Category: Monday Fiction

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 112

Southern outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0730 hours local; Countdown: 16 hours, 30 minutes

Mateo Cortez ducked as the gollum swung its axe. He felt the obsidian blade whistle over his head. Mateo tried to bring his M4 up. The added weight of the underslung shotgun made him slow. Suddenly, Quentin was standing next to him. The big man caught the axe on his reinforced forearm armor. A hammer blow to the hip drove the gollum to the ground. Mateo saw his chance and fired. The 5.56mm round shattered the gollum’s stone medallion – and its mystical protection. Its unearthly scream was cut short as Quentin decapitated it with a single blow.

“Thanks,” Mateo said. Two rifle cracks told him Sissy and Jess were keeping those minions’ heads down. Stahl, The Steve, and Sport were dealing with the small horde of zombies drawn by the crash of the tilt-rotor. Tredegar was talking into a radio with Evan standing over him. Billy had disappeared, chasing after the other gollum. Mateo moved next to Sissy behind the wreckage of the tilt-rotor.

“Any luck?” Mateo asked.

“Jess may have gotten a piece of hers,” Sissy stated calmly, her eyes never coming off her scope. “Mine seems to have learned from his friend.” Mateo peeked over the shattered wing. The first minion was lying dead. He’d been the leader of the Truth team sent to collect Zombie Strike. From the way the minion stormed into the crashed tilt-rotor, he expected to find the team knocked out. Mateo’s shotgun blast threw the minion out of the cargo compartment and sent his force scurrying.

“Well back to the original plan before those gollums interrupted us,” Mateo said. “Tredegar, quit playing with that radio and get over here!” The FBI special agent scowled, but complied. Evan trotted behind Tredegar.

“As soon as I give you the word, I want you to run to that drugstore. Jess and Sissy’ll cover you,” Mateo said, pointing at the building maybe a hundred yards from the tilt-rotor’s crash site. “Evan, you stay with Quentin and me.”

“What do you want me to do when I get there?” Tredegar asked, clearly unsure of Mateo’s plan.

“You’ll know when you get there,” Mateo said. Tredegar cautiously moved to the edge of the wreckage. With a weak smile, the FBI special agent gave Mateo a thumbs-up. Mateo and Quentin readied grenades. Mateo took one last look at the small wall the two remaining minions were using for cover.

“Now!” Mateo said. Tredegar sprinted out as Mateo and Quentin tossed their grenades. Quentin’s grenade started spewing bright blue smoke, blanketing the area. Mateo’s arched over the wall and detonated. His was a concussion grenade. Mateo, Quentin, and Evan stormed the wall. One of the minions stood up to attack the trio. A rifle cracked, and the minion’s head exploded into red mist. Quentin vaulted the low wall as Evan and Mateo brought their weapons over. Mateo swore. The last minion must have been too close to the concussion grenade. The side of his head looked like Quentin hit it with his hammer. Mateo wanted the last one alive. He needed intelligence.

“Why did you have me run towards the drugstore if you were going to just assault them?” Tredegar asked as the FBI agent rejoined the team.

“Because he was using you as a decoy,” Sissy answered with a caustic tone. She shot Mateo an accusing glare. Tredegar just looked hurt and surprised.

“Sissy, in case you missed it, we’re trying to stop the end of the world,” Mateo said. “I’m going to try and get us out of here alive, but I’ll spend your lives if I feel it necessary.”

“Of course you will,” Sissy said in a biting tone. She walked off to help the rest of the team finish off the zombies. Mateo swore under his breath.

“Tredegar, see if you can find us some vehicles. The minions would have to transport us in something,” Mateo ordered. Quentin stood next to Mateo as Tredegar and Evan started their search.

“You could have handled that better, Matt,” Quentin said.

“Maybe, but something about that woman,” Mateo said, unable to say what was going through his mind. Ever since Sissy rejoined the team, she was like a splinter under Mateo’s skin.

“Just try to keep that infamous temper of your under control,” Quentin said. “I’d like to see the New Year.”

St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0800 hours local; Countdown: 16 hours

Castle nearly shot the television. It was bad enough to watch Zombie Strike casually pick off Mikhail’s hand-picked retrieval team. Listening to Collin laugh as each of his Champions fell was maddening. If he didn’t need the ebony Brit, Castle would have put a bullet into that smiling face.

“Well that didn’t go as planned?” Collin said as Zombie Struck piled into the two cars the Champions brought to bring in the prisoners. “Be glad the ladies didn’t notice your boy with the camcorder. You’d have another of your boys in a body bag.” Castle shot up from the chair and stormed over to where Mikhail was talking with another of his Champions.

“Your chosen team failed,” Castle said his voice cold.

“No, they are still in place and following the Zombie Strike team,” Mikhail said, turning to Castle. “Now, please go sit down until it’s time for the Golden Ritual.”

“What did you say?” Castle demanded.

“You are letting your hatred of Zombie Strike affect your thinking,” Mikhail said, his voice a careful neutral, “The last time we tried to capture Zombie Strike, they nearly killed you. Better to let them think they’re running free while keeping them under surveillance.”

“Hate to admit it, but Giant’s right,” Collin said, joining the two. “If you want Mateo, you’re going to need to let him come to you.” Castle bit down the angry retort. Mikhail was his senior subordinate and ally. The Great Champion had already seen some of the path. He knew what would happen if they succeeded, and if they failed. Mikhail would not jeopardize the path the Truth had been walking for these many years.

“Mikhail continue your surveillance, but try to winnow off some of them.” Castle said, not willing to fully relent against his need for revenge. Mikhail graciously accepted his partial victory with a slight bow.

“We shall do as ordered.”

[Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 113]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 111

Fort Deadhead, Festus, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0600 hours local; Countdown: 18 hours

Mateo Cortez had barely fallen asleep when he was shaken awake by a thunder clap. Then another jarred him completely awake. What in God’s name was going on? Was the Truth calling down lightning on the base? Out of reflex, Mateo started pulling on his gear. Then, his tired mind finally realized that the Army was unleashing a furious artillery barrage. Now Mateo understood why General Allen looked so amused when Mateo said he was going to try and get some sleep.

“Yep, thought so,” Chief Stahl said as he entered Mateo’s room. He shoved a cup of steaming coffee into Mateo’s hands. “Figured the arty would have woken you up. Drink up. I’ve got the team in the prep area.”

“We aren’t scheduled to go until noon,” Mateo observed.

“Better to have everything ready in case we need to move up the insert,” the chief said, “With what the General’s committing to the attack, our window might just come early. Sooner on the ground, the sooner we can start killing Truth bad guys.” Mateo nodded and tossed back the scalding liquid. He could feel the burn course down him.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Mateo said. He finished buckling on his armor and followed the chief outside. His team was waiting near the MacKenzie and Winston tilt-rotor that would take them into St. Louis. As he looked over his team, Mateo was suddenly struck with the realization there was a good chance that none of them would be coming out of the city alive. He’d known that on an intellectual basis. For some reason, the emotional gut punch of it finally hit him.

“Hey boss, you look terrible,” The Steve said, noticing Mateo. The team medic’s face was lit with his almost trademark smile. He was busily stuffing medical supplies and ammo into various pouches on his armor.

