Carol made sure Tyreese took the first watch so she'd be able to sneak away very early in the morning. She waited until an hour or so before sunrise and made sure the cabin was locked up safely so they'd not be caught aware, then she hurried back the way they'd come. She and Tyreese had been forced to take the girls slightly southward, running from the herd that had been brought in by the Governor's tank. Explosions! What was he thinking? she raged inwardly. He claimed to want the prison, so he blew it up? The Governor was a freaking moron.
She knew she couldn't track Lizzie or the vampire who'd grabbed her in the dark, but she wouldn't find the trail from where she was anyway. Carol had to backtrack to the prison to pick it up. She only hoped that the walkers had thinned out in the night.
They hadn't. Another freaking moron had built a fire at the prison, Carol learned soon enough, and that had drawn in just as many if not more walkers as the Governor's explosions had. Walkers were thick as she neared the prison, so Carol finally picked as fresh a walker as she could find and rubbed its foul blood-goop all over herself. They ignored her after that, so long as she shuffled along and tried not to hurry too much.
Carol carefully moseyed her way toward the cars left by the Governor's people. She counted five, and she seemed to recall there being six, so it looked like one probably got away. A prison survivor also could have taken one, she figured. She stumbled around the vehicles walker-style, looking in the windows for anything useful. Most were shot up, and the smell of gasoline was heavy around one of the jeeps. The other seemed okay. She was able to duck behind it and pick up an assault rifle, miraculously loaded, and sling it over her arm before any walkers saw. One seemed to hear a noise and turn her way, but Carol just kept shambling, hand near her knife, and all was well.
Carol circled around to the prison itself, frustrated by how slowly she had to wind her way there so as not to arouse suspicion. She kept an eye out while she walked, glad for the rifle as she worked her way through the thickest part of the throng and toward the giant hole in the wall of the prison. No walkers were trying to get through, as rubble and bodies blocked the way. Carol could get across them easily enough, but not as a walker. She shuffled as close as she dared before just running for it, scrambling over the bricks and walker bodies where someone inside had fought off the influx and piled them mostly in the hole.
A few tried to follow her, of course, but they didn't have the mental acuity or dexterity needed to easily climb over those bodies, so Carol had a few minutes. She hurried to her cell, where, as one of the most trusted council members (and being quicker to respond to battles than Hershel, sad as it was to say), Carol had been entrusted with a very special cooler. When the need and the gasoline were both there, the prison ran its generator long enough to do necessary things like surgery, cleaning, making ice and freezing ice packs. Ice was obviously a rare luxury in the apocalypse, but the prison had a generator and a freezer. An admittedly disgusting freezer after what the locked inmates had done to it, but they'd cleaned and disinfected it as best they could the very first time they had generator night. They couldn't use it for cold storage day in and day out, but they would make blocks and cubes of ice when they could, especially once they had dead man's blood they needed to keep cold.
She would have loved to raid more, but it had already taken longer than she'd hoped, so Carol pulled the insulated lunch bag from under her bed and filled it with cold packs and syringes of dead man's blood. Quickly now, all focus, she found a pack of paracord and tied it to the handle, so she could wear the lunch bag crosswise like a satchel, then slung the rifle back over the other way. She stuffed the rest of the paracord in her jacket pocket, along with a plastic water bottle in each and a lighter in her pants pocket, since she'd left her supplies for Tyreese. It took a little more searching to find a machete that had been left behind, but she did, taking it from the fallen Karen on the other side of the breach.
The walkers were making it through, so Carol jogged through the cell block and locked the door behind her. She waited for her eyes to adjust, for the halls had no windows. Slowly, listening carefully, she made her way toward D-Block, the nearest exit back out into the yard. Once she reached the exit, she slowly, so very slowly, turned the door handle, doing her best not to make the slightest creak. Once fully turned, she listened, but no extra build-up seemed to be happening. After closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, Carol inched the door open just a bit, waiting for the hands to reach and weight to press against the door. Nothing happened. The sliver was too small to even see through, so she pushed just a bit further.
Now she could see walkers aimlessly wandering the prison yard. The only ones she could see from this angle were several yards away, so she focused on listening. Lots of growls from the other side, but not many close. Three separate ones closer than she needed. Shaking her head, she slowly – too slowly, surely! – and carefully inched the door wider and wider, leaving it gapped and stepped back into the darkness.
