"So…mutant fungus. I didn't expect that."
"What were you expecting? Ponies and rainbows? The Simurgh dropped us off, of course we get mutant fungus zombies."
"…Good point. But I don't think I'll ever be able to eat mushrooms again."

Exploration 02

"What are you doing, dweeb?"

"You realize that's not actually going to get a rise out of me anymore right, Sophia?" I asked. Holding the sneaker up to my foot, I nodded once and sat down to slip them on. "Finally. I can't believe it took three days to find a goddamn shoe store."

"Taylor, are you good? Can we please go now, this place is giving me the creeps and I really don't want to stay here any more."

Sophia nearly growled as she turned to the short brunette standing by the door. "Madison, I swear to god, if you don't stop whining soon I will leave your fucking ass."

"Sophia, as far as we've been able to tell, we are the last four people alive in this entire fucking world. Can you please be a little less of a bitch," I snarled. "Yes, I'm done, Madison. My costume may be mostly knife-proof, but it's not designed for long distance walking." I looked around warily, "I don't like this place either. Emma! We're leaving!"

"I'm here!" Emma huffed as she ran back down the stairs, her hands on her knees. Jeez, had she ever worked out a day in her life? Getting her breath back, she stood up straight and held up a bottle of water, a large grin on her face. "Found some Dasani!"

"Took you long enough," Sophia grunted. She strode forward and swiped the bottle from Emma taking a large swig before handing it to me. I just rolled my eyes and took a sip myself, passing it back to Emma. She gave me a hesitant smile, taking her own drink and handing the remainder of the bottle to Madison as we moved out of the store. The brunette nearly shrieked as I touched her shoulder to get her to move out of the doorway.

"Madison, what has you so jumpy?" I asked, scanning the street. I missed my bugs so much…Not having the instinctive sense of everything around me was like losing an arm or a leg - and that parallel was disturbingly close to how crippled I felt.

"I thought I saw something moving in that building," she murmured, her eyes wide and focused on the large window of the bookstore across the street.

Frowning, I narrowed my gaze. "Sophia?"

"I don't see anything. Pretty dark in there though. Check it out?"

"Well nothing else has been alive except a few animals in the woods…Do you think it could be a survivor?"

She bit her tongue, slowly shaking her head. "It's possible, but why hide in a bookstore? Maybe an animal?"

Madison hugged her arms around herself. "Maybe it's whatever killed all of those people we found."

Emma gagged and clutched at her shirt, whipping her head back and forth. "Mads, their bones had bite marks, like fucking zombies ate them!"

"Could've just been an animal," I said.

"And then they were shot in the head?"

"Maybe they were killed first and then something tried to eat them?"

"Then someone still executed a lot of people," Sophia said. "Either way, they're dead and we're not. Taylor, I'll take point. We should find out what we're dealing with. Fair warning, if we have to run and you fall behind, I'm leaving you."

"Says the fucking track star," I muttered. "Emma, Madison, stay here. We'll be back in a minute."

Emma clutched at her arm as she moved next to Madison. "What do we do if you both don't come back?"

I shrugged. "Survive. It's really not that complicated, Emma."

"But - "

"Let's go, Sophia," I said, cutting her off. Nodding towards the building, I started off along with my nemesis. Flicking out my baton I grunted. "Really wish we had more than four bullets."

"Still haven't seen anything alive yet; might not need them," Sophia murmured. She dropped into a crouch as we approached the door. "On three…one, two…" She stopped speaking as she eased the door open and slipped inside. I followed right after her, making sure that my collar was back up on my costume. It wouldn't stop bullet's and my mask limited my vision too much, but this would protect my neck at least.

The main room of the bookstore was dark and the smell of the books was overpowering. It seemed like they were rotting. I nearly cried as I saw the hole in the ceiling and the water dripping down on a stack of books. My mother would've had a conniption.

My heart seized up for an instant at that thought, but I gritted my teeth and followed in Sophia's wake, pushing the memory of my mom down. Now was not the time or the place.

