41 Chapter 40: One Life for Another
Joshua was not pleased at what he saw when he approached his group after surviving his fight with the pissed off blond zombie. Of course he was happy to see that Laura and Madalyn had made it out alright and that the Carsen brothers were all fine, but the crying Natalie was not a pleasant sight. Everyone else was grouped around her as they watched over her and Thomas who was laid out on the ground. Joshua walked over and could see the reason why they were so depressed. Thomas was still alive as he struggled to breathe properly, but the large bite mark on his shoulder and neck was already starting to bubble up with purple blood.
"Why? Why did you do something so stupid?!" Natalie shouted. "I could have stopped him, I could have held him back but you…" She tried to say, but once again started to break out into loud heart wrenching sobs.
"It's alright Natalie…" Thomas started to say before breaking into a short coughing fit. He took a moment to settle his breathing before continuing. "I couldn't let you try to hurt David, I know that you don't have it in you to make such a decision. You loved him after all." Thomas gave Natalie a knowing smile before taking another deep breath.
"That's not the point! You didn't have to get yourself killed for me!" Natalie was nearly screaming at him, but no matter what feeling she tried to convey Thomas continued to simply smile towards her. "You weren't even supposed to be here, so why…"
"I came because I wanted to make it up to you all." Thomas said causing Natalie to go silent. "I was a complete mess after finding out about what was going on and in my fear of the situation I tried to pin all the blame on you all, and especially you Natalie. I was blinded by my emotions and said some things I never should have and I'm sorry for that. You loved David more than anyone else so there was no reason for me to say such cruel things…" Thomas stopped speaking for a moment as he broke out into another coughing fit.
Those standing around him waited for him to once again calm down to listen to his words. Joshua was angered by him yesterday at his behavior, but now seeing him like this he wasn't able to completely look down on the man anymore. Although he had his problems and didn't step up for those he should have when it counted in the past, he did risk his life to save Natalie. That alone earned him some of his respect back. When Joshua turned to look towards Madalyn he could still see some of the angry fire in her eyes even though she held and expressionless face, but it was a far cry from what he had seen from her in the past.
"Natalie, I did this for many reasons. Whether it was the ideals of the old protecting the young, the fact that you are important part of this group that can't be replaced, or the fact that I just wanted to do the right thing and protect my last charge." Thomas said while directly staring into her eyes. Her sobs became quieter as she tried to listen to all of his words. "All of that is true, but the main reason is because I care about you. I have no family, no kids, and my parents died years ago. You and David were like family to me. Watching him die was hard enough, but watching you die as well would have crushed me beyond belief. I couldn't let someone I viewed as family try to kill someone else I viewed in the same light. Even if this is the end result I would do it all again." He said giving her a bright smile before taking another long calming breath. He then turned to Joshua and smiled at him.
"Thank you for all you've done so far young…no I shouldn't call you that anymore. You're a greater man then I've ever been in my life or I have ever met in my time." Thomas said with a slight grin. "You've been a great leader for us all in a time where most would be afraid to step up to the challenge, or maybe even worse they might have lead us blindly to our deaths. If anyone can put an end to this and save everyone it's you. The fact that you made it out of there in one piece after taking on that monster…" Thomas stopped as he started coughing once again. This time the spittle was filled with specks of purple. "I and everyone else that has died leave everything to you, just be sure to save as many as you can."
"Don't worry. I'll do everything in my power to end this. I've seen what it can do, now all I need is to prepare for it. You can rest in peace knowing that fact." Joshua replied seriously.
"Good, take care of her for me. She may be able to handle herself, but she is one big crybaby as you can see." Thomas said with a soft chuckle. Joshua gave him a nod in return before he turned his attention towards Madalyn. "No matter what I say now I can't change the past, but I am truly sorry for what I've done to you. Just please don't take it all out on the towns folk. It was my responsibility to do something about it, but I folded when the pressure of that responsibility fell onto me. Please forgive them, and help them through this. They need someone like you to make it through this harsh new reality and please continue to be friends with this crybaby for me."
"Sure." Madalyn replied before looking at him directly. "When you get to the other side make sure to give George a beating for me."
"No problem." Thomas simply replied with a smile. He then looked towards everyone else. "I hope you all pull through this and wish you luck, but for now could you give me a little time alone with Natalie." The others all nodded before moving away and giving the two some space. For a while the group was silent as depression seemed to hang over them all. Until one of them finally decided to speak up.
"I'm sorry. If we had been paying attention to our backs more then we might have been able to stop this from happening." Dave said as he bowed his head a bit. His two brothers also looked a bit saddened, even Dillon wasn't able to smile under the circumstances.
