Sarhea’s nerves were on edge. She just could not reign in her troubled thoughts and focus on the task at hand. A week ago, she’d been forced to make good on her word to help Raith with Tsa. She figured the issue stemmed from Madrick’s involvement with the Alpha team’s covert missions, but she had not been prepared for the violence that had nearly erupted out on the floor of the training center.
She’d been in the energy vaults with Aleena. The last encounter with Raith left her with an uneasy feeling that she’d rekindled his suspicions of her, and it didn’t help that Aleena’s earlier warning kept replaying in her thoughts over and over. She had been avoiding her usual training venues, but had gained a basic understanding of energy weapons in the process. She remembered feeling a sudden flare in her energy just before Cadence burst into the room, frantic and out of breath. Sarhea caught only a few of the Cassarian’s words between panting breaths, but it was enough to know serious trouble was at hand.
A continuous chorus of furious voices and guttural shouts could be heard as they neared the center of the large cavern where they were greeted by a room divided in a tense standoff. Raith and his team stood across from Tsa and his team and both their respective forces stood tense and ready for action behind them. It appeared as if Tsa had already thrown the first blow. She’d spotted hints of blood at the corner of the commander’s mouth.
She’d arrived in time to hear her theory was correct; Tsa was roaring on about Raith poisoning his son’s mind and of his attempts at turning his men against him. Raith never had a chance to speak in his defense. Madrick had tried to step in his father’s path, only to get struck down by a vicious blow. The move did little to stop the general’s imminent attack. He was out for blood; she could see it in his eyes and felt the warning in the energy.
She still could not remember exactly what had spurred her to take the action she had. All she remembered was realizing she had Aleena’s rifle in her hands. How it got there and how she had been able to leave the vaults with it was still a mystery to her. All she remembered was instinctively turning down the power setting, rushing toward the warriors who were about to clash before her and firing the weapon up at the stone ceiling overhead.
It had been a desperate, brazen move, and she was lucky the shot hand not been ricocheted or that greater damage had not been done. The sound of the blast echoed through the room as small shards of stone rained down on everyone gathered. But the desired results had been achieved. All motion had stopped and all eyes were glued on her as she stood defiantly near the center with the rifle ready before her.
She’d had no idea what she was supposed to do then, but as she opened her mouth, hot, biting words spewed forth, sharp rebukes aimed at both leaders that surprised even her. She vaguely remembered likening them both to a pair of school aged children, a pair of bullies, fighting over turf and not caring who got injured in the process. The longer she talked, the more pointed and condescending her verbal lashing became and the more she found herself the object of both men’s raging fury. By the time she finished speaking, her defense energy was just shy of taking over and it was all she could do to stay in control.
But her unintended outburst had worked. The challengers’ fury was no longer aimed at each other. She had taken the opportunity to demand that they both come to some sort of agreement, to remedy this ridiculous feud that made them both look like arrogant fools and put everyone within the boundaries of the city in grave danger. That comment seemed to especially strike a nerve with Raith. She felt the full fury of his hatred leveled on her as he calmly as possible suggested that Tsa step into the office behind them for discussions. Tsa immediately began to protest, but she’d taken a threatening step forward with her gun, shutting him up. She took note that Tsa appeared to be motivated by a show of force, and in her case, he probably thought her a crazy woman with a gun not to be trifled with. The pair had grudgingly made their way to the mentioned room and disappeared from sight. She remembered hoping their fury was derailed enough that they did not try to kill each other again behind closed doors.
She’d immediately found herself surrounded by Askar and the remaining Alpha Team members; they tried to take her weapon. But she had refused. She’d quickly discovered that she held the only weapon in the room and felt that was the only reason the remaining Rigons remained controllable. So she has stubbornly sat with the weapon firmly in her control until eventually, everyone left her alone and gave her a wide berth.
An hour or so passed, or so it seemed, before the door Raith and Tsa disappeared behind opened again and the stony faced men reappeared. No new wounds adorned either of them, but their eyes instantly fell to her and her gun. Tsa had hesitated and almost appeared ready to throw out some form of comment. But it was stifled and the general quickly turned and led his group away. Only when they were out of sight did Raith’s glare lock onto her once more and he growled out the order for Nakyla to take her weapon. She’d complied without word, and after a brief glare off, the commander turned and stormed out of sight.
