Sarhea knelt emotionless in the secluded dead-end tunnel where so many months ago, she had stashed her most important possessions. Her eyes fell to the small rock ledge under which she knew she would find the old cloth sack. The box that once held her daggers was empty, but the largest box still contained the Amulet of Tayshar…Under normal circumstances, the mere thought of the amulet was enough to send her into a panic, but this evening, after the day she’d had, she felt nothing. She was done trying to fit in on this world, done trying to fit in anywhere, and could not continue on living in seclusion. She was ready to join the energy realm and be reunited with everyone she had once loved…
She was numb as she slowly leaned down and reached under the ledge, her hand finding the edge of the cloth sack. She gently pulled it out and reverently removed the large onyx box containing the amulet. The smooth stone felt inviting to her hands as she gently set the box on the small ledge. Her fingers traced the golden clasp that held it shut. A familiar voice screamed at her from the fringes of her thoughts, screamed at her to resist the temptation to release the clasp…but her strength and will to listen to it were gone. Sarhea closed her eyes as she released the clasp and carefully opened the heavy stone lid. Nothing happened.
Sarhea’s eyes slowly reopened, her gaze settling on the beautiful violet stone set in a necklace of gold and silver. It struck her as odd that she would be so fearful of an object of such beauty…She cautiously eyed the stone. The amulet was not what it seemed. When energized, it was an open portal that allowed the Guardians full access to completely control her. It was also the portal through which she had once communed with the eternal energy of her parents. But oddly enough, for the first time in her life, the Guardians were silent.
All she could muster was a sigh as she hung her head in despair. Even the Guardians had abandoned her. She slowly reached over to close the lid. As she did, two powerful surges of energy suddenly rushed from the stone with a force strong enough to throw her back against the tunnel wall. She cringed in pain before a familiar panic abruptly set in. The two surges of energy, one red and one blue, hovered above the open box as their forms slowly began to take shape.
Sarhea’s eyes widened with fear. No! Not the sentinels! Her hands instinctively grasped for her daggers and yanked them from their sheaths. The blades were quickly crossed defensively before her.
“Stay back!” she snarled in rising terror. “Back!”
The slithering forms seemed to almost bristle in response as their long backs arched defensively and their long narrow ears fell back.
“You will not take me! Never again!”
Their long pointed snouts fell open in soundless laughter. If they wanted to take control of her, there was nothing she could do to stop them. She had but one chance to drive them back into their prison. She reached for the city’s energy around her, drew it in until she felt the intense pressure building within. Her now energized gaze frantically watched the strong lines of violet flowing into her and when she could stand the building heat no longer, she quickly brought the crossed blades over her heart. Her chest felt as if it would explode as she abruptly willed the energy back out of her, forcing it through the eclipsed jewels. The power of the blast threw her back against the stone wall and she was barely able to retain her hold on the daggers. Panic flooded over her as she watched the red and blue energy forms dissipate into a shapeless haze that split up and around the energy wave she sent out. She could almost imagine their screeches of laughter as they shot around her and out into the tunnels beyond.
No! She had hoped to drive them back into the amulet! Sarhea scrambled to her feet and scurried back over to the open box, quickly closing the lid. She ensured the latch was firmly secured before throwing a frantic glance back in the direction the sentinels had fled. They may have escaped, but she’d severed their connection with the Guardians. The only way they could reconnect with their masters was to take control of her and force her to open the box.
That would not be happening. Sarhea quickly shoved the stone box back into the sack and pushed it back under the ledge before shoving herself to her feet. She could sense the creatures’ nearby presence as they waited to ensnare her. Every nerve was tense as she cautiously peered out into the corridor, but saw no sign of them. No, she would never allow them to take her, would never again become their pawn. There was only one way to prevent it…
Sarhea broke into a dead run and headed for the main vent shaft she knew would take her out of the city. She felt a strong presence closing in on her, but she did not dare pause to look back. She had to get out, get away from the innocent souls who thought they were safe…she’d really screwed up this time…no one was safe with her around.
Red and blue festering energy suddenly flared in the tunnel before her, but she was ready. She crossed the daggers over her heart as she ran and once again sent out a powerful blast. She was prepared for it this time and barely managed to remain on her feet, but the shapeless beasts were driven out of her path. She did not stop. Sareha burst out into the expansive shaft and began to climb. It was not long before she was racing down the familiar path along the mountain’s exterior. There was no time for stealth. If the sentinels wanted her, they would have to find her before the drones did…
To say it had been a bad day was an extreme understatement. Raith felt drained, empty, and found himself wishing he could just fade into the shadows and disappear. He’d royally screwed up this time. He never should have withheld the fact that he’d been in contact with the creature…with Sarhea…He’d felt such a strong connection with her…with a lie, before he knew it was her…He was such a fool! The truth had been lying out before him the entire time, but he’d been blinded…Blinded by what? The energy, the strange peace, the fact that she’d saved him?
