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Reaver’s Prize: Chapter Six

Khelos

Come with me.

I didn’t need to understand the female’s words to get a clear picture of her confusion as I led her back into the privacy closet.

“I’mnotreallyoneofthosepeoplethatthinksusingthebathroomtogetherisasignofahealthyrelationship.Notthatwe’reinarelationship.Whatarewedoing here?”

The sound of her words flowed over me, her voice soothing the ragged edges of my worry while I worked.

With a click a long section of the paneling came away.

No door this time, rather an access panel to the maintenance tubes.

I paused before stepping inside, unease and habit muting my voice all over again.

I do not want to bring you to that place.

Her shoulders sagged, defeat draped over her like a wet blanket.

She had not wanted this, to come to a place where her words had no meaning.

I thought again of the slightly raised spot behind her ear, the feel of something hard, foreign placed underneath the skin.

Was it that important to her? I had no way of knowing if that alteration had been done by her own free will, or something that had been done to her.

She stepped closer, gripped my hand.

“Khelos. Please.”

The sound of my name on her tongue was like an electric shock.

I could not deny her anything.

Whatever had been done to her in the past, she chose this now.

And if there was a danger, I would take care of it.

Then follow me.

I led the way into the maintenance shaft, squeezing past the pipe that brought water and nutrients from the lowest level.

The shaft continued straight up through the facility, rungs jutting out from the wall.

I began to climb, then suddenly stopped, her absence from my side nearly a physical thing.

I glanced down.

She clung to the first rung, stretching towards the next, her fingers barely brushing it.

I am sorry.

Quickly I climbed back down, considered our options.

The chamber we were headed to was several levels above us.

I could make a sling to keep her secure against my back. 

But it would take time. And she was unhappy.

Do you still trust me?

Without a flicker of hesitation she stepped closer.

I pulled her to my chest, left arm clasping her body while her own legs twined about my waist.

I will not let you fall.

Her hands rested lightly at my throat, as if I was somehow delicate.

You cannot hurt me, I chided her. Hold tight.

And then I began to climb again.

I’d made the trip many times before, my clandestine explorations of the facilities over the years letting me make a mental map of tunnels and shafts that would allow me access to wherever I wished.

But never had the trip seemed so long.

Her slight weight did not slow me down.

But the feel of her hands, her bare legs encircling my waist, the smell of her flooding my nostrils, sent every one of my senses into disarray.

At the fourth level I stepped away from the ladder into a perpendicular connecting tunnel, hunching over to avoid striking my head on the ceiling.

“I can walk.”

She squirmed against me, and I froze, my mind going utterly blank in a wave of white fire.

It took no more than a moment to snap out of it, to carefully extricate her from my arms, place her on her feet while I regained control of myself.

She tilted her head to the side, brows knit together.

It is not far now, I told her, ignoring the implied question.

I could barely stand to remember the feel of her moving against my body.

I certainly wasn’t going to be explaining my reaction.

A warm breeze moved with us, fresh air from outside the facility being circulated throughout all of its windowless rooms.

The soft slippers on her feet made no sound as we crept towards our target.

Angry voices reached us from the room below as we drew closer to a wide slatted opening, and I cursed myself.

How did her very nearness take all of my focus away, when I needed it the most to protect her?

A quick glance below confirmed my worst fears.

Isar stood in front of three kneeling Ol’ki, their faces swollen and bruised.

I had no doubts that Zelan and the rest of his guards lined up behind them were the cause of that.

The kneeling warriors’ hands were bound behind them, yet they bravely kept their heads up, glaring at their captor.

“You have one chance. Join me. Be a part of the return of the Makers as we claim Thaxos.”

“You are mad, outcast,” the one at the far right declared. “The Makers have been gone for generations now.”

He slumped back under the force of Isar’s blow.

“The Makers are reborn in me,” Isar said, as calmly as if he hadn’t been interrupted, hadn’t knocked the teeth out from his prisoner.

“I am the future. You will join me.”

“Our loyalty is to the clan,” the next prisoner spat. “No one with the heart and soul of a true Ol’ki would ever join you.”

I had heard it all before, countless times.

The Ol’ki main base regularly sent raiding parties to the mainland, for supplies and to battle with the other clans.

Years ago Isar had made it a policy to prey upon them as they returned, picking them off one by one to be brought back here.

