The Turned – Chapter 9

Why do these things always seem to come to me? Symon found himself thinking again.  I’m not the only person in the world who can act, and I’m certainly not the Creator. He went over in his mind what Katrick had told him, and how it fit into the rest of the picture.  He looked down again, at the pendant he wore, wishing he could still draw strength from it as he once had.  The gold and silver pattern was symmetrical, and he saw the same image that others saw when they looked at him.  It was ancient, and had more symbolism than he could possibly explain to these people.

Carter’s Hill meant to expand, that was obvious.  But instead of just making their city bigger, they were going to capture the surrounding villages.  More soldiers from the city sounded to the villagers like additional protection, but Symon saw it for what it was- occupation.  He wondered what would happen to the villages that refused.  For now, they’d be allowed their refusal, but it wouldn’t be long before even more soldiers arrived, and forced the deal upon them.  By adding more villages, the Cartersons could recruit more soldiers, who would be treated like royalty compared to the life they had before.  Their loyalty to home would soon wither.  And soon there would be enough soldiers to expand further.

The only thing that would stop them from building an empire was the length of their control, and from what he saw, there was no guessing how far that was.  He wasn’t feeling very safe in the area around Tarense any longer, though.

And now, the rumors of a discovery had some additional proof.  If it was true, it could be such a wonderful thing for people who couldn’t walk among the Turned.  For it to fall under the control of the Cartersons would be a tragedy.  If the villages could better take care of themselves, they would prosper on their own, and not need to agree to offers such as Carter’s Hill was sending them.  Every village could be allowed to grow, and travelers wouldn’t have as much reason to fear that the next village would be empty when they arrived.

It wasn’t his place, Symon knew, to decide who should benefit from such a thing.  But he also knew that the Cartersons held that right even less.  They would claim it, and they would strive for it, but it was not their right.  He had to do something, and unfortunately his own abilities were not right for this.  So again, he had to ask his friends to put themselves in danger.  He could never bring himself to give orders, even though he knew for certain his requests would be followed without hesitation.  His friends were loyal to him, but part of the respect they gave him was because he didn’t give orders.  He dreaded the day that he would be forced to give an order.  The more he learned about Carter’s Hill and its actions, the more he feared that day was approaching.

*****

In the morning, after letting it sit out in the sun for a few minutes, Sarah opened the backpack they’d taken from Sandra’s corpse.  She had been burned once they had the pack clear, and every trace of her was now gone.  Inside was a change of her father’s clothes, a canteen, and her father’s journal. She had opened it very carefully, looking for any sign of blood on the pages, but it had been closed and well-protected inside the backpack.  His writing was very straightforward, reporting raw facts as he learned them or felt the need to record them.  He wasn’t very sentimental in his writings, and this journal was no exception.  Near the end of his writings, she found what she was looking for; instructions on how to locate their discovery.  It was certainly close by.  Halfway between Red Hill and another village, Washovia.  The place in the road to look for was described clearly.  She’d have no trouble finding the place now.

Their team leaped up to their saddles, and Casper led them out of the city.  Marren and Joyce rode at opposite ends of the line, and Sarah joined Marion near the trailing end.  Again, Casper had spoken to her just enough to discuss the direction they should take.  He’d smiled at her in an odd way before they’d mounted up, assuring her that they’d find her father soon.  It just seemed out of character for him.

She read more slowly as they rode, looking for clues as to what exactly her father had discovered.  The journal entry that told of their initial find, the building on the side of a hill, covering a cave of some sort, was easy to find, but it didn’t speak of any other discoveries.  They had spent the day working in the building, to see if it was secure, but then returned to Red Hill for the night.

She had focused so intently on the journal that she hadn’t noticed Casper slowing his pace to ride beside her and Marion.  When she looked up, he was smiling over at her, but then looked into the woods on the other side, as if distracted by something.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” he replied.  “Thought I saw something moving over there.  Might be dark enough for the Turned to wander around in there.”

The thought chilled her for a moment, the idea that the Turned were that close, and nothing but the sunlight was keeping them from coming out after her.

