This rescue attempt was beyond foolish, Malik couldn’t deny that, but he had no other choice. Every day that he left Reniko a prisoner of the Rük the closer she came to her death. Even more foolish than going to rescue her, however, was that he was relying on a ten-year-old boy to help him.
Malik had met Toby two days prior and was astonished that not only did this young boy know who he was, but he mentioned that he had met Reniko as well. It was Toby who told Malik that there was a secret entrance to the Rük’s underground levels that extended out passed the borders of the city. The Rük had constructed it as a backdoor, lest they need to flee, for what reason Malik could not discern, but he did not claim to know the workings of the Rük mind. In this case they would use the exit instead as an entrance. Toby however had refused to tell Malik its location until he had agreed to take the young boy along. They had argued over the point for some time until Toby finally gave in and told Malik the story of his missing sister. Malik had stopped disputing the point.
“Just stay close, be cautious and keep a sharp eye,” Malik had said.
Now as they stood just inside the entrance to the underground labyrinth, Malik began to regret letting him come. What was I thinking letting a ten-year-old child come along? He could get killed.
“It’s too late now Malik, I won’t leave.” These words by Toby shocked Malik. Apparently Reniko isn’t the only one who can read my thoughts. Giving a fervent glance in Toby’s direction Malik stepped deeper into the darkness listening closely for the sound of coming threats. He gestured for Toby to be as silent as possible and proceeded on.
Reniko made her way through the darkened tunnels, the leader of a rather large group of woman. Finding herself lost in the tunnels, it hadn’t been long before Reniko heard the terrified screams of woman echoing through the halls. Unable to ignore the sound and merely save herself, she had made her way toward the tortured sounds and had liberated quite a few of the village’s women.
Rhea, a young red head seventeen years of age, seemed to be the ambassador to the group having found her voice faster than the other woman. She had told Reniko of their prolonged stay in the underground labyrinth and Reniko’s heart went out to them. They had suffered more indignities than any person should ever have to face, and yet they still stood here before her. Most of them had broken spirits, but the newer captives, such as Rhea, still clung to the hope that someone would save them from their wretched fate. Tears flowed freely from the eyes of every woman when it was Reniko and not another Rük that stepped through their cell door. Freedom was only a few steps away now if only Reniko could find a proper way out of this place. She made her way down another hall and came abruptly to a fork, putting up a hand for silence she listened, and heard to her disappointment movement very close by. Drawing Imako she slid silently to the source of the noise and waited. She could hear the presence shifting uneasily on the other side, she remained calm and silent waiting. A dark figure peered cautiously around the corner and was met with cold steel at his neck.
Reniko paused and peered closely at the figure she had trapped. “Malik is that you?” She whispered in confusion.
“Reniko?” came Malik’s reply.
Reniko pulled Imako away from Malik’s neck and sheathed it. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I came to rescue you?” Malik said grinning. I keep forgetting she can take care of herself, he thought as he glanced at Reniko’s confident figure.
“Well it would be very helpful if you could show us the way out of here,” Reniko said gesturing to the group of women that stood huddled together behind her.
“Rhea?” they heard a voice speak timidly from behind Malik. Rhea, who was standing at the front of the group, ran forward crying.
“Toby? Oh, Toby it is you,” she called as she ran into her brothers arms and embraced him tightly, “what are you doing down here? The Rük will kill you if they find you.”
“I came to find you. I didn’t want to wait any longer. Papa and I have missed you so much.” He hugged his sister tightly once again.
“I hate to interrupt this,” Reniko said, “but I don’t think that we can stand around like this for very long. We have to get out of here, fast.” Malik heard the voices coming toward their position that Reniko had noted and gestured for the girls to follow him. As he led the way to freedom, Reniko took up the rear in defense, hoping that she would not have another encounter with Orborok. Please let him still be locked up, she pleaded as the group made their way slowly to the exit groping blindly through the dark tunnels.
As they emerged into daylight, and shut the hidden door behind them, all of those freed looked around with relief. Every one of them came over and with tears in their eyes hugged Reniko in thanks.
Rhea was the last, and after embracing Reniko, she gripped her arms and looked into her eyes. “No one has the courage that you have. Our village is in your debt. How can we ever repay you?”
“You can repay me by not spending your life needlessly. Tell every human in this village to leave this place, go to Porsshash; the Rük won’t bother you there. Stay safe, and see to it that your brother grows up without fear of the Rük.” Reniko hugged Rhea one last time.
