The Immune – Chapter 19

It had taken all day to catch up with her.  Now the sun was going down – there was maybe two more hours before sunset.  Where it could break through the canopy of leaves, the light lanced at a sharp angle, and these were becoming more and more scarce.  Jameson guessed that they were close to Red Valley again, but he hadn’t been concentrating too hard on his surroundings.  Dana could have been leading him in a giant loop, for all he knew.  He was only focused on her, and while she was well within range for him to sense her, he couldn’t seem to catch up to her until now.

Like any Immune, she had gone right through the forest, ignoring roads completely – crossing a few, but paying little notice.  Anyone following her would have to be Immune, or would have been set upon by any one of the dozens of clusters of the Turned he had passed.

He didn’t know if she was tiring out or not, but his own gift of tirelessness was serving him well.  It occurred to him that he was a good choice to follow her.  She might be leaving little trace of her passing, but Jameson was deliberately breaking branches and making a mess of his own path.  Marlena could track him down easily, and lead a group to help him corner Dana once they were all close enough.

His problem was that he couldn’t be sure they were coming.  Dana had been moving fast, and in more or less a straight line, but the idea of being on his own, chasing her down, pulled at a nerve somewhere in his head.  He couldn’t have explained it – he wasn’t afraid of her, he just knew she was…

… What? Stronger? Doubtful. A better fighter? He’d take his chance there – Grunnell’s training made him confident he could win.  Smarter? Possibly. This last one led him to the reason he was worried.

She was smart – she’d planned attacks on two villages that were nearly perfect. And her near-kidnap of the Von Allen girls had only failed because Xeren and Svetlana had joined in the pursuit. Dana hadn’t been prepared to be outnumbered two-to-one.

That’s the word I’m looking for – prepared, Jameson realized, coming over another hill.  He was crossing through another oak grove, the trees at least a hundred years old, healthy and strong, with little more than long grass growing between them.  The canopy of leaves overhead was thick enough to keep the undergrowth from getting more than knee-high.  In several darker patches, the Turned waited for the sun to finish setting.  Some of them had already begun to move, as shadows spread and thickened.

Dana was well-prepared in all her other moves. It stood to reason that she expected to be spotted while delivering her snakes, so it followed that she had planned a way to shake off pursuit.

When he realized she was slowing down, his discomfort grew.  She’d been maintaining a tough pace all night and day, but slowing down meant she was probably where she had planned… something.  Without knowing what that ‘something’ was, Jameson slowed down, too.

He could sense another Immune nearby, but couldn’t tell precisely where.  He was jogging, scanning the ground for anything unusual, avoiding taller underbrush whenever he could.  Dana was directly ahead, their other guest moving from the West, almost on a path to intercept him.

At the crest of another hill, Jameson stopped, looking West.  He could see the other Immune approaching, and breathed a sigh of relief.  They were clad in solid black, a hood over their head, and carried a black satchel over one shoulder.  He was sure it was Svetlana by the time she reached the foot of the hill.

He shook his head.  “Your timing is perfect, again.”

She smiled, slowing to a walk as she approached him.  “I know.”  She threw the bag toward the ground at his feet, but it hit something near-invisible before hitting the grass.  Jameson heard a strange twang! sound, then cursed and jumped back in surprise as a large log fell end-first out of the tree above him. It drove into the ground hard enough to stay standing up on end.  It was a half-meter thick, as long as he was tall, and would have easily crushed him.

He tried to get his breathing back under control, watching her pick the satchel back up, and open it.  Inside were the blade and three sections of wooden pole the Order would assemble into a pole-weapon.  She snapped them together, not speaking again until the weapon was ready for use.

“Move slowly, and stop if you feel your legs catch on anything,” she finally said.  “It’ll get harder to see, now that it’s dark.” She looked at the sun.  “My guess is, she meant to get here before nightfall. Now she has the advantage.”

