Pathways (Part 14): The Sick Fall

As they continued down through the sprawling city, Jotin and Sneila counted themselves lucky as they saw no more of the infected people. Instead, all they found was the aftermath of their rampages.

"It's only been a few hours," Sneila marveled grimly at one point.

Jotin could do nothing but nod in agreement. Much as with Lord Jerimiah's manor, it was not the aftermath of a riot. Vehicles sat plainly where they were left, undisturbed. Some were still running, though they sat immobile in their lanes. If not for their lack of drivers, it would have seemed as if it was a normal afternoon with the streets clogged with traffic.

The most stark reminder that something had gone horribly wrong were the bodies. There were dozens of them, now that they had reached the more populated areas. Some of them were barely human any more, but instead piles of gore. Sneila had to look away more than once and it even made Jotin's stomach churn uneasily. It was as if the bodies had been beaten to death, then ripped apart by wild animals, with the parts just left there to rot.

Even those bodies that were more intact were horrific to look at. Their final pained expressions were forever frozen on their faces. Some had thick, short trails of blood beneath them, evidence of their futile attempts to escape.

But the most disturbing were not those bodies that had been mutilated. Instead, it was the bodies that looked as if they had merely died were they stood. They lay on the ground as if they had just suddenly fallen and been unable to stand again. Their faces were masks of anger and rage. And most horrifying, from their eyes streamed dried rivers of blood.

"What happened to them?" Jotin wondered aloud.

"I don't know," Sneila said. "Maybe God's punishment."

Jotin laughed without humor. "So you're being converted?"

"No," Sneila said with all seriousness, "but the Amarr believe so heavily. Maybe they believed themselves into this." She shuddered as she said it.

Before he knew what he was doing, Jotin had reached out and taken her hand. She stiffened slightly at the first touch, but quickly relaxed. "Don't worry," he said, "we'll get out of this. For all we know, the infected have all either died or wandered out of the city."

Jotin should have known better than to say anything. Almost immediately, they rounded a corner and found themselves face to face with a group of people. Their faces were twisted in rage and blood streamed down about half their faces. Upon seeing newcomers, they let out guttural growls and attacked.

As the group of soldiers continued through the city, toward the spaceport, they met more and more rioting groups. Some were small, no more than a person or two. Some were large, made up of dozens of rage-filled creatures.

There was no rhyme or reason to their groupings or their actions. Some laid what seemed to be careful ambushes, though Gita wasn't convinced it wasn't just happenstance, one group attacking while another wandered in from behind. The soldiers fought and fought well. But as they went on, a dread anticipation began to sweep over them.

It came when the squad turned a corner and ran smack into a large group of the infected. The soldiers needed no command to open fire, but the sheer closeness of them made it difficult. Within seconds, several of the infected had pulled down soldiers and were viciously savaging them.

Gita kept her weapon firing at those infected who were still up and approaching. It took several bullets to drop each one. As they got closer, Gita was horrified to see that the blood on their faces wasn't simply from their assaults. Several had fresh streams of blood coming out of their eyes. It was as if they were weeping blood.

She gritted her teeth and forced the realization out of her mind. It was then that she heard a woman's cry and turned to see that one had grabbed Cierra and pulled her to the ground. Cierra fought against the creature, who had grabbed her wrist and slammed it against the ground until her grip failed and she dropped her weapon.

Gita dropped her own weapon and ran over, the pain shooting through her leg despite the mechanical splint. She scooped up Cierra's gun and put it to the thing's temple before pulling the trigger. Amazingly, it seemed to continue striking at Cierra for several seconds before it went limp and Cierra was able to kick it off.

"Thank you," Cierra said, but Gita simply tossed the gun down to her and turned to pick up her own weapon.

By the time she got there, the fight had ended. Two of Commander Rottan's soldiers lay on the ground, not moving. One had a pool of blood running from beneath his head, the other looked as if he had been shot in the chest.

Commander Rottan stood over them, his head down. He looked back up and sighed. "We need to keep moving," he said.

"Commander, we have to take them with us," one of the men said. "They don't deserve to lay here to be picked apart by scavengers."

The Commander shook his head firmly. "There's nothing we can do for them now," he said. "They'll slow us down."

