The Turned – Chapter 14

Svetlana stood about a mile from the rock, watching as the sun began to come up. The swarm of the Turned shrank away from the light as it crept towards them, moving around to the west side of the great rock, and along its shadow toward the forest on the far side. Many of them went into the Compound itself, instead of remaining outside. She could still see one of the councilors up on the wall- the Turned that hadn’t gone inside had been drawn toward her, but now the light was chasing them away. Before the last few of the Turned vanished from sight, Svetlana could see the councilor disappear from atop the wall. Either she’d sat down to rest, or climbed down inside.

Svetlana turned and began jogging toward the trees, heading north-east. She had a long walk ahead of her. She could trade for a horse in one of the villages she came across. Or perhaps, she thought with a smile, she could find passage with one of the gypsy clans. The irony made her smile.

She’d already made up her mind what to do.

*****

Chezalt led the group through the trees, carefully picking his way from one patch of sunlight to the next. He’d brought four others with him, but not one that was more than 20 years old. Only four other members of the Order that were even old enough to lead a scout mission had come to the birth mother’s area the night before. One each led the other groups he’d sent out to look for survivors of the night before- small groups sent to find the far doors of the escape tunnels, and from there to look for other survivors. He’d left the other two with a large group outside the great rock, but didn’t feel he had a choice. They’d do their morning exercises, just like any other day, but beyond that he still had to figure out what they would do. They’d start looking for an alternate shelter that day, but at night they would most likely climb back up to the top of the great rock.

Some of the students had been wondering when they’d be able to go back to their rooms and their training halls. Chezalt had let no illusions survive- he knew there was little chance that they’d drive the Turned out of the Great Rock, and even if they did, the threat of missing even one was not acceptable. No, they’d move on from here.

He pushed through the trees and into the clearing where the escape tunnel climbed out of the ground. The iron door was wide open, the tunnel yawning into the sunlight. But what caught Chezalt’s eyes first was the blood on the grass. There was so much of it that most of the clearing was red, not green. At least fifteen bodies were scattered, their clothes torn to tatters and almost all of their flesh gone. The Turned had spent most of the night on them, and had gnawed them right down to the bones. Even the faces were almost entirely gone, making it impossible to indentify them.

All except for one… one body was wearing a pendant identical to his own. The grey hair was mostly pulled out, and the shreds of black fabric gave no clues. But it was certainly Walthair. Chezalt knelt behind his old friend, shaking his head.

“I’m sorry, brother,” he whispered. Then he noticed the sound.

Two of the younger sisters he’d brought wore flame weapons- just as a precaution- but seeing his gaze move out of the clearing, they lit their weapons and moved toward the source of the sound. At first, Chezalt thought it to be a slurping or a hissing, but as he moved closer, he made it out to be a quiet, continuous sobbing.

Just outside of the clearing, at the base of a tree, one of his sisters sat curled into a ball. Her face was buried in her knees, her hands clamped over her ears. Her clothes were ragged, and her hair tangled, but she didn’t look bitten or scratched anywhere. He approached her slowly, kneeling down beside her, then brushed her shoulder with the back of his hand. He was cautious- with her mental state, she was as likely as anything else to attack him, thinking him one of the Turned. But she merely lifted her head, slowly, and looked over to him. She looked to be 15 years old or so.

“Master,” she croaked. For a moment, she was quiet.

“Are you hurt, sister?”

She shook her head. “I got into the trees in time.”

“Where are the others? Who else got to safety?”

“No one else did, Master,” she said, her voice cracking. “They were waiting for us. They were right there,” she pointed across the clearing, “waiting for us to come out.”

“What is your name?”

“Ilanya,” she said, barely louder than a whisper.

He smiled, and held his hand out to her. “Come with us back to the great rock, sister. We’ll get you some food and water.”

Back at the rock, the main group of his survivors were just finishing their exercises. The two senior members had divided the group into ten smaller classes, each led by the ten oldest students they could find. Without any other ideas on how to keep their younger sisters and brothers occupied, they started them on practicing their forms. The familiarity of going through their combat practices helped lift the spirits of the group. Chezalt returned with his team, just as the other two scout groups did. The five of them gathered not far from the gate.

“No one alive there, sir,” his sister reported of the north tunnel. “Lots of dead. Picked clean by the Turned.” The leader of the team that had gone south nodded in agreement- he’d found nothing different.

