She’s been walking all of ten minutes when the sky opens. The rain is viciously cold. It seeps easily through her thin sweater and chills her bones. Only her boots, high and tight as they are, are spared getting soaked through. Rayla flicks her hood up and grinds her teeth, fighting her automatic disgust at the sensation of water on skin. Get a grip, you big baby.
She forces herself to look up and around, but really there’s not much to be seen. The street is still eerily empty. She’s passed one body and a whole lot of trash, but nothing alive. Even the strays that used to wander the city and entertain passerby are mysteriously absent. In their place is an almost tangible hush that chokes the air. This city and what it represents may have caused her endless pain, but even she can admit she misses the noise. The life.
During her months quarantined with Runaan, he’d insisted she stay inside. It’s chaos out there, he would say, eyes darker than she’d ever seen them. Tight-lipped and abstruse as ever, he’d never gone into too much detail, no matter how much she asked, but his expression had done enough explaining.
To think so much has changed since then….
Shaking away the sadness, she looks up again. She’s getting on to some of the richer blocks now. These houses, much larger and cleaner than her own, array in neat rows, flowers bursting from boxes on their windows. Some of them even boast a few moon lilies. The sight of them feels simultaneously like a sucker punch and a warm hug. Back home, Ethari used to collect them and braid them into her hair at the end of a hard day. It’s been a long time since she’s had a lily braid.
She’s so distracted that she doesn’t notice the boys until she is close enough to hear them. Their cries startle her. Embarrassed with herself, she whips her head towards the noise. There. They are on the balcony of one of the houses at the end of the street, jumping up and down and waving their arms like madmen. She isn’t close enough to see much of their faces, but she can hear the fear in their calls. Whoever these kids are, they’re in trouble.
Don’t be a hero Rayla. You’re gonna get yourself killed.
Even as she thinks it, she’s walking faster. Looking at the house. The doors seem heavy--it’d be a pain to break them down. And she’s a shit lockpicker. The windows though….
By the time she reaches the house, the boys have disappeared from the balcony, or at least as much of it as she can see. Urgency pricking at her chest, she picks up a big rock and chucks it through the nearest window. The glass shatters. Loudly. Loud enough for anyone in the house to hear.
Please don’t let zombies have good hearing. Or hearing at all.
She leaps cleanly through the window and lands silently on the tiled floor of what has to be a sort of living room. The ceiling is ludicrously high, the furniture sleek and expensive-looking, if a little dusty. It’d probably be a very nice place in the sunlight, but now, in the dim, it looks like a tomb. Rayla shivers.
She can’t hear anything out of place, but that doesn’t mean much. Runaan had been quiet enough before he’d tried to eat her, after all. So Rayla draws her swords and stays low, creeping across the tile towards the staircase. She climbs it unmolested.
Unfortunately, that’s where her peace ends. The staircase leads into the middle of a long, narrow hallway lined with an absurd number of doors.
This would be a horrible place to get attacked, she thinks, right before she’s attacked.
A figure throws itself at her from the dark of the room right in front of the stairs. The impact knocks her to the side, and her head hits the wall hard. Dazed, she can only raise her left arm when he lunges at her again. Too slow. He sinks his teeth deep into her wrist.
She’s been bitten before. Raising animals, near wild shadowpaws included, always had its accidents. It’s never hurt like this, though. Maybe it’s the disease, maybe this zombie just has super fucking human jaws--whatever it is, it sets her whole body on fire. Overwhelmed by the pain, she drops her left sword. Her vision goes black for a moment.
When she returns to reality, the monster is still clamped to her arm. With a shout she drives the hilt of her right sword into his head, once, twice, until he finally releases and stumbles back.
I’m not done yet. Something savage in her has come alive. Letting her left arm flop to her side, she brings up the right again, slicing swiftly into his throat. She does it once more for good measure. The man finally drops.
Ears ringing, Rayla picks up her sword and steps back to take in the carnage. There’s pus and blood and something... else splattered on the walls, some on her front too. All the remains of the second person she’s killed today, fuck. Forcefully pulling herself away from that train of thought, she turns to the more cheerful matter of her left wrist. Delicately she brings it up to eye level and immediately looks away from it again. The glimpse she got was more than enough—the skin there is mangled, though the worst of it is obscured by a generous amount of blood. She can’t really feel it anymore.
You’re in shock. Get the boys and get the hell out.
She continues down the hall, keenly aware of all the open doors and dark rooms next to her. Right now she’s in poor fighting form. If she’s ambushed again…
Garlath must’ve taken pity on her, finally, because she reaches the closed door at the end of the hall relatively whole. Trying the door knob reveals it’s locked. Annoying, but a good sign. If the boys are anywhere, it’s probably here. Still, she’s not going to risk shouting out for them. If her wonderful encounter at the stairs is anything to go by, the boys aren’t the only ones here. On the off chance that it’s zombies and not them in this room, she’s going to hold onto the element of surprise as long as she can.
Guess I’ll have to kick the damn thing down. Impossible at the front, but this door is not unlike the ones in her house. It’s flimsy. Still, she’ll have to get this right the first time, or she can kiss her goddy surprise goodbye.
Bouncing a bit on her toes, she backs up. Adjusts her grip on her blades. Takes a breath, long and easy. Then she’s powering forward, quiet and quick, coiling her leg in and whipping it straight into the space above the doorknob.
The door blows inward, momentum bringing her with it. She’s hardly straightened when something dark and small hurtles towards her face and hits her square in the forehead.
She blacks out.
Three days. It’s been three days since Harrow came to them, sweaty and jaundiced, and told them to stay put. Told them he was going out for more food and would return with their secret knock and that, under no condition, should they open the door for anything else. He’d made Callum promise to take care of his brother.
Callum should’ve known then that he wasn’t coming back.
The first day had been okay. Callum and Ezran had spent the hours playing cards and drawing. They’d eaten crackers and washed them down with cool water. It’d almost felt like old times. When they’d gone to bed, they had been content, even hopeful.
They’d started hearing moans outside the door the second day. Something--several things--banged against the door periodically throughout the evening and well into the night.
The scratching began the next morning. It was quieter than the banging but somehow more sinister. Callum had known then that they should leave, but he’d known equally well that they’d probably be killed the second they tried. He’s no fighter, and Ezran’s, well, ten.
So he’d ushered his little brother out onto the connecting balcony under the guise of fresh air, nurturing the secret hope he might spot help, or better—Harrow. Seeing the figure in the distance had been a miracle. It was too small to be an adult, but its gait was normal, not the limping slog of the few zombies they’d seen from their windows.
Unfortunately, Callum never saw Rayla enter the house. He’d only heard the sounds of a fight and assumed the worst. His heart had stopped when the door knob turned, more force and intelligence in the motion than anything else in the previous days. It seemed whatever had been there before had come to get them once and for all.
Ezran can’t die. I have to protect my little brother. So he’d picked up his sketchbook and, in a rare feat of athleticism, chucked it at the first thing to come through the door.
Which brings him here. To the present.
He is rooted to the spot, gaping at the unconscious girl on their floor. Her hood is up, so he can’t see her face, but she is unmistakably a kid. Someone he definitely should not be attacking—
Oh god oh god did I kill her????
With a little gasp, Ez rushes to her side. The motion breaks Callum out of his stupor, and he follows suit, hands fluttering nervously over her prone form. He still can’t really process that he did this. Of course the one time he can actually throw, he knocks some random girl out. Of course. Callum leans a little closer, half to check for injury and half to better see her face. His breath ghosts across her cheek.
Suddenly her eyes fly open and, faster than Callum can even process, she shoots up to her feet. With an undignified scream, Callum falls back, right on his ass.
He can’t even think to be embarrassed because he is too busy staring. Her hood has fallen, revealing features unlike anything he’s even seen before.
Radiant white hair. Big purple eyes. Silvery, slightly luminescent skin.