The Immune – Chapter 18

When the enormous wall came into sight, Cheszalt pushed his horse even harder.  Dresten and Idzac immediately did the same.  They’d spent most of the day at a gallop, and the horses would need water and a long rest once they were inside.

Dresten had never seen the city before, and was amazed at its size, the sense of strength and security the walls showed.  It seemed as though it had been built not only to keep people safe, but to make everyone feel safer just by looking at it.  The walls were higher than they needed to be, the gates built heavier, as if to out-do every other village that had built a concrete block wall for itself.  Most bandit clans wouldn’t even bother trying to attack a place like this.  It was meant to be a fortress as much as a city.

The pair caught up to Cheszalt at the gate.  He had dismounted quickly, and now led his horse by the harness, moving slowly through the southern section of the city.

“This was where we would practice,” Cheszalt said, looking around him.  “The classrooms are over there.” He pointed West, toward a trio of long, low wooden buildings with windows all along the walls.

No one was practicing now.  All around them, their brothers and sisters – many in the off-white clothes of field workers, many in the solid black they wore in combat – were laying on the grass and dirt, many of them moaning in pain.

Cheszalt stopped near one of them, kneeling down beside her head.  “Sister,” he said, gently.

Her eyes opened, looking up at him inquisitively.  “Councilor Cheszalt…” she said, weakly.  A cough racked her body, making her face twist in pain.  “We thought you were dead.”

“No, sister,” he whispered.  He tried to take her hand, but she pulled it away.

“Please, don’t,” she said.  “I’m Infected.  Some of us have started dying, haven’t they?  Have they Turned yet?”

Cheszalt shook his head.  “I don’t know,” he said, not wanting to lie to her.  “I’ve only just returned.”  He looked around, scanning the other bodies around them, wondering how many were alive, and how many would stand up and attack him once the sun went down.  “Where is Alexia?”

“The city core,” she replied, coughing again.  “Go, councilor. Don’t stay.  Some of us may Turn, and Infect you.”

The councilor nodded, then stood.  He led his horse further, down a walkway marked only by the bodies on either side.  Some had patches of grey on their skin.  Some were coughing blood. Most were still breathing, but many would stop before the end of the day – and sunset was only three hours off.  If any of them did Turn, they would join the swarm.

The trio stopped their horses at the gate to the city’s core.  The huge, oak door was standing open, but there were two guards there – both girls, both about 16 – holding their pole-weapons at the ready.

“Councilor Cheszalt,” one of them said, “Thank the Creator you’ve come back!”

“Hello, sister,” he replied, looking past her for a moment before meeting her gaze.  “How many are left?”

“That haven’t taken the draught?” the other girl asked.  “There are 12 of us now. And Alexia wants us to drink it tonight, even though some of them have already Turned, and joined the swarm.” She nodded her head to the field of the sick to the South.

“Only two people weren’t made sick by it,” the first girl added.  “Christopher and Selena. But even they don’t want Alexia to continue.”  She stopped, looking into the core section of the city, where they all could hear an argument heating up.  The girl looked back to Cheszalt.  “She won’t listen to any of us – I hope she’ll listen to you.”

Cheszalt nodded.  “You’ll have to close this gate when the sun goes down, sisters.  Some of them out there will be Turned by nightfall.”  He continued inward, following the sound of the shouting.

In the space between the two biggest wood-frame homes, right at the center of the city, the trio found the source of the sound.  Kara and Alexia stood opposite each other.  Kara was trying, as respectfully as she could, to change Alexia’s mind – and failing.  Several others of the Order stood about them in a loose circle, watching silently.  Even at a distance, two of them obviously had the scarlet eyes of the Immune – Christopher and Selena, Dresten presumed.  He hadn’t met them before, nor did he recognize any of the others who watched.

