A Deep Secret
It was late morning. The suns were high in a cloudless sky, their rays shining through the clear windows on the ceiling of the Great Hall, making the air really stuffy. A red tint danced along the walls as the suns shone through the red banners. Sweat beaded around my forehead and dripped into my eyes. I angrily wiped the sweat away. Even though I had the crap beaten out of me yesterday, I was still forced to do work. Every part of my body was in anguish as I supported myself on my hands and knees, washing the floor with a soapy scrub brush. On occasion a tear would escape from my eyes and drip onto the floor. I was alone, there were no slaves with me as I worked; there was not even a guard. But I constantly felt like I was being watched. Gritting my teeth I brought my sore arm up, dipped the brush into the pail full of water and continued to scrub. A whisper came to my ear. I looked up at the endless hall in front of me and did not see anyone. I peered behind me and again saw no one. I sighed you're imagining things. I went back to work.
"Dakota..." said the whisper.
Okay, that time I heard something. I searched around me once more and still did not see anyone. My skin began to crawl and my stomach tightened into a nervous knot. Who was calling my name?
"Dakota," called the voice.
The voice sounded like my mother. That beating must've wrecked your brain Dakota I thought to myself mom's not here.
"Dakota," said the sweet voice. It came from behind me. Do I dare look? I turned my head to see...my family. I blinked a few times, my throat tightening. Was this real? My mom was standing near the left side of the hall wearing her black and white striped, knee length dress. The light in the hall seemed to make her slightly greying chestnut coloured hair and brown eyes glow. Dad was beside her, standing a few inches taller, wearing navy pants and a white shirt; he also shared the same greying chestnut hair and eyes as my mom. I saw my twenty–one year old brother standing tall and broad shouldered to the right of my father, his brown and blonde streaked shag framing his light blue eyes. He wore a dark T–shirt and jeans and did not seem to be bothered by the intense heat. My fifteen year old sister stood in front of my mother. Her black hair was in a long braid. Her brown eyes were as friendly as her smile and the light red tank top and tanned shorts brought out her rosy cheeks. I slowly rose to my feet, completely forgetting about my pain.
"Mom...dad...Anthony...Heather. Is...is it really you?" I managed to choke out.
Mom held out her arms, "It's okay sweety. Don't be afraid, you're safe now."
I took a step forward, "How did you find me?"
Dad stepped beside mom, "We are always with you, Ladybug. You can never lose us."
Tears streamed out of my swollen eyes when I heard my childhood nickname. I took another step, trying to steady myself. Heather motioned with her arm, her smile grew wider.
"Don't cry sis, it's okay, we're here."
I put my other foot forward.
"Come on Dakota," Anthony said in a strong comforting voice, "we'll take you home."
Home. I had never heard of a more beautiful word. I continued forward, my steps a little more confident and stretched out my arms to my family. I had never felt so happy in my entire life. I was within touching distance from my mom's embrace, when something whipped through the air and sliced cleanly though the necks of my siblings and parents. Their blood splashed onto my face as I stood paralyzed, watching their decapitated bodies fall with a sickening thud. Blood pooled onto the floor and crept to my feet. A voice in my head told me to scream, cry, vomit, anything! But all I did was stare at my family's crumpled bodies.
I heard a mocking trill and looked up to see the High Elder and the rest of the counsel behind him. The old male was holding a bloody sword in his right hand. All of their eyes glowed red, drool dripped from their sharp toothed mouths like rabid dogs and an eerie, ragged growl came from their throats. The High Elder gave a crazed laugh and raised his weapon. Somehow I gained control of my legs and I turned and ran down the empty hall, my panicked breaths echoing along the walls. I did not dare look back. The hallway seemed endless. Where the hell was the exit?! I heard a terrible roar and the Elders' booming steps as they ran after me. Adrenaline pumped through my legs as I ran faster.
"Go away!" I cried in a high voice, "Leave me alone!"
I got a demoniac cackle for and answer. I gazed ahead of me and saw a square light appear. The exit! I pushed myself to go faster. Coming closer to the opened door I noticed two figures on the other side. Xeenan and Za'Becc! Go Dakota! yelled my mind you can make it! Suddenly the door slowly began to close and panic gripped me.
"Xeenan! Becky! Keep the door open!" I shouted.
They did not move, they did not seem to hear me. Both of them just stared blankly at me as I ran with the Elders hot on my pursuit. The door continued to slide shut.
"Guys please! Keep the door open!"
They still did not react. The door covered Xeenan, leaving Becky to stare at me. If she did not stop the door I will not make it!
