Chapter One: Exordium

Waves of scorching hot heat beat down upon the barren ground surrounding the old plantation house. It was one of those days you almost wished for just a little wind to give you respite from the sensation of roasting in these conditions. Out there in the heat, Aubrey felt her hope slipping slowly away from her; she had been hoping that the soil would have been fertile enough to start to grow vegetables but alas, it was so dry it would be a waste of the seeds to start to plant them now. Their little garden was going to have to wait until they got some rain, Caleb would not be pleased to hear that his project was going to have to be put on hold, but there was nothing Aubrey could do to make it any different, water was too precious to waste to be sprinkling it on the ground.

He would understand that surely?

Sighing softly she stood up straight, unbending her legs as she turned her gaze to the sky, sheltering her eyes from the sun with one hand. It was a beautiful sunny day in Atlanta, if it wasn't for the walking dead being almost everywhere she turned, Aubrey would have loved to go for a walk in the woods in this heat. The smell of the pine, and the earthy scent of the ground underfoot was one she had missed, not like she got to smell it a lot even before all this happened. Many would describe her as a city girl through and through, her home was in amongst the tall towering concrete structures, it is true, it is where she spent most of her days, but, it was not the place she considered her home.

Slowly she turned as she heard someone calling her from the plantation house, deciding she had better go and see what it was, Aubrey picked up her trowel and loped back into the house, the heat making her sway uncertainly – she should not have stayed out that long with her head uncovered.

"Aubrey we go' a lil' situ'tion going on here." Mark stated. One of the scouting groups had just come back and there seemed to be bad news, groaning internally she just hoped that it wasn't that they were unable to find any supplies.

"What is it?" she asked with a raised eyebrow "Don't tell me everywhere is dried up already we only just got here."

"No that's not it." Katie sighed "We managed to get a few things, but then we ran across another group, a big one, we lost most of our stuff to them."

Aubrey blinked, her eyes wide, there couldn't possibly be another group around here, that just wasn't possible they had scouted the place out before they'd even considered settling down anywhere, and be damned if they were going to move now. This group, didn't seem like they were the friendly type if she went on what Katie told her, they'd taken their supplies? That must have meant they had guns, and lots of them, their team wouldn't have given up without a fight if they didn't have.

"So, w'at we gunna do?" she heard Mark ask, it seemed that their group was a little spooked by what happened, and they had every right to be, walkers, that was one thing, but humans? They were a whole other ball game if they decided that they were going to start messing around in their business. It looked like there might have to be a deal done here.

"Alright." She stated calmly "Have you told Alexander about this?"

The quietness and the lack of eye contact told her that no, they hadn't talked to Alexander about it. To be honest it didn't surprise Aubrey in the least. Alexander had been the leader of their group, he'd moved them to this place, selected it from the best options around, but in the process his partner Kayleigh had been injured, and had received a pretty bad blood infection as a result. No way did the group have what is needed to treat her, and so, Alexander spent most of his time by her side now, although she expected it wouldn't be too long now until she passed. There was no telling what he would be like when she did, he already seemed to be coming loose at the seems already.

"Right…" Aubrey sighed, sitting down around the dining table where the others were sat, pinching her nose as she did so, she didn't want to be, but it seemed like she had been appointed the new leader of this group, it was so much pressure for her and sometimes she really hadn't a clue what they should do. "Well, Katie, you're going to take me to where this happened, they might have left some clues there as to where they came from, we should see if they're going to be a bigger problem than they already have been."

Outside the sun was still beaming down and she turned to the others, Mark, Steven and Rich who had gone out with Katie on the scouting mission before;

"You guys, go and see if there is anything left in the nearby houses, double and triple check, I don't want you going too far now in case it gets dark before you can get back if you run into trouble."

Seeing the boys nod and pick up their weapons again, Aubrey bit her lip, and picked up a nearby faded blue baseball cap, seemed as if she would be staying outside a lot longer than she had been planning to today then. Nodding to Katie, she quickly left a note on the table, to Alexander, in case he wondered where everyone had gone, but she didn't expect him to even move from their bedroom upstairs, he had been much like that lately.

"Good luck guys." She whispered faintly as the boys left on their mission, Mark sent her a cheeky wave and a grin, before disappearing with the other two to try their luck at the nearest house they could find.

Smiling gingerly at Katie, Aubrey followed her out to the jeep that they had taken to make runs in, the boys had gone on foot and weren't using it, so to save time the two of them piled into the vehicle and began to drive their way back to where this 'robbery' had happened. On the way, she couldn't help but worry about this group more and more, they sounded organised, and she thought it would be bad news for them if they were deciding to make their stay around here permanent.

"You know, I noticed you always chew your lip when you're nervous Bree." Katie grinned, diverting her eyes from the road for a few seconds, Katie was her best friend here, and, she always enjoyed spending time with her, Aubrey was just more than a little preoccupied now and she could tell "You reckon these guys are going to be trouble?"

Unable to avoid seeing the frown on Katie's face, Aubrey knew that she was worried as well, which did little to soothe her nerves about this, newly appointed leader or not, she had never had to deal with humans before, and they were definitely more dangerous than walkers. Although it probably shouldn't matter, Alexander would have been better at these sorts of things, purely because he was a man, and a man standing there telling you to shove it seemed more intimidating than a woman standing there instead.

"Honestly Katie? I don't know, I think it's worth having a look, making a deal with them if we can, if they're staying around we don't want them to be causing us more hassle, best to be neutral with them, friendly if we can." She stated, tapping her fingers on the dashboard in front of her.

"I don't know if they're going to be that type of group Bree…I mean the guy in charge of them, or he seemed in charge anyway, was one tough sumbitch, was ready to put us down if we didn't give him our supplies. A man like that…I don't think deals are going to float his boat babe." She sighed softly, as she pulled up to the small shopping street a few miles from where their plantation house was.

It was obvious, immediately, that the men weren't there. Signs of them having been however, were still there and rather blatant if she had to say so herself. They'd been more than a little noisy in their looting and she could see a few walkers floating around the street, both her and Katie ducked behind a car, taking deep breaths as they did so, almost silently both of them agreed on which walkers they would take down and a few moments later, they moved. Aubrey took her strong metal hatchet and buried it deep in the skull of the closet walker to her, before yanking it out, not caring for the gore sprayed on her shirt, and moving for the next one, who was alerted by the sound she had made in slaying the one before.

Hanging from one of its rotting sockets, its eyeball bounced and jiggled with each shuddering step it took towards her. Strips of rotting flesh flapped in its own self-generated wind, and the low guttural snarls and groans it made as it approached her turned Aubrey's stomach. Gritting her teeth she raised her hatchet up and decapitated the walker in one fell swoop. Disgusted, she stepped back from the body and turned to see how Katie was doing, her walkers had been dispatched too, and she also was looking down at the things they just killed.

Making a face as she approached, Katie plucked a piece of skin from Aubrey's long blue hair and grinned as she threw it away on the floor.

"Honestly Bree I don't know how you have managed to keep that colour, must have been one hell of a dye you used before all this shit started." She grinned, before looking towards one of the nearby stores "Maybe they left something for us, we should look in case the boys don't manage to bring anything back from their hunt."

As both of them turned to go and look in the nearest shop to them, which looked like an old corner shop, Aubrey stopped suddenly and turned her head, drawing her handgun swiftly from her belt loop as she did so, just in time it seemed as someone else raised their gun at the same time. Growling a little bit, as she looked into the face of this man, Aubrey tried desperately to be more intimidating than she perhaps seemed at that moment in time. Katie too realised something was wrong and turned as well, her machete was up before Aubrey realised it had been by her side, and she stepped close to her to defend Aubrey if needed.

"Aw now honeybunch ya'll missed me already?" the man grinned, a slimy sleazy quality to the grin almost made Aubrey wonder if he and Katie had done something candid when they had supposedly met.