When Dresten was within 10 meters of his former councilor, he stopped in his tracks, getting his first good look at Alexia since he’d left the Great Rock.  The change was unbelievable.  She had torn the sleeves and lower legs off her black combat uniform, and it looked as if it had been worn continuously for more than a year.  Her skin had a pale, almost grey color.  But the most dramatic change was in her muscles.  She’d been tall and powerful before, and could have intimidated almost anyone, but now… her arms had to be as thick as his own legs.  Her skin was stretched tightly over the huge, powerful muscles of her arms and shoulders.  Her face was almost the same, aside from the color.  Her eyes had taken on the same scarlet color he had seen in the eyes of the other Immune he’d met, but there was a fire behind them that he had never seen before.

“Sister, I beg of you,” Kara said again.  “Go look at our brothers and sisters, who are dying out there.  There are only a few of us left – do not condemn the entire order!”

“We knew that not all of us would survive,” Alexia said, patiently.  From the tone of her voice, Cheszalt guessed she had said that a few times before. He also guessed that her confidence was beginning to falter.

“Sisters,” he called across the field between them. Both women turned to face him, and both showed great relief at his presence.  Kara nearly fell to her knees.

“Councilor, please,” she called, “I don’t know what else to say.”

“Welcome home, Cheszalt,” Alexia said brightly, striding over to them.  “And you bring with you our wayward brothers!”

“Alexia, you’ve been tricked,” Cheszalt said, not wasting any time.  “Symon has used you to destroy the Order.”

Her face tilted in surprise, and confusion.  “You spoke to him?”

Cheszalt shook his head.  “No. He has bragged to others that he fooled you into spreading the Infection through the Order, and destroying it.”  He stepped forward again, holding his hands out to her.  “You need to stop, now, while there some of us are left.”

“But Christopher and Selena…” she stammered, motioning to the two Immune who stood by.

“Naturally Immune,” he replied. “They would survive the Infection no matter how it came to them.  Some of them were bound to be.  But all those in the Southern quarter…” he motioned toward the gate behind him, and the field of sick on the other side, “they’re all doomed.  By nightfall, they’ll start to Turn.”

“No,” she began shaking her head.  Her face twisted again, this time into horror.  “No, they can’t… I couldn’t have…”

“Sister, help us find him,” Cheszalt said, drawing closer to her.  “Help us to rebuild the Order. We need you.  But you must stop this.”

The wail that came from her seemed to reach beyond the clouds.  Dresten took a step backward, reflexively, and looked sideward at Idzac.  The old instructor had had the same reaction.  Rage , horror, and pain in equal amounts flowed out of her, radiating through those around her.  She fell to her knees, hands clutching her head.  “How could you allow me to destroy them all!” she cried to the sky, throwing her head back and wailing again.  Her grip tightened on her hair, and before Dresten knew what was happening, a section of the skin on her scalp gave way, tearing off in her hand with a terrible sound.  The other hand tightened, pulling a similar patch away from the other side.

The pain seemed to have shocked her into frenzied action.  She looked down at her own body, weeping and screaming, then dug her fingers into the muscle of her right shoulder.  The skin resisted at first, then broke, releasing a flow of blood down her shirt.  The hand tightened, pulling free some of the skin and muscle and throwing it to the ground.  The other hand attacked the muscle in her right thigh, digging the fingers into the skin and pulling until a fistful of flesh came free.

“Sister, no, please!” Cheszalt called to her.  He took a step forward, but then seemed to remember that he could be Infected by contact with her.  Christopher and Selena stepped forward, their hands up, trying to comfort their former councilor and convince her to stop.  Dresten didn’t even see Alexia’s attacks – but both of the Immune who approached her were tossed backward by the force of the blows.  They both stood, breathing heavily, but did not approach Alexia again.

Again, she dug her hands into the flesh of her legs, both hands into her left leg this time, pulling at least half the muscle away with a sickly, wet tearing sound.  Dresten felt his stomach turn, but he was too horrified to vomit.  Her arms looped around her back, as if trying to reach an itch, then peeled away most of the muscle from her lower back.  The screaming coming out of her seemed to rise in volume and pitch, as if she was trying desperately to get the Creator’s attention.  Her hands went to her calves and ankles next, tearing off almost all the muscle from the back of her right lower leg with one pull.  Next she did the same to her left.  When she spread her knees apart, and sank back onto her haunches, the thought hit Dresten –

She isn’t going to stop. She’s working her way from her legs upward, and she isn’t going to stop.

