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The prey underneath me stopped struggling. My vision was shaking, blurred. Loud crashes rang through my ears. There was a crack. Did the prey break my dome? I stood up. But before I could get halfway, another vision-rattling strike knocked me down. Dangerous. Instead of climbing up, I rolled over. The prey swung its shield, smashing the visor of its dying companion. It chased me as I rolled, running towards me. One step, two steps. On its third step, I rolled towards it. The rolling trees on the hill could knock others over. Why couldn’t I do the same?

The prey yelped, its legs crashing into my torso. There was a cracking sound. I think something broke. But my chest isn’t important. Breaking my chest doesn’t hamper my movements. The prey fell while I climbed back up. The situation was reversed. But I didn’t have a shield to smash down with, only an arrow. The prey didn’t have any patches of skin exposed, stabbing its armored clothes wouldn’t do anything. What could I use? The hole-digging tool I dropped earlier. I picked it up. The prey was already on its feet by then. Instead of rushing at me, it raised its shield, took a step back. Its right arm dangled limp by its side, still injured from my last strike.

“Who are you?”

Did it think I could talk? I opened my mouth. But only a groan came out. I still can’t speak. I don’t think I ever can. It’s too difficult. I had practiced a few times while waiting for the meat to smoke. But all my efforts came back useless.

The prey and I had swapped positions. It took another step back, reached behind itself, shut the door while keeping its eye on me. It didn’t show any openings. It was better this way. If I kill the prey, the others won’t get in, won’t eat them. There’ll be a chance to preserve them. But there’s also a risk. The prey can kill me. Its arm is injured. If it wasn’t, I would’ve already ran. I wouldn’t have engaged in the first place if they hadn’t opened the door, catching me while I was digging a hole.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The prey was trembling. Its breaths labored. The injury on its arm must’ve done more than I thought. It didn’t break the bone; the arm is perfectly straight, how it should be. But the gash is deep. It turns out the hole-digging tool can pierce the prey’s armored clothes. Blood is running down its sleeve, dripping to the ground. It’s been a while since I’ve smelled fresh food. If the others were here, they’d have charged the prey long ago. But I’m not like the others. I’m smarter. I can wait. Prey die if they lose enough blood. I’m not sure how much. But if I wait long enough, harass the prey when it tends to its injury, I can kill it.

I’ll take steps back as well, distance myself from the prey. The commotion we caused earlier was loud, too loud. It attracted the others to the back door. The prey can’t flee that way. Even if I’m far away from it, the prey won’t try to escape.

“What are you?”

It’s still talking to me. Why? It knows I can’t respond. Maybe the prey isn’t talking to me? Is there another prey in the building? It’s possible that not all the prey came out. If there’s more than three, I’m in trouble. The others are loud too. It’s hard to hear. If a prey snuck up behind me, I wouldn’t know. There’s a corner that I can press myself into. I can keep my eye on the prey while protecting my back. If There’s only two entrances to this room, a doorway and the back door. If a prey comes in, as long as I’m standing in this corner, I’ll know.

“You…. You’re a smart infected, right?”

Yes, that’s right. Compared to all the others, I’m the smartest. But what is the prey trying to do? If it doesn’t tend to its injury, it’ll bleed to death. It’s not trying to escape either. It’s not trying to kill me. It’s only standing there, watching me. How is talking to me an avenue of survival for it? It has to kill me, fix its injury, escape. It’ll be hard to escape if its injured; it can’t fix its injury if I’m watching it. What’s it doing?

“Please respond.”

I think I understand. It happened before when I cornered a prey in a tree. That prey was surrounded; I had smeared brains on the trunk. It figured out I was smart. It didn’t have any chance of survival up there. That’s why, it talked to me, tried negotiating. It asked me to bring the others away, telling me it’d take me to a place with lots of prey. In the end, it was tricking me. But I knew, tricked it in return. This prey is trying to do the same, using words to deceive me. How? I want to know what trick it can come up with. While the prey stared at me, I nodded.

“You understand me?”

I nodded again.

“Why didn’t you respond earlier?”

Because I hadn’t figured out its intentions. How do I express that? I’m not sure. I shrugged.

“Why aren’t you trying to kill me?”

I’m waiting for the prey to die. I shrugged again.

“Then … are you going to let me go?”

I nodded.

“Really?”

I nodded again.

“I’m going to bandage my wound. There’s a first-aid kit behind you. Can you pass it to me?”

First-aid kit. The box that the last five prey had. It’s white with a red cross on it. I moved away from the corner, keeping my eye on the prey, looking for the box with my limited vision. Found it. I grabbed it, threw it over to the prey.

“Thank you.” The prey picked the box up. “If…, if you weren’t going to kill me in the first place, why did you lead a horde here?”

Maybe I should practice talking more. The only thing I can do is shrug. Again.

The prey didn’t move. It stared at me before inching over to the first-aid kit. Then it opened it, still watching me. Its shield lowered. I took a step forward. The shield rose back up. “What are you doing? Don’t come closer, please.” The prey inched to the side, dropping its shield, picking up the spear instead. Bad choice. A spear can’t defend against arrows. I’ll wait. When it’s about to fix its injury, I’ll shoot it. If I’m lucky, I won’t have to wait for it to bleed to death.

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Virlyce

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