September 20, 20-, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Click. The pin struck on an empty chamber. The man in Sharid's sights kept running towards the firing line, unconscious of the miracle of his own continued existence. Sharid's pulse spiked, and his field of vision grew narrow. This one spearman. His gloved hands scrabbled at the holster, struggled with the retention strap. The button gave and he drew, steadying his outstretched arms against the hood of the car. Breathe in. Align the sights, center of mass. Wait for him to get closer. Bullets hissed past the spearman, finding their marks in the flesh of his comrades. Men falling, dying as their blood patterned the air around them. The spearman snarled, his decayed teeth like stalactites in the gaping hollow of his diseased maw. He kept moving, sprinting forward, his speartip wavering with each stride. Exhale, tighten the trigger. Sharid focussed all his attention on the front sight. His target, the world around, all blurred in the intensity of his focus. Squeeze the trigger.

A harsh staccato bark as the gun bucked in his hands. The spearman jerked at the impact. He staggered on drunkenly, the tip of his spear waving about like a conductor's rod. Then he sagged to the asphalt, seven yards away from his goal. But he was not alone, and Sharid started firing rapidly into the bristling orange phalanx that rushed ever nearer. Hands on his shoulder. A voice shouting into his ear. Josiah's voice.

"Come on, let's go!"

The hammer clicked over the empty cylinder. He leapt to his feet, backpedaling rapidly. The spearmen broke formation, surging around and over the rusted hulks of cars that blocked the way. The riflemen retreated, some turning to fire, more throwing aside all impediment and sprinting for their lives. Sharid forced his weary legs into a trot. A jog. A slow grinding run. Josiah paused a moment. Expended the last of his rounds. Screams from behind. Sporadic gunfire. The sound of metal tearing into living flesh.

They turned quickly down a sidestreet. What must have been trendy shops and cafes. Signs for a bar. Now just a hiding place. Three yards further. The sound of pursuit on their heels. Bellowing like feet. Now. Sharid threw himself flat.

Arrows hissing overhead. The thwack of broadheads in flesh. One volley. Then Sharid was on his feet, knife and tomahawk in hand. The spearmen were in disarray. Men clutching at the shafts that killed them. Dark blood on the ashen concrete. A great shout rising from the empty-windowed storefronts as swordsmen and clubmen leapt to the assault. Men in orange and men in gray. Struggling knots of combatants, the ash rising up around their rag-swathed feet.

A filthy snarling mask of dirt and hatred. Knife held reversed, grasping hands. Ragged filthy parka. Putrescence of rotting meat borne upon diseased breath. Sharid lunged at the man, punching with the blade of the tomahawk. Slash upward with the knife. The orange clad man fell, his face destroyed, clutching at his exposed innards. Death horrible and immediate.

And still the gray day marched on.

Journal Entry: September 23, 20-

Dad came in this morning with everyone who could be spared from the Compound, armed to the teeth. Thirty men and women, rifle armed and trained. That brings our total fighting strength to roughly seventy five souls. We lost many fighters in Colorado Springs. The enemy has pushed us up along the highway and into the foothills. It is bitterly cold and overcast, and every night we lose some of the wounded to the chill, despite our best efforts. Supplies are running low. Food, bandages, medicine, ammunition. All of which are more precious than gold. With so many away, the greenhouses are nearly untended, and this winter's crop will be lean.

We managed to divert and destroy a platoon strength group of them in Manitou, but that is the only real victory we've been able to claim since the first day. The chieftains have not complained, or even really bickered between themselves. I think that the threat of mutual annihilation may finally bring us all together. Josiah and I are no longer in command, and the physical and emotional relief is palpable. For both of us. I never want to lead men in battle again. Every decision I made cost lives. And that is a weight I'd rather not bear anymore.

End Journal Entry

September 24, 20-. Somewhere outside of Woodland Park.

Brooding mountains, invisible in the darkness. The air still and cold and thin and sparse as gold in a pauper's den. Fires flickered on the black tarmac of the road. Sentries paced their rounds, faces swathed against the cold, eyes bright and alert as they peered over their filthy wrappings, spears clutched tight in gloved hands. But theirs were not the only eyes in the darkness.

Sharid crouched low, willing his profile to disappear and dissolve against the terrain. The fires cast just enough light out this far that a wary picket might make him out. Thirty yards to the perimeter. Painstakingly, he inched his way forward, an arrow nocked on his bowstring, the broadhead smoke blackened for stealth. Twenty five. He flattened himself out as much as possible as the sentry's eyes swept across. Close enough. Wait for the man's eyes to go elsewhere. Wait for the signal.

The harsh cough of a crow shattered the night stillness. The sentry's head whipped around toward the origin of the noise. Now. Sharid stood, bringing the bow to full draw. Eyes locked on the target. Let the index finger touch the corner of the mouth for a fleeting second. Release. Follow through. As natural as breathing. Far more deadly.

The shaft found its home, and the spear dropped as the sentry's hands flew to his throat. He twitched as his lifeblood ran between his grasping fingers. Shouts and screams and gurgling wails as men dropped all around the camp. The hiss of feathered death. A sharp fusillade of riflery. The encamped host erupted into confusion like an anthill disturbed. Beneath the thick fleece of his facecloth, Sharid smiled bitterly as he nocked another arrow to his string, found a target, loosed. "Welcome to colorful Colorado, suckers." Draw, aim, loose. Draw, aim loose. Silent death pouring in from all angles. Riflemen picking off men silhouetted against the ruddy glow of the fires.

A horn blew, cutting through the swelling chaos. The signal to withdraw. Sharid turned and ran headlong into the night. Other shadowy figures, half seen , half guessed at, ran pell-mell through the darkness. The rendezvous point was ahead. Already, he could hear the enemy marshaling behind him. Shouted orders. Cries of pursuit. Sharid forced himself to run faster. Feet hammering into the ash and the packed earth like the sledge of some infernal blacksmith.

And always the sound of death behind.