Finally, she slid through the gap she had made, blade against arm but definitely in hand and out first. She slid out, keeping against the wall, breathing very carefully but quietly as she sucked everything in to make it through. Two of the nearest three did notice her and came her way. She tried to stumble and shamble, but they weren't fooled now. Christ, she inwardly cursed and hurried to meet the nearest one, shoving her blade up under its chin. He silenced quickly and she laid him down as quietly as possible, hurrying to shut the next one up, but it was too late, and she'd known it was too late from the start.
Still, she silenced it with a blade to the temple, then ripped her blade out and slashed across its stomach before it even fell. Carol bloodied herself back up as quickly as she could and sprinted toward the treeline. The walkers followed her, of course, but she put a lot of distance between her and them before she slowed and circled back toward southeastern side where she recalled seeing Lizzie fighting off three vampires. And whatever that black smoke was that Lizzie had pulled from one of the Governor's people.
Carol shambled along the edge of the treeline, hoping the group that she'd led into the forest would keep going inward. Carol needed to be able to see where Lizzie and her captor's trail was. She gazed out toward the yard, trying to recreate the battle. Both the Governor's people and their own still littered the yard, although Carol now saw that someone had built a pyre for one of the victims. She wondered who had taken the time to do a cremation. Lots of walker bodies were piled in a large circle around the pyre, so they'd stayed long enough to see it well-burnt. Not out, because it still smoldered a bit. Lucky for her, as that kept most of the walkers' attention on the smoke. Several circled around, apparently confused about why they couldn't grab it, but they were kicking the blackened wood and ashes around, and Carol thought the fire would be out soon enough. She hoped they caught fire first.
Carol spotted a couple of beheaded bodies and recognized two of the three vampires Lizzie had been fighting off. She recalled one running off with the girl. She had to shamble up and down the treeline a bit before her eyes finally caught the trail, as many walkers had traipsed through the battleground in the night and muddied up the tracks. But Lizzie, good girl that she was, had fought back hard, and there was a pretty decent trail left pointing the direction once Carol spotted it: broken branches and stripped bark where Lizzie had grabbed at the bushes and trees as she was drug away, deep heel gauges where she had dug in against being dragged, even long strands of light brown hair caught here and there. It was not too far into the woods before the girl was knocked out, Carol realized as the trail swapped to straight-out drag marks. Sometimes the vamp had managed to carry her and Carol thought she lost the trail, but either she was lucky or the vamp was tired and clumsy all by itself, because she always managed to pick it up again.
Much closer than she had imagined, the trail led to a small camp in the woods. That cocky bastard had set up camp right in their back yards and watched them for days! Lucky son of a bitch, she thought, realizing that they surely would have been found much sooner by Rick if he'd still been traipsing around the woods after Lori every day. Or if Michonne had still gone out every day hunting the Governor. But they hadn't, because those supernatural hunters had arrived and distracted them.
A branch snapped behind her, and Carol whirled around with her gun drawn. She saw two hands up in the air and peered to see Daryl coming toward her. Carol lowered her gun and cocked her head sideways. “What are you doing here?”
“Lookin' for you. What are you thinking, trying to take on a pack of vamps by yourself?”
“You did all right. Anyway, only one got away.”
“I had Sam and Dean.” Daryl shook his head. “You shoulda come to the rendezvous point and got backup. The vamps might have backup themselves.”
“And lose precious time and maybe even the trail?”
“I caught up here fast enough, didn't I?”
Carol wrinkled her nose. “Looks like he just stopped to grab some supplies. I don't think the vampires would have camped here, just the humans. Tents don't keep out the sun enough, I think.”
“Those new vamps didn't seem too bothered by the sun. Anyway, the vampires have a house somewhere southeast of here, I'm pretty sure, because they were leading us that way – the wrong way – when we went after the Alpha vamp. I realized we were heading the wrong way soon enough,” Daryl told her, not mentioning how he'd crashed his bike when the Alpha had telepathically communicated with him. “I don't know where exactly the house is, but we got pretty close because I could smell vampires really concentrated. They'd been there a while. I can't smell 'em now though, but I reckon between the two of us, we should be able to track 'em all right.”
