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   Chapter 2 Training the Walker Cassie Wilson Book 2

Training the Walker: Cassie Wilson Book 2 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 26553

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:58


Chapter 2

The rest of the school day passed with no further interruptions. If Enki was still around, he found somewhere else to be. Cassie tried not to think about him, attempting the out of sight out of mind approach to dealing with him. She was only partially successful and oddly found herself wondering what he thought of her sandwich. Mostly she wondered why he was in the school in the first place.

Usually when he appeared she didn't have to wonder as he kept up a running commentary, mocking those who couldn't see him, but giving her a general idea of his thoughts. It was annoying and often terrifying, but also somewhat illuminating.

As the day ended and Cassie left the building, she pushed thoughts of Enki aside to switch to worrying about Ina. The glee in her eyes at the thought of fighting full out sent shivers of dread up Cassie's spine and she wondered what she was in for when she arrived.

It was a short drive to The Plaza District. Once a small commercial corridor, sometime in the 1970s it was turned into an open air pedestrian mall. A large parking lot was located at one end and all of the shops bordered a white stream of concrete composed of the former sidewalk and what was once a street. All of this white flowed into the central plaza for which the district was named. Cassie parked her hatchback in the provided lot, put her school bag in the trunk and grabbed her gym bag.

To get to Intelligent Fitness she had to walk through not only most of the district, but through the central plaza that gave the district its name, as well. As always, as soon as it came into view, her eyes darted towards the concession stand at the edge of the central plaza. The stand was a small concrete box with an upright rectangular hole for a door and a sideways rectangular hole for those selling items to pass said items to those wanting to buy them. It was topped with a faded gray asphalt shingled roof and all things considered, the concession stand was nothing spectacular.

At least on first glance.

Every time she was in the plaza, Cassie's eyes were immediately drawn to it. Not until just recently did she learn that the concession stand was located where a gate opened. She didn't know if anyone else could hear it, but when she approached, the gate hummed. If she hummed along with it, matching it in tone, the tone shifted. If she shifted to match it, then it would shift back to its original tone. If she again matched it, the gate would open and remain open as long as she hummed along. Somehow she doubted the concession stand was deliberately placed at the source of the hum.

"Unless someone on the other side really likes bake sales, " Cassie muttered to herself. She had a momentary mental image of all the more spectacular looking others standing in line for lemon bars and peanut butter cookies before heading off on a multi-dimensional trip. "Probably not the standard supply run, " she decided with a smile.

Cassie opened the gate at the concession stand once, remotely, in what she thought was a dream. The fact that the dream was so much more was something she was still trying to wrap her head around and something she was keeping very quiet, even from those who claimed to want to help her.

Opening it caused all sorts of people with strange appearances to flock to the area. They came to the plaza, waiting and watching. When she started remotely opening a gate in Peru most of those watching and waiting here, moved there to watch and wait. Cassie wasn't quite certain what they expected to find or do by so obviously being present. If they were hoping to catch her, or whoever they thought was opening the gates, they weren't exactly being subtle. They didn't hide or set traps, they merely gathered and lurked. It was strange and seemed rather pointless.

'But not all of them are gone, ' she reminded herself, deliberately shifting her gaze away from the concession stand as she entered the central plaza. Dotted around the plaza were poured concrete benches. The same white as the walkways, they rose as if sculpted from the same mass. In the summertime they were cool to the touch providing a welcome relief to the heat. Now, with snow still piled up in the corners and an icy breeze sending sharp fingers to rake against any exposed skin, Cassie knew no ordinary person would be sitting on those benches.

Every regular person passing through the space ignored the benches and those occupying them. There were far fewer than when she began opening the gate in Peru. Many of those waiting and watching even managed to secure a bench entirely for themselves. Before she opened the gate, they were packed full.

'The benches are empty, ' Cassie reminded herself, walking past and looking only forward towards her destination in the same manner the other regular people did. She ignored the feathers and the beaks, the fur and the scales and just kept moving, knowing that everyone on the benches did something to themselves to make them invisible to the mass of humanity around them.

'Although mass is a bit of a stretch today, ' Cassie thought as she moved past the last bench and continued on her way. At best there were maybe half a dozen people moving about on the cold concrete. 'And none of them are giving the frozen benches a single glance.' Cassie did as they did and inwardly sighed with relief as she was past the last of the watchers, continuing on her way to class.

