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This is #27 of Endangered and is titled The Coward, The Opportunist and the New World. It is part 3 of Volume 3 and will be released in June. With Ryker on the mall's doorstep, ready to take over, the mall is thrown into a panic. With Walsh to afraid to think of a solution and take charge, it is up to James to calm the crowds of people, divided over their next course of action. Meanwhile, as this goes on, Daniel finds himself on a date with an old "friend".

The Coward, The Opportunist and the New WorldEdit

Fear was a powerful weapon. In fact, many would say that fear is the most dangerous out of all weapons. With guns and blades you can kill, with words you can deceive, with strength you can be a juggernaut, and with explosions you can destroy whole cities in a mere push of a button. Out of all those weapons, how could it be possible that fear, a simple emotion, could be the worst weapon of them all? After-all, that’s all fear truly is. An emotion.

But that is exactly what made fear ever so more terrifying. Emotions help push people in life, and every second of the day, emotions control people. Happiness makes people happy, sadness makes people sad, anger makes people angry. Emotions are feelings inside of us that spread like wildfire, being able to jump square into our heads and play with our minds. They are so strong that they can even help make decisions for people. So, what exactly is fear? Fear is an emotion that eats you up completely and makes you afraid.

When people are afraid, it’s like their mind and body change. Their body refuses to listen to the mind, having the shell break down or freeze, while the mind changes you. It makes people paranoid of what comes next, it makes them scared of their future, it makes strong people break down into tears. Under the stress of fear, people will do anything just to feel safe once more. Fear is the most powerful emotion for that reason. Fear destroys men, making them weak slaves. So, naturally, is in that state of fear that makes people vulnerable. That, right there, is the key to success. Many people use that key for their advantage. They prey on the fears of others and exploit them to their own advantage. They use fear to blind people into their doing, no matter if it is to simply leave them alone or to follow them into the night. That is why fear is the best weapon of them all. With fear, one main can have an army follow him.

That is what the citizens of Franklin Mills feel in this moment. Fear. Fear for their very lives, as this fear is blinding them from thinking of anything else. So, in fear, people stand against the walls, each refusing to look at the men in their eyes. Who are the men? They are the predators, the one who prey on fear.

The predators took the form of the men of Jake Ryker, who just a few mere moments ago, have barged into the mall guns blazing. With their assault rifles gripped in gloved hands and protective vests underneath their suits, the men acted as if they were unstoppable as they aimed their rifles around, making sure no citizen does anything they will most definitely regret. They are making sure that, with the power of fear, no one stands up to their glorious leader. Jake Ryker.

Ryker, the king of fear, stands surrounded by his men. Adjusting his glasses, the dark suited Ryker looks around the mall, watching the fearful men. With a megaphone up to his mouth, Ryker prepares to speak once again. “Shall I repeat myself?” Ryker calls through the megaphone. “I want to speak with the man in charge. So, if you don’t mind me asking, where is this man?”

People send looks around to each other, trying to spot a glimpse of Walsh, who was nowhere to be seen. They only become more panicked when Walsh is nowhere to be seen. “Anyone?” Ryker asks once more, hoping that the man would come so they could have a respectful chat. Unfortunately, after a minute, the leader was still a no show. Lowering his megaphone, Ryker gives a deep sigh to Gabriel. “I guess we have to show ourselves in.”

Upon handing his megaphone to one of his men, Ryker makes his way down the halls, some of his armed men following him while others watch the doors. As he heads down the hallways, with his armed men following, Ryker adjusts his eyes to those who cower in fear, watching them like a hawk, almost like he was feeding off their fear. Most of his life Ryker was involved in this game, and as so, he was trained to eat fear like it was a good, Texas steak. So, naturally, seeing people shake in front of him and his men gave him complete pleasure.

With a fierce presence, Ryker walks into the center of Franklin Mills, not even the slightest bit afraid of anyone fighting back. Entering the mall’s center, at the cafe, Ryker looks around at the citizens, still making sure to stare each of them all down with his cold, dark eyes. However, no matter who he looked at, his eyes still couldn’t find Walsh, who he was hoping would be here in the center. With a grunt, Ryker turns towards a few of his men. “Spread out and find Walsh.” His men go off without so much as nods to find the cowering leader, while Ryker focuses his attention on the center of the mall. He heard from his sources that Walsh wasn’t the best leader but he expected Walsh to have the conviction to face him.

Still, Ryker takes this time to survey the landscape. He hasn’t really ever been to the mall, or in fact, malls in general. He only been to malls a sparse amount of times, and they were only for cases related to Kyle or….Isabella. He was never really a social person, so this was never his sort of place. However, he has to admit, it isn’t a bad set-up. The amount of stores allows for many storage units and space in general, with the amount of space also being good to escape infected if they were ever to show. Of course, his base was superior but Ryker was one to give credit where credit is due.

As Ryker looks around, he soon notices the presence of a young woman. A pretty young brunette with dark green eyes, who leans against one of the many walls, arms crossed around her. Even across the room Ryker can feel the glare this girl gives him. Impressed by her conviction, Ryker walks over to Vicky, who continues to glare at him, although the closer he gets the more her glare quickly disappears. “Excuse me, miss.” Ryker smiles. “What is your name?”

Vicky looks away from his eyes while Ryker continues to glare at her. “I’m sorry, but it is only respectful if you answer once asked a question. You don’t look like a disrespectful person, so please, answer me. It’s only polite.” Ryker continues to look at her until Vicky finally looks back.

“Victoria Cummings.”

“Victoria? Such a lovely name. If my memory isn’t failing me, it means victory in Latin, no?” Vicky gives a reluctant nod to his question. “Interesting. Now, to an English man like myself, I am reminded of Queen Victoria. Such a brave, efficient ruler. Know much about her?”

“History...isn’t my strong suit.”

“Damn shame. History is very fascinating. One of my favorite subjects growing up, actually.” Ryker laments about the fact. “But, want to know what I found very interesting about history? History always found a way to repeat itself.”

“Here is an interesting one. In the second great war, a German soldier was walking up a town, scanning the residents, when this young woman glares at him. Now, soldier was mad at this disrespect, but even more mad when this girl stopped her glare when he noticed her. It is one thing to disrespect someone, but to disrespect one behind someone’s back? That is just something else. So what did he do? Well, the soldier walked up to the girl, stared at her in her eyes,” Ryker slaps Vicky across the face, with his pure strength having Vicky lose her footing while the mark on her face turns red, “and slaps her across the face. Familiar?”

Ryker gives a dry smirk at Vicky, who gives no response as she rubs her redding cheek. “There is a thing called respect, and when I ever so politely come in here for a business deal, I damn expect it. So, I best not see that glare of yours on me again. Or from anyone of you, for that matter!” Ryker addresses the crowd in his usual calm, collected voice. Say what you want about Ryker, but he sure knew how to control a crowd.

Unfortunately for him, there was one person who was not so easy to control. One person who never sat down when threats were given, especially to his loved ones. One person whose rage was so uncontrollable that he was bound to let it out on someone who means that harm. The man, the man who shows no restraint, is Ethan Brash.

Without any hesitation Ethan, stepping behind Ryker, pulls out his pistol, placing the edge right at the back of Ryker’s head. The cold, metal tip of Ethan’s pistol sits on the back of Ryker’s head, but yet, Ryker shows no fear at this and only gives a calm smirk. “You back the fuck away from her.” Ethan grunts at the powerful man with rage, clearly over the fact that Ryker just hit his last known family member alive. “Who the fu--” Ethan’s rant is cut short upon hearing the familiar sound of a round being chambered. Turning his head he sees Gabriel standing not far behind him, pistol aimed right for him. Ethan only gave a scoff at the man, as he knows he won’t pull the trigger. If he did, than panic would ensue throughout the mall, and Ryker doesn’t seem to want that.

“Drop it.” Ethan heard a feminine voice gloom. Curious he turns towards the noise, and much to his surprise, sees Lisette aiming her own revolver at Gabriel. He only pictured Lisette as a nice young woman, so seeing her stand there, her finger on the trigger and eyes showing no hesitation, certainly gave him a pleasant shock. Still, it was a good shock to him, as he knew Lisette would not be some push over. Always good to know. Gabriel, without lowering his grip, locks his eyes with that of Lisette. Their pair of cold eyes connect to show their loyalty and dedication to their job, which in this moment, means protecting. “I said drop the damn gun.”

“Tell your friend to drop his.” Gabriel nods over to Ethan, who continues to hold Ryker at gunpoint.

“Fuck you.” Is all Ethan has to respond to Gabriel, much to Ryker’s delight, as the mob leader found this whole situation amusing. It only got more amusing when yet more men joined in on the party. While most of Ryker’s men kept their guns tamed, one of them quickly stepped into the action. Fitzpatrick, his automatic rifle planted in his hands, points his rifle at Lisette with his twisted, dark smirk, like he is trying to restrain himself from pulling the trigger. Finally, to conclude this chain of could be deaths, Reyes holds Fitzpatrick at gunpoint with a small pistol.

It was surprising to see Reyes step in on this, as his views on murder are pretty clear. Death was something horrible, something that has haunted Reyes his whole life. Death had taken friends from Reyes and it was something even Reyes dished out in some situations. He hated death with a burning passion, and always did his best to avoid it. He isn’t a fool, however, and knows that in some situation lethal force is necessary, like now for instance. He doesn’t want to kill, but if there was no other choice, Reyes knew how to pull the trigger.

The rest of Ryker’s men were about to join, but Ryker held up his hand to stop them. This situation, at least to Ryker, was under control. “My oh my, have these tables turned.” Ryker remarks, with Fitzpatrick giving a smirk at the comment.

“There must be a name for this.”

“An impasse, Jason. An impasse.” Ryker says back to his pupil, still as calm as ever. “We can all die. Here and now.” Ryker slightly turns his head to face Ethan, who remains uncompromised. “Or, we can all lower our guns, and talk like real men.”

“Fuck you.” Ethan grunts, much to the dismay of Reyes, who continues to hold his gun to Fitz.

“It doesn’t gotta be like this, guys.” Reyes, upon clearing his throat, announces to the others. This whole situation is just gonna cause a bunch of unnecessary deaths, and Reyes seems to be the only one who sees that. “Let’s just drop our guns.” Lisette shrugged her shoulder as she debated lowering her gun, but not until Gabe dropped his of course.

All of this goes back to Ethan, who holds the decision of bloodshed or temporary peace in his hands, right in between his finger and trigger. The over-emotional, anger filled Ethan held the key in his hands, and it all had to do whether or not he should shoot the man who means harm under the guise of being “polite”. Who the hell does Ryker think he is? Having the nerve to just walk in with armed men, demand Walsh to speak with him and slap citizens. Looking past Ryker, Ethan locks his eyes with Vicky, who stares at him along with the rest of the mall. Vicky’s eyes go back and forth between him and his gun, as if she herself was debating if Ethan would pull the trigger. She knew Ryker was a piece of shit, but if Ethan pulled that trigger, it wouldn’t end well for anyone. So, with a deep regret filled sigh, Vicky shakes her head at Ethan.

Ethan got the message, and while he didn’t agree with it, he wasn’t going to go against Vicky’s wishes. Reluctantly, Ethan lowers down his gun, allowing Ryker to live for today. Following his example were Gabriel, Lisette and Reyes, although Fitzpatrick was much more hesitant, as he continued to hold up his gun for a few more lingering seconds. It was as if Fitzpatrick wanted a bloodshed to go down. No matter what he may think, Fitzpatrick lowered the rifle, allowing everyone to take a deep breath and removing only a small bit of tension from the room.

Ryker, turning around to face Ethan, gives a charismatic smile. “You okay now?” He asks Ethan, who is still trying to find the strength not to start an one man war against Ryker and his men. With his calm eyes, Ryker was able to see the raging emotion buried with Ethan. Such a reckless warrior, one that could be useful to him at some point in the future. If could only take a few words and actions to use Ethan’s emotions to his advantage. Interesting, indeed.

“I should--”

“You should what, sir? What exactly should you do? Shoot me? Be my guest, but look around you. I have over twenty armed men who can easily take you, your little girl, and everyone in this mall out in a damn heartbeat.” Ryker watches the muscles on Ethan’s face tense by the second. “What you should do, monsieur, is sit down and shut it before something unfortunate happens.”

With a deep breath, Ethan manages to suppress his gut feeling to shoot Ryker and instead walks past him to check on Vicky. Ryker listens in closely as the tough Ethan Brash turns into an overly-concerned, single father in just a heartbeat. To Ryker the sudden switch in attitude was humerous.

Focusing his attention forward he watches as Reyes and Lisette remove themselves from the area, while Gabriel and Fitzpatrick stand there, awaiting Ryker’s next order, like the two loyal soldiers they are. “Jason, do me a favor and watch over the crowd. Gabriel, search the mall for anything we might find especially valuable.”

With those simple orders the two nod their heads and head off, leaving Ryker to continue to wait for Walsh, who was still somewhere in this mall. Hell, Ryker was beginning to think Walsh was trying to hide from him. Wouldn’t be exactly shocking, from what Ryker heard after-all.

The next few minutes went by slowly, mostly from awkwardness as Ryker continued to stand in the cafe, waiting for news on Walsh. Around him were his armed men, and around them were the scared citizens, who refused to look at Ryker and instead were to focused on pissing themselves. It was humorous, like watching little ants run from a boot.

Ryker has to admit, he expected more from this mall, more-so from the civilians. Sure, some have balls, but most of them are squirming like they thought this place is untouchable. Pathetic. To him, anyways.

A incoming struggle pulls Ryker from his thoughts. In the corner of the hallway, edging into the center, Ryker watches as his men drag in a certain individual by his knees. His shaking, weak knees. Ryker watched with zero remorse, listening as the man is squirming and begging for his men to stop. He shook, he begged, he did anything he could, but these men would not let him go. These men would not let him, Jonathan Walsh, go. Walsh, wearing his vintage suit, just minutes ago acted like he was this all that hero, but know that a challenge showed up? Looks like his true colors are being painted on a board. Everyone in the mall watched in either shock or disgust as the men dragged Walsh, until finally, Walsh was in front of Ryker. “I found him in the ladies room, sir.” A young woman speaks to Ryker, while continuing to hold Walsh by his shoulder.

The woman was very attractive, with bright hazel eyes and long black hair that seemed to glow with her tanned skin. She was younger than most here, only about thirty one, but yet she still seemed to hold high command in Ryker’s ranks. After all, she did stand out from most of the suited men as she wore red leggings with a black dress, leather jacket and boots on top. This young woman, a woman who held high command in Ryker’s army, was Alexandra LaFontaine. A woman who was very dear to Ryker’s heart.

