The Turned – Chapter 13

Dresten walked among the guards on the outer wall, looking out at the tree line.  It was three miles away, but the distance it appeared to his eye changed every time he looked at it.  Sometimes it seemed safely distant, sometimes all too close, and others, not close enough.  The latter seemed to happen when he and his team were returning home, hoping to outrun the Turned and get through the gates before it was too late.

Svetlana had never been late like this.  Her return schedule always varied- it was part of being a scout, he knew, and her route may have been forced to change by a hundred different things- but never like this.  He knew he shouldn’t be so worried.  Her return date was an estimate, and not even her own.  The normal travel time between the Great Rock and her goal was the only hard information they had.

Her instincts have been right every time, he reminded himself.  Whatever it is she’s doing, she’s doing what she thinks is right.

He looked out to the trees, searching for the tell-tale signs that the Turned were moving in.  The sun was setting behind him, pushing the shadows of the trees away from him.  The long shadow of the Great Rock was nearing the tree-line, and would give the dead a pathway toward their gate soon, even before the sun vanished behind the western mountains.  He heard orders being shouted nearby, as the captain of the gate- Angora, an old training mate of his- readied her guards to close the doors for the night.  Flame weapons were inspected, tanks checked, and the bolts on the door were tested with the doors open so that any cracks or weak points would be seen.

“All right, time to close up,” Angora called.  She wasn’t excessively formal, which her guards appreciated, but she did everything according to the rules.  The front gate being closed properly was the most important safety measure in the entire compound.  While there were many places they could fall back to, choke points to hold and inner gates to contain and control the Turned if they ever got inside, this was the strongest point.  With this gate closed, there would be no need for anyone else to even risk their lives.

Dresten watched her and her guards look over the doors, then he looked back to the trees with a sigh.  Maybe tomorrow, Svetlana, he thought to himself.  He was beginning to wonder if his feelings for her had crossed over the line from professional respect and the communal love the Order taught, and become something else.  He couldn’t tell if he was yearning for her a little too much.  He shook his head slowly.  If you have to ask that question, Dresten, then the answer is probably yes. It was time for the two to separate, work with other teams, and let their relationship cool.  Becoming too attached to another member of the Order was against their code, and they all knew how dangerous it could be, even here.  In the wild, it could get an entire team wiped out.

The underbrush at the tree line began to move as the great rock’s shadow finally reached the point of intersection.  First one shape, then a few more, pushed through the bushes and began the shambling march toward the gate.  Angora gave the order to retract the bolts for the final closing.

Dresten’s eyes caught another shape break through the trees.  This one was still in the sunlight, off to the right of the Great Rock’s shadow.  It was too far to see clearly, but it was clearly a humanoid shape, and still alive if they were in the light.  They paused for a moment, then began sprinting toward the gate.  In the span of two seconds, Dresten had already fit the pieces together in his mind.  He shouted to Angora, who spotted the runner and stopped the closing of the gate.  Whoever it was, they had paused just long enough to gauge the distance to the doors.  The Turned already had a bit of a head start on them, but a living human could sprint a lot faster than they could march, even if they still had all their limbs.  It had to be someone in the Order- they knew to break through the trees well clear of the shadow of the rock.  And the Order trained it’s followers to be runners.

This one was obviously no exception.  It took them only 20 minutes to make the nearly three mile run.  By the time they were within a half-mile of their destination, it was clear who it was.

Dresten climbed down from the wall with a huge smile on his face, waiting to catch Svetlana as she came through the gate.  Angora had left only enough room for her to slip inside, then the guards slammed the door shut.  The first of the Turned wouldn’t be at the gate for another half hour at least, but the guards weren’t taking chances.  The bolts slipped into place, and the gate was secure for the night.

She was completely out of breath.  She stretched her arms over her head to expand her lungs, forcing as much oxygen as she could get into her bloodstream.  Still breathing hard, she turned to him.

“Good run, sister,” Angora smiled, patting her on the back.  “Give yourself more of a head start next time, huh?”  Svetlana smiled back at her, then turned her attention back to Dresten.

“I’m glad to see you.  You’re over a week late,” he said.  “I was beginning to wonder if you were still alive.”

She nodded.  “More alive than ever.”  Something about the way she said it nagged at his mind.  “I’ve got a report to make, and I need you with me when I give it.”  She turned to enter the Rock, and he followed her.  They were just out of sight of the gate guards when she opened the door to a small armory on the right side of the corridor, pulled him inside by the arm with a grip like iron, and closed and locked the door.