A low growl began to rumble in his throat. What the hell was he supposed to do now? The fury that raged within him towards her deception and omission of vital intel nearly consumed him, nearly made him want to take a task force out and hunt her down. The only reason he didn’t was that minute part of him, that small voice in the background that kept reminding him of Sarsan’s words…It must be protected at all costs…Well, he’d done his part-he’d not killed as he’d seriously considered doing. He’d let her go, but he was done with her…
Raith bristled as he leaned against the stone railing of the secluded southern midpoint sentry station. His poor decisions on this matter had caused a huge festering rift within his team. He’d betrayed their trust by not telling them, and feelings were sour. He’d managed to somewhat salvage his relationships with everyone but Nakyla. The fiercely loyal Malkaian did not take the stab of betrayal very well at all. Sarhea had been more a friend to her than he’d realized, and she was holding him responsible for the pain she felt. Bud had tried to reassure him that Nakyla would eventually get over it, but the damage was already done…
A heavy sigh slowly escaped into the cool night air. He’d relieved the guard that normally manned this post nearly an hour ago. Sentry duty was something he normally considered not worth his time, but he’d needed a change of scenery, a quiet place away from the chaos to try and refocus his thoughts. A gentle breeze drifted up over the railing and swirled around him before flowing into the dark corridor beyond. The fur on the back of his neck abruptly rose, causing him to pause, his senses becoming alert. His large ears twitched at every sound, searching for the source of the unease he suddenly felt. Another breeze swirled around him, bringing with it a strong, eerily familiar sensation. Every strand of fur felt as if it was suddenly standing on end and charged with electricity.
Raith didn’t dare move as an urgent alarm began building with every beat of his quickening pulse. Something was very wrong. He began reaching for the weapon at his side. A forceful blow suddenly blindsided him and nearly knocked him from his feet. Raith stumbled toward the railing, desperately trying to regain his footing and turn to face the nearly overwhelming presence he felt surrounding him. He gasped as he caught the edge of the stone across his chest, but ignored the pain as he flipped to his back. There was nothing there.
Raith’s eyes widened as he struggled to collect himself. What the hell? His critical gaze darted about, searching for the source of the warning that raged within. The corridor leading back into the city was empty, and as he spun about searching the surrounding space round the sentry post, nothing appeared unusual.
But a strong, overbearing presence remained.
“Who’s there?” he called as he once again reached for his weapon. “Show yourself!”
Blue light erupted from everywhere at once, causing his hands to quickly rise up to shield his face. It was her! She was attacking him! Raith was blinded by the light as he struggled to release his gun from its holster. When he finally managed the task and raised the weapon to fire, the light faded and he found himself alone once again. What game was she playing now?
“Where are you?! Show yourself, Sarhea! We end this now!” he called out angrily as he turned in place, searching for his adversary.
An odd sight immediately grabbed his attention. Raith’s eyes widened as what looked like blue smoke wisped up and over the stone railing and began pooling in the open sentry station. He backed cautiously toward the corridor behind him as it grew thicker and more defined. Fear rose out of nowhere and stabbed at his heart; something was very familiar about this. He knew he’d seen something similar, perhaps in his dreams, very long ago. The anomaly had thickened to the point that now, it appeared to be taking on a shape. He thought for sure he had to be hallucinating when before long, the sleek form of a quadruped serpent stood before him.
Raith’s jaw dropped as an image flashed through his thoughts. Yes, he’d definitely seen this before, seen it in his nightmares as a young child, and the old fear he’d long forgotten came flooding back. Raith lurched back but was stopped by the corner of the corridor entrance. The fluid blue apparition watched him with glowing blue orbs and for a moment, he felt as if it were beckoning him forward. He took a couple sideways steps, his back brushing the stone wall, as he tried to move deeper into the corridor and away from the strange beast.
The air around him became charged with an unusual energy as the urgent call strengthened, became demanding…When he tried to retreat further, blue tendrils of energetic fog broke forth from the creature and snaked in after him. Raith recoiled sharply and turned to run, but before he made it even a few steps, he felt a force ensnare his arms and legs. It forcefully turned him back around and practically drug him back before the creature. Sudden peace abruptly washed over him, driving away all traces of his fear. He quit struggling and was released by the tendrils that held him.
“Who…what are you?” he whispered with a hesitant voice. “What do you want?”
The creature quickly flowed forward until it was nearly eye to eye with him. He felt no fear, only a sense of urgency. Another image flashed before him, an odd vision that left him standing in the Temple of Light. His mind’s eye was drawn to the carving behind the eternal flames, to the figures and symbols that had never made sense to him. He felt himself asking what he was supposed to see…His gaze was drawn to the upper portion of the image, to where the lines that flowed from the central figure raised into the depicted heavens. On either side of where the flow entered the heavens sat the figures of two serpents, standing guard.
The vision faded and he was once again surrounded by the darkness of night and the strange serpent made of blue fog.
“You…you are on the carving! Are you a Guardian?”