Sarhea’s focus was snapped back to the present as a group of men led by Madrick slowly began to move past her hidden position along the south rim of the ravine. She had no idea what had been discussed behind closed doors, but this was the fourth night of combined Refuge City-Rigon maneuvers along the ravine. In fact, the group of roughly eight men that now passed her was made up of equal numbers of Rigons and city forces. Another group of about eight moved along the north rim and was led by Askar. Again, the squad was comprised of roughly half Rigons.
She soon spotted Raith’s white signature and Tsa’s mostly red signature moving along the ravine floor. It still unnerved her to see the men in such close proximity. But an understanding seemed to have been solidified between them two nights ago when they had to work together to fight off a surprise drone attack. That’s also when they discovered the strange tunnels dug into the north wall of the ravine.
This new development was a big part of why she was on edge. What were the drones doing? Sarhea crouched down as Madrick’s group passed her position and began entering the region where the strange tunnels began. She searched her guides, but they were behaving erratically tonight; something was different, something that had her flinching at every little sound. There were too many men out here, too many with Rigon weapons. If the drones attacked tonight, there was a good chance there’d be a repeat of the situation that claimed Lyle, and she’d be helpless to prevent it. She could trust Madrick to not shoot her, but the rest…she wasn’t even sure everyone out here knew about her. There was no way she could show herself.
After the soldiers moved passed her, Sarhea quietly moved to a narrow path that led to a ledge just below the ravine’s rim. It would give her the best vantage point to keep tabs on everyone involved while providing her adequate concealment. It also provided her with an unobstructed view of the dark tunnel entrances that began not far from her position.
An energized breeze suddenly began to rise from the ravine floor. Every strand of fur on her body rose as it washed over her, bringing with it a sense of alarm. Sarhea tensed as she instinctively took hold of her reserves and all traces of her normal vision faded. Her guides darted about haphazardly among the various signatures that found their way to her. Only once the three teams of soldiers had moved past the first set of tunnel entrances did something change. Her guides suddenly split. Part of the energy stayed with her, while the other part raced ahead; both parts began to turn a bright defensive red…an attack was imminent!
The moment the near thundering thought entered her mind, two dark objects with blazing black signatures emerged from the tunnels and took up stationary positions in the shadows just to the east of her. Two more emerged and took up positions near the rim. One was not far from her. But they were not moving forward. They sat motionless as the seemingly clueless troops moved ahead. Why didn’t the troops see them? Where were the ships that she knew were supposed to be keeping watch? What were the drones doing?
Then it hit her, hit her like a ton of stone. They were setting up an ambush…they were preparing an ambush!
Searing heat radiated off her body as full defensive energy surged through her. She had to do something, but what could she do that would not give her away or get her shot by a trigger happy Rigon? She had only two options; she would either have to call out, alerting the soldiers of the enemy presence or attack the drones first, drawing their focus from the troops. Attacking four prepared drones at once was suicide, even for her, but she felt the energy’s insistent leading. She carefully retrieved her daggers as defensive pressure built in her chest.
The energy around her began swirling in furious motion as abrupt sound energy arose from all three groups-the danger was being recognized! Now was her opportunity!
“Ambush!” she roared out as she leapt from her place and launched herself at the nearest drone. Her voice was foreign to her as it echoed through the ravine and was lost amongst the chaos that now ensued. She made solid contact with the drone just as the entire area erupted in brilliant white light and the vibrating voices of men. A full attack was now underway, but at least she’d done her part in distracting the waiting ambush party.
The drone she landed on lurched downward, trying to throw her off, but she slammed her daggers home before it could succeed. She leapt off the lifeless hull just before it smashed into the ground. The other thee had moved from their stationary positions, and in the chaos, she could not decipher her guides’ leading.
Askar’s echoing voice found her energized ears just in time for her to see the blast from a Rigon cannon tear a drone trained on her nearly in half. She quickly sprang into motion. The blast did not kill the dark energy within, but the smoldering pieces hit the ground close enough to her for her to finish it off herself. The other two drones were nowhere to be seen, but the two groups of soldiers above seemed to have the situation firmly under control. Sarhea turned and darted into the nearest tunnel opening she could find.
Every bit of strength she could muster was willed into her legs as she sprinted down the pitch dark tunnel. She had no time to dwell on the unease of relying solely on the guides’ leading. The red energy abruptly made a left hand turn, causing her to nearly slam into the corner of a branching tunnel. Where was she being taken? She sprinted through several more intersections, praying the entire time that she would not collide with more hidden drones. She could feel the alarm and urgency building all around her as she was led into yet another left turn. Ahead through the opening, she could hear the sounds and see the raging battle occurring beyond in the ravine floor.
