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94 Chapter Ninety Three - New People Bring New Troubles

    The ground rumbled beneath their feet and a small grey green nose poked out from the crumbling soil, followed by a hairless, blind head with rotted, black teeth.  It sensed a living form and hissed before attempting to dive back into its hole.  However, the long metal blade of a sword pierced into its fragile skull, killing it then drawing its ugly corpse from the earth.

    It wasn't known when these undead moles had burrowed into their garden, only that they were somewhat harmless compared to other zombies.  They weren't so interested in living flesh and blood seeking instead rotting corpses within and above the ground to feed upon.  Generally, the survivors burned any undead that they killed out and within their walls and nothing, not even bone, could escape Ren Zexian's vicious flames.  However, that which fell foul of the mutant vines were not necessarily treated the same way, not to mention that the survivors had only buried the inedible offal from the giant boar-pig that time.  It was suspected that this had caught the scavenging moles attention.

    The corpse was tossed onto the pile of its brethren, its skin suddenly shrinking, wrinkling like the skin of an apple left too long beneath the sun.  Chang Min tapped the ground with his foot sending minute tremors through the soil before glancing back up at his Master.

    "I believe that was the last one," he advised the other man, who sighed before revealing a relieved smile.  Even for a cultivator with his inner fire, the weather seemed too hot this day.

    Ren Zexian nodded to Chang Min, who hurried to grab a drink of water to quench his thirst as his master added to the heated atmosphere with a obsidian bonfire.  Sweat beaded on his brow as he watched the corpse pile burn to cinders before dismissing the fire and retreating into the slightly cooler space within the first property.  Large bowls of ice appeared were dotted around the large reception room to further bring down the temperature, Tyler would refreeze the water whenever it melted too much and several bodies congregated to enjoy the substitute air cooling system.

    Nathan hurried to his side with an originally empty glass which began to fill as he did so.  Ren Zexian took it from his hands, gratefully.  His beloved would not usually join a gathering such as this which went to offer yet another reminder of just how unbearable the temperature had become.

    Many of the windows within the greenhouse were open, allowing the hot air to escape, while shade had been provided for the sheep as well as constant fresh water.  The chicken's pen had been expanded to allow most of them to freely roam beneath shade.   The mothers had to make do with melting ice in the corner furthest from their nests as well as an adjusted door, the top half open to allow fresh air to circulate.

    Those having to watch the wall were cycled out every half an hour to refreshen up with drinks or beneath a make shift shower, the water provided by the soldier, Luke.  None of the patrollers on the day shift were having an easy time of it.  From the kitchen came chilled cucumber and herb soup, fruit salad made with a mix of berries and melon, topped with toasted melon seeds and a little cream skimmed from the sheep's milk and combined with a hint of mint.  With all dishes having been cooled slightly within ice, they were especially refreshing.

    As the afternoon progressed, a breeze began to pick up speed providing a little more relief and as those on patrol savoured it, they noticed movement upon the road; the allied squad had returned.  They were not alone.

    Amongst the increasingly familiar faces of the soldiers in the squad and not far away from Patrick and Cole were a mix of eight men, women and children.  They looked tired with varying levels of dispair within their eyes, tear stains marred the girl-child's cheeks and the eldest woman's long skirt was torn.

    The squad's commander, Rhodes, looked sheepish, scratching his neck as he gave Dexter a run down on what they had encountered out there.  These people were survivors from a small fallen base little over an hour away by road.

    "We'd been checking out some fields further north; it's not like we had the space to store all of last year's harvest after we stripped the local fields bare, we had to abandon some," he stated.

    This had been their mission, as well as searching houses in the town and villages along the way.  It had been a lengthy journey spanning a few days with mixed results.  For instance, they found a practically untouched village, with a few weak zombies still trapped in their abodes with tins and packaged food still surprisingly intact, a bit was even in date.  The town had clearly been a target of survivors, doors torn off hinges or smashed in and left to the elements, cupboard doors broken and the front window glass shattered as shops had been vandalised and pillaged.  But the worst thing was that the majority of the plants in the fields had mutated.

