That evening they landed in a grove of trees using the shelter of the greenery to keep them hidden from prying eyes. They lit no fire that night and instead ate a cold meal with what little provisions they had left. Their hurried departure from Mountain Side had left them unable to gather the things they had needed and now, as night descended and they prepared for sleep, they realized that they no longer had enough bedding, there now being three persons instead of two.
“We’ll be fine, Rimca can just sleep with me,” Reniko said ending the argument that Rimca was having with Malik. Rimca stopped mid-sentence when Reniko spoke and glared at her. Reniko could only imagine why.
“Well now that that is settled, who wants to take first watch?” Malik asked. Rimca was still pouting, mad at Reniko’s solution and said nothing in response to Malik’s question.
“I’ll take first watch,” Orric said.
“All right, I’ll take second,” Malik replied.
“I’ll take third, and I guess that leaves Rimca with the last watch,” Reniko said.
“Well, I’m heading to bed,” Rimca said as she stormed in the direction of Reniko’s bedding. Reniko followed heading passed Malik.
“It looks like she’s back to her old self,” she muttered to him as she wandered by. Malik just looked at her and grinned. He was completely unaware of the tension between the two women.
When Reniko finally made it to her bedding, Rimca was lying to one side her back turned to Reniko and her breathing already rhythmic. Reniko sat at the corner of the blankets and took off her boots and cloak. When she finally slipped into the blankets she was uncomfortably aware of how close Rimca was to her. She turned her back to Rimca and tried to sleep, only to have her mind fill with a million things that she wanted to ask Rimca. If only she were still awake.
As the small camp finally became silent and everyone was sleeping except Orric, Reniko finally began to relax, only to be disturbed by Rimca shifting her position.
“Malik’s asleep now, we can talk,” she heard Rimca whisper in her ear. Reniko immediately sat up and turned to the Le’a’to.
“Okay first off what’s with you and Malik? Why do you pretend to be such a child around him?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rimca replied.
“Oh don’t give me that, I know you’re older than you look.”
Silence followed and Rimca said, “Why would you think that.”
“Because when you did that little trick of yours in Mistfall, you weren’t the only one that saw something.”
Another long pause ensued and Reniko really wished there was light so she could see Rimca’s reactions.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Rimca finally said.
“That’s not what Pen said. He told me that when you use your skill that you become vulnerable to it as well.”
“Penumbra,” she spoke the name with a sigh, “of course he would tell you that. What did you see?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Reniko retorted.
“I asked first,” Rimca said.
“All I saw was age behind that childish form of yours. I saw years of wisdom, more than I’ve seen in a human’s eyes.”
“I’m not that old, according to Le’a’to age. I’m only a hundred and ten. Not even into child bearing age.”
“So my first question still stands. Why do you act the way you do around Malik?”
“He’d be intimidated if he knew I was older than him. That would be awful. You won’t tell him will you?”
“It’s not my place to.”
Rimca was silent.
“So, what did you see, in my eyes?” Reniko asked.
“It’s not my place to tell,” Rimca replied.
“What? You invaded my privacy and you won’t tell me what you learned. I think I have every right to know.”
“What’s the point, everything I learned is already up in that head of yours. Do you really want me to repeat what you already know?"
“It doesn’t matter what I say, you’re not going to tell me are you?”
“Like I said, it’s not my place to tell.”
It was Reniko’s turn to fall into silence pondering Rimca’s cryptic answer.
“I have another question,” Reniko finally said, “Jarnen and Amma. They said they were heading to Mountain Side…” She let her sentence trail off afraid what the answer would be.
“Don’t worry, after I ran into Orric with Malik’s message he told me what happened at Mountain Side, I made sure that the resistance members heard about it. I sent them to Savonly instead. I’m sure Jarnen, Amma and the boys are all fine.”
Rimca’s answer assuaged Reniko’s troubled mind and she eased her body back down into the blankets.
“I was wondering, why do you hide your feelings for Malik?” Reniko asked suddenly causing another uncomfortable silence.
“You’re very perceptive,” Rimca said and she too eased herself back into the blankets. “It’s a little complicated.”
“Is that your way of saying it’s none of my business?”
“No. You’re not from Vespen so you wouldn’t understand, but I’m already engaged to be married.”
“An arranged marriage?” Reniko asked.
“Of a sort yes.”
“Is that why you’re rushing to get home?”