A quiet confirmation prodded at the fringes of his mind, but at the same time, there was a hint of refusal. No, not a Guardian, but definitely associated with them! The urgency rose in him again, this time much stronger.
“I…I don’t understand. What do you want with me?” he asked hesitantly. He was still not quite sure he wasn’t hallucinating.
The creature’s form dissipated and began flowing back over the stone railing. Raith quickly stepped back out into the night and glanced over the edge. The bulk of the fog remained on the rocky mountainside just below the sentry post, but a portion of it split off and began streaking down the mountain. He quickly retrieved the pair of binoculars mounted to the railing and tried to pick up the luminescent shape that had left. It took several moments, but finally, he spotted it joining with anther glowing form, this one red. His eyes widened; it was the other serpent. He couldn’t be hallucinating.
Something was moving ahead of them. He dialed up the magnification and tried to focus on the rapidly moving object in the shadows that was nearing the city’s southern shield. His pulse quickened as the intensity of the urgency being pressed upon him further increased. The magnification was dialed up to its highest setting and finally gave him the clearest glimpse of the unknown object he was going to get.
Flowing dark fabric whipped around a figure that appeared to be running for its life. A cloaked head turned to look back at the serpents that pursued it. He thought he saw a hint of blue glow from the dark opening, but it was a sharp metallic flash that really caught his attention. Daggers; there were a pair of daggers in its hands.
Raith’s gaze hardened. It was Sarhea. What the hell was she doing and why were those things after her? The question caused him to hesitate. If they were associated with the Guardians, then they had to know she was misusing their energy. Perhaps he would not have to worry about her after all; the Guardians could take care of their little problem themselves.
The urgency returned with a vengeance, demanding his attention. Raith almost felt as if he were being pulled forward again as he raised the binoculars and focused on the fleeing woman. What were they trying to make him see? Then it hit him; a thought from out of nowhere screamed in his mind. They were not simply chasing her; they were trying to stop her.
A sudden rush of multiple visions began streaming through his head, causing him close his eyes and cringe under the pressure. He saw from what seemed the creature’s viewpoint all the times Sarhea had saved him and his team, the encounter in the store room, what she had done for Lyle. Sarsan’s voice joined in the rush of madness…”it must be protected at all costs…”
The pain vanished as quickly as it came upon him. Raith’s eyes widened as his mouth fell open. That fool was about to do something crazy, something those creatures of the Guardians were desperate to prevent. The portion of fog that remained behind once again flowed up and into his face. He saw a hint of the blue serpent’s glowing eyes…its demanding blue eyes. It demanded his assistance.
“What can I do?” he spat. “She is down there, I am up here. Why can’t you just grab her like you did me?”
A flare of heat and anger flashed over him as pressure came around his neck and shoved him back against the stone wall. It felt eerily familiar, but this time, there was no Sarhea to fume at. This thing meant business and was far more dangerous than that nuisance of a woman. He felt the beast’s fury as its face once again took shape before him.
You will help us…go…NOW…
The thought rang in his head, overwhelming every other thought or fear he had. It was as if the creature had taken over his body as he abruptly turned and raced down the corridor.
Raith was having a hard time containing his conflicted thoughts as he tried to keep control of the speeding glider. He only vaguely remembered arriving in the glider bay and rushing over to the vehicle nearest to the exit. How had the thing started without the key? How had he left the bay undetected? It had to be the creature’s doing, that creature that had practically taken him over. Only now that he was behind the contols of the speeding contraption had its hold on him been released.
He laid flat on his stomach in the small encased hover vehicle that was scarcely big enough to hold him. The machine had originally been built for speed maneuvering and had been used in canyon racing before the attacks. Now they were sparingly used for short distance scouting missions but were never taken out at night. It was for good reason. The damn things moved so swiftly and just barely above the rocky surface. One wrong move and one would be turned into meat pie in the blink of an eye. In the darkness, moving at such speeds made it nearly impossible to see obstructions until it was almost too late.
Raith watched the poorly equipped radar display as he tried to make sense of why he was even doing this. He was back in control of his body, yet he continued on. He wanted nothing to do with Sarhea. She had single handedly nearly ruined everything he had toiled so hard to build. She was dangerous, a loose cannon. But she had saved his life…multiple time…She’d done it even knowing that he’d never trusted or liked her much. She’d claimed she’d done it all for Finny. Perhaps, but she never had to give him those gifts of healing. She could have let him suffer through any pain out of spite. And she definitely could have seriously injured him when he’d taunted and prodded her to fight or even afterwards when he’d confronted her…
Raith’s eyes widened as a large cluster of rocks appeared before him. He jerked the controls sharply to the right, sending the glider skittering crazily up on its right edge. His world tilted nearly out of control for a brief second before the machine slowed enough for him to regain control. He brought it to a stop on a short hill overlooking the ravine. His heart pounded in his chest and his entire body trembled uncontrollably. What the hell was he doing, other than trying to get himself killed? He braced his forehead against a trembling palm. He had no idea where Sarhea was and he’d long lost sight of the energy creatures. Then there was the fact that he was a sitting target. If drones were to appear, he’d be defenseless-the gliders had no weapons.
