Taki
I build huge worlds. Please come get lost in them.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 9- Xlack vs Spycykle

Xlack’s focus was reduced to rapid steps and swinging Ier, the weapons’ constant collisions sounding like distant thunder and moaning wind. He had barely dodged Spycykle’s first swing. Exhaustion limited Xlack’s movements and made him slow; the envy seeping from the Defender only added to it, inciting dizziness.

Xlack stumbled back off the pipe, feet splashing in the streams still wandering over to the hole he had made in the floor. Spycykle pressed his advantage, each swift strike stronger than the one before, kicks accompanying some attacks, powerful blows with Spycykle’s full weight behind them.

Xlack dropped beneath an airborne kick, hand swiping just above the streams, stealing their momentum, their energy, and the liquid froze, solid and slick. Landing in an ungainly slide, Spycykle toppled, crashing down on one hip, Ier lashing at Xlack again. Xlack spun beyond its reach, teetering on the edge of the hole, Spycykle’s splash hovering for longer than it naturally would. Hundreds of droplets rose, forming a curtain between the pair. Spycykle’s Ier batted through them as he lunged.

Ier struck Ier again, and Xlack’s toes gripped the floor, fastening him in place, but he was too tired and overwhelmed for his influence to properly fight past his Tsoqisi sole with any strength.

Ier locked against one another with an electric giggle, Spycykle mocked, “If you use your Talents, you’ll tempt me to use mine!”

Xlack frowned. Spycykle didn’t have a Talent, not even the enhanced senses and regenerative abilities claimed by the majority of Messengers and Defenders.

Xlack paid for the distraction, balance faltering, a drop-kick ramming his shoulder. Both Aylata fell through the gap. Ier slashes and blocks expanded the distance between them.

As Xlack alighted on a rail, hand just behind his heel gripping the square bar to keep him from pivoting over backward, Spycykle crashed down on a spiked mound of icy acid, shattering it and freeing the mechett trapped within.

Shards exploded out, but not all of them fell. Transparent edges glinting in the ethereal glow from the engine far below, a dozen jagged daggers of solidified acid stilled, hovering around the rising Defender and his mechanical minion, heeding the order of Xlack’s outstretched hand as he slid off the rail, feet tapping down on textured metal.

Slow, retreating steps followed the catwalk away from Spycykle as Xlack assessed the situation. His bruised shins twinged with each stride, breaths panting. Each of the hovering pikes felt heavy as a building, gravity’s tug on them increasing as distance grew. A straight shot along the catwalk seemed the only route of escape, walls distant, radiance beneath promising an incendiary death below. Several body lengths behind him, multiple catwalks laced through a slender tunnel etched with luminous circuits and controls, a rounded rectangular capsule supported by the bisecting walkways.

Spycykle charged again, pikes in front of him disintegrating at his Ier’s touch, but others followed, chasing him down, two embedding themselves in his shoulder blade. As he fell, the mechett leapt over him, diving on Xlack, who dropped into a sideways somersault, rising as the machine whirled. Xlack kicked off the rail, feet colliding with the top of the mechett’s head and launching him at the ceiling.

His palm brushed the smooth, warm surface, catching nothing. He didn’t have the strength left to cling magnetically, and so he plummeted, fingers curling, grasping useless air.

Open air was the softest of death beds. Xlack’s body drew a line parallel to the ceiling, feet and arms still raised, wheeling, panic exploding in his gut, knowing he would miss the walkway.

The woven black metal flashed by, and he stopped even with it, the mechett’s hand tangled in the front of his jacket, his breath gone.

Sharp fingers bent tighter, arm recoiling to haul Xlack over the rail, holding him above the platform. Xlack coughed, barely registering two of the mechett’s other hands pulling back for a strike and Spycykle stilling them with a word. “Mine. Don’t finish him.”

The control tunnel was at Xlack’s back, close enough to reach out and touch, its power-laden circuits singing to his senses.

With a swift kick to the mechett’s side, Xlack tore free and staggered back, hand wiping the tunnel wall and calling out that power. Thick electric strands coiled around his arm, not touching him—he couldn’t let it touch him, but now loosed, it was wild and fighting his control, like trying to drag a giant mykuro by a leash. Lightning danced at its own fancy, striking the rails, a strand nicking his arm before he shoved it at the mechett.

Xlack dropped to his knees as the magnetic scream of the dying morphometal shot through his every cell, but he didn’t let go, electricity continuing to pounce on the melting machine until nothing more than a metallic puddle remained.

Xlack ached, out of breath and focus blurry, but Spycykle was there, Ier stabbing and slicing, seeming to attack from every angle at once. Instinct and countless ruahs of sparring practice kept Xlack’s weapon in defensive motion, forcing his feet under him, to hold him, to stand his ground.

Xlack blocked a strike, Ier meeting no resistance, twisting so its other end could stop a thrust powerful enough to send him stumbling backward.

“You know how long I’ve waited for this fight?” Spycykle sneered. Xlack couldn’t see him; he moved too fast, constantly at his back. “I can beat you. I can finally prove your Ravi title means nothing, that just because you inherited more Magni than I did does not make you better than me.” Five more rapid swings, three of them false. “At anything!”

Spycykle’s feints were uncanny. Xlack’s tired eyes couldn’t follow him, so he closed them, tracking the movement of the air. Block. Redirect. He was movement. Nothing else. Too tired to be anything else.

“I’m saving you humiliation, actually,” Spycykle rationalized. “You’ve already completed the half of the mission you were capable of, which I will gladly take credit for. The rest, let’s face it, you don’t have the heart.”

I’ll complete my mission my way, Xlack thought, trying to tune out the Defender’s words, breathing deeply. He invited calm to settle over him, the flow his teachers assured him was always there, waiting for his command, the most basic of Aylata training. His jerky movements smoothed into grace, emotion and reason shoved to the back of his mind as Spycykle continued his barrage.

“You’re good practice. O’ees are so quirky, they don’t even carry shooters, but I’ve seen them fight; amazing monsters, they are.”

Ten more strikes, a rhythm in Xlack’s head. He took a step, then another, calm struggling to flee and urging he do the same.

“They aren’t a match for us though, for me. Your little skirmish with Twi gave me all the insight I need to defeat her.”

Xlack’s Ier sniped to the side, lacing through Spycykle’s, holding it out as Xlack’s knee rammed Spycykle’s gut, momentum pushing him over backward. The Defender’s back struck the platform, breath escaping in an “Oof!” as Xlack landed kneeling atop him.

“Honestly, you’re annoying, Spycykle. We are worlds away from home and we should be on the same side.”

Spycykle’s grin was like the ground cracking and devouring a city. “I’m on the side that promises more fun.”

“Don’t make me hurt you, Spycykle.” Xlack’s voice carried thousands of years of Aylata supremacy and all the threat that required, low and dark. “You can’t win this.”

Spycykle cocked an eyebrow. “You still think Talents can triumph over cleverness?”

“Who says I’m not clever?”

Spycykle laughed. Ice slithered beneath Xlack’s skin, his gaze jumping to the hand holding his Ier, and the weapon flickered. A disconcerted frown slid down his face, questions racing through his mind.

“If you always break the toys, no one will want to play with you anymore,” Spycykle advised, and the walkway collapsed, sundered into a myriad of pieces.

Ier closing, Xlack leapt back, catching a solid portion of rail and pulling himself onto an undamaged section of catwalk.

He didn’t see what happened to Spycykle.

Xlack leaned his back against the rail, sucking in air, shoulders heaving. What happened? Ier didn’t flicker. Platforms didn’t shatter for no reason.

Was it something Spycykle did?

But what?

Was it connected with the mechetts? The morphometal.

He looked over at the stagnant puddle. Its signature was somewhere between dead leaves and the liquid mercury it resembled.

With these several moments of stillness, Rell peeked out of his safe pocket and, sensing danger had passed, scurried down to the floor to sniff the metal blob.

“Rell, do not eat that,” Xlack ordered, and the beastling scrambled a retreat, curiosity still stronger than caution as he peered over Xlack’s outstretched ankle, waiting for the strange metal to do something scary.

It didn’t do anything, but Xlack noticed an odd lump. Scooting closer, he picked a small, flat circle from the center of the puddle, the same chrome as the morphometal. He had seen it before, nearly hidden in Twi’s belt pocket when she had been in his room. Before that, in Twi’s and Revo’s hands when they drew their weapons.

This is their form of Aqkashi, he thought, picking up the disc. It had an odd, racing signature, slightly Knalcal. It did not match Twi, though her warm pastry scent clung to it under the scorched stench of dead morphometal.

Would this suffice? Could he bring this to Napix in lieu of an abductee? It didn’t look like much. Xlack’s mother kept a similar object with her always, filled with powder to deter ‘unwanted uglies.’

K’alaqk had been specific. He wanted a Tala and a Knalcal of Magni descent. He wanted them because he feared they were like lightcurvers. They weren’t, and a stranger’s Aqkashi wouldn’t prove that.

Xlack would return the weapon if only to keep it away from Spycykle. Xlack would ask O’ees to accompany him as honored envoys. He would protect them. And if no O’ees volunteered, he was certain Rogii Moshee would.

Isike, prepare my Oha for a departure to Tala,” Xlack called, painfully pulling his legs in and pushing into a standing position. “Once I’m gone, I want a ship-wide shock. Let’s clear any more vermin out of this place.”

-continued in section 5 scene 10- Rebalo-

Thank you for reading.  As always, feedback and con-crit are appreciated.

2
0
0
Juice
21 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 9- Xlack vs Spycykle
Xlack’s focus was reduced to rapid steps and swinging Ier, the weapons’ constant collisions sounding like distant thunder and moaning wind. He had barely dodged Spycykle’s first swing. Exhaustion limited Xlack’s movements and made him slow; the envy seeping from the Defender only added to it, inciting dizziness.

Xlack stumbled back off the pipe, feet splashing in the streams still wandering over to the hole he had made in the floor. Spycykle pressed his advantage, each swift strike stronger than the one before, kicks accompanying some attacks, powerful blows with Spycykle’s full weight behind them.

Xlack dropped beneath an airborne kick, hand swiping just above the streams, stealing their momentum, their energy, and the liquid froze, solid and slick. Landing in an ungainly slide, Spycykle toppled, crashing down on one hip, Ier lashing at Xlack again. Xlack spun beyond its reach, teetering on the edge of the hole, Spycykle’s splash hovering for longer than it naturally would. Hundreds of droplets rose, forming a curtain between the pair. Spycykle’s Ier batted through them as he lunged.

Ier struck Ier again, and Xlack’s toes gripped the floor, fastening him in place, but he was too tired and overwhelmed for his influence to properly fight past his Tsoqisi sole with any strength.

Ier locked against one another with an electric giggle, Spycykle mocked, “If you use your Talents, you’ll tempt me to use mine!”

Xlack frowned. Spycykle didn’t have a Talent, not even the enhanced senses and regenerative abilities claimed by the majority of Messengers and Defenders.

Xlack paid for the distraction, balance faltering, a drop-kick ramming his shoulder. Both Aylata fell through the gap. Ier slashes and blocks expanded the distance between them.

As Xlack alighted on a rail, hand just behind his heel gripping the square bar to keep him from pivoting over backward, Spycykle crashed down on a spiked mound of icy acid, shattering it and freeing the mechett trapped within.

Shards exploded out, but not all of them fell. Transparent edges glinting in the ethereal glow from the engine far below, a dozen jagged daggers of solidified acid stilled, hovering around the rising Defender and his mechanical minion, heeding the order of Xlack’s outstretched hand as he slid off the rail, feet tapping down on textured metal.

Slow, retreating steps followed the catwalk away from Spycykle as Xlack assessed the situation. His bruised shins twinged with each stride, breaths panting. Each of the hovering pikes felt heavy as a building, gravity’s tug on them increasing as distance grew. A straight shot along the catwalk seemed the only route of escape, walls distant, radiance beneath promising an incendiary death below. Several body lengths behind him, multiple catwalks laced through a slender tunnel etched with luminous circuits and controls, a rounded rectangular capsule supported by the bisecting walkways.

Spycykle charged again, pikes in front of him disintegrating at his Ier’s touch, but others followed, chasing him down, two embedding themselves in his shoulder blade. As he fell, the mechett leapt over him, diving on Xlack, who dropped into a sideways somersault, rising as the machine whirled. Xlack kicked off the rail, feet colliding with the top of the mechett’s head and launching him at the ceiling.

His palm brushed the smooth, warm surface, catching nothing. He didn’t have the strength left to cling magnetically, and so he plummeted, fingers curling, grasping useless air.

Open air was the softest of death beds. Xlack’s body drew a line parallel to the ceiling, feet and arms still raised, wheeling, panic exploding in his gut, knowing he would miss the walkway.

The woven black metal flashed by, and he stopped even with it, the mechett’s hand tangled in the front of his jacket, his breath gone.

Sharp fingers bent tighter, arm recoiling to haul Xlack over the rail, holding him above the platform. Xlack coughed, barely registering two of the mechett’s other hands pulling back for a strike and Spycykle stilling them with a word. “Mine. Don’t finish him.”

The control tunnel was at Xlack’s back, close enough to reach out and touch, its power-laden circuits singing to his senses.

With a swift kick to the mechett’s side, Xlack tore free and staggered back, hand wiping the tunnel wall and calling out that power. Thick electric strands coiled around his arm, not touching him—he couldn’t let it touch him, but now loosed, it was wild and fighting his control, like trying to drag a giant mykuro by a leash. Lightning danced at its own fancy, striking the rails, a strand nicking his arm before he shoved it at the mechett.

Xlack dropped to his knees as the magnetic scream of the dying morphometal shot through his every cell, but he didn’t let go, electricity continuing to pounce on the melting machine until nothing more than a metallic puddle remained.

Xlack ached, out of breath and focus blurry, but Spycykle was there, Ier stabbing and slicing, seeming to attack from every angle at once. Instinct and countless ruahs of sparring practice kept Xlack’s weapon in defensive motion, forcing his feet under him, to hold him, to stand his ground.

Xlack blocked a strike, Ier meeting no resistance, twisting so its other end could stop a thrust powerful enough to send him stumbling backward.

“You know how long I’ve waited for this fight?” Spycykle sneered. Xlack couldn’t see him; he moved too fast, constantly at his back. “I can beat you. I can finally prove your Ravi title means nothing, that just because you inherited more Magni than I did does not make you better than me.” Five more rapid swings, three of them false. “At anything!”

Spycykle’s feints were uncanny. Xlack’s tired eyes couldn’t follow him, so he closed them, tracking the movement of the air. Block. Redirect. He was movement. Nothing else. Too tired to be anything else.

“I’m saving you humiliation, actually,” Spycykle rationalized. “You’ve already completed the half of the mission you were capable of, which I will gladly take credit for. The rest, let’s face it, you don’t have the heart.”

I’ll complete my mission my way, Xlack thought, trying to tune out the Defender’s words, breathing deeply. He invited calm to settle over him, the flow his teachers assured him was always there, waiting for his command, the most basic of Aylata training. His jerky movements smoothed into grace, emotion and reason shoved to the back of his mind as Spycykle continued his barrage.

“You’re good practice. O’ees are so quirky, they don’t even carry shooters, but I’ve seen them fight; amazing monsters, they are.”

Ten more strikes, a rhythm in Xlack’s head. He took a step, then another, calm struggling to flee and urging he do the same.

“They aren’t a match for us though, for me. Your little skirmish with Twi gave me all the insight I need to defeat her.”

Xlack’s Ier sniped to the side, lacing through Spycykle’s, holding it out as Xlack’s knee rammed Spycykle’s gut, momentum pushing him over backward. The Defender’s back struck the platform, breath escaping in an “Oof!” as Xlack landed kneeling atop him.

“Honestly, you’re annoying, Spycykle. We are worlds away from home and we should be on the same side.”

Spycykle’s grin was like the ground cracking and devouring a city. “I’m on the side that promises more fun.”

“Don’t make me hurt you, Spycykle.” Xlack’s voice carried thousands of years of Aylata supremacy and all the threat that required, low and dark. “You can’t win this.”

Spycykle cocked an eyebrow. “You still think Talents can triumph over cleverness?”

“Who says I’m not clever?”

Spycykle laughed. Ice slithered beneath Xlack’s skin, his gaze jumping to the hand holding his Ier, and the weapon flickered. A disconcerted frown slid down his face, questions racing through his mind.

“If you always break the toys, no one will want to play with you anymore,” Spycykle advised, and the walkway collapsed, sundered into a myriad of pieces.

Ier closing, Xlack leapt back, catching a solid portion of rail and pulling himself onto an undamaged section of catwalk.

He didn’t see what happened to Spycykle.

Xlack leaned his back against the rail, sucking in air, shoulders heaving. What happened? Ier didn’t flicker. Platforms didn’t shatter for no reason.

Was it something Spycykle did?

But what?

Was it connected with the mechetts? The morphometal.

He looked over at the stagnant puddle. Its signature was somewhere between dead leaves and the liquid mercury it resembled.

With these several moments of stillness, Rell peeked out of his safe pocket and, sensing danger had passed, scurried down to the floor to sniff the metal blob.

“Rell, do not eat that,” Xlack ordered, and the beastling scrambled a retreat, curiosity still stronger than caution as he peered over Xlack’s outstretched ankle, waiting for the strange metal to do something scary.

It didn’t do anything, but Xlack noticed an odd lump. Scooting closer, he picked a small, flat circle from the center of the puddle, the same chrome as the morphometal. He had seen it before, nearly hidden in Twi’s belt pocket when she had been in his room. Before that, in Twi’s and Revo’s hands when they drew their weapons.

This is their form of Aqkashi, he thought, picking up the disc. It had an odd, racing signature, slightly Knalcal. It did not match Twi, though her warm pastry scent clung to it under the scorched stench of dead morphometal.

Would this suffice? Could he bring this to Napix in lieu of an abductee? It didn’t look like much. Xlack’s mother kept a similar object with her always, filled with powder to deter ‘unwanted uglies.’

K’alaqk had been specific. He wanted a Tala and a Knalcal of Magni descent. He wanted them because he feared they were like lightcurvers. They weren’t, and a stranger’s Aqkashi wouldn’t prove that.

Xlack would return the weapon if only to keep it away from Spycykle. Xlack would ask O’ees to accompany him as honored envoys. He would protect them. And if no O’ees volunteered, he was certain Rogii Moshee would.

Isike, prepare my Oha for a departure to Tala,” Xlack called, painfully pulling his legs in and pushing into a standing position. “Once I’m gone, I want a ship-wide shock. Let’s clear any more vermin out of this place.”

-continued in section 5 scene 10- Rebalo-
Thank you for reading.  As always, feedback and con-crit are appreciated.
2
0
0
Juice
21 reads
Login to post comments.
Advertisement  (turn off)
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 22 of River's End
Written by Taki

River's End chapter 20- A Lone Soul Among a Crowd

The official way to enter the King’s council chamber involved standing on a three-sided platform hoisted and guided by a series of pulleys. No railing prevented passengers from falling off, nothing offered to hold onto as the platform slowly glided around corners and slid through narrow passageways, ever rising. Its small size forced Hent, Blu and I to stand close together.

Blu was at my back, left arm not quite around me in a protective stance reminiscent of Fredo’s, something I found vaguely comforting until memories of the icy void slithered across my skin, Fredo’s panicked voice telling me I couldn’t stay here. Did he mean I couldn’t stay in the void? On this planet? Drowning in the pond? I was now ninety-nine percent sure he was alive, and I would not leave here without him.

The boys’ lack of body heat only increased the icy feeling, and I held my arms in tighter, right hand clasping my left bicep. In an effort to distract myself, I cleared my throat. “Um, not to sound rude or exclusive, but why does the council need Blu?”

“He’s our resident expert on Shlykrii-na tech,” Hent divulged.

My eyebrows twisted in incredulity.

“They say that because I used the broken pieces of old omnoits I found deep in the ocean to build Paqo.”

“While that’s impressive, the omnoits from the invasion are centuries’ old technology, and Paqo is hardly as they were. I think you’ll find current Shlykrii-na machines are very different.”

Teal specks glistened in Hent’s foggy jade green eyes. “The Druojojneerpsrii taught you about Shlykrii?”

“Much,” I squeaked. Seeing Hent colored with suspicion and worry scoured my conscience. I had yet to outright lie to him; every aspect of my subterfuge contained at least a sliver of truth, but inner me chose now to insist he wouldn’t see it that way.

I bit my lip.

“I bet I could build a whole army of special omnoits,” Blu mused, and I whirled, eyes wide. Deep in concentration, he rested his chin in his hand, fingers tapping the side of his nose. As his cerulean eyes slid to me, he grinned. “Especially if you helped me, Rose.”

“I don’t think an army of Paqos would be a solution to anything.”

Blu snickered, and Hent reluctantly joined in.

“I can see it,” the prince said, a bit of periwinkle sinking into his green, “The Paqos annoy our enemies so much, they give up and leave.”

“Or they blow up the world,” Blu countered, too somber too quickly and evoking a gasp from me.

It reminded me that delivering my message was only half the issue. Just knowing what Shlykrii planned would not stop them. And they were fully capable of destroying all life on this planet.

“Blu likes to tinker,” Hent soothed, fingers brushing my elbow, sliding up to rest on my shoulder. My skin tingled in the wake of his touch. “He views machines and ideas like puzzles, fitting different parts together, which sometimes results in the ridiculous. Don’t let my second cousin’s thinkin’ out loud disturb you.”

“You’re...you two are second cousins?”

Blu’s eyes cut to Hent, narrowing on my shoulder and the hand loitering there, and he plopped his own hand on my other shoulder. I would have shrugged them both off had I not feared such motion might send one or all of us plunging off this platform to our deaths. This raft swayed with our movement, hanging from twisting, helical ropes as it followed the outside curve of a turret, slowly rising. A pond shimmered in the afternoon moonlight, at least ten stories below us.

“Hent’s mother’s supposed to be Lady of Sapphire,” Blu explained, “but she’s queen instead, so her cousin and next of kin, my mother, inherited the title.”

Which, assuming he was the oldest of his siblings, made him future Lord of Sapphire. It also meant Pullee was the same Pullee and daughter of the Lady of Sapphire that Niiq had said needed friends.

I giggled, and both boys looked at me with drawn brows.

“Without even knowing, I sort of did what Niiq planned.”

Hent grinned. “Somethin’ good, I hope?” He started to move even closer to me, but Blu’s hand shot across my back, sliding under Hent’s palm and knocking it away as Blu squeezed between us. Hent teetered, a scrambled step back adjusting his balance, and I hoped no one would get shoved off this elevator...especially me.

“Blu, what’s your problem?” Hent returned his cousin’s shove, and the platform rocked again. Blu’s tight grip on my shoulders ensured I stumbled with him, and shrugging free of him, I dropped, crawling for the raft’s exact center.

“You shouldn’t be makin’ moves on my girl,” Blu growled, face to face with Hent.

“I’m not your girl,” I inserted at the same time Hent asked, “She’s your girl since when?”

“When doesn’t matter. She can’t be your girl because of her birth defect. You can’t bring that into the royal line.”

Lavender confusion trickled through Hent’s scales. “What birth defect?”

Blu shrugged. “Niiq said the size and shape of her breasts’re a birth defect.”

Why in the world was he discussing my breasts with Niiq?! Crossing my arms over my chest, I was the most purple I had ever been in my life, and I felt about to implode. “I’m right here.”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind your birth defect,” Blu soothed, hand alighting at the nape of my neck, and I slapped it away, indignation launching me to my feet.

“I don’t have a birth defect!”

Blu’s palms cupped either side of my face, and he rose on his toes to kiss me between the eyebrows just as our elevator pushed us through the open hatch in the floor of the king’s council chamber. Behind me, Hent let out a choked squeak. Shock and embarrassment rendered me nearly the color of a plum and immobile. I couldn’t even blink.

All faces swiveled toward us, an amalgam of emotions sweeping across the gathering. How much of our argument had they heard? Blu’s mother appeared the most scandalized, sitting primly with her feet tucked under her in a chair suspended above the floating table’s moat, her eyes so wide as to nearly engulf her face.

“Sapphire Lordlin’,” a middle-aged Topaz rebuked, orange scales bright against his ruddy skin in this dusky room, failing to hide in the shadows of his curly black hair and the neatly trimmed beard outlining his mouth, “this’s no time to give your girlfriend a tour.”

Clearing his throat, Hent yanked me away from Blu and stepped in front of us, clarifying, “Rose’s here because she knows Menyaze.”

Not to be outdone, Blu added, “She’s trained by the Druojojneerpsrii.”