Seeing how she brought him Walsh, Ryker gives the woman a smile. “Thank you very much, Alexandra. You never fail me.” Alexandra nods while taking her hand off Walsh, allowing the man to just sit there and breath heavily. “Did you happen to see your sister yet here?”

Alexandra’s sister was a difficult subject to the both of them, but especially to Alexandra, as her sister was the only family she had. So, with a heavy heart, Alexandra shakes her head. “No sign of her yet, sir.”

“I’m sorry. But don’t worry, we’ll find her.” Ryker does his best to encourage her. “We’ll find her and bring her back safely.” Safely. If only Alex knew that Ryker doesn’t bring in runaways safely, especially people like Alex’s sister. If only Alex knew that Ryker ordered his men to kill her on sight.

Ryker, after giving his encouragement to his dear Alexandra, turns back to Walsh, watching the so called leader squirm. “Now, onto you, Mr. Walsh. Hiding in a woman’s bathroom?”

“I--I wasn’t hiding. I swear, I wasn’t hiding.” Walsh tries to act off him hiding in a girl’s stall, but Ryker just rolls his eyes. Pathetic.

“What were you doing in a ladies bathroom, may I ask?” Ryker asks the coward, who only gulps in response. Scratching his head, Walsh scrambled to come up with a good bullshit story.

“I thought there when you….invited you and your men inside. I thought it was the men’s room.” Walsh gives a fragile smile, failing to hide his fear of the situation. The man does, however, find it within himself to stand up onto his feet, where he is quick to brush the dirt off his suit. “Now, with that behind us, w--would you like any food? A drink maybe? You like jolly ranchers, I think we got plenty of them.”

“I am not interested in your food, Mr. Walsh. I’m here to talk business.” Ryker is straight to the point with the so called brave Walsh, who is so fidgety that Ryker could mistake him for a school girl.

“O-of course. What would you like to discuss, sir?” Walsh does his best to contain his fear, and while it is an epic fail, Ryker pays no attention to it and does his best to go onto business.

“So, in the past few months, I have come to notice how useful this mall is. I been watching, and I must say, I was impressed. This location makes it fairly distant from any infected, and even if they were to come, these walls are very strong. Not to even mention how wide it is here inside with plenty of space. Do you use all of it?”

“N-no. We don’t.”

“Interesting….” Ryker scratches his chin. “Now, as I was saying, you have a decent amount of people here too. It is a very good thing you have going on here.”

“Thank you, sir. Thank you very much. I do my best to run it. It’s nothing special, but I very much appreciate the comments.”

“Do not confuse my words, Mr. Walsh. I commended your set-up, not your leadership.”

“S-s-sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.” Walsh bites his lip as Ryker gives him his disapproving glare. “If you don’t like it, you can kindly offer some suggestions, maybe even some help--”

“I can’t do this.” Ryker interrupts Walsh as he shakes his head. “I can’t talk wit this kid.”

“I am not a kid, sir!”

“You’re right. You’re worse than one.” Ryker sends Walsh another look, looking behind his blue eyes and into the pathway of his soul. All he saw was a child who was afraid of the bullies in the school playground. Absolutely pathetic. With an angered sigh, Ryker turns around to face Alexandra, who stands near him, ready to protect her boss. “Can you believe this dude?” Ryker gives a devious smirk to Alexandra, who in turn, gives a warm chuckle whilst shaking her head.

“Unbelievable.”

“I know right?” Ryker turns back to Walsh, who is still trying not to look at Ryker. “I came here to talk with a leader, a man of vision. Not this. How exactly did you become in charge of this place?”

“I--I am a damn good leader, sir.”

“Excuse me?” Seeing how talking back to Ryker doesn’t make him happy, Walsh just coughs and gives a nervous smirk as he takes a few steps back from the man. “What did you say?”

“N--nothing.”

“Yeah. That’s exactly what I thought. Pathetic piece of shit. Disgusting.” As Ryker continued to mock him, Walsh looked around the area, watching as the people who once thought of him so highly are disgusted by him. Some look away, some glare at him, and some even feel pity for the man. Yet, none feel compelled enough to come up there and help him, leaving Walsh to just stand there and humiliate himself. “Is there anybody else I can speak with? Anybody?!”

Ryker’s question floats around the mall, but no one seems to catch it, instead focusing on their own fear. He waits, hoping someone brave enough will discuss these terms with him, but no one seems to answer.

However, just as Ryker’s hope for a strong leader slipped away, he saw a motion coming from his left. He watches with a collected gaze as a man makes his way through the crowd, with everyone watching this particular man as he makes his way to confront Ryker. Even Ryker is impressed as this man walks right up to Ryker’s guards, whom immediately stop him from walking any closer. Alexandra makes her way down to the man to inspect the man. Upon giving him a firm pat down, and checking the inside of his jacket, Alexandra allows him to confront Ryker. “Ad who might you be?” Ryker asks the blonde headed man who walks in front of him.

We know exactly who this man is. This is the hard working lawyer who spent his life helping people from in the law. This is the man who murdered for his daughter’s protection. This is the man who led a group safely to the mall. This is the man who doesn’t take any bullshit, especially after the mess that was Oscar and Daniel. “My name, Mr. Ryker, is James Benjamin.” James extends his hand to Ryker with no fear written on his face. Ryker is far more impressed with James in two seconds then he was with Walsh.

“Now here is a man I can talk to!” Ryker kindly accepts his handshake. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Benjamin.”

“I wish I could say the same.” James’s bland comment gave Ryker a smirk. “Excuse Jonathan over here. He doesn’t know how to deal with situations such as these.” Walsh, who continues to stand behind James, gives a small, nervous glare at the man.

“And you do?”

“I’m a lawyer, Mr. Ryker. It’s my job to discuss terms with men such as you.”

“Men such as me?”

“Business men, of course.” James’s answer gives Ryker a smirk. It’s only been a minute and he finds James a much better man to talk to than Walsh, who still stands up there like he is important. “You can leave us, Jonathan.”

“I will no--”

“Leave us, Walsh.” It only took a sentence from Ryker to stop Walsh from going on one of his rants. With no desire to mess with Ryker, Walsh steps away from the center, allowing James and Ryker to have full stage. “I would like to thank you for stepping up, Mr. Be--”

“James. Call me James.”

“Very well. I would like to thank you for stepping up, James. It isn’t a simple task, but I respect very much that you did so.”

“Being frank, Jake, I don’t want your thanks.”

“Is that so? Well, then, what do you want?”

“I want to get straight to business. So, let’s step around this small talk and get to it, shall we?” James has to admit, he is terrified at this situation right now. Who wouldn’t be? James is now challenging a mob boss to talk, with the face of death on the line. He could very well die, and Sarah could very much lose him. Still, this mall needed someone.

Luckily, Ryker seems to like the flare in James’s voice. “Very well then. I assume you know who I am, so I will do you the luxury of not giving you bullshit. I run an operation, James. An operation that benefits our great city.”

“Is that so?”

“Indeed it is. When you look outside what do you see? I assume we see the same things. Anarchy, crime, death, sickness. Correct?” James nods his head. “Those, James, are the signs that our world is dying around us. Everything we once knew is slipping away. Civilization as we know is changing. Right now, there is no law, no anything really. We don’t live in a world anymore, no, we live in it’s ruins. Is anything I’m saying wrong so far?”

“No.”

“Well I am very glad that we do see the same world. Now, before we get into my operation let us get one fact out of the way. No help is coming. The high ranking government officials all left, probably to some little island off the coast where Obama can practice his golf swing. And the military? Without their chain of command they’re all useless now. That just leaves us, the fair citizens, to pick up pieces.”

“That leaves us with two options. We can scramble around and try to act like the old ways still matter, or worse, act like help is actually coming. Or, my personal favorite, we can accept this is a new age and move forward in life. Now, if you ask me, the choice here is fairly simple. Two, correct?”

“I would think so.”

“Once again, I am very glad we see eye to eye. So, with that said, I have a dream. A dream of this great city fixing itself. A dream where this city, our city, leads the path to a new world.”

“And what exactly is this dream?”

“If we want to save the world, James, we must start somewhere. And where better to start than the city of brotherly love? My dream is to pick this city from the ashes and lead a path to a brighter future. A better future.”

“How?” James notices the smirk on Ryker’s face, as if he is trying to convince James of whatever plan he has next.

“Tell me, James. What is your view on the government? Of the old world, I mean.”

“Oh. I got too much to say about that.”

“Speak your mind.” Ryker points over to a table and chairs, to which his soldiers nod and head towards them. The two men wait with patience as Alexandra and some guys bring over the table and two chairs, allowing the two men to sit down for their discussion. Once seated, Ryker leans back comfortable in his seat, while James remains straight. “I said, speak your mind.”

“My main gripe are the people in that power. Sure, there are some good guys here and there, but most of the people with that power are men who frankly shouldn’t be there. Some are corrupt, some have no idea what to do, and some are just plain dumbasses.” James scratches his chin as he thinks of what to say exactly to the interested Ryker. “People care for about their position and power than what they do with it.”

“My thoughts exactly. People deceive us into voting for them, and then, abuse that power. I never been a fan of politics. It’s just a game of thrones, if you ask me. You see my father was a strong liberal, always being one to go on about social classes and the abusive government. I always thought he was just crazy, but as I got older, I saw just how right my crazy old man was. Our government is full of people who don’t care about running a country, they just want their little titles and power. You see, James, power is like a drink. You have one sip and you just want to finish the bottle.” Ryker gives a small smile as he thinks about his father and his words. If only Ryker paid more attention when he was a child.

“Now, considering my occupation as a...businessman, you may find me speaking like a hypocrite. But, the truth of the matter is, everything I ever did was for this city. All I ever wanted to do was ensure that our city not fall, that our city be the strong city I know it is. I always wanted to save this city, make it a city of the future. But, to do so, I couldn’t work within the law, nor did I want to be a political bonehead, because let’s face the facts, they are just figureheads.” Ryker leans forward on his chair so James can hear what he says next clearly. “So, I had to work outside the law if I wanted to help this city. I have done things I am not proud of, but I do not regret a single action of mine. I worked my ass off trying to help this city, from bribing politicians to killing other men in my business, but nothing was working.”

“That was, until, all this happened. At first I was scared about this outbreak, for surely it would destroy everything I worked so hard to build. But, then I saw how all those fake politicians, all those scumbag criminals, perished. It was then I saw that this was the moment I have been waiting for. The city needed to die before it can be reborn. So, I began to work, taking out rivals and gathering men so I can finally put my vision into motion.”

James nods, taking in all of Ryker’s words, but reserving his judgment until Ryker was finished speaking. “But, this is where our visions may separate.” Ryker goes on. “I will not let our old government’s flaws ruin us again, so I have a new government in mind. One where, instead of a few rich assholes deciding our rules, there is one man. One, wise man who will rule with an iron, but fair fist. A man who is dedicated to the cause of rebuilding.”

“You?”

“Yes. Me.” Ryker smirks while James just continues to sit there, taking it all in.

“And how does this involve us?”

“It involves you in a most special way. You see, if I am to lead this city I must make sure there are no enemies that would dare try to stop me, nor must I leave anyone left out. However, I also must make sure the safety of me and my men are kept. So, I am here to make you a deal. In exchange for my men giving you protection from harm, you will hand control of the mall over to me. That means I get half your supplies and that I can use this mall for however I please. If I want my men to sleep here they will sleep here, if I ever need men I will have full access to your men and weapons, and anything else I may need.”

“So we give you are freedom in exchange for what? Safety?”

“Look around you, James. Humans are deeply, flawed individuals, with some bringing nothing but violence. We are like a wildfire to this earth. We keep growing and growing and causing nothing but destruction. Do you know who realized this? Adolf Hitler. I assume you know him?”

“Oh. You mean the monster that killed sixty million people? Yes, I recall.”

“You call him a monster but he was no such thing. Yes, he had some flaws and misconceptions, but that man was a genius, for he saw how the world really was. He saw how humanity really was. He wasn’t a monster he was just ahead of the curb. He knew that freedom would destroy us. I mean, look back the past year. Sandy Hook. Aurora Theater. Ariel Castro. Virginia Tech. Columbine High School. Want me to name more?” Ryker watches as James begins to see his point. “Those horrible, tragic events happened because we let it. We give sick people freedom and look what happens. Tragedy follows. People cry about freedom, but we don’t deserve it! Hitler and his Nazi’s saw the truth. Humanity couldn’t be trusted with it’s own freedom. What they didn’t realize, though, is that when you try to take that freedom they resist. Sure, there were some religion and race issues, but his central belief was correct.”

“I could have come in here, guns blazing and just ripped away that freedom. But I didn’t. Why? Because people must surrender their freedom willingly. In fact, people have been as of late. Look at the world around us. Before and after the outbreak. It is so fucked up with terrorist and sick psycho that people were ready to trade their freedom for security! And now they can, because the world around us has been brought down by humanity. Yes, not the infected, but humanity. Our freedom has destroyed our world, and now we are all in danger of death. I would say a trade for security for your freedom is a pretty damn good one.”

“The world has over two billion people, Jake. Yes, there are tragedies, but there are only a handful of monsters compared to normal people. Do the ones who did nothing wrong deserve their security taken away from them because of a few bad eggs?”

“For their own safety, then yes, James. They do.”

“So we give our freedom to you? I’m sure you heard this before but you’re not exactly a saint.” The tension between the two men grow, and all of the people surrounding watch with such anxiety as the two men go at it.

“When I was a kid I used to dream what it would be like. To live somewhere far away from this hellhole. But then I realized something. This city is apart of me. It is in my the blood. It is in the blood of my family! And that I would do anything to make it a better place. Sometimes it required force, yes. It was impossible to avoid for what I’m trying to do. Yes, I have hurt people and I am going to hurt more. But when we are in a better city, a city that is safe, a city that will path the way to the future than, James, I doubt any of you will give a shit.” James can see the dedication in Ryker’s eyes. He knew every word he said was true. He knew his heart was in dedicated to this cause of his. But Ryker was not the man they should follow. He may have good ideas but that doesn’t erase his faults. The ends don’t justify the means, for when they do, than you have become what you’re trying to stop.