“If ever you need our help in any way, just call us and we will come. Your battles are our battles now, Reniko. May the goddess Shyla be with you,” Turning with a bow, she grabbed her brother’s shoulder and turned to leave with the rest of the women. Toby turned back and waved.
“Thank-you Malik and Reniko, for giving my sister back to me.”
Reniko smiled after them and when the group had disappeared down the hillside she turned to Malik.
“Thank-you for coming for me, but you do realize that by coming to rescue me you defeated the whole purpose of what I did by freeing you.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Malik said as he headed in the opposite direction that the group of women had gone.
Reniko hurried to catch up with him. “It turned out all right,” she mumbled nudging Malik in the side gently. He stopped and looked at her. “Me and you, we think a lot alike.” Reniko finished noting the exasperated gaze that she was receiving from Malik.
“Alike? No it’s not like that. Your just infectious, Lyss.”
Reniko smiled and leapt into Malik’s arms giving him a tight embrace. “Oh Malik, thank you so much for coming for me. Thank you for caring for me.”
Malik stood silent, his left arm limp at his side and his right poised inches from Reniko’s head. I more than care for you, Reniko, I love you. His words however stayed unvoiced and he stood solemn as Reniko released her embrace and the two started walking once again.
They left Crosshatch that evening without gathering the supplies they so badly needed. They had debated on whether to fly back to Radalean City and purchase the supplies, but Reniko and Malik had decided against it, afraid that the Rük would follow them there and leave all the Crosshatch refugees in considerable danger.
“Do you think we can make it to Tresca on what we have?” Reniko asked as they flew toward the A’barra Mountains.
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Malik said. He shifted on top of Orric uncomfortably still suffering from the wounds that Orborok had inflicted. Reniko glanced behind at him uneasily.
“Are you alright? How are you feeling?” She couldn’t help but feel remorseful about the wounds that Malik suffered because of her. How can I keep asking him to put himself in this much danger?
“I’ll be fine. They did nothing to me that won’t heal in a few days. They wanted pain, not death,” Malik replied solemnly.
“You don’t have to do this anymore, Malik. Leave me and go somewhere where they can’t hurt you.”
“You know I can’t do that Reniko. What kind of person would that make me? I would be a coward and worse, I would be just like them, not willing to suffer for the sake of another, only willing to save my own skin. Besides, as part of the resistance, I chose a long time ago to put myself in this type of danger. It was a commitment I made long before you came to Vespen, just because I experience a little hardship does not mean I will abandon all the people on this planet. They are counting on me.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. I didn’t want you to feel obligated to help me.”
“You’re not an obligation, Lyss, you’re my friend. Helping you is what I want to do, as your friend.”
“In my life I’ve never had to deal with things like this. On Earth we don’t have to make life and death decisions. I’ve never had people hunting me before. I just wanted you to know that without you I couldn’t have done any of this, so, thank-you for your friendship.”
“I have to admit, being around you is quite the challenge. However, if you had never fallen from the sky things on Vespen wouldn’t have changed at all. I would never have found Reflaydun, the Rük would still feel they were all powerful and those people back in Crosshatch would still be suffering or dead. You’re the best thing that has happened to this planet, Lyss.”
“I’m glad I’m here too. I’ve learned so much here. I think falling through that rip in space was the best thing that ever happened to me as well.”
“Well then, we are agreed. We’ll be fine, as long as we stick together.”
“Agreed,” Reniko said smiling. She grasped Malik’s hand in a tight embrace.
“Don’t forget about me,” Orric piped in.
Reniko turned back and looked at their flying companion. “Of course not. You’re an integral part of this group, without you the Rük would have caught us many times over.”
“As long as you know I’m not just a cozy mode of transportation,” Orric said teasingly.
Reniko laughed. “I have to admit not walking long hours in a day is kind of nice.”
“Glad to be of service.” Orric chuckled. Malik too joined in the laughter and the tension of the day began to ease from the group. Tomorrow they would worry about what they would do about supplies. Tonight they were just thankful to be alive and free.
Orric flew through the night and by early afternoon they had arrived at the base of the A’barra Mountains. Both Malik and Reniko were refreshed and ready to travel when they landed having learned how to sleep quite soundly on Orric. Orric on the other hand was ready for rest.
“It’s no good for you two to stick around here waiting for me to rest. The faster you get through the mountains the safer you’ll be. I don’t think the Rük will give up so easy, knowing them they are riding out in our direction as we speak. The longer you wait here, the greater your chances are that you will have to confront them. I’ll meet you on the other side as we decided. Just head to Mountain Side, Malik knows the way.”
