The Immune – Chapter 11

Symon stood, stock-still, watching her approach with an expression of curiosity.  His eyes followed her sharply, like a hawk focused upon a smaller bird.  His hands remained clasped behind him, his head levelled, his lips a thin line.

Augustus looked from his face to hers, then back again, and thought he understood the situation.  He stepped between them, facing the intruder, his hands folded in front of him.  His stance was passive, but his body language clearly conveyed his intention to protect his mentor.

“No, Augustus,” Symon said, quietly but firmly.  “Alexia here is family to me.  And from what you told me about Jacob, I don’t think you would slow her down for long.”

The younger man only nodded, then moved aside, putting a few more steps between himself and Symon than before.

The woman continued her slow approach.  Each step seemed to be taken in slow motion, but was in fact placed carefully, deliberately, keeping her balance centered in the moments when only one foot was on the ground.  The remains of the clothing she’d worn as a councilor in the Order clung to her, almost desperately, as if the fabric feared she would tear the rest away at any moment.  Her grey-white skin was stretched taut across the muscles in her arms and shoulders, the blue veins standing out like scars.  Her gaze matched the older man’s- direct, unwavering, and completely focused.  She hadn’t even glanced at the young man who’d tried to interpose himself between the two elders.  She stopped moving when she’d come within 5 meters, her hands relaxed at her sides, her shoulders moving slowly with her breath.

“Symon… or Gabriel?” she asked, quietly, but with enough intensity to be clearly heard across the space between them.

He smiled again, his eyebrows rising genially.  “Both,” he replied, gently.  “Gabriel was the name given to me by the Order, and Symon is the name I chose for myself.”

“Leaving us because you were infected was the right thing to do.  Staying away, once you’d discovered your Immunity, was a choice I agree with.”  Her voice was even at first, then took on an edge that made it almost a growl.  “But sending Svetlana back to destroy us was unforgivable.  And while none of the survivors can deal with you, I certainly can.”  Without taking a step or even moving, she seemed to close the space between them, as if her mental strength was reaching across the space toward him.

“Svetlana didn’t destroy the Order, sister,” Symon said, with a slow blink.  “She saved it.  And in my humble opinion, she saved you, as well.”

Alexia hissed as she finally crossed the space, moving faster than any human possibly could.  Four precise hand-strikes accompanied her charge.  Symon’s own movements were just as fast, re-directing her hands away from his chest and head just before impact.  Augustus, stunned by the explosion of movement, stepped back in surprise.  His mouth hung open a moment, and while he closed it a moment later, his eyes remained wide, drinking in the scene before him.

“How many of our people were killed that night? Did you even bother to find out?” she hissed.

Her hands darted forward again, and another series of strikes and attempted grips were pushed aside.  Symon’s smile turned into that of an instructor, correcting an errant student.  “You have personally visited death upon so many villages, by your own hand and by your orders, and you speak now of the Order’s loss of life?”

“The Creator’s plan calls for what we do!” she snarled, striking out again and missing.  His continued avoidance was fraying her nerves more with every passing moment, and it was showing in her eyes.

“The Creator’s plan also, ultimately, calls for our own deaths, does it not?” He shook his head slightly, in the small space between two series of counter-moves, and this frustrated her further.  “Who are we to judge when our time comes?”

“But now, with the Order so weakened, so shaken, how much longer will the Creator’s plan take to be fulfilled?”

With those words, Symon’s seemingly unshakeable patience cracked.  He gripped her wrist upon her next attack, not only dodging but twisting and pushing her away as he did so.

“And again, you presume to know the Creator’s will!” he said, almost angrily.  And a moment later, the frustration was gone, and the instructor’s attitude returned – but this time, with a hint of disappointment.  “The Council has long thought it understood the Creator’s plan, his very will – but it has become clear to me you have nearly forgotten the most basic lessons you try to teach your own students.”

Alexia stood still, the rage inside her about to explode at any moment.  But she retained her control, straightening and letting her hands fall to her sides.

“Look at what the Order had become, before Svetlana’s attack,” he said, his hands clasped in front of him.  “You had changed many the old teachings, steered the Order upon a new course that the older members wouldn’t have understood, and may not have agreed with.  This is what made Svetlana wish for your destruction- I merely provided her the proof she needed.  Look at how you had been sending out your attacks – presuming that most of the warriors you would send out wouldn’t return alive, even if they were successful.  You had so many members to send, so many young brothers and sisters in training, that you thought nothing of sacrificing them.  And look at them now- Cheszalt counts each and every surviving member as invaluable.  The results speak for themselves- since the Great Rock was over-run, they work together better, train harder, and their attacks on villages are far more efficient.”  He took a step toward her, then another.