“I will give you one thing, Jake. You’re right, the city is falling around us, and you’re right that it is up to us to fix it. But a dictatorship? Please, take no offense, but absolutism never works. The man on top craves his own success, and as he does, he begins to think of himself as not as man, but as god. A man with a god like complex is not one to lead, for he believes himself never in the fault and as an unstoppable force. Doesn’t matter what your initial cause is, because the pride gets to everyone. If not the pride, the stress and hardship will eat you up and ruin you.”

“That is why,” James continues, “even men such as yourself need the help of others. A team of people who each share their opinions and who each help carry the weight of the stress is what we need. Not under the leadership of a man, but coming together as men to help ourselves. Where we can’t be biased, where we can’t play god, where we can help each other. That is why can help us, not your ideal world. In the end, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Ryker smirks at James’s ideas, finding them silly, but nethertheless listening and even thinking about them. He does agree that people can get a god complex, but in Ryker’s opinion, that is just what they need. A man who rules over them with a guiding hand, who won’t compromise at the face of opposition. “I respect your opinion, James, but no matter how hard I may think about it, I cannot agree. For what happens when all those men turned corrupt? Surely, just as kings have done, high ranking officials have fallen. As you said yourself not a moment ago, power corrupts.”

“That is why we have the people. The people who we fight to protect. We fight to protect their lives, but when we lose our way, it is up to them to save us. To guide us and remind us what we fight for. And, if it comes down to it, impeachment. You said you want to rebuild your city, correct? Well what happens when you break down? What happens if, in my version of our future, the leaders break down? We have the citizens to build us back up. Leaders need the help of their followers just as much as followers need their leaders.”

“If people were dependable enough to help each other in times of trial then we wouldn’t be in this situation.” Ryker is quick to remind James. The way he spoke, and with recent events, James almost believed him, but luckily he wasn’t going to back down his mindset so quickly. “Freedom is dangerous, because every man has a different idea of what it is like to be free. Every conflict in history has happened because of this so called freedom. When you give people freedom, they do whatever they please, but when you put them in line? You give them orders? They obey. We are like sheep and I am the shepherd.”

“And where will you guide these sheep? A giant prison where they have to follow your set of rules? Where you decide their life? That’s not a life.”

“They are living, are they not? The will be in peace, correct?”

“That isn’t what life means. Life is when you get to be who you are and do what you wish to do. Life is beautiful because you choose it, not someone else. To take away freedom is to take away who people are, and when you do that, you deprive them of what makes humans great. The ability to act on their own. In your vision, we aren’t humans. We are machines, programmed to follow your rules.”

“Do you want to sleep in peace or do you want to stay awake in agony? Wondering if someone might come in and slit your throat. Wondering if someone will come in and rape your daughter. Because that is what happens when you give freedom, because then people have the freedom to do very that. So, what do you want? Peace at the risk of your freedom? Or freedom at the risk of peace?”

“Why can’t we have both?”

“Because we can’t have both, James. They cross each other out. There is no middle ground.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Then you are a fool.” Ryker scoffs James’s words, while also checking his watch. He turns his head to look at Alexandra, who gives him as mall nod. “Look, James, maybe we can talk about this more another day, but I have a schedule to keep. So, let’s get the reason why I came here. The mall. Will you agree to follow me?”

“What were to happen if I say no?”

“If you say no, than simply put, you are against me. As I said to you earlier, I can’t have anyone against me.” As Ryker speaks he points to his men, each holding firepower and ready to shoot it. “If you deny my deal than you wage war with me. Which, if I may caution you, is highly foolish. I have an army of men and you...what do you have here? I doubt half your population can fire a gun right. My men will destroy this place before you even have time to regret your decision.”

There was no denying that Ryker meant every word he just spoke. He was a mobster for crying out loud. He has been killing people his whole life. And now the decision of how to proceed is on James’s shoulders. He is supposed to decide the whole fate of this mall all by himself.

As James struggled with his next course of action, Ryker looked around the mall, taking note of just how big it was. Tons of citizens, and surely James couldn’t make a decision right on the spot about the future for this mall. Ryker was, at least, a smart and fair man. “I’ll tell you what. I will give you twenty four hours to talk with the people here and see what option they want to take. Wouldn’t be fair if I made you chose without their consent.” Ryker stands onto his two feet, signaling his men he is ready to go. He got his message across for right now.

“Thanks…”

“Don’t thank me. I am just being fair.” Ryker extends his hand to shake James’s, which James is smart enough to not hesitate and complies. However, as Ryker shakes his hands, he can see the trouble behind his eyes. “James, I like you. Really, I do. I feel as if that, if the situation were different, we could be great friends. But here we are. So, I apologize if this act offends you, but it is nothing personal. I’m an opportunist, and this is just an opportunity that is available to me.”

With that said Ryker turns to leave, Alexandra and his army of men quickly following. James, who is still troubled about this situation, is polite and respectful enough to follow as well, to at least show Ryker and his little army to the front doors.


Daniel never did have the best of luck. Sure, he was a billionare, playboy, mob boss who could literally pick up any girl he wanted, and most likely owned half of the fucking city, but besides that. Luck was never a fan of Daniel. This is, after-all, the kid whose love was shot right in front of him by good ol’ daddy. This is the kid whose mother was killed by his own father. This is the kid whose father could most likely win any “worst bastard ever to live” award.

And now here he is. Covered in bruises and scratches, forced to hide in a small ass closet. This just isn’t his day. First, Reyes and Joel beat the shit out of him, where he only survived thanks to Anahi. Now, he looks outside and he sees men of Ryker walking down the halls. It’s like God dubbed this day the second downfall of Daniel Brown.

Maybe he could hide long enough until they left, but in all honesty, there wasn’t really a way Daniel could escape his fate. Sooner or later someone is going to find out who he really is (hell, people already have), and then they’re gonna blabber it to the wrong people, and then this will make it to Ryker’s ears. When that happens Daniel will have nowhere else to run. He will no longer have any cards up his sleeve to play. No more fake promises to give. No more ways to escape karma. He thought the death of his empire would be enough, but nope.

With an annoyed grunt, Daniel pokes his head outside the door, watching as a few of Ryker’s men still walk around out there. Daniel was in no position to run and he certainly couldn’t blend in with the crowd. His only choice was to wait in this small, hot, ugly ass closet. On normal occasion Daniel would give some sarcastic comment or keep on grunting, but the pain in his bruised stomach prevented him from doing anything.

Biting down on his lip, Daniel decided to give another peak outside the room. His cold brown eyes scanned around outside, seeing only a few of Ryker’s men still, but his eyes stopped on one in particular. One man who Daniel knew well of, and who he certainly was afraid of. His eyes met a big, dark haired man who Daniel recognized as Ryker’s right hand man. Gabriel Parker, the man in charge of Ryker’s armed forces. Hell, Gabriel might not even be his real name. After-all, this man was a ghost. Literally. No one even heard his name until, out of nowhere, he was one of Ryker’s top men.

Holding his breath, Daniel watched as Gabriel came to a standstill in the middle of the hallway, watching as the gruff man looked around the frightened mall with his cold eyes. Daniel may like acting all tough, but here is, cowering like a baby from Gabriel.

Daniel’s eyes of nervousness exploded into fear once Gabriel looked over into his direction. In a quick instance Daniel shut the closet door, in hopes Gabriel wouldn’t see him. The last thing Daniel needed was Gabriel to catch him, after-all. “Fuck this day.” Daniel mutters to himself in a hush, hoping to get some of the bottled emotions out. “This fucking day…” Daniel once again mutters to himself in a hushed tone.

Daniel’s rants about how horrible these past days are interrupted by the creaking of a door. Daniel attempted to turn around, but before his face was even half way turned, Gabriel had already hit Daniel to the floor. His face smacked up against the floor, echoing a banging just as his head collided with the hard floor. Daniel attempted to rebound back up, only for Gabriel to slam his boot down onto Daniel’s chest, refusing Daniel the privilege to get up.

Daniel coughed uncontrollably whilst Gabriel continued to press his foot down with no remorse, hell, even smirking a little bit as Daniel was put in more pain. “Danny, boy!.” Gabriel reaches down to grip Daniel by his collar, pulling the man up without hesitation. “Word has it that you’re supposed to be dead.”

Daniel was quick to put on that bullshit smile of his. Throwing on his charming little smile on his bullshit face, Daniel hopes that his charming personality could win Gabriel. “Well, technically, aren’t we all supposed to be dead? You know, from the hungry hungry hippos out there?” Daniel’s attempt at a joke passed right by Gabriel, who continued to hold Daniel like a ragdoll. “Okay, bad joke, sorry. Look, how about you let me go and we can talk. Man to man. Good?”

“What exactly do we have to talk about?”

“An opportunity. You like opportunities, right?” Oh, Daniel. How naive of him to think that he can just flutter his dark ol’ eyes and smile like a charming bastard to get out of situations. Well, he did do it for most his life, so it is understandable. Except, that was back when his name meant something. Now? Now his name meant dogshit. “What do you say, Gabe? Wanna ta--”

Daniel’s attempt at a failed bribery are stopped by the sudden urch of pain in his stomach, brought to him by Gabriel’s fist. The sudden pain had Daniel cough like a maniac, but this was put to a stop when Gabriel pushed his elbow down onto his neck. “You really think I’m gonna sell out Ryker for you? You? I could laugh if it wasn’t so fucking pathetic.”

Hopping onto his feet, Gabriel spent no time in yanking Daniel up after him. Of course, Daniel knew he was no match for Gabriel, but being the idiot he is, he still tried something. Giving Gabriel a slight push, Daniel was quick to turn and run, using his lengthy legs to give him more distance. Gabriel sprung at him, wrapping his arms around Daniel and bringing him down to the cold stone floor, which smacked up at Daniel’s head, giving the poor kid another bruise.

As Daniel rubbed his hands alongside his bruised head, Gabriel pulled up the piece of pathetic trash by his collar, using his mighty grip to ensure he wouldn’t try to run once more. No matter what Daniel tried to do, he knew no escape was Ryker’s most loyal man. In just a few short minutes he would be brought to Ryker and have his true identity outed to the mall.

In other terms, he is fucking fucked.


Citizens of Franklin Mills stood in their own silence, barely allowing their breathing to make any noise. The citizens held the hand of a loved one, or wishing they were, as death walked on past them. The children of Adam were to afraid to do anything to stand up to the giver of death, who walked on down like the world was in his hands. No one questions the king….

...except for Adam’s one child, who unlike the others, walked confidently alongside death. Still, this man still had fear beyond any in his eyes, no matter how much he tried to hide it. James Benjamin truly was a brave soul. One who couldn’t sit back and watch others in pain. That great trait has led him to this moment, for better or for worse.

The walk to the front doors seemed longer than ever as James walked besides Ryker and his men, whose eyes were practically glued onto James, making sure he didn’t try anything on their master. It was a strange feeling, especially as Alexandra’s glare followed James, as she slowly gripped her knife harder.

Still, despite the fact that James was looked at as a threat (when clearly it was the other way around), everything seemed to be peaceful, or at the very least, stable. Like, maybe, nothing else horrible would happen between the walk from the hallway to the door.

Of course, life tends to hate James, so of course something happened.

Approaching the big exit doors with Ryker, James was just about ready to shake Ryker’s hand, when a noise caught his ear. This wasn’t just a noise, but that of a moun. Moans of pain. Moans of begging. As if someone was torturing someone. James turned his head, along with the others, watching with keen eyes as Gabriel came striding on in like the loyal soldier he is. Like all soldiers, Gabriel was given a mission, and as with all soldiers, he completed this mission.

Gabriel tosses Daniel onto the floor in front of him, with the later slamming with a thud. The pile of dust his pretty boy face landed in gave him a bad cough, as well as bad eyesight, as he scrambled to get back onto his feet. Once on his feet, Daniel wiped away some of the dust and attempted to flash a smile at Ryker. A cowardly smile in an effort to escape what is coming to him.

Ryker stared in awe at Brown, pleasantly surprised that he was still alive. It’s shocking enough to know that Brown survived the attack on the estate, but the fact that he survived out in the city? Ryker couldn’t even imagine the strings Daniel had to pull in order to save his pretty boy ass.

Staring down at the person whose cowardness led to the death of his beautiful girl, Ryker didn’t know how to feel. One the one hand he felt anger. After-all, this was the child of his most hated enemy, the demon that was Robert Brown. The young playboy whose notorious actions were very well known. This was the man who decided to run away and drag his daughter with him. His daughter who was going to be a beautiful, fair woman. Not a criminal like Ryker or Daniel, but a good girl. Yet, Daniel stole her away and it got her killed. This child killed his eldest daughter. How could he forgive that?

On the other hand, Ryker felt a sense of happiness. Before the whole Isabella incident, he saw just how good of friends the two were. Daniel was almost always hanging out with Isabella, and almost always at his house. Ryker grew to care for the young boy during this time, and thus, Ryker feels such confusion whenever he looks at Daniel. He wants to love him, just as Isabella did, but he always hates him. “Daniel.” With one spoken word, Daniel was already scared of Ryker. “Funny to see you here. I recalled hearing that you were dead.”

“Surprise?” Daniel attempted to laugh off. “Some men of mine….just fucked up. But, hey, I’m all good. Maybe we can catch up over--” A fist to the face, brought to you by Alexandra, managed to shut Daniel up, with the young man grabbing his cheek in pain, and nearly stumbling tot he ground. “I guess not.”

“Hey!” James quickly stepped in between Ryker and Daniel, using his arms to hold the other at bay. Gabriel wasn’t very thrilled to see James holding his boss back, and was about to shove a bullet into James’s face, have Ryker not shook his head to stop him. “I don’t know what kind of beef you two have, but Daniel is a citizen here.”

“And?”

“And he is under my damn protection!” Daniel hid behind the much braver James. “You said that you would leave these people alone, and so I expect you to keep that promise.”

“Daniel is not a person, James. He is a coward, a snake in the grass, and a child. He owes me a debt that can only be measured in his blood. So I demand that you hand him over.”

“You will leave these people alone.”

“Look around you, James? Look at all my armed men.” James, as did the crowd forming around them, noticed the amount of Ryker’s men. “Our meeting today was very pleasant and peaceful. Do you want to jeopardize that just to protect that trash?”

“He is not trash.” Daniel was shaking behind James, who despite knowing who Daniel is, is trying to protect him. James is standing there trying to protect the man who sent a hitman after his family. It’s funny. James would have no problem with the death of Daniel. As a matter of fact, James had to hold back the darkness inside of him, that otherwise, would have James murder the shithead. “Don’t let him take me, man.” Daniel mutters to James, who simply ignores him.

“Really? I find that hard to believe, honestly. Especially coming from you. Do you know who he is?”