"Becky!" I panted, tears rolling down my blood stained face, "Please Becky! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!"
She disappeared from my view as the door closed. I slammed into the door just when it sealed shut.
"No!" I shouted, pounding the steel with my fists, "No! No! No! NOOOOOO!"
I heard a low clicking noise and felt hot breath on the back of my neck. I did not want to look, but some unknown force turned me around. I came face to face with the red eyed, drooling High Elder, with the counsel circled around him. The male Yautja was grinning like a mad man, he looked more terrifying up close. I pressed my back to the steel and sunk to the ground, bringing my knees to my chest. Trembling with fear, I continued to cry, my sobs wracking my body. The High Elder laughed so loud my ears rang as he brought up his sword. I stuck my hands out.
I screamed at the top of my lungs when the bloody blade came down on my throat.
I woke from my sleep, crying out as tears mingled with sweat. Warm rain fell through the window and splashed onto my face. I panted hard as my eyes moved frantically around the room. Slowly my mind took in my surroundings. I was back inside the gloomy cell, still curled in a fetal position while a thunderstorm raged outside. It was a nightmare I thought, trying to calm down it wasn't real Dakota, it didn't happen. I stretched out and moaned in torment. Now I really wish I did not wake up. It felt like someone was repeatedly pounding the inside of my head with a hammer, my throat felt so sore and dry I could not speak, the inside of my mouth tasted like blood and vomit and my face protested every time I blinked . A dizzy spell went through my head, my eyes went blurry and I felt nauseated; I knew I had a concussion. I continually swallowed to prevent myself from vomiting, although I probably did not have anything to bring up.
I rolled onto my back and carefully stretched out my legs and arms, finding that I was able to move my fingers and toes without difficulty. I moved my arms experimentally at the elbow and shoulders. OWCH! Okay, shoulders are sore, but nothing seems to be broken or dislocated. I tried shifting my legs. OW! OW! My knees are sore but that’s it. I took a deep breath and stopped abruptly when a hot flash of pain travelled through my chest and stomach. Wheezing I tried to take in another reasonable breath, but the pain in my ribs would not let me. 'Oh God, I'd better not have fractured ribs! I tried to lift up my head. YEOWCH! That really hurt my nose! I tried to breathe through it, and found it was difficult. I got a sickening feeling and I cautiously pulled the converter off, noticing dried blood inside.
I tenderly probed over my face, finding a huge scab over my right eye and another one on my left cheek. Both of my eyes and my lips felt puffy and hot and I could only guess what colours they displayed. The sides of my jaw felt swollen, but shockingly it did not seem broken; nor did I feel any loose teeth. Lastly, carefully, I checked my nose. I found it had swelled twice its size and felt crusted blood around my nostrils. After a few tender touches I found where the break was and made a raspy whimper. I had two choices, either leave it alone and have a hard time breathing or set it back myself. I groaned, I might as well get it over with. I slowly closed my eyes and gently placed my thumb and forefinger on either side of the break. I took several deep breathes. Okay, on three. One...two...THREE!
I rocked from side to side, crying out as I held my nose; tears poured down my face while I pounded my feet on the ground. When I took my hands away I saw my fingers covered in crimson. I rolled on my side to allow the blood to flow out. Everything started to spin, blotches of colour appeared before my eyes and I mercifully passed out.
I opened my eyes again after who knows how long. The cell was dark, indicting it was night and I could still hear the rain fall outside. I realised my nose had stopped bleeding, but it felt worse than before. Did I align it correctly? Well, I could breathe more easily, so I must have done something right. My throat tickled and I began to cough violently, sending jolts of pain through my head and chest. The converter was off for too long. Suppressing another painful cough I reached for my mask, quickly washed the blood out in a muddy puddle under the window and held it over my mouth. I did not push it to my face all the way, wanting the least bit of contact with my nose. Keeping my breathing constant I closed my eyes and instantly fell asleep.
It was the next morning when I opened my eyes and it was still raining heavily. Seeing the water fall down the wall reminded me how hot and sticky my mouth and throat felt. Lifting myself stiffly onto my hands and knees I crawled to the wall, cupped my hands against it and gratefully drank the soothing water. I washed my stained face with it, wishing the water was colder. With my thirst quenched and face relatively clean I sat cross legged on the dirt, leaned my back against the wall and examined my ribs. I saw two, dark purple and blue bruises, the size of softballs on both sides of my ribs, outlined with many other red and blue contusions. Not much of the pain had subsided, but at least I was able to sit without too much difficulty. Maybe my ribs are cracked, I don't think I would be able to sit if they were fractured I thought trying to reassure myself.
