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Most of the people around him looked at him insulted. Joseph was the very first person to speak up. “You’re a fucking nut Xavier.”
Even Thomas had a lost look in his eyes, not really sure how to take the story. “Xavier, what you’re asking me to believe is insane. That some otherworldly deity took his time to save you and these two men behind you are with you in some group of secretive cultists.”
“You said it yourself Thomas, I didn’t have a pulse. I was dead, I was infected. Here I am, I am not experiencing the ravings, and I am not being violent. The only symptom I am showing is the calloused skin.” His tongue almost tied as he conveniently left out the voices that once quietly buzzed in his mind, were becoming slowly louder.
Joseph spoke once more, “Maybe he is a carrier; he could be spreading it to all of us right now.” The murmuring of the crowd quickly showed the fear that he had begun to sow with his words. After this long they were all afraid and they had good reason to be. It wasn’t a temporary thing any more; it was something that loomed in their eyes as they judged him.
“Thomas, we cannot let him kill all of us!”
“Thomas, we must send him away.”
“Send him away? Why, so he can infect others?”
“Kill him!” At these words his companions tensed. He could hear Gabriel’s stance shift and Vez-ix tighten his grip on his blades. His inner cynic had been waiting for that outburst, yet the optimist had hoped otherwise.
Thomas rose in anger, his voice roaring over the collected rabble, “How dare you, a member of our family is brought back to us and this is how you welcome him!” His face darkened to mottled crimson, the corded muscles of his neck bulging. His furious glare sent most of them slinking back.
The sound of a gun cocking broke the silence. “Xavier, I’ll send you to whatever God you worship.” The crowd quickly parted as Joseph made his way toward the trio, his weapon levelled squarely at Xavier. Xavier stood unflinching; taking a breath he raised his eyes to meet Joseph’s. That was the second time in his life that a gun had been pointed at him, but he hoped that this wasn’t going to become a habit.
Stand tall Xavier, they are like rats before a lion, show them the courage of an acolyte, and show them your strength.
The report of the gun sent most people to the ground, or perhaps they had anticipated the sound long before the flash of the muzzle. Xavier had felt his body move before his mind registered it. His hand melted into shadow as he wrapped it around the barrel of the gun. He felt the barrel kick in his hand, but the bullets had vanished. The void dissipated as quickly as it had materialized. Unnatural strength surged through his hand as he shattered the barrel.
A cold glare was all that Joseph received. Xavier’s lips moved, but it was Yor’vik’s voice that spoke from them. “You seek to assassinate a child of mine? He entered your camp as an emissary of mine, a messenger of peace. They broke the siege that plagued you. He and his companions ran into the fray of battle and saved your camp from utter annihilation! And so you brazenly raise your arms against him as thanks.”
A silence fell over the group as they watched him. The light emanating from his eyes became blinding as he felt Yor’vik possess his body.
Xavier’s eyes scanned the room before returning to Joseph. “You foolishly thought that you, small and frail as you are, could do anything to my children other than forfeit your lives. You say you seek to defend yourselves, yet if I wanted you dead, you would be so. With a mere thought it would be done, and you could do naught but cry in anguish at the cruelty of your small wretched world.”
Thomas stood up in front of Xavier and met his gaze, looking into him. He knew. “Sir, may I ask your name, so that we may better address you.”
His brilliant gaze fell on Thomas. “My name is Yor’vik, I am the Walker of Shadows, the Master of the Void, and I am the one that extends his protection of Xavier so that he might live. When you betrayed him, abandoned him, I reached out, and gave him life.”
Thomas was visibly pained by that, and Xavier could see the wave of guilt wash over him. “Yor’vik would you show yourself to us? It is rather...disconcerting to speak through Xavier, and he might have a thing or two to say about all of this.”
Yor’vik paused for a moment, “Very well Thomas.” A violet mist began to exude from Xavier, gathering in front of him. Slowly it gathered, a pool of liquid shadow, gaining form before solidifying into a tall, dark figure. Towering above even the tallest members of their group, his presence sent even the bravest scrambling back. Even Thomas was speechless at the striking figure that had just appeared.