As she approached class, Cassie darted a glance to Imports Unlimited, her grandfather's shop. It was dark and shuttered and those walking by it paid as much attention it as they did to the people on the benches. As she looked away, feeling as always, disappointment that her grandfather hadn't returned, she wondered if he put some sort of blocker on the building, preventing people from seeing it the same way they could no longer see her.

'Enki is not there, ' she thought as she moved to the door of Intelligent Fitness. Cassie wasn't certain what Enki did after leaving the cafeteria, but he managed to return to the district and resume watching Oliver's place before she arrived. Cassie opened the door and went inside, as always sighing a little with relief when Enki was no longer in her sight. She went back to the locker rooms and quickly dressed in her workout gear, swallowing her nervous butterflies as, once dressed, she moved to the classroom.

Cassie was always the last to arrive, the other girls in the class ready and waiting by the time she arrived. Usually there were five other girls in the class. In addition, Oliver and Bert, his assistant, were always present. Today, Oliver and Bert were there, but Ina was the only other girl in the class.

"We thought it best not to have an audience, " Oliver told her.

Cassie looked over to him and nodded, her mouth going dry. Oliver had black hair cut into a short spiky style that looked more like he simply hacked the hair off more than had it styled and his height and dense muscles made him seem as solid as a brick wall. Cassie knew when she touched him visions of vast mist shrouded forests would appear before her eyes. There would also be the sensation of running and a general sense of neutral good about him as though he was willing to let her be unless she angered him. Today, he looked oddly cheerful causing a swarm of butterflies to swirl in her belly.

Ina had the same sense of neutral good about her, although she sent images of platters of cheese and figs, pitchers of wine, silks and strange looking weapons into Cassie's mind when they touched. Bert was something altogether different. He stood at five foot even and was as densely muscled as Oliver. He was light on his feet, moving quickly throughout the class and helping to adjust body positions as they learned new moves. When he touched her skin, Cassie saw a multitude of children and babies laughing and happy and felt a wave of absolute joy flow through her. As many of those she encountered had tints of malice and other darkness to them, it was somewhat a relief to meet Bert. She found that Bert was also known as Bes and looked him up. Bes was some sort of ancient Egyptian god said to protect babies, children and women.

'So I guess the image fits, ' Cassie thought as she took her place on the mats. 'Not that I believe any of them are actually ancient gods, ' She quickly reminded herself.

"We'll start with a warm up, but add no new lessons today, " Oliver said moving to the front of the room. "Instead we will get an accurate gage of your skills." He lifted and eyebrow at her and stared.

Cassie nodded and fought down her own nervousness. The last time she actually managed to show some skill in attacking Ina, Oliver's eyes went hard and cold while he studied her and even Bert lost some of his habitual jovialness. Slowly, Oliver led her and Ina through their warm up. With only the four of them in the room, it seemed strangely quiet. No one but Oliver really talked during the workouts, but it never seemed as quiet somehow with the other four girls present.

The warm up had the desired effect and by the time they were through, Cassie felt limber and loose. 'Time to see what happens, ' she thought as Oliver signaled that she and Ina were to take their places to begin sparing. 'None of them actually want to kill me, ' she reminded herself. The thought fled as she looked at Ina. Her eyes were sparkling and she was fairly bouncing on her feet. 'Yet.'

"No holding back this time, remember, " Ina said.

"I'll give you the Herman treatment, " Cassie promised with a nod, causing Oliver to chuckle. Then Ina moved forward and Cassie stopped really thinking. Her senses were filled with silks and delicacies, her mind wondering about the strange weapons array. She forced herself to focus on the mat beneath her feet, the movement of her body, the air on her skin. She forced herself to see what was actually there, keeping her strange sight in check. This time there was no holding back. Cassie put everything she had into the match. Ina was still better, but she managed to hold her own.

It helped that once she managed to push her strange sight way she only had to think about the fight. There was no thought to conceal the fact that she was a Walker, or at least had Walker –like abilities. There was no worrying if her offense was too offensive. There was just the sparring match and Cassie was determined to give her best.

The match went on longer than her normal class sparing lessons and the thought that they might be testing her endurance flitted across her mind. Her early morning sparring matches with Herman, the rubberized dummy in the coat closet, were longer than her usual class held sparring matches. Cassie felt she might be up to the challenge. The room was silent except for the sound of their movements, breathing and the sound of skin hitting skin when their hits connected. Bert and Oliver watched silently from the sidelines as they circled around the practice arena.

