The Immune – Chapter 13

David Jennings noticed their return first. He was standing atop his carriage, speaking quietly to his two youngest children, Ashton and Sienna.  He waved to the group of Immune, smiling as he saw the Von Allen girls were safe.

Ashton pointed to Jameson, laughing. “Dad, he looks like a porcupine!”  Sienna giggled with him.

Jameson looked up at David as they passed.  “What did he call me?”

David only smiled.  “It’s the arrows.  I’ll show you a picture later.”

Jameson shrugged, then caught up to the others, heading toward Lincoln’s carriage.  The train was back underway.

Lincoln’s relief at their return was visible, even from 20 meters away.  Xeren was mostly under her own power now, holding the arm below her wound as still as she could.  She and Marlena accompanied the Von Allen sisters up to the front of the caravan, to fill Lincoln in on what had happened.

Svetlana lingered behind, alongside Jameson.  “I’d like to talk to you for a moment, before I get going.”

He looked over at her, and shrugged.  “Sure.”

Svetlana’s eyes glanced forward, then back to him.  “Privately, please.”

His eyebrows rose, and he nodded.  “Mind helping me get this chestplate off?”

She smiled.  “Sure.”

 

*****

 

Jameson tried to pull one of the arrows out of the steel plate over his chest, but couldn’t get the right grip on it.  Svetlana put one hand on the black wooden shaft, the other on his shoulder, and pulled the arrow out smoothly.  The other two came out just as easily.

The road had become smoother, and the ride inside the first of the animal-carriages was easier.  Jacob was still driving, but he couldn’t hear them, and wouldn’t have been interested in eavesdropping in any case.  Sunlight streamed in through the open roof-hatch and the screen-covered vents around the top of the walls.

Jameson shrugged out of the cuirass.  “Thanks for your help out there,” he said.  “You came back at just the right time.  Marlena and I might have been able to run them down, but that archer… wow…”

She nodded.  “He was fast.  He was a good fighter, too. Almost as good as some of the fighters in the Order, and we would spend most of our life doing combat training.  I suppose if we included practice with a bow and arrow, we’d eventually get as good at it as he was.”  She had been looking around the carriage, but now locked eyes with Jameson.  “You went right at him.”

Jameson smirked.  “I made that cuirass thicker than usual.  The added weight doesn’t bother me.  We run into bandits often enough, and they use arrows sometimes.  I guess I wanted to see if it would really work.”

She nodded.  “Maybe, but it doesn’t cover your face.”  She stepped toward him.  “That was very brave of you.”

He nearly blushed.  “You, too – and you weren’t wearing armor.”

“I never do.  And I’ve had a lot more practice in that sort of situation than you have.”  She smiled.  “Your humility is not a bad thing, but don’t belittle your actions.”  Her face went completely impassive a moment later, and she took a deep breath before continuing.

“I have something I need to tell you – something I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while, but the opportunity hasn’t presented itself.  Now,” she sighed again, “I’m about to chase down the other kidnapper, and I’m not sure where she’ll lead me.”

Jameson’s brow creased.  “You’re afraid you won’t come back?” It was half-statement, half question. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in you.  You talk about my bravery, but I’ve seen you show a lot more than I.”

She smiled again, but the smile vanished a moment later.  “Did you recognize her out there?”

Jameson shook his head.

“That was Dana Carterson,” Svetlana said, her voice darkening.  “I’m sure of it.  And because I know who she is, a lot of other things are beginning to fall into place.”

They were quiet for a long moment, and the wheels in Jameson’s head were spinning.  Finally he said, “Dana is Immune.”

She nodded.

“There were rumors that all the wealthy people of Carter’s Hill were caught in the wilderness by the Turned.”

She completed the thought for him.  “And if she was scratched, but not eaten, she could have discovered that Immunity.  I wonder if she isn’t like your friend Xeren, and doesn’t show any outward signs.  Or perhaps she didn’t before the attack that killed the rest of her family – I believe her eyes were bloodshot out there tonight.  I don’t know exactly how the Immunity works.”

Jameson nodded.  “It’s different with everyone.”  He paused, then continued.  “So Dana is Immune – and she’s behind the tunnel-attacks we’ve seen.  We had thought she might be testing the strategy before using it on her ultimate target.”

