The Shadow Path, Chapter 1

She’s coming! She’s coming!” one of Yasmina’s young friends shouted gleefully into her ears as she slept. Yasmina woke with a start as her friend scampered out of her cottage. She ran to the mirror by the door, which had some cracks and blemishes but still did the job. She quickly brushed her long, blonde hair with her fingers and used her fingers to get the smudges off of her fair skin. She straightened out her dress to make the coarse material as neat as possible. She didn’t expect to get chosen since she was still a child, but it did happen once in a while. She glanced across the room and saw that her parents were still asleep in their bed. She decided not to wake them as she ran out of the house.

Young people who were as young as as Yasmina stood alongside men and women who were as old as twenty. Those who had already gone through this gathered on the sidelines of the town square as they all waited eagerly for her arrival. A few people did some last minute cleaning, shining the water well and clearing away the clutter, when the town crier appeared and announced, “Here ye, here ye! Citizens of Neodrach, please welcome Kadera, the soothsayer of Caragsona!”

Everyone stopped what they were doing and stood at attention. An old woman with stringy, gray hair and a tattered black cloak hobbled towards them, relying heavily on a knobbly cane. She poised herself before the gathered youth, eyeing them as if she were reading text above their heads. Yasmina silently prayed that she would get chosen, and excitement flooded her veins as Kadera slowly inched forward. Kadera stopped in front of a young woman and told her, “You shall be a farmer’s wife. You will work hard but be very happy.” The woman beamed as she rejoined her family. Kadera hobbled down the line and suddenly stopped in front of a boy. “You shall be a blacksmith. You start as an apprentice but one day you will get the higher position.” The young man celebrated quietly as he got out of line. Kadera hobbled closer and closer to Yasmina, whose heart pounded wildly. Her hopes were, however, immeasurably dashed as Kadera past her and stood before another child. “You will grow to be a servant for the future king!” The child seemed too stunned to move, and his family had to fetch him. The rest of the of the youth waited with high hopes that she might pick a fourth, but Kadera instructed someone in the distance, “Prepare my horses, that will be all!” She turned to leave, and the youth who weren’t chosen groaned in disappointment. Despite their dejected feelings, everyone still glowed just to be graced by her presence.

The villagers all turned to each other about the recent fates that were given. Yasmira met her friend under the shade of a yew tree and chirped, “That was so exciting!”

Her friend remarked, “I know! I can’t wait to get chosen! I wonder what I’ll end up doing with my life!”

“Me too!” Yasmina agreed. “I’d rather find out sooner rather than later. Still, it was really interesting to see others find out their fate.”

Her friend disagreed, “Two of them are going to stay in our peasant village, and one will get close to royalty. No one is going to become royalty. Maybe next time someone will! Ooh, better yet, I hope next time she says someone will go down the Shadow Path!”

“Saphra!” Yasmina exclaimed. “No one in our village is that evil!”

“You never know!” Saphra commented. “Evil comes from the most unexpected places sometimes!”

Yasmina stated, “I hope that she says the Shadow Path will get destroyed so the other villages will visit us again.”

Saphra scoffed, “Why would you want that? Our town runs just fine without them!”

“Not really,” Yasmina argued. “We barely make enough to survive. If we got more business, we could see all kinds of different fates! Like, maybe some of us would become a noble! Or a sailor! I mean, don’t get me wrong, it will be exciting to learn what we’ll do in Neodrach, but we kind of already know what we’re going to do here. There’s only so many jobs here. So, unless they venture down the Light Path to work for the royals, we’ll all work hard just to survive here.”

“Unless one of us goes down the Shadow Path!” Saphra giggled. Yasmina rolled her eyes and laughed.

Several years later, Yasmira stood in that line again. She had done this so many times now that she had stopped feeling so nervous, but now that she had reached adulthood, she felt her time had come. She was one of the oldest in the group, but that didn’t bother her much. Everyone would get their turn, so if she didn’t get chosen this time, she knew her time would come eventually. She spotted Saphra in the crowd with her husband gave her a little wave. Saphra and her infant daughter waved right back. Suddenly, a chill went down her spine as if the weather had abruptly changed, and she knew it was time!

Kadera hobbled over to a young man and predicted, “You will work in the horse stalls and mary the stable girl.” Upon hearing this, he excitedly ran off. She went in front of a young woman and told her, “You shall marry the grave digger and bear lots of children with him.” The girl practically squealed as she jumped and clapped with delight. Yasmina silently wished them well but secretly didn’t envy them. She did feel a twinge of jealousy that they now knew their fate, but neither option sounded so lucrative. She needed a vocation, but the idea of the humdrum lifestyles that her village offered didn’t thrill her much. She secretly hoped that Kadera would promise a life of adventure, but she didn’t know how that was possible.

She had been so lost in thought that it took a while to notice that Kadere was standing before her! Everyone waited with bated breath, and the tension from the villagers was palpable. Yasmina hadn’t realized it before, but Kadera never smiled. The many lines on her face actually gave her an almost menacing demeanor. She never noticed her eyes before either. They were a very light gray and almost milky, and yet they had a shrewdness about them that sent shivers down her spine. They were deep, and she could almost see her celestial thoughts swirling. The more she stared at her, the more uncomfortable she became. She wished that Kadera would reveal her fate and get it over with! The crowd murmured a bit, clearly questioning why she took so long with Yasmina. Just when Yasmina thought she couldn’t take it anymore, Kadera unexpectedly announced, “You are a witch!”

The crowd gasped, and Yasmina’s thoughts hadn’t registered the reality of what just happened yet. It almost felt like a sick joke. Everyone stared at her in shock, and all she could think to say was, “What?”

Kadera elaborated, “You are a witch. Soon your powers will grow, and you will try to kill the king!”

“No!” Yasmina refused to accept this. “I’m not a murderer! I’m a good person! Surely, there’s a job for me! Don’t I at least find true love?”

“No,” Kadera insisted. “You will be penniless and very lonely.”

Yasmina’s heart sunk, and it hurt her so much to hear such insulting predictions. “No! You made a mistake! You-!”

“I do not make mistakes!” Kadera snapped. “I have spoken, and my word is final!” Kadera hobbled away, and all of Yasmina’s hopes were dashed as she watched her leave.

Once Kadera was out of sight, Yasmina turned to the villagers, who stared at her in horror. “Look, I’m not a witch!” She took a step towards them, and they all backed away. “You’ve known me for years, you know it isn’t true!” Everyone stared in disbelief and a growing distrust. She found Saphra and pleaded, “Saphra, tell them!”

Saphra scooped up her child and scowled. “Stay away from my baby, witch!”

Yasmina felt utterly bewildered by her friend’s betrayal. As she saw everyone’s loathsome expression, she started to grow frustrated. “Just because Kadera said it doesn’t mean it’s true!” They all look insulted at her criticism of the soothsayer, which caused her to bellow, “Ugh! I am not a witch!” She felt the anger course through her veins, and it flooded to the tips of her fingers. To her astonishment, green shots sparked out! She stared at her hands incredulously; she had never done that before! She refused to comprehend what it meant and turned back to the crowd, but they were all gone. Despite her disappointment and new obstacles, she vowed to find a way to have a real life.

Her parents had gathered her things in a box and had it waiting for her when she got home. She tried to open the door, but it was locked. She knocked and begged to come inside, but her parents refused. With tears rolling down her face, she picked up her meager possessions and walked away. She went to almost everyone in town searching for someone who would take her in, but not a single soul did. She stood outside the entrance of Neodrach and stared forlornly. She didn’t want to say goodbye to her home, and she bitterly regretted thinking such ill things about their humble lifestyles. She sighed and turned the other way.

Before her stood a fork with two paths. The one on the left had gnarly trees, dark leaves, and storm clouds overhead. No matter what Kadera said, Yasmina refused to go down that path! Her only alternative seemed to be down the Light Path. She saw plenty of sunshine and lush, green plants down this way, and she knew that the king’s castle was located down this way. In her heart, she knew she wouldn’t kill the king, so she felt perfectly safe going down to Rogamaith to ask for help. She steeled herself and headed down the Light Path.