"No, you have nothing to apologize for. You all did your jobs just fine, I just never prepared for something like that happening. Because of that I was stuck fighting some monster while the boss chased after Laura and Madalyn. On the other hand Natalie had to face an unwinnable situation that none of us could have helped her with. If I had gone in more prepared for such things then this might have ended differently." Joshua said with a gloomy tone. Everyone looked at him worriedly for a moment before someone unexpected spoke up.
"You're not God." Laura said as she grabbed Joshua's and everyone's attention. "You cannot predict everything, and you cannot find out about the bosses capabilities without taking action. We all knew this would be a risk, the fact that so many of us survived is a blessing in itself."
"She's right, I know this is the first person that has died in this group do to your decisions." Madalyn started to say. "George died because of our past. Jacob and his groupies died because of their own choices as well. What you have to remember is that we all make decisions and Thomas made his. Even if you could have been more prepared I'm sure if it came down to it he would do the same exact thing again."
Everyone nodded to her words and Joshua let out a pent up sigh before smiling towards them. "Thanks for the encouragement. I promise I won't let you down. I can't say that all of us will make it out alive in the end, but I can say that I'll do everything in my power to make that a possibility." The others nodded in response to Joshua's statement before the group once again grew quiet as they waited for Natalie and Thomas.
The two seemed to be having a back and forth conversation at first. Something that Thomas had said had brought a smile to Natalie's face as she tried to put on a bit of a brave front. Soon the conversation started to become more and more one sided. At first Natalie would speak for a while and let Thomas respond with a sentence or two. Then slowly those sentences became words and those words became subtle sounds and then the responses came to a complete halt. Thomas's eyes were still locked on to her as he continued to smile even though death had already taken him away. It took a while for her to notice, or at least that's what it seemed like at first. Then she stopped talking, put her hand over his face, and slowly closed his eyes.
Joshua and the others walked over to see his peaceful smile in the end. If there was one thing Joshua hoped for in the future is that he would be able to pass on without regrets just like this. Joshua took off all of the gear he had on his back and handed them over to the Carsen brothers. He stepped in front of Thomas's corpse and kneeled down next to him before speaking. "We'll bring him back to town and cremate him as a funeral. Although we can't bury him we can at least do that for him." The others nodded as Joshua picked Thomas up while Dave came over to help him put him neatly over his back. "Alright let's get going, being here to long isn't safe."
The group made their way back to camp. The trip felt much longer to them as a silence seemed to have fallen onto the group. Every now and then you could still hear Natalie quietly sob or sniffle. Madalyn had brought her to the side of the group and kept her company along the way. Even Laura was willing to say a few words to cheer her up every now and then. By the time they had made it back to camp it was already starting to turn dark outside. The guards at the gate rushed to let them in, but when they saw Thomas's dead body a look of sadness over took them. One of them headed on ahead to alert the others as to what had happened.
When they reached the mansion there were many questions about what happened. At first Natalie tried to explain, but she couldn't quite get the words she wanted out. Joshua then took over and explained everything that happened. The description of the boss put looks of fear onto everyone's faces, but the fact that they were able to make it out for the most part reassured them. When it came time to tell them about how Thomas died several of the men were saddened about his passing, but most nodded in acceptance for his reason. Many people walked over to reassure Natalie that it wasn't her fault during the process.
That night they had all gathered some kindling and wood to make a bed to lay Thomas's body on. They couldn't wait very long to send him off sense the tendrils from his bite wounds were already spreading across his body. Joshua assumed that within the next couple of hours he would have come back as a zombie. For the Eulogy the mayor stood in front of the body and started to speak of his past and all the accomplishments Thomas had made in his life. His words spoke true for the most part, he even talked about some of his shortcomings during the process, but all in all it was a decent speech.
For the most part Joshua tuned out his words as he hadn't truly known much about the man's past life. Instead he paid attention to people's reactions around him. Most men wore subdued looks while some silently cried at losing a friend they had known most of their lives. Natalie once again broke out into tears, but this time Laura, Madalyn, and even Nathan stood by her side and showed her comfort. Joshua tried to put on a composed appearance to give the others someone to rely on in the moment, but even he was starting to see things. Instead of Thomas he started to imagine people that he loved or cared about laying on that bed. What if it had been Adrian, Henry, or Aito in the same position? Hell what if it had been Laura, Natalie, Madalyn, or Nathan? He was sure he wouldn't be able to handle it well at all.
Laura walked forward when the eulogy had finished and created a small flame in the palm of her hand before lighting the wood on fire. Soon a large towering flame soared into the air as they all watched Thomas's body burn to ashes. Joshua watched on and his will to end this horrible situation only grew stronger.