Dead Reign

Day 13
A Little Bird...

Conrad Warren had been tracking them a long time—weeks, it felt like.

He had managed to escape from New York by climbing through the undercarriage of the GW Bridge, but the escape had been costly. He was the only member of his SEAL team to get out of New York Presbyterian hospital when everything went to hell, and in in the process he had lost his sidearm, used up almost all of his ammo, and been left with just his fatigues and the Barrett on his back.

After getting out of the hellhole that was Manhattan, he had been picking his way west, making for open country, when he started running into other survivors. Some of them said there were people trying to help—that they wouldn’t have lived without the sudden, shocking arrival of heroes. Conrad was intrigued; anyone trying to get things back into shape was someone he wanted to team up with.

Finally, he had arrived at Allentown and been transported across the river into the Lehigh Valley. In the wake of their shocking conversation with Sofiya, the heroes were surprised to find someone who wanted to meet them and wasn’t some sort of monster. Introductions were made, and the group was happy to take in an actual trained soldier as one of their number. Conrad had missed most of the worst stuff they had seen, given his cautious nature, but he was willing to take some things on a temporary basis. Smart walkers he could believe, but magic? Who the hell knew?

Very soon, Conrad was drawn into the planning for the next stage of their mission. While Rasheed was reluctant to actually meet with the Red King, they decided that a scouting expedition wouldn’t be a bad idea. Furthermore, some discussion revealed that they had left behind thousands of rounds of rubber bullets in the armory at Locust Lake.

Conrad told them that rubber bullets could easily be refitted into real bullets, if they had some basic machinery. Allentown was wealthy in metal and machines, so a decision was made to travel back to the penitentiary and pick up the ammo. In the meantime, a second group would make their way by foot into Frackville and take a look at the enemy forces awaiting them.

The group made their way back across the river and quickly lured off the few zombies near Brad’s humvee before piling in and taking off. Rosalie, Conrad, and Rasheed formed the scouting party and were let off about 10 miles outside of Frackville, while Doris, Governor Byrne, and Brad made their way back to Locust Lake.

The women of Locust Lake were happy to see the survivors again, and Crystal was particularly happy to see that Doris had managed to convince Rosalie to stay behind in Allentown. Doris just smiled and nodded, not willing to destroy Crystal’s peace of mind by telling her the truth. The survivors explained the situation, and the women were more than happy to give them the rubber bullets; they couldn’t use the things in their current condition, and they had plenty of ammo even without them now that the armory was open.

The scouting party had easy going despite the cold. There seemed to be fewer zombies as they traveled west, and the roads became less cluttered with abandoned cars. Finally, they saw a barricade across the highway up ahead and took to the woods for cover. They snuck past a pair of Horsemen in a duck blind and continued on their way, finally reaching the edge of Frackville.

Their first view of the town was a grim one. While there were no walkers to be seen in the streets, the streets were watched over by crosses, upon which hung bodies. On close examination, the bodies seemed to be slowly writhing; Rasheed thought they might be some sort of early warning system, so the group chose to stay out of town proper and scout only with binoculars from a high vantage point.

They managed to make out a fracking rig on the far side of town, as well as getting a count of perhaps 20 or 30 Horsemen who seemed to split their time between the rig and a nearby bar. The Horsemen seemed to avoid town, though, preferring to live in shanties and tents near the rig rather than taking over the presumably empty houses.

After a few hours of scouting, the group decided they had seen all they were going to. Wanting to get back to the pick-up point before dark, they got moving, only to notice the cawing of a crow. Rasheed realized they hadn’t seen any animals for days, making Conrad suspicious of the crow. With stunningly quick reflexes, he reached out and snatched it from its perch; before he could break its neck, the crow began to speak!

The talking crow explained that his kind could hear the dead, and that the voices of the walking dead caused them pain. He called Rasheed an “old-talker,” and said that his clan had refused to come speak to him, on account of some old betrayal by people like him. But this particular crow—who Rasheed named Gary—had more courage than the others, and remembered other stories about old-talkers. He believed that Rasheed could help everyone, but that he must not allow himself to fall under the thrall of the dead, especially the one called the Red King.

Rasheed was shocked to realize that the Red King was one of the dead, rather than a sorcerer like himself. The scouts questioned Gary for a while, eventually realizing that his clan was nesting for the winter at a hot spring in the nearby mountains. Rasheed pledged to come and gain their aid, to convince them that he wasn’t like the others. Conrad just thought the whole thing was weird as hell.

After hours of walking and talking, Gary bade the scouts farewell and flew off, leaving them to rejoin the others. When they arrived at Pottsville, Doris had to do some quick thinking to keep Crystal from finding out that she had been deceived about Rosalie, but everyone managed to get out without causing any drama. With new knowledge and cases of bullets, the group piled back into the humvee and started back for Allentown.

On the way, they found a wrecked truck by the side of the highway, still smoking from a recent crash. Three bodies were laid out next to the truck—all shot in the head. It looked like someone had driven up alongside the truck, shot the driver, then pulled the other people out of the crash and shot them before stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down. Governor Byrne was deeply disturbed by the scene, and Brad complained that this would surely lead them into trouble…

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Day 12
Revelation

After the group destroyed the abomination in the infirmary, Rasheed called upon all of his newfound mystic might to knit together Governor Byrne’s torn flesh and broken bones. Though the effort exhausted him, the survival of the group filled all of them with real relief. They had a chemotherapy machine for Dr. Chadwick (the younger) and had come out of the battle with only minor injuries.

The ladies of Locust Lake celebrated into the night, breaking open their stores of food for the joyous events. With the infirmary cleared of dangers, they once again had access to necessary medical machinery, including a dialysis machine for one of their own undergoing kidney failure. All seemed well for a change.

