Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 30

The blaring music just made it worse! He grumbled to himself wondering why they had to play these loud, obnoxious songs long before the rally was set to start, and he answered his own question as he heard footsteps trotting above his dressing room. He couldn’t believe supporters were actually arriving well ahead of the warm up speaker stepping onto the stadium’s stage! His blood raced, his heart pounded wildly, and his chest tightened up just thinking about the crowd he would likely face! They told him that his skyrocketing poll numbers would draw a larger audience than before, and now he feared that their prediction would get proven right! His stomach churned at the very thought! He couldn’t take it! He grabbed a pack of cigarettes and dashed outside.

The cold air amplified the smoke that he exhaled. Watching it slowly get bigger before it vanished helped him take his mind off of his anxiety a little bit, but not completely since he could hear the clamor of his spectators above him. He sincerely hoped an avid fan wouldn’t venture into the restricted area, he just wasn’t ready for that kind of attention yet! He briefly noticed a security guard trying to get his attention, but he paid them no mind. He couldn’t! He didn’t have much to himself, so he had to take what little he could get when he got the opportunity! Lately, every minute of his life got stolen to cater to other people’s needs, so he had to take some time to decompress! He couldn’t wait until election season came to a close! But then it occurred to him that if they succeeded that this practice may not change! A part of him wished that he would lose so he could go back to living in luxury thanks to the wealth he earned during his ad man days, but then he bitterly wondered if he would have enough money let after this folly finished to return to his old lifestyle! Then again, he knew that if they didn’t emerge victoriously, nothing normal would ever exist again! He had an enormous weight on his shoulders, and knowing the importance of it all didn’t help him feel any better about all that he had to do!

Bella found one of the venue employees and addressed him, “It’s starting to rain pretty hard out there! Is there any way to put some kind of cover over everyone?”

“No way, lady! This is a football field, not a convertible!” He saw that she didn’t appreciate his sense of humor, so he quickly followed that with, “I can offer plastic ponchos to them though!”

“Good! See if you can get them some umbrellas too!” Bella ordered.

As the worker hastily ran to adhere to her bidding, Rialowe briefly had the urge to laugh, but he couldn’t muster up any sign of enjoyment right then. He could feel Bella’s eyes on him, but he ignored her. He had no obligation to give her any more of his time than he already had! As she marched over to him, he realized that she clearly didn’t share that viewpoint! “What are you doing?” she barked.

He took another drag that shrouded her face from his vision. “I know when showtime is! I don’t need a reminder! You have plenty of peons around here to yell at if you’re bored!”

Before he could take another puff, Bella snatched his cigarette away from him. “I told you not to mess with these things anymore, especially right before showtime! We need your vocal chords to stay in pristine condition!”

With his vice out of his hands, Rialowe began to tense up again. “You know, screw you! You put the fate of the human race on my back and then expect me to function just fine without a goddam break! What’s the point of surviving if you won’t let me live?”

“What’s wrong with you? Why are you so…?” Bella took a good look at his body language, and then she concluded, “Wait, are you nervous?”

“Don’t worry about it! My opinion never mattered before, so why should it now?” Rialowe tried to walk away from her.

Bella thrust her arm out to stop him. “Your opinion doesn’t matter? I thought we were all on the same page here!”

Rialowe assured her, “I’m not backing out of the plan, but it doesn’t mean I like going through it!”

“You didn’t have a problem with it before!” Bella pointed out. “What changed?”

“I don’t know!” Rialowe stared out at the storm clouds and remarked, “Something in the atmosphere just feels different…”

Bella guessed, “You mean like the rain?” Rialowe glared at her and showed signs of leaving, so she elaborated, “I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass! I just meant the bad weather might be making you feel gloomy.”

Rialowe shrugged. “Maybe that’s part of it.” He pulled out his cigarettes without thinking about it. “It didn’t feel so daunting at first, but seeing the numbers grow and…” He almost lit another smoke, but when he saw Bella’s reproachful expression, he grimaced and put everything away again. “It’s just a little… unsettling… knowing that a lot of the people who come to see me won’t come back! The more my popularity increases, the more…” He didn’t finish his sentence partly because of the flurry of movement happening around them but mostly due to the sinking sensation he got when he broached the concept.

“Listen…” Bella took him to the side so no one else could hear them. “I know the process isn’t easy, but think about the end goal! You’re doing this for the greater good, they’ll thank you later!”

“You’re right!” Rialowe couldn’t deny her logic, but he still didn’t feel completely reassured. “Why does one feel so different though?”

Bella heard someone paging her on the headset she wore, so she hurriedly advised him, “If you want us to do well today, I suggest you quit feeling and starting doing something more useful! We can’t fail!”

As she scampered off, Rialowe almost pulled out his cigarettes again. He heard someone approach him, so he let out a noise of annoyance as he stuffed them back into his pocket. When he turned to face his visitor, he expected to see someone of high authority. It caught him off guard to see the face of a beautiful woman wearing one of his campaign hats! It also shocked him to see a group of like-minded companions behind her since he hadn’t detected a large gathering coming his way! He really hoped that his devotees hadn’t seen him in a more vulnerable state, and it vexed him that he had to deal with them before he had mentally prepared himself to do so! Despite all that, he knew he had a job to do, so he tired to rapidly switch on his usual bravado. “How can I help you guys?”

“We’re from the Ohio Independent Party Committee,” Gwynivara fibbed. “We need to talk to you before everything starts.”

“I’d love to, but I’m on a tight schedule, and I…” He trailed off as he noticed something familiar about the figures that stood before him. He had his suspicions, but this bunch seemed so harmless, so he doubted his ominous theories. He spotted another security guard passing by, and as he eyeballed this congregation, Rialowe’s curiosity got the best of him. Besides, he didn’t want to cause a fuss if he could help it! He invited them, “Let’s talk in my dressing room, ‘kay?” The security guard gazed at him questioningly, and even Rialowe couldn’t fully explain it. He waved him off and ushered these mysterious strangers to a place of privacy. He didn’t think that they would prove themselves as foes, but if they had, he reassured himself with the fact that they were heading to a place with no way out!

Cody surveyed his surroundings with a set of binoculars, and then suddenly, he saw a security guard heading backstage. “Bingo!” he exclaimed right before he high-fived the Rebel sitting next to him. That Rebel did the same to the person next to him, and she did the same to the person next to her. They did a chain of this until they reached Cedric, who sat at the end of the row. He discretely pointed his palm by the railing, and he made the security guard freeze in his tracks by causing a small explosion! The attendees close to the area all screamed, so the security guard had no choice but to investigate the incident. Cody espied Rebekah on the other side of the stadium and gave her a thumbs up, a gesture that she returned back to him. He smiled and then continued to investigate the rally territory.

Rialowe shut the door behind him and offered the Rebel Officers, “Have a seat.” Gwynivara, Emorick, Bernadette, Riley, Naama, Niqun, John, and José all found a spot on the floor to sit while Rialowe perched himself on a cushioned bench in front of a vanity mirror. As he sifted through a stack of papers on the table next to him, he apologized, “Forgive me, but I do have a very large speech to give, so I need to read through a lot of notes, but I promise I’m listening!”

“That’s totally fine! We understand!” Gwynivara regarded him genially, but inwardly, she maintained a healthy level of skepticism. After their adversaries spent so much effort in trying to prevent this meeting from ever happening, it seemed odd to her that the Rebels made it happen so seamlessly! Furthermore, Rialowe acted kind to them, and so far, she didn’t detect any hints of deception! She considered the possibility that Kierram’s defense of him had been warranted, and the only thing that kept her from completely buying into this notion that they may actually achieve their goal through peaceful measures was the fact that he continually promoted dangerous messages that fit Rafeneita’s agenda perfectly! She supposed that he could have come up with his campaign themes on his own and unwittingly assisted Rafeneita’s scheme, but just in case that didn’t turn out to be true, she kept her guard up and watched for indications of physical altercation.

“What can I help you with?” Rialowe asked them as he continued to skim through his papers.

Emorick answered him, “Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but we have a high level of quarantine victims in this state. Thousands of innocent people are locked away indefinitely, and thousands more have given up their freedom trying to avoid that fate. We really admired your views on creating more liberty for everyone, so we hoped that you could help us promote this movement on a grander scale.”

Still rummaging through his belongings, Rialowe cordially responded, “Yeah, that’s a huge problem! That’s why I plan to cover it extensively tonight.”

“We were hoping you could go a little further with it,” Bernadette conveyed to him.

“How so?” Rialowe found a specific packet and began reading through it.

Bernadette explained, “They’re never gonna stop hunting people down so long as they can spin this narrative that Venenatus Sanguis exists, and it doesn’t matter how how many of us deny it, they’ll keep doing this as long as they can convince at least half the population that it’s real. We may not be able to persuade those sheep of the idea that it’s all a hoax, but we can convince them there’s a cure.”

Rialowe, while studying the packet with grave concern, probed, “How can I say there’s a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist?”

“That’s easy!” Riley asserted. “You tell all of your supporters to take the cure, let them know that it doesn’t matter if it may be a placebo! If everyone thinks that they’re cured, then the government can’t keep capturing people with that same old excuse! Piece of cake!”

“Wouldn’t doctors just point out the cure is fake?” Rialowe brought up while keeping his eyes on the data in front of him, gazing at it as if it would help him make a decision.

“Not if we convince some doctors to speak out on your behalf,” Gwynivara countered his argument. “The PHC may have lost credibility, but doctors sure haven’t! They’re overwhelmed by the mishaps from this charade, so they’ll be happy to find a way to-!”

Before Gwynivara could complete her thought, Rialowe aimed both of his palms at them! It came so fast and unexpectedly that none of them could defend themselves let alone process what was happening! Rope appeared out of nowhere and bound them all together! No one could move their arms, so no one could fight back! Rialowe strolled over to them and showed everyone the paper he had been staring at so vigorously- it was the FBI’s most wanted list! “You guys really believed you had me fooled, huh?” he sneered.

Gwynivara stammered, “You… You can do incantations?”

Bernadette snapped, “So, you’ve had Venenatus Sanguis this whole time that you’ve been trying to convince people it’s not real?”

“Yes, that’s right! But don’t look so shocked! You really think I could face these massive spreading events without getting bit by a beast? Incidentally, I took the easy route to get there!” He showed them one of his “Rialowe ’76” lollipops and threw it back onto the table.

“Why are you doing this?” Emorick grilled him.

Rialowe indulged him, “Because eventually we’re all gonna get it, this will be the new normal! The sooner we can infect everyone, the sooner we can get our lives back again! And of course I lied to them! They wanted me to!” He pulled off Emorick’s “Lie to Me” hat and threw it to the ground. “The virus will spread more with everybody’s guard down, so naturally I decided to feed them that line! Quite successfully, might I add!” He ambled his way around their captured bodies. “My numbers having been growing by the thousands each day! I’m more popular than Ford and Carter combined! Soon, I’ll be president and the most powerful person in the world! I can save our entire species!” He ceased his gait directly in front of Gwynivara. “That’s why I can’t have you imbeciles out there peddling your snake oil! I’m the salesman here! You will not beat me at my own game!” He used another incantation towards Gwynivara and drew the vial with the cure out of her pocket! “I can’t let you sell this to anyone!” Gwynivara’s heart pounded manically while she watched helplessly as he held the cure up in the air threateningly…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 29

They had no way to escape! All they could do was defend themselves from the onslaught of attack, but as Gwynivara stood ready to fire several incantations, she could tell that they would have been heavily outnumbered. Emorick hadn’t come close to fully recovering from all the energy he used for the incantation he used to save Gwynivara during their battle against Rafeneita, and Gwynivara knew her adrenaline would only take her so far! She had used so much of her ability in the past week or so that she knew she wouldn’t last long in a fight! Regardless of which adversary was heading towards them right then, they would have had such a large advantage against the pair that they could have eradicated them in mere seconds! Gwynivara couldn’t let them do that to the number one and two in command of the Rebellion- the group that had the rare bit of knowledge to save humanity would collapse without their key players, so she needed to keep them alive for the sake of their entire planet! She almost sent rocks tumbling down to block the entrance to the cave, and the only thing that stopped her was the observation that the voices coming towards them sounded happy…

Emorick and Gwynivara looked to each other in confusion. They didn’t know what to expect, and it startled them when Riley appeared first! He gleefully announced, “You’ll never guess who José and Niqun found!” As Bernadette, Cody, Rebekah, John, Naama, José, and Niqun all trickled in with big grins on their faces, Emorick and Gwynivara still felt confused… until…

Susie, Cedric, and Easton showed up with the rest of the Rebels from Great Dismal Falls behind them! Gwynivara’s jaw dropped- it seemed like too impossible of a feat to actually occur, and yet, here they were! Susie beamed at them and exclaimed, “Surpise!”

“What are you… How are you…?” Emorick stammered.

“We were in the sewers on our way back to headquarters when they just came out of nowhere!” José told them.

Gwynivara inquired, “You guys learned to travel using your Venenatus Sanguis?” She thought about how Abigor and his cronies disappeared after their siege before now, but she had gotten so wrapped in mourning the deaths from that day as well as the agony she endured when Kierram stormed off without coming back that she hadn’t given this facet a lot of consideration. Now that José had reminded her of it, she felt obligated to get to the bottom of it! If they could figure out how to do it as well, they would have a much needed edge in their efforts against Rafeneita and the wave of corruption that she created within their own government!

Easton merrily replied to her, “I wish! If we knew how to do that, we could have solved a lot of our problems a long time ago!”

“So, how did you all get here?” Niqun probed. She let the others know, “They wouldn’t tell us until we were all together!”

“Well, there’s a lot to explain, maybe you should sit down…” Cedric glanced around the cave, and he saw saw that it had become so packed that no one could move much! In fact, some of the Rebels couldn’t even fit inside! So, he retracted his original thought, “Never mind! Just stand comfortably!” He took a deep breath and began the saga, “After we went back to the FBI building, we found that Casey and Ansel had died! A group of agents stood over their bodies ready to dispose of them, but then when they saw us, they started using incantations against us! I know, hard to believe, right?”

Bernadette somewhat bitterly responded, “Not really! Abigor convinced the FBI to create their own Disease Safety Unit so they could go after us again!”