“He is Daniel Valentine, a member of my community?”

“Valentine? Valentine! Is that the name he gave you?” Ryker couldn’t help but smirk at the pathetic Daniel. Giving off his fake ass names. “Do you know who he really is?”

“I don’t care about who he was before. I only care about who he is now.”

“And who is he now, James? What exactly has he done for you? In fact, what has he done for this community? Nothing but cause problems, I assume.” The crowd around them remains silent, yet, agrees with Ryker. What has this dude done? “In fact, as we stand here, I am only curious of one thing. Do you honestly want to protect this man, or are you just doing so that you can hurt him yourself. You see, many of his men were actually my men, so I heard about some of his actions. How he sent hitmen after people, including you. How did that make you feel? Angry? Angry enough that you would want to take his life?” Ryker stared into James’s eyes, attempting to just see a slither of uncertainty. A slither Ryker sees not, but instead a river. “That is exactly what I thought.”

“It doesn’t matter what I think about him. It only matters what I have to do.”

“And what must you do?”

“Protect these people.” James was afraid of Ryker, obviously, but yet here he stood, rising above his fear to help such a low person. James truly was a great man, even if he denies it.

Ryker, seeing as to how James wouldn’t back down from his stance, turned his eyes to the crowd. “I don’t know if you know this, but you people are housing a criminal. A rat. A disease that is the name of Daniel Brown. Is that name familiar? Oh, for it should. He was the leader of one of the city’s oldest mobs. An organization that killed innocents, sold innocent women, and took their drugs, all while Mr. Daniel Brown partied through the city that his hand helped destroy. I know not what alias he has been using, but I can guarantee that he is still the same little rat that he was before. Feast your eyes on him as he shivers behind the body of your brave, noble warrior. Why house this little rat?” Ryker’s words travel across the mall, where many citizens eyes all turn onto Daniel, who continues to hide behind James in fear.

Daniel was many things but he certainly wasn’t a dumbass. As he stood there, hiding from the truth, he could see all the looks of disapproval around him. The looks of hatred, fear and pity. Everyone knows who he is now, and even if he somehow got out of this situation, it was obvious that he couldn’t stay at this mall anymore.

It became more abundantly clear as Daniel noticed some familiar eyes in the crowd. Four eyes, two of them green while the other a dark shade of brown. Both pairs showed surprise, while one specifically showed pity to contrast the other’s disapproval look. Anahi and Lisette, who stand side to side, watch Daniel, with Anahi looking away out of pity for the cowardice man. She would have hoped that their earlier conversation pushed Daniel away from being a coward, but it appears not. Lisette, on the other hand, gave a look of anger to Daniel. It was rare for Lisette to do so, as she was a humble and nice woman, but Daniel had made an enemy out of her. Who can blame her? She risked her life and wasted supplies to save his whole life, and he has done back is be an asshole and a coward.

“Who here will defend this man?” Ryker’s question remains unanswered, as almost no one speaks up. Not even James spoke. Daniel, seeing as how no one spoke for him, looked around in fear, his eyes widening at the sight. He looked over to Lisette and Anahi, with the latter looking conflicted at the situation. She truly did have a heart of gold. Anahi almost said something, but was stopped by Lisette’s hand, who only shook her head. He was a complete asshole who has done nothing for them. Why die for him? Daniel nearly shrieks when he sees Anahi look away once more. Those who stand above everyone shall have the worst fall of them all. “Now, James. Will you step out of the way?”

James turns his head to Daniel, whose eyes beg James to save him. Instead, James shakes his head and walks away, allowing Daniel to be exposed. The meek Daniel attempted to run, but Alexandra was quick to kick her leg out, colliding with Daniel’s knees and sending him to the floor, where he belonged. Gabriel, with a smirk, yanked Daniel up by the throat. No one tried to help as Gabriel began to pull Daniel away. “You can’t do this to me!” Daniel attempted to yell at the mall. “You can’t let them take me!” Daniel’s pleas for help were ignored as Gabriel dragged him out the door, while Ryker simply smiled.

“Thank you, everyone, for being such good guests. I hope you all have an excellent night.” Ryker parted from the mall with the rest of his men, allowing the feeling of temporary safety to rain onto the people of Franklin Mills.


It only took a few minutes for chaos to spread around the mall. Who wouldn’t be horrified when suited men with guns come in and threaten to kill everyone? For the past few months, despite the outbreak and initial riots, everything seemed to be going okay. Sure, things were rocky, but overall, the mall truly was turning into a community. A peaceful community built on trust and peace. Hell, just yesterday, Christmas music ran through the air, reminding everyone that life may not be over. Safety of peace filled the air. Scents of hope. In only twenty four hours, all of that hope, peace and safety was tore down.

Everything they have worked for is in danger. The reigns of Franklin Mills just gained a crack. What happens when a crack is gained? Everyone loses their minds. Everyone.

Everyone gathered themselves in the mall’s cafe, each panicking out of the fear for their lives. Some screamed, asking what they should do, others screamed saying they need to go retreat, and finally, some said they were basically fucked. It seemed everyone had their own opinion of what to do, but instead of being organized, they prefered to star this chaos.

In the center of all this chaos sat a man, with his face buried deep into his fragile hands, wondering what exactly they just got themself into it. Better yet, what he just got himself into. His instinct to always people had just led him onto a suicide path, for better or worse. Sitting there, thinking of what to do, this man looked stressed. His hands pushed back his hair, his head felt like he was standing next to a church bell, and his eyes were dazed off. He doesn’t just have a few people’s lives in his hands, but if he continues down this path, the whole mall. He never felt more stressed. James did his best to escape the life of stress, hoping that he could finally live a life of peace with Sarah; it appears that may not even be an option now.

Rising his face from his trembling hands, James watches as Walsh and Sam attempt to please the crowd. Sam, despite being a young girl, seemed to be doing okay, politely asking that people calm down, while Walsh was frightened. He shook as he stood in the center, yelled in desperate panic that people calm, and flinched whenever people yelled back at him. Even when he embarrassed himself in front of everyone, Walsh is still trying to act as a leader. It wasn’t doing him any good, though. Every time Walsh attempted to calm the crowd down, someone would shout a good ol’ fashioned “fuck you”.

James knew Walsh couldn’t lead these people. He knew that for months, but now, he can no longer ignore it. Walsh cannot deal with Ryker. Knowing Walsh, he would bow to Ryker to protect himself. However, even if Walsh does surrender to Ryker, Walsh would still continue to destroy the mall with his horrible leadership; hell, Walsh could even blow it and get the mall destroyed. He can try to convince himself and others that he could, but everyone knew the truth. Still, if James allows Walsh to keep leading and allows Ryker to take over, then James could keep trying to make himself a normal life with Sarah, without the stress of work.

But, how selfish would that be? James couldn’t let these poor people die by Walsh’s leadership or be forced to live under Ryker’s rule. He couldn’t sit back and watch that. James was never that person. He couldn’t live with himself if he did that. However, this would mean James would end up having to convince the people to lead him, and that would consume James’s life. He would constantly worry about the people, the mall, threats, and God knows what else. James couldn’t be both this leader and a father, not at this time. How was he to chose?

He looks deep into the crowd, noticing how Sarah stood with Michael, with the man holding his daughter close. She was scared. She needed him. She needed the man who raised her; yet, as he looked around, he saw how many other people needed a leader.

“Everybody! Everybody!” Walsh once again attempted to calm everyone down. “I need you to listen to me!” Walsh’s comments didn’t go so well, and as he paced around in front of people, a thrown banana smacked him across the face. Picking up the banana, Walsh held it up in front of the crowd. “Who threw this?! Who threw this banana?” People only shouted at him as he demanded answers for the thrown banana. “I am your leader, people! I need you to communicate with me!”

“No.” James’s simple statement reached Walsh’s ears. He turned to James, annoyance in his eyes.

“What?”

“I said no.” James stands to his feet, his eyes affirmed with his choice. “You are no leader of ours.”

“Excuse me?!” The crowd’s volume lowers as they see the tension between Walsh and James. “How exactly am I not a leader? I founded this zone and took you people in. I led this zone for months, and look how well we have been doing.”

“How well we have been doing? We have been doing well because of Ethan and Reyes, not you.” Walsh’s attempts at speaking are shot down by James. “In case you forgot, a group of armed mobsters just made their way into the mall. Where the hell were you when that happened?”

“I--I was right here.”

“After they found your little hiding spot in the women’s damn bathroom! You can pretend to be this strong, heroic leader all you want, but we know the truth. Everyone knows the truth. You are a coward. You pretend to care for us and be a hero, but when shit hits the fan, you only protect yourself and hide. Yet, here you are, still trying to be a leader. You really are pathetic.”

“I’m n-not pathetic.”

“You keep telling yourself that.” Walsh watches as the crowd all glares at them, seeing as how they each agree with James. None of them want him. “You have may started this place but you were never a leader. A leader is someone you can follow. Someone you can trust to never abandon you. Does this remotely sound like you?”

James turns Walsh’s eyes to the crowd, hoping to get his next message to Walsh’s head. “What do you see?”

“I see people.”

“Now, look deep into their eyes and answer this next question for me. Will any of them follow you?” Walsh looks out into the ocean off eyes, each showing a simple emotion that Walsh denied. Anger. Anger projected from their eyes and to the former leader, showing their obvious disappointment with him. “Will they?” The sound of James’s voice and the booing of the crowd drowns into Walsh’s fragile mind. All he can hear is their booing. Their constant, anger booing. It was only yesterday that people held him up high. Now his world crumbles beneath his feet. No longer was Walsh a hero, but a coward.

With a head hanged down to his shoulders, Walsh made his way off the stage, ignoring the glares and boos as he makes his way away from the crowd. As Walsh made his exit, James turned towards the crowd, feeling all of their eyes on him as they wondered what came next.

----

In the next twenty minutes James managed the feat that Walsh seemed unable to do: control the crowd. Instead of panicking, like most would, James remained calm and politely asked that everyone settle down. By treating the crowd with respect, they treated James with respect and settled down. Many sat down in the many seats in the cafe, although many still chose to stand.

Taking his seat in the first few rows of seats, Dre was silent, instead opting to rub his face through his cold hands, but the burning of his head didn’t mix well with the cold. Dre still felt sick after what happened earlier. One minute McCoy and him were just sitting there, but then the next thing he knew, the cold barrel of a gun stared into his eyes. A real, steel, dangerous gun just sat there, ready to kill Dre at any giving moment. Hell, the trigger could have pulled so fast that he may not have even had time noticed. A gun to his face may have been terrifying, but nothing could beat that man. That petit, pale suited man. From the way to his pale green eyes darted at him to the creepy, yet happy smile he gave the two boys, that man completely terrified Dre. He could still feel his cold, bony touch.

The mere thought of that man sent the shivers down his back. The shiver of Dre’s back caught the ear of Lara, who was seated in the seat next to Dre. Lara herself has had a rough day, but yet, she still has that ol’ Lara Drake smile, with her fluttering eyes. “You cold or something? I mean, I’m right next to you, so you shouldn’t be.” Lara nudges him to only half-assed success, as Dre does his best to put up a smile.

“I’m fine.” The famous Dre smile seems to convince Lara that he’s okay, per usual. Dre was stubborn in that way. He always wanted to keep his emotions hidden from others, despite his own emotional immaturity. He was afraid he would bring down their life or hurt them if he worried them with his own problems, so he kept all the pain behind the cracked, smiling mask. The only person who have ever managed to see past his disguise was McCoy.

Looking over at Lara, Dre couldn’t help but feel awkward about this. For the past two months Lara and him were sort of, but not really, in a relationship. They hang out all the time and they have had plenty of sleepless nights together. Really, though, that’s about it. Maybe they were more friends with benefits, because in these past few months, they never really shared deep, meaningful conversations. They banter, eat, play games, listen to music, kiss, relax, bang and repeat. What kind of relationship is this if Dre is afraid to talk to her? Hell, even Lara refuses to open up to Dre. What kind of relationship is this if they don’t talk to each other? Was she just using him for fun? He didn’t think she would, but with his raging emotions, Dre didn’t know.

With a sigh, Dre rubbed his face through his hands, whilst glancing over to the people in his row, specifically McCoy. Unlike his emotional friend, McCoy is holding up fine. Then again, McCoy has always been slightly better with emotions. Due his upbringing, McCoy has learned to just deal with what life throws at him. He’s seen most of it before. The only fear that trembled McCoy’s heart was the safety of those around him. Surprisingly, McCoy was okay with his own impending demise. The thought of him dying never really scared him. However, he couldn’t sit still knowing that those around him were in danger. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he survived and they didn’t. They all had more potential in life, hell, they have more of a life. Even more so, this small group of friends is the best family he has ever had. He has spent his whole life alone and now that he gets a family they are in danger? It wasn’t fair.

“So what now?!” McCoy sees a man across the room shout up to James. He recognized the man as Drake, one of those rich douche bags and a general asshole. McCoy knew that he used to own some sort of a business. Maybe a music company? McCoy didn’t know nor care. All he knew was that Drake was a self-centered jerk. Still, he had a decent question. What now?

At center stage, James responds to the question and stands to his feet, ready to answer the question head on with confidence. “As you all know, we found out today that we are not the only community left. For just a hour ago, armed men kicked down our doors, led by Jacob Ryker. Do not his voice fool you. He did not come in peace, nor will he ever. All he wants is the power to rule over this city, and to do that, he needs people. He wants to rule over our community. Listen to my voice, friends, and make no mistake. Their is no bargaining. If we do not follow him then he will declare war on us.”

“So, we have two choices. We can submit and join this man, at the cost of our freedom, or we can fight.” James looks into the crowd and can see the fear coming off of them. Granted, this is horrifying. “I will not make this decision for you. If I did I would be no different than him. So, this choice needs to be decided by all of us. So, what do you think? All of you.”

At first it was silence. No one spoke. No one moved an eye. Everyone just sat. Lucky for James, there was a certain cop out there who's hot head was known. Standing to his feet, Ethan made his way towards the stage, his trigger finger ready to shoot some mobsters. “What do I think?” Ethan calls out. “I think we need to get some guns and chase their asses down! Catch them by surprise. We can’t let those bastards just stomp on us.”

“And then what?” Ethan turns towards Anahi, who has sat herself nonchalantly in the first row. “We track them down and what? Kill all of them? He has an army.”

“And?”

“And how many people here can actually shoot? I’m willing to go on record here and say not enough to take on Ryker.”

“We don’t need an army. We just need a few amount so we can sneak up on them. Then bam, we take ‘em one by one.”