A din erupted, each Lord or Lady murmuring to their neighbor, and with Blu’s mother here representing Sapphire, I was fairly certain the majority in this room held those titles.

Unlike Seallaii-na Lords and Ladies who were elected for life by each village to be intermediaries toward other villages and the central government, these Grenswa-nas were considered gifts from their tribes to the king. By inheritance they were to be his closest companions and confidants.

Scanning the room, I cataloged a representative from each Luejii tribe minus Onyx, a conspicuous omission, but I quickly filed this detail away, concentrating instead on the documents projected on every wall by the datareader sitting on the table’s center. The projections danced, spinning around the room and their companions, pages and pages of cramped, swirling text that held the key to our safety, completely illegible to anyone here but me.

The letters as they were spelled nothing, but my eyes quickly picked out the pattern. This was one of the simplest crypts, each letter substituted for another. Finding the first page only confirmed this suspicion, the sheet containing the date and the ever-same sentence: Language is for communicating, confusing, clarifying.

I started to switch out letters in my mind, muttering what must have sounded like nonsense to Hent, who looked at me over his shoulder in open fascination and curiosity. The task of rendering this message all in my head would have been near impossible even under the most conducive of circumstances. With Hent staring at me and the Topaz Lord loudly lecturing Blu on propriety (a lecture that, with the feel of his lips still so fresh on my forehead, I agreed he needed) my concentration was shoved over the Cliff of I-Can’t-Do-This and crammed into a box too tiny for anything.

But this had to be done, and I had to do it.

Whirling around Hent, I dropped to my knees at the end of the floating table, the bookcase I had once come through now behind me. I lay my palms flat on the stone floor, wrists touching my legs, fingers not quite reaching the curb of the moat—a Grenswa-na pose of beseeching. Lifting my chin, I met the brilliant aqua gaze of the man standing at the head of the table. He could only be King Rangial, his an aged blend of Hent’s and Timqé’s angular features swathed in their creamy skin and topped with obsidian hair slicked back, the undulating colors of his scales plain for all to see.

“You seek what, Pink child?” he acknowledged, voice reedy and warm, speckles of the faintest magenta appearing in his eyes. Every Opal had his own color scheme, so even had I known what these hues meant on Hent, they likely rendered a different emotion of the king’s.

“Allow me to interpret this message,” I begged. “Support me in this effort, and I will work as fast as I can.”

His smile blossomed, magenta brightening, overtaking the aqua. “Only a fool wouldn’t. State what you need.”

“Quiet and a means of writing.”

The first had already entered the room, every voice and rustle packed away in favor of hearing our soft exchange. For the second, leaves of waxy paper and an ink-filled stick were thrust into my hands.

Gazes remained glued to me though as I stepped onto the table, the long board’s dip upsetting the pond beneath despite my best efforts to be light of foot. How the Lady of Pearl—a broad-boned woman with pinched features who was likely Wae’s mother—could sit on one corner of the table and not have it tilt toward her seemed a defiance of gravity.

With swiftness tempered by a smidgen of caution and admittedly not much grace, I plopped down next to the datareader, a device that now looked like a glowing, rounded rock, the strands of my datapin draped over it. Tapping the device, I stilled the projections. Grenswa-nas might have viewed the ever-moving world as beautiful, but my mind didn’t work like that, and I didn’t need to chase the words I tried to unscramble.

Eyes steadfast on the wall, I followed the loops of Menyaze syllabaries, secret pleasure grinning at the beauty of this written language, how the words curled back on themselves to reuse letters already inscribed. Paper pressed against my thighs, my left hand danced across the page, sketching the sentences I decoded.

Stack of paper in hand, Hent sat down alongside me. “Can I help?”

I paused, warning whispering in my mind. Menyaze would only remain a clandestine language as long as it was not taught arbitrarily to anyone. But I wasn’t at the translation stage yet. This was just swapping out one letter for another. And there were a lot of pages. I could use all the help I could get.

Sliding a fresh sheet to the top of my stack, I scribbled Menyaze’s twenty-three consonants and handed the paper to Hent.

“This is Menyaze’s alphabet in order for the date indicated on the first page. Every consonant is off by three, so match the letters to this list and write down the third one beneath it. Vowels are indicated by the location of these dots around the consonants, and they’re inverted. If the dot is above the letter, write it below. Got it?”

He nodded. “I’ll start on the second page, and we can do every other.”

“I’ll help, too,” Blu announced, kneeling on the other side of me, “but I’m a bit confused. You said alphabetical order for that day?”

“It’sn’t important, Blu,” Hent censured, focus on the wall. Without him looking, his pen scratched words onto the page, lines deliberate and precise. Amazement fluttered in me; he didn’t even know these letters, yet he rendered them exactly as I had.

Shaking my head, I inscribed an alphabet for Blu to copy, and he sat with his feet tucked beneath him, tail guiding his pen in bold strokes. Ink spattered often as he tried to catch up with Hent.

In the grainy voice of an old man, the ancient Aquamarine Lord sitting to the left of the king revealed, “Menyaze’s originally twelve separate codes used by Neerpsrii to communicate with his subordinates. Now Menyaze’s a conglomeration of those. As a language designed for crypt, the alphabet shuffles according to the date.”

“It also sounds like somethin’ done in an attempt at fairness,” Blu’s mother hypothesized.

The Topaz Lord reasoned, “Because the twelve codes possessed different orders, and no one’s made to decide which one’s the best?”

“Maybe,” the Sapphire Lady mused, “but I thought more along the lines of thin’s that get ordered alphabetically. For instance, H holds the last place in the Sishgil alphabet, so ones like Hent’re always among the last when ordered like so.”

“Unless we do it backwards,” Hent countered, already on his fourth page. How did he write so perfectly that fast?

Envy broiled in my gut, and I told myself this wasn’t a race, no matter if Blu viewed it that way, a pen wrapped in his tail and either hand. Most of what Blu wrote was illegible, and dividing his attention three ways did not make him any swifter.

Regardless of my slowness, I was still very much needed here. No matter how impeccable Hent’s script, he had no idea what it said.

Oblivious of my inner deliberations, the Sapphire Lady pressed, “B’s the central letter in the Sishgil alphabet, and I know my Bluanto gets tired of always bein’ stuck in the middle. In Menyaze, does every consonant get a turn at bein’ first?”

The elderly Aquamarine laughed, scales glistening bright against the deep abyss color of his wrinkled skin. “First or close to first. There’re only twelve orders while there’re twenty-three consonants, after all.”

“What if a name begins with a vowel like yours, Lord Ayf?” King Rangial questioned the elder. “You’d be kicked out or forgotten?”

“Sometimes these old bones might prefer that,” Lord Ayf chuckled, “but vowels at the beginnin’ of any word’re implied in Menyaze and simply unwritten.”

“Your name’d just be an f!” Blu guffawed.

As the Topaz Lord slapped the back of the Lordling’s head with a rebuke about showing respect, I peered at the Aquamarine.

He noticed my curious stare. “Questions plague you, Child?”

“Do you know Menyaze, Honored Elder?”

He laughed again, a jovial, tinkling sound rising from his lowest depths. “I often begged Sjaealam to teach me, but he said he couldn’t, that it’s a language forbidden to those who’ren’t River Guardians.” His gaze grew a seriousness that stuffed fear down my throat, and I quickly turned back to my pages.

“Why do you write it with your left hand?” Blu questioned, and I bit my lip so as not to snap at him to be quiet.

Left-handedness was an extreme rarity for Grenswa-nas, whereas the opposite was true for my people. I had never met a right-handed Seallaii-na. The wrinkly Aquamarine already had suspicions, I was sure, and Blu didn’t need to throw any fuel on that fire.

But silence was not in Blu’s repertoire. “I think it’s slowing you down, writin’ like that.” He had no room to talk, on his back, head hanging over the edge of the table, hair floating in the moat as he looked at the projections upside-down.

But then, considering the letters meant no more than squiggles to him anyway, it likely didn’t make that much of a difference to him.

“See.” He offered proof, holding up a triune of fanned sheets. “I’ve already got three pages.” Three sloppy, partial pages, which, had they been complete, would have been twice as many as I had.

I didn’t dare check Hent’s pile.

“Menyaze is properly written with the left hand,” I excused.

Beside me, Hent stiffened, gaze cutting to the hand weighting his paper on the tabletop.

My malevolent side giggled that we should let him believe he had to write with his weaker hand now. Surely that would stunt the growth of his heap of completed pages, and we could surpass him.

Again I reminded myself this was not a race and I should be proud and grateful for Hent’s skill. Blu’s pages were going to be a pain to read later. And we needed to get this all done as soon as possible. How awful would it be if the Shlykrii-nas attacked while we were stuck in this room, trying to write our plans with our inferior hands.

“You can use whichever hand is more expedient,” I ruled. “I’m just used to writing Menyaze with my left.”

“In the interest of expediency,” King Ragnial said, stepping onto the table and sitting back to back with me, “we should all help. Rose, you’dn’t mind etching letter keys for us all?”

***

I had not written the alphabet so many times in a row since I had been a small child first learning it. But with the help of the Ladies of Sapphire, Amethyst, Pearl, and Emerald; the Lords of Aquamarine, Amber, Ruby, Topaz, and Gold; a king, a prince, and a very eccentric Lordling who was upside-down most of the time, we completed the decryption of the message in a whirlwind of activity.

I sat in the suspended chair across from the Sapphire Lady’s, our completed manuscript stacked on the table in front of Hent. As I finished translating and transcribing a page, he handed me another and a fresh paper while someone else whisked away the previous ones. Discussions raged around me, but my concentration reduced me to a world of letters and definitions. I couldn’t even recite half of what I’d translated, constantly looking ahead to the next page.

My chair spun, a warm plate deposited in my lap. Crysslist soufflé.

Blu’s smiling face hovered a hand’s width from mine. “You liked it last time, and you need to eat.”

My stomach growled in agreement, fertilizing his grin.

“Thank you,” I mumbled sheepishly, using the shell-spoon to scoop up a piece of mushy rainbow fruit and slide it into my mouth. Sour heaven.

Blu watched me intently, cerulean eyes glittering. “You do still like it!” He was so close, for a moment I feared he would try to kiss my head again. My brow suddenly felt very unprotected, and I scooted back, my chair sent swinging, negating all attempts at regaining my personal space.

“Blu, give her room to breathe her own air,” Hent chided, arm thrust between us and pressing his cousin back.

Hent received both a grimace from Blu and a grateful look from me. Not that I couldn’t stick up for myself, but with my luck, my evasive maneuvers would have pulled down the ceiling and I’d have fallen on the cousins, somehow accidentally kissing them both.

With Hent’s intervention, that crisis was avoided, and I sat peacefully in my chair, eating my delicious soufflé. It brought back memories of my first meeting with these crazies, and curiosity impelled me to ask, “Blu, if you’re the future Lord of Sapphire, why were you working in that restaurant?”

“You mean yesterday? The restaurant’s important to my dad, and he says working there’s supposed to keep me humble and in touch with the world beyond the island. So always on Blue-day, all the employees get the day off, and I’m supposed to run the place by myself.”

“Most customers know this and don’t come that day,” Hent pitched in, hopping back into the chair next to mine. He picked up the paper I had half-translated.

Blu added, “Hent’sn’t supposed to come with me either, but he usually does.”

Was Hent not supposed to leave the island like I wasn’t supposed to leave my citadel? Maybe we had that in common.

A chime sounded, and I looked around, hoping I hadn’t lost my mind enough that my epiphanies had sound effects.

With a second chime, the hatch in the floor at the end of the table slid away and the elevator lifted an Onyx man into the room. His features were strikingly similar to Niiq’s, minus her silver coloring, his skin darker and with a warmer tint, but there was nothing warm in his expression. Pride and decorum stood rigid in his stance, eyes possessing the hollow sheen of one whose worried mind was elsewhere.

Niiq’s father, perhaps?

“Guardian of Onyx,” King Rangial addressed him, “while all the visiting Guardians’re free to roam, this’s a restricted area and we’re busy. Why this interruption?”

“The Lady of Onyx’s unable to heed your summons, so she sent me in her stead. She sits vigil alongside her heir, my son, in the medical ward.” Which made this man Niiq’s uncle. “I trust you know what happened.”

An ~inonii assassin stabbed the Onyx Lordling, and Niiq was blamed.

The king’s expression softened. “You should be with your son as well. I relinquish the Onyx from the summons.”

Niiq’s uncle bowed shallowly. “With all due respect, this wouldn’t’ve happened if you left my niece under my supervision in the Onyx Fort. I again implore you to return her before tomorrow.” Meaningful glances and heavy silence all around. I felt a little lost.

Hello, trying to save the world here, Onyx Guardian. Sorry about your son and no, you can’t have Niiq. I willed the king to say this and maybe explain the ‘before tomorrow’ stipulation as well. Was tomorrow significant, or was it just a ‘right now’ kind of emphatic?

King Rangial’s face hardened, all emotion hidden except that which escaped in his coloring, a chasm of green. “Niiq’s no longer your concern.”

“She’s very much my concern.” Umber tinted the Onyx’s face in his version of a flush, jaw clenched. “The timin’ of this attempt on my son’s life’s no coincidence.”

The king gestured serenely. “You’ve proof of her involvement then?”

“I don’t need proof.”

Azure swirled over the king’s scales as he shook his head. “Suspicions without fences burn worlds, friend. Increase security around your son, and once you’ve evidence as to who targeted him, I’ll brin’ our wrath on that one.”

“Even if it’s the one we once called First Prince?” A challenging snarl curled the Guardian’s lip, and a gasp scurried around the room, taking a little hop through me. “You should’ve banished him for his stupidity.”

“Timqé’s too smart to be so obvious,” Hent countered, rising.

The Onyx looked the prince up and down. Hent was tall, but this man was broad and muscled. “I’d’ve thought him smart enough not to fall for a cursed, half ~inonii abomination.”

Niiq was half ~inonii?! Of course, that would explain why they kept associating her with the ~inonii assassins and spies. And if Niiq were only an Onyx-born Silver, her hair wasn’t likely to be the mirror color it was. That bespoke Chrome heritage, and I was an idiot for taking so long to realize that.

But if Niiq had a Chrome father, did the Lady of Onyx have some forbidden love story? What had happened to make her shun her own daughter? Had the flames of public opinion pounced on her secret relationship? How could it have ended so badly that she wished Niiq had never been born?

Agg! So many questions!

“You’re a blind buffoon who doesn’t deserve to even know Niiq!” All gazes shot to me. Great, I said that out loud.

Setting my half-empty plate aside, I stood on my chair. “Niiq is beautiful and kind and a piece of cheer incarnate, and I’m new here, but from what I’ve seen, you treat her worse than dirt.”

The Onyx blinked at me, pitch colored eyes meeting mine and sinking into a scowl. “I’m sorry, did Pink get recognized as an official tribe?”

“Rose’s our Druojojneerpsrii-trained translator, and she risked her life to save all of us,” Hent introduced me, stepping onto the table to block my line of sight. “What’ve you done, Guardian of Onyx?” A bonfire burned in the prince’s eyes and scales.

Pride lifted the Guardian’s chin, necklaces jingling over his bare chest. “And now I see we have two idiot princes.”

“I’d rather be stupid than heartless like you,” Hent growled, stepping into the man’s space.

SMACK! The Guardian punched him, and Hent fell. The Onyx dove after him, grabbing the front of his shirt and slamming him against the wall. I could no longer hear their hissed words over the rush of everyone else stampeding to join the fray.

Shock cemented me in place. This was exactly why we had Myktas. This annoying twerp would never have made it in this room if it had the kind of security I was used to.

Swinging in the chair beside mine, Blu laughed, “Oh, Hent’ll have a lovely time at the Onyx Fort this year.”

“Why would he go to the Onyx Fort?”

As the Gold and Topaz Lords hauled the Onyx Guardian back to the elevator and disappeared into the floor, Blu explained, “For his world tour.”

I turned to the Lordling, silent, questioning expression demanding a more detailed explanation.

“Sometimes you know everythin’ and sometimes you know nothin’,” Blu noted with a twisted smirk. “You see, all the Guardians’re here for the festival tomorrow, but it’s extra special because Hent’s turning twenty this year. When the guests leave, he’ll go with the Guardian of Amethyst and spend a week at that fort. Then he’ll go to Amber, then Pearl, then Onyx, and if he survives, he’ll see the Ruby next.” He plopped down in his chair, and I followed suit, reclaiming my plate.

“Like with your restaurant experience, is this tour supposed to keep him in touch with the world?”

“That, and he’s supposed to find a wife.”

I should have known better than to take a bite of my soufflé. I choked. It wasn’t that I had a problem with Hent finding a wife somewhere out there in the world. That seemed only natural, just Blu said it so bluntly.

“That’s why he’s starting off in Amethyst,” he continued his explanation as I tried to swallow and breathe and act like that wasn’t difficult, “because the current queen is Sapphire, so the Amethyst get first chance to offer a suitable queen next.”

“Wait,” my voice emerged squeaky, misshapen as it squeezed past the food having an awfully hard time finding its way down my throat, “purple is Hent’s annoyed color. Wouldn’t it be weird for him to be with someone who seemed annoyed all the time?”

“I don’t project my colors onto others.” I jumped and whirled, chair nearly swinging into Hent. The prince stood just behind me, sliding back into his seat. He looked at me meaningfully. “Besides, not every Amethyst’s purple.”

Right. With my pink eyes and painted scales, I was pretending to be Amethyst. I looked at feet curled beside me, faux rewtatops shimmering in the lie they represented.

Lavender-scaled feet stepped into my view, and my gaze followed the attached legs up to a body and face. The Amethyst Lady, a woman old enough to be Hent’s grandmother, held a bundle of warm, smelly herbs against Hent’s bruising cheek. “Your mother said you lacked finesse in minglin’ with the Guardians, and now I see what she meant.”

He accepted the bundle in silence, gratitude, frustration, and a swirl of colors in his eyes as he placed his hand over hers.

“Hold it tight now,” she admonished as she released the pack. “And if you value the advice of an old lady, you’lln’t insult temperamental Guardians just because they insulted you. They’re leaders of armies, after all.”

“He insulted Timqé, too,” Hent insisted.

“You can’t fight Timqé’s battles for him.”

Hent sighed. “I know.” His eyes fell to the half-translated page he had abandoned on the table. Concentration slid over sharp features as he picked it up again.

“Squinting won’t make it make any more sense,” I teased as the Amethyst shuffled away.

Above the paper, all I saw was the adorable quirk of an eyebrow. “There’s no pattern to this. I can’t pick out articles or conjunctions or anythin’ in these sentences.”

“That’s because Menyaze is entirely idiom,” I explained, plucking the paper out of his grasp. “The meaning is more than the sum of the words. For example, here,” I pointed, “Ku te malat; sauté in shadows.”

“Probably has nothing to do with cooking in the dark?” he assumed, both eyebrows raised.

“Correct. It means: I know you are scared. I know this is dangerous. And though none see me, I am here for you.”

“That’s pretty profound,” Blu remarked, leaning over my shoulder. I elbowed him, and he fell back into his own seat with an “Oof.”

“Their every word’s a riddle,” Hent charged, hands running through his hair. “Explains why they never take us seriously, as if we’re children incapable of understanding the world.”

“To them we’re definitely children,” Lord Ayf inserted, easing his fragile body into the chair on Hent’s other side. He was old and slow, but his clear turquoise eyes were swathed in wisdom and vigor. I shied away from his scrutinizing gaze.

“Most Seallaii-nas’re ancient, right?” Hent supposed.

“I bet they all look like dried fruit!” Blu hypothesized, and the Aquamarine shook his head, inclining over the table to have a straighter view of the Lordling behind me.

“You’ve seen transmissions of the Nadinshé, yes Blu?”

“Oh yeah, she’s steaming gorgeous!” To Hent’s and my incredulous looks, he amended, “I mean in a scary way. Rose’s gorgeous in a better way, like a day I’d want to live forever in.”

Lord Ayf continued with his point. “How old do you assume her to be?”

“Eighteen,” Blu guessed, and after a contemplative beat, Hent added, “Twenty.”

“She’s born a month before me, eighty-eight years ago.”

Aghast, Blu shot to his feet, both hands on his head. “She’s older than my great-grandma!”

“Even so,” Lord Ayf conceded with a sharp nod, “she remains Nadinshé, or Heir Apparent, because she’s considered too young to take the throne of Seallaii.”

“But didn’t their queen-like person die already?”

I frowned. No points for wording there, Blu.

“Seallaii’s Dayota perished fifteen years ago,” Lord Ayf admitted, “but fifteen years’re nothin’ to a Seallaii-na.”

“There are young ones, too,” I argued. “I…the one who came here with this message, he’s only twenty. Fifteen years would seem just as long to him as it would to Hent.”

“Except by the end of fifteen years, more’ll’ve changed for us than for him,” the Aquamarine Lord contended. “I’ll likely die, Hent’ll be king, and your Seallaii-na’ll still be considered a child. Which makes me wonder why Seallaii sent us children. You’re very young yourself, Pink messenger.”

“She’s been very brave,” the king acknowledged, sitting across from us, “and invaluable. I wonder if there’s a reward we could give her, a desire she has yet to voice?”

Taking this cue, Hent turned to me, smile as wide and amazing as Seallaii’s rings despite the pack of herbs he still held to his cheek. “If I said you could ask for anythin’, what would you ask for, Rose?”

“I want the Seallaii-na who helped get this message to Grenswa.”

Hent’s eyes widened, smile withering. “We can’t give you that. Ask for anythin’ else.”

“Why, Hent. Tell us what really happened to him.”

He wouldn’t meet my gaze, steel determination stiffening his bones. “He’s killed, and the leader of the Onyx divisions destroyed the body so the Seallaii-nas couldn’t blame it on us. We’ll say he never arrived.”

“Yet we received the message he carried,” Lord Ayf pointed out. “And if he’s a Mykta, his Royal knows what happened.”

“Foolish,” the king denounced, and Hent winced. “If you condoned the cover up, Hent, the Seallaii-nas might even ask for your life among the reparations.”

They wouldn’t. Would they?

A piece of Yol’s plan snapped into place in my mind.

Fear rippled in Hent’s scales, a dazzling gold, black pupils overtaking his eyes, irises slivers of electrum. “I…I’ll meet with the Seallaii-nas. I’ll take responsibility. But I’lln’t accept a ruling of thirty lives in compensation for one. Mine should be enough, right?”

“No, Hent.” King Rangial crossed the table and crouched before his son, brushing the prince’s long bangs back behind one ear as he placed a hand on Hent’s cheek. Hent let the herbs fall. “There’d be outrage if we gave you to them, and they know there’d be outrage if they took you.”

“Then what can we do?” Hope and trust pervaded him, not enough to chase away his golden fear, but clearly present in the way he looked at his father.

“Yol wants you to take the blame for killing Fredo…the Seallaii-na,” I announced. “When Yol attacked me, he said he needed a favor from the Druojojneerpsrii, and I think he wants them upset at this government or even at Hent specifically. He wants them to demand Hent’s life or at least revoke our alliance if he becomes king.”

All eyes were on me, and Hent voiced the question in every stare. “Why?”

“Because he wants a queen who is both Luejii and ~inonii. He believes in that cause.” I did, too, but Yol was going about it the wrong way.

“If he’s the leader of the Onyx divisions,” Lord Ayt speculated, “he answers directly to the Onyx Guardian, and he’d be in a perfect position to assassinate the Onyx Lordlin’”

Hent’s golden stare bored into me, viridian trickling into widening irises. “Why didn’t you tell me this when we took Yol to the medical ward?”

“Because I hadn’t figured most of it out yet, and I wanted him to tell me where Fredo was.” I closed my eyes, letting out a shuddering breath. “When Yol attacked me, he said Fredo was still alive, but he also hinted he would take him apart piece by piece.”

“That’s sick,” Hent breathed.

“We’ll immediately dispatch officers to collect Yol and rescue this Seallaii-na prisoner,” King Rangial proclaimed. “Hent, can I trust you to oversee the recovery of this important Seallaii-na while I continue to formulate our plans against the Shlykrii-nas?”

Hent straightened, this reassurance soaking into him. He had messed up epically, but his father still trusted him enough to let him help fix it.

With a firm nod, Hent edged closer to me, taking my face in both hands and staring into my eyes. The orange of Seallaii’s sun burned in his gaze. “If this Seallaii-na, Fredo, if he’s anywhere in the world, I’ll find him. I promise.”

***

Relief and hope lubricated my pen across the pages. I was no longer alone. My message was where it needed to be, and Hent searched for Fredo with the full backing of the king. They would find him, rescue him, keep him safe, and that made me feel safe, too.