“Didn’t sleep much, and then the army started trying to imitate an earthquake,” Mateo said. The Steve chuckled at the half-hearted joke.

“You want me to give you some-,” the medic’s words were cut-off by a howling scream. The Steve’s eyes went wide. He grabbed Mateo and shoved his team leader to the ground. Before Mateo could ask what was going on, he felt the ground buck while heat and ear-splitting noise wash over him.

“Mortar!” someone screamed. “We’re under mortar fire!” Soldiers were dashing across the fort’s open areas. Some were desperately trying to find cover. Others were busily hunting for their assailants. A dozen of the soldiers disappeared in a geyser of flame, dirt, and concrete.

“Let me up,” Mateo ordered, “We need to find who’s dropping those bombs on us.” The Steve pushed Mateo back down.

“No, that’s the soldiers’ job. We have to stay good until it’s time,” The Steve said. Anger flashed through Mateo, but he could see that The Steve was right.

“Get in the chopper!” yelled a familiar voice, “The base is under attack! We need to get airborne now!” Mateo shrugged off his medic and looked up. Special Agent Tredegar in ill-fitting army field gear was sprinting towards the team. Evan Torrelli was running behind the FBI agent.

“Where’s the Army soldiers we’re supposed to have?” Mateo asked. The general agreed to provide Zombie Strike with some people who could direct air support, artillery, and resupply.

“Busy trying to protect the base. I’m taking over for them,” Tredegar said impatiently, “Now get on the bird before they drop a mortar bomb on it!” Most of Zombie Strike was already strapping in as Mateo, The Steve, Tredegar, and Evan bounded up the cargo ramp. Mateo was barely seated when the aircraft leapt into the sky. The team was thrown against their restraints as the tilt-rotor twisted and jinked. The craft vibrated as the engines roared, the pilot clawing for every bit of airspeed he could generate.

“Dear God,” Quentin said, barely audible in the cargo hold. Mateo looked where the big man was staring and swore. Thirty of the ten-foot tall Red Gollum monsters were charging into Fort Deadhead. Slain soldiers were scattered everywhere. Outside the walls, Mateo could see the Truth soldiers lobbing mortars and exchanging fire with the base guards. More hideous monsters easily climbed the walls and tore soldiers apart. Cold calculation told Mateo that Fort Deadhead would be overrun in less than two hours.

“At least we’re airborne,” Stahl said, as he observed the onslaught. Mateo gave the chief a withering look, but it had no effect on the veteran soldier.

“We can still accomplish our mission,” the chief said, “That’s all that really matters.”

St. Louis, Missouri, 31 December 2011, 0620 hours local; Countdown: 17 hours, 40 minutes

Castle watched as Mikhail, the leader of the Truth’s Champions, walked across the deserted department store’s floor. Castle read Mikhail’s body language and decided his second-in-command must have good news. Castle forced himself to be patient and leaned back in the leather recliner. Now he understood why the Americans loved these chairs.

“The attack on the American base went off without a hitch,” Mikhail said, “The Americans never suspected a thing until things started exploding.”

“And Zombie Strike?” Castle asked.

“Their helicopter got airborne as expected,” Mikhail reported, “We don’t know who was aboard or who may have been killed in the attack.”

“We’ll know soon enough,” Castle said, trying to sound calm and collected. “Are your people in place?”

“Yes, my lord,” Mikhail answered, “As soon as their helicopter is in range, my Champions will take it down. Then we’ll seize Zombie Strike and have everything we’ll need for the ritual. Poor fools will never see what’s coming.”

[Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 112]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 110

St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0100 hours local; Countdown: 23 hours

Castle stepped out of the cab of the truck. The guards at the checkpoint didn’t even put up a fight against his Champions and warriors. They just stood in fear as Mikhail flayed them apart. So much for the vaunted courage of the American soldier. His hand-picked followers would show them what true courage was this day. As soon as Castle’s foot hit the ground of the city of the dead, he felt energy course up his body. Even now, the mystical forces were building. With each step, he could feel the energies increase. These weren’t the energies of Xipe Totec. These were from the Great Death pushing into this world. With the five focus points of the Ritual of Golden Protection and the Key, Castle would take all of the Great Death’s energy to destroy them and rebuild the world in his god’s image. Castle looked at the dark buildings of what was once one of America’s great cities. Now, it was his. Soon, the world would also fall into his grasp.

“Get down!” yelled a voice from behind. Castle felt himself pushed to the ground by one of his Champions. The Champion was so focused on getting Castle to the ground, he didn’t have time to raise his own shield. His head exploded as the bullet struck. Castle snarled as he felt his Champion’s body collapse on top of him. Two more Champions appeared at Castle’s side with magic shields sparkling in the night. Castle waited patiently under the body as his forces dealt with the threat. Better to let his enemies think they’d succeeded.

“You might as well get out from under that corpse,” said the voice that alerted Castle to danger. The man sounded bored and annoyed. The two Champions pulled their dead comrade off their leader. Castle graciously accepted his Champions’ assistance as he got to his feet.

“Damn Zombie Strike. I thought they were sixty kilometers south of the city,” Castle snarled.

“They are, and that wasn’t Zombie Strike,” Collin DuBois said, watching the Truth’s forces attack the ambushers. “I think that was the Knights Templar. They used the same MO on you back in The Hague.” Castle looked carefully at the man. As far as Zombie Strike knew, Collin DuBois was dead, killed when the Americans dropped two of their heaviest non-nuclear bombs on the Truth’s creature laboratory. The former SAS soldier was one of the focus points, which was why the Truth kept him alive. It cost Castle about twenty acolytes and two sorcerers in Collin’s various escape attempts.

“Foolish papists,” Castle said. His intelligence said the Vatican was keeping its own forces out of this. Apparently, his intelligence was wrong. Castle looked back at Collin. “Why did you warn me? You’ve made no secret your desire to see me dead.” The tall man didn’t say anything for a long moment.

“We’re past the point we could’ve stopped you by simply killing you. We’re going to have play this out,” Collin answered, his voice a neutral cold.

Fort Deadhead, Festus, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0100 hours local; Countdown: 23 hours

“General, Checkpoint Five North is off the net. Checkpoint Six North reports a large force just blew through Five North. At least two hundred strong,” the major in charge of the command center reported.

“Castle and his people,” Mateo Cortez observed from his seat in the command center. General Allen nodded thoughtfully.

“So it begins,” the general in command of all forces of the St. Louis Quarantine Zone observed. “Earlier than we expected.”

“To be blunt, it doesn’t matter. If anything, it gives us a larger window to work the plan,” Mateo said. Mateo stifled a yawn. He should be asleep with the rest of his team, but he always had trouble sleeping the night before a major operation. He tried, but he kept having nightmares. He kept seeing Robyn torn apart by vampires. He shook his head to clear the image from his mind.

“General, someone just opened fire on the Truth,” the major reported, holding his hand to the headset.

“Who?” Allen and Mateo demanded at the same time. Mateo gave Allen an apologetic smile as the general glared at him.

“Not sure. Our checkpoints are reporting the Truth is exchanging fire with someone. It’s not one of ours.” The general looked over at Mateo.