When Oliver finally called a halt to their sparring, Cassie fought the urge to sag with relief. Her muscles were starting to shake and she knew she was breathing far too heavily. The loose tendrils of hair that slipped out of her ponytail clung to her sweaty skin. Ina didn't look as bad as she felt, but the other girl was still panting, a delicate smattering of sweat droplets on her brow.

'That's something at least, ' Cassie consoled herself.

"Not bad, " Oliver said.

"Much better than before, " Ina agreed with a nod. "Much more fun this way. I hate when people hold back. And we now get to do this twice a week." She looked thrilled with the prospect. Cassie wondered if she'd be up for another bout by the time Tuesday rolled around.

'I've got Friday, the weekend and Monday to recover, ' Cassie thought.

"Still room for improvement, but it does give us a more accurate gauge, " Oliver said. "I'll be able to better plan your lessons now."

Having no interest in lesson planning, Ina stalked off towards the showers. "She's been at this a lot longer than you have, " Bes told her. "You'll get better."

Cassie smiled. "It's probably better to fight against someone better than you anyway, " she replied, not minding that Ina was still much better. Even though she fought harder this time, no one's eyes went cold and hard. Everyone remained friendly, causing at least one worry to be checked off of Cassie's list.

"True, " Bes replied.

Oliver looked her over. "Tell me about your running and archery."

Cassie recounted her slowly lengthening walk/run cycle on the track in her back yard and admitted she ran with her survival pack on her back. Mentioning the pack caused his lips to twitch as he fought down a smile and Cassie felt a light blush creep to her cheeks. She knew her survival pack wasn't much of a survival pack, at least not as far as anyone actually trained in survival was concerned.

At present it contained a book dealing with edible plants, a canteen, a small camping cook pot, two cans of sterno, six disposable lighters and a whole lot of matches. As her list of survival gear came from watching

bits and pieces of television shows, she suspected all professionals would find it ludicrous. Since nearly every person featured on one of those shows at some point was shown cold and shivering, Cassie figured being able to make fire was rather important. Every show she watched caused her to add another few packs of matches.

"And on the days I don't come here, " Cassie continued. "I practice my archery behind the house. I marked off spots that are twenty, fifty, eighty and one hundred feet from the target and have been practicing from each of them." She told them. "There is also a pendulum target so I can practice shooting while it swings, but I'm not very good with that yet. So any moving target is safe."

"You did pretty good with me and Ina yesterday, " Oliver said.

"Really, " Bes commented, his eyebrows jumping up to his hairline. "You didn't tell me she shot you."

Oliver held his fist in front of his chest. "It would have hit here if I hadn't caught it. Ina would have been safer, but only because Cassandra thought she was Enki, if it had been her aim would be true there as well."

"I thought you were hidden?" Bes asked, frowning. He swiveled his gaze to Cassie.

"I saw their footprints in the snow, I aimed between the feet and up a bit until I thought it was the right height." Cassie told him.

"Impressive, "

"She would have gotten us right in the hearts, " Oliver said.

"Assuming Enki has one, " Bes replied. "I'm rather glad he's decided to leave you alone and search elsewhere."

"Except when he steals my lunch, " Cassie said figuring it was the best time to bring him up and ask if they knew why he was still around.

Both men looked surprised. "Explain, " Oliver demanded. Cassie shrugged and told them about Enki's visit. They seemed especially surprised and slightly worried when she told them that he actually made himself visible to talk to her.

"This we might have to look into, " Oliver told her. Cassie nodded, relieved that whatever reason Enki had for following her around was not due to Oliver telling him about yesterday's visit. She relaxed a little, knowing that at the moment Enki had no cause to think she was a Walker and therefore whatever he was up to might not involve him wanting to kill her.

'Not killing is a good idea, ' she thought.

"Well whatever his reasons, " Oliver said. "We promised to help in other areas as well. You mentioned you were learning Latin? You will need someone to practice with and all of us have the language, rusty though it may be."

"It would be hard to imagine not being rusty in conversational Latin, " Cassie said. "Given that it's a dead language."

