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?”

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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!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 1

Rebels of Darkness

“Good morning, Great Dismal Falls!” a wood-grain, plastic clock radio sounded as the digital time flipped over to seven o’ clock. The disc-jockey continued, “You’re listening to K-F-N-U, home to the greatest hits of 1976! A heavy fog still fills the sky but will lift by the afternoon. Don’t get too excited though, dark clouds stretching from the swamplands to the bay will start October off with very gloomy weather. Speaking of gloomy, our friends to the north have reported a road closure near the Chesapeake tunnel, so bad news for those of you who commute northern Virginia! No, it’s not from construction or a car accident this time. Sadly, a man living in the structure was found dead. Police suspect Venenatus Sanguis as two commuters were attacked by-”

A pale hand slammed down on the off button, and a woman’s voice grumbled, “Not today!” A blonde with feathered hair laid face first into her thin pillow. Her twin bed, which took the majority of the space in her room, had a disheveled heap of sheets covering it, and only a small corner rested on the curvy body of the occupant. With a groan, she picked herself up and got out of bed. She yawned as she opened her dingy bedroom door. Across the narrow hall was a cramped bathroom with peeling wood panel walls. She got a glimpse of her face, and her normally fair skin looked a little sallow, and her golden brown eyes were glossy and etched in red lines. She started to sigh, but she stopped herself. “No, not today!” she told herself as she turned on the shower.

After her hair had dried, she put on a ruffled white shirt that matched her white, flared trousers. She put on a pale pink blazer and a matching scarf to break up the color pattern. She felt reasonably pleased with her make up job; it was harder to tell that she didn’t sleep much last night. She grabbed her beige purse and walked to the end of the hall where a linoleum foyer that separated the living room from the front door. She gazed over to see her elderly roommate sitting stiffly in her recliner watching television. She let her roommate know, “I’m off to work! If everything goes well, I might-”

“That’s nice, dear. Have fun.” The roommate had adjusted her shawl, but other than that, she did not take her gaze off the television set. The younger lady stifled a sigh and headed out the door.

In a tiled hallway with florescent lights, she sat in a chair that stood outside an office with a big, wooden door with the words ‘Hiring Board’ etched on it. She had an application on a wooden clipboard that she began to fill out. The first line asked for a name, and, without thinking, she wrote Gwynivara Wallace. She started to fill out her address when she realized what she had done. She scribbled out the name she wrote and thought for a moment. She whispered to herself, “How do I spell my last name again?” The receptionist at the triage desk gave her a funny look, so Gwynivara tried to cover her tracks with a polite smile. The receptionist didn’t say anything and went back to filing her nails, so Gwynivara went back to her paperwork, trying to remain more inconspicuous.

After she turned her paperwork in, she waited silently for them to call her in. Her muscles were tense, so she took a couple of deep breaths to relax more. At that point, a man with large glasses and a lab coat poked his head out into the hallway and called out, “Taylor McCartney?” At first, Gwynivara doesn’t respond, so he called out again, “Taylor McCartney?”

Gwynivara snapped to attention. “Yes, that’s me!” The man, with a slight look of disappointment, beckoned for her to enter, so she complied and went inside.

The room was empty except for a long table where four men in lab coats sat. The doctor who got her from the hallway took the fifth seat and addressed his colleagues, “Gentlemen, this Taylor. She is applying for the head janitor position.”

The other men frowned, and the one in the center regarded her, “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. Miss McCartney, you can go back to work.”

Gwynivara didn’t move or speak for a moment. She had a vacant stare like she was still trying to process what just happened. Another doctor asked her, “Is there a problem?”

“I don’t understand,” she replied. “My interview was for this day and time, I’m sure of it. What’s the mistake?”

The doctors, who had already gotten up to go on with their day, sat back down grimly. The man in the center explained slowly, “Miss McCartney, I’m very sorry our job board wasn’t clear enough, but this position is for men only.”

“But…!” Gwynivara’s heart sunk. “But I’ve been cleaning for years…!”

Another doctor piped in, “Cleaning up after your family doesn’t count!”

“No!” she objected. “I was a janitor at the library, and before that I cleaned hotel rooms. I’m the best janitor here! I know all the cleaning procedures inside and out! I’ve even trained people to do this job! I have the right experience for the promotion! Why should my sex matter?”

The center doctor responded unsympathetically, “Yes, you have an excellent background, which is why we accepted your application. But with a name like Taylor, we thought you were a guy. Look, I didn’t wanna waste your time, and I certainly don’t wanna hurt your feelings, but we can’t have a woman in a leadership position, especially a woman like you.”

That last comment made her nervous. “What do you mean?”