Easton cringed before he commented, “That explains a lot!” He shook off the ill feelings that this brought up and continued their story, “Well, they heard someone coming out and suddenly seemed eager to hide what they were doing, so we used this distraction to escape. We ran to Great Dismal Falls ’cause we assumed that when Riley picked you up that he took you back to the Ashling Boarding House. Security is so tight down there now! Police were onto us in a minute! When we finally got there, Susie said you guys never made it back!”

“When we saw the news covering Emorick’s court martial, we realized what happened,” Susie jumped in. “But the police started to show interest in the boarding house since they saw Cedric and Easton running in that direction and because it was owned by the mother of one of their most wanted people. We knew we weren’t safe there, but we had no idea how we were gonna evacuate everybody without everyone else noticing ’til this policeman showed up…”

“You trusted a policeman?” Emorick reacted quizzically.

Susie justified their decision, “Well, we went to the door ready to fight him off, but something about his demeanor made us think he wasn’t a threat. He genuinely seemed concerned about us, and he told us he was a friend that could help. He warned us that it may not seem like it at first, but we needed to trust him. We didn’t totally believe him, but then he assured us that he would never want to do anything to harm Riley!”

Riley stared at her in utter shock. “Was this policeman’s name Justin?” Susie nodded, and Riley’s eyes widened in bewilderment. “I gave him a fake name! How did he know my real identity?”

“Apparently this teacher you pretended to be filed a complaint when he received a huge fine for seemingly no reason,” Easton informed him. “He also saw your face when helped Emorick escape and got your mug all over the most wanted list. It didn’t take him long to figure out who you really were!”

“But…” Riley looked as though he wanted to feel elated by this revelation, but he struggled to comprehend it as reality. “… If Justin knew I was a wanted felon, why would he wanna help me?”

Cedric filled him in, “He was torn at first. He wanted to follow the rules and do his job, but when he remembered the look in your eyes, he said he didn’t see a criminal. He just met you, but he had a feeling you were special. He didn’t wanna believe that you were up to no good, and that’s when he started noticing a lot of sketchy things going on. He didn’t have a full grasp of what was happening, but after responding to Joanette Joule’s break in, he just knew something greater than he could imagine was at stake! So, he decided to help us.”

Susie narrated the rest of the story, “He bound all of our hands behind our backs with zip ties and had us get onto this bus. He headed towards Richmond, but on the way there, he promised us that he would help us get out of there if we told him the truth about everything. So we did. I don’t think he believed us at first, and for a while, we worried that he just tricked us into getting captured, but then when we were almost in Richmond, he told us to use our incantations to break out of the restraints and overpower him! I was the first one who could do it, but it felt so strange hurting a man who was so nice to us! He ordered me to do it since the human race was on the line, and I knew he was right. I made sure to incapacitate him in a way that was the least painful though! Before I knocked him out, he said that they suspected that you may have used the sewer systems. Once he was out, we followed the sewers but got lost. We didn’t know how to get to Silver Park, so we just kept trying to head north. Then today, we finally knew we made it when we heard José and Niqun talking!”

Everyone held Justin in high regard after hearing that, but Riley felt especially touched by his actions. John remarked, “After this is all over, you definitely gotta call this guy!”

Many of the other Rebels shared his sentiments, but Gwynivara picked up on something else from Susie’s account. “Wait, you said they suspected we were using the sewer systems, not he. So, who else besides Justin figured this out?”

“Some of the detectives assigned to you guys thought you went underground to elude authorities, and it started to click for them what was underneath the ground…” Easton regretfully revealed.

“They’re on to us!” Emorick miffed.

Naama deduced, “If they follow the sewage system, they’re bound to find our headquarters in this cave! We can’t hide everyone, we can’t even all fit inside! We can’t stay here!”

Bernadette wondered, “Where are we supposed to go though? We don’t have any other allies to help us get the cure out, and we can’t go after Rafeneita ’cause we don’t know where she is…”

“Yes we do!” Rebekah differed. She dove between a couple of people’s legs and pulled up a newspaper article. “He’s holding a rally in Ohio in a few days. If she’s gonna make like she’s hoping to be the future first lady, she’s bound to have gone with him!”

“We don’t know for certain that she’s the one masquerading as his gal though!” Gwynivara painfully admitted. She hated recalling the fight she had with Kierram, but she couldn’t get it out of her head, even right then! As joyous as this reunion with the other Rebels felt, she anguished over the fact that one Rebel, one very important to them, was notably absent! She knew if he were there that his opinion would have been significant, so she had the impulse to speak for him. It did come to her mind that his defense of Rialowe may have led them to some kind of trap, so she pondered if she ought to maintain this practice or not! It vexed her to think that if he had been present at that moment, he might have tried to persuade them to go there so they could fall prey to one of Rafeneita’s snares! She noticed that Rebekah was holding up a Vulpes Press publication, and that made her realize that one of their representatives would more than likely attend that rally. They knowingly or unknowingly did Rafeneita’s bidding by legitimizing Rialowe’s dangerous ideas, so if one or more of her lackeys would attend that rally, then she thought perhaps they could find a valuable clue that may lead them to Rafeneita! “But Rialowe has to be stopped regardless of who is working with him! Maybe it would be worth it to go to this thing!”

Cedric posed to her, “Yeah, but how would we get all these people there? We don’t have a bus this time, and they’ll be watching the sewers soon, so how are we gonna sneak everyone across state lines without getting caught?”

They all contemplated the issue for while. It did truly seem like an impossible task! Gwynivara knew that they couldn’t hide a crowd this size until they got to the rally where they could blend in with everyone else there! She transfixed her gaze back on the newspaper, and all of a sudden, something caught her eye that made the solution obvious…

“All aboard!” the train conductor shouted. “Last call for the train heading to Fredusky!” He watched a group of people donning pro-Rialowe gear board his train, and he joked with them, “Let me guess, you’re all Carter fans?”

“What are you blind?” Gwynivara pretended to feel offended by that slight.

The conductor chuckled, and then he expressed, “You’re lucky! All of Rialowe’s rallies sound like they’ve been a blast, but I have a feeling this one will be huge! And I don’t just mean the size of his supporters attending it either! I think this one will be the most momentous event he’s ever done!”

Gwynivara gave him an honest reaction to that, “You have no idea!” The conductor cheerily laughed and gladly collected their tickets as they entered onto the train.

During the ride, Gwynivara wistfully viewed the scenery go by. Emorick set down his newspaper and encouragingly regarded her, “It’s all gonna be okay, you know that, right?”

“No, I don’t know that!” Gwynivara lamented, “Kierram doesn’t know we left! He’s still out there, and they’re determined to…” She spotted the conductor nearby, so she finished her sentence in a lower voice, “They’re determined to capture the us, so what are the odds that he’ll find us?”

“Kierram’s a smart guy,” Emorick whispered, “If he goes to the cave and sees we’re not there, he’ll figure out where we went to.”

Gwynivara repined, “But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t figure out where we went and…” She glanced at the conductor, who came walking down the aisle, and she reworded her theorization, “What if he never figures out where we went and he thinks we abandoned him?”

Very sure of himself, Emorick assured her, “He’ll know better than that! He’ll know that we wouldn’t desert him just ’cause you two got into an argument! He’d know that something caused us to vacate our… camp like that, and he knows how we feel about Rialowe…” He tipped his “Lie to Me” ball cap to the conductor as he passed by, and the conductor nodded cordially back to him.

“Well, I suppose he could work out what our plan changed to, but there’s…” She softened her tone as she fretted, “There’s so much that could go wrong with this whole ordeal! Bella has already proven she has powerful allies, and Abigor may do something to get back in Rafeneita’s good graces. Most of our guys haven’t honed their incantation abilities, and now we’re down an Officer! Three Officers, actually! Two of our men died, and one is missing, and we barely hung in there the last time we battled Rafeneita before…” The conductor turned his attention in her direction when she mentioned Rafeneita’s name, and while she gauged it to be a coincidence, she didn’t want to take another chance and decided not to discuss anymore classified details. “I’m not saying we can’t succeed, I’m just saying there’s a lot of awful possibilities for us and I may not get a chance to tell him goodbye!”

“You’re not gonna have to worry about saying goodbye! We’re gonna be successful before you know it, then you and Kierram will find each other and have fun making up! Don’t give me that look! You have to believe that if you wanna succeed in a mission this critical!” Emorick advised her.

Gwynivara acknowledged, “You’re right! Everything will be just fine!” As the words came out of her mouth, her stomach tightened and she didn’t feel too sure about their odds…

The train came to a halt, and the conductor bellowed, “Okay folks, you’ve now reached the final destination! End of the line, everyone’s gotta go! Welcome to Fredusky!”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 28

Bernadette, Cody, and Rebekah watched as Emorick shakily walked across the cavern floor with Riley ready to catch him if he fell, and everyone but Gwynivara applauded when he nearly made it to the rocky hall that led to the front entrance. Gwynivara sat with her back turned against everybody else as she stared longingly at the light emanating from the setting sun, and while she could hear everything that went on, she had no reaction to it. At this point, she didn’t really believe that she would see Kierram’s shadow approaching their headquarters any time soon, but she had no desire to look anything else right then! Her mind seemed unable to focus on any other facet of her life except willing him to come back! Even as Emorick requested a break and sat close behind her, she couldn’t acknowledge that any other events occurred around her, not until he returned!

Riley directed Bernadette, “Okay, you’re next!”

“Me? I don’t need any kind of rehab!” Bernadette objected.

“You went through a lot of energy producing all of those incantations yesterday! And you never really fully recovered from the last time you battled like that, so should do this!” Riley insisted.

Bernadette still denied his argument, “I’m fine! I don’t need-!” She tried to stand up, but she got dizzy and tumbled down. Cody and Rebekah giggled, and Bernadette sheepishly admitted, “Okay, I guess I could use a bit of work!”

Rebekah stood up and held out her arms for her. “Let me help you up!” Bernadette accepted her offer, and Rebekah attentively assisted her as made her way around the room. When she made it back to her original position, the others clapped.

“Okay, you’re up next,” Cody invited Gwynivara.

“What?” Gwynivara glanced up at him as if it surprised her to get included in these exercises. “Oh, not today, thanks!” Her body shot back to her previous fixation.

Cody attempted to persuade her, “Ah, come on! You’ll need your strength to run into Kierram’s arms when he comes back!”

This concept made her heart break all over again! She wanted to do that more than anything, but the longer she had to wait for it, the less optimistic she became about it actually happening! She buried her head between her knees and tried to prevent herself from crying again, she certainly didnt’ want another emotional upheaval to create a beast once again! Cody backed away, although his feelings appeared to have been somewhat hurt by her rejection of his supportive gesture, he obviously understood it wasn’t personal against him. He faced the others and shrugged. Emorick suggested to them, “Why don’t you guys go see if you can find out why the others are taking so long?”

Cody moaned, “Aw! I was hoping that you were gonna tell us to go find dinner since the canvassers are so late! I’m so hungry, I-!”

Bernadette interrupted him, “We can do that too! Let’s just go!” She discretely nodded her head towards Emorick and Gwynivara, which made Cody comprehend their intentions and leave without any more of a fuss.

Gwynivara didn’t make eye contact with Emorick. She knew he wanted to give her a pep talk about the whole situation, and in this instance, she didn’t want to hear it! She had no desire to hear that it would all work out in the end since she had no way to certify the accuracy of that thought, and she definitely didn’t want to hear how it wasn’t her fault that he took off! She went over that night a thousand times in her mind already, and while she could tell the tragedy that they endured yesterday made her touchier than normal, she still kicked herself for losing her temper and jumping to conclusions with him! She knew she was to blame for that fight, and all of a sudden, it dawned on her that maybe Emorick blamed her too! She remembered when Emorick learned that they became a couple that he warned them not to let their romance interfere with the Rebellion’s efforts, and she started to think that perhaps Emorick wanted a private chat to remove her from the organization! She couldn’t blame him if he had wanted to do that! None of her plans had really panned out, in fact, they seemed to cause more damage if anything! Coupling that with causing his son to leave, she imagined that Emorick had grown furious with her! She didn’t want to stop him, but her fragile state wouldn’t have been able to handle his intense ire, so she tried to soften it a little by apologizing, “I’m sorry!”

“You’re sorry?” Emorick echoed back as if she had caught him off guard.

“Yeah!” Gwynivara sniffled as she confirmed this. “You told us not to let any lovers’ quarrels get in the way of progress, and I broke that promise! Plus, I-!”

Emorick corrected her, “You didn’t promise anything. He did. Besides, I didn’t really intend that for you. Kierram’s always had a hot temper. I had hoped that he could keep it under control ’til after we defeated Rafeneita, but this behavior isn’t abnormal for him, so it doesn’t shock me that he did what he did. Oh, don’t worry- he doesn’t fly off the handle all the time, he’s just very passionate and goes a tad overboard once in a while! Nialla always blamed it on him being a Taurus, I dunno if you’re into that kind of stuff…”

Gwynivara’s status hadn’t changed until her curiosity got roused by that last part. “Who’s Nialla?” she asked.

“She’s my wife. Well, she was,” he answered in a bittersweet tone. “She died about a year and a half ago.”

“I’m sorry!” Gwynivara had just said those words, but she now conveyed a different meaning behind it. With her attention ebbing back and forth between Kierram and her current surroundings, she recalled Kierram mentioning something else happening around that time frame. “Kierram got Venenatus Sanguis about a year and a half ago! Wow, that must’ve been quite a year for you to lose your wife and then your son getting sick with… Wait, you were on the run when this happened. I guess you didn’t find out ’til later, huh?”

Emorick surmised, “Kierram didn’t tell you then! Well…. it all started with a newspaper… One of the reasons I could pinpoint the origin of the virus to Great Dismal Falls is that Nialla and I grew up there. No matter where the Marine Corps moved us, we’d always keep tabs on what went in Great Dismal Falls. It became more important when I saw people in my hometown dying mysteriously! After I left my post and formed the Rebellion, I read several newspapers from all over the country to gain intelligence on the progression of this disease, and even though I still hovered around Great Dismal Falls, I included the local paper in that mix. I actually gleaned a lot from it! Then one day, I saw that Nialla’s parents were hosting her funeral there!” Gwynivara could see signs of him getting choked up over this loss, but he mostly stifled it and moved on, “I hadn’t seen my family for years to keep them safe, but I couldn’t help it- I had to go see her one more time! I had to say goodbye!”