“And look… at… you…” he said, smiling.  She was at least 10 centimeters taller, far more muscular and powerful, but his face showed no fear, no concern, not even tension.  His last phrase seemed to trigger the release of her rage.  She closed the distance between them in an instant and struck twice more, but both attacks were deflected.  A moment after, she tried to grip his left wrist, but the grip was reversed and he stepped around behind her, putting just a step between them.

“Look at me?” she repeated, turning to face him. Her voice was quiet, but enraged.  Then she shrieked.  “LOOK AT ME?!  Look at what has become of me?”  The last shout came out a half-sob.  She crossed the space between them again, this time striking not with punches or jabs, but trying to ensnare his wrists and forearms.  Their hands slid past each other every time, neither one gaining a solid grip.  Again, he moved away, and his eyes finally showed some emotion. Not anger, impatience or frustration – but excitement.

“Yes, sister, LOOK AT YOU,” he nearly shouted.  “Look at what you’ve become!  What better an instrument for the Creator’s will?  Human-kind has learned, over time, to deal with the Turned, to live alongside them.  How could they possibly deal with you?”

She stepped close again, facing him fully and trying again to entangle him.  Every attempt was foiled.  Symon was just too fast, too slippery, too well-practiced.  Then his demeanor changed, and he gripped her shoulder and arm, turning her away from him and pushing her away.

“And now, look at me. I may be fast, but your raw power is far greater.  I’ve been given generations to practice, to strengthen myself, and I could never become the living weapon you have made yourself in just over a year!  Look again – and see the gift the Creator has given you!”  He folded his hands behind him again, and took a step toward her as she straightened, turning to face him again but standing still this time.  Her face registered shock at his rebuke, nearly cooling her anger.  Her hands fell to her sides again.

Symon’s voice changed tone again, softening and growing almost too quiet to hear.  “I have been waiting a long time for you, Alexia.  For someone to arise within the Order that could become such a vessel of the Creator’s strength.  Every time I had thought they had arrived, my hopes were dashed.  When you won your third championship, I did not dare to hope for you to be Immune.  But now…” he took another step toward her, placing his hands on her shoulders as they heaved with her breath.  “Now, our Creator’s plan can move forward once again.”

“How could you send her to kill us all?” the taller woman asked, another half-sob, her breath coming back under control.  Her gaze was still iron, anger rising again behind her eyes.  “She nearly destroyed the Order, and made our ancient home into a tomb!”

Symon closed his eyes, looking toward the ground, then back up at hers.  “The councilors- you included, my sister- had long ago strayed from our intended path.  Strengthening the Order was always a priority, but not turning into an empire.”  He lifted his face, meeting her gaze again.  “You were in danger of becoming dictators, Alexia.  You had nearly become what the Order was founded to fight against.  Svetlana saved the Order from going too far.”

Alexia didn’t speak for a long moment.  “You could have returned to us, to tell us this.  We would have taken your advice.  Your seat was kept empty.” She paused again.  “Did so many of us have to die?”

Symon nodded.  “In the end, it is the Creator’s plan for us all.  It had been too long since the Order was subjected to its own tests- the Great Rock was too safe a place.  And now, look what has happened since then.”  He paused.  “I fear their new home will offer them too much security again, but the lessons from the Great Rock are still fresh in their minds.  It will be a long time before Cheszalt allows them to get soft.”

“But it will be so long before The Creator’s plan is finally complete.”

“The Order will continue to rebuild, and at a better pace than before.  And with your help, perhaps they will gain another advantage.”  He paused again, letting the statement hang between them for a moment, then continued.  “You do have a gift that would make a tremendous difference to Cheszalt, and all the others of our Order.”

“I cannot return to them… not like this.” She looked at the ground, or at herself.

“What if your Immunity could be passed on to others, Alexia?” Symon whispered, eyes flashing.  “What if the Order could become Immune?”

She looked up, sharply, eyes locking upon Symon.  She didn’t notice the look he received from his young friend.  “Is it possible?”

“When normal people are bitten by one of us, no.  But I have met one young man who drank the donated blood of an Immune friend…” Symon gestured to Augustus.  “And now, as you see, he is Immune.”

