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Reaver’s Claim: Chapter Eight

Kyla

I might’ve lied a little about the bed.

Apparently giant red scaled warriors didn’t feel the need for comfy mattresses.

When I woke, I was more than a little stiff.

Although to be fair, that might’ve had something to do with running and stumbling through the rain like an idiot yesterday.

I rolled over and Tali snuggled tighter against my side as I surveyed the kitchen.

“So much for sleeping in the back room,” I said softly. “How long have you been here?”

Ryven looked up from where he was sewing something in his lap.

Was he making me a boot?

“One valuable thing about how my people were created is that we do not need to sleep as often as you I suspect.

“Have you really been up all night?” I pushed myself upright, guilt laying over me like a sodden blanket.

“It was not the first time, nor will it be the last,” Ryven said easily. “I am almost finished.  You should eat something before we go.”

Maybe.

My stomach grumbled in response.

Last night when we had been working I’d alternately been too upset, too excited, or too exhausted to eat.

Now I was regretting it.

“The purple petals weren’t really my favorite,”  I said. “But what was the green stuff?”

“Nava fruit?” You cannot just survive on that.” He tilted his head, and I knew he was thinking. “At least, I would be surprised if that was the case.”

“I know I can’t, but at least for breakfast it seems like a good idea.” I stopped as a horrible thought crossed my mind.

“You don’t have coffee do you?”

Ten long and sad minutes filled with attempting to explain coffee, I sat down with a plate of nave fruit and a cup of tea.

It wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t coffee.

Ryven finished my boots while I was eating.

“How do you know how to do all of this stuff?” I asked, and felt like an idiot.

Of course he knew how to do this stuff. Low-tech world. He didn’t have any choice.

Sure, he was obviously brilliant, trying to teach himself the devices of the weird little God-complexed big-headed creatures who had decided to genetically create their own race of living weapons didn’t change that.

He still had to live in the world as it was now.

Low-tech. Hunting. Probably a little farming. 

He understood about forging so there was probably metalworking but not to any suitably high temperatures to make the heavy panels like what he had scavenged for his doors.

Ryven would be able to make boots and coats and whatever else he needed.

His survival would depend upon it.

“Can you teach me how to do all of this?” I asked, waving at the coat and boots, the table and chairs.

He frowned. “You understand the technology of the Makers. Why would you care about such simple things?”

I laughed as I slung my satchel cross-body, made sure my tablet and medpak were wrapped in the emergency blanket for an extra layer of protection from the rain.

“I don’t understand any of it, really. Besides, you’re the one that spent years studying what they left behind.”

But the buzz of curiosity, the possibility of learning a whole new system tickled through my veins. 

I’d like to have the chance though.

Scratch that. I’d love to have the chance.

“Tell you what,” I said as I pulled on the boots he’d made for me. Perfect fit. How did he do that?

“Anything we find of the Makers, I’ll do my best to understand and explain to you. And in turn, I want to learn what it’s going to take for me to survive here. I’m betting that boots and a coat are the least of it. Agreed?”

He finished fastening his sword belt over his own coat and gazed at me, thoughtfully.

“Agreed.”

He rubbed his right horn, eyes narrowed. “And in that case, I have one more thing, if you can carry it.”

He went back into the workshop.

Long moments stretched out before he returned and I gasped at what he carried in his hands.

“Is that a crossbow?”

“Good!” he cried. “You are already familiar with this weapon.”

I stepped forward, drawn to the deadly thing as if by a magnet. “I know what it is. I’ve never even seen one in person though.” I touched the elegant curve of the bow. “I certainly don’t know how to use it.”

“We will fix that.” He handed it to me, the solid weight of it another surprise.

“It is the one I used when I was just a cub. Someday I had planned to pass it on to another. That time is now.”

Carefully he adjusted the leather straps at the stock so that it hung on the opposite side from my satchel, resting against my hip.

Welp, I’d wanted to learn how to survive here. 

And the thought of being able to defend myself against monsters like those centipedes with something more effective than a tree branch was pretty damn appealing.

Ryven strapped a second, thicker belt around his waist, sword at each hip framing a dagger with a smooth wooden handle, then hoisted a pack onto his back, and Tali jumped onto the top, burrowing down underneath a flap of felt.

“It’s beautiful,” I sighed as we emerged from the overhang.

The early morning light glimmered across the trees, their red and orange leaves like jewels against the purple and indigo streaked sky. 

“I thought you said it was the rainy season?”

Ryven set the door panel into place behind us and then bent down, pulling at a series of levers set into the rock.

“Just because it is the rainy season does not mean it rains all the time,” he explained. “We should be able to make good time in the mornings. The afternoons will be slower going.”

He pulled one more levele and a click echoed.

“What are you doing?”

“We will be gone for quite some time. Only two other people know where to find my workshop, but I would prefer not to take any chances of unwelcome visitors.”

I was itching to see the details of his lock, but if the rain was going to start up soon, we had other priorities.

“You have to show me how that works when we get back,”

I started to head down the way I’d gone yesterday, but not before I caught Ryven’s startled blink.

Well, that was presumptuous of me.

He’d rescued me from the pod, fed me, given me the language and history of this place. Yes, admittedly in a slightly problematic way, but he’d done everything he could to ensure my safety and comfort.

And now I was assuming I was staying with him?

Ryven was obviously a confirmed bachelor.