Not that long after setting foot on this path did something catch her eye. On the right side of the path, between some trees, she saw a small cottage. She didn’t realize that anyone lived outside of Neodrach until this moment! She treaded the lawn and walked up the rickety steps carefully. When she knocked on the door, it swung right open. She could instantly tell that the house was abandoned, and she realized that she had found her new home!

The house stood close enough to the village for her to walk there, and after giving them a little time to recover, she did venture back. In time, a few people acknowledged her without flinching. When people were desperate, they gave her work to do, helping them with their vocations when they were swamped. She managed to earn enough to keep herself from going hungry and even had a little leftover to fix up the house a bit. She didn’t have much space, but she did what she could to make it feel like home. She even cleared the brush away so she could see the village from her back window. Her successes weren’t frequent, and she didn’t get to stay at any job for too long. Often times, she went months without finding work. Despite her struggles, she took some solace in the fact that although she sometimes emitted magic, she had refused to succumb to her predicted fate.

The years rolled by, and she watched generations grow and form their lives. She grew to her thirties, and she began to lose hope of ever having a happy life. No one seemed to be motivated to give her a permanent position, and she wondered if she really would struggle her whole life as foretold. She even dared to hope that she would find a husband who could help her with the house and consistent money, but she was no longer young with a taut little body. She was growing older, and the more time that went by, the more she doubted that she would ever become a bride. She agonized over different plans to change her situation, but she was at a point where she drew a blank. She had tried so many different things, and nothing ever worked out, so she didn’t know what more she could do. All that she came up with was to keep searching for work and hope for the best. That’s all she could do right then…

…Or so she thought! The possibility never occurred to her, but it came on a seemingly ordinary night when she heard on a knock on her door…

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Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 27

Gwynivara held up her arm and stunned everyone as she willed the orb to push past the pile of clothes and fly into her palm. Rafeneita’s jaw dropped and she gasped, “Where did you get that?”

“It came from Emorick.” Gwynivara gazed into it as clouds swirled around inside and began to form shapes. “Where he got it, I don’t know, but he does have a message for you…”

The clouds inside the orb the orb shaped into an ethereal form of Emorick, who’s voice echoed out, “Give her hell!”

Gwynivara taunted Rafeneita, “I can’t disobey a direct order!”

Rafeneita genuinely seemed frightened. The Rebel officers, especially Gwynivara, were all amped and ready for whatever she had in store for them. Rafeneita backed away slowly, giving them a very cold glare. When she reached the edge of the mountain top, it almost looked as thought she would jump off. Instead, she leered, “Have it your way then!” She sprang up as if she were about to do a back-flip off of the cliff, but what actually happened- she disappeared into a mystical portal! In the same instant, a dozen men in the same white clothes as the Rebels appeared all around them, brandishing swords. And with that, the battle began.

Kierram magicked the daggers out of their belts and enlarged them to become swords. Gwynivara had the utmost confidence that the Rebels would prevail in a sword fight, but she figured that this was just the first wave, that the attacks would prove more and more difficult as time went on. For this reason, she kept a weary eye out for signs of other danger as she fought. All of the training they went through made them motions of the battle simple, but actually striking down someone was a new experience. They didn’t have time to think about it though, right then, their entire focus aimed at survival.

After defeating the last swordsman, Gwynivara noticed how quiet the grounds became. She looked around and saw that the rest of the Rebel officers were also studying the area to check for survivors. None of her people appeared to have died or got seriously injured save for a few cuts and bruises! They could hardly move though because the mountain top floor was now littered with bodies! Gwynivara felt awful for taking a person’s life, so to see how many lives were now over was deeply unsettling. She had no idea that so many people worked for Rafeneita, an she briefly wondered what their perspective had been going into the battle. She reminded herself that none of them had a choice, and the important thing was that the Rebels survived.

No one moved or spoke for quite a while. Everyone had the same instinct, that this first wave got overcome way too easily, and their eyes darted back and forth looking for what was next. Max whispered, “I’m gonna call for back up.”

“Max, don’t!” Bernadette, who was closest to him, hissed.

Max didn’t listen and tiptoed through the bodies. The rest of them, still on high alert, silently prayed that he wouldn’t stumble across an ambush. He crept towards the pile of clothes, and all of their nerves were palpable. He found a radio pretty quickly, held down the call button, and whispered, “We need back up on the-!”

It happened too fast. Without warning, a beast twice as tall as them sprung up from the side of the mountain and clenched its jaws around Max’s torso! They involuntarily screamed as they watched the monster snap him in half! His instant death was shocking enough, but they didn’t have time to react to it. They soon found that creatures of great magnitude approached them from all different directions! As terrifying as their presence was, the Rebel officers had fought monsters before, and they were always ready to fight them. Today had been no exception. The Rebel officers got attacked from all different directions, so it took all of their concentration and skills. Gwynivara didn’t have time to keep an eye out for the other Rebels, but as soon as the mountain grew quiet again, it was the first thing she did. She spotted Bernadette, Kierram, and a few other Rebels, but to her dismay, a few more officers had been killed.

They didn’t have a moment to mourn for their losses. One second, they were completely surrounded by bodies of people and giant creatures, and the next thing they knew it all disappeared. Knowing that this could mean nothing good, the remaining Rebel officers stood in a back to back circle, waiting. Suddenly, Abigor and his cronies appeared from a small rip in the air near the ground. They strutted out in a very cocky manner in an attempt to appear condescending, but the Rebel officers wouldn’t let themselves get intimidated. Abigor leered, “You should’ve joined us when you had the chance! Look how many of your men have died just for you to make a point! What a waste!”

“I guess I should’ve been more like you and let dozens of my people die without blinking an eye!” Gwynivara retorted.

Abigor and his followers circled them like a vulture circling it’s prey. “It’s not too late. We’ll give you one last chance to change your mind.”

“Never!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram replied in unison.

“Then so be it!” Faster than they could blink, Abigor conjured a ball of dark energy and hurled it towards them! Kierram reacted quickest and created a sheer barrier that deflected his spell from them all. Abigor and his team made multiple attempts, but Gwynivara and Kierram kept blocking them. Bernadette and a couple of others who were in the Rebellion long enough to know the theory of how to use their Venenatus Sanguis as an enchantment did their best to help Kierram and Gwynivara out, but they were definitely outnumbered in terms of people who possessed the ability. Their minds raced to think of a solution, but their heads were blank. No one was sure what they would do.

All of a sudden, Abigor stopped. His attention got drawn to a noise he heard in the base of the mountain. Abigor’s henchmen took this as a cue to cease as he investigated. A very loud hum reached the Rebels’ ears. It grew louder, indicating its fast approach. As rapidly as the noise came, it let up. Abigor and his men peered over the side of the peak, but they saw nothing. They turned their attention back to the Rebels, ready to strike again when suddenly, one of the henchmen got shot in the head! At that moment, dozens of motorcycle cops flooded the area, shooting at the henchmen! The Rebels all figured that their foes had the skillset to destroy the police in ways that they couldn’t even imagine, but Abigor and the others were still humans who would succumb to bullets just as anyone would. Considering this as well as the vast number of law enforcements present, they were properly distracted, which leveled the playing field for the Rebels, and the battle resumed.

Kierram sought out Abigor and found him firing off enchantments left and right. He threw one at him, which he easily deflected. Kierram made a couple more, and Abigor swatted them away as easily as if they were a bothersome fly. After a few rounds of this, he fired back. Kierram’s counter hit Abigor’s dark force, and for several moments, the two specters collided. Abigor and Kierram used all of their might to keep this force away from themselves, and they did all that they could to push it onto the other person. Kierram secretly didn’t know how much longer he could last, but suddenly, Abigor got a look on his face that conveyed blatant fear and pain. Kierram used this split second distraction to push back the spell onto Abigor. He fell face down onto the ground, revealing a knife in his back and Bernadette standing behind him. The gave each other looks of approval and headed back into the battlefield.