His scavengers brought in two rewards, equally valuable: Their stolen booty, and the warriors themselves.

Every time Isar told the prisoners they would join his cause.

None of them had understood they weren’t being given a choice.

The fingers of Isar’s right hands twitched towards his palm, just a bit, and I knew what was coming.

Quickly I grabbed the female, pressed her face into my chest, covered her ears with my hands.

She must’ve understood what was happening below, for she needed no convincing to stay quiet, curling tightly into me.

“Lucky I don’t need your heart or soul then, isn’t it?”

And at his nod, Zelan slit the prisoner’s throats one by one.

“They all join us in the end, don’t they?”

Zelan laughed at the obscene joke, then moved almost out of view.

I knew what was there well enough.

A massive machine, with a cylinder taller than my height, twice as large than I could wrap my arms around

Keeping the female close to me I listened as he tapped in the command to open the receiving drawer

One by one the bodies were dragged away, heavy thunks punctuating their falls as they were put in the drawer.

More beeps as the generator’s cycle began, breaking down the bodies to be used for new, more compliant creations.

“Three new younglings, ready to join our ranks,” Isar said, slapping Zelan on the back. “I know you will train them well, my friend.”

The Master of the guard struck his left shoulder with his right fist twice in salute.

“Nothing can stand in the way of the Makers reborn, my Lord.”

They left the room while the blood was still wet on the floor.

I waited, listening with my ears and my mind but found no one near.

Hands at her shoulders, I pushed the female away from me, just far enough to see into her eyes.

The device we must use is in the room below. Can you stand it?

She trembled in my grasp, but nodded decisively.

Very well. If she would not be dissuaded by the danger, neither would I.

Crouching down to make myself even smaller we followed the passage till the next intersection.

A short distance to the side another shaft opened up, leading below.

I started down the ladder, then held my free arm out for her.

As she curled into my chest I paused, for just a moment, breathing in the clean scent of her hair.

She was a pure, good spark of light and color against the darkness.

It might have been selfish of me, but I could not resist the impulse to relish it a moment longer.

Before long we reached the level below.

Wedging my fingertips into the crack that outlined the maintenance panel I paused.

Stay here. Wait till I am certain it is clear.

I sensed nothing beyond the wall, but I could not, would not trust my senses now. 

Not knowing how badly she distracted me.

Not with her safety at stake.

She squeezed my hand tightly, worry like a cloud that clung to her even as she hooked her arm around the rung, legs stretched to their limit to rest her toes on the next rung down.

Carefully, soundlessly I removed the panel and waited.

Slipping into the room I checked every corner, behind every device.

We were alone.

Returning to the shaft I lifted the female out, resisted the urge to keep her cradled to me.

This way.

Ignoring the low hum of the generator at its work I headed towards the rows of flattened ovals set at an angle to the wall, until her distress caught me off guard.

She had stopped by the massive machine, the bright sheen of tears streaking over her cheeks.

It is the end for every Reaver, to be brought back as the next generation. They did not choose their time to die, but no one can.

Somehow she did not look at all reassured.

I did not try to explain again.

The teaching chamber would do a better job.

If she survived.

With a last look over her shoulder at the generator she followed me to the furthest teaching chamber.

My hand rested on the control panel, but still I hoped to change her mind, stalled before entering the first sequence.

This does not come without risks.

She tilted her head to the side, listening.

Not every youngling emerges from the chamber as he was. And you are far different from any Reaver I have ever seen. The danger will be higher.

She frowned, then pointed to my chest, then the machine again and back.

Yes, I survived. But I was the only one of my batch that did not go mad.

She stood still, waiting for the rest of the story.

The rest were fed to the generator. As they were, they served no purpose for Lord Isar and his plans.

Her shoulders rose as she took a deep breath, then another and a third.

Then she stepped closer to the machine, her decision clear.

Heart heavy in my chest I entered the code to begin the process.

The lid swung open, revealing a long low bench that ran down the middle.

Legs shaking, but back sword-straight, she stepped inside, twisting to lay back on the bench.

Gently I pushed her hair back.

I will protect you no matter what. You will not be alone.

Before I could change my mind, pull her from the chamber and run with her, to hide somewhere deep within the facility where no one could ever find us, I entered the command to begin the procedure.

The lid closed.

And I settled down to wait.

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