Gwynivara inquired, “You really loved her, didn’t you?”

“I did, well, I still do!” He pulled out his wallet and showed her the first picture he had in there, which depicted a young Emorick in his dress uniform and a woman in a simple white gown and a crown of flowers in her hair. Her appearance threw her off a little just because she had always envisioned him with a more traditional housewife type and this woman had a more bohemian style. At first glance, the two of them didn’t seem like a match, and her face must have gave her initial impression away since Emorick explained, “I know, we’re kind of a mismatched pair, but we were crazy about each other regardless! She intrigued me from the minute I saw her! She was just so different than the other girls! I was nursing an injury, and she just happened to be volunteering at the hospital I stayed at. Some of the guys were laughing at her ’cause she offered them some flowery tea to help them heal, so I offered to try some. To this day, I don’t know if it worked, but it got her to talk to me! We became inseparable ever since! I never understood why such a gentle soul wanted to deal with a lunk like me, but she said she could sense a kindness in me and that the Marines needed my altruistic spirit to watch over them! No matter what ugliness I dealt with for my job, I’d come home to see her beauty, and it made everything feel alright! She always gave me hope when I needed it! Leaving her was the hardest thing I ever had to do! I loved her too much to see her go through what they would do to her if they knew she helped me…”

“I know what you mean! That’s why I sent my parents away,” Gwynivara related.

Emorick continued, “Well, anyway, I had to talk to her one more time, so I went to visit her grave. Little did I know my son decided to visit her at the same time! I was already upset over her death, but then my encounter with Kierram just made things worse1 I couldn’t blame him for getting mad over my absence, but I couldn’t handle it when he blamed everything else on me! He told me that she changed after I was gone, and she kept criticizing him for renewing his contract with the Marines. He blamed me for convincing him to join in the first place, and I guess she blamed the military for my departure. According to Kierram, the stress over possibly losing her son after losing me gave her the heart condition that killed her! That cut deep, I wouldd have never to that to Nialla if I could have helped it! I have pretty control over my Venenatus Sanguis, but with everything going on right then, I lost it! I created a beast, and that beast bit Kierram.”

Gwynivara deduced, “You gave Kierram Venenatus Sanguis?”

“That’s why you saw him resent me so much when you first joined the Rebellion,” Emorick verified this. “I made him an Officer ’cause I knew what he was capable of, but he didn’t really want to participate in our efforts ’til you came along. Your desire to save the world made him see the bigger picture, and you made him feel like he had hope when he had none! So, if he could forgive me for all that transpired between the two of us, then he’ll get over a little spat between the two of you!” He smiled genially at Gwynivara, and she felt warm inside at the sentiments behind that thought… until another thought came to her…

“He forgave you ’cause you almost died!” Gwynivara differed with him. “I don’t wanna risk my life just so he’ll forgive me! What if I don’t luck out again? You probably won’t be able save me a second time!”

Emorick’s brows furrowed at her last sentence. “What do you mean? Are you talking about when I helped you defeat that giant beast? You had a pretty good handle on it , you weren’t really that close to dying…”

Gwynivara cringed for letting that slip out! She didn’t intend to keep it secret forever, but she didn’t want to have this discussion in such an abrupt manner! She also kind of hoped she had a better grasp of why it played out the way it did before they had this talk! She didn’t want this mystifying phenomenon to freak him out, but since she accidentally leaked a piece of it out, now she had to fill him on the whole thing! She took a deep breath and confessed, “When we were battling Rafeneita, I almost got killed. But you appeared in the orb, and you woke me up! It was one thing when you came to us to give us some encouragement, we could have manifested your image somehow, but you were actually there! I don’t know how! I got so much energy from you that you’re still recovering from performing that incantation! I don’t know how it happened, but I’m sorry I put you in position like that!”

Gwynivara expected him to be irritated that she caused him to get into such a weakened condition, but she also considered that he would grow scared about having some kind of out of body experience. It shocked her when he rested his chin on his fist and gave the subject serious contemplation. After a few seconds, he murmured, “Where did Nialla say she got that again…?”

“Got what?” His response perplexed her enough that she abandoned her anxiety of how he might behave once he learned the truth!

“The orb.” Emorick pulled it out of his pocket and displayed it so that they could both see it. “Nialla gave it to me before I went to Europe in World War Two. She said it’s supposed to give you a way to see things that are very far away. I didn’t really believe that it worked, but whenever I was far away from her, I kept it by me to remind me of her. After I contracted Venenatus Sanguis, I figured out that I could use it to help channel my incantations. I didn’t know it could get used to channel someone’s essence when they were far away! Or maybe it was just a coincidence. But if it wasn’t, it would be a helpful tool for all the others to have too!” He placed the orb into her hand. “Keep it.” Before Gwynivara could say no, he affirmed, “You need it more than I do! We’re just at the beginning of learning all that Venenatus Sanguis is capable of, so I can’t explain why it came through for you like that, but if it came through for you once, I can’t risk taking it away from you! Yes, I mean it! If we end up confronting Rafeneita soon, I’m in no shape to fight right now! I made you number two in command for a reason! Well, partly two reasons since Kierram and Bernadette said no, but you have the drive and fortitude to lead our troops into battle, so you need all the tools you can get to make that happen! Keep it! If Nialla were here, I’m positive she would want to keep you protected!”

A flurry of emotions cascaded inside of her from his decision and the motivation behind it! It flattered her to know that someone she held in high regard held such a strong opinion of her, but she did not feel worthy of this praise! She didn’t know how to react right then, at least not until she heard a raucous commotion coming from the pathway up the rocky crag…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 27

“There he is!” a reporter hollered. As Agent Cecilio got out of his car, dozens of press members bombarded him. Cameras flashed, and that same reporter probed, “What can you tell us about the agents that invaded that news station this morning?”

Another reporter queried, “Did you guys plan this attack?”

A third reporter inquired, “Have you located the agents responsible for the death of that journalist?”

“Let me through!” Agent Cecilio barked. He finally thought he had the chance to wrap up a long day! His head felt so much pressure that one of his eardrums kept emitting a rapid thumping, and his muscles felt so tense that it pained him to move! Under normal circumstances, he would have been in bed reading a book with his wife, but he hadn’t even returned to the office to file his daily report yet! An impromptu press conference was the last thing he wanted to deal with! He just wanted to hurry and finish his paperwork so he could go home and have a drink to gain some sanity after such a hectic ordeal, but since the gaggle of reporters continued to hound him as he made his way to headquarters, he could tell that wouldn’t happen anytime soon! “I’ll hold a press conference tomorrow and give you all the answers you need then!”

“We need answers now!” another reporter insisted. “Something horrific happened, and we need to know why!”

Agent Cecilio made it to the steps of the building when he heard Linda Knucker declare, “I can explain what happened!”

He could have gone inside and gone on with his evening, but when Agent Cecilio heard that, he groaned knowing that he had to say now! He couldn’t let her spread more disinformation on the subject, that would have made matters worse! He dreaded the concept, and while he hoped that it wouldn’t take long, he had to accept that it just might! He turned back to the reporters and snapped at Linda, “You have no firsthand knowledge on the situation, spread your conspiracy theories elsewhere!” Linda looked somewhat affronted by this, but the rest of them gazed at him eagerly when they saw signs of him relenting.

“In no way, shape, or form would the FBI have orchestrated a siege like that!” Agent Cecilio stated firmly. “The Disease Safety Unit had intelligence that suggested some of our most wanted might show up at the Channel Five studio today, and I authorized them to go there to retrieve them. That’s it! Why they took the actions they did, I have no idea! If I had any inkling they made that plan, I would have put a stop to it and I would’ve terminated them immediately! It’s not FBI protocol to engage in property destruction, and we do our utmost to protect the public at all costs! Their heinous act doesn’t align with our values, and when we find them, I’ll see to it that they go to a federal prison right away, and at their trial, I’ll make sure they get hit with the maximum punishment possible!”

“Are these guys the same ones responsible for the deaths of the two men who died in your custody?” one of the reporters asked.

Agent Cecilio almost answered with an automatic reply of not being able to comment on an active investigation, but instead, he couldn’t help but truthfully express, “I… I don’t know! Everything I thought I knew about my crew has flipped upside down! Our organization isn’t perfect, and there were certain practices I believed should get reformed, but I never knew any of my people were capable of such atrocities!”

A reporter close to the front considerately questioned, “Are the people on your most wanted list still going to get charged with murder after they fought so hard to save lives during this insurrection?”

Agent Cecilio had to mull that one over, so another reporter pointed out, “They tried to put a cure for Venenatus Sanguis out there, so how can you charge them with using the disease to kill people?”

“He’s not gonna charge them for anything ’cause they work for him too!” Linda theorized. “They don’t have Venenatus Sanguis, no one does! They staged this coup ’cause Rialowe pulled ahead in the polls and he-!”

“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!” Agent Ceclio cried out. They all got taken aback by the sudden outburst from a typically clam and composed personality. “People have died! Don’t you dare use their deaths to perpetrate your propaganda!” The other press members applauded him for that response.

The agent who had interrogated Bernadette glanced out the window and smirked. “He’s out there arguing with the media!” he shared with the person on the other line.

Rafeneita spoke back to him, “Good! That buys us some time! Have you seen Abigor at all?”

That agent chuckled, “Are you kidding? You think he’d actually show his dumb face here after broadcasting his crime on live television?”

“Don’t remind me of that!” Rafeneita seethed. “I didn’t think he would come back to work after that fiasco! I just wondered if you had any leads on his whereabouts.”

“Afraid not!” The agent casually kicked his feet up on his desk and tossed peanuts into his mouth. “I gotta tell you, if we do find him, we’re gonna have to arrest him! There’s no way I can get him off the hook!”

Rafeneita told him, “He’d be safer incarcerated! If I find him first, you’ll find him in pieces!”

The agent snickered at that. “What are you gonna do? Add another secret ingredient to your lollipops?”

“Who would that appeal to, his cannibal supporters?” Rafeneita shot back. “What an idiotic-!”

“Relax! I was only kidding!” the agent reassured her while popping more peanuts into his mouth.

Rafeneita remarked, “This is no laughing matter! Get serious! Did this incident get those Rebels off the most wanted list?”

The agent shrugged. “Eh. A lot of people are clamoring for it, but don’t worry! Regardless of what the boss or even the DOJ says, I’ll find a way to get those guys captured! Right now, we’re setting up a-.”

“What are you doing?” Agent Cecilio stared at him incredulously.

“I… Uh…!” The agent quickly hung up the phone. “I was just talking to my wife!”

Agent Cecilio didn’t buy that. “You’re planning on defying me and the Department of Justice?”

The agent denied that, “No, no, no! My wife… She just doesn’t want those murderers to get off easily just ’cause public opinion softened anyone’s heart! She thinks they belong in jail! That’s all!”

“You’re fired!” Agent Cecilio exclaimed.

“For talking on the phone with my wife?” the agent challenged.

Agent Cecilio replied, “You gave away classified information at best! At worst… Don’t leave town! I’m gonna have to file a case against you too!”

The agent pleaded, “Don’t do this! Gimme another chance!”

Agent Cecilio coldly regarded him, “Turn in your badge and get out of my sight!” The agent slammed down his badge and left the area with a truly frightened look on his face. Agent Cecilio went into his own office, and after he slumped onto his chair, he cradled his head in his hands. As he stared blankly at his desk, something caught his eye. He picked up a “Rialowe ’76” lollipop and rubbed his chin contemplatively.

Gwynivara sat on the cliff’s edge staring at the moonlight reflecting off of the lake’s surface, and she didn’t glance up when she heard footsteps behind her. Kierram sat next to her, and even when he tenderly grabbed her hand, she still didn’t look up. Kierram commented, “You know, as long as we’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve really taken the time to appreciate just how beautiful the scenery is!” Gwynivara remained unresponsive, so Kierram posed to her, “Are you still blaming yourself for what happened today?”

“I don’t blame myself!” Gwynivara finally broke her silence. “I know that if I had any clue that Abigor would do what he did that I would have brought more reinforcements, and I know I did everything I could have in the moment to prevent that security guard and Joanette from dying. It’s just… First, Professor Chadron dies trying to get the cure out there, and then Joanette got killed for trying to get the truth out to everyone. It’s starting to feel like anyone who agrees to help us is fatally doomed, like they’re animals getting sent to slaughter! We still don’t have the cure out there, and who knows if people will believe Joanette’s story! Rialowe is probably gonna paint them both as crazy people, and we-!”

“I don’t think Rialowe would do that, “Kierram put in. “I think he would just use this tragedy as an example of why we need to give people more freedom, like they wouldn’t have gone to such great lengths if everyone had the same opportunities!” Gwynivara gave him a peculiar gaze, so he reacted questioningly, “What?”

Gwynivara asserted, “It almost sounds like you’re defending him!”

Kierram didn’t deny this accusation. “Well, we’re always making him out to be some kind of super villain, and he’s really not all that bad!”

“Not all that bad?” Gwynivara roared. “He’s working for our archenemy, an enemy that wants to wipe out all humanity, and you don’t think he’s that bad?”

“We don’t have definitive proof that he’s working for her!” Kierram argued. “No one knows anything about her, she could be anyone!”

Gwynivara contended, “So, why did we get ambushed by a barrage of incantations after the debates?”

Kierram retorted, “Bella had us attacked, not Rialowe! And to be fair, we were going after her!”

“We were going to investigate her!” Gwynivara debated him. “If we went back there and didn’t see any connections to Rafeneita, we would have left them all alone!”

“How was Bella supposed to know that? What would we have done if someone came snooping around our headquarters?” Kierram countered with.

Gwynivara rebutted that, “We wouldn’t have automatically had an intruder murdered! We’d ask questions before we stooped to that level!”

Kierram fumed, “She kills her enemies! It’s not so strange!”

“So, you’re just gonna keep justifying everything they do?” Gwynivara yelled.

“They’re just doing what they think is right! It’s not that different than what we’re doing!” Kierram uttered.

Gwynivara shrieked, “What are you saying?”

Kierram bellowed, “Hey, our movement gets people killed too! We’re not always the good guys!”

Gwynivara vociferated, “How can you say that?”