Reniko, who had her pack loaded and on her back walked closer to Orric and hugged his neck. “Be careful, Orric, I don’t know what we would do without you.”
“You be careful as well, Lyss, the mountain pass can be very dangerous.”
“I’ve passed through the A’barra Mountains many times before, we’ll be fine. Come on Reniko there is nothing to worry about.” Reniko nodded and with a wave goodbye to Orric the two humans took to the path and were soon out of sight of their Teoko friend.
Orborok stood in his private chambers, pacing the ground before the open window. He had to contact Trokar, but the shame of what he had to tell his Lord was unbearable. With a sigh he resigned to his fate and went over to the small sphere that stood on the table. Better to get it over with quick so I can redeem myself. He spoke a command and the small terminal came to life. A few minutes later a hazy bluish picture formed, the colour distorted by the projectors light.
“My lord, I have word of the female human from Earth,” Orborok said kneeling on the ground and bowing his head.
“You have word?”
Orborok knew he had been caught, Lord Trokar was not one easily fooled.
“Yes my Lord, we had the female in our possession, but she escaped.”
“We’ve been treating this situation too lightly, Orborok. We are dealing with something we have never seen before, or rather you have never seen before. This whole situation is starting to remind me of the trouble we had taking this planet. These Earth humans act much like the Levanith, and if that’s the case, we will need to try something else entirely. Tell me what you learned of this girl while she was in your possession.”
“Yes, my Lord. There are two things I learned from her that we could use to our advantage. The first is that the girl is not afraid of death, and the second is that she will do anything for her companions.”
“We’ll see how long she lasts against us. I’m sending Jekkah, he’ll make sure you get where you need to be. Don’t underestimate this girl again or it will cost you your life.” The image flickered and faded and Orborok once again stood in an empty room. I won’t make the same mistake twice, Lord Trokar can be sure of that.
Orric awoke to loud intrusive sounds, sounds that only one species made. Overconfident and lacking any superior, the Rük made no attempt to hide their presence. One day Orric knew that would be their downfall. With Reniko around they better change their ways or there won’t be many left to change them. Orric set aside his initial thoughts and opened his eyes. He couldn’t believe there were Rük this far from town already, Reniko and Malik had only started up the mountain path the previous day and Crosshatch was at least six, maybe five, days traveling time by foot or horse. It was so impossible for the Rük to be here already and Orric began to think he was seeing things. He leaned his head down over the ledge he was lying on and watched as two yellow Rük and twelve yellow-green Rük came up the path. Orric’s conclusion was that they were a party of Rük that had left Crosshatch before Reniko, Malik and he had made their escape. He continued to believe that until a gray Rük stepped into view on the path below. There were only a handful of gray Rük on Vespen and only one traversed the territories of Edonal Eclith. Orborok stood there defying the laws of speed. How could they have gotten here this fast? Getting here from Crosshatch that fast is only possible if you are a –. His thoughts were interrupted as a shadow passed over top of him.
“Jekkah!” he heard Orborok bellow far below. The flying figure dove and made a soft landing on the ground beside the Rük, an imposing figure to be sure. You could only go that fast if you were a Teoko, and a Teoko is exactly what Jekkah was. Unlike the midnight blue scales that covered Orric, Jekkah was a brilliant display of colour. His scales were a vivid shade of yellow, which when they caught sunlight shone with a burnt orange sheen the same shade that made up his wing membranes. His ocean blue eyes looked so gentle amongst the brilliant colours of his skin, but like most things, looks were deceiving. Jekkah was the only Teoko to have defected from the Teoko clans, choosing servitude to the Rük over loyalty to his clan. Orric could never understand why he had turned away from his kind to side with those that hunted the Teoko like they were nothing more than creatures with no intelligent mind. The Rük thought the Teoko were just game, a large prize to be one and fought over. Every Teoko on Vespen despised Jekkah. His name had become a poisonous thing, like the one who bore it. Orric had had to bear the shame of that name for many years since the one who bore it was his own flesh and blood, his brother.
“Any sign of them?” Orborok asked the Teoko.
“I see fresh tracks in the upper regions of the pass. I have no doubt they have been made by the ones you are seeking.”
“Good, and what about the Teoko that was with them? Has he made it to the other side of the pass yet?”
“I saw no sign of him. However, my brother will not pose a threat. We can dispose of him before the two humans reach the other side of the pass.”