Gwynivara marched purposefully through the midst of it all, searching everywhere. She finally had enough and shouted, “Come out and fight, Rafeneita, you coward! Show yourself, you lousy bitch! You act so high and mighty, but you won’t show off your powers at all! You’re gonna let us kill each other off, just like always, huh? It’s ‘cause you’re weak! Your people don’t deserve-!”

Rafeneita manifested herself at that moment. “Don’t you dare insult my people! Weak, am I? You wanna see my powers? Well, you got it!”

Rafeneita hurled an energetic force towards Gwynivara, who not only evaded it but sent one back. The sheer strength of their craft halted the battle on both sides as they mesmerizedly fixed their gazes on the two of them giving it all they had. Gwynivara came in with great energy, but if began to wane as time went on. She did her best not to show it to her, but eventually, Rafeneita figured it out. Gwynivara started dodging her instead of fighting back, and Rafeneita delighted in the turmoil she was causing. Gwynivara felt her muscles weaking more and more. In a horrifying moment, she almost fainted, and that momentary distraction gave Rafeneita the upper hand. A dark cloud hit her, and pain shout throughout Gwynivara’s entire body! She couldn’t help but scream as she writhed in pain!

“No!” Kierram cried out.

“Shut up!” Rafeneita stopped torturing Gwynivara for a moment, sending her tumbling to the ground, in order to attack Kierram.

That stunt drew out Gwynivara’s primal side! The pure love that she felt for him strengthened her heart and gave her body strength. She saw that the orb had rolled out from the clothes she wore, and instinctively, she grabbed it, rolled over, and held it to the sky. Concentrating all of her energy, she willed it to absorb Rafeneita’s work, and when Rafeneita felt that particular enchantment leave her, she grew utterly terrified. Gwynivara didn’t stop there. The more energy she took from her, the more she felt in the orb. It quickly flowed from the orb into her flesh, and as it flowed into her veins, the great eminence lifted her into the sky. A pink and gold cloud enveloped around her, and even her eyes grew florescent. With a billowing voice, she roared, “You shall not have my planet!”

Gwynivara threw a bolt of lightning towards Rafeneita, who disappeared into thin air right before it hit her. Gwynivara fell to the ground as a small rift in the sky opened up and dropped something. Gwynivara used the last of her strength to grab it. She hit the ground, and everything went black.

The few remaining Rebels rushed to her side. Kierram knelt before her and desperately clutched her body. He gently shook and pleaded, “Gwyn! Please wake up! Please!” When she didn’t respond, tears began to roll down his cheeks.

As he sobbed, Bernadette unlatched Gwynivara’s grasp and discovered the ornate vile along with a papyrus note attached to it. She read out loud, “Keep your planet. There’s plenty more to choose from! Take this token as a peace offering.”

John, who appeared to have a broken ankle, limped over to see the note. “So, she’s going to do the same thing to another planet?”

At that second, Emorick’s face appeared inside the orb in Gwynivara’s hand, and his voice sounded, “Not if we can help it!” He conjured a ball of energy and shot it towards Gwynivara.

To everyone’s astonishment, immediately after Emorick made the gesture, Gwynivara’s eyelids flipped open, and she gasped. Kierram stared in dumbfounded amazement as she regained her breath and control of her body. His tears changed to those of happiness, and Kierram exclaimed, “You’re back!”

“I never left!” Gwynivara had never felt such relief in her life as she did right then! Her body healed, and she felt lucky to be alive. Waking up in his arms made the moment perfect! Her heart sang as she gazed into his eyes. Unable to contain herself, she flung her arms around him and passionately kissed him!

The other Rebel officers smiled warmly as they watched their loving embrace. Bernadette couldn’t help but tell Gwynivara, “I told you!”

Gwynivara turned to see Bernadette standing there with a playful smirk. She said gratefully to her, “I’m gonna let that one slide ‘cause I’m just so happy you’re alive!”

Gwynivara sprang up and gave her a huge hug. Bernadette rejoiced, “We did it! We survived!” Once it finally sunk in for everyone, the remaining Rebel officers celebrated with hugs, relieved sobs, and lots of joyous noise.

The policemen who were still living arrested the henchmen that survived. Kierram put his arm around Gwynivara and asked her, “So, now what?”

Gwynivara mulled it over for a moment. She realized that she had been absentmindedly playing with the orb, which gave her an idea. She said to the other Rebels, “Let’s go find Emorick!” Everyone nodded in approval, and with an air of total optimism, they headed down the mountain.

The End

(For now)

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 26

It sped so fast towards her that she didn’t have time to think. With every fiber of her being, she held up her hands and blocked the electric cloud from snatching her. The strength of the force behind it became too much for her, and against her will, it eventually it overcame her. She expected pain or even instant death, but instead, she found herself suspended in the air. She felt as light as a feather and she felt herself floating up the mountain, but before she got close, she felt a cold wind encircle her body. In an instant, the police uniform she had on got replaced with a flowing white dress. She didn’t have time to contemplate what it meant though because the cloud lifted, and she dropped onto the rocky ground.

She quickly looked up to see the other Rebel officers just as confused and startled as she felt. Bernadette had a dress like hers while the men wore loose, white pants with a matching vest that left their chests partially exposed. From behind her, a cold female’s voice greeted her with, “Congratulations! You found me!”

Gwynivara whipped around to see the same green skinned woman that she had seen in her dreams! Her black dress draped coolly over the dark stoned throne that she also had seen before. She leered arrogantly at them with a beast chained to each side of her. Gwynivara cried out, “You!”

The green skinned woman nonchalantly said, “Yes, me!” Gwynivara stood up in a ready position, a gesture that the woman laughed off. “Trying to give a brave face? How do you expect to fight me with no weapons?”

The outfit changes suddenly made sense to Gwynivara now- she had disarmed them! She could see their original clothes and belts in a heap behind the woman, but she didn’t let her eyes linger too long- the less this lady knew, the better! “So, why not kill us now and get it over with?”

She smirked, “That may not be necessary. I hate to waste a good resource.”

“Resource?” Gwynivara puzzled.

“Yes,” she divulged, “The point of my mission is to spread the disease, so it wouldn’t make sense to kill people who have it.” She surmised the Gwynivara would ask, so she explained, “My name is Rafeneita, and I’m captai nof a military brigade on my planet. My people have over-harvested minerals in our planet’s core, and it’s slowly disintegrating. If we don’t find a new planet to move our people to, our entire race will get destroyed, and I won’t let that happen!”

“So, to save one planet, you’re gonna destroy another?” Gwynivara probed.

“Do you really think your planet would tolerate millions of strange beings living alongside them?” Rafeneita asked pointedly. “No planet would, even if they had the room! This was the only way.”

“But why Earth?” Gwynivara inquired knowing she wouldn’t like the answer one way or the other.

Rafeneita revealed, “Because your planet is weak. Your species tears each other apart over the slightest differences- skin color, financial class, gender; such shallow, petty things, and yet these slight variances make some believe that they’re superior to the other. The more advanced planets bind together like a tightly woven piece of fabric, which makes it hard to break through. Your kind is so far apart that it’s easy to penetrate. Earth is divided, and since you’re already pitted against each other, it made it easy to use it to my advantage.”

“I can see how you manipulated your henchmen to do your bidding because of this,” Gwynivara calmly debated, “But why use Venenatus Sanguis? If your planet needs to get re-homed as quick as possible, there must be faster and easier ways to destroy a species.”

Rafeneita replied, “Like I said, why waste a resource? I don’t want to taint anything that may hurt my people. Some weapons leave scars that the land absorbs for decades to come. But why, as you called it, Venenatus Sanguis? Tell me, how long have you had it?”

“Over ten years.” Gwynivara’s interest peaked, but she still remained vigilant. She didn’t know why Rafeneita was telling her this. This knowledge could prove useful to the Rebels, but Gwynivara knew full well it didn’t benefit Rafeneita to tell them any of this. She kept them alive for a reason, and she knew better than to let her guard down.

