The Immune – Chapter 01

She watched the sun go down over the distant trees, and could see the Turned begin to creep out into the space between the forest and the fenced-in crops. Carissa was on the first watch for the night, for the first time in what seemed like many years. It had been since the previous fall, she remembered. Since the night her father had been hurt.

The outer fence protecting the village had been breached, and several of the Turned had gotten a grip on him. The other fighters had rescued him, but not quite quickly enough. While his suit of armor had protected him from most of their attempts to bite him, one had been able to break the straps holding his pauldrons down around his upper arms. The padded arming clothes underneath had almost stopped the infected teeth from getting to his skin. Almost. The bite was mostly bruise, but the skin had been broken, and the infection had spread before the wound could be burned and cauterized. It had taken almost five days for the old man to Turn- a testament to his toughness. But he eventually succumbed to the infection, and became one of the Turned. Carissa had been by his side all the while, sitting beside the cage, bringing him water and food when he wanted it, talking to him to make sure he didn’t get lonely. But most of all, she’d been listening.

He spent three days talking to her non-stop. The village’s master defense trainer had a lifetime of training drills, knowledge and wisdom that he wanted to pass on before he Turned. He’d repeated himself many times, quizzing her along the way to make sure she remembered. Only when he was satisfied that she’d gotten every word committed to memory did he finally allow himself to relax and sleep.

The village council hadn’t wasted any time making Carissa the master trainer. There were other fighters older than she, but she’d long since earned their respect. Many of the younger recruits and fighters-in-training had hoped she’d be at least a little easier on them than the old man had been. She had gently crushed those hopes within a week. She wasn’t a screamer, but she demanded just as much from them as her father had before her.

Three new fighters were on the watch tonight. To keep an eye on them, she was in full armor at sundown for the first time in almost a year. The steel plates seemed heavier at night than they did by day. She looked out as the Turned slowly marched down the lanes built for them, wooden fences corralling them around the crops to keep them from trampling the young plants. The dead didn’t care about the plants at all- they were moving toward the living meat, and the fences were easy for them to get around.

The steel wire fence had been replaced just as the previous autumn was ending. Now the village was protected by a cement block wall, 3 meters high. Her father would be the last of the people here to be killed due to a breach in the old wire fence. The fighters still remained alert, making sure the gates held, standing by with swords and flame weapons to hold the Turned off. Years of guarding the wire fences had instilled habits that would be hard to break. And while the wall made everyone feel safer, they all knew it would be dangerous for them to get lazy.

An hour or so after the sun was gone, one of the young fighters called out the drill instructor’s name, pointing over the wall. Carissa climbed up onto the wooden walkway beside her trainee and looked over the top of the wall, her eyes scanning the swarm of dead. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary at first, but there wasn’t enough light to see clearly. The moon was a thin crescent, and even with a clear sky, her eyes needed time to adjust. She squinted down at the Turned, first looking at those closest to the wall, then sweeping her eyes over the rest of the swarm. There was nothing out of the ordinary up close, which meant that if something was wrong, they would have some time to react. Carissa looked at the younger fighter, a quizzical look on her face.

“Whatever you pointed at, I don’t see it, Marie.”

“Out there- by the trees,” the woman said. Her grey-green eyes had been focused outward since nightfall, and her night-vision needed no time to adjust. She shifted her helmet to the other hand, setting it down on top of the wall, then pointing out across the fields again.

Carissa could just make out the individual trees, her eyes finally adjusting to the shadows. The swarm of the walking dead must have numbered into the thousands, but they couldn’t completely fill the lanes between the fields. They stretched back over a kilometer, but beyond that, the lanes were empty. Except for one spot, just inside the treeline, where a cluster of the Turned had gathered. Maybe a few dozen, not too many and a long way off, but…

… But they only gathered like that where there was food. If there had been nothing for them to eat, that cluster would have moved toward the village, joining the rest of the swarm. Carissa nodded, slowly, then clapped Marie on the shoulder- an amusing gesture, since Marie was almost a head taller – and took three steps to the nearest ladder. “Keep an eye on it, Marie, and let me know if anything changes.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Marie replied crisply, not taking her eyes off the tree-line. The younger fighter’s hand now rested on the handle of her axe, holding it away from the wall it had been resting against a moment earlier. It was a small gesture, but it signaled a more alert fighter.