A familiar demanding prod caused his head to jerk up off his hand right before his sight faded into another bizarre vision. It was dark, and blinding energy blasts were flashing all around. He felt stabbing pain in his side, tasted the metallic tinge of blood. A drone flashed before his eyes, causing him to recoil, but he could not escape. Brown cloth whipped about before him and he saw a flash of daggers…It was Sarhea…he was seeing Sarhea as she struggled to fight a losing battle against drones!
The vision faded, but the sensations, the hint of blood and pain remained. This was happing right now, and somehow, it was as if he was seeing it all through the serpents’ eyes. He felt her panic, her disorientation, her hopelessness…And then another realization hit him. She’d planned this, had fled the Guardians’ agents in an apparent attempt to end her life.
Raith’s near frantic gaze scanned the world outside the glider’s glass cockpit. That battle had involved too much energy fire for him not to be able to see it. A strong jolt struck him in his left side, drawing his gaze to the left. There! A brief flash of what could have been drone fire caught his attention several miles down the ravine to the east. According the basic plot on the radar screen, it couldn’t have been far from where she’d saved him in the tunnels. The area now appeared calm and he felt the prodding energy assuring him the area was clear. But the panic was still there…it was not his and it was not Sarhea’s…it was theirs…
Raith quickly laid back down to the controls and set the machine into motion. When he arrived at the scene several minutes later, he was greeted with a landscape scarred by energy fire and the lifeless hulls of downed drones. He felt it safe to finally turn on the glider’s spotlight. He had no idea how much life was left in the vehicle’s batteries, but there was no time to dwell on that. In the added light, he counted at least four downed drones. Raith quickly popped the glider’s glass canopy open and climbed out of the machine. This had been a suicide mission; it appeared as if all the drones had attacked at once. But he saw no trace of Sarhea or the serpents.
“Where? Where are you?” he whispered frantically as he searched the nearest drones.
A blue tendril snaked up and over the ravine’s rim, beckoning him forward. His eyes widened as he lunged forward. The creature’s evidence disappeared back over the side as he skidded to a stop and dropped to his knees at the edge. There, on a ledge roughly ten feet down, lay the broken, bloodied body of Sarhea.
“My god…” he rasped as he frantically searched for a way down to her. Red haze illuminated a narrow, rocky path a short distance away. He wasted no time maneuvering over to and down the treacherous path to where Sarhea lay in a bleeding heap. As he knelt at her side, he quickly noticed the odd angle of her left arm, and it was bleeding profusely. He carefully rolled her onto her back.
“Sarhea! Sarhea, can you hear me?”
She was limp and unresponsive, but had a weak pulse and appeared to be breathing.
“Dammit!” he hissed as he reached down to rip the cloak sleeve off the bleeding arm.
He was not prepared for the magnitude of the revealed bleeding gash. It appeared to start on her upper arm and ran to her elbow, and he thought he could see bone. There was nothing he could do but attempt to stop the bleeding. He ripped a strip off the ruined cloak and quickly tied a tourniquet above the start of the gash. A wider piece was used to gently, but tightly, wrap around the rest of the wound. Several other cuts and scrapes oozed blood along her left side and he felt pretty confident that she probably had a few broken ribs.
He had to get her back to the city, get her back to…Wait, he couldn’t take her to Mouser. But he had to-she was severely injured! Not Mouser…Aleena! Aleena had to have dealt with Sarhea’s injuries before. Yes, that’s what he would do. Now that was left to do was get her back up to the glider…That was going to be one hell of a task to accomplish without further injuring her or himself, but he had no choice. As gently as possible, he gathered the limp woman into his arms.
It took longer than he would have liked, but he finally managed to make it back up without incident. Before he could make it back to the glider, he felt her heart begin to race, her breath quicken. Somehow, he was able to sense the cause, sense the searing pain exploding through her side. He had to lay her back down before the sensation overwhelmed him. Her unconscious grimace confirmed she was in terrible pain. Raith’s frantic gaze lifted as he searched for the serpents.
“Help her!” he called. “She needs your help!”
The blue serpent appeared before him and it beckoned him to follow.
“I can’t just leave her here! Help her!”
The prodding call came more urgently, more insistently. Raith growled in frustration as he shoved himself to his feet and jogged after the festering creature. It led him to one of the downed drones and almost immediately, he spotted a luminescent blue reflection; it was one of her daggers. Take it…He felt as the thought forcefully entered his mind but as soon as he took hold of the hilt, searing pain shot through his arm.
“I can’t-I can’t hold onto it!” he yelped after his hand had recoiled.
