Storm clouds covered the sky, lightning crackling in a spray of digital wonder, illuminating the forest. Three shadows were revealed darting through the trees. As thunder sounded and the lightning came again, one peeled away, taking his position. The others continued, hunting their target.
Carrion Carriall stopped, leaning on a tree as he caught his breath. His friend and fellow Hunter, Sasa, did likewise. Carrion jerked his head toward a clearing, got a nod in response. They crept closer, peering through the darkness and trees.
A mass of bodies swayed in the clearing, an occasional collective moan breaking the silence. It was the usual mob of zombies that accompanied their real targets, the Rogues. A single one would be nothing, but at least thirty milled about the open patch, shuffling in randomized paths. Clothes hung in tatters from their bodies. For the most part, they were plain enough. Undead Online didn't focus on the horror aspect of the zombies, preferring that the regulars, as most players called the randomly spawned zombies, remain cannon fodder. It gets scary enough, mind you, when you're trapped under a pile of them. But they weren't terrible to look at.
“I'm ready.” The voice came through perfectly clear over their comms application. Frosty, their sniper, was in position. Carrion and Sasa didn't know where, exactly, but it didn't matter. Frosty knew what he was doing.
“Got it.” Carrion replied. “What's the plan?”
“Kill things?” Sasa replied sarcastically, fumbling a cigarette from his pocket.
“Well, obviously. But I don't think you can just walk in there.” Carrion waved at the spear hanging from Sasa's back. Six feet long and ending in a brutally curved blade, it was the only weapon he used. Of course, it isn't the kind of weapon you want if you plan on fighting in the middle of that many enemies, even if they are only zombies.
“Yeah, yeah.” Sasa mumbled around the cylinder of tobacco. A cloud of smoke drifted into the air. “Fine. Usual thing?”
“Yeah, sounds good. Can you handle that many?” Carrion asked.
“Sure. Shooting's hard, kiting's easy.”
Carrion was tempted to point out that that wasn't true at all, but he didn't. “Whatever. Break in five.”
They took their positions just inside the line of trees. Carrion counted the seconds on his fingers.
On the third, lightning flashed.
On the fifth, the thunder struck, rumbling through the clearing as, with a hellbent scream, Sasa tore into the clearing.
Carrion had to admit, it was a pretty sight. Sasa handled the spear with ease, cleaving through one of the zombies with a single swing before spinning to bisect another. But then his presence washed over the mob and they turned toward him. They began their strange shuffle-walk, slowly ambling toward him before picking up speed. Sasa was forced to retreat, running away from Carrion, half the crowd following him while the other half remained in place. The lot of them disappeared into the trees. In just a few seconds, the number of zombies in the clearing had been halved.
“Going in.” He said to thin air, knowing Frosty and Sasa could hear him. No reply came, so he took it as a sign to start his run. He grabbed his MP5K submachine gun with its shorter barrel for more maneuverability and walked into the clearing, pulling the trigger in short bursts.
The gunfire was loud in his ears as his bullets tore into the remaining regulars. Blood sprayed from them as they fell, the fluid turning to sparkling pixels like water in sunlight. Dropping any zombie that came too close, he made it halfway through the clearing toward his target, a copse of trees where he knew the Rogue was waiting. The entire time, the boom of sniper-fire echoed through the trees as Frosty let loose, hitting zed head after zed head without a single miss. Carrion reached the middle of the clearing.
And a new wave of zombies ran from the copse, vectoring straight toward him. He brought his gun around, jamming his finger down on the trigger, a withering stream of bullets ripping into the crowd. But it took only a second for his gun to click dry.
“Fall back, Kerry. Get out of there!” Frosty shouted over the comms, his gunfire doubling as he tried to thin the crowd.
But there were just too many. Carrion spun in place, trying to find a way out. But the two groups of zombies had him sandwiched, and he had nowhere to go. He was still looking for escape when a zombie ran into him, throwing them both to the ground.
“Dammit!” Carrion shouted, slamming his fists into his attacker, trying to throw him off. But before he could even budge the zombie that was on him, the others were piling on. Desperate sniper fire echoed through the forest, but it didn't stop the horde. A dozen pairs of teeth scissored into him, pain flaring as a dull tingle across his entire body.
It took what seemed like an eternity, but seconds later the world of flailing limbs was replaced with darkness as Carrion Carriall died.
2034, The City
Kerry Ascher slapped the TruDive helmet off his head, his neck length brown hair flopping into his eyes. He let his head fall backward onto his bed as he groaned. His heart was still pounding with adrenaline as the visions of teeth biting into him slowly faded, game over never a fun experience.
He grabbed a chunky keyboard off the floor next to his bed, flicking the on button and selecting a name from a menu.
I'm so bad at this game. He typed in exasperation.
The reply took a second to filter in as his brother, Dallas, 'Frosty' in-game, thought-typed a response. still inside UO.
Gimme a sec. I got you.
Undead Online was a game with two main things to kill. You had the usual zombie fare, obviously, but you also had Rogues, zombies born when a player dies. Rogues are controlled by a specialized AI that spends its days watching the player, learning how to play, think, and fight exactly like them. These are infinitely more dangerous than the cookie-cutter crowds of zombies, and as a result are important targets. Kerry, Dallas, and, to a certain extent, Sasa were Rogue Hunters, players who do nothing but hunt down other players after they die.
Kerry could imagine the scene as his Rogue rose from the ground, a groan falling from its lips. He could feel the crosshairs on his head as Dallas sighted, heard the boom of the sniper rifle and the THRACK-SKASH as the bullet tore through him.
You're good to go. Log back in.
Kerry sighed and settled back onto his bed, putting the TruDive back on. The whir of fans and processors was loud in his ears as he thought-clicked Undead Online from a list of games. Another half second passed, then the world slipped away.