Chezalt lowered his gaze. “We found only one.” He sighed, deeply. “We have to presume that there weren’t any other survivors besides our group. Perhaps some were able to scatter, but they’ll know to return to the Great Rock while the sun is up.” He shook his head. “We found councilor Walthair, but he’s dead. We’ll need to send out flame weapon teams later on today, to burn down the bodies. There may not be much of them left, but there’s a chance they’d get up and try to come after us. I think we’ve suffered enough horror for a while.”

After a moment of quiet, the youngest of his new council spoke up. “Master, I’ve been thinking about the Turned inside the Compound, and I think there might be a way to get them out. It would take some time, but it could be possible.”

Chezalt sighed, then smiled. “Let’s hear it.”

“Well, they’ll be drawn to us, wherever we are. At night, we might be able to draw some of them out, and then prevent them from getting back inside. For example, we could have someone wait by the front gate, until the shadow from the rock allows the Turned to come out after him. He draws them out, away from the gate, then climbs up a rope to the top of the rock. We’d have to find a way of closing the gates from on top of the front guard wall, but then the Turned would have to go somewhere else for shelter.” He paused for a moment to give Chezalt a chance to reply, then went on.

“They’ll also come into the birth mother’s area on top of the rock, if that’s where we’re staying tonight. If we could build a heavy enough wooden door during the day, we could drop it down over the tunnels leading back down. They’d come up at night, but be trapped there through the day. The sunlight will kill them, won’t it?”

Chezalt nodded. “I believe it will. Maybe not right away, but even if it takes a few days…” he chuckled. “It’ll be a while before we go anywhere else, anyway. It’s a good plan…”

“Cygna,” his brother replied, lowering his head for a moment and smiling.

“Cygna,” Chezalt repeated. “I will think on it. But ultimately, I believe we will need to abandon the Great Rock, and create a new compound elsewhere. We must learn from what happened here last night. And what I’ve learned is that living underground is too great a risk.” He shook his head. “The teams that we still have out will be returning, probably over the next week. Some will have carriages, and those will allow us to travel some more. We’ll need to concentrate on the survival of the Order for some time now.” He turned to look at the young students drilling nearby, and smiled weakly. Then something caught his eye, off by the edge of the forest.

He turned fully around to look, shielding his eyes from the sun, which was almost directly overhead now. At first he thought it was another group of survivors, but after the first three or four pushed through into the tall grass, he could see three carriages, drawn by oxen, moving along behind them. After a few minutes of slow travel, two of the people on foot broke from the group, jogging ahead toward the Great Rock. Seeing people outside, practicing in the sun would be no surprise, but no one was at work in the fields. The news from the previous night would be a shock.

The two joggers arrived, nearly out of breath, but not letting themselves appear exhausted. They approached the main gate at first, but were stopped by Chezalt before they could see too far inside. At the mouth of the front corridor, the Turned leered out at them, mouths hanging open.

“Tasia and Jesep, Master,” the sister reported. Her younger brother stood behind her, affirming her rank. “Assigned to gather news in Tarense, and we’ve found something significant enough for us to break our mission and return. We’ve…” her eyes drifted toward the gate, then widened as she caught sight of the Turned inside. “Master, what happened?”

*****

David Jennings returned to Regis’s Inn late in the afternoon. Lincoln was eating, Jacob McCandles had just finished his meal, and Marlena and Jameson sat down when they saw David approach. He spoke to Jody for a moment, then pulled a chair out and sat among them.

“Well, you were right, Jacob. Catherine Foreman went through the roof when she found out what it takes to make that stuff. Grinding up the rock isn’t all that hard, and finding clay and limestone is pretty easy. Apparently they know where to find all the raw materials; they just never bothered before because there wasn’t a need for it. She’s worried about the heating process, more than anything else.”

Aside from David, Jacob had the best understanding of the books they’d brought with them. “I don’t know how you measure the temperature when it’s that hot, but the books said 1,400 degrees. If she’s used to casting steel, which is just starting to really glow at that heat…”

David nodded. “Yeah, getting it that hot isn’t so much the trouble- it’s making sure it doesn’t overheat. I guess the rock will all melt together if you get it too hot, and the process won’t work right if you don’t get it hot enough. It’s the control of the temperature. But she said she has an idea for how to handle it.”

“Good,” Lincoln said. “Did they get a list of things they’ll need us to look out for?”