“Not my people,” Mateo said. “I checked on them before coming over here.”

“Get a Predator over there. I want visuals,” the general ordered. He turned back to Mateo. “Could it be some of the Great Death that leaked through? Like what happened in Panama?”

“I doubt it. We destroyed all of them in Panama, and Chief Stahl’s little amulet should let him know if more of the Great Death managed to come to this side,” Mateo said. “If it is, then our best bet would be to let them kill each other. Makes our job easier.”

“Well, we’ll know in fifteen minutes,” the general said.

St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0115 hours local; Countdown: 22 hours, 45 minutes

The sudden gunfire startled the vampire awake. It took her a moment to realize exactly what woke her up. Then, she was furious. For the last week, enough of the master’s energies leaked through the thinning dimensional wall that she hadn’t been forced to feed on the pathetic humans. Now they were disturbing her slumber. That would make the wait until her master came for her seem even longer.

Her body cringed as the unnatural energy crackled. So, it wasn’t just the humans in the funny armor. The strange god’s clerics had finally come. They would try to stop the master from bringing the people into this world. The gods of this world had managed to stop the master before, but not this time. The master learned from his mistakes. The vampire walked back into the apartment she was using as her lair. She looked at the four other sleeping forms. She was the master’s scout. The one chosen to find the place of emergence for the master and her people. These others were the ones chosen to deal with the foolish human clerics. The ten vampires of the Master’s Guards stirred as they felt the energy being thrown about. They would sleep through the hated daylight of this world. It didn’t matter. This would be the last day the humans of this world saw.

[Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 111]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 109

Festus, Missouri; 23 December, 2011, 1200 hours local; Countdown: 8 days

Mateo Cortez walked down the helicopter’s cargo ramp. Just beyond the still-spinning rotors of the helicopter stood a grim-faced welcoming committee. A young-looking corporal hustled over to lead Zombie Strike’s field leader to the waiting group. Mateo suddenly realized the corporal was Evan Torelli. What was that kid doing here? Mateo filed the question in the back of his mind as General Allen stepped out.

“Welcome to Fort Deadhead,” General Allen said. Mateo shook the general’s outstretched hand. General Bull Allen was the commander of the American Combined Anti-Zombie Task Force for the St. Louis Quarantine Zone. Officially called The Quarantine Zone Forward Command and Control Operations Center, Fort Deadhead was the task force’s headquarters. Although the quarantine zone was a fifty-mile diameter perimeter around Saint Louis, the military commandeered the Festus Memorial Airport about thirty-five miles south of the city. Most of Festus’s residents, as well as those in neighboring Crystal City, were now working inside Fort Deadhead.

“Thanks General. I appreciate you setting us up here,” Mateo said.

“Just made sense,” General Allen said. His warm face went tight. “I expect you to tell me exactly what’s going on. Everything. No more holding back.”

“That was one of the first things we expected to do after setting our stuff down,” Mateo said, “We even brought a PowerPoint.”

“It better be good. I hate PowerPoints,” the general replied.

“It should be. We even brought in some of M&W’s marketing people to polish it up,” Mateo said neutrally. Lowering his voice, Mateo asked, “Why is Evan here?”

“Kid’s smart and can handle himself,” Allen answered, “We ran him through an abbreviated boot camp, which he passed with flying colors. We bootstrapped him so that he could be attached to headquarters. Technically, Torelli’s Special Agent Tredegar’s aide, but he’s really the guy’s bodyguard.” Mateo looked over at the gangly, hook-nosed FBI agent. Tredegar headed up the Justice Department’s covert investigation of the Truth. Mateo asked Zombie Strike’s parent firm, MacKenzie and Winston, to quietly ask for Tredegar’s reassignment to head up the task force’s intelligence team. This close to the endgame, Mateo wanted people in place that he trusted.

“Does Tredegar need a bodyguard?” Mateo asked.

“There’s been three attempts on his life since he got here,” Allen answered, “Twice for me. Needless to say, I’m more than a little interested in finding out what these people are after.” Mateo only nodded. General Allen showed the team their barracks and let them get settled in. Six hours later, the Zombie Strike team, General Allen, his staff and field commanders, and Tredegar and his top staff, including Evan Torrelli, crammed into Fort Deadhead’s main command center. Mateo was standing in front of the gathered personage. He clicked the projector’s remote. On the screen behind him appeared a black and white picture of a young, handsome man dressed in khakis standing at an archeological dig.

“This is Dr. Juan de Castilla, better known as Castle. He is the leader of the Truth,” Mateo began. “He comes from a wealthy Spanish family that has been preparing for this day for the last four hundred and fifty years. Everything the Truth has done up to now has been in the cause of fulfilling a prophecy written by the followers of the Aztec god Xipe Totec. The destruction of the satellite constellation, the destruction of Mexico City, the toppling of most of the world’s governments, and the near constant outbreaks of zombies were all part of setting up the world for this. Eight days from now, Castle, and at least his Champions – we call them minions – will go into St. Louis to perform a ritual.”

“This purpose of this ritual will be to somehow use the power of Xipe Totec to fend off an invasion of interdimensional beings bent on conquering our world. The Truth calls them the Great Death. This is what they really are,” Mateo continued, clicking the remote. The fuzzy picture depicted a seven- to eight-foot tall monster with a flat, fang-filled face, matty brown fur, and powerful limbs ending in sharp claws.

“This is what they look like when they first come into our world. After a while, they will change into something more human-looking. Ladies and gentlemen, the Great Death are vampires.” There was a collective gasp of astonishment from the task force leadership.

“Are you out of your mind? Vampires, a ritual to bring in a god, and a world-wide conspiracy? It sounds like a bad movie,” said Col. Dickens, the task force’s head Air Force officer.

“I’ve seen the vampires Walt,” Tredegar said. “Zombie Strike fought them in Panama a while back. A handful of them nearly wiped us out, and they hadn’t even gotten strong by then.”

“If the Great Death, as you called them, are so powerful, why shouldn’t we let the Truth deal with them?” asked one of the intelligence people.

“Because if they manage to defeat the Great Death, the Truth will have the power to take over the world and convert everyone to the worship of Xipe Totec,” Mateo answered. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my daughters growing up in a world where human sacrifice is considered a normal religious ceremony.” There were grunts of agreement.

“So how are we going to stop both the Truth and this Great Death?” asked one of the army officers.

“We know the ritual requires specific people to be involved to work. We have information that some of those people may be members of Zombie Strike,” Mateo answered.

“Who?” General Allen asked.

“We think Chief Stahl and maybe myself,” Mateo answered, “Unfortunately, the actual people who will fulfill the roles aren’t decided until the moment of the ritual.”

“Decided by whom?” Tredegar asked.

“The magic, the gods, fate, all of the above?” Mateo said, shrugging his shoulders, “We don’t know. Our current theory is that if we kill as many of the Truth before the ritual, more of our people will be able to take those roles. From there, we should be able to take control of the ritual and stop Xipe Totec and the Great Death.”

“That sounds like a lot of guesses,” General Allen commented.