The night was old and tired when I finished the last page, my eyes heavy, fingers languid and numb. My head hung closer to the words with each line, and as a I scrawled the last letter, my face hit the table. I was asleep before someone took the paper.

Someone else scooped me into their arms, and I felt as if I flew. I might have heard Timqé’s voice, but my eyes were sealed with massive weights too troublesome to move.

Another voice echoed from the farthest recesses of my mind, too muddled to understand. Needles pricked my skin, injecting me with fear, and I screamed.

But no, it wasn’t me. Fredo screamed. It was his skin the fire crawled through, his arm that felt the slither of calloused fingers searching for a vein.

But neither of us could move.

***

I awoke in the dark, giant, syrupy-scented leaves curled around me. Heart pounding, I tried to sit up, but my limbs were tangled in the leafy blankets. A cool hand fell on my shoulder.

“You’re fine; you’re safe here in my and Timqé’s suite,” Niiq’s sugary voice cooed.

“Have they found Fredo yet?” The question escaped breathless and packed with terror.

“No, there’s no sign of your Seallaii-na.” She paused, deciding whether or not to tell me. “…and Yol’s missin’.”

“What?!”

“Hush. You need to rest. Timqé and Hent know findin’ him’s important, and both of them’re relentless when it comes to important thin’s.”

But I had an awful feeling they wouldn’t find Fredo in time.

“We need to stay here,” Niiq insisted. “There’re assassins and conspirators, and my bein’ in the wrong place at the wrong time could get Timqé killed. You don’t want to get Hent killed, do you? Or your Fredo?”

I let her push me down on the clay-filled mattress. It squelched beneath my movements as I curled into a ball. Niiq lay behind me, belly pressing against my back, and the baby kicked, a slight comfort…until I realized my earlier promise to Niiq was unfounded. If she were half ~inonii, there was every chance that child would be Rainbow, and Yol would not be the last one to want them as pieces in a scheme.

“Tell me a story please,” I begged, tired of so many things, adrenaline coursing through my blood, helplessness just as strong. “Tell me a story with a happy ending.”

“Alright.” Her voice took on the timbre of a fire, the warm whoosh of flames, its breathy hiss, stressed syllables like crackles.

“There’s a girl who thinks it normal to be locked in a room when guests come, for it to be a sin to be seen, for family not to care what she eats or if she does. She thinks everyone sketches their dreams on borrowed paper in dark corners, knowin’ reality can never compare. She leaps from tall waterfalls to prove she’s alive, to feel the air rushin’ across her skin, the friendliest touch she’s ever known. She splashes into the pond’s embrace, engulfed in its acceptance and excitement at her bein’ there, and had her body instead dashed against the unforgivin’ rocks, no one would care. She doesn’t know she’s alone.”

“Are you sure this story has a happy ending?” I objected. “Because it has a rather depressing start, and my heart already feels run through.”

“Of course. Hush.

“She lives in the Onyx Fort, a ward of her uncle. A very important guest comes, and naturally she’s locked in her basement room and told to keep out of sight. And of course she doesn’t. She long ago figured out how to escape her room, and she’s very good at sneaking. So she goes to spy on the guest.

“Though it’s late at night, she finds him in the Fort’s trainin’ room. She thinks he’s dancin’, a lone soul among a crowd of movin’ dummies. He moves like the ocean waves that constantly batter the Fort’s outer walls, patient, persistent, hair darker than the darkest night, eyes deep and blue like the pools she always dives into. She wants to dance with him, but she can’t move, mesmerized, perched in the rafters, chrome tail twitchin’.

“He sees her, knocks her down. He thinks she’s a spy or an assassin, and when he asks for her name, she tells him, ‘I am no one.’

“‘You are gorgeous,’ he whispers, words like ghosts in the wind, almost too quiet for her to hear. No one has said anythin’ like that to her before, and he really means it. She knows.

“He only spends one week at the Onyx Fort, but every day she finds a way to be wherever he’s. She usually has to don a disguise, and that makes it all the more fun. He always sees her right away.

“Then, his second to last day there, he’sn’t the only one to notice her.

“Her uncle catches and punishes her severely, and again she’s locked in her room, chains added to her neck, wrists, and ankles for extra security.

“Her heart hurts. She’lln’t get to tell the guest goodbye or watch him ride away. He’lln’t know why she vanished. He’ll forget her.

“Then he bursts through the door, shoutin’ at her uncle, and she doesn’t hear half of what he says, relief poundin’ in her ears. But Uncle’s words cut through that like a knife, a sword. In three years’ time, she’ll die and the curse on their family’ll be broken. The prince should forget he saw anythin’.

“But her prince insists she come with him. She’lln’t stay another day in the Onyx Fort. She becomes her prince’s confidant and second pair of eyes as they travel to the forts remainin’ in his circuit.”

As Niiq detailed their quirky exploits and I sunk deeper into the warm darkness of sleep, her voice faded, words losing their meaning but retaining a soft, rhythmic quality. Safe and surrounded by notions of unbreakable love, I let sleep cover me.

***

Light on my face awoke me next. Blinking, I stretched and rose, peeling soft leaves off me. This was a loft high in a corner, random scraps of fabric strewn everywhere amid scattered sewing tools. Open, curved-triangle windows looked out above other towers and a sea of jungle, clouds beyond that.

Both thirsty and needing to relieve myself, I wandered over to the railing and the large space on the other side of it. This balcony hung two stories above a stone mosaic floor and a speckling of furniture—a screen, some elaborate benches, a table covered in flowers.

“Yay, you’re awake!” Niiq called from some hidden location. “Come down here and see this!”

Getting down was easier said than done since the only means for doing so was a narrow rope ladder. But I managed to heed her summons without breaking anything.

She jumped out from behind the wooden screen and twirled, her dress flowing like pouring oil. It gave the illusion of translucency, as if I could see right through her into the beyond. A herd of bells and bronze leaves encircled her ankles and wrists, more delicate metal foliage swirled over her forehead and vanishing into her chrome hair.

“You like it?”

“It’s beautiful. It suits you perfectly.”

She giggled. “Wait ‘til you see what I made for you! Go on, behind the screen.”

Obeying, I stepped past her. The screen was thick wood carved to resemble lace, its deep russet doing nothing to prepare my eyes for the slap of red behind it.

I ran my hand over the shimmery fabric—smooth and pliable as the scales of a scyuen’s belly, red as a tomato, a gradient deepening into bronze shaded by night. It looked a little like it was on fire.

“Do you like it?” Niiq squealed, peeking around the screen.

“Niiq, this is…wow. You really made this?”

“Yep.” She grinned, and it was like the night sky when Seallaii’s moons came out to play. “Go ahead, try it on while I get the accessories.”

As she disappeared, I unlaced my top and mentally prepared myself to figure out how to get this ensemble on.

And here I thought translating Menyaze was complicated.

I had just gotten the new outfit off the hangar when Niiq’s scream shattered the air.

-continued in Misplaced Insertion-

2
0
0
Juice
19 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 22 of River's End
Written by Taki
River's End chapter 20- A Lone Soul Among a Crowd
The official way to enter the King’s council chamber involved standing on a three-sided platform hoisted and guided by a series of pulleys. No railing prevented passengers from falling off, nothing offered to hold onto as the platform slowly glided around corners and slid through narrow passageways, ever rising. Its small size forced Hent, Blu and I to stand close together.

Blu was at my back, left arm not quite around me in a protective stance reminiscent of Fredo’s, something I found vaguely comforting until memories of the icy void slithered across my skin, Fredo’s panicked voice telling me I couldn’t stay here. Did he mean I couldn’t stay in the void? On this planet? Drowning in the pond? I was now ninety-nine percent sure he was alive, and I would not leave here without him.

The boys’ lack of body heat only increased the icy feeling, and I held my arms in tighter, right hand clasping my left bicep. In an effort to distract myself, I cleared my throat. “Um, not to sound rude or exclusive, but why does the council need Blu?”

“He’s our resident expert on Shlykrii-na tech,” Hent divulged.

My eyebrows twisted in incredulity.

“They say that because I used the broken pieces of old omnoits I found deep in the ocean to build Paqo.”

“While that’s impressive, the omnoits from the invasion are centuries’ old technology, and Paqo is hardly as they were. I think you’ll find current Shlykrii-na machines are very different.”

Teal specks glistened in Hent’s foggy jade green eyes. “The Druojojneerpsrii taught you about Shlykrii?”

“Much,” I squeaked. Seeing Hent colored with suspicion and worry scoured my conscience. I had yet to outright lie to him; every aspect of my subterfuge contained at least a sliver of truth, but inner me chose now to insist he wouldn’t see it that way.

I bit my lip.

“I bet I could build a whole army of special omnoits,” Blu mused, and I whirled, eyes wide. Deep in concentration, he rested his chin in his hand, fingers tapping the side of his nose. As his cerulean eyes slid to me, he grinned. “Especially if you helped me, Rose.”

“I don’t think an army of Paqos would be a solution to anything.”

Blu snickered, and Hent reluctantly joined in.

“I can see it,” the prince said, a bit of periwinkle sinking into his green, “The Paqos annoy our enemies so much, they give up and leave.”

“Or they blow up the world,” Blu countered, too somber too quickly and evoking a gasp from me.

It reminded me that delivering my message was only half the issue. Just knowing what Shlykrii planned would not stop them. And they were fully capable of destroying all life on this planet.

“Blu likes to tinker,” Hent soothed, fingers brushing my elbow, sliding up to rest on my shoulder. My skin tingled in the wake of his touch. “He views machines and ideas like puzzles, fitting different parts together, which sometimes results in the ridiculous. Don’t let my second cousin’s thinkin’ out loud disturb you.”

“You’re...you two are second cousins?”

Blu’s eyes cut to Hent, narrowing on my shoulder and the hand loitering there, and he plopped his own hand on my other shoulder. I would have shrugged them both off had I not feared such motion might send one or all of us plunging off this platform to our deaths. This raft swayed with our movement, hanging from twisting, helical ropes as it followed the outside curve of a turret, slowly rising. A pond shimmered in the afternoon moonlight, at least ten stories below us.

“Hent’s mother’s supposed to be Lady of Sapphire,” Blu explained, “but she’s queen instead, so her cousin and next of kin, my mother, inherited the title.”

Which, assuming he was the oldest of his siblings, made him future Lord of Sapphire. It also meant Pullee was the same Pullee and daughter of the Lady of Sapphire that Niiq had said needed friends.

I giggled, and both boys looked at me with drawn brows.

“Without even knowing, I sort of did what Niiq planned.”

Hent grinned. “Somethin’ good, I hope?” He started to move even closer to me, but Blu’s hand shot across my back, sliding under Hent’s palm and knocking it away as Blu squeezed between us. Hent teetered, a scrambled step back adjusting his balance, and I hoped no one would get shoved off this elevator...especially me.

“Blu, what’s your problem?” Hent returned his cousin’s shove, and the platform rocked again. Blu’s tight grip on my shoulders ensured I stumbled with him, and shrugging free of him, I dropped, crawling for the raft’s exact center.

“You shouldn’t be makin’ moves on my girl,” Blu growled, face to face with Hent.

“I’m not your girl,” I inserted at the same time Hent asked, “She’s your girl since when?”

“When doesn’t matter. She can’t be your girl because of her birth defect. You can’t bring that into the royal line.”

Lavender confusion trickled through Hent’s scales. “What birth defect?”

Blu shrugged. “Niiq said the size and shape of her breasts’re a birth defect.”

Why in the world was he discussing my breasts with Niiq?! Crossing my arms over my chest, I was the most purple I had ever been in my life, and I felt about to implode. “I’m right here.”

“It’s okay. I don’t mind your birth defect,” Blu soothed, hand alighting at the nape of my neck, and I slapped it away, indignation launching me to my feet.

“I don’t have a birth defect!”

Blu’s palms cupped either side of my face, and he rose on his toes to kiss me between the eyebrows just as our elevator pushed us through the open hatch in the floor of the king’s council chamber. Behind me, Hent let out a choked squeak. Shock and embarrassment rendered me nearly the color of a plum and immobile. I couldn’t even blink.

All faces swiveled toward us, an amalgam of emotions sweeping across the gathering. How much of our argument had they heard? Blu’s mother appeared the most scandalized, sitting primly with her feet tucked under her in a chair suspended above the floating table’s moat, her eyes so wide as to nearly engulf her face.

“Sapphire Lordlin’,” a middle-aged Topaz rebuked, orange scales bright against his ruddy skin in this dusky room, failing to hide in the shadows of his curly black hair and the neatly trimmed beard outlining his mouth, “this’s no time to give your girlfriend a tour.”

Clearing his throat, Hent yanked me away from Blu and stepped in front of us, clarifying, “Rose’s here because she knows Menyaze.”

Not to be outdone, Blu added, “She’s trained by the Druojojneerpsrii.”

A din erupted, each Lord or Lady murmuring to their neighbor, and with Blu’s mother here representing Sapphire, I was fairly certain the majority in this room held those titles.

Unlike Seallaii-na Lords and Ladies who were elected for life by each village to be intermediaries toward other villages and the central government, these Grenswa-nas were considered gifts from their tribes to the king. By inheritance they were to be his closest companions and confidants.

Scanning the room, I cataloged a representative from each Luejii tribe minus Onyx, a conspicuous omission, but I quickly filed this detail away, concentrating instead on the documents projected on every wall by the datareader sitting on the table’s center. The projections danced, spinning around the room and their companions, pages and pages of cramped, swirling text that held the key to our safety, completely illegible to anyone here but me.

The letters as they were spelled nothing, but my eyes quickly picked out the pattern. This was one of the simplest crypts, each letter substituted for another. Finding the first page only confirmed this suspicion, the sheet containing the date and the ever-same sentence: Language is for communicating, confusing, clarifying.

I started to switch out letters in my mind, muttering what must have sounded like nonsense to Hent, who looked at me over his shoulder in open fascination and curiosity. The task of rendering this message all in my head would have been near impossible even under the most conducive of circumstances. With Hent staring at me and the Topaz Lord loudly lecturing Blu on propriety (a lecture that, with the feel of his lips still so fresh on my forehead, I agreed he needed) my concentration was shoved over the Cliff of I-Can’t-Do-This and crammed into a box too tiny for anything.

But this had to be done, and I had to do it.

Whirling around Hent, I dropped to my knees at the end of the floating table, the bookcase I had once come through now behind me. I lay my palms flat on the stone floor, wrists touching my legs, fingers not quite reaching the curb of the moat—a Grenswa-na pose of beseeching. Lifting my chin, I met the brilliant aqua gaze of the man standing at the head of the table. He could only be King Rangial, his an aged blend of Hent’s and Timqé’s angular features swathed in their creamy skin and topped with obsidian hair slicked back, the undulating colors of his scales plain for all to see.

“You seek what, Pink child?” he acknowledged, voice reedy and warm, speckles of the faintest magenta appearing in his eyes. Every Opal had his own color scheme, so even had I known what these hues meant on Hent, they likely rendered a different emotion of the king’s.

“Allow me to interpret this message,” I begged. “Support me in this effort, and I will work as fast as I can.”

His smile blossomed, magenta brightening, overtaking the aqua. “Only a fool wouldn’t. State what you need.”

“Quiet and a means of writing.”

The first had already entered the room, every voice and rustle packed away in favor of hearing our soft exchange. For the second, leaves of waxy paper and an ink-filled stick were thrust into my hands.

Gazes remained glued to me though as I stepped onto the table, the long board’s dip upsetting the pond beneath despite my best efforts to be light of foot. How the Lady of Pearl—a broad-boned woman with pinched features who was likely Wae’s mother—could sit on one corner of the table and not have it tilt toward her seemed a defiance of gravity.

With swiftness tempered by a smidgen of caution and admittedly not much grace, I plopped down next to the datareader, a device that now looked like a glowing, rounded rock, the strands of my datapin draped over it. Tapping the device, I stilled the projections. Grenswa-nas might have viewed the ever-moving world as beautiful, but my mind didn’t work like that, and I didn’t need to chase the words I tried to unscramble.

Eyes steadfast on the wall, I followed the loops of Menyaze syllabaries, secret pleasure grinning at the beauty of this written language, how the words curled back on themselves to reuse letters already inscribed. Paper pressed against my thighs, my left hand danced across the page, sketching the sentences I decoded.

Stack of paper in hand, Hent sat down alongside me. “Can I help?”

I paused, warning whispering in my mind. Menyaze would only remain a clandestine language as long as it was not taught arbitrarily to anyone. But I wasn’t at the translation stage yet. This was just swapping out one letter for another. And there were a lot of pages. I could use all the help I could get.

Sliding a fresh sheet to the top of my stack, I scribbled Menyaze’s twenty-three consonants and handed the paper to Hent.

“This is Menyaze’s alphabet in order for the date indicated on the first page. Every consonant is off by three, so match the letters to this list and write down the third one beneath it. Vowels are indicated by the location of these dots around the consonants, and they’re inverted. If the dot is above the letter, write it below. Got it?”

He nodded. “I’ll start on the second page, and we can do every other.”

“I’ll help, too,” Blu announced, kneeling on the other side of me, “but I’m a bit confused. You said alphabetical order for that day?”

“It’sn’t important, Blu,” Hent censured, focus on the wall. Without him looking, his pen scratched words onto the page, lines deliberate and precise. Amazement fluttered in me; he didn’t even know these letters, yet he rendered them exactly as I had.

Shaking my head, I inscribed an alphabet for Blu to copy, and he sat with his feet tucked beneath him, tail guiding his pen in bold strokes. Ink spattered often as he tried to catch up with Hent.

In the grainy voice of an old man, the ancient Aquamarine Lord sitting to the left of the king revealed, “Menyaze’s originally twelve separate codes used by Neerpsrii to communicate with his subordinates. Now Menyaze’s a conglomeration of those. As a language designed for crypt, the alphabet shuffles according to the date.”

“It also sounds like somethin’ done in an attempt at fairness,” Blu’s mother hypothesized.

The Topaz Lord reasoned, “Because the twelve codes possessed different orders, and no one’s made to decide which one’s the best?”

“Maybe,” the Sapphire Lady mused, “but I thought more along the lines of thin’s that get ordered alphabetically. For instance, H holds the last place in the Sishgil alphabet, so ones like Hent’re always among the last when ordered like so.”

“Unless we do it backwards,” Hent countered, already on his fourth page. How did he write so perfectly that fast?

Envy broiled in my gut, and I told myself this wasn’t a race, no matter if Blu viewed it that way, a pen wrapped in his tail and either hand. Most of what Blu wrote was illegible, and dividing his attention three ways did not make him any swifter.

Regardless of my slowness, I was still very much needed here. No matter how impeccable Hent’s script, he had no idea what it said.

Oblivious of my inner deliberations, the Sapphire Lady pressed, “B’s the central letter in the Sishgil alphabet, and I know my Bluanto gets tired of always bein’ stuck in the middle. In Menyaze, does every consonant get a turn at bein’ first?”

The elderly Aquamarine laughed, scales glistening bright against the deep abyss color of his wrinkled skin. “First or close to first. There’re only twelve orders while there’re twenty-three consonants, after all.”

“What if a name begins with a vowel like yours, Lord Ayf?” King Rangial questioned the elder. “You’d be kicked out or forgotten?”

“Sometimes these old bones might prefer that,” Lord Ayf chuckled, “but vowels at the beginnin’ of any word’re implied in Menyaze and simply unwritten.”

“Your name’d just be an f!” Blu guffawed.

As the Topaz Lord slapped the back of the Lordling’s head with a rebuke about showing respect, I peered at the Aquamarine.

He noticed my curious stare. “Questions plague you, Child?”

“Do you know Menyaze, Honored Elder?”

He laughed again, a jovial, tinkling sound rising from his lowest depths. “I often begged Sjaealam to teach me, but he said he couldn’t, that it’s a language forbidden to those who’ren’t River Guardians.” His gaze grew a seriousness that stuffed fear down my throat, and I quickly turned back to my pages.

“Why do you write it with your left hand?” Blu questioned, and I bit my lip so as not to snap at him to be quiet.

Left-handedness was an extreme rarity for Grenswa-nas, whereas the opposite was true for my people. I had never met a right-handed Seallaii-na. The wrinkly Aquamarine already had suspicions, I was sure, and Blu didn’t need to throw any fuel on that fire.

But silence was not in Blu’s repertoire. “I think it’s slowing you down, writin’ like that.” He had no room to talk, on his back, head hanging over the edge of the table, hair floating in the moat as he looked at the projections upside-down.

But then, considering the letters meant no more than squiggles to him anyway, it likely didn’t make that much of a difference to him.

“See.” He offered proof, holding up a triune of fanned sheets. “I’ve already got three pages.” Three sloppy, partial pages, which, had they been complete, would have been twice as many as I had.

I didn’t dare check Hent’s pile.

“Menyaze is properly written with the left hand,” I excused.

Beside me, Hent stiffened, gaze cutting to the hand weighting his paper on the tabletop.

My malevolent side giggled that we should let him believe he had to write with his weaker hand now. Surely that would stunt the growth of his heap of completed pages, and we could surpass him.

Again I reminded myself this was not a race and I should be proud and grateful for Hent’s skill. Blu’s pages were going to be a pain to read later. And we needed to get this all done as soon as possible. How awful would it be if the Shlykrii-nas attacked while we were stuck in this room, trying to write our plans with our inferior hands.

“You can use whichever hand is more expedient,” I ruled. “I’m just used to writing Menyaze with my left.”

“In the interest of expediency,” King Ragnial said, stepping onto the table and sitting back to back with me, “we should all help. Rose, you’dn’t mind etching letter keys for us all?”

***

I had not written the alphabet so many times in a row since I had been a small child first learning it. But with the help of the Ladies of Sapphire, Amethyst, Pearl, and Emerald; the Lords of Aquamarine, Amber, Ruby, Topaz, and Gold; a king, a prince, and a very eccentric Lordling who was upside-down most of the time, we completed the decryption of the message in a whirlwind of activity.

I sat in the suspended chair across from the Sapphire Lady’s, our completed manuscript stacked on the table in front of Hent. As I finished translating and transcribing a page, he handed me another and a fresh paper while someone else whisked away the previous ones. Discussions raged around me, but my concentration reduced me to a world of letters and definitions. I couldn’t even recite half of what I’d translated, constantly looking ahead to the next page.

My chair spun, a warm plate deposited in my lap. Crysslist soufflé.

Blu’s smiling face hovered a hand’s width from mine. “You liked it last time, and you need to eat.”

My stomach growled in agreement, fertilizing his grin.

“Thank you,” I mumbled sheepishly, using the shell-spoon to scoop up a piece of mushy rainbow fruit and slide it into my mouth. Sour heaven.

Blu watched me intently, cerulean eyes glittering. “You do still like it!” He was so close, for a moment I feared he would try to kiss my head again. My brow suddenly felt very unprotected, and I scooted back, my chair sent swinging, negating all attempts at regaining my personal space.

“Blu, give her room to breathe her own air,” Hent chided, arm thrust between us and pressing his cousin back.

Hent received both a grimace from Blu and a grateful look from me. Not that I couldn’t stick up for myself, but with my luck, my evasive maneuvers would have pulled down the ceiling and I’d have fallen on the cousins, somehow accidentally kissing them both.

With Hent’s intervention, that crisis was avoided, and I sat peacefully in my chair, eating my delicious soufflé. It brought back memories of my first meeting with these crazies, and curiosity impelled me to ask, “Blu, if you’re the future Lord of Sapphire, why were you working in that restaurant?”

“You mean yesterday? The restaurant’s important to my dad, and he says working there’s supposed to keep me humble and in touch with the world beyond the island. So always on Blue-day, all the employees get the day off, and I’m supposed to run the place by myself.”

“Most customers know this and don’t come that day,” Hent pitched in, hopping back into the chair next to mine. He picked up the paper I had half-translated.

Blu added, “Hent’sn’t supposed to come with me either, but he usually does.”

Was Hent not supposed to leave the island like I wasn’t supposed to leave my citadel? Maybe we had that in common.

A chime sounded, and I looked around, hoping I hadn’t lost my mind enough that my epiphanies had sound effects.

With a second chime, the hatch in the floor at the end of the table slid away and the elevator lifted an Onyx man into the room. His features were strikingly similar to Niiq’s, minus her silver coloring, his skin darker and with a warmer tint, but there was nothing warm in his expression. Pride and decorum stood rigid in his stance, eyes possessing the hollow sheen of one whose worried mind was elsewhere.

