Chapter 18 – No bones about it
Current Region: Confounding Cul-De-Sac
This was a bad idea. At least, that was Brent’s thinking as he raced across the grassy landscape after Harry. They had no idea what they were getting into, or if the person they had heard would be a friend or foe. Mostly though it was the running.
Keeping up with Harry was tough. Brent almost couldn’t believe it was the same man they had to help slowly limp along just now. But that was magic healing for you, or however the healing items in this world worked.
Reisa was managing to keep pace with the man, but Karisma was lagging behind, panting and wheezing.
To his credit Harry kept to the outskirts of the neighborhood, not venturing into those more enclosed spaces. Well, it was to the credit of his intelligence but to the detriment of everyone else’s stamina.
Fortunately he didn’t go that far, stopping at the top of another hill not too far from the one they had been resting on, looking over another part of the small fragment of a town.
Pumping his legs for the last stretch, Brent caught up to Harry and Reisa, and took in the view.
“Aiiiieeee!” Behind the first row of houses, a lone figure ran down the street, pursued by a shambling gray horde.
Ah. So that was where the rest of the zombies had gone.
“What do you think?” Harry asked Reisa as Karisma caught up, “Is that runner the mind control bloke you were talking about before?”
“No,” Reisa shook her head, “That’s not him. I would not soon forget such a face.”
Brent took a closer look at the figure himself, and confirmed that it wasn’t the glasses guy.
It was just… a guy. He had brown hair and was wearing a green vest and pants. His dress was a little strange, so Brent suspected he might also not be from Earth.
Could they help him? The whole chase was taking place some distance away. He probably wouldn’t be able to do much with his shotgun.
The revolver, perhaps? It didn’t have much ammo, so he would have to make every shot count. And he didn’t feel confident he could do that from this far away.
Ugh, if only Ray was there, he could have sniped the zombies from here. Brent felt his absence acutely, and despaired.
“OI! Get over here, we can help ya!” Harry hollered, his hands cupped around his mouth. The guy noticed, and started running towards them.
Right, they could just do that.
The horde was now bearing down on their hill after the poor fellow. “Here we go, mates.” Preparing for a repeat performance, Harry took out the DP-28 machine gun.
Click. The man frowned. “Strewth, but I never reloaded this. Anyone else have something while I sort this out?”
Wait, Ray had said “You need to rel” – had he been trying to say “reload”? Brent thought back. Had Ray actually been trying to remind Harry that he hadn’t reloaded his gun?
It seemed that in his anger, Brent had killed them. Well, maybe that was exaggerating things, but his actions had prevented them from finding out this crucial piece of information beforehand, and now it was coming back to bite them in the ass.
The group went into a panic as they sorted through their weapons.
“I have my bow, but as before I have only 4 arrows,” Reisa said.
Brent brought out his revolver and shrugged. “I have this, but it’s only got six shots.”
“I have, uh, this thing!” Karisma had the SMG with the cloth strap Brent had looked at earlier. What was the name?
“Good enough, have at them!”
Good enough? Was Harry even listening to them?
No, he was trying to load the black disc magazine of his gun. He looked up at them.
“Oi, do you want to save that bloke or what?”
The zombies weren’t going to wait for them to get ready. A fast one ran at the vested man from the side, it’s red sneakers pounding the pavement.
He didn’t seem to have any weapon to defend himself. It lunged at him, tackling him to the ground.
Brent raised his revolver, but was paralyzed with doubt.
Would he even be able to hit the zombie at this range? What if he ended up hitting the guy instead?
Reisa stepped up, her bow drawn, but she was too late. The zombie reached down and bit into the man, tearing out a chunk of his shoulder.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!!” The sight and his resounding scream made Brent wince.
The elf loosed her arrow nevertheless, and it flew through the air to spear through the zombie’s head, killing it instantly.
The zombie tumbled off of the man, and he slowly got up.
He walked forward a bit, feeling his wound and groaning, and for a moment it looked like he was going to be okay.
But then he stumbled, his skin going deathly pale. He doubled over, clutching his stomach, and then collapsed onto the asphalt.
