Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 20

Gwynivara quickly threw out there, “Hildegard Bingen University.” Bernadette and Riley tried to maintain a casual expression so not to bring up any suspicion with Linda, but Gwynivara could see a mix of reproach and alarm brewing in their eyes. Gwynivara couldn’t blame them for getting upset, she got filled with dread at the prospect of it herself, but their hesitation already raised Linda’s eyebrows, so one of them had to say something soon. She didn’t know anywhere else in Silver Park, and she certainly wouldn’t let her go near the Rebels’ headquarters, so she didn’t have much of a choice! To cover up for the length of time it took to come up with that, Gwynivara added, “We were thinking about going to an after party, but it’s a school night, so we really should get some rest!”

Linda remarked to Kierram, “You never told me you were a student!”

“Well, I got so busy listening to your stories that I just didn’t have time to mention it,” Kierram made up on the fly.

“Oh, I feel so bad! I really haven’t taken much time to get to know you much!” Linda reacted to his assertion regretfully. “What are you all studying?”

Bernadette responded, “Medicine.” Gwynivara privately noted how that Bernadette didn’t really lie with that! Getting the cure out into the world had always been the Rebels’ number one priority, and while they currently devoted quite a lot of time on this election, Gwynivara was glad that she didn’t say politics! She didn’t want to pretend to adore Rialowe anymore than she already had, and obviously, with Linda’s devotion to him, they couldn’t claim to work for any other presidential candidate! She probably would have thrown them out of the car if they showed interest in any other viewpoint! Though Gwynivara didn’t have full confidence that Linda intended to take them where they requested to go anyways! If Linda had any inkling of their deception, they could have been heading to a place more precarious than Abigor’s territory! Until Gwynivara knew her true intentions, they had to keep giving answers that would keep a reporter’s curiosity subsided!

Linda observed, “Ah, no wonder you’re all wearing gloves!”

Gwynivara’s pulse began to race again! She had almost forgotten that they had worn them, it had just become so routine to her now that it didn’t occur to her until right then that they were wearing them in front of somebody who bought into the conspiracy theory that the Public Health Center had lied about Venenatus Sanguis and the effectiveness in keeping people safe by wearing these garments. She worried that this act may have blown their pretense of being Rialowe fanatics, but fortunately, Riley thought fast! “Oh, we wear these whenever we go to an event that size!” The Rebels’ all took off their gloves, and while Gwynivara felt that they had become proficient in controlling their manifestations, with the stress they were currently under, her worry only increased with this gesture! Riley went on, “Do you know how many germs are swimming around a place that big? No, don’t ask! Trust me, you don’t wanna know!”

“Touché!” Linda conceded with a slight grin. She appeared to have bought that line of logic, and the Rebels’ nerves got alleviated for a while.

“Do you know how to get to the HBU campus?” Gwynivara posed to that question to her in order to get a better perspective on Linda’s mindset, and she waited with bated breath to hear her reply. If she gave them an explanation that showed any hints of malicious motives, then she planned to draw up an incantation to get them out of harm’s way! As her adrenaline died down, she could fell herself starting to fade. She used a lot of energy in escaping from that auditorium, so she sincerely hoped that she didn’t have to use the last of her stamina to pull off another getaway!

Linda let out another of her obnoxious laughs at that inquiry. “Do I know how to get there? Are you kidding? I’ve had to go all over the DC area for my job, so I probably know how to get to more places than a cab driver in this region!” They all chuckled at her joke, but really, they just felt so relieved to see indications that she actually planned to take them to their destination and not anywhere nefarious! Gwynivara didn’t feel one hundred percent confident yet, and she wouldn’t count themselves completely out of the woods until they actually set foot at the college!

The were so caught up in relishing this potential small victory that they got thrown off when Linda followed up on their previous topic, “So, what made you guys wanna study medicine at your age?”

“I got tired of just doing janitorial work, so I decided to pursue a higher position at the hospital.” Gwynivara surprised herself by giving an honest account to her! Weeks ago, she had an interview for a supervisor position at the hospital in Great Dismal Falls, and the sexist treatment she received by the men running the hiring process got her so distraught that she couldn’t help but to create a beast out of these emotions! Luckily for her, Emorick just happened to have been close by, and he helped her defeat it. That’s how she ended up joining the Rebellion! It felt kind of funny that this event had occurred such a short time ago, so much had happened since then that she had come to think that much more time had passed than what did!

“I know we look more like a group of teachers than students, but hey, we got tired of not making money!” Riley commented. Gwynivara admonished herself for taking too long of a stroll down memory lane, but she was grateful that the others could improvise so well!

Linda related, “I totally get that! Why struggle if you don’t have to!” The Rebels all agreed with her and hoped that she would move on to a new subject, but instead, she asked Kierram, “If you’re studying medicine, then why did you apply as my intern?”

The Rebels tried not to show their anxiety over her probing, and they all prayed that Kierram could come up with a reasonable excuse to smooth out the hole in their story. It pleased them all to hear Kierram manufacture a very believable lie, “Well, I was hoping to replace the current spokesman. He’s not very good! He doesn’t report all of the facts!”

Linda’s eyes sparkled when she heard that. “You think so too? I knew it! Rialowe always warned us that they were lying, and this just confirms it! Do you know how much damage they’re doing to the community by carrying on this health scare?” To their assuagement, she desisted in asking them questions and occupied herself with ranting about her perceived enemies! Gwynivara crossed her fingers that it would last until they got to the school!

When the university came into view, they got excited for this uncomfortable car ride to come to an end, but Gwynivara began to fret again. She was fully aware that Abigor could turn up right away, and doing so in Linda’s presence would present all kinds of perilous complications! Linda pulled up to the dormitories and inquired, “Is this okay? Do you want me to pull up farther down?”

“This is fine!” Gwynivara assured her. She didn’t talk more than she had to because she itched for her to finally come to a stop so they could pile out of there!

“Alright, here we are!” Linda parked the car, and they immediately dashed out of the vehicle! They all thanked her and bade her goodbye as they watched her drive out of sight, and when she finally did leave their periphery, they turned to the campus. Its dark, deserted walkways gave them an ominous feeling, and their fear froze them to the spot as they wondered where to go from there…

Kierram shook off the goosebumps that this eerie sight gave him, and then he quietly suggested, “Let’s find the nearest sewer and get the hell out of here!”

The others nodded in agreement, and since Gwynivara discussed with them, “There’s an entrance on the other side of the college, so we gotta pick between the shortest route, which would go through the campus but get us out of here faster, or the longer but probably safer route on the streets around the school. What do you guys wanna do?”

They mulled it over for a second, and then Riley opined, “Personally, I think we should save our energy and go the safe route! I’m done fighting for the night!” Before anyone could react to this, they heard a deafening male’s scream come from the innermost part of the university, and Riley grumbled, “So much for that!”

“That sounded like Professor Chadron!” Bernadette exclaimed.

“Let’s go!” Gwynivara directed them towards the college.

Kierram objected, “Wait! What if Abigor is setting up a trap for us?”

Gwynivara retorted, “And what if it’s not? We can’t let him die!” Kierram, Bernadette, and Riley agreed with her, and they ran into the thick of it all.

They detected commotion near the science building, and when it finally came into view, the Rebels all gasped to see a young lady lying dead on the ground as well as Professor Chadron fending off a beast with the appearance of a bulky jaguar with his briefcase! To their horror, they watched it knock Professor Chadron’s makeshift shield out of his hands, and Professor Chadron only saw one option at this point- run! He tried, but the beast pinned him down! Before it could strike him, Gwynivara shrieked, “No!” and instinctively shot a ball of light at the beast! The beast died, but it it wasn’t until it fell over that they noticed it had a chain on! They followed the links and saw that Abigor held its tether!

Abigor seethed that they had caught him red handed! He dropped the chain and aimed his palm at them, but they rolled out of the way before the incantation could hit them! Abigor sent out a shockwave that knocked them all down, but before he could attack them again, Bernadette summoned a force field that protected the Rebels. Gwynivara felt completely drained from the incantation she just performed, and a part of her felt tempted to stay on the floor, but when she saw Professor Chadron out of the corner of her eye, she lifted her head and shouted, “Get out of here! Go!”

“No!” Abigor yelled. As Professor Chadron turned towards the classroom complex, Abigor pointed his palm towards him. Kierram jumped out of the shielding effect that Bernadette produced and sent a spark to Abigor. His hand went limp, but he could still do incantations with the other side, so he continued to fire back!

“You’re not giving up that easily!” Riley regarded Gwynivara as he picked her up.

After she got propped up, she saw Kierram struggling to go back and forth with Abigor, and Bernadette’s protective incantation was starting to wane, so Gwynivara had to take action! She asserted to Bernadette, “We got this!” With Riley supporting her physically, Gwynivara knew that she could summon the strength to contend with Abigor! Bernadette released her protection and moved herself so that Gwynivara and Riley had a clear shot at Abigor. Abigor got incantations firing at him from all different directions, but he used his abilities to not only dodge their attacks but produce some of his own! Gwynivara could feel herself fading again, but she saw signs from Abigor that he began to grow weak too, so she kept going! They had the chance to vanquish a dangerous adversary, and she compelled herself to keep going until the very end!

Just when Gwynivara thought they could overtake him, they heard police sirens blaring in the background! This momentary distraction allowed Abigor to flee, and Gwynivara’s ire urged her to go after him, but they could hear the police getting close to the scene. The FBI had already framed them for murder, and she knew this fact would prompt the police to blame them for the victim laying below them. Their mission held too much importance to risk getting captured, so they had no choice but to escape in the other direction.

They made it to the manhole that Bernadette and Gwynivara had taken with José and Niqun the last time they ventured onto the college campus, but exhaustion had overcome all four of them now! They had very labored breath, and they surmised that they had an alarming level of stress to their skin based on a passerby’s peculiar stare. Riley huffed, “We’re on drugs!” The man had apparently bought his claim because he instantly scurried away as fast as he could! With that man gone, the streets were now clear, so they hurriedly lifted the manhole and dashed inside of the sewer.

Once they reached a place of safety, they took a badly needed break. After a minute of recovery, Kierram joked, “Now, aren’t you glad that Linda believes all that conspiracy crap? We wouldn’t have made it if we still wore our gloves!”

The Rebels all tried to laugh, but their weariness could only allow them to make some very shallow noises of amusement. Bernadette gratefully expressed, “I’m glad we decided to wear disguises to that intern interview! Obviously, Linda didn’t recognize us from before!” They also found this amusing, but they found some truth to her words too!

“I guess we can’t send canvassers to that area for a while,” Riley supposed. “Not while it’s a murder scene!”

“We have to go back there soon!” Gwynivara stated firmly. “Professor Chadron knows our secret, he’s not safe there anymore!”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 19

“And now on to our final question of the evening!” the moderator announced with a little too much glee in his voice, and most of the audience breathed a sigh of relief. Ford and Carter’s looks of exasperation did not wane much though; both seemed glad that the night was drawing to a close, but neither of them could relax as they wondered what sort of stunt Rialowe had saved for the finale. Rialowe appeared impervious to the mood of the majority of the room as he grinned to the cameras while his supporters cheered for him in a boorish manner, and Gwynivara watched him with mounting irritation. The whole event had been a disaster, and she didn’t think he actually had that much obliviousness to his surroundings. But she hadn’t gone into the debates with high expectations of Rialowe acting like a true presidential candidate, her annoyance stemmed more from how much he prolonged this sham! She kept eyeing the woman in the front row, desperately wanting to identify her right away, and his showboating only delayed this vital task! Even if she wasn’t their arch nemesis, they had to confront anyone helping this dangerous man get into a position of power! Of course, if Rafeneita truly had ambitions of becoming first lady, that presented all new kinds of peril for the nation and the world! She needed to act right away, and as the moderator hesitated, she found herself glaring at him. Whatever claptrap response he anticipated from Rialowe needed to get done and over with- the fate of humanity depended on it!

Finally, the moderator relayed it to them, “Since it’s close to Halloween, we have a fun one for you: if you got invited to a costume party, what would you wear and why? President Ford, you first.”

Ford mulled it over for a moment, and then he replied, “I would probably pick George Washington. He was one of our founding fathers and a military hero in the Revolution. He was one of our nation’s greatest presidents, and I would be honored if I achieved a fraction of his success! Plus, I think Betty would make a cute Martha Washington!” He indicated to his wife, who giggled and blushed. The audience chuckled at the sentiments behind his answer as they applauded for him.

“Governor Carter, you’re next,” the moderator prompted him.

“I would dress as a doctor!” Carter stated emphatically. “Right now, the medical community is at their wits end trying to deal with a deadly virus that’s gotten out of control, but I have faith that they’ll find a cure for Venenatus Sanguis soon! They’re true heroes in this crisis, and they deserve to be honored!” The audience seemed to agree with his reasoning, but the Rebel Officers gave him a standing ovation for saying that! It made Gwynivara’s heart swell with pride that Carter found this issue so important, and it gave her that much more drive to get him elected! Carter hadn’t finished his reply- he grinned cheekily as he added, “Since President Ford mentioned his wife, I gotta say I wouldn’t mind seeing Rosalynn in a nurse’s uniform!” Rosalynn tittered at the concept, but when some of the audience members whistled in a reaction to a provocative idea, she buried her head in her hands, although she started laughing even harder.

Rialowe tried to conceal it, but Gwynivara could tell he grew vexed by how much the attendees enjoyed Ford and Carter’s answers. Clearly, he didn’t enjoy sharing the spotlight in that arena! After everyone’s excitement over them died down a bit, their curiosity grew as they awaited Rialowe’s reaction to this topic. The moderator inquired, “Mister Rialowe, what would you choose?”