Out on the road in front of them, five men on horses broke out of the woods, and began charging toward the team.  At the same moment, three appeared behind them.  As if on cue, Marren and Joyce both drew their swords.  Marren, near the front, turned his horse swiftly and ran his blade right through the chest of the man behind him.  Sarah had never learned more than the man’s name, but she was shocked almost out of her wits.  She heard Marion shout, then saw Casper turn his horse to move behind them.  As she turned to look, she saw him interrupt Joyce’s charge.  The fighter’s face was a mask of confusion and rage, and he almost drove his blade through Casper before remembering who his family was.  In that moment, Marion and Sarah both spurred their horses and turned them into the forest beside the road.  They dodged trees, climbing up a low hill and trying to put distance between themselves and the attack.

There was no doubt in Sarah’s mind that Joyce had been ordered to kill her.  The fighters had meant to kill off the entire team, except only Casper, and had been only waiting for their chance.  It was the discovery of her father’s journal, she thought, that had triggered it.  She gripped it tightly in one hand as she rode.  Marion was right in front of her, and she knew he was marked to die, just as she was.  Perhaps worse; if they were truly after Sarah, he was most likely just expendable, like the rest of the team.  She could hear them cry out as Joyce and Marren killed them.  Turning back to look, she could still see through the trees to the edge of the road, and some of the new riders were looking back at her.  They were also aiming arrows at her.  She could hear Casper shouting something at them, but she couldn’t tell what.  She did know that he wasn’t in fear for his own life; he was shouting orders, angrily, and that meant that he had been a part of this.

*****

That fool! Demal thought, watching the two escape off the road.  He had known somehow that the bows they’d brought would be needed.  Only a few of the soldiers in his city were trained with these weapons, but they were a necessity when bandits tried to attack.  And now, his was the only one with the range to hit the two that escaped.  He drew an arrow from it’s quiver, nocked it quickly, then drew back on the string, feeling the pressure change slightly as he readied to loose.

For a split second, he thought back to the building he’d found this weapon in.  A home for one of the Ancients, they had said, and magnificently built.  The ceilings had been impossibly high, and not only were the windows huge, but there were windows in the ceiling as well!  A huge stone fireplace, beautiful wood under their feet… too bad it had been nearly destroyed by time.  He’d thought of going back there, to see if he could make it a liveable place again.

The owner had been a hunter- this much had been obvious.  Out of reach of the Turned that had invaded the place, there were the heads of animals mounted on the walls.  Trophy kills, he knew at once, well-preserved to show the magnificence of the animals.  He recognized the pride a hunter feels for his kills.  His companions that day had marveled over the arrows they’d found- metal arrows that were impossibly perfect, with arrowheads that looked wickedly deadly- and were amazingly sharp, considering they’d been abandoned for generations.  But he knew the real find when he saw it- a bow, built by the Ancients to be more powerful than anything he or his friends could make themselves.  And a book to go with it!, he had thought, amazed at the time.  He’d learned how to make adjustments to it’s strength, how to make it work perfectly for his own strength and skill, how to change the string, how to keep it in perfect condition.  And that he had, knowing that every time he used it, it would shoot better than any other weapon he’d seen before or since.

Today it did precisely that, and his arrow struck the lead horse in the hindquarter.  It skidded sideways, away from the pain, and its rider fell to the earth.

*****

Sarah leaped off her horse to help Marion up, and realized that she’d done so just in time.  Where her chest had been a moment ago, an arrow flew straight into the neck of her mount.  It screamed and fell, trying to find a way to stand again, but not able to.  Marion rolled himself over, then got to his feet, shouting at her to run.  The only place to run was deeper into the forest, and it was shady enough here that the Turned could be anywhere.  His horse had run off, and even if they’d caught it again, it wouldn’t be able to carry them both with an arrow in it’s backside.  The two of them dashed forward, trying their best to stay away from large underbrush and shadows.  They were as terrified to be caught by their pursuers as they were of the Turned.

