Charms

She carried it around with her. Everywhere she went, that little wooden cross always hung around her neck. We never questioned it though. She was the youngest, at 15, and when I first pulled her she was still suffering from some form of shock .It'd only been a year since the government fell, since our "protectors" ceased to exist.

We picked up their guns and fought.

I was glad to have banned with others. Even though I was the youngest at the time, I was happy that I wasn't fighting the Mutations on my own. It was nice to have company, and I happily accepted jobs as the guard and scout.

Most of the group has their weird trinkets or rituals. Jordan, a 36 year old gunsmith, still prayed every morning and night. He carried his prayer rug with him, rolled up on his pack.

Dakota, an 18 year old I actually had the pleasure of going to school with picked up the a shark tooth on the shore. He told me he used to visit the beach a lot with his father. That's where he had to put him down.

Xana, a 24 year old Russian model carried a small, metal backed Balalaika. She had played it for us before we found our new home, but we learned the hard way that they were attracted to unnatural sounds.

She was different though. She still carries that cross with her, around her neck. After what happened to her, I thought she would have given up on her "good" luck charm.

I saw her. Through my scope, on a scouting mission. I held my rifle up, and I placed a round in between my teeth, incase I needed an extra shot. My crosshair was over her. The safety was off. My left hand felt the furnishing of the Old Russian Mosin Naget that Xana had given me when I pulled her out of her tattered apartment and her tattered fantasy.

I realized that she wasn't feral.

Her eyes were not tinted red. Her clothes were torn, and I could see the red blood dripping from fresh wounds. Despite this, her skin was not as pale as theirs. What really set it off though, was the rather large Mutation, often referred to as Beasts, which knocked her off of her feet. He picked her off the ground, and it looked like she was floating. It wasn't that she was floating, however. She was being held by the necklace. I watched her kick and struggle, trying to get the necklace off.

Without thinking, I shifted my aim and placed a 7.62x 54 rifle round through the top of his, I'm pretty sure it used to be male, head and watched as the blackish-brown matter blow out of the back. The seven foot Beast went down.

That happened, sometimes. The disease caused growth spurts, and other oddities to the host body. The disease lived inside the blood cell, altered it, told it to kill anything that wasn't essential. That's why they go feral in the first place. Occasionally, like today, some non-essential organs change functions. I'm no doctor, but I've heard that some organs produce extra proteins, expanding muscle mass.

No amount of extra muscle, however, can stop a 7.62 round. Not to the skull, at least.

It was when the shot rang out that I realized what I had just done. It was lightly raining out, but it was nowhere near loud enough to cover the sound of rifle fire. Not in this dead city.

"Oh dear…" I whispered after the bullet in between my teeth fell to the ground. Quickly, I ejected the spent cartridge and slung my rifle behind my back. I grabbed the Desert Eagle that Jordan gifted me and ensured I had a round in the chamber.

From Jordan's explanation, there are two variants to the Desert Eagle. One shoots a .357 magnum round, while the other shoots a modified .50 caliber round. Jordan said I was lucky enough to receive the latter of the two. This seemed to benefit me as I charged out of the door and placed a round into another Beasts' heart. The lighter variant would destroy a normal feral regardless, but because of the extra mass, a little bit more of a punch is needed with Beast.

The recoil from the shot vibrated my through my wrist, but I kept moving. A feral, a foot and a half smaller than the average Beast, charged me through a broken window to a café. I wasn't too concerned with these, so I pulled the knife out of its sheath from my left bicep and prepared myself. She met me and tried swinging at me. I ducked beneath her and brought my blade in between her third and forth rib. Before she had a chance to howl in pain and alert more Mutations to our position, a tore my knife out. I flipped it around in my hand and slashed across her throat, silencing her. She fell to the ground and began to twitch and spasm. I'd seen this before, and I did what I had to do.

I brought my boot down on the bridge of her nose.

I turned back to my objected and saw her struggling to crawl. I un-slung my rifle and began to slowly jog to her, keeping an eye out for anything within my surrounding that could be hostile.

She was trying to crawl away from me when I finally got to her.

"Shh- I'm here to help." I coaxed her. I grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her over. She stared up at me with huge, terrified eyes. She turned her gaze over to road she was walking down. I looked over and stood.

A pack, about fifteen strong led by a Beast was charging down the street.

