Awen: Tongue of Flame

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The Shadow Queen

A gargling screech, far more intense than before threatened to make their ears bleed. The communication barrier was going to be a nightmare, and there was no telling how much time they would have to get it right.

'Careful sweetie, that thing must be ten times the height of you!' Jensen said.

'Don't be rude to it, daddy.' she replied.

Jason snickered. 'Let's just kneel, and look down like the others.' he suggested.

The creature's reaction was unexpected, and daring to lift his head back up, Jensen found himself less than an inch away from its horrifying face. Warm fluids leaked out of its bear trap of a mouth and onto his cheek, and he could almost taste the intense flavours of its last meal. 'Reminds me of rotten egg.' he choked, trying his best not to vomit.

'Daddy, be quiet.' Rose squealed.

'Alright, alright, I'm sorry. Just don't look up sweetie.' he whispered.

Naturally, she could not resist the temptation, and with fearless determination, she stared straight at it. 'It's just curious daddy.' she whispered back.

Jenson gulped, he could not believe the bravado of his daughter and knew that he would have to step up to the challenge of matching her. 'So you haven't seen a human being before?' he asked. His question was answered with a swing of its right claw. It was pointing a sharp conical nail at another doorway.

Dozens of smaller creatures hurried away to do their master's bidding, and another procession entered into the large dwelling space. Four barred cages elevated majestically through the air towards them, and covered by silvery linen sheets; they disguised whatever was inside.

Only a few feet away from the unveiling, Jason was the first to react. In the first cage was a blood-soaked Taylor, surrounded by ten dead alien creatures. 'Taylor, what the hell?' Jensen asked, but Taylor did not speak.

The second cage was not so dramatic, but Jensen noticed Hal and Kelly lying unconscious. They were otherwise unharmed but were bound together with silver rope.

The third cage at a glance looked to be empty until they saw a woman staring blankly at them. 'Mom!' Rose cried, trying to run to her. Jensen had to hold her back. 'We need to wait, sweetie, there's still one more cage.' he said.

Once revealed, the final cage was seemingly crammed full of human food and medical supplies, enough to last them all years. Jensen had hoped to find Jen hiding in that last prison, yet that would have been too much to ask.

Jason looked ready to spit fire; these people were under his care as Captain after all. 'We don't deserve this kind of treatment!' he snarled.

'Take a look at Taylor; we are missing the bigger picture.' Jensen said. There was something wrong with the man, his eyes were red, and he bore a permanent look of rage.

'I can't believe that I am saying this, but we have to keep an open mind if we want to survive this encounter.' James replied.

Turning back to face Jensen, the creature spoke in a gargled screech once more. It was hopeless, as it could have been saying anything. 'I'm sorry, I don't understand.' he finally said.

The creature had no patience, and barging him out of the way with ease, it called down one of the many floating holographic screens. Pointing at it, Jensen finally understood what it meant. 'Would you look at that.' he remarked. The image showed another dwelling like the one which they were in; only it was empty and without power.

'Where is this?' Jason dared to ask. The creature must have read his lips and body language, and it quickly changed the video feed. They recognised the area all to well, tucked underneath a vast mountain range; the peaks seemed to climb forever into the sky.
'We assessed this landscape before landing and discovered a strange carved out pathway which appeared to end at the foot of a cliff. I guess we were right to look.' Jason said.

'We should have looked closer.' James muttered.

'What was that?' Jason asked.

'I said, we need to get all of our people together before we go anywhere.' James replied, correcting himself.

Their hope was fleeting, as Jensen grounded their imaginations' in an instant. 'Something's not right; why are they willing to help us now? Jason, they kept you trapped for years remember.' he said.

'I won't be forgetting that anytime soon.' Jason replied.

'What choice do we have, we must choose the best course for our people. This is it.' James stated.

'My thoughts exactly, but why the prison cells?' Jason asked.

'Let's find out.' Jensen said, strolling up to the cages. The creature leapt after him with a single bound.

