Keel’s head still felt dizzy, but when Violet fell to the ground, screaming in pain, he tried to catch her, but she slipped through his fingers.
Falling to his knees, he reached for her. “Violet! What happened?”
She writhed on the flood, unable to speak as her eyes rolled in her head. He ran his hands over her body, looking for a wound, but found nothing.
“Violet! Please, tell me what happened?”
The door of the hut flew open and Arak rushed in, a long, thick blade in his hands. “What did you do to her!” he roared. Behind him, three more males crowded the small space, but Keel paid them no attention.
“Violet?” He asked again, pulling her into his arms, “Come on, little fighter, come back to me.”
“What happened to her”? Arak growled, getting to his knees beside Keel. Glancing over, Keel was surprised to see genuine worry for her.
“I don’t know. We were talking and she just… Just fell and started screaming. I think Spot is being hurt and she can feel it.”
“Spot… Her creature pet that was taken prisoner?”
Keel nodded, “Yes. She has a mental link with the beast. She can feel what he feels at times. Whatever they are doing to him, it must be very bad.”
“She spoke of a black building in the Dense. Is that where he is being kept?”
Keel pulled Violet closer, her trembling body a slight weight in his arms. “Yes. Do you know it?”
“Yes,” Arak nodded, “It is not far from here. My tribe is forbidden to go there.”
Keel scowled at the male, but took a long breath to calm his anger. “Why?”
“A week ago, a group of males showed up at that building. I do not know how they got there. We saw no tracks for them. I sent two males to investigate, but they never returned. We found their bodies three days ago. What was left of them, anyway.”
Violet had calmed, her body no longer thrashing in his arms. Her breathing was still uneven, but her eyes were focused again.
“Violet? What happened?”
She sobbed, “Spot. They… They hurt him so badly, Keel. We need to go. Now!”
“You cannot go there, little female,” Arak said, frowning down at her still laying in Keels arms, “Those that now occupy that building are dangerous. There are many of them. They will kill you both if you get close.”
She climbed out of his hold and stood, her face streaked with red tears. She took a few long breaths, then lifted her chin.
“I’m going to that building, Arak. I will find Spot, and will kill every last one of those fucking assholes for what they did to Spot. You can either come with us and help me, or get out of my way!”
Keel raised a hand to calm Violet, but all he saw was pure rage glinting in her eyes. She wanted blood, and there would be very little any of them could do to stop her. Violet may be small, and look weak, but she was a highly skilled fighter who had no trouble taking down a warrior male.
“I cannot ask my males to risk their lives for outsiders,” Arak sighed, “There are so few of us left and to lose more now would end this tribe forever.”
Keel nodded. He could understand what the male spoke of. He hated the idea of Violet getting anywhere near that building, but she would go one way or another. And he would be at her side every step of the way.
She nodded, “I understand, Arak. Thank you for everything you and your people did for us. I promise I will keep my word to you about the king. One way or another, you will have that meeting. If you don’t mind, can you give Keel some clothes?”
Arak nodded, “Of course. I will go with you-”
“No,” Violet interrupted him, shaking her head, “No, Arak. You’re right. There are too few of your people left. Each one is vital to the survival of your clan. I won’t let you risk your life for people you only met last night.”
“Arak, no. I have Keel with me, and once we get to the building and I get to Spot, he will help us. You need to keep your tribe safe. Promise me you won’t follow us.”
Keel studied her closely, and kept his words to himself when he saw she was lying about something.
“Very well, Violet. If that is what you wish. I do not like it, but I will honor your request. I can lead you to the perimeter of the building so that the jungle does not bother you on the way, then I will return here.”
With that, the male turned and left the hut. Keel went to her and pulled her into his arms. She buried her face into his chest as her body hitched with quiet sobs.
“What happened to him?” Keel asked quietly as he stroked her back.
“I think they cut off one of his legs. I can’t be sure, but the pain… He’s in so much pain, Keel. We need to go. Now!”
Keel nodded, pulled free of her arms. “Alright. As soon as Arak brings me some clothes, we can leave.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Violet, are you sure you want to go to this place? It will be only the two of us. We do not know how many guards there are or what kind of weaponry or defense might be in place.”
“I’m going, Keel. I would ask you to stay here with Arak, but I know you would never do that.”
He smiled, “Never. I stay by your side, fight at your side, and die at your side if I must.”
“It won’t come to that,” She growled, her eyes flashing with a deadly rage he’d never seen before. It was something to behold on a tiny female like Violet, but it was a relief to see. She was getting into the battle focus they taught all warriors at training. It may be the only thing that keeps them alive.
A moment later, Arak returned with a pile of fury fabric in his hand. He handed it to Keel and nodded.
“I will wait outside until you are ready.”
“Thank you,” Keel said, giving the male a nod.
When they were alone, Keel dressed into the strange animal skin clothing. It felt scratchy and unusual on his body, but it was better than going into battle in just his undershorts and boots.
When he was ready, he grabbed his baggers from his discarded uniform on the ground and nodded to Violet.
Let’s go,” she said, moving past him and out the door.
Keel followed and only had a moment to look around at the strange village they were in. Three huge trees made up a massive canopy above, with trunks as wide as a building holding them up. There were males walking around the soft, short grass of the clearing, and he saw ladders stretching up to the wooden homes built in the trees.
He briefly wished he had more time to visit this village, but they couldn’t wait. Violet wouldn’t want to wait any longer.
Arak met them at the border of the clearing. He had two other warriors with him, all of them gripping a weapon in their hands. One had a long staff with sharp ends on either side. Another had a bow and arrows strapped to his back. Arak had his long silver sword at his hip.
