The forest was nearly soundless; there were no cars going by on the nearly-deserted roads, no chatting campers around amidst the mountains, not even the sound of many wild animals; except for the occasional tweet or chirp of a bird. The only audible noise around was the sound of fire burning.
She could feel the heat on her face; her limbs ached – heck, her whole body ached – and she could barely even move. But she knew she had to start moving fast – while she and the rest of her group were as vulnerable as they were now, they were nothing but easy prey. Morrigan didn’t like that feeling.
They had all been ambushed as they were heading down the highway, not suspecting anything as they rode on their cars and motorcycles; then out of nowhere, suddenly they were skidding along the road, crashing into railings, trees, and each other. Looking around, Morrigan sighed heavily. A lot of them dead, all wounded.
It had been the creatures who had done it The Morbus. Damn things are getting smarter all the time, she reflected silently, with a small shake of her head – she could finally move more than an inch now without a giant spike of pain running through her body. As she looked at her surroundings, Morrigan could see the remaining part of her group – only five of them left, making six altogether when there were ten before – stirring, recovering from the initial shock and pain of the accident. The Revivers, as they had been named – for the coincidental fact that many of them were very good at healing and taking care of peoples’ injuries, sicknesses, etc. – were lucky they had their talents at fixing people up. Already they were hurrying about, checking each others’ wounds and trying to help them as best as they could.
Jake, her Co-Captain of the group, walked up to her with a small limp; it must not have bothered him, though, because there was no sign of pain in his eyes. From the puzzled yet worried look on his face, she could tell what he was going to say before he even spoke.
“Think it was the Morbus?”
She shrugged. “Of course. What else could it have been?”
She gently bit her lower lip, anxiously looking around – always alert for anything that wanted to sneak up on them. “They’re constantly getting smarter and using new tricks. We need to get out of here and get to the rendezvous point.” The rendezvous point happened to be the meeting place for every single sect in the country; one from each of the fifty states in America to discuss the situation with the Morbus and if any of the groups had made progress. Out of the one hundred and twenty-six members of the Revivers, Morrigan – the leader of the entire group – had picked nine others to go – only ten from each faction could attend. Some of them were fairly high up rank-wise in the Revivers, but unfortunately, their experience didn’t mean they were invincible – as this accident had shown.
Jake’s eyes lingered to the blazing fire, which was now spreading to the surrounding foliage. “I’m not even sure what happened. Everything was fine, then suddenly…” The sentence lingered off as he put his hands to his face, dragging them down slowly. She wished she could help how he was feeling, but she couldn’t; they were all equally exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Six years of this did that to you.
“Zahara’s dead.” Jake’s words were pained, not because of any physical wound, but an emotional wound. Everyone liked Zahara. Morrigan herself felt a pang of despair at the declaration, and felt all of a sudden as if the weight of the world was going to crush her.
“And the others?” she asked, quickly trying to move to another subject. It was best, at least for right now, not to dwell on any sort of despair.
“How are they doing?”
“Well, everyone’s hurt, but Jenna and Daniel have it the worst; she has a broken leg and he has a pretty bad head wound.” Morrigan supposed they were lucky that they hadn’t fallen that far; the mountainside they rolled down after the crash had been cushioned with plants, which helped, even if it was still a pretty damaging incident. The ones who had died, however, weren’t so lucky; the impact of the initial crash – into trees and mountain sides – had immediately killed a few. Others had died shortly after the accident from bleeding to death, and with them… it was so much worse than the ones who had died immediately. At least with the first ones, it was instant – the last ones had to suffer needlessly.
Jake looked at Morrigan oddly, letting his eyes trace her up and down.
“What about you? Any injuries to speak of?”
“I’m fine.” In reality, she could feel a couple of broken ribs that really hurt, as well as a bad cut on her back, but she wouldn’t let that hamper her ability to perform. If anyone treated her right now, it would just force them all to dwell here longer, and that wasn’t an option.
“Morrigan.” Jake looked at her – it was almost a glare – and frowned. “Are you sure?
“Jake, we need to get moving. I’m aching a bit, but it’s nothing bad.” Seeing the worried expression still etched on his face, Morrigan offered up a small grin. “Trust me. It’s getting dark, though. We need to get out of here.”
He sighed, and then nodded, resigned. “Fine. Have it your way – as always.”
Any true frustration in the words was soon erased with a sly smile and shake of his head. With that, he turned to everyone and whistled, getting their attention instantly.