“Ten years, and you have no idea what it is, do you?” Rafeneita watched Gwynivara shake her head, and when she glanced at the others, she saw that they seemed clueless too. “I gave you power.” No one expected to hear that, and with a devilish satisfaction, she went on, “Your thoughts and emotions emit an energy that can be felt by all that surround you. This disease simply amplifies it. When your heart feels something powerful, it has a powerful effect on this energy. Venenatus Sanguis simply gives this force life. Your planet is so vulnerable that when you do get power, you don’t know what to do with it! You can’t control it! It makes the division between you all much farther apart. You can’t share power, and your arrogance makes you underestimate your enemies. Especially females! The men on your planet underestimate them simply because they have a different set of genitals! No one suspects my involvement or that I’m even capable of such a thing! It made it easy to settle in and watch you all destroy each other! And the juiciest part, no one has any clue how powerful they actually are! Just by strengthening their mind and harnessing their emotions, they’re capable of doing extraoridinary things, and yet your species trains the powerful to think that they’re the weak ones! Earth already very skilled at destroying each other, and all I had to do was help speed it along!”

Gwynivara didn’t like her grim view of humanity, but she inwardly refused to let it get to her. Her explanation made the appearance of Venenatus Sanguis make sense, but she knew that Rafeneita would only sit and talk for so long. She pressed her, “So, you want to destroy the planet, but not all of it? You mentioned something about not wasting resources; how exactly do we fit that role? What exactly do you want with us?”

Rafeneita told her, “You’ve captured my curiosity. I’ve never seen a more diverse group of people bonding together for a single cause! And you, you fought back against my charm! Tell me, have you mastered the power of the disease?”

Gwynivara didn’t want to let Rafeneita know how much she knew about the incantations she had performed, and she especially didn’t want her to involve the rest of the Rebels if she could help it. If Rafeneita had any idea of how powerful they were, she would resort to higher defenses to counter this. If Rafeneita stayed under the assumption that they were still in the infancy of discovering the power of it, she would let her guard down a little, which could give them an upper hand. However, she guessed that Rafeneita could probably sense when people lied to her, so she decided to tell the truth, at least partially. She shook her head, “I haven’t been part of this group for that long.”

“How about the rest of you?” Rafeneita looked to the rest of the Rebels.

Everyone else shook their heads too. Max bravely spoke up, “I just got here days ago really. So much has happened lately that no one has had time to teach me anything.”

“And yet you’re here.” Rafeneita gave them a piercing look as if she were scanning the Rebels for their honesty. “You just went along with it because you like to help?”

“That’s right,” Max confirmed.

She seemed to have detected no signs of deception, so she accepted this answer. “That’s okay. I could teach you.”

Gwynivara got caught off guard hearing this and reacted, “Teach us? Why would you do that?”

Rafeneita enlightened them, “You’re not the first group of people to band together to try to stop me, and instead of spilling powerful blood, I gave them a chance at life. As capable as they are, they still get outsmarted by a group of Rebels who dared to defy societal laws to protect their kind. You take pride in doing the right thing, and that’s a very admirable trait to have, but tell me, how do you choose the lives of some over others?” No one responded. “By fighting me, you’ve sentenced my people to death. What makes one life more important than another? I can either demolish you and your entire family to save my planet, or I can spare you in exchange for your service. All you would have to do is spread this power more. If they seem capable of handling it, we will recruit them to join our side. If not, then we will spare them the agony of living with it. Either way, your kind will find peace. And do not worry about your law enforcement.” She glanced over at the pile of uniforms behind her throne. “We will protect you. So, can I count on your help?”

Gwynivara did not respond right away. She had no intentions of joining Rafeneita’s side, but she knew that by telling her no that a fierce battle would ensue. None of the Rebels had any weapons, and their enchantment skills were very limited. Kierram was very proficient, but Rafeneita didn’t seem to know that. She must have known one of them had attacked one of her men with the power of Venenatus Sanguis, but she probably figured it was a fluke. Rafeneita made a point of disarming them before she brought them up there, and so Gwynivara wondered if defeating her could be as simple as finding a clever way to grab their police belts. But she figured that Rafeneita must have a way to defend herself if she had refused her offer. She didn’t see any backup hiding anywhere ready to fight them at a moment’s notice, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t there. She also considered that Rafeneita had the capability to fight them all on her own. She knew one way or the other, she would have to draw the answer out of her. Only then could she decide if she should play along and sabotage her plans later or if she should stand up to her and never once give her the satisfaction of thinking she had won. Rafeneita’s patience clearly had started to peter out, and all Gwynivara could think to say was, “So, at the end of it all, we have to spend the rest of our lives with Venenatus Sanguis? If there’s no cure, then what would be the point of-?”

Have to?” Rafeneita responded. “I would think you’d want to keep it. It is pure power, after all! But I’ll tell you what, if you help me out and you really don’t wanna keep it, I’ll give you this.” She pulled out a cylindrical vile with ornate silver carvings on each that contained a dark green liquid inside of it. “If you help me, I’ll give you the cure.” She tucked it back into the clothes underneath her chest. “So, the fate of everyone you hold dear rests in your hands. I need a decision now. What’s it going to be?”

Everyone turned to Gwynivara, who still hadn’t made that decision. She closed her eyes and listened to what her instincts were trying to tell her. A swirl of possibilities danced around in her mind, and suddenly, she had an unexpected vision that made everything much more clear. She now knew what she had to do…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 25

Zoom! They raced through the city at top speed with the sirens on top of the car blaring at full volume. Gwynivara hadn’t realized how heave police belts were until that day! It briefly took her attention away from watching the scene as it passed by. She could only imagine what people were thinking as half a dozen police cars raced through their neighborhood! No one in the vehicle spoke but not because of nerves; their adrenaline pumped massively high from both the stunt person level of driving happening at the moment but also the speed that they were arriving at their destination. When they left for it the first time, the walk took long enough that their feelings had time to fester, but after what felt like an instant, they were already almost there! Gwynivara held some pride in her team’s ability to control their emotions at a time like this! If they had created a beast after fighting to prove that they weren’t dangerous, it would ruin their new alliance with Chief Forsythe. She felt so grateful to him for vetting his men to prevent any sabotage by the origin! However, she knew that he had been doing all of this on the contingency that they came back with the cure, so she silently prayed that if they lived through this that they returned with it.

They slowed down as they reached the point where they left off because the barrier that the henchmen created still remained. Gwynivara theorized that finding the tracking device must have really spooked them. Bernadette, Kierram, and she hid their faces discretely enough so it couldn’t get noticed by their adversaries but not enough where it would have been super obvious that they were trying to hide. The policeman driving the car they were in stopped and casually waved to Abigor. “Mornin’!”

Abigor didn’t match his friendly tone. Quite contrarily, he appeared completely on edge. “I got the page about searching the mountains. I don’t understand; we got them all last night!”

The policeman shrugged. “Our intel indicates that they had more Rebels waiting in the wings. The first wave was planned- they wanted to distract us so the rest could sneak in!”

“Unbelievable!” Abigor griped. “Well, they slipped past me once, they won’t do it again!”

After that firm statement, Abigor’s curiosity got roused and he began to peer into the squad car curiously, but luckily for the Rebels, the policeman averted his attention by telling him, “Well, we better get going. Every minute they’re out there is another minute they could be enacting their plan!”

“Right!” Abigor remembered where he was and returned his focus to the policeman. “If you find them, page us! You have no idea the destructive power they possess!”

“Okay then!” The policeman rolled up his window as Abigor gave the car a pat. Gwynivara’s heart pounded as they drove past the barrier. The last thing they needed was for Abigor to discover their ruse. Thankfully, he let them pass through. She turned back and watched the rest of the Rebels’ cars go through. If just one car gave away their cover, it could spell out disaster for the whole operation! She dreaded the idea of, after all they went through, their journey stopping right there! To her immense relief, all of the cars made it through! She didn’t know what awaited them on the other side of that barrier, but at least they were safe for a little while longer!

After driving down a very windy road, they came to a dirt lot just outside a closed path. Everyone got out of the cars they came in and convened in a circle for further instruction. The policeman that had transported Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram addressed the Rebels, “This as far as our cars will go. We’ll use this as our base camp. If you need back up, radio for us immediately. Careful what you say though ‘cause they’re listening too!”

