Johannesburg, South Africa, 1 June 2011, 2100 hours local; Countdown: 7 months
The man known as Castle studied the report on his tablet. Zombie outbreaks caused by the Truth’s sorcerers and Champions were pushing the world just as he expected. The panicked populaces were demanding strong and capable men and women to lead them through these troubled times. Men and women the Truth was more than willing to provide, even if the populaces didn’t know who their true benefactor was. With the report in his hands, Castle’s chosen acolytes were now in control of Africa, Latin America, most of Asia (with the noticeable exception of China), and nearly all of the old Soviet bloc in Europe. Even in those nations not under the direct control of the Truth, Castle’s people held key positions in business, governments, and the media.
Commentators were calling it the second rise of the dictators. Many were trying to bring back the ghosts of Stalin, Hitler, and all those other ruthless dictators that slaughtered their own citizens in job lots. Most people didn’t really care. There were zombies rising and wiping out entire towns. Even the mighty Americans couldn’t protect the world from this threat. As far as most of the world cared, protection from zombies was far more important than little things like freedom and the rule of law. Well, if everything worked as prophesized, in seven months the zombies will no longer be needed. The Truth will have saved the world from the Great Death, and the Truth would take its rightful place as the supreme religion of the world. Castle took a sip of the rum from the crystal tumbler and smiled. Most men never saw the dawning of a new age, much less led the change, albeit from the shadows.
Alan walked into the office without knocking. Castle swallowed his annoyance as his head sorcerer strode into the room and plopped into a leather chair. Of all of his direct subordinates, Alan was probably the most arrogant, brash, and outspoken. Castle ignored all of that because Alan was perhaps the greatest sorcerer the Truth had produced. The Flayed One liked this American for some reason, and Castle wasn’t about to cross his god’s apparent wishes.
"Flayed One, I’ll be glad when I can get these bandages off," Alan said. Half of the man’s face was covered in thick white bandages. "If I ever get my hands on that Brit with the grenade launcher…" Alan’s voice trailed off.
"At least Zombie Strike didn’t succeed," Castle said. The freelance zombie hunters were becoming a real problem for the Truth. In the time since the Little Death escaped into this world, Zombie Strike had been hitting Truth installations all over the globe. Several key operations were disrupted and two nations were kept from coming under Castle’s dominance. All Castle could do was have them branded as terrorists in most of the world.
"Has Mikhail had any luck in running down the mole?" Castle asked. Castle was convinced there was a mole in the Truth. Zombie Strike was just hitting too many targets at the most opportune time.
"Actually, I think we’re trying to hunt down the viper," Alan said dismissively.
"What do you mean?" Castle asked, confused by the statement.
"Old GI Joe episode. One of the Joes keeps getting telephone calls from someone in a thick accent that calls himself the Viper and leaves cryptic messages. The Joes end up crashing a whole slew of Cobra ops. Everyone keeps wondering who this wonderful source of intel is. Turns out it was a little old man who was coming to wash the windows. I’ve come to vipe your vindows."
"As charming as that sounds, what is your point?" Castle asked, his reservoir of patience quickly draining.
"I asked our computer guys to see what files were being dumped first from the last three times Zombie Strike hit us," Alan said, "Want to guess?" Castle gave Alan a weary expression.
"Files regarding the prophecies," Alan announced. "I think that they’re focusing on getting the prophecies, and all the disruption to our activities is just a byproduct." Castle’s eyebrow crooked upward. As much as he hated it, Alan’s theory was plausible. The prophecies surrounding the Great Death were some of the Truth’s most guarded secrets, and as a consequence, were stored in the same places that many of their other sensitive activities were occurring.
"Assuming you’re correct, do we know how much of the prophecies they have acquired?" Castle asked.
"We should know in a few days," Alan said, "I handed it over to Frederick." Castle nodded in agreement. Frederick was the Truth’s head security specialist. He knew what resources to use for this kind of investigation.
"We’ll give Frederick some time to run this theory of yours down a bit," Castle said, "I want your people to use that time to prepare. If he confirms your theory, then I want to move quickly on our next operation. Zombie Strike must still be recovering from the last battle, and I don’t want them involved if we can help it."
"What operation?" Alan asked, "Why wasn’t I told about this?"
"Because you were still recovering from the Brit’s white phosphorous grenade," Castle explained. "I did most of the work while I’ve been here." Alan smirked, and then groaned in pain. The same attack where Alan was wounded also nearly revealed Castle to Zombie Strike. The Truth’s leader fled to the safehouse in Johannesburg. It was secure, but it lacked many of the luxuries the Truth’s headquarters in Lisbon possessed.
"So what’s the plan?" Alan asked. Castle brought up a map on the tablet and showed it to Alan. The sorcerer let out an off-key whistle. "That’s a bit on the audacious side, isn’t it? Did you consult the Flayed One about this?"
"Are you questioning my ability?" Castle snapped. Alan held up his hands in mock surrender.
"No, relax," Alan said, "I think it’s a good operation, but for something this big, we’ll need the Flayed One’s blessing. If for no other reason than to increase the ability of my people."
"I see your point," Castle conceded, "Yes, we have his blessing. If all goes well, then we will fulfill another stanza of the prophecy, and we will control the United States."