The Rebels were surprised that he didn’t have an answer ready to go like he did with the other questions! Gwynivara would have thought that the could have whipped up a cockamamie response in an instant- his ads may not have always been factual, but he always found creative ways to talk about the products he represented. Now, however, he struggled to come up with anything, which brought Gwynivara back to the point of annoyance as it further delayed her important plans! Everybody watched him struggle to come up with something, and whispers of gossips sporadically popped up throughout the venue. No one could understand why he had such a hard time with this, and the only explanation Gwynivara could come up with was that he couldn’t think of anything that topped the previous two answers. He must have guessed how much his lengthy pause hurt his credibility because suddenly, he lamely settled on, “I’d be a zombie.”

“Why?” the moderator challenged him.

“Because…” He racked his brain again, and this time, he more quickly cooked something up, “Because no matter what, I will never die! One way or another, I always come back!”

Gwynivara could tell that he hoped this would satisfy the moderator, and he grew mortified when the moderator invited him, “The other two candidates talked about their wives. Would you like to say anything about your gal?”

Rialowe tried to maintain a friendly demeanor, but Gwynivara sensed an inner panic brewing inside of him. He didn’t exactly portray the smoothness that he attempted to convey as he bumbled, “She’d make a really good… girl zombie?” He obviously didn’t relish the words that came out of his mouth, but he couldn’t think of a way to clean it up. The woman in the large hat hid herself even further upon hearing this, and unfortunately, Gwynivara couldn’t blame her for that! She felt disappointed that Rialowe hadn’t given out a name of his “gal,” and she wished that this woman had gotten featured a little more, but she did savor the presumption that Rialowe would get a serious condemnation for the inept way he finished the night! Now that he had finished, Gwynivara really hoped that nothing else would further postpone her urgent mission!

Alleviation flooded Gwynivara’s body as the moderator concluded with, That’s all we have for you this evening. Now, don’t forget to vote! Goodnight everyone!”

At last! Gwynivara thought. The Rebels all stood up to make their way towards the front row, but dramatic music began playing, and Rialowe fell back into his element as he grandiosely exited the stage. As soon as he finished, Gwynivara, Kierram, Bernadette, and Riley made another attempt to get to the hidden lady, but Rialowe’s fan club stood up and went wild for him. They blocked the Rebels’ view of her, and once they finally got out of the way, the Rebels got a jolt of bewilderment to see that the woman had vanished! “What do we do now?” Bernadette posed to the others.

Gwynivara didn’t know what to say to her at first, but then she watched Carter and Ford walk off the stage, so she figured out, “They must be backstage. We gotta think of a way to-.”

“Jack!” Linda Knucker called out, and for a second, Gwynivara had forgotten that Kierram had used that alias to apply as Linda’s intern. She met them at the end of the aisle that they were seated at, and Gwynivara hoped that she didn’t have a lot to discuss with him since she was blocking their only way, which would further hinder them from hurrying to get to the subject of their scrutiny! Linda asked Kierram, “Did your friends enjoy the show?” Before Kierram could answer, she addressed Gwynivara, Riley, and Bernadette directly, “Wasn’t Rialowe fantastic?”

They all held back as they tried to come up with something that would assuage her, but they all deemed his performance so dismal that they couldn’t determine any aspect of it redeemable enough for them to give a believable lie to her! Eventually, Riley joked, “Well, I’ve never seen a real zombie before, so that was interesting!”

Linda found that quip comical, and to Gwynivara’s horror, she had a very obnoxious laugh! “That’s a good one! Mind if I steal that!”

With a note of amusement, Riley permitted, “Go ahead!”

“I’m so glad that we got a moderator that was fair!” Linda commented, and while none of them actually agreed with her, they nodded their heads as if they did. The auditorium was emptying pretty fast, and Gwynivara’s angst increased further as Linda showed signs of wanting to get wrapt up in a rambling conversation. They needed to keep her pleased to protect Kierram’s spying position at Vulpes Press, but they also hoped that she wouldn’t prolong this interaction since they had a much more urgent matter at hand! Gwynivara didn’t want to lose an opportunity to save the Earth just because of this lady’s need to engage in small talk! “Most moderators wouldn’t take a third party candidate seriously, but this guy gave them all an equal shot!” The theatre had very little stragglers left, and Gwynivara seriously considered using an incantation to get her out of the way! “He even let Rialowe add his personal touches to it! That was so kind! Rialowe jumped in a bit late and needs to do everything he can to make himself memorable! He deserves to win- this country needs him!” Bella entered onto the stage, and now Gwynivara bubbled with ire at Linda’s intrusion! Bella worked directly for Rialowe’s campaign, and any exchange they had with her could give them vital clues to the mysterious woman or any other shady dealings Rialowe’s campaign participated in, and Gwynivara didn’t want to miss this opportunity to deal with her, especially with seemingly very little protection or allies around her! Gwynivara could feel white hot rage burning at her fingertips…

Kierram must have sensed Gwynivara’s acrimony; right before Gwynivara could strike, Kierram suggested to Linda, “Hey! Let’s discuss this outside so we can smoke!”

“Okay!” Linda obliged. She grabbed Kierram’s arm, and as they walked out together, Kierram turned his head back and gave Gwynivara a meaningful look. His eyes plainly told her that he had only done that to give her a shot at getting to Rialowe’s accomplice, and Gwynivara nodded in comprehension as Kierram got dragged out of the vicinity.

Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Riley were the only ones left aside from some stagehands disassembling the set, and while Bella went over something with the camera crew, the three remaining Rebels headed towards the stage. Just as Gwynivara had come up with a backstory that would justify questioning her, Bella glanced up at them. They slowed their gait, and Gwynivara put her friendliest face forward as she chirped, “Bella, right? Hi! I’m a big fan of-!”

Bella cut her off by uttering a command, “Get them!”

A half dozen men in security uniforms teemed out from behind the curtains, and Gwynivara expected them to brandish guns at them. She didn’t get phased by the idea, their encounter at the FBI headquarters proved that she could best people armed with those weapons! She prepared herself to repeat those same actions against these men, but when all six men held their palms out, she realized almost too late that they intended to use incantations against them! Gwynivara, Riley, and Bernadette ducked behind a row of seats right as six balls of light flew over them, right where they had just been standing! The security guards outnumbered them, but the Rebels had to push past that obstacle, they had no other option at this point but to fight back! Right as they elevated themselves in order to return fire, a force hit the seats they used as cover, hurling the Rebels in three different directions!

Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Riley had not only landed in separate spots, but they no longer had anything blocking them from their opposition! They got fired at from all different sides, and they had to keep moving in order to avoid getting hit. They couldn’t stand still long enough for them to defend themselves, and Gwynivara knew that sooner or later, the other side’s numerical advantage would end up getting them captured… Or worse! The pressure to make a decision caused her to go blank, and she urged her thoughts to come up with an idea to get Bernadette and Riley out of there immediately! She refused to endure the agony of losing more Rebels, especially these two! But nothing came to her that would mitigate the situation, and the security guards started to advance on them…

Riley attempted to shoot an incantation at one of the men, but he missed and hit the lights above the stage. Suddenly, Gwynivara knew what to do! As she dodged another blow, she shielded herself in smoke. Once she had that concealment, she concentrated all of her energy into channeling her powers into the veins of the building. She could feel the effects she created growing and growing as the smoke began to fade, but she paid the disappearing protection no mind. Her intentions were getting close to fruition, she had to finish! Just when she nearly became visible again… POP! All of the lights in the room burst, and everything went dark! With the room now pitch black, the security guards had no visual of their targets, and they begrudgingly ceased efforts. The Rebels couldn’t see either, but since they had gotten thrown to the back of the auditorium, they knew they could run straight into the main exit. With their adversaries temporarily at bay, the Rebels swiftly fled the area!

When they got outside, they raced to find Kierram. It bothered Gwynivara that they didn’t locate him right away since none of them knew how far behind those security guards were from them. They finally saw him politely listening to Linda’s rantings by the rear parking lot, and they hurried to him before it was too late! Kierram and Linda both got startled by their harried appearances, but for very different reasons! Gwynivara informed Kierram, “We gotta go!”

“What’s the rush?” Linda asked them.

“We… have a bus to catch!” Gwynivara lied.

Linda offered, “Do you want a ride?”

Gwynivara started to decline this, “Oh no, we-!”

“Oh, come on! Save yourself a couple of quarters!” Linda insisted. “Just let me finish this cigarette and I’ll have you home in no time!” She took another drag just as one of the security guards came into view!

“No! We have to go now!” Bernadette took Linda by her wrist and led her towards all of the parked cars. Lidna grew alarmed by this gesture, so Bernadette fibbed, “I just saw my ex! I can’t deal with that asshole today!”

Linda assured her, “I totally understand! I drive that sports car right there!” Gwynivara, Riley, and Bernadette ran to the side furthest from the security guard and slunk down, hoping dearly that he hadn’t spotted them. Luckily for them, Linda didn’t take too long in unlocking her vehicle! “Not all of you will have seat belts…”

“That’s fine!” Gwynivara asserted as she piled into the back seat with Bernadette and Riley. Kierram didn’t know what was happening, but he got into the passenger’s seat as fast as he could. Gwynivara could tell he was dying to find out the details, but none of them could say anything in front of Linda. As they rolled out of the parking lot, Gwynivara as well as Bernadette and Riley breathed a sigh of relief to see the security guard getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror!

“So where to, guys?” linda queried. Gwynivara’s panic now returned! They alluded one danger, but Linda was a Rialowe loyalist, so they wondered if they really had avoided peril after all…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 18

He took a deep breath so he could calm his stage fright. Normally, he didn’t get nerves before speaking to the public, but these weren’t normal times! Even addressing the nation after his predecessor’s shameful scandal didn’t compare to what he anticipated to go through that night! He tried to shake it off, he had to do it if he wanted to win this thing! He wouldn’t have made it this far if he gave in to his insecurities like that! If he went into any football game against a tough team with the same kind of attitude, he never would have gotten any kind of victory! He faced even tougher enemies than this during World War Two, and he thought surely this guy couldn’t be worse than Hitler… right? That thought sent shivers down his spine, and he knew he really had to get it together now! He figured that he was acting foolish, so he forced himself to ignore that negative noise in his head and collected himself, and then he entered into the arena with the same swagger that he usually did.

He saw Carter already situated at his podium, and when Ford took his place on the set, Carter glanced over at him. Ford could tell Carter was studying him to assess his mood, and he hoped that he didn’t display any of the trembling that he felt inside! If Carter did sense any insecurities, he certainly didn’t let it be known! He gave Ford a friendly nod, and Ford returned the gesture. Ford noticed that Carter had caught a quick glimpse of the empty podium between them before he turned his attention back to the crowd, and right then, it occurred to Ford that Rialowe hadn’t entered yet. A small glimmer of hope arose inside of him- perhaps Rialowe wouldn’t show up after all!

The lights over the audience dimmed, and the cameras all focused on the moderator located in the apron of the stage. Once the audience had finished clapping politely, the moderator very tactfully announced, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this very historic presidential debate! One of the three men speaking today will become the thirty-ninth president of the United States! You heard me right, three! For the first time, a candidate from a third party qualified to contend with the two main ones, and regardless of whether you vote Republican, Democratic, or Independent, you can find out how all of the contenders feel about the important issues and make an informed decision.

“Let’s meet the guests of honor now! First, say hello to the Republican candidate- our incumbent president, Gerald R. Ford!” Ford gave the audience a smile, and he tired to wave at them too, but he couldn’t hardly move. The moderator mentioned all three candidates would speak, but Rialowe still hadn’t shown up at this point! Obviously, the moderator could see the empty podium, and he felt sure that he would have talked about it if Rialowe had canceled, so he wondered why Rialowe’s absence hadn’t alluded to! “Next, please say hello to the Democratic candidate- Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter!” As the crowd politely clapped for Carter, Ford’s anticipation over Rialowe’s lack of presence heightened. He hoped that the moderator had been following the script that had been written well before this event and that he would suddenly become confused as to why Rialowe hadn’t come yet. He also would have accepted Rialowe running in at the last minute, which would lose him major points! If the moderator knew he still planned on participating, then his absence on stage at this second could only mean one thing…

The moderator clearly tried to stay neutral, but Ford could see hints of annoyance on his face as he said, “Now, please welcome the Independent candidate- former Ad Man, Don John Rialowe!”

The lights on the stage went out, sparking much confusion between Carter and Ford. A spotlight shined downstage, and when Carter turned around, he lost a bit of his composure as he exclaimed, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Ford was hesitant to look; he knew what he was likely to see, and staring at it would only give it validity! When the regal music sounded, his curiosity got the better of him, and he had to see this!

Rialowe walked as though he was a king in a royal procession as he made his way to the stage, he even waved to his fans, who went wild as he acknowledged them. When he reached his podium, the lights came back on, and he gave a bow as the roaring crowd saluted him. He smirked widely as he savored the moment, and when he had enough, he signaled for the audience to desist their adoration. Ford and Carter froze, totally stunned from this display, and Rialowe grinned amicably at the two of them as if he didn’t catch on to their bafflement over his stunt. Carter couldn’t help but to shake his head in disapproval, and Ford took another deep breath to regain his focus. If Rialowe aimed to addle him enough to distract him from giving out good answers, then he was sorely mistaken!

“Okay…” The moderator had temporarily lost his footing, but when he cleared his throat, he remembered where he left off and moved on, “Okay! Onto our first topic of the night: Venenatus Sanguis. The Public Health Center first reported cases ten years ago, and slowly it spread throughout the planet. Recently, cases started surging, and no one has been able to find a cure for this virus that has already killed millions of people worldwide. So, my question for you gentlemen is this: What do you plan on doing to curb this pandemic? President Ford, you go first.”

