“Where were you today? I tried contacting you for hours. Did you forget our plans?” Aleena asked as they quietly followed the crowds to the dining hall for dinner. The typical post-drone attack unease hung heavily in the air.
Sarhea remained silent for a moment as she considered how to respond. Her whole body ached, but her shoulder was especially sore where she’d hit the ground after being thrown from the drone. Her head still ached from the after effects of the energy overload. She’d attempted to ease her pains earlier by soaking in a hot bath in what she could only assume was the old hospital’s birthing pool. The warm water had soothed her aching muscles and had calmed the raging energy, and somehow, she’d managed to fall asleep. She’d only awakened an hour ago and had to rush to meet Aleena in time. Her pain had steadily returned with every step she took and now was nearly as intense as it had been before her bath.
“I had something I had to take care of, and it took longer than I anticipated. I’m sorry-I lost track of time and forgot to turn on that device you gave me,” she finally replied.
Sarhea’s eyes widened as they entered the largest dining hall she had seen yet. She’d been so distracted by her thoughts that she’d missed the detour they’d taken from their usual dining hall. Her gaze quickly fell to a raised platform at the far front wall of the massive cavern. This place suddenly felt very important, very official.
“Aleena, where are we and what is that area up there?”
Aleena arched a brow and shot her a questioning glance. “This is the city’s largest dining hall and I suppose it is also the main hall. That platform up there is where Sarsan, the city overlord, will make important city wide announcements which are recorded and broadcast to all the other dining halls.”
Sarhea suddenly felt very exposed and highly uncomfortable, but it was much too late to leave. They had already made it to the service line. She felt Aleena’s continued questioning gaze.
“There’s no need to worry. We talked about coming here, remember? And besides, after so many more dining halls were set up after the city’s rapid growth, this hall is no longer the big deal it used to be. See? Everyone here is the same as in the other areas-just regular folk.”
Sarhea vaguely remembered Aleena mentioning this place. She had been preoccupied with her hunting plans and had only half heard the Kalatian’s rambling conversation that day. She cast a quick glance over the large room. Citizens of every kind were already gathering around the long tables that ran the length of the large room. They sat on continuous benches that ran down each side of each table. She noticed a few more soldiers in uniforms here than in their other dining hall, but for the most part, what Aleena said was true.
“This overlord-Sarsan…He must be a strong man to control such large crowds,” she commented as they neared the food tables.
Aleena smiled warmly. “You do not need to worry about Sarsan. He is a good, honest man, one of the kindest I have ever known. He is called overlord simply for lack of better term that everyone can understand, but he really dislikes it. He fell into his position because it was his pre-planning that stockpiled the supplies and equipment here that we now survive off of. He takes great pride in caring of those who call this place home. He may have some strange ideas, but I’ve never seen him abuse his power.”
Sarhea found herself intrigued. She knew this city must have had a ruler, but she’d never really heard much about him. If he’d been a hard man, she would have heard at least some negative talk, so at least she figured she could trust Aleena’s opinion. They chose a table near the back of the room. Sarhea sat across from Aleena so they could continue their conversation.
“What did you mean that this Sarsan has some strange ideas?” Sarhea asked as their conversation took a change of topic.
Aleena arched a brow before shrugging. “Sarsan is old school Taloan. He has some strange belief turned religion that this place is protected by mystical unseen beings he calls the Guardians.”
Sarhea nearly choked on the food she was in the middle of swallowing. She coughed and sputtered a moment before it went down.
“Are you alright?”
“Guardians?” Sarhea asked hoarsely with wide eyes.
“Yeah, something to do with light and energy and some other weird stuff. I guess you’ve heard of this before?”
Sarhea scowled as she tried to push past her initial shock. This was the first she had ever heard guardians, light, or energy mentioned in this place. Some part of her had always known it was foolish to think she could ever outrun her past, but she had hoped that she’d be able to ignore it for a while longer. Seems it had been a foolish dream. Sarhea’s ears swiveled back as she picked at her food and sighed.
“Yeah, I’ve heard it mentioned a time or two these past few years, but usually only among those of…simpler ways. This place seems far too modern to entertain such notions.”
Aleena scowled as she swallowed her food.
