Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 8

The officers fell silent after Gwynivara announced her idea. She had expected this reaction. After a reckless mission in a high risk zone, she would’ve been surprised if anyone expressed any enthusiasm for this idea. Finally, Bernadette spoke up, “How are we going to find them?”

“When we patrol,” Gwynivara explained. “We would still need to keep an eye out for signs of Venenatus Sanguis and help when needed, but we need to pay attention to the others who respond to it. If they’re not horrified by the results, they may be a part of the origin.”

Kennith objected, “Our protocol is to leave before the police arrive to avoid capture!”

Gwynivara was about to argue, but Kierram did instead, “Protocol can change! Especially when the police could be working for the enemy.”

One officer objected, “That’s too dangerous!”

Emorick scowled at this remark. “Do the rest of you agree with Blake? You don’t wanna do something so dangerous?” Everyone but Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette murmured in agreement. “So, what is training to you? A chance to learn skills you can use to show off and pick up chicks?” The murmur morphed from accord to shame. “I didn’t make you officers so you can act like you got a bigger cock than everyone else! We’re here to fight for the cure! Yes, we have a battle coming, and you’re too scared to do some surveillance work?” The room fell quiet as if everyone were holding their breath. “God, what would you do if I wasn’t around? Hide with your tails between your legs? Sooner or later, we’re all gonna face danger, and you’re here to make sure you’re ready when it does! Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Everyone said, though not in unison.

Emorick shook his head with a mix of bubbling anger and blatant disgust. He ordered, “I’m gonna pair you all up and stagger your release. Before you leave, grab a camera and take a picture of anything abnormal. Wear disguises too! Oh, and if something happens to me, Gwynivara is in charge!”

He stormed out. Everyone turned to Gwynivara, who looked utterly dumbstruck. It sounded like he just made her his successor! The idea of it seemed too incredible to be true! It would be so much responsibility! The fate of hundreds of people would rest in her hands! Actually, if this disease kept spreading, the future of the entire planet could rest with her! It happened so fast that her head was spinning! It was kind of a scary prospect, but she definitely felt honored.

Walking down the hall of shops with Bernadette, Gwynivara couldn’t help feeling a little guilty. She conversed, “I should’ve said no. Everyone hates me now!”

Bernadette differed, “They don’t hate you! They’re just jealous! After Kierram refused the job, Emorick told us he’d observe us and pick one of us when we proved ourselves worthy of the title.”

“No wonder they’re mad!” Gwynivara remarked. “I practically just got here, and he gave me the title! Do you think he’s bluffing?”

“You mean like he just made you lieutenant just to get under their skin and he’ll take it back when they behave?” Bernadette inquired.

“Yeah,” Gwynivara replied. “I mean, he did say it out of anger.”

Bernadette shrugged. “It’s possible. Look, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Just be prepared if he names someone else as next in line. Until then, be prepared to step up if needed. If it makes you feel better, I don’t have a problem with it.”

“Thanks!” Gwynivara grinned.

“And it doesn’t look like Kierram did either,” Bernadette added. “which is weird ‘cause normally he objects to everything! And Emorick has tried everything to snap his attitude into shape! What did you say to Kierram, exactly?”

“I didn’t say anything!” Gwynivara reported. “He told me yesterday he likes my missions.”

Bernadette slyly joked, “You do have nice ‘missions!’”

Gwynivara covered her chest but laughed, “It’s not like that!”

“You don’t know that!” Bernadette winked.

“Oh please!” Gwynivara completely denied the notion. “He doesn’t-!”

The heard a shrill scream coming from the clothing shop, so they immediately ran to it. They found Niqun kneeling over Riley, who laid on the floor in a pool of blood! On the wall, a scorpion-like monster snarled at them! Niqun, who was applying pressure to Riley’s neck, shouted, “I can’t let go or he’ll bleed out!”

As the creature crept closer to them, Gwynivara turned to Bernadette and rapidly asked, “Did you bring any weapons?”

Bernadette quickly answered, “We are a weapon!”

The beast got close, and in unison, Bernadette and Gwynivara thought fast. In unison, they cried out, “One, two, three!” They each conjured a ball of light and threw it at the fiend, who shrieked one last time before it exploded. Everyone who witnessed this clapped and cheered for them, but they didn’t soak it in much. They ran to Niqun and Riley, and Bernadette questioned, “Is he gonna be okay?”

Niqun replied, “He’ll be okay. We can treat his wound here. Someone get my kit!”

One of the people in the crowd ran to get it, and Gwynivara stared at Riley’s pale face in horror. “He conjured a beast? He didn’t seem so miserable!”

Bernadette sagely commented, “Well, you never really know what’s going on inside someone’s head.”

“True!” Gwynivara watched Niqun administer medical attention to Riley and shuddered. “I can’t think about this! I won’t get through this mission if I do!”

“Come on,” Bernadette suggested. “Let’s grab disguises and go before anything changes!” They found a couple of uniforms on top of the mess left in the shops and, turning back to get one last helpless glance at Riley, they darted out and set out on their mission.

Gwynivara and Bernadette walked down the sidewalk with maid costumes on their bodies and somber looks on their faces as they scanned the minimalist traditional, nineteen-fifties houses. “He’ll be okay.” Gwynivara meant to assure Bernadette, but inwardly, she knew she was talking to herself too.

“Yeah…” Bernadette responded sadly. “I hate it when…the kids color on the wall! Crayons are so hard to wash off!” A couple of women walked by with their kids, so Gwynivara figured that she had to improvise to keep their cover. Bernadette whispered, “We can’t talk about that anymore!”

“Right!” Gwynivara tried not to and concentrated harder on the mission so she wouldn’t think about it. At that moment, it began to rain, which prompted them to stop for a moment. Gwynivara glanced down at their uniforms and remarked, “Good thing the colors don’t run!”

Slightly miffed, Bernadette pondered, “Should we take cover ‘til it stops?”

“No.” Gwynivara eyed the houses in the vicinity. “There really isn’t anywhere to-” Gwynivara spotted something that sent chills down her spine. Bernadette looked to Gwynivara for an explanation, but all Gwynivara could do was point. Bernadette turned her head to the direction she indicated, and her eyes widened in horror.

At a white house, by the basement entrance, the words “Not There” were written in blood! Gwynivara snapped a picture and then ran over to it. Bernadette cried, “Wait!” She caught up to her and exclaimed, “We don’t have permission to go into this house!”

“They may not be alive long enough to give us permission!” Gwynivara zipped down the cellar stairs and peered into the window on the door. Bernadette reluctantly joined her, and when they peeked into the house, they saw a man laid sprawled on the washer and dryer with a huge, bloody hole in his chest! Their jaws dropped at the pool of blood dripping onto the floor. Gwynivara took a deep breath and then declared, “We’ve gotta call the police!”

“Are you crazy?” Bernadette hissed as Gwynivara jammed the door open. “We can’t put ourselves in a position to get arrested or the mission will fail!”

Gwynivara reasoned, “No one knows this man is dead! If they’re gonna catch his killer, the police need to know right away!” Gwynviara slowly opened the door and prepared to step in.

Bernadette pulled her back. “What if it’s Venenatus Sanguis? Calling the police wouldn’t do any good!”

Gwynivara considered this for a moment, and she came up with, “If we don’t see any monsters, we’ll call the police and report the murder anonymously. Afterward, we’ll hide from the police and document them like we originally planned. Okay, you document the crime scene while I make the call.” Despite Bernadette’s misgivings, she followed Gwynivara into the basement.

They scanned the entire room for movement as they entered the room. They tiptoed and kept an ear out for any signs of danger. All they could hear was an echoing drip. Once they gave it ample time, they silently determined that there was not likely any beasts around. Gwynivara said quietly, “I don’t see a phone down here. You take pictures while I go upstairs.”

“Be quick!” Bernadette barked because of her shaking nerves. She began taking pictures immediately, and she felt it necessary to get multiple shots from the same angle since she was trembling. She heard Gwynivara talking upstairs, and she muttered, “Please hurry!” under her breath.

She heard Gwynivara slam the receiver down, and she breathed, “Oh good!” As she heard Gwynivara’s footsteps head back, she heard a very different sound coming from the other entrance. She turned to see a wolverine-like creature lick his lips while it stared at her! She gasped, but before she could arm herself to fight it, she noticed something strange about it…Before she could fully comprehend its meaning, she felt something on her back that made her scream!