He turned to face her, confused, and she faced him the same way, hands on her hips.  The torches in the walls were giving off enough light to see, but not completely clearly.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“Dresten, I’m not late because I took the scenic route home.  I’ve found some terrible things, and you need to hear them, too.”  At that point, he noticed that her heavy breathing had stopped completely.  He looked closer.  She still had her hood on, and the shadows made it difficult to see her eyes, but her skin was clear- her cheeks were not flushed as they would be from a run like she’d just made.  She looked as relaxed as if she had been sitting down for the past half hour.

“What happened out there?”

“First I need to ask you something.  Is your loyalty to the Order, or to the Council?”

He looked at her askance for a moment.  “I don’t understand.  Does there need to be a difference?”

She nodded.  “There does now.  We’ve been taught the mission of the Order, that we should be willing to give our lives to achieve that goal, and to follow the word of the Council without question.  But what if the Council’s word goes against our mission?”

He shook his head.  “I think you’ve been away from the Compound too much, Svetlana.”  He took a deep breath.  “The Council’s orders haven’t gone against our mission, not once.”

“Not directly.  But capturing birth mothers as a general rule now?  And have you noticed that all the old trainers have been replaced?”

He was quiet after that.  He, too, had noticed the training disciplines had changed since he’d earned his place.

“So tell me; if the Council did give orders that contradict our mission, what would your loyalty demand of you?  The Council has to wait until the older members, like you and I, are all dead and gone before they can make the changes they’re preparing for.  Do you remember the first few missions we were sent on?  How they’d send out 20 of us to attack a village?  Now how many do they send?  Eight?  Seven?”

His head didn’t move, and his eyes locked onto Svetlana’s.  “The last team that went out was five.”  Something was wrong with them, but he couldn’t tell what in this light.  “Are you saying they’re trying to get the older members killed?”

“There are more births now than ever, and there are more young members to send.  Why not send them out, and give our missions a better chance of success?  Five is enough to attack a village if we don’t care about the team returning, but a team of twenty would return, and an experienced team is difficult enough to build, isn’t it?  The Council’s tactics are the same, but their bigger goals, their strategy has changed.  And it doesn’t make sense, unless…”

He waited for her to continue for a moment, before prompting her.  “Unless…”

“Unless their strategy now has a different purpose.”  She turned suddenly, looking over her shoulder at the door, then turned back to him.  “Their actions have been roughly the same as what the rulers of Carter’s Hill have been doing over the past 20 years or so.”  Her eyes looked up to the stone ceiling, then sideways to the walls.  “This place can only hold so many people, and at the birth rates the Council has ordered, it won’t take too long to fill it up.  The training disciplines have changed.  It won’t be long before the Council has a young army with a very different idea of the Order’s place in the world, and they’ll be ready to expand.”

They were both quiet for a long moment.  Dresten couldn’t look at her.  His feelings and loyalties and suspicions fell back and forth across his heart.  His earlier thought returned to him; Her instincts have always been right- whatever it is she’s doing, she’s doing what she thinks is right. Finally she broke the silence.

“I found Councilor Gabriel, Dresten.”  She reached under her shirt collar, and slowly drew out a chain.  “He’s alive.  He’s been alive all this time.”  At the end of the chain was the pendant.  When he’d heard her speak, he knew he’d see it there, but his mind fought against the idea at first.

“He’s been gone for over a hundred years.  No one even knows for sure how long.  How can he be alive?”

“He’s one of the Immune.  He’s taken the name Symon.”

Dresten’s eyes went wide.  “My god, Svetlana, he’s… that’s who…”  Then he grew suspicious.  “What’s he talked you into doing, Svetlana?”

“Nothing.  He had two requests of me, and one was to return this pendant to the Council.  The other was that I follow my instincts, and do what I knew was right.”

“What’s right would have been to kill him,” he said, but he saw the folly of his words even before she voiced them.

“He’s an ex-councilor here, and he’s kept himself in constant practice.  I wouldn’t have lasted long.”  She sighed, looking to the side, at the weapons racks.  “I attacked to test him, and he was faster than anyone I’ve ever fought.  He told me many things, Dresten, and showed me proof to back up what he said.  You need to hear it, too.  But not just you.  I need you to help me find as many old members that are in the Compound as we can.  You’re familiar with the missions the Council has ordered, so you can find out where our teams are out in the wild, and who is on them.”