Bes laughed. "True enough, but with practice I'm sure it will return. So we will each take turns holding conversations with you as you learn. Would Saturday afternoons work, maybe around two?"

"That would be fine, " Cassie said nodding.

"Good, " Oliver replied. "And now that we know how you actually fight we can prepare a schedule and then see about working survival skills in as well."

"Sure, " Cassie said. "Um, can I ask, what's changed?"

"Changed?" both men repeated.

"Yeah, the other day when I spared against Ina and actually knocked her down all of you went kind of scary in the eyes. Today you are arranging lessons and looking…pleased." Cassie stared at them unsure if she was explaining herself adequately. Conversations in any language weren't exactly her strong suit.

"Scary in the eyes, " Bes repeated. "I don't think anyone has ever described me as scary in any part before." He sound almost insulted, but Cassie thought of his eyes, the humor draining out and looking like hard chips of stone and didn't apologize.

"Walkers can be sneaky, " Oliver told her. "We didn't think you were a Walker as you passed our tests and then suddenly you did look like a Walker. It took us off guard."

"Of course you managed very quickly to make the hit seem like a fluke so we thought our initial judgement was correct, " Bes added. "You are very good at faking normal. If Oliver had not been so interested in your trees, you never would have been found out."

"I've had a lot of practice, " Cassie told them. "My kindergarten teacher had snake eyes and a long forked tongue. It seems like you should be more upset now that you know I was faking rather than less upset."

Oliver chuckled. "Well, things have gotten a little dull around here lately. Helping to train a Walker breaks up the tedium."

"With the side benefit of putting one over on Enki?" she asked.

"That would fall into the personal benefit category." Oliver admitted.

"Just like him finding a way in here when you don't want him to be would be for him?" She asked.

"So you noticed him lurking?" Oliver said. "Interesting."

"I doubt he's using the extra blocking that would prevent Walkers from seeing him and just using his normal shielding." Bes said. "And we know Walkers can see through that."

"True, " Oliver admitted. He looked back to Cassie. "I told him he was not welcome here and made certain he could not enter."

"Which means that even though he didn't want to come in before, he does now because he was told he couldn't." Bes finished. "He's a bit like that. It doesn't actually have anything to do with you."

"I gathered. He always looks like he is studying the building more than me when I pass." Cassie looked to the door. Even though she couldn't see Enki from her vantage point, she could see that it was beginning to get dark. While most of the snow was cleared, she knew once darkness fell, the temperatures would plummet, freezing all the melted snow into slick skins of ice.

"I guess I'll see you Saturday at two then, " Cassie said, shrugging her coat on over her workout clothes and grabbing her bag containing her street clothes. Even with everyone knowing she was a Walker, Cassie didn't feel comfortable using the shower here. There was just something too vulnerable about being naked, even if Ina was the only other one in the girl's shower.

Cassie headed towards the door. As she opened it, Ina came out of the back.

"I'll walk with you, " Ina told her.

Cassie nodded and the two stepped out onto the sidewalk. The wind chilled by several degrees and Cassie huddled into her coat as they began to walk. Cassie wondered if Ina was walking with her as some sort of protection detail. She didn't ask as Cassie could now see Enki standing in the shadows, watching them. As they passed, he returned his attention to the building, dismissing them completely.

Both she and Ina remained quiet as they walked into the central plaza. Cassie took a deep breath and reminded herself not to see any of the others still lurking. When she passed through before, they paid her no attention. Now, with Ina by her side, she became much more interesting.

'I do not see the giant wolf headed man sniffing me, ' Cassie told herself as one of the others neared and drew her scent deeply into his snout. 'And I don't see the lizard man flicking out to taste the air around me.'

Ina shot the two glares and Cassie continued to stare ahead, maintaining the same speed and counting to herself so her steps remained measured. There was no reason to hurry other than the cold. No reason to change her pace. Most of the others fell back under Ina's scowl of disapproval and Cassie eyed the edge of the plaza like a marathon runner eyed the finish line. Thus far no one ever followed her out of the Plaza. They just sniffed her as she passed.

'Almost there, " Cassie thought. She deliberately did not look at the concession stand. Out of the shadows slipped a man who looked as though he was part shadow himself. He wore a long hooded cloak, the hem of which dragged on the ground, hiding his feet. His arms were likewise hidden under the cloak and whatever face he had was concealed in the hood's depths. In the depth of the hood, Cassie saw his eyes flare bright like hot coals in the center of a camp fire when someone blew on them.