Argh! This entertainer's outfit was uncomfortable! It left red marks on my side and sometimes put pressure on the tender bruises on my back. I raised my head and looked at the door. My eyes widened in surprise when I saw my torn shorts, leather top and shoes. The guards must have put them there when I was unconscious. I crawled over to my clothes and changed into them. I felt something brush my leg and reached into my pocket. I was surprised to find the pen still tucked inside. I looked over at the door and crawled over to it, set my hands on the wall and carefully stood up, groaning as I did. Slowly examining the edges I hoped to find the slightest space or dent. There was nothing. After a five minute search I felt dizzy and my eyes went blurry again. Slumping against the wall I put my head down. My head ached again and my stomach growled. I doubt I was going to get any food, it was probably part of my punishment. I turned to the waterfall under the window. Well at least I had water. I crept to the window and cupped my hands under the liquid, trying to get rid of my hunger by filling my stomach with water. I turned to the door again. Maybe one day I'll figure out how to get it open. I yawned and rubbed my eyes. I might as well sleep to let my wounds heal. Laying down on the dirt floor I pressed the converter closer to my face and soon drifted off.
A swishing noise woke me from my slumber and I opened my eyes to see a guard step into the cell. He gathered my costume, looked at me and growled something. I pressed the power button on the translator.
"What was that?" I asked.
"Take out the rings in your hair," he growled irritably, holding out his clawed hand.
I sat up and took out the six rings holding my braids. Not that I was upset about parting with them, but they did hold my hair back nicely. The guard turned to leave.
"Wait, how long am I supposed to be here?" I asked in a still rough voice.
The guard stopped and turned his head, "Until you recover from your beating, then you are to do slave work again, ooman."
I watched him step out and the door close behind him. I sighed and looked out the window, seeing it was dusk. I shifted to my knees, trying to avoid another painful jerk in my ribs. I crossed myself and began to pray.
"Lord, I never thought I was going to experience this kind of a beating. Please send your healing touch and strength to me to me," I gave a raspy sigh, "Lord please be with Becky, Xeenan, Sor'an, Al and the rest of the slaves in the compound. Watch over and protect them all. Oh and bless Nadar–an'ah. She took a great risk in standing up for me again, please watch over her as well."
I paused for a second and finished the prayer with an Our Father. Crossing myself again, I looked up at the window, hoping to see the glitter of stars through the darkening sky. But there was none. I lowered myself to one side, careful not to put pressure on my ribs. As I laid there questions flooded in my head. Why? Why am I here? Why do I have to suffer now? What could I have possibly to deserve this? Is this happening to me for a reason?
The old saying "to suffer is to grow" came to mind. I groaned. Am I growing the way I should? My desire to escape was certainly growing. The cell suddenly became brighter as the moon rose and shone through the tiny window. It's light slowly moving across the walls of the cell, making it seem like I was surrounded in silver. I watched the show of light for a while before it disappeared. I closed my eyes, a sudden confidence rose up inside me. I am still alive right? I can still keep going. The High Elder has not beaten me yet. Yes, my desire to escape and leave this place with my friends will be enough to grow on.
I had spent a grand total of three days in the cell. My meals were brought by a guard and he always gave me irritated grunts, showing that he would rather be doing something else than feed and water a beaten human. The meals were always the same. One bowl of white and brown mush and cup of dirty water twice a day. I never did much in the cells. I mostly slept through the day, recovering and gaining strength. My concussion was almost gone and I was able to walk around the cell without having any dizzy spells. Although the bad food and water did not help with my throat. Every time I spoke my voice sounded dry and raspy. I wondered if I could ever sing again.
It was my fourth night the cell and I was woken from my sleep from hearing the door open. Still half asleep I saw two guards come into the room. I checked my watch and found it was around two in the morning. Weird I thought they don't come in this early. My thoughts were interrupted when they grabbed my arms and pulled me to my feet. I felt a jolt of pain stab through my chest.
"Ow! Watch it!" I yelled.
I got threatening growl as a response. As I was lead into the Great Hall, our steps echoed along the walls. A chill went up my spine when I remembered my nightmare. I was hauled into the Infirmary and saw Nadar–ian'ah waiting at the end of the room, with her back facing to us. When she heard us come in she turned and barked an order to the guards who bowed in reply. They left the room and the huge female and I were alone. I was able to turn the translator on and I saw the Elder's eyes move up and down my body. She gave an amusing look.
