I was floating, blind, through a sea of darkness. The darkness seeped into my very being, sapping my strength and slowing my movements. I thrashed wildly, fighting the lethargy that was taking over my form. Unfortunately, the darkness was strong, and I soon found myself overwhelmed. I slowly ceased my struggles, growing still and getting ready to submit myself to the darkness.
Then, out of nowhere, a pinprick of light breaks through the blackness. It lay ahead of me, a beacon in the darkness. The light seemed to suffuse my form, filling me with strength. With a renewed sense of vigor, I fought against the pull of the darkness. The light's energizing light served well in giving me strength, as I fought through the darkness' pull. I drew closer and closer to the light, and soon it was almost in arms reach. I extended my arm, hoping to touch the light, to feel that warmth from the source.
Suddenly, I felt a stinging pain pierce my chest, as the darkness once again wrapped itself around me. I began thrashing in its grip yet again, but it was all for naught. I was pulled back, falling into the black.
Then, all at once, the grip released, and I landed harshly on my back. Hissing in pain, I groaned and rolled over, slowly pushing myself to my feet. Looking up, I tried to make sense of my surroundings. The light from before still streamed down upon me, as its source hung in the air like a miniature sun. The light illuminated the area before me, and I found myself staring open-mouthed in shock.
Two figures were locked in a fierce battle before me, each clad in an identical set of clothes. The ensemble of hunting boots, jeans, and a grey hoodie was unmistakably the same outfit I had unfortunately found myself wearing for all of the last week, and was currently garbed in now. The only difference between the two it seemed, was that while one had the hood clamped firmly over his head, hiding his face in shadow, the other had it pulled back, revealing him to the world.
At least, that was the only difference I saw until I looked upon the hooded figure's hands. Rather than the familiar human hands of the unhooded figure, the hooded one had a set of fierce, blood-soaked claws.
Despite this obvious advantage, the two seemed to be locked in a stalemate, grappling roughly with neither of the two succeeding in overpowering the other. Currently, the unhooded figure was pinned beneath the hooded one, who attempted to bring his claws down into the unhooded one's flesh, but the unhooded one held him at bay, keeping a secure hold on the hooded one's wrists and preventing it from bringing its claws to bear. I observed the battle with a detached sense of surrealism. That is, until the two simultaneously turned their gazes to me. The unhooded figure's expression turned to one of alarm, while the hooded figure snarled, baring rows of pointed teeth.
I staggered back from as hooded figure snarled, before tearing himself away from the unhooded figure, and launching himself at me. I had no time to react before the hooded figure was on top of me. I screamed as the hooded figure snarled, tackling me to the ground and pinning me. It raised a claw to begin tearing into my flesh, and I continued screaming as its claw came down.
Then, before the hooded figure could land a blow upon me, it was pulled back, as the unhooded figure gripped it by the shoulders, yanking it off of me and throwing it back. Then, he grabbed a handful of my hoodie's collar, before hauling me to my feet. "Are you alright?" he asked urgently, in a voice that was far too familiar. I looked up, and gasped at what I saw.
The man's face was identical to my own.
"What…" I asked, dumbfounded. "Who… Who are you?"
The man flashed a grin. "Just call me Will." He glanced at my body and, satisfied that I was unhurt, turned his gaze to the hooded figure, who was by now recovering and snarling aggressively. Tensing, he brought his fists up into a fighting stance, and shot a look back towards me. "Just stay here, I'll handle this."
With that, he lunged forward yet again, the hooded creature meeting him head on as the two collided heavily. They rolled along the ground, Will launching punches at every available surface as the hooded creature responded with slashes and bites. Again, they looked evenly matched, until with one fateful strike the hooded creature slashed across Will's face, forcing him to cry out in pain. Capitalizing on its advantage, the hooded creature threw Will to the ground, pinning him just as he had done to me moments earlier. This time though, there was no one to save him. I was frozen where Will had left me, too terrified to move, all the while for cursing myself as I could only watch Will being trapped. As the creature brought its claws down, carving through Will's gut with several harsh slashes. "No!" I cried, sprinting forward, my body finally freed of its paralysis as rage surged through my mind.
Sprinting forward, I took a short windup before lashing my foot forward, punting the hooded creature's head like a football. My foot impacted the creature's head with a loud thud, and the hooded creature was lifted off its feet, before landing in a heap several feet away. Wasting no time to check if the creature was dead or simply stunned, I dropped down, hoping to inspect Will's wounds. What I saw again caused my jaw to drop open in shock.