“And where exactly are we supposed to get all these weapons and cars?” Sam asks from her seat, much to Ethan’s annoyance. “We don’t all these heavy weapons.”

“Yes we do.” Reyes reluctantly from his spot on the wall, where he was previously leaning. Standing straight, Reyes walks out closer to the crowd. “Yesterday two of our scouts came back with a few guns.”

“Two high powered AK-47s, two sawed off shotguns and a M110 Semi-Auto Sniper.” McCoy calls out from his seat. “Just to, you know, be exact.”

“Not bad weapons at all.” Reyes points out everyone. “Plus, we--”

“--have some rifles and pistols in storage.” Ethan continues Reyes’s sentence. “There should be a few outlets around here where we can whip some goodies. Explosives, maybe….”

“But, even with those weapons, it’s still a suicide mission.” McCoy points out, much to the annoyance of Ethan, who was hoping people would stop questioning.

“So what exactly do you have in mind?” Vicky asks from next to him. “That we walk up and give ourselves up? Suicide mission or not, for fuck’s sake these guys are trying to take over our lives. We gotta do what’s necessary.” Vicky’s statement gave Ethan a smirk. At least his step-daughter was with him.

“That’s the point. It isn’t necessary. You seem to think that we’re not all people. Civilized people. If this dude really wants to make Philly a better place, then he won’t just massacre us. We can try to make a better deal.”

“M-maybe not, man.” Dre points out. “You saw him. You saw his men. Maybe we should…”

“So you wanna risk our lives for a mission that can prove pointless?” McCoy fires back to Dre, who shrugs. “I mean….I don’t know, man.” Dre exclaims. “Yeah? For fuck’s sake man, this dude’s a madman. I don’t wanna die.”

“And if we try to talk to him, then no one will die.” McCoy reminds him, but unfortunately, some people found that answer to not be good enough. Vicky is one of them, and the young girl sighs.

“This dude is an egotistic maniac with the biggest god-complex I ever saw. The last thing he would do is reason. If we want to survive then we gotta do what’s necessary. Kill them.”

“That has to be the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day.” Lara shakes her head with a chuckle.

“And how the hell is it stupid?” Ethan demands to know, alongside Vicky, who watches Lara with such intent and a glare that even Lara felt a little scared.

“They are trained fucking mercenaries. Trained. We have maybe….five people who are actually trained. Beyond that we are all normal ass people. I’m sure half of us in this room have never even fought anything. If we even try to fight him then we will be dead by sunrise.” Lara states the obvious, but yet, some don’t seem to convinced. Dre thinks about it, but beyond that, nothing much.

“She’s right.” Anahi points out. “If we attack there will be more deaths than if we did nothing.”

“So what then?” Lisette questions her friend. “We become their puppets? We let them take our supplies, our men, our lives? I usually don’t agree with stuff like this, but what choice do we have here?”

“But think about what we might lose if we do attack.”

“And think about what we lose if we don’t? We either lose freedom and live, or we might die but have freedom. It isn’t exactly a win-win situation. But, if I were to pick, I’d say we go for it.” As Lisette finishes her sentence,

“But--” Lara attempts to counter but Vicky stops her. “There is no peaceful solution, Lara!” Vicky says to her, hoping the solution would get into her head. They need to prove their survivors and kill these animals.

“You know you always could be a dumbass, but I never thought once you were a suicidal dumbass.” Lara shoots back at her, with glares going between the girls. McCoy and Dre were to busy in their argument on the matter to stop them.

“Just because you can’t do what’s necessary doesn’t mean we should all suffer for it.”

“I don’t have what it takes? Really?”

“Yeah, you don’t. If you did you would realize how wrong you are.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Should us college students go massacre mobsters?”

“We’re not just college students. We’re survivors so start fucking acting like one.”

“Act like a survivor? Do you forgot that I’m the one who got you here in one piece? I saved your ass a dozen times, Vics.”

“I’m not that same girl anymore!”

“You’re still an uptight bitch, that’s for sure.” Lara could see the look in Vicky’s eyes. The look of pride. Anger. “You gonna smack me again? Go on, hit my good side. Right here.” Lara goads Vicky into hitting her, going as far as to point the side of her face. “Prove to me how strong you are.”

“Hey!” The blonde haired dream that is Tate steps in between the two women. Tate looks between Vicky and Lara, while he keeps his arms out to separate them. “I think you’re forgetting who the real enemy is.”

Tate turns towards the arguing crowd and James himself to continue his points. “Look at you guys, arguing amongst yourself. We’re losing track on what this argument is really about. Instead of wasting this short time bickering we should be discussing like civil people. That dude is gonna come back, what, tomorrow?” Tate was absent for the arrival of Ryker, but he got back a few minutes ago and was informed of the situation by Michael (who was taking care of Sarah instead of being here).

“And what bright ideas do you have?” Ethan questions Tate. “I assume you have the greatest idea we all ever heard.”

“Well...I mean I personally don’t--”

“So what the hell gives you the right to barge in here and tell us what to do when you don’t even know what to do?” Ethan questions Tate with his rage. Ethan wasn’t wrong, yet, this rage was having him flip on people. His step-daughter and his new home are in danger, and they only have a short window it solve it. It’s pressuring, especially to a man like Ethan, whose emotions control his every move.

“Look, I’m just trying to help.” Tate defends himself to the raging beast of Ethan. “You gonna fight with me about that?”

“I’m just tired of you people claiming that we are out of hand, when in reality, you got no other ideas!”

“You need to calm down.” Sam calmly says from her seat to the rash Ethan. “You’re going to end up getting us all killed if you keep going off like that.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want me to sit down and rest my head? Maybe I’ll have a nice cup of tea.”

“Maybe your head does need a rest. After all, no head would be okay after being stuck up their ass like that.”

“What did you just say to me?!”

“Good one.” Anahi smirks over to Sam, which of course earns her the glare of her former commanding officer. “I mean, not a good one. This is serious.”

“See what I mean?” Tate remarks. “Look at us! How is this helping any of us?”

Vicky, who has continued to pace by her chair, glances towards Tate. As her eyes meet Tate she spots James in the background, just sitting there. That’s it. He’s just sitting there and watching them fight, not even trying to stop it. “And you? James?!” Vicky shouts up to James, who immediately looks up at her. “What exactly are you doing? What kind of ideas do you have?” Vicky approaches the stage with her arms crossed around her. “Or are you just gonna sit there and watch us fight?”

“I’m listening. To all of you.” James claims. “You all have some fair points.”

“And what points do you have? You promised to lead us, but yet, all you have done is sit here and watch.” Vicky calls out James, who simply watches the young girl as she disregards him. “Come on. Do what you promised to do!” In the moment that the eyes of James and Vicky meet, their eyes seem to be in a battle. Vicky as the rash warrior and James as the patient lion.

Standing to his feet, James looks out into the restless crowd, each with their eyes on him, as if they already trust him to give an answer. Despite a short pause, James was confident enough to give them his thoughts. “Despite our different viewpoints, we all seem to agree on one matter. These people are not our friends. Where we seem to differ is what do we do? Do we allow the deal or do we try to attack? The argument for the former is that we do not have the men nor the firepower to attack, which could only lead to more of our deaths. However, the argument you seem to have against that is that if he do nothing than we lose our supplies, our home, and our freedom, so we don’t have a choice. Am I correct so far?” James answers his own question with a yes upon seeing that no one is arguing. “So, as to what we shall do, I have a simple answer. Both.”

“Both? Fucking both?” Ethan grunts. “You can’t pick a side so you saying both?”

“No.” James responds with hast. “You see, both sides are right. We don’t have the manpower or skill to attack a well trained army, but we also can’t do nothing. So, my suggestion, is simple. We’ll go with Ryker’s deal, however, this will only be a ruse. Secretly, we can train. More runs into the city for supplies and we can train everyone here to fight. Once we are ready, and once Ryker has his trust in us that we won’t do anything, then we strike. This also gives us the chance to scout and see how our enemy is. How well are they trained? What kind of weapons do they use? Where is their base?”

“And what if they catch us training? What if he gets paranoid?” Ethan calls. “Delaying this can only lead to more problems.”

“We are delaying the inevitable. This can only end one way. We all know that.” Vicky backs up her step-father, agreeing full well of an attack.

“Actually, this ends two ways.” Anahi corrects them. “With us dead, or them dead. Which one would you prefer?”

“The one where we end this before it starts.” Lisette states her answer.

“We won’t get caught.” James cuts them all of before another argument happens. “This is a big mall, and if needed, we are in the fourth largest city in America. We can always train elsewhere. I will work out the training grounds with some others after this meeting.” As James speaks he can see the eyes of many people out there. Many of them are scared, in fact, some are upset. For some odd reason it appears that not everyone is willing to fight, as if they’re to scared.

“I know some of you are scared.” James continues to speak. “And you have every right to be. This is a horrifying situation. But, yet, that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that still, despite what is going on, some people don’t want to do anything. They would rather just sit back and hope that one day some force will make everything alright. That’s something that has bothered me since before. Before this outbreak, since I was a child, I would watch as good people sat back and did nothing when challenges came. They expected other people to do something. Every year that problem just got worse, until people practically became couch potatoes who sat their asses down and complained about the world on the internet, but yet, did nothing to change it. I thought this would have changed some of your minds. You know, with everything we ever knew and loved slipping away. Yet, here some people are, just sitting back and letting others deal with problems. That’s pathetic.”

“I’m not being mean here, but you kinds of people who are in here, I’m just giving you the truth. If you don’t do something, you’re going to die. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but don’t expect to survive by sitting on your ass. The only way you’re going to survive, and the only way we’re going to bring change to our falling nation, is by stepping up and doing what is expected of us. Our forefathers did this. They risked their lives and their homes to get freedom for the British. And yet, here we are hundreds of years later, forgetting their sacrifice as we do nothing. They must be damn proud. Our forefathers must be proud of how much of a lazy society we have become. You can deny it all you want, but our once strong nation is dying because of you weeds.”

“But it doesn’t have to be!” James continues on with his speech. “We all have the potential to do this. We can all change the world. We can all fight. You just need to believe in yourself. We all are more than just men. We are men fighting for an idea! We are fighting for our great city! Because it is up to us to save this city and our lives! If you want to sit back and do nothing than fine. Just know that no one is coming to save you. To those of you willing to fight, then stand with me! For as of this day, we are brothers and sisters in arms. Because only we ourselves can stop the dangers and trials in life. Only we, the people, can change the world.” Capping off his speech, James watches as many people begin to nod their head, accepting what needs to be done. Accepting that only they can stop this.

Single handedly, James Benjamin has convinced the Franklin Mall to follow him into the greatest battle of their lives.


“It doesn’t have to be this way, man.” Daniel once again attempt to bargain with Gabriel, who continued to push Daniel down the dark lit hallway, with each push Daniel trying to resist more. “You can just let me go.”

“And why should I do that?” Gabriel questions with a smirk as he guides Daniel. “You gonna kill me?”

“I have powerful friends. Friends who can help me. Friends who can squash your boss.”

“Like who?”

“Like…...people, man. People. Like….Vernon. Isabella Vernon.” Daniel gives his asshat smirk to Gabriel, hoping to send him fear. “Most powerful lady in Philadelphia, in case you forgot.”

“Actually I did forget. It’s been a whole two months since she died.” Gabriel senses the emotion change in Daniel’s face, as if he was actually hurt. “Yep. Ryker killed her personally. Shot right to the head. Bitch never saw it coming.” Gabriel continues to smirk at Daniel’s facial reaction, watching as his prideful smile cracks underneath his eyes. “Does that hurt?”

Truth be told while Vernon was never close to Daniel, but still, she was a nice old lady. He remembers after his mother’s death she bought him shitload of video games, and following his father’s death, she gave him her sympathy. Kind, but dangerous, old broad. One Daniel respected, even in his immaturity days. “No.” Daniel throws up his smirk of douches. “Bitch had it coming..”

“Exactly what I said. Glad we see eye to eye.” Arriving at a set of stairs, Gabriel wastes in no time in attempting to walk Daniel down them and instead gives the push of his hand. Daniel was quick to go rolling down the metal stairs, his head hitting each stair with a thump until he smacked rock bottom. By the time he hit the ground a bruise was in the midst of forming on his forehead, made only worse by the bottom of Gabe’s boot hitting him directly in the head. “What the he--” Daniel’s squirms by Gabriel, who simply kicked Daniel once more in the stomach before throwing him onto his feet. “Fuck you too man.”

“Just walk.” Is all Gabriel mutters as he continues to push Daniel down the hallway. The hallway was fairly dark, with only a tint light echoing down the hallways, along with the majority of graffiti that sits alongside the walls. Soon enough Daniel began to spot cages out of the corner of his eye. Dark, cold, steel cages lining down the hallway. As they got towards the end of the hallway he even thinks he saw silhouettes inside some of these cages. “Hey! I got a new one!”

At the end of the hallway, Daniel can see the shape of a woman. Even with darkness surrounding her Daniel can feel her eyes plastered onto his body. Standing to her feet the woman slowly made her way into the light, Daniel began to catch better glimpses of her. Dark jeans were paired with a dark belt and boots, while her torso was topped with a plain white tee shirt and dark leather jacket. With beautiful brown hair and blue eyes (with a small scar above the right eye) to match, the woman was very good looking for her age. However, despite how peaceful she may look, Daniel looked deeper. The blue eyes from a distance looked beautiful, but as he got closer, he saw the darkness hidden in them. The pure darkness. As she stared at him, Daniel got a glimpse of an unknown tattoo that ran down her neck. This woman, now in front of Daniel, stared directly into his soul, as if she was trying to break him down with nothing but a glance. “The scorpion.” Daniel stutters.

Standing before him was Nyssa, or known as her street name, The Scorpion. Before the outbreak Nyssa ran one of the most powerful street gangs in Philadelphia, although unlike most gangs, they worked for hire. Having been raised her whole life in the darkest corners of the world, Nyssa was the perfect leader for this vicious game and was known for never showing any honor, mercy, or anything. She was a killing machine and her gang showed that. The police had no records on her, nor did any of the mob leaders. Her whole past is a mystery, as she really is, as Nyssa is only a fake name. The Scorpion (a name which she received during underground fights) was a terrifying force of nature, and the fact that she is with Ryker made Daniel even more scared. “This one’s special, so make sure he’s awake when the boss comes down.”

