Choking back tears, Scout tore across the long strip of asphalt, running as fast as he could, which was indeed very fast. He easily double-jumped a truck blocking the street, rather than break into the boarded-up old house that stood beside it.
"Just find Medic," he told himself. Over and over he said it, like a mantra. "Find Medic." It was his Final Mission, then he could go home. They all could. They'd broken free and now the old hag would never lure them back to that sadistic "game" of hers.
He'd left Sniper a ways back, lying in a pool of his own blood on the top floor of the watchtower, by the old railroad tracks. Clutching a gaping wound in his stomach, he'd pleaded with Scout.
"Kill me, boy," he'd gasped, pulling Scout close with one bloodied hand. "With that gun 'a yours. Or my kukri. Just do it, quick."
His aviators had been slipping down his nose, slick with sweat. Scout had pushed them back up for him.
"No way, Trip," he'd said, smiling weakly at the old nickname. "You're gonna be fine. I'll go find Medic. You'll see. We'll Uber our way out."
Sniper had nodded shakily, his cheeks looking clammy and pale, as though made of clay. "Yeh. G-go an' find 'im, 'an don't come back 'till you do... Hurry now," he'd said, half-chuckling at the joke that was in no way funny. "See if you can beat the second coming, yeh?"
Now Scout had reached a graveyard, bordered by tall stone walls and large iron gates on all sides. The street he had been following ran straight through it, so, rather than try his luck in the darkened woods on either side, he continued on through the sea of gravestones, which rested on a small incline.
At the top of the hill was a small church; one of the old ones, with a belltower and everything. Scout doubted very much that Medic was religious, but he figured there might be a health pack or some kind of first-aid within, so he headed inside.
It was lonely inside, and musty-smelling. Confidant that he was alone as far as the undead were concerned, Scout yelled out, asking weather anyone was there.
A clatter answered, like metal on concrete, and he followed the sound to a room behind a closed red metal door that had a small, rectangular window set into it, just at eyelevel.
A woman was there, sitting slumped against a door that had been boarded over, with pews stacked in front of it. with a pistol in her hand. She looked pale, with hollowed-out eyes and sallow cheeks.
She looked just like Sniper had.
"Oh, praise the Lord!" she said, staring up at him with huge, empty eyes. "Can you help me? I can't do it, I just can't!"
"Do... what?" he asked cautiously, keeping both his distance and his grip on his Force-a-Nature. He knew Sniper, and didn't mind getting close. But this woman had a nasty, greenish-black bite on her calf, and it was looking worse by the second.
"Oh, young man," the woman pleaded. "You look like a nice boy. Will you-please-take this gun, or that nice one you have there, and shoot me?"
Scout felt the blood leave his face. "S-shoot... you? Y-ya want me to kill you?"
She said it calm, like she was asking no more of him than to help carry her groceries to her car. Her eyes lit up dully as he spoke, glad he had understood.
"Oh, yes-yes, please! You see, my dear, beloved husband-God rest him-gave me this nice, big bite right before I shot him. He's out there-in the graveyard. I was just on my way up that tower there to ring for help, but, wouldn't you know it, my leg gave out. I'm afraid I haven't the strength to drag myself up all those stairs. Better safe than sorry, I always say. So... be a dear?"
She watched him expectantly as he leaned weakly against the doorframe for support, wiping the last of the tears from the rims of his eyes with the back of his hand. Since the first day he'd joined Builders League United, he had never had any qualms about killing people, but that was back in the days of Respawn.
And besides, this... this was a woman. If there was one thing he would never forget of all the things his Ma had taught him, it was that women were to be respected at all times. Of course, she'd taught him that before he'd learned about her affair with that God-awful rat of a RED Spy.
And besides all that... what about his Final Mission?
"Right in the face, now, if you don't mind," the woman said, breaking into his thoughts. "I want to go quick, you hear me?"
"Sorry, lady," Scout said, pushing himself back on his feet. "I need to find a doctor. My friend's in a bad way, and I don't think ringing those bells will do you much good, anyway," he said, recalling something he'd read on a wall somewhere. "They're attracted to sound, see. The most good those bells'll do ya is -" he stopped, slightly alarmed, as the woman began to cry softly, and in a terribly mournful way that echoed around the room.
Realizing she was going to be of no use, Scout backed out of the room, and instead focused on ransacking the church, searching with growing panic through each and every corner twice. But still, no first-aid of any sort was anywhere to be found.
"Just find Medic," he whispered, heading out of the building at his very fastest walk. But he suddenly stopped in his tracks as a long, loud peal of heavy bells rang through the air.
Almost instantly, as though in answer to the bells, the foggy, midmorning air was filled with the gruesome moans, groans, bellows and shreiks of the former human beings, pouring in by the handful from the graveyard.
Scout raced back inside. Woman or not, he was going to kill that lady!
He dashed into the tiny room and slammed the red metal door firmly shut, then darted up the ladder to confront the woman. But she met him halfway, leaping at him, and he fell to the floor, taking her with him.
