“You can let her up, Jekkah. I doubt very much the angel will fly away,” the black Rük said as Jekkah eased his rough grip on Reniko. Reniko lurched to her feet, her anger blazing. Who was this Rük to think that she would just stand around and wait for him to take her? She was about to take flight when she noticed that Malik was clutched in the black Rük’s grip. Reniko hesitated. The black Rük grinned at her maliciously.
“Seems to me that you were right, Orborok,” the Rük said as a circle of Rük formed around Reniko. Reniko spotted Orborok at the black’s right hand and went forward toward him, venom in her eyes.
“What do seek, my pet?” Orborok spoke as he glanced toward Malik who the black Rük threw roughly into the circle. Reniko stopped her advancement and went to Malik who was struggling to his feet.
“It seems that you are intent to be my prize,” the black Rük said leaning down to caress Reniko’s face. She flinched at the gesture.
“I am no thing’s prize,” Reniko said. The Rük just smiled.
“I see you carry the same fire in you that your mother once held, Shylaya. She died with that fire in her eyes. So noble,” the Rük mocked. “You know, I once held you in my arms long ago. I thought you had eluded me forever and here you are just as pretty as ever. Imagine my surprise when I went in search of an Earthling and found you instead, the little Levanith princess that escaped me so long ago. A thousand years was not too long to wait for this prize.”
“Who are you?” Reniko asked as she looked into the eyes of the Rük, her fear growing with each passing moment. He was even taller than Orborok, close to twelve feet with his legs fully extended.
“Such a sad thing to hear that my impression on you was not as lasting as the one you left on me. I am Trokar, Princess, Lord of Vespen.”
Trokar. The name rang in Reniko’s head like a lance. Trokar. The name of her mother’s murderer. The Vespen enslaver and the conquering warlord who showed no mercy, exterminating her people with no regard. Trokar. The name to all of her suffering.
“How can that be?” Reniko asked to herself.
“Child, you may live long, but I will always live longer. What I have lived of my life has been only a handful of what I will see. It will be my pleasure to spend most of the years I have left with you by my side.”
“I would die before I would stand at your side,” Reniko said. Trokar nodded his head and Reniko felt arms grab her from behind, pulling her from Malik’s side to stand near Trokar. Reniko watched as a pair of white Rük grabbed Malik, who barely had strength enough to stand. He seemed to be in and out of consciousness, his will to protect Reniko the only thing keeping him from darkness.
“Death? Death I’m afraid was never an option, not for you anyhow. I may hold exceptions for others, however. Do you wish me to release your friend from the pain of this world?” Trokar said as he walked away from Reniko and extended his gleaming claws toward Malik’s neck.
“No, leave him,” Reniko screamed pressing her captors trying to reach for Malik before Trokar did. He stopped at her outburst and smiled once again, a smile Reniko was coming to loath.
“No? Of course not. You would not think to play with the life of someone you love so dear. What would you offer, in exchange for his life?” Trokar asked.
“Why are you playing with me so? I have nothing to offer. You hold all the cards here.”
“I hold all the cards? I do, don’t I. That must mean his life is forfeit to me,” Trokar said and advanced once again on Malik.
“Please,” Reniko pleaded, tears running trails down her face, “ask anything of me and I will do it without protest.”
Trokar stopped and smiled. “Of course you will.”
Reniko felt her captors release her and she slumped to the ground. “What do you ask of me?”
“I ask, Princess, that you pledge your life to me,” Trokar said his voice hot on Reniko’s neck. Reniko tensed, frozen in place unable to speak the words. They are just words.
“Your loyalty, Milady, or his death,” Trokar spoke again when Reniko failed to respond.
Reniko looked to Malik who was conscious and looking at her pleadingly.
“Don’t Reniko,” Malik said, the only words he could choke out.