Before Kierram could respond, tow long, reptilian-like beasts appeared above them, growling at them from above the cave’s entrance. Gwynivara cast an incantation at one of them, and right away, she felt completely drained. She almost forgot that she had used so much energy earlier fighting Abigor’s henchmen! Luckily, she saw another incantation take care of the other beast! She assumed that it had come from Kierram, but when she turned to thank him, she saw that he was no longer there! “Kierram?”

When she swiveled to search for him, she nearly lost her balance. “Woah! Don’t fall!” Riley caught her and hoisted her back onto the mountainside.

Gwynivara could see Emorick as well as the other Rebels watching the scene unfold in front of them, but she didn’t pay them any mind right then. She urgently needed to find Kierram! She finally spotted him storming down the rocky trail, so she called out to him, “Kierram! Come back!”

He spat, “I’m not going anywhere I’m not trusted!”

Gwynivara wanted to chase after him, but when she attempted to run, she almost fell again. She braced herself on Riley’s support as she demanded, “We have to go get him!”

“He just needs to cool off,” Emorick reasoned. “He’ll come back when he’s calmed down.”

“But…!” Gwynivara stared at his figure getting smaller and smaller from her view, and her heart wrenched more and more the further he got! As much as their disagreement hurt, she didn’t want it to end like this! She wanted him to come to his senses and apologize for creating this distrust in her, and the fact that he hadn’t raised so many alarm bells in her head! Despite that, her gut seemed to indicate that he would stay loyal to their cause. Emorick sounded so sure when he said that Kierram would return once he got over his sore feelings, but Gwynivara didn’t feel so certain. So many adversaries sought them out, and she feared that him being alone would make him more vulnerable to getting seized by them! She hoped that he would realize this and circle back to the cave, but when she saw his shadow disappear into the night, she knew the awful truth- Kierram would come back! She wanted to share all of this to the others, but all she could do was burst into tears! As she sobbed into Riley’s shoulders and stomached another loss, she couldn’t help but wonder if the Rebellion had any kind of future ahead of them!

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 26

The station manager went up to Joanette and let her know, “The disturbance turned out to just be the mailman. We had him watched the entire time he was here, and he left without any incidents.”

“You tailed the mailman?” Joanette questioned.

“You can’t trust anyone during a time like this!” the station manager responded. “It’s not unheard of for someone to put on a blue collar uniform to infiltrate a forbidden area!” Gwynivara and Bernadette tried not to snicker as they gave each other knowing smiles after he said that. The station manager glanced at the security guard behind him and asked, “How’s everything now?”

The security guard answered, “Everything’s quiet, so we’re looking good right now!”

The station manager chimed, “Good!” When he turned back to Joanette, his expression still appeared nervous. “It’s just an interview with a few college students, no big deal!” he told himself. His eyes flickered between Bernadette and Gwynivara, who stood off stage, as well as Cody and Rebekah, and he probed, “You’re all in the same class?”

“Oh no! We were Professor Chadron’s grad students. They’re just some freshmen volunteers,” Bernadette fibbed.

“That makes sense.” He took a deep breath and resumed reassuring himself, “Just some college students testing out a theory, no big deal!”

Joanette pointed out, “And a licensed nurse. She’s here to test them for Venenatus Sanguis.”

The station manager nodded in remembrance of this detail. “Right, right! One of these kids took on this serum as a preventative measure, and one of them previously tested positive for the virus. Have you checked out the validity of these claims for yourself? No offense to you guys, I just have to double check you’re not snake oil salesmen in disguise!”

“Of course I checked their claims! You think I would do this if I hadn’t done my homework?” Joanette countered.

“That’s good… So, are we harboring a quarantine evader?” the station manager probed.

Joanette refuted that notion, “No! She’s gonna test negative, so she’s no longer a felon. I guess you could say these two girls harbored a fugative, but considering they found the cure, I’m sure the district attorney would cut them a break!” The station manager still seemed on edge, so Joanette assured him, “Everything’s gonna be fine! We’ll show the world that this cure works, and then we’ll have exclusive access to their story as they bring the vaccine to the Public Health Center and become world famous scientific heroes!”

The station manager tried to quell his anxiety with her logic, “You’re probably right. I’m just being overly paranoid! I got myself so worked up that I’m starting to get flashbacks to the day the Nazis invaded our camp! Something in the air felt different that morning, like a strange electricity in the atmosphere could sense a dangerous presence headed our way… I think those hate letters just took me back to the trenches of Magiskby fields… You know some of the locals in the area got deeply harassed for speaking out against what their German neighbors were doing…”

“You remember who won that battle, right?” Gwynivara brought up. “The ones who spoke out were on the right side of history!”

“You’re right!” The station manager’s confidence buoyed up after hearing that. “I just gotta…” He paused as he listened to someone speaking into his headphones. “Oh shoot! One minute ’til we’re live! Places everyone!”

As everybody prepared themselves for the broadcast, Gwynivara noticed a lot of chatter on the security guard’s walkie-talkie. He didn’t seem worried, but Gwynivara grew a little suspicious and wondered if the station manager’s paranoia actually had some merit…

The anchor at the news desk announced, “Breaking news on the Venenatus Sanguis pandemic! Joanette Joules, take it away!”

“I’m here with two students from Hildegard Bingen University who claim they’ve taken an antidote developed by the recently departed Professor Ezra Chadron, and Nurse Alvaro is here to test…” She trailed off as she heard the security guard whispering urgently into his walkie-talkie, but he gave her a thumbs up, so she continued, “She’s here to test if this cure was, indeed, effective. So, we’ll start with Rebekah, who is actually known to authorities to have…” The ground beneath them shook slightly, and the security guard inquired into his walkie-talkie to find out what was happening. Joanette ushed Nurse Alvaro to keep going with her test as she spoke into the camera, “She’s known to have escaped quarantine, so if she tests negative…” Nurse Alvaro tried to steady her hand as she held up a small device that pricked Rebekah’s finger, and although the quakes grew stronger and more frequent, Joanette felt determined to keep going. “If she tests negative, then it means…”

“Joanette!” After hearing what the security guard said to him, the station manager urged Joanette to stop.

Gwynivara and Bernadette watched as the security guard moved to a position between the set and a station entrance, and they became even more alarmed when he brandished his gun! The camera person attempted to turn off his equipment, but Joanette ordered him, “Keep rolling! Nurse Alvaro, what do the results say?”

Nurse Alvaro frantically replied, “I don’t know, it takes a minute to…”

The walls started to tremor so violently that the dust and small debris above them began to rain down! The station manager shouted, “Joanette! We have to take cover!”

Joantte refused, “No! They’re trying to prevent the truth from coming out, and I just won’t let that happen!”

All of the staff ran in the opposite direction of where the imminent danger stemmed from, but Joanette didn’t budge. Gwynivara and Bernadette ran to the security guard’s die, ready to assist him with what they assumed was a giant beast while Joanette attempted to go on, “Any moment now, this test will prove that she is no longer…”

Suddenly, the entryway to the station burst apart, and it shocked Gwynivara to behold this sight! The massive size of this beast, which resembled the appearance of an elephant with no tusks or trunk but had sharp fangs, didn’t shock her as much as the fact that Abigor and his minions who worked for him were riding on top of it! Everyone but Abigor hopped down and immediately fired incantations at Bernadette and Gwynivara! The security guard hit one of them with one of his bullets, but he soon ran out of ammunition. Gwynivara and Bernadette shielded him as he reloaded, and although they were still outnumbered, they managed to fend them off. Gwynivara could see the beast advancing towards the set where the others stood, but she couldn’t take action on it without getting struck by one of her many adversaries!

Cody ran over to the abandoned camera and swiveled it so it could film the fight. Rebekah tried to produce an incantation, but no matter how hard she concentrated, she couldn’t conjure anything. “Oh, I forgot I’m cured!” Rebekah recalled fretfully.

Nurse Alvaro dropped the testing device and hurried to safety. Joanette picked it up and then commanded to Cody, “Point it to me!” As she used her body to cover Rebekah from the beast, she informed the viewers, “According to this device, Rebekah is-!”

Before she could read the results, the beast nearly bit her. Cody rushed over and kept its jaws held open with all the strength he had. Joanette and Rebekah got up to help, but soon, their endurance started to wane. Just when they feared that the beast might overtake them, a gunshot rang out, and the beast howled in pain. The security guard fired another round, and this time, the beast went limp. The three of them let got of its jaw, but in its last bit of life, it sunk its teeth into Cody’s arm! Cody freed himself, but he couldn’t concentrate on anything else as he stared the wound with wide eyes. Joanette grabbed the Venenatus Sanguis tester, and she directed him, “Quick! Take the test!”

As the beast fell down to the ground, Cody hurriedly pricked his finger. Joanette saw Abigor rising up off the floor, so she grabbed Rebekah and Cody by the wrist and ran them behind the security guard. The security guard had the instinctive ability to dodge the incantations that Abigor hurled at him while returning fire back at him, and both Bernadette and Gwynivara tried to rapidly defeat their opponents so they could go help, but they were still overwhelmed! During the melee, Joanette spun the camera towards herself, and as fast as she could, she rattled off as many facts as possible, “That man works for the FBI in the Disease Safety Unit. They’re supposed to be protecting you from Venenatus Sanguis, but as you can see, they’re trying to spread it! Rebekah’s test came back negative, and in a few seconds, we’ll see that Cody’s will too. They don’t want you to know this ’cause they’re using biological warfare to-!”

Abigor struck the security guard, who fell down and laid motionless! Gwynivara was able to free herself from the other agents, but as she used an incantation against him, he threw one at Joanette! Abigor collapsed, but so did Joanette! “No!” Gwynivara cried out. This distraction almost got her hit by the other agents, and she rejoined the struggle. Rebekah swooped down to take Joanette’s pulse, and when she found none, she gasped!

All of a sudden, police sirens blared! One of the agents aimed an incantation at the heavy lights above them, and everyone had to roll out of the way to avoid the impact of this! The agents swept up Abigor, and right as Gwynivara and Bernadette prepared themselves to take them out, they disappeared into thin air! “How did they do that?” Bernadette exclaimed.

The four Rebels exited the building, narrowly missing the the police’s arrival inside. Some of the staff, including the station manager, warily crept out of their hiding spot, and one of the police officers asked them, “What happened?”

“Our audience can tell you, we’ve been live this whole time!” the station manager answered while ruefully staring at Joanette.

“Nobody touch anything!” the other police officer instructed just as the staff neared the damage to survey it all. “This entire studio is a crime scene!”

The first police officer talked into his microphone, “Dispatch, we’re gonna need CSI and a detective in here stat!”

As he gave the dispatch operator his location, the staff all wept for their fallen brethren. The station manager bent over top pick something up that landed close to them, and sadly told his crew, “Cody’s test results!” They all peered over his shoulders to read what it displayed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, never in my life did I imagine doing the autopsy of one of our own, but Professor Chadron donated his body to science, so we’re going to help the police out with this!” A man in protective surgical gear gazed despondently at Professor Chadron’s lifeless body while a half dozen students, who also donned the same garb, looked at him wistfully. “So, what’s the first step?”

“An external examination,” a female student replied.

The teacher responded, “Yes! This includes less visible places like underneath his fingernails, which could hold important clues to the events leading to the victim’s death. Go ahead.”

All six students positioned themselves at different sections of his body, and they thoroughly inspected it. Another female student stated, “I see gunshot residue.”

“Ah, so the gun the police retrieved did come from him,” the teacher noted. “No bullets were found, so there’s a wounded killer out there somewhere!” He jotted this down, and then he queried, “Any contusions or lacerations?”

A male student asserted, “No. It doesn’t appear that there’s any external signs of his cause of death.”

Another male student put in, “That means the cause of death is from an internal attack, which is strange considering that he physically fought someone off!”

“Indeed!” The professor wrote this finding down. “It’s possible that Professor Chadron had myocardial infarction from the fear generated by this assault. It’s also possible that he ingested some kind of toxin prior to the assailant arriving. Only an internal examination will tell! Who wants to make the incision?”

“I’ll do it!” a third male student volunteered.

As he made a y shaped cut with a scalpel, the teacher informed them, “This process takes days to complete because we have to examine each organ as well as run tests for all of his bodily fluids. WE begin with the vital organs. You’ll need to open up the rib cage with-!”

A fourth male student raised his hand and brought to the teacher’s attention, “I think Rafael found something already!”

The teacher turned to Rafael, who let him know, “There’s an unusual protrusion coming from his stomach!”

“Really?” The teacher briskly walked over to see it for himself, and when he espied what Rafael had seen, his brows furrowed. “What the heck is that?” He swiftly grabbed the scalpel, and as he operated on the stomach, he educated the class, “Normally during an autopsy, we initialize the process with the heart and lungs, but in this case, we’re going to make an exception!” The rest of the class curiously gathered over Professor Chadron’s body and watched with anticipation as he worked. Once he got the organ open, the class reacted in a perplexed astonishment, and the teacher’s brows furrowed even more. “What is that?”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 25

“If you do this, you won’t end up in prime time, you’ll only end up in Palookaville!” the elderly woman on the other line chided.

“Okay, Mother!” Joanette sighed into the telephone. Gwynivara exchanged grimaces with John, Naama, and Kierram. They came to her house to gain a perspective new ally, and this discussion did not bode well for their chances!

Joanette’s mother went on, “Palookaville if you’re lucky! What if one of those nuts follows through on their threats?”

Hearing this shifted Joanette’s mood completely, and she shouted, “If you think they’re nuts, then why do you continue to support that crap?”

“Watch your language, young lady!” Joanette’s mother scolded.

“I’m not a child, Mother! I’m almost fifty, isn’t it time for us to finally have an adult conversation?” Joanette shot back.

Joanette’s mother retorted, “If you want to have an adult conversation, then start acting like one! You’re a grandmother, you should be mature enough not to use obscenities! You-!”

Interrupting her mother mid sentence, Joanette exclaimed, “Really? People are dying, my own life got threatened, and you’re worried about a swear word?” Her mother fell silent for a moment, and so Joanette countered with, “Don’t change the subject! You’re avoiding my question for a reason, aren’t you? You feel guilty about supporting a group of thugs, don’t you?”

“I don’t support violence!” her mother differed. “Some people go too far, but it happens with any cause! Do you remember when the Save the Dolphins activists beat up those fishermen? You condemned what those people did even though you still want to save those animals! I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but I still support Rialowe’s cause! This government is obviously exaggerating the amount of people who die from Venenatus Sanguis! A surgeon botches an operation, so they blame the virus! A man could strangle his wife to death and blame a manifestation! And no one checks the validity of these claims! They’d rather just perpetrate this narrative about this disease killing everyone! It’s all a hoax, and Rialowe is the only one who’s telling the truth! These lies have to stop, and no one should resort to murder to do that, but I don’t blame them for that level of anger! If they keep facing this kind of oppression, of course people will have drastic reactions! They can only take so much!”

“Oh Mother, you’re not being oppressed, you’re being brainwashed!” Joanette argued. “I mean, really? You think all the scientists, all the doctors, most of the news outlets, and-!”

“Even Hollywood is involved in this scheme, yes I do!” her mother affirmed. “They’re all desperate to destroy Rialowe’s reputation because they want to hold to their power!”

Joanette puzzled, “What power? Yes, movie stars have a lot of money and fame, but what exactly do you think scientists are getting out of this? It’s not like you see researchers riding around in Rolls Royces!”

Her mother didn’t have an explanation for that, but she stayed adamant on her stance, “Look, all I know is that Rialowe is a millionaire willing to sacrifice his fortune to save this country. I like him, but that doesn’t take away my love for you! You can believe what you want, but please don’t talk about politics on the air anymore! You’ll lose your job and maybe even your life!”

Gwynivara began to worry again. Clearly, Joanette didn’t share her mother’s views, but she could see that she deeply cared for her mom. She hoped that her desire to appease a parent wouldn’t dissuade her from speaking about Venenatus Sanguis during her broadcast! She may want to reassure her family, but with so much at stake, she hoped that Joanette would still feel willing to take on the risks and help save humanity!

Before Joanette could reply to her mother’s heartfelt sentiments, the doorbell rang, and she told her, “I got someone at the door! I’ll call you back later!” Her mother tried to persuade her to continue the conversation, but Joanette hung up on her. She then yelled, “Kurtis! Can you get that?” She turned back to the Rebels in her living room and let them know, “That’s the handyman. He’s here to fix a broken window. My husband put some furniture in front of it, but I don’t know what this person is capable of, so I’m not taking any chances!”

“Yeah, when we came by the other day, you mentioned that someone left an intimidating message for you, so I don’t blame you for being cautious!” John acknowledged.

“It was one thing when they sent letters to the station, but someone actually figured out where I live and broke into my house to try and scare me into submission!” Joanette shuddered at the memory of it.

Gwynivara responded encouragingly, “Key word, try! You’re not gonna let them do that to you, right?”

Joanette’s hands grew shaky, and she croaked out, “I don’t know! Do you mind if I smoke?” Her four guests permitted it, but right after she lit her cigarette, she immediately put it out. She then cradled her head in her hands and explained, “I quit years ago, but with all this crap going on, I…!”

“It’s understandable!” Naama sympathized. “My mom used to smoke when she felt stressed too.”

“No, it’s not that!” Joanette took a big gulp and then confessed, “I know that cigarettes are deadly, but lately I’ve just got this feeling that someone is trying to kill me, and I figured that if I’m gonna die, I may as well have a cigarette!”

Kierram attempted to shake that thought from her mind, “Don’t think like that! When I served in ‘Nam, I had a lot of people who wanted to kill me! After I left, nothing changed. But I never focused on that, well, except for tactical reasons. I’ve survived by focusing on the people who depended on me! If I keep my on taking care of my troops, I don’t have time to feel scared! Besides, the enemy wants me to buckle into the pressure, and I won’t give them the satisfaction!”

His advice seemed to embolden her spirits somewhat, but her curiosity picked up on something that seemed more pertinent for her attention. Joanette inquired, “People are still trying to kill you? Why?”

It appeared that the time had come for them to disclose the true nature of their visit! Gwynivara knew that she would never agree to do them any favors if they didn’t give her the full story, so she revealed, “We know who’s after you ’cause they’re after us too! They’re part of a movement that’s trying to suppress the truth, and we’re part of the resistance!”

“Is that why you’re on the most wanted list?” Joanette probed. The Rebels all looked surprised to hear her say that, so she filled them in, “Oh yes, I know! A lot of things just aren’t making sense right now. The FBI has one version of events, and the medical community has another. Politicians and law enforcement are divided on the topic, and there’s holes in everyone’s version of the dilemma. I’m tired of it! I just wanna know the truth! A lot of people paint you guys as criminals, but I’m looking at people of all different races, ages, and sexes, and it just seems so uncharacteristic of a typical group of insurgents! Something more is going on then what we’re being told! Please, just tell me what’s happening!”

“The truth is…” Gwynivara briefly hesitated. Joanette recognized them as sought after fugitives, and she had to make sure that Joanette didn’t have ulterior motives for entertaining them. She seemed eager to get an honest understanding of the matter, but she wondered what she would do with the story they gave her once it got out there. If she wanted to turn them in, she would have take measures to avoid capture for the umpteenth time! She also considered that she just wanted to write a sensational headline, and she didn’t want to give her that gratification if that were the case! Gwynivara looked into her eyes, and she saw a lot of hurt and desperation. Joanette gave off the aura of sheer earnestness, so she decided to trust her. “The truth is we all came together because we have one thing in common- we’re human and we wanna live! The people after us work for the one who created Venenatus Sanguis, and while they’re fighting to spread the virus, we’re fighting to get the cure out there before humanity gets destroyed!”

Joanette’s eyes widened in shock, but after she absorbed it more, she wanted to know, “Why has it fallen on you guys to do this? You don’t trust the Public Health Center?”

John educated her, “The enemy infiltrated the PHC. Any time their researchers came close to the cure or information that could help them, the enemy would destroy the evidence. Those same people formed the Disease Safety Unit in Great Dismal Falls, and while they claim to save people from Venenatus Sanguis, they’re actually trying to spread it! They keep manifestations on chains and sic ’em on healthy people! They even set fire to our quarantine building we had down there! They wanted to set infected people free to widen the spread! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be out of that hellhole, but…”

“Rialowe did tell the truth about one thing, those quarantines do imprison innocent people!” Kierram had said that in jest, but Gwynivara detected a kernel of genuineness to his voice that made her very suspicious of his mindset. She sincerely hoped that the short time he had spent in Vulpes Press hadn’t swayed him to their vulgar viewpoints!

“Speaking of Rialowe…” Naama introduced another aspect of this, “He’s convinced his followers that Venenatus Sanguis doesn’t exist so that people let their guards down. A lot have stopped doing the proper safety measures, making themselves more vulnerable to contract it! If that wasn’t bad enough, we think his supposed first lady is actually the origin of the virus!”

Joanette nodded in comprehension. “That would explain why no one knows anything about her! But who is this woman? She obviously has a lot of power over a lot of people, but why? Why do they wanna work for someone who’s killing everybody?”

Kierram took the reins on this one, “Her name is Rafeneita, and she’s some military leader from another planet. Yes, I know, that sounds far fetched, but where else would a disease like this come from?”

“An alien?” Joanette appeared very skeptical about the concept, but it did seem to square off with all that transpired. Gwynivara didnt’ get the impression that she totally bought the assertion yet, but she did hanker for further details on this. “So, she came to Earth to destroy it?”

“Yes,” Gwynivara confirmed. “We confronted her not so long ago, and she told us that her planet was on the brink of destruction, so she’s trying to wipe out humanity so her people can populate our world. She has humans helping her ’cause she promised to spare them once she succeeds. She tried to recruit us too, and she even gave us this as a bribe.”

Gwynivara held up the cure, and Joanette stared at it curiously. “What is it?” she asked.

John proclaimed, “It’s the cure! Apparently, she thought if we could help ourselves out, we would leave her alone.”

“She also kept us busy while she moved on to the next phase of her plot,” Kierram added. “She didn’t give us any clues how to use it, and she also had no idea that if we refused her that we would elude capture and find a person who could tell us how it works!”

“We wanted to find someone with credibility to take credit for it since the FBI is painting us murderous cult members!” Naama threw in. “We found an anatomy professor who gave us a lot of knowledge on it, but unfortunately, he can’t give us anything else! Rafeneita’s people killed him!”

Joanette recalled, “Are you talking about Professor Chadron? We just covered that story! So, he got killed so he couldn’t get the cure out?”

Gwynivara certified this, “Exactly! We tested it ourselves, but no one is gonna trust us or take our word on it. That’s where you come in…”

“You want me to talk about it on the air?” Joanette surmised. After Gwynivara gave her nod, Joanette frantically uttered, “I can’t do that! The station is already getting attacked for what I’ve already said! I’ll end up just like that professor if I do! I’m sorry, I want to help, but I wanna live too!”

“If Rafeneita wins, you’re gonna die anyways!” Gwynivara avowed. “None of us will survive! The longer we wait, the further Venenatus Sanguis will spread! Yes, there’s a risk in telling the truth, but withholding this information comes with a guarantee- humanity won’t last! You can put as much protection around you as possible that day, but if you don’t do this, the virus will take over and no one can save you! You know exactly where this is heading, don’t let it go there! You and everyone you know is safer by doing this! Please, help us!” Joanette gave this issue serious contemplation…

President Ford came on the television. “My fellow Americans, I’m here to announce that many of you have been lied to! Don John Rialowe has made a lot of dangerous claims, the worst of which involves the false notion that a deadly disease doesn’t exist! It is real, and millions of people have died from it! His rallies have been linked to thousands of new cases, and it’s encouraging a lot of Americans to disregard practices that keep them safe! Please, don’t fall victim to this ploy! Don’t let yourself become a victim! Stay out of large gatherings, and remember to vote with your conscious at the ballot box! Thank you!”

“Wow, that was nice of him to do!” Cedric reacted to what he and Easton just witnessed on the TV.

“Yeah, that’s great! Too bad it doesn’t solve our problem!” Susie resumed her pacing throughout the lounge. “They’re closing in on us! How are we supposed to get dozens of people out without anyone noticing?”

Agnes entered the room, and she tentatively announced, “There’s a man at the door. He says he’s a friend and he can help.” Susie, Cedric, and Easton gave each other leery look, and then they cautiously made their way towards the front door…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 24

A disaster stood before them! Papers and broken glass flooded out of the classroom and into the hall, and pools of blood were scattered everywhere! Gwynivara and Bernadette held up their hands, ready to fire an incantation at a moment’s notice, and Rebekah and Cody followed closely behind them as they crept closer to Professor Chadron’s room. Gwynivara called out, “If anyone is alive in there, come out now!” To their dismay, no one responded. Out of an abundance of caution, they approached the doorway as if someone waited for them on the other side, and as Gwynivara leapt into the vicinity, she inwardly prayed that she would find no one but one of their enemies dead…

To their horror, they saw Professor Chadron laying motionless on the floor! Gwynivara dove to the ground to check on him, she just couldn’t accept that he died! Bernadette stood guard as Gwynivara checked his pulse, and Gwynivara convinced herself she would discover that he was fighting for his life. She had already prepared herself to direct one of the others to call an ambulance, but after a while, she figured out that she hadn’t felt anything. It took a few seconds for it to sink in, but soon she realized that if she didn’t detect anything by then, she never would! With a lump rising in her throat, Gwynivara announced, “He’s gone!”

“No!” Bernadette gasped. Her hands fell as she gazed at him sadly. “Oh, Professor Chadron! We’re so sorry!”

“There’s no blood!” Rebekah observed. This statement confused her grief-stricken companions, so she elaborated, “There was blood out there, but he doesn’t have any wounds at all. There’s a lot here by his side though…” She glanced around a bit, and when she spotted something significant, she let everyone know, “There’s a gun over there! Obviously, Professor Chadron wounded someone before he was killed. His murderer had enough sense to get the weapon out of his hand in case he managed to retaliate before passing, so I would say someone with law enforcement training killed him!”

Despite their sorrow, they couldn’t but feel impressed by her deductive skills! Cody complimented her, “You sound like a detective!”

Rebekah blushed. “My dad talked about his work a lot, and ever since Emorick mentioned honoring the memory of the fallen, I’ve been thinking I might become a police officer when I’m old enough to, you know, to carry on his work where he left off… But anyways, enough about me! Whoever killed him clearly was looking for something.”

“The cure!” Gwynivara ran over to the desk where they saw him working before, and when she didn’t see anything relevant, she declared, “It’s not here! Neither are any of his notes!”

“Unless his notes are part of this mess on the floor,” Cody theorized.

They heard sirens blaring down the street, so Bernadette remarked, “We don’t have time to look! We gotta go!” Bernadette ushered Rebekah and Cody out of the room, but Gwynivara stumbled across a box of syringes on the floor, so she grabbed that before running out.

Rafeneita held a vial of brown liquid up to the light to make sure it had the right texture, and when she saw that it had, she poured it into a funnel attached to an assembly line machine. She watched as it blended with the corn syrup, sugar, and good coloring, and soon, the cooking tanks began to boil. Just as she took a load of the “Rialowe ’76” labels to the tray at the end of the mechanism, she heard the door open. Abigor croaked out, “It’s me!”

“You’re late!” Rafeneita barked. As she turned to face him, she saw him slumped on her spikey throne, so she screeched, “What do you think you’re doing there?”

“I think I’m bleeding to death!” He revealed a clumsily wrapped bandage around his arm that had gotten almost entirely soaked in blood!
Rafeneita looked at in surprise. “You got hurt!”

Abigor groaned, and then he explained, “That bastard shot me! I need that healing elixir, quick!”

“I don’t see why I should give you any more!” Rafeneita folded her arms and glared at him. “I gave you a second chance on that mountain, and you have done anything that I told you to do to repay me! Venenatus Sanguis isn’t spreading as much as it should, and your carelessness got one of my beasts killed!”

“That wasn’t my fault!” Abigor refuted through gritted teeth. “Those Rebels weren’t supposed to be there that night! Bella’s men should have been able to take them out at the debates!”

Rafeneita didn’t get swayed by his argument. “Her guilt doesn’t take away from your own! I tasked you with taking care of those nasty Rebels, and they’re all still roaming free!”

Abigor, through his pain, differed, “Two of them died at the FBI headquarters in Richmond!”

“And the rest got away!” Rafeneita shot back. “They got Emorick back, and now they found someone who could help them with the cure! You probably failed that mission too! They’re probably already getting the cure out into the world! This is going to be extremely difficult to-!”

