"Keep your feet under your shoulders, Fae. Maintain your balance." Fae stepped back from August, her red hair damp with sweat. Each held crudely shaped sticks, wasters, modeled to simulate the swords they used in real fights. Fae had one in each hand, crossed in front of her, while August held a single waster relaxed at his side.
"The two swords Claire gave you when we left are similar to katanas, but with shorter blades. For someone your size, they are easier to manage."
The morning sun was high in the sky, already warming the earth. The dry, hard earth was flat and mostly free of debris. The warm wind blew from the east as their lessons progressed. "How about if I just attack you like I'd attack zombies?" Fae grinned at her teacher.
"A haphazard technique works fine against zombies or dumb animals, Fae, but not against other trained warriors. Learning to fight the coordinated attacks of skilled fighters is much better." He smiled at her. "So do you want to spar more, or shall we hit the road? The cycle finished charging a while ago."
Fae didn't answer, her eyes unfocused. She raised her face and sniffed the air, which now came from the west. "August, there's something coming this way." She cocked her head. "No, that's not right. Some things. And they're coming fast."
August belted his holster on. He checked the magazine. Fae strapped on her two swords in sheaths that crossed on her back.
"You know," she said, "I can draw these swords pretty well, but putting them back is a chore."
"You'll get used to it. After a few hundred times, it will be second nature." He reached over and pulled Ted's heavy club from the saddlebags on the cycle, hefting it. "I like this thing. I'm going to have to make myself one."
"It was nice of Ted to loan it to you." Fae drew one sword, and clumsily slid it back into the sheath, her face a picture of concentration.
"Yeah, he did say he'd come get it if I didn't bring it back," August said.
Fae looked at August. "They're here."
He nodded back at her. "I know. I can hear them now, too."
August fingered the butt of his pistol. "I think I need to keep the ammo for whatever Sam has planned in Vegas." He pulled binoculars from the cycle's bags.
Fae's eyebrows rose. "You think Vegas is a trap?"
August grunted. "Did you read the note we found? I know it's a trap." He shook his head, his hair moving across his shoulders. "Vegas is always a trap," he muttered.
"I can hear you, you know."
About a half dozen small dots appeared to the west of them, rapidly increasing in size. Fae watched the scantily clad human forms running toward them. August grunted again, looking at them through the binoculars. "Persistents. They are faster than normal zombies, Fae. Some are smarter than others. If they pause before they attack, then we know they plan their attacks."
"Well, they smell like regular zombies." Fae squinted, looking toward the oncoming creatures. "They dress like zombies, too. I count seven."
"I agree. I wish I'd brought my bow." He sighed. "Well, I can't carry everything." August put the binoculars back and moved away from the cycle. Fae followed.
Fae had both swords out, held loosely at her sides. She wrinkled her small nose. "What is it about zombies that make them go out of their way to attack us, anyway?"
"I don't know. I guess if they didn't fight us we wouldn't have much of a story to tell." Fae looked at August from the corner of her eye and shrugged.
The seven zombies moved as fast as vampires, their limbs a blur as their loping gait drew them closer to their prey. Fae and August stood a few yards apart, facing the oncoming group. When the zombies were within a dozen feet they paused, forming a semicircle facing the two humans.
"Well, Fae, that means..." Fae cut August's lecture short with a loud yell as she rushed the zombies, her swords slicing into the two on the right side, decapitating the first and slicing the second one in half at the waist. The blood flying through the air did not even hit the ground before she moved toward the next one. The others moved away from the fierce attack, eyeing the red-haired demon slicing at them.
August came up behind the zombies as they moved backward from Fae's attack. His short club crushed the skull of one as he swung forward. On the backswing, he swung toward another. It dodged, the club catching it on the left shoulder, turning its arm into a useless appendage.
The zombies backed away from the two attackers, their movements confused. Fae moved forward and cut the head from the one with the crushed arm. She and August stood side by side again, now facing three zombies, who eyed them warily.
"I was going to say they might move strategically," commented August. Fae laughed and shot forward toward the zombies again, her twin swords killing another.
One of the other two zombies slashed at Fae with lightning speed, ripping through the sleeve on her shirt. August shot forward and sliced its arm off, the blood pouring slowly from the open wound. The two zombies stumbled and ran back the way they came, disappearing into the distance, the armless one not slowed by its injury.
"Hey, look at this, August!" Fae felt along her torn sleeve to the skin beneath. "They couldn't even scratch me!"
August examined her arm. "Hemanth did say his skin was tougher. I see some light scratch marks, and those don't even look like they took off any skin." He touched her bare upper arm, wrapping his massive hands around it and squeezing."Your skin feels normal to me. Does it hurt?"
Fae grinned, barely able to keep from jumping up and down. "Not a bit! So I'm like a superhero or something. I can't even get hurt!" She danced around August. "I don't even need combat gear!" A giggle escaped her. "Hey, I could fight naked!"
August rolled his eyes. "Well, I suppose so, but I'd rather you didn't."
Fae tore the tattered shirt from one of the dead zombies and cleaned her swords. "Well, it would sure distract my enemies!"
August laughed as he bent down and used dirt to scrub the club clean. "Well, the human ones, I suppose. That's an interesting strategy, Fae."
Fae replaced her swords in her scabbards. "Strategy, shmategy. I say they come at us, we kill them." Fae laughed again. "Simple is better."
August shook his head as they moved toward the cycle. He looked at the dead zombies on the ground. "Well," he chuckled, "you might be right, but please keep your clothes on!"