Will was badly hurt. His face and abdomen were covered in vicious cuts, and his breathing was clearly labored. But what drew my attention were the wounds themselves. Rather than the blood and gore that should have wept freely from the wounds, they instead bled a blinding, pure white glow. I winced as the light threatened to burn my eyes in their sockets. Ignoring the sight in favor of helping Will I clamped my hands down over the wounds, hoping to put pressure on them and stop the "bleeding." As I did my best to cover the massive wound, I looked to Will's face, my confusion clear in my expression. Will met my gaze, and I saw that he had tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry." He said remorsefully. "I'm so, so sorry. I thought I could do it. I thought I could face him. But I can't. I… I'm just not strong enough."
"No… No! Just hang on, I've got you!" I answered urgently. "I can help you, you're not going anywhere!" I don't know why, but I felt the most terrible sense of dread, like if I lost Will, I would be losing everything.
Will, however, simply smiled sadly in response. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here. I'll survive." His voice suddenly grew stern as he continued, "But Tom, you need to listen to me." I looked to him in bewilderment, and he went on, "The other one, the… Hunter. You can't let him win. You need to kill him."
I frowned. "What do you mean? Why do I have to kill him?" I asked.
Will's response was grave. "If it lives, if you don't end it now, then you'll lose yourself. You need to stop him. Now." Will gasped in pain, as the light within him flickered suddenly. "You need to act fast." He grunted. "It's almost complete."
With that, Will fell back, closing his eyes as his breathing continued shakily. "Wait!" I cried, releasing the wound on his stomach to clutch his shoulders urgently. "Please! I don't understand!" Unfortunately, Will gave no response, and instead I was answered with a low growl.
Whipping my gaze around, I found the Hunter, crouched and ready to spring. I tensed, and the Hunter leapt forward. The Hunter became a blur as it slammed into my chest, sending both of us rolling, just as he had with Will. Reacting faster than I thought possible, I fell back with the hit, landing hard before lifting my legs and planting them on the Hunter's stomach. Then, with a thrust of both legs, I kicked the Hunter off of me, sending it flying through the air, to land with a yelp several feet behind me.
Wasting no time I roll over and push myself to my feet, keeping low as I observed the Hunter. It too had recovered, and was almost to its feet. I wasted no time, sprinting forward. In a moment, I was upon it. I kicked it, like before, this time aiming for its ribs. My boot, and its thick leather toe hit it in the side, just beneath the armpit. I feel the bone give beneath my strike, my boot sinking that extra inch as the rib bent inward.
Then, the Hunter was pushed back, the force of my kick catching up to its body as it flipped it over onto its back. I fall forward, resting my knees on its chest as I wrap my hands around its throat. I press down, tightening my grip as I put my weight into my arms. The Hunter gagged, coughing as it kicked its legs and flailed its arms. It reaches up, and grasps my wrists. It gives a sharp tug, hoping to pull my hands from its throat. It fails, and its claws slip from my wrists, digging into the flesh and nicking bone in one arm. I gasp, but ignore it as I throttle the Hunter, bashing its head against the ground once, hoping to disorient it. I fail, as the Hunter uses my moment of shock to suck in a short breath. I curse, again tightening my grip, despite half my left hand being unresponsive. I dig my fingers into its throat, and am surprised as flesh gives way and warmth flows over my fingers. The Hunter coughs again, this time causing a spurt of black, viscous fluid to gurgle up from its throat. I don't think, I simply dig in deeper, until my pointed fingertips tap together inside the Hunter's neck. I clench my fists, and feel the soaked, slippery tissue trapped against my palms.
With a yell, I pull my hands back just as I shove myself away from the Hunter, dragging the tissue of its throat along with me. Black liquid spurts up like an inky fountain, following me as I landed on my rear. One jet of the "blood" covered my face and seeped into my eyes. I gave a feral snarl as a burning sensation erupted in my eyeballs, instinctively clutching at the pained sockets. The pain was intense; my eyes burned as though the black liquid were acid. I got to my feet, still rubbing angrily at my eyes, all the while releasing a series of hisses and growls as the pain overran my senses.
As my thoughts began to dim from the sheer agony I was feeling, I felt the overpowering desire to simply dig my claws into my eyes, tearing them out in a sheer desperate effort to ease the pain. Thankfully, a small part of my mind remained lucid enough to resist the urge, settling instead for simply working my knuckles deeper into my sockets, hoping desperately that sheer friction would work out the vile substance.