“I’ll be looking for logs hanging in the branches, that’s for sure,” he replied, looking into the lower canopy all around them.

Svetlana smirked.  “She’s smart enough to know that trick will work only once.  If you see another one of those, there’s a good chance a second trap will be nearby, waiting to catch you when you’re feeling clever about avoiding the log-drop.”

Jameson looked at her, shaking his head.  “She’s not moving away so quickly now,” he said, looking North.  “If she’s got more traps waiting for us, they’re right around here.  Think she’s trying to lead us into them?”

She nodded.  “Let’s move cautiously.  She knows there’s two of us, but she’s ready for us.”

The two of them began walking again, this time slower and more alert.  A few times, Jameson thought he saw something shimmer in the fading light, like a spider’s thread, but they didn’t get close enough to see what it was.  Twice, he spotted a log hanging in the boughs, more than 10 meters off the ground, but they stayed away.

At one point, the two of them began to drift apart from each other.  Jameson was moving directly toward the place where he could sense Dana’s presence, but Svetlana had moved away to the right.  She didn’t say anything about it.  He presumed she had a reason.  And a moment later, he found out what that reason was.

He stepped up onto a small fallen log, but his next step was on something more solid than ground.  He looked down in confusion for a moment, then whooped much louder than he should have as the ground gave out beneath him.  He only fell a short distance, and almost landed on his feet, but the ground at the bottom was uneven and rocky.

Two pieces of wood had given out under his weight, he now saw.  They were hanging from their supports, their cracked ends resting on the ground.  Jameson got back to his feet, looking around.  The light was barely enough for him to see, but he noticed three of the Turned standing in the corner.  They were pawing at the wall, unsuccessfully trying to get out.

The walls were cement, just as the buildings he’d seen in ancient cities.  He was in the foundation of a ruined building, he realized.  The space wasn’t very large, and the concrete walls were cracked in many places.  The ground had pushed in one section of the wall, and spilled dirt and gravel onto the floor.

Svetlana appeared overhead, a smug smile on her face.  “Lesson learned?”

“You let me fall down here, rather than warn me,” he said, accusingly.

She shrugged.  “It’s a harmless trap, but yes, you should have been watching.”  She pointed toward the Turned.  “If nothing else, you should have sensed them at a lower elevation. That should have tipped you off.”

“I noticed them,” Jameson replied.  “I was concentrating on Dana.”

Svetlana lowered the end of her weapon down to him, and he got a grip on the iron ring at its base.  She levered him up, and he scrambled back out of the hole.

“The lesson I’ve learned is to stay close to you,” Jameson said.  “When you drift off like that, there’s a reason – I should have presumed it was a trap.”

“That’s not a bad lesson, either,” she said with a smirk.  Then she started moving around the hole.  Jameson followed without another word.

Near the base of a hill, Svetlana stopped him suddenly.  Dana was just on the other side of that hill, perhaps 50 meters away.  Between two of the larger trees, another shimmering line hung just above the ground.  Svetlana looked along its length, both directions, then reached the blade of her weapon toward the wire.  When she relaxed her grip, the blade cut the wire cleanly.  A moment later, four more wires tied into loops leaped up from the grass.  Another log served as the counterweight, and the trap could have four – or more – people hanging from the branches if they hadn’t spotted it.

“Clever,” Svetlana said.  Then she looked at Jameson.  “Go around the hill to the right.  I’ll go left.  Move carefully, from one tree to another.”

He nodded, then moved off to circle the hill.  He stayed close to the tree trunks – both for cover, and because he’d noticed most of the traps were set in the open.  He could sense Dana’s presence, not moving at all now, as if she was waiting for them to approach.  By now, she had to know there were two of them.  But if she wasn’t running, it meant she was prepared.

He moved again, watching the ground and the trees.  She was above the ground, he guessed, perhaps kneeling in the lower branches, waiting to spring on them.