“Graham!” Carissa called, not waiting to hit the ground. The older warrior excused himself from the village elder he’d been talking to, and strode over. The master trainer’s tone had indicated a concern, but not an emergency.

“What is it?” he asked, evenly. His voice was a deep growl, matching his huge frame.

“There’s a cluster of the Turned out by the tree-line, as if they’ve found something to eat out there. Is anyone missing?”

The leathery brow creased. “I think I’d have heard by now, but I’ll ask around,” he rumbled. She nodded, and watched him move off toward the center of the village. Carissa crossed the space back to the walls, walking a circuit around the outer wall and checking in with the other fighters. All of them were alert now, and some were putting their helmets on.

When she was nearly back to her starting point beside the West gate, she heard Marie shout her name. She sped up to an easy jog, then climbed the ladder to join the younger fighter again.

“They’re gone!” Marie said, pointing. Carissa followed the line of her gauntlet, looking off toward the trees again. Sure enough, the cluster of the Turned she’d seen before were no longer there.

Carissa shrugged. “They move back into the forest?”

“No, ma’am, they… just disappeared. I’m not sure what happened.” The frightened tone of the younger fighter’s voice made Carissa’s blood chill for a moment. “It almost look like they just sank into the ground.”

“What?” Carissa squinted into the distance again. Anytime the Turned do something strange, there’s a reason for it, she thought, remembering one of her father’s first lessons. A moment later, she saw the phenomenon for herself – another small cluster of the Turned, four or five of them, came close to the edge of the tree-line, then turned to one side and seemed to slide right down into the ground, almost like their legs were cut out from under them. But why?

Graham was jogging toward their ladder, but Carissa descended to the ground before he reached it.

“We are missing someone,” he reported. “Grelda Pressiden says her mother didn’t come back from the fields this evening. Grelda’s been looking for her, thinking she fell asleep somewhere.”

Carissa nodded. “That happens when you’re as old as Trinna,” she replied. Not many people lived as long as Trinna Pressiden, so people weren’t sure what to make of her quirks. “The cluster we saw out there is gone now, not sure where. Marie said they looked like they sank into the ground. I saw it happen with a few more, just a minute ago.”

Graham’s face screwed up in confusion. “Sank into the ground? How? Did someone dig a hole out there, or something?”

“Don’t think so. Why would someone want to?”

Neither spoke for a long moment. The night was relatively quiet- compared to the days when they had steel wire fences, anyway. They were still getting used to the absence of the steel fences being rattled by dead hands. Once they got more than 3 meters from the cement block wall, they couldn’t hear the sound of the Turned pounding on the outside. The torches set into the ground near the perimeter wall crackled, and the wind whispered between the houses. But a long moment after Carissa spoke, the two fighters heard a scream from the center of town.

They looked at each other, confused at first, then jogged toward the square without another word. They passed the blacksmith shop and a handful of young men and women carrying water to the fighters on the outer walls. Everyone they saw was looking toward the continuing scream, but weren’t leaving their tasks to investigate. As the armored fighters entered the square, they saw the wife of one of the elders near the far side. She’d dropped the basket of food she’d been carrying, spilling fruit and bread onto the ground. Her eyes were wide, and she was panicked too hard to do anything but scream. And it only took a moment to see why.

Carissa’s breath caught in her throat. A decaying hand had pushed up through the dry, packed earth in the middle of the square. The flesh of the hand was mostly rotted away, exposing the tendons to the air as they twisted with effort. It pushed up farther, nearly pushing the elbow joint through the dirt. There was still no visible skin on the thing, the muscles grey and torn in many places. Another hand pressed through the disturbed earth, and was soon followed by the crown of a skinless head.