She unslung her small pack, pulling it from under her cloak and opening it.  She drew out a heavy, old book, bound in leather, and handed it to him.  “Symon gave me this.  It’s the basis of the religion our Order was formed to follow.  And it tells a very different story than what the Order has taught us.”

“You trust a book more than our teachings?” he asked.

“How much trust can we put in our teachings, when we see them change for the next generation?” she countered.  “How many things changed before we were born, and started our own lessons?  This,” she said, tapping the book’s cover, “makes far more sense of the world than our teachings did.  We are taught love, compassion, trust, and faith in our purpose- but then we’re taught to destroy, to cause death and pain and suffering, and we’re told it’s the compassionate thing to do.  And we never question the paradox.  At its roots, our religion taught only the better things- help each other, love each other, and trust your Creator and His plan.”  She paused.  “We’re told the Creator’s plan by other people, and never question why He would want us to cause such strife.”

Dresten shook his head.  “There’s been no reason to question it.”  His eyes betrayed his growing doubt.  She put a hand on his shoulder.

“There’s ALWAYS a reason to question it.  Especially now.  Symon told me that he’d found another possibility for the Turned to have appeared.”

Dresten smirked.  “The reason is self-evident,” he said.  “Humans had been destroying the Earth, and the Creator realised he’d have to destroy them completely, and rebuild his Earth.”

“That’s obvious to someone who has been taught that their whole life.  But what if the Turned had a different purpose?  We can see, by looking at what they left behind, that the Ancients had grown powerful, but also complacent and soft.  Decadent.  What if the Turned were brought into being as a challenge to humans, instead of their complete destruction?”

“They’re too efficient at killing to be anything else,” Dresten reasoned, using the argument both he and Svetlana had been taught over and over as they’d grown.

“They had to be.  To re-conquer the Earth, and wrest it from our grasp, they had to be the way they are.  But look at the way humans are, out there.”

“Huddled in their villages, desperately clinging to life any way they can.”

She shook her head.  “No.  Working together, working hard, caring for each other in a way they didn’t feel the need to before.  The Turned have forced humans to behave precisely the way our religion asks people to.”  She paused for a moment before continuing.  “Our own teachings instruct us to be precisely the same way- compassionate, helpful, and working together instead of against each other.  Before the Turned, humans battled each other because they had nothing else to test themselves against.  Now, all humanity is united against this threat.  That which does not kill us…” she said, waiting for him to finish the ancient saying.

“Makes us stronger,” he whispered.  She could see in his eyes that he was beginning to agree.

“But if the Turned are meant to test us, to make all humanity work together and become stronger, what does this say about what we have been doing, what the Order has done?”

Dresten didn’t speak.  Svetlana let him think for a long moment before continuing.

“Think about all those people we’ve helped destroy, believing that we were helping to enforce the Creator’s will.  These people could have become stronger, both with their community and their faith.  If it hadn’t been for us.  We’ve been told that we are the instruments of the Creator’s will- who had the audacity to declare that we were chosen to break the Creator’s rules, his guides for us?  Who has the right to say that they alone should be allowed to violate the laws they expect others to live by?”  She paused for a moment.  “Dresten, the memory of all the work I have done is heavy on me.  And I can’t go on working to destroy the lives of my fellow humans.  I want to help them, instead.  Perhaps I can lighten the burden I carry.  Besides, if I did go on working towards the destruction of a decadent people, the place to start would be…”

“Would be here,” he said.  He took a deep breath, then let it out, sharply.  “Svetlana, what are you working up to?”

“The Order won’t work towards exterminating humans.  They’ll use the idea as their unifying goal, but the Council will not see it through to completion.  They’ll only cause more suffering, more pain.  And while I can’t stop them myself, I can cripple them.  I want your help, and the help of the other elder members.  The ones old enough to see the changes in the Order for what they are.”

The two of them were silent for a long time.

“I’ll have to report to the council soon- they will understand if I need to take some rest first, but that won’t give us much time.  Find as many of the older members of the Order as you can, and meet me in the lower training hall.  Is half an hour long enough?”

Her tone of voice had him convinced.  She was a different person now, a different rank.  “Half an hour is plenty.  I’ll see you there.”