I lifted my rifle and tried to recall how many rounds I had. Not enough, I figured. I looked around and saw a car sitting on the side of the road. There were cars and other debris cluttering the street, but something was different with this car; I could see its gas tank.

I grabbed my rifle and brought it up. As the pack passed by, I fired. Instead of igniting like I had hoped, the round ricocheted off and took out the Beasts' left knee. He went down, and before he had a chance to howl for support, I shot him through his skull. I didn't see the round exit at any angle, but he just laid there, brown blood seeping from the headshot. The pack was now 10 yards away, and I desperately pulled out my Desert Eagle.

I really hope that Israel survived, because these things are amazing.

I brought the magnum up along with my rifle. I had some practice shooting a bolt action with one hand, and I really hoped that the skill wouldn't leave me. Pulling the trigger, and then grabbing the bolt and flicking it with my wrist, I was able to effectively empty the internal magazine. Unfortunately, I was still left with three charging Mutations by the time my magnums magazine hit the ground.

Holstering my pistol, I changed my grip on the Mosin Naget so that I held it like a club. I cracked one of the ferals across the head, sending him (Or her, the frame was rather petite) to the ground. I dropped the improvised club in time to block another one with my forearm. Her chin and jaw pressed against my arm, but she didn't realize I was blocking her. Spittle flew onto my face as she snarled. A knee to the stomach made her stagger backwards a bit, and my blade through her eye socket was enough to silence her.

Before I had a chance to clean my blade, the last feral came up behind me and tried to take a bite out of my shoulder. He had barely penetrated skin when I swung my fist and punched him back. I spun around, and tackled him as he staggered backwards. My knife, gripped in bloodied hands, thrust downwards into the feral's sternum.

I stood, and the slightly pouring rain began to pick up. I looked over to my torn shirt and made note of the wound. It wasn't too bad, but the skin was torn and it was clear that the feral made contact with a vein. Or Artery, I never understood which was which.

Blood began to run down my arm. I pulled hand sanitizer out of my pocket. I popped the cap and braced myself. I needed to kill off the bacteria that had transferred over before it was too late.

The pain I felt was much, much better than I thought. There was a strong stinging, which meant that it was working, but it wasn't enough to make me collapse in pain like I've seen before. I looked in my pockets for a bandana I could use to cover the wound. It was then that I realized that I was supposed to be helping the girl.

I turned around and saw her sitting against a truck, curled into a ball. Quietly, I walked over to her.

"Hey, are you hurt?" I asked. She refused to look up. I did notice the gapping slash on her arm without her assistance.

"This will only sting a bit," I cautioned as I put the alcoholic solution on her cut. Her head slammed against the door, but I was able to cup my gloved hand over her mouth before she had a chance to scream.

She didn't.

I stared at her as her eyes rolled back into place. She stared at me, wordlessly, as I tied my bandana around her arm. That's when I examined the cut around her neck. There was a deep ring around her throat, but there was no blood.

Before I had a chance to ask her name, a deep howl pierced the downpour.

"Oh dear… we really should get moving." I said, looking from the sky back to her. Her head was resting on her arms, and she showed no attempt at getting up. I tried snapping.

"C'mon, we need to go." I said, looking around for an escape route. I looked back the way I came and figured I could trek the couple of blocks back to camp. I looked back into her olive green eyes. A tear streamed down her cheek as she put her head back into a resting position on her arms.

"Here we go…" I whispered as I picked her up. She was around 5'4", six inches shorter than Xana, but she felt healthier in weight. Xana had been living in a fantasy where nothing had happened, where she was still a supermodel that suffered from bulimia. This girl, however, was at a healthy weight.

Well, it was either that or I had gotten stronger, but I have a better time believing the former of the two.

I was making my way down when I heard the sounds of synthetic and natural material slapping against weight pavement. It came from all around, and it wasn't an echo. It was now that I regretted using anything louder than a butter knife.

I stopped moving just as my foot hit something metal. I looked down to see a manhole cover that had been opened slightly. I knew that the sewers were risky in rain, but I made my choice.

I slid the cover back on and moved back down the ladder. It was much easier when you didn't have to carry someone, but I figured it was about to get a whole lot harder. I got out my flashlight and hit the switch; I set it so that it would rest on both of us as I walked over to my new friend.

