Reaver’s Rescue: Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Arctur

I shifted the woman in my arms, flying hard to the northwest.

For three days, I’d been watching, waiting for the prisoners to be within reach of Vakfal, the closest of the cities.

Another day’s march would have been better, made for an easier flight.

But I could not stand it anymore. 

“Please, still yourself,” I said to her, no more than a fragile bundle in my grip. “I think you can understand me somehow through that.” I nodded at the thick silver cuff wrapped around her left wrist.

I might have been exiled from the aerie, but still, I watched from afar, had turned over the pieces of the puzzle of these strange creatures in my mind for months.

Vandath’s mate wore no such thing and had not understood a word I said.

These women all wore one, and while they did not speak, they obviously understood the commands of Jafiz and his band of outlaws.

The woman’s struggles stopped. “Nod, if you understand me,” I asked, and the knot of uncertainty in my chest loosened slightly as she did.

“Hold to me closely,” I said, picking up speed. “And listen. I have much to tell you.”

She made no sound. I took it as understanding.

“I come from the aerie.”

The soft, bruised creature did not react.

“Sen’ki,” I tried. “From the mountains.”

Her eyes met mine, wide. They shimmered, those dark orbs strangely touching me. Something more than foreign beauty lies within. I thought it might be hope.

“I’m an aerie scout. We are searching for your tribe. I would bring a rescue party,” I said. It was partly true.

One of her thin hands touched my arm. She made a sound I could not understand.

“Jafiz and his thugs have been on the move. Thus far, I’ve only been able to follow.”

The hand on my arm gripped, her soft voice sending a shiver through me. Why? What magic did this half-starved, fragile creature possess? What about her made me throw my lot to the wind? There was little but death in my actions, yet I could not stray from the path before me.

Her eyes searched mine, seeking.

I’d seen her with her people, the other soft females. Seen how she tried to protect them. Even without her words, I knew what she wanted.

“One way or another, I will get your tribe away from those red-scaled bastards.”

It was a stupid thing to say. Highly unlikely on the one hand and deadly dangerous on the other. What was I even doing? I should fly her all the way to the mountains and beg those who exiled me for aid—for mercy in exchange for her rescue.

But no. Once I had her in my arms, every other thought had left me.

And those eyes demanded more than a simple answer.

The first time I’d seen her, a plan had started to simmer through my mind, reckless and dangerous. “Can you stay strong? It will not be easy. Your circumstances will not change any time soon. But will you trust in me?”

The high, whispery sound issued from her full lips, touching me inside like a balmy updraft. In her liquid eyes, something changed. Even this tiny, barely detectable upturn in her spirit thrilled me.

My feathers were attuned to the subtle temperature changes in the air. Finding the swiftest streams, I strained my wings.

We needed to make the ruins quickly. How long would it be before Jafiz or his underlings noted the female’s disappearance?

Jafiz might be a monster, yet he was not stupid.

In order to have even half a chance, this part of the plan must go smoothly. Did the female understand that?

By the grip of her hands, she understood that I was no menacing red fiend, but being a step above a renegade Vak’ki was nothing to boast of. As far as she knew, I was only the lesser of two evils.

Moons shifted in the sky as we flew onward. Finally, on the horizon, the broken spires of Vakfal rose. 

She gasped, looking at me, her voice seeming to ask a question.

“The ruins of a great city,” I said. “Long abandoned.”

More words from her, a stream of sound I could not decipher. This was becoming frustrating. But also why I was taking this chance with her.

“All will become clearer soon. This I promise,” I said.

We flew high above the grid. Scouting for dangers, I descended slowly. This northernmost city had not escaped the fate of the rest of Thaxios. 

Still, machines left behind by the Makers existed. The purpose of many of their devices was nearly as mysterious to me as this tribe of strangers, the delicate being in my arms. 

Many, but not all.

My eyes scanned for the buildings that would house such devices. 

Swooping around towers over the highest roofs, I flew in a pattern, searching until the white arches, the heavily framed doors, and the tall windows of a structure I sought appeared. Circling, we continued downward.

“Time is running short. I know it,” I told her. “This is necessary.”

Her face grew tight, anxious, as her eyes searched through the ruins. Did she think I would bring her to another enemy?

Certainly, I was better company than a violent bully. However, that didn’t mean she trusted me.

