The Immune – Chapter 20

Most of the residents of Carter’s Hill had come to the main gate to watch.  Some gazed out of the windows on the upper levels of nearby houses and buildings, some from the rooftops of the blacksmith shop across from the gate.  There were enough torches burning, set into the ground in a semi-circle around the gate, that it was easy to see, even after sunset.

The gate had been barred hours before.  The Turned were beating their hands against the oak panels, pushing with all their unholy strength in a vain attempt to get to the living meat inside. Many of the city’s soldiers stood on the new ramparts, looking over the cement block wall at the swarm, or inside at what took place below them.

The new council had voted swiftly and unanimously.  Dana’s attack on the city had caused 27 deaths.  While not everyone understood the role her elderly companion had played in that attack, they knew he had a hand in it.  The Immune among them had requested he be charged alongside her, and that was enough.

The two prisoners stood with their backs to the gate, their hands bound behind them.  Two of the larger and stronger Immune held them in place.  In front of them, arrayed in a smaller semi-circle inside the line of torches, stood the new council, along with a few other people.  While Joshua had refused a place on the council, many people had voted to award a place to Xeren.  The two stood near the middle of the line, looking over their prisoners.  Marlena and Jameson were also among them, and these two stepped forward.  Marlena’s eyes were on Symon, and there was little of the old warmth or friendship left in them.

Symon broke the silence first.  “Your trap was very clever,” he said.  “I should have been more guarded, but looking back, I don’t know if I would have seen it coming if I had been.  How did you arrange it, if I may ask?”

Marlena did not smile.  She turned toward the crowd behind her, and motioned a few of their guests forward.  Three Immune visitors joined her, glaring at Symon.  He recognized them immediately, of course.  They had each been his companions in Tarense.  He nodded his understanding.

“It was Augustus that convinced us to help them,” one of them said.  “When they showed us what you’d done…”

Dana interrupted them.  “When will this little charade be over?”

Joshua stepped toward her, and Xeren followed a moment later.  “She’s right,” Joshua said.  “There’s been enough delay.”

“Brother, I know you won’t do anything to me.  You could never make a tough decision.”

Joshua shook his head.  “This wasn’t my decision, and honestly… even if it had been, it wouldn’t be a tough one.  You killed a lot of good people when you brought those snakes here.”

“And how many people did you kill, when you helped the Believers trap us outside the new city?” she retorted, angrily.  “Our own mother died out there!”

“I had nothing to do with that,” Joshua replied.  “My only part was to spring your own scheme on you, before you could escape.  I didn’t know the Order had taken the city.”

“He’s telling you the truth, you know,” Symon added.  “If you’re blaming the whole thing on him, you’re giving him too much credit.”

“Either way – so what are you going to do with us?” Dana asked, sarcastically.

“The same thing you and mom used to order for people who you thought had betrayed their city,” Joshua said.

Her eyebrows rose.  “Throw us over the wall at night?” She laughed.  “Go ahead. The Turned won’t bother us.”

“Not now,” Xeren said.  She held up her arm.  “By now, you both can tell I’m not carrying the Infection anymore, right?”  Even in the uneven torchlight, the snake bites on her arm were easily visible.

“17 bites, Dana.  All of your snakes except two – the guards were able to axe two of them before they came for me.”  Xeren put her arm down.  “Do you know what happened to those snakes?”

“She didn’t stick around long enough to see,” Jameson said.  He looked at Dana.  “The snakes absorbed the cure just as fast as they would have spread the Infection to someone else.  They fell off of her, dead – really dead – within seconds.”

“Interesting,” Symon said, looking again at Xeren’s arm.  “A cure.”

Jameson turned now, waving more people forward.  The Von Allen sisters joined him.  They looked at Dana maliciously, and even surrounded by friends, they were cautious.  Janelle held something metal in one hand.

“These two are all that’s left of their family – and they brought a cure with them.” Jameson looked around at the crowd.  “A week ago, I’d have been keeping that much quieter – people have been after this family for generations because of their secret – but we’ve learned many things about their cure since Xeren was bitten.  You’ll find it very interesting.”

Janelle spoke up.  Most of the discoveries had been hers.  “The first was Xeren’s effect on the snakes.  We didn’t realize the cure would linger in her body as long as it did.  So we did some more experiments, and we found that Hannah – who had a dose of the cure weeks ago, when our home village was destroyed – is still carrying it.”

Hannah joined in.  “So we took some of Xeren’s blood, and injected it into one of the fallen soldiers from your attack,” she said, looking at Dana.  “When we put the body outside, the Turned attacked him, and ate him down to the bone, just like they would any other body that didn’t have the Infection.  So our dose of the cure wiped the Infection out of an already dead body.”