Nyssa nods, signaling for Gabriel to leave Daniel alone with the gang leader. Nyssa eyed him with a deadly, curious look, wanting to see what Daniel is made of. Not much. “Do you know who I am?” Her soft voice is a boom to him in the silent, creeping room.

“The scorpion.” Daniel says as he stands before her with his shaking legs. “You’re the scorpion.”

“That is right.” Nyssa nods. “I am Nyssa, queen of the Bloods. The legendary Scorpion.” Nyssa stares into Daniel’s eyes. “Do you know who you are?”

“I-I’m Daniel Brown.”

“No. You are no one. You are nothing.” Nyssa places her hand ontop of Daniel’s shoulder, still staring him down. “You are mine.” Without any further or do Nyssa stabs her long, cold, sharp iron knife into Daniel’s shoulder, bringing screams and whimpers from the mobster’s mouth. “Do you want me to stop?” Nyssa continues to press the blade deeper into Daniel’s shoulder as the man nods over and over, but yet, she keeps going. “Who are you?”

“I’m Dan--”

“Who are you?!”

“I’m D--”

“Who the hell are you?!”

“I’m--I’m n-nothing!” Daniel finally screams out. “I--I’m yours. I’m yours.”

“Say that again.”

“I’m fucking yours! Okay?!” Seeing that Daniel has gave in, Nyssa slowly yanks out her fresh with blood blade. Daniel was quick to drop to his knees, but Nyssa wouldn’t allow him too, instead yanking him back onto his feet.

“Undress.” Nyssa mutters to him with that shaky voice. Daniel looks at her in confusion but Nyssa continue to stare her down. “I said undress.”

With reluctance Daniel followed her orders. He started by yanking off his shirt, now the home to a fresh knife wound, which neighbors previous scars and bruises from earlier. With a desperate look to try and convince Nyssa to stop, Daniel continues by kicking away his shoes and socks. Following this were him dropping his jeans, and finally, Daniel slid off his boxers, leaving him fully exposed in front of Nyssa, who continues to show no emotion. With his head bowed, trying to hide the fear in his eyes, Daniel wasn’t able to anticipate Nyssa’s foot, which she delivered right into his knee cap.

Daniel slammed down against the ground in agony, followed by the nails of Nyssa scratching him across the face. Grabbing Daniel by the neck, Nyssa yanked Daniel onto his knees, whilst she stood behind him. With one arm strapped around his neck, Nyssa uses her free hand to grab her bloody blade. Daniel’s attempt to squirm proved useless as Nyssa scratched the blade against his scalp with force. Piece by piece, ball by ball, Daniel’s hair was stripped from his scalp. Once the hair was out of the way, Daniel was even more horrified to see Nyssa reach the blade down to his cock and scratch the hair from there. It took minutes, and lots of force to hold Daniel still, by by the time the clock struck five, Daniel kneeled before Nyssa, stripped of his dignity and hair.

As Daniel kneeled before her, he rose his head, taking notice of the cages lined down the halls. Finally, Daniel could see in them. In the first two cages, one on the left and one on the right, Daniel saw people. Real, breathing people. On the left Daniel took note of two people, one male and one female. Each were stripped of their clothing and hair, as was him. However, what was worse to Daniel, was the fact that their hands were bound by duct tape, while a chain bound the two together with one foot each. On the right sat another lone man in a very similar situation.

Yanking Daniel onto his feet, Nyssa dragged the poor man over to his new home; the cage on the right. Daniel cried. Daniel squirmed. Daniel begged. Each tactic proved useless as Nyssa opened the cage and tossed in the screaming wreck that was Daniel. With no hesitation, Nyssa chained Daniel’s foot to the chain connecting him to his fellow prisoner, and next came the duct tape around Daniel’s hands. “Don’t do this. Don’t do--” Daniel’s attempt at begging were shot down once the Scorpion gripped Daniel by the back of his head and slammed his precious face into the metal cage with such force that even the sounds of cracking echoed. Nyssa left the naked, shaved, screaming Daniel to rot in his cell while she walked off into the darkness. The man next to Daniel made no attempt to comfort him, nor did the two across the hall.

The only one who payed attention to his screams was Alexandra, who found herself at the end of the hall. Mistake her not, Alexandra held no feelings of any kind, not even sympathy, to Daniel. He was one of the worst bastards she could ever think of. Still, this was a sick way to hold a prisoner, even for her standards. “Don’t you think this is a bit...much?” Alexandra asks Ryker, who stood next to her, watching Daniel squirm with a smirk.

“That man deserves much worse.” Ryker mutters. “He deserves everything he gets.”

“But what about the others? Lucas Jones? Jess Mercer? Casey Oblivion?” Alexandra speaks the names of the trio of other prisoners. “I stand by whatever you want, but this just seems a bit harsh. No offense, sir.”

“None taken. You see, each of them has done things. Things to me and my army. Such to an extent where death is a release for them. No, they must be taught a lesson, and that lesson is punishment. I intend to punish each of them for their sins.” Ryker glares over at his prisoners. “What do each of us hold dear, Alex?”

“Family?”

“True, but you never target the family for the sins of one.” Ryker gives her a lesson. “What I was thinking is who we are. We each cherish our lives. We each love what we stand for. So that’s what I’m going to take away from them. Their own lives. Strip of them of all honor and dignity and they will become desperate, and in that desperation their mind will begin to crack. With those cracks their minds will head down unpleasant trains of thoughts, heading to the places in our minds where the screaming is unbearable. It is there that their mind will...snap. Without their minds, without a sense of who they are, they will turn to one thing. Madness. It is in that madness that I will twist their minds, turning them into the one thing that they hate most: us. Then, and only then, do they have my permission to die.”

“I see.” Alex nods her head, although she still finds the punishment cruel. Still, she won’t go against Ryker. “And what about Daniel?”

“What about him?”

“What do you intend to do to him? You said he is the worst offender of the lot.”

“For that, he is, my dear.” Ryker thinks for a moment, even to which Alex has no idea what goes on in that head of his. Soon enough Ryker begins to walk away from the cells, hands behind his back. “Come with me.” Alex quickly complies and tails her boss. “Did you remember Isabella?”

“Of course.” Alex nods her head as the memories of Isabella pass before her mind. “She was my best friend.” Alexandra had known Isabella since childhood, ever since Isabella helped the young girl in school. She was such a beautiful girl, both on her exterior and her interior. Not meant for this cruel, harsh world. “I miss her everyday.”

“As do I.” Ryker nods. “Unfortunately, Isabella made mistakes in her life. One of them was getting involved with the Browns. She got close to them. Too close. She got entangled between Daniel and his father, and because of that she got stuck in the crossfire. She died because Daniel was a coward, while his father was an opportunist. Her death broke me, Alexandra. It was almost like a whole new world after that. I lost who I was. I slipped into madness. Utter madness.” Ryker stops his advances and instead looks out his window, watching the sun that blares off into the distance. “Never in my life was my heart ripped out of my chest like it was during those dark days.”

“Daniel,” Ryker continues, “I do not want to punish. No, I want to destroy him. I want him to remember the piece of shit that he is and all the crimes he has done to others. I want his past sins to curse him. I want him to cry at the thought of how much of a bastard he is. No matter how hard he tries to forgot who he is I’m going to remind him. Because I do not want to destroy his spirit, no. I want to destroy Daniel Brown.”

Alex watches as Ryker turns toward her, his eyes showing his fierce determination. “That coward will wish he never breathed the air of this earth.” Ryker finishes with a bittersweet smirk, thinking about how he intends to punish Daniel, but also of all the pain he caused him.

-----

It took some extra scrubbing, but Nyssa was soon able to wipe the blood from Daniel off her hands completely. All that bastard’s squirming got his blood everywhere. Not that Nyssa hated blood or anything, hell it was apart of her job, but it was pretty damn annoying to try to eat some snacks and having someone else’s blood all over you.

Making her way out of the washroom, Nyssa minded her own as she walked down the halls. She thought briefly about what the prisoners were doing right now, but quickly disregarded that thought. Although, they were probably crying. After-all, that’s what Ryker instructed her to do. A few weeks after the outbreak Ryker approached her gang’s hideout, saying he wanted to make an alliance. It was a simple deal really. Nyssa’s gang and her get full access to Ryker’s base and supplies, and all they have to do is work for him. Ever since before the outbreak her gang has worked for hire, fighting for whoever pays the most cash. As they were the most feared street gang, they tended to got tons of dough. Now, money may not mean shit anymore, but Ryker still pays them in weapons and supplies. Good enough for her.

As for Nyssa, he requested that she and her selective men run the prison. It didn’t come as much of a shock. From a young age Nyssa was thrown into the darkest corners of Philadelphia. She has seen the worst of what mankind has to offer, and she was born from it. By age eight she was already transporting drugs and stealing. By age thirteen she joined her fist gang. Nyssa was a horrifying, deadly person. She knew damn well how to put fear into people. Ryker sure as hell got the right person.

Making her way into the main lobby, Nyssa watched as people were lined at the bar, taking shots left and right. She saw some on the couches watching the tv. She thinks they were watching Sinister (which, for the record, was nowhere near scary to her). As she continued to make her way across, a table caught her eye. At one of the dining tables, Nyssa caught a game of cards. The dealer seemed to catch her. “Scorpion!” Gabriel smiled and waved over to her. “Get your ass over here.”

The table consisted of Gabriel, Fitzpatrick and another man. A man in his mid forties with a shaved head and stubble beard; Isaiah. Her dear, sweet husband. She paused, but soon headed over to the table, taking the seat right next to Isaiah. “Good shit. Now we can get a game started.” Gabriel shuffled through the cards with a smirk. “Get ready to all get your asses whooped though.”

“You better watch yours.” Nyssa remarks as she turned toward Isaiah, who didn’t even look at her, nor speak. “Hey, hon.” Nyssa elbows him with a fragile smile, hoping she would get one in return. Instead he just looked at her with a blank expression.

“Hey.” Are the only words he spoke whilst he moved his right hand out of her view. He thought she wouldn’t notice the lack of his wedding ring, but sadly she did. Still, she didn’t call him out on it, instead just let out a sigh and turned away towards Gabriel, who was shuffling the cards.

“So what are we playing?”

“No clue.” Gabriel chuckled as he shuffled them. “What you wanna play Fitz?”

“I don’t care.” Fitzpatrick spoke in his high, but yet, soft voice as he sat there alone, playing with his thumbs.

“Come on, man. Speak up.”

“I said, I don’t care.” Fitz speaks up in an annoyed tone, to which Gabriel takes as a sign to shut up and go back to shuffling cards. Fitz never was the kind of dude to talk, on field or off-field. Sure, while on a mission, Gabriel as serious as one can be, but off the field he was his charismatic self. A stark contrast.

As Gabriel shuffles, he catches sight of someone walking over and he smiles. “Babe!” Gabriel stands to his feet so signal over Alexandra. “Join us.”

“I think the last place I wanna be is next to you.” Alex smirks as she approaches Gabriel, who only shrugs in return.

“Yeah right. We all know you love it anywhere near me. Next to, behind, below, on top…” Gabriel gives a wink, to which she only shakes her head with a sweet laugh. Still, upon getting close enough, Alex and Gabe embrace into each other’s arms and give a passionate, soft kiss to each other. As the two young lovers kiss, Nyssa looks over to Isaiah, who still ignores her, acting as if she is just some random girl. She remembers when they were like that, all those years ago.

Gabriel and Alexandra soon sit down, ready to play whatever the hell kind of game Gabriel has picked out for them today. “Well,” Gabriel smiles, “looks like the gang’s all here! So, what do you guys wanna play tonight? Personally, I’m not in a poker mood.”

“And why’s that?” Alex asks with a smirk, knowing full why. Her remark has Gabriel give a fake glare at her.

“Because you robbed me of my shit yesterday.” Gabriel fake punches her shoulder. “Cheater.”

“I’m not a cheater! It’s not my fault you suck.”

“You suck.”

“Says the sucker.”

“Alright fine, poker it is. Gonna teach you a lesson.” Gabriel grabs his bag to pull out some chips. “I’m gonna show you.”

-----

“You sure showed me.” Alex mocks as she walks down the hallway with Gabriel. Gabriel only stays silent while Alex checks out her new watch. “This is a nice watch, by the way. Where’d you get it?”

“Off some dead dude.”

“Well the dead dude sure had nice taste.” Alex chuckles whilst Gabriel opens the door to their room. Once inside, Alex only looks at it more. “Unlike some other dude I know…”

“Oh, that’s it.” Taking off his leather jacket, Gabriel soon catches Alex by surprise when he lifts her up and tosses her on the bed, with Alex laughing the whole trip there. Once landed on the bed, Alex quickly gripped Gabriel’s belt and pulled him on to. Unfortunately, Alex was able to pin Gabriel’s hands down and get on top first. “Since when do you get top?”

“Since when do you?” Alex mocked before leaning her body forward to meet his lips, upon which the two passionately kissed. Their kiss lasted for moments, with Gabriel’s strong hands stroking her soft, smooth cheeks. Anything further than this was shot down when Gabriel looked into Alexandra’s eyes and noticed something he rarely sees in them: pain. Reluctantly, Gabriel pushes Alex’s beautiful, amazing lips from his face.

“You okay?” He asks, actually concerned for another human being, which comes as a surprise from a man like Gabriel. Even Alexandra seems shocked at his question.

“Since when do you ask about my feelings?”

“Since I saw you needed me too.” Gabriel gives her a reassuring smile. “C’mon, babe. What’s wrong?”

It was amazing that he cared for her, but yet, Alex still held her tongue. Not that she didn’t trust him; Gabriel might have been one of the most trustworthy people she knows. Alexandra just never really spoke about her feelings, as she was trained to never even feel them. Growing up she was taught about how to be a warrior, not an actual human being. Someone asking how she is feeling is probably a first.

Removing herself from atop Gabriel, Alexandra instead lays down next to him, wondering how to put emotions into words. “It’s just--I been thinking about...her.”

“Your sister?” Alexandra gives him a nod. “What about?”

“About what’s gonna happen to her.” Alexandra points out. “I was down at the prison today and…..I don’t want my sister to be like that.”

“Alex, you know what she did.”

“And she’s my sister.” Alexandra hastily replies to his statement, despite the truth that comes from it. “Did you have anyone you ever cared about?”

“You.”

“Besides me. Like, a family member. A friend. Anything?” She takes note of the pain in Gabriel’s face as he actually thinks about that question. Instead of letting him dwell on that Alex continues. “Haley is the only person I was close with growing up. She’s not just my sister. She’s my best friend. One of the only people I give a damn about. I don’t want to see her like that. Naked and shaved….in a fucking cage...like some animal. I know, she fucked up, but she’s not like those other people.”