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 7

Argh!” Gwynivara summoned all of her frustration and disappointment and let that energy flow to her arms. It guided her arm and clenched fist like a current in the ocean, which made her punch almost effortless. Each time she struck the bumpy rubber, a piece of her stress chipped off, so it gave her a small sense of pleasure to bash it over and over again. She didn’t think any amount of this could fully release all of the pent up emotions, but it gave her a little satisfaction, something she desperately needed right now.

Emorick walked into the training auditorium, and when he walked up to her, she didn’t give him any indication that she recognized his presence. After a moment of watching her scrap with the punching bag, Emorick inquired, “How you doing, kid?” She gave him a quick glance that suggested she couldn’t believe he just asked her that question, and without speaking to him, she went right back to punching the bag. “I guess that was a dumb question.” Gwynivara didn’t acknowledge that statement. After a moment, Emorick then probed, “So, how long are you gonna keep punishing yourself?”

She stopped in mid-action. Those words echoed deep inside of her. She hadn’t left the training room since they got back except to change out of that uniform, casting off the reminder of the fiasco from earlier that day. The thrill of surviving washed away as the facts started to flood in. That mission was her idea. Everything that went wrong fell on her. She thought she had everything figured out! In a matter of minutes everything had fallen apart. She didn’t want to face the other rebels, especially not the officers! She knew that there would be questions, and she didn’t want to relive that day. She could feel tears start to well up, and she refused to let herself get upset enough for her Venenatus Sanguis to kick in, so she started punching the bag again, though her jabs were less forceful than before.

Emorick pulled the bag out of her reach, which forced her to stop. He addressed her, “Let’s get one thing straight-missions almost never go exactly as we plan. Sometimes you do your best to anticipate all of the possible outcomes and unforeseen circumstances still blitz you out of nowhere. That’s life! When plans go wrong, the most important thing to focus on is getting your men out alive, which you did. You did well! Perfection is impossible! Mistakes happen, failures happen, but one loss doesn’t mean you don’t have the skills to make it happen next time! Right now, your job is to show your team that when you get knocked down, you get back up! Learn from the experience and move on! You’ll gain more respect by how you recover from a setback, but you’ll never get there if you let this thing defeat you! Shutting yourself out from the world isn’t gonna fix anything! Don’t worry what others may judge about your actions-you still did better than those who didn’t even try! Take some pride in that! “

How?” Gwynivara desperately asked. His words were empowering, but she didn’t know by what means she could forget everything. A future victory could say people’s opinions on her leadership skills, but what was she supposed to do until then?

Emorick answered simply, “By walking out that goddamn door with your head held high! Don’t you dare give a shit what people think! Life moves on, and so must we!” Gwynivara realized that he was right and nodded in agreement. Emorick concluded by directing her, “You’re going to take over door guard duty tonight. Head over there now, and I’ll send someone over shortly to train you on it.”

“Thank you!” Gwynivara said appreciatively.

“Don’t thank me!” Emorick advised. “I’m just doing my job.” Gwynivara smiled in gratitude, and before she headed out the door, he mentioned, “I meant it; you did a good job today!” Gwynivara stopped to absorb it for a moment. She didn’t believe it, but she appreciated the gesture. She half smiled, but it quickly vanished. She took a deep breath, held her head high, and walked out the door.

Gwynivara didn’t realize how long she had been at that punching bag until now. The hallways were virtually empty, and the few people in the halls walked around in a half sleepy daze. She thought she saw those people give her a peculiar glance. She kept her head held up high as Emorick suggested, but she did question the people’s reasons for those looks. They could’ve been judging her for the things that went wrong in the mission as she feared, but maybe it was all in her head. After seeing a clock in one of the shops, she noted that the hour was late enough to naturally wonder why someone would be awake at this time. Everyone she passed definitely seemed tired. Actually, now that her adrenaline wore off, she felt exhausted herself!

Behind the red curtains, the person she was relieving had been resting on the cushioned bench by the stairs. He heard Gwynivara enter, and in a zombie-like trance, he left without saying a word. Gwynivara didn’t care though. After everything she went through, she knew she needed the rest. Her eyes felt heavy as she laid down. She fought sleep at first, but then she remembered that someone would be by shortly to train her, so he or she could wake her up…

On top of the stormy mountain, the sultry, green-skinned woman sat on her rocky throne. Two men came up the mountain. After walking past the chained and snarling beasts, they stood before the woman and kneeled. “Shouldn’t you be destroying evidence?” She regarded them in a stony voice and stared hard as if she knew they had come to deliver news of a grave mistake on their part.

“We will,” one man spoke. “But commander, you should know our operation has been compromised!”

“Compromised how?” Her eyes flushed as her inner ire got close to a boil. She clearly waited to unleash based on the severity of their response.

The other man revealed, “Some spies infiltrated our mark. Morfran is dead, and the infiltrators escaped.”

“What?” the lady roared. “You let them get away? Who were they?”

“We don’t know,” the first man replied. “We think they’re part of a rogue agency.”

“Find them!” she bellowed.

The second man assured her, “We won’t fail!”

Someone put a hand on Gwynivara’s shoulder, which made her gasp and bolt up in a defensive stance. She saw Kierram standing before her looking bewildered, and she snapped back into reality. “Sorry! I had a nightmare.”

With a dark sense of humor, Kierram replied, “Don’t talk to me about nightmares!”

“Oh yeah…” Gwynivara remembered. This triggered more memories, like their argument and their close call at the Public Health Center. As she slumped back down onto the bench, she avoided eye contact with him, hoping that he wouldn’t bring any of those topics up. “So, you must be really good at guarding the door since they keep assigning it to you!”

Kierram scoffed, “Only ‘cause he knows I don’t sleep much. Well, you saw what happens when I do. And no, I haven’t forgotten about that night.”

Gwynivara really didn’t want to have this conversation, so she changed the subject, “So, when you’re a door guard, you can’t fall asleep?”

“Not if you’re a deep sleeper,” Kierram answered her. “Niqun is a super light sleeper and will wake up if she hears any noise. Youll need to keep your eyes open.”

Gwynivara shifted awkwardly. He obviously still felt mad, and if they were going to work together, they needed to make amends. She felt compelled to gush, “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t plan out the mission better! I really screwed up! I took a mission that should’ve lasted weeks or months and made it last a day! One stupid day! And worse, my misguided judgment almost got you killed! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I won’t plan out any more mi-!”

“Woah, woah, woah!” he interrupted her. “What are you talking about? You didn’t screw up!” Gwynivara opened her mouth to object, but she couldn’t get the words out. She got so shocked by what he said that she couldn’t comprehend it. So he asked her, “You heard everyone calling the mission suicidal, right?” She nodded. “None of us had the guts, or the brains for that matter, to take on that mission, not until you came along anyway. We learned something new, and we came out alive. I’d call that a success!”

Gwynivara hadn’t considered this viewpoint and felt very flattered, but she didn’t totally believe it. “We learned the origin of the disease, big deal! We found out it came from another planet, so all I did was take us from searching the world for the cure to searching the universe! How does that help?”

Kierram laughed heartily at this. “We don’t have to search the universe! My dad centered the Rebellion headquarters here because the origin happened here, and obviously they stuck around if their henchmen are attacking us!”

“That’s true!” She hadn’t considered that before. She started to let herself feel a little better.

“You did well on the mission!” Kierram told her. “And I don’t like saying that ‘cause I’m still mad at you. But I can’t deny it-you’re a good leader!” Gwynivara actually felt herself smiling even though she didn’t totally believe what he was saying. “At first, I only went back to training because you acted like I couldn’t do it, and I wanted to prove you wrong. I hated going there! The other officers are jerks, and it didn’t feel like we were going anywhere with this training. I volunteered for your mission ‘cause it got me out of training without making me look like I’m a coward or like I’m giving up, but now I’m excited that we’re actually going somewhere with this Rebellion! I don’t wanna go back to the way things were! Please, don’t give up planning missions!”

Gwynivara’s smile broadened at this. She felt so redeemed by this point of view! Before, she got so worried that people looked down on her for the things that went wrong that she hadn’t considered someone may actually admire what she did! She very appreciatively commented to him, “Thanks, Kierram!”

