Such Wonderful Things

Val has grown up in a plagued world, where people like her are hunted. As one of the remaining infected people, Val and her brother are persecuted by the Order, a highly advanced government that rose from the ashes of a drought.
Jerico was the son of the leader of the Order never truly wanted to hunt the plagued, but once he leads his first mission into a camp, he rebels.
Val and Jerico must find a way to take down the Order without being taken down first.

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2. Chapter One: Val

There were footsteps. They were quiet at first but quickly melted into a stampede of angry soldiers. I was just waking up, taking a second to understand where I was and why outside sounded like the sky was raining boulders. I saw the dreary outline of a boy, thin and sickly. His hair was shaggy, greasy, blond, and in desperate need of a cut. My brother.

    He was by my side, shaking me violently. I could see the tired in his hazel eyes as he grabbed my arm.

    “Val!” he whispered, his eyes slowly widening as the shaking became more violent. The stampede grew closer and more ominous. The dark shadows, the dusty smell, and the stampede tried to lull me back into ignorance of the world around me.

    The quick sound of a gunshot outside our doors shook me back into my skin and my situation. I grabbed my brother’s wrist, he was shaking violently, his thin arms vibrating with terror and worry.  It took me no time to assess our situation. It was one we had undoubtedly been in several times before but my adrenaline continued to pump.

I stood up with alarm as more gunshots echoed around us. I heard a scream. Someone else had woken up. I couldn’t see much with the thin beams of light shining through the roof but I could hear the rustling of people waking up and scrambling to grab their belongings so they could flee.

We didn’t carry much with us but we kept scraps of things we found here and there; food, clothes, medicine. I stuffed it all into my bag with extreme urgency. My heart was pounding as I batted the straw off of my hair.

I slung the backpack over my shoulder and grabbed my brother’s hand. His fingernails dug into my palm and his pulse thumped against my wrist. He scooped up a few of his possessions with his free hand and we started to run.

A pound on the door. My breath caught in my throat as I pushed Lukas behind an old, rusty tractor and followed suite. Another pound. I froze, they were going to break down the door sooner or later and I sure as hell didn’t want my brother or I to be there when they did.

I looked at him and saw him wince. He looked down at his hand which I quickly realized I had been squeezing the life out of in anxiety. I let go and motioned to the back door.

There was no doubt that there would be Elite soldiers by the back door as well, but it was our only chance of leaving.

A deafening crash shook the barn. The wooden entrance splintered across the floor. There were screams, people scattered randomly around the old barn in a panicked frenzy. I pushed my brother back under the tractor and scrambled underneath with him.

It was difficult to see clearly what was going on from beneath the tractor but I could piece together what was happening well enough.

The gunshots were horrifyingly loud and echoed through the barn in a symphony of haunting battlefield acoustics. RIPs were sprawling to the back door, fumbling clumsily with the handle until it flew open to reveal what seemed to be an entire army of the Elite’s soldiers.

I gasped. They were trapping us in here. They would force their way through the front and once people tried to escape they would pick them off one by one from the back. Lukas whispered to me shakily, “Val…, what are they doing?” His hands were clamped over his ears. He flinched at every gunshot.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. There was no point in trying to shield him from the truth of the situation, he was so young but had seen so much worse. It wasn’t fair for him. “They’re- They’re trapping us…,” I told him.

His eyes started to water. I had never seen him this scared. We had been trapped in so many instances like this one, but I had never once seen him drop his “tough guy” act once. I had never seen him fall apart like this. It was… heartbreaking.

I saw people fall to the floor, their blood splattered across the room. My brother was in tears. I hadn’t seen him cry in so long. I shushed him. His choked back sobs brought the ghosts of tears to my eyes. I had always been a sympathetic cryer. I hated that I was crying. I just wanted to be strong for him.

My brother needed me. And I was crying. The gunshots finally faded after what felt like hours. I was more than relieved. God knows why they didn’t check underneath the tractor but they didn’t. Maybe they thought that the space was too small for anyone to fit, or that they took us by surprise and no one had time to take cover. Either way we were alive.

We waited several more minutes, straining our ears to listen for footsteps or gunshots in the distance. When we finally crawled out and stretched our cramped arms and legs, the gore was appalling. Blood painted the straw-laden floor red like a sickly velvet carpet.

The body count was unimaginable. People lay frozen on the ground spotted with gunshots, some even had arrows in their chests. It looked like a scene from a medieval painting.

I helped my brother up from underneath the tractor. He was still shaking with fear when he stood up. I was surprised he didn’t faint on the spot.

It didn’t take him long to look on the barn and take it all in. He looked sick, his pale, sunken face was green and devastated. His eyes started to tear up again and he ran behind the tractor and vomited. He sobbed as he was sick. He looked so weak. He looked believably his age, a tired, sick boy hunted in a world where people like us are hated. He was only thirteen and he had been through so much. I just wished that none of this would have ever happened to us, to anyone.

    As he came back around he hugged me. He flung himself into my arms with so much pain in his eyes. He sobbed into my filthy shirt and mumbled nonsense words of concern for me. The last time I’d seen him like this was a blur, a faded memory of hospital beds and morphine; when the plague began.

    I lifted his head and looked into his eyes. Hazel-green, just like mine and mom’s. They shimmered and shined behind a faded curtain of tears. “Lukas,” I told him, “they’re gone. Lincoln’s Point is just a couple of miles further they won’t find us there I promise.”

    His eyes fell to the ground. There was so much doubt in them. There was so much doubt in me. They would find the Lincoln’s Point camp eventually, I knew it and so did he. But I had to keep this hope in my voice, I couldn’t let him lose hope.

    I cracked open a bottle of water and produced a syringe from my bag. I handed the both to him and motioned for him to move. He always hated what had to be done next but it was more than necessary. I walked over to the supply nook and shoved as much as we needed into my bag. I felt sick at what I had to do. I pickpocketed the dead RIPs one by one until my bag was bursting with supplies.

    Lukas shuffled back over towards me. His face was definitely less green but he still looked pretty sick. I looked down at his outstretched hand.

    “You drank the entire bottle?” I asked. Our water supply was limited and he knew that, even after we took from the supply nook.

    “Look; I’m sorry but I don’t feel well, okay? Just give me the shot,” he mumbled. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. I rolled up his shirt and took the cap off of the syringe.

    “Uhg,” I exclaimed, “your arm is filthy, there is no way I can give you this shot right now.” He rolled his eyes. “What? Do you want to do it instead?” I inquired, smirking. I knew he hated shots and would never give one to himself.

    He rolled his eyes again and huffed, “Fine. What do you want me to do instead then?”

    “Well if you would have saved some of that water I might have been able to wash your arm off, but I guess you’ll have to find something else,” I informed him.

    He still looked ill but he acted like his normal, grumpy self, which was better than still throwing up I suppose.

    Lukas’s phobia of needles was pretty unfortunate considering each time we drank the Order-sanctioned water, we would have to administer a relatively large dose of the cure.  He absolutely hated the shots. His face would scrunch up in anticipation every time I uncapped the syringe. And no matter what I say, he never relaxes his arm, even though doing so would make it hurt less.

    Lukas scrambled around the gore-fest of a barn searching for a bit of water or an alcohol wipe. He started looking sick again. His untied shoes were caked in fresh blood along with the rim of his tattered jeans.

    “I’m going to look for some by the entrance,” he called to me.

    Then everything began to happen in slow motion. His footsteps echoed in my skull as he rounded the busted door frame. He reached down to pick up a mostly-empty bottle of water with a grin.

    “Val! I found som-” he was cut off. His proud voice choked away. He was snuck up on. Someone grabbed him by the neck in a choke hold, knife gleaming in hand. He had a quiver and a bow slung over his shoulder like a bag. The assailant’s face was vile, caked in blood and dripping with sweat. His church clothes were spotless.

    The most prominent thing about the man was that he had a birthmark taking up a little less than half of his forehead, making the front portion of his hair milky-white.

    “I knew there were more of you disgusting heathens in here,” he spat, using his free hand to pull a knife from his back pocket. Lukas was squirming for freedom in his arms. A cruel smirk appeared on the man’s face. “Now I need you to tell me where the Lincoln’s Point Camp is right now,” his words were sharp and to the point. “Or,” he continued, grinning like a fool, “he’s dead where he stands.”

    My heart was racing. Something inside me knew that no matter what I did, Lukas was gone. The second that man popped out of the brush he took him from me. He took him.

    Tears were beginning to well. I couldn’t fight back. “To hell if I know!” I sputtered. My sobs choked back the lie, turning it into a jumbled mess of syllables. There was no telling what this guy would do.

“Do you really think we’d be here if I knew where it was?” I asked. I looked into my brother’s eyes, he was terrified. His face was turning purple and I could tell that he was trying to say something, but his words just came out as terrified huffs for air.

The man looked away, as if contemplating what I had just said. His grip didn’t move on Lukas. Finally he turned back to face me. His eyes were bolted to mine, they were dark and didn’t waver from the marks beside my eye.

“But do you really think,” he chuckled, “that I would believe something as vile as you?” His laugh was threateningly gentle unlike most other of his features.

He called me a something. There was an edge to his tone, masking the youngness of it. Despite the way he acted, I doubt he could’ve been much older than I was. I didn’t think I could keep up the lie for that long before he killed us both.

“I-We don’t know,” I mumbled. “We were searching for it too.” I let my head hang but I could still feel his eyes on me. I was shaking. Tears began to spill and quickly snowballed into sobs.

“Stop your crying,” he demanded. Through the sobs I heard Lukas let out a cough and my head shot up. “You both are of no use to me.”

He threw Lukas to the ground violently. He landed on his back, gasping for breath. The man squatted down beside him, grinning.

“I suppose I can find that damned camp on my own, in the meantime I’m just glad that I’m able to rid the world of two more of you demons,” he giggled. He threw Lukas to the ground with so much force that I heard the snap of Lukas’s arm when he hit the ground.

He yelped in pain. He was gasping for breath, sprawled on the ground. The assailant stalked over to him, smirking.

“Please!” I cried. “Please don’t hurt him!” My words bubbled over my tongue.

The smirk lingered on his face as his eyes shifted from my brother to me. My heart was beating a million times a minute. Why wasn’t I moving? Why am I not trying to stop him?

I tried to move. I was paralyzed in place. The only parts of me that were moving were my shaking hands.
    His sharp laugh pierced through the air again. “I’m sorry?” he chuckled. His face didn’t look cruel in that moment, he looked concerned. It was a twisted concern, like he was helping us.

“Please don’t hurt him,” I blubbered. “He’s all I have….”

His eyes lingered on my brother. The look of concern on his face hardened. “He’s hurting himself.”

I couldn’t respond. How was I supposed to respond to that? His stare lingered longer on Lukas and I grew more and more uncomfortable. The man gently nudged Lukas’s face with the tip of his shoe. My brother’s face went cold. He was still struggling to regain control of his breathing

Lukas turned his head to me slowly. The look of young terror from before was sitting prominently on his face. His eyes were glistening with fear behind his shaggy bangs. I have to help him.

I took a shaky step towards the assailant. “Please he’s only thirteen. We’ll leave you alone I swear,” I said, a knot was swelling in my throat.

The strange look on the man’s face returned to a smirk. “I don’t know what you’re so scared of,” he chuckled. “I am here to help after all.”

Help? He attacked my brother and he wanted to help?

“Wh-What?” I stuttered.

“I’m here,” he stretched out his syllables like I was stupid, “to help you heathens.” His eyes were cold.

There couldn’t have been any way he thought I would trust him. I’ve spent the past few years surviving by not trusting people. Walking towards him could mean a knife in the back for us both, but it could also mean supplies and help.

He didn’t look particularly trustworthy. His fancy clothes didn’t have a speck of dirt but his face was covered in blood and grime. I could tell he saw the hesitation in my eyes. I’ve never been good at masking my feelings and I knew I would pay for it.

He stepped over Lukas and started waltzing his was towards me.

He was much taller than me. He looked down at me as he stood in front of me. I swallowed the lump in my throat. “W-We,” my words were tripping over each other as I spoke, “don’t need help.”

He laughed again, more menacingly this time. I tried desperately to avoid eye contact. My brother had sat up. He was keeping silent behind the attacker and was mouthing something to me as he tried to stand up.

I tried to focus on what he was saying but I couldn’t tell what he was trying to get across to me.

The man must have seen me look at Lukas because he jerked around to see Lukas standing wide-eyed in terror. Lukas tried to mumble out something but was silenced with the assailant’s sigh.

“You things have gotten so much more difficult over the years,”he said blandly. There was a hint of a terrifying grin on his solemn face. “It’s like you don’t even understand what you’ve become.”

“Become?”

“Lord,” he emphasised, a stupid grin slapped itself onto his face. “You’re hopeless, you know that, not matter what I do poeple like you will never get well again.”

He didn’t make any sense to me.

“That one,” he jerked his head, motioning to Lukas, “I think has a chance.” He turned around to face my brother. “Do you really want to stay like this with her?” he asked pompously.

“H-Her? What's wrong with her‽” he demanded. He was red in the face now.

The assailant just laughed again. “I just said that she’s hopeless,” he said. “Can neither of you hear?”

Lukas stood there like a statue. His eyes flicked over to me, worried. The assailant laughed more menacingly this time, “It’s not like I would even be able to take both of you anyways.”

What did he mean by take? First he wanted to help and now he’s saying he’ll take us somewhere?

Lukas spoke up, “Th-The Lincoln’s Point Camp?”

I couldn't see the attacker’s face but I could see his shoulders tense. “Now, why in hell would I take you two to the Rebel camp?” He hung his head in what seemed to be pitiful laughter. “You RIPs are more stupid than we initially thought.”

Lukas looked at me again. He was trembling visibly. Quicker than I could react, the assailant ripped his bow from his shoulder and stuck my brother with force. Lukas sprawled to the ground unconscious, blood streaming out of a wound on his forehead.

“LUKAS!” I didn’t even feel myself scream his name. There was a stinging pain in my leg. I screamed again. I feel to the floor in a heap. My right leg was pierced with one of the assailant’s arrows, and it hurt like hell. The arrow fell just below my knee, thank god. If it had hit me any higher up I’d probably be dead before I could walk again.

I tried to push myself back up but the pain was almost overwhelming. I yelped and plopped back down to the floor. I watched him carry my brother from the barn. I knew that the pain I felt was nothing compared to the torture my body went through during the plague, but that didn’t make the arrow in my shin hurt any less than it did.

My brother looked almost lifeless as he was dragged from me. I screamed again. I screamed for every ounce of pain I’d ever been through. The last part of my life was being dragged away from me, helpless. My  brother was all I had left, mom died of the plague and our father spent his last breath protesting the crown. Now they were all gone. The scream fell into a muddled mess of sobs.

I reached out to the door and raked at the ground with my fingertips. My leg was more than useless for the time being, but I was able to drag myself out of the barn with my arms and my good leg. My eyes scanned every dead leaf on the ground and every inch of the path. He was gone.

One last time I screamed, desperate, “LUKAS!”

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