A blinding flash followed immediately by a burning shockwave erupted just as she made it to the tunnel exit. The force of the blast knocked her off her feet and threw her several meters back into the darkness. Dull pain flared at her right temple as her head made contact with the stone wall. Vibrating voices echoed around her as she tried to right herself-she heard Tsa’s grating growl, heard Raith’s commanding voice barking orders…Raith…she had to get up, had to ensure his safety…had to keep her promise to Finny.
She forced herself to stand on shaky legs. Mixed images of energy and natural sight made her head swim unsteadily as she forced herself forward. She half stumbled, half ran the rest of the distance back to the tunnel exit. She vaguely remembered checking to ensure her features were still concealed and that she had her weapons ready before she emerged out into the chaos beyond.
Energy blasts from drones and soldiers’ cannon fire mixed in a confusing display, causing the narrow ravine to erupt in strobe like flashes. She stood dazed and unable to read her guides as the nauseating scene made her feel faint. A powerful force like nothing she’d ever felt, nor could she describe, washed over her from her left. Her head snapped about and locked on the flaring white signature standing only ten feet away from her. Vocal energy blared around her, but she could make sense of none of it.
Raith did not seem to see her. His attention was focused on shooting down a drone overhead that was behaving rather erratically. It darted back and forth, dodging blasts while not taking any shots of its own. It was not damaged in any way that she could see. Sudden panic struck at her core as her guides flared before her, filling her vision. This felt wrong because it was! With her attention fully captured and focused, her guides darted off across the narrow chasm and into the darkness of a sharp recess. That’s when she spotted the odd sweeping motion of a narrow band of red light. Sarhea’s eyes widened. It was a hidden drone, a drone not like the others…and Raith was directly in its line of fire!
Sarhea felt a sharp jab from behind that prodded her out of her stunned stupor and sent her barreling toward the unsuspecting Leonian. She saw his eyes widen as he caught sight of her right before she plowed into him. She grabbed ahold of anything she could and wrenched him towards the nearest tunnel opening. Searing heat and pain, along with a deafening explosion, erupted around her before everything went black.
Sarhea smiled as she lay upon the soft grass and soaked in the nearly overwhelming warmth that surrounded her. The sun burned brightly against a peaceful backdrop of pastel blue, but the majority of the warmth radiated from body of the man that lay beside her. She closed her eyes and listened to the strong, rhythmic beat of Daran’s heart, took in his earthy scent, before feeling him shift to gently caress the side of her face.
She opened her eyes and found herself gazing into a pair of pale blue orbs framed by pure white fur. A wide smile spread across her face.
“There you are. I thought you’d never wake,” he whispered as he turned onto his side and leaned over to gently nuzzle her cheek.
Sarhea took a deep, contented breath as she tried to shake off the odd sensation that played at the far reaches of her thoughts. Nothing would ever keep her from her mate’s arms again.
“I’ve missed you so much. My dreams…I’ve had such terrible dreams. You were not there and I couldn’t find you, no matter how hard I tried,” she breathed quietly as she returned the affection and nuzzled into his protective warmth.
“I’ve never left your side, you know that.”
“Yes, I know, but the dreams…they were so real,” she paused as he smiled lovingly down at her, sending a wave of heat rushing through her body. “But I’m awake now, and you are here.”
“Yes, you are,” he whispered as he slowly lifted and began to move over her.
Heat rose to her cheeks as Daran’s muscular body moved in over hers and he braced himself up on his arms to smile lovingly down into her eyes.
“I’ll never leave you, you can always trust that. You are the reason my heart continues to beat,” he whispered before leaning down to nuzzle the soft fur at the base of her ear.
She closed her eyes and savored the sensation of his warm breath on her neck. How she had missed him…
“I love you so much,” she whispered.
A sudden chill raced down her spine and a throbbing ache began to spread across her left side. She could still feel Daran’s warmth, but it suddenly was not the same and his scent had changed…Sarhea’s eyes slowly reopened…to see nothing but darkness. She still felt the weight of a body atop her, felt the warm breath on her neck, but Daran was no longer moving. Pain shot through her left side, causing her to cringe and bite back a muffled cry. Where was she? What happened? Faint flashes of red and blue registered to her dazed eyes…Energy? Why was it here? Why had the Guardians stolen her light and interrupted her moment with Daran? Why was Daran limp and motionless?
