Across the field, Gwynivara and the mysterious man fled to the woods. The gnarled branches bent low enough to hide them, but they kept moving as swiftly as possible. As they reached the heart of the grove, they saw flashlights beaming through the trees, so they ran off the narrow pathway and hid against two large trunks, laying as flat as they could. Standing still, hardly breathing, they sensed the police were close to them. Gwynivara still had her sword, but she silently prayed that she wouldn’t have to use it. They heard one of them conclude, “I don’t see anything. Let’s go!” They heard the police head in one direction, and so they took off in the opposite direction.
The forest soon became quiet, which gave Gwynivara and the mysterious man a chance to slow down. The man walked with purpose, so she inferred that he intended to take her somewhere safe. Now that they were out of danger, her curiosity started to peak. So many questions raced through her mind, but she felt hesitant to speak yet. They were most likely out of harm’s way, but she didn’t know how cautious her accomplice would want to remain. As they reached the edge of the woods, she couldn’t help herself. She had to have some idea of what was going on, and her impulses only gave her a split second to choose between the myriad of urgent inquiries. She ended up going with, “What’s the plan?”
“Not here,” he replied softly. “Too many chances for interference. I’ll explain everything when we get there, I promise.” That satisfied Gwynivara’s thirst for knowledge, at least for the moment, so she followed him silently for a spell.
At the other side of the forest, Gwynivara saw that they came to an empty, two lane road. On the other side, overlooking a dirt path, was a rod-iron fence with a wiry archway that read: Talamh de Suaimhneas. The pathway divided two vast fields of tombstones, which prompted Gwynivara to ask, “A graveyard?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Are you afraid?”
“No!” she asserted. As they set foot inside, she actually did feel a little on edge, but with his confident demeanor, she convinced herself to push past her insecurities. After a while, she noticed a low mist hovering close to the grounds, and the moonlight beamed off of the tombs. She thought out loud, “This place is oddly beautiful!”
“Glad you think so!” the man remarked. “It’s the perfect place for a hideout. No one ever comes in here.”
“Because most people are scared of death?” Gwynivara surmised.
“That, and the fact it’s considered sacred grounds.” He paused for a moment, and then he probed, “Who are you?”
“I’m Gwynivara.” Gwynivara felt a wave of relief. Since he was asking questions, she knew she would get the answers that she longed for. “You can call me Gwyn.”
“Gwyn, huh?” He inquired, “Who are you, Gwyn?”
She hadn’t mentally prepared herself for that response. “Well, I…Uh, I’m a janitor at…no, I just got fired. So…I guess I’m nobody.”
“That can’t be true!” he objected. He decided to change tactics. “How long have you had Venenatus Sanguis?”
It felt strange to talk about the disease since she had gotten so used to hiding it, but she didn’t think there was any point in denying it to him. Besides, if he wanted to do her harm, he would’ve been better off turning her into the police! She figured she may as well tell the truth. “I’ve had it for almost ten years actually.”
“So, I was right, it did begin in Great Dismal Falls!” When he saw Gwynivara’s puzzled expression, he explained, “I’m Lieutenant General Emorick Conley of the U.S. Marines. A few years ago, I heard a man in the barracks screaming, so we rushed in to assist. When we got there, it was too late; the man laid in a pool of blood. I knelt down to check his pulse, just in case, and as I attended to him, a scaly, wolf-like creature snuck up and bit me in the leg! We killed it, but I lost a lot of blood from my injury, so they rushed me to the field hospital. When I started to come to, I heard my doctor talking to some civilian medical personnel, and they not only said I had Venenatus Sanguis, but they said as soon as I came to, they planned to send me to a quarantine zone! I only knew two things about quarantine zones: one, they have a high mortality rate and two, the survivors never came out. After surviving three wars, I wasn’t gonna let this end my life! When they weren’t looking, I hid a gun in my pants, and when they brought me to that so called hospital, I shot my way out! Even though I became a fugitive, I knew I could do more good on the outside. I vowed to find a cure! In order to do that, I figured out that I needed to find the origin. From the newspapers that I obtained from across the country, I found that the oldest cases that were reported came from…”
“Great Dismal Falls,” Gwynivara finished his sentence. “So, that’s why you want to help me? Since I was one of the first to contract it, you want to question me?”
Emorick disagreed, “No, that’s not why. If you got it directly from the source, then maybe. But no, that’s not why I brought you here…”
They stopped in front of a catacomb mausoleum, which, from far away, simply had the appearance of a giant block of cement, but up close, Gwynivara could see columns and gargoyle carvings. Initially, Gwynivara had reservations about entering a room of easily accessible coffins, but behind the stone slab door, she could see a faint, amber glow, so she decided to hear his explanation. Emorick questioned her, “You fought them?”
“Fought who?” Gwynivara answered his question with another question.
“The monsters formed from your emotions. You fought them?” He gazed at her with his own curiosity starting to surmount.
Gwynivara felt a little surprised by his inquiry. “Well, yeah…”
“For ten years?” He seemed to know the answer but needed the confirmation.
Gwynivara now felt a surge of confusion. She couldn’t figure out why would ask so many questions on something that seemed so obvious to her. “Yes, of course! I didn’t have a choice!”
