Chapter One Part Four - Sacrifice

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“There’s more now than there was before,” said Ken, his voice strained. The effort of standing upright for long periods of time was a lot for him, considering his leg was so severely injured.
            “Still no sign of the Jackies or Craig, either,” Annalise replied from within the boot of the Astra. Ken could quite clearly hear the sound of sword scraping on stone. It wasn’t the ideal way for Annalise to sharpen her blade, mostly because whilst it wasn’t the loudest sound in the world it was hardly the quietest, either. It was, however, pretty much the only way she was able to do it and in that respect, it would have to do. “And I’m not holding out much hope for seeing James and Fiona again.”
            As she clambered out of the boot there was a rustling in the bushes at the side of the road. Immediately taking a defensive stance, Annalise held her sword at a comfortable height, one where she was able to attack or defend against whatever was coming towards her. With her free hand she frantically gestured that Ken should hide himself. She was certain that even with his bad leg he could handle himself against a single Zed but any more than that, she was not so sure.
            “Stand down.” Annalise breathed a quiet sigh of relief upon hearing James’ voice and she smiled as he exited the brush with Fiona in tow. The latter had her left arm held in a sling comprising of an old t-shirt. “It wasn’t a Zed.”
            “I’m glad,” she replied, realising that she must have been staring at the injured arm a little too keenly. “Glad to see you guys made it out, too.”
    “Barely,” said Fiona, quietly. “If James hadn’t been up for a piss and therefore awake, we’d have ended up like the rest.”
    “It was fight or flight,” said James with a helpless shrug. “And yeah I can take out a Zed here and there, but humans with Zeds in tow? Man, I’ve never killed a person and I don’t think I ever could.”
    “You might have to,” said Ken, struggling to speak and hobble at the same time. “We still don’t know who those guys are and other than the fact they killed three of our own as they ran us out of their place, we don’t know anything about them, either.”
    “Ken’s right,” said Annalise, nodding. “It could come down to us or them and I’ve no intention of going down without a fight.”
    “That’s what she said,” said James with a chuckle as he flicked his head towards Fiona. He received a smile and a punch to the arm for his trouble.
    “It looks like it’s just us.” Annalise smiled at the couple’s banter. It was nice to see and hear, even if the timing wasn’t perfect. “What do you say we..?”
    She cut herself off mid-sentence. The sound of a gunshot ringing out will do that.
    “Ken, get in the car and stay there,” she said and held up her hand as the man made to protest. “I can’t be worrying about you whilst fighting so give your hammer to James and do as you’re told. There’s a pistol in the glove box. Only use it if you need to.”
    “Stay with Ken,” James said to Fiona. “I figure he needs looking after and don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. ‘Lise won’t let anything happen to me.”
    Fiona shot a questioning glance towards Annalise who simply nodded slightly in response.
    Long before Ken and Fiona were safely inside the Astra, Annalise and James were already running down the curved drive towards the hotel. Trees lined the tarmac on either side and it was only now and again, through occasional breaks in the foliage, that they were able to see their actual destination.
    By the time they reached the drive’s end the patrolling Zeds were a good fifty feet away. Annalise guessed there was at least a dozen still standing and about half that number on the ground, dead. Those still moving appeared to be converging on a particular point which could only mean one thing; they had located food.
    James knocked the head of the sledgehammer upon the concrete as they ran, hoping to distract the Zeds from whatever they’d found. It worked to a point and Annalise drew her sword as a small handful of zombies broke off from the main pack and turned into a slow, uneven amble towards them.
    She smiled as she separated head from neck and even took a moment to be impressed at how James handled himself, Ken’s sledgehammer serving him well.
    They quickly reached the main pack, having put down those Zeds that had decided to approach them, and Annalise set to work pulling Zeds away one by one, lining them up for James to swing the sledgehammer and in a couple of cases, actually knock their heads right off their shoulders.
    The Zeds were definitely feeding and Annalise grimaced, hoping that when she pulled the final Zed from its meal she wouldn’t find…
    “Jackie…” she said, quietly. “Wait, both of you?” The confusion came about because one of the Jackies, the elder of the two, had used her own body to shield her younger namesake from the teeth and nails of the Zeds. She’d done so successfully, too, if the lacerations and missing chunks of flesh were anything to go by.
    “No, just one,” said Jackie as she struggled to clamber out from beneath her saviour. “Technically, anyway… She saved me, even after she’d got bit she saved me.”
    “The gunshot?”
    “That was for her,” Jackie replied with tears streaming unashamedly down her face. “I waited ‘til she turned… She made me promise…”

***

    Moments later, James returned with Ken and Fiona in tow, having walked the length of the drive to let them know it was safe.
    Fiona pulled the Astra to a halt a few feet from the hotel entrance and for the first time, the group managed to get a decent look at the place.
    “Wood built,” said Ken. “It’s just like an enormous log cabin.”
    “I’d wager the logs are hammered into a good foot or so of brick and concrete,” said James. “It’d keep more heat in that way.”
    “And it’d be safer for us, too,” Annalise added. “There’s an awful lot of buildings on these grounds but this, the main hotel, appears to be split into five distinct wings, shaped like a starfish.”
    “What do you think, one wing at a time?”
    “Definitely,” she replied. “First thing’s first, we need to secure this wing here, with the entrance. Make sure nothing can get in or out unless we want it to. Then we can set about exploring and securing the rest of the place.”
    “Who’s going in?” asked Ken.
    “You feeling up to it, Jackie?” Annalise asked as she turned to the still-crying girl.
    “Yeah, I owe it to Jackie.”
    “In which case Jackie, James and I will go in. You guys keep a watch and kill anything that comes out.”
    “Sounds like a plan, should I knock on the door?”
    Annalise replied with a half-nod. Ken took his sledgehammer from James, smiling as he felt the weight of the thing in his hands once again and using the end of the handle, he tapped forcefully upon the wood beside the door. A few seconds passed by and he repeated the process.
    “You don’t think the place is Zedless, do you?” he asked, turning to Annalise.
    “I’d be surprised if it was but stranger things have happened,” she replied with a shrug. Having heard the knock, any Zed within the building would normally have come shambling to the fore by now. “Give it another go and if not, we’ll have to be careful is all.”

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