“I killed Professor Chadron!” Abigor gave her the facts before she went on too long of a rampage.

Rafeneita’s eyes flickered over to his bleeding wound. “Your injury says differently.”

Abigor corrected her error in judgment, “I fired an incantation at him as he fired his gun! Luckily, he missed my chest, but now I can’t stop the bleeding!”

“He hit an artery,” Rafeneita told him, and then probed, “Are you sure he’s dead?”

“Yes, and I took all he had about the cure!” He wailed in agony, and then he requested, “Please, Rafeneita!”

She relented, “Fine! Since you finally did something right, I’ll give you one more chance!” She walked over to a shelf full of various chemicals and took down a yellow substance. She handed it to him, and after he drank a few sips, she took it back and snapped, “Now, get off my throne!” She then shoved him to the ground.

She could see the weight of his aching fading, and he witnessed the blood on his clothes disappearing with glee. “Thank you!”

“Don’t thank me, get me results!” she reacted with irritation as she pointed her palm at her throne. As she made the blood disappear, she ordered him, “Give me the cure, and then, as soon as this batch of lollipops finishes, go bring it to Bella. She unloaded a lot of them at this rally, so…” She picked up on Abigor’s face twisting in guilt, so she inquired, “What now?”

“I can give you his notes…” He distanced himself more and more as he spoke, “The cure wasn’t there!” Rafeneita let out a blood-curling scream!

Gwynivara bolted up from her sleep. Kierram reassured her, “It’s okay, you’re safe now!”

She hadn’t remembered falling asleep at all, and as she checked out her surroundings, Gwynivara recalled last seeing a half dozen agents firing incantations at them. Now that she thougtht about it, she was about to perform a spell that would shoot out a beam of light to know out most, if not all, of their adversaries to make up for the Rebels being outnumbered, so it mystified her as to how she ended up in the forest! For a split second, she worried about the welfare of the others, but she relaxed a bit when she espied Cody, Rebekah, and Bernadette close by. She then wanted to know, “What happened?”

“You knocked them all out!” Bernadette answered with a proud grin. “We got into the nearest sewer before their backup or anyone else came, but we were all so exhausted from the fight that we had to take a lot of breaks along the way back to headquarters.”

“See, if I just got infected with Venenatus Sanguis, I could’ve helped you guys fight back!” Cody brought up.

Rebekah upbraided him, “If you had the virus, you’d have been too exhausted to carry Gwyn to the sewers! You did more by having focus still sharp, we would’ve taken a million wrong turns if you had our level tiredness!”

Riley showed up through some bushes that partially concealed them, and he put in, “Is he starting up with that again? Look kiddo, I know people your age like to follow the crowd, but trust me, sometimes it’s better to stand out! We’ll go into more details about that another day, like when you’re back in school and try to get a weird haircut! What happened to you guys?”

“They got into another incantation battle,” José gleaned as he came up to the area and studied their behavior. “Did that professor double cross you?”

“No!” Gwynivara instinctively defended him. He sacrificed everything to assist them, so she wouldn’t allow anyone to believe for a minute that Professor Chadron had betrayed them! His good name needed to get honored for all he did! “Abigor murdered him and called a group of FBI agents over to try and kill us!”

Bernadette added, “If they hadn’t succeeded in that, they had some cops outside waiting to take us to jail! Abigor used Professor Chadron to lure us into a trap. One way or another, he wanted us out of the picture that day!”

Gwynivara felt vindicated since Bernadette shared her sentiments on the subject! She iterated her point, “Professor Chadron did everything he could to prevent that from happening to us! He never would have become a tool for the other side if he was alive!”

José shook his head sadly. “Poor guy! He didn’t deserve to go down like that! But at least they didn’t get you guys!”

“Yeah, but what are we gonna do now?” Rebekah fretted. “We still gotta get the cure out there, and he was our one shot!”

“Not true! We have dozens of shots for this!” Kierram held up the box of syringes that Gwynviara saved from the laboratory up in the air triumphantly.

As Gwynivara dipped a syringe into the ornate vial that the cure came in, Emorick remarked, “It’s a good thing that Kierram grabbed these things!”

Gwynivara rectified that impression, “Hey! Grabbing these was my idea! He just snatched them after I passed out!”

Emorick acknowledged, “You had sharp instincts, and I’m glad he saved them when you were incapacitated! You two make a great team!” Gwynivara smiled to hear him voice that opinion.

Her mood shifted to a slightly nervous one as she filled up the syringe, and it felt incredibly strange to do so! It took her back to her childhood when she played with her plastic doctor kit. She had given her parents a fake shot, and the sensations sort of seemed the same, but it tripped her out to think that she was about to administer a real one! She never thought that she would do a thing like this in her lifetime, but then again, so much of what occurred to her recently could not ever have been foreseen as she pictured what she might go through in the future! Still, it had to get done, so she tried to focus! Emorick, Niqun, Bernadette, and Rebekah all eagerly watched as she brought it to Cody’s arm. She pricked the targeted area of skin, and when he winced a little, Gwynivara inquired, “Did that hurt?”

“Sort of,” Cody replied, “But not more than getting a flu shot.”

“Oh good!” Gwynivara took a deep breath as she pushed the plunger, and they all eyed closely as the vaccine slowly disappeared into his arm…

Once it had been fully administered, they all monitored Cody with great anticipation. After a long time of nothing happening, Gwynivara exhaled in alleviation, and everyone bore expressions of relief. Cody kidded, “Well, that was anti-climatic!”

Niqun reminded him, “Nothing exciting is supposed to happen to you from this! The whole point of doing this is to prove that the vaccine is safe!”

“And to prevent you from getting yourself sick!” Bernadette tacked onto that. “Now you can’t go behind our backs and purposely infect yourself!”

“I wouldn’t have done that!” Cody insisted. He mulled it over for a second, and then he mused, “Well, not on purpose! But now I can get myself bit and nothing will happen!”

Emorick warned him, “Don’t even think about it! We don’t know how long it’ll take for it to kick in! Besides, we’re not totally sure if it can be used as a preventative measure. That professor compared it to the smallpox vaccine, so I assume it works the same way, but we don’t know for sure! So, until then, be careful!” Cody had a slight gleam of mischievousness on his face, so Emorick decreed, “From now on, when the minors go out, they can’t be paired together! You always have to be escorted by an adult!” Cody’s visage dimmed somewhat to learn of this ruling.

Rebekah brought up, “We’re gonna have to do that anyways ’cause soon I won’t have my incantation abilities! Do me next!”

Gwynivara filled up the syringe again, but she felt less nervous since she had a better understanding of what to expect. She injected Rebekah, and after they waited for a while, Rebekah conjured up a small ball of light. With a heavy heart, Rebekah lamented, “I still have it!”

“These things aren’t instant,” Bernadette consoled her. “Just give it some time and try again!”

Riley, José, Naama, John, and Kierram entered into the cave with bags full of food. “Who’s hungry?” John projected to the rest of them.

Emorick stared at the bags suspiciously. “Where did you get all this? You didn’t steal them, did you?”

“And if we did? Would you make us bring it back?” Riley quipped. Emorick gave him a reproachful look, so he ameliorated his sentence, “It’s from a food pantry. Don’t worry, we haven’t stolen anything since we nicked those disguises. We know we can’t risk another police encounter right now! Though I might be tempted if a certain handsome state trooper were around…”

“So, what’d we miss?” Kierram queried as he began distributing some of the food. “Did you deal the vaccine yet?”

Gwynivara reported, “Yeah, we just did it. Now we’re just waiting to see if it’s effective. Then we gotta start all over again on finding someone with credibility to tell the world the cure works.”

Naama proclaimed, “Actually, John and I ran into someone who might be willing to do that.!”

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 23

She lifted her weary eyes and moaned as the noise of her dog’s relentless barking refused to let her sleep. Normally, Sammy’s sweet nature didn’t propel her to do that sort of thing, so she knew she probably an urgent need that required tending to, but she grumpily wondered why, out of all days, did she have to do this tonight? She peeked at the alarm clock in front of her, and she vowed that if Sammy didn’t have a good reason to be doing this, she would start getting crated at night! Her exhaustion almost tempted her to stay in bed, but with her husband snoozing soundly next to her, she didn’t want to shout and wake him up. She envied the fact that his deep slumber almost never got interrupted no matter how loud his surroundings became, but she didn’t dwell on that too long. It certainly wouldn’t solve her immediate problem, which only seemed to grow worse as time went on. Her annoyance over the cacophony gave her the motivation she needed to get up, and she begrudgingly rolled onto her back to start the process. Before she got out of bed though, something on the ceiling caught her eye…

At first, she thought a speck of the streetlight reflected into the house, but when her eyes focused more, she noticed a definite discoloration. She first assumed a water leak stained the plaster, but the more she examined it, the more she noticed that it had a very straight, rectangular shape to it. That didn’t come from any kind of structural mishap, she realized it had to have come from something deliberate, which made no sense to her unless her husband hung something romantic in an odd spot as a considerate act of encouragement since work brought her more stress than usual lately. He didn’t usually do that sort of thing, but she supposed that it was never too late to start! She sat up to get a closer look, but once she gained a better vantage point, she detected the location Sammy had been barking from- she was already in her crate! Her heart pounded wildly, she knew that neither she nor Kurtis did that! She hoped that Sammy had accidentally locked herself in, but with this unknown object looming over her, she got a very eerie feeling about what happened!

It terrified her to finally identify this mysterious oddity, but she needed to know what it was in order to plan out her next move. She stood up, and right then, she could see that a poster had got hung up there! Any hope of this being a token of affection vanished when she saw what looked like a jack-o-lantern with sharp, jagged features, so she now thought that her husband wanted to pull a Halloween prank. Again, she didn’t think he would do that sort of thing normally, and it wouldn’t have explained why Sammy got locked up, but if he didn’t do it, then that only left one possibility… But that seemed too far fetched! She needed to find out more, but she couldn’t make out what the writing said, so she had to risk waking up Kurtis by turning on the lights. She flicked on the lamp next to her alarm clock, and after she turned back to the poster, she screamed!

Justin walked up to the door of the people who called about a possible intrusion, and a familiar face met him on the front stoop. “Hey, I know you!”

“Yeah, yeah! Joanette Joules, Channel Five News!” Joanelle’s jangled nerves made her brush off the friendly banter he tried to use on her. “Can you just come in and look at this? We’re really freaked out!”

“Lead the way, ma’am!” Justin sometimes got called to potential breakins only to find a case of paranoia, but he could tell that something occurred to really spook her like this, so he knew had to get right to business. He followed her into her home and hoped that, whatever happened, he could find something to put her mind at ease!

He saw her husband holding a black Australian shepherd’s collar, and their pet fought its restraints in an attempt to merrily greet him. Normally, he would gladly have taken a moment to interact with such a friendly animal, but the grim expression on its owner’s face told him that he better not! “It’s in here!” Joanette pointed to her bedroom and stared at it as if she were afraid to go in it. Justin had brought his kit for preliminary investigations into places many times without actually having to open it, but in this instance, he had a feeling he may need to use it!

It surprised him to see a poster taped above her bed, and when he positioned himself to read it, it perplexed him to find a political message that claimed the mainstream media was lying to the public and that no one should trust them because of that. He expected to find something much more ominous, and he guessed that Joanelle sensed his alarm over the event starting to ebb since she exclaimed, “Someone was here! They stood right over my head as I was sleeping! I work in the media, this is obviously a threat!”

“That is pretty disturbing!” Justin caught another glimpse of it, and his impression of the incident evolved into something much more foreboding! He tried to hold onto the notion of this ending on a lighter note as he asked her, “Does anyone else have access to your house besides you and Mister Joules?”

“No!” Joanette answered with a slight burst of optimism as she saw Justin taking this incident more seriously. “I mean, my kids have keys, but neither of them live near Virginia anymore!”

Justin inquired, “Did you leave any doors or windows unlocked?”

Joanette shook her head, but Kurtis put in, “One of the windows in our bedroom has a busted lock, but it’s right above our bed, so we’d know if someone climbed in through there!” He paused and added, “Right?”

“You would think so!” Justin had come across a lot of suspicious activity lately that led him to believe otherwise, but he wouldn’t dare to bring it up to two frightened victims! He opened up his kit and pulled out his brush and powder. He checked the window for fingerprints, really itching to give them a clue to bring whoever did this to justice, but after combing through the area thoroughly, he got disheartened to unearth nothing! Kurtis and Joanette gazed at him with a glimmer of sanguinity shining on their faces, so it crushed him to reveal the truth! “Sorry!” He hated seeing them slump from disappointment, so he tried to draw out other possibilities for him to solve this crime. “Can you think of anyone who might’ve done this to you?”

“No one I know personally, but lately, I’ve been getting a lot of hate mail.” Joanette explained, “Ever since Rialowe jumped into the race, I get a lot of angry people harassing me every time I speak out about him or if I mention anything about Venenatus Sanguis. The station manager wanted to quiet them down, but I still talked about it on the air if I had the chance. They moved me out the prime time slot hoping that if my segment had less viewers that we’d get less vitriol, but it’s getting worse! I stopped talking about it after we got death threats, but I certainly won’t tell the lies that these fiends want me to, so it hasn’t stopped the problem.”

Justin sympathized with her, but it also spelled out bad news for the Joules. “I’m so sorry you’re going through this! I wish I could do more to help, but unfortunately, Rialowe’s numbers keep shooting up, so that’s a lot of potential suspects! I’ll hand this over to the detective unit, but if they can’t find any evidence here…”

Joanette finished his sentence, “It’s not likely you’ll find the suspect unless they do it to someone else or I get attacked.” Justin sadly nodded, and then Joanelle ranted, “My case won’t even be a priority ’cause they’re too busy looking for those quarantine evaders! Aside from that court martial breakout, they haven’t done anything! If they were so concerned about slowing the spread of the virus, they’d put a stop to Rialowe’s super spreader events! People are dying, and no is doing anything about it! No one cares!”

“I care!” Justin asserted.

“That’s good! I wish there were more people that gave a damn!” She sighed.

Just put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I’ll do whatever I can to help! In the meantime, stay safe, okay?” Joanette agreed to it, and it ached Justin to leave the Joules like that. As he walked back to his squad car, he gave the full scope of this reality serious consideration. He had a hung of what he needed to do to make a real difference, and he hadn’t done it yet due to his commitment to the rules, but lives were at stake now, so he knew the time had come to take action!