Carol smiled, glad to have his help. He was a much better tracker than she was. “Well, lead the way.”
Daryl carefully surveyed the camp, focusing on one area around a cooler, where someone had obviously packed and discarded items in a hurry. Walkers had come through knocking things around, Carol could tell, but Daryl found another drag trail soon enough. “Looks like he couldn't carry both Lizzie and the supplies,” Daryl said, following after it. “Good for us. Maybe he was wounded. Keep your eyes open for walkers. I need to cover in some blood too if we're chasing vamps. They can smell like you wouldn't believe.”
It took a couple hours, mostly because of a few backtracks to pick up the lost trail, but Daryl eventually led them to a boarded-up hardware store about six miles from the prison. Also closer than Carol had expected. Luckily, they kept themselves freshly gooped at Daryl's insistence, since he knew all too well how easily vampires could smell humans. The scent of walker guts was strong and much worse, he explained, intolerably worse. Vampires did they did all they could to avoid it and dead man's blood alike.
Carol glanced around, then jutted her chin toward a bell tower visible a block up the road. “I bet we could watch from there. See how many there are,” she whispered.
Daryl glanced that direction and nodded. They backed away slowly.
“How do you know it's the hardware store and not the library?”
“Or the gas station?” Daryl gave a quiet snort.
Carol frowned at him. “I know why it's not the gas station. Too many windows.”
“That's also why it's the hardware store and not the library. Store's boarded up. Probably just so we don't see 'em movin' around,” Daryl's voice hardened.
They'd barely reached the church when Carol pulled him back against the wall, pointing around the corner of the building and up the street. She held one finger to her lips, urging him to be quiet, and they slid down to the ground, carefully peeking through the church's overgrown shrubbery.
A woman was sauntering down the highway. And that's exactly what she was doing, sauntering. The redheaded woman was in a body-hugging green dress, sunglasses, and heels, carrying two blue reusable grocery bags, acting for all the world like she was some corporate big-shot traipsing home after a hard day of spending other people's money.
Daryl narrowed his eyes and pointed across the street, and Carol saw that several walkers were coming out of the trees almost directly across from them. The woman shook her head as if she had no time for such nonsense and, as they reached her a moment later, she disappeared, appearing on the street some distance beyond them. Carol looked at Daryl with wide eyes, and he gave an imperceptible shake of his head.
The woman was quickly out of view, but they stayed very still, listening to the clacks of her heels as she went down the street. It was several minutes after Carol stopped hearing them anymore before Daryl finally allowed her to move, and they hurried into the church. It was unlocked and empty of dead, which was a welcome change, and Daryl kept gesturing for her to keep it down even as she moved silently about. She was the one who found the way into the bell tower, which had scaffolding to walk up in order to service and polish the bell.
They reached the top before the mystery woman reached the hardware store, and they quickly saw that she'd had to fight half a dozen walkers along the way. Daryl pulled binoculars out of his bag and looked a second. “Knife,” he whispered, handing them to Carol.
From this angle, she saw the the woman did indeed have a large knife lying at the very top of one of the grocery bags. Carol caught the sun reflecting off it, but not much else from this far away. As Daryl had figured, she passed the library and gas station and walked up the steps to the mom-and-pop hardware store. After a perfunctory knock, a tall, thin man opened the door. He had short, receding red hair, but darker than hers, and Carol recognized him as the vampire who had gotten away with Lizzie. He wrinkled his nose and glanced into her bag, obviously smelling the walker blood.
He said something to the woman, although Carol couldn't hear what it was. The lady didn't like whatever it was and shoved the bags into his chest before stalking into the building. “I'm not a BABYSITTER!” the man screamed as he followed. Carol heard a faint “Neither am I!” before the man kicked the door shut behind him.
They sat back and looked at each other. “Well, it's just the two of them, then.”
“Yeah, but how many kids?” Daryl asked.
“Good point. Guess we'll find out.” They sat a moment longer.
“Any plans?” Daryl asked, still whispering.
Carol patted the lunch bag at her hip. “Got some dead man's blood.” Daryl nodded appreciatively. After a moment, Carol spoke again. “And we have a tank, if we wanted to go back...”
Daryl grinned, grabbed her head, and kissed her forehead. “Let's go.”