“Daran,” she whispered hoarsely as she tried to move aside. Her distant, echoing voice was foreign to her ears.
Pain burned through her left side at her effort, and this time she could not hold back a cry of agony. Trembling hands sought out the source. She soon found that the soft grass had been replaced with cold, rough stone. As she felt further, she discovered that she was practically encased in it. Panic stabbed at her heart. Where was she? As her senses slowly came back to her, she discovered that only her left arm had any freedom to move. Gingerly, she maneuvered her hand down to the source of the stabbing pain. She felt cold steel, jagged metal and warm, sticky fluid…her eyes widened as the strong scent was distinguished amongst a confusing tangle of smells…blood.
Reactive energy instantly flared, bringing her darkened sight to life. A confusing jumble of images flashed across her mind’s eye, making it hard for her to distinguish dreams from reality. There had been blinding light, shouts of men, strange mechanical beasts…a strong white energy form…Her thoughts froze as the white energy signature took center stage…Raith! Everything came flooding back like a crashing tidal wave. The strange drone had been about to kill him. She’d leapt at him, dragging him into the dark tunnel at the last second before everything had gone dark.
Strength flared through her as she tried to push against the weight that pinned her down, but the searing pain in her side stopped her cold. She once again felt at the source. It was her dagger. The blade was turned on its side with the tip facing straight up. The razor sharp edge rested against her exposed skin and every time she moved, it ever so slightly cut into her side. The tip disappeared into a section of jagged metal. Her hand gingerly explored it further. The metal shape was large, formed and she followed it up to where it met more stone.
That’s when she finally noticed the heartbeat; it was strong and steady, and she also still felt the warm breath through the cloak, at her neck. Her energized eyes flew open as heat energy raced through her body at a sudden realization. It was Raith. His body was limp and unresponsive, but from the strength of his heartbeat and his now familiar energy signature, he was very much alive.
Her panic intensified as several conflicting thoughts clashed in her mind. What would she do if he awakened? Her hidden identity was in danger of being exposed. There was also the fact that if she was injured, there was no telling what damage had been done to him. And finally, she was slowly coming to the conclusion that they were both buried in stone. How they had not been crushed was beyond her, but the possibility of that happening was not gone yet.
Sarhea did her best to analyze their situation before the increasing heavy weight on top of her had a chance to awaken. She was not lying on the ground, but seemed to be leaned back at an angle against the tunnel wall. The drone’s blast must have thrown them back before the tunnel collapsed around them. She felt the rough stones digging into her back, but there was nothing she could do to relieve the pain with Raith’s weight pressed against her. His chest was pressed against hers but he rested more heavily against her right side, which was most likely why she could not move her right arm. It had to have been the energy’s doing that caused the stones to fall in a way that had prevented them from being crushed.
The heartbeat against her chest began to quicken.
“Ugg…” came a weak moan next to her ear as Raith slowly began to regain consciousness.
Sarhea froze as the heat of her reactive energy began to flare anew. She felt him begin to stir, then suddenly, he froze as he became aware of his situation.
Raith abruptly tried to shove himself upright, but his head immediately struck the stones pinning them in place. Pain exploded in her side, and she only barely managed to hold back her cry. But the motion did dislodge the dagger’s tip from his armor, allowing the weapon to drop harmlessly away from her side. His action was quickly abandoned and he dropped heavily back atop her. And froze again. He seemed to realize that he was not alone.
Sarhea turned her head, diverting her gaze. She could feel the shielding cloth still over her muzzle, but it did not hide the energy she knew had to be dancing in her eyes. Raith tried to lift away again, this time with more determination. Jagged metal pressed into her fresh wound, and this time, she could not hold back a yelp of pain.
“Stop…moving!” she hissed through her clenched jaws.
Her voice was strange. It echoed with a hollow, other worldly tone.
Raith froze once more and she could feel his stunned gaze boring into her. She finally peeked around the edge of her hood. Her energized gaze allowed her to see the wide, hollow pupils staring down at her, attesting to the lack of light and his inability to see. At least something was working in her favor.
“You…you speak?” came his hesitant voice.
Sarhea cringed. She had no desire to talk to him, but now that she’d revealed that she could, there would most likely be no avoiding some form of conversation. She quickly decided to appear primitive as he already considered her to be.