Niiq’s father, perhaps?

“Guardian of Onyx,” King Rangial addressed him, “while all the visiting Guardians’re free to roam, this’s a restricted area and we’re busy. Why this interruption?”

“The Lady of Onyx’s unable to heed your summons, so she sent me in her stead. She sits vigil alongside her heir, my son, in the medical ward.” Which made this man Niiq’s uncle. “I trust you know what happened.”

An ~inonii assassin stabbed the Onyx Lordling, and Niiq was blamed.

The king’s expression softened. “You should be with your son as well. I relinquish the Onyx from the summons.”

Niiq’s uncle bowed shallowly. “With all due respect, this wouldn’t’ve happened if you left my niece under my supervision in the Onyx Fort. I again implore you to return her before tomorrow.” Meaningful glances and heavy silence all around. I felt a little lost.

Hello, trying to save the world here, Onyx Guardian. Sorry about your son and no, you can’t have Niiq. I willed the king to say this and maybe explain the ‘before tomorrow’ stipulation as well. Was tomorrow significant, or was it just a ‘right now’ kind of emphatic?

King Rangial’s face hardened, all emotion hidden except that which escaped in his coloring, a chasm of green. “Niiq’s no longer your concern.”

“She’s very much my concern.” Umber tinted the Onyx’s face in his version of a flush, jaw clenched. “The timin’ of this attempt on my son’s life’s no coincidence.”

The king gestured serenely. “You’ve proof of her involvement then?”

“I don’t need proof.”

Azure swirled over the king’s scales as he shook his head. “Suspicions without fences burn worlds, friend. Increase security around your son, and once you’ve evidence as to who targeted him, I’ll brin’ our wrath on that one.”

“Even if it’s the one we once called First Prince?” A challenging snarl curled the Guardian’s lip, and a gasp scurried around the room, taking a little hop through me. “You should’ve banished him for his stupidity.”

“Timqé’s too smart to be so obvious,” Hent countered, rising.

The Onyx looked the prince up and down. Hent was tall, but this man was broad and muscled. “I’d’ve thought him smart enough not to fall for a cursed, half ~inonii abomination.”

Niiq was half ~inonii?! Of course, that would explain why they kept associating her with the ~inonii assassins and spies. And if Niiq were only an Onyx-born Silver, her hair wasn’t likely to be the mirror color it was. That bespoke Chrome heritage, and I was an idiot for taking so long to realize that.

But if Niiq had a Chrome father, did the Lady of Onyx have some forbidden love story? What had happened to make her shun her own daughter? Had the flames of public opinion pounced on her secret relationship? How could it have ended so badly that she wished Niiq had never been born?

Agg! So many questions!

“You’re a blind buffoon who doesn’t deserve to even know Niiq!” All gazes shot to me. Great, I said that out loud.

Setting my half-empty plate aside, I stood on my chair. “Niiq is beautiful and kind and a piece of cheer incarnate, and I’m new here, but from what I’ve seen, you treat her worse than dirt.”

The Onyx blinked at me, pitch colored eyes meeting mine and sinking into a scowl. “I’m sorry, did Pink get recognized as an official tribe?”

“Rose’s our Druojojneerpsrii-trained translator, and she risked her life to save all of us,” Hent introduced me, stepping onto the table to block my line of sight. “What’ve you done, Guardian of Onyx?” A bonfire burned in the prince’s eyes and scales.

Pride lifted the Guardian’s chin, necklaces jingling over his bare chest. “And now I see we have two idiot princes.”

“I’d rather be stupid than heartless like you,” Hent growled, stepping into the man’s space.

SMACK! The Guardian punched him, and Hent fell. The Onyx dove after him, grabbing the front of his shirt and slamming him against the wall. I could no longer hear their hissed words over the rush of everyone else stampeding to join the fray.

Shock cemented me in place. This was exactly why we had Myktas. This annoying twerp would never have made it in this room if it had the kind of security I was used to.

Swinging in the chair beside mine, Blu laughed, “Oh, Hent’ll have a lovely time at the Onyx Fort this year.”

“Why would he go to the Onyx Fort?”

As the Gold and Topaz Lords hauled the Onyx Guardian back to the elevator and disappeared into the floor, Blu explained, “For his world tour.”

I turned to the Lordling, silent, questioning expression demanding a more detailed explanation.

“Sometimes you know everythin’ and sometimes you know nothin’,” Blu noted with a twisted smirk. “You see, all the Guardians’re here for the festival tomorrow, but it’s extra special because Hent’s turning twenty this year. When the guests leave, he’ll go with the Guardian of Amethyst and spend a week at that fort. Then he’ll go to Amber, then Pearl, then Onyx, and if he survives, he’ll see the Ruby next.” He plopped down in his chair, and I followed suit, reclaiming my plate.

“Like with your restaurant experience, is this tour supposed to keep him in touch with the world?”

“That, and he’s supposed to find a wife.”

I should have known better than to take a bite of my soufflé. I choked. It wasn’t that I had a problem with Hent finding a wife somewhere out there in the world. That seemed only natural, just Blu said it so bluntly.

“That’s why he’s starting off in Amethyst,” he continued his explanation as I tried to swallow and breathe and act like that wasn’t difficult, “because the current queen is Sapphire, so the Amethyst get first chance to offer a suitable queen next.”

“Wait,” my voice emerged squeaky, misshapen as it squeezed past the food having an awfully hard time finding its way down my throat, “purple is Hent’s annoyed color. Wouldn’t it be weird for him to be with someone who seemed annoyed all the time?”

“I don’t project my colors onto others.” I jumped and whirled, chair nearly swinging into Hent. The prince stood just behind me, sliding back into his seat. He looked at me meaningfully. “Besides, not every Amethyst’s purple.”

Right. With my pink eyes and painted scales, I was pretending to be Amethyst. I looked at feet curled beside me, faux rewtatops shimmering in the lie they represented.

Lavender-scaled feet stepped into my view, and my gaze followed the attached legs up to a body and face. The Amethyst Lady, a woman old enough to be Hent’s grandmother, held a bundle of warm, smelly herbs against Hent’s bruising cheek. “Your mother said you lacked finesse in minglin’ with the Guardians, and now I see what she meant.”

He accepted the bundle in silence, gratitude, frustration, and a swirl of colors in his eyes as he placed his hand over hers.

“Hold it tight now,” she admonished as she released the pack. “And if you value the advice of an old lady, you’lln’t insult temperamental Guardians just because they insulted you. They’re leaders of armies, after all.”

“He insulted Timqé, too,” Hent insisted.

“You can’t fight Timqé’s battles for him.”

Hent sighed. “I know.” His eyes fell to the half-translated page he had abandoned on the table. Concentration slid over sharp features as he picked it up again.

“Squinting won’t make it make any more sense,” I teased as the Amethyst shuffled away.

Above the paper, all I saw was the adorable quirk of an eyebrow. “There’s no pattern to this. I can’t pick out articles or conjunctions or anythin’ in these sentences.”

“That’s because Menyaze is entirely idiom,” I explained, plucking the paper out of his grasp. “The meaning is more than the sum of the words. For example, here,” I pointed, “Ku te malat; sauté in shadows.”

“Probably has nothing to do with cooking in the dark?” he assumed, both eyebrows raised.

“Correct. It means: I know you are scared. I know this is dangerous. And though none see me, I am here for you.”

“That’s pretty profound,” Blu remarked, leaning over my shoulder. I elbowed him, and he fell back into his own seat with an “Oof.”

“Their every word’s a riddle,” Hent charged, hands running through his hair. “Explains why they never take us seriously, as if we’re children incapable of understanding the world.”

“To them we’re definitely children,” Lord Ayf inserted, easing his fragile body into the chair on Hent’s other side. He was old and slow, but his clear turquoise eyes were swathed in wisdom and vigor. I shied away from his scrutinizing gaze.

“Most Seallaii-nas’re ancient, right?” Hent supposed.

“I bet they all look like dried fruit!” Blu hypothesized, and the Aquamarine shook his head, inclining over the table to have a straighter view of the Lordling behind me.

“You’ve seen transmissions of the Nadinshé, yes Blu?”

“Oh yeah, she’s steaming gorgeous!” To Hent’s and my incredulous looks, he amended, “I mean in a scary way. Rose’s gorgeous in a better way, like a day I’d want to live forever in.”

Lord Ayf continued with his point. “How old do you assume her to be?”

“Eighteen,” Blu guessed, and after a contemplative beat, Hent added, “Twenty.”

“She’s born a month before me, eighty-eight years ago.”

Aghast, Blu shot to his feet, both hands on his head. “She’s older than my great-grandma!”

“Even so,” Lord Ayf conceded with a sharp nod, “she remains Nadinshé, or Heir Apparent, because she’s considered too young to take the throne of Seallaii.”

“But didn’t their queen-like person die already?”

I frowned. No points for wording there, Blu.

“Seallaii’s Dayota perished fifteen years ago,” Lord Ayf admitted, “but fifteen years’re nothin’ to a Seallaii-na.”

“There are young ones, too,” I argued. “I…the one who came here with this message, he’s only twenty. Fifteen years would seem just as long to him as it would to Hent.”

“Except by the end of fifteen years, more’ll’ve changed for us than for him,” the Aquamarine Lord contended. “I’ll likely die, Hent’ll be king, and your Seallaii-na’ll still be considered a child. Which makes me wonder why Seallaii sent us children. You’re very young yourself, Pink messenger.”

“She’s been very brave,” the king acknowledged, sitting across from us, “and invaluable. I wonder if there’s a reward we could give her, a desire she has yet to voice?”

Taking this cue, Hent turned to me, smile as wide and amazing as Seallaii’s rings despite the pack of herbs he still held to his cheek. “If I said you could ask for anythin’, what would you ask for, Rose?”

“I want the Seallaii-na who helped get this message to Grenswa.”

Hent’s eyes widened, smile withering. “We can’t give you that. Ask for anythin’ else.”

“Why, Hent. Tell us what really happened to him.”

He wouldn’t meet my gaze, steel determination stiffening his bones. “He’s killed, and the leader of the Onyx divisions destroyed the body so the Seallaii-nas couldn’t blame it on us. We’ll say he never arrived.”

“Yet we received the message he carried,” Lord Ayf pointed out. “And if he’s a Mykta, his Royal knows what happened.”

“Foolish,” the king denounced, and Hent winced. “If you condoned the cover up, Hent, the Seallaii-nas might even ask for your life among the reparations.”

They wouldn’t. Would they?

A piece of Yol’s plan snapped into place in my mind.

Fear rippled in Hent’s scales, a dazzling gold, black pupils overtaking his eyes, irises slivers of electrum. “I…I’ll meet with the Seallaii-nas. I’ll take responsibility. But I’lln’t accept a ruling of thirty lives in compensation for one. Mine should be enough, right?”

“No, Hent.” King Rangial crossed the table and crouched before his son, brushing the prince’s long bangs back behind one ear as he placed a hand on Hent’s cheek. Hent let the herbs fall. “There’d be outrage if we gave you to them, and they know there’d be outrage if they took you.”

“Then what can we do?” Hope and trust pervaded him, not enough to chase away his golden fear, but clearly present in the way he looked at his father.

“Yol wants you to take the blame for killing Fredo…the Seallaii-na,” I announced. “When Yol attacked me, he said he needed a favor from the Druojojneerpsrii, and I think he wants them upset at this government or even at Hent specifically. He wants them to demand Hent’s life or at least revoke our alliance if he becomes king.”

All eyes were on me, and Hent voiced the question in every stare. “Why?”

“Because he wants a queen who is both Luejii and ~inonii. He believes in that cause.” I did, too, but Yol was going about it the wrong way.

“If he’s the leader of the Onyx divisions,” Lord Ayt speculated, “he answers directly to the Onyx Guardian, and he’d be in a perfect position to assassinate the Onyx Lordlin’”

Hent’s golden stare bored into me, viridian trickling into widening irises. “Why didn’t you tell me this when we took Yol to the medical ward?”

“Because I hadn’t figured most of it out yet, and I wanted him to tell me where Fredo was.” I closed my eyes, letting out a shuddering breath. “When Yol attacked me, he said Fredo was still alive, but he also hinted he would take him apart piece by piece.”

“That’s sick,” Hent breathed.

“We’ll immediately dispatch officers to collect Yol and rescue this Seallaii-na prisoner,” King Rangial proclaimed. “Hent, can I trust you to oversee the recovery of this important Seallaii-na while I continue to formulate our plans against the Shlykrii-nas?”

Hent straightened, this reassurance soaking into him. He had messed up epically, but his father still trusted him enough to let him help fix it.

With a firm nod, Hent edged closer to me, taking my face in both hands and staring into my eyes. The orange of Seallaii’s sun burned in his gaze. “If this Seallaii-na, Fredo, if he’s anywhere in the world, I’ll find him. I promise.”

***

Relief and hope lubricated my pen across the pages. I was no longer alone. My message was where it needed to be, and Hent searched for Fredo with the full backing of the king. They would find him, rescue him, keep him safe, and that made me feel safe, too.

The night was old and tired when I finished the last page, my eyes heavy, fingers languid and numb. My head hung closer to the words with each line, and as a I scrawled the last letter, my face hit the table. I was asleep before someone took the paper.

Someone else scooped me into their arms, and I felt as if I flew. I might have heard Timqé’s voice, but my eyes were sealed with massive weights too troublesome to move.

Another voice echoed from the farthest recesses of my mind, too muddled to understand. Needles pricked my skin, injecting me with fear, and I screamed.

But no, it wasn’t me. Fredo screamed. It was his skin the fire crawled through, his arm that felt the slither of calloused fingers searching for a vein.

But neither of us could move.

***

I awoke in the dark, giant, syrupy-scented leaves curled around me. Heart pounding, I tried to sit up, but my limbs were tangled in the leafy blankets. A cool hand fell on my shoulder.

“You’re fine; you’re safe here in my and Timqé’s suite,” Niiq’s sugary voice cooed.

“Have they found Fredo yet?” The question escaped breathless and packed with terror.

“No, there’s no sign of your Seallaii-na.” She paused, deciding whether or not to tell me. “…and Yol’s missin’.”

“What?!”

“Hush. You need to rest. Timqé and Hent know findin’ him’s important, and both of them’re relentless when it comes to important thin’s.”

But I had an awful feeling they wouldn’t find Fredo in time.

“We need to stay here,” Niiq insisted. “There’re assassins and conspirators, and my bein’ in the wrong place at the wrong time could get Timqé killed. You don’t want to get Hent killed, do you? Or your Fredo?”

I let her push me down on the clay-filled mattress. It squelched beneath my movements as I curled into a ball. Niiq lay behind me, belly pressing against my back, and the baby kicked, a slight comfort…until I realized my earlier promise to Niiq was unfounded. If she were half ~inonii, there was every chance that child would be Rainbow, and Yol would not be the last one to want them as pieces in a scheme.

“Tell me a story please,” I begged, tired of so many things, adrenaline coursing through my blood, helplessness just as strong. “Tell me a story with a happy ending.”

“Alright.” Her voice took on the timbre of a fire, the warm whoosh of flames, its breathy hiss, stressed syllables like crackles.

“There’s a girl who thinks it normal to be locked in a room when guests come, for it to be a sin to be seen, for family not to care what she eats or if she does. She thinks everyone sketches their dreams on borrowed paper in dark corners, knowin’ reality can never compare. She leaps from tall waterfalls to prove she’s alive, to feel the air rushin’ across her skin, the friendliest touch she’s ever known. She splashes into the pond’s embrace, engulfed in its acceptance and excitement at her bein’ there, and had her body instead dashed against the unforgivin’ rocks, no one would care. She doesn’t know she’s alone.”

“Are you sure this story has a happy ending?” I objected. “Because it has a rather depressing start, and my heart already feels run through.”

“Of course. Hush.

“She lives in the Onyx Fort, a ward of her uncle. A very important guest comes, and naturally she’s locked in her basement room and told to keep out of sight. And of course she doesn’t. She long ago figured out how to escape her room, and she’s very good at sneaking. So she goes to spy on the guest.

“Though it’s late at night, she finds him in the Fort’s trainin’ room. She thinks he’s dancin’, a lone soul among a crowd of movin’ dummies. He moves like the ocean waves that constantly batter the Fort’s outer walls, patient, persistent, hair darker than the darkest night, eyes deep and blue like the pools she always dives into. She wants to dance with him, but she can’t move, mesmerized, perched in the rafters, chrome tail twitchin’.

“He sees her, knocks her down. He thinks she’s a spy or an assassin, and when he asks for her name, she tells him, ‘I am no one.’

“‘You are gorgeous,’ he whispers, words like ghosts in the wind, almost too quiet for her to hear. No one has said anythin’ like that to her before, and he really means it. She knows.

“He only spends one week at the Onyx Fort, but every day she finds a way to be wherever he’s. She usually has to don a disguise, and that makes it all the more fun. He always sees her right away.

“Then, his second to last day there, he’sn’t the only one to notice her.

“Her uncle catches and punishes her severely, and again she’s locked in her room, chains added to her neck, wrists, and ankles for extra security.

“Her heart hurts. She’lln’t get to tell the guest goodbye or watch him ride away. He’lln’t know why she vanished. He’ll forget her.

“Then he bursts through the door, shoutin’ at her uncle, and she doesn’t hear half of what he says, relief poundin’ in her ears. But Uncle’s words cut through that like a knife, a sword. In three years’ time, she’ll die and the curse on their family’ll be broken. The prince should forget he saw anythin’.

“But her prince insists she come with him. She’lln’t stay another day in the Onyx Fort. She becomes her prince’s confidant and second pair of eyes as they travel to the forts remainin’ in his circuit.”

As Niiq detailed their quirky exploits and I sunk deeper into the warm darkness of sleep, her voice faded, words losing their meaning but retaining a soft, rhythmic quality. Safe and surrounded by notions of unbreakable love, I let sleep cover me.

***

Light on my face awoke me next. Blinking, I stretched and rose, peeling soft leaves off me. This was a loft high in a corner, random scraps of fabric strewn everywhere amid scattered sewing tools. Open, curved-triangle windows looked out above other towers and a sea of jungle, clouds beyond that.

Both thirsty and needing to relieve myself, I wandered over to the railing and the large space on the other side of it. This balcony hung two stories above a stone mosaic floor and a speckling of furniture—a screen, some elaborate benches, a table covered in flowers.

“Yay, you’re awake!” Niiq called from some hidden location. “Come down here and see this!”

Getting down was easier said than done since the only means for doing so was a narrow rope ladder. But I managed to heed her summons without breaking anything.

She jumped out from behind the wooden screen and twirled, her dress flowing like pouring oil. It gave the illusion of translucency, as if I could see right through her into the beyond. A herd of bells and bronze leaves encircled her ankles and wrists, more delicate metal foliage swirled over her forehead and vanishing into her chrome hair.

“You like it?”

“It’s beautiful. It suits you perfectly.”

She giggled. “Wait ‘til you see what I made for you! Go on, behind the screen.”

Obeying, I stepped past her. The screen was thick wood carved to resemble lace, its deep russet doing nothing to prepare my eyes for the slap of red behind it.

I ran my hand over the shimmery fabric—smooth and pliable as the scales of a scyuen’s belly, red as a tomato, a gradient deepening into bronze shaded by night. It looked a little like it was on fire.

“Do you like it?” Niiq squealed, peeking around the screen.

“Niiq, this is…wow. You really made this?”

“Yep.” She grinned, and it was like the night sky when Seallaii’s moons came out to play. “Go ahead, try it on while I get the accessories.”

As she disappeared, I unlaced my top and mentally prepared myself to figure out how to get this ensemble on.

And here I thought translating Menyaze was complicated.

I had just gotten the new outfit off the hangar when Niiq’s scream shattered the air.

-continued in Misplaced Insertion-
2
0
0
Juice
19 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Written by Taki in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Shatter

'Open your hand' he says

'Take this gift from me

Then run and leave this mess

I love you; now be free'

As she opens her hands

To see what is there

He vanishes in time's sands

Fading in thin air

A heart sits in her palm

Made of tiny gems

It beats no more so calm

And she weeps for him

'I want a heart that will not shatter

Wrapped in faith that will not fray

If I don't care what does it matter

In this fortune of decay?'

So she stands there waiting

She will not let go

Constantly restating

His last words, though

Even her own hope fades

And life presses on

Through others' doubt she wades

Disputing he's gone

She whispers so quiet

'Will we meet again?'

No answer, no riot

Only cold within

'I want a heart that will not shatter

Wrapped in hope no one can steal

If I don't care what does it matter

How many lives I can heal?'

Another approaches

Clothed in mystery

She listens, reproaches

In him finds a key

This one's words are winsome

But clumsy, direct

Though still her heart is numb

In it grows respect

The other in her hand

Crumbles and she stares

'Come back to me'--a demand

'Save me if you dare'

'I want a heart that will not shatter

Wrapped in trust that can't be tamed

I want to care when it really matters

If you don't, then be ashamed'

To save others she leaps

Only to flounder

All are playing for keeps

Arms wrap around her

Slipping from her fingers

The shattered gems rise

But the touch still lingers

She opens her eyes

The one she left behind

Will not let her drown

Says 'You're hard to find'

She nods, looking down

'I give you a heart that will not shatter

Wrapped in love I cannot lose

I do care when it really matters

But now I have to choose'

3
0
2
Juice
20 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Written by Taki in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Shatter
'Open your hand' he says
'Take this gift from me
Then run and leave this mess
I love you; now be free'

As she opens her hands
To see what is there
He vanishes in time's sands
Fading in thin air

A heart sits in her palm
Made of tiny gems
It beats no more so calm
And she weeps for him

'I want a heart that will not shatter
Wrapped in faith that will not fray
If I don't care what does it matter
In this fortune of decay?'

So she stands there waiting
She will not let go
Constantly restating
His last words, though

Even her own hope fades
And life presses on
Through others' doubt she wades
Disputing he's gone

She whispers so quiet
'Will we meet again?'
No answer, no riot
Only cold within

'I want a heart that will not shatter
Wrapped in hope no one can steal
If I don't care what does it matter
How many lives I can heal?'

Another approaches
Clothed in mystery
She listens, reproaches
In him finds a key

This one's words are winsome
But clumsy, direct
Though still her heart is numb
In it grows respect

The other in her hand
Crumbles and she stares
'Come back to me'--a demand
'Save me if you dare'

'I want a heart that will not shatter
Wrapped in trust that can't be tamed
I want to care when it really matters
If you don't, then be ashamed'

To save others she leaps
Only to flounder
All are playing for keeps
Arms wrap around her

Slipping from her fingers
The shattered gems rise
But the touch still lingers
She opens her eyes

The one she left behind
Will not let her drown
Says 'You're hard to find'
She nods, looking down

'I give you a heart that will not shatter
Wrapped in love I cannot lose
I do care when it really matters
But now I have to choose'
3
0
2
Juice
20 reads
Load 2 Comments
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 30 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 8- Rivulets

Calm abandoned Twi as she ran through the corridors of the Isike. She could not be caught; she could not allow these Aylata anywhere near those she protected. Her thoughts raced as fast as her feet, stealth forgotten, steps clinking on the metal walkway.

Run like the world disintegrates behind you.

The walls hid in distant darkness to either side, the platform just wider than her arm span, hemmed by a railing of black bars in a complicated hash. The makeshift map rendered on her sys by her oha’s scans assured her this was the shortest route to the dock where her ship waited—a maze of catwalks through alternating tight tunnels and vast expanses far above an engine’s glow.

A shadow appeared, glinting in the faint light from below, a looming, four-armed monstrosity with the grace of a predator and burning white eyes. Unable to stop, Twi jumped, foot on the rail launching her over the machine’s head. A clawed hand caught her boot, pulling her down, and Twi twisted to land on her hands, kicking at the mechett’s wrist as the arm swung back and pitched her.

Twi’s right shoulder hit the walkway first, several somersaults expending her momentum. Sep’s ju’wack slipped from its pocket, skittering noisily across the textured metal surface. Fear a cascade of sharp, heavy stones streaming through her, Twi snatched it, eyes on the approaching machine as she stood, weapon snapping on and bathing the space in violet light.

This mechett was unlike any she had ever encountered: serpentine head, neck hidden within burly shoulders, chest wide and tapered sharply to narrow hips, clawed hands and feet oversized at the end of limbs long and spindly like an insect’s.

Like a Kelison.

“YOU WILL SURRENDER,” ordered its grating voice. The mechett looked evil; it sounded worse, and unlike normal automatons, it was immune to her ‘netic influence. This machine was made of living metallic cells, and Atomic Magnetics had no influence over other living things. Each life had its own unique pattern no one else could copy.

