One - The Bitter End

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Cullen

I never thought it would all end this way.

"On your knees!" A dark-haired Degenerate screams at Ike as he forcefully throws him to the ground. Ike and his partner have also had the misfortune of having their hands tied behind their backs.

We are screwed. This is all my fault. I led them here, and now, we are all going to pay the price for it.            

I look to my right, where Ike and an unfamiliar teenager are on their knees next to me. There are three Degenerates standing before us, one equipped with a rifle, and the other two with knives. The Degenerate holding the rifle looks no older than twenty one. He has shaggy brown hair and green eyes. There is a scar across his eyebrow and I wonder how he acquired it. I'm curious how long he's been a Degenerate; how many people he has killed.

He is pointing the rifle into the face of the blond teenager who is breathing heavily and teary-eyed. I lock eyes with Ike, and it's enough to realize that this isn't the end for us. It can't be. We've come too far to die now.

Without being too obvious, I lean back. Enough to touch my hands to the ground. I am touching the dirt with my fingers, trying to find anything I can use to cut my ties. I find what feels like a sharp, jagged rock and begin carefully running my binds across it. The other Degenerates are too focused on their leader with the gun to notice what I am up to. I have to take advantage of this.

The young Degenerate shoves his rifle into the face of the blond teenager making him quiver with fear. He is begging, pleading for his life. He is telling them he will do whatever they want if they just let him live, and they are laughing like the sadistic bastards they are.

"Did you just fucking piss yourself?" The one with the rifle asks, glancing back at his minions. They begin cackling in unison. I watch as he takes the rifle and points it right at the crotch of the teenager's pants. "Holy fucking shit, he pissed himself."

It's almost too much for me to watch. I turn my focus back on freeing myself from the restraints.

"Please! Please!" he cries.

"You don't have to do this," Ike says calmly, turning the attention on himself.

"Oh no?" the Degenerate asks in a condescending tone. "And what...you just expect us to let you go? To let you live? Hell no, you'd kill us the first chance you got."

Ike shakes his head. "None of this has to end in bloodshed. We have a good thing going here. You guys could join us. We are going to begin rebuilding."

The Degenerate laughs, looking back at the others behind him. "And what? We'd all live happily ever after and sing Kumbaya? Yeah, right." He snorts and then turns the gun back on the blond. "No, we have orders and we intend to follow them through."

Everything happens in slow motion then. My hearing intensifies as I hear him pull the trigger, and the bullet dislodge from the gun. I still have no idea who this teenager is, but the idea that he is going to die for being in association with us, eats me up inside. The bullet meets his flesh, and his body falls roughly to the ground.

"Shit! It went straight through him! Did you see that, guys?" the gunman brags, as he steps closer to the body to get a better look.

He shot him in the head. Poor guy didn't even stand a chance. I can hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears as I fight with the ropes around my wrists. I know the rock is making headway into the ties, but not fast enough. I hear the footsteps inching closer as I glance up. The gunman is now in front of Ike.

Ike turns his head to lock eyes with me. I want to say something, but I can't with the duct tape across my lips. Ike smiles weakly. "They won't win," he says softly.

"I guess that's where you're wrong," the gunman states calmly, pointing the rifle in Ike's face. "Degenerates always win."

When he pulls the trigger, I close my eyes because I can't see my friend go out like this; in cold blood. But something happens that has me opening them like blinds. The gun jams. It's only a second, but enough time for Ike to make a move. I watch as Ike plows into the gunman, throwing the rifle to the ground. Ike is a hell of a fighter, even when he is tied up.

I feel the last bit of my rope break on my wrist ties, and I charge one of the other Degenerates with as much force and speed as I can muster. I knock the knife out of his hands, and wrap my hands around his neck, gripping until I feel the life go out of his body. I'm not sure if he's dead at this point, but I'm not waiting to find out. I reach for the knife from the ground, hastily cutting all the ropes that bind me.

I feel a sharp pain in my side and look up to find the last Degenerate standing before me, his knife drawn and dark, red blood spilling from the tip of it. I stagger backwards, falling to the ground. The Degenerate raises the knife in the air as if he is about to stab me again, when I hear the deafening sound of a gunshot. The Degenerate falls on top of me, lifeless.

I feel the pressure lighten as I see Ike, now free, pulling the dead Degenerate off of me. As he helps me to my feet, I notice the Degenerate I choked earlier begin moving. Ike rips the tape off of my mouth. "What are we going to do with him?" I motion with my head, knowing our time is running out.

Ike glances away from me and at one of the bases of the treehouses. "We are going to get some answers."

We use the same ropes that had previously held us captive to tie him up, hanging him upside down from one of the lower branches. He is hissing and squirming, tossing threats our way left and right.

"Where did they take them?" Ike asks, pressing one of the knives to his throat.

Instead of answering, he spits directly into his face. Ike wipes it off and then ends up cutting both his wrists. The Degenerate screams from pain, breathing in deeply. I glance around, already feeling the dragging feet in our direction.

"I guess you'll just have to bleed out then," Ike bites under his breath. We begin to walk away when the Degenerate finally gives in.

"Wait! Wait!" he screams. "Don't leave me here. I'll tell you where they took them! I'll tell you everything!"

Ike leans in so that he is closer to the traitor's mouth. "Talk."

I am gripping my side from the pain and to keep pressure on my wound, but I can tell I am losing a lot of blood. I am swaying from side to side, weakly. "Ike," I call out to my friend.

He holds up his hand as he continues listening to what the enemy has to say.

I stumble over to one of the other tree bases and lean against it. I can barely keep my head up. I can see the biters in the distance, making their way slowly toward us. "Ike, we have to move!" I say with more urgency.

He lifts his head and follows my gaze. I watch as he pulls on the ropes, lifting the Degenerate even further up into the air. He is dangling upside down about ten feet off the ground. "I thought we had a deal!" he cries.

Ike double knots the rope before looking back at him. "A Degenerates' word means nothing. You are now our escape plan."

He rushes over to me, toting the rifle, and then throws his head under my arm and quickly maneuvers us to the ladder of the treehouse. "What are you doing?" I ask.

Ike turns his head toward the road and then back to me. "We don't have time. We have to get up there, to safety."

I don't bother asking for any more explanations as we slowly make our way up the base of the tree and onto the deck of the first treehouse. We are high enough when the first biters appear, they don't even notice us. They head straight to the upside down Degenerate. He is obviously weak from his blood loss, but he is screaming, exerting the rest of his energy. Ike pulls me into the first treehouse, locking the door behind us. He drops me onto the bed and rushes around grabbing supplies to help.

The screaming seems to go on forever outside as I imagine the biter population grows below us. I blink my eyes a few times, trying to stay conscious, but soon, I've lost all the fight in me. "Stay with me, Cullen," I hear Ike faintly before my eyes roll into the back of my head and I give in to my fatigue.

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