From within

This week, encouraged by Chuck Wendig, we’re continuing yet another story, a fourth part of an ever continuing story. Three other writers have created the story up to here, and I am putting the fourth of five parts on it. Enjoy! Addendum: Seeing as this didn’t get finished, I am going to add the last 200 words and finish it off! In italics

(First segment written by Jeremiah Boydstun [boydstun215].)

The soldiers carried the man across the narthex and through the nave. They lumbered along like some giant, wounded insect, three pairs of cold, stiff legs shuffling clumsily beneath a motley carapace of steel and leather. Close upon their heels, the master-of-arms was careful to avoid the hissing droplets of blood that the insect left in its wake. His sword was drawn.

At the end of the nave and standing at the foot of the chancel, the bishop held a gilded crosier at arm’s length as if to thwart the advance of the shambling mass making its way toward the altar. In his other hand he grasped a large silver crucifix. Despite his advanced age and diminutive stature, the crimson-robed bishop made for an imposing figure. “No further,” he whispered. The soldiers stopped, unsure of themselves. One of the men looked down nervously into the pale face of the man he carried while the other two turned their heads in askance to the master-at-arms. For several moments the only sound was the steady hiss of the blood as fell from the lifeless man and met the cold marble floor.

“It must be done here,” said the master-at-arms. “Take him to the altar.”

(Second segment written by Adrienne.)

The bishop moved aside, letting the soldiers scramble up the few steps to the altar. His crimson robes did nothing to shield him from the cold radiating from their frozen armor. The slick marble stairs proved difficult for the exhausted soldiers as they stumbled and fell under their heavy load. Grim-faced, the master–at-arms followed their procession, only sheathing his sword to offer aid in heaving the unconscious man atop the bare altar.

The soldiers scurried away, stealing a glance at the stone table before fixing their gaze on their snow-crusted boots. The master-at-arms moved to the side of the altar where the man’s head rested. His shallow breaths produced a faint mist in the cold air. Steady drops of blood from his mouth had already created a small pool that hissed quietly on the stone. The master-at-arms looked down at the man’s face, searching for any hint of the soldier he once knew, but finding only the thing he had become. A sharp intake of air through the pale, bloodied lips tore the master-at-arms away from his thoughts.

The bishop joined the master-at-arms. Two terrified altar boys carrying trays covered with vials, books, crucifixes, and various cutting tools followed closely behind.

“It is time.”

(Third segment written by Paul Willett [momdude])

The master-at-arms glanced at his men. “Stand ready,” he said, “if we fail, the abomination must not be allowed to leave this place.”

He took a heavy knife from an altar boy’s tray and began to cautiously cut through the frozen leather straps holding the man’s armor together. He was careful to jostle the breastplate as little as possible, each touch of it bringing a soft moan of pain from the dying victim. He studiously avoided looking at the gaping hole in the center of it, or the throbbing, writhing creature inside.

As the master-at-arms worked, the bishop began sprinkling holy water across the shuddering figure on the altar, murmuring prayers. He took a thurible from an altar boy, sprinkled incense over the coals, and circled the altar slowly. A thin, warbling chant escaped his lips.

When all of the armor save for the breastplate had been cut away and removed, the bishop retrieved the heavy silver crucifix and stood on one side of the altar, while the master-at-arms stood on the other and prepared to tear away the sundered steel. Their eyes met and the bishop gave a small nod.

A powerful woman’s voice echoed through the cathedral. “Stop!”

Part Four by yours truly

Her shiny boots clattered across the stone floor as her angry strides took her to the altar. “Master-at-arms! What were my orders?”

“To bring any compromised to the control centre, General.”

“Then why,” she asked through gritted teeth, “is this man in a church?”

“I wanted to save the soldier’s immortal soul, ma’am.” The softly flickering candles lit up the fervour in his eyes.

The muscles of her jaw tightened. She had been fighting her soldier’s ignorance since this war began, when the only way to fight it was with science. But she needed the compliance of her men to get the specimen.

Extending her arm around the shoulder of the master-at-arms, she kept her tone respectful. “I understand master-at-arms. Allow me to collect the creature and you sanctify our brother.”

From her pack, she withdrew the housing the scientists assured her would hold the parasite. She unscrewed the lid to the one way entry into the small tank. Tentatively, the master-at-arms pried back the breastplate, slick with blood. As the pressure lifted, the creature shifted, and pitiful screams tore from the semi-conscious soldier.

“Now!” The General commanded.

With a sucking sound, the master-at-arms plate lifted and the creature tried to escape. With a slurp, the tank’s suction pulled in the parasite.

The General closed the eyes of the fallen soldier, his body slack on the altar. Her voice soft, she turned to the master-at-arms, “He is in your care now.” 

From cowering in the corner, the priest returned to the side of the soldier, his eyes judgemental and hard. “This man dies for your war and you leave now, General?”

She whirled on her heel. “If we can devise a way to fight these…” she brandished the container with the worm, “…parasites, then there are many more lives I can save. This man’s death will not have been in vain.”

Checking the seal, she turned away from priest, “Besides, you are most qualified to deal with this soldier’s soul.”

The General left the church, the silence falling like a cloak behind her. She darted between the lines, briefly giving her troops encouragement. Every so often, she checked that the writhing of the worm continued. She was sure it could scent her close by.

She could see the entrance to the underground laboratory where the scientists toiled, just steps away. She couldn’t have seen the bullet that shattered the case holding the parasite. It was only when she felt the sluice down her side that she realised what had happened. 

“Shit.” The General stumbled toward the bunker, steps faltering. Soon the bug would take over her nervous system. She needed to get to them. 

Her toe caught on a crooked step and she stumbled, down the stairs, slamming into the door. 

The scientists opened the door to see her squirming in the dirt, blood leaking from her wound. 

She would never see the change in the tide of the war. But mankind would never have been saved without her.

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