“The virus hadn’t become a widespread problem until President Nixon took office, but he swiftly put an excellent plan into action! To best combat it, he-.” Ford began to say.

“Wrong!” Rialowe interrupted him.

Ford had to blink a couple of times just for his brain to register what just happened. He had never been interrupted like that during a serious debate! “Excuse me?”

Rialowe repeated, “Wrong!”

“What do you mean, wrong?” Ford had to ask, but he had a hunch that he wouldn’t enjoy hearing his explanation for it!

“Nixon never developed a plan for Venenatus Sanguis,” Rialowe answered slyly. “He just continued the narrative that someone else concocted. Venenatus Sanguis is false information!”

Ford had expected criticism for his choices in office, it came with the territory of the job, but never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would get accused of making up a major event like that! It boggled his mind that anyone would believe that nonsense, and he didn’t want to know what crackpot theory Rialowe had for their reason to invent a human catastrophe as big as this! He couldn’t let Rialowe have the last word and have the American public consider that notion for an instance, so he corrected him, “No, no, he did! And it was so successful that I continued it when I took over. We identify the afflicted individuals through contact tracing, and once they are found, we set up a way to isolate these-.”

Rialowe cut him off, “Yeah, you ‘isolate’ them! Did Nixon tell you the entire truth about his plan? Do you know what happens after you imprison these innocent people? Do they get enslaved? Are they just getting tortured? What’s happening with them all?”

“We’re treating them!” His insinuation infuriated Ford! Nixon didn’t make the finest choices sometimes, but he never would have made a plan to kidnap people for insidious reasons like that! If Nixon had come close to doing what Rialowe accused him of, Ford would have invoked the twenty fifth amendment and kicked him out of the Oval Office himself! He certainly wouldn’t adopt acts of cruelty for his own administration! His opponents were welcome to point out the flaws of his ideas, but he got deeply insulted that anyone would dare to question the existence of his moral backbone!

“How can you treat people without a cure?” Rialowe challenged him, causing his supporters to hoot and holler. Feeding on this energy, he spoke directly to his devotees, “Ten years later, and they still don’t have a cure! Can you believe that?”

When the lackeys simmered down enough for him to talk, Ford refuted, “Curing a disease isn’t the same as treating someone who has it! These things take time sometimes!” He wanted to say more, but Rialowe got his fans going again, so he appealed to the moderator, “Can you do something?”

The moderator, who had followed this conversation with great astonishment, snapped out of his torpor and decried, “Alright, that’s enough! May I remind the audience that this isn’t a rally and to please be more respectful of our guests!” Rialowe’s avid sycophants reluctantly became silent, but Ford spotted Rialowe giving them a wink. Ford became thoroughly vexed now, and he wondered if the moderator would start enforcing the rules like he was supposed to from then on! The moderator queried to Ford, “Do you want to finish your answer?” Ford indicated that he didn’t, but he didn’t say a word. He felt as though if he were to open his mouth at this point, he would say something he would regret! The moderator then turned to Carter and told him, “Your turn.”

“My plan is simply this: humanity first!” Carter stated firmly. Rialowe muttered an objection, but Carter just ignored him as he went on, “We’re all in this together, and we need to work as a team!” Rialowe tried to talk over him, but Carter simply grew louder. “If we all act under the assumption that we’re all carriers of this highly contagious virus, we can help minimize the spread.” Rialowe opined his counterargument to this while Carter spoke, which clearly irritated Carter but did not stop him. “All we have to do is wear gloves and socially distance ourselves for a little while, and once Venenatus Sanguis stops finding new carriers, we can focus all of our medical resources on treating and curing the existing cases instead of depleting…” Finally having enough of Rialowe’s antics, Carter snapped, “Will you shut up man?”

Ford relished Rialowe’s reaction to Carter standing up to him, it looked like he had gotten smacked in the face! Ford really liked Carter in that moment, which felt really strange. Carter was supposed to be his main rival, and he dearly wished that this had been a debate just between the two of them, but now it almost felt like they both had to work together to defeat Rialowe! He didn’t like the idea of collaborating with someone who wanted his job, but he hated the idea of Rialowe taking over the country that Ford loved more than anything else!

The moderator reminded Rialowe, “Interruptions aren’t allowed.”

“Oh, now he decides to enforce that rule!” Riley quietly complained to his fellow Rebels in the back row. “He didn’t say a word when he did it to Ford! I mean, I don’t want him to win, but he is still our president, so he should show him some respect!” Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette nodded vigorously.

“Our next topic is the economy: How do you plan to… Yes?” The moderator observed Rialowe raising his hand, so he humored him in the hopes that he would say something important and relevant.”

Rialowe brought up, “You didn’t ask me what my answer was for the first topic!”

The moderator argued, “I think you made your viewpoints on the subject pretty clear!”

Rialowe griped, “That’s not how the rules work! Or are you treating me different because I’m not one of the mainstream candidates?”

“Very well…” The moderator reluctantly relented. “What do you plan to do about Venenatus Sanguis?”

“Nothing!” Rialowe gave a very toothy grin to his followers, who feverishly celebrated his quip.

Gwynivara cringed when she saw that brazenness. “This is ridiculous! He’s turning the debates into a joke!”

Kierram agreed with her, and then he remarked, “Most of the room hates this, but that’s not what people will hear when they watch this on TV! His supporters aren’t the majority, but they’re certainly the loudest! Making it sound like he has control of the room just gives him validity that he doesn’t deserve!”

“Hopefully when people see this, they’ll realize what a jackass he is and vote against him!” As the words came out of her mouth, Gwynivara doubted that her premonition had any likelihood of ever occurring! As she watched his fanatics fawning over him, she realized that his misbehavior didn’t have an affect on them at all! She could only hope that the rest of the nation didn’t find this charming! “At least people heard Carter’s plan for Venenatus Sanguis! It was smart and logical, hopefully that gets him some more support!”

Bernadette let them know, “You guys missed what Rialowe said about the economy.”

Kierram asked, “Did he say anything meaningful?”

“Of course not!” Bernadette answered. “He made a lot of vague promises, but he didn’t actually say anything specific on what he plans to do with it!”

“I could not be prouder of my team!” Rialowe beamed at the cameras. “We’ve come so far in such a short time…”

Gwynivara inquired, “What was the question?”

Riley replied, “Foreign policy.”

As the Rebels shook their heads judgmentally, Rialowe expressed vehemently, “And I can’t forget about the amazing support of your future first lady! Stand up, baby! Take a bow!”

His supporters gladly clapped as a woman with a posh hat that covered her face stood up and briefly acknowledged the crowd. While most of the audience seemed nonplussed by this appearance, it overtly caught the attention of the Rebels! “When did Rialowe get married?” Bernadette pondered.

Riley reported, “Last I checked, he was still a swinging bachelor!”

Gwynivara voiced the question that now burned on everyone’s minds, “Is that Rafeneita?” Everyone’s eyes grew wide in horror at the possibility, and Gwynivara knew if that notion proved true, then they had to stop her immediately! Rialowe definitely had to be stopped, but the more urgent mission now became to identify that woman immediately!

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 17

Agent Cecilio approached the podium with a sour look on his face, an expression that only soured as cameras flashed in his direciton. Begrudgingly, he spoke into the microphone, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I promised to report any update on the case when I received them, and so here’s the latest development: two of our most wanted suspects were spotted on Hildegard Bingen University’s campus in Silver Park, Maryland earlier today. Several students have reported seeing manifestations of Venenatus Sanguis in their dormitories, and two young women were nearly killed by one. We believe that they did this with the purpose of spreading the disease further, and since the dormitories have such a condensed population, they were targeted for this reason. They managed to escape from our scope, but be rest assured that our new Disease Safety Unit will patrol the area to find them. Does anyone have any questions?” He grimaced as each and every reporter raised their hands; he had hoped to get out of there quickly, but apparently, that wasn’t going to happen for him! He called on a male reporter on his far left, “Go ahead.”

“Is this Disease Safety Unit solely tasked on finding the ten known members of this group of criminals, or are they also searching for other people who disobeyed quarantine orders?” the male reporter queried.

“Good question!” Agent Cecilio unwillingly admitted. “They’re assigned to everyone who presents a danger to the community due to their actions regarding Venenatus Sanguis, but our primary focus is the ten people in this group. The officer in charge of the unit has suggested that there may be more members that we don’t know about, but we won’t know that ’til we get these ten main ones. Alright, who’s next? Yes, you.”

He pointed to a female reporter on the right, who asked him, “How will you know for sure who else is in this group? And how will you distinguish who to charge with murder and who should just get quarantined?”

Agent Cecilio answered, “We can identify members of this group the same way we do with any other crime organization. I’m not prepared to reveal the FBI’s process, but in time, we’ll figure out everything about them, including their size. And whether or not we choose to charge a person of murder by Venenatus Sanguis will depend on the length of time they’ve evaded quarantine as well as any other direct contributions an individual has made to this group’s activities. Okay, you in the back.”

“What can you tell us about the two prisoners found dead in your headquarters in Richmond?” a man on the far right inquired.

“Venenatus Sanguis,” Agent Cecilio simply replied.

That reporter followed up with, “That’s it? You can’t give us any more details? What created the manifestation? How come the agents watching over them weren’t injured in the process? How did the manifestation get taken out? What did your agency do with the manifestation’s body?”

Agent Cecilio gritted his teeth at the pestering nature of this reporter’s relentlessness. He didn’t know how the media found out about that, but he wished that they would let it go! He certainly didn’t want anyone in his custody to die, but it happened sometimes! He couldn’t always help it! He hated working high profile cases like this for this reason- he had to keep the public informed while not divulging anything that could affect the case, especially some of the sordid details that surrounded this one! He had to give an explanation without actually telling them anything, and the only thing he could come up with was, “I’m sorry, I can’t reveal details of an ongoing investigation. We’re keeping you up to date on parts of it since the people involved pose a direct threat to the public, but I’m sure you’ll understand that some things will have to stay classified for a while. You over there, you had a question?”

“Yes,” Linda Knucker confirmed before she probed, “How can you charge people with murder based on a disease that doesn’t exist?”

“What…?” The sheer shock of that notion made Agent Cecilio forget about his exasperation over this event for a moment. The premise of that inquiry sounded so ludicrous that he didn’t feel totally sure that he had heard it correctly, so he requested some clarification, “Can you repeat that for me?”

Linda iterated, “Yes, you’re accusing people of murder by Venenatus Sanguis, but how could you go under oath and make that kind of accusation when you know you’re lying about the so called disease?”

Agent Cecilio shook his head in confusion. “What are you talking about? You think we made this disease up?”

“Someone did!” Linda insisted. “It doesn’t exist, so I’m curious where the story behind it came from. Did President Ford concoct this ridiculous idea, or do you take your orders from someone else? Did it come from a dictator in the Orient? Or maybe your buddies in the Soviet Union?”

“Are you serious?” Agent Cecilio exclaimed. “Venenatus Sanguis exists just as much as Ebola or the Spanish Flu! Real people are dying of it every day, it’s not a communist plot!”

Linda opined, “I think it’s a convenient excuse to lock up people you don’t like!”

Agent Cecilio’s head felt like it could explode from the immense lunacy of this conversation! He never thought he would have to prove the existence of a known fact! He compared it to having to defend the concept of the sky being blue or the Earth being round to an adult! He grew so frustrated with this woman that he lost his composure completely and cried out, “Venenatus Sanguis exists! What, you need more proof than what scientists have already shown? You want a manifestation to come in right now and kill people? Huh? Would that prove it to you?”

“Ooh, you have one of those beasts here? Did your friends in Hollywood know I’d ask that question? Is that why you brought it here?” Linda badgered him.

“Now you’re including Hollywood in this conspiracy?” Agent Cecilio realized that there was no reasoning with her, so he decided to end the press conference rather than continuing to give this insanity anymore of a platform. “That’s all I have time for today. I’ll contact you with anymore updates that come up. Thank you!”

As he walked off the stage, the reporters in the room bombarded him with questions, the most prominent of which being, “Wouldn’t keeping gloves on the quarantine evaders make them harmless?”

Rialowe and Rafeneita clinked their cocktail glasses together. Rialowe commented, “That went well! We made Ford’s plan on the virus look pretty bad! And did you see how he didn’t answer her last question? Vulpes Press could really run away with that!”

Rafeneita took a sip of her drink before commenting, “Yes, I would call it a success, except for that last bit. I wish someone had taken the opportunity to take down Carter’s ideas on safety measures. Oh well, at least no one validated it!”

Abigor entered, and Rafeneita invited him, “Abigor! Come, join us! You deserve a toast after the role you played in…” She observed his grim mood, so she questioned, “What? What’s wrong?”

“Its about the Rebels.” Abigor sat on the other side of their desk before he gravely announced, “They weren’t on that campus by accident! They… Well, I’ve gotta tell you this, but you’re not gonna like it…”

As the Rebel officers trekked the trial up the mountain, Gwynivara suddenly stopped and pressed her hand firmly on her forehead. The others all froze so that they could check on her, and Bernadette inquired, “Are you okay?”

Gwynivara let the overwhelming feeling pass, but then she replied, “Yeah, I’m fine. I just got the strangest feeling that Rafeneita received some news that made her furious. I don’t know why!”

“I thought you had to be a granny to have that super power!” José kidded.

“I told you, it’s not a super power, it’s intuition!” Niqun barked at him. “All women have it, but it gets amplified when we become grandmothers.”