The fighters were both paralyzed by shock. Carissa heard her helmet hit the ground, forgotten by her fingers just long enough to be dropped. Graham whispered, either a prayer or a curse. Carissa couldn’t tell. They’d allowed themselves to believe they were safe behind the cement block walls, that the Turned wouldn’t be able to get through the wall. Apparently, only the second part was true. Neither fighter moved, they could only watch as the corpse continued to claw its way out of the ground.

Within a few seconds, the head and shoulders were fully exposed. The head had some of its skin, but only the right eye. The left side of the head had a deep gash, obviously an axe-strike, directly through the left eye socket and through to the bridge of the nose. For some reason, Carissa’s mind analyzed the strike quickly enough- it was something her father had shown her, and she’d passed it on to every fighter in the village at some point. When one of The Turned has a good bite-hold on a living person, one of the best ways to get them loose was to axe the corpse in the side of the head. By the time she realized she was making the analysis, the corpse had gotten to one knee, pulling the other leg out of the dirt and trying to stand. Her body began to thaw, her grip on her axe-handle tightened, and she did what she was trained to do.

“Breach!” Carissa shouted, her command-voice reaching through most of the village. She shouted it again, stepping forward and swinging her axe downward and through the shoulder of the corpse as it reached for her. She severed the arm easily, then drew back for a second swing. The other arm came off just below the shoulder joint, and Carissa took one more swing, severing the neck to finish the job that someone else’s axe had started. She let her axe-swing twist her with its momentum, turning around and planting a solid kick on the corpse’s torso, knocking it down. Without its hands, it couldn’t get up, and while not completely harmless, it would be easy to avoid for the time being.

Then she saw another pair of hands, clawing their way up through a different spot, 7 or 8 meters away. Graham rushed it, trying to hit it before it got out of the ground.

“Breach!” Carissa shouted again. People would get into their homes and lock the doors now, preparing themselves for a night of lock-down. Fighters who were up and on-duty would get into their armor, and those on the wall knew who would stand fast at their posts, and who would respond to her call. That one word, even though it hadn’t been called in months, would set the machine of the village’s training into motion. It was a new kind of breach, and Carissa wasn’t sure yet how they’d handle it, but it was still a breach.

A third mount of dirt began pushing upward, the hands breaking through to the night air together. It was close enough to Carissa that it startled her, and she jumped back for a moment. She brought her axe up to one shoulder, holding it relaxed but ready, waiting for the head and shoulders to break through. It occurred to her that she didn’t have her helmet on, and she looked around for a moment to find it. It lay where she dropped it, 10 meters away, right next to Graham’s helmet. The older fighter was taking apart the corpse that he’d engaged, but not much more than the head had come above ground yet.

Marie was one of the first fighters to reach the square. She’d already donned her helmet. She cursed, loud enough for Carissa to hear across the square, taking in the situation as quickly as she could. Then she noticed the helmets, and picked up Graham’s helmet with her free hand, moving toward the older fighter to deliver his last piece of protection.

Carissa felt the grip on her ankle, right through her armor. She looked down, chiding herself for getting distracted, then chopping downward at the hands, severing them both. The hand-less arms continued to pull the rest of the body out of the ground. It had been a woman, full grown and a little heavy-set, and she hadn’t been dead for long. While her skin was grey, and bitten away in many places, she still had most of her long, curly, dark hair. She had a sun-dress on that had been lavender once, but was now tattered, stained with dirt and blood. The dress caught on something below-ground as the corpse climbed, tearing at one shoulder and nearly leaving it naked. The face turned up toward her, almost as if it could see her, the mouth opening wide to expose rotting gums and cracked teeth.

Carissa swung her axe again, removing one arm, then the other. The corpse dropped flat to the ground again, and without its arms, began to slide back down into the hole it had made. Carissa watched for a moment, but then realized that it wasn’t just sliding from gravity- other hands were coming through the hole, pulling the armless body back down.

Just as the Turned pushed past each other to get to the fences, or the outer wall, now they were pulling this one out of the way to get through the hole it had made.