While I was distracted by the pain in my eyes, I failed to notice the sensation of the black liquid that had coated the rest of my body, and was now seeping through my clothes like water into soil, until it passed through the fabric and made contact with my skin, at which point it drew my attention by latching on with the sensation of dozens of fires igniting all over my body. I howled in pain, releasing my face in favor of swatting and clawing at my body, attempting to quell the invisible flames, as they spread throughout my form.
As the pain became too intense to bear, I felt myself pitch forward and land harshly on the hard ground beneath me. As I lay there, whimpering pathetically and shaking from the choked sobs that wracked my form, I felt the burning sensation move deeper, penetrating my body to attack my very soul. I screamed, both physically and mentally, as the burning seemed ready to consume my very being.
Then, be it some outside force or a sudden burst of my own effort, I felt the burning retract, like a wounded animal, as a sudden burst of force drove it off. Deep in my mind, a voice called out. In a deep growl, so low that I was amazed that I could hear it at all, it said, "I have not. Come here. To die now."
Then, the burst of force surged with power, growing exponentially stronger as it expanded outward from my form, blasting the burning sensation back and freeing me of its agonizing embrace. I took a moment to revel in my relief, before I succumbed to the pain and fell into darkness.
When the pain I had unfortunately come to associate with regaining consciousness came, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had weakened to a simple dull ache. The piercing, all-encompassing pain that had dominated my body was now muted, allowing me to collect my thoughts much faster than before. Therefore, it was easy for me to make out the conversation that seemed to be taking place within moments of awakening.
"-'s gone, you two. We can either take care of him now, or leave and let him hunt us down later. Let's just put him out of his misery now, while we can."
"Dammit, Francis! We can't just put him down like some animal! I can't, I won't do this again!"
"I'm not asking you to! Just get out of my way!"
The shouting continued, and I was soon able to recognize the voices as Francis and Zoey. I could only guess what they were talking about, but the sneaking suspicion I had filled me with dread. I cracked my eyes open, only to clamp them shut as the light burned my eyes, causing me to release and involuntary hiss.
Unfortunately, this alerted the others to the fact that I was awake. "Oh shit!" Louis exclaimed. "He's awake!"
There was the sound of shuffling as the others backed away from me. I heard their conversations drop into muted whispers, and quickly ignored them. Instead I turned my attention to the uncomfortable position I found myself in. I was seated, with my arms bent behind my back and bound together. It didn't take me long to realize the others had tied me to a chair. I pulled against the binds, and hissed again as the rope dug into the raw flesh of my wrists. I continued to struggle, but the ropes held fast.
The others' conversation grew louder, and I was able to make out their words again. "Just look at him, Zoey. He's gone. Whatever that thing is, it isn't Tom. We leave it alive, and we're just putting the rest of us in danger."
When Zoey's voice answered, it was full of desperation. "Francis, please. We can't do this, it isn't right. We don't even know if he's one of them."
"Are you fucking kidding me, Zoey?" Francis asked incredulously. "Just look at him! He's just like that thing that attacked Louis!"
"But-" Zoey started, before she was cut off by Francis.
"No. No excuses, we're ending this now, while we still can." I heard a series of muted thumps as Francis approached me, followed by the loud click-clack of him racking his shotgun.
I shuddered as I realized what was coming, turning my head up to face Francis, my eyes still shut firmly against the light. I tried calling out to him, to tell him to stop. Unfortunately, my attempts only succeeded in producing a raspy growl, as my throat burned from the effort.
Thankfully, Francis seemed to be hesitating, and I capitalized on this chance, trying again to tell him to stop. "Fffrrrnnsss." I rasped, coughing throatily. Fighting back the soreness in my throat, I tried again. "Frrrancissss." I heard a gasp, from both Francis and the others, and continued, "Don't. Sssstill herrre." My voice was deep and rough, interspersed with growls and hisses. Nevertheless, it seemed to get the point across, as I heard someone approaching Francis and I.
"Francis, stop!" Zoey cried, rushing forward. I heard a grunt as she shoved Francis aside, then felt her rest her hands on my shoulders as she crouched down before me. "Tom? Tom, is that you? Are you in there?"
"Zoey?" I asked. "What's going on? Why… why am I tied up? What happened?" I already knew the answer, but I was praying that maybe I was wrong; desperate for any possibility besides the one I was faced with.
