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Snippet #2453240

located in The Haven Universe, a part of Live Together or Die Alone, one of the many universes on RPG.

The Haven Universe

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Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Kiera Trennan
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(Collaboration with Messiah and Faith Fanon)

A King Among Men

November 11th, 2013

Part 1: Four's also a crowd

Ben happened to be the first Scav that Callie had seen. Oddly enough, he had just been passing through on his way to see Laney. Callie ushered him over and stuffed a crumpled piece of paper and a map into his hands.

"Tilo's hurt."

Surprised, to say the least, Ben took what she offered to him and looked down at both. The words that he'd wanted to say became stuck in his throat when she spoke. The map was, well, it was a map, and the other piece of paper gave a little bit of detail ont he situation. Most notably, the words 'missing', 'overrun', and 'fruitless' caught his attention.

"Take the medic with you. Jay."

With both map and instructions in hand, Ben rushed to the room that he and Laney had been sharing.

"Tilo didn't make it back," he announced to Laney, barely through the door, "He's missing. Injured." Maybe dead, he thought. He didn't want to give up hope, but realistically, the chances weren't good.


Quickly, Ben tossed on his backpack. Everything else he needed was with him already.

Ben's forthright manner jerked Laney out of her half-doze. Despite her panic attack the previous night, she'd slept well. Now, she pushed all those issues out of her mind as she swung her legs out of bed. Even the little information Ben had imparted spelled trouble. Relations with the Rand group Tilo was visiting were tense to say the least.

She hurried to the armory for her scoped rifle and a Scav Pack. She also grabbed one of the pistols she'd recovered from the Sea King crash site, loaded it and tucked it into the back of her jeans. It had been six months since she'd last visited a gun range, and her confidence with the rifle was growing, but it felt good to handle a pistol again. Passing the Command Centre on the way back, Laney was halted in her tracks by the feeling someone was staring at her. True enough, Callie was ignoring Carter's urgent, low tone and fixing Laney with a scrutinizing look. She'd seen the tape. Laney realized with a chill. Though she was trying to keep the memory of Benson's attack buried, so stop the feeling of helplessness overwhelm her, the fact that someone else in Haven had witnessed her humiliation threatened to rob her of all her courage and determination. Rishi must have seen it too, and maybe Gary. As if trying to escape the feeling of desperation, Laney hurried from the farmhouse.

Ben was pursing his lips and scratching his stubble as he tried to make awkward conversation with Jay when Laney barreled from the farmhouse. She took a deep breath of sharp winter air, exhaled with a sigh, and strode for the gate. The two men shared a surprised glance and hurried after her.

Kiera had slept well ever since her trip to the hospital, and the night before was no exception. She awoke refreshed and energized, ready to take on the day. The days had grown colder, so kiera hurried to put on warm clothes. After suitably bundled, she knelt down on the floor and pulled up one of the floorboards.

Walking lazily down the hall, Kiera suddenly heard urgent voices in the command center. She recognized one of them as Callie and she was saying something about Tilo being injured. Slightly embarassed at eavesdropping, Kiera quickly retreated to her room before she could be spotted. She stood just inside her door waiting for Ben to knock and tell her about the situation, when no one came, Kiera realized she would have to invite herself on the rescue mission.

With Laney leading the way, and Jay soon with them, the trio walked out into the cold, snowy air of the Lake District. As they were about to pass through the gates of Haven, a voice called out, causing them both to turn.

Like fleeing thieves, Ben, Laney, and Jay were sneaking away from the farmhouse without her. Angrily she stomped after them.

"Hey, Tilo is my friend too. I'm coming with you three." Kiera told them decisively.

Ben looked between the two women hesitantly. This is what it all led up to, it seemed. He didn't particularly have a good feeling about this, seeing as they both... wanted him, or whatever, but they would probably need all the help they could get.

"Alright. Fine," Ben relented, earning him a distasteful scowl from Laney. For a moment, he felt like giving them both a warning about trying anything, but when push came to shove, they were part of Haven, just as he was. He had faith that they would both put the needs of Haven above their own.

But, just to be safe, he allowed the two women to go ahead of him, just so he could keep an eye on them both at the same time. Jay joined Ben at his side.

"What are we expecting to find?" the paramedic asked.

"Tilo, a horde, and a whole lot of bodies," Ben replied. At least, those were his expectations.

"A horde?" Laney called back from where she'd walked besides Kiera in silence. "So is Tilo actually missing or..." She let the question hang unanswered in the air, alongside the clouds of steam that came up from everyone's breath.

"I don't know," Ben admitted quietly after a long moment of silence.

A gust of wind blew directly into their faces and Ben had to duck his head down to keep the snow from ending up directly in his eyes. He pulled his jacket tighter around himself and shivered a little. It seemed colder today than it had ever been before, at least since he arrived at Haven; even colder than the night he had escaped the clutches of the cannibalistic brothers. Laney flexed her right hand. The fingers she'd injured were healing, but they stung in the cold.

"Well, we gotta go look anyway, right?" she urged, partly to herself. "Even if... Well, we need to know what's going on over there."