He stepped forward to hug her, and she embraced him back.  When he bent his head to kiss her, she turned away.  When he backed away, she turned them both so that the light was behind him.  She lifted her face up to look at him, and her eyes were like blue iron in their resolve.  But immediately he noticed the veins around the irises… swollen and black.

He tried to back away, but her hands clenched his arms again, like manacles, and held him close.  “Symon knew by looking at me,” she said.  Her breath was hot on his cheek, and for the first time he was terrified to be close to her.  “He knew that I would be Immune, and he was right.  That’s why I was late, Dresten.  I had to wait, to make sure the infection had time to kill me and turn me if it was going to.”  She shook her head.  “I should have been dead four days ago.”  Her grip relaxed, and she stepped back away from him, moving toward the door.  “Half an hour.”

*****

It was late in the night when Angora returned to her post, after being gone for nearly an hour.  She was accompanied by two other senior members of the order.  The three of them separated when they reached the wall, all climbing up the heavy timber ladders to the guard positions.  The guards were nervous at first- seeing more than one elder brother or sister out at the gate at any given time usually meant trouble of some sort- but Angora put them at ease, and from their scattered perches on the wall, the three of them looked out over the swarm of dead hands and faces.  The guards’ attention returned to the gate, to the walls, and to the pounding on the immense oak-and-steel doors.

On the other side of the great rock, past all the dormitories, training halls and classrooms, the many corridors that circled and crossed the compound converged on a small guard room.  This was the place everyone was trained to escape to, and from here were three tunnels that went underground, under the open field that surrounded the rock and into the woods, putting a total of five miles between the outer openings and the Compound itself.  The idea behind their design was fairly straightforward; if no one was in the tunnels, the Turned wouldn’t be drawn toward them.  They’d go overland toward the Great Rock, where the living were.  If the Compound was penetrated, and the members inside trapped, they could run down the tunnels fast enough to get to the openings before they attracted more of the Turned.  The drill was actually practiced during the day, at least once every month.  A group of ten would race down the tunnel, the next group waiting ten minutes before starting their own run.  The first group would get to the woods, hopefully meeting few if any of the Turned at the entrance, closing the great iron doors behind them, then getting a short distance away and climbing trees, where they could pass the remainder of the night.  In their tree, they’d attract the Turned above-ground, but also lure them away from the other two tunnel openings.  As the second group emerged and found safety in the trees, the third would be on its way to the surface.  Only once had this sort of escape been a necessity, and afterwards it was revealed to have been a real-world test of their ability to escape.  The members of the Order, young and old, had performed like clockwork, and the plan had worked perfectly.  The tunnels could also be used as emergency entrances, as well- the bolts on the outsides of the doors could be thrown easily by the living, but the dead would only pound on the heavy doors once they had closed again.  The corridors themselves were bare stone, and would echo along their entire length.  Everyone knew to shout their own name aloud all the way down the length of the hallway if forced to use it at night, as a warning to those who waited at the inner end.  No one wanted to be burned on accident.

At all times, there were five guards posted here with flame weapons always ready.  The entire room was made of stone, with doors of iron.  Nothing flammable was allowed to remain for more than a day.  The guards could let loose their weapons without fear of consequence, and if the Turned overwhelmed them, they could close off the compound from these exits by closing a single door.

*****

Dresten entered the council chambers alone, which earned him some odd looks from the council members.  He’d notified them of Svetlana’s return, and her wish to make an immediate report to them… but where was she?

“My apologies, councilors, but Svetlana has asked me to bring a message.  I…” he stammered, then bit his lip, pensively.  “Something has gone very wrong, and I do not know what it is.  Svetlana told me there was something about the Turned that you needed to see, something she’d show you at the main gate.  And she asked me to bring you this…” he held out the chain, with the pendant dangling from it.  The eyes of the entire council widened, all at once.

Alexia, seated in the center, rose from her chair.  Her chiseled face was glowing in the torchlight with a mixture of shock and disbelief.  When she held the pendant in her hand, the disbelief turned into anger.

“Where did she get this?”

“She told me Gabriel asked her to return it to the council,” he replied, truthfully.

The other councilors stood, and gathered to see the pendant.  Then they looked at each other for a moment, then at Dresten.  Alexia let it fall to the ground.

