The village of Rosca, island of Corsica, 14 August 2010, 0310 Hours Local: Countdown: 1 Year, 2 months, 16 days
Mateo Cortez scowled as Alan emerged into the hallway. The tall sorcerer’s dark robes stood out against the concrete gray of the walls and floor. He looked surprised and amused to see the Zombie Strike team. Alan was holding a bloody knife in one hand. With the other he was dragging the rigid form of Collin DuBois. Mateo couldn’t tell if Collin was alive or dead.
Jim stepped to Mateo’s side, his Big Horn lever action at his shoulder. The hallway rocked with the rifle’s booming report. Red splattered the sterile gray wall as Alan spun and fell to the ground. Mateo shook his head, trying to clear the concussive effects of the big gun. He spun to reprimand the big cowboy. Jim had good reason to want Alan dead, but that didn’t give him a reason to deafen the team. Mate froze as Alan stood back up. The smiling face was gone. Alan looked annoyed.
“Nathan, that’s twice you’ve shot me,” Alan said, calling Jim by his old name. Alan’s voice sounded tinny to Mateo’s recovering ears. Jim didn’t say anything. The cowboy just casually worked the lever action and brought the weapon back up. Alan sniffed at the weapon pointed at him.
“Don’t bother, I’ve already invoked a protection spell,” Alan said. To demonstrate, he waved his knife in front of him. Purple energy sparked in the air. Mateo waved his team down. No sense in wasting ammunition.
“I told you to stay away from these people Nathan,” Alan said pointing his knife at the team. “You had the chance to be spared their fate!”
“You really expect me to believe you? Or stand aside if I did?” Jim asked in response.
“I suppose not. I guess I owe Mikhail five euros.” Mateo’s ears perked up. Mikhail, better known as Giant to Zombie Strike, had been the leader of the Truth’s so-called Champions. Zombie Strike still called them minions.
“So he didn’t die in Mexico City. That’s annoying,” Mateo said, trying to keep his voice even and casual.
“You didn’t think something like that would have killed him?” Alan asked, sounding a bit surprised, “Haven’t you figured it out? He is more than just a Champion; he’s the Chosen of Xipe-Totec. The man is immortal.” Alan made it sound like this was common knowledge.
“I’ve seen him bleed. I’ve seen him hurt. If I can hurt him and bleed him, I can kill him,” Mateo said.
“You would need that attitude,” Alan said, musingly. The sorcerer fell silent. Mateo wasn’t sure what to do. Alan had them dead to rights. With that magic knife, Alan could unleash a blast that could incinerate all of them before they could move. They couldn’t do anything against that shield. So what was the sorcerer waiting for?
Billy growled. The sound caught Mateo off-guard. He was turning to look at what Billy was growling at when Jess let loose a string of curses. Mateo heard the quiet pop of her SCAR. At the sound of gunfire, the team moved to face the new threat. Mateo whirled to see the alien-looking creature as it stepped off the stairs. He’d lost track of it during the fight with zombies. He hoped it wasn’t a fatal mistake. Jess kept firing, her hits ranging from center mass to head shots. The creature just absorbed the gunshots. Thick, black fluid oozed out of the bullet holes. If it felt pain, it didn’t show it. The creature lashed out, using its long arms like whips. One arm slashed across Jess’s body. Her SCAR clattered on the concrete floor as she shrunk back to a kneeling position, whimpering in pain.
The creature’s other arm lanced out at Quentin. The big man casually batted the green-wrapped appendage with his warhammer. As big as Quentin was, Mateo sometimes forgot how fast he could move. Quentin charged the creature. He thrust his hammer into the creature’s midsection. It swayed with the blow. Quentin didn’t wait for it to spring back. His arm drove the hammer down into the creature’s foot. The creature let out its unearthly screech. Quentin shoved the creature to the ground. With ruthless determination, Quentin hammered each joint starting from the ankles up. The creature couldn’t even muster a defense. It just writhed on the floor. With each wet crunch of the hammer finding a new mark, the creature screeched in pain. After both shoulders were destroyed, the screeching took on a new tone. It almost sounded as if the creature was crying. Mateo walked up and laid his hand on Quentin. The big man stopped.
“Finish it,” Mateo said. Quentin just nodded and brought the hammer down on the creature’s head. The disturbing sounds stopped. Mateo crouched down next to his foster daughter. She was clutching Billy as if the wolf was a life preserver. He tried to coax her into looking at him, but she just flinched from his touch and gripped Billy tighter.
“What did that thing do to her?” Mateo demanded from Alan. The sorcerer had propped Collin’s still form against a wall and was sitting cross-legged on the ground.
“I really should have considered that you might use that kind of blunt force trauma on Albert,” Alan said, focusing on the still form of the creature. Mateo slammed the shield with the butt of his M4. Brilliant purple sparks of energy cascaded in the air where the gun hit the shield. A startled Alan looked up at Mateo.
“What in the Flayed One’s name do you think you’re doing?” Alan asked, scooting back a few feet.
“What did you do to my daughter?” Mateo asked again, his voice tight with rage.
“Oh that. Enhanced neurotoxin. She’s feeling all of her emotional trauma for the last year or so all at once. From her reaction, I’d say she has had a rough year. I’m going to have to remember that.” Alan looked absolutely pleased with himself. Mateo could only stare at the sorcerer in shock. Alan looked past Mateo.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Alan said to Tredegar. The FBI agent was standing over Jess with an injector in hand. “The toxin reacts poorly to sedatives. It’ll set off every pain sensor in the body.”
“You’re a monster,” Tredegar said, putting away the injector.
“Actually, I’m not. I’m a faithful and powerful servant of the Flayed One,” Alan said. “Those are monsters.” He produced an alarm fob from under his robes. With a press of a button, the other doors in the corridor slid open. The team fell back to surround Jess in a circle of firepower. Billy growled. As Alan giggled, something out of Mateo’s nightmares slid out of one of the doors.