Ben nodded, "Yeah," he kept his head low still, and all he could see of the two in front of him were their lower legs.

They were at a distinct disadvantage here, as none of them had ever been to Upton. The only that had, well, that's exactly who they were out looking for. "We need to be careful, though," he added, "Especially if there's a horde."

"Yeah, stick close," Laney urged. "If this snow gets any heavier, we could get split up. And we won't be able to hear Zack coming." She looked around nervously. Though the road was clear, outlines of the stone walls, hedges and fields around them were blurred. Only a mile out of Haven, the countryside should have been full of familiar sights. But now, any nook or cranny could be harbouring a deadly threat. Laney shook her head. Her eyes were beginning to water from squinting. Just then, there was a blur of movement further up the road to Upton.

"Zombies," she hissed, swinging her rifle off her shoulder. Around her, she sensed her fellow Scavs tense in preparation for the imminent conflict. There was a flurry of panicky movement from Jay, obviously unused to dealing with the undead in the open countryside. A blurred figure ahead of them shot forward. Laney gasped. It was moving faster than any zombie she had ever seen. Almost instantly it was upon them, giving her no time for a shot. The rifle was proving useless in the snowy conditions.

Kiera stepped forward, her arms out, and Ben was about leap at her and drag her from certain death when she spoke out: 'Here, boy.'

The dog's different behavior was curious. It had never approached so closely before; still Kiera reached out to the dog and tried to call it closer. The brown dog halted a few feet in front of the group, its little tail wagged slowly as it paced back and forth in front of them. Two short whines could be heard from the dog.

"Cute," remarked Laney, grudgingly amused. "What's he trying to say?"

"Any kids trapped down the well, Lassie?" joked Ben.

"I don't know. Probably just nervous about meeting so many people." Kiera said from her crouched position.

The dog suddenly seemed to lose interest in the group and with a final whimper; they watched as the dog trotted off happily in the direction of Haven, a strange reminder of the domesticity and peace of the old world. Distracted, no-one was quick enough to look around to see whether the howling behind them was the winter wind or approaching undead. It was only the slap-slap of running feet that belatedly alerted them, and Ben managed to get his hand around the throat of the zombie that crashed into him, and kept its jaws at arm's length as it bore him to the ground.

Laney rushed to the struggling bodies, instinctively yanking on the zombie's collar to keep its jaws from Ben's flesh. Kiera and Jay faced the direction from which it had come; even in the poor visibility, they could easily make out a large wedge of bodies approaching.

"There's a lot of them," Kiera called out in warning. Laney pulled her hatchet out of the zombie's skull and, as Ben rolled the corpse off him, looked around.

"Over the walls, quick," she called, pulling Ben to his feet and towards the closest stone boundary, the left-hand wall. Kiera and Jay scrambled over the wall closet to them. In seconds, the two pairs were separated by 20 or more howling zombies.

"Kiera, Jay," Ben called over the noise. The wind seemed to snatch the words from his mouth. He and Laney could just about hear an answering shout from across the road.

"Shit, Ben, we can't leave them over there."

"We can't leave this many Zeds this close to Haven either," Ben shot back, stepping forward, hatchet raised, with a grim look on his face. Laney heaved a deep, resigned breath and joined in, hacking first at the grasping hands and then at the heads of the mindless horde.

On the other side of the wall, Jay continued to call to Ben and Laney. Kiera tugged nervously at his sleeve. "Jay," she urged. "Jay."

As another body added to the press of creatures trying to reach Kiera and Jay, a stone slid from the top of the wall. Two zombies pressed into the gap, and a stone slid from either side of them. In no time at all, the wall had fallen to half its height in a metre-long gap, and zombies were tumbling over it. By the time the first zombie had righted itself and scanned the area for its prey, Kiera and Jay had fled.

Despite the cold, Laney was sweating as she felled the last zombie. Her shoulder ached from swinging her hatchet. Even before they'd taken down the last of the horde, Ben and Laney had seen what had happened opposite.

"What do we now?"

Ben chewed his lip as he mulled it over. "We go after Kiera and Jay," he then said decisively.

"But, Tilo-" Laney started.

"Laney, we have to consider the very real possibility that he's..." Ben didn't finish the sentence. He had the feeling she knew what he meant, and he saw her hang her head. "If they need us, we can't leave them."

It wasn't a decision he liked making. Tilo could still be alive, but the chances were slim.

"What if he's..?" The words died on her lips, and she hung her head, avoiding Ben's gaze. "Okay." She took one last look back at the road as they hopped the wall. She was sure they could track the zombies, given the settling blanket of snow. At the same time, the thought of Tilo lying hurt, or at the mercy of the Hunter Ben said ruled the Rands... "I hope he's okay."

Unbidden, unwanted, the memory of what Kiera had said, about Ben kissing her, crept into Laney's mind.


Part 2: Back to back

The slope was steep beyond the wall, Kiera and Jay struggled not to trip as they madly dashed down the hill. On either side of the pair, bodies rolled down ahead of them, creating a hazard for the survivors at both ends. They broke through the line of disoriented walkers, using their momentum to create an open path ahead of them. Having no idea of the pursuing number behind them, Kiera spared a glance back. About six walkers remained right on their heels, while another four or so were still righting themselves from their sudden tumble.

