Mumbai, India; 30 September 2011, 1500 hours local; Countdown: 3 months
Alan, the Truth’s strongest sorcerer, looked up as his leader walked into the apartment. Castle was still recovering from his injuries. It made the Truth’s leader a cranky man. Considering how many times Alan had been cut, shot, burned, and blown up in the service of the Truth, he wasn’t feeling all that sympathetic just because Castle got knocked out by the blast of one of Zombie Strike’s grenades. Alan rubbed the scar on his face and once again silently promised vengeance against that short Brit with the grenade launcher.
"Mikhail hasn’t returned?" Castle asked as he dropped into one of the over-stuffed chair’s in the apartment’s sitting room. An acolyte bustled over with Castle’s tea.
"No. Our operation in Belize ran into some opposition," Alan said, joining Castle in the sitting room.
"Zombie Strike?" Castle asked, snarling as he spoke the name. Alan noticed the venom in his leader’s voice. For the past couple of years, Castle just considered Zombie Strike an annoyance. Mateo Cortez, Zombie Strike’s field leader, figured heavily in the prophecies guiding the Truth, but other than that, Castle always dismissed the team. Not anymore.
"Surprisingly, an armed response team from that insurance firm," Alan answered. Castle grunted in response.
"Is there some reason we don’t have our people in the British government just close that firm down?" Alan asked.
"MacKenzie and Winston isn’t your normal insurance firm," Castle answered, "They don’t sell car insurance or anything else so petty. They insure things like large corporations, NGOs, governments, and other insurance firms. According to our cat’s-paws in the British government, M&W threatened to destroy the international economy if we try to shutter them."
"Worse than it is now?" Alan asked incredulously. Between the destruction of Earth’s satellite constellation and the instability caused from constant zombie outbreaks, the world economy was going through a depression at least as bad as the Great Depression.
"I believe them. The economy’s bad, but the foundations are there. M&W could tear things apart so bad we wouldn’t have anything to work with after the coming of the Flayed One." Castle drained his glass and looked at Alan. "Speaking of the coming, have you had any success with the Key?"
"No. I have my people going back through the prophecies that deal with the Key to see if we missed something." Castle frowned at Alan’s words, but he didn’t say anything. Alan felt the opening and took it. "I don’t think that artifact is the actual Key."
"What do you mean?" Castle asked, sitting up in surprise.
"It’s got some power, but it’s not as strong as I would expect from something like the Key. Not nearly enough," Alan said. "One of the things I’m doing is looking at what actually happened in Mexico when Mikhail retrieved it. Thank the Flayed One our soldiers were meticulous in their reports."
"If that isn’t the Key, then where is it?" Castle asked.
Skull Island, 30 September 2011; 1300 hours local; Countdown: 3 months
Quentin McLintock stood in front of the team shuffling his notes. He looked up at the team. They were such a strange group of survivors. All of them were scarred physically or emotionally or both. Still, these were his friends. His family. He wished he could give them better news. Quentin straightened his shoulders and tried to keep his fear from showing.
"Jess and I have been examining all of the material surrounding the prophecies we’ve harvested from our raids on the Truth’s strongholds. They pretty much wrote down anything one of their prophets said. I’m pretty sure the Truth hasn’t figured out all of what’s actually prophecy and what are the nonsensical ramblings of a madman. They were nice enough to leave some passages highlighted for us." There was a dark chuckle from the team.
"We found the date of Xipe Totec’s coming," Quentin announced, "It’s going to be a busy New Year’s Eve."
"How sure are you on this?" Chief Stahl asked.
"I’m very confidant. Several different prophets mention that the coming will happen on the turning before the Mayan calendar will reset. That happens December of next year. Two of the prophets mention that it will occur between the invaders’ years. I consulted with some experts and the consensus is that means the night of December 31st."
"Have you figured out what I’m supposed to do with all of this?" Mateo asked. Quentin looked over at his friend and leader. Quentin didn’t know the details, but Mateo hadn’t been himself since Robyn suddenly packed up and left a while back. Since then, Mateo was emotionally distant from the team and focused on two things: stopping the Truth and killing Giant.
"There’s mention of a Chooser, an Undecided, a Champion, a Betrayer, and a Key," Quentin said. "We know Chief Stahl is the Undecided. Giant told us that back in South Africa. I think the Key is what they were after Mexico City was destroyed, but the passages aren’t clear if the Key is an artifact or a person. I think the Champion is Giant, but I could be wrong."
"I can’t believe Mateo would be a Betrayer," Jess said, looking at her foster father. He didn’t say anything. Jess tried to comfort Mateo after Robyn left, but he was just as distant with her as with the rest of the team.
"Have you figured out where this coming is supposed to occur?" Stahl asked.
"Not really. There’s mention of a city of the dead or a city of death. It’s not exactly clear. The best I can tell you is that it’s on the North American continent."
"Way to narrow the field mate," Sport said sarcastically. Quentin frowned at the diminutive Brit. Of all of Zombie Strike, Sport was the one Quentin knew the least about and disliked the most. The man just ran too hot and cold. Sometimes he was the best team player, others it was like he hated everyone.
"Actually, there might be a way. Depending on how much you trust you put in these prophecies," Quentin replied. Mateo motioned for him to continue. "One of the passages is a long speech by a former conquistador who the Aztecs turned into a prophet."
"How’d they do that?" Jim asked.
"You don’t want to know," Jess answered, visibly shaking, "That was one thing I wish I could unread and purge from my mind."
"It’s pretty gruesome and only worked a couple of times," Quentin continued, "This one though talked about how the Undecided would find the place of the coming. He would return to the beginning of the word."
"Go back to the beginning of the word? What the hell does that mean?" asked Stahl.
"I was getting to that. From my studies of this sect of Xipe Totec worshippers, the words for word and truth are used interchangeably. To speak the word is to speak the truth sort of thing. We have to go back to the beginning of the Truth."
"Dude, does The Steve and everyone have to go back to that island with the temple?" The Steve asked. Quentin shuddered as memories of Zombie Strike’s first battle with the forces of Xipe Totec.
"No," answered Kenn Blanchard as he walked into the conference room. "It means we have to go back to where the Truth was formed. Where Castle discovered the first artifact and the prophecies that would guide him."
"You know where this is?" Mateo asked.
"After Quentin told me what he’d found, I had a little chat with M&W. After some discussion, they released everything for distribution." Mateo gave Kenn a hard stare.
"They’ve been holding information back from us?" Mateo asked, "Even now, they’ve been holding back information? You tell our superiors in M&W that if I find out something they held back got one of my people killed or injured, there will be a reckoning." Mateo’s voice was cold as dry ice as he spoke. Kenn just nodded.
"So, where exactly are we jetting off to?" Jim asked, trying to diffuse the sudden tension in the room.
"At first, Barcelona."