Title: Fallout (Chapter One)
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Characters: Heraldic-Trainee Thorn Tillman & Companion Sham, Heraldic-Trainee Rachel Hall & Companion Felicity, Heraldic-Trainee Kippen Wright & Companion Dysis
Disclaimer: Valdemar & concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; this story and original characters belong to their author.
Summary: An accident in Haven unleashes a magic storm like no other before it. Now a sickness is spreading fast across the land, and Valdemar isn't the only country at risk. Out of their depth and some of the only living left in Haven, a handful of survivors must try to make it through the most horrifying plague in Velgarth's history.
Chapter One: 28 Days Later
The weather was nice. Sunny and warm with a pleasant, cooling breeze.
Thorn Tillman thought it really had no business being that way, considering the current circumstances.
:It's a good day for the end of the world.: Thorn's Companion, Sham, commented dryly.
Thorn simply rolled his eyes, then cast a glance out toward Companion's Field one last time before closing the window shutters and latching them securely. He badly missed the sunlight and fresh air, but with the way things were, it was better to be safe than sorry.
What hurt most was closing Sham and the other Companions on the outside, though.
:Are you sure we can't get you inside, somehow?:
:Chosen,: Sham chided softly. They had gone over this particular conversation many times in the past month. :The attics are good for you lot of the human persuasion, but we Companions can't climb stairs and ladders very well. You know that.: Then a little mental prod, and he added; :and besides, there's a baker's dozen of us left out here. How would you propose to fit thirteen Companions in there with you?:
:I know, but...:
He wanted Sham to be safe, and right now the Companions- those who still survived- were still living out in Companion's Field. Granted, it was spacious with lots of room to run if they had to, but it was still very much out in the open, with only a scattered few places to hide should the need arise.
At least food wasn't an issue for Sham and the others, Thorn reassured himself- or, not yet anyway. It was still springtime, so there was plenty of grass and clover growing, not to mention the somewhat dwindling stores of hay and alfalfa that were stacked behind the stables- not a lot, but enough left over from the winter to be useful.
It was when it came to feeding Thorn and his companions that things became complicated.
:The pantries still have some stores left,: Sham offered, but his tone was less than comforting, particularly when he finished off with; :don't they?:
:Yeah... some.: Thorn replied vaguely.
Some, but not enough. By his count it had been twenty-eight days since the plague had first struck, at the outskirts of Haven. Heralds and the Guard were dispatched to take care of it- but they were out of their depth, and soon the capital was overrun and lost.
Most of the people who had lived at the Collegia were gone, either having left for destinations unknown, or having died. Even including himself, Thorn could count the number of survivors who were still living in the Collegium on one hand; three Heraldic-Trainees, a Healer-Trainee and a master level Mage, who was the only real adult among the group. The rest of them had been forced to grow up fast, though.
Beyond them, the thirteen Companions left in the Field were mostly comprised of those who were UnPartnered. Then there were Sham, Dysis and Felicity, who were Bonded to Thorn and the other two remaining Heraldic-Trainees: Kippen and Rachel. And of course, there were two others- the mare called Turii and the stallion named Kova.
Kova had lost his Herald at the beginning of the outbreak. They, along with all the other Heralds, had been sent out into Haven to gain control of the situation- that was before, when no one had really begun to understand the severity of the situation. Kova's Herald had been struck down quickly, vanished in the sea of bodies and humanity and sickness- and Kova had been able to do nothing to save him.
He grieved and hurt. Thorn could only imagine Kova's pain. But he had friends around him, and his sister, Kally, still survived as well. She supported him and helped him make it through.
For Turii, things were different. She wasn't as lucky as Kova.
:She hurts so much, Chosen.: Sham murmured, picking up on Thorn's thoughts. His voice was sad, subdued; :her pain is palpable. So much worse than she should have to bear alone.:
But that was just it- she wasn't alone. Not entirely.
Turii's Chosen was a Herald named Rehn- and he had been the start of the plague, the first person to die and then be reborn. The first one to come back to life and spread the sickness beyond himself. He walked the earth, dead but not, a shell of his former self, no longer human, something both more and at the same time less than a mere animal.
And he was still out there.
Somehow, some way, the Bond between Turii and Rehn remained, even through his infection, his death and resurrection. The mare could feel everything from him, but none of it came close to even the shadow of his former self. She was chained to him, and would be until his un-life was finally snuffed out for good. It was torture for her, every minute- every second of every day.
Sham worried for her sanity and Thorn could understand why.
The rest of the remaining Companions were solo, having never Chosen, and surely thanked their lucky stars it was so.
But even with so few of them left, their supplies were fast running out. The Collegium was used to having deliveries of food and other necessities every single day, but now it had been almost a month since the last ones.
Any food that they hadn't gone through had turned rotten quickly in the warm weather, and they had been down to oats, rice and other dried foods nearly two weeks ago. Their cache of supplies was running low- and Thorn had no idea what they were going to do about it, only that they needed to do something- and fast.
"Felicity says to look on the bright side," Came a familiar voice from across the dark room, "at least we have lots of water."
Thorn snorted a half-laugh at that. It was true. Between the wells and the Terilee river they were set. "It's not water I'm worried over." He assumed that Rachel knew that already, probably from Sham talking to her Companion. It seemed they still couldn't shake the pesky Silence that the Companions seemed so insistent on holding onto. He wondered if they would ever give it up.
"Food, I know." Rachel frowned a little, then shifted her position into one that was a bit more comfortable, leaning back in an old wicker chair. Her arms were crossed over her chest and her eyes were closed, but it was obvious she was wide awake despite that. "We're getting low."
"So," came a third voice, just as familiar as Rachel's but much more lively (despite the situation), and Thorn's eyed flitted over to Kippen, "what are we going to do about it, then? Can't just wait around to starve, right?" Then a pause. Kip tipped his head slightly. "Gee, thanks Dy." He sighed, sticking his tongue out lightly. "Dy says we're welcome to any grass we might want, because they have lots out there."
Somehow it wasn't surprising that, despite everything, Kippen and Dysis were still able to joke around. They had both always been very light-hearted, and apparently the end of the world wouldn't change that.
If he was honest, though, Thorn had to admit that the two of them were probably the only reason he and the others hadn't gone completely out of their minds over the past twenty-something days of hiding and scratching out a existence under the umbrella of the apocalypse.
"There'd be supplies in Haven."
Thorn almost winced. He had been afraid someone would bring that up.
"Yeah, but you know what else is in town, too."
Rachel frowned, but nodded nonetheless. "Do we have much of a choice? We'll have to face them sooner or later."
"I know, but…"
Them. Those who had been Infected. Those who were dead, but not. Those that fed on the few still-living who were managing to miraculously survive—people like them, few and far between as they were. Was it any wonder that none of them were in any hurry to confront them?
Rachel was right, though. It wasn't as if they had many other options. The longer they put off going into Haven, the closer they got to starving to death, and there was no point in waiting until they were half-starved and too weak to even attempt to defend themselves. They would die for sure that way.
"Where are Erik and Dwina?"
"Down in the store room."
Most likely, Thorn thought, they were going through the remaining supplies, organizing what was still edible and discarding anything that had begun to rot. Even stale food was still nutritious, but fresh fruit, vegetables and meats were almost all past the point of being useable. Whatever had begun to go bad was tossed out in a far corner of Companion's Field—during the night, when the undead beyond the Collegium Gates were quieter and had more trouble spotting them.
The news from Erik and Dwina when they returned was likely to be bad. Even the last time any of them had gone through the pantries and stores hadn't been good.
"Well," Kip said finally, and sat up a bit, stretching his arms above his head with a yawn. "I'm up for a trip into town! Maybe we can find something nice for you, Rach. Your birthing day's coming up, right?"
Rachel seemed surprised. "I never told you that—"
:Dysis told him.: Sham commented absently. :She's been talking with Felicity. I suppose the two of them are trying to interject a little normalcy back into life for you lot.: And then, a little quieter; :you could use it.:
Across the room, Rachel had gone quiet, so Thorn assumed that Felicity was telling her basically the same thing as Sham had just told him. Kip was simply blinking at them both, though it was likely the other boy was well aware that they were conversing with their Companions. He may have been chatting with Dysis at the time, himself.
"Heh, Kip, I mean, thanks for the thought and everything, but…" Rachel waved one hand dismissively. "Now's not the time to be thinking about that kind of thing. Maybe once the world gets back to normal, okay?"
"Aw, but Rachel!" Kip protested—but didn't go farther than that. Instead he made a soft sort of resigned noise and sat back in his chair again. "I guess. But we still have to go into town."
That was true. Thorn and Rachel both nodded reluctantly.
:Chosen… it's dangerous.: Sham told him worriedly. :What if you get hurt? What if you don't come back?:
That was a possibility, yes. Thorn didn't want to say as much, though.
:I'll be okay, Sham.: He reassured his Companion—and then, as if to convince himself as well he continued, Mindvoice firm: :We'll all be fine.: