Reniko awoke groggily, her mind unable to focus on thoughts. As she opened her eyes however, her most recent memories came flooding back. The shackles on her arms reminded her that she was not at home back on Earth, but instead chained mercilessly to a wall, the prisoner of some alien creature.
Sitting upright, she huddled next to the wall staring at the incense burner that was placed just out of her reach. Whatever they had placed in there had burned out completely. It had been the cause of Reniko’s long slumber and she was not looking forward to anymore smoke billowing from the perforated bowl.
Her head ached slightly from the inhaled drug and she tried to shake the fog from it. Focus. She sighed and rubbed her head, she was having trouble keeping her thoughts in focus. Malik, what happened to Malik? She tried to recall the last moments she had seen him. He had been dragged out of the torture chamber and out of view. She had not been allowed to follow, trapped by her own bargain. I hope he’s all right, who knows if Orborok truly intended on keeping his word. I did all I could. She hung her head in despair, only to recall Orric’s words as he had left Malik and her days before. They rang in her head like a plea. If you two get into any trouble… They were definitely in trouble, but the thought of opening herself up to that again frightened her. It’s the only choice. It’s all I can do now to make sure Malik is all right. Afraid to wait any longer in case the Rük decided to check the incense burner she closed her eyes and opened her connection with Orric. She felt him immediately, thankful that this time she was aware of herself more than she was aware of him.
Their connection worked in a series of pictures and feelings and with the speed of thought. Concentrating as hard as she could, she recalled the details of the previous day and night and sent a plea that Orric find Malik.
Orric’s immediate response was that he would come save her. She could sense him lifting into flight as they were Engaged. Not knowing how to fully respond to this and fully resigned to accept her fate as captive to the Rük, she pleaded with Orric to find Malik and care for him. She conveyed the hopelessness of the rescue attempt, as she was far underground and Orric himself was so susceptible to the female Rük’s toxins. With reluctance, Orric obeyed Reniko’s wishes. Forlorn and melancholy, not wanting the comfort she knew Orric could offer her, she shut herself tightly becoming alone once again in the confines of her cell. Moments later she heard the door to her cell open and a forest green Rük stepped into the room, he bore not food for the hungry prisoner, but instead more incense for the burner. Reniko watched bitterly as smoke again began to pour out from the bowl. As the Rük left, she tried to make her way over to the bowl, only to have her shackled hands hold her inches away. Reaching out her foot she tried in vain to knock it over, to stop the inevitable poisoning of her body. After many fruitless attempts, she crawled back to the edge of the cell, as far away from the toxic fumes as possible, hoping that she could expose herself to them as little as possible. Nevertheless, the tiny cell filled from corner to corner with the pungent odour and soon Reniko began to feel lightheaded and dazed. They don’t want me to sleep this time, she thought, they only want me weak and disoriented. She dreaded what was to come more than the cold black of sleep that they had imposed upon her previously.
They had tossed Malik unceremoniously into a ditch that bordered the city walls. Lacking the strength to move, he moaned in pain as the cold mud seeped into his wounds. He had never been so angry or felt so weak in all his life. Why? Why did she do such a thing? He tried to stand only to have his legs give out under his weight causing him to sink further into the mud. She gave them exactly what they wanted, how could she? He closed his eyes and breathed. By the goddess, I’m so tired. With that last thought he slipped into unconsciousness, alone and bleeding in the mire.
Reniko couldn’t have stood even if it meant that this terrible dream would end. Her limbs felt weighted, her head foggy, and her thoughts floated around in her head, intangible and chaotic. She barely registered movement as the door to her cell opened letting some of the haze filter into the dank hallway beyond. Orborok strode in, unaffected by the poisons that consumed Reniko. He walked over to her and knelt beside her. Taking her chin in his hands he lifted her gaze to his.
“I’ve always admired the beauty of the female humans. There is so much diversity amongst your species that we do not have amongst our own woman. Your beauty is only matched by the spirit which you hold inside, a grand prize to be sure. I’ve never known a human that could kill two of my elite guard so quickly and so efficiently. You would have made a fine white amongst our race. However, you would have lacked the beauty that you hold. Kruok never stood a chance against you did she?”
Reniko looked into Orborok’s eyes unable to determine if the gray Rük wished her to respond to his question.
“In a thousand years not one human has dared strike down a Rük. Everyone on Vespen knows that to do such a thing would mean certain death, but you? You strike without fear of us. Kruok offered up a very interesting theory about why you harbour no fear of the Rük. She suggested that you came from a distant star, a planet by the name of Earth.”