Gwynivara still seemed concerned about the situation, so Bernadette reassured her, “She probably just figured out we’re trying to build momentum for Carter. Abigor caught us canvassing for him, so of course he told her. No big deal- it doesn’t change our plans at all!”

Although she appreciated the gesture, Gwynivara thought her vision had more to it than that. She didn’t think Rafeneita’s ire would get roused from that, but she couldn’t think of an alternative explanation for it. Whatever the case may have been, Gwynivara’s inner turmoil stemmed from another aspect of that incident. “I’m not worried about that. I don’t understand why I got that flash of her mood! It seems like it’s something more than just intuition…”

José and Bernadette shrugged, but Niqun advised, “We can’t come to any conclusions just standing here! Let’s go join the others and figure it out with them!” Gwynivara and the other two Rebel officers agreed with her assessment, so they continued their hike up the hill.

When they got to the cave, they were immediately greeted by the smell of delicious food. Their curiosity propelled them to end of the cavern hall quicker, and when they got to the campsite, they saw Kierram passing out pizza to the rest of the crew! When he spotted them coming in, he warmly greeted everyone, “Oh good, you made it back before we finished it all!”

“Where’s you get this?” Gwynivara sat next to him as she helped herself to a slice.

“Linda Knucker,” Kierram told her. “She invited me out to dinner, which made me really uncomfortable, but I didn’t wanna say no. I felt like if I did, she’d fire me, so I reluctantly said yes. Thank god she got called to some really important press conference! She felt bad for canceling our plans, so she offered to buy me a pizza. I joked that I hadn’t eaten in so long that I could probably eat the whole thing in, like, five minutes, and I guess she thought I was starving to death, so she bought me four of them!” Gwynivara chuckled, which prompted Kierram to notice a piece of glass in her hair. As he removed it, he asked her, “What happened to you guys?”

Gwynivara had to forcibly swallow the bite in her mouth as the frivolity she had just experienced had come to an abrupt halt. She had temporarily forgotten the latest development in their plan, and she dreaded having to be the one to inform them of this distressing predicament, but the others absolutely needed to know, so she informed them, “Abigor is back, and he convinced the FBI to adopt the Disease Safety Unit. He’s here, and he’s looking for us!”

The room fell silent for a minute as they soaked in this revelation, and after a while, Kierram blurted out, “How is that even possible? I saw him get stabbed, he died!” He paused and then added, “Didn’t he?”

“Rafeneita probably has some way to revive him,” Emorick theorized with a disgusted look on his face. No one liked to think about that kind of capability as a tool that Rafeneita could use against them!

“On the plus side, we did find someone who could potentially help us,” Bernadette threw out there in an effort to bolster everyone’s spirits. “He’s an anatomy professor who doesn’t like Ford and really doesn’t like Rialowe, so I think we can not only use him as a voice of reason in Carter’s campaign, but we can probably trust him with the cure too! He’s really passionate about ending Venenatus Sanguis!”

José bitterly pointed out, “Yeah, but you two almost got killed trying to reach out to him, and there’s no way Abigor will let you get close to him, so how are we gonna recruit him if we can’t even talk to him?”

Naama wondered, “Did he see all of you or just Gwynivara and Bernadette?”

“Just them, we were working in a a different neighborhood,” Niqun filled them all in.

“So, there’s no problem then! We just have to send other people to go see him!” Riley stated.

“Just don’t use any Carter gear, they’ll know to look out for that,” Gwynivara recommended.

Cody joked, “Maybe if we wore Rialowe hats on campus, they’ll leave us alone!”

He tittered, but Emorick seriously responded, “That’s actually not a bad idea.”

“Really?” Cody sounded surprised.

“It seems logical to me!” Emorick affirmed, and Cody’s disposition became one that swelled with pride.

John grinned as he commented, “Maybe they’ll recognize us from Rialowe’s rally!” Everyone laughed at his quip.

Kierram suggested, “Before we plan out our campaign work too much, I learned something else today that we should consider participating in…”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 16

“Save your speech, ladies, I already know,” the anatomy professor told Gwynivara and Bernadette.

“You do?” His claim really stunned Gwynivara. She didn’t think he could possibly have learned about Rafeneita’s scheme or the Rebellion against the corrupt regime she created with their government! José and Niqun were out canvassing too, but they established boundaries so that they didn’t overlap and pitch to the same people. Regardless of how he found out, she thought this knowledge had motivated him to intervene in their run-in with Abigor, but now she needed to qualm her curiosity about how he knew about this and just how much exactly he discovered about their efforts.

The anatomy professor nodded. “Oh yes, I’m well aware of who’s the best candidate out there! Ford isn’t trustworthy, and Rialowe is a joke! Don’t worry, I’m fixin’ to vote for Carter!”

His statement made Gwynivara’s mind stop racing, and she inwardly chided herself for jumping to conclusions without considering the most simple explanation. Bernadette spoke up, “That’s great! What do you think of Carter’s plan to defeat Venenatus Sanguis?”

“Love it!” the anatomy professor reacted fervently. “Rialowe’s plan is to pretend that the pandemic doesn’t exist, which is absolutely insane, and Ford’s method has been flawed from the beginning! How are you supposed to track and trace people when so many of the afflicted don’t know they have it? The best thing for us to do is to act like we all have it. If we wear protective gear…” He held up his hands to indicate that he was wearing gloves. “… and maintain a responsible distance from one another, we can beat this thing within a month or so! That’s how you defeat a contagious disease! That’s what Carter is aiming to do, and I’m voting for him for that reason! Normally, I try to stay out of politics, but Venenatus Sanguis is too serious to ignore!” He paused and added, “I test myself on a regular basis, by the way! I wouldn’t wanna infect my students or anyone else I come into contact with, so I make sure I’m safe to be around people! I promise, I won’t get you sick by hanging around y’all today!”

“Oh, we weren’t worried about that happening!” Bernadette thought about the words that had come out of her mouth, and then she amended what she said to him, “I mean, we assumed as much since you’re an expert on the subject!”

The anatomy professor indicated to the gloves that the two women donned. “I see Carter has his people wearing gloves, naturally! Are y’all tested regularly too?”

The two women hesitated for a moment. Gwynivara felt so flattered that he had such consideration for their health, so it made her feel guilty to have to lie to him about that! She detested the idea of having to deceive a kind person who trusted them, but she obviously couldn’t be honest about their condition! They had trained themselves to control their Venenatus Sanguis enough to not create any beasts that would infect anyone though, so it wasn’t as though they presented a threat to anyone! They made sure to do this responsibly! By all means, they couldn’t tell him any of that, but she could divulge a portion of the truth, “We take extra precautions to not spread the virus! The whole point of our operation is to save lives!”

“Good job, ladies!” the anatomy professor complimented the actions she described. He then more seriously regarded them, “Listen, don’t worry about all of the people out there who ignore logic! That kind of stubbornness is just human nature, unfortunately. I come from a small town in Kentucky that still thinks they can win the Civil War! Over a hundred years later, they still can’t accept the south lost! Some of them actually quite talking to me after I went off to teach in Yankee territory! But just ’cause most people stick to their comfort zones like that doesn’t mean there aren’t any open minded folks out there! You’ll get ’em! Don’t give up!” He stood up and showed signs of intending to leave.

“You’re going?” Gwynivara blurted out upon this realization. She hadn’t meant to convey any sort of neediness, but she got a huge rush of disappointment when he abruptly decided to cut off their conversation! They had barely begun to scratch the surface of what she needed to tell him, and it distressed her to have him head out at such a critical moment! She desperately wanted to bring up Rafeneita and the cure, after all, it was the main point of their canvassing- to find an ally that could assist them with their efforts! She didn’t want to lose out on such an optimal opportunity, so it bothered her to think it may end there!

“I enjoyed talking to you too, darlin’!” the anatomy professor chuckled. “I hate to cut you off, but I got a class to teach!” After he put out his cigarette, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “If that boy gives you anymore trouble, give my office a call!” He handed them a business card that featured his name, Professor Ezra Chadron, as well as his contact information.

Bernadette and Gwynivara’s nerves got soothed by having a way to reach out to him again, and Bernadette gratefully addressed him, “Thank you very much, Professor Chadron!”

Professor Chadron gave them a courteous nod before saying, “Much obliged to meet your acquaintance, ladies! Stay safe out there!”

“You too!” Bernadette and Gwynivara replied in unison. Professor Chadron smiled warmly at them and then dashed off into the building in front of them.

“Do you think he’ll come out to smoke again after class?” Bernadette inquired to Gwynivara.

Gwynivara shrugged. “Either that or he’ll go to his office. Whatever he does, we definitely have to…” She trailed off when she saw Abigor in the distance, and then she suggested, “We should keep moving!”

Bernadette agreed, “Yeah!” They briskly walked away from the area with their heads craned to look behind them, keeping a close eye on Abigor.

A couple of girls sat at their desks doing homework in their dorm room when the soft music they had playing in the background came to a finish. The girl on the right volunteered, “I’ll get it!” Her roommate continued working as she went over to a portable record player by their bunk beds, and as the first girl rummaged through their music selection, she queried, “What do you feel like listening to now?”

“Oh, I don’t care! As long as it-.” Her sentence got cut off when the other girl let out a high pitched scream! When she glanced over to see what happened, her eyes grew wide when she beheld the source of her roommate’s horror…

A long, rat-like beast had crawled in through their window! It slowly crept up to them, and they very cautiously walked backwards out of their room. Before they could get closer to the hallway, it suddenly lunged towards them! They screamed as it pinned them to the ground! It salivated over them as it lowered its jaws towards their bodies…

Gwynivara swooped in and pushed it off of them, and Bernadette brandished a knife and stabbed it! It let out a piercing shriek and then became motionless. Everyone in the room stood still and watched it for a few seconds, just making sure the danger had truly been averted, and when it was clear that the beast had died, they all let out a sigh of relief! The two girls got up, but they seemed too shaken and shocked by the scare to articulate any words. Gwynivara could tell they felt grateful for the rescue, but they appeared to have a lot of questions too. Gwynivara spared them from the difficulty of having to query anything after such a harrowing event by simply explaining, “It was a manifestation from Venenatus Sanguis.”

“Good lord, that’s a real thing?” one of the girls gasped.

“So, we almost got…?” the other girl reacted incredulously.

Gwynivara and Bernadette nodded, and before they could reveal any other pertinent facts to them, Abigor burst into the room! “What’s going on? I heard screaming!” He saw the deceased creature on the floor, and Gwynivara could tell he was play acting as he gazed at in an orchestrated surprise. “A manifestation! Oh no! How did that get here?” Gwynivara really wanted to glare at him for this pageantry of innocence he was trying to display, she felt quite certain that he had planted it there just as he had done in Great Dismal Falls, but she and Bernadette had to keep their heads low so that Abigor wouldn’t recognize them. When Abigor acted as though he noticed the two of them for the first time, he exclaimed, “You two! I thougth I warned you about soliciting on this campus!” Gwynivara and Bernadette didn’t say anything, and while they both hoped that he would just require that they leave and nothing more came out of this exchange, they didn’t count on that panning out and started to think of ways to get out of there with Abigor blocking the only way out of the room. Abigor admonished them, “See! This is exactly why we have this rule! Look what almost happened!”

Without thinking about anything about the incense that flared up from his jibe, Gwyinvara refuted that absurd notion, “You’re trying to pin this on us? We weren’t even-!” Gwynivara knew that she had erred when she saw the look of recognition on his face. She had no doubt that he had figured out who they were, and she wracked her brain trying to find a way to escape from there immediately!

Before Gwynivara could arrive at anything concrete, Abigor uttered, “You!” He posed as if he planned on using an incantation against them, and right as he was about to strike, a framed poster of a rock star fell off of the wall and hit him on the head! It knocked him to the floor, and glass shattered everywhere! The two girls who lived in that room shrilly cried out to see this, and as they checked on him, Gwynivara and Bernadette bolted out the door!

“Good thinking back there!” Gwynivara commended Bernadette when they got to a safe enough distance from the girls’ dormitory.

“Thanks!” Bernadette accepted the praise, but then she probed, “What do we do now? Should we leave in case he recovers from his injuries really quickly?”

Gwynivara replied, “We can’t leave without talking to Professor Chadron! If we can hand the cure over to him, we can stop Abigor from hurting anymore of these students!” Bernadette concurred with that idea, and they both hurried towards his office.

When they arrived at the classroom complex, Gwynivara had hoped that they would see him outside smoking again, but they didn’t have that sort of luck this time. Just as they were about to enter into the building, a couple of campus policemen stood in their way! One of them let Bernadette and Gwynivara know, “There’s a school-wide alert about you two! We’re gonna have to take you in! Come with us, and don’t try any funny stuff!”

“Where’s your gloves?” Bernadette challenged them as she held her ungloved hand behind her back.

“Don’t change the subject!” the campus policeman pulled out his gun, and the other guy followed suit. “Don’t make us hurt you!”

Gwynivara brought up, “You don’t need to do that! We don’t have any weapons!”

The campus policeman scoffed, “Yeah, right! Now, put your hands up!”

Gwynivara calmly retorted, “If you say so!” She put her hands in the air, and she pushed past the resistance that her gloves gave her to produce an incantation that made the bricks about the two men come tumbling down! The campus policemen managed to jump out of the way just in time, but the disturbance created a cloud of dust. Using the concealment that her incantation created, Bernadette and Gwynivara rushed out of there!

José compulsively checked his watch as he sat at a bus stop, and Niqun assured him, “Don’t worry, they’re fine!”

“Then why aren’t they here yet?” José visually scanned his surroundings in hopes of spotting them in the distance.

