The Immune – Chapter 03

Jameson felt her approach the workshop, not needing to look up from the anvil. His lips curved into a smile, his right hand maintaining the rhythm of his hammer strikes, his eyes noting the effect of every blow. The chest-plate was still very rough, but was almost recognizable for what it was.

Between two of the hits, he heard Karl greet their visitor, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the larger man move to the corner of the shop. He hung up the tongs he had been using, and appeared to be thinking about which hammer he’d use for his next task. Jameson knew better – Karl had never been comfortable around the Immune, even after working with Jameson for months. He was respectful, but he kept his distance.

“Looks heavier than you usually make things,” she said, standing close on his left side and out of the path of his hammer.

He kept working, knowing she could hear him over the ringing steel. “It is,” he said. “It’s for me, actually.”

Marlena cocked her head sideways, still looking at the plate. She watched for a few more strikes, then turned her head to look at Jameson. “You’re as worried as we are, it seems.”

Jameson delivered two more strikes, then decided the piece needed re-heating. He set the hammer down beside the anvil, atop the large tree stump. He turned his head first, to let Marlena know which way he was going, then moved toward the forge and set the large plate in place on the coals. “I don’t know if it’s worry. I think it’s wanderlust, more than anything else. It doesn’t bother me to wear armor all day.” He turned to face her, receiving a quick embrace from her. She’d surprised him on her last visit, before the snows, by giving him the same quick hug he’d seen her give old friends. And now, it seemed natural.

She’d been traveling in the rough, he could tell. Her clothes looked as worn and in need of washing as his own did, and he’d been in the smithy for nearly 14 hours straight. Her hair was tightly braided, a single, thick, blond rope draped over one shoulder. “Hasn’t it been a while since you needed protection from the Turned?”

He grinned. “Yep. But I also remember when Andi and Julia were kidnapped.”

She nodded. “So, you’re getting bored here already?”

“Not really bored. They’ve gotten well enough settled here that I’m not indispensable anymore.” He looked over at Karl. “There’s plenty of work to do, just like anywhere else, but I could leave without causing hardship.” He looked back to Marlena. “It doesn’t sound very modest, does it?”

“You did a lot of work around here, and at first, yes, they did need you,” she said. She looked past the forge, out into the waning light over the next building. “They wouldn’t have been able to build a bloomery that size without you.”

Jameson laughed, remembering the debacle that had been. But now that it was complete, it was producing iron and steel day and night. It was worth it, but no one involved in the project wanted to build another one.

“Well, if you feel like traveling again, Lincoln is only a few days behind me.” She smiled. “I know he’d love to have you come with us, especially where we’re going.”

Jameson cocked his head. “Where’s that?”

“Carter’s Hill, eventually. They need all the help they can get.” She looked back at him. “That’s why I’m here. I’ve seen something west of here, and it’s scary. I came to tell the council here, too.”

Jameson checked on the chest-plate in the fire, then returned his attention to Marlena. “What happened?”

“The Turned over-ran a village that had a cement block wall.”

He felt one eyebrow rise. “They broke through the gates? I wouldn’t think they’d get through the wall itself.”

“No, they had some help,” she replied. “From someone angry enough to dig a tunnel from the forest, underneath the fields, and under the village square. Then they kidnapped someone and put them in the tunnel, to lure the Turned down the tunnel.” She looked over to Karl, who was working quietly, but had paled at her words. “Once the Turned were done with that person, they came up through the ground to get to the people above.”

Jameson felt his mouth hanging open, and closed it. “Someone went through that much trouble to get the Turned past a cement block wall.” He leaned back against one of the tree-trunk sized columns, looking upward at nothing as his mind worked through what Marlena had told him. The tongs dangled from his left hand, half-forgotten. “And to make it work, the attacker would have to be Immune. The Believers would be willing to try something like that, but they don’t have anyone Immune among them, do they?”

“There’s one of Dresten’s friends, the one who was infected at the Battle of Silverlake, but she’s more or less come around to their way of thinking.” Marlena took a deep breath. “No, it’s someone else. And whoever it is, they are very dangerous.”

Jameson nodded. He looked over to the chest-plate, then swung the tongs up and plucked the plate out of the fire. The center was glowing a gentle orange-red. He picked the hammer back up before resting the plate across the huge anvil, and had re-started his hammer rhythm as naturally as walking. The two continued to talk, not needing to raise their voices over the noise.

“So how has Lincoln been?”

“He’s doing well- he’s had a lot of attention over the past few years. He’s had a big hand in all we’ve been through over the past few years, and word is getting around. People are bargaining with him differently – and some people are waiting for him to come around before doing serious business.”

Jameson laughed. “Long as it’s good attention, I can’t imagine he’d mind.”

“Most of it’s good, but some of it is bound to be bad.” Marlena looked down at the chest-plate, pointedly. “We’ve had more bandit attacks on the caravan than usual- they’ve gotten the word that he’s doing well, too. He’s thinking about hiring a few fighters, just for added protection… but who do you hire that you can trust?”

“Grunnell is still with him, right?”

“Yes – and Dennis Richards has been training pretty hard. After his sister was nearly taken, he started pestering his parents to let him train. They let him start getting serious over the winter. You haven’t seen him in a while, have you?”

He shook his head without taking his eyes off the curved steel plate.

“That boy is almost Grunnell’s size, and those two have been working together every day.”

Jameson’s hammer paused in mid-air. He lowered it slowly, looking out towards the village gate. The south and east sides of the workshop were open to the outside to let in sunlight, but there were other buildings between them and the gate. Marlena’s head had turned the same direction, at about the same time. Both of them could feel the presence of the Infection, and with the sun high in the sky, they knew that another of their kind was entering the village. They waited, quietly, to see who it was, but didn’t have to wait long. Another female figure rounded the corner of the bloomery, moving straight toward them. She was average height, but dressed in brown and grey, with a grey hood nearly concealing her white-blond hair. She smiled as she saw them waiting for her, but didn’t speak until reaching the edge of the overhanging roof.

Jameson turned to look at Karl, who had started working on the buckles of an armored leg-harness on the far edge of the shop. “Karl, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” The large man looked up, nodded once, then went back to his work without a word. Jameson left the still-glowing chest plate on the anvil, and walked out into the sun. Marlena was right beside him.

“Good to see you again, sister,” Marlena said.

Svetlana smiled at them both. “Good to see you. I’m not often called ‘sister’ anymore.”

“You haven’t been to see Dresten lately?” Marlena stepped closer, giving the other woman a quick embrace. “I hear they are recruiting members for their own Order.”

“Yes,” Svetlana replied, “they are going back to the original teachings of our faith. And their numbers are growing, although slowly.” She stepped close to Jameson, giving him the same sort of embrace she’d shared with Marlena. He returned it with one arm only.

“I’m covered in forge-dust,” he apologized.

“And I’m covered in road-dust,” she replied, pulling him a little closer and resting her head on his shoulder for just a moment before backing away. Her smile faded, and she looked back toward Marlena. “I’m glad to find you here. I was going to look for you, and your friend Lincoln, after meeting Jameson.”

Marlena cocked her head to one side, just slightly. “You visited the same wiped-out village I did.”

“I may have,” Svetlana replied. “I’ve found two villages where the Turned got past the concrete wall…”

As Svetlana’s voice trailed off, Marlena’s picked up. “by using a tunnel dug from the forest, under the fields, and under the village square…”

Svetlana picked back up. “…that had to have been dug by someone who was Immune.”

“The Order doesn’t have any members who are Immune, do they?”

Svetlana shook her head. “They’d be sent away. Except Ilyana, and she’s been blessed- her eyes didn’t change when she was infected.”

Marlena nodded her agreement. “Who else would want to wipe out an entire village?”

No one spoke for a long moment. Then Svetlana sighed. “I have a theory, but I need more information.” Her eyes met Jameson’s, and she smiled again, this time just a little differently than before. Then she turned back to Marlena. “Do your friends travel with anyone else who is Immune? Your friend Xeren?’

Marlena shook her head. “No, just me. Xeren is in Carter’s Hill now.”

“I think you should stick with them, just in case this mysterious Immune decides to attack them. You’d feel them coming.” Svetlana looked back at Jameson. “Same for this village. If you leave, make sure there’s someone around who is Immune.”

“Henson will be here, working the mine,” Jameson said, nodding his agreement. “But it would be good to let the village council know.”

Marlena and Svetlana traded a look that Jameson couldn’t quite decipher, then Marlena spoke up. “I’ll talk to them. Then I’d better return to the caravan. Thanks for the warning, and the advice, Svetlana. Jameson, if I don’t see you before I leave, I’ll see you when the caravan gets here.” The other woman nodded, her lips curved in a slim smile, and Marlena moved off toward the village square. At least one of the village councilors could be found there at any given time.