“We know,” Mateo said, “That’s why you’ll have the Omega directive underway when we go in.” The room fell silent as the task force’s leadership looked at Mateo in stunned silence. The Omega directive was classified to the highest levels. As far as the task force knew, they were the only ones who knew about it beyond the president, the secretary of defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The Omega Directive was simple. At the predetermined time, Saint Louis would be hit by nukes. A lot of nukes from multiple vectors. Nukes on missiles, nukes in gravity bombs, even nuclear tipped artillery shells. Even more horrendous, the directive called for a continuous nuclear bombardment for over twelve hours. The first time General Allen saw the directive, he recoiled in horror at the sheer overkill for a city of zombies. After hearing Mateo’s briefing, the general wasn’t sure if it was going to be enough.

“What do you need from us?” asked General Allen, trying to keep his composure.

“What we really need from the task force is an all-out attack against the zombies in the city,” Mateo answered, “We’re going to have a tough enough time fighting whatever Truth forces Castle has with him without having to deal with the hordes as well. After that, I’d like some air cover available on call and someone to control it. Being able to rain down some fire in a pinch would be nice. Any other support you can give us after that will be helpful, but to be honest, you’re going to have enough of a fight on your hands.” General Allen stood up and faced his people.

“Well folks, we have a lot of work to do between now and New Year’s Eve. No matter what we do, too many of our boys and girls will be celebrating their last Christmas on Sunday. Let’s do what we can to make sure that it isn’t the last Christmas this world sees.”

[Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 110]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 108 – Epilogue

Salem, Wyoming; 9 October 2011, 1300 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 23 days

Quentin McLintock had attended far too many of these over the past couple of years. He felt the tears flow down his cheeks as Jim’s coffin was lowered into the Wyoming soil. Jim’s death still didn’t feel real to Quentin. Even after seeing him laid out, Quentin half-expected the gregarious cowboy to be waiting for the team when they got back to Skull Island.

“Doesn’t seem like he’s gone,” Sport said quietly.

“Nope,” Quentin agreed, not trusting his voice for more. Quentin pulled his overcoat tighter. After the heat in Jerusalem, the cold of Wyoming seemed to bite even harder.

“At least his kid’s right in the head again,” Sport said. The appearance of Jim’s former lover and daughter surprised Quentin. Coyote and Raven, the Native American totem spirits, came through with their end of the bargain. Quentin wondered if they knew their bargain was going to cost Jim his life, and if they told him.

“They didn’t need to tell him,” an unfamiliar voice said from behind. Quentin turned to find a young Native American man in a dark suit. Billy trotted up to the newcomer furiously wagging his tail. Jess strode over following the pup. The man knelt down and rubbed the spirit wolf’s head. He looked up at Jess with disturbing golden eyes.

“You’ve been taking good care of him, little sister,” the man said, “He looks ready for the fight.”

“Wolf,” Jess breathed. Quentin fought the urge to step back as he realized he was in a deific presence. If he noticed, Wolf didn’t show it.

“Why are you here?” asked Mateo, joining the small group, “Are you going to send my people harrowing off on another mission and culling another?” Everyone except Wolf shrank back at Mateo’s barely controlled fury. Wolf just stood as stoic as the mountains surrounding them.

“No, Mateo. From everything my brothers and sisters can see, this is the calm before the storm. None of the sides will be doing anything until it is time for the ritual. That is the only good news that I can give you,” Wolf said.

“You didn’t answer my first question,” Mateo said.

“No, I didn’t,” Wolf answered. “The truth is I’m here to see my son and my little sister. This will be the last opportunity I have before you all travel to the City of the Dead. After that, I don’t know who will survive.” Wolf knelt down and stroked Billy’s fur with an apprehensive look. He looked back up to Mateo. “You have almost three months before the fight. Take some of that time and make sure you go see your daughter. All of you should try and see your family. I don’t know who, or if any, of you will come back out.”

Chicago, Illinois; 15 October 2011; 2100 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 16 days

Castle sipped his cup of tea as he looked out across the Chicago nightline. He could feel the pull from the City of the Dead, even from this far away. It seemed almost unreal. After so long, so many machinations, the final day was so close. The sensation was almost intoxicating. So very soon, the entire world would be reborn and he would lead them as Xipe Totec’s chosen acolyte. Castle almost didn’t hear the door sliding open behind him.

“I hate this city,” Mikhail grumbled, walking out to join his leader. The leader of the Champions had been in a foul mood since the death of Alan. Castle found that odd. Mikhail never seemed to get along with the now-deceased leader of the sorcerers.

“As much as I hate to admit it, this is the one place close enough to the City of the Dead where we could hide,” Castle said, annoyed at admitting the truth to one of his subordinates. “The Americans are too talented at investigation to risk anything closer. We needed to get into America before they started shutting down the borders.” Mikhail didn’t say anything for a long while.

“Damn the Guardians,” Mikhail spat out, breaking the silence. “If they hadn’t interfered, the path would be set.”

“That was my gamble. The Guardians warned me against doing it, but I decided to chance it,” Castle said, correcting his subordinate, “I wasn’t expecting those meddlesome totem animals to involve themselves even more. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been wrong. Xipe Tzin comes to mind.”

“You should have let me kill him as soon as he tried to usurp you,” Mikhail said, leaning against the balcony.

“Maybe. That’s neither here nor there at the moment. How are our forces?” Castle asked.

“Good. We know have a hundred Champions backed up by nearly that many Warriors. The sorcerers have nearly two dozen ready to accompany us into the city. That should be plenty to deal with anything the Great Death decides to throw at us.”

“And anything from Zombie Strike as well.”

Washington D.C.; 20 October, 2011; 1000 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 11 days

Jess hesitantly knocked on the door. The phone call asking her to come to Washington came out of nowhere. Mateo was reluctant to let her go scampering up to the capital while they were visiting Mercedes in Tampa. Jess had been forced to remind Mateo that she was an adult now, and one who fought the undead on a regular basis. A side trip wasn’t something she couldn’t handle on her own. Mateo grumbled, but still drove her to the airport.

Robyn Adams beamed at Jess as she opened the door. Jess almost leapt into the woman’s arms, but was frozen as her eyes swept Robyn. The bulge in her middle was small, but noticeable. Robyn solved the issue by grabbing Jess’s arm and dragging her into the apartment. As soon as the door was shut, Robyn engulfed Jess in a warm embrace.

“It’s so good to see you again Jess,” Robyn said.

“You’re pregnant?” Jess asked, still in shock.

“Yes. That was one of the reasons I needed to leave Skull Island. And Mateo,” Robyn said, her voice dropping to neutral as the two walked to the living room. Jess stopped as she saw the other woman. The woman was blonde, tall, and vaguely familiar. Jess hadn’t met her before, but she knew she’d seen this woman somewhere.

“And this is one of the other reasons I left,” Robyn said, motioning to the woman, “Jess Montgomery, meet Sissy O’Connell.” Jess took Sissy’s outstretched hand with trepidation. Sissy was a skilled zombie killer even before she’d joined Zombie Strike. After her recovery from the team’s first mission, Sissy became an even more feared zombie killer amongst the various zombie militias that dotted the American landscape.

“Hello,” Jess said, not sure of how to handle things. From what Mateo said Sissy had been pretty emphatic about not having anything more to do with Zombie Strike.

