The Immune – Chapter 10

The fields surrounding the southern half of the city were fully planted now.  Divided into small wedges by rough wooden fences and open dirt lanes, the crops were well into season now – the corn was getting tall, the berry plants were ripening, and there had been plenty of beans to feed the city’s comparatively small population.  Two of the spaces had fruit trees growing – and while they were still saplings, they would begin bearing fruit within a few years.  Three teams of workers moved down the dirt lanes, leading ox-drawn water wagons to irrigate the dry soil.  And while many of the workers were not officially part of the Order, they had come to realize that the benefits of their new status – even as indentured servants – was a better deal than the lives they’d had before.

Within the walls, the those who had worked the fields in the morning were moving through their training exercises.  Several groups went through their practice forms, others were paired off to practice their seizing and controlling, and two of the more senior groups had elected to spar.

Kara stood upon the platform over the south gate, looking from the inside to the outside.  Everything was as it should be – Cheszalt would be happy with her management of the Order’s home, even if she’d done nothing but repeat the daily routines.

The worry entered her mind again.  Cheszalt was long overdue now.  Ivan had been scouting ahead of the returning assault group, and had returned to the city just long enough to check in.  Then he’d returned, four days later, unable to locate the rest of his group.  He had retraced his path all the way back to the objective village, but there’d been no sign of their Councilor or anyone else belonging to the team.  Kara had not faulted his work – he was one of the better scouts in the Order – but hadn’t refused his request to continue looking.

She concealed her worry from the others – well enough for them not to notice, she hoped.  The other elder members of the order continued to go about their tasks and their training, and the morale of her brothers and sisters seemed strong.  Each passing day made the concern grow – and this morning, she had come to a decision about it.  If there was no word or sign of Cheszalt before the gates closed for the night-

Looking back towards the fields, she caught sight of a single runner cresting the hill on the Eastern road.  She watched as they approached, guessing that it was Ivan long before she could tell for sure.  As he neared the gate below her, his expression told her that his search had been fruitless.

She nodded, silently, then headed for the stairs that would take her back to ground level.  She passed by one of the other senior members of the order – even only 18, the Order was still weakened enough that he was an elder – and clapped his shoulder.

“Michael,” she said, calmly, “find Bethany, Wynn, Laurel, Victor, and Dagan, and have them meet me near the southern gate.”

He nodded, then jogged away from the wall, toward the homes on the other side of the training sessions.  Kara moved along the wall, arriving at the gate just as Ivan came through.

“Welcome home, brother,” she said, smiling as one of the younger brothers handed a canteen to the returning scout.

“Thank you, sister,” he said.  He took three long pulls off the canteen, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve.  When he finally met her gaze, his eyes were full of despair.

“It’s not your fault, Ivan,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.  “You’re one of the best at what you do.”

He sighed.  “It was my responsibility to-“

She didn’t let him finish.  “It was your responsibility to make sure the road before them was clear, and you did that.”  She paused.  “Jacob was with them – if they were waylaid, they would have to be talented indeed to outwit him.  Not to mention outfighting Cheszalt himself.”

Ivan nodded, but his eyes slid to the ground.  Then he looked past her to the approaching group – Michael was returning, and with him were all of the eldest remaining members of the Order.

She turned to face them.  “That didn’t take long,” she said, pleased.

Michael shrugged.  “They were all in one place, sister.”

“Good.”  She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly.  She looked around for a moment, but decided that what she was about to say shouldn’t be kept quiet.  “Brothers and sisters, I fear that Chezalt and his assault team may not be returning to us.”  She scanned their faces, and saw what she had expected – they had all thought the same thing, privately, but were still holding on to hope that they were wrong.  “Before leaving, the councilor had told us that he intended to assign a new council for the Order soon.  I believe we should go ahead with that plan.”

Each of the others nodded.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ivan beginning to move away, sensing his part in the meeting was over.  She looked at him, and smiled.  “Please stay, Ivan.”  Then she returned her attention to the group.

“Originally, the Order had six councilors.  One spot had emptied when Gabriel left, and was never filled.  I want the six of you to be the new council.”

They were quiet for a long moment.  Wynn was the first to break the silence – her almond eyes looked to the ground before looking back up at Kara.

“Sister, the Councilor put you in charge of the city in his absence.  You are the most senior among us.  You should be on the council.”