*****

Svetlana rode next to Dresten, atop the carriage that held their sleeping quarters.  The animal carriage was behind them, with the others in a deep discussion about the Creator that she could only catch pieces of.  They were younger than she was, and had received fewer lessons than she had in their faith and their mission; they had to discuss what they knew, what they thought, and what they had deduced for themselves, to try to fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge and beliefs.  She smiled at some of their statements, and shook her head at others, smiling over at Dresten occasionally.  He was listening, too, but didn’t feel the need to correct them when they were wrong.  They were thinking freely, which was good, even if those thoughts led to incorrect conclusions.  The instructors back at the Compound would correct them.  There was no need for Dresten to do so now.

As they made their way over the crest of a hill, they spotted another pair of carriages approaching them, moving the other direction on the road.  There was plenty of room for them to pass each other, but Dresten stopped the animal team anyway.  When the other travelers had come within shouting distance, Dresten jumped down, and approached them.  The driver of the lead carriage jumped down as well- a short, dark-haired woman.  Svetlana instantly recognized her as a member of the Order.  She climbed down to introduce herself.

The two leaders met halfway between their carriages, and both teams followed them forward.  Embraces were exchanged.

“Saia,” the team leader said, pulling Svetlana close.  “We’re coming here from Groalitt.”  She was a head shorter than Svetlana, and her eyes tilted upward at the corners.  It made her very pretty.  Her skin was slightly darker than Svetlana’s own.

“I’ve been there.  Svetlana,” she replied.  Saia stepped back, looking up into her face.

“You’re the scout,” the woman said, smiling.  “Your information saved our lives last night.”

Svetlana looked back toward the carriages that faced her, then took a few steps toward them.  Atop their animal carriage was a cage with no top, and inside were a half-dozen prisoners.  All of them were young women.

“They came with us relatively quietly.  They’ll be good for giving birth to more fighters for our order.” Saia was proud of her work.

Svetlana looked back to Dresten, who nodded his approval at the other team.

“I thought we had plenty of mother-slaves at the compound,” she said, thoughtfully.  “Does the order plan for some of them to retire soon?”

Saia shrugged.  “It’s become a standing order now, for us to bring in mother-slaves from villages we defeat.  I wasn’t told why.”

Svetlana nodded, but inwardly she was confused.  Her old lessons returned to her, and she again found herself wondering why anyone would wish to bring more children into the world.  Especially the Order; they were always judicious with how many births they allowed.  They wouldn’t instruct the attack teams to bring back more mother-slaves for no reason.

She knew, inwardly, that the mother-slaves were well cared for.  In fact, many of them didn’t mind their new lives at all, and preferred it to the life they had before.  They were much safer from the Turned, they had all the food they could want, and were made as comfortable as the Order could.  But still, Svetlana felt pity for them.  Repeated child-birth took it’s toll on a woman’s body, and they would be used for recreation as well as making children.  The Order had once had strict rules about sex, their early lessons had taught them, but they had soon learned that giving their men a sexual outlet made them much more productive, much more calm.  There were no longer any such boundaries except for mutual consent, and that was overlooked in the case of mother-slaves.  Svetlana had taken many lovers, male and female, as had most of the Order.  What bothered Svetlana was that these women wouldn’t have the choice.

But then, they’d had no choice on the matter of their own birth, either.  That had been inflicted upon them by their parents.  Now they’d be given a chance to help the Order pursue it’s mission, and perhaps they’d eventually learn to agree with their new place.

One of the women caught Svetlana’s eye, and with a chill she knew she’d been recognized.  The woman was twenty years old at most, and had been the daughter of the innkeeper at Groalitt.  Svetlana barely remembered that village from all the others, she’d visited so many, but this woman she remembered.  The eyes that had been so friendly with her the last time they’d met- now they were enraged and terrified of her.  Svetlana turned away, and returned to the carriage.  She said nothing to the other team as she left.  Dresten and Saia exchanged news for a moment, then the two teams separated.