“Relax, girl,” Sissy said with a bright smile, “We’re not ambushing you. I’m not here to cause trouble. If anything, I’m here to help.” Jess gave the two women a quizzical look.

“Jess, I know what’s coming,” Robyn said, “I knew I couldn’t stay and distract Matt when he needed to be focused the most. I also know that Zombie Strike needs every trained person it can lay its hands on. So, I found Sissy and convinced her that her help was going to be needed for this as well.”

“So why did you call me and not Matt, or even Quentin?” Jess asked.

“Because I missed you, silly,” Robyn said, hugging the girl again. “Plus, I was pretty sure that you could use some ‘girl time’ before things got ratcheted back up.” Robyn let Jess go and sat down. “Also, I just couldn’t handle talking to Matt right now. I get pretty emotional quick. It would’ve been bad.” There was an uncomfortable silence as Jess tried to figure out what to say next. Fortunately, Sissy spoke next.

“Listen, none of us are ready to deal with the menfolk right now,” Sissy said, “So let’s get some lunch and shopping in while we can. Tomorrow’s going to be too busy.”

“What happens tomorrow?” Jess asked.

“That’s when we start teaching each other everything there is to know about shooting,” Sissy said. “It’s okay if you didn’t bring your rifle. I made sure that we had one set up just for you.”

[Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 109]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 107

Jerusalem, Israel; 6 October 2011, 1700 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 25 days

Quentin McLintock snapped the suppressed MP5/10 to his shoulder. The three-foot magenta centipede thing filled the holographic sight. He squeezed the trigger sending a stream of 10mm hollow points through the creature’s front end. It let out an inhuman screech of pain and collapsed to the floor. Quentin didn’t even have time to catch his breath. He quickly dropped the spent magazine and inserted another. He slapped the charging handle down and brought the weapon to bear on another of the monsters.

“Get down,” yelled Chief Stahl. As Quentin fell to the ground, the former Ranger charged up with a machine gun. The chief snarled at the oncoming creatures before he brought the large weapon to his shoulder and let loose a long burst. Two creatures that looked like demonic crayfish were torn apart by the rounds. The rest fled back down the hallway. Chief Stahl fired another long burst to keep the monsters running.

“I thought we’d cleared out those nasties back in Italy,” the chief grumbled as he replaced the drum magazine of his machine gun.

“No such luck,” Quentin said. “Where’d you get the machine gun?”

“Israeli trooper didn’t need it anymore,” the chief answered. Most of the IDF soldiers, like their civilian counterparts, fled when the zombies appeared. The sudden panic was almost enough for the Truth to complete a decapitation strike against the Israeli government. Almost. By the time Zombie Strike managed to chopper in, the few remaining IDF troops managed to fortify an office building and stash the few surviving members of the Israeli government. In response, the Truth unleashed a torrent of monsters upon the building. The Israelis were holding, but at a high price.

A pair of M&W helicopter gunships cleared an LZ for Zombie Strike. As Quentin jumped out of the helicopter, he wondered where an insurance firm acquired its own squadron of attack helicopters. The thought was pushed back as the monsters turned their fury on the newcomers. Unlike the IDF, Zombie Strike knew how to deal with most of the Truth’s unholy creations. The team formed line and poured gunfire until they entered the building. That’s when Quentin faced off with that centipede thing.

“Quentin, you’re on point,” Mateo ordered, “We need to move quickly, but be careful. If you see Jocasta, alert the team. We need her alive.” The former Israeli cultural minister turned out to be working for the Truth, although whether as a sorcerer or a minion no one was sure. They were hoping she knew where the City of the Dead was located, since she’d destroyed the only known prophecy with the location written down. Quentin slowly strode up the hallway ignoring the monster carcasses. Why couldn’t she have just used zombies or gollums like a normal Truth cultist?

Quentin led the team down the hallway as quickly as he dared. The last thing the team needed was to move to quickly and run into a pack of monsters. Almost before the thought went through his head, the left wall blew apart in front of him. Two seven-foot humanoids with red runes stepped out of the dust cloud. Their glowing red eyes locked onto Quentin with first surprise and then rage. Each swung a thick metal club at Quentin. He sidestepped the first blow feeling the wind whistle by. The second blow he blocked with his MP5/10. Quentin felt the submachine gun bend with the impact as he was driven back. Quentin tossed aside the mangled weapon and drew his warhammer. He held the gleaming weapon ready as the two monsters attacked again. The hallway exploded with sound as Chief Stahl and The Steve opened up. Like the chief, The Steve was using a drum-fed machine gun. The two humanoid monsters opened their mouths as if to scream, but nothing could be heard over the gunfire. They dropped their clubs and tried desperately to shield the bodies with their arms. It didn’t matter. In a matter of seconds, they were torn apart by the constant stream of bullets. As the two guns ran dry, the monsters’ corpses fell to the ground.

As they fell, Billy dashed past them into the still settling dust cloud. As Quentin’s hearing returned from the pounding it had taken, he could hear a woman’s furious screaming. Quentin watched in amazement as Billy dragged Jocasta across the carpet. She looked nothing like the perfectly dressed and composed woman from television. Her clothes were torn and dirty. Her hair looked like she’d touched the wrong end of an electrical cord. She had an almost crazed look as she punched and flailed against the spirit pup pulling her along.

“Very good Billy,” Mateo said, “Quentin, would you please hold our prisoner?” Quentin easily grabbed Jocasta’s arms and forced them behind her. Her struggles were even less useful against Quentin. Mateo walked in front of Jocasta. As soon as he came into view, she stopped struggling.

“Something’s wrong,” she said, “Why aren’t you marked?”

“What are you talking about?” Mateo asked.

“You were supposed to be marked!” Jocasta screamed, ignoring the question. “The path was supposed to be set!”

“That’s not how the path works,” Quentin said, remembering some of the cryptic explanations from the Guardians. Where had those two ancient Aztecs disappeared to? Quentin shook away the question.

“What do you know of how the path works?” Jocasta demanded. Quentin turned to Mateo. The team leader just nodded.

“The Guardians told us,” Quentin answered. Jocasta cocked her head back and laughed.

“The Guardians? They aren’t as powerful as they think they are. The Truth found the way to lock the path. To mark those who must be in St. Louis for the ritual.” She continued to laugh as the Zombie Strike team members looked at each other. It made sense. Ever since the massive zombie outbreak, St. Louis had been a city of the dead. Jocasta’s laughing stopped suddenly as two forms appeared in their midst. The Guardians looked like two elderly Native Americans wearing little more than loin cloths and heavy leather cloaks. Jocasta looked at the pair in terror.

“Release her,” the Guardians commanded, their combined voices filling Quentin’s head. He let go of Jocasta’s arms and stepped back. The Guardians focused on Jocasta. “You were warned against this. Now, you have paid for your arrogance. The path you wanted is not the path created. Return to your leader and tell him that he cannot force the future. Attempts will cause backlash.” The Guardians vanished as suddenly as they appeared. There was an odd moment of silence as everyone traded stunned looks. Mateo broke the silence as he drew his pistol and leveled it at Jocasta’s head.

“Order your forces out of this land,” Mateo demanded. The Truth cultist looked at him with a look of incomprehension.