Jay rapidly pulled ahead of the shorter American, causing Kiera to wonder if he might actually leave her to fend for herself. Barely eighty feet had been covered by the pair, but Kiera was already feeling a sharp burning in her lungs and her legs had started to ache. Each step grew slower and shorter than the last, till she was less than two feet away from the closest walker.

The appearance of a small stand of trees caused Jay to swerve towards them with Kiera quickly changing her direction as well. Taking large strides Jay scrambled up into the first tree. Kiera felt an ominous brush across her back as she struggled towards the safety of the trees. With the help of a second wind, she reached the tree that Jay was situated in and raised her hands for help. An indifferent stare met her desperate gaze. Kiera waited a moment longer, but when no help was offered she dodged around the trunk and raced towards the next available tree.

With an uncoordinated leap, Kiera secured a handhold on one of the lowest branches. She attempted to swing both legs up, but a pair of clawed hands halted her progress. Kicking with her free leg she managed to loosen the grip, but the precious seconds that she spent struggling enabled her other pursuers to arrive and grasp her other dangling leg. Their combined strength weakened Kiera's grip on the branch, the bark scraping against her gloves. For a horrifying moment she caught sight of Jay, watching her struggle from his safe perch with a look of mild interest.

Then the branch slipped from her grasp.

The sudden lack of opposing force caused the surrounding walkers to fall backwards, with Kiera landing on top of the tangled heap. Reacting immediately, she clambered off the pile and grasped her pipe weapon, ready to take down as many as possible before they overwhelmed her. Desperation made her swing with every fiber of muscle, she managed to bring one down with a single overhead swing, but two more seemed to take its place.

Kiera's circle grew tighter as the walkers rushed in to overcome her with superior numbers. Then she caught sight of a red blur out of the corner of her eye. Jay entered into the fray, cutting down the stragglers that were nearing the circle. Slowly he made his way closer to Kiera, till the pair stood back to back against the never-ending onslaught.


Part 3: Side by side

Ben and Laney trotted across the field, following the tracks that the smaller horde had made in giving chase to Kiera and Jay. Now, neither of them were trackers in any sense of the word, but these tracks were particularly difficult to miss in the snow, considering the amount of them and how recklessly they ran after their prey.

For a while, the tracks went east, away from the road. Laney, trailing Ben by several yards, watched the movement of his lean back, his rangy shoulders, the back and shoulders she'd clung to night after night, and fought to repress doubt. After all, she considered, how well did she really know this man? Their intense love-making, their rambling, intimate, hushed conversations, couldn't make up for the fact that he'd had 22 formative years that she knew very little about. She wanted to take Ben at face value but perhaps there had been a lesson in Benson's assault on her. Perhaps men were hardwired a certain way. Perhaps, after the end of the world, certain biological urges couldn't be resisted. Perhaps there was some truth in what Kiera had said.

"I'm not giving up on him," Ben said, cutting the silence, "I just -"

"What happened at the hospital with you and Kiera?" Laney interrupted.

A dawning realization came over Ben. Was she worried that he had feelings for the other American? He saw how his choice to go after Kiera might have raised suspicions in Laney, but this wasn't about that.

"I told you what happened, didn't I?"

"Did you?"

"Yes!"

With his eyes on Laney, he had almost missed the sudden sharp turn that the tracks made.

"Do you really want to go over this now, Laney?" he asked, turning with the path of tracks.

Laney sighed, about to respond when they both saw what they seemed to be looking for. A group of undead had swarmed towards a group of trees. One of the trees held a lone figure perched in it, but that was all he could see. Then another figure rose up and started swinging something. The figure from the tree dropped down and started helping out.

Ben motioned to Laney and they picked up their pace, Laney pushing aside her irritation at Ben and Kiera alike. He drew his hatchet as he moved towards the group. About twenty feet from it, he whistled sharply, causing about half of the attackers to turn their attention towards him. They shambled in his direction, slowly at first, but then their pace increased.

"Yeah, that's right. Come on," he muttered with determination, raising his weapon up in preparation for the first runner. He planted his hatchet firmly in the top of its skull as it got near.

Another two crashed into the back of the newly dead again corpse, knocking Ben back and almost causing him to fall onto his back. His grip on his weapon had been strong, and he kept it in his hand, even with the momentum of the other two runners barreling into the back of the first. But, instead of loosening freely from the top of its head, the bladed weapon took a direct route forward, ejecting the front of its skull and bits of brain past Ben as he staggered, and leaving an open and bloody cavity in the front of its head.

He had to put his left hand on the ground to keep himself from falling completely. Pain shot through his hand as his knuckles scraped along the ground, severely irritating the wound he had sustained while in captivity.

The runners had not been quite so lucky as him. When they collided with the other, their legs got tangled up with each other and they were sent sprawling to the ground.

Laney was at his right and, before either of the two runners on the ground could get up, she executed them both. But, that left her vulnerable to another as she bent down to do it.