They stayed near the road heading away from the hardware store. Knowing now where the vampires were housed, they knew a much better route to take than haltingly tracking through the woods. They headed back up the highway before cutting north toward the prison. “How do you want to do this?” Carol asked quietly, shortly after they left and before they hit the herd that she knew had gathered around the prison. “I don't want to volley a round at the house without knowing where Lizzie is.”
“We'll want to draw them out to us anyway. Take their home advantage away. The vamps will hear the tank coming long before we get there. They'll remember where they left the tank. They'll know we're coming.” Daryl spat as they walked, then took a sip of his canteen. “I imagine at least one would come out to investigate. Gimme some of that dead man's blood. I'll soak my bolts and shoot 'em.”
“Might work,” Carol conceded. “Do we want to split up? One of us take the tank and the other take the house?”
“Nah, we want to work together. They're too fast and too strong.”
“But what if they don't come to investigate and just take Lizzie and run before we get there?”
Daryl looked at her, then reluctantly nodded and rubbed his face. “We need at least one more person. Two against two ain't really fair when half of those have super-everything.”
Carol gave him a bland look. “When have we ever not been enough?”
He grinned at her. “All right. Well, I can take the house if you take the tank. My bet's on douchebag coming for the tank, but he can't get you unless he opens the top. If you're ready with dead man's blood – and they're fast, Carol, I mean real fast – then you've got him. I'll try to shoot him when he comes out, if I can. If I put him down, I'll wait for you, but if not, I'll wait til he's out of view and then sneak into the house, put down douchebaguette, and find Lizzie. Unless I see them escaping from the house. Whichever one of us succeeds first backs the other one up, anyway.”
“Sounds like a plan. Haphazard, but a plan.”
Neither one of them actually knew how to drive a tank, but they figured it out quickly enough. Daryl jumped out about half way back to the store and ran back on foot while Carol waited thirty minutes for him to get into position before continuing.
Carol had somehow imagined the vampire stalking down the street toward her tank, ready to face off in some high noon duel. She even thought she might have an advantage since it was pretty close to noon and the dude was a vampire. She never saw him coming, though. The heavy metal hatch ripped right off and disappeared, and Carol spun and caught a blur of green and red as the woman vampire landed in a crouch behind her. It's the baguette for me, then. Carol lunged, syringe ready in hand, but the woman was indeed extremely fast and had Carol pinned against the panels before she could react. The poking of knobs and levers in her back enraged her more than the bitch's hand around her throat, but then the woman's other hand twisted her right wrist and the syringe went tumbling uselessly across the floor.
Carol's head was turned, watching where it went, and the woman leaned forward and laughed breathily in her ear. Carol headbutted her, fighting hard with her head and grappled arm – one hundred percent just to distract her – as the woman's fangs came out. Because even vampires only have two hands, and Carol's left arm was free. The vampire realized too late, turning her head just as Carol plunged her second syringe into the bitch's neck. She howled and released Carol, who wasted no time in pulling her machete. The lady put up a better fight than Carol would have liked, as the close quarters of the tank made it hard to swing and baguette wasn't totally incapacitated, just weakened, but Carol finally beheaded her and fell back down with a groan.
She wasted fifteen seconds at most catching her breath, then she hurried to continue driving up the road to the hardware store, hoping that she arrived in time to help Daryl. Carol was just pulling through the hatch when she heard a groan to her right, and she looked down to see the vampire's decapitated head, curls scattered across the face, gnashing futilely. “Oh shit, that's right.” Carol dropped back in and stabbed it through the forehead, then grabbed her fallen syringe and hurried out to Daryl's aid.
He hadn't needed it, of course. Finding the front door locked, Carol ran around to the back door, which was slightly ajar. It was a service entrance to a small storage room, and boxes, tools, nails, and other general hardware goods littered the ground in obvious sign of a struggle – or possibly prior looting, Carol conceded. But then she found blood smeared against one wall, and Carol found the broken head of a crossbow bolt on the floor below it among some screws and washers, so she hoped that meant Daryl had caught the shitheel with his dead man's blood-tipped bolts.
