In one of the few remaining bastions of humanity, a young woman downed a poor excuse for liquor. She grimaced. The wealth of a town could often be judged by the quality of its alcohol, and this vodka, made from potato peels and god knew what else, was one of the worst she ever had. Still, she knew what was ahead of her and didn't want to be sober for what was to come. She choked down another and paid, feeling the alcohol begin to take effect-it was strong at least.
She strolled out of the bar and down the dusty street, adjusting her holster as she walked. At the gate, a wink and a smile convinced the guard on duty to let her through. Just outside the city (if it could be called that) stood the stables, a rundown firetrap operated by the only man brave (or crazy) enough to live outside the walls. She walked up to the owner, paid him for housing her horse and mounted up. She had a promise to keep; made to a person she would gladly lay down her own life for. As she rode through the pine forest, following what was left of an old path, she caressed the stock of her rifle and thought of the first time she met the person she was going to see now.
Fire. There was fire everywhere, and the air was filled with the sound of crackling flames and the screams of people trapped in the infernos that had been their houses. In the yard of one of the houses a girl sat crying, her face colored orange and yellow by the fire devouring her home and family. She didn't notice the ragged man walking up behind her, his eyes full of rage and lust. The crack of a rifle suddenly cut through the air, louder than the fires, screams, and heavy breathing of the creature sneaking up behind her. The girl jumped, startled by the noise, and narrowly avoided the man as he fell. The thing groaned, the gaping hole in its throat pumping blood onto the heat-baked grass, reaching for her with dirty, bleeding hands. Another shot rang out and it collapsed, brain leaking out of its newly ventilated skull. The girl fell in her haste to back away from the corpse, trembling in fear. A man ran toward her, rifle in hand.
He yelled at her, telling her to get up, to run. She didn't react, too shocked to move. He grabbed her, ignoring her feeble punches, and carried her into the woods. The house collapsed behind them, and more figures appeared, clothed in shredded rags, moving as a pack. They swarmed those that had escaped the flames, raping, killing, and eating them. Those that survived slowly stood, twitching. Some screamed, holding their heads in pain. Others joined the pack in their pillaging. When the creatures left, there were none unscathed, either killed and eaten or infected and slowly surrendering to their bestial instincts.
From the forest, the two survivors watched, one wide-eyed and afraid, the other resigned and weary. He glanced at the child to his side, wondering why he had saved her-he hadn't meant to, he hadn't wanted to get involved at all-but he had, and what would he do with her? As he looked at her, she turned to him, green eyes hard despite her tears, and spoke: 'Please, help me. They killed them, they killed everyone.' Hearing that, he knew that he had no choice. He took her in, and for a few years they were happy, as he taught her how to shoot, how to hunt, how to survive. They traveled, sometimes sleeping in abandoned buildings, sometimes under the stars. When he found a small pistol in She came to think of him as her father, in place of the man who burnt in front of her. And then it happened.
They were walking through the ruins of a city, looking for supplies when one of the infected burst out of the police station and charged them. It smashed into the man, knocking him to the pavement. As it bit into him, the girl shot it, once, twice, again and again until the gun was empty and her hands shook. The man coughed, covered in the thing's blood. He struggled to his feet and staggered to the building the thing had come from. He told her to shoot him-he was certainly infected, and didn't want to attack her. She took his rifle, pointed it at him, and found that she couldn't pull the trigger. 'It's alright my girl,' he said, 'just promise me that you will be the one to do it.' She nodded, fighting back tears. He smiled. 'Thank you,' he whispered, and locked himself in a cell. She walked out of the station, ignoring the whimpers of pain as they slowly morphed into inarticulate howls of rage. Even as the door shut behind her, she didn't look back.
That had been ten years ago. Since then the girl, now a woman, survived; hunting for food and pelts when she could and working when she couldn't. However, she never forgot the man she owed her life too, and she never forget her oath. As she rode on, the ever-present haze that was the new sky began to darken, so she stopped for the night, hitching her horse to a tree and pitching her tent. The next morning, the woman rode into the town where she had lost her second father. She pulled the rifle from her back. It was time to keep her promise.