Mumbai, India; 30 September 2011, 1500 hours local; Countdown: 3 months
Alan, the Truthâ€™s strongest sorcerer, looked up as his leader walked into the apartment. Castle was still recovering from his injuries. It made the Truthâ€™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 wasnâ€™t feeling all that sympathetic just because Castle got knocked out by the blast of one of Zombie Strikeâ€™s grenades. Alan rubbed the scar on his face and once again silently promised vengeance against that short Brit with the grenade launcher.
â€œMikhail hasnâ€™t returned?â€ Castle asked as he dropped into one of the over-stuffed chairâ€™s in the apartmentâ€™s sitting room. An acolyte bustled over with Castleâ€™s tea.
â€œNo. Our operation in Belize ran into some opposition,â€ Alan said, joining Castle in the sitting room.
â€œZombie Strike?â€ Castle asked, snarling as he spoke the name. Alan noticed the venom in his leaderâ€™s voice. For the past couple of years, Castle just considered Zombie Strike an annoyance. Mateo Cortez, Zombie Strikeâ€™s field leader, figured heavily in the prophecies guiding the Truth, but other than that, Castle always dismissed the team. Not anymore.
â€œSurprisingly, an armed response team from that insurance firm,â€ Alan answered. Castle grunted in response.
â€œIs there some reason we donâ€™t have our people in the British government just close that firm down?â€ Alan asked.
â€œMacKenzie and Winston isnâ€™t your normal insurance firm,â€ Castle answered, â€œThey donâ€™t sell car insurance or anything else so petty. They insure things like large corporations, NGOs, governments, and other insurance firms. According to our catâ€™s-paws in the British government, M&W threatened to destroy the international economy if we try to shutter them.â€
â€œWorse than it is now?â€ Alan asked incredulously. Between the destruction of Earthâ€™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.
â€œI believe them. The economyâ€™s bad, but the foundations are there. M&W could tear things apart so bad we wouldnâ€™t have anything to work with after the coming of the Flayed One.â€ Castle drained his glass and looked at Alan. â€œSpeaking of the coming, have you had any success with the Key?â€
â€œNo. I have my people going back through the prophecies that deal with the Key to see if we missed something.â€ Castle frowned at Alanâ€™s words, but he didnâ€™t say anything. Alan felt the opening and took it. â€œI donâ€™t think that artifact is the actual Key.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Castle asked, sitting up in surprise.
â€œItâ€™s got some power, but itâ€™s not as strong as I would expect from something like the Key. Not nearly enough,â€ Alan said. â€œOne of the things Iâ€™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.â€
â€œIf that isnâ€™t the Key, then where is it?â€ 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.
â€œJess and I have been examining all of the material surrounding the prophecies weâ€™ve harvested from our raids on the Truthâ€™s strongholds. They pretty much wrote down anything one of their prophets said. Iâ€™m pretty sure the Truth hasnâ€™t figured out all of whatâ€™s actually prophecy and what are the nonsensical ramblings of a madman. They were nice enough to leave some passages highlighted for us.â€ There was a dark chuckle from the team.
â€œWe found the date of Xipe Totecâ€™s coming,â€ Quentin announced, â€œItâ€™s going to be a busy New Yearâ€™s Eve.â€
â€œHow sure are you on this?â€ Chief Stahl asked.
â€œIâ€™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 invadersâ€™ years. I consulted with some experts and the consensus is that means the night of December 31st.â€
â€œHave you figured out what Iâ€™m supposed to do with all of this?â€ Mateo asked. Quentin looked over at his friend and leader. Quentin didnâ€™t know the details, but Mateo hadnâ€™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.
â€œThereâ€™s mention of a Chooser, an Undecided, a Champion, a Betrayer, and a Key,â€ Quentin said. â€œWe 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 arenâ€™t clear if the Key is an artifact or a person. I think the Champion is Giant, but I could be wrong.â€
â€œI canâ€™t believe Mateo would be a Betrayer,â€ Jess said, looking at her foster father. He didnâ€™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.
â€œHave you figured out where this coming is supposed to occur?â€ Stahl asked.
â€œNot really. Thereâ€™s mention of a city of the dead or a city of death. Itâ€™s not exactly clear. The best I can tell you is that itâ€™s on the North American continent.â€
â€œWay to narrow the field mate,â€ 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.
â€œActually, there might be a way. Depending on how much you trust you put in these prophecies,â€ Quentin replied. Mateo motioned for him to continue. â€œOne of the passages is a long speech by a former conquistador who the Aztecs turned into a prophet.â€
â€œHowâ€™d they do that?â€ Jim asked.
â€œYou donâ€™t want to know,â€ Jess answered, visibly shaking, â€œThat was one thing I wish I could unread and purge from my mind.â€
â€œItâ€™s pretty gruesome and only worked a couple of times,â€ Quentin continued, â€œThis one though talked about how the Undecided would find the place of the coming. He would return to the beginning of the word.â€
â€œGo back to the beginning of the word? What the hell does that mean?â€ asked Stahl.
â€œI 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.â€
â€œDude, does The Steve and everyone have to go back to that island with the temple?â€ The Steve asked. Quentin shuddered as memories of Zombie Strikeâ€™s first battle with the forces of Xipe Totec.
â€œNo,â€ answered Kenn Blanchard as he walked into the conference room. â€œIt 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.â€
â€œYou know where this is?â€ Mateo asked.
â€œAfter Quentin told me what heâ€™d found, I had a little chat with M&W. After some discussion, they released everything for distribution.â€ Mateo gave Kenn a hard stare.
â€œTheyâ€™ve been holding information back from us?â€ Mateo asked, â€œEven now, theyâ€™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.â€ Mateoâ€™s voice was cold as dry ice as he spoke. Kenn just nodded.
â€œSo, where exactly are we jetting off to?â€ Jim asked, trying to diffuse the sudden tension in the room.
â€œAt first, Barcelona.â€
[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 98]