Ignoring the pain in his hand, he ran at it, leading with his left forearm out in front of him. Caught completely unaware, the thing was blindsided and was sent to the ground in a flailing mess of arms and legs. Ben had braced himself for the hit this time and remained standing. Then he stepped over to it and raised his boot up to crush its skull.

He turned to see the fifth and final runner they'd attracted being felled by another one of Laney's swings.

The sharp whistle that drew half the pack's number away, gave Kiera just enough breathing room to search for their unexpected saviors. Despite the still present danger, Kiera found herself smiling as she caught sight of Ben and Laney. Their presence gave her a renewed sense of hope and determination. Jay spotted the pair soon after and a similar expression crossed his face.

Fighting back to back, Kiera and Jay made quick work of the remaining walkers. The four scavengers stood amongst a field of death, staring at one another, grateful to still be alive. Stepping over the scattered corpses, Kiera and Jay went to rejoin their rescuers.

Just out of Laney and Ben's hearing range, Kiera leaned towards Jay. "I won't forget what you did." She said in a threatening tone.

"Neither will I, my dearest." Jay replied in a sickeningly sweet tone. He suddenly leaned in even closer to Kiera and inhaled conspicuously, "Mmmm." he whispered in her ear, before straightening and approaching the other pair with a pleased expression.

Ben held his wounded hand close to his chest. It hadn't quite fully healed. When Short had changed his bandages the day before, he had spied signs of healing on his stump. She had told him not to aggravate it. Slowly, he brought his hand up and saw a spot of red underneath the bandages. It hurt, but it was nowhere near how bad as it had been before.


Part 4: Stately home

A full circuit of Upton Abbey told them one thing: The ground floor at the very least was over-run. A large group, 15 or so, were gathered aimlessly at the main doors in what the Scavs were coming to understand as 'rest' mode. Others were bunched in threes and fours around the grounds. Using the scope on her rifle, Laney couldn't detect signs of life through the upper-story windows, although that wasn't confirmation that there were no survivors. The foursome took cover in a knot of trees behind Upton.

"Okay, how the fuck are we going to get in there?" Laney groused.

"What, none of you have been in here before?" asked Jay.

"No, going in blind," Ben confirmed. "You're from round here though, right?"

"Aye," Jay responded, "though I ain't ever been in here."

"Well, what's that, then?" asked Ben, pointing past some outhouses to a single-storey extension at the back of the imposing building. It was grey and dull, not ornate like much of the rest of Upton.

"An extension, a laundry or summat," Jay shrugged.

"If we can get up on that, then in a window..." Ben reached into his pack and pulled out bunch of fireworks. "Right, wait here. When the geeks go for the fireworks, get up on the laundry roof. Meet you there."

Ben took off in a low dash. Watching him go, Laney felt a pang of fear for him. Time and again, Scavs' experiences had shown there was safety in numbers. She looked from Jay to Kiera and, still distrustful of the American girl, urged: 'Jay, go with him. Watch his back.' She ignored the betrayed look from Kiera next to her. I'll keep you where I can see you, she thought to herself.

"Okay,' Laney spoke up, half to herself. 'If you own a stately house, where do you keep your ladders?"

Ben felt like a man under fire, darting from one piece of cover to the next, trying to get a good position from which to light the fireworks. At a low wall, he stopped, catching the sound of footsteps behind him. Putting his hand on the handle of his weapon, he wheeled around, about to raise it, when he saw that it was Jay and not a runner.

That was the second time he'd nearly killed the man, mistaking him for a member of the walking dead.

"Laney ask--" the paramedic began, but he stopped when Ben pressed a finger to his own lips in the universal hushing gesture.

This was a good spot, he decided; it was close enough to attract a crowd, but far enough away that Laney and Kiera, and shortly afterwards, Ben and Jay could go and get on top of the laundry room. It was also fairly near the entrance to the house itself. Hopefully, it would attract some from within the house as well and make some parts of the house safer.

Ben pulled out a matchbook that had come with the fireworks. He struck it and lit the fuse and started away in his crouching dash. But, he noticed that Jay was frozen in his spot, staring at something. Reaching out, he took Jay's arm and yanked him along harshly and gave him a scrutinizing look as they rushed for better cover, further away from where the dead were sure to come.

Minutes later, a burst of colored light erupted in the sky. Around the grounds, countless undead heads snapped up, and the horde shuffled in the firework's direction. As the light extinguished, a second firework went up, then a third. As the horde shambled to the front of the house, Laney emerged from the tree cover, followed by Kiera. They darted up to the closest outhouse. Peering in the window, Laney spied a ladder, and turned to point it out to Kiera when a zombie lunged against the window, shattering the glass and drawing an involuntary shriek from Laney. She flung herself back, landing in the snow, as Kiera stepped forward and hacked at the creature's head.