“But you did have a choice,” he pointed out.
Gwynivara initially dismissed this notion. “No I didn’t! They were trying to kill me! What choice did I have? Let them kill me?” Emorick nodded, and then it clicked for her. “Oh! Okay, so I chose life. Is that so unusual?”
“Yes!” Emorick reacted in admiration and wonder. “Considering there’s no cure, which means the person who contracts Venenatus Sanguis has a choice-risk a life of pain or end their suffering. Not a lot of people have the courage to stay strong for that long. You fought back! Almost ten years of suffering, but you haven’t given up! That’s quite a feat!”
Gwynivara accepted the sentiments, it was quite flattering, but she didn’t quite believe her actions were remarkable. “I didn’t realize survival was considered a feat!”
Emorick emphasized, “It is! Which is why I need your help.” This immediately captured Gwynivara’s interest. Rarely did anyone need her help, let alone a high ranking military officer! However, she didn’t let that deter her. Something deep inside her felt passionate about serving those most in need of help, so she listened to him with the utmost attention. Emorick went on, “I’ve made it my mission to not only save people who want to survive but to train a select few for combat. I don’t know who’s responsible for creating this disease, but this has all the signs of biological warfare. My gut says when we get close to the origin, the person responsible will retaliate. I need troops to back me up. You’ve already proven that you have the aptitude to fight this, and I need as many soldiers as I can get to grow our numbers and build up a true rebellion to this injustice! What do you say?”
The opportunity sounded amazing, but Gwynivara did not feel worthy of this honorable position. Truthfully, she wanted to say yes, but she had so much self doubt. She deemed herself fortunate to have eked out of so many dangerous situations, but she didn’t know how much longer her luck would run. The idea of people relying her was terrifying! She uttered, “I mean…wow! I don’t know what to say! I don’t have any experience as a solider…”
Emorick enspeeched, “What is a soldier? What they always were to me were people who dedicated themselves to serve for a vital cause. They commit to selflessly working to help the community and to save lives. They’re willing to sacrifice what’s personally convenient to them in order to help those in need. That’s a soldier to me, and anyone with the drive to do that noble work can serve in this battalion!” Gwynivara still seemed unsure, so he added, “Of course, I’ll make sure you’re trained. Actually, one of the reasons you’ll be an asset to our cause is your Venenatus Sanguis! It creates monsters from the energy we emit when we experience strong, stressful emotions, but do you know what happens when you experience powerful, positive feelings?”
This idea both intrigued and perplexed her. She shook her head, and she asked, “What happens?”
He explained, “You can create anything! A powerful force gets created, and you decide where it goes and what it does. Venenatus Sanguis has the potential to be overwhelmingly deadly, but those who can manipulate it like this can do so much good for the world! Yes, I want to eradicate it still, but until then, for those who have it may as well use it as a powerful tool. Combining this with the intrinsic desire to defend the innocent, a soldier with Venenatus Sanguis has the potential to defeat the true enemy! I can see a lot of fight in you, and with a little honing of your abilities, you’re truly an asset to the rebellion!”
Gwynivara relished this new insight into the disease she had. She had no idea that she had that kind of potential inside her! However, she still had some lingering doubts, “Listen, I wanna help, but we don’t know for sure that I’ll make a good rebel. Okay, I fought for my own survival, but does that really separate me from the hundreds of other people who have it? What if I fail? What if I do more harm than good? I appreciate the idea you have of me, but are you sure you have the right person? I mean, I’ve failed over and over again in the last decade! I don’t think I’ve had enough success to help anyone! When it comes down down to it, what makes you think I’d be good at the fight?”
Emorick didn’t say anything at first. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, glass orb with purple smoke swirling inside it. Gwynivara got entranced by its beauty and mysterious nature. Emorick divulged, “This can store all of the data I’ve collected and play it back at my will. Let me show you a video I obtained from one of the quarantine hospitals…”
Gwynivara peered into the orb, and she saw a small living room with a couch that sat against the kitchen wall. A sword rested on the coffee table while a woman with an athletic body, a long nightgown, and sullen eyes propped her legs up on the sofa. At that moment, a large, snake-like creature that had four legs crawled into view. The woman didn’t move, she didn’t even blink! “What isn’t she grabbing her sword?” The creature crawled onto the foot of her couch and the woman remained motionless. “Get your sword! It’s not too late!” The creature unhinged its jaws and clamped onto her feet. “Come on, don’t give up!” It swallowed her feet and moved up to her shins. “No! Don’t do this! You can fight it!” It moved up to her pelvis. “Fight it! Come on! Your sword is right there! Fight it!” Gwynivara grew hysterical as it inched its way up and more of the woman disappeared. “No! No!” As it swallowed her head, Gwynivara howled and started to bawl. “You could have fought it! Why did you give up?”
Emorick handed her a cloth handkerchief, and as she dried her eyes, he told her, “Gwyn, what just happened, everything you just said, that’s what I saw in you! Tell me now you don’t want to at least try to fight!”
With one last sniffle, Gwynivara took a deep breath and removed her hands from her face. She couldn’t stand the idea of so many people succumbing to this! With a brazened star, she asserted, “I’m in!”