84 Chapter Eighty Three - As The Winds Died Down

    The strong winds had died down by the following day and the air now carried a stillness to it, as if echoing the atmosphere in the first mansion.  The occupants spoke in hushed and somewhat joyless tones for the most part, shaken by the events and perhaps the realisation of how vulnerable they all still were hitting home.  They had lived too well and securely under the protective umbrella that Ren Zexian had formed along side their little landlord and later Chang Min.  True, they had worked hard, creating the wall, developing their strengths and abilities, but without Ren Zexian guiding them from behind with his gentle manner and vast knowledge, where would they be right now?  Only once the umbrella had broken had they noticed that he always be there to shelter them.

    Plus, as the next two weeks slowly dragged on, the precariousness of their living situation became more apparent.

    Autumn skimmed the scum from the surface of the pork rib soup as it boiled its contents to tenderness.  In all honesty, she hadn't felt like cooking, this haven of hers actually was doing little to make her feel balanced and comfortable as it always had in the past.  Of course, she was not the only one feeling the increasing strain.

    Behind her, Dexter sat at the table, stretching his legs out underneath it as he shelled the first harvest of broad beans from their pods.  It was an arduous job, but while he might have jokingly complained as he had the previous year as he shelled peas that time, he was in no mood to banter about it today.

    Little Lucy walked through the kitchen to the open backdoor holding her small watering can while Aslan trailed behind her.  Autumn watched as she disappeared into the garden, sighing.  The child was equally effected by the solemn atmosphere, yet everyday she would take her small watering can to the cottage in the gardens, knock on Nathan's door and wait patiently for him to answer.  She waited a little longer everyday.

    "We should probably encourage her to speak to Tyler for water in the future," Autumn said softly as she removed the last of the scum before moving the two large pots to a cooler place on the range cooker in order to simmer for a prolonged time.  She seasoned the soup then placed on the lids.

    "Tyler did offer, but was rejected," Dexter replied, tossing a bean that had escaped the bowl back into it.

    Patrick entered from the garden at that point, carrying a basket with some radishes and a mix of stubby and long thin carrots.  He scratched his temple sheepishly as Autumn questioned the selection with an expression.  "Ah, we weren't sure which ones to harvest," he admitted; such things had always been guided by Nathan.  The young man always knew which were ready for harvesting and which needed longer, but he'd not left his cottage for the past three days now and before that, he had lingered in his home for longer periods of time.  Patrick picked out a carrot that had a wide top, but was no more than a couple of inches long.  "We thought to look at the tops first, but as you can see, that didn't really work either."

    "Never mind," Autumn sighed.  She, too, had been enjoying the fruits of Nathan's labours to the point where she could forget the state of the world.  After all, every cooks dream was to work with fresh produce as excellent and delicious as Nathan's vegetables.  She took the basket from Patrick so she could clean the vegetables before putting them in the soup pots.

    "I take it Nathan's nowhere to be seen again," Dexter mused.  He stretched his taut back as the last pod was emptied of its fruits.

    "Actually, I did see him," Patrick admitted.  "But he was heading in the direction of the third mansion."

    Dexter's eyes widened as he registered those words and he leapt from his lazy sitting position to his feet.  "Why didn't you stop him?"

    "Chang Min was with him," Patrick replied, stepping back a pace, surprised over Dexter's reactions.  The Cultivator had actually followed the youth, as he and little Lucy with her empty watering can watched on.

    "Isn't it fine?" Autumn asked worriedly, drying her hands so she could comfort her man.  Nothing had been easy since they had settled their relationship, yet instead of creating a distance between them, they'd actually grown closer instead.  "If Ren had... if something serious had happened, Chang Min would have mentioned something."

    Dexter rubbed his temples and wrapped his other arm around Autumn's waist.  "You're right, you're right.  Sorry, I'm more messed up about this than I realised."  Since little x had been born, Dexter had taken on more of the role of leader than before as Jonah had to care for his son in the wake of Brooke's indifference.  Dexter hadn't felt uncomfortable about the growing weight on his shoulders, until the pillar supporting him vanished.  He worried constantly about being strong enough to protect them, worried about their food supplies as each day another plant seemed to wilt; its leaves yellowing.  He had Chang Min as an effective sword, but at the end of the day, he was still just one man and couldn't be everywhere at once.  Plus there was the dissidence in the second mansion.

    In the opinion of those five soldiers; Ren Zexian took the virus from Jimmy's blood by whatever means, that simply meant he would zombify instead.  In conclusion, he should have been killed before he could turn.  They had not witnessed his strength personally, but seeing that Chang Min called him Master suggested that he was no less weaker than the other.  He'd likely turn into a deadly zombie and kill them all if he was not dealt with.  Chang Min had tried to reassure them, just as Dexter's first squad confessed that Ren Zexian had been bitten before and survived, but the soldiers were not all convinced.

    Or rather it was Thomas that remained unconvinced and loud in his opinion.

    The man had been stumped to learn that his comrade's glowing finger wasn't some pointless ability and actually did have an effect on not only the undead, but the strange virus that turned those infected by it.  However, he'd not shown such on his face; he'd years of experience hiding his disdain of others.  But finding out that Ren Zexian had sucked out the virus from the bitten man and taken it into his own body caused his mask to crack.

    At first, he still wanted to kill Jimmy, completely disbelieving that the man was no longer infected.  But while Jimmy was pale and subdued, there was still a pink tinge to his face and his eyes were completely clear.  Even the wound that his friend was redressing showed the red of raw but healthy flesh, not the distinct blackened edges of the infection.  So he'd wanted to find Ren Zexian, to put an end to the threat within these walls once and for all.  He was stopped by Chang Min and that shadow of his.

    "My Master is in control of the situation," Chang Min had insisted.  "There is no need for you to fear."

    He'd backed down that time, remembering his side mission; he had to try convince Chang Min to return with them to the base.  A thought came to him.  This situation could actually be the key to getting the stubborn youth to return to the base with him, he just had to make him see that there was no saving an infected man.  As for others telling him that Ren Zexian had been bitten before and survived, he didn't believe it.  If there was a scar, it must have come from a healthy man, maybe a former lover that turned at some point afterwards leading to the delusion that he survived an infection.

    So he'd became increasingly vocal and difficult, trying to get to the man in seclusion in the third mansion, so he could at least get photographic proof that the man had turned or was at least infected on his solar charged phone.  But Chang Min and that annoying Cole had stopped him each and every time until Dexter had finally turned around and declared that if Thomas didn't want to abide by their rules, he could leave and make his way back to base.  They'd even provide him with enough fuel for one of the many cars rusting away in the village.

    He'd narrowed his eyes and had decided to give up on these stupid people; there was enough of that type on base, they didn't need anymore.  As he had thought, this whole experience had been a waste of his time.  His abilities hadn't improved and he could have been protecting the base walls and his comrades rather than trying to fix what could not be.  "You coming?" He'd turned to the other soldiers to ask.  They had somewhat hesitated.  Unlike Thomas, they had experienced growth in their abilities and it had become even more noticeable in this past week or so.  But if Ren Zexian was dying and no longer able to teach them, was there any point staying?

    "I'll come," Faith eventually said.  She missed her wife, she didn't want to lose her life here and not see the woman she loved anymore.  Zak wanted to stay, he decided to put his trust in Chang Min and hoped to continue learning from Ren Zexian soon.  Theo chose to remain with him, while Luke was completely undecided for sometime.  In the end, Dexter made a request that he stay;  Nathan was not willing or perhaps not able to provide water for their home so they had solely been relying on Tyler and whatever water they had stored, but it would only last so long.  Feeling that he was needed, Luke agreed to remain for a little longer.

    The two soldiers packed their stuff into a car while Winston poured a few litres of their precious fuel into it.  Chang Min suggested that they inform their superiors about the dark Zombie king for it would likely return at some point in the future, likely with a larger undead hoard.

    "Wait for me!"

    Everyone turned around shocked as they heard the voice from the near distance.  Hair tied back and holding a small carryall, the young woman approached them with a determined expression.

    "Brooke, what are you doing?" Monika questioned her, her eyes narrowing.

    "What does it look like I am doing?" Brooke retorted.  As her decision had been made, she was open with her dislike of the woman before her.  "I'm going to the base.  I'm not going to wait here to die!"  This is what she said aloud, but deep in her heart were far more dark reasons.  As a girl who had always been the centre of others attention, she had lived the past few months in increasing obscurity, while her dowdy cousin bloomed and experienced spring!  She blamed Jonah for it; he'd given up his duties as a leader of this place and wanted her to settle down with him as his baby's mother, to be one of the little workers rather than the queen bee!  That could not be all destiny had in mind for her, surely!  She was not born to be ordinary!

    "What about Jonah?  What about your son?"  Monika argued, equally disliking the arrogant young woman, who she felt had never really woken up to the realities of the apocalypse.

    Brooke did have the shame to glance away as Monika mentioned the child, but her eyes caught Thomas' fervent ones and she felt more secure in her decision.  "He has his father and his aunt," she replied.  "He's never really needed me."

    Monika wanted to bite back that of course the baby needed his mother, but as Arthur's hand fell on her shoulder, she came to the conclusion; when did Brooke ever act like a mother?  So they watched her depart with the two soldiers.

    In a bedroom, holding his fussy infant, Jonah rubbed his reddened eyes as the day he'd felt was approaching for a while, finally came into being.
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