Zoey's grim response however, confirmed my fears. "You were bitten, Tom. You were infected. We were patching up your wounds when… you started changing, turning into one of those things. I didn't think you would come back, none of us did." I absorbed her words, a growing panic building up within me. My breaths became short and I flexed my hands behind me, feeling the claws digging into my palms… I felt a pressure building in my chest, and quashed the urge to burst into tears as the reality of my situation hit me. I was changed, mutated. I was Infected.
Zoey must have seen my distress, because I felt her grip on my shoulders tighten. Her voice took on a motherly tone as she continued, "Hey, hey, it's okay. You're okay. You're still here, right? It's gonna be alright, I promise." I said nothing, and she continued more forcefully, "Look at me, Tom. Open your eyes."
I choked back tears, muttering, "I can't."
"Why not?" She asked. If I could see her, I expect she would be cocking her head to the side curiously.
"The light." I explained. "It hurts, I can't-" I fought back the urge to sob again. "It's too bright." Zoey said nothing in response, and I imagined she was looking back towards the others nervously.
I felt Zoey's hands leave my shoulders as she stood back up. She stepped away for a moment, leaving me with my thoughts. I heard the others speaking to her, but once again their voices were hushed, and I heard nothing. Instead I wondered what they were going to do with me. My earlier predictions drifted back into my mind, and I felt myself shudder. Surely this would be different, right? I'm still human in mind, for whatever reason. They wouldn't shoot me, not as long as I can still think.
But why could I still think? I must have been bitten hours ago by now. If my mind was going to go, it would have gone by now. I'd seen a person turn, and it was a matter of minutes, not hours. Of course, I don't know if it was different with the Hunters, given that they were a little more mutated than most of the Infected. No, no, no! I thought angrily, shaking my head. I am not one of them! I'm still here, and that isn't going to change! Despite my reassurances, I still felt that small bit of uncertainty, eating away at me like a drop of acid deep inside me.
It was clear that whether my mind was affected or not, my body had been radically altered. I didn't have to see myself to feel some f the drastic changes. The burning in my legs had increased to the point that it felt like my pants had been set alight. Despite this, I couldn't argue that they felt immeasurably stronger, no doubt to let me make the massive leaps that the Hunter had before. Flexing my hands, I felt my new claws digging into my palms, leaving small punctures and making me suck in a breath as the pain assaulted my brain. Loosening my grip, I instead focused my attention on my teeth. When I had been talking, I had been able to tell that my teeth had been changed just as the rest of my body had. Poking at them with my tongue, I was able to get a sense of their new shape, ignoring the pain in my gums that made me feel like I had brushed with a 2X4. My teeth were sharp and jagged, with an obvious serration meant to cut into flesh as efficiently as possible. They were the teeth of a predator.
Any further inspection was interrupted as I sensed someone approaching again. I heard a rustle as they settled into a crouch in front of me. Then I felt something brushing against my temples, before settling on my face. I shook my head, confusedly trying to figure out what had just put on me. "It's okay, Tom." Zoey's voice reassured me. "Open your eyes."
I hesitated, but eventually complied, slowly cracking my eyes open to find Zoey kneeling before me, a small smile on her face. Everything in my vision had a darker tint to it, and in a moment I realized what I was now wearing. "Sunglasses…" I breathed, raising a brow. Focusing on Zoey, I asked, "Where'd these come from?"
Zoey chuckled. "You can thank Francis for those. He was happy to donate them for the cause." I looked past her to see Francis glaring at me, and chuckled. Wearing a hoodie and sunglasses in the middle of a well-lit room? I probably looked pretty fucking stupid.
Leaning to the side around Zoey, I called out to Francis, "Really Francis? You just carry around a pair of sunglasses? Um, David Caruso called, he wants his bit back." There was a pregnant moment where everyone seemed to take in my words, before Louis cracked up laughing. A moment later, Zoey and I joined in, and Francis failed to hide a chuckle.
Suddenly realizing something was missing, I looked around, searching for a certain crazy Namvet. "Where's Bill?" I asked.
I was answered by a the noise of a match being struck from behind me, and twisted in my seat to find Bill, sitting on a crate behind me, lighting up a cigarette. Lying in his lap was his trusty M16, and it was quite clear that a moment ago it had been in his hands, most likely pointing at me. I felt a chill as Bill snuffed the match, taking a drag on his cigarette before looking towards me with an unreadable expression.
