This took a lot longer than I had originally intended. I did not realize how much story that I had lurking around in my head, and there is still more to this, but it is better suited for further edits. ^_^ Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there was a little kingdom by the sea. It was ruled over by a King and Queen, who were just and fair. The land was prosperous and happy.
The King and Queen also had a son and a daughter, and they were much beloved by the kingdom. The children were kind, intelligent, and sweet. From an early age, they showed a genuine concern for their people.
The Prince, Mathias, proved to be a promising diplomat, as well as a soldier. As such, he had garnered loyalty from the warriors that he would be one day commanding.
Princess Rexelle, or Xelle, was much more reserved than her brother, however. She spent much of her time in the castle library, or shadowing the midwife and the smith, among others. She loved to learn about how things worked, and would experiment to see if there were ways to improve upon them.
Soon, word of Xelle’s curiosity traveled to other lands, and visiting dignitaries began to bring her gifts. They brought her books on astronomy, history, math; intricate puzzle toys, and diagrams for elusive flying machines. She was excited by it all.
But one of her most treasured gifts was an astrolabe. She had it proudly on display in her sitting room.
As she grew older, her curiosity and inventiveness led her to be in need of a workspace of her own. Her parents humored her, allowing her design and construct a tower all her own. She had it located on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. From there, she had a view of just about everything in the kingdom, from the ocean, to the castle, and the village and the fields beyond them.
The tower was constructed of stone with slate tiles for the roof. Polished river rocks decorated the window sills. The entirety of the top floor was walled with bookshelves decorated with elaborate scroll-work. There were also a spacious work table, a gilded telescope, and canopied bed. She had even included a blacksmith forge on the bottom level.
And yet, the tower had no door. At least not one that was visible from the outside. The entrance had been at the base of the tower had been disguised to match the stone of the rest of the tower.
Although odd for a princess to spend every waking moment reading and inventing, the entire kingdom found it to be endearing. Through her star gazing, she had fashioned an almanac to aid in finding the optimal time to plant and harvest crops. She had improved upon the tillers and planters, making it easier and faster. And she was also in the process of improving the aqueducts and trying to breed more pest resistant crops.
In exchange for allowing her to spend all of her free time in the tower, King and Queen had stipulated that she must be in attendance of all formal occasions. When she had been younger, that had been a simple enough request. She merely had to be present for introductions before then disappearing.
However, as she grew older, the attentions from foreign dignitaries began to increase. They would mention the name of their son, grandson, or nephew, and insist that the boy shared mutual interests with her. Over time, these boys and young men would make the visit as well, and bestow the gifts upon her personally.
Xelle understood that this was her lot in life. Her brother, as Prince, would inherit the kingdom, while she would be married off to a prince or a king in order to secure an alliance. She accepted this, even though she did not like it.
When it came time for one of these state functions, Mathias would ride out to her tower and call up to her, “Sister, sweet sister, let down your hair.” To which, she would remove the drawing pencils that kept her hair pinned up and let it fall down her back.
Then, one day, a man had been found washed up on the beach. To all intents and purposes, he seemed to be dead. But when members of the village made attempts to bury him, he came to life and bit one of them quite savagely. In the effort to subdue the man, he was bashed over the back of the head, but he never got back up.
The injured man was taken to the village healer for treatment. In the beginning, he was in good spirits, but then his condition began to deteriorate. He would not eat or drink, he was fevered, and had difficulty breathing. The healer was at a loss to explain it, or to help him. All that could do was make the man as comfortable as possible.
The healer was the only one with him the night of his passing. Bending down to confirm a lack of heartbeat and ragged breath, he then closed the blankly staring eyes and covered the body with a blanket.
While the healer’s back was turned as he stood at the wash basin, the dead man sat up. The blanket fell away from his expressionless face, and then to the floor as the corpse lumbered to its feet.
The family was then jolted awake by the healer’s screams.