“Why go back? Why not tell Malik how you feel and just not go home.”
“It’s not that simple. My race is dying. The Le’a’to have children rarely, so if there is even a possible chance that I can produce an heir I have to, my title binds me in that way. Humans and Le’a’to are not compatible. We may look like you, but I would never have children if I married Malik.”
Reniko was moved by the thought that Rimca had such loyalty to her race. Would I do the same thing?
“Besides,” Rimca continued, “Malik doesn’t share my feelings for him. I’m not the only one in love with someone I can’t have.”
Reniko was shocked. She didn’t know what to say. She had no idea how to take that. Reniko looked in Malik’s direction unable to see him because of the dark night. Does she mean me?
Jekkah flew in the night sky listening and looking for any sign of his brother. He had met with the Rük army at Mountain Side and heard reports from them that Orric and his humans had fled only hours before. He was close, he knew it. He had no intention of letting Orric slip through his fingers so easily. Orborok was perched on Jekkah’s spinal ridge also scanning the sky and earth for signs of the Teoko and his human companions. As the night sky darkened however Orborok gave out a frustrated cry.
“We’ll have to stop for the night, Jekkah. It’s no use traveling on in the dark. We’ll just end up missing them completely.”
“As you wish, Sire,” Jekkah replied.
“They will not leave Edonal Eclith unless they are in our custody,” Orborok said; his voice gathering rage with each thought he had of Reniko.
“I’ll make sure of it,” Jekkah replied as he landed on the soft earth, their hunt concluded until morning.
Reniko was awoken by Rimca just as twilight reached the earth. She could see everyone busily packing away their things and she followed suit, snacking on dried fruit as she did so. The conversation with Rimca came back to mind and she stopped her work and stared in Malik’s direction. He was busy packing away his things and securing them to Orric. Rimca noticed her stares and walked closer to Reniko putting a hand on her shoulder.
“Come on, we don’t know how close Jekkah and the Rük are,” Rimca said helping Reniko pack away the rest of her things.
They left before the sun rose, the cool morning air awakening them all more fully. Malik had taken point, with Reniko in the middle. Rimca sat in the back quiet and not acting her usual self. Looks like I wasn’t the only one touched by our conversation, Reniko thought as she cast a wary glance back at Rimca. She was staring into the distance behind them watching the skies for any sign of Jekkah. Reniko cast her gaze in that same direction and turned her gaze forward once again. They’ve put me in the middle because they’re trying to protect me, Reniko realized suddenly, and by doing so they’ve given me absolutely nothing to do. She gave a sigh that was lost to the wind and settled in for the flight. Her only consolation was that despite the danger they were in, and the amount of time she had spent flying since coming to Vespen, she still enjoyed it immensely. If I had it my way I would never leave the skies, she thought, smiling as she watched the sun rise in the east causing the sky to burst into an array of pinks and oranges. She began humming before she realized what she was doing and the soft music drifted to Rimca’s ears.
“Where did you learn that?” Rimca asked, “In Savonly?”
Reniko stopped humming and turned to Rimca. “No, my mother used to sing it to me when I was very young. She said it was to help me through times when I was scared or alone. I’ve always been comforted by it.”
“Interesting, would you mind singing it to me?” This conversation peeked Malik’s interest and he too turned to listen. Reniko became suddenly aware of the attention and froze.
“I can’t sing well,” Reniko mumbled.
Rimca turned and looked at Reniko. “I won’t laugh. I just want to hear it is all.”
Reniko gave a sigh and looked forward to see Malik staring at her.
“I just want to listen as well. I won’t say a word,” Malik said when he realized that Reniko was waiting for him to say something. His response was not what she had had in mind.
“All right, it’s just a simple lullaby,” Reniko said and she began to sing in English.
As you dream safe in your homeland
Holding your wishes safe in your heart
Catch hold of the moonlight and wake into flight
And wish for your homeland to be safe this night
Spread your wings to the sky
And take to the heavens
Up so high watching the sunrise
See joy in your homeland on earth far below
Another day of peace has dawned
Bring no worries into your heart
For trouble has passed without even a glance
For sheltered you are in your homeland so fair
As she finished the last verse she looked at Rimca who was smiling and blushed.
“I have no idea what you just said but it sounds just as beautiful as our version,” Rimca said, “I’m guessing the meaning is the same as well.”
“Your version? You’ve heard that song before?” Reniko asked.