Scout, being Scout, leapt up instantly, despite an awful throbbing in his head from the hit, and confronted the woman, only to find that she was no longer even human.
Her nails were long, her hair lank, and her eyes reduced to nothing more than hollowed-out sockets. Her entire skeleton was fully visible through her grey skin, and her teeth were long and fanglike.
She let out a horrible shriek, then ran at him, screaming, spreading her bony arms wide in a menacing pose. Scout backed up against the metal door, the heavy blows of the undead rattling it in its hinges.
With the undead horde at his back and the crazy woman in his face, Scout calmly raised his Force-a-Nature and shot her six times in the face.
She reeled back, stumbling until her infected leg failed her again-now little more than a mess of rotting flesh, so slushy and decayed that the white bone and silvery, taut tendons shone out clearly, tugging on Scout's gag reflex.
She hit the wall behind her headfirst, and slid down it. Scout shot her four more times for good measure. She lay still then, a crumpled figure on the floor, and Scout himself slid down the red door into a crouched position to rest, listening to the undead's blows become more and more staccato, before dying out completely.
Scout sat there on the cold floor for a long time. The way the woman had looked, and had asked him to shoot her, reminded him strongly of Sniper. He was smart enough to realize that Sniper had probably known he was already done for, and had only played along with Scout's desperate idea of finding Medic so that by the time he changed, Scout would be far away, and out of danger.
With nothing left to save but himself, Scout took it upon himself to make the space livable, as he had no intentions of ever leaving it. There were a few crates on the second floor, in which he found several types of canned goods. In a closet behind the crates were two bedrolls and a box of Sharpies.
Three or four days later, Scout was awoken late in the morning by several loud bangs on the reverse side of the heavy red door on the first level. The sound was unique to the undead's restless attempts to enter, however, accompanied as it was by a voice.
A human voice.
A male voice.
A voice so familliar Scout could have cried.
"Hel-lo, is anyone in there? Open up!" the voice demanded, sounding so normal, so nonchalant, that for a moment it was as though none of it had ever happened, and Scout was back on the battlefeild, where even pet mice came back to life, thanks to Respawn.
Scout hurried to the door and started to open it, but stopped, suddenly. The little window set into the door was blocked by a metal panel, so it was impossible to see through, and Scout remembered the greying, drawn faces of the lady and Sniper. What if his old enemy was the same?
He couldn't bear the thought.
"Are you infected?" he asked, desperately hoping for a no. After staring at a dead undead for an hour, he was desperate for a glimpse of life, even if it was from the other team.
"BLU Scout?" the voice said, sounding almost insultingly surprised. "You're still alive?"
"I said 'are you infected', not 'how have you been'," Scout snapped.
"No, I haven't been bit anywhere, if that's what you mean... well, I've got a few scratches," the voice said slowly. "But they're just from branches and tight squeezes, I swear."
Scout squeezed his eyes shut, hardly daring to believe. "You're clean, you promise?" he asked.
"RED Scout's honor," came the reply; cracked grin prominent even through the hardy metal door. So Scout flung open the red door to reveal the RED Scout, looking pretty beat up and a little singed, strangely, but alive nontheless, with no signs of clamminess or hollow eyes at all.
He stepped cooly over the threshold, narrow brown eyes taking in everything, from Scout's tear-tracked face to the Force-a-Nature in his hand to the dead undead on the floor to the pew-stacked door to the tiny bathroom and disorderly file cabinets to the ladder leading upwards. He raised an eyebrow skeptically at Scout.
"Belltower? Really?" he said. "What are ya, the hunchback of Notre Dam?"
"Shut up," Scout said, sticking his tongue out as he pulled his fellow survivor into the room and securely slammed the door shut. He then leaned against it, appraising his newest ally.
Though the boys played the same position for different teams, they were not much like each other, at all. While BLU Scout had long, inky black hair, big, powder-blue eyes, dark freckles, and was rather tall for his age, the RED Scout was at least a head shorter, with short, unruly red hair that stuck up like a ruffled rooster's feathers, cinnimon-brown eyes and the bronzed skin tone of an islander.
There was a large, angry-looking welt on his cheek, and his knees were grass-stained and dirty. The wraps in his hands were coming undone, and his headset and bag were missing completely. The edges of his red T-shirt were burned slightly, and there was a small, curious, broken half-circle of dark red on his shirt on his left side, near his arm.
"what's that?" Scout asked, indicating the circle.
"Oh, that? That's... nothing," RED Scout answered casually, jamming his hands in his pockets and looking around. "That door zombie-proof?"
Scout gave the circle another curious glance, but allowed for the subject change. "I... guess so," he said, staring not at the door, but at the dead undead. "I mean, it kept them out... back when she was alive."