"He's one of the guys from before." She whispered softly and Aubrey steeled her gaze, right, time for some intimidating Aubrey time…although she was the type of person in a previous life to have not sent back soup in case the waiter decided to look at her funny.

"We want our supplies back, the ones you took from us." Aubrey stated forcefully "You took them from us unfairly and was want them returned to us."

"Ooh hey look at you, lil' Miss Blueberry." He laughed, his voice was rough like sandpaper, and in any other circumstance Aubrey would have found it rather irresistible, of course, this man was pointing a hand gun at her head. Hardly an amorous atmosphere. "Sorry girlies but we already made use of ya supplies, ain't no gettin' them back now."

"Why would you take them from us in the first place, we're humans just like you, you shouldn't do wrong by the living." Aubrey's voice was gaining a little more courage, her brain wasn't splattered on the floor yet, so she must be doing something right.

"It ain't all pretty sunshin' and ra'nbows just cause you're human Blueberry. But now…maybe if ya'll consider giv'n me somet'ing in return, I'll help you get som' more supplies."

The wink that this man gave her, had the odd sensation of making Aubrey want to slap him about the face and kick him in the shin for being so perverse, but also, oddly want to agree to his request. Favouring none of these approaches she merely glared at him some more, until it seemed that he got the message and he slowly lowered his gun, as he did so, Aubrey and Katie followed suit, no need to have them up like that if they weren't planning on using them. She had questions to ask, and this man was going to answer them whether he wanted to or not. She would not leave without the answers she wanted.

"How long are you planning on staying here?" Aubrey asked quietly, letting the hand holding her gun hang by her side, but she didn't put it away, just in case the guy decided to try something later on.

"Indefinately sweet pea." He barked out a laugh at their expressions she presumed, as she was far from satisfied with this answer "We got ourselves holed up all nice and cosy, we ain't gonna be leavin' any time soon."

Almost wanting to curse Aubrey shook her head a little bit, there was no way that they were going to take over what they had worked so hard for. No way on this earth.

"We already have a group here, you can't set up here. Not unless you'll be willing to strike a deal."

The expression of the man's face darkened a little bit when he heard that they had another group here, and Aubrey's grip on her handgun tightened just in case he decided to draw on them. Although a few moments later a smirk broke on the man's face and he merely chuckled, what made him do so however was lost on Katie and Aubrey so instead they both merely stood there, resolute as they faced him, waiting for him to speak.

"I ain't the guy to speak to about makin' deals Blueberry, now, you wanna come wit' me, I'll take ya to the guy tat is."

"No way Bree you can't go with this guy, we don't know where he could be taking us!" Katie hissed into Aubrey's ear although, it was quite useless, Aubrey had already made up her mind, in order to survive here, this obviously stronger and more powerful group must make a deal with themselves, in order to guarantee their own survival

"Katie, you stay here, scavenge what you can and then head back to the house, I suppose I will be able to hitch a lift back with one of the members of this group, once our deal is sealed."

"Bree…" Katie began, her tone was low and warning but she was quickly shut down by Aubrey's sharp gaze, the man however, seemed to be more than happy watching them fight, but as they noticed him he held his hand…and stump? Up to tell them that he wasn't meaning any offence, or rather, she supposed that was what this gesture was supposed to mean.

"Fine, if something goes wrong, I'll be back here tomorrow, same time." Katie whispered, before jogging into the shop behind them, to continue looking for supplies.

Aubrey took this chance to scrutinise the male more closely, he was definitely older than her, probably by a good few decades, but she had always been one for older men before this happened. Lines around his eyes and forehead spoke of the hard life he had no doubt lived, and the stump…well the stump really did spark her curiosity, but whenever she seemed to look at it, he would glare at her like she wouldn't believe, and so assumed it would be better to not speak about it. Slipping her gun back in her belt loop, she placed her hatchet over her shoulder and pursed her lips lightly as she waited for the man to move.

"Alright, I'm ready. Take me to your leader."