Half joking, he responded, “Shut up!” He pretended to pout. “‘Cause I’m still mad…”

“Right!” Gwynivara giggled. He laughed unwillingly, and Gwynivara couldn’t believe she went from sort of hating him to actually feeling a friendship! She didn’t know if he would ever forgive her for the beast incident, but it was nice to have someone show her loyalty despite his ill feelings. She thought about what he said, how the origin was close by to their location. She knew that she should cook up a plan to find the origin, but she didn’t have a clue how to find it…unless…”You up for another dangerous mission?”

“The more dangerous the better!” he exclaimed. “Lead the way!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 6

“Have a seat!” a woman with busy hair invited. Gwynivara sat down in a small reception room. Her heart pounded rapidly, and her nerves raced throughout her body. She pushed these feelings aside and sent out a vibe of innocence and naivety. Her pastel themed clothes matched the role perfectly, so now she just needed to convince them. As the woman studied her application, Gwynivara discretely looked around. She didn’t expect to find any pertinent evidence up front like that, but she needed to check just in case. The light wood-paneled walls were pretty bare except for a bulletin board over her top left shoulder, which had healthcare posters not out of the ordinary for a medical facility. They gave this room more of a homey feel by adding a rusty brown shag carpet. The secretary herself wore very vibrant clothing and had kooky knick-knacks on her desk. Gwynivara found this odd, almost like they were trying too hard to look normal.

As she pondered the motives of the room’s decor, the secretary spoke to her, “Miss Summer?”

Gwynivara snapped out of her torpor. “Yes?”

“What’s your availability like this week?” the secretary asked.

Gwynivara answered as sweetly as she could, “Oh, I’m not doing anything important. I can start right now if you want me to.”

Later, Gwynivara came out of a janitorial supply closet wearing a new uniform-a white hospital dress with a scarlet blazer. She adjusted her wardrobe to make sure her security credentials showed clearly. A cart with a trash can and various cleaning supplies waited for her, and after taking a deep breath, she pushed it down the hallway, which bustled with doctors, nurses, and patients. She avoided eye contact with everyone as she made her way to the elevator, which she managed to get to without incident.

The elevator door opened to the upper level, which was a completely different atmosphere than down below. The empty hallway made no noise, at least not until Gwynivara wheeled her cart out. She didn’t notice a slight squeak downstairs, and she silently prayed that the sound her cart made wouldn’t attract too much attention. Past the stairwell, she saw unmarked doors on her right but not much else. The minimalist walls were unwelcoming, and she couldn’t imagine coming to work each day in a place like this! She shuddered a little but still kept her eyes out for clues. She saw nothing of note until she finally came across a door on the left labeled: Research. This was exactly what she was looking for! Ripe with anticipation, Gwynivara opened the door and let herself in.

She stood too astonished to move. The room itself impressed her with its vast size, but moreover, hundreds of people in uniforms like hers sat on tables flipping through leaves in books. The speed at which they turned the pages were timed so coordinately that they emitted a sound similar to the ticking of a clock. No one talked to each other, in fact, they hardly even moved other than to change the page. The tables they sat on, the walls, and the floor were all white, making the only colors in the room come from the jackets and the books. She felt a chill go down her spine, but she had to quickly shrug it off. She had a job to do.

None of the researchers gave any indication that Gwynivara had even entered the room, so they paid no mind as she made her way through one of the two aisles. She stopped at every station to check into a white trash can placed at the end. They were virtually empty, so she didn’t understand the point of their presence at all. Even so, she still took a good, long look at them while trying to catch a glimpse of what they were reading. She saw medical journals and dissertations of how different diseases got spread. Nothing really stuck out to her yet. She saw that everyone had a notebook and pen in front of them, but almost no one actually wrote anything down. She eventually noticed some material on the flu. She remembered that they researched a variety of ailments, and she wondered where the Venenatus Sanguis section could be found.

Some movement caught her eye, and she looked up to see Kierram sweeping in the other aisle. Their eyes met for a moment, but both of them immediately turned away. To maintain cover, the three of them agreed that it would be prudent to pretend to not know each other. She ardently wanted to search for Bernadette, but her persona wouldn’t care where the other volunteers were at. If any one of them appeared to care about anything other than cleaning, it would cause an alarm. Gwynivara’s notion on this deepened based on the mechanical behavior of the researchers. Still, despite Bernadette’s confidence on her ability to handle this task, Gwynivara was most worried about her since she grew up with a maid and really didn’t know how to clean. They all agreed that if something happened to one of them, the others would continue the mission, but she really hoped that it wouldn’t come to that!

In the midst of her thoughts, something caught her eye-a title that read: Venenatus Sanguis. She found the right section, and her adrenaline flushed her with excitement! Now she had to find excuses to linger even longer as she worked. Even though this particular bin ahd almost no trash, she still pulled out the garbage bag in order to replace it. As she very slowly tied it up, she peered over a man’s shoulders. The article he read talked about how the cause of Venenatus Sanguis appeared to be through the bites of the beasts, so the author theorized that something in the creature’s saliva could contain the disease. Gwynivara figured as much already and quickly finished replacing the bag.

After a while, she heard the door she came in open up, and when she casually glanced in that direction, she saw two orderlies enter the room. They were very big, surly men, and they eyed the room like security guards. Gwynivara shrugged them off. She had to focus on the mission, and besides, she wasn’t doing anything wrong…nothing that the others could detect anyways. Still, these men were obviously more vigilant than the researchers, so Gwynivara knew that they would have to exercise more caution when it came to sneaking a peak at their research, which increased the pressure she already felt. She took a deep breath and kept going.

Soon, she came across a table where one of the researchers actually got up to leave. Gwynivara used this opportunity to her advantage and wiped down his entire station, giving her a longer chance to read the material he had been studying. The books he was looking weren’t marked or titled. She frowned but remained undeterred. As she wiped the table, she “accidentally” knocked his books to the ground. Naturally, she bent down to pick it all up. While she was under the table, she caught a glimpse of a chart. “It can’t be!” she said under her breath.

Before she could make anymore observations, she felt a cold piece of metal on the small of her back. A deep voice whispered, “Come quietly and one gets hurt!” She realized she had a gun held against her! While she wracked her brain of how to get out of this situation, she had no choice but to comply. When she stood up, she saw Kierram standing with one of the orderlies. At first glance, it looked as though they were merely standing next to each other, but she could tell by the gleam in his eyes that he also had a gun to his back. Gwynivara could see that he, too, didn’t know what to do, and she dearly wished she could give him some answers.

They walked forward without making anymore eye contact with each other. Between the four of them, they barely made a sound at all. Gwynivara wondered why they were acting so secretive. The orderlies were conducting official security business, so she found it odd that they were making the extra effort to avoid getting noticed. She could understand making no noise so as not to disturb the researchers, but it didn’t make sense to her that they were hiding their guns. Actually, she didn’t think orderlies carried weapons at all, which made her wonder if they were actually Public Health Center employees. If not, who were they?

At the end of the aisle, they saw Bernadette stooped down to push dirt into a dust pan. The orderly who held a gun to her held onto Gwynivara’s arm tightly so that he can threaten Bernadette. Before he could though, Gwynivara punched the orderly in the face! The researchers all stopped what they were doing and gasped as the orderly threw Gwynivara to the ground and pointed a gun at her. The orderly told the room, “Great Dismal Falls Police! These three are frauds that must be executed immediately!”

As he cocked his gun, Gwynivara quickly noticed that he was left-handed. As he pulled the trigger and fired, Gwynivara kicked his arm so that it pointed left, which directed his shot to the other orderly. As he got distracted by his partner falling to the ground, Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette ran out of the room. The other orderly ran after them and let out a couple of shots. The researchers all screamed and hid as he chased them out of the room.

When the three got into the hallway, an alarm sounded. They saw people with snares run out of the unmarked rooms, and they rapidly realized that they were about to get surrounded. The elevator door opened, and Bernadette, Gwynivara, and Kierram ran inside. Luckily, the doors closed in time before anyone could grab them. Gwynivara stated, “They’ll be waiting for us at the ground floor!”

Bernadette, who was closest to the level buttons, responded, “So, we won’t go there!” She pushed the button for the basement, and everyone’s hearts beat wildly as they descended. When the doors opened up, they cautiously peaked to see if anyone was waiting for them on this floor. Fortunately, all they saw was a small, dingy basement. They ran up the narrow, wooden staircase, but before they could open the door at the top, they heard the cacophony of an angry mob, so Bernadette locked the door and asked, “Is there another way out of here?”

