“There’s probably a thousand of the damned creatures in there,” said Captain Masterton as he looked at the oncoming horde through a spyglass, “And they’ve got enough ex-Super Zombies in there to give us all kinds of hell.”
“How long do you reckon before they get here?” asked Captain Hollander from the Falcon Squadron, who had been whisked up along with Masterton by a very panicky Kenneth.
“Not long enough,” said Masterton bitterly as he briskly handed over the spyglass to Hollander.
“If we can hold the gate,” began Hollander as he looked at the oncoming horde, “we might have just enough time to get the others out of the city ‘n to safety. We have two Supers who have enhanced speed, ‘n you have at least one, so they can help quicken things up on that front.”
“Or we can get all the troops over here ‘n take on these critters,” snapped Masterton, “We only just took the damn city, Hollander!”
“We don’t have the numbers to hold them all off, Masterton!” argued Hollander, “There’s no point in us all dying just so there’s slightly less Zombies in Baskemont afterwards, when we can save ourselves, get more reinforcements ‘n take on this lot later! If they’re even still here!”
“Damn it, you’re right,” cursed Masterton, “Still, some of us will have to hold the gate – “
“I can hold it on my own, Captain,” suggested Katherine, “And then Kenneth can come get me out of here once everyone else is safe.”
“I hate to have to ask you to do that, Katherine, but we don’t have time,” said Masterton with some rare sorrow inflecting that proud voice of his, “Thank you, ‘n God’s luck be with you! Kenneth, let’s start the evacuation!”
“Two soldiers from my squadron, Privates Callahan and Trentbridge, have volunteered to help you block the gate,” said Hollander when they were down by the gate a moment later, “They’re no size-changers, but their enhanced strength ‘n durability should help keep that gate closed for longer. And a few more of the soldiers will try to fend off the ones that trickle through the gaps in the walls and such.”
Katherine had enlarged herself to a size at which she was able to almost fully cover the gate by sitting with her back resting on it, her feet and hands dug into the ground in front to provide more support. Callahan and Trentbridge moved to the two sections of exposed gate between her body and the hinges, briskly nodding to her as they dug their feet in and prepared themselves.
“Thank you, all of you,” she said, her voice shaking a little from the nerves.
“It’s you who should have all the thanks, Private Kenway,” said Hollander, tipping his head, “We may be losing the city once again, but at least we won’t all lose our lives thanks to your bravery.”
“If this plan works, then none of us should have to lose their lives,” said Captain Carpenter, who was also taking position along the ramparts along with a few soldiers from Eagle Squadron. Katherine recognised Brenda, the woman with the blue energy blasts, among the faces.
“Captain Carpenter! You don’t have to be - ” began Katherine, but a firm look from the captain silenced her.
“You didn’t have to volunteer for this either, Katherine,” reminded Carpenter as she charged up, “We all do what we have to do, where we can.”
“Brace for impact!” called out a lookout from the top of the tower.
The north gates of the city had been constructed from more metal than wood, with a dash of concrete thrown in there. At a more recent point in history, the gate had been fortified with more steel and concrete. This meant that, while the gate was thankfully one of the sturdiest structures in the mostly ruined city, it also had the cushioning of a gate-sized anvil.
The impact, when it hammered at the gates, went straight through her bones and shook her very soul. Her vision rattled into a haze, she desperately dug in her feet and hands some more, her teeth clattering as she tried to grit them.
And the sound, the sound of a thousand screaming and growling and groaning Zombies only a few feet of metal away from her, it shook her almost as hard as their bashing at the door.
“Don’t hold back!” commanded Carpenter as she and the troops at the ramparts began to blast and slice and punch and slam away at the Zombies pouring through the gaps in the walls. They had the advantage as long as they stayed on the inside, the few gaps in the walls acting like funnels on the invaders, but it only bought them a few minutes at most.
The impacts grew harder, like colossal drumsticks beating a ghastly beat on her spine, but as she gritted her teeth harder and winced, the two soldiers behind her leaning into the gates with all they could muster, she could make out blurs from the square up ahead, the one with the cathedral. And the auras of teleporters as well, Lizbeth probably among them. The plan was working!
“Watch out, they’re climbing from the top!” came a call from somewhere.