The illusion was shattered the next morning when the sentries awoke the heroes around dawn. Snow was falling from the overcast sky, and the day was frigid. Outside the gates, a single zombie approached—with its hands up in the air, wearing the jacket of a Horseman. The group recognized the dead man as the young, uncertain Horseman they had interrogated after the raid. He had apparently been tortured, then killed and sent back to Locust Lake.

To everyone’s horror, the dead Horseman’s mouth opened as he began to speak! He had come to deliver a letter to “the magus of Locust Lake,” so Rasheed carefully took the proffered letter from the zombie’s hands. As soon as his mission was done, the zombie seemed to become aware, weeping and screaming for them to kill him. While everyone else reeled in horror, Governor Byrne snatched a gun from one of his companions and mercifully ended the poor bastard’s unlife.

The letter was an invitation from “the Red King,” calling himself Tlaloc, and asking that Rasheed would come to meet with him before the Winter Solstice. He would have his men waiting in an encampment north of Frackville until the darkest night of the year, and would guarantee safe passage for Rasheed and his allies for the chance to meet a true “magus.” He apologized for the condition of the messenger’s body, but explained that the man had betrayed his oaths—and therefore had been made an example.

Rasheed and Governor Byrne agreed that the invitation stank of a trap, but a month gave them time to consider it. Moreover, they still had medical supplies to deliver back to Allentown and had been considering a side trip to Mount Weather. Crystal had pointed out that it was only a 2 hour trip—under normal conditions—and Rasheed knew that if any vestiges of the government still existed, that’s where they would be.

In the meantime, the snow was threatening to cut off their route back to Allentown, so they quickly said their goodbyes. Crystal couldn’t leave Locust Lake while the women there still needed her, and she wouldn’t permit her little sister to stay someplace the Horsemen were sure to attack. Crystal begged Rosalie to stay in Allentown once she got back there, safely out of the line of fire of the Horsemen and behind barricades. Rosalie responded that nowhere was truly safe anymore, but Crystal insisted that Rosalie at least stay with Doris.

One of the women of Locust Lake asked to come along, bringing one of the captured Horsemen motorcycles with her. Melissa “Missy” Kim had a bad reputation around Locust Lake—as Crystal put it, “if anyone deserves to be someplace worse than this, it’s her”—but Doris could only say that perhaps they needed dangerous people as their companions in dangerous times. In the end, the group agreed to bring her along, and she offered them no trouble at all.

The drive back to Allentown was uneventful, but all of the bridgeheads were swarmed with zombies. The lightest group were around Brad’s new hummer, but everywhere was packed with the walking dead. Worse, the chemo machine was too heavy to bring across the Lehigh River on a fishing boat. Brad suggested going back to the local airport to grab the prop plane they had found there, load the machine onto it, then fly it into Allentown and land on an open stretch of highway. The Allentown survivors were down with that plan, especially since a small plane could be really useful for them in the long run. Though the air was cold and snow was falling, Brad made a decent showing of himself—for a change—and flew the machine across without a hitch.

The other survivors noticed that the river was beginning to ice over, and they recommended that the Allentown group dynamite the ice to break it up again. The resulting noise drew the dead out of their former positions, giving the heroes a chance to slip across in the fishing boat. They stopped in to explain the situation to Samantha, and discovered that several new survivors had shown up in Allentown since their group had left.

Suspecting infiltrators or spies, Governor Byrne and Rasheed confronted the most suspicious-looking of the bunch. One seemed to have nothing to hide, while the other drew a hidden knife and tried to stab the governor in the neck! Though caught off-guard, his riot armor turned aside the blade. Rosalie tried to stungun the infiltrator, but he seemed too hopped up on adrenaline to notice.

Before a real battle could commence, endangering all of the people in the quarantine area, a woman stepped past Rosalie and calmly snapped the spy’s neck. To everyone’s horror, they found themselves face to face with Sofiya, who they last saw in a burning roadside rest stop. Doris was particularly unnerved by the woman, who greeted Rasheed with something approaching fondness.

A conversation between the living and the dead ensued, with Sofiya explaining many things about the zombie apocalypse—and raising far more questions. What is the “rising tide” of darkness that she spoke of? Will things truly get worse before they get better? And what of the “darker things” she mentioned? The only thing she could be clear about was that the so-called “Red King” was a dangerous creature, and that she had come to Allentown to hide among the living, since she didn’t consider them a threat.

Rasheed disdained her offer of alliance, deriding her survival ideals as petty and Nietzschean. He agreed that they could have peace between them, though—as long as she agreed to restrict her feeding only to the recently dead, and to not contribute to them becoming that way. In return, she could remain in Allentown until the spring with no harassment from the heroes. Though she had wanted more, Sofiya was content with that arrangement.

Still, as the thing wearing a woman’s flesh slinked away, the heroes couldn’t help but feel that they had let a tiger loose among sheep…

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Day 11
Abomination

After the battle, the heroes took their captives inside and started questioning them. Though the angry women wanted to kill the prisoners right away, Rasheed was able to talk them down—aided by the fact that several people had seen him perform a genuine miracle. Unfortunately, a new problem was emerging: at least some of the women thought that Rasheed was the Second Coming, and even the ones who disagreed were sure he was a holy man of some sort. Brad commented that it would be really easy to get laid as a prophet of the lord, but Rasheed was less than interested in exploiting desperate people.