Again, she nodded.  “Which makes sense.  If she and her family were caught in the wild, but one member of the family survived, she could easily guess that it had been treason on his part that caused it.”

“And Joshua is still in Carter’s Hill.”  He shook his head.  “So she blames him for it, and is planning on taking revenge on the whole city.”

Svetlana nodded.  “That would be my guess.  However, I would be surprised if she attempted another tunnel.  We’ve seen that tried, and between us and the other Immune living in Carter’s Hill, she’d be noticed way too early for it to work.”

Jameson nodded.  “So she’s got to come up with another plan.  Was kidnapping the Von Allens part of it?”

Svetlana shrugged.  “Whether it was or not, it isn’t now.  So whatever she’s going to be up to, she’s going to be working toward implementing it now.  And she won’t want anyone watching, so I’ll have to be extra careful.”

Jameson nodded again, waiting for her to speak.

“This is… this will be hard to say to you, Jameson, because I’ve become fond of you.  And I fear it will make you angry with me.”  She sighed.  “The Order would always send a scout to look at a village before sending a strike team to attack.  My job was usually that of the scout.  So what happened the night you were Infected, at your home in Dry River, was partially my doing.”

Jameson felt a chill sweep over him, and his throat went dry.  He turned away from her, his eyes sliding down toward the floor.

“I have… hoped that a chance to tell you this would come, but I need you to know this,” she said.  “Your home wasn’t destroyed that night, but a lot of people were killed, and you…”

Jameson shrugged.  “I just discovered that I was Immune, in addition to being scared out of my mind.”

“I watched it happen,” she said.  He turned back to face her, his eyes showing the conflicting emotions behind them.  “I watched you risk your life to lock the doors of your animal barns.”

“Turns out that wasn’t really much of a risk,” he said, shaking his head.

She smiled at him.  “Again, your humility.  You didn’t know you were Immune at the time.  You ran like someone who knows their life depends on it.  And besides, Immune or not, they’d have attacked you, and eaten you down to the bone before your Immunity could save you.”  She looked at the floor.  “If you’re angry at me, I understand. I deserve it. I deserve a lot of anger, from a lot of people whose villages were attacked after I’d visited.”

Jameson was quiet for a long moment.  Then he took a step toward her.  “I spent some time talking to Dresden and the others in Silverlake.  The New Order, they call themselves.  They were given orders to attack all these villages, and only recently realized how wrong their actions have been.  They all feel guilt at what they used to do, and it drives them to help other people now.  They’re trying to make up for the hurt they’ve caused.  And you…” he took a deep breath.  “In the last two years, you’ve done more to help other people than anyone else I know.”  He reached a hand out to her, and smiled as she took it in her own.

Then she surprised him again, and stepped close.  “I have seen your courage many times.  Almost everything you’ve done has been to help other people.  And again, today, you risked your life for those two sisters.”

Jameson smiled, and looked at the floor.  She squeezed his hand, then used her other hand to touch his chin, lifting his face to look at her own.  She just looked at him for a long moment.

“There are a lot of Immune in Tarense, Jameson,” she said, quietly.  “I picked you for that kiss for a reason.”  She leaned forward further, and her lips touched his, gently at first, then firmly.  This time, it did not shock him the way it had in Tarense.  He slid his arms around her shoulders, holding her close for a moment before releasing her.  They were silent for a long moment.

“How will you find her?” he asked finally.

She smiled again.  “The Order spent a lot of time teaching me to find people.  That’ll be the easy part.  The hard part will be deciding what to do next.”

 

*****

 

Cheszalt sat beside the door to the Order’s house, with the large book on his lap.  Both of the gates were wide open, and through one of them he could see the shimmering water of the lake that gave the village its name.  It was a strange sight to him, but he had come to appreciate its beauty, especially at sunset.  Even now, just before noon, the calm water was a beautiful sight.  A handful of fishermen were out in their boats, dangling lines into the water.  Through the other gates, he could see the sectioned fields, where much of the village was hard at work watering and weeding the bean plants and potatoes.

And in the square right in front of him, Odyna was leading a dozen of the older village children through the exercises he used to teach in the Great Rock.  She was a good teacher – the class was doing a very early, simple series of movements – and her eye for the children’s technique was very good.  She had them holding the movements for longer than was necessary for more advanced students, while she looked at each one of them, offering advice or corrections where necessary.  He’d only noticed a few errors that she hadn’t corrected. And being an old teacher himself, he knew that not everything needed to be pointed out every time.

