The Immune – Chapter 02

Ilyana called out, a formless syllable that served the signal for her group to take the next step. Fluidly, each of the 8 young students shifted their stance, took a step to their right, and blocked an imaginary attack with their right arm. They stopped moving as one, freezing in place and awaiting her next command. Her eyes swept across them for a long moment, both to check their performance and to force them to hold their stance, strengthening their legs.

She called again. They straightened enough to snap a front kick at the imaginary attacker, then set the foot behind them and parry another attack- this one to their left. One of the students wobbled slightly before putting her foot down, and when she snapped the parry into place, her stance was just slightly off. Ilyana stepped up behind her, tapping the instep of the offending foot with her own, and the girl corrected herself immediately.

“Balance drills, Ginette,” she said, just loud enough for the girl to hear. The girl nodded once in acknowledgement, then froze, awaiting the next command. Ilyana turned her attention back to the others, mentally noting their stances and hand positions.

She was about to give the next command when a pair of figures came in through the South gate, 70 meters from her class. They were breathing heavily, as if after a long run. Ilyana looked at the sun – there was perhaps an hour left before sunset, and the heavy forest surrounding their new home would cast long shadows. The Turned wouldn’t have to wait to approach the walls.

Scouts, she said to herself. The pair paused for a moment, catching their breath, then began scanning the large, open area, looking for someone. Cheszalt was meeting with two of the senior instructors near the portal to the Eastern section of the city. The two scouts spotted him, and headed directly toward him.

He noticed them, as well. Once he did, he began scanning the practice space as well, meeting the gaze of a handful of other senior members of The Order. Even though he was the most senior member, and he’d led the Order through its most trying times, he always called upon his advisors when hearing a scout report. His eyes fell upon Ilyana, and he gave her a short nod. He wants me to hear this one, too.

“Jonathan, lead the group through the remainder of the form,” she said to the oldest of her class. “If you get through the form three times before I return, pair off and practice wrist locks.”

“Yes, sister,” the boy replied. He might have been 13 years old, by Ilyana’s guess. He assumed command of the group immediately, calling out the commands for each move, and the class didn’t hesitate for a moment to obey him. Ilyana jogged across the practice field, skirted the edge of another class that was doing sword drills, and reached Cheszalt just as the two scouts did.

One of them was the young man that defeated her in the championship tournament the year before. He’d been assigned to scout duties soon after, and had been out in the world nearly continuously. He nodded to her, smiling, and she returned the gesture.

“Good to see you well, Ivan,” she said. “Welcome home.”

“Thank you, sister,” he said, then he turned his attention to Cheszalt. He was outranked by the other scout, a 28-year brother who had become the lead scout for The Order. Many of the older scouts had been disappearing- leaving on missions and not returning.

“Master, we have a report that I believe you should hear immediately,” the elder scout said, still catching his breath.

“Jacob, I trust your judgement,” Cheszalt replied. “You don’t break from your missions without good reason.”

Jacob nodded before continuing. “Ivan and I came across a village to the south-east, a five-day journey or so from here. It’s a strange place- they aren’t visited by gypsies or traveling merchants- none that we saw for the week we watched- and they have weapons for fighting the Turned that we’ve never seen before.” He paused again for breath. “Ivan really found them – he spotted smoke rising out of a valley that didn’t appear to have any roads leading into it.”

“How’d you stay within sight of the village for so long without going in?”

“There were large trees nearby – large enough that we could sleep among the higher branches, and stay out of reach of the Turned.”

As long as you don’t toss and turn in your sleep, Ilyana thought to herself. But then again, that’s not something I need to worry about at all anymore.

“Go on,” Cheszalt said, patiently.

“Well, the thing that convinced us to come back early was when we saw them capture a pair of the Turned, master,” Jacob said, finally getting his breath fully under control.

Cheszalt’s head dipped lower, his gaze becoming more intense. “Capture the Turned?” he repeated.

“Yes, Master,” the scout said, sharing his master’s surprise. He still didn’t seem to believe it himself. “They used a series of gates and open areas on one side of their village to isolate two of the Turned. Then trapped them with a device that looked like a long pole with a loop of iron chain on one end. They entangled the creatures’ throats, three or four of them for each of the Turned, then led them into the village, and into a large building near the perimeter. We couldn’t see inside to find out what they were doing in there.”

Cheszalt had most of his senior advisors around him by this point, and began looking from one to another. Everyone wore the same confused expression. Ilyana herself was confused by this, despite her own Immunity. For generations, the Turned were creatures to be feared, fought, and kept away at all costs, she thought. Why would anyone want to capture one? And even more so, why bring it into a village?