“I’m not sure, but I would know if something serious happened to them!” Niqun asserted.

José responded sarcastically, “Oh, right! I forgot about your all knowing granny powers!”

Niqun softly hit his arm with the back of her hand. “It’s called intuition, you nimrod!” As she waved off an approaching bus, she reminded him, “Don’t get yourself too worked up! The last thing we need is to deal with anymore beasts!”

“I won’t produce anything!” José countered. “I’m wearing gloves!”

“Those don’t always work!” Gwynivara remarked as she and Bernadette popped up from behind them.

José jumped up from the abruptness of their arrival. “Me asustaste! Don’t do that again!”

Niqun reprimanded him, “You’re mad at them? A few seconds ago, you were worried sick about them!”

José ignored that, and he asked them, “Did you find anyone?”

“Yeah, we…” Bernadette cut herself off when she saw more people arriving at the bus stop. The four of them walked away from the area, but Bernadette didn’t give out too many details out of an abundance of caution, “Well, we found someone promising, but we got caught by the Disease Safety Unit, so we probably can’t go back there…”

“The Disease Safety Unit?” Niqun echoed her. “Isn’t that the group run by-?”

Gwynivara interrupted her as some passerbys walked past them, “Yes, they’re back!”

As the four of them reached a manhole in front of an apartment complex, José wondered, “So, now what?” As the coast became clear and they entered into the sewer system, Gwynivara had to seriously contemplate this…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 15

“Really?” Bernadette responded to Riley in surprise. “I didn’t get the impression that anyone at Vulpes Press would ever help us on purpose!”

“They wouldn’t,” Riley let her know, “but I heard those two guys talking about an article someone wrote. They said that it made Carter’s approach to Venenatus Sanguis sound too humane, and they were trying to think of a way to make him sound like a radical with far fetched ideas.”

John grimaced at thought judgmentally. “He’s trying to treat sick people like humans and they wanna shame him for that?”

Emorick put in, “That’s horrible, but how does that help us take down Rialowe?”

“Don’t you see? If Jimmy Carter can overtake Rialowe in the polls, then Rialowe’s message won’t reach as far!” Riley expounded on his idea.

“So, you think we should campaign for him?” Kierram surmised.

Riley affirmed, “Exactly!”

José questioned, “That’s true, but how do we do that with just the ten of us?”

“He has a point,” Naama tacked on to his point. “Rialowe has a newspaper that goes out all over the country, not to mention all of the ads that he can afford to put on national television, how do we compete with that? Oh sure, we can get a few people going door to door, but how do we gain enough supporters to really have an impact on Rialowe’s fan base?”

“We can’t, but we can find someone who can!” Gwynivara declared. “Someone out there is bound to have the right connections, so if we do enough canvassing, we can find someone who’s friends with influential people, or we might even find a journalist who has more integrity than anyone at Vulpes Press! If we can get them to show everyone just how dangerous Rialowe is, then they can use whatever resources they have to warn everyone about him! Like, imagine if we knocked on the door of a news anchor- if we make our case compelling enough, they could go on air and expose his secrets! Then, any commercial they played of his after that wouldn’t do him much good!”

The other Rebels could clearly see the validity of her argument, but no one seemed totally sold on the concept yet. Rebekah brought up, “But wouldn’t that put us in danger? We’re all wanted criminals now, so wouldn’t people recognize us and turn us in?”

Emorick reassured her, “If you alter your appearance even slightly and avoid causing trouble, it’s unlikely that anyone would realize that they’re talking to a fugitive! Even police officers wouldn’t know they’re talking to one if that person doesn’t give them any hassle! It’s possible that a few detectives specifically assigned to catching us might spot us doing this, but that’s a risk we gotta take! We won’t get anything done by hiding in a cave all day! We can’t do this alone either! Gwyn is right- we need to recruit an ally to assist us with our mission!”

“And we may even find someone who can help us get the cure out there!” Cody enthusiastically added.

“Those are all wonderful possibilities, but what if it takes us too long to find somebody?” Niqun posed to everyone. “Rialowe is gaining supporters on a daily basis, so each day that goes by just adds to the number of followers that wretched snake gets! Not to mention all of the people who will keep getting infected from all of his super spreader events! If we waste too much time, more people will follow him to their deaths!”

Kierram politely shot back, “We don’t have any other plans right now though! We could keep trying to give a cure we don’t even know how to use to doctors, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll have anymore success in other hospitals than we did at Saint Bosco’s! It may be a bit of a long shot, but a small chance is better than no chance! While we think of another way to do this, we might as well give this a try!”

The Rebels all agreed with his viewpoints, so Emorick concluded, “Then that’s settled! We’ll do a supply run to get disguises we need, and Carter paraphernalia too, of course!” Emorick cringed a bit at that last instance. “It feels weird for me to be supporting a Democrat! I’ve always voted Republican, and never in my life did I think I’d even consider anyone else, but obviously Ford’s ‘Identify and Capture’ tactic is a complete failure, and I gotta do what’s best for defeating this virus! I doubt I’d agree with most of his ideas, but I can hardly let Rialowe win and have all of humanity get wiped out!”

“There’s nothing wrong with votign for a candidate based on their ideas!” John told him. “I’ve never voted along party lines, just whoever is right for the job.”

“I never cared who won ’til now,” Bernadette conversed. “I tried to vote when I was in college, but the poll workers wouldn’t let me go in unless I took a reading test! I got mad and left, and I never wanted to try voting again! But if voting for Carter will help save the planet, then naturally I’ll do it!”

Niqun chimed in, “When I first came to this country, women weren’t even allowed to vote yet. When they finally were allowed to, it surprised me how many women still didn’t! I was always happy to cast my vote! I worked hard to get my citizenship specifically so I could participate in democracy! I didn’t have the kind of freedom in China as I do here, so I was proud to get the opportunity to take part in the protection of our liberty! And now, that pride will only increase with the knowledge that I helped preserve the human race as well!”

“I’d vote if I were old enough!” Cody commented. “I’ll still feel good helping other people vote for the right guy though!”

“I’ll definitely vote if I can! But… are we allowed to vote?” José inquired. “The government is looking for us, so if we show up to vote, won’t they just turn us away?”

Gwynivara replied knowledgeably, “Felons can’t always vote, but none of us have gotten convicted of anything, so we still can. If Agent Cecilio or whatever detective assigned to catching us knows we’re going to a specific place to vote, they could arrest us, but frankly, I don’t care! If I get captured while I help prevent a murderous sociopath from taking power, then it’ll be worth it!”

Everyone shared that sentiment, and then Emorick added, “There’s still time to get rid of Venenatus Sanguis before Election Day, so let’s act with the hope of getting to vote as free people! So, once we get everything we need to do some canvassing, what neighborhood do we wanna start at?”

A young man opened his dormitory door to see two women in Jimmy Carter ball caps carrying a clipboard, and he instantly guessed why they had come, so he coldly regarded them, “Not interested!”

“Not interested in saving lives?” Gwynivara spouted before he could shut the door.

“What?” The young man’s confusion stopped him in his tracks.

Bernadette rattled off, “Jimmy Carter is the only candidate with a plan to defeat Venenatus Sanguis! It’s a deadly disease that’s-.”

The young man interrupted her spiel, “Yeah, I know, it’s a horrible thing, but I have a test in an hour that I can’t fail, so I’m gonna go back to studying now! Bye!”

He shut the door in their faces, but Gwynivara and Bernadette didn’t seem fazed by it. Gwynivara simply marked that room off and then noted, “Well, that’s the last door in this dorm! Onto the next one!”

“Can we take a break?” Bernadette requested. “My feet are killing me!”

“Mine too! Okay, let’s take a quick break,” Gwynivara relented. “But let’s not hang out too long in case one of these kids calls the campus police on us!” Bernadette nodded, and they went outside.

Gwynivara and Bernadette sat at a round table made of stone located outside of a classroom complex. Gwynivara theorized, “Maybe we need to work on our sales pitch! I don’t think we made too much of an impact so far.”

Bernadette shrugged. “I dunno. I’ve never done anything like this before. Hell, I haven’t even paid much attention to politics at all ’til now, so I wouldn’t know a good campaign from a bad one!”

“Me either, but my parents used to do this kind of thing!” Gwynivara fondly recalled. “Well, not exactly like this. They would do fundraisers and stuff, and now that I think about it, I don’t think anything they did there would be very helpful to us. They were pitching to people who thought like them already so they could donate to a cause they already support.” She sighed, but then she smiled as she savored the memory of her parents. After a few seconds, she realized something. “They always campaigned for the Democratic candidate, so I bet wherever they are, they’re helping us get the right person elected!” She grew wistful at the reminder of the fact they had to go far away from her, but it buoyed her spirits to share that connection with them. After she processed all of these feelings, she entreated to Bernadette, “Don’t tell Emorick that! I don’t want my political ties to disqualify me from seeing his son!”

“Of course I won’t say anything!” Bernadette obliged. “But I don’t think that would be a deal breaker. He obviously thinks very highly of you.”

Gwynivara remarked, “Yes, and I’d like to keep it that way! I don’t want anything to change that!”

Before Bernadette could broach the subject any further, they heard a familiar voice from behind them growl, “Ladies, you wouldn’t be the ones soliciting on this campus, would you?”

A chill went down Bernadette and Gwynivara’s spines, and their eyes grew wide in disbelief. The last time they heard that voice had been on that mountaintop during the battle with Rafeneita, but they thought he had gotten killed during the combat! Gwynivara found it shocking that he had lived through getting stabbed in the back, and she didn’t understand what he was doing outside of Great Dismal Falls either! She didn’t think he had come across them on accident, and neither of them dared to turn around and reveal themselves to him. They both kept their heads low, and Gwynivara sincerely hoped that they wouldn’t have to use incantations right then! Abigor had formidable skills in that arena, and the last thing she wanted was to cause a noticeable commotion at a prime recruiting place for them!

‘You know, soliciting goes against the PHC safety guidelines,” Abigor seethed. Gwynivara and Bernadette said nothing, so Abigor went on, “You could spread Venenatus Sanguis without knowing it, and we can’t have that, now can we?” Gwynivara gritted her teeth knowing that he had remained loyal to Rafeneita and had, most likely, come to this campus to do her bidding! In addition to worries about her own safety, she grew deeply concerned about the well being of the students who attended here! She could sense the arrogant smirk on his face as he informed them, “I’m afraid that I’m gonna have to ask you to leave!” He extended his arm and got within inches of touching Gwynivara…

“It’s okay, they’re with me!” An older man with a white beard that ran into his white hair and a plaid suit with leather patches on elbow inserted himself between Abigor and the two women. Abigor stared at him with a totally flabbergasted expression, so the man urged him, “You can go now, boy! Go on, git!” Abigor seemed reluctant, but he couldn’t seem to come up with a sound reason to counter him, so he begrudgingly left the area.

The man muttered, “That’s right, you miserable little snob! Take your bunk elsewhere!” He shook his head as he sat down at their table and lit a cigarette. “I swear, I’m gonna file a complaint to the FBI for that clown’s behavior!”

“The FBI?” Gwynivara echoed.

“Yeah,” the man confirmed, “he claims he’s part of some Disease Safety Unit they created to combat Venenatus Sanguis.” Bernadette and Gwynivara exchanged gloomy looks upon hearing that, and although the man saw this, he interpreted it as something else. “Yeah, I don’t buy it either. I don’t see him putting a stop to all of the parties that go on, but he likes to show up and harass my students doing minimally risky behavior like chatting in the hallway or playing Frisbee on the lawn! Then, he has the nerve to try and educate me on the disease! Me, an anatomy professor! He thinks he knows more than I do about how it works? Psh! Something isn’t right! I don’t trust him!”

Gwynivara couldn’t believe their luck! Not only had they stumbled across a scientist with a lot of influence over people, but he already seemed prone to side with them on this issue! Gwynivara couldn’t have been more delighted to hear his mistrust of Abigor too! She had so much to tell him that she didn’t know where to begin, but before she could come up with anything, the professor misinterpreted their silence. “I know, I know! Why is an anatomy professor smoking when he knows exactly what it’ll do to his body? Well, I-.”

Gwynivara assured him, “No, no! We weren’t thinking that!” She did find it a bit odd after he mentioned it, but she had much more urgent matters to deal with to pay it much mind. “We have something important to tell you…”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 14

“Why do they have parking in the rear when the entrance is in the front?” a man critiqued as he exited from the driver’s seat of a station wagon.

“That’s not a bad thing for Trish,” a woman who got out of the passenger’s side pointed out to him, “It’ll be easy access for her since she takes the bus.”

As the man joined his wife’s side, he contended, “Yeah, but it’s not very convenient for the people who work here! Can you imagine the long walk they gotta take to get to their office each day? What if it’s raining?”

The woman chided her husband, “Oh, stop! Can’t you see that Trish is nervous enough?” She indicated to to the mousy, college-aged girl behind her who stiffly stared at the ground beneath her. “How are you doing, honey?”

“I don’t wanna do this!” Trish beseeched her.

“Don’t be nervous!” Her mother wrapped an arm around Trish and propelled her forward. “This is gonna look so good on your resumé!”

Trish objected, “It would if I was a communication major! I’m studying history, how’s this gonna help my career?”

Her father opined, “Newspapers capture history! Especially this one! They were the first ones to endorse Rialowe, who’s about to become the greatest president our country has ever had!”

“I don’t know about that,” Trish disagreed, “He hasn’t given any specific policy ideas…”

“Don’t say things like that at your interview!” her mother quietly warned as they approached the front of the building.