*****

Jameson rode his horse alongside the Jennings’s carriage again, this time with David driving it, and Ashton and Sienna sharing the seat with him.  They were listening to Jameson read, as they had all morning.  Jameson enjoyed it greatly- the story was amusing, and they said it was one of their favorites.  When he came across a word he didn’t recognize, they helped him sound it out, then told him what it meant.  They were very patient teachers, even if they squabbled between each other occasionally, arguing over a particular phrase or meaning.

“’A splendid lucky number you’ve found for us,’ the dwarf replied.” Then Jameson paused.  “Ok, here’s another one.  Be… befuddled?”

Sienna nodded.  “He likes to use words like that, and they generally mean the same thing.  Befuddled, flummoxed…  I think he made up those words to sound confusing, you know?  When you read it, seeing that word makes you wonder what it means, and that’s how the person in the book feels.  Confused.”

Her father laughed out loud at that, but Ashton only gave her a disapproving smirk.  “No, when this book was written, they just had different favorite words for some things like that.  Some of the words they just stopped using over time, and we’ve forgotten what they mean.”

“What do you mean?  Why would they stop using words?” Jameson asked.

“It’s called ‘slang’, and all it really means is that people have favorite choices of words that they use, and sometimes they find a new favorite that they use for a while, then they get sick of it and use a different word for a while.  Just like people sometimes get bored of doing the same thing all the time, they get sick of talking the same way all the time.”

“Doesn’t that make it hard to understand?”

“Well, yes, you’d have to explain the meaning of the new word to people for a little while, but then after a while everyone you know would understand it, and you could just use the word whenever you want.”

Jameson shook his head.  “I don’t think I get it.”

David cleared his throat, then pointed over to the side of the road.  “See that rock, there, Jameson?”

He nodded.  It was a big one, half as tall as his horse.

“It’s also a stone, right?  Different word, but same meaning.  It’s big enough to be called a boulder if you wanted to, but if you were comparing it to another, even larger rock, you might call it ‘just a pebble.’  It’s your choice which word to use, and most of the time, people are smart enough to figure out what you’re talking about.”

This wasn’t helping, Jameson thought to himself.  He looked back down at the book, and was about to start reading again when his attention suddenly refocused off to his right.  He looked up suddenly, and couldn’t help but startle David and the children.  He could sense the Turned along the road, on both sides, in dark patches, and could almost feel their desire to come out after the caravan, but the light held them at bay.

But off to the right were two normal people, running as fast as they could through the forest, right toward the road.  He remembered the time the caravan was attacked, and how the two girls were kidnapped, but this was different.  He couldn’t tell why, but his gut was telling him these people weren’t a threat to him or the caravan.  They were running away from something.

The Turned nearby were certainly a threat to them, though.  They were almost a hundred yards off the road, and right in front of them was a patch of shadow large enough for four of the walking dead to stand in.  Jameson felt them move toward the two people, and felt their hunger rise, almost like anticipation.  He turned back to the Jennings, and tossed his horse’s reins up to Ashton.  “Hold onto him for me, please.”  A moment later he was off his horse, and running into the woods.

He would reach the shade just before they did, as long as he ran full-speed.  He knew, somehow, that he shouldn’t be able to keep that pace for long, but his lungs seemed to provide all the breath he needed.  He leaped over a low bush, entering the patch of darkness just as the other two people came into sight.  They hadn’t yet seen the Turned waiting for them.

He plowed into the closest one, knocking it sideways and into the light.  It thrashed on the forest floor, not crying out at all, but making plenty of noise.  He pushed aside another corpse, then jumped upward as he impacted the two corpses closest to the humans.  One fell onto its back, and couldn’t right itself.  The other had fallen forward, but Jameson planted his heel onto the back of the dead thing’s neck, holding it down.  It fought to pick itself up, but Jameson had leverage on his side.

The two people stopped dead in their tracks.  They stared at him, mouths open.

“Move around to your right, and stay where you can see the sunlight,” Jameson called, pointing to where he wanted them to go.  The two didn’t move.  He glanced down at the corpse he had pinned, as it fought him, trying vainly to get to its feet.  “Should I just let this thing up?  Come on!”