Alexia shifted her gaze to the young man, and he merely smiled back at her, sheepishly.  The direct attention of the two masters seemed to make him nervous.  Her gaze shifted back to Symon.  “If the entirety of the Order were Immune…”

Symon nodded, slowly.  “It may not work on all of them, Alexia.  But for those that it does… imagine the advantage.  Imagine the possibility.  Imagine being able to return to the Order as a sister again, instead of the self-exiled monster you see in yourself.”  He backed off from her a step.  “I know how isolated you feel, how detached.  It took me a long time to find friends, a community, to leave that constant loneliness behind.  It took a great toll on my faith.”

She looked downward again, nodding.  “It is difficult to bear.”

“It is.  The book that describes our Creator’s history is full of such stories.  It names people like you as heroes.” He stepped back, clasping his hands behind his back, and smiling up at her.  “Alexia, you’ve carried this burden alone for long enough.  It isn’t meant for one soul.  Cheszalt and the Order would be happy to welcome you back, and share your load.”

Alexia looked at him, eyes meeting his firmly, and it seemed a transformation washed over her.  Determination had returned, but instead of anger, her passion was now hopeful.  She stood still for a long moment, then spun around and dashed away into the forest, so quickly it caught Symon and his companion off-guard.  They watched her go, not speaking to each other until her footsteps could no longer be heard.

Augustus approached his elder.  He spoke quietly, as if afraid their departing guest would overhear.  “Master… you almost had me convinced that you plan to exterminate human life, as you say you did when you were part of the Order.  I wasn’t sure, until you began telling her about me.”

Symon turned to face his student.  His smile was mischievous.  “Not once did I lie to her, I assure you.”

Augustus’ eyebrows rose, and he smiled back at his master.  “I don’t believe you did.  But you did leave several important points un-said.  Such as the fact that you’d told me I’d be Immune long before I drank infected blood.”

Symon nodded, slowly.

“What other points did you leave out?  Do you truly believe that normal people are meant to be exterminated?  I thought you left that attitude behind.”

“The Order is a threat to normal humans and Immune alike,” Symon said.  “And while hurting it, reducing its strength, was never a hard thing to do, wiping it out completely was impossible.  We saw that with Svetlana’s attack.”

Augustus nodded.  “But if she infects the entire Order…”

“Then she does our work for us,” Symon completed the thought.  “She will be the weapon you and I could not possibly become.  And I doubt she’ll miss anyone.  It would be interesting to over-hear the conversation she will have with Cheszalt upon returning.”

“My only fear, master, will be at your next meeting with her,” Augustus sighed, his smile shrinking and disappearing.  “I doubt she’ll give you time to talk.”

Symon shrugged.  “Perhaps not.  And I don’t know how long I’d be able to prevent her from killing me.  But either way, my purpose will have been fulfilled.”

Augustus paused for a long moment before asking his next question.  “Master… you implied, without saying so directly, that you believe the Immune are meant to survive after normal people are all gone.”  He cocked his head to one side.  “Do you truly believe that?”  He seemed to take a moment to gather his courage for his next sentence.  “It would change things between you and I… and several of the others.  You know my feelings.”

Symon turned back toward Tarense, moving slowly so that Augustus could catch up a moment later.  “With the events of the past two years, I’m not sure what I should believe.”

They walked in silence for a long moment, the city occasionally visible through the trees.  Augustus kept his head down, then took a deep breath.  “There is something else, Master…”

Symon looked at his companion, an indulgent smile on his face.

“… I have been wondering for some time now… but I think I know where I have seen the other woman before.  The one you met first.  She looked so familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her.  Then, when I was approaching to warn you, I heard you two mention Carter’s Hill. That is Dana Carterson, isn’t it?  The daughter of the matriarch of the city?”

The older man didn’t answer. His face was neutral.

“When you had asked me to watch Carter’s Hill, Xeren and I used to spot her from time to time.  Her hair was longer then.  But I’m sure it’s her.”

Symon nodded, slowly, then paused in his stride.  “That’s too bad,” he said, quietly.

Those three words were all the warning Augustus would receive. Not even a breath later, Symon’s hand impacted the side of his neck, the knuckles hitting a sensitive nerve crossing and making the young man’s breath catch.  Within four seconds, Symon had struck him three more times, quickly and precisely. Augustus fell to the ground like a forgotten puppet, aware that his lungs were cramping, forcing all the air out and suffocating him from inside.  As he watched Symon move away, his vision began to lose color, fading to greys before fading to darkness.

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