Carol stepped between fallen metal shelves, carefully making her way to the far door. She couldn't hear anything within the store, so she carefully stuck her head out for a look. The front seemed empty and looted, and she spun to the right when she caught movement only to find herself staring into the mirror through an open bathroom door. She carefully moved against the wall and checked the room, then crossed back and tried the door that was barely cracked to her left. Using just one finger, Carol gave a tiny nudge, but it squeaked anyway. She winced and held still.
Carol closed her eyes and gave a sigh of relief. “Yeah. Coming!” She started down some steps into a pitch black basement.
“Careful. His body's at the foot of the stairs. Here.” Daryl flicked a zippo, lighting up his sweaty and blood-stained face in the darkness. He reached a hand to help her as she stepped over a decapitated body at the bottom. She counted three bolts in the back and what looked like at least one broken beneath where he laid chest-down. She carefully landed at the bottom and smiled up at Daryl in thanks, but his face was grave. “We got a problem.” He turned and led her into the dark.
They rounded some stacked barrels and headed down a narrow hallway, which, thankfully, had flickering candle sconces along the walls. Further spaced than she would have liked, so Carol assumed the vampires had done it for their own vision. She heard them before she arrived in the kennel-like room, so Carol had a moment to steel her stomach and school her features before she saw them. There, in cages lined against each wall, Carol saw the huddled, shaking forms of children in extra large dog cages. An occupied cage was on each side, with two unoccupied cages beyond those. Belatedly Carol realized that the farthest right kennel had two teens in it, blonde and brunette girls with arms wrapped around each other. Carol frowned at Daryl.
“They're locked. I was on my way to find something to bust the locks.”
Carol swallowed and lowered her head. “You're safe now. We're going to get you out.”
A firm hand gripped her arm. “Not so fast.” Daryl jutted his chin toward the left side of the room, and Carol recognized Lizzie in the farthest cage. She frowned and pulled away, heading toward the girl, but Lizzie shrieked and tried to reach through the cage with no regard for her own fingers, practically toppling the kennel over in an attempt to reach Carol. She involuntarily took a step back, this time not objecting when she felt Daryl's warm hand on her shoulder. “They turned her,” his voice said behind her ear, low and without emotion. “It took more'n I had in me to resist the thirst. She's just a kid.” His voice caught, then hardened. “It's okay. The Winchesters know the cure.”
Carol turned toward him, though she wasn't sure what she might say, but another voice piped up from the darkness. “They didn't turn her on purpose. She bit Marcus back after he fed off her.”
They both looked to the two girls. The dark haired girl, a little older than the others from the looks of it, unraveled from her companion, reached her fingers out, and opened the cage with the key. She and the blonde stepped out. “Give me those!” Daryl growled.
The girl raised an eyebrow, then and unlocked all of the other cages but Lizzie's, helping out another teenage girl and one boy. Then she turned back on Darryl. “Do you really know a cure?”
“My friends do,” Daryl said. “If she hasn't fed on anybody. She hasn't fed yet, has she?”
The girl shook her head. Daryl headed toward Lizzie's kennel, but this time Carol was the one who stopped him. “Do you have any dead man's blood left?”
Carol frowned. “I've got a few left. Get them outta here, and I'll see if I can calm her down. If not...” She held out her hand, and Daryl gave her his syringe before hustling the kids out.
Once they were alone, Carol knelt a short distance away from Lizzie. “Lizzie,” she said sternly, using the clipped, life-and-death 'teacher' voice that she'd used when secretly training the prison's children in weaponry during story hour, “it's me. It's Carol. Pull it together.”
Lizzie halted and cocked her head, and Carol saw that her eyes were so dilated they were almost black. Then Lizzie screeched and tried to tear apart her kennel. “Lizzie! I'll let you out if you pull it together. Remember the flowers, Lizzie? Imagine the flowers.”
Lizzie cocked her head again, sitting back on her haunches and staring dubiously. “Good girl,” Carol encouraged. “Can you stay a good girl?”
The girl slowly turned her head from side to side, not shaking it 'no' so much as trying to home in on Carol, as if the woman was hard to see. “I'm going to let you out, Lizzie, but you have to keep it together. We can fix this. If we make it to the warehouse, the Winchesters can fix this.” Lizzie made no moves toward her, so Carol carefully moved forward to unlock the crate.
