Mhetli hated the jungle.
The unbearable heat and humidity clung to him like an oily second skin. And, when there weren’t vines or branches lashing at his face, there were flies or unexpected shafts of sunlight breaking through the dense canopy blinding him.
Yes, he hated the jungle. And now he hated it even more so since he was bleeding uncontrollably.
Mhetli had spent the last six months cutting a path south and west through Garz and Frenc, wrecking every Tezcat facility in his path. Finally he’d made his way to Rheza, where he’d understood Tezcat’s largest facility was based. And now, here on Rheza, is where he had been stopped.
The facility had been heavily guarded, as he’d expected. But what Mhetli hadn’t counted on was the ferocity of the Rhe’zan people. They’d fought with a thirst for violence that he’d admired. He’d suspected that was where his own passion for combat came from.
They had wicked claws and teeth. They also used their tails to attack with, swiping along with the whirl of hands and feet. But Mhetli had the speed and agility to match and claws of his own – the electricity that he’d so often used as an extension of his fury was sharper and meaner than any talon or blade. However, since he’d arrived on the cursed island something about his abilities had seemed off. Something about the moisture in the air made it hard for him to build up a proper charge. He couldn’t create proper bolts of electricity to the levels he could before. The most he could muster were short shocks, enough to stun an attacker in hand-to-hand combat. It gave him a slight advantage, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
The sheer number and strength of attacks had overwhelmed him. Finally, as he’d already begun to beat his retreat, one of the t’liltic - the most elite Rhe’zan guards - had managed to slip past his keen senses and stab him in the side.
Before he’d felt any pain, a quick flash of adrenaline carried all sensation away. The white-hot energy had taken over and, pulling the knife from his side, he thrust it at his attacker, burying the blade deep in the guard’s chest.
He’d made it another five miles deeper into the jungle before he’d taken any notice of the wound. And now he had no choice but to stop. He was losing blood too fast. Between that and dehydration he wouldn’t have long.
Mhetli continued to run scanning through the scrub to find a relatively safe spot to rest. He had no doubt they were still pursuing him. And with their heightened senses they’d be able to follow the trail of blood easily.
Soon he came across a bog marsh, the large cypress trees forming a neat perimeter around the waters. It was an ideal spot because across the marsh was open space with nowhere for attackers to sneak up on him.
He stopped at one of the largest trees along the bank. Its roots had created an alcove large enough for him to rest in. He crawled into the hollow and instantly felt relief as he slid down the cool bark. The wide arms of the roots created shade enough for large patches of moss to grow. The dank peat that collected in the hollow would also help mask his scent, but not for long.
Quickly he pulled a small metal tube from one of the compartments on his pants leg. He pulled on both ends and the tube extended to form a ground-water spile. He dug down into the soil and pushed the pointed end as deep down as he could and left it to settle.
Next, he pulled a small canister of polystitch from another pouch. He’d stopped briefly to apply it when he’d first noticed the wound but it didn’t seem to take. He had to try again or he wasn’t going to survive.
He placed the canister and a small cloth next to him and then went back to the spile. He placed his lips over the top of the tube and began to inhale. He continued to pull in air for what seemed like ages. He felt woozy and ill before he’d even begun and was at the point of giving up as the first drops of water began to bubble out.
Mhetli let the cold water fill his mouth. It had an earthy taste but he knew the filter would take out anything too dangerous. He swallowed and allowed his mouth to fill a second time.
Next he wet the cloth and cleaned the wound. He hastily applied the polystitch and waited for it to set, but the blighted medicine didn’t seem to take. Mhetli then realised that Rhe’zan alchemists create all kinds of chemicals to treat weapons with – poisons to stop your heart, paralyse or prevent a wound from closing. Mhetli was going to have to find a way to stitch the wound shut.
He ripped a large piece of moss from the tree and pressed it to the wound. It would heal on its own in time but only if he remained still for a few days. That wasn’t an option.
If only I had the brains of that... no, I’m strong, Mhetli thought.
Over the last few months he’d tried to think as little as possible about his twin brother, Gemmy. Curiosity was a feeling he’d never had time for before Gemmy had bumbled into his world and he didn’t see the point of it now.
Their connection between them had helped activate the power he had always known he had. What had caught him off guard and shaken his belief was how his power had grown when they were together. It made him doubt.
But there was no room for doubt or wonder. The only question that mattered now was how to seal the bloody wound in his side. He would survive this, just as he had survived so much before he’d ever laid eyes on Gemmy Westhill.
Suddenly,a shadow flew past the corner of his eye.
The t’liltic elites had caught up with him.
