The Afflicted Ch. 14byChiShyGuy©
Palo's hunch had been correct. The tunnel they found had led straight to the underground mansion where he and Frederique had been living. It was the perfect headquarters. Not only was it opulent and well-stocked, it was also impregnable.
Scaurus knew the designers and had consulted on a few of the security components. In normal times, the sprawling underground mansion was the ultimate in hospitality. The parties that had taken place there in decades past were legendary. Everything about it was welcoming.
Locked and armed, it was completely the opposite. The prior tenants had lived through the past war and had built the home with every possible security measure. It was surrounded by false passageways, traps, and snares of every imaginable variety. Once they were inside, Scaurus activated the security. The place had deplaceur alarms as well as shields against jumpers created by Franz. Scaurus was certain that only Aimée could find her way in if she had Abby with her and a person to fix on.
In the deep basement, they inspected the dungeons. There were over fifty large cells. Akin to the design of the dorms, each cell locked with a timer and delivered blood and supplies on a regular basis. The locks could be set for various intervals and could not be tampered with once they were set. Worst case scenario, if they were besieged and the mansion was somehow compromised, they could lock themselves in and wait indefinitely.
"Why these?" asked Palo. "Why would any private home need such an elaborate dungeon?"
"A private home wouldn't," said Scaurus. "But the owners of the home were not private; they were part of the upper circle. The council funded these dungeons for just such a time as the one we are in. There are two others in New York that I know of, but I would wager they are already held by the enemy. I know that at least one owner was in the courtroom."
Once the security around the mansion was activated - Palo, Scaurus and Hypatia rested briefly and then the three of them took care of their daily 'dose', wanting to make sure their minds were sharp.
Scaurus was an old friend and lover. He and Hypatia had gone on many missions in the past and found their way into each other's arms now and again. Palo was new and she found him refreshing, though she could sense him pining for Frederique. She met Scaurus in the gymnasium, but went with Palo to a guest bedroom where their lovemaking was lovely, but perfunctory. Palo certainly stretched her to the limit and she gave thanks for the rapid healing powers of her kind. Had she been mortal, she would have been sore for days.
When they were done, they met in the study and mused on what they should do.
Hypatia spoke first. "At the bare minimum, we need to venture out to get at least one other woman in here. But, I suspect you'll want to muster the troops, yes General?"
"Indeed," said Scaurus. "My suggestion is this: I will instruct Palo here in guerilla tactics and we start a two-man campaign. We capture where we can, recruit where possible, and maim if necessary. Hypatia, you can help when you want, but we need your brains more than your battle skills."
Scaurus took Palo to the training gymnasium (not the other one) and gave him a crash course in the type of battle they would be engaging in. This was somewhat different than the lessons he gave at the Academy.
"Collar, cut, then kill," he explained. "If we can, we want to take the best fighters completely out of commission with collars and bring them back to our dungeon here where we will keep them until we find a cure. Barring that, a well-placed slash helps to take them out of the mix for a while. I prefer to hamstring. The Achilles tendon is famous for a reason. It is terribly hard to heal and the Affliction puts all of its energies into rebuilding those tissues. One snipped tendon at the heel knocks out an Afflicted warrior for three days minimum."
"As for kill, we will doubtless come into situations where that is our only choice. Yet, avoid killing someone whenever possible. If you take the life of an Afflicted, you are taking away many lives they have already lived, and even more they might go on to."
Scaurus taught Palo several moves that were surprising in their simplicity. If Palo had been impressed before, it was nothing compared to his newfound admiration of the warrior whose years outnumbered his own by more than twenty-fold.
When night fell, they met Hypatia at the hidden entrance.
"What are your plans?" asked Scaurus.
"Oh, I thought I might fight with you for a while until Palo gets his feet wet, then I'll head off for some reconnaissance and research."
"Excellent, it will be good to have you along."
Palo wondered what sort of fighting Hypatia might do. She had no sword or weapon, and only carried a satchel over her shoulder, plus a stack of notecards in one hand.
One of their primary concerns was differentiating between friend and foe, but their first encounter didn't pose such a problem. In the warehouse district of western Manhattan, they spied a group of ten people. Four were on the ground and six were in the air. Even from their hidden vantage point they could smell the mortal blood of those on the ground.
