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A bruised, bloody Rokan stared at the darkening sky. Ni’ev did the same. Their bodies had been beaten to exhaustion, but their emotions remained wild. Only their heavy breaths and Ak’s pacing could be heard. Kira sobbed into a hand, trying to suffocate her grief as if it would make the reality any less true.
Rokan was able to stand up only because of sheer will. He grunted as his abused muscles screamed for all they were worth. Kira looked away not only because he was nude, but because the sight of his defeat was so pitiful that it burnt.
“I will get him,” he wheezed. “I will burry him, and I will meet you at The Ruins.”
“Do not speak nonsense,” Ak interjected. “Those pests are still out there. We will get our revenge, but we must plan first.”
"Listen to him," Draekon urged.
Rokan struggled to glare at the men through his swollen eye.
“Rokan!” Ak warned when he tottered forward. “I will not let you get yourself killed.”
“Let him go,” Ni’ev ordered. “He will not get far before collapsing.”
Rokan limped around Ak, retracing his steps in search of his brother. He fell and tripped, but never fulfilled Ni’ev’s prediction.
He will burry his brother.
– • –
Hours passed. His chest was on fire but provided no light for the night that he was staggering through.
“Mothers, he did a number on me,” he grumbled, holding his injured stomach.
The darkness was heavy, but he knew that if he stopped to enjoy its coolness, he wouldn’t get back up.
I must arrive. I must get there.
“Father of all fathers, stop it before I make you my dinner,” he barked at the beast. He gripped onto its reigns, trying to direct it away from the river. “I am thirsty too, but we cannot stop now.”
The beast huffed, and he huffed back at it.
“You are more stubborn than Rokan.”
He shook his head when his vision swam. “Those sons of mothers actually left me. Can you believe this mind-rot?”
The beast grumbled with what Kyros could swear was agreeance. Based on the pain that was chewing on his side, he was likely hallucinating. The second beast groaned, demanding a break.
“We will rest when we reach The Ruins. Be quiet.”
That is if he made it. His torn side was dripping a bloody trail. He wasn’t worried about surviving ambushers coming after him, though. They weren’t interested in him or the beasts that were decorated with trunks of treasures. They wanted Kira and Nebula more than life itself.
Kyros snarled at both the memory and the pain. How did those men get so close? His brothers would have noticed if they were being tailed. The only explanation he could come up with is that they heard the chaos of the battle with the squar. Someone must have spotted and followed them.
But how did they get so close?
Sneaking around one Ezronian warrior was possible, but six of them?
He sighed, digging his hand deeper to his seeping side. He was in bad shape, and he needed to treat the wound before all his blood decided to abandon him.
– • –
Rokan tripped over one of the many bodies that littered the field. Heads and other limbs were scattered haphazardly. It was dark, but he was sure that some dead eyes were staring right at him, still glinting with dishonor.
He wouldn’t let his brother decay in this cementary of greed.
He stood up, trying his best to ignore the presence of death. After seeing so much suicide and violence in childhood, he had been sure that he became desensitized to it. The thought of Kyros’ demise never quite crossed his mind. His brother was too fueled, seemingly immune to death.
He stepped over a tanned torso, searching the ground for the stitching of dark skin that matched his own. When he stopped at the area where he last saw his brother’s body, he fell to his knees and rumbled with a chuckle.
There, on the ground, was a note, written sloppily in a fashion that reminded him of Kyros’ lopsided smile.
I will meet you all at home. May the mothers be with you.
Laughter rang out from him, bringing a wave of life to the sea of death.
“I should have known. There is no way Kyros would die before me.”
Rising, he picked up his sword and began to limp to the camp. He was sure that the group was still there. Vrox would never risk traveling at night with the women.
The way back was short. His muscles were still groaning, but newfound adrenaline had his legs pumping. He found everyone how he left them. Kira was leaning against Vrox, her eyes still leaking with distress. Vrox looked like a man with a poisoned spirit– a bitter irony considering his title as a healer.
Akdronis was still pacing, his feet writing his misery on the dirt. Ni’ev remained on his back, face as expressionless as ever. Nebula clutched onto Vee and leaned against a boulder, looking lost. She didn’t get to know Kyros well, but she knew what he meant to the others.
Vrox turned to Rokan, searching for dirt on his hands that confirmed that he had buried Kyros.
“That fool...” Rokan drew out, smiling through his cracked lips. “He is alive.”
Necks snapped his direction.
“He left a note. He has gone to The Ruins.”
“Stop your delusional rant, Rokan. It will only hurt us further. He is gone! There was no beating in his chest,” Ni’ev snarled, pushing himself up in search of another fight.
“I know his handwriting. It was him,” Rokan threw back. “He lives.”
“Really?” Kira perked, her heavy lips daring to smile. “Are you sure?”
Rokan nodded. “I am sure.”
With a cry of joy, she dove for Vrox and hugged him tightly. Vrox held her but was hesitant to absorb hope. If Rokan was wrong about this, then everyone would be crushed all over again.
"It’s gonna be okay,” she sighed contently. “We’re all going to make it through this mission.”
He rejected her optimism. Something had gone terribly wrong today, and he needed to figure it out to keep his family safe. The thought of losing Kyros had thrown him into a cold abyss. He refused to return to that darkness.
He rubbed the small of Kira’s back absentmindedly and sniffed her hair to remind himself that she was safe. “Get some rest, Terran. You have spilled too much water today.”
“They’re called tears,” she reminded him.
“I do not care for their name. I do not like them. Get some rest, yes? I must check Rokan and Ni’ev’s injuries.”
"Okay,” she agreed. “I’ll go look for dinner with Ak. I think I saw some fruit nearby.”
He sighed. Of course, she wouldn’t listen. She was determined to help, even when she was the most in need of rest.
“You have ten minutes before I come for you. Go.”
She nodded, but he knew that the warning went right over her head.