“Thank you, Deputy Cairdeas,” Gwynivara responded cordially. She then turned her attention to the whole group. “Just to review, we’re heading up a service road that hikers don’t have access to, so the nature around the path will look pretty undisturbed…except for the way the henchmen toke to get to the origin. Keep an eye out for signs of humans once being there. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for any potential traps. Okay, let’s go!”

“Good luck out there guys!” Officer Cairdeas told them encouragingly. They nodded at him to acknowledge that they heard him, but their concentration fixated on the final mission, so they didn’t say anything back. They all walked up to the flimsy wire that blocked the road ahead and just stared at it for a moment. The sign read: Restricted Access, Dangerous, Do Not Enter. They collectively took a deep breath, and then Kierram held up the wire so everyone could enter easily. One by one, everyone ducked under the wire and went onto the other side. Gwynivara went next to last and held up the wire for Kierram. After the last person crossed over, everything felt so strange. They had spent a lot of time talking about it and preparing for every possibility, but it didn’t feel real until this moment. After taking a moment to collect themselves, they started moving forward purposefully.

The dirt path they traveled on had lots of leafy trees and thick, green bushes on their right while the rocky side of the mountain stood solidly on their left. Birds chirped in the branches above them, and the sound of squirrels chattering periodically filled the air. If it wasn’t for their heavy burden, Gwynivara would’ve found the trail rather beautiful. It felt almost inconceivable that such terrible danger loomed close by! Gwynivara didn’t see anything that resembled what she had seen in her dreams, which made her question the validity of them. She didn’t dare bring them up again even though she felt certain they were accurate. She suspected that when they got closer to the origin, the environment would change dramatically, but she didn’t share this insight with the Rebels in case her hunch proved false. She feared pulling them in the wrong direction, so she let the scenery speak for itself.

The officers were diligent in searching for signs of humans straying off the main path, leaving no twig or stone unexamined, but after a lot of walking, it became a bit frustrating. John groaned, “Ugh! I need a break! My head hurts from all this concentration!” The other officers concurred with this opinion.

Bernadette and Kierram turned to Gwynivara, who wrestled with the desire to get this process done and over with versus her own growing fatigue. She wished she had some idea of where they were so she might have a clue to what she should do, and then an idea popped in her head. “A quick breather so we can get our bearings.” The Rebel officers breathed a sigh of relief. John found a rock to sit on while the others rested by leaning on a tree. Gwynivara pulled out the orb and examined the map. “Oh, I didn’t realize that the service station was on Obair Chrua! I thought it was its own peak! This mountain is definitely the entrance to the Athas Ridge, but the origin wouldnt’ be so close to the service station. The Cinealtas is north of here and the Misneach is due east. If the origin is on the latter, we should find the hidden pathway any time now.”

“Oh please let it be that one!” Bernadette clasped her hands together and looked to the heavens. “I just wanna get this over with! My nerves are killing me!” Everyone shared this sentiment.

“This place kinda reminds me of ‘Nam,” Kierram reminisced. “Sometimes missions got real tedious and you just wanna get it over with. But don’t think for a minute you’re gonna feel any better when you come across the enemy!”

Gwynivara put the orb away and said to them all, “It’s never gonna get any easier, but it will get harder if we don’t find this place by sunset. Let’s try to avoid camping in these woods overnight! As painful as it is, let’s keep going.”

They knew she was completely right, so they mentally prepared themselves to begin again. John sighed deeply, craning his head to the sky while doing so. At that moment, he noticed something in the branches above him. “Guys! I think I found something!” he called out excitedly. In an instant, everyone flocked over to where John sat and glanced up. They saw a branch of a tall bush inwardly bent and almost severed. “I don’t think any forest creature did that!”

“Not likely.” Gwynivara peered behind the bush, and she saw the valley covered in green, but between the brush, she noticed the grass had a small dirt path that could only come from frequent footfall. “This is it! Good job, John!” Everyone congratulated him as they followed Gwynivara into the woods.

As they walked through the flora, they saw more and more subtle signs of humans’ frequent travel. They made it down the mountain without incident. During their time traversing through the valley, the area had the eerie echo of total silence. They spoke very little as they maneuvered through the rocky grounds. Their pathway slowly got rougher and rougher as they went more and more east. No one talked unless they had to, and even then they were limited to a brief whisper. None of them had thought to bring a watch, probably because, like Gwynivara, they figured they would have found the origin sooner. None of them knew how long they had been out there, but they did notice the sun setting behind them. The anticipation just added to their bodies feeling totally drained. They kept going, inwardly praying to find out their fate at any second!

Just when they thought that they would never make it there before sunset, a peak came into view in the distance! They took a moment to study it, and once their eyes adjusted to the shadows, they noticed movement on the mountaintop that appeared to be human! Without disclosing this fact to anyone, Gwynivara saw that this scene mirrored what she saw in her dreams! She didn’t to say it though, everyone knew that they had found the right place! They quietly acknowledged this small victory before they ascended up to the origin’s location.

Shortly after they started up the path going upwards, Gwynivara stopped dead in her tracks. She had been in the back, and only Kierram noticed this. He went up to her and quietly asked, “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong,” Gwynivara answered him while she deciphered her feelings that kept her bolted to the ground. “It was…it was just too easy! I mean, we had a huge barrier in the beginning, and after that, nothing? It doesn’t make sense!”

“What do you..?” Before Kierram could finish his sentence, they heard commotion ahead of them. Their jaws dropped as they saw an electric cloud snatch up one of the Rebel officers! The rest of them scattered and hid as this force snatched them one by one. Kierram and Gwynivara ran and hid under a rock formation. Gwynivara couldn’t fathom how to fight this, and apparently Kierram didn’t either. He urgently told her, “Before we go, I gotta tell you that the night we first met, I was trying to die! You saved my life!” The dark energy got closer, so he swiftly revealed, “And one more thing…I love you!”

Gwynivara’s heart nearly exploded after hearing this! But before she could react, the thing snatched him away! Within seconds, she saw it coming for her too…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 24

A dull ringing pierced her ears, and Gwynivara couldn’t figure out where it originated from. She could feel something pressing against her cheek, something hard, bumpy, and cold. Darkness clouded her entire vision, and she briefly wondered if she had died. The feeling in her head started to come back, and it felt sore all over. At this point, she realized her eyes had been closed this whole time. When she tried to open them, her head throbbed sharply. She knew it would hurt, but she had to get her eyes open. They were so heavy, which made it difficult to lift her eyelids, but slowly, she did just that. At first, all she saw was a beige, brick wall, and that didn’t give her any clues as to where she had woken up. Memories slowly flooded back, and the last thing she recalled was walking down a dark street towards the mountain. She remembered seeing a bright light before everything went hazy. A shadowy figure had stood before her, and everything after that remained a mystery.

She heard groaning next to her, and it dawned on her that she had her people with her when she got attacked and didn’t know if they were safe or not. She bolted up and saw them laying in a heap on the ground. Thankfully, she felt a cascade of relief as she saw that they were all breathing and starting to stir. She wanted to reach out to them, but she couldn’t move her arms, and it then occurred to her that her hands were bound. Before she could process anything else, she heard a door open, and the light from the other room practically blinded her. A familiar voice observed, “Oh good, you’re awake.”

It took her a moment to recognize him, but her subconscious figured it out. Without thinking, she inquired, “Chief Forsythe?”

The door closed, and in the dim light of the room, Gwynivara confirmed that it was, indeed, Chief Forsythe. She felt fully awake now and after noticing the bars, she figured out that they were locked up in a jail cell. Chief Forsythe informed her, “While you were unconscious, we ran your fingerprints. We know who you are. I ordered my men to surround the place, so don’t try any funny stuff!”

As the Rebel officers woke up, Gwynivara felt comforted knowing for sure they were alright so that she could focus on finding answers on what happened and why they were there. She knew that Chief Forsythe didn’t keep them here for no reason. “What do you want?”

Chief Forsythe told her, “The only reason you’re not in quarantine is the FBI wants to talk to you. They’re driving down from DC as we speak.”

“The FBI?” Kierram questioned.

