Once Waylon got the women calmed down enough to tell him what happened, he couldn’t stand by while the creatures ran off with their kids. It didn’t matter that he’d never met them and would likely never see them again, even if they ever got out of Sanctuary alive, he just couldn’t walk away from their pain and the knowledge that these things had their children, for whatever purpose. Morrison and Alejandro, who had joined him when they heard the commotion, quickly decided to assemble their teams while Waylon gathered anyone in his group who wanted to come along. They were to meet at the forward staging area, near the front gates of Sanctuary.
After Waylon explained the situation, and made it known that he would be going even if he had to go alone, Bryce, Trip, Mike, Alison, Brooke, and Caitlin decided to join Waylon. The remainder of the group, along with several of Morrison’s men, would stay behind and guard Kimmy and Samantha. At the forward staging area, Morrison handed out Kevlar vests, extra ammunition, and night vision sets to everyone. In addition to Waylon’s group and Alejandro’s team, Morrison would be bringing about sixteen of his men, along with six Unimed dogs and their handlers. Also, another resident of Sanctuary, a self-proclaimed “survivalist” from the nearby countryside who claimed himself to be an experienced tracker, had overheard the plans and decided to join them. Once outside the gates, they would split into three teams, and begin a search for the missing children.
Outside the gates, in the deserted urban canyons of Fort Smith, the three teams split up and left the relative safety of Sanctuary behind. Alejandro’s team and two dogs and handlers set off in one direction, A group of Morrison’s men, also with two dogs and handlers, took another direction, and Waylon, Bryce, Trip, Mike, Alison, Brooke, Caitlin, the survivalist, Morrison, and the final pair of dogs and handlers took yet another direction.
It wasn’t long before the tracker spotted a child’s shoe that looked recently dropped. The dogs picked up the scent and, within a couple of blocks, another shoe was found. It went on like that for quite a few blocks. The group followed a spotty “breadcrumb trail” of children’s clothing and personal effects, while the night vision goggles revealed groups of the huge creatures who had attacked Sanctuary, the things Morrison called Ragers, trailing them along the roof tops. Waylon marveled at the intelligence of the children, to leave such a clever trail for them to follow. Bryce marveled at the intelligence of the creatures, to lure them into such a clever trap.
After quite a few more blocks and dropped items, the trail seemed to end near an open manhole cover near a burned out McDonald’s. As the group approached the opening, the creatures were suddenly everywhere. The fast undead poured out of nearby alleys and side streets, while the huge Ragers leapt down from nearby rooftops. Their first thought was to seek safety in the open manhole, but the night vision goggles revealed the sewer below to be filled with the fast undead, waiting for something tasty to drop through the opening above.
The group was far too spread out to make effective use of tactics. Several individuals or small groups were cut off by the dozens of creatures who had converged on the group, affirming Bryce’s suspicions that they were being led into a trap. Each of them fought bravely. Bryce was a dervish of hands and feet, as his martial arts training took over. He took out several of the things on his own, but suffered several wounds from the crushing fists and claws. Trip threw his Molotov cocktails into the sewer opening to keep the things down there from climbing the ladder and joining the fray. He also tried to keep as many of the things back as he could with his flaming cocktails. Alison ran for the cover of the nearby building fronts and from there, picked her targets and rushed in with her fire axe, still the one from the cruise ship, to inflict as much damage as possible. She was also wounded in the fierce fight. Morrison, along with Mike and Caitlin, used their guns to great effect, pouring round after round into the things, killing many. Several of the Ragers converged on Caitlin and cut her off, wounding her as well. One of the dogs was overwhelmed with the things, as was his handler. Waylon blasted away with his shotgun, trying to keep the area around him clear of the things. The fighting was worst in the rear of the group, where a large number of the Ragers cut off their means of escape. Brooke was there, not far from Caitlin, and blasted away with her 9mm pistol, until the things overran her position. The battle was looking desperate, and likely would have been lost, if not for the team of Morrison’s men who responded to the sounds of battle, and formed a firing line as they approached the rear of the combat, advancing as they fired.
Morrison’s men advanced, firing into the mass of creatures at the group’s rear. An errant shot took out the remaining dog handler. As they advanced, they saw Brooke go down under the blows of a pair of the Ragers. They took them down, but too late. As the group and their rescuers mopped up the remaining creatures and began assessing their casualties, they approached where Brooke had been and lifted the two huge carcasses off her motionless form. Morrison’s men almost gave her a mercy headshot , but the groups yells to hold their fire gave them enough pause to stop them. They weren’t sure if Brooke was alive or dead, so Trip scouted around for a nearby car that could be made serviceable enough to get her body back to Sanctuary, and to Fabiana. If she was alive, she was going to need a lot of medical attention. Her once-beautiful body was crushed and mangled by the terrible fists and claws. Even if she was dead, Fabiana would want to use her suspected immunity to help in her quest for a vaccine. Brooke was loaded into the back of the car Trip found and the tracker, along with several of Morrison’s men, sped away, back towards Sanctuary.
After treating the other wounded, the group’s rescuers told Morrison and the others about how they had seen a group of the horrid creatures disappear into the ruins of a florist shop a few blocks away. Several of them were carrying the missing children, and the men could hear their cries, as the things carried them through a hole in the floor and leapt into the darkened sewer tunnels below. After regrouping with Alejandro’s team, they converged on the shop and found a gaping hole in the floor where the things had disappeared. With the night vision, they could see that the tunnel floor was almost forty feet below. They once again divided into teams and started looking for things they could use to climb, along with alternate entrances into the sewers nearby.
Alejandro’s team found a manhole about a half-block away, but nobody liked the idea of being attacked while climbing down a ladder in a narrow hole. Waylon and Trip found an industrial laundry, and gathered several laundry carts filled with sheets. They brought these back to the flower shop and began tying them together to form a makeshift ladder to the tunnel floor below.
The hole in the shop floor was wide enough to give those above a field of fire to cover those climbing down or in the tunnels below. Waylon tied off one of the laundry carts and lowered it to the floor first, with the remaining Unimed dog and their heavier gear. Then, the group began climbing down, leaving Trip and several of Morrison’s men at the top and bottom of the access point to keep secure the exit in case of a retreat. Unfortunately, there was some trial and error with the makeshift sheet ladder, and several were injured in falls to the tunnel floor.
Once the group was assembled in the sewers once again, Mike moved to the front of the group, staying well ahead of everyone else. He could hear the cries of the children echoing through the dark, dripping labyrinth of passages ahead. He was quiet, and a decent tracker, so he stayed well ahead of the others, and guided them forward through hand signals.
After what seemed like an eternity in the damp, dark tunnels, Mike rounded a bend in the tunnel and came to a stop. Ahead of him, in a sewer junction chamber, dozens of the creatures were gathered. They were just standing there, swaying in that near-trance state they had seen a couple of times lately. There were the familiar Shamblers, along with the Fast undead, and a number of the Ragers as well. On one side of the room stood a group of children, some of whom Mike had met first in these same sewers only a few days ago. One of them was Brandon, the grandson of Breckenridge, and seemingly the leader of these children who appeared to be allied with the living dead. As he watched, one of the children missing from Sanctuary stood from behind some pump mechanism in the chamber. He was covered in blood and filth and had obviously risen as one of the walking dead. They were killing the children.
Mike moved silently back to the main group and told him what he had seen in that chamber of horrors up ahead. The group devised a plan to let Waylon walk up, as non-threatening as possible, and try to talk to Brandon and the other children, who seemed to be in charge of the scene. He would try to determine if any of the children were alive, and try to negotiate with Breckenridge’s grandson. When, not if, things turned sour, Waylon would lead anything that attacked him back around the bend in the tunnel to a choke point. As soon as he gave the okay, Waylon would hit the deck and the front rank would open fire. Neil Russell, one of Alejandro’s men, set up a Barrett .50 on its mount in the tunnel. When the front rank needed to reload, they would move back behind the second rank, who would also open fire. When that rank needed to reload, the third rank, consisting of close-quarters fighters like Bryce, Alison, Terry, and Chinelo, would move forward and clean up the remaining resistance. With the plan ready, Waylon moved forward.
Waylon approached the room and addressed Brandon, asking him to let the kids from Sanctuary go. Brandon started talking craziness about the dead being the future of the world and that the kids were now beyond their pain and suffering. As he finished his crazy-talk, the things moved forward to attack, with the fast ones in the lead. Waylon backed up toward the choke point, and the plan started to go into action.
It has been said that the first casualty of battle is the plan, and that proved to be the case here in the tunnels under Fort Smith. First, Neil opened up with the Barrett before Waylon could hit the deck, deafening him, and the others, in the narrow confines of the sewer tunnel. The huge shells tore into the front ranks of the undead, but their passage nearly ripped Waylon off his feet. With no hearing, no equilibrium, and with his head on fire, Waylon was helpless as the things advanced on him.
Bryce, fearing for Waylon’s safety, jumped out ahead of his rank of close-quarters fighters and moved up to form a new line on Waylon’s position. They could no longer hear anything, not even the dozens of shots whizzing by them, or the booming of Waylon’s shotgun as he fired wildly, just trying to keep them off him. As Waylon moved back, trying to stick to the plan, Bryce held his ground, trying to give Waylon time to get safely behind the now retreating firing line. When Waylon, now behind the firing line, realized that Bryce was still out there, he rushed back out, barely on his feet, his vision swimming, and tried to drag Bryce back into position before the plan fell apart and they were overrun. Instead, Bryce resisted. Waylon, unwilling to let him die alone, stayed behind.
In a blur of bodies, teeth, and claws, the things were surging around Bryce and Waylon. The remaining Unimed dog gave its life defending them, and finally Bryce realized what was happening and moved back into position, Waylon beside him, just as the wave broke on the choke point.
The chaos in that tunnel of death was maddening. Flashes of silent gunfire lit up the night vision incessantly as waves of the creatures hit the front line at the choke point and broke. The mound of bodies soon became an obstacle itself. One of Alejandro’s team, Dallas, went down under the claws of one of the Ragers. Caitlin was hit by “friendly fire” from somewhere behind her. Suddenly, the tide seemed to turn.
One second, the choke point was all teeth and claws and huge bodies, and the next, it seemed the only things that remained were the Shamblers. These enemies were the known. They weren’t fast. They weren’t huge. They just shambled forward, teeth gnashing, trying to bite anything they could sink their teeth into. Also, they now seemed directionless. Sure enough, a quick glance into the junction room ahead revealed that Brandon and the other “sewer children” were gone. Bryce moved forward to clean up the remaining Shamblers, fists and feet flying, but he moved alone. Nobody else broke from the choke point. Bryce made it about seven or eight yards out before he was surrounded. He took several of the things down, as did bullets from the line behind him, but there were just too many of them. Eight or nine of the things surrounded him and brought him down, just a few yards short of a first down away from the rest of the group. They moved forward, several of Morrison’s men in the lead, because they it was their rotation in the firing line, but they couldn’t get there in time. As they moved forward and finished off the last of the walking dead, firing single shots into their brainpans to make sure they didn’t get back up, they came across Bryce’s body. He was ripped up pretty badly. He hadn’t become one of them yet, so Mike moved forward and put a bullet through his head. They found the bodies of the children in the junction room, those that hadn’t risen and joined the ranks of the undead yet, and gave them merciful head shots. Then, Dallas was checked and treated, he was still alive, at least, and the group began the solemn trek back to what was left of the world above.
To Be Continued…