One of the captured Horsemen was happy to spill his guts rather than have them spilled for him. He was able to tell them that the Horsemen were fairly organized for a biker gang, that there were a couple hundred of them holding onto an oil refinery just north of Philadelphia, and that zombies weren’t a problem near Horsemen camps. He claimed to have never met the gang’s true leader, a foreign man the others called “the Red King.” Governor Byrne and Rasheed both suspected this meant supernatural intervention of some kind.

They had been trying to recruit people for their gang peacefully when possible, but they were under specific orders: anyone who won’t join up willingly gets brought in anyway. After kidnapping people from their communities, the captives were sent on to “camps” deeper toward Philly, but the captive Horseman had no idea what happened to them after that. Rosalie posited cannibalism, which the captive denied; they ate all their food out of scavenged cans and packages, so there really was no way for it to be people.

Now that the heroes had information about their enemies, they had to decide what to do with their captives. Crystal recommended stringing them up as a warning, but the heroes pleaded for mercy. In the end, the four surviving captives were given two motorcycles, a can of gas, a gun, and four bullets, then sent on their way.

The release of the captives put a premium on opening up the prison’s armory, so the heroes got to work taking apart the security systems the next morning. Rosalie’s brilliant skills as a lockpicker and safecracker got the vault open in only a couple of hours, giving the prisoners access to dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Governor Byrne took the opportunity to dress himself in a full suit of riot armor, while Brad helped himself to a semi-automatic shotgun. Doris and Rasheed both took bulletproof vests, since they figured they might be needing them in the near future.

With the weapons issue dealt with in the short term, they proceeded to the hospital wing to get the chemo unit they needed for Dr. Chadwick. Doris found herself unable to proceed into the area; the thought of a pressing horde was just too much for her to bear after some of her recent experiences. Rasheed proposed turning on the power to the building and using the security cameras and intercom system to let Doris act as their “eye in the sky” while the others swept the building. A grateful Doris happily agreed.

Rasheed used his new powers to lay down a line of goofer dust across the doorway to prevent any zombies from getting through once they went inside. He planned to seal off the other doorway in the entry room as well, limiting the number of zombies they would have to fight at one time. The plan went off without a hitch, partly thanks to Doris using the intercom system to distract zombies while Rasheed bottlenecked them.

With a proper kill corridor established, the group was able to put down all the zombies in the building with no major problems. The saddest part was mercy-killing the zombies who had been chained to their beds in the infirmary when they changed. There were also traces of zombies having gone into the basement, but the heroes decided that they didn’t need anything down there and let it alone. That would prove a problem in not too much longer…

The heroes looted what medicine they could find, as well as a portable chemo cart and the proper chemicals for it, and were lucky enough to find a working prison ambulance in the garage attached to the medical wing. As they were loading up the supplies into the ambulance, something started banging at the doors leading from the basement into the garage.

The doors burst open to reveal a horrific abomination, an agglomeration of two dozen or more bodies that had melted and run together like rotten wax. It was like an enormous centipede made of rotting corpses, and the smell and appearance of it were almost overwhelming. Even from the control room, Doris was taken aback by terror, and she collapsed to the ground as she felt the wendigo change overtaking her once more.

In the garage, Governor Byrne rushed up to the abomination, trying to keep it occupied, only to find it turning on him and crushing several of his ribs in a mighty blow. From there it became a pitched battle, with the heroes pumping round after round of ammunition into the beast’s seemingly impervious body. Doris managed to stave off the transformation through sheer willpower, racing to join her friends despite her fear, and opening up on the monster with her assault rifle.

The thing proved just as difficult to harm with autofire, however, though its pain and anger were apparent. It had an ability similar to the thing from the steam tunnels, disgorging burning bile—though this fluid also made things burst into flame when it struck them! Governor Byrne was set on fire in such a spray, but remembered his childhood lessons of “stop, drop, and roll,” so he was only a little scorched.

Brad lamented not bringing along a block of C4, and finally decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He hopped in the ambulance and started it up, drawing the creature’s attention. It attacked the ambulance, shattering its windows and crumpling one of the doors. Brad panicked and floored it, blowing through the garage doors into the outside, but wrecked the ambulance in the process.

The others had been considering retreating as well, leaving Rasheed’s magic to contain the creature while they fell back for reinforcements, but an open passage to the outside was too much of a risk for Governor Byrne to permit. Gunfire was concentrated on the thing’s “head,” finally opening up a hole big enough to see some sort of cancerous growth, like a fetid heart. Doris charged in and stabbed it through with her machete, while Governor Byrne simply reached inside the beast and seized it with both hands. The two of them hacked and pulled until the heart came free, finally slaying the abomination, whose built-up bile then burst its corpse apart in a fiery rain of acid and rotten flesh.

Though they had won the day, all of them were hurt, tired, and more than a little disturbed. If such abominations were a possible mutation of the zombie horde, who knew what they could expect in the future? Still, it might have been a costly victory, but it was a victory nonetheless, and they intended to celebrate it as such.

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Day 10
Orange is the New Black

After abandoning the rest stop, the group decided they needed to drive at least ten or twenty miles before they could feel comfortable. Brad espoused his theory that the different freaks they kept running into were like a “diversified portfolio,” the various efforts of a single force throwing things at the wall to see what would stick. Rasheed was convinced that there was something behind the darkness, but that it was something less direct and more inchoate—not a person as much as a force.

The group finally settled on a small roadside motel, clearing it of zombies before looting it and bedding down for the rest of the night. The next morning, they made good time to Pottsville, and then beyond to the Locust Lake Women’s Penitentiary. They found fenced-in but surprisingly welcoming grounds, albeit without much in the way of cover. There were no sniper towers or anything like that, just a chain-link fence—with dead zombies scattered around the perimeter.