Odyna was barely an adult, herself.  Her clothing was almost identical to that worn by the Order, except that hers was medium grey instead of black.  Dresten had made that change, reasoning that they were outside in the sun more often now. A pair of the villagers here had made all their clothes for them, out of gratitude for something the New Order had done the previous year, a battle they’d fought to protect the village.  The children in her class wore the same, simple clothing as the rest of the villagers – brightly colored, rough cloth, made into loose tunics and pants.

He turned his attention back to the book. He’d read the whole thing now, and was reviewing it.  The more he read, and the more he thought, the more Idzac’s words worked their way into his heart.

He remembered being in the wild, for weeks at a time, and feeling doubts creep into his mind, and his heart.  It was common, his instructors would tell him.  Returning to the Great Rock would restore his faith in the Order’s mission.  But now, out here, it wasn’t so much doubt as he was feeling, but a new perspective.  The actions of the Order and its council – his own actions – had seemed like not only the best course, but the only course.  It had been so clear to him before.  But with his new perspective, seeing his own Order with more of its history fresh in his mind, it all looked different.  More and more, Dresten’s current choice of actions seemed like a logical choice.

It all came down the Order’s mission.  If a person believed in the mission – and the underlying idea that the Creator’s plan was to exterminate all humans on the planet – then everything they did was justifiable.  But change that one idea, and the Order became…

What? An imperial army? A collection of murderous thugs?

And for him to hold onto belief in the Order’s mission, he had to accept another dangerous idea – that someone, somewhere along the long history of the Order, someone had truly heard the word of the Creator. At some point, there had to be a human being that convinced other human beings that they knew precisely what their Creator’s will was.  As Idzac pointed out in his first lesson – Cheszalt chuckled, realizing that lessons were precisely what he’d been taking part in the past few days – their history was full of examples of terrible events caused by that line of thinking.

He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.  He tried again, to call on his faith, as he had been able to do so many other times through his life, but that external strength and conviction wasn’t there this time.  The difference was that this time…

The faith was there.  Cheszalt corrected himself silently – his faith in his Creator was still there.  But his faith in the mission of the Order wasn’t the same thing anymore.  Those two ideas, those truths that he had lived his whole life by, were now separated from each other.

He looked back up towards the students in front of them.  Two of them, in particular, were holding their stance better than the others, and their movements were more crisp.  He watched them make a few more moves, then set down his book.  When he stood, Odyna turned to look at him, and the class stopped, awaiting her next command.  Several of the students turned their heads to look at him as he circled the class, but the two he was approaching held still, only following him with their eyes.

He approached the first of them, looking him up and down before speaking, giving the young girl a moment to wonder if she truly had her position correct.  Then he spoke, just loud enough for the others in the class to hear.

“Don’t lock your elbow when performing this block,” he said, touching her leading arm.  “Soon, you’ll learn that this move is a strike, and you’ll be closing your fist.  This is why your stance remains centered, not leaning backward.”

She nodded, bending her elbow slightly.  Cheszalt turned, looking at the young man beside her.

“You, too.  Your hand motions were good – you were relaxed right until you snapped the block.  So now, concentrate on your footwork. When you stepped sideward into this position, you leaned forward slightly, then centered your stance when you snapped the block.”  He took a step away, then dropped into the stance of their previous move, performing the block the class had just executed very slowly.  “Make sure your stance remains centered the whole time,” he said as he moved.  Then he straightened, approaching the young man again.  He cupped the student’s blocking hand in both of his own.  “And keep your thumb tight against your hand, here, bent slightly.  If an opponent catches your hand with your thumb exposed, they could break it.”

The student nodded, then held still, waiting for the next command from Odyna.  Standing near the middle of the class, she watched Cheszalt, waiting to see if he had any other advice for her class.  It was common for instructors to help each others’ classes, so she took no offense at his interruption.  He nodded to her, smiling, and returned to his chair.  Odyna gave the command for the next move, and the class continued.

As he sat back down, Cheszalt noticed Dresten and Idzac looking at him from across the village square.  They did not alter their course or approach him.  They merely nodded, acknowledging his actions, then continued toward the blacksmith shop.

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One Response to “The Immune – Chapter 13”

  1. 14???

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