“I need to eat,” Svetlana said. “Would you join me?”

*****

The two sat across from each other, eating heartily despite the subject of their conversation. Seemed to be eating quickly, taking small bites of food but chewing quickly and seeming to put more in her mouth than she actually did.

“So who do you think would be willing to go through the trouble of digging those tunnels?” Jameson asked her. “It just doesn’t make sense- the Believers- sorry, the Order are the only people I ever even heard of who would attack a village just to kill everyone inside. Bandits wouldn’t do that, whether they were Immune or not.”

“I agree. Whoever did it had a good reason for going to all that trouble.” Svetlana took another small bite, chewing it and swallowing quickly. “And two separate villages, separated by a four-day journey. That suggests to me that there wasn’t a grudge against anyone who lived in either place.” She pointed her fork at Jameson. “It suggests that whoever did this, they didn’t want it to be obvious that they’d done the same thing in two places. And that’s what worries me the most…”

Jameson cocked his head, his mind catching up to the conclusion that Svetlana had already come to. “They didn’t wipe out those villages because they wanted those people to die. They did it because they were practicing.

“My thoughts exactly,” she said, the odd smile returning, then vanishing again. “They wanted to see if their idea would work, and it did. I believe Marlena found their second attempt – their first was at Krillin’s Crossroads. And there’s something else… I think there were at least a few people who had made it through the night at Krillin’s Crossroads – but were murdered the following morning.”

Jameson’s fork paused in mid-air, dripping sauce from the bite of meat on the end. It slowly returned to the plate.

Svetlana continued. “There was blood all over the ground, but the walkway around the wall was clean – all except for one spot. There were two very large stains, close to each other. The walkway was out of reach of the Turned, so unless two people got bitten, but still made it up there and died later on…”

“… in which case the body- or bodies- would have been there in the morning…”

“Correct. I got there four days after it happened, I believe, which wouldn’t have been long enough for the bodies to Turn, and get up and walk away.” She paused, seeing the confusion in his eyes. “It takes longer for a dead person to Turn. If your heart is still beating, it’ll help spread the Infection faster.”

Jameson nodded. “Makes sense. So whoever did this, they stayed around to watch, to see how well it worked. Then, in the morning, they went inside and killed the survivors.” He paused again. “They didn’t want anyone to live to tell what had happened.”

Svetlana took another bite. “So this leads us to the more disturbing idea…”

He nodded. “… which is that the real target might be somewhere completely different.”

“Someplace that has yet to be attacked.” She put another small bite in her mouth, chewed twice and swallowed. “Now, what village that we know of has the greatest chance of making someone angry enough to go to all this trouble to bring it down?”

Jameson snickered. “That’s easy. Carter’s Hill.” He put the half-forgotten bite of meat into his mouth, chewing slowly as he thought. “No one ever found out what happened to the wealthy families when they left… they headed East after Xeren blasted their fence, but they had plenty of time to get to their new city.”

“They never made it inside the new gates,” Svetlana said, flatly. “Their new city is now home to The Order- the old Order, I mean, the dangerous one.”

“Who could have gotten inside, and locked out those families, and let the Turned wipe them out,” Jameson said around a bite of food. He cocked his head, then swallowed. “Do you think someone is out to attack the Order in their new home?”

“It’s a possibility, but I don’t know.” She took long, slow drink from her cup, looking right into Jameson’s eyes the entire time. When she put the cup down, the odd smile returned to her lips. “The Order is pretty vigilant. They’d know if someone was doing that kind of heavy digging that close to their city.”

“True, but wouldn’t the people of Krillin’s Crossroads, or Goldleaf Farms have seen something?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “The entrance hole for both villages was placed away from the roads, just far enough inside the forest that no one would go near it. If they started the hole at night, no one would have seen them working above-ground. Once they got out of sight, no one would stumble upon them.”

“True. In Dry River, we never went within 10 meters of the trees unless we had a flame-weapon team with us.” He took another bite, but again began speaking before finishing it. “Marlena said they came right up into some of the houses, too. In Dry River we had a few two-story homes and buildings, but they were rare.” He swallowed. “When there was a breach, that’s where we’d go, and we’d pull up the stairs behind us.”