“Yes,” Chief Forsythe replied. “They believe that you’re in possession of illegal weapons.”

Bernadette objected, “We paid for those! You know who my father is! We have the money!”

Chief Forsythe argued, “One of my officers nearly got killed in an unnatural way. Don’t tell me you did that legally! Besides, why would innocent citizens possess a military level arsenal?”

“Not for any malicious reasons!” Gwynivara countered. “We’re simply training.”

“Training for what?” Chief Forsythe probed.

Gwynivara hesitated. She certainly didn’t owe him an explanation, and truthfully, she didn’t see the point of one. Either way, whether she helped him or not, they were going to get set to quarantine, so she didn’t see how telling him anything about the mission would help the Rebels out. Plus, she certainly didn’t want to give away where the rest of the Rebels were hiding or the weapons that they had. However, she remembered what Rebekah had disclosed with them about her father. He desperately wanted to find a cure, so much so that he got tunnel vision in an attempt to find it. He probably had no idea how much his officers were manipulating him. She didn’t know how else to help her people out other than get on his good side. It was a long shot, but she decided a small chance was better than no chance. She took a deep breath and revealed, “Partly, we have to defend ourselves against your men. Not because they want to hurt us, but they’re trying to use us to spread Venenatus Sanguis!”

“Bull shit!” Chief Forsythe clearly didn’t believe her, which she was the reaction she expected to get at first.

Bernadette put in, “It’s true. They’re just using you!”

Chief Forsythe refuted, “You’re spreading the disease by refusing to be quarantined. They’re helping us contain it.”

“Oh yeah?” Kierram disputed. “Haven’t you noticed things getting more hectic since they were sworn in?” Chief Forsythe didn’t say anything, but they could tell he was refusing to admit it to them. “They’re using their position of power to make it more widespread, and they’re doing it in plain sight!”

Chief Forsythe obviously didn’t want to believe them. Before he could debate the issue further, he got distracted by the noise of commotion outside. Everyone listened intently as it sounded like the policemen out there had encountered someone causing trouble, and the Rebels were especially interested in who it may be, hoping some of their comrades were coming to rescue them. Gwynivara didn’t have a clue how they would get out of this, but she hoped that the others had found a way to outsmart the police force. To their dismay, the noise died down, and Chief Forsythe turned his attention back to them. “Why would my men want to spread Venenatus Sanguis?”

Gwynivara explained, “They work for the one who created the disease! They’re double agents trying to stop us from getting the cure!”

Before Chief Forsythe could respond, they heard commotion in the hallway. Chief Forsythe stood up in a ready position as a couple of policemen burst in. One of them frantically apologized, “I’m sorry, sir! We tried to stop her!”

They could see a female push past the group of policemen, and everyone’s curiosity peaked. When her presence came in to view, Chief Forsythe gasped, “Rebekah!”

As he stepped towards her, Rebekah brandished a dagger to her throat and warned him, “Don’t come any closer!”

“Rebekah!” Chief Forsythe said in complete astonishment. Some policemen pointed their guns at her, and so Chief Forsythe bellowed, “Stand down! That’s my daughter!” After the policemen reluctantly put down their weapons, Chief Forsythe took another step towards her, “Rebekah…!”

“I’ll do it!” She furrowed the dagger further into her neck, which actually drew a little bit of blood.

“Okay, okay!” Chief Forsythe stepped back, viscerally scared. “Why are you doing this?”

“You’re keeping the cure from us!” Before Chief Forsythe could object, she went on, “If they’re in here, the origin will get away and we’ll never get the cure! I’m not spending the rest of my life trapped like a rat! I won’t do it!”

“What do you mean by the origin?” Chief Forsythe asked.

Gwynivara nervously answered, “The origin of Venenatus Sanguis.”

Manically, Rebekah commanded, “Listen to them or I’ll do it!”

Chief Forsythe turned to the Rebels with a grave look on his face. “Talk.”

Gwynivara told him, “The origin is hiding in the Athas Ridge. That’s the reason we were in that neighborhood and that’s why they ambushed us there.”

“They told me you were hiding there,” Chief Forsythe remarked.

Bernadette commented, “They did that to keep you away from the one with the cure! They’ve been deceiving you from the beginning because they work for the origin. They use the badge to help spread the disease without consequences.”

“They’re also using it to suppress what you know about Venenatus Sanguis,” Kierram added. “They have people on the inside of the Public Health Center who destroy any research people find relating to the truth of the cure.”

“That was them? They told me you did it!” Chief Forsythe shook his head. “I don’t know! I can’t just release you! You’re criminals and you make our streets unsafe!”

Gwynivara calmly responded, “With all due respect, the only real law we broke was evading quarantine. We got the weapons to protect ourselves against your men, but we also have been training to fight against the origin. We don’t really know what to expect though. She’s from another planet, so our weapons could end up being useless. We don’t know! We would love to have a peaceful negotiation with her, but considering she’s trying to destroy the planet, I highly doubt that’ll happen. The Rebellion exists so we can find the cure and save lives. We’re no threat to the public!”

“You may not intend to hurt the public,” Chief Forsythe debated, “but you still create those monsters. That makes you dangerous, and I gotta protect the citizens of this city. No one would stand for your kind being around them!”

“That’s not true!” Rebekah vehemently disagreed. “My boyfriend doesn’t have it, and-!”

“Boyfriend?” Chief Forsythe certainly didn’t seem to have expected to hear that.

“That’s right!” Rebekah confirmed. “”He loves me and wants to be with me; he doesn’t care that I have the disease! He cares about all of the Rebels! He even risked his life to follow them tonight and make sure that they were safe!” Gwynivara and the others were surprised to hear this, but it did explain how Rebekah knew that they were in trouble.

Chief Forsythe didn’t look totally sold. “That’s great he accepts you, but don’t you think it’s irresponsible to be around people who don’t have it? You’re putting them at risk!”

“No I’m not!” Rebekah exclaimed. “If we’re happy, we don’t create beasts! Actually, they can harness the Venenatus Sanguis to do their bidding!”

“Is this true?” Chief Forsythe asked the Rebels.

Gwynivara answered, “Yes, it’s true. That’s how I defended myself outside of the military supply store.”

“Why haven’t you shared this with the Public Health Center?” As soon as the sentence came out, he figured it out. “Oh, right.” He furrowed his brow as he contemplated everything. “What if you’re lying?”

“If you give us a chance to confront the origin and get the cure,” Gwynivara explained, “and if after everything, you still feel like we’ve deceived you, we will happily return to our jail cell. But if we’re right, we can save a lot of lives!”

Chief Forsythe took a moment to really wrestle with his decision. He glanced at his daughter and finally relented, “Fine. Now, is there anything you need from me before you go?”

Inspiration striking her, Gwynivara replied, “Actually, there is one thing…”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 23

Are you serious?” Kierram asked her.

“Like I would joke about something like this!” Gwynivara pulled out the orb, which showed a crude map with a red dot resting just outside the area that Rick lived in. “It’s been sitting there since last night.”

Bernadette inquired, “You think the origin is somewhere in that neighborhood?”

“No,” Gwynivara replied. “If you were the origin, would you let people visit your house willy-nilly?”

“Of course not,” Kierram agreed. “They must have some kind of security check.”

Bernadette surmised, “They found the tracking device.”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara analyzed the evidence, “They would stop somewhere on the way to their hideout but still far enough away so that if they were followed they wouldn’t give away the origin’s location. What would you do if you found a tracking device on your property? Take it off and immediately chuck it right?” Kierram and Bernadette nodded in agreement. “It’s the natural human reaction if you find something unsettling. Once it was off, they probably thought they were in the clear. They could have gone anywhere from there, in theory, but what lies just beyond that neighborhood?”

“The Great Dismal Mountains!” Bernadette exclaimed. “The mountains would be the perfect place to hide, very secluded!”

“There’s a few trails and camping grounds in that range,” Kierram contemplated. “But it starts to get pretty gnarly along the Athas Ridge. If the origin is in a place to avoid detection, it would be there.”

