A couple of months earlier, I’d thought that the size of the corridors in this school was excessive. As I’d seen it through that portal doorway in the middle of that mostly empty field, a hallway large enough to drive the bus I’d been stranded with through it had seemed totally extravagant. Now I was finding myself wishing that the hallway was even bigger. Preferably the size of an airplane hangar if it meant keeping these things away from us even longer. Bonus if the airplane itself was included.
We’d learned in Nevada’s class that despite the titular ‘slow zombies’ generally being, well, slow, they could still move quickly in very short bursts. They’d shamble gradually toward their targets, then lunge and sprint forward the last couple of yards to take their prey by surprise with the sudden speed.
And the nearest one to us was within that couple of yards. With a sudden screeching noise that came from somewhere in the back of his throat, the upright corpse abruptly flung himself toward me.
In mid-leap, however, a blast of silver-blue concussive energy shot over my shoulder and plowed into the zombie. It was sent hurtling backward down the hall, crashing into the nearest of its companions.
“Thanks!” I called to Columbus while pulling my staff the rest of the way out of its case. Behind me, I could hear Sands free her mace while my finger found the button to start charging the staff’s kinetic energy. “Avalon, Sean, we need help. There’s—hello? Avalon, are you there? Sean, hell—crap.”
There was no response, and the rest of the zombies were approaching. Hearing a thud, I chanced a quick glance back and found that the hallway behind us was covered in a wooden wall, courtesy of Sands’ mace. The girl herself was quickly making a second wall while the zombies pounded at the first.
Scout, meanwhile, had her rifle out and was pointing it toward the ceiling. She pulled the trigger, and the bullet leapt from the gun. Rather than hit the ceiling, however, it vanished and I heard the loud squelch of a zombie on the other side of the wall getting their head blown in. Obviously, the quiet girl had managed to set one of her bullet portals on the other side of the wall before Sands put it up. Now she could shoot at a portal on this side and hit the monsters on the other without exposing herself.
By that point, the nearest of the zombies on this side had come back within leaping range. I glanced toward Columbus and the two of us nodded at each other before moving to meet them. Two months ago I would have frozen in terror at the sight of this. Now, after such a short time, I launched myself forward into a leap that turned into a dive to carry myself beneath the flailing arms of the nearest zombie. An instant later, while it was still turning to try to grab me, Columbus caught it with a blast.
Hitting the floor, I rolled and came to my feet, swinging my staff in a wide arc while triggering the kinetic charge that it had been building. The wide-angle wave of force crashed into the approaching figures. It wasn’t enough to knock them all the way to the floor, but the force did make them all stumble and lose their footing. I used that time to close the distance to the nearest zombie and spun myself around into a wide swing to build up momentum while simultaneously charging up the weapon again.
Generally speaking, attacking the traditional zombie with a blunt weapon is a pretty bad idea, unless you happen to be strong enough to pulverize the head in a swing or two. Being a girl of ordinary physical strength (though in much better shape than I had been at the start of the year, to be fair), me hitting a zombie with a normal staff would have been about as effective as throwing marbles at the Empire State Building in order to knock it over. Thankfully, my staff wasn’t normal. As I came out of the spin, an instant before the weapon connected with the undead monster’s head, I released the charge on the staff. It collided with the zombie with so much force that the head exploded like a watermelon being hit by Gallagher. Blood, bits of skull, and… other stuff went spraying in every direction. Some even splattered across my face even as I was turning my head away, which, god damn it, eww.
On the plus side, at least I wasn’t distracted in the midst of battle by another unbelievable rush of pleasure when I blew that walking corpse’s head off. As we’d learned in Nevada’s class, killing one of the first two types of zombie (the ones like these who were brought back by magic after their death and were generally slow, or the ones that were prepared before their deaths and were generally fast) didn’t transfer any kind of power upgrade to a Heretic. Because the actual power came from the person who raised and controlled them. They were just mindless tools following magical commands. Strangely, they did still give off that mind-clouding Stranger fog, which was a subject I wanted to look into at some future point when a bunch of the damn things weren’t right in the middle of trying to eat me.