A shadow moving from building to building and the crack of a gunshot let them know that they weren’t alone. A woman with a rifle appeared out of the administration building, warning them to back off and leave. Doris and Governor Byrne explained that they had come to try and find Rosalie’s big sister, and Brad was surprisingly eloquent at convincing the women that they weren’t a threat.

When they said Rosalie’s name, the woman behind the fence immediately recognized it. Rosalie’s sister, Crystal, was alive! Guns were lowered and the survivors were escorted inside the fence, where they found almost a hundred women living in the former prison compound. Somewhere nearby, Rasheed could still hear the moaning of zombies, though—hundreds of them.

Rosalie had a tearful reunion with her big sister, who had become something of a leader to the women of SCI Pottsville. Crystal was able to explain that the prison had once housed almost a thousand inmates, with over 300 full-time staff. Most of them had gotten sick, and the staff packed the sick prisoners into the bunk halls and the medical center. The sick ones started turning, but they had all been put together, so the guards just locked the doors on the cell blocks and left the zombies locked inside.

When the power finally went out, one of the last guards on duty decided to set everyone who wasn’t sick free rather than just let them die in their cells like dogs. After he had only freed a few of them, though, the remaining guards shot him in the back. A short riot followed, and the guards that survived were sent packing with only the clothes on their backs. About half of the prisoners had decided to take their chances on their own, but over a hundred had stayed behind to fortify the prison and make their stand. The hundreds of zombies sealed in the cell blocks were still there, so the women did their best to stay away from the sealed blocks and keep themselves busy to avoid listening to the awful moans and screams coming from them.

The prison survivors had plenty of canned and dried food for the winter, and there had been a gardening program at the facility for several years, so they already had plots set aside to grow potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables come the spring. They had managed to get civilian clothes out of lockup, and the ones who had stayed behind were mostly short-timers, people who had been used to “going along to get along,” so there were no hardened criminals or would-be tyrants among them.

The big problems facing the compound were twofold: First, their emergency generator had died almost three weeks ago. As the weather became colder, that generator being able to power heat in at least a couple of buildings could spell the difference between life and frozen death during the miserable Pennsylvania winter.

Second were the Horsemen.

About a week prior, the prison survivors had been approached by men and women riding motorcycles and calling themselves “the Horsemen.” They offered the prisoners a chance to join up with their gang, but the women had refused, not wanting to leave the safety of their former prison. The Horsemen reps acted satisfied and left, but they came back that night with guns and numbers. Only Crystal’s quick thinking had pushed them back, killing one of the raiders—but at the cost of two of their own.

Since then, they had been keeping an eye out for the bike gang, but they knew they would be seriously outgunned if the bikers returned. The prisoners had only a few guns and very little ammo, since they had been unable to break into the prison armory, and Crystal believed that the Horsemen had only left because they were startled. She was sure they would be back.

Wanting to tackle one problem at a time, Rasheed offered to repair the prison’s emergency generator if they could take him to it. They made a quick pass around the sealed cell blocks to make certain the barriers were holding, but Rasheed was worried that leaving the zombies caged for too long might force them to respond by “evolving” something more horrific, as seemed to happen whenever the horde was stymied for any length of time.

As they reached the old workshop, Crystal noted that the steam tunnels had been sealed off since the power went out, so they had no idea what was down there. The heroes insisted on helping out as best they could, and Crystal decided to accompany them into the dank, partially flooded tunnels to protect Rosalie.

Down in the dark, they wandered for several hours before finding the generator room. Unfortunately, it wasn’t empty. Crystal recognized the horror before them had once been someone she knew, a woman named Sadie, but now she was a twisted, monstrous thing, dripping acidic bile from her blistered lips. The noise of their explorations had also attracted a small crowd of walkers who were filing into the tunnels behind them, cutting off their escape!

Rasheed acted quickly to lay down a mystic barrier across the doorway while Rosalie held off the horde with her blade. Brad blew half the monstrous one’s head off with his shotgun, but it only made her madder. Governor Byrne threw himself at the beast, only to have it turn and vomit searing, acidic bile on him. He barely managed to tear his shirt off in time to suffer only minor burns, but that cinched that the thing had to die. In an acrobatic display, he jumped up onto the steam pipes and launched himself at the monster, feet-first, crushing her head under his heels.

When the creature dropped, melting and writhing into the water, its belly burst open to reveal a tiny, clutching hand. The abject horror was too much for Governor Byrne, who turned aside, weeping and vomiting. Something seemed to snap inside Doris, though, and she began roaring and screaming. To Rasheed’s horror, she sounded just like the “angel” summoned by Elijah Mathis, and even her features seemed to be changing.

Brad coldly shotgunned the zombie infant while Doris threw herself at the line of zombies blockaded outside the generator room—only to find that she couldn’t pass through the barrier herself. She rounded on her allies, seemingly ready to attack them, but managed to gain control of herself through an act of sheer willpower. With the battle past, Doris was confused as to what had happened to her. Crystal said a few ugly things to her sister’s supposed “guardian,” but Rasheed calmed things over by reminding them of the mission.

The heroes managed to find the generator and repair it, as well as finding a shorter way back to the surface through an area that only guards would have had access to before the Fall. Doris and Brad both donated gasoline for the generator, and the prisoners celebrated the minor victory by turning the lights on in three buildings.

During the celebration, Brad got to try his hand at gambling with the inmates, though they had only dominoes and not dice or playing cards. Rosalie spent time catching up with Crystal, and Rasheed and Governor Byrne sat down for a long talk with Doris. Rasheed expressed his fear that Doris had become infected with something “evil” through her bite, and Governor Byrne wanted to make sure she was going to be okay. Doris assured them both that she would never dream of hurting any of her companions or an innocent person—with the implication of something more final if it came down to it.