Symon’s eyebrows rose.  “Very interesting.  And the Turned that fed on that body?”

Jameson nodded.  “That’s right – They never made it back to the tree-line.  It took them a few hours, but by morning, they had fallen.  And the next night, those corpses were eaten by the swarm.”

Dana’s interest had finally been piqued.  “So every night, more of the swarm feed on those that fell the night before, and…”

“Yes.  The cure works in a way similar to the Infection – the difference is that it doesn’t cause the body to die.”  Janelle found herself almost smiling as she shared their discoveries.  “It is spreading, from one to another, just like the Infection spreads.  And eventually…”

“Eventually, the Turned may just disappear.”  Joshua finished her thought for her.  “There are still thousands of them, even just around here, but we’ve got plenty of time to watch.”

“Very nice,” Dana said, her sarcasm returning.  “So where does this leave us?”

Jameson nodded to the two Immune holding the prisoners, who tightened their grip.  Janelle took a step toward Xeren, who had rolled up one of her sleeves.  The metal object in the girl’s hand was a small needle, but on the leading end of something neither Symon nor Dana had seen before.  Janelle pushed the needle into Xeren’s arm, right into a vein, then drew back on a hook on the other end of the device.  When she withdrew the needle, she turned toward Dana.

“The theory is that if we inject you with Xeren’s blood, it will kill off the Infection in you.”  She pushed the needle into Dana’s shoulder.  Dana hissed as the needle was emptied into her.  Hannah had brought her own needle, and was drawing blood from her own arm.  When finished, she injected Symon in his shoulder.

“So, since your goal was to let the Turned into our city,” Joshua said, drawing near to Dana again, “your punishment will be to help speed the process of eliminating the swarm outside.”

Their plan finally became clear to Dana.  Her guard began moving her toward the stair beside the gate. She started resisting, violently, and tried to spit at Joshua.  Her attack fell far short, but Joshua didn’t even flinch.  “It might infect me now, sister, but it would only take a few minutes to get the cure from Xeren’s blood.  And soon, you won’t carry the Infection with you at all.”

Symon didn’t resist at all.  When his guard moved him toward the stairs, he ended up arriving there first.  He climbed the stairs slowly but steadily, head down.  When he reached the top, he was startled by the voice that spoke to him.

“Alexia should have seen this.”

He looked up, knowing who he would see, but somehow surprised by it all the same.  Svetlana had her hood down, letting her ice-white hair fall around her shoulders and down to her belt.  Her eyes were cold, even with the bloodshot look of the Immune.

“Perhaps she should,” Symon agreed.

“Her death is only one that could be laid at your feet, but it is easily the most tragic.”

“And how many deaths,” he asked with a sigh, “could be laid at yours?”

“Far more than I could count,” she agreed.  “And I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make up for that.  You never intended to start.”  She shook her head.  “You’re more calm about this than I had expected.”

“Remember your early lessons, child,” he said, patiently.  “Fate and Death are waiting for each of us.  If my time has come, I’ve no reason to resist it.”  He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.  Everything about his posture and body language indicated that he was ready.  Jameson and Marlena were now on the rampart with them, but gave them plenty of space.

Svetlana stepped back from him, and nodded to the guard.  His grip redoubled, the guard lifted the older man easily and pitched him over the wall.

The Turned below were already reaching for him, their hands only a few meters below the top of the wall.  He bent their arms, but they supported him with their heads and backs, holding him up off the ground for a moment or two.  He kept his eyes closed, flinching as the first few bit into him, but keeping silent.  Then, they began letting him drift toward the ground.  His legs went down first, and as they disappeared, the Turned leaned over to cover him.  His torso vanished next, and the Turned began pressing in on him from all directions.  His head and hands disappeared last.  Jameson thought of the water of Silverlake, and guessed that someone sinking in that lake would look much the same.

Symon’s execution had been the bigger interest to Marlena and Jameson, and especially to Svetlana.  They began descending the stairs, and reached the ground just as Dana’s guard got her to the lower landing.  Joshua accompanied her, with Xeren folloing.

“I bet you couldn’t even watch,” Dana said to her brother, still struggling.  “You couldn’t bear to watch your own justice carried out.  And that weakness is why you’ll never keep control of this city.”

Joshua shook his head, sadly.  “You still don’t understand,” he said, finally.  The guard pulled Dana up the stairs backwards, one at a time, as if dragging a stubborn mule.  Joshua followed them, still speaking.  “I never wanted to control this city.  No one person should.  The council will solve the big problems we have, but the people don’t need a leader to tell them what to do.  They can lead themselves.”