The ladder was tangled in amongst a garden hose, shears, and several other implements. Minutes passed and metal clanged on metal as the women worked together to free it. Frustrated and impatient with the delay, Laney was glad to get out of the musty, claustrophobic outhouse. Her relief turned to shock, however, when she saw a group of six zombies approaching from the trees where the Scavs had hidden. Whether they'd been attracted by the fireworks, her shriek or the noise they'd made freeing the ladder, Laney didn't care. The zombies had spied Laney and Kiera, and they were fast.

"Up on the roof," she yelled behind her, tugging at the ladder to hurry the American. They covered the remaining 20 metres at full speed, kicking up snow. Laney thrust her end of the ladder up against the gable end of the laundry extension, and shot up it almost before Kiera had planted it on the ground. As she swung herself up onto the roof, a scream came from below, laced with fear.

"Laneyyy! Help!"

Kiera was halfway up the ladder. gripping desperately to one of the rungs and kicking out at a zombie that had reached up and locked its hands around her left ankle. The first few kicks kept its head and deadly jaws out of range of the foot it had grasped, but then another zombie arrived and grabbed her right foot too. Now only the strength of her arms was keeping Kiera out of reach. A terrible thought entered Laney's mind. Two more slavering zombies arrived staggered up, threatening to unbalance the ladder. Kiera screamed again as it wobbled, staring at Laney, immobile and stony-faced, with wide, pleading eyes.

Laney seemed to shudder, then reached behind her, under her jacket and Scav Pack, and whipped out her pistol. Two-handed, she fired five shots in rapid succession. She didn't take in how many shots hit their mark, but the zombies dragging on Kiera slumped to the ground, and the American scrambled to the roof, panting and weeping. Laney put her arm awkwardly around Kiera's shoulder and patted.

"It's alright, hun, you're not bit, you're not bit." She leant over the edge of the roof and, emptying the clip, put down the remaining four zombies. She was settling down to wait for Ben and Jay when a cry rang out from inside. They were on their feet in an instant, smashing a window to gain access to the main building. Laney didn't even have a second to contemplate what she'd considered doing to Kiera.


Part 5: Ghost house

Ben and Jay remained in cover until the fireworks went off. The rudimentary explosives were sure to keep their attention for a while; long enough for everyone to get inside the house.

Once the fireworks had gone off, the pair made their way in a circle towards the back of the house, careful not to go too fast and run straight into a crowd of zombies. Part way around, they heard gunshots. Ben risked to bring himself to a standing position and looked around, but saw nothing.

"Come on," he whispered, beckoning to Jay with a wave of his hand.

They arrived around the back of the house to find the bodies of several walkers and a ladder pushed up against the laundry room, but no other sign of Laney or Kiera.

"Laney!" he called quietly, and then a little louder, "Kiera!"

No response.

Ben ascended the steps of the ladder and looked between Jay and the open window. In short order, both men were on top of the laundry room. The younger man peered through the window and noted a drop of a foot or two down to some stairs.

He brought himself back out to look at the paramedic and gave him a smile that lacked any emotion.

"You first."

"What?" Jay stammered in response.

"Don't worry. I'm right behind you." Ben was still mindful of the reaction Kiera had had towards the man when they reunited in Westmorland. He didn't want to give the man an opportunity to leave Ben alone.

"Alright," the paramedic answered uncertainly before ducking through the window and dropping down to the floor. A few seconds later, Ben dropped down behind him.

"You okay?" Ben asked.

"Dandy."

"Good. Let's go," came Ben's response, stepping down the stairs.

Once they reached the bottom floor, the pair took a left turn down a corridor. They stepped over a body who lacked a head, possessing nothing but a bloody stump there instead. As they continued, they stopped and listened briefly. There was an almost perpetual groan coming from the house, and not the type of groan you'd hear from an old house like this. This was more akin to a groan a fleshy thing would make.

"We have to be careful," Jay whispered, apparently having heard the sounds as well. Ben nodded. They were on the lookout for Laney and Kiera, for Tilo, or for anything that they could take back to Haven.

Slowly, Ben poked his head around a corner, but immediately pulled it back. Down the hallway was a small crowd of the undead, idle, and waiting for a sign of their prey to show up. Thankfully, they hadn't seem to notice them. But, that also probably meant that Laney and Kiera hadn't gone that way. Regardless, they couldn't risk it.

Instead, they decided to return the way they had come, but instead of going back up the stairs, they continued past it and down the other side of the hallway. Again, Ben looked around the corner cautiously, but saw no undead. Silently, he motioned to Jay and they moved down the hall.

Then, they came upon an intersection, and dashed straight across. That brought them to a corridor that took a right turn. This time, Jay was first to the corner and checked around the corner. He held his hands out, signifying that it wasn't stopped, so they returned to the intersection and darted across it once again, heading back in the direction of the stairs they'd come down.

Once they'd reoriented themselves so they looking across the intersection again. Left would lead them to the group they'd seen first. Straight across would bring them to the other group. Their only options wewre to go to the right, or to go back. So, they went to the right, which led to another right turn, but that led to a dead end.

There was an open door down that hall, and when they approached to it, he could hear the raspy sounds of at least one walker. Neither of them really knew if they had ways of communicating and bringing more to them. At first, they were going to turn around and go back before it noticed them, but then Ben saw its face. From his position, he could only see the side of it, but he wanted to be sure. Slowly, he entered the room and waited for it to turn and notice him.