“Don’t look so shocked Thomas, it was your own stubbornness that gave you any real doubt. The fact that Xavier lived is thanks to me, and the reason you live is thanks to him.”
Scanning the crowd Yor’vik continued, “You all have seen unimaginable monstrosities on your journey. Those horrors have tested every last one of you; they are but the first of your tribulations. Mankind has been pushed to the brink of extinction. You are hunted, and each day brings the dreadful realization that you must live in a feverish nightmare, in which tomorrow might not come. You’re surrounded by enemies on all sides, I understand why you find it difficult to grasp that you are not alone. I believe every action I have taken so far has proven that.”
“Yor’vik,” Thomas struggled with the name. The enunciation seemed eldritch to him. “Why would you care at all for our plights? Why would the extinction of a race matter to someone with your power? It’s our problem.”
Turning back to Thomas he spoke, “It was not just your issue, this apocalypse started among many other worlds, yet this very plague started with my people.” That grabbed the attention of everyone in the crowd. This truth was not pleasant; it so rarely was. While he knew some would prefer a sweet lie, Yor’vik had the opportunity to cleanse himself from future blame, or alienate those that were already weary.
“Care to explain how you could’ve caused this?”
The God shook his head. “I certainly did not cause this. My brothers and sisters are certainly on both sides of this conflict, but blaming me would be much like laying fault on you for all the atrocities your kind have caused. This conflict has been raging since a time long before your civilization. Yet, I will do the best I can to explain it to all of you.
“My siblings and I make up thirteen of our kind. We were created by the All Father, the creator of all that is. In the beginning we were like you, children trying to find our ways. He gave us our jobs, our vigils that we must watch over. Your worlds were being made; he gave us the task of creating life throughout the worlds. We imbued pieces of ourselves within all of you. Though most of it wore its way out as our children took their own way, some of you still hold our essence. It was the reason I was able to save Xavier’s life. He shares that common essence with me. Part of me I gave away eons ago.” Yor’vik seemed to get lost in the memories, his gaze looked into the distance, a place that none of them could possibly comprehend. “There was peace, the races prospered all over the universe.” That comment was what caught Xavier up, were there other peoples like them?
“But two of my brothers, Moren and Koren they were our father’s most beloved. They alone were given the duty to be masters of the most dangerous realms of existence. Yet they fell under the sway of something which corrupted even the most pure of heart. To this day I still search for whatever power could be so malicious that it could taint the hearts of the eldest of my family. They rebelled against our father and waged a war against us. They held the powers over the domains of Death and Disease, War and Famine. With these they forged a new creature, a parasite that would infest its victim, what you all call the “Gray Plague”. My Brothers captured races; they manifested within them and twisted the victims into soldiers for their war. The All Father, in his despair at the loss of his favoured children, has hidden himself in grief; his absence has left the pantheon in disarray.
“Many of the Gods have chosen to remain neutral; I am the one that first stood against the Brothers. I stand before you now, the first of my kind to reveal himself to your people in mass. You may deem me a monster, you may deem me mad, and you may deem me an ally. Do as you wish. I have fought this war for ages past and I believe that the one thing I am missing is humanity.”
“And what would you have us do?”
“Survive. Every life that remains pure is one less I must fight. No longer shall you fight these enemies alone, my following shall now come to your aid, if you accept my alliance. You were led to believe that there was a sanctuary within the boundaries of this city. Those rumours were false. The farther into this city that you venture, the more dangerous it will become.
“Any that wish may follow me and I will lead you to a place where you can live. My acolytes shall lead you; they shall be the Sheppard for any that wish to seek sanctuary under my protection. I will force none to go, but I implore you to do so.” His words began to echo as parts of his body began to slowly fall off. His arm fell off, hitting the floor, a huddled mass of feathers, struggling to gain balance before taking flight. “Make your choice, because your time wanes.” His body dispersed into ravens.