“Tell me about their technology,” Cheszalt said, returning his gaze to the scouts.

At this, Jacob looked to Ivan. “Master,” the younger man said with a half-bow, “they were using flame weapons far more powerful than we’ve seen elsewhere. They threw fire at least twice as far, and where our weapons merely drive the Turned away, these weapons would incapacitate them – the corpses would fall to the ground, continuing to burn on their own, and within a half hour they looked as though they’d been tied to a pyre and burned down to the bones. They must have a more potent fuel than alcohol to do that.”

Ilyana felt her eyebrows rise. This village was growing more and more interesting.

“They also had a different sort of armor. It looked more like fabric than metal plates, but it stopped the Turned from biting or scratching them. Their helmets were like others we’ve seen elsewhere, but the rest of the body was protected by something completely different.”

Cheszalt’s lips pressed together tightly. For a long moment, no one spoke, and the sounds of the practicing students around them seemed to grow louder. Then he took a deep breath.

“This place hasn’t come to our attention before. You say it’s off the path of trading caravans. But still… if their technology allows them greater protection against the Turned, there is a good chance they will share these things with other villages.” He turned to look at one of the young men beside him, Andrew, who had quietly anticipated the next sentence. “We’ve stopped our attacks while getting settled in this new place, but it’s time we begin pursuing our purpose again. Andrew, you’re in charge of the assault plan. We’ll send a medium-sized force this time, because of the travel distance, but they will attack just before sunset, and their goal will be to destroy the fences. We’ll let the Turned take care of them. In the morning, the team should return to find survivors.”

“Shall we kill them, or bring them here, Master?” Andrew asked, evenly.

Cheszalt’s eyebrows rose. “If you think you can bring them home, do so. If we could capture someone who has knowledge of this technology, they would be valuable to us.” He tilted his head toward Ilyana. “Take Ilyana with you- she has an excellent eye for detail, and will be a great help in formulating your assault plan. It would be foolish for us to make any final plans until you actually get to the city, and see what they have there.” Then he looked back at Jacob and Ivan. “We’ll need the path from here to there scouted thoroughly. You two will lead that effort, and guide the strike team.” The two young men nodded, their excitement showing.

Ilyana had backed off a little by this point, knowing that her own participation in the meeting was more or less done. Cheszalt looked at her, his face neutral for a moment, but then eyes widened in alarm.

She knew, an instant before he cried out, what was wrong. She twisted sideward and bent backward at the hips before seeing the young student who had backed to within a step of her, spinning in place and swinging his sword in a well-practiced arc that would have sunk the blade directly into her collarbone. But before the swing was finished, Ilyana had straightened, taking another step that put her directly facing the young swordsman.

He was so surprised to see her there that he nearly dropped the weapon. “Sister, I’m so sorry,” he exclaimed, relaxing his stance completely.

“It’s all right, brother,” she said. The rest of his class had stopped their practices, standing relaxed and turning to see what had happened. “I should have been more mindful of your drill.” She moved back toward the meeting clustered around Cheszalt.

It was only then that she realized that she had known of the danger without seeing it. She’d sensed her younger brother’s presence, felt the angle of his weapon’s arc, and had moved out of its path without having to turn to look. And somehow, she was certain that the infection that lived within her was the source of that knowledge, that feeling. If she hadn’t been Immune, she would have been gravely wounded, maybe even killed.

Ivan clapped her on the shoulder. “You’ve been practicing hard.”

She shrugged. “Not hard enough, it seems.” She paused. “Distracted by the idea of this village. I should have been more mindful of my surroundings.”

The others nodded their agreement- they shared her distraction- but Cheszalt’s eyes lingered on her a little too long, a little too curiously. Then he looked back to Andrew. “Perhaps… perhaps I’ll go with the strike team.”

Eyes widened around the group, but no one spoke. Cheszalt leaving the management of the city to others was nothing new- for a short time. But the strike team would be gone for at least two weeks. Cheszalt’s eyes moved around the circle, then came to rest on one of the older sisters who had filled in for him in the past. “Kara, you’ll be in charge while I am gone. You’ve got enough help to keep things running smoothly here, but everyone else will defer to you.” His eyes swept the group, making sure everyone understood him.