Svetlana nodded, swallowing her mouthful. “They didn’t have any buildings like that, in either village. The only ones who made it through the night were perched up on the wall, out of reach from the ground.” She looked down at the table, and sighed. “Do you miss your home?”

Jameson paused for a moment, his fork half-spearing his next bite. “Sometimes. I don’t think about it too often. Lincoln took me back there once, last summer, to see if my brother was telling the truth, but he had no reason to lie.” He paused again, remembering his last meeting with Thomas, the crazed look in his eyes when he attacked, and the tragic end of the encounter. “How about you?”

Svetlana looked toward the door for a moment, then looked back at him. “I miss having a home, but it wasn’t meeting Symon or becoming Infected that took that away. When I became a scout for the Order, I was out in the wild far more than I was home. I traveled almost all the time, learning about the world, reporting back with information that would help the Order achieve its goal.”

Jameson had heard all about this from Dresten and the others during his stay at Silverlake the previous year. “Their goal of exterminating everyone. You spent so much time taking all that for granted, that your Creator had wanted to kill off every living human on Earth…. was that hard to leave behind?”

“No,” she replied, without any pause. “When Symon showed me the roots of our faith, the old teachings the Creator left us – left for all people, not just the Order- it made me feel used. It made me feel that most of my life had been a lie. I guess it made me feel bitter toward the rest of them. But now, perhaps Dresten and the others can rebuild the Order the way it was meant to be.” She took another bite of her food. “So you’ll be going to Carter’s Hill with Lincoln and his group?”

Jameson nodded. “It sounds like they need all the help they can get.”

“It sounds as if Lincoln can use all the help he can get, too,” she said, the odd smile returning. “If you haven’t made yourself an armored suit, perhaps you should.”

“Funny you should say that,” he replied, returning her smile. “I’ve been doing some experimenting with armoring myself, and I’ve been able to carry much thicker armor than normal fighters would. Apparently my endurance with a hammer was only one benefit. I’m not any stronger than anyone else, really… I just don’t tire from carrying heavier plates the way everyone else does.” He shrugged. “So I’ve been making an extra-heavy suit for myself. The chest-plate should be able to stop just about anything. I also don’t have to worry about plate overlaps the way I normally do – if there’s a little gap between two pieces, the Turned won’t bite through it.”

Her eyebrows rose. “It makes you re-think everything, being Immune.” She slid her hand across the table, and gently clasped his. Her touch was different than it had been when she’d arrived. “I have to go. My friends at Silverlake need to hear the same warnings you did. Be careful on the road. I’ll probably meet up with you in Carter’s Hill.”

“I don’t know when we’ll arrive there,” he said, squeezing her hand just a little. “It depends on Lincoln’s route. But you’ve never had trouble finding him before, have you?”

She smiled again. “I have been well-trained.” She released his hand and stood, moving toward the door, and disappearing from sight. Jameson watched her go, wondering if he was imagining the signals he’d picked up from her.

*****

The two black-clad figures moved as quietly as they could, avoiding fallen branches and the underbrush that would give them away. They kept looking to the right, toward the road below them, more or less keeping pace with the other group of travelers, yet making as sure as they could that they weren’t detected. Taurus was better at it – he’d spent his whole life doing such things – but Dana was learning fast. The trees were thick on both sides of the road- ancient oaks and maples with massive trunks. It was fairly easy to stay out of sight.

The subjects of their surveillance continued to head South and East, as they had for the two days since Dana had noticed them. Their clothing was distinctive- loose fitting black tunics and pants, and they all seemed to move the same way. They definetly had the same poise, and were not just a crowd trying to get from one village to another- they stayed in well-coordinated teams and they had almost certainly traveled like this before. They each wore a sword at their side, and while the length of their hair varied, each of them had it tied behind them in the same way. They moved relatively slowly, on foot around two large box-carriages not unlike those used by the merchant and gypsy caravans. But instead of being brightly colored, as the gypsies preferred, these two were painted green and brown. The horses tethered to the front worked hard, but moved slowly over the dirt roads that wound through the small valley.

They were from The Believers- there was no doubt in Dana’s mind- the group that had captured her new city and left her mother and brother locked outside at twilight to be eaten by the Turned. But they couldn’t have done it alone, she knew, and while she planned to get revenge upon them, it would have to wait. There was a more pressing vengeance that needed to be satisfied first. This team had merely attracted her interest, and Taurus had agreed with her- they could learn from watching the Order attack a village.