“You’re right, Dresten.  We need to see her immediately.  She is at the gates?”  He nodded.  She looked around at the others, then led the way out of the chambers and down the hallway that crossed the compound, leading to the dormitories, then past the classrooms, and finally to the front gate itself.  Dresten followed them until they’d passed the dormitories, then ducked down a side corridor that led to the outer, circular corridor.  The timing had to be perfect for this to work…

*****

Angora saw Svetlana appear in the mouth of the corridor, then turned suddenly and struck the guard beside her directly at the top of the spine.  He crumpled and fell, and didn’t move.  She sighed deeply, and whispered an apology and a prayer before looking around at her two companions.  They had already disabled the other guards at the front gate before any of them had seen what was happening.  The three senior members slid down the ladders to the ground, and met Svetlana as she reached the huge door itself.

“You three don’t have much time.  The council is on their way here, and once I throw those bolts, the Turned will push the door open pretty fast.”  She looked down the corridor behind her, then back to the other three.  “The outer ring corridor will be quiet at this time of night.  Get moving.”

Two of them did, disappearing out of sight as they reached the corridor that circled the compound’s southern side.  Angora looked into Svetlana’s eyes, and clasped her shoulder.  She got her first close-up look at Svetlana’s changed eyes, and though it disturbed her, she was surprised to find herself taking strength from her sister’s stare.

“You’re certain you’ll make it through that?” She nodded her head toward the door, and the swarm on the other side.

Svetlana nodded.  “They’re not here for me.  Not anymore.”

They heard the echoing footsteps coming down the central corridor, and Angora dashed to the outer ring corridor.  She’d just made it aside when Svetlana could see the light of torches approaching.  She took a deep breath, then moved toward the bolt mechanism.

*****

“Idzac, sir, what are you doing up this late?” the oldest of the guards asked.  He pointed the flame weapon upward, holding it half-behind him to put it away from the old man who had entered the rear escape chamber.

“Sometimes I can’t sleep through the night, younger brother, and walking about the compound is more soothing than sitting still.”  His hands were folded in front of him, and he wore the same clothes he taught his classes in.  Something was tugging at the edge of the guard’s minds, but they couldn’t place what it was.  One turned to check that the huge door he guarded was properly locked, and it was.  Idzac drifted amongst the younger guards, then turned as another shape appeared in the archway that led to the rest of the compound.

“Dresten, sir, good evening,” the senior guard said, growing confused.  He didn’t have time for his confusion to evolve into suspicion.  As Dresten moved closer to him, as if to embrace him- which was strange, considering his flame weapon’s fuel tank- Dresten’s arm turned the wrong way, then snapped out and struck the guard just under the left edge of his jaw.  Another guard was close by, but with his flame weapon unlit it was useless, and he hardly had time to drop it before Dresten had hit him, as well.  The other three began moving to aid their friends, but Idzac was far faster than he appeared.  A moment later, the old man had forced them all to the ground, where they lay still and silent.

*****

“Svetlana- younger sister- what are you doing?” Alexia shouted.  Her pale face was lit with rage.

“Are we- or are we not- part of the Creator’s plan to exterminate the human race?” she called over to them.  They were only 30 feet from her now, but had stopped when they saw her hands on the bolts.  “What has happened to the old teachings?  Has the mission of the Order been changed?  Has its council merely decided to redirect us?  Or has the true message of the Creator been different than what we’ve been taught?”

Alexia’s rage subsided for a moment, and her voice returned to that of a teacher, exasperated with her student.  “Svetlana, you know our mission will not be completed within our own lifetimes.  For us to bring the Creator’s plan to its completion, we much first and foremost ensure that the Order survives.  If we allow ourselves to be weakened, over time our mission will become lost, and forgotten.  And as for the Creator’s message, we’ve never been unclear on it.  The Turned could not exist without the Creator’s will, and their purpose is as clear as our own.”

“But we’re taught compassion and love for each other- why not for the humans who are not part of the Order?  Why do we destroy them, and not help them, show compassion for them, as we’re taught to show each other?”

“When humans are too numerous, too powerful, they will destroy the Earth.”  Alexia’s anger was beginning to show again.

“But they are not too numerous now, nor too powerful.  They live more in harmony with nature now than they ever have.  They work together now, not fighting each other.  Isn’t that what the Creator wanted?  Shouldn’t that be our goal?”

“They will again grow powerful, and will conquer the Earth again, if not for the Turned.  Humans need to be exterminated, so the Earth can heal.  The Order is part of that plan.”

Svetlana let the councilor’s words hang in the air for a moment before responding.  “If that is true,” she called, “then none of you should fear your own death.  The Order would survive you, and carry on its mission.  Would the five of you sacrifice your own lives to save the rest of the Order?”