The celebration was interrupted by a woman with a hideous gut wound staggering into the mess hall, collapsing on the floor. Rasheed rushed to her side, determined to use his powers to aid her despite how public it might be. The others went outside to find Horsemen bikers on the grounds, some of them making their way toward the living blocks on foot while others were trying to cut a hole in the fence to let in their brethren on bikes.

Rasheed couldn’t bring himself to face the living in combat and instead focused on keeping the inmates calm, rallying them to reinforce their defenses. Governor Byrne charged the man with the wire cutters, knocking him out cold and throwing the cutters away. When his companions raised their guns at him, he dragged up their unconscious friend to use as a human shield, making them hesitate long enough for Brad and Rosalie to join him.

Brad distracted the bikers while Rosalie and Doris laid down gunfire. Doris opened fire on the bikers with her scavenged M-16, cutting the legs out from under one of them and plugging another in the chest. She felt bad about taking a life, but she was determined to protect the peaceful survivors at any price. Rosalie shot out into the dark, more hoping to scare the bikers than hurt them, but was horrified to find one of them staggering up toward her only to drop dead at her feet, a messy bullet wound in his skull.

With their ranks decimated, their surprise lost, and their way in blocked, the remaining Horsemen fled into the night. The few who were still standing tried to flee, but Governor Byrne kicked one of them unconscious and slapped the other silly. The remaining conscious Horseman threw down his gun and surrendered, ready to spill his guts rather than have them spilled for him…

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Day 9
River Valley Blues

After picking themselves up and deliberately not pushing Rasheed on the strange things he had just done, the convoy gets moving back toward Allentown. The survivors find a welcoming committee for them on the far side of the river, and they send across a small motorboat to bring back representatives. Father Zachariah and Judge Bell accompany the heroes, and the group gets to meet Samantha Lee, a plucky black woman in her 40s who seems to be the only person in Allentown who can get anything done.

Over the next few hours, Samantha shows the survivors around the Lehigh River Valley, which has been cut off from the outside world for almost three weeks, ever since the local survivors used a crate of dynamite to blow up all the bridges. The Lehigh survivors are trying to bulldoze and plow up the city parks in their territory, but it’s slow going with winter coming on and fuel low. They’ve resorted to stripping the classic cars in the local museum for parts, and they have crews moving from house to house in order to put down any zombies they missed.

While they seem to have their stuff together, all hasn’t been well in Allentown. With the bridges down, they have no convenient way to get out to scavenge for supplies. They have plenty of diesel fuel for the generator in their base, the old American Car Museum, but they’re running low on regular gasoline for other vehicles. They have mechanics but no doctor, lots of guns but little ammo, and far too many mouths to feed.

Seeing the plight of the Lehigh survivors, Doris and Governor Byrne immediately start volunteering to help them in exchange for taking in the Quakertown and New York survivors. Among the things they need are plans from the city planning office so they stop wasting so much time running their plows into buried pipes and lines, food and clothes from the shopping malls across the river, and medicine.

Doris remembers that there’s a nearby Wal-Mart distribution center, so there’s a better source of food and clothes, albeit a bit farther away. Fortunately, that will take them in the direction of Pottsville, where Rosalie’s sister is, if she’s still alive. Rosalie finally admits that her sister is in prison, the Lake Locust State Penitentiary, and Doris comments that it’s important to get moving that way even faster then; there’s no telling if anyone let the prisoners free, or if they’re all slowly starving in their cells.

Rasheed takes a moment to visit the Chadwick brothers, hoping to use his newfound powers to heal Patrick’s ailment. Realizing that such a feat is still beyond him, he consults with Aaron over the matter. Aaron asks Rasheed to visit a hospital and bring back chemo supplies for his younger brother; he believes that Patrick is suffering from cancer, and that he won’t live through the winter without treatment.

When the survivors come back to let everyone know what’s going on, the night is quickly coming. After about half the survivors have gotten across the river with supplies, Courtney catches up to them to give them the bad news: a horde is coming! The survivors work frantically to get everything across the river, with Doris, Governor Byrne, Brad, Rosalie, and Rasheed, doing their best to distract the horde. Finally, all the survivors are across—except for Doris, who refuses to give up her rig!

Governor Byrne and Rasheed board the semi while Brad and Rosalie cross the river with the survivors. Doris guns it and makes for open ground, the horde starting to close in around her. A few hours later, she’s managed to lose them, and calls the Lehigh survivors on the CB. They offer to bring Rosalie and Brad around to the other side of the valley for Doris to pick them up, and Doris expresses her annoyance that Brad didn’t just get in his humvee and follow them in the first place.

They decide to make for Pottsville, to the prison and then the distribution center, before coming back to get the documents from the city planning office. As the night is closing in around them, they decide to find someplace to bunk down in relative safety. They make their way to a rest stop off the main highway and are surprised to find a light on inside and a car parked outside.

The survivors enter cautiously, meeting a nervous, stammering man named Fred and an elegant older woman calling herself Sofiya. She offers to share the shelter with them for the night and even offers them scavenging rights for the building, since she and Fred already have enough for the two of them. Sofiya’s diction and demeanor are somewhat off-putting, and Doris and Rosalie immediately suspect her of being somehow off.

A search of the building turns up a few goodies, as well as a locked door with the knob missing—and speckled with bullet holes. The heroes take the door off its hinges and find a dead man inside, holding an empty gun with shell casings all around him and not a wound on his body. He’s clearly been dead for a few days, but shows no signs of turning into one of the walking dead.

