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Reaver’s Claim: Chapter Six

Kyla

“How can I have been such an idiot!”

The sound of my bare feet splashing in the mud as I ran away from Ryven was my only answer.

I wasn’t looking where I was going anymore.

The mountains I had hoped to see from the top of this hill had been locked away by the fog and rain.

Ryven, he would have helped.

But no, I couldn’t trust him.

Not anymore.

How else could he tell you what was happening? That stupid annoying voice in my head persisted in asking.

It’s not like you were going to get much further in your conversations than tab A into slot B.

I stumbled slightly.

No. We certainly were not going to start thinking about any tabs going into any slots.

As hot as he was, he’d shown me he couldn’t be relied on.

Even before I had this language that had been shoved into my head, he knew that I didn’t want to go into that not-a-pod.

Fine. Teaching chamber. I knew what it was now. Which was kind of neat.

It felt like a whole graduate course of history and language had been crammed into my brain, images still swirling about, settling into place.

I’d think about what it all meant later.

Now, I just needed to get away.

Sure, maybe pushing forward in the middle of a rainstorm wasn’t my brightest idea, but it couldn’t rain forever, could it?

While the emergency blanket didn’t really make the best raincoat I’d ever worn, it would do.

The missing slippers were no great loss. This wasn’t like the perfectly smooth floors on board the dream.

Hiking boots would’ve been more appropriate,

But in their absence, my own feet were just fine, if a little chilly.

My tablet wasn’t much help. There wasn’t exactly a programming solution to this set of problems.

But that didn’t matter. I had food, medicine, and a direction to go find at least one of my friends.

Ryven’s description of how he had found her worried me.

A mate? And, one of the winged ones?

No. Either he was lying or the language upload was faulty.

Whatever. It didn’t matter. Sarah could explain it to me herself when I found her.

I just had to keep moving.

I slowed at the bottom of the hill.

The trees were thicker here, shadows beneath their branches like layers of soot.

“It’s a little too late to be afraid of the dark, Kyla,” I chided myself

Although, it wasn’t exactly the dark I was afraid of.

Ryven was obviously a member of a giant alien species I’d never seen, and Tali, while adorable, made it clear this world held predators.

Scanning the trees all around me, I scooped down to pick up a heavy branch.

Not the best weapon, but the manual didn’t cover anything like this.

As I picked my way through the undergrowth the shadows became heavier.

I clutched at the tree branch, my gaze flickering everywhere, as the rustling began overhead.

“Stay focused,” I muttered. “Keep going, don’t get distracted.”

And then the largest creature I had ever seen in my life fell from the trees in front of me.

Shrieking in surprise I swung at it, missed as it slithered away.

A centipede?

No.

This wasn’t a just a centipede, I realized.

This was some sort of crazy ass insect as tall as I was and as thick as  my thigh, thousands of little pointy legs rippling down its side, pincers clacking at its head as it reared up to screech at me.

Wildly I lashed at the creature but it easily weaved and dodged clear of my blows.

Its shrill cries were terrible, ear piercing things.

And then I heard something worse.

The sound of more rustling coming from the trees overhead.

“Get away!” I shouted, dancing backward in a circle as more and more of the monsters fell around me.

My breath came in ragged pants as I tried not to think about what would happen if one fell on me.

It was only a matter of time.

My jaw clenched so tightly I thought my teeth would crack, I jerked about frantically, trying to keep an eye on each member of the advancing horde, knowing that it simply wasn’t possible.

Then a roar shook the leaves and the monsters halted their attack, their raised heads swaying.

I clutched the branch tighter.

What was it? What was coming that seemed to frighten even these terrible things?

“Tali?”

She sprang at one of the giant insects, claws slashing across its eyes, then swinging around behind it to pry the chitinous shell open.

Before I could see her next move, Ryven entered the clearing, a sword in each hand, swirling at his sides like deadly windmills, he danced through the crowd of monsters till he reached my side.

“Are you hurt?” He barked out, as he beheaded another of the monsters.

“No,” I gasped. “I’m fine, I think.”

He glanced down at me, brow furrowed.

“I would rather you were certain about that.”

Then he spun away again, his blades widening the open space around us, destroying everything that dared to approach.

Tali leapt from the carcass of her prey onto the back of another, hissing her outrage.

And in another moment it was over.

The bodies of the centipedes oozed a sickly yellow green goo.

Any survivors had scuttled away.

Ryven returned to my side, eyes narrowed as he examined my trembling forearm.

“Have you decided if you’re injured yet?” was his only comment.

The branch fell from my hands and my knees buckled.

He scooped me up, held me, mud and all to his chest.

“I know you would rather I did not touch you,” he growled. “But I will not let you fall. Not again.”

I let my head rest against his shoulder, all the rage and fury burned out of me.

“Can we go back to the workshop?” I asked softly. 

“Of course.” His eyes rested on me for a moment, and I wondered what he was going to say next. Then he glared across the clearing.

“Put that down,” he ordered Tillie who had  pulled off the leg of one of the monsters and was batting it about the forest floor.