“You said your mother taught it to you right? Well, we did have trade routes with earth, so I’m guessing your family learned it from one of our families on Vespen and translated it to your language. It’s very old, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Though your version is a lot shorter than ours.”
“What about you Malik? Have you heard that song before?” Reniko asked.
“It was very beautiful, but I’ve never heard it before,” Malik said.
“Oh, you’ve got to be joking Malik, every child on Vespen knows that song.”
“Are you talking of Riido’isa?” Malik asked.
“She must be,” Reniko cut in, “riido’isa in English is homeland which is the title of the song I just sang.”
“Well I wouldn’t have thought it was the same song at all had Rimca not said anything,” Malik said.
“That’s because you’re tone deaf Malik,” Rimca replied, “Here I’ll sing our version Reniko.”
Il mai soessa oresu nia mann riido’isa
Koeenan mann iiasaen oresu nia mann kayell
Udoo koee fye lall kovessumay iza kiindess nianov wessisa
Iza iiasa iis mann riido’isa nov ri oresu ziisa vellessii
Uannu mann levaniien nov lall yuii
Iza ikuii nov lall syta’yuii
Ee i syta kayonan lall voess’uday
Lell sudoss nia mann riido’isa riiss Vespen duiia zesilla
Roesha viiss fye sentra efas hiasus
Rasii nisha okaiisa nianov mann kayell
Iis issta efas fasriis yuaoro nessi nah kesta
Iis otaniis mai kess nia mann riido’isa i edess
Reniko noticed the similarity right away.
She became so caught up in Rimca’s beautiful voice that she barely remembered that the Le’a’to was waiting for a response. “It’s so strange that our cultures blend as much as they do, especially since no one on Earth even knows that this planet exists,” Reniko said once Rimca had finished.
“Yes, very strange indeed,” Rimca said. Reniko gazed at Rimca unnerved by the tone in her voice and the look in her eyes. What is she expecting from me?
“Hate to interrupt you two, but I think we’re going to have company,” Malik said.
Reniko glanced behind Reniko and saw the glint of sunshine on scales. She could just make out the silhouette of another dragon still far in the distance.
“Do you think we can outrun them?” Reniko asked. Rimca seemed to have other ideas. She had shifted from her seat on Orric’s back and was standing precariously on his spinal ridge casting her gaze backwards.
“I think we may have a little over an hour before he catches up,” Orric said, “He may be older than me, but he’s also much smaller.”
“He has four passengers, so that may slow him down,” Rimca said from her vantage point. Reniko was amazed at the deftness with which she stayed perched on top of Orric’s moving body.
“You can see that far?” Reniko asked looking behind once again and noting that all she could see was the reflection of sun on a small object.
“Archery is my weapon for a reason,” Rimca said. She turned to look back at Reniko her brow furrowed with thought. “Orric try and fly as smoothly as possible.”
“Why?” Orric asked.
“Just do what she says,” Malik added as he watched Rimca slide down Orric’s side.
“You’re going to have to adjust for a weight shift,” Reniko said, “lean to the right.” Orric complied balancing out his flight as Rimca eased her way down his side. When she was out of sight both Malik and Reniko watched the taught rope that held her, holding their breaths in suspense.
“Alright I’ve got it, can someone pull me back up?” They heard Rimca shout. Reniko looked in Malik’s directions and shrugging made her way to Rimca’s rope. Malik followed and within minutes Rimca was back seated on Orric’s spinal ridge a bow and a quiver of arrows in her hand.
“Where did you get those?” Reniko asked. She noted that the quiver was really just a small backpack that Malik had carried around, the arrows however looked immaculate.
“I made them last night,” Rimca said.
“The bow as well?” Reniko asked.
Rimca nodded. “I make arrows all the time. We had all the materials I needed, it wasn’t so hard.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have made more than one bow?” Reniko asked.
“Why, can you use one?”
“I could, maybe not as good as you, but well enough,” Reniko replied.
“What about you Malik?” Rimca asked.
“Sorry, I barely know how to wield a sword.”
“Is that a yes or no?” Reniko asked Rimca. Rimca replied by handing Reniko a bow staff to string. Reniko strung her bow as did Rimca and they waited.
“How many arrows do we have?” Reniko asked.
“About a dozen each, I didn’t have time to make more than that.”
“We’ll just have to make our shots count.”