“This has certainly been an unforeseen obstacle. People we all love have died, and we will certainly mourn them. But we need to leave before the Morbus get here. If that was a trap set by them, which it had to have been, then they’ll likely be here very soon. Considering we’re all banged up, that’s not a situation that we need. So let’s go.”
The rest of the group murmured agreement, though they weren’t particularly happy about it. But regardless, they knew it wasn’t Jake or Morrigan being cold towards the deaths; nowadays, in situations like this, there was a sort of, “Move now, mourn later.” policy. Perhaps it was cold, but it was also necessary.
Ten minutes later they were hurrying through the forest, faster than a jog but not quite a run; they didn’t want to attract any unnecessary attention. Jenna, the girl with the broken leg, was being helped by a couple of others and seemed to be doing pretty well.
They had crossed the road they had had the accident on before and seen that there had been little spikes place on the highway; they had obviously been purposefully placed there. Morrigan didn’t have to think hard on who – or what – it might’ve been.
The Morbus were ruthless, powerful creatures, and smart to boot – very smart. They were able to set multiple kinds of traps, as they had seen tonight, and could smell prey from long distances. Talk about government experiments that went wrong.
Six years ago – 2022 – the country was flourishing; things were on a great track economically, and people were overall much more content with their lives. Then, in a sense, the world as everyone knew it ended.
Something escaped from a government lab – which one is still unclear, but rumor had it that the first creature came from North Carolina (Morrigan had never been there – she didn’t have any immediate plans to, considering there were more Morbus in that state than any other; another reason people believed they originated from there). Either way, the thing had killed multiple people within the first couple days it was free. Giving up on the prospect of capturing it, the government – after a few days of prying questions from the public – had decided killing the thing was the best way to go. That was simple enough – while they were more advanced than an average human, a few well-placed bullets could still take one down – but that wasn’t the end of the catastrophe. No, people who were thought to be deceased suddenly starting rising from the dead. They turned into sick abominations of their previous selves, similar to what the first creature was, but these looked even more human. The skin turned scaly, their eyes turned black, grotesque claws sprouted from their fingers, all the hair on their bodies fell off… They turned into true monsters. But horribly enough, they still looked vaguely human.
They certainly couldn’t be categorized as zombies; they didn’t even need to eat humans to survive. They could actually eat the same sort of food that humans did. They simply wanted to kill people, for no reason at all. It had been a mass slaughter; the government lost control completely, with each person dying coming back as one of the things. You couldn’t be turned into one when you were alive; only when you died could whatever virus in the Morbus – Spanish for “disease” – take you over. And it took about a day to take effect.
So the amount of people in the world dwindled over the years, while the amount of Morbus increased – everyone had to learn how to fight, even the kids. If you didn’t have any sort of experience in that area, you were pretty much dead. As the group trekked through the forest, Morrigan looked back on the last few years with a heavy heart; she had seen so much tragedy, experienced so much pain. But she had managed to go on despite it all, even if it was the hardest thing she had ever had to do.
“Wait!” Daniel, the one with the sliced scalp – it had been bound and was now looking better – stopped abruptly, holding a hand up to signal that the others should do the same.
A moment of suspense passed silently, then Morrigan asked, “What is it?”
“I heard something.” Daniel looked around cautiously, his eyes alert.
Steeled for any sort of battle that may come, Jenna shrugged off the people helping her and stood on her own legs – though not without a pained wince. Without hesitation she grabbed the blade from her weapons belt and held it in front of her. “Well if any of those damned things take a shot at us, they won’t succeed without a fight.” There was such fire in her eyes; she was the youngest of the group, and, one could argue, the most spirited. Only seventeen. She still has a reasonable amount of hope in her.
“Jenna, let’s not jump to any conclusions; Daniel might have just misheard, or -” Zeven, the most talented sniper of the group, was cut off by Jenna’s glare.
“No, he didn’t. Everyone knows he has good hearing, so we have to be prepared.”
Morrigan nodded agreement. “She’s right. Let’s try to stay shielded by the cover the forest provides as much as possible, but we should try to keep moving -”
She didn’t go any farther; suddenly a piercing screech filled the air, causing everyone to freeze for a split second. That short moment, however, cost them dearly. With only a second or two of notice, a Morbus leapt from one of the trees above, tackling Daniel to the ground; he screamed as the thing slashed at him, though Morrigan couldn’t be sure if he was dead or not. It wasn’t something she could take the time to figure out right now, though – she could hear multiple creatures, and they had to fight.
Everyone donned their weapons – guns and blades alike – and prepared for a battle.