In front of him was the face that he swore he'd never forget. It was the man who had killed Tim. It was the man who had caused the deaths of Toby and the other Caravanners who had been killed. It was the man that had caused all of the shit for Haven and the people at Eden Valley.

Richard Brand.

His reanimated face was contorted into a snarl as it lunged for Ben. Roughly, Ben shoved it back and he drew his hatchet and planted it into the top of its skull. Limply, it collapsed to the floor, and Ben freed his hatchet, but he didn't stop. He just kept hacking at it, over and over until there was hardly anything left of its head.

With his chest heaving from anger and exertion, Ben turned around to face Jay, who just stared on in shock, but was unable to find any words for what he'd just seen.

"He deserved worse," Ben breathed out. He deserved a lot worse.

Jay nodded complacently and followed Ben back the way they had come, towards the staircase they'd descended a short time ago. Towards the end of this corridor - once they'd reached it once again - was another room. The door was open on this one as well.

Carefully, they stepped in and closed the door.

Lying on the floor was a body. Ben checked it. A small red circle in the center of her forehead gave the clear indication that this young woman had been shot in the head, possibly to prevent reanimation, or, more likely, just out of cold ruthlessness.

"They're everywhere," Jay whispered worriedly.

"I noticed."

It was then that Ben got an idea.

"We can't let these get back to Haven. If that horde we came across on the road was from here, then they can get to Haven. This many could overwhelm us."

"What do we do, then?" Jay asked.

"We burn it down."

"Burn it down? What about the other two?"

"I know," Ben shot back quickly. He was already in the process of taking out his walkie-talkie. "Laney? Kiera? Anybody there?"

They got no response.

"Shit," Ben muttered and he tried again with no luck.

"We'll just have to hope they can find a way out." Ben shook his head, his features dropping slightly. Although he acted calm and detached, on the inside he was far from either. He felt helpless. Not knowing where they were was killing him. He'd never forgive himself if either of them died in the fire, especially Laney. But this was for Haven, he told himself. If they left this alone, it could potentially cost the entirety of Haven.

"If we can get this room going, the rest of the house should go with it. Pull some stuff into the center of the room."

Ten minutes later, the pair had a pile of things in the center of the room; tables and chairs mostly. Ben took out a matchbook - the very same that he'd used to light the fireworks earlier and, once a match was struck, held the flame at the bottom of the pile. He struck another match and lit the middle of the pile. Finally, he took a third match and started a fire at the top of the pile. In a few minutes, a blaze had started, with the flames licking the ceiling of the room.

The pair stepped back and out of the room and watched as the fire spread through the room; across the floor, up the walls, and finally catching the ceiling.

As the fire clawed at their feet, Ben motioned towards the stairs, "Okay. Time to go."


Part 6: Tilo

The window had opened onto a small wooden staircase that was functional rather than formal. Racing up it in the direction of the cry, Kiera and Laney passed several doors. 'High up,' Laney blurted out as they passed each one. 'It came from higher up.'

Eventually, four stories up, they came to the top of the small staircase, a metal door in front of them. Turning the stiff handle and pushing it open, they were hit by a blast of icy air as they stepped out onto a section of flat roof. Both women tensed as movement across the roof caught their eye. This movement, though, was away from them; no zombie ever moved away. Nonetheless, they remained alert as they approached what looked like a heap of rags.

Closer inspection revealed an elderly man wrapped in several coats and blankets. His formless appearance was topped off with several woolly hats.

"You're... you're... you're not one of them," he eventually stuttered, his teeth chattering behind a wispy grey beard.

"Have you been out here since the horde came?" asked Kiera, her voice full of concern. "Come on, we have to get you inside."

"Nooo!' howled the man. 'Theyre in there. They'll get me!"

"Who?" demanded Laney impatiently. "The Zeds?"

The man merely shook his head and huddled up under his blankets.

"You mean Brand and his men?" A nod from within the blankets. Laney voiced the fear that had gnawed at her since she first glimpsed the sheer number of zombies in and around Upton. "This many zombies, you're probably the only human left in Upton." There was a gasp beside her as Kiera took in the unspoken meaning. 'Brand and his men are either dead or gone," Laney finished.

"Tilo?" asked Kiera. "Have you seen Tilo King? He was visiting from..." At the sight of the man's blank face, Kiera trailed off.

"Come on, we've got to get going," Laney urged. "You can't stay up here. Come on, you'll be alright with us."

"Laney, we've still got to find Tilo," Kiera said as they reached the back stairs. Laney raised an eyebrow archly, still unhappy with the American. "Or at least find out what..."

"Hey, sir," Laney nudged the elderly man as they descended the shabby stairs. "Where's the Rands' bedrooms? Ken and them?"

"Th- third floor," stuttered the man, pointing to the door in front of them. "Right here. But you can't go through there!" He threw himself in front of the door. "The zombies!"