"Do you speak any English?" I asked. No reply.

"Parlez-vous anglais?" I asked. Still no response.

'Do you speak English?'

I tried to remember any other language I had learned.

"Вы говорите по-английски?" I asked, remembering what Xana had said to me when I

"Do you speak English?"

first met her. Still, I don't get an answer. I need to understand what she spoke. An idea came to my mind after a few silent moments.

"Italiano?" I asked her, gesturing to her. I had figured the cross around her neck was as

"Italian?"

good a guess as any. She looked up to me. I was glad I had finally broken through the language barrier. Before I had a chance to celebrate, she looked up at me.

"What are you saying?" She asked with no detectable accent what-so ever.

"Wait, what? Why didn't you say anything earlier?" I asked, suddenly irritated. She continued her silent treatment. After a while, she shrugged.

"I don't know. I don't really know anything anymore." She said. I decided to disregard the subject. I looked around and pulled out a compass. I had traveled directly south for a few blocks, so now I had to move north. Picking up my flashlight, I made sure we were on the right track. I helped her up and got a better look at her.

She wore a white t-shirt under a gray, hooded sweatshirt. The gash on her left arm is being covered by my bandana. She's wearing skintight, designer jeans and flimsy boots.

"Where've you been?" I asked, confused on why someone would pick this apparel in a time like this.

"I don't know, I just… I don't know." She said with confusion and fear lining her face. Tears began to form in her eyes as she moved her jet black hair out of the way.

"I'm sorry. We'll figure everything else out later, but right now we need to get back." I said when I heard more howling above the grate.

'They've got our scent…' I said, thinking of the spilt blood. I looked back at her and she understood. We turned north and started walking. The sewers were relatively safe, and the water wasn't getting too high, thanks to most of the debris blocking the covers.

We thought it would be safe, anyways.

We were, what I thought was, half way there when I heard a terrible scraping on the pavement. I shone my light ahead and caught glimpse of a starving feral. He was dragging himself along the ground. The muscles on his arm, and everywhere else to be exact, were completely non-existent. His eyes widen when he saw us. I dropped my light to grab my pistol, but it was too late. His howl seemed to echo throughout my body. The only thing louder was the retort of my Desert Eagle. I held my ear in pain, and waited for the ringing to subside. After a second or two, I looked over to the girl, who didn't seem as affected. I screamed for her to start running.

The sound of waste splashing about must help recover hearing, because after a minute or two of running, I could hear as well as I could before the shot. Unfortunately, the only other sounds beside that were the slapping of my boots against wet pavement and the growling and howling of the ferals.

After we passed a few more blocks, the howling became quieter, and I felt that we had made it close enough. I jumped up a ladder and flipped the cover over with my shoulder. It came down on its side with a crash.

Outside, the environment had grown darker. It was around noon, but the black clouds overhead blocked out all signs of light. Only the failing embers of a dying civilization lit our path.

"C'mon, just run!" I shouted. The howling began to pick up. When she had made it up the ladder, I slid the cover over and started running north.

"We need to get to Outpost Alpha!" I shouted as we ran.

Not everyone in the U.S. Government had collapsed. From the information that had been dropped and later spoken, the Surgeon General along with the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Transportation had created a form of leadership. Using all kinds of resources, they were able to drop supplies and even specialist in what had been classified as important cities. I'm glad to say that I chose to live here.

Outpost Alpha, or The A to the residents, was about a nine full blocks of housing. Thanks to the strategic surroundings, they were able to fortify the old trolley system to act as a transport and sentry system.

As we ran, I started drifting up the left side of the street. On the corner was a 20 something foot tall pole. At the top was a bright, blue light with a wire that coiled all the way down to a red box. I ran up to the box and punched the button. At the top, the shining beacon lit the dark sky up.

We ran down until we passed the tracks. I'm sorry to say I've been in this situation more than once, but I've learned from my past.

"Wait here." I ordered. We were about six feet behind the tracks, but I doubt she noticed them.

"What are you talking about?" She nearly screamed, fearing for her life.

"Don't worry, help is on the way." I replied, sliding the bolt back on my Desert Eagle.

She looked extremely confused, but she obeyed as I began picking off some of the ferals. The pack at hand was around 40 to 50 strong, with a few beasts thrown into the mix. When they were around 10 yards away, I heard the satisfying dinging of the trolley's bell.