Sophia held up her hand in a fist and I halted as well, my head swiveling to the stairs. I had heard the weird clicking noise too as well as grunts and moans. This was such a bad idea. Maybe Madison had been right and the Simurgh had sent us to a zombie world. Did zombies click though? It didn't sound like that was teeth snapping that was making that horrible parody of a noise.

We edged around a shelf and I had to jam my hand into my mouth as the sight around the corner came into view. There were three people. Two of them had reddish eyes and were wandering back and forth near the back of the store, occasionally passing in front of the window nearby. The third…the third didn't even look human except for in the vaguest of terms. Her head had been replaced by what looked like several overlapping plates of some sort of orange growth. No…not replaced, supplanted. Whatever the orange thing was, it was growing out of her skull.

"Jesus fuck, what the hell is that?" Sophia whispered, her hand frozen as it gripped the side of the bookshelf we were crouched next to.

The two - mostly - normal people continued on their unknowing patrol, but the mutated one…Sophia's whisper had it snapping its head towards us. My eyes widened as it leaned forward, arms held back behind it and that horrible clicking issued forth from it. There was a delay of about a second, during which Sophia and I both froze solid. It didn't matter, the thing screeched and started flailing as it surged towards us. The two others snapped their heads our way as well and yelled a wordless cry of rage as they ran our direction as well.

I stumbled backwards, turning towards the door of the store, Sophia hot on my heels. We burst through, and I turned to try and slam the door closed. "Emma, Madison! Get something to wedge into this thing! Now!"

"Too late! Hebert, get back!" Sophia shouted, I felt the door buck into me and I was thrown to the side, the two quick ones bursting out of the store. One looked at Sophia and yelled, running her way while the second fell on me. Thankfully I still had my baton free and I was able to get a good smack into the side of his head. It barely seemed to phase him as he just pulled back, snarled and lunged towards me again. I rolled, barely avoiding the man and scrambled to my feet as the mutated thing ran out of the store as well. Madison screamed, falling onto her butt as she tried to backpedal away.

The thing twisted its body to focus on her and started flailing her way, only to turn back towards me as I grunted, finally getting my feet under me and starting to run. It screeched, the clicks ringing in my ears as I ran and it followed. The grunts and cries from the red-eyed man weren't far behind either, but at least I was faster than both.

The clicker thing wasn't as quick as the man, thank god. I stopped as I got halfway across the street, centering my stance and as the man got close enough, I lashed out. This time, my strike caved in a portion of his skull and he went down for good. I set myself again as the mutated one got closer.

Then Sophia cried out, the metal pipe she had found yesterday making a resounding crack as it connected with the side of the crazy woman's head. The body hit the ground and the mutated thing turned to Sophia again - even though I was right in front of it. "What the fuck?" I muttered. It snapped back to me. "Sound. Sound! Guys, it's attracted to sound! Make noise and I'll get behind and kill it!"

Emma and Madison just stared at me, eyes wide, Madison still on the ground and Emma frozen in front of her. Sophia however, was quicker on the draw; she started shouting and yelling and beating her pipe on the ground. The clicking thing twisted back to her, screeching again as it leaned forward. It started to move in its shambling run towards Sophia. I tightened my grip on my baton and slipped off my new shoes, leaving me in the far quieter soles of my costume instead. Taking quick lunging strides, I was behind the thing just fast enough to smash the side of its head with my baton. Several pieces of the orange plates broke off and it screeched, its arms flailing. I fell back and Sophia jumped forward, striking with her pole. The creature screeched again and fell to the ground. Sophia and I both wailed on it, and in only a few more hits all was still again on the street except for our heavy breathing.

I collapsed to a sitting position as I stared at the monstrous thing, my eyes wide and my arms going numb.

"What. The. Fuck!" Sophia spat, falling down next to me.

For once, I fully agreed with her in every way, shape and form.

Fuck the Simurgh, fuck Sophia, fuck this world, fuck my life. This whole world was fucked.