Reniko looked up, her head still clouded. How was she supposed to respond, she didn’t know what the right answer would be. Should she tell the truth or would a lie be better? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Reniko finally said. Her head was swimming from the clouds of incense in the room.
“Oh, I think you do. You remain alive because I know you do.” Orborok released Reniko’s head and she slumped back down onto the ground trying to fight off the cloud of thoughts that were rising unbidden to the surface of her mind. Memories of her childhood began to surface. Small fragments of her dancing in a long white dress, laughing at the jokes of unseen faces, smiling at the sight of a woman she’d never seen before. Orborok’s words brought her out of her reverie.
“I’ve given you this drug so you wouldn’t fight my guards. I don’t trust you would co-operate with them even if it means more comfort. We’ll have a longer talk about your Earth soon. For now, I treat you as my guest. Don’t take my hospitality for granted, I can be as ruthless as I can be generous.” Orborok disappeared into the hallway and was replaced by two cream coloured Rük. Unshackling Reniko’s arms, they hoisted her to her feet and pulled her along down the corridor. Halfway to their destination Reniko’s mind gave into the drug and she lapsed into incoherent consciousness.
Orborok entered his quarters slamming the door forcefully as he went. It was outrageous, he, a Rük, being infatuated by such a creature. This human was intoxicating. Even poisoned, the fierceness that he had seen the night before could not be cowed. Every human before had been unable to think logically enough to come up with a lie. The drug was meant to let the truth flow like water. When he had entered that cell he had thought that he had won, that she would tell him anything. Clearly he had underestimated the power she had. She is unaffected by intimidation, she has no fear. For a thousand years we have bred the fear of the Rük into the humans, that she does not harbour this is all the evidence I need to know that she is not from Vespen. Even her comrade, that frail human boy feared me. He was a true child of Vespen, but her, she could cause our downfall. Enraged, he let out a frustrated cry and smashed his hand onto a nearby table sending the contents of it flying to the ground. She will be mine. Orborok looked into the light of the day filtering in through the open window, his anger as hot as the sun. I will prove my worth to Lord Trokar, and she shall be my key.
When Malik awoke, it was with the realization that he felt a lot better than he had when he had fallen unconscious. As he opened his eyes he realized that the reason for the sudden comfort was because he was lying amongst piles of blankets and his wounds had been cleaned and wrapped. Lacking his full strength, he didn’t rise fully from the confines of the blankets, but instead just lifted his head to get a better view of his surroundings. He saw the midnight blue of Orric’s backside and he laid his head back down and continued to stare at the cave ceiling overhead.
“How did you find me?” Malik asked. His voice was still weak from the torture he had endured.
“Reniko told me to find you,” Orric responded, his own voice laced with sorrow.
“You’ve talked to Reniko?” This fact made Malik’s heart sore. “Is she okay?”
“I don’t know, she told me about you, said not to come after her and cut off contact with me.” Malik realized the cause of Orric’s sorrow, he as well had to share the burden of knowing that Reniko was in the hands of the Rük and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Why won’t she talk to you?”
“She was being drugged. I think she was afraid of losing control in our contact. I don’t blame her. I don’t think she realizes that I have no intention of leaving her in the hands of those creatures.”
“What can we do?” Malik asked.
“Anything we can. I’m not just going to sit in this cave and wait for them to kill her, or worse. She doesn’t understand what they are capable of.”
“I think she does,” Malik whispered. “The look in her eyes when that Rük grabbed her away from me. She was prepared. Prepared for death.”
“That’s the problem, I don’t think the Rük intend to kill her.” Orric said finally shifting his weight and turning to Malik.
“What do they plan to do with her?”
“What would you do if you were all powerful and suddenly had your hands on a wealth of technological knowledge.”
Malik’s eyes widened with fear. “We have to get her out of there, and fast.”
Reniko opened her eyes to darkness. Where she was there were no windows to filter in sunlight. Deep underground the only light was that of fire and the torches that had lit her room and their light had died hours before. She didn’t care, however, about the lights. The poison cloud she had been forced to inhale had caused her body to reel with nausea. In an attempt to rid her system of the vile toxin her body responded by making her unable to hold down a meal. She felt herself shake violently and she rolled off her bed and crawled over to the bowl that lay nearby. They had come in twice to empty it, but Reniko didn’t care. She threw up once again and collapsed on the floor next to the bowl too weak to move. At this rate I’m never going to get my strength back, I can’t even keep down a bloody meal.
When she heard the creaking sound of her cell door open her eyes flickered to the light that followed the sound. Orborok stood in the doorway looking at Reniko’s frail figure.