“In a way, you would be correct, but as I mentioned, Sarsan is old school. He was one of the few Taloans who still held onto such absurd beliefs. It was never a big deal until the refugees started arriving here years ago,” Aleena replied then scowled. “After that first big attack, the frightened masses seemed to need something mystical to latch onto. Sarsan’s guardians fit the ticket and boom…instant overnight religion. There’s even a temple dedicated to this weird religion down in the heart of the city. I suppose it really took off after the first attacks. The annual Celebration of Light was being held in these guardians’ honor and everyone was already on their way here. When the attacks began and those shields went up, the only ones who survived were those who made it into the mountain. Many of the foolish were claiming that it was the guardians that saved us,” she said with a huff.
Sarhea was speechless as she tried to process the information. Celebration of light? In the guardians’ honor? All the troubling thoughts she’d had concerning the mountain’s unusual energy and now this information made her worried about what connection this world had with her own. It could not be possible. She’d always thought that the Guardians only inhabited her world. None of this made any sense.
“What is the significance of this mountain? Why would the shields protect this place and not the city you have told me about?”
“This is, was, supposedly once a holy site. It was called…” Aleena paused in thought. “It was called Teelooka. The story goes something along the lines that this was the place that the Guardians brought the first Taloans to as they fled some form of persecution. They were brought here so they could worship or practice their weird beliefs in peace. It’s all rather loony if you ask me.”
“Yeah, pretty crazy,” Sarhea mumbled as she scowled down at her partially eaten food. She suddenly was not very hungry.
Aleena’s hazel eyes held a distant gaze as she scowled in tense thought. She finally noticed Sarhea’s own tense expression and shot her a half-cocked smirk.
“But like I said-this is all a bunch of crazy ideas that seems to benefit the superstitious. If it makes them feel better, who am I to stand in their way? I just politely agree with them while knowing the real facts-technology created the energy shields that protect this place, not some hocus pocus guardians. I hear the shields had been in development for years, that Sarsan always had a fear that something was brewing out in the expanse and that a safe haven would be needed. This mound of rock with its natural defenses provided the perfect base to work with.”
Sarhea didn’t respond as she continued to stare down at her half eaten food. It couldn’t be…was not possible…The Guardians could not be here. But she’d been feeling unusual energy...Even now the festering unease grew within her. Surely it was all just coincidence.
“Oh you have got to be kidding me!” Aleena suddenly whispered as she ducked her head down.
The outburst was enough to disrupt Sarhea’s troubled thoughts. Her gaze followed where Aleena was looking. Down at the far end of the table near the front of the room, she spotted a group of four individuals, two in uniform, as they approached with their food. Her eyes widened as she hunkered down as well. It was the Alpha team. She watched as Raith, Nakyla and Bud sat with their trays of food at the far end, but Kaden kept walking down the aisle. Sarhea tossed an agitated glance across to Aleena then watched as Kaden paused beside a group of teenage Cassarian boys.
“Hey Kaden! Awesome job today of fighting those drones! They didn’t stand a chance against your skill!” one quipped and rose to give the cocky pilot a high five.
“I know right! They are no match for the Alpha Team!” he boasted.
Aleena rolled her eyes. “It’s Nakyla’s skill on the cannons that saves their asses, not his flying skills,” she grumbled.
Sarhea barely heard the comment. A flash of memory from her earlier excursion suddenly came to her. She remembered the strange energy cloaked beings speaking to one another…’Kaden do you see…’ Kaden…He had been there this morning! He was part of the reason her mission had failed and the black energy had escaped knowing her presence! She felt the heat begin to rise within her as her icy glaze locked onto the short male who was once again on the move.
“Pssst! Sarhea-your eyes…” came Aleena’s alarmed whisper.
Before her friend could finish speaking, a shadow fell over the table between them.
“Aleena? Hey, long time no see! What have you been up to?”
The grating sound of pure arrogance made Sarhea cringe, and soon, the short Cassarian was sitting directly across from her. His attention was focused solely on Aleena. Her friend was visibly cringing and she tried to shy away when Kaden casually draped his arm over her shoulders.
“What do you want, Kaden,” Aleena growled between clenched teeth.
“What, can’t I just visit an old friend? I have not seen you around, not since the party the guys threw when I joined the Alpha Team. You were always the life of the party. I miss your spunk.”
Sarhea watched the fury flash in Aleena’s eyes. The history between the two was obviously a sore point. Kaden seemed oblivious to the growing tension.
“Leave her alone,” Sarhea finally growled threateningly when she could no longer bear to see her friend’s misery.
Sarhea suddenly found herself the object of his attention. His green eyes widened before a completely sleazy grin spread across his face.
“Why hello there! I do not believe we have ever met. My name is Kaden. I’m the ace pilot for the Alpha Team. And who might you be?”