Carissa took two steps backward, looking toward Marie as she jogged toward Graham to deliver the helmet. She tripped, about half-way there, falling forward and losing the helmet. She’d partly fallen on her axe, not injuring herself, but cutting the strapping on the side of her cuirass. The chest- and back-plates flopped a little as she hit the ground- they weren’t secured together any longer, and she’d be vulnerable if more than a couple of the Turned got a hold of her.

Marie had tripped because of a grip on one ankle- another of the Turned was now using her to pull itself out of the ground, gripping her lower leg and getting its head above the dirt. She kicked her way free, getting back to her feet.

One of the youngest of the village councilors stepped up beside Carissa, carrying a flame weapon. “Carissa, what the hell is happening? How did they…” Her words trailed off, her eyes widening as she was given the answer to her incomplete question. Five meters away, another pair of hands broke through the trampled earth, pulling another decaying head up out of the ground.

“I don’t know how, Ella,” Carissa said, her voice hard. “But I don’t think flame weapons are going to help. We need people in armor- full armor- and everyone else needs to get into their homes.” She stepped forward again, cutting the head and arms off of the corpse they’d watched claw its way up. Again, it slid back into the ground, jerking as the other Turned pulled it out of the way.

“How many are down there?” Ella asked. “How long will they keep-“

Carissa spun around, alerted by the catch in Ella’s voice. Her eyes went wide. Another pair of hands had erupted from the dirt- but instead of pulling another corpse up, this one had just gotten out of the ground far enough to get its mouth clear. Ella screamed, trying to kick herself loose but only losing her balance. She fell forward, the flame weapon wand hitting the ground and the pilot light going out. Carissa was there in six steps, but by then, the corpse had bitten into the calf muscle of Ella’s left leg. The councilor screamed, in pain and terror, then kicked again, breaking the hand-holds. The corpse’s bite held, but Ella’s flesh tore from the next kick, and she scrambled away. Carissa severed the head, then the arms, then knelt to look at Ella’s wound.

Ella’s eyes were streaming tears now, her teeth clenched and her breath coming in hisses. The two women looked at the torn wound, then at each other. Carissa had no way of knowing her own expression, but Ella’s had hardened. Two other fighters, in full armor, clustered around them. Neither one knew how to help, so they kept their distance.

“Ella,” Carissa whispered.

“I know it, Carissa,” the councilor muttered. She took a deep breath, then let it out, sharply. “Help me up. I have an idea.”

Carissa did so, and the other fighters came at once to help. Ella pulled the flame weapon’s wand back up by its hose, then pumped it several times, making sure it was fully charged. She re-lit the pilot, then hobbled toward the hole she’d been grabbed through. That corpse was already gone, and another was already trying to force its way upward. Ella bathed it in fire, mercilessly, then stomped at it with her good foot, pushing it back down into the hole. Then she un-slung the fuel tank from her back and worked the supply hose loose, leaking alcohol fuel on the ground and into the hole. The corpse she’d burned still fought, but another kick pushed it back down. Then she threw the fuel tank down, stomping it twice to force it through the hole.

Ella looked over her shoulder at Carissa, mouthed something the fighter couldn’t understand, then doused the hole with fire. The alcohol of the pack took a moment to catch, but when it did, the hole in the ground turned into a geyser of flame. It burned for only a few seconds, but it was enough for the fire to surround Ella completely, hot enough to burn her skin from head to toe and sear the insides of her lungs. She fell forward, sliding down into the hole and disappearing.

Carissa had seen too many people die to be shocked. She looked around the square, taking in the situation again. As more fighters entered the area, she had to lead them instead of just fighting. Eight holes had opened now, and more of the Turned were trying to claw their way up and out. Marie was still off her feet- while she’d gotten loose of the one that had tripped her, more were reaching out of the ground around her, and while they hadn’t gotten through the armor, they were keeping her from getting up. Another fighter was in the same situation. Graham stood over the hole he’d originally rushed to, chopping arms off of the corpses that kept trying to force their way up. His armor was streaked with blood up to his waist, but so far his unprotected head hadn’t been too much of a problem. That’ll change fast, and Marie has his helmet, Carissa thought. Nine other fighters were arrayed around her, but none knew what to do.