    "At the last tiny village we got to, we called it a night with plans to return home.  But as the sun began to set, we suddenly heard the cries of people as well as the screams."

    Surprisingly, in the middle of one of those mutated fields was a garden nursery, large connected buildings of both brick and glass.  In the latter, before the end, used to be a massive variety of pot plants, flowers, shrubs and even edible plants, all for purchase for gardens, while in the brick buildings pots, soil and seeds were sold and stored.  There was even a small cafe with its own kitchenette.  Naturally, this place made quite the base in a world where plants could turn into monsters if left outside and zombies were generally concentrated where once populations of the living had been.  Of course, it can't be stated to be the most secure place, but at first, wandering zombies were few and weak, the roof prevented birds from getting in and then the fields of mutated plants actually protected them even more.

    They quietly lived and farmed in this group of buildings after gathering from abandoned villages and farmhouses close by.  But their luck did not hold forever.

    "They were attacked by a large group of zombies, which seemed to be led by one with ash black skin and another with no jaw.  The mutant plants were burned down or otherwise pacified.  They were surrounded in all directions and the zombies threw rocks or themselves at the glass until it began to break.  Some fought, some took refuge in more secure spaces, one group, who were injured in the fight tried to lead the majority of the zombies away.  There would have been no hope at all for any of them had the sun not risen and the majority suddenly upped sticks and left."

    Out of more than five hundred people, only sixty odd survived that attack.  Seizing the chance once the sun was past the highest point in the sky, the remaining people fled from their fallen base, but the wandering zombies did not make it easy for them.  Worse, the mutant plants that had not been set on fire to burn that night once more came to life to claim new nutrients for themselves.  The people could only run, fight and pray.  They arrived at the village chased by a pack of mutant foxes, who caught an older man in their hunt before the soldiers shot them down in an attempt to save him.  Unfortunately, he took his last breath before they could reach him.

    Now only thirty nine survivors lived.

    They had watched friends and family, people they had grown close to and supported while in turn being supported, bitten and consumed by undead zombies, torn apart and dissolved by mutant plants and hunted to death by ravenous beasts.  It was no wonder they were weary to the core of their souls.

    "We travelled back with them, taking the majority to the base.  It was just this family wanted to stay together, but the base couldn't ensure that was possible.  We just don't have the space for such a large group."

    In truth, the group could have split up a bit.  As far as blood relations were concerned, there was an adult man in his twenties and his teenaged nephew, an adult woman, her twin brother and his two young children, then another man, who looked about thirty and his middle aged mother.  That last man also happened to be distantly related to the twin brother and sister, while the first man had developed an intimate relationship with the sister over the last year and they didn't want to be apart.

    Dexter frowned glancing over at the cousin and his mother, guessing that theirs was less a reliant relationship due to blood, but that the brother and sister were tall pillars to lean on.  Sure enough, the brother revealed that he had joint fire and lightning abilities, while the boyfriend's nephew could produce water.

    "No!"

    All three and a half feet of blond princess upon the back of her loyal black hound pointed at the cousin and his mother with defiance.  Aslan growled viciously, causing the smallest of the three children to burst into tears.  The brother hushed the toddler in his arms, whispering softly in an attempt to comfort him.

    The other man and middle-aged relative looked startled then glanced at each other, before the woman fell to her knees dramatically and began to weep loudly.  The man bent his back and cautiously sidled forward.  "Could it be," he said with a wheedling, saddened tone, "my June actually survived?"

    Dexter's hands curled into fists, his heart suddenly furious, yet at the same time sore as they commanded more and more attention from those around them, while they staked their claims.

    "Praise be to God!" The woman wailed and shuffled closer to little Lucy, opening out her arms as if to embrace her.

    Aslan did not allow her to get any closer to his ward and did not quieten his growls.
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