So the minus side was that killing these things wasn’t going to make us any stronger. The plus side was that I wasn’t going to end up being that… distracted right in the middle of a horde of monsters.
Another blast from Columbus caught the legs of the next zombie, knocking them out from under it. As the thing fell to the floor, I brought my staff down as hard as possible on its exposed head, triggering another kinetic burst that popped the damn thing like a giant zit. Gross. Just… seriously gross.
Two were down, and Columbus had managed to knock back another one that tried to lunge forward while I was bent over with my staff buried in the collapsed skull of the second. But that was nothing. Lifting my gaze, I saw at least a dozen others and probably more than that. And that was just the ones coming from this direction. Behind us, Sands was working to keep the wooden walls up while Scout fired again and again. Yet they both had to keep backpedaling, because the zombies were breaking through every barrier Sands put up. It was a gradual retreat, but these things were strong enough to punch and claw their way right through those wooden walls within a few seconds of them going up. I could hear them on the other side of the barrier, pounding and tearing violently at the wood.
“I’m fine, help the twins!” I called over my shoulder to Columbus. “Make the horde back off long enough for Sands to find something stronger to make a barrier out of. Buy them some time to think!”
With that said (and hoping that I wouldn’t regret sending away the person watching my back), I pointed my staff behind me and used a burst from it to launch myself up into the air and over the heads of the approaching zombies on this side. The staff-aided leap carried me right into the space between the ones that were already up in this hall and the ones that were still eagerly climbing the stairs to get at us.
As I landed there with my staff already charging up again, I looked to the left at the stair-climbing zombies, then to the right at the ones that were shuffling and turning to face me once more now that I was behind them. “You guys really wanna play, huh?” I asked flatly. “All right then, let’s play.”
Spinning to the stairs, I shoved my staff down, quickly depositing two kinetic mines on the top step. Then I spun back the other way just as the nearest of the zombies that were already up here reached me, swinging out with his hands. The bottom of my staff came up to smack his incoming arms out of the way. While it spent a couple seconds charging up, I did a quick lunge-turn to put myself beside the flailing zombie rather than directly in front of it. Another groping zombie was there, but the front of my staff came up and around with my turn to hit the thing across the face hard enough that it stumbled.
The one behind me was turning back, another one behind the one that I’d just smacked was lunging past his stumbling companion, and two more were coming around his other side. All of them lunged for me.
Swinging backwards with my staff, I felt the blunt end collide with the eye of the creature behind me. As soon as it connected, I triggered the charge. The kinetic force exploded through that end and into the zombie’s eye as if it had been struck point blank by a shotgun. But I wasn’t done. Without slowing down, I set the staff to charge again before lashing out with it. The staff hooked around the back of the stumbling zombie’s neck, and I gave a hard jerk. He was yanked forward and down, throwing himself into the path of the two that were coming in from the side. The three zombies were tangled up with each other. Meanwhile, the remaining one that had been coming in went right up and over the other three, mouth open while he let out a wild moan, mindlessly intent on eating me. Not just my brain, but all of me. These kind of zombies were essentially undead cannibals. According to Nevada, certain ancient necromancers had used them as garbage disposals for corpses, easy ways to simultaneously get rid of all those pesky dead bodies without having to bury them, and provide food for their troops. It was win-win. Every person they killed either became food for their army, or part of the army itself. Apparently the most successful necromancers weren’t necessarily always the most powerful, but the ones who most effectively managed the whole ‘army-food’ balance properly. Most tended to get carried away with making their horde as large as possible, and forgot that they needed to actually feed the resulting army with some of those corpses that they were turning into more soldiers. And a zombie horde that wasn’t fed properly quickly turned into an uncontrolled zombie horde that attacked everyone in sight, even each other. More necromancer armies were taken apart by their own starving forces turning on one another for nourishment than any great army of light and good or whatever.
All of that went through my head in a quick rush while the leaping zombie came at me, a vision that would have terrified me into complete inaction not that long earlier. Now, however, I just sidestepped the mindlesssly flailing monster and smacked his grasping arm away before turning myself in a kick that put my foot against the back of the thing’s knee. He was strong and didn’t feel pain, but the human body was still the human body, and the kick knocked his leg out from under him. He fell into the pile.