'Nope, I don't see the scary eyes either, ' she told herself even though she felt a fine shaking starting in her limbs. She could almost feel the weight of his gaze as they passed. Ina gave him the same glare as the others, clearly not impressed with his grim reaper like cloak and flaming eyeballs.

Then they were through the plaza and walking out the other side. As usual, no one followed them and Cassie fought the urge to sigh with relief.

"You do that rather well, " Ina commented once she was certain they were out of eavesdropping range. "It is quite impressive. I am not certain I could ignore them so effectively."

"The flicking tongue of the lizard man was a rough one, " Cassie admitted. "For a second I thought he was going to lick my eyeball."

"He did come rather close, " Ina replied with a laugh. "It must have been more difficult when there were more of them."

"Yeah, they did seem to multiply for a while and then they went somewhere else. Did you guys have a convention or something? I don't often see people of any type sitting on the benches, they are really cold, especially at this time of year."

"They came here because the gate was opened here. They left because nothing happened here again, but a second gate was opened in Peru. So they went there."

"Oh, " Cassie said knowing full well that she was the one who opened both gates. She also knew from listening in on various conversations that the bulk of people left for Peru. What she didn't know is why, exactly. "So are they watching the gate so they can kill the Walker?"

"I'm sure some are, " Ina said, shrugging as though unconcerned.

"Then why wouldn't they hide?" Cassie asked. It was one of the things she found most troubling. No one was hiding. They just waited in the open watching for a Walker to return. "I mean wouldn't the Walker just see them and leave?"

Ina laughed. "More than likely, but I somehow doubt that thought has occurred to most of them. Walkers tend to stay in one area and not move around too much. I suppose they just expect this one to return at some point."

"Why?" Cassie asked.

"Because this is the only gate in the area. Walkers are drawn to them."

"No, I mean why would they stay in one area instead of going to another gate if they wanted to use one?" Cassie asked. "In Enki's little lecture he said there were many gates located in various and sundry places around the globe."

"In the lecture he thought no one could hear?" Ina said smiling. "And I bet he did use the term 'various and sundry' didn't he." She shook her head. "Walkers always stay in the districts they are assigned, unless the assignment ends and they get a new one. I suppose they'd go somewhere else then."

"Assigned, " Cassie repeated.

"Yes, " Ina said. "They are trained and then sent out on assignment." She laughed. You really don't know much do you, " she scoffed.

"Trained and sent out on assignment, " Cassie said ignoring the taunt. "And were the people who gave the assignments killed in the Purge?"

They reached the parking lot and Ina followed her through the mostly empty lot to reach her trusty hatchback.

"Well, yes, " Ina said, watching her feet and skirting around a slick spot on the asphalt. "They pretty much killed everyone, and until now no one really thought anyone actually survived. There were small groups sent to get those in the field and a larger force sent to the training centers."

"And despite the death, they still think someone is doling out assignments to any surviving Walkers?" Cassie asked.

Ina stopped and looked at her, surprise written across her face. "There are no people left to hand out assignments, " Ina repeated. "Any one Walker could be anywhere. There would be no reason to stay in one place. No orders to follow."

"So the one who opened the gate here could have gotten on a plane and gone to Peru once they noticed that this gate was being watched?"

"A plane, " Ina said as though the thought had not occurred to her. Cassie wondered how she managed to end up so far away from the former Sumerian lands. Cassie shivered.

"Do you mind if I keep moving?" she asked the still stationary Ina.

"Hmm, oh no of course not, this is your car?"

"It is, " Cassie told her as she slipped her keys from her pocket.

"Good, you are safe for the night then, " Ina said, confirming that she was in fact acting as some sort of body guard. "Until we meet again." As Cassie opened her car door, Ina turned away.

"A plane, " Ina repeated to herself as she started to walk away.

Cassie got into her car, closing and locking the door once she was inside. She may not be entirely certain she needed a bodyguard, but she wasn't taking any chances either. She was as safe as she could currently make herself, but knew there were gaps. Even though it was for the best, her parents and grandfather leaving made her feel abandoned. It was somewhat comforting to have someone worried about her, even if it was just for the distance to her parked car. Cassie started the engine and turned her heater on full blast before backing out of her parking space and driving home.

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