“I’ve brought you something to drink. It should stop the sickness that is ravaging your body. In all my years, I have never seen a reaction quite like yours to that.”
That? “What was that?” Reniko asked as she picked herself up off the floor and seated herself on the edge of her bed. The room that the Rük had moved her into was a lot more comfortable than the one she had been chained in before. Not only was she no longer chained to the wall, there was a bed and a table. It looked more like lodgings at an inn than a prison. She had no complaints.
“Never mind, you’ll never need to experience it again.” Orborok handed the steaming cup of liquid to Reniko who took it gingerly and looked inside. The smell was pleasant enough, but she had no idea why this Rük, Orborok, was suddenly being so nice to her. Suspicious of his motives she held the cup in her hand, let the warmth seep into her cold hands and, instead of drinking, looked to Orborok.
“As far as I was told, the penalty for killing a Rük was death.”
Orborok winced at her bluntness. “True enough, but yours is a special case.”
“I don’t see why,” Reniko said as she laid the cup onto her lap.
“Well that’s easy enough, you have information I need,” Orborok glanced at the cup in Reniko’s hands, “Why don’t you drink? Do you wish to continue to feel ill?”
“You’ve given me no reason to trust you,” Reniko replied. Orborok sneered at her, trying to hold back the anger that she so readily produced in him. I could kill her where she sits and yet she still looks at me with no fear, almost as if she views herself an equal to a Rük. He grabbed the cup from Reniko’s hand and took a long draught of the scalding liquid. He replaced the cup into her hand and received a glare in return. Reluctantly Reniko took a sip of the liquid and turned her attention back to Orborok.
“Information you need?”
Orborok was becoming continually more agitated. It’s like she feels she is in control of this conversation. He clenched his hand into a fist and held his temper.
“Information of Earth, of the technology that this planet once harboured that brought you here.”
“Technology, Earth? Your words hold no meaning to me?”
Orborok was enraged, this girl was testing him in ways not even another Rük would dare. “Don’t toy with me child. I know you are not from Vespen, I know that you fell from that blue light outside of Cabitora. I know that you have all the knowledge I hold and more. You will not test my patience.” As he spoke, he had closed the gap that stood between Reniko and himself and with rage had lashed out and grabbed her throat forcing her against the wall. Reniko had dropped the cup she was holding and hung onto Orborok’s hand, helpless if he decided to crush her throat. As he stopped talking, his anger died and he released her from his grasp. She rubbed her neck, shaken and a little frightened. That’s better, Orborok thought as he began to see the reality of her situation seep into her.
“Do you know how old I am?” Orborok asked. Reniko shook her head afraid to say anything.
“I’ve lived longer than most of the Rük on this planet. I was born shortly after my kind took control of this planet. Nine hundred and eighty seven years ago my mother gave me life. Do not think that I can be deceived easily. I have lived through many revolts and I have seen through the years what we have done to your kind. There is not a single soul born on Vespen that does not harbour a fear for the Rük, except you. You see, your fearlessness is all the proof I need that you do not belong here. For a thousand years your kind has served mine, and in all that time, you are the first to kill more than one Rük. Your skill with a blade tells me you are not from here as well. Only the Rük are able to carry and train with weapons, yet you show up in this fortress bearing a sword, and not just any sword, the sword of Shyla, the last real resistance on this planet. To wield that you must carry great skill. Tell me, is it customary for all you earthlings to learn such skill?”
“I’m not afraid to die,” Reniko whispered. Orborok’s eyes lit with fire, what insolence!
“Not afraid to die? Are you sure about that?” Orborok converged on Reniko again, however, she did not shrink away in fear, but boldly stood her ground all fear of him gone.
“Death is a release,” Reniko said and closed her eyes to this world waiting for Orborok’s hand to close around her throat once again and squeeze the breath from her once and for all time. However it never came. Instead Orborok stormed toward the door and paused to look back at his captive.
“There are much worse things I could do to you than give you the pleasure of death. Remember that.” With those words he slammed the cell door closed leaving Reniko again to dwell in the darkness.
Once alone she slid down onto her bed and shook. The adrenaline and peace she had felt fled and she was once again a terrified little girl alone on a planet not her own.
Orborok shook with fury. In all his long years he had never met a human like this one. Worst of all was that she so much reminded him of a Rük that the very thought of her tantalized him. She was unreachable, which was worst of all. He had never had anything out of his reach before. It was unthinkable for a lord such as him to not get what he wanted. Yet here in this pitiful town, he had the unreachable. No matter that he held her body, her mind, her very spirit, flitted from his grasp toying with him.