After a brief hesitation, she nodded. The idea of being responsible for the Order and their new home for such a long time had rattled her. They had their new compound, a huge city of high cement block walls and divided into sections in case one part was breached, but there was still great danger. The people of Carter’s Hill, who’d built the city before the Order had captured it, may decide to retaliate against them at any moment. The Turned may find a way inside that the Order had missed- the city certainly was large enough for the possibility to exist. Even if there was complete peace in their new home, there was a lot of building and farming work to be done. Much of the inside remained empty, and many of their brothers and sisters still slept under the open stars- or under archways when the weather went bad.

Ilyana showed the same shock as the others around her, but her mind was working in another direction- and quickly. Cheszalt being that far away from the new Compound presents an opportunity to Dresden and the others… especially if we pass anywhere near Silverlake. Her main reason for returning to the Order, even though she’d been infected, even though she’d found out the truth about the origins of the Order itself, was to gather information. The knowledge of Cheszalt going out in the wild was as good a piece of information as she could hope for.

*****

At the treeline outside the village, Marlena was surveying the fields and the wall through red-tinted glasses. She brushed her blond hair back out of her eyes, then wiped some of the sweat from her brow. There wasn’t even a hint of breeze in the woods, and the morning was becoming hot.

The village gates were still closed. Not a single person was out in the fields. The only sounds were from birds, singing to each other in the branches as if nothing was wrong. It was almost noon now, and judging by the look of the hard ground at the edge of the fields, it had been over a week since the last rain. The crops around the village would wither if they weren’t watered, and the villagers had to know this. But the gate was still closed, and no one was carrying water. The birds were mistaken- something was wrong.

And if these weren’t strong enough signs, the presence of the Turned within the walls was enough to stop her in her tracks. She’d known it the moment she’d been close enough to see the cement block walls through the trees. The same infection that made her own eyes scarlet caused her to feel them, even at a distance of more than two kilometers.

She didn’t dare get closer. On her journey here, she’d passed close enough to see a caravan approaching, and knew they would arrive at the village soon. Without knowing whose caravan it was, or their attitude toward the Immune, she wouldn’t risk it. Besides, if she really did sense the Turned within those walls, the caravan wouldn’t be staying here long.

She heard them before she saw them. They crested the eastern hill one at a time, moving a bit faster as they approached their destination. They were big, heavy carriages, built to shelter the occupants from the Turned over-night. She’d seen more and more of these built, as merchants and gypsy clans began to value the freedom these wheeled strong-boxes offered.

The carriages slowed as the caravan approached the city. The leaders and elders of the troupe knew something was wrong, just as well as Marlena did. They couldn’t feel the presence of the Turned in that village, but they had expected the gates to be opened. The lead carriage was about a kilometer away when its driver stood, twisted around to look at those behind him, and shouted a command. The entire train came to a lumbering halt, and the driver in the lead climbed to the ground. Marlena recognized him the moment his feet hit the dirt- shorter than his companions, greying hair and a commanding voice she could hear all the way across the fields. She broke from the treeline, jogging up one of the fenced-in lanes between tomato plants and strawberry bushes. Her pace would get her to the carriages before their leader reached the gate, especially if he was being cautious.

“Marius!” she shouted when she was close enough. He’d seen her approach earlier, but now he recognized her, waving a greeting. He smiled as she reached him, but the two kept a respectful distance. Marius knew she wasn’t dangerous, but Marlena didn’t want to make him- or the others- nervous. A handful of the other drivers approached, not sure what to make of their visitor, and Marius waved them closer.

“Good to see you, girl,” he said with a smile. Then his eyes returned to the closed gate. “You smell trouble inside, too?”

She nodded. “The Turned are in there. Lots of them.” She didn’t even look at the gate.

One of the other drivers cocked her head, a disbelieving look in her eyes. “How do you know?”

Marlena and Marius both looked at the driver, their expressions amused. Marius spoke first.

“I’ve known Marlena a while, and she’s never been wrong about the Turned.”

Marlena merely lifted a hand to her red-tinted glasses, sliding them down her nose just enough for the driver to see the blood-shot eyes behind them. All of the drivers blanched, and took a step back. Marius got a good laugh out of this, but sobered quickly.

Marlena turned back to Marius. “I figured I’d open it up for you. They won’t bother me.”

“You’d be doing us a favor,” the old man replied with another smile. “Give us a minute to back up? There’s no telling what they’ll do when they come out of there.”

Marlena nodded. “How long would it take you to lock up your animals?”

Maruis grimaced. “A while. They’d be confused, going back inside when the sun is up, they’d want to stay out in the light. They’d put up a fight, I think.”

Marlena shrugged. “Better safe than squishy,” she said. “How many can you afford to lose?”