It took ten, long minutes before they reached the top of the wall.  Joshua followed the entire time, and Dana never stopped fighting.  As they reached the top, her panic seemed to grow.

“And just so you know, Sister,” Joshua said, “I am going to watch. I couldn’t condemn my own family to die, and walk away from it without taking ownership of their fate.”

Something cracked inside Dana’s mind.  She merely stared at her brother, while the guard pulling on her dragged her up the last of the steps and toward the wall.  Symon’s guard came to assist him, grabbing both of Dana’s ankles and stretching her out horizontally.

It took until that point for her to truly realize that she was going to die.  Tears streamed down her face, fear and hatred burned across the short space between her eyes and her brother’s.  She twisted in the grip of her guards, but could not break free.  The two men lifted her up over the wall, heaving her over as if she was a log.

If Symon had accepted his death with nobility and pride, Dana had discarded her reserves of both.  As the guards let go of her, she tried to hook her ankles over the edge of the wall to slow her descent. It only made sure her head fell into the reach of the Turned first.  They grabbed at her, clawing at her face and neck, then her shoulders, drawing screams out of her that threatened to tear open the wall itself. They dragged her down among them, not waiting for the rest of her to fall, biting into whatever part of her was within reach.  Her screaming continued, and Joshua watched from above, forcing himself to stay until she was out of sight and silent.  The screams turned into gasps as the Turned attacked her throat, and she sank among their arms and heads.  The vast sea of the swarm covered her, and within another minute, her cries died, even as the sound of flesh tearing continued.

Joshua didn’t move for a long time.  Xeren squeezed his hand, then lifted her other hand to wipe a tear from his cheek.  Then they turned away from the wall, and descended the stairs.

In front of the gate, Svetlana and Jameson were waiting for them.  The women embraced, and the men shook hands.

“Good luck in Silverlake,” Joshua said.  “Thanks for all your help.”

“Thank you,” Jameson replied.  “And good luck.”  He turned toward Marlena, embracing her, then taking the two satchels she’d brought for them.  He handed one to Svetlana.  Inside were the disassembled pole weapons and extra clothes they would need once they were clear of the swarm.

“Tell Lincoln I look forward to his visits,” he told Marlena.  “And thanks again.”

“See you soon,” she said.  She embraced Svetlana next, whispering something as she did.  Svetlana’s face broke into a smile.  Then the two climbed back to the ramparts beside the gate, and looked down into the swarm.

Having seen two people devoured only a few minutes earlier made Jameson pause.  Svetlana grinned at him.

“I make a game out of it.  I see how many I can break on the way down,” she said.  “Sometimes I’ll fall on my back, and float across them.”  She tilted her head toward them.  “Try it.  This close to the wall, there’s no way you’d hit the ground.”

Jameson returned her grin, then stepped up on the edge of the wall, leaping and twisting in the air to land on his back.  The army of corpses held him up easily, their arms bending under his weight, but carrying him as they’d carried the condemned prisoners earlier.  The difference was that this time, they showed no interest in him.  He bent as if to sit up, his legs sliding down between them and landing solidly on the ground.  He moved edgewise through them, allowing their pressure to help carry him backward and through the swarm, just as Svetlana had shown him.  He found that they could almost carry him, letting him pick his feet up for several seconds between steps, and within moments he was 20 meters from the wall.  He stopped to turn back, looking for Svetlana.  As he did, the pressure of the Turned behind him shocked him, nearly knocking the wind out of him before he turned edgewise again.

Svetlana was still atop the wall, but upon seeing him look up at her, she sprang upward and outward.  As she fell, she drew her feet up underneath her, as if to drive her knees into the Turned below.  One unlucky corpse caught her knee directly in the face, snapping its neck backward and sideward.  She landed on her feet, disappearing into the mass of dead bodies for almost a minute before making her way to Jameson.  The two of them wriggled through the swarm together.

At the edge of the trees, Jameson stopped to look back.  It was a long distance, but he could see the silhouettes of many of his friends along the top of the wall.  He waved to them before turning back toward the trees, and moving off into the blackness of the forest.

*****

          The sun was within an hour of setting, after a long and very sunny day.  The guards near the gate had watched all day as Odyna had led her students through their exercises.  Now they were amusing themselves by watching Svetlana as she was training Jameson.  She was teaching him how to stand properly, and while the guards couldn’t see anything wrong with what he did, she repeatedly pointed out weaknesses.  She usually did this by pressing her foot on his lower leg in a way that made his knees buckle, or hooking his foot out from under him.  He took it good-naturedly, not complaining once the entire time.  She rewarded his successes with kisses, confirming what many of the guards had suspected.