“Totally,” Bernadette concurred. “But there are three peaks in that area- Cinealtas, Obair Chrua, and Misneach. We couldn’t scale them all ‘cause the origin and their henchmen would figure out what we’re doing and stop us before we found the correct one. So, how do we know which one is the right peak?”

“There would be signs before we got there,” Gwynivara reasoned. “When we get there, we can narrow it down.” Suddenly, it all became real to her. She knew all along that this was the end game, but now that the time had come, it frightened her. She thought out loud, “We’re not prepared! I just got here, I don’t know all the battle plans! I only got a couple lessons on harnessing my Venenatus Sanguis! I barely know what I’m doing! And the others- I didn’t get enough skills to teach anyone to do it too! And a lot of the officers are brand new! They didn’t even get weapons training yet! I can’t… I mean, right now? I-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Kierram cut her off. “It’s okay! We can wait and do more training if that’s what you think is best, and if this was a military operation, that’s exactly what I’d do. But really, we don’t know what the enemy is capable of. We could be dealing with weapons that we can’t even fathom, so all of that training could be a waste of time. When we get there, if we get a chance to do some reconnaissance, we will, but I think the only way we’re going to know for sure what to expect from the origin is to confront it head on. We need to act quickly, lives are at stake!”

“Kierram’s right,” Bernadette added. “We can train the officers and make them experts at everything and still have shit go wrong. Either way, this could be a suicide mission. The important thing is that we take a stand, let the origin know that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable! No matter what, if we all live or die, the origin would hear our message. The fact that we stood up to them at all would let them know they’re not infallible and someday, our planet will stop them! We’re all capable of telling them that, so, I would say we’re all ready for this.”

Gwynivara knew they were both right and calmed down as much as a person could in a situation like this. She mulled it over for a bit and concluded, “We’re not all going to die. If all of the officers perish, we still have Rebels staying here who would carry on our message. And we could appoint a designated survivor to recruit more officers. We could tell him where we’re going so if we don’t return, he could find us. Oh, and we can let the origin know this so she knows even if she slaughters us all, she’s not safe! We could use that as leverage for…”

She stopped mid-sentence as she heard footsteps approaching. She quickly stashed the orb away as Agnes poked her head in. “We got lunch for all of you if you’re hungry.”

“Oh yes, thank you!” Gwynivara tried to maintain a normal tone, but she could tell Agnes suspected something was up. Agnes didn’t say anything though, and after she left, Gwynivara whispered, “How are we going to do this?”

In a large dining room, several Rebels ate sandwiches with Agnes in an awkward silence. Gwynivara couldn’t tell if it was due to a similar sense of wariness that they all picked up on or because she was a stranger to them. Riley broke the spell by saying, “Great sandwiches, Mrs. Ashling!”

Gwynivara wondered how she would convey vital information while Agnes was present, but she suddenly got an idea. “Oh yes, they remind me of the ones we ate by the Athas Ridge, remember Riley?”

“Athas Ridge? We never ate any sandwiches by the…” In the middle of his sentence, it clicked for him what Gwynivara meant. “Oh right! I remember now! Yes, these are very similar.”

Catching on to Gwynivara’s tactic, Kierram casually suggested, “We should take the Rebel officers there for a hike.”

“When?” Riley replied.

“How about tonight?” Bernadette proposed.

Trying to hide his growing anxiety, Riley probed, “Tonight? So soon? Shouldn’t we wait to do an outing like that?”

“If we don’t do it soon, it could be too late and we’ll never get another chance.” After Bernadette spoke, she saw her mother glance up, so she quickly added, “The first snow of the season is due anytime.”

Riley remarked, “I understand. I guess it makes sense to do it tonight, but some of your Rebels aren’t very experienced with…hiking. Are you sure you want us all go tonight?”

Gwynivara told him, “Actually, I was thinking that you should stay here and teach them everything you know. Then if we…get lost or something, you can lead them to where we went.”

“You want me to stay behind?” Riley’s eyes widened and his voice crackled a little, but he did his best to maintain a normal tone. “But if something happened to you all, that would make me in charge! Are you sure I’m the most qualified person to-?”

Kierram interrupted, “You’ve been with the Rebellion the longest. You know what needs to be done. If you can’t do a specific task, you know who to appoint for the role. No one could do it better than you. So, we’ll take the Rebel officers tonight, and you can hold down the fort here, okay?”

“But…!” Riley saw the logic, but Gwynivara could see that emotionally, he didn’t want to let them go.

Unexpectedly, Agnes put in, “Oh, come on boy! There’ll be other hikes! You can handle things on your own for one night! Personally, I’d take any excuse to stay home! Hiking is too much work! But whatever floats your boat, I guess. Just make sure you bring something to fend off those mountain lions!” To their relief, Agnes appeared to have totally bought that hiking alibi.

Riley sighed, “As long as it really is just one night!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, Kierram looked to the other Rebel officers in the room, who all nodded at each other. It suddenly got hard to eat the rest of their meal normally, not now that it was official- they were going to confront the origin tonight!

As the Rebel officers walked down the street in that neighborhood leading to the mountains, no one spoke. They were naturally a little nervous, but the tension didn’t really surface very much. The whole situation felt like a dream, and as they traveled, they wondered if they would ever get a chance to see any of it again- the houses, the flowers, the trees…A cold wind blew past them, making them tighten up their black hoods. Gwynivara glanced at the others and saw that her theory on walking in the middle of the road to avoid the streetlights had panned out, but from what she could see, she could tell everyone was lost in thought. Gwynivara remembered the old cliché that a person’s life flashes before their eyes when he or she approaches their time to die, but she didn’t feel that. It felt more like nostalgia, thinking about who played a large role in her past, wondering what could have been. John and Max just got here. They escaped a horrible fate in quarantine only to come to this days later. She wondered if Rebekah and Cody would end up married. Niqun would probably adopt the children that Kennith had saved, she had been thoroughly enjoying watching over them lately. Riley would probably hire new leaders and continue his administrative role. She hoped she would get to find out for herself someday!

She glanced to her left and discretely watched Kierram. Her heart fluttered just to have him there at that moment. She longed to hold his hand and receive the comfort of his touch during this harrowing ordeal. She wondered if they had the opportunity to have more time if they would ever have gotten together. She had no idea if he even felt the same about her. It saddened her to think that she may never know. Gwynivara mused about actually achieving this mission successfully and how nice it would be to run off with him. Or would they separate when it was all over? If they accomplished this, she thought, she had no idea if any of the Rebels would stay friends actually. Kierram looked in her direction, so she quickly switched her gaze to Bernadette. She didn’t want him to know she had been staring at him for a while. If he didn’t have feelings for her, she would hate to have an acute awkwardness to distract them at a crucial time like this. Still, even though she looked away, her heart pined for him.

Bernadette let out a soft sigh. Gwynivara felt a surge of gratitude for her presence. She didn’t need to take part in the Rebellion at all; she could have taken her mother’s money and hid like she did. She chose her morals over material goods and personal safety, which Gwynivara found to be a very selfless and admirable choice. She was incredibly kind and loyal, a great teacher…Gwynivara wouldn’t have made it this far without her! Interrupting her train of thought, Bernadette pondered reflectively, “When we were kids and dreamed about the future, we sure didn’t think we would end up here!”

Gwynivara slowly nodded. “When you and I were kids, we couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain or swim in the same pool! Thank god people fought back against society on that! Those rebels made the world a better place!” She realized how much her words tied into their current situation, and it became an odd moment between them all. Without saying it out loud, everyone wondered if their won Rebellion would have that kind of impact. Gwynivara reminded them all, “That’s why we’re here! Don’t forget, that’s why we’re doing…”

Before she could finish her sentence, a bright light ahead of their path blinded them all. Gwynivara’s mind had already been in a dreamlike trance, and this haze added to her confusion. She didn’t understand what was happening until a figure emerged that made her blood curl…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 21

I can’t!” Gwynivara didn’t have a problem making important decisions for the Rebellion anymore. At first, it overwhelmed her, but after some time, it became more and more comfortable to do. This felt different though, and she figured out why- the people involved with missions knew the risks and accepted responsibility for any consequences resulting from that decision, but Emorick had no say so on this. He was dying and couldn’t give her advice on his fate. She held his destiny in her hands! The pressure twisted her insides into a knot. The wrong choice could have devastating results, and she didn’t know if she could live with herself if that happened.