"You look like the underworld chewed you up and spat you back out," she said.
I rolled my eyes and curled one side of my mouth, "Thanks."
Nadar–ian'ah turned and motioned with her hand, "Come and lie on the table."
I did not move and looked at her questioningly.
"I want to scan your body for damages," she said simply.
Sighing I climbed onto the long steel table. I winced and made a sharp gasp when my ribs protested as I lowered myself to my back. As soon as I was settled Nadar–ian'ah pushed a button on one of the monitors and the orange light above me turned to red. She pushed another button and a white line of light appeared across the red light, just behind my head.
"Be very still human," she instructed and she turned a switch on the monitor.
I closed my eyes and held my breath as the white light passed slowly down my body then back up again. A low buzz could be heard as the machine scanned me. The room dimmed and the orange light illuminated the Infirmary again. I opened my eyes and turned my head to the right, seeing the female Predator standing in front of a screen with my scanned body in front of it. She tapped buttons and switches on a panel under the screen, shifting from skeletal images to organs. While she continued her task I gently slid off the table, made my way to the counters and trays of medical equipment. I wanted a mirror or something with a reflective surface. Finding a steel tray I picked it up, pulled off the mask and held it in front my face. I gasped, for the first time in four days I saw the damage my face took. The sclera of my left eye was blood red and both my right and left eyes were out lined in black and blue. The swelling of my nose still had not gone down and was coloured dark purple, red and blue. Huge bluish–yellow contusions were on both sides of my jaw, small cuts were on the corners of my lips and I found the gashes over my right eye and left cheek were about three inches long. I was going to have more noticeable scars.
"Broken nose," I heard Nadar–ian'ah say.
I blinked and turned around, slipping the mask onto my face, "What?"
On the screen I saw the image of my skull. A white patch appeared on the bridge of my nose and red alien text was blinking beside it. Nadar–ian'ah pointed to the image and looked at me.
"Your nose was broken. Did you set it back yourself?"
She turned back to the screen, "Well either you knew what you were doing or you lucked out. Everything seems to be in line."
Definitely pure luck I thought to myself. The image on the screen changed to my chest and the alien writing appeared beside three white spots.
"It looks like you have one broken rib on your left side and one broken and a cracked rib on your right."
"I have only two broken ribs?"
The female nodded, "Miraculously, only two." She switched from my ribs to my lungs. "Amazing. I don't see any damage to your lungs," she looked over her shoulder, "some god up there must like you ooman."
I nodded and sent up a prayer of thanks.
"I suppose the High Elder wants to know if I'm well enough to work." I said with a sneer.
"Actually...the High Elder doesn't know about this examination."
My eyes widened, "Oh?"
Nadar–ian'ah left the screen and went to a shelf lined with containers. She selected one, pulled off the top and picked out something. She came to me and held out her hand.
"Here, swallow this."
On her talon hand was a blue pill the size of a NyQuil capsule. I raised an eyebrow.
"You really think I'm that stupid, don't you?"
Nadar–ian'ah made an annoyed hiss, "It's not going to put you to sleep! It's to boost your body's immune system and help repair the damages."
I made a ragged sigh, took the pill and popped it into my mouth. As soon as it came in contact with my tongue it melted into a tasteless liquid. I swallowed it down and gripped the side of the table, still thinking something bad was going to happen. The liquid coated my throat and it almost immediately felt better. It no longer felt sore or dry. I looked back at the female and saw she was double checking my scan.
"Hey Nadar–ian'ah..." I mentally hugged myself. My voice sounded clear again.
The Elder turned. I expected her to yell at me for using her name, but instead she continued to gaze at me with her head cocked to one side.
"Thanks, for doing all this for me, and for speaking up at the feast. I know you're risking a lot."
She snorted, "If I didn't say anything, you probably would have walked away from that in a worse state," she then sighed, "and you did put on an impressive display."
"Ha, I'm sure you probably know why I sang that song."
"No, that's not what I was talking about."
I lowered my eyebrows, "Huh?"
Nadar–ian'ah leaned on the panel, "I was talking about the public apology you made, and for taking that beating without resisting."
"Well, it wasn't like I could, I mean I was up against four Yautja."
"Even so, every warrior in the chamber was stunned beyond belief. Many of them view oomans as nothing more than prey. We all expected you to say something spiteful to the High Elder or remain silent," she shook her head, her long dread locks rattling together, "the last thing anyone anticipated was you apologising after singing such a song of hate.