Xelle, who had been studying the stars, noticed the commotion going on in the little fishing village. Lights were shining, and it appeared that a few of the houses had caught on fire. She immediately began to pull the cord to a warning bell installed on the side of the tower. It had been intended for use to warn of encroaching storms, but a fire could be just as much of a disaster.
As the notes from the bell faded, she could hear the peals of others on the small network.
The Princess knew what would happen next. Scouts from the nearest garrison would ride out to investigate. Then, depending on what they found, a corresponding sequence of chimes would be sounded. The garrison would then take instruction from this and act accordingly.
But she had not expected for events to follow in the manner that did next.
A small squad rode out to the village, obviously prepared to coordinate fire crews. However, a rider quickly rode away. As that her tower was the closest, he came there.
“Hello the tower!” he called from below. “Toll the Call to Arms!” he then commanded when she appeared at the window.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Toll the Call and stay inside!” He then wheeled his horse around and thundered away.
She did as she was bid, fixing a view of the village in her telescope while awaiting further instructions.
Several moments later, more soldiers arrived at the village. They bore sword and shield, and full suits of shining armor. In orderly lines, they rode through the streets.
At first, it appeared as if the soldiers were riding down the villagers. The Princess was aghast that they could do such a thing. But then she saw survivors running up onto the road, foot soldiers and archers providing cover.
As the villagers huddled behind the line of archers, the foot soldiers again went back into the burning village. She was unable to see past the smoke and flames, but it appeared that they were doing a house by house search.
By the time the operation had been deemed complete, thick black smoke smudged the pink sky of dawn. Much of the flames had burned themselves out, leaving smoldering ruins were huts and drying sheds had once been.
A bulk of the soldiers had remained behind to search the rubble. Meanwhile, a squad had led the survivors off to the garrison. Most likely for questioning and wound treatment.
Xelle did not learn until later that several of the villagers had purportedly gone mad. They had begun to attack anyone within sight, even going so far as to cannibalize their friends and neighbors.
The surviving villagers had then been placed in prolonged isolation. They had been allowed to build a new village, and the animals that had survived the fire had been brought to them. They were essentially refugees, under the ever watchful eyes of the local garrison.
However, the villagers did not feel persecuted. They understood that something had happened that night. It had been terrifying and tragic, and no doubt had something to do with the man who had been found on the beach.
Those who had gone mad had the same blank eyes and crazed expression as he had. So they had concluded it to be an illness of some sort. Logically, they figured that as soon as they had been deemed clean, then things could return to normal.
But it was never meant to be.
Many soldiers had been either bitten, or spattered in blood. Just as before, they took ill and died. They then began turning on their fellows.
And so the virus spread. At first, it was several days before an infected person turned. But as it spread, it began to take less and less for that to happen. Until soon, it was down to just a few hours.
The Kingdom was in a state of terror. The borders were locked down, ships were prevented from coming into and leaving the harbors.
The people barricaded themselves in their homes, rarely stepping outside, and even then never without a weapon. Anyone exhibiting the symptoms of the virus was quarantined and watched. Anyone confirmed to have been bitten was killed before symptoms could manifest.
The Princess kept to her tower, researching and trying to come up with a means to properly restrain the afflicted. It was her hope to one day find a way to cure the disease, if not to prevent it entirely. But in order to do that, she would need to study an Infected.
However, she had been placed under guard.
It had been her brother’s idea, of course. He knew his sister better than anyone, and was sure that she would attempt to do something risky at some point.
At first, sharing her tower had taken some getting used to. But her brother had chosen well. Bryce was an intelligent young man who learned quickly and was proving to be a good assistant. Working with him gave her a window to a different perspective from her own.
She had never done much work with weapons, in part because of her beliefs regarding war, as well as that her family had strongly discouraged it. It was ‘unseemly’. However, Bryce did not see as such, taking it upon himself to train her in the use of a bow, as well as a sword.
Over time, her proficiency improved to the point that she was allowed to leave the tower, and never very far. She was made to stay in the clearing between the cliff and the nearby forest. Sometimes, he would accompany her down to the beach.