A blue tendril abruptly wove itself around his arm and for a brief moment, his hand appeared to glow like Sarhea’s had. Try again…Raith timidly reached down, but this time there was no pain. He quickly yanked it free of the mechanical beast and turned to find the other. He spotted the red serpent near a cluster of rock. He wasted no time in retrieving the second dagger from amongst them, the thought of potential pain never crossing his mind. He ran back to Sarhea’s side, looked at the daggers in his hands, and then looked at the serpents that both watched him expectantly.
“What am I supposed to do with this? She needs your help, not her daggers!” he snapped angrily as desperation began to kick in. Too much time had been wasted already.
Cross them…cross the stones….
The way the creatures were able to invade his thoughts was highly disturbing, but he had no choice but to listen. He was nervous as he began to bring the weapons together. The last time he’d seen this happen, it left him messed up for a week. An eerie violet glow reflected back at him once the task was done, and almost immediately, heat and pressure began to course through him. It quickly grew in intensity until blinding white light flooded his vision. He felt a strong jolt that threw him back, felt weightlessness…He then made solid contact with the cold hard ground.
The wind rushed from his lungs and pain flared through his back and side. What the hell just happened? He shakily pushed himself to his feet and waited for his blurred vision to clear. When it did, he discovered he’d been thrown several yards from where he’d been. The creatures were prodding him again, but not back toward Sarhea-they prodded him to the glider.
Raith was done questioning them-they obviously knew what they were doing. He ran to the glider and suddenly realized he had no clue as to how he was going to get the injured Sarhea back to the city-the glider was barely big enough for him. Red fog festered up from the contraption’s belly, seeped up through the gaps between the sidewall and the padded platform he had to lay on. Surely…Raith quickly grasped at the padded section and lifted it-hope quickly surged through him. He’d never seen a glider put together like this; the padded platform had been supported only by thick nylon straps that spanned the machine’s width. The belly was hollow and empty.
He quickly released the straps and ran back to where Sarhea laid. No time was wasted as he scooped her up, carried her to the glider, and carefully laid her into the belly of the machine. The straps were replaced, along with the padded platform. The creatures prodded him back to retrieve the daggers, which he quickly shoved into his belt, and soon, he was finally on his way back to Refuge City.
Raith’s pulse raced as the lights of the city finally came into view. He had no idea how the glider had lasted as long as it had on limited battery, and he hoped there was enough energy left to make a call. He punched Aleena’s code into the glider’s communication system.
“Come on, Aleena, answer your damn sat-com!” he growled after attempting to make contact for nearly a minute.
“Hello…Aleena speaking,” came a very quiet, groggy voice.
“Aleena! Aleena, wake up. It’s Raith! Aleena!”
“Ra-Raith? What time…why are you calling me in the middle of the night?” came the demanding response after a brief silence.
“Aleena, listen to me. I need you to meet me in the glider bays in ten…yes, ten minutes with all the medical supplies you can get your hands on! Aleena, do you understand me?”
“Raith, you’re not making any sense! Are you injured?”
“Not me-Sarhea! Sarhea’s…”
“What?” There was a quick hesitation that made him think he’d lost the connection. “What…how…How bad? What are her injuries?” she finally continued.
“Deep laceration to her left arm-entire upper arm and down to the bone. I’ve seen other cuts and I have a good feeling several bones are broken!” he reported quickly.
Another brief silence fell over the airways. “I’ll see you there in ten,” came the curt reply and the connection went dead.
Raith could still sense Sarhea’s heartbeat beneath him and knew she was safe for the moment. He only hoped they would make it back to the glider bays undetected. He had not seen either of the serpents since beginning the harrowing trip back, but thankfully, that was almost over.
He could see the entrance to the glider bay when the power finally began to wane, and suddenly, his forward motion stopped and the craft settled a little too firmly to the ground. A snarl of frustration spewed forth as he popped the canopy and quickly retrieved his wounded cargo. He would have to run the rest of the way.
Raith was completely out of breath by the time he made it to his destination. His body trembled in exertion and he didn’t know how much longer he was going to be able to carry Sarhea’s weight. He had to find Aleena. The large room full of sleek gliders appeared unoccupied and quiet.
“Aleena? Aleena are you here?” he called as he struggled into the room.
A noise from the back drew his attention and he noticed light erupt from a dark corner. Aleena emerged from one of the back storage offices and rushed forward to meet him.
“Raith! There you are! It’s been a little longer than ten minutes-I was worried and couldn’t reach you!”
Raith felt as if he would stumble at any second. “Sorry. My glider died and I had to finish the trip on foot.”
“Long story. First, where am I taking her? I’ve got to put her down soon or I’m going to drop her.”
Aleena’s eyes widened. “Over here, and hurry. I’ve set up a makeshift clean room in the office.”
Raith pushed himself to make the last few feet as Aleena guided him into the room. He headed immediately to the table she’d prepared and laid Sarhea as gently as possible on its surface. Once he was free of her weight, he sank to his knees and began to cough.
He felt Aleena’s hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be ok. Tend to Sarhea,” he managed to reply between coughs and heaving breaths.