Hypatia started pulling notecards out of her stack and looked comically like a card dealer preparing a game. They were hiding on a rooftop and she laid ten cards out carefully on the ground.
"What are you doing?" whispered Palo.
"You've heard the pen is mightier than the sword?" said Hypatia with a grin. "My feeling is the page is mightier than the bow."
There was nothing comical about what happened next. The notecards shot up in the air and flew to a spot several yards in front of the party they had spotted. They began to fall, fluttering around the group. The people looked at them curiously, but paid them little mind.
"Get ready," muttered Scaurus.
He had dampeners draped over one arm, as did Palo.
"Now!" whispered Hypatia.
Palo and Scaurus sailed silently and rapidly toward the group. At the same moment, the notecards flew suddenly toward the faces of their enemies. The cards flapped flat against their eyes, pulling in tight like a mask. In the confusion, Palo and Scaurus had five of the flyers dampened within seconds. Their helpless bodies fell up to twenty feet to the cobblestones below, crippling three of their cohorts on the ground. The one remaining flyer was able to pull the card from his face and quickly took flight with Scaurus in pursuit. Palo sensed something and instinctively dodged just in time as a dart went whizzing past his head. He swooped down and bashed feet first into the man who had shot the dart. The man had no time to recover because Palo followed his tumbling body pinioned him a few moments later.
He quickly hogtied the man and then went after the other injured mortals to subdue them. He removed all weapons and was rather pleased with the mass of bound bodies he had accumulated. Looking up, he saw the most unusual sight. More notecards appeared and formed a stair-like pattern descending down from the rooftop where they had been hiding. Hypatia stepped off the edge of the building and onto the first card – which bore her full weight. She calmly, but quickly, descended the improbable stairway, each card returning to the stack in her hand once she had used it.
She crossed to the pile of weapons Palo had compiled and examined them closely. Her keen mind immediately noticed a difference in the ammunition that had been loaded. There were darts with blue rings and others with red rings. Both contained clear liquid, but there was surely a difference. She crossed to the mortal Palo had tied up who looked at her with hateful eyes.
"Red and blue, what do they mean?" she asked.
"Master said not to tell," said the man.
"Red and blue. What do they mean?" she said again. "Red darts and blue darts. What's the difference?"
The man pressed his lips tightly shut and looked away from her.
She reached into her satchel and removed a sheaf of papers. She pulled a narrow strip out and examined it lovingly.
"You know, they're making more and more paper out of wood these days," she said. "It is lovely in its own right, but I still long for papyrus. I know a maker in Alexandria. He has perfected this paper I hold which combines rags, wood and papyrus. It is more suited for flat sheets. You see, full papyrus tends to roll. My favorite thing about this is how crisp it is. Crisp is good, don't you think?"
There was something in her tone that was frightening the man – and for good reason. Hypatia let the sheet of paper fall from her hand but it stayed suspended in the air. His eyes grew wider and wider in panic as the paper began to slowly fall toward him.
Around this time, Scaurus arrived back with the final prisoner in tow.
Hypatia spoke in a disarmingly calm way, keeping her eyes on the prisoner all the while. "Scaurus, do you remember Tomonari?"
"Of course," said Scaurus. "He was the best swordsmith I've ever known. I carry one of his blades today, as a matter of fact."
Hypatia continued to speak with measured tones. "Do you know, he once told me he wished he could forge a blade out of paper? That was how he measured the edges of his swords, against the thinnest paper. I even saw him kill a man once with a blade he had shaped from paper. The paper blade was useless afterward, of course, but for that first slash it was marvelous."
The paper was now resting on its edge against the side of the man's neck. One flick of her wrist and Hypatia sent the blank page sliding across the man's skin. He cried out and a line of red appeared on the side of his neck which began to drip slowly.
"That was just regular flesh," she said in a threatening tone, "and I've got three more good edges on this piece of paper alone. Imagine what it might do to a vein or a windpipe."
The paper floated above the man's face and started to twist, landing edge up against his forehead.
"It's for your kind," he cried out. "Please, I'll tell you, but I beg of you, no more with the paper."
"Our kind? What do you mean?" asked Hypatia.
