The Immune – Chapter 14

“Your approach this time wasn’t nearly as subtle.”

The old man stood still, watching her approach.  This time, they met West of Tarense, in a patch of large oak trees.  And this time, there hadn’t been an escort, Dana noticed.  When she’d sensed another Immune in the woods, it had been him.  The canopy of leaves overhead was thick enough to keep underbrush from growing, but a thick carpet of grass silenced their footsteps.  Birds sang from the higher branches, and squirrels leaped among the lower boughs.  He turned when Dana reached him, falling into step beside her, guiding her North-West and farther from Tarense.

“Taurus is dead,” she said, answering the unasked question.  She wasn’t nearly as good at moving un-noticed as her late partner had been.

His head turned at that, his lips pressing tight.  “That’s too bad,” he said, quietly.  “How?”

“We found our two survivors, with a gypsy caravan,” she explained.  “We’d gotten them off into the trees, but the gypsies had several Immune with them – the ones that helped defend Silverlake, I think – and they followed us.  I didn’t see what happened to Taurus, but he was out-fought.  They must have been pretty tough, to beat him.”

Symon nodded.  “Or well-trained.  Taurus was a strong warrior, but someone from the Order would have a good chance of defeating him.”

“Are there Immune among the Order?”

“Not exactly, but there are a few from the Order that left once they’d discovered their Immunity,” he replied.  “And your survivors?”

“Rescued.  Still on their way to Carter’s Hill, I believe,” she said.  “So my attack there will have to take that into account – or I’ll have to plan it so that their presence won’t matter.”

He nodded.  “How will your current plan be affected by them?”

“If I’m right, they won’t affect it at all,” she said with a smirk.  “It’s the other Immune in the city that concern me, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do all that much, either.  We’ll have to see.”

Symon shared her smile.  “I look forward to hearing about it.”

“So, how was your other visit?” she asked, her eyes narrowing, her smile becoming playful.

“Hmm?” he asked, feigning ignorance.  Then he smiled again.  “That was an old friend, a former councilor of the Order. Her Immunity changed her greatly, and she exiled herself.  But by now, she is returning to them, and attempting to share her gift among her remaining brothers and sisters.”

“What?” Dana asked, her smile vanishing.  Symon always seemed to be able to shock her with such simple statements.  “Is that possible?”

“She believes that if her brothers and sisters drink her blood instead of being scratched, it is.  I doubt it will work, aside from those who are naturally Immune and haven’t yet discovered it.  So the effect will be…” He froze in place for a moment, then turned to her, his face angry.  “Who did you allow to follow you?” His hands, normally clasped behind him, now dropped to his sides, as if he was preparing for danger. His body language and demeanor changed completely, and he seemed more like a coiled spring, ready for immediate action.

“No one,” she protested, shocked and surprised by his anger.  She hadn’t seen him like this before. She scanned the area around them for intruders.  She could see no one, but she could just sense the presence of another Immune.  She had presumed it was one of Symon’s friends.

He sighed, deeply.  “You need to be more mindful.”  He pointed off toward the south-east.  “They’re that way, and if I’m not mistaken, they’re close enough to hear us talking.  I don’t know how much they overheard, but you have to assume they’ve heard everything.”  He locked eyes with Dana, his face very stern.  “You’ll have to kill them, and it might not be easy.  Get going.”

*****

 

Svetlana didn’t waste any time.  She dropped down from the great Oak branch she’d been crouching upon, then turned South and ran as quickly as she could.  The ground was soft, and her footsteps were nearly silent, despite her speed.

For a few moments, she couldn’t think straight enough to plan her escape.  She knew she would have to evade Dana, then counter-track her, and it would require a strategy…

Symon! She raged.  On one hand, he’d never said anything deceptive or evasive, never been clear on his own position or goals.  But still, she felt betrayed.  If he was helping this woman, this murderer, how could his advice to me have been anything but manipulation?

And Alexia! That had to be who he was referring to – and if she thought she could share immunity with the remainder of the Order, she would wipe them all out!  With Cheszalt visiting her friends in Silverlake, there was hope that he might return to the older Order and change their course.  Their mission of racial suicide could be changed.  But if Alexia got there first-

Her mind snapped back to the present.  Her escape strategy nearly leaped into her subconscious.  She would head directly for Silverlake, and warn the others.  Dana might mistakenly think she could defeat someone with Svetlana’s training, but she wouldn’t attack her in Silverlake.  Hopefully she’d believe the better strategy would be to go ahead with her plans for Carter’s Hill.  Once Svetlana had shared her discovery, she could pick up Dana’s trail easily.

Her path had been a straight line up to this point, but now she began to alter it.  Moving around trees that seemed out of her direct path, heading across leaf-patches, making her trail seem less obvious.  She didn’t know how good her pursuer would be at following a trail, and that made her task a little tricky – she didn’t want to lose the woman, but neither did she want to be obviously leading somewhere.  She had to make it just hard enough to track her that Dana would think herself clever for doing so.