“What? Didn’t you hear the Guardians? I need to return to Castle and let him know what was said,” Jocasta said.

“No one said you had to be alive. We can ship your body back to them with a note,” Mateo said. “We got the answers we needed. Stop your attack on Israel, and I’ll let you report to Castle alive and relatively unharmed.” Jocasta contemplated Mateo’s offer for a few tense moments.

“Agreed,” Jocasta said through clenched teeth. She drew out a small gold rod and closed her eyes.

“All is done,” she said, almost as if the words were a chant. She opened her eyes. “All of my Champions, warriors, and pets will be gone within the half-hour. I’ll leave you to clean up the mess.” She nodded her head at the gun in Mateo’s hand. He holstered the pistol and stepped aside. She walked down the hall and out of sight.

“You think we should have let her walk out of here alive?” Chief Stahl asked.

“Oh, we’re going to do just that, but the moment she steps out of this building, the IDF will put a bullet in her,” Mateo answered. “We need to get back to Skull Island. We have a big fight that we need to get ready for, and a friend we need to say good-bye to.”

[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 108 – Epilogue]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 106

Jerusalem, Israel; 6 October 2011, 1600 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 25 days

Quentin McLintock hated gollums. He learned a great deal about them over the past two years. The five-and-a-half-foot tall creatures’ flat black skin was decorated with blue painted runes. The runes marked the creatures as the reanimated warriors of Xipe Totec and bound their muscle and sinew to their ancient muscles. Unlike the zombies, gollums would never decompose away. They would fight until they were destroyed. Major Rabin snapped up his Tavor assault rifle and fired a quick burst at the oncoming gollums. The bullets struck their target, but the gollum didn’t even slow down its sprinting run. The minion laughed at Rabin’s shocked expression. Mateo pulled the Israeli soldier back to the rest of the group.

“Don’t waste ammo on them,” Mateo instructed Rabin, “Gollums are indestructible until you can break their medallion. Sport, slow them down a bit. Quentin, Jim-“ Mateo froze as he called their dead teammate’s name. The team had been pushing so hard, they had barely a few minutes before Jim’s body was boxed up and taken away. Mateo shook himself. “Quentin, Chief, get ready to get up close and personal. The rest of us will try and keep them under control.”

“Oh this is going to be fun to watch,” the minion taunted, hovering back up on top of a building. The team ignored him. Sport unslung his XM-25 grenade launcher. At least M&W brought their normal gear when the firm’s representatives met back up with them. Quentin fell into stance with his warhammer gripped tightly. He hated fighting these things. They were like rabid monkeys that never tired and were always trying to bury their obsidian axes into their opponents. Chief Stahl stood next to Quentin holding an entrenching tool in his hands. The rest of the team was behind and to their sides. Quentin turned back and nodded to Sport. The Brit unleashed a pair of grenades. The nice thing about the XM-25’s grenades was the operator could tell them when to detonate. Sport didn’t bother wasting fragmentation grenades on gollums. The things would just shrug off the shower of metal. Best thing for gollums were simple high explosive. The two grenades exploded about fifteen feet in front of the gollums and about ten feet in the air. The eight in the center were knocked off their feet by the concussion. The remaining four bounced off of buildings and bored down on Zombie Strike.

Gunfire erupted from the line. The team concentrated on just two of the gollums. They weren’t trying to stop them. They were just slowing them down so Quentin and the chief could take on the gollums two at a time. One gollum leapt at Quentin bringing its axe over its head. As it came down, Quentin blocked the gollum’s axe with his warhammer. The volcanic glass blade rang the metal head of the warhammer. Quentin snatched the gollum’s arm and slammed it into the ground. It tried to use the hard pavement as a springboard, but Quentin pinned it with a heavy boot. He blocked several frantic axe strikes as he grabbed hold of the gollum’s stone medallion. The half-dollar sized disc was etched with the mystical hieroglyphs and gave the gollum its invulnerability. As Quentin pulled the medallion’s leather cord tight, the gollum dropped its axe and fought frantically to keep its protective artifact. Strong as gollums were, Quentin was much stronger. The worn leather snapped. The gollum let out an unearthly howl. Quentin didn’t waste time and kicked the creature back out into the street. Robbed of its mystical protection, the Zombie Strike gunners quickly tore it apart with bursts of fire.

The chief was already working on his second gollum. The first lay decapitated next to him withering away to bones in minutes. Quentin smiled and focused on the creature snarling and charging at him. Gollums terrified Quentin the first few times his team battled them. They seemed like unstoppable killing buzz saws. They were still dangerous. Seraph found that fact out when one pounced on her back in Odessa. Against a properly armed and prepared team, the gollums didn’t stand a chance. Quentin fell into his role. He waited as the team let a gollum close, and then as soon as he’d removed the gollums’ medallions, the shooters took them out. It was hard, nasty, and Quentin had to focus on his job. The chief grunted as a gollum managed to sneak a blow past. The axe bit deep into Stahl’s side. Quentin punched the gollum in front of him and whipped his hammer out. Stahl’s gollum collapsed as the hammer drove down on its collarbone. Stahl nodded thanks and the thrust out with his tool. The sharpened blade easily cut through the leather strap holding the gollum’s medallion in place. Almost before the gollum could wail in anguish, a burst of fire broke its head open. Quentin didn’t see the body fall. His own gollum tried to rake his face with bony fingers. Quentin grabbed the creature and shoved it to the pavement. Holding its wrists in one meaty hand, Quentin pounded the gollum’s medallion with his hammer. He’d nearly driven it through the gollum’s torso before the stone shattered. A single hammer blow to the gollum’s head ended it. There was the eerie post-battle silence as Quentin stood up from the withering corpse. He was breathing hard as he looked up at the minion. The Truth cultist cocked his head to the side, almost as if surprised by the outcome. Mateo replaced the magazine in his carbine before looking back up to the minion.

“Where’s Jocasta?” Mateo asked, his tone somewhere between bored and annoyed.

“You think I’m going to tell you?” the minion shot back, “You may have destroyed my warriors, but you won’t be able to escape this outbreak alive.”

“Listen, I really don’t have the time to deal with your stupidity. I’ll make this simple. Either tell me where Jocasta is or I’ll kill you and find her on my own,” Mateo said.

“You’re insane. You can’t kill me!” the minion replied.

“Jess, take the shot,” Mateo said quietly into the radio. The minion realized a half-second too late that the team sniper snuck off during the battle. He never felt the 7.62mm round as it hit perfectly at the base of the skull. Mateo turned back to the team, not even deigning to watch the body fall.

“Major, tell your people to expect a decapitation strike. It will probably be with gollums or whatever other creatures the Truth decides to use. It may be led by Jocasta,” Mateo said. As Rabin walked off to call his leadership, Mateo turned to Chief Stahl and The Steve. The team medic had the former soldier’s armor off and was inspecting Stahl’s wounds. “Is he good to fight?”

“The bad news is that he’s got some cracked ribs,” The Steve said, wrapping the chief’s mid-section with tape, “The good news is he’s only got cracked ribs. A little happy juice and he’ll be good.” The Steve gave his trademark thumbs-up and returned to wrapping up the chief. Rabin stormed back to the group.

“The prime minister is dead,” the Israeli reported, his face ashen, “They’re sending a helicopter for us.”

