You didn’t honestly think I’d die that easily, did you? Sorry to disappoint.
Of course, I had assistance with surviving. As I jumped, someone shot a bullet clean through the noose above my head, splitting the rope. Holy crap that was a good shot. I knew from experience that having that kind of accuracy was stupidly difficult. Whoever had fired it clearly knew their weapon and was a world Olympian level crack shot (do they even have guns in the Olympics?).
Of course, I didn’t think any of that. I was too busy thinking “okay, I’m dead”. Then I was too busy yelling as I fell two meters, completely unprepared and landed awkwardly. Luckily, I didn’t bust my ankle or anything like that. That would really have ruined my day. Not that it could get much worse, mind you.
My first thought, after surprise that I wasn’t dead and shock at the fall, was that maybe Cat had come back to save me. Okay, that was dumb. If she planned to save me, she would never have gotten me hanged in the first place. But if it wasn’t her, then who would it be? I didn’t think I had ever actually been nice to anyone.
Never mind. I was in the middle of a town of people who wanted me dead, weaponless and lying on the floor. For a moment, I considered surrendering and letting them kill me, before I shoved the thought away. I had another shot at life, and I was going to take it. Step one was probably to do something about the whole lying on the floor thing.
Picking myself up, I saw only people. Most surprised, some angry. A few were already reaching for their weapons. Kicking up some dust as I awkwardly stumbled around the stage, I placed the scaffold between me and any incoming projectiles, allowing me to focus on the melee aspect of combat. As far as I could tell, there were two guards, the executioner and whoever the weedy advisor was. The guards, naturally, were the ones who went for me. Both drew swords of impure metal, probably forged in town. That was good, I guess. They weren’t of the quality of a proper sword, and so would hopefully snap if I-
Crap. This is why I should stop thinking when there are people trying to kill me.
Stumbling back, I avoided the sword strike and spun, kicking the guy in the stomach with what I thought was a perfectly executed roundhouse kick. Of course, since I had never actually seen anyone do the kick, I couldn’t validate it. The second guy swung at me from above and I ducked under the scaffold, hearing his sword strike splinter the wood next to my face. Hurriedly, I kicked the guy in the balls. Or I would have, if he hadn’t been wearing metal underwear.
I probably would have won that fight, but it didn’t matter either way because I was saved again by whoever my rescuer was. They really were a damn good shot, hitting the man in the face and sending his mostly headless body spinning onto the ground. Taking advantage, I swept forward and snatched his sword from the ground. Now we were talking.
Letting a smile of assured bloodlust adorn my face, I looked at the other guard, who was now coming for me. Maybe my kicks weren’t as effective as I hoped. There followed an awesome swordfight which would have looked good on film. Just kidding. One decent hit and the guy went down. Humans are so much more fragile in real life.
And then my shoulder wound split open, which really didn’t help. Turns out I suck at sword fighting when one of my arms is bleeding all over the place. Luckily, adrenalin was keeping it from hurting too much. Briefly, I wondered exactly how much damage I was doing to my arm, before deciding it would do far more damage to stay here and let the people kill me.
“EVERYONE, PUT THE WEAPONS DOWN!” came a male voice, blaring through a megaphone. I kind of recognised it, but couldn’t place it.
No one took any notice, as far as I noticed. Then someone fired a burst of automatic gunfire into the sky and the raucous of my kind-of escape died almost immediately. Everyone’s heads, including mine, turned to the rim of the stadium, where a man with an assault rifle was standing. I recognised him instantly – my jailer from my time in the bunker and the one Cat and I had been searching for all this time – James. Huh. Maybe freeing him did work out after all.
“I REPEAT, PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE SCAFFOLD” he called.
Surprisingly, most people obeyed. Probably something to do with the highly efficient death machine he held. I stepped into the centre, where he could see me more clearly, lowering the sword to my side and using my other hand to try to stop my shoulder from bleeding out. Of course, there was pain, enough that I just wanted to collapse on the ground sobbing. But I didn’t, because I’m more badass than that.
The walk up through the stands to where James was standing was probably one of the tensest moments in my life. Any second, one of the people I was walking past could have stuck a knife in my gut and disappeared into the crowd but, luckily for me, they didn’t. James slowly backed away, taking me with him, until we were safely out of sight, at which point we sprinted away as fast as we could so as to avoid the lynch mob that would no doubt hunt us down.
In the end, we ended up in a dank and weedy back alley, waiting for the guard change at the city gates so we could slip out. So I assumed, anyway – James hadn’t said a word to me. Time to change that.
“Thank you for saving me” I told him, trying to put as much earnestness into it as I could.
“You’re welcome” he replied. “We’re even”
“Oh, right. It was just about that? Someone else seems to like the idea of fairness” I commented.
“Of course it wasn’t just about that” he said. “No one in their right mind would leave you to roam free. You’re too much of a loose cannon, Fenrir”
“Call me Fen”
“Fen then. I have a proposition for you. A chance to make right the damage you have caused to our bunker’s security. It makes use of your … erm … more unique talents”
“So, what is this proposition?”
He stared at me coldly. “Either you remove New Beginnings from the map – no survivors, no one to tell anyone where we are based, or I shoot you here and now”
He wanted me to destroy the town? That was fair enough, except I didn’t feel New Beginnings deserved destruction. Despite their attempts to hang me, and the whole newly solved slavery issue, it was easily one of the best towns I’d ever visited and I had to say, I liked it.
“That’s not really a choice, is it?” I told him.
“No.” He put it bluntly. “We will be moving a couple of our surface forces into the city tomorrow, to wipe the place out. You’re only free because I saw fit to suggest that you might rapidly speed up the process and lessen our casualties. There is a squad waiting outside the city to act under your command and target whatever structures you see fit. They also have orders to shoot you if you try to run or sabotage our attack”
Damn, these bunker people were good. I struggled to find a loophole I could exploit.
“And what about afterwards?” I asked. “When I’m done levelling this place?”
“We’ll see.” He answered.
They were going to kill me. Of course, James himself had admitted I was too dangerous to let loose. I wondered briefly if they had overestimated me, before cutting off my own line of thought before I self-analysed too deeply. There were a few options available here:
I point blank refused to help James right here and now, and probably be shot. I agreed to help and assisted as much as possible in the attack, in the hope that they might not shoot me afterwards (unlikely). I agreed to help and attempted to find a way to escape and sabotage the attack, which had an incredibly high likelihood of me dying in it.
None of them looked particularly pleasing. Seemed I had been rescued from one death sentence only to end up in a far more elaborate one.
“So,” said James, hand resting on his gun, “will you help us”
I calculated the odds, factoring in how much I trusted people.
“Yes” I replied. “I will help. Never liked this place anyway”
“Good” he nodded. “The guards are switching, let’s go”
Bizarrely, I felt a burst of satisfaction at being able to guess that. A regular oracle, me. Not.
We headed out of the alley, standing tall and trying to act inconspicuous (it’s far more effective to hide in plain sight) as we headed towards the gates. The first set of guards were looking over to the left, where their replacements were arriving from, battered armour glinting. While they were distracted, James lifted the bolt on the gate and we slipped through. Stupidly easy.
There were zombies on the other side, of course, but not enough to be a serious threat. We outran them after a couple of blocks. James was trying to pull off the stoic, wannabe, hero vibe and succeeding, but I wasn’t impressed. This guy was willing to wipe out a whole town for his own gain rather than for the greater good, and that’s just not on.
But still, New Beginnings wouldn’t go down easily. Trust me, I’m the expert.