She grimaced at the premise of this prospect, so her father encouraged her, “Don’t worry, pumpkin! You’re gonna do great!”

Trish caught a glimpse of the door, and then, with a slight hint of amusement, asserted to her parents, “No, I’m not!”

Her mother reacted in aghast, “So, you’re not even gonna try?”

“Nope! No one is! Look!” She brought a sign to her parents’ attention that notified the public that the internship position had gotten canceled until further notice.

“Canceled? How could it be canceled?” Her father saw a man smoking a pipe next to the front door, so he asked him, “Excuse me, do you work here?”

Riley answered, “No. I’m just taking a quick smoke before I drive my kid home. It took over an hour to get here!”

Trish’s mother inquired, “Do you know what happened?”

Riley leaned in and gossiped, “I heard that Linda Knucker is really sick, so she’s gonna do a lot of work from home. The paper wants to keep it quiet, you know, so no one loses confidence in their employees or anything…”

“That makes sense!” Trish’s father agreed with that logic. “Linda Knucker is one of the best reporters they have! Their readers would get so upset to hear she’s ill!”

“Right! But you didn’t hear any of this from me!” Riley winked.

Trish’s father winked back. “Of course not!”

After Riley and Trish’s parents shared a laugh, Trish queried, “What’s wrong with her? She doesn’t have Venenatus Sanguis, does she?”

“Trish, how could she have a disease that doesn’t exist?” her mother scolded her. Trish looked hurt by that criticism, and Riley felt a pang of guilt for not having the opportunity to praise her for thinking along the right lines. Trish’s mother instructed her, “Come on, let’s go home. Thank for the heads up!”

“No problem!” Riley nodded cordially at them before they headed back to their car. They came across another young person in the parking lot, and Riley heard Trish’s parents warn them about the cancellation, which made Riley smirk. He heard a couple of employees coming outside, so he immediately took down the sign before they saw it. As the employees passed him, he gave them a cordial nod as well, but they were too engrossed in their conversation to pay him any mind, which made him titter as he took another smoke from his pipe.

A good looking, well dressed woman in her early fifties walked out towards a reception area and motioned for the young lady at the front desk to come over to her. The woman quickly addressed her, “How many people turned up for the position?”

The lady replied to her, “Only eight this time, Miss Knucker. And it’s a much older crowd than usual.”

Linda Knucker seemed surprised to hear that, but despite her initial misgivings, she relented, “Okay, you can start sending them in now.”

The young lady went back to her desk and picked up the first application she had on the small stack she had on her clipboard. “Lin Pangyang?”

When Niqun stood up, the lady at the front desk bore an expression of shock, so Niqun challenged her, “What?”

“I’m sorry, I just assumed that you were retired!” the front desk lady apologized for the offense but did not admit to any wrong doing on anything else.

“Are you saying I can’t work here because I’m too old? Are you discriminating due to age?” Niqun confronted her in an anger that only the other Rebels in the room knew was fake.

The young lady emphatically assured her, “No, no, no! Of course not! We would never do that! Right this way, ma’am!” She led Niqun down a hallway leading out of the reception area, and while her back was turned, Gwynivara as well as Kierram, Naama, José, John, Rebekah, and Cody all snickered.

When Gwynivara went in to get interviewed, she took a moment to study the contents of this office. She had a very slick, modern desk simply adorned with trinkets that appeared as though they had come from ritzy places. She saw the latest typewriter on there too, and Gwynivara could tell that she aimed to draw people in by making them believe that this organization had a certain level of prestige to it. She saw some of Linda’s most recognized articles framed and lining the walls quite neatly, and since she didn’t see any photographs, she presumed that this woman didn’t have a family. Or at least she hoped that since she clearly didn’t value them much if she didn’t have a single picture of them in her office! She spotted some filing cabinets behind Linda, and she just itched to rummage through them! If Linda had any pertinent information about Rialowe or possibly even Rafeneita, then it would most likely would have gotten stored there! She made a mental note to instruct whichever Rebel that got hired for this internship should find a way to rifle through those documents! Gwynivara wished that that she could have visually scanned the room a little longer, but Linda stared at her expectantly, so she took a seat and prepared herself for this process.

“Alright, Miss Franklin, tell me about yourself.” Linda took out a piece of paper and held her pen with the intention of taking notes.

“Well…” Gwynivara and the other Rebels had all come up with fictitious back stories for themselves before coming here, and she had done this with other aliases she used for other jobs she obtained before joining the Rebellion, but it always felt so awkward for her to pretend to describe things she had never gone through in a realistic way. She had to lie about her identity numerous times before this, but she grew weary of constantly coming up with these narratives! She yearned for the day when she could apply for a job as herself! Concocting these falsehoods always reminded her that she didn’t have the chance to do any of the things that she had her characters do, and it hurt in each instance she had to go through this! Setting all of that aside, she reassured herself that, unlike other positions she applied for, she had a much greater mission at hand right then, and her freedom depended on her success that day! So, with all that in mind, she fibbed, “I was a housewife for about ten years, and since my husband is stationed overseas, I need something to do in the daytime when the kids are in school. I’ve never worked anywhere before, so I thought this would be a good first stop!”

Linda jotted down a couple of sentences about her response, but she didn’t seem all that impressed. Gwynivara didn’t fret though; they all expected her to hire Rebekah or Cody since they were closer to the age group that typically did an internship like this. When Linda finished writing, she asked Gwynivara, “What would you say your best quality is, and what do you consider your worst?”

Gwynivara took a moment to mull over how a person who had never held a job before would answer that question. “…Hmm… My best quality would be my eyes and my worst is probably my tummy. Between all the cookies I bake and-.”

“I meant personality wise,” Linda corrected her wit ha heavy sense of condescension.

“Oh!” Gwynivara pretended to realize that for the first time. “Well… My best quality is that I bake really good cookies, and I guess my worst is that I don’t really know much about the business world!” As Gwynivara chuckled at that, she noticed that Linda jotted down the word naive. She almost felt offended by that, but then she reminded herself that she only wrote that because she played her role so effectively.

Linda then requested, “Describe where you see yourself in ten years.”

Gwynivara half truthfully told her, “I have no idea! I just hope that I can get out in the world more and just have a life that’s a little less stressful!” She didn’t want to get too honest and divulge anything that might give herself away to Linda, so she added, “Plus, my oldest will graduate high school in eighty six, so we would have to start planning for college and-.”

“Okay, that’s great,” Linda cut her off. “I have a few more interviews to do, so go ahead and have a seat in the lobby. I’ll announce my decision as soon as I’m done.”

“Thank you very much!” Gwynivara did a semi curtsy before exiting the room. She didn’t expect that Linda would hire her unless Cody and Rebekah totally blew it, which was fine by her. Although investigating this so called news organization would have interested her a lot, she wanted to devote more of her efforts on finding a way to deliver the cure. Besides that, she felt that the two teens in the group would be safer here than having to face another potential battle. Cody didn’t have Venenatus Sanguis, so he couldn’t produce any incantations to defend himself. Kierram had a plan to secure some weapons, but still, he would fare better among others who didn’t have to deal with that kind of threat. As for Rebekah, she learned new skills very quickly, but she lacked the concentration since it was too soon for her to move on from her father’s death. As she sat down in the reception area, she took pride in the potential of this operation and grew curious on which of their teenagers Linda would like more!

The lady at the front desk called out, “Jack Preston!” Kierram tried not to appear too amused as he went in for his turn. They had come up with a yarn about him returning to the workforce after going to prison for a violent crime, and while Gwynivara wouldn’t have disqualified anyone who wanted to make amends for their past, she could tell Linda’s pretentious personality would take offense to it! Gwynivara very much desired to witness the look on Linda’s face when Kierram made that claim, and she couldn’t wait for Kierram to explain how it went down!

Just as she really savored the drollery that this concept gave her, Kierram came right back out with a very rigid and ashamed expression on his face. Gwynivara got alarmed by this occurrence, and for a minute, she worried that an incident happened that blew their cover, but then Linda came out and announced, “The position has been filled! Thank you all for coming out today! Better luck next time!” The Rebels all stared at Kierram in a stunned silence…

Back at the cave, when Kierram realyed the development to Emorick, they all erupted in laughter. Emorick chortled, “She didn’t even ask you any questions?”

“Nope!” Kierram’s previous discomfort at the scene had disappeared, and he now reveled in the mirth that everyone else shared. “She took one look at me, and her eyes went real wide. Then she hired me on the spot!”

“That’s why you looked so tense when you came out!” Bernadette remarked.

Kierram commented, “Of course I was tense! She obviously just wants me around to fulfill her sexual fantasies! You can’t imagine how uncomfortable that feels!” All of the women gave him a reproachful glare when he said that. “Okay, so maybe you can, but then you should understand what I went through!”

Gwynivara advised him, “We all know what that’s like, but we’ve also been in situations where we needed something from the jerk doing it to us, so do what we’ve all done when we had this dilemma, use it to your advantage to get what you want from her! It’ll be easier since she’s attracted to you, her guard will be down!”

“You won’t be jealous if I flirt with another woman?” Kierram wondered.

“Nah! I trust you!” She gave him a little peck on the cheek to show her confidence in him.

Once their entertainment of that anecdote ebbed somewhat, Emorick brought up, “Well, while Kierram does that assignment, we should work on finding a way to get the cure out there. So, who has any thoughts on how we can do that?”

Riley spoke up, “While I was waiting outside, I heard a couple of editors talking, and I think I know someone who can help us…”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 13

The nurse at the receptionist desk picked up the phone and greeted the caller as cheerily as she could, “Saint Bosco Teaching Hospital, how can I help you?” She paused to let the person on the line explain what they needed, and after they did, she repeated their request, “You want to reschedule your ultrasound?” Once the client confirmed this, the nurse informed them, “Okay, let me transfer you to our radiology department. One moment, please!” She made the transfer, and then she responded to the two people in industrial uniforms that appeared at the front desk, “How can I help you?”

“We’re from the Health Supply Courier Company,” Bernadette fibbed. “We’re here to deliver a package from the Public Health Center.”

“Oh, were we expecting something from them today?” The nurse checked a clipboard with some kind of schedule on it.

Gwynivara told her, “Actually, this was too urgent to make any formal arrangements. They wanted you to have it right away.”

The nurse looked a little surprised to hear this, and when Gwynivara set a small box on the counter, the nurse stared at it curiously. “To the Caretakers of Venenatus Sanguis Patients,” she read out loud. “That’s weird! Usually, they address it to a specific doctor.”

“I guess they were in too much of a hurry to look anyone up,” Bernadette came up with quickly.

“Interesting…” She seemed skeptical about the validity of that claim, but she didn’t argue on that idea any further, rather, she brought up another point, “So, did they say what’s in it, or am I supposed to just give a random object to a random doctor?”

Gwynivara leaned in and excitedly whispered, “It’s the cure for Venenatus Sanguis!”

The nurse responded in disbelief, “Get out of town! I don’t remember hearing any announcements about a cure!”

“Their highest priority was to make sure all of the afflicted receive it immediately,” Bernadette lied. “They’ll announce it later.”

“This is highly unusual!” the nurse remarked.

Gwynivara retorted, “This is an unusual disease and an unusual situation!”

The nurse maintained her suspicion on this occurrence. “I see…” She glanced at the package questioningly, and then she came to the conclusion, “Well, technically, I’m a caretaker for these patients, so, legally I can open this.” She used a pair of scissors to break the seal, and she stared at the ornate vial peculiarly. “What kind of medical professional would package a medical substance like this?”

I guess they had to distribute so much of it to so many places that they ran out of normal equipment.” Bernadette shrugged.

“No instructions?” The nurse rummaged through the box to see if she had missed something, but she soon discovered that what she searched for wasn’t there. She turned to Gwynivara and Bernadette and probed, “Did they tell you about it?” Bernadette and Gwynivara hesitated, so she surmised, “Oh, so they didn’t! So, what am I supposed to do with this? Is it meant to be injected or taken orally? What is the correct dosage? How often is a patient supposed to take this? What are the storage requirements?”

Gwynivara didn’t know what to say. She knew that the medical community had a dire need for an antidote to this viral disease that plagued the entire planet, so she had always assumed that they would accept a cure readily. It caught her off guard to be met with such resistance, but she had to admit that this nurse brought up a lot of valid arguments. She hadn’t considered any of this until now, but since it came up right then, she realized that these were all topics that Rafeneita should have covered when she left this vial! Her lack of instructions made her intentions quite clear- she knew that they would struggle like this! She gave them busywork as a ploy to keep them far away from her, and she obviously wanted to take advantage of the distance created by this tactic to renew her efforts to spread Venenatus Sanguis even further! She couldn’t tell any of this to the nurse, who was staring at her in an expecting way, and the only response she could think to give her was, “You could always test it and figure it out, right?”

The nurse vehemently disapproved of her suggestion. “You think we have time to test this? We’re stretched thin as it is! All of the doctors are working overtime to deal with all of the tests we have to administer thanks to the PHC’s gross mishandling of this pandemic! They just had to inform the public about the unknown carriers! Now, every Tom, Dick, and Harry head to the emergency room for every little ached or pain they feel! Then when we actually do find someone who tests positive for it, we have to isolate an entire wing to make sure any minor manifestation doesn’t infect the rest of the facility! Then we gotta keep each patient away from the others so they don’t spread it more, and you know how much patients love to listen! Once they’re gone, we have to scrub the entire area to make sure it’s sterilized! The candy stripers won’t do it, they’re afraid of contracting it! We’re having trouble getting any volunteers in here, so the rest of the staff has to take on additional responsibilities! If we had any kind of extra time, they certainly wouldn’t have someone with my kind of training doing medial secretary work! And you have the audacity to suggest that we do more?” She stopped to catch her breath, and then she added, “You said they wanted us to have this right away, but we’re supposed to take time we don’t have to test it? It makes no sense!”