They scanned the room and saw no other exits. Kierram saw a couple of small windows above a washer and dryer, but they weren’t large enough for anyone to fit through. He closed his eyes and conjured a ball of light. He threw it towards the windows, creating a giant hole with access to the sidewalk in the alley outside. “There is now!”

They climbed on top of the washer, and as they heard the pounding of a battering ram, they crawled out of the hole. All three were on the sidewalk outside just as the Public Health Center workers burst through the door! They ran down the crowded street, and thankfully, they blended in with the crowd. The workers had no choice but to give up!

Dusk had begun to set as they reached the outer limits of the city. They were far enough away from danger where they could slow down and catch their breaths. Gwynivara probed, “How did they know we were frauds? They don’t do background checks on volunteers!”

“Do you really think those men were cops?” Bernadette inquired.

Kierram replied, “If they were, they didn’t follow protocol. Either way, someone clearly knows we were close to getting information on Venenatus Sanguis that they don’t want us to know, and they have people helping them protect the secret!”

Bernadette lamented, “I wish we could’ve stuck around long enough to find something worthwhile!”

“Well, I did learn one thing that makes this mission worthwhile,” Gwynivara piped in. “They’re studying other planets in solar systems I’ve never even heard of! Whoever created the disease isn’t human!”

 

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 5

Today is my first day in the Rebellion, and out of all the things to worry about, I’m most worried about what to wear!” Gwynivara remarked as she shuffled through a rack of clothes in a cavern shop. “I know, typical girl issue, right?”

A man with pepper-gray hair slicked to the left, large, thing metal glasses, and pale skin smoked a pipe as he sat behind as he sat behind the counter and casually kept an eye on the store. He shrugged and told her, “Listen sweetie, everyone wants to make a good impression on their first day! Sometimes you don’t get a second chance, so I get it!”

Gwynivara examined a garment, trying to decide if she wanted wear it today or not. “Ugh! I don’t know! What do the other officers wear?”

The man raised an eyebrow. “You’re an officer? That’s impressive! You got more guts than I do!” Gwynivara smiled gratefully, but before she could figure out what to say back, the man went on, “Most of the other officers are men, so they don’t care that much. Bernadette came from a rich family and brought most of her clothes with her, so don’t expect to find anything like hers here!” Gwynivara giggled, but that statement struck a chord with her; how Bernadette went from luxury to this environment must have quite a story to it! The man concluded, “Just go with anything that you would exercise in.”

Gwynivara found some lightweight pants and a matching shirt, but she suddenly noticed, “It looks really close to what I have on now!” She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. “Crap! I don’t have time to look for something else!”

“It’s only for one day, dear! If you want, I can take a look around and find some items your size and set them aside for you,” he offered.

“Really?” She got a little thrown off because she wasn’t used to so many people treating her so kindly.

He shrugged again. “I got nothing better to do.” Gwynivara handed him the clothes she picked out, and he found the tags on them so he could see her size. “Okay, got it. Come by at the end of the day, and I’ll show you what I find.”

“Thank you so much, uh…” She fished for his name.

“Riley.”

“Gwyn.”

They shook hands, and Gwynivara complimented him, “You’re so nice!”

Riley chuckled, “Most of the time I’m pretty sarcastic, but you’re obviously new, so I’m on my best behavior right now.” Gwynivara laughed, and Riley concluded with, “Have a good first day!”

“You too!” Gwynivara replied automatically, but after she processed the interaction, she cringed. “I mean…”

“I know what you meant, darling.” Riley took a smoke but grinned. “It’s okay, you can go!” She smiled gratefully and left.

In the kitchen, Gwynivara didn’t have a lot of time, so she searched for food that could get prepared quickly. She settled on toast, and as she waited for her bread in the toaster, she heard someone enter from the entrance behind her. When she turned around, she saw Kierram and turned right back around. Kierram grumbled, “If you’re expecting an apology, you can forget it!”

Gwynivara shrugged and casually said, “Okay.”

“I-!” Kierram got thrown off by her nonchalant attitude. “What do you mean, okay?”

“I mean I don’t expect an apology from you.” Her toast popped up, and she began to put butter on it. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“What, now you’re mocking me?” Kierram accused.

Continuing to spread butter on her toast, she told him, “No. Actually, I genuinely don’t want your apology. I want to make my breakfast and do well in training. I could care less what you do or don’t do.”

Kierram scoffed, “Oh, now you don’t care! You cared enough last night to barge into my room and put your nose into my business, but now-!”

Gwynivara, who had already finished preparing her food, looked him square in the eye and stated, “I care for you as much as any other person or animal in that I don’t want you to die, but I have my own life to worry about, so I don’t care what you do or don’t with yours!” Kierram didn’t respond other than to look utterly stunned. While she walked out of the room, she regarded him coldly, “See you at training!”

“I don’t do training!” Kierram sneered.

Gwynivara turned her head and gave him a piteous glance. “Oh, okay then.”

As she walked down the hall, Kierram called after her, “I could, I choose not to!”

Not looking back, Gwynivara responded listlessly, “Good for you!” Kierram viscerally growled in frustration and went back into the kitchen.

Later that morning, Gwynivara found a heavy oak door at the end of the left hall. With great effort, she pulled it open and nervously entered. The training arena reminded her of a high school gym except for the dark, rocky floor. The spacious, well-lit room had soft, foamy mats placed strategically throughout the area. Nine men and Bernadette were already practicing sword fighting with slender, wooden poles. Emorick hadn’t arrived yet, so she surmised that they did this as a warmup exercise. With everyone else paired up, she thought it’d make sense to approach one of the men who formed a group of three. However, it felt too awkward to just in like that since she was so new to the group, so she hesitated. She silently debated whether or not to join them or to wait for a calm moment to introduce herself to everyone.

Her decision got made for her as one of the men in the group noticed her. He stopped in his tracks, nudged his buddies, and pointed behind them. They turned around were surprised to see someone standing there. The three discussed something, and one of them walked towards her. Gwynivara felt a rush of gratitude and really respected the Rebellion for its thoughtful people. When he got closer, she observed a smug smile on his face, the kind of smile that a person bears when they’re good-looking and know it. Gwynivara sincerely hoped that this interpretation wasn’t true, but the way he posed in front of her, leaning on his pole while maintaining way too much eye contact, she was certain her presumption would prove to be accurate and groaned.

The man very smoothly asked her, “Come to watch us practice, bunny?”

Scowling, Gwynivara informed him, “Actually, I’m here to practice. I’m an officer too.”

He raised his eyebrows in mild admiration. “Oh really? Well, feel free to practice on me anytime!” He either didn’t notice her disgusted expression or he didn’t care because he went on, “Seriously, I’d love to see your sword-work!”

Before Gwynivara could let out a noise of revulsion, she heard one from behind her. She turned around and was surprised to see Kierram standing there! The man must not have noticed Kierram giving him a dirty look because he urged, “Come on, let me have it!”

Reaching into a tall crate next to him, Kierram suggested to her, “You heard him, let him have it!”

He tossed her a pole, and anger impulsed her into it. She raised her arm and, using all of the strength in her muscles, she whacked him in the stomach! The force of her strike took the air out of him for a moment. The room fell silent as Emorick entered. Gwynivara still felt miffed about the situation, but she hung her head shamefully, fearing the worst from Emorick. Instead, Emorick ordered, “Keep going!” Although this slightly shocked her, Gwynivara obliged and hit him in the arm and then again in the opposite leg. Hiding his grin, Emorick regarded the man, “Come on, Kennith, fight back!” Kennith genuinely tried to fight back but couldn’t get a hit in.

When Gwynivara got a good hit on the back of his head, Emorick instructed, “Alright, that’s enough. Stop!” She adhered to his direction, feeling vindicated. Emorick stood over Kennith, who rubbed his head pathetically, and told him, “All soldiers will treat each other with respect if they want to remain in it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Kennith responded civilly.

“Good,” Emorick addressed him, “Now go get an ice pack from the first aid station. You’re dismissed for the day!” Kennith could not get away fast enough and dashed out of the room! As soon as he was out of sight, Emorick directed, “Alright, everyone, gather ‘round!” He sat on an apple box on the other side of the room while the others sat cross-legged on the floor before him. He saw Kierram hesitate to sit, and clearly Emorick did not expect his presence. “Kierram? You’re here!”