“What’s going on?” Mateo asked.

“I’m not sure,” Rabin said, “Some of the IDF is fending off the attackers. They said they were fighting nightmares.”

“Looks like they had another nursery,” Chief Stahl gritted out. Mateo looked grim.

“Major, as soon as that helicopter gets here, we’re going to try and rescue your people. Jocasta’s probably among them,” Mateo said, “You’d better tell your people to prepare a back-up plan if we fail. Those creatures will be much worse than those gollums we just fought.”

“What would you suggest?” Major Rabin asked.

“You still got nukes, right?” The Steve asked.

[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 107]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 105

Jerusalem, Israel; 6 October 2011, 1515 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 25 days

Quentin McLintock pushed the woman to the street and brought the warhammer down. The zombie’s skull split open, spilling rotten brains on the street. Its companions let out their hunting moans as they turned to their new prey. Quentin heard echoing moans from dozens of throats. Maybe thirty or so zombies were now bearing down on him. Well, no one said the hero business would be safe or easy.

“Run,” Quentin told the frightened woman. She looked up at him in shock. Quentin pointed emphatically back down the street and barked, “Run, now!” The woman scrambled along the pavement for a few yards, found her feet, and sprinted back to relative safety. Quentin turned back to deal with the three zombies in front of him. He cursed to himself as he slammed the warhammer into the first zombie. This was not what the team expected when they landed in Jerusalem earlier in the day. Quentin spun and batted away the second zombie’s groping hands with the haft of his hammer. He swept his artificial leg out and knocked the third zombie off of its feet. As it struggled to get up, Quentin slid back out of the reach of the second zombie. He waited for it to take a couple of steps towards him before thrusting. The blow tipped the zombie backwards. As it fell, Quentin smacked its head like a baseball. The zombie stopped moving before it hit the ground. Casually, Quentin walked over to the last zombie still struggling to get up and dispatched it with a single hammer blow. Picking up a discarded newspaper, Quentin wiped the gore off of his hammer.

“Well that was nicely done mate,” Sport said jogging up the street. The diminutive Brit had his XM-25 slung across his back and was cradling a pump shotgun. “The woman’s fine, by the way.”

“One good thing, I guess,” Quentin said, looking at the four corpses on the street. Hunting moans echoed in the streets as more zombies started their slow shamble to the noise. “Have they located Jocasta?”

“Nope,” Sport answered, “Somewhere in this neighborhood. Let me tell you, the Israeli’s are a bit put out by that woman.”

“Not every day that their cultural minister turns out to be working for the Truth and unleashes a zombie outbreak in their sacred city,” Quentin said. “We’ve got to find her before the IDF or Mossad does.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Sport said, clearly not wanting to go over the day’s events. Quentin couldn’t blame him. It had been bad enough the first time. Sport motioned down a side street. “The boss wants us to meet up a few blocks over.” Quentin consulted the map on his PDA.

“Okay, follow me,” Quentin said. Sport grunted as Quentin started running.

“Not bloody natural for someone your size to run like a footballer,” Sport grumbled.

“I played football in college,” Quentin shot back.

“Real football, not that corruption of rugby you Yanks play,” Sport retorted. Quentin decided to let the little man have the last word. He was going to have a hard enough time keeping up with Quentin’s pace. In a few minutes, the two met up with the rest of Zombie Strike outside an abandoned professional office. Quentin grimaced at the sight of the tight-faced uniformed man standing next to his team leader. So, Mateo hadn’t been able to shake him yet. As soon as he saw Quentin and Sport, Mateo strode over to them.

“Any luck?” Mateo asked in a low voice.

“No, just a few zombies,” Quentin answered in the same hushed tones. “Our friend is coming over.” The uniformed man stormed over.

“Mr. McLintock, my government is being very lenient in letting a team of armed foreigners run around the infected zone. I would appreciate you not abuse our trust in you by harrying off on your own,” Major David Rabin stated in slightly accented English.

“If he didn’t mate, that lady would now be prowling about looking to eat you,” Sport said, trying to catch his breath.

“While I appreciate your protection of an Israeli, please don’t expect me to believe that was the reason you two split off,” Rabin said, clearly not amused.

“Prove it otherwise,” Sport challenged.

“Enough,” Mateo said before Rabin could respond. “We still need to find the sorcerer.” Rabin shot Mateo a sidelong glance, but didn’t say anything. The career military intelligence officer still didn’t believe Zombie Strike about the true nature of Jocasta Cheveny. He was having a difficult enough time dealing with the idea that she raised the zombie horde. The idea she was a mystic in the service of a powerful, but secret cult in the service of an Aztec god was a bit too much for Rabin at the moment. The four men rejoined the rest of Zombie Strike.

“So where do we go now?” Chief Stahl asked.

“After the zombies,” Mateo answered, “She’s got to be there somewhere to control this many of them.”

“Matt, what if she’s not there?” Jess asked. Mateo gave his foster daughter a quizzical look and motioned for her to continue. “The question I keep asking is why. Jocasta already destroyed the Levant Scroll. Why didn’t she just leave through one of their portals? Why raise the zombies? What else could she be after?”

“Just for the record, you’re getting too smart,” Chief Stahl told Jess. The former soldier looked at his team leader. “She’s right. We’re looking at this wrong. The horde may just be a distraction to keep the Israeli authorities – and us – busy.”

“Hundreds of zombies as a distraction?” Rabin asked incredulously.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Mateo said, mulling over Jess’s comments. “Okay, Jocasta destroys the Levant Scroll in a big, flashy news conference because she claims it’s a blasphemous document to all of the Abrahamic religions. Does so and orders the dead to rise causing a zombie outbreak. Do you think she knew we were in country?”

“She may know now, but doubtful when all of this happened,” Rabin answered, “My people were barely warned before that odd helicopter of yours landed.”

“Could she be after another artifact?” Mateo asked Quentin.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” Quentin said, searching his mind. “The Levant Scroll was the only item in Israel that was outside their possession. Nothing in the stuff we grabbed from them mentioned anything else.”

“How about regime change?” Chief Stahl suggested, “Israel’s one of the few countries that hasn’t been subverted by the Truth. What if they have their people ready to take during the fun and games?”

“How very perceptive,” a new voice said from above. The team all brought their weapons up. On top of a five-story building across the street from them, a minion stood. This one was male, dressed in the tight ninja suit that was the minion’s uniform. In his outstretched hands was a golden pyramid. Quentin figured the minion had a shield up. The Truth’s minions learned the hard way what happened when you confronted Zombie Strike without defenses. The minion stepped off the roof and levitated down to the street.

“Well, I can certainly see why my fellow Champions are worried about you,” the minion said, almost as if praising the team. “None of us expected anyone to figure out what was actually happening.”

“Dear God, what they said was true?” Rabin said. The minion looked at the major and laughed. The major flushed in shame and anger. He unslung the Tavor assault rifle and aimed it at the minion.

“Wait,” Mateo said, grabbing Rabin’s shoulder.

“Why?” Rabin demanded. Mateo wordlessly pointed down the street. The rifle nearly slipped out of Rabin’s hands as he saw the sprinting forms of a dozen gollums.