"We have to find our friend," Kiera countered. The man shook his head, wild-eyed, refusing to move. Kiera opened her mouth to speak again, but stopped as Laney grabbed one of the man's coats and pulled, sending him tottering off-balance. She was surprised by how light and frail he was, but she was losing patience. The longer they stayed in Upton Abbey, the more her fear for Tilo's safety turned into dread at his death. The more time she spent around Kiera, the stronger her doubts grew about Ben. She just wanted to get the job over with. She wrenched open the door, anger making her incautious.

"Tilo was looking into some guy's death," she said over her shoulder. "So my guess is he would have started in the guy's bedroom."

Kiera felt sorry for the poor man, she put a comforting hand on his arm. In a whisper she asked. "What's your name, sir?

The personal question seemed to snap the man out of his stupor for a moment. His eyes completely clear of hysterics, he replied. "Ian Wilson. Do you know if anyone else has survived? My wife Valerie?"

"Elizabeth, Eric, and Dominic made it to our gates today. I don't know where your wife might be." Kiera realized that Laney had kept walking out on to the third floor without her. "Stay here." She whispered to Ian.

Kiera followed Laney out onto the third floor. Ian's whimpers were cut off as the door to the back stairs swung shut. The corridor was wide, and richly carpeted, running from the back of the stately home where the back stairs was, right up to its front and an ornately paneled window, through which Kiera and Laney could see. Ancient portraits, mostly of men in old-fashioned dress lined the walls, and through an open door they could glimpse a luxurious four-poster bed. Soaked into the carpet, splashed onto the walls and paintings, and staining the bed sheet was dark brown dried blood. As Laney strode past the opening, Kiera spied movement within, and yanked the door shut as three zombies rushed at them.

The noise as their bodies slammed into the door, their growls, sparked a similar reaction behind a closed door in the next room, then another next to that. Kiera and Laney looked at each other in wide-eyed panic as the volume rose along the corridor. From around a corner at the top of the corridor shuffled five zombies, alerted by the groans of the others. Kiera and Laney darted down the main staircase, their footfalls muffled by the thick carpet, and crouched out of sight. Seeing and hearing nothing, the zombies stumbled to a halt halfway down the corridor, going into 'rest' mode as the undead trapped behind the doors quietened down.

"Laney, Kiera, come in," the radio crackled. "It's Ben." Kiera fumbled with the off button.

Too late. The zombies' heads snapped round and arms shot up as they located the source of the sound. Kiera and Laney were already on their feet, taking the stairs two at a time. As they approached the second floor, a group of zombies below them took up the mournful cry.

The women hesitated for a split second, then Laney pointed at an open door equidistant between them and the closing group on the floor below, and pushed Kiera ahead of her. Neither of them had time to think that it was the first time running towards zombies could save them.

Gripping the jamb, Kiera swung herself through the doorway. Laney stumbled through it behind her, her momentum carrying her to the floor, and Kiera slammed it shut. Any hope they'd had that their pursuers would continue down the corridor were dashed by the growls and the sound of fingernails dragging and scraping on the other side of the door. Kiera leant against the door, in part to catch her breath, in part to add her weight to the barrier; she was jolted and buffeted as the zombies on the other side sought to break through.

A split-second glance on her awkward entry had told Laney the room was empty of upright threats. Now, still on her knees, she had time for a better look. A cursory inspection took in the room's rich surroundings, but Laney's attention was immediately drawn to what she'd initially mistaken for a pile of clothes and debris on the other side of the room, near another door. The dramatic splashes of blood on the wall and floor, soaked into the carpet and turning brown, told her otherwise. She looked away, but a detail caught her eye. Only one other person in Haven besides her wore a black leather jacket - Tilo.

She crawled a little closer, then averted her eyes. The detail of the lapels told her it was Tilo's jacket, but the body lay in a wide puddle of blood. Laney felt the blood drain from her face, and she looked back at Kiera, tears brimming in her eyes. The American's face fell.

"Take the door, Laney," she said softly. Laney obeyed mutely, almost numb. She felt disconnected from herself as she felt the zombies thump the door behind her, watched Kiera kneel by the body. There was an ugly, gaping wound on the neck and what could only be a bullet hole in the middle of the forehead, just below the rim of his woolen hat. The story of this dark-haired young man's last minutes alive was quite clear, but it was also quite clear he wasn't Tilo. Kiera ran her hands over the slumped body, and found two small circular ruptures in the back of the jacket. Though the jacket was stained with blood, the body in it only had that sole bullet wound. Kiera slipped a small notebook from the jacket pocket.

"It's not Tilo," she told Laney. "But Tilo's..." Kiera would have liked time to express what the kindly professor had meant to them all, how he had been a solid rock in a sea of stormy uncertainty, but there wasn't time. She opened the door in the far wall and peered out. The way was clear. In the brief respite, Kiera took stock. The look of misery plastered across Laney's face as she stared dully at the body and took in Kiera's full meaning was so great she put their previous enmity to one side.

"Come on, Laney," she urged, holding out her hand. "We need to get back to the back stairs." She sniffed. It took a moment to register, but the crackle on the edge of her hearing confirmed what her senses were telling her; Upton was on fire.


