The Immune – Chapter 07

Svetlana approached Silverlake’s Western gate slowly, making certain the guards recognized her before coming close.  They didn’t speak to her, but the senior defender nodded her through.  She returned the nod, then strode inside.  In the square, she could see the small group of black-clad figures moving through their daily exercises, just as she had for many years.  Odyna was leading them, calling out commands as they did a long series of calisthenics.  Svetlana exchanged a smile and nod with her younger sister, then continued on toward the other gate on the Eastern side.  She’d seen the familiar carriages of Lincoln’s troupe, and her friends were her reason for returning here.

She was 50 meters from the gate when she froze in her tracks. Dresten was moving through the gate, along with several members of the New Order- but among them was Cheszalt, and several people she hadn’t seen among Dresten’s companions before.  The councilor was looking about with open curiosity, but when his gaze fell upon her, his expression darkened and his eyes narrowed.  Dresten stopped beside him, tilting his head and speaking quietly to the councilor.  Cheszalt nodded, and continued moving.  Svetlana stopped again, 5 meters or so from the other group.

Dresten spoke first.  “Councilor Cheszalt and his team have agreed to stay with us for a short while.  We’ll share with them what you shared with us, and hopefully they’ll come around to our way of thinking.”

Svetlana nodded, then looked to Cheszalt.  “The history of our Order was given to me by Councilor Gabriel.  He is still alive, and has taken the name Symon.”

Understanding crossed the councilor’s face.  “Symon is Gabriel.  That must be who she meant.”  He didn’t bother to say who ‘she’ was, and Svetlana didn’t ask.  Then he cocked his head, and looked closer at her – no doubt noticing her eyes.  “You are Immune, of course.  Otherwise the swarm would have taken you.”

She nodded her reply, but he continued speaking before she could answer.

“Councilor Alexia has the same Immunity as you.”

For a long moment, no one spoke.  Svetlana noticed Dresten’s expression take on surprise, then a little bit of fear.  She made no sign that she saw it.

“It has made her into a different creature,” Cheszalt continued.  “She is very strong, and very frightening.  She has become a messenger of our Creator’s will.”  Another pause.  “She told me you were not to blame for the attack on the Great Rock- that you were led astray.”  He looked at Dresten, and the others of the New Order.  “Her advice- that I do not place blame upon you all- is a large part of why I agreed to accompany you.”

Svetlana nodded.  “Listen to them, councilor.  Open your mind to the possibility that our own history might be incomplete- deliberately held from us by people who thought they could speak for our Creator.  Our own lessons included many examples of our brothers and sisters that made that claim, and the trouble it caused.”  She looked back to Dresten.  “I need to speak to Lincoln and his friends. I’ll find you again before I leave.”  Dresten nodded, then led Cheszalt and his team toward the large common-house the new Order had built for themselves.

She turned toward the carriages, and began moving toward them.  She was nearly there when she saw Jameson emerge from the small Inn, smiling at her and waving her over.  Of course, he had sensed her presence in the village, just as she had sensed him and Marlena.  She stepped up onto the wooden deck that surrounded three sides of the building, embracing Jameson tightly.  He returned the embrace, smiling at her as they separated.

“Good to see you again,” she said.  “I hope your journey has been safe.”

“Safe,” he nodded, “but interesting since we arrived here.”  He nodded inside, turning to accompany her as they passed through the door.  “Just after we came in, a pair of young women came down the road.  They said their village had been attacked, and opened up for the Turned.  They also said they’d been chased here by someone who they believe wanted to kill them.”

She looked at him sharply after hearing that.  He nodded his understanding.

“That’s what I thought at first, too,” he continued, not needing to hear her say what she was thinking.  “But they say it was the Believers that attacked their village.  Sounded to me like their classic strategy- they struck just before dusk, broke the gates and tore open all their hiding places.  The Turned finished the job.”

Svetlana’s mouth pressed into a thin line.  She knew Cheszalt and his team would be the strike team that had done this, but she wouldn’t say it – not yet, anyway.  She could see Lincoln Graddall now, sitting at a table with one of the members of his troupe and two young women who were undoubtedly the ones in question.