“Surrender to whom?” she questioned. “Who is your master?”

“YOU WILL SURRENDER,” it repeated, reaching for her. Twi swung the ju’wack at the extended forearm, and the weapon ricocheted, Twi’s arm thrown back. She let the momentum push her into a spin, a frown cast over her features, dropping low under another swipe of oversized claws.

Its taloned foot lashed out at her, and Twi blocked with the ju’wack, wide-eyed as the mechett’s toes came down on the weapon unharmed, stomping it into the walkway. She moved like a wave, bent legs unfolding so she stood behind the machine, pulling back to slide the purple tendrils free.

Blade-like, curved fingers captured her hand. The mechett didn’t even turn to face her, a second and third limb grabbing the ju’wack at either end, metal glistening as it melted around the luminous strands, partially coating them before yanking back to tear the weapon from Twi’s grasp.

The left limb let go, right wrist pivoting to slash the weapon at Twi’s middle. She jumped, using her captured hand to support her flip, a knee wrapping around the mechett’s forehead as she wrenched free, knuckles scraped and bruised, but hand intact.

Swiveling over the machine’s shoulders, she kicked away from it, landing low, just ahead of another swipe of the stolen ju’wack—a weapon that did not consider itself hers and possessed no qualms about slicing her to pieces.

Panic flickered in Twi’s heart, a flame she soothed with movement, retreating, expression schooled into one of calm calculation, silvery gaze glued to the mechett, ‘netics filling in the details of her surroundings. Behind her, fire-scented streams poured from a hole in the distant ceiling, an ever-changing number of rivulets dancing in the breeze. Twi weaved backward between them.

Could she outrun this mechett? Was there a way to slow it? The machine stalked closer, holding the purple ju’wack in a pose that mimicked how she had wielded the glowing staff.

“YOU WILL SURRENDER.”

Surrender wasn’t an option. This was mockery, threatening her with a weapon Sep had sworn would always protect her.

A rivulet splashed against the mechett’s shoulder, burning leaf and rubber scent growing, no visible damage appearing on the machine’s metal skin, but it looked anyway.

Twi’s gaze flicked to the side, eyes confirming the streams moved at her command, acid swirling around her, orbit expanding to include her foe. It moved as both a ribbon and a splash, enwrapping the mechett and solidifying into thick chains secured to the railings as Twi leapt, feet crashing into the machine’s chest, fingers prying at the clawed grip around the handle of Sep’s ju’wack.

Her hands slipped away empty, rebound onto the platform saving her from a meeting with the ju’wack’s searing tendrils. Already the chains crackled, breaking.

Twi backpedaled, loath to leave the last relic of her lost teammate, but she had to make it out of here. Malice and threat stabbed at her panic, reminding her the rest of her hrausq family still needed protecting, and how could she help them if she fell here?

She continued to retreat, outstretched arms guiding the cascades to encase the mechett, a spiky stalagmite growing in fast forward until she was out of range. Then she turned and ran, outrage an inferno. Anger made her swifter than fear had, sprinting toward home, not just to safety, but to her hrausq, her loved ones, where she could ensure nothing harmed them.

-continued in section 5 scene 9- Xlack vs Spycykle-

2
0
0
Juice
15 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 30 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 8- Rivulets
Calm abandoned Twi as she ran through the corridors of the Isike. She could not be caught; she could not allow these Aylata anywhere near those she protected. Her thoughts raced as fast as her feet, stealth forgotten, steps clinking on the metal walkway.

Run like the world disintegrates behind you.

The walls hid in distant darkness to either side, the platform just wider than her arm span, hemmed by a railing of black bars in a complicated hash. The makeshift map rendered on her sys by her oha’s scans assured her this was the shortest route to the dock where her ship waited—a maze of catwalks through alternating tight tunnels and vast expanses far above an engine’s glow.

A shadow appeared, glinting in the faint light from below, a looming, four-armed monstrosity with the grace of a predator and burning white eyes. Unable to stop, Twi jumped, foot on the rail launching her over the machine’s head. A clawed hand caught her boot, pulling her down, and Twi twisted to land on her hands, kicking at the mechett’s wrist as the arm swung back and pitched her.

Twi’s right shoulder hit the walkway first, several somersaults expending her momentum. Sep’s ju’wack slipped from its pocket, skittering noisily across the textured metal surface. Fear a cascade of sharp, heavy stones streaming through her, Twi snatched it, eyes on the approaching machine as she stood, weapon snapping on and bathing the space in violet light.

This mechett was unlike any she had ever encountered: serpentine head, neck hidden within burly shoulders, chest wide and tapered sharply to narrow hips, clawed hands and feet oversized at the end of limbs long and spindly like an insect’s.

Like a Kelison.

“YOU WILL SURRENDER,” ordered its grating voice. The mechett looked evil; it sounded worse, and unlike normal automatons, it was immune to her ‘netic influence. This machine was made of living metallic cells, and Atomic Magnetics had no influence over other living things. Each life had its own unique pattern no one else could copy.

“Surrender to whom?” she questioned. “Who is your master?”

“YOU WILL SURRENDER,” it repeated, reaching for her. Twi swung the ju’wack at the extended forearm, and the weapon ricocheted, Twi’s arm thrown back. She let the momentum push her into a spin, a frown cast over her features, dropping low under another swipe of oversized claws.

Its taloned foot lashed out at her, and Twi blocked with the ju’wack, wide-eyed as the mechett’s toes came down on the weapon unharmed, stomping it into the walkway. She moved like a wave, bent legs unfolding so she stood behind the machine, pulling back to slide the purple tendrils free.

Blade-like, curved fingers captured her hand. The mechett didn’t even turn to face her, a second and third limb grabbing the ju’wack at either end, metal glistening as it melted around the luminous strands, partially coating them before yanking back to tear the weapon from Twi’s grasp.

The left limb let go, right wrist pivoting to slash the weapon at Twi’s middle. She jumped, using her captured hand to support her flip, a knee wrapping around the mechett’s forehead as she wrenched free, knuckles scraped and bruised, but hand intact.

Swiveling over the machine’s shoulders, she kicked away from it, landing low, just ahead of another swipe of the stolen ju’wack—a weapon that did not consider itself hers and possessed no qualms about slicing her to pieces.

Panic flickered in Twi’s heart, a flame she soothed with movement, retreating, expression schooled into one of calm calculation, silvery gaze glued to the mechett, ‘netics filling in the details of her surroundings. Behind her, fire-scented streams poured from a hole in the distant ceiling, an ever-changing number of rivulets dancing in the breeze. Twi weaved backward between them.

Could she outrun this mechett? Was there a way to slow it? The machine stalked closer, holding the purple ju’wack in a pose that mimicked how she had wielded the glowing staff.

“YOU WILL SURRENDER.”

Surrender wasn’t an option. This was mockery, threatening her with a weapon Sep had sworn would always protect her.

A rivulet splashed against the mechett’s shoulder, burning leaf and rubber scent growing, no visible damage appearing on the machine’s metal skin, but it looked anyway.

Twi’s gaze flicked to the side, eyes confirming the streams moved at her command, acid swirling around her, orbit expanding to include her foe. It moved as both a ribbon and a splash, enwrapping the mechett and solidifying into thick chains secured to the railings as Twi leapt, feet crashing into the machine’s chest, fingers prying at the clawed grip around the handle of Sep’s ju’wack.

Her hands slipped away empty, rebound onto the platform saving her from a meeting with the ju’wack’s searing tendrils. Already the chains crackled, breaking.

Twi backpedaled, loath to leave the last relic of her lost teammate, but she had to make it out of here. Malice and threat stabbed at her panic, reminding her the rest of her hrausq family still needed protecting, and how could she help them if she fell here?

She continued to retreat, outstretched arms guiding the cascades to encase the mechett, a spiky stalagmite growing in fast forward until she was out of range. Then she turned and ran, outrage an inferno. Anger made her swifter than fear had, sprinting toward home, not just to safety, but to her hrausq, her loved ones, where she could ensure nothing harmed them.

-continued in section 5 scene 9- Xlack vs Spycykle-
2
0
0
Juice
15 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Written by Taki in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Acerbic Lullabies

Now I see | You struggled | With the silence

Now I know | Intrinsic | Demise

I am free | Befuddled | By a sly glance

Let me go | Acerbic | Lullabies

Here we stand | Confirming | Our choices

Far from home | Lost in an | Endless night

In a land | Out turning | Fearsome noises

All alone | Tossed in an | Epic fight

Now I see | You smiling | In the distance

Close my eyes | But you don't | Disappear

Serenely | Whiling | Away this instance

In disguise | So you don't | Need to fear

Could I be | Falling | Through a dream world

All I know | Can Never | Be explained

It's just me | Bawling | For scrolls unfurled

That will show | Endeavors | Unrestrained

Now I see | You running | In the distance

Hear my call | You see me | Hold my gaze

Leave me be | So stunning | Such insistence

After all | Could it be | I'm the maze

Take my hand | I'll show you | Adventure

Troubled hearts | And tears | Of mines and sand

Something grand | Awaits | Without censure

Now it starts | With you here | In my hand

Now I see | You motion | To my memories

Coming Clear | Unfair fickle | Lies

Like a tree | And ocean | There for centuries

What I hear | Acerbic | Lullabies

4
0
1
Juice
14 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Written by Taki in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Acerbic Lullabies
Now I see | You struggled | With the silence
Now I know | Intrinsic | Demise
I am free | Befuddled | By a sly glance
Let me go | Acerbic | Lullabies

Here we stand | Confirming | Our choices
Far from home | Lost in an | Endless night
In a land | Out turning | Fearsome noises
All alone | Tossed in an | Epic fight

Now I see | You smiling | In the distance
Close my eyes | But you don't | Disappear
Serenely | Whiling | Away this instance
In disguise | So you don't | Need to fear

Could I be | Falling | Through a dream world
All I know | Can Never | Be explained
It's just me | Bawling | For scrolls unfurled
That will show | Endeavors | Unrestrained

Now I see | You running | In the distance
Hear my call | You see me | Hold my gaze
Leave me be | So stunning | Such insistence
After all | Could it be | I'm the maze

Take my hand | I'll show you | Adventure
Troubled hearts | And tears | Of mines and sand
Something grand | Awaits | Without censure
Now it starts | With you here | In my hand

Now I see | You motion | To my memories
Coming Clear | Unfair fickle | Lies
Like a tree | And ocean | There for centuries
What I hear | Acerbic | Lullabies


4
0
1
Juice
14 reads
Load 1 Comment
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 29 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 7- Acid

If evil incarnate vomited, morphometal would be that bile, Xlack thought.

The mechetts seemed impenetrable to his Ier, and no matter how many times the kanabers sundered them, the machines mended within a few moments and attacked again, one with taloned hands and feet—the only weapons it had left—and the other keeping up a barrage of fire from its miniature shooters. Xlack had retreated into a corridor in a desultory attempt to chase Spycykle, but the Defender had disappeared.

Xlack ducked into a somersault under a stream of glowing darters, kicking out at the mechett’s leg. The metal bowed, knee snapping, and the mechett stumbled, multitude of arms scratching at the walls to prevent its fall.

The other’s clawed feet lashed out at Xlack, and he rolled, trapped under the tumbling machine, vertical Ier’s sharp tendrils impaling the mechett’s torso. Sparks flew, the machine limp and heavy atop him. The Ier struck something vital inside, and though not melting, the mechett couldn’t move.

Why did it cut instead of bounce this time? Did the mechett think it could absorb my Ier like with the kanabers? Idiot.

Or maybe not. The morphometal solidified around the wound, trapping Xlack’s weapon, and the press of the inert machine’s weight left him little room to maneuver.

The second mechett leapt onto its partner’s back, and Xlack sent the kanabers at it again. It swatted at the knives like annoying insects, snatching them, silver plating from its palms melting around the kanabers’ handles and growing, encasing the weapons in a thin layer of morphometal.

Xlack could barely feel the kanabers within anymore, his influence too weak to stop the weapons as, held tight in the mechett’s grip, they dove for Xlack’s face, chrome blades reflected in his eyes.

Xlack twisted to the left, a knife piercing the floor by his ear, the second a hairsbreadth from his collar. He didn’t stop, body just ahead of a series of deadly thrusts.

They’re learning and adapting, Xlack realized, dread a hard, barbed stone trapped in his gut.

With a groan, the perforated floor buckled, dropping the trio into the world of wires and pipes between stories.

The rigid tubes didn’t care that the Aylata fell across them, his more pliant flesh and bones expected to bend in deference. But the mechetts were heavy.

The first’s dead weight pinned Xlack. The second’s landing pressed the air from his lungs and denied him the space for another inhale. Beneath Xlack, a pipe dented and burst, hot, acerbic-scented liquid spewing.

Steam blossomed into thick fog, its touch inciting a tingling burn, and his Tsoqisi suit responded, helmet deploying, inner sleeves stretching to encompass his fingers, every junction sealed.

He still couldn’t breathe, chest in a vice between the pipes and mechetts, back bent, shoulders and neck touching the floor, where scalding liquid pooled. The Tsoqisi helped protect against the temperature, but it also severely limited the range and effectiveness of his Magnetic Talents.

Darkness lingered at the edges of his vision, lulling him with a deceptive sense of security.

Just sleep, it called. Spycykle won’t let them kill you. He’d have too many consequences to face if he did.

A small, gurgling roar sounded from above, Rell’s silhouette appearing at the edge of the crater, forepaws folded over the hole’s jagged bank, eyes searching for a way to get down there and help his master.

“No, Rell, retreat!” Xlack ordered, but the beastling did not back up. Silly master, so clearly in trouble and yet expecting Rell to run away on his own? What would Rell do without him? He would only run if master came, too.

The active mechett turned toward the elitbeast, glowing eyes focusing on the tiny creature, hand reaching out.

Terror shot through Xlack. Ier deactivating, he twisted and shoved free, breath coming in ragged gasps. But with the Ier no longer through the comatose mechett, the machine returned to life. Before Xlack could even stand, the repairing mechett’s claws wrapped around his neck, wrist, and thigh and threw him back down into the knee-deep liquid. His splash rose unnaturally high, breaking into several sharp needles and shooting at the higher mechett.

It stumbled with the plethora of strikes, gaze snapping back to the submerged Aylata, its partner pouncing.

A faint buzz found Xlack’s senses, a thick wire nudging his spine.

Their weakness is electricity, a strong surge, Xlack analyzed. He knew there were Magnetic moves that could take advantage of that, pulling lightning seemingly from nowhere and directing it at a target, but Xlack had never successfully dealt with that level of power. Movement was what he understood; it was closely related to his Ice and Fire Talents, one a stilling, a stealing of energy, the other an explosion of chaos. While he possessed many Talents, Xlack had mastered none.

He grabbed the wire, thick rubber tearing at his command. The voltage carried by this cord was nowhere near that of an electromass; he could only hope it was enough to hurt the morphometal and wouldn’t kill him.

Liquid touched wire, and Xlack’s muscles locked. The mechett splashed down on top of him. A sensation like the sound of a thousand distant screams shimmied across his skin, loud to his Magnetic senses, pulsing on beat with the mechetts’ jerky movements, a halo of shedding cells forming around them.

Laughter rang from above, sinister mirth making it heavy as it wandered through the fog and bounced off the walls.

“I was just going to watch through the Isike’s eyes,” Spycykle spieled, “but I’m glad I decided I needed to see this in person.”

Xlack fought to stand, jaw clenched, thoughts a scribble finding some focus as he rose, gaze zeroing in on Rell dangling over the crater, Spycykle holding the beastling by the scruff of the neck.

“You think this one likes me?” the Defender asked.

Rell snarled, needle-like claws extended and wildly lacerating the air, legs too short to reach his captor.

“No? Isn’t it ironic how elitbeast are the pets of Aylata, but they’re a Zalerit animal? And here I thought anything associated with that lesser world was supposed to be beneath our caring.”

He dropped the beastling. Xlack’s heart froze. The acid would burn his baby scales and the electric current would kill him.

The Ier’s silver tendrils reappeared, slicing through the floor in a spiral as Xlack jumped, catching the squealing Rell. Behind him, a mechett fell through the widening hole, lost in a roaring cascade.

“Why don’t you face me yourself, Spycykle?” Xlack called, disengaging his helmet and his Tsoqisi’s seal. The fabric steamed from the acid, but it limited him too much, and Rell couldn’t crawl into a safe pocket while the seal was active. The beastling slipped into his haven just below Xlack’s Ier sheath, the shine of his onyx eyes visible in the shadow of the flap, disgruntled growl as loud as Xlack had ever heard it. “What kind of Aylata are you, hiding behind machines like this?”

“You think you have courage, Xlack Skyme? Or do you hide behind your Talents?” Spycykle countered, arms crossed, smugness a sly predator slinking through his every line. “What would you be without them?”

The last mechett sprung, and Xlack called up another splash from the shallow stream on the floor, solidifying it. Like glass, his shield shattered, machine crashing through, slivers of ice swirling off and slamming into the mechett again and again, denying it forward momentum. Xlack’s Ier slashed amid the strikes, bouncing off polished plating.

“If that Navaria Twi had all your Talents, could you stand against her?” Spycykle continued. “Give her Talents equal to yours, and she’d easily destroy you.”

Claws grazed Xlack’s hip as he spun around the mechett, ducking low under another swipe, Ier bouncing back again. The fog stunk like burning rubber, stinging his lungs. “If you made us equal, wouldn’t it be a draw?”

“Talents aren’t everything.” Spycykle’s elbows rested on his knees, his chin on the back of his laced hands, a glimmer in his shaded eyes belying the bored pose. “Her determination is thicker, stronger than yours. Maybe because everything she ever wanted wasn’t just handed to her.”

Small, solid spears of acid continued to pelt the machine as Xlack hooked an ankle around a metallic leg. The mechett retreated a pace, dragging him with it, talons slashing again. Xlack reeled, dropping flat, rolling as the mechett’s fingers pierced the floor, snagging a jacket strap across his stomach.

Spycykle’s leg swung lazily over the edge of the ceiling’s hole. “Twi is the perfect specimen to take back home: part Tala, part Knalcal, with an exotic fierceness and a bit broken.” His smile was like lightning piercing the night. “I like her.”

“Don’t you dare touch her!” At Xlack’s slashing gesture, several of the spears broke off their barrage, hurling toward Spycykle.

The Defender leaned aside. “Contrary to popular opinion, not everything is yours to defend, Xlack Skyme.” His smirk grew, inflated with self-satisfied smugness. “She may even enjoy my company.”

“Wouldn’t that be a first,” Xlack grunted, skirting the crumbling edge of the hole he’d made in the floor and bounding onto one of the pipes.

Metal body glinting through the haze, the mechett leapt, two oversized hands slicing down at Xlack with the machine’s full weight, meeting the Ier held vertical in a double-handed grip, Xlack’s stance solid, immovable. As the mechett twisted, other hand slashing, Xlack caught its wrist and towed it on a wide, downward arc. A metal foot swept Xlack’s legs aside, and he dropped into the mechett’s embrace as they splashed through the geyser gushing from the cracked tube. Xlack’s skin tingled, Fire Talents responding, building their protective coating as the mechett struck the pipe and rolled atop him.

Feet wedged against the machine’s stomach, Xlack kicked, launching the mechett back into the geyser. His Magnetism directed the liquid in the pipe to hurry, to explode through the crack, to toss the mechett straight at Spycykle.

It flew right through him.

Xlack blinked stinging eyes, squinting through the haze as he got to his feet, coughing into his sleeve. Surely he didn’t see that right. Spycykle no longer sat at the edge of the crater. He must have dodged.

And now he was nowhere in sight.

Wariness trickled through Xlack, Ier gripped tightly as he scanned above with both blurry vision and Magnetic senses set throbbing by the fog’s touch. Even without these advantages, Spycykle was a stealth master. He’d been known to hide his signature completely.

A breeze brushed the back of Xlack’s neck, followed by the light of an Ier.

-continued in section 5 scene 8- Rivulets-

2
0
0
Juice
15 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 29 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 7- Acid
If evil incarnate vomited, morphometal would be that bile, Xlack thought.

The mechetts seemed impenetrable to his Ier, and no matter how many times the kanabers sundered them, the machines mended within a few moments and attacked again, one with taloned hands and feet—the only weapons it had left—and the other keeping up a barrage of fire from its miniature shooters. Xlack had retreated into a corridor in a desultory attempt to chase Spycykle, but the Defender had disappeared.

Xlack ducked into a somersault under a stream of glowing darters, kicking out at the mechett’s leg. The metal bowed, knee snapping, and the mechett stumbled, multitude of arms scratching at the walls to prevent its fall.

The other’s clawed feet lashed out at Xlack, and he rolled, trapped under the tumbling machine, vertical Ier’s sharp tendrils impaling the mechett’s torso. Sparks flew, the machine limp and heavy atop him. The Ier struck something vital inside, and though not melting, the mechett couldn’t move.

Why did it cut instead of bounce this time? Did the mechett think it could absorb my Ier like with the kanabers? Idiot.

Or maybe not. The morphometal solidified around the wound, trapping Xlack’s weapon, and the press of the inert machine’s weight left him little room to maneuver.

The second mechett leapt onto its partner’s back, and Xlack sent the kanabers at it again. It swatted at the knives like annoying insects, snatching them, silver plating from its palms melting around the kanabers’ handles and growing, encasing the weapons in a thin layer of morphometal.

Xlack could barely feel the kanabers within anymore, his influence too weak to stop the weapons as, held tight in the mechett’s grip, they dove for Xlack’s face, chrome blades reflected in his eyes.

Xlack twisted to the left, a knife piercing the floor by his ear, the second a hairsbreadth from his collar. He didn’t stop, body just ahead of a series of deadly thrusts.

They’re learning and adapting, Xlack realized, dread a hard, barbed stone trapped in his gut.

With a groan, the perforated floor buckled, dropping the trio into the world of wires and pipes between stories.

The rigid tubes didn’t care that the Aylata fell across them, his more pliant flesh and bones expected to bend in deference. But the mechetts were heavy.

The first’s dead weight pinned Xlack. The second’s landing pressed the air from his lungs and denied him the space for another inhale. Beneath Xlack, a pipe dented and burst, hot, acerbic-scented liquid spewing.

Steam blossomed into thick fog, its touch inciting a tingling burn, and his Tsoqisi suit responded, helmet deploying, inner sleeves stretching to encompass his fingers, every junction sealed.

He still couldn’t breathe, chest in a vice between the pipes and mechetts, back bent, shoulders and neck touching the floor, where scalding liquid pooled. The Tsoqisi helped protect against the temperature, but it also severely limited the range and effectiveness of his Magnetic Talents.

Darkness lingered at the edges of his vision, lulling him with a deceptive sense of security.

Just sleep, it called. Spycykle won’t let them kill you. He’d have too many consequences to face if he did.

A small, gurgling roar sounded from above, Rell’s silhouette appearing at the edge of the crater, forepaws folded over the hole’s jagged bank, eyes searching for a way to get down there and help his master.

“No, Rell, retreat!” Xlack ordered, but the beastling did not back up. Silly master, so clearly in trouble and yet expecting Rell to run away on his own? What would Rell do without him? He would only run if master came, too.

The active mechett turned toward the elitbeast, glowing eyes focusing on the tiny creature, hand reaching out.

Terror shot through Xlack. Ier deactivating, he twisted and shoved free, breath coming in ragged gasps. But with the Ier no longer through the comatose mechett, the machine returned to life. Before Xlack could even stand, the repairing mechett’s claws wrapped around his neck, wrist, and thigh and threw him back down into the knee-deep liquid. His splash rose unnaturally high, breaking into several sharp needles and shooting at the higher mechett.

It stumbled with the plethora of strikes, gaze snapping back to the submerged Aylata, its partner pouncing.

A faint buzz found Xlack’s senses, a thick wire nudging his spine.

Their weakness is electricity, a strong surge, Xlack analyzed. He knew there were Magnetic moves that could take advantage of that, pulling lightning seemingly from nowhere and directing it at a target, but Xlack had never successfully dealt with that level of power. Movement was what he understood; it was closely related to his Ice and Fire Talents, one a stilling, a stealing of energy, the other an explosion of chaos. While he possessed many Talents, Xlack had mastered none.

He grabbed the wire, thick rubber tearing at his command. The voltage carried by this cord was nowhere near that of an electromass; he could only hope it was enough to hurt the morphometal and wouldn’t kill him.