Dana froze in place again – one member of the group continued to look to the side, into the woods, directly at the place where Dana and Taurus were. Once, the young woman had seemed to make eye contact, but Dana had dropped out of sight behind a cluster of huge ferns.

Taurus had noticed it, as well. “She knows we’re out here,” he whispered. “We should put more distance between us.”

“But why hasn’t she raised the alarm?” Dana whispered back. “She’s given no sign that she knows of us.”

The large man shrugged, then moved forward as they began to lose sight of their quarry. “Doesn’t matter. If she knows of us, we’re at her mercy.”

Dana smirked, keeping pace with him. “I don’t think so. They won’t come this far into the forest, not with the Turned so close.” She looked behind them, toward a particularly dark patch of shadow that sheltered a trio of walking corpses. “Only the Immune would come this… far…” she trailed off, stopping in mid-stride.

Taurus looked back at her, his face turning quizzical at her hesitation. “What is it?”

“That’s it,” she replied. “That’s whats making us feel odd about that team.” She moved past him, closing the distance between her and the group. “She’s Immune. She feels us out here, even if she doesn’t see us.”

Taurus’s eyebrows rose. He kept pace with Dana, peering through the trees towards the group. “I think you may be right,” he said, wonderingly. “I wouldn’t think the Believers would allow one of their members to stay if they were Infected, whether they were Immune or not.”

“Well, we’ll find out what they’re up to sooner or later,” she replied. “I’ve talked to a few people who have survived their attacks, but it’ll be interesting to see it happen.”

Taurus chuckled, then slowed down. “They’ve stopped.” He moved a few steps closer, then moved behind another great maple tree. “They’re fanning out on the road – perhaps they’ve reached their destination.”

Dana moved behind the same tree, checking their surroundings. “The only trouble with moving through the forest…”

“Right – can’t see very far.” Taurus kept his eyes locked on the team of Believers. “We’re not near any major villages that I know of, but I could be wrong. I don’t know this valley.” He looked back at Dana. “There’s twenty-five of them – how ambitious do you think they are?”

Dana shrugged. “I’ve never seen them fight. Some people say one of them is worth ten armored fighters. Some say a flame weapon or a good archer will make short work of them.” She slid around the tree, scanning the team as they spread out on the road below and ahead of her.

Suddenly, as if on command, they moved off the road, away from Dana and Taurus, and began moving the two carriages into the woods. They couldn’t go far without getting pinned by the underbrush, but they moved off the road almost far enough to be out of sight to any other travelers. Dana and Taurus moved closer, watching through the trees.

The drivers fo the carriages dismounted, then began working on the harnesses of their horse-teams. Two of the others joined in, and soon they were loading the four horses into the second of the two carriages. Two of the others had moved forward, down the road, scanning the trees and the road ahead. Those are the scouts, Dana thought to herself.

The rest of the Believers had clustered around the lead carriage, near an open door in the side. Two of them were passing something out to the rest of them- one was handing over sets of what looked like metal pipes, the other carefully gave out long, curved, polished blades. Dana’s eyes narrowed. Upon receiving the pipes and the blade, each member of the team moved away, onto the road, then knelt and began locking the pipes together, end to end, until they formed a long pole with the wicked blades at one end and a large metal ring at the other. The whole process took less than two minutes- each one of them held their crouch, looking over their shoulders at the others.

One of them barked a command, and the group moved as one, running/crouching into the woods on the other side of the road. Within a minute, they were out of sight, and only the two drivers remained, sitting atop their carriages and conversing quietly.

Taurus looked over at his companion. “Wherever we’re headed, I guess we’re there. They’ll probably do some scouting before attacking, but they’re running out of sunlight.” He looked through the branches and leaves at the afternoon sun, already dipping low in the sky. “They’ll probably attack tomorrow.”

Dana nodded. “Let’s see if we can figure out who they’re attacking.”

4 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 03”

  1. man you are a very accomplished story teller, i have enjoyed reading your stories. I burned thru them in lil under a week . I am intrested to know when the rest of immune is coming ?
    Regardless ill check back
    enjoyed your writing

  2. Richard Tejada Says:

    Just wanted to say, ” Merry Christmas to you and yours!”

  3. sooooooo whats the story with Svetlana and Jameson??? πŸ™‚

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