No one answered for a long moment, and Svetlana smiled as the silence gave the answer.

“Well, we shall see.”  She pulled back on the bolt mechanism, and the huge timbers slid out of their braces.  The door immediately gave under the pressure of the swarming Turned outside.  The councilors shouted at her, screaming her name, then turned to run back into the Compound, to the next set of doors.  All except for Alexia, which watched as the Turned shambled through the gate, ignoring Svetlana completely as they passed around her, and flowed into the great rock.  Alexia climbed up the ladder and onto the guard-wall, where the Turned could not follow her, and watched as Svetlana pushed through the swarm and disappeared out into the night.

*****

Dresten and Idzac only had to wait a few moments before they heard hurried footsteps approaching.  Older members of the order began to arrive in the guard-room, singly and in pairs.  From the southern loop corridor, Angora, Nadia and Greigal appeared, breathing hard from their run.  They had a minute or so to catch their breath.  A series of knocks on the door to the south escape passage sounded.  Nadia opened the door, and Odyna stepped through, nearly out of breath.

“They’re coming,” she said.  “And there’s plenty of them, I’m sure.”  As soon as the words had left her mouth, another knock sounded from the north passage.  When the door opened, Saia entered the room.

“Everything is set?” she asked.  Idzac nodded, slowly, then moved toward the last passage.

“We won’t have much time,” Dresten said.  “Remember, everyone, get into the trees as soon as you see the Turned following you.”  His head turned to look down the north passage.  He’d heard their slow, sliding footsteps, but now he could see reflections off what remained of their eyes and clothing.  Within another 10 minutes they would fill the room, from both the north and south passages.  The living darted through the last door, locking it behind them.  The Turned wouldn’t beat on this door, or try to follow them far- they’d sense the other members of the Order in the rest of the Compound, and follow their hunger to a closer source of food.

*****

Alarms were being shouted throughout the compound now, and everyone was awake.  In the dorms, the oldest members took charge, as they were trained, and began to try to organize their younger sisters and brothers.  There were emergency stores of flame weapons scattered throughout the compound, but most of their weapons were near the training halls.  In an emergency, everyone in the Compound had been taught to meet there.  As the teachers and instructors awoke, they raced to the dormitories to help the younger members organize and reach their assigned areas.  Some were terrified to find that some of the Turned were already wandering through the inner tunnels.   Their terror grew when they tried to bolt the emergency doors, to contain the Turned where they could- but found that the bolts on the doors had been torn out and shattered.

At the forward defense point, flame weapons were being called forward, but the swarm of the Turned was too great.  The ones in front tried to shrink away from the heat, but the mass behind them continued to press, pushing the reluctant dead at the front directly into the flames.  The defenders had a palisade to protect them, but it proved only to slow the Turned down.  Soon the defenders had to retreat or be crushed by the wave of burning dead, pushed forward by those behind.  Those living who survived fell back to the training halls.  Among them was councilor Qartan, whose voice was hoarse from shouting orders.

The northern loop corridor had a defensive point as well, where the corridor widened into a circular room with another palisade in a semi-circle, so that multiple flame weapons could converge on the corridor that led to the front gate.  At the urging of the councilor Garjia, the defenders had arrived at their post with time to prepare themselves.  Here the pressure of the Turned in back was not so great, and the dead in front were able to stop when the flame weapons lit.  The greater swarm entering the compound was going down the central corridor, and there wasn’t nearly as many of them approaching the north defense point.  Garjia was just letting herself relax and breathe normally when she saw a large group of the Turned flow out of the corridor behind her and her team.  Before they could reposition themselves, the councilor and three others had been knocked down by the attackers, and those that did respond to the new threat had nowhere to escape to.  They set fire to a great many of the Turned before their fuel tanks ran out.

The southern defense point fared only a little better.  This one was a larger room, and had a third tunnel that led directly into the Compound.  As the Turned came up the forward and rear tunnels, most of the living escaped core-ward.  Cheszalt was with them, and led the way back to the training halls, where most of the remaining living gathered.  They tried to bar the way behind them, but with the bolts on the doors broken, the doors would only hold for so long.

The remaining 3 councilors met in the center of the combat training hall.  Most of the others in the hall with them were younger members, some as young as 8 years old, but they were acting as bravely as they could.  They had realized that many of them would not make it through the night, but would fight with the hope that enough of the Order would survive that the members could rebuild.

