and breathed in deeply, hoping to drag his mind away. The smell of death was on the air.
The tiny group burst out of the mill into bright sunlight, and began sprinting through the oak trees lining the little river
The asphalt was hot. The sun made them squint. Jaxton could feel the pulse of forty survivors at his back, willing him to get them home. They emerged from the church onto a side street, exhausted after a sleepless night. He pointed to a farm cart. “Where’s the horse?”
There was a satisfying click every time Liam loaded another shell into his shotgun. “They ate it.”
Jaxton nodded, and whistled. “Lion, form up around the cart. Any of you Wolf with compound bows, into the cart, now! Be ready to shoot. Everyone else, get in behind them!” As the survivors swirled into action around him, Jaxton stopped four of the largest men in the company, and spoke to them quickly.
Liam drew close. “Jax, if the cart gets stuck for any reason, we’re all going to die.”
“Keep your fucking voice down, Liam,” Jaxton snapped. Liam reeled, as if struck. He had forgotten Jaxton was a commander first, and a friend second.
“Sorry. Liam. I need you in the cart, to direct the archers and be my eyes from up top. Can you do that?”
Liam nodded nervously, wiping the sweat off his upper lip. He would not fail his friend.
The cart creaked, and it began to move forward, pulled by four of the strongest survivors. On its wooden platform stood survivors, armed with compound bows. Two Wolf units stood among them, ready to call out targets. The remnants of the Lion formed a ragged perimeter around the cart. Though most of the riot shields had been cast aside in the retreat, there was still a handful covering the wagon. Some of the other survivors were armed with melee weapons still bloody from yesterday’s violence. Those with firearms prepared to walk alongside the wagon wheels. Their firearms would only draw the infected closer, and would be used as a last resort.
As the convoy lumbered onto Main Street, Jaxton noticed the infected bumbling around the buildings. “Faster men. We’ll switch you out by the half-mile. Let’s get some momentum!” Jaxton cried out, too loud for his own comfort.
The sound of running feet echoed across the pavement as they passed the general store.
Liam tapped the archers on the shoulders, and busied himself with assembling more arrows. “Targets to the rear!”
Jaxton forced himself not to look behind, wanting to demonstrate his confidence in the archers. He heard the bows snap several times, and a cheer went up.
There was blood on the air. Jaxton saw flashes of movement between the buildings to the flanks, and his heart began to pound. He drew both tomahawks from his belt and took his place in the front rank, in front of those laboring to pull the heavy cart. “Liam,” he said in a calm warning.
“I see them,” Liam growled, his voice rattling from fear. “Take them down,” he ordered.
His archers nocked another volley of arrows and took aim with careful precision, their shoulders burning from the strain. Razor tipped arrows cut through the sticky summer air and punched into sickened flesh and bone.
“I see it! It’s mine!”
“Fuck. Missed. Need help!”
“Got it. Watch the right.”
The archers chattered nervously, and the arrows began to dwindle. Liam stood in the center, pointing all around him as the woods flanking the road came alive with the foe. He shot a glance over his shoulder; they were leaving Main Street behind.
Still, the Lion was unbloodied. Their heavy boots and armor made them hot, and feverish. They wished the infected would break through already, so they could fight the fear out of their overloaded systems.
“Liam, what is it?” Jaxton still looked ahead, making sure the road ahead was clear. They were two miles from the school, he thought. Or was it three?
“Ten arrows left.