He didn’t understand his extreme fatigue. He’d run much longer distances with heavier burdens during training. Aleena was digging through her supplies above and he could sense her nervousness. He sucked in several deep breaths before pushing himself back up on shaky legs.
“How can I help?” he asked quietly as he moved in next to her.
“You can help me get this cloak off of her. Think you can manage that?” she quickly replied, her voice strained with the worry he saw burning in her eyes.
Raith simply nodded as Aleena turned to retrieve a pair of scissors. He was amazed at how quickly she had the battered and bloodied garment cut off their injured patient. He’d only had to briefly lift one side to take the weight off. Aleena checked Sarhea’s vitals and carefully prodded around on her abdomen before straightening with a sigh. Her expression was not nearly as dire.
“Well, she’s not dying at least, though this is still fairly critical,” she muttered as she picked up several items. “Hold these bandages and this bottle of saline rinse and be ready with them when I ask. I have no idea what we will be getting into here,” she muttered as she glanced to the limp Sarhea. “I never do until she shows up bleeding.”
“Seems you do this a lot.”
She hesitated and shot him an incredulous glare as he slowly took the items she held.
“Unfortunately, it has become more common than I would like. I’m not officially trained in some of the things I’ve had to do, but I can’t take her to Mouser. The last thing I want is to see her ending up his next lab rat.” She paused before glancing away nervously. “No offense,” she added quietly.
Raith only shook his head. How could he possibly take offense? If Mouser had not done what he did, he would not be alive today. He was grateful he’d been the doctor’s lab rat, but he did understand what Aleena was saying. Mouser could be quite obsessive and the curious old man was already fascinated about the mysterious creature with unusual blood.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Aleena continued almost absently as she laid out several more items. “Mouser has been like a second father to me. Most every useful skill I know, I learned from him. He just would not understand. You cannot treat Sarhea with traditional medicines and antibiotics. They…”
“They make her sick?” Raith finished for her with an arched brow.
Aleena eyed him critically as she moved to Sarhea’s injured arm.
“Yes,” she finally replied and hesitated as she warily eyed the blood soaked bandage. “Be ready with those bandages if I need them. The most critical first step in treating Sarhea is stopping any bleeding. She can handle most of the rest on her own.”
“What-What does that mean?”
Aleena started carefully cutting away the makeshift wrappings he’d tied round her arm.
“Ah, so you don’t know all her talents? You’ll have to ask her about it when she wakes next, as I still don’t understand, but she can heal herself.”
Raith’s eyes widened in shock. Heal herself?
“Oh shit…You weren’t kidding. This is really nasty. What the hell happened?” Aleena asked as she removed the soiled cloth. “Give me the gauze pads and be ready with more when I cut the tourniquet,” she added before he could reply.
Raith shook his head as he handed her the requested supplies. “I came upon her in the middle of four drones. She managed to take them all out before I got there, but it came at a heavy cost. I swear it almost appeared…”
He hesitated. Perhaps it was unwise to mention the possible suicide mission. It would most likely lead into what caused her to take such drastic measures, which would spiral into what had taken place during their morning encounter. A pang of guilt stabbed at his heart; this was most likely partially his fault.
Aleena’s breath caught as she cut the bloody tourniquet loose. Both of them remained tense as she carefully watched the wound. Only a small amount of blood welled at the top edge, which she quickly covered with the gauze.
“It seems the bleeding has mostly stopped. That’s good,” she muttered as she continued to examine the wound. “This is bad, Raith, but I don’t see bone. I think you over exaggerated a bit.”
Raith scowled as he quickly leaned over to take a look. Aleena was right. The gaping gash didn’t appear to be even an inch deep. How was that possible? He was certain it had been deeper and he was quite positive he’d seen the hint of white bone.
“Can…can she heal herself this quickly? I swear that gash was deeper.”
Aleena eyed him curiously and motioned for him to hand her the saline rinse. “Perhaps in the beginning, but the more she allowed herself to get involved, the more of her energy she gave away to the injured, the slower her own healing progressed. This would have been healed without a scar in a matter of days, a week at most, in the beginning. Now, with the way things have been going, it will most likely be closer to two weeks before she’s on her feet again, especially if anything’s broken.”
She carefully squeezed the bottle of rinse into the wound and began flushing out all the blood and debris. Both kept a close watch on Sarhea for any adverse reaction.
“Hand me that other bottle of rinse and the suture kit from my bag over there. I need to get this stitched shut,” Aleena called out as she worked.
Raith silently complied and brought her what she requested, and then stepped back to watch. He marveled at how well Aleena was able to handle the situation and stay as calm as she was. She really was good at her job. As he continued to watch, fighting the overwhelming fatigue the entire time, a sudden thought struck him. He remembered Sarhea’s daggers and what he’d been led to do. He recalled an odd sensation as the blast threw him back, almost as if something had left him. Had the daggers drawn on his strength to help her? It suddenly made sense considering his unusual fatigue and how much better Sarhea looked compared to when he’d originally found her. He glanced down at the blades still shoved in his belt. What the hell had he gotten himself into?