Against all reason his whole body started to inflate like a balloon, bulging out far beyond any normal proportions. The swelling mounds of flesh lost any resemblance to a human shape, becoming a giant amorphous blob.
“Aw shite,” Harry swore, the others watching with morbid fascination.
Pulsating one last time, the blob then exploded, making the sound of a wet fart amplified many times over. Out of the gory wreckage came not one, not two, but five zombies coated in black fluid.
“What the fuck!” Brent loudly whispered, as Reisa turned away and Karisma clutched her mouth, on the verge of throwing up.
All of the new zombies were the size of an adult human, and sported the rabbit ears on their heads. Nothing about this world made any sense! To make matters worse, two of them had on red sneakers to designate them as fast zombies, and the fifth one looked especially corpulent.
The rest of the horde caught up with the newly created zombies, who seamlessly joined their number. They seemed to disperse, losing their focus after their prey had… been converted, and returned to aimlessly milling about.
“So that’s... what happens when one is bitten,” Reisa remarked shakily. “It’s even more terrible to see in person.”
Well, what happened was much different than Harry had described, but the main idea remained of it being bad. Really, really bad.
They would never be able to talk to that guy and find out who he was or anything else about him. Brent felt sick, not just from that sight, but from their abject failure. The guy had looked so ordinary, Brent could easily have imagined himself in that situation down there. If only Ray had come with them instead of staying back.
“They’re not coming after us,” Karisma said, having regained a little composure, “should we still, you know, shoot them?”
“I dunno,” Harry replied, a listless look on his face. “I thought we would have saved him by now. Didn’t expect that to happen.”
Maybe that was the problem, Brent thought, recalling the tragedy of Leeroy Jenkins. If they just rushed into the proverbial dungeon without a plan, without knowing what to expect, of course things would go wrong.
On the other hand, if they had spent too long making a plan, the guy might have died anyway. It was quite the dilemma, and Brent was silent as he pondered it.
The current situation at least was clear cut. There wasn’t immediate time pressure anymore, so they could afford to plan things out.
His train of thought was interrupted as he noticed a brief flash of pink light coming from behind one of the houses that was further back. A few seconds later a zombie walked out into the open.
He instantly made the connection. “Guys, I think I know where they’re coming from.” He pointed it out to the others. “I think there’s a spawner up ahead, probably the magic portal Dombey was talking about. If we destroy it, it’ll stop any more from appearing in this area.”
“That’s swell, mate, but if it’s eh, a magic portal, how do we destroy it?” Harry wondered.
“Uh, we just shoot it, I guess?” If there was a structure or secondary objective in an MMO, it could usually be destroyed just using normal attacks. Brent wasn’t sure if the same applied here though. “Even if we can’t, it’s worth checking out.”
“Should we go get Ray for this?” Karisma asked, looking around furtively to make sure no zombies had noticed them. “We could use his help. None of us have gotten seriously hurt so far but like, I feel that we’ve just been getting lucky, and our luck is gonna run out at some point, you know?”
“He’ll probably say no,” Brent warned, “He didn’t want to help us before, so he won’t want to now either.”
“But things are different now,” Karisma protested, “We know more. We can tell him about the portal, how people who get bitten explode, all that stuff.”
“I doubt that would sway him,” Reisa said. “That man needs to be prodded into lifting a finger to help anyone other than himself.”
Wow, she just went out and said exactly what Brent was thinking.
But perhaps he was being too harsh. Ray had been helping, trying to remind Harry to reload his gun before he went gallivanting off, and Brent just cut him off in a fit of ignorant rage for insulting the elf princess. Perhaps he was just a simp after all.
Ugh, he wanted to slap himself for even thinking such a thought.
Anyway, the point was that Brent owed the man an apology, and possibly a second chance.
“Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point,” he said to Karisma. “We can at least try to talk to him.” While there was a good chance Ray would refuse to fight with them again, he might still have some valuable advice to offer.
It would be foolish to pass up a potential source of information. Even if he was a smug jerk with poor comedic timing.
Harry voiced no objection. “Right, let’s go. But be vewy vewy qwiet- we’re hunting wabbits.” He indicated the mass of zombies.
They departed in the polar opposite manner that they had arrived, slowly creeping back through the hills to where they had made their stand.
Brent climbed the hill, mentally preparing himself for what he would say. Should he start off with an apology? Or tell Ray what happened first and work his way up to it?
It turned out to be a moot point, as when he reached the top he found only an empty field of grass.
“Uh… Ray?” he called out in bewilderment, but it was useless.
The man was nowhere in sight.
It felt like a pit was forming in Brent’s heart. Were they on the wrong hill? No, he could see the grass was marred by slight indentations where the group had previously sat.
Ray was gone.
“Huh, where did he go?” Harry voiced the obvious.
Brent shrugged. There was no trace of him left, no gear, no note explaining where he’d gone, nothing. Nothing except a discarded wrapper of beef jerky lying in the grass where Ray had sat. It was empty, of course.
“Of course he ran, the coward,” Reisa crossed her arms, “He did not expect us to survive.”
Karisma pitched in. “Uh, I think what he said was like, he’d rather move on to another region.”
Brent paced around, pursing his lips in regret and consternation. It was another unexpected event.
Should they go looking for Ray? He could be anywhere by now, and they didn’t even know where to start.
“I’m sure he’s safe, wherever he is.” Harry said. “The bloke is more than capable of taking care of himself.”
“Yeah, I’m not worried about that,” Brent responded, “But… is it still worth it to try to get his help for attacking the portal? He might be even farther away, and who knows what we might run into on the way.
We may as well just give up on the portal then, since if we travel all that distance and he still says no, then we’re probably better off just sticking with him and moving on instead of doubling back. Is that what you want?”
Karisma averted her gaze. “Well not really, but…” She didn’t finish her sentence, looking conflicted.
Brent felt conflicted as well. Just meeting back up with Ray and following him was certainly a compelling idea. They’d be safer with him.
However, the sight of that guy getting bitten and then dying in front of them weighed heavily on him, especially since he had been partially responsible for them not being able to do anything about it.
Another flash of pink light came from behind the house.
In their mindless meandering, some of the zombies were slowly leaving the thresholds of the fragment of suburbia, spreading out into the surrounding countryside.
It looked like the zombie problem wasn’t going to take care of itself.
“Okay,” he said at last, “I think we still need to destroy that portal, and we’ll have to do it without Ray. Every minute we leave it active is another minute of it pumping out more zombies.“
He paused for a bit, then… felt a speech coming on?
“See, we were too late to save that guy, but there might be others that could be put into danger by all these zombies. Even if they may not want to help us, we don’t want them getting bitten and exploding into, uh, five more zombies.”
Actually… would five mindless zombies really be tougher to fight than a single intelligent human with a gun? The zombies couldn’t snipe him from a mile away, at least not that he was aware of. The overarching battle royale contest really put the threat levels into perspective.
Well, assuming the person they rescued was a reasonable human being, which was actually kind of a shaky assumption given some of the people he’d seen on the island, but assuming they were, they would probably be at least grateful enough for being saved from the zombies to not shoot their saviors on sight.
The other three were staring at him in silence, as if expecting him to say more. So he did.
“And uh, we wouldn’t be doing this just out of the goodness of our hearts to help other people. I don’t know if Dombey is going to disappear them all when the event ends, so we want to reduce the chances of zombies ever popping up again in the future to bite us in the ass, uh, metaphorically or literally, ha ha.”
He made a fist and swung it in a “let’s go get ‘em” gesture. “So uh, who’s with me?”
“Sounds good,” Karisma said. “I’m with you.”
“I do need to get my arrow back,” Reisa added.
“Shit. Let’s be heroes.” Harry finished loading his machine gun and hefted it up.
Huh. He hadn’t expected such unanimous support.
“But like, if we’re doing this portal assault thing ourselves,” Karisma added, “How are we going to go about it? Just go in and hope we get lucky?”
Brent shook his head. “No, we don’t need luck. What we need… is better coordination. And a plan.”
Looking at it from an MMO gamer’s perspective, as a party they already had a natural chemistry, they just needed better direction.
It was time for him to put his gaming knowledge to work in giving that direction.
It was time to be a raid leader.