As we walked back through the town square, a band was playing. An actual, honest to God, band. I hadn’t seen an organised group of musicians for five years, heck, I hadn’t even heard music for at least three. I have a thing for music – when this whole nightmare began I stayed sane by listening to songs on my iPod, then, when that ran out, on other looted music devices. Unfortunately, nowadays you can almost never find one that works. Still, what with the happy atmosphere, nice beer and live music, ‘New Beginnings’ was rapidly becoming the best place I had ever visited.
Assuming you ignored the slavery, but I would deal with that later. On the way, I stopped at several shops and asked around for a ‘Manuel’, but received only blank looks in return. Seemed this elusive shadowy figure was even more elusive and shadowy than I thought he would be. I didn’t blame him, I know the power that comes from being shrouded in darkness – it’s a good feeling.
Rather than heading back to the hotel room to be bored out of my mind once more, I decided to see the sights. Honestly, there weren’t many. There was one pre-zombie statue on a roundabout and a war memorial of all the people who died building the giant concrete wall that ringed the town. It surprised me how many there were – I estimated it to be around ninety or so people. And then of course there were the things I really wanted to see.
Cat didn’t question my sudden tour, probably too busy wondering if her brother was okay. I’d given up trying to console her – James’ life would be hell for a few days but I doubted they’d hurt him that badly. After all, what use is a crippled slave? Besides which, her brother had something not many slaves had – someone who gave a shit about their predicament.
There were two stairways up to the giant concrete wall, both of them accessible by the public. Both of them were molded from concrete like the wall itself and they were reassuringly solid, which was good because the walls were the height of a four storey building and there were no handrails. At the top, I felt a light chill from the soft breeze that was blowing over the wall and pulled my coat a little tighter around me.
The top of the concrete wall was about two and a half meters across, with half a meter on either side painted with a yellow strip and no safety rails. Obviously, they wanted to be able to easily shove people off. After all, why have giant walls if not for that purpose? The concrete underfoot had been smoothed but was still rough enough to provide a surface I wouldn’t slip on. Unless I did something especially stupid, I wasn’t going to end up doing a short drop into the gaping mouths of the zombies clustered around the base of the wall.
While the wall itself was impressive, what I really wanted to see were the ballistae. I believe I already mentioned how much I love them, so you shouldn’t be too surprised. The closest one was mounted on a two meter square raised section of concrete with a turntable to allow it a full 360 degrees of motion. I could also see that from the way it was hinged, the crossbow could be aimed about 45 degrees towards the sky and nearly straight down at the base of the wall. Seemed the designer had everything covered.
The ballista itself was made of thick wood, intricately carved and extremely well put together. It was designed so that there were two bowstrings making an ‘x’ over the flight groove, each one connected to a pair of wooden limbs that connected at the front of the giant crossbow. It was not currently loaded so as not to strain the wood, but when this thing fired, it was going to put a lot of power into the shot. At the rear of the crossbow was a mechanism for winching back the bowstrings, which worked via a large metal handle.
Lying next to the crossbow, tied under a small tarpaulin, was a pyramid of crossbow bolts. I could see that some were tipped with glass bottles filled with a murky liquid, some tipped with a mixture of metal spikes and lethal wooden splinters, and one with what looked like a small explosive. Whoever had made these had clearly taken some time to make bolts which would actually be effective against the undead.
“It’s beautiful” I whispered, admiring the tool of death and destruction in front of me.
“Isn’t it just” said Cat, who had assumed I had been talking about the view, which in turn was pretty impressive. From here, we could see for miles across the deserted city, including the raised motorway we had come in on. The sight was only barely tarnished by the low grey smog of a chemical spill in the distance.
“I was talking about the ballista”
“What? It’s a lovely piece of machinery” I pointed out.
She didn’t seem convinced. Luckily, some people tried to kill us so I dodged the bullet of an awkward silence. It was a gang of four guys and one woman, all dressed in typical zombie-fighting attire and a rogue look about them. Three of them blocked the way down behind us while the other two came out from behind the ballista I had just been complimenting.
The woman carried a loaded bow and one of the men carried what looked like a javelin, with three more strapped across his back. Both of them hung back while the other three, one carrying an axe, the other two carrying metal clubs spiked with glass, advanced on us. All three of them carried shields of metal plate on their other arms, assumedly to block projectiles.
Since I had left my heavy backpack back at the B&B, I was only carrying my knives, sword and crossbow. Luckily, Cat was carrying her assault rifle and I silently cursed myself for not bringing one of my own. The metal plates would block crossbow bolts but I doubted they would hold against bullets. I suddenly became acutely aware of the several thousand NB pounds I was carrying on my person.
Sliding Skullfucker from my shoulder into my hands, I calmly slid a bolt into position, eyeing my opposition. The men stopped about five meters away, holding their shields ready, before one of them called to us.
“If you drop your weapons now and tell us where to find that rocket launcher you had on you earlier, we might let you live” he offered.
Five against two would not be a fair fight, especially with the mix of ranged and melee weapons they carried. If only they didn’t have those damned shields. Unfortunately, I seriously doubted they would let us live if we gave in to them and my dignity wouldn’t allow it. Still, if I was going to die being mugged by some random stranger atop a high wall with a long drop to solid concrete on both sides, I was at least going to do it in style.
Beside me, Cat was scared shitless. I honestly didn’t blame her, since it was probably the first time she had been in a life of death situation. But my adrenalin had kicked in and I desperately needed her to shoot the fuckers.