A knock at the door pulled him from his maddening thoughts, and as the door opened, his anger surged. Pulling his knife from his belt he threw it as the door opened catching a yellow Rük between the eyes.
“I do not want to be disturbed,” he shouted to the yellow-green Rük that stood petrified in the hall. With a small bow the Rük grabbed the lifeless body from the floor and closed the door softly behind him, leaving the enraged Orborok alone once again. I always get what I want. She will be mine.
Waiting alone with only her own thoughts she realized that Orborok was right, there were things worse than death, and waiting as your captive decided what was the worst he could do was one of those things. It had been three long, unending days since she had last seen Orborok and her imagination was showing her things she wished she could never think of. Having had no disturbance except for the occasional Rük bearing food, Reniko became accustomed to the dark that was her room and was soon deft at navigating it. Taking advantage of the solitude and finally having recovered from the toxic incense, Reniko began her training anew, her movements concealed by the darkness meant to hinder her. She knew that whatever awaited her in the future she would be ready for it. Orborok will regret giving me time to heal, she thought as she went through her morning exercises.
Reniko did not have to wait much longer for her chance. Orborok entered her cell that evening, this time he bore arms. In his hand Reniko saw the gleaming hilt of Imako. His first mistake, she thought, he still doesn’t realize the threat I pose. He’s trapped by his own view of the limitations of humans. Unlike him, I’m not.
“What do you know of this sword?” Orborok asked as he entered.
Reniko decided to play along. Instead of taking up her usual defense, she instead replied straightforwardly.
“It was given to me as a gift by a person who put a lot of trust in me. Later when I met Malik, he told me that it was the sword of the goddess Shyla.”
“Ah, what a weaving of lies,” Orborok muttered.
“This goddess of the humans, it would be quite devastating for them to know that she was merely a mortal, slain I might add, by my father’s hand. This sword caused me great pain. It gave me this wound here,” Orborok said thrusting aside his cloak and exposing a jagged scar that marred the flesh of his abdomen.
“Your stories don’t touch me I’m afraid,” Reniko said eyeing Imako. Orborok noticed her gaze falling on the sword and set it outside the door.
“I thought that sword had been destroyed the day that it nearly killed me, imagine my surprise when I see it strapped to the backside of a human. I’d be very interested in knowing where this friend of yours came from.”
“Why? So you can slaughter them. Why did you come down here? Did you really think I would answer such a thing?”
“Of course not. I never believed that you would betray your kin, not to a Rük.”
“So why come here? What do you want from me?”
“I’m simply making conversation.”
He’s trying to figure me out, Reniko thought with startling realization.
“Answer just one question for me,” Orborok pushed on, “tell me why you would trade your life for something inferior to your own? What did that boy have that allowed his life to be more valuable than your own?”
Reniko was startled by this question and decided to answer it with honesty, in hopes that somehow it would soften the ruthless creature before her. “He would, quite simply, have done the same for me. He is my friend that was enough. I couldn’t watch a friend die.” She could see on his face that the very idea of this was foreign to him. He’d never had friends as there was no need for them. He had power and that made people loyal, it also made it possible for him to use others to save himself. The very idea of friendship screamed weak to Orborok.
As this new idea raged through Orborok’s mind, Reniko slid closer to him. Let’s hope that their anatomy is not much different from humans, she thought. Orborok noticed her movement and was puzzled by it. Reniko did not give him time to think beyond that stage instead she reached out and hit a series of points on Orborok’s body. Stunned by this sudden act, Orborok grabbed Reniko’s hand and stared into her eyes.
“What do you think you are doing, little one?” he asked. He never heard the answer but instead collapsed onto the bed rendered unconscious by the pressure points Reniko had struck.
“I’m knocking you unconscious,” Reniko whispered into Orborok’s unhearing ear.
Quickly she ran from the room and grabbed Imako. Two guards stood outside her door; however, she had Imako unsheathed before the two Rük even realized that she was not their Lord Orborok. Holding the blade across the nearest guard’s neck she spoke, “Let me leave quietly or die.”
The yellow Rük responded by reaching for his knife, Reniko didn’t even let him unsheathe it but ran the length of the blade across his neck. He fell lifeless to the ground shortly followed by the other guard who had made an attempt to avenge his partner’s death.
Reniko paused for a moment listening to her surroundings. She had no idea where she was in the Rük’s underground labyrinth and figuring any direction was as good as the other, she quickly chose a route and left her captor behind locked in the very cell that she had been confined in.
“Let’s see how you like it,” she mumbled as she wandered around a corner and out of sight.