“We have to find a place to hold ourselves up for the night,” Cheszalt argued.  “We cannot stop them, not this many, so we have to find a way to evade them.”

“There isn’t a way to evade them,” Qartan nearly shouted.  “Even if we were to lock all the doors to this hall, we’re beneath the rock.  The sun won’t reach the corridors to drive them away in the morning.  We need to get to the escape tunnels!”  Walthiar nodded in agreement.

“The Turned were coming in behind all our defenses,” Cheszalt countered.  “The only way that could happen is if they have come in through the escape tunnels.  If we go that way, we’ll be dead.”  He shook his head, angrily.  “If we can fight through them to the birth-mother’s chambers, we can get from there to the top of the rock.  When the sun comes up, we can find shelter elsewhere.”

“We should take both options.  You take your path, Chezalt, and good luck,” Walthair said.  “If we split up, and try both options, the Order has a better chance of survival.”  The other councilors nodded their agreement.  He turned, approached two of the teachers that were nearby, and gave a hurried set of instructions.  The teachers divided, then organized the rest of the hall into two groups.  The greater group would head for the escape tunnels, while the smaller group- only two hundred or so- would fight their way to one of the few places in the compound that was open to the night sky.

The way to the escape tunnels was led by Qartan.  The corridors were wide enough for three people to walk abreast, and the younger brothers and sisters that followed him nearly filled the hallway.  Only one out of every ten or so had a flame weapon, and those had dispersed among the line, holding their weapons high to provide some extra light.  The councilor walked a little way ahead, energized by leading his brothers and sisters from the front again, and cleared the Turned where he found them wandering toward him.  He was nearly at the rear guard room when he was tripped forward by something grabbing his ankle.  There were three of the Turned, only their upper bodies, heads, and hands remaining, grabbing at him, and in their slow scramble to grasp him, pulled themselves closer by dragging his flame weapon out of reach.  The people behind him began to shout, some to scream, as they saw the dead begin to eat their councilor.  They tried to turn back, but the press from behind them was too great, and they couldn’t shout to those behind to stop pushing forward.  Just like the Turned, they were being forced forward to their own deaths.

*****

As he entered the birth-mother’s area, Cheszalt took a deep breath of the night air.  Then he looked around as the brothers and sisters with him fanned out into the area.  None of the Turned had made it here yet.

The top of the great rock had a large depression in it, and because of its placement it was both the best place to keep the birth-mothers (who were often reluctant to stay when they first arrived, and looked for possible escapes) and the best place to hide from the Turned.  The depression had been carved out when the Compound was built, and around the outside were smaller caves that had been built into dwellings for the birth-mothers themselves.  Out in the middle of the depression, wooden buildings had been built to house a kitchen, a birthing hospital, and other support facilities.  All in all, it wasn’t too bad a place to live, even if it were forced upon the women at first.  Many of them came to appreciate it, and some even professed a belief in the Order’s cause.  The inside wall of the depression was riddled with hand-holds, and was simple enough to climb, but that merely got you to the top of the great rock.  The birth-mothers were allowed up here whenever they chose, because jumping off the edge of the great rock was suicide, not escape.  It was 30 meters straight down to the ground below.

But for the purposes of the members who had escaped here, it worked just as well as a place to wait out the night.  The Turned wouldn’t be able to climb up to the top of the rock, and when the sun came up, they could lower long ropes over the sides.

Fortunately, he thought, only two of the women were so close to giving birth that they could not climb the rock itself.  It was only fifteen feet or so, and these two were lifted up by the others with a rope, the end tied into a loop to catch their feet.  Within ten minutes, his entire group was on the top of the rock, and he’d only lost four people in the fight to get there.  They sat or walked around the top of the rock, careful not to get too close to either the outside or the inside edges.  In the dark, the edges would be harder to see.  They watched as the Turned flowed into the depression below them, avoiding the torches, holding up their arms to the living that were just out of their reach, and calling to them with open, silent mouths.

The councilor looked up at the stars, praying to his Creator that his friends would survive the escape tunnels.  The moon was only a sliver, casting down just enough light to see.  It would be hours before the sun rose.