"I agree with him," Gita said, speaking up, "we can't just leave them. If nothing else, they'll prove that the Republic military was operating on this planet."

"Do you think the Amarr will even bother with two Matari bodies amidst a complete massacre of them?" he asked. "We need to - "

He was cut off by the sudden laughter of one of his men. The Commander turned, his face livid. "What is the - " he began, before his eyes went wide with horror. In a fluid motion, the soldier raised his weapon, aimed it at a fellow soldier, and pulled the trigger. "He's infected!" Commander Rottan shouted as he aimed his own weapon and pulled the trigger. The other soldiers turned on him without hesitation, cutting down one of their own.

Commander Rottan ran over to the man who had been shot. A plume of blood welled up from his chest. It was the same man who had spoken up about not leaving the corpses. He looked up at the commander and gurgled blood. Within a few seconds, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he died.

Grim-faced, Commander Rottan turned and said, "Let's move." His men fell into step behind him as they continued on their way.

There was a pounding at the door. Lord Jerimiah could scarcely believe that anything could hit the door loud enough to be heard inside. But it was an insistent thumping, over and over with a regular rhythm. He tried to ignore it, but it was like a constant drip of water upon his forehead. Finally, he stood and lurched over to the control panel.

"Lord Jerimiah!" one of the few remaining guards cried out, but too late. Lord Jerimiah had already entered the security code and with a grinding whine. The guards scrambled for their weapons and held them at the ready.

Instead of coming face to face with a horde of the infected, it was a single teenaged boy. "Lord Jerimiah," the boy said simply.

Lord Jerimiah took a step back in shock and the boy walked right into the room. "Who are you?" Lord Jerimiah asked.

"Don't you know?" the boy asked. "Maybe this will remind you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a mask and placed it upon his head. The color drained from him.

One of the guards shot to his feet and yelled, "What is this?" He recognized the mask and the symbol emblazoned on it. "A Blood Raider!"

Almost immediately, another guard fired on the first, then turned and shot the others. Lord Jerimiah turned in horror to the remaining guard. "I too am one of the faith, my lord," the guard said. "I could take no chances that your secret would get out!"

"You idiot!" Lord Jerimiah seethed. "Do you think it matters now?" He turned back to the boy. "How did you get here? Why are you here?"

The boy smiled almost cherubically. "This plague, Lord Jerimiah," the boy said with a small gesture behind him. As if on cue, there appeared a horde of the infected. "It is a righteous judgment from God. Our souls are sick, this plague merely makes that evident!"

"What in God's... How is this possible!" Lord Jerimiah gasped.

The guard raised his weapon to fire on the advancing horde, but when the shot rang out, it was he who fell to the ground, blood welling from the wound on his chest. The boy casually returned the weapon to his side and took another step forward.

"You stole my best friend from me once," the boy said. "Do you remember?"

"Revenge then?" Lord Jerimiah asked. "You unleashed this hell for that?"

The boy laughed softly. "No, Lord Jerimiah, not revenge. It is a cleansing. I found others who believed as I do, that our existence is a punishment. We were already in hell, but we struggle to remain here as long as possible. You use implants and drink the blood of lessers to give you strength, but why? You only prolong your absence from God's presence. You are deluded. Your soul is sick. But through some quirk of luck, you haven't contracted the plague yet. You are one of the few who has an equilibrium of genetics."

"Equilibrium..." Lord Jerimiah muttered, with terror dawning slowly. "You're one of them?"

"I have seen the light, Lord Jerimiah. So too shall you." The boy turned and pointed at the infected, who stood almost calmly just beyond the edge of the door. "Look at them. Look at their faces. See the truth."

Lord Jerimiah did. As he saw the bloody tears streaming down their faces, so too did real tears begin to well at Lord Jerimiah's eyes. "It... It is beautiful," Lord Jerimiah said.

"Yes," the boy answered.

"A sign from God," Lord Jerimiah answered. "It is the blood of life, so freely emptied from the body."

"Yes," the boy agreed.

"I understand," Lord Jerimiah sighed. "I understand." He spread his arms and began to walk forward.

"Yes," the boy urged.

Lord Jerimiah walked into the embrace of the infected. They fell on him and tore him apart, as he wept with a smile on his face.

Part 15

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