"During your beating I watched the warrior's reactions and I was surprised to see no one enjoying what was happening. After you were taken away, I had never seen such a state of confusion. Everyone questioned why you didn't struggle or make a single protest when you were carried away to be beaten, like they had seen most slaves do. What shocked me even more was when I heard a male warrior say, 'that ooman was willing to take a beating to amend what she had done. She is a true warrior.' I think you gave them a new prospective of your species."
I was wide eyed in astonishment, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Furthermore," Nadar–ian'ah continued, "you had the High Elder the most bewildered of them all," she laughed a little bit, "in fact for the past few days he's spent most of his time meditating and praying to the gods to find an answer. He still has yet to be enlightened my one."
I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms, "He's gonna have a long wait, because I don't think hell has frozen over yet."
Nadar–ian'ah actually chuckled at that joke. There was an awkward silence between us.
"Nadar–ian'ah, I would like to know something. I've heard that you're kind to the slaves but you've never helped them. So why help me?"
The Elder let out a long sigh, weaving a thick lock between her fingers, "Because I see something in you that I've never seen in a slave before. You have a certain...spark in your eyes, showing that you are more than what you appear. In some strange way...I see myself inside you..."
Her voice trailed off as she looked away from me. She spoke as if she was not in the room anymore.
"The last High Elder told me that when I was young. He said he saw the same special spark and knew I was destined for something greater. He freed me from my terrible slave life, took me to his home and raised me as his own. The other Elders strongly advised against it, some even threatened to throw him off the Counsel, but he was a stubborn Yautja," a smile spread across her old face, "He trained me hard, pushing me to my limits. When I proved myself to be a worthy hunter after I completed the Kainde Amedha Chiva, I was finally accepted in the Yautja society. I continued to work hard until I was qualified to be an Elder."
She lowered her head. I could've sworn her voice sounded choked, but I could've been wrong.
"Then, when my master—my father lay dying, he told me if I ever saw a slave with the same specialness I had, I should help that slave like he helped me. I swore on my honour to do so. It was the last thing he said to me before the Black Warrior took him."
Nadar–ian'ah suddenly snapped out of her trance and had a look of shock and embarrassment.
"I–I'm sorry," she turned her back to me, "I shouldn't have told you that."
"No," I smiled and stepped towards her, "no, I'm glad you told me. Don't worry I won't tell anyone," I moved my forefinger down and across the middle of my chest, "cross my heart."
Nadar–ian'ah faced me, she seemed a bit more relaxed, but she still had a worried look. I chuckled and smiled wider, knowing what was in her mind.
"And I don't think of you as being weak because you told me your secret. That's not the human way."
She nodded her heavy head and she smiled again with her eyes.
"I don't suppose you know when I'll be doing slave work again," I said.
"Until the High Elder thinks you've spent enough time in solitary," the tall female sighed disapprovingly, "he wasn't going to bother to have you examined–which is why I'm doing this against his command. I wish the last High Elder was still with us, he wasn't so narrow minded."
"Well, how come you didn't become the next High Elder?" I asked, "it seems to me you should’ve the next in line."
"The High Elder had been on more hunts than me, so he has a higher rank," she replied.
I rolled my eyes. Democracy certainly has its advantages I thought. Nadar–ian'ah went to a speaker on the wall and called the guards back in again. I cringed at the thought of returning to that cell. I looked at my feet, feeling my stomach twist into a nervous knot.
"Nadar–ian'ah...I have something that's really hard to ask and I'll completely understand if you say no, but...I may need your assistance to help me..."
It took every ounce of courage to say the word.
I wait for her reaction, but she remained expressionless. Maybe she knew I was going to ask sooner or later. I took a deep breath, "I don't know when I plan to escape, but I do know I can't do it alone. Will you offer your help to me?"
She looked away and pondered for a moment, an unsure look in her eye. I knew I was putting a lot of pressure in her and she was going to take an even larger risk on my account. But then she turned squarely in front of me, stood tall and put her hand above her left breast, "I swear on my honour ooman—."
"My name, it's Dakota."
She nodded and smiled, "I swear on my honour Dakota, I will offer you my assist in your escape."
A huge smile spread across my face as I bowed my head in thanks and respect. She returned with a bow of her own, then the door opened revealing the two guards. They lowered their heads to the Elder, took me by the arms and lead me back to my cell. When the door of my prison closed I still had a smile. No one, not the High Elder, not the guards, not even the darkness, could get rid of the hope I felt inside.