Bernadette and Gwynivara exchanged harried expressions, but before either of them could think of a way to reply, the nurse irately decided, “I’m gonna call the PHC and get to the bottom of this!”

Gwynivara and Bernadette started to panic. The PHC would only blow their ruse, and they would have to get out of there quickly to avoid getting captured again! Gwynivara knew that they couldn’t leave without the cure either. She didn’t know how it worked exactly, but she believed that Rafeneita really did give them an antidote for Venenatus Sanguis since she presented it to them in an attempt to bribe them onto her side. If they didn’t take it with them, the nurse’s mistrust in it would only cause her to destroy it, and Gwynivara simply wouldn’t allow that to happen! She knew that this operation had turned into a lost cause, so now they had to think of some sort of distraction to get it back so that they could get out of there as fast as possible! She considered letting herself get worked up enough to create a beast, but then she remembered Emorick’s recent advice and knew exactly what to do…

The patients in the nearby waiting room suddenly jumped up screaming, and the nurse’s eyes grew wide when she spotted a small fire erupting from an outlet where a television set was plugged in! As the sprinkler system got set off, the patients began running around in a frenzy. The nurse commanded everyone, “Nobody panic!” No one heeded her word, and she groaned as she grabbed a fire extinguisher from under the counter. When she approached the flame to put it out, Gwynivara snatched the cure from off of the desk and then ran out the door with Bernadette.

The two of them crossed the street into a residential sector, and it took all of their willpower to refrain from discussing the event that just took place. Both of them felt a surge of disappointment for how their plan turned out, and their interaction with the nurse certainly presented new obstacles that they would have to overcome in the future. They didn’t want to dwell on it too much though since they were already getting funny looks for having soaking wet clothes and hair, so they needed to develop a more casual attitude to blend in with the neighborhood. As Gwynivara observed the antique, brick townhomes that they passed, she spotted a flag with Rialowe’s campaign logo on it it, so she brought that to Bernadette’s attention, “You think we saw those people at the rally?”

“Maybe, or maybe we saw their neighbors over there.” She indicated to a banner displayed from a window across the street.

“Wow, there’s actually a few of them out here!” Gwynivara observed. “And I’m not seeing any support for his opponents!”

Bernadette pointed out, “Oh, there’s a Ford bumper sticker!”

A man came out of one of the townhomes with a dog on a leash, and after overhearing Bernadette’s comment, he remarked, “Don’t tell me you guys are Ford supporters!”

“Oh, no! We’re voting for… Carter!” Bernadette concocted on the fly.

“Carter? Oh right, him! I keep forgetting he’s running too!” The man contemplated this as he continued walking.

Bernadette conferred with Gwynivara, “He forgot that Carter is running? He’s the Democratic candidate! He’s supposed to be one of the main ones!”

Gwynivara concurred, “Yeah, that’s a problem!” She grimaced as they passed by a couple of little kids with Rialowe lollipops.

When Gwynivara and Bernadette reentered the cave, the others all perked their heads up hopefully, but when they could see the two women’s sopping garments, they grew deflated at the low odds of hearing good news. Emorick tired to keep his tone lighthearted as he addressed them, “So, things didn’t go well I’m assuming…”

“Not at all!” Bernadette grumped. “The nurse at the receptionist desk didn’t wanna take the package!”

“She didn’t trust us at all once we said we were from the PCH,” Gwynivara tacked on.

Emorick’s brows furrowed in confusion. “That’s strange!”

Bernadette expounded on the matter, “We think Rialowe’s influence made her not trust the PHC. She had nothing but bad things to say about them, and when we walked through the neighborhood outside of the hospital, we saw a lot of pro Rialowe stuff in the area. We saw one tiny thing for Ford, and some guy forgot that Carter was even running!”

Emorick shook his head dismally. “That’s not good!”

“Rialowe’s only been campaigning for a couple of weeks!” Kierram exclaimed. “How did people forget that he’s not one of the main candidates?”

“Rialowe sold them on the image that he is,” Riley put in. “He is, unfortunately, very good at that. Do you remember that awful breakfast cereal he promoted? It tasted horrible, but the company managed to sell out of its stock ’cause Rialowe made that crap sound sexy! People knew it tasted terrible, but they still bought it as if it made them cool for doing so!”

José half kidded, “It makes you wonder what kind of flavor those lollipops have!”

Naama voiced her opinion, “I wouldn’t wanna try it! Who knows what they put in those things! For all we know, they could be hypnotizing people with them!”

“Do you think Rafeneita would put Venenatus Sanguis in it?” Gwynivara posed to everyone.

“I hope not! That would be really demented if she did that!” John reacted in repulsion.

Niqun stated, “She’s twisted! I wouldn’t put it past her!”

Kierram asserted, “Next time we do a supply run, I’ll add that to the list! We need to find out what’s in it! Not that it would do us much good! If people don’t believe us about the cure, they won’t take our word on what’s in the lollipops!”

“We need to learn more about Rialowe,” Emorick affirmed, “It’s gonna be tough on selling the idea of the cure to people if they’re buying all of his bull! We can’t convince people to take a cure for a disease that they don’t think exists in the first place! Rialowe is making people act against their own self interest, and we need to put a stop to Rialowe’s message before he has a chance to influence the public more than he already has!”

“How can we do that? He’s everywhere! Look at this!” Rebekah held up a newspaper page. “They barely mention my dad’s death, but they have a big ol’ picture of Rialowe saying what a good job he did at the rally!”

Niqun inquired, “Did they talk about how many people got infected with Venenatus Sanguis after attending that horrible man’s rally?”

Rebekah took a few seconds to scan the article before she replied, “Nope! They didn’t say a word about it!”

“What kind of respected journalist would do that?” Riley snatched the newspaper from her and checked out the front section. “Vulpes Press?”

“Vulpes Press! That’s the paper that Marshall and Paige tried to get us to read so we can learn about their hero, Rialowe!” Gwynivara recalled.

Emorick concluded, “If Rialowe has a hold of this newspaper’s narrative, then we need to find a way to change that! We gotta penetrate their inner loop!”

Cody, whose attention got taken by something he saw on another page of the newspaper in Riley’s hand, chimed in, “Are we looking for a way to get inside of their headquarters? ‘Cause if we are, I think I see a way to that…”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 12

“They got away!” the man blurted out before he lost the nerve.

“What do you mean, they got away?” Rafeneita glared at him as if he had misspoke purposely just to annoy her.

The man took a deep breath before he clarified, “They escaped from the courthouse, and the police couldn’t track them down. They’re getting ready to call off the search and assign it to a detective.”

Rafeneita howled with enough rage that the man backed away from her. “How is that possible? Why wasn’t that idiotic FBI agent there to capture them?”

The man quickly volunteered himself, “I’ll go find out!”

After the man zipped out of the room, Rafeneita sunk down to her spiky throne and took a few seconds to process her emotions. Once she composed herself, she spoke much more measuredly, “Don’t think that this changes anything! One way or another, I’m gonna get you, Gwynivara!” She flashed her eyes at her angrily.

Gwynivara dropped the orb as if it had suddenly stung her. Emorick caught it before it hit the ground, and everyone stared at her incredulously. Gwynivara wanted to run and hide, and she almost did, but she had nowhere to go, so she reluctantly stayed put. She couldn’t make eye contact with any of them, but she decided to explain it to them knowing they would request her to, “Before we battled her on the mountains, I kept having dreams about her. They felt so real! After we left the peak, I had more dreams about her, and I don’t know how she does it, but I think she’s sending me visions to threaten us! Well, I thought she wanted to intimidate all of us…”

Gwynivara suddenly felt so full of shame. These constant invasions of her subconscious made her feel so violated, and it embarrassed her to share this with everyone. She also worried that they would get mad that she kept this secret from most of them. She hadn’t intended to shield them from this forever, she just wanted to wait for the right time to discuss. With the Rebels constantly needing to pull off daring escapes, she hadn’t found an opportunity to share this information with anyone, and even though the cat was out of the bag now, she still didn’t deem it appropriate to discuss it right then and there! She hoped that they didn’t dwell on it for too long so they could set up a safe house for themselves and prioritize all of the tasks much more pertinent than this so that they could save the planet!

“You had one of these visions in the truck!” José descried.

“Yes,” Gwynivara confirmed. She had forgotten that they overheard her conversation with Kierram. They knew that she had a realistic nightmare about her, but she didn’t go into enough detail to give them the true nature of her dream. She wished that she had done it back then since they were all half asleep and probably wouldn’t have fussed too much over it.

Bernadette remarked, “I remember you telling me about these dreams before. You were so adamant that they were prophetic, but I didn’t really believe it ’til now! You’re not asleep at the moment, so we can’t blame it on that!”

John put in, “When we met Rafeneita before the battle, it did seem like you had met before. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, I just thought you were meant to fight each other or something. If she’s communicating with you in this way, then the way acted around each makes total sense!”

“Why did she choose you?” Cody inquired. “She must know that Emorick isn’t in a coma anymore, so how come she doesn’t talk to him?”

“I don’t know!” Gwynivara felt herself blushing furiously. Inwardly, she came to the conclusion that Rafeneita couldn’t penetrate Emorick’s mind, he was too powerful for that! She must have sensed a vulnerability in her, which only increased the amount of abashment she endure from this occurrence.

Emorick asserted, “Let’s not waste a lot of time speculating on how this happened, let’s just be grateful for the information we gleaned from it!” A rush of gratitude came over Gwynivara as Emorick steered their conversation back to strategical subjects. “This Rafeneita woman obviously has a lot of connections, and if any of them had a clue to our location, they would have told her, so we’re safe right now. I think the best course of action for us right now would be to rest up a bit. Once we can think more clearly, we’ll start planning out our next move!” Everyone’s weariness prompted them to agree with this suggestion. Emorick concentrated his energy on the orb, and once they saw a blue light shining from it, he led them all into the dark cave.

The cave had a tunnel that acted as a natural hallway, and it led to an open area where they saw remnants of Chief Forsythe and the motorcycle cops’ campsite. They left behind some food wrappers, a couple of newspapers, and a hand-drawn map of the sewer systems in the area. “This could be useful!” Emorick sat down and began studying it.

Rebekah picked up an empty potato chip bag and morosely commented, “I wonder if this where Daddy sat! I can just picture him eating this having no idea it was his last meal…” She began to tear up again, and then she hastily apologized, “I’m sorry! I’ll try not to think about him too much so I don’t create another beast!”

Bernadette put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder and consoled her, “I know how you feel! My dad got killed unexpectedly too. It takes time for it to stop hurting! Well, it never really stops, but eventually you’ll start remembering all of the good times you shared together, and it’ll help you get through the day! It’s not easy to move on when you miss someone so much, just keep in mind he’s looking out for you and hoping you’ll find happiness even with him gone!”

“Bernadette is right!” Cody put his arms around her in a comforting way. “I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone I love, I actually hate my dad’s guts, but I’m sure your dad is watching over you right now! Whenever you feel sad, just think about what he would say to you if he were here, and that should help you at least a little!”

“If my dad were here right now, he would want me to get some rest so we can figure out how to get the cure out there,” Rebekah surmised. “It was always important to him that the everyone in the world could get cured from Venenatus Sanguis, especially me! Oh, but I don’t think I could sleep after seeing him…” She couldn’t finish her sentence, the image too horrible for her to relive.

Cody offered, “That’s okay, you can just lay down with me! You make me feel better just having you in my arms!” Rebekah gave him a weak smile for his sweet sentiments. They laid down with Cody spooning her. Afterwards, Bernadette, José, John, Riley, Niqun, and Naama all found spots in their own spots in the cave, curled up, and fell asleep.

Gwynivara settled herself on a part of the cave where she could view the illumination emanating from the orb but still had some cover to it. She wanted to lead by example, but she couldn’t bring herself to fall asleep, not until she figured out how to block out Rafeneita’s mental invasions! As she contemplated the situation, Kierram sat beside her and grasped her hand. “How you doing?”

“I’m fine,” Gwynivara reacted automatically. As soon as the words came out, they felt so dishonest that she had to correct herself, “Actually, I’m a little scared! I don’t wanna be her victim! Why did she choose me to do this to?”

“You’re not a victim, she chose you ’cause she views you as a threat!” Kierram reassured her. “She’s trying to scare you so she can weaken you and make it easier for her to take you on! But you’re too smart and too strong for that to work! When she realizes that she can’t get to you, she’ll be even more intimidated by you! Show her what a bad ass you are and get some rest so she knows that her pathetic attempts didn’t have an impact on you!”

Gwynivara beamed at him before giving him a kiss. She couldn’t express just how much she appreciated him in that instance, but she tried anyways by saying, “Did you know I love you so much?”

Kierram grinned as he responded, “No, I didn’t! I said it to you, but you didn’t say it back to me!”

“I love you, Kierram!”

“I love you too, Gwyn!”

They kissed again, and then Emorick unexpectedly jumped in, “When did this happen?”