Orric couldn’t believe it. Jekkah had flown right over the top of him, yet had not seen him at all. It was true that the colour of his skin helped him blend in nicely with the rock that surrounded him but Orric had thought Jekkah was more observant than that. Maybe he still has loyalties to us. Is he just playing the Rük for fools? Orric couldn’t be sure, and he wasn’t about to stake his life and the lives of Reniko and Malik in a test to see where Jekkah’s loyalties lay. He’s my blood. I will deal with him when it doesn’t put my friends in harm’s way. Right now, he had to think of a way to get to Reniko and Malik before Jekkah and Orborok did, or at least slow down the Rük pursuing them. It struck him as he sat there watching the troupe make his way closer to the pass that he did have a way of warning his human companions, if only Reniko was open to him. The only thing he could do was try and try he did. He pulled down his own barriers hoping to find Reniko hidden out there, but he did not feel her presence at all, she was locked up tighter than any creature he had ever encountered with or without the ability to Engage. Jekkah however was not locked so tightly.
“Brother,” he called out to the hillside freezing Orric’s insides. “I know you are hiding up there. You gave yourself away so easily. What were you trying to do?” Of course Jekkah had the ability to Engage, he was a Tordaskan Teoko after all. Well that was stupid. Orric thought as he tried to find control of the situation.
“It’s no use hiding, I know you’re there.” Orric could feel Jekkah searching for him again, searching for the connection through Engagement, but Orric would not give him that satisfaction, the traitor would have to come up and find him the hard way. Crouching low he waited for the familiar sound of wings catching wind as Jekkah took flight. It wasn’t long before a shadow passed by overhead.
“Are you still afraid of the Rük, my kin? I’m sure if I asked they would be kind enough to let Teoko settle Teoko matters. I mean what kind of brother would I be if I let the Rük kill my brother?” Orric heard Jekkah as he landed softly on the rise above him, shifting his position and looking upward he saw his brother glaring down at him from above. “I’ll do that myself.”
Orric leapt into flight just as Jekkah dove down toward him. The yellow Teoko gave out an enraged cry and followed Orric into the air. Orric gained altitude quickly putting distance between him and the reach of a poisoned dart.
“Brother, why do you do this? Why have you betrayed us all?” Orric called down to the lithe figure that was steadily gaining on him.
“I do it because I can,” Jekkah spat back as he reached Orric’s position and lunged at him. Orric made a narrow escape, Jekkah’s claws scraping the scales across his back.
“I see you’re not ready to test and see if immunity to the Rük poison runs in the bloodline,” Jekkah said as Orric again put distance between him and the earth below. It had been rumoured that Jekkah harboured immunity to the Rük toxin, but Orric had never believed it.
“You think immunity to the toxin makes it right for you to side with them? They tried to kill you and yet you still serve them like a pack horse?” Orric said avoiding another attack from his much smaller brother.
“I think you couldn’t possibly understand my reasons. We never understood each other. Why would that change now?”
“Why can’t it change?” Orric asked.
“Why? Because I like it and I’d rather kill you.” Jekkah dove at Orric and this time the bigger dragon had nowhere to go. Unable to change direction in time, Orric felt Jekkah’s claws stab mercilessly into the soft flesh near his wings joints. The pain was paralyzing and suddenly Orric was no longer able to fly. He felt his brother begin pulling his claws from his flesh and stopped him. Pinning his arms under the joints he waited as Jekkah tried fruitlessly to carry both Orric’s and his own weight. They began to descend, much faster than Jekkah wanted and while they fell toward the ground Jekkah tried to free himself from his brothers vice grip.
“I may be younger than you, Jekkah, and bigger, but that doesn’t mean I’m an easy target. As the ground came at them, Orric rolled, causing Jekkah to hang helplessly beneath his bulk, and with a thunderous crash the two Teoko hit the ground. Orric had the softest landing, Jekkah having taken the brunt of the fall and he released the grasp he held on his brother and rolled to one side. Jekkah lay still on the ground having taken the full impact and to Orric’s disappointment he could see his chest heaving as the traitor took in shallow breaths of air. He was still alive.
Hearing shouts of anger coming up toward him, Orric decided to move. Unable to use his wings from the damage Jekkah had done, he ran for the mountains and began climbing up hoping that he would reach Reniko and Malik before Orborok did. At least that will delay them a bit, Orric thought as he felt the chill air stinging his fresh wounds.