised, "meep!" sound.

"Sorry --" Cody whispered.

She shook her head and blinked like he'd splashed water in her face, but kept going.

About half an hour later Zaire decided it was safe to make camp and they got a fire going. While Z took a closer look at the Raider girl's arm, Cody got the pale girl a blanket.

After the fighting and running and more fighting and more running, his arms and legs felt like jelly. When was the last time they ate?

After a swig of water from his canteen, he offered it to the pale girl, who -- once she'd tasted it -- threw her head back and started chugging.

"Uh --" Cody could only half raise a hand before all the water was gone.

The girl turned it upside down disappointedly.

"Okay..." Cody gently took it back and screwed the top back on.

She hand the blanket pulled up almost to her nose.

"So what's your name?" Cody asked as he crossed his legs on the hard dirt.

"I already told you..." she said.

"No you didn't."

"I told you --" she stammered, "That people who know it die."

"Yeah," Cody bobbed his head, "But so do people who don't know it."

Her brows furrowed.

"Maybe it has nothing to do with it," he said, "You know. Just a coinkydink."

She frowned, unsure.

"Anyway," Cody threw a pebble at her, "I told you our names so you owe us. Otherwise it's not fair."

The girl thought about this, swallowed, and finally opened her mouth.

"It's S-s-" she had to make herself continue, "Saiah."

"Sesesaiah..." Cody bit his lip.

No wonder she didn't go around saying it. It was sort of a mouthful.

"No," the girl actually sort of smiled, "It's Saiah. Just... Saiah."

"Well," Cody smiled back, "It's nice to have met you and not died yet, Saiah."

For the first time he saw a smile in her eyes too, instead of just shock and terror.

Cody winked at her.

Then he got up to go see how the Raider girl was doing.

Z had already cleaned and stitched up the wound. It was not a pretty sight, but, as Zaire informed him, could have been a lot worse.

"She'll be alright," Zaire nodded to himself as he wedged his backpack underneath her head so she wasn't using rocks as a pillow, and stood.

"That's good," Cody reasoned, still unsure.

He was sure that he was glad that she was alive -- he didn't like anyone dying. He just wasn't sure what they were going to do with her now.

As he cocked his head, he saw in the light of the flickering fire that she was young. As young as he was if not maybe even a few years his junior. Her at-rest face was peaceful.

It was too bad peace only came in your dreams around here...

Z motioned with his head for Cody to join him on an outlook a few feet away, and Cody heeled.

Zaire's face was set, serious, as he looked out at the desert before them. They certainly had a good vantage point.

Cody glanced at Z sideways, wondering when he was going to speak.

"We don't have enough food," Z said finally, though he never turned his head.

Cody nodded as he crossed his arms against the cold.

"We barely had enough rations to start with, and now we've got two new mouths to feed."

"So... we're keeping them?" Cody asked, not being able to keep his voice free from all excitement.

"They're not dogs, Cody," Z shook his head but Cody saw the smile, "Staying or leaving is their choice. I just hope their designs aren't too different than ours at this point..."

The smile had wavered some.

It was dangerous to trust anyone these days, let alone someone who had been recently literally full on trying to kill them, or someone who's mystery origins seemed steeped in blood.

Whatever would get them in the end, Cody was almost certain that both he and Z would go down together, and that it would likely be in the process of doing something good for someone else.

Hopefully just not now.

"So?" Cody shivered, "What do we do now?"

"Wait till the girl wakes up?" Zaire shrugged, "There's a settlement around a day's walk from here. I've got a little junk left over from our last salvage run, should hopefully be enough to get some food."

"Then what?" Cody asked.

Z just smiled and clamped a firm, friendly hand on his shoulder.

"We'll figure it out as we go."

"Right!" Cody agreed, partially because he mostly did agree and partially because he usually just agreed with Z on anything.

But the thought of everything being so unknown came swooping down in on him as he looked out at the sun breaking through the horizon.

"Right," Cody tried to reassure himself as he bit his lip and stamped his cold feet, "I love spontaneity."

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