Doris took a moment to examine her old bite mark, taking up Sofiya’s offer to have Fred rebind it, only to find that it had started to turn black around the edges, a bad sign. Worse, it had almost started to look like the markings Elijah Mathis had used to brand his followers. Governor Byrne found a similar mark on the neck of the dead man. Fred began to freak out at the sight of Doris’ bite almost immediately. Sofiya came to take a look, and her demeanor became quite cold and even somewhat cruel.

The survivors were starting to make up their minds to get the hell out of Dodge when Sofiya turned on Fred and killed him in a neck-cracking turn, then rounded on Doris. Rosalie’s attempt to cut her with a sword ended in failure, as did Doris’ dog leaping at the woman. Sofiya’s face began to change into something out of a horror story, while she continued to scream and rant about old myths and legends.

Rasheed scattered goofer dust and salt in a desperate effort to keep her at bay, finally succeeding at trapping her inside a circle of the stuff. Everyone else seemed surprised that it had worked, but they took the opportunity to flee, pausing briefly to steal Fred’s car keys so that they could take the supplies in his car with them. Governor Byrne noticed that there were several gallons of gas in the back of the car, so he took one back inside and spread it around the building, then kicked the can over and set the place on fire as he left.

The last they could hear of Sofiya was her terrible screams coming from inside the building as it burned…

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Day 8
The Battle of Quakertown

The survivors drove back to Quakertown, only to find the area besieged by zombies!

A quick call on the CB lets the heroes discover that Elijah’s followers somehow let zombies into the compound, and things went to hell from there. Worse, the parking lot and gates are overrun by hundreds of the walking dead. Brad tries to argue that the people inside are already dead, but Governor Byrne and Doris insist they have to help. Doris agrees with Brad on one thing, though—he needs to go, and to take Rosalie with him. Luke panics and flees, stealing Brad’s old humvee as he goes.

As Brad and Rosalie are gearing up to leave, Rasheed helps Governor Byrne improvise a bomb from one of their remaining blocks of C4 and has the governor throw it into the zombie crowd, hoping to thin them out enough to get to the compound. Unfortunately, an unlucky throw sends the bomb bouncing onto the roof of the jeep Brad and Rosalie are escaping in! Brad leaps out of the car, abandoning Rosalie to her fate. Rosalie uses some quick thinking to wedge the gas pedal down, then wheels the jeep around and into the crowd of zombie, leaping free before it explodes! Brad only notes that the others owe him a car.

The group races for the side entrance, beating the zombies inside, only to discover a scene of horror within. Zombies are everywhere, and the compound survivors are besieged at both the main house and the bunkhouse. The heroes rush for the bunkhouse, since the people there have no weapons, and quickly decimate the zombies outside. They lead the survivors to the main house, fighting their way to the main force and putting together a desperate defense. The compound is breached and lost; all they can do now is try to thin the horde enough to make a clean escape.

The Battle of Quakertown lasts for hours, with wave after wave of the living dead coming against the heroes. In the end, though, the survivors win the day and make it to their vehicles. The last they see of Elijah Mathis is the zombies kneeling before him like a dark messiah.

Doris leads the convoy down back roads, less congested with traffic and zombies, only to come across a military humvee surrounded by sandbags—and by zombies. Five of the walking dead wear the armor and uniforms of the US army. Though there are a lot of zombies, the survivors note that a large amount of ammo—and a possibly working military humvee—are worth the risk.

Leaving the convoy behind, the heroes approach on foot. Rasheed lays down “zombie barriers” using his superstitious learning from the hoodoo book, while Rosalie uses the last block of C4 to rig up a bomb. They hope to lead the zombies into a lethal trap, but the bomb merely fizzles—and then the armored zombies start shooting!

Before the reversal can become a slaughter, Rosalie fixes the bomb and kills most of the zombies. One of the armored zombies throws a grenade at the group, but Governor Byrne scoops it up and throws it back, injuring the commander and killing his four soldiers. The zombie sergeant puts up a hell of a fight, only being brought down by Rosalie rushing in, scooping a grenade from the ammo crates behind him, and dropping it into his pocket. Unfortunately, Rosalie is caught in the blast!

As she lays injured and bleeding, Rasheed rushes up and lays hands on her, murmuring in the bizarre glossolalia that Elijah had been using. Within moments, Rosalie’s bleeding stops and her pain fades. The survivors have witnessed a bonafide miracle. They agree to not tell the others, then proceed to loot what they can grab from the somewhat damaged area.

From here, it’s a straight shot to Allentown, and hopefully to safety.

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Day 7
Aftermath and consequences

After the battle in the library, the survivors escaped with Elijah and Mary in tow, only to discover that their humvee was surrounded by zombies. A quick fight with them revealed how badly hurt Governor Byrne was, as he nearly collapsed in the middle of the fight, and a hurried drive back to the compound only left them more concerned that he could die of his gaping gut wound at any minute.

Back at Quakertown, the gate guards insisted that the survivors come through the gate one at a time and be inspected by Doc Gillis for zombie bites. Governor Byrne got sent through first and the others had to wait while his grievous injuries were treated. Doris went through last, concerned that the revelation she had been bitten nearly a week before would keep the others from being allowed in. When she explained the situation to Doc Gillis, he concurred that the wound didn’t look like it had broken the skin, and he let her in anyway.

Elijah and Mary were taken into custody, and the survivors were given a few days to rest and recover while the fate of the Mathis siblings was decided. Finally, Father Zachariah approached them to let them know that his children would be exiled—given food and weapons, but banished from the community. Once again, Governor Byrne and Doris tried to convince him to evacuate the compound. Without Elijah present, the zombies were starting to trickle in, and it was only a matter of time before they would be overwhelmed.