*****

It took 15 minutes before Walthair was able to push his way to the front of the line, and discover what had happened.  He and the three with him lit their flame weapons, pushing back the Turned as they approached.  They advanced down the tunnel slowly, with the line moving just as slowly, now that they’d been instructed not to press forward.  Eventually Walthiar reached the body of his fellow councilor, still being fed upon by three legless dead.  He set fire to all of them, and he and his team moved around the left side of the corridor to avoid them.  He’d pray for his old friend at another time.

The rear exit’s guard room was full of the Turned, but no more were coming down the escape tunnels.  He drove them away, into the tunnels, then closed and bolted the doors.  “This was how they got in, certainly.  Two doors were open, but this one-“ he pointed to the door in the middle of the wall- “is locked shut.  Someone led the Turned in here, to set them upon us, and they escaped down this tunnel.”  They wouldn’t linger there, he knew- they’d want to get as far away as they possibly could, to escape the anger of the Order.  The realization that Svetlana had not been acting alone struck him then, but he shook off the shock a moment later, refocusing on the situation.  There would be time later on to find those responsible.

“We’ll split into three lines,” he said.  “There’s only a few of the Turned in the north and south escapes, and you can push them back to the other end.  We won’t have time to go in the smaller groups, so just get people moving as fast as they can.  Get clear of the exits, and into the trees, and come back to the great rock when the sun comes up.  Remember, get to trees as far from the escape tunnel as you can, to give the people behind you more time to escape.  If you sit in the trees just outside, the Turned will be waiting right there when those behind you come out.”  The others nodded, then threw open the doors to all three tunnels, throwing fire into them as they stepped in.  The members divided neatly into three lines, and worked their way into the escape tunnels.  Nearly three hundred people would make it out alive with him, he guessed.  The Order could rebuild.

When he was satisfied that all was running smoothly, Walthiar entered the middle tunnel and moved past the line heading toward the exit.  Before long, he reached the front of the line.  The Turned had not entered this tunnel, at least not yet.  He jogged along the corridor, alert for any dark shapes in the corridor ahead, either standing or lying down.  The strain of the night was beginning to catch up to him.  His joints had begun to ache at night, and his running speed was showing his age now.  He kept ahead of his brothers and sisters, but it took effort, and he knew there would be more running once they left the tunnel.

At last, after what seemed like an hour, he caught sight of the door at the far end.  He could smell fresh air as he approached it, and could see that it still stood slightly ajar.  He lowered the end of his flame weapon as he looked outside, then pushed the door all the way open and climbed the short stairs to get outside.

Each exit had a clearing around it, about 30 feet across, and the line behind him began to fill up the space quickly.  He gave orders to people to disperse, to scatter into the trees and get as far as they could, but only one of his younger sisters made it past the edge of the clearing before they stopped.  More people continued to file out of the tunnel, but out from the trees, the Turned began to move toward them.  Not just one or two, but a circle that enclosed the entire group.  The councilor looked up into the trees, and found the reason staring down at him- in each of the trees around the edge of the clearing was perched one of the Order- Dresten , Angora, Odyna, Nadia- ten or so of them, and around their trees, the Turned had swarmed to try to reach them.  The escape tunnel had become a cruel trap.

The councilor grabbed the oldest other member he saw – a sister, whose eyes were wide with fright.  He unslung his flame weapon, and put in on her shoulders.  “Go back into the tunnel, and get your brothers and sisters still inside to safety.  Maybe you can make it through one of the other tunnels, but you have to hurry!  Put all your flame weapons in front.  This door will be locked behind you.  GO!”  She herded the people in the entrance back down the stairs, and they turned at once to flee.  The councilor got as many people back into the tunnel as he could, then slammed the door shut and latched it as the only other person with a flame weapon was knocked to the ground by the Turned closing in on them.  The men and women in the trees looked on without a word, as the Turned pushed him over and descended upon him.

*****

Outside the other two escape tunnels, the same thing was happening.  A handful of the renegades had climbed into the trees nearby the exit doors, drawing a sizeable crowd of the Turned close by.  When the doors opened, and the escaping members leaped out, they were met instantly, and had no time to reach the trees.  The older brothers and sisters among them sent the others back into the tunnels, trying to seal them before the Turned could get in, but were not fast enough.  Soon, the dead were pursuing the living back toward the Compound through the tunnels.

4 Responses to “The Turned – Chapter 13”

  1. Yikes! Man this is good!!!!!!!!

  2. wow man sending chills down my spine ive beenhokked on this book ever since lol keep it up ive even spread the word about you and my whole class is about to start reading your books

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