Everyone turned to him incredulously. Gwynivara expected him to say something snarky, but instead, he pointed out, “You act like I’m the new one here!”

That brought their attention to Gwynivara, who clumsily waved hello. “Hi! I’m Gwyn!”

Emorick added, “She’s our newest officer. You’ll have to get to know her later though. We have more distressing news to discuss before we practice.” He reached into his pocket and brought out that purple orb. He showed it to the group, and when they leaned in close, they saw a local news article that showed a middle-aged man with light colored, slicked back hair, a bushy mustache, and a thin physique standing proudly with his hands on his hips, which had the effect of showing off his police badge on his belt. The headline read: Chief Forsythe Cracks Down on Venenatus Sanguis Fugitives. Emorick informed them, “It says that he’s hiring more officers specfically for the purpose of rounding up more people with the disease to bring them into quarantine!”

“No!” a couple men cried out.

Bernadette commented, “Well, looks like we’re about to get more crowded in here!”

“That’s true!” Emorick agreed. “We’re gonna increase our patrols in the city, of course. However, Chief Forsythe is relentless and won’t stop until every last one of us is exterminated! Our patrols will only be like a tourniquet-we won’t truly stop the bleeding until we fix the wound. We’ve gotta do more research on the cure!”

“How are we supposed to do that?” one of the men asked. “Every time we go to the library, every book written on the subject is checked out.”

“We could see if the hospital has any brochures,” another man suggested. The others murmured in agreement.

Gwynivara didn’t share their sentiment. “I worked for that hospital for over a year and a half, and trust me, their brochures aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on!”

The others were a little disappointed to hear this but accepted her input. The man who made the suggestion snidely inquired, “Do you have any suggestions?” He crossed his arms, clearly not expecting her to come up with a better solution.

Gwynivara shyly brought up her idea from last night, “The Public Health Center is doing research on Venenatus Sanguis, so they must have access to a lot of resources on the subject. Now, I know only authorized personnel would have access to the material, but I heard that they were looking for volunteers. So, if we signed up to help them out, we could sneak in and peak at what they’ve got.”

For a moment, no one spoke. Eventually, one man remarked, “That’s suicide! If we got caught-!”

Kierram interrupted, “I think it’s a great idea!” Everyone, especially Gwynivara, seemed stunned by his new-found allegiance. He affirmed, “What knowledge we could gain is worth the risk. I’m in!”

“Me too!” Bernadette asserted.

Emorick probed, “Are you sure you wanna take on a task so dangerous on your first day of the Rebellion?”

“We don’t have time to waste!” Gwynivara answered with absolute certainty.

He couldn’t argue with her logic, so Emorick consented, “Alright, Gwyn. You have my permission to head this mission.”

Kierram and Bernadette stood behind her. Hardly believing her fortune, she mentally started to prepare herself to plan this out. She began to head out, and the other two followed her. Before they could leave, Emorick called after them, “Just do me a favor…” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram all turned around and listened. “…Come back to us alive!”

Gwynivara vowed, “We will.” As soon as they turned back around and left, the three of them tried to hide their ominous sense of foreboding.

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 4

No!” Gwynivara screamed. A gargoyle with long fangs hovered over a man in bed. The creature saw her and lunged towards her direction. She slammed his bathroom door shut, but it still burst through, sending her flying backwards! Gwynivara landed on her back with both the door and the beast on top of her! Her sword laid just out of reach, and her breath started to run out. The creature leered over her, snarling and drooling over her. All she could think was that if she died, all of her efforts would have been for nothing. She wouldn’t have been able to help the Rebellion at all. Being a soldier down would make it harder for them to find a cure, and more people would get hurt, like the lady in the video! And the man in bed! His fate could end up just like the lady in the video! No, she couldn’t let that happen!

Her body ignored the fact that it was running out of breath as rage burned deep inside her heart, and when it got to the height of its fervor, she saw a ball of light rise from her chest. It had a warm glow but beamed a vibe of powerful energy. Without thinking, she moved her arms back and pushed them forward, which sent the ball of light flying towards the gargoyle. The creature shrieked and shot backwards, crashing into the back wall of the man’s bedroom!

She tried to push the door off of herself, but the ordeal had, apparently, weakened her since it wouldn’t budge. Before she could groan from self disgrace, a man, whose thick, medium-length, dark hair covered his smooth, peach face, picked up the door and moved it out of the way. He gruffly offerd a hand to her, which she accepted. When she got up she felt a small jolt of surprise from his crystal-like blue eyes. His strong jawline and short stubble made his visage very becoming, but her stupor of his looks quickly vanished as she observed a deep scowl. He bellowed, “What the hell were you thinking?”

His words stung, but before she could really process the motive of his temper, Emorick, using a master key, unlocked the man’s door and entered with a few concerned bystanders. They saw the gargoyle’s body in his room, but they heard shouting from Gwynivara’s room, so they craned their heads that way. Gwynivara defended herself, “I saved your life!”

“You don’t think I had a plan?” he yelled. “You put yourself in danger for no reason! You’re lucky you didn’t get killed!”

“That wasn’t luck!” Gwynivara argued. Now she was thoroughly vexed from his attitude. “I’ve had Venenatus Sanguis for ten years-I’ve got skills!”

He seemed unruffled by her response. “That doesn’t give you the right to help when it’s unwanted! Next time, mind your own damn business and-!”

“Kierram!” Emorick scolded. “That’s enough!” Kierram huffed and walked away. Gwynivara’s ire ebbed slightly, but she also felt a little guilty. Kierram had made a good argument, and she questioned her judgment now. Emorick observed both of them and noted, “Besides bruised egos, it looks like no one got hurt. Thank god! Do you want us to remove the body or do you wanna wait a couple hours for it to disappear on its own?”

Kierram snided, “Put it in her room since it was her fault!”

“I didn’t create this beast!” Gwynivara snapped. “If you had fought the thing yourself, it still would’ve died in your room, you know!”

Kierram looked as though he wanted to utter a mean retort, but he saw his father’s non-verbal warning, so instead, he pouted. After a moment, Emorick lamented, “I thought the nightmares stopped.”

“I can’t help what I dream!” Kierram spat. “Sorry, I can’t forget what I went through as easy as you did! I still get…visions…!”

“What, you think I don’t see them too?” Emorick shot back.

“No, you don’t!” Kierram cried. “You sent people like me to the front lines! Don’t act like you know what I’m going through ‘cause you don’t!”

“Stop it!” an African-American woman about Gwynivara’s age stood between the two men, both of whom wanted to continue arguing but stopped themselves by her mere presence. Beneath her silky robe and elegant up-do was an air of sheer strength. She didn’t even need to raise her voice much to get their attention! “If you two don’t calm down, we’ll have another beast in here, so stop acting stupid!”

They realized that she was right, but neither of them admitted it. Each of them took a moment to compose themselves, and then Emorick coolly told Kierram, “Since you’re not gonna sleep anyways, why don’t you go relieve Niqun from guard duty?”

“Fine!” Kierram picked up a book and stormed off.

Emorick exhaled loudly, clearly venting his frustration. Gwynivara felt compelled to apologize, “I’m sorry!”

Emorick had forgotten she was there and almost jumped when she spoke. “What are you sorry for? Killing a monster?”

“Speaking of which…” The girl who broke up the fight studied the body of the gargoyle. “How did you kill this thing?”

“I saw this ball of light,” Gwynivara explained, “and I just threw it at the beast. I mean, I didn’t touch it, but I made it move…”

“Wait, you did an incantation?” Emorick’s mood instantly lifted upon hearing this information.

The woman from before congratulated her, “Nice going! It took me weeks of training to conjure anything! Oh, I’m Bernadette by the way.” She extended her hand.

Gwynivara shook Bernadette’s hand. “I’m Gwyn.”

“Glad to meet another female officer!” Bernadette grinned.

Emorick addressed the bystanders, “Alright, show’s over folks! We gotta a lot of work to do in the morning!”

A man in the crowd sarcastically joked, “What? Finding a cure for this disease is hard?” Emorick gave him a dirty look, so he quickly iterated, “It was a joke! Sheesh!”

After the bystanders left, Emorick turned to Gwynivara and assured her, “Don’t worry about Kierram. You did the right thing!”