She spun, putting a back-handed slap into the chest plate of the fighter just to her left. It was Angelo, a fighter about her age and experience. She pointed across the square to Marie, still struggling to free herself.

“Get her up and off the ground,” she shouted. “She has Graham’s helmet, and he’ll need it.” Angelo nodded, then jogged off toward Marie. Carissa spun again, pointing to another of the fighters, a young girl named Kyrsten. “Go help Davis, get him up,” she ordered. She nodded, then moved off to obey. Carissa raised her voice to a near-shout. “Everyone else, stand over a hole and cut the arms off of the Turned coming up and through. I don’t know how many are down there, but if we can keep them from coming up, we can keep them contained.”

Her orders snapped everyone into action. They scattered around the square, each picking an opening and guarding it. Carissa was just beginning to catch her breath when another scream caught her attention. This one was from one of the houses just off of the square, and a moment after Carissa heard the scream, the front door opened. The family that lived inside came pouring out the door, the wife holding her young son, her slightly older daughter clutching her skirt, all three of them trying to run, but looking behind them in terror and tripping every other step. A heartbeat later, the husband emerged, backing out of the door and vainly trying to wrestle himself free of the grip of one of the Turned. His arm had been bitten, badly, and blood flowed freely down the man’s arm. The corpse pulled him close again, letting him drag it out across the porch and down the stairs, and biting into the man’s shoulder. He cried out again, pushing against the rotting head with all his remaining strength, but the combination of blood loss and knowledge that he was already infected had sapped his energy. Another of the Turned lurched out of the house, catching up to them as they tumbled off the porch and onto the battered grass.

Carissa ran over to the wife, careful not to touch her- her own armor had spattered blood on it, too. “How did they get into your house?”

“They came up through the floor!” the woman cried. She twisted around again to look for her husband, then shrieked when she saw him, held down by two of the Turned as they each bit off another mouthful. She held her children close, turning their faces away and shaking with terror.

Carissa knew she couldn’t save him. She ran over, and did the only thing she could- she lopped the heads and arms off of both corpses, kicking them off of him. She then looked back to his wife, a hard stare in her eye that had only one meaning – You need to look away. She obeyed, still shivering, and Carissa looked back down to the man. He was still breathing, but had gone unconscious from the pain. So much the better, she thought, raising her axe high and swinging it back down. His head came off with one clean chop.

Carissa looked back toward the wife, trying to keep her own breathing under control. She looked up just in time to see a hole open right beneath the other woman’s feet, but instead of trying to pull themselves up and out of the ground, the hands that came up through the dirt grabbed both of her ankles. Another pair latched onto the feet of the little girl beside her, and a moment later, all three of them were pulled straight down, vanishing into the ground. They shrieked in fear, but the sound was cut off as they disappeared.

The trainer froze mid-stride, her mouth hanging open. She’d seen many terrible things in her years, but the sight of an entire family being snuffed out so quickly and brutally was enough to shock even her. A moment later, more screams came from the other houses around the square, and more people leaped out of their houses, followed a moment or two later by the Turned.  Obviously, the houses were not a safe place to be.

“Get to the wall!” Carissa shouted at them, moving again and circling the square. She passed by each family, repeating her instructions. “They’re coming up out of the ground everywhere, get to the wall and climb the ladders!” If only we could get onto the roofs of the houses, Carissa thought, making a mental note. She passed Graham, who was still without his helmet, still chopping apart dead bodies that sprung up out of the hole before him.

“Where’s your helmet?” she called. He severed another arm, watching the corpse slide back underground. Then he pointed across the square to where Marie was still held down by a half-dozen of the Turned, not fully emerged from the dirt, but still able to get their hands on her. Marie was barely moving now. Carissa moved toward her, then slowed down as she came close.

Marie’s earlier fall had broken two of the straps that held the chest and back plates of her cuirass onto her torso, and two of the Turned had been able to push these plates far enough apart to get their teeth into her flesh. They could only get to her abdomen, but it was enough- her shoulders were barely moving with her breath now, her head twitching as they continued biting into her.