“Forgive me,” she whispered and bowed her head, “I pledge… I pledge to kill you by my own hand.” Reniko was to her feet as Trokar fell off his. In one bound she was in the air above them as they all scrambled to get to where she had just been. The two that had been holding Malik were staring at her as the other two scrambled to help Trokar who was screaming with rage. Reniko took the disorder to her advantage and dove at the nearest Rük holding Malik and took him to the ground before he had time to react. The other, a female, let her grip on Malik fall and Malik wrenched free, fleeing to the woods. He turned just in time to see the white Rük advance on Reniko and pierce her poisoned filled claws into her soft flesh. Malik hesitated and took two steps back toward Reniko. Reniko looked at him, her eyes fierce.
“Leave. Run. They had us Malik, they had us. We will both live this way. Leave me. Live for me.” And with that she was limp on the ground, no more a resistance to the Rük that held her. Malik hesitated for only a moment longer, long enough for Orborok and the other gray Rük to catch sight of him. Not waiting to see if they would pursue, he fled into the concealing foliage of the woods, hoping the falling leaves would obscure his position. The goddess forgive me, he prayed as he ran.
Malik walked blindly through the woods. Night had fallen some time ago, but he seemed not to have noticed at all. He was walking numb, hardly able to believe what he had just lived through. Stumbling, he finally sat on a fallen tree exhausted. Footsteps in the distance roused him from his shock. He stood up from the tree noticing a light, and heard a shout.
“Malik?” the voice asked.
“Dertrik?” Malik replied.
Dertrik stepped into view. Rimca and Ryne were only steps behind him.
“Reniko was taken,” Malik said and suddenly with those words said, the strength went out of him. The beating he had endured earlier that day now came upon him full force and he slumped to the ground as Rimca advanced on him.
“We know,” Rimca said.
“What of Orric, does he live? I feared his death when I saw Brium’s lifeless body on the cliff edge.” Malik asked.
“He’s alive and well. He was the one that helped us find you,” Rimca said she had opened a case and was tending to Malik’s wounds by the light that Dertrik held aloft.
“How did you escape the cliff?” Malik asked Rimca.
“I tried for a long time to get up the cliff without the aid of Reniko’s ropes but it would have been my death. Once you had fled and the Rük took Reniko across Ocean’s Wall, I made my way back to the archives. I dug most of the rubble out of the vertical shaft and when I found a machine that could lift me to the top I entered it. I actually made quite a mess in the castle,” Rimca said. “Orric had brought Ryne and Dertrik back to the castle, they were both badly hurt. I don’t know why we didn’t take weapons out there. We were all so foolish.”
“It cost us too dearly,” Malik replied wincing as Rimca applied some salve to his wounds.
“Malik, there were too many, there was nothing you could have done,” Dertrik said.
“Reniko said, before they took her, that she freed me so that we could both live. I don’t remember much of the encounter, only that there was a Rük the likes of which I had never seen, a black Rük.”
“Reniko asked us about a black Rük when we were in the archives,” Rimca said.
“Do you think they will kill her?” Malik asked.
“I don’t think they will,” Dertrik said. “If you have never seen the likes of him before, than this black Rük must be their leader. He’ll want Reniko alive, for more reasons than one, I presume.”
“What do you know of this?” Malik asked.
“Only stories passed from generation to generation. We never committed much of our history to writing on Earth. What I do know is that a Rük that went by the name of Trokar killed Reniko’s family.”
“Do you think this Trokar still lives?” Malik asked.
“I don’t know the life span of the Rük, but it’s safe to say that he is,” Dertrik said.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to find her,” Malik said. “We’re her only hope now.”