The way he looked at her like a piece of meat and the way he so arrogantly attempted to introduce himself only served to stoke her festering anger. She could feel the energy of her fury rushing through her veins and could tell by the alarm in Aleena’s eyes that it probably was beginning to manifest in her own eyes. Kaden seemed not to notice.
“I know who you are.”
Kaden grinned despite the very obvious glare she was giving him. The guy was completely self-absorbed and delusional. He bumped Aleena over out of the way as he leaned across the table. Sarhea could feel the heat beginning to radiate off her skin as others immediately around them began to stare. She felt her control of the energy slipping away…
“Why have we never met then? How about we leave this crowded place and find somewhere quiet were we can talk and get to know each other.”
Sarhea quickly diverted her gaze. She almost allowed herself to knock his grinning teeth in right then and there. Kaden must have misread the action, and before she knew it, he climbed onto the table and scooted across to her side. He knocked Aleena’s drink over into her lap, causing her friend to yelp quietly in surprise. Kaden quickly tried to squeeze into the area next to Sarhea, and in the process, bumped her neighboring table mate completely out of her seat. The young Paloan woman hit the floor behind them with a grunt.
“Oh sorry about that, bub,” Kaden said without even looking to see it was a woman he’d de-seated.
Sarhea could not suppress a low growl as Kaden’s arm came over her shoulder. His mere touch sent burning fire racing through her every nerve. He shot her a bewildered glance.
“Damn, woman, you’re burning up! Here, come with me. I know a place where you can cool off nicely,” he added with oily charm.
Something inside her snapped, her normal vision fading into a burst of energized rage. Her tightly balled fists that she’d desperately tried to keep at her sides came flying up. One hand grabbed a fist full of the front of his flight jacket, the other made solid contact with the end of his snout. Kaden yelped at the sudden startling pain and tried to lurch back away from her.
“What makes you think I want to go anywhere with you?” Her voice was low and menacing, her every nerve alive with searing heat.
Kaden’s gaze was one of wide-eyed terror as he tried to raise his hands before him in defense.
“Let me go, you crazy bitch!”
Before he could react further, a vicious snarl erupted from her throat. Strength surged through her as she yanked down on the hand that held him. The move caught him off guard and brought his head abruptly forward to smack the table top.
“Oww!” he yelped and grabbed his now bleeding snout. His wide eyes watched for her next move with fear.
“Now that I have your attention, you arrogant, slimy little asshole. You strut around this place like you own it, like everyone and everything belongs to you. You take credit for the accomplishments of others and you treat women as if they were your playthings instead of creatures with feelings-feelings that mainly involve hating the very sight of you. You are nothing, nothing but a sad, pathetic little bastard who rides off the success of others. You have nothing to offer of your own. How could you ever think that I, or anyone one for that matter, could ever want your attention?” she spat, her hot breath inches from his face.
Sarhea vaguely heard movement from down the table but it was not until a shadow fell across the space before her that her rage filled gaze left Kaden. She saw a mortified look fall over Aleena as her friend cast a sideways glance to someone who stood beside her. Sarhea felt the energy immediately retreat as a hint of common sense worry began to take root. She slowly looked up to see the stern, commanding figure of Raith. His narrowed green eyes glared down at her as he stood motionless with his hands behind his back. She diverted her gaze back to Kaden as she tried to contain the fury that still radiated from her in waves.
“Is there a problem here?” came Raith’s low, hard voice.
She kept her gaze locked on Kaden. “No, there is no problem here,” she replied coolly. She heard a small squeak escape from Aleena.
“Good. Now if you don’t mind, you can release my pilot.”
Without looking up, Sarhea offered a shrug and with one last burst of anger, roughly released her grip on Kaden’s jacket. The Cassarian’s balance was lost and he tumbled back off the bench and onto his rump. Several female snickers sounded from the surrounding citizens. He scrambled up onto his knees, his eyes coming alive with hurt pride. Blood dripped freely from his nose and busted upper lip.
“You are crazy!”
“Kaden!” came Raith’s commanding voice.
“Commander! Aren’t you going to do…”
“Get off the floor and report outside.”
“NOW!” came the harsh reply.
A new shadow approached from her side of the table.
“Let’s go, Kaden,” came Bud’s strong, calm voice as the large Kalatian reached down and grabbed the back of Kaden’s jacket.
In one swift move, Kaden was jerked to his feet. Bud’s strong black hand came to rest on Kaden’s shoulder as he led the wounded warrior away.