“Here they come,” Rimca said as Jekkah’s form loomed ominously close behind them, “I think they are about in range now.” Rimca grabbed an arrow and knocked it into to place. Reniko began to stand, positioning herself next to Rimca. Orric’s movements, however, caused her to slip and fall. Frustrated she opened her connection with Orric and found his rhythm. Only then was she able to stand steady next to Rimca.
Rimca looked at her confused. “How did you do that?” she asked.
“Do what?” Reniko asked as she too knocked an arrow into place.
“Do what, you were just a stumbling mess a few minutes ago and now you’re standing with the ease of a Le’a’to.”
“I guess I just engaged my centre,” Reniko said smiling. “Shouldn’t we be more concerned with what’s following us?”
Rimca scowled at Reniko and turned to face their pursuers. Taking careful aim she drew her bowstring taught. She calculated the movement of Orric’s body as well as the wind and the speed at which Jekkah was gaining and let loose her arrow. It arched through the air gracefully. Jekkah didn’t notice the projectile until it was nearly too late and he let out a shocked cry as he dove downward to avoid the arrow. The arrow however struck one of the Rük on Jekkah’s back embedding itself into his shoulder. Shocked and in pain, the Rük was sent off balance and he tumbled from Jekkah’s back and was left plunging to the earth far below.
“By the maker, he’s quick,” Rimca said as she grabbed another arrow from the pile.
“Aim for his wing joints. The flesh is soft there,” Orric said.
It was Reniko’s turn to take aim and she did, letting her arrow fly. Her target had been a Rük though Jekkah had not realized such, and as he veered to the side, the arrow embedded itself into the soft flesh of his wing. He gave a cry but did not falter in flight
“Infuriating pests,” Jekkah spat as this time two arrows converged on him at once. He evaded, one deflecting off the hard scales covering his neck and the other catching a Rük square in the chest
“Watch what you are doing, Jekkah, I want to survive this flight as well,” Orborok said as he watched another of his men plummet to his death.
Jekkah gave a low growl and shot higher into the sky out of range of Rimca’s arrows. “I hope you don’t mind thin air,” Jekkah said as the climbed steadily into the clouds
“Just don’t lose them,” Orborok said as he watched the figures of his prey shrink in size.
“They’re above us Orric,” Reniko shouted letting her bow fall to her side.
“Keep your eyes open. When they descend be ready to attack,” Orric replied. Rimca had her bow aimed into the sky above them tracking the Teoko as he gained on their position.
Jekkah gazed at the figures below him and he opened himself to their feelings trying to guess how to approach the situation. He became aware of his brother quickly; he was full of determination focused on a goal. He was not open to Jekkah’s feelings at all having had experience with the act of Engaging. However Jekkah also felt another presence, one that he hadn’t felt before, he could feel the emotions emanating strongly off of the dark haired girl. Unlike that of ordinary feelings, he could feel her connection with Orric. She was using him to steady herself, and she was untrained. Jekkah smiled, this may be easier than I thought. Jekkah grasped hold of the pain in his left wing amplifying it. When he had gathered as much strength as he could into the feeling he touched Reniko’s mind.
Reniko let out a terrifying scream. Dropping her bow she clutched at her head and fell backward onto Orric’s body. She sat precariously on the edge for a few seconds before she slid off the edge and plummeted toward the earth, her safety rope pulling taught and yanking Orric off balance. Rimca who had been standing staring at Jekkah above was thrown from her feet as Orric lost his balance and was sent dangling from her safety line as well. Malik was the only one who remained aloft having been sitting at the time of the attack.
“Reniko!” Orric shouted, he being the only one aware of the attack on her psyche. “Close your mind.”
“She can’t hear you Orric,” Rimca said as she dangled uncomfortably from her rope next to Reniko, “she's unconscious.”
“Orric look out,” Malik shouted which caused Orric to instinctively veer to one side. Jekkah passed close by having descended on the group in the ensuing chaos that his attack had caused.
“Everyone alright?” Orric asked as he steadied his flight once again.
“No!” Rimca screamed. Malik looked over the edge down at the dangling form of Rimca who was holding the end of a frayed rope in her hand, a frayed rope that had been holding the still frame of Reniko.
“Reniko, no!” Malik said scrambling closer to the edge grasping at the air wishing that Reniko’s hands were close enough to grab. Instead he saw her body falling steadily down toward the unyielding earth below.