Days, weeks, months, Reniko couldn’t judge how much time had passed. She only remembered the endless flight across Ocean’s Wall and then nothing, a gray haze. Dreams no longer visited her, and when she reached for Orric, all she got was a large empty void. Once, and only once, she had heard a voice. A malicious voice. Jekkah’s voice. He was blocking her way to Orric and she didn’t have the strength to resist. She was in a strangely familiar room now. It was a sterile white, washed in the brilliance of light. She felt cold steel beneath her. Her hands were restrained, though she knew she lacked the strength to move, let alone resist. She did not realize that she was not alone until the white Rük moved toward her as the door to the room opened. She noticed a needle in the female’s hand and she suddenly remembered that. She had been injected many times over on her trip here, to keep her in the haze she felt now. She moved slightly trying to resist even though she knew it was futile. Orborok and Trokar walked into her view, as well as the white Rük.
“Awake I see,” Trokar said.
Reniko blinked in response, she was too weak to talk.
“Give her a few more hours, I wish to hear her scream ring through my palace. Sedated she may not feel the extent of her violation.” Reniko wished with all her heart that she could spit upon the face that loomed over her. They vanished and she was left in the room, this time, completely alone.
Malik scanned through the records that scrolled before him on the screen; he was tired, but fought the sleep, which threatened to overtake him. It had been ten days, ten excruciating days, since Reniko had been taken by the Rük, Trokar, and Malik had slept little of that time, despite the protests of his friends and Reniko’s mentor, Dertrik. He couldn’t. He couldn’t just do nothing. He pushed away from the screen for the seventh time that day, rubbing his eyes from the strain. Rimca sat back from her console, as did Dertrik and Ryne.
“Anything?” Malik called trying to avert the attention from him.
“I can’t seem to locate the thread that Reniko was following, there was too much information.” Dertrik said, “It would be so much easier if you and Rimca could search as well.”
“There doesn’t seem to be any way to bypass the security that locks out the Vespian text. Reniko tried and couldn’t, I don’t think any of us could do better.”
“What about Reflaydun?” Rimca asked. “It has access to Tordaskar now. Would the hologram be willing to help?”
“I must be daft if I have not thought of that,” Malik said rushing to the console that still held the Reflaydun sphere cradled inside of it.
“Access Reflaydun,” Malik commanded. The hologram of Shyma flicked into view some moments later.
“How may we be of service master Malik?” the hologram asked.
“Reniko was taken by the Rük and we can’t filter through the Tordaskan archives fast enough. We could use your help finding what Reniko last accessed here.”
“We are unable to comply with this function,” the hologram said.
“Why not?” Malik asked.
“Our interface with the Tordaskan archives is limited. You will have to ask the computer itself to help you.”
“We can’t, it doesn’t interface like you do,” Malik said.
“Yes, we agree. The interfacing capabilities are limited in that facility. If you would come back to Reflaydun we could give you whatever relevant information we have on the Rük.”
“There is no time for that,” Malik said.
“Maybe we have been going about this the wrong way,” Rimca suddenly said. Malik turned to look at her.
“What do you mean?”
“Instead of back tracking Reniko’s research maybe we should be trying to figure out where the Rük took her.”
“That’s well and good, Rimca, and it’s not like I haven’t been looking into that, but we have to know how to defeat the Rük before we can traipse into their stronghold.”
“Reniko was looking for a way to avert a war, right,” Rimca said. Malik nodded. “Well the last thing she said was if you had ever heard of a black Rük. So obviously this Trokar is the key to averting a war. He now has Reniko. So we find him, we find Reniko, and Reniko seemed to think that finding Trokar would mean no war.”
“So we need to figure out where this black Rük is hiding?”
“It can’t be Mo’an Delar or Edonal Eclith or we would have known about him before this. What about Raet Serac?” Dertrik asked.
“No, I’ve spent time on Raet Serac, I have never heard anything about a black Rük there,” Rimca replied.
“What does that leave us with?” Ryne asked.
“Sentralon,” Malik said.
“Sentralon?” Rimca echoed, “of course. No one knows where Sentralon is. If no one has seen Trokar before now than that would be where he is located.”
Malik went to the console. “Give me all relevant data on Sentralon,” he ordered.
The screen lit up with one object. Malik opened it and revealed one small string of data. “This is useless,” Malik said.
Dertrik looked over his shoulder at the screen. “Not quite. It’s incomplete but not useless.”
“You know what this means.”
“It’s the latitude,” Dertrik stated.
“Malik looked at it, “Of course it is.” The string of numbers suddenly made sense to him now.
“It’s still useless,” Rimca said, “without the longitude we have a lot of ground to cover. Not to mention we have no idea whether the latitude shown here matches with the same latitude today. This was made a thousand years ago by a lost civilization. I doubt the maps have stayed the same.”
“We have another piece of this puzzle,” Malik said. Turning to the computer he spoke a command, “download information to the data sphere.” Moments later the hologram from Reflaydun flickered to life.
“You have found another piece of the map,” it said.
“Show us the combined data,” Malik said. The hologram flickered and died and was replaced by two lines of text.”
“We have longitude and latitude,” Dertrik said, “well done lad.”
“We still lack the reference point. We need the actual map,” Rimca said.
“It’s at Fharlasina,” Malik said.
“Fharlasina? On Raet Serac?” Rimca asked.
“Yes,” Malik replied.
“That shall be our next destination,” Dertrik said, slapping Malik on the back as he removed the data sphere from the cradle on the console, “but first we rest. We will make travel plans tomorrow.”
Reniko was aware, much more than she wished to be. She had struggled for the last hour to free herself from the bonds that held her down, but her efforts yielded no fruit. When she heard the hiss as the pressurized air inside the room was disturbed by the opening of the door, she knew something terrible was going to happen. Trokar, Orborok, and the white Rük, Agger, stepped into the room. Agger went over to a small console that was set to one side of the room while Orborok and Trokar proceeded to where Reniko lay.
“I see you have come back to yourself once again, Princess,” Trokar said. Reniko glared at him and did in fact get to spit on his smug face. He wiped it away with a severe glare.
“You will soon learn some respect for your Lord,” Orborok said.
“Whatever you have planned to do to me, it will never work,” Reniko said.
“We will see,” Trokar said. Agger reappeared carrying a syringe. Reniko noticed it was not filled with the same slightly pink liquid it had been previously; instead it held what looked a lot like a mercurial liquid. Reniko flinched.
“The pain you feel will be more than a lifetimes worth, but you will live,” Trokar said.
“Swell,” Reniko said in English. Trokar raised an eye at her.
“Would you care to know what it is you will be enduring for the next few days?” Orborok asked. He was taking as much pleasure in this as Trokar.
“I don’t really have a choice. So please, enlighten me on my fate,” Reniko said with bitter humour lacing her words.
Orborok grinned, but it was Trokar who responded. “This technology was created on my home planet, Druagg. Its sole target is the brain. Once injected into your system it can never be removed. Its purpose, Princess, is to rewrite memory.” Reniko tensed as Agger handed the syringe to Trokar.
“Would you care to do the honours, my Lord?” Agger asked.
“It will be my pleasure to break this spirit,” Trokar said and took the syringe that was offered and looked at it and back at Agger. “This will hardly do. Surely she will need a higher dosage.” Reniko’s heart was racing as she struggled against her bonds. Orborok was the sole observer of her torment and he relished it.
“You have brought me great things, Reniko. When this is done, I will reward you,” Orborok whispered into her ear. His torment froze Reniko like ice.
“Start too big and it may kill her,” Agger said to Trokar who nodded and proceeded toward Reniko.
Trokar hovered over her head the syringe held delicately in his hands.
“Please don’t do this,” Reniko begged. Her body tensed as Trokar advanced. She inhaled sharply knowing that the pain she would feel would live up to Trokar’s malicious words.
“It would take all the pleasure out of my day if I could not watch you suffer,” Trokar replied. Reniko felt a pressure at her temple and seconds later hot lances shot from the end of the syringe. Reniko’s scream did ring through the building, to the very delight of her captors.