“Where are we? What happened?”
“Tunnel…trapped…under stone,” she finally whispered.
She felt his panic rise just before he once again tried to shove himself up.
“Stop! No…moving…metal…in side,” she hissed in pain.
She felt him tense but then he carefully shifted his right arm up next to her shoulder and attempted to brace himself up. Sarhea was grateful for the easing of the near crushing weight against her chest.
“You are injured?”
The words were frustratingly familiar.
“Yes…but will live,” she quietly replied. She could only hope that the strange tone her voice had taken on would continue.
“You…you saved me…again.”
“Do not thank. Still have to get out.”
She felt him hesitate as he fell silent and shifted ever so slightly. An arm landed across her chest, smashing her breast. She cringed through the uncomfortable pain and bit back a rising growl. Heat flashed through her as she fought to contain her reactive energy, and it caused his sightless gaze to fall back to her.
“What are you? Your voice…are you a machine?”
“Do I feel like a machine?” she finally snarled.
The air grew thick with awkward tension as the arm quickly lifted away. Silence fell between them for several minutes, allowing her festering energy to calm once more.
“What is your name?” came his quiet voice, breaking the comforting silence.
Sarhea did her best to hold back her frustration. Raith sighed quietly when she did not respond.
“I only wish to know the name of the creature that has repeated saved my and my team’s life. I always thought you could not understand us. Now that I know otherwise, I’d like to properly offer my gratitude.”
She huffed in frustration. He was talking far too much for her comfort and she wished he’d just shut up already.
“Must get free first. Thank later.”
The silence she longed for finally settled in. She did not know how much time passed, but the longer the quiet persisted, the stronger the desperation in the small cavity became. She didn’t know if it originated from him or her, or both of them. But then, a glimmer of blue violet energy grabbed her attention. It beckoned her to concentrate her vision, to draw upon her reserves. Sarhea hesitated. If she was stuck in this place for too long, she would need those reserves. The prodding became more urgent. She sighed quietly and closed her eyes, allowing the energy to connect with her and her reserves. When her eyes opened again, she witnessed an unusual sight. She saw through Raith’s form, through and beyond their prison of stone. The images were not clear, but she thought she saw the signatures of several souls. They were gathered around what she thought would be the tunnel’s entrance…and they were removing stones.
“What is happening? Your eyes…they seem brighter,” he mumbled before sudden trembling shook his strength and he slipped shakily back onto her.
Sarhea’s eyes widened as worry began to build.
“Why is it so hot…” he muttered weakly, his hot breath once again near her ear.
When she remained tense and did not answer, a defeated sigh slowly left him. “We are not getting out of here, are we,” came a forlorn whisper.
Sarhea scowled into the darkness. It was not like him to lose hope so easily.
“We will get out…soon.”
“Are you able to move stone?”
A frustrated growl finally escaped her lips. “No, but your friends can.”
She felt the spark of hope quickly take root in him. Before she released her reserves, something else was revealed to her. Raith was injured. She could see a strange energy build up on his left leg and from the side where her dagger had pierced his armor. He was losing blood, resulting in the weakness that now overcame him.
“My men…they are looking for me?” came his quiet question.
“Yes…they remove stones…will not be long,” she replied and allowed the energy to build in her free right hand.
A violet glow began to fill the small space behind them, and she was confident it was not enough to risk exposing her. She poured a strong dose of healing life energy into the growing offering. It was foolish and would greatly impact her own healing, but she had to help him, had to keep her promise.
“What are you doing?” he asked and tried to weakly lift off her again.
She did not respond as her hand fell upon the site of his injured side and the energy was released. He quickly slumped back down with a heavy sigh. She soon feared she’d over done it. Raith was drifting off to sleep. Worry, boarding on panic, flared in her, her caution and primitive pretense abandoned.
“Raith,” she whispered into the large ear that now drooped across the opening of her hood. “Raith, you must not sleep-you have to stay awake.”
“You must stay awake. Raith.”
Sarhea desperately tried to shake him with her free arm, but the pain in her side was too much to do any good. The only way she was going to keep him awake was to talk to him. She cast a worried glance around their cramped space. It would be dangerous and she would have to be careful what she revealed. A violet haze was beginning to radiate off her fingers, giving her a quick idea.
“My name is Violet,” she finally whispered into the large ear lying across her face.