The woman grabbed the man’s hand, dragging him forward a step, but he quickly came back to himself, and the two circled the dark patch.  He stepped out into the light himself, soon catching up to the two as they picked their way through the forest, more careful now that they knew how close they had come to getting eaten.  He let them keep a safe distance ahead of him, not knowing whether they’d seen his eyes, or whether they knew what he was.  “Go straight from here, and you’ll come out onto a road.  My friends are there.”

They broke out into the road right beside Lincoln’s carriage.  The clan’s leader had climbed down, and was looking into the trees to see what was happening.  Marlena was riding toward them, having gone back to the Jennings to find out what they’d seen.  Jameson came out onto the road behind them, and Lincoln relaxed a little upon seeing him.

“You two all right?” Jameson asked.

It took them a moment to catch their breath enough to respond, but the woman soon straightened.  “Yes.  Thank you – I don’t know how you could have done that without getting…” her words trailed off as she got a good look at his eyes.  She turned to Marlena, who was dismounting from her horse and walking toward them quickly- and saw the same kind of eyes behind the red spectacles.  She spun around to Lincoln, who suddenly realized what was happening and couldn’t help but laugh.

“Don’t worry, they aren’t going to hurt you, and neither am I,” he said.  “You’ve never seen someone who is Immune, have you?”

She shook her head, but the man with her nodded.  “Once, a long time ago, I saw someone like that, but they were being executed.”

Jameson perked up, but didn’t press.  They needed to relax for a moment before he would start hitting them with questions.  “You were running awfully fast, and came close to getting eaten a couple times.  I stopped you just in time, but you went close to at least two others.  You didn’t see them at all, did you?”

The woman shook her head.  “No, not until we saw you.  I guess we owe you.”

The two of them were in similar travelling clothes, but they didn’t stand like a husband and wife would.  There was a space between them, more than just the distance they stood apart.  And lovers would have been holding hands at some point during a scare like that.  The only contact he’d seen was when she’d pulled him to get him moving.  She looked a few years older than Jameson, and had big, bright eyes that seemed meant to take in as many sights as possible.  Her hair had been tied behind her earlier, but was coming loose now from the run.  The man with her was just taller than Jameson, had light skin and dark eyes, and looked completely nerve-wracked.  Their clothes were a mix of blues and greys, not rich, but much better than what he’d seen many villagers wearing.  Brother and sister, perhaps, by the way they acted, but there was no family resemblance.

“We were being chased.  People were trying to kill us,” the man said.  “We had nowhere to go but into the forest.”

“Bandits?” Lincoln asked.  The question brought a grim look to both of their faces.

“No,” the woman replied tersely, “our own traveling companions.  The leader and the two fighters, anyway, and I think they killed off the rest of the group.”

Marlena’s words the night before flashed through his mind; A large group of fighters will be waiting to ambush them.  It was too much to hope for.

“You two are from Carter’s Hill, aren’t you?”

The woman’s face went just a little pale, but the man was just confused.  “Yes,” he replied, reflexively.

“And your name is Sarah,” Jameson continued, looking at her.  He tried hard not to be threatening, but her face lost a little more color anyway.  She only nodded.

He took a deep breath, looking over at Marlena.  She merely nodded back at him.

“I believe we have a message for you- from your father.”

*****

They held council with all the adults that night, not just the smaller council that Jameson had gotten used to seeing.  The children had mostly gone to sleep by this point, and the only one younger than 18 who was on top of the carriage was Grunnel and Lavender’s toddler daughter, Lena.  She slept on her mother’s shoulder while the group talked.  As always, the Turned below them pounded incessantly on the wooden sides of the carriages.

Sarah and Marion had been introduced, and Marlena had shared her message from Katrick the night before.

“But I haven’t heard anything about this,” Marion protested.  “If they’re planning to expand outward to those villages, to take them over, they’ve got to tell at least the soldiers, don’t they?”  He looked at Sarah.  “We’d have heard about it from someone.  You can’t keep that kind of a secret for long.”