“No, they did not.” David shrugged at Lincoln’s surprise. “Sounds like everything they need is right around here. Just rock and the right kind of dirt, apparently. You know, many, many years ago, people made their homes out of clay, but a lot of times a strong rain would just make it melt. Would make it soft again, and wash it away.” He thought for a moment. “I wonder if someone at Carter’s Hill thought this stuff would do the same thing- if that’s where that rumor started, that it was easy to ruin if you knew how.”

Marlena smirked. “Doesn’t matter anymore. Those couple of blocks we brought back, they spent a whole afternoon pouring water on one of them, and it’s still rock-hard.”

David nodded. “I don’t think they’d have believed us if we hadn’t brought a few along. Well, the council isn’t wasting any time putting it to use. They want to surround the entire perimeter with this stuff. They want to set up a whole new section that will just build these blocks for people.”

Lincoln nodded. “Garth Gretson is a smart old man, and a good leader for this town. He knows a big change coming when he sees it. And even if there wasn’t a profit to be made, he knows how much these blocks will mean to people. Do they have any guesses as to how long it would take to make more… cement, is the word?”

“It’s called cement and concrete, either one.” David paused for a moment, as Jody brought him a plate of food. He had become far too fond of her ham steak during their current stay, and would miss it when they left again. “Building the machines won’t take too terribly long, and Catherine said she doesn’t have too many other things to do over the winter. She’s ready for a new project.”

Jacob smiled. “She’d have dropped everything to work on this anyway.”

“Well, yes,” David said, taking a bite.

“How are things with Sherry?” Jacob’s smile grew a bit larger.

“She’s doing well. Kradall will make an excellent husband. His father is still coming to grips with it, but his mother is just wonderful.”

“Kradall’s father? You mean Gregor? The councilor?” Lincoln asked. “He doesn’t approve?”

Jacob shook his head. “He doesn’t dis-approve, and he likes Sherry, but he’s made it clear he’d hoped his son would marry into a wealthier family, rather than a gypsy.”

David laughed. “If he was a smarter man, he’d realize that having a gypsy clan connected to his family would give him business opportunity.” He lifted his glass to take a drink.

Lincoln smirked, an amused look in his eye. “If he was a wiser man, he might remember that he wouldn’t be a councilor himself if his own wife had chosen a wealthier family instead of his own.”

*****

Dresten sat down last. Saia and Odyna had brought back beef from the village they were near, and the group had its first good meal since they’d left the Compound. Catching squirrels and birds on a daily basis was growing old. As each ate their portion, Dresten began to speak.

“I believe we’ve put enough distance between us and the Great Rock for now. Let’s talk about what we plan to do going forward. I’m not going to presume that we will all agree, and there’s no reason that we all absolutely must stick together, so if there’s anyone who plans on going it alone, there’s nothing stopping you.” Dresten paused for a moment, giving the others a chance to speak if they would, but no one did.

“I know what I wish to do.” He took a deep breath. “Reading the books that Svetlana has given us has made me believe that we owe a debt to our fellow people. I believe we should offer to help them learn to defend against the Order.”

After another pause, Nadia spoke. “Are there enough of them left to continue attacking villages? I would think they’d need time to rebuild.”

Idzac cleared his throat. “According to Saia, it was councilor Cheszalt we saw leading those that were left. I’m sure he’s already created a plan for the Order- not just to survive, but to continue it’s ‘mission’. Whether that mission is to wipe out all humans they find, or if he means to grow the Order into a power unto itself, their actions will be the same; they will continue to attack the villages they find.”

Dresten waited for a moment before speaking again. He had found himself in a leadership role over the past few days, even though both Saia and Idzac were older, and should have outranked him. Instead, they had let him speak, and while offering their advice, most of the decisions had rested with him.

“I agree. Whether they take a week, or a month, or a year, they will continue that path, and soon. No one out there is really ready for an attack like those we used to lead. No one else but us can truly prepare these villages for what they’ll be facing. We have a responsibility to help them.”

*****

Donovan set down his notes as he finished speaking. “As it stands, your plan is moving faster than we’d anticipated.”

Gina Carterson stood, and paced around the room. He followed her with his eyes, letting her digest the information. She’d have questions for him to answer soon enough.

“Has there been any more word on the discovery?”

“Not many details as yet, but they should be coming soon,” he replied. “The smiths at Tarense seem to have put almost everything else on hold, to build what they need to make more of these blocks.” He paused. “From the initial report, it shouldn’t be hard for us to duplicate the machines here. We may be able to take advantage of their trial-and-error up there, ma’am. I doubt they’ll get it right on the first try, no matter how much information they have. Once they’ve refined the process, we can duplicate their success without the wasted effort.”

