Forreston FL, 8 July 2010, 1000 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 4 months, 23 days

Jessica Montgomery knelt down. It wasn’t easy in the long dark gray dress. It had been a long time since she’d walked these grounds. Longer than it should have been. Guilt added its unique flavor to her sadness.

“Sorry I haven’t come to visit,” Jess said. She didn’t know what to expect. Talking to the dead always seemed so comforting. The granite headstone was silent. Maybe it was something that came with practice.

“So, I guess I came here to talk with someone,” Jess said, “Things are so screwed up. I mean, I haven’t stopped thinking about you, but the pain wasn’t as bad. I found someone, and I thought my life was going to be so good.” The tears trickled from the corners of her eyes. “Then. we went to Mexico, and we were winning, and then Billy died.” The words spilled out of her mouth. She had to get them out before all of her pent-up sorrow finally released. Jess collapsed next to her mother’s tombstone. Deep sobs wracked her body to the point of pain. Jess kept reliving the horrific memories of seeing Billy over her impaled on Giant’s whip. His confidant smile. His last words to her as Quentin hauled her out of the room. The shaking and deafening roar as the bomb exploded. All Jess could do was feel the pain and cry.

Jess’s sobs stop instantly as she felt the danger. The dress tore as Jess leapt to her feet. A thick fog surrounded her and blotted out the sun. She felt more than saw the figure as it emerged from the fog. The large coyote sat down in front of her mother’s grave. It was easily the size of a horse. She could feel the power roll off of the coyote like a warm breeze.

“You!” screamed Jess, “Where was your precious pack when I needed them? When Billy needed them? Why did you let him die?” The animal stood silent. Its even stare incensed Jess. She took two steps and threw a perfect punch. She felt the shock as her blow slammed into the animal’s muzzle.

“That was not my choice to make,” Coyote answered. The words echoed through her mind like thunder.

“Whose was it?” Jess demanded.

“Mine,” came the answer. The single word drove Jess to the ground. Coyote spoke like thunder. This was an earthquake. Jess slowly turned around. The wolf stood twenty feet tall and larger than the trailer Jess lived in for a time. The air became electrified with the raw power of Wolf stepping into the world.

“It has fallen to mine to protect the Key,” Wolf said, lowering the power of his voice, “My pack and my warriors are bound to protect the Key. Including sacrificing their lives for the Key.”

“So why was it Coyote’s pack in Mexico City?” Jessica shot back with an accusing tone.

“I had a warrior, and it was not time to reveal the full extent of my obligation,” Wolf answered, “And my brother always likes to have me in his debt.”

“So why are you here now?” Jess asked, “We destroyed the Key.” Wolf moved a tree-sized front leg to reveal a bright-eyed wolf pup. The pup locked eyes with Jess. A part of her mind opened up and she could feel the pup’s mind.

“It is time to foster some of my pack in this world,” Wolf answered. The pup bounded to Jess. As the enthusiastic animal knocked her to the ground, Jess realized the pup was already the size of a large German Shepard. Warmth and love poured through the new bond between the two. Wolf, Coyote, and the fog vanished in an instant. As Jess looked around for the two spirits, Slim rushed to her side.

“Are you alright?” Slim asked, scanning the graveyard with his submachine gun. Then he noticed the pup. “Where did that come from?”

“Wolf,” Jess answered softly. Something in her tone kept Slim from barraging her with questions.

“Okay,” Slim temporized, “So what’s the bugger’s name?” Jess looked down at the pup at her side. Her grief wasn’t gone, but the pure love and joy from the pup made it bearable.

“Billy.”

Barcelona, Spain, 9 July 2010, 2030 hours local, Countdown: 1 year, 4 months, 22 days

The groaning drew Alan away from the window. He put the enchanting flamenco dancers out of his mind as he stepped into the darkened apartment. Alan looked down at the shattered figure in the center of the room. As much as Alan had tasted his god’s power, it still amazed him that this man was still alive, much less starting to awaken.

“Go, tell Mr. Castle that Mikhail is awake,” Alan said to one of his assistants. The girl nodded and sprinted out of the room. Alan watched as Mikhail’s body continued to knit itself back together. Those new Truth-Warriors brought Mikhail to Barcelona in pieces. Alan took one look at the fragments of what had been the Truth’s greatest warrior and was sure Mikhail was gone. He didn’t understand why Castle looked so confident as he ordered Alan and his assistants to lay out the body. That was, until Mikhail’s body started coming back together. Mikhail’s eyes snapped open as Castle walked into the room. Mikhail tried to rise, but his weakened body collapsed under his effort. Castle locked eyes with Mikhail and shook his head. Mikhail let out a long breath and settled back. Alan walked up to Castle.

“If he keeps at this pace, he should be back up in less than a month,” Alan said. Castle didn’t say anything for a moment. He just stared at Mikhail.

“Good, he will be needed,” Castle answered. Absent-mindedly, Castle drew a sphere of pure obsidian out of his pocket. Alan’s eyes were drawn to the baseball sized gleaming black glass.

“In the meantime, I have another assignment for you,” Castle said, turning to Alan. He held out the dark sphere to the Truth’s top sorcerer. “I need you to open the Key.”

London, Great Britain, 10 July 2010, 2100 hours local, Countdown: 1 year, 4 months, 21 days

Collin DuBois was ushered into Simon West’s library. The lord who owned the house before Simon had been a voracious reader. His extensive and valuable collection of books came with the house. Collin would have been more impressed if he thought Simon had actually read any of them. Simon sat in an overstuffed leather chair that looked like it had come out of an old bankers’ office. The handsome crime boss leisurely held a snifter of brandy and smiled as Collin stepped into the room. It took all of Collin’s self-control not to reach out and snap the man’s neck. Simon seemed to relish in Collin’s internal torment. The two men stared at each other in silence. Finally, Collin broke the silence.

“Why did you ask me to come here West?” Collin demanded.

“Your employers wanted to speak with you,” Simon answered cryptically. He laughed at Collin’s confusion.

“What are you talking about?” Collin asked.

“Oh wake up, boyo. Why would I care about what your group of zombie killers were up to?” Simon asked. Simon let out an evil laugh as he saw understanding dawn on Collin’s face. Before Collin could respond, Simon held up an envelope.

“Here are your instructions,” Simon said, handing the envelope to Collin. Inside the envelope was a cell phone. Collin pressed the redial button.

“Sergeant DuBois, who I am is not important,” the American said. The voice was cool, controlled, and professional. “On the phone are three photos. These should be considered proof of life.” Collin opened the messages. His sister was strapped to a bed. The morning’s Guardian was placed on her chest.

“Your sister will not be harmed as long as you do what we want,” the voice continued, “Further, Mr. West has agreed to release her of any and all debts. In return, we want you to kill Kenn Blanchard.”

Zombie Strike Part 6 Chapter 44