Cheszalt called out to her again, but Dresten couldn’t hear him clearly over Alexia’s cries.  Everyone had backed away from her but Cheszalt, and he had fallen to his knees, 2 or 3 meters away, his arms reaching toward her but unable to help.  Once her thigh-muscles were destroyed, she had trouble keeping herself upright, but she didn’t slow down.  She leaned forward, putting one hand down on the ground while the other hand tore into her abdomen.  Once the muscle there had given away, some of her organs slid out and onto the grass and dirt in front of her.  She either didn’t notice, or had foreseen it.  She worked at the flesh of her chest next, tearing through the fabric and skin at the same time, and tossing them aside in three pieces.  Several of her ribs were bare now, and blood was coming out of her in a flood.

How is her heart continuing to pump? Dresten’s mind cried out silently.  What is keeping her alive?

With her pectoral muscles damaged, her work slowed, but did not stop.  She let herself fall forward, then rolled onto her back, still screaming, her exposed ribs heaving with breath every few moments.  Dresten imagined he could see her heart pumping frantically, trying to keep the body alive despite her clear intention to destroy it.  She used both hands again now, crossing her arms over her chest to tear into the forearm and bicep muscles.  She tore into the middle of each, leaving half of the flesh behind to continue working.  Then she returned her hands to her head.

Cheszalt called her name again, but his voice was now mourning her.  Dresten saw, out of the corner of his eye, one of his sisters turn and vomit, but he couldn’t pull his eyes off of Alexia.  Her fingers found the ragged edge of flesh on the side of her head, where her scalp had given away earlier, and pulled at it more.  The skin came off both sides of her head at the same time, but peeled unevenly, her right side seeming to tear toward the back, while her left hand pulled away a large section of her cheek and chin.  Both hands dove into her eyes next, as if she were trying to reach into her skull.

At that point, Dresten looked away.  He could no longer watch, and didn’t know if he could bear to listen any longer, either.  The screams couldn’t cover up the tearing sound, but a moment later he heard something snap, almost like a thin rope being pulled in two.  The screams stopped now, turning into a choking, bubbling, retching sound that made Dresten turn back around.

She had torn out her own throat – not only her windpipe, but the blood vessels and tendons along with it.  Her body finally seemed to be giving up, her heartbeat slowing as the last of her blood flowed into the dirt.  Her hands dropped out to either side, straight out from what was left of her torso.  Her lungs heaved beneath her ribs, then shuddered, and fell still.  It took almost a minute longer for the heart to finally stop, for the skinless, eyeless face to turn sideward and fall still.

Cheszalt was weeping into his hands.  No one else made a sound.  Kara had covered her face, peering between her fingers.  The two Immune amongst them still stood well away, both trembling.  Dresten still couldn’t will himself to move.  His eyes were locked on the motionless, mangled body.

After what seemed like an eternity, Idzac stepped forward, putting his hand on Cheszalt’s shoulder.

“We should bury her here,” the old teacher said.  “And we’ll put a tree here, one to mark her grave, and remind us of her story, of her trials.”

Cheszalt nodded, putting his own hand over Idzac’s.  Then he stood, looking around the circle.  Then he looked at the sun, low in the sky.  “We need to close the gates.  After that, we’ll find a place to sit, and talk.”

3 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 18”

  1. Wow! Horrible. What a fatally dangerous way 2 commit suicide. 2 bad Alexia. Thought she’ll b d one 2 end Symon’s regime. Guess our other heros will hv 2 rise up 2 d challenges ahead!

    • I thought about that one for a while, Mike. When I first started writing this book, I knew Symon and Alexia were going to have to meet. I went back and forth as to which one of them would win that fight, but then I realized… neither one of them really HAS to win…

  2. wow very brutal, first time I actually felt a bit sick after reading your books…but its still awsome

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