“So do you want her to escape? After what she did?”

“I--I don’t know. Maybe? I wanna see her again, but not like some animal. She just made one mistake.”

“A mistake that the boss man counts as treason.” Gabriel corrects her. “Look, I know for a fact that no one has found her yet. In fact, I got Walter out there looking for her. I promise you, when they find her, no harm will come to her. If and when we find her, I’ll talk to the boss man about the prison thing. Maybe I can convince him to let her off the hook.”

Alexandra can’t help but smile at the reassuring, caring Gabriel. “Thank you.”

“No need to thank me.” Gabriel brushes her beautiful head of hair. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

Oh, if only she knew how much full of shit Gabriel was full of.


She had her fair experiences with these type of events. After-all, for many years, it was her job. Her dream job, no matter how fucked up it was. She was a detective on the force; hell, she was one of the best on there. For years she dealt with people like Ryker. Evil men who claimed they were the heroes of our times. She remembered this one case she investigated. There was this guy, no older than fifty, who lived in a bad neighborhood. Everyday he would sit out on his porch with a coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Instead of seeing children playing and dogs being walked, however, he saw the dealings of drugs and the smell of pot. His once great neighborhood was taken over by mindless asshats who corrupted it.

Well, he didn’t like that. So, one night, he grabs his old rifle and pistol and headed over to the park across the street, where some deal was going down, per usual. He lays down under the slide, gets a clear shot, and just like that, this old man just begins to shoot them. They didn’t see nor hear where he was coming from, and as such, he took them down without ease. Then, just like that, he goes home. Sandra and her partner questioned him the next day and this dude just admitted to it. He confessed to every murder with a gleeful smile. At the end of his story he said he was saving his town. That he was the hero. Until, of course, Sandra arrested him.

That random story came to her now out of the blue. She hasn’t thought about it in years. Then again, Sandra hasn’t thought about her days in the force for years either. Yet, here she is, thinking about it. The reason? The man reminds her of Ryker, almost to a tee. Well, motivation wise, at least.

With her hood raised and hands in her pockets, Sandra made her way down the hallways silent, as usual. She had just been at the giant meeting in the mall, where she watched as many people argued over what to do. She may not have said anything, but hell, Sandra herself was arguing with in herself. Honestly, Sandra didn’t know how to go about this, either. She definitely doesn’t want to just attack, but yet, she doesn’t want to just sit back and do nothing. That said, she found James’s idea to be very well thought out. She forgot how smart that man was.

Arriving at the basement, Sandra made her way down. She wasn’t shocked to find Haruka at one of the lab tables, staring repeatedly between the blood samples and files on the infection. Sandra spoke nothing, instead watching her friend obsessed herself over the research before her. In the past two months Sandra noticed how obsessed Haruka has become, but she never really stopped to think about it. Haruka rarely goes upstairs, or eats, or sleep, or anything. Everyday all Sandra finds Haruka doing is standing over research, that mad look raging in her eyes. “Haruka.” Haruka can’t hear the call of her friend. “Haruka.”

“What?”

“You okay?”

“Just fine.” Haruka flips through some folders. “Just looking over some research. You would think real doctors would have more information than we do.” Haruka sighs. “Instead, it looks like we have just as much.” Sandra could sense the frustration forming in Haruka’s voice. A bomb waiting to go off.

“So crazy day, huh?”

“How so?”

“Well, first the hospital, and now….you know..”

“What?” Haruka looks at her with confused, bloodshot eyes.

“Ryker. The armed men.”

“Oh. That.” Haruka shugs it off. “It’s nothing.”

“N-nothing?” Sandra asks. “We’re under threat of a hostile takeover.”

“Eh. We’ll be fine. You act as if he’ll shut down our project here.”

“And the people upstairs? People’s lives are in danger here, Haruka.”

“You act as if we know anyone upstairs. We rarely spend time up there.” Haruka stacks some files up as she looks in to get another peak at the infected’s blood. “Don’t you find it strange how their blood is black.”

“Don’t you think we should try to do something?”

“About the blood?”

“No. About….the whole hostile takeover thing.”

“What are we going to do up there?” Haruka can’t help but laugh at the stupid suggestion. “If we wanna help, everything we need is down here.”

“What if that dude attacks the mall? What if, God forbid, he destroys this place. What then?”

“That’s not gonna happen.”

“But--what if it does? I mean, if he does, we won’t have this lab to do any research. Our research wouldn’t matter. Everything would be...gone.”

“I suppose it would.” Haruka scratches her dirty head. “Which is why we need to work harder. The harder we work the faster we can find the answer to a cure, and with a cure, we can stop all this conflict and take out the infected. So lets go. Chop chop.”


“But...we’re in danger.”

“Not if we work on our research. Look, I’m sorry for all the people in danger, but this cure is all that matters.”

Sandra was dumbfounded how Haruka didn’t seem to care about the human life upstairs, or the fact that even their own lives were in danger. Was this cure all Haruka thought about? “Don’t you think….you are taking this….”

“What?”

“I don’t know. A bit far?”

“A bit far?” Haruka turned toward her nodding friend. “Do you not understand what we’re doing? We’re getting a cure. A cure to….that!” Haruka points over to the tied up infected woman, who still continues to moan out in pain. “We are trying to save the world from this disease!”

“I know but….”

“But what? There is no buts! We have to find the answers to this and that is that!” Haruka, with a furious attitude, turns her back on her beloved friend. “You wanna give up because it’s hard? Fine. Go. But I’m not going anywhere! I’m not a quitter! I’m not leaving until I have the answers in the palm of my hands!” Sandra thinks about what to say, or really, about what to do. Her friend has fallen so deep into this hole, but if Sandra calls her out on it, then Haruka would banish her from the lab. Still, if Sandra just let it go, then she would still have a friend.

Sandra looks up at Haruka, who continues to lose her sanity to this case, currently flipping through folders left and right. Sandra bites her lip, allowing the choices to pass her head.

Reluctantly, Sandra sighs and walks over to the table, where she too begins to look over the folders, much to Haruka’s pleasure.


What a day. What a long, long day. It was a day like this that will forever change the life of James. There was no going back. The people now looked to James to guide them to safety. The people looked to him as their savior. A daunting task, but one James was willing to take.

Luckily, the day has calmed down, slightly. He is no longer trying to appease scared, angry citizens. Instead, James sits in one of the empty stores with a small group of people by his side. Sitting in this room with him was Ethan, Sam, Reyes and Joel. A weird bunch, ain’t it? A lawyer, a cop, a med-school student, a foreign criminal and a residential criminal. These five people are sitting in a room, discussing how they are supposed to save the zone. Funny how people step up in dangerous times.

Each of them had a reason as to being there, however. James was the now non-official leader of the mall. Ethan was the man security person, with Reyes one of his partners who is in charge of supplies. Sam is both the medic and the people’s person, the one who James can trust to calm the people down. She also knows how to keep the supplies tidy. Then there sits Joel, the wild card of the Brady Bunch. James was reluctant to ask Joel for help due to some hard feelings, but Reyes pointed out one good fact: Joel was a professional criminal. He has worked against Ryker for years. He knows their tactics, their style, and most importantly, he knows how to play this game. When going up against a criminal why not get a criminal to help you? Fight fire with fire.

“This is quite the party here.” Joel points out with a smirk. “Is it not?”

“Shut it.” Ethan scratches his head with weariness. “You’re only here because we need you. Not because we want you.”

“Wow. I have feelings too, you know.” Joel smirks over to Ethan, who in a surprise twist of fate, doesn’t try to kill him, although he does sure as hell have to resist hitting him. Instead, Ethan turns over to Reyes.

“You sure we can trust him?”

Ethan’s question has Reyes hesitate for a brief moment, a moment that is noticed by both Joel and Ethan, but Reyes soon nods his head. “I trust him.” Reyes’s statement gives Joel a smirk, although it’s hard to tell if it’s genuine or if he’s mocking Ethan with it. “So, why are here?”

They each turn towards James, who sits casually in his seat. “We need to discuss how we’re gonna deal with Ryker and where we intend to train.”

“But why am I here?” Sam asks from her seat. “I’m not trained to fight or anything.”

“We all are going to play roles in the events that are coming. I lead these people, Ethan is among the most trained people here, Reyes knows how to organize tactics and plans, Joel is a criminal--”

Former criminal.”

“Joel is a criminal who knows how to combat Ryker’s men, and you are a grade A medical student and the people’s person. You know how to talk to and help people, Samantha, and that is why I called you here.” Sam nods at his reasoning while James turns towards the others. “So, you all are here to help me on what comes next. Any kind of input you have. Alright?” James takes their nods as a yes. “Now, first, we should discuss training.”

“How exactly do you want to train them?” Ethan questions. “Do you really want us to waste our ammo on training?”

“No, I suppose not. Can we send some guys into the city to get bb guns or pellets or something?”

“I can get some guys sent in, yeah.” Reyes confirms from his seat. “I know a few guys who--” Reyes’s input was shot down by the door slamming open. Each man turned to find none other than Walsh walking into the room like he owns the place (which he sort of does, actually).

“Are you people serious?” Walsh demands with anger as he walks up to them, his arms crossed and foot stomping, like an angry old lady. “Well, I’m waiting.”

“For what?” James asked his rival with clear annoyance on his face.

“An apology! Why was I not invited to this meeting?”

“Look, we don’t have time for this right now.” Ethan tries to tell him from his seat, to which Walsh stubbornly ignores him, instead fixating his glance onto James.

“You know why you weren’t invited here.” James tells him. “You’re no longer in charge.”

“Excuse me?! I founded this place!”

“And when we needed a leader you hid your ass.”

“So what? You humiliate me in front of everyone? Who do you think you are, Mr. Benjamin?”

“Not you. That’s for sure.”

“Jonathan,” Sam calls her former employer from her seat, “just leave. We can talk about this later.”

“You too? He got you into this ridiculous mindset?” Walsh actually seemed hurt that Sam was with James, as if he has just lost a friend. “This is absurd!”

“Just stop.” James tells the man. “Just stop. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“And how am I--”

“Look around, Jon.” Walsh looks around the room, taking note of the disapproving looks. “That image of yours, as some hero, is gone. It’s over.” Walsh remembers the looks he received earlier that day. The same as the ones he is receiving now. They disapprove of him. They think he is a coward. That’s all they see. A coward, a failure, and a nobody. The same looks he received his whole life. The same looks his father once gave him.

With nothing else to say, Walsh simply hangs his head and departs, outside into the crowd of people who surround him with the same damn looks. James watches as the man departs, but shows no concern nor sympathy, instead turning back to the others and continuing the offense plan.


“How you doing?” Michael expresses his concern for his daughter whilst sitting on the white, beautiful rooftop that is covered with a sheet of snow. Not as beautiful as the view, however. For as far as the eye could see a snowy sheet laid on top of the world, making it seem as if it was some winter wonderland. It only kept coming as light snow still fell from the skies. The snowflakes were hard to spot, but Sarah still kept her eyes at for them. Michael knew how much she loved the snow. It always fascinated her. How every snowflake was different than the other? Michael didn’t believe it but Sarah sure did. Hence why he took her up here. She needed to see something beautiful during this dark day.

Michael watches as Sarah takes a sip of her hot chocolate (made by Michael, which probably explains why it tastes so meh), as if she was reluctant to answer. “It’s okay to be afraid.” Michael tells her.

“Are you?”

“Of course.” Michael admits. “This is a dangerous man, Sarah. The kind of man that brings death.” Death was the worst enemy of Michael. A entity that has destroyed his life for many years. He is now back to see Sarah, Tate, James, and the whole mall. He couldn’t allow that to happen. “I haven’t been this scared in years.”

“And why are you scared?”

“For you.” Michael reaches over to grab his daughter’s hand. “I’m scared for what you’re going to witness. For what may happen.” Michael knew that the times ahead weren’t going to be simple, and as such, he knew that a young girl like Sarah would have to witness it. He didn’t want that for her. “How do you feel, Sarah?”

“I--I’m scared.” Sarah admits. “I don’t wanna die.”

“Hey, you’re not going to die. I’ll make sure of that. James will make sure of that. You are going to be safe.” The mention of James makes her even more scared, something Michael takes quick note of. “Are you scared for James?” Sarah nods. “Don’t be scared for him. Be proud of him. He’s stepping up to protect all of us. Your father is a hero.”

“I feel great knowing that he is being brave….but I don’t want him to. I know, it’s selfish, but I wish he didn’t step up. He has so much pressure on him now….and he’s in so much danger. What if that man wants to send a message and kills him?”

“That won’t happen.”

“But it could happen.” Sarah corrects him. “Heroes die. I don’t want him to be a hero, I want him to be my father.” It’s a statement that makes Michael feel awkward, but he understands. He understands that James is and will always be her father, no matter how close Sarah and him may get. It’s a tough understanding, but it’s one he has since come to accept. Which is why the following words are so hard to say.

“It won’t happen. I’ll make sure of it.” Michael informs her. “I’ll protect him.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.” It’s a hard promise, since James is in so much danger, but Michael will throw away his life if it means his daughter is safe and happy. “I will protect your father.”

“Thank you.” Sarah gives him a warm smile that melts Michael’s heart. She soon rests her head against Michael’s shoulder, which makes him even more warm inside. Here they are. A father and daughter sitting with each other in the snow, happy and drinking hot chocolate. A small thing but a memory Michael always wanted. “I have something else to admit.”

“And what’s that?”

“I threw the banana.”

“The one thrown at Walsh?”

“Yeah.” Sarah’s mischievous smile has Michael let out a long, energetic laugh. Oh, he wishes he saw the sight of Sarah throwing a banana at that fucker. “He had it coming.”

“That he did. A banana, though.”

“It was the closest thing near me.”

“Why was a banana near you?”

“It was my breakfast.”

“Wait, you threw a half-eaten banana at his face? With all your germs and spit?”

“Pretty much.”

“That is the probably among the best things I’ve heard all day. My daughter the banana thrower.”

“Bad guys beware.”

“Damn straight!” Michael finishes up his laugh whilst he looks out into the snowy wasteland once more, while Sarah’s chuckle died off, until the only noise left was that of the harsh wind brushing up against the snow. “I ever tell you about my first date with your mother?”

“No.”