The awkward appendage twitched and she felt a weak effort on his part to once again rise off her. The effort failed, but she sensed him to be slightly more alert.
He was silent for several moments. “Violet is a unique name.”
There was another brief pause. “Violet…are you…are you a Dalmarian?”
Dalmarian? Sarhea had never heard the word before.
“Dalmarian? What is a Dalmarian?”
He was more successful in his next attempt to lift himself and now his curious, sightless gaze bore into the darkness of her hood.
“Dalmarians…the living embodiments of the Guardians.”
Sarhea arched a brow as a critical scowl formed on her face. She really needed to find out just what the creatures of this world believed about Guardians.
“I am not a Guardian,” she finally replied.
“Dalmarians are not Guardians.”
She found her frustration returning.
“I am not a Dalmarian.”
“Then what are you? How do you control energy? You are the only creature I have ever seen that brings the stories told to me as a child to life. Those stories called your kind Dalmarians.”
Sarhea sighed heavily. What was she to tell him when even she did not know what she was? A quiet thought came to her.
“I do not know what stories you were told, but I am not Dalmarian. I am Damiri.”
A brief moment of silence fell between them before his voice came again.
“Damiri? I’ve never heard of that species. Are you…are there more of you here?”
A pang of sorrow hit her and she had to glance away. She sensed a similar change in his energy.
“I am sorry. I think I can guess the answer already. I…I am also one of the last of my kind.”
She turned back to him with an arched brow. “There are more of you than there are of my kind. There are children.”
Raith sighed quietly as his strength waned and he once again lowered back down, his head coming to rest on the stone above her right shoulder.
“Yes, there are children. They…” he hesitated with another quiet sigh. “They are the only chance of my species’ survival.”
The genuine heartache in his words touched her, the underlying meaning coming through loud and clear. She was familiar with the pain he felt.
“Your kind, Damiri…Can all of you control energy?” he asked after a minutes long silence.
Sarhea hesitated as she considered her answer. So he thought she controlled energy? She once felt that she did, but here lately, that feeling had disappeared.
“Not all of us. I do not know why I was chosen, though I do not control the energy; it controls me, and mostly bad things have come of it,” she finally replied quietly.
“I…I do not understand. I’ve never seen anything bad. You have saved us with it, you have healed…and given peace. How can you say that is bad?”
Abrupt emotion tried to bring hot tears to her eyes and she had to turn her head away. She was grateful for the cover of darkness.
“You have not seen what I have done with this thing that is my curse. Others have not been so fortunate.”
The emotion intensified as a fresh wave of remorse came flooding forward from the far reaches of her mind. So many in the past had died, had lost their lives because she could not control the curse that festered within her.
“Is that why you hunt the drones?”
Her head jerked back, her wide eyes locked on the side of his face. She felt him slowly lift and soon found herself looking into his sightless eyes.
“I always wondered why you were out here, out here risking your life alone. You could have had our help, our protection, yet you began your quest alone. You are taking out some kind of revenge on them, aren’t you?”
She glanced away again.
“Why are you out here doing this? It makes no sense when your city protects you. Makes no sense when there are young lives that depend on you.”
Raith’s head lowered back to the stone.
“You have overheard the children’s fears. I…I know they worry, but it is my duty to protect every creature within the city’s walls. The children will survive with or without me, but if I cannot find a way to defeat this enemy, no one will survive. The major attacks will come again.”
Silence fell once more. After several minutes, she began to sense a conflict rising within him that puzzled her. It finally came to a climax when he abruptly but gently, lifted up once more. The intensity of his sightless gaze caused her to look away.
“Violet, perhaps you could help us. You know things about these drones that we do not. I’ve watched you kill them, kill the ones that we shoot down. We must be doing something wrong. Help us correct our methods.”
The request took her off guard.
“I…I cannot…” she muttered.
“Why? There would be less risk to us all if we cooperated.”
“It…It is not safe. I only bring more danger to you and your men.”
“I don’t understand. I would be dead right now, most likely long before now, if it had not been for you.”
“If I had not killed drones and left them for you to find, you would probably not be out here like this. I foolishly let my presence be known, and then you started trying to find me. Then you grew overconfident, knowing that I was out here. I may not always be around to pull you out of trouble.”
Raith sighed heavily as he gently lowered himself back to the stone. Several minutes of silence fell before she felt him sigh quietly again.