Dagan spoke next.  “Yes – when there were five voting members on the council, there was never a fear of a tied vote.  If there are six of us-“

Kara held up a hand.  “Councilor Cheszalt put me in charge of the administration of our new home.  And if I may say so, it is a big enough job.”  She smiled.  “At our old home, our older brother Basil did most of the day-to-day administration of the Great Rock, freeing the councilors from that burden.  I will undertake that role here.  If there is a tied vote among you-“ she looked at Dagan now – “then I will act as a seventh vote, if you wish.”  She paused again.  “I would never presume to install myself as one of the Council, whatever Cheszalt’s intentions were.”

For a long moment, no one spoke.  Kara looked around again, taking notice of the other members of the Order who were gathering around.  The whole city seemed to know something of great importance was happening near the Southern gate, and was coming near to listen in.  She turned her attention back to the new council, hoping her smile looked more reassuring than it felt.  “We will make the formal announcement after the evening meal.  The normal rules of councilor-ship will apply – they must – so if there are any disagreements to my choices, there must be a formal contest, and a full vote.  And make no mistake, if you accept the mantle of Councilor, you will be open to challenges for your position.  I will be the judge in such matters, and I must be impartial.”

The new councilors nodded, slowly.

“In the meantime, I am recommending Ivan for the position of Master Scout.”  She motioned for Ivan to stand beside her.  “He is the most experienced of our wilderness scouts, and while he is young, he is the best to organize our remaining scouts and train new ones.”  She put her hand on his shoulder as he approached, and he smiled nervously.

After a pause, Dagan spoke.  “I agree with Kara.  I will vote for his advancement to Master Scout.”

“I agree,” Wynn said soon after.  She looked to the others.  “How do we go about calling a vote?”

Kara chuckled.  “I believe you just did.”  Then she shrugged.  “I’m afraid you’ll have to make your own rules, councilors.”

The crowd around them was thickening, as more of the Order approached.  One by one, the new councilors agreed with Kara’s suggestion.  The vote was unanimous.

“Very well,” Kara said.  She turned to Ivan.  “Jacob’s quarters are just as he left them.  His notes should be in there, along with the journals of several other Master Scouts.  They should help you.  Go ahead and start studying them, and report to the council tomorrow after our morning meal.”  He nodded, then gave the councilors a short bow before moving off across the training grounds.

Kara sighed, deeply, looking at the ground.  “If Cheszalt disagrees with my decision – or any of our actions – he will tell us if and when he returns.  But he charged me with leadership of the Order, and I believe this will serve our mission best.”

 

*****

 

Dana stopped just within sight of the edge of the tree line.  Almost three kilometers ahead of her was the lowest gate of the fenced-in mining town.  The city seemed to flow down the side of the great hill, a spring of large houses near the crest becoming a flow of smaller houses, and ending in a pool of workshops and merchant shops as the land evened out at the bottom. Even at this range, the fences that divided the city into its sections was noticeable – at least to Dana’s eyes.

Taurus stopped beside her.  “Kinda odd for us to meet him out in the woods every time, isn’t it?”

She shrugged.  “There’s a chance someone in the city would recognize me,” she replied.  “Not much of a chance, but I don’t believe he’s lived as long as he has by taking chances.”

“I suppose not.  Speaking of chances, don’t you feel concerned at all about the chances you take by trusting him?”

She looked sideward at him, a sarcastic smile on her lips.  “It’s not the greatest risk I’m running.  I personally don’t care whether I’m recognized or not.”

The large man shrugged, then after a pause he spoke again.  “How long should I give you before coming back out?”

“If you get food and a drink, and then move along, you won’t look suspicious,” she replied, her eyes returning to the distant city.  “I’m sure my meeting will be done before you finish.  I’ll wait for you out here.”

“Fair enough.”  He started moving again, a steady jog that was surprisingly fast of a man his size.  Dana watched him until he passed the trees, and entered the open field, then moved directly into the trees to the left of the road.

It wasn’t long before she noticed the presence of her escort. Her own senses never did seem to have the range that Taurus did. It bothered her that others of their kind could “feel” her presence much sooner than she could detect theirs. At the same time, she thought to herself, it forces me to be sharper than them.

He approached from the direction of the city, angling toward her own path and falling into step to one side of her, 20 meters away, just visible through the thickening trees.  The Turned were scattered all around them now, standing still in patches of shadow and shambling out of the way as sunlight intruded upon them.  The other Immune looked at her intermittently, shadowing her for a long time.  Then, quite suddenly, and for no reason she could see, he stopped in his tracks.

This was how their meetings were arranged. An escort would meet her in the forest, and guide her to the meeting place. It was different every time, and there were always a handful of his ‘friends’ within shouting distance.  She stopped walking as well.  Her guide turned to face her, nodding.