It didn’t seem like he was looking for a roommate or anything else.

So get it together, Kyla. Whatever your future holds, its not him.

In long strides he caught up to me, pointing to the left slightly.

“The path is that way.”

“Does it avoid those critters?” I asked, tucking my hands up in my sleeves to ward off the chill morning air.

“In fact, it does,” he nodded. “The most efficient method of survival on Thaxos is to try to avoid the things that want to eat you.”

I snorted. “And you couldn’t tell me this yesterday?”

“You didn’t stop to listen.”

Ouch.

As the giant red sun rose higher in the sky we walked. And walked some more. And more.

Ryven played tour guide gracefully, naming the flowers and trees all around as we passed.

Tali sprang from his pack to chase after blue winged insects, batting them with her paws into the yellow striped flowers that sprung up between the rocks.

I restrained myself from pulling out my tablet and snapping photos of everything. We had somewhere to be.

I thought I was in good shape from running all over the Loli’s ship.

After the first week aboard the Dream, I’d pleaded for some extra shifts — not dancing at the lounge, but with the maintenance crew. Not exactly the programming job I really wanted, but it had given me a chance to get close and personal with their systems, both computerized and mechanical.

Now it was clear that tracing through the decks and service passageways of a perfectly smooth, climate controlled ship was no preparation at all for a days long hike across an alien planet.

Just as my legs were starting to ache Ryven stopped at a flattish boulder in the middle of a clearing.

“We will not reach the mountains of the winged Sen’ki in a single day,” Ryven said as he slid his pack on to the rock. “There is no reason to push yourself.”

Embarrassment flooded through me.

“I’m all right, I can go further.”

But he simply shook his head and began to take things out of the pack.

“We will eat, and then you will learn to use the bow.”

I supposed that made sense.

“But first these must come off.”

He stepped towards me and I froze.

What must come off?

In a moment his hands were on me, massive fingers nearly circling my waist.

“This should work.”

And he lifted me as if I weighed nothing at all, carefully setting me down at the edge of the rock.

My heartbeat drummed in my ears and my breath caught.

What was he doing? And did I want him to stop?”

Ryven sank to his knees before me, hands sliding down my legs.

My mind sputtered.

He needed to what the what?

Then he unlaced one boot, then the other, gently drawing them off and putting them to the side.

“Any pain? Any rubbing?” 

He massaged my feet, working out the tense spots around my ankles.

“No,” I managed. Everything’s fine. Absolutely fine.”

Other than the building warmth spiraling in my belly at his touch, everything was just peachy.

“I’m glad to hear it. Still, we will not go much farther today, I do not think.”

I was too busy getting myself back under control than to argue.

Deep breathes. Deep breaths. Think about nice, impersonal code. Not about the man who can apparently turn your brain into mush with a touch.

Completely oblivious to my internal chaos, Ryven pulled two round cakes from his pack, handing one to me before sitting down on the rock at my side.

“Not quite as tasty as nava fruit,” he admitted. “But it travels better and is very filling.”

I nibbled at my cake. Dry, mostly tasteless. Still better than the emergency rations.

Ryven offered me a second cake but I shook my head.

Filling was an understatement. Eating felt like I’d had a bowl of oatmeal, but without anything that made the oatmeal good. This was going to take me a while.

He had a second, tossed Tully half of his third and then rose up, pulling a small cylinder off the side of his pack that I had not noticed before.

“Time for little target practice.”

I swallowed hard, the travel cake suddenly stuck in my throat.

“This isn’t going to go well,” I muttered, trying to get my apologies in early.

“Then we will try again another day until it does.”

All of the smiles were gone now.

This was the grim warrior before me.

“Teaching you an edged weapon would take far longer, and allow your enemies to come far too close.”

He pulled a short sharp start out from the cylinder that I finally recognized as a quiver.

“Shouldn’t I be standing first?”

“Let’s see how your aim is and then we will proceed.”

Except there was a little difficulty that neither of us had counted on.

“There is no way I can cock this,” I panted after several minutes of pulling the string back towards the latch.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a loop for my foot?”

“Why would you use your foot?” Ryven frowned. “How would you even do such a thing? I have seen your feet. Your toes do not seem long enough to wrap around the cord, much less have the strength to move it.”

I rubbed my forehead. Ancient weaponry had never been something I’d studied. Not even vaguely interested in. But still…

“I know I saw this in a video once.”

And that was probably the worst reason for believing something was true ever.

“I’ll show you.” I wriggled out of the harness, then unfastened my coat to lay flat on the rock behind me.

“The crossbows had a loop right here, at the front part of the curve.” I tapped the bow.

“And then the soldiers slid their foot through the loop to hold it steady, and pulled back.”

I mimed the motion, the crossbow resting against my shins.

“No, that doesn’t work.”

I tried to remember the scene more clearly.

Did they start on their backs and did something with their legs? That was it, wasn’t it?

I lay back, put my legs in the air. Maybe kick one side? Bend knees, touch foot to front, straighten back out?

That didn’t make any sense either.

A low cough pulled my attention back to Ryven.

He stared at me, one muscle jumping at his jaw.

Well hell, girl. Way to look like a raving idiot.

I sat up, pushed my hair back from my face, trying to ignore the burning in my cheeks.

“Maybe you should just pull it back for me for now.”

Ryven licked his lips, nodded sharply.

“I think that would be best.”

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