There are three rules to surviving the walking dead. There have always been three rules to surviving the walking dead.
The first rule is to double tap. Always, always double tap.
Shao Lee kicked the prone corpse on the ground, making sure it was well and truly dead. Two bullets to the head, that usually did it. Beheading worked too but shooting was better, easier.
He could finally appreciate the pistol.
Blood coated his hands and was splattered down the front of his shirt. He reloaded his pistol and fished out a dirtied satchel from under a pile of rubble; the results of his scavenging trip. He slung it over his shoulder and set off back to the creek where he'd agreed to rendezvous with Charden.
The ground underneath his feet was soaked through with blood and snow that had turned to slush, muffling his footsteps. Everything around him was practically silent and the air was heavy with scent of blood and rot. He'd long since gotten used to that.
Down by the creek, the air was slightly fresher; they didn't often go into forested areas, preferring places where humans would be easier to find. He crouched down to the creek to wash his hands off and frowned.
There was blood in the water.
A little ways upstream, a woman's body lay on its side. Her head hung over the edge of the bank. Blood dripped from an open wound in her temple.
"She did it to herself." Charden dropped down from the lower branches of an oak tree even further upstream, "You look surprised."
Shao looked at the knife on Charden's belt, his eyebrow raised. There was a deep injury in the woman's arm and another slash on her shoulder.
The second rule is to attack or defend yourself first. See who it was later.
"I get the feeling you might have played a part in driving her to that."
"Dog eat dog world, Number."
Shao just rolled his eyes and joined the other man just upstream, where the creek was clear. He crouched down and re-filled their flasks. The lack of running water in the catacombs they spent their days in meant risky trips to the surface more often than Shao would have liked.
Charden lightly kicked at the satchel, "How much?"
"As well as what we already had, we can last another week or so." Shao put the caps back on the flasks and stood up. Mud clung to the knees of his already filthy trousers and he screwed his nose up. He'd do anything for a shower and clean clothes.
Charden stored the flasks in the tattered rucksack he carried around, apparently left behind by Kyoko Kirisaki. Judging by the iron-on patches, Shao could very well believe it.
The wind rasped through the branches of the trees. The hair on the back of Shao's neck stood on end. It was quiet, unnaturally so; there was no birdsong, no sound of animals moving through the undergrowth on the other side of the creek. There weren't even any insects. He glanced down at the body downstream.
He knew this silence, this stillness.
"We have to go," he said, shortening the strap of the satchel so it didn't bang on his hip too much or slow him down, "Now."
Charden followed his gaze and nodded. He shouldered the rucksack and turned to follow the creek upstream, out of the forest. Shao followed close behind. The mud sucked his feet down and he hoped they'd be able to get out of the forest and into the clear before they came.
There was a low moan and he pulled the pistol from its holster. One of them forced its way through the trees. Its hair hung low and greasy over its peeling forehead and its eyes were glazed over. He brought the pistol up to shoulder height and fired. The bullet struck it in the shoulder and he stumbled back, groaning.
Charden swore and threw his gloves on the ground, taking out his knife and drawing the blade across his palm. Blood flowed out of the wound, immediately taking shape as a scythe. He swept his arm in a smooth arc and the scythe followed, cleaving cleanly through the creature's neck. It gurgled and crumpled to the ground, its head rolling off of its shoulders.
"There's usually more than one," he said quietly, "There should be a second at least."
He was right. They hunted at least in pairs. It was mere child's play to take one down; as a group, they could wear down the ones they hunted.
A twig snapped behind them and they both swung round. The woman from the creek bank lurched forward and gripped at Shao's shirt. Her mouth was wide open and she leant in towards his neck. He shoved her back and aimed the gun at her head. She gripped his trouser leg and opened her mouth again to bite his knee right as he fired the gun.
Two shots, to the crown. There wasn't even time for a groan.
Shao pushed her hands away from him and stepped back, willing his heart rate to slow again. That had been the closest he'd come to being infected; usually, he destroyedthem before they had the chance to get near him.
"Are you all right?" Charden asked, drawing his blood back into the wound on his hand.
Heavy snowflakes started falling and Shao shivered, pulling his jacket as close to his body as possible. The sooner they started moving back to their catacombs, the better. Charden tucked his gloves into his pocket and they moved to find the road again. The road was safe; it was clear, there were no hiding places for them.
The snow on the sides of the road had been turned into slush, closer to water than snow. Shao frowned. Who or what could have done it? No one living came to this part of the city any more.
They splashed through a wide puddle that stretched across the road and the freezing water was dark with grime. Shao tightened his hold on the pistol and turned to Charden.
The other man was no longer following him. Instead, he'd stopped a few metres back, staring at an approaching figure in disbelief.
"What are you doing?" Shao took a few steps towards Charden but the former Apostle held up a hand.
"Wait there," he said, his voice empty. He set off towards the figure but made no move to take his knife from his belt. Shao could only stare; why was he being so reckless?
He scowled and followed Charden towards the figure. Stupid man; there was never, ever only one, not in open areas, where they moved in packs. Especially when the snow on the side of the road showed that something had moved through here very recently.
"Kyoko…?" Charden voice was quiet, hesitant, "…No."
His hand moved towards his knife and the girl lunged towards him. The knife dropped to the ground and Kyoko leant in to his neck. Shao could see the blood that streaked her face and crusted the front of her shirt.