Thomas sat back down and put his hand to his face as he fell into thought. Most of the crowd had left. An air of tension fell over the camp. Xavier looked to Thomas. Waving him off he said, “Go I’m sure Sam would like to see you”. Turning to his cohorts he moved away from the fire. “Vez did you have any idea that Yor’vik was going to pull a stunt like that?”
“He had been looking for ways to gather allies within humanity here, on a grander scale. You gave him the key to do so. There are still quite a few, unanswered questions about your ascension.” Vez’s eyes flicked over Xavier for a moment. Xavier wondered how this caravan would honestly lead to the God Yor’vik’s plans to ally with humanity on a grander scale. But then again, he knew that he was a pawn to his Patron, who to stay alive was required to be six steps ahead. In this game of chess, the only certain thing Xavier had was uncertainty.
“What do you mean about unanswered questions?”
An excited voice shouted from behind them, “Xavier!” He barely had time to turn as he felt her body hit his. He slid onto the ground and he saw her. Blonde hair fell into his face and an energetic smile looked at him as she held onto him. “You’re alive!”
He felt his face heat up as he met her eyes, but he noticed something: her eyes a deep lush violet. She must’ve noticed his, for a moment there was a quiet pause, her hand slowly brushed along his face. “Your eyes,” Sam muttered. She stared into them for a moment and Xavier felt locked in place.
Gabriel cleared his throat and the two quickly stood up, Sam brushed her hair and gave an embarrassed smile. Dusting himself off, Xavier looked to Vez, seeking an answer. Was she like them? Is that why the infected had chosen to go after her that night? Vez met his gaze. It would require a talk, but for a later time.
“Sam, I’ve missed you,” Xavier smiled, softly.
She hid her blushed smile and grabbed his arm. Her eyes quickly glanced at his wound on his neck, but her smile stayed as her gaze turned back to his eyes. “You guys are probably starving, come on. We’ll get you food and I’ll show you where Thomas wants you three to stay.”
Dawn broke on the horizon. The camp had been given its ultimatum: join the acolytes or strike out on their own. The group had taken over one of the campfires that were abandoned as Sam had dished out bowls of a brown stew accompanied with a rock-like piece of bread. It barely softened when dipped into the stew. Xavier was happy for something warm. Gabriel ate slowly, but not before making a quick prayer to his God. Vez had quickly devoured the meal like a ravenous animal. Sam watched with a chuckle at the polar opposites that were Xavier’s companions.
“So everyone is saying that you three are supposed to lead us to safety.” Vez looked up quickly to Xavier and back to his food. “Yor’vik is going to help us lead everyone to a place that is actually safe, away from the infection.”
She nodded, “Not everyone’s going to come; Joseph will definitely lead people away from your group. Thomas will be a key factor, though; whether or not he chooses to join you will sway a good portion of people. He brought them here, after all.”
Xavier felt a little betrayed that Thomas would consider not going with him. Sam must’ve seen the wounded look looming in his eyes. “Remember Xavier, he thought he lost you; we all did. He is still trying to cope with that. We saw you fight against the fever but you stopped breathing, your pulse stopped. Your skin is still gray from it, that’s why people are nervous. They don’t know if you are infected or not. I think you can agree that we’ve seen too much to feel comfortable around the unknown.” Xavier hadn’t considered that yet. What if he had been carrying the illness in him? He could infect anyone here, including Thomas or Samantha.
Yor’vik had insisted on his health, and if he was infected wouldn’t either Vez or Gabriel know this? His thoughts were thrown off when the scuffing of shoes brought his eyes up to Thomas. He looked at Xavier and directed his hand. “We need to talk.” That tone said most of it; there was no happiness there.
He quickly got up, part of his instincts from working under him for so long had kicked in. Once out of ear shot, “Xavier, do you truly believe that this Yor’vik can lead us to safety?”
Taking in a deep breath, “Thomas, Yor’vik saved my life multiple times and he and his champions are the reasons that all we are even alive. He has given me gifts, these powers which have helped me these past few days. If he had any ill will towards us, we would be dead.”
Thomas nodded to him, “Xavier I’m out of ideas and this was my last lead. It’s proved to be empty. Even after all that we’ve gone through, everything that we’ve been through, it still seems so insane to believe in them, these Gods of yours. Part of me feels some kind of relief in the fact that we are not alone in this. There is something a little bigger than me that’s on our side. Maybe that’s why I find it so difficult to believe in them. We’ve been running so long, been alone for so long . . .” His words trailed off. Thomas looked back to Xavier’s group as Sam joked and poked fun at Vez. “Sam seems to trust your friend and she’s always been a good judge of character.”
“Thomas, I don’t think everything will be perfect. It won’t be easy, but nothing ever is.”
A moment went by and Xavier wasn’t sure if Thomas was still with him. Slowly he nodded, “Xavier, maybe it is time for a little faith.” Thomas looked back to him, “Time to gather everyone. I supposed it’d be best for me to make the announcement.”
The remnants of the caravan had gathered as the sun finally had washed over their camp. Xavier had kept his group away from the crowd. With the tensions as high as they were, there was no need for any more charcoal to fan the flames. Everyone mumbled among their groups, but all became quiet as Thomas stepped forward.
“Good morning everyone,” he spoke, looking around, meeting everyone’s gaze. “And I say that very loosely. Last night was definitely rough and we lost our fair share of friends and family, but we’ve had plenty of nights like it. We’ve known hardship and we’ve known pain. But every shadow comes from light; we’ve had our laughs over the years. We’ve had hope. All of us are family, at the very least. I think that’s what makes this next part so difficult.
“We’ve been offered a very odd proposal. If we accept it, this offer will take us on a very strange journey. I’ve offered you promises before, promises that maybe the next day won’t hurt nearly as much as the last. I’ve always believed every promise I’ve given you, but they haven’t always worked out as planned.”
Taking a deep breath, he scanned the crowd, “I’ve failed you; we’ve made mistakes. But, this one could’ve cost all of our lives and for that I am deeply sorry. Maybe I was too ready to find safety, maybe I was too ready to step aside. We all have our burdens and we are all ready to let them go. That almost got us killed. I am not going to give you another promise that everything is going to be perfectly fine. But I am going to tell you this is a chance. This is hope; this is one of the last options that I see. A new ally has revealed himself and he has offered us help. Without him and his followers, we would have been six feet underground last night. With these new allies. . .”
Looking towards the group and then to Xavier, Thomas continued
“. . . and the old ones, I believe we can carve a home for ourselves.
Some place that maybe we won’t just survive, but thrive. I place
before you a decision that everyone here must make by themselves –
to join these new allies or to go on your own way. I will not tell you
which way to go. But I know I have made my decision, and I know wherever
that decision takes me, it’ll have to be somewhere better. If
you wish to join us, we will be leaving in an hour.” With that,
a wild array of arguments began among the people. At that moment Joseph
stood forward, “And for any of those that don’t want to
be led to their deaths come this way.” A tense silence grew over
the crowd. Thomas took a deep breath as he slowly stepped down and made
his way over to Xavier and his cohorts.
No one dared say anything; finally, Xavier broke the silence, “We are heading west for anyone who changes their minds. If not I wish you all the best.” The direction seemed to pop into his head. Thomas put his hand on Xavier’s shoulder, “We need to go, daylight’s burning.”
Nodding, he turned, “Vez we are going to need a head count and all supplies accounted for. We are going to need to grab as many provisions as possible. Gabriel?” Xavier looked at the soldiers he had, Raphael, Justin were two who stood out to him. Probably forty soldiers, maybe ninety people all together. “Raphael go with Gabriel, take about four people. I want to procure some of the Caravans, and as many supplies as we can store.
“Thomas we need to take a look at a map. Everyone else, grab your belongings and your family and bring them to western side of camp. We will depart in an hour.”
Thomas looked at him, “Do you truly know where you’re going Xavier?”
“I guess we’re going to find out.” Thomas snorted at that. The map was unfurled and Xavier looked at it for a moment. “There,” dragging his hand along the dry and weathered paper. “That is where we are going.”
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