…and she thought she could feel it. The sound of feet scrambling as they climbed up what must have been a mountain of Zombies piled up at the gate. No wonder the banging had been less frequent; they had now moved on to pushing with the weight and power of hundreds of Zombies squashed together. She could feel her feet slipping and dug them in some more.
Screams of soldiers being overwhelmed by Zombies began to reach her from above somewhere. Her body felt like it had been blended and then rolled out like a piece of dough. She desperately tried to focus on something else to stem the pain, the fatigue – and a vision of the bear totem flitted into view. This was why it had appeared, wasn’t it? This was what she had needed strength and courage for, this was why the guardian spirit had come to her.
The blurs were coming for the soldiers at the gates now. Just a little longer. Ignore the screams, she told herself over and over. Ignore the sounds of death. Ignore the voices of un-death.
And then came the sight that she couldn’t ignore.
One of the blurs had been running for the gate. And then… it tripped. They must have. The blur went careening into a house, smashing painfully through the walls and the woodwork before coming to a stop somewhere inside. But it was the yell of pain that drained the colour from her face.
She knew that voice. She had known it all her life.
She tried to lift a hand, to reach into the house and pluck him out of there, but the gate shifted alarmingly when she so much as twitched her muscles. And so she found herself rooted to her spot not just in horror, but out of necessity. She could feel the pain draining her of hope, sucking at her fighting spirit like a monstrous leech. And she was helpless against it.
More Zombies were pouring in from above and through the cracks. She could see them in the periphery of her vision, creeping in like an overactive fungus from all sides. More blurs appeared, badly obscured by the tears welling in her eyes, and she yelled to them that Kenneth was in the house, pleaded with them that somebody needed to fetch him, please…
…but there was no time. The soldiers were all in reflex mode, their every move now purely on survival instinct. There were too many Zombies to think, too much of impending doom to flee away from.
The soldiers at her side had heard her though. They looked at each other, and then called something out to her. In the whirl of emotions currently wreaking havoc on her mind, their voices were a whisper in a hurricane. And then they ran towards the house. One at a time. The pressure on the gate grew tenfold with each departure, and she felt like a rubber band stretched to its limit over a hot plate. But they were going to get Kenneth, weren’t they? She just had to hold the gate for a little longer, just a few seconds more…
And then the two soldiers were washed over by a wave of Zombies that must have climbed over the wall. They fought hard, sending Zombies flying to and fro, their swings and kicks fuelled by desperation – and then they disappeared.
Katherine had no more energy left to scream. She had barely enough to keep the gate from bursting open. It was going to be time to run soon, there were no more soldiers left to defend her, and nobody was coming to save her. More and more Zombies were pouring in, crawling up to her trembling limbs. Her previous wounds were starting to crack open again, and her attackers were zoning in on it like hungry sharks.
There was nothing more for it. Summoning the last of her strength, she hurled herself away from the gate and began to run towards the house as the gate behind her exploded open in a shower of twisted metal, and a torrent of Zombies charged through the opening.
She had one last scream in her, and used it as she neared the house, her movements slowed by the many zombies hanging onto her elongated limbs. She thought she heard a reply, but it was drowned out by the snarls of her attackers. She weakly swatted at them, but to no avail.
She could feel their teeth and claws eating into her skin. Her life was flashing before her eyes. All the memories with Kenneth were in painful focus.
At least we can find each other when we’re undead, thought Katherine bitterly as she prepared to succumb to the Zombies.
And then there was a tinkling. And a whoosh.
She was up in the air, all twenty odd feet of her, very high above the city, and beginning to fall. She could hear someone yelling in pain as they attacked the Zombies who had been clinging onto her. She raised her head weakly to find Lizbeth blipping in and out of vision, teleporting around her body as she dealt with the Zombies.
When Lizbeth saw that Katherine was not unconscious, she called out something. Katherine thought she could recognise the instructions.
Her brain was so drained from all the anguish she’d had to go through that it didn’t take part in the rest of her actions up in the sky. She shrunk herself back to her normal size, and by some sheer miracle she was still near Lizbeth afterwards, the Zombies all detached from her as she rapidly shrank away from them. She reached out to one of Lizbeth’s limbs, unable to tell which one it was as they fell through the sky.
There was another tinkling and a whoosh.
And then a lot of crashing and crackling.
And a hard thud.
And then the sensations all faded away.