“None,” he replied, nodding his agreement. He turned to the other drivers. “Let’s box up the animals, boys and girls. Marlena will open the gates for us, and we can all climb up to the rooftops, but let’s not give the Turned anything to eat when they come out.” The drivers nodded, then returned to their carriages. Marius had been right about the animals being resistant to going back inside- the oxen didn’t seem to care, one way or the other, but the horses needed some extra encouragement- and some bribery with food- to get back into their overnight-boxes. It was just after noon when the drivers finally climbed the ladders to the tops of their boxes. They could almost see over the top of the cement block walls. The driver of the second carriage in line craned her neck to see over the wall, then called out to Marius.

“She’s right, sir – there’s a crowd of them on the far side of the village, pushing against the other door.”

Marius nodded, then climbed up onto his own box. “Might as well open both doors, Marlena.”

After checking one more time to see that she was the only one on the ground, Marlena pulled on the door. It didn’t move at all- the large bolts on the inside were holding it closed. There was only a small crack between the door and the opening around it. She saw the Turned through that crack, trying in vain to get out of the sunlight, pushing against whatever was in their way. They held the door tight against the bolts, but couldn’t open it any farther.

Marlena looked around, up and down the outer wall, looking for a place to climb over the wall. Almost every new wall had been built with some way to let a living person climb up onto the wall. She found it a few meters from the door- a series of metal hoops had been cast into the blocks. She scaled up the wall quickly, peering over the top before pulling herself to the top. What she saw inside stopped her cold.

*****

In another village, Svetlana was making a similar discovery. She was able to go in the eastern gate, however- both of the gates had been thrown open, and the Turned had wandered out into the forest. They were still below-ground, though- Svetlana could sense them, standing still in the comfortable dark. All around the center of the village were holes in the ground, just large enough for a body to drag itself through. This must be how they got into the village, Svetlana thought, kneeling beside one of them. They didn’t need to breach the new wall- they just came underneath it.

There were dozens of bodies strewn about the ground, most of them eaten down to the bones. Some of them had no flesh left at all. A handful of them were fighters, their armor still mostly intact, but breached somewhere- some had lost their helmets, one or two had suffered a failure of the leather straps that had proven fatal. She stopped by one who had fallen into a hole, but spread his arms out to stop his descent. The Turned below had gotten to his lower-half, apparently- the skin on his face was already turning grey.

But why wasn’t his face bitten? Svetlana knelt beside him, slightly revolted by the dead fighter, but now intrigued. His helmet- she presumed it was his- sat on the ground beside him. His face was turned upward, eyes still open, his mouth half-open in a silent plea for help.

Svetlana’s brow creased. Not even 6 meters away, another fighter had fallen. She lay on her back, her chest plate pushed open far enough for the Turned to have gotten their teeth into her abdomen. Her helmet was on, but a trickle of blood was coming out from under the edge. The Turned had bitten away every scrap of flesh they could get to through her armor- which wasn’t much, really. Enough to kill her, but most of her was untouched… why had they left that young man’s neck and head alone? … unless his helmet had been pulled off after the Turned had left.

Not far from the mysterious corpse was another hole- larger than the others. Beside this hole, the dirt was dark with blood, but there was no corpse near enough to account for it. Svetlana looked down the hole, then sighed and slid her feet downward over the edge. Then she sighed again, and pushed herself forward and let herself slide down the hole.

It only took a moment before she landed. It surprised her- the Turned dug the holes that came up through the ground in the middle of the village, but around her was a small cavern that was definetly hollowed out by tools. Beams of light streamed through the holes above, giving her just enough light to see. A few dozen of the Turned were still here, standing still in the comfortable darkness. There were also a few inanimate dead, cleaned of all the flesh the Turned could get from them. Near the middle of the chamber was one corpse- skeleton might have been a more accurate description- whose wrists were still tied with rope. Someone had been left here for the Turned to eat.

Off to the west was a rough tunnel. Svetlana moved through it, running her hands along both walls. She could sense the Turned ahead of her, even in the dark. When she got close to one, she gave it a solid kick, knocking it off-balance. It fell, and she was able to step around it. She repeated this process three or four more times before reaching another hole upward. Climbing up and out was relatively easy, and upon poking her head up, she saw that she was just inside the tree-line.

The clues all pointed to one conclusion, and it troubled Svetlana greatly. Someone found a way to let the Turned get past the cement block wall, and that someone was almost certainly Immune.

2 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 02”

  1. Just cant get enof!

  2. Absolutely it are blessed with actually been a great deal better if it already been Fat loss factor program?

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