“Really?” Gwynivara’s confidence had gotten shaken by Kierram’s reaction, so she really needed to hear this.

“Not everyone will appreciate your help,” Emorick remarked sagely. “That shouldn’t stop you from helping those in need, just keep that in mind.”

As he left, Bernadette whispered, “Kierram has a huge chip on his shoulder, but deep down, he’s a good guy. If he’s a jerk to you, don’t pay any mind to it.” She winked and left.

Once everyone had left, Gwynivara stood still in her place. She felt like she just woke up from a strange dream, and yet her wildest dreams were never this strange! She saw the creature’s body still lying in Kierram’s apartment and cringed. She didn’t need any reminders of their ugly exchange, so she shut the door. After she did so, she realized that Kierram’s bathroom door was still in her space, so there was no escaping it, she figured. She got into bed but didn’t lie down. She sat up, wide awake from the adrenaline of it all. She sighed, “How can I sleep after all of that?”

She turned on her radio and listened to the music playing for a moment. She rested her head between her knees, not really knowing how to feel. When the disc-jockey began talking, she startled herself when she realized that she hadn’t actually heard the song that had played previously. She felt a little disturbed that she could listen to something and not hear it. She then noticed some dirt that had got onto her from the fight and tried to rub it off.

The disc-jockey went on, “…only days away, so don’t forget to vote! Now, we gotta go to commercial, but stay tuned everyone! We’ve got more funky hits right after the break!”

The dirt wouldn’t come off, but Gwynivara didn’t feel like getting up to wash it, especially since the gargoyle’s body probably hadn’t disappeared yet. She licked her thumb and scrubbed her skin as a very calm female’s voice sounded, “Deadly disease-it can happen to anyone, which is why the Public Health Center of Great Dismal Falls works tirelessly every day to research treatments and cures for fatal illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and even Venenatus Sanguis.” Gwynivara dropped her focus from cleaning herself and paid attention the announcement. “But we can’t do it without your help. Please, act now and save a life today! For information on how to donate or volunteer, please call us at one eight hundred…”

The announcement concluded after she listed the rest of the phone number, but the wheels in Gwynivara’s head began turning. She didn’t know how much progress Emorick had made in finding the cure, but judging from their small clinic, she figured that the researchers at the Public Health Center probably had made more progress. She wondered what the Rebellion knew about the government’s understanding of Venenatus Sanguis. Even if they got it completely wrong, in order to solve this thing, they still need all of the facts and figures on the disease. And if the Public Health Center was looking for volunteers…

On top of a craggy rock, a woman sat on a throne made of dark crystals. Thunder clapped and lightning clashed as snarling beasts tugged on their chains. Men wearing animal-skin capes and loin cloths marched near the edge of the surface. None of the things that made Gwynivara nervous phased the woman on the throne. In fact, she sat regally as she lorded over the scene. Upon creeping closer, Gwynivara noticed that this woman had light green skin. At first, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but the closer she got, the more she knew she saw it right. Despite her strange skin color, the woman had a well sculpted body draped in a low-cut, golden dress as well as long, jet black hair and beady, black eyes. Despite her appealing allure, her expression was menacing, and her vibe made Gwynivara scared enough to stay rooted to the spot. When she spoke, her voice had a booming echo, “The more you learn, the closer you come to your demise! Stay away from the source!” Her eyes glared angrily, and then…

Gwynivara’s alarm went off. She had no clue that she had fallen asleep until now! That nightmare didn’t make sense to her, and she had no idea why such a thing would even pop into her head! However, she decided to shrug it off. It seemed pointless to dwell on it. “It’s not like dreams are even real!” She got up and went into the bathroom. Peeking cautiously into Kierram’s room, she felt relieved to see that the gargoyle had vanished. Kierram hadn’t come back either, which was probably for the best since they still needed to fix his bathroom door. As she brushed her teeth, she gazed into the mirror, and as she looked into her own eyes, she suddenly got deja-vu so overwhelming that she actually shuddered. She began to second guess her previous conclusion. “Dreams aren’t real…right?”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Growling sounded from behind a nearby shrub, and Gwynivara’s nerves filled with dread. She stood with her sword at the ready, but Emorick pushed her arm aside. “That won’t be necessary.” Despite her nerves still needling inside her, she relaxed her arm more, yet she watched warily as a creature stirred the bushes. An almost metallic-looking hyena emerged, and everything in Gwynivara’s impulses made her muscles tense up in anticipation of a fight. She kept glancing over to Emorick, who stood coolly as the beast crept closer and closer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her questioning expression, so he assured her, “Wait for it!” When it came to the point between the catacombs and a large tree, it activated a tripwire, which made a gun in the tree blast it in the chest. With a final yelp, it fell backwards and remained motionless. As Gwynivara’s body flooded with relief and admiration, Emorick grinned. “What? You think I’d establish a hideout without any protection?”

His comment made her laugh a little, but soon after, she apologized, “That was probably from me, sorry!”

“Never apologize for being human!” As Emorick pulled the stone slab far enough for them to enter, he told her, “Besides, it happens a lot around here.” She realized that he had a point and decided to let it go, which became easy to do now that the door had opened.

Upon the first impression, the inside had all the markings of what one would expect from a catacomb tomb. Cavern rooms were barricaded by small, rod-iron fences. A few torches lined the walls to give the space a dim light. The center of the vast room was empty save for the stone floor, but as Emorick put the stone slab door back into its original place, Gwynivara observed that each cavern room contained two polished, wooden coffins, which prompted her to ask, “Whose bodies are in there?”

He finished closing the stone slab door and then answered her, “An old family. We like to think their spirits help protect us, but, more often than not, we find that anyone who ventures down here doesn’t have the gall to stay long.”

Emorick led Gwynivara down the long row of cavern rooms, and, at the end, a broad indentation filled the center of the wall. An ornate coffin propped up inside a glass case took the majority of the space, and a fresco painting of early townspeople covered most of the facade behind it. Emorick went behind the casket, and after Gwynivara joined him, he told her, “If you’re ever followed by police or anyone else who isn’t welcome, make sure they don’t see this.” Giving him the utmost attention, Gwynivara watched as he pushed the fresco wall, and to her astonishment, it opened up like a door! They stepped inside quickly and shut the door.

They stood on a foyer where the walls, ceiling, and floor were all made of stone. The end of the platform had a steep staircase whose darkened walls gave no indication of what may exist on the other side, but Gwynivara could see a small light glowing at the end of the staircase. At that moment, an elderly woman’s voice called out, “An bhfuil tú ina chara?”

“Is cara liom!” Emorick called back. He turned to Gwynivara and instructed, “Memorize that.” Gwynivara nodded and whispered it quietly to herself.

They watched as the tiny speck of light grew larger and larger. The echo of the individual’s footsteps sounded soft but grew louder as someone climbed up the stairs. A woman surfaced with a lantern in her hand. She had to be at least in her eighties, but she had a vibrant glow in her skin suggesting that she had an almost youthful amount of energy. She had a very gaunt body, but the way she carried herself conveyed that she was by no means frail. Gwynivara heard her speak in Gaelic, so she was a little surprised to see that she was Asian. Her wide eyes flickered over to Gwynivara and gleamed delightfully. “Oh, ni hao! I’m Niqun!”

“Gwyn.” She extended her hand.

Niqun shook her hand and said, “Welcome! Follow me!”

Niqun headed back down the stairs, Gwynivara went after her, and Emorick brought up the rear. Emorick explained, “Everyone takes turns guarding the front entrance. We’re not likely to have any problems, but if an adversary ever shows up-”

“They better not cross me!” Niqun interjected. “They’ll be sorry if they do!” Gwynivara giggled a little by her abrupt boldness. Meeting Niqun made her feel more at ease about her time here. She had hoped that the rest of the residents here would offer an equal amount of personality. At the bottom of the stairs, Gwynivara saw a cushioned bench and a long curtain rod with red drapes that obviously had the purpose of providing the door guard some privacy if they required it. Niqun dimmed the lantern and flopped back onto the bench. “Okay, Gwyn! Here we are! Wan’an!”

Gywnivara smiled and replied, “Thank you.” She could hear a quiet babble of conversation and commerce coming from the other side of the curtain. Her anticipation surmounted as Emorick strode over to the curtains. He noticed Gwynivara’s eagerness, grinned, and announced, “Welcome to the Rebel Hideout!”