"The blue is God's Strength. It's for us. The red has more. I overheard the Master say it had two parts, one that would bind you to him in the mind, the other in the body. It's for your kind. It will turn you devils to the Master's will forever."
"There now, was that so hard?" said Hypatia.
The paper hovered back up into the air.
"Successful first mission, I'd say," said Palo, looking about at the bodies which were tied up around them.
"Absolutely," said Scaurus. "How about you and I go do some more damage?"
"Sounds perfect," said Palo.
"I'll go do some fact-finding," said Hypatia. "Let's meet back here at 4:00 a.m."
"What do we do with these?" asked Palo.
"Easy," said Hypatia. "Just bring them over there."
Palo and Scaurus lined up the prisoners in a pile, and with a wave of her hand Hypatia summoned the broadsheets and other papers in the alley. Moments later, their quarry was buried beneath what looked like nothing more than another pile of garbage in the grimy streets of New York.
"Let's hunt," said Scaurus.
Hunt they did. Within the hour they had subdued another fifteen Afflicted. During that time, the only close call they had was when Scaurus suddenly found himself facing a pistol. The mortal bearing it even pulled the trigger but the hammer came down with an empty thump.
"I thought I was going to the Elysian Fields for certain," said Scaurus. "The gods were with me."
Palo nodded with a grim smile and off they were for more of the chase.
They were doing so well that they eventually grew careless. They flew down to capture two Afflicted women who had just entered a train tunnel. They were just about to attack when they heard the rush of feet.
At the entrance were several flyers and at least twenty people on the ground. In the darkness beyond the women, they also heard the approach of a large group.
"Remember, dodge the darts first," said Scaurus. "You can fight through an arrow in the leg, but not through being infected by the little man's injections."
They hovered up to mid-height in the tunnel, buying themselves the most possible directions of maneuverability. Looking beyond the group at the tunnel's entrance in the street beyond, Palo saw a tiny figure in the darkness a good thirty paces behind the people approaching them. The figure raised a sword in its hand and slashed. The back row of people cried out in pain and fell to the ground. In the confusion, Palo and Scaurus still held their ground.
Another swipe of the sword and the next row of enemies fell, all of them grasping at their heels. Another slash, another row.
Not having time to discover who their unknown benefactor was, Palo and Scaurus swooped into action. A flurry of darts flew out of the darkness beyond them and Scaurus willed a blast of air that caused every one of the projectiles to swoop straight up and go rattling off the ceiling of the tunnel. Scaurus gave an ancient battle cry and soared into the darkness of the tunnel.
Palo swooped in on the group in front who were also firing. Several of the dart guns failed to fire and Palo was able to avoid the rest of the projectiles with some fancy flying.
Once the darts were dispatched, Palo's arm sought out victims. There were no ankles for him to target, but his blade stabbed downward, severing shoulder muscles and shattering collar bones, crippling mortal and Afflicted alike.
It was a fierce battle and the clattering of swords rang for several minutes. At last, Palo and the diminutive figure who had come to their rescue were standing alone among unconscious and moaning bodies. Scaurus came flying back from the darkness.
Having survived the last war, Scaurus knew the simple test to administer each other upon meeting to assure they hadn't been caught by a dart.
"What do you think of Arnet?" asked Palo.
"He's the son of a weasel and a rat himself," said Palo. "You?"
"I'd feed him to the dogs of Hades sooner than lay eyes on him."
The angry groans around them affirmed the undying love the serums instilled in Arnet's followers.
"What of you?" said Scaurus to tiny figure. "What is your name and how much do you love Arnet?"
The figure was wearing a mask which looked to be Asian in origin. It was a theatrical mask of a fox, used in kabuki theater. Their helper removed it to reveal a lovely woman's face with shimmering green eyes.
"My name is Seiko," she said. "I hate Arnet and would sooner throw him to the wolves than look upon him. I am pleased to be of service. "
"Of service?" laughed Scaurus. "By god that was some of the most amazing fighting I've ever seen, rivaling even a deplaceur. Where have you been hiding?"
"I was the mate of the Samurai Haru Morimoto," she said quietly. "He did not approve of me fighting, but I learned much in my time with him. While I am a talented healer, especially with the art of massage, I discovered my true gift was to create blades of wind."
