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.


4. Chapter Three: Val

I opened my eyes. I never even remembered closing them. Everything was blurry, the world seemed to turn and spin around me. I had to shake myself back into full consciousness. There was an odd deja vu feeling surrounding everything I was experiencing. Even though my vision was still slightly blurry I could see a sheet of fabric hanging above my head, swaying in an invisible breeze. I had to blink a couple of times before the world stopped spinning. I was laying in a bed. It was more like a cot but it was the closest thing to a bed I’d slept in for the longest time. I sat up slowly, my back ached. My arms were propped up behind me. The fabric was thin and brittle; I was surprised it didn’t rip under my weight, not that there was much weight to rip under. My throat was dry. Any words I would’ve spoken would come out in weak, raspy huffs. After a couple of blinks my vision completely returned to normal. The sound of strong wind rippled outside of what seemed to be the tent I was occupying. The rustle of the barren branches in the wind was a close enough cover for the sound of the tent’s entrance to swing open. A girl no older than me stood by the entrance. I let out a shriek in surprise. The girl was tall and muscular. The light coming from the swinging split in the burlap that acted as a door silhouetted her figure. As she stepped into the artificial light of the room I could see her features more clearly. Her face was short and her eyes were ebony black. Her skin was like untouched coffee, smooth and dark. Natural, curly hair was cropped close to her head. Her expression held a kind power as she stared down at me in my cot. A thick silence hung heavy in the air as her stare lingered on me. I could see her eyes inspecting every inch of my face and every crevice of the scars and ailments the plague had inflicted upon me. She approached me slowly, each one of her steps echoed in my ears. “What’s your name?” she asked me. Her voice was kind and soft in sharp contrast with her fierce appearance. I stared back at her, not a single word came from my lips. She squatted down so that our heads were level, “Can you remember your name?” I nodded slowly. “Val…,” my name drifted off of my tongue shakily. I studied her face as she came closer. She had tiny scale-shaped scars lining her jaw and cascading down her neck, almost like my brother. She lifted an eyebrow. “Full name?” she inquired. “O-Oh,” I exclaimed quietly. It felt like ages since I had told anyone my full name. “Valarie Rose Echon,” I informed her. My voice was still shaky and rasped each word as I spoke. My words echoed in my skull. Despite my vision returning to normal, my head was still blurry. Memories floated inside of my skull like lilypads on a lake. “And what do you remember?” she asked. It pained my throat to speak. Dust and dirt had settled and coated my throat. I blinked. ‘Could I… water?” the words I spoke came out like rough little gasps. But they must have still be legible as she stood up and walked to an old, rusty office desk. She opened a drawer to retrieve a bottle of water. The crackly sound of the lid’s seal being broken split the silence in the room. She trotted back over to me and handed me the bottle. The water was lukewarm but I guzzled down the whole bottle as if it were an actual cure to the plague. I could see the girl suppress a giggle as I set down the empty bottle next to me on the cot. “What do you remember?” the girl asked again. I attempted to cross my legs but failed as a shooting pain ran up my spine. “I wouldn’t try to move that leg,” the girl informed me, “you got shot with an arrow right under your knee. Maybe that’ll jog your memory.” I nodded, slowly piecing together the previous events. It came back as a trickle, like a tiny river of vague memories. The barn, the attack, the man, my brother. My brother. “LUKAS!” I shouted. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. My heart beat rapidly, pounding against my chest. “Where is he? What happened? Is he here?” My words came out frenzied. My voice was shaky much like every other part of me. I stopped yelling. I didn’t even know where here was. The girl beside the cot looked shaken. I could relate. My outburst was still echoing in my head. Lukas. My brother. “I-I’m sorry,” the girl stuttered, “I don’t believe that we found anyone else. It was just you.” She looked concerned. Her eyebrows were scrunched together, hopeful remembering a young boy that they may have recovered from an Elite earlier. Another figure burst in through the entrance. “I heard yelling!” the voice was feminine and strong. “Is she awake?” She was taller than the other girl and much older. Long, dark hair sat braided on her head. She spoke with the assertion of a leader and the confidence of a heroine. The other girl nodded warily. “Fantastic,” the older woman exclaimed. “Thank you for keeping watch, Krystin.” The young girl nodded again thankful to be relieved of her position. The older woman waltzed over towards the cot and smiled at me. “What is your name?” I huffed. I felt like I had answered this question a million times. “Valarie Rose Echon,” I said. She smiled again. “Most people call me Val.” It wasn’t a lie. I didn't know too many people, I mostly just stayed around my brother. My breath hitched. “Do you,” I began, “know where my brother is?” The question lingered in the air but the smile on the woman’s face fell. The expression in her eyes remained warm, I could tell that she was trying to comfort me. “Well what does he look like?” her voice was calm and mellow as she asked the question. There was a motherly tone to everything she did, it made me feel safe. “He um… He has long-ish hair, blond,” I said. My voice was shaking in my throat as the trickle of memories pieced together into horrifying scenarios I was forced to relive. All the blood and gore flashed across my vision. My words seem to catch and stick in my throat.. The woman stared at me, waiting for a more in depth description. There was no point in telling her he was small and frail, almost everyone living like us was. I searched around in my brain, looking for him, looking for words to describe him, as if the words I spoke could make him appear in front of me. The words just couldn’t come to me. The woman’s smile turned sympathetic. “Was he a survivor?” she asked. “Survivor?” “Was he like you?” she inquired. “Did he... remain with the plague?” It was difficult to concentrate on her words. The way she used was made my skin crawl. She said it like he was dead. “Like a RIP?” I asked. It was an innocent question but she winced as I said the word, like I had struck her across the face with the title. She gulped. “We… prefer not to use that term here.” she explained. “Some people may take offence to it.” I nodded. I could easily understand why people would get upset being referred to as a RIP. The term became a slur of sorts over the past couple years. “But,” she added, “was your brother a survivor?” “Mhm…,” I said. Something inside of me wanted to ask her to stop saying “was”, but I held myself back. “And what was his mutation?” she inquired. All the questions were overwhelming me. I’d hardly heard people refer to the ailments the plague inflicted RIPs with the word “mutation.” ‘He had these scars on his neck, arms, and legs. Lots of tiny scars,” I told her. “Like Krystin?” she asked. The image of the girl from when I first woke up popped into my head. I nodded. It was obvious through the woman’s face that they didn’t have my brother here. She tried to hide it but the look of disappointment that washed across her eyes. She didn’t have to speak. My eyes started tearing up. “It’s okay,” she said. “We’ll find him. Don’t worry.” She gave me a sympathetic glance before standing back up. She walked to a corner of the room and picked up a pair of wooden crutches. “These,” she said, handing them to me, “are for you.” Pulling myself off of the cot was frustrating. With every move I made I jostled my bad leg resulting with extreme amounts of pain. The woman propped the crutches under my arms and held onto my shoulders. “Now hop off of the bed,” she told me. She talked down to me as if I was a child. Granted, I was visibly much younger than her and was most likely a blubbering mess when they found me. I put my weight on the crutches and tried to hop off of the makeshift bed. I yelped as I stood, but I finally stood nonetheless. The crutches dug into my underarm uncomfortably but it was nice to be free of the cot. Standing on the crutches wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. The woman motioned for me to walk to the far side of the hospital-esque tent. Saying I was walking on the crutches was a stretch. The best way to describe how I made it over to where she was, was a very pathetic hobble. She patted a rusty, fold-up chair for me to sit down. I set my weight down on the squeaky chair slowly, being beyond careful not to jostle my bad leg. The woman was trying her best to be warm and inviting but with every passing second I grew more anxious and was filled with more concern for my brother. After a couple seconds of silent tension, I spoke to her. “W-What’s your name?” I asked. It was a crappy conversation starter, but I was willing to do anything to take my mind off of all the horrible things I was thinking of. She looked startled at first, like she didn’t expect me to speak to her. “My name is Maura Evans,” she told me. “I help run this camp.” “Camp?” I asked. Shock must have prevented me from seeing how obviously stupid my question was. I was too drowsy and shaken up to piece together the obvious. “The Lincoln’s Point Rebel Camp,” she said, the hint of a smile began to crawl across her face. My heart skipped a beat as I heard her say the name. Lincoln’s Point. My brother and I had been searching for the Lincoln's Point Camp since we had first heard of it. Now I was here. Without him. “H-How did I g-get here?” I asked. I was trying to keep my voice from breaking but my melancholy soaked into my words. “Well,” Maura began to explain, “I don’t know the full details of what happened yet.” She broke eye contact with me and stared at the ground. “You’ll have to ask Eman about it. He’s the guard that found you.” Eman. I'd have to remember that. “What do you know about how I got here?” I had been asked questions nonstop since I had woken up. It was my turn to get at least a couple of answers. “All I know is that you were passed out with an arrow in your leg half a kilo from camp. We took you in and you didn’t wake up for a couple of days,” she informed me with a shrug. “Your wound was infected and we thought you were going to die.” I gaped. “A couple of d-days?” I exclaimed. “How many?” “You were asleep here for four days but we have no idea how long you were out before we found you,” she said, breaking eye contact with me again. “You’re lucky to be alive and as well as you are.” I huffed, “I wouldn’t call much about my situation lucky.” I spoke under my breath. A mix of anger, and grief, and sadness welled up inside of me. She snickered at me. “You need to reassess what you define as lucky then, Val.” I tried to wipe the sadness out of my voice. I knew I was letting her words get to me too much but I felt like a retort was necessary to protect what little was left of my pride. “It’s not like you're a RIP though…. You haven’t been through what my brother and I have been through.” My words hit her like a slap across the face. For a second I almost felt bad. The outburst was unlike me in so many ways. She tried to take the hurt out of her expression as she responded. “Everyone experienced the plague differently, Valarie. I hope you’ll take that into account around everyone here.” she said to me coldly. She turned away from me and spoke again. “I’ll send Eman in here shortly to discuss your role here.” With a swish of the tent’s doorway, she was gone. Standing up by myself was difficult with the crutches. The chair squeaked under my weight every time I tried to rise. It took a good 6 tries before I gave up and remained seated. The only sound was the wind whooshing across the top of the tent, sending ripples through the burlap. The boredom grew as I sat. I looked around the tent several times before I spotted some papers on the desk across the room. I tried to stand again. I tucked the crutches under my arms and pushed up. My arms could hardly support what little weight I had, but I managed this time. Maybe the new purpose in my actions motivated me. I hobbled over towards the desk. There was a nametag. It read, “Maura Evans: Head of Medicine and Civil Life.” I shuffled around with the papers. One of them was a chart full of statistics and insane amounts of medical information that I couldn’t understand. One of the papers wasn’t really a paper, it was a handwritten calendar. I scanned over it. It was marked all over with birthdays and important dates for things and people I knew nothing of. Days were crossed off with a blue pencil leading up to January 17th. That must’ve been today. I knew it was sometime in winter but I hadn’t seen the date since the war against RIPs began. As I was scrambling through the papers, I heard the swoosh of the tent’s entrance. Angry footsteps stomped up behind me, bringing up terrible echoes of memories from the barn massacre. “What the hell did you say to Maura?” the voice was familiar but I stayed where I was, too frightened to turn around. “Did you not hear me?” the voice asked again. “What. Did. You. Say?” I turned slowly to see the girl, Krystin, from earlier inches from my face. Her dark face was visibly red and her words came out in huffs, like she had just run over here. I didn’t answer, still shaken from the sound of her boots on the dead grass. She was a couple of inches shorter than me and stared up at me with eyes like lit coals. “Answer me!” she demanded. I remained where I was. Silent and motionless, planted where I was. Her face was furious. With each passing second I didn’t answer she seemed to grow more enraged. “I told her that she didn’t know the plague the way my brother and I did,” I told her. “That was all.” There was immense shakiness in my voice that I couldn’t hide. She huffed and backed away, clearly frustrated with my answer. “You have no idea what Maura or anyone else has gone through because of the Order,” she said. The monotonousness in her voice was haunting. “Eman is on his way to show you around.” Somehow she made the swish of the tent’s doorway a dramatic exit as she departed and left me shaken and alone in the medical tent. Several more silent minutes went by as I stood still in the emptiness of the tent listening to the swaying of the branches outside. Sitting didn’t seem like a logical option as I could hardly get up last time I sat down. The swoosh of the tent broke the silence once more. I was expecting Krystin or Maura to waltz in to talk to me but instead there was a tall, dark haired man standing at the front of the room. Once the tent’s entrance stopped it’s swooshing the uncomfortable silence returned. After what felt like several minutes the man spoke. “My name is Emanuel Lee-Adams. Eman, as you may have heard other people refer to me.” I nodded at the introduction. Some part of me didn’t believe that this was the guard that found me. His scrawny limbs looked like he would have been a medic and Maura would have been a guard with her muscular physique. “I’m V-” I began. “Valarie. I know,” he cut me off. What a first impression; introducing myself for me. “Do you want to talk in here or go and walk?” I’m not sure I could necessarily “walk” but anything was better than staying cooped up in a medical tent for another hour. “Walk,” I told him. He nodded. “Come with me then,” he said, turning to face the door. “I’ll show you around.” I hobbled over towards him, more than ready to leave the tent, and saw him smiling. “Are you ready to see the camp?” he asked. He was hilariously more excited than I was about the camp. He lifted the entrance to the tent and the sun broke through the muggy shadows of the dimly-lit tent and stung my eyes. I tried to rub my eyes without lifting my arms off of the crutches and adjusted to the brightness. The camp was beautiful, like a storybook safehaven. Shards of colored glass hung in mobiles at the entrances to each tent and tiny cottage, bouncing rainbow rays of light across the pathway. There were more burlap-style tents like the medical one I had just exited but there were also small huts and cottages. They were thrown together with scraps of wood and rusty metal but they looked as warm and inviting as my old home. I must have stood there taking it all in for quite a while because Eman began to laugh. “It’s great isn’t it?” I nodded. The camp was lovely. It was all I had ever been hoping for since my brother and I were outcast. My face fell. My brother. Eman must have seen my change in expression. He sighed. “It must be a lot to take in,” he said. “Are you sure you want to walk?” I nodded again. My words failed me in that moment. The breathtaking loveliness of the camp and the underlying fear for my brother were tangled in each other. He motioned towards a pathway leading towards what I could only assume to be the camp’s common grounds. We began walking. Using the crutches on the rough terrain was difficult at first but the more steps I took, the easier it got. “Did Maura tell you about your condition when we found you?” he asked me. “She told me you found me unconscious,” I told him, “with an arrow in my leg.” He nodded. “Mhm…. Is that all she told you?” “Pretty much. I-I’m not entirely sure of what happened before that. It’s all just…,” “Bits and pieces?” I nodded. The repetitive tapping of the crutches on the dusty ground set a rhythm to the conversation. The colored light being refracted from the mobiles shone on the ground and sparkled like diamonds. Taking everything in was calming. The sounds of the rustling branches, the crunch of the dead grass, the way the sky was changing colors: preparing for dusk. They comforted me. “I bet she told you that I was the guard who found you,” he said quietly. “It was quite a scene. There was blood. A lot of blood.” He shivered. “You were next to dead just lying there. Maura is much better with all the blood than I am to be honest. I mean I’m a guard, sure, but it’s just not my forte.” He had started rambling. We continued walking and Eman continued rambling about Maura. Walking down the hill was much harder than walking uphill. I was getting used to pushing myself forwards with the crutches but that proved to be useless going down the hill. I stumbled as the bottom of my crutch missed the ground below me and instead hit the ground somewhere about a yard ahead of me. Eman laughed. “Let’s go into the common room to talk,” he said, motioning towards the circus-sized tent that sat beside a rather large community campfire site. I nodded. We walked a bit more until we got to the abnormally big tent. I was careful with every step I made, being sure to not fall flat on my face. Once we arrived at the tent after what felt like hours of strategic walking, my heart started to beat faster. The thought of walking into the commons, surrounded by other people, kind people, was intimidating. I took a deep breath and tried to push the senseless worries into the back of my mind with no success. Eman lifted the slit in the tent that acted as a door and motioned for me to go inside. I took another deep breath. The common room was buzzing, not nearly as full as I thought it would be, but there were enough people to cause all my anxieties to surface. Eman walked in after me and let go of the tent’s door. The commons were filled with old furniture and power generators hooked up to various light fixtures and electronics. The air was inviting and the fixtures cast a warm, yellow glow across the room. Giddy conversations turned to whispers as the occupants’ eyes fell upon Eman and me. Eman’s smile didn’t falter as all the eyes in the room turned to us. He led me over to an old, threadbare couch and sat down. I followed suit and let my eyes drop to the floor. Living the past few years running and hiding from the Order had left it’s marks on me. When I was with my brother, having people’s eyes on you was the last thing you would ever need. Eman let out a sigh. “I already told you,” he said, “it wasn’t pretty when I found you.” His eyes followed mine and stared at the dusty ground. “I had the night shift a couple days back when I heard screams. I had no idea about the massacre at the hideout at the time so I followed orders and continued guarding the camp.” He laughed an uneasy laugh. “You just to a point where…” he paused. “Where the screams don’t affect you anymore. “I didn't really think much of it when the screaming stopped,” his voice was little more than a whisper at this point. “And nobody from the camp went to go help the people at the hideout?” I asked. The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop myself. It was an awful question that I already knew the answer to. Eman looked back up at me. There wasn’t as much hurt in his eyes that I thought there would be from such an awful question. There was more understanding than anything else. “Correct,” he said. “We didn’t send anyone to the site of the massacre but you have to understand why….” “You didn’t want to expose the camp,” I answered the question that nobody asked. He nodded slowly. “I had to wait until there were no signs of the Order or any Elites for several miles until I could search for survivors of a possible attack. Needless to say I didn’t make it a full mile before I came across you. You were sprawled across the ground with an arrow imbedded in your shin. I made the assumption that you had dragged yourself from wherever the massacre was happening but lost consciousness before making it to the camp. “I can’t say that I didn't panic at first because, oh boy,” he laughed uneasily again, “did I panic. When I went to pick you up to bring you back to camp I saw how badly your wound was infected. And trust me, I’m no medic like Maura but even I knew that it was infected. I brought you back as fast as I could to hand you over to Maura and led a search party to look for the site of any kind of attack or any survivors of one.” “And… did you?” I asked. I didn’t know a single person besides Lukas at the hideout when the Elites attacked but there was something in me hoping and praying that someone else made it out alive. I knew the answer before he opened his mouth. “Not a single one.” “And no signs of-” “We could find any signs of your brother either, Val. There were no signs of any survivors that escaped. I’m sorry,” his voice almost cracked. It sounded hard for him to tell me everything that happened and I understood why. “But,” he exclaimed, pulling his gaze from the ground, “you’re at camp and alive and well, right? So at least we could save somebody.” He took a deep breath and pushed himself off of the old couch. He held out a hand to help me up and I took it. I had just grabbed his hand when the entrance to the commons flew open with violence. The girl from earlier, Krystin, flew in. “We’re being gassed!” her voice was panicked and her speech was rushed. “The Order… they found us!” Eman’s face hardened. The tone of the room suddenly went dark and panicked. My breath caught in my throat as the other people in the room looked to Eman for instruction. “Everyone!” Eman shouted with assertion. “Get the children and the elderly and get them to bunker 2A as soon as possible!” People started running frantically. My breath hitched and my heartbeat quickened as people pushed past me in a rush. I didn’t know what to do. The world was moving too fast for me to catch up. Krystin hadn’t moved from the entrance. She looked to be in total shock of the situation. “Krystin!” Eman yelled, “Are there any other injured residents at the camp?” She shook her head looking completely out of it. “Then take Val to bunker 1B and make sure that she’s safe!” Krystin nodded her head, still looking to be in shock. “Go! Go! Go!” The world seemed to spin faster. Eman grabbed my arm and pulled me up. The thudding of boots on the ground echoed and bounced around in my skull. Krystin propped me over her shoulder and nodded at Eman. We flew out of the tent with purpose. People and soldiers were scrambling around us like a swarm of flies. Young mothers with their babies, teen warriors trying to get into position. It was chaotically obvious that the camp had never suffered an attack like this before and fear stuck itself to people’s hearts. Krystin swerved her way through the crowd, yelling commands at people who were too panicked to hear. She stopped when she came across a large, metal shelter door poking out of the ground. “Can you stand at all?” she asked frantically. In all honesty I had no idea but I nodded anyways. She took her shoulder out from under my arms and bent down to open the doors. I stumbled and fell into the grass as the doors flew open. Krystin gave a huff. She picked me up again and dragged me down the steps. I felt so helpless as she helped me sit down once we reached the bottom. “Stay here,” she commanded, as if I could leave even if I wanted to. I heard her boots thud against the steps as she trampled up to help fight. She reached out a hand and shouted, “Maura! Maura, what do I do?” A familiar voice who I could only assume was Maura responded, “You need to stay with Val! Seal the doors and make sure nothing happens to her or anyone else that might be injured.” I couldn't her face but I saw Krystin’s shoulder slump, she was disappointed. She stepped down a couple of stairs and turned around to seal the door. There was a zipping noise and an exasperated sign. “Wh-What’s going on?” I asked. “We’re being attacked by the Order,” she responded coldly. “And I’m down here with you instead of fighting.”
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