Liquid touched wire, and Xlack’s muscles locked. The mechett splashed down on top of him. A sensation like the sound of a thousand distant screams shimmied across his skin, loud to his Magnetic senses, pulsing on beat with the mechetts’ jerky movements, a halo of shedding cells forming around them.

Laughter rang from above, sinister mirth making it heavy as it wandered through the fog and bounced off the walls.

“I was just going to watch through the Isike’s eyes,” Spycykle spieled, “but I’m glad I decided I needed to see this in person.”

Xlack fought to stand, jaw clenched, thoughts a scribble finding some focus as he rose, gaze zeroing in on Rell dangling over the crater, Spycykle holding the beastling by the scruff of the neck.

“You think this one likes me?” the Defender asked.

Rell snarled, needle-like claws extended and wildly lacerating the air, legs too short to reach his captor.

“No? Isn’t it ironic how elitbeast are the pets of Aylata, but they’re a Zalerit animal? And here I thought anything associated with that lesser world was supposed to be beneath our caring.”

He dropped the beastling. Xlack’s heart froze. The acid would burn his baby scales and the electric current would kill him.

The Ier’s silver tendrils reappeared, slicing through the floor in a spiral as Xlack jumped, catching the squealing Rell. Behind him, a mechett fell through the widening hole, lost in a roaring cascade.

“Why don’t you face me yourself, Spycykle?” Xlack called, disengaging his helmet and his Tsoqisi’s seal. The fabric steamed from the acid, but it limited him too much, and Rell couldn’t crawl into a safe pocket while the seal was active. The beastling slipped into his haven just below Xlack’s Ier sheath, the shine of his onyx eyes visible in the shadow of the flap, disgruntled growl as loud as Xlack had ever heard it. “What kind of Aylata are you, hiding behind machines like this?”

“You think you have courage, Xlack Skyme? Or do you hide behind your Talents?” Spycykle countered, arms crossed, smugness a sly predator slinking through his every line. “What would you be without them?”

The last mechett sprung, and Xlack called up another splash from the shallow stream on the floor, solidifying it. Like glass, his shield shattered, machine crashing through, slivers of ice swirling off and slamming into the mechett again and again, denying it forward momentum. Xlack’s Ier slashed amid the strikes, bouncing off polished plating.

“If that Navaria Twi had all your Talents, could you stand against her?” Spycykle continued. “Give her Talents equal to yours, and she’d easily destroy you.”

Claws grazed Xlack’s hip as he spun around the mechett, ducking low under another swipe, Ier bouncing back again. The fog stunk like burning rubber, stinging his lungs. “If you made us equal, wouldn’t it be a draw?”

“Talents aren’t everything.” Spycykle’s elbows rested on his knees, his chin on the back of his laced hands, a glimmer in his shaded eyes belying the bored pose. “Her determination is thicker, stronger than yours. Maybe because everything she ever wanted wasn’t just handed to her.”

Small, solid spears of acid continued to pelt the machine as Xlack hooked an ankle around a metallic leg. The mechett retreated a pace, dragging him with it, talons slashing again. Xlack reeled, dropping flat, rolling as the mechett’s fingers pierced the floor, snagging a jacket strap across his stomach.

Spycykle’s leg swung lazily over the edge of the ceiling’s hole. “Twi is the perfect specimen to take back home: part Tala, part Knalcal, with an exotic fierceness and a bit broken.” His smile was like lightning piercing the night. “I like her.”

“Don’t you dare touch her!” At Xlack’s slashing gesture, several of the spears broke off their barrage, hurling toward Spycykle.

The Defender leaned aside. “Contrary to popular opinion, not everything is yours to defend, Xlack Skyme.” His smirk grew, inflated with self-satisfied smugness. “She may even enjoy my company.”

“Wouldn’t that be a first,” Xlack grunted, skirting the crumbling edge of the hole he’d made in the floor and bounding onto one of the pipes.

Metal body glinting through the haze, the mechett leapt, two oversized hands slicing down at Xlack with the machine’s full weight, meeting the Ier held vertical in a double-handed grip, Xlack’s stance solid, immovable. As the mechett twisted, other hand slashing, Xlack caught its wrist and towed it on a wide, downward arc. A metal foot swept Xlack’s legs aside, and he dropped into the mechett’s embrace as they splashed through the geyser gushing from the cracked tube. Xlack’s skin tingled, Fire Talents responding, building their protective coating as the mechett struck the pipe and rolled atop him.

Feet wedged against the machine’s stomach, Xlack kicked, launching the mechett back into the geyser. His Magnetism directed the liquid in the pipe to hurry, to explode through the crack, to toss the mechett straight at Spycykle.

It flew right through him.

Xlack blinked stinging eyes, squinting through the haze as he got to his feet, coughing into his sleeve. Surely he didn’t see that right. Spycykle no longer sat at the edge of the crater. He must have dodged.

And now he was nowhere in sight.

Wariness trickled through Xlack, Ier gripped tightly as he scanned above with both blurry vision and Magnetic senses set throbbing by the fog’s touch. Even without these advantages, Spycykle was a stealth master. He’d been known to hide his signature completely.

A breeze brushed the back of Xlack’s neck, followed by the light of an Ier.

-continued in section 5 scene 8- Rivulets-
2
0
0
Juice
15 reads
Login to post comments.
Advertisement  (turn off)
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 28 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 6- Message

“Return this to Mystis,” Mire told Revo, handing him another datastick. The elderly Leader, now pale and visibly drooping in a loose, tan tunic, shuffled along a covered porch at the O’ee farming base near Stril on Lettaplex Six, his face a map of concerns far beyond Revo’s rank. Furrowed hills rolled into the hazy distance beneath a golden sky, quiet serenity incongruous with the Leader’s tone. “Ya had best get home very quickly.”

Revo knew better than to let his curiosity control him, but this was too much.

Humility turning his eyes to the ground, he queried, “May I ask what bad news I brought?”

“The Mueta have infiltrated the Knalcal government,” Mire sighed. “It’s safe to assume the other Alliance officials won’t escape their influence for long, if they even are now, since Mueta are already recognized Reprees in miniature committees of the Sagel.”

“But the people don’t believe in Magnies,” Revo countered, shaking his head. “They think we’re myths, and those of proper education that do believe we exist want us dead.”

“Not dead, Revo, just under their control,” Mire corrected. “The Mueta may have falsely promised them that, too.”

Anger boiled in Revo, but he didn’t want to show it, especially not in front of Aarex and Zeln.

“Ya want us to regroup with our hrausq then?”

“For safety’s sake,” Mire said with a nod, dismissing them.

Pocketing the datastick, Revo walked toward the landing pad, two hrausq members in tow.

Aarex faded into translucency, her big Lettaplexian eyes widening. “But the Mueta have always hated us O’ees. What will happen to us in a society they control?”

“I say we march in there and show them who should be boss,” Zeln suggested, smacking his fist into his other hand with a trail of flames. As a Blamookin, a body temperature through the roof and a slimy coating of special oil let him spontaneously combust on command without damaging himself. It also gave him an ethereal appearance, dark skin claiming the fluidic quality of a deep lake, teasing at transparency, and fire seemed to pace just beneath it, not glowing exactly, but eager.

He also reeked like wet ashes.

“Ya will do as ya are told,” Revo rebuked, trying to keep all emotion out of his voice. He had to be strong for these two since they were the youngest dyad in the hrausq, and Aarex had a way of excitedly following Zeln’s outlandish suggestions.

Revo’s own amarac had died trying to keep the Mueta from acquiring Kelison soldiers, and now those same Mueta would have an army of Knalcals, Tala, and whatever else in the Alliance. No doubt, too, they would turn on the O’ees eventually; it was only a matter of time.

“Flank my wings closely,” Revo told Zeln and Aarex, shoving his helmet on, “and try to keep up.”

-continued in section 5 scene 7- Acid-

2
0
0
Juice
13 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 28 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 6- Message
“Return this to Mystis,” Mire told Revo, handing him another datastick. The elderly Leader, now pale and visibly drooping in a loose, tan tunic, shuffled along a covered porch at the O’ee farming base near Stril on Lettaplex Six, his face a map of concerns far beyond Revo’s rank. Furrowed hills rolled into the hazy distance beneath a golden sky, quiet serenity incongruous with the Leader’s tone. “Ya had best get home very quickly.”

Revo knew better than to let his curiosity control him, but this was too much.

Humility turning his eyes to the ground, he queried, “May I ask what bad news I brought?”

“The Mueta have infiltrated the Knalcal government,” Mire sighed. “It’s safe to assume the other Alliance officials won’t escape their influence for long, if they even are now, since Mueta are already recognized Reprees in miniature committees of the Sagel.”

“But the people don’t believe in Magnies,” Revo countered, shaking his head. “They think we’re myths, and those of proper education that do believe we exist want us dead.”

“Not dead, Revo, just under their control,” Mire corrected. “The Mueta may have falsely promised them that, too.”

Anger boiled in Revo, but he didn’t want to show it, especially not in front of Aarex and Zeln.

“Ya want us to regroup with our hrausq then?”

“For safety’s sake,” Mire said with a nod, dismissing them.

Pocketing the datastick, Revo walked toward the landing pad, two hrausq members in tow.

Aarex faded into translucency, her big Lettaplexian eyes widening. “But the Mueta have always hated us O’ees. What will happen to us in a society they control?”

“I say we march in there and show them who should be boss,” Zeln suggested, smacking his fist into his other hand with a trail of flames. As a Blamookin, a body temperature through the roof and a slimy coating of special oil let him spontaneously combust on command without damaging himself. It also gave him an ethereal appearance, dark skin claiming the fluidic quality of a deep lake, teasing at transparency, and fire seemed to pace just beneath it, not glowing exactly, but eager.

He also reeked like wet ashes.

“Ya will do as ya are told,” Revo rebuked, trying to keep all emotion out of his voice. He had to be strong for these two since they were the youngest dyad in the hrausq, and Aarex had a way of excitedly following Zeln’s outlandish suggestions.

Revo’s own amarac had died trying to keep the Mueta from acquiring Kelison soldiers, and now those same Mueta would have an army of Knalcals, Tala, and whatever else in the Alliance. No doubt, too, they would turn on the O’ees eventually; it was only a matter of time.

“Flank my wings closely,” Revo told Zeln and Aarex, shoving his helmet on, “and try to keep up.”

-continued in section 5 scene 7- Acid-
2
0
0
Juice
13 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 27 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 5- Morphometal

“Spycykle, get over here!” Xlack yelled as he entered Docking Bay Five, Rell scampering along at his heels.

Spycykle remained where he stood, Ier pulsing by his side, a huge, sarcastic smirk cracking his face. “Welcome to the Isike, Skyme. I see you’ve accomplished half my objective for me.”

“It’s not your objective.”

“When can I expect the other half completed?”

“I don’t answer to you, Spycykle,” Xlack countered as Twi reopened the closet door and snuck toward a nearby exit. Her oha had already disembarked and would meet her in Docking Bay One. The challenge would be getting herself there.

Xlack continued, “When I capture an unfortunate, native hrausq, I’m not going to hand them over to you.”

Twi stopped, hoping she had misheard, ears perked for anything more.

“How selfish of you,” Spycykle retorted.

Twi agreed. She was frozen, barely even breathing. What if one of them detected her? She had disobeyed the Leaders, and for what—so Skyme could complete a mission with ill intent toward her people?

But she didn’t dare challenge him now. There was no way she could be a match for two Aylata together. Slipping into an open corridor, she ran, hoping she headed toward Docking Bay One.

“Get off this ship,” Xlack ordered.

“But I just got here,” Spycykle pouted. “You’re being rude.”

“I don’t care. You have five secliis before I order the Isike eject you.”

“It won’t comply,” Spycykle combated, starting toward Xlack, steps slow, casual. “The computer’s been attacked by safety wardens. Those guys suck the fun out of everything.”

Now within an arm’s length, he swung his Ier. Xlack ducked under the strike, his own weapon instantly in hand. With a squealing growl, Rell ran and hid behind a toolbox in the corner.

Xlack’s Ier was open to its full length when Spycykle’s charged on a returning pass. As the two weapons crashed, Xlack pushed his weight into the blow, throwing his opponent back. Though thickly built and a bit taller than Xlack, Spycykle was at no advantage.

“What, no forcefields? No flames or ice or whispers?” Spycykle jibed. “You wouldn’t actually order the ship to eject me anyway. You’re too nice.” Spycykle swung again, and Xlack fended off the strike like before.

“Don’t be stupid, Spycykle.”

“You shouldn’t accuse people of being stupid,” the Defender spat, offense oozing like sewage eking through a strainer. “I’m actually quite clever.”

At his subtle signal, three familiar machines slid from the innumerable shadows and surrounded Xlack. Large, four-armed armor mechetts, called such because of their near indestructibility, aided Protectors in a variety of District maintaining tasks, but rarely had Xlack seen one with weapons. Their clawed hands and feet alone could easily prove lethal, yet these three brandished an assortment of small shooters, each one aimed at him.

Xlack slipped into a defensive stance, Ier gripped tightly, eyes fixed on Spycykle.

“Clever, right. Prove it.”

The armor mechetts fired, glowing darters lighting up the area, and Xlack fell into survival mode: ducking, spinning, jumping. His forcefields slammed into the three like waves, one after the other, disrupting their aim, but Xlack knew he couldn’t keep that up for long. Forcefields sapped his stamina.

Though the mechetts had the posture of haggard old men, they danced with the finesse of elitbeasts, faster than Xlack had ever seen armor mechetts move. They closed in on him, two pulling long-poled tridents from their backs and toggling them on—electromasses, originally designed for mykuro herding and capable of immobilizing a creature a thousand times Xlack’s weight.

Hot, white sparks frolicked between the close prongs, light flickering ominously off the mechetts’ metallic plating.

But it’s not metal, Xlack realized. It’s not that simple. It feels alive.

Caution nourished the dread growing in Xlack’s core. His Magnetic Talents could easily render normal machines inert, but these were far from normal. Even their weapons were made of the animate material.

The forcefields grew sloppy—irregularly shaped and slow. Xlack shook his head, trying to focus, his gaze cutting to Spycykle. The Defender had not moved. He watched, arms crossed and pride purring.

“Call them off!” Xlack barked.

“But you’re doing so well,” Spycykle mocked. “This is the best entertainment I’ve had in quite a while.”

“I’m not playing! This is too much for a joke, Spycykle!”

“Oh, you thought this was a joke?” A half dozen kanabers appeared in Spycykle’s hands, and he flung them into the melee.

Xlack spun low, landing in a backward somersault just ahead of a steady stream of shots as he grabbed influence over two of the passing knives. Both electromasses stabbed down at him, and he kicked one’s handle. As the pair of tasers crashed into one another, a crackle of electricity racing between them, he sent the kanabers into the chest of the mechett in front of him.

The kanabers sunk as if thrown in mud, absorbed within a seclii, no effect on their targets other than a slight rock back.

Xlack’s foot came down on one of the electromasses, springboarding him into the air as the absorbed kanabers emerged from the mechett’s palms.

Despite being in the mechett’s hands, they were still Xlack’s weapons to wield.

As he flipped, Ier slashing down at a second mechett beneath him, Xlack directed the kanabers to slice through the biceps of the machine holding them. The arms were sundered like a river, edges curving around the obstruction and melting together, unharmed.

At the same moment, Xlack’s Ier struck the other mechett’s shoulder and bounced. Thrown off-kilter, Xlack landed in a stumble, a mechett foot stomping on his leg. Xlack kicked, slipping free, Ier bouncing off the mechett’s hip and pitching his arm back.

Ier cut. They did not bounce.

From a distance, Xlack heard Spycykle laugh. “You haven’t seen morphometal yet, have you? Such a nice present from our allies.”

Napix has allies? Xlack wondered, but he had no time for pondering. A moment’s hesitation or slight miscalculation would see a darter through his head.

He dashed between the machines, using them as shields from one another, barely sidestepping the thrust of an electromass. It crashed into his Ier and got trapped between the tendrils, an upward shove from Xlack pivoting it back toward its mechanical owner.

The trident pierced the mechett’s collar, and holding the pole parallel with his Ier, Xlack plunged it deeper into the chest cavity.

The second charged at Xlack’s back, and he leapt, electromass and Ier the fulcrum of his swing, feet colliding with the rushing mechett as its weapon impaled its partner’s waist.

A scream of sorts, not one Xlack’s ears could hear, left his every cell tingling. The speared mechett melted, and he dropped with it, quickly rolling away from the puddle as the second machine scrambled after him.

Continuing to fire, the third jumped over the mess, keeping in range.

Xlack grabbed an electromass only to find they now had the consistency of taffy. Inert and useless. Still, he had managed to defeat one of them. They weren’t invincible.

Seeing the first of his army fall, Spycykle fled.

-continued in section 5 scene 6- Message-

3
0
0
Juice
23 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 27 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 5- Morphometal
“Spycykle, get over here!” Xlack yelled as he entered Docking Bay Five, Rell scampering along at his heels.

Spycykle remained where he stood, Ier pulsing by his side, a huge, sarcastic smirk cracking his face. “Welcome to the Isike, Skyme. I see you’ve accomplished half my objective for me.”

“It’s not your objective.”

“When can I expect the other half completed?”

“I don’t answer to you, Spycykle,” Xlack countered as Twi reopened the closet door and snuck toward a nearby exit. Her oha had already disembarked and would meet her in Docking Bay One. The challenge would be getting herself there.

Xlack continued, “When I capture an unfortunate, native hrausq, I’m not going to hand them over to you.”

Twi stopped, hoping she had misheard, ears perked for anything more.

“How selfish of you,” Spycykle retorted.

Twi agreed. She was frozen, barely even breathing. What if one of them detected her? She had disobeyed the Leaders, and for what—so Skyme could complete a mission with ill intent toward her people?

But she didn’t dare challenge him now. There was no way she could be a match for two Aylata together. Slipping into an open corridor, she ran, hoping she headed toward Docking Bay One.

“Get off this ship,” Xlack ordered.

“But I just got here,” Spycykle pouted. “You’re being rude.”

“I don’t care. You have five secliis before I order the Isike eject you.”

“It won’t comply,” Spycykle combated, starting toward Xlack, steps slow, casual. “The computer’s been attacked by safety wardens. Those guys suck the fun out of everything.”

Now within an arm’s length, he swung his Ier. Xlack ducked under the strike, his own weapon instantly in hand. With a squealing growl, Rell ran and hid behind a toolbox in the corner.

Xlack’s Ier was open to its full length when Spycykle’s charged on a returning pass. As the two weapons crashed, Xlack pushed his weight into the blow, throwing his opponent back. Though thickly built and a bit taller than Xlack, Spycykle was at no advantage.

“What, no forcefields? No flames or ice or whispers?” Spycykle jibed. “You wouldn’t actually order the ship to eject me anyway. You’re too nice.” Spycykle swung again, and Xlack fended off the strike like before.

“Don’t be stupid, Spycykle.”

“You shouldn’t accuse people of being stupid,” the Defender spat, offense oozing like sewage eking through a strainer. “I’m actually quite clever.”

At his subtle signal, three familiar machines slid from the innumerable shadows and surrounded Xlack. Large, four-armed armor mechetts, called such because of their near indestructibility, aided Protectors in a variety of District maintaining tasks, but rarely had Xlack seen one with weapons. Their clawed hands and feet alone could easily prove lethal, yet these three brandished an assortment of small shooters, each one aimed at him.

Xlack slipped into a defensive stance, Ier gripped tightly, eyes fixed on Spycykle.

“Clever, right. Prove it.”

The armor mechetts fired, glowing darters lighting up the area, and Xlack fell into survival mode: ducking, spinning, jumping. His forcefields slammed into the three like waves, one after the other, disrupting their aim, but Xlack knew he couldn’t keep that up for long. Forcefields sapped his stamina.

Though the mechetts had the posture of haggard old men, they danced with the finesse of elitbeasts, faster than Xlack had ever seen armor mechetts move. They closed in on him, two pulling long-poled tridents from their backs and toggling them on—electromasses, originally designed for mykuro herding and capable of immobilizing a creature a thousand times Xlack’s weight.

Hot, white sparks frolicked between the close prongs, light flickering ominously off the mechetts’ metallic plating.

But it’s not metal, Xlack realized. It’s not that simple. It feels alive.

Caution nourished the dread growing in Xlack’s core. His Magnetic Talents could easily render normal machines inert, but these were far from normal. Even their weapons were made of the animate material.

The forcefields grew sloppy—irregularly shaped and slow. Xlack shook his head, trying to focus, his gaze cutting to Spycykle. The Defender had not moved. He watched, arms crossed and pride purring.

“Call them off!” Xlack barked.

“But you’re doing so well,” Spycykle mocked. “This is the best entertainment I’ve had in quite a while.”

“I’m not playing! This is too much for a joke, Spycykle!”

“Oh, you thought this was a joke?” A half dozen kanabers appeared in Spycykle’s hands, and he flung them into the melee.

Xlack spun low, landing in a backward somersault just ahead of a steady stream of shots as he grabbed influence over two of the passing knives. Both electromasses stabbed down at him, and he kicked one’s handle. As the pair of tasers crashed into one another, a crackle of electricity racing between them, he sent the kanabers into the chest of the mechett in front of him.

The kanabers sunk as if thrown in mud, absorbed within a seclii, no effect on their targets other than a slight rock back.

Xlack’s foot came down on one of the electromasses, springboarding him into the air as the absorbed kanabers emerged from the mechett’s palms.

Despite being in the mechett’s hands, they were still Xlack’s weapons to wield.

As he flipped, Ier slashing down at a second mechett beneath him, Xlack directed the kanabers to slice through the biceps of the machine holding them. The arms were sundered like a river, edges curving around the obstruction and melting together, unharmed.

At the same moment, Xlack’s Ier struck the other mechett’s shoulder and bounced. Thrown off-kilter, Xlack landed in a stumble, a mechett foot stomping on his leg. Xlack kicked, slipping free, Ier bouncing off the mechett’s hip and pitching his arm back.

Ier cut. They did not bounce.

From a distance, Xlack heard Spycykle laugh. “You haven’t seen morphometal yet, have you? Such a nice present from our allies.”

Napix has allies? Xlack wondered, but he had no time for pondering. A moment’s hesitation or slight miscalculation would see a darter through his head.

He dashed between the machines, using them as shields from one another, barely sidestepping the thrust of an electromass. It crashed into his Ier and got trapped between the tendrils, an upward shove from Xlack pivoting it back toward its mechanical owner.

The trident pierced the mechett’s collar, and holding the pole parallel with his Ier, Xlack plunged it deeper into the chest cavity.

The second charged at Xlack’s back, and he leapt, electromass and Ier the fulcrum of his swing, feet colliding with the rushing mechett as its weapon impaled its partner’s waist.

A scream of sorts, not one Xlack’s ears could hear, left his every cell tingling. The speared mechett melted, and he dropped with it, quickly rolling away from the puddle as the second machine scrambled after him.

Continuing to fire, the third jumped over the mess, keeping in range.

Xlack grabbed an electromass only to find they now had the consistency of taffy. Inert and useless. Still, he had managed to defeat one of them. They weren’t invincible.

Seeing the first of his army fall, Spycykle fled.

-continued in section 5 scene 6- Message-
3
0
0
Juice
23 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 26 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 4- Intruder

Wherever there was one O’ee, there was always another—a fact an O’ee was to vigilantly never let be untrue. This was just one of the many rules Twi had broken in coming to the Isike. Lanox would be panicking, frantically searching for her.

Yes, the Leaders had ordered Twi dispose of Skyme, but they had doubtless meant for her hrausq to help. Twi hadn’t told any of her hrausq about either the order or where she headed. When she had left, she hadn’t yet decided what she would do, and still hadn’t even when on the Isike waiting for Skyme. Now she left him behind, hurrying down the dark, narrow hallway that led to Docking Bay Five, and she hadn’t so much as drawn her ju’wack.

What happened to the girl who always did as she was told, no questions asked? she thought.

Another part of herself answered too quickly, She learned such obedience begets no loyalty.

If anything dire were to happen, surely someone would notice and come with help, right? She used to believe that would always be the case. Since Kelis, however, her faith had faltered. What if Sep still awaited her return?

I am so ridiculous, she chided, shaking her head.

Her hand automatically slid to the pocket on the right side of her belt. Sep hadn’t expected to live long after she left; somehow in all the confusion, he had hidden his ju’wack in the lowest pocket on her left side, the one she kept random scraps in. She had found it only after she was home, safe on Tala. His weapon now rested in the belt pocket where her own ju’wack normally resided.

At her command, a door slid quietly aside, letting her enter the docking bay. Here the soft carpet ended, and the hard floor loudly sounded even her lightest footsteps.

Sometime back, all the lights had gone out, and she navigated on what she could feel, on what her ‘netics could see. The darkness became infinitely more alarming as she entered the spacious bay. Her ‘netic senses warned she was not alone in this room. Another life-signature, distinct from Skyme’s but similar, lurked nearby. Once again, her hand flew to the ju’wack on her side, but she was reluctant to pull it out.

Ju’wacks were relics of a time long past—artifacts salvaged and treasured by the descendants of their original owners. Used as both tools and weapons, they attached themselves to one life-signature. Like an extension of that person, it would never harm them.

Sep’s ju’wack mimicked his life-signature and, as a result, shone a vivid violet. Never let it be said, though, that ju’wacks displayed superlative loyalty; they could and would learn to serve new masters.

Twi knew her handling of Sep’s ju’wack would force a gradual change. Eventually, the weapon would imitate her life-signature, and its purple color would shift to red like her own ju’wack. It was a relic of Sep now, one she couldn’t yet bear to alter. Hence, she had told no one she had it, not even Lanox.

The lurker charged, drawing a dull, charcoal Ier. As he swung, Twi ducked and rolled out of the way, coming to her feet with the grace of many practiced years. Using the gesture-sensitive bands ringing the fingers of her right hand, she instructed her sys to power up her oha and start pre-flight checks. She needed the vehicle ready to go as soon as she reached it.

The stranger’s Ier dove for her. Snapping open, Sep’s ju’wack glistened like radiant amethyst, blurring as Twi swung it above her head, bending her knees as the two weapons impacted. The Ier bounced back, its wielder spinning, running his weapon along a wide, heavy arc, a backhanded swipe.

Twi threw herself into the air, for a moment parallel with the Ier, barely clearing it. Her back curved, arms extended above her head, aiming the ju’wack straight down, but she was a bit late. She missed lacing the two weapons together, and the ju’wack stabbed into the floor.

Flipping, Twi landed on her feet, immediately jumping again as the Ier made a returning pass. It crashed into the ju’wack, and her left shoulder gave, too recently healed to have anything more than a façade of strength.

Knocked out of her grasp and drilling into the floor, the ju’wack closed, turning into a metal disc as it skittered away from Twi. Her feet caught her again, scrambling back a few more steps. Her shoulder throbbed, and she resisted the urge to comfort it with her other hand.

“That’s it,” her attacker said, overconfident creepiness saturating his voice. “Run until you have nowhere left to go.” He swung the Ier again. “Just one-”

Sound abandoned Twi as she landed on an unsteady stack of grease cans, the pile crumbling noisily, Twi crashing to the floor amidst the bursting tins.

Her assailant laughed. Pooling on the floor, the grease oozed toward him. Sep’s ju’wack lay just behind the maniac, not helping over there. Finding a clean spot amidst the grease pond, Twi kicked off from it, sliding under the stranger.

Once past him, she snatched up the ju’wack and rolled away from the grease, her front on the ground, then her back, then her front again, legs curled up so her feet were firmly under her. She stood, the reopening ju’wack illuminating her foe. He was tall and thickly built, wild hair the same dull charcoal as his Ier, Tsoqisi a mottled black scribbled with silver, all of which she had already noted. But now the light revealed his face, broad featured and set in a way that implied innate cruelty, sunken eyes nearly lost in the sharp shadows.

Twi ran.

He’s slow, she noted, slower than Skyme. And thinking of him, she couldn’t help but wonder if he would show up, too.

More importantly, whose side would he be on if he did?

The bay’s second largest door flew open, the crash echoing off metal walls. Distracted, her attacker stopped. Twi dove through a smaller door, ‘netics sealing it shut behind her. Only her own ragged breaths and soft footfalls disturbed the silence. Whatever happened in the bay would not be heard here.

Tapping her fingers, Twi hoped to send her oha to another dock. She would find her way through this maze of a ship and meet it there.

Great plan, but impossible. This quiet room was a dead end, a storage closet for a million and one spare parts. She would have to go back.

continued in section 5 scene 5- Morphometal-

3
0
0
Juice
18 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 26 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 4- Intruder
Wherever there was one O’ee, there was always another—a fact an O’ee was to vigilantly never let be untrue. This was just one of the many rules Twi had broken in coming to the Isike. Lanox would be panicking, frantically searching for her.

Yes, the Leaders had ordered Twi dispose of Skyme, but they had doubtless meant for her hrausq to help. Twi hadn’t told any of her hrausq about either the order or where she headed. When she had left, she hadn’t yet decided what she would do, and still hadn’t even when on the Isike waiting for Skyme. Now she left him behind, hurrying down the dark, narrow hallway that led to Docking Bay Five, and she hadn’t so much as drawn her ju’wack.

What happened to the girl who always did as she was told, no questions asked? she thought.

Another part of herself answered too quickly, She learned such obedience begets no loyalty.

If anything dire were to happen, surely someone would notice and come with help, right? She used to believe that would always be the case. Since Kelis, however, her faith had faltered. What if Sep still awaited her return?

I am so ridiculous, she chided, shaking her head.

Her hand automatically slid to the pocket on the right side of her belt. Sep hadn’t expected to live long after she left; somehow in all the confusion, he had hidden his ju’wack in the lowest pocket on her left side, the one she kept random scraps in. She had found it only after she was home, safe on Tala. His weapon now rested in the belt pocket where her own ju’wack normally resided.

At her command, a door slid quietly aside, letting her enter the docking bay. Here the soft carpet ended, and the hard floor loudly sounded even her lightest footsteps.

Sometime back, all the lights had gone out, and she navigated on what she could feel, on what her ‘netics could see. The darkness became infinitely more alarming as she entered the spacious bay. Her ‘netic senses warned she was not alone in this room. Another life-signature, distinct from Skyme’s but similar, lurked nearby. Once again, her hand flew to the ju’wack on her side, but she was reluctant to pull it out.

Ju’wacks were relics of a time long past—artifacts salvaged and treasured by the descendants of their original owners. Used as both tools and weapons, they attached themselves to one life-signature. Like an extension of that person, it would never harm them.

Sep’s ju’wack mimicked his life-signature and, as a result, shone a vivid violet. Never let it be said, though, that ju’wacks displayed superlative loyalty; they could and would learn to serve new masters.

Twi knew her handling of Sep’s ju’wack would force a gradual change. Eventually, the weapon would imitate her life-signature, and its purple color would shift to red like her own ju’wack. It was a relic of Sep now, one she couldn’t yet bear to alter. Hence, she had told no one she had it, not even Lanox.

The lurker charged, drawing a dull, charcoal Ier. As he swung, Twi ducked and rolled out of the way, coming to her feet with the grace of many practiced years. Using the gesture-sensitive bands ringing the fingers of her right hand, she instructed her sys to power up her oha and start pre-flight checks. She needed the vehicle ready to go as soon as she reached it.

The stranger’s Ier dove for her. Snapping open, Sep’s ju’wack glistened like radiant amethyst, blurring as Twi swung it above her head, bending her knees as the two weapons impacted. The Ier bounced back, its wielder spinning, running his weapon along a wide, heavy arc, a backhanded swipe.

Twi threw herself into the air, for a moment parallel with the Ier, barely clearing it. Her back curved, arms extended above her head, aiming the ju’wack straight down, but she was a bit late. She missed lacing the two weapons together, and the ju’wack stabbed into the floor.

Flipping, Twi landed on her feet, immediately jumping again as the Ier made a returning pass. It crashed into the ju’wack, and her left shoulder gave, too recently healed to have anything more than a façade of strength.

Knocked out of her grasp and drilling into the floor, the ju’wack closed, turning into a metal disc as it skittered away from Twi. Her feet caught her again, scrambling back a few more steps. Her shoulder throbbed, and she resisted the urge to comfort it with her other hand.

“That’s it,” her attacker said, overconfident creepiness saturating his voice. “Run until you have nowhere left to go.” He swung the Ier again. “Just one-”

Sound abandoned Twi as she landed on an unsteady stack of grease cans, the pile crumbling noisily, Twi crashing to the floor amidst the bursting tins.

Her assailant laughed. Pooling on the floor, the grease oozed toward him. Sep’s ju’wack lay just behind the maniac, not helping over there. Finding a clean spot amidst the grease pond, Twi kicked off from it, sliding under the stranger.

Once past him, she snatched up the ju’wack and rolled away from the grease, her front on the ground, then her back, then her front again, legs curled up so her feet were firmly under her. She stood, the reopening ju’wack illuminating her foe. He was tall and thickly built, wild hair the same dull charcoal as his Ier, Tsoqisi a mottled black scribbled with silver, all of which she had already noted. But now the light revealed his face, broad featured and set in a way that implied innate cruelty, sunken eyes nearly lost in the sharp shadows.

Twi ran.

He’s slow, she noted, slower than Skyme. And thinking of him, she couldn’t help but wonder if he would show up, too.

More importantly, whose side would he be on if he did?

The bay’s second largest door flew open, the crash echoing off metal walls. Distracted, her attacker stopped. Twi dove through a smaller door, ‘netics sealing it shut behind her. Only her own ragged breaths and soft footfalls disturbed the silence. Whatever happened in the bay would not be heard here.

Tapping her fingers, Twi hoped to send her oha to another dock. She would find her way through this maze of a ship and meet it there.

Great plan, but impossible. This quiet room was a dead end, a storage closet for a million and one spare parts. She would have to go back.

continued in section 5 scene 5- Morphometal-
3
0
0
Juice
18 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 25 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki

Renegade section 5 scene 3- That's a Secret

They told Xlack departure would be first thing in the standardized morning and they had a place for him to sleep safely. Instead of taking the Mueta up on such a hospitable offer, he opted to spend the intervening ruahs aboard the Isike. That seemed safer.

Xlack returned to the O’ee base, gaining access with the emblem Revo had given him, and retrieved his Oha. Rell sulked in a pocket, miffed because Xlack wouldn’t let him have the datastick despite the beastling’s many attempts to abscond with it. The memory card now nested beneath the Ier in its sheath, protected from prying paws. Over the past few months, Xlack had lost several shiny objects, including one datapad, to Rell’s teething plunders. Personally, Xlack didn’t see how a clear plasamique and metal tongue depressor could be more appetizing than the juicy bone ruminating in another pocket.

The Isike should have had stores of real food anyway.

Tethered to a Knalcal military outpost, the enormous ship had the appearance of a spark—polished onyx, rhombus-shaped from side, front, or top with hooked points, like dorsal fins or claws. Eighty stories tall, twice that wide, length four times its berth, every edge curved and sharpened, a snowflake formed of sabers. It could accommodate over a hundred thousand occupants.

Oha parked in Docking Bay Two, Xlack navigated the Isike’s twisty halls with little difficulty. Pride radiating, Xlack’s father had once instructed he take a close, lingering look at the plans for this prototype craft—a Tsira project—chuckling only luck would see these ships standardized in the current Refraction Leaders’ lifetime. Perhaps after Xlack claimed the title his home would be aboard such a palatial vessel.

Stomach murmuring again, Xlack quickly located the ration stock, a room housing row upon row of pallets: stacks of small, powder-filled packets and sealed flutes. Perusing the selection, Xlack chose a pouch labeled mykuro bacon and a bottle touting high electrolyte gravy.

Back leaning against a pallet, Xlack ripped open the packet, and Rell emerged from his hermit’s nest, nose twitching, flat, pearlescent tongue darting out to test the air. Per packaging instructions, Xlack sprinkled the bran—which smelled more like sawdust than bacon—into the liquid gravy, resealed the lid, and shook it.

The resulting concoction resembled lumpy, wet sand and smelled like stagnant mud. Rell’s tiny tongue folded over his velvety nose and wet his whiskers, his entire body wiggling in anticipation, obsidian splotched, pewter scales winking with the movement.

“You want to try it first?” Xlack asked, dripping a few clumps of mislabeled swamp slush onto his palm. Pouncing on it, Rell gobbled the gunk with gusto, purring his approval.

Xlack was not reassured. Rell, who sometimes snatched prizes from the trash compactor, could hardly be termed a reliable food connoisseur.

Leery, Xlack raised the bottle and took a tentative sip. Smell and appearance had not lied; the sludge was gritty, slimy, and tasted exactly like rancid river mud—which Xlack had once eaten on a dare.

Crazy manufacturers think they can make fake food and label it whatever they want. This is a slight to bacon lovers everywhere.

All the packets and bottles likely tasted the same, but the last Xlack had eaten was just before he and Mystis had entered the Knalcal Embassy, and he wasn’t sure how much time had passed since then. He needed the sustenance, the energy, but memories of how the river mud had made his stomach roil bound him in hesitation.

“If you don’t like it, change it.” The words of a very clever friend.

“Change it how?” Xlack had asked.

The Fire Sereh had grinned. “Well, I find that if fire doesn’t improve your situation, it at least makes things more interesting.”

Xlack gripped the bottle, temperature rising. He didn’t often use this Talent; to give in to Fire was to let chaos reign.

Chemical commands flooded his blood, every cell wrapped in an infinitesimal barrier as catalysts seeped in and hastened its processes, guzzling energy. The protective barrier absorbed the resulting heat and carried it outward, transuding through his skin and forming a barely perceptible coating, which reeked like fetid, burnt sugar.

On a true Fire Aylata, this flammable patina was always present, but in multi-Talented Menageries like Xlack, it formed on reflex or practiced demand, and to burn hot enough to manifest flames hurt. Mentors claimed exercising this Talent more would remedy that, but Xlack’s current goal did not need visible fire or the full-on inferno chaos wanted. He had to keep it in check, contained in his right hand, nowhere near the left where Rell’s tongue scoured off any remnants of his small sample.

The bottle dented under Xlack’s fingers, wisps of black smoke adding to the acrid stench. Inside, the slush boiled into a pale froth, grains softening into jelly. Loosening his grip on the container, Xlack sniffed at the wafting steam, intrigued by its syrupy scent.

They should add cooking it to the packet instructions, he thought, tipping some of the froth into his mouth. The taste of sugar-glazed bacon fertilized a smile despite the awkward jelly texture.

Rell scratched at Xlack’s wrist, a reminder of his presence and that he would like seconds. Obliging, Xlack shook another glob onto his palm. With a tiny roar, the beastling pounced again, inhaling the morsel, and then promptly spitting it out, dark, accusing eyes glaring at his master.

“I didn’t ruin it,” the Aylata defended.

With a huff, Rell did not agree, slender tail waving in annoyance, but his protest was short-lived.

A distraction pulled the beastling’s gaze to the closed door, floppy ears perked. There was nothing to see, but Xlack had also heard it, his Magnetic senses revealing exactly what lurked outside this store room.

Deeming it an excellent opportunity for Rell to practice some skills, Xlack ordered, “Rell, find the noisemaker.” The beastling galloped off on a much needed head start as Xlack chugged the rest of his bacon jelly.

Rell had almost reached the exit when Xlack caught up, the door sliding aside to admit access to the dim hallway. Despite the nose numbing odor of the air scrubbers, Xlack detected the grassy scents of countless Napix crewmen and above that, more recent and potent, the crisp, snow-like fragrance of a Knalcal.

With feline grace, Rell rushed around a corner, growl like the buzz of insect wings, stilling in an instinctual, intimidating stance.

Eyes faithful to the wall screen he tickled, a tope-skinned, silver birthmarked Knalcal stood several paces in front of the beastling, pale hair drawing a rigid line from his left ear to the base of his neck, touching the lapels of what Xlack had come to recognize as a Knalcal military uniform—wide pants and plain, high-colored shirt beneath an ankle-length, leathery jacket cinched with a narrow belt. The ornateness in the wrapping of this latter seemed to denote rank, and this officer’s simple sash let Xlack believe he wasn’t ranked very high. “How’d you get here, runt?”

“I’d rather hear what you’re up to,” Xlack demanded, arms crossed.

Now the Knalcal’s cobalt-speckled eyes abandoned the screen, zeroing in on the Aylata. “I assume you want your crew to be able to control the ship when they get here, so I am removing our lockout codes.” The words were woven from clean sincerity; that was exactly what he had been ordered and so what he did, but disapproval shaded him.

“You think this exchange is silly, that the Knalcals are giving up this prize too easily,” Xlack revealed, evoking shock, stark and cold. Meeting his gaze, Xlack tugged on those emotions, tangible weapons and bindings for a Mind Aylata.

The Knalcal retreated a pace, drawing a shooter from a holster on his thigh. “If you try to invade my mind again, I’ll kill you.”

“You don’t stand the slightest chance,” Xlack remarked, too easily holding the Knalcal still. “You fear and resent Mueta, but Aylata are their older, more powerful cousins. Drop your weapon.”

The shooter fell, silent on the padded floor. Terror as unrelenting as a glacier encased the Knalcal, leaving him just enough room for quick, shallow breaths.

Releasing him, Xlack grinned. “Go ahead and complete your task and make sure you do it well. If I find you’ve forgotten to disable something or added anything even remotely suspicious, I’ll come after you and…what is that smell? Rell?!”

A putrescent pile of soft brown slouched behind Xlack’s foot, its beastling artist nowhere to be seen.

Though he had been doing fairly well lately, Rell was not yet one hundred percent accident free. Xlack had held the squirming little runt over the waste vacuum enough times now that he should have gotten the point, but Rell was stubborn. Toilets were scary.

“Disgusting,” the Knalcal denounced, freckled eyes wide.

Isike, clean that up,” Xlack called.

Nothing happened.

Disbelief hoisted the Knalcal’s eyebrows. “It does that?”

“Yes.” Xlack had never known a ship of decent size not to have the ability to absorb and dispose of much larger messes.

“A pity the computer is currently locked, then.” Slight anticipatory amusement. If this Knalcal thought he would get to see an Aylata scrub crud off the floor, he would be forever disappointed.

“I thought we already covered your need to respect Aylata,” Xlack sighed, meeting the officer’s gaze again. “You really don’t want to see me pick that up.”

The brown matter rose like evaporating mist, condensing into a compact, hovering sphere. Confusion and revulsion drew harsh lines across the Knalcal’s countenance, surprise adding its mark as the sphere shot toward him.

The Knalcal’s flat palm batted it down, but the pellet did not fall. Gagging on disgust and bewilderment, the Knalcal turned his hand over to discover a growing fragrant stain coated his fingers, palm, and wrist. All attempts to fling or wipe it off failed.

“Stop it!” he screamed, entire arm encased, stain creeping up his neck.

“I recommend you fix the computer quickly,” Xlack advised.

“How will that stop it!?”

With a glance at the unaltered mess on the floor, Xlack explained, “As soon as you know you have completed your tasks aboard this ship, that stain will vanish as if it were never there.”

As Xlack passed him, the Knalcal stepped closer to the wall, maintaining a wide margin of personal space.

“I can also promise that should you even think you’ve sabotaged this vessel, the stain will return, and nothing will wash it off.” Xlack strode down the hall, not looking back.

“How does that work?” the Knalcal called after him.

Xlack shrugged. “Aylata can do anything.” Because anything can be real in your mind. “You only captured this ship because there wasn’t an Aylata onboard.”

Though Xlack didn’t know why, nor did he know exactly how this Tsira project had ended up in Alliance Space. Legions always had at least one Defender with them. Why had this crew been sent without one?

Before this mission the last Xlack had heard of the Isike, the ship had neared completion, and the Ravida had borrowed it. The Isike had vanished, dataseas pulsing with rumors for almost a month before people forgot and moved on. Though Xlack asked, his father revealed nothing of the fate of the Isike, and Xlack, too, had dropped the subject.

Rell bounded after his master, mewing mournfully. His tummy hurt and he didn’t want to walk. Silent, Xlack scooped up the beastling, and Rell cuddled into the crook of his elbow, immediately asleep, shiny scales twinkling with his peaceful breaths.

Undeterred by the halls’ wending ways, Xlack strolled along several decks, appreciating the ship’s detailed luxury: large spaces, spongy carpet cancelling the sound of his footsteps. Intricate, gilded carvings covered the walls, depicting various landscapes. The air had the tangy, processed aroma he acquainted with ships and stations, not quite managing to erase the Napix bitter-starch or the Knalcal scorched-ice scents.

In the center of a giant snowflake frieze, Xlack found the door he wanted: the entrance to the Isike’s grandest suite, the one intended for a Refraction Leader. This was where he planned to pass the night.

Taking a deep breath, Xlack picked his Aylata emblem—chrome Tsira insignia, an abstract lamp shape—off his collar and waved it in front of the pass reader. The door slid out of his way with the softest and most authoritative hiss he had ever heard. Complete awe waited to ambush him, but such was shoved aside by a foreign puzzle piece.

“Why and how do you always show up out of nowhere?” Xlack queried, caution flanking him as he entered the dark room. Two plump chairs faced each other, centered in the space, while two more resembled sentries on either side of a bedroom door to the right. A desk beset with control panels lined the left wall, and a column of empty shelves lined up opposite him.

Sitting atop this latter, Twi responded, “I excel at being unnoticeable. So either you can see in the dark, or you’re extremely sensitive to life-signatures.”

“Or you’re not as unnoticeable as you think you are.”

“I know you have ‘netic Talents. When I threw a forcefield, you countered it with another,” she asserted.

“I asked how you got in here.”

Rell looked up, sleepy eyes glossed in perplexity, and he yawned.

“That’s a secret,” Twi claimed, sliding off her pedestal and alighting on her toes. Her sweet, edible-flower fragrance danced with the circulating air. “I came here to ask questions, not answer them.”

“Turnabout’s fair play,” Xlack scoffed, and Rell growled, climbing onto his master’s shoulder.

Twi raised an eyebrow, gliding around the Aylata. “Then you may have a turn later.” As she continued circling him, the metallic bandage on her otherwise bare shoulder caught the light from the corridor. Hiding the wound he had given her, it folded across her bicep, disappearing into her thin, black sleeve.

The slice on Xlack’s arm from Twi’s Aqkashi was all but gone now, a faint line on his skin concealed by repaired Tsoqisi.

Confusion tumbled through Twi, incredulity its watchful guardian, pinching her expression. “You expected to die from that tiny scratch?”

Tail twitching, Rell spun on Xlack’s shoulder, eyes fixed on her.

Xlack sighed, “I expected to be insane by now.”

“Then either your mind or your weapon is fundamentally different from ours.”

“The Ier’s victims don’t keep their wits about them for long,” Xlack explained, the weapon leaping into his hand and snapping open. Rell scrambled down Xlack’s back and hid under the diagonal hem of his jacket. Twi retreated, but she drew no weapons of her own.

Her eyes did not leave the Ier as she spoke. “You determined to finish me in front of that Mueta trap, but then you paused. What stopped you?”

“You know that answer; your buddy, Revo, showed up.”

She met his gaze, and he flinched. People rarely looked Mind Aylata in the eye on purpose, and unlike the vulnerable Knalcal, Twi’s gaze was steely and assured.

“You hesitated, and I think you would have stopped yourself had Revo not been there.”

Xlack looked away. “Well, Revo was there, and I’m not going to be drawn into a hypothetical argument.”

“You could kill me now.”

Did she have a death wish?

“I don’t need to now,” he argued, closing his Ier. He kept it in hand though, in case she really was crazy.

She tilted her head. “Your trust is loose then.”

Xlack didn’t know what she meant by that, but he doubted it was a compliment.

“I’m happy you’re alive,” he offered, “and okay.”

“You’re also happy you have your ship and people back,” she countered, falling into one of the center chairs. It engulfed her, spurring a wave of surprise, yet grace swathed her recovery. She sat on the chair’s back, her feet on one armrest, only a slight pause inserted in her presentation. “They’ll likely hail you as a hero. Is that what you seek, what you wanted in coming here?”

Her stare bored into him. Xlack crossed his arms.

“They always said I’d become a legend to stand alongside the heroes of the past.” They said that about every Menagerie, though, and history’s spotlight was very harsh on them, good points withered, faults and weaknesses on display.

“Is that what drives you then, what gives you the courage to stand here now?”

In a way. His deepest desire was to be the legend that didn’t fall, to gain history’s fond smile. But that wasn’t something to discuss with a stranger.

“If something’s happening, would you rather be involved or sitting around doing nothing?”

She grinned. “Like you said in the oha, you don’t like sitting around; it makes you feel useless. And yet, could you pause long enough to realize that maybe the Isike was captured for a reason?”

Xlack shrugged. “The Mueta wanted the attention of the Aylata.”

Frowning Twi asked, “And why would the Knalcals want the Isike captured?”

“They obviously don’t like trespassers.” Foot tapping, Xlack wished she would hurry up and get to the point.

“Why do you think they don’t like trespassers?”