“Perhaps there is some truth in what you say. I have put both our lives in danger with my sometimes rash decisions. But I must ask-why is your life any less valuable than mine? My father-he believes you to be something very important.”
“Sarsan, the man who raised me. He is the one who taught me the stories of energy and Guardians. He believes you to be our greatest hope in defeating this enemy.”
“Then he is a fool. This evil cannot be defeated. To try is to invite death to wipe you all off the face of this planet.”
She felt his instant revolting shock as he shoved himself up again. Pain flared in her side, but she managed to keep her reaction contained.
“How…how can you say that? If there is no hope, why risk so much? Why continue to save us?”
She sighed quietly. “I know that my life will eventually end and most likely at the hands of these dark things. But I will simply move to the next life, rejoin my ancestors, and be satisfied that I took as many of them out as I could before my end.”
“That does not explain why you continue to save us,” he demanded.
Her agitation began to fester as she clenched her jaw and glared up at him. Had a little boy not made her promise, she would not have to face the question. She soon felt a change in the small cavity’s energy as his white signature began to abruptly strengthen.
“We have the same goal, you and I. We could accomplish so much more together.”
A low growl began to rumble in her throat and it was all she could do to keep it from rising forth in its fullness. The heat also began to rise as the festering of her energy intensified.
“Please Violet. Help us in our war.”
The growl could no longer be contained.
“I have already told you that I cannot!”
“Then we will both keep ending up like this. More of my men will be put in danger because we cannot just sit and wait to be destroyed. We must also make our mark on this enemy that has destroyed so many of our friends and families. We will continue on, with or without your help.”
“You are such a stubborn fool, an arrogant fool with a death wish! You care nothing for those who care for you, depend on you, only care about your misguided duty! I do not know why I even bother!” she snarled as heat burned from her skin.
Raith’s anger flared with near equal intensity and their combined heat made the confined space nearly unbearable.
“I am the fool? You are quite mistake if you think that I…” he snarled in response as he shoved himself up again with renewed strength.
His words were cut short by her sudden cry of pain. Sarhea’s fight and fury fled as fire tore through her side. Raith froze, his own flaring fury quickly subsiding. He carefully lowered himself back down, allowing silence to fall once again. Sarhea could sense his shame, felt her own rising up, as she tried to calm herself and deal with the pain.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered after several minutes of silence. “I do not wish to cause you pain.”
Sarhea sighed quietly and stared at the rocks above her. “Had I not lost my temper, it would not have come to this. This is another reason I cannot help, cannot be trusted to help. I have no control over when the energy takes over. My temper can be…dangerous. I do not wish to harm anyone, but I cannot guarantee that it wouldn’t happen.”
Raith did not respond as he lay with his forehead braced against the stone over her shoulder. Several more minutes passed in silence.
“Perhaps one day, you will learn to master your energy instead of it mastering you. Then maybe, you can find a way to help us, even if indirectly,” he finally muttered beside her.
Sarhea couldn’t help but smirk. He really was such a stubborn fool.
Gravel and dirt from above suddenly slipped down through the rocks and an audible commotion, though distant, found its way to her ears.
“The men…they are near. Your rescue is at hand.”
As soon as the words were spoken, a distant voice called out Raith’s name. Sarhea instantly recognized it as Bud’s. Raith nearly flinched upright again, but caught himself before he caused her any pain.
“Our rescue is at hand. Violet, please let me take you to our hospital, get your wounds properly treated. It is the least I can do to thank you.”
“No!” she called out in alarm before shaking her head and trying to calm herself. “No, I must be left here. I cannot…they must not know that I’m still here. Please, if you truly wish to thank me, you’ll pretend that I was never here, or if you must give an explanation, simply tell them I pushed you in here before the tunnel collapsed. I must remain unknown except to those who already know.”
“How can you ask me to leave you here injured? This goes against every value I hold to!”
She raised a brow and smirked at him. If he only knew the injuries she’d endured on his behalf…
“Raith, do you really think that this is the first time I’ve been injured out here? My current ailments are minor compared to the ones I have received in the past. Your hospitals and medicines cannot help me. In fact, they only delay my healing and make me ill. I must heal on my own, on my own terms. I appreciate the concern, but it is unfounded.”
Sarhea paused and shook her head with a sigh. “I suppose my curse does have its advantages.”
“But…” he started then abruptly flinched.