With nowhere to go and no real need for anything other than what they already had, the two Scouts had soon settled into the tower quite comfortably, chatting and laughing, swapping stories and insults and hats, and drinking the last two of Scout's Bonk!s. RED Scout became convinced that there was absolutely no difference at all between Cherry Fission and Blutonium Berry, but Scout, who had never tasted the former, wasn't so sure. They stayed mainly on the top floor, as it was much cozier and cleaner and nicer than sitting down there with that ugly old corpse.
As the last, gloomy rays of foggy daylight streamed through the stained-glass window of the belltower, RED Scout started looking exhausted, but Scout was still wide awake. Leaving his newfound friend to sleep, curled up on a bedroll, breathing lightly and with a childishly innocent look on his face, Scout opened a second, less sturdy door, also red-painted, with bars on it to look through and another across it, keeping it securely locked, and peered out the red and white stained-glass window on the other side. But all he could see in the fading light was one street of the town beyond, dotted here and there with undead bodies.
Scout sighed and flicked on the tower lights, imagining they shone through the window and into the darkness, like searchlights, calling other survivors to his safehouse. If they were brave enough to cut through the undead that stood between them and his safehouse, Scout figured they'd get along just fine.
After a while, Scout wandered back through the door, leaving it open behind him, intending to do something about some of the deeper cuts on his friend's body, but stopped short a few feet from the RED Scout, frozen in shock at the sight of the mysterious circle.
It had mutated. The once innocent-looking semicircular shape was now as big around as Scout's arm, and was no longer entirely circular, at all. It now looked a lot less like a circle and a lot more like a very serious wound, with a long pool of blood trailing down his stomach, staining his shirt. His breathing, too, had become heavy and labored, and there were dark circles under his eyes, even as he slept.
Quickly, Scout dashed to his comrade's side and pushed up the shirt, warm and damp with blood, to reveal the flate plane of skin and muscle beneath fresh blood running rivulets down it constantly from the wound. There was so much blood that it was difficult to see the wound itself, which was deeper that could possibly still be repaired.
RED Scout stirred, then opened his eyes. Scout met them with shock, becoming even more wide-eyed when he saw that the boy's eyes, usually narrow, calm, kind, and a warm, cinnimon-sugar color, were now red-rimmed and black in color, alarmingly wide-open and hopelessly unfeeling.
"You swore you weren't bit," Scout breathed, tracing the obvious bite marks lining the wound with his fingertips. RED Scout huffed out a heavy breath, the barest hint of a smile gracing his mouth.
Trying not to panic, Scout pulled the RED to his feet and into direct light, where he could see the wound more clearly. RED Scout stood, swaying weakly in place, his eyelids drooping heavily as Scout raced down the ladder, tore off the dead undead's shirt, and returned to wrap it around his friend's chest, stemming the flow of the blood, and tore off his own handwraps to secure it, making an ugly but functional bandage.
"I'm immune, I swear it," RED Scout murmured. His forehead was covered in a sheen of cold sweat, and his hands had begun to shake. He blinked slowly, but his eyes didn't seem to want to open more than halfway. "How long have we been here? If I weren't, I would've turned in half... an hour..."
Scout didn't know what time it was or how long they'd been there, but RED Scout's drowsy logic did make sense.
"Damn," RED Scout murmured. "I'm... tired."
"Stay awake," Scout demanded, sounding much more confidant than he felt. He snapped his fingers under his friend's nose in an attempt to keep him alert. "Don't sleep, man. You've just lost too much blood, is all," he said, determined to save the boy.
Then RED Scout's legs buckled, and Scout caught him with difficulty, his blue shirt becoming instantly stained with the ever-spreading pool of blood.
RED Scout sighed slowly. Too slowly. "You smell good," he murmured.
And then he bit.
Intense, white-hot pain flashed through Scout's left shoulder as teeth met skin, and Scout shoved RED Scout away from him, staring in horror as his blood dripped from his friend's mouth.
"I thought you were immune," Scout said slowly.
"So... did I," RED Scout whispered, looking just as shocked as Scout felt.
Scout dragged RED Scout over to the the heavy door and Sparta-kicked the traitrous RED out of the safe room, and into the small, windowed room beyond. He then pulled out his Force-a-Nature and used all of the remaining ammo, emptying round after round into the RED boy's body, until he had crashed straight through the glass and toppled out of sight. Once the gun was empty, he slammed the door and barred it shut, then dropped his useless weapon to the floor with a hollow clatter.
He went back down the ladder to the pistol, still lying on the floor from where the woman had dropped it. He intended to use it on himself, so he could never Turn, as everyone else had, but to his surprise-and irritation at the woman's stupidity-the gun wasn't even loaded.
"Dumb cooze!" He yelled, throwing the gun at her corpse. He dropped to his knees, sucking air through his teeth in a sharp hiss. The bite hurt.
"I can't believe he bit me," he murmured, crawling into a corner and curling into a ball.
He lay there in silence, waiting, daring the universe to send him another old friend. Maybe they'd be "not infected", too. If they claimed to be, he'd make them prove it.
Better safe than sorry.