He clarified further, “I don’t mean that in a callous way! A person in a supervisory role has to be tough and a little intimidating to be taken seriously. You’re so pretty and sweet, I just don’t think any man on your staff would take you seriously.”

At first, Gwynivara seemed relieved that his previous comment didn’t mean what she thought it did, but she came to realize that this was not that much better. The more he talked, the more she pronounced her frown. After he had finished, she scoffed, “So…if I make myself ugly, can I re-apply?”

The five doctors exchanged uncomfortable glances, and the man in the middle talked to her sternly, “Look, women have many strengths, but being tough isn’t one of them. I mean, let’s say you have a man about my size on your team and he broke a major company rule. I’m upset, I’m agitated, could you honestly say you have the strength to fire me?”

Gwynivara leaned in close, stared at him dead in the eye, and stated firmly, “Doctor Richards, I would love to fire you!”

The men all got a jolt of shock at her response, and clearly Doctor Richards was offended. “Well, young lady, if that’s going to be your attitude, then you’re fired!”

For a moment, Gwynivara couldn’t move. Her mind couldn’t absorb what just happened. She wasn’t even aware of the fact that she had picked up her purse and had left the room. She sat on the bus and could care less about the people around her. She tried to wrap her mind around what happened, but she was too dumbstruck to accept it. With her body on autopilot, she managed to get off at the right stop and walked herself home. When she got to the mobile home park she lived in, it started to sink in, but she forced herself to not think about it or show any emotions. As she walked through the complex, she switched from watery eyes to nerves on edge. Every noise and movement made her jump. Finally, at the end of the row, next a chain-link fence, her house came into view. She ran towards the front porch and checked all around her. When she saw nothing precarious, she took a deep breath and went inside.

After she had changed into her pajamas, which were black sweat pants with a black tank top, she sat on her bed and scoured over the classified section of the newspaper. She had a mug of tea next to her on the nightstand, but she ignored it as she poured the job ads. She pushed back more tears as she focused on her search. Her hands started to shake a little, so she set the paper down and took a drink of tea. As she held her cup, she had one of her legs on the floor. At that moment, a rat brushed by her ankle! Instinctively, she pulled her leg up, but as she did, the contents of her mug spilled forward. The tea spread through the newspaper and even soaked into her bed. That was the last straw! Gwynivara finally broke down and cried her eyes out!

After a minute or so, she heard a loud bang outside. She stopped crying and stared outside in fear. “Oh no!” She reached under the bed and grabbed a sword. She watched the entire window-side wall pulsating, so she stood with her weapon at the ready. Soon, the wall gave in and came crashing down. The perpetrator was an eight-foot tall creature whose appearance somewhat resembled a mix of an elephant and a pit bull! It had sharp talons and glowing red eyes that glared fiercely at her. After a split second of assessing the situation, Gwynivara ran across her bed and headed towards the beast’s body. It swiped her away like a bothersome fly, sending her sailing outside!

She landed in the barren field that laid outside where the fence used to stand. She got up in time to avoid getting crushed. It tried to bite here, but she swung her sword at it, scraping off a lot of its mouth. It had a momentary distraction from its pain, so she ran closer to its throat and tried to stab it, but it flung her away. She landed on her back this time, and immediately, she saw its head dive towards her. She stabbed it in the eye, and it roared in pain. She got up and ran to where its heart most likely was located. She stabbed it, but the sword only pierced its skin, which was so thick that she couldn’t get her weapon out. Before it could swipe at her, she dodged its attempt. She kept avoiding its reach as she racked her brain trying to think of a way to defeat him at this point.

Suddenly, a muscular man with a clean cut and deep gray hair style, a slate tank top, and camo pants appeared and fired a spear gun at the beast! The spear had a rope attached to it, which trailed behind it as it hit one of the beast’s knees. Before the creature could react, the man ran around the beast, making the rope bind the creatures legs together and made it fall down. Gwynivara ran to it, and, with one foot on the monster, she used both her arms to pull her sword out. The man instructed, “Get its throat!” She heeded his word and jammed her weapon into its neck. It let out one final shriek as she dragged her sword from one side to the other. They watched as the beast took its final breath.

As her adrenaline started to slow down, Gwynivara realized that her neighbors had come out to witness the chaos. One neighbor observed the destruction and cried out, “What the hell happened?”

Another neighbor answered, “Look at that thing over there!”

A third neighbor exclaimed, “Oh my god! It’s Venenatus Sanguis!”

As everyone rushed to find a phone to call the police, Gwynivara knew she had to escape before they could get her. The man who helped her directed, “Follow me!” Something in his voice had a timbre that conveyed confidence and genuine care, so her instincts told her to trust him. She followed him as he fled the complex.