The silence inside the cave got broken as Kierram stirred. He hadn’t been particularly loud, but with the lack of movement from the other Rebels, his minor shifts sounded deafening! Gwynivara asked him, “Where are you going?”

“Vulpes Press,” he answered. “I still have a job to do.”

“In light of the two tragedies we suffered, you can take the day off,” Emorick offered.

Kierram politely declined, “I have to! We wouldn’t have even known that Casey and Ansel died that day if I didn’t work there! Plus, with everything else going on, it makes me feel better to be somewhere where we can know what’s going on right away! Especially since Cedric and Easton were spotted in Great Dismal Falls! I just need to know they’re okay!”

Riley remarked, “I totally get that! I just don’t know how you could stand to listen to them rattling on about how great Rialowe is at a time like this!”

“They don’t always talk about him,” Kierram responded. “Granted, they talk about him a lot, they do have families and lives outside the paper… Well, not all of them do, but it’s alright, they’re still nice people.” Everyone tittered a bit at his quip, and then he waved to them all. “Well, see ya later!”

“Wait!” Gwynivara stopped him. He gazed at her quizzically, so she told him, “You forgot to give me a kiss goodbye!”

Kierram apologized, “Sorry! There’s just been a lot going on!”

After Kierram gave her a kiss, Gwynivara sweetly expressed, “Stay safe out there, okay?”

“I will!” Kierram gave her another kiss before heading out, and as he exited the cave, Gwynivara watched him closely. She didn’t think he had lied, but she caught a hint that he may have held back on something important. She could decipher anything concrete, but the fact that he defeneded the zealots at that propaganda center and deemed them as nice people gave her cause to worry. She hoped that her lack of sleep made her mind distort its better judgment, and she put her suspicions aside for now. She had much more urgent topics to deal with, although she found it too hard to focus on that right then. Not only because of Kierram’s behavior, she couldn’t get her mind off of everything she did that day they escaped from the FBI…

“What did I tell you about that?” Emorick reminded her.

Gwynivara reacted with a slight confusion, “I didn’t say anything!”

Emorick countered with, “Yes you did! I can see it in your eyes! You’re still blaming yourself for what happened to Casey and Ansel! We already established that it’s not your fault!”

“I know last night you all said that I did my best and that I couldn’t have foreseen the circumstances that led to their demise, but I can’t help but wonder if I could have done more to have prevented it from happening! How could I have missed them when we were leaving? If I had just been more careful, maybe they’d still be alive!”

“Don’t do that to yourself!” Emorick advised. “I’ve led scores of missions in my lifetime, do you think all my men came back? I’ve seen hundreds lose their lives, thousands maybe, and of course, I always thought about what more I could have done, but at the end of the day, you gotta remember that you didn’t kill them, the enemy did! We’re at war, that’s a risk we all take when we go out onto the battlefield! Casey and Ansel died in their effort to save the planet from destruction, so what do you think they would tell you to do if they were here? How will you honor their memory?”

Emorick’s wise words put steel into Gwynivara’s spine! She recognized the truth of how the two men went down, and she realized that she spent more time beating herself up when the people actually responsible for their deaths should be her true target! She did her fellow Rebels a disservice by focusing on the wrong subject, so she shifted to the right one, and now a fire burned within her to put halt to the atrocities that cause two innocent souls to perish! “We gotta do everything we can to make sure no one else dies from this evil!” Emorick beamed in approval.

Bernadette brought up, “We have a big decision to make. Since the FBI is probably listening to all of the phone calls coming from my mom’s boarding house, so we can’t find out if the other Rebels are still there let alone if they’d be willing to try out the cure! One of us will have to take the vaccine! Most of us need to keep our incantation abilities to fight Rafeneita though, so which one of us can we afford to lose?”

“You can let me get infected and then I’ll take the shot,” Cody volunteered. “I’m already used to helping the Rebellion without any incantation abilities!”

“No way!” John objected. “We’re trying to reduce the amount of people who have it, not increase it! What if you get infected and the cure doesn’t work?”

José tacked on to that, “Plus, you’d be untrained with your abilities, and you don’t know whether or not one of the beasts you’d create would kill you! Who knows how long it would take for the cure to kick in! We can’t risk it!”

Naama probed, “Well, if not him, then who?”

Gwynivara and Bernadette walked down the dark halls once again, but they walked with a little more confidence on this occasion. They kept their eyes peeled for any potential threats, but they felt reasonably more assured of its security after going through it before. “Are you nervous?” Cody inquired.

“A little,” Rebekah replied. “I’ve lived with Venenatus Sanguis for so long, and even though I hate it, it’ll be weird to see it go! But it’s what Daddy would’ve wanted! Now, I’ll never have to go back to quarantine again! I just hope it doesn’t have any bad side effects!”

“Whatever side effects it might have, it can’t be as bad as what we go through with the virus!” Gwynivara half kidded. They all laughed at that concept as they rounded the corner, but their mirth soon came to an end when they spotted something shocking at the end of the corridor…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 22

Their footsteps echoed throughout the empty hallway, and although Gwynivara knew that plenty of people occupied this place in the daytime, the darkness and quiet it exuded after hours gave it an abandoned feel. She kept staring at the address written on the card just to make sure that they had gone to the right place, she just couldn’t believe that he would pick such a creepy location to meet! She began to wonder if he had made the arrangements after all! “Do you think Abigor is really good at impersonations?” she asked Bernadette.

Bernadette answered, “I don’t think he’s that clever! He wouldn’t bother with a ruse, he’d just track us down and ambush us! Rafeneita might have a flair for that, but it seems like she’d rather have other people do all dirty work for her, so I doubt she got involved!” They heard the old pipework in this antique building groaning, which made them both wince. Bernadette then amended her statement, “But if we’re wrong, Kierram and Rebekah are waiting outside just in case! And Cody went back to headquarters, so the others know we’re here. We’ll be fine!” The ceiling above her creaked, and her jangled nerves filled her with even more doubt!

“Are we sure he said it was in the basement?” Gwynivara could see it written in her notes, but with all of the unlit rooms and lack of sounds from human sources, she questioned her impression of this arrangement. “He didn’t say avoid the basement, right?”

“No, he didn’t… I don’t think… I don’t know!” She shivered as they passed by a room that emitted a cold draft, and since they couldn’t discern the root of that effect, they kept their palms up defensively until they walked past it.

They cautiously rounded the corner, and when they finally turned down the corridor, they leaped into the center of the hallway as if a person was waiting for them there. Bernadette shined her flashlight all over their periphery, and they didn’t spot anything except for a small glow towards the end of the row. They stealthily moved towards their target, still sure that Abigor or something equally as daunting would rush out and attack them at any second, and their anxiety didn’t quell when their approached their destination. They could hear the slight noise of a small glass clinking onto a smooth surface within the room, which seemed innocent enough, but they refused to get lulled into a false sense of security! They used the same approach to enter this room as they did the hall, and their hearts beat wildly as they faced this potential confrontation…

Professor Chadron put his hands in the air, and he genially regarded them, “Don’t shoot! It’s just me!”

Bernadette and Gwynivara observed him sitting alone in front of a Bunsen burner and some laboratory flasks, but they still checked around the area just to make sure he was truly alone. They saw several stations with microscopes and various other materials that belonged in a science class, but they didn’t see anyone else, so they exhaled in alleviation. Gwynivara apologized, “Sorry! We can’t be careful enough right now! You saw what our enemy is capable of!”

“I’m not offended, safety first!” He reached under his workstation, and he informed them, “I have this ready in case I gotta defend myself again!” He displayed an old shotgun, he shook his head. “I never thought my granddad’s heirloom would get used like this!” He sighed and returned it to its niche, and then he invited the two women, “Pull up a stool, have a seat!”

“What is this place?” Gwynivara inquired as they positioned their stools so that they could get a full view of him as they conversed.

As Professor Chadron cleared off his things, he explained, “It’s a research lab owned by HBU. Our grad students use this facility to do medical investigations and such, but sometimes, our pre-med students come here to work on cadavers.” The two of them looked surprised to hear that, so he kidded, “No, this place isn’t haunted! No need to worry, those people can’t hurt you anymore!” He chuckled, but they were still recovering from their previous anxiety, so they could only muster a small grin. “I hope you’re not too uncomfortable being somewhere where we store dead bodies!”

Bernadette shrugged it off, “Oh no, it doesn’t bother us! Up until a couple weeks ago, we were living in a graveyard!”

“Oh good! ‘Cause we can’t discuss anything in my office, not while that so called FBI agent is still roaming around the campus! I’m doing all my work from here ’til he’s gone.” He folded his arms as a gesture of disappointment.

“I’m sorry!” Gwynivara apologized once again. Guilt overwhelmed her emotions as she beheld the burdens he took on from this ordeal, burdens he didn’t ask for! “Sorry we got you involved in all of this!”

Professor Chadron retorted, “What exactly am I involved with?”

Gwynivara and Bernadette turned to each other to wordlessly figure out how to begin, but before they could come up with anything, Bernadette warned him, “It may be a little hard to believe…”

“Young lady, a couple of days ago, I ended my workday with one of my students getting murdered by a mystical beast, and I’m only alive ’cause you performed some kind of spell! At this point, I’m ready to believe anything!” Professor Chadron assured her. “You could tell me space aliens are involved, and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash!”

“Actually, an alien is involved in this!” Bernadette revealed.

Professor Chadron threw up his hands in exasperation, but he didn’t seem at all shocked. “What’d I tell ya?”

Gwynivara elucidated, “Well, I’m sure you know that Venenatus Sanguis first surfaced ten years ago. No one ever worked out why it happened, it just sorta came out of nowhere. The alien brought it here and planted it like a seed! People have researched it for years, but I don’t think anyone could’ve guessed that the origin of the disease infiltrated the government to silence anyone who got close to the answer! Slowly, the origin’s influence grew, and they persuaded local and federal officials to actually spread the virus further! You probably heard about that disgraced lieutenant general who was about to get court martialed. He knew it was biological warfare, but before he got the chance to convince anyone else of this, he contracted it! He had to evade quarantine ’cause he was the only one who realized the truth, and he had to find a way to stop it from happening! He found a group of other evaders, and after this group did their own research, not only did they discovered that Venenatus Sanguis can be controlled to do what they want, but we figured out that the origin of the virus came from another planet so that she could destroy humanity!”

“So, those were manifestations I saw?” Professor Chadron probed. “You can control it to do what you want?”

“Yeah, most of the time, we can control it,” Bernadette replied. “It feeds off the energy inside us, so if we experience strong feelings, we can still manifest a beast, but with enough practice and concentration, it doesn’t happen very often!”

“Fascinating!” Professor Chadron pulled out a notepad and jotted all of this down. “So, you guys are trying to get rid of this corruption so everyone can go back to finding a cure without interference?”

Gwynivara reached into her pocket and answered, “Actually, we already have it!” Professor Chadron almost fell out of his chair after she made this claim, so Gwynivara went into more detail, “We recently found where the origin hid herself, and when we battled it out with her, she almost lost. She disappeared and left this as a peace offering.”

Professor Chadron queried, “If she’s trying to spread Venenatus Sanguis further, why would she give you this?”

“She wanted us to think she surrendered, but obviously, she didn’t actually plan on giving up that easily!” Bernadette divulged. “I don’t think she ever meant for us to get this far! She didn’t tell us anything about it! We don’t know how to use it! We have no idea how to administer it or how much each person needs! We can’t even say for sure that it works except for the fact she tried to use this as leverage once to entice to her side! We’re pretty sure it works, we just can’t say how!”

“Mind if I take a sample?” Professor Chadron requested.

Gwynivara felt a little strange handing it over to someone outside of the Rebellion, but she didn’t have any logical reason to mistrust him. A small part of her feared that as soon as she handed it over, Abigor or Rafeneita would suddenly appear in Professor Chadron’s stead, and she never would have forgiven herself for falling for such an elaborate disguise! She also considered the possibility that Professor Chadron would turn on them and abruptly abscond with it, but her gut told her to trust him, so she placed it onto his outstretched palm. She could tell that Bernadette joined her in partly expecting something dramatic to occur once this momentous act had taken place, and they both had to scan the room just to make sure that they hadn’t been tricked. Once it sunk in that they wouldn’t encounter any obstacles in reaching this milestone, excitement started to seep in. They finally got to a stage where they could anticipate making significant progress in their mission!

As Professor Chadron gingerly unscrewed the ornate lid of that vial, he speculated, “If this came from another planet, we better hope that the ingredients can get replicated here on Earth! Otherwise, this would only be enough to treat a few people!” Gwynivara and Bernadette hadn’t thought about that possibility until right then, and their pulses raced as he used a dropper to take a small portion of cure. He prepared that small bit on a slide, and they prayed that he would deliver welcomed news to them! After he studied it in his microscope for a while, he mumbled an observation, “Oh, it’s heterotypic!”

“It’s what?” Gwynivara reacted in confusion.

“Oh, my apologies for the ambiguity!” Professor Chadron addressed them after he wrote down more notes. “Most vaccines are made with a deadened or weaker version of the disease or virus so that the immune system can learn how to attack it properly, and it if it ever enters the person’s body again, the body remembers how to combat it. A heterotypic vaccine uses a less threatening disease or virus to cure something more deadly, like how cowpox can be used to treat smallpox. Venenatus Sanguis is transmitted through pathogens in the manifestations’ saliva, so it makes a lot of sense to fight it this way actually!”

Bernadette urgently asked him, “Can it get replicated on Earth?”

Professor Chadron very considerately answered, “Yes, we could easily recreate the enzymes in this formula!” Bernadette and Gwynivara grinned widely to hear this, and then they hugged each other sheer relief!

“You girls should be proud! You made a discovery that will change the world for the better!” Professor Chadron lauded them. “You’ll go down in the history books for this!”

“I wish it were that simple!” Gwynivara lamentably differed with him. “No one is gonna buy that an alien dropped it out of the sky for us, especially since the FBI thinks we’re part of a murderous cult1 And now that Rialowe is creating doubt in the Public Health Center, we need to find someone with scientific credibility to convince everyone that it’s legit and that they should all take it!”

Slightly taken aback, Professor Chadron responded, “You me to take credit for it?”