This time, the argument seemed to get through to the old preacher, and he agreed to evacuate with the New York survivors—on the condition that enough vehicles could be found to take everyone safely. He wasn’t about to risk his people’s lives on foot in the middle of nowhere. The survivors agreed that this was reasonable and decided to set out to find cars in nearby Allentown.

Meanwhile, Rasheed and Rosalie were talking to Ruth about the “hoodoo” her grandmother had told her about as a child. Ruth grudgingly revealed that she had an old notebook filled with her grandmother’s “signs,” and gave it to Rasheed, despite her fears that the hexes might well be evil. Rasheed recognized some of the characters as cuneiform, others as Enochian, some as nothing he had ever seen before. He began translating it, using his grasp of languages to good effect.

The survivors kitted up and made for Allentown, only to find all the bridges across the river had been destroyed—not by accident, but intentionally. Doris got on the CB and searched for signals, finding that the survivor enclave in the river valley across the bridges had had the bright idea to use the rivers to seal themselves off from the outside world, but that had the side effect of making the area impassable. A negotiation with Governor Byrne convinced the river valley survivors to open their borders to the Quakertown group, provided that they brought along enough food to care for themselves over the winter.

With a peaceful negotiation ended, the river valley survivors also directed the group north to the local airport, which happened to have a state trooper office across the street from it. The trooper barracks proved to be a veritable treasure trove; the survivors found tons of useful components in the lockup, a couple of working cars in the impound lot, food in the vending machines, and a small cache of ammo in the weapons locker.

From there, they headed to the airport, hoping to find some passenger shuttles to provide transport for the Quakertown survivors. The shuttles were easy to find—but the runway itself was a mess, filled with debris from a crashed passenger plane, and they were surrounded by a small horde of zombies. The survivors decided to lead the zombies on a merry chase, using a luggage buggy to lure them off while Rasheed and Colin put new batteries in the shuttles and got them started.

The plan was a rousing success! With a small caravan of vehicles at their disposal, the heroes proceeded away from the airport and back toward Bethlehem. Perhaps things were starting to look up in the zombie apocalypse!

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Doris Journal #2

Goddammit! We found a little town with survivors. Thought we could stay a night or two, rest up, sleep in a real bed, make some friends, and even drop a few people off in a safe place. Unfortunately, the town’s leader’s son is a fanatic with some wicked magic that’s brought what they called the “Raptured” under his control and he thinks Jesus wants him to use them to baptize folk in a more permanent sense than usual.

He took off and of course we went right after him. Just wouldn’t be right to abandon some folk because a few bad eggs. But during the fight, I got overzealous and shot their truck’s gas tank. I thought it’d knock the men folk back and maybe blow up some zombies coming my way.

Instead one man got decapitated and the other set on fire. Holy Jesus shit balls. What the fuck have I done?

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Day 6
Ungodly

After finishing her tears, Ruth explains to the group that she had told her children about the strange marks they saw on Elijah’s followers. They were “hex signs,” a kind of country backwoods magic that Ruth’s grandmother had told her about when she was little. It was just a superstition to her, like throwing salt over your shoulder after spilling it, but Elijah had apparently found something deeper in it.

Rasheed promised that they wouldn’t kill Elijah, and Ruth told them that there was only one place her children would go to hide: an abandoned library building in town. The survivors snuck out of the compound without telling Father Zachariah where they were going and made their way into town in Brad’s humvee. On the way, they found a dog with a wounded leg, and Doris couldn’t bear to leave it be; Rosalie freaked out when Doris dragged it into the car, and the subsequent scuffle drew zombies. The group barely managed to escape, and Rosalie was quite unhappy about sharing the car with a big dog.

The group stopped the car a few blocks from the library and went in on foot. Rasheed noticed that the clock face on top of the library had sprouted a rifle barrel. Elijah’s group had a sniper watching the approach. Checking the back, they found two farmhands with rifles standing watch, and a gaggle of zombies wandering around the loading dock. Governor Byrne decided to scale the building to get to the sniper, but his stealth abilities left something to the imagination.

Rosalie rushed across the street to a toy store, looking for something to use as a distraction to keep the governor’s head from getting blown off, but Doris couldn’t wait any longer and broke cover as a decoy. The sniper took a couple of shots at her and missed, and she got up to the enemy group’s pickup truck and started hotwiring it. Rosalie finally settled on throwing a bouncy ball across the parking lot, which got the sniper’s attention for just a moment. Brad and Rasheed rushed for the front doors while the sniper was distracted, and Governor Byrne scaled the wall just in time to avoid the two farmhands who came rushing around to see what was going on.

Brad chopped a hole in the door to let himself and Rasheed in, then took cover inside the library. Outside, the farmhands started shooting at Doris, who took a bullet in the shoulder for her troubles. Rosalie started sneaking around back, avoiding the agitated zombies and scaling up to the second story. Governor Byrne finished off the sniper by throwing him off the roof, breaking his neck. Inside, another farmhand took a shot at Rasheed, who rushed the man and cold-cocked him with the flat of his axe.

Doris was getting mighty tired of being shot at, so she turned the truck around and drove straight at the shooters, less to hit them and more to scare them. Unfortunately, her usually amazing driving failed at the worst possible time, and she rolled the truck into the back—with a group of zombies waiting right there. Doris scrambled out of the truck and made a run for it, but one of the farmhands recovered enough to take a shot at her. Governor Byrne couldn’t get to Doris in time to help, and for his efforts wound up getting severely shot in the gut.