“Come here, girl,” I murmured, then oophed as she landed in my lap, knocking the air out of me.

“Who’s a good little murder floof,” I said, burying my face in her fur and letting the sound of purring fill my ears.

When I looked up again, we had returned to the overhang of earth that hid the outer door to Ryven’s lair.

“I guess I didn’t get that far, did I?”

He set me down gently, eyeing me warily as if I might collapse at any moment.

He wasn’t that far off.

I felt hollow, completely drained. Physically, emotionally and mentally, there just wasn’t anything left.

“Further than many would have dared unarmed,” he answered quietly as he twisted the giant plate.

It clicked, then swung away.

“Did you build this yourself?” I asked as we entered the tunnel. Alright, maybe there was enough left for me to still be a little curious.

He handed me the basket of worms I’d left behind. I barely remembered setting it down, so wrapped up in my anger and hurt.

“I do not have the tools to forge that metal, but the gateway that houses it is my work. I do not encourage visitors.” 

Oh.

He glanced down at me and in  a flash, a sudden smile softened the rugged planes of his face.

“But there are always exceptions.”

I was just tired. Overwrought.

There was no reason at all for that little bubble of warmth to bloom through my chest.

Once inside he pulled the chair towards what I really hoped was the stove and tapped its back.

“Try to dry off here.”

“It may take a bit,” I said ruefully, pulling at my thin sweater where it clung to my body.

He slipped around the corner back towards the workshop as I huddled by the heat, steam rising from my soaked clothing.

Tali followed him, and then came a series of thuds.

“What are you doing?”

“Searching for something useful.”

Made as much sense as anything else today.

Within moments he’d reemerged, heavy folds of a thick blanket spilling out of his arms,Tali trailing behind.

“I do not have clothing that would fit you, but you can at least be warm while your own clothing dries. Later, we can figure out how to better equip you.”

He held the blanket to me and I could see it was a remnant of some massive tapestry, cut to a length twice my height.

I reached out, rubbed the cloth between my fingers.

It was soft, and more importantly, dry.

“I wouldn’t argue,” I said, then paused, my hands at the top button of my shirt.

“Except, maybe you could just leave that on the chair? I’ll let you know when I’m wrapped up.”

“Why?”

My cheeks burned..

“My clan, women, have rules about who is allowed to see them without our clothing.”

That sounded good right? 

“Rules like what?” He asked.

Well, shit.

Maybe this wasn’t the best tack to take but I was committed now.

“Usually doctors, if it’s necessary,” I started. “Or other women. Or…”

My throat closed around the words. “Or lovers. Mates,” I forced out.

His eyes widened.

“Of course. I’ll just be back there,” he pointed over his shoulder, stumbling backwards.

And with a surprising lack of grace for someone who I’d just seen dance his way through a battle, he bumped into the table on his way out.

Tali stayed, watching with interest as I set the satchel on the table, then pulled the sodden sweater, shirt and pants off, draping them over the chair.  

“I’m not really taking off my fur, kiddo,” I told her. “This is just a thing humans do.”

I reached for the strap of my bra then stopped.

That felt somehow like it might be crossing the line,

If nothing else, who knew when I’d find another that fit.

But the clammy coldness against my breasts was just too much.

“It’ll be a compromise,” I told myself as I wriggled my way out of the offending garment. “Panties stay on. No exceptions.”

Glancing around the corner I smiled.

Ryven was very obviously doing something on the workbench.

Cleaning it up, making another mess, who knew.

But I appreciated knowing where he was. It was almost gentlemanly, if your gentlemen were deadly giant red aliens with horns.

I took advantage of his distraction to let myself toast in front of the stove for a moment, slowly rotating until I thawed, before pulling the tapestry around me.

“It’s safe to come back now,” I called out.

After a few moments Ryven reappeared, carrying a second chair.

He placed it next to me, then stood awkwardly by it.

“I’d never thought to have someone else here long enough to need two places to sit in any one room,” he said awkwardly.

I paused from where I was unsuccessfully attempting to fasten the blanket into a robe.

“Are you sure it’s all right for me to be here? If you don’t have any visitors, not even enough to have a chair for them…” I trailed off.

“No, I want you here.”

He rubbed at one of his horns. “I mean, as long as you want to be here. It’s just very different,” he said with a sigh.

 “Why don’t we start again?” I wriggled one hand free, held it out towards him.

“Hi, I’m Kyla Tovale. It’s very nice to meet you.”

He took my hand but instead of shaking it turned it over, stroking the back of my hand with one finger.

I shivered slightly at his touch.

“We can work on handshakes later,”

I decided. “Though if we don’t find the rest of the human women, I guess there’s not really a point.”

“This is the greeting of your clan?” He asked, tearing his eyes away from my hand, brows drawn together. “Then I will learn it. I want to know about your clan. About you.”

A tiny thrill ran through me, but I pushed it down. He wasn’t interested in me. Not like that. Of course not.

He was just curious, like I’d been about the door.

That was all.

Right?

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