“Back to back” I told her. “Keep shooting until they die”
She didn’t respond, and it took me a moment to realise she was shaking. Oh, that was all I needed. She was having a bloody panic attack. Not a good time.
“Final chance” warned the grunt.
I flashed him a smile. Fine. I was going down fighting.
“Now, you see, usually I would have some snappy one-liner for this. But honestly, I cannot think of one right now. Can we put this off until tomorrow?”
“Alright, get them” ordered the man. “Kill or incapacitate them, we can’t have them getting away. Those guns are too valuable”
I shot him. Or, I would have if he hadn’t brought his shield up just in time to clip my bolt and make it draw a bloody streak across his cheek instead. Oh man, that was going to leave a scar. Consider that a memoir of the time when he tried to fuck with Fenrir. The woman with the bow shot a couple of seconds later and I had barely enough time to shove Cat to the ground and take the arrow myself like a man. And OH FUCK DID IT HURT.
Well, one thing I can definitely advise is not getting shot with arrows. It hurts like hell. The bolt hit me in the left shoulder and it damn near incapacitated me in one shot. Basically, I’m not a big fan of pain and avoid it as much as possible. But my recent training in the noble art of having my muscles feel like someone had taken a lemon-coated cheese grater to them at Cat’s bunker had left me with a slightly higher pain tolerance. So I got up and pulled the arrow out.
That was probably a bad idea. You see, arrowheads are designed to go in one way and I was lucky not to take most of my shoulder with it when it pulled back out again. Luckily, the woman had skimped on her arrow-making and made it a nice thin head which probably minimalised the damage I should have done by doing that. I shall be eternally grateful to her for the continued use of my shoulder, when I’m not cursing her for shooting me in the first place.
Still, it didn’t matter much. When you’re in agony and bleeding severely from a shoulder wound, taking on five people is hard as hell. Since I couldn’t reload Skullfucker one-handed, I dropped my lovely crossbow and drew my wakizashi. The first guy came at me from the side and for a moment the pain was forgotten as I neatly brought down the sword on his head, which forced him to raise the shield, at which point I kicked him in the stomach. He then doubled over into my ascending knee.
With that guy down with blood spurting everywhere from his ruined nose, I moved onto the next guy, who was ready. He brought his axe round in several arcs which forced me backwards, before I spotted a weak spot in his attack plan. So I dropped the sword and caught his axe just below the handle, dragging it towards me and twisting his hand so he let go. Then I bludgeoned his head in with his own axe.
With no practice using one, I was useless with my new weapon. The third man, the grunt leader who had threatened us, knocked it out of my hand with one swing of his spiked club, which caught the underside on the axe blade and hooked it right out of my hand, sending it sailing over the side and down towards the eager faces of the zombies below.
The man’s other hand connected with my jaw and sent me sprawling, my head nearly cracking nastily against the concrete, but I was saved by having most of my upper torso over the edge of the wall. Which in itself meant I was going to die. And that’s exactly how far I got before I heard the crack of a gun and the guy’s leg spurted blood over the concrete. Way to go, Cat.
She had a scraped and bleeding jaw from where I had shoved her over onto concrete, but was sitting up and pointing one shaking hand at my attackers, pistol raised. For some reason she was using the handgun rather than the far more effective assault rifle lying right in front of her, but I wasn’t complaining.
“Everyone put down your weapons or your leader fucking dies!” she screamed, on the edge of hysteria.
No one moved until she fired again, the bullet clipping the guy’s arm. At which point he probably decided that antagonising the terrified girl clutching a lethal weapon was a bad idea. He put down his club and stepped back, hands raised. The woman lowered her bow uncertainly while the guy with the javelins helped the guy whose nose I had totaled to his feet. I myself took this opportunity to pull myself to relative safety.
Cat kept the gun trained on the man while all four living attackers had backed off, before firing another shot blindly. They quickly left, probably regretting their decision to try and mug the two most well-armed people in town. Then she sank to the ground and began to sob, which wasn’t helpful at all, considering I needed serious first-aid. Like, seriously. My shoulder felt like it was being dipped in fucking acid.
Trying not to worry too much about the pain, the sticky red stuff soaking through my clothing and the lightheaded feeling I was getting, I crawled over to Cat’s prostrate form and gently shook her shoulder.
“I know this is a bad time what with you nearly shooting someone, the fear of imminent death and me killing a guy in front of you, but I really need you to help me get to a doctor”
She didn’t reply, tears slowly dripping onto the rough concrete.
“Eh, never mind” I shrugged.
I’ll give you a tip: if you ever get shot in the shoulder, don’t ever shrug. It feels like someone’s stabbing you with a poker, and then the wound is dipped in a mixture of lemon and salt. I made a slight shriek in pain, which rather ruined the ‘calm fallen hero’ thing I was going for.
“So, I can die here of slow blood loss via the wound I got protecting a beautiful girl, or you can stop wasting your tears and help me” I told her, stretching out next to her on the concrete.
Cat brought up one hand and wiped her face on her sleeve, which if I’m completely honest just made it worse.
“You turned you dying into an excuse to compliment me” she whispered. “You utter fucking bastard”
“What?” I protested. “You are pretty damn cute. Besides which, I needed to guilt-trip you into helping me. I don’t plan of dying of something as lame as an arrow. And if you’re not going to help, you could at least give me a goodbye kiss”
She flushed red.
“Ignore me” I quickly added. “I’m high off my face on whatever pain-reliever my body’s filled itself with. Makes me damn lightheaded”
Cat smiled slightly, then picked herself up, collected the weapons, helped me up and we went in search of a doctor.