Xlack sighed, “They likely view them as a threat.”

“There you go, a threat to their way of life. Napix way of life might be fine for a Napix, but you can’t impose that on others, especially ones who know what it’s like to make their own decisions.”

“Have you ever been to Napix?” he inquired, pacing.

“No.”

“Then how do you know what the Napix way of life is?” His ashen bangs fell across his brows, and Xlack swept them aside in annoyance.

Twi looked at the floor. “I hacked into a Mueta database.”

Xlack allowed confusion to take over his expression. “Revo told me they were an organization of underground gangsters. Why would they have a database?”

“You’re picking on the wrong details,” Twi argued, shaking her head. “If what I read was true, there is barely a sliver of freedom on your world.”

“Explain.”

“Every Zalerit is a slave, and citizens have to ask permission to do anything, even to travel to visit a friend or relative.” She caught his arm as he paced by. “I don’t think even you are as free as you believe.”

“All Aylata are completely free,” he recited, pulling away from her. “It’d be treason to say otherwise.”

“Then you came up with this idea to come rescue the crew of the Isike, so far away, all by yourself?”

Xlack stopped. “No.” Even if he had, it was still a job for a Watcher, no matter how he excused it.

“Did they even expect you to succeed? Really, sending one man to rescue a crew of twenty thousand and six from a whole army in their home territory?”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

She shrugged, her gaze capturing his again, solemn seriousness loitering. “I don’t know, really. According to the database, the Mueta are paranoid someday their Aylata cousins will come and steal their land, their liberty, and perhaps even their lives. Can you honestly say your leader would never order such a thing?”

Emperor Kise—the citizens loved him, and he also had the Aylata’s approval. He always knew exactly what was right. But K’alaqk?

“No,” Xlack whispered.

“Then that’s why I tell you this. Maybe because you spared me, maybe you can see reason, and you can be its voice. Would you speak out? Would you stand up for what you believe in?”

“Of course, and the Aylata would stand with me.”

“I hope you speak truth, because if a Napix army arrives in Alliance Space, the Mueta will go crazy. The Knalcals will not tolerate their presence, and together with the Tala and Lettaplexians, they will wreak havoc. As strong as we may be, there’ll be too few O’ees to be able to do anything about it.”

“One person can always make a difference, Twi,” Xlack assured her, quoting the Tsira motto. His hair was in his eyes again, but he didn’t notice.

“Then be that one person and stop disaster before it starts,” she admonished, the door sliding aside as she approached.

Preventing a war—certainly a mandate gilded in heroism. But how did she expect him to accomplish that? Where would he begin? He knew next to nothing about these people.

As if eavesdropping on his doubt, she turned in the corridor. “It may not be easy.”

“Easy is rarely worth it,” Xlack spieled.

She gave him a coy grin as the door closed.

Xlack remained motionless, questions burrowing in his mind like sanda in the bedrock of the Lakiai River. He used to practice his Mind Talents by suggesting the jeweled crustaceans leave their safe havens, much to the delight of the tradesmen who caught and sold these savory delicacies. His friend, Ject Sirvette, had even called out hundreds at a time, but Xlack found such spectacles overwhelming—the carpet of black opal shells writhing up through the sand, the mass of tiny minds bombarding him with their singular focus, the wave of life-signatures, the cloying, salty smell.

Sometimes Xlack’s plethora of Talents gave him too many details.

With that thought, suspicion prickled Xlack’s skin. He had been so preoccupied gawking over the little details of the ship, he had almost overlooked Twi’s presence. What else had he missed?

With his Magnetic senses, he first searched the room, and then concentrated on feeling beyond its walls. Twi distracted him, waltzing down the hall at a brisk pace. Another life-signature caught his attention not too far away—Knalcal, the one with the poop nightmare.

On a hunch, Xlack looked for a very specific Napix signature, and unfortunately he found it, barely at the edge of his perceptions, where he couldn’t quite be sure.

“Isike!” he called, and this time the computer beeped in recognition. “Tell me how many sentient beings are aboard this ship besides myself and a Knalcal worker!”

“Two,” it replied.

One of those should be Twi, he thought.

“How many are Knalcal?”

The computer hesitated, looping. Yeah, he had noticed that, too. Twi’s signature wasn’t quite like the other Knalcals. She seemed somewhere between Knalcal and Tala.

Already out the door, he saved the computer: “Sorry, unfair question. The one you can identify, what race is he?”

“Napix,” the computer answered. That was enough conformation; there was another Napix onboard, and Xlack had only one guess as to whom he would find it to be.

“Turn off all the lights, Computer,” Xlack instructed. “I’m on my way to him.”

-continued in section 5 scene 4- Intruder-

2
0
0
Juice
27 reads
Donate coins to Taki.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 25 of RALI- Renegade
Written by Taki
Renegade section 5 scene 3- That's a Secret
They told Xlack departure would be first thing in the standardized morning and they had a place for him to sleep safely. Instead of taking the Mueta up on such a hospitable offer, he opted to spend the intervening ruahs aboard the Isike. That seemed safer.

Xlack returned to the O’ee base, gaining access with the emblem Revo had given him, and retrieved his Oha. Rell sulked in a pocket, miffed because Xlack wouldn’t let him have the datastick despite the beastling’s many attempts to abscond with it. The memory card now nested beneath the Ier in its sheath, protected from prying paws. Over the past few months, Xlack had lost several shiny objects, including one datapad, to Rell’s teething plunders. Personally, Xlack didn’t see how a clear plasamique and metal tongue depressor could be more appetizing than the juicy bone ruminating in another pocket.

The Isike should have had stores of real food anyway.

Tethered to a Knalcal military outpost, the enormous ship had the appearance of a spark—polished onyx, rhombus-shaped from side, front, or top with hooked points, like dorsal fins or claws. Eighty stories tall, twice that wide, length four times its berth, every edge curved and sharpened, a snowflake formed of sabers. It could accommodate over a hundred thousand occupants.

Oha parked in Docking Bay Two, Xlack navigated the Isike’s twisty halls with little difficulty. Pride radiating, Xlack’s father had once instructed he take a close, lingering look at the plans for this prototype craft—a Tsira project—chuckling only luck would see these ships standardized in the current Refraction Leaders’ lifetime. Perhaps after Xlack claimed the title his home would be aboard such a palatial vessel.

Stomach murmuring again, Xlack quickly located the ration stock, a room housing row upon row of pallets: stacks of small, powder-filled packets and sealed flutes. Perusing the selection, Xlack chose a pouch labeled mykuro bacon and a bottle touting high electrolyte gravy.

Back leaning against a pallet, Xlack ripped open the packet, and Rell emerged from his hermit’s nest, nose twitching, flat, pearlescent tongue darting out to test the air. Per packaging instructions, Xlack sprinkled the bran—which smelled more like sawdust than bacon—into the liquid gravy, resealed the lid, and shook it.

The resulting concoction resembled lumpy, wet sand and smelled like stagnant mud. Rell’s tiny tongue folded over his velvety nose and wet his whiskers, his entire body wiggling in anticipation, obsidian splotched, pewter scales winking with the movement.

“You want to try it first?” Xlack asked, dripping a few clumps of mislabeled swamp slush onto his palm. Pouncing on it, Rell gobbled the gunk with gusto, purring his approval.

Xlack was not reassured. Rell, who sometimes snatched prizes from the trash compactor, could hardly be termed a reliable food connoisseur.

Leery, Xlack raised the bottle and took a tentative sip. Smell and appearance had not lied; the sludge was gritty, slimy, and tasted exactly like rancid river mud—which Xlack had once eaten on a dare.

Crazy manufacturers think they can make fake food and label it whatever they want. This is a slight to bacon lovers everywhere.

All the packets and bottles likely tasted the same, but the last Xlack had eaten was just before he and Mystis had entered the Knalcal Embassy, and he wasn’t sure how much time had passed since then. He needed the sustenance, the energy, but memories of how the river mud had made his stomach roil bound him in hesitation.

“If you don’t like it, change it.” The words of a very clever friend.

“Change it how?” Xlack had asked.

The Fire Sereh had grinned. “Well, I find that if fire doesn’t improve your situation, it at least makes things more interesting.”

Xlack gripped the bottle, temperature rising. He didn’t often use this Talent; to give in to Fire was to let chaos reign.

Chemical commands flooded his blood, every cell wrapped in an infinitesimal barrier as catalysts seeped in and hastened its processes, guzzling energy. The protective barrier absorbed the resulting heat and carried it outward, transuding through his skin and forming a barely perceptible coating, which reeked like fetid, burnt sugar.

On a true Fire Aylata, this flammable patina was always present, but in multi-Talented Menageries like Xlack, it formed on reflex or practiced demand, and to burn hot enough to manifest flames hurt. Mentors claimed exercising this Talent more would remedy that, but Xlack’s current goal did not need visible fire or the full-on inferno chaos wanted. He had to keep it in check, contained in his right hand, nowhere near the left where Rell’s tongue scoured off any remnants of his small sample.

The bottle dented under Xlack’s fingers, wisps of black smoke adding to the acrid stench. Inside, the slush boiled into a pale froth, grains softening into jelly. Loosening his grip on the container, Xlack sniffed at the wafting steam, intrigued by its syrupy scent.

They should add cooking it to the packet instructions, he thought, tipping some of the froth into his mouth. The taste of sugar-glazed bacon fertilized a smile despite the awkward jelly texture.

Rell scratched at Xlack’s wrist, a reminder of his presence and that he would like seconds. Obliging, Xlack shook another glob onto his palm. With a tiny roar, the beastling pounced again, inhaling the morsel, and then promptly spitting it out, dark, accusing eyes glaring at his master.

“I didn’t ruin it,” the Aylata defended.

With a huff, Rell did not agree, slender tail waving in annoyance, but his protest was short-lived.

A distraction pulled the beastling’s gaze to the closed door, floppy ears perked. There was nothing to see, but Xlack had also heard it, his Magnetic senses revealing exactly what lurked outside this store room.

Deeming it an excellent opportunity for Rell to practice some skills, Xlack ordered, “Rell, find the noisemaker.” The beastling galloped off on a much needed head start as Xlack chugged the rest of his bacon jelly.

Rell had almost reached the exit when Xlack caught up, the door sliding aside to admit access to the dim hallway. Despite the nose numbing odor of the air scrubbers, Xlack detected the grassy scents of countless Napix crewmen and above that, more recent and potent, the crisp, snow-like fragrance of a Knalcal.

With feline grace, Rell rushed around a corner, growl like the buzz of insect wings, stilling in an instinctual, intimidating stance.

Eyes faithful to the wall screen he tickled, a tope-skinned, silver birthmarked Knalcal stood several paces in front of the beastling, pale hair drawing a rigid line from his left ear to the base of his neck, touching the lapels of what Xlack had come to recognize as a Knalcal military uniform—wide pants and plain, high-colored shirt beneath an ankle-length, leathery jacket cinched with a narrow belt. The ornateness in the wrapping of this latter seemed to denote rank, and this officer’s simple sash let Xlack believe he wasn’t ranked very high. “How’d you get here, runt?”

“I’d rather hear what you’re up to,” Xlack demanded, arms crossed.

Now the Knalcal’s cobalt-speckled eyes abandoned the screen, zeroing in on the Aylata. “I assume you want your crew to be able to control the ship when they get here, so I am removing our lockout codes.” The words were woven from clean sincerity; that was exactly what he had been ordered and so what he did, but disapproval shaded him.

“You think this exchange is silly, that the Knalcals are giving up this prize too easily,” Xlack revealed, evoking shock, stark and cold. Meeting his gaze, Xlack tugged on those emotions, tangible weapons and bindings for a Mind Aylata.

The Knalcal retreated a pace, drawing a shooter from a holster on his thigh. “If you try to invade my mind again, I’ll kill you.”

“You don’t stand the slightest chance,” Xlack remarked, too easily holding the Knalcal still. “You fear and resent Mueta, but Aylata are their older, more powerful cousins. Drop your weapon.”

The shooter fell, silent on the padded floor. Terror as unrelenting as a glacier encased the Knalcal, leaving him just enough room for quick, shallow breaths.

Releasing him, Xlack grinned. “Go ahead and complete your task and make sure you do it well. If I find you’ve forgotten to disable something or added anything even remotely suspicious, I’ll come after you and…what is that smell? Rell?!”

A putrescent pile of soft brown slouched behind Xlack’s foot, its beastling artist nowhere to be seen.

Though he had been doing fairly well lately, Rell was not yet one hundred percent accident free. Xlack had held the squirming little runt over the waste vacuum enough times now that he should have gotten the point, but Rell was stubborn. Toilets were scary.

“Disgusting,” the Knalcal denounced, freckled eyes wide.

Isike, clean that up,” Xlack called.

Nothing happened.

Disbelief hoisted the Knalcal’s eyebrows. “It does that?”

“Yes.” Xlack had never known a ship of decent size not to have the ability to absorb and dispose of much larger messes.

“A pity the computer is currently locked, then.” Slight anticipatory amusement. If this Knalcal thought he would get to see an Aylata scrub crud off the floor, he would be forever disappointed.

“I thought we already covered your need to respect Aylata,” Xlack sighed, meeting the officer’s gaze again. “You really don’t want to see me pick that up.”

The brown matter rose like evaporating mist, condensing into a compact, hovering sphere. Confusion and revulsion drew harsh lines across the Knalcal’s countenance, surprise adding its mark as the sphere shot toward him.

The Knalcal’s flat palm batted it down, but the pellet did not fall. Gagging on disgust and bewilderment, the Knalcal turned his hand over to discover a growing fragrant stain coated his fingers, palm, and wrist. All attempts to fling or wipe it off failed.

“Stop it!” he screamed, entire arm encased, stain creeping up his neck.

“I recommend you fix the computer quickly,” Xlack advised.

“How will that stop it!?”

With a glance at the unaltered mess on the floor, Xlack explained, “As soon as you know you have completed your tasks aboard this ship, that stain will vanish as if it were never there.”

As Xlack passed him, the Knalcal stepped closer to the wall, maintaining a wide margin of personal space.

“I can also promise that should you even think you’ve sabotaged this vessel, the stain will return, and nothing will wash it off.” Xlack strode down the hall, not looking back.

“How does that work?” the Knalcal called after him.

Xlack shrugged. “Aylata can do anything.” Because anything can be real in your mind. “You only captured this ship because there wasn’t an Aylata onboard.”

Though Xlack didn’t know why, nor did he know exactly how this Tsira project had ended up in Alliance Space. Legions always had at least one Defender with them. Why had this crew been sent without one?

Before this mission the last Xlack had heard of the Isike, the ship had neared completion, and the Ravida had borrowed it. The Isike had vanished, dataseas pulsing with rumors for almost a month before people forgot and moved on. Though Xlack asked, his father revealed nothing of the fate of the Isike, and Xlack, too, had dropped the subject.

Rell bounded after his master, mewing mournfully. His tummy hurt and he didn’t want to walk. Silent, Xlack scooped up the beastling, and Rell cuddled into the crook of his elbow, immediately asleep, shiny scales twinkling with his peaceful breaths.

Undeterred by the halls’ wending ways, Xlack strolled along several decks, appreciating the ship’s detailed luxury: large spaces, spongy carpet cancelling the sound of his footsteps. Intricate, gilded carvings covered the walls, depicting various landscapes. The air had the tangy, processed aroma he acquainted with ships and stations, not quite managing to erase the Napix bitter-starch or the Knalcal scorched-ice scents.

In the center of a giant snowflake frieze, Xlack found the door he wanted: the entrance to the Isike’s grandest suite, the one intended for a Refraction Leader. This was where he planned to pass the night.

Taking a deep breath, Xlack picked his Aylata emblem—chrome Tsira insignia, an abstract lamp shape—off his collar and waved it in front of the pass reader. The door slid out of his way with the softest and most authoritative hiss he had ever heard. Complete awe waited to ambush him, but such was shoved aside by a foreign puzzle piece.

“Why and how do you always show up out of nowhere?” Xlack queried, caution flanking him as he entered the dark room. Two plump chairs faced each other, centered in the space, while two more resembled sentries on either side of a bedroom door to the right. A desk beset with control panels lined the left wall, and a column of empty shelves lined up opposite him.

Sitting atop this latter, Twi responded, “I excel at being unnoticeable. So either you can see in the dark, or you’re extremely sensitive to life-signatures.”

“Or you’re not as unnoticeable as you think you are.”

“I know you have ‘netic Talents. When I threw a forcefield, you countered it with another,” she asserted.

“I asked how you got in here.”

Rell looked up, sleepy eyes glossed in perplexity, and he yawned.

“That’s a secret,” Twi claimed, sliding off her pedestal and alighting on her toes. Her sweet, edible-flower fragrance danced with the circulating air. “I came here to ask questions, not answer them.”

“Turnabout’s fair play,” Xlack scoffed, and Rell growled, climbing onto his master’s shoulder.

Twi raised an eyebrow, gliding around the Aylata. “Then you may have a turn later.” As she continued circling him, the metallic bandage on her otherwise bare shoulder caught the light from the corridor. Hiding the wound he had given her, it folded across her bicep, disappearing into her thin, black sleeve.

The slice on Xlack’s arm from Twi’s Aqkashi was all but gone now, a faint line on his skin concealed by repaired Tsoqisi.

Confusion tumbled through Twi, incredulity its watchful guardian, pinching her expression. “You expected to die from that tiny scratch?”

Tail twitching, Rell spun on Xlack’s shoulder, eyes fixed on her.

Xlack sighed, “I expected to be insane by now.”

“Then either your mind or your weapon is fundamentally different from ours.”

“The Ier’s victims don’t keep their wits about them for long,” Xlack explained, the weapon leaping into his hand and snapping open. Rell scrambled down Xlack’s back and hid under the diagonal hem of his jacket. Twi retreated, but she drew no weapons of her own.

Her eyes did not leave the Ier as she spoke. “You determined to finish me in front of that Mueta trap, but then you paused. What stopped you?”

“You know that answer; your buddy, Revo, showed up.”

She met his gaze, and he flinched. People rarely looked Mind Aylata in the eye on purpose, and unlike the vulnerable Knalcal, Twi’s gaze was steely and assured.

“You hesitated, and I think you would have stopped yourself had Revo not been there.”

Xlack looked away. “Well, Revo was there, and I’m not going to be drawn into a hypothetical argument.”

“You could kill me now.”

Did she have a death wish?

“I don’t need to now,” he argued, closing his Ier. He kept it in hand though, in case she really was crazy.

She tilted her head. “Your trust is loose then.”

Xlack didn’t know what she meant by that, but he doubted it was a compliment.

“I’m happy you’re alive,” he offered, “and okay.”

“You’re also happy you have your ship and people back,” she countered, falling into one of the center chairs. It engulfed her, spurring a wave of surprise, yet grace swathed her recovery. She sat on the chair’s back, her feet on one armrest, only a slight pause inserted in her presentation. “They’ll likely hail you as a hero. Is that what you seek, what you wanted in coming here?”

Her stare bored into him. Xlack crossed his arms.

“They always said I’d become a legend to stand alongside the heroes of the past.” They said that about every Menagerie, though, and history’s spotlight was very harsh on them, good points withered, faults and weaknesses on display.

“Is that what drives you then, what gives you the courage to stand here now?”

In a way. His deepest desire was to be the legend that didn’t fall, to gain history’s fond smile. But that wasn’t something to discuss with a stranger.

“If something’s happening, would you rather be involved or sitting around doing nothing?”

She grinned. “Like you said in the oha, you don’t like sitting around; it makes you feel useless. And yet, could you pause long enough to realize that maybe the Isike was captured for a reason?”

Xlack shrugged. “The Mueta wanted the attention of the Aylata.”

Frowning Twi asked, “And why would the Knalcals want the Isike captured?”

“They obviously don’t like trespassers.” Foot tapping, Xlack wished she would hurry up and get to the point.

“Why do you think they don’t like trespassers?”

Xlack sighed, “They likely view them as a threat.”

“There you go, a threat to their way of life. Napix way of life might be fine for a Napix, but you can’t impose that on others, especially ones who know what it’s like to make their own decisions.”

“Have you ever been to Napix?” he inquired, pacing.

“No.”

“Then how do you know what the Napix way of life is?” His ashen bangs fell across his brows, and Xlack swept them aside in annoyance.

Twi looked at the floor. “I hacked into a Mueta database.”

Xlack allowed confusion to take over his expression. “Revo told me they were an organization of underground gangsters. Why would they have a database?”

“You’re picking on the wrong details,” Twi argued, shaking her head. “If what I read was true, there is barely a sliver of freedom on your world.”

“Explain.”

“Every Zalerit is a slave, and citizens have to ask permission to do anything, even to travel to visit a friend or relative.” She caught his arm as he paced by. “I don’t think even you are as free as you believe.”

“All Aylata are completely free,” he recited, pulling away from her. “It’d be treason to say otherwise.”

“Then you came up with this idea to come rescue the crew of the Isike, so far away, all by yourself?”

Xlack stopped. “No.” Even if he had, it was still a job for a Watcher, no matter how he excused it.

“Did they even expect you to succeed? Really, sending one man to rescue a crew of twenty thousand and six from a whole army in their home territory?”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

She shrugged, her gaze capturing his again, solemn seriousness loitering. “I don’t know, really. According to the database, the Mueta are paranoid someday their Aylata cousins will come and steal their land, their liberty, and perhaps even their lives. Can you honestly say your leader would never order such a thing?”

Emperor Kise—the citizens loved him, and he also had the Aylata’s approval. He always knew exactly what was right. But K’alaqk?

“No,” Xlack whispered.

“Then that’s why I tell you this. Maybe because you spared me, maybe you can see reason, and you can be its voice. Would you speak out? Would you stand up for what you believe in?”

“Of course, and the Aylata would stand with me.”

“I hope you speak truth, because if a Napix army arrives in Alliance Space, the Mueta will go crazy. The Knalcals will not tolerate their presence, and together with the Tala and Lettaplexians, they will wreak havoc. As strong as we may be, there’ll be too few O’ees to be able to do anything about it.”

“One person can always make a difference, Twi,” Xlack assured her, quoting the Tsira motto. His hair was in his eyes again, but he didn’t notice.

“Then be that one person and stop disaster before it starts,” she admonished, the door sliding aside as she approached.

Preventing a war—certainly a mandate gilded in heroism. But how did she expect him to accomplish that? Where would he begin? He knew next to nothing about these people.

As if eavesdropping on his doubt, she turned in the corridor. “It may not be easy.”

“Easy is rarely worth it,” Xlack spieled.

She gave him a coy grin as the door closed.

Xlack remained motionless, questions burrowing in his mind like sanda in the bedrock of the Lakiai River. He used to practice his Mind Talents by suggesting the jeweled crustaceans leave their safe havens, much to the delight of the tradesmen who caught and sold these savory delicacies. His friend, Ject Sirvette, had even called out hundreds at a time, but Xlack found such spectacles overwhelming—the carpet of black opal shells writhing up through the sand, the mass of tiny minds bombarding him with their singular focus, the wave of life-signatures, the cloying, salty smell.

Sometimes Xlack’s plethora of Talents gave him too many details.

With that thought, suspicion prickled Xlack’s skin. He had been so preoccupied gawking over the little details of the ship, he had almost overlooked Twi’s presence. What else had he missed?

With his Magnetic senses, he first searched the room, and then concentrated on feeling beyond its walls. Twi distracted him, waltzing down the hall at a brisk pace. Another life-signature caught his attention not too far away—Knalcal, the one with the poop nightmare.

On a hunch, Xlack looked for a very specific Napix signature, and unfortunately he found it, barely at the edge of his perceptions, where he couldn’t quite be sure.

“Isike!” he called, and this time the computer beeped in recognition. “Tell me how many sentient beings are aboard this ship besides myself and a Knalcal worker!”

“Two,” it replied.

One of those should be Twi, he thought.

“How many are Knalcal?”

The computer hesitated, looping. Yeah, he had noticed that, too. Twi’s signature wasn’t quite like the other Knalcals. She seemed somewhere between Knalcal and Tala.

Already out the door, he saved the computer: “Sorry, unfair question. The one you can identify, what race is he?”

“Napix,” the computer answered. That was enough conformation; there was another Napix onboard, and Xlack had only one guess as to whom he would find it to be.

“Turn off all the lights, Computer,” Xlack instructed. “I’m on my way to him.”

-continued in section 5 scene 4- Intruder-
2
0
0
Juice
27 reads
Login to post comments.
Books
RALI- Renegade
By Taki
Add to Library
Free
River's End
By Taki
Add to Library
Free
Advertisement  (turn off)