“I did notice two Immune outside of the village,” Svetlana said.  “I presume they were the ones in pursuit.”

Jameson nodded.  “Marlena could sense them, too, even if I couldn’t.”  He nodded his head toward Lincoln, and the girls.  “Anyway, they have a lot of interesting things to say.”  He paused, gently catching her shoulder.  “We should stay back, though.  It took Lincoln a lot of talking to calm them down when they saw Odyna and the others outside, dressed just like the people that attacked their village.  And they’re very nervous around the Immune.”

Svetlana shrugged.  “Most of the village is.”

“No, what I mean is, they didn’t know anyone could possibly be Immune before they met Marlena and I.”

Svetlana looked at the pair, then made eye contact with Lincoln.  He smiled in her direction, then returned to his conversation with the girls.  Svetlana looked back to Jameson.  “Where did they come from, where they’ve never seen one of the Immune?”

Jameson shrugged.  “My home was like that, too.”  He looked back toward Lincoln’s table.  “They didn’t tell us the name of the village.  They did say that they didn’t get many travelers through there, and no caravans to trade with.  They sent people out to nearby villages – here, sometimes – to trade for what they needed.  But they say some of the strangest things about their home.”

He looked over to Lincoln, who waved the pair over.  The table had two more empty seats.  Lincoln shifted over one place closer to the girls.

“David, would you mind moving over a spot?” Lincoln asked his companion.  “It’ll make the sisters feel a little better if Jameson and Svetlana sit across from them.”  He motioned to the girls.  “This is Hannah and Janelle Von Allen.  This is Jameson, our traveling companion that you saw earlier, and Svetlana is our good friend.”

Janelle – the older of the two, if Svetlana was right – was watching them closely.  “You’re sure they don’t eventually Turn?” she asked, looking back at Lincoln.  Hannah, the younger sister, wasn’t looking either Svetlana or Jameson in the eye.  The both of them were pretty, despite their obvious fright and road-dirt.  They shared a strong resemblance- high cheekbones and large, over-round eyes.

Svetlana smiled.  “I’ve been like this for over two years, and Jameson longer than I have.”  She looked at Lincoln.  “How long has Marlena carried the Infection without it killing her?”

Lincoln leaned back in his chair, his gaze wandering toward the ceiling.  “You know, she’s never told me.”  He looked back down at Svetlana.  “She’ll come back in a little bit, and perhaps I’ll ask her.”

Svetlana cleared her throat.  “Jameson tells me you two were chased here.”  The girls nodded.  “I believe they are still out there.”  She looked at Lincoln.  “I’m sure Jameson and Marlena shared with you what I found out.”

Lincoln nodded his head, concern crossing his face.  “You think those two out there are the ones that let the Turned into the other villages?”

“It’s possible.  And if their intentions were hostile, they may try something like that here.”  She paused again.  “It’s too great a possibility to ignore.  I think you should speak to the village council and defenders.  They’ll listen to you more than they would to me.”  Lincoln nodded, a weary agreement on his face.  Svetlana continued, “I will speak to the Order, and warn them.  In the meantime, where is-”  She looked toward the door, smiling.  Marlena had just entered, and was moving toward their table.

“Hello again, sister,” Marlena said, pulling a chair from another table and placing it beside Lincoln.

Svetlana nodded.  “Our visitors out in the forests may be the ones responsible for the over-run villages we saw.”

One of the girls cleared her throat.  “Um- what are you guys talking about? If someone is going to attack the village, how would they go about getting through the gate?  They’d have to come over the wall, like the Believers did.  And if there’s only two of them out there, the defenders would stop them.”

“These people tunneled under,” Svetlana said.  Both girls looked confused, but frightened.  Svetlana continued.  “They spent a lot of time tunneling under the village, then kidnapped someone and used them to lead the Turned down the tunnel.  Once the Turned were done with the first victim, they dug their way up to the people above.  They just came right up out of the ground.”

Hannah’s eyes widened further.  “Do you think they’d try something like that here?”

Svetlana shrugged.  “It’s possible.  If they tried, Marlena, Jameson and I would know it.”  Hannah’s confusion returned, and Svetlana smiled.  “The Infection allows us to sense other carriers, whether they are Turned or Immune.  And those two who followed you are Immune.  If they were to come near the village – above ground or below – we’d know it long in advance.  Besides,” she looked over at Lincoln, “how long would it take you to dig a tunnel from the tree-line to the town square?”

Lincoln chuckled, then looked at David.  The younger gypsy shrugged.  “I’ve never dug a tunnel like that.”

Jameson sighed, looking at Svetlana.  “There’s another possibility.”  All eyes turned toward him, but he kept his gaze on Svetlana.  “In Red Valley, we talked about the idea that the people setting these attacks were practicing for something else.”  He looked at David, then at Lincoln.  He didn’t want to un-nerve the Von Allen girls by making eye contact.  “Svetlana believes that at one of the villages, there were a few who survived the night, out of reach of the Turned- and the attackers came back in the morning to murder them.”  He paused for a moment before continuing.  “That, along with the location of the two villages – spread out over several days travel for a gypsy caravan – suggested that they wanted to keep what they were doing from being widely known about.”

Lincoln nodded.  “That makes sense.”

“But this led us to the idea that neither of those villages were their real target – that they were practicing, working out the problems with their strategy.”  Jameson looked back over to David, then back to Lincoln.  “The only place we could think of that would draw that kind of hatred in a person would be Carter’s Hill, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t do another practice run somewhere else- like here.”

Marlena nodded, slowly.  “We’d still feel them coming while they were digging.”

Svetlana spoke next, quietly but clearly.  “I think he means they may have already dug their tunnel.”

The statement hung in the air for a long moment.  Jameson nodded, soberly.  When no one else spoke, Svetlana continued.  “Which means the three of us need to be very alert.”  She looked toward the window, at the afternoon sun.  “There’s only an hour or so before sunset.  If they were going to kidnap someone to use as a lure, they would have to do so very soon, if they haven’t already.”

Lincoln was already rising from his seat.  “The village councilors are going to think I’m losing my mind, but the training-master and I have known each other for a long time.  He’ll at least listen to me.  And if anyone is missing, he’ll be the first to know about it.”  He looked down at the two girls.  “I wish I could give you better assurances that you were safe here.  You’ve been through enough today.”

Hannah nodded, but Janelle spoke first.  “We’ve been through enough to know that safety isn’t something anyone can promise you.”  She sighed, then looked at Lincoln, hopefully.  “In the meantime, I think I’ll be able to eat something, if the offer is still open.”

“Absolutely.” The old gypsy turned his head toward the younger one.  “David, let the house know I’ll settle up for their food. I’ve brought them a few spice packets they’d asked for last year.”  He moved toward the door smoothly, and disappeared outside.

Svetlana rose next.  “I’ll speak to the Order.”  She met Marlena’s eyes, saying, “I don’t know where would be a good spot for us to keep watch over the wall, but we should start looking.”  Marlena nodded.  Svetlana moved around Jameson’s chair toward the door, resting her hand on Jameson’s shoulder for a moment before leaving.

Jameson watched her go, unable to keep himself from smiling.  He looked at Marlena, and felt his cheeks flush.  She merely smiled back at him.

“Am I imagining…” his voice trailed off.

Marlena chuckled, and shook her head.

*****

Jameson stood on the platform above the East gate, looking out over the lake to their South.  The sun had just disappeared behind the distant trees and hills, and the sky was streaked with red and purple.  The rippling lake reflected some of this light, but was already being broken near the shore as the walking dead began to emerge from the murky water.

He remembered the previous summer, when there had been a great battle in the fields outside Silverlake, when a large attacking force from Carter’s Hill arrived at the same time as an equal number of fighters from the Order – the Old Order.  Both armies had been sent to destroy Silverlake, but the officers on each side had presumed the other army was there to stop them.  The overcast sky had been dark enough for The Turned to come out of the forest – and the lake – and both armies were overwhelmed and eaten.  Jameson had helped to burn the bodies the next day- what was left of them.  He’d hoped, after that day, that he’d seen enough fighting and killing, and his hopes had been strengthened by what he’d heard from Carter’s Hill.  But now, with this new threat, he found himself facing fear again.

