Odessa, Ukraine; 4 October 2011, 1425 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 27 days
Quentin McLintock charged the sorcerer as the man began uttering words to a spell. Like most folks, the sorcerer didn’t realize exactly how fast someone Quentin’s size could move. One moment, the Truth sorcerer was waving his hands and chanting, the next Quentin was slamming the four-foot iron rebar into the man’s midsection. Quentin felt the ribcage give way as the iron bar folded the man in half. The sorcerer grunted and fell to the ground. He didn’t get back up. Quentin whirled on the next sorcerer to take down. The shock wave picked him up and threw him into a wall of the courtyard. As Quentin looked up, he saw what caused the blast. Alan stood in the middle of the courtyard, his scarred face scowling as blood poured from his now-broken nose. Jim must have gotten in his first lick. The cowboy picked himself up off the cobblestone ground and dusted himself off. Jim gave Alan a satisfied grin.
"Not expecting that?" Jim asked.
"I’ll admit that you caught me off-guard," Alan said, wiping the blood with hand, "So, you’ve hurt me. You got your lick in. Now, do me a favor and go away before I have to kill you."
"You’re still not getting it Alan. I’m not letting you leave this courtyard alive. You’ve caused enough damage," Jim said. Before Alan could respond, Jim charged the Truth’s lead sorcerer. Alan threw his hand up to cast a shield. Jim bounced off the sudden energy barrier, but he didn’t fall back. Instead, Jim angled the bounce to hit a wall to Alan’s right, and launched off from the wall to attack the sorcerer from a new direction. It was like human billiards. Alan tried to swing his shield around, but Jim’s fist connected with the sorcerer’s body first. Alan grunted and slid back a few feet.
"Nice trick Jim," Alan grunted, holding his injured side, "Looks like I’m going to have to actually take you seriously."
"About time," Jim answered, wrapping his scraped and bleeding fists with a couple of handkerchiefs.
"Just to make it clear, I don’t want to kill you. I’ll stop the moment you relent," Alan said, trying to plead with the cowboy.
"Don’t you worry about that. I’ll relent when you’re dead," Jim said. The courtyard grew silent. Everyone’s attention was riveted on the two combatants. Jim and Alan were still as statues as they stared at each other. Tense moments passed.
"DIE!" Alan yelled, releasing a bolt of black-purple energy. Jim slid under the bolt like a baseball player sliding into home plate. Alan stepped back as Jim leapt up with a punch. Jim pressed forward with a fast series of jabs. Quentin recognized the movements from Chief Stahl’s training sessions, but these were faster and more fluid. Alan blocked the strikes, but just barely. He was clearly surprised by Jim’s sudden speed. Alan snap kicked the cowboy, but Jim slid to the side to avoid the blow. It was a trap Jim saw just before Alan thrust a glowing hand into the cowboy’s chest. Jim screamed in pain as the blow drove him to the ground. Jim could barely breathe as he tried to stand. Alan strode over to stand over Jim.
"Why? Why did you try this?" the sorcerer demanded, "I gave you chance after chance to avoid this fate. Now you’re going to die in some far-off land. What made you think you could kill me?" Jim reached to the small of his back and pulled something out. With impossible speed, Jim leapt up and grabbed the Truth sorcerer. Before Alan could react, Jim drove the small knife into his chest. Thunder rocked the courtyard. Alan staggered back, looking at the crude knife in disbelief.
"Made a deal with the spirits of Raven and Coyote. Seems they were a might bit put out when you defiled their holy ground back in Wyoming. I kill you, and they’ll see about getting your curse off my daughter. Seemed a fair trade," Jim said, still holding the burn from Alan’s chest strike.
"Spirit knife?" Alan asked. Blood came out of his mouth as he spoke. Jim just nodded. Alan looked around. "I should have believed the Levant scroll." His eyes focused on Jess. A look of sudden realization came across his face.