“I don’t think they have to,” Marlena replied.  “I think they’re waiting to see how many villages accept their terms by choice before they put together an army to force their plan.  Either way, I promise you, Carter’s Hill is about to get a lot bigger.”

Sarah shook her head.  “If those people knew half of what we know about the Cartersons, they’d never agree to it.  They’re about to get taxed out of their own homes.”

“It doesn’t matter whether they agree to it or not,” Lincoln said.  “If they resist, it just means some of them are going to get hurt- or killed- while the plan moves forward.  Would it not be better to let it happen peacefully, then?”

“No!” Sarah said.  “The people who live there have it hard enough, we can’t let more people fall under their control.  You don’t know what it’s like living there.”

“Then why won’t you do something about it?” a new voice asked.  Kim Jennings now had everyone staring at her.  “If you think it’s so hard on you, and there are so many people who have had enough of it, then quit talking about it and make something happen.”

Kim didn’t know the reaction this would bring out of Sarah, or she just didn’t care.  Marion’s eyes were wide.

“You don’t know what its like,” Sarah said, darkly.  “Every time we try to meet to talk about what to do, they know about it- and people disappear.  Every time we try to argue for a change, and get a crowd together to show how many people want it, people vanish in the night.  When we can organize, we can’t decide what to do.  The people are terrified that they’ll be next, so most of them just keep their heads down.  Or they join with them,” she added, sending a sideward glance at Marion.  He appeared not to notice.

Kim stood, and took a step closer.  Her voice had changed from its challenging tone, to become much softer.  “I do know what it is like.  I have a brand on my back in the shape of a diamond.  Do you know what that means?”

Sarah’s face changed dramatically.  Her eyes went down to the ground, then rose again to look Kim in the eyes.

“My husband has never asked about it, or about where I came from.  No one has, and I’ve never cared to talk about it.”  She turned to look back at her husband, David, whose face was completely unreadable.  “Sean Carterson- he was the head of the family for many years- used to brand girls when they were 15, which was a warning to anyone else that she belonged to him.  When they were old enough for him, he’d use them like a doll and then throw them away.  His eye fell upon me, and the day before my 18th birthday, I left.  That was when I found you.”

Kim took a deep breath, and looked back at Sarah, who was searching for words.  “I’d heard those rumors, but there’s never been proof.  Sean has been dead for many years.  Gina is running the city now.”

Kim nodded.  “I was helping to organize people, too.  They were much more direct about it back then- instead of just making my friends disappear, the soldiers would break into our homes just after nightfall, drag them out of bed and push them off the outer walls.  I know exactly how scared you are of those bastards.”

“And that’s why you left,” Sarah said.  “I tried to tell my father that we should leave, but he wouldn’t hear it.  He said we had to try to make life better for our friends, that we couldn’t abandon them.”

“You can abandon them, and you should,” Kim said.  “If they can’t see that all they need to do is stand up to the Cartersons, then all the meetings in the world aren’t going to help them.  You can try as hard as you want.  Those people are as mindless as the Turned.  Anyone who has the sense you do, anyone who wants to be free, can just leave the city to its own demise.”

Sarah shook her head.  “I guess I care about my neighbors more than that.”

“My neighbors treated me like I was infected.”  Kim’s eyes closed, the memory hurting her.  “No one wanted to be seen talking to me in public, afraid that Sean might decide they’d gone too far and make them vanish.  I had to work hard to convince people to listen, to meet, and every time we tried to stand up, someone in the group would sell us out.”

David took his wife’s hand without rising, and she squeezed his in return.

Marlena stood, slowly.  “I don’t think either one of you will argue that the place isn’t hell on the common people, but what’s at issue is the fact that there will soon be a lot more of those ‘common people’ subjected to things like this.  I have no doubt that the villages will regret the deal once it becomes clear what the conditions are.  But will they be able to stop it from happening?  Most likely not. Is there anything we can do about it?  I think so, but it means turning back South and finding this place that Sarah’s father discovered.”

For a moment, everyone was quiet.  The first reply came from Sherry McCandles, who didn’t stand, but said, “We were going to be in Tarense within a few weeks.”

Lincoln smiled at her, knowing she was missing the young man that was there, waiting for her.  “If we were to do this, it wouldn’t set our normal schedule back by that far.  We usually stop travelling for the winter in Rider’s Crossing, but there’s no real reason we couldn’t stay in Tarense this year.”

“It’ll be colder,” Jacob McCandles noted.

Leon Richards spoke next.  “I say we do it.  Sure would be a nice thing for us to carry around with us; a way to build better walls.  We could give it away, and still be more prosperous because of it.”

Lincoln nodded his agreement.  “Anything that helps a village survive gives us a place to do business,” he agreed.

“If Carter’s Hill is allowed to grow this time, they’re not going to stop there, are they?” Grunnel Haeglund asked.  “This won’t be the last time we see this sort of move on their part.”

Sarah shook her head.  “I can’t believe they’d stop here, no.  The city is getting overpopulated, which is probably why they’re planning this, but it’ll get crowded again, no matter how big it gets.”

“The other thing that Katrick mentioned is that this will allow them to build up a greater army, and with more farms under their taxes, they’ll be able to feed and equip more and more soldiers.  As their army grows, so will their reach.” Marlena paused.  “It wouldn’t be all that long before they could threaten places like Tarense.  And I have no doubt that the thought has crossed the Cartersons’ minds.”

Sarah nodded.  “Gina’s oldest son, Troy, is the one who seems to be working his way up to control of the city.  He’s actually not all that bad, but everyone who knows his younger sister knows that he won’t be in charge for long.  Dana is just as treacherous as her mother, and more cunning.  She wouldn’t think twice of taking over or wiping out every village within a week’s ride.”

Kim Jennings sat back down.  “We really do not want to get in the way of their soldiers.  They have nothing to do but practice fighting, and aside from Grunnel, no one here can match them.  If we do this, we need to make sure they don’t know we exist, so they don’t come looking for us.”

“We have an advantage there,” Marion said, holding up the journal they’d found.  “They really don’t know where to look.”

“Another advantage we have, but they won’t know about, is the danger that could be waiting inside this place we’re all looking for.”  Jameson said, thinking out loud.  “When we met your father, Sarah, he talked about the place, and he said that some of his friends were bitten, but not by human Turned… by something else.  His mind was going, and he couldn’t be clear- he called them worms, then whips.  He said he’s never seen a person turn as fast as his friends did.  But whoever goes in there had either have plenty of fire, or be Immune.  From what I’ve heard, the Carterson’s won’t be employing the Immune anytime soon.”

Sarah’s eyes lowered while she listened.  She found herself wishing she’d been there, but the logical part of her brain reminded her that she’d be dead right now if she had been.

“Worms?  That got infected?” Billie Richards asked.  “I’ve never seen any animal that got infected.”

“There’s some,” Lincoln said, nodding.  “Not many, thankfully.  There was one breed of pig that could get infected, but they were rare, and I don’t think they’re around anymore.  And that’s just from stories, from my grandfather.”

Marion looked confused.  “Darren was certain that the bunker was safe from the Turned outside.”

Sarah said, quietly, “And if he had been right, we’d be talking to him right now.”  No one spoke for a long time after that.  It was Jacob McCandles that broke the silence.

“Well, I don’t think anyone is going to give an order that we’re definitely going to go, or definitely not going to go.  We always vote on things like this, so unless anyone else has something to say, or an argument to make, then let’s vote.”

“I won’t vote, one way or the other,” Kim said.  “I’m terrified of Carter’s Hill and the people in it, but I’m not going to abandon any of you, you all know that.  If you decide to go, I’ll go with you.”

Jacob nodded to her.  No one else spoke.

“Who thinks we should go find this place?”  Almost all the adults raised their hands.  Lavender was shifting the weight of her little girl, and needed both hands.

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2 Responses to “The Turned – Chapter 9”

  1. Brenda Russell Says:

    This book is amazing! All the plots and subplots… I can barely walk away from it. Thank you for posting it as a free read.

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