I looked to my left and saw the armored car race along the tracks. As soon as it was clear of the buildings, the crew, about 3 men with assault rifles and two manning a "scavenged" M2 Browning, opened fire. The pack, or whatever wasn't cut down, turned immediately and ran.

We were inches away from the trolley's stop when its brakes screeched.

"Anyone call for a lift?" My 7th grade math teacher, Mr. Klaus, called. He was an active 28 year old who nearly lost everything when the vaccine was introduced. Even though he wasn't the only one, he was the one who had still stayed in best spirits. It may have helped that there had been a lot of support from all of the women in Outpost Alpha.

"C'mon, let's go!" He said playfully as we got on. He slapped my shoulder.

"How was it out there?" He grinned.

"Alright. Look who I picked up." I whispered. She had taken a seat at the other end, looking out at the dying city.

"Wow, she sure is purdy." He said, imitating a terrible southern accent. He elbowed me in the side.

"What's her name?" His tone changed from childish to serious. I caught the look on his face.

"Heh," I chuckled," It's not like that. Almost mistook her has a feral, but then a beast attacked her.

"I can see that went well." He joked, back to his old manner. I looked over to my shoulder wound. My shirt was covering the worse of it, but the blood had been soaked up by the black fabric.

"Some crazy stuff goin' on." I said, resting my rifle on the rail. I checked the pockets of my fatigue pants. I was right; I did need to pick up some ammunition.

"Who sent you on this little recon mission?" He said, smiling. This wasn't the first time I had called for an evac.

"Col. Sanders." I joked. We both laughed.

Colonel Michael Jurken was an old army colonel in the days of lore. He wasn't all too friendly, and had a slight prejudice towards Muslims. While I don't agree with his opinions, I can understand why he has such a prejudice; the only person you have to love was killed by an IED, you blame the people who they were fighting.

The only problem is he didn't blame just the Extremist.

"What's the price?" Kraus asked, probably wondering how valuable my time was.

"Just enough to party." I joked again. He grinned, then slugged my shoulder.

I looked out of the trolley and watched the clean-up crews working to clear debris away from the roads.

"Why does Sanders have the boys scraping away at trash when we need to reinforce the barricades?" I asked, wondering what was going on in his head

Kraus just pointed ahead. I was shocked to see that the entrance had actually been fortified. It's amazing what convicts could do in a day when they really wanted to work.

"How much longer are you guys on patrol?" I asked him.

"We were actually on our way back when we spotted the beacon. That's probably the only reason we got here so fast." He joked. Somehow, I detected a faint tone of darkness, even a bit of nervousness in his voice.

We passed by the stop just outside of entrance to The A. I thanked him and she smiled and waved as we stepped out.

"This is where you live?" She asked, somehow surprised.

"No, everyone else and I live in a suite in an old hotel a few blocks out. Don't worry, patrols are tight there." I said, slinging my rifle to my back. We walked up to the doors as two militiamen began to pull them back.

Overall, there were three sections to Outpost Alpha. There was the "Secure" zone, outside of the main gate, and behind the main gate was the Vendor's zone. As the name implies, there were shop vendors cluttering the streets selling everything from Kalashnikovs to Game Boys. This involved the entire outer eight blocks. Most of it resembled slums, but this is where a lot of the people left alive in this city lived.

After you made it through the Vendor's zone, you hit the Residential Zone. Unlike the name implies, this is where everyone who still has money comes. "Anyone" is permitted, but weapons are not, unless you have a pass.

"Frank, Beans." I said to the guards as I passed into the secured area that separated the Residential from the Vendor zone. They glared at me.

"You know that we have names, right?" Beans, the stouter of the two, grunted.

"I know, but I don't really care." I said, showing them my Mercenary Pass. They grunted again, made some form of retort, and let me through the iron doors that led to the Highlife.

"Hold on, sweetheart, we gotta search you." Frank said. I looked back to see what the commotion was.

"Let's just- agh!" Frank shouted as her foot went straight into his groin. Beans rushed over to his partner and she waltzed on through. I laughed as Beans pulled a walkie-talkie out of his pocket and gave her description.

"Trying to touch a young girl in this part of town, the nerve of some people…" She grumbled, like the past year and a half had never occurred.

We walked around towards one of the taller apartment buildings and I showed my pass to the guards there. When they saw her, they let her by as well, and I swore I could have heard chuckling when we walked through the door.

We stepped onto the elevator, and were greeted by another guard. He held an old fashioned M16 and requested my pass. Again, I showed him and requested to see Col. Jurken.

"He expecting you?" The guard asked. He reminded me of some tough guy movie star, like Sylvester Stallone. He very well may have been, seeing the world around us.

I nodded my head. He reached over to the radio clipped to his chest.

"We got a team, requesting to see the Colonel." He said. He brought the speaker up to his ear. A second later, he brought it down, confirmed whatever the other and was saying, and got the Okay to send us up. The door slid behind him, and we started moving up.

After 30 tense seconds, the door slid apart and we stepped off. We walked down the hall of abandoned apartments; we stopped outside of a door flanked by two more guards. To my relief, I was not asked to show my pass, but they did ask her to wait outside.

"Don't worry," I assured her." I'll be back in a minute." She nodded, and one of the guards escorted my through the heavy door.

I passed through the familiar rooms and walked into the Colonel's office.

"Well hello there." He said. I snapped my boots together and threw up a salute. I liked this not only because it felt nice to relive my JROTC days, but because it also helped me earn a few points in respect, as well as a few extra digits in the bank.

"Sir," I started," Ferals still roam on the southern side, but I believe that there are still some signs of survivors living on the fringes." I reported. He looked at me skeptically.

"What evidence did you bring back?" He asked. The guards behind him shifted uncomfortably.

"She's with me, sir." I asked. This caught him by surprise.

"Really now? That is interesting." He said. He looked back to the guard that escorted me in.

"Send her to me." He commanded. She obeyed, and a few seconds later she was back with her.

"You can wait out in the sitting area, if you'd like." He said to me. I didn't argue as I stepped out the door. I had known by now that if he suggests something, it's an order.

It also helped that the sitting area was fully stocked with refreshments and old movies playing on a scavenged DVD player.

I sat down on one of the plush couches and propped my rifle up against the other armrest.

"Would you like anything?" One of Jurken's assistants asked.

In order to escape poverty in the Vendor's Zone, a great deal of young women had flocked to Residential. This girl standing in front of me was no older than 19, but she was very lucky compared to some to the other girls that had either taken up demeaning activities or were pushed out.

"I'll have a cola." I heard myself say, my thirst getting the better of me. She reached into a plastic container off to the side and brought back a red can.

I popped the lid and nearly sucked the can down my throat. I looked around. The assistant was sitting in a chair across from me, looking almost a little to eager to serve. The area around me was plush, clean and safe.

How many people can still live like this?

There was a tap on my shoulder. It was the guard that had escorted me in with my companion.

"The Colonel would like to speak with you." She stated. I gulped, and drunk the rest of the soda. I slung my rifle to my back and started down the hall. It hadn't even been five minutes, what could have gone wrong?

I walked through the doorway and found a perplexed Jurken sitting with his legs up on his desk, a position I didn't see often. His fingers were pressed together, and he seemed deep in thought. His two guards were no where to be seen.

"Sir? Is there something I did wrong?" I asked, trying to remember if I had messed up. There were no protocols against killing the feral, and bringing back survivors was a bonus.

"The girl you brought back..." He started, locking eyes with me," May be suffering from some mental trauma." His tone seemed much more serious than anything I've heard.

"She doesn't know what's going on. At all." He said. I still couldn't seem to get a grasp on it. Jurken continued.

"She said she woke up with some big guy, the Beast you shot, trying to kill her. From my evaluation, she was in shock. She could have been walking for days, even weeks, off of a primal instinct. When I asked where she used to live, she said out west." He said.

"As you know, there is no west out here." His eyes leveled with mine as he stood up.

"Take her with you. Have Xana, or even Jordan, watch her while you and Dakota are out. I expect him back within an hour. Dismissed." He finished. I saluted, and then collected my companion and my pay outside of his office. We didn't speak until we got into the Vendor's Zone. I saw her eyes grow wide as we passed by vendors selling baked goods. I felt the money I had scavenged, and the bit I had actually earned, in my pocket.

"Here," I said to her, passing off a five dollar note." Get what ever you like. I need to grab some more ammunition." I said. The look of gratitude and shear joy crossed her face. She skipped off to a line as I headed down to my usual weapons vendor.

"Hey man," He said to me, leaning back against his chair." What do you want?" Jacob Houghman was a very odd person. Before everything went down, he was the perfect picture of high school drop out. Now, he was one of the more successful vendors in the Zone. We were friends, mainly because I brought him back merchandise that was often lost in the street.

"Have anymore Warsaw Pact rifle ammo?" I asked. I didn't bother to get too specific; I always came here when I got my pay, after all.

"Yea, I got that," He said, sliding a box with cartridges in my direction." Also got some .50 cal pistol ammo. Interested?" He asked. I nodded my head. He pulled out a box from under the counter. I was about to pull out the money I had when I saw a black tactical vest hanging on a hook.

"Girl brought it by yesterday." He claimed, catching my eye.

"Said she found it in some weird basement a few days ago. I'm not sure, but she said she was going to go back." He said.

"How much is it?" I asked him.

"For you? I'd say a hundred and fifty." He said. I looked around. I noticed others starting to close the gap.

Overall, I spent around a hundred and sixty dollars, but I still had enough to pick up some beef and some bread along with my new friend. She seemed to be happily enjoying a few brownies she bought at a stall.

Outpost Alpha wasn't the only installation left in this city. Other than a few strongholds (much like the one my friends and I resided in), there was also an agricultural sector taking up an old park. That was one destination many people had tried to reach.

It was those people that also had made me very profitable.

It was late by the time we had made it back to the Ospitalite Inn. What used to be a five star hotel housing hundreds of guest and staff, now only housed the four of us. Well, now it would be five.

Thanks to some scavenged solar panels and an Electricity for Dummies guide, a few other engineers and I were able to rig up a basic grid. The elevator worked, along with a few other devices.

She seemed to be completely awestruck at the fact I lived here.

"My parents and I," She started as we stepped off the elevator," Stayed here last summer. There were some bumps along the way, but it was a very good time." She said.

This struck me as odd. Last summer was not the best time for a vacation. The Mutations still ran ramped, and Outpost Alpha was still in its infancy.

"What year was that?" I asked here.

"2011. It wasn't too long ago." She said innocently.

Oh dear… I thought to myself. She's a few years off.

"I seem to be forgetting… do you know today's date?" I asked her. She looked at me, somewhat surprised, somewhat disappointed.

"I think its October, 2012." She said, looking up to the ceiling as we walked down the hall.

This struck me as surprisingly odd. I slid the key into the electronic lock. I opened the door, and to my surprise I heard Xana's Balalaika. She hadn't played it since we left our last home. I walked through the door and saw Jordan and Xana sitting on the floor. Dakota was nowhere in sight.

"Hey brother, what's up-"Jordan started, but noticed our new roommate standing next to me. He looked at me, slightly confused.

I explained that I had picked her up south of The A. Xana had a scowl on her face the entire time, but she didn't seem to show any other form of hostility. Jordan got up and offered her a seat on the couch as I walked into the kitchen. The mini-bar still functioned, and I found a can of chocolate milk. I shook it, and then walked back to the sitting area. I overheard her conversation.

"-It was a gift, from my grandfather. He didn't have much, but he said it was the best charm he had. Then he passed…" She said, clutching the cross around her neck. It was then that Dakota made his entrance.

"Hello!" He called as he walked through the doors. I raised my hand in a salutation. Xana greeted him with a smile and a hug. I walked outside to the terrace as Dakota introduced himself.

Outside, the storm had died down. The sun was peeking out from a few clouds, and the streets looked relatively clean. I heard Xana's Balalaika as I turned around to Dakota walking out on the terrace.

"Hey, so I see your trip went well?" He said. His shark tooth necklace bounced against his white tank top. He was wearing faded blue jeans along with a loose jacket.

"Yea," I smirked," How was yours?" I asked. I knew that Jurken gave him the northern end, something much less dangerous and less profitable.

"Alright, ran into a few ferals, but the survivors in the area took them out." He said casually. I knew who he was talking about. There were a loose band of survivors up north. Jurken had asked them to join, but they stood independent.

"Still resisting annexation?" I asked.

"What now?" He turned his head back to me.

"Are they still staying independent?" I changed my vocabulary. He nodded. The doors were open, and Xana's playing was beginning to cheer me up.