Turning back towards Zoey, I found her looking at me with a nervous expression, like she was worried I would be offended. Frankly, I understood. I was just glad they didn't put a bullet in me sooner. Hopefully now though, they would know I wasn't about to attack them. "Um, I don't want to sound whiny or anything," I began, grinning awkwardly, "but these ropes are starting to chafe, so…" I left the sentence open, my eyes pleading. Zoey regarded me with an apologetic expression, before she looked past me toward Bill. Her eyes were questioning, and I quickly realized my fate would be in the old man's hands.
I heard Bill get up from behind me, before he stepped around me and into my vision. He regarded me with an inscrutable expression for a few moments, his rifle held loosely in his grip. I did my best not to look at it, and instead met his gaze as best I could. For a moment, I wondered if my eyes had changed too, ignoring the sunglasses that adorned my face. My thoughts were interrupted as Bill finally spoke. "Before we do anything, son, we need to know that you aren't going to try an kill one of us. We need to know that this is as bad as you're gonna get." His tone was solemn, but I could detect the threat within, and I nodded meekly.
"Well, I promise, I don't feel any different. Besides the obvious, I mean. You- You're not going to leave me here, are you?" The others all looked to Bill, who remained silent, giving me a contemplative look. For a moment, I worried that he might decide to leave me. I knew he wouldn't kill me, not while I was still me. However, I wasn't too keen on being left here, waiting to either starve or get executed by the next group of survivors to make their way into the safehouse.
Finally though, Bill shook his head. "No one gets left behind." He said, and I felt myself sigh in relief. "We don't know if you're going to turn any further, and we can't wait to find out, so we're just going to have to risk it. But I might as well tell you Tom, that I'm going to be keeping an eye on you. I don't know if you're immune or what, but as of right now you are a liability. If you think you might start to lose control, you need to let us know." His expression grew stern as he added, "Can I trust you to do that?"
I swallowed heavily, understanding the implications. Nevertheless, I answered, "I understand, Bill. I wouldn't put any of you in danger just to save myself. Especially if I would just be living as one of those… things." I met Bill's gaze determinedly. "You can trust me."
Bill said nothing, simply searching my expression for any signs of deceit. Eventually, he seemed satisfied, and stood up, shouldering his rifle. Turning towards the others, he began relaying orders. "Zoey, cut Tom loose and get him on his feet. Francis, get Tom his guns and make sure he's kitted out. Louis, come with me, we're gonna go make sure the outside is clear. Move it, people!"
The others nodded, before snapping into action. Zoey stepped behind me, drawing out a knife and quickly cutting through my binds. Once my hands were freed, I brought them before me, rubbing my chafed wrists to help get back some circulation. Moving to my side, Zoey bent down in preparation to help me to my feet, but I waved her off. My legs were sore and partially numb, but nevertheless I had no trouble getting to my feet. I cricked my neck, producing a series of small pops. Giving Zoey a grateful smile, I opened my mouth to articulate my thanks but was cut off as Francis approached.
The biker tossed me my revolver, which I caught and smoothly slipped into its holster with a practiced motion, before handing my rifle towards me, his expression unreadable. I accepted the rifle, cocking it and grinning as the satisfying click-clack assured me it was loaded. I turned my grin towards Francis, but faltered as I saw his expression tense. Suddenly remembering my newly developed fangs, I clamped my mouth shut, giving him an apologetic shrug.
He said nothing, and moved to where Bill and Louis had left the safehouse, and a series of gunshots could be heard as they cleared out the area outside the door. Zoey hesitated, then followed, sparing me a rueful glance before following Francis out the door. I watched them go, and was about to follow, when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.
The saferoom was small, and square shaped, with a small rectangular tail leading to the door that I assume we had first entered from. Next to it was another door, however this one was cracked open, revealing a small bathroom within. My eyes were immediately drawn to the sliver of mirror that was revealed through the small opening, and I was sorely tempted to walk over to it, and to get a better look at my new form.
A series of gunshots and the screams of the Infected interrupted my thoughts, and I heard Francis holler, "Tom! Move your ass, we're not going to wait for you!" I cast one last glance towards the bathroom, before turning away. Sighing, I readied my rifle and charged after my friends. Whatever changes I may have gone through, they didn't matter now. My friends needed me.
Author's Note: Okay, so I guess I'm finally updating this, huh? Yeah, I kinda dropped this story for a while after my other story, The Noble Guardians, kinda took off. But I'm back in the saddle with this one, and I don't intend to abandon it. I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and know that this story isn't Left 4 Dead!
…Yeah, that's a bad pun. I REGRET NOTHING!