Or shoot, he thought.  He couldn’t see her, but he guessed that he could see the tree she was hiding in.  His senses weren’t precise enough for him to be certain.  He moved again, expecting to see Svetlana appear from the other direction any minute.  He had trouble believing she would move slower than he would.

He was about to dash toward the next tree – putting him within 10 meters of Dana’s position.  When he leaped forward, he suddenly saw Svetlana, dashing toward him and crashing through a cluster of small bushes.

“Jameson, don’t!” she called.  It seemed out of character for her, wrong somehow. He couldn’t guess why she would make noise, or move carelessly.  A moment after she called to him, a white streak shot from the branches of the tree he was approaching, hitting Svetlana in the middle of her right thigh.  She fell hard, dropping her weapon and rolling onto her back.

Dana dropped out of the tree just as Jameson was preparing to dash to Svetlana’s aid.  But Dana was between them, and she reached Svetlana first.  She still had her bow, held in one hand while she ran, and Jameson could see at least a half-dozen more arrows in the quiver that hung from her belt. She dropped the bow and drew a knife, dropping to one knee behind Svetlana and clutching a handful of the long, snow-white hair.  The knife point hovered over Svetlana’s collar.

Dana’s eyes held the same malice they did the night before, outside Carter’s Hill.  “You care about her, don’t you?” she hissed.  “If you want her to live, here’s what you’ll do.  You’ll walk over that hill, and keep moving South.  You can tell where I am, and you’ll be able to tell when I leave.  So when I head North, you can come get her, and take her home.”

Svetlana was in pain, but handling it well.  She breathed through her teeth, her breath coming in a raspy hiss.  When she spoke, her voice wavered.

“You won’t get away like that,” she said.  “If you want to live, here’s what you ought to do – put the knife away, stand up and walk North 20 paces.  Do that, and I promise you’ll live long enough for us to take you back to Carter’s Hill, and face your brother.”

Dana laughed.  “You must see this situation very differently than I do,” she said, feigning a friendly tone.  The knife point touched the skin at the base of Svetlana’s throat.

“I think she does,” Jameson said, taking another step forward.  “I may take Svetlana home, but you won’t get away.  Not past them.”

He nodded toward the North.  Four more people were moving through the forest toward them.  Marlena and Katrick were leading them, spread out through the trees but closing in, cautiously.

Dana eyed them for a long moment, then looked back at Jameson.  Then she pushed Svetlana away to land on her side, still clutching her leg.  Dana picked her bow back up off the forest floor, drew an arrow as she stood, then fired an arrow at one of the nearby trees.  Another twang! sound was faintly audible, and another set of wire-loops leaped out of the grass.  One of the Immune that had come along was caught in one, lifted right off the ground before he knew what had happened.

Dana drew another arrow, firing at a tree not far from Jameson.  This time, Katrick’s friend Jessi was caught, pulled into the lower branches with a yelp.

Katrick and Marlena spread out more, moving in fast.  Dana was moving toward them now, putting distance between herself and Jameson.  She had another arrow nocked, aiming this one directly at Marlena.  Jameson moved in from behind her, dashing forward.  When she turned, she only took a moment to aim before letting the arrow fly.  It moved fast, but Jameson had been shot at enough lately to know how to move aside.  The others moved in more quickly now, taking advantage of the time Dana would need to nock another arrow.

Jameson passed Svetlana, picking up her pole-weapon with one hand.  It was lighter than he’d expected, and well balanced.  He continued his charge toward Dana, watching her draw the bow and take aim at Katrick this time, who was the closest to her.  He hefted the pole up over his shoulder, putting his momentum into the best throw he could manage.  The iron ring at the weapon’s base led the shaft through the air in a shallow arc, impacting Dana’s right hip just as she was about to fire.  The arrow skittered harmlessly into the grass.