“Well, it was back in 1997. We were both thirteen. Young and stupid. Well, I was young and stupid anyway. So, anyways, I have been interested in your mother for some time now. I may have only been a dumbass kid but, Christ, I could have swore that I saw the face of an angel the first time I saw her. Anyways, so after my friends busted my bollocks, I finally asked her out on a date. I didn’t expect her to say yes because, while I was incredible awesome, she was always focused on her education. So imagine my surprise when she said yes.”

“Now, figuring out a date was hard. I was thirteen, I knew shit about romance. So I went to Zoey’s friends for help. Her one friend, Haley, helped me plan out all the details. I was gonna take her to the movies and then walk through the park with her. Simple. But then it snowed. This big bloody snowstorm came in the night before. At first I thought ‘shit, I guess we gotta cancel’. However, I used the snow to my advantage. I took her out to dinner, as planned, but it was during the walk through the park when things changed.”

“So here we are, two teens, walking through this park, that honestly looked like a cloud with all this snow. And then, I took the most dangerous risk ever in my life. I grabbed a snowball and threw it at her. This sucker hit her dead in the face. I thought I was screwed, but then…..then your mother, you’re beautiful mother, pushed my arse into the snow. Just like that began the best date ever. We had snowball fights, we made snow angels, hell I think we even made a snowman. At one point we rode on opposite sides of the swings and chucked snowballs at each other! We were like kids on a playdate.” Sarah can’t help but smile as she watches Michael tell this story so enthusiastic and emotionally, as if this was one of the highlights of his life.

“And then,” Michael continues, “as we were walking home, we stopped underneath this street light. With a light on top us, and snow surrounding us, your mother grabbed my hands and said this was the best night of her life. Then she kissed me. Your mother was my first kiss and….man, was it such a rush. I still remember how my blood heated, my heart warmed, and I felt all tingly inside. The taste? Man, her lips tasted like a mixture of cherry and snow. Like...like a milkshake, I guess.” Michael gives a chuckle at his last statement as he continues to smile at this memory. “Still one of the best nights of my life. Well, sorry for boring you. I get this story might have been random but…I don’t know. Just seeing the snow fall just made me remember, I guess.”

“Don’t apologize.” Sarah tells him. “It was a great story.”

“Really? I thought you might have thought it was a bit cliched.”

“No. It was really nice.”

“Good.” With a heavy breath, Michael lays down atop the roof, using the snow as a pillow for his head, while Sarah still sits up, looking out into the snowy landscape. In fact, she was sort of jealous. She’s fifteen and nothing like that has ever happened to her, yet it happened to her mother when she was thirteen. Why what was so different between Sarah and her mother? Why wasn’t Sarah as good as her? These questions cross her mind, but she quickly shakes those thoughts away. Now wasn’t the time to deal with her self esteem issues.

Her thoughts are interrupted when the door opens behind them. Sarah turns around to see James walking up, although not in the best shape. He’s tired, more than he will admit, and Sarah can see the stress sweating off of him. She only hoped that James wouldn’t isolate himself, as he usually does during these kinds of tasks.

James takes a seat next to Sarah with a smile on his face, although Sarah couldn’t tell if it was genuine or he was faking it to make her feel better. “Hey sweety.” James kisses her forehead while Michael sits up. “Mike.”

“James.” Michael nods at his rival. “Good job today.”

“You gotta do what you gotta do.” James shrugs while turning to Sarah. “How are you?”

“I’m okay.” Sarah lies, and while Michael was tempted to tell James otherwise, he decided to hold it in for whenever Sarah wanted to speak about it. “How are you?”

“I’m….me.” James didn’t know how to put his feelings on the matter, besides knowing the amount of danger it will bring to himself. Feelings wise he feels the same. “I’m just happy your safe.”

Sarah nods whilst she bites her lip. Michael, who continues to sit next to Sarah, looks over to James. “So what’s going down with Ryker?”

Before James could put in any input, Sarah spoke up first. “We’re going to kill them, right?” Sarah’s remarks caught both her fathers off guard, as they always saw Sarah as the one to avoid violence. “I mean, that’s the right thing to do, right?”

“Yes, honey, we are going to kill them..” James starts off his sentence whilst cuts in to finish him off. “Even though we don’t want too.”

“I was getting there.” James points to Michael, who simply shrugs with one of his many smirks. “But, yes, Sarah. You should never want to kill someone, nor should you ever have to, but there are moments where you have to and this is one of those moments.”

“Because that man is a bad man.” Michael joins in. “A very bad man.”

“Yes he is.” James confirms Michael’s point. “If we don’t do something than a lot more people are going to get hurt.”

“I know, guys.” Sarah smirks. “I’m not a kid. I understand all of this.”

“Oh. Alright, then. Good, good.” James smiles as he nudges Sarah in the arm. “I guess that saves us a talk.”

“Indeed it does.” Michael chimes once again. “Well, it’s getting really cold and gonna be dark soon, so I guess I’ll head out.”

“I say we head down too.” James says to Sarah, who nods in agreement. The three each stand to their feet and wipe the snow off their bodies. Turning to leave, Sarah takes the lead, but instead of immediately joining her, James grabs Michael by the shoulder. “We need to talk.”

“About what?”

“About what may happen.” Michael can immediately guess to what James means. “I have stepped up today in a way that puts my life on the line.”

‘What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know what is going to happen, but if it something were to happen to me, I need you to promise me one thing.” Making sure that Sarah isn’t in hearable distance, James proceeds to whisper in such a voice that Sarah couldn't hear him. “If something happens, I need you to get Sarah and get the hell out of here.”

“Leave? You want me to just abandon--”

“Yes I do.” James interrupts him. “Sarah needs to be safe. She needs to survive. I made an oath to the people here, and as such, I can’t leave. But you two can. So, if worse comes to worse, I need you to leave with her. Get her as far away as here as possible. Understand?”

“Yeah, man. I understand.” Michael nods in agreement to the promise. It was hard to believe that James would ask Michael for help. Even more hard to believe he trusted Michael with Sarah. It felt sort of good actually.

With nothing else to say James simply pats Michael on the back before departing, leaving Michael alone to think about this promise, along with it’s many questions. Where will he take her? How will she react? Should he take Tate? So many questions and he doesn’t even know how long he has to think about them.


It has been one hell of a day. Hell, the past two days have been crazy. Yesterday she saves the lives of two kids, and today, she fought against her would be killers and escaped into the city, only to be saved by a nice young man and brought this zone. Unfortunately, Haley arrived at a bad time, as it turns out, Ryker was threatening to take over the mall. Just her luck. What a lovely-fucking-day.

The mall was nice, sure, but she couldn’t stay. She didn’t plan on staying long before she knew Ryker was there, but now that she does know he is coming, it just gives her more the reason to get the hell out. She’ll sleep here for the next few days, maybe gather up some supplies, before sneaking out like nothing ever happened. She probably couldn’t stay in Philadelphia anymore, which of course meant she had to leave. She definitely wanted to stay in a city. Just a matter of which city. New York? Maybe.

As these thoughts cross her mind, the bartender finally arrives with the glass of Haley’s choice of beer. “Look like you had a long day.” The bartender points out whilst sliding Haley the drink, to which she chuckles.

“Long as hell.” Haley chuckles before taking a good gulp of her alcohol. “Nothing a good drink can’t wash away.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” The bartender laughs. “Ain’t nothing a good beer can’t wash away.”

“Exactly my reasoning.” Haley swiftly sips at her glass, whilst the bartender moves onto another customer. This allows Haley to go back to her inner thinking. After what she did she wouldn’t be shocked if Ryker sent men to chase after her. Ryker always was over-dramatic, so who fucking knew.

Taking another sip of her drink, Haley took note of the man who sat in the seat next to her, ordering not an alcoholic drink but instead a Coca Cola. “You came to a bar just to order a soda?” Haley asks the man, Michael, who simply laughs.

“Sounds bat shit crazy, don’t it, love?” Michael laughs it off.

“Damn straight it does.”

“What can I say? I love the scenery!”

“It is pretty good, ain’t it?” Haley goes back to her drink, but as fate would have it, it appears Michael wasn’t done with her. He continued to look at her for another moment, trying to remember where he saw her from, until it finally came back to him.

“Haley? Haley LaFontaine?” Michael finally asks, to which Haley turns towards him, confused as to who he is. “It’s me. Michael Nicholson.”

“Asshat Mikey?!”

“That’s the one!” Upon Michael’s statement, the two smile widely and quickly give each other a warm, big embrace as if they were old friends. “I almost didn’t recognize you there.”

“Same for you, asshat. You’re facebook picture looks completely different from you.”

“I didn’t have a facebook.”

“Then which Michael Nicholson was I friends with?”

“You know another Michael Nicholson?”

“No. I thought it was you.”

“Wasn’t me.”

“Really?”

“Fucking serious.”

“Damn. Oh well, imposter’s probably dead.”

“Better be. There can only one be one Michael Nicholson.”

“Of course, and he has to be Asshat Mikey.”

“Absobloodylutely. Arsehat Mikey is the best Mikey.”

“Abso-fucking-lutely. Good to see you still say asshat wrong, too.” Haley and Michael cheer their two glasses together before taking their respective, refreshing sips. “How you been. It’s been years.”

“I don’t think you wanna know how I’ve been. So, I think we’re better off asking how you been doing.”

“I been doing good. Graduated school as the third in my class. Got a degree in game design.”

“Nice. Where from?”

“Academy of Art University. It’s over in San Francisco.”

“And how was the California life?”

“To hot, to many fires and to many earthquakes for my tastes. Although, I’m sure you would love the beaches.”

“As am I.” Michael gives her a little mischievous smirk, to which she only rolls her eyes with a smile. “So how was the college experience? Better than high school?”

“I don’t know. I stayed in my room and played video games for half of it. So, naturally, I didn’t have that many friends.”

“How could someone like you not have any friends?”

“I guess California is just full of squares.”

“So Philly better?”

“Hell yeah.”

“That’s what I like to hear, love.” Michael takes a sip of his coke, although, he keeps his eyes on Haley the whole time. In fact, Michael is actually staring into her eyes and not her strawberry creams. “So how long has it been since we’ve seen each other?”

“High school, I believe. At least not since...you know.” Haley doesn’t want to bring up the incident in question, so instead she just goes around it. “Had to have been high school.” Haley and Michael went to the same high school back in the day and were introduced by Zoey. Despite being a grade below them, Haley was always pretty good friends with the pair. After the incident Haley hasn’t seen Michael, and so naturally, she forgot about him. Strange, considering they were practically neighbors growing up.

“And what a long time ago that was.”

“Hush now, we don’t talk about that. We’re still twenty one.”

“Ah, don’t we wish it.”

Haley smiles at him, but that smile soon turns fragile as a question pops into her mind. “So...is Sarah here?”

“Yeah. She’s here safe and sound. In fact I was just with her not even ten minutes ago.”

“That’s great. God, she was the cutest baby.”

“You remember her?”

“Of course I do! Don’t you remember the times when Zoey and me took her out?”

“I try to forgot.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that bad.”

“Do you forgot the Burger King story?” The mere mention of it has both of them laughing once more.

“I didn’t know how to change the diaper!”

“All you gotta do is unwrap it and wipe.”

“I didn’t know! Zoey tried helping me but she was stuck in the stall taking a shit, so it was up to me. I still remember Zoey was screaming the correct way to do it at me, but I couldn’t do it. So we started yelling at each other through the stall door and this poor grandma felt so awkward.”

“I would be too.” Michael laughs. “Do you remember the time we uh….who was it…”

“The time we egged Mr. Bolton’s car?”

“Yes! That was it. That had to be one of the best memories of high school right there.”

“I think the way he nearly had a heart attack after seeing it was even better!”

“Oh Lordy, yes! That wanker nearly fell over dead.”

“Know what?”

“What?”

“I say we propose a toast!” Haley grabs her glass off the table to lift it high into the air, with Michael soon following. “Fuck Mr. Bolton!” Haley shouts the phrase, with Michael following soon after. That teacher was the definition of asshole.

Jugging down his coke, Michael watches as Haley finishers her beer with a smile. However, as he does this, the thought of Ryker comes back to him. He had briefly forgot about him due to all the fun he is having with his former friend, but with Ryker back in his head, he realizes that another person he loves is now on the line. “So what’s your take on this whole Ryker situation?”

“You know me, Mikey. I’m fine. You?”

“Not to good, I’d say.”

“Scared?”

“For me? No. I’m fine with death. It’s when death comes to others I get scared.” Haley takes the appropriate guess that he means Sarah.

“She’ll be fine. She has you. John?”

“James.”

“James. You, James, this whole set-up.” Haley reassures him. “She’ll be fine.” Well, it’s official. Her thoughts on leaving have been halted. She may be fucking terrified about what may happen if Ryker catches her, but there is no way she could live with herself if she allowed her best friend’s lover and daughter to die. “That dude may act it, but Ryker ain’t that tough.”

“Really? Have you kicked his arse before?”

“You shitting me? I own his ass.” The two people smirk while Michael orders another round of coke and beer for the two.

“Well, with that said, I propose another toast.”

“To?” Haley questions as Michael hands her the cold, tasteful beer.

“I propose that we toast to the idea that one day the world won’t be so fucked up.”

“Amen to that.” Lifting her arm, Haley bumps her glass to Michael’s, signifying the toast to a dream world where the world won’t be fucked. A world that wasn’t filled with infected, dictators, serial killers, rapist, and whatever else is out there fucking up the world.

Amen to that.

Issues of Endangered
Arc 1
Volume 1

1 - Ruined 2 - Father of the Year 3 - Party Girl 4 - It's Been Over 5 - One Wrong Move 6 - Lost 7 - Reporter 8 - Lost and Found 9 - Talk 10 - Brown 11 - Confront 12 - Calm Before the Storm

Arc 2
Volume 2

13 - Chaos 14 - Old Friends, New Enemies 15 - State of Emergency 16 - Just Watch the Sunset 17 - Trust is Weakness 18 - The Riots are the Worst 19 - The Riots are the Worst, Part 2 20 - Not Even the Apocalypse Can Stop Us from Shopping 21 - The Sixth Sense 22 - A Game of What If? 23 - Pain is the Alpha and Omega for Addiction 24 - You Can Never Change

Volume 3

25 - It Not a Small World After-All 26 - Ghosts From the Past and the Demons That Follow 27 - The Coward, The Opportunist, and the New World 28 - Surrounded by the Unseen Foe 29 - Lost Souls 30 - City of Brotherly Love 31 - The Truth Will Set You Free 32 - A Sacrifice of Blood 33 - This Isn't a Video Game 34 - P.T.S.D 35 - A Helping Hand 36 - No Mercy

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