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April

1.5 years after the apocalypse


A dead man stood between Zelda and the entrance to the Midtown Crossing apartments. At least, she thought he was dead; it was sometimes hard to tell with the fresh ones.

"Move," Kaede hissed, grabbing her wrist and tugging her into the alley.

Once out of sight, Kaede let her go and held a finger to her lips. While she checked the alley for Rotters, Zelda crouched, pressing her back against the brick wall and tried to catch her breath.

A moment later, Kaede dropped into a squat next to her. They were alone. For now.

Time to play a game.

Zelda motioned she was going to look again, and the other girl nodded.

Walking corpse or traumatized survivor?

The guy was tall—probably 6 foot, and he was close enough that she could read the script on his faded tie-dye T-shirt. Grateful Dead, it said. She snorted and immediately regretted it when he paused and cocked his head in her direction.

She hurried to finish her inspection. Her eyes skimmed down to his left leg, where a flash of white bone peeked through his torn-up flesh as he moved. She squinted. It could have been teeth that ripped into his skin, or he might have gotten tangled up in scrap metal. Either way, no one living would walk around with that kind of wound. This guy was a Rotter, and they wouldn't be getting past him without a fight.

She ducked behind the wall to relay the information to Kaede, but she was no longer there.

Zelda's breath caught in her throat as she scanned the alley for any sign of her partner. There was no trace of her.

Where the hell did she go? They were supposed to work as a team. That meant sticking together and watching each other's backs.

Out in the street, she could hear the man shuffling closer to her hiding spot, and then something else. A gentle swoosh like sandpaper over wood. It was a sound that haunted her nightmares. Scales over cement.

Dragon.

It was there, and then gone. So fast, Zelda thought she might have imagined it. She stood and adjusted her grip on her weapon, listening hard. If there was a dragon in the area, she needed to get out of there. Her pipe would be no match for the beast.

Seconds passed, but no other noises came.

Alright, one thing at a time. Finding Kaede would have to wait. She needed to deal with Mr. Grateful first.

Zelda tapped her broken piece of pipe against the concrete, letting its metallic ring fill the alley. Come to me, it said. Come a bit closer. Your meal is waiting.

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