As soon as her hands touched the padlock, Lizzie was grabbing for her. Carol suffered a good many scratches in the two seconds it took her to unlock it, but you do what you have to do. She swung the door wide and grabbed Lizzie by the back of the neck as the girl came flying out toward her, knocking the girl's head into the packed earthen floor and plunging the syringe into her arm.
“Ahhh! Carol!” She was almost relieved that the girl screamed her name, then Lizzie started rolling her head as if she were trying to crack her neck. “That hurts! You hurt me!”
“I gave you a chance.” Carol was unapologetic as she pulled out the paracord and tightly tied the girl's wrists together behind her back. Lizzie was definitely weakened and much easier to handle. “Come on. We can fix this.”
She pushed the girl up and over Marcus's beheaded corpse to the stairway. Daryl shadowed the doorway before they got half way up. He glanced over his shoulder into the hall behind him, then stepped aside to let them pass. “Watch them,” he murmured quietly as Carol passed. He jogged down the stairs. “Especially the one with the keys.”
Carol nodded and gestured for them to move into the main store area, pushing Lizzie along behind them. “Start talking,” she said, looking mainly at the girl who'd had the keys. She looked a year or two older than Carl. “Names, how'd they get you, where are your families? Are you vampires?” her voice hardened.
The girl she was looking at avoided her gaze but answered her nonetheless. “No, none of us are vampires.”
The boy stepped forward. He looked to be thirteen or fourteen – they all did, except key girl who looked a couple years older – and he had light brown hair that was buzzed at the sides and long on top. “I don't know what the hell is going on!” he declared, eyes wide. He came toward them and stuck practically to Carol's hip. “Sorry, I'm Ivy. My dad was stationed in Arizona when all this went down, and he had to go out and fight all the dead and the human rioters. We were pretty safe on base, but Mom waited a year and he never came back. We were starting to run low on water, and the military was getting pretty bad about stealing and policing it, so Mom finally snuck us out. We were heading for the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she grew up and said we'd be safe. Just a couple days ago we saw a prison nearby with a garden and kids and everything, so we headed that way to investigate when these ballsacks grabbed us. They fed us to some people to see if we'd make them sick. Mom did.” His voice caught. “I didn't.”
Carol once again looked at the eldest, but it was the blonde she'd been hugging who answered. “I'm Claire. I trusted the wrong asshole who told me I was 'special'. Story of my life.”
The two brunettes were the only ones not talking, and Carol was about to wring it out of them when the other glared at the girl with the keys and said “Just tell them, for Christ's sake.”
The girl huffed, forcing herself to meet Carol's gaze. “I'm Alex. They got me when I was young, before all this happened. They were my family. I helped find them food.”
“You're bait?” Daryl asked, disgust in his voice, as he came into the room. He grabbed a pack of terrycloth towels off the floor and started wiping bloody hands. Carol raised her brows questioningly, and he walked over and murmured in her ear, “Need the blood of the one that turned her for the cure.”
Alex looked away and didn't answer. The other girl did. “Yeah, pretty good at it, too. Fooled me.”
“And who are you?” Carol asked.
The girl finally turned away from Alex and crossed her arms. “Krissy Chambers. My dad hunted monsters even before the dead started walking. Only once they did start rising all over, he had to take me with him. I'd wait in a relatively safe place, but we didn't have a home anymore. About two months ago, he left after these vamps and never came back. I followed his trail to their den outside of Atlanta, but I realized he was dead when I saw they were vamps and they had his machete. I was going to leave and find backup.” She stopped, then shook her head angrily. “I just 'happened' to find Alex. She promised to help me, we shared dinner, and I woke up in a storage facility as a blood slave. We moved here a week ago.” She saw something in Daryl's face and gave a small, half-hearted smile. “They didn't keep us in those cages the whole time. Only yesterday while they all left...for whatever it is they left for. I guess it was getting that girl?” she looked at Lizzie, then back to Daryl. “Blake put us back in when they heard you coming, and she was already locked up in there, turned. Are they all dead?”
“Yeah. All of 'em.”
A little shudder passed through her.
“C'mon,” Carol said, unlocking the front door and pushing Lizzie through. The girl screeched, drawing the attention of nearby walkers, which Daryl had to handle. Lizzie tried to cover her eyes, but her hands were tied behind her back and held by Carol, so she just ducked her head and hid behind her hair as much as possible. The rest followed after them.