“Raith, I need bandages,” Aleena called.
He shook the thoughts away as he retrieved the bandages he’d set down earlier and took them to her. Aleena shot him a curious glance as she began to wrap her handiwork.
“Everything ok over there? You’re suddenly quite distant.”
“Just thinking. That’s all you do? Stitch it and wrap it?”
“Yeah. I know Mouser tends to do so much more, and the first time I had to do this, I thought for sure she’d be infected the next day. But it always heals without further assistance,” she replied absently as she turned to examine the other smaller wounds in Sarhea’s side.
Raith suddenly realized Sarhea was wearing Malkaian huntress clothing. The outfit was ruined, but it left him curious.
“I wonder where she got those clothes? Malkaians rarely make anything for any but their own.”
“Nakyla gave them to her, back when they were still friends,” Aleena grumbled.
“Hmm,” he mumbled in frustration.
Aleena paused from her work to glance up at him with a hint of reassurance. “Don’t worry. Nakyla will come around, especially if you have allowed Sarhea her request.”
Aleena’s optimism faded to a scowl when he could only stare at her blankly.
“She did make a request in exchange for her information this morning, didn’t she?”
Raith didn’t know how to respond, but he immediately figured what Sarhea had requested must not have been her original plan. He tried to brush off the nervousness that attempted to rise and sighed quietly.
“She asked only that you be allowed to return to your work. I have taken care of that issue and you should have been notified already.”
Aleena’s eyes widened as she set her supplies down. “What? That’s all she requested?”
“I get the impression that’s not what was planned,” he grumbled and took a step back.
Aleena was quiet as she stood in pensive thought. Her gaze abruptly grew accusing.
“What did you say to her behind closed doors? I’d better not find out she’s in this condition because of something you said to her,” Aleena snapped bitterly and eyed him critically. “She was supposed to request that she not have to stay in complete isolation. It was severely affecting her mentally. A mentally troubled Sarhea is much more dangerous than a mentally stable Sarhea.” Aleena paused again with a fierce scowl. “And really Raith-was she really such a terrible threat, saving your asses as often as she did, for you to so callously sentence her to seclusion?”
Raith could only glare at her as he bristled in silence. Now was not the time or place for this discussion. He finally sighed heavily and glanced away before his frustration got the better of him. So that’s what Sarhea had wanted…The real question now was if he would have granted her request.
“Look, there have been many mistakes made on both sides of this issue over the last several weeks. Now is not the time to discuss them. The main priority is getting that one patched up and back on her feet,” he finally growled in response.
Aleena bristled as she turned back to her task. “I find it odd how you suddenly seem to care,” she grumbled, nearly growled, as she worked.
Before he could respond, she turned back to him. “Hand me that scanner-there next to my bag.”
Raith grumbled in frustration under his breath and retrieved the equipment and watched as Aleena slowly swept the machine over Sarhea’s limp body before setting it back down.
“Well, she has a hairline fracture above her wrist and three cracked ribs. Nothing is life threatening, but she will be sore when she wakes.”
Her testy tone threatened to stoke his anger, but he managed to keep his emotions in check. Aleena took the scanner back to her bag and returned with more bandages, a splint, and a clean cloak. He raised a brow at the sight of the garment.
“Does she have a never ending supply of those things?”
Aleena kept her gaze diverted and he could sense her continued agitation. “Just help me get it on her. Then grab one out of the bag for yourself.”
Raith’s eyes widened in question and he glared at her until she finally looked up from splinting Sarhea’s arm.
“What? Someone has to help me get her back to my place.”
“Your place? You don’t know where she lives?”
Aleena hesitated. “No. Sarhea still has plenty more secrets, but I do not ask. If and when she wants to tell me, it will be of her own choice with no pressure. Now help me already so we can get this behind us. Doctoring her here is making me nervous.”
He sighed as he moved over to help Aleena slip the clean garment over Sarhea’s head. Aleena stepped over to retrieve her bag and pulled two more cloaks from its depths. He glared at it in distaste when she handed him one.
“What, you too good for cloaks, Commander?” she asked with a sneer as she pulled hers over her head.
“Just not my choice of attire. I have no idea how she can fight like she does in these awkward baggy things,” he grumbled.
“Well for now, they’ll serve their intended purpose of making us not worthy of notice. You got enough energy to make it back to my apartment?”
Raith nodded silently as he pulled the cloak over his head. It smelled like old dust. “I’ll manage.”
“Alright then. I’ll scrape my things together and we will be out of here.”
He nodded again as he carefully moved to scoop Sarhea into his arms. He headed for the door as Aleena collected the soiled drop cloth and shoved it in a separate sack. In no time, the room looked as if they’d never been there. She moved around him and opened the door, pausing to pull the hood up over his head. He had to lay his ears back to accommodate the awkward thing.
“Remember, we are trying to stay unnoticed,” she whispered when she noticed his fierce scowl.