The Infected did not venture near the tower very frequently, and even then only if the man were chopping firewood. It led them both to suspect that the Infected may be drawn to loud noises and possibly even large groups of people. The few that they did encounter were emaciated and slow, taking little effort to dispatch. It did nothing to discourage her from wishing for a specimen to observe.
Her companion had fixed her with his steely gaze as he scolded her. “The Prince entrusted me with your care, and I don’t think that keeping an Infected as a… pet, is what he had in mind.” It was an argument that they rehashed several times, and every time she would yield.
The Royal Family had been splintered by the outbreak of the virus. The King and Queen remained at the castle, the fortified walls keeping them safe from the infected that surrounded them day and night. The Prince himself led a small platoon across the kingdom, dispatching all of the Infected that they encountered while leading the survivors to safety.
The people themselves were holed up in whatever areas they could make secure. The easier they were to defend, the better. However, the food was going to become a significant issue for everyone as winter drew closer. The fields had gone fallow and hunting was treacherous. Impending starvation only made the situation that much more bleak.
It made the Princess frustrated, helpless. She felt an unquenchable need to do something, to help. And one day, she could not take it anymore.
“No, you will listen to me!” she snapped. “I am tired of sitting in this tower, doing nothing. Those are my people out there, and I will do whatever I can for them.”
Bryce grinned and saluted before dropping to one knee. “Your will is mine, your Majesty.”
Xelle was taken aback for a moment before smiling as well. “I will need a specimen, but first we will have to fashion restraints.”
From their previous experience, they knew to keep the Infected at a distance. Along with biting, they could tear a man to pieces with their bare hands. To come within reach was death.
So first, they fashioned shackles. Several of them. Meant for wrists, ankles, neck, and waist, they were made of steel half an inch thick with lengths of chain to match. They bolted iron rings through the tower wall and fastened the chains to them. They hoped that the strength of the Infected was no stronger than that of an ordinary man.
The means to capture an Infected proved to be less simple. They needed to lure one within reach for the purpose of chaining it. Until Bryce produced a length of wood with a loop of rope at the end.
“The kennels use something very similar.” he said. He demonstrated on her wrist how the loop worked to secure whatever was on the end while keeping it a safe distance. “All we have to do is lure one in close enough to use this.”
That was a simple enough task. Bryce had several hunting snares in place in the forest, and the thrashing of the larger animals tended to attract the attention of the Infected. They merely set traps a short distance from the first ones, made to only be tripped by the size and weight of an Infected.
And so the Princess began her observations and experiments, taking effusive amounts of notations.
Damage and downright removal of appendages only served to slow them down. Severing the head only stopped the body, but the head was still very much alive, biting and snapping. The only way to stop them completely was to damage the brain. Smashing in the skull was effective, but messy. So the best way proved to be piercing the skull and into the brain with a sharp spike.
Once they had the manner of dispatch sorted, they began to study the prolonged effects of the virus. She marked physical deformities, such as the decay of the flesh and loss of teeth. The more time that had passed since initial infection, the most far-gone the body was.
Even all human traits seemed to be diminished. They were incapable of rational thought, human speech meant nothing. All they did was crave living flesh, and would stop at nothing to get it. The multi-point restraints only kept them from getting free, they could never curb their appetite.
Despite their desire to ingest flesh, as far as Xelle and Bryce could tell, they did not need it for survival. When starved, there was no noticeable decline. In fact, it would seem that the Infected had no functioning digestive system at all. When fed abundant amounts of flesh, they just retched it right back up. Analysis of the contents only proved that natural decomposition had taken place on the older contents.
They only ate to satisfy the urge to kill and destroy.
“I think that we have learned all the more that we have to learn at this time, Princess.” Bryce said quietly as they watched the burning remains of their latest test subject.
“I know.” she said, her voice filled with sadness. They had learned some useful information over the last several weeks, but none of it could resolve the situation as quickly as she would have liked.
“So what are we to do now?”
Xelle turned to him then. “We find my brother, and take back out kingdom.”