In the background, I heard both of my planted mines go off as the zombies on the stairs reached them. At the same time, I raised the staff above my head and brought it down into the pile of fallen figures that were still trying to extricate themselves from each other. As the weapon came down, I triggered the charge that had been building. The staff struck the nearest head and the kinetic force went off like a bomb, propelling the weapon down through the rest of them as easily as a spoon going through ice cream. Which was a mental image and connection that I really, really wished my brain hadn’t made.
Extricating myself from the pile of corpses, I quickly planted three more bombs along the top of the stairs that time. Unfortunately, before I could turn back around, a hand grabbed my arm and nearly yanked it out of socket as the nearest zombie hauled me toward him. I felt his fingers claw into my skin hard enough to draw blood (and thanked every conceivable deity in every conceivable existence that real zombies didn’t ‘transfer’ their condition to people the way the movies portrayed it, real zombies had to be specifically created) before I was yanked off my feet and toward his wide open mouth. He was intent on getting those teeth around my exposed throat so that he could bite and tear through it.
I made him eat my staff instead. Rather than panic, I shoved the weapon into that open mouth. The force knocked him back a bit, and I started charging it up while taking a few running steps. My own momentum shoved the choking zombie backwards and into the one behind him. Just as they collided, the staff had charged enough to go off again. I triggered it while still shoving, and the resulting blast took off not only the head of my attacker, but the one I’d shoved him backwards into as well.
From there, I was right in the middle of the rush of them. I stopped thinking and just reacted. A hand reached for my face and I smacked it aside. Another hand raked sharp claws down my back, sending a spasm of pain through me and I ignored it while putting my staff into the stomach of the offender to double him over, then spun into a wide swing while setting off my charged weapon to take off his head. A face came into view and I smacked it once, twice, three times to drive the mindless creature back while desperately flinging myself out of range of another corpse that tried to latch onto my leg.
Every target I saw, I attacked. Here a face, there a hand, a stomach, a throat. I swung over and over again, triggering the kinetic burst from the staff every time it was ready. More and more gore surrounded and covered me while I was fighting. I was at war, and my enemies were everything I could see. Even then, I took damage. I got hurt. They clawed and scraped at me from all sides, and I couldn’t turn or attack fast enough to keep all of them off me. It was all I could do to keep myself vaguely upright as more and more of them kept coming. Every one I killed seemed to be replaced by two more. Everything I’d learned from Katarin, everything that Avalon had taught me beyond that, all that we’d practiced these past months was on full display in a way that I’d never previously managed in training. I was a whirling dervish of death that literally exploded her enemies into little gooey bits every few seconds, and yet it wasn’t enough. I was going to collapse under the sheer weight of their numbers.
Then, just as I was on the breaking point, bleeding from several open wounds that hadn’t yet had a chance to heal, the head of the zombie nearest to me exploded into a fine mist right on the heels of a gunshot. A second later, a mace crashed into the face of the next zombie, just before a beam of concussive energy plowed into two more of them, clearing out a little space. A hand caught my arm, this time belonging to my friends, and yanked me away from the pile of corpses. Columbus pulled me clear, then fired another wide-angle shot into the monsters while calling out, “Need some help?”
I chanced a look back the other way. Sands had used the time to construct another wall. This one was made of some kind of metal that was apparently enough to slow the zombies on that side much more than the wood had. She’d also added some kind of bracer support system to hold it steady against their attacks.
Another shot from Scout exploded the head of the next zombie, and Sands had put herself where I had been. Her mace couldn’t charge up kinetic force and blow them apart the way my weapon could, but the spikes on it meant she could actually do more damage on each normal blow than I’d been able to.
Working together, the four of us cleared out the zombies on this side. Now that I had help, we could herd the ones on the stairs up a bit at a time, use mines to choke off the top of the stairs once more each time a small group had made it up, then deal with those ones before the next group made it. Every time we had a big enough collection of zombies to fight, I simply put more mines down to slow the rest of the group. Slowly, yet inevitably, we took them down.