Bernadette urged him, “You can tell the honest story later, just for now, we need to get this cure out there as fast as possible, and it sounds a lot better that an anatomy teacher figured it out instead of some people wanted for murder!”

“Ah, I see your point! In that case, I’ll do it!” Professor Chadron accepted this endeavor. “In order for me to prove it works, I’ll need to test it on people positive for Venenatus Sanguis. Would you two like to volunteer?”

“Of course!” Gwynivara readily agreed, but after the words came out of her mouth, something occurred to her, and she instantly walked back her previous stance, “Oh no, we can’t! WE gotta kept our ability to do incantations so we can defeat Rafeneita!”

Bernadette let him know, “That’s the alien’s name. She’s so powerful, we would never be able to defeat her without it! But don’t worry though, we know plenty of other people who would love to do it! Not everyone who joins us wants to fight, some just want to live!”

Professor Chadron chimed, “Wonderful! Just have them call my new office number when they’re ready to stop by! Do you have a phone number so I could reach you in an emergency?”

“We live in a cave in the middle of the woods right now, so…” Bernadette rejoindered.

“So, that would be a no!” Professor Chadron surmised. “Oh well, it’ll probably fine! I’ll let y’all go now, but before you head out, just let me get one more sample of this.” He indicated to the cure.

As he used his dropper to fill as mall vial of his own, Gwynivara offered, “You can keep the whole thing if you want! We trust you with it!”

Professor Chadron politely declined, “Thank you for saying that, but I have too many people coming in and out of here all day long to really keep it safe. Besides, someday, the world will know the truth about where this cure came from, and with this vial in your possession, we’ll have prove that you brave young ladies helped save the world!”

“Thank you so much!” Gwynivara beamed with pride as she shook his hand in appreciation.

“Yeah, thanks a million!” Bernadette echoed her sentiment.

Professor Chadron smiled warmly at them, “My pleasure, my dears! Keep me posted, okay?”

Gwynivara reassured him, “Don’t worry, we will!” She and Bernadette practically skipped out of that classroom, and they all merrily waved to each other before they went their separate ways.

Kierram and Rebekah met them at the exit, and when they saw their exuberant expressions, a weight lifted off of their shoulders as well. Rebekah verified with them, “He’s gonna do it?” They both nodded, and Rebekah chirped, “Oh, thank goodness! You’ll have to tell us all about it on the way back to headquarters! I wanna get back quick, I’m starving!”

“Before we go, do you either of you have enough change to make a phone call? We need to talk to the Rebels in Great Dismal Falls, it’s important!” Gwynivara’s eyes flickered between the other two hopefully.

“I do, but I can’t give it to you. We might have a problem…” Kierram bore a very grim look on his face…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 21

Two men ran up to the walkway of the Ashling Boarding House, but before they set foot onto the property, they looked all around to make sure the coast was clear. Once they verified that no one had been watching them, they ran to the entrance as fast as they could. They discretely opened the door, and soon as they shut it behind them, police sirens blared from around the corner! The two men discretely peeked out of the window and watched as a squad car pulled over a very posh vehicle. Before the two policemen could approach her, Agnes got out of the car and glared at the officers that stood before her. The two policemen put their hands on their gun holsters, and one of them ordered, “Stay right there! Don’t move!”

Agnes stopped advancing towards them, but she regarded them furiously, “What? You think I have a weapon? Where would I hide it?” She twirled around, showing off her silhouette in her formfitting, designer clothing, and when she faced them again, they realized that she had a point and took their hands of of their weapons. One of them opened his mouth to speak, but Agnes cut him off, “I’m sick and tired of you pigs pulling me over while I’m driving around in my own neighborhood! I’m the proprietor of this business! Is it so hard for you to believe that a colored girl may be doing well in life? Just ’cause I have dark skin, you guys think-!”

“Woah, woah, woah!” one of them interrupted her rant. “That’s not why we’re here!”

“Yeah, right!” Agnes scoffed as she folded her arms and stared at them crossly.

The other policeman insisted, “No, it’s true! We’re looking for these two guys.” He held up a picture of the two men that had just gone into her property. “We tracked them down a while ago, and we have reason to believe they may have gone here.”

Agnes questioned them, “Why would you think they’re here?”

“They were arrested with your daughter,” the first police officer informed her. Agnes’s face soured at the mention of Bernadette, but she didn’t say anything to them, so the police officer went on, “Your daughter was one of several quarantine evaders that escaped from FBI custody, and while most of the escapees went north to help a disgraced soldier break out of legal protection, these two came back to save two prisoners that got left behind. Those prisoners died during their attempt to bust them out, and we’d like to bring them in to learn more about the incident. Plus, they have their own crimes to answer for, so we would appreciate your cooperation in finding them!”

“You think I’m holding my daughter’s friends?” Agnes probed.

The second policeman responded with an inquiry of his own, “Have you seen any of them?”

Agnes gave them a disgusted expression, and then her demeanor changed to one of deep hurt. “My daughter resents me, she blames me for her father’s death, so why would she come to me for help?”

“Have you seen any of them?” the same police officer repeated himself. “I’m not hearing a no!”

“No!” Agnes hollered. “What kind of place do you think I run? This isn’t a criminal hideout! I inherited this establishment from my late husband, how dare you insult his memory with these baseless accusations!”

The first policeman argued, “They’re not baseless! Your daughter is a criminal, and you’re associated with her, so why wouldn’t her friends go to you for assistance?”

Agnes corrected him, “I’m not associated with her! I haven’t seen or heard from her in a while!” Agnes told the truth in that instance. She didn’t mention how soon ago she lost contact with Bernadette, but she and her comrades never came back from their supposed hike, and her buddies that went searching for her never came back either. The ones who stayed behind constantly whispered behind her back, so she knew they had a plot to do something, but she didn’t dare dare interfere. She had secrets that she didn’t want released, so she refused to risk her lifestyle by reporting any of this to the authorities! She worried about her daughter, but she felt sure that her associates had some kind of plan to get her back. Besides, she couldn’t think of all of the horrid possibilities of Bernadette’s disappearance, the consequences of that level of pain would have been detrimental at this time! Creating a beast could ruin everything, so she shook the agonizing thoughts out of her mind and went on the defense, “Did Nixon’s family get hassled after Watergate? No1 Just ’cause someone in my family committed a crime doesn’t mean I had anything to do with it!”

“We saw them running in this direction!” the second police officer contended. “You’re telling me that it’s just a coincidence that they just happened to run by someone tied to one of their accomplices?”

“Yes!” Agnes maintained this stance. The policemen gazed at her in disbelief, so she shouted, “What? What else do you want me to say? I don’t know where the men you’re looking for are!”

The first police officer requested, “Do you mind if we check?”

Agnes spat, “Get a warrant! I know my rights!” She thought about what they might find if they actually did that, and her distress heightened even further. She hoped that it didn’t show on the outside, they seemed as though they were on the verge of leaving and she didn’t want to give them any cause to stay! They clearly didn’t relish having to leave, but they didn’t look like they had a choice, so they turned back to their car. Her fears started to subside until…

“Let us know if you see anything!” the second policeman entreated her.

“Uh… ‘kay!” Up until then, she had bent the truth, but this time she just lied! She had no intention of doing as they asked, and it bothered her that she had made a promise she wouldn’t keep! She tried to keep it together, they were so close to leaving the area, but her emotions got the better of her- a giant, bird-like beast appeared across the street!

As the two men that those officers had been searching for witnessed the scene, a woman with soft features and an aura of sheer strength went behind them and exclaimed, “Cedric? Easton?”

Cedric remarked to her, “Susie! We made it back, but we brought a friend apparently!” He indicated to what was happening outside, and Susie glanced out of the window to see the policemen shooting down the beast. “Not exactly how we wanted our homecoming to go!”

“I don’t think that came from you guys!” Susie assessed.

“You don’t mean…?” Easton studied the commotion again and grew very curious about Agnes. He had to shove that aside though so he could tend to a higher priority. “Where’s Gwyn? We gotta to talk to her immediately!”

Susie let them know, “Gwyn and the others didn’t make it back here.”

Cedric and Easton’s eyes widened in alarm to hear that, and Cedric gasped, “They didn’t?”

“Nope,” Susie confirmed. “They left me in charge, so you’ll have to talk to me. What’s up?”

“We can’t stay here anymore,” Easton stated. “They’ll be back.” The three of them observed the police officers discussing the incident that just played out to their backup that had arrived.

Gwynivara and Bernadette sat a bus stop with newspapers covering most of their faces, and while they paid some attention to the articles, their eyes kept flickering back to the activity at the college on the other side of the road. Bernadette spotted a campus policeman walking by the crime scene tape, so she covertly conveyed to Gwynivara, “Don’t look now!”

She quickly ducked her head completely into the paper, but since she opened up to the last page, the thin material’s near transparency allowed her to see shadows of what went on in front of her. The campus policeman eyed the two of them suspiciously, and Gwynivara whispered, “He’s looking over here!”

“We changed our outfits,” Bernadette reasoned in a hushed tone, “There’s no way he’d recognize us!”

“He better not come over here!” Gwynivara quietly commented. “He has no right, we’re not on campus!” She shook her head and lamented. “We promised Emorick we’d take it easy, I don’t want another fight!” She saw him turn around and head in the other direction, so she relayed to Bernadette, “Thank god, he’s leaving!”

Bernadette conjectured, “We could’ve taken him if we had to! We rested all day yesterday, and we only had to do a couple of minor incantations so far today! I feel fine! I say as soon as he’s out of sight, we should try to get in the building again!”

As Gwynivara watched the campus policeman’s figure get smaller, she briefly considered Bernadette’s idea. The concept gave her a gnawing feeling at the pit of her stomach, so she politely differed with her, “They know we’re trying to get in there. I’m almost positive that they have some kind of trap waiting for us if we made it to his office!”

“How will we know if don’t try?” Bernadette urged her.

“Maybe…” Gwynivara could see compelling logic to her argument, but her gut still prompted her to believe that doing so would put them in danger. Before she could object again, they both spotted Abigor exiting the classroom complex! They hastily buried themselves in their newspapers just in time- Gwynivara could see him gazing in their direction! They trembled slightly as they waited for him to lose interest and move on, but instead, he stepped closer towards them…

A bus pulled up in front of them, and as much as Gwynivara wanted to throttle that creep, she refrained from doing so until they could come up with a better strategy. If four people couldn’t defeat him, then she didn’t think the two of them would fare much better! She could see him watching, and she could tell he anticipated a confrontation as soon as the bus pulled away, so they had no choice but to go for a ride! She unwillingly gave the driver two quarters and hoped that they could find more change to use in case of another emergency! After they sat down, they put their papers in front of their faces again so they could spy on Abigor before they left. As the bus pulled out of the area, they could see him glaring as if he knew who they were but couldn’t prove it. The two of them breathed a sigh of relief as he disappeared from their scope!

When they set their newspapers down, a name on the page that Bernadette displayed caught Gwynivara’s eye. “Are they talking about the debates?”

“A spokesman for the Rialowe campaign, Bella Dolion, witnessed the disturbance and reported it as a reckless stunt pulled off by protesters who opposed her candidate’s viewpoints,” Bernadette read out loud. “Protesters? That’s rich!”

“At least this paper mentioned it! Vulpes Press didn’t talk about it at all, and Kierram said they have no plans to any time soon! All they wanna discuss is how much Rialowe’s poll numbers went up!” Gwynivara folded her arms in disapproval.

Bernadette bitterly admitted, “Unfortunately, all of the more reputable news outlets reported the same thing!”

Gwynivara groaned, “I know! I don’t understand that at all! How can more people like him after that dumpster fire of a debate?”

“Are you talking about Rialowe?” an old man sitting close them queried. “He blew the other two candidates out of the water!”

“How can you say that?” Bernadette reacted to his statement with complete revulsion.

The old man crowed, “Our political system is broken, and Rialowe is the only one with the guts to say it to the insiders’ faces! Rialowe tells it like it is, and we need that kind of transparency for our government! He’s gonna make everything better! I can’t wait to vote for him!”

A few of the passengers around him wholeheartedly agreed, and Gwynivara could see how much this tested Bernadette’s patience! It looked like it physically pained her not to dispute that foolishness, but instead of clashing over it, she took a deep breath and pulled the chord that signaled their desire to depart from this service. “This is our stop!” she declared as she got up without making eye contact with any of them. Gwynivara had no inkling of wanting to further engage in this conversation either, so she immediately followed her.

“Rialowe is gonna be the greatest hero this country has ever known!” the old man called out to them as they stood by the backdoor. Neither of them responded to that as the bus let them off.

“We really gotta do something to get Carter that kind of popularity!” Bernadette asserted once they had gotten onto the sidewalk.

Gwynivara concurred as she observed that they had come to a large grocery store, and after taking a moment to mull over their next move, she spotted a couple of payphones and concluded, “We could try calling Professor Chadron. Maybe he’s in his office.”

Bernadette shrugged. “Worth a shot.” They went over to the payphones, but when they reached into their pockets, they realized that they just spent the last of their money on the bus. “Now what?”

Gwynivara bit her lip; she tried, but she felt too frazzled to come up with anything, so she voiced, “I can’t think right now! Let’s give our brains a break and then come up with a plan.”

“Here? What are we supposed to do? Browse all of the food that we have no money to buy?” Bernadette grumpily joked. Evidently, the unpleasantness that they encountered had an effect on her mood, and while Gwynivara couldn’t blame her, she had to think of a way to remedy this.

“Well… You don’t need money to use the bathrooms!” Gwynivara came up with. She grinned as she savored the comfort of that image. “Boy, doesn’t it sound nicer than using the rocks behind the cave?”

Bernadette laughed, “Wow, this experience has really changed our preconceptions of luxury!” Gwynivara also let out a laugh, and they entered into the grocery store.

The two of them stood by the entrance, and Gwynivara wondered, “Where do you think the bathrooms are?”

“Maybe there’s a map over here.” Bernadette went over to a bulletin board and began sifting through all of the postings.

“I don’t think grocery stores do that. They should though! Sometimes you go in and-.” She paused when Bernadette saw something that made jump from shock. “What? What did you…?” Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest when she saw it- a card with a note on the envelope that read: ‘To the magical Carter sisters, from the teacher.’ Gwynivara posed to Bernadette, “Is this a coincidence, or is he reaching out to us?”