Dana dropped the bow, drawing two long knives from her belt.  The other three surrounded her, closing in slowly but steadily.  Marlena’s knife was out.  Katrick carried an axe.  The pole-weapon was too close to Dana for Jameson to retrieve it, but she couldn’t pick it up without giving the others an opening – even if she did know how to use it. Katrick’s reach was more than twice that of Dana’s blades.  Her eyes refused to accept defeat, even though she had to know she was caught.

“Which of you will move in first?” she taunted them.  “Are any of you brave enough to die to let the others kill me?”

“There’s no need,” Marlena said.  She stood still, her hands up guardedly, but stopped 5 meters away.  The others did as well.

From the trees and lengthening shadows around them, more of the Immune were coming.  Jameson couldn’t see them, but he could sense them – and from Dana’s expression, she hadn’t noticed them until it was too late.  At least a dozen of them closed in, encircling Dana like a cornered animal.  She turned in place, looking for a way to run.  Two of the newcomers released the two who had been snared, cutting the wires that held them in the trees.  Three of them had nocked their own arrows, waiting for Dana to give them a reason to bend their bows.

Dana wasted no more than a second.  She lunged toward Katrick first, feinting low then striking high, slashing one of her blades directly across his eyes.  He howled, falling backward and dropping his weapon to clutch at his eyes.  Marlena tried to move in behind her, but Dana kicked out backward, winding Marlena and pushing her back.  Without a care for direction, Dana sprinted away from Jameson and the archers behind him.

Jameson knew in a heartbeat that they wouldn’t shoot – not with him in their line of fire.  He leaped after her, dashing at full speed.  Within 20 meters he’d caught up enough to tackle her, bringing her to the ground hard.

She rolled over only a second later, aiming a kick at Jameson’s nose.  He turned his head enough for the blow to glance off his ear, then pulled himself up her legs enough to catch both hands before she could get her knives on him.

She only had one now – the other lay in the grass, just out of reach.  He had the advantage of being atop her, pinning her legs with his and struggling to push her knife hand downward.  In the last bit of twilight, her eyes gleamed with a fury and hatred Jameson had never seen in a living thing.  Even a wild animal, fighting for its life, wouldn’t have fire in its eyes like Dana did at that moment.

He pushed the knife hand to the ground.  Her other hand found his face, trying to push his own upward and away, the fingernails searching for his eyes.  He twisted his other arm free, then drove his elbow across her temple.  She relaxed beneath him for only a moment, but it was long enough for him to get the knife from her and put its point at her throat.

She tensed again, but did not move.  When she spoke, it was the growl of a cornered animal.  “Do it.  I’m not afraid of death.”

For a long moment, he considered it.  Ending her life, then and there, with his own hands, seemed like a privilege and an honor.  For as many people as she had killed, especially shooting Svetlana and blinding Katrick, he couldn’t think of anyone who deserved it more.

He hesitated only a moment, then made up his mind to drive the knife into her throat.  Marlena spoke just in time.

“Jameson… what she is truly afraid of is facing her brother.”  Marlena knelt beside the two of them, punching Dana across the face and knocking her unconscious.  “She wanted us to kill her so she wouldn’t have to go back.”

Jameson nodded, climbing off Dana’s limp form and standing up.  The other Immune surrounded them now, three of them moving forward to bind Dana’s arms and legs.  Jessi knelt beside Katrick, cleaning the gash across his face and whispering something to him that Jameson couldn’t hear.  He scanned the area for a moment before his eyes fell on Svetlana.  She had just removed the arrow from her leg.  He jogged over, then knelt beside her.

“You took that for me, didn’t you?” he asked.  “Thank you.”

She chuckled, grimly.  “I was moving faster.  She’d have hit you in the head.”

Jameson nodded.  “Well, she won’t be shooting at anyone anymore.”  He looked up at Marlena, who had joined them.  “They’re expecting us back at the city?”

Marlena nodded, her face showing the same grim look as Svetlana’s.  “Yeah.  They’ll be ready for us.”

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One Response to “The Immune – Chapter 19”

  1. chapter 20 plz!

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