Gina shook her head. “If we do that, we’ll always be behind them. We need to be at least even with them, preferably ahead. On something like this, we can’t wait for them to find all the problems, and solve them for us. If they can offer our new towns a defense that we can’t, it’ll be that much harder the next time we try to expand. And that leads us to the other problem we have growing here.”

“Ma’am?”

“It will be much harder for us to take a village by force if it chooses to reject our offer. If they can build a wall of these blocks, our normal assaults will not have a chance of success.”

“Even these new block walls will need gates,” Donovan offered.

“Yes, but the gate has always been the strongest part of the wall. How often have your soldiers ever attacked the gates themselves?” She shook her head. “No, once a village has constructed a wall like this, we will have little hope of conquering them. The only thing we could do would be to encircle the village and starve them out.”

“That used to happen, historically,” Donovan said, leaning back. “In the days when castles were the best defense a city had. An invading army would just surround the place, and take their time battering down the door. They wouldn’t bother with the walls.” He took a deep breath. “But I don’t think they had to pull the soldiers indoors every night to protect them from the Turned, either.”

She nodded. “That was long before the Turned appeared. But as for the present…” she sighed, long and slow. “No, once the wall is built, our force of arms means little. So it follows that we should work to prevent these walls from being built.” Another pause. “I want you to form a small squad of elite fighters. A team of scouts will look for villages that are building this sort of wall, report back to the squad, who will then attack.” She didn’t need to spell out what kind of soldiers they would need to be. “I’ll leave the tactical planning to you, and whoever you choose to lead the squad. Keep me posted on the resources you need to accomplish this, but within reason, consider your budget unlimited. I’ll let you know if you stray too far.” She smirked sideways at him. She’d given such orders and boundaries before, and he had not yet overstepped his bounds.

*****

Ilyana was leading a group of 7th years through their forms when Cygna found her. He had brought a replacement for her, another 15th year brother who stepped in and took over the class. Cygna led her back around to the far side of the Great Rock, where Cheszalt was waiting for them. He stood as she approached- barely taller than she was at 15, he radiated strength that made him seem larger than he was physically. There were a dozen or so other brothers and sisters near him, sitting in a rough circle. She recognized many of them, but didn’t know all their names. He took both her hands in his own.

“Good morning, sister,” he said. “I hope you’ve been feeling better.”

She nodded. “Most of the shock is wearing off, master,” she said. “The nightmares have almost gone now.” She was a little nervous, but had a good idea of the reason for the summons.

The still-living remainders of the Order were scattered around the fields that surrounded the great rock, still practicing their art. Anyone in their 13th year and older had gone from an advanced student to an instructor, quite literally overnight.

“I’m glad to hear it. If you’re ready, I’d like you to tell me what you saw that night in more detail.” He motioned for her to sit in the tall grass, and join the circle. She did so, looking around nervously before taking a breath and speaking.

“Well, there wasn’t much to see. It was confusing, just being in the tunnel and all of us running without knowing really why. I guess I went back to the drills in my head; we’d done it a hundred times, and I knew to get away from the exit and into a tree. We just weren’t ready for the Turned to be so close to the exit. They were upon us almost from the moment we were in the clearing.” She paused for a moment, then went on.

“I remember that they didn’t surround the exit at first. They all came from one side, and I was able to run the other direction and get to a tree before the clearing was surrounded. Master Walthair shouted something at an older sister, then pushed her back into the tunnel and closed the door behind her. He was the last to fall. They… they took their time with the ones they’d trapped outside.” She fought to keep her voice steady, and succeeded. “It was a long time before they were quiet.”

Cheszalt nodded. “And when the sun came up?”

“They moved back, deeper into the forest. I waited a long time after the sun came up before climbing down. There’s something else, Master… I saw- I saw someone else climbing down from another tree, on the other side of the clearing from where I was. At least three of them, but I’m not sure.” She saw Cheszalt’s eyes lock onto hers. “If I had to guess, I would say that the Turned were close to the exit because of them.”

“Did you recognize them?” the councilor asked.

This was the hardest part.  “No, Master,” she said. She had known she had to lie about this- had known she couldn’t tell anyone who she had seen come out of the other tree.  But she was surprised how easily the lie came out.

Advertisements

One Response to “The Turned – Chapter 14”

  1. lovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvve it man keep it up and nice twist at the end i also like how you tell the book from the turned and believers perspective

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: