dragged Captain Rourke’s body into an abandoned shack. Rourke’s blood left a
trail across the wood flooring as Kent
pulled him away from the shuffling corpses. He whipped the door shut and
searched frantically for a way to brace it against the relentless horde. The
heaviest piece of furniture in the one-room home was a hand-carved dresser. It
groaned as Kent
pushed it in front of the door.
He knelt beside his captain, who coughed and sputtered blood. The man had a chunk of his neck missing. A bite wound. The blood loss would be severe, but that’s not what would kill him.
Fists pounded on the door. Already, the wood cracked from the onslaught. The prince took Rourke’s sword from his bloodied fingers, then crossed the man’s arms over his chest. “You know what I have to do, my friend.”
Rourke nodded. “Thank you, Sire.”
Already the man’s eyes were cloudy. The change was coming quickly.
raised the sword. Rourke closed his eyes. The prince separated his captain’s
head from his shoulders. The prince felt sick, but swallowed back the bile. As
one last act of respect for his comrade, Kent
folded Rourke’s hands over the sword. Hopefully whoever found the body would
have the decency to bury it with him.
When the undead broke through the room’s only window,
had his sword raised. He was eager to meet them, to take as many of the monsters
with him as he could. If he were lucky, the prince might slay the one who’d
poisoned his captain.
Two of the undead crawled through the opening. The jagged glass tore at their already-shredded clothing.
dispatched them quickly. Their unnaturally dark blood slid from open necks.
Another climbed in and another. The room began to reek with the smell of their
foul bodies, but the prince inhaled it and let the stench run wild through him.
“Come on!” he shouted, bringing his sword up again.
Each movement of his sword brought another vile revenant to the ground. The demons began coming in faster than
could slay them. The door behind him bowed and creaked at the strain. Kent
knew the end was near, but this had been the end he had always hoped for. One
he could be proud of.
But it wasn’t death that had come to claim him. Several soldiers, one with a great ax in hand, marched toward the prince. Two men grabbed his arms. Another soldier sliced at the nearest undead, keeping them at bay.
“What are you doing?”
struggled against his own men. One of them took the prince’s sword from his
hand while the others carried him out. “No!” Kent
shouted. “Release me now! I command you as your prince and commander to release
The prince fought against his father’s royal guard as they dragged him out to safety.
Cinderella wiped her face with a clean rag. The moans of the injured pressed around her, urging her to check the next victim. The more refugees she checked for bite marks, the smaller the possibility of an outbreak in the
The faster she searched, the faster these people could start putting their
lives back together. Royal City
Four royal guards escorted a group of women and small children to the matron. “Where should they go?” One of the guards asked.
Cinderella moved through the sun-drenched hospital tent and lifted a hand, pointing down at a vacant bench. “I’ll see them.”
The matron nodded and motioned at the guards to wait outside. The refugees were coming in larger groups now. The guards at the gate escorted all newcomers to various hospital tents around the city, then waited to see the paperwork clearing them of zombie infection. Unfortunately, the
had few physicians and even
fewer who had the courage to handle someone who had been bitten. Cinderella was
one out of a handful of volunteers willing to help keep the city clean of
infection. The more time she spent in the sweltering tents, the more she
realized how badly they needed the help. Royal
Cinderella started with the first woman, who had several scratches and cuts. The woman’s bare feet were raw, as if she’d walked halfway across the kingdom without shoes. Cinderella hid her thoughts behind a smile. “I just need to look at you before we let you through.”
“You’re looking for infection, aren’t you?” The woman licked her cracked lips, leaving a clean spot where her tongue had wiped the dust from her face. “I can tell you now I haven’t been bitten. Haven’t come near those awful things. I had to protect the little ones.”
The children leaned on each other and seemed grateful to sit down, but Cinderella braced herself. This was going to be a tricky group to check. The tight-knit groups always were. She dipped a new rag into a bucket of water. “Just let me clean these cuts up a bit and—“
The woman pulled her arm away. “I told you, I’m not infected!”
Cinderella set her jaw and took a hard look into the woman’s eyes. “Yes, but we’re checking everyone who—“
A high-pitched scream shot across the tent. Cinderella turned toward the sound. A raspy croak came from a man in tattered work clothes. A farmer. He lurched toward a girl just a few years younger than Cinderella. The girl shrieked again.
Cinderella was between them in a moment, holding the man by the upper arms where his teeth couldn’t reach her. Already his skin was a pale shade of gray. His eyes were losing their awareness in a cloudy fog.
“Papa!” The girl moved to the farmer, her eyes scared and full of tears.
“Stay back,” Cinderella ordered. “He’s not safe right now.”
“Cinders!” The matron ran to her, weaving between onlookers.
“I’m fine,” said Cinderella, tilting her face away from the farmer’s snapping jaws. “Get one of the guards!”
The matron hurried through the nearest tent flap and, before the fabric fluttered back into place, returned holding a royal guard by the arm. She pointed to the farmer, who now slobbered inches from Cinderella’s face.
“This man’s infected.” The matron’s voice was as grim and stern as her face.
Cinderella braced her arms against the man’s thrashings, which were getting wilder and jerkier as he changed. Its breath tickled the backs of her hands.
The young guard, barely old enough to be called a man, moved a hand to the hilt of his sword.
“No! Papa, please!” The girl lunged for her father, but the matron caught her by the elbow. “No, please don’t! You can’t! Papa!” She fought against the matron, who held her with solid arms. “Don’t kill my Papa!”
The guard’s eyes moved from the girl to the undead farmer, then back again. His sword remained sheathed.
“What are you waiting for?” cried Cinderella. Her strength wouldn’t last forever and the girl was starting to scratch at the matron’s bare arms.
The guard gave Cinderella a desperate look and gestured at the girl, who was still pleading for her father’s life. Cinderella shoved the farmer back with all her strength and pulled the guard’s sword from its sheath. With one clean movement, she removed the farmer’s head as he sprang up to attack.
The girl began to wail. Cinderella gave the stained weapon back to its owner. “His life was past the point of saving.”
She left through the tent flap, pushing the girl’s angry curses and anguished face away from her mind.
The crowded streets were not the marketplace they once had been. Now every stall was full of people with nowhere else to go. But they could sleep at night, knowing the City was guarded. Cinderella smiled wanly. Not guarded very well, but they didn’t need to know that. The City was the safest place in the kingdom, thanks to a blind eye from the king and the incompetence of his men. Every village was now under threat.
Fanfare blasted from the city gate, followed by panicked shouts and a clatter of movement from up the main road. Cinderella leaned in to see better. Had someone outside a hospital tent been infected? The commotion got louder as the something swept toward her, moving fast. She saw him in time. Barely. A young man in uniform, riding hard, glowered at the road ahead of him.
Cinderella fell back from the street, landing on her backside. The horse stampeded by with a dusty blast of wind. She choked and glared after the rider. To her surprise, his head snapped around. Their eyes met for the briefest moment before his face was swallowed by the chaos in his wake.