"This Affliction will never cease to amaze me," mused Palo. "Can you show us your gift once more now that we aren't under attack?"
"Of course," said Seiko.
They walked to the entrance of the tunnel and she pointed to a young tree some twenty paces away.
"There is my target," she said. "I can do this without a blade, but I find that a real sword helps to focus the blow."
Her sword had been sheathed across her back. Scaurus saw that it was a wakizashi, the shorter of the blades a Samurai would carry. He surmised, correctly, that the blade had belonged to her former husband. Given her tiny frame, it made sense that she would choose the smaller blade as opposed to the katana.
Seiko focused and then made a downward diagonal stroke. She looked like someone at sword practice rehearsing their moves but there was no rehearsal about what happened to the tree. Seconds later, the top of the tree slipped to the ground and went toppling over. All that was left was a slender trunk, with a diagonal slash at waist height.
"Can you strike, too?" asked Scaurus. "With an open palm, can you send a blow?"
"I don't know," said Seiko. "I've only ever played with the sword."
"Played," muttered Scaurus. "If only we could all play so dangerously."
They debated over what to do with the mortal prisoners, but realized that even with fifty cells in the dungeon below the mansion they would fill up too rapidly. They patched up the mortals and left them tied up to be found in the morning. Then, they gathered the Afflicted victims they had restrained.
Morning was drawing near and they had quite a chore ahead of them. They gathered up the wounded and tied them together in a chain. They flew slowly through the streets, gathering wounded bodies as they went. By the time they arrived back at the first site, both Scaurus and Palo were pulling a chain of over 20 people behind them in the air.
"Oh thank god," said Hypatia upon seeing Seiko. "Another woman to help service these two. I'll survive a few more nights. I'm still sore from last night – god help you, girl."
Seiko simply blushed as she started helping tie the wounded Afflicted who had been obscured below the garbage and papers.
Keeping a vigilant eye out, their trip back to the mansion was thankfully uneventful. They floated their captives into the dungeons and placed them four to a room (two men, two women). If future evenings proved as successful, they would have to double the occupancy of each room before long.
Back in the kitchen, they became better acquainted and Hypatia briefed them on her findings.
"If there is any good news," she said, "Arnet at least moved his headquarters out of the city. He has found a castle or something 30 miles north on the river, near a place called Tarrytown. That will keep this conflict out of mortal's eyes to a certain extent."
"What news do you have from any others?" asked Palo.
"Very little," said Hypatia. "The dorms are locked down tight which means the cadets are safe. It certainly seems like all deplaceurs are captured, which is a disadvantage. I overheard mixed news about Reykjavik, that most of the Council has been taken, but there are still numerous fights."
"This all happened so fast," said Palo.
"Yes," agreed Hypatia. "Faster than with the Weasel, and there is a surprising element about that. With Jacinto, if he bit a follower they were also contagious. I haven't seen that here. Everyone who follows Arnet has been injected. The fact that he has been able to work so quickly speaks to his preparation, but it also points out a flaw. So long as we can eliminate the darts – we eliminate the threat. I wish I could find out how he creates so much serum, though."
"Any news of Galen?" asked Scaurus.
"None," said Hypatia, sadly. "I suppose that is good news, though. I would have heard something if Arnet had captured him. The same can be said of Frederique and your children. If Arnet caught them he would be crowing the news to the skies. Wherever they are, they are safe."
Scaurus pulled at his shoulder, wincing.
"Sore?" asked Seiko.
"Afflicted or not," said Scaurus, "These old bones still feel it after a night of battle. I'll be right as rain tomorrow, not to worry."
"But I can help things along," said Seiko. "Come, let me attend to you. I've cared for many warriors after battle."
"If you insist," said Scaurus.
He gave Palo a knowing wink as they departed for the gymnasium.
The air hung heavy with anticipation between Hypatia and Palo.
"Come on then," she finally said. "I suppose I have to attend to you as well. Not that I wouldn't mind some attending myself."
Aimée and Abby were just beginning to grow restless. Aimée was still healing, and Abby was offloading as much of the pain and discomfort as she could into her own system which also repressed her desires. The wakneturst in them was not as strong as in the boys – but as Aimée recovered, it would soon grow to full force.