Bonded to the Rakian Berserker: Chapter Three

 Gavin

He was a feared warrior, a member of one of the deadliest Enforcer Units in the system.

He’d cut a swath through enemies of the Rakian Alliance across more planets than he cared to remember.

So how could asking one small human woman a simple question be so difficult?

“Do you want to ride with me?” he forced out, the sound harsher than he’d wanted.

Esme stayed still, studying the air sleds before her, Rhela at her side.

“They’re safer than they look,” Rhela reassured her. “And sometimes it’s actually kind of fun.”

Esme’s expression didn’t change.

“I’m learning to fly one, but I’m not good enough yet to pilot by myself,” Rhela added apologetically. “But if you’re more comfortable with Jormoi, I can ride with Gavin.”

Esme’s gaze snapped to hers, then back to Gavin, head tilted. “What? No, that’s fine.” She smiled slightly. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to force the two of you apart. Not so soon.”

The smile that broke over Rhela’s face made Gavin’s chest swell with happiness for his brother.

“I guess you did see us near the very beginning,” Rhela said. Then her smile fell. “I never did thank you for the warning.”

“Did it help?” Esme asked.

Rhela shook her head. “No, but no fault of yours. I didn’t pay attention, didn’t understand. But it all worked out in the end.”

“That’s the problem with dreams,” Esme said. “You think you can change something, stop it from happening. But whatever you do, never seems to make much difference. Most of the time you never know if it was a true dream or just something you ate the night before until it’s too late.”

Her voice sounded filled with regrets, and Gavin fought the urge to draw her close, protect her from whatever past haunted her.

“Are you sure you need to go at all?” he asked softly as Rhela returned to Jormoi’s side.

“You don’t need to be there. I can track them. Void, if I can’t find the trail of the children, Jormoi can,” he admitted grudgingly. “He’s the best tracker we’ve got. Nearly the best in the Alliance.”

Her eyebrows raised. “And do what, while you’re rushing off?”

“You can stay here with Kennet, help him see if the satellites picked up anything. He might not know exactly what he’s looking for.” Gavin hoped that the cool analyst never heard him make such a comment.

He’d never live it down.

Esme shook her head, tiny looped braids swinging on either side of her face. “I have a duty to the dead,” she said. “Would you deny me that?”

Gavin thought about Merren. There’d been nothing left.

Would a ritual have helped his brothers’ grief?

Helped them move on faster?

Her soft voice continued. “And they may have taken more of my people than the children. How would you know?”

She was right. He just didn’t like it. 

Nic and Adena had already left the hanger, hovering outside, waiting for them.

“Do you want to sit up front where you can see, or behind me where there won’t be quite so much wind?” Gavin offered.

“The wind on my face helps me know I’m alive,” she answered and using her hand as a balance point sprung lightly into the body of the air sled.

He climbed in after her and in seconds they were in the air, heading back to the site of the massacre.

***

 It had been late afternoon when Esme had awakened. The meeting with the others, short though it had been, had still taken almost an hour. 

As the year moved deeper into autumn, darkness fell sooner and they pushed the air sleds to reach the campsite while the light was still good.

He studied Esme’s straight back before him as they cut through the sky, wishing like hell he was doing anything but bringing her back to the site of her family’s murder. 

Knowing that it might be the murder of half, and the kidnapping of the rest, didn’t make it any better.

“Where had you been before the high plains?” he asked, partially for the information but mostly to try to break the silence that seemed to wrap about her like her own armor.

“Malterresy, most recently,” she said, the wind catching at her words, nearly blowing them away too fast to hear. “It’s the largest town to the north. There’s a good market there, and the people are friendly, always happy to have us, trade fairly.”

Gavin frowned at what her words implied. “We haven’t been stationed on Crucible long,” he said. “It seems like every day we’re finding out something everybody assumed was common knowledge, so they didn’t bother to tell us. Help me out here. Was there some sort of tension between your people and the towns?”

She looked back over her shoulder, one eyebrow raised. “People who live in one place for most of their lives often find it strange that being so still sounds like a death sentence to other people.” 

Those dark eyes of hers smiled at him. Not much, just the tiniest bit. But he’d take it. “Don’t you find that to be the case?”

He made a slight adjustment to their course while thinking about her words. Remembering how it felt, almost every time they were sent somewhere new.

Even if they were there to protect the local population, there was no telling how an Enforcer Unit would be received.

Sometimes with open arms, a welcome asset.

More likely with suspicion. 

Hostility.

“I had always assumed that people’s reactions to us had little more to it than just that we’re new to the area,” he said grimly. “It’s not exactly like we come through on a regular basis with goods to sell. If we’re sent somewhere, usually there’s already trouble.”

He scratched behind his ear.

“But yeah, being different, not having a settled place other than where the Alliance sends us, probably doesn’t help.”

They rode in silence for a few moments, then she looked around sharply. “We’re almost there, aren’t we?” she asked.

“Do you recognize anything?”

“Not from up here, it’s all strange, unreal looking. But you stiffened, went on alert.” She brushed the side of his hand with the edge of her own. “I’m stronger than you think.”

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” he growled. “Nobody should have to see that done to their family.” 

He wouldn’t have thought it possible, but her back straightened, just a little more.

“But it happened anyway,” she answered as they began their curving descent. “And I need to see it made right.”

All three air sleds landed closely enough that Gavin didn’t need any of his enhanced senses to hear Nic muttering to Adena.

“I can’t believe you talked me into letting you come here. You shouldn’t be anywhere near this.”

“You think we’re going to let Esme face this by herself?” Adena snapped. “I’ve laid out the dead plenty of times in my life.”

Nic gave an unhappy growl. “What about Rhela? Surely she hasn’t had to deal with something like this.”

“Who do you think took care of her parents when it was their time?” Adena said quietly as her mate carefully lifted her to the ground. “We may not be warriors, but don’t think we’re weak.”

Gavin dismounted the airsled and reached back to help Esme, but she vaulted over the side and strode off through the ruins of camp, head swiveling quickly from side to side as she took in the disaster. 

Rhela’s hands flew to her mouth, her eyes wide at the scene. Jormoi wrapped an arm around her shoulders and for a moment she leaned into him. “I’m alright,” she whispered, then straightened and ran after Esme and Adena.

“I guess they know what they need to do,” Jormoi said grimly. “And we’ve got our own mission. Find the trail of those children.”

Nic looked around at the carnage, face twisted in disgust. “These people didn’t have a chance to fight back. It doesn’t even look like they had weapons, other than cooking knives.”

He stomped back to his sled. “I’ll see what I can spot from above.”

“We’ll catch the scent down here,” Jormoi added. “One way or the other, we’ll find where they went.”

“Matching spirals for the initial search pattern?” Gavin asked, then spotted Esme and the two other women picking their way through the wreckage back to them.

Esme’s face was pale, and drawn, but her determination was clear in the set of her chin.

“Can one of you help us…” she faltered and Rhela took her hand. “Help us with the bodies,” Esme finished. “Some are still caught underneath wrecked caravans. We won’t be able to dig them all out.”

Jormoi looked at Gavin and nodded. “I’ve got it, you go help them.”

In a cloud of blue lightning he shifted.

Jormoi’s sand cat form twisted once around Rhela, headbutting her stomach,  then bounding away to circle the camp.

Rhela and Adena exchanged panicked glances, but Esme said nothing.

She closed her eyes, opened them again, looking nowhere but directly at Gavin.

“Later I’m going to have questions about that.  But right now, I don’t care. I need your help.”

He wondered how much it had cost her to ask for assistance. To admit she couldn’t do it all alone.

“And you’ll have it.” he answered, jaw set.

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