“You guys got some weapons or something we can use?”
“Not really. We could ride on the tank, but as you can see, it attracts walkers.” That sparked a memory. “I think the woman had a knife somewhere. Daryl?” she asked as he hurried back to them.
Daryl found a couple knives in the house. Krissy held a hand out, but Daryl kept one and gave the other to Carol. Krissy's mouth gaped and she frowned angrily, but Daryl was already heading across the street. Carol followed, hurrying Lizzie across the road and into the forest, as many of the walkers they had passed on the road had finally caught up with the tank. Unfortunately, a small herd had followed all the way from the prison, and the ones still coming up the road saw the humans and continued on after them.
Daryl fell back to cover them once again. She could hear Daryl's crossbow shooting behind them, barely detectable over the sound of their footfall as they began to run. Soon he came flying past, calling, “Follow me!”
He led them vaguely northward, though circling very wide to avoid walker clutter close to the prison. They needed to go back, he insisted, for he had his motorcycle stashed at the prison and the children were literally drained and too tired for that amount of walking. They needed a car.
Claire had apparently been with them longest, and she was weaker than the others. They had to rest not even a mile into the woods. “Head north and slightly west,” Daryl told them, pointing the direction, “and it leads back to the highway. I'll hurry ahead and see if I can find a vehicle big enough for all y'all. Keep as close as you can to the road and watch for me.”
It seemed an easy enough task, and probably would have been had one of the teenagers not been a freshly-turned, blood-crazed vampire. Lizzie was getting increasingly agitated, and Carol thought maybe the exertion of the hike was making the dead man's blood wear off faster than it should have. She had wanted to wait until they were closer to the prison, but she had to use a second syringe on Lizzie when she started snapping at the other children.
“I heard you had dead man's blood,” the girl whose father had been a hunter, Krissy, said in a tone mixed with surprise and respect. Carol nodded. “You guys are hunters then?” the girl asked. “Did you know they were vampires before you came for her?”
“Yes. We're hunters now, anyway, and we knew,” Carol said shortly. “They fucked with the wrong people.”
Krissy laughed, and Carol shot her a look as a walker growled and headed out of the forest towards them. She passed Lizzie over to Krissy's supervision and used her survival knife, finding it more convenient than the unwieldy machetes against walkers. The walkers were getting thicker closer to the road, and Carol figured it was probably due to the noise the tank had made earlier. Her attention kept being pulled away again and again. There were too many kids to watch, and none of them had any weapons. She contemplated giving them some, but she wasn't sure if she could trust them. Not if at least one, maybe more, had considered the vampires 'family'.
Carol had just taken down a trio of walkers who threatened to surround them all, managing to kill each before they bit any children. She should have felt very proud of herself, but the commotion of the fight did not end when the third and final walker fell. Carol wasted no time, spinning around and preparing to save whichever kid had just screamed and was grappling with a walker, but that wasn't what she found, and it gave her pause.
A brief pause, but that's all a vampire needs.
Lizzie had somehow worked through her bonds, managing to cut the paracord on something. Hell, perhaps even her own nails; what did Carol know? The tussle she heard was the 'bait' girl, Alex, desperately trying to fight off Lizzie. Lizzie was a small, skinny thing and should have been no match for the older teen, but Lizzie now had superhuman strength and an unquenchable thirst.
Carol hurried towards them, but it was as if she watched the scene unfold in slow motion: Alex was lying prone, partially shoved up against a tree, both hands holding Lizzie's wrists and desperately trying to keep the girl pushed up and away from her neck. Lizzie's neck arched as two fangs slid down – not the mouthful that Daryl had described – and then she fell upon Alex's neck, eyes wild and seeing nothing.
Carol rushed to pull her off, but Lizzie was stronger than she should have been with the dead man's blood in her. The live blood must be even stronger, Carol figured as she went flying through the air. The back of Carol's head bounced off a small stone as she landed, and she immediately felt an egg starting just above the base of her skull. She winced and tried to clear her vision, then jumped back up, stretching out her arms as she wobbled. Krissy was also wincing as she stood, so she must have jumped in too, and they both went for Lizzie together just as she came up from Alex's neck. Lizzie's eyes were clear and human again, normal size and not full black. Krissy hesitated and stumbled, and Carol slowed but didn't stop until she stood over the girls. “Lizzie?”