I landed us gently at the threshold of the structure. 

For a moment, the female resisted leaving my arms. I stirred at this, yet her shivering erased my wandering thoughts. She was merely cold. Given the state of her clothing, she had not been so warm in a long time.

A vaulted door barred our entry. Set into the stone frame was a panel of dull metal. For a moment, I studied it.

The deposed warleader of the aerie, Klov, had constantly searched for Artifacts, the lost tools of the Makers. Under his reign, I had delved deep into the ruins, learning a little of the clues and ways that marked the ancient paths just as much as a bent branch on a game trail.

Only a little, but enough to bring back a prize or two, things that should have been used for the good of the aerie.

Instead, the lost machines of the Makers had proved Klov’s downfall. He grew too dependent upon the mystical properties of their secret weapons, abandoned our traditions and ways, and became a tyrant.

With his downfall had come mine.

Exiled. All for keeping to my oath of loyalty.

With the distance of time, I could see how he would have been no different than Jafiz; his core rotted out with the greed for power.

But still, he had my oath.

Straightening my shoulders, I brought my attention back to the present.

At least it left me with some skill. Approaching the door, my fingers roved over the relief of several buttons. These were of many colors. Two on the bottom were complementary colors—yellow and purple. I pressed the purple.

The whining of mechanisms made the female hide behind me. When the door ground open in dirty grooves, she made a sound.

It was like birdsong in the morning. I looked at her and saw a smile on her face, as well as a deepening of color.

None of the females in Jafiz’s camp had ever made such a wondrous noise. I almost didn’t recognize it as laughter. When I did, I couldn’t stop my face from smiling.

She put a hand in front of her face, still chuckling. I recognized the self-effacing gesture. It was perhaps the first natural expression I had seen from her.

Inside, lights flickered like flames. Finally, they settled into an unnatural glow, dull, neither like sun- nor moonlight. Dust drifted with the breeze. 

She looked hesitant, mirroring my own feelings, yet I held my hand out for her to enter and stepped inside.

White corridors greeted us, branching geometrically, but I had been in similar buildings, their cold patterns of a kind. Finally, after a few turns, a doorway opened on the stairs.

Our presence triggered more ugly light. The female gave me a look and said something. The tone was uncertain.

I nodded. “We need to go down. I dislike this place as well, but it’s necessary.”

While most of the first story stood empty, it was not so below. In its day, this place had generated many Reavers. The generator tanks remaining were a testament to that.

Looking back, I saw our tracks left in the dust. It had been a long time since anyone had been down here.

In the aerie, similar machines stood; all of them had been brought from Senviz and reassembled on the lowest levels. That was centuries before my own generation. There were none left that could perform such tasks.

Thus, the wonders of the Makers remained in place, slowly falling to pieces.

A single room intersected four with generator tanks. A row of three flattened ovals were set into the wall, leaning at an angle. On one, the door opened easily, revealing the padded bench stretching its length.

The female looked in, then looked at me, shaking her head.

I resisted the urge to push her dark hair back from her face, to soothe her, to comfort her hurts. There was no time.

“You have no reason to trust me. There has been nothing but cruelty since you’ve been in my land. Would you speak to me? Make me understand you?”

Her expression did not speak of agreement, more like confusion.

“It will allow us to speak,” I said, then waved at the silver bauble on her wrist. “Without that.”

She squinted at it. “Th’commbahngl?

Whatever it was. “Yes. It is the only way we can plan. Don’t you see?”

The woman made more noises at me. Questions perhaps. I would have to guess at what answers she sought.

“It doesn’t hurt. I have gone through it. You will learn my tongue and about this place that you’ve found yourself,” I said. Did I sound convincing?

And was I sure we should be untouched? Dakath’s Sarra had seemed well enough the one time I’d seen her. But she was healthy, strong. Not frail like my female had become, weak with mistreatment.

Her eyes were wide, wetter than before.

I took one of her hands. A warmth beyond her skin spread into me.

“I would like to understand your words.”

She looked down at our hands. Back up at me. Her pretty mouth made a straight line, then she nodded.

Reluctantly, I let her go. She leaned back against the bench, her eyes never leaving mine until the lid shut closed, cutting her off from me.

I rubbed my chest, suddenly more anxious than I’d been since I was a fledgling.

It would work.

It would have to.

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