Unfortunately, by the time we managed that, even I was tired and panting. All of us were doubled over to catch our breath when the barrier that Sands had created simply vanished.
Right. Her walls were temporary. Shit. We were… well, kind of screwed. There were just as many zombies on that side of the wall as had been on this side, and they were coming at us all at the same time. Plus there was the fact that we were exhausted.
“Fuck it,” Sands muttered beside me before readying herself. Her voice betrayed her exhaustion, yet she still shouted, “Come on then, you stupid bastards! Come get me!”
They didn’t have a chance. Before the zombies could take more than a single step closer, a new voice spoke up from behind us. “Oh, Mister Zombies! Excuse me.”
Nevada. She was standing at the top of the stairs, wearing a curious expression along with a pair of pink hotpants and a white shirt with a purple bunny on the front with the word ‘YAY’ written under it in bright glitter. She was also barefoot.
“Yeah, hi there!” She waved at the horde of monsters, smiling perkily. “Here’s the thing. Those are my students you’re trying to eat.” As cheerfully as ever, she asked, “Do ya wanna know why that’s a bad idea?” Abruptly, the cheerful smile dropped and her voice was hard. “Lemme show you.”
She moved so fast in the next instant that she almost seemed to teleport. I could barely track her motion as she closed the distance between herself and the nearest zombie in a single second. Her fist lashed out, punching straight through the monster’s head like it was tissue paper. I’d seen that kind of speed and strength not long before, when I met Asenath.
That was just the start of it. With her left fist still buried in the remains of the collapsing zombie’s skull, Nevada pointed with her right hand. A half dozen small flickering flames appeared in midair before shooting straight at six respective zombies. As each tiny, candle-sized flame connected with its target, they were literally engulfed with fire, going up in a miniature explosion that left nothing but ash behind. Seven zombies were dead, and roughly four seconds had passed. And she hadn’t even drawn her weapon.
Things just got worse for the zombies from there, because Nevada finally did take out her weapon. Her hand moved to the silver bracelet that she wore on her left wrist, and she tugged it off before tossing the thing beside her. As it fell, the bracelet expanded and transformed into a tall metal crate that had a bunch of odds and ends sticking out of it. An entire supply closet worth of equipment, and she had been wearing it on her wrist.
Her hand dipped into the crate while the remaining zombies shambled that way, too stupid to know when they should retreat. And a second later, the perky blonde retrieved what she had been looking for: a massive sword that was so enormous it would have made one of those Japanese RPG characters cry with envy. The blade on its own was almost as tall as the woman herself, and was wide enough to use as a shield.
But it wasn’t even just a normal (if enormous) sword. Rather than a simple blade, the weapon had jagged edges all along its edge. And as Nevada’s hand tightened around the hilt, those jagged teeth began to move, rotating around and around along the massive weapon. It was a giant, ludicrously sized great sword that had been crossed with a literal chainsaw.
“Okay, boys.” Nevada flipped the sword around in a single hand like she was twirling a simple baton. “Now we can dance.”
With the chainsaw-sword combined with a vampire’s speed and strength, the zombies stood literally no chance. Nevada went through them like a wheat thresher. A half dozen more were dead and on the ground by the time they actually started to react. She was a blur of motion, graceful and perfect. Exhausted as I was, all I could do was stand there with the rest of the group and stare at the sight.
“Is it wrong that I’m kind of aroused right now?” Columbus asked in an awed voice.
“If it is, we’re both in reaaaaally deep trouble,” I replied without thinking.
That made the other three turn to look at me, and I realized what I’d said just as Nevada took the head off the last of the zombies, saving me from having to say anything else.
She faced us then, standing over the carnage. “Well then! I guess they get the point now. You guys okay?”
“Ummm…” It took me a few seconds to find my voice, blushing in spite of myself. “Uhh, y-yes…”
Nevada was staring at us. “Thank gods. But what were you doing up here anyway? Why weren’t you in your dorms?”
“Yes,” another voice spoke, and we turned to find Professor Kohaku standing there, along with two of her security personnel, the headmistress, and Professor Carfried.
“I believe we’d all like to know the answer to that.”