Mhetli quickly wet the cloth again then leaned over and took one more sip from the spile before pulling it from the ground. He closed it in-between his teeth and clamped down. He squeezed the cloth as tightly as he could in his fist producing the strongest charge of electricity possible - hopefully enough to kill any parasites. With that he swiftly pumped the rest of the polystitch into the cloth and pushed it into the wound as far as it would go.
He let out a mighty howl almost in answer to the Rhe’zan elites’ challenge. He was not afraid. Let them come.
Mhetli used the spile to tear a strip from the bottom of his shirt. He packed another piece of moss on top of the wound and secured it as tightly as he could. He then took an energy capsule from another pocket and swallowed it. There was only one pill left after that. He would have to make it count. He eased himself out of the hollow and backed slowly towards the flooded plain of the bog.
‘Come for batting, you lice addled drecks?!’ Mhetli shouted.
Suddenly the tree next to him exploded into mulch. Mhetli took a few steps back just as a shadow sailed above him.
Mhetli spun, throwing the spile like a dart. As the Rhe’zan elite landed it lodged in his chest. Mhetli kicked water towards the warrior using it to carry as best a charge as he could muster. The electricity connected with the spile, dropping the attacker to the ground in a heap.
Mhetli leapt forward through the air narrowly dodging a dagger aimed at his heart. He landed on top of the fallen Rhe’zan and grasped the spile using it to take back the energy from his fallen enemy. The heat of it oozed out of the Rhe’zans body slowly and it filled Mhetli, waking up every bit of muscle in his body like sunshine.
The other t’liltic landed a ways off, crouched and ready to pounce.
‘I reason I’ve a few more tricks than you imagine, kitten. Want to play?’ Mhetli sneered. The t’liltic lunged at Mhetli just as he pulled a blade from the downed Rhe’zan’s belt. They met in mid-air, their blades clashing.
Mhetli landed clutching his side. The bleeding had slowed but every movement felt like he was ripping his side apart. He had to end this quickly. The elite whirled towards him, talons, tail and blades slashing. Mhetli was slowing and caught a glancing cut from his attacker’s claws as a kick was quickly delivered to his injured side.
Mhetli fell backwards and grabbed the t’liltic’s tail in a desperate attempt to keep his balance. But his attempts were turned against him. The tail wrapped around his wrist and he was twisted sideways landing on his back in the mud.
Three sharp kicks came to his chest, pounding him into the muck. Then the Rhe’zan pierced his free hand with the claws on his feet.
Covered in mud and soaked through, Mhetli laid helpless gazing straight into the Rhe’zans stern feline eyes.
‘Human,’ the Rhe’zan growled. He stared back at Mhetli, unblinking, communicating a silent respect and rage that only two warriors can understand. ‘Die,’ he said raising his claws to deliver the final blow.
As he did so Mhetli pushed his hand deep into a puddle still holding the Rhe’zan’s tail. He relaxed, allowing all the energy in him to flood out in one final burst. His whole body was alive with energy that shot upward into the Rhe’zan. His victim tried to pull away but the water was doing its job well conducting the electricity.
You are my prey, he thought as the last of his current faded.
The elite dropped to the sodden earth, nothing left of his danger. Mhetli rolled over and slowly got to his feet. He was spent. The capsule had done its job and now there was nothing left of it but to replenish his energy naturally. He would be attacked again for sure. But he would have some time to rest and heal.
He retrieved the spile from the first attacker and took what weapons and provisions he had. Mhetli would also be able to use some of their light armour as well. The provisions were sparse for the elite’s swift travel. Just a shallow flask for water and a few pellets of what he assumed were rations. He ate the pellets. They tasted as bad as the bog water but with more of a metallic tang. No worse than chemicals he’d been forced to live off of in the labs.
He returned to the last elite and rummaged for something of more use. More of the same, blades and provisions.
However, as he reached the last small pockets around the Rhe’zan’s knee, his fingers closed around a small metal box. He dried his hands as best he could and pried it open.
Inside was a thin bone needle and two small vials of what he hoped were for cleaning wounds. Even the Rhe’zans who healed as quickly as him would need disinfectant.
A twinge of relief passed over him and he chastised himself for even feeling it. There was no time for relief. He was on a mission. He would not even be close to safety until he was off this cursed island and certainly not before he was out of this hateful jungle.
He would cut off the Rhe’zan warriors’ long braids as was his right as victor. But, out of respect, he would turn them face up so their spirits could return to the sun. They had fought well.
He would patch his wounds using their own coarse hair as thread and find another hollow to rest in for an hour or so. Then he would move.
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