Carissa looked around again, looking for Angelo, but he had been tripped up by hands clawing their way out of the ground, and they’d been able to stretch his arms out to the sides, looking for places they could get their teeth in between the armored plates. They hadn’t found one yet, but were biting into the straps on his legs, and would have their opening soon enough.

She made it there just in time. After several vertical chops, she loosened their grip enough for Angelo to get himself free. He kicked at the last two, then stood and retrieved his axe. The two of them started cutting limbs off the Turned coming up around them, but not fast enough. There were too many nearby, and both of them would be overwhelmed if they didn’t move.

“Move it!” she hollered, taking two steps back and waving toward Graham. “Where’s his helmet?” she asked, loudly.

“I don’t know,” Angelo replied. He stopped for a moment, looking down at his legs. The leather straps that held the cuisses to his thighs had been bitten through completely, and the strap around his left knee was gone as well. The greaves were tight to his lower legs, but he was still vulnerable, and if the Turned got him off his feet again, they’d be able to bite into him quickly enough.

“Help people get to the wall!” Carissa pointed to a pair of families, hustling their children between houses and workshops. He nodded, then moved to follow them and cover their escape. Carissa slowly spun in place, surveying the square again to get the situation back under control.

There was little chance of that. Of the seven other fighters she’d sent to guard existing holes, only two were still standing. Three of them were visible above-ground, held down by dead hands, screaming and squirming as the Turned ate away at them where they could. Two of them had completely vanished, but the large holes near their old positions told Carissa what had happened. But the worst was that the Turned had gotten inside, not needing a breach in the cement wall.

They were still coming up through the ground, two or three at a time, and several were coming out of abandoned houses, shambling into the square and toward the fighters. She moved toward Graham, shaking her head. He understood at once, abandoning his opening and jogging toward her.

“Get to the wall!” Carissa shouted to the other fighters. They both nodded, each taking a final chop at the Turned climbing up toward them, then joining the senior fighters at the south end of the square.

A few of the families had reached the wall, climbing up the short ladder and onto the wooden walkway. Many more were on their way there, but as Carissa followed them, they began to trip and fall, caught by dead hands reaching out of the ground. A moment after they fell, they each succumb to the same fate- they were pulled under the ground, cut off mid-scream as they vanished. Out of the dozen or so families crossing the village, only two people made it – a young girl of 7 or 8 years, and a teen-aged boy. They scampered up the ladder and onto the platform just in time to watch their families get pulled under the grass. They became hysterical at that point, and Carissa had to fight to keep her own cool. She stopped in place, waving the fighters behind her toward the wall. One of them fell, and Angelo tried to stop and help her, but she was pulled underground before he got a grip on her wrist. She slipped right through his fingers. He shouted a curse, then leaped to his feet, running toward the wall again.

“Move it!” Carissa shouted. She twisted her head to make sure Graham had made it to the wall, and while he had, one of The Turned had grabbed one ankle just as he’d put the other on the first rung of the ladder. The old man grunted, kicking down with his free leg. While he got his foot loose, he also lost his balance, falling forward toward another older hole. He got up to his hands and knees, but not quickly enough – dead hands reached up to grab his head, jerking him downward as they pulled the rest of the corpse upward. The dead face came up a moment later, the teeth sinking into Graham’s neck. A fountain of blood gushed out of him, covering the rotten body, but it seemed not to notice. It just continued eating at him, and it was only a few moments before Graham stopped fighting back.

Carissa swore, twisting back to look at Angelo. He was four steps away when the ground opened again, and two pairs of dead hands latched onto his ankles. He hit the ground hard, his axe falling to the ground just out of his reach. He looked up in alarm, eyes wide behind the mask, then he yelled as he slid backward across the ground. He caught himself before going under, spreading his arms to stop his descent. He stopped short, desperately looking around for a way out. He knew his legs were vulnerable. Then his head arched backward and he yelled again, his voice rising to a scream. He jerked downward a few times, pulled from below but not being pulled underground.