No longer able to worry about the consequences, Doris pulled her gun and shot the gas tank of the flipped truck before diving out of the way. To her horror, the exploding truck killed both of the farmhands and set the zombies on fire—flaming zombies! Rosalie dashed inside ahead of the explosion and found herself looking at Elijah’s back—as Brad was sneaking up on him.

Rasheed had gone deeper into the library and confronted Elijah, who stood above a crucifix with a zombie tied to it and dressed as Jesus. Brad was sneaking up on the would-be prophet while Elijah began chanting in the strange glossolalia he had been using at the riverside. Rasheed ducked back into the stacks to hide, but Mary Mathis was waiting for him with a farming sickle. The two of them dueled for long moments before Rasheed realized that the girl was gaining the upper hand and fell back to the main room to join his allies.

Governor Byrne had finally managed to get inside the library, though he was still bleeding profusely. Brad failed to sneak up on Elijah and almost had his windpipe crushed by a strangely powerful grip from the boy, but their struggles luckily knocked Elijah back and off the second story balcony to the ground below. Rosalie snuck down and tasered the boy, which only made him angrier. Doris finally caught up to the others too, a herd of burning zombies chasing her down.

A hideous zombie Jesus appeared from the dark, tackling Brad—who threw himself off the balcony rather than stay face-to-face with such a monster. Down below, Rasheed and Mary continued to duke it out while Rosalie, Doris, and Governor Byrne pounded on the indefatigable Elijah. Zombie Jesus pursued Brad to the first floor, and Doris gutted him with her machete. Governor Byrne knocked down the fleeing Elijah and started stomping him brutally, all of the older man’s patience spent.

Within moments, the tide turned. Elijah was unconscious, Zombie Jesus was beheaded, and Mary was surrendering rather than see her brother hurt anymore. With the psychotic Mathis siblings defeated, it was time to go back to Quakertown.

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Day 5
Down in the river to pray

Rosalie, Brad, and Rasheed dodge their pursuers for the better part of an hour before they realize they’re no closer to getting off the grounds. Even if they were, they can’t just abandon the people who are still asleep in their beds. (Well, Brad could.) Finally, they decide to double back and get Governor Byrne, who might have a better idea of what to do.

Governor Byrne is waking up just as people are being carried out of their beds and put on a flatbed cart outside. Taking issue with this, he beats up the two men doing to kidnapping and ties them up before starting to wake up the other survivors. The escaping trio catch up to him and explain what’s been going on. The quickly confer on a plan; Rasheed will escape to start up the vehicles and get them ready for escape, while the others try to get to the main house and alert Father Zachariah that his son has started attacking guests.

Before they can implement the plan, Brad is spotted by the trackers and takes off alone into the night. Rasheed uses the distraction to escape and Rosalie hides in the rafters, but Governor Byrne is captured by Elijah and his followers. Hoping to get some idea of what this is all about, the governor agrees to go with them peacefully, and Rosalie follows behind to keep an eye on them.

Brad makes his way to a barn, where a bunch of zombies have been penned up—and where a bunch of kids are sleeping on cots, not twenty feet away, with an armed guard watching them. Brad decides to play the hero for once and jumps from the barn’s second story onto the guard, breaking his collarbone and taking his shotgun. While he’s distracted, one of the children gets out of bed and charges him with a pitchfork, stabbing him in the ass. Brad hauls off and slugs the kid in the face, finally crossing the moral event horizon, before fleeing the barn.

Elijah takes the governor to a small creek that runs through the property past an old Quaker cemetery, and explains that it was his intention to baptize all of the “decent folk” and quietly “disappear” the “unbelievers.” Governor Byrne feigns acceptance, then accuses Elijah of being insane and body slams him under the water.

Rosalie jumps out of hiding and tasers one of the armed thugs. Three more try to swarm her, but they can’t get their hands on her. The others don’t dare to shoot at Governor Byrne for fear of hitting Elijah, but the teenager seems to be able to hold his own. Though he can’t escape the governor’s steely grip, the strain of fighting a young, spry opponent seems to take its toll on the older man; several times, Elijah’s beating fists make the governor’s heart skip a beat, almost dropping him from sheer shock. One of the thugs gets fed up with Rosalie’s dodging and clubs her in the stomach with the butt of his rifle, drawing the disapproval of his fellows.

Outside, Rasheed has woken up Doris and Courtney and is preparing to ride to the rescue. He uses a small chunk of their C4 to blow the gates, then Doris drives the semi through to the bunkhouse, where people are rapidly ushered outside to safety. Doris and Rasheed rush to join the brawl near the creek, arriving just in time to see Brad blow a farmhand’s head off with a stolen shotgun.

In desperation, Elijah calls out to god for help—and something responds. A hideously deformed zombie comes tearing out of the darkness, ripping into Governor Byrne with a fury none of them have before witnessed. Rosalie zaps the fleeing Elijah with her taser and drops him like a poleaxed cow. The battle against the “angel of the lord” rages powerfully, until Doris manages to cleave its skull in half with her machete. All of them are injured and weak when Father Zachariah shows up, demanding to know what’s happening.

Though Elijah pleads his case, Zachariah orders his son locked up until morning so that they can figure everything out. The survivors explain their side of it to him, and the preacher begins rousing his people to rebuild the gate and defend the walls. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he fears it could be the end of their peaceful sanctuary. While the survivors are busy getting their wounds patched up by the local healer, Doc Gillis, Elijah somehow escapes, possibly with the aid of his sister Mary.

When the heroes approach Zachariah’s wife, Ruth, they find her on the verge of a suicide attempt. The woman collapses onto Rasheed’s shoulder, weeping that it’s all her fault…

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