One of the guards looked out across the fields, away from the sun, then turned and called out to his companions.  At the edge of the trees, a group of figures had appeared, jogging in a pack down the dirt road that led to the Eastern gate.  Three of them were leading horses.

“Believers!” one of them called.  “They’re back!”

Svetlana turned her head sharply.  When she scaled the ladder to the ramparts, none of the guards stopped her.  She was over the gate a moment later, and Jameson joined her.

She looked at Jameson, then back out to the approaching group.  “Tell me what you see.”

Jameson squinted.  It was too far for him to make out any faces, and they all wore the black uniform of the Order.  But something told him this group was not going to attack.

He looked to the guards.  “They’re not a threat,” he said.  The guards weren’t so sure – they were getting ready to close the gate and don their helmets.  “Look,” Jameson said, pointing.  “They’re carrying their weapons in satchels, on their backs.  If they were going to attack, they’d have the weapons assembled and out before they came into sight.  And they certainly wouldn’t be bringing their pack-horses with them.”

Svetlana nodded her approval.  “They’re also moving at a relaxed pace.  If they intended to attack, they’d move much faster.”  She moved back toward the ladder, descending it quickly, and standing at the threshold of the open gate.  As Jameson rejoined her, Odyna and Saia approached from their building, followed by the other members of the New Order.

It was another few minutes before the approaching group reached the gate.  They slowed their pace, walking the last 40 meters or so, knowing they’d reach the gate before it closed against the Turned.  They had cut it close, but now knew they were safe.

Dresten and Idzac led the group, with Cheszalt behind them, and a dozen or so members of the Order that Jameson didn’t recognize.  He looked at Svetlana, smiling, knowing that she was glad to see her brothers and sisters again.  A moment later, his smile faltered, seeing the look on Svetlana’s face.

Her expression was caused by Cheszalt’s.  She stepped toward her former councilor, her eyes filled with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief.

“Brother… is this…” she said, quietly.

Cheszalt’s eyes dropped to the ground, and he nodded.  “We are all that are left.  We didn’t get there in time.”  His shoulders trembled, almost to slight a motion for Jameson to see.

She stepped toward Cheszalt, putting a hand on his shoulder.  She was a petite woman, and just shorter than average, but Cheszalt was half a head shorter again than she was.  She cocked her head sideward, then lifted his chin so he would meet her gaze.

“No, brother,” she said.  “These brothers and sisters would say you did not get there too late.”  The two embraced, and Cheszalt seemed as if he would start weeping.

“Exchange forgiveness with me, sister,” he said, his voice nearly breaking, “and let us build our Order again.”

 

*****

           The two lay together, whispering quietly, long after they had blown out the last candle.  The moonlight streamed in through the two windows.  Outside, they could hear the crackling torches along the wall, and the occasional voice of the guards.

“So, you think that…” Jameson’s sentence trailed off.  His eyes were wide at the news Svetlana had shared with him.

“I think.  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll know soon,” she replied.  She stroked his cheek.

“Never had I thought I’d be ready for this,” he whispered, shaking his head.  “Nowhere in the world seemed like the right place, and the more I saw of the world, the more sure I was.  But now, anywhere could be the right place.”

She nodded.  “This path is new to me, too.”  She put a hand on her belly.  “I don’t even know if it’s possible for Immune.”

“I hope so,” he said.  “I can’t wait to find out.”

7 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 20”

  1. WHAT!!! is Svetlana pregnant???

  2. sooooooo is this the last chapter, or what??

  3. thats sad

  4. Dillion Frank Says:

    As an aspiring writer this trilogy was both incredibly inspiring and disheartening. This really makes my writing look rudimentary in comparison. Oh well, i’ll just learn from you and others with the same incredible talent. Thank you for this story. It was… words can’t describe how much I loved it. You are awesome.

  5. This novel, if in print, would be one of those rare books that makes its way onto my ‘Keep it, Recommend it” shelf. An avid reader for over 30 years that shelf has, maybe, 25 books on it. These are the books that grip you and push you deep into the tale being told. When you have finish the book you blink your eyes, shake your head rapidly and wonder if you are back in reality or did you just leave reality behind! Wonderful job!

  6. DireLilith Says:

    i think you should consider some minor editing…and get this whole series into print, ebook format at least. even if only at a few dollars each, you’d make some money. i’d reread this story if it were available in pdf. i hope you’re considering a career of writing. thank you for the vivid tale, for the wonderful ideas and twists, and for making me care about the characters. you deserve the money people would pay for this. easily.

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