Lizzie swallowed and absently wiped her mouth across her arm, blood now smeared but still stark against the pallor of her face. Alex lolled in her arms, eyes wide and sightless, jaw slack. Lizzie blinked, then smiled up at Carol. “Don't worry. She'll come back. I didn't hurt her brain.” Carol heard one of the girls gasp somewhere behind her.
Do you really know a cure?
My friends do. If she hasn't fed on anybody. She hasn't fed yet, has she?
“How should we bring her back?” Lizzie asked, eyes moving across Carol and each of the children. “I could give her my blood and turn her too!”
Carol felt every muscle and sphincter in her body tense. She took a shaky breath and reached out one arm, palm hovering just above Lizzie's head. The other palm gently urged the kids behind her to stay still. “Let's just let her come back...naturally,” Carol said, voice soft and pleasant. Bile burned in her throat, and she heard a choked sob from behind a tree; the boy, she thought. Carol's right hand once again pressed warningly behind her, and she turned her left palm out, trying to keep Lizzie's attention on her. “Come on now. I bet you feel better. Alex will soon, too.”
Lizzie nodded and looked back down at the girl. Carol took a step forward, but Lizzie tightened her grip. “No! We have to wait. I need to show you. You'll see; you'll finally get it! We're all the same.”
Carol's brows raised. “Oh, I get it. We all get it, believe me. We can wait, I swear. It's just...Krissy needs to take the others ahead to the road. Daryl will be waiting, and he might miss us entirely if we don't make it. You and I will wait for Alex to come back, then we'll join them.”
Carol pressed her lips together tightly and nodded. “I promise. Let's wait, like you said.” She turned slowly and walked back toward Krissy.
“They can all change too!”
Claire started to take off running, but Carol hissed at her. It surprised her, but the girl halted in her tracks and turned to look at her, face full of terror. Carol gave an imperceptible shake of her head and raised one finger in a 'wait' gesture. “Everybody changes in their own time, and you'll need safe people to feed off of. Remember, that's why” – she racked her brain – “Marcus wanted you? He and the governor said some kids your age were special?”
Lizzie frowned and reluctantly nodded. Carol continued, “If everybody changes, nobody can eat. Let them go find Daryl and wait for us. We'll wait for Alex.”
Carol gave Krissy the vampire woman Blake's knife and gave her own knife to Claire, who looked ready to kill with her bare hands if necessary, and Carol didn't want to put her through that. Ivy sucked a breath indignantly in, so Carol slung the automatic rifle across his shoulder. “Don't use this unless you absolutely must. It will draw walkers in.” Ivy nodded, again and again like a bobble head, and Carol surveyed the kids briefly.
Krissy looked at her with grave, questioning eyes, and Carol gave a short nod. Krissy relaxed. “We'll find Daryl and tell him,” she promised.
“We'll be fine,” Carol promised in return. “Go on now.”
The kids didn't have to be told twice. Claire had already been on her way, and Krissy and Ivy followed behind her. Carol hoped that they did indeed go find Daryl, but she put it at eighty versus twenty percent odds. Eighty betting on them running far and fast, never to be seen again.
Once they were out of sight, Carol composed her features and turned back to Lizzie. “I know! I'll just tie Alex up. You know...so she won't wander away if she wakes up. Then you and I can go get some wildflowers to give her. We passed some not far back. She'd enjoy that when she wakes up.”
“Yeah, she'd love that.”
Carol took the last of her paracord, which wasn't a whole lot, and moved forward carefully. To her surprise, Lizzie backed out of the way. The girl did seem more herself since she'd fed. She had good color, the right sized eyes, a smile, and what wits she'd ever had about her. Carol quickly tied Alex's ankles together. She didn't have enough for the wrists, but the feet would flummox a walker for a while. Then she stood up and smiled.
Lizzie's face, still covered in blood, smiled back at her. Carol looked away, looking down at her hands. Thanks to Daryl's diligence, she literally had blood on her hands. Carol shuddered and bent to pick up the machete. “Come on. Let's go look at the flowers, Lizzie.”