A rock somewhere out of sight was dislodged and meager light filtered in from some kind of mechanical source. Sarhea quickly diverted her cloaked head away from his view.
“Raith! Raith are you in there?” came Bud’s voice.
“Violet, please don’t ask me to do this.”
“It is all I ask of you. For all the times I have come to your assistance, only this one thing I ask in return. Now answer your friend.”
She felt him hesitate.
“Yeah,” he finally called back. “I’m here!”
“Oh thank the stars, energy, Guardians, or whatever is out there watching over us. We thought we’d lost you! How badly are you injured?”
“I’m…I’m not sure,” he called back hesitantly.
“Don’t worry. We’ll have you out of there soon. Do you think you can move? We may need you to back out. There’s no way to open the cavity all the way without getting some heavy equipment, but we have a stable, sizable hole coming along.”
Before he could answer, the rocks around them abruptly buckled and sent dirt and debris raining down on them. When the dust settled, Sarhea noticed a dark gap in the cavity wall next to her right side had opened to the tunnel beyond. She felt Raith’s head lift, and it lifted higher than it had before.
“I…I think the rocks shifted enough for me to move off you,” he whispered with a hint of muted excitement.
Without waiting for her opinion, he carefully pushed himself up off her body. The effort was not without its pain. Blood rushed into nearly numb limbs and she felt as if thousands of ants were biting her at once. Pain also flared in her side. She had no time to dwell on it. She heard Raith grunt in pain as he struggled to hold his position. She did her best to shuffle out from under him and move over next to the newly revealed exit she would take as soon as he was free. Raith finally lowed back to his stomach beside her. New aches and pains were quickly presenting themselves as blood continued to move freely through her limbs. Her hand quickly fell to the seeping wound in her side.
“Raith! Raith, are you alright!” Bud called in panic.
“Are you alright?” Sarhea heard him ask from beside her, ignoring Bud’s worried question.
“I’ll live,” she groaned quietly. “Stop ignoring your friend.”
Raith huffed in frustration as he slowly, carefully, moved about.
“Yeah, I’m still here. Those stones shifted quite a bit around me, but they moved in a way that I think I’ll be able to manage backing out of there once you get a safe opening,” he called out, answering Bud’s previous question.
“Alright! We’re almost there. I’ll send Nakyla in when we are ready to lead you out!” came the reply.
Sarhea felt Raith’s questioning gaze lock on her as she kept her head turned from him.
“Remember, you must leave me out of this,” she whispered quietly.
“Please, is there any way I can change your mind?”
He sighed heavily in frustration.
“At the very least, then, you must find a way to let me know you made it out safely. I’ll never be able to live with myself until you do.”
She hesitated as she considered the option. “Perhaps I can live with that.”
“Do I have your word?”
Sarhea froze as frustration once again began to fester within. What was it with Leonians and promises?
“Fine, I give you my word,” she finally spat with a huff.
Movement in the energy grabbed her attention. Reaching within to her reserves, she was able to see Nakyla’s signature crawling up through a short tunnel. The Malkaian was just about to reach Raith’s feet. He flinched when he felt the first touch.
“Now get out of here,” she whispered as Nakyla’s voice called out.
Raith hesitated before he finally began pushing himself slowly backward, following Nakyla’s guidance. When his torso was finally out of her way, she took the opportunity to maneuver her lean frame into the darkness of the larger tunnel beyond. She tried to ignore the pain as she turned back to the cavity and quickly spotted her daggers. She reached in to retrieve them as Raith’s head was just about to disappear from sight.
Once she knew he was safely freed, she turned and slowly began making her way back down the dark tunnel.
1 July 2014 at 21:39:08 MDT
Raith has a close encounter of the energetic kind when the drones launch an attempted ambush.
Alrighty-things are about to get pretty serious, and this tale is nearing the end of Part 1-there are plenty of fun events ahead, so stay tuned!
And...Ho-ly cow...this freaking image took me forever! Probably one of my most involved sketches yet-that freaking cloak and hood-oh god the folds drove me nuts until I finally just started scribbling shit everywhere...Haha...and ignore my sad attempt at drawing armor-screw it-if it looks impractical, oh well, I don't care-I half thought to just draw him in his uniform, but that would not have fit with the chapter...And...what the hell...I scribbled in a background-it was kinda cheating, but random scribbles do kinda look like rocks...xD
As always, please feel free to leave comments, question and/or critique- anything to make the story better for future revisions!
CotL and characters © ME