He pulled back the drapes, and Gwynivara was pleasantly astonished to see a warmly lit hallway with large, cavern rooms where a small array of folks roamed in and out. The vast hall stretched as far as the eye could see, and the people roaming the hall all seemed so relaxed for the most part. A few people had despondent faces and walked alone, but the majority had a cordial demeanor. Like the catacombs, everything from the ceiling to the floor was made of stone, but the amber light and amiable conversation gave it more of a homey feel. Gwynivara remarked, “Wow!”

Emorick chuckled, “Were you expecting a rat’s nest?” Gwyinvara didn’t want to admit it, but she also didn’t want to lie, so she smiled sheepishly. Emorick didn’t seem offended by that at all. “That’s alright. Generally, criminal hideouts aren’t so nice. But considering we’re all suffering from a disease that feeds on darkness, I didn’t think it was smart to have us live in doom and gloom.”

Gwynivara nodded in comprehension. “That makes sense!”

Emorick informed her, “Everything you need for day to day function can be found in one of these rooms. The first room on the left has women’s clothes and shoes, men’s clothes are on the right. Feel free to take what you need, but keep in mind we only get supplies a little at a time, so no hoarding. Let me get you settled in before you explore though.” Gwynivara agreed, and they walked on. “This room has any toiletries you may need-shampoo, toothpaste, et cetera. Over here, we have snacks and dry food. Next to that is a shared kitchen. We have volunteer chefs that prepare meals for large groups sometimes, but if you’re hungry any time, feel free to use it. Across from the kitchen is our first aid station. We can treat minor injuries and illnesses, but if you have any major injuries, we’ll have to rush you to an actual hospital. Next to that is a ceremony room that people use for worship services; Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or whatever other religion is welcome! Across from that we have an activity room with games and other things in case you get bored.”

They reached a fork in the road, and whether Gwynivara looked left or right, the cavern rooms all seemed much smaller than the ones behind them. She also noted that these rooms all had doors. Before they went on, Gwynivara inquired, “How do jobs get assigned?”

“It’s all volunteer based,” Emorick answered her. “Each room has a schedule, and generally people are pretty good about making sure the vacant spots are filled before it’s too late. Now, if you go all the way to the left, we have a large auditorium where we practice combat. You’re going to to live in the far right with the other officers. I purposely put our practice grounds on the opposite side of our living quarters so that the officers have to pass by everyone and help anyone in need.”

“And I’m an officer?” Gwynivara was surprised by this title.

“Clearly, you’re a fighter and have the mentality of an officer!” He bent in close and whispered, “You saw the video. We need strong minds to make sure that never happens here.”

Gwynivara’s eyes widened with concern. She sincerely hoped that an incident like that occurred seldomly in the hideout. As they passed by the houses, Gwynivara noticed that some people kept their doors open, but most people had them shut. She hoped that this was simply due to the hour of the day and not a usual occurrence, otherwise she didn’t know how she would be able to watch over the other inhabitants.

At the end of the hall, Gwynivara saw one cavern room that appeared to be larger than the rest. Emorick explained, “That’s my room. It’s also the armory. For safety purposes, we can’t have easy access to dangerous weapons. If anyone would like to learn how to use more advanced weapons, they’re certainly allowed to stop by and request lessons though. I do give everyone a large dagger for protection, just in case.”

Gwynivara briefly wondered where the weapons and the other supplies came from, but she now felt a little tired and decided to ask about that at another time. So, she simply asked him, “Which one is my room?”

“Two doors left of mine,” Emorick answered. He opened her door, and Gwynivara’s eyes sparkled as she saw her new living quarters. Even though her space comprised of a single room again, there was more space than what she had before. The bed looked a little larger than her last one, and the pillows and sheets seemed more cushiony than the old one too. She had a nightstand with a radio like she had previously, but this one stood next to an ornate candlestick. The side opposite to the nightstand had a small fireplace nestled nicely into the wall. On her right, next to the dresser, she saw another door. Emorick saw where her eyes rested, so he revealed, “That’s a bathroom. You’ll have to share it with your neighbor, who happens to be my son. You guys…should get along.” Gwynivara noticed the hesitation in his voice but decided not to ask. If there was any issue involving his son, it was probably none of her business, she thought. “If you need more batteries for the radio or matches for the fireplace, you can find them in the toiletries room.”

“Thank you so much!” Gwynivara truly felt grateful for everything. At the same time, it also felt so strange! When she woke up this morning, she was just a janitor renting a room in a mobile home, and now she was an officer in a rebellion! Her new surroundings and title definitely were an improvement, but it was so different than before and she still found it hard to believe. Everything changed so fast that she found it difficult to accept it mentally!

Emorick softly pat her back. “If you need anything, you know where to find me. Training begins at o eight hundred hours. See you in the morning!”

“Good night!” she chimed as he left. She took a moment to soak it all in. It still didn’t feel real to her. She saw what time it was and decided to get ready for bed. She set her sword down by the dresser, and she remembered that she had already dressed in her pajamas, so she didn’t need to do much to get ready for the night. She shook off the disbelief in her thoughts and went into the bathroom.

The bathroom was small, but the way it was built almost made it seem luxurious. The shower door was made of glass, but the rest was made of stone. They had a small bowl in place of a sink, and there was a faucet right above it. The toilet gave the feel of an outhouse, but it didn’t have a bad smell to it at all. Gwynivara vaguely wondered who was responsible for cleaning it. Since she got appointed as an officer, she relished in the fact that she was, most likely, done with janitorial duties!

As she washed her face, she noticed another door on the opposite side. That had to be Emorick’s son’s room, she figured. She saw a razor and shaving cream on the sink, and she pondered what it would be like to share a bathroom with a guy. So much curiosity surfaced now! She had so many questions about who he was. He must be an officer too, she thought, to live in this section. She wondered about his history and how he got Venenatus Sanguis. She figured that she would find out tomorrow at training and would get to know her new neighbor in the morning. It would be rude to introduce herself at this time of night; after all, he was more than likely sleeping right now. Or was he…?

She heard a loud crash coming from his son’s room! She pressed her ear to the wall, and it sounded like flapping wings. It sure sounded ominous, but she wasn’t sure if it was what she thought it was. If she was wrong and it was a pet or the radio, she would feel terrible for barging in. However, she remembered that Emorick had mentioned that it was part of her duties to watch over the other members. She decided it was best to take the risk and apologize later if she was wrong. She opened the door slowly, and in an instant, she knew that she wasn’t wrong!

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 2

Across the field, Gwynivara and the mysterious man fled to the woods. The gnarled branches bent low enough to hide them, but they kept moving as swiftly as possible. As they reached the heart of the grove, they saw flashlights beaming through the trees, so they ran off the narrow pathway and hid against two large trunks, laying as flat as they could. Standing still, hardly breathing, they sensed the police were close to them. Gwynivara still had her sword, but she silently prayed that she wouldn’t have to use it. They heard one of them conclude, “I don’t see anything. Let’s go!” They heard the police head in one direction, and so they took off in the opposite direction.

The forest soon became quiet, which gave Gwynivara and the mysterious man a chance to slow down. The man walked with purpose, so she inferred that he intended to take her somewhere safe. Now that they were out of danger, her curiosity started to peak. So many questions raced through her mind, but she felt hesitant to speak yet. They were most likely out of harm’s way, but she didn’t know how cautious her accomplice would want to remain. As they reached the edge of the woods, she couldn’t help herself. She had to have some idea of what was going on, and her impulses only gave her a split second to choose between the myriad of urgent inquiries. She ended up going with, “What’s the plan?”

“Not here,” he replied softly. “Too many chances for interference. I’ll explain everything when we get there, I promise.” That satisfied Gwynivara’s thirst for knowledge, at least for the moment, so she followed him silently for a spell.

At the other side of the forest, Gwynivara saw that they came to an empty, two lane road. On the other side, overlooking a dirt path, was a rod-iron fence with a wiry archway that read: Talamh de Suaimhneas. The pathway divided two vast fields of tombstones, which prompted Gwynivara to ask, “A graveyard?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Are you afraid?”

“No!” she asserted. As they set foot inside, she actually did feel a little on edge, but with his confident demeanor, she convinced herself to push past her insecurities. After a while, she noticed a low mist hovering close to the grounds, and the moonlight beamed off of the tombs. She thought out loud, “This place is oddly beautiful!”

“Glad you think so!” the man remarked. “It’s the perfect place for a hideout. No one ever comes in here.”

“Because most people are scared of death?” Gwynivara surmised.

“That, and the fact it’s considered sacred grounds.” He paused for a moment, and then he probed, “Who are you?”

“I’m Gwynivara.” Gwynivara felt a wave of relief. Since he was asking questions, she knew she would get the answers that she longed for. “You can call me Gwyn.”

“Gwyn, huh?” He inquired, “Who are you, Gwyn?”

She hadn’t mentally prepared herself for that response. “Well, I…Uh, I’m a janitor at…no, I just got fired. So…I guess I’m nobody.”

“That can’t be true!” he objected. He decided to change tactics. “How long have you had Venenatus Sanguis?”

It felt strange to talk about the disease since she had gotten so used to hiding it, but she didn’t think there was any point in denying it to him. Besides, if he wanted to do her harm, he would’ve been better off turning her into the police! She figured she may as well tell the truth. “I’ve had it for almost ten years actually.”

“So, I was right, it did begin in Great Dismal Falls!” When he saw Gwynivara’s puzzled expression, he explained, “I’m Lieutenant General Emorick Conley of the U.S. Marines. A few years ago, I heard a man in the barracks screaming, so we rushed in to assist. When we got there, it was too late; the man laid in a pool of blood. I knelt down to check his pulse, just in case, and as I attended to him, a scaly, wolf-like creature snuck up and bit me in the leg! We killed it, but I lost a lot of blood from my injury, so they rushed me to the field hospital. When I started to come to, I heard my doctor talking to some civilian medical personnel, and they not only said I had Venenatus Sanguis, but they said as soon as I came to, they planned to send me to a quarantine zone! I only knew two things about quarantine zones: one, they have a high mortality rate and two, the survivors never came out. After surviving three wars, I wasn’t gonna let this end my life! When they weren’t looking, I hid a gun in my pants, and when they brought me to that so called hospital, I shot my way out! Even though I became a fugitive, I knew I could do more good on the outside. I vowed to find a cure! In order to do that, I figured out that I needed to find the origin. From the newspapers that I obtained from across the country, I found that the oldest cases that were reported came from…”

“Great Dismal Falls,” Gwynivara finished his sentence. “So, that’s why you want to help me? Since I was one of the first to contract it, you want to question me?”

Emorick disagreed, “No, that’s not why. If you got it directly from the source, then maybe. But no, that’s not why I brought you here…”

They stopped in front of a catacomb mausoleum, which, from far away, simply had the appearance of a giant block of cement, but up close, Gwynivara could see columns and gargoyle carvings. Initially, Gwynivara had reservations about entering a room of easily accessible coffins, but behind the stone slab door, she could see a faint, amber glow, so she decided to hear his explanation. Emorick questioned her, “You fought them?”

“Fought who?” Gwynivara answered his question with another question.

“The monsters formed from your emotions. You fought them?” He gazed at her with his own curiosity starting to surmount.

Gwynivara felt a little surprised by his inquiry. “Well, yeah…”

“For ten years?” He seemed to know the answer but needed the confirmation.

Gwynivara now felt a surge of confusion. She couldn’t figure out why would ask so many questions on something that seemed so obvious to her. “Yes, of course! I didn’t have a choice!”

“But you did have a choice,” he pointed out.

Gwynivara initially dismissed this notion. “No I didn’t! They were trying to kill me! What choice did I have? Let them kill me?” Emorick nodded, and then it clicked for her. “Oh! Okay, so I chose life. Is that so unusual?”

“Yes!” Emorick reacted in admiration and wonder. “Considering there’s no cure, which means the person who contracts Venenatus Sanguis has a choice-risk a life of pain or end their suffering. Not a lot of people have the courage to stay strong for that long. You fought back! Almost ten years of suffering, but you haven’t given up! That’s quite a feat!”

Gwynivara accepted the sentiments, it was quite flattering, but she didn’t quite believe her actions were remarkable. “I didn’t realize survival was considered a feat!”

Emorick emphasized, “It is! Which is why I need your help.” This immediately captured Gwynivara’s interest. Rarely did anyone need her help, let alone a high ranking military officer! However, she didn’t let that deter her. Something deep inside her felt passionate about serving those most in need of help, so she listened to him with the utmost attention. Emorick went on, “I’ve made it my mission to not only save people who want to survive but to train a select few for combat. I don’t know who’s responsible for creating this disease, but this has all the signs of biological warfare. My gut says when we get close to the origin, the person responsible will retaliate. I need troops to back me up. You’ve already proven that you have the aptitude to fight this, and I need as many soldiers as I can get to grow our numbers and build up a true rebellion to this injustice! What do you say?”

The opportunity sounded amazing, but Gwynivara did not feel worthy of this honorable position. Truthfully, she wanted to say yes, but she had so much self doubt. She deemed herself fortunate to have eked out of so many dangerous situations, but she didn’t know how much longer her luck would run. The idea of people relying her was terrifying! She uttered, “I mean…wow! I don’t know what to say! I don’t have any experience as a solider…”

Emorick enspeeched, “What is a soldier? What they always were to me were people who dedicated themselves to serve for a vital cause. They commit to selflessly working to help the community and to save lives. They’re willing to sacrifice what’s personally convenient to them in order to help those in need. That’s a soldier to me, and anyone with the drive to do that noble work can serve in this battalion!” Gwynivara still seemed unsure, so he added, “Of course, I’ll make sure you’re trained. Actually, one of the reasons you’ll be an asset to our cause is your Venenatus Sanguis! It creates monsters from the energy we emit when we experience strong, stressful emotions, but do you know what happens when you experience powerful, positive feelings?”

This idea both intrigued and perplexed her. She shook her head, and she asked, “What happens?”

He explained, “You can create anything! A powerful force gets created, and you decide where it goes and what it does. Venenatus Sanguis has the potential to be overwhelmingly deadly, but those who can manipulate it like this can do so much good for the world! Yes, I want to eradicate it still, but until then, for those who have it may as well use it as a powerful tool. Combining this with the intrinsic desire to defend the innocent, a soldier with Venenatus Sanguis has the potential to defeat the true enemy! I can see a lot of fight in you, and with a little honing of your abilities, you’re truly an asset to the rebellion!”

Gwynivara relished this new insight into the disease she had. She had no idea that she had that kind of potential inside her! However, she still had some lingering doubts, “Listen, I wanna help, but we don’t know for sure that I’ll make a good rebel. Okay, I fought for my own survival, but does that really separate me from the hundreds of other people who have it? What if I fail? What if I do more harm than good? I appreciate the idea you have of me, but are you sure you have the right person? I mean, I’ve failed over and over again in the last decade! I don’t think I’ve had enough success to help anyone! When it comes down down to it, what makes you think I’d be good at the fight?”

Emorick didn’t say anything at first. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, glass orb with purple smoke swirling inside it. Gwynivara got entranced by its beauty and mysterious nature. Emorick divulged, “This can store all of the data I’ve collected and play it back at my will. Let me show you a video I obtained from one of the quarantine hospitals…”

Gwynivara peered into the orb, and she saw a small living room with a couch that sat against the kitchen wall. A sword rested on the coffee table while a woman with an athletic body, a long nightgown, and sullen eyes propped her legs up on the sofa. At that moment, a large, snake-like creature that had four legs crawled into view. The woman didn’t move, she didn’t even blink! “What isn’t she grabbing her sword?” The creature crawled onto the foot of her couch and the woman remained motionless. “Get your sword! It’s not too late!” The creature unhinged its jaws and clamped onto her feet. “Come on, don’t give up!” It swallowed her feet and moved up to her shins. “No! Don’t do this! You can fight it!” It moved up to her pelvis. “Fight it! Come on! Your sword is right there! Fight it!” Gwynivara grew hysterical as it inched its way up and more of the woman disappeared. “No! No!” As it swallowed her head, Gwynivara howled and started to bawl. “You could have fought it! Why did you give up?”

Emorick handed her a cloth handkerchief, and as she dried her eyes, he told her, “Gwyn, what just happened, everything you just said, that’s what I saw in you! Tell me now you don’t want to at least try to fight!”

With one last sniffle, Gwynivara took a deep breath and removed her hands from her face. She couldn’t stand the idea of so many people succumbing to this! With a brazened star, she asserted, “I’m in!”