Not one, Carissa thought. Not one of my fighters has made it through the night. She looked around the perimeter wall, confirming her fear. All the fighters that had been posted on the wall had come down to help others get up onto the wooden walkway, and none had made it back up their ladders. She spun around again, moving toward the wall and the ladders, then stopped short.

A half-dozen of the Turned had come out of the ground in front of her. They were between her and the ladders, and while she could fight through a few of them on her own, she couldn’t do it quickly enough to escape those behind her. She hefted her axe again, wishing she had her helmet. As the first one came within striking range, she howled, releasing the rage that had been building inside her. The corpse before her was old, rotten badly, without its skin and without either eye. Her strike went through the upper torso, right at the line of the armpits, removing both arms and a large part of the upper body. The rest of the corpse remained standing – how could they still walk like that? – and she shoulder-bashed it backward and into one of the others.

When she spun to look behind her, she was faced with another of the Turned, almost close enough to reach her. This one had died more recently, a young woman with most of her skin intact. She had wealthy clothing, but it was now dirty and bloodstained, the grey skin having the same stains on the fingers and the lower half of the face. The bite on the side of her neck was almost black, the only telltale of how the infection had gotten inside her. Carissa swung hard again, at a downward angle, hitting the corpse in the shoulder and nearly taking the left arm off completely.

Because the body hadn’t been dead quite as long, it still had much of its blood. Gravity had pulled it down to the feet and legs, but plenty remained in the dead muscle tissue, and when Carissa’s axe hit, a good supply erupted, spraying outward in a wide arc. Carissa’s shout had left her mouth open, and the spray covered her face, from her eyebrows to her chin.

She spat it out the moment she realized, but she knew it was too late. Her mouth was already burning, tingling, and turning cold. She spat again, hefting her axe as three more of the Turned came close enough to strike.

I have tasted Death, she thought, swinging her axe again, severing an arm before her hands were grabbed from two sides. The crowd around her had grown, and they pressed in on her, pulling her arms out to her sides. Soon, they did the same to her legs, snapping their teeth against her armor plates until they found purchase on the leather straps. It wasn’t long before one of them- she couldn’t see which one, and had lifted her head up to look at the moon- bit into her neck. She gasped at the pain, for some reason fighting the urge to cry out. She locked her eyes on the crescent moon, holding that sight as long as she could keep her eyes open.

Though the Turned eventually pulled her apart, eating her down to the bones, her eyes never closed.

*****

Two living visitors, a man and a woman, watched from a distance. They stayed at the treeline until the sun began to come up, their eyes coldly watching. They were dressed similarly- sleeveless black and grey tunics and black trousers, each carrying a large knife at their side and each wearing a longbow over their shoulder. The man had his arrows at his side, the woman wore her quiver on her back. His hair was blond, nearly white, hanging in a long braid down his back. His shoulders were broad, his bare arms thick and muscular, his hands large and powerful. Her hair was dark, cut short and severe. She was slender, seeming tiny beside her companion, but the skin on her arms was drawn tight across the muscles beneath, powerful despite their smaller size. Both of them had bloodshot eyes, and they surveyed the village with inhuman detachment.

The Turned took their time leaving the village. The sun had risen over the distant trees, but took time to cast its light over the top of the cement block wall. When it did, the walking dead didn’t have too many options on getting away from the heat. They moved toward the East, to the shadow of the wall, but the shade was soon gone. Many had stumbled into the holes they’d come up through, but that was random and accidental.

When the two living visitors opened the Eastern gate, the Turned spilled out into the sunlight, then circled the wall. The young woman stood right outside the gate, watching the corpses lurching and shambling as quickly as they could. They moved right past her, right around her, and she watched them move to the West, away from the light. The man moved through the village, opening the West gate and allowing the Turned another exit. They flowed out of that gate as well, not quite moving due West. Within 15 minutes, the village was clear of the walking dead, and the two living visitors were the only ones on the ground.

Six survivors, the woman thought, looking up at the walkway around the cement wall. They’d kept out of reach of the Turned by perching on the top of the wall- the walkway was just out of arms reach of the Turned on the ground- and had spent all night there. Now they climbed down to the platform, numb with fear and shock, and not saying anything. One grown man, two women, and three children. The visitors approached them, slowly, and the female visitor beckoned them to come down.