"Why didn’t I see it before?" Alan asked, staring at Jess. The girl brought up her rifle as the sorcerer took a step before. "Of course, you’re the —-" Before he could finish the sentence, Alan crumpled to the ground. Sudden memories flooded Quentin’s mind. He jumped up and sprinted across the courtyard. He quickly grabbed his two friends and fled down the nearest alley. He’d barely made twenty feet before the courtyard erupted in a mystical explosion. The next thing Quentin knew, he was on the ground. The three zombie hunters shakily stood up. Billy jumped down from a nearby roof. Jess let out a happy squeal as the spirit wolf snuggled up next to her.
"Jim, are you good to go?" Quentin asked, looking at the cowboy. Jim gave a pained smile.
"Good enough," Jim wheezed. Quentin gave him a skeptical look. Jim’s chest still looked like he’d run into a hot iron, and it sounded like he’d broken some ribs. Jim waved off Quentin’s concern. "I’m hurt, but we need to get to that truck. The team needs us if we’re going to survive to find the city of the dead." Jess walked over and examined the wounds.
"Jim, we need to get you back to The Steve," Jess said.
"Fastest way to do that is to get the truck," the cowboy insisted.
"I don’t like it, but he’s right," Quentin said. "Jess, take the point with Billy. Jim, you stay close and be careful." Jess gave Quentin a cold stare, but didn’t say anything. She stormed up the alley with Billy in tow. The pup’s tail swished nervously. Quentin helped Jim out of the alley, each man holding a pistol. The quartet picked their way through the streets. Something about the magic explosion from Alan’s death pushed the zombie hordes away from this part of the city. They could hear the echoing moans, but they didn’t come across a single undead. Quentin smiled bitterly as they reached the truck. He carefully lifted Jim into the driver’s seat. The cowboy was weak, but he dismissed all of Quentin’s attempts to have him lie down. Jim was the best driver Zombie Strike had, especially for large vehicles. Jim waited as Jess and Billy climbed up on the roof. He gave Quentin a confident smile and put the truck in gear. Even hurting and weak, Jim easily navigated the large SUV through the streets of Odessa. Jess’s rifle cracked as zombies tried to stop them. Jim rolled over a few more. In a few minutes, they were behind the rest of the team.
"Let’s go," Mateo said as the truck pulled up. Zombie Strike loaded the wounded Seraph into the truck before piling in. As soon as the Chief closed the rear door, Jim spun the truck back to the docks. He didn’t even give Jess the chance to kill zombies. He simply sped past the few hordes that tried to get in their way. In less than ten minutes, Jim was crashing through the marina’s gate and sliding the truck next to the docks. At Mateo’s command, Zombie Strike leapt out of the truck and stormed onto the yacht. As expected, there was no one aboard. Chief Stahl and Sport sprinted to the ship’s control deck as Quentin started cutting the ropes. He’d cut three before he realized Jim wasn’t on the boat.
"Matt, where’s Jim?" Quentin yelled. The team leader looked back at him in surprise.
"What he’s not with you?" Mateo asked back. The two immediately sprinted back to the truck. They found their friend behind the wheel looking all the world as if he was asleep. Except he wasn’t breathing. Quentin gingerly lifted Jim’s lifeless body out of the truck’s cab. He fought back tears. Quentin knew Jim had been hurt worse than he’d let on. Why didn’t he force Jim to go back to The Steve? Mateo gripped Quentin’s shoulder and gave him a knowing look. Wordlessly, the two zombie hunters walked back to the ship. There would be time to talk after they’d made their escape. As they laid Jim’s body down on the deck, the Guardians appeared. Quentin gave the two stone-faced Aztecs a murderous look. If they noticed it, they ignored it.
"So where are we supposed to go now?" Quentin demanded.
"The sorcerer told you," the Guardians answered. Quentin stared at them as his mind replayed the battle in the courtyard. What had Alan said that told him where to go? His mind came to Alan’s dying words. He should have paid attention to the… Quentin dashed up to where Chief Stahl and Sport were easing the ship out of port.
"We need to get to Jerusalem as fast as possible. The last clue is about to be destroyed."