Shao grabbed at his pistol just as Kyoko bit down on Charden's neck, breaking the skin. He shot at her once and she pulled away, turning towards him with a snarl. Blood smeared her teeth and he could feel himself shaking. Her eyes were dead and empty.
The second bullet tore into her chest and she staggered back. He used that moment to quickly reload before she recovered. He glanced towards Charden, who had his hand pressed against the bleeding wound on his neck.
Kyoko launched herself at Shao again, disregarding the wound in her chest. He knocked her to the side and she rolled before getting to her feet again. She snarled again and when she lunged for him a third time, he fired again, this time hitting her in the knee. She collapsed to the ground with an inhuman shriek and he fired a third time, striking her in the head.
Shao lowered the gun, his stomach churning; it was always easier when it was someone he didn't know or someone declared as a threat to the world. Kyoko…she was a reformed character, and a teenager to boot.
He shuddered and looked away from her, turning to Charden instead. The other man had slumped to the ground. His clothes were coated in blood, slick and shining in the weak sunlight. He crouched down alongside Charden and pulled a rag out of the backpack, reaching to press it against the bleeding wound on Charden's neck.
Charden grabbed his wrist and pushed the cloth away, nudging the backpack towards him, "Go. Take it and go."
"You want me to just leave you here?"
"You don't have a choice. There'll be more of them. I can't be helped. Now go."
Shao took the backpack and pressed the rag into Charden's hand before standing up and backing away. Charden made a shooing motion with his hand and Shao hoisted the backpack onto his shoulders, over the strap of the satchel.
Charden showed his bloodied hand, "They'll smell it. Now go, Number. Run like they're already on your heels."
Shao took a few steps backwards before he turned his back on Charden and left the other man, keeping his head down, guilt welling up in his chest. Throughout this whole catastrophe, Charden had been by his side, despite his hatred for Chronos. The two of them had initially only used each other for survival but Charden had become his only company, his only human contact.
It felt wrong to just leave him alone and bleeding out beside a snowy road.
Shao stopped and looked back at Charden. The former Apostle had slumped onto his side, his chest rising and falling with his breathing. Shao sucked his lower lip into his mouth, tempted to go back and pull Charden onto his back and carry him back to the catacombs and treat his injuries. Charden pushed himself up, so his weight was supported by his elbow, and pointed.
Shao turned in the direction Charden was pointing and swore under his breath; a pack of three of them were heading towards him, drawn in by the scent of warm blood and the promise of fresh meat. He turned back towards Charden, his hand twitching towards the pistol on his belt.
The third and final rule of surviving the walking dead: never, ever hesitate.
Ignoring the low rumbling in the distance, the pack picked up speed. Shao pulled the pistol from his belt and turned to aim it at the leader. Its ragged clothes were streaked with grime and blood, most of it dried and crusty. One of them carried a metal bat that was coated with dried blood and mud.
The three of them separated and circled Shao and the injured Charden. Shao could hear Charden's groans and low curses behind him, damning him for his stupidity in hesitating. One of them moved in closer and hissed.
This was something new; they were playing with their food. He hadn't encountered any that had been walking around long enough to actively hunt and toy with their intended victims. Most that he'd seen had just attacked with no other intention than to feed and infect.
Shao clicked the safety off of the pistol and fired at the feet of the only woman in the group and she snarled at him. One of them stumbled over the prone body of Kyoko but it didn't halt in its circling. All three ignored Charden, instead focussing on Shao.
The woman charged at him, her filthy hair swinging like rat tails around her face. Shao darted to the side and immediately dropped to the ground to avoid the grabbing hands of one of the men. He swore under his breath; it was in situations like these that he depended on Charden.
Another groan from Charden tipped Shao off to the fact that it would soon be four against one and he barely had a chance as it was.
The man with the bat swung it towards Shao and he ducked; the bat sailed over his head and the man growled in frustration.
The low rumbling was drawing closer and the woman halted in her advances, looking out along the road. Shao ducked out towards the road and the bat swung towards him again, this time striking him in the back of the head. He heard himself cry out and the low grunts of the one who'd struck him. The second man seized the backpack and Shao shrugged the straps off, leaving it hanging in the man's hand.
He stumbled towards the road, away from the group and away from Charden. He could hear footsteps trudging behind him; they'd follow him now, until he collapsed. When that happens, they'll descend on him and rip him apart…
The blaring of a car horn broke through the haze in his head and he covered his ears, trying to keep his pounding head from getting any worse. Someone landed heavily on top of him, knocking him to the ground right as gunfire exploded over his head. Stars exploded in front of his eyes and he closed them.
There was a voice swearing right by his ear and the shrieks of the pack that had attacked him. Shao moved to press a hand against the injury on the back of his head, sticky blood welling up between his fingers. The gunfire overhead ceased when every member of the pack behind had fallen to the ground with a thump.
Through the fog in his head, Shao wondered if Charden had been with them.
"You were one tough bastard to find, you know that?"
Wait. Shao knew that voice. He opened his eyes and tried to prop himself up on his elbows.
The weight on top of him shifted and someone grabbed his shoulder and rolled him onto his back, cushioning his head with their arm. Shao winced and blinked to clear his vision.
"You're a damn lucky bastard as well."
There were more voices and the sound of a car door opening. Shao could hear someone calling for a medical kit, clean warm water and soap. His vision still blurred, Shao rubbed at his eyes, grimacing from the pain in his head.
When he moved his hand away and his vision cleared, Shao found himself looking up at the familiar scowl of Baldorias Fanghini.