“Right there,” he said, pointing off to her right.  A small clearing was that direction, a gentle hill topped by sunlight and tall grass.  She moved toward it, climbing to the top of the hill and looking up through the trees, toward the clouds.  The direct sunlight made her slightly uncomfortable – it felt hotter than it should have, but it was nothing she couldn’t tolerate.

And again, the voice seemed to materialize out of thin air.  “Your attacks seemed to have worked out very well.”

She turned, slowly, seeing him climbing the hill toward her.  Again, he wore off-white robes, almost the same style as the Believers, but the color of cream, darkening near the ankles from wear and time.

“Yes, except for the last,” she replied.  “They were prepared for it – at least, the Immune who were there were ready for it.”

The older man nodded, slowly, and stopped just short of a meter away.  He looked up at the clouds, and she had, and took a deep breath.  He seemed to be drawing energy from the light, from the forest around him. It almost seemed to make him taller, and his robes took on a slight glow in the sunlight.

“They’ll be looking for you now,” he said, half-chiding and half-cautioning. “You’ll need to keep moving, and move faster, to avoid them.”

She nodded.  “Taurus is good at getting across country undetected, and he’s been teaching me.”

“Your approach here was much improved,” he agreed, “but Svetlana in particular is very skilled. Don’t let your guard down.”

“There’s something else, too.  We came across a team of the Believers-“ Symon’s expression darkened at this use of the slang name for the Order he used to be part of- “and followed them to their target.  It was a village hidden in a valley, and they killed almost everyone.  Only two people escaped, two girls.”

She paused in her report, seeing the mild confusion in his eyes.  “I only mention it because those two survivors played a role in the defense of Silverlake.  They were able to throw fire without flame weapons, and it burned hot enough to scorch the Turned where they stood, instead of just driving them away.  I hadn’t seen anything like it before.”

Symon nodded.  “Interesting.”

“The strange thing is this… we followed them for half a day in the wild. We would have been able to catch them if we hadn’t had to wait for the Believers to clear out before moving in.  Taurus swears that one of them was infected when they left the village, but neither of us could sense the Infection in them when they approached Silverlake.”  She shrugged.  “It may have been a mistake on Taurus’s part, but he’s never been wrong about that sort of thing.”

He sighed, turning his head back toward the sky.  “It would be interesting to find out what caused that confusion.”

“We will.  That’s our next step, as a matter of fact.”

Symon nodded again. “Your plan for your old home remains the same?”

Dana smiled, and shook her head. “No, I don’t believe we’ll use a tunnel.  Those Immune that were at Silverlake may be headed toward Carter’s Hill, and if they are, they’ll prepare the city for a tunnel attack.”

He returned her mischievous smile.  “You already have another plan.”

She chuckled. There was a reason she took the old man’s advice – his wisdom and insight could rival her late mother’s.  “Yes. It’ll take some more thought to work out the details, but the core of it comes from the discovery outside of Red Hill.”

He looked toward her, one eyebrow cocked upward. “The mine?”

“Not the mine itself, but when they first went there, they found –“

“Master!” another voice called from the trees to their right. Her guide had returned, jogging towards them. He was obviously out of breath, and his expression was frightened. “I apologize for interrupting you, but someone else is approaching us.”

Symon didn’t speak, but waited for his young friend to reach the hill.  When the young man caught his breath, he continued speaking.  “She was headed for the city, but when she got within a half-kilometer or so of us out here, she turned and has been coming straight here.  She’ll be here in just a few minutes.”

“She?” Symon asked, concern touching his face for the first time Dana had ever seen.

“Yes.  Jacob approached her, and asked her business – and she killed him. With a single punch. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Symon nodded, then under his breath, said, “Well, that took longer than expected.” Then he raised his voice, giving a stern order. “Return to Tarense. She’s coming for me. No need to endanger yourself.”

“Master, I’d like to stay with you.”

The older man shrugged.  “As you please.” He turned to Dana. “You, on the other hand, should go. Head West, and take a wide circle back to your meeting with Taurus.  I don’t believe she’ll take much interest in you, but you don’t want to cross her path.”

Dana nodded, needing no further encouragement.  She was used to secrets around Symon, and today seemed like it was no different.  Her questions for him could wait for another time.  She darted off into the woods, and didn’t look back to see who Symon’s unexpected guest was.

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4 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 10”

  1. so is symon an evil guy now?

  2. chapter 11 would be nice

  3. Great story line cant wait for more

  4. Lallie – I never said Symon was a “good” guy. I hadn’t really made up my mind about him until starting this book – but convincing Svetlana that everyone in the Order had to be killed wasn’t the nicest move…

    More will be coming very soon. Glad you enjoy it!

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