Part 7: Fire with fire

For the second time in minutes, Kiera and Laney found themselves running towards danger. The flames were already licking the first flight of stairs as they reached the window out onto the roof of the laundry room. Perched on the end, huddled up against the cold, were Ben and Jay.

"Your doing?" Laney asked when she'd caught her breath.

Ben nodded. "We tried to warn you."

"And you almost got us killed," spat Laney. "Fire and zombies."

"Laney..." he said in a conciliatory tone, reaching out to her.

She flicked his hand away and pointed back to where flames were now licking at the broken window. "We could still be in there!"

A slight sense of victory flitted through Kiera as she witnessed Laney pull away from Ben, but the feeling was gone in an instant when she remembered that they had left someone behind. "Laney!" Kiera gasped. "What about Ian? The old man..."

Ben stared at Laney for a moment with a dejected look before he shook his head and turned away. His relief at seeing Laney and Kiera okay had turned to a mix of anger and sadness at Laney's reaction and the slowly dawning realization that Tilo wasn't making it out. He'd recognized it as a possibility before, but it was only just now that he was beginning to realize it as a reality.

A chill ran through Laney, but she found herself saying dully: "He would never have made it anyway."

Kiera's eyes narrowed at Laney's dismissive words about the elderly man. Perhaps she was ultimately right, but the way she said it gave Kiera an unsettling feeling.

"Uhhh, I hate to interrupt," came a cautious interjection from Jay, "but we're standing on the biggest zombie beacon for miles around. Do you think we should get moving?"

By the time any of the other three had started climbing down, Ben was on his way away from the burning abbey. He wasn't interested in staying any longer, nor was he interested in making any conversation. It was obvious that Laney wasn't going to be reasonable. In her eyes, he felt, he was already guilty; of making the first move on Kiera and of not taking Laney and Kiera into consideration when starting the fire.

The other three hung back, and Ben was grateful for it. He didn't want to talk to any of them at the moment, and if he did, they wouldn't be nice things.

Ben didn't stop. He didn't even look back. He just kept walking.

The journey home was interspersed with narrowly avoided encounters with the undead. Every zombie for miles around appeared to be honing in on Upton. Black smoke thickened the sky. The glow from the flames held back the falling dusk. The unmissable beacon meant avoiding a confrontation was a simple matter of ducking down behind hedges whenever zombies were sighted. They soon passed.

Laney kept her distance from Ben until they passed the point where the first group of zombies had chased Kiera and Jay away. Her thoughts flitted between Tilo's demise and the impulse she'd had on the laundry roof to leave Kiera to the zombies, leaving her exhausted. In the end, she sidled up to him and slid her hand into his.

Ben looked at her. He couldn't figure her out. She was pissed at him for going after Kiera. She was pissed at him for almost getting her caught in the fire. But, here she was. As angry as he was at her in return - and he was angry at her - he didn't rebuff her. In fact, he was happy to have her there, for whatever her reason was.

He didn't say anything to her, though. He just sighed and gave her hand a squeeze.

Kiera stuffed her hands into her coat pockets to prevent them from clenching in plain view. She shot daggers at the reunited pair, deeply disappointed that their squabble had been resolved so quickly. Moving her left hand in her pocket, she brushed across a small circular piece of metal and what felt like a thin deck of cards. Kiera was sure the pocket had been empty before she left Haven, so she wasn't sure where or what the objects could be. She was sorely tempted to pull them out and examine what they were, but she knew Jay would undoubtedly want to see what they were also. Kiera left the objects alone.

"What's in the shed?"

Kiera nearly jumped out of her skin upon hearing Jay's question. Her mind was confused for a moment as she tried to figure out what he could be talking about. Oh. Her first instinct was to lie, but she knew that if he went to investigate it himself he would easily discover the truth.

"A walker." Kiera stated calmly. She waited for the sound of shock or disbelief, but she was waiting for something that would never happen.

Jay grinned widely. "So that's why the Indian man spends so much time in there. I was beginning to wonder what he was up to." Dropping his voice for effect, Jay whispered: "You know, having one of them inside the walls is dangerous. It could get loose and eat people." He laughed manically at his own joke.

Kiera's brow furrowed as she realized the full scope of her dilemma. Up on the roof, the American was nearly positive that she had seen something dark in Laney's eyes just before the pop star had rescued her. It was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and difficult to remember that anything could happen and danger could come from anywhere. The thought was chilling, to say the least. Kiera probably would have been more alarmed if it weren't for the chemicals that swirled in her veins. She felt herself beginning to drift into a calm detached state, where only the constant rhythm of her feet kept her grounded in reality.

Jay's smirk faded when he noticed Kiera zoning out. He elbowed her sharply in the ribs.

She shot him a venomous look at the rude awakening. Kiera felt the least he could do was leave her in peace after everything he had done. Crossing her arms indignantly, she was forced to watch Laney and Ben holding hands as they accompanied each other to Haven, oblivious to all else, while she was left walking with Jay.

Without warning, Jay started humming the same tune that he had performed at the hospital. After several repetitions he fell silent once more.