She left the protective cover of the oak savannah, turning south-west to follow the dirt road that wound past Red Hill and eventually led to Silverlake.  Once on the road, she picked up her running pace, turning only once to look.  Dana stepped onto the road in the same place Svetlana had, nearly a kilometer behind.  Svetlana continued the run, hoping she wouldn’t have to be too obvious.

 

*****

 

Alexia stopped at the tree-line, looking inward at the fields and the wall for a long moment.  Many of the crops were still young.  The fruit trees were still saplings, and wouldn’t bear fruit for another two years.  The bean plants were nearly ready for harvesting.  The raspberry tangles were thick, trying hard to spread out of their field but being trampled down nightly by the Turned.

There were many people out in the fields, dressed much like they would in any other village, but they worked with the focus and energy of the Order.  They weren’t slaves, nor were they warriors, but many of them were believers, and most of them had come to realize that living and working with the Order was a better deal than they would find anywhere else.

Amongst the field-workers were scattered a dozen or so of the Order’s true members, wearing the off-white clothing used in full sun.  They worked just as hard as anyone else in the field, but often had other tasks to perform.  One of those tasks would be to watch for intruders, and Alexia wanted to make sure she was spotted at the treeline before approaching.  Even if she was one of their councilors, and even if they recognized her now, so greatly changed by her Immunity, she wanted them to have as much warning as possible.

She found herself hesitating, not quite willing to break through the underbrush. When she recognized it as fear, she chided herself.  She was so different now, so drastically changed, they may not know her when they saw her.  Her clothing was the tattered remains of their fighting uniform, but they’d know it when they saw it.  Her face, while harder and more pale, would be remembered.  But the fear remained. She’d come to think of herself as a monster, and that feeling lingered, despite what Symon – Gabriel – had said.

She laughed at herself, only for a moment, then stepped out of the underbrush, onto the dirt lane that led toward the Western gate.  She stood still for a long moment, scanning the fields to see which of her brothers and sisters would notice her first.

They were close – only 30 meters away, and just leaving one of the fields of young apple trees.  She stopped, straddling the fence, staring at Alexia for a long moment.  She did not raise the alarm, as she would for an unrecognized guest.  She merely stared back at Alexia, then turned her head and waved to catch the attention of another of her brothers, closer to the gate.  Then, she turned back to Alexia.  She set down the water-bucket she’d been carrying, then approached her lost councilor in a slow jog.

She was a young girl, perhaps 14 years, but tall for her age, and strong.  She stopped within 3 meters, looking at Alexia with amazement, but not fear.

“Councilor,” she said, hesitantly.  “Councilor Alexia. You’ve returned to us?”

Alexia smiled.  “I have.  Walk with me, please.”  She began to move toward the gate, walking slow and relaxed.  The girl fell into step beside her, hands clasped behind her in the same posture Alexia found herself naturally assuming.  Her old habits were returning – and it hasn’t been so long, after all.  “What’s your name, sister?”

“I am Gretchen, councilor,” the girl replied.  She spoke with all the respect – and familiarity – that Alexia had been granted before she’d left.  “We had thought you’d been killed at the Great Rock.  We missed you.”

“Cheszalt has been an excellent leader for you.”

“He has.  He led us here, and has been rebuilding the Order.  He’s helped us find strength when we needed it most.”  Then she sighed.  “Now that he’s gone, our new council is finding their own strength.”

Alexia’s head snapped around.  “Gone?  Where has Cheszalt gone?”

Gretchen had been looking up at Alexia the entire time, and didn’t miss a beat with her answer.  “He led an assault team several weeks ago, and the team disappeared.  Their advance scout returned, then went to find them, but he hasn’t found any trace of them.  Councilor Cheszalt had left our sister Kara with authority, and she has formed a new council, per Cheszalt’s earlier plans.”

Alexia looked back toward the immense wall, nodding.

“Councilor, with all respect… why did you wait so long to return to us?” Self-doubt crept into the girl’s voice for the first time.

Alexia smiled, looking back down at her again.  “You saw my eyes, my skin.  I am Infected.  I may be Immune, but I could infect anyone else, and kill them.”  Several more of the others in the field had joined them now, forming a small parade as they approached the city.  Another crowd had formed near the open gate, watching them draw near.  Three of the older members of the Order, all dressed in black uniform, left the gate and approached her.  The one who looked the oldest – perhaps 25 years – spoke first.

“Councilor Alexia,” she called when she was within speaking distance.  “My name is Kara.  I had the honor of training with you many years ago, at the Great Rock.  Cheszalt had told us you’d survived, but that you couldn’t return to us.”

Alexia continued to walk, standing close to Kara with hands still clasped behind her.  “Yes.  Our Creator gave me a different path.  It has finally led me back to you.”

“It is good to see you again,” Kara said, nodding her head deeply in a respectful bow.  “Before Cheszalt left, he had told us he planned on forming a new council, and we have gone ahead with that plan.  If you wish to-“

“No,” Alexia said quickly, cutting her off.  “I will not be a councilor to the Order again.  But I must speak with the council – and you.  A great gift has been granted to me, and through me, to the entire Order.”

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