“Yes you can!” Kierram gently encouraged her. “You always do the right thing. I trust you.” He pat her hand reassuringly.

His support at that moment was successful in bolstering her spirits, but she still felt on edge. Her nerves were still jangling, but she knew that a call must be made and that she had to be the one to do it. Kierram was his family, and his presence made the process easier because if he didn’t think it was the best idea, he would voice that opinion before anybody acted on it. She placed her head inside her cupped hands and took a deep breath to clarify her mind. She cast out all doubt and mentally prepared herself to do this.

She reviewed the facts of the situation. Emorick was knocking on death’s door, and if he had to pick a final resting place that would give him the most comfort, Gwynivara felt confident he would pick inside the Rebel headquarters. If she sent him to the hospital, he pass away without anyone he cared about by his side. He created the Rebellion, and his zealous passion to find the cure for Venenatus Sanguis brought them all together. The people here loved him and held such a high regard for his character. She witnessed how heartbroken everyone was when they couldn’t bury Kennith, and she knew that no one would want to go through that devastation again. For a brief moment, the choice seemed obvious.

She almost said it, but she couldn’t get the words out. Something was holding her back as if she was missing something. Her logic dictated that if she had to choose where Emorick should die, she knew the Rebel headquarters made much more sense than a hospital. She stared at Emorick almost as if she hoped that he would wake up and make this decision obvious. All of it sudden, it clicked for her- Emorick was dying, but he wasn’t dead yet. If he stayed here, it would totally seal his fate. However, if he went to the hospital, there was a small chance of survival. When he first went into a coma, she was sure he would wake up and want to be here when that happened, but now she was sure if he stayed here, he wouldn’t wake up. The medics couldn’t bring him back, not with the limited supplies they had here, but surely the doctors would have everything needed to save his life. He wouldn’t like waking up in side the hospital, but it was better than not waking up at all! Gwynivara felt a small glimmer of hope, and she didn’t want to dim this light inside of her.

She now felt that taking him to the hospital was the right thing to do, but part of her wondered if she was being selfish. She didn’t know if it’d be right to keep him alive if he awoke to a tortuous life. If he did recover, there was still a chance that he would get his identity revealed and spend the rest of his days in quarantine. It would be cruel to send him back there when he worked so hard to escape that place. They held dozens of people here who chose to stay in the Rebellion than risk going there, no one wanted that. She wondered if it would be more humane to just let him spend what little time he had left at the place where he felt the happiest…

Before she could make a call, a snarling beast that somewhat resembled a reptilian tiger skulked onto Emorick’s bed, snarling at them! From the corner of her eye, she saw a crossbow glimmering in the first aid station’s supply closet. Instinctively, she grabbed it, stood up, and shot the creature right between the eye! It sprawled across Emorick’s bed and became motionless. Gwynivara gazed at the weapon she found curiously and asked the medic, “Why is this here?”

He answered, “When people get badly injured, emotions run high. The risk for monsters are extremely high, so we keep a small stash of weapons here, just in case.”

“I’m sorry,” Kierram apologized. “My dad’s dying and I couldn’t help it! I-!”

“Don’t ever apologize for being human!” Gwynivara cracked a smile, her head brimming with warm memories. “Emorick told me that my first day here. Before I even entered the catacombs, I started crying and created a beast. The thing got killed easily, and I apologized, but he didn’t make me feel bad for it. Then we toured the Rebel headquarters like nothing happened.” Both she and Kierram chuckled while they reminisced. “Funny, when he showed me this room, I never thought I’d seem here like this.” Suddenly, it dawned on her- Emorick already told her what to do!

“What?” Kierram reacted with concern for her sudden change in mood. “What is it?”

She turned to the medic feeling almost giddy from relief that Emorick had made the decision, and now all she had to do was relay his message. “That first day, he told me that if anyone here gets hurt or injured, but our supplies are limited, so if they’re injured enough, they gotta go to the hospital! So, don’t you see? He already gave the orders! We’ll take him there immediately!”

Bernadette peeked out from under a manhole cover with he eyes barely visible above the ground, and when she saw no one around, she sprung up and quietly exited the sewer. She scanned the area, and when she confirmed that no one was around, she motioned to others to come up. Kierram and a couple officers darted out while Gwynivara and a few more officers maneuvered Emorick’s body up the metal ladder and out of the sewer. Kierram and Bernadette received him by grabbing his arms, and the other officers all hovered around him one by one. Everyone hoisted him up and moved him across the factory floor as quickly as possible. This part of the plan made Gwynivara the most nervous. Their uniforms would easily explain their presence at the bakery factory, but it would be awfully hard to explain why they were carrying a body! Luckily, after a very long few seconds, they made it to the back of the truck fast enough! They opened up the back and heaved him inside. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief; they were safe, but their job wasn’t over yet.

Gwynivara quietly ordered, “Okay, now we gotta find a phone and-”

Before she could finish her sentence, an elderly custodian came shuffling into view. Everyone stood still like deer caught in headlights silently praying that the darkness would conceal them. It did not! The old man hobbled over to them and inquired, “What are you doing here?” Before they could blurt out the excuse that they rehearsed, the old janitor jovially remarked, “They sure have been working you guys to death!”

“You don’t know how right you are!” Gwynivara responded. “There’s a half dead man in the back of that truck!”

“Wha…?” the old man reacted in shock.

Bernadetted urged, “Quick! Call 9-1-1!”

He understood the sense of urgency and moved with a surprising amount of agility. The officers took this moment to escape. They all flew back into the sewer, but Kierram, Gwynivara, and Bernadette peeked to watch the scene unfold. After a couple of minutes, they saw the old janitor shuffle back out there, who looked a bit confused about where everyone went. It didn’t take long for police to arrive. They went to the back of the truck and confirmed the old man’s story. Shortly after that, paramedics arrived, and the Rebels took that as their cue to leave. They quietly covered the manhole cover and sped away to catch up with the others. They had done it, Emorick was on his way to the hospital!

On the way back, when they were at a distance safe enough to avoid detection by the police, Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram slowed their gait, walking with heavy steps and long faces. Gwynivara thought out loud, “I wish there was a way we could’ve done this better. I mean, I know that this was the fastest way to get him to the hospital, but it feels so impersonal. I know, I know, when we planned this out, it logically made sense to keep his cover as a John Doe, but it happened so fast! If we could’ve brought him to the hospital ourselves, we could’ve had a chance to say-.”

“We didn’t need to say goodbye!” Kierram reminded her. “He’s still alive, and we’ll see him again real soon!” He aimed these words for her, but she could tell he was also trying to convince himself to believe this.

Bernadette sadly put in, “He’s gonna pull through this, I know it! He’s a fighter! He will…” She had to stop mid-sentence to stifle a sob. Gwynivara put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, so Bernadette said, “I’ll be alright. It just made me think of Daddy. He got shot and he almost made it.” Gwynivara and Kierram fell reverently silent as she revealed a piece of her past that she had been so protective on keeping secret. “I was at a yacht party when it happened, I had no clue that the last time I saw him was the last time I was gonna see him. You don’t always get a warning when someone leaves us forever. We all wanna have one last sweet moment with the people we care about, but life doesn’t always give us that option. You have to do it in your own time in your own way sometimes.” She paused and added, “Not that you’ll have to worry about that with Emorick. He’s gonna make it, I can feel it!”

Gwynivara had so many questions for her that she didn’t know where to begin. Just before they got to their exit point, Gwynivara tried to narrow it down to what she wanted to ask Bernadette first. She didn’t get a chance to ask anything though because her pocket began to get really warm. She stopped to investigate while Bernadette and Kierram stared curiously. She fished the orb out, which felt almost hot to the touch. She found it so strange, but when she saw what it displayed, she gasped, “Oh my god!” She didn’t get a chance to explain herself. Her heart nearly dropped as a figure ran towards them…