[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 106]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 104

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.”

[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 105]

Monday Fiction – Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 103

Odessa, Ukraine; 4 October 2011, 1300 hours local; Countdown: 2 months, 27 days

Quentin McLintock dropped the empty magazine out of his pistol and quickly slammed another home. He hit the slide release and brought the pistol back up. Two rounds of 10mm brought the zombie down. It was just a bit too close. Seraph groaned in pain behind him. If Quentin didn’t link back up with the rest of the team, she was going to bleed out. Assuming he could survive the next few minutes.

“Matt, where are you guys?” Quentin asked over the radio. The Truth was obviously very annoyed with Zombie Strike for going after its close-held secrets. They pretty much cleared out Odessa’s downtown and brought in hordes of zombies with minion controllers. Just to add fun, they also brought gollums and a group of sorcerers. It was a gollum’s axe responsible for the nasty gash in Seraph’s midsection. Maybe if that vision hadn’t sucked all of Zombie Strike in, they would have been prepared for the ambush. As it was, Quentin, Seraph, Sport, and Seraph’s French agent, Marc had been split off from the rest of the team.

“I have no clue,” Mateo answered, “Everything’s in Cyrillic. We could be a block from you, we could be a mile. I hate these old cities.” Quentin looked around him. His little team found cover behind the wreckage of some construction equipment. The minion controlling the small horde in front of Quentin actually melted a bulldozer with a beam from his artifact. Unfortunately for the minion, he couldn’t generate a blast that powerful and keep up a shield. Sport’s slug nearly decapitated the minion.

“Seraph’s hurt bad,” Quentin reported. He looked around. “Matt, can you see that church spire about fifty feet up with the gilded cross?”

“Looks brand-new?” Matt asked, “Yeah, it’s to my ten o’clock, maybe a couple of hundred yards.” Quentin consulted the map on the PDA strapped to his forearm and did some quick calculations.

“I think we’re about six blocks west of you,” Quentin said, “Can you get to us? I don’t want to move Seraph if at possible.” There was a moment of tense silence.

“Yeah, the chief thinks so. Hole up and see if you can think up an extract,” Mateo answered. Quentin let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He looked down at the beautiful woman. She looked so weak holding the blood soaked bandage to her side.

“Marc, you and Sport keep that horde off of us,” Quentin said. The Frenchman looked at Quentin with wide eyes.

“Are you mad?” Marc asked, “You want me to fight the undead with this?” He shook the Glock 17 Sport handed him earlier. Quentin grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and lifted him off the ground.

“Yes with that pistol, and when that runs out, either find another or pick up a stone to throw at them. You will fight them until you are dead or we’re extracted, do you understand me?” Marc paled as his eyes locked onto Quentin’s cold dark eyes. The French agent swallowed hard and wordlessly nodded. Quentin released him and bent down to Seraph.

“Hold on Seraph, help’s on the way,” Quentin said quietly, stroking the woman’s hair. She looked up and gave him a mirthless smile.

“You think even your pill pusher can fix this up?” she asked, every word wracking her form with pain.

“He’s dealt with worse,” Quentin said, trying to look confident. He looked down at his PDA. How were they supposed to get everyone out of this city? They’d driven into the city in Seraph’s huge, slightly armored SUV. From some pirated television signals, Quentin saw most of the downtown was flooded with groups of undead. They were trapped between the Black Sea and zombies. How were they going to get out? As he stared at the map, the solution smacked him in the face.

“Quentin, hold your fire,” Mateo said, startling the big man out of his thoughts, “We’re coming up your back.” Quentin looked up as Chief Stahl and The Steve trotted over from a building corner. Chief Stahl moved up to help Sport and Marc. The Steve hands were already yanking all sorts of medical gear as he kneeled down next to Seraph.

“Got this dude. Don’t worry. The Steve will fix up your lady friend good,” The Steve said, his trademark smile plastered on his face as inspected the wound. The Steve thumbed back to where the rest of the team was trotting up. “Dude, the boss is going to need you to figure out how we’re going to get out of here.” Quentin nodded, unhappy about leaving Seraph. It was his fault that she was hurt. If he’d been faster taking down that gollum, it would never have managed to get a piece of her. That didn’t mean The Steve was wrong. Quentin got up and walked over to Mateo.

“You come up with a solution?” Mateo asked, slinging his G36.

“Maybe,” Quentin said, holding up his PDA, “The truck is parked in this garage about eight blocks north of us. A small team could get up there and get it.”

“That’s a pretty infested area,” Mateo commented, “What good’s getting the truck going to do us? We’re not going to be able to drive out of the city.”

“No, but it will get us to the docks,” Quentin said, highlighting some streets. “Trying to go this way would be suicide on foot, but the truck with some shooters on the roof could make it. I checked the marina. A lot of boats left, but there are a couple of nice yachts and some speedboats. If we can get out into the Black Sea, we should be able to get some help from M&W.” Mateo thought about it for a moment.

“Okay. Take Jim, Jess, and Billy. Let Jim drive the truck and have Jess up top with her rifle,” Mateo said. “Get in, get the truck, and get back. Don’t waste time fighting unless you don’t have a choice.” Mateo motioned for the Jess and the cowboy to join them. The large spirit wolf trotted happily behind Jess. Mateo filled them in on the plan and sent the team off.

Jim took the lead. The cowboy was missing his normal rifle and revolvers, but he was handling the AK proficiently. Quentin came behind him with his Colt 10mm in one hand and a four foot length of rebar in the other. Quentin understood Jim missing his normal weapons. Quentin really wanted his normal warhammer. If they came across a hardware store, Quentin was going to get a sledge. Jess and Billy brought up the rear. Jess had her rifle slung and was holding her pistol in a low ready. The quartet slinked through the streets.

Mateo and the rest of the team was busy making as much noise as they could to draw as many of the undead to their position as possible. Even two blocks over, Quentin could hear the gunfire and explosions. Quentin didn’t know how Mateo’s group was blowing stuff up and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. It was doing the trick. The small alleys were deserted as they made their way north to the truck. They’d gone about halfway to the garage when the alley they were using suddenly opened into a small courtyard that had been converted to a parking lot. In the center of the courtyard were four Truth sorcerers chanting around what looked like a small version of the stone table the Truth used back in Wyoming a year or so ago. Billy growled as he stepped into view.

“Well, as I live and breathe, how did you manage to find me Nate?” asked one of the sorcerers. The sorcerer turned around and pulled off his elaborate gold and feather Aztec headdress. Quentin stared into the scarred visage of Alan, the Truth’s lead sorcerer.

“Just lucky I guess,” Jim answered congenially. The tall cowboy slung his assault rifle and cracked his knuckles. “There’s a couple things you need to know though Alan.”

“Oh, what?” asked the sorcerer, clearly intrigued. The other three sorcerers were taking up positions behind their leader.

“First, I just go by Jim these days. I put Nate behind me,” Jim said.

“Sad, but understandable. I take it things didn’t work out with her,” Alan asked, looking sincerely compassionate to his one-time friend and now enemy. “What’s the second thing, Jim?”

“I aim to end you here and now.” The courtyard crackled with electricity as the battle began.

[Zombie Strike Part 10 Chapter 104]