With a firm nod, Arak turned and moved out of the clearing.
Walking with these tribesmen made the trek through the jungle much easier. They knew what to look out for, where to go to avoid dangerous creatures and even how to scare off some of the smaller ones that were in their path.
It only took them a few hours to reach the perimeter of the building. As Violet had explained, it was a flat, single story black structure with no visible windows and only one large, heavy looking metal door.
Keel eased down to a knee beside Arak and Violet and watched the building in silence.
He allowed his senses to take over, his mind easily shifting into the battle focus he’d honed over many years of training and battles.
He could smell the pungent stench of at least five unwashed males. He couldn’t see them, but they were close. Next, he picked up on the scent of chemicals, like thrones found in labs or hospitals. It was faint, but undeniable.
“As far as we know,” Arak whispered, “There is only one way into that building. The door you see there is locked from the inside. Whoever is in there either had a key to that door, or found a way to open it somehow. For many years, it has been locked. I know, because most of the males in my tribe used to play here when we were children. We searched for any way in, but never found one.”
Keel nodded, “I see no shuttle or craft. You said that there were no tracks or signs of them moving through the forest?”
“No. We have look outs in the trees at all times, to watch for predators and lost outsiders, like you. No one saw anything. They would have had to cross paths with at least one of my watchers to get here, but no one saw or heard anything.”
Violet shifted closer to them. “Do you think there is underground access?”
Keel tilted his head to the side, frowning. “How can that be? This jungle has been undisturbed for… almost a thousand years. It would be known if someone dug tunnels.”
She shook her head. “I wouldn’t be so sure. Look over there,” She pointed to the left side of the building, where a small hill rose above the roof beside it. It was covered in thick trees and bushes, but other than that, Keel didn’t see anything out of place.
“And the same on the other side. If I had to guess, it’s the same at the back.”
“What are you speaking of, Violet?” Arak asked.
She twisted to look at them. “Look at where we are. We’re at the top of a hill. There are three others just like this around the building. That’s a lot of dirt.”
Keel sucked in a breath as he realized what she was talking about.
“Tunnels,” He and Arak said at the same time.
“Yeah,” Violet agreed, “And by the looks of these dirt mounds, there’s a whole lot of them under this place. That’s how they got it without being seen.”
Keel was dying to know more about this strange building in the middle of the Dense. How did it get here? Who built it, and why? What was it used for?
Before he could ask any of his questions, the metal door swung open, and two males stepped out. One reached for a rock and placed it in front of the door to keep it open. They were talking in low voices, but from their relaxed bodies and easy banter, they were not looking for intruders.
“That’s our way in,” Violet whispered in a low voice, turning to nod at Keel.
He nodded, but gave her a silent signal to wait. When she nodded back, he focused on the males and everything around them. They were armed, but only with the standard warrior daggers on their hips. These men were warriors. A snarl of rage bubbled up in Keel. Warriors were trained to be honorable. To care for each life, even those they killed. They were taught to protect and care for those weaker. Not to capture, hurt and inprosion them.
He turned to Arak, “This is where we part ways, friend,” He whispered.
Arak had a look of indecision in his eyes, but finally nodded. “Very well. But I want it known that I do not like this plan.”
Keel grinned. “Neither do I, brother. But Violet is correct. You need to protect your tribe. If we do not survive this… Go to the Keep and ask for a male named Tark. Tell him about your request to speak with King Bor. Tell him I said that the last hiding place at the lake house is behind a wall panel where our fathers frame hangs. The one with mother at the Keep. He will know it is a message from me, and that you speak the truth. I hope we meet again one day. Thank you.”
Arak nodded, reaching out a hand to shake. Keel took, then watched as the three males turned and vanished into the jungle.
Looking back at the guards still strolling outside the door, he shifted closer to Violet. “We need to disable those two,” He whispered in her ear.
She nodded. “We need to do it quietly.”
He smiled. She truly was a skilled warrior.
He looked down at himself and an idea struck.
“I look like one of the Tribesmen. I will distract them, while you sneak up behind.”
She met his eyes, thinking for a moment, then nodded. “Okay. Be careful.” She hissed, before she placed a hard kiss to his lips.
He kissed her back, an unfamiliar bolt of fear running through him. He never felt fear during a mission. He’d trained for decades to not let fear take over his mind while in battle. But now, his fear was for his mate.
But by the look in her eyes, there would be nothing he could do to stop her from going in there.
With one last kiss, Keel rose silently to his feet and moved through the trees to the far right of the building. Once he was far enough from where he left Violet, he slipped out of the shadows and grunted a word he hoped sounded like the tribe’s language.
The two males spun, daggers in hand, and frowned at him.
“It’s just another one of those stupid tribesmen. Kill him and be done with this. We need to get back to the lab.”
Keel tensed, his hands firmly gripped around the hilt of his daggers. He readied himself as they advanced. One of the males lunged forward at him, his blades swinging at Keel.
Keel blocked him with ease. These males may have been warriors one, but they were not as well trained in combat as he was. He could tell by the way they moved.
As he fought the male attacking him, he spotted Violet easing towards the second male. She moved like a silent shadow, quick, deadly, and without a single sound.
Before the male knew what had happened, Violet had slit his throat, her hand covering his mouth.
Keel took out the other male with a practiced kill strike, then caught the large body before it could fall against the metal door.
He made quick work of dragging the corpses into the jungle, out of sight. He met Violet by the entrance of the building, and they both stared inside.
One wide, long passage opened up ahead, with several doors on either side. At the end, he could make out a set of stairs leading down into the ground.
Turning to Violet, he asked, “Ready?”
She nodded. “Ready. Let’s go kick some ass.”