"What do you think of her?" I asked. He nodded his head.

"I like her. I think Jordan does too, but I'm not certain Xana does." He said, his voice trailing. I understood what he meant. Xana was used to being the center of attention. Even up until now, she was living with three other guys and was the talk of The A. Now, she had another female to compete with.

"It's a shame." I said.

"I'm guessing she could use a mentor." I explained. Dakota understood.

We learned a lot from each other. Dakota taught me what I know with a knife. Jordan had taught me how to maintain my weapon. I taught them the basics of marksmanship. Xana had tried to teach us some Russian, but nearly none of it stuck, only how to ask if someone spoke English. If anything, Xana had been more of a housewife too us; she cooked, she cleaned, and she keep everyone from each others throats, despite this was a rare occasion. We'd been a group for about a year now, there was some struggle to be expected.

Dakota was must have been thinking the same thing.

"I wonder what she can bring to the group." He said. That's when I confessed to him.

"I don't think she knows what's going on." I said. He cocked his head at me.

"Ask her the date, or even how we met." I challenged him, but he seemed to back down. I looked at him with regret.

"I'm sorry; I didn't me to test you. All I'm saying is that she might be in some sort of shock." I explained.

"Don't worry about it, let's just keep her here for a day or two, see if we can't get her to reality."

It was the next morning when she broke down. She thought she had been dreaming, refused to believe anything else until she woke up. After her initial reaction, she just seemed to float around in a daze. Xana seemed to get extremely angry at this, even though I could hint that she enjoyed feeling superior. In a sense, it was weird to watch Xana, somebody who had been in the same position before, treat somebody going through the same so badly.

Our food supplies had been dwindling. We had plenty of water, thanks to the Bay just a few miles out, but sustenance was low. I was running out of ammunition and cash due to a decrease in jobs at The A. I was starting to get worried; everyone was.

I came back one night, boots covered in city ash and rain, to Dakota and Jordan playing on an old Nintendo with Xana in the kitchen. It had been a week since she came here, and I doubt she's left ever since. None of us were capable of handling something as deep as psychiatric trauma, but we had to try. Supplies were failing, and we couldn't afford to keep her around.

"She's in her room." Dakota said, yet again reading my mind.

"Really? Again?" Xana nearly shouted. I motioned with my hand for her to bring the volume down a bit.

"No, don't try to silence me;" She commanded sternly," You very well know we can't keep her around. She needs to leave." I could feel the daggers from her eyes plunging into my flesh.

"We can't just throw her out on the street." I squeaked. My eyes searched for any sign of help from Jordan or Dakota. They held there heads down.

"We can't just keep her here as a pet!" She shouted. I could feel the silence hang heavily around us.

"We try to save everyone we can." I said. I found my own voice to be rising, a strange occurrence that has rarely happened before.

"We can't go around saving every ditzy girl that comes along!" She shouted again. This really got to me.

"Well, I did." I said. I could see the hurt register deep in her eyes. I continued.

"Do you remember where you were a year ago? You were living in some destroyed apartment, living off of stale food and bad wine. You didn't realize what had happened until I pulled you out. I didn't need to help you; I didn't need your help. Dakota and I were perfectly capable of fighting our way around the city. That didn't mean it'd be right to leave you. Think about it; what would your father have done?" The last sentence was overkill. She grabbed her Balalaika and slammed the metal backing against the window. It shattered in a rainbow of false security.

She told me about herself a week after she was back on her feet. Her father was a Spetsnaz officer in the USSR military. She told me memories of growing up and seeing her father after Afghanistan, how he hated that they weren't supposed to be helping, just killing.

"Чтобы помочь другим," She quoted," To Help Others."

" To Help Others."

She told me it was a saying her grandfather taught her father. She had remembered it up until her mother passed and her father succumbed to alcoholism. That's when she came to America on advice from a foreign Modeling Agent.

"I left with my mother's Balalaika," She showed me," And my grandfather's Mosin Naget. He was a sniper in the Great Patriotic War."

"You know nothing." She growled as rain passed through the broken barrier. The Balalaika dropped back down to her side.

"You don't deserve the rifle of such a great man, you arrogant rat." She hissed. I un-slung the rifle and threw it at her.

"Here, take your damn rifle." I growled right back. She snatched it from the air. She examined the notches in the stock. 79. At the same time, the very last person I wanted to enter the conversation walked through the passageway.

"What happened?" She asked, worry lining her face. Her cross dangled loosely around her neck.

"восемьдесят" Xana whispered as she raised the rifle to her shoulder. I leapt forward, as

"Eighty"

did Dakota.

Neither of us were fast enough.

This was the only time I had been happy with a shortage of supplies. There was a click, then Dakota grabbed the barrel and yanked it upwards. Xana fell back and Dakota threw open the bolt.

"It's not loaded." He said. To my relief, I no longer carried a full clip, just a round in the chamber. Jordan had taught me to always ensure my rifle was cleared before coming through the door.

Before more shouting and death threats could be issued, the lights flickered off and a howl pierced the air from the bowels of the building.

"Oh dear…" I whispered. Suddenly, everything seemed to be pushed into a faster motion. The door began to bend with vicious beatings. I found the rifle back in my hands and was pushing everyone out to the fire escape. Before I dropped down, I loaded a round into the chamber. The Beast that was pounding on the door finally broke through. As his red eyes centered on me, I fired. The body in the doorway was heavy enough to keep the few ferals. At least for a few more seconds.

I dropped down the escape and loaded another round. I only had about seven left. Dakota was taking down the ferals with his knife, while Xana was using her Balalaika like a club and Jordan was using a 9mm he always kept with him. She was in the middle of the group clutching her cross. There weren't many, and after the last one fell, I screamed for the team to move to the Bay. The ferals back in our old home were starting to climb down the fire escape.

The Bay was about three blocks from our home, and it consisted of two bridges over sheering cliffs. One overlooked the ocean, another at the mouth of the river that fed the bay. Army Engineers had come in a few months ago and dropped spiked gates at the choke points to keep the ferals contained in the United States. Unfortunately, so many had gotten impaled, they acted as a barrier. Anyone falling in would be met with bloodied spikes and hands desperate for food.

We raced down the street, clearing a few more ferals as we moved. We made it to the edge and stopped.

"Where are we going?" Dakota shouted over the rain.

"We go over the Bay, try to find another shelter!" I shouted back. I looked across the river, trying to see how the other side was.

"Look out!" She shouted as I stumbled backwards. I looked up from the ground in time for a Beast to tackle her. Time seemed to speed up and slow down altogether as it held her by the neck. My rifle was in my grasp, and the Beast seemed to be missing a gaping chunk of flesh were his heart should have been. It dropped her over the edge. I raced over, stumbling, and grasped at her as she lost her grip. My hand wrapped around the Cross. I remembered when I first spotted her, how the Beast had held her like this. I felt sharp nails dig into my back and secured me into place.

Xana, I thought as I felt her panting on the nape of my neck as she adjusted her self to support me better. Just as I was about to pull her up, I felt the straining of the necklace.

The chain around her neck broke.

I watched her plummet ten yards down into the icy drink. Xana yanked me up and clutched her hand over her mouth. Jordan turned away. Dakota opened his mouth to shout.

"Oh man, she's going to hit the gate!" He shouted.

"I know…" I said. I knew what had to be done.

I lifted my rifle and pulled the last round out of my pocket. I slid it into the bolt as I steadied the crosshairs over her. She was getting smaller by the second, so I led her until I was sure I wouldn't miss. She looked blank, like the day I first spotted her.

A tear streaked my cheek as I pulled the trigger.

She sunk below the water. I felt something pushing against my hand, and I pulled my finger away from the trigger to see I still had her cross.

"Wait, where are you going?" Xana asked as I turned and started walking east.

"Come back man, don't leave us!" Jordan shouted. I heard Dakota run up next to me as I walked into the eastern wind.

I didn't stop walking for three weeks.

I never understood why people carried their little charms. To me, that Balalaika, or that prayer rug, or even those necklaces that just added weight were completely useless.

I remembered her face, her scent as her Cross bounced against my leg.

Dakota and I found a militia that was looking for a scout and a sniper. We were separated for the most part, and I was given a spotter. Every time we'd get ready to go hunt down raiders in the next territory, he'd ask me the same question every time.

"Jerik, why do you always wear that cross? I thought you weren't religious." He'd ask.

I'd just sit back and smile, remembering her.