The village’s only surviving man came down first. He couldn’t speak, merely climbed down the ladder, looking around at the dead remains of the fighters and villagers that hadn’t been pulled underground. Most of them had been eaten down to the bone. The man looked around, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, and didn’t see the female visitor draw her knife. When it entered his heart, he only had a moment to register the shock.

The other survivors began screaming, drawing back from the ladder and pressing their backs to the wall. A moment later, an arrow flew towards them, burying itself in the eye-socket of the taller of the two women. It was quickly followed by a second, hitting the other woman before the children around them realized what was happening. They screamed more, but the female visitor was already climbing the ladder. She pushed the eldest of the children down to her companion, who carried her by the shoulders to the nearest of the holes in the ground. Her screams intensified, but were cut off when he released her, and while they could still hear her, the sound was muffled by the earth. The two visitors dealt with the other children in the same manner, letting them fall into the hands of the Turned that still milled about below ground. The male visitor pulled the murdered man toward yet another hole, letting him slide downward and out of sight. The woman retrieved the two arrows from their victims, then pushed the women off the wooden planks. Each of the visitors carried one, slipping them down to the Turned below them.

Within a minute or two, the cries of the children died out, and the air was nearly silent. The chirping of birds from the distant trees could be faintly heard, and the wind still whispered between the empty homes and workshops. The two visitors moved toward the village center, their eyes scanning the scene as if they were watching a stage-play.

“Look at this, Dana,” the man called, pointing to one of the fallen fighters. He’d spread his arms to prevent being pulled underground, but his legs were within easy reach of the Turned below- they were still eating at him, tugging as they bit into him. The woman approached, looking down at the fallen warrior.

“He’ll make an interesting addition to the swarm,” she thought aloud. She knelt, her hands searching for the chin-strap that held the helmet on. It came loose easily, and she pulled the helmet free. The face underneath was contorted in pain, the eyes staring upward, the mouth open in a silent prayer for help. The woman dropped the helmet beside him. No reason to prevent him from being able to eat when he awakens, she thought. She straightened, and followed her companion deeper into the village.

In the square, there were at least a dozen gaping holes in the ground. Dana and her companion each knelt beside one of them, looking down into the darkness. The hole was just big enough to permit the passage of a human, not straight down but bending slightly to avoid a rather large root. There were several smaller roots around the edge of the hole, and some looked like they’d been used as hand-holds. Below them, perhaps 10 meters down, they could see movement as the Turned shuffled around underground.

“You were right. They had no trouble getting up that distance. There were plenty of roots for them to grab.”

Dana nodded. “When they clear the forest for a new village, they pull up the roots in the fields, so they can plant crops. In the village itself, they don’t bother.” She stood, looking around the square. “Looks like the Turned didn’t even waste time coming all the way above-ground for some of the fighters.”

“Yeah, they just ate them where they fell.” The man said, nodding. Then he stood. “Your idea seemed to work just fine.”

She looked back toward the holes they’d dropped the survivors into. “Almost perfectly,” she sighed.

The large shoulders shrugged. “Six survivors out of over two hundred is close enough.”

“Close enough for now. We’ll experiment some more with the tunneling, but it won’t take as many practice-attacks as I had thought. Maybe one or two more.” She smiled at her companion. “Less digging for us to do, Taurus.”

He nodded. “I don’t mind the work, it’s just so damned boring. We can’t even sing.” He looked around again. “I thought I saw a few of them come out of the houses. Let’s have a look, then get out of here. That carriage train we spotted yesterday will be here soon enough, and we shouldn’t be seen here.”

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3 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 01”

  1. WOW…..and it’s just chapter 1.

  2. Roquendo Says:

    Great book 3. Keep of the good work

  3. DireLilith Says:

    i miss the font. for some reason now it’s showing up in a serif, whereas the other two books were in a non serif. i’m reading while at work, on a very poor browser, so it may be that. but i thought you should know, if you still receive comments from this writing. mew!

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