Once the pair was a safe distance from their table, Sarhea finally allowed herself to glance back at Aleena. Raith’s shadow remained across the table. She glared at it for a moment before slowly looking up. His expression had not changed. She could feel him analyzing her, labeling her as trouble and it made her blood begin to boil once more. They glared at one another briefly before he silently turned and headed towards the exit.
Aleena finally released a pent of sigh of exasperation. “Sarhea…oh my god…What the hell were you thinking!” she whispered across the table.
She could only shrug. “Men like that have to be shown they cannot treat us like that.”
“But he is a member of the Alpha Team!”
“That does not give him, nor anyone for that matter, the right to treat us like objects. Why does everyone worship the ground four individuals walk on anyway? It makes no sense!”
“They mainly worship the ground Raith walks on. The rest of us ride the coattails of his success,” came a smooth voice from Aleena’s left.
Both women quickly looked up to see Nakyla standing a few feet from them, an amused expression on her face. Sarhea flinched at the remark. She’d not intended for anyone but Kaden to hear what she had to say to him. Nakyla looked down at Aleena.
“Aleena, it has been awhile. It appears you have been choosing your friends more carefully these days.” Nakyla’s gaze fell to her. “Though I must say bravo to you, Cassarian. Kaden’s had that coming for a while now. However, the timing of your little confrontation could have been planned better.”
“Nakyla, we’re so sorry. Kaden just…”Aleena started but paused when Nakyla lifted a hand and glanced back to where Raith followed Bud and Kaden out of the dining hall. Raith paused and cast one last hard glance back their direction before disappearing into the corridor beyond.
“I don’t think you need to worry about Raith at this time. If you were in any real trouble, it would be your friend there being led out, not Kaden.” Nakyla’s amber gaze now turned to Sarhea. “I think you may have become Refuge City’s newest hero, my dear. Don’t let it go to your head,” she added with a coy smirk before turning to follow after her teammates.
Sarhea cast a quick glance around her immediate surroundings. Every female within their sight, especially the Cassarians, eyed her with veiled admiration. Several whispered amongst themselves while casting sideways glances at her. A few even silently clapped and gave her thumbs up. She cast a troubled glance back at Aleena.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispered.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Aleena mumbled as they quickly stood. They wordlessly made their way toward the nearest exit.
Raith was fuming as he silently walked down the hallway toward Central Command. Bud, Nakyla, and Kaden followed after him. No one said a word. Raith could still hear Kaden fussing with his bloodied nose. What was he going to do with the arrogant Cassarian? What was he to do about the rather brave young woman who’d finally done what they had all been warning Kaden would happen? His thoughts paused as he recalled the defiant glare in her blue eyes. Yes, she was brave, but she was also potential trouble. He’d seen the glances that were being tossed around by the other women. Kaden had caused his own troubles, but Raith did not need a mob of emboldened women taking action against other such males. There were better ways to handle the problem.
Raith cringed at the sound of Kaden’s whiney voice.
“Commander Raith, sir. We’re not just going to let that woman…”
Raith spun about mid-step, his blood boiling, and grabbed Kaden by the collar. He quickly slammed him up against the cold stone corridor. Kaden’s eyes widened in confusion and fear as he fell silent.
“No, as a matter of fact, I’m not going to do a damn thing about the woman who just kicked your ass,” he spat, then scowled as he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Kaden, you have been warned numerous times that this behavior of yours would land you in trouble. I had hoped that you would mature with time, but I think your position on this team has only made the problem worse.”
Raith’s gaze hardened as he pulled closer to the stunned Kaden.
“You’ve got skills that rightfully earned you a place on this team. But your continued arrogance threatens to undo all the progress we had struggled to make toward keeping the unity, threatens to tarnish our reputation. If you do not find a way to correct your behavior, you will lose your place among us. And so help me, if you put yourself in another situation like that back there, I will not be there to rescue your ass. Do you understand me?”
Kaden’s eyes were wide and his ears laid flat against his skull. “Yes…yes, sir,” he finally stammered weakly.
“Good,” he said and released his grip on Kaden. He turned to the others. “I’ve got some things to take care of tonight. I suggest you all make good use of your time. We continue training in the morning, as long as the damn drones don’t show up again,” he added and turned from them without waiting for a response.
20 April 2014 at 17:34:53 MDT
A day later than planned, but here finally is Ch. 7. This is one of my favorite scenes from the story's beginning.
Sarhea learns some troubling information about Refuge City and also officially meets the Alpha Team. Kaden learns that karma can be a real bitch...
As always, comments and questions are always welcomed and encouraged!