Gwynivara and Kierram looked startled that he had the strength to position himself in a way where he could witness their romantic interaction, and Gwynivara inwardly admonished herself for not showing more discretion. The others all knew about their relationship, so they didn’t think twice about their amorous exchanges. She had gotten so used to that as a norm that she forgot that Emorick didn’t know about this development, and she really regretted letting him find out in such an abrupt manner! She got so mad at herself for putting herself in this kind of position, but she also grew quite nervous on whether or not Emorick would approve of her for his son! He welcomed her to the Rebellion with open arms, but she fretted that he may have had different standards for who he welcomed into his family. She hoped that he wouldn’t call this a conflict of interest for their cause; if he forced her to choose between the role she played in their important efforts or a rare love that made her happier than she had been in years, she didn’t know how she would pick! Both held great importance to her for different reasons, and her nerves felt like they were on fire as she waited for Emorick’s judgment on the matter…

To her astonishment, Emorick smiled as he regarded them, “It’s okay, I expected it to happen eventually, I just was curious how it happened.”

“You expected it to happen?” Gwynivara repeated in shock and awe of his response.

“Just a fatherly sense I got.” Emorick shrugged.

Kierram detailed for him, “I told her how I felt before we fought Rafeneita, you know, just in case we didn’t make it. After it was all over, we just… came together. Something about getting so close to death and still living, it was like why wait?”

Emorick chuckled at the cute attitude that Kierram displayed, and then he advised both of them, “Just don’t let any arguments get in the way of business!”

“Not gonna happen!” Kierram promised as he gave Gwynivara’s hand a tender squeeze.

Gwynivara still had a hard time believing that not only did Emorick approve of them as a couple but he expected it! She couldn’t believe her luck on this occasion, and if they didn’t have to hide from a murderous regime, she would have sworn that she had died and gone to Heaven! Emorick moved himself away from their view to give them some privacy again, and then Gwynivara rested rested her head on Kierram’s chest. The warmth of his body felt more comforting than any blanket she had ever used, and she got so relaxed that her eyes started to grow heavy…

She noticed a source of light that hadn’t been there before, and Gwynivara lifted her eyelids out of curiosity. She saw sunlight streaming into the cave, and she realized that it was dawn. It surprised her that not only had she fallen asleep but she had slept for much longer than she anticipated! She saw that most of the others had gotten up already, and Riley was munching on something from the previously empty potato chip bag. “Morning, lovebirds! Care for some breakfast?”

Gwynivara groggily asked, “You found food out here?”

“I’d love to take credit for it, but Cody and Rebekah went out earlier and found some berries and nuts. Hungry?” Riley held out the bag for Gwynivara and Kierram to indulge in, an offer they gladly accepted!

“We found more food!” Cody announced as he and Rebekah returned to the cave. They presented a handful of yellow flowers with green leaves to them, and Cody reported, “We saw some rabbits eating them, so they can’t be poisonous.”

Bernadette complimented him, “Wow! We got ourselves our own Euell Gibbons here!”

José and John returned with Emorick draped around them, and after they set him down, Naama and Niqun got up from their rest. Emorick then observed, “Oh good, everyone’s awake now! We can start planning out the new mission!”

“I say we go back to that stadium and get that son of a bitch, Rialowe!” Niqun advocated with venom in her voice. A few of the others wholeheartedly agreed with her suggestion.

“We do need to do something about that bastard, but unfortunately, I doubt that he’s staying in town, and we have no idea where he’s going next,” Emorick politely turned down that idea.

Naama proposed, “We should find out where he’s going and meet him there then! But maybe first we should stock up on supplies this time!”

Emorick weighed that option. “He does need to be stopped before he holds another super spreader event, but we may not need to go anywhere to do that. If we can get the cure out there, then all he would spread is bad ideas. So, how do we get that done?”

Gwynivara let them know, “I have an idea…”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 11

Two police officers approached the people leaving the event and showed them a piece of paper, asking if they’ve seen someone, and the Rebels found it unlikely that the rally had more than one set of wanted criminals! They almost bolted to the nearby woods, but Emorick advised them, “No! Don’t do anything too sudden! That’s what they’re looking for- people acting suspiciously! Let’s just act casual as we make our way out of here!”

It felt so hard for Gwynivara not to flee as fast as she could when danger presented itself so close to them, but Emorick’s logic made enough sense that she resisted the urge. They began to briskly walk towards the woods when suddenly a bubbly woman stood before them and offered them with a lollipop with a label of “Rialowe ’76” on it. “Sucker?”

“No, thanks!” Gwynivara tried to remain polite, but the police were getting closer to them, and they really needed to vacate the area quickly!

“Not candy lovers, huh? Maybe you know someone who is?” she persisted.

The police officers had come well within earshot of them, and Gwynivara knew if they didn’t leave immediately that they could no longer afford to maintain their cover of courteous rally attendees! The police officers got a little engrossed in a conversation with an elderly person, so Gwynivara made one more attempt at civility to this woman, “I’m sorry, we really need to get going!”

The woman started to get cross with them, “Who turns down a free souvenir?”

Gwynivara feared that the time had come for them to, once again, use their incantations to escape from capture, but as the police made their way towards them, she noticed Emorick pointing his palm towards the woman. Before the police officers could reach them, the woman’s bag of lollipops split open and spilled everywhere! It caught the attention of the people passing by them, and they all watched as the two policemen chivalrously bent down to help her pick them up. The Rebels used this distraction to subtly slip into the nearby woods.

When the noise of the stadium began to grow distant, Gwynivara complimented Emorick, “That was a good one!”

“Fighting a battle isn’t always about loud blasts and a grand exit,” Emorick told them with with an exhausted but sagely voice. “Sometimes you just gotta use a quiet approach and let them think their misfortune stemmed from nothing more than rotten luck!”

“Are you okay, Dad?” Kierram asked him, clearly concerned with his father’s growing lack of energy.

Emorick answered him, “I’m fine, son! Really, I am! It’s just been a while since I’ve done an incantation! I guess that coma really sapped my stamina!”

Gwynivara frowned as her insides twisted a little from a slight guilt she had. Emorick’s form had appeared to them during their showdown with Rafeneita, and, somehow, he had transferred energy to her when she had collapsed. The incantations she used against Rafeneita took more force than had ever summoned before, and for a while, she didn’t know if she would ever make it down that mountain, but then Emorick saved her! Everything that followed that ordeal had only been possible because of his actions, and he didn’t seem to remember any of it! She knew that she would have to bring it up to him sooner or later for him to have all of the knowledge he needed to properly recover, but until she did, she had to bear the ill feelings emanating from this memory!

As Bernadette shooed a bug away from her, she inquired, “Where we going exactly? I mean, I know we have to find some place that’s safe, but are we gonna head back into town at some point so we can work on getting the cure out, or are we hoping to run into the three bears’ cottage out here so we can hide in the forest ’til the heat is off us?”

“Chief Forsythe had us go this way for a reason!” John remarked. He glanced at Rebekah awkwardly, hoping that the mention of her recently departed father wouldn’t upset her. Her face fell at the reference, but she didn’t emote, so he went on, “He wouldn’t have sent us here if it didn’t lead us to some kind of safe house!”

“I think it was just the best option we had,” José commented. “We were blocked from getting to our getaway van, so he thought quicker than us and pointed us in the right direction.”

Naama mused, “How did he and his men get to the courthouse? They’re all wanted too, so they must have had some kind of hidden passageway they used when they left the FBI building.”

Niqun recalled, “The news said that the helicopter lost track of them after they ran inside of a cave. Maybe they hid in there until it was safe to come out.”

“But the FBI searched the caves,” Riley differed. “And I don’t think there’s any caves that stretch all the way from Richmond to DC, so they must have had some other way to travel without getting noticed.”

“I don’t think any of them-.” Cody’s sentence tapered off when they saw a panther-like creature in the trees above them! Gwynivara, Kierram, Bernadette, Riley, José, and John all pointed their palms at it, and the creature exploded like a pinata full of confetti! “I wish I could do that!” Cody despaired.

“Trust me, kid, you really don’t!” Riley responded to him. “If having Venenatus Sanguis was so great, we wouldn’t be working so hard to get a cure out there!”

Bernadette suggested, “In the future, we should work out a system so only one or two of us use our incantations at a time! We don’t wanna all get burnt out again!”

Rebekah apologized, “I’m sorry! That was probably me again! You guys would probably be safer without me!”

“We’re not leaving you!” Cody firmly asserted. “Especially now when you need us the most!”

“Plus, that didn’t necessarily come from you,” Gwynivara reasoned. “We’ve all been through a lot lately, it could’ve come from any one of us! Plus, we just left an event purposely designed to create beasts and spread-!” As she gestured towards the stadium in the distance, she saw something gleaming in the sun around the nearby foliage. Her intuition prompted her to investigate it, so she darted off to see what laid there. With their curiosity roused, the others followed her.

“Gwyn!” Kierram called after her. “What’s going on? Did you see something?”

She called back to him, “I’m not sure!” She sincerely hoped that she really had seen something worthwhile because if she got everyone worked up over some shiny junk, she would have never forgiven herself for the mortification that would result from this! As she grew closer to it, her heart pounded rapidly and she inwardly prayed that she had stumbled across an object of great significance to their efforts! Upon closer inspection, she discovered a large pipe with a seal that she read out loud, “Department of Waste Management.” As the others caught up to her, she eyeballed the direction that the pipe went, and suddenly, it clicked for her! “That’s it!”

The other Rebels mimicked her gaze and saw a glistening lake partially surrounded by a rocky crag, and while they enjoyed the scenery, they got confused as to what insight she gained from this sight. Bernadette probed, “Are you gonna fill us in there?”

“Do you see what’s beyond the lake?” Gwynivara posed to them.

“The mountain?” John replied quizzically.

The connection now came to Rebekah. “There’s a cave! My dad probably used it!”

Gwynivara concurred, “Yes! And this pipeway leads to the lake! He was using the sewers to get around! The FBI couldn’t find him or any of the motorcycle cops ’cause the cave led to some kind of water formation, and they disappeared through the drainage pipe!”

“Seems plausible!” Emorick acknowledged. “If that really is a cave they hid in, then we could use it as a temporary base while we plan out our next move. But first, we’ll need to test it and make sure it’s safe.”

“Oh, right! I forgot creatures other than the ones we manifest can hurt us!” Riley half kidded. They all tittered at his quip, and then they followed the pipe to the lake.

Once they got close enough to the stony hill, they saw the long and narrow pathway leading up to the cave, and everyone hesitated. They were still recovering from all of the incantations that they had to do recently, so the climb up would have been difficult enough, but obviously, no one thought they had the stamina to quickly come back down if they came across danger in that cave! Cody began to ascend the daunting trail, but José objected, “No way! We can’t have a kid-!”

Cody interrupted him, “Hey, another year and a half and I’ll be an adult, so I’m barely still a kid! Besides, I’m feeling much better! All I did was run a lot- I can’t do any incantations, so I have more energy than any of you!”

“That is true,” Naama admitted, “but if you get attacked in there, how will you defend yourself?”

“I’ll get out of there real fast and just dive into the lake,” Cody stated.

That notion worried them since he would have had quite the jump in that scenario, but then Niqun pointed out, “I think we can summon enough energy to slow him down if that’s what ends up happening.”

Everyone nodded in approval, so Cody dashed up the mound. Everyone stood at the ready in case he abruptly hurled himself off of the cliff, but to their surprise, Cody peered over the edge and informed them, “I think it’s safe! I see dozens of footprints going in and out of here!”

“No animal tracks?” Gwynivara questioned.

“With all of the people tracks, there wouldn’t be any dangerous ones with them!” Kierram teased her. Gwynivara put her hands on her hips and pretended to get offended by that. Kierram grinned at her before he and Riley scooped up Emorick and headed towards the cave. The others closely trailed behind them as they all made their way up.

When they finally arrived, they all started to feel extensive weariness kicking in again, and Bernadette tiredly expressed, “I’m so beat that even those dirty rocks look like a four star hotel right now!”

Riley joshed, “How do you know there isn’t one in here? It’s pitch black, anything could be in there, so you never know!”

Everyone peeked inside and confirmed Riley’s claim as true. Gwynivara scanned the area and pondered, “I wonder what Chief Forsythe did for light!”

“He was at work when they got him, so he probably had a flashlight on him,” Rebekah conjectured.

“I wish we had thought of grabbing one!” John lamented. “Now, we’ll have to wait ’til we re-energize so one of us can do another incantation!”

Naama brought up, “My little brother is in the Scouts program. He said that they taught them to create a fire using sticks…”

Riley dryly queried to the group, “Does anyone have the energy to rub two sticks together?” They all drowsily indicated that they didn’t.

“Too bad I didn’t have my orb,” Emorick ruefully mentioned. “I could use that to create light with very little effort!”

“Actually, I have it right here!” Gwynivara drew it out of her pocket. Emorick seemed shocked to see it in her possession, so she hastily explained, “When you were in a coma, we had to get the keys to the armory, and then I saw it. I don’t know why I took it, but I’m glad I did ’cause it helped us in the battle!” She didn’t bring up the fact that he had appeared to them through this orb, and she hoped that the other Rebels wouldn’t allude ot it right then. She thought that they really ought to wait until they had the assurance of absolute privacy to make sure information like that stayed safe! Besides, their greatest priority at the moment was securing a place for them to lodge, so she didn’t want them to get distracted by this! “I hope you’re not mad!”

Gwynivara held it out for him to retrieve it, but instead of getting it from her immediately, Emorick stared at it curiously. Gwynivara wondered if he remembered his metaphysical journey to the mountain after all or if his connection to this object had more depth than she could have imagined! She guessed that if the latter had been the case, then it could have partially cleared up how he had been able to have a presence with them while he was in a coma miles away from them, but then she recalled how Rafeneita came to her in her dreams and thought that maybe there was some other way…

Just as she thought about Rafeneita, she appeared in the orb! A man came into the room and hung his head in a nervous shame. Rafeneita prodded him, “What is it? Get on with it! Just tell me! Now!” The man made eye contact with her, and then…