“Gah!” he exclaimed, his wandering mind brought back to the present by Svetlana’s sudden appearance beside him.  He laughed at himself.  “I don’t know how you do that, but you’d think I’d be used to it by now.”

She smiled.  “If you were used to it, it would mean I’m not doing it right.”  She looked out over the wall.  “They’re coming.”

Jameson nodded.  He’d been able to tell, about 10 minutes before, that the Swarm was approaching the village wall.  Now he could sense the Turned within 50 meters of the wall.  He looked Eastward, over the fields of young bean plants and strawberry bushes.  Nothing was moving but the leaves, rippling in the wind.  He took a deep breath, and let it out sharply.

“What can we do?”

“Keep the villagers out of reach until morning,” she said, looking back into the village.  “There’s not much else, I don’t think.  I’m worried about the livestock- if any of the Turned come up into the barns, they’ll kill every animal before morning, and I don’t know how we’d stop them.”

“What does Bryan think?”

“He’s skeptical, but he’s also cautious.  He’s good at his job, which means he worries about things like this.”  She sighed.  “He said two people are missing – two teenagers who sneak off a lot.  They might just not have come back from wherever they went, or…”

Jameson nodded.  “The Turned will be under the wall in another few minutes.” He nodded his head toward the guards, a few feet away.  “They’ll believe us once the Turned start coming out of the ground.”

“We just need to make sure it’s not too late.”  Svetlana looked back over the wall.  “It’ll start any moment.  We won’t be of use up here.”

Jameson nodded, and the two made their way to the ladder.

*****

Idzac sat with him for a long time, most of it in silence.  Cheszalt found the ancient histories fascinating, but had yet to see how it applied to the present state of the Order – or how his brothers and sisters had turned against them.  Many fragments of the stories he recognized from his own youth, but there was more detail and clarity here, and many of the lessons taken from those stories were different than what he’d been taught.  In some cases, his instructors from long ago had been right – or nearly so – but there were many stories that had been changed, and whose lessons had changed significantly.

He finished another page, looking up at his old combat instructor, sitting completely still on a cot across from him.  Idzac’s face was lined with years, his body deceptively small, but his eyes had a life in them that was at odds with the rest of his appearance.

“There is a lot here,” Cheszalt said, agreeing with Dresten’s earlier observation.  “Many of our old stories seem that seem fragmented…” he raised the book slightly, and nodded.  “… Are connected by these.”

Idzac nodded.  “Our old teachings left out many things.  As if some of the stories didn’t fit in with what we were being taught.”

Cheszalt cocked his head.  “And why should we not omit the stories and lessons that do not fit with our mission?”

“That is the entire point, Cheszalt,” Idzac said, again taking the gentle tone of instructor.  “These stories call into question the mission.  We have believed for so long that the mission, the purpose of the Order, was an inviolate idea.  But at the same time, when a leader or councilor comes along, proclaiming that they have been given instructions from our Creator, those instructions lead us to disaster.  Our teachings give many examples of this – Diada’s quest, Gremess’s siege… and our lessons give dire warnings about following the word or will of anyone in the Order who makes the claim that they have divine inspiration.”

Cheszalt nodded.

“So – if the mission of the Order was given to our elders through divine inspiration, why does this repeating lesson of disaster not apply?”

“It has been our purpose for generations!” Cheszalt retorted, feeling his frustration rising.

“Only because it has not yet ended in disaster.” Idzac paused.  “But in all other ways, it fits in with the rest of the lesson.”  The older man pointed to the book in Cheszalt’s hand.  “These stories and ideas repeat our own lessons – kindness toward others, a spirit of community and shared work.”

“That is the only way the mission could be accomplished.”

“What if we applied those ideas to everyone- especially those outside the Order?  What is it that makes the rest of this village unworthy of our charity, our compassion – our help?”

Cheszalt paused, not willing to give the obvious answer.  Instead, he moved on to the obvious goal of the lesson.

“If the Turned were not meant to destroy human-kind, why did the Creator bring them upon the world?”

Idzac smiled.  “There are several more stories here that will tell of similar trials.  But Svetlana warned us that the village may suffer a strange assault tonight, and we should be outside.”  He stood.  “Come and watch, and tell me if you see human-kind desperately clinging to survival… or joining together to fight back.”

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