Without further word, they headed out across the glider bay. It felt like eternity had passed before they finally arrived at Aleena’s door. Raith felt ready to drop Sarhea again was grateful Aleena made quick work of opening the door and turning on the lights.
“Put her on the sofa. I suppose that’s her usual place in these situations,” she muttered as she set her bags down and headed for the back room.
Raith turned to the sofa and slowly lowered Sarhea to its surface. For the first time since this whole ordeal began, he felt as if everything would turn out alright. Aleena returned with a pillow and blanket as he stood. Her gaze was weary as she finished ensuring Sarhea’s comfort and stood.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked and headed to her kitchen after a brief pause.
Raith was exhausted and was ready to leave, but now that he considered it, he didn’t want to leave Aleena angry with him. She’d barely said a word the entire trip from the lower levels and he could still sense her festering resentment.
“Sure. Water would be nice. Thank you,” he replied quietly and sat in a nearby chair at the small table.
Aleena fumbled through the cabinets before finding a spare cup then brought them both to the table full of fresh water. He nodded in gratitude as he took a sip. Now that he was still, the fatigue was quickly catching up with him and everything was beginning to hurt.
“When’s the last time you slept, Raith? You look like hell,” she finally muttered, breaking the tense silence.
Raith shot her a wiry grin before taking another deep gulp of water. “I sleep when they allow me to. Guess it’s been…um…”
“That’s what I thought. You’re not going to be any good to anyone in your condition. You need to sleep.”
Raith sighed quietly as he looked at the half empty cup. He didn’t need to hear a lecture; he received enough of them from Mouser, Sarsan and his team.
“Thank you for answering my call earlier. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise,” he finally muttered, changing the subject.
Aleena only sighed in return. “I’m just glad you found her. I can’t imagine what she was thinking while in the state of mind she was in. Though I’m curious-What were you doing out tonight in a glider? Did you have a death wish as well?”
Raith hesitated. How much did he really want to tell her? She’d most likely think he was delusional and send him on his way with some nice sedatives. But he needed to talk about it, get it off his mind.
“How much of this energy stuff do you believe?” he finally asked.
She glanced at him in skepticism as she took a sip of her water. “I’m not really sure. I can’t deny its existence, not with all the things that Sarhea can do, but all the stuff she says…It’s just so…illogical. What about you?”
Raith closed his eyes and rested his forehead against his hand. “I grew up with Sarsan, remember?”
Aleena arched a brow and shot him a stern glance. He should have known he wouldn’t get away with that one.
“I’m not sure either, to be honest. Over the years, I’ve seen some things I just can’t explain any other way. Tonight…I thought I saw…” he hesitated and desperately tried to figure out how to describe what he saw.
“What? Don’t you dare stop now.”
He scowled fiercely at the tabletop. There was no other way to say it. “I thought I saw a giant blue serpent with legs. It practically drug me over to the edge of a sentry post and made sure I saw Sarhea running like a crazed fool off into the night. It demanded that I follow her.”
He carefully raised his eyes to meet her scowling gaze.
“A blue serpent with legs? Ok, I’m going to have to tell Mouser to order you to rest.”
“Aleena, I really don’t know what I saw. All I know is that I was on watch, then I was streaking off into the night in a glider, chasing after a woman who appeared to be on a suicide mission. I don’t know if I was hallucinating creatures made of energy or what, but they led me to her. Without them, I’d never found her.”
“Them? There was more than one?”
Raith hesitated and shot her a wide-eyed glare. There was a hint of mischief in her eyes. Now she was just toying with him, but there was nothing he could do but play along.
“Yes, there were two. One blue and one red.”
Aleena burst into quiet giggles. “Ok, Raith. Please, go get some sleep.”
He forced a weak smile. “Yes doctor. But first, you can have your oldster cloak back,” he quipped as he stood and pulled it over his head.
Her smile quickly faded. “You might want to hang onto it. You’re going to need a new uniform.”
Raith’s eyes widened as he glanced down at his blood stained jacket. Great…He grumbled as he pulled the cloak back over his head.
“Good night, Raith. And thank you for finding her and bringing her back, no matter what circumstances caused this. For once, you probably saved her life. I can let you know when she wakes, if you would like. Or…” Aleena hesitated with a scowl. “I guess I’m not sure what her status is at the moment.”
Raith hesitated. He’d not considered the situation that far.
“Yes, please let me know when she’s awake. I do need to speak with her.” He paused when she shot him a stern scowl. “Don’t give me that look. I’m not looking to upset her.”
Aleena huffed softly. “Alright then. I’ll hold you to that.”
“Good night, Aleena,” he said quietly as he walked to the door. He cast one last glace back at her and Sarhea before opening the door and stepping out into the quiet corridor beyond.
28 July 2014 at 16:13:59 MDT
Raith is forced to seriously evaluate his stance on Sarhea when a mysterious force demands his attention and assistance with her apparent suicide run...
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