Holding up both hands in surrender, Jensen slowly reached for the cage holding Taylor. The giant creature slammed it's limb against the bars ferociously; it was time to try another.

Surprisingly, Jensen was allowed to approach the cage holding Hal and Kelly. With a hydraulic hiss, the door flew open, and they both awoke immediately.

Rubbing her eyes vigorously, Kelly struggled to stand up. 'This is the worst hangover that I've ever had.' she growled.

'You think that you have it rough, I feel like I lost a fight with a train.' Hal replied, propping himself up against the wall. The doorway was open, and yet they could not see or hear Jensen screaming at them.

Something was not right, sprinting toward the third cage, Jensen managed to catch everyone by surprise. This time it was different; there was no barrier to block contact with the occupant. 'Helena! Are you alright?' he yelled.

'Yes, for now, our shuttle crash-landed. I'm glad that you found Rose.' she replied, her words spilling out.

Gargling screeches formed into hysterical laughter as the giant creature leapt at him again. 'She's the queen. They know everything there is to know about us. Do as they say. Their technology is like nothing I...' Helena began, before being abruptly cut off.

Another colossal hatch roared open above their heads, and three of the cages took flight. 'Helena!' Jensen bellowed.

Squaring up to the queen, Jensen was preparing to do something profoundly stupid, when another video feed caught his eye. Flickering floodlights switched on with a domino effect, and the facility which they were told about sprang into life.

The three cages docked with the facility following a flight that could have only taken minutes. 'Just how advanced are they?' James asked quietly.

'Enough that we must show respect, and do as they say. Another flare could hit at any time.' Jason replied.

'Is anyone going to address the fact that Taylor's still here, and not residing at that facility with the others?' Jensen asked, trying not to stare at the queen. She was silently listening to the conversation with deep concentration.

Pointing at Taylor in his cage, Jensen moved his right arm to identify the others. He could not speak to the queen, but he wanted to see if she would release Taylor. It did not work, and a single gargling bark demonstrated her resolve.

Another hologram appeared, showing Taylor and Jen collecting piles of scrap by the junk heap. Scurrying blurs of creatures encircled the pair, before pouncing at them. Surprisingly, they did not attack; instead, one creature tussled with Taylor for the rare earth material which he was gripping onto. 'Just let it go.' they heard Jen say.

'It's not theirs.' Taylor groaned, and scooping up a razor-sharp steel bar; he swung it around in a frenzy. Piercing through leathery skin, and dismembering spindly legs without any notion of letting up, Taylor found himself surrounded by the mutilated bodies of ten alien creatures.

Still watching the feed, they could see that more aliens were arriving. Howling at the murder of their fallen comrades, they discharged an arsenal of terrifying heavy weaponry. Purple beams of starlight struck Taylor from multiple directions, dropping him to his knees. Even after all that he had done to them, they did not kill him.

Witnessing her brother suffer in writhing agony, Jen covered her mouth in despair. Two cages appeared out of nowhere and whisked them both away, one taking Taylor west, and the other carrying her off to the east.

The video screen went blank, morphing into pixelated fragments until it dissipated into nothing. Looking away, Jensen could feel the queen's gaze upon his back, as if daring him to make another mistake. 'That idiot, why'd he have to do that?' Jensen asked.

'He probably thought that he was defending his sister.' Jason suggested.

'He went too far.' Jensen rebuked.

'On this, we agree, I suppose that I'm still a little angry at them for keeping me locked up.' Jason mused.

'Why haven't they killed us, or Taylor for that matter?' James asked.

'I guess that we're about to find out, here comes the queen.' Jason announced.

Beautifully aureate lighting panels began to brighten intensely in random areas of the dwelling, and everywhere that they looked, tiny explosions ripped through their exotic